- NARP Hotline for 7/29/16
- Latest on NNEPRA’s state review
- PHOTOS: N, Carolina’s massive passenger rail improvement project well underway
- GOP aims to throw mass transit funding under the bus
- Severe weather delays Downeaster trains for hours
- PHOTOS: 13 photo galleries of “Trains, Glorious Trains”
- MBTA oks $18.5m for Red Line winter resiliency work
- Freight RR traffic decline continues, and continues, and continues
- Latest photos of the Brunswick Layover Facility
10. From TRAINS Magazine: Passenger railroad company, regional to host special passenger excursion
July 25, 2016
WORCESTER, Mass. — The Boston Surface Railroad Co., a group looking to operate commuter rail service between Providence, R.I., and Worcester, Mass., is announcing a special sightseeing excursion on the Providence & Worcester Railroad and Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor on Saturday, July 30.
The company is hosting the special excursion to discuss details about the company’s ideas to restore passenger service to the Blackstone River Valley. The trip will depart from Worcester Union Station at 9 a.m. and will operate to Groton, Conn., before connecting to the Northeast Corridor past Providence. The excursion will return to Worcester around 4:15 p.m.
According to the Mass Bay Railroad Enthusiasts, members of the railfan group will be able to ride the sightseeing excursion at a reduced fare, courtesy of the Boston Surface Railroad Co. Adult fares would be $50 for the event, however members of the enthusiast group will be only $40.
The round-trip excursion will use diesel and passenger equipment operated by the Providence & Worcester Railroad.
11. From TRAINS Magazine: Comparing food on dining cars to lounge-diners
Amtrak’s temporary menu changes aren’t all bad, and some are tasty
By Bob Johnston | July 26, 2016
CHICAGO — The decision to temporarily substitute Amfleet II diner lounges for heritage dining cars on the Lake Shore Limited beginning last week means the train’s menu will feature fare similar to what is served on other long distance trains with limited food preparation facilities.
Instead of steaks at dinner, cooked-to-order omelets or french toast at breakfast, and side orders like mashed and baked potatoes available in Superliner and heritage dining cars, Amtrak’s Amfleet IIs are confined to what can be prepared in convection and microwave ovens. Heritage dining cars are cars that Amtrak inherited from predecessor private railroads and were built in the 1940s and 1950s.
A journey on the Chicago-Washington-New YorkCardinal in June shows a reduced selection at each meal and slow service because only one attendant serves patrons and heats pre-plated food. Presumably more staffing can help mitigate that situation, especially westbound out of Albany, N.Y., where passengers from the Boston section board at dinnertime.
But the reduced food service has pluses: fresh fruit accompanied a sausage-egg breakfast dish, thick sandwiches and a fresh garden salad were offered at lunch, and the dinner choices included a decent barbeque pulled pork dish with macaroni-and-cheese, lasagna, chicken enchilada, and tilapia with wild rice.
With the exception of the City of New Orleans, all other long-distance trains with a Superliner or heritage dining car have been serving the same menu all summer.
Dinner selections might include a special, but otherwise the choices are always the same: roast chicken, steak, black-bean vegetable enchiladas or Pad Thai with rice noodles for the vegetarian dish, corkscrew pasta in a three-cheese sauce, and shrimp-crab cakes.
On the City, Amtrak is experimenting with counter-top convection and microwave ovens prepared upstairs in a Superliner diner lounge, so those menus are similar to the ones on theCardinal and Lake Shore.
Food preparation technology has improved since 2007, when a revision of U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules led to a similar temporary substitution of Amfleet IIs on the Lake Shore. Since then, all Amtrak food service cars now must be taken out of service for several trips every 90 days to undergo extensive FDA inspection.
Since June, when the vintage single-level cars were withdrawn from service [See the September 2016 issue of Trains for more details], Amtrak had been operating with only one car to substitute among the 11 required for service on the Crescent, Silver Meteor, and Lake Shore Limited. Rather than risk offering no food service if one of those cars failed an inspection, management opted for the Amfleet IIs on the train that served the fewest meals en route.
12. From TRAINS Magazine: NAACP says public transit is a civil right
July 26, 2016
CINCINNATI — During its annual convention held recently, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, also known as the NAACP, passed a national transportation policy platform that establishes public transportation as a basic civil right.
All Aboard Ohio Vice Chair Derek Bauman championed the policy in a resolution that was written by All Aboard Ohio’s Executive Director, Ken Prendergast. The resolution says that a public transportation system is a basic civil right for every public and private entity.
“Despite the investment made to more freely move within our nation’s properties and structures or crossing public right of way, the public and private sector has yet to provide equal transportation access for many Americans disadvantaged by physical, economic, or discriminatory hardships to travel to these locations,” the resolution reads.
The association says it will advocate for legislation in every states’ constitution that declares public transportation to be a basic civil right that is accessible to everyone, among other initiatives that look at the locations of businesses in relationship to their access to transit routes, and policies that would require states to distribute funding to counties, or a series of counties based on the share of households without vehicles.
13. From TRAINS Magazine: Clinton less generous on infrastructure promises than her opponents
By Justin Franz | July 27, 2016
PHILADELPHIA — Months before becoming the Democratic nominee for President, Hillary Clinton outlined a plan to make infrastructure a top priority if elected in November. But despite the specifics offered by its candidate — who was officially nominated this week in Philadelphia — the Democratic Party’s platform remains vague when it comes to rail-related policies.
Late in 2015, Clinton released a five-year plan that would increase federal infrastructure spending by $275 billion and, in May of this year, Clinton promised to send a comprehensive infrastructure bill to Congress within her first 100 days in office.
“We will start working immediately because I want to get this issue behind us,” Clinton said at the time.
Clinton’s five-year plan calls for the allocation of $250 billion to direct infrastructure investments and another $25 billion for a national infrastructure bank that would offer loans for various projects.
Among the rail-related projects outlined in Clinton’s plan is a renewed focus on passenger rail investment; the elimination of dangerous grade crossings across the country; and rebuilding outdated rail tunnels and bridges. Perhaps the most ambitious — and specific — part of Clinton’s plan is a promise to upgrade at least 25 of the nation’s most costly freight bottlenecks by the end of her first term, including the railroad Rubik’s Cube, Chicago.
“Every year, U.S. businesses have to spend an extra $27 billion just in transportation costs because of congestion in our freight networks alone,” Clinton’s plan states.
“Cargo trains can reach Chicago from Los Angeles in 48 hours, only to spend 30 hours crawling across Chicago itself.”
The Democratic Party’s official platform, which was approved earlier in July, offers fewer specifics, although it does back additional investments and the creation of a national infrastructure bank. In the entire 55-page platform document, railroads are only mentioned once in passing.
“We will put Americans to work updating and expanding our roads, bridges, public transit, airports, and passenger and freight rail lines,” the platform states.
Clinton’s plan is considerably more modest compared to those put forth by her Republican challenger, Donald Trump, and her former primary rival, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. Both candidates were promising to spend more than $1 trillion on infrastructure. However, some believe that Clinton’s plan is a more realistic goal.
“The plan is a promising step in the right direction,” Brian Pallasch, chief lobbyist for the Society of Civil Engineers, told The Atlantic magazine earlier this year.
In years past, transportation advocates have been hard pressed to find presidential candidates interested in spending valuable political capital pushing for infrastructure investments. However, this year, candidates on both sides have called for rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure. It’s a welcome change of pace, says Marcia Hale, president of Building America’s Future, a bipartisan coalition of elected official dedicated to infrastructure investment.
“There is a realization in the nation that we really need to invest in our infrastructure and that there are different ways of doing that,” Hale tells Trains News Wire.
14. From TRAINS Magazine: Coal trains on the rise in southwest Virginia
By Tishia Boggs | July 27, 2016
BIG STONE GAP, Va. — Within a year of mothballing a section of its former Clinchfield line between Frisco, Tenn., and McClure, Va., CSX Transportation has witnessed a notable upswing in coal traffic over the past two weeks. Newly-formed Contura Energy LLC is now leading the way to increased rail traffic out of southwestern Virginia. That traffic comes just weeks after the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia confirmed that a new deal had been approved in the restructuring of Alpha Natural Resources mining operations.
Contura Energy emerged from the Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization as a new company comprised of the members of Alpha Natural’s top lien holders. Along with purchasing Alpha’s Nicholas, McClure, and Toms Creek complexes in West Virginia and Virginia, Contura now controls the company’s two Powder River Basin mining complexes in Wyoming, all of the companies interest in its Dominion Terminal Associates coal export terminal in Newport News, Va., among other assets and working capital, and all its Pennsylvania coal operations and certain coal reserves.
In one week alone, Contura’s McClure Complex has moved from loading two metallurgical coal unit trains per week to six in the third week of July, with five new train orders already confirmed the week beginning July 25, with more orders expected. As the locals notice a decrease in stored empty coal hoppers along the mothballed section of the former Clinchfield Railroad, chatter has already begun to keep a watchful eye on how this might affect coal traffic leaving the Powder River Basin.
15. From TRAINS Magazine: Amtrak sends flood relief supplies to West Virginia
By Chase Gunnoe | July 27, 2016
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Amtrak employees are taking West Virginia relief efforts into their own hands by distributing supplies by train today.
Heavy rains in late June created historic floods that destroyed communities in West Virginia, including ones served by Amtrak’s Cardinal.
The passenger railroad collected donations at stations and Amtrak facilities in eight cities. Now, those materials are headed to West Virginia on the baggage car of Amtrak’s Cardinal No. 50. Amtrak says employees will deliver the supplies during the Cardinal’s next regularly scheduled stop in White Sulphur Springs at 5:05 p.m. today.
“White Sulphur Springs is an Amtrak-served community, and we saw a way to help our fellow Americans just by using what we have at-hand, which is an interconnected network between the major cities of the east coast and the rest of our great nation through Chicago,” says Charlie Monte Verde of Amtrak’s government affairs office.
Verde adds that providing donations is a “testament to the kind of connectivity we bring to the regions on our national network” and while the railroad serves big cities, it’s “equally important that we connect Greenbrier County to the rest of the nation as well.”
“A lot of communities no longer have intercity bus service and never had regular commercial air service, so having Amtrak service can be a lifeline, sometimes quite literally,” he says.
Amtrak says it emphasized the need for back-to-school supplies for the upcoming academic school year. The railroad also worked with the American Red Cross; Neighbors Loving Neighbors, a community organization; and the West Virginia National Guard on collecting needed items.
White Sulphur Springs, an Amtrak station stop along the route of the Cardinal, was one of the hardest hit communities during the June floods. Hundreds of homes were destroyed and the floods claimed the lives of more than 20 residents. Freight and passenger rail service was also disrupted for more than four days.
16. From TRAINS Magazine: US DOT announces PTC grants for commuter railroads
July 28, 2016
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Transportation today announced that it will accept applications for $199 million in competitive grant funding for positive train control implementation. The grants, which will be selected by the Federal Railroad Administration and awarded and administered by the Federal Transit Administration, will help commuter railroads implement PTC, which prevents accidents and saves lives.
“With more passengers depending on rail for transportation, positive train control is needed more than ever,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “I encourage all commuter railroads to take full advantage of this opportunity to invest in the most important rail safety technology in more than a century.”
Congress authorized the funding in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, and the funding is available for fiscal year 2017. PTC technology can prevent certain train-to-train collisions, over-speed derailments, incursions into established work zones, and trains routed to the wrong tracks because a switch was left in the wrong position.
FRA will accept applications until 5 p.m. Eastern time on Sept. 28. Projects eligible for grants must develop information that assists in implementing PTC systems, such as costs of installing PTC systems; back office systems; PTC interoperability; technologies that will lower costs, accelerate implementation, enhance interoperability between host and tenant operations, and improve reliability of PTC systems; and support PTC system certification. Eligible applicants include any entity that is eligible to receive grants from the FTA, such as commuter railroads, operators, and state and local governments.
“This funding will get us a bit closer to activating positive train control on some of the most important railroads in the country that transport millions of passengers to their jobs each morning and to their families each night,” said FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg. “We urge railroads to submit strong applications that make these dollars go as far as possible, and we remain hopeful that Congress will act on the President’s request for more funding to make PTC a reality as quickly as possible.”
In 2008, Congress mandated PTC implementation on certain railroad main lines where railroads transport poisonous-by-inhalation, or toxic-by-inhalation, hazardous materials, or any line where a railroad provides regularly scheduled passenger service. Last October, Congress extended the original deadline from Dec. 31, 2015, to at least Dec. 31, 2018.
The President has consistently made funding and assistance for commuter railroads to implement PTC a priority. In his fiscal year 2017 budget request, the President requested $1.25 billion. This follows requests of $825 million in both fiscal years 2015 and 2016.
17. From TRAINS Magazine: Central Maine & Quebec unveils new paint scheme
July 29, 2016
BANGOR, Maine — Central Maine & Quebec Railway took delivery of its first of eight rebuilt Electro-Motive Division GP38-3 locomotive, No. 3812, in the company’s new corporate paint scheme.
The locomotive, originally built as Penn Central GP38 No. 7791 in 1969, was completely rebuilt and overhauled at the CAD Railway Industries facility, located in Lachine on the periphery of Montreal, Quebec.
The new scheme is designed to pay homage to the CMQ’s Canadian Pacific Railway heritage and to establish a new identity for the company, which will eventually adorn the remainder of the locomotive fleet.
“These new GP38-3 locomotives have recently undergone a fundamental rebuild and rehabilitation with new but proven, technological and mechanical upgrades. CMQ and Fortress Transportation and Infrastructures Investors will continue to invest and improve our infrastructure and equipment so that we can serve our shippers and customers more effectively and efficiently,” says John Giles, railroad president and CEO. “These new GP38-3’s will provide dependable, economic service to CMQ and its clients for years to come. And, they look pretty darn sharp too.”
Central Maine GP38-3 No. 3812 will be released to general service where the company’s four-axle locomotives are typically used and it (or one of the other emerging units in the new scheme) will be on display at the 2016 24th Annual Glory Days of the Railroad Festival in White River Junction, Vermont, on Sept. 10 and 11.
Kevin Burkholder of Steel Wheels Productions and Photography designed and adapted the new paint scheme.
18. From TRAINS Magazine: Amtrak holds open house for proposed Washington Union Station upgrades
July 29, 2016
WASHINGTON — Final designs have been approved, preliminary work will start this summer, and active construction will start this fall on a three-year project to rebuild and greatly expand the passenger waiting and boarding areas at Washington Union Station. The station, designed by renowned Chicago architect Daniel Burnham and completed in 1907, the second busiest station in the Amtrak system, serving nearly 5 million annual intercity travelers along 53,000 daily commuter train passengers and thousands of daily intercity bus riders.
The $4 to 6 million in upgrades, funded by Amtrak and the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation, will replace the area in the rear of the station that was built in the early 1980s and is known as the W. Graham Claytor Jr. Concourse, after the late former Southern Railway president and fourth president of Amtrak. The station was not designed to handle the volume of commuters that pass through twice daily, a number that is still growing as the Washington region adds jobs and commuting patterns remain highly centralized. The modernization is part of the Washington Union Station 2nd Century Plan, but is being funded and managed separately from the longer-term project that will rebuild the track area and build a massive mixed-use complex of buildings in the air rights above the platforms. The latter plans are in the environmental review stage.
Once complete, Maryland Area Rail Commuter and Virginia Railway Express commuters will have an easier time getting to and from Metrorail trains and local buses, queues waiting to board Amtrak trains won’t occupy the concourse space, and sleeping car and Acela First Class passengers will have a much more modern ClubAcela lounge in a glass-enclosed space above the concourse with more amenities — and a view of both the trains and the waiting areas below.
Amtrak hired design team KGP Design Studio, Grimshaw Architects and ARUP to begin design work for the project in late 2015, under the direction of Senior Infrastructure Planner David Zaidain. Stakeholders including MARC, VRE, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the D.C. Department of Transportation, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Akridge (a property development firm that owns the air rights above the station), the National Association of Railroad Passengers and local elected officials were involved in the design. The project will add about 20,000 square feet of new passenger space and will see all the walls between the headhouse and the platforms town down and replaced by a floor-to-ceiling glass wall separating the waiting areas from the platforms, with a gate for each platform. Plans are to have an Amtrak usher checking passengers’ tickets at each gate at boarding time.
The rebuilt concourse will include entirely new restrooms, more comfortable and spacious waiting areas, relocated retail spaces, and more mobile device charging stations. There will be a clear pathway from the easternmost gate all the way to the redesigned north entrance to the Metrorail station at the west end. The new ClubAcela will be one flight of stairs or elevator above the waiting area on the west end. The existing baggage storage room next to Gate A will disappear, and Amtrak will handle daily parcel checking in the baggage claim area, which will not be moved. The only thing lacking in the rebuilt concourse will be an event space, currently provided by the “Starlight Room” behind Gates C and D.
The construction will be completed in phases from late 2016 through mid-2020. Construction will begin in earnest in late 2017. While one half of the concourse is being renovated, there will be temporary waiting and queuing areas at the other half, with ushers guiding passengers around the construction area. A temporary ClubAcela location will be found and the lounge may close for periods of time.
Stakeholders and passengers from whom Amtrak sought input were quite happy with the designs, with the prevailing sentiment that anything would be better than the current cramped, chaotic scene in the Claytor Concourse, according to Amtrak spokeswoman Chelsea Kopta.
19. From TRAINS Magazine: FRA Releases Tier 1 Draft NEC Futures Study
By Joseph M. Calisi | July 29, 2016
Joseph M. Calisi
WASHINGTON — A study about reinventing the Northeast Corridor operated by Amtrak has been released by the Federal Railroad Administration. The draft represents an accumulation of comments from over 3,200 individuals, agencies, and organizations into one document and are instrumental in the FRA’s process to identify a preferred alternative for evaluation in the final environmental review.
NEC FUTURE, is a comprehensive rail investment planning effort to define, evaluate, and prioritize future investments in the Northeast Corridor from Washington, D.C. to Boston. The document is set to consider the role of rail passenger service in the context of current and future transportation demands. The goal is to determine a long-term vision and investment program for the corridor.
The comment period for the NEC FUTURE Tier 1 draft environmental impact statement was designed to accumulate comments and suggestions. The FRA considered comments from the public, agencies, and stakeholders, as well as the analysis presented in the environmental statement and FRA policy objectives, to identify a preferred investment program. The preferred alternative provides a framework for future rail improvements on the NEC, and will be described and evaluated in the final environmental statement.
A summary of comments is now available on the NEC FUTURE website, along with the full set of submissions received. A summary describes the main themes expressed in the comments and how the FRA is using this feedback to identify a preferred alternative.
20. From TRAINS Magazine: STB Amtrak decisions decried by railroads, supported by passenger group
By R G Edmonson | July 29, 2016
WASHINGTON — The Surface Transportation Board on Thursday issued two decisions affecting Amtrak’s on-time performance. In the first, the board decided not to issue a new policy statement that would have governed how it investigated complaints that freight railroads were not giving Amtrak trains preferential treatment. In the second, the board set a standard for measuring Amtrak’s on-time performance.
The board said it would investigate on a case-by-case basis if a freight railroad was at fault for Amtrak’s failure to meet an 80-percent on-time performance goal. Under the policy statement it proposed in December 2015, freight railroads would have had more latitude in carrying out the preference requirement set down in the 1970s law that established the National Passenger Railroad Corp.
“Currently, we do not view the preference requirement as absolute. In other words, a host rail carrier need not resolve every individual dispatching decision between freight and passenger movements in favor of the passenger train,” the policy statement says. “Moreover, a requirement of absolute preference might not, in the long run, promote efficient passenger service.”
The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 said that, on average, 80 percent of Amtrak intercity trains should operate on time. The law authorizes the board to investigate if passenger trains delays are the fault of the host freight railroad.
The board’s decision establishes a formula for calculating on-time performance: a train that arrived at a station within 15 minutes of the timetable schedule would be considered on time. The board will use an “all stations” measurement — on-time between intermediate stations — as well as terminal-to-terminal performance.
The Department of Transportation is also using the 15-minute standard for airline passenger flight arrivals. It is included in transportation department strategic goals published in 2013.
The Association of American Railroads said that freight railroads will continue to comply with the preference requirement of the law.
“It is a disappointment the [board] has decided to add mid-point on-time performance measures, which could result in negative impacts for freight rail customers and consumers,” the AAR said in a statement, “but the freight rail industry will continue to work with Amtrak to provide dependable passenger service in the country. In the meantime, we will review the two decisions and evaluate our further legal options.”
The National Association of Railroad Passengers applauded the STB ruling.
“NARP congratulates the STB for coming to the correct decision in these important rulemakings,” said NARP President Jim Mathews. “The STB plays a crucial role in ensuring that the national rail system operates both fairly and efficiently, and in ensuring that Congressional mandates are respected and enforced.”