Archive for May, 2017

Trump Infrastructure Plan Included in Budget

May 25, 2017

It turns out that the Trump administration’s much-ballyhooed transportation infrastructure plan was tucked away inside the fiscal year 2018 budget announced on Tuesday although you can be forgiven for having missed it.

It was contained in a six page fact as part of the budget proposal.

As hinted at by various administration officials, including Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, the plan proposes spending $200 billion over 10 years with the expectation that the money will attract and support $1 trillion in private/public infrastructure investment.

The budget document described the plan as a combination of new federal funding, incentives for private sector investment, and expedited projects.

“The administration’s goal is to seek long-term reform on how infrastructure projects are regulated, funded, delivered and maintained,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said at a news conference.

She said more details will be forthcoming, including a legislative package later this year, but described the plan outlined on Tuesday as “the main key principles.”

The plan calls for making changes in regulations to speed up the environmental review and permit process and to shift more services to the private sections.

One example of the latter mentioned in the budget document would be to transfer the air traffic control system from the Federal Aviation Administration to a nonprofit or nongovernmental entity in 2021.

Another change would be to allow imposing tolls on interstate highways by reducing existing restrictions on that practice.

Related to that, the plan would allow private investors to construct and maintain rest stops along highways.

A report by The Hill, said that the infrastructure plan relies on leveraging private sector investment, ensuring that federal dollars are targeted toward transformative projects, shifting more services and underused capital assets to the private sector, and giving states and localities more flexibility.

Pilot programs will be proposed to explore new environmental reviews, designate a single entity to guide a project through the approval process, put some permitting into the hands of states and localities, and make sure that agencies don’t need to worry about making a permit approval litigation proof.

Funding of the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program will be boosted to $1 billion every year.

The proposal to allow states to impose tolls on interstate highways won the approval of Patrick D. Jones, executive director and CEO of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, although with some qualifications.

“Congress should give states access to one more tool in the toolbox by allowing them to toll their Interstate highways specifically to rebuild them,” he said. “This wouldn’t be a mandate. No state would be required to toll their interstates. This would simply give states an option, the flexibility to choose tolling if it makes sense to them.”

President Donald Trump had spoken often during his 2016 campaign about the need to improve the nation’s infrastructure.

He mentioned it again on election night speech and during a Feb. 28 address to Congress, saying that it would create millions of jobs.

In response, Democrats noted that Trump’s budget would provide just $5 billion for transportation infrastructure in FY 2018 and did not provide any detail about where the money would go or how it would be paid for.

But Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune said the plan “recognizes important needs in our country and takes a long-term view on meeting those needs.”

Chao expects Congress to begin working on the infrastructure package in the third quarter of this year.

Public Gets Close Look at Charger

May 25, 2017

The public got its first look official look at one of the new Siemens SC-44 Charger locomotives that will be going into service on Amtrak corridor routes this year.

A Charger was displayed at King Street Station in Seattle this week ahead of it being put into service on the Cascades route in Washington, Oregon and British Columbia.

Siemens, which built the Chargers in Sacramento, California, has touted the locomotive as among the cleanest diesel-electric locomotives ever built and the first high-speed passenger locomotive to receive Tier IV emissions certification from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Chargers have a 16-cylinder, 4,400-horsepower Cummins engine.

Visitors were able to view the exterior of the locomotive close up, but could not see the interior due to safety issues, the Washington State Department of Transportation said in a news release.

Colorado Front Range Service Study Get Green Light

May 25, 2017

A bill requiring a study of expanding rail passenger service along Colorado’s Front Range has been signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

The legislation authorizes creation of the Southwest Chief and Front Range Passenger Rail Commission.

The 11-member Commission includes representatives of various Front Range communities and Union Pacific and BNSF railroads.

The study is expected to be completed and submitted to the state by Dec. 1.

Texas Eagle Delayed 10 Hours En route to St. Louis

May 24, 2017

A detouring Texas Eagle this week got stuck behind a disabled freight train on Monday in Tuscola, Illinois, and wound up being delayed 10 hours.

The westbound Eagle had departed Chicago on time and was detouring over the former Chicago & Eastern Illinois route of Union Pacific due to track work being done on its regular route via Springfield, Illinois.

No. 21 did not arrive in St. Louis until 3:30 a.m. An Amtrak spokesperson said that a two-hour delay was expected, but not a 10-hour one.

“We were alerted by Amtrak that there might be some delays because apparently there is work on the track,” said passenger Janelle Jones. “Our first delay was about a three-hour standstill. They kept us pretty apprised of what was going on, they let people off the train for a smoke break and what not.

“Then we traveled for about an hour and then we stopped for another three hours. There was a lot of communication at that point that we were gonna get started as soon as possible. We rolled for about five minutes and then the communication stopped and we were at a standstill for another three hours. No one would tell us why we weren’t moving. Apparently, the crew had to switch out because they had been on board for 12 hours, so they were tired.”

Amtrak officials could not say when crew change occurred.

Jones said the café car was open until about 10 p.m.. “There were some hungry people on the train,” Jones said.

 

Amtrak Conductor’s Condition Upgraded to Serious

May 24, 2017

The condition of the Amtrak conductor who was shot last week in Naperville, Illinois, has been upgraded from critical to serious.

Doctors said that Michael Case, 45, of Homewood, Illinois, remains in Edward Hospital in Naperville after being shot in the abdomen and suffering what they described as “very significant intestinal injuries.”

Case was shot with a single bullet from a .38-caliber revolver and faces a long recovery time. He was working on the eastbound Southwest Chief at the time.

The doctors said Case suffered injuries to his pancreas and a region of the intestines called the duodenum, but many of the major blood vessels in the area were not harmed, which should aid his recovery.

Edward Klein, 79, of West Allis, Wisconsin, has been charged with attempted murder and aggravated battery in connection with the shooting.

Klein will next appear in DuPage County court on June 12.

A Late Lake Shore Limited

May 24, 2017

Sometimes you are just not in the right position to get a good photograph. Such was the case when I “caught” Amtrak’s eastbound Lake Shore Limited passing through Willoughby, Ohio.

I didn’t know it had not come through yet, that it was running 1 hours, 28 minutes late. I might have known that had I checked on its status with Amtrak. But I didn’t.

The appearance of No. 48 caught me by surprise and the best I could do was get this image looking down Erie Street.

Trump Budget Slashes Amtrak Funding by 45%

May 24, 2017

The Trump administration wants to slash Amtrak funding by 45 percent in fiscal year 2018.

The detailed budget proposed released this week proposed giving Amtrak $744 million.

In the current fiscal year, Amtrak received $1.4 billion. The cuts for next year include ending $289 for Amtrak’s long-distance train routes.

The budget document described long-distance trains as “a vestige of when train service was the only viable transcontinental transportation option. Today, communities are served by an expansive aviation, interstate highway, and intercity bus network.”

The document said Amtrak’s long-distance trains represent the greatest amount of Amtrak’s operating losses, serve relatively small populations, and have the worst on-time record.

The Trump administration would instead appropriate $1.5 billion for the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington.

[The Northeast Corridor] “faces many challenges, and the 2018 Budget proposal would allow Amtrak to right-size itself and more adequately focus on these pressing issues,” the budget document said.

Nonetheless, the Trump administration has proposed cutting funding for the development of New York’s Penn Station by 64 percent from $14 million to $5 million.

The Amtrak funding cuts make up the lion’s share of the 37 percent cut proposed by the Trump administration for the Federal Railroad Administration.

The agency’s parent organization, the U.S. Department of Transportation, would receive $16.2-billion in FY 2018, a decline of 12.7 percent over what it received in FY 2017.

The Federal Railroad Administration’s budget would drop by 37 percent from $1.7 billion to $1.05 billion while Federal Transit Administration will decline by 5 percent from its FY 2017 appropriation of $11.8 billion.

The FTA would receive $11.2 billion, which includes $9.7 billion for transit formula grants. The FTA’s Capital Investment Grant program for new starts would be cut by 43 percent from $2.16 billion to $1.2.

Funding would be continued only for programs that FTA is legally bound to support through full-funding grant agreements.

Funding for the Transportation Generating Economic Recovery grant program would be eliminated.

The budget document said projects that are attempting to receive TIGER funding could still earn grants through the Nationally Significant Freight and Highways Projects fund managed by DOT’s Build America Bureau.

The Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing and Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation programs would remain in place, but receive no additional funding.

The National Transportation Safety Board would receive $106 million, which is no change from FY 2017.

The Surface Transportation Board would receive a $5 million boost to $37 million in order to implement regulatory changes under the STB reauthorization law of 2015.

The Trump administration budget proposal is likely to undergo numerous changes as Congress considers federal funding priorities for FY 2018.

Amtrak, Ann Arbor Agree on Tunnel Project

May 24, 2017

While Ann Arbor officials await action on the city’s bid to build a new Amtrak station, it has reached an agreement with the passenger carrier about the first steps in being allowed to build a tunnel beneath the tracks.

The Allen Creek Railroad Berm Opening Project will enable storm water to more easily reach the Huron River and therefore reduce flooding.

The project is also expected to allow pedestrians and cyclists to reach riverfront recreation areas.

The tracks used by Amtrak are owned by the Michigan Department of Transportation, but Amtrak is the primary approval agency.

Amtrak is requiring the city to enter into a design-phase agreement and to reimburse the railroad Amtrak for its costs.

By its estimate, Amtrak said work in the design phase of the project will cost $71,940. The Ann Arbor City Council has authorized a reimbursement of up to $97,020.

“The amount being paid to Amtrak at this time is $71,940,” said City Engineer Nick Hutchinson. “As a contingency, we obtained authorization from council for a total amount of $97,000 should more be needed.”

Any unused money for design work will be returned by Amtrak to the city.

“This action by the city of Ann Arbor is another example of our close working relationship with the city, Michigan DOT and Amtrak for improvements to facilities and service at the busiest Amtrak station in the state,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

Ann Arbor officials have said that pedestrians and cyclists will be able to use the tunnel beneath the railroad tracks used by Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverine Service.

Federal Emergency Management Agency grants are expected to cover 75 percent of the storm water portion of the project. Construction is expected to begin in summer 2018.

New Charlotte Station Still Awaiting Agreements

May 24, 2017

Two years after being awarded a $30 million federal grant to build a new Amtrak station in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina, the city is still waiting for the work to begin.

The proposed Charlotte Gateway Station was lauded with much fanfare in October 2015 by former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, who was once the mayor of Charlotte.

Foxx said that the groundbreaking could occur within 18 months.

But now the Charlotte Area Transit System doesn’t think it can have a station ready until 2024.

Plans for a temporary station to replace what many in Charlotte describe as the existing small and dingy station off North Tryon Street apparently have been dropped.

Gateway Station is planned for Graham, Fourth and West Trade streets near BB&T Ballpark. The current station is located well north of downtown.

CATS officials recently told the Charlotte City Council that a new agreement and timetable with the state must be negotiated, a process they expect to occur by late June.

But if that agreement is not reached, then the federal funding for the new station could be at risk of being taken back by the federal government.

Charlotte is the southern terminus of the Carolinian, which originated in New York City, and the Piedmont trains that originated in Raleigh, North Carolina. The New York-New Orleans Crescent also serves Charlotte.

CATS still needs to find several million more dollars to fund the Gateway Station in addition to the federal, state and local grants it has lined up thus far. Gateway Station is expected to cost between $150 and $200 million.

The station is envisioned to become a mixed-use project that houses offices and residential units. The CATS rail line to Lake Norman would serve Gateway as well as city buses and the streetcar Gold Line.

CATS has funding pledges of $30 million in federal funds, $48.75 million from the North Carolina Department of Transportation and $33 million from the city of Charlotte.

If funding is lined up, construction would begin in 2018. Track, signal and platform work would be finished in 2021 under the current timeline.

The station itself would be built within three years of the track, signal and platform work being completed. Amtrak won’t begin using Gateway until the station is finished.

Amtrak to Allow All to Get Late Alerts

May 23, 2017

Amtrak said this week that it will allow anyone to subscribe to automated email or text message notifications sent out when Amtrak trains are behind schedule at specific stations.

Until now, only passengers holding holding reservations or tickets could use this service.

In a news release, Amtrak said the messages will be sent out at no charge although data and message charges might be imposed by cellular carriers.

“This useful new tool allows anyone – whether you’re traveling on one of our trains, monitoring travel options or just picking up someone from a station – to stay informed,” Amtrak said in the news release.

The alerts will be of particular use to passengers who buy multi-ride tickets because they are not linked to specific train numbers.

Notifications will be provided for up to six trains and stations by either text or email and delivered on a single day, every day, or just certain days of the week.

The notifications schedule can be modified or deleted at any time by creating a subscription at Amtrak.com/delayalerts.