Archive for the ‘Other News’ Category

Memphis Station to Get Hotel

June 23, 2017

Developers plan to create two hotels to serve Memphis Central Station, one of which will be contained within the 103-year-old depot.

The latter will be a boutique hotel within the historic station while the other will be a 115-room Holiday Inn Express to be built on what is now a parking lot at the corner of Fourth and Union.

Developers for both hotels have applied for building permits for work totaling $24.5 million.

The hotel inside the station will transform what are now apartment into the 124-room Central Station Hotel. Plans show that it will have a lobby, bar, ballroom, guest rooms, restaurant and retail.

McLean Wilson, an executive with Kemmons Wilson Companies, said the objective is to make the hotel “an extremely special experience.”

The hotel’s full name will be Central Station Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton.

Wilson said this includes transforming the station’s waiting area into a large bar that will be like a “living room”’ for the South Main neighborhood.

The Amtrak lobby and ticket office will be used to create the hotel lobby. Replacement facilities for Amtrak will be moved further east within the depot.

The existing ground-floor meeting rooms and offices will become a 3,500-square-foot restaurant and 6,000 square feet of retail that will likely include a coffee shop.

Memphis is served by Amtrak’s City of New Orleans.

Planning Continues for Louisiana Rail Route

June 23, 2017

The rejection of a proposed gasoline tax increase will not necessarily stop a proposed passenger train service between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, officials say.

The 17-cent tax hike would have raised $510 million for transportation projects, but officials say the rail service was only in the planning stages.

The officials acknowledged that for the service to begin, transportation officials will need to find funding for it.

Shawn Wilson, the Louisiana secretary of the Department of Transportation and Development, said federal funding might be able to cover most of the roughly $260 million cost of launching the service with public-private partnerships picking up some of the rest of the cost.

Louisiana would have to pay some costs and is responsible for coordinating the project.

Had the tax increase been approved, $30 million of it would have gone toward multimodal transportation, including rail service.

“We will continue to try and work to deliver it,” Wilson said. He acknowledged it could take longer to find the funding now. “It would be unfair to say this initiative relies solely on the state.”

Tommy Clark, commission of the Office of Multimodal Commerce, said the state has made some progress in convincing Amtrak and Kansas City Southern, which would have hosted the train, that the service would be worthwhile.

Clark said state officials tried to pitch to KCS that capital improvements to the rail line would provide benefit for freight transportation as well.

“We’re just at the baby steps of having those dialogues,” he said. “There are so many milestones that have to happen before even one train moves.”

The Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority has received a $250,000 federal grant to design a train station for the project, and the city-parish put up matching funds.

A request for proposals is expected to be issued in the next two months.

CSX Disputes SRC Comments on Gulf Coast Service

June 21, 2017

CSX has taken issue with comments made by a member of the Southern Rail Commission that it has increased the amount of money needed for capital improvements to restore Amtrak service to the Gulf Coast.

Commission member Jerry Gehman said that since E. Hunter Harrison became CEO of the railroad that it has demanded a $2.3 billion investment to restore passenger service east of New Orleans.

Gehman contended that the railroad had agreed to a lower sum in negotiations held before Harrison became CEO.

“The truth is that, according to a study that the Federal Railroad Administration co-sponsored in 2016, a minimum investment of more than $2 billion is required to create the infrastructure needed to safely support the desired service, and even at that level of spending it may not be possible to meet customers’ expectations and federal laws that require minimum on-time performance by passenger service,” CSX said in a statement.

The statement said the figure was arrived at by the engineering consulting firm of HDR Inc. working with the FRA and CSX to analyze what it would take to initiate Amtrak service between New Orleans and Sanford, Florida.

CSX said that the cost included additional track, signals, bridges and other improvements, including meeting new federal laws requiring positive train control and on-time performance.

“Those facts have been available to the Gulf Coast Working Group since August 2016, and have been consistently communicated and discussed in letters and monthly meetings with the FRA and other stakeholders since then,” CSX said. “At no time has CSX reached any agreement with the Gulf Coast Working Group about the cost at which new or modified service could be provided, so assertions that CSX recently changed its position are inaccurate.”

In its statement, CSX contended that even with a $2 billion investment, computer models suggest that passenger trains operating on the Gulf Coast route would not be able to achieve federally mandated on-time performance standards

“Without the much-needed additional tracks and other capacity improvements and due in part to the fact that the route includes 17 drawbridges where maritime traffic has priority over rail traffic, the new service would not meet customer expectations nor federal regulations,” CSX said. “Failing to meet that standard would expose CSX to uncapped penalties and unhappy passengers; CSX, as a responsible public company, is unwilling to support the initiation of a service that is impossible to provide in compliance with federal law.”

Amtrak Conductor Continues Recovery

June 21, 2017

The Amtrak conductor shot in Naperville, Illinois, last month continues to make steady progress and doctors are optimistic that he will make a full recovery.

Michael Case, 45, remains hospitalized, but has made enough progress that he might not need another surgery that doctors expected to have to perform.

“The bottom line, he should be able to eat, he should be able to function, he should be able to work; we’re a long ways away from that, and his condition although fairly stable, could take a turn,” said Dr. David Piazza, the Medical Director of Trauma Surgery at Edward Hospital.

However, Piazza cautioned that a devastating infection or blood clots, or pneumonia could still hamper Case’s recovery and even take his life.

Piazza said Case faces six to eight weeks of rehab and will eventually have a final surgery in about six to nine months.

Case, a conductor on the inbound Southwest Chief, was shot on May 16 while standing on the platform of the Naperville Metra Station.

Edward Klein, 79, of Wisconsin has been charged in connection with the shooting. Klein is being held on a $1.5 million bond and will appear in court on June 28.

He has been changed with attempted murder and aggravated battery.

U.S. DOT Seeking Public Views on Regulations

June 19, 2017

Public views are being sought by the U.S. Department of Transportation on policies, guidance documents and regulations that may create obstacles to transportation infrastructure projects.

The agency is undertaking a review of its existing polices, guidance and regulations that may be unnecessary.

As part of that review, DOT is asking affected stakeholders and the public to help identify non-statutory requirements that should be removed or revised.

Comments should be received no later than July 24.

Instructions for filing comments can be found via this link.

Wichita Union Station Could Accommodate Amtrak if it Elects to Resume Service to That City

June 16, 2017

If Amtrak ever does extend the Heartland Flyer to Kansas City, it might result in the revival of rail passenger service at Union Station in Wichita, Kansas.

The station is now owned by Occidental Management, which is in the midst of a $60 million redevelopment project there. That work began in 2014.

An Amtrak inspection train recently stopped at the station site on its journey from Oklahoma City to Kansas City.

The inspection train followed the route of Amtrak’s former Chicago-Houston train, the Lone Star, which was discontinued in early October 1979.

Amtrak spokesman Joe McHugh said during the stop in Wichita that the largest city in Kansas is one of the largest cities in the United States currently not served by Amtrak.

Gary Oborny, Chairman and CEO of Occidental Management, said the station, built in 1914, sat vacant for several years before his company acquired it.

He said the building could be configured to accommodate Amtrak either on the upper level near the railroad tracks or on a lower floor.

Oborny says upgrades wouldn’t have to be major because Amtrak’s needs are different today than they were in the 1970s.

“An Amtrak location would probably run $350,000 to $400,000,” which Oborny said would increase the cost of station renovation.

At one time, Wichita Union Station hosted passenger trains of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe; the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific; the St. Louis-San Francisco; and the Midland Valley.

CSX Management Change Hinders Efforts to Restore Amtrak Service to the Gulf Coast

June 15, 2017

An Alabama member of the Southern Rail Commission said talks with CSX over getting approval to reinstate Amtrak service along the Gulf Coast have gone back to square one.

Commission member Jerry Gehman of Atmore said that since E. Hunter Harrison became CEO of the railroad last March that management has said that the cost of reinstating the service will be $2.3 billion, take it or leave it.

Gehman said that talks with the railroad facilitated by the Federal Rail Administration had whittled the price tag down to less than $800 million.

But then Harrison took over and “ . . . he is not amenable to our interests,” Gehman said. “Their position was fixed and firm. They said we should go back to the original estimate of $2.3 billion, that they would have no further negotiations, and they walked out of the meeting.”

Gehman said the FRA believes that the price of reviving Amtrak service east of New Orleans should be $117 million.

Now, Gehman said, any chance of seeing the service launched by end of this year is gone.

“We understand CSX’s position; unfortunately, it’s a hostile position, but they’ve made it very clear,” he said. “That hostile position is simply a negotiating tool.”

The Commission plans to continue negotiations. “What I left the [June 9] Rail Commission meeting with was frustration, aggravation and ‘how can I become a better negotiator?’” Gehman said. “My frustration comes from seeing the possibility, not the perspective of the railroad. I would not say that I’m disheartened, but I’m certainly disappointed.”

Gehman said a more aggressive posture on the part of the Rail Commission might be more beneficial.

 

Hickory Creek to Ride Rear of LSL

June 14, 2017

The Hickory Creek, the ex-Twentieth Century Limited tail car will be traveling to Chicago for the Nickel Plate Road 765 trips. It will leave New York City on the Lake Shore Limited on June 14. It will head back to NYC on the Lake Shore on June 19.

Photograph by Jack Norris

Columbus to Help Fund Passenger Rail Study

June 12, 2017

The city of Columbus has agreed to contribute $250,000 toward the planning efforts to establish intercity rail service between Ohio’s capital city and Chicago.

That amount will be added to the $350,000 already committed by other cities, businesses and others.

All Aboard Ohio, a rail passenger advocacy group, reported in its June newsletter that some central Ohio entities that it didn’t name might contribute another $100,000.

Work on the proposed Chicago-Columbus route is being conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration and the engineering firm HNTB.

Their planning efforts are currently focused on the former Pennsylvania Railroad mainline between Lima, Ohio, and Gary, Indiana, that was once used by Amtrak’s Chicago-New York Broadway Limited and Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited.

The preferred route from Columbus is the CSX Toledo Terminal and Scottslawn subdivisions, which cross the ex-PRR mainline at Dunkirk, Ohio.

In a related move, the FRA is reported to be well along in creating a Midwest Regional Rail Planning Study.

That document will create a 40-year vision that builds on the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative that was proposed more than a decade ago but has never been implemented.

The Midwest Midwest rail concept would cost an estimated $2.5 billion for new locomotives, passenger cars, upgraded tracks, modernized stations, increased train frequencies and faster travel times.

The Ohio Rail Development Commission is participating in the plan, which will establish the priorities, and studies and investments needed to implement projects in the coming decades.

DOT Council to Assist Infrastructure Projects

June 9, 2017

A council will be appointed by the Trump administration within the Department of Transportation to help project managers address rules and regulations.

In remarks made at the USDOT headquarters in Washington, President Donald Trump said the purpose of the council would be to give contractors a single point of contact to get decisions from the federal government “and to deliver that decision, whether it’s a road, a bridge, a dam.”

Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao said DOT had published a Federal Register notice “soliciting solutions and suggestions on ways to improve government permitting. If you have ideas, we want to hear from you.”