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January 11, 2016
Vol. 16 No. 1

Copyright © 2016
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved
Our 16th Newsletter Year

 Destination:Freedom 

A Weekly North American Transportation Update For Transportation
Advocates, Professionals, Journalists, And Elected Or Appointed Officials,
At All Levels Of Government.

Publisher
James P. RePass, Sr.
Editor
Molly N. McKay
Foreign Editor
David Beale
Contributing Editor
David Peter Alan
Managing Editor / Webmaster
Dennis Kirkpatrick
 
 

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IN THIS EDITION...   In This Edition...

  Guest Commentary…
D.C. Street Cars “Might” Go Into Service
   On Feb. 20
  Transit Lines…
D.C. Targets Late February For Streetcar
   Grand Opening
How D.C. Spent $200 Million Over A Decade On
   A Streetcar You Still Can’t Ride
  Legal Lines…
STB To Consider On-Time Performance Standards
   For Amtrak Trains
  Expansion Lines…
Massive Rail Plan Leaves Connecticut Hopeful
   But Mystified
  Ridership Lines…
U.S. Rail Ridership Inches Up In First Nine Months
   Of 2015
  Funding Lines…
MBTA Considers Two Fare-Hike Proposals
Omnibus Bill Includes Transit-Commuter
   Tax Benefit; Increases Funds For FTA, FRA
Sound Transit Measure Will Seek Funding
   For Tacoma Light Rail Expansion
 
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Freight Lines…
Leaked Letters To STB Indicate Shipper Concerns
   Over CP+NS
Show Us The Letters, STB
BNSF To Lay Off Nearly 100 Employees
  Safety Lines…
Derailments More Dangerous, But No Increase
   In Inspectors
  Across The Pond…
Germany’s Deutsche Bahn Plans Exit From
   Overnight Sleeper Trains
New Years Eve Chaos In Cologne Train Station
Denmark And Sweden Start Passport Controls
   On Trains And Buses At International Borders
  To The North…
A New Year, A New Government And A New
   Campaign For Better Rail Service
Best Holiday Performance For VIA Rail
   In Four Years
  Publication Notes …


GUEST COMMENTARY... Guest Commentary...  

D.C. Street Cars “Might” Go Into Service
On Feb. 20

By Jeffrey B. Marinoff
Special to Destination: Freedom

The District of Columbia Department of Transportation [DDOT] now is targeting February 20th for the public service debut of the H Street-Benning Road modern street car line in Washington, D.C. But if you’re planning a trip, don’t bother to go on a Sunday. There will be no street car service on Sundays. Just one more bit of craziness and nonsense with the D. C. street car system.

In the photo that accompanies Martin DiCaro’s report posted last Tuesday on the WAMU web site, the car’s destination sign reads UNION STATION! But they don’t go there. If the second phase of D. C. street car construction ever takes place, ‘then’ they will connect with Union Station. But don’t hold your breath. As it stands now, unfortunately it’s quite a long walk from the street car line to Union Station.

Also, note the obnoxious-looking overhead construction. Simple trolley wire and simple bracket arms would have been much nicer and more pleasing to the eye. All that does in D. C. is give the anti-overhead wire crowd something to complain about.

While you’re at it, click on the link to read a lengthy article from the Washington Post by Michael Laris, updated and posted last Tuesday, January 5th. Take note of the video, parts of which were shot from the cab, looking out of the front windshield. These shots clearly illustrate just how close to the parked autos the rails were laid. One can plainly see that the rails could easily have been installed three or four feet farther away from the parked autos and still would have been within the lane of traffic. This would have eliminated the clearance issues that I’ve mentioned so often. What were the designers thinking? Designing new street car systems seems to be a lost art in D. C. Let’s hope they’ve learned something from this and other horrible mistakes made there with phase one. The locals in D. C. seem to be just as ill-informed as the designers. It’s like the blind was leading the blind.

In the Laris article, be sure to read about and see the charts giving comparison cost figures on car barn construction costs in D. C. vs. other new systems. The costs in D. C. are outrageous !! We don’t need gold plated street car lines in North America. This just gives the anti-street car lobby something to talk about.

[ Jeffrey B. Marinoff is a longtime streetcar advocate who grew up riding Philadelphia’s streetcars and now lives in the Atlantic City area. He has been a member of the South Jersey Transportation Advisory Committee at NJ Transit, and served as that committee’s Vice-Chair. The opinions expressed are his own.

Ed Note. We’ve provided some stories on the pending implementation of the DC Streetcar immediately below. ]


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TRANSIT LINES... Transit Lines...  

[ Ed Note. The “DC Streetcar” has been quite a long time in coming between planning, construction, and never-ending (or so it seemed) testing.
The following two articles speak to its welcome but also the frustration leading up to it. ]

 

D.C. Targets Late February For
Streetcar Grand Opening

By Martin DiCaro
WAMU News

You might be able to take your first streetcar ride in Washington in late February — or sooner.

Project leaders at the District Department of Transportation are targeting Feb. 20 to begin passenger service on the long-delayed, 2.2-mile streetcar line in Northeast D.C. along the H Street and Benning Road commercial district, according to documents obtained by WAMU 88.5 through a Freedom of Information Act request. It would be the first streetcar service in the capital city since 1962.

It is possible the final regulatory approvals will wrap up sooner than first scheduled, and the streetcar line would open before Feb. 20, according to DDOT Director Leif Dormsjo.

DC Streetcar

Image via Flickr, User: mariordo59

Streetcars have been running up and down H Street NE for years, but they may finally start carrying passengers in late February.

“It is also possible that the passenger service date could be sooner than Feb. 20,” he says.

Once it starts running, the streetcar will be free to riders. The fleet of five streetcars will run at 15-minute intervals, but there will be no service on Sundays.

The grand opening date depends on final approval by independent oversight officials housed within D.C. Fire & EMS. Those officials, led by D.C. Fire Capt. Kelton Ellerbe until he retired in December, recently permitted a final testing period that is expected to be completed Tuesday night. It started Dec. 16.

Under Dormsjo’s new leadership, DDOT commissioned a top-to-bottom review of the $200 million project last summer. Months of consultations followed between the agency’s project managers and Ellerbe’s office, known as the State Safety Oversight Office (SSO), just to get to the final test phase.

The SSO had blocked former Mayor Vincent Gray’s DDOT appointees from rushing to open the streetcar at the end of 2014, and Dormsjo spent the better part of 2015 allowing the SSO to complete the safety certification without external pressure.

But at one point in November, DDOT leadership asked the Federal Transit Administration to intervene to quicken the pace of the safety certification. The federal agency turned DDOT down, according to emails obtained by WAMU through a public records request.

“Your participation would, we believe, be a valuable asset to the coordination effort,” said Derek Jones, DDOT’s new streetcar project chief, in an email to FTA program analyst Eric Madison.

Madison responded, “At this time, I am not able to participate in the meetings; however … I am aware of the status of the project.”

But three days later, on Nov. 23, a top FTA safety official, Thomas Littleton, wrote a stronger rejection — at the request of FTA acting administrator Therese McMillan — directly to DDOT’s top official.

“We have attempted to make it clear that there is in fact no required — nor contributing — role for FTA with respect to the D.C. streetcar safety review,” Littleton said.

“First, and foremost, the D.C. streetcar is not an FTA funded project. The decision to build it and operate it lies entirely with the District of Columbia … Unless and until there is a specific allegation that the [SSO] is not carrying out its oversight responsibilities, there is no basis for FTA to inject itself into how D.C. FEMS does its work. In fact, that would be entirely inappropriate.”

A dissatisfied Dormsjo responded to Littleton, “Good CYA.” (CYA is short for “cover your ass.”)

In an interview with WAMU 88.5, Dormsjo says he persisted with his request, and now FTA is more involved with the project. In fact, DDOT’s chief is “thrilled” with their progress certifying the line — a dramatic turnaround from recent months when it appeared the process would drag on interminably.

“The FTA is the subject matter expert when it comes to rail projects in the United States,” Dormsjo said. “It was our viewpoint that having folks from the FTA participating in some of our planning meetings … would be a help to everyone involved in the project.”

FTA spokesperson Nathan Robinson writes in a statement: “FTA is not attending the recurring DDOT/D.C. FEMS meetings regarding the D.C. Streetcar project. However, on Dec. 30, 2015, FTA met with DDOT to discuss the open FTA-related Safety and Security Readiness Review recommendations. FTA Acting Administrator McMillan has spoken with Mr. Dormsjo to explain that FTA defers to D.C. FEMS as the State Safety Oversight Agency formally designated by the District to carry out safety oversight of the D.C. Streetcar project.”

Dormsjo declined to criticize Ellerbe’s work, and instead praised all parties for moving the long-awaited streetcar line closer to a grand opening date. The tracks were laid six years ago.

At the SSO, Ellerbe will be replaced by Capt. Michael Walko. A fire department spokesman said his agency is “committed to working with everyone involved to see the project through to completion.”

Found at:
http://wamu.org/news/16/01/05/dc_targets_late_february_for_streetcar_grand_opening


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How D.C. Spent $200 Million Over A Decade
On A Streetcar You Still Can’t Ride

By Michael Laris
Washington Post

The District is spending three or four times what other cities have to build a maintenance facility for its fledging streetcar system, a reflection of the flawed planning and execution that have dragged down the transit start-up for more than a decade.

The “Car Barn” project was originally designed as a simple garage and rail yard for light repairs and storage, with some offices for staff. But it has ballooned in ambition and nearly tripled in cost — to $48.8 million. It will now include a number of pricey and unusual features, including grass tracks for parking the fleet of six streetcars and a cistern for washing them with rainwater.

At the same time, a short stretch of track that the city built in Washington’s Anacostia neighborhood never reached its intended destination and has been all but abandoned, leaving the city with a multimillion-dollar, eight-tenths of a mile monument to good intentions.

The expanding Car Barn and the discontinued Anacostia line are mirror images of a dysfunctional transit project that has cost the city $200 million and is nine years late. Since 2014, operators have been shuttling the bright-red streetcars back and forth without passengers, each trip underscoring questions about the District’s ability to get big things done.

In the early 2000s, an ambitious band of city officials set out to cut through the bureaucratic mire and launch a vast streetcar network that would be a model for the nation, eventually running 20 to 40 miles or more. The first leg was supposed to open in 2006. But as 2015 comes to a close, officials are scrambling toward their latest goal of opening a diminished, 2.2-mile streetcar line east of Union Station after the latest tests are finished early next year.

Found at:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/how-dc-spent-200-million-over-a-decade-on-a-streetcar-you-still-cant-ride/2015/12/05/3c8a51c6-8d48-11e5-acff-673ae92ddd2b_story.html


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LEGAL LINES... Legal Lines...  

STB To Consider On-Time Performance Standards
For Amtrak Trains

By David Peter Alan

The Surface Transportation Board (STB) is now seeking comments on a proposed rule that would continue to define Amtrak trains as “late” if they arrive at their final destinations more than five minutes late for each 100 miles of their run, or a maximum of thirty minutes after their scheduled arrival time. This standard for on-time performance (OTP) was first implemented in 1973.

The STB announced the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in Docket EP-728 and its companion Public Policy Statement (PPS) in Docket EP-726 on December 28, 2015. The agency is currently seeking comments from the public on this proposal. The rules at issue concern complaints and hearings under the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA) §213, codified at 49 U.S.C. §24308(f), which allows the STB to investigate situations where on-time performance of an Amtrak train falls below the 80% standard for two consecutive quarters. The STB noted in Docket EP-728 that the term “preference” is not defined by statute. Comments are due on the NPRM to February 8th and on the PPS by February 22d. According to the STB, the petition for rulemaking was initiated by the Association of American Railroads (AAR), which represents the freight-carrying “host” railroads, whose tracks Amtrak uses.

The Supreme Court held last year in U.S. Department of Transportation v. Association of American Railroads, Docket No. 13/1080, 575 US ___ , (2015) that Amtrak could participate in rulemaking concerning host railroads and OTP under a different, but related, PRIIA provision. The Court held that Section 207 was constitutional, and that Amtrak was a governmental entity for that regulatory purpose. The AAR had argued that Amtrak was a private corporation and, as such, was not permitted to participate in rulemaking to the extent directed by that provision. The D.C. Circuit court agreed and invalidated the provision, but the Supreme Court reversed. The purpose of the provision at issue was to establish rules that would give Amtrak trains preference over freight trains when they travel on track owned by freight-carrying railroads. With the Court’s holding last year, such authority is now clear; at least for now.

Amtrak has claimed that there was always authority under §213 for governmental intervention to enforce Amtrak’s statutory preference, and has filed complaints under that provision. This preference was first required by the Amtrak Improvement Act of 1973. One of these recent complaints was filed against CSX and NS on November 17, 2014 and it concerned the Capitol Limited. It called on the STB to initiate an investigation and alleged that endpoint OTP for the train had fallen to 2.7% during the previous quarter; far below the statutory 80% standard. In a similar complained filed on August 29, 2014, Amtrak called on the STB to investigate Canadian National’s operation in Illinois, alleging that the OTP of the Illini and Saluki trains between Chicago and Carbondale had fallen far below standard.

In its petition to the STB, Amtrak argued that the case pending before the Supreme Court was irrelevant to the Section 213 issue, even though CN had previously argued that PRIIA Sections 207 and 213 were related. Amtrak argued: “While resolution of the AAR v. DOT case remains uncertain, Section 24308(f)(1) clearly directs the Board, upon complaint of Amtrak, to initiate an investigation when on-time performance of an Amtrak train has fallen below 80 percent for two consecutive quarters. This portion of the statute is not at issue in the AAR v. DOT case. Amtrak’s Amended Complaint is based on the 80 percent standard under PRIIA Section 213 rather than the metrics developed under PRIIA Section 207, and focuses on a particularly egregious performance problem on the Illini/Saluki service that can and should be investigated without further delay pursuant to Section 24308(f)” (Brief at 6). Now that the Court has upheld Amtrak’s role in rulemaking, the STB’s regulatory authority under §213 is now clearer than before, although the case regarding §207 has been remanded to the D.C. Circuit.

To this writer, the overarching question is whether or not the proposed regulations would be sufficient to protect the statutory priority to benefit not only Amtrak, but also Amtrak’s riders, who wish to arrive at their destinations at or near scheduled time. It appears that, while the present proposal would help improve Amtrak’s performance, new, stricter standards are needed.

It does not appear to this writer that the STB is necessarily the best agency to make and enforce rules concerning OTP and priority for Amtrak trains, despite the statutory language that gave it such authority. The STB is the successor to the Interstate Commerce Commission (1887-1995), which had the authority to decide issues related to freight rates, passenger fares, mergers between railroads and abandonment of rail lines. It also dealt with motor carrier (trucking) regulation. The ICC had the exact authority that its successor has now, because it was given that authority in 1973. Still, that does not ensure that such authority is well-placed today; 43 years later.

The STB’s mandate concerning Amtrak trains is limited under PRIIA §213. Its primary mission has been to regulate railroad mergers and abandonments, using an economic analysis to determine whether such mergers or abandonments would serve the public interest. In contrast, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is more familiar with railroad infrastructure and operations, and could provide a more thorough investigation and make more meaningful recommendations than the STB could. It would make more sense to delegate this regulatory authority to the FRA, rather than to the STB. Congress has given this authority to the STB, so there is nothing that can be done to accomplish such at change at this time, but it would be useful for Congress to consider amending PRIIA in the future to give this authority to the FRA.

The proposal concerns only two standards for measuring on-time-performance (OTP) for Amtrak trains; essentially one standard for corridor trains and another for Amtrak’s few long-distance trains. Most corridor trains, including the Northeast Corridor north or south or New York and the Midwest Corridors with Chicago as their hub, travel between 200 and 300 miles. For them, the standard is arrival at their final stations within fifteen minutes of scheduled time. For routes longer than 500 miles, the standard is arrival within thirty minutes of scheduled time.

There is nothing new about the proposed measure for on-time performance; it was first implemented by the ICC in 1973, and the present issue concerns whether or not this standard is the best measure for OTP today, despite its simplicity. The announcement of the proposal on the STB web site stated:

The Board proposes to adopt the ICC’s definition because relying on a comparison between Amtrak’s scheduled arrival time and the time an Amtrak train actually arrives at its final destination would be clear and relatively easy to apply. In particular, adoption of this definition would simplify the record-keeping and production of evidence that may otherwise be necessary for Amtrak and the host carriers if on-time performance were defined using a number of additional factors, such as the amount of delay at intermediate stops or construction on the host carrier’s line.

The announcement went on to say:

The Board seeks comments from all interested persons on the proposed rule. Importantly, the Board encourages interested persons to propose and discuss potential modifications or alternatives to the proposed rule. Examples of such alternatives might include, but are not limited to: factoring into the calculation of on-time performance a train’s punctuality at intermediate stops, rather than the final terminus only; implementing alternative tables of maximum allowances with respect to either the distance-variables or the maximum allowance of minutes for each distance-variable band; or calculating the “on-time” thresholds under an entirely different methodology, such as approaches that Amtrak or other public agencies and host carriers have implemented. The Board will carefully consider all recommended proposals, and may take further comment, if appropriate, in an effort to establish the most meaningful and straightforward definition of on-time performance.

In light of today’s operational situation regarding Amtrak, it is unclear that such a “one size fits all” approach would give most riders a meaningful measurement of OTP; at least on the long-distance trains, some of which travel over 2000 miles. On some routes, there is an intermediate stop with heavy ridership; perhaps even more riders than at one of the endpoints for that route. Some examples include Denver on Trains #5 and #6, the San Francisco Bay area (Oakland or Emeryville) on Trains #11 and #14, and Atlanta on Trains #19 and #20. An OTP measure should be included for high-ridership intermediate-stop stations on those selected trains, and should be factored into the overall OTP statistic, as a weighted average.

Currently, the schedules of some trains are padded for arrival into certain intermediate stops. They include Train #14 into Sacramento, Train #1 into San Antonio, Train #4 into Albuquerque, Trains #5 and #6 into Denver. There are other examples, as well, where schedules are padded by one hour or more. Presumably, these trains are scheduled to accommodate potential delays caused by host railroads, and with the goal of providing a schedule that Amtrak considers realistic. If Amtrak trains are to have true priority on tracks owned by the host railroads, this padding must be eliminated, or at least substantially reduced. Some running times on current long-distance routes are longer than they were a half-century ago; sometimes by several hours, to accommodate slower movement on track that Amtrak does not own. In considering OTP, Amtrak passengers should have the benefits of a passenger-train-priority on the entire route of their train. The running time for every train should be as short as Amtrak and the host railroads can accomplish, comparable with the schedules established during the 1950s and earlier, when railroads voluntarily gave passenger trains priority over freight movements.

This writer is deeply concerned that host railroads may push for extra padding in schedules immediately prior to a train’s arrival at its terminal. Several trains already have significant slack in their schedules, and a safeguard is needed to prevent the host railroads giving themselves an extra hour or two of slack on every run, for the purpose of avoiding late fees.

Many of Amtrak's long-distance trains are currently scheduled with significant padding before arrival at their final destinations. For most of them, there is 30 to 45 minutes of slack. There is even more padding for some trains: approximately one hour for Train #59 into New Orleans, Train #21 into San Antonio and Trains #1 and #3 in Los Angeles. Many of Amtrak's long-distance trains are currently scheduled with significant padding before arrival at their final destinations. For most of them, there is 30 to 45 minutes of slack. There is even more padding for some trains: approximately one hour for Train #59 into New Orleans, Train #21 into San Antonio and Trains #1 and #3 in Los Angeles.

From the time the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit invalidated Amtrak’s participation in rulemaking under PRIIA on July 2, 2013, until the Supreme Court reversed on March 9, 2015, the host railroads had unfettered discretion to give Amtrak trains as low a priority as they saw fit, regardless of how late those trains arrived at their terminals as a result. Under no circumstances should the schedules of Amtrak trains be padded more than they were during the period between the D.C. Circuit and Supreme Court decisions. That was the period when Amtrak trains were most vulnerable to the operational whims of the host railroads, and adding any time to baseline schedules that would result in longer running times than riders endured during that period would completely defeat the purpose of the STB rulemaking proposal.

There is a further problem with the proposal, concerning trains that fail to operate over their entire routes, for whatever reason. The STB statement says: “excluded from the calculation would be, for example, trains that do not operate, for any reason; trains that terminate prematurely at an intermediate point rather than the scheduled final terminus; and trains that originate at an intermediate point rather than the scheduled origin” (at note 6). This means that only trains that run late will be counted when calculating on-time performance toward triggering an STB investigation. When there is a service disruption, the trains that are annulled entirely or in part would not count at all against a host railroad’s on-time performance.

From a rider’s perspective, this procedure appears outrageous. A service disruption that results in the annulment or cancellation of a run is worse for a rider than a train that arrives late, unless that train is many hours late. If a train is annulled because of a natural disaster, such as the recent Mississippi River flooding, that is not the railroad’s fault. If a train is annulled because of operational difficulties on the host railroad, that is a different story. The cause of the annulment or cancellation is a question of fact for the STB, and not a matter to be eliminated from consideration. Riders want and deserve reliable service on Amtrak. They suffer when a train is substantially late, and they suffer more when a train does not run at all. To this writer, the provision of the proposed rules that would eliminate from consideration every train that does not make its entire advertised runs is objectionable and must be revised. If a train does not run and a rider must wait an entire day for the next train, the total delay is 720 minutes for each person who would have been on that train. For the two tri-weekly trains that Amtrak operates, an annulment of cancellation would result in a delay of 1440 or 2160 minutes (two days or three days) for each rider.

Section 213 came from PRIIA, as did Section 207, which was at issue in the Supreme Court case. As this column noted last March 16th, these issues might come back to the Court. Justice Alito expects it, and Justice Thomas would welcome it. In the meantime, Amtrak trains might enjoy better on-time-performance, but the standards should be strict, and they should be enforced vigorously. Amtrak’s riders deserve to have trains that reach not only final destinations, but also intermediate stops, on or close to scheduled arrival times. The suggestions offered in this column should help.

The announcement of the proposed rulemaking can be found on the STB website, at www.stb.dot.gov/decisions/readingroom.nsf/WebDecisionID/44630?OpenDocument.  It is also available in a PDF format on the site.

For an analysis of the Supreme Court case, see D:F for March 16, 2015 (http://www.nationalcorridors.org/df4/df03162015.shtml )  The author lives and practices law in South Orange, New Jersey. The content of this article is presented for information purposes only. It is not intended to be construed as a “legal opinion.”

He has ridden approximately 600,000 miles on Amtrak during the past twenty years, encompassing the entire Amtrak system. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Rail Users' Network (RUN). the opinions expressed are his own, and do not necessary reflect those of any other person or organization.

Because of the time-sensitive nature of this story, the next article in the series about trans-Hudson mobility will appear in next week’s edition.


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EXPANSION LINES... Expansion Lines...  

Massive Rail Plan Leaves Connecticut Hopeful
But Mystified

By Jan Ellen Spiegel
Connecticut Mirror

Nearly four years and $30 million after the Federal Railroad Administration began looking at how to reinvent the Northeast Corridor rail system, there is a proposal. In fact three of them in a nearly 1,000-page environmental impact statement.

NEC Future, as it is called, offers rail improvement choices that range from bare-bones fixes for noted choke points and other problems on the existing line to entire second lines that in Connecticut could re-route historic travel patterns.

It is also prompting a good deal of exasperation from officials, communities and all manner of interest groups in Connecticut, even though many have been begging for an improved rail system for years, if not decades.

“They spent $30 million on this report – it just doesn’t feel like a finished product,” said Joe McGee, vice president for public policy at the Business Council of Fairfield County, who, along with many others, was having difficulty assessing the options because of a lack of details. “It looks more like a response to be rejected than a real option.”

Meeting

Photo: Jan Ellen Spiegel / CTMirro.org

Attendance was light at a mid-December public hearing in New Haven on three proposals to upgrade the Northeast Corridor rail system.

Compounding that core problem are several other issues. The report’s release just before Thanksgiving left about half the comment period, which ends Jan. 30, coinciding with the busy holiday season. Attendance was light at the first of two public information sessions in Connecticut, held 10 days before Christmas in New Haven. The other is January 13 in Hartford. None is scheduled for Fairfield County, where rail is currently most widely used.

Many otherwise interested parties – including leaders of some of the municipalities that would be most affected – were unaware the rail plan even existed. And there is the recognition – noted repeatedly in the document - that Connecticut would come in for many more impacts, including environmental ones, than any state in the 457-mile corridor from Washington, D.C., to Boston.

Those impacts could be so pronounced – taking tens of thousands of additional acres of undeveloped land, farmland and forest and affecting miles of water resources – that some are wondering whether much of the rail plan could do more harm to the environment than the good that would be achieved by getting cars off the road.

There are tradeoffs, said Rebecca Reyes-Alicea, who managed the NEC Future process. “What we want the public and the stakeholders to understand is this is what it will take to see major improvements in service. Are we ready for it, or not ready for it? Are there intermediate steps we want to take?” she said. “At the end of all of this, it’s intended to define a vision. Do we want a big vision; do we want a small vision?”

But even James Redeker, Connecticut’s transportation commissioner and the chair of the Northeast Corridor Commission that oversaw development of the study, was not sure it provided those affected by it with enough to judge it.

The problem, he said, was the process. This environmental impact statement was not a traditional one that would have provided plans to solve specific problems along with all the relevant environmental, economic and other data, such as, in the case of rail, ridership information. Instead, NEC Future offered rail corridor options consisting of general locations, little detail about what it would take to put the rails there, no service development plan, and a broad price tag - but no funding strategy.

That’s not enough for people to make even a conceptual choice, Redeker said, though that is what people are being asked to do. Northeast corridor alternatives:

Map1

All Maps Via NEC Future

$267-$308 billion. Alternative 2 plus a tunnel under Long Island Sound from Long Island to Milford. A line from Grand Central to Danbury and then mostly tunnel to Waterbury and Hartford where it connects with the line to Providence. Another line from Hartford through Worcester to Boston.

Map 2

$131-$136 billion. Adds an aerial line between Westport and New Rochelle. Extends the New Haven to Hartford line through Storrs to Providence

Map 3

$267-$308 billion. Alternative 2 plus a tunnel under Long Island Sound from Long Island to Milford. A line from Grand Central to Danbury and then mostly tunnel to Waterbury and Hartford where it connects with the line to Providence. Another line from Hartford through Worcester to Boston.

“How are we supposed to make choices if we don’t know what service we’re going to get and if we don’t know yet if you’re going to turn to us to pay for that, and to what degree?” Redeker said. “I think this is going to be difficult for the public to provide meaningful input on.”

And that includes Redeker. He said he doesn’t yet know how he’ll respond. “If I can’t demonstrate to Connecticut folks that there’s a substantial and documentable and believable return on investment for transportation dollars, you might as well put them somewhere else,” he said.

The plan and the problems

There are three options beyond a no-build option that maintains a “state of good repair,” something even Redeker called a “non-starter.” All three keep and maintain the existing track, even if it’s no longer the primary route.

Option 1, with a capital cost of about $66 billion (none of the costs includes property acquisition), provides Connecticut with upgrades at chokepoints and adds a 50-mile line from Old Saybrook to Kenyon, R.I. The new line would bypass the existing shoreline route, much of which is in flood zones and salt marsh, making it susceptible to climate change and sea level rise.

Option 2, at $136 billion, does not include that bypass, but adds about 30 miles of track between Westport and New Rochelle. The biggest addition would be a route from New Haven to Hartford along the track being revitalized now. But then it continues east from Hartford through Storrs to Providence, merging into the line to Boston.

It would divert a large portion of regional and eventually high-speed rail away from the longstanding shoreline route.

Alternative three, costing as much as nearly $310 billion, contains the most massive changes in Connecticut. In addition to the Option 2 changes, it would add a tunnel under Long Island Sound between central Long Island and Connecticut, joining the New Haven line around Milford. It would add an inland route from New York City running through White Plains, Danbury and Waterbury to Hartford – much of it in tunnels.

From Hartford, in addition to the line to Providence, another would angle off to Worcester and then into Boston.

Even without the massive environmental impact from the rail right-of-way increase (more on that in a minute), the new lines are raising a list of concerns.

In Fairfield County, McGee’s list may be the longest, starting with a simmering tension over differences in philosophy. The NEC Future plan focuses on high-speed rail, finding straighter and flatter routes through Connecticut than the existing winding corridor that keeps train speeds low. That caters more to Amtrak long-distance service and not the eight regional carriers that use the corridor.

McGee and many others around the state are more focused on the commuters served by the regional carriers such as Metro-North. “Getting people to work is really the critical piece. That’s where the ridership is. That’s 125,000 people a day,” he said. “We’re talking workforce competitiveness, and that is tied to commuter rail.”

The Long Island Sound tunnel isn’t thrilling him either. “This is the center of the state’s economy,” he said of Fairfield County. “ And you’re now going to bypass it? We are very concerned that large chunks of Westchester, Fairfield and New Haven Counties would be eliminated from high-speed commuter rail under those two plans. Why would we do that?”

But what’s really stumping him is the New Rochelle to Westport line and its designation as “aerial.” With no real details in the report, which he called “opaque,” he sent a letter to the FRA with questions to help him make an assessment.

He received a one-paragraph form-response:

“Thank you for your comment. Please note that comments received on the Tier 1 Draft EIS during the formal public comment period will be addressed in the Tier 1 Final EIS, anticipated to be released in late 2016. We appreciate your interest in NEC FUTURE.”

“They owe us more information,” he said. “How can you make a choice if you don’t know where the thing is even located?”

At the Capitol Region Council of Governments, Executive Director Lyle Wray was already bristling that his previously stated concerns about the Danbury to Providence link were ignored in the report. He worries that the focus on high-speed rail will effectively de-rail the Northern New England Intercity Rail Initiative – a regional rail plan to reconnect the 1.7 million people in the Hartford-Springfield, Mass., region to the 5 million in metro Boston.

That plan would re-establish a commuter-rail connection from Springfield to Boston along its former route through western Massachusetts.

“When you say ‘let’s just build something from Danbury to Providence’ – never mind how much it costs and how many eminent domain cases you’re going to have to win. It’s unconstrained by funding limits, constructability, environmental and community impacts. Well good luck on that,” he said.

Mayor Mark Boughton of Danbury, who like many others was largely unaware the rail report even existed, called the tunnel-heavy plan for a Danbury-to-Hartford line “absurd.”

“A monorail system on the median of 84 where we already own most of the property makes a lot more sense and would certainly be more cost effective and might actually get built in all of our lifetimes,” he said.

He’d like the Metro North line from Danbury to Norwalk electrified for the many people who use it to commute. “And having a non-stop direct line into Grand Central would be one of the biggest economic development initiatives we can do around here,” he said. Option 3 includes that route.

Sam Gold, executive director of the Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments, RiverCOG, said the problem with the plan is that his region, Middlesex County, was not included among areas that would feel impacts – even though there could be a new rail bridge over the Connecticut River.

“If that’s what’s needed in the future to keep the Northeast corridor running, so be it,” he said. “But they need to be careful to make sure they do as much as possible to minimize or mitigate any impact.”

Paige Bronk, Groton’s manager of economic and community development, was among the few who were not complaining. He said there was enough in the report to help him assess the alternatives and was leaning toward the first one.

“It’s a little bit easier for us,” he conceded. “We know we support the rail line; we know we don’t want to lose our volume, and if anything we want to increase our ridership. We probably have a simpler analysis than maybe some other communities.”

Environmental tradeoffs

The analysis for the environmental community is turning out to be anything but simple.

Long before climate change became the core concern, environmentalists in Connecticut were advocating for better rail as a way to lower air pollution from cars. But after being alerted to the existence of the NEC Future report, most were dismayed at the extent of the environmental impact, especially from Option 3.

Roger Reynolds of Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound called the Long Island Sound tunnel a “non-starter.”

“From an environmental perspective, and maybe from other perspectives, it’s just a manifestly bad idea,” he said. “We’re paying a remarkable cost to do remarkable damage to our resources – particularly the Long Island Sound.”

For the full article and additional material and environmental impact maps see:
http://ctmirror.org/2016/01/04/massive-rail-plan-leaves-connecticut-hopeful-but-mystified/


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RIDERSHIP LINES... Ridership Lines...  

U.S. Rail Ridership Inches Up
In First Nine Months Of 2015

From Progressive Railroading

During the first nine months of 2015, rail ridership in the United States logged small increases, while the number of public transportation trips fell 1.2 percent over the same period in 2014, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) announced last week.

Nearly 8 billion trips were taken across all modes of U.S. public transportation in the first nine months of last year, representing 95.6 million fewer trips compared with 2014 figures, according to APTA’s third-quarter ridership report.

Falling gas prices may have led some people to return to driving, APTA officials said in a press release, noting that the average price of gas during the period was $2.42 a gallon.

However, heavy-rail ridership inched up 0.3 percent, with 11 of 15 systems reporting increases. Cities that reported increased heavy-rail ridership included Cleveland (3.7 percent), San Francisco (3 percent), Philadelphia (1 percent), and Atlanta (0.8 percent).

Light-rail ridership rose 0.3 percent during 2015’s first three quarters, with eight of 27 systems logging increases. Three cities experienced double-digit increases in this category: Minneapolis (59.4 percent); Buffalo, N.Y. (25.6 percent); and Houston (19.5 percent).

Overall, ridership on commuter railroads climbed 0.2 percent from January through September 2015.

Found at:
http://www.progressiverailroading.com/passenger_rail/news/US-rail-ridership-inches-up-in-first-nine-months-of-2015--46881


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FUNDING LINES... Funding Lines...  

MBTA Considers Two Fare-Hike Proposals

By Nicole Dungca, Boston Globe Metro,
MBTA Press Release,
And DF Staff

Single-ride fares on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) could go up a dime, and monthly passes could increase by $9.50 by this summer under a proposal being considered agency’s new fiscal control board.

Those increases would generate about $49.4 million in revenue annually, according to MBTA estimates.

A more modest alternative would also raise single-ride subway fares by about a dime but increase the prices of monthly bus and subway passes by $7.50, generating about $33.2 million in revenue.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack defended the decision to consider fare increases even as many riders criticize the authority’s service. She said the MBTA is looking at many ways to infuse more cash into the system, in addition to increasing fares.

Shortly before a meeting last week of the fiscal control board, she called the proposed increases “a reasonable contribution to make so that we can improve their service” when combined with other plans to improve the T’s finances.

The decision to consider fare increases comes as transit officials grapple with ways to balance the MBTA’s budget and shrink the ballooning cost of the proposed Green Line extension. Officials are looking at a variety of ways to save money, including canceling late-night subway and bus service, asking unions to forgo pay raises, and freezing department budgets.

Monday marked the first time that MBTA officials had formally outlined the potential fare increases, and the details were promptly criticized by transit advocates.

But most political leaders — including Governor Charlie Baker (R-MA) — did not dismiss the idea of increasing fares.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority will hold 10 public meetings on the fare hikes and allow riders to e-mail or send in written comments.

Members of the control board intend to vote in March on increasing fares. They could choose one of the two options outlined Monday or adopt a different plan that incorporates feedback from the public.

An increase would take effect in July. It would be the first increase since 2014, when fares were increased by an average of about 5 percent across the system.

The fare increases in the two proposals outlined last week have a considerable range.

For example, the more modest proposal would raise individual subway fares from the current $2.65 to $2.75 and increase CharlieCard subway fares from the current $2.10 to $2.20.

Monthly bus and subway passes would increase by 10 percent, from $75 to $82.50. The increases for commuter rail passes, which currently cost between $75 and $362, would range from 4.7 percent to 5.1 percent.

Under the other proposal, individual subway fares would go up 3.8 percent, but monthly bus and subway passes would rise 12 percent, from $75 to $84.50.

Increases for commuter rail passes would range from 4.9 to 10 percent.

MBTA officials initially presented four fare-hike proposals, but control board members voted to consider only two.

The MBTA will hold a series of public meetings on proposed fare changes and Late-Night service so that comments and suggestions can be shared with T officials.

The January and February gatherings will be an opportunity to offer recorded comments, which will be considered by the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board and MassDOT.

A series of 10 public meetings on fare changes will be followed by a vote of the Board, which is anticipated to occur in March. The Board will consider public input on two possible scenarios.

Fare adjustments are just one part of a broader effort by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to close the T’s $242 million structural deficit with a series of cost cutting measures and improvements in operational efficiency.

The T has created an online Fare Options Comparison tool to give customers the opportunity to calculate fares under the proposed changes. Go to:

    English version:   http://goo.gl/IBezHv
    Spanish version:   http://goo.gl/AUYid9

Written comments about late night service will also be accepted through Friday, February 12, and can be mailed to: MBTA, 10 Park Plaza, Boston, MA 02116, Attention: Late-Night Service Committee.

Comments may also be submitted online at www.mbta.com; by email at latenightservice@mbta.com; or by phone at (617) 222-5146. Written comments about the MBTA fare proposals will be accepted through Friday, February 12, 2016, and can be mailed to: MBTA, 10 Park Plaza, Boston, MA 02116, Attention: Fare Proposal Committee; online at mbta.com; by email at fareproposal@mbta.com; or by phone at (617) 222-3200, TTY (617) 222-5146.

All meetings and locations are accessible to people with disabilities. MassDOT provides reasonable accommodations and/or language assistance free of charge upon request (including but not limited to interpreters in American Sign Language and languages other than English, open or closed captioning for videos, assistive listening devices and alternate material formats, such as audio tapes, Braille and large print), as available. For accommodation or language assistance, please call 617-222-3200.

Please visit www.mbta.com for more information about the MBTA and the schedule of public meetings and their locations.

Elsewhere, this past week the MBTA suffered several weather-related problems that brought back memories of last winter’s major service outage to the transit and commuter rail system.

Several subway trains across several lines saw trains that simply ceased to work for various reasons resulting in system-wide back-ups and delays. On the Haverhill commuter rail branch a broken rail near Lawrence, MA, attributed to a recent cold weather snap, caused a non-revenue MBTA train to derail blocking the line. During the re-railing of the coaches that went off the track and repairs to the track itself, buses were implemented to bridge the gap to where trains could be boarded. However the accident caused the Amtrak Downeaster, which uses the same tracks to reach New Hampshire, to cancel several daytime runs until the tracks were cleared and repaired.

These delays which have become a consistent problem with the aging fleet is not producing a warm and fuzzy feeling to the MBTA ridership and many people in multiple communities are already speaking out against any rate increase. The issue has also soured public opinion on the proposed fare increases as well. While fare increases are rarely welcome with open arms, the MBTA’s reputation in the public eye has deteriorated in the last year.

For the full article on the proposed fare increases see:
https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/01/04/mbta-could-raise-fares-percent-percent-for-monthly-passes/EfbzCvKlWVe94sPZFM3KZL/story.html


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Omnibus Bill Includes Transit-Commuter Tax Benefit;
Increases Funds For FTA, FRA

From Progressive Railroading

The $1.1 trillion Omnibus Appropriations bill for federal fiscal-year 2016 that Congress passed in late December includes a permanent extension of the transit commuter benefit, an increase in funding to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), and funding for various transit-rail and port projects.

Under the budget, the commuter benefit increases from the current $130 to $250, rising to $255 in calendar year 2016, according to an analysis by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

APTA has long advocated for a permanent extension of “parity” for the transit commuter benefit. Section 105 of the bill features the “Extension of Parity for Exclusion from Income for Employer-Provided Mass Transit Parking Benefits,” which increases the amount an employer can offer to employees either as a tax-free fringe benefit or as a pre-tax option in order to pay for their transit commuter costs to and from work, according to APTA.

The change, along with a cost-of-living adjustment under an IRS code, will equalize commuting costs between car-commuters and transit-commuters, marking “end to the annual fight to restore parity to transit commuter tax benefits,” APTA officials said in a statement posted on its website.

The budget bill also increases FTA’s funding by $870 million to a total $11.8 billion, APTA officials said. FRA’s funding will increase $52 million to a total $1.7 billion.

Various transit agency and port officials also have been unveiling budget bill benefits for their organizations. Among them are:

From an item appearing at:
http://www.progressiverailroading.com/federal_legislation_regulation/news/Omnibus-bill-includes-transitcommuter-tax-benefit-increases-funds-for-FTA-FRA--46788


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Sound Transit Measure Will Seek Funding
For Tacoma Light Rail Expansion

By KIRO 7 News Staff

Sound Transit is looking to Tacoma voters to help approve two new light rail routes that the transportation company says are needed by the growing city.

To help expand existing routes, Sound Transit will be asking South Sound voters for about $17 a month.

Sound Transit wants to extend light rail from the planned Tacoma Dome station to the Tacoma Mall, and from a Hilltop station to Tacoma Community College.

The company wants to cover the $1.5 billion price tag with federal funds and motor and property taxes.

KIRO 7 talked to voters about previous expansion plans, which they supported.

“I think it will be good for the community. I think it will bring a lot more business up here, because other people come in,” said Tacoma man Cecil Wyatt.

In planning documents, Sound Transit said the expansions are needed because Tacoma’s population is expected to grow by over 120,000 people in 25 years, a 62 percent gain over the city’s current population.

The plan still has to be approved by a board vote in March. If approved by the board, Sound Transit will be seeking public input before the measure is placed on local ballots in March for a November vote.

From an item at:
http://www.kirotv.com/news/news/sound-transit-measure-will-seek-funding-tacoma-lig/npsDn/


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STOCKS...    Selected Rail Stocks...
BRKB – Burlington Northern Santa Fe

CNI – Canadian National

CP –  Canadian Pacific

CSX – CSX Corp

GWR – Genessee & Wyoming

KSU – Kansas City-Southern

NSC – Norfolk Southern

PWX – Providence & Worcester

UNP – Union Pacific


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FREIGHT LINES... Freight Lines...  

Leaked Letters To STB Indicate
Shipper Concerns Over CP+NS

By William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
Railway Age Magazine

Reuters, which originally broke the story late last year about Canadian Pacific’s targeting of Norfolk Southern for acquisition before CP officially announced it, has published excerpts of several letters to the Surface Transportation Board from industry groups representing several major NS freight customers. The letters ask the STB to reject a merger application.

“The opposition from a broad array of customers to the hostile bid for [NS] could significantly harm CP’s case if an expected lengthy proxy battle is resolved and a merger reaches the STB for a review,” Reuters noted. “The proposed merger could face a tough review, and the regulator is expected to give customers even more time than in the past to air concerns at public hearings.” Representatives from several state legislatures as well as at least one short line railroad also wrote STB.

Sent in late December, the letters “express concerns [that] CP’s plans to cut costs at Norfolk Southern would hurt service levels and that a merger would lead to a continental duopoly, meaning higher prices for customers,” Reuters said.

Norfolk Southern declined to comment on the letters. CP told Reuters the railroad “is aware of some shipper concerns but looks forward to discussing the benefits of its bid with all stakeholders.”

Among the letters are a joint one to CP, with a copy to the STB, from the heads of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers, which between them represent large automakers and suppliers such as General Motors Co and Toyota Motor Corp.

“[P]revious rail mergers of this magnitude have been followed by prolonged periods of poor service levels and higher rates,” the joint letter states. “We urge CP to abandon its merger ambitions and to focus its attentions upon enhancing its current levels of customer service.”

In a separate letter, Subaru Motor Co. said it opposed a merger “as we believe it would limit the competitive balance among North America’s railroads.”

Manufacturers associations in Kentucky, Indiana and West Virginia, the Michigan Agri-Business Association and the Palmetto AgriBusiness Council, which represents farmers, banks and agricultural investors in South Carolina, wrote to STB.

“We are justifiably concerned that Canadian Pacific’s proposal to slash resources available to the current Norfolk Southern threatens the economy of our state,” said Kentucky Association of Manufacturers CEO Charles Higdon. Xcoal Energy & Resources CEO Ernie Thrasher wrote he was “concerned that the short-term nature of CP’s operating plan would be detrimental to the long-term requirements of the U.S. coal industry and energy sector.”

Watco CEO Rick Webb said that the proposed CP-NS merger “likely would result in a national duopoly, which would dramatically reduce competitive rail options for customers.” He added that “many in the rail industry expect the next round of mergers will be the last,” according to Reuters.

The source of the leakage is unclear. However, as Railway Age Contributing Editor Frank Wilner points out, STB standard protocol dictates that virtually all correspondence it receives be publicly disclosed. That apparently didn’t happen.

Wilner’s Comments:

Show Us The Letters, STB

By Frank N. Wilner, Contributing Editor
Railway Age Magazine

On January 5, 2016, Reuters published a story containing excerpts of letters reportedly sent to the Surface Transportation Board by industry groups representing several major Norfolk Southern freight customers. The letters ask the STB to reject a merger of Canadian Pacific and NS, should a merger application be filed. We contacted the STB for copies of those letters and came up empty.

When the STB’s public affairs office suggested a Railway Age journalist ask Reuter’s news agency—not the STB—for copies of letters reportedly sent to the STB opposing a CP-NS merger, a fissure wider than the gulf separating CP CEO Hunter Harrison and NS CEO Jim Squires opened between the STB’s spokesperson and its Senate-confirmed Democratic member Deb Miller.

Miller, as reported by Railway Age (Watching Washington, October 2015, “Speak to Improve the Silence”), advocates greater agency transparency and fewer limitations on communications between STB Senate-confirmed members and its stakeholders—with a caveat that such meetings be summarized promptly and provided to the public.

While the STB’s public affairs office might hide behind an assertion that there is no official CP-NS merger file requiring public disclosure—and that maybe journalists should deal with Reuter’s news agency and not the STB—such self-indulgent and clumsy attempts at clouding transparency speak as ill of the agency as backroom political brokering speaks ill of its oft-nefarious practitioners.

Those who wrote the letters seem chary of 'fessing up to having written them, as evidenced by their failure to issue a press release or speak on the record. This is understandable. Shippers, suppliers and others dependent on a Class I railroads goodwill have eminent good reason to do more than listen politely when a railroad salesperson, marketing officer or other official comes calling and suggests it would be in everyone’s best interest that a certain letter be written. A suggested draft might also be left behind as a memento of the informal, friendly chat.

It is well established that independent regulatory agencies such as the STB treat such letters with no greater nor less respect than formal submissions. Thus, the real audience for such letters is more likely stockholders who can stop this merger attempt in its tracks by refusing to vote in favor of a voting trust that is conceded the first crucial step toward CP control of NS. Indeed, establish enough uncertainty, and the hearts and minds of stockholders will see the light. Hence the “leak” strategy. As muckraking journalist Drew Pearson confirmed, “Mark something confidential and everyone wants to read it.” Any so-called leak of these letters quite likely was from a well-intentioned outside public relations firm looking after NS interests.

When the late Linda Morgan ran the STB during an initial kerfuffle between CSX and NS over a carve-up of Conrail, Morgan asserted her leadership and ensured that the public docket contained every missive sent the STB, no matter the title of the sender. Transparency ruled.

This is not STB Chairman Dan Elliott’s first brush with questionable transparency. Not long ago, a written exchange between Elliott and Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) regarding Positive Train Control somehow was “lost’’ between his office and the public file. If these instant shipper letters relating to a CP-NS marriage are sitting on Elliott’s desk, protected by a coffee cup or whatever, he should sense the obligation to send them post-haste to the public docket and ensure they are accessible from the STB’s website—and that his public affairs office take a refresher course in agency protocol. We suggest creating a correspondence section on the website.

Meanwhile, if Elliott’s fellow Democrat Deb Miller is sincere in her desires to create a more transparent STB—and we think she is—Elliott should be expecting a phone call or personal office visit from her shortly.

It is well and long settled that actions and decisions of the STB are to be in the public interest. Letters sent to the Board regarding what could be the most consequential railroad merger in a generation—and perhaps one of its most problematic—are the stuff of the public interest.

These items were found at:

http://www.railwayage.com/index.php/regulatory/leaked-letters-to-stb-indicate-shipper-concerns-over-cp-ns.html
and
http://www.railwayage.com/index.php/blogs/frank-n-wilner/show-us-the-letters-stb.html


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BNSF To Lay Off Nearly 100 Employees

By Kevin Bonham
West Central Tribune, Willmar, Minnesota

Slowing freight demand has prompted Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway to lay off several dozen employees in North Dakota and western Minnesota.

The layoffs, which some reports indicate may be nearing 100, generally have been spread between four yards: Grand Forks, Mandan, Minot and Dilworth, Minnesota.

“Our workforce needs are driven by our customers’ freight transportation needs,” BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth said. “Customers’ volumes in the near term have come down somewhat from their prior estimates. As a result, we are having to adjust our workforce demand numbers down to match volume and the work required to move that volume. As part of that, unfortunately, we are having to temporarily furlough some of our employees at different locations across our network.”

McBeth said she did not have specific numbers of furloughs in the region or at any particular site.

“It isn’t concentrated in any one geography,” she said. “We fully expect to call the furloughed employees back as soon as business needs require.”

BNSF has been involved in a $1 billion rail capacity improvement project in North Dakota since 2013, building nearly 100 miles of new double-track rails in the region in the past two years, including another 36 miles this fall between Minot and Williston.

Found at:
http://www.wctrib.com/news/region/3913635-bnsf-lay-nearly-100-employees


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SAFETY LINES... Safety Lines...  

Derailments More Dangerous,
But No Increase In Inspectors

By Rick Rouan & Laura Arenschield
The Columbus Dispatch

Months before a CSX train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in Mount Carbon, W.Va., polluting the air and water and forcing more than 1,100 people from their homes, inspectors missed a problem with the track there.

Inspection reports compiled by a railroad contractor and CSX showed evidence of the defect, but the track wasn’t repaired or replaced. In fact, CSX officials and federal regulators didn’t find out about the defect until it was too late.

About 140,000 miles of train tracks crisscross the nation, carrying hazardous cargo past houses, hospitals and schools every day. And hundreds of trains derail or crash each year because of problems with those tracks.

One-third of all incidents — about 17,000 since 1995 — are blamed on problems with track.

For the most part, railroads are responsible for inspecting their own tracks, but they don’t report those inspections to regulators. Federal inspectors see those reports only if they audit railroads or investigate a crash.

And as trains have gotten longer, heavier and started carrying more Bakken — the most volatile crude oil in the world — the number of federal inspectors conducting those audits and their own checks has remained nearly the same.

In 2006, before hydraulic fracturing opened up new shale-oil fields, the Federal Railroad Administration employed 344 inspectors. Today, it has 346 — one inspector for every 400 miles of track in the United States.

States also employ their own inspectors, but it’s unclear how many monitor tracks. Some estimates peg the total number of state inspectors nationwide at about 180.

Ohio has three.

“It’s clear that (the Federal Railroad Administration) does not have the manpower, nor do they really have the charge to go out and do the inspection,” said Rick Inclima, safety director for the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division, the union that represents track inspectors.

Federal railroad officials declined an interview for this series.

Inclima said the union represents about 35,000 members who build, maintain, inspect and repair railroad tracks, bridges and other infrastructure related to rail transport. About 1,500 members are track inspectors employed by the railroads.

When an inspector detects track problems, railroads must follow federal regulations to address them, said Ed Greenberg, spokesman for the Association of American Railroads. They can block tracks or slow down trains that use them until they are repaired.

“If a potential issue or something is identified by the visual inspection or specialized track inspection vehicles or a train crew that reports something, it is considered a priority to address it,” he said.

Crude-oil trains that rumble through Franklin County every week barely registered on the local radar five years ago.

Back then, county officials were more focused on trucks carrying hazardous cargo. A county study showed gasoline was the most common hazardous material in Franklin County at the time, and it primarily was moved on highways.

Trucks carrying hazardous materials generally are barred from going through the city center and must stay on I-270 unless they are making local deliveries.

Today, though, crude oil fills more tankers than any other chemical passing through the region. And it moves through Franklin County in 30,000-gallon tank cars — about four times larger than a single truck tanker. Those train cars often are part of trains that can stretch a mile long.

The 2010 study didn’t show rail to be a significant threat because it didn’t look closelyat railroads at all.

Central Ohio — like other regions across the country — now is taking notice of the trains made up of black, pill-shaped tankers carrying volatile crude oil.

Track-inspection problems are drawing more attention, and emergency responders are talking about the potential for a catastrophic crude oil derailment in densely populated areas.

The domestic oil boom has put millions more gallons of crude on rails. Crude derailments have caused tens of millions of dollars in damage and killed dozens of people.

In 2013, a runaway train derailed in downtown Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people in the resort town across the Canadian border from Maine.

Derailments and explosions are, some experts say, unavoidable: The more crude oil we ship, the greater the risk of derailments.

Crude-oil production has increased in the United States by nearly 33 percent since 1995, according to the Energy Information Administration. North Dakota, where much of the Bakken shale oil is located, produced about 13.5 times as much oil in that same time.

Production has slowed a bit as the price of crude oil has dropped, but the numbers, particularly in North Dakota, still are among the highest they have ever been.

And though the United States still imports more oil than it produces domestically, hydraulic fracturing to release oil and gas has opened geologic formations deep underground to drilling that previously would have been difficult or impossible.

Oil doesn’t come out of the ground ready to use. It must be transported by pipeline, train, truck or barge to refineries along both coasts.No type of transportation is completely safe. Pipelines rupture, barges sink, and trucks crash.

But during the past few years, more and more trains carrying crude oil from the Bakken shale fields have derailed, often causing toxic spills and fiery explosions.

A single train can transport as much hazardous material as 500 trucks, according to Franklin County’s study.

And as crude-oil production has grown in the United States, so has the number and size of crude-oil spills from trains, according to a Dispatch analysis of data from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Domestic oil production from shale was still in its early stages in 2010 when Franklin County’s study of chemicals coming through the region looked at 90 rail cars compared with nearly 2,200 trucks.

This year, however, a new study examined nearly 5,300 rail cars and about 3,400 trucks.

Train tracks run through the heart of Ohio’s largest population centers, including Downtown Columbus, and through small towns ill-equipped to handle major derailments.

Since 1995, problems with track were blamed in more than 600 Ohio derailments.

As with all derailments, those caused by track defects are dropping. In 1995, railroads reported 800 track-caused derailments nationwide. In 2014, they reported about 500.

However, most trains weren’t carrying volatile crude oil 20?years ago. Today, they carry millions of gallons.

Federal Railroad Administration Director Sarah Feinberg vowed after the investigation of the CSX train derailment in Mount Carbon, W.Va., that the agency would renew its focus on track problems.

The agency released a safety advisory urging more-detailed inspections when defects and flaws are suspected and more training for rail-inspection-vehicle operators. The agency also said it plans to look at whether standards for rail wear are needed and whether trains should be slowed or rails replaced when evidence of poor conditions are found.

The federal government has rules for how often tracks must be inspected based on the class of track and how fast trains can travel on them.

Railroads are required to visually inspect the highest class of track at least twice a week and keep records of the inspections.

Twice-weekly inspections should be “an absolute minimum,” said Inclima, of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees. The union has advocated requiring supplemental inspections that use new technology to evaluate track.

Railroad companies are testing various forms of new technology to detect problems with track, Greenberg said. They aren’t required by regulators to use all of them, though.

Another issue is federal manpower.

Since 2012, the Federal Railroad Administration has asked Congress for 154 additional safety positions. It has received 30, according to the agency.

In 2013, a Government Accountability Office report warned that the railroad agency might face an inspector crisis.

At the time, about one-third of federal inspectors were expected to reach retirement eligibility in the next five years, and the report said preparing a single new inspector could take as long as two years.

A spokesman for the rail agency said it is addressing problems in the accountability report.

The railroad administration also has a fleet of rail cars that can detect some track imperfections. Those survey about 30,000 miles of track a year, leaving more than 110,000 miles without coverage from this extra safety measure.

“It doesn’t take too long before little things pop up, and if you don’t take care of the little things, big things pop up,” Inclima said.

On top of the federal inspectors, 31 states participate in a federal program that allows state inspectors to be certified and report problems to the railroad administration.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio has 10 inspectors for the railroads. Three of them focus on the nearly 5,300 miles of track in the state.

The federal agency does not track the number of state inspectors, a spokesman said.

Ohio’s inspectors are required to have at least one year of experience working for a railroad company, said Randall Schumacher, who oversees the state’s rail-inspection division.

State inspectors spend at least 50 days a year monitoring track, signals, equipment, hazardous materials and operations for the Federal Railroad Administration. They also inspect railroad crossings.

“A railroad is just like a building. It’s a structure, only it’s lying down,” said Jerry Gibson, a PUCO rail inspector. “The train is like an earthquake every day. It’s very high maintenance.”

In August, a new strike team of federal inspectors spent about two weeks monitoring tracks that carry crude oil and ethanol in the region that includes Ohio.

The new program focused on routes near metropolitan areas, places where more defects are detected and areas in which a derailment could threaten the environment.

The 24 inspectors combed about 1,900 miles of track in six states and Washington, D.C. Findings have yet to be compiled, the spokesman said.

A train carrying Bakken crude oil from North Dakota to Canada derailed last month in an industrial section of Watertown, Wis. The cars did not explode or catch fire, which was lucky, said Mayor John David.

David said at the town’s insistence, Canadian Pacific released inspection reports for a bridge that carries crude-oil trains. The report, he said, showed that the bridge is sound.

He also said the railroad company plans to make some repairs and re-inspect the bridge next year.

“They say lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place,” David said. “I hope that’s true in train derailments.” A new federal law allows state or local governments to access a public version of a bridge inspection that shows its general condition.

Federal regulators don’t compile data on bridge inspections.

For the most part, however, railroad companies have focused their lobbying efforts on the tank cars that carry oil. The railroads are responsible for the track, not the cars.

After the 2013 deadly crash in Quebec, Canada, not far from the Maine border, U.S. officials began to make some changes.

The Department of Transportation created new rules to replace outdated tank cars and lower the speed at which crude-oil trains are allowed to travel through densely populated areas, such as Columbus.

Oil companies also are required to do more testing of crude oil before it ships. The tests look for boiling temperatures and flammable gases and help classify the shipments.

But some who watch the oil-by-train industry say those measures fall short.

The rules, for example, allow older tank cars to be retrofitted over five years, which means those cars still could be on the tracks hauling crude oil.

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups had advocated for oil companies to strip volatile materials from crude oil at the wellheads but were unsuccessful.

Wayde Schafer, conservation director for the Sierra Club in North Dakota, said the advocacy group worries about the railroad routes that carry crude.

“When railroads were designed and the routes chosen, they wanted to get just from point A to point B as quickly as possible,” he said. “They weren’t designed to haul these volatile chemicals and ... they don’t take into account population centers or sensitive wildlife areas.”

“They’ll go across wetlands or rivers — whatever — hauling something that is a very volatile, could explode or could be a huge source of pollution.”

Dispatch Library Director Julie Fulton contributed to this story.

From an item that appeared at:
http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2015/12/21/overwhelmed.html


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ACROSS THE POND... Across The Pond...  

Installments By David Beale
NCI Foreign Editor

 

Germany’s Deutsche Bahn Plans Exit
From Overnight Sleeper Trains

The Beginning Of The End Of The Era Of Long-Distance Night Trains In Europe?

Via International Railway Journal (Author Kieth Fender),
Lok Report and Die Presse Newspaper

Berlin – Deutsche Bahn (DB) – German Railways – confirmed in late December 2015 that it will cease operating all of its own overnight trains with sleeper, couchette and specially-equipped overnight seating coaches (operation under the brands / train designations CNL and DB Nachtzug), including Autozug (Auto Train) services, as of the 15th December 15 2016, which is the date of the general system schedule revision of 2017 for trains and buses across most of Europe goes into effect.

Berlin Sleeper Train

NCI File Photo By David Beale

City Night Line To Be Taken Off Line – the CNL Paris – Berlin sleeper train, seen here at a scheduled stop in Hannover in September 2010 at approximately 6:30 AM local time, was already withdrawn from service several years ago. At the end of 2016 the remainder of DB’s City Night Line trains will be removed from scheduled operations.

The plan to drop the night sleeper trains is part of DB’s “Zukunft Bahn” (future railway) corporate program to cut costs and improve profitability in passenger and freight operations. DB’s passenger rail operations are under increased price and market pressure from newly legalized intercity long distance buses within Germany as well as from various low-cost / budget airlines. Rail freight operations within DB are also under price and cost pressure from third party rail freight operators, as well as from highway trucking firms based out of low-wage countries in Eastern Europe but operating across all of Europe.

DB says it tried to “rescue” the night train network in recent years but it remains unprofitable. DB released figures showing its night trains were used by 1.3 million passengers in 2015 (around 1% of all long distance passengers). The trains made a loss of € 32 million (US $35 million) on gross revenues of € 90 million and DB predicts similar numbers for 2016.

As of December 2016 DB says it will offer a new concept for overnight travel. The company states that this will not include any traditional overnight sleeper trains but there will be more overnight Intercity Express (ICE) train services. DB suggests that these services, together with new DB-operated international IC Bus links could maintain some of the international connections currently available through the sleeper train network. DB’s long-distance bus competitors in Germany already run a network of overnight buses using their daytime fleets.

DB says it will support other rail operators from neighboring countries that want to continue operating traditional night trains into Germany. Talks are already underway with Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) concerning the continuation of its overnight services in Germany and the possibility that ÖBB takes over operations of some of the night trains, which DB plans to drop.

DB may continue operating these trains as a subcontractor in Germany to the primary train operator / proprietor, but would no longer have any commercial interest in the services beyond December 2016. Other private German rail operators may also take on this work if ÖBB is unable to reach an arrangement with DB. Night train services already operated partly in Germany by rail companies in other countries such as ÖBB in Austria, Polish train operator PKP, Czech train operator CD and Russian rail company RZD will continue to operate in Germany after DB ends its own overnight sleeper train services. Most of these international sleeper car night trains operate under the brand name “Euro Night” and with train numbers which start with EN, for example train numbers EN420 and EN421 between Vienna, Austria and Düsseldorf, Germany.

Nevertheless the cancelation by DB of its own night sleeper train services at the end of 2016 will dramatically cut back overnight sleeper train services in Europe even further, after a decade of withdrawals and cancelations of other overnight sleeper train services across Europe ranging from Spain, France, Belgium and Holland to Poland, Hungary, Croatia and Italy.


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New Years Eve Chaos In Cologne Train Station

New Years Eve Celebrations In Main Train Station Turn Ugly – Cover-Up
By German News Media And Political Elite Class Alleged By Public

Via RTL TV News, Deutsche Press Agentur,
Süddeutsche Zeitung Newspaper,
And Multiple Internet Sources

Cologne (Köln), Germany – A political and social firestorm has swept across Germany and continues to dominate new headlines in the country a week after multiple cases and events of criminal behavior took place on New Year’s Eve in train stations and in downtown plazas in Hamburg, Frankfurt, Stuttgart and most notably in Cologne. In Cologne and in the other German cities bands and gangs of men in the 18 – 40 year-old range severely harassed, robbed and even in a few cases raped female party goers. In Cologne eyewitnesses and some police estimated that several hundred or more men of Middle Eastern / North African appearance and ethnicity began to shoot fireworks and throw bricks fire crackers into New Years Eve crowds gathered on large plaza between Cologne’s famous cathedral and the city’s central train station (Hauptbahnhof) next to the cathedral. A large number of the men then entered the crowd and began singling out women and chasing some of the women into the main rail station, where they harassed, robbed or pick-pocketed the women as well as groped and sexually assaulted women by the dozens or more. A few women reported being raped by groups of the men. The exact time line of the events still remains unclear. But the hundreds of eyewitness reports as well as criminal charges brought by the female victims of the New Years Eve crime wave are nearly all in agreement that the perpetrators were not German or European, but rather of Middle Eastern or Arab North African origin. Many witnesses reported that the perpetrators spoke neither German nor English, or in a few cases very broken English with an Arabic accent. These reports from the scene quickly raised suspicions in the general public that many or most of the perpetrators are refugees / asylum seekers, who arrived in Germany within the past 10 months in the middle of Europe’s huge refugee and migrant crisis.

Photo

Photo: Bild newspaper

Crime Scene – police patrol the plaza between the Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom) and the main train station a few hours after a hundred or more women were sexually assaulted and in some cases robbed by numerous groups of men during New Years Eve fireworks and celebrations in and around the main train station and nearby cathedral complex.

Very similar but smaller groups of men participating in similar criminal behavior on New Year’s Eve were also reported in train stations and public plazas in Frankfurt, Hamburg and Stuttgart. Police investigators and prosecutors in all the affected cities are still reviewing security camera video recordings, eye witness reports, evidence filmed by members of the public with cell phone cameras and case reports and arrest records filed by a large number of police officers responding to complaints of sexual assault and robbery. Also in Helsinki, Finland and Zurich, Switzerland there were reports, that on New Year’s Eve significant numbers of immigrant men gathered in the center city area and in the central train stations in both cities and attempted to corner and harass numerous women, but heavy police presence and intervention in both cities appears to have prevented widespread and numerous assaults and violence, unlike in Cologne and elsewhere in Germany.

The events of New Years Eve in these German cities did not begin to register and appear in the German press and news media until 3 – 4 days later, approximately Monday and Tuesday of the first week in January. A number of prominent political figures including the mayor of Cologne, the police commissioner of Cologne and members of Germany’s parliament refuted the claims that the large majority of the perpetrators were immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa, instead saying that there is no information available on the origin of the perpetrators, and implying that perpetrators were somehow a random mixture of Germans, maybe Turks, perhaps Italians, Poles, or French and Romanians, or other nationalities, but unlikely to be migrants and asylum seekers from North Africa and the Middle East. At first the news reports in the German press and news media reflected the heavy political spin given to the story by these political figures and persons in the upper levels of city, regional and national government in Germany, despite mounting evidence, eyewitness reports and police reports to exactly the contrary.

But with the prevalence of social media outlets such as Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, WhatsApp, and others, the actual details of the events began to become obvious, and the cover-up of the background of the perpetrators of the events on New Year’s Eve in Cologne, Hamburg, Stuttgart and other German cities, where the robberies and sexual assaults took place, began to unravel quickly. Soon it became clear that the perpetrators were in fact predominantly of North African and Middle Eastern ethnic origin or background, and that a significant number of the perpetrators are in-fact registered asylum seekers. As of the writing of this article for D:F, police in Cologne had arrested and jailed (many later released on recognizance while the criminal investigations continue) 55 suspects in the attacks, 38 of them registered asylum seekers from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and a few North African countries, the remainder from Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Iran without asylum applications. With criminal complaints filed in Cologne to date by 170 people, mostly women, police expect to arrest far more suspects in the coming days as analysis of photos, videos and numerous eyewitness reports continues in an effort to identify as many of the perpetrators as possible.

As the evidence of a major cover-up of the events of News Year Eve in Cologne grew and snowballed, the German main stream press dropped its normal left-leaning pro-immigration tilt and began to report far more extensively on the attempted cover-up of the events and suppression of information and facts by multiple levels of government. The attempted cover-up of this aspect of the events of New Years Eve in these cities has now become a full-blown scandal in itself, delivering a significant blow to the credibility of the main stream news media in Germany and the powerful political elite class in charge of several levels of government. The political right-wing in Germany, which has seen improved favorability ratings in the country as the refugee crisis became more severe in the second half of 2015, has quickly turned up the political pressure by demanding that any asylum seeker caught in a case of sexual assault, rape or forced robbery be immediately deported out of the country. They are renewing their demands that the number of new asylum seekers allowed into Germany be massively reduced, a position which is becoming more popular in the population according to recent opinion polls and surveys.

The initially misleading, if not downright false statements about the origin of the New Years Eve attackers in the Cologne main train station made by Cologne’s police chief Wolfgang Albers lead to his firing by the state’s interior minister (similar position and role as a state attorney general in a state in the USA) last Friday (8th of January 2016). The labor union which represents the police officers and patrolmen in the state alleged that Albers had placed a gag order on the rank and file in the police force regarding the revealing of details of the New Years Eve chaos at the Cologne main train, as well as details of numerous other street crimes committed in the weeks and months before New Year’s Eve by men of Arabic or North African origin in the greater Cologne area. Albers responded that the gag order actually came from higher up in the North Rhine Westphalia state government and the German federal government, in other words he was just “following orders”.

The larger question in this massive scandal seems to be still unanswered: with the background of the terror attacks in Paris in November, the numerous threats from ISIS of more terror attacks in European cities, why was the police presence and response that night in and around the Cologne train station and at train stations in several other German cities so weak, when it was already known that train stations and other public venues were and still are at the top of the list of potential targets of both criminals and terrorists?

Terror Warning Leads To Evacuation Of Two Munich Train Stations On New Year’s Eve

Perhaps just a couple of hours before the criminal chaos in the main train station in Cologne and other train stations in Hamburg, Frankfurt and Stuttgart started, law enforcement authorities in Munich, the capitol city of the German state of Bavaria, received terror alerts from both French and US counter-terrorism intelligence agencies indicating that a major terror attack was imminent in Munich, most probably on one or more of the larger train stations in Munich at midnight or shortly after midnight on New Year’s Day. With only a few hours to go before the alleged attacks would happen, top officials in the state and city governments decided to order an evacuation of both the main train station in central Munich and Passing train station, in the western part of Munich and a few kilometers / miles down the main railway artery from the main station. Passing is a large train station, perhaps the third largest and busiest in Munich after the main central station and the Munich East (Ostbahnhof) station.

Police quickly poured into both train stations to start the evacuation of the public from the buildings and track platforms, while SWAT teams came in to look for both explosives and possible suicide bombers and / or gunmen. Train movements in and out of both train stations were stopped, thus closing down a major part of the S-Bahn urban / suburban train network in Munich as well as halting regional and long distance train movements to and from Munich with just a few hours left before the clock struck midnight on New Years. At least one subway line, the U5, which has an underground stop in the Munich central train station, was also shut down. The terror warning was lifted at approximately 3 AM on New Year’s Day, and the two train stations were reopened, albeit too late to help many New Years Eve partiers to travel home. Train services were restored shortly after the stations were reopened.

Later on New Year’s Day police announced that they had a man hunt underway for five to seven suspects of “Iraqi or Syrian” citizenship and background. They did not say if the suspects were recent arrivals and asylum seekers or were already living in Europe for a longer length of time.


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Denmark And Sweden Start Passport Controls
On Trains And Buses At International Borders

Efforts To Throttle The Flow Of Asylum Seekers And Illegal Immigrants Travelling Through Europe Intensify

Via Internet Sources

Copenhagen – Railroads, train stations, immigrants and refugees coming to Europe intersected yet again in the news, this time in Denmark and Sweden. On the first Monday of 2016, Sweden and Denmark introduced passport controls on trains and buses and ferries traveling between the two countries. The reason is an effort by Sweden to slow asylum seekers from the Middle East and North Africa, who have been entering the country illegally in very large numbers since 2012. Sweden, with a population of approximately 9 million, has already absorbed nearly 300,000 refugees and asylum seekers in the past year, far more per capita than any other country in Europe. Only Jordan and Lebanon have taken in more refugees from Iraq and Syria, as a percentage of their populations, than Sweden.

As a result of the passport controls implemented by Sweden, Denmark –which sit directly south and west of Sweden – implemented passport controls on its southern border with Germany. All three countries are members of the Shengen zone in the EU, where passport and customs control points at national borders are not normally in place. Aside from the new passport controls on the Swedish / Danish border, passport controls implemented in mid 2015 on the German-Austrian border and on the borders in several Balkan countries of the former Yugoslavia remain in place, all of these controls due primarily to the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe but also in certain cases to deal with numerous terror alerts stemming from terror groups based in the Middle East. D:F readers who are visiting in Europe and may make side trips from the cities where their hotels are located, are reminded to never leave their passport locked up in the hotel room while making a side trip or day excursion, but to always have it available on their person for inspection, in case a short term passport control point pops up along their journey.

After approximately one week of the new passport controls implemented between Sweden and Denmark, including the Oresund train line between Copenhagen and southern Sweden via the Oresund Belt Bridge, news reports indicated that there were no major problems, and the vast majority of passengers were cooperative. A relative low number of migrants were stopped, perhaps a few dozen, from trying to enter Sweden without the proper visas during the first few days of passport checks, according to news reports from the area.


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TO THE NORTH... To The North...  

Save VIA In 2016:

 

A New Year, A New Government And
A New Campaign For Better Rail Service

A Press Release From Save VIA

ST. MARYS, ONTARIO – Save VIA is kicking off the fourth phase of its campaign for better rail passenger service with the release of three locally-produced videos to encourage citizens to ask their elected officials some timely questions about the future of VIA.

“We’ve got a new government in Ottawa that has inherited the responsibility for making VIA the modern rail service it has always needed to be,” says Save VIA’s Chris West. “Now is the time for all Canadians who want to see that modernization and expansion occur to respectfully reach out to their newly-elected representatives. Our new videos are designed to encourage them to do just that in an informed way.”

Produced for Save VIA by Sunspot Media of Stratford, the three videos feature St. Marys residents Anna Ferguson, Erin Emm and Robin Ward.

The three thought-provoking videos may be viewed on the new Save VIA YouTube channel at:

Two of the videos are directed at the federal government, asking why VIA has the oldest fleet in the industrialized world and why the publicly-owned corporation gets such a shabby deal from Canada’s freight railways.

“The third video is directed to Queen’s Park,” says West. “The Ontario government is just beginning a long and expensive process to build its own high-speed passenger railway between Toronto and Windsor. If it’s ever built, it will cost taxpayers billions and it will bypass St. Marys, Stratford, Woodstock and several other important points in the existing VIA Southwestern Ontario system. We think citizens should be asking their MPPs for an explanation of what we view as an expensive pie-in-the-sky scheme and why the province is not partnering with Ottawa to jointly improve the existing VIA service.”

As well, Save VIA will be reaching out directly to MPs, MPPs and municipal politicians throughout Southwestern Ontario in the coming months to suggest ways to improve the region’s rail passenger service in the quickest and most cost-effective manner.

Says West, “The time is ripe for us – and for the public – to engage with the politicians. Our new federal government has committed to tackling climate change, addressing Canada’s accumulated infrastructure deficit and boosting our economic prospects by making us a more accessible and interconnected nation. As we will be pointing out to them, improving and expanding VIA is a logical way to take action on all those issues.”

West notes that initial contact with several new MPs has been most encouraging and has demonstrated they are both familiar with the VIA situation and interested in delving into it further. Key opposition MPs – who have previously supported Save VIA’s aims and objectives – are also voicing their determination to make VIA an issue in Parliament in 2016.

“VIA needs real and sustainable improvement now,” says West. “This fourth phase of the Save VIA campaign will convey that need to those who can take action. It’s our intention to make that case with the politicians, whether that be in their ridings, at Queen’s Park or on Parliament Hill. Our chances for success have never been greater now that we’re dealing with so many elected officials who understand the importance of this issue.”

“As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on election night, ‘In Canada, better is always possible.’ Fixing VIA is a perfect way to demonstrate that – and that’s the case we’ll be making.”

For further information, please contact:

Chris West
Save VIA
Box 1197
449 Queen St. W
St. Marys, ON N4X 1B7
chriswest@kwic.com
http://www.savevia.ca
Tel: 519 284 3310:     Fax: 519 284 3160
Sans frais/toll free: 1-866-8632 ext 238


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Best Holiday Performance For VIA Rail
In Four Years

VIA Rail Press Release

Montréal, January 7, 2016 – This holiday season, from December 16, 2015 to January 5, 2016, VIA Rail saw its highest passenger revenue in over four years, with an increase of 10.3% since 2012, and the busiest day, December 23, had VIA Rail trains transporting 16,377 passengers to their destinations.

“The Holidays boast the highest ridership of the year on our trains,” said Yves Desjardins-Siciliano, President and CEO of VIA Rail, “Over 255,000 passengers trusted VIA Rail for travel within Canada during this time. I am grateful for their patronage and for the dedication and professionalism of our front-line and maintenance center employees who were on duty to help ensure that our passengers received great service and got to their destinations safely”.

In the Québec City-Windsor corridor, over 237,000 passengers travelled on the 1,118 trains serving communities in and between Montréal, Québec City, Ottawa, Toronto, Windsor, London, Sarnia and Niagara Falls. The Montréal-Toronto line was the most popular route: 32,527 travelled between these two points over the period.

On the long distance trains, the Ocean service, which travels between Montréal and Halifax, welcomed almost 8,000 passengers. Six additional departures were offered over the holidays, giving more people the opportunity to travel by train to celebrate with their loved ones. Meanwhile, the Canadian, which connects Toronto to Vancouver, saw over 5,100 passengers onboard.

VIA Rail trains safely transported all passengers to their destinations without any major disruptions.

Thanks to its world-class on board Wi-Fi service offered throughout the Québec City – Windsor corridor as well as on the eastern long-haul train, the Ocean, VIA Rail allows its passengers to stay connected and online throughout their journey. During the Holidays, over 176,000 devices connected to VIA Rail’s Wi-Fi system and transmitted over 17,000 GB of information through the web.

About VIA Rail Canada

As Canada’s national rail passenger service, VIA Rail (viarail.ca) and its 2,500 employees are mandated to provide safe, efficient and economical passenger transportation service, in both official languages of our country. VIA Rail operates intercity, regional and transcontinental trains linking over 400 communities across Canada, and safely transports nearly four million passengers annually. The Corporation was awarded seven Safety Awards by the Railway Association of Canada over the last eight years, and was the recipient of the 2012 Agent’s Choice Award voted by Canadian travel agents and presented by Baxter Travel Media. Since 2007, the Government of Canada has invested almost a billion dollars in VIA Rail. VIA Rail information at a glance: www.viarail.ca/en/about-via-rail


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