Hotline #783 -- November 2, 2012


Transportation systems in several regions across the East Coast struggled to resume service this week following severe wind and flooding brought on by Hurricane Sandy.

Amtrak cancelled some trains as early as early Sunday, October 28, and shut down the entirety of its operations along the Northeast Corridor on October 29 and 30, with most East Coast service suspended.

Amtrak announced on the evening of October 30 it would implement a gradual resumption of service, starting with a modified Northeast Regional service between Newark, NJ, and points south (including Virginia service to Lynchburg, Richmond and Newport News).  Also on Wednesday, Amtrak began operating Keystone Service trains between Harrisburg, PA, and Philadelphia, along with modified Downeaster service trains between Boston and Portland, Maine.  The Capitol Limited departed Chicago normally on Thursday, November 1, and the westbound train resumed operation from Washington his afternoon.  The Lake Shore Limited has been running between Boston and Chicago, but without service to New York City, Croton-Harmon and Poughkeepsie.  There is no estimate for when New York-Albany service will resume, also including Empire Service trains between New York City and Buffalo/Niagara Falls, the Adirondack (Trains 68 & 69), and the Ethan Allen Express (Trains 290 & 291).

Starting today, Amtrak ran modified Northeast Regional and Acela Express Boston-New York-Washington services, after confronting “unprecedented” flooding in the tunnels under the Hudson and East rivers.  Crews were busy removing water and making repairs to track, signal and power systems; this work continues in some tunnels. 

“I'm really proud of our folks; they have worked hard to make this happen and they have done this quicker than expected,” Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman wrote to Politico’s Morning Transportation.  “We've also sent crews to help Metro-North open the line north of NYC… Our economy depends on being able to move, and Amtrak is a critical part of providing that mobility. We will restore service as quickly as we can.”

[Check out Amtrak.com’s Service & Alerts for the most up-to-date information]

While almost all cities and towns throughout the Mid-Atlantic states and New England were affected to some degree, some areas were hit much harder then others.  Rail services such as Boston’s MBTA, the Shoreline East in Connecticut, Southeastern Pennsylvania’s SEPTA, Philadelphia-Lindenwold’s PATCO, Maryland Transportation Administration’s MARC, Washington, D.C.’s Metrorail, and the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) were largely able to resume normal operations in time for the Wednesday morning commute.

Transit and rail systems in New York City and New Jersey are taking much longer.  New Jersey Transit’s rail network took a huge hit.  The only NJT commuter rail services currently operating are New York-Trenton on Amtrak’s mainline with some service to Woodbridge, the first stop on the otherwise North Jersey Coast Line.  The River Line is now running a Sunday schedule the full length of the route between Trenton and Camden’s Entertainment CenterCheck for updates NJT’s website.

Metro North Railroad, Long Island Rail Road, and New York City subways are currently running truncated service.

While New Jersey Transit faces a complex and demanding clean-up—as outlined by official pictures released by the agency—the New York subway system may face the highest hurdles in resuming normal operations.  A 14-foot storm surge flooded many parts of Long Island and Manhattan, and much of the subterranean subway system was flooded in low lying areas.  Bloomberg News outlined the extremity of the task facing MTA crews, which will have to pump out tunnels, scrub saltwater from critical infrastructure and equipment, and examine 600 miles of track and electrical systems— enough to run from New York to Detroit.

Politicians are already pressing for federal assistance to aid in recovery work, with roads and bridges receiving $17 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation already.  As covered in the NARP blog, there are more obstacles in the way for transit assistance:

It will take significant, emergency federal, state and private investment just to restore transportation services to pre-storm levels. Already, the U.S. DOT has announced the quick-release of $13 million for road repairs in New York and Rhode Island [with an additional $4 million released for North Carolina]. Public transit advocates are calling for similar funds to be released to transit systems. President Obama yesterday told Gov. Christie that “we will follow up to make sure you get all the help you need until you rebuild.” We would like to read that as a determination to circumvent outmoded funding structures that otherwise will slow down emergency aid for transit. Congress can fix this, of course, but Congress is not scheduled to return until mid-November, so transit systems may have to work without the tools available to their road and air counterparts for at least the coming month.

Beyond the clean-up, larger questions loom

With so many members of the public—and businesses—dependent on passenger rail and transit, transportation officials are rightly consumed with task of ensuring systems return to pre-storm operations.  In addition to the human suffering, the most recent estimates suggest that the economic toll taken by Hurricane Sandy could reach $50 billion; a functioning passenger and freight transportation network will get the U.S. back to work.  But for policy makers and transportation advocates, however, it is not too early to ask what this horrific event means and how it affects the way we develop our infrastructure.  The NARP Blog addressed this question earlier today:

Many of us have believed for some time that climate change is a serious issue and that it is exacerbated by a transportation system that emits too much carbon. The media has done a fair job of reporting this, though the need to show “balance” even when the science is not “balanced” sometimes gets in the way. One element in any plan to reduce carbon emissions of course is to expand trains and public transportation.
 
But we have also known that climate change references are a turn-off for some audiences. That may be changing. Chris Core is a “non-staff member” at the conservative Heritage Foundation. Consider the main part of his minute-long commentary today on Washington's WTOP News Radio. (You can hear it all here.)
 
After noting how lucky the Washington DC area was to miss the brunt of Sandy, Core said, “All of these over-the-top weather events of the past couple of years—snowmageddon, the derecho, Hurricanes Sandy and Irene, the record hot summers, the violent thunderstorms—any one of them alone might just be a natural occurrence but, taken as a whole, they’re disturbing. These are the kind of events Al Gore predicted in his movie, An Inconvenient Truth. Some people scoffed at Gore’s thesis. I found it interesting but frankly too terrible to relate to. But now, well, maybe we should all re-watch his movie, just in case these weird weather oddities are a warning. Keeping an open mind is a Core value.”
 
He isn’t the only erstwhile skeptic to be thinking this way. So it may be time to become bolder in citing mitigation of climate change as one of the benefits of developing a more comprehensive passenger rail network.

[To read more about the advocacy-related outcomes, click here]

 

Despite the destruction visited upon the region by Hurricane Sandy, hundreds of Mainers came to stations on the Amtrak Downeaster route on Thursday to take part in a successful celebration of the start of revenue train service to Freeport and Brunswick.

The first eastbound train to Brunswick was sold out and carried special guests, including US Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME; recipient of last year’s NARP Golden Spike Award), US Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), and US Senate candidate and former Gov. Angus King (I), Amtrak Vice President Stephen Gardner, Pan Am Railroad President David Fink, and TrainRiders/Northeast President and NARP Council Representative Wayne Davis.

At a ceremony in Freeport, Senator Snowe praised Davis and TrainRiders/Northeast for their work, without which there would be no Downeaster. "I said, 'Wayne, I'll get the money. You get me the passengers,” laughed Snowe.  Representative Pingree touted the train’s arrival as an example of the fruits of bipartisan cooperation.

There are two round-trips daily from Boston through to Brunswick, departing from either end in the morning and evening, plus an extra Portland-Brunswick round-trip, going east early in the morning and west late in the evening. A full schedule is at AmtrakDowneaster.com.  The third round-trip will be extended to Boston (on different schedules) if federal funding for an overnight layover facility in Brunswick comes through.

The Downeaster began service between Boston and Portland in 2001 after more than a decade of citizen pressure to secure the necessary state funding and an agreement with the host railroad.  It now runs an additional 29 miles east of Portland, thanks to a $38.3 million federal Recovery Act grant for the requisite track & signaling upgrades. $500,000 from the state paid for the construction of the Freeport and Brunswick platforms.

 

NARP has been consistent in talking about the importance of trains and transit for seniors, and the problems posed by a rapidly increasing senior population.  As the ability to drive deteriorates, passenger trains and transit take on greater importance, allowing senior citizens to maintain their mobility and a high quality of life past the point where driving is practical.

In today’s NARP blog, we examine suggestions for how to smooth the transition from driver to passenger: 

Jessica Anderson, in her Drive Time column in the new (December)Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, says that, “as a group, seniors age 80 and older have the highest rate of fatal crashes per mile driven—even higher than for teens—according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Simply put, too many people continue driving when it’s no longer safe for them to do so.  Vision problems, slower reactions and other effects of aging increase the risk of crashes. But most state legislatures ignore the problem.”

[Read more]

 

The California High-Speed Rail Authority announced October 30 that it would delay the deadline to submit bids for designing and building the first 28-mile section of the statewide high-speed rail line.  The original deadline was scheduled for today.

CAHSRA has been working with five consortiums of building firms, and questions from the participants have led the Authority to push back the deadline until January 18.

"The bidders have been asking for more information and more time to analyze the information," said CAHSRA CEO Jeffrey Morale.

This move will shorten the window for construction, which must be completed by September 2017 according to stipulations attached to federal stimulus dollars helping to fund the project.

The 28-mile section would run roughly from Madera to Fresno.

 

In other high-speed rail news, California’s Secretary of State's Office announced this week that a petition drive to put the high speed rail project before voters did not gather enough signatures to get on next year’s ballot. 

California voters originally approved the program in 2008, but opponents of the project hoped to force a second vote.

 

The Anaheim City Council voted 3 to 2 to approve 3.2-mile streetcar plan that would connect the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center (ARTIC), Angels Stadium, GardenWalk Mall, and Disneyland, and the Anaheim Convention Center.

The city has identified $24.6 million for the project, which is expected to cost $319 million in total.  The city will also tap a transportation fund backed by a half-cent sales tax, and has identified Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts grant program as an additional source of funding. The two nay votes came from Mayor Tom Tait and Councilwoman Lorri Galloway, who questioned the funding model.  Other members of the council were satisfied with the recommendations provided by the feasibility study, which endorsed the project.

The ARTIC station will eventually serve as a station for California’s statewide high-speed rail line.


The advocacy efforts of NARP Council Member Ted Kneebone to bring passenger rail service to Aberdeen, South Dakota were profiled by the local ABC affiliate this week, a testament to his commitment to a modern national passenger train network that provides a Americans with mobility choices.

The city hasn’t been served by passenger trains since 1969, a state of  affairs that Kneebone is working hard to change.

"I brought along more than 300 signatures of people who would like to see the trains come back" Kneebone told KSFY.

BNSF Railroad is the freight company that would serve as host for any passenger service to the community, and they have expressed pessimism about the chances for restoration.

Kneebone, however, remains undeterred, and pointed to the support he received while attending NARP’s fall Council of Representatives meeting in Milwaukee this month.

"I'm happy based on my responses," Kneebone said. "Some are quite passionate."

 

Travelers Advisory

Due to track work being performed by BNSF Railway, Amtrak Cascades and southbound Coast Starlight Train 11 will run on an altered schedule between October 29 and November 30.  Check here for the modified timetable.


Correction: Our October 26 hotline and October 23 blog (“As Airlines Raise Fees…”), as initially posted, correctly noted that airlines have increased their reliance on fees which, unlike fares, are not taxed. This has resulted in an increase in the extent to which general funds are supporting aviation. However, fares still account for the vast majority of what passengers pay. Our initial postings incorrectly referred to “airlines’ practice of shifting the bulk of their revenues from fares to fees.”