Hotline #868 -- June 27, 2014

Hotline 868 -- June 27, 2014

 

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced this week that it will work with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Central Texas High-Speed Rail Corridor, a privately proposed corridor that will connect Dallas and Houston.

The project is being managed by the Texas Central Railway (TCR), a Texas-based company that has been working with the Central Japan Railway Company since 2009 to bring private-sector-developed high speed rail to Texas. 

“As part of the EIS, the impacts of various alternative HSR route alignments will be analyzed including shared corridors with an existing rail line and along electric utility lines,” announced the FRA. “The TCR’s proposed high speed line will operate on a dedicated right-of-way and would not share track or infrastructure with existing trains and rail lines. In addition, the EIS will analyze the potential impacts of stations, power or fueling stations, and maintenance facilities to support HSR operations.”

The FRA hosted an agency coordination meeting in Austin on June 25th, and is expected to release a Notice of Intent to draft the EIS before the month is through.

 

California’s high speed rail project is on a tear. The Federal Railroad Administration issued a positive Record of Decision (ROD) for the San Francisco – Los Angeles train, only a week after the 220 mph train secured a critically-needed dedicated source of funding last week.

The ROD was based upon an analysis of the environmental impact of the project, coupled with public input to help regulators understand the human impact:

The preferred alternative is comprised of the alignment alternative adjacent to the BNSF Railway bypasses of Corcoran, the Allensworth area, and the Bakersfield Hybrid alternative.  The preferred alternative includes a Downtown Fresno Station, a Kings/Tulare regional station, and a downtown Bakersfield station. FRA selected this combination of route alignments because they are more compatible with the long-range development planning goals of the region, and will result in fewer potential impacts on wetlands and special-status species habitat.  The alignment will also reduce displacements and result in fewer impacts to religious facilities when compared to the other alignment alternatives.

Dedicated Funding Will Fulfill Important State-Wide Goals

U.S. Representatives Janice Hahn (D-CA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and Jim Costa (D-CA), chairs of the California High-Speed Rail Caucus, issued a statement applauding Governor Jerry Brown’s leadership on the project.

“The [dedicated funding] will ease traffic congestion and improve air quality in the State,” said the Californian Representatives. “Currently, California's urban areas rank among the most congested in the country and the problem will only grow worse over time because California's population is projected to grow to about 51 million people by 2050. It is estimated that without the high-speed rail project, California would need to build more than 4,000 new freeway lane miles, 115 new airport gates and four new runways just to keep up with population growth.”

Crews Begin Construction Work

And as we reported in the NARP blog, crews have also broke ground on test pilings outside Madera:

Contractors are currently building a test piling near Madera, which will be anchored 80 feet below ground and secured with cement. This structure will not actually be part of the line; rather, the piling will be stressed until it breaks, providing necessary load-bearing data for engineers to safely design the viaduct system to support the train. Builders plan on using these tests to begin installing pilings later in the summers.

Study Defines California HSR’s Positive Impact

Additionally, the Mineta Transportation Institute issued a report this week, titled “Modal Shift and High-Speed Rail: A Review of the Current Literature.” The study found that “in both Europe and Asia, HSR systems have greatly reduced or even curtailed air service when serving the same routes,” and predicted the California system would share in the global success seen by high speed rail systems.

However, “Economic competition is not the objective,” clarified the report. “Most of the literature explored in this analysis explicitly uses the concept of competition to explore modal shift, although competition in the sense of economic battle is not the ultimate objective for HSR systems. Rather, these systems are intended to advance a number of policy goals, including environmental objectives, more rational allocation of public infrastructure, and other goals. To achieve these targets, significant modal shift to HSR is paramount, and hence the emphasis on competition in the literature. This competition assumes a diversity of forms, but it tends to focus on point-to-point travel times, costs, and quality of the travel experience.”

Amtrak/California HSR Joint-Procurement Off

Not everything went smoothly for the project, however, with the California High Speed Rail Authority (CAHSRA) and Amtrak announcing that plans to jointly procure high speed rail equipment would have to be scrapped due to divergent specifications. Amtrak made the decision to only seek out equipment capable of 160mph speeds to replace its aging Acela fleet. California’s line will require 220 mph top speeds. At the end of the day, the two entities decided a common vehicle wouldn’t make engineering sense.

CAHSRA is saying that this will allow them to use specification more in-line with international standards, which could enable them to see the same kinds of cost savings as a joint equipment order.

“Now we're going to have something much closer to off-the-shelf train sets from manufacturers,” Frank Vacca, chief program manager for the California rail program, told the Fresno Bee. “There will be fewer modifications needed to the designs out there today that are operating at 220 mph. The more we can keep it off-the-shelf, the better it is for cost.”

Groups have responded to this news by voicing hope that Amtrak and CAHSRA will maintain their commitment to creating good-paying manufacturing jobs for Americans—a primary benefit of modernizing—as part of the order.

“In the separate Requests for Proposals (RFPs), Amtrak and the California High Speed Rail Authority should require—as the joint proposal did—that the companies bidding for the contract to build America’s first modern high-speed trains clearly spell out their plans for creating good U.S. jobs and providing opportunities for disadvantaged Americans,” said Madeline Janis, Campaign Director of Jobs for America. “Given our past experience with the joint RFP, we have high hopes they will.”

 

SunRail’s Phase II is on target to extend commuter rail service to southern Osceola County by late 2016, according to Florida Department of Transportation officials.

On Monday DOT District 5 Secretary Noranne Downs announced that Congress will conduct a 30-day review starting on January 3, 2015 to approve a $63 million funding grant for the SunRail project, which was included in President Obama’s latest budget addendum on March 4.

But first the Federal Project Management Oversight Committee must fully review the project beginning on July 21 and submit a report by September 8. If the funding grant is approved as part of next year’s budget, construction on SunRail’s Phase II segment will begin in 2015.

Meanwhile the segment of SunRail opened in May between Debary and Orlando continues to exceed ridership expectations. Last week paid ridership climbed to a five-day average of 4,575, topping SunRail’s original goal of a 4,300 weekly average in its first year of service. SunRail surpassed its goal the week before, too, with an average of 4,361.

 

Metro announced on Monday that the long-awaited first phase of the Silver Line will be ready for passengers on July 26, barring any unexpected delays.

The 11.4-mile extension will connect Tysons Corner and downtown Washington, what the Washington Postcalls “the national capital area’s biggest economic hubs.” The new line will carry passengers from the new Wiehle-Reston East station to four other brand new stations along its way to East Falls Church, where it will meet the Orange Line. The line will continue through downtown and all the way to Largo Town Center.

It took over a decade to plan the Silver Line and over five years to construct it, due to the political discord and planning glitches that seemed to plague the project. The announcement of the opening date, though expected to happen months earlier, couldn’t come soon enough for Metro passengers.

 

Amtrak announced Tuesday that it will begin equipping all of its long-distance trains, including the Capitol Limited, with bike-friendly baggage cars by the end of the year.

In last week’s hotlinewe mentioned Amtrak’s new baggage cars, which include storage space for bikes. Once Amtrak has integrated these baggage cars into the national network, passengers toting bicycles will no longer have to box their bikes but instead enjoy “roll-on” service.

“It’‍s great to have Amtrak understanding how important the bike tourism industry is,” Linda Boxx, board member and former president of the Allegheny Trail Alliance, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

 

News in Brief

—After negotiations between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Long Island Rail Road’s union workers failed to produce fruit, a labor strike is looming large on the mind of many new York-area commuters.

—Tomorrow, transportation officials and leaders will gather to commemorate the completion of Metra's UP West Line, a Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) project. The CREATE program, comprised of more than 70 individual upgrade and improvement projects, is helping ease congestion through Chicago, the nation’s busiest rail hub.

The event, held in Bellwood, Illinois, will also inaugurate a new funding agreement between the state of Illinois and Union Pacific for projects targeted at decreasing rail congestion in Chicago and its western suburbs.

—The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) and Congresswoman Louise Slaughter revealed today the team that will design and built the new Rochester Intermodal Transportation Center.

“Almost two years to the day since I secured a TIGER grant to build the Rochester train station, we are announcing that a local team led by The Pike Company using local workers has been selected to build our new station,” said Congresswoman Slaughter. “I couldn’t be more pleased that this talented team has been chosen and I am convinced that they will build our region a beautiful, highly functional station.”

 

From the NARP Blog

With First Phase Under its Belt, DC Eyes Future Streetcar Expansion: Streetcars were once the lifeblood of the Nation’s Capital, much like many other U.S. cities. The last streetcar ride in D.C. on January 28, 1962 marked the end of an era. The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) implemented a plan several years ago to bring streetcars back to the neighborhoods of Washington, D.C. Streetcar tracks have finally returned to H Street… [Read more]

Shovels in the Ground for California’s High Speed Rail Line: After six years of hard work by advocates and state leaders, crews have begun construction work on California’s high speed rail line. Contractors are currently building a test piling near Madera, which will be anchored 80 feet below ground and secured with cement. This structure will not actually be part of the line… [Read more]

Updated at 6:10pm EDT on 6/27/14.