Archive for February, 2021

WUS Plan Needs More Work

February 23, 2021

A redevelopment plan for Washington Union Station will go back to the drawing board because some believe it is too focused on automobile traffic.

At issue is a six-story parking garage that District of Columbia officials are opposing.

The revisions will come in the wake of the Federal Railroad Administration halting its review of the $10 billion project.

The project includes adding concourses and tracks, increased retail businesses, a bus facility, and creating pickup and drop-off areas in front of a new train hall and at other entrances.

The project is expected to be completed by 2040.

Cost Overruns Hinder California High Speed Design Changes

February 23, 2021

Cost overruns of more than $800 million will lead to a redesign of a 65-mile section of the California high speed rail plan.

The cost overruns reportedly occurred because of design changes proposed by a contractor in cost-saving move.

Spanish company Dragados had touted $300 million in savings that could be had by modifying designs proposed by the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

The Authority has since dropped those changes and said in a statement it is working with regulators to resolve the design issues.

FTA Changes Matching Fund Rule

February 19, 2021

The Federal Transit Administration has made a significant rule change for projects seeking to receive Capital Investment Grant funding.

The agency no longer will prohibit grant recipients from using CIG grants as part of their local funding match when applying for grants.

That prohibition, which had been imposed during the Trump administration, has been criticized for establishing barriers to certain public transit projects.

In a letter sent this past week the FTA said it will now “rely on the CIG statutory framework”to ensure that projects have met federal transportation law, the Major Capital Investment Projects Final rule, and the CIG Final Interim Policy Guidance published in June 2016.

Some congressional Democrats had accused the Trump administration of using funding policies to delay or thwart such Northeast Corridor rail infrastructure projects as replacing the century old Portal Bridge and constructing a new tunnel linking New York City and New Jersey under the Hudson River, also known as the Gateway project.

Under the new FTA policy, states will be allowed to use federal loans to cover their share of a project’s costs, something New York and New Jersey had planned to do with their federal loans in order to meet their 50 percent match of funding for the Gateway project.

Former Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao had in May 2018 prohibited states from using federal loans as part of their project match funding.

Although Congress a year later prohibited USDOT from doing that, the agency continued to maintain its policy of banning use of loans for state matching funds.

Waiting For Their Next Move

February 18, 2021

When Amtrak removed equipment from service it often moves it to its Beech Grove shops near Indianapolis. Such was the case with these Heritage Fleet cars that I found sitting at Beech Grove in March 1995. I was at “the Grove” as part of a tour sponsored by the then named Indiana Rail Passenger Association.

Beech Grove might have looked familiar to these cars as they had been inside the shops years earlier to be converted to Head End Power and to get new interior appointments.

Now they awaited being sold to another operator or, perhaps, donated to a museum. Imagine the thousands of people who rode in these cars to various points on the Amtrak network although as Heritage equipment their assignments were largely confined to the East, South and Midwest.

Winter Conditions Cause More Service Disruptions

February 18, 2021

Harsh winter weather continued to lead to delays and cancellations for Amtrak on Wednesday, including in the Midwest.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said a week of temperatures near zero caused a series of “weather-related equipment issues.”

A Chicago-Port Huron, Michigan Blue Water round trip was cancelled on Wednesday as a result.

Reportedly, the problem involved the train’s two Charger locomotives and Amtrak maintenance was unable to fix the issue.

The same day the Chicago-bound Pere Marquette, which originates in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was terminated at its first intermediate stop in Hollard, Michigan, due to equipment problems.

Passengers were transferred to a bus to complete their journey to their destination.

Several corridor and long-distance trains that did operate on Tuesday and Wednesday encountered lengthy departure delays from Chicago.

After a late Tuesday arrival in Chicago from Carbondale, Illinois, the Saluki was canceled on Wednesday and its counterpart to Carbondale, the Illini, was cancelled that day.

Both trains were cancelled on Wednesday. Reportedly the problem that led to the cancellation of the Illini was a computer issue on the locomotive that locked up the brakes so that they would not release.

Elsewhere, Amtrak canceled trains in Virginia and the Carolinas ahead of a winter storm expected to bring ice and snow to the region.

The Auto Train was cancelled in both directions on today. Also cancelled were trains that terminate at Norfolk, Newport News, and Roanoke in Virginia, and the Palmetto to Savannah, Georgia.

The northbound counterparts to these trains have been cancelled for Thursday and Friday.

In the West the Coast Starlight has resumed operating over its entire route.

However, Wednesday departures of the Sunset Limited from Los Angeles and New Orleans were cancelled.

The Texas Eagle will originate in San Antonio, Texas, on Friday as scheduled. The westbound Texas Eagle will resume departing from Chicago on Friday.

The Oklahoma City-Fort Worth, Texas, Heartland Flyer remains suspended until Feb. 20.

UP Derailment Hindered Amtrak Service

February 18, 2021

A Union Pacific derailment last Saturday hindered Amtrak service in Normal, Illinois, leading to the cancellation of some Lincoln Service trains.

UP derailed 16 cars of an intermodal train, the ZG4MQ-13, damaging the track and blocking several grade crossings.

Lincoln Service Train 300 terminated at Springfield, Illinois, and Trains 303, 306, and 307 were canceled.

The northbound Texas Eagle detoured between St. Louis and Chicago, missing seven intermediate stops.

Passengers traveling between St. Louis and Chicago were offered alternative transportation.

Further complications occurred a few days later when fire broke out during the wreck site cleanup process.

Authorities said the fire was caused by refrigeration units on some of the containers being hauled by the intermodal train that derailed.

The fire damaged the vinyl siding of an adjacent apartment building.

The derailment of the southbound train came within 25 feet of an Illinois State University student housing building.

One track was reopened to rail traffic on Sunday, but Amtrak cancelled two Lincoln Service trains and shorted the route of another.

UP and Federal Railroad Administration officials were conducting an investigation into the cause of the derailment.

Amtrak, Metra Remain Far Apart Over CUS Lease

February 18, 2021

Amtrak and Chicago commuter carrier Metra remain far apart in their dispute over a new lease for the latter to use Chicago Union Station.

Documents filed with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board verge on contempt for some positions taken by the other party.

A Metra attorney wrote to the board on Feb. 8 seeking to strike a Jan. 29 letter from Amtrak, calling the letter an impermissible, “abusive” and “highly prejudicial” response to an earlier filing in which the sides jointly offered an update on results of their mediation efforts.

Amtrak countered by telling the STB that its letter was substantive changes to a Metra correction of earlier errors, and says it feels “compelled to address the faux outrage contained in Metra’s letter.”

Amtrak said its letter was providing context for those corrections that Metra “should have provided . . . but did not.”

The intercity passenger carrier argued that its Jan. 29 filing was proper, but it will not object if Metra wishes file a full response.

Both sides face a Feb. 19 deadline to file responses to each other’s earlier filing on remaining disagreements.

Virginia Governor Seeks $50M for New Amtrak Service

February 18, 2021

A proposal by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam for a $50 million one-time general fund allocation for intercity passenger-rail service has heartened residents of the New River Valley region of the state.

Northam wants to use the funding to establish a rail passenger corridor along U.S. Route 29 and Interstate 81.

The proposal would add a second daily round trip to Roanoke and provide new service to the New River Valley.

If adopted, the plan would extend the current and new Roanoke service to the New River Valley.

Virginia transportation officials say they are negotiating with host railroad Norfolk Southern for the additional service.

The state said the existing Amtrak service to Roanoke has been “very successful,” with ridership increasing from its inception in 2009 to more than 220,000 riders in 2019.

The currentl single daily roundtrip between Washington and Roanoke is covering all of its operating costs through ticket revenue.

A feasibility study found the New River Valley has a population of more than 180,000, including more than 40,000 university students.

Ridership for intercity rail passenger service to the region was projected to draw 80,000 riders.

Rail passenger advocates are seeking to form the New River Valley Passenger Rail Authority to oversee the service.

“Clearly this is a step forward because having an authority for example will allow us to do certain things that we can’t otherwise do,” said advocate Larry Hincker about the governor’s funding request.

The authority would bring the local governments together under a state-recognized umbrella.

Maine Legislatures Eye Bangor Extension of Downeasters

February 18, 2021

A group of Maine lawmakers are seeking funding of a feasibility study to examine extending rail passenger service to Bangor.

The study will review the cost of infrastructure improvements, station locations, and projected ridership if Amtrak’s Downeaster service is extended northeast from Brunswick, the current northern terminus of the route.

Similar study funding proposals have failed, most recently in 2017.

State Sen. Joe Baldacci, one of the leaders of the latest effort, believes the time may be right to try again because the U.S. Department of Transportation has a rail-friendly top administrator in Pete Buttigieg.

Public Comment Sought on Revised California High-Speed Business Plan

February 18, 2021

The California High Speed Rail Authority is seeking public comment on a revised draft of its 2020 business plan to complete construction of high-speed rail service in the Central Valley.

The draft report outlines a plan to complete the project while highlighting progress to get high-speed trains running in California as soon as possible.

The report supports the Authority’s earlier decision to develop an electrified Merced-Fresno-Bakersfield high-speed rail interim-service line in the Central Valley, while continuing to advance environmental reviews and current investments in local and regional infrastructure projects in Northern and Southern California.

Authority and state officials also expressed optimism that the Biden administration will be supportive of the high-speed plan.

That would be a change from the position of the Trump administration, which canceled federal funding for the project and sought to claw back some federal funding already spent on it.

Acting FRA Administrator Amit Bose said a recent statement that the U.S. Department of Transportation “looks forward to partnering with California” on high-speed rail.”

The original plan for the California high-speed rail project was to build between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

But cost increases and project delays have led to changes. The Authority now is looking to complete the 119-mile Central Valley construction segment and lay track pursuant to the state’s federal-funding grant agreements with the FRA.

It also is eyeing expanding the Central Valley segment to 171 miles of electrified high-speed rail, connecting Merced-Fresno-Bakersfield and to begin testing electrified high-speed trains by 2026-2027.

Those trains would be placed into service by the end of that decade.

As for serving San Francisco and Los Angeles, the authority wants to environmentally clear all segments of the Phase 1 system between two cities and advance construction on “bookend” projects that the authority has committed funding to in the LA and Bay areas.

It said it will pursue additional funding to close the gaps and expand the service to the Bay Area and LA as soon as possible.

The Authority Board recently agreed to seek $4.1 billion in state bonds authorized by voters 12 years ago.

Construction that is now underway is projected to cost $330 million more than was anticipated.

Track construction is now projected to last through 2023, a year later than what was projected last year.

In an effort to cut costs, service may begin on a single-track railroad with passing sidings and leased equipment.

Officials say double tracking would need to be completed before the San Francisco Bay Area is linked to the line with 220-mph trains.

Connections would be made at Merced to extended Amtrak’s San Joaquin service and Altamont Corridor Express commuter into the Central Valley from the Bay Area and Sacramento.