The National Corridors Initiative Logo

May 12, 2017
Vol. 17 No. 19

Copyright © 2017
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved
Founded 1989
Our 17th 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.
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 Opinion…
Trump’s Promise To Repair The Nation’s Infrastructure
   Is Off The Tracks
  Amtrak Lines…
A Memo From Wick Moorman To Amtrak Employees
  Builders Lines…
MBTA To Prep Test Track For New Red Line
   Subway Cars
World’s First Light Rail On A Floating Bridge: For I-90,
   Sound Transit Had To Invent ‘A Brilliant Solution’
CT DOT Taps Leading Engineers To Assess
   New Haven Line
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Transit Lines…
Ready For The QLINE? Detroit’s Streetcar Gets
   Ready To Debut
SCVTA Advises Community As BART Tracks
   Are Energized For Testing
  Business Lines…
Keolis Workers Sound Off On MBTA Commuter
   Rail Contractor
Nippon Sharyo Announces More Layoffs
  To The North…
Couillard Government Fast-Tracking Expropriation
   For REM Light Rail Line
Short-Line Railways Surviving, Not Thriving
  Publication Notes …

GUEST OPINION... Guest Opinion...  

Trump’s Promise To Repair The Nation’s
Infrastructure Is Off The Tracks

Problems With Roads, Bridges, Railways, Metros And Tunnels Are Dire

By Donald Payne, Jr.
The Roll Call

President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office have come and gone, and we are no closer to an infrastructure package than we were when the president promised during his campaign to “build the next generation of roads, bridges, railways, tunnels, sea ports and airports that our country deserves.”

The dire infrastructure needs of our country, particularly in the Northeast, are glaring, and unless the president gets serious about the problem, things will only get worse.

Late last month, Amtrak announced significant track closures at New York Penn Station, the busiest railroad station in North America. Every day, 1,300 trains carry over 600,000 passengers to and from the station, mostly commuters from New Jersey and Long Island. These closures are unfortunate but necessary to bring the station’s tracks into a state of good repair. The repairs are necessary to keep travelers safe.

On the same day, thousands of commuters in the nation’s capital were forced to deal with delays related to a fire on the tracks at a major station in the heart of downtown Washington. This comes as the system’s operator, WMATA, nears completion of their year-long “SafeTrack” program to avoid incidents just like this one. The timing of the issues in New York and Washington is not mere coincidence.

For too long, the federal government has been unwilling to put up the funds needed to modernize our infrastructure. The nation’s intercity passenger railroad operator, Amtrak, was founded by Congress in the wake of the collapse of the passenger railroad industry to serve the needs of Americans traveling by rail. For its almost half-century existence, Amtrak has perennially struggled to get the funds needed from Congress to modernize its properties.

For those in the Northeast, this lack of funding has been particularly keen, as Northeast riders represent one-third of all Amtrak riders. The track issues at Penn Station are a canary in the coal mine for the aging railroad. The oldest Penn Station tracks are decades old; however, the tunnels leading to the station under the Hudson are over a century old and in desperate need of repair.

The problems plaguing the D.C. Metro are also well known. Several fatalities over the last decade and a deterioration of service have pushed our capital’s rapid transit system to the brink. The federal workforce relies on this system, which was once the envy of the nation. Now, despite local officials pleading with Congress for assistance, the Metro is in decline.

Due in part to funding issues, the Metro is dealt nearly weekly setbacks in their efforts to bring the system “back to good.” Reports of delays and safety defects continue to abound.

President Trump’s recently released tax plan shows little nuance and makes no effort to pay for the massive cuts it gives to corporations and the wealthy.

By some early estimates the plan will increase the deficit by $3 trillion to $7 trillion over the next decade.

Throughout the Obama administration, Republicans were unified in their opposition to any infrastructure spending that would add to the deficit. Yet, when it comes to cutting taxes, concerns about the deficit are not an issue.

In one of his last acts in office, former Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx announced his department’s report on the status of America’s infrastructure. DOT found that our nation needs $926 billion of infrastructure investment to deal with the backlog of unmet capital investment needs and to prepare our roads, bridges, and transit systems for increased usage in the decades ahead.

But every dollar of infrastructure investment means another three dollars of economic growth. In short, America’s infrastructure needs could be met, and then some, for a fraction of the cost of the President’s tax plan while contributing immensely to economic growth.

In the President’s “Contract with the American Voter,” he promised to address infrastructure in his 100-day action plan. That promise was not kept.

I hope that the President sees the breakdown of the aging railroad in New York, the city where he made his fortune, and the breakdown of the transit system of the city he now calls home as signs that the federal government can no longer delay investing in infrastructure. The states and the people are asking for help from Washington. If the President is serious about growing the economy and putting people back to work, he will heed their calls.

Donald M. Payne, Jr. is a Democratic congressman representing New Jersey’s 10th Congressional District. He sits on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.  

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AMTRAK LINES... Amtrak Lines...  

A Memo From Wick Moorman
To Amtrak Employees

From An Employee Distribution
Amtrak Federal Funding Update – FY 2017

Fellow Amtrak Employees,

I have some good news for everyone about Amtrak’s federal funding. Congress has completed work on the FY 2017 funding bill and Amtrak will receive a total of $1.495 billion for FY 2017, a $105 million increase over current levels. President Trump signed the spending bill into law on Friday.

Of this total amount, $328 million is allocated for the Northeast Corridor and $1.167 billion is for the National Network. These funding levels are fully outlined in the FY 2017 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which is also known as “the Omnibus.” The Omnibus determines how all discretionary government spending is allocated for the year.

I want to call your attention to some specific language in the Omnibus. Within the funding for the NEC, Congress included the following language: “The agreement allows Amtrak to undertake new capital projects and encourages Amtrak to prioritize strategic rail infrastructure improvements at critical points in the rail network that would improve current services or create new capacity.”

In addition, the bill provides $25 million for the Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair grants; $68 million for the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement grants; and $5 million for Restoration and Enhancement grants. This is the first year of funding for these FRA-administered competitive grant programs authorized by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act and Amtrak is eligible to apply for important projects.

As I review this news, I see three important takeaways I want to share with you.

First, these higher funding levels affirm that Amtrak continues to be viewed by Congress as a vital and essential part of U.S. transportation. Our value to the American public extends across the entire country – and it is greatly enhanced through our long-distance and state-supported trains.

Next, there are very high expectations for us. We are receiving higher funding in part because our elected officials recognize we have many infrastructure issues that we need to address throughout our entire network. I cannot emphasize this point enough: Our stakeholders are expecting that with additional funding, we will be able to improve safety can.

Finally, while this increased funding level is good news for us for FY 2017, we should not make any assumptions that we will receive the same level of support in FY 2018 or beyond. We are going to have to continually prove to all of our stakeholders that we are worthy of continued investment -- and that a federal dollar invested in us is a federal dollar well spent. We must earn this trust daily – and each of us can contribute to building this trust by working safely, taking care of our customers, and taking action to strengthen our business.

Thank you for all that you do for Amtrak,

/s/ Wick Moorman
President and CEO

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BUILDERS LINES... Builders Lines...  

MBTA To Prep Test Track For
New Red Line Subway Cars

From Progressive Railroading
And DF Staff

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) this fall will begin upgrading  a track that will be used to test new Red Line subway cars.

Work will begin after the MBTA solicits bids and awards a contract, agency officials said in a press release. Upgrading the track for testing is expected to cost $32 million.

The agency has ordered 252 new cars from CRRC MA Corp. to replace the Red Line’s entire fleet by the end of 2023. The company will build the car body shells in China and assemble and manufacture the cars at a plant in Springfield, Mass.

MBTA will perform tests on every element of the cars’ systems to ensure the new trains operate safely and reliably, agency officials said. After the cars are fully tested and approved by an MBTA engineering team, the new units will begin serving riders on the Red Line, the agency’s busiest subway line.

The stretch of track is close to the Red Line’s maintenance facility. The agency will be able to move cars from the facility to the test track with no impact on the main line, MBTA officials said.

Known as “Track 61,” the track in question is a single track that extends from the South Bay rail yards in Boston through a right of way to the Boston waterfront.  While it presently connects to the commuter rail switch yards, the right-of-way for the MBTA Red Line which is separated by grade as required by the Federal Railroad Administration, is nearby and a connection is within reason.

Track 61 had been considered at one time for a special short train shuttle service to connect the Boston waterfront area to South station but it appears that plan is no longer a consideration given that a 3rd rail will need to be installed along with changes to the associated track profile for transit-type trains.

Not resolved and somewhat in the background is that when the MBTA acquired this track from CSX Corporation, CSX was granted perpetual rights to move freight over this track.  Upcoming plans for the Boston waterfront do include an increase in container traffic, and CSX may have an interest in handling some of it.  As such, whether this track remains a test bed for the MBTA, or if it eventually reverts to CSX under its agreements for usage is yet to be seen.  Because of this the expense of $32-million is being questioned in some quarters.

Prior testing of new Red Line cars had been conducted on the main line itself as night moves or in off-peak hours.  The MBTA’s Orange line has a test track that operates between Community College station and Wellington Station which is used to test both Orange Lien trains and Blue Line trains as part of receiving units.  However, the red line trains have a different width so they cannot use that test track.  The difference is due to Boston’s somewhat unique marriage of what was several privately owned transit companies into the current MBTA.  Each system was developed by different companies at different times in history, and so all of the rolling stock varies.

The original article appeared at:

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World’s First Light Rail On A Floating Bridge:
For I-90, Sound Transit Had To Invent
‘A Brilliant Solution’

Sound Transit’s Consultants Have Invented A Flexing
Track Connection, Using Earthquake Science, To Safely Move
Future Light-Rail Trains On The I-90 Floating Bridge.

By Mike Lindblom
Seattle Times

Sound Transit will soon try something unprecedented — building and operating train tracks on a floating bridge.

The work begins June 3 in the center express lanes of Interstate 90, after carpools, buses and Mercer Island motorists are kicked out to make room for light-rail contractors. Passenger service between Seattle, Bellevue and Overlake is scheduled to begin in 2023.

The technical challenges are daunting.

Engineers have to ensure the bridge will remain buoyant when a pair of 300-ton trains pass each other, and that the high-voltage current that powers the trains won’t stray into the bridge’s pontoons and corrode its steel rebar. They spent $53 million just to design the section across Lake Washington.

The most difficult task is adapting the rails to the movements of the bridge.


Photo: Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times

Light-rail trains will occupy the current reversible lanes of the Interstate 90 floating bridge, where marathoners ran in 2013. Carpool lanes will be added to help accommodate the mainline traffic.

Train tracks will cross the hinges and sloping spans between the bridge’s fixed sections and the 1-mile floating deck, like someone walking down the gangway to a boat marina.

Lake levels rise and fall two feet a year. Waves, wind and traffic create slight twisting. A full train is heavy enough to plunge the pontoons eight inches. So the rail bed must both resist and absorb roll, pitch and yaw.

Failure is not an option.

A derailed train could sink 200 feet to the lake bed. If track components break or wear out, transit service would be halted for maintenance, or subjected to slowdowns.


The good news is, engineers have invented and field-tested a new kind of rail joint they say will provide a smooth ride at full speed, instead of a reduced rate of 30-35 mph as once feared.

It borrows a philosophy from earthquake planning: Don’t fight the forces.

Instead, thousands of trains will roll atop the same kinds of high-strength bearings that allow buildings and fixed bridges to flex in a quake.

Just in time for scheduled construction, Tom Baker, chief bridge and structures engineer at the Washington State Department of Transportation, signed off on the final design in April, affirming light rail will be safe and not wear out the bridge prematurely.

For the full story and video see:

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CT DOT Taps Leading Engineers
To Assess New Haven Line

By Stuart Chirls
Railway Age

The Connecticut Department of Transportation has selected a trio of consultants to help plan the future of the New Haven Line and the entire statewide rail system.

Developing the investment program to significantly improve the performance of the rail system is a key element of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s “Let’s Go CT!” 30-year, $100 billion transportation plan.

The team will be composed of one executive each from transit engineering specialists AECOM, WSP, Parsons Brinckerhoff, and STV, the agency said.

The team will first develop a strategy to improve capacity, frequency, and speed of rail service on the New Haven Line, long a heavily-patronized commuter route operated by Metro-North Railroad from New Haven to Mount Vernon, N.Y., where it joins Metro-North’s Harlem Line going south to Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan.

The crux of the informally-known “2+2” Plan calls for running local trains on two outer tracks and express trains on the two inner tracks. The study will develop service and infrastructure investment strategies to meet key performance targets for the rail system, and evaluate the optimal strategy for creating direct service to New York Penn Station as well as to Grand Central.

The initial planning phase is funded with $3 million allocated by the Connecticut State Bond Commission as part of “Let’s Go CT!”, and will help guide future capital investment decisions such as the configuration of new stations, rail yard improvements, interlockings and procurement of addition rail cars and locomotives.

“This critically important initiative marks the beginning of a new era in the state’s rail system, moving us from the traditional commuter business model to a dynamic, interconnected transit network,” said CTDOT Commissioner James Redeker. “Customers and business leaders are demanding these new services, which will unleash the true economic potential of Connecticut’s communities.”

“With the opening of the Hartford Line next year, we have an opportunity to take a fresh look at rail service across the state, to rethink schedules, fares, branding and other operational details,” said CTDOT Bureau Chief of Public Transportation, Richard Andreski. “It will soon be possible to travel with ease between Hartford and the state’s major cities along the coast.”

The study’s initial phase will look at concepts and alternatives for future train service as well as investment needs. The first phase, including recommendations for future rail car and locomotive purchases, is due to be completed in 2018, he said. “It will then be up to CTDOT, the General Assembly and the Governor to act on any recommendations.”

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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TRANSIT LINES... Transit Lines...  

Ready For The QLINE? Detroit’s Streetcar
Gets Ready To Debut

By Eric D. Lawrence
Detroit Free Press

Deidra Hogue already knows how she’ll use the QLINE when it opens on Friday.

After her clothing business, The Traveling Pants Co., closes in the evenings, she plans to hop on the streetcar from her location at the recently opened North End Collective near Grand Boulevard and head downtown to try out the restaurants — no need to mess with additional parking.

“This development is great,” she said recently, describing the 3.3-mile streetcar line and the new stores near the collective as another sign of the Motor City’s rebirth. “We are turning into a world-class city.”

Proponents of the streetcar say more is to come.

When the QLINE opens to the public, it will shuttle riders along a stretch of Woodward Avenue home to or near some of Detroit’s biggest attractions, cultural institutions, educational facilities and landmark buildings. They include Comerica Park, Ford Field, the under-construction Little Caesars Arena, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Historical Museum and Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. Also on or near the route: Wayne State University, the Detroit Main Library, The Max M. Fisher Music Center, Fox Theatre, Campus Martius, Grand Circus parks, the Fisher  and Guardian buildings, the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center and the Detroit RiverWalk.

The three-section streetcars will have capacity for 125 people each (34 seated),  ,   make 12 stops in each direction  and travel at 25 to 30 miles per hour, a  bit less than the 35 mph reported earlier. One of the streetcars took just under 25 minutes to get from one end of the line to the other, with stops, during the first leg of a Free Press tour last week. Officials have said it could take as long as 35 minutes (20-25 on Sundays) initially, with an expectation that the time will drop over the coming months. A ride will cost $1.50 for three hours (75 cents for seniors). Longer-term passes will be available.

The QLINE includes six battery-powered streetcars, but officials will try to keep at least one off the road in reserve. When the system launches, it is likely to rely on 3-4 cars, with more added if needed during key event times.

The QLINE’s opening is expected to tie downtown, Midtown, New Center and Detroit’s North End together in ways they have not been for decades while boosting the development prospects for some of those areas. . M-1 Rail projects up to 5,000 riders per day, with hopes of pushing that to 8,000 a day.

“We think it’ll promote a lot of cross visitation between downtown and Midtown and New Center,” said Sue Mosey, executive director of Midtown Detroit Inc., and an M-1 Rail board member, noting that visitors who travel to multiple destinations in the area now have to plan ahead and typically must pay for parking in more than one spot.

For the rest of the story see:

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SCVTA Advises Community As BART
Tracks Are Energized For Testing

By Maggie Lancaster
Rail, Track, And Structures

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (SCVTA) is raising awareness about the energized third rail on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Silicon Valley Extension.

SCVTA says the contact rail will be energized along the entire 10-mile alignment for testing purposes, and any part of the rail corridor should be considered electrified at any time. The transportation authority says the traction power network will carry 1000 volts of direct current to the contact rails.

“You can’t see the current, you can’t smell the current, but if you touch the current, it will be too late,” said John Engstrom, SCVTA’s BART project manager.

“Now that we are in the system testing phase, the site becomes extremely dangerous,” warns Engstrom. “Every person in the public needs to understand that the BART right of way is not a shortcut, it is not accessible for a reason – for people’s protection.”

SCVTA will have its Community Outreach Team visit various neighborhoods, businesses and schools along the BART Silicon Valley corridor advising of the safety regulations regarding the tracks.

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BUSINESS LINES... Business Lines...  

Keolis Workers Sound Off On MBTA
Commuter Rail Contractor

By Andy Metzger
State House News Service
Via Milford Daily News

Fed up commuter rail workers visited the [Massachusetts] State House on Thursday, complaining that Keolis Commuter Services ignores their input and questions.

“This is just like a shroud of silence with these people. Their theory is they know everything; we know nothing,” said Thomas Murray, president of Transport Workers Union of America Local 2054.

About three years into Keolis’s eight-year contract with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), Murray questioned whether the company wants to stick around or pick up stakes. A company spokesman told the News Service it “continues to be committed to its long-term partnership with the MBTA and passengers in the greater Boston area.”

“As a partner, we’ve invested significant amounts of time and resources to modernize the Commuter Rail system in ways that stretch across the entire operation, from facilities and training to infrastructure and service enhancements,” Keolis said in a statement. “These investments demonstrate our long-term commitment to our partnership in Boston, which is home to our North American headquarters.”

Murray, whose union represents about 150 coach cleaners and other train workers, said Keolis officials have failed to communicate effectively with workers or to provide them direction about the company’s plans.

“It doesn’t seem like there’s any sort of commitment for the company to stay here for the long haul,” Murray told the News Service.

State transportation officials have said they intend to re-bid the rail contract when it expires in 2022 rather than extending the contract with Keolis.

Jonathan Clark, shop steward at the Boston Engine Terminal for International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 318, said unions have banded together to express their frustration with Keolis.

“That’s to show you how bad things are getting,” said Clark, a locomotive inspector whose union represents more than 200 machinists.

Clark said that when workers point out defective equipment to Keolis superiors they seem mad that the flaw was brought to their attention.

“When you find a problem, it’s met with hostility,” Clark said. He said the company does not violate safety standards, but he is troubled by the attitude and by what he said is a lack of interest in hearing from front-line workers about operations. He said, “We want someone to listen.”

In its statement to the News Service, Keolis said, “An important component of our partnership is regular engagement with our 2,200 employees, and that includes our continued and ongoing discussions with our unionized team members.”

Clark said workers have brought concerns to MBTA officials and they have listened. He said he wants to raise the matter with the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board.

“The MBTA will continue to work very closely with Keolis to provide Commuter Rail customers with service that is consistently reliable on a daily basis,” MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said in an email.

Keolis took over commuter rail operations from Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad in 2014. Riders have had reliability problems with commuter rail service, some of which stem from a lack of available locomotives. The MBTA-owned fleet that Keolis uses includes hundreds of vehicles that are beyond their 25-year service life, according to an MBTA presentation.

“The administration expects the MBTA and its commuter rail provider will continue to work closely to provide the reliable service that riders deserve, and will continue to prioritize long-term infrastructure upgrades to the core system and reforms that make the system more efficient for commuters,” William Pitman, a spokesman for Gov. Charlie Baker, said in a statement.

Murray said he wants some oversight from the Transportation Committee.

Rep. William Straus, the House chair of the committee, said that no oversight hearing is scheduled, but he said Murray had briefed his staff and he plans to review the matter.

“As the situation deteriorates, we believe it warrants an overview from the State House and the Transportation Committee,” Murray said.

From an item at:

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Nippon Sharyo Announces More Layoffs

By Cody Carter
From WREX News

Nippon Sharyohas announced that it will lay-off more workers at itsRochelle plant.

The company saysit will lay off about 110 workers. This comes after they laid off about 100 workers back in January.

In a statement released Monday, the company said:

We continue to confront technical complications and delays with the bi-level rail car project that have forced us to evaluate the volume of work and the needs at our Rochelle facility. As a result, we have made the difficult decision to reduce our workforce at the plant by approximately 110 people. This reduction will come from all areas of the company - both hourly and salary employees will be impacted by this announcement.We are grateful for the hard work and dedication of our employees, and will be providing severance packages to those affected by this announcement.

The plant first went online in 2012 in Rochelle. Since then, it has been investigated by OSHA and has dealt with a number of rounds of layoffs.
A series of layoffs were announced inboth 2015and2016following failed crush tests on certain train cars.

From an item at:

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TO THE NORTH... To The North...  

Couillard Government Fast-Tracking
Expropriation For REM Light Rail Line

From CTV Montreal

The provincial government is taking steps to fast-track the Caisse de Depot’s light rail line for the Montreal area, even if the funding and the environmental reviews are not yet in place.

The REM line would cover 67 km and link the West Island, Trudeau Airport, the South Shore, and take over the existing Deux-Montagnes train line and part of the Mascouche railway.

But the new lines would require the expropriation of up to 200 homes and businesses.

To ensure that happens in a speedy fashion, Transportation Minister Laurent Lessard tabled Bill 137 on Thursday, saying it would confer the authority to impose expropriation.

Martin Coiteux, the minister responsible for Montreal, said this will keep development on the fast track.

“We will not procrastinate, so this is a bill against procrastination. This is what it is,” said Coiteux, pointing out that people will “be compensated at fair market value.”

The Parti Quebecois said this bill is railroading citizens and those who oppose the project.

“We think this is a legal bulldozer,” said Nicolas Marceau.

Quebec’s environmental review board, the BAPE, refused to approve the project earlier this year, saying the Caisse had failed to do the necessary work.

Other critics said the plan for the REM is light on essential details -- such as the cost of tickets and how it would incorporate with existing public transit in Montreal.

They have also criticized the capacity of the REM, saying the projections for the Deux-Montagnes line are the same as the existing ridership with no capacity for growth.

The PQ’s finance critic said under Bill 137 people will have no opportunity to object to losing their homes.

“The possibility of contesting decisions that are made will basically vanish. It will be very difficult to contest a decision that has been made, so it’s worrying,” said Marceau.

The current cost for the REM is $6 billion, with most money coming from the Caisse de Depot.

The federal government has been asked, but has not yet agreed, to match the Quebec government’s contribution of $1.3 billion.

“We made it very clear right from the start that a project like this requires federal participation. They have indicated right from the start that they are interested in doing this,” said Finance Minister Carlos Leitao.

But without a firm commitment, the Coalition Avenir Quebec calls the bill premature.

“We are not even sure if the federal government will be part of it and if it doesn’t give the money, as the government of Quebec and the Caisse de Depot wish, all the structure of the project will have to be reconsidered,” said Benoit Charette.

Construction on the REM is supposed to begin this summer, with service starting in 2020.

Found at:

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Short-Line Railways Surviving, Not Thriving

Transportation Expert Calls For Government Investment
In Regional Rail

Northern Ontario Business

The survivability of Canadian short-line railroads is approaching a critical junction, says an independent rail expert.

The struggles of northeastern Ontario’s Huron Central Railway should be a “canary-in-the-coal-mine” warning that government needs to support small railroaders in the same manner that it subsidizes other modes of transportation, said Greg Gormick, an Oshawa-based consultant.

Short-line railroads have long carried the burden of track maintenance costs, but new federal safety regulations could reach a “tipping point” that kills freight service to many regions of Canada.

“If short lines vanish, 20 to 25 per cent of CN and CP’s traffic vanishes,” Gormick said.

“Since they are the smallest player in the rail system, they suffer the most because our governments don’t pay attention to railroading.”

For the second time in less than a decade, the Huron Central is appealing for public funding to maintain the 278-kilometre Sault Ste. Marie-to-Sudbury line.

Operating in self-described “survival mode,” the Huron Central’s parent company, Genesee & Wyoming Canada (G & W), claims the freight revenue generated from the line only covers operating expenses.

Millions more are needed for federally mandated upgrades. It’s asking for a five-year funding lifeline of $5 million to $6 million annually from Ottawa and Queen’s Park.

The 44-employee Huron Central hauls freight for Essar Steel Algoma in the Sault, Domtar pulp and paper in Espanola, and EACOM sawmill in Nairn Centre. Those companies account for 88 per cent of the line’s traffic, amounting to 12,000 carloads annually.

“In five years, there is a lot that can happen,” G & W president Louis Gravel told Sault Ste. Marie city councilors on April 24.

Down the road, he said, mining and other business could “improve the volume and the tonnage to make it profitable in the long term.”

Short lines are often overlooked and under-appreciated for the specialized role they play in Canada’s transportation network. They feed freight to the major railways on branch lines deemed too marginal for Class 1 carriers like CN and CP Rail to operate.

These routes are either sold off or leased to more efficient and customer-focused small railroads.

But what they inherit is often years of deferred track maintenance that they must finance on their own.

Simply passing those costs onto the shipper can hurt both the rail company’s and the customer’s competitive position.

Gormick said Ottawa and Queen’s Park’s policy attitude toward rail is largely “laissez-faire” with a track record of either inaction or crisis management.

In 2013, Gormick said Queen’s Park was hands-off when infrastructure repairs proved too much for the owners of the St. Thomas and Eastern Railway. It was left to CN and another short-line railway to save the service for shippers in southwestern Ontario.

“That was a warning right off the bat. How many more are willing to go?”

When Genesee & Wyoming threatened to abandon the Sault-Sudbury line in 2009 because of poor track conditions and declining freight, the City of Sault Ste. Marie, Ottawa and Queen’s Park scrambled for $33.3 million to pour into track upgrades.

The railway’s loss would have been devastating to area industry.

That stop-gap funding has now run out, but the maintenance costs continue.

Gormick said short lines operate at a competitive disadvantage against the trucking and inland marine industries, which depend on publicly funded infrastructure.

“(Railroads) need the kind of assistance that we seem to have no trouble giving to marine, highway and air operators,” said Gormick.

“In a region like Northern Ontario, if you want to see even more industrial deterioration and withdrawal, then don’t help the short lines.”

Gormick is working with Oxford County on an advocacy campaign for improved public transportation links in southwestern Ontario.

His recent report, “Empowering Ontario’s Short Line Railways,” lays out the challenges faced by the province’s 10 privately and municipality owned short-lines.

It calls for changes in public transportation policy, backed with investment to maximize their potential.

Past and current government infrastructure programs are usually geared toward road and highway projects, and federally regulated railroads; not for small provincial railroaders.

Now, in the post-Lac Megantic era, new federal regulations have increased minimum liability coverage that will dramatically raise some short lines’ insurance premiums, along with other required safety management systems improvements.

Ottawa is also imposing new federal grade crossings regulations, requiring upgrades to railway crossings.

Genesee & Wyoming told Sault city council that $8 million alone is needed for the crossings along the length of the line.

By comparison, Gormick said upper levels of government should look to the U.S. where the short-line rail industry is thriving.

Progressive federal and state programs provide small railroaders with tax credits, direct grants for track maintenance, and shipper assistance funds to help build sidings.

“In the United States, they have been more interventionist than we’ve been in Canada.”

Gormick said the upper tiers of government needs to follow the advice of its agencies and consultants.

A March 2016 report of the Canadian Transportation Review makes a case for a new rail freight policy and short-line funding programs mirroring that of the U.S.

Two Ontario Climate Change Secretariat reports contain recommendations that something must be done to help these operators.

“You’re dealing with a form of transportation that is five times more energy efficient than trucking,” said Gormick.

“Shouldn’t the railways be getting something a little better than energy inefficient modes?”

Sault Ste. Marie MP Terry Sheehan said he’s been aware of the Huron Central’s situation for some time. To date, most of his conversations about the rail carrier’s infrastructure needs have been general in nature.

He’ll be asking the company to document its specific needs, and he’ll review them with his Northern Ontario MP colleagues before arranging a meeting with federal transport minister Marc Garneau and infrastructure minister Amarjeet Sohi to make a request for support.

“I have no problem advocating for any infrastructure program from any group that’s going to, not only sustain jobs and opportunities but looks at growing them.”

Sheehan, who served on city council when support was rallied to save the railway in 2009-10, said the company didn’t impose any timelines when funding needs to be in place.

Last November, Garneau announced Ottawa is investing $10.1 billion in transportation infrastructure as part of his Transportation 2030 strategy to eliminate bottlenecks and build “more robust trade corridors.”

Details remain sketchy if short lines will be able to access any of that funding.

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