Hotline #786 - November 23, 2012

Note: Due to the holiday, this week's Hotline is being published Wednesday instead of Friday. We will return to Friday publication next week. Happy Thanksgiving!


Special Amtrak Thanksgiving timetables remain in effect through Monday on the Northeast Corridor, Keystone Corridor, Empire Service, Wolverines and Cascades. Additionally, a third Chicago-Galesburg-Quincy round-trip will run on Sunday.

See the NARP Blog for links to these special timetables and other holiday travel tips.

Some good news we can all be thankful for: forecasters predict good travel weather for most of the country through the weekend.

 

A California Superior Court judge on Friday denied litigants’ request for an injunction that would have delayed the start of construction on the first segment of the state’s high-speed rail system until a trial takes place.

High-speed rail advocates are celebrating Judge Timothy Frawley’s ruling against local Farm Bureaus, property owners and the City of Chowchilla, which sued to stop the project. The judge argued that delaying the project would pose greater risk to more people than going ahead with it, recognizing that it will create thousands of jobs and build a lasting transportation asset. The victory is only temporary, though, as hearings on the lawsuits will still take place in the coming months.

In an e-mail to supporters of Californians for High-Speed Rail, Executive Director Daniel Krause—also a NARP Council member—wrote, “There really is no comparison when one considers the need for transportation capacity in relation to rapid population growth. Further, building more highways and continuing the sprawl patterns of land use will consume far greater amounts of land, so the opponents' arguments just don't hold water,”

Meanwhile, the California High-Speed Rail Authority has pushed back the timeline for the Madera-Bakersfield Initial Operating Segment’s (IOS) construction. The new estimated completion date is December 31, 2017, rather than September 30, 2017. Bids from contractors to build the first part of the IOS from Madera to downtown Fresno are due by mid-January, with the expectation that a contract will be awarded in mid-2013 and the winning bidder will have 54 months to complete work on the first segment.

The Authority is arguing that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s statutory deadline of Sept. 30, 2017, for the spending of the federal money granted to the project does not mean construction must be finished by then. The $9 billion in bond money California voters approved in 2008 will be used to pay for any work after that date.

 

VIA Rail Canada, Amtrak’s north-of-the-border counterpart, is lending 12 Budd Company-built stainless steel passenger cars to Amtrak for use on the Adirondack between Albany-Rensselaer and Montreal between Nov. 20 and Nov. 27. This will allow Amtrak to use an extra set of its equipment to add 300 additional seats to Northeast Regional trains during the busy Thanksgiving travel period.

Each Adirondack run north of Albany during the period will consist of 5 VIA coaches and a dome-observation Park car (pictured at right) on the rear, giving the train 60 more seats than it usually has. This will offer passengers a unique experience of the route’s stunning scenery on the western shore of Lake Champlain. During this period, passengers traveling through Albany to and from New York City and Hudson Valley points will make a cross-platform transfer at Albany between the VIA equipment and Amtrak equipment. This will be the VIA cars’ first visit to the US since they were built near Philadelphia in the 1950s.

"VIA Rail is pleased to help Amtrak, a partner which the Corporation considers very important," said VIA Rail's President and CEO Marc Laliberté in a statement. "No one is safe from disasters, such as the one that occurred a few weeks ago in the New York area. This small gesture can make a huge difference. We had to find a way to show our solidarity with our partner."

 

Amtrak’s San Jose-Oakland-Sacramento Capitol Corridor – already the nation’s third-busiest intercity passenger train route – announced record-breaking ridership and revenue growth during fiscal 2012, with more than 1.75 million riders using the service.

The success was attributed in part to rising gas prices, the line’s 94 percent on-time performance, and passenger amenities such as free WiFi and increased carry-on bicycle access.

"Besides experiencing the highest ridership in history of our service, revenue for the year was up 9 percent and we maintained the top spot in the Amtrak system for passenger-rail reliability for the third year in a row," said Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority Chairman James Spering in a prepared statement.

 

Canadian Pacific Railway’s (CP) bottom line is on track to become a freight rail industry leader thanks to the shale oil boom in the US and Canada. The carrier’s lines are perfectly positioned to move great quantities of oil from the interior to ports and refineries.

Calgary, Alberta-based CP is one of Canada’s two transcontinental Class I railroads, and also owns many main lines in the US, including the St.Paul-Chicago portion of Amtrak’s Empire Builder route and the Schenectady-Rouses Point portion of the Adirondack route. Its stock was the subject of a protracted battle between hedge funds, but US-based Pershing Square Capital Management was successful in unseating its management and installing Hunter Harrison, former CEO of rival Canadian National, in the top post.

CP’s transcontinental Canadian main line taps parts of the Bakken Oil Shale formation in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and its 2008 purchase of the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad gives it a level of access to North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields second only to BNSF Railway (host of the Builder west of St. Paul). CP also moves the sand used in hydraulic fracturing from Minnesota mines to the oil fields. This gives it “significant exposure to one of North America’s fastest growing energy markets – the shipping of oil by rail – and a minimal exposure to shrinking coal markets,” according to the Financial Times.

Even if pipelines are built to move the shale oil to refineries more cheaply than trains can, CP can still offer greater flexibility and speed in shipping oil to some areas, such as Canada’s east coast ports, that may prove hard to reach by pipeline.

 

Superstorm Sandy’s devastation means that the portion of New York City Transit’s A Train subway line that connects Long Island’s Rockaway Peninsula with the mainland of Queens will remain out of service for the next several months.  In its place, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is offering free shuttle service between the operating portion of the subway on the Peninsula and the nearest active mainland subway station.

Trains are sunning between Far Rockaway-Mott Avenue and Beach 90th Street, making all intermediate stops. The MTA took the unprecedented step of moving subway cars to the Peninsula on flatbed trucks as it had no other way to get them there. Shuttle buses will run between Beach 90th Street and Howard Beach/JFK Airport station 24 hours until the subway link is restored. More details, including photos of the damage and the flatbed movement of the subway cars, are at the MTA website.

The only other piece of the subway system that remains out of service is the South Ferry station at Manhattan’s southern tip, normally the southern terminus for 1 trains. These trains will turn around at Rector Street for the next several months while repairs are done.

 

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Chairman of the Surface Transportation Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee, is questioning why New Jersey Transit suffered so much more damage to its railcar fleet during Superstorm Sandy than other rail systems in the New York City region.

NJ Transit saw 300 locomotives and passenger cars – a full quarter of its commuter rail fleet – flooded because a decision was made to warehouse them in yards that lie near sea level in Kearny and Hoboken. Among them were some of the dual-mode locomotives acquired last year at a cost of $10 million apiece. Lautenberg plans to hold subcommittee hearings on this and other Sandy-related questions.

State officials said on Tuesday that none of the damaged railcars will be permanently lost, but that it could take tens of millions of dollars to replace everything from brakes, bearings and electrical boxes to sodden upholstery and wall paneling. Wheels, axles and electric motors on many railcars will have to be ripped out and replaced.

 “We’re focusing now on getting these repairs done and getting all service restored as quickly as possible,” John Durso Jr., an NJ Transit spokesman, told the Bergen Record. “There will be plenty of time later to look back and learn what we might have done differently.”

 

Phoenix’s Valley Metro light rail and bus transit system set a new monthly ridership record in October. The system recorded 7.08 million boardings during the month, besting its previous record of 6.65 million. Special events such as college football games have brought scores of riders aboard light rail trains.

Public meetings will be held next week to provide an update on the Northwest light rail extension project, which would extend the rail line 3.2 miles on its north end to 19th and Dunlap Avenues in northwest Phoenix and is set to open in late 2015 or early 2016.

 

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts on Monday kicked in the extra $4 million needed to give Springfield’s Union Station a much-needed $78 million facelift. The $4 million was included in a transportation bond bill the Legislature approved earlier this year. $17.6 million comes from a federal grant awarded in July.

Gov. Deval Patrick (D) joined local officials in a Tuesday ceremony in which a section of the old station was demolished. Officials said the goal is to restore Union Station to its former place as western Massachusetts’ premier transportation hub.

Upon completion, it will boast a 24-bay bus garage and a 146-space parking garage, and will pave the way for improvements to Amtrak and future commuter service on the New Haven-Springfield corridor and further upgrades to Amtrak’s Vermonter, which may be extended to Montreal by the time the renovation is complete.