Archive for the ‘Other News’ Category

Man Competent to Stand Trial in Zephyr Incident

December 12, 2017

A court has found a man charged with pulling an emergency brake on Amtrak’s California Zephyr competent to stand trial.

Taylor Wilson, 25, faces trial on charges of using a weapon to commit a felony and criminal mischief.

He waived his right to a preliminary hearing, so his case is headed to trail in a Nebraska district court.

Wilson was said by police to be carrying a loaded revolver in his waistband and a speed loader in his pocket.

He allegedly activated the brakes as the train was preparing to stop in Holdrege, Nebraska.

Police said Wilson got into the trailing P42DC locomotive and pulled the brakes as the train passed through Furnas County.

Wilson was also said to have with him a box of ammunition a knife, tin snips, scissors, a ventilation mask and three more speed loaders.

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Brightline Making Test Runs

December 7, 2017

Brightline plans to operate simulated service this month between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, Florida, in a dress rehearsal for revenue service.

The company recently issued an advisory that it would operate 10 roundtrips to simulate its service.

Brightline has yet to say when revenue service will began. Nor has it released any details about fare structure, departure times and onboard services.

The test trains will operate at a top speed of 79 mph on a route that recently received a second track and has been freight only.

Owned by the Florida East Coast, the 66-mile route between West Palm Beach and Miami hosts freight trains running at a top speed of 40 mph primarily during the night.

Brightline has worked with towns along its route at bringing many grade crossings into compliance with Federal Railroad Administration “quiet zone” requirements.

The FRA is requiring additional testing to review the positive train control overlay of FEC’s signal system in Brightline’s Charger locomotive cabs during operating conditions.

Brightline May Start This Month

December 5, 2017

All Aboard Florida is now expected to launch Brightline intercity rail passenger service between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, Florida, this month, the Fitch Ratings agency reported.

Service to Miami is expected to start in 2018. Brightline has thus far declined to comment on the report.

Fitch said it reached its conclusions as part of an analysis of a $600-million bond issue being set up to pay for the higher-speed passenger service.

The report said Brightline’s financial potential is good based on strong revenue generated by other passenger rail service elsewhere in the U.S.

Fitch expects Brightline to earn $147.6 million in revenue in 2021 and said service can break even with revenue of $90.6 million, ridership of 1.6 million, and average fares substantially lower than those offered on Amtrak’s Acela service between Washington and Boston.

Brightline had earlier indicated that it wanted to launch service five months ago.

The inauguration has been delayed by signal work at grade crossings in Palm Beach County.

The Florida East Coast is hosting the service, the first since FEC ended its own passengers trains in 1968 in the wake of a protracted union strike.

NARP Rebrands Itself with New Name, New Look

December 1, 2017

As part of its efforts to rebrand itself, the National Association of Railroad passengers has rolled out a new name and new looks for its website and monthly newsletter.

Now known as the Rail Passengers Association, the group has adopted a logo featuring a stylized passenger car window.

For now the new website can be reached at the old address of www.narprail.org but it can also accessed at www.railpassengers.org

The new name and look were first revealed to the group’s members at its 50th anniversary celebration event held in Chicago in early November.

In a news release, the RPA said its new look will herald “a new age for advocacy for rail passengers in North America.”

RPA also has moved to a larger headquarters office in Washington.

The RPA logo is a landscape-oriented rectangle with two slanted lines in its lower left corner.

RPA said the image “allows the organization to highlight scenes riders would see from their train seat by adding different pictures and photos inside the window.”

RPA head Jim Matthews said the design also allows the group “to show a mix of cityscapes and landscapes inside the rectangle of the logo to create a view out of the imagined window.

“We can even use animation and movement to take advantage of the social media and web-based platforms where we advocate for rail riders. And, we can highlight regional differences and issues that we care about.”

Founded in 1967 as a non-profit organization, the official name of the group remains National Association of Railroad Passengers.

RTA Warns of Need for More Capital

November 30, 2017

The head of Chicago’s Regional Transportation Authority warned on Wednesday derailments such as the one that snarled rail traffic in and out of Chicago Union Station this week may occur again because Illinois has no capital infrastructure program.

“We need help. We definitely need help,” said Don Orseno. “You can look at the numbers and see where we’re at. We’re not in a good position.”

Orseno said the situation today could deteriorate to what it was in the 1970s when the Rock Island and the Milwaukee Road were in bankruptcy and  many of whose commuter trains were so dilapidated that riders could see the tracks below through the rusted-out floors.

Jim Derwinski, who will soon replace the retiring Orseno said RTA has inherited a system that relies on 40-year-old engines, 110-year-old bridges, and bi-levels cars averaging 30 or more years. The oldest bi-levels cars have been in service for 64 years.

Derwinski said Metra has $196 million available for its capital programs next year, but needs six times that just to stay even.

In the aftermath of the derailment, Metra passengers traveling from Union Station to the southwest suburbs faced delays of up to 30 minutes during the Wednesday evening rush hour as crews cleared a Metra derailment/

Amtrak trains faced delays of up to 45 minutes. The derailment damaged some track, switches signals.

The derailment occurred at about 10:50 p.m. when an eight-car inbound SouthWest Service train arriving at Union Station derailed in a tunnel, which made removing the derailed cars challenging.

No passengers or crew members were injured in the incident, during which the train was traveling at about 9 mph. The derailed cars remained upright.

Iowa Passenger Advocates Undaunted in Push to Get Intercity Rail Service to Iowa City, Des Moines

November 28, 2017

Iowa passenger train advocates continue to push for service to Iowa City and Des Moines, but expansion of Amtrak to those cities is unlikely to occur anytime soon.

Officially, the prospect of providing intercity rail passenger service to the home of the University of Iowa (Iowa City) and the capital (Des Moines) remains under study by the Iowa Department of Transportation, but the state legislature thus far has declined to approve funding for the service.

Christopher Krebill of Davenport is the head of the Iowa Association of Railroad Passengers and remains optimistic about the prospects of implementing twice-daily service between Chicago and Iowa City within the next five years.

“I love this state and I love the rail service that we have now,” Krebill told the Des Moines Register. “I believe that having train service in central and northern Iowa, and doubling train service on Amtrak’s current two routes would do great things for Iowa’s transportation network and Iowa companies and people.”

The proposed service to Iowa City would serve the Quad Cities region of Iowa and Illinois and was being pushed for a time by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The service was projected to draw 187,000 passengers annually. A federal grant of $230 million has funded earlier studies of the proposed service.

Although a 2015 start-up date was eyed, Iowa lawmakers would not approve that state’s share of the funding, estimated at $20 million plus annual grants for operating expenses.

Many Iowa legislators argued that if passenger trains are viable they should be operated by the private sector.

The proposed Amtrak service to Iowa City was expected to eventually be extended to Des Moines and Omaha.

At one time, rail service operated via Iowa City and Des Moines on the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad.

Amtrak has never operated scheduled passenger trains to Iowa City, which lost passenger rail service in 1970. Des Moines has been without passenger trains since May 31, 1970, when the Rock Island’s Cornbelt Rocket was discontinued there.

The Rock Island continued passenger service to the Quad Cities from Chicago until 1978.

Those former Rock Island rails are now owned by the Iowa Interstate Railroad and would be used within Iowa for the Chicago-Iowa City route.

Iowa is currently served by two Amtrak long-distance trains, the California Zephyr between Chicago and Emeryville, California; and the Southwest Chief between Chicago and Los Angeles.

The Chief’s only stop in Iowa is at Fort Madison while the Zephyr serves the Iowa cities of Burlington, Mount Pleasant, Ottumwa, Osceola and Creston.

In fiscal year 2017, Amtrak had ridership of 60,585 passengers, which was a decline of 1.3 percent when compared with FY2015. Amtrak’s high water ridership mark in Iowa occurred in 2010 when it carried 68,744.

During the administration of Gov. Chet Culver, Iowa officials examined the Chicago-Iowa City proposal in 2010.

Jim Larew, who was policy director and chief legal counsel to Culver, still believes that the route would be appealing to such key demographic groups as college students, young professionals and older Iowans.

“My own view is that this is just a matter of when, not if,” Larew said. “The model will always fit to have passenger rail service from Chicago to Iowa City, and then over to Des Moines and possibly Omaha.”

The Iowa Department of Transportation continues to work on preliminary engineering and environmental studies of proposed rail passenger service between the Quad Cities and Iowa City on the Iowa Interstate Railroad’s tracks, said Amanda Martin, the agency’s railroad passenger and freight policy coordinator. She said that work is expected to continue into 2018.

In Illinois, that state’s DOT was able to get an extension of the federal grant until June 2018.

Kelsea Gurski, IDOT’s bureau chief of communications services, said that will enable the agency to continue working with the Iowa Interstate Railroad on preliminary engineering studies that will determine the full scope of improvements necessary to host passenger trains between Wyanet and Moline, Illinois.

“A timeline for the overall project will be ready once these studies are completed and construction and service agreements are in place with the Iowa Interstate Railroad,” Gurski said.

Current Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has not yet taken a position on expanded passenger rail service in Iowa, said Brenna Smith, Reynolds’ spokeswoman.

Smith said it’s too soon to begin discussing state funding because the Iowa DOT’s studies are still underway.

State Sen. Matt McCoy of Des Moines continues to advocate for passenger trains to the state capital and sees a potential opportunity if a much talked about federal infrastructure program comes to fruition.

“That doesn’t mean that Iowa will participate in a state share of money for the project, but I get the feeling that Illinois would at least bring the train to the Quad Cities. Then it would be up to us to determine if we want it to go any further,” he said.

In its most recent report on FY2017, Amtrak said ridership figures for Iowa stations were: Burlington: 8,430; Mount Pleasant: 13,736; Ottumwa: 12,209; Osceola: 15,752; Creston: 3,797; and Fort Madison: 6,661.

Colorado Museum in Amtrak Depot to Close

November 21, 2017

A Colorado railroad museum housed in a depot that serves Amtrak will close next Monday.

The Glenwood Railroad Museum was unable to reach a lease agreement with the depot owner, the Union Pacific Railroad, in Glenwood Springs.

The museum’s five-year, $250-per-year lease expired at the end of 2016.

UP demanded the museum pay market-rate rent, which museum officials said would be more than $25,000 annually.

That would have eaten up the museum’s total income. “It’s just sad that we’re unable to raise the funding necessary to preserve what I think is a very important part of the history, the story of this county and this community,” said Pat Thrasher, museum manager and president of the Western Colorado Chapter of National Railway Society.

The museum plans to return to their donors some of the artifacts on display and is seeking to donate the remaining artifacts elsewhere.

Thrasher said museum officials considered relocating, but he thinks it is essential to be located adjacent to an active railroad depot.

“I would like to think we’re more than just a place where Amtrak passengers hang out while they’re waiting for a train,” he said.

The Glenwood museum had scheduled its hours around train times for Amtrak’s California Zephyr.

NARP Rebrands Itself Rail Passengers Association

November 20, 2017

The National Association of Railroad Passengers is rebranding itself as the Rail Passengers Association.

The name was rolled out during NARP’s convention earlier this month and the November newsletter will be the first to show off the new name and logo. The newsletter itself has been renamed Passengers Voice.

However, the passenger advocacy group will continue to be formally known as NARP.

The group said the Rail Passengers Association name is a brand name just as Amtrak is a brand name for the National Passenger Railroad Corporation.

A new logo that NARP has dubbed “The Window,” features an outline of a rail passenger car window.

Canceled Car Contract Not Good News for Rochelle

November 16, 2017

The news that Nippon Sharyo has lost the contract to build new passenger cars for Midwest and California corridor trains operated by Amtrak is not good news for  Rochelle, Illinois.

Nippon Sharyo established a factory in the northern Illinois city that does not see any scheduled passenger trains to build the bi-level cars.

But a prototype car built at the plant failed to pass safety tests and many employees at the Rochelle plant had already been laid off before the California Department of Transportation announced that Siemens will instead complete the cars at a factory in Sacramento, California.

The contract with Nippon Sharyo had been announced in November 2012 by former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and was valued at $550 million.

The Illinois Department of Transportation had banded together with its California counterpart to oversee the car orders, which also involves the states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Missouri.

The original contract had called for 130 passenger rail cars of which California agreed to buy 42. The remaining 88 cars were earmarked for Amtrak’s Midwest corridor routes.

Some saw the new cars as a first-step toward creating 125-mph passenger service in the Midwest.

With more than $10 million in state and local financial incentives, Nippon Sharyo opened a new U.S. headquarters and the $35 million passenger rail car facility in Rochelle in July 2012.

As recently as 2015, the Rochelle plant employed 694. Last month employment there was 54.

Illinois officials had said when announcing the contract to build cars in Rochelle that Nippon Sharyo had agreed to create 250 jobs and retain 15 at its office in Arlington Heights. A report in the Chicago Tribune said it is unclear if this agreement has changed.

Nippon Sharyo said it “will continue its business operations going forward with a reduced number of employees to meet the needs of existing customers and contractual responsibilities.”

Caltrans recently said it has awarded a $352 million contract to Sumitomo Corporation of Americas and Siemens to complete the car order that Nippon Sharyo once had.

The new contract calls for 137 single-level rail cars of which 88 will be used in the Midwest.

The Midwest High Speed Rail Association says that single-level cars are safer and better able to protect passengers in the event of a crash.

German Bus Company to Enter U.S. Market

November 16, 2017

A German long-distance bus company says it plans to begin service in the United States in competition with Greyhound, Megabus and Amtrak.

FlixBus said it will be based in Los Angeles.

“There is a significant shift in the American transport market at the moment. Public transportation and sustainable travel is becoming more important,” FlixBus founder and manager Andre Schwaemmlein said in a statement.

FlixBus has been a major player in European long-distance bus service since 2013 and has survived a fierce price war among new market entrants to boost its market share in Germany.

A Reuters news service story said FlixBus has more than 90 percent market share and its bright green motor coaches are a common sight on German motorways.

FlixBus does not own any of its buses but instead works with local and regional partners.

That is similar to how Megabus operates in the United States. Owned by Britain’s Stagecoach Group, Megabus began U.S. service in 2006.

One of its chief competitors, Greyhound, is owned by a British company, FirstGroup PLC. Greyhound carries 18 million passengers a year with a fleet of 1,700 vehicles.

By contrast, Amtrak carried 31.3 million in fiscal year 2016. Figures are not yet available systemwide for FY 2017.

FlixBus did not say when it would begin service or what routes it would serve.