Hotline #870 -- July 11, 2014

CAF USA announced Tuesday that it will be shipping the first three cars of Amtrak’s order for new long-distance equipment. The cars will be delivered to Albany.

CAF USA reported that 70 car shells have been built so far out of the 130 baggage, diner, sleep and bag-dorm cars included in its $300-million contract with Amtrak. The Elmira, NY-based company employs over 700 local workers.

Representative Tom Reed (R-NY) was present at CAF USA for the announcement of the shipment. He said the company’s impact is significant on the Southern Tier region of New York State, and that the company expects to increase its workforce.

“It’s not just the 700-plus jobs that you’re seeing here today in this facility. It’s all the supply chain. It’s all the indirect benefits. All of the restaurants and all the suppliers to the industry right here,” Reed told the Star Gazette.

CAF USA just won another multimillion-dollar contract last month; it will build 24 streetcars for the City of Boston’s Green Line extension.

 

Today Amtrak president and CEO Joe Boardman began his whistle-tour along the Southwest Chief’s Newton, KS – Albuquerque NM route to meet with local officials about keeping the threatened route alive.

Boardman kicked off his tour today in Kansas, where he and BNSF CEO Matt Rose planned to talk with local officials in Newton, Hutchinson, and Dodge City. Boardman planned to continue on to Garden City.

Tomorrow Boardman will start in Trinidad, CO then continue on to New Mexico with visits scheduled for Raton, Las Vegas, Lamy and the nearby Philmont Scout Ranch.

Discussion will surround efforts to preserve the current route of the Southwest Chief, which could change if Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico can’t find a way to fund track improvements.

As we’ve previously reported, the Southwest Chief’s existing route has been endangered since BNSF’s 2012 announcement that declining demand for freight capacity on a portion of a mainline in Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico meant they would 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 clock has been ticking since we first discussed this in April 2012,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told the Sangre de Cristo Chronicle.

 

SunRail, only in its early months of operation, is serving more than its expected share of passengers and has also witnessed a rise in business activities along the route.

The 32-mile commuter line’s busy operation has stimulated commerce along its stops. Winter Park –the station which has experienced the heaviest traffic of all stops – has seen a particularly notable bounce in business.

Kevin Wray, owner of Peterbrooke Chocolatier on Park Avenue in Winter Park, told the Orlando Sentinel, “Since the trains started running we've definitely seen an increase in business.”

He pointed out that he was selling 15-20% more when passengers could take the ride for free during the designated two-week period. Nowadays, he can still sell 10-15% more than what he could before SunRail opened.

Wray is not the only beneficiary from SunRail’s operations. Debra Hendrickson, vice president of the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce, affirmed the increase in business activities after SunRail. “So far every business owner has been upbeat about the additional business they have received, especially during the time that the ride was free.”

Since the two-week free period ended, Winter Park Station has received the most number of individual rides at 816 per day on average. The distant second, Debary Station, averages 557 rides.

Families constituted the bulk of passengers who used Winter Park earlier this week. One of them was the Calverts. Patrick Calvert brought along his wife and children for their first SunRail trip. He said also told the Orlando Sentinel, "We were at a doctor's appointment and we decided to make a day trip of it." Calvert also said they planned to stroll around Park Avenue and have lunch, and he planned take more trips with SunRail to take a look at other parts of Central Florida.

 

A new $200 million track construction project will lead to a tenfold increase in daily roundtrips on the Capitol Corridor between Sacramento and Roseville. The project also involves building a new rail line on the Union Pacific Railroad right-of-way.

“We’ve been waiting for this for 20 years,” said Celia McAdam, head of the Placer County Transportation Planning Agency to The Sacramento Bee. “We think we can really build on that as an attractive alternative to driving.”

In addition, a portion of the project funds would go to help to build transit-friendly housing and investing in health issues and air quality improvement.

The project will launch despite some criticism from local residents, who think that trains should be added on other routes. Capitol Corridor officials say it will take about four years to get the trains running if the state gets the necessary federal funding.

 

According to Railway Age, the Los Angeles “cars only” stereotype has been rapidly changing because of the city’s substantial investment in subway, light rail, and commuter rail construction after the 60 years of massive disinvestment.

Most recently – two years ago – Phase One of LACMTA's Expo Line Light Rail began operating, connecting downtown with Culver City.

"We're essentially rebuilding the transportation network in the county," said Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA) Executive Officer-Regional Rail Don Sepulveda toRailway Age. The shift started in 1992, when a commuter rail system Metrolink was first established. Now it has seven lines in six counties in California and serves 40,182 riders per day.

Los Angeles’ commitment to rail is further characterized by the fact that it is conducting a $350 million SCRIP project that will restore and expand Union Station. The construction should start on 2017 and could increase the station’s capacity by at least 40%, according to theRailway Age.

 

All Aboard Florida’s plan to connect Miami to Orlando is still on the way, but the initial run in 2016 has been scaled back to extend from Miami, through Fort Lauderdale, to West Palm Beach.

Phase 2, the portion of the intercity passenger rail project that will connect to Orlando, is now expected to be completed in 2017 rather than 2016. The South Florida Business Journal reports that Phase 2 has been delayed "because Orlando International Airport has yet to start on its intermodal transportation center where All Aboard’s local stop will be."

On June 11, the Federal Aviation Administration approved the first part of the Orlando International Airport extension project, giving the green light to plans for the intermodal transit hub, including its passenger rail components.

In response to the FAA's approval, U.S. Representative John Mica told the Orlando Business Journal, "Everything can start now.”

 

Texas Eaglepassengers will have to take an Amtrak-provided shuttle bus between Fort Worth and San Antonio from now until September while construction is completed on Tower 55, a busy railroad intersection in downtown Fort Worth.

“I think everyone knew this was coming. The problem is that Fort Worth’s Tower 55 is at the center of the railroad universe,” Peter LeCody, president of Texas Rail Advocates and NARP board member, told the Star-Telegram. “It’s going to be a long, hot summer for passengers transiting through Fort Worth. Let’s hope there are orderly plans in place to minimize the inconvenience.”

Amtrak will be able to avoid Tower 55 by using the Trinity Railway Express commuter line, which cuts through Irving and Northeast Tarrant County. When this route reaches Fort Worth, passengers will have to get off the train and board long-distance buses, which will transport them to stops in Cleburne, McGregor, Temple, Austin, San Marcos and San Antonio.

This Sunday, July 13, will be the only exception to the modified schedule, when TRE will be closed for maintenance. Amtrak will take passengers as far as Dallas then bus them to the other Texas Eagle stops on the way to San Antonio.

 

Travel advisories

- Power issues temporarily suspended service on New Jersey Transit and Amtrak on Tuesday. Service on the Northeast Corridor and North Jersey Coast Line service was resumed, but delays lingered throughout the morning.

 

From the NARP Blog

Europe Is Committed to Developing its Railways Even Further: In most of the developed countries, trains and railways have become an essential part of daily life. Looking at different regions, Europe has the most developed railway network in the world. If you look at the Eurail railway map, you’ll see that in Europe it is possible to get almost everywhere by train… [Read more]

Investment: the logic behind Amtrak’s Acela RFP: Amtrak recently issued an RFP for new Acela train sets, expanding capacity for the service. Those of us with a national perspective might find it easy to criticize the move given the average age of equipment system-wide has climbed to more than 28 years, while the Acelas are only a little more than half that age. However, the move can be justified when considering the amount of revenue at stake… [Read more]

From the RIARP Blog: May Amtrak Report: Today we are featuring a blog post from the Rhode Island Association of Railroad Passengers. This post was originally published July 10, 2014 on the RIARP blog. Steve Musen, NARP Council Member, reviews Amtrak's reports each month… [Read more]

Washington Post Says Amtrak Should Solve On Time Performance Issues by Cutting Service; NARP Responds: With 2013 came the highest intercity passenger train ridership in the United States since the creation of Amtrak, despite the system being beset by incredible delays. On the Washington Post Blog yesterday, Christopher Ingraham put forth a solution for Amtrak’s on time performance: simply cancel the trains that don’t run on time.… [Read more]

Updated on July 15, 2014.