Archive for the ‘Other News’ Category

NCDOT Locomotives Certified by EPA

February 22, 2018

A passenger locomotive owned by the North Carolina Department of Transportation  has been certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection  Agency as an emissions-reduction system.

It uses a technology known as blended after-treatment system, which uses catalytic reduction to chemically remove diesel engine emission pollutants from the locomotive’s exhaust before it’s released into the air.

The system is designed to reduce four diesel exhaust pollutants: nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and particulate matter.

In a news release, NCDOT said the EPA has determined that all four can cause chronic negative health effects, such as heart and lung disease.

The work on the locomotive was done by Rail Propulsion Systems of California. The company developed the system for use on passenger locomotives.

NCDOT’s rail division collaborated with Rail Propulsion Systems for the past two years to install and test BATS’ functionality.

NCDOT is the first U.S. rail agency to demonstrate the technology on an in-service passenger locomotive.

The EPA certification will enable NCDOT to pursue state and federal grant opportunities to retrofit BATS onto its full fleet of locomotives that are assigned to Amtrak trains using the Piedmont route between Raleigh and Charlotte.

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Akron Library to Show Film About Pullman Porters

February 21, 2018

A documentary film about the history of Pullman porters will be shown at the Akron Public Library at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 24.

The event is being held in cooperation with the Akron Railroad Club. ARRC President Craig Sanders will introduce the film by presenting an overview of the history of railroad sleeping cars and the trains that served Akron that carried them.

That presentation will include historical and contemporary images of sleepers.

The documentary is based on the book Rising From The Rails: Pullman Porters and the Making of the Black Middle Class by Larry Tye.

The book describes how George M. Pullman came to use almost exclusively black men to serve passengers riding his sleeping cars.

The job was arduous, yet many men saw it as preferable to working in the fields or factories. For several decades, being a Pullman porter was one of the best-paying jobs an African-American man would have.

Most of the film is built around interviews with Tye and former porters and members of their families.

They tell poignant tales of how they persevered in the face over racism and fought for years to organize a union to  bargain for better wages and working conditions.

The event is free and will be held in the auditorium of the main library at 60 S. High Street in downtown Akron. Free parking is available in the adjacent parking garage on High Street.

Comments Sought on Downeaster Expansion

February 20, 2018

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority is seeking public comment regarding a proposed seasonal weekend expansion of Amtrak Downeaster service to Rockland this summer.

The Rail Authority is scheduled to meet on Feb. 26 and may make a decision then about the proposed expansion.

Comments can be address by email to Patricia Quinn, executive director, at Patricia@nnepra.com.

The expansion would bring service to Bath, Wiscasset, Newcastle and Rockland over a line that has not seen passenger service since the Maine Eastern Railroad ended operations in 2016.

The Rail Authority oversees the Downeastern service between Maine and Boston, managing the budget, contracts, promotion, and customer services associated with it.

Amtrak operates the trains under a 20-year agreement using tracks of the Pan Am Railways and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

The Maine Department of Transportation owns the tracks between Brunswick and Rockland. The Central Maine and Quebec Railroad provides freight service.

House Committee Lays Down Law on PTC Laggards

February 16, 2018

The railroad industry was put on notice Thursday that it will meet the Dec. 31 deadline to install positive train control or suffer the consequences.

The message was given by members of the House of Representatives’ Transportation and Infrastructure Committee during a hearing to review progress on implementing PTC systems.

“The American public is tired of excuses. It’s life-saving technology, but it’s also very complex. We want to get it done quickly, by this deadline, but we also want to get it done right,” said Jeff Denham of California and chairman of the T&I subcommittee that oversees railroads.

Presiding over the hearing, Denham said there have been too many deaths that PTC could have prevented.

“It’s not going to solve all of our challenges but as all in the industry agree, it moves our industry to the next level,” Denham said.

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Michael Capuano of Massachusetts, said the committee was trying to be reasonable, noting that Congress agreed nearly three years ago to extend the original December 2015 deadline to December 2018.

“But 2018 is real and there is not a single person [on the committee] who’s going to quietly accept the next accident after that deadline,” he said.

The two-hour hearing reviewed technological and policy issues that the railroad industry faces in implementing PTC.

Under prodding from committee members, Federal Railroad Administration Acting Deputy Administrator Juan D. Reyes III said his agency has met with 41 railroads since the first of the year and would soon be making comments on the implementation plans the railroads have submitted.

Denham said that although some carriers have put PTC in place quickly some have yet to begin. “We are well aware there are some that will never get there by the end of the year,” Denham said.

However, some of those who have been slow to respond have not started, have failed thus far to ask for an extension and haven’t sought some of the $31 billion in low-cost Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing loans available for PTC implementation.

In particular, committee members from New Jersey and New York were critical of the lack of progress by New Jersey Transit.

Reyes said the FRA has begun fining railroads that had not kept pace with their implementation plans, calling that “a shot across the bow to tell them we’re serious and  . . . we’re going to push them to get this implemented.”

Denham said he supported in principle a bill sponsored by Capuano and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, that would prohibit the FRA from extending PTC deadlines beyond Dec. 31.

“This has gone on for 10 years now. It ought to be very obvious what needs to be done,” Denham said. “Safety is first in all of our transportation, but as of late there have been too many accidents, and we can do better.”

NTSB Wants Screening for Sleep Disorders

February 16, 2018

The National Transportation Safety Board wants the Federal Railroad Administration to require railroads to medically screen “safety-sensitive” employees for sleep disorders.

The recommendation came in a special investigation report about two end-of-track collisions at commuter train stations in New Jersey and New York.

In a separate report, the NTSB said last week that both accidents, which involved commuter railroads in the New York City area, were caused by engineer fatigue resulting from undiagnosed and untreated obstructive sleep apnea.

In both accidents trains struck end-of-track bumping posts and continued into the waiting rooms of the stations.

In a news release, the MTSB said both incidents had “almost identical” probable causes and safety issues.

The NTSB also called for the use of technology such as positive train control in terminal stations and improving the effectiveness of system safety program plans to improve terminal operations.

The New Jersey accident, which occurred on Sept. 29, 2016, and involved a New Jersey Transit train in Hoboken, killed one person and injured 110.

The other accident involved the Long Island Rail Road and occurred on Jan. 4, 2017, at the Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn, New York. That incident injured 108.

Texas Central Chooses Houston Station Site

February 16, 2018

Texas Central Partners said its preferred site for a Houston station on its proposed Dallas-Houston high-speed rail line is located near the Northwest Mall.

because the area is expected to increase in population and jobs in the coming years.

“We look forward to helping create a new community that will also bring a transportation asset to all Houstonians,” said Jack Matthews, president of Matthews Southwest, which will be developing the station. “We are excited to work in an area with so much potential for vibrancy, including transit-oriented development.”

A Federal Railroad Administration environment analysis had outlined three potential sites for Houston, although Texas Central wants to build at the Northwest Mall.

New Bridge Opens in San Diego

February 16, 2018

An Amtrak Pacific Surfliner was the first train to cross a new 900-foot bridge over the San Diego River that is part of the San Diego River Double Track project being sponsored by the The San Diego Association of Governments.

The project is seeking to boost passenger and freight rail service in the area, and it will involve building a parallel bridge that will allow for a continuous, 7-mile double-track segment from Garnet Avenue/Balboa Avenue to the Santa Fe Depot in San Bernardino.

The current San Diego River bridge is the only single-track segment south of Balboa Avenue in San Diego County.

The project cost is $93.9 million, with some funding coming from California State Transportation Agency. The project is expected to be finished in 2019.

Missouri Man Who Halted CZ Pleads Not Guilty

February 15, 2018

A Missouri man who is charged with terrorism after he stopped an Amtrak train in Nebraska last year may not have been mentally aware of what he was doing, his attorney said after entering a not guilty plea for his client in court.

Attorney Jerry Sena of Omaha, Nebraska, said his client did not “knowingly intend” to disable the train, as the criminal charges state.

Taylor M. Wilson, 26, of St. Charles, Missouri, has been accused by federal authorities of entering the trailing P42DC of the California Zephyr on Oct. 23 and activating the emergency brakes in the early morning hours near Oxford, Nebraska.

If convicted, Wilson could face penalties of up to life in prison.

Federal authorities allege that Wilson was behaving erratically when confronted by Amtrak personnel.

Reportedly, Wilson goaded them with profanities, wrestled with them, reached for his waistband and claimed to be the conductor.

Police found Wilson was carrying a fully loaded .38-caliber handgun; a “speedloader,” which enables rapid reloading of bullets; and a backpack containing three more loaded speedloaders, a box of .38 ammunition; a fixed-blade knife; tin snips; scissors; and a respirator-style face mask.

After saying in court that Wilson might not have known what he was doing in the locomotive cab, Sena was asked what Wilson was trying to do.

Sena said that was another question. The attorney also contended that Wilson is not a member of any white nationalist group and has untreated mental issues.

Police who searched Wilson’s apartment in Missouri have said in court documents that they found a hidden compartment holding a tactical vest, dozens of rounds of ammunition and “white supremacy documents and paperwork.”

On Feb. 1, a federal grand jury in Missouri indicted Wilson on four additional weapons charges related to that search, including in connection with Wilson’s alleged ownership of an illegal submachine gun.

U.S. Federal Magistrate Cheryl Zwart has rules that Wilson will stand trial on April 16. Wilson is being held at the Saline County Jail.

Trump Budget Also Targets Air Service, Fees

February 15, 2018

Amtrak is not the only form of transportation with a target on its back in the Trump administration’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2019.

In the same way that the budget seeks to slash funding for Amtrak, particularly its long-distance trains, the administration wants to cut funding for essential air service to small airports.

The budget proposed cutting expenditures for the EAS program from $150 million to $93 million.

The budget would also raise fees related to transportation security, and customs and immigration fees paid by airline and cruise passengers. The federal air traffic control system would be privatized.

Amtrak funding would fall from $1.5 billion to $738 million. The budget proposal said Amtrak’s long-distance trains suffer from poor on-time performance and carry just 4.7 million of Amtrak’s nearly 32 million annual passengers. It also said the long-distance trains lose more than $500 million annually.

These proposals are not new. Most of them were in the FY 2018 budget, but Congress did not heed them.

The Trump administration budget proposal calls for appropriating $15.6 billion for the Department of Transportation, a cut of 19 percent from what Congress gave it in FY 2017.

The most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Transportation, dated October 2016, shows that the federal government funded commercial airline flights to 120 communities in the continental U.S and Hawaii.

The program, which began in 1978, also makes 237 Alaskan communities eligible for funding.

The rational for the EAS program was to enable remote towns to remain in the national air traffic network following airline deregulation, which resulted in scores of airports losing commercial service.

“However, today many EAS flights are not full and have high per-passenger subsidy costs. Several EAS eligible communities are relatively close to major airports,” the budget proposal says.

The recommendations were part of the $4.4 trillion budget proposal the administration sent to Congress on Monday.

Among the travel security-related fees that the administration wants to increase are the 9/11-passenger security fee that is assessed on airfare from the current $5.60 per one-way trip to $6.60 in 2019 and then to $8.25 beginning in 2020.

Although the 9/11 fee is supposed to fund Transportation Security Administration airport operations, Congress has sent about a third of it to items unrelated to security.

The administration said raising the fee would result in the traveling public paying for the full cost of aviation security.

The custom inspection fee would increase from $5.65 to $7.75. This fee is assessed on air and cruise ticket prices for people arriving in the United States.

The immigration fee, which is also assessed on tickets held by air and cruise passengers entering the U.S., would go from $7 to $9.

The proposal includes ending an exemption on that fee for passengers arriving via sea from Canada and Mexico.

The budget proposal said that the customs fee and immigration fee were last increased in 2007 and 2001, respectively.

Air traffic control is now overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration, but the Trump administration wants to shift it to an independent private organization.

Doing this, the administration believes, would speed implementation of a satellite-based NextGen system while removing air traffic control from contentious appropriation debates in Congress.

Critics have said doing this would reduce public accountability and harm the interests of private aviation.

An ATC privatization bill has twice made it out of the House Transportation Committee, but has failed to pass either the full House or the Senate due to bi-partisan opposition.

Senate Confirms Batory as FRA Chief

February 14, 2018

The U.S. Senate voted Tuesday night to confirm Ronald Batory as the permanent administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration.

Ronald Batory

Batory was approved on a voice vote after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer removed a hold on a Batory confirmation vote.

The action came in the wake of concerns about railroad safety following three Amtrak accidents that resulted in six fatalities.

Batory retired in March 2017 as president and chief operating officer of Conrail.

During his 46-year railroad industry career, he served as president of the Belt Railway of Chicago and held senior positions at Class I and regional railroads, including general manager in Chicago for Southern Pacific.

Schumer had placed the hold on Batory’s confirmation vote as part of a ploy to seek to force the Department of Transportation to release federal funds for the Gateway rail tunnels project under the Hudson River.

Another factor in lifting the hold was the recent resignation of acting FRA Administrator Heath Hall for moonlighting on a second job.

The Senate also confirmed by voice vote Raymond Martinez as administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and Adam Sullivan as the Department of Transportation’s assistant secretary of government affairs.