Hotline #848 -- February 7, 2014

Image courtesy the White House

A new chapter began on the Northeast Corridor today when Amtrak Northeast Regional #171 departed Boston this morning with the first of 70 new advanced Siemens electric locomotives to enter service on America’s busiest rail corridor.

Vice President Joe Biden joined Amtrak yesterday at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station to welcome the new locomotives.  He stressed the importance of trains to the Northeast Corridor, where one in six Americans live and work.  Biden’s warning that I-95 would be “a parking lot” without the railroad was not hyperbole: Amtrak’s NEC served 11 million passengers last year, and carried three times more people between Washington, D.C. and New York City than all the airlines combined.

The heavy usage of the corridor means the new electric locomotives will be all the more welcome. Siemens’ Cities Sprinters will introduce a number of benefits to passengers to operations on the NEC:

The new locomotives are designed for improved reliability and easier maintenance leading to faster turn-around times and increased availability for service. A state-of-the-art microprocessor system performs self-diagnosis of technical issues, takes self-corrective action and notifies the locomotive engineer. In addition, there are redundant systems to ensure power is maintained to the passenger cars to keep heating and cooling systems working, the lights on and the doors operational. The locomotives also meet the latest federal rail safety regulations, including crash energy management components.

Furthermore, the locomotives are energy efficient and use a regenerative braking system to feed energy back into the power grid. Together, the 70 locomotives could save over 3 billion kilowatt hours of energy and could result in more than $300 million in savings over 20 years.

The new locomotives will replace older equipment that have between 25 and 35 years of service and have traveled and average of more than 3.5 million miles with some approaching 4.5 million miles. Amtrak expects to have several more new locomotives enter revenue service in the coming weeks and then will receive monthly delivery of the remaining units through 2015.

The new locomotives comply with all Buy America laws.  Built in Sacramento, the locomotives use parts fabricated from Siemens plants in Ohio, Georgia, Mississippi, and nearly 70 other suppliers that employ workers from 60 cities across 23 states.

“This is how we used to grow America," said Vice President Biden, talking about the power of rail investment to create good jobs. “The locomotive brakes were made in Baltimore, the paint was mixed in Delaware, the handrails were made with pride right here in Philadelphia, the electricians in Middletown made the electric components, seats from Exton, cab signing came from East Pittsburgh, installation from Newark, the basic plastic parts from New York, lighting from New Haven, rubber parts from Boston."

Vice President Biden also pushed backed against critics of passenger rail, pointing out that the government provides funding for all modes, and that rail—working in partnership with roads and airports—is a necessary component of a world class, high-capacity transportation system.

“I’m so tired of getting beat up about Amtrak for the last 40 years… How many more lanes can you build at what cost? How many more air traffic routes are there from the major airports? How many more berths are available at our nation’s airports? We need an entire transportation system to accommodate the growing economy and the new high-tech economy that America is becoming.”

 

A study released yesterday demonstrated the important economic impact of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief rail service on the Colorado economy, generating roughly $5.7 million in economic activity.

“The Economic Impact of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief Rail Service on the Colorado Economy,” authored by Colorado State University-Pueblo Professors Kevin Duncan and Michael Wakefield, found that the Southwest Chief  brought in 6,300 out-of-state tourists per year. The study found that “these visitors generated an additional $5.7 million in economic activity, over 50 jobs, and about $340,000 in state and local tax revenue.”

As we’ve reported to you, the Southwest Chief’s existing route is endangered because BNSF has announced that declining demand for freight capacity on a portion of a mainline in Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico means they will no longer maintain that segment to the level required for passenger trains, which run at higher speeds than freight trains. To keep the train on its current route, each of the three states is asked to chip in $4 million per year over the next 10 years (after that, the annual costs will drop sharply).

The study also looked at the cost and benefits of adding a stop in Pueblo:

A station in Pueblo would provide a state-wide benefit with multi-modal connectivity to other destinations in Colorado and would complement CDOT’s planned state-wide transit service. We estimate that a new stop in Pueblo would attract approximately 15,700 riders annually. Approximately 7,500 of these passengers would start their trips in other states. The economic impact of these passengers would generate an additional $6.7 million in economic activity, over 60 jobs, and about $400,000 in state and local tax revenue.

The study concludes that the benefits of an improved long distance service would exceed the costs by approximately $36 million. However, initial upfront costs and securing service outcome agreements will make it difficult for Colorado to go it alone. This study demonstrates the need for a strong federal investment in long distance services, and is further investing in improved train service generates economic activity.

 

A report released by the U.S. Public Research Interest Group found that universities across the country have had success saving money by encouraging their communities, students, faculty and staff to decrease their reliance on personal vehicles. The end result has also improved the quality of life in college towns

The university efforts are in response to decreased demand for driving among Millenials. The Federal Highway Administration found that young Americans (aged 16 to 34) reduced their annual driving miles by 23 percent per person between 2001 and 2009. Universities reacted by providing alternatives to driving, and the study found that students, faculty, and surrounding communities responded positively to these initiatives.

“Across America, colleges and universities are showing that efforts to meet increased demand for transportation options deliver powerful benefits for their community and surrounding areas,” said Phineas Baxandall, a co-author of the report and Senior Analyst at U.S. PIRG Education Fund. “These efforts are saving money for universities, and improving the quality of life on campus.”

The biggest savings come from parking costs. The cost of a parking space at a downtown campus can run as high as $4,000 annually, and the upfront cost of building an underground parking facility is roughly $30,000 per space. By focusing on transit, pedestrian, and bicycling infrastructure, universities save money for students, faculty, and the institution.

The study also found significant health and environmental benefits to offering real transportation choices in how to access the campus.

“University and college campuses are at the forefront of encouraging new ways to get around that don’t depend on personal cars. Public officials who want to stay ahead of the curve should be taking notes,” said Baxandall.

 

Yet another snowstorm snarled travel across the Northeast and Midwest, with Amtrak proving yet again the value of investing in a muli-modal transportation network.

While thousands of flights across the U.S. were cancelled, Amtrak trains were able to keep running with only moderate delays.

“We’re running a full schedule. We’re holding our own on the corridor,” said Amtrak spokesman Craig Schulz on Monday. 

Snow-downed trees and wires did eventually force Amtrak to suspend service on the Keystone Service yesterday, although crews were able to restore service as of time of publishing.

 

Las Vegas Railway Express (LVRE) announced February 4 that difficult negotiations between host railroads and Amtrak have forced the luxury Los Angeles to Las Vegas X Train to operate as a charter service.

While the X Train was originally intended as a regularly-scheduled weekend service between Southern California and Las Vegas, Amtrak—the company that will operate the train—was unable to reach an agreement with BNSF and Union Pacific, the railroads that own the tracks between L.A. and Las Vegas. Now, the LVRE will run the X Train as a charter operation, marketing to wedding parties, corporate events, and the gambling set.

LVRE will initially attach luxury rail cars to regular Amtrak trains. Eventually however, the X Train will have its own locomotives—though Amtrak will continue to run the operations.

The service between Los Angeles and Las Vegas will launch in May 2014. In the meantime, the company is offering weekend service between Los Angeles and San Diego.

 

From the NARP Blog:

"First Transit Super Bowl" Overwhelmed By Passenger Demand: Organizers dubbed it “the first transit Super Bowl,” but the agencies involved were unprepared for the more than 27,000 attendees who took that to heart. Add in heightened security creating additional chokepoints, and the end result was a completely overwhelmed transit infrastructure. [Read More]

Proposed cuts will strand rural Canadians: While NARP traditionally focuses on issues of relevance to U.S. passenger rail, we are also firm supporters of passenger train service throughout North America.  On January 31, we sent a letter to Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer protesting the announced March 31 discontinuation of passenger train service between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst, Ontario.  We also warned the Ambassador of the possible discontinuation of service between Montréal and Halifax. In today’s blog, we’ll explain why these services are so critical to rural Canadians and why the debates over these mirror similar debates in the United States. [Read More]

 

Passenger Advisory

—North Carolina’s Department of Transportation is offering Amtrak passengers the chance to save 15% on midweek travel to or from North Carolina.

The sale is valid for midweek travel (Tuesday – Thursday) on Amtrak’s Palmetto, Piedmont, Crescent, Silver Meteor, Silver Star and Carolinian trains, on travel between now and March 27. Adult fares only. Find out all the details at NCbyTrain.org.