Hotline #864 -- May 30, 2014

A $350 million track-improvement project could mean significant time savings for train passengers passing through the Los Angeles Union Station.

The Southern California Regional Interconnector Project will install four new sections of track, reconfiguring the current layout which is hindered by dead-end tracks and only having a single entrance. The interconnector will extend several tracks at the south end of the station, which will then cross over the 101 Freeway and loop back to existing tracks going north, south, and east.

When the track upgrades are complete, Amtrak and Metrolink trains will be able to run straight through the terminal. This will mean shorter stops at Union Station for most trains and no stop at all for express trains. Planners also expect a 40% to 50% increase in Union Station’s capacity as a result of the new track layout.

"If you are coming from San Diego and can cut 15 minutes off your trip to San Luis Obispo, that is a pretty significant savings," Don Sepulveda, executive officer for regional rail at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, told the LA Times. "This important project is long overdue."

The idea for the new track layout has been floating around since the 1950’s but hasn’t gained traction until recently. According to Sepulveda, planning is about 30% complete, and construction will begin in 2017 and is expected to be complete by late 2019 or early 2020. Funding for the project is coming from state and federal grants as well as revenue from Measure R, the county’s sales tax specifically designed to fund transportation projects.

Paul Dyson, the president of the Rail Passengers Association of California and Nevada, and NARP council member, told the LA Times, “This will be a game changer for intercity and regional rail in Southern California.”

 

FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo visited the Siemens Louisville, KY rail plant which manufactures rail safety and control systems on Friday, May 30.

The plant is currently one of only a few across the nation which is producing the components for Positive Train Control, the new system of which Congress mandated implementation on key rail routes in 2008. According to an FRA press release,Szabo praised the benefits of PTC while touring the factory, stating that the technology “has the ability to stop a train, avert an accident and consequentially save lives. It is a powerful tool to help us mitigate human error and further reduce the number of train accidents.”

In addition to PTC components, the plant also manufactures wayside signals and crossing components, and has contracted with customers such as Norfolk Southern, Long Island Railroad and Kansas City Southern. The plant has hired 95 new employees over the past year in order to cope with the increased demand for PTC systems.

 

Amtrak, Norfolk Southern, the Federal Railroad Administration and the Indiana Department of Transportation have partnered to execute the $71.4 million Indiana Gateway Project, which aims to improve rail routes traversed by Amtrak and Norfolk Southern trains in northwestern Indiana.

The project will encompass upgrades at eight individual locations stretching from Porter Junction, IN, to the Illinois state line, and will include signal and track upgrades, including a new passing siding and high speed crossovers at several interlockings. Some of the project areas, located on NS’s Chicago Line and Amtrak’s Michigan Line, see 14 Amtrak trains and over 90 freight trains per day, often resulting in heavy delays for both railroads. According to NS’s Vice President for Operation Planning as quoted in the Northwest Indiana Times, the upgrades will “help our dispatchers to move trains better through this entire area, which will help all of us in the long run.” The project, which was originally funded by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act in 2010, has a targeted completion date of 2016.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence officially launched the project from the platform of the Hammond-Whiting Amtrak station on Thursday, and was joined by officials from NS, Amtrak and the FRA. Pence was optimistic about the economic benefits that the Gateway Project will bring to the state.

“By reducing congestion where Lake Michigan funnels rail traffic east of Chicago and improving the flow of goods and people by rail,” he said in an INDOT press release, “the Indiana Gateway has the potential to grow Northwest Indiana’s reputation as a manufacturing and distribution center and positively impact economic development in the Region.” Norfolk Southern’s Harris concurred, stating that “The Indiana Gateway project provides important infrastructure improvements which, when completed, should allow for more efficient movement of passenger and freight trains through this vital rail corridor.”

 

All Aboard Florida unveiled plans for its future station in downtown Miami, which will be the largest of the four stations planned.

According to the Sun Sentinel, the new station will be a “Grand Central Station-like landmark rail hub flanked by new skyscrapers.” The structure, which includes a 50-foot tall platform, will tower above the downtown and extend to include new offices, housing, shops and parking.

The Sun Sentinel elaborates on the design of the new station:

“The development, with 3 million square feet of space, will be spread over two sites: 9 acres just east of Miami-Dade County Hall and a 2-acre site nearby in Miami's historic Overtown neighborhood. Renderings show several new towers of varying height. Officials say the design will feature retail shops beneath the elevated tracks and allow through streets to remain open to traffic and ‘create an atmosphere of walkability.’”

The station will allow All Aboard Florida passengers to connect to Metrorail, the bus system and the downtown people mover, Metromover. The new station is expected to serve millions of commuters and local residents.

"All Aboard Florida will be one of the most transformative projects for the city of Miami," Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado told the Sun Sentinel.

All Aboard Florida, a subsidiary of Florida East Coast Industries, plans to run 32 daily passenger trains starting in 2016. The train will travel on existing Florida East Coast Railway tracks between Miami and Cocoa, then head west to Orlando on new tracks. In addition to downtown Miami, new stations are planned for downtown Fort Lauderdale, downtown West Palm Beach and Orlando International Airport.

 

Ohio rail advocacy group All Aboard Ohio is pushing for high-speed rail service between Cincinnati and Chicago.

Citing the inconvenient late-night, tri-weekly service which constitutes the current rail link between the two cities, the group has suggested that Cincinnati has not had the opportunity to participate in the surge in regional rail ridership enjoyed by other cities. Derek Bauman, a community activist and member of All Aboard Ohio’s board, told Cincinnati Business Courier,“We see the challenges with our air system. You see that intercity rail ridership numbers are going through the roof. We need to not be left behind. People say, ‘That is something I could really use.’”

The group is advocating 110-mph rail service between Cincinnati Union Terminal and Chicago at least four times per day. All Aboard Ohio insists that the estimated $40 million dollars for the first stage of track, signal and station projects will not only clear up congestion along the corridor, but also benefit Indiana residents who are faced with a similar situation of inconvenient, once daily regional train service.

The administration of current governor John Kasich may prove to be an obstacle to the plan given his rejection of $400 million in federal funding for improved rail service in 2011.  Rail proponents remain hopeful, however. According to the Columbus Dispatch, Columbus’ planning administrator Vince Papsidero recently praised the possibility of the high-speed rail corridor, saying, “There’s economic benefit, given the amount of business activity that occurs between Columbus and Chicago. This actually could be profitable.”

 

The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded New Jersey Transit and the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) rail systems a total of $235 million in federal grants to repair damage from Superstorm Sandy.

“Sandy battered New Jersey, sending an unprecedented storm surge up New York Harbor and the Hudson and Hackensack Rivers that flooded PATH stations and tunnels and crippled NJT’s Kearny rail yards,” said Senator Menendez (D-NJ), who chairs the Banking Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development with direct transit oversight. “These grants help pay to rebuild our state’s vital public transit network without overburdening commuters.”

Asbury Park Press investigates the impact of the grants:

The most significant aspect for NJ Transit riders is funding the creation of a new, system-wide emergency-operations communications center, to replace the current center, which was located in a trailer parked at a bus garage during Sandy.

“This begins the process of establishing a state-of-the-art emergency operations center,” said John Durso, NJ Transit spokesman. Establishing a permanent center was recommended in a post-Sandy report done by the Texas A&M Engineering Extension service.

The grants, awarded through the Federal Transit Administration’s Public Transportation Emergency Relief Program, will reimburse NJ Transit and PATH for interim resilience measures, repairs and recovery work needed because of storm damage.

 

Two high-speed Talgo trainsets originally constructed for service in Wisconsin have been vacated from the state by the manufacturer as of 9:15 PM on Wednesday, May 28.

The equipment was contracted by former Governor Jim Doyle as part of a plan for high-speed rail service between Milwaukee and Madison, WI. The governor brought in the Spanish-based company to construct the trainsets at a new facility in Milwaukee, and state taxpayers backed over $52 million in payments before current Governor Scott Walker killed the project.

The trainsets had been sitting dormant at the Milwaukee facility before the company decided to move them to Amtrak’s Beech Grove Shops in Indiana in order to save storage costs. According to Nora Friend as quoted in the Milwaukee Business Journal, Talgo’s vice president for business affairs and business development,  the company is “moving the trains out of the state of Wisconsin and are trying to mitigate damages and are basically trying to find a home for the trains.”

That new home may prove to be Michigan, which is rumored to be considering purchase of the trainsets for its Wolverine service.

 

The CapeFlyer carried 1,035 passengers this Memorial Day weekend, marking a 28% increase compared with ridership during the same weekend last year.

The CapeFlyer – a partnership between the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) – started transporting passengers from the Boston area to Cape Cod on a seasonal schedule during 2013. According to MBTA, the passenger train service carried over 17,000 passengers and generated more than $290,000 in revenue in its first year, eliminating the need for an operating subsidy.

"We're off to a terrific start," MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott told Progressive Railroading. "The numbers prove what we've often repeated. When you provide travelers with an affordable and convenient alternative to the automobile, they will jump on it."

 

Traveler’s Advisory

-          Empire Builder service will be suspended between Minot, ND, and St. Paul, MN, for four days between May 31 and June 4 with no substitute transportation. Amtrak officials told NARP: “By request of BNSF Railway Company due to current operating conditions on BNSF’s railroad in Eastern North Dakota and Western Minnesota, Amtrak will be canceling service in both directions between MOT and MSP, with no alternate transportation, for four days.

“This is effective with these dates of origin: Train 7 of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th and Train 8 of the 31st, 1st, 2nd and 3rd. The dates are staggered so rail equipment is in the correct location to resume service eastbound on the 4th and westbound on the 5th.”

NARP will report as more information becomes available.

-          PATCO commuter trains between New Jersey and Philadelphia are operating under a revised schedule starting today to accommodate a rail rehabilitation project.Commuters will likely face delays and crowded cars for the next two months.

-          Metro-North and Amtrak trains were halted at the Walk Bridge in Norfolk, CT after the swing bridge from 1896 froze in ‘open’ position early Thursday morning.Service resumed after about five and a half hours at 9am.

-          Track work will affect Amtrak Cascades service between Portland and Eugene on June 2 and 3, 2014.Click herefor details on the temporary schedule modifications. 

 

From the NARP Blog

-NARP Responds to Attacks on Amtrak on Wisconsin Public Radio: Today, NARP's Vice President Sean Jeans-Gail spoke with Wisconsin Public Radio's Joy Cardin to speak about the potential impact of Congressman Paul Ryan's budget proposal for Amtrak and the future of passenger rail in America. [Read more]

-Maryland Commuter Train, MARC, Experiences Continuous Increase in Ridership: The number of passengers riding the new MARC weekend service has more than tripled since its inception five months ago. The Maryland Transit Administration, or MTA, began offering weekend MARC service on its 75-mile Penn Line between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore on December 7th of last year. [Read More]

-Regional Flight Cuts Damage Mobility and Economic Development: “Every hub needs to earn its value every day.” Such were the words of Jeff Smisek, president of the newly merged United and Continental Airlines. The statement reflects a growing push for “capacity discipline,” the concept that every flight must be as close to capacity as possible. This concept has driven airlines to cut service to mid-sized markets, even certain hubs. [Read More]