Hotline #758 -- May 11, 2012


National Train Day is almost here!

NARP and our partner organizations will participate in dozens of National Train Day events on Saturday, May 12 (unless otherwise noted). 

Click here to find NARP at a National Train Day event near you.

Please stop by to show your support or learn about becoming more active in passenger train advocacy. If you're interested in volunteering at one of these events, please email the Volunteer Contact listed.


Illinois, Indiana and Michigan have reached an agreement with the Federal Railroad Administration that will allow those states to move forward on a $4 million study to further develop the Chicago-Detroit corridor—increasing speeds and reducing congestion for passenger and freight throughout the region.

"The comprehensive study will help us establish faster passenger rail service for business and leisure travelers moving between Chicago and Detroit, as well as make freight movements more efficient," said Illinois Governor Pat Quinn.

The study will look at ways to link a double track passenger main to the 110 mph service at Porter, Indiana, building on 110 mph service between Porter and Kalamazoo.

"This is an important partnership in our efforts to reinvent Michigan, specifically creating an accelerated rail connection between Detroit and Chicago for both citizens and businesses," said Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. "Relieving congestion will also help the Midwest's freight industry by better enabling the rapid and efficient movement of manufactured and agricultural products."

The study will receive $3.2 million from the Federal Railroad Administration and $200,000 each from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Norfolk Southern Railroad (improvements also will increase the efficiency of NS freight movements).


U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood this week warned California lawmakers against any further delays on the funding of the 220 mph train between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

"We need to make sure that the commitment is there to obligate the money," LaHood said to reporters at a press briefing in the State Capitol, “We want to make sure that our partners here understand what's at stake… We can't wait until the end of summer."

Governor Jerry Brown (D) has been a strong supporter of the project, overseeing a revamp that cut the total price tag by around $30 billion, while speeding up the schedule for project delivery.  But his Administration has indicated that it will not include an initial bond request (approved by voters in 2008 as Proposition 1A) in its upcoming budget request, breaking it off into its own vote, tentatively scheduled for early fall.  California must appropriate funds by the end of September to secure the $3.3 billion in federal high-speed rail grants.

"My message to the Assembly, to the leadership, is that we need to make sure that there's a continued, strong commitment on the part of the Assembly, as reflected in their budget," LaHood said, although he wouldn’t go so far as to outline any federal responses to a failure to include the high-speed rail project in the budget.  "I'm going to operate on the assumption that people are going to act in good faith."


The railroad industry’s campaign to minimize the number of track miles where positive train control must be installed took a major step forward this week.  As described in the Federal Railroad Administration’s release, the revisions mean that “railroads will no longer have to conduct risk analyses to obtain approval to not install PTC or take other costly risk mitigation measures on an estimated 10,000 miles of track that will not carry passenger trains or poison inhalation hazard (PIH) commodities after December 2015.”

FairWarning.org’s report on this included the following

But Ross Capon, president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, expressed disappointment. He said the Transportation Department’s Federal Railroad Administration “is kind of gun shy.”

“Everything they do, they get accused of regulatory overreach, even if it’s clearly necessary to comply with existing laws,” Capon said.

He also blamed the action on “an intense effort by the industry to minimize the number of track miles where PTC will be installed and, obviously, thus to increase the number of track miles where … train collisions of any kind will continue to be possible.”

NARP has agreed with the industry that the December 31, 2015 deadline for PTC installation is not realistic, but has favored the one-year-at-a-time, company-specific, DOT-secretary approved extensions up to 2018 in the Senate-passed surface transportation bill rather than the blanket five-year extension in H.R. 7 that the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee approved.  NARP’s letter to House-Senate conferees included this:

“We support S. 1813’s provisions to extend the Positive Train Control (PTC) deadline by up to three years.  We remain concerned that PTC is being installed – with FRA approval – in a manner that will not prevent restricted-speed, rear-end collisions.  FRA safety advisory 2012-02 (April 25 Federal Register) listed six such collisions over the past year which caused four employee fatalities, six employee injuries and over $6 million in property damage.  Thankfully, these collisions did not involve passenger trains.  The proposed time extension should be used in part to correct this problem.”

NARP told Fairwarning.org it was unfortunate that the FRA notice said nothing about positive train control even though the National Transportation Safety Board last week released its report on the BNSF rear-end collision near Red Oak, Iowa, which listing these findings:

10. Had the positive train control/Electronic Train Management System currently in development been installed on the Creston Subdivision, it most likely would not have prevented this accident because it does not identify the rear end of a standing train as a target and because it allows following movements at up to 23 mph.

11.   The positive train control designs that are being deployed and the Federal Railroad Administration's final rule on the application of positive train control are unlikely to prevent future restricted speed rear-end collisions similar to the 58 rear-end collisions reported to the Federal Railroad Administration over the last 10 years or the collision at Red Oak because train speeds at the upper limit of restricted speed are allowed.

The NTSB had this recommendation for FRA:  “5. Require the use of positive train control technologies that will detect the rear of trains and prevent rear-end collisions.”

[NARP’s letter to surface transportation conferees]

[Read the NTSB report]

[Read more about the ruling on the NARP blog]


The Moynihan Station Development Corporation Board and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced May 9 the award of a contract to begin work on the transformation of the historic Farley Post Office Building in Manhattan into Moynihan Station

The station—named after the late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY)—will serve to ease pressure on the overcrowded Penn Station, which is the busiest train station in America.

“The redevelopment of Moynihan Station has struggled for more than two decades to achieve the momentum necessary for such an important infrastructure project,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo (D). “Today, we are moving faster and making more progress than ever to constructing the word-class transit center that New Yorkers deserve. I commend the Port Authority and the federal government for their commitment to this project.”

The Port Authority revealed the details of the contract in a May 9 release

The Moynihan Station Development Corporation’s Board approved the award of the $147.7 million contract today to Skanska USA Civil Northeast. In October 2011, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the corporation’s operations will be consolidated into the Port Authority. The Port Authority will oversee the project, with construction management support from STA Moynihan JV, a joint venture of AECOM, STV and Tishman Construction.

The first part of construction necessary to realize the late Senator Moynihan’s vision will double the width of the existing West End Concourse of Penn Station – which will be the concourse for the new train station – to serve eight additional tracks to be used by Amtrak, NJ Transit and Long Island Rail Road passengers. It also will provide new vertical circulation, including elevators, escalators and stairs to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. The project will include fire safety improvements to Penn Station including new standpipes and a command center for the New York City Fire Department.

Construction is slated to begin this summer.


Amtrak announced that operations for the Wolverine Service and Blue Water train will be returning to normal, meaning passengers riding between Kalamazoo and Dearborn should expect on-time service on published schedules.  The return is thanks to track and crossing improvements made by Norfolk Southern Railway; NS imposed drastic speed restrictions in March, and the State of Michigan and Amtrak were able to come to an agreement with the railroad to quickly restore good service.


The study will look at ways to link a double track passenger main to the 110 mph service at Porter, building on 110 mph service between Porter and Kalamazoo:


Amtrak will issue schedules effective May 21 for the Pontiac-Detroit-Chicago Wolverines (Trains 350-355) and the Port Huron-East Lansing-Chicago Blue Water (Trains 364 & 365) accounting for the speed increase this year to 110 mph on the Amtrak-owned Michigan District in Michigan and Indiana. Permanent schedules changes are pending approval of NS for the Chicago to Porter, Ind., segment of the route and from CN, which owns the Blue Water route from Battle Creek to Port Huron and the Wolverine route between Pontiac and Detroit.

New schedules will be provided at stations, shown as part of the booking process on Amtrak.com, and posted at Amtrak.com/Alerts.

 

In other Michigan news, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced a $15.8 million agreement for a West Detroit Connection Track project that will greatly reduce congestion for Detroit-area Amtrak passengers.

The Federal Railroad Administration reached a deal to provide a grant for $7.9 million, which is being matched with another $7.9 million from the State of Michigan.  The project will address a bottleneck at Bay City Junction, which serves a large number of  freight and passenger trains—in 2009, this stretch of track moved 444,127 passengers on the Wolverine service.  The West Detroit Connection Track project will separate freight and passenger train movements, easing the flow of traffic.

“President Obama’s bold vision of investing in rail projects like the West Detroit Connection Track will create jobs and grow our economy over the long-term by moving people and goods more quickly and efficiently than ever before,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.  “In eliminating a longstanding bottleneck, we are creating capacity to handle future rail demand as our population grows, while strengthening the foundation for economic development across the region.”


A group of investors announced that they are looking to raise $10 billion in private investment to connect Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston—by as early as 2020.

At the International Transport Forum last week in Leipzig, Germany, a group led by Central Japan Railway Co., spoke about the economic, environmental, and safety benefits that come with high-speed rail.  The group believes that the Texan market—with it’s large cities clustered in a relatively small scale—is well suited to support an express intercity rail service.

“We're in the process of doing the route studies, the environmental work, pooling the engineering work to determine the best route between Houston and Dallas," said Texan Judge Robert Eckels from Harris County, who serves as president of the Japanese-U.S. partnership, Texas Central Railway.  "It is a highly capital-intensive project, but we believe it is commercially viable.  We are not looking for operational subsidies from the state or federal government.”

Mass Transit Magazine has an in depth piece looking at the benefits—and challenges—of connecting two of America’s largest economic hubs:

In North Texas, one key undecided issue is where to put the first—and perhaps only—station. Many regional council members favor a station at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. That would set up a multimodal connection for air travelers, and the airport's central location would provide more or less equal access for Dallas and Fort Worth

Others argue that the project could be built at a lower cost by connecting in Dallas.

Also undecided is precisely where the tracks would be built. The rail line could be installed in existing freight railroad right of way between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, but it would have to be separate from freight operations, Eckels said. Such a move would require the cooperation of freight companies such as Union Pacific Railroad and Fort Worth-based BNSF Railway, which own many of the tracks in Texas

You can read more of Mass Transit Magazine’s coverage on their website.

 

Canadian and U.S. officials have reached a key agreement that will allow customs agents to prescreen passengers on Amtrak trains at Montreal, eliminating a two-hour delay at St. Lambert and increasing the attractiveness of the rail service between Montreal and New York City.

“[This corridor] should be a major artery for economic growth, but the delays have left this artery completely clogged,” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), who has been a vocal proponent of easing the obstacles for passenger rail travel between New York and Canada.  “…Those delays drive passengers and business away from the Empire State and they’ve got to stop. The U.S. and Canada must work quickly to finalize this agreement and get these trains heading down the tracks at full speed.”

After high-level meetings between officials from both sides of the border, transportation officials in Quebec have agreed to build a prescreening facility at the Montreal train station.  Amtrak has, in conjunction, agreed to end the St. Lambert stop.  Amtrak's Adirondack train leaves Montreal each day at 9:30 am on its way to Manhattan.

The move was applauded by New York businesses and communities, who believe that lowering the barrier to travel will bring the state of New York a much needed boost to its economy.

"This is another step forward in our quest to optimize border fluidity," said Garry Douglas, President of the North Country Chamber of Commerce. "With Senator Schumer's enormous support, we built the Port of Excellence at Champlain and created the best U.S. gateway on the entire northern border. But then we turned our attention to rail and the need to end the long stoppages at the border to clear passengers.”


From the NARP Blog:

  • Major Chicago-East Rail Study Gets Funding—Planners are about to start working towards speeding train traffic on one of the country's busiest sections of railroad. 14 Amtrak trains (every Amtrak train going east from Chicago except the Cardinal and Hoosier State) plus over 90 Norfolk Southern freight trains ply the 40 miles between Chicago and Porter, IN every day.
  • Trains to be "shot in the arm" for Maine towns' economies—In two coastal Maine towns, the excitement and potential surrounding this fall's arrival of Amtrak service is palpable. Construction of and around new train stations in Freeport and Brunswick is proceeding apace, and trackwork on this section of Pan Am Railways track is nearing completion. Freeport Economic Development Corporation President Sandy Updegraff told a WLBZ-TV reporter that calls of "all aboard!" this November will provide "an extreme shot in the arm" for her town's economy.