Archive for the ‘Other News’ Category

STB Gulf Coast Case Hearings Resume Monday

May 8, 2022

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board will resume its hearings in the Gulf Coast Case on Monday and Wednesday.

The hearings began last month and involves Amtrak trying to get federal regulators to give it access to tracks of CSX and Norfolk Southern for proposed double-daily service between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.

CSX and NS have demand that Amtrak made infrastructure improvements before agreeing to host the trains. Amtrak has balked at the scope of those improvements.

Double Dose of the Rock

May 5, 2022

It is 1972, the first full year of Amtrak operation. But these are not Amtrak trains. They are trains of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific, which elected not to join Amtrak. Executives of the financially-stressed Rock reasoned that it was less expensive to stay out of Amtrak than to join.

So the Rock Island had to operate its two passenger trains, the Peoria Rocket and the Quad City Rocket for a few more years. The State of Illinois would pay the Rock Island some money to underwrite the trains, which tended not to be well patronized.

The top image was made on Oct. 14, 1972, while the bottom image was made on Aug. 11, 1972. The E8A locomotives still look clean and somewhat well maintained. But that would change.

Both photographs were made in Joliet, Illinois, which also was a stop for Amtrak trains to St. Louis, Los Angeles and Houston.

The photographer did not record which of the Rockets these trains were.

Photographs by Robert Farkas

Minnesota Senate Derails Duluth Train

May 5, 2022

The Minnesota senate has derailed a project to establish rail passenger service between the Twin Cities and Duluth, Minnesota.

The chamber voted 35-31 in favor of an amendment that prohibits the state transportation commissioner and the Metropolitan Council, the governing body for the Twin Cities region, from spending money on the proposed Twin Cities-Duluth service, which would be known as the Northern Lights Express.

The amendment was to another bill that contains supplemental appropriations and policy statements.

Senator David Osmek, who offered the amendment, described the service as not being the type of transportation that Minnesota needs.

“The Northern Lights passenger rail system is a bad idea that is a 19th century solution to transportation in Minnesota,” Osmek said. “It’s like asking us to spend money on buggy whips.”

Senator Jennifer McEwen of Duluth said the Northern Lights Express would bring an economic boost to the Twin Ports region of Duluth and Superior, Wisconsin.

“Not only are my constituents really excited about this project and really excited to have passenger rail service, but regionally and all along the route we’re excited to have this passenger rail service,” McEwen said.

Yet, Senator Jason Rarick said, “The people in my district aren’t interested in this project anymore. To them it’s dead.”

Biden Amtrak Nominees Might Not Get Vote

May 5, 2022

Although the nominations announced by the Biden administration to the Amtrak board of directors last week have drawn mixed reviews, it may all be a moot point.

Writing in the newsletter of the American Association of Private Rail Car Owners, Ross Capon, the organization’s Washington correspondent, indicated that the nominations may not receive a Senate vote.

Capon once served as executive director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers – now known as the Rail Passengers Association – and cited the view of The Eno Foundation’s Jeff Davis.

 “If the last few years are any indication, the only way the nominations will move to the Senate floor is if paired with future Republican nominees,” Davis wrote.

Davis said the Senate is unlikely to confirm an all-Democratic slate just as it refused to confirm the all-Republican slate presented by the Trump Administration until mid-2020. 

Even after Trump nominated two Democrats, the Senate still failed to act on the nominations because of objections raised by senators representing states served by Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) placed a hold on the nominations of Democrat Sarah Feinberg and Republican Todd Rokita.

Moran said he wanted to hear more from Feinberg on her views pertaining to Amtrak’s long-distance trains and that Rokita had failed to answer any of his questions on the matter.

Moran said he wanted to hear that all of the board nominees were supportive of Amtrak’s long-distance trains.

Until last year, the 10-member Amtrak board was mandated by federal law to include “balanced representation of the major geographic regions served by Amtrak.”

That changed with approval of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was approved by Congress last fall.

It contained language requiring that two Amtrak board members must reside along the Northeast Corridor and four must be from outside that region.

That is to include two members from states served by state-supported service and two members from states served by long-distance trains. A single individual cannot fill both a state and long-distance slot.

The Amtrak board currently has two vacancies and the remaining members are all serving on expired terms.

The only Biden nominee from outside the Northeast is Christopher Koos, the mayor of Normal, Illinois, who was nominated for the board by the Trump administration but not confirmed by the Senate.

Among the critics of the Biden nominees was Bob Johnston, the passenger rail reporter for Trains magazine.

In a piece posted on the magazine’s website this week, Johnston argued that the Biden nominations largely fail to comply with IIJA language as to Amtrak governing board membership.

Johnston wrote that having four of the five nominees from the Northeast Corridor region is in contradiction of the law’s goal of strengthening the national network.

Capon made similar comments. “Some rail passenger advocates, remembering the near-death experience of long-distance trains in 2018 under [Amtrak] President Richard Anderson, and concerned about limited capacity (and in some cases frequency) of long-distance trains today, are unhappy with the nominations, including their geographic concentration on the south end of the Northeast Corridor.”

One of the Biden nominees is Anthony Coscia, who has served on the Amtrak board since 2010 and been its chair since 2013. Capon said the re-nomination of Coscia can be viewed as an endorsement of current Amtrak leadership. 

Aside from the four Biden nominations, three more Amtrak board members are expected to be put forth by Senate Republicans.

By law the secretary of transportation or his/her representative sits on the Amtrak board. The Amtrak CEO is a non-voting member.

That leaves eight positions to be appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate.

No more than five of the eight presidential nominations can be from the same party. At least one board member must have a disability (as defined in section 3 of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. 12102)).

The IIJA requires that the disabilities member must have a “demonstrated history of, or experience with, accessibility, mobility, and inclusive transportation in passenger rail or commuter rail.”

The Biden nominees received praise from RPA, which had in the week before they were announced sought to make an issue out of the lack of nominees to the Amtrak board.

RPA head Jim Mathews issued a statement applauding the White House for taking the group’s concerns seriously.

“We look forward to working closely with these nominees to understand their vision for Amtrak’s future,” Mathews said.

However, RPA issued another statement this week calling for Biden to appoint Amtrak board members who represent a broad geographic region.

The statement said Biden “missed an opportunity” to nominate board members from outside the Mid-Atlantic region.

 SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson said in a statement the Biden Amtrak board slate “continues to prioritize the concerns of labor as he [Biden] and the DOT pursue an unprecedented and historic transformation of the nation’s passenger-rail network.”

Johnston, though, was not as approving and probably speaks for many rail passenger advocates in saying that none of Biden’s Amtrak board nominees have “hands-on business credentials dealing with inventory pricing, sales management, or hospitality” and that none of them have experience in the passenger railroad industry.

He has a point. The IIJA mandates that Amtrak board members have general business and financial experience, experience or qualifications in transportation, freight and passenger rail transportation, travel, hospitality, cruise line, or passenger air transportation businesses, or representatives of employees or users of passenger rail transportation or a State government.

Johnston’s article can be read at https://www.trains.com/trn/news-reviews/news-wire/bidens-amtrak-board-nominations-lack-qualifications-demanded-by-congress-analysis/

Third County Joins Pa. Rail Agency

May 1, 2022

Formation of a passenger rail agency in eastern Pennsylvania is now complete after a third county agreed to join the effort.

Chester County commissioners voted to join the Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Authority, which will lead efforts to create an Amtrak route between Philadelphia and Reading, Pennsylvania.

Earlier commissioners in Bucks and Montgomery had voted to join the rail agency.

Each county will appoint three members to the agency’s governing board, which hopes to hold its first meeting in June.

The new agency will seek grant funding and work with Amtrak to develop the proposed service.

Colorado Passenger Agency Holds 1st Meeting

April 27, 2022

A Colorado agency formed to promote the development of intercity rail passenger service along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains has held its first meeting.

The agency, the Front Range Passenger Rail District board, was created 2021 and plans to use funding from state and federal sources.

Currently the board is working toward building support for a referendum that will seek voter approval to of funding to develop and build the rail service that will serve 13 counties.

Board Chairman Jim Souby noted that any rail expansion plans must undergo an environmental review process that can take five or more years.

Pa. Counties Seek to Form Rail Passenger Agency

April 27, 2022

Public officials in two Pennsylvania counties have suggested creating an agency that would work toward restoration of rail passenger service between Philadelphia and Reading, Pennsylvania.

If a third county agrees to join, the proposed Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Authority will be formed.

Thus far officials in Berks and Montgomery counties have agreed to join the proposed Authority.

Officials in Chester County are scheduled to vote on the proposal this week.

The authority would seek competitive infrastructure funding and to work with Amtrak, the Federal Railroad Administration, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, and other agencies.

It would have a nine-member board that would include members of the county commissions, planning commissions, other agencies, and local mayors.

Amtrak has proposed in its Amtrak Connects US plan operating up to three daily roundtrips between Reading and New York via Philadelphia.

Inspection Train Examines Baton Route Route

April 22, 2022

An inspection train ran this week on the Baton Rouge-New Orleans corridor, a move seen as a first step toward creating intercity rail passenger service there.

The train included equipment provided by host railroad Kansas City Southern, which has fought past efforts to establish passenger service between the two cities.

Canadian Pacific has proposed to merge with KCS and has pledged to allow Amtrak to provide a single round trip between the two cities without the need for significant infrastructure improvement.

The route last had passenger service in 1969 and efforts to revive revive passenger service on the route have been ongoing for the past 20 years.

The route will in time need some work, including construction of a new bridge over the Bonne Carre Spillway west of where the KCS line joins the Canadian National route used by Amtrak’s City of New Orleans.

A Trains magazine report said the pace of the train was leisurely in part so that officials on board could get a good look at the route’s infrastructure. Among those onboard were Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, Federal Railroad Administration head Amit Bose, CP CEO Keith Creel, KCS CEO Pat Ottensmeyer, and Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner.

VIA Outlines Environmental Goals

April 22, 2022

VIA Rail Canada said it is working toward having about 90 percent of its proposed High Frequency Rail route between Toronto and Quebec City be electrified.

VIA CEO Cynthia Garneau told the Montreal Gazette that this is more than a written goal.

Some segments near urban areas in which VIA uses the tracks of other railroads will continue to see trains pulled by non-electric power.

The electrification is part of a five-year sustainability plan VIA recently released.

In a news release, VIA said it has reviewed its policies, practices and priorities in preparation for the creation of a sustainability plan.

By 2025 VIA will seek to offer zero-waste trains in the Quebec City-Windsor corridor; train all employees in sustainability practices; align 80 percent of community investments with the priorities of this sustainability plan; and  reach 80 percent integration of the responsible sourcing policy by suppliers.

By 2020 VIA will seek to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 30 percent or more by 2030.

The High Frequency Rail project involves separate, passenger-only rights-of-way on parts of the corridor.

Although the Canadian government has funded various studies of the proposal it has yet to agree to fund it. The projected cost of the project is C$12 billion.

Earlier this year the government said it would seek private-sector involvement in the project.

VIA to Restore Suspended Services

April 18, 2022

VIA Rail Canada plans to restore most suspended service by June.

The passenger carrier had suspended many services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week VIA said operations of the Canadian between Toronto and Vancouver would expand by two weekly roundtrips.

Other restorations include three weekly round trips for Ocean (Montreal-Halifax); three weekly round trips for trains connecting Jasper, Alberta, and Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

Service between Sudbury and White River, Ontario, will be restored in July .

Other restorations include Montreal and Senneterre, Quebec; and Montreal and Jonquière, Quebec. Both routes will be restored in late June.

VIA also plans to add additional trains in the Quebec City-Windsor, Ontario, corridor.