The National Corridors Initiative Logo

Jan 23, 2017
Vol. 17 No. 3

Copyright © 2017
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved
Founded 1989
Our 17th 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.
Managing Editor / Webmaster
Dennis Kirkpatrick
Foreign Editor
David Beale
Contributing Editor
Molly N. McKay
 
 

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

  Guest Editorial…
High-Speed On The NEC; An Engineer’s Perspective
  Commentary…
Destination: Freedom Responds
  Amtrak Lines…
Amtrak Studies Austin-San Antonio Corridor
   For Commuter Alternative
Amtrak Considering Adding Another
   Fresno-Sacramento Trip
  Commuter Lines…
California Wine Train Owners Consider
   Offering Commuter Service
  Funding Lines…
MoDot Says Cuts To Passenger Rail Budget
   Won’t Affect Amtrak Service
 
  Station Lines…
Sound Transit Kicks Off Construction
   On Northgate Link Station
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Builder Lines…
Bellevue, Washington Gets New Tunneling Machine
    For Sound Transit Project
  Legal Lines…
FDOT Would Regulate Brightline Passenger
   Rail Service Under Mayfield’s Bill
  Across The Pond…
SNCF Orders 255 Trains For Īle-De-France Network
  To The North…
UP Express Mess A Red Flag For Future Projects?
  Publication Notes …


GUEST EDITORIAL... Guest Editorial...  

High-Speed On The NEC;
An Engineer’s Perspective

By Joseph McMahon
Amtrak Locomotive Engineer (Ret.)
From Railway Age

[ Railway Age Editor’s Note:  Joseph McMahon retired from Amtrak after 51 years of service as a locomotive engineer, beginning with the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad in 1963 and concluding with Amtrak in 2014. His area of expertise is the Northeast Corridor between Boston and New York City. McMahon operated trains in all classes of service—freight, commuter / regional and higher-speed Acela Express. ]

True high-speed train travel is not feasible on the Northeast Corridor. Congress recently approved a $2.45 billion loan package for Amtrak, of which a good portion will be spent on 28 Generation 2 high-speed trainsets.

Generation 1 (Acela Express) high-speed trainsets only accomplished a fraction of what they were touted to do. There is no reason to expect Generation 2 to be any different, the reasoning being that you can only travel so fast on the existing roadbed, no matter the tilt technology. Generation 1 trainsets were equipped with the latest tilt system, yet could only equal, not exceed, the running time of the 1969 Metroliners between New York and Washington D.C.

The present roadbed with minor deviations dates back to the 1800s, taking a circuitous route to service large population centers and various industries. To attain a true-high-speed system on the Northeast Corridor, there must be dedicated and exclusive infrastructure built as straight as the geography will allow. The cost and environmental impact of such an undertaking would be astronomical, given the real estate values in that portion of the country.

Attempts at higher speeds date as far back as the 1950s, when the New Haven purchased Talgo trains, and the 1960s, when United Aircraft unveiled its state-of-the art Turbo Train. Both eventually went the way of all “trains of the future” since World War II, to the scrap heap. Integrated trainsets such as the Acela Express (and the aforementioned “trains of the future”) have proven impractical. Should a car in an Acela Express consist become defective, the entire trainset must be removed from service, resulting in a massive delay to travelers. A defective car in an Amfleet consist can be removed, resulting in a short delay and continuation of the journey.

Amtrak force fed the Acela Express to the traveling public, trumpeting its airplane-style decor, desktop seating replete with USB ports, WiFi, receptacles for recharging sundry electronic devices—all masking the facts that, for the extra cost, it did not arrive at its destination much sooner than Regional trains, and that the time difference was due mainly to the Acela Express making fewer stops than Regional trains. Amtrak’s now-retired AEM7 locomotives with Amfleet coaches and an experienced engineer, were they allowed, could equal Acela Express running times, as did the Metroliners of 1969.

The demise of the Supersonic Transport—touted as an engineering marvel that would revolutionize airplane travel but turned out to be a business bust due to high maintenance costs, environmental impact and declining ridership—gives credence to the notion that the traveling public is not in that much of a hurry.

Comparisons to European and Japanese railway systems cannot be made. Europe and Japan were bombed into rubble during World War II. With nothing in the way, the Marshall Plan and SCAP (Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers), with an eye on the future, rebuilt the European and Japanese railway systems as straight and modern as practicable.

The pluses of conventional train travel far outweigh the expense, upheaval and environmental impact that construction of a dedicated roadbed would have on the crowded Northeast Corridor. The hassle and expense of airline travel coupled with an outdated Interstate highway system should place the 500-mile and under mode of travel squarely in Amtrak’s lap. If the bulk of the $2.45 billion loan were used to upgrade the present fleet with all the bells and whistles (USB ports, WiFi, desktop seats, etc.), the Acela Express would soon be forgotten.

Americans are not in that much of a hurry. Frequent, dependable, timely train travel should supersede enormous outlays of taxpayer dollars that produce minimal improvements.

First appearing at:
http://www.railwayage.com/index.php/blogs/william-vantuono/guest-editorial-high-speed-on-the-nec-an-engineers-perspective.html


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COMMENTARY... Commentary...  

Destination: Freedom Responds

By David Beale
Foreign Editor, Destination: Freedom

The guest editorial above from Mr. Joseph McMahon, a retired Amtrak locomotive engineer,  makes some valid points, especially that intercity train travel is certainly a viable and cost effective transportation mode for relatively short trips.  For example trips of 500 miles or less in the USA.  That certainly is the case here in Europe, which is perhaps 1/3 the size of the continental USA.  And here in Europe there are issues with making perhaps-incremental changes to rail infrastructure at tremendous costs, which result in decreasing travel time by 10 or 15 percent.  I am witnessing such a project in nearby Stuttgart, where costs of reconfiguring the existing, perfectly acceptable Stuttgart main train terminal into an underground through station are exploding by nearly a factor of four from &euro 2.5 billion cost estimate from about 10 years ago to the current estimate of &euro 10 billion.  The time savings when it is all completed in 2023 amounts to about 20 minutes one-way on the busy Stuttgart – Munich rail corridor, which is part of the larger Paris – Vienna – Budapest Trans European Corridor (TEN).  There are valuable lessons a plenty to be learned from recent rail projects here in Europe, as the USA slowly builds several high-speed rail corridors in places such as California, Florida, Texas and perhaps a new high-speed rail corridor parallel to the existing NEC between Washington DC, New York and Boston.  

However, a factual and historical error in Mr. McMahon’s editorial exists where he states:

“... [The US] Marshall Plan and SCAP (Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers), with an eye on the future, rebuilt the European and Japanese railway systems as straight and modern as practicable.”

This is simply incorrect and utterly false.  No such thing happened in Europe as a result of the American Marshall Plan.  A map of railways in Europe from the mid 1960s, a decade after the support of the Marshall Plan ended, looks basically identical to a map of Europe’s rail network in the late 1930s before WW2 broke out. But this myth or exaggeration, that the USA helped build Europe’s now two to three decade old high-speed rail network due to the Marshall Plan of the late 1940s and early 1950s,  seems to be fairly common among Americans in the 60 to 80-plus age range, which Mr. McMahon is in.

The Marshall Plan in Europe (including in the UK) did enable a number of European countries to repair, clean-up and restore large amounts of infrastructure damage and destruction from World War 2, including a dramatic amount of damage to rail lines, rail bridges, rail stations and rail depots during the most intense years of the war in Europe in the 1942 – 1945 time range.   A significant amount of this infrastructure damage was inflicted by the USA, Great Britain and the USSR during the last two years of the war in Europe.  When it was time to rebuild, Great Britain could not help due to its own economic damage from the war, and the USSR would not help due to its own imperialist agenda rooted in its communist/Marxist ideology and new Cold War mindset.  That left the USA to help, and help the USA did, with the equivalent of $130 billion in 2016 dollars aid to western Europe during the late 1940s thru mid 1950s.

It is perhaps fair to ask, if this aid from the Marshall Plan never came, what would the rail system in western Europe look like now.  No doubt, not at the high level it has been since the 1960s and 70s.  But during the 60s, 70s and 80s, long after the Marshall Plan was finished, European countries continued to invest and maintain in their rail infrastructure, unlike the USA, which let most of its rail infrastructure rot in place during the same time period.

Starting in the late 1970s Europe – two decades after the end of the Marshall Plan – began building the first of many all-new high-speed rail corridors.  The USA made a half-ass attempt starting in the mid 1990s to build its one, and until current times, only high-speed rail corridor on the solid engineering and construction work of the 1920s and 1930s of the now-long gone Pennsylvania Railroad and New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad.

Sure, the American Marshall Plan enabled several countries in western Europe to repair and restore the massive damage and destruction inflicted on rail infrastructure during the later years of WW2 back to pre-WW2 status.  But it had little or nothing to do with the massive expansion of high-speed rail across Europe in the past 30 – 40 years.  It is time for this myth to go the way of the telegraph and steam locomotive . . . . into the history books.  Unlike the steam locomotive and the telegraph, this story of the USA supporting the construction of modern high-speed rail in Europe has no basis in historical fact.  European countries built that infrastructure on their own without aid from the USA decades after the Marshall Plan ended.

David Beale lives and works in Southern Germany.  His employment often takes him to various nations throughout Europe and Asia where he observes and reports on the changing trends in rail transportation.

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AMTRAK LINES... Amtrak Lines...  

Amtrak Studies Austin-San Antonio Corridor
For Commuter Alternative

By Ashley LeBlanc
Corridor News

If you live anywhere along the innovation corridor you know how stressful it can be to be stuck in traffic on I-35.

It is especially disruptive to the lives of those that have to commute between these cities for work almost daily.

“I leave in the morning anywhere from 7:50-8:15, I think [the traffic] is more frustrating in the morning because I’m trying not to be late to work,” said San Marcos local, Felisha Bull.

Bull commutes from San Marcos to North Austin Monday through Friday like many of the cities other 54k plus residents.

There is currently a Union Pacific track that runs from San Antonio to Austin, but only one Amtrak passenger train takes the trip each day. And it takes about two and a half hours.

Amtrak is hoping to change that and is currently performing a Ridership and Revenue study to see what can be done. San Antonio’s mayor has approved $100,000 to go toward the study.

They hope to improve the tracks to be able to run a train at 90 MPH both ways. This could reduce travel time to a little less than an hour for the 80-mile trip.

Chairman, Ray Lopez of the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization in San Antonio said that they have been communicating with Amtrak and hope to have the train stops reach from South San Antonio near Texas A&M all the way to Georgetown.

Ron Heulitt of New Braunfels thinks it would be a great idea. Heulitt has been commuting to Austin for over 20 years now.

Heulitt said over the years, the drive has gotten “longer and harder” with the increasing population in surrounding cities. It takes him almost twice as long as it used to. Growing up in New Jersey, Heulitt is familiar with the concept and has seen it put into place and working.

Amtrak is hoping to get things rolling in the next three to five years. Both Bull and Heulitt are curious about the same thing. How much will it cost?

“I’ve got four kids in college, everything really comes down to my budget, “ said Heulitt.

“It costs me maybe $30.00 a week in gas,” Bull said. “I would definitely check it out as long as it was in my financial range, like $10 each way is not reasonable for me”

Currently, the trip between San Antonio and Austin is $14, and it departs at 7:00 AM. Decreasing the time by half will surely attract more passengers.

Amtrak would plan to have a train leave the station every half hour during peak hours.

Amtrak isn’t only planning on speeding up the trip to Austin from San Antonio; they are also looking to connect to Laredo and Monterrey, Mexico. The train from San Antonio to Mexico would run at 250 MPH.

Lopez sees it as a financial gain for the city of San Antonio’s businesses. They will have a whole new batch of customers with the convenience of a train for travel.

From an item at:
https://smcorridornews.com/amtrak-studies-austin-san-antonio-corridor-for-commuter-alternative/


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Amtrak Considering Adding Another
Fresno-Sacramento Trip

From The Fresno Bee

The authority that runs the Amtrak San Joaquin rail line is considering adding more service between Fresno and Sacramento and wants to hear from the public about it.

Currently, there are two daily round trips between Bakersfield and Sacramento and five daily round trips between Bakersfield and Oakland. All of the trains include central San Joaquin Valley stops.

The San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority says it’s considering adding a Sacramento Morning Express that would originate in Fresno and arrive in Sacramento around 8 a.m.

Before it does that, the SJJPA wants to hear from the public. It’s asking riders where they are likely to begin their trip, what area in Sacramento they prefer to visit, how frequently they visit Sacramento, and what times would work best for arriving and departing Sacramento.

SJJPA said it will use the results of the survey to guide any schedule changes it makes. To fill out the survey, visit http://www.surveymonkey.com/r/KGB7GKZ.

Read more here at:   http://www.fresnobee.com/news/local/article126900419.html#storylink=cpy


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COMMUTER LINES... Commuter Lines...  

California Wine Train Owners Consider
Offering Commuter Service

From Metro Magazine

The new owners of Napa Valley Wine Train, a leisurely fine-dining experience through California’s wine valleys, are entertaining the idea of starting commuter rail service to help offset local highway rush-hour traffic, the Napa Valley Register reported.

“We’re trying to explore how it could work, what kinds of cars we would need, what kind of capabilities those cars would have to have in terms of Wi-Fi,” co-owner Scott Goldie said last week.

A commuter train would be designed to take off the road at least some of the 25,000 to 68,000 vehicles that travel various sections of Highway 29 each day, according to the Napa Valley Register.

From an item found at:
http://www.metro-magazine.com/rail/news/719627/calif-wine-train-owners-consider-offering-commuter-service

A more-detailed version can be found at:
http://napavalleyregister.com/eagle/news/local/wine-train-willing-to-explore-employee-commuter-service/article_bb467542-c7f6-5635-83c0-0f2f20ca6ecf.html


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FUNDING LINES... Funding Lines...  

MoDot Says Cuts To Passenger Rail Budget
Won’t Affect Amtrak Service

By Kurt Erickson
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Despite losing $500,000 in funding as part of Gov. Eric Greitens’ budget cuts, Amtrak service across Missouri remains on track.

Michelle Teel, director of multimodal programs at the Missouri Department of Transportation, told the Post-Dispatch Tuesday that riders on the Missouri River Runner trains should see no change in the twice-a-day schedule for the foreseeable future.

“We’re going to continue the service,” Teel said.

The cut announced by Greitens on Monday was part of an overall $146 million reduction he initiated to help balance the budget. Most of the cuts centered on higher education programs.

The cuts were targeted at rolling back earmarks, new spending items, programs with no established track record of success, and services that are duplicated elsewhere in government, a news release noted.

Image

Photo: MoDOT

One of Amtrak’s trains passes through the region.  The train is led by P42 class locomotive #58.

The state pays Amtrak $9.6 million to operate two trains between St. Louis and Kansas City. The trains make 10 stops at stations across the middle section of the state, including Kirkwood, Washington, Hermann and Jefferson City. The loss of the $500,000 will be rolled into what MoDOT will owe the nation’s passenger railroad system in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Teel said MoDOT will negotiate with Amtrak on how to close the funding gap. Among options that could be discussed are fare hikes, she said.

Ridership on the trains in the fiscal year that ended June 30 was down 7.3  percent from the previous year. In all, Amtrak reported 172,032 rode the trains.

From an item appearing at:
http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/modot-says-cuts-to-passenger-rail-budget-won-t-affect/article_ffd8ca63-d3e2-5e16-a493-693e800b8724.html


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STATION LINES... Station Lines...  

Sound Transit Kicks Off Construction
On Northgate Link Station

From Progressive Railroading

Sound Transit has broken ground for its Northgate Link light-rail station, the agency announced late last week.

The station is one of three slated to open in 2021 with the completion of the 4.3-mile Northgate Link extension.

In August 2016, Sound Transit contracted Absher Construction Co. to build the Northgate station, guideway and parking garage. The elevated station will straddle Northeast 103rd Street just east of First Avenue Northeast.

The work also includes building a transit island below the south end of the station platform for light-rail and bus connections. In addition, Sound Transit will provide bicycle parking near the station.

“Within a few years, this station will enable many thousands more riders each day to take advantage of fast and reliable travel through some of the most congestion-choked areas of our region,” said Sound Transit Chief Executive Officer Peter Rogoff in a press release.

Found at:
http://www.progressiverailroading.com/passenger_rail/news/Sound-Transit-kicks-off-construction-on-Northgate-Link-station--50609


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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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BUILDERS LINES... Builder Lines...  

Bellevue, Washington Gets New Tunneling
Machine For Sound Transit Project

From King5.Com

There’s a new type of tunnel boring machine in town to dig the Sound Transit tunnel through downtown Bellevue.

A big bit on the front is designed to chew through rocks and tough material. The whole thing is built onto a Leibherr excavator and sold through Orion Equipment of Seattle.

This machine, along with a second, were delivered to the Bellevue job site Tuesday afternoon. They are said to be the first of their kind in North America, and built in France by Germany’s Leibherr, which makes a wide range of construction equipment.

It’s quite a bit different than what we’ve seen with typical tunnel boring machines. “Bertha” is one of the world’s biggest examples of that, now digging the Highway 99 tunnel under downtown Seattle. It digs a 58-foot wide hold. Sound Transit has also used smaller machines to dig 21-foot wide bores for the smaller light rail tunnels. This machine is said can cut a 30-foot diameter bore.

Sound Transit says it’s using this technique to minimize impacts to homes and businesses. It uses the Sequential Excavation Method, also called Austrian tunneling. It chews out a section of the tunnel, and then the area around it is injected with a concrete product called Shotcrete. Finally a tunnel lining is installed.  

For the full story see:
http://www.king5.com/news/local/bellevue/bellevue-gets-new-tunneling-machine-for-sound-transit-project/386856590


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LEGAL LINES... Legal Lines...  

FDOT Would Regulate Brightline Passenger
Rail Service Under Mayfield’s Bill

By Lisa Broadt
TCPalm.Com

The Florida Department of Transportation would have authority to modify aspects of Brightline passenger rail service and impose penalties against the railroad under a bill filed Tuesday by state Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne.

The bill, the Florida High-Speed Passenger Rail Safety Act, would give FDOT wide authority, second only to federal law. The bill would apply to both high-speed passenger rail, such as Brightline, and to freight railroads, such as Florida East Coast Railway, which intends to share its tracks with Brightline.

If passed, it would strengthen public disclosure requirements, including having railroads publish information about rail safety and accidents, and would grant local governments a greater voice in decisions about installing fencing around the railroad corridor.

Mayfield on Tuesday said she found it “astounding” that Florida did not already have high-speed rail regulations in place, particularly because Brightline — which is to begin Miami-to-West Palm Beach service this summer — has not proven that it will take adequate safety measures to protect the public.

“I have not heard one thing from (All Aboard Florida) about what they are going to do to ensure safety features are in place to protect the public,” Mayfield said in a news release.

Officials of All Aboard Florida, which would operate the Brightline service, declined to comment on the bill.

Each of the many changes proposed in the bill is equally crucial and feasible, Mayfield said on Wednesday.  .

“This bill was very thought-out, all the provisions in this bill are equally important, and while we could have added many other provisions, we carefully crafted a reasonable measure that the state Legislature could enact and oversee,” she said in an email.

The Department of Transportation did not help craft the bill, but Mayfield, who represents parts of the Treasure and Space coasts, said she “looks forward to hearing” from them.

Asked about the bill’s chances of making it past powerful railroad lobbyists, Mayfield said she would be “working diligently to see this bill through the process.”

Reps. MaryLynn Magar, R-Hobe Sound; Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart; and Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, have filed a companion bill in the House.

Treasure Coast government officials and some residents have been vocal in their opposition to All Aboard Florida, a project which, they say, could endanger the public and disrupt the environment. The Rail Safety Act would address many of these concerns..

The opposition group CARE FL, for one, praised the bill as a “thoughtful measure (that) specifically addresses Florida’s current unacceptable lack of any law or regulation governing high-speed rail safety,” said Brent Hanlon, its chairman.

Mayfield’s bill also addresses local government’s concerns that caring for upkeep of railway intersections — local governments lease rights-of-way over the tracks — would become increasingly expensive.

Under the Safety Act, the railroads, not local governments, would be responsible for paying for intersections.

That change puts costs where they belong, Magar said.

“Local governments should not have to absorb the costs of protecting their citizens from a private project,” Magar said in the news release. “This good bill puts a stop to so-called private railroad companies financing their business ventures on the backs of hard-working taxpayers.”

All Aboard Florida does not meet the federal definition of “high-speed” rail, but Mayfield’s bill would redefine the term to mean any passenger railroad that proposes to operate at a maximum speed over 80 mph, including All Aboard Florida’s Brightline trains..

The bill, if passed, would take effect July 1.

All Aboard Florida has said it will begin passenger service between Miami and West Palm Beach by late summer but has not set a date for the second phase of the project, from West Palm Beach through the Treasure Coast and Space Coast and on to Orlando International Airport.

From an article appearing at:
http://www.tcpalm.com/story/news/local/shaping-our-future/all-aboard-florida/2017/01/18/fdot-would-regulate-brightline-passenger-rail-service-under-mayfields-bill/96684730/


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

SNCF Orders 255 Trains For
Īle-De-France Network

By Dan Templeton
International Railway Journal

French National Railways (SNCF) has selected a consortium of Alstom-Bombardier to renew trains on lines D and E of the Paris RER network.

The € 3.75bn contract for 255 trains is the largest contract ever to be financed by Īle-de-France Transport Authority (Stif). The new trains will replace the current rolling stock which has an average age of over 30 years.

The first firm part of the order is worth an estimated € 1.55bn (70% Alstom - 30% Bombardier) and comprises the delivery of 71 trains - 56 112m-long and 15 130m-long - which will enter service from 2021 onwards.

The X’Trapolis Cityduplex trains comprise two single-deck end cars as well as four double-deck cars on the 112m-long trains, which can carry up to 1563 passengers, and five double-deck cars on the 130m long trains, which can carry up to 1860 passengers.

The trains, which can travel at up to 140km/h, will have open gangways to help cope with further expected increases in passengers following a 7% increase between September 2015 and September 2016.

SNCF will use 130 of the trains on Line D and 125 of the trains on Line E.

The trains will also be equipped with regenerative braking, air-conditioning, wheelchair access and comfortable seating.

Each train utilizes eight motor bogies to provide better acceleration and deceleration compared with previous generations of trains.

Nine sites in France will be responsible for the design and manufacturing of the equipment: Alstom’s Ornans, Le Creusot, Reichshoffen, Valenciennes, Villeurbanne, Tarbes, Saint Ouen, and Petit-Quevilly sites as well as Bombardier’s Crespin plant.

Found at:
http://www.railjournal.com/index.php/rolling-stock/sncf-orders-255-trains-for-ile-de-france-network.html


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TO THE NORTH... To The North...  

UP Express Mess A Red Flag
For Future Projects?

By Shawn Jeffords
Toronto Sun

Could the UP Express fiasco be a sign of things to come for two of the region’s next major transit projects?

Both Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig and board chairman Rob Prichard muse about the implications of the UP ridership failure and the questions it raises in e-mails obtained by the Toronto Sun through a Freedom of Information request.

The train, which covers a route between Union Station and Pearson International Airport, launched June 6, 2015, with the target of attracting 5,000 riders a day within a year. The goal was to work towards break even status, which would require around 7,000 riders a day with the one-way fares set at $27.50.

But when ridership dipped to less than half that number by December 2015, the documents show the province intervened, ordering the agency to slash the fare, eventually settling on a $12 one-way fee.

On Feb. 23, 2016, the day the agency and provincial government announced the fare reduction, McCuaig and Prichard exchange e-mails about a grilling McCuaig received from reporters over the UP fare failure. McCuaig relates some of the questions asked by reporters to Prichard, including a wilting query about the agency’s confidence in its own ability to accurately predict ridership on key multi-billion-dollar transit projects including GO Regional Express Rail (RER) and Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack.

“It’s the right question,” Prichard writes to McCuaig. “The new UP is an early delivery of (SmartTrack).”

“UP is a brand new service,” McCuaig replies. “RER builds on the foundation of GO ridership. But there is no question that RER has some significant assumptions in terms of attracting new kinds of ridership.”

GO’s 10-year Regional Express Rail plan is expected to cost $13.5 billion. SmartTrack is estimated to cost $3.7 billion.

The documents also show the modeling which over-estimated ridership on the UP Express when it launched was the same modeling used to come up with the ridership projections when the fare was cut. As a result, McCuaig writes on multiple occasions he has little faith in the figures.

On Feb. 18, 2016, McCuaig tells Prichard that their modeling suggests the new UP Express fare will result in a $15 million-$21 million revenue shortfall but will bump ridership up by 1,200 daily customers.

“My level of confidence with these forecasts is low,” he adds.

The UP Express costs the province $68 million a year to operate.

On Feb. 22, 2016, a day before the Metrolinx board was to approve the UP Express fare decrease, board member Rose Patten wrote to McCuaig asking to be provided with the “revenue/financial implications” of the fare cut. McCuaig replied that they will have some preliminary model results for the board to view. Again, he said he has little faith in the figures.

“To be frank, I am not confident in (those numbers) since the model is the one used to forecast original ridership,” he said, adding that the province doesn’t want Metrolinx talking about the model results.

“They are sensitive to how much ridership will grow and how it will impact revenue in the short term.”

Metrolinx spokesman Anne Marie Akins said Friday that the agency is studying what on-going subsidy will be required for the UP Express. The air-rail link now has 9,000 riders a day, she added.

Asked if the ridership problems with the UP Express have impacted the agency’s confidence in itself, and its consultants, to accurately model and project ridership for future projects, Akins said the original UP Express studies were completed several years ago.

“Most were completed before Umber’s growth in the marketplace,” she said. “Our original pricing strategy provided what we considered a balanced approach with a variety of options for riders; similar to other services around the world like Heathrow.”

Wynne’s Office Played Key Role In Price Change

Premier Kathleen Wynne’s office played a major role in the decision to slash the price of the struggling UP Express in early 2016.

According to e-mails and briefing notes the Toronto Sun obtained through freedom-of-information legislation, Wynne’s office asked Metrolinx to start mapping out options to reduce the fare of the troubled rail link to Pearson International Airport last January.

According to Metrolinx Chairman Rob Prichard, Wynne’s office has “communicated a desire to see a revised fare system for the UP Express,” he wrote to agency CEO Bruce McCuaig.

That kicked off a flurry of meetings between Metrolinx, the Ministry of Transportation and Wynne’s office. According to a briefing note, the final decision on the fare was made during a February meeting.

“The premier’s office and minister’s office met to lock down a new fare structure,” the note said. “(The premier’s office) advised that one-stop rides should be $4.71 (Presto fare).”

The documents show that Metrolinx brass knew months after UP Express’ June 2015 launch they were under considerable pressure to turn the trains bad ridership numbers around.

“We likely have about 4-6 weeks to demonstrate movement in the right direction, so anything that should be done to grow the ridership can be discussed,” McCuaig wrote his management team in September 2015.

Judy Pfeifer, Metrolinx’s chief of communications, added that the stakes were high. “Metrolinx’s reputation (is) on the line with poor figures for Pearson,” she said in an e-mail.

McCuaig also wrote to a Metrolinx board member, saying he did not plan to use the word “permanent” when describing the new $12 fare, keeping the door open to increasing the fare in the future.

“I will say if asked that this is our new fare structure and that we will continue to monitor public response and ridership going forward,” he said.  

Metrolinx spokesman Anne Marie Aikins said last week that Metrolinx does not intend to raise the fare of the UP Express.


From an article offered to us at:
http://www.torontosun.com/2017/01/15/up-express-mess-a-red-flag-for-future-projects


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