Archive for the ‘Other News’ Category

Charger Testing Completed in Illinois

April 25, 2017

The new Charger SC-44 locomotives were tested last weekend on three routes in the Midwest and are expected to enter revenue service this spring.

The Illinois Department of Transportation said the locomotives built by Siemens ran with empty trains of Amtrak passenger cars on routes linking Chicago with Milwaukee; Carbondale, Illinois; and Quincy, Illinois.

The locomotives will be tested on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor later this year.

“The delivery and testing of these attractive new locomotives will certainly get attention now and in years to come as they serve riders in our great Illinois communities,” said Illinois Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn.

“Their arrival will be a welcome sight and put us one step closer to providing more efficient and reliable passenger rail service throughout our state and our neighboring states.”

During the test runs, engineering staff from Amtrak and Siemens rode the locomotives and performed required tests while monitoring each engine’s performance.

The Chargers are compliant with EPA Tier IV emissions standards and can operate at speeds up to 125 mph.

IDOT along with state transportation departments in Wisconsin, Michigan, Missouri, Oregon, Maryland, California and Washington collaborated on ordering the locomotives.

Midwest state agencies acquired 33 of the 4,400-horsepower locomotives, which were purchased through $216.5 million in federal funding and built in Sacramento, California. All of the Midwest-based locomotives are to be delivered by late 2017.

Revenue testing is to begin for 30 days on April 30 in California on the Capitol Corridor route. Six Chargers are expected to operate in Northern California on the Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin routes.

In a news release, Siemens said the Chargers are equipped with electronically controlled regenerative braking systems that use energy from traction motors during braking to feed the auxiliary and head-end power systems. The feature is expected to minimize fuel consumption.

The diesel-electric operation is designed to enable better acceleration, cleaner emissions and low noise levels. The locomotives feature a 4,400 horsepower Cummins QSK95 diesel engine.

Expedited FRA Review Sought of Ann Arbor Amtrak Station Site Environmental Assessment

April 25, 2017

A  Michigan congresswoman is trying to turn up the heat on the Federal Railroad Administration to act sooner rather than later on reviewing an environmental assessment for a new Amtrak station in Ann Arbor.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell has written to the FRA to urge it to expedite that review.

Ann Arbor faces a Sept. 30 deadline to spend a $2.8 million federal grant that it received to develop a station. The FRA had indicated earlier that it would not finish its review until summer, leaving the city little time to spend the grant money on station design work.

In her letter to the FRA, Dingell said it was important that the FRA move in an “urgent and expeditious manner so the city can move forward with improving mass transit in the state of Michigan.”

Once the FRA finishes reviewing the environmental assessment, there will be a 30-day public comment period.

Thus far the city has not revealed the site it prefers for the new station.

Dingell also pointed out in her letter that Amtrak and the State of Michigan have been working to upgrade service between Chicago and Detroit.

Currently, Ann Arbor is served by three Wolverine Service roundtrips although transportation officials have spoken about increasing that level of service at some unspecified time as well as launching commuter rail service to Detroit.

FRA spokesman Marc Willis said the FRA has received the environmental assessment from the city.

“We reviewed it and sent it back to them for revisions,” he said, adding there’s no time frame from the city when it will be sent back for FRA review.

City Council Member Zachary Ackerman said the city is running out of time to build a new Amtrak station

Ackerman said that a new station seems to be less of a reality given the current climate in Washington and he won’t support a new station without significant federal funding.

Michigan Rail Passenger Advocates Working to Get Amtrak-VIA Bus Connection Detroit-Windsor

April 25, 2017

Michigan rail passengers advocates are working with Amtrak and VIA Rail Canada to revive connecting service between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, although that might not necessarily be rail service.

In a campaign that has been dubbed “mind the gap,” the advocates are talking with both railroads about establishing a direct bus connection.

Passengers who now want to connect between Amtrak and VIA must either take a cab or ride three local transit buses.

The advocates noted that the border crossing at Detroit is the busiest between the two countries.

Until 2003, Amtrak and VIA hosted a Chicago-Toronto train known as the International that operated via Flint and Port Huron, Michigan.

A Detroit-New York train, the Niagara Rainbow, operated via Windsor between October 1974 and January 1979, ending when the states of New York and Michigan ended their funding of the train.

An article posted on the website of the National Association of Railroad Passengers said that VIA is in active discussions with bus companies to provide a “bus bridge” between the VIA station in Windsor and the Detroit Amtrak station.

The service may begin by late 2017. The Michigan advocates hope that if the bus connection proves successful that it might provide an impetus for resuming rail service between Detroit and Windsor.

2 To Get Top U.S. DOT Posts

April 24, 2017

James Ray and Michael Britt are expected to be appointed by the Trump administration to new high-level posts within the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Other DOT policy-making posts are expected to be realigned.

Ray will become a senior adviser on infrastructure and head a task force to be appointed to oversee the administration’s expected $1 trillion infrastructure plan.

He is currently a principal at KPMG. He previously worked at the Office of Management and Budget, served as acting administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, and was a general counsel for DOT from 2006 to 2008.

Britt, who has been the chief of staff for Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, will become senior adviser for Federal Aviation Administration modernization.

SW Chief Commission Gets New Mandate

April 20, 2017

The Southwest Chief Commission in Colorado will study rail passenger service along the front range of the Rocky Mountains between Fort Collins and Trinidad.

The Colorado legislature recently passed legislation that it sent to Gov. John Hickenlooper that extends the life of the Commission, which was set to sunset on July 1.

The legislation also authorizes the Commission to continue exploring the expansion within the state of Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

Colorado rail passenger advocates have long sought to extend operation of the Chief to Pueblo.

Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace, who pushed for the legislation, said that as Colorado’s population grows passenger rail is becoming necessary.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that Amtrak’s going to be OK,” said Jim Souby, president of the Colorado Rail Passenger Association. “Nobody knows quite how Congress is going to handle the budget this year. But I think it’s a big policy declaration by the state that we need to take passenger rail seriously. It passed the (Colorado legislature) with bipartisan support.”

The Southwest Chief Commission was created at a time when the future of the Southwest Chief was in doubt due to deteriorating track conditions.

The recently passed legislation will rename the Commission as the Southwest Chief and Front Range Passenger Rail Commission.

The Commission will be directed to recommend a rail passenger plan by late 2017 to the legislature.

Bristol Eyes Luring Amtrak to Come to Town

April 20, 2017

Public officials in Bristol, Virginia, plan to launch a study of what it would take to entice Amtrak to serve their region.

City officials plan to work with the Community Transportation Association of America in Washington to secure a consulting firm that will undertake a $450,000 economic benefit study of extending Amtrak’s Northeast Regional service from Roanoke, Virginia, to Bristol.

“We’re just about ready to prepare the RFP [request for proposals] for that study, and hopefully it will begin this summer,” CTAA spokesman Rich Sampson said Tuesday. “What we’re hoping our study will do is be a precursor to a second study, by demonstrating the need and the benefits of such a service. DRPT [Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation] would then do a study on the operational feasibility of the service.”

Amtrak expects to begin serving Roanoke later this year by extending a Northeast Regional train that now terminates in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Sampson said the state of Virginia is going to want two years of ridership data of the Roanoke service before it will participate in the Bristol study.

Bristol Mayor Bill Hartley said having Amtrak service would benefit his city in many ways.

“I look at what passenger rail could do for our downtown,” he said. “With two hotels, one hopefully opening this year, and the restaurants and entertainment, the infrastructure is there for people to come and make Bristol more of a destination.”

Some funding for the study will come from a $250,000 grant from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, a $100,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission and $50,000 each from the city and CTAA, with CTAA also providing services as an in-kind contribution.

Once it gets underway, the Bristol study is expected to take six to nine months to complete.

“Virginia is perhaps the leading state right now in investing in new Amtrak service,” Sampson said. “They have three examples of where they have or are going to install new service — the Lynchburg train, the Norfolk train and the extension to Roanoke. Tennessee has not had any state support for inter-city passenger rail, so their level of involvement and interest is uncertain at this point.”

Although Bristol leaders once talked about getting support for service further southward to Knoxville and Chattanooga, Tennessee, and then creating a connecting service to Atlanta and Louisville, those routes won’t be part of the expected study of extending service from Roanoke.

Sampson said that expansion to Tennessee point won’t happen unless rail service first comes to Bristol.

Chicago Suburban Officials Focus on Freight Train Operations in Study of Hiawatha Expansion

April 18, 2017

Some north suburban Chicago public officials have decided to emphasize possible regulation of freight traffic rather than opposing a proposed expansion of Amtrak service between Chicago and Milwaukee.

In particular, officials in Lake Forest and Glenview are now backing away from their demand for a detailed environmental impact study of the Hiawatha expansion and instead are supporting having the Federal Railroad Administration study the effects of how freight trains operate in the corridor between Chicago and Rondout, Illinois.

The corridor is used by Amtrak, Metra commuter trains and Canadian Pacific freight trains.

The focus on freight operations came from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In earlier public hearings many residents and public officials expressed fears that CP freight trains would sit for lengthy periods of time adjacent to residential neighborhoods.

An FRA environmental assessment released last fall said the freights now sit north of Rondout waiting for permission to enter Union Pacific tracks in Northbrook.

One proposal is to move the waiting area further south to a new siding that would be built in Northbrook.

The EPA has not formally asked the FRA to conduct a study, but instead raised raised concerns that it wants the FRA to address.

“Would extending sidings or adding new holding areas enable freight operators to run more trains?” the EPA wrote in comments on the assessment. “Would proposed changes allow freight trains to wait within the corridor for extended periods of time, since the project would provide a place to do so off the main-line track?”

Lake Forest City Manager Robert Kiely Jr. has been critical of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Illinois Department of Transportation for not taking a closer look at CP freight operations.

Kiely said he wants answers to questions about the project’s effect on “air quality, emissions, noise and public safety.”

Glenview officials are asking how operation of trains might change at grade crossings.

Interim village manager Don Owen said “Now the (freight) trains pass at 40 to 60 miles an hour and it takes a few minutes. If they slow down or stop it could take 10 to 15 minutes to clear a grade crossing.”

The Hiawatha Service expansion would increase service from seven daily roundtrips to 10.

Officials Optimistic About Gulf Rail Restoration

April 13, 2017

Amtrak and members of the Southern Rail Commission are expressing optimism that intercity rail service will be restored to the Gulf Coast east of New Orleans.

During a meeting in Mobile, Alabama, they said that efforts to restore Amtrak service lost in August 2005 following Hurricane Katrina are close to being realized despite the proposal by the Trump administration to gut funding for Amtrak’s long-distance trains.

“When we look at the situation of where we are, we are closer now than we have ever been over the course of the last 12 years,” said Thomas Stennis III, Amtrak’s director of government affairs south.

Stennis urged residents of Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida to ask their respective members of Congress to reject President Donald Trump’s proposed budget. “I cannot urge that enough,” he said.

Although neither Amtrak nor the Commission has provided any details about how the service would be funded or when it might be restored, Stennis said that Amtrak CEO Charles “Wick” Moorman supports the restoration of service to the line once served by the Sunset Limited.

Nos. 1 and 2 continue to operate tri-weekly between New Orleans and Los Angeles.

One proposal to serve the Gulf Coast has the daily City of New Orleans operating east of its namesake city.

During a meeting in Mobile, officials estimated that 154,000 passengers would use the proposed New Orleans to Mobile segment annually.

Knox Ross, a Mississippi Commissioner of the SRC, said that negotiations with CSX, which owns the rail line that would be used have been difficult.

“We are working very hard to come up with a number,” said Knox. “It’s a hard negotiation because we are working on their railroad and they own it and they wanna make money.”

Knox said Amtrak matched the $125,000 appropriated by the City of Mobile to carry out necessary upgrades to its station.

He said similar deals could be worked out with other cities along the Gulf Coast city stations that require upgrades, said Knox.

Toledo National Train Day Set for May 6

April 12, 2017

Toledo still plans to hold a National Train Day this year, although it will not apparently have the headliner external exhibits that it has had in the past.

The event will be held on May 6 at the former Central Union Terminal – now known as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza – between 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. There is no admission charge.

Thus far the only announced railroad exhibit will be Ann Arbor Railroad GP38 No. 3879.

Built in 1969, the locomotive has been painted in a commemorative livery to honor the history of the Ann Arbor, which is now a Watco Companies property.

This year’s event will be the 10th National Train Day celebration in Toledo.

Past events have featured heritage and special livery locomotives of Norfolk Southern as well as an Amtrak exhibit train.

It is not clear yet if either NS or Amtrak will be participating in the event.

The event’s sponsors say on their Facebook page that as in past years the festival will feature vendors, model railroad displays, children’s train rides, a safety workshop oriented to children, food and train watching of the nearby NS Chicago Line from the Amtrak station platforms.

Southern Rail Commission Sets Tour to Seek Support for Gulf Passenger Service Revival

April 12, 2017

The Southern Rail Commission will be making stops this week in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi in an effort to drum up support for the resumption of intercity rail passenger service along the Gulf Coast.

One idea being proposed would be to extend Amtrak’s City of New Orleans east of its namesake city to Orlando, Florida.

Service between New Orleans and Orlando was once provided by the Sunset Limited, but was dropped after Hurricane Katrina damaged the route in August 2005.

The Commission is also eyeing institution of a daily train between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama, or Atmore, Alabama.

A study of restoration of service is currently being made that will show what capital improvements and operating support are needed to support the resumption of service.