Posts Tagged ‘Federal Railroad Administration’

Fuller Park Favored for New Ann Arbor Station

September 18, 2017

A draft environmental assessment favors placing the new Amtrak station in Ann Arbor in Fuller Park.

The long-awaited 212-page report was released on Monday after the Federal Railroad Administration gave the go ahead to do so.

Public comments are being accepted through Nov. 2 and opposition is expected given that many in Ann Arbor have already spoken against using a city park for a new train station.

The city also considered sites along Depot Street, where the existing Amtrak station is located.

Ann Arbor officials have long favored the Fuller Park site in front of the University of Michigan Hospital.

The new station would be elevated over the tracks in order to connect with a city-owned parking lot leased to the University of Michigan.

Development of the station is projected to occur in two stages. Phase I includes:

  • Construct station above the tracks
  • Construct five-level intermodal operations and parking structure to accommodate transit operations, 435 long-term parking spaces, 50 short-term parking spaces, 150 parks user parking spaces and motorcycle parking, bicycle parking, shared bicycle service and bicycle room in parking structure
  • Construct vertical circulation element on north side of the tracks
  • Construct platform on the north side of the tracks with two warming shelters and 650 feet of canopy
  • Construct new 250-foot, eastbound, right-turn lane at the Fuller Road/West Site driveway intersection
  • Construct new 250-foot, eastbound, right-turn lane at the Fuller Road/East Site driveway intersection
  • Relocate and reconstruct the Fuller Road crossovers, including 250 foot, left-turn bays at each crossover
  • Construct four bus bays

Phase II includes:

  • Construct additional parking structure levels to accommodate 870 total long-term parking spaces, 50 short-term spaces, 150 parks user parking spaces
  • Construct five additional bus bays to equal nine bus bays

If a commuter rail service between Ann Arbor and Detroit is implemented, the station project would also include:

  • Construct second 800-foot platform on south side of the tracks with two warming shelters and 650 feet of canopy
  • Construct vertical circulation elements (elevators and stairs for pedestrians) on south side of the tracks
  • Construct an additional 250 spaces (1,320 total)

The environmental assessment noted that the Fuller Road site can be developed on property owned by the city and the Michigan Department of Transportation, thereby eliminating the need to acquire additional property.

However, the station will require the will require use of 3.2 acres of Fuller Park, which in turn must be approved by Ann Arbor’s Park Advisory Commission and City Council approval.

Another factor weighing in favor of the Fuller Park site was lower costs, which were estimated at $81 million. Development of a station along Depot Street would cost between $94 million to $98 million.

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FRA Favors DC-Richmond Higher Speeds

September 12, 2017

The Federal Railroad Administration is calling for a higher-speed rail approach to upgrading the Washington- Richmond, Virginia, corridor.

In a draft environmental impact statement issued last week, the FRA said the preferred alternative is increasing maximum train speeds from 69 mph to 79 mph between Washington and Fredericksburg, Virginia, and to 90 mph between Fredericksburg and Richmond.

The report estimated this would cost $5 billion in 2025 dollars.

The FRA and Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation are accepting public comments on the report for the next 60 days.

Those comments will be incorporated into the final environmental impact statement.

The 123-mile Washington-Richmond is part of the larger 500-mile Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor that ends in Atlanta.

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.

Appeals Court Strikes down STB On-time Standards

July 17, 2017

Another federal court has struck a blow at the efforts of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to establish on-time standards for Amtrak trains.

The Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the STB standards to be unconstitutional, saying that the STB had “exceeded its authority” in creating the standards.

The appeal court ruling came in the wake of a similar U.S. Supreme Court ruling that development of on-time metrics by the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak as directed by Section 207 of 2008’s Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act was unconstitutional.

In the Eighth Circuit ruling, Chief Judge Lavenski R. Smith acknowledged that the absence of such on-time standards would make it impossible for the STB to investigate or adjudicate disputes brought by Amtrak against host railroads in the event that punctuality fell below 80 percent for two consecutive quarters.

However, the court in essence decided that the STB’s inability to measure on time performance is not a problem for the judiciary to solve.

There are two cases pending before the STB in which Amtrak alleges that host railroads needlessly delayed Amtrak trains.

One case involve the handling by Canadian National of the Saluki and Illini between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois, while the other regards Norfolk Southern’s handling of the Capitol Limited west of Pittsburgh.

In both cases, Amtrak contends that dispatching decisions made by the host railroads are delaying its trains.

The STB had contended that it had the legal right to establish on-time standards “by virtue of its authority to adjudicate complaints brought by Amtrak. Any other result would gut the remedial scheme, a result Congress clearly did not intend.”

Supporting the STB’s position were 13 intervenors, including the National Association of Railroad Passengers and its state affiliates along with the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Challenging the STB were Union Pacific, CSX, CN and the Association of American Railroads.

They argued that the “gap-filling rationale does not allow one agency to assume the authority expressly delegated to another.”

The court found that the only place in federal law where the 80 percent standard was spelled out was in section 207, which the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional because Amtrak had a hand in developing it.

Although the court let stand Congress’ setting a statutory right of passenger train “priority” over freight trains, the practical effect of the court decision is that Amtrak has no way to challenge a host railroad’s systematic denial of that right.

Instead, the only motivation for railroads to keep Amtrak trains on time are the proprietary and confidential incentive contracts Amtrak has been able to negotiate with its host railroads pertaining to on-time handling.

The only action Amtrak can take against a host railroad would be to refuse to make incentive payments due to non-performance under the terms of its operating contracts with a host railroad.

The court rulings do suggest that Congress could give the FRA a mandate to establish on-time standards provided that Amtrak was not a participant in the writing of those standards.

Ann Arbor Sets New Schedule for Station Study

June 24, 2017

Although Ann Arbor officials have already missed one of their self-imposed deadlines, they continue to insist that there is still time to finish an environmental assessment for a new Amtrak station by late July.

That report will narrow three potential sites for the new depot to one.

Last month Ann Arbor City Administrator Howard Lazarus said the goal was to have the assessment ready for public release by June 19.

That didn’t happen but Lazarus told the Ann Arbor City Council this week that staff has made progress on the report and is working with the Federal Railroad Administration and the Michigan Department of Transportation to get it finished as soon as possible.

Among the locations being reviewed for the new station are the existing Amtrak station site on Depot Street, a location in Fuller Park in front of the University of Michigan Hospital and the former Michigan Central station on Depot Street that now houses the Gandy Dancer restaurant.

Lazarus said city staff and AECOM, a consultant helping the city prepare the environmental assessment report, have completed various revisions and are expected to have a complete draft ready to send to the FRA shortly after June 22.

“FRA will complete their review of the resubmitted and revised documents and schedule a call with the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office,” Lazarus wrote in a memo to the council. “MISHPO has the authority to make determinations on the implications of the proposed design alternatives on historic resources. The current draft documents reflect the current state of consideration recognizing specific detail regarding impacts on historic resources.”

The FRA review of the assessment is expected to take a couple of weeks.

“Once the FRA management signs off on the document, the materials are ready for public review,” he wrote in the council memo.

The environmental assessment will be made available on a project website, at city hall and during three public meetings.

Ann Arbor is facing a Sept. 30 deadline to use a federal grant to pay for preliminary engineering designs. Any money not spent by that date will revert back to the federal treasury.

Lazarus said the preliminary engineering work began on May 22.

City officials hope to begin a 30-day public comment period about the environmental assessment on July 30 with public meetings held in August.

The preliminary engineering work would continue into December.

Lazarus said the city, MDOT and the FRA have agreed to a “tapered match” approach for having federal funds cover all of the costs of ongoing work through the grant-funding period, after which the city will spend more local dollars to complete the remaining work.

That anticipates that 80 percent of the work will be federally funded and 20 percent locally funded.

After the FRA has approved a plan for a new station, Ann Arbor officials will put the project to a vote in an election. The city plans to seek federal funds to cover  most of the costs for final design and construction.

 

Ann Arbor to Continue Station Studies

June 13, 2017

The Ann Arbor City Council will stay with the process of creating a new Amtrak station at least for a little while longer.

The council this week voted 8-3 to provide additional funding to a consultant to finish an environmental assessment and to move forward with preliminary engineering designs for multiple possible sites.

The council acted after the Federal Railroad Administration sought additional information and analysis of different alternatives.

Speaking in favor of continuing the process, Mayor Christopher Taylor said Ann Arbor demands better rail service.

“Better rail service for the city of Ann Arbor is critical to our economic improvement, to our quality-of-life improvement, to our environmental improvement,” Taylor said. “It is part of, I believe, the vision for the future of Ann Arbor that is shared by residents everywhere.”

But in voting against the proposal, council member Jane Lumm was skeptical that the city could meet its ambitious target dates for study and design work.

The city faces a late September deadline to spend a $2.8 million federal grant that it received in 2011.

The council’s latest action authorizes spending another $137,026 for the study and design work, which will now total $1,088,700 and must be completed before the federal grant expires on Sept. 30.

The city has yet to decide on a site for the new station. Among the proposals have been building a new depot off Depot Street or Fuller Road. Three other locations are still under consideration, including the existing Amtrak site on Depot Street, part of Fuller Park in front of the University of Michigan Hospital, and the former Michigan Central station, which is now the Gandy Dancer restaurant.

When asked why the city was doing preliminary engineering work for all the different alternatives as opposed to one preferred option, City Administrator Howard Lazarus said the FRA believes that Ann Arbor doesn’t “have a clear winner.”

The new station selection process has been dragging on for more than a decade, a point brought up by the dissenting council members.

Lazarus recommended moving ahead with the environmental assessment and releasing it to the public for a 30-day review.

The city would then seek a “finding of no significant impact” declaration from the FRA for a preferred option for a new Amtrak station.

At that point, he said the city would have a finished document that would be “non-perishable” and could be used to position the city for future FRA funding for final design and construction.

Lazarus and Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, said Ann Arbor remains at the mercy of the FRA.

Cooper said there have been private communications with the FRA over the past few years, but he was not at liberty to share that information publicly.

The grant was actually awarded to the Michigan Department of Transportation which along with the FRA has specific processes with regard to freedom of information.

Both agencies have told the city that they don’t want draft materials being released to the public.

However, Cooper said no final decision has been made about where a new train station should be built.

He said city staff, MDOT and the FRA look forward to receiving public views on the environmental assessment once the FRA authorizes its release.

Lazarus said that if the council failed to approve spending another $130,000, “we’re going to have to put a fork in it [station project] because it’s done.”

Columbus to Help Fund Passenger Rail Study

June 12, 2017

The city of Columbus has agreed to contribute $250,000 toward the planning efforts to establish intercity rail service between Ohio’s capital city and Chicago.

That amount will be added to the $350,000 already committed by other cities, businesses and others.

All Aboard Ohio, a rail passenger advocacy group, reported in its June newsletter that some central Ohio entities that it didn’t name might contribute another $100,000.

Work on the proposed Chicago-Columbus route is being conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration and the engineering firm HNTB.

Their planning efforts are currently focused on the former Pennsylvania Railroad mainline between Lima, Ohio, and Gary, Indiana, that was once used by Amtrak’s Chicago-New York Broadway Limited and Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited.

The preferred route from Columbus is the CSX Toledo Terminal and Scottslawn subdivisions, which cross the ex-PRR mainline at Dunkirk, Ohio.

In a related move, the FRA is reported to be well along in creating a Midwest Regional Rail Planning Study.

That document will create a 40-year vision that builds on the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative that was proposed more than a decade ago but has never been implemented.

The Midwest Midwest rail concept would cost an estimated $2.5 billion for new locomotives, passenger cars, upgraded tracks, modernized stations, increased train frequencies and faster travel times.

The Ohio Rail Development Commission is participating in the plan, which will establish the priorities, and studies and investments needed to implement projects in the coming decades.

FRA Wants Guidance on High-Speed Rail Rules

June 2, 2017

The Federal Railroad Administration is seeking guidance from the White House before it issues standards for high-speed rail lines.

The FRA has been working on the new rules for several months but has held them back because of a Trump administration requirement that agencies eliminate two regulations for every new regulation that they issue.

A news report this past week published The Bureau of National Affairs, a division of Bloomberg, quoted the FRA’s chief safety officer, Robert Lauby, as saying that the high-speed regulations are “complete or ready to be issued,” but the agency lacks an appointed administrator or deputy administrator.

“We want to get some new leadership. We want to get some consistency and have some more direction,” Lauby said. “There’s more questions that need to be answered before we will have a firm way forward.”

The proposed high-speed rail rules were released last November and are designed to create a new tier of safety standards that allow passenger rail service at speeds up to 220 mph along lines shared with commuter and other rail.

At the present, the fastest train in America is Amtrak’s Acela Express, which hits 150 mph in some places in the Northeast Corridor.

Lauby said the rail industry wants the regulations released, calling them “well-liked” because they will provide cost-savings and were developed in coordination with rail and affected industries.

“Rather than have a big question mark, this provides predictability,” Lauby said. “They know exactly what they need to build. They can do accurate costs estimates, and they can have good proposals, and they can compete with each other.”

Grants Awarded for Passenger PTC Projects

June 2, 2017

Grants to help commuter and intercity passenger railroads install positive train control systems were awarded this week for 17 projects in 13 states.

The funding was awarded by the Federal Railroad Administration and the Federal Transit Administration and will help the railroads to meet a federal Dec. 31, 2018, deadline to install PTC.

The agencies said they received 27 eligible applications requesting $455 million, which was more than double the funds authorized by Congress.

The FRA was responsible for selecting the grant recipients with the FTA awarding the funds.

Authorized under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, the grants will be used to install PTC technology, including back office systems and wayside, communications, and onboard hardware equipment associated with railroads’ PTC systems.

Among the projects that involve the routes of Amtrak trains were:

•  $18.87 million to the Illinois Department of Transportation to complete the design, delivery, installation and testing of a fully integrated I-ETMS PTC system on two routes for Amtrak’s  use on 14.7 route miles of Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis right-of-way in St. Louis on the Illinois and Missouri banks of the Mississippi River.
• $20.2 million to Metra in Chicago for three subprojects on Metra’s Commuter Rail Division to implement wayside PTC signals, reconfigure signals, and upgrade an existing PTC automatic block signaling systems on the railroad’s Milwaukee District West and North lines in Chicago.
•  $12.02 million to the Missouri Department of Transportation to design, install, and test a fully integrated and functional I-ETMS PTC system over 8.5 route miles of Kansas City Terminal Railway right-of-way where Amtrak operates in the Kansas City area.
• $33.75 million to the New York State Department of Transportation to implement the Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System (ACSES) PTC system on the Amtrak-controlled section of the Empire Corridor Hudson Line.

Chicago-Columbus Study to be Completed This Year

May 31, 2017

A study of passenger rail service between Chicago and Columbus is expected to be completed by late this year.

HNTB Corporation is analyzing operating plans and preliminary costs for the proposed service, a review that is required by the National Environmental Policy Act to begin the project.

Completion of the analysis would enable the project to receive federal funds for design and construction.

HNTB will recommend a route, operating speeds, train frequency and station sites, as well as estimated ridership and revenue. The $350,000 study is being paid for by cities and businesses along the corridor, including Fort Wayne, Indiana, which lost Amtrak service in late 1990.

The route would initially have a top speed of 75 mph with an eventual goal 110 mph travel.

“We are making great progress in our efforts to return passenger rail to Fort Wayne and northern Indiana and northwest Ohio,” said Geoff Paddock, a member of  the Northern Indiana Passenger Rail Association.“This passenger-rail line will boost economic development efforts by connecting people and businesses throughout the region and it will enhance the quality of life for area residents.”

The group said in December 2016 that the Federal Railroad Administration would conduct the alternatives analysis and solicit public input on the project. HNTB was the contractor hired to complete that study.