Hotline #797 -- February 8, 2013

With a massive blizzard bearing down on the Northeast U.S., transportation officials are shutting down operations in preparation for what is predicted to be as much as three feet of snow in some areas.

Amtrak announced it will shut down Northeast Corridor operations between Bostonand New York Citystarting Friday evening, and continuing through Saturday and Sunday.  Airlines have preemptively canceled more than 3,000 flights for the weekend, according to FlightAware.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick issued a ban for cars on roads after 4:00 PM today, and the MBTA scheduled a shutdown of subways, buses, and commuter rail for 3:30 PM today.  You can find transit updates at MBTA.com, or follow the agency on Twitter @mbtagm.  MBTA hopes to resume service Monday.

Amtrak crews are analyzing the path and intensity of the storm, and are making preparations to restore service as soon as is safely possible.  In a service advisory, the railroad provided a full list of service disruptions:

In preparation for the winter storm expected to affect the Northeast, Amtrak has reduced service on its Acela Express and Northeast Regional routes betweenNew YorkandBostonstarting on Friday, Feb. 8.

Southbound service out of Boston South Station will be suspended following the departures of Northeast Regional Train 137 at 1:40 p.m. and Acela Express Train 2167 at 1:15 p.m.

Northbound service out of New York's Penn Station will be suspended following the departures of Northeast Regional Train 86 at 12:30 p.m. and Acela Express Train 2160 at 1:03 p.m.

In addition:
- Springfield Shuttle service (Springfield, Mass. - New Haven, Conn.) [was] suspended following the departure of Train 493 at 10:30 a.m. from Springfield. 
- Vermonter service is also canceled in each direction between Springfield, Mass. & St. Albans, Vt.
- Downeaster service is suspended following the southbound departure of Train 682 from Brunswick, Maine, at 7:05 a.m. The last northbound departure from Boston North Station [was] Train 683, scheduled to depart at 1:00 p.m. 
- Boston-Albany section of Lake Shore Limited is canceled in both directions. 

At the time of reporting, Amtrak is saying that the Northeast Corridor service south ofNew York—including the Empire and Keystone services—will not be affected.

 

NARP is pleased to announce a new partnership with Alaska Railroad that will give NARP members a 20 percent discount on all Adventure Class fares on Alaska Railroad trains, making it even easier for passengers to tour the wild beauty of “The Last Frontier” in the unique comfort and style afforded by train travel.

This newly formed partnership will allow NARP members to experience the grandeur and majesty of Alaskathrough the picture windows of an Alaska Railroad train.  Enjoy 20% off, summer and winter, with your membership in NARP.  The discount is restricted to Adventure Class fares on the Denali Star, Coastal Classic, Glacier Discovery, Hurricane Turn, and the Aurora Winter Train. The discount is valid only for train fares, and does not include tour or hotel products or packages.  Additionally, this discount cannot be combined with other discounts.  For information on how to claim this discount, NARP members can check the member’s only section of NARPRail.org.

The Alaska Railroad connects Anchoragewith Seward to the south and DenaliParkand Fairbanksto the north, serving many intermediate points.  This scenic railroad boasts double-deck dome cars on the Coastal Classic and Denali Star trains, allowing for stunning views of the Alaskan landscape.  For more information on the Alaska Railroad, visit www.AlaskaRailroad.com/travel.

 

The Texas Transportation Institute released its annual Urban Mobility Report, quantifying a truth most drivers can already guess at from daily experience waiting in traffic: the U.S. road network is increasingly unable to handle the load it is subjected to, and the mobility of the average American is suffering as a result.

The 2012 Urban Mobility Report (which analyzes data from 2011) found that Americans congestion caused urban Americans to travel 5.5 billion hours more, and to purchase an extra 2.9 billion gallons of fuel, for a congestion cost of $121 billion.  That averages out to 38 additional hours per year stuck in a car for each automotive commuter, up from 16 hours per year in 1982.

While congestion onU.S.road networks has been plateauing in recent years due to a struggling economy that has fewer people commuting to work, this year’s report identifies a new headache for drivers: the unpredictability of when traffic jams will happen.

“We all understand that trips take longer in rush hour, but for really important appointments, we have to allow increasingly more time to ensure an on-time arrival,” says  Bill Eisele, a Texas Transportation Institute researcher, and co-author of the report.  “As bad as traffic jams are, it’s even more frustrating that you can’t depend on traffic jams being consistent from day-to-day. This unreliable travel is costly for commuters and truck drivers moving goods.”

To account for this new unpredictability, the TTI researches created the Planning Time Index (PTI) as a new measure of travel reliability.  It illustrates the amount of extra time the travelers need to allocate to arrive on time for high priority events, such as “an airline departure, just-in-time shipments, medical appointments or especially important social commitments.”

The report also identified the cost of congestion in carbon dioxide emissions, calculating the drivers stuck in traffic released 56 billion pounds of CO2 in 2011—an astonishing 380 pounds per auto commuter

“Including CO2 emissions into the UMR provides another dimension to the urban congestion problem,” said TTI researcher and co-author David Schrank.  “It points to the importance of implementing transportation improvements to reduce congestion.”

The report also updated the costs of congestion in more traditional metrics, finding that the “total financial cost of congestion in 2011 was $121 billion, up one billion dollars from the year before and translating to $818 perU.S.commuter. Of that total, about $27 billion worth was wasted time and diesel fuel from trucks moving goods on the system.”

Transit advocates have picked up on the report’s findings to highlight the economic benefits of investment in rail and public transit.

“The 2012 Urban Mobility Report makes clear that without public transportation services, travelers would have suffered an additional 865 million hours of delay and consumed 450 million more gallons of fuel,” said the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) in a release. “Had there not been public transportation service available in the 498U.S. urban areas studied, congestion costs for 2011 would have risen by nearly $21 billion from $121 billion to $142 billion.”

 

The Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) released a report today that the U.S. high-speed and intercity passenger rail manufacturing sector is growing rapidly in the United States, and that federal high-speed rail investment has led to the creation of jobs and economic growth in the regions targeted for service development.

The report, titled “Midwest High-Speed Rail Supply Chain: Good For Manufacturing Jobs, Good for Economic Growth and Good for Our Environment,” identified 460 companies in aMidwest high-speed rail supply chain.  While the positive economic impact of federal investment in rail can be seen nationwide—with manufacturing jobs from New York to California, and many states in between—the ELPC was able to demonstrate that the benefits were amplified within the geographic region that the investment took place:

High-speed rail manufacturing is growing in the United States. A combined $782 million in federal investment is being awarded toCalifornia,Illinois,Iowa,Michigan,Missouri andWashington to purchase 33 quick-acceleration locomotives and 130 modern bi-level passenger rail cars. Amtrak is also in the midst of a multi-year purchase.

Midwest manufacturers will especially benefit from these investments. ELPC’s study identified a “clustering effect” of rail supply chain businesses in theMidwest. Several major rail OEMs [Original Equipment Manufacturers] are located in the Midwest — includingNippon-SharyoUSA inRochelle,IL, which won the railcar procurement bid — leading to a concentration of nearby supply chain companies. For example, Electro-Motive Diesel, a major locomotive manufacturer, says the majority of its supply chain is within 500 miles ofChicago.

Old-line “Rust Belt” manufacturing businesses are re-tooling to seize opportunities from rail growth. Our study found dozens of companies that now supply rail manufacturers after years of supplying the automotive industry and other sectors. This rail growth offers opportunities to suppliers of automotive glass, seats and other components, particularly given the “Buy America” mandate for rail.

Manufacturing jobs create more wealth in communities through better wages and benefits. Manufacturing has a higher multiplier effect as the goods flow through the economy. For example, according to a 2010 study from the Tripp Umbach research firm, GE Transportation has a larger impact on the Pennsylvania economy ($4.6 billion) than all of the state’s professional sports teams ($1.37 billion) and mining, oil and gas extraction industries ($1.79 billion) combined.

The report calls on Congress to provide steady levels of funding for Amtrak and state rail equipment purchases, which allows the private sector a predictable, steady market to operate in, helping pave the way for long-term growth.

You can read the full report at ELPC.org.

 

New Hampshire took another step towards bringing the Capitol Corridor passenger rail project to reality on February 6, as the state’s Executive Council voted to approve a $3.6 million study to restore train service between Nashua and Concord.

The vote is a reversal of fortunes for passenger train advocates; just last year, a Republican-led council voted against the study, citing costs.

"The past council's blockage of this project is the reason I ran for office," said newly-elected Councilor Debora Pignatelli (D-Nashua), who voted to approve the study.

The state will have to put up around $400,000 for the $3.6 million study, with the remainder covered by federal passenger rail grant.  The New Hampshire Union Leader is reporting that much of that money will come from “toll credits issued to the state by the Federal Highway Administration.”

The feasibility study will determine capital costs, operating expense, and potential ridership for the line.

"Expanded rail service toNashuaand beyond has the potential to boostNew Hampshire's economy and create jobs," said New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan, who praised the vote. "The only way we can understand the full impact of the project and ensure that taxpayer dollars are protected is to gather all of the facts."

 

Sequestration—the requirement that most federal programs including the military take program-by-program, across-the-board spending reductions—is set to happen March 1, postponed from the original January 2.  With no serious plan to avert this mindless approach to governing, more attention is being paid to the impact.  At least for the current fiscal year (through Sept. 30), it appears that the impact on Amtrak will not be dramatic.  This is discussed further in our February newsletter, now available to members on-line.  The most visible, immediate transportation impact is likely to be on aviation.  The following on air traffic controllers and airport security is from today’s Financial Times:

“About 1,200 fewer air traffic controllers could lead to 900 more flight cancellations, stranding 45,000 people, and more than 200,000 delays, hindering 1m travelers.”

“Kip Hawley, a former administrator for the Transportation Security Administration, which handles airport security, said the TSA could absorb cuts for a month or two before it would become unsustainable or force a rethink on how to enforce security measures.”

 

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) announced that it is partnering with Amtrak, Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway Co., and Sound Transit to analyze the recent spate of mudslides that has disrupted operations on the popular Cascades service, and identify possible solutions.

"This collaboration will help us shift the focus from short-term responses to repeat mudslide occurrences to a long-range solution for this vital transportation corridor," said WSDOT Secretary Paula Hammond in a prepared statement.

The mudslides have been regularly disrupting Seattle and Everett during the wet Pacific Northwestwinters.  In addition to carrying Amtrak trains for the popular Portland– Seattle– Vancouver, B.C. service, the line is also a crucial corridor for freight and commuter trains.  While freight trains are able to weather the disruptions relatively well, safety concerns have led BNSF and Amtrak to implement longer suspensions for passenger trains following each slide.

"Safety must remain our highest priority," said BNSF Assistant Vice President of Passenger Operations D.J. Mitchell. "BNSF is committed to operating passenger trains in a manner that always places the safety of passengers first and to continue to work with our passenger-rail partners on reducing the long-term risks of mudslides."

"The challenge remains to fully understand the factors contributing to frequent mudslides in this corridor," WSDOT’s press release said. "The four rail partners will review recent slope studies, historical slide data and updated analyses, with a goal of drawing preliminary conclusions about underlying conditions or combinations of factors contributing to slides."

 

California’s Riverside County Transportation Commission voted to approve a $132 million on February 1 for a Metrolink extension between Riverside and Perris.

The project will extend tracks 24 miles southeast from downtownRiversideto Perris, and includes plans for four stations.

Currently, the project is being held up by a lawsuit over the environmental impact statement.

 

Travelers Advisory

--Auto Train canceled Feb. 21-24: Due to weekend bridge replacement project being performed north of Sanford by Central Florida Rail Corridor, the southbound Auto Train is canceled Feb. 21-23 and the northbound is canceled Feb. 22-24. Alternate transportation will not be provided.

--Auto Train to become completely non-smoking effective July 1: The lower-level smoking lounge in the cafe car will be removed. Smokers will only be allowed to detrain atFlorence,SC (crew change stop), scheduled for 11:44 to 11:59 PM southbound and 12:30 to 12:45 AM northbound. After July 1, no on-board smoking will be allowed throughout the Amtrak system.

--Texas Eagle bus substitution Longview-Ft. Worth Feb. 15-21 and Feb. 28-Mar. 8: Union Pacific trackwork over single-track territory means a bus will ferry Eagle passengers, making stops at Mineola and Dallas at train times. On those days, the southbound Eagle will run one hour later Ft. Worth to San Antonio. No other change to train schedules. Bus is not shown in reservation system.