Archive for the ‘Other News’ Category

VIA to Stop Taking Cash on Some Trains

October 16, 2019

VIA Rail Canada will stop accept cash and only take regular and prepaid credit cards and VIA Rail gift cards will be accepted to pay for food and beverage purchased aboard its Halifax-Montreal Ocean and all Toronto-Quebec corridor trains effective Oct. 29.

The carrier also plans to end cash purchases on trains serving remote regions between Montreal and Senneterre, Quebec, Jonquiere, Quebec, and the Sudbury-White River, Ontario, triweekly Rail Diesel Cars.

For the time being cash will still be accepted aboard the Toronto-Vancouver Canadian, and the Winnipeg-Churchill and Jasper-Prince George-Prince Rupert trains.

“In response to a long-standing customer request, VIA is introducing an electronic payment terminal (that will) optimize frontline operations while streamlining our back-end food management systems,” VIA spokeswoman Marie-Anna Murat told Trains magazine.

“Eliminating cash will make VIA’s onboard transactions more efficient, allowing our employees to spend more time serving passengers; this change reflects the transportation industry trend towards cashless transactions.”

Murat said VIA employees will be flexible in the weeks following the launch.

Report Says Canadian to Remain Bi-Weekly in 2020

October 9, 2019

VIA Rail Canada’s flagship long-distance passenger train, The Canadian, will operate next summer with just two round trips per week the length of its route, Trains magazine reported this week.

The Canadian had previously run three times a week during the peak travel season between Vancouver and Toronto.

The plan to operate just twice weekly in summer 2020 is in contradiction to earlier VIA statements.

Trains noted that last May during VIA’s annual meeting, executives said that the carrier “fully intends” to resume tri-weekly operation between Vancouver and Toronto between May and October in 2020.

But now a VIA spokesperson has indicated that has changed.

“We subsequently consulted with our key stakeholders, including the infrastructure owner, and decided to maintain the current schedule in order to offer a reliable service and the best customer experience possible,” said VIA spokeswoman Marie-Anna Murat.

This year VIA is operating twice weekly between Vancouver and Toronto and one a week between Vancouver and Edmonton.

VIA said this arrangement was due to a track capacity expansion project being undertaken by host railroad Canadian National. The two-year program will cost $7.4 billion.

Trains said a review of the Canadian’s on-time performance found that the trains continue to encounter significant delays between Edmonton and Jasper, and west of Winnipeg.

The Vancouver-Edmonton trains will operate for the final time this week but resume next spring.

Virgin May Gain Another Station in Miami

October 8, 2019

Virgin Trains USA may spend $76 million to build a new station for its rail service in Miami-Dade County, Florida.

The proposed location of the station is near the Aventura Mall. The facility would also serve Metrorail and buses.

The county could use its half-percent transportation tax to purchase land for the station, which would be built by Virgin with public funding.

Miami Mayor Carlos Gimenez has been pushing for a vote by the County Commission on that plan.

Thursday, but a source familiar with the planning said Monday night that a special meeting next week is more likely.

Virgin has pledged to give Aventura-bound passengers a 35 percent discount on its normal fare for trips between Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

Currently that fare is $15 today, so a ticket to Aventura would be $9.75 one-way.

Virgin would funding station operations and services with its existing trains and staff. The service is commonly known as Brightline.

Microsoft Donates Again to High-Speed Rail Study

October 8, 2019

Software giant Microsoft will donate another $223,667 to help pay for a study of the feasibility of of building a high-speed rail service between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Portland, Oregon, via Seattle.

Microsoft has made previous contributions to the study, which is being conducted by the Washington State Department of Transportation.

The latest grant will bring to $573,667 the amount that Microsoft has advanced toward the study’s cost, which also is being funded by the province of British Columbia and the Oregon Department of Transportation.

The idea of a high-speed rail line linking the three largest cities in the Pacific Northwest has been around since 2017.

The proposal envisions trips from Seattle to Vancouver taking less than an hour.

An earlier WSDOT study put the cost of high-speed rail service at $24 to 42 billion to create. That study projected annual ridership of 1.7 million to 2.1 million in 2035.

Political Infighting May Doom Infrastructure Bill

October 8, 2019

Political fighting over the possible impeachment of President Donald Trump is likely to doom any chances for an infrastructure bill in the next year and may hinder passage of federal transportation funding for fiscal year 2020.

Some congressional leaders say that an infrastructure bill is unlikely to win approval let alone get much attention from Congress until after the 2020 presidential election.

However some believe Congress is still likely to act on a surface transportation authorization next year.

That includes Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell who said last week that the reauthorization would move through the Senate next year and perhaps later this year.

“It probably won’t be as bold as the president was talking about because it would inevitably, if it were that bold, involve a whopping gasoline tax increase, which is very regressive, hits medium and low income people very hard,” McConnell said. “But we will do a transportation bill. It will be more along the size of a traditional every four or five year transportation bill.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters there is still hope for an infrastructure bill, saying the impeachment inquiry need not stall bipartisan work on an infrastructure package.

The current surface transportation authorization expires on Sept. 30, 2020, which means that without a new authorization the federal government will no longer be able to collect the gasoline tax.

That would end funding of highways and mass transit until the tax is reauthorized.

One congressional observer said the impeachment inquiry is not necessarily the major stumbling block to a transportation bill.

Marcia Hale, president of the bipartisan Building America’s Future said a more formidable barrier is the issue of raising the gasoline tax.

“The more plausible thing to expect is that there will be a series of extensions like we’ve been through before,” she said. “But, I don’t think it’s impossible to get this done.”

As for transportation funding, the impeachment fight some believe might limit the ability of the Senate to give final approval to a series of spending bills, including the transportation funding bill that has cleared a Senate committee.

That bill includes an increase in Amtrak funding as well as policy riders pertaining to the Hudson River rail tunnel Gateway project and other issues related to intercity passenger rail.

Some think that the FY2020 spending will be addressed through a series of continuing resolutions such as the one now in effect through Nov. 21.

There is even the prospect of a one-year continuing resolution.

The Rail Passengers Association said the latter would provide slightly lower levels for Amtrak but slightly higher levels for rail passenger transportation grants.

Virgin Gets Preliminary OK on California Bonds

September 24, 2019

A California agency has given Virgin Trains USA received preliminary approval to issue tax-exempt bonds to finance its Xpress West high speed rail project between Southern California and Las Vegas.

The Debt Limit Allocation Committee recommended that Virgin receive the first $300 million of its request, contingent on it providing an economic development plan that outlines its goals, and how it plans to achieve them, in the areas of housing, jobs, and workforce development.

Virgin Trains plans to seek more than $3.2 billion of tax-exempt debt to be issued by a state agency, including more than $800 million in California’s share of U.S. Department of Transportation tax-exempt proceeds.

The company also plans to seek $800,000 in bonds from Nevada, plus part of the federal allocation, providing a total of $4.2 billion in tax-exempt financing for the project.

A similar funding method was used to finance the Brightline service in Florida that Virgin operates.

Northern California Preferred Routes Decided

September 20, 2019

The California High-Speed Rail Authority had adopted a preferred route for its planned high-speed rail routes in Northern California.

In a news release, the authority said the action by its board of directors means it can move that portion of the project into the development phase.

The San Jose-to-Merced section will use a blended configuration between San Jose and Gilroy in the existing Caltrain and Union Pacific Railroad corridors before continuing to a dedicated high-speed rail alignment through Pacheco Pass.

The San Francisco-to-San Jose section will use a blended configuration between San Francisco and San Jose within the existing Caltrain corridor.

A light maintenance facility will be established on the east side of the tracks in Brisbane and does not include additional passing tracks.

CHSRA staff are working to complete a draft environmental impact report and environmental impact statement for both the San Francisco-to-San Jose and San Jose-to-Merced sections.

That report is expected in 2020 for the San Jose-to-Merced project section and in spring 2020 for the San Francisco-to-San Jose project section.

Texas Central Signs Contract for Design, Building Work

September 17, 2019

Texas Central has signed a contract with the Salini-Impreglio joint venture and its U.S. subsidiary Lane Construction Co. for the design and construction of a proposed high-speed rail line between Dallas and Houston.

In a news release, Texas Central said Salini-Lane will supply the civil infrastructure work, including design and construction of the viaduct and embankment sections along the entire route, the installation of the track system and construction of related buildings and services along the route that will house maintenance and other rail system equipment

Financial terms of the contract were not disclosed.

Texas Central said it had signed a limited notice to proceed agreement with Salini-Lane last year.

Since then Salini-Lane has focused on front-end engineering, design and planning of the train’s civil infrastructure.

That work helped to develop this design-build contract, Texas Central officials said.

County Wants all NTSB Recommendations Implemented Before Amtrak Returns to Point Defiance Bypass

September 14, 2019

A Washington state county has issued a list of actions that it wants to see implemented before rail passenger service resumed on the Point Defiance Bypass.

The Pierce County Council has asked Amtrak, Sound Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation not to use the route until all of the recommendations issued by the National Transportation Board are in place.

The NTSB issued the recommendations in its report into the cause of a Dec. 18, 2017, derailment of an Amtrak Cascades train that left three dead and dozens injured.

The derailment occurred on the first day of revenue service for Amtrak on the route, which is located between Tacoma and Olympia, Washington.

Amtrak suspended use of the Point Defiance route following the derailment and has not said when it will resume using it.

Among the NTSB recommendations were implementation of positive train control on the route and ending the use of older Talgo Series VI trainsets. WSDOT has already said it plans to do the latter.

No date has been set for Amtrak to resume using the Point Defiance Bypass and the resolution by Pierce County has no legal effect because it has no regulatory powers over the rail line.

Funding Committed to Rebuilding ex-VIA Route

September 14, 2019

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has said that it will spend $35 million to repair a rail line once used by VIA Rail Canada’s Montreal-Gaspe train.

That service, once named the Chaleur, has been suspended since August 2013 although portions of the route has been suspended in December 2011.

Defects in several bridges that cross the Grande Rivere near Pabos Mills, Quebec, and a trestle between Perce and Gaspe led to the service suspension.

The government of Quebec in 2017 agreed to spend $73 million to rebuild the track as far as Port Daniel-Gascons.

The federal funding will be used to rebuild 10 segments on 79 miles from Port Daniel to Gaspe.

The funding will be taken from the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund.

VIA said it would resume service over the route once the tracks are rebuilt and passenger operations can be safely undertaken.

The repairs are expected to take more than a year. The line in question was once the National branch of Canadian National.