Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

San Joaquins more popular than ever

This item in the Sacramento Business News is not exactly a surprise. This is what frequent convenient schedules can mean.

Sacramento – SACRAMENTO — Ridership on the state-supported Amtrak San Joaquins Corridor service exceeded all expectations during the month of November with a dramatic jump of 13.1 percent, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) announced today. 78,577 passengers rode the line last month, compared to 69,450 in November 2006. Under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, rail funding for Caltrans’ intercity passenger rail program has grown to $79 million annually, making it the largest state-supported program in the nation. “This is great news for the traveling public,” stated Caltrans Director Will Kempton. “Not only are we able to relieve traffic congestion by providing the traveling public a good alternative to their private vehicles, we are also helping reduce air pollution.” The average daily train ridership on the route during the Thanksgiving holiday period totaled 30,751, an increase of 14.5 percent or 3,893 passengers from the year before. California’s three intercity passenger rail lines are the second (Pacific Surfliner), third (Capitol Corridor) and sixth (San Joaquins) busiest in the nation. Caltrans partners with Amtrak to provide service on three intercity rail corridors in California, which carry over four million passengers annually to over 200 destinations. Caltrans supports train service between the Bay Area and Sacramento on the Capitol Corridor, between Oakland or Sacramento and Bakersfield on the San Joaquins, and between San Diego and San Luis Obispo (via Los Angeles and Santa Barbara) on the Pacific Surfliner.

Filed under: Regional USA Passenger Rail

Sunset route developments

You want details? You got ’em.

Casa Grande Valley Newspapers is absolutely obsessive about completeness, and that looks like a virtue from here. It’s a “must read.” Bottom line is ambiguous. The good news is that UP continues major track improvements from Texas to the coast. The bad news is that the Sunset will encounter heavy freight interference.

The railroad is in the middle of a multiyear project to double-track its Sunset Route mainline from El Paso to LA. When UP absorbed Southern Pacific in 1996, only 152 miles of the route were double-tracked. Since then, UP has added about 75 miles per year. Much of 2008 is likely to be spent addressing grade-crossing concerns for the segment from Tucson west to Mobile, about 10 miles west of Maricopa. The railroad hopes to complete double-tracking of that segment the following year.
That segment, which includes Eloy, Casa Grande and Maricopa, includes the most grade crossings along the route, 38 in Maricopa, Pinal and Pima counties. Arizona has a total of 50 at-grade crossings that would be rebuilt as double-track crossings. Each crossing requires separate approval from the Arizona Corporation Commission.
UP encountered a problem almost immediately upon beginning work in the state when a subcontractor that had started work in New Mexico and followed the line into Arizona rebuilt a grade crossing at the town of Bowie before the ACC had approved the work. Needless to say, the commissioners were not happy and the railroad had egg on its face at a time when it needed to be cooperating fully with state regulators.
“Lesson learned,” Heredia said of the mistake. “That was an unfortunate situation.”
He pointed out that all grade crossings go through an administrative process with the ACC that is open to the public. The railroad also must work with local governmental entities to determine which crossings can remain as grade crossings and where other measures must be taken, such as building an overpass or underpass.
One such decision currently is under study in Maricopa, where Arizona 347 crosses the UP tracks near the busy intersection with Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway and adjacent to the city’s Amtrak station. The highway also provides access to Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino Resort.
Increasing capacity the length of the route will allow the railroad to clear up some bottlenecks in train movement and create capacity for more trains. Union Pacific currently runs 45 to 50 trains daily along the route, but anticipates that climbing to 84 to 86 trains per day by 2016. 

Filed under: Amtrak

Reaction on STB Michigan decision

 The wisdom, or lack of it, in a recent Surface Transportation Board ruling about Michigan rail service is worth consideration. This is from the CNN report.

Federal Board’s Decision Shortchanges Michigan Rail Shippers and Passengers, Norfolk Southern Says

PR Newswire

NORFOLK, Va., Dec. 12 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ — Norfolk Southern Railway Company said that the Surface Transportation Board’s (STB) Dec. 10, 2007, denial of regulatory approval for an innovative joint venture involving freight and passenger rail service over 384 route miles in Michigan and Indiana represents a lost opportunity for the region’s shippers, passengers and communities.

Norfolk Southern and Watco Companies had planned jointly to form a new regional railroad, Michigan Central Railway, to preserve and grow freight service in the region. Amtrak passenger lines would have benefited from an extended agreement ensuring continued maintenance and investment levels on the rail lines between Ypsilanti and Kalamazoo, Mich.

The transaction was supported by rail freight customers, Amtrak, short line railroads and a number of state and local officials.

Under the transaction, Norfolk Southern would have contributed to Michigan Central most of its rail line segments and trackage rights in Michigan west of Ypsilanti. Those lines carry rail freight service, as well as much of Michigan’s Amtrak passenger service. Watco would have contributed several million dollars in cash and locomotives. The new, independently operated Michigan Central planned to employ up to 118 people and concentrate on reinvesting its revenues in track and infrastructure.

“It is a sad day for rail transportation in Michigan,” said Wick Moorman, Norfolk Southern’s chief executive officer. “The proposal was a creative, farsighted response to the long-term trend of shrinking rail volumes in the region. It was designed to spur infrastructure investment and leverage the talents of an experienced short line operator – all to the benefit of the state, its freight rail customers and rail passenger service.”

The STB action ends Watco’s planned investment in the lines and terminates the proposed Amtrak agreement that would have guaranteed $23 million in maintenance and infrastructure improvements on the main passenger routes. Norfolk Southern said it will continue to look for options for the lines. However, because the current traffic on certain rail segments does not justify additional investment by Norfolk Southern, some areas may see curtailment of service.

Norfolk Southern Corporation is one of the nation’s premier transportation companies. Its Norfolk Southern Railway subsidiary operates approximately 21,000 route miles in 22 states and the District of Columbia, serving every major container port in the eastern United States and providing superior connections to western rail carriers. Norfolk Southern operates the most extensive intermodal network in the East and is North America’s largest rail carrier of metals and automotive products.

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Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail

Amtrak, New York DOT settle

This is old news by now, but just to keep us current, here is the crux of it from Progressive Railroading.

Amtrak and the New York State Department of Transportation recently settled a contract dispute and related litigation over a former state DOT program to develop high-speed rail service from New York City to the Capital District using Amtrak’s RTL Turboliner trains.

Under terms of the settlement, Amtrak with pay the state $20 million, and the state and railroad with jointly invest $10 million to improve infrastructure on the Albany-to-New York City Empire Corridor. One of the improvements calls for upgrading track near the George Washington Bridge to improve service and reduce travel times along the corridor.

“This agreement puts to rest a long-standing dispute and enables the state and Amtrak to move forward cooperatively to improve passenger-rail service and the state’s rail infrastructure,” said New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer in a prepared statement.

So what happens to the turbo trains? The Times Union filed a complete report.

For now, New York and Amtrak will split custody of seven Rohr Turboliners, which an Amtrak spokeswoman said could eventually be headed for new careers on other railroads or even in the movies.

Under the terms of the agreement announced Wednesday by state Transportation Commissioner Astrid Glynn and Amtrak President Alexander Kummant, Amtrak will keep three reconditioned Turboliners it moved to storage in Delaware.

New York will keep four other turbos in various states of rehabilitation.

The state and Amtrak will share the proceeds of any eventual sale.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail

Midwest opinions

Stephen Dick writes for the paper in Anderson, Indiana. His lengthy column makes a world of common sense in an area where fast conventional trains would provide essential public service.

The only passenger train service now in America is the federally funded Amtrak, and the Bush administration continues to slash its funding. In 2006, Amtrak received $1.3 billion, the same as it received 25 years ago, according to Parade. In 2007, funds decreased to $800 million. Of course, billions are pumped into road maintenance, and even the airlines received $14 billion in federal funds in 2006.

The rest of the world is light years ahead of the U.S. in train travel. European, Asian and Latin American countries are also less conservative. They know that government can improve lives, something the U.S. has rejected at its peril.

Last April, a train in France, the V150, set a world speed record for rail at 357 mph. Alstom, the manufacturer of the train, has received a contract to set up a system in Argentina. Japan also has high-speed rail service, the Hitachi; ditto Siemans in Germany. England has been slow to catch on, but the Brits recently refurbished a train station at St. Pancras, built in Victorian days, for a high-speed line that will connect London to Paris in two hours.

Rail travel makes sense. Plus, it’s a lot of fun. There are drawbacks concerning convenience, but since when did Americans have to have everything so convenient for them? Yeah, don’t answer that.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail

Chicago CN changes

This proposed shift is a catastrophe for Amtrak, and that’s not all.  The report is on the Illinois homepage.

This new route would circle Chicago instead of going right to union station. That could add two hours for Amtrak riders.
The Champaign county chamber of commerce says it would hit our community hard.
“Not having the ability to get to Chicago when we have so many businesses that do business outside of Champaign county, it’s not something we want to risk for our community,” says Laura Weis, president of the chamber of commerce.
The U of I and the city of champaign have also filed petitions to be apart of these hearings. Besides businesses.. they’re worried about students who rely on the trains to get home to Chicago.

Filed under: Regional USA Passenger Rail

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December 2007