Happening Now

Hotline #834

October 25, 2013

NARP Chairman Bob Stewart and President Ross Capon joined a small number of reporters yesterday in touring the CAF USA plant in Elmira, N.Y. Four pilot cars—one of each type: baggage, diner, bag dorm, sleeper—are nearly complete, and will enter testing within the next two months. Testing is at the CAF plant and on the Northeast Corridor; because of the capability of the CAF plant, no testing will be needed at the Pueblo facility.

The pilot cars are expected to enter revenue service next summer, after which production will proceed rapidly with final delivery of all 130 cars expected by early 2016. During production, two types of cars will be produced—baggage cars throughout, and one other type of car in this sequence: diners first, then baggage dorms, then sleepers.

“The long distance routes represent the most attractive business improvement opportunity for Amtrak and the new equipment will help us achieve cost reductions, more efficiency, revenue growth and better service,” said Amtrak Board Member Tom Carper.

Baggage cars can accommodate up to 16 bicycles, baggage dorms up to eight. The baggage cars have hinged doors which seal, to provide climate control. They also will have good lighting, and two levels of pull-down racks (one near the floor) so that suitcases normally will be placed on racks instead of directly on the floor.

The dining cars have 12 tables, including one ADA table (seats on just one side).

Sleeping cars have 12 roomettes, two deluxe bedrooms (which can be sold as a single suite) and one ADA room, whose door is powered. For roomette passengers, there are two ‘public’ bathrooms and one shower. There are still fold-down sinks in the roomettes.

For this fleet only, on the exterior Amtrak is reintroducing its ‘Phase 3’ red white and blue stripes, and the company’s original logo.

On a conference call after the tour, with reporters in person and by telephone, Amtrak President Joe Boardman said a final decision has not been made on the extent to which the CAF cars will enhance capacity rather than simply replace old cars. He noted, however, that the order includes 25 diners whereas Amtrak has only 16 single-level diners today.

Local officials in ChemungCounty are pleased that a plant which was idle two years ago now has over 500 workers (over 400 for Amtrak order; balance for Houston LRT order) and is expected to have 570 next year. The county executive is particularly pleased that CAF USA purchased the facility as opposed to just “leasing and leaving.” CAF also has focused on hiring local contractors, further enhancing employment. Before 1986, the facility was part of US Steel, producing for the KennedySpaceCenter, Verrazano-NarrowsBridge, and other East Coast bridges. Then came SumiRail, ABB, Subsidiaries thereof, Bombardier (owned but did not use) and finally CAF.

In addition to the 400 new jobs directly created by the $298.1 million investment, economic benefits are extending across a network of more than 120 parts suppliers in 25 states and 93 cities.

The Chicago Transit Authority reopened the Red Line South train line on October 20, following a five-month, $425 million upgrade that will provide transit riders with a smoother, quicker ride.

The track renovation began in May, and upgraded a busy corridor stretching from Chicago's downtown to the line’s terminus. Included in the project were upgrades to eight stations along the line. In addition to a smoother ride, the infrastructure improvements cut 20 minutes off a roundtrip journey between downtown and 95th Street.

"It is definitely a faster, smoother better ride, just as we promised," said CTA spokesman Steve Mayberry. "Everything looks a lot like the old material, but the feel is unbelievable."

The infrastructure project created 1,500 construction jobs.

A labor strike that had crippled the Bay Area Rapid Transit system for almost four full days ended the evening of October 21 as workers struck a deal with management.

The BART system carries over 400,000 passengers each day, and the strike had crippled travel and business activities throughout the Bay Area.

The strike, which involved 2,300 union workers, lasted three days and 22 hours. It came at the end of six months of acrimonious negotiations that had already resulted in an earlier strike, in July. While negotiators were able to bridge the gap on pension and healthcare contributions, as well as salary structure, there was still a gap on worker safety, length of the workday, and worker input into official procedure.

The parties have not yet disclosed the concrete terms of the deal.

"This offer is more than we wanted to pay," said BART General Manager Grace Crunican. "We compromised to get to this place, as did our union members."

The NARP Board officially endorsed Amtrak’s Gateway Project this week, a project that would alleviate the chokepoint along the Northeast Corridor (NEC) between Newark, New Jersey, and New York City.

NARP Vice Chair of Legislative Policy and Development and President of the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers Albert L. Papp, Jr. has stated that, "The Amtrak ‘Gateway Project’ is the most significant rail construction undertaking for the continued economic advancement of the Northeast and the New York metropolitan area. At the heart of the Northeast Corridor, the provision of two more passenger tunnels under the Hudson River and the construction of additional platforms and tracks beneath Manhattan's 30th and 31st Streets will permit expansion of Amtrak's high-speed and regional services and New Jersey Transit's regional rail network trains."

Papp said further that, “All NARP Northeast Directors, Council members and membership should immediately contact their state and federal elected representatives and emphasize that sufficient funding be provided in the next Amtrak reauthorization bill as well as the federal FY 2014 fiscal budget to continue the forward progress that has already been made to permit this necessary infrastructure project to become a reality.”

Following a breakout summer, transportation officials in Massachusetts are promising a second summer of the successful Cape Flyer service, which connects Boston and Cape Cod with weekend train service.

With only a marginal increase of $200,000 over existing operating costs, the Cape Flyer was able to generate almost $300,000 in fare box revenue. The train averaged 1,000 riders per weekend in July and August, with a high of 2,300 passengers over the July 4th travel weekend. That means not only is the train providing a return on investment at the fare box, it’s helping to provide crucial congestion relief on the packed roads connecting Boston to the Cape.

That has more than just transportation officials excited—local business leaders are clamoring for more train service, too.

“I think we could bump it up an extra day at least,” Wendy Northcross, CEO of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, told the Cape Cod Times. “The second season will be easier to market because people will say, 'Oh yeah, I kind of heard about it last year.' It's not a commuter train; it's really an excursion, a part of a getaway experience. I think a Thursday evening train would be profitable.”

The Ann Arbor City Council voted 11-0 on October 22 to approve an $824,875 environmental impact and design study for a new train station in Ann Arbor.

The study, which will be undertaken by USR Corps., will include public outreach, look at a number of different sites around the city, and determine a design for the station.

“We're going to need a new train station," said Mayor John Hieftje, pointing to the explosion in train ridership over the past decade.

Residents of Atlanta will be treated with a strange sight tonight, when the Best Friend of Charleston—a historic icon of American railroading—is hoisted high above Peachtree Street on its way out of Norfolk Southern’s Atlanta headquarters en route to its new home in Charleston, S.C.

In its announcement, Norfolk Southern provided background on the artifact:

The Best Friend, 1928 replica of the first locomotive built in America for regular service on a railroad, has resided in the lobby facing Atlanta's most famous street since 2007, on loan from the city of Charleston. NS traces its beginning to the Christmas Day 1830 inaugural run of the Best Friend on the company's earliest predecessor railroad company.

Now, Charleston has renovated a building in the city's historic district to display the locomotive not too far from where the original first run occurred almost 183 years ago.

You can read more about the Best Friend’s journey here.

Railway Age presented the W. Graham Claytor Jr. Award for Distinguished Service to Passenger Transportation to Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph C. Szabo on October 16, at the 20th Annual Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads Conference in Washington, D.C.

The publication outlined Szabo’s depth of experience in the passenger rail industry:

Szabo is a fifth-generation railroader who for many years worked commuter and freight trains in the greater Chicago area. Between 2006 and 2009, he was Vice President of the Illinois AFL-CIO. He has served as mayor of Riverdale, Illi., a member of the South Suburban Mayors Transportation Committee, and Vice Chairman of the Chicago Area Transportation Study’s Executive Committee. In 2002, he chaired the Governor’s Freight Rail Sub-Committee and, in 2005, was assigned by the United Transportation Union International to the FRA’s Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC), where he participated in the development of rail safety regulations.

Passenger Advisory

—Amtrak announced that the Carolinian will make a special stop near the entrance of the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh beginning October 18, and continuing through October 27.

“Trains 79 and 80, which run between New York City and Charlotte, N.C., will arrive across the street from the fairgrounds each day of the state fair,” said Amtrak in a press release. “Passengers traveling to/from Charlotte, Kannapolis, Salisbury, High Point, Greensboro, Burlington, Durham, and Cary will have easy access to the Fair. The northbound Carolinian (80) leaves Charlotte at 7 a.m. and will arrive at the Fairgrounds at 10:08 a.m. The southbound Carolinian (79) leaves the Fairgrounds at 4:56 p.m., with a scheduled arrival in Charlotte at 8:12 p.m.”

—The Illinois Department of Transportation has teamed up with Amtrak to bring the Great Dome Car to the Illinois Zephyr (Trains 380 and 383) for a limited run, November 5 through November 22.

“The car features an upper level with windows on all sides to provide passengers with panoramic views of the changing colors of the trees, farmers in their fields and the picturesque communities along the route, including LaGrange, Naperville, Plano, Mendota, Princeton, Kewanee, Galesburg and Macomb,” announced Amtrak. “There is no additional charge for riding the Illinois Zephyr during this period and seating in the Great Dome car is unreserved.”