The National Corridors Initiative Logo

May 23, 2016
Vol. 16 No. 20

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

 Destination:Freedom 

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

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

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

  Guest Opinion…
If VIA Gets You Across Nation On Time,
   Buy A Lottery Ticket
  Guest Commentary…
An Open Letter To Hon. Marc Garneau, MP
  Construction Lines…
Where’s The Gateway?
  Commuter Lines…
Inaugural “Heart-To-Hub” Nonstop Train Service
   Kicks-Off In Massachusetts
  Advocacy Lines…
Advocates Begin Long Journey To Secure Passenger
   Rail Service To Central Maine
  Maintenance Lines…
DC Metro To Close At Midnight On Weekends
   Starting Next Month
  Selected Rail Stocks…
 
  High-Speed Lines…
CHSRA Releases Construction Update Video
  Safety Lines…
NTSB: Radio Conversations About SEPTA
   Incident Distracted Amtrak 188 Engineer
   Prior To Crash
Public Transit CEOs Highlight Urgent Need
   To Invest In The Nation’s Aging
   Public Transportation Systems
  Policy Lines…
Feds Tell MBTA To Revise Civil Rights Policies
  Scenic Lines…
State Officials Rethink Plan To Tear Up
   Adirondack Train Track
  Publication Notes …


GUEST OPINION... Guest Opinion...  

If VIA Gets You Across Nation On Time,
Buy A Lottery Ticket

By Jonathan Sher
The London Free Press

If you travel across Canada using VIA Rail and arrive on time, consider yourself lucky — your odds of doing so are worse than winning some of Ontario’s lotteries.

In the first six months of 2015, just 24 per cent of trains arrived on time travelling between Toronto and Vancouver — even though VIA in 2009 added a night to the trip on the Canadian in an effort to get passengers to their destination within the posted schedule.

“Despite having lengthened the schedule by one additional night, (on-time performance) continues to deteriorate and has dropped to only 24 per cent,” VIA wrote last year in its long-term corporate plan.

That’s worse than odds of winning some Ontario lotteries — you have a 36 per cent chance to win Wheel of Fortune and a 28 per cent chance to win NHL Lotto.

That sort of gloomy record isn’t found where VIA promotes a trip on the Canadian on its website.

The site offers iconic photos of Canadian scenery matched by words that promise a “stress-free journey” on a train that will get you there “efficiently” and “with unparalleled serenity.”

Asked by The Free Press if VIA was misleading customers, a spokesperson wrote, “Prior to booking a trip on the Canadian, passengers receive the following notice: While VIA endeavors to operate on time, the realities of increased freight traffic on tracks that we do not own may give rise to significant delays. We suggest that you do not arrange connecting transportation on the day of your arrival.”

But many international travelers seem stunned by delays that cause them to miss vistas passed in darkness at night and to cut short stopovers in places like Jasper.

“A dream holiday that ended up a nightmare,” a Glasgow, Scotland, native wrote on the website TripAdvisor.

“Had looked forward to this cross Canada train journey for a long time and we were bitterly disappointed at the reality,” an Australian added, also on TripAdvisor.

VIA has recently come under a harsh spotlight in southern and Southwestern Ontario, with the rail-passenger service pushing for a dedicated track of its own for conventional trains. Some critics have interpreted that as a move to fend off an Ontario proposal to link Southwestern Ontario to Toronto by high-speed rail, effectively putting London in the Toronto area’s commuter orbit.

VIA has asked Ottawa to help pay for its own track between Toronto and Montreal, a $4-billion enterprise that may compete with Ontario’s even costlier push to build high-speed rail from London to Toronto, a project many think would provide a jolt to a Southwest region hammered by job losses.

But while the future isn’t clear, the present isn’t pretty: negative reviews of its national train have caught VIA’s notice, it acknowledged in its corporate plan. “This ultimately leads to substantial problems for tourists on tight schedules (to) connect with a cruise ship or to another leg of their vacation; unreliability is one of the major sources of negative comments on travel social media.”

VIA posts average delays for the past year on its website — in February, 37.5 per cent of Toronto-bound trains were on time, but westbound trains hit 87.5 per cent.

Asked whether a warning that a train “may” be delayed is enough, VIA defended its cross-country service. “More than 85,000 passengers made the choice to take it in 2015. It’s a one-of-a-kind journey that brings our passengers to landscapes they’ll never see any other way — with ease, comfort and exceptional service.”

But fewer passengers are doing so, VIA says in its report. Since 2012, ridership has fallen by 27,000.

The problem, says VIA, is it must use tracks owned by others, especially CN Rail, which forces VIA trains to wait when they conflict with freight trains. “(This) has had a disastrous effect on VIA Rail’s (on-time performance),” VIA wrote in its corporate plan.

Across all VIA trains, on-time performance has fallen, from an average of 84 per cent in 2011 to 71 per cent last year. The trip to and from Sarnia has been especially hard hit: One train leaves each morning, one arrives each night, and both are more than 15 minutes late close to half the time.

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley has some empathy for VIA, because, as he sees it, CN Rail wants to kill passenger service that competes with its freight business.

“It’s like they’re trying to suffocate passenger service,” he said.

The Toronto train scheduled to arrive in Sarnia at 10:20 p.m. often ends up being shunted to the side just a few minutes from the station, Bradley said.

“You can see the lights of Sarnia and you’re just sitting there because of those big freight trains.”

But a CN spokesperson defended the railway. “To attribute VIA Rail’s challenges solely to CN is plain wrong,” Mark Hallman wrote.

In the corridor between Quebec City, Windsor and Sarnia, only half of delays are due to CN, he wrote. “CN is a freight railway. If passenger and commuter rail agencies seek additional frequencies on CN’s rail infrastructure, they are expected to pay only for the required additional capacity. These agencies would need to invest in all-new infrastructure at a much higher cost if it were not for the availability of CN’s rail infrastructure,” he said.

Found at:
http://www.lfpress.com/2016/05/17/if-via-gets-you-across-nation-on-time-buy-a-lottery-ticket


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GUEST COMMENTARY... Guest Commentary...  

To The North

 

An Open Letter To Hon. Marc Garneau, MP

Minister of Transport
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K1A-0A6

Dear Minister Garneau:

We have reviewed with intense interest the redacted summary of VIA Rail’s 2016-2020 Corporate Plan. Not only is it awful, it is really quite wicked. This is VIA’s equivalent of an omnibus bill, laced with time bombs waiting to blow up.

VIA has scattered faint promises of unscheduled and unfunded improvements to various routes outside the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto Triangle throughout the document as come-ons for those communities not included in its “grand plan.” Its real objective is to scare and coerce everyone to get aboard the corporation’s unproven and - in our opinion - unsupportable dedicated-track, high-frequency fantasy.

What concerns us the most is that we had been led to believe that this VIA plan wouldn’t proceed until after your ministry conducted a $3.3-million, three-year study of the concept. But here we have VIA’s politically-appointed board and senior managers telling us VIA will collapse if the corporation doesn’t put shovels in the ground on this dream scheme before the end of 2016.

We must respectfully ask who is now at the throttle of Canada’s publicly-funded rail passenger service. We’ve always believed it to be the person who occupies the minister of transport’s chair and has been entrusted with the ultimate direction of the assets and services of a railway owned by the people of Canada.

To give the VIA corporate plan - or what we’ve been allowed to see of it - some credit, it does reiterate what we’ve been saying for years now: Our national rail passenger service is in desperate shape and can’t survive as it is now constituted, funded and managed.

The following statement from the proposed VIA corporate plan is perhaps the most chilling:

“VIA Rail can no longer function within its existing framework…. Left unchanged, VIA Rail will become more costly and less relevant to Canadians. Ultimately, it will be unable to fulfill its mandate.”

The fact that VIA is careening rapidly downward is not a new observation. It was fully explained in the following report in 2014:

As for the solutions, the possibilities have all been outlined in numerous independent reports produced over the last few years, but never implemented by VIA. These include:

We would be remiss if we didn’t comment on VIA’s plans for the legendary western transcontinental train, the Canadian, which has been slowly dying at the hands of the current VIA management team and CN. What VIA is now proposing would snuff out the last bit of public utility delivered by this train. It runs counter to everything that has been done in the U.S. to make Amtrak’s 15 long-haul trains vital components of the national public transportation system.

Again, the possible solutions have been presented in the recent past, most notably in:

When your government was elected in October 2015, many of us in the rail advocacy community held our breath, hoped for the best and waited for some positive action. It saddens us to report that we have seen none of the latter, to date. This VIA corporate plan, if approved by your government, will only make the situation worse.

The clock is ticking on VIA and time is growing short for a renaissance. We must respectfully urge you and your cabinet colleagues to deal with this situation in a more assertive and informed manner.

Yours sincerely,
Greg Gormick,
Policy Adviser, Save VIA.


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CONSTRUCTION LINES... Construction Lines...  

Where’s The Gateway?

Hudson River Tunnel Project Emerges With A New Name And An Old Design

First in a Series
By David Peter Alan

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, By any other word would smell as sweet.”
William Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II (1599)

The still-unbuilt plan to construct new rail tunnels under the Hudson River between New Jersey and New York City is now on its fifth name. It began life in 1995 as Access to the Region’s Core (ARC). One of the alternatives, Alternative G, would have extended new tracks to Grand Central Terminal (GCT) on Manhattan’s East Side. Local advocates on both sides of the river pushed for that alternative, because they believed it was the only one that would allow the project to live up to its name. When Metro-North refused to allow New Jersey Transit (NJT) trains into GCT in 2003, “ARC” was out and the “Trans-Hudson Express Tunnel” (“T.H.E. Tunnel”) replaced it. NJT was on its own by that time, and it chose that name. Later the agency changed the name to the merely-descriptive “Mass Transit Tunnel.” Through it all, both advocates and NJT management continued to call it “ARC” for internal purposes, until Gov. Chris Christie terminated the project in October, 2010.

Amtrak sat on the sidelines throughout the original ARC process, which lasted in some form for fifteen years. Then, four months after Christie killed the project, the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg and Amtrak surfaced with Gateway, an Amtrak project that would build new tunnels, two new bridges, an additional station for NJT south of the existing Penn Station (“Penn South”), an additional station south of the existing Secaucus Junction Station, and more. The Gateway planning process is still under way, and the segment of the project that calls for new tunnel construction has re-emerged under a new name. Starting May 1st, it is now merely the “Hudson Tunnel Project” (HTP), according to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and NJT.

The FRA published its Notice of Intent (NOI) in the Federal Register that day, and invited public comment on the proposed project. The proposal invites the public to comment, but the comment period ends on May 31st. The proposed scoping and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) processes are scheduled to proceed very quickly, on what lawyers call a “rocket docket.” The NOI begins this way:

Through this Notice, FRA announces its intent to jointly prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) with the New Jersey Transit Corporation (NJ TRANSIT) for the Hudson Tunnel Project (the Proposed Action or the Project) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Proposed Action is intended to preserve the current functionality of the Northeast Corridor’s (NEC) Hudson River rail crossing between New Jersey and New York and strengthen the resilience of the NEC. The Project would consist of construction of a new rail tunnel [in the context of this document, a “tunnel” means two single-track “tubes”] beneath the Hudson River, including railroad infrastructure in New Jersey and New York connecting the new rail tunnel to the existing NEC, and rehabilitation of the existing NEC tunnel beneath the Hudson River, referred to as the North River Tunnel [two single-track “tubes”; customarily known as the “North River Tunnels”].

There are two names conspicuously absent from the “Action” portion of the notice in the Federal Register. One is Amtrak and the other is Gateway. They are mentioned in the background material, as part of a description of the history of the project, but the FRA and NJT are specifically named as the agencies that will prepare the EIS. HTP planners have confirmed that only NJT can officially prepare the EIS, since Amtrak has no standing to do so. Despite this, Amtrak continues its role as the sole designer of the HTP and the rest of Gateway. The notice mentioned the Gateway Project Feasibility Study which occurred from 2011 to 2013, but focused on the single most specific and urgent reality: the flooding of the North River Tunnels during Hurricane Sandy.

Amtrak’s Gateway Program envisions a series of improvement projects to upgrade and expand the capacity of the NEC. While many of the Gateway improvements are still being fully defined, a new Hudson Tunnel [two single-track “tubes”] on the NEC is urgently needed to maintain existing service.

The statement referred to the FRA’s ongoing NEC FUTURE study, and then went on to say:

...this Proposed Action addresses a specific need due to the deterioration of the existing North River Tunnel and can be considered independently from the other projects analyzed in the NEC FUTURE EIS.

The North River Tunnel (actually two adjacent tunnels, each of which contain a single track) is deteriorating quickly due to the wrath of Nature, as expressed at the end of October, 2012. The Notice acknowledged this.

Service reliability through the tunnel has been compromised due to damage to tunnel components Superstorm Sandy caused, when it inundated both tubes in the North River Tunnel with seawater in October 2012. That storm resulted in the cancellation of all Amtrak and NJ TRANSIT service into New York City for five days. Although the tunnel was restored to service and is now safe for travel, chlorides from the seawater remain in the tunnel’s concrete liner and bench walls, causing ongoing damage to the bench walls, imbedded steel, track, and signaling and electrical components.

So, irrespective of Penn South and the other features of Gateway, the project under consideration is limited to constructing a new tunnel (two single-track “tubes” in the parlance of the document) between the New Jersey Meadowlands and Penn Station, and related infrastructure in New Jersey and New York associated with it.

The Proposed Action, the Hudson Tunnel Project, consists of: A new NEC rail tunnel with two [single-track] tubes and electrified tracks beneath the Hudson River, extending from a new tunnel portal in North Bergen, New Jersey to the PSNY rail complex; Ventilation shaft buildings above the tunnel on both sides of the Hudson River to provide smoke ventilation during emergencies; Modifications to the existing NEC tracks in New Jersey and additional track on the NEC to connect the new tunnel to the NEC, beginning just east of Frank R. Lautenberg Station in Secaucus, New Jersey, and approaching the new tunnel portal in North Bergen, New Jersey; Modifications to connecting rail infrastructure at PSNY to connect the new tunnel’s tracks to the existing tracks at PSNY; and Rehabilitation of the existing North River Tunnel.

The newly-limited project appears to indicate that the FRA has been listening to this writer and other advocates, who have raised the alarm about the need for building new tunnel capacity as soon as possible, although HTP planners have explicitly stated that the two new single-track “tubes” proposed will provide no additional train capacity between New Jersey and Penn Station. In the short run, while the existing tunnels are out of service for repairs, a new tunnel will be needed to accommodate the trains which now run through the old one. In the long run, after the repairs are completed, planners have declared that the current HTP plan will not deliver any additional train capacity, beyond what exists already, until the rest of the $24 billion Gateway project is completed.

There is no question that the pounding which Sandy gave the metropolitan area has spawned a new urgency about tunnel repairs. In New York City, there are plans to shut down the East River tunnel through which the “L” train runs between Fourteenth Street in Manhattan and Canarsie in Brooklyn, also due to damage from Sandy. The proposed full-shutdown for 18 months or single-track operation in Manhattan for three years will inconvenience the same number of peak-hour riders that would be affected if the North River tunnel between Penn Station and nearby New Jersey were reduced to single-track operation while the existing single-track tunnels (or “tubes”) are shut down for repairs.

Amtrak officials, including President Joseph Boardman, have warned that the existing tunnel must be taken out of service for repairs no later than 2034, and maybe earlier. The completion frontier for Gateway is 2030. This writer and other advocates have repeatedly pointed out the cost-overruns and delays which normally plague major infrastructure projects in the region will push the actual completion date for new tunnel capacity beyond Amtrak’s deadline for taking the existing tunnels out of service. No one doubts that such a situation would constitute a disaster for the metropolitan area.

It may be a result of this pressure by the advocacy community that the FRA has started a new process that concentrates on tunnel construction only, rather than merely presenting it as a component of the entire Gateway project. Donald Winship, Communications Director of the Lackawanna Coalition, claims a victory. In a post to the Coalition’s forum, he said: “Overall I think the Hudson Tunnel Project addresses our primary concern about the larger Gateway project, namely that the fate of the tunnels was tied to the funding, engineering, and real-estate risks of the rest of it. And with the tunnels separated out there’s an opportunity to discuss alternatives to Penn South during Gateway’s EIS process without fear of tying up the tunnels we so urgently need. As such I consider this a win for us.”

How much of a win depends on the alignment of the new tunnel (two single-track “tubes”). If the final ARC alignment planned by NJT in 2008 is adopted, the new tunnel and tracks will be built on a different alignment from the existing ones, which would preclude the operational flexibility that could have added capacity for running more trains during the busy peak-commuting hours. If an earlier ARC alignment is adopted instead, the project could add capacity after the existing tunnels have been repaired. The latter provides flexibility and capacity that the former does not.

While not mentioned by name, Gateway has not disappeared. To the contrary, NJT and the FRA are currently presenting Amtrak’s tunnel design from the Gateway project. The notice makes it clear that Gateway is still in the background with all of its features; some of which, like Penn South, are controversial. The Notice says:

Accordingly, although the Proposed Action may also be an element of a larger program to expand rail capacity, it would meet an urgent existing need and will be evaluated as a separate project from any larger initiative. Ultimately, an increase in service between Newark Penn Station and PSNY would not occur until other substantial infrastructure capacity improvements are built in addition to a new Hudson River rail tunnel. These improvements will be the subject of one or more separate design, engineering, and appropriate environmental reviews.

As New Jersey advocate Albert L. Papp posted this comment on the Lackawanna Coalition forum: “The Gateway Project has not faded away; FRA has decided to recast the program with a nod to ‘Independent Utility’ ... Reason? To advance the new tunnel on a fast track basis - the most critical element of both Gateway and NEC FUTURE - the powers that be have decided to proceed with improvements in bite size morsels. And the ‘urgent existing need’ for new tunnels is seen as paramount.” New York - based advocate Joseph M. Clift, former Director of Planning for the Long Island Rail Road, disagrees with Papp’s characterization. He says that the FRA is not recasting the program; merely extracting a specific segment of the Gateway project as previously presented.

So, while tunnels move to the foreground, Gateway retains a strong presence in the background. It appears that the planning frontier for the tunnel phase of Gateway has been moved forward, but decisions that are made in haste now could affect the mobility future for the millions of people who live in New Jersey and New York for many years to come.

The advocates agree that new tunnel capacity is critical, and they are concerned about how to get it. A presentation given at last week’s HTP EIS “Public Scoping Meetings” stated that this tunnel project will not deliver any new capacity; only redundancy while the existing tunnels are repaired. This is unacceptable to advocates who call for an improved rail crossing for the future needs of the region and beyond. Clift complained that, for the money that would be spent on a project that would not deliver any new capacity, it is possible instead to build a new tunnel and associated track. According to Clift, this would allow significantly more trains to arrive at Penn Station from New Jersey during the morning commuting peak, which is when the line is most-severely constrained.

Clift summed up the difficulty with the process, as currently ongoing. He told this writer: “Amtrak, the designer of the Hudson Tunnel Project, must be convinced to move forward with a design that provides the opportunity for an increase of 20% or more in peak-hour NJT trains into Penn Station (4+ trains), once a new tunnel is built and the existing tunnel is rehabilitated. To spend $8 billion of taxpayer money without any increase in independent service utility would be a major failure of the design process.”

One question that has been asked is: “Is the ‘Gateway’ brand becoming tarnished?” Three brands from the prior decade, including ARC, became tarnished and were discarded. Gateway is still in the picture, but the new EIS process mentions it only as part of the project’s Background. It has drawn criticism from some advocates, and it is unclear how much benefit it could produce, especially for the price, which has ballooned to an astonishing $23.9 billion and counting. This writer and other advocates believe that the entire project now carries an unaffordable price and will never be completed.

In short, Gateway could become too expensive, and there may not be sufficient political will to pay for and complete every aspect of the current Gateway proposal. It is conceivable that the newly-found focus on tunnels may be the first step in acknowledging a new funding reality. We will take a look at that reality in the next article in this series.

David Peter Alan is Chair of the Lackawanna Coalition, and was involved in advocacy efforts for improved trans-Hudson rail capacity for the past twenty years. He served on the original Regional Citizens’ Liaison Committees (RCLC) for the ARC and Portal Bridge Projects, and has always advocated for a track connection between Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal, as well as new tunnel capacity between New Jersey and Penn Station. He has covered trans-Hudson project issues for D:F from time to time during the past ten years.

Anyone who wishes to comment on the FRA’s Notice of Intent on the Hudson Tunnels EIS process can comment on line at www.hudsontunnelproject.com, NO LATER THAN TUESDAY, MAY 31st. The Notice of Intent can be found there, as well. Alternatively, comments can be addressed to:

Mr. RJ Palladino, AICP, PP
Senior Program Manager
NJ Transit Capital Planning
One Penn Plaza East - 8th Floor
Newark, N.J. 07105

RPalladino@njtransit.com

and / or

Dr. Amishi Castelli, Ph.D.
Environmental Protection Specialist
Office of Railroad Policy and Development
USDOT Federal Railroad Administration
One Bowling Green, Suite 429
New York, N.Y. 10004

Amishi.Castelli@dot.gov


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COMMUTER LINES... Commuter Lines...  

Inaugural “Heart-To-Hub” Nonstop Train
Service Kicks-Off In Massachusetts

Massachusetts Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, Congressman James McGovern,
Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, And Worcester’s Elected
And Civic Leaders To Launch Inaugural “Heart To Hub” Train

By DF Staff And Internet Sources

Massachusetts Lt. Governor Karyn Polito (R-MA) will be joined by other dignitaries on Monday, May 23, for the inaugural ride on “Heart to Hub,” the first nonstop train service between Worcester and Boston, Massachusetts. Media events are scheduled for Worcester’s Union Station and upon arrival at Boston’s South Station.

The train’s nonstop service results in a net savings of time of approximately 30 minutes for weekday riders. When service begins on May 23, a train will depart Worcester on weekdays at 8:05 a.m. and will run express and then make stops in Boston at Yawkey Way, Back Bay, and South Stations. On weekday evenings, the Boston-Worcester nonstop train will depart South Station at 7:35 p.m., stopping at Back Bay and Yawkey Stations and then running express to Worcester with an arrival time of 8:40 p.m.

The new train is part of a revamped and revised commuter rail schedule that will be implemented system-wide on May 23. Schedules for all lines are being adjusted based on public input, and to improve headway congestion. Some lines will see additional trains added that will have similar express segments, or which will operate to certain points on a line before changing directions and returning.


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ADVOCACY LINES... Advocacy Lines...  

Advocates Begin Long Journey To Secure
Passenger Rail Service To Central Maine

They Lay Out The Benefits – And Challenges – At A Summit In Augusta, ME.

By Jessica Lowell
Kennebec Journal

From the outset of last Tuesday’s Maine passenger rail meeting, Richard Rudolph of the Maine Rail Group was clear about what he wanted – support to form a stakeholders group charged with doing whatever it can to return passenger rail service to central Maine, particularly by identifying the potential economic benefits.

At the close of the three-hour summit that drew business and economic development officials from across central Maine and beyond, he said he felt certain he had gotten the support he was looking for.

But that might be the easiest accomplishment on what promises to be a complicated journey.

For as clearly as Rudolph and Jack Sutton, also of the Maine Rail Group, can see the economic development promise of passenger rail service, others can see hurdles, and chief among them is the difficulty in securing funds for transportation infrastructure that’s costly to build and maintain.

Passenger rail service, in the form of the Downeaster, connects coastal Maine cities and towns from Brunswick south to Boston with daily round-trip service. State lawmakers have approved $400,000 in funding, matched by $50,000 each from Lewiston and Auburn, to examine the economic effects of a passenger rail line that links those communities to Portland.

Richard Rudolph

Photo: Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Richard Rudolf of the Maine Rail Group takes part in a rail summit Tuesday in Augusta.

While city officials in both Augusta and Waterville have voted to show their support to consider the return of rail service to those cities, that’s only a very early step.

“The people in Lewiston and Auburn already have money to look at this,” Rudolph said. “We’re better off having a more focused group look at train service to Augusta and beyond, maybe to Bangor, and to Rockland, too, if they want.”

He said he’s not interested in pitting communities interested in rail service against each other.

“I want to see all boats rise together,” he said.

Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which operates the Downeaster, gave a brief update.

“Last year was the first year that ridership was down,” Quinn said, attributing that decline to bad weather and construction that caused 550 trains to be canceled. Also contributing to lower ridership numbers was the historic drop in the price of gasoline, she said. When gas prices go down, ridership softens.

“But now,” she said, “ridership is increasing, on-time performance is increasing and ridership satisfaction is up.”

MAP In an interview, Quinn said more delays are expected later this year as a construction project to replace ties is anticipated to interrupt service for about six weeks from mid-October to Thanksgiving. But when it’s complete, the Downeaster will be able to add a sixth round trip between Maine and Boston.

To the group assembled at the summit, she said she also was serving as the group’s reality check.

“It takes a lot of time, effort and money and people to ride trains,” she said.

For the first time since the Downeaster started operating in 2001, she said, the Downeaster and rail authority are now facing organized opposition.

“It’s important not to put what we have done in jeopardy,” she said.

The authority, which was created by the Legislature in 1995, has drawn criticism from residents in Brunswick, where an Amtrak layover facility was proposed where trains could be parked overnight. Residents unsuccessfully challenged the plan on grounds that it would be noisy and disruptive to the residential neighborhood the facility would border.

A little more than a year ago, a legislative committee voted unanimously to seek an audit of the rail authority by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, in response to concerns raised by critics of the agency’s transparency. The quasi-governmental organization receives $10 million in taxpayer funds annually, of which $2 million comes from the state of Maine.

Quinn said she’s spent a lot of time in a lot of meetings held by groups interested in expanding rail service.

“You have to bring something to the table other than random thoughts,” she said. “It’s not an inexpensive business. You have to have a goal. You have to know who is going to ride the train. Where will they go? When will they go? It’s a volume business, and you have to have critical mass.”

Leaders at chambers of commerce and economic development organizations identified a wide range of possible economic opportunities to bringing rail service to central Maine, including additional shopping and tourism opportunities, transportation to health care facilities, transportation to colleges and universities, and visits to friends and family. They also see potential in the twin demographic trends affecting Maine – older residents wishing to give up their cars and younger residents, in the millennial generation, not wishing to own cars or drive them.

Patrick Wright, economic development coordinator for Gardiner, injected this note of caution: “In my experience in community and economic development, I don’t see train service as the big fix. It doesn’t create economic development; it reflects it. So other strategies you have will work hand in glove with rail service.”

“It doesn’t matter which route is chosen,” Sutton said. “The important thing is to get a system up and running as fast as possible.”

Decisions such as those involved in running a line and managing passengers can’t be made individually or in a vacuum, he said. If Lewiston and Auburn are successful in securing rail service, he said, it will bring along the other projects.

Found at:
http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/17/advocates-begin-long-journey-to-secure-passenger-rail-service-to-central-maine/

Richard Rudolph is also the chairman of the Rail Users Network (RUN) a national rail advocacy organization.   http://www.railusers.net


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MAINTENANCE LINES... Maintenance Lines...  

DC Metro To Close At Midnight On
Weekends Starting Next Month

By Melanie Zanona
The Hill

Washington DC’s Metrorail system will officially close at midnight on weekends beginning June 3, the agency said last Friday.

Officials already outlined the proposal when it unveiled a sweeping draft plan last week to conduct massive track maintenance and repairs. The effort, which is expected to last through March 2017, will involve shutdowns of some stations and continuous single-tracking on certain segments of the subway.

Currently, Metro runs service on Fridays and Saturdays until 3 a.m. The last night with a 3 a.m. closing time will be May 28.

Closing earlier on weekends will allow “an expanded track work plan to improve Metrorail safety and restore service reliability,” the agency said.

From an item at:
http://thehill.com/policy/transportation/279851-dc-metro-to-close-at-midnight-on-weekends-starting-next-month


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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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HIGH-SPEED LINES... High-Speed Lines...  

CHSRA Releases Construction Update Video

By Ben Vient, Managing Editor
Railway Age Magazine

The California High-Speed Rail Authority released public video of construction of the high-speed rail project throughout the Central Valley on May 13, 2016.

The video was also used at that week’s Board Meeting in Bakersfield.


Image: CAHSR via YouTube  ™  - Click for Video

The video features Hugo Mejia, construction manager for CHSRA Construction Package 1, which stretches from Avenue 19 in Madera to East American Avenue in Fresno. In the video, Hugo explains what crews are building for each of the six construction sites.

You can watch the video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzDMLpmni20


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SAFETY LINES... Safety Lines...  

NTSB: Radio Conversations About SEPTA Incident
Distracted Amtrak 188 Engineer Prior To Crash

Regional Rail Line Windshield Had Been Shattered By Object Minutes Before Fatal Derailment

By John Kopp
Philly Voice

The engineer operating the Amtrak train that derailed in Philadelphia last year lost “situational awareness” when he was distracted by radio communications about a nearby SEPTA train emergency, the National Transportation Safety Board announced Tuesday morning.

Engineer Brandon Bostian accelerated Amtrak Train 188 to 106 mph shortly before entering Frankford Junction, where it derailed, killing eight people and injuring more than 200 others.

The radio conversations at the focus of the investigators report were about a SEPTA Regional Rail train that had been struck by an object minutes before Amtrak 188 entered the area.

NTSB board members voted 3-1 last Tuesday to accept that the distraction from the radio conversations about the SEPTA train was among the probable causes of the Amtrak 188 crash.

NTSB investigators also said darkness may have added to Bostian’s confusion, noting there were fewer visual cues to identify where he was traveling.

At 106 mph, Amtrak 188 was traveling too fast for the rail lines in Frankford Junction, which has a 50 mph limit. The NTSB concluded Bostian may have thought he was traveling on the rails after Frankford Junction, a strip of tracks where the speed limit does increase to 110 mph.

The NTSB also blamed the lack of a Positive Train Control system, a railway safety technology that would have prevented the derailment. However, the NTSB said it cannot penalize the railroad for lacking the PTC system on its lines until 2021.

“Unless PTC is implemented soon,” NTSB chairman Christopher Hart warned, “I’m very concerned that we’re going to be back in this room again, hearing investigators detail how technology that we have recommended for more than 45 years could have prevented yet another fatal rail accident.”

The board’s conclusion aligned with news reports from last Monday that the probable cause of the crash was Bostian being distracted by radio conversations.

Amtrak released a statement saying it has “taken full responsibility for and deeply regrets the tragic derailment.” It pledged to carefully review the NTSB findings and recommendations and quickly adopt them where appropriate.

Amtrak has installed PTC on all the track it owns on the Northeast Corridor from Boston to Washington. A 56-mile stretch from New Rochelle, New York, to New Haven, Connecticut, is owned by other railroads and is expected to have automatic controls installed by the end-of-2018 deadline.

Read the full item at:
http://www.phillyvoice.com/ntsb-radio-conversations-about-septa-incident-distracted-amtrak-188-engineer-prior-crash/


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Public Transit CEOs Highlight Urgent Need To Invest In The
Nation’s Aging Public Transportation Systems

A Press Release from the American Public
Transportation Association (APTA)

Washington, DC - CEOs of large, mid-size and small public transportation systems sounded the alarm for the urgent need to increase infrastructure investment in one of America’s most valuable assets – its public transportation systems.  The national press conference call was a part of this year’s National Infrastructure Week (NIW), which is being held May 16 – 23.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) cited an $86 billion backlog in deferred maintenance and replacement needs with more than 40 percent of buses and 25 percent of rail transit assets in marginal or poor condition, according to the latest data from 2013.  At the same time, with ridership increasing by 37 percent since 1995, public transit systems are challenged to increase service and capacity.

“After decades of inadequate investment, the American public transportation infrastructure is crumbling,” said American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Chair Valarie J. McCall, who serves on the board of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority(GCRTA).  “This neglect demands attention at all levels of government so that public transit can continue to help grow communities and businesses.”

In addition to McCall, the following leaders detailed the challenges with inadequate infrastructure investment:  Richard White, APTA Acting President and CEO; Joseph Calabrese, President and CEO of GCRTA; Dorval Carter, President and CEO of the Chicago Transit Authority; Jeff Hamm, Executive Director and CEO of the Clark County Public Transportation Benefit Authority (WA); Jeffery Knueppel, General Manager, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority; Dennis Martin, Interim Executive Director, NJ Transit; Ellen McLean, CEO of the Port Authority of Allegheny County; Ed Reiskin, Director of Transportation of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency; and Paul Weidefeld, General Manager and CEO of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.  Edward Mortimer, Executive Director of Transportation Infrastructure for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, also participated.

For the full article and quotes from leaderships see:
http://www.expertclick.com/NRWire/Releasedetails.aspx?id=79617


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POLICY LINES... Policy Lines...  

Feds Tell MBTA To Revise
Civil Rights Policies

By Adam Vaccaro
Boston.Com

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is requiring the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) to revise portions of its civil rights policies, including aspects of how the agency judges whether fare hikes or service cuts will impact low-income and minority communities more than other riders.

The FTA said in an April 8 (2016) letter that to remain compliant with transit guidelines, the MBTA must revise portions of its policies for how it conducts the equity analyses, as the impact tests are known. The MBTA also must gather and submit up-to-date demographic data about its riders (which the T had already begun to collect through a system-wide ridership census).

The requirements are based on a federal review of a broad MBTA civil rights policy submission to the FTA in 2014. In the letter, the FTA said it had only just completed its review, and that it found “areas that need attention” in order for the “T” to stay compliant with federal guidelines.

MBTA Chief Administrator Brian Shortsleeve signed an agreement with the FTA on May 9, saying the agency would take steps to satisfy the requirements within the next several months.

The MBTA will revise its definition for what constitutes a major service change and update its policies for determining whether the service changes or fare hikes have an overly burdensome effect on the populations. The T must also submit documentation of equity analyses it has conducted in the last three years and a working plan for gathering the new ridership demographic data that guide the analyses.

“We are actively conducting a major system-wide ridership survey to refresh the data used for equity analyses,” MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said. “We are also revisiting the protocols and substantive requirements for equity analyses, with an eye toward public participation to better ensure that the perspectives of all stakeholders are considered. The MBTA has established a team and a work plan to address all elements of FTA’s request within the next 90 days.”

The requirements come after the T’s approach to an equity analysis prior to trimming weekend late-night hours proved controversial and ultimately produced muddled results.

In an email to Boston.com, the FTA said that its demands drew from the 2014 submission and were not connected to the T’s procedure around the late-night cut.

However, the FTA did conduct a separate review this spring of the T’s equity analysis for that service cut. While the review ultimately found that the T properly followed procedures before ending the service, the FTA said the process exposed “limitations” in ridership data that required policy adjustments.

As the T sought to end the late-night bus and subway service in March, it ran into complications with the equity analysis.

In January, MBTA Assistant General Manager Charles Planck said an equity analysis for canceling the service would likely show a disparate impact on the low-income and minority communities. Agencies are allowed to cancel services that show such an impact, but only if they can demonstrate a good reason for doing so and after considering (though not necessarily adopting) other service adjustments that would offset the impact.

But the next month, the T’s board voted to cancel the late-night service without considering an analysis. Officials believed the equity analysis was unnecessary, and that it had requested a waiver from the FTA.

Days later, the FTA sternly rebuked the T’s waiver request, and ordered the agency to complete the analysis or risk falling out of compliance with federal regulations.

Once completed, the analysis showed mixed results. By one metric, which was based on U.S. Census data, cutting the service would not have a disproportionate impact on low-income or minority riders, the analysis said. An analysis using past ridership surveys, however, showed there would be a disproportionate impact.

T officials said that since the ridership data came from 2008 and 2009, and did not specifically account for late-night ridership, the more recent census-based analysis that showed no impact was more valid.

But in recognition of the impact shown by the ridership survey, the MBTA said it would consider changes to increase frequency on some bus routes that primarily serve minority and low-income riders in order. (Those ideas have since been tabled as the T’s board contemplates a potential all-night, every-night hourly bus service instead.)

After reviewing the late-night equity analysis, the FTA on May 9 gave the T the all-clear. Since the T had demonstrated “a substantial legitimate justification for cutting the late-night service,” and since it considered ways to offset the cut, it had ultimately handled the process properly, the FTA wrote.

But there was still room for more clarity, and the FTA reiterated its demands that the T update its equity analysis policy and ridership data.

“Going forward, however, FTA will require MBTA to review and update its policies and procedures for conducting a service or fare equity analysis to address the identified limitations, and MBTA must conduct a ridership survey,” the FTA wrote.

In addition to the equity analysis policies and rider census, the FTA is also requiring the MBTA to revisit its language assistance policies for riders who speak limited English, such as its strategy for translating documents.

From an item at:
https://www.boston.com/news/local-news/2016/05/16/civil-rights-policy-mbta


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SCENIC LINES... Scenic Lines...  

State Officials Rethink Plan To
Tear Up Adirondack Train Track

By Brian Mann
North Country Public Radio

State officials say they are re-evaluating a plan to pull up a section of railroad track in the Adirondacks that runs between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid. That plan was approved by the Adirondack Park Agency three months ago.

But it still hasn’t been signed and Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said his department is once again reviewing public comments and developing a final plan for the historic rail corridor.

Time To Move Forward?

Back in February the Adirondack Park Agency voted 9-to-1 to approve a plan developed by the Conservation and Transportation departments that calls for removing 34 miles of the Remsen rail corridor to make way for a rail-trail. At the time, APA commissioner Sherman Craig described the decision as a workable compromise, reached after years of rancorous debate. “The Park could benefit by having this resolved,” Craig said. “If we together could make both parts of this trail work for the Park, we would be a lot better off.”

But now state officials say they are still deciding what next steps might be. “Were reviewing the entire plan, all the public comments, all the interest in the outside, were taking it all into account and ultimately determining the best way forward,” said DEC Acting Commissioner Basil Seggos. “Well make a decision on that soon.”

“Tweaks” Possible

Asked to explain the scope of the review, Seggos said, “The APA gives us their final document, we review it. We make sure that it makes sense. We’re looking at all the aspects of fulfilling the vision contained in that document.” He added that funding is a consideration and confirmed that there might be “tweaks here and there.”

Supporters of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad have pushed hard to have the state rethink the unit management plan and the rail-trail project, even threatening a lawsuit if its implemented. Speaking recently on WIBX radio in Utica, the railroads Executive Director Bethan Maher said their lobbying efforts are ramping up, with a rally planned in Utica in early June. “Were working on getting as much local effort and local effort as we can. They haven’t made a decision yet because this thing has dragged on for so much time,” Maher said.

A New Tone From The Conservation Department

This uncertainty is a major shift from last November, when Conservation officials described the rail-trail plan as a done deal. Rob Davies, head of the division of lands and forests, said then that it was time for pro-train groups to get on board. “This is hopefully an opportunity that the rail and train enthusiasts can capitalize on,” he said.

“This rail corridor has languished for a long time,” Davies added. State officials had suggested that track removal might begin as early as this fall at the end of the current railroad season.

News that state officials are now rethinking the unit management plan was unwelcome to Joe Mercurio. He’s president of Adirondack Recreation Trail Advocates, the group pushing hardest for the tracks to be removed. “I think we were under the same impression that a lot of people were that the announcement approving this at the state level, at the governors level would be coming shortly, if not weeks ago,” Mercurio said.

But the plan approved in February isn’t official until its signed by the DEC commissioner. That hasn’t happened yet. It’s worth noting that the deal was hashed out largely under the leadership of the previous DEC head Joe Martens. The current Acting Commissioner, Basil Seggos, took the job in October of last year and has yet to signal his comfort with the plan.

After years of feuding and debate, the future of this historic rail corridor still hangs in the balance.

From an item at:
http://www.northcountrypublicradio.org/news/story/31774/20160513/state-officials-rethink-plan-to-tear-up-adirondack-train-track


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PUBLICATION NOTES...  Publication Notes...

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