Archive for March, 2017

3 Bids Received for Schenectady Station Work

March 31, 2017

Three bids have been submitted for the proposed new Amtrak station in Schenectady, New York.

All of the bids appear to be within the $6 budget for the station.

The bidders were seeking to perform the first phase of the project, which includes razing the current station and doing concrete and structural work around the station platform.

That work is expected to begin this spring once a winning bidder is chosen by the New York State Department of Transportation.

It is the second time that bids have been submitted for the station work.

Last year one bid for the project came in $10 million over budget. State officials decided to break the station project into two phases.

The budget for the project is $15 million, most of which is from federal funding.

The project timeline calls for demolition of the station to be completed this year. Amtrak is constructing a temporary boarding platform at Liberty Street.

The contract for construction of the permanent station is expected to go out for bid this fall with construction starting in 2018.

The new station is expected to resembled the former Union Station, which was razed years ago. The current Amtrak station opened in 1979.

About 60,000 passengers per year board Amtrak at Schenectady, but city officials believe the station could become busier after the opening of the Rivers Casino and Resort.

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The War of Words Continues in Site Selection Process for New Buffalo NY Amtrak Station

March 31, 2017

A decision on a site for a new Amtrak station in Buffalo, New York, is not expected until late April, but it appears that a site in the Canalside neighborhood has been ruled out.

The Canalside site was not included in the list of sites that were studied by a consulting firm.

Some city officials say that Canalside was dropped from active consideration because inter-city buses could not be adequately accommodated there.

In the meantime, a New York congressman who has strongly supported renovating the former Central Terminal has attacked the consultant’s report for what he termed grossly inflated costs for that site.

Rep. Brian Higgins took issue with findings that returning passenger rail service to Central Terminal would cost between $68 million to $149 million, depending on the level of service provided and whether the facility would also serve local and inter-city buses.

Higgins said the costs could be cut by $6 million by giving up unnecessary improvements to the terminal concourse. Another $1.4 million could be saved by eliminating some elevators.

Higgins contends that renovating Central Terminal could be eligible for nearly $11.8 million in tax credits under state and federal programs for the renovation of historic properties.

Saying some members of the 17-member station selection committee don’t like the neighborhood around Central Terminal, Higgins accused them of trying to price Central Terminal out of contention.

At least one station site selection committee member has expressed doubt that Central Terminal is an appropriate site for a modern, intermodal transportation center.

Some committee members, who would not agreed to be named, believe Higgins is trying to hijack the station selection process.

Eugene Berardi Jr., president of Adirondack Trailways, said it would be difficult for buses to serve Central Terminal because of the low underpasses on the streets near the station.

He also said bus passengers want to be dropped off downtown to access Metro Rail and other public transportation.

Supporters of a downtown location say that an intermodal facility would be eligible for Federal Transit Administration funds as well as Federal Railroad Administration funding.

The consultant’s report lists three possible downtown sites for the new station:

  •  The site of the existing Amtrak station on Exchange Street
  •  A site just west of the existing station, nearer to Washington Street
  •  A site at Washington Street just south of the I-190

Support for Central Terminal has come from another source. Twenty-five architects have signed  a letter backing the Central Terminal as the site for a new Buffalo train station.

“This is about a lot more than where to put a train platform,” said Robert Stark, president of the American Institute of Architects, New York State, and a partner with CJS Architects in Larkinville, New York.

Chao Says Infrastructure Plan Will Reduce Regulations, House Committee Approves Passenger Rail Legislation

March 31, 2017

It’s not the money it’s the red tape. Or so Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao wants everyone to believe is the reason why more isn’t being done to rebuild America’s infrastructure.

Speaking during an open house to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Chao said the Trump Administration’s infrastructure proposal that has yet to be delivered to Congress will include proposals to eliminate regulations.

“Investors say there is ample capital available, waiting to invest in infrastructure projects,” Chao said.” So the problem is not money. It’s the delays caused by government permitting processes that hold up projects for years, even decades, making them risky investments.”

Chao said the Trump infrastructure plan “will include common-sense regulatory, administrative, organizational and policy changes that will encourage investment and speed project delivery.”

Although she did not provide details, that infrastructure proposal will include a “a strategic, targeted program of investment valued at $1 trillion over 10 years,” Chao said.

She said the proposal will cover more than transportation infrastructure. It will also include energy, water and potentially broadband and veterans hospitals.

Public-private partnerships will be a focal point of the plan as a way to avoid “saddling future generations with massive debt.”

In an unrelated development, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure this week approved a bill involving passenger rail.

The committee reported out H.R. 1346, which repeals a rule titled “Metropolitan Planning Organization Coordination and Planning Area Reform.”

In a statement, the committee said the rule exceeds what is required in law, is contrary to congressional intent, and increases burdens on MPOs and states.

The committee said H.R. 1346 maintains MPO and state flexibility in planning and making transportation investments.

Also approved was H.R. 1093, which mandates the Federal Railroad Administration to notify Congress about any initiation and results of passenger and commuter rail comprehensive safety assessments.

Fundraiser Set for Algoma Central Passenger Service

March 31, 2017

A fundraising campaign to help kick start the return of rail passenger service to the Algoma Central Railway will be held on April 6.

Sponsored by the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains, the event will have folk music and a silent auction at the Algoma Water Town Inn & Suites in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

Proceeds of the event will be used to support the efforts of the Missanabie Cree First Nation to create a non-profit passenger train between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst that would be named the “Mask-wa Oa-ta-ban” or “Bear Train.”

Service on the route ended in 2015 when funding from the Canadian government dried up. The Algoma Central is today part of Canadian National.

Eau Claire Support Rail Service — Again

March 31, 2017

The Eau Claire city council this week voted to support a proposal to establish passenger-rail service between the Wisconsin city and St. Paul, Minnesota.

The vote came after a presentation by the West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition, which is supporting a private section plan to start the service.

It is the third vote by the council in support of passenger rail, but other resolutions went nowhere due to lack of funding.

Eau Claire has never had intercity rail passenger service during the Amtrak era.

Let the Posturing Begin: Trade Groups Jockey for Influence in Wake of New Regime in Washington

March 31, 2017

With a new administration in Washington promising a renewed focus on transportation infrastructure the posturing from trade groups representing various segments of the railroad industry is in full swing.

The American Public Transportation Association is seeking to lobby Congress to fully fund the FAST Act for fiscal years 2017 and 2018 as well as include public transit in any infrastructure development plan.

The Association of American Railroads is seeking to caution the administration against taking too hostile of a stance on foreign trade by pointing out that at least 42 percent of rail traffic and more than 35 percent of annual rail revenue are directly tied to international trade.

APTA is reacting to the “skinny budget” proposed by President Donald Trump earlier this year that slashed funding for capital grants used by public transit.

In particular the Trump budget would greatly reduce the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grants, TIGER grants and Amtrak funding.

APTA said it has conducted more than 60 meetings with congressional staff, focusing on those that serve on budget, appropriations, tax and authorization committees, and taken other proactive steps to engage with members of Congress.

It also has called on its members to meet with their members of Congress when they are on spring break in their home districts April 8-23.

As for the AAR, it released a report saying that 50,000 domestic rail jobs accounting for more than $5.5 billion in annual wages and benefits depend directly on international trade. Those numbers would be higher if rail traffic indirectly associated with trade is included.

AAR fears that the Trump administration might make policy changes that would adversely affect the global economy.

“Efforts that curtail overall trade would threaten thousands of U.S. freight-rail jobs that depend on it and limit essential railroad revenues used to modernize railroad infrastructure throughout North America,” said AAR President and CEO Edward Hamberger.

The AAR report examined rail movements using data from the 2014 Surface Transportation Board Waybill Sample, other government data and information from U.S. ports and Google Earth.

This included movements of coal for export from ports in Maryland, Virginia, the Gulf Coast and the Great Lakes; paper and forest products imported from Canada into the Midwest, as well as paper products exported from the southern United States; imports and exports of Canadian and Mexican automotive products to and from auto factories in dozens of U.S. states; containers of consumer goods from Asia coming ashore in California, Washington, Georgia, Virginia and New Jersey; plastics shipped by rail from Texas and Louisiana to the East and West coasts for export to Europe and Asia; iron ore mined in Minnesota and shipped by rail to Great Lakes ports; and Midwest-grown grain carried by rail to the Pacific Northwest and the Gulf Coast for export.

No Injuries in LSL Chicago Derailment

March 29, 2017

No injuries were reported when the inbound Lake Shore Limited derailed at slow speed just outside of Chicago Union Station on Monday.

No. 49/449 was arriving at the station at 11:50 a.m. when three cars on the 11-car train left the rails.

Passengers in the three cars were helped into the cars that remained on the tracks.

The cause of the derailment is still being investigated, but the mishap occurred as the train was moving through a switch.

There were 197 passengers and nine crew members aboard. Damage to the passenger cars was minimal.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said there were no delays to Amtrak or Metra trains. However, a couple of Amtrak trains were held in the station to allow extra time for connecting passengers to transfer their luggage.

Some Lincoln Service Canceled on April 3. Texas Eagle to Detour Between Chicago and St. Louis

March 28, 2017

Track work being performed on Monday, April 3 will result in cancellations and detours in the Chicago-St. Louis corridor.

Amtrak said in a service advisory that Lincoln Service trains 300, 301, 302 and 303 will be canceled. All except No. 300 will be replaced by charter bus service at each station on the route.

The buses will depart earlier than the scheduled departure show in the Amtrak timetable.

Lincoln Service trains 304, 305, 306 and 307 will run on their normal schedules.

The Texas Eagle in both directions will detour and bypass the stations of Joliet, Pontiac, Bloomington-Normal, Lincoln, Springfield, Carlinville and Alton.

Amtrak said passengers ticketed to travel on Nos. 21 and 22 to or from these stations are advised to instead travel on Lincoln Service trains or buses.

Operations of the Texas Eagle will not be affected south of St. Louis. Amtrak said the detour may delay the Eagle by up to 45 minutes.

Springfield Union Station to Reopen in June

March 27, 2017

Springfield (Massachusetts) Union Station will reopen on June 24 to serve Amtrak and offer restaurant and shops.

The depot was closed in 1974 but restored as part of a $95 million project that left many of its original features intact.

The station opened in 1926 and hosts the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited, the Vermonter and several Northeast Regional trains.

Congressman Richard E. Neal, who help lead the restoration effort, said during a news media tour that the revitalized station should help increase Amtrak ridership and spur further commercial development.

During the restoration, the station’s terrazzo floors were restored, a new roof was installed, period light fixtures were put into place and eight murals depicting Springfield’s history were hung. A clock was placed in the grand concourse.

“I kicked off my political career here 40 years ago, so [the station] still has great meaning to me and the people of Springfield,” said Neal. “Restoring this station can make Springfield a transportation and commercial center, as well as do a lot of good.”

Endangered Transit Projects Listed

March 27, 2017

News media accounts indicate that the “skinny budget” recently released by the Trump administration would put at risk 16 transit projects in the United States.

The projects include: Phoenix Light Rail; Los Angeles Westside Subway Extension (Section 3); San Jose and Santa Clara BART Silicon Valley extension (Phase 2); Santa Ana/Garden Grove Streetcar; Fort Lauderdale Streetcar; Lake County, Indiana Commuter Rail; Maryland Purple Line; Minneapolis Light Rail (Blue Line); Minneapolis Light Rail (Southwest); Durham-Chapel Hill Light Rail; New York – New Jersey Hudson Tunnel; New Jersey Portal North Bridge; New York Second Avenue Subway (Phase 2); New York Bus Rapid Transit (Woodhaven Boulevard); Seattle Light Rail (Federal Way); and Seattle Light Rail (Lynnwood Link Extension).

The projects are at risk because they lack “full funding grant agreements,” which are needed in order to receive a New Starts grant from the Federal Transit Administration.

The National Association of Railroad Passengers said if the funding rule proposed in the budget is enacted, these projects would either have to seek other funding sources or they would not be built.

NARP noted that the budget’s call for end federal funding for Amtrak long-distance passenger trains would end rail service to 220 communities nationwide. Those trains last year carried 4.6 million passengers.