Archive for the ‘Other News’ Category

‘Data Nerd’ Creates Ohio Intercity Rail Network Plan

December 6, 2019

A self-described data nerd has designed an intercity rail passenger network for Ohio that is rooted in the moribund Ohio Hub plan.

It remains to be seen whether the plans drawn up by Kevin Verhoff will get any attention.

Verhoff, who lives 40 miles from Columbus and grew up in Elyria, is seeking to create a public transportation network for the state after riding to work on public transportation while living in San Francisco and Newark, New Jersey.

“It was very convenient for me,” he said of those experiences. “It made a big difference in my day-to-day life.”

Although he grew up in Ohio, Verhoff said he experienced something of a culture shock when he returned to the state and had to do with limited public transportation.

His proposal for a passenger rail system in Ohio is comprised of seven basic routes, including one that is oriented to serving Columbus.

The plan also included the long-discussed 3C corridor between Cleveland and Cincinnati via Columbus and Dayton.

Other routes would connect Toledo and Cincinnati via Dayton; connect Cleveland and Dayton on a different alignment than the 3C Corridor; connect Marietta and Toledo while continuing into Michigan to Detroit and Ann Arbor; and connect Toledo and Cleveland with an extension into far Northeast Ohio and possibily to Buffalo, New York.

Not all of the route would link the city’s urban areas. The proposed Keystone Express would be situated in eastern and central Ohio linking such town as Mount Vernon, Millersburg, New Philadelphia and Steubenville. The line could continue to Pittsburgh.

Verhoff’s network would serve half of Ohio’s 88 counties.

In an interview with Ohio Capital Journal, Verhoff acknowledged that creating the network is a tall challenge with issues of funding and right of way acquisition.

It will also be a challenge to get politicians, business leaders and other stakeholders to work together on the plan, which he estimated would cost $9 billion.

The executive director of All Aboard Ohio, a rail and public transportation advocacy group, agrees that Verhoff’s plan faces major hurdles.

“(The) real work comes in educating Ohio’s policymakers how far ahead our neighboring states are in developing, improving and operating passenger rail services, and what benefits they are enjoying from those investments,” said Ken Prendergast.

He said All Board Ohio appreciates Verhoff’s advocacy and hopes the attention drawn to transit issues will make an impact.

Ohio policy makers have supported various statewide intercity rail passenger plans at various times, but nothing has ever materialized.

Those included the 2007 Ohio Hub plan, which envisioned a statewide rail network that would have extended beyond the state’s borders.

The closest the state case to financially supporting a rail route was a $400 million grant from the federal government to pay for work to launch the 3C corridor.

But John Kasich ran for governor in 2010 in opposition to that plan and after he defeated incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland he killed the 3C project. The funding was taken back by the federal government.

Since then, the Ohio Department of Transportation has created its Access Ohio 2040 plan that describes a number of “long-term transportation outcomes” but does not mention a passenger rail network other than making references to enhanced and improved access “to the existing multimodal system.”

The Ohio Rail Development Commission in its 2018 State of Ohio Rail Plan described a proposal to develop a passenger line between Chicago and Columbus.

A feasibility study was completed in 2013 but a environmental impact study is now needed.

The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission is conducting its own study of a proposed rail line linking Chicago, Columbus and Pittsburgh.

That study is looking at the potential of a hyperloop, which would involve passengers riding in high-speed tubes.

The ORDC plan also touched on Amtrak station improvement projects that were planned or underway in Cincinnati, Cleveland and Toledo.

Verhoff told Ohio Capital Journal that transportation is an issue which intersects with health care, economy, jobs and tourism.

After he posted his map to his blog and on Twitter Verhoff said he was surprised at the number of positive responses he received.

“A lot of people were saying ‘this would totally change my life,’” he said.

Others asked that their communities be included in the network. These comments, Vehoff said, show there is a demand for public transit is widespread across Ohio.

As for funding, Verhoff said it could come in a variety of ways, including municipal bonds or shifting highway and gas tax funding toward transit priorities.

Verhoff said much of the $9 billion project cost could be mitigated by using and upgrading existing rail lines in the state.

VIA Ridership, Revenue Up in 3rd Quarter

December 4, 2019

VIA Rail Canada said this week that it saw its ridership increase by nearly 7 percent in the third quarter of 2019 when compared to the same period of 2018.

Passenger revenue in the 2019 third quarter rose by 1 percent when compared with 2018.

In a news release, VIA said it earned total passenger revenue of CA$113.4 million, an increase of CA$1.1 million compared with the previous year’s quarter. Total revenue reached CA$119 million.

VIA said it was the 15th consecutive quarter of increased ridership and the 22nd consecutive quarter of revenue growth.

The highest ridership percentage increase — about 27 percent — occurred on regional services. The passenger carrier attributed that ridership growth in part to the return of service between Winnipeg and Churchill in Manitoba.

Ridership and passenger revenue on the Quebec City-Windsor corridor rose 7.2 percent and 5.5 percent, respectively.

Passenger revenue on the Montreal-to-Halifax service rose 9 percent versus the third quarter of 2018.

Strike at CN Helped Canadian’s Timekeeping

November 27, 2019

A recent strike by the Teamsters Canadian Rail Conference against Canadian National proved to be a good thing for timekeeping of VIA Rail Canada’s Canadian.

An analysis by Trains magazine found that the Canadian that departed Toronto on Nov. 24 spent 14 hours and 15 minutes waiting for its scheduled departure times at stations in western Ontario and Manitoba.

That was because during the strike CN rerouted some of its trains through the United States, thus removing some of the freight train delays that Nos. 1 and 2 often incur.

Trains said that on one day the Canadian waited at the crew change point of Hornepayne, Ontario, for three-and-a-half hours until its scheduled departure time. Other waiting times ranged from 15 to 30 minutes.

The Canadian has 65 intermediate stops between Toronto and Vancouver and is allowed to depart ahead of schedule if there are no passengers set to board.

That led to the Canadian leaving Foleyet, Ontario, nearly two hours early on Sunday evening.

The analysis said that CN and VIA agreed in April 2019 to lengthen the running time of the Canadian to ensure that passengers on the westbound train would be able to see the Rocky Mountains in daylight.

The magazine said its review of every departure since the longer schedule went into effect found that has overall been successful.

No. 1 has consistently arrived in Vancouver earlier than its 8 a.m. scheduled arrival time, sometimes arriving early by as much as two to four hours.

VIA does not allow passengers to disembark in Vancouver before 6:30 a.m. and offers a continental breakfast to Sleeper Plus and Prestige class passengers.

Early arriving passengers are permitted to stay aboard as late as 8 a.m.

VIA has also reduced the frequency of operations of the Canadian to twice weekly between Toronto and Vancouver and once a week between Vancouver and Edmonton, Alberta.

CN and the Teamsters on Wednesday announced a tentative contract agreement that ended the strike.

However, it may be as many as eight weeks before the ratification vote is completed.

San Joaquin Authority May Consider Another Operator

November 27, 2019

Recent testimony before a congressional committee hinted that some California officials might be thinking about finding another operator for trains serving the San Joaquin Valley.

Amtrak has operated the San Joaquin service between Bakersfield and Oakland since 1974, but some on the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority are unhappy about the national passenger carrier’s lack of transparency as to costs.

During a hearing before a subcommittee of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Authority’s executive director, Stacey Mortensen, said Amtrak charges three times as much per passenger to run the San Joaquin trains than Herzog Transit charges to handle the Altamont Corridor Express.

Mortensen also heads the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission.

In her testimony, Mortensen said her agency has asked Amtrak for cost-sharing and maintenance data for years but never received it.

“Our attempts to discuss these issues with various Amtrak leadership typically starts with, ‘We will look into it.’ Ultimately though the transition to defensiveness, resistance and then, in the end, futility,” Mortenson said.

“Amtrak, exceeds its own budget projections year after year with little or any explanation. Their only remedy has been to seek additional funding from our state,” she said.

A California television station asked Amtrak for comment on Mortenson’s testimony, but responded with a statement that said nothing of substance or illumination.

“We look forward to continuing to provide more information to state partners and serving more customers in California,” the Amtrak statement said.

Amtrak’s contract with the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority must be approved annually.

Mortensen indicated that the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority might look into finding another provider to operate passenger trains on the San Joaquin route.

NNERPA Eyes Projects to Improve Downeaster Route

November 27, 2019

Increasing capacity and adding new stations to the route used by Amtrak’s Downeaster trains is being studied by the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority.

NNERPA is considering adding a siding and second platform in Wells, Maine; building a new station at Portland, Maine; and creating a new stop at Falmouth, Maine, south of Portland.

The proposed siding and platform at Wells would allow for the addition of a new northbound, commuter-oriented train from Wells to Portland and on to Brunswick, Maine.

During a public meeting held in Brunswick, NNERPA officials said the plans are not final nor has a decision been made to pursue them.

They said the ideas are part of an effort to boost ridership between stations even if a majority of passengers are traveling to and from Boston.

“Even though there’s a diverse group of people who ride for different reasons, Boston is really the destination,” said Patricia Quinn, NNEPRA’s executive director. “We’re trying to figure out ways to make the Downeaster more appealing for people to ride it on a regional basis.”

Texas Central Chooses Equipment Design Contractor

November 23, 2019

Texas Central has chosen Mass. Electric Company to design a construction contract to build the equipment that will be used in its high-speed train between Houston and Dallas.

In a news release, Texas Central said ECI will define the scope, execution plan, schedule and price for the future construction contract, which is expected to be signed later this year.

TC said construction of the high-speed line is expected to begin in 2020.

The news release said that Kiewit Corporation, a subsidiary of ECI will focus on installing the core system and critical safety elements including necessary power, signaling and communications equipment.

The core system that will be installed by Mass. Electric is a key component of the Central Japan Railway’s N700S Shinkansen technology that will be used by Texas Central.

Under a core systems installation agreement, ECI would install the systems that supply and distribute electrical power for running the train and related equipment, signaling and control of the trains, and communications, to ensure the trains, the track and operators all communicate with one another and with network operations.

Toys for Tots Train Won’t Operate This Year

November 21, 2019

The Toys for Tots train in New York State has been scrapped after Norfolk Southern declined to agree to host it again.

Sponsored by the U.S. Marine Corps, the train distributes toys to children in the Capital Region of the state.

Last year Amtrak declined to cooperate in the running of the train, but NS and private car owners stepped in and rescued it.

In a statement, NS said that it had told Capital Region Toys for Tots last year that it would not participate in the train excursion in the future.

The Toys for Tots train has operated for the past 20 years and in 2018 it operated between Binghamton and Delanson, New York.

Marine Staff Sgt. Patrick Lurenz, who helps coordinate the train, told Trains magazine that the death of former Amtrak President Joseph Boardman last March appeared to have played a role in the train’s demise.

Lurenz said Boardman was a vocal supporter of the train and helped smooth the way for it to run every year.

Bennett Levin, who owns locomotives and passenger cars that operated on last year’s train, said the discussions about this year’s operation never got to the point where a consist was being planned.

He also noted that NS only committed to operate the train last year.

Lurenz said he had discussions with NS about hosting the train this year. “My impression is not that they don’t want to do it, I just don’t think right now they can do it, or it just didn’t happen in time this year,” he said.

“It’s not that we took it for granted. We didn’t know there was that much logistical work to do,” Lurenz told Trains.

In 2018 the Toys for Tots train delivered 18,000 of the 250,000 toys the group distributed to local organizations.

He said most of those organizations cannot afford to send trucks to the distribution centers in the immediate Capital Region.

Therefore, Toys for Tots is working on assembling teams of trucks to handle the deliveries to the localities the train would have served.

Although the toys will get distributed, Lurenz said what will be lost is showing donors a sense of what their gifts mean.

He also said the train served as a publicity tool for the project.

Talgo Manager Takes Issue With NTSB Report

November 19, 2019

A Talgo manager said the National Transportation Safety Board that its report on the derailment of an Amtrak train in Washington State in December 2017 contains many errors and unsubstantiated statements.

The NTSB recommended that Amtrak and the Washington State Department of Transportation remove from service immediately the Talgo Series VI trainsets and replace them with equipment that meets current federal safety standards.

Talgo has asked the Board to reconsider its conclusions and recommendations in the case.

Talgo’s Director of Product Development and Compliance Joshua D. Coran told Railway Age that the recommendation to cease using Talgo equipment immediately was “unprecedented and nonsense.”

“I have researched every available NTSB report of passenger train derailments and collisions dating back to 1971,” he told the magazine. “I have found 33. None recommends the removal of an entire fleet of cars.”

The NTSB report concluded that because the Talgo Series VI equipment did not meet federal safety standards it poses an unnecessary risk to passenger safety.

Talgo Series VI equipment was being used on Cascades No. 501, which derailed due to going too fast on a curve.

The NTSB concluded that the Talgo equipment did not provide adequate passenger protection and was structurally vulnerable if involved in a high-energy derailment or collision due to its lack of crashworthiness protections.

The Talgo equipment, though, was in compliance with Federal Railroad Regulations having been “grandfathered” in on one FRA regulation.

In an editor’s note, Railway Age noted that Coran’s comments were his own and not necessarily reflective of the views of Talgo.

Coran said the NTSB’s recommendation “to replace compliant equipment with compliant equipment makes no sense, as it accomplishes nothing except negative commercial impact on the manufacturer of the criticized equipment, Talgo, and benefits manufacturers of potential replacements.

More of his comments can be found at https://www.railwayage.com/safety/ntsb-amtrak-501-report-errors-and-unsupported-statements/

Minnesota Interests Seek Federal Funding for New Route

November 17, 2019

Minnesota rail passenger advocates recently made a trip to Washington in search of federal funding for a proposed intercity rail passenger route between the Twin Cities and Duluth, Minnesota.

Proponents of the Northern Lights Express made the rounds of Minnesota congressmen and senators.

The delegation also included public officials from Minnesota.

Backers of the service, which would operate at a top speed of 90 mph, are hoping that with federal funding will come state funding from Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The Northern Lights Express would restore service to a former Amtrak route known as the North Star and which ended in April 1985 after Minnesota ended funding for the train.

House Democrats Might Push Reauthorization Bill

November 17, 2019

Democratic members of the federal House of Representatives in Washington are talking about going ahead with a surface transportation reauthorization proposal early next year.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) has discussed the idea with Democrats on the committee and hopes to meet with Senate leaders late next spring to resolve differences between the two proposals.

The Senate has already approved a highway proposal but not acted on reauthorizing or funding public transit or rail transportation.

Infrastructure spending has been talked about periodically in recent years including by President Donald Trump.

But talks between the administration and Congress over an infrastructure package have stalled.

With the 2020 election campaign season heating up candidates can be expected to push their own infrastructure proposals in the coming weeks and months.