Longest and Deepest Rail Tunnel Opens; NARP Warns of “Transportation Meltdown”; WMATA Releases Maintenance Schedule
June 3, 2016
Any transportation infrastructure project takes time to plan, develop and construct as initiatives require feasibility and environmental studies, cost estimates, funding, and more. This is a reality for major projects like high-speed rail in California, more localized projects like light-rail in the Seattle area, or even projects that have a major regional and national scope, such as the Hudson Tunnel project in the greater New York area.
Yet, when the project is completed and open, it can have an immediate impact on the area for commuters, as well as the economy. This is why it’s important to note the transportation marvel in Switzerland, which has completed the world’s longest and deepest rail tunnel. The Gotthard Base Tunnel is 35 miles and clears the way for high-speed rail under the Swiss Alps, and has the potential to greatly impact freight and passenger transportation. The project, which links Zurich and Milan, was first proposed almost 70 years ago, with construction having started 17 years ago. Commuting through the tunnel takes an hour off the current four-hour trip, and the ultimate goal for the rail line is to connect the Dutch city of Rotterdam, Europe’s busiest port, in the north, to Genoa, on Italy’s Tyrrhenian Sea coast, in the south. After testing ends this year, around 260 freight trains and 65 passenger trains are expected to travel through the two-tube tunnel each day, reaching speeds approaching 100 miles an hour for freight and 125 miles an hour with passengers. Passenger trains are expected to eventually reach 155 miles an hour.
NARP understands and knows that the transportation advancements taking place in Europe are possible in the U.S. by connecting cities, and rural and urban areas, through a national rail network. The Hudson Tunnel Project is a critical example, and this is why NARP supports not only the project, but fast-tracking approvals for the venture.
Jim Mathews, President and CEO of NARP, issued a letter to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and NJ Transit to warn the agencies of a “transportation meltdown” in the greater New York area if the initiative does not move forward quickly. The tunnel project, which is critical to supporting transportation in New York, as well as the national rail network, could end up being a long-term nightmare and pose significant risk and delays to commuters passing through the area.
“Each day the Hudson tunnels carry a staggering 24,000 riders on 100 Amtrak trains, plus 90,000 weekday riders on 350 NJ Transit trains. Nearly 30% of Amtrak’s national annual ridership passes through these tunnels. Not only does this make these tunnels a vital link in the national network, but also a fragile “single point-of-failure” whose neglect carries consequences for the entire U.S. economy,” stated Mathews in the letter. “Given the importance of these tunnels to the entire East Coast transportation system and to passenger rail, NARP strongly urges the government to proceed as expeditiously as possible, within the confines of applicable law, to begin desperately needed and long-overdue construction of new tunnels.”
As the project unfolds, there is fear of a serious and long-term disruption to commuters, who rely on the tunnels on a daily basis. New York Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) described the situation as a potential “transportation Armageddon.” As a result of potential long-term disruption NARP also supports rapid construction and the expedited approval of an environmental review.
The letter was delivered to the FRA’s Amishi Castelli, Ph.D. and NJ Transit’s Senior Program Manager RJ Palladino. The full text of the letter can be viewed online here.
Now if the U.S. can link cities between states, and Europe can link cities between countries, high-speed rail in North America can link cities between countries as well. According to Congressman Henry Cuellar, the U.S. is closer than ever to developing an HSR line that will connect San Antonio,Texas and Monterrey, Mexico. The line, which has been pushed since 2008, would revolutionize the economy between the two countries, and help shrink a commute of five hours down to two.
This type of connectivity in the U.S. is important for commuters on a daily basis, but also for friends and family who plan to vacation this summer and don’t want to pay high charges for flying or taxis. A new report from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) found that nearly 60 percent, or 78 million Americans who plan to travel this summer, will use public transportation as they vacation in U.S. cities. The data show that affordability is a city traveler’s strongest reason for choosing public transportation. Seventy-percent of respondents say they will use public transit during their vacation to eliminate the need for parking, while 62 percent say that taking a bus or train is more affordable than taxis or rental cars. Other reasons include cutting down on the cost of gas (43 percent), and minimizing the stress of driving in an unfamiliar city (53 percent).
Summer By Rail
Starting May 15th, Elena began a 38-day, 10,000 mile journey across the country, using only public transportation, mostly in the form of Amtrak and her bike, affectionately known as Stevie. Elena and Stevie began their adventure with a day of biking in New York City before a train ride to Chicago. She’ll continue on to the Pacific Northwest before traveling down the west coast, across the south and back up into the mid-Atlantic.
The trip is about much more than having fun, however. Elena’s purpose on the journey is to observe and share the ways multi-modal travel using public transportation can be seamless and easy. Along the way, she’s meeting with transportation officials, Mayors and community leaders, and she’s sharing stories from the communities she visits on how they use and view public transportation options in their respective areas.
Through her exploration, key elements of connectivity by rail and support for rail in various communities, will be shared to her audience via social media channels on Twitter (https://twitter.com/RailPassengers) and Instagram (www.instagram.com/railpassengers) at the handle @RailPassengers, and her blog at www.summerbyrail.com. People interested in Elena’s travels can also follow the hashtags #ElenaAndStevie and #GetRail for regular updates. Follow along and cheer her on!
You can also read about Elena’s recent adventure in Salt Lake City as she shared her perspective on transportation and connectivity in the area with The Salt Lake Tribune.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (WMATA) released its maintenance schedule, in order to keep greater D.C. residents aware of how their commutes could be slowed or diverted. However, due to the extensive scope of the planned repairs, hundreds of thousands of commuters will face major delays to their commutes for a year. And few details have been released for Metro’s “SafeTrack” plan, leaving many residents concerned about their travel to and from work. Metro says estimates for the delays, which will affect millions of trips, “are currently in development.” For now, the transit agency says, “major impact” simply means “very crowded trains” and “significantly longer wait times.” Overall, the plan consists of 15 projects that will close down various lines for extended periods of time, with the first having started this week.
The Back Bay area in Boston is on its way to growth and revitalization, with rail at the center of development. Rail yards used to line the area more than 50 years ago, until the Prudential Center replaced them, but Boston Properties is investing billions in new buildings around subway and train lines. Overall, the development company has proposed a massive redevelopment of Back Bay Station and the block of forbidding concrete around it, replacing the 1980s architecture with a sleek contemporary flair.
Transportation and infrastructure projects south of the Orlando International Airport are moving forward on budget and on time. Projects include a $1.3 billion train station and 2,500-space parking garage. The new train station will accommodate people-movers from the northern airport terminal. It will also be part of All Aboard Florida's Brightline, the nation's first privately funded intercity train system that will run from Miami to West Palm Beach to Orlando. Still in question however, is establishing two additional rail lines: Central Florida's SunRail and a light rail between Orange County Convention Center by International Drive to the airport.
There are still openings for state representatives on the NARP Council of Representatives in several states. Check out the full list of current vacancies here.
Of particular note, there are multiple vacancies in the states of California, Ohio and Texas. If you live in these states and want to become more active in NARP’s work, this is your opportunity to become involved. If you are interested in being considered for an appointment to an open state seat by the Board of Directors please complete this Candidate Information Statement.
It’s not often that one hears of transportation and infrastructure projects moving ahead of schedule, but that could be the case in the Seattle area with Sound Transit. The transportation agency is reviewing its finance strategy, and under a new version, Sound Transit has stated that light-rail service from Everett to Federal Way and Redmond to Ballard and West Seattle could start a few years earlier than expected. Under the revised plan, which includes quicker timelines, Everett would receive service in 2036, five years sooner than Sound Transit had originally announced, and Federal Way and Redmond could come online as soon as 2024. The new plan is up for the November ballot, and voters will need to decide if the quicker timeline is worth the new costs. The overall cost of projects in the ballot measure would rise to $54 billion, a $4 billion increase from the package released in March, but the tax rate would not change.
In addition, Sound Transit has started work on replacing the 1,500-foot-long timber trestle that for more than 100 years has carried trains above parts of the Dome District. Known as the S-Turn Trestle or Tacoma Trestle, the single-track span was first built for the Milwaukee Road railroad in 1908 and rebuilt in 1937. It was part of a passenger and freight line that ran from Western Washington to Chicago. It will be replaced with a concrete double-track bridge that Sound Transit and other officials say eventually will allow expanded Sounder commuter rail service from Lakewood to Seattle and will help eliminate a bottleneck that can cause delays.
NARP members, please support our newest partners as they support us!
Travelers United, the only non-profit membership organization that acts as a watchdog for traveler rights, now offers free reciprocal membership to all NARP members! To check out benefits and get the low-down on your passenger rights, visit TravelersUnited/Membership .
Amtrak Vacations, a premier tour operator offering first-rate travel packages combining great destinations and train travel, is now offering all NARP members a 10% discount on the rail travel portion of any package booked, along with a 5% discount on parent company Yankee Leisure Group’s Unique Rail Journeys packages across Europe! Better yet, go watch a recorded webinar co-hosted by Amtrak Vacations and NARP to learn about a special offer worth up to an additional $400 off certain rail-travel packages! Click here to watch the recorded webinar, or copy and paste this URL into your web browser: https://youtu.be/uiETYMKziWA , and to learn more about Amtrak Vacations please visit http://www.amtrakvacations.com .
If you buy anything from online retailer Amazon.com, sign up for Amazon Smile so that a portion of your purchase price is donated to support NARP! The price you pay for your items does not change, but every purchase helps your Association as we do the work you want done for A Connected America! Visit http://www.narprail.org/get-involved/donate to learn more.
VSP Individual Vision Care now offers specially discounted individual and family insurance plans exclusively for NARP members that typically save hundreds of dollars on your exams, glasses and contacts. In addition, as a VSP member you -- or any family member you designate -- can also enjoy savings of up to $1,200 per hearing aid through VSP’s TruHearing plan. When you sign up for a VSP plan through our website, you not only help yourself and your family with significant savings and great benefits, but you help support NARP’s work as well! Click here to enroll today!
The Regional Transit Authority of Southeastern Michigan revealed that a Detroit-to-Ann Arbor commuter rail line could open by 2022 if a tax request is passed in November. The project, which includes the rail, buses with dedicated lanes along three major corridors, express bus services to major regional destinations, a universal fare card and several other improvements in the area, would run $4.6 million. Many Michigan officials are pushing forward with the plan as they see the line as a way to promote economic development in the region, as well as a way to help fix metro Detroit’s disjointed and dysfunctional transit system.
After putting in more than one million man hours over six years, Siemens completed the last 70 electric locomotives for Amtrak. The milestone was celebrated between Amtrak and Siemens this week, with that last locomotive heading out of downtown Sacramento’s train station to the New England area. Amtrak Chief Executive Officer Joe Boardman said the electric locomotives have made life a bit easier for passengers, and overall, Amtrak has seen a decrease in delays by 20 percent. Siemens, which is also hoping to get a contract to build California’s high-speed rail trains, inked its deal with Amtrak in 2010.
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