Hotline #763 -- June 15, 2012

The San Francisco–Los Angeles high-speed train received two, much-needed pieces of support this week, which should have a positive impact as state legislators deliberate on the next funding steps for the project.

TransForm, California’s largest transportation nonprofit, came out in support of the state’s high-speed rail line this week, and called on the California Legislature to immediately approve funding for the project.  NARP issued a news release highlighting this endorsement, which was based on the job creation benefits that would attend the rail corridor, paired with a positive risk-assessment of the project:

TransForm based its decision on an analysis of the project’s benefits and risks, which was released yesterday.  The report emphasized the 100,000 new jobs the project would create, providing much needed growth in the state’s struggling economy—especially in the hard-hit Central Valley.  In the longer term, TransForm found that the high-speed rail project would be essential in maintaining functioning, livable metropolitan areas in the face of population growth.

“Traffic congestion in California is increasing by 10 percent annually, and by the year 2030 all the states’ major airports are expected to reach capacity,” said NARP President Ross Capon.  “With little room for expansion, passengers will be plagued by delays and California’s economic growth will be constricted, unless there is a significant increase in infrastructure investment.  While a 20-year transportation plan may not be the foremost issue in the minds of voters, it is absolutely essential that state legislators do the right thing and build a foundation for a prosperous Californian future.”

Additionally, the San Jose Mercury reported on a study which found that modernizing the Peninsula’s rail infrastructure will create 9,500 new jobs and return as much as $2.5 billion in dividends from related economic activity.

The Midwest High-Speed Rail Association reported on this positive development:

U.S. Representative Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto) endorsed an economic impact study of Caltrain electrification, calling Caltrain "the spine" of the Peninsula's transportation system.

Caltrain is the commuter railroad linking San Francisco to the Silicon Valley.  Roughly half of the funds to electrify Caltrain and upgrade it for high-speed trains will come from the high-speed rail funds. 

The study conducted by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute found that having Caltrain run on electric power rather than diesel fuel would not only be a boon for the environment, but the electrification construction project would also be an economic bonanza for the area.

That doesn’t mean the opposition has died out.  The San Jose Mercury also had an op-ed on June 8 that called the project “delusional.”  They cited a recent poll that cast public opinion on trains in a negative light, and questioned the project’s lack of secured funding. 

Californians for High-Speed Rail Executive Director Daniel Krause responded that the poll contains "he-said, she-said statements in the absence of well-researched and accurate information, thus unfairly influencing and biasing poll respondents."  It’s also worth noting that no extremely large infrastructure project every secures 100% of its funding upfront, and it’s not clear why rail projects should be subjected to a different standard than other transportation infrastructure.

A study released this week by the Urban Land Institute found that Boston’s rail transit system will be overwhelmed by ridership demand within a decade unless the city and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts take action. 

While the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) has been plagued with budget deficits in recent years, from a certain perspective it is experiencing great success.  As of April 2012, the T has seen fifteen consecutive months of ridership growth as of April 2012, and it currently serves 1.37 million riders on an average weekday.

ULI projects these ridership trends will continue in the future, but that the MBTA is not doing enough to plan for this growth:

Based on three ridership scenarios developed for this report, the MBTA is likely to serve a minimum of 420 million unlinked trips annually, and potentially as many as 500 million, within a decade. This rate of ridership growth translates to an increase in average weekday ridership from 1.3 million trips currently, to 1.4 - 1.7 million weekday trips by 2021. The MBTA should therefore plan to serve an additional 100,000 to 367,000 more daily riders within ten years.

Congestion relief has long been a priority for highway spending — it is past time to recognize that addressing congestion is equally important for the transit system. Ensuring sufficient capacity to meet ridership demand without unacceptable levels of congestion will require both better planning and more investment.

The study recommends that the Massachusetts DOT and the MBTA create a core congestion assessment and management system.  That system would collect information that would allow transportation officials to “put a price tag on the investments needed for congestion relief and increasing core capacity.”

A price tag is just the beginning, however; local, state, and federal officials will then need to find the resources and make the investments necessary to ensure that the MBTA can continue to serve a growing ridership.  Meeting these investment demands will enable transit-oriented development to continue in cities and towns throughout greater Boston region, a crucial component of maintaining a prosperous regional economy. 

[Click here to read more coverage from the Boston Globe.]

Work on the Chicago to St. Louis high performance rail corridor is entering its final phase of the 2012 upgrades this month, as the Illinois Department of Transportation (Illinois DOT) and Union Pacific Railroad begin work to enhance tracks with concrete ties and stone ballast, improve bridges, install advanced wayside equipment, and upgrade roadway-rail grade crossing.

These improvements will eventually allow Amtrak trains to reach 110mph on the corridor; in fact, trains will be reaching that speed between Dwight and Pontiac as early as this year.  In the meantime, Amtrak is warning passengers to expect disruptions in service while work is being performed:

As of June 16, work will progress to north of Bloomington-Normal and most days it will lead Amtrak to charter motorcoaches for Amtrak Lincoln Service (Trains 300-307) passengers at St. Louis, Alton, Carlinville, Springfield, Lincoln, Normal, Pontiac, Dwight, Joliet and Summit, Ill. The Amtrak Texas Eagle (Trains 21/321/421 & 22/322/422) will detour between Chicago and St. Louis for the same period, with alternate transportation in both directions between Joliet and St. Louis

In order to expedite travel between Chicago and downstate, many of the motorcoaches will connect to and from Amtrak Illini and Saluki trains in Champaign-Urbana to avoid Chicago suburban highway congestion and downtown Chicago traffic. Notices about this disruption are posted at stations and displayed as part of the booking process on

There will also be temporary road crossing closures due to the construction.  Closings will be updated on a nightly basis on Illinois DOT’s website,

The Toronto Star is confirming NARP’s early reports that VIA Rail service will be subject to significant cuts, with Canadian rail workers being told to expect reductions in service.

So far VIA Rail has yet to officially comment on rumors, going only so far as to say it was looking at fine-tuning “service, schedules and fares to serve markets more efficiently,” and “better integrating passenger rail with other public transportation services.”

While nothing is official, it appears the Canadian (TorontoVancouver) could be reduced to two times per week during winter months; the Ocean service (Montréal-Halifax) reduced from six to three times per week year round.”  Other sources familiar with VIA Rail’s operations report that the North Line between Toronto and Sarnia via Kitchener could be eliminated.  Also, it has been said that the single Toronto-Niagara Falls train will be eliminated, leaving the Toronto-New York Maple Leaf, operated jointly with Amtrak, as the only train linking Toronto with Niagara Falls.

“It’s ironic that Canada, which was built on railways, is diminishing its passenger train service,” Member of Parliament Olivia Chow told Trains Magazine. “It’s clean, it could be fast. If you look at what every other country in the world is doing they are increasing their train services. They are investing in electric trains, high speed, bullet trains; they are encouraging more people to get on trains. It’s fast, it’s precise, it’s clean and it can be cheap,” she said.

Head over to the excellent Transport Action Canada Hotline for more details.

The City of Battle Creek completed its $3.6 million renovation and remodeling of the Intermodal Transportation Center this week, upgrading a station which will host Amtrak and transit services for the surrounding community.

The station—which Amtrak’s official release described as “a relic of disco-era design”—has been modernized, and features a new entrance/passenger drop-off area, fenced long-term parking lot, improved exterior lighting and landscaping, remodeled office space for Amtrak and other tenants, a new passenger lobby, and a vending area that includes café seating.

The station will serve Amtrak rail passengers, Amtrak Thruway Connection passengers on Indian Trails motorcoaches, and Greyhound intercity bus riders.  Amtrak’s statement commemorating the June 12 opening spoke about the station’s renovations being a platform for future growth: 

Eight Amtrak trains serve Battle Creek and Michigan daily, with three round-trips from Chicago to Detroit/Pontiac via Ann Arbor and Dearborn on the Wolverine Service, one Blue Water round-trip from Chicago to Port Huron via East Lansing, and Amtrak Thruway Motorcoaches to and from Flint. More than 50,000 Amtrak passengers used the Battle Creek station last year.

The station has also been modernized with an eye toward more Amtrak growth, since the Wolverine Service is a federally-designated high-speed corridor and Amtrak initiated 110 mph service earlier this year on a portion of the route in Northwest Indiana and Western Michigan.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) published a notice to request comments on FRA’s proposed additions to the list of categorical exclusions (CEs) contained in FRA’s Procedures for Considering Environmental Impacts (Environmental Procedures).

CEs are actions that FRA has determined do not individually or cumulatively have significant effects on the human or natural environment and thus do not require preparation of an environmental assessment (EA) or environmental impact statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  FRA’s Environmental Procedures currently contain twenty CEs, and FRA is proposing to add seven additional CEs. FRA is also making a Categorical Exclusion Substantiation Document (Substantiation Document) available for public review. That document supports the proposed CEs and demonstrates that the actions covered by the proposed CEs are unlikely to have significant impacts on the human or natural environment.

The Substantiation Document is available on FRA’s Web site at, and comments on this notice are due on or before July 13, 2012.  [Docket No. FRA–2012–0016]