Archive for the ‘Other News’ Category

Infrastructure Bill Would Make Amtrak Policy Changes

August 4, 2021

The text of the proposed nearly $1 trillion bi-partisan infrastructure bill was revealed this week in the U.S. Senate.

As reported earlier by various sources, the bill would provide $66 billion to Amtrak with most of that money being used to address maintenance backlogs and upgrade the Northeast Corridor.

However, the text also showed the legislation would make changes to Amtrak’s legal mission.

Those include making the goal of Amtrak to “meet the intercity passenger rail needs of the United States” rather than achieving “a performance level sufficient to justify expending public money.”

There is also language that places Amtrak service to rural areas as well as urban areas.

The funding for Amtrak in the bill would allocate $1.5 billion per year for the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Grants program with a 50 percent match required.

Also included in the bill is $15 million for the U.S. Department of Transportation to analyze the restoration of long-distance trains that have been terminated by Amtrak; money to fund the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program ($1 billion per year), and the Restoration and Enhancement Program ($50 million per year); and $500 million per year for rail grade crossing separation projects.

The Amtrak funding is part of an overall $102 billion package for commuter rail and other high-performance rail services.

Public transit would receive $107 billion for public transit. Some of that funding can be used for multimodal investments that include transit and passenger rail.

The legislation also contains the Senate’s version of a new surface transportation reauthorization  bill that authorizes funding for railroads, water infrastructure, public transit, highway, bridges and roads.

New Coalition Pushes Old Idea

August 3, 2021

Although the coalition is new, the idea is not.

Seven rail passenger advocacy groups announced last week the formation of the Lakeshore Rail Alliance which has proposed expanding Amtrak’s Chicago-New York service via Cleveland, Buffalo and Toledo from one daily roundtrip to four.

Amtrak currently links Chicago and New York with two trains, the daily Lake Shore Limited via Cleveland and the Cardinal, which operates tri-weekly via Indianapolis, Cincinnati and West Virginia.

In past years Amtrak operated a third Chicago-New York train, the Broadway Limited. The Broadway was discontinued in September 1995 and for a few years another Chicago-New York train, the Three Rivers, ran between the two cities between November 1996 and March 2005.

Neither the Three Rivers nor the Broadway Limited operated over the Lakeshore Corridor.

The proposed four Chicago-New York trains concept was initially proposed in 2011 by Richard Harnish, the executive director of the High-Speed Rail Alliance, a Chicago-based group that is one of the seven members of the Lakeshore Alliance.

His original idea was to upgrade the route to enable trains to cover the distance on schedules several hours shorter than today’s Lake Shore Limited.

No. 48 is scheduled at 19 hours eastbound while No. 49 is scheduled at more than 20 hours.

The Harnish proposal has failed to gain any traction since it was proposed.

A draft plan released by the alliance shows that there would remain other trains in the Lakeshore Corridor, including existing Amtrak Empire Corridor service between New York and Buffalo, and the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited, which operates in the corridor between Chicago and Cleveland.

In a statement, the alliance described the Lakeshore Corridor as a series of overlapping short corridors.

“As a result, maximizing volume would require treating this as a single route—even if no one rode the train more than 400 miles,” the alliance said.

Michael Fuhrman, the executive director of the Lakeshore Alliance, said the Lakeshore Corridor is the second-most-important transportation corridor east of the Mississippi.

“It connects the Great Lakes megaregion of 55 million people with the Northeast Megaregion of 52 million people—the two largest of the 11 megaregions of the U.S. No other corridor between those two areas is better suited for development of passenger rail.”

By combining forces the alliance members hope to generate a wider swath of local political support for the public funding that would be needed to upgrade the Lakeshore Corridor, which largely involves host railroads CSX and Norfolk Southern.

Bill Hutchison, a former officer of alliance member All Aboard Ohio, believes that pushing for four trains might improve the likelihood of getting a second train on the route someday, or even a third.

“Local governments are on board, but we need an organizing force,” All Aboard Ohio member Ed D’Amato said. “We need to bring in new voices—we’re trying to build a choir here.”

Other groups in the coalition include the Empire State Passengers Association, Indiana Passenger Rail Alliance, Northern Indiana Passenger Rail Association, All Aboard Erie, and the Northwest Ohio Passenger Rail Association. 

Some rail passenger advocates see the goal of the Lakeshore Alliance as noble but not necessarily realistic.

“Four trains would be great, but is it realistic?” said Richard Rudolph, chair of the Rail Users’ Network.

Rudolph agrees the lakeshore corridor should have at least two trains, but one of them could be a Chicago-Boston train that would not need to do any switching at the Albany-Rensselaer, New York, station as the current Lake Shore Limited does in combining and separating its New York and Boston sections.

He noted that Amtrak could add service to its national network without violating the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, which limits the national network to routes operating when the law was adopted.

A Michigan rail passenger advocacy group reportedly wants to become involved in the lakeshore alliance, which currently lacks involvement with a group representing Massachusetts.

Coalition Seeks 4 Chicago-NY Roundtrips

July 29, 2021

A newly formed intercity rail passenger advocacy coalition is pushing for increased service in the Chicago-New York corridor.

The Lakeshore Rail Alliance is calling for at least four daily Amtrak roundtrips between the two cities. The coalition said this would be an interim service level until a high-speed service can be created.

The new coalition is based in Erie, Pennsylvania, and is made up of existing rail advocacy groups

All Aboard Erie, All Aboard Ohio, the Empire State Passenger Association, the Chicago-based High-Speed Rail Alliance, the Indiana Passenger Rail Association, the Northern Indiana Passenger Rail Association, and the Northwest Ohio Passenger Rail Association make up the coalition .

Michael Fuhrman of All Aboard Erie will serve as executive director. He previously was director of economic and regional issue agency Destination Erie. The coalition has a website that shows sample timetables of the expanded service.

Atlanta-Charlotte Preferred Route Chosen

July 21, 2021

Transportation officials have identified the path that high-speed rail service will take between Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina.

However, funding of the service remains elusive.

A preferred route between the two cities is part of the Atlanta to Charlotte Passenger Rail Corridor Investment Plan being overseen by the Georgia Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration.

Three routes were studied with the preferred route serving  Greenville and Spartanburg, South Carolina.

The 274-mile preferred route is what FRA refers to as the Greenfield Corridor, which begins at Charlotte Gateway Station and ends at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

The route could have two stations in South Carolina, three in North Carolina, and five in Georgia.

Much of the route would be a dedicated passenger alignment between Charlotte Douglas International Airport and northeast Atlanta with speeds of up to 125 mph for diesel-powered trains and 220 mph for electric trains.

Planner said they will identify the specific alignment for the Greenfield Corridor alternative, including the final approaches into Atlanta and Charlotte in a future study.

The FRA said the Atlanta-Charlotte line is part of what is envisioned as a rail passenger corridor that will connect Atlanta and Washington.

Rocky Mountaineer Leases 2 UP Locomotives

July 21, 2021

Excursion operator Rocky Mountain has leased a pair of Union Pacific locomotives to pull its trains between Denver and Moab, Utah.

The service, known as “Rockies to Red Rocks,” is expected to begin Aug. 15. Officials said the locomotives may be wrapped or otherwise dressed up before service begins.

Passengers will have a two-day trip with an overnight stay in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

The locomotives arrived as the fourth of eight test trips being run to allow crews to become familiar with the route before the launch of revenue service.

The locomotives have been leased to Rocky Mountaineer for the duration of the train’s debut season in Colorado.

NEC Improvements Projects Plan Released

July 21, 2021

A 15-year $117 billion plan for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor has been released by the Northeast Corridor Commission.

The plan, which the commission billed as the most ambitious reinvestment program in the corridor’s history, encompasses 150 projects and capital renewal efforts.

In a statement, the commission said it hopes the plan, if implemented, will result in a modern and resilient railroad with safe, reliable, and more frequent service; connections to new markets; and reduced travel times between communities.

“Improving the NEC rail system is a vital multistate effort,” said Amit Bose, deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration and NEC Commission co-chair.

The plan, known as C35, is described as the first phase of the long-term vision for the corridor established in the Federal Railroad Administration’s 2017 NEC FUTURE plan to make significant improvements to NEC rail service for both existing and new riders, on both commuter-rail systems and Amtrak.

Among the projects cited in the plan are cutting the Amtrak Acela travel time between Washington and New York by 26 minutes, increasing Amtrak Northeast Regional service levels by 33 percent, and doubling service for several commuter railroads.

Texas Central Signs Contract with Redfre

July 21, 2021

Texas Central recently signed a contract with Renfe to be the early operator of a proposed high-speed rail route between Dallas and Houston.

Renfe will work with Texas Central on the design and development of the commercial aspects of the high-speed rail system as well as provide expertise and support, Texas Central officials said in a news release.

That will include advisory and consulting services to Texas Central on final design, execution, construction, testing and commissioning of civil, station and buildings, installation, core systems and operations and maintenance technology and plans and processes, as well as all commercial aspects of the high-speed rail system.

Based in Spain, Renfe manages 5,000 trains daily on 7,500 miles of track.

The news release did not disclose the financial terms of the contract.

The announces comes a couple of weeks after Texas Central announced it has named the multinational firm Webuild to lead the civil construction consortium that will build the passenger line.

Webuild will be responsible for all work up to the top of the rail, including viaducts, embankments and drainage.

House Budget Bill Boosts Transportation Spending

July 19, 2021

The House Appropriations Committee last week approved a spending bill for fiscal year 2022 that would boost spending on transportation programs over FY2021 levels.

The bill, known as the Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies legislation provides an increase of $1.9 billion for the U.S. Department of Transportation.

USDOT is allocated $105.7 billion in budgetary resources, a 22 percent increase above the FY2021 enacted level ($86.7 billion) and President Joseph Biden’s FY2022 budget request of $87 billion.

Among the spending levels authorized for transportation programs are:

• $1.2 billion for National Infrastructure Investments, a 20 percent increase from FY 2021. It includes $20 million for Transportation Planning Grants to assist areas of persistent poverty, a 100 percent increase over FY 2021. An additional $100 million is included for a new grant program to “spur thriving communities nationwide.”

•$4.1 billion for the Federal Railroad Administration, up 46 percent from FY 2021. This includes $625 million for the new Passenger Rail Improvement, Modernization, and Expansion (PRIME) grant program “to support projects that improve, expand or establish passenger rail service”; $500 million for the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) grant program, a 33 percent increase from FY 2021; $2.7 billion for Amtrak, a 35 percent boost over FY 2021, which includes $1.2 billion for Northeast Corridor Grants and $1.5 billion for National Network Grants.

• $15.5 billion for the Federal Transit Administration, including $12.2 billion for Transit Formula Grants to expand bus fleets and increase the transit state of good repair; $2.5 billion for Capital Investment Grants to construct more than 23 new transit routes nationwide, a 22 percent increase above the FY 2021 enacted level and equal to the president’s budget request; and $580 million for Transit Infrastructure Grants to purchase more than 300 zero-emission buses and 400 diesel buses, and to support “transformative research for transit systems,” which is a 12 percent increase above FY 2021.

Minnesota OKs Funding for New Second Chicago-Twin Cities Train

July 8, 2021

Minnesota has approved $10 million in funding for a second Amtrak train between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

Gov. Tim Walz approved the funding when he recently signed a $7 billion state omnibus transportation bill.

The money will provide a state match to a $31.8 million 2020 Federal Railroad Administration grant to help get the service started.

Wisconsin has committed $6.5 million to the project while Amtrak is chipping in $5 billion.

Host railroad Canadian Pacific has agreed to allow capacity improvements in the Minnesota cities of Winona and La Crescent.

The next step will be to reach a Memorandum of Understanding must among the states, Amtrak, CP and the Federal Railroad Administration that could lead to establishing agreements on the projects final design and construction.

Work is expected to get underway in 2023 with the service starting in 2024.

Amtrak said schedule and equipment service development planning is underway. The second train is expected to depart Chicago at about 11 a.m. and leave the Twin Cities about 11:30 a.m.

The route is now served by Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder, which is scheduled to depart Chicago at 2:15 p.m. and St. Paul at 8 a.m.

Amtrak Raises Doubts about CN-KCS Merger

July 8, 2021

For years the Southern Rail Commission has talked about instituting intercity rail passenger between New Orleans and Baton Route, Louisiana.

But those efforts have been stymied by the refusal of would-be host railroad Kansas City Southern to allow an inspection train to examine the route or even to talk with the Commission about instituting the service.

The future of the proposed service has become a point of contention in the efforts of Canadian National to acquire KCS, a matter now pending before the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

In an attempt to mitigate concerns that the CN-KCS merger will reduce rail competition in the New Orleans-Baton Route corridor, CN has offered to sell the KCS route between the two cities.

But that offer comes with a catch. CN would retain the right to offer freight service over the route.

Amtrak recently weighed in on the matter by telling the STB in a filing that this would make institution of passenger rail service much more difficult.

The Amtrak filing said CN’s plan is “the equivalent of a homeowner selling their house but reserving the right to continue to live in it.”

Canadian Pacific also wants to buy KCS and has pledged to cooperate with Amtrak in restoring New Orleans-Baton Rouge service.

In a letter to Louisiana Transportation Secretary Dr. Shawn Wilson, CP CEO Keith Creel cited “CP’s proven track record of co-operating and operating passenger trains on its network.”

The letter acknowledged the route need extensive infrastructure work to bring it up to passenger standards, but said, “If we are successful [in acquiring KCS], we would be in a strong position to ensure the level of maintenance is up to a mainline standard that would efficiently support both freight and passenger operations.”

Aside from New Orleans-Baton Rouge service, the SRC also has pushed to create a Dallas section of the Crescent that would operate on KCS tracks west of Meridian, Mississippi, via Jackson, Mississippi, and Shreveport, Louisiana.

The Creel letter said  CP would be committed to reviewing and participating in studies with the goal of introducing a (passenger) train pair in the Meridian-Dallas corridor

However, Creel said that would be contingent on getting the support of Norfolk Southern, which with KCS has a joint venture to improve the route.

The proposed Dallas section of the Crescent would be expected to use Union Pacific tracks west of Shreveport because the KCS roué to Dallas is circuitous.