The National Corridors Initiative Logo

May 31, 2016
Vol. 16 No. 21

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...

  Construction Lines…
Where’s The Gateway?
  Transit Lines…
Expo Line To Santa Monica Service Opens
   With Free Rides
State Threatens To Close Atlanta Streetcar
  Commuter Lines…
Metra Is Letting Kids Ride For Free
   All Summer Long
  Funding Lines…
New Bill Would Help Amtrak Pay For
   Overdue Repairs
Feds Cancel Houston, Texas Richmond Ave.
   Rail Funding
  Business Lines…
MBTA General Manager Plans To Retire
   On June 30
 
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Expansion Lines…
Gov. Cuomo’s Proposed LIRR Third Track Plan
   Gets Public Hearing
  Safety Lines…
Hoverboards Not Allowed On The MBTA
WMATA Releases Final Safetrack Plan
  Across The Pond…
Puigdemont Urges Spain To Listen To Europe
   And Promote The Mediterranean Corridor
  To The North…
Residents Invited To Learn About Metrolinx Plan
   To Electrify Rail Corridor In Scarborough
  We Get Letters…
  Publication Notes …


CONSTRUCTION LINES... Construction Lines...  

Where’s The Gateway?

Can The Gateway Be Closing?

Second In A Series
By David Peter Alan

Last week we reported on the Hudson Tunnel Project (HTP), a re-purposed initiative by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and New Jersey Transit (NJT) to begin a new Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process. As we reported, the initiative is on a fast track, with only one month elapsing between the original announcement in the Federal Register on May 1st and the deadline for comments on May 31st.

In actuality, the initiative is a segment of Amtrak’s Gateway Project, which has a much grander scope. Gateway includes much more than two new “tubes” (the scoping document refers to a single tunnel with two tubes) between New Jersey and New York Penn Station. It also includes replacing aging rail overpasses east of Newark, a complex interlocking that will connect Midtown Direct trains to the existing two-track Northeast Corridor (NEC) and a new two-track railroad to be built south of the NEC, two new two-track spans to replace and augment the existing and aging Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River, a new station south of the existing Secaucus Junction Station (where riders can transfer between trains going to and from Penn Station and trains going to or from Hoboken), a loop around Secaucus Junction Station that would connect the three existing rail lines north of the station to the NEC and thereby make the Secaucus station functionally obsolete, and the most expensive and most controversial element of the project: the proposed Penn South station in Manhattan. Penn South would be built south of the existing Penn Station and adjacent to it. There would be pedestrian access between the two, but Penn South would become the regularly-assigned terminal for most NJT trains. Amtrak would have the existing Penn Station to itself, except for some NJT use during peak-commuting hours in weekdays. The Penn South component of the Gateway project would also require the acquisition and demolition of one and one-half blocks of Midtown Manhattan real estate.

For New Jersey’s rail commuters, especially, the proposed Penn South station would provide a mixed blessing, at best. It would have seven new tracks and four platforms located between 30th and 31st streets, one block south of the existing station. That also means that New Jersey riders would arrive or catch their trains at a location one block further from their offices, as well as one block further from the subways that would take them to their offices, if their offices are not within walking distance. This extra block is significant. The 2007 Final Environmental Impact Study (FEIS) report from the former Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) Project showed that about half of existing riders walked to their offices from Penn station in 2005, while most of the rest took the subway. The same report predicted that, in 2030 if the project had been built, only one quarter of new riders would walk, while the other three quarters would use the subway. So, with that data (and there is no reason to assume that commuting patterns have changed that significantly), most new riders would have the inconvenience of being dropped at a train station further from the subway they use to get to their offices (ARC FEIS Report, Table 3:1-21).

For some time, this writer and other advocates have pushed for more tunnel capacity, although the advocacy community is divided over other components of the overall Gateway project. The two most active organizations in the Garden State disagree on this issue. The New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP) has endorsed Gateway in its entirety. The Lackawanna Coalition, of which this writer is Chair, has not. The Coalition has stressed the need for new tunnel capacity and has remained skeptical of certain elements of Gateway, notably Penn South, advocating instead for an extension of the existing railroad to Grand Central Terminal (GCT) on the East Side of Midtown Manhattan. Without this extension, the number of NJT peak-hour riders who would have to take the subway to complete the Manhattan end of their trip is forecast to more than double, soaring to 232% of those transferring to the subway today (calculated from ARC FEIS table cited previously).

It appears that two factors have contributed to a new “need for speed” on the permitting process for the project. One is a factor that has not changed, and the other is a factor that apparently has. In the issues of D:F from last November, December and January, this writer reviewed the history and current developments in a ten-part series on trans-Hudson mobility. At the time, it appeared highly unlikely that there could be any changes in circumstances sufficient to justify more reporting on the subject this soon. In the ninth article of the series, which ran in the January 19th edition, we noted that the nation’s political situation is not conducive to Congress authorizing the level of spending that would be required to pay for the entire Gateway project. The total cost of Gateway is currently estimated at $24 billion. Spending bills always originate in the House of Representatives, which is dominated by the Republican Party. Many Republicans in the House represent Southern or Western states with large suburban and rural constituencies. Rightly or wrongly, many people outside the region see Gateway as a regional project, designed specifically to benefit New York City and nearby New Jersey. This is not the sort of Congress that would enthusiastically spend billions of dollars for a project like that.

While we are strongly non-partisan here at D:F, we notice political trends, especially as they affect transit. Since we reported on Gateway in January, it appears that the “political revolution” espoused by Sen. Bernie Sanders has not gotten enough traction to propel him to the Democratic nomination for President. It appears that Hillary Clinton will be the Democrats’ nominee, while Donald Trump has vanquished all of his opponents on the Republican side. While both candidates have ties to New York, neither has pushed for large-scale spending on public transportation.

As far as Congress is concerned, it will be a tumultuous campaign, but the coming fuss and furor may not produce much in the way of change in the balance of parties, especially in the House. Polls say that many voters of both parties are unenthusiastic, if not downright negatively-disposed, toward their candidate at the top of the ticket. That would increase the likelihood that “down ballot” races like those for House seats will be decided more on local issues or personalities than on traditional party loyalty. Still, there seems to be little evidence that Democrats will be able to produce the sort of momentum needed to topple the strong Republican majority in the House.

What does that mean for transit generally and the Gateway Project in particular? The price of Gateway has climbed to $24 billion, with no end to the increases in sight. This is more expensive than the former ARC Project was in 2010, when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie terminated it; primarily on the ground that New Jersey could not afford it.

So now there is a “new” proposal on the table for tunnels; just tunnels. Amtrak designed all of it, even though Amtrak does not need increased capacity for its own riders. New Jersey commuters need it, but NJT officials insist that there will be no new capacity into Penn Station after the two new “tubes” are built and the existing tunnels are rebuilt and placed back into service. Amtrak’s estimated price only for two new tunnel “tubes” and rehabilitating the existing “tubes” is reported at $7.7 billion, according to Christopher Maag of the Bergen Record. Some advocates are concerned that the region would do well to get that much funding for the project, and do not expect the entire Gateway project to be funded. So, while there is general agreement that more capacity is needed and funds could be limited, advocates are divided on whether a project that will not deliver new capacity is a good investment.

Still, Amtrak has made it clear that there is a severe deadline on taking the existing tunnels out of service. They were partially flooded form the fury of Hurricane Sandy in 2012; 2000 feet in the north tube and 1000 feet in the south tube of the two-mile length of the tunnels, and Amtrak has acknowledged that they must be taken out of service and for an extended period of time and rebuilt. Amtrak plans to repair the tunnels one at a time, and has set a deadline of 2034 for that work to be completed. Some advocates, including this writer, have warned that the existing tunnels may not last long enough to avoid a shutdown before repairs are completed, and they are no longer alone.

Common Good, a “think tank” which advocates for streamlining in government, has sharply criticized the time required for the permitting process for new tunnel construction. The organization released a twelve-page report entitled: “Billions for Red Tape: Focusing on the Approval Process for the Gateway Rail Tunnel Project” authored by Common Good Chair Philip K. Howard, on May 8th. It is not an anti-transit tome; Howard acknowledges help form economist Charles Komanoff, who has helped promote new transit projects in New York City, and engineer Sam Schwartz; the legendary “Gridlock Sam” who made his reputation solving many of New York City’s traffic problems. Common Good released an earlier report that called for the permitting process to take “Two Years, Not Ten Years.”

The report expressed its primary concern this way:

Today, there is no clear path to review and permitting for the project even though the similar ARC Project underwent a six-year environmental review and was fully permitted. Nor is there agreement as to the scope of review that is required. Amtrak estimates a process of three years. Other participants have suggested that it will take twice as long. A five-year review process would mean the new tunnels would not open until 2028 at the earliest, past the time at which one of the existing tunnels will likely be shut down for repairs (at 2; citations omitted).

The report goes on to conjecture about what would happen if the existing tunnels must be taken out of service sooner than Amtrak’s outside frontier of 2034.

None of the participants has publicly commented on how much longer the existing tunnels can remain in service before being closed for repairs. Nor do they suggest how many more short-term closures will be required. Here, for simplicity, we assume a relatively optimistic scenario:

The Common Good report has some flaws; notably it does not back up its probability estimates with evidence. Still, it raises questions that advocates are also asking. It also draws most of its conclusions from Gateway’s supporters and does not quote any advocates for transit riders. It criticized the former ARC project and the time required for the approval process, before that project was terminated. Many rider-advocates were staunchly opposed to the former ARC project. They claimed that it changed so much for the worse over the years that they believed its implementation would produce a worse transit system than was running at the time. In effect, they believed that time was on their side, and they kept questioning the project until a new governor in New Jersey also questioned it, and then terminated it. This time, the advocates are divided about Gateway, but they agree about tunnel capacity and their fears have been bolstered by the report from Common Good.

Times are changing, and it appears that concerns are changing with them. There is still a need to answer some of the questions that were asked when the ARC Project was first proposed in 1995. How much money can the region reasonably expect to get for funding a new tunnel project? What else is really needed? How much new capacity, if any, do New Jersey’s rail riders need? What sort of a tunnel project can be built and placed into service before the existing tunnels must be shut down for repairs? Which components of Gateway are really necessary.

It appears that time and money, or the lack of both, are conspiring to force new deliberations and new decisions. It is too early to tell exactly what will be recommended, approved and built to help New Jersey’s rail commuters get into New York City in the future. Still, the names “Gateway” and “Amtrak” have been moved from the front page of the new proposal to “behind-the-scenes” roles, as NJT now hawks Amtrak’s tunnel plans. Still, Amtrak has designed the project, even though it is now up to NJT to promote it. It appears that Amtrak and NJT do not have similar needs and interests concerning the project, and it is questionable how commuters and other riders from New Jersey will benefit from the project as currently presented. We will look at who benefits, and who should benefit, from the project in the next article in this series.

The report form Common Good can be found on their web site. The link is http://www.commongood.org/blog/entry/common-good-releases-new-report-billions-for-red-tape.


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TRANSIT LINES... Transit Lines...  

Expo Line To Santa Monica Service
Opens With Free Rides

Meghan McCarty and KPCC Staff

It’s not every day a new train service rolls out in Los Angeles, so when the Expo Line to Santa Monica opened for the first time on Friday, crowds of people stood in long lines to get onboard for rides that were both free and historic.

“From the skyline of downtown to the shoreline, this Expo Line connects this city for the first time in 63 years,” declared Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. The last time the rail connected downtown L.A. and Santa Monica was in the days of the old Red Car line.

The morning rain clouds gave way to perfect blue skies as the first train with loads of Expo riders arrived in the beach city; they streamed out of brand new light rail cars and many headed toward the shore.

Photo Image

Snapshot from a Twitter video clip by Meghan McCarty

The first ceremonial streetcar breaks through the banner.

The new rail segment opened at noon with free rides for the public through the end of last Saturday.

Here's everything you need to know before you get on board. Plus, we have tips for how to be a well-behaved transit rider.

The 6.6-mile extension adds seven new stations to the Expo Line:

Photo Image

Map courtesy of Los Angeles Metro

All manner of Angelenos came out Friday to take advantage of the opening of the line.

“I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time to be able to take one train all the way to the beach!” said Natasha Herald, a mother with three young children.

Vasilli Martin remembered taking the old Red Car with his grandmother.

“It’s kind of exciting,” Martin said. “I wish my grandmother was still around. She’s on my mind today.”

The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority expects large crowds this weekend and projects ridership on the line to more than double in the next 15 years.

The first phase of the Expo Line from downtown to Culver City broke ground in 2006, costing $980 million. The newly opening section cost about $1.5 billion, funded by Measure R, the half-cent sales tax approved by L.A. County voters in 2008.

While taking a train to the beach has generated much excitement, questions remain about whether city planning efforts and commuting habits will change enough to boost ridership and bring the highest return on Metro's investment.

From an item found at:
http://www.scpr.org/news/2016/05/20/60809/expo-line-to-santa-monica-begins-service-today-wit/


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State Threatens To Close Atlanta Streetcar

By David Wickert
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgia state regulators have threatened to shut down Atlanta’s troubled streetcar unless the city resolves a slew of problems outlined in recent audits.

In a letter to Mayor Kasim Reed and MARTA CEO Keith Parker on Monday, the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) gave the city until June 14 to submit plans to address 60 outstanding problems outlined in the reports. If those plans are not sufficient, GDOT said, it will order the streetcar to shut down immediately.

The city and MARTA share responsibility for the $98 million system that runs in downtown Atlanta. State and federal law requires GDOT to oversee the safety and security of rail operations like the streetcar, GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry said.

The problems with the streetcar include poor maintenance procedures, inadequate staffing and a failure to properly investigate accidents.

McMurry said in the letter that, since the service started in December 2014, streetcar officials have failed to “provide timely, substantive and compliant responses to deficiencies identified by the department and (Federal Transportation Authority).”

State Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, traced the problems to the city’s involvement in running the streetcar. He wants MARTA to operate the system and earlier this year introduced an unsuccessful bill that would have put the system under its control.

“The streetcar ought to be operated by professionals,” Fort said. “It’s embarrassing for the City of Atlanta to be in this position. It’s especially troubling when it comes down to safety issues.”

For the full article see:
http://www.myajc.com/news/news/local-govt-politics/state-threatens-to-close-atlanta-streetcar/nrTt3/


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COMMUTER LINES... Commuter Lines...  

Metra Is Letting Kids Ride For Free
All Summer Long

By Nick Kotecki
Time Out Chicago

Good news for kids and families in the ‘burbs—Metra is letting kids ages 11 years old and younger ride for free this summer.

The initiative lasts from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day and was announced by the commuter rail service on Tuesday. It’s part of the “Family Fares” program and allows up to three kids to ride free when accompanied by a paying adult.

Photo Image

Photo: CC / Flickr / vxla

Metra on the move

Weekend passes sweeten the deal, offering unlimited rides on Saturdays and Sundays for just $8.

“A trip on Metra is a great opportunity to spend time together as a family without having to worry about traffic and parking,” said Metra’s executive director and CEO Don Orseno.

Be forewarned, though. Metra is operating on its Sunday and holiday schedule on Memorial Day.

Found at:
https://www.timeout.com/chicago/blog/metra-is-letting-kids-ride-for-free-all-summer-long-052416


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FUNDING LINES... Funding Lines...  

New Bill Would Help Amtrak Pay
For Overdue Repairs

By Don Stacom
Hartford Courant

Congress last week moved closer to a deal that could help Amtrak catch up with billions of dollars of overdue repair and maintenance work on its busy Boston to Washington route.

If the measure becomes law, it would ensure that Amtrak pumps profits from its heavily used Acela and Northeast Regional service into infrastructure repairs along the Northeast Corridor.

It’s unclear how much of that money would be spent on the Connecticut section, but Sen. Chris Murphy said the measure would be an improvement over the current way Amtrak allocates its money.

“We’re going to start being able to get much closer to our fair share,” Murphy said after the Senate last week approved the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development bill.

Amtrak currently uses profits from the Northeast Corridor to subsidize money-losing, lightly used routes elsewhere in the country. Under the Senate bill, the railroad would be required to spend that money — about $300 million to $400 million a year — exclusively on infrastructure along the 457-mile Northeast Corridor.

The tracks linking Washington, New York, and Boston carry more than 2,000 passenger trains a day from Amtrak and about eight commuter railroads, including Metro-North and Shore Line East in Connecticut. Ridership is more than 700,000 daily.

But the route includes bridges, viaducts and tunnels that are a century old, and sections of track bed, tracks and signals that need work. Amtrak estimated two years ago that it would need nearly $800 million a year for 15 years to bring the system to good condition.

“When we don’t have enough money for the larger programs we need, we have no choice but to go with spot repairs,” then-President Joseph Boardman testified to Congress in 2013. “But spot repairs don’t renew the infrastructure or prevent further decay. As the infrastructure continues to deteriorate, you have to do more spot repairs, which in turn consume more resources.”

The House has approved a funding measure that doesn’t include the Northeast Corridor profits provision, but Sen. Richard Blumenthal said he’s hoping that representatives from the Northeast states can get it included in final legislation.

“Nothing less than the future of the Northeast’s transportation system is at stake,” he said.

Murphy said he and other advocates got the legislation through a key Senate subcommittee by hammering away at the risk that a major failure would be crippling.

“We’ve been making this case loudly and consistently over the last few years that the condition of the Northeast Corridor is dire,” Murphy said. “It probably didn’t hurt that the chairman and ranking member of the subcommittee are from the Northeast. Susan Collins of Maine is the chair — I give a lot of credit to her. She stands out among Republicans, she supports Amtrak.”

“Since I got to the Senate my goal has been to carve out special treatment for the Northeast Corridor,” Murphy said. “We can no longer survive as a corridor tied so closely to the money-losing operations of the rest of the country.”

State transportation Commissioner James Redeker, who chairs the Northeast Corridor Commission, said he hopes the final legislation will increase investments all along the route.

Found At: http://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-amtrak-northeast-0523-20160523-story.html


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Losses

 

Feds Cancel Houston, Texas Richmond Ave. Rail Funding

By Dug Begley
Mass Transit Magazine

A proposal for a light rail line along Richmond Avenue, long left for dead because of strong opposition and years of languishing, has lost its shot now for funding from the Federal Transit Administration.

In a letter released Friday by U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, FTA associate administrator Lucy Garliauskas confirmed federal money is no longer available for the University Line light rail project “due to inactivity and lack of demonstrated progress on the project’s design and local financial commitment over the last several years.”

Culberson, a long-time opponent of the line proposed in his west Houston district because it runs along Richmond, applauded the decision.

For supporters, the news that the long-sought University Line experienced yet another setback was a disappointment.

The effect is limited, however, because the University Line plan had been bogged down for years, and could be revived at any time should Metropolitan Transit Authority restart the process and gain voter approval for more transit funding.

Metro officials received notice of the funding revision earlier this month, spokesman Jerome Gray said.

For the full article see:
http://www.masstransitmag.com/news/12210817/feds-cancel-richmond-rail-funding


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BUSINESS LINES... Business Lines...  

MBTA General Manager Plans
To Retire On June 30

Brian Shortsleeve Named Acting General Manager

From MassDOT Press Release

Frank DePaola, P.E., who has served as General Manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) since February 2015, announced to staff today that he plans to retire after his current appointment expires on June 30. State Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack thanked DePaola in a letter to MBTA employees and announced that MBTA Chief Administrator Brian Shortsleeve would step into the role of Acting General Manager effective July 1, with MBTA Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Gonneville assuming additional responsibilities at that time.

Secretary Pollack said, “I have already begun consultations with the members of the Fiscal and Management Control Board on how best to ensure that during the coming transition the MBTA continues to serve its customers safely and reliably, builds on the progress that has been made on financial stability and increases its investment in maintenance and capital assets.”

“It has been an honor to serve as General Manager during this critical period and to work with so many dedicated colleagues and employees who have helped the MBTA improve service, become more resilient and fix the T’s aging assets,” DePaola said. Referring to his battle with cancer, DePaola called the job of General Manager “rewarding and relentless.” He added, “My decision to retire is a difficult one but I cannot continue to spend the countless hours that the job demands while continuing needed treatment and focusing on my health.”

Governor Charlie Baker praised DePaola for his service, “Frank has been the kind of General Manager that the MBTA needs, someone whose management style has helped the MBTA to increase the public’s confidence in the transit system’s performance while also leading the T workforce during a period of change. On behalf of the Baker-Polito Administration, I want to express my appreciation to Frank for his work ethic and dedication.”

Photo Image

Photo: D. Kirkpatrick / NCI

Frank DePaola speaks to conference attendees at the RUN conference in Boston in April 2016

Secretary Pollack added, “Frank has always stepped up when his management and engineering skills were needed.” She noted that DePaola had been working at the MBTA as Assistant General Manager for Design and Construction in March 2011, when he was named MassDOT’s Highway Administrator after a light fixture fell from the ceiling in one of the Central Artery tunnels. DePaola went on to serve as Acting Secretary of Transportation beginning in November the MBTA departments responsible for operations, safety, system-wide accessibility and capital program delivery. His accomplishments as General Manager include improving service for MBTA riders, designing and implementing an $83 million Winter Resiliency program and ensuring that the renovation of Government Center Station was completed on time and on budget. DePaola also supervised the Interim Project Management Team that re-designed the Green Line Extension Project after massive cost overruns led the MassDOT Board and MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board to call for comprehensive changes in the project. DePaola is a licensed, registered Professional Engineer in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and holds a Master of Science Degree in Civil Engineering from Northeastern University and a Bachelor of Science Degree from the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.

Secretary Pollack, who under the MBTA reform legislation enacted last year is responsible for hiring the MBTA’s General Manager, pledged to “work closely with FMCB and MassDOT Board members and MBTA leaders to develop a transition plan that will ensure continued progress in the near-term while laying the groundwork for the stable, long-term leadership and governance that will help the MBTA to once again become one of the safest, most reliable and customer-focused and best maintained transit agencies in the United States.” As part of that transition, as of July 1 Chief Administrator Shortsleeve will become Acting General Manager and Chief Operating Officer Gonneville will take on additional responsibilities including oversight of the MBTA’s safety, environmental and system wide accessibility departments.

[Editor Note: Regional press has also included that Mr. DePaola is retiring due to a diagnosis of cancer and his need to concentrate on treatment. We wish Frank well. We enjoyed his presentation at the Rail Users Network Conference in Boston just one month ago. - DMK]


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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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EXPANSION LINES... Expansion Lines...  

Gov. Cuomo’s Proposed LIRR Third Track Plan
Gets Public Hearing

From CBS New York

Hundreds of Long Islanders in New York packed public hearings on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to build a third track on the Long Island Railroad’s main line.

The proposed third track would cost more than a billion dollars and would run for about 10 miles between Floral Park and Hicksville. It will affect Bellrose, Stewart, Floral Park, New Hyde Park, Garden City, Mineola, and Westbury.

Cuomo has said the additional track will increase service, reduce congestion and allow the LIRR to provide reverse-peak trains during traditional business hours.

Every day, more than 100,000 commuters travel between the two stations, TV 10/55’s Richard Rose reported. Besides crowded trains and platforms, there are long delays anytime there is a problem because there are only two tracks.

Long Island Rail Road Commuters Council President Mark Epstein strongly favors the plan.

“It’s the oldest railroad in the country and everyone who takes it every day knows that firsthand,” he said.

Right Track Coalition leader Dave Kapell is also a strong supporter.

“This project is absolutely critical to unlocking the potential of the Long Island economy in the 21st century,” Kapell said.

But Floral Park mayor Thomas Tweedy said he’s mostly concerned about the residential and business community disruptions that would be caused by the construction project.

“Floral Park went through four grade crossing eliminations in the 60s. It took us 15 years to recover from that,” Tweedy said.

Boos rang out for anyone who supported the plan, with the mayor leading the opposition. He said the village is retaining a law firm for possible legal action.

At a public hearing in New Hyde Park, the MTA tried to persuade residents in affected communities to get on board with the proposal. Most said they first want to know what impact the massive three- to four-year project will have on daily life.

LIRR president Patrick Nowakowski said they are still formulating the plan and working to minimize disruptions.

“Everybody wants to see what’s the final design, I don’t have that yet,” Nowakowski said. “Today is all about being here to listen.”

Tweedy said there are at least seven LIRR formally proposed operational improvements that could and should be made before taking on the third rail plan. Some of the options include lowering the roadway and raising the tracks above the road or completely closing the crossings to vehicle traffic while building pedestrian bridge.

“Let’s do those first, which have to be done anyway, so they should be done before any third track is done. Mitigation before construction,” Tweedy said.

Tweedy has previously said he is concerned that the communities will bear all the burden and derive none of the benefits.

From an item at:
http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2016/05/24/lirr-third-track-plan-public-hearing/


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SAFETY LINES... Safety Lines...  

Hoverboards Not Allowed On The MBTA

Devices Barred From Stations, Trains Buses, And Commuter Boats

From A MassDOT Press Release

Effective immediately, hoverboards are prohibited on all Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) property, including stations, buses, subways, trains, and commuter boats.

MBTA subway and bus personnel, along with Keolis Commuter Rail staff have been informed that customers with hoverboards shall not be permitted to bring such devices into MBTA stations and onboard MBTA vehicles. There are no exceptions.

Due to a string of recent injuries, fires and explosions associated with hoverboards nationwide, the MBTA conducted an assessment of the devices and determined that they are a safety risk. As a result, they are banned from MBTA property. The assessment incorporated findings, recommendations, and corrective actions that are in line with other transit systems throughout the country.

Photo Image

Image: MBTA

MBTA graphic sign that will start to appear all over the system shortly.

Hoverboards can catch fire. Failures in the Lithium-ion battery that powers such devices are the root cause of the self-combusting fires. Battery failures are caused by issues ranging from external abuse to cell manufacturing. Currently, there are no safety standards regulating the design and manufacturing of these devices in the United States. MBTA rules do not allow articles of an inflammable or explosive nature to be carried into any station or into or upon any passenger vehicle.

A potential fire ignited by a hoverboard can expose customers to smoke and toxic gas, which can result in injury or death. They also increase the risk of personal injury to riders due to falls, collisions, as well as the possibility of falling into the train pit.

Transit authorities in New York, California, and Chicago, in addition to major domestic airlines have restricted customers from boarding their systems with hoverboards. MBTA personnel and MBTA Police will inform customers of the ban if they are found on MBTA property with the devices in their possession, and will enforce the ban as needed. Placards and signs to notify the public about the ban on hoverboards on MBTA vehicles and in stations – such as the example below – will be posted at appropriate locations throughout the T’s transit system in the coming weeks. In addition, the MBTA today is using its 80 digital panels and social media beginning today to inform riders about this prohibition.

[ Ed Note: The personal transportation devices have been the subject to harsh scrutiny nationwide due to cheap “knock off” brands that do not have safe battery charging systems. This has led to over-charging and overheating of the units resulting in spontaneous combustion and fires that have caused substantial damage and have resulted in loss of homes.]


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WMATA Releases Final Safetrack Plan

From Rail, Track, And Structures

The Washington Metropolitan Transportation Authority (WMATA) released the final SafeTrack plan – a maintenance effort that will accelerate three years worth of work into approximately one year.

The plan significantly expands maintenance time on weekends, weeknights and midday hours and includes 15 “Safety Surges”– long-duration track outages for major projects in key parts of the system. The plan addresses Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) safety recommendations and deferred maintenance backlogs while restoring track infrastructure to good health.

Following review and collaboration with FTA, as well as consideration of traffic mitigation and alternate travel options by the Department of Transportation (DOT) agencies in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia, regional law enforcement, Office of Personnel Management, Department of Homeland Security and General Services Administration, the implementation of SafeTrack will commence immediately.

“I am encouraged by the region’s response to SafeTrack and appreciate the support of business and community leaders, jurisdictional officials, our congressional delegation and most importantly the riders, who have rallied to help us get through this challenging work,” said WMATA General Manager and Chief Executive Officer Paul Wiedefeld. “I also want to recognize FTA for their collaboration and guidance, which is reflected in the final plan.”

In addition to the Safety Surge projects, SafeTrack also includes closing the Metrorail system at midnight every night (rather than at 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights) and expanding weekday maintenance opportunities by starting selected work at 8 p.m., rather than 10 p.m.

Each of the 15 Surge projects will result in either around-the-clock single tracking or shutdowns of selected track segments and will have a significant impact on rush-hour commutes. Many of the Surges will severely reduce the frequency of trains, resulting in crowding and extended wait times.

“Safety comes first and I want to remind the region that SafeTrack is not just about the 15 maintenance surges,” said Wiedefeld. “SafeTrack also includes weeknight work that will require single track operations in sections starting at 8 p.m.; it means closing the system at midnight on weekends as opposed to 3 a.m. and committing to a moratorium on extra hours of early morning or late night service when it conflicts with track work.”

The first Surge project will begin June 4 and involves continuous single tracking between East Falls Church and Ballston stations while miles of deteriorated wood ties are removed, the substructure of the railroad is rebuilt and new ties, fasteners, ballast and other infrastructure is installed. The duration of this project is 13 days and will result in reduced service at all Orange and Silver line stations, especially those stations west of Ballston where trains will only run every 18 minutes.

Independent verification and inspection of track work will be performed regularly to ensure that the work is being done correctly and efficiently.

From an item at:
http://www.rtands.com/index.php/passenger/rapid-transit-light-rail/wmata-releases-final-safetrack-plan.html


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

Puigdemont Urges Spain To Listen To Europe
And Promote The Mediterranean Corridor

From The Catalan News Agency

Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont, called for the Spanish Government to promote the Mediterranean Railway Corridor, a long-awaited piece of infrastructure which is set to transport freight and passengers non-stop from Gibraltar to Central Europe. Puigdemont celebrated the “consensus” that the infrastructure has amongst the regional governments, such as those of Valencia, the Balearic Islands and Murcia, but lamented that the whole situation is “in stoppage time.” The Catalan President also referred to the report published on Tuesday by the European Court of Auditors which stated that the European Union (EU), “had not been effective in enhancing rail freight transport” and emphasized that both the target for number of freight trains and that for tonnage of goods transported through the cross-border section between Spain and France “are far from being achieved.” In the same vein, European Commission Spokesperson for Transport Jakub Adamowicz asked for “cooperation between all levels of administration” to “implement” the Corridor, as it is a “very important” infrastructure.

“We are in stoppage time and this European warning confirms it,” stated Puigdemont after meeting with the Strategic Board for the Mediterranean Railway Corridor, which gathered together around 120 people, including representatives from the parliamentary groups in the Catalan chamber, trade unions, business associations, chambers of commerce, professional colleges, universities, chartered institutes and city halls. Puigdemont praised the “consensus” that the construction of the Corridor has amongst the members of the board and also amongst the regional governments involved in the construction, such as those of Valencia, the Balearic Islands and Murcia, the territories through which the Corridor is set to pass.

However, Puigdemont urged the Spanish government “to listen” to their demands and also to Europe’s warnings and promote this long-awaited piece of infrastructure. The next meeting of the Strategic Board for the Mediterranean Railway Corridor will take place in Valencia. Then “a clear and convincing message will be sent to those territories involved, especially the Spanish State and the EU,” he stated and added that although this might not be the “last chance” it has to “look as though it is.”

The EU “Has Not Been Effective In Enhancing Rail Freight Transport”

The European Court of Auditors reported that on Tuesday that “rail freight transport in the EU has failed over the last 15 years to respond effectively to the competition presented by road transport.” In their latest report, the Court pointed out that “the rail freight transport performance in the EU is persistently unsatisfactory in terms of modal share and volumes transported.” The document also stated that “the strategic and regulatory issues identified” are of such nature that “if not addressed, extra funding for rail infrastructure will not by itself resolve the problems identified and increase the competitiveness of rail freight transport.”

Therefore, the report recommends that “the Member States, together with the Commission, should improve the coordination of rail investments in order to maximize their effectiveness and avoid the rail network being developed in a piecemeal fashion.”

Cross-Border Section Between Spain And France Underused

Out of 18 projects selected by the Court for review, two are located on the rail freight corridor between Spain and France. The report stated that “the quantitative targets in terms of the number of freight trains and the tonnage of goods transported on this section,” which is still not completed, “are far from being achieved.”

According to the European Court of Auditors, only 3% of total inland freight traffic between Spain and France, which amounts to around 90 million tons per year, is transported over the Pyrenees by rail. Despite the installation of a third railway line, during 2011 and 2012 this “was only used by a maximum of two to three freight trains per day,” and “not a single freight or passenger train has ever used the third rail since the entry into service of a new high-speed line in January 2013 with a similar route.”

The other project being studied is the new international Perpignan-Figueres railway section between France and Spain. In the first 3 years of operation (2011-2013) the annual number of freight trains using the stretch was 357 (with only 636 in 2012 and 931 in 2013), which is to be compared to the expected 8,665 freight trains for the first year of operation and a target of 19,759 freight trains in 2019. In practical terms it means that, on average, fewer than four freight trains per day used the line.

Puigdemont referred to these figures, which he described as “very eloquent.” “The fact that nearly 20,000 trains will pass along the Corridor and that currently there are less than 1,000 means that we are losing jobs, competitiveness and opportunities for our economy,” he stated.

The EC Calls For “Cooperation” Between Administrations

Spokesperson for Transport at the European Commission, Jakub Adamowicz, considered it “very important” to “implement” the Mediterranean Railway Corridor and called for “cooperation between all levels of administrations.” “We know that implementation of the Mediterranean Railway Corridor is very important and that it requires the cooperation of all levels of administration. If all the actors know what they have to do, then we could see progress,” he stated in an interview with CNA.

Adamowicz also played down the delay in its construction and assured that “building railways and roads can’t be done from one day to the next” and that it is necessary “to think in the long term.” “We are not worried because we have to regard it with a long-term perspective, the objective is 2030 and we are in 2016,” he concluded.

From an item at:
http://www.catalannewsagency.com/politics/item/puigdemont-urges-spain-to-listen-to-europe-and-promote-the-mediterranean-corridor


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TO THE NORTH... To The North...  

Residents Invited To Learn About Metrolinx Plan
To Electrify Rail Corridor In Scarborough

From The Scarborough Mirror
Via Inside Toronto

East Scarborough residents can find out next week how plans to electrify and improve service on the Lakeshore East Rail Corridor may affect their neighborhoods.

As part of electrifying the corridor and speeding up train service, Ontario Canada’s Metrolinx agency plans to add a third track between the Guildwood and Pickering GO Transit stations, build three grade separations, and widen or replace bridges and culverts along the way.

Public meetings explaining these projects, which are still being studied were conducted last week.

Grade separations are proposed where the line crosses Morningside Avenue, Scarborough Golf Club Road, and Galloway.

Scarborough East Councilor Paul Ainslie also suggested residents could ask about plans to expand the Guildwood GO station.

People seeking more information can write to guildwoodpickering@metrolinx.com or visit metrolinx.com/guildwoodpickering

From an item at:
http://www.insidetoronto.com/news-story/6565237-residents-invited-to-learn-about-metrolinx-plan-to-electrify-rail-corridor-in-scarborough/


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WE GET LETTERS... We Get Letters...  

Dear Editor,

I support the FRA’s decision to separate the construction of a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River from the broader question of increasing trans-Hudson rail capacity, due to the need for prompt repairs to the existing hurricane-damaged tunnels (Destination: Freedom, May 23). However it is disheartening to realize, given the time scale of this project including the reconstruction of the existing tunnels, that there will likely be be no increase trans-Hudson passenger rail capacity until the 2040’s. By then real estate prices in Manhattan may so high as to preclude expanding capacity via the proposed Penn Station South Project.

The Environmental Impact Study scope should be expanded to at least consider the possibility of using some of the four-tube tunnel capacity that will available after project completion to extend the New York Subway 7 line to the Frank R. Lautenberg Station in Secaucus. Such an extension could allow expanded service from New Jersey to Manhattan without massive new station construction and would gain access to the east side of Manhattan for New Jersey commuters. The study should also consider the possibility that by 2040 computerized train control technology may have matured to the point where subway and commuter rail train sets can safely share track, something that FRA regulations prohibit today.

I am not suggesting a commitment to build the 7 Line extension, merely that the EIS should consider what would be involved in preserving the option to build it and the environmental cost of precluding that option given the likely difficulty in expanding Penn Station capacity.

Arnold Reinhold


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