Archive for July, 2017

Congress May Push Infrastructure Plan to Next Year

July 24, 2017

The Trump administration’s infrastructure plan is taking a back seat to other issues before Congress, including rewriting the U.S. tax code.

Little has been done thus far to advance infrastructure and some in Congress say it might not be taken up until next year.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said, “I’d like to see infrastructure get done. But I’ve always said, that in terms of how things are sequenced, it’s more likely that they would do tax reform first. And that might push infrastructure into sometime next year.”

Thus far no legislation has been introduced reflecting the administration’s infrastructure plan, which would, presumably, providing funding for road, bridge, railway and other projects.

House Committee Increases Some Transportation Spending

July 24, 2017

A House appropriations committee has approved a transportation spending bill for fiscal year 2018 that saves funding of Amtrak long-distance trains and increases spending on passenger rail by $360 million.

Much of the funding increase would be channeled toward fixing infrastructure in the Northeast Corridor. The bill allocates $900 million toward the Gateway program in New York and New Jersey.

However, the bill is less favorable toward funding of public transit. It cuts some funding by $662 million even as it keeps a key investment program that has funded rail transit and commuter rail projects. The TIGER grant program would also be cut.

The funding bill was approved primarily along party lines with many committee Democrats voting against it because they want to see more infrastructure spending.

But Republicans countered that adding additional funding would cause the bill to fail on the House floor.

The full House must now act on the bill while the Senate has yet to take up its own transportation spending bill. FY 2018 will begin on Oct. 1.

Chicago-Twin Cities Expansion Hearings Planned for September

July 21, 2017

The Minnesota Department of Transportation said this week that it has completed a “purpose and need” statement for a proposed expansion of rail passenger service between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

MnDOT is studying the addition of a second roundtrip Amtrak train between the two metropolitan regions to supplement the daily Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

The next step in the review will be a series of public hearings on Sept. 6 at St. Paul Union Depot in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and on Sept. 7 at the La Crosse County Administrative Center in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Those hearings are part of a process of evaluating alternatives for the project and the needed infrastructure upgrades.

The Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois departments of transportation are working with the Federal Railroad Administration, Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority, Minnesota High Speed Rail Commission and La Crosse Area Planning Committee on the initial planning effort for the proposed TCMC project.

Roanoke Studying Parking Near Amtrak Station

July 21, 2017

Although Roanoke, Virginia, officials say there is ample parking in the vicinity of the new Amtrak station in town, much of it isn’t free.

Officials say some parking at or near the station will be free, but it is expected to fill up quickly just before the train leaves town early in the morning for Washington.

Two parking garages within walking distance of the station charge between $6 to $8 for each 24 hours used. However, those and some other municipally owned lots are unattended late at night, during which time it is possible to exit without paying.

Amtrak plans to begin serving Roanoke on Oct. 31. The station platform it will use is currently under construction.

A consultant hired by the city found two years ago that there are 1,755 parking spaces within a block or two of Norfolk Avenue between Jefferson and Second streets, where the Amtrak platform is located.

On a typical day, 877 of those spaces are taken by 11 a.m. Brian Townsend, an assistant city manager, said the parking situation is again under review.

“We understand the need to direct rail patrons to where parking is available,” Townsend said by email. “We are not certain, at this point, that it will be free parking as ownership, management, and availability at the various locations will be determining factors.”

Amtrak to Skip Buffalo Exchange Street on July 23-24

July 21, 2017

Amtrak’s New York-Toronto Maple Leaf and New York-Niagara Falls Empire Service trains will not stop at Buffalo Exchange Street Station on July 23 and 24 due to track work being performed by CSX.

Alternative transportation will be provided between the Exchange Street station and Buffalo-Depew station.

Affected are Trains 63, 64, 281, 283, 284 and 288 on July 23, and trains Trains 63, 64, 280, 281, 283 and 284 on July 24.

DOT Inspector General to Review PTC Progress

July 20, 2017

At the urging of a South Dakota senator, the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Transportation will review how railroads in the United States are implementing positive train control.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, asked for the review out of concern that freight and passenger railroads not moving fast enough toward meeting a 2018 deadline.

The review will consider how railroads are using federal funds to install PTC, which can stop or slow trains that are speeding.

At present, PTC is in operation on 27 percent of freight-rail route miles and 23 percent of passenger-rail route miles.

The technology was to have been installed by the end of 2015, but at the prodding of the railroad industry Congress reset the deadline to the end of 2018.

The industry said it was struggling to meet the original deadline due to the cost of implementing the technology.

Midwest Rail Group has New Website, Logo

July 20, 2017

The Midwest High Speed Rail Association has a new website and new logo.

The organization said that the new look brings a modern feel to the association, and the new website’s layout is sharp and streamlined.

The group has long sought to promote the creation of fast, frequent, and reliable trains to the region The site can be found at https://www.midwesthsr.org/

Capitol Costs for Gulf Coast Service Put at $177.6M

July 19, 2017

The price of restoring rail passenger service to the Gulf Coast is $177.6 million in capital improvements, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

The FRA made that assessment in a report sent to Congress this week that is the final version of the Gulf Coast Working Group’s report for reinstating Amtrak service east of New Orleans.

However, CSX, which would host the service, disputes the report, saying that a consultant’s study put required capital improvements at $2.2 billion.

That prompted the the Southern Rail Commission to say that CSX has, “demonstrated a commitment to obfuscation and deceit, which culminated the sentiments they expressed in (the Working Group’s) May 10, 2017, meeting.”

The FRA said it considered information from Working Group participants, which included representatives of CSX, Amtrak, the Florida Department of Transportation, and the Southern Rail Commission, to come up with the $117.6-million figure for capital improvements.

In its report, the FRA said it “does not endorse every recommendation” made in the report. FRA staff participated in the working group activities.

The Southern Rail Commission has received funding for some station restoration, but the report said $5.48 million of additional annual funding is necessary to operate a daily New Orleans-Orlando, Florida, extension of Amtrak’s City of New Orleans.

Operating a separate service between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama, would add another $4 million cost.

The report did not specify the cost for positive train control installation.

The Gulf Coast has been without rail service since the Sunset Limited was suspended east of New Orleans following damage to the route inflicted by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

Inspection Train Examines Route to Montreal

July 19, 2017

Amtrak ran an inspection train on Tuesday from St. Albans, Vermont, to Montreal as part of a review of the feasibility of extending the Vermonter into Canada.

The inspection train traveled the freight-only Swanton Subdivision of New England Central and Canadian National.

The consist included Amtrak P42DC No. 101, Amcafe 43371 and American View, the Viewliner theater inspection car.

Stops were made to inspect various structures and track.

Amtrak’s former Montrealer served the route north of St. Albans until 1995. That train originated in Washington and operated via New York.

Amtrak continues to serve Montreal with its Adirondack, which operates via Albany-Rensselaer, New York.

Roanoke Service to Begin Oct. 31

July 19, 2017

Roanoke, Virginia, will rejoin the Amtrak network on Oct. 31.

Tickets are not yet being sold and the schedule has not yet been announced, but Roanoke will be served by an existing Northeast Regional train that will travel to and from Washington with continuing service to New York.

There is expected to be one roundtrip a day, leaving Roanoke at approximately 6:20 a.m. and returning before 10 p.m.

On Oct. 30, a publicity special will arrive at the Roanoke station, which is still under construction, at about noon for a ribbon cutting-type event.

Amtrak previously served Roanoke with The Hilltopper, which operated between Washington and Catlettsburg, Kentucky. That train made its last trips on Sept. 30, 1979.

Workers are constructing a boarding platform along Norfolk Avenue near the city bus station.

The finished station will feature a canopied boarding platform about 800 feet long. It will be a high-level platform.