The National Corridors Initiative Logo

March 28, 2016
Vol. 16 No. 12

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


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

James P. RePass, Sr.
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...

  Expansion Lines…
New Rail Transit Lines Began Service In Most
   Regions Of The US In 2015, With
   One In Canada, Too
Arizona Valley Metro Celebrates Light-Rail
   Extension Opening
  Transit Lines…
Sound Transit To Add Longer Trains To Meet
   Unexpected Light-Rail Demand
  Safety Lines…
Amtrak, U.S. Transit Agencies Step Up Security
   After Brussels Terrorist Attacks
  Maintenance Lines…
Metra Adds More Than $64M To Its 2016
   Capital Program
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Across The Pond…
Transport In Brussels Attacked By ISIS Terrorists
  To The North…
VIA Rail And The Federal Budget: More Repairs,
   More Studies, But No Service Improvements Yet
VIA’s HFR Scheme: Good Idea, Bad Route,
   Lots Of Unanswered Questions
VIA’s HFR Scheme: Separating The Wheat
   From The Chaff
RUN Annual Conference - Boston, April 29
  Station Lines…
MBTA Reopens Government Center Station;
   Two Years Later And On Budget
  Publication Notes …

EXPANSIONLINES... Expansion Lines...  

New Rail Transit Lines Began Service
In Most Regions Of The US In 2015,
With One In Canada, Too

By David Peter Alan

There has been a lot of breaking transit news so far this year, but that does not mean that our transit map did not make steady progress during 2015. So, now that there will not be a strike or a lockout at New Jersey Transit, and everything else appears to be under control, except perhaps for the derailment of Amtrak Train #4 in Kansas, we can take a look at last year’s new rail transit starts.

Light rail and streetcar lines dominated new rail transit starts last year. Most started in the Southwest, in the region stretching from Texas to California. New York City and Charlotte, North Carolina were also represented. So was Canada, with a new line to the airport in Toronto.

The New York City system expanded for the first time since 1989 on September 13th, when the Hudson Yards Station on the #7 Flushing Line opened for service (see our coverage in the September 21st edition of D:F). The entrance to the station is located on West 34th Street near the Long Island Rail Road’s West Side Yards, and about a ten-minute walk from Penn Station. The line was extended 1.5 miles to the new station from the former terminal at Times Square. It is the system’s deepest station, and plans call for it to serve new residential and commercial development that is slated for the area.

There is a new streetcar in Charlotte, North Carolina, and it is called the Gold Line. It connects with the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) Lynx Blue Line light rail in Uptown (the local term for “downtown”) Charlotte and runs 1.5 miles, mostly on East Trade Street, to Presbyterian Hospital. There are plans to expand the six-stop line in the future. For now, it is running with heritage-style cars manufactured by the Gomaco Trolley Company that previously ran on a heritage streetcar line which no longer operates. The first run took place on Tuesday, July 14th.

Dallas has a new streetcar, too. The Downtown-Oak Cliff streetcar runs from behind Union Station to North Oak Cliff, over the Houston Street viaduct. Service began on April 13th on the 1.6-mile route. Union Station hosts Amtrak’s Texas Eagle, Trinity Railway Express (TRE) trains to Fort Worth, and the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) light rail system. The streetcar line runs with modern cars made by the Brookville Equipment Co. The center section of the car has no seats, and is designed to accommodate bicycles and standees, instead. The schedule is limited, and the ride takes about seven minutes from end to end. Much of the funding for the line came from a Federal “stimulus” grant in 2010, and further expansion is planned. There are no fares required to ride the line; at least, not yet.

Vintage streetcars in Dallas now run on a longer line, too. The McKinney Avenue Transit Authority, a quasi-museum operation, runs a full-service schedule with vintage cars. McKinney expanded its line on June 5th along St. Paul and Olive Streets downtown. The .65-mile extension runs beyond the former terminal at Ross Avenue and forms a loop for the cars, improving their connections with DART lines. The line is officially known as the “M-Line Streetcar” but it is normally known locally as the “McKinney Avenue Trolley.” Funding for the expansion came from city-issued bonds, a Federal grant and DART.

Last year was a big year for Metro Rail in Houston. After the northern extension of the Red Line opened late in 2013, two new light-rail lines opened on May 23, 2015. The 10.6-mile Purple Line intersects the Red Line downtown and runs toward the southeast, while the 3.3-mile Green Line branches off from it. There are plans to extend the Green Line two more stops in 2017. The two new lines cost $1.3 billion to build, about one third of which came from Federal sources.

Valley Metro Rail in the Phoenix, Arizona area also expanded last year. Its light rail line was extended eastward in Mesa for 3.1 miles. It runs in the median of Main Street to four new stations. Service began on Saturday, August 22d.

Light rail has been expanding in California in recent years, and last year’s expansion took place in Sacramento. Sacramento Regional Transit (“SacRT”) extended its Blue Line from its former terminal at Meadowview Road, southeast to Consumnes River College. The line added three new stations, and one more is scheduled to open in the future. The 4.3-mile extension opened for service on August 24th, and a line to West Sacramento should come next.

There was also one new start in Canada: the Union Pearson Express from Toronto Union Station to the Lester B. Pearson Airport. It is known locally as the “UPExpress” and is completely unrelated to the Union Pacific Railroad in the United States. The trains are operated by Metrolinx, which also runs GO Transit commuter trains in the Toronto Area. The airport service began on June 6th, and it operates with diesel multiple unit (DMU) equipment made by Nippon Sharyo. The line runs 23.3 km (14.6 miles), mostly along the existing GO Transit line to Georgetown and Kitchener, finishing its trip on a newly-built short branch to the airport. The fares are high. The “standard” fare is $27.50 Cdn. (about $20 U.S.) each way, with small discounts for seniors and round-trip travel. Fares paid with a “Presto” stored-value card are also lower. Low ridership was reported during the first several months of operation. Airport employees get the lowest fares: $10.00 Cdn. each way when purchased on line.

There is another new start worth mentioning; the one that did not happen. The F Street-Benning Road streetcar in Washington, D.C. was supposed to open for service at the end of 2014, but service did not begin until February 27, 2016. The Foothill Extension of the Gold Line in Los Angeles is now operating, and so is the northwest light-rail extension in Phoenix. There are also two new lines in Seattle.

There are plans for more new rail starts later this year, too. The Kansas City Streetcar is scheduled to open for service on May 6th, and the extension of the Expo Line to Santa Monica from Culver City and Los Angeles, is planned for May 20th. There are other projects under construction in Los Angeles, Cincinnati, New York and other places. Advocates and riders hope that 2016 will be a good year for new rail transit starts, and it looks like the year is off to a good start.

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Arizona Valley Metro Celebrates
Light-Rail Extension Opening

From Rail, Track, And Structures

The Valley Metro $327-million, 3.2-mile Northwest Extension in Arizona opened on March 19 ahead of schedule and on budget after more than two years of construction.

Work on the project began in January 2013 after incoming leaders dedicated city of Phoenix and Proposition 400 funds to prevent additional delays to the project that would have resulted in the line opening in 2023.

“In order to keep this special day from being delayed by another seven years, it took political courage and a major local investment,” said Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton. “We couldn’t afford to wait because we know that this extension will connect more Phoenix residents to jobs, education and opportunity while attracting billions of dollars of economic investment.”

“Working closely with partners such as the city of Phoenix, we are building a transportation network that enhances our region’s quality of life and increases our ability to compete with other metro areas around the world,” said Valley Metro Interim Chief Executive Officer Scott Smith. “What an exciting day for Phoenix and our region as we expand to connect more of the Valley and continue on our path of building a 66-mile high-capacity light -rail system over the next two decades.”

The additional 3.2 miles of service on 19th Avenue is anticipated to serve 5,000 daily riders who will be connecting to numerous central Phoenix sports and entertainment venues, Tempe Mill Avenue District and Arizona State University and the unique arts and culture offerings of downtown Mesa.

The Northwest Extension is the Valley’s second light-rail extension to open within the past seven months. In the future, seven additional high-capacity extensions, including a Phase II extension to Metrocenter Mall, are planned or are currently under construction, that will create a 66-mile system by 2034.

From an item at:

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TRANSIT LINES... Commuter Lines...  

Sound Transit To Add Longer Trains To
Meet Unexpected Light-Rail Demand

By Mike Lindblom
Seattle Times

Sound Transit will put some longer trains on its light rail tracks beginning Monday, to carry the unexpectedly big crowds using the new University of Washington and Capitol Hill stations.

Three-car trains will alternate with the usual two-car trains, spokesman Bruce Gray said Wednesday.

The agency opened a new $1.8 billion tunnel from Westlake Station to UW and Capitol Hill on Saturday. Passengers are finding full platforms and trains at peak times, and sometimes waiting for the next train, Gray said.

And that’s happening while UW is on spring break, and Seattle Central College in exam week.

Greater demand is expected Monday when UW classes resume. In addition, route changes by King County Metro Transit will feed some bus passengers into UW Station, to complete their commutes downtown.

Roughly 57,000 passengers used the 19-mile light-rail corridor from UW to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Tuesday, Gray said. That followed 67,000 people on opening day, 35,000 on Sunday and 47,000 on Monday. Previous weekday ridership was around 35,000 boardings.

So the counts are already as high as Sound Transit projected for next year — with not only these two stations, but the Angle Lake Station beyond the airport scheduled to open in September, with 1,050 park-and-ride stalls.

Sound Transit aims to carry nearly — but not more than — 150 people in each railcar, or 450 in a three-car train. That sort of volume means about half are seated, half standing, and people can readily enter or exit. Similar-sized trains in Asia might hold 200 people per railcar, considered a crush load here.

Gray said public-education ads and train announcements are coming. Put your backpack under your seat or between your legs. Don’t block the doorways. Move to the ends of the trains.

And there’s been an issue with managing expectations, as some people are used to always finding a seat, he said. Standing-room-only crowds are familiar to RapidRide bus riders, and those on certain crosstown Metro routes.

“During the peak of rush hours, people shouldn’t always expect to have a seat their entire ride,” Gray said.

The most-used rail segment remains between Pioneer Square and the International District/Chinatown Stations, he said — but long-term, the Capitol Hill-Westlake stretch is expected to be the busiest.

From an item at:

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SAFETYLINES... Safety Lines...  

Amtrak, U.S. Transit Agencies Step Up
Security After Brussels Terrorist Attacks

From Progressive Railroading

Following the recent terrorist attacks at a Brussels airport and subway station, Amtrak and several major U.S. transit agencies increased their security efforts.

In response to the attacks — which left more than 30 people dead and injured hundreds more — Amtrak deployed extra officers at its stations. Additionally, the national passenger railroad’s police force is working with state, local and federal law enforcement partners to gather and share intelligence, according to a statement posted on Amtrak’s blog.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in New York City is working with the New York State Police and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) to elevate police presence at subway and rail stations, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a press release.

Additionally, PANYNJ increased its police presence at all of its airports, bridges, tunnels and the World Trade Center, as well as the PATH and Port Authority Bus Terminal.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority also beefed up police presence at three rail stations, including L.A.’s Union Station.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration announced it is deploying additional security to major U.S. airports and at various rail and transit stations, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said in a prepared statement.

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) encouraged riders to remain vigilant and report any unattended bags or suspicious behavior.

“We all need to work together to make sure that our public transit systems are as safe and secure as possible,” said APTA President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Melaniphy.

Yesterday’s terrorist attacks in Belgium left 31 people dead and more than 200 others wounded. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility for the attacks, which were carried out by two suicide bombers.

One of the bombers targeted Brussels’ Maalbeek subway station.

Found at:

For additional coverage see the article in the Across The Pond section below. - Ed.

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MAINTENANCELINES... Maintenance Lines...  

Metra Adds More Than $64M To
Its 2016 Capital Program

From Rail, Track, And Structures

The Metra Board of Directors has approved a $64.5 million addition to the agency’s 2016 capital program which now totals $251 million in projected spending.

Increases in federal dollars made available to the agency, as well as the award of a new federal grant, other new capital contributions and the transfer of funds from the 2015 operating budget are responsible for the positive changes to Metra’s capital budget.

Metra will receive a $11.3-million increase in federal funds due to the recently passed Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act. Metra also recently won a $14-million federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant to replace the Fox River Bridge on the Milwaukee West Line. The remainder of funds for the $34-million bridge project will be supplied through a reallocation of $14 million in existing Regional Transportation Authority bond funds and a $6-million contribution from Canadian Pacific. The amended 2016 capital program approved by the Metra Board includes these changes.

“The Fox River Bridge Project will improve Metra’s reliability and operational flexibility, reduce maintenance costs and help ensure the continued efficient operation of the Chicago region’s rail network,” said Metra Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer Don Orseno. “We anticipate completing final design of the bridge this year, with construction starting in 2017 and continuing through late 2018.”

The revision to the 2016 capital program also included an additional $12 million leftover from the 2015 operating budget to continue the purchase of new or rehabilitate existing railcars and locomotives as part of Metra’s $2.4 billion modernization program. The 10-year modernization program includes the purchase of 367 new railcars, 455 rehabilitated railcars, 52 new locomotives and 85 rebuilt locomotives, investments in Positive Train Control and improvements to the 49th Street Yard to increase the number of cars that can be rehabilitated there annually.

In 2015, Metra completed the rehabilitation of 32 railcars. In 2016, the agency plans to rehabilitate 40 railcars and begin upgrading eight locomotives in-house, with 10 more to be rehabilitated by a contracted vendor. Metra anticipates the first new railcars will start arriving in 2018 and new locomotives after 2020.

The capital program amendment also provides $5.5 million to rehabilitate the Calumet Station on the Metra Electric Line, parts of which have deteriorated beyond their useful life. That work was scheduled to be funded with state bond funds that have been put on hold, but the work can no longer be postponed and the capital amendment reallocates federal dollars to the project. The Calumet Station project will include construction of a new elevator and equipment room and the replacement of stairs at both ends of the station. In addition, platforms will be replaced to meet the accessibility requirements of the Americans with Disability Act.

Metra will also receive an additional $100,000 as payment from the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District for an extra round-trip train on Metra’s railroad tracks, which will be used to fund a new traction power substation project in 2016.

The capital amendment approved also sets aside $8 million from the 2015 operating budget to fund future Metra financing costs.

Found at:

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

Installments By David Beale
NCI Foreign Editor


Transport In Brussels Attacked
By ISIS Terrorists

Subway train and check-in hall of the main airport become targets of Islamic suicide bombers.
What’s next for transit security in Europe?

Via Numerous Internet Sources

As this week’s edition of Destination: Freedom goes to release, the headline news story in much of the western world, especially in western Europe, continues to be the horrific terror attacks at the Brussels international airport as well as one branch of the Brussels subway system, known as the Metro. In this case the staff of D:F sees little point or value added of rehashing the events in Brussels since the morning of the 22nd of March, there is plenty of almost non-stop coverage of the terror attacks and the aftermath on a wide variety of TV news channels, websites, newspapers and magazines.

However D:F provides you here with a brief factual description of the attacks and the current status of the terror targets: The actual numbers of dead and injured from the attacks – 31 dead plus 3 to 4 dead terror bombers and approximately 300 injured – continue to be revised up or down as both investigations and recovery efforts run in parallel.

Brussels National Airport In Zaventem, Belgium

The check-in / departures area of Hall B – the location for airlines flying to destinations beyond the borders of the EU – was attacked by two suicide bombers in the areas where people line-up / que for baggage check-in, flight check-in and issuing of boarding passes. Dozens of people were killed and perhaps 200 were injured.

The check-in area for the airport still remains sealed off. The entire airport was closed for passenger flights immediately following the bombings on Tuesday morning. Inbound flights to Brussels on Tuesday were diverted to other airports such as Amsterdam, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Paris and even as far away as Munich. Passenger operations remain suspended through Easter Sunday evening (27th of March), a reopening of passenger operations at the airport on Monday is not yet confirmed, the passenger terminal may remain closed beyond Eastern Sunday. The Brussels airport terminal contains an underground train station which is connected to national rail network of Belgium by several tunnels. Both commuter trains and several intercity trains make scheduled stop at the airport station, including certain Thalys TGV trains going to Paris. The airport train station was not directly affected by the terror attacks. The airport also has a LRT / tram station and is connected to a light-rail / tram network in the northern suburbs of Brussels.

Brussels Metro Line 1 / Line 5 And Maalbeek Station

About one hour after the airport bombings took place, a suicide bomber blew himself up with an explosive vest inside a subway train as the train was underway between the Maalbeek and Kunst-Wet stations. Maalbeek station is situated in an area of Brussels where a number of embassies and the European Council headquarters are located. NATO headquarters and several EU government buildings are also not far away from this location. The Metro Line 1 / Line 5 route in this area is underground. Dozens of people died and several dozens more were injured in the bomb blast. The train remained upright on the track, many passengers were able to open the train’s doors and walk along the tunnel back to the Maalbeek station into safety. Rescuers had to enter the tunnel to reach the train to care for the injured and remove the dead. As of Saturday evening, the Metro system in Brussels is back in operation on a reduced schedule. One of the two tracks on the Line 1 / Line 5 metro line remains blocked by damage from the bombing, the other track has returned to limited service in the area of the bombing. Security at all Metro stations has been dramatically increased with patrols by police in SWAT gear and armed military personnel. Most passengers are being physically inspected for bombs, guns and other contraband at the entrances of the Metro stations.

Heavy / Conventional Rail Network In Brussels

None of the approximately 30 passenger rail stations in and around the Brussels area on the SNCB conventional / heavy rail network were attacked, but the entire rail network in the Brussels area and indeed in all of Belgium was shut down just after the airport and metro bombings and remained closed for the remainder of that day. A number of Eurostar trains to London and Thalys high speed trains to Paris and Amsterdam were cancelled, but news reports indicated that at least two Eurostar trains ran with passengers to London in the late afternoon / early evening on the day of the attacks. Eurostar has always employed airport / airline-style security screenings of passengers and their luggage and hand baggage before passengers are allowed to proceed to the waiting lounge and later to the train boarding platform.

The Belgian rail network runs through and around Brussels with several conventional rail lines which generally converge into a central corridor running through the center city area in a subsurface viaduct and tunnel. Three large passenger stations are located on this central rail corridor, named (in English) North Station, Central Station and South Station respectively (Brussels Noord, Brussels Midi and Brussels Zuid in the local language). The tracks and boarding platforms in Brussels Central / Midi are underground, Brussels South and Brussels North Stations are surface level. German ICE high speed trains, Thalys TGV trains to Paris and Amsterdam and Eurostar trains to London UK are based mostly out of and serve Brussels South Station. A diverse mixture of local / commuter, regional and long distance / intercity trains make stops at these three main rail stations, while local trains also stop at Brussels Congress (between Brussels North Station and Central Station) and Brussels Chappel (between Central Station and South Station). The entire Belgium rail network was shut down for the remainder of the day on the 22nd of March after the bomb attacks, but has since returned to normal operations. As with the Brussels Metro subway system, all stations and some trains are being patrolled by heavily armed police and military personnel. Currently many passengers are required to go through a physical inspection for weapons and bombs at the station entrances.

Destination: Freedom Readers Travel Advisory:
Europe On High Alert – Focus On Train Stations And Airports

The attack last Tuesday on the Brussels Metro was the first major and deadly attack on rail transit in western Europe since the July 2005 bombing of subway trains and city buses in London, although a serious fire bomb attack on two regional trains in Cologne, Germany was attempted in summer 2006 by Islamic radicals from Lebanon. The plot failed due to faulty ignition devices made by the amateur bombers, but had the potential to kill or injure hundreds of train passengers, if the devices had worked as intended. Last year an attempted mass shooting of train passengers on board a Thalys high speed TGV train by an Islamic radical gun man was thwarted by off-duty US military personnel, as the train was underway from Brussels to Paris in northern France.

It may perhaps seem a bit like closing the barn doors after all the cows escaped from the barn, but this latest terror attack, as well as several recent suicide bombings in Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey has once again focused intense security and law enforcement attention on Europe’s airports and passenger rail networks. With new intelligence coming into the public realm just in the past 48 hours, that as many as 500 ISIS-trained radicals are stationed in places such as Amsterdam, Brussels, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Berlin, Paris, Munich, Vienna, etc. and now active and in the later stages of planning terror attacks across western Europe, security presence in airports and train stations and at international borders on various roads and highways will certainly remain intense for some time to come.

Destination: Freedom readers who may be planning to visit or travel through larger European cities can expect and should plan for spot inspections of luggage and personal identification. Be prepared for travel delays as these security checks are carried out. Carry your passport or official ID on your person at all times. Traveling with any kind of fire arms in luggage or on your body, even if you do not travel by air, only by train, automobile or bus, may land you in jail for an extended period of time, if you are inspected and caught with fire arms at one of these many spot checks. And finally, leave detailed travel plans about your trip with a family member or work colleague who is not travelling with you, in case another terror incident takes place and they need to check on your status.

With the new information about 500 or so active ISIS members already in Europe and planning new attacks, D:F readers traveling within Europe can also expect that some airports or train stations will be suddenly shut down and evacuated on very short notice by law enforcement due either to false alarms (i.e. someone forgets their luggage on a track platform) or intelligence data indicate an imminent terror attack on a certain target. My own personal experience with such evacuations of major train stations is that a simple piece of left/forgotten luggage in the train station can result in a suspension of operations of up to two hours (one hour is perhaps the average length of service suspension) and then cause domino-like effects of delays and cancelations in the rest of rail network for several additional hours. A large amount of patience and calm is required in such events.

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TO THE NORTH... To The North...  

VIA Rail And The Federal Budget:
More Repairs, More Studies, But
No Service Improvements Yet

Press Release From “Save VIA”

The release of the 2016 Federal Budget on March 23 provided some much-needed encouragement for those who believe VIA Rail Canada requires serious attention from Ottawa, says the Save VIA citizens’ advocacy group.

“The good news is that VIA didn’t take a hit,” says Save VIA’s Chris West. “Compared with what we’ve seen in years gone by, that’s a definite improvement. The budget also includes funding for projects that at least indicate the new government is paying attention to the concerns of the many Canadians who depend on VIA, such as the citizens of St. Marys. But it still fails to deliver what is needed most, namely overdue increases in the frequency of VIA’s current service.”

The new funding provided for rail passenger service in the 2016 Federal Budget includes:

Says West, “These investments have potential long-term benefits, but they won’t produce more and better service any time soon on the route through St. Marys or elsewhere in Southwestern Ontario. Nonetheless, when you combine this $41.7 million with the $102 million the previous government announced just before the election for the Montreal-Ottawa route, it will help get VIA up to a better state of repair. The attention to the fleet issue is vital because VIA’s aging collection of cars and locomotives remains one of the biggest impediments to making its service more competitive, more frequent and more affordable.”

Also encouraging, says West, is the inclusion in the budget of $3.3 million over three years for the federal government to conduct its own in-depth analysis of VIA’s $4-billion high-frequency rail (HFR) proposal. Save VIA has had concerns about this scheme from the outset because it would only cover the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto route and it would bypass several major communities now served by VIA, including Oshawa, Cobourg, Belleville, Kingston and Brockville.

“The government has wisely chosen to not let VIA conduct its own review of its own proposal,” says West. “This HFR idea has pre-occupied VIA management for nearly two years and it has consistently been portrayed as a ‘silver bullet’ for the railway’s multiple problems. But it would eat up most of VIA’s budget for several years and it wouldn’t improve service west of Toronto or east of Montreal. The government appears to be proceeding cautiously and responsibly on this.”

As an alternative to both VIA’s HFR proposal and a Toronto-Windsor high-speed rail plan now being studied by the Government of Ontario, Save VIA is endorsing the high-performance rail (HPR) option that was presented on March 4, 2016, in St. Marys by Transport Action Ontario. Proven on several Amtrak corridors in the U.S. and numerous others around the world, HPR has the potential to improve VIA’s entire seven-route Quebec-Windsor Corridor system faster and at a more reasonable cost than the other two proposals.

The Transport Action Ontario HPR brochure and discussion paper are available at:

“Save VIA encourages the government to seriously consider the HPR option as part of its own $3.3-million study of VIA’s HFR proposal,” says West. “As well, we will continue to call for near-term improvements to VIA’s three Southwestern Ontario routes. We believe there are low-cost steps that could enable VIA to make better use of its existing fleet and facilities. The result would be increased service sooner, rather than later – and at an affordable price that is within the government’s budget.”

For further information, please contact:

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

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Editor’s Note: The following opinion piece was initially published in two parts.
It is offered here by author Greg Gormick

VIA’s HFR Scheme:
Good Idea, Bad Route, Lots Of
Unanswered Questions

By Greg Gormick
Part 1 of 2

What’s so wrong with VIA’s proposal to expand its track ownership in the Quebec-Windsor Corridor in order to launch what it describes as high-frequency rail (HFR) service?

As a concept, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. Giving VIA’s trains a route of their own on which to gallop at 110 mph or faster without freight interference and without investing further in privately-owned railway infrastructure sounds ideal. It’s especially compelling when you face the fact that VIA’s federal masters aren’t likely to fund a multi-billion-dollar, electrified high-speed rail (HSR) plan. We’ve been down that pathway too many times over the last 40 years and the results have always negative.

So, as a means of decreasing its end-to-end running times and increasing both frequency and on-time performance in its Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto core market, VIA’s corporate view is that it needs to get off CN’s busy Kingston Subdivision and add substantially to the limited amount of track it already owns at a more reasonable cost than HSR.

Following the first tentative announcement of its alternate HFR plan in late 2014, VIA began presenting it to business groups and the media throughout the Quebec-Windsor Corridor, often tying it to other service improvements the corporation says it is considering. But one rather important item has been consistently missing from these presentations: the route’s details. It has been presented without any geographic specifics, relying on unsubstantiated statements about the existence of abandoned or dormant rail corridors that can be easily turned into freight-free VIA track segments. When asked where these potential passenger-only routes are, VIA’s response has been silence.

However, sources associated with the HFR project have been more forthcoming. The picture they’ve painted is, to put it mildly, questionable.

Westbound from Montreal Central Station, the proposed HFR route holds no surprises and no need for concern. VIA would continue to use CN’s Montreal and Kingston subdivisions to reach the eastern end of its own ex-CN track just north of Coteau, Quebec. With upgrading, VIA’s former CN Alexandria, Beachburg and Smiths Falls subdivisions would provide the HFR route as far as Smiths Falls. It’s at this point that the whole idea starts to go wonky.

Branching off the current Ottawa-Brockville-Toronto route, VIA’s HFR trains would use a new track connection to reach CP’s Montreal-Toronto freight main line and then parallel it for 15.5 miles to Glen Tay. Here, the new VIA line would veer off on the abandoned portion of the CP Havelock Subdivision, with the 92 miles of missing track rebuilt on what is now a segment of the Trans-Canada Trail. From Havelock west, VIA’s tracks would be on CP freight rights-of-way through Peterborough to Leaside, then down the Don Valley to Union Station over the dormant ex-CP line owned by Metrolinx.

In total, the HFR project would consist of 366 route miles, of which more than 200 miles would be new to VIA and 107 miles would be track previously purchased from CN. Excluding motive power and rolling stock, VIA originally pegged the cost at $2 billion, which it expects private-sector investors to fund. This funding is predicated on VIA’s assertion that the HFR service would be profitable enough to deliver a double-digit return on investment for its private-sector partners.

VIA maintains this plan would attract about eight million passengers annually, which is more than three times the ridership handled in 2014 on the individual routes that form the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto triangle. The expectation of a ridership increase of this magnitude is highly optimistic, especially given the level of air, bus and automotive competition throughout the Quebec-Windsor Corridor.

As for the HFR trainsets, VIA estimates these would cost $1 billion and would be publicly funded. They would only be ordered after the dedicated track plan is locked down because, according to VIA, the trains have to be “fitted” carefully to the new infrastructure. This ignores the fact that Amtrak already operates several conventional, diesel-hauled trains at 110 mph and that VIA’s LRC rolling stock is, in fact, designed for 125-mph service.

The concept of giving VIA more freight-free infrastructure is undeniably attractive, but what has so far been put on the table doesn’t make a compelling case for such a momentous and expensive leap. At the very least, some questions need to be asked and answered before VIA’s band wagon rolls any further. The most basic one is whether service would continue to be provided to Kingston, Belleville and other high-volume points on the CN-owned lakeshore route, which received more than $400 million in upgrading under VIA’s 2007-2012 Capital Investment Project.

Stung by the criticism of the HFR proposal that I ventured in The VIA 1-4-10 Plan, VIA privately responded by saying I misunderstood their plan. The key point made was that the HFR service through Peterborough would generate enough profit to cross-subsidize the continuation of “some” service on the lakeshore. That sounds nice, but since no data has been produced to substantiate this claim, it’s difficult to accept.

Equally perplexing have been recent press reports indicating the HFR scheme has morphed from a 110-mph diesel-powered service to an electrified 125-mph operation, boosting the cost to $4 billion. A change this fundamental only undermines the plan’s credibility further.

While it would be nice to be able to endorse VIA’s HFR proposal on the basis of its worthy objective, its shifting and unsubstantiated details make it too reminiscent of other long-term dream schemes the corporation has announced and never been able to deliver. By failing to address fiscal, political and operational realities of their time, each of those previous plans tied up funding and managerial attention that would have been better applied to more practical plans that would have improved service, ridership and revenue within a reasonable time span.

Nonetheless, VIA’s HFR proposal should not be dismissed out of hand. At its core, the basic concept of separating passenger and freight traffic to the maximum extent possible is valid; it’s the route and aspects of the plan’s implementation that are flawed.

Furthermore, even though what VIA has offered up is not endorsable in its current state, the corporation deserves some credit for keeping the issue of improved rail passenger service in the news for several months. That can only assist in triggering the public debate that needs to occur if VIA is going to receive the serious attention it requires from the new government.

Rather than just dissing VIA’s proposal, it will be more productive if we ask what steps can be taken to convert it into a realistic and affordable blueprint for the Quebec-Windsor Corridor’s transformation into a high-performance travel option. Does the basic dedicated track concept have a chance of success in another form?

That’s a question to be explored in my next column.

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VIA’s HFR Scheme:
Separating The Wheat
From The Chaff

By Greg Gormick
Part 2 of 2

Is there anything right about VIA’s high-frequency rail (HFR) proposal? It’s difficult to say because of the way VIA has spun it.

For more than a year, the HFR proposal has been promoted at business luncheons and in media interviews in vague generalities. Even the authors of one of three rail passenger backgrounders produced for the recent Canada Transport Act Review wrote that they could only present their interpretation of the proposal because all they received was a briefing from two VIA managers.

What is known about the HFR proposal has led many observers to raise questions about VIA’s claim that it would be a pathway to success, especially since it only addresses the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto portion of the Quebec-Windsor Corridor. Comparing it with previous high-speed rail (HSR) studies, the authors of the CTA Review backgrounder noted that VIA informed them “the extended Corridor towards Quebec City and Windsor is no longer envisaged, as the market sizes do not justify the investment.”

As well, there is the question of the routing. As confirmed by the authors of the CTA Review backgrounder, “The dedicated route would be Montreal-Ottawa-Smiths Falls-Peterborough-Downtown Toronto and would use diesel trains operating at a 110 mph top speed. New tracks would be built on existing right-of-way, some tracks are already in place (AMT and GO going into Montreal and Toronto) and a small portion around Peterborough is an old CP line.”

In fact, insiders associated with the HFR proposal say it would require the construction of dedicated tracks on active and abandoned CP corridors all the way from Smiths Falls to the east side of Toronto. However, VIA will not confirm or deny this routing. Nor will the corporation explain its rationale for expanding the proposal into a 125-mph electrified service, which would increase its cost by at least $1 billion.

Despite all the red flags these issues raise, it’s not impossible to find positive points in any proposal that seeks to separate passenger and freight traffic to the maximum extent possible. The underlying logic is sound, but the practicality of implementing it in full remains a major sticking point. In this, it is the routing west of Smiths Falls that is problematic, but not so much the route to the east of there.

Today, VIA owns the ex-CN trackage from De Beaujeu, Quebec, (7.5 miles north of the junction with CN’s Toronto-Montreal main line at Coteau) to Smiths Falls via Ottawa. With this 109 miles of infrastructure already in VIA’s hands, and a key component of the HFR proposal, it could be treated as a priority, stand-alone upgrading project. Whether the HFR project goes ahead or not, this investment would bring near-term benefits to VIA’s Montreal-Ottawa and Ottawa-Toronto services. This could help make the case for further investment west of Smiths Falls to Toronto in the future, whether that should be on VIA’s existing routing or the proposed HFR alignment.

Bringing the De Beaujeu-Smiths Falls line up to high-performance rail (HPR) standards wouldn’t be inexpensive. If the objective were to improve it for eventual operation at 125 mph with diesel or electric traction, it would require the elimination of all the grade crossings. Even if the aim was only 110 mph diesel service, there are several speed-limiting curves near Glen Robertson, Alexandria and Maxville that would need to be eliminated through major route re-alignments. There’s also the at-grade crossing of CP’s Toronto-Montreal main line at De Beaujeu, which would ideally be grade separated to allow for more frequent VIA service without disrupting CP’s freight traffic.

Large though they would be, these major investments could convert the Montreal-Ottawa service into an HPR operation with reduced running times and hourly departures from early morning until late evening. It could be just the kind of showcase VIA has long required. With the running time cut to 1:45 or less and frequent shuttle van service between Dorval and Trudeau International Airport, the route could provide much greater intercity utility and act as an integrated feeder for international airlines that don’t serve Ottawa.

Furthermore, HPR-standard upgrading on the VIA-owned Ottawa-Smiths Falls and Smiths Falls-Brockville route segments would benefit the current Ottawa-Toronto service, shaving at least 10 minutes off the running times.

Also worthwhile is the HFR proposal’s call for new equipment. While this is another aspect of the scheme that hasn’t been detailed, it could be a major benefit to VIA’s entire corridor operation. So far, VIA has only said its HFR proposal would require a public investment of $1 billion for new, unspecified motive power and rolling stock, if it proceeded as a 110-mph diesel-powered project. Under the 125-mph electric scenario, that would increase to $1.3 billion.

One of the biggest impediments to VIA ever reducing its costs and improving its passenger attractiveness and service levels remains its aged, inefficient fleet. The key here would be to ensure VIA acquires an efficient and flexible corridor fleet that would enable it to deliver HPR levels of service up to 125 mph. Evidence from the successful Amtrak California corridors suggests this should be push-pull bi-level equipment.

Implemented competently, the fleet component of the HFR plan has merit. The caveat must be that it is well studied by VIA and objectively analyzed by outsiders who are competent to render an informed decision. The last thing VIA needs is a repeat of the botched LRC acquisition program of the early 1980s or the Renaissance misfire of recent years.

Therefore, at the very least, there are two worthy sub-projects wrapped up within the HFR proposal that could be extracted and acted on, provided they passed inspection by the new government and independent advisers. Taking an optimistic view, you could also say the HFR proposal is worthwhile in a very broad sense because it has triggered a high-profile discussion of the need to invest in VIA to make it a more effective, efficient and relevant public service.

In the end, the decision as to whether the full HFR proposal or even pieces of it fly will be up to Transport Minister Marc Garneau and the members of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet. As much as VIA wants to aggressively push its dream forward, there are so many question marks hovering over it that it simply shouldn’t be rushed.

As I said in TAO’s recent HPR discussion paper, any decision on VIA investment will reverberate for generations, affecting the future economic, social and environmental prosperity of the Quebec-Windsor Corridor and the nation. Such a decision would also come with a considerable public cost.

Therefore, it behooves Ottawa to consider all its options. VIA’s HFR proposal -- in whole or in part -- should be included in that analysis. What also must be considered are other, service-proven options, including the full-corridor HPR approach advocated by TAO.

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EVENTS... Events...  

Rail Users Network (RUN) Annual Conference
Boston, MA – April 29, 2016

Registration will be FREE this year, but all attendees MUST register in advance.

Join the Rail Users’ Network (RUN) in Boston, Massachusetts on Friday, April 29th for the RUN Annual Conference. The conference theme will be “Who’s Looking Out for You? The State of Rail Advocacy in New England.”

Plan to stay in town for a tour of the wide variety of transit modes offered by the “T” to Bostonians and other area residents. The tour will take place on Saturday, April 30th, and there may be some other surprises, too.

So mark your calendars and plan to RUN as the spring returns to New England.

The conference will take place at the facilities of the Boston Foundation, 75 Arlingston Street, in downtown Boston, MA. The location is accessible by the MBTA’s Green Line subway. (Arlingston Street Station). You must have an ID to display in order to gain entrance into this building, so please have a picture ID with you on the day of the conference.

Your fare for the optional MBTA tour event (a day pass will do) will be your own responsibility. If you want more information, or wish to register, please check the RUN web site, or call RUN Chair Richard Rudolph at (207) 776-4961.

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STATION LINES... Station Lines...  

MBTA Reopens Government Center Station;
Two Years Later And On Budget

A Photo Essay By Dennis Kirkpatrick
Managing Editor, Destination: Freedom

Boston’s Government Center is no stranger to construction and redevelopment. In the early 1960s Boston’s West End neighborhood and what is now the city’s government cluster area went under the wrecking ball and its face changed forever. It was a great controversy at the time but the laws in those days gave little power to the people.

The section of the City of Boston known as Scollay Square was one of the older parts of the city with buildings dating back to the 1800s at the very least. That section of the city managed to barely escape the Great Boston Fire of 1872. The fire wiped out much of the core downtown district as it was defined in those days with buildings on the periphery standing firm.

Scollay Square was also the seedier part of the city at one time, often the site of bar rooms and burlesque theaters such as the Old Howard Theater, yet just a few doors from there one could also purchase your parochial school uniforms, as did this writer.



All Photos: D. Kirkpatrick, NCI, except as noted.

Old Scollay Square. These images grace the walls of the station as part of a station art presentation. The kiosks in the middle of the street are long gone, station moved a short distance, and is now a part of Boston City Hall Plaza.

Memories of emerging from the subway entrance kiosk which was in the middle of the street and fed by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (as it was known in those days) ia a vague memory, but dodging the cars to reach the sidewalk remain firm.

Scollay Square Station was rebuilt into Government Center station over a multi-year period with a formal dedication taking place in 1963. As part of the area’s redevelopment, the station itself was slightly moved and sections of the Tremont Street subway tunnel moved to accommodate construction of the new Government Center neighborhood. Indeed a section of the former subway tunnel wall can still be found in the sub-basement employee garage in the current Boston City Hall. As part of the rebuild a small nearby stub-end station known as Adams Station was closed and consolidated in the new Government Center stop. A small part of Adams Station is still used as a storage facility for transit system maintenance workers.



NCI File Photo

TOP: The old station entrance dating back to 1963. It was often deemed to look like a bomb shelter entrance. Well, it was built during a “cold war” time period. BOTTOM: The original dedication plaque from 1963.

The new station, built and dedicated in 1963, was considered state-of-the-art in its day, but its resemblance to a cold war era bomb shelter entrance eventually lost favor in the public eye. The increase in transit patronage also saw it quickly become inadequate to the need, and its lack of handicap accessibility made it a target for the Americans With Disability Act.

The process to rebuild and improve the station in 2014 also came under scrutiny when the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) announced a two-year closure of the high-traffic station in order to get the job done efficiently. According to the MBTA if they had attempted to keep the station in service during the construction and expansion, the effort might have been expanded to as much as 7-years and drive costs up substantially, hence the decision for full closure. While trains passed through the station without stopping the majority of the time, on select evenings and weekends service was prevented from passing through in order for work to be done in and around tracks and platforms. During construction, patrons were directed to other nearby stations and were also provided with a loop bus that would take passengers to alternate stations as well.



TOP: The new glass and steel structure as seen today with Boston City Hall just to the left. Some construction barriers remain as post-construction clean-up efforts continue. BOTTOM: A new spacious passenger headhouse and lobby at the surface level.

Government Center Station is one of the MBTA’s major transit hubs and is the intersection of two of its subway lines; the Green line and Blue Line. The Green Line is populated with streetcar type trains that run within the central subway and eventually operate on surface reservations and limited street-running locations to neighborhoods to the south and west of the downtown district. The Blue Line which is located under the Green Line runs north and easterly service Logan International airport and communities along the Massachusetts northern shoreline to the Town of Revere.

The new station, rebuilt to the tune of about $82-million USD, has also had its own controversies. Some people do not feel the new glass and steel structure fits in with the rest of the neighborhoods structures, and some saw it as a waste of funds. The design is a departure from some of the MBTA’s traditional, and older, head houses but falls in line with recently-rebuilt stations elsewhere in the system. The new high glass design is a funnel for natural light and its expansion will accommodate the current and future ridership.




TOP: The original stairwell and escalator to the Green Line one level down has been completely rebuilt. CENTER: A second complimenting stairwell and escalator has been added. BOTTOM: ADA compliant elevator adds to accessibility.

The first thing that struck me is the increase in side of the patron entrance. The former bunker was low-profile and a very narrow entrance which often caused conflict with people entering and leaving the station. It has additional fare gates, a weather-enclosed lobby, and new elevators to serve the physically challenged. The first descent to the Green Line platform now also has two escalators and sets of stairs rather than the one that the old station sported.

Upon descending to the Green Line platform the one thing that is immediately noticed is brighter modern lighting and a very shiny floor which replaced the former plain concrete. Steel girders are encased in new materials and the entire station painted an off-white which reflects and distributes new modern lighting.



TOP: A Green Line streetcar, “trolleys” to the locals, on the inbound track to Park Street station. BOTTOM: New ballast stone, modern lighting, and light-reflective walls and flooring now grace the station.

New emergency rooms are now also available where patrons can enter for safety and which will trigger an emergency alarm that will summon aid. A customer service book is available and marked but not as yet set up with staff. As it stands, while the station has opened, a number of finishing touches are still to be completed.

Gone from the Green Line platform was the Dunkin Donut kiosk where many morning travelers got their coffee. While that has set a few people back emotionally, there is still a “DD” adjacent to the station at street level.


Sorry Charlie, no more coffee at track level. Customer Service will replace that in the new station.

As one proceeds from the Green Line platform to the Blue Line platform below, the theme is continued with brighter colors and modern lighting. Grey insulation that had sprayed onto many surfaces of the Blue Line ceiling and walls as a noise mitigation addition is gone and replaced with newer materials. The Blue line still has its up escalator to the Green line level but now also has two elevators for those needing such. Also, unless this writer is mistaken, it appears that one formerly closed stairwell has been re-opened.


TOP: Blue Line train, one level down from the Green line approaches the platform. BOTTOM: Trains now have improved station lighting to aid in passenger comfort and safety.

Also re-opened is a stairwell from the Blue line platform to the surface that had been closed when the original Scollay Square station was rebuilt. Since 1963 that set of stairs was capped and used as a ventilation shaft only. It is now an emergency exit to the surface. At one time that set of stairs was slated to be a fully-equipped entrance kiosk to the Blue line. Whether that will happen at a later date is to be seen.



TOP: Dual elevators now descend to the Blue Line platform from the Green line lobby. BOTTOM: New passenger emergency cubicles exist in both subway line levels. Entering these safe rooms set off alarms and summon aid. In the image shown, an emergency stairwell leads to the street level. These stairs were capped in 1963 and served as a ventilation shaft until the recent rebuild. In the future it could be a secondary entrance under long-range plans. A similar emergency room is on the Green line level above.

Of specific interest to transit historians will be a tip of the hat to the Blue line’s station level that was once known as Scollay Square Under. During the current station reconstruction one of the former mosaic tiled station signs was found. It was removed intact and remounted in one of the stairways for travelers to see.



Scollay Under - Found during the station rebuild, one of the original station mosaic signs that had been covered-over during the 1963 construction. The term “under” was used as a designation for 2-level stations. Nearby Park Street station also had its version of “Park Street Under.”

As noted, the remaining construction, now minor, is still ongoing. The surface area around the station kiosk at street level still has Jersey barriers surrounding it, and some station work continues as finishing touches are added. Of specific note is the Green Line’s inner loop that was once part of the Canal Street loop service. The tracks are still there and the station platform sports a yellow safety boarding line but as of opening day the overhead wire catenary is still not in place. In recent years that track had only been used occasionally for a special loop service when necessary but otherwise served as underground storage space for Green line streetcars so as to get them out of severe weather. We would presume that since the tracks are not torn up, and that it has some new ballast rock, that there are plans to use it in some capacity at a later time. Much of that track area is still set up as a construction equipment staging area as well.


Train to nowhere? On the Green Line level, the old Canal Street Loop track. Tracks are in place with boarding markings and fresh ballast stone, but no wire catenary service - yet? Service on this track is sparse and only in place for special reasons such as emergencies or track work and necessary shuttles. In recent times its primary use has been undreground storage of Green line cars to get them out of the weather above.

And one final postscript. Like many rebuilt stations in the MBTA system, you can sometimes find gems such as this. This area just off the Blue Line platform is closed to the public yet visible, especially when workmen’s lights are on. One can see remnants of the former streetcar platform that once plied the Blue Line before raised platform cars were dedicated to that service. It is a work staging location now. Just above is the remnants of Adams Station. This station has several such hidden gems known only to a few.


Seek and Ye shall find. As seen from the Blue Line platform, eastbound.

[The author is a life-long resident of Boston and a lifetime user of the transit system.]

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PUBLICATION NOTES...  Publication Notes...

Copyright © 2016 National Corridors Initiative, Inc. as a compilation work and original content. Permission is granted to reproduce content provided acknowledgements to NCI are given. Return links to the NCI web site are encouraged and appreciated. Color Name Courtesy of Doug Alexander. Content reproduced by NCI remain the copyrights of the original publishers.

Web page links as reproduced in our articles are active at the time we go to press. Occasionally, news and information outlets may opt to archive these articles and notices under alternative web addresses after initial publication. NCI has no control over the policies of other web sites and regrets any inconvenience experienced when clicking off our web site.

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