Vol. 8 No. 42
Copyright © 2007
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elected and appointed officials at all levels of government.
In this edition...
Port Authority Re-Starts Discussions
on NJ-NY Cross-Harbor Freight Tunnel
NEW YORK CITY --- The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has renewed its interest in a proposed cross-harbor rail freight tunnel, The New York Times reported this week.
Reporter Patrick McGeehan wrote October 17:
Two years after turning its back on $100 million in federal funds for planning better ways to move freight, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has spun around and decided to accept the money. The money was earmarked by Congress more than two years ago for the study and planning of ways to improve the movement of freight to New York City from New Jersey. One proposed solution is a rail tunnel under the harbor between Jersey City and Brooklyn, which could cost as much as $7 billion.
Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), a leading national figure in the transportation advocacy movement, has also been the leading proponent of the rail tunnel, and first obtained the $100 million earmark to begin work on a feasibility study two years ago.
He states, on his website, that until fairly recently he has stood virtually alone for many years in decrying the downstate New York regions isolation from the national rail freight system and its almost total reliance on truck-borne freight. Such dependence has created enormous costs to the area in terms of increased air pollution, asthma, congestion, and the general expense of doing business in the region. More alarming, the regions over-dependence on the George Washington Bridge for moving freight creates a serious national security vulnerability.
Congressman Nadler proposes to reverse these effects by reconnecting New York to the nations rail freight system through the construction of a rail freight tunnel under New York Harbor. The Cross Harbor Tunnel project is steadily gaining momentum. Local, state, and federal leaders agree with Congressman Nadler and a variety of transportation experts that a rail freight tunnel is the best way to ease the truck-traffic burden, and in doing so, reduce air pollution, provide tremendous economic benefits, and bolster security by creating redundancy in the regions goods-movement system.
The commissioners of the Port Authority are now expected to go forward with the sponsorship of the project. and spend the money to study the costs and potential effects on the environment and economy.
It makes sense for us to look at the feasibility of the tunnel and its impacts on quality of life and other issues, and at the same time, take advantage of some significant federal funds that are available, The Times quoted Stephen Sigmund, a spokesman for the authority, as saying.
The original sponsor identified for the project, the City of New York, got cold feet and withdrew its support when Mayor Bloomberg declined to support the idea, and criticized the impact its construction might have on city neighborhoods. In July however the Mayor met with Congressman Nadler, and agreed to revisit the issue.
New York City is poorly served by freight rail; nearly all goods entering Manhattan must come by truck, and the George Washington Bridge is often at or over capacity every day because of that.
Pennsylvania Public-Public Partnership
HARRISBURG --- A unique public-public partnership in which one Pennsylvania state agency is leasing operation of the Pennsylvania Turnpike to another, for 50 years, has raised both eyebrows and hackles across the transportation community, both for its odd structure, and some of its governing regulations.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission inked the agreement this past week, in which the Turnpike Commission gets to operate the road, in return for lease payments to the state DOT.
To get those monies, the Turnpike Commission plans to institute tolling the length of the Pike.
Tolling would be an unconscionable burden for small business truckers. And, it would also start the death knell for thousands of Pennsylvania businesses that rely on I-80 for commerce and their very livelihood, said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, in an on-line statement.
The Post-Gazette reported the state has forwarded the document and already applied to the Federal Highway Administration, asking for expedited approval to make the east-west highway the nations third pilot interstate tolling project permitted under a federal transportation act.
If the FHWA approves the request, the 311 miles of I-80 would be added to 5,244 miles of tolled highways and bridges already in operation across the nation. The approval process is expected to take three years.
Over the 50-year life of the public-public partnership, the turnpike commission expects to generate a total of $116 billion, with $83.3 billion to be turned over to PennDOT for roads, bridges and transit; $8 billion to be reinvested in I-80 improvements; and up to $24.8 billion to be dedicated to unspecified transportation projects, reported the Post-Gazette.
Tolling I-80 and increasing turnpike tolls were initiated by Act 44, new transportation funding legislation approved in July by the General Assembly and signed by Mr. Rendell, whos still exploring a long-term lease of the turnpike to private interests in case the FHWA rejects the states current plan, the Post-Gazette said. The tentative plan calls for cars to pay 8 cents a mile and 18-wheel tractor-trailers to pay 30 cents a mile, putting border-to-border tolls at $25 and $93 respectively, starting in 2010, Post-Gazette staff writers Tom Barnes and Joe Grata reported.
Will Be Nations First Mainline/Airport Intermodal Railroad Station:
Construction Begins at Warwick Airport
PROVIDENCE --- Construction of the long-awaited Warwick T.F. Airport intermodal train station is at last underway.
Upon completion, it will permit direct air-rail connections into New England at Warwick, near Providence, which has become one of the nations busiest regional airports in recent years.
While such connections are commonplace in Europe and Asia, America lags the rest of the world in intermodal air rail connections and in through-ticketing, wherein a passenger buys a ticket from Point A to Point C, changing from air to rail at Point B to complete the trip.
The station is expected to be completed by 2010, according to the Rhode Island Department of Transportation.
First proposed in the 1990s as a non-profit project paid for by hotel interests, and then changed to a standard Federally-funded project in 1998 after receiving a grant through the offices of the late Sen. John Chafee (R-RI), the station is expected to cost some $222.5.
While Rhode Island is now accelerating the pace of station construction after a decade of slow going, it may not be alone in possessing an air-rail train station for long: New Hampshire, which recently created a rail authority to modernize the states transportation system starting with a Lowell-Nashua commuter rail corridor, is already hearing that the line should extend to Manchester Airport, Manchester, and Concord.
Regarding Warwick the Providence Journal reported last week: Site preparation for the station, near T.F. Green Airport, began last month, said Jerome F. Williams, director of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation.
The projects final design should be finished by December or January, he said. Construction of a parking garage and skywalk at the site should begin in the spring, and the entire project should be completed in 2010, he said.
At ground-breaking ceremonies held nearly two years ago, Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri said: This is yet another sign of great progress in the state of Rhode Island. Offering rail service that connects to our states major airport provides a transportation hub that will be convenient, offer easy travel options to more people, and further secures Green Airports position as a significant economic contributor to our state well into the future.
The Warwick-based intermodal facility will include a consolidated rental car facility, bus hub for local and intercity buses, garage consisting of 2,200 spaces for the rental car fleets and 1,000 spaces for MBTA rail commuters. Importantly, it also includes a 1,250-foot, elevated, enclosed, skywalk, with moving sidewalks that will connect to T.F. Green Airport.
We applaud the efforts of all the state, local and federal agencies, who have worked cooperatively over the years to make this happen. Once completed, we expect this Intermodal Facility will change the way people travel to and from the airport and beyond our borders, said James V. Rosati, Chairman of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation Board of Directors, at that ceremony.
Photo: State of Rhode IslandT.F. Green Airport was named for Theodore F. Green, Rhode Island Governor from 1933 to 1937. The new Intermodal station will be located to the left of the image across Rt 1 and will transfer passengers via a people-mover as found in many other airports.
Amtrak Supports Sale of Wolverine Line
BATTLE CREEK, MI, OCTOBER 16 -- A railroad sale would put Amtraks passenger service line between Kalamazoo and Ypsilanti, called the Wolverine Line, under new ownership, a move that has caused community leaders to fear that passenger service would be jeopardized.
Norfolk, VA-based Norfolk Southern, a Class One railroad, owns the line at present but has been losing money on it. NS entered into a joint venture with Pittsburg, Kan.-based Watco Cos. Inc.(Class Three RR) to set up a company called Michigan Central Railway, LLC, the legal entity that would take ownership of the Wolverine Line. Amtrak supported the sale, but not without a firm agreement that will protect service.
Community leaders along the line, including Battle Creek, have been worried about this change of ownership, but it appears Amtrak is making Michigan Central Railway accountable to provide quality service. Under a legally binding agreement that was announced on October 16, Michigan Central Railway will spend no less than $2.5 million annually during its first three years of operation on track, signal and related maintenance. Then the railway will spend no less than $2 million each year for two years after that. Also, they agreed to keep speed standards to no less than 79 mph.
Itll make us put our money where our mouth is, said Ed McKechnie, Watcos chief commercial officer. All we did was put in writing what we said we were going to do anyway.
We were looking for an enforceable commitment, and it appears that Amtrak is holding Michigan Central Railway accountable, said Battle Creek Mayor John Godfrey.
Michigan Central Railway will be headquartered in Kalamazoo.
Our biggest concern was the ability to continue and improve both freight and passenger service, said Janet Foran, Michigan Department of Transportation spokeswoman. As a result of this formal agreement and financial guarantees, now we are comfortable that the transaction is good for Michigan.
The sale must be approved by the federal Surface Transportation Board, which is expected to issue a decision Oct. 25.
Subject to STB approval, Michigan Central Railway expects to begin operations in first quarter 2008 and will employ about 118 people.
Selected Rail Stocks...
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Three Photos: Transystems EngineeringIn Wichita, the first train traversing the new 2-mile structure that includes 5 new bridges over downtown streets.
Central Railroad Corridor Open
WICHITA, OCT 16 -- Grade crossings are finally going to be eliminated, step by step, in Wichita, Kansas, where elevated tracks owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) were opened for testing last week. The Central Railroad Corridor, after two years of construction, is now open, and for the next two weeks BNSF will test the elevated tracks.
The first train in the test will proceed at 10 miles per hour, followed by subsequent trains at 25 mph. Eventually, the maximum speed will be 30 mph. If things go well, the bottom tracks will be removed and the 30 BNSF trains that go through downtown every day will travel above traffic.
BNSF power pulls the load.
For decades, freight trains, some as much as a mile long, have rumbled through the city at speeds of 25 or 30 miles an hour, or slower, blocking traffic again and again throughout a typical day, causing delays of up to 30 minutes at times. The flyover, by eliminating several grade crossings in the central part of the city, will bring an end to most of these delays.
Union Pacific trains will continue to use the ground-level tracks until Spring 2008. A connection between the elevated tracks and the existing UP tracks north of 17th Street must be constructed before UP trains can use the elevated tracks. Eight to ten UP trains go through downtown daily. The elevated tracks are 25 feet above street level for several blocks, gradually descending to ground level at 17th Street.
The hospital in the downtown area (upper right corner of image) was seriously impacted by traffic delays from the freight trains at grade.
The idea of separating grades came about in the 1990s when Union Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads merged, causing a significant increase in the number of trains crossing through the city.
Construction began in 2005. The $105 million project is funded from federal, state and local funds, along with railroad contributions.
Jon Wolverton, an engineer from TranSystems, the consulting firm for the project, told DF staff that they were especially pleased to have the elevated tracks in use because the hospital is right in the heart of the city and traffic jams often jeopardized prompt delivery of patients to the hospital. He said eventually all the trains will be on elevated tracks, a second retaining wall will be built, and the streets will be repaired. The entire project is scheduled to be complete in the spring of 2009.
U.S. House Tackles Rail Employee Fatigue,
Links Crew Exhaustion To Accidents, Errors
WASHINGTON (AP) In a huge bipartisan vote last week the U.S. House passed the first major changes to American rail safety laws since the Bush Administration came to power in 2001, in a measure that would limit crew working hours.
The vote is the outcome of a long campaign by rail labor unions, who have for years contended that rail management was not only routinely pushing crews to the point of exhaustion, but was and is assigning work schedules without regard to normal human sleep patterns.
The railroads have resisted any attempts at re-regulation of their industry, and have also been resistant to employing extra back-up or stand-by crews because of the expense of doing so.
Sponsored by Congressman Jim Oberstar (D-MN), who chairs the powerful House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and who is emerging as the most significant rail advocate in Congress since the late Sen. Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) and current Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) teamed up to force through major transportation bill reforms, as well as Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) who continues to fight to preserve the national passenger rail system.
H.R. 2095, the Federal Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2007, also would greatly increase the number of Federal Railroad Administration inspectors.
The basic effects of the bill as described in the non-partisan Congressional research service are as follows (drawn from their Thomas website):
5/1/2007The Federal Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2007 - Establishes the Federal Railroad Safety Administration within the Department of Transportation (effectively replacing the Federal Railroad Administration) is introduced. The bill:
Aldo a part of the legislation, the Rail Passenger Disaster Family Assistance Act of 2007 - Directs the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to provide certain assistance to families of passengers involved in a rail passenger accident that results in a major loss of life. Requires each rail passenger carrier to submit to the Secretary and the NTSB a plan for addressing the needs of such families.
The legislation authorizes spending of $1.2 billion over four years to improve rail safety. Any actual expenditures would have to be approved by the relevant appropriations committees of the House and Senate, if the bill is passed by the Senate. It will now go to the Senate Committee on Science and Transportation.
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