Hotline #854 -- March 21, 2014

Siemens’s announced this week that it has secured a $225 million contract for 32 locomotives, the components of which will be procured and manufactured exclusively in the United States.

We looked at this story in a NARP Blog post, “When we build trains, we build jobs:”

Under the terms of the contract signed between the German manufacturer and a five-state consortium consisting of Illinois, California, Washington, and Missouri, the firm will build at least 32 high-speed, low-emissions diesel-electric units for these states’ Amtrak services, with options for 225 additional locomotives. As required by federal “Buy America” regulations, these units will be built in the United States at Siemens’ factory in Sacramento, California. The plant, which also produced Amtrak’s new Cities Sprinter locomotives, hosts hundreds of jobs and is one of the area’s largest employers. Caltrans director Malcolm Dougherty praised the new contract, noting that his state continues to “lead the way in offering robust and sustainable alternative transportation choices.”

These kinds of new jobs aren’t limited to California. The new Siemens contract also included a subcontract with Cummins, Inc. of Columbus, Indiana to provide the diesel-electric engines. These engines, which will sport a record 4400 horsepower and comply with the latest EPA regulations, will be manufactured at Cummins’ plant in Seymour, Indiana. Sourcing the engines from an American company further supports American businesses, and solidifies America’s longstanding role as a global leader in railroad technology.

The contract includes an option for an additional 75 locomotives for use in regional transportation, and another 150 locomotives for mainline transportation. The 32 locomotives will be delivered between fall of 2016 and mid-2017.

 

Two important developments occurred in the campaign to preserve the current route of the Southwest Chief through New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas this week.

On March 18, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez (R) approved a budget that allocates $50,000 to study a cost-sharing proposal to maintain and improve 600 miles of track that runs through the three states. Owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, freight traffic on the line has fallen to the point that Amtrakis asking BNSF and the states to share in maintaining the line’s infrastructure to allow operations to continue. The annual cost is estimated at $4 million for each of the five parties over the next 10 years (after that, annual costs are expected to drop).

Meanwhile, the Colorado State House has passed a bill that would look to extend service to Pueblo. Currently, the Southwest Chief runs directly from La Junta to Trinidad; this bill would look to add a horseshoe loop to the route to include Pueblo, a net increase of about 65 miles.  The Bill creates a commission to plan and oversee the improvements to the line on Colorado. 

“We hadpreliminary economic impact studies completed that show a net-positive gain of $67 millionover time in local tourism, new travelers and visitors if we could add a stop to Pueblo,” Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace told KKTV.

The bill faces obstacles, requiring several upgrades to track infrastructure and placing pressure on Amtrak’s scheduling of the train. However, it is further demonstration of the growing public demand for trains, and has increased the pool of supporters for maintaining the train. 

 

New Jerseymayors joined forces to support the restoration of passenger service to the Northern Branch of the Hudson Bergen Light Rail Line.

The Mayors’ Hudson/Bergen Light Rail Commission, co-chaired by Englewood Mayor Frank Huttle III and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, includes twelve mayors from Hudson and Bergen County representing all towns along the current rail line and its proposed addition, which would extend the northern portion of the line through Bergen County.

The commission aims to unify the project’s various stakeholders, coordinate planning, and provide a strong line of communication to New Jersey Transit, the agency leading the effort. The project is a high priority for Englewood, which is located in one of the most densely populated areas of the state and seeks a solution for smart growth and economic development.

"Hudson and Bergen counties are fully developed and host mature economies," Mayor Huttle told Railway Track & Structures. "For the most part, it's not feasible to build new roads, bridges or tunnels for people to get to work between Hudson, Bergen and New York City. New Jersey is still struggling to rebound from the recession and lags behind New York and Pennsylvania in job growth. We need improvements in our transportation infrastructure to grow and create jobs in New Jersey and improve the quality of life for area residents. Light rail will do just that."

 

A major Boston subway stop will be closed for the next two years, forcing many commuters to change their routes. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority announced that the Government Center station on City Hall Plaza will close on Saturday for major renovation projects that will last until spring 2016.

The planned updates—including a new station entrance, platforms and elevators, and expanded fare collection area—will bring the station into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Boston.com suggests several alternatives for passengers who normally transfer between the Green and Blue Lines at Government Center:

The T is recommending that Green Line passengers continue to Haymarket Station and transfer there to the Orange Line southbound, then transfer again to the Blue Line at the State station.

Blue Line riders can likewise transfer to the Orange Line northbound at State, then to the Green Line at Haymarket.

Passengers could also choose to walk or take a shuttle bus between stations, but they would have to pay another fare upon entering the station unless they hold an unlimited weekly or monthly pass.

MBTA predicts that the station closing will only add about 10-15 minutes of travel time for commuters who normally use the Government Center stop.

 

A recent feasibility study announced the possibility of 95-minute passenger train service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The proposed service would include seven stops and cost passengers as little as $10 each way.

The service would run twice daily to begin with, but could be expanded to regular service in the future. The train would serve an estimated 210,000 passengers in its first year, providing an alternative travel option for the 1.4 million people living in parishes along the nearly 80-mile route.

“Passenger rail will cut travel time, reduce congestion, attract economic development for the entire region, create new jobs, and unite two great cities,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu commented in a press release.

The study, conducted by Baton Rouge firm HTNB Corp, estimates a capital cost of $262 million to get the project started. The infrastructure and operating costs of the new railway would be nearly half the price of the high-speed rail project rejected by Governor Bobby Jindal in 2010.

 

Amtrak released its Fiscal Year 2015 budget request this week, asking for $1.6 billion in federal support to strengthen the national network and avoid a growing threat to service on the Northeast Corridor.

In the request, Amtrak President & CEO Joseph Boardman’s emphasized the importance of the national network, calling long-distance trains the “backbone” of the U.S. passenger rail system while pointing out that they represent the only Amtrak service to half of the states and on 70% of Amtrak’s route system.

Amtrak also highlighted the growing infrastructure backlog facing the Northeast Corridor, which carries half of Amtrak's trains and 80 percent of the nation's rail commuters. Without substantial public investment in passenger rail infrastructure, with multi-year predictability to allow for long-term planning, tens of millions of passengers will be faced with increasingly unpredictable and unmanageable transportation options, undermining economic growth within the U.S.

"Increased ridership, enhanced operating performance and stronger financial management are part of an improving Amtrak.  It is time to consider a new paradigm for federal financial support," said Tony Coscia, Amtrak board chairman. "The reality is that status quo federal funding levels put the Northeast Corridor infrastructure at increased risk of major failure with serious economic consequences for the nation.”

NARP is backing President Obama’s proposal for transportation, which includes $19 billion for passenger trains over four years, with $4 billion in FY2015 alone. If you haven’t yet spoken up in support of this plan, take a moment to join NARP’s campaign to revitalize America’s passenger train network!

 

The Arizona Department of Transportation is continuing outreach to determine the scope of three potential passenger rail corridors between Phoenix and Tucson.

ADOT has narrowed the potential development corridor to three alternatives: the Green Alternative, which would run along Interstate 10; the Orange Alternative, which would serve the East Valley along the planned North-South Freeway Corridor; and the Yellow Alternative, serving the East Valley via Union Pacific’s rail line.

The alternatives were developed through extensive public outreach:

ADOT has been working closely with the Federal Transit Administration, the Federal Railroad Administration and local governments and planning organizations in Maricopa, Pinal and Pima counties to determine which routes would move forward for further study. The decision to pursue these three alternatives came not only from technical evaluations, but was also largely based on public input. During the last two years of the study, nearly 7,000 people across Arizona completed surveys to weigh in with their ideas of which routes best served communities.

Ultimately ADOT's passenger rail line will be designed as a blended service: An express service would have few stops between Phoenix and Tucson and a local service would stop at several communities along the way.

You can find more about the upcoming events listed below on ADOT’s website:

  • Tempe Festival of the Arts (March 28 – 30, 10AM – 11PM)
  • Marana Main Street Festival (April 5, 9AM – 4PM)
  • Peoria Arts Festival (April 5, 9AM – 5PM)
  • Mesa 2nd Friday Night Out (April 11,  6PM – 10PM)
  • CityScape (April 16, 11AM – 2PM)
  • Pima County Fair (April 18 – 19, 9AM – 9PM)

 

Canada’s Transport Action Atlantic applauded the planned train trip to Ottawa this weekend by several Maritime members of Parliament in a press release issued today.

TAA is reporting that three Halifax-area MPs will be on board VIA Rail’s Ocean when it departs on Sunday, making a connection in Montreal to the capital in Ottawa. While waiting for the connecting train, the MPs will meet with senior management of VIA to discuss Canada’s rail network.  TAA has also identified several other elected officials from the region who will be onboard, or will greet the train at stations along the route.

“It’s unheard of for voters to take a stand against any politician or candidate because he or she supported passenger rail,” said TAA President Ted Bartlett.  “On the other hand, history has not been kind to governments that reduced or eliminated trains.  Twice in the past 30 years we have seen administrations with substantial majorities go down to crushing defeat at the next election after major cuts to VIA Rail service.  It’s difficult to believe that there isn’t somehow a connection between the two.”

 

From the NARP Blog

Frommer's Dig Passenger Rail Development in America: I recently attended the NY Times Travel show in New York City where I had the privilege of spontaneously meeting world-renowned travel writers and experts, Arthur and Pauline Frommer. Arthur and his daughter Pauline were there meeting with their dedicated fans and fellow travel enthusiasts. I thought to myself, what a great chance to introduce NARP and talk about all the exciting things happening with passenger rail in America! I took the opportunity to introduce myself, and I was glad I did. [Read More]

Passenger Rail Is the Foundation for the Largest Private Development Project in U.S. History: The foundation for the Hudson Yards, the largest private development project in U.S. history, is starting to take shape. In a fascinating inside look, the website Gizmodo looks at why the foundation of this megaproject may actually be its most interesting part. [Read More]

 

Passenger Advisory

—Amtrak announced this week that it will expand coach seating on the Auto Train during peak travel seasons. The move comes in response to growing demand, and will apply to spring and summer travel. Capacity will increase by 60 additional coach seats on Train 53 from Virginia and Train 52 from Florida.

NJ Transit experienced delays yesterday on the Northeast Corridor North Jersey Coast and Raritan Valley Line as a result of problems Amtrak experienced with its catenary wires, which provide electricity to power locomotives on the NEC. Crews were able to restore normal operations within a few hours.