Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

UPDATE: CSX reveals SecureNOW system

TFA was fortunate to be included in a conference call concerning the new computer aided tracking system. This was  the first time the system was presented  live to non security/CSX personnel It is significant from the rail passenger perspective in that, including Amtrak and commuter runs,  CSX operates 215 passenger trains every day and 20 million passengers every year.

You are probably aware that there are 5 Class 1 railroads and that CSX operates 21,000 miles through most of the eastern U. S. and passes through 31 DHS designated “high threat areas” Skip Elliott is in charge of security for the railroad and made the interactive presentation in which I was able to see the SecureNOW system running on my office computer screen.Elliott is able to point out the Amtrak trains by current location on the  map and by name.

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This is an important breakthrough in safety and security for several reasons. The “live” maps allow personnel to view trains by category: passenger, freight, and freight trains carrying potentially dangerous cargoes (alert trains). Hazardous materials fall into three categories: chemicals, explosives, and spent nuclear fuel. Very little of the latter is handled.

The computer interface allows a train to be located in a “static” geographic context. That is, in relation to buildings, parks, roads and highways. This kind of specific information can be very helpful for emergency responders. The application for a passenger train in some remote location would be obvious.

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We know that freight trains have computer generated manifests and that cars handling hazardous materials must bear certain markings and information. SecureNOW takes the train manifest to the next level. It presents the train order in the form of on-screen icons. Click the icon (which tells about the origination, destination, cargo, and empty/loaded status) and you willl learn EVERYTHING about the car.

All the above mentioned data can be put into a format for Blackberry or email. This means that a procedure which might have taken 30 minutes (not too bad actually) can put crucial safety information in local firefighters and rescue crews almost instantly.That’s the purpose of this substantial investment.

TSA has this system and so does New Jersey Transit has the SecureNOW systen, and the State of New Jersey Department of Homeland Security has access to the system and, if needed, they would share the information with New Jersey Transit. CSX is in discussions with several states to share the information and has a relationship with security authorities in the District of Columbia.

So you may be wondering about the other four Clas 1 roads. Will they run SecueNOW? Based on what I heard today, I can conclusively say that I have no idea. It is a substantial investment in a down economy. Railroads will need to provide more information on shipments and TSA will probably want to use a single platform.

And government always does the logical thing, right?

But seriously, CSX gives TSA high makrs for not sharing sensative corporate data with enforcement agencies.

The SecureNOW system is bound to very helpful to local authorities coping with a crisis.

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

Canadian shakedown on Amtrak Vancouver expansion

Some fairly tough words today concerning Ottawa’s plan to charge Amtrak $500,000 for added customs inspection of the proposed second daily train. Miro Cernetig is a columnist for the Vancouver Sun.

Sure, it’s great if you can get someone outside the country to pay for your government services. And there’s no doubt the federal agency has to mind its budget in a time of restraint.

Moreover, Ottawa is being penny wise and pound foolish. We’ll easily get back the investment. A study by the Border Policy Research Institute of Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash., calculates Canada’s federal, provincial and municipal governments will collect an extra $1.87 million in GST, PST and hotel room taxes from the extra tourists who would travel to Vancouver if a second Amtrak train begins service.

The column also cites another economic study by the Washington State Department of Transportation that adds even more bucks to the B. C. coffers.

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

New England lacking behind in HSR prospects, but at least Vermont is keeping its Amtrak service

Seems like news about its salvation was far more muted than the ruckus surrounding its possible cancellation, but Vermont has chosen to increase its gasoline tax rather than cease support for its popular Ethan Allen Express route. Here’s the critical portions of a brief AP snippet from earlier this month:

Vermont lawmakers have passed a transportation bill that will raise gasoline taxes by about 3 cents at the pump at current prices.

The $540 million transportation bill for the fiscal year that begins July 1 spares Amtrak rail service between Rutland and New York from being eliminated. It also sharply increases the budget to repave Vermont’s battered roads.

This is great news. It would have been a huge shame for the state to end one of its well-liked Amtrak services at this critical juncture. Sure, the economy is bad, but ending smart transportation services like this is not the way to put us on the path to a more stable green economy.

But if New England is avoiding steps back, it doesn’t really seem to be moving forward, at least according to this Boston Globe article:

Until late last year, New England lacked a regionwide high-speed rail organization – an illustration, transit advocates said, of the region’s belated effort to craft a high-speed rail plan encompassing all six states.

As a result, advocates fear, a region that hosts the fastest train in the nation, Amtrak’s Acela, and has no shortage of ideas for improved rail service, may miss out on the funding in favor of California and the Midwest, which have been methodically developing high-speed rail plans for decades.

“New England needs to be better organized,” said Tom Irwin, a senior attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation and one of the founders of the New England Regional Rail Coalition, the group assembled last year that is lobbying for a share of the high-speed rail funding that Congress approved as part of the economic stimulus plan.

A missed opportunity? Depends on the way you look at it. On one hand, this is a fairly dense region that seems well-suited to passenger rail service. On the other hand, there are already a number of lines that crisscross New England, which is more than you can say for an underserved region like the Midwest or Florida. And as the article admits, successful projects anywhere in the country could increase momentum for HSR that could eventually benefit the region. So while I certainly sympathize with Globe article, it’s high time forother parts of the country to see at least some of the same service that the region enjoys with the Acela and other frequent routes. Certainly worth a read.

Filed under: Amtrak, United States High Speed Rail,

Springfield aldermen balk at Amtrak station repairs

Mark Davis of Union Pacific reads TFA. Mark, we come in peace.

This would be kinda’ funny if it were not so gosh-darned serious.

Union Pacific is APPARENTLY unaware that it owns the Springfield, Ill. Amtrak station. This is the historic site of the Abraham Lincoln funeral train arrival and the building was constructed late in the 1890s. It was part of my family railroad (GM&O) and photos of the structure are on many GM&O annual reports (including inside, which looks rather similar to the lobby today).

Well, some smarty pants city government guy has his shorts in a knot demanding to know IF UP owns the building and IF UP has been paying taxes. (Footnote: interesting that cities just expect railroads to pay taxes while airlines just exist in taxpayer supported airports).

Hell fire! This is a theological issue and well beyond our poor pwoer to add or subtract. The State Journal-Register did its typical excellent job reporting the colorful debate.

Some aldermen on Monday questioned plans to spend $571,500 in downtown tax increment finance money to refurbish Springfield’s Amtrak station.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics

GE Transportation’s Simonelli sees high speed rail developments

GE would like to get back in the passenger locomotive business. GE built 300 Genesis locomotives in the 1990s.

The occasion for this disclosure was the public unveiling of the ES44C4. It is part of what GE calls the “Evolution” family and, according to officials, may revolutionize rail transportation. The new model uses four drive motors instead of six, has fewer parts and is designed for better reliability. A fleet of 600 might replace an existing fleet of 800.

According to t the Erie Times News, GE Transportation President Lorenzo Simonelli, there are possible passenger applications as well

Simonelli hopes the new Evolution model could mark the beginning of something else — the return of GE Transportation to the passenger train business.

GE, which built more than 300 Genesis model passenger locomotives during the 1990s, wants to be a player in that industry, Simonelli said.

“GE has the know-how and the manufacturing base to develop the next generation of high-speed passenger locomotives,” he said. “We are ready to partner with the federal government and Amtrak to make high-speed rail a reality.”

Although Monday marked the official unveiling of the new locomotive, 25 of them already have been delivered to Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which is helping GE Transportation continue long-term testing.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, United States High Speed Rail

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