ÎIncremental approachĖ for Golden State
After two years of technical analysis and study, the California High-Speed Rail Authority is proposing that its legislatively mandated business plan recommend to the governor and the legislature that a statewide high-speed train system be designed, built and funded incrementally.
The authority could have pursued a full-funding approach for the $25 billion network, which would have required approvals from the governor, state legislature Ō and most likely the voters Ō to secure the public funds required.
The step the Authority took unanimously at its public meeting on Wednesday was to recommend proceeding to the next step of the project Ō initiating a program Environmental Impact Report and conducting preliminary engineering.
This phase would take approximately two years to complete and cost $25 million.
"The environmental clearance and engineering phase is the next logical step in any major proposed infrastructure project of this scope and it allows us to keep pressing forward while maintaining a prudent financial course," said Michael E. Tennenbaum, chair of the citizen-led state body responsible for exploring and planning the system.
"Further, this phase will enable the Authority to determine with greater certainty how the network can be built to meet the important environmental standards of the state. This next step also helps create opportunities to preserve the corridors the network will need."
Tennenbaum pointed out that moving forward incrementally keeps the high-speed train system timetable on its projected schedule to begin operation in 2016. The authority is finalizing a business plan that it will submit to the Governor and Legislature in January 2000.
"With more capacity than an eight-lane freeway yet requiring less than one-third of the right-of-way, high-speed rail offers a reliable and environmentally sensitive alternative that will move people and goods quickly between our cities," noted Tennenbaum.
The Legislature established the High-Speed Rail Authority in 1996, recognizing that CaliforniaĖs population will expand by more than 12 million people in the next 20 years and that the state needs new ways to meet transportation needs to maintain its quality of life and economic growth. The nine-member state body has conducted extensive technical review and due diligence, holding public meetings and receiving public comment throughout the state.
"We continue to believe that a high-speed train system is a smart investment for the people and the future of California," Tennenbaum said.
But one pro-railroad advocate worries that the incremental approach, that is to say, piece-by-piece, could relegate the project to "perpetual study."
"ItĖs analysis to paralysis," said John Shields, executive director of a group called Californians for High Speed Passenger Rail. "You need to get this system pinned down and quit studying it." Members of the California High Speed Rail Authority said a go-slow approach wouldnĖt delay the project, which is expected to take 16 years to complete.
The nine-member board unanimously supported a proposal suggesting that the state legislature allocate $25 million for the first phase of environmental review, rather than approving full funding for the entire project. The complete project would cost about $25 billion in 1999 dollars.
The high-speed system would link Sacramento and San Francisco to Southern California with trains running at up to 200 mph. The 680-mile system will see at least six years of environmental studies before a single tie is inserted or a rail laid, officials pointed out.
Surfliners in April
A whole new wave in passenger rail service is heading to the shores of Southern California next spring. Amtrak will introduce the Pacific Surfliner along its San Diego to San Luis Obispo passenger rail corridor, replacing the San Diegans.
The first of these contemporary new trains will debut in April 2000 with all eight in service by spring 2001. A teal blue Pacific Surfliner logo of a wave with a train graphic is intended to convey the coastal route image.
Each train will be powered by new EMD F59PHI locomotives. The trains will be maintained in Los Angeles at AmtrakĖs new locomotive service center, and at the passenger car and service inspection facility, which is under construction.
More than a new brand name, the Pacific Surfliner service will feature eight new trains with improved amenities and upgraded stations along the route. An Amtrak spokesman said "These investments in customer service will help make AmtrakĖs second most popular corridor, serving 1.5 million customers, even more in demand with travelers."
In a ceremony with California Gov. Gray Davis, AmtrakĖs board chairman, Gov. Tommy Thompson said, "Pacific Surfliner service marks the next wave in passenger rail for the Southern California and Central Coast corridor. AmtrakĖs $125 million investment in new trains is our largest single investment ever in any state, because we believe that as CaliforniaĖs population continues to swell, passenger rail will become a solution to the stateĖs congested highways."
Since 1990, the state of California and Amtrak have invested more than $500 million in the Southern California and Central Coast route. The service improvements included upgraded tracks for better on-time performance, faster travel times, as well as new and refurbished stations and increased service, numbering 11 daily round trips.
California leads a long list of states investing with Amtrak in corridor development, such as Virginia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan that each recently announced multi-million dollar capital investments in passenger rail. The development of intercity passenger rail corridors to relieve road and airport congestion and spark downtown economic vitality is one of five components of AmtrakĖs business plan to make the railroad operationally self-sufficient.
In early December, the Texas Transportation Institute ranked the Los Angeles area the most gridlocked in the nation. "Amtrak believes its investment and more than $52 million in capital this year from California will make the corridor an attractive alternative to the automobile by eventually offering faster and more frequent service," said Amtrak West President Gil Mallory.
The new trains will replace locomotives and passenger coaches that are up to 30 years old. The new five-car, double-decker trains will offer customers more reliable service. With seating for 425 people, service levels will range from reserved Pacific Business Class to coach service.
In the coach-cafģ car, upgraded and healthier menu selections will be offered, and will feature local wines. Business and leisure travelers will find outlets for laptop computers, receive train information on digital information display boards, sit in wide comfortable seats, gaze out the large panoramic windows, and stow luggage in large overhead compartments. Each car will have electric sliding doors
Elsewhere, stations are being refurbished in Santa Barbara, Surf and Goleta, and automated ticket machines are being installed.
Before adopting the new brand name Pacific Surfliner, Amtrak said it conducted extensive market research, including focus groups. The research showed that current and potential customers from the Southern California and Central Coast regions believed that the Pacific Surfliner brand better reflected the new service than the current San Diegans name. In addition, Pacific Surfliner was found to "evoke strong images of train travel, relaxation, comfort and scenery, and the personal freedom to choose how a rider spends his or her time."
Two railroad lines that bring hundreds of workers into CaliforniaĖs Silicon Valley are about to expand service, an announcement that provides road-weary commuters an alternative to the slow-motion traffic on Interstates 680 and 880, according to the San Jose Mercury.
The increased commute-hour service would come on the Altamont Commuter Express (ACE) and AmtrakĖs Capitol service. Amtrak runs three trains into San Jose daily, and ACE runs two. Each would add a morning run to their schedules.
(Thanks to Dave Bowe)
Las Vegas service
A custom-designed Talgo passenger train will begin service between Los Angeles and Las Vegas in September.
The agreement calls for Amtrak to provide funds to double-track 20 miles of Union PacificĖs Cima Hill grade in California, and build a new station, platform and holding track in Las Vegas near the Rio Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. Amtrak anticipates using Talgo equipment, which uses tilt technology to permit faster speeds on curves. Double-tracking the hill will help Amtrak avoid slow-moving freight trains on the grade.
Infrastructure improvements will begin along the 340-mile route including building the second mainline track between Cima and Kelso. The trains will operate on tracks owned and maintained by UP, BNSF, and the Southern California Regional Rail Authority. Although the trains are designed to travel 125 mph, maximum track speed will be 79 mph.
Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn and Sen. Harry Reid were joined by Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, who is also AmtrakĖs board chairman, and Amtrak President George Warrington on Dec. 14 in unveiling the planned service.
"The new service will connect two of the fastest growing communities and largest tourist destinations in the nation. Amtrak service will also help mitigate the looming transportation problems in Southern Nevada and play an increasingly important role in expanding our vibrant economy," Guinn said.
AmtrakĖs directors are spending $28 million.
The train will feature the stateĖs silver and blue colors, and will carry 300 passengers.
Amtrak said it plans to lease the trains from Seattle-based Talgo, Inc. EMD F59PHI locomotives power the trains.
Current plans call for one daily round trip between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, with an intermediate stop in Montclair, Cal., a community east of Los Angeles. The carrier said it hopes to add two additional round trips as consumer demand grows.
The eastbound train will depart Los Angeles at 9 a.m. and arrive in Las Vegas at 2:30 p.m. in time for local hotel check-ins. The westbound train will depart Las Vegas at 4 p.m. and arrive in Los Angeles at 9:30 p.m.
Amtrak will construct a platform with a canopy at a location near The Strip in Las Vegas.
For the first time in 20 years, daily passenger train service returned to the greater Louisville metropolitan area on Dec. 17. Amtrak began operating direct service between Chicago and Jeffersonville, Ind. The new train is named the Kentucky Cardinal and features evening departures and overnight travel southbound from Chicago and northbound from Jeffersonville via Indianapolis.
Trains 850/851 operate daily, and offer reserved Superliner coach and sleeping car service.
Eastward train 850 and westward No. 851, the Hoosier State, is also extended south of Indianapolis to Jeffersonville, Indiana, a stop directly across the Ohio River from downtown Louisville. Growing express business led to the decision.
Three days a week, couplets 850 and 851 will run Chicago to Indianapolis as part of trains 50 and 51 (Cardinal), with through cars added or dropped at Indianapolis. The other four days, 850 and 851 will run through Chicago to Louisville.
Train 850 departs Chicago at 8:10 p.m., and arrives Indianapolis at 213 a.m.; it leaves at 3:00 a.m., and arrives in Louisville at 8:40a.m.
The reverse trip, train 851, leaves Louisville at 1025 p.m., arrives in Indianapolis at 305 a.m., and leaves at 5:41 a.m., and lands in Chicago at 1005a.m.
The trains are also hauling RoadRailers and boxcars on the rear. Amtrak is willing, at least for now, to accept a 30 mile-an-hour speed restriction on the Louisville and Indiana Railroad, but CSX reportedly is willing to invest some cash to upgrade the ex-Conrail (Pennsylvania Railroad) route.
Amtrak Intercity president Ed Walker said Amtrak is committed to extending the Kentucky Cardinal into downtown Louisville "if an adequate station facility can be built."
He said the train would continue to stop in Jeffersonville, Ind., if a downtown Louisville stop is established. No other stops between Jeffersonville and Indianapolis are currently planned, although Walker noted that Amtrak is "receptive to adding stops if ridership and revenue projections justify the addition."
Amtrak is also starting mail and express in the Louisville market. The passenger carrier and the Louisville & Indiana Railroad are jointly working on a plan for Amtrak to open a mail and express handling facility in Jeffersonville.
"We welcome this partnership with Amtrak to provide premium mail and express service to a significant new market," said Peter Gilbertson, L&IĖs chairman. "We also welcome the return of rail passenger service to this line after a 20-year hiatus."
Major Regional plan begins
The Georgia DOT approved a $1.9 billion, six-route commuter and intercity rail implementation program on Nov. 18 that will take at least 12 years to complete. Now the state legislature must take up the project. If it becomes law, trains are expected to serve about 70 percent of the stateĖs population plus Greenville, S.C., and Jacksonville, Fla.
The first two projects on the DOTĖs list are a 68-mile commuter line from Athens to Atlanta ($170 million) and a high speed service Ō up to 110 mph Ō between Macon and Atlanta ($140 million).
Funding will come from a combination of state and federal sources. Consultants are already at work, under a $9.5 million contract package, looking at the various rail corridors and determining how freight and passenger traffic can share them, especially in the Atlanta area.
Officials hope both initial lines can be up and running in about five years, although funding is not yet in place.
Another possible bottleneck on the Athens route is the construction of a second track since CSX insists there is not enough capacity on the current line.
"ItĖs aggressive, but we think itĖs doable," said Paul Mullins, the Georgia DOT planning and programming director told the Atlanta Journal and Constitution.
Two other state agencies need to approve the plans, the Georgia Rail Passenger Authority, which has already given its green light, and the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, which is expected to do so before yearĖs end.
Thanks to Julian Wolinsky, Editor, Rail Transit Online.
St. Paul to Duluth, perhaps?
An advisory committee is working to determine whether it is feasible to run passenger trains north out of St. Paul, Minn. To Duluth, and whether there is a demand for such a service. Amtrak passenger trains last traveled to Duluth in 1985.
The state would have to invest tens of millions of dollars to upgrade tracks and build new stations, the Duluth News-Tribune reported on Dec. 6.
"We can definitely do it. The tracks are all there," said transportation expert Alexander Metcalf at the committeeĖs December meeting. He is president of Transportation Economics and Management Systems, a consulting firm based in Frederick, Md.
The committee will present the state legislature its findings in early February.
Freight trains currently operate over the proposed line at an average speed of 45 mph and takes nearly four hours. Passenger trains would likely travel at about 80 mph and reach their destinations in two hours, Metcalf said. Tracks would need to be upgraded to support the faster trains, and could cost $500,000 to $1 million per mile.
Wants fast trains
Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson signed a $2.5 million contract to study high-speed rail between Madison and Milwaukee on Nov. 19.
He told reporters that the preliminary engineering study will determine what improvements will be required to operate passenger trains up to 110 miles and hour between both cities.
The Madison to Milwaukee corridor is part of the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, an effort to provide high-speed rail service over 3,000 miles of track in nine states.
Thompson is also the Amtrak board chairman.
ÎCabbagesĖ are coming
AmtrakĖs Boston to Portland service will have a "cabbage" on the end of each trainset.
A "cabbage," which merges the nouns "cab" and "baggage," is a modified F40PH locomotive that has reached the end of its useful life as a power plant, but can soldier on as a control cab and baggage car.
Word has reached us that former engines 213, 214 and 220 are being rebuilt at AmtrakĖs Beech Grove, Ind. heavy repair facility to cabbages for the Boston-Portland service, expected to begin later this year.
Their new numbers will be 90213, 90214 and 90220.
Sounder coaches are running
The first set of coaches for the Sounder commuter service went for a trial run between Seattle and Tacoma, Wash., on Dec. 9. Funding for the project, and capital projects related to the Amtrak Cascades services has been in doubt since voters approved ballot initiative 695 last month, which cuts the state motor vehicle excise tax that funded many transportation programs. Officials are still hoping for a September start-up.
(Thanks to Dave Bowe)
Cash for Scranton line, please
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) said he will lobby for $5.3 million in federal funding for an engineering study to begin passenger service on the former Lackawanna Railroad from Scranton, Penn to New Jersey. Previously, a transportation bill had allocated $160 million in federal money for the project, but the Congress must first authorize funding.
(Thanks to Dave Bowe)
60Hz to 25, please
Amtrak has broken ground in Philadelphia on a $140 million frequency converter replacement project. The railroad said the "facility is critical to ensure reliable Amtrak high-speed rail service and commuter rail operations on the Northeast Corridor between New York and Washington." The groundbreaking came on Dec. 1.
The frequency converter station will change commercially generated electricity from 60 Hz to the 25 cycles required to power Amtrak and commuter trains. It is also expected to be the largest such facility in the world, and will replace a similar facility built by the Pennsylvania Railroad more than 60 years ago.
The two-story structure that will house converters and their controls is expected to be completed by January 2002. The station will be built on vacant land at the south end of the PECOĖs Richmond Generating Facility.
(Thanks to Dave Bowe)