Archive for the ‘Other News’ Category

House Passes Surface Transportation Bill

July 3, 2020

The U.S. House this week passed a five year reauthorization of surface transportation programs.

H.R. 2, which was named the Moving Forward Act, authorizes spending of $1.5 trillion on various transportation-related programs, including Amtrak.

The legislation approves $500 billion to reauthorize surface transportation programs and funding for infrastructure projects.

That includes $105 billion for public transportation and $60 billion for commuter rail, Amtrak and other high-performance rail service.

The bill has received mixed reviews from railroad trade associations because of various mandates that railroads generally oppose.

H.R. 2 faces considerable opposition in the Senate, which is expected to adopt its own surface transportation reauthorization bill with differences to be worked out in a conference committee.

The current surface transportation law, known as the FAST Act, will expire on Sept. 30.

Aside from specific transportation programs, H.R. 2 also authorizes $130 billion for schools, $100 billion for rural broadband and $100 billion for affordable housing.

Comments Sought on Calif. Line Relocation

July 3, 2020

The Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority has begun an environmental review of a proposal to change the route of its passenger trains in Northern California.

The proposal is to move trans from the Niles Subdivision of Union Pacific to the UP’s Coast Subdivision.

The project has been dubbed South Bay Connect and proponents say it would create new transbay connections for travelers between the East Bay and destinations on the peninsula,

Currently trains share tracks with UP freight trains.

Public comment on the plan is being accepted through Aug. 13.

The relocation would occurs in southern Alameda County and likely would include improvements to the rail infrastructure to accommodate the shift of rail services.

2 More Montana Counties May Join Rail Authority

July 3, 2020

Two more Montana counties are interested in joining the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority, which is expected to push for the return of Amtrak service to southern Montana.

The interested counties are Park and Sanders. They would join Missoula and Dawson counties.

The authority wants service to resume on a route once used by Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle North Coast Hiawatha.

That train was discontinued in early October 1979 as part of a massive Amtrak route restructuring.

The southern tier of Montana contains much of the state’s population, including its larger cities.

Montana’s only current Amtrak service is the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder in the far northern part of the state.

Colo. DOT Seeking Comment on Front Range Plan

July 3, 2020

The Colorado Department of Transportation is soliciting public views on a proposed plan to provide intercity rail passenger service along the state’s Front Range of the Rocky Mountains.

The agency has created a website for those interested to comment.

Comments are being accepted through July 31.

The long-range plan envisions service along a 173-mile route from Fort Collins to Pueblo.

Respondents will be asked how often they might use the service, what is most important to influence them to use it, such as travel time or fares, and see options for potential routes.

VIA Facing Record Deficits

July 3, 2020

VIA Rail Canada reported this week that its first quarter revenue fell by an average of $373,000 per day, which has the carrier facing a record deficit.

News reports indicate that revenues for the quarter dropped by 40 percent due service cancellations prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic and a series of First Nation blockades that hampered rail movements throughout the country.

“Funding levels will not be sufficient to offset the potential deficit,” according to a quarterly management report.

Virgin Gets Extension on Vegas Route Bond Sale

July 3, 2020

The Virgin Trains USA has received a five month extension for its efforts to sell bonds to finance development of a route to Las Vegas.

Virgin subsidiary Desert Xpress Enterprises is seeking to sell $3.25 billion in private activity bonds to help fund the high-speed rail line between Las Vegas and Southern California.

The Bond Buyer reported that the California Infrastructure and Economic Bank approved the extension, which Desert Xpress sought because of market turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Virgin used similar financing to pay for the extension of its Brightline service to Orlando, which is now under construction.

In a related development, the California Department of Transportation will allow Virgin to build on state-owned right-of-way along Interstate 15 east of Apple Valle near Victorville.

Approximately 135 miles of the planned 170-mile high speed route will be in California.

In a news release, Caltrans Director Toks Omishakin called the agreement “a major milestone.

VIA Takes Steps to Improve Accessibility

June 30, 2020

VIA Rail Canada said last week that it is taking additional steps toward ensuring universal accessibility in order to meet requirements of the Canadian Transportation Agency.

The actions include creating a telephone reservations for riders with disabilities or functional limitations unable to make reservations on the website’ providing curbside assistance from select station entrances to the platform, which includes wheelchair assistance, guiding assistance and assistance carrying baggage; establishing relief areas for service animals at 80 stations; an improved digital strategy to make information more accessible; and on-demand availability of menus and safety cards in braille or large print on board trains.

VIA said it has launched a universal accessibility policy to guide its actions and decisions, and support its efforts to meet and exceed government regulations.

Union Urges Caution Among its Members

June 24, 2020

A union representing track maintenance workers is urging its members to take precautions while working to avoid contracting COVID-19.

The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the Teamsters also took aim at Amtrak and Chicago commuter railroad Metra for being negligent in testing and tracing employees for COVID-19.

The union said there has been a rash of positive coronavirus cases among its members at several railroads, estimating 109 members have been affected by a coronavirus exposure.

Of those 15 individuals tested positive and remaining 94 are in a self-contained quarantine.

In a statement, union officials said doctors expect many of those in in quarantine will test positive in the coming days.

Those workers were employed by Amtrak, BNSF, CSX, Canadian National and Norfolk Southern.

Three union members have died from COVID-19.

The union said some of the spread of COVID-19 has come from post-work socializing. It urged its members to be more cautious by isolating and separating as much as possible.

“Go outside to hang out. Keep some distance,” the union told its members.

In the meantime, some union members have established informational picketing in front of the home of Amtrak board chairman Anthony Coscia.

An Amtrak spokeswoman said the passenger performs contact tracing in accordance with federal Center for Diseases Control guidelines and performs no-expense testing for those with symptoms or possible exposure.

However, the union said social distancing is often impossible in its work and it wants monthly testing as well as temperature screenings before work.

After accusing Metra of putting employees and passengers at greater risk, the rail commuter railroad said in a statement that the union’s views were “distorted.”

VIA Carried 5M Passengers in 2019

June 24, 2020

VIA Rail Canada said this week it carried 5 million passengers last year, its highest ridership in 30 years and a 5.5 percent increase over 2018 levels.

The carrier said that 96 percent of passengers traveled for inter-city travel, 3 percent for long-distance travel and 1 percent for regional travel.

The Quebec City-Windsor Corridor recorded ridership of 4.7 million riders, a 5.5 percent year-over-year increase.

Revenue for 2019 totaled CA$411.1 million, an increase of CA$18.5 million compared with 2018. Total operating expenses reached CA$691.8 million, a nearly CA$27 million increase.

VIA is not expecting 2020 ridership to be a bountiful due to substantial ridership declines during the COVID-19 pandemic and protest blockades earlier in the year that led to service suspensions.

“Our immediate challenge is to convince Canadians that we are the safe way to travel as our response to the COVID-19 virus evolves,” said VIA Rail President and CEO Cynthia Garneau said in a news release.


Another Montana County Joins Rail Effort

June 23, 2020

Another Montana county has joined the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority, which is seeking to restore Amtrak service to the former route of the defunct North Coast Hiawatha.

Dawson County joined with Missoula County in the agency thus enabling it to meet Montana law that provides that at least two counties must join an organization for it to have agency status.

Dawson County, with its county seat in Glendive, voted on June 16 to join the Big Sky agency.

Officials are seeking to entice other counties to join the effort to restore rail passenger service to Montana’s southern tier.

The North Coast Hiawatha was discontinued in early October 1979 as part of a massive Amtrak restructuring effort that resorted in the discontinuance of several long-distance trains.

Amtrak’s only service to Montana is provided by the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.