Archive for the ‘Other News’ Category

PTC Covers all Union Pacific Passenger Routes

May 21, 2019

Union Pacific is now operating with positive train control on 80 percent of its route miles.

The carriers said it recently implemented PTC on 582 route miles, bringing required PCT-operated route miles to 13,597.

In a news release, UP said PTC has been in operation over all of its routes hosting passenger trains since last year

UP said it continues to work to ensure PTC interoperability with other freight and passenger railroads operating on UP track by 2020.

In the news release, UP said it completed PTC installation on required route miles and employee training in the fourth quarter of 2018.

FECI Sells Part of Miami Central Station

May 19, 2019

Ridership that has fallen short of expectations has led Florida East Coast Industries to sell a portion of its MiamiCentral station complex.

FECI is the parent company of the former Brightline intercity rail system, which earlier this year was rebranded as Virgin Trains USA

News reports say FECI has sold for $160 million two office towers and more than 150,000 square feet of commercial space, ground-floor retail and parking to the Shorenstein Company of San Francisco.

Shorenstein is a real estate investment firm that is one of the largest landlords in San Francisco.

FECI will continue to operate the train station and rail service at MiamiCentral.

One report indicated that FECI sought the deal as a way to recoup losses from missing ridership goals.

Talks to Resume on Infrastructure Plan

May 19, 2019

Talks between Congress and the Trump administration over a proposed $2 trillion infrastructure plan are expected to resume on May 22.

The session is expected to include President Donald Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

The trio had announced the infrastructure proposal following an April 30 meeting. However, Republican Congressional leaders have reacted coolly toward the plan with some questioning where the funding would come from.

One proposal has been an increase in the federal gasoline tax, but GOP leaders have signaled they won’t support that.

Some in Congress on sides of the aisle have expressed skepticism that there is enough time to get a bill approved before the end of July.

“It’s premature for me to think we’re going to get something on the floor until we have something to get on the floor, and we haven’t gotten there yet,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said. “It would be unrealistic to expect next week, one meeting everybody agrees.”

NJT Restores Atlantic City Service From Philadelphia

May 18, 2019

Intercity rail service to Atlantic City, New Jersey, has resumed. New Jersey Transit operates the service between Philadelphia and Atlantic City.

At one time Amtrak operated trains on this route.

The service had been suspended last September for the installation of positive train control on the line.

Along with restoring the Atlantic City trains NJT also restored the Princeton Dinky, which links the campus of Princeton University and Princeton Junction on the Northeast Corridor.

Installation of PTC on the two routes was delayed for several months beyond the projected finish date of Jan. 1, 2019.

The return of Atlantic City service saw the frequency of morning service at Philadelphia increase from three roundtrips to five, but a schedule change has led to some grumbling.

On the positive side NJT established a new morning arrival in Philadelphia. But NJT also ended two post-midnight trains from Atlantic City to Philly that had been heavily used by casino workers.

The workers are also upset that a train that had left at 5:45 p.m. has been moved up to depart at 4:55 p.m., which means those working 9 to 5 won’t get off work in time to catch that train home.

They will now have to wait for a 6:45 p.m. train to return home.

The return of the Atlantic City service was welcomed, though, by some who feared the route would not be reinstated because it has been the least patronized NJT route.

NJT said it ended the post-midnight departures from Atlantic City because they averaged fewer than 40 passengers a day and that alternative bus service was available.

Calif. Fighting FRA Revocation of High-Speed Grant

May 18, 2019

California is fighting back against a move by the Federal Railroad Administration to formally cancel grant money awarded to the state to develop a high-speed rail line.

FRA Administrator Ronald Batory announced earlier this week that the grant had been revoked, saying the project had changed since the funding was approved.

Batory was referencing a decision made earlier this year by Gov. Gavin Newsom to scale back to the project to a line in the state’s Central Valley.

The original plan had been to link San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Newsom said the state will contest the FRA’s ending a grant of $929 million for construction.

He called the FRA action an “illegal and a direct assault on California, our green infrastructure, and the thousands of Central Valley workers who are building this project.”

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California has also joined the fight against the FRA, saying the grant funds were appropriated by Congress and obligated by the president and thus can’t be legally withdrawn without good cause.

The grant was made in 2010 by the Obama administration to the California High-Speed Rail Authority, which the FRA said has failed on several occasions to file adequate reports to fulfill the terms of the grant.

“There is nothing in the FRA’s long working relationship with CHSRA to suggest that CHSRA would likely be able to initiate and complete the necessary corrective actions,” Batory said in a letter revoking the grant funding.

Losing the federal funding would deal the project a devastating blow said CHSRA Chief Financial Officer Russell Fong.

He said, though, that it might be possible to make up some of the loss of federal funds with high-speed rail’s share of revenue from California’s cap-and-trade market if it continues to run above projections.

The cap-and-trade market netted $767 million for high-speed rail in 2018. That was above the $500 million that had been expected.

Current plans are to build the high-speed line for 171 miles between Merced and Bakersfield.

After Newsom announced that the project would be curtailed, the Trump administration said it would seek to “claw back” $2.5 billion in federal funding that has already been spent on the project.

The FRA has said the inadequate reporting from CHSRA dates to the third quarter of 2016.

“Indeed, since 2014, CHSRA has not submitted a single satisfactory and acceptable (project management plan),” Batory said.

Texas Central Beats Back Adversaries in Legislature

May 18, 2019

Texas Central has managed to turn back 11 bills that were introduced into the Texas legislature during the current session that had been designed to delay or thwart its plans to develop a high-speed rail line between Dallas and Houston.

Most of the bills had been introduced on behalf of landowners located next to the proposed right of way.

However, Texas Rail Advocates President Peter LeCody told Trains magazine that there was still a chance that an amendment or rider detrimental to the interests of Texas Central could be attached to a bill before the legislature ends its session on May 27.

One such rider has already been struck from a budget bill that would have banned the Texas Department of Transportation from coordinating with Texas Central.

Some land owners have expressed fear that Texas Central might use eminent domain laws to condemn property, an authority granted by Texas law for purposes of developing highways, railroads, and such public utilities as power lines and pipelines.

Some Texas Central opponents have argued that TC is not yet a railroad because it doesn’t yet operate any trains.

A draft environmental impact statement has noted that 52 percent of the Texas Central right of way will be adjacent to power line corridors.

The proposed high-speed rail operator continues to determine the route it will take, including the process of negotiating and signing deals with property owners.

The company has said it has more than 30 percent of its needed parcels of land under an option contract.

Much of the Texas Central right of way will be elevated and built on earthen berms or viaducts.

In an unrelated matter, Texas Central recently released an updated ridership study that found more more than 6 million passengers are expected to rider TC trains by 2029.

Ridership is expected to reach 13 million by 2050. The latest study was conducted by L.E.K. Consulting and updated a study it conducted in 2016.

The study also found that TC trains will save 60 to 90 minutes per trip between Houston and Dallas and that 72 percent of frequent travelers between the two metropolitan areas who responded said they “probably” or “definitely” would take the train.

Of those surveyed, 85 percent said they had traveled between Houston and the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex in the past year.

The Houston-North Texas “super economy” is expected to grow by 1.5 percent per year to 2050, nearly twice the U.S. national average.

Fort Wayne Group Pressing Ahead for Rail Service

May 14, 2019

The pending discontinuance of the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State is not discouraging Fort Wayne, Indiana, interests seeking to revive intercity rail service.

The Northern Indiana Rail Passenger Alliance is working to establish a route between Chicago and Columbus, Ohio, that would pass through Fort Wayne.

Both Fort Wayne and Columbus previously had Amtrak service but lost it. Columbus fell off the Amtrak route map in October 1979 with the discontinuance of the National Limited while Fort Wayne lost the Broadway Limited and Capitol Limited in late 1990 when both trains were rerouted.

The Indiana General Assembly recently adopted a two-year budget that did not include continued funding for the quad-weekly Hoosier State.

But NIPRA officials say the state’s ending of Hoosier State funding won’t affect their work although it could affect it somewhat.

“It makes our job that much more difficult in getting the story out that the investment in passenger rail in our corridor will have an economic development payoff and attract young professionals to Fort Wayne and attract visitors to Fort Wayne,” said Rich Juram, NIPRA’s board president.

Nonetheless, he said “there’s not a direct relationship between that situation and the project here in northern Indiana, the line from Chicago to Fort Wayne and then continuing on from Fort Wayne to Columbus.”

Juram said his organization is sad to see the Hoosier State end, but said that service “was woefully inadequate for the market.”

Geoff Paddock, a Fort Wayne City Council member who favors the Chicago-Columbus service said losing the Hoosier State will hurt in the sense that the bigger the footprint is for passenger rail the better it is for having rail as a transportation option.

“Eliminating that funding and that investment in that line could be a detriment to our efforts to bring passenger rail back to Fort Wayne,” he said.

Paddock said one takeaway about the demise of the Hoosier State is that passenger advocates need to work with state legislators to make their case.

The Chicago-Columbus service would not be cheap to develop as it has been proposed.

It would require capital costs of $898 million to rebuilt track, signals and other infrastructure to support two daily roundtrips with a top speed of 79 mph.

The cost of four roundtrips traveling 110 mph would be $1.23 billion.

Advocates for the service say that money would largely need to come from state and federal funds.

Paddock said the Chicago-Columbus route may be in a more favorable position than was the Hoosier State because it has better tracks.

In the meantime, supporters of the route are working on an environmental impact study.

A Little Promontory in North Carolina

May 10, 2019

The Rail Division of the North Carolina Department of Transportation got into the spirit of the 150th anniversary of the Golden Spike by posing two of its locomotives in a manner that duplicated the famous photo made at Promontory, Utah.

It posed F59PHI No. 1869 with cab control unit No. 101 along with agency staff in a recreation of the iconic image made in 1869 by A.J. Russell.

The agency also used the event to promote $1 fares being offered for travel aboard Piedmont Service trains on May 10 and 11.

The discount fares quickly sold out said Rail Division Deputy Director Allan Paul, noting that each train has a capacity of 300.

“Many of them will be first-time riders and lots of families,” Paul said of those who purchased the tickets.” We hope they will have a good Piedmont experience and become repeat customers.”

Officials said that ridership of the Piedmont trains, which are operated by Amtrak, has risen 33 percent in the first half of fiscal year 2019 and ticket revenue is up 39 percent. The first half of the fiscal year ended in March.

VIA Reports Higher Ridership, Revenue in 2018

May 9, 2019

Ridership of VIA Rail Canada trains last year rose by 8 percent to 4.7 million, the carrier said this week.

Revenue was CA$392 in 2018, an increase of 7.4 percent over 2017.

The bulk of VIA ridership was concentrated in the corridor between Windsor, Ontario; and Quebec City, Quebec, where VIA carried 4.5 million passengers.

Last year marked the fourth consecutive year of ridership increases at VIA.

In a statement, VIA CEA Yves Desjardins-Siciliano said the results were a good way to mark the passenger carrier’s 40th anniversary.

“In all areas of the business, employees are working hard to attract more passengers, making them feel welcome and well-treated,” he said. “Thanks in large part to their efforts, the number of passenger miles traveled on VIA Rail has increased by 23 percent since 2014.”

Total 2018 operating expenses were CA$665 million, an increase of CA$34 million compared with 2017 expenses. VIA officials attributed that to additional expenses associated with added capacity.

Yves Desjardins-Siciliano said the rise in revenue combined with efficient cost management and economies of scale have helped the company reduce the cost of mobility on Canadian taxpayers by 15 percent (subsidy per passenger mile, excluding pension past service cost).

Washington to Study Cross-State Service

May 9, 2019

The transportation budget for Washington State includes an authorization to conduct a study of cross-state rail passenger service.

The proposed service would link Seattle and Spokane, Washington, via Ellensburg and Yakima.

The report is due by June 2020 and will evaluate route options, potential ridership, equipment needs, and operator options.

The study was pushed by All Aboard Washington, which had sought but failed to win authorization of the study last year. The study is expected to cost $250,000.

Neither Ellensburg or Yakima is currently served by Amtrak although they’ve had service in past year from either the Empire Builder or the discontinued North Coast Hiawatha.