Archive for the ‘Other News’ Category

Illinois Passenger Car Plant Closing

August 16, 2018

A passenger car manufacturing plant that was expected to build the next generation of rail cars has been closed by its owner and put up for sale.

Nippon Sharyo opened the plant eight years ago in Rochelle, Illinois, with the expectation that it would build 120-bilevel passenger cars to be used on Amtrak corridor routes in Illinois and California.

But when a prototype built at the plant failed to pass federal crashworthiness tests, the contract was given to Siemens in 2017.

The plant did, though build 160 Highliner cars for Metra, the Chicago commuter rail agency. The last of those cars was delivered in 2016.

At one time, the plant employed 800 workers but the payroll has been declining in recent year as car orders dried up.

Although Nippon Sharyo did not say when the plant would close, production has already ceased.

The only workers left handle administrative duties, field service, and maintenance services for customers.

The $371 million contract for the Amtrak route cars was awarded to Nippon Sharyo in September 2012 with delivery between the end of 2015 and early 2018.

In September 2015, the prototype car buckled during an 800,000-pound compression test.

Work on the cars halted and 98 workers were laid off. Nippon Sharyo has never publicly disclosed the reasons why the prototype car failed the compression test.

In a statement, the company said the complexity of the project prevented it from completing it.

“This result brought significant losses, which severely impaired our financial conditions to the extent that we can no longer build rail cars at the Rochelle factory,” the statement said.

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Brightline Adds More Trains

August 16, 2018

There are more trains operating between Miami and West Palm Beach, Florida, Brightline has announced.

Following the completion of switch and signal work the service has expanded on weekdays from 11 to 16 round trips.

Following an existing 5:30 a.m. West Palm Beach departure, trains now leave every hour on the hour from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., except 1 p.m.

Going north, trains now leave Miami at 13 minutes past every hour from 7:13 a.m. to 11:13 p.m., missing only the 3:13 p.m. trip.

Weekend schedules remain unchanged at eight round trips Saturday and seven Sunday with every-other-hour service, but timings have been adjusted to conform with the weekday “memory” schedules at all three stations.

In an unrelated development, Brightline is reportedly eying three sites for a station in downtown Tampa should it get the green light to create a route from there to the Orlando International Airport

The sites are reported to be a former jail near an existing bus transit center, land adjacent to Tampa Union Station (served by Amtrak’s Silver Star stops), and an older 370-unit apartment complex whose owners might be willing to sell the property.

Senate OKs Funding for Passenger Rail, Seeks to Keep S.W. Chief Intact

August 3, 2018

The U.S. Senate has approved on a 92-6 vote $16.1 billion for billion for public transit and intercity passenger rail while also seeking to preserve Amtrak’s national network.

The legislation provides $2.5 billion for intercity passenger rail grants, which are $1.3 billion more than authorized by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act for Fiscal Year 2019.

The funding is contained within the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2019.

The bill also funds the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grants program at $2.5 billion, marking a $92 million decrease from FY18, according to a statement issued by nonprofit advocacy group Transportation for America.

The legislation allocates $1 billion for the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development grants program.

The bill also specifically directs the U.S. Department of Transportation to administer the program as it was under 2016 in response to attempted changes that would have added “greater financial and administrative burdens on local communities.”

As for Amtrak’s national network, the Senate approved an amendment by senators Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) to provide $50 million to maintain the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

The amendment would provide the resources needed for maintenance and safety improvements along the route as well as “effectively reverse” Amtrak’s plans decision to substitute buses for rail service between Albuquerque and western Kansas.

It is designed to compel Amtrak to fulfill its promise of providing matching funds for the grant won by Colfax County, New Mexico, to rebuild the route.

Advocates Working to Save, Promote Trains

August 1, 2018

Motivated by fears that Amtrak is laying the groundwork to eviscerate its long-distance trains network, some rail passengers advocates are going to battle to save their favorite train.

Mark Meyer, a member of the Rail Passengers Association created a website to advocate on behalf of the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Such efforts long predate the appointment of Richard Anderson as CEO of Amtrak.

Back in the 1990s passengers advocates established The Texas Eagle Marketing and Performance Organization to fight efforts to discontinue the Chicago-San Antonio train.

Since 2011, ColoRail has been fighting on behalf of the Southwest Chief.

Jim Souby, president of ColoRail, told Trains magazine that these grassroots efforts can be critical to saving service.

“These local folks have the ears of their legislature and congressional leaders and that makes all the difference,” Souby said.

Websites created by groups advocating on behalf of specific trains also are used to promote them by trying to drum up patronage along the route.

Meyer told Trains that he created his website because does not believe Amtrak is doing enough to market the Empire Builder.

He plans to spotlight every town served by the Builder as well as provide a history of the train and ways for people to connect with members of Congress to let them know how important the train is to them.
“Someone needs to promote the (long-distance trains) and explain what they do and why they’re needed,” Meyer said.

The TEMPO website has long done the same thing.

Dr. William Pollard of Conway, Arkansas, said every passenger who sees the website and decides to ride the train is a potential advocate for the Texas Eagle and other long-distance trains.

A veteran of many battles for Amtrak funding, Conway said most of those fights have been with Congress. But now advocates find themselves fighting Amtrak itself.

RPA Starting Station Volunteer Program

July 30, 2018

The Rail Passengers Association is launching a program to provide volunteers to help passengers at Amtrak stations that have lost their ticket agent.

The program, known as the Station Volunteer Program, will provide information and directions for travelers, assist those who need help with luggage, and discuss train travel.

The first step will be to begin a pilot program at various stations to be named later. That is expected to get underway in August.

Senate Prodding Amtrak on S.W. Chief Route

July 30, 2018

The U.S. Senate is turning up the heat on Amtrak to save the Southwest Chief in its current form.

The Senate approved by a 95-4 vote a “sense of Congress” amendment to a fiscal 2019 transportation funding bill that urges Amtrak to maintain its national route system.

Another group of 10 senators wrote to Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson to demand that the carrier make good on an earlier agreement to provide a $3 million match to an already-approved $16 million federal Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery grant to Colfax County, New Mexico, that is to be used to rebuild the tracks used by the Chief.

The letter suggests that Amtrak also apply for capital funding to rebuild the route that could come from the $318 million Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement program.

“Replacing train service through rural communities with buses is troubling, particularly for a quasi-governmental entity entrusted with an important public transportation mission,” the letter said. “The suspension of service along the Southwest Chief route raises serious questions as to whether passenger rail service will be eliminated in rural communities across the country. The connectivity is vital to the people and communities” because it is “the only affordable alternative to highways for many of our citizens and is a critical link to public and private services in larger cities along the route for rural residents.”

The letter came in response to a meeting Anderson held with members of the congressional delegations of several states served by the Chief in which he said Amtrak is considering moving passenger by bus between Albuquerque and western Kansas.

Anderson said Amtrak can’t afford to use a portion of a BNSF route of which it is the sole user and which does not have positive train control.

The letter to Anderson called for him to take “prompt attention to this matter,” but did not say what would occur if Amtrak follows through on its bus bridge idea.

Money Pledged to Washington State High-Speed Rail Study

July 30, 2018

Three entities have pledged $750,000 toward paying for a study of high-speed rail service between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia.

They are the province of British Columbia, the Oregon Department of Transportation and Microsoft Corporation.

That funding would be in addition to $750,000 that the Washington State Department of Transportation is providing for the study, which seeks to expand upon a 2017 preliminary analysis of prospects for a 250 mph high-speed rail system in the Pacific Northwest.

The newest study will be an “in-depth business case evaluation that WSDOT will undertake over the next year,” the department officials said in a news release.

The goal of the service would be to provide one-hour trips between Seattle and Vancouver as well as promote economic growth in the region and encourage “greater collaboration, deeper economic ties and balanced growth for years to come.”

Senate Committee Hears from Amtrak Board Nominee

July 30, 2018

A nominee for a seat on the Amtrak board of directors was described as a lifelong “train freak” during a hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee.

The label was placed on Rick A. Dearborn by Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, who chaired most of the two-hour hearing.

During the hearing, Dearborn said Amtrak needs to make its long-distance trains more attractive but did not say that he supports government funding of them.

“Amtrak trains should be on time, clean, competitive, and a good option for travelers,” Dearborn said. “Long distance service is a critical part of the national passenger rail system. I am committed to it.”

“I get the impression that Amtrak is being reduced, not built, because it’s requiring taxpayer dollars,” U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, told Dearborn. “Do you think taxpayer dollars are necessary to keep Amtrak going?”

“I can’t predict whether or not Amtrak could operate without financial assistance,” Dearborn said. “I would hope that if we focus on creating a good product, then revenues will rise and the dependency on federal dollars would be less.”

“If you had a choice between lowering operating losses and shutting down a long-distance line, what would you choose?” asked U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nevada.

“I hope I’m never faced with that decision,” Dearborn replied.

Dearborn also zeroed in on safety, saying it must be the passenger carrier’s highest priority.

Dearborn expressed optimism that Amtrak will meet the Dec. 31 deadline set by federal law to install positive train control.

In his opening statement Dearborn said he has a collection of O Scale models that includes 75 locomotives and 300 pieces of rolling stock.

He has worked for six senators since the mid-1970s, including 12 years as chief of staff for former Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama

Dearborn was executive director of President Donald Trump’s transition team and White House deputy chief of staff until he resigned in March.

Also speaking to the committee was Martin J. Oberman, former chairman of Chicago’s Metra rail system, who has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

He said he was studying such issues facing the STB as the long-standing struggle between carriers and shippers over “captive switching,” and the board’s work on streamlining rate disputes.

“My four years at Metra required my total immersion and continuous education in the railroad industry,” Oberman said. “I quickly learned that all aspects of our national rail system are fundamentally interconnected and the rail system is central to the national economy.”

Oberman pledged to take a “fresh look” at those and other issues. “Honoring precedent and not changing systems that aren’t broken are important values,” he said. “It also critical to be willing to question practices if they appear to be archaic and ineffective in meeting the changing needs of consumers and businesses, or keeping pace with technological changes in the global economy.”

Oberman said he favors negotiation over litigation as a means to resolve issues within the railroad industry.

“As a trial lawyer for 49 years, I know litigation is the worst way to settle a dispute,” Oberman said.

Amendment Would Restore Ticket Agents

July 30, 2018

An Amendment introduced by two Ohio U.S. Senators would direct Amtrak to restore a ticket agent in Cincinnati.

The amendment to the transportation appropriations bill that would require Amtrak to staff stations that averaged 25 passengers a day over the last five years

Introduced on July 26 by Sen. Sherrod Brown and Sen. Rob Portman, the measure would also affect the following stations that lost their ticket agents earlier this year: Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Ottumwa, Iowa; Topeka, Kansas; Hammond, Louisiana; Meridian, Mississippi; Havre, Montana; Shelby, Montona; Lamy, New Mexico; Marshall, Texas; and Charleston, West Virginia.

The amendment to the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill is under consideration.

Cincinnati is served by Amtrak’s tri-weekly Chicago-Washington Cardinal.

RPA Launches S.W. Chief Campaign

July 25, 2018

The Rail Passengers Association is launching a campaign to seek to pressure Amtrak into keeping the Southwest Chief intact.

The campaign comes in the wake of news that Amtrak is planning to bus passengers rather than transport them by rail between western Kansas and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

RPA noted that the bus bridge would affect nine stations, leave a 500-mile gap in Amtrak’s rail network and take 7.5 hours to traverse point to point.

The rail passenger advocacy group argues that as much as 70 percent of the Chief’s revenue will be lost.

However, RPA sees the battle to save the Chief as part of a larger effort to save Amtrak’s national network generally.

“The campaign is policy-based and will enable members to make their individual and collective voices heard,” RPA wrote on its website. “Raising awareness in traditional and social media, we’ll generate a firestorm of support for the Southwest Chief and the National Network and show Congress and Amtrak leadership just what losing train service would mean to real Americans.

As part of the campaign, RPA plans to reach out to U.S. senators,mayors, allies, friends and supporters of rail passenger service.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that this is a critical junction concerning the fate of the National Network. Whether it is the federal budget that makes Amtrak possible, or this very new threat to a part of the system, we have to take action. We appreciate your full support as we move forward with our efforts to protect the Southwest Chief and preserve the National Network,” RPA wrote.

More information about the campaign is available at www.railpassengers.org/swc