The National Corridors Initiative Logo

Nov 7, 2016
Vol. 16 No. 45

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 Opinion…
Design Perspectives: ST3: Even At $54B,
   It’s The Only Way To Grow
  Transit Lines…
MBTA In Talks With Private Company For
   Late-Night City Transit
  Funding Lines…
Former LACMTA Exec Joins Honolulu Rail Project
   On Interim Basis
Support Measure RR To Keep BART Safe And Reliable
USDOT Seeks Applications For $850 Million In
   FASTLANE Grants
  Political Lines…
San Joaquin Supervisors Support Future Rail Connections
  High-Speed Lines…
FRA Unveils Three Potential Routes For
   Atlanta-Chattanooga Rail Line
  Labor Lines…
SEPTA And Union Are Still Talking, Still Say
   A Contract Is Close
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Across The Pond…
TGV High Speed Rail Accident In November 2015:
   Engineering Calculation Errors Caused
   Severe Over-speed Condition In Track’s Curve
All Dutch Electric Trains To Run On
   Renewable Energy
  Off The Main Line…
A Tourist Railroad In Oregon Connects With Amtrak
   Through Community Transportation
  We Get Letters…
  Publication Notes …

GUEST OPINION... Guest Opinion...  

From Seattle

Design Perspectives: ST3: Even At $54B,
It’s The Only Way To Grow

By Clair Enlow
Special To The Journal

You don’t really believe that stuff about light rail relieving traffic congestion, do you? Good, because in case you haven’t already noticed, it won’t.

Vote for ST3 (Proposition 1 - Washington State) anyway. You could say it takes potential cars off of imaginary future highway lanes, ones that can never actually be built, because there’s no room for more lanes around here.

But the truth is really simpler than that. Light rail is not for the relief of drivers, present or future. It’s for the future of the city. It happens to be the best solution to the problem of how to move people around in an urban environment. Ours is not the first region with that problem, but it’s a good one to have.

It’s even better if it’s solved before traffic chokes the area to a standstill.

We know it works, because we now have some experience to go by. Those of us who ride light rail in Seattle have seen demand grow over the past seven years — slowly at first, but surely. Suburban cities are clamoring to get on board.

ST3 will yield 62 new miles and connect the urban areas of three counties. Riders will be able to travel easily and predictably from Tacoma to Everett, and east to Redmond and Issaquah, WA.

Still it’s a staggering price: $54 billion. The package includes other forms of transit, including bus rapid transit and commuter rail, but light rail is at the heart of it, and it’s ultimately expected to serve 600,000 riders a day.

The value is much greater than the cost. And the cost is likely to stand the test of time. If Sound Transit has learned anything about megaprojects, it’s this: Estimate high. Bring it in lower. The public will love it, and support for the agency will grow. They’re counting on it.

Calculating The Cost

After literally decades of debate, our region voted yes on light rail in 1996 with Sound Move. That ballot measure only began to fund the first leg of the system, from downtown to SeaTac, which opened in 2009. In the 1990s, Sound Transit lived through a political and organizational crisis as costs exploded long before trains were running.

Then, after 2001, Sound Transit got good at delivering on time and under budget. The agency’s reputation rose like a star student. Two decades after that first vote it’s still rising. But it’s difficult to get your mind around the cost of ST3. How exactly do you get to a real price for building out a 116-mile light rail network over the next two decades?

The short answer is, you don’t. As it goes to the vote, the design of the system is at about five percent completion. While that low percent is pretty much inevitable, it leaves a lot of uncertainty, according to John Howell of Cedar River Group. He served as administrator for a special panel assembled by the state to review the ST3 package and costs. “One of the very hard lessons learned about Sound Move was that (cost) was underestimated,” said Howell.

Sound Transit used actual experience from completed segments of the last big push for adding stations, ST2, as the building blocks for estimating ST3. The agency built a kind of table based on 10 different construction categories, from station sites and right-of-way to guideways and vehicles. Each segment of the new system was compared with similar segments already built in ST2. Still, because of the early stage of design there’s a hefty contingency buffer built in — 20 to 30 percent, according to Howell.

An army of auditors has studied the revenue sources that cover the cost. But any way you look at it, the price is still staggering. Tri-county taxpayers will be borrowing against future growth to fund ST3.

Gross Urban Product

So even though we don’t know exactly how much it will cost or what all the benefits are, the reasons to invest are pretty compelling. Here are some highlights:

Last year the region grew by about 52,000 people — that’s 1,000 new residents every week — and 800,000 more new residents are expected by 2040. With ST3, light rail could carry 600,000 of them per day.

The train has already left the station. But get on board, anyway. It’s the only way to grow.

From a piece at:

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TRANSIT LINES... Transit Lines...  

Public-Private Partnership

MBTA In Talks With Private Company
For Late-Night City Transit

Boston Night Owls May Have New Transportation Option

Colin A. Young Monday
Boston Herald News

A private transit company that already shuttles people around Greater Boston during the daytime has proposed to do the same at night, in a partnership with the MBTA to provide a late-night transportation option that workers, employers and transit advocates have clamored for.

The T’s Fiscal and Management Control Board today will hear a proposal from Boston-based Bridj to provide on demand late-night buses to move people around the city after the T’s rail and traditional bus lines shut down. The control board will decide if it wants a more detailed proposal from Bridj and the public will have a chance to weigh in before anything is final, T officials said.

Under Bridj’s proposal, riders would enter their pick-up and drop-off locations in the Bridj app and Bridj would provide pick-up and drop-off locations within a seven-minute walk, mirroring how Bridj works during its usual operating hours.

“We would simply have service areas that are targeted based off movement patterns of Bostonians and folks from surrounding cities who need to move in the late night,” Bridj CEO Matthew George said. “It allows us to serve more people in a way that’s a lot more flexible than putting up a fixed route at a fixed time.”

Bridj proposed to use its own vehicles, which George described as “14-passenger vans that have a nice center aisle, nice big leather seats, (and) Wi-Fi.” He said the vehicles would be driven by Bridj employees who are already licensed with the Department of Public Utilities.

MBTA Acting General Manager Brian Shortsleeve told State House News Service that Bridj has proposed a “public utility model” for its late-night service, and said the T would likely start with a pilot program before going all-in.

“The MBTA would set the fares, customers would register with the Bridj app directly, and then the MBTA would pay Bridj on a per vehicle per hour basis,” he said. “The T would recoup whatever fare revenue came through the system and Bridj would be paid per hour.”

Shortsleeve said the Bridj proposal contemplates the T paying Bridj $85 per vehicle per hour to run late-night service. If Bridj were to start out providing service with 10 vehicles, five hours each night, 365 nights a year, it would cost an estimated $1.55 million annually, some of which would be recovered through late-night fares.

The $85 per vehicle per hour cost is about 35 percent less than the $132 per vehicle per hour cost of putting a standard MBTA bus on the road and just higher than the $83 per vehicle per hour cost of the T’s contracted bus services in Winthrop, he said.

“As we look at late-night, we’re looking at ways to be innovative, to engage with the community and also, frankly, to close what is a $100 million operating deficit. We are looking at any opportunity we have to run more efficiently,” Shortsleeve, whom Gov. Charlie Baker appointed last year as the first chief administrator of the MBTA and charged with fixing the agency’s budget woes, said. “In the case of late-night, partnering with a Bridj, or other contract bus services, we believe we would probably be able to bus service at somewhere between 35 and 40 percent cheaper than our internal cost.”

If the FMCB decides it wants to work with Bridj to bring late-night service back, it will have to decide who is going to pay the service’s operating subsidy.

“The really important discussion that will be happening with our board here is who pays that? Is it the MBTA splitting it with stakeholders like the city of Boston, for example, the restaurant management association,” Shortsleeve said. “There are a lot of groups and stakeholders that have a real interest in this, employers, so we want to make sure as part of our discussion we think about how to make sure all the stakeholders have an opportunity to support the program financially.”

The MBTA has attempted to run late-night service a handful of times in the last decade, but it was never successful. FMCB member Monica Tibbits-Nutt said riders and advocacy groups have made it clear they want late-night service to work in Boston, and the FMCB wants to determine whether it is ever going to work.

She’s most attracted to Bridj’s data collection capabilities because the T could finally study what and where the true demand for late-night service is, she said.

“At this point, all of the evidence around whether late-night service is going to be good or not is all anecdotal because we are very limited in the amount of data we can collect on our riders,” Tibbits-Nutt said. She added, “I think we’ll finally be able to answer ... is this something that’s going to be successful in a city like Boston. I think it’s still a very big question mark.”

The pitch from Bridj is among the first unsolicited proposals the T has received since it hung an “open for business” sign and adopted an innovation proposal policy about a month ago, asking the region’s universities, its business community and its non-profit organizations to suggest ways they could work with the T to improve the transit system.

Includes material from the State House News Service

From an item at:

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Former LACMTA Exec Joins Honolulu
Rail Project On Interim Basis

By Mischa Wanek-Libman, Editor
Rail, Track, And Structures

The Board of Directors of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) selected Krishniah N. Murthy as the authority’s interim executive director and CEO.


Photo Via RT&S

Krishniah N. Murthy

Murthy will begin on Dec. 5 and his employment agreement is for one year. Murthy succeeds Dan Grabauskas, who resigned effective Aug. 18. HART ex-officio voting board member Michael D. Formby is acting executive director between Grabauskas’ resignation and Murthy’s start.

Murthy is an award-winning engineer and the former executive director for Transit Project Delivery at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. He retired in 2014 and founded Murthy Consulting Services.

“Murthy is the perfect fit for HART at this time,” said HART Board Chair Colleen Hanabusa. “He brings to the table more than 40 years of experience in transit design and construction and has managed and implemented several multi-billion dollar light rail and heavy rail projects in a number of cities, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Dallas/Fort Worth and Atlanta.”

Murthy said, “As an executive, I have participated extensively in project planning, coordination with state, federal and local agencies. I have taken leadership role[s] in managing [the] development of financial models for project sponsorship and project implementation, creating a decision making process and [to] effectively communicate project benefits to political leadership and communities.”

Found at:

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FUNDING LINES... Funding Lines...  

Support Measure RR To Keep BART
Safe And Reliable

By Nick Josefowitz And Tom Radulovich
BeyondChron - The Voice Of The Rest

On November 8, voters in San Francisco, Alameda, and Contra Costa counties [of California] have the opportunity to reinvest in the backbone of our regional public transit network.  Measure RR, the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) infrastructure Bond at the very bottom of your ballot, will authorize $3.5 billion to pay for fundamental infrastructure upgrades that are necessary after 44 years BART operations.  This includes replacing over 90 miles of old rails, upgrading BART’s 1960s train-control system, updating electrical power systems, repairing aging tunnels, replacing unreliable elevators, and enhancing existing stations.

Measure RR is the heart of BART’s reorientation to maintaining and updating core systems. In past decades, BART focused too much energy on costly expansion projects with limited ridership.  This came at the expense of basic core maintenance. Thankfully this has changed — we now have agency leadership that prioritizes the performance and maintenance of the existing BART network before adding new extensions.

BART’s commitment to core reinvestment began years ago by securing funding to replace BART’s aging rail cars.  These new trains cars will begin entering service early next year. BART has also improved maintenance practices, nearly doubling the distance each train car travels before it experiences a breakdown.  As a result, BART is best in the nation in terms of the portion of its fleet that is available for service. Measure RR investments take the critical next step in this turnaround.

Measure RR, however, will do more than support safety and reliability – these investments will allow BART to significantly increase capacity. Power upgrades and a modern train control system will allow BART faster and more frequent service, accommodating nearly 200,000 additional daily riders. This additional capacity represents the single largest increase in public transit capacity in the history of the Bay Area — more than the current daily ridership for all of Muni Metro.

Many San Franciscans don’t have a BART station in their neighborhood, but all of San Francisco benefits from BART.  San Francisco’s economy, and the essential services that it supports, rely on BART as an efficient means of delivering commuters to San Francisco jobs.  In addition, Measure RR’s fundamental infrastructure investments are essential for Muni riders and car commuters who depend on working roadways. More congested streets and highways are what we see when BART is unreliable, or when it can’t keep pace with regional growth.

Measure RR’s investments will also expand upon BART’s existing environmental benefits. BART already has the lowest greenhouse gas emissions per passenger mile of any U.S. urban rail transit system.  Measure RR upgrades to BART’s electrical infrastructure will allow more on-site solar power at BART stations and yards, supporting BART strategy for 100% renewable energy sources by 2025.  In addition, BART capacity growth is among the most cost effective ways to take cars off the road, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving our air quality.  We all deserve clean air and livable streets that aren’t clogged by an endless procession of cars.

BART stands at a crossroads.  Without meaningful investment, declining reliability and capacity constraints will disrupt access to jobs and services, increase roadway congestion, and undermine our sustainability goals. On November 8, it’s time to take responsibility for our transportation infrastructure, and rebuild BART from the ground up.  Please vote yes on Measure RR.

Nick Josefowitz is District 8 BART Director and Tom Radulovich is District 9 BART Director and President of the BART Board

Found at:

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USDOT Seeks Applications For $850 Million

From Rail, Track, And Structures

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) Build America Bureau is urging applicants to submit proposals for as much as $850 million in Fostering Advancements in Shipping and Transportation for the Long-term Achievement of National Efficiencies (FASTLANE) grants.

“Across the country, there are sidelined projects that are essential to America’s cities and our transportation network, and leveraging a FASTLANE grant from the Build America Bureau can move many of these projects forward,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. “FASTLANE grants give us an opportunity to identify and invest strategically in those projects that are critical to keeping our nation’s economic engine running.”

Representatives say the FASTLANE program was established through the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act to support freight and highway projects nationwide.

The FAST Act authorized the program at $4.5 billion for fiscal years 2016 through 2020, with $850 million for fiscal year 2017 to be awarded by Secretary  Foxx.

The USDOT previously announced 18 projects chosen to be awarded $759 million in FASTLANE funding in September, representatives said.

During the initial call for FASTLANE grants, USDOT received 212 applications for grants valued at nearly $9.8 billion, which officials say highlighted the need for infrastructure investments throughout the country.

The deadline to submit applications is Dec. 15, 2016, at 8 p.m. Applications can be submitted for review at:

More information about FASTLANE grants is available at:

Found at:

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POLITICAL LINES... Political Lines...  

San Joaquin Supervisors Support Future
   Rail Connections

By Wes Bowers
The Record (San Francisco)

San Joaquin County [CA] leaders are showing support for inter-regional collaboration that could bring a potential rail connection to the Bay Area that would alleviate traffic along Interstate 580.

The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors last Tuesday voted 4-1 to approve a resolution supporting a rail connection between the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) systems.

Supervisor Chuck Winn dissented, saying plans for a connection between the two commuter systems were premature.

Winn argued that BART and ACE, as well as agencies such as the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission, should focus on improving and maintaining the current transit systems before considering new projects.

“I believe in future planning, but on the other hand I also believe in being realistic,” he said. “This is unrealistic, a pie in the sky, and I think our constituents are looking for reality. I think this is a little overboard with regard to what we’re currently facing.”

Winn said that the 45-year-old BART system is struggling and falling apart, despite the agency reporting a 68 percent increase in passengers over the past year.

According to a report Winn read Tuesday, BART rail cars are outdated, dilapidated and filled with litter and debris.

He said the agency serves about 433,000 riders a day, although it is only designed to handle a maximum of 250,000 a day.

The agency has placed a $3.5 billion bond on the November ballot in the Bay Area, which Winn said would be used for everything except repairing the rail cars. That includes the electrical system, technology, station and track repair.

“My feeling is . it’s more important to take care of the current structure and maintenance,” Winn said. “I have a problem with regards to making a resolution to the future when, quite frankly, we don’t know where that $3.5 billion will come from.”

Supervisor Kathy Miller countered that the resolution does not support a specific project, but merely the idea that one could come to fruition in the future.

She said supporting a potential rail connection between the two systems would benefit many San Joaquin County residents.

“I have thousands of constituents in my district who commute to the Bay Area every day and are concerned about being part of a connection that would allow us to be included in a larger mega-region,” she said. “I support a plan to be included in a discussion that would ultimately improve the quality of life for many of our constituents.”

According to a Northern California Mega-region Report released in June, San Joaquin County is one of the top 10 areas in the nation whose residents have commutes longer than 90 minutes.

According to Tuesday’s resolution, housing affordability issues in the Bay Area has caused 68.7 of the county’s residents to commute to the Bay Area for work.

As a result, Interstate 580, which stretches from Tracy to Oakland, has become one of the most congested freeways in the mega-region, according to the resolution.

Currently, the best connection between ACE and BART in the Tri-Valley region is a shuttle bus, and board Chairman Moses Zapien said Tuesday’s resolution simply displays support for alleviating congestion along Interstate 580 and improving commutes for residents.

“This is merely a concept moving toward a greater commute within a mega-region,” he said. “We have constituents who commute over the Altamont Pass who would like to see (a connection) happen one day. The commute from San Joaquin County to the Bay Area is ranked as one of the worst in the nation. This says that we recognize this is an attempt to do something about it.”

According to, the rail connection project includes extending BART 4.8 miles along I-580 to from the Dublin/Pleasanton station to Isabel Avenue in Livermore.

The BART board of directors is expected to consider the project in late 2017.

The Altamont Region Rail Working Group, formed in 2015 to facilitate and accelerate the planning and construction of a connection project in the area that includes Dublin, Livermore and Pleasanton, passed the resolution on Sept. 14.

The group is represented by officials from the Tri-Valley cities, the city of Tracy, the counties of San Joaquin and Alameda, as well as BART, ACE and the Livermore Amador Valley Transit Authority.

The East Bay Leadership Council, Innovation Tri-Valley Leadership Group and San Joaquin Partnership are also members of the group.

The resolution was approved by the Regional Rail Commission on Oct. 14.

From an item at:

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

FRA Unveils Three Potential Routes
For Atlanta-Chattanooga Rail Line

From Progressive Railroading

The Federal Railroad Administration and the departments of transportation in Georgia and Tennessee have released a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for a proposed high-speed rail line between Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tenn.

The document presents three corridor alternatives to connect the two cities, along with the potential environmental impacts of each route.

One proposed route would follow Interstate-75; another begins following the same highway before heading east to stop in Chatsworth, Ga. The third route includes a stop in Rome, Georgia.

Capital costs of the routes range from $8.7 billion to $10.4 billion, according to an October newsletter from the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Public hearings have been scheduled in November to gather feedback on the DEIS.


Map via Progressive Railroading

Proposed Routes

Found at:

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LABOR LINES... Labor Lines...  

SEPTA And Union Are Still Talking,
Still Say A Contract Is Close

By Jason Laughlin
Philadelphia Inquirer
Nov 3, 2016

On the second day of a transit strike that has paralyzed Philadelphia, SEPTA accused the union leadership late Wednesday night of prolonging the walkout even after the authority had agreed to meet many of the union’s demands.

“We’ve tried to be respectful,” said Fran Kelly, SEPTA’s assistant deputy manager for government affairs. “Now we’re going into a third day where people’s lives are disrupted.”

He said SEPTA would pursue an injunction Thursday in U.S. District Court that would force union members to report to work on Nov. 8, Election Day.

In the statement sent about 11 p.m. Wednesday, SEPTA board chairman Pasquale Deon called on the leadership of Transportation Workers Union Local 234 to negotiate in good faith.

“I ask the TWU leadership to meaningfully engage in negotiations without delay,” Deon said. “Too much is at stake for either side to fail to fully engage in the negotiating process.”

The union said it was not ready to respond, but that it would.

The statement marks the first time SEPTA has provided details on its proposal to resolve the strike that began at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.

SEPTA is offering to remove the current cap on pensions for the 4,738 striking workers, as well as an 8 percent increase in pension benefits, an issue union representatives have described as a major concern. Union pensions are presently capped at a payout of $30,000 a year.  SEPTA is also offering wage increases that over five years would raise the average pay with overtime from $68,100 to $76,200 a year, and medical coverage for up to $164 a month, compared to the $46 a month union workers currently pay.

The statement came at the end of a day that began with both sides seeming optimistic about a strike resolution.

SEPTA thought a deal was imminent, Kelly said, but an issue that the union hadn’t raised publicly before limiting the amount of time cameras on vehicles recorded before and after an incident such as an accident or fight. SEPTA wants the ability to review more of the recordings made before and after incidents, Kelly said.

“The whole world wants accountability,” he said.

Deon’s statement was released even as negotiators from both sides sat at the bargaining table, a union representative said.

In the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel at 17th and Race Streets, where negotiations were being held, SEPTA board member John Kane and U.S. Rep. Bob Brady (D., Phila.) were surprised by the release.

“I don’t know why he’s doing that,” Brady said, referring to Deon.

Brady has been key to resolving past strikes and has been deeply involved in this one. He’s been a steady presence at the hotel since Monday night.

Most of Wednesday was taken up with the local’s executive board reviewing the proposal and preparing a response. Both parties talked about making progress and said things were closer Wednesday than they had been the day before, but that didn’t mean discussions over the fine points were going to happen quickly.

“It’s always that little something,” Brady said.

Brady is not the only political leader who has visited the negotiations. Democratic State Rep. Dwight Evans, a SEPTA board member, stopped at the Sheraton on Wednesday.

Brady and others familiar with the negotiations said SEPTA has presented the union with a “box” of funds available. Neither the union nor SEPTA is disclosing the dollar amount under discussion, but negotiations are centering on how to divide that money to address union requests, including wage increases.

Brady had said he would seek funds to bridge the gap between union demands and SEPTA’s budget, but on Wednesday he said both the city and Gov. Wolf’s office told him there was no more money that could be allocated to SEPTA.

In an email response to questions about additional funding for SEPTA, Wolf did not address the question but said he has urged both sides to continue talking. Philadelphia state lawmakers also said they had not heard of any effort to free up state money to resolve the strike.

Meanwhile, Election Day looms. While both parties have expressed concern about Tuesday’s voter turnout, Democrats are particularly worried that the strike could affect Hillary Clinton’s chances of holding Pennsylvania, a state where large Republican areas are counterbalanced by a huge Democratic advantage in Philadelphia.

“They should be concerned,” Brady said. “I’m concerned.”

Editor Note:  As of Thursday night of last week SEPTA had not filed for an injunction.

From an item at:

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

CNI – Canadian National

CP –  Canadian Pacific

CSX – CSX Corp

GWR – Genessee & Wyoming

KSU – Kansas City-Southern

NSC – Norfolk Southern

PWX – Providence & Worcester

UNP – Union Pacific

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

Installments By David Beale
NCI Foreign Editor


TGV High Speed Rail Accident In November 2015:
Engineering Calculation Errors Caused Severe
Over-speed Condition In Track’s Curve


Test Plan Documents Show Braking Instructions Given To The Train Drivers By Test Project Engineers For The Ill-Fated Test Run Were Incorrectly Calculated,
Thus Resulting In An Unsafe Speed Of The Train As It Entered A Relatively Sharp Curve At The End Of The New High Speed Rail Line.

Via “le Parisien” Newspaper

Paris – After more than eight months of investigative work, the two experts appointed by an investigation court to determine the cause of the derailment that left 11 dead and 42 injured on the 14th of November 2015 during a test / proving run on the new 2nd phase of the LGV Est high speed rail line in Eckwersheim, France, confirms human error as the cause of the deadly derailment. In this progress report two former Alstom system engineers hired by the investigation court revealed that the calculations to determine the point where the test train had to begin slowing down to enter a curve, where the LGV Est high speed rail line ends and transitions to an existing rail line leading to Strasburg, France – a few kilometers away - were wrong.  Alstom is the primary contractor and train builder, which has designed and built all of the various versions of the world-famous TGV series of high speed trains in operation in France and a number of other countries.  


Photo: Frederick Florin / AFP

Tragic End to a Routine Test – The remains of TGV train set, which derailed at high speed and flew off a railway bridge (seen in the upper part of the photo) and landed in a canal a few kilometers north of Strasburg, France on the French – German border, being removed by investigators on the 15th of November 2015, a day after the deadly derailment.

“The accident was already written on the documents in possession of the leadership of the team”, said the court ordered experts.  The implementation of the braking instructions provided in the documents reviewed showed a braking schedule, which would bring the train into the 945 meter  (0.6 mile) radius curve with a far higher than allowed safe speed.  According to the expert calculations, to safely decelerate from 330 km/h to 176 km/h in the curve, the train crew should have triggered the braking three kilometers before start of the curve. However, the TGV test drivers were instructed to slow only two kilometers before the start of the curve. Worse, the company responsible for overseeing the drivers of the test train decided to delay the braking by an additional kilometer.

Why ? When questioned by investigators, the test planners said, that on the outward journey (from Strasburg heading towards Paris), performed in the morning, the train had sufficient margin to slow to a safe speed.  An erroneous analysis.  Indeed, during this test, braking has been achieved in reality 2.5 km earlier than what was envisaged by the test plan.  “But it seems that nobody paid attention,” the court experts lamented. The test TGV derailed at 245 km/h (152 mph) on the track section limited to 176 km/h.

The court appointed experts also point to the chosen speeds for these tests. On the portion where the accident took place, the TGV train rolled to the “design speed” (speed allowed by the geometry of the line) or 330 km/h, and not the signaled limit of 187 km/h (speed used in normal revenue service of the TGV).  “The project team had decided to run the train at excessive speeds, not justified from the requirements for validation”, according to the authors of the report.  “The rationale for this decision has not yet been communicated to us.”

Moreover, as the publications “Parisian” and “Aujourd’hui en France” have revealed, a previous test, performed three days before the derailment, had nearly turned into tragedy. In their report, the experts called it a “near miss”. On the 11th November 2015, on a portion of track where the train should travel at 230 km/h, it reached a speed of 298 km/h.  Yet no lessons would be drawn, a surprising omission given that the technical system that prevents a train from speeding is disconnected during testing over-speed and the safety of these tests is based entirely on the test leadership team.

Finally, in its provisional findings, the report is particularly critical of those in charge of controlling the TGV train during the test. “The leadership team was entrusted with the responsibility of deciding the brake engagement points while it had neither the means nor the skills required.” the report states:


Since the submission of the report to the judges, the train operating crew (two employees of the SNCF and an employee of Systra, a subsidiary of the railway company responsible for testing) were indicted for involuntary homicide and injuries and placed under judicial supervision, a judicial source said.

But this investigation progress report also points to the responsibilities of Systra and SNCF, through its agency for railway tests (AEF).  These companies should also be worried.  At least two requirements were not met. The first is to achieve speed test under normal traffic rules. The second is the maximum number of passengers allowed on board.  A regulation specifies that it should be 30 persons, exceptionally increased to 50 only by specific authorization.  On the 14th November 2015, there were 53 persons on board the test train including four children

When contacted, neither Systra nor SNCF were not able to comment on this information. Both companies stated, that they have no access to the investigation files. Currently neither company has been indicted nor placed under assisted witness status.  In the meantime since the deadly high speed derailment in November 2015 the latest and the last section of the LGV Est high speed rail line has been repaired and all remaining testing and commissioning of the new rail line has been completed, the line went into full revenue service operation in July 2016, thus substantially reducing travel times between Paris and Strasburg, France as well as to and from a number of cities beyond Strasburg in southern Germany such as Karlsruhe, Stuttgart, Ulm, and Munich served by SNCF TGV trains out of Paris.

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All Dutch Electric Trains To Run On Renewable Energy

By Quintus Vosman
International Railway Journal

Exactly a year after the COP21 climate conference in Paris, Netherlands Railways (NS) has announced that all electric trains on the Dutch network will operate exclusively using power from renewable sources with effect from January 1 2017, a year earlier than originally envisaged.

The move affects both passenger and freight operators as the entire Dutch railway sector purchases traction energy collectively. Based on a 10 year contract, the sector is purchasing 1.4 terawatts per year, of which 1.2 terawatts is used for traction.

Despite reaching its 100% green milestone, NS is to continue its energy-saving program with investment in measures to reduce rolling stock energy consumption, such as more efficient traction systems or LED lighting.

NS made the announcement during the Dutch national climate conference in Rotterdam, and called upon companies and passengers to make their mobility cleaner and more sustainable.

In a cooperation with the Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment, the Dutch employer’s federation (VNO-NCW) and the association Nature & Environment NS has started working with 15 large companies, which employ some 200,000 people, on project to foster sustainable mobility.

The main goal is to encourage a modal shift from cars to bikes, public transport and electric transport, incentivizing changes in commuting behavior through more favorable secondary labor conditions, such as the reimbursement of travel costs, parking policy, and housing.

The program builds on the Low Car Diet program, which started two years ago. Around 60% of participants in the program are still using more public transport while 50% have increased their bicycle travel.

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

A Tourist Railroad In Oregon Connects With
Amtrak Through Community Transportation

By David Peter Alan

We do not often write about tourist railroads, because few of them are accessible without an automobile.  If anything, these operations give riders the impression that trains are not useful transportation; that they are no longer designed to take people to their destinations.

There are a few tourist lines that can be reached by some form of public transportation, whether Amtrak or local transit.  There is one in Oregon, which is accessible from Amtrak.  That access requires a connection through a community transportation provider whose service is limited, but sufficient to make the necessary connections one day a week, in season.

It is the Mount Hood Railroad, a former Union Pacific branch line that is now owned by Iowa Pacific Holdings (IPH), a collection of short lines and tourist railroads owned by former Amtrak manager Ed Ellis.  Ellis operates several other tourist lines through IPH, including the Saratoga & North Creek Railroad, which connects with Amtrak at Saratoga Springs, New York.  He also operates the equipment on the Hoosier State train between Chicago and Indianapolis four days a week; a train that bears the livery of the old Illinois Central Railroad and features fresh-cooked food, served in a dome dining car.

The Mount Hood Railroad runs south from Hood River, Oregon, which is across the Columbia River from Bingen, Washington.  Bingen is a stop on the Portland section of Amtrak’s Empire Builder route, 75 miles from Portland.  The “Builder” is scheduled to stop there at 8:04 in the morning on the way to Portland and at 6:21 pm on its way east.  That leaves time for the ride on the Mount Hood Railroad and some sightseeing, too.  Bingen and White Salmon, which is located uphill from Bingen and about 1 1/2 miles or 2.4 km away from there, are both small towns that evoke the feel of Washington State of days past.  This writer took the local bus from Bingen to White Salmon, saw the town and walked back down the hill to Bingen, which is the home of the Gorge Heritage Museum.  There was enough time to see both towns (including almost 90 minutes to visit the museum) before catching the local bus to Hood River.  The museum features the local history of the Columbia River Gorge.  It is open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons from May through September.  The trip which this writer took is available only on Fridays, because that is the only day when the museum is open, the Mount Hood Railroad operates, and the local bus runs.

Gorge TransLink operates the local bus, which is the only way to get across the river without an automobile.  There are plans to build a new bridge that will also have access for pedestrians and cyclists, but that project is in the planning stage at this writing.  So, for the foreseeable future, the only access by transit is the bus that runs four times a day on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  It is known as the MATS (Mount Adams Transportation Service) route, and is operated by Klickitat County, Washington with minibuses.

For Amtrak riders coming from the east and arriving at Bingen on schedule, there is an 8:22 bus to Hood River, which allows about five hours of sightseeing before the 2:00 departure of the Mount Hood Railroad excursion.  There is also an 11:00 departure from Hood River.  If the “Builder” arrives at Bingen behind schedule (as happened to this writer), there is time for sightseeing in Bingen and White Salmon before taking the 1:36 bus to Hood River, which arrives at the Mount Hood Railroad station about 1:45; just in time to buy a ticket for the 2:00 train.

The Mount Hood Railroad extends from Hood River, to the town of Parkdale, about two hours’ ride to the south.  This year, the excursion trains ran only as far as Odell, approximately the half-way point on the line.  The excursion took about two hours, arriving back in Hood River about 4:00, and allowing a few minutes to walk around Odell.  There was not much to see: about two blocks of stores and a few houses.  There were plenty of apple orchards on the way.  The scenery was not spectacular, but the ride was fun and, as on many tourist and excursion trains, there was a narration about the scenery along the route and the history of the railroad.

As with many of the IPH passenger trains, the Mount Hood Railroad carried a dome dining car and offered lunch on the train.  That lunch consisted of a freshly-made sandwich, with a side of pasta salad and a cookie.  This writer had barbecued pork; not a specialty of Oregon, but good.  There are locally-made wines and beers available, too, and this writer had a beer with the sandwich.  

There are three classes of service on the excursion.  “Standard” class includes a coach seat and no food.  The fare was $30 for the 2016 season, and lunch cost an additional $13.  For $2.00 more, “First Class” included the lunch, with seating at tables on the lower level of the dining car, for a total fare of $45.  For $10 more than that, “Diamond Class” included the sane lunch and a seat in the upper level of the dome car.  In this writer’s opinion, “First Class” provided the best deal.  The $2.00 surcharge for a table at which to eat lunch was well worth the difference, and the most interesting car was actually a coach.  The coaches originally ran on the Long Island Rail Road, and one of them was converted to a “party car” with tables.  At the rear of the car was an open platform, similar to the ones on the observation cars of days gone by.  The highlight of the trip was riding on that platform on the way back to Hood River.

The Mount Hood Railroad has concluded its excursion season, and the “regular” trips will resume next May.  In the meantime, the railroad will offer “Polar Express” excursions from November 12th until December 23d.  During the excursion season, the railroad also offers a dinner train under Ellis’ “Pullman Table” brand.  For people who depend on public transportation, that would require a week-end stay in the town of Hood River, a taxi ride to Bingen to catch the Amtrak train, or an unpleasant wait for a Greyhound bus in the middle of the night.

This writer had spent the morning and early afternoon in Bingen and White Salmon, and the evening and overnight hours in Hood River.  It is an interesting and historic town, where the old Union Pacific trains, the City of Portland (1935-1971) and the Portland Rose (1930-1971), stopped.  The Hood River History Museum is open on Fridays before the excursion train leaves, and it tells the story of the local area.  The town itself is historic and walkable, although the walk up the steps to the upper levels of the town (all 412 of them) can be strenuous.  There are good eateries in town, and some feature local wines and beers.  Marionberry pie, made from a local variety of blackberries, is a dessert specialty which is only available in the vicinity.

Getting to Portland from Hood River is not easy.  Greyhound runs three buses daily from Hood River to Portland, but the bus stop is on the street, with no bench or shelter for waiting.  The bus stop is near the train station, and there was a bus about 7:00, after the excursion train returns.  The next bus was due at 3:05 in the morning, so the only way to kill time after seeing the town was to walk to an all-night restaurant (about a 45-minute walk from downtown) and kill a few hours nursing a pot of coffee and a piece of marionberry pie.  The bus was late, and did not arrive until after 5:30.  Fortunately, Greyhound can now track buses, so this writer had some time at “first light” to walk around some residential streets in the town.  This writer does not recommend the Portland bus in the middle of the night.  The early-evening bus departure is much more convenient.

Like other IPH operations, the train excursion was fun, and the crew treated the riders well.  The scenery was not spectacular, but it was an enjoyable experience to have a freshly-prepared sandwich and a local beer for lunch, and then to ride back on an open observation platform.  There are no similar food experiences on Amtrak, except on the Hoosier State train when IPH operates the dining car and serves a freshly-prepared dinner.  Maybe the Mount Hood Railroad will go to Parkdale next year.  If it does, that would be a worthwhile trip.

For travelers who want to go somewhere different, Ed Ellis and IPH offer a tourist railroad that can be reached on Amtrak and connecting local transit.  The trip only works for riders coming from east of Bingen, Washington (it works as a very long “day trip” from Spokane, leaving and arriving in the middle of the night), and it only works on Fridays, in season.  There is another benefit to taking the trip that way, too.  It is the magnificent scenery of the Columbia River, viewed from the lounge car on the Empire Builder, which is one of the most scenic rides on Amtrak.  

Congratulations to Ed Ellis and IPH for offering an excursion train that accessible by Amtrak and local transit, and which also serves a good meal.  Because of the potentially-tricky connections, this trip is recommended only for experienced rail travelers who also know how to use local buses.

The web site for the Mount Hood Railroad is, and their phone number for ordering tickets is (800) 872-4661, which is the general phone number for the IPH railroads.  The web site for Gorge TransLink is, and the number for their White Salmon office is (509) 493-4662.

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WE GET LETTERS... We Get Letters...  

Dear Editor

Re: Arthur Salvadore’s letter (Destination: Freedom, Oct 31, 2016)

At the Innotrans show in Berlin both Bombardier and Siemens also revealed new trains which will be able to operate considerable distances on non-electrified lines by using batteries and super-capacitors to store energy, including the power recovered from braking.

In Europe, most main lines are already electrified, and this development should allow operation on many branch lines without costly electrification.

Future development will surely bring down the cost and weight of batteries and make diesel trains unnecessary in many areas.

David Haydock, Editor
Today’s Railways Europe Magazine

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