Happening Now

Hotline #830

September 27, 2013

Power issues in the New York area have caused significant disruptions to Metro-North Railroad operations on Wednesday morning, significantly affecting service of the commuter railroad and Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and disrupting the travel of tens of thousands of passengers.

Officials report that the problem stems from the loss of a Consolidated Edison 138,000-volt feeder cable that supplies traction power to the line's electric fleet, which occurred at 5:20 a.m. on the morning of September 25. A second cable that provides redundancy is out of service for previously scheduled maintenance and upgrades. Con Ed said that they expect repairs to take two to three weeks. The utility company is working with Metro-North and Amtrak to secure alternative ways to bring in additional power that could hasten an incremental return to normal service, though no solutions have yet been identified. It is our understanding that one substation was completely removed from service, and two temporary substations may be set up, though only able to provide about half of normal power. Metro North’s web site refers to “the continuing Con Ed power outage to a crucial 8-mile segment of the New Haven Line.”

“People need to now assume this is a long-term problem,” said Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy at a news conference.

Malloy has directed blame at both Con Edison and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. However, passengers’ frustration should be aimed towards elected officials. They are the ones with the power to do what is necessary—provide passenger railroads with a reliable source of sufficient capital funding, closer to the levels received by highways and aviation. The U.S. only reinvests 2.3% of its Gross Domestic Product back into infrastructure, outperformed by Europe (5%), India (7%), and China (9%). The impetus to finally bring the New Haven Line's 100-year-old power grid into the 21st century, and thus ensure the reliability of the entire Northeast Corridor, will have to come from those we elect on both federal and state levels.

Service Disruptions

The MTA is offering limited bus and train service for the New Haven Line until further notice. This emergency service plan will only accommodate a third of the regular ridership on the New Haven Line. On Thursday, 13,000 people rode the line in the morning, down from a typical 40,000 person morning rush, with 6,000 passengers able to shift to the Harlem Line (New Haven Line tickets continue to be cross honored on the Harlem Line). On Saturday and Sunday, “there will be hourly train service from all New Haven Line stations in both directions all day.”

Amtrak Acela Express service will not operate through Sunday, September 29, between New York and Boston. Amtrak will continue to provide Northeast Regional service operating under diesel power through the affected area. Amtrak has responded by adding additional cars to Northeast Regional trains to add capacity. Passengers traveling between New York and Boston should expect 90-minute delays due to continued reliance on diesel locomotives.

Acela Express and Northeast Regional trains are operating normally between New York and Washington, D.C.

Amtrak indicates that it has agreements in hand with most of the states that have trains affected by PRIIA Section 209, the provision that requires most states to pay more, or start paying for, short-distance Amtrak services. The four states where agreements have not been reached are New York, Illinois, Indiana, and California (San Joaquin and Pacific Surfliners). Agreement has been reached with the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority for their service.

Supporters of Amtrak’s Hoosier State service gathered yesterday on the steps of the Indiana State Capitol Building to rally support for the threatened train, drawing public attention to the many jobs and economic benefits that passenger rail brings to the region.

Brian Connors, an Amtrak employee who works at the railroad’s Beech Grove maintenance facility, told WTHR, “This is not just an Indianapolis issue, it's not just a Beech Grove issue. It's an Indiana issue, a U.S. issue. We have to grow commuter rail. These are jobs, these are important jobs. These are communities we need linked. [W]e believe with the Hoosier state line funded and when train frequency picks up, that just increases the opportunity for employment to grow and that's really where the focus is: on job creation,”

The rally came the same day as a 47-page report issued by the Indiana Department of Transportation that performed a cost-benefit analysis. The study looked at continuing the route as is, upgrading the service (with annual costs ranging from $3.8 million to $10.9 million), and discontinuing the train all together. Unfortunately, the study used a fairly narrow scope in determining the value of the line, focusing primarily on the benefits that could be assessed as a monetized value. While the study recognized other forms of benefits brought about by the service as real—including expenditure related economic impacts, economic impacts on land usage, freight improvements, quality of life, and social benefits—it concluded that continuing the train is a decision that must be made at a “policy” level, rather than an economic level.

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), in partnership with Amtrak, will begin the second of three corridor improvement phases on September 30, upgrading track between Jackson and Battle Creek.

Crews will focus work Mondays through Thursdays, with regular service in place Fridays through Sundays. Between now and October 10, passengers will face some delays and modified schedules. However, the work to upgrade tracks will lead to more reliable service for Amtrak’s Wolverine Service and Blue Water trains.

When all is said and done, MDOT’s Accelerated Rail Program will have installed more than 30 miles of new track and 130,000 new crossties in 2013 alone.

“A goal of the project is to reduce the end-to-end travel time between Detroit/Pontiac and Chicago by approximately two hours from the current 6 hours and 30 minutes. For more information, visit GreatLakesRail.org.”

Marked by a September 23 groundbreaking ceremony attended by New York and New Jersey political leaders, construction has begun on 800-foot concrete casing at the Hudson Yards in the center of Manhattan, an essential component to preserving the right-of-way for new intercity passenger rail tunnels underneath the Hudson River.

The concrete casing is being constructed between 10th and 11th Avenues, and is scheduled to be completed by October 2015. It will preserve the footprint of new, flood-proof rail tunnels, a vital component for the development of intercity and commuter train development across New York City, including Amtrak's planned 220 mph NextGen, high-speed Boston-Washington line.

Gateway was initiated by Amtrak after the New Jersey Transit (NJT) "Access to the Region's Core" (ARC) project was cancelled by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in October 2010. The visionary and improved Gateway plan will provide operational redundancy for both Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains between the current 103-year old former Pennsylvania Railroad tunnels and the new planned Gateway tunnels; additional passenger train capacity beneath the Hudson River for increased Amtrak and NJT services; and the possibility of track extensions to East Midtown Manhattan, the existing Sunnyside Yard in Queens and on to New England points. Gateway's cost is estimated at $15 billion and is expected to be complete by 2025.

“The value of the work on this concrete casing cannot be underestimated as it preserves a possible pathway for new tunnels designed to increase the reliability and capacity for Amtrak and New Jersey Transit’s operations and will step up the resiliency of the rail system against severe weather events like Super Storm Sandy,” said Amtrak Chairman Tony Coscia said.

The casing was funded by a $185 million grant from the Department of Transportation’s Super Storm Sandy Relief program, and is designed to be more resilient in the face of future super-storms, protecting mobility when the public needs it the most.

“Today’s groundbreaking is about so much more than making way for the Amtrak Gateway tunnels,” said Senator Menendez. “It’s about celebrating a $185 million investment in our future, in keeping our competitive edge in the New Jersey-New York area, in our preparedness against severe weather events like Super Storm Sandy. We can’t be satisfied with a 19th century infrastructure in a 21st century world and expect to stay competitive in a high-tech, fast-paced, global economy. For the growth of the entire region, it’s critical that we invest in new rail tunnels across the Hudson.”

Residents of Winter Park, Florida got a chance to see a sneak peak of the new SunRail commuter rail service on September 21, and so far the reviews have been great.

“I can tell it’s going to be something people are going to be really excited to ride,” Winter Park Mayor Ken Bradley told the Winter Park-Maitland Observer. “It’s fun to see our station taking shape and the cars coming into place… It’s going to be a great addition to our city and our region.”

The service will connect residents of the town to the greater-Orlando metropolitan region through a 61-mile, 17 station system. Seats on the state-of-the-art bi-level cars will only run passengers $2—$3 when crossing county lines—and will come with air conditioning, WiFi access, and bicycle racks. The train is set to begin operations in Spring 2014.

Three of Fresno’s economic development groups joined together to welcome the builders of the state’s high speed rail project to the city on September 23, as the engineering firms opened their regional office in preparation of the beginning of construction.

Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons, the joint engineering and construction team that secured the $985 million contract to build the 29-mile segment between Fresno and Madra, held an open house on Tuesday. The event was organized by the Fresno County Economic Development Corp., the Fresno Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Fresno Partnership.

President Barack Obama nominated Deb Miller to the Surface Transportation Board on Tuesday. The longtime transportation leader, who headed the Kansas Department of Transportation for both Republican and Democratic governors, will need to be confirmed by the Senate.

Ron Sheck, a long-time passenger train advocate, NARP member and professional planner, wrote of Ms. Miller: “She and I were students together at the AASHTO executive management training program at the University of Virginia in the late 1980s when she was the planning director for Kansas DOT and I was the rail and transit director for New Mexico. Deb has a broad vision of transportation and has demonstrated superb leadership skills. I think this is an excellent move.” The STB has jurisdiction over railroad rate and service issues (including monitoring Amtrak on-time performance and resolution of disputes between Amtrak and host railroads), and rail restructuring transactions; some trucking companies; and some intercity bus issues.

Passenger Advisory

—The Maryland Transit Administration released the weekend MARC train schedules for service between Baltimore and Washington, starting December 7.

—Amtrak’s Exhibit Train will stop this Saturday and Sunday at the Gettysburg and Northern Scenic Depot (106 N. Washington Street) this weekend.

The train is open to the public from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., both days. Amtrak is offering free tours of the interior exhibits, featuring virtual sleeping accommodation tours, a locomotive control stand and horns, photos, uniforms, vintage advertising, and memorabilia.

A government shutdown that lasts up to four or five weeks is not likely to force any Amtrak service cancellations.