Archive for the ‘Other News’ Category

Virginia Wants More Service to Richmond

May 22, 2018

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation wants to see additional Amtrak service between Washington and Richmond, Virginia.

To provide that service, the agency said that two new tracks need to be constructed between Washington and Arlington, Virginia, after separate plans for an expanded Long Bridge are completed.

The Federal Railroad Administration and the District of Columbia Department of Transportation are expected to recommended a design and layout for the project later this year.

The recommendation for increased service to Richmond, which would also include an increase in service provided by Virginia Railway Express, was presented to  a Commonwealth Transportation Board subcommittee.

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Brightline Now Serving Miami

May 21, 2018

Brightline began service to Miami on May 19 and has reached an agreement with rideshare provider Lyft to provide transportation to and from Brightline trains.

The launch of service to Miami also coincided with the implementation of quiet zones at grade crossings in West Palm Beach.

Fares for Brightline service are $10 Smart/$15 Select to Fort Lauderdale, and $15 Smart/$25 Select to West Palm Beach.

The quiet zones also affect Florida East Coast freight trains passing through West Palm Beach. The zone extends from from downtown to the southern city limits.

A quiet zone also begins on May 21 in Lake Worth, but other cities in Palm Beach County are decided about whether to allow quiet zones.

The county spend $7 million to create the crossing modification plans for quiet zones and Brightline contributed $60 million for traffic signal coordination and crossing upgrades necessary to gain Federal Railroad Administration approval.

Colorado Funding Passenger Fund

May 16, 2018

The Colorado legislature has approved $2.5 million to be used to promote passenger rail development.

The funding will go to the Southwest Chief and Front Range Rail Commission, which is seeking to extend passenger rail service to communities along the Rocky Mountains, including Pueblo and Colorado Springs.

The group is eyeing a section of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief between Trinidad and Pueblo, Colorado. It is also studying a separate rail service that would extend between Trinidad and Fort Collins via Pueblo, Colorado Springs and Denver.

Cost estimates to implement both rail services are $70 million.

The money appropriated by lawmakers will be used for community outreach, planning and other start-up costs.

The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe had a connecting train between Denver and La Junta until the coming of Amtrak in May 1971.

Brightline Begins to Miami on May 19

May 14, 2018

Brightline will begin service to Miami on May 19.

The service will initially be eight northbound and eight southbound trips to and from MiamiCentral, the new Brightline terminal in Miami.

Weekday trains will depart from MiamiCentral beginning at 7:05 a.m., leaving every two hours until 8:05 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and until 11:05 p.m. on Fridays. On weekends, trains will depart every two hours from 9:05 a.m. until 9:05 p.m. and until 11:05 p.m. on Saturdays.

Introductory fares from Miami to West Palm Beach will range from  $15 for “Smart” service to $25 for “Select” service.

Fares for travel between Miami and Fort Lauderdale will cost between $10 and $15.

Alton Seeks Developers for Station Area

May 12, 2018

Alton, Illinois, officials continue to talk with developers about their ideas to develop the area bordering the Amtrak station.

Two developers have proposed mixed use plans with the only variation being the mix of tenants they would seek to attract to the proposed Wadlow Town Center.

“We are still talking with a couple entities; we still are talking about the nature of what they want to do with the property,” said Greg Caffey, Alton director of development and housing. “Both parties are large developers in the St. Louis area. They have a very strong interest in this, it is just a matter of time.”

The Alton Amtrak station is located on the former 55-acre Robert P. Wadlow Municipal Golf Course.

It opened last year and replaced a station built by the Chicago & Alton Railroad decades ago on College Avenue. That station has since been razed.

Alton officials had originally issued a request for proposals to develop Waldlow Town Center and set a March 1 deadline, but received no proposals by then or a revised deadline of March 31.

Caffey said the city remains open to ideas and proposals to develop the 35.87 acres west, northwest, southwest and south of the Alton Regional Multi-Modal Transportation Center that is used by Amtrak and Madison County Transit buses.

Amtrak’s Chicago-St. Louis Lincoln Service trains and its Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle stop in Alton.

“We’re in no rush; we want what is in the best interest for the site and for the community,” Caffey said. “We want a quality development for the community.”

Alton Mayor Brant Walker envisions a retail and casual dining district that would not cannibalize what exists in Alton and Godfrey.

“The city desires that the property be developed in accordance with transit-oriented design principals and meets the requirements of the city’s Mixed Use Transportation zoning classification,” the city said in its request for proposals.

The request did not suggest types or sizes of businesses that officials would like a developer to bring to the site.

Amtrak Tells RPA of Commitment to National Footprint

May 8, 2018

Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia has told Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews that the passenger carrier is committed to maintaining a national footprint while re-envisioning the railroad for the future.

The two men visited last week with Mathews expressing concerns about the future of Amtrak and its services and amenities.

Mathews expressed support for Amtrak’s need for new equipment, new services and amenities.

Amtrak, Texas Central Reach Agreement

May 8, 2018

High-speed rail developer Texas Central has reached an agreement with Amtrak to use the latter’s reservation system once its high-speed Dallas-Houston system begins service.

In a news release, Texas Central said the agreement will allow for a through-ticketing option to better enable passengers to transfer between the two rail systems.

Texas Central also will be able to purchase such Amtrak services as training, marketing and sales.Construction of the Texas Central route has yet to begin.

The Federal Railroad Administration is working to complete a study of the proposed 240-mile route.

The FRA issued a draft environmental impact statement last December that is now the subject of a public comment period.

Amtrak ceased offering service between Dallas and Houston in 1995 when it discontinued a leg of the Texas Eagle.

Vermonters Still Wary Of Service Future

May 3, 2018

Although Vermont officials and rail passenger advocates are optimistic that Amtrak service to their state will survive, they are not taking that for granted.

Many in Vermont became alarmed after Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson told a congressional hearing in February that the passenger carrier would likely suspend service using routes that are not protected by positive train control.

Anderson was speaking about the prospect that some of its host railroads might not meet a Dec. 31, 2018, deadline set by federal law to install PTC.

However, the New York-Rutland Ethan Allen Express and Washington-St. Albans Vermonter use routes in the Green Mountain state that are not required to have PTC under federal law.

Both trains are funded in part by the State of Vermont.

Following Anderson’s comment an Amtrak government affairs manager tried to downplay the matter, suggesting that Vermont’s trains are likely to continue.

Amtrak is studying how and if to operate on route that are not required to have PTC.

However, of late Vermont officials have sound the alarm again because they say that Amtrak officials have been noncommittal in speaking about the future of the Vermont service.

They say Amtrak has not yet ruled out the possibility at the Vermonter and Ethan Allen Express will cease operating to Vermont on Jan. 1, 2019.

Another complication, Vermont officials say, is the prospect that a segment of the Vermonter’s route in Massachusetts may not meet administrative requirements that would reassure Amtrak of its safety.

The segment in question is 49 miles owned by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation that it purchased in 2014 from Pan Am Railways so that the Vermonter would reach a higher population base.

The resulted in rerouting the Vermonter from a route via Amherst to a route via Northhampton.

There are no plans at present to install PTC on that line.

There is little rail traffic on the route and the Federal Railroad Administration might be willing to grant it a waiver from the PTC requirement.

The Vermont Business Magazine said it had spoken with two sources who attended an April 16 meeting in Washington of the Rail Passenger Association, a national advocacy group.

During that meeting, Chris Jagodzinski, Amtrak’s vice president for operations, displayed a map indicating, in practice, the relative likelihood that Amtrak would cease serving certain route segments.

The sources said the 49-mile segment in Massachusetts is rated among the highest-risk routes because its lacks a PTC plan.

Vermont officials fear that Amtrak might refuse to run the Vermonter north of Springfield and instead carry passengers there by bus.

They also fear that once rail service is lost, it might be difficult to get it back.

A MassDOT spokesperson declined to comment on the PTC issue other than to make an innocuous statement in support of rail passenger service and referring specific questions to Amtrak.

Nonetheless, a source told the Vermont Business Magazine that MassDOT is working with the FRA, Amtrak and Pan Am to resolve the PTC issue, which the source said appears to be “solvable” by the PTC deadline.

An Amtrak spokesperson said the carrier is just now beginning to undertake a safety review of the Ethan Allen route and has yet to begin the review of the Vermonter route.

Federal law requires that if service is to be terminated by Amtrak, it must give 180 days notice. If service to Vermont is end or be suspended on Jan. 1, 2019, the notice would need to be given by July 5.

The Vermont Agency of Transportation and Genesee & Wyoming, which owns the tracks used by the Vermonter in Vermont are seeking a $1.6 million grant under the federal Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grant program that could be used to pay for safety equipment.

This could includes, for example, the installation of rock slide detectors.

“At this point the ball is in Amtrak’s court,” Michele Boomhower, director of policy planning and intermodal development at VTrans, said. “We have no time frame for anything changing, so we’re operating on a business-as-usual framework, awaiting Amtrak’s safety analysis.”

Glenview Poised to Spend $400,000 to Fight Hiawatha Expansion

May 2, 2018

Despite being an Amtrak stop, Glenview, Illinois, is planning to spend up to $400,000 against a plan that would result in the expansion of Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee.

The effort is not a fight against the expansion per se, but the construction of a siding along the route of the trains, which is also used by Metra commuter trains and Canadian Pacific freight trains.

The departments of transportation of Illinois and Wisconsin have proposed increasing the frequency of service between Chicago and Milwaukee by three additional roundtrips.

As part of that effort, a holding track would be constructed to allow CP freight trains to clear the main while waiting for permission to get onto Union Pacific tracks as part of the journey to a CP yard in Bensonsville.

Glenview expects to spend the funding for lobbying, research, and potential litigation against the plan, with the first $50,000 to go to a public relations firm for work including “development/refinement of core messages and themes” and media relations.

Some Glenview residents have argued that the siding would increase freight traffic and result in freight trains waiting for long periods of time in residential neighborhoods.

In a 2017 letter, now-retired Metra CEO Don Orseno disputed some of those concerns.

“It is well documented that the fluctuations in freight traffic are driven by fluctuations in economic activity, not by the given capacity of a given rail line,” he wrote.

Group Wants Michigan Demonstration Trains

April 25, 2018

A Michigan environmental group is pushing for special demonstration trains to operate in summer 2019 between Traverse City and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The Ground Center for Resilient Communities has been seeking intercity rail passenger service on the route for several years.

The group has raised $100,000 to conduct a study of the route’s potential that it expected to be completed this summer.

Preliminary findings have shown that the A2TC route as it has been dubbed could generate enough ridership to support a passenger train.

Much of that is based on the projection that tourism in Traverse City is expected to double from 6 million a year to 13 million by 2045.

“It could provide options for baby boomers moving up to the region and for college students at Baker, Alma, CMU, U of M,” said Jim Bruckbauer, deputy director of the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities. “We see the potential for what this can do for the downtowns between Traverse City and Ann Arbor — Owosso, Clare, Cadillac.”

Permanent rail service on the route is years away, but the group is eyeing operating some specialty trains in summer 2019.