Posts Tagged ‘Federal Railroad Administration’

House Committee Warns About PTC Deadline

September 17, 2018

Members of a Congressional committee spent part of a hearing last week rattling their sabers about the implementation of positive train control, saying that railroads that failed to meet a Dec. 31 deadline will face fines.

Forty railroads are required to meet the PTC deadline, which is specified by federal law. But the Federal Railroad Administration has said that nine railroads are at risk of missing the deadline or even qualifying for an extension.

“Patience is growing thin on PTC implementation,” said Rep. Jeff Denham, R-California, chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.

Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Massachusetts, the ranking minority member of the subcommittee, said he had no sympathy for the commuter lines that were at greatest risk.

“I don’t think you’re going to find too many open minds on this side of the table,” if railroad officials offer excuses for not complying with the law, Capuano said.

“If people are not complying, you change the business calculation,” by forcing companies to factor in financial sanctions, said Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Connecticut.

Committee members did, though, heap praise on railroads that are poised to meet the deadline and/or qualify for an extension of time to fully implement PTC.

FRA Administrator Ronald Batory said fining non-compliant railroads is a possibility, but said it would be one of many actions the FRA might take. The fines could be as much as $27,904 per day.

“I’d like not to have to use that tool. But if that’s the one you have to use in combination with everything else that we’ve invoked, I think we should do nothing less,” he said.

Batory said the FRA has begun enforcement actions against 13 railroads that had not met hardware installation deadlines set down at the end of 2017.

He said that it is important for the FRA to focus on a “concentrated, concise, collaborative communication” process to help expedite each railroad’s progress toward compliance.

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Boardman is Again Critical of Amtrak

August 29, 2018

Former Amtrak head Joseph Boardman has again criticized the passenger carrier’s stance on operating on routes lacking positive train control.

Boardman

Boardman told Trains magazine that the Amtrak board of directors has not seriously considered the consequences of an earlier statement that the carrier will not use routes lacking PTC by a Dec. 31 deadline for implementation set by federal law.

In particular, the carrier has indicated that is considering sending Southwest Chief passengers by bus between Albuquerque and Dodge City, Kansas, or La Junta, Colorado.

A sticking point is how Amtrak will treat route segments that are exempt from the PTC requirement.

“If Amtrak requires PTC on any exempted portion the full cost of the PTC installation and maintenance becomes Amtrak’s. So they could load up costs for these routes or pass them on to states (sponsoring service),” Boardman said.

“It’s just ridiculous and it is not necessary in the sparse operating environment of the FRA-exempted track areas. It is also not financially sensible to burden this cost on Congress or a state given the operating situation.”

Boardman said passenger trains can operate safely on track lacking PTC.

He said Amtrak should stop ignoring the judgments of the Federal Railroad Administration and continue to operate safe railroading without PTC on the FRA-judged low risk sections of track that received PTC exemptions in order to fulfill the “public service” mission it was created for.

“If the board made this decision then it has been poorly advised,” Boardman said. “Risk management and behavioral safety training is not new with the SMS [Safety Management System] adopted from the FAA and recently promoted within Amtrak.

Boardman described SMS as a “formal, top-down, organization-wide approach to managing safety risk and assuring the effectiveness of safety risk controls.”

Amtrak created a risk management department following an Inspector General recommendation several years ago, but it was ended in 2017.

As he has argued in the past, Boardman believes recent Amtrak management decisions and actions have resulted in “serious missteps with Amtrak stakeholders, customers, and members of Congress.”

Calling this unacceptable nonsense, Boardman said it is time to move on and provide customer and stakeholder service and commitment.

“It’s creating an unprofessional situation for Amtrak that is reprehensible and unsustainable in the eyes of Congress and Dodge and Garden City, Kansas; La Junta and Trinidad Colorado; Raton, and Las Vegas, New Mexico; BNSF Railroad employees, private car owners, and even the United States Marine Corp. And those disgusted stakeholders are only the tip of the problems.”

N.M. Agency Gets PTC Grant From FRA

August 27, 2018

The Federal Railroad Administration has awarded a $30 million grant to the Rio Metro Regional Transit District to be used to install positive train control.

The agency operates the New Mexico Rail Runner Express over 96 miles that line the cities of Belen, Albuquerque, Los Lunas and Santa Fe.

Amtrak’s Southwest Chief uses a portion of this route network.

Officials said without the funding, rail passenger service would likely have ended because the agency lacks the money to final installing PTC equipment.

Lack of PTC has been one of the reasons given by Amtrak for its idea to operate a bus service between Albuquerque and Dodge City, Kansas, in lieu of a train.

The U.S. Senate has approved $2.5 billion for intercity passenger rail service in the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2019, and directed Amtrak to preserve service on the Southwest Chief corridor.

NTSB Looking at Talgo Safety

July 24, 2018

The National Transportation Safety Board probe into the December 2017 derailment of an Amtrak Cascades train that killed three and injured more than 60 is focusing on the safety of the Talgo equipment involved in the incident.

“Now that we have evidence of how the Talgo trainset performs in a crash, does the [Federal Railroad Administration] have any concerns that would cause you to re-examine your decision to grandfather this equipment?” NTSB investigator Michael Hiller asked an FRA during a recent hearing.

In response, the FRA’s Gary Fairbanks said, “I didn’t see anything as the way the cars performed that would cause us to go back and reconsider the grandfathering petition because the items that were covered in the grandfathering petition performed adequately.”

The Talgo equipment involved in the derailment had been operating under a FRA waiver.

During the hearings, the NTSB also zeroed in on the training of Amtrak locomotive engineers.

The derailment occurred on the first day of revenue service on the Point Defiance Bypass between Tacoma and Nisqually, Washington.

NTSB investigators are also questioning if Amtrak did enough to identify a potentially dangerous curve at DuPont, Washington, where Cascades No. 501 derailed.

At issue was whether Amtrak operating personnel received a sufficient number of familiarization trips over the route before revenue service began.

Most of the training runs were made at night to avoid interfering with Sounder commuter trains during the day.

Testimony at the NTSB hearing showed that one training run had seven people in the cab, exceeding the number considered safe by Amtrak standards.

Locomotive engineers were not only learning a new route, but a new locomotive, the SC-44 Charger.

In interviews with NTSB investigators, the engineer of Cascades No. 501 said the curve at milepost 19.8 was on his mind, but that his limited familiarity with the lines of sight from the Charger locomotive may have hindered his ability to see the wayside warning signs until it was too late.

As Cascades No. 501 entered a 30 mph curve, it was traveling at 78 mph.

Mike DeCataldo, Amtrak’s senior director for system safety and customer satisfaction, said  Amtrak will only begin a new service or route “once all safety precautions and mitigations are in place.”

DeCataldo said Amtrak will require a minimum of four round-trips over the entirety of the new route, up from the previous minimum of one, before an engineer or conductor is qualified to operate over it.

Amtrak has said it will not use the Point Defiance Bypass until positive train control train is installed, which is not expected until the end of this year.

In a related development, an Amtrak mechanic has filed a federal whistleblower complaint in connection with the Cascades derailment, saying carrier ignored his safety concerns on the day of the accident.

Michael McClure said in the complaint that he told his superiors that there was a mechanical failure in the trainset that later derailed.

“They were more primarily concerned about getting it out in time for the inaugural run than looking at the safety aspect of it,” McClure said.

He contends that the fault dealt with the train’s braking system. However, it has not been formally established if that played a part in the derailment.

McClure’s complaint alleges that Amtrak has “an ongoing pattern and practice of violating the Federal Railroad Safety Act.”

Appeals Court Allows FRA to Set On-Time Standards

July 20, 2018

The struggle to create on-time standards for Amtrak took another turn on Friday when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia voted 2-1 in favor of allowing the Federal Railroad Administration to set those standards.

The decision followed earlier setbacks including one in which the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Surface Transportation Board had exceeded its authority in seeking to set on-time standards.

The legal fight dates to 2011 when the Association of American Railroads commenced legal action to overturn a federal law that allowed Amtrak to participate in the rule-making process.

In a statement, Amtrak hailed the decision of the District of Columbia Court, saying that since the on-time standards law was overturned the passenger carrier has seen continued deterioration of on-time performance over freight railroads driven primarily by freight train interference.

“This decision will allow the FRA to set on-time and other performance standards that would help ensure that our customers and the American taxpayer get the high-quality passenger service they deserve,” Amtrak said in the statement.

The latest decision is not necessarily the last word in the fight. AAR could seek a rehearing by the full appeals court or appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Glenview Hires Consultant to Study Track Capacity

July 14, 2018

As expected the village of Glenview, Illinois, has hired a consulting firm to study a proposal to add additional tracks to accommodate an expansion of Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service.

The Chicago suburb has budgeted $400,000 for a campaign to oppose installation of a third track on the double-track former Milwaukee Road mainline used today by Amtrak, Metra and Canadian Pacific.

The consultant hired by Glenview will conduct a capacity analysis of passenger and freight rail lines in the region.

The departments of transportation of Illinois and Wisconsin have proposed expanding Hiawatha Service from seven to 10 daily roundtrips.

The proposal was recently the subject of an environmental assessment conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration that concluded the expansion would not have a significant impact on communities along the route.

The third track would be built between Glenview and Northbook and primarily be used to hold CP freight trains.

The capacity analysis is expected to recommend ways to keep all trains using existing passenger or freight lines while avoiding the need to build the third track.

Opponents of the third track contend that it will result in adverse health, noise and environmental consequences from idle freight trains.

The consultant, Transportation Economics & Management Systems, has studied the rail line in question and believes alternatives are available, including ways to keep rail traffic moving without freight trains having to stop.

The study is expected to take six months to complete.

Glenview has also hired a law firm to lobby federal officials and agencies, such as the Federal Railroad Administration, if the environmental assessment is approved at the state level and moves toward federal approval.

The village hired another firm to lobby state officials.

IDOT Seeks Extension on Quad City Route Grant

June 8, 2018

The Illinois Department of Transportation is seeking an extension of time to use a grant to help develop intercity rail passenger service between Chicago and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa.

The grant is to expire on June 30 and if the extension is granted it would be the third time the deadline has been moved.

The Federal Railroad Administration has yet to respond to the extension request.

The grant would be used, in part, to build a connection between BNSF and Iowa Interstate tracks near Wyanet, Illinois.

Other improvements are also needed on the 50-mile portion of the Iowa Interstate line to be used, which was once the mainline of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific.

IDOT last year reached a memorandum of understanding with Iowa Interstate to reimburse it for engineering costs associated with determining the necessary track improvements. That work is in progress.

The federal grant to develop the Chicago-Quad cities route was originally awarded in 2010 and included a $230 million federal grant, including $177 million for the connection.

The project was put on holder after Gov. Bruce Rauner took office in 2014. He later approved $45 million in state matching funds to help keep the project alive.

Virginia Wants More Service to Richmond

May 22, 2018

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation wants to see additional Amtrak service between Washington and Richmond, Virginia.

To provide that service, the agency said that two new tracks need to be constructed between Washington and Arlington, Virginia, after separate plans for an expanded Long Bridge are completed.

The Federal Railroad Administration and the District of Columbia Department of Transportation are expected to recommended a design and layout for the project later this year.

The recommendation for increased service to Richmond, which would also include an increase in service provided by Virginia Railway Express, was presented to  a Commonwealth Transportation Board subcommittee.

Durbin Wants FRA to Pressure Railroads to Run Amtrak Trains On Time

May 11, 2018

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin has joined Carbondale, Illinois, officials in seeking to pressure the Federal Railroad Administration into leaning on Amtrak’s host railroads to operate Chicago-Carbondale trains on time.

During the past year trains on the route were on time on just 32 percent of their trips.

“That’s simply unacceptable and deserves the FRA’s immediate attention and action,” Durbin wrote in his letter to the FRA.

“Amtrak’s Chicago-Champaign-Carbondale route continues to be one of the worst preforming routes in the country,” he said. “The Illini and Saluki trains are consistently delayed by CN’s freight interference and the ongoing speed restrictions put in place by CN in 2015.”

The speed restriction that Durbin referenced was put into place along a 200-mile stretch of the 309-mile corridor as a safety precaution following repeated mechanical issues.

However, Amtrak and CN have been in a stalemate over finding a solution to solve that issue and lift the speed restriction.

Durbin wants the FRA to take a more active role to ensure that Amtrak trains operate on time in Illinois and around the country.

“My constituents have waited long enough while the Amtrak service they rely on has suffered,” Durbin said. “It’s time for the FRA to take on a larger oversight role in the ongoing dispute between Amtrak and CN, and I urge you to begin convening regular meetings between the leadership at FRA, CN, and Amtrak that include my staff so the FRA can set deadlines, prevent further delays, and ensure greater accountability.”

Durbin also contended that freight train interference has played a major role in causing delays to Amtrak trains.

“Canadian National in particular has a long history of holding up Amtrak trains and holding back investments that could improve passenger and freight service in downstate Illinois,” Durbin said.

Durbin’s letter came shortly after Carbondale city officials met with him and Amtrak managers to discuss the paltry on-time performance of Chicago-Carbondale trains, most of which are funded by the State of Illinois.

The route also hosts Amtrak’s Chicago-New Orleans City of New Orleans.

FRA Wants More Info on Ann Arbor Station Proposal

May 3, 2018

The Federal Railroad Administration continues to press Ann Arbor, Michigan, officials for further information about its proposed new Amtrak station.

The FRA has asked the city to provide justification and support for the project, including the size of the station and parking garage to be built in Fuller Park, and the costs, which are now estimated at $86.2 million.

The FRA needs to approve the station design before the city can move ahead on building it.

City Administrator Howard Lazarus told the Ann Arbor City Council he has earmarked $69,200 from his contingency budget for continued work on the project, saying the funding is needed to support additional archeological survey work required by the FRA.

“The requirement stems from changes in staff at FRA, which city staff could not have foreseen,” Lazarus said. “Although no council action is required at this time, I am providing notification so that complete transparency on this project is maintained.”

Amtrak currently serves Ann Arbor from a station it built years ago on Depot Street. That facility is too small.

Based on long-term ridership projections, a new station would need to be 8,494 square feet to meet Amtrak guidelines. The existing station is 3,206 square feet.

In a draft environmental assessment report released last September the city identified a site in Fuller Park in front of the University of Michigan Hospital as its site for a new station.

A revised environmental assessment was sent to the FRA in late March, which prompted the request by the agency for more information.

The agency also asked why the proposed parking garage, storage lockers and a cafe are necessary because they will increase the station size.

The FRA also wanted to know what the city planned to do with the existing Amtrak station.

“This section is light on analysis; physical views are described, but both FRA staff and the public felt the discussion lacked analytic details to support the arguments presented. This is a theme in public comments,” the FRA said in requesting additional information.

Ann Arbor officials are hoping that the new depot will be funded largely by federal government and other sources.