Happening Now

Hotline #835

November 1, 2013

A Senate committee held a field hearing in Bridgeport, Connecticut, October 28, examining the causes of the recent power outage on Metro-North’s New Haven Line that severely disrupted passenger rail in the Northeast for nearly two weeks.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Surface Transportation hosted the hearing, titled “Power Outage on Metro-North’s New Haven Line: How to Prevent Future Failures Along Passenger Rail’s Busiest Sector.” Panelists discussed what went wrong, how it could be prevented in the future, and the economic impact of the disruption.

Joseph Boardman, Amtrak’s President & CEO, stressed the Northeast Corridor’s importance to one of the most economically productive regions in the country, which generates $1 out of every $5 of the U.S.’s gross domestic product on less than 2% of the nation’s land area. With a sixth of the nation’s population living on this thin sliver of land, Amtrak’s high-capacity transportation corridor is an essential component in allowing people to commute and travel, and businesses to function.

"We must stop taking this vital infrastructure for granted and start investing in the future of the region and the nation," said the Amtrak chief. "We have an infrastructure that, while safe, is vulnerable to service disruptions at virtually any time and place."

In talking about the failure, Boardman discussed the concept of “a single point of failure,” or a part of a system that, when it fails, stops the entire system from operating.

With much of the infrastructure dating to the beginning of the 20th century, the corridor has many such points, and is becoming more fragile by the day. Amtrak needs roughly $782 million per year between now and 2026 to bring the NEC’s infrastructure to state of good repair—which does not even address the additional capacity that is sorely needed. It has received less than half of this from Congress in recent years.

NARP has outlined an infrastructure investment plan that would help Amtrak, in partnership with the states along the NEC, build a modern, efficient, passenger-focused passenger rail system—both in the Northeast and the rest of the country.

The Florida Department of Transportation said yesterday they will build two new streets around the new Amtrak station near Miami International Airport to accommodate trains longer than planners had originally designed for.

Although FDOT consulted extensively with both Tri-Rail and Amtrak in the design of Miami Central Station, they determined that the platforms (which are on terminal tracks with bumpers at the south end) would not be long enough to accommodate a typical Silver Meteor consist (2 locomotives + 10 cars), much less the longer consists that sometimes run, without the train blocking the grade crossing of NW 25th Street at the north end of the platforms.

Amtrak and FDOT have been working together to minimize the impacts to NW 25th Street due to longer trains. FDOT is proceeding with construction of a run-around road, which will allow motorists to detour to NW 28th Street when Amtrak trains are impacting NW 25th Street. Our August News story referred to this as “one economical solution.” The runaround road will be completed early 2016. Part of FDOT’s solution is to devise a system of electronic displays that will direct motorists to the alternate route across the tracks at times when the crossing gates are down on NW 25th St (they may be down when a train isn’t actually blocking the crossing, to keep pedestrians and motorists at a safe distance from trains stopped at the platform, which can always begin moving with little notice) [Read More on the NARP Blog]

The Oregon Department of Transportation is hosting five public open houses this November to solicit public input on potential alignments and service characteristics for the Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor. Meetings will be held in Salem, Portland, Oregon City, Albany, or Eugene. You can also participate in an online open house between November 5 and 18.

The Oregon route development study is part of the 125-mile, federally designated corridor that connects Eugene and Portland in Oregon; Seattle, Washington; and Vancouver, British Columbia. ODOT is tasked with looking at the Portland to Eugene-Springfield segment. In addition to alignments, transportation officials are working to determine the number of daily trips, travel time objectives, and rail car and locomotive technology.

Events will be held at the following locations:

  • Salem-Keizer, Nov. 5, 5-7 p.m., Chemeketa Center for Business and Industry, 626 High St. N.E.
  • Eugene-Springfield, Nov. 6, 5-7 p.m., Eugene Main Public Library, 100 W. 10th Ave.
  • Albany-Corvallis, Nov. 7, 5-7 p.m., Linn-Benton Community College, 6500 Pacific Blvd. S.W.
  • OregonCity, Nov. 12, 4-6:30 p.m., Pioneer Community Center, 615 Fifth St.
  • Portland, Nov. 14, 5-7 p.m., PCC Climb Center, 1626 S.E. Water Ave.
  • Online: Between Nov. 5 and Nov. 18, www.OregonPassengerRail.org

The Colorado Department of Transportation has proposed three different alignments for the high speed passenger rail line linking Fort Collins, Denver and Pueblo.

Dubbed the Front Range rail line, the 175 mile corridor will run north from Pueblo, with stops proposed in Colorado Springs, the DenverInternationalAirport, South Denver, North Denver, terminating in Fort Collins. The trains could reach speeds of up to 150 mph, with an annual capacity of 13.8 million riders by the year 2035. With population projected to explode in the region, state officials have identified the rail line as an essential tool to handle growth.

"We know by 2040 we’ll have nearly 6 million people between Fort Collins and Colorado Springs, up from 4 million today—a 50 percent increase," David Krutsinger, CDOT's transit and rail program manager, told the Denver Business Journal. "The average person says they don’t want [the Front Range] to be like California, but we could become like California, and in order to avoid seas of asphalt and concrete we have to start planning now… We're trying to bring this to reality and we think we have enough information to start working with our federal partners on whether there might be federal funding.”

CDOT is holding a series of open houses to solicit public input on the three proposed alignments:

  • Nov. 4 – Windsor Library, 5-7 p.m.
  • Nov. 19 – CDOT’s Golden office, 5-7 p.m.
  • Nov. 20 – Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments, 5-7 p.m.
  • Nov. 21 – Pueblo Convention Center, 5-7 p.m.

The project’s cost ranges from $11.5 billion to over $14 billion, and state officials are counting on federal support.

From the NARP Blog

NARP defends Amtrak's rural routes – Readers of our blog know that one of the most common criticisms aimed at Amtrak is its requirement for federal subsidy. At hearing after hearing, congressional passenger rail critics such as John Mica, Jeff Flake, and Paul Broun have claimed that the railroad is a huge burden on the taxpayer, particularly with respect to the long-distance routes. Why, they ask, should taxpayers subsidize low-volume, long-distance trains such as the Southwest Chief between Chicago and Los Angeles? The preponderance of travelers on those trains use intermediate stations at one or both ends of their journeys. [Read More]

Megabus Expanding; But Most Towns Left Out – With ticket sales on Megabus and its intercity passenger bus lines booming, the company is setting its sights on expansion. But if you live outside a major city or college campus, don’t expect to see any benefits. [Read More]

'Swank, Whole New' sleeping accomodation isn't new (but still quite nice) – A new tilt train in Australia is making headlines for its speed, but also for its ‘unique’ accommodations: [Read More]

CrossRail Chicago: Game Changer – Taking a page from London, the Midwest High Speed Rail Association has applied the moniker “CrossRail Chicago” to their “game-changing plan for transforming transit in our area.” [Read More]

Travelers Advisory

— Amtrak is advising passengers that the Empire Builder has been experiencing delays of two hours or more operating through North Dakota and Montana.

The railroad reports that these delays are being caused primarily by temporary speed restrictions imposed by BNSF Railway Co. while it carries out track improvement work. Amtrak expects these issues to continue through the construction season this November.

“[The] Empire Builder trains westbound from Chicago to Fargo, ND, via St. Paul, and Empire Builder trains eastbound from Seattle and Portland to Shelby, MT, via Spokane,” are largely unaffected by these delays, said Amtrak in a statement.

—Amtrak’s Exhibit Train will visit Meridian, Mississippi this weekend for Railfest. The train will open for free tours this Saturday, November 2, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The train will be stationed at the MeridianMulti-ModalTransportationCenter at 1901 Front St. In addition to trackside signals, prototype and virtual sleeping compartments, and a locomotive control stand, the Exhibit Train will feature photos, uniforms, vintage advertising and memorabilia from the beginning of Amtrak in 1971 to today’s modern sleeping cars and high-speed rail service.

The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg is hosting a “Trains & Troops” this weekend, November 2 and 3.

The event, held every fall, honors military veterans. Visitors will meet with veterans, reenactors from conflicts dating back to the Civil War, and real-life railroaders. The event also includes displays of “military and military railroad service-related posters, uniforms, equipment, field gear, maps, books and photographs.” You can find out more by calling 717-687-8628, or visiting www.rrmuseumpa.org.