The National Corridors Initiative Logo

July 18, 2016
Vol. 16 No. 28

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


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

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

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

  Guest Editorial …
High(er)-Speed Rail Plan Picks Up Steam In
   Fredericksburg Region
  Amtrak Lines …
Proposed Southwest Chief Stop In Pueblo Could
   Mean $1.4 Million In Tickets, Amtrak Says
  Commuter Lines …
Virginia’s Commuter Rail Service May Become
   More Of A Transit System
Metra Tests Expanded Midday Service On
   Rock Island Line
  Funding Lines …
Federal Funding For Gateway Project Gains Steam
Train Operator Keolis To Get Extra $66M
  Ridership Lines …
Surf’s Up For LA’s New Expo Line
  Planning Lines …
Miami, Fl Moves Forward With Light
   Rail Possibilities
  Selected Rail Stocks …
  Manufacturer Lines …
GE Manufacturing Solutions Celebrates
   1,000th Locomotive
  Across The Pond …
Fatal Head-On Train Collision In Italy Resembles
    Similar Accident In Germany In February 2016
China Completes 16km High-Speed Tunnel
  To The North …
Canada And Quebec Say "Oui" To
   Transit Infrastructure
  Off The Main Line …
Looking Back at the Last One Hundred Years
  Publication Notes …

GUEST EDITORIAL... Guest Editorial...  

High(er)-Speed Rail Plan Picks Up Steam
In Fredericksburg Region

By Jim Toler
Editorial Board Staff Of The Free Lance-Star

Discussions of high-speed rail running through the Fredericksburg region have come and gone for decades like so many freight trains.

However, serious planning for faster passenger trains and expanded freight rail capacity is now underway by state and federal transportation departments along the East Coast. The Southeast High Speed Rail project is an overdue multimodal approach to ease congestion on the Interstate 95 corridor. Expanded rail service must be part of the solution.

The project involves adding tracks, straightening out curves and reducing the number of railroad crossings mostly along the existing CSX line. Bypass lines are proposed when a third set of tracks would be difficult to build because of nearby development, historic structures or other concerns.

A bypass east of Fredericksburg to avoid the city’s historic district and the 1910 station on Lafayette Boulevard has residents in the path of the proposed line all steamed up. The Right Rail for the Rappahannock Region group has formed to oppose the bypass. New tracks would be laid south of Spotsylvania’s Virginia Railway Express station in the New Post area, swing into Caroline County, cross the Rappahannock River into southern Stafford County and tie into the Dahlgren spur. It would link back to the CSX main line from there.

Another option is a no-build alternative that wouldn’t add a third track, but rather rely on improvements at crossings, signals and safety systems. This plan wouldn’t add capacity and would slow train speeds here. All the proposals envision some expansion of the Fredericksburg station.

Now’s the time for residents to weigh in on the alternatives. Those interested in seeing what the future may hold for faster train service between Washington, D.C., and Richmond can get details on the project from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday at Fredericksburg Christian High School. Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation representatives will provide an update for what’s ahead for the 123 miles of tracks between the state and national capitals.

The project has gained momentum since the Federal Railroad Administration determined that raising the train speeds from Florida to D.C. would provide a viable and efficient transportation choice that’s competitive with airlines and autos. Improved rail service received a major boost last week when Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced that Virginia will receive a $165 million federal FASTLANE grant for roads and rails in the I–95 corridor. Among the projects are construction of new tracks in Northern Virginia and expansion of Washington’s Long Bridge, a bottleneck for VRE and Amtrak trains.

Such investments allow for a higher-speed rail system rather than anything like European or Japanese bullet trains. In our region, top speeds would increase to 90 mph. The current speed limit in the corridor is 70 mph. Some question whether that’s worth the money and effort, but our region can’t depend on highways alone.

A final decision on a preferred alternative route could be made once the environmental impact statement is completed next year. Funding for the improvements could take years.

Of course, the Fredericksburg area isn’t the only one where the plans are causing controversy. In Hanover County, residents of Ashland and Randolph–Macon College officials oppose plans to add tracks and a station in the heart of the town. The rail project would require the demolition of college buildings and divide the campus. However, that became the preferred alternative after the Hanover Board of Supervisors withdrew support for a bypass around the town.

Public involvement is at a critical point. No one wants to get railroaded, but for moving people and goods, improved train service must be part of our transportation system.

Found at:

[Editor’s Note: It is worth pointing out here that this is not a “high-speed” line designation as defined by most railroads. High-Speed usually is considered to be 125 miles per hour and over at the very least. In foreign nations we are talking about 125-200 mph and over. Rather, this line would be attempting to reach speeds of 90 mph and vicinity which would be an increase over what is possible now. I’d also note the reference to “steam” in the headline which continues to annoy a lot of rail industry people and rail advocates. Trains don’t go “choo-choo” anymore.]

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AMTRAK LINES... Amtrak Lines...  

Proposed Southwest Chief Stop In Pueblo Could Mean
$1.4 Million In Tickets,Amtrak Says

The Southwest Chief Carries Some 360,000 People Across The Nation Each Year

By Jesse Paul
Denver Post

Adding a stop in Pueblo for Amtrak’s cross-county Southwest Chief route could draw as many as 14,000 new riders and about $1.45 million in ticket revenue, a study by the rail carrier released Thursday shows.

The findings are good news for Pueblo’s community leaders who have been pushing hard for a link to the historic line. The southern Colorado city has dreams of train travel bringing a renaissance to its rail hub, similar to the rejuvenation at Denver’s Union Station, and a potential economic impact in the millions.

“This study shows that it can and will be a reality to have the Pueblo Union Depot become a passenger rail stop again. This will be an economic driver for our community,” Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace said in a statement.

The boost, however, would represent only a fraction of the Southwest Chief’s yearly ridership, which stood at 367,267 in 2015, with a revenue just under $45 million.

Amtrak has been open to the idea of adding a Pueblo stop for the line, but says the question is cost.

The Southwest Chief’s route was in a precarious place until last year, when funds were secured for track repairs on Burlington Northern Santa Fe’s line on which the Amtrak train travels. Officials were plotting to reroute the beloved Chicago-to-Los Angeles train into Oklahoma and Texas and away from small towns in Colorado, New Mexico and Kansas.

The Colorado communities at risk of losing their stops — including Lamar, La Junta and Trinidad — banded together with their counterparts in Kansas and New Mexico to raise the money to save the route.

A study by Colorado State University-Pueblo, last updated in 2014, found the yearly economic impact of a stop in Pueblo would be roughly $3.4 million.

The idea for the Pueblo stop would be for the westbound Southwest Chief to split at La Junta, with the split train continuing to Pueblo and the rest of the train heading to Los Angeles. For the eastbound route, a split train from Pueblo would meet up with the main train in La Junta before continuing to Chicago.

The track between La Junta and Pueblo would need costly repairs for the Southwest Chief to quickly travel — at about 79 mph — between the stops. The two are now connected by U.S. 50.

Found at:

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COMMUTER LINES... Commuter Lines...  

Virginia’s Commuter Rail Service May Become
More Of A Transit System

By Charlie Grymes
Greater, Greater Washington

The Virginia Railway Express (VRE), a commuter rail system with a large coverage area but somewhat infrequent service, is considering both running trains more frequently and adding new stations, but funding constraints may force a choice between the two. More trains, more often would make VRE more like a transit system, with regular service throughout the day rather than just at rush hour.

VRE’s Fredericksburg Line, which uses CSX railroad tracks, carries commuters north from Spotsylvania County on a route parallel to I-95. The Manassas Line, which uses Norfolk Southern tracks, brings commuters to Union Station from Broad Run, which ends next to the Manassas airport, and is an alternative to commuting on I-66.

The VRE Gainesville-Haymarket Extension Project began in July 2015, with a proposal to build 11 miles of track and three new rail stations to extend the commuter rail service west to Haymarket. Environmental analysis and preliminary design are supposed to be completed in 2017, with service starting in 2022.

VRE is planning to add more trains to carry additional passengers during rush hours, as well as offer service in the middle of the day. VRE plans to add three new trains to the Manassas Line at rush hour, raising the total from eight to 11 (a total of 22 trips/day). A 10-car train can carry up to 1,000 people.

For the full story with maps and graphs see:

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Metra Tests Expanded Midday Service
On Rock Island Line

Six-Month Pilot Program Will Add Inbound And Outbound Regular And Express Trains On Rock Island Line Starting Aug. 1.

By Lorraine Swanson
Beverly-Mtgreenwood, Il Patch.Com

Metra announced plans to launch a trial program to enhance midday train service on the Rock Island Line by adding express trains that will speed the trip between suburban stations and downtown Chicago by 15 to 20 minutes.

Beginning Aug. 1, Metra will modify its schedule by adding three inbound express trains and two outbound express runs during the late morning and afternoon. The three inbound trains will make all stops from Joliet to Blue Island and then express to the 35th Street/Lou Jones station in Bronzeville or the downtown LaSalle Street Metra station. Passengers may also request a flag stop at the 35th Street/Lou Jones station.

Three additional inbound Rock Island trains will also originate in Blue Island, making all stops along the Beverly branch, which includes the 91st Street, 95th Street, 99th Street, 103rd Street, 107th Street Beverly Hills stations, and Morgan Park’s 111th Street station.

Suburban customers going to a Beverly branch station and branch riders heading to the suburbs will need to transfer at Blue Island. Metra said the schedule has been designed to make transfer easy and convenient for riders.

Metra has also added two midday outbound express trains offering service from LaSalle Street to Blue Island and stations further south with the option of flag stops at 35th Street/Lou Jones.

Two midday outbound trains will accommodate riders along the Rock Island’s Beverly branch. These trains will also make flag stops at 35th Street/Lou Jones. Customers boarding these outbound strains at a Beverly branch station needing to travel further south can make a convenient transfer at Blue Island.

Customers wishing to make transfers need to tell their conductor on the first leg of their trip so their ticket can be marked accordingly. In addition, at stations marked as flag stops, the train will stop to discharge passengers only if the passengers notify the conductor and will stop to pick up passengers only if they are visible to the engineer on the platform.

For more on this item and schedule data see:

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FUNDING LINES... Funding Lines...  

Federal Funding For Gateway Project
Gains Steam

By Dana Rubinstein And Ryan Hutchins

In November, the federal government and the states of New York and New Jersey agreed to split the formidable cost of replacing the sole, rapidly deteriorating train tunnel connecting Midtown Manhattan to New Jersey.

The states’ funding plan, which was to be developed by an entity housed in the Port Authority, has long been shrouded in mystery — including how the two states plan to split their half of the burden.

Last Monday, a Port Authority spokesman declined to provide any more details about the status of the scheme.

“Seems like there are so many more immediate things to worry about. I honestly have not even thought about that scenario,” said New Jersey State Sen. Bob Gordon, a Democrat who chairs his chamber’s Legislative Oversight Committee and has spent a considerable amount of time advocating for the Gateway project.

In Washington, things are moving slightly more quickly. In the coming days, the federal Department of Transportation is expected to announce that two elements of the Gateway Program will begin the two-part review process required to access grants from the New Starts program, which has helped fund mega-projects like the Second Avenue Subway.

The “project development” phase of the New Starts process involves the “complete environmental review process including developing and reviewing alternatives, selecting locally preferred alternative (LPA), and adopting it into the fiscally constrained long range transportation plan,” according to the transportation department’s website.

The new rail tunnel beneath the Hudson River and the new Portal Bridge in New Jersey, which will replace the existing, century-old, bottleneck of a swinging bridge over the Hackensack River, are expected to cost upwards of $10 billion. The overall Gateway program  — including an expansion of Penn Station — is expected to cost more than $20 billion.

New Starts, along with other federal grant and loan programs, are expected to comprise a bulk of the federal government’s contribution to the plan.

The existing rail tunnel, which is owned by Amtrak but most heavily used by NJ Transit, was falling apart even before Hurricane Sandy inundated it with salt water.

Since then, federal officials have warned that its demise is imminent.

Spokesmen for Amtrak and the USDOT declined comment for this story.

Read more at:

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Train Operator Keolis To Get Extra $66M

MBTA To Add Commuter Trains, Expand Maintenance

By Matt Stout
Boston Herald

Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) officials will pay its troubled commuter rail operator at least $66 million more over the next six years — and $15 million more this year — to run and maintain more trains, a costly move they say is necessary to deal with rampant canceled and delayed service.

The proposal, approved by the MBTA Fiscal Management and Control Board with little public discussion, comes as commuters are facing higher fares — up as much as 10 percent — on the network of lines snaking into Boston.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said the current $2.68 billion contract, under which Keolis Commuter Services is due $327 million this fiscal year alone, “was not producing the performance that we wanted.”

“We are convinced that without investing more money ... we’re not going to see the performance that we think our customers deserve,” she said. “These proposals to the board are the staff’s way of saying that we think the best bet is to double down on our relationship with Keolis.”

Keolis’ first two years of running the MBTA’s commuter rail system has been marked by a number of financial issues. The MBTA has hit Keolis with repeated fines for delays, and the French company reported a net loss of roughly $30 million in 2015 alone.

“For the time being, we are still in the red, but we are absolutely dedicated to turn this business around,” said Franck Dubourdieu, Keolis’ deputy general manager. “And it looks like we have the support of the MBTA. ... What we are here trying to do is to bring the service to a higher standard.”

State data shows Keolis has improved in delivering more on-time trains since the disastrous 2015 winter — save for last month, when in the wake of the planned overhaul of its train schedules, just 87 percent of its trains were on time, its worst month in the last year.

But MBTA officials will now pay Keolis $11 million more a year over the last six years of its contract to take on more work. The extra costs, which the T would pay out of its operating budget, would cover:

In addition, the T is also planning to pay Keolis another $4.3 million this year out of capital funds — pushing this year’s added cost to $15.3 million — to pay for a pilot program to staff Keolis maintenance workers seven days a week, up from the current five-day schedule.

The T, for the second year, also plans to pay an extra $5 million to beef up staffing on some of its lines, though that’s covered solely by the fines it’s hit Keolis with since 2014.

In what Pollack called a “carrot-and-stick approach,” the T under the proposal would also be able to impose a number of new fines, up to a combined $1.8 million a year, if Keolis fails to deliver despite the increased payments.

Keolis won its eight-year commuter rail contract in 2014, beating out the former operator, the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co., by offering to do the work for far less. T officials noted that under MBCR’s proposal, it would have been paid $350 million this year, or $23 million more than it’s paying Keolis before the proposed changes.

From an item at:

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RIDERSHIP LINES... Ridership Lines...  

Surf’s Up For LA’s New Expo Line

By Ben Vient, Managing Editor
Railway Age Magazine

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority reported on July 11 that ridership numbers are up for Metro Expo since its extension opened May 20.

During the expanded line’s first full month of June, average weekday boardings increased from 29,047 in April to 45,876 in June.

There were similar gains on weekends, especially on Sundays — with the number of average estimated boardings rising the most on Sundays, from 15,965 in April to 35,995 in June, suggesting its becoming a popular route to the beach.

The 6.6-mile light rail extension parallels Exposition Boulevard, passing through Westwood, West L.A., and Santa Monica. Kinkisharyo USA is assembling 78 new LRVs for the line at its facility in Palmdale, Calif.

Found at:

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PLANNING LINES... Planning Lines...  

Miami, Fl Moves Forward With
Light Rail Possibilities

By Keith Barrow, Associate Editor
International Railway Journal
Via Railway Age

Miami Beach City Commission has given the go-ahead to negotiate an interim agreement with the Greater Miami Transit Partners consortium, which has submitted the highest-ranking proposal for a light rail line in the city.

The city will now negotiate a long-term PPP contract with Greater Miami Transit Partners, which includes Alstom, to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the line. If the city cannot reach an agreement with the consortium it could open talks with the second and third-placed bidders, Connect Miami Beach and Miami Beach Mobility Partners.

Preliminary recommendations call for the construction of a loop serving South Beach, which would be built in two phases, each around 2.5 miles long. The first phase would run along 5th Street and Washington Avenue, while the second phase would continue the line along Alton Road and 17th Street. An additional loop along Dade Boulevard is also being evaluated.

The double-track line would be completely catenary-free and would run in dedicated transit lanes for its entire length.

The City of Miami Beach says both phases could be constructed concurrently, and a decision on how to proceed will be made following the conclusion of financial and technical analyses.

Public consultation began last month and environmental studies are due to be completed early next year.

Found at:

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STOCKS...    Selected Rail Stocks...
BRKB – Burlington Northern Santa Fe

CNI – Canadian National

CP –  Canadian Pacific

CSX – CSX Corp

GWR – Genessee & Wyoming

KSU – Kansas City-Southern

NSC – Norfolk Southern

PWX – Providence & Worcester

UNP – Union Pacific

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MANUFACTURER LINES... Manufacturer Lines...  

GE Manufacturing Solutions
Celebrates 1,000th Locomotive

Written By Dan Templeton
Railway Age Magazine

More than 700 employees attended a ceremony to mark the rollout of the 1,000th locomotive from the General Electric (GE) Manufacturing Solutions plant in Fort Worth, Tex., on July 7, three-and-a-half years after the start of production at the facility.

The 1,000th locomotive was an ET44AC Evolution Series for Canadian National Railway (CN) that meets US Environmental Agency Tier 4 emissions standards.


Photo courtesy of GE Transportation

Employees pose with the 1000th locomotive

“The milestone is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the team here in Fort Worth,” says Richard Simpson, a vice president at GE Transportation. “In less than four years, this team helped start up the GE Manufacturing Solutions facility and built 1,000 high-quality, competitive locomotives for our customers.”

The one million square-foot facility is now GE Transportation’s primary manufacturing site for Evolution Series locomotives.

From an item at:

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

Fatal Head-On Train Collision In Italy Resembles
Similar Accident In Germany In February 2016

23 Fatalities And Dozens Injured After Two EMU Trains Smash Head-On
On A Single Track Rail Line In Southeastern Italy.
Deadliest Train Collision In Italy In Over A Decade.

Via N-TV News Television Network,
Süddeutsche Zeitung Newspaper
And Internet Sources

Two EMU trains collided head-on at relatively high speed on a single track in the Puglia region in southeastern Italy last Tuesday (12th of July).  Each of the 4-car long EMU train sets (at least one of them a Stadler FLIRT train set in wide-spread use in Europe, including in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Holland and Hungary) were underway at the time between station on the rail line, first built in 1965 and so far not equipped with ETCS or any other automated train control system, but rather with an outdated manual system relying on train orders issued by dispatch managers via telephone to the stations along the line where passing loops (tracks) are installed.  

A train station dispatch manager has taken partial blame for a deadly head-on collision that claimed at least 23 lives in one of Italy’s worst rail accidents, according to media reports on Thursday, the 14th of July.  One of the fatalities is reported to be the train driver of one of the two trains.  

“I’m the one who sent the train on its way,” Vito Piccarreta, head of Andria train station in the Puglia region, told journalists. “There was some confusion, the trains were late. But I’m not the only one at fault,” said the traumatized station master, who has worked for the Bari Nord rail network for 24 years.

The crash happened on a single-track stretch of railway run by station managers who communicate directly with train drivers via telephone, a system Italian authorities described as “risky”. Local prosecutors have opened a culpable manslaughter investigation into the head-on collision, which happened on a single stretch of track between the towns of Andria and Corato.

One of the EMU trains was supposed to have waited at a station to let the other train through, before heading down the track between the Corato and Andria. The go-ahead to proceed is given by the station managers by telephone.

Two station masters have been suspended amid the investigations, as reported in the Italia news media.  The system on the single-track line by which station managers communicate directly with train drivers was “one of the least sophisticated and most risky,” Graziano Delrio told parliament on Wednesday. “Unfortunately, a system like this means the controls lie with humans,” leaving a window for human error, he said.  Officials said they had recovered the event recorder, or so called “black box” from one of the trains which investigators hope will throw light on the collision.

According to the newspaper La Stampa, the line dates to 1965.  It said a request for proposals (RFP) to modernize the security system and lay a second track had been scheduled to be issued to potential contractors later this month.  The trains were operated by private railway company Ferrotramviaria – just one of the 30 or so private companies which run on small lines criss-crossing Italy in areas not covered by national operator Trenitalia.

The last major rail disaster in Italy was in 2009, when a freight train carrying liquid petroleum gas derailed and exploded, killing 29 people at the station in the town of Viareggio.  The head-on collision last Tuesday in the Puglia region bears many parallels to a head-on collision in an outer suburb of Munich, Germany last February.  In that collision there were a similar number of fatalities and injuries and a similar models of electric multiple unit (EMU) train sets were in use, as in the crash this past week in Italy.  The collision in southern Bavaria, Germany happened after a dispatcher in a train station along that single track rail line erroneously set green signals for both trains as they headed towards other on the same track.  He admitted later during interrogation by prosecutors that he had been distracted by playing a video game on his private mobile cell phone while on-duty at the rail line’s control desk.  

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Across The Big Pond...


China Completes 16km High-Speed Tunnel

By David Briginshaw
International Railway Journal

Chinese engineers have completed construction of a 15,989m-long double-track tunnel on the new Xi’an - Chengdu high-speed line which is due to open in late 2017.

Tin Mountain tunnel is claimed to be the longest double-track tunnel on the Chinese high-speed network, and is 1016m deep at its lowest point.


Image via IRJ

The 643km 250km/h line is the first railway to pass through the Qinling mountains in Shaanxi province. This 135km section has 127km of tunnels and bridges, which will be completed in August, and includes Tin Mountain tunnel and the West Qinling tunnel which is 10km long.

Bridges span the steep V-shaped valleys between the tunnels which required measures to combat the aerodynamic effect of trains travelling across the bridges between tunnels. Engineers also had to cope with the prevalence of rock falls in the area. Reinforced concrete piles are used for the bridges which are fitted with anti-rock-fall sheds. Rescue stations are provided at intervals in the longest tunnels for use in case of emergency.

The line also has a 70km section with a continuous gradient of 2% - the longest in China -which reduced the length of the new railway through the Qinling mountains.

From an item at:

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TO THE NORTH... To The North...  

Canada And Quebec Say “Oui”
To Transit Infrastructure

From Railway Age Magazine

Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau and Premier of Quebec Philippe Couillard have confirmed the ratification of the Canada-Quebec Agreement on the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund and the Clean Water and Wastewater Fund.

This agreement, with funding provided by the Canadian government, the province of Quebec and municipalities, will support public transit projects, as well as infrastructure projects that will provide improved water and wastewater systems.

“We are making investments that will improve the quality of life for our middle class now, while building a strong foundation for the sustainable economy of the future,” noted Prime Minister Trudeau. “These investments will help provide the people of Quebec with clean and reliable water sources and with shorter commute times so they can spend more of their valuable time with their families. Through our solid partnership with Quebec, we are investing in our municipalities so that important shovel-ready infrastructure projects can proceed without delay.”

Both governments say infrastructure investments are vital for creating middle class jobs and sustained economic growth for years to come.

The agreement will allow Quebec municipalities and public transit organizations to access more than CA$1.2 billion (US$924 million) in federal funding over the next three years to implement projects in all regions of Quebec. Combined with funding from the province and municipalities, more than CA$2.5 billion (US$1.9 billion) will be invested in infrastructure projects. Nearly CA$924 million (US$711 million) in federal funding will go to public transit projects.

“Quebec is the first province to conclude its agreement with the federal government regarding these two funds. This comprehensive agreement between our governments will make it easier to choose and manage projects, will reduce administrative delays and will get shovels in the ground faster. This first phase will support public transit organizations in their initiatives to improve their equipment and increase their service offerings. This will enable us to support capital projects that are designed to rehabilitate, optimize and modernize public transit infrastructures or to enhance efficiency, accessibility or safety,”?explained Premier Couillard.

This funding is part of the first phase of Investing in Canada, the government’s historic CA$120-billion (US$92-billion) plan to support infrastructure across the country over the next 10 years. Under the agreement, the Canadian government has made its funding retroactive to April 1, 2016, so projects can proceed without delay to help ensure a productive construction season this year.

From an item at:

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OFF THE MAIN LINE... Off The Main Line...  

A Personal Note...


Looking Back at the Last One Hundred Years

By David Peter Alan

This week’s column is different than any I have ever written before or will ever write again.  I am looking at a very rare event, which affects me personally, and is taking place on our day of publication.  Today, I am forsaking the journalistically-correct term “this writer” and writing in direct first-person.  Today, my mother, Winifred Y. Harback of Broward County, Florida, is observing her 100th birthday.

Few people do that well in the longevity lottery.  My mother has had a fortunate life, but not a remarkable one.  She grew up in East Orange, New Jersey, and commuted on the Morris & Essex (M&E) Line when she was young and when the M&E was owned and operated by the Lackawanna Railroad.  Since I have been alive, she almost never took the train and, to this day, she wonders why I take Amtrak’s Silver Meteor when I visit her in Florida, rather than an airline.  When I was little, she would occasionally take me on the M&E to visit my grandmother in East Orange, which was a treat for me and may have inspired my interest in trains.  Today, I still live on the M&E and represent my fellow riders as Chair of the Lackawanna Coalition.

It is not the purpose of this column to dwell on the subject of my mother.  At press time, I am in Florida, and there is a party scheduled for her at the complex where she lives.  Because of this milestone in my mother’s life, I have been thinking about what the last 100 years has brought.  It is difficult to imagine, from today’s vantage point, what life was like at that time; both in terms of transportation, and almost anything else.

On July 18, 1916, when my mother was born, the world was in the middle of the worst war to date, although this country had not yet joined the fight.  It was called “The Great War” and everybody hoped there would never be another like it.  People called it “The War to End All Wars” and President Woodrow Wilson expressed the hope that “it would make the world safe for Democracy.”  These hopes did not come to fruition; less than 21 years after the war ended, a worse conflict began.

1916 resembled the Victorian Era more than the innovative decade that would come after.  Popular songs of the time featured the rhythm of ragtime, but jazz was only heard in a few cities like New Orleans and New York.  It would not be recorded until the following year.  Film was silent, but cinematic masterpieces like D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance had something to say without spoken dialog.  A few “experimenters” like Lee DeForest and Robert Conrad were “broadcasting” to a few listeners, but commercial radio broadcasting was still six years in the future.  “Phonographs” of the time could not reproduce a wide range of sound; that would come with electrical recording in the 1920s.  The only musical reproduction that sounded like a “live performance” was a piano roll, played on a “player piano.”

The “necessities of life;” food, clothing and shelter, were expensive.  Most people toiled long hours just to pay for them, with few or no luxuries.  People hoped for a better future and worked long hours to fulfill that hope.  The work week later got shorter, and has recently become longer, again.  Cities thrived as country-dwellers left small towns and looked for opportunities in urban areas.  Cities were growing quickly, and much of that growth occurred in impoverished neighborhoods, as immigrants from foreign countries joined migrants from other parts of the nation to compete for low-wage jobs.

There were automobiles in this country in 1916, but few people had them.  People did not need them, and there were few paved roads at the time.  People used transit to get around.  There were plenty of trains, and they went almost everywhere.  There were streetcar systems that covered entire cities, and everybody in the cities lived within walking distance of a streetcar line.  There were interurban lines that connected cities and towns everywhere, so essentially everybody could go from one place to another on public transportation.  

The number of miles of rail, whether conventional railroads, streetcars or interurban lines, was growing.  The amount of rail in this country would peak and then begin to decline in the early 1920s, but it was still expanding in 1916.  Horse-drawn omnibuses were being replaced with electrically-operated cars, which were “environmentally-friendly” (to use a modern term) and much cleaner than the horse cars they replaced or the buses that replaced them.  People enjoyed riding streetcars, especially in cities, where it gave them convenient mobility and the feeling of freedom.  

Six years after my mother was born, Alfred P. Sloan, Chair of the Board of General Motors, made his fateful visit to Cleveland and saw the throngs of riders flocking to the city’s streetcars.  It was then, in 1922, that he decided that his company could not sell enough automobiles if streetcars remained so popular.  He formulated his campaign to take over the streetcar companies and convert their lines to bus lines, knowing that most people would not like the buses.  His campaign succeeded brilliantly, as bus riders bought automobiles and became motorists.  We all know what happened since then.  There are few passenger trains still running in this country, and not many cities have strong transit systems.  It is true that some cities, like Los Angeles and Denver, are building significant rail transit systems.  These are places where, only a few decades ago, nobody would have expected transit to catch on.  Still, these improvements are modest ones, and there has been no national trend toward improving rail transit.

A great deal has happened in the last 100 years. Essentially all of American culture has changed radically. The nation and its residents have been through a number of momentous events, too.  In many ways, the past century has been a time of improvement.  In terms of mobility, especially for people who do not have access to an automobile, the past century has been a continuous backward march, with only a few bright spots in a small number of cities.  Transportation was almost universal then.  Today, there is little of it available for people who do not have access to an automobile.  Not everything improves over time; even over the span of a century.

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