Archive for the ‘Other News’ Category

STB Express Concerns Over Amtrak Delays on CSX

August 21, 2017

Somewhat overlooked in all of the back and forth about deteriorating CSX freight service is a directive from the U.S. Surface Transportation Board that it will no longer tolerate delays that have slowed some of Amtrak’s trains on CSX routes.

The STB sent a letter to CSX CEO E. Hunter Harrison “expressing concerns about deteriorated service,” and criticizing CSX for its “unreliable” and “inefficient” operations, as well as “poor communications and coordination.”

A CSX spokesman acknowledged that the operations of Amtrak trains have been disrupted, particularly on the Chicago-Indianapolis route.

“CSX understands that these changes have resulted in some disruptions to Amtrak on its passenger rail service on the Hoosier State line between Indianapolis and Chicago, and we have been in contact with Amtrak and the Indiana Department of Transportation about those issues,” said CSX spokesman Rob Doolittle said. “CSX is committed to continuing a dialogue about these concerns as operational changes occur.”

Amtrak’s Chicago-Indianapolis corridor is primarily comprised of CSX track.

During June, the southbound Hoosier State arrived on-time one in three times.

“It remains a concern — and will be as we continue to report out the performance of that train and their handling of it,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

Doolittle insisted that the disruptions to Amtrak will be short-lived as the railroad better implements its new operating plan.

Amtrak Routes Said to be Eyed by Terrorists

August 20, 2017

Amtrak’s Empire Builder and Lake Shore Limited might be targeted by terrorist groups the Transportation Security Administration has warned.

The TSA has told mass transit agencies, freight, and passenger rail lines to be vigilant in the wake of a propaganda video released by the terrorist group Al Qaeda.

TSA said there are no known plots against transportation operations in the United States, but that the terrorist group has listed dozens of rail routes that it considered to be vulnerable.

Many of those routes serve Chicago Union Station. Al Qaeda listed the Chicago-New York Lake Shore Limited and the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

“The Al-Qaeda video is an important reminder that mass transit, passenger-rail, and freight-rail operations are a potential target for terrorist activity,” TSA officials said.

The federal agency said employees should keep a close watch on their environments and to exercise caution with equipment and materials that could be used to obstruct or derail trains.

Transportation officials has indicated that airport-style screening systems are unlikely to become common in rail transportation, including mass transit lines, but testing is being conducted of systems that would enhance existing security measures.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority in Los Angeles conducted a test run of new technology designed to scan passengers to detect firearms or explosive vests.

“While we’ll never become a fully secured environment like you’d have in the airport, we do want to find a way to more effectively screen passengers,” Metro security executive Alex Wiggins said. “We are trying to stay ahead of the threat.”

One reason why airport security measure have not been implemented for rail passengers is because they cannot process transit and intercity rail passengers fast enough.

The technology being tested in Los Angeles can scan up to 600 passengers per hour. Riders are not required to remove their shoes or take out laptops, keys and phones from their bags.

The scanners cost about $60,000 each and 20 would be needed for Union Station alone.

Texas HSR Plan Advances

August 20, 2017

Texas Central Partners has chosen Fluor Enterprises and Lane Construction to review, refine and update the high-speed rail route that it is planning to build between Dallas and Houston.

Both companies would also be the preferred design-builder of the line.

“This underscores the attention the Texas Bullet Train has received from world-class firms, wanting to be part of a project that will revolutionize travel here and generate long-lasting local economic benefits,” Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar said in a statement.

Texas Central also announced it has reached a memorandum of agreement with Houston officials to share environmental surveys, utility analysis and engineering information related to the project, and they will work together to develop new transit and travel options to and from the likely terminus, possibly at the Northwest Mall in Houston.

The Dallas-Houston service is expected to cost $12 billion and be privately funded. Trains traveling at 200 mph would travel between the two cities in 90 minutes.

Construction is slated to begin in 2019 and take four to five years to complete.

Infrastructure Advisory Council Terminated

August 20, 2017

The Trump Administration has dropped its plans to create an Advisory Council on Infrastructure.

The council was proposed to help provide guidance on how spending for a multi-billion dollar program to improve roads, bridges and other public works.

Membership of the council would have included 15 members from the real estate, finance, labor and other sectors.

Termination of the infrastructure council followed the disbanding of two other advisory groups to guide U.S. manufacturing and policies.

In the meantime,  President Donald Trump has released a plan that is designed to alleviate the length of time it takes to get federal approval for projects.

Trump issued an executive order on Tuesday that will”

  • Establish “one Federal decision” for major infrastructure projects to proceed
  • Set a two-year goal for completing reviews
  • Set up a “quarterly scorecard” to hold agencies accountable for delays
  • Reduce duplicative requests for information and late-stage changes in the approval process.

FRA Publishes Rules for Passenger Trial Program

August 5, 2017

The Federal Railroad Administration has established its rules for seeking competitor bids to replace Amtrak on up to three long-distance routes.

The agency published the rules in the Federal Register and they take effect on Sept. 5.

The pilot program is mandated by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act.

The rules establish a petition, notification and bid process as well as establish deadlines for filing petitions and bids and the execution of contracts with winning bidders.

The FAST Act described an “eligible petitioner” for the pilot program as one that owns the relevant rail infrastructure on the route or has a “written agreement” with the rail infrastructure owner.

A winning bidder who doesn’t own the infrastructure must obtain from the owner a written agreement that governs access issues.

Amtrak Offering $5 Tickets to Detroit

August 3, 2017

Amtrak is offering $5 tickets for travel to Detroit through Sept. 4. The fares are good for travel originating on the Wolverine Service route at Dearborn, Ann Arbor, Pontiac, Royal Oak and Troy.

Once in Detroit, passengers can ride the new QLine, a streetcar route that is offering free rides through Labor Day.

The 3.3-mile route on Woodward Avenue features 12 stops, including Comerica Park, the Fox Theatre and Midtown.

QLine streetcars operate Monday through Saturday between 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

In another travel promotion, the Detroit People Mover is offering free rides on Monday between 6:30 a.m. and midnight, in celebration of its 30th anniversary. The fare is normally 75 cents.

Suspect in Amtrak Shooting May be Unfit For Trial

August 3, 2017

The Amtrak conductor who was shot in May during a station stop in Naperville, Illinois, has returned home while the man charged in his shooting has been described as not mentally fit to stand trial.

Klein

A court-appointed psychologist reached that conclusion after examining Edward Klein, 79, of West Allis, Wisconsin.

The report is considered private, but was discussed in general during a court status hearing this week.

Klein has been charged with attempted murder and other felonies. He has been held in the DuPage County Jail since the May 23 shooting.

The conductor, Michael Case, was hospitalized for 10 weeks as he recovered from injuries to his abdomen. Case, 45, resides in Homewood, Illinois, and was working the inbound Southwest Chief when he was shot.

Hospital officials have said Case now faces months of additional rehabilitation.

During the court proceedings, discussions between attorneys and the judge indicated that it is unlikely that Klein can be returned to mental fitness within a year. Another hearing will be held on Aug. 7.

Public Defender Jeff York contended during a hearing last month that Klein was unfit for trial, but that determination will be made by a judge.

Defendants declared unfit to stand trial are usually committed temporarily to a mental health facility to receive treatment intended to restore mental fitness.

In cases in which a defendant is ruled to be unlikely to regain fitness, a longer term involuntary commitment may be imposed.

Police have said that Klein, a retired federal law enforcement officer, was returning to Wisconsin after deciding en route to cancel a planned trip to Las Vegas.

Officials have said Klein was apparently angry because Case has refused to allow him to disembark at Naperville. Amtrak officials had become concerned about his behavior aboard the train and were watching him to ensure that he made his connection in Chicago to a Milwaukee-bound train.

Klein is alleged to have taken a revolver from his carry-on bag, leaned out a train door window and fired at Case.

NC Puts Rebuilt Locomotives Into Service

August 3, 2017

Amtrak and North Carolina officials this week christened two rebuilt locomotives that are used in Piedmont Service between Charlotte and Raleigh.

The rebuilt locomotives have been named Town of Cary and the City of Kannapolis, both of which are served by the Piedmonts as well as the New York-Charlotte Carolinian.

Each engine was rebuilt mechanically and electrically. The Kannapolis locomotive’s 3,000 horsepower engine was upgraded to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s Tier 0+ emission standards.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation noted that the purchase and rehabilitation of the locomotives cost $2.15 million each. New units would have cost $6 million to $7 million.

The North Carolina locomotives were built in 1990 for Toronto’s GO Transit system.

Senate Committee OKs Funding for Amtrak Long-Distance Trains

July 29, 2017

A Senate committee voted this week to provide $1.6 billion in funding for Amtrak and to provide funding for some grant programs that the Trump administration wanted to cut.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development said that the funding would assure that Amtrak’s long-distance trains remain in operation during fiscal year 2018, which begins on Oct. 1.

The Amtrak funding was part of a $1.974 billion package for the Federal Railroad Administration and also included $550 million for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants.

That contrasts with action by a House committee to end TIGER funding. The Trump administration also sought to end the TIGER program.

In other action, the Senate subcommittee agreed to provide $12 billion for the Federal Transit Administration, marking a $285 million decrease from FY2017 enacted levels.

The bill provides $9.7 billion for transit formula grants consistent with the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act and slots $2.1 billion for the FTA’s Capital Investment Grants (also known as New Starts).

That money would fully fund all current Full Funding Grant Agreement transit projects.

“This bipartisan bill is the product of considerable negotiation and compromise, and makes the necessary investments in our nation’s infrastructure, helps to meet the housing needs of the most vulnerable among us, and provides funding for economic development projects that create jobs in our communities,” said U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who chairs the subcommittee.

Congress May Push Infrastructure Plan to Next Year

July 24, 2017

The Trump administration’s infrastructure plan is taking a back seat to other issues before Congress, including rewriting the U.S. tax code.

Little has been done thus far to advance infrastructure and some in Congress say it might not be taken up until next year.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said, “I’d like to see infrastructure get done. But I’ve always said, that in terms of how things are sequenced, it’s more likely that they would do tax reform first. And that might push infrastructure into sometime next year.”

Thus far no legislation has been introduced reflecting the administration’s infrastructure plan, which would, presumably, providing funding for road, bridge, railway and other projects.