The National Corridors Initiative Logo

February 2, 2016
Vol. 16 No. 4

Copyright © 2016
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved
Our 16th Newsletter Year

 Destination:Freedom 

A Weekly North American Transportation Update For Transportation
Advocates, Professionals, Journalists, And Elected Or Appointed Officials,
At All Levels Of Government.

Publisher
James P. RePass, Sr.
Editor
Molly N. McKay
Foreign Editor
David Beale
Contributing Editor
David Peter Alan
Managing Editor / Webmaster
Dennis Kirkpatrick
 
 

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IN THIS EDITION...   In This Edition...

  Storm Lines…
Transit Comes Back Slowly, After Blizzard
   Pounds Northeast Region
  Restoration Lines…
Amtrak To Test Restoration Of Rail Service
   Lost Since Hurricane Katrina
  Expansion Lines…
Seattle First Hill Streetcar Opens With “Soft Launch”
Starting March 19, Trips From Downtown Seattle
   To U. Of Washington Will Take Just 8 Minutes
MTA Approves Final Contract For East Side
   Access Project
  Funding Lines…
Riders Knock MBTA Fare Hikes, Service Levels
   At Hearing
Amtrak Cuts Proposed By Illinois Governor
   Fail To Materialize
  Selected Rail Stocks…
 
  Commuter Lines…
Metra Fare Hikes Begin Feb. 1
  Environmental Lines…
SEPTA Plans 8.75-Megawatt Energy
   Storage Project
  Political Lines…
Rep. Higgins Provides Support To NFTA
   Rail Extension In Buffalo
  Legal Lines…
For MBTA And Amtrak, FAST Act A Fast
   Track To Federal Court
  Tourist Lines…
Saratoga & North Creek Railway To Offer
   New Dining Cars, More Train Trips
  Events…
RUN To Boston - FREE Registration !
  Publication Notes …


STORM LINES... Storm Lines...  

Transit Comes Back Slowly, After Blizzard
Pounds Northeast Region

By David Peter Alan

It seems to happen every winter and sometimes during hurricane season, too. A severe weather event cripples the Northeast, including the rail transit which runs in the region. Such a snowstorm blanketed the most heavily-populated and transit-rich portion of the nation on Saturday, January 23d.

In the Northeast, the winter started as one of the mildest in recent memory. After a mild November, much of the region experienced the mildest December on record. For the first twenty-two days of January, there was no snow, either. Then it hit!

In the Washington, D.C. area, the storm started creating havoc for transit riders as early as the afternoon commuting peak on Friday. It then intensified as it moved northeastward. Weather forecasts issued as late as Thursday evening indicated that the area from the Nation’s Capital to Philadelphia and South Jersey would be the hardest hit. They were wrong. While those areas had about eighteen to twenty inches dumped on them, New York City and northern New Jersey took a worse pounding. This writer received thirty inches of snow in South Orange, New Jersey, and the nearly 27 inches that fell on New York’s Central Park narrowly missed setting an all-time record. Ironically, that is the amount of snow that the City receives in an average winter.

Transit was hit hard, too. Transit providers were fortunate, however, since the storm vented its rage on a Saturday. Except for early terminations in the Washington and Baltimore areas, local transit completed its service day on Friday. On Saturday, much of it shut down, as far north as New Haven. The climb back to normal during the following week was difficult, especially for riders who did not have the service that was normally available to them.

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA, known locally as “Metro”) announced on Thursday before the storm struck that Metrorail would shut down at 11:00 on Friday night; four hours earlier than its typical Friday closing time. Metro that service would be suspended all day Saturday and Sunday. By Monday, only limited “lifeline” service had returned on the underground portions of three lines: Orange Line (Ballston to Eastern Market), Red Line (Medical Center to Union Station) and Green Line (Fort Totten to Anacostia) only. By 11:00 on Monday morning, most of the above-ground portions of those lines had their service restored, too. The above-ground portions of the Blue and Yellow Lines had service restored at 3:00 that afternoon. The Maryland portion of the Green Line, from Fort Totten to Greenbelt, came back at 4:00.

Metrorail was not still back to full operation on Tuesday morning. The Virginia portion of the Orange Line to Vienna was still out. It came back at 3:30, which meant that only the five outlying stations on the Silver Line were still down at that time. Service on that segment came back at the start of the service day on Wednesday, although Metrorail was operating “modified” service as late as Thursday.

Also on Friday, The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) reduced service on MARC commuter trains in the Washington and Baltimore areas, along with light rail in Baltimore. Metro Rail in Baltimore was suspended at 11:00 on Friday evening. MTA issued no releases over the week-end, except to say that Baltimore light rail and Metro subway would have limited service and MARC trains would not operate. MTA was offering free riders to customers between 9:00 am And 9:00 pm on Monday, while running limited service. Service was still reduced on Tuesday, running only on the underground portion of the Metro Subway. MARC trains returned that day, but on a very limited basis. Some additional MARC trains ran on Wednesday, and above-ground service on the Metro Subway came back. By Thursday, the MTA was running full service on all rail lines.

The storm came to Philadelphia later, and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) announced on Friday that it would suspend service at 4:00 Saturday morning, except on the Broad Street and Market-Frankford heavy-rail lines, which kept operating throughout the storm. City trolleys came back on Sunday. The Norristown High Speed Line and the entire Regional Rail system remained suspended on Monday, except for the Airport Line. The Atlantic City Rail Line between Philadelphia and Atlantic City on New Jersey Transit (NJT) fared better. According to an NJT press release, the agency operated “limited service” on the line on Sunday and the full schedule on Monday.

New York City, along with North and Central Jersey, took the brunt of the storm; a far-worse blow than forecasters had predicted as late as Friday morning. Transit shut down in the New York area for most of the week-end, and did not recover as quickly as transit agencies had promised. John Bobsin, former Vice-Chair of the Lackawanna Coalition and On-Line Editor for the Coalition’s web site, www.lackawannacoaliltion.org, summarized the situation on Tuesday morning at 8:53, toward the end of the morning’s peak-commuting time, in an article entitled: “75 Hours Later, Back to Normal”:

On Tuesday, January 26, all NJT services were finally operating with a semblance of normalcy, roughly 75 hours after system-wide services were suspended at the close of service Friday night, Jan. 22, in anticipation of the big blizzard that struck the area on Saturday, Jan. 23. Most NJT services returned on Monday, but the Gladstone Branch rail service remained suspended until Tuesday morning.

Elsewhere in the New York area, the Long Island Rail Road also returned to full service on Tuesday; a number of branches of the LIRR were unable to operate on Monday, although the major LIRR lines did return to service. By Tuesday, the only major service in the area not yet operating was the PATH rapid transit system, which remained suspended between Jersey City and Newark; by noon Tuesday, PATH had announced plans for full service in the evening rush hour. NJ Transit had “led the way” in suspending service, announcing early that no trains or buses would run after the close of service on Friday night. Other railroads in the New York area tried to keep running but eventually shut down during the storm; underground services on the New York subways continued.

On Sunday morning, NJ Governor Chris Christie told media that the state had weathered the storm “remarkably well,” and said that bus and light rail service would return by noon Sunday, with the regular rail system also “shooting for” service at noon. NJT’s own website was silent on its plans until later in the morning, eventually announcing that rail service would start to return at noon, “beginning with the light rail” system. Trains did start to run on several lines, including Morris & Essex service between New York and Dover; the weekend service from Hoboken to Bay Street, Montclair; on the Main/Bergen/Pascack lines; and on the Northeast Corridor to and from Trenton. But other lines lagged, and eventually NJT conceded that there would be no service Sunday on the Gladstone Branch, the Raritan Valley Line, or the North Jersey Coast Line. Finally, on Monday morning, all trains were said to be coming back, with the notable exception of the Gladstone Branch, where substitute bus service was to be offered; private bus operators along the Gladstone were to be cross-honoring NJT rail passes.

On other suburban rail lines, Metro-North had the best service, with all lines returning to normal during the afternoon on Sunday. Long Island Rail Road was able to restore many of its lines on Sunday, but no trains were running on several branches; as of Monday service on the Port Washington, Hempstead, West Hempstead, and Long Beach lines remained suspended, as was Montauk service east of Speonk; there was also no service to Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn. Media reported a rocky start to LIRR service on Monday, and said that service started at 7 a.m. instead of 5 a.m., with many trains packed and riders worrying about the evening return ride. By Monday morning, all NYC Transit subway lines appeared to be operating; a number of above-surface lines had been suspended on Sunday, as was the Staten Island Railway, which was also back on Monday, albeit with delays.

Transit-watchers and advocates began to complain almost immediately, especially in New Jersey. Asbury Park Press reporter Mike Davis wrote this in his blog Road Sage:

NO MORE SNOW TIL 2017, PLEASE?: NJ Transit took quite a wallop during the blizzard last weekend. I was shocked when they announced a regular weekend schedule, a few hours before the storm hit. Of course, once the snow started piling up, all service was abruptly canceled for two full days. I don’t know what they were expecting, but I’ve heard horror stories from weekend workers (who had to report in), left completely stranded (emphasis in original).

Greg Bender, a member of the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition, was particularly incensed about the lack of service on his line on Sunday. Late on Sunday afternoon, he sent this missive by e-mail to a number of other advocates, beginning his complaint with the headline: “NJ Transit Folds Like a Tomato Can – Again”:

Well, I’m at union station currently stranded by NJT without any announcements. Trains have been show-stopping here for the last two hours, but there are none. Departure vision ”real time” info showed a train stopping here while I was sitting on the platform. Another one “departed” Newark but changed to “cancelled” en route. Only the governor thinks they are running trains.

“Union Station” on NJT is an outlying station in the town of Union; the first stop out from Penn Station, Newark on the Raritan Valley Line. It bears no resemblance to the large “Union Stations” in cities like Chicago and Los Angeles, despite having an identical name.

In his response to Bender, New York advocate Joseph M. Clift took the opportunity to complain about the transit on his side of the Hudson River.

Well, it’s not nearly as dumb as what Ronnie Hakim pulled out of her brand new TA President’s hat yesterday: announcing at about 10:15am Saturday that she would shut down City bus service at noon!!!! Better to not offer to provide service at all, than to offer it, then chop it off after folks have come in, with basically no notice!!! This was nuts for her to do!!!

Clift also dubbed this policy the “Hakim Effect”; apparently in reference to similar policies that Hakim had implemented during her recent tenure as Executive Director of NJT.

In another post, Bender asked questions that were probably on the minds of many advocates and riders who were aware of the inner workings of NJT. One was: “When can we hire some managers, from Chicago for example, that can operate in winter?” Another was: “So where did they park the trains without their half-billion $$$ tram yard in New Brunswick?” Bender referred to a project known as County Yard – Delco Lead, which would build a new yard designed for storing train sets during a severe storm. Advocates have objected to the plan, saying that the cash-strapped agency could store trains in tunnels and on existing elevated lines, without incurring any construction costs. They also argue that the cost of the project would should be spent on building another trans-Hudson tunnel, instead, even though the amount in question would only pay for a small portion of the cost.

By Thursday, NJT had reported a few late trains and one train canceled, but did not blame any of the delays on storm-related causes; officially, at least. New York’s MTA web site reported “good service” on the entire system, including the LIRR and Metro-North. East of New Haven, Shore Line East did significantly better. There were no alerts posted during the past week that indicated any major service disruptions.

To the surprise and relief of some Bostonians, their city was not hit hard by the storm. Last year at this time, Boston was beginning to experience one of the snowiest winters in recorded history, with over nine feet of snow; most of it falling during a six-week period. D:F Managing Editor Dennis Kirkpatrick lived through last winter and commented: “Had this storm taken a slightly more northerly tract we’d have been buried like the mid-Atlantic region. It was a series of these kinds of storms that dropped 9-feet-of snow on us last winter, starting just a year ago this week.” Kirkpatrick reported: “The storm was over very early this morning (Sunday) and Boston and vicinity are showing between 4-6 inches on average with temperatures being around 22 F (-6 C) so the snow fallen is light-weight for now.”

Despite the disruptions of transit service south of Boston, the “T” remained almost unscathed, according to Kirkpatrick. On Sunday, he reported:

The MBTA ran on a standard Saturday schedule yesterday and is on a standard Sunday schedule today. This, for the most part, has all “heavy” commuter lines on about 2-hour headways. Subway & Transit system schedules are also reduced due to weekend service demands being low, and given the storm fewer people will attempt to travel today.  Subway lines at Red, Blue, and Orange are on about 15-20 min headways and the Green Line is also running similar. Interestingly enough... The Green “E” branch is NOT SHOWING any service adjustments.  During snow it is commonplace for them to suspend the last mile between Brigham and Heath since it is a street-running section.  That is not showing at this time.  And similarly interesting the Mattapan trolley has continued to show “normal” service over the two days. The Mattapan-Ashmont line runs historical PCC streetcars and is usually one of the first lines to close and last to be cleared of snow.

There are a few delays being reported associated with switch and signal problems, and a few associated with scheduled construction in or around the system however that could be reported on any normal operation day.

While some of New Jersey’s transit-riding advocates were angry, at least one non-rider expressed bewilderment about the lack of transit in the Garden State during and after the storm. Janie Kehley of Pine Brook in Morris County told this writer: “The news programs on TV always tell people not to drive during bad weather, and to take transit instead. Then there isn’t any transit for them to take.”

New Jersey seems to have suffered most from the storm, and rider-advocates there seem to have complained the most. Transit is running everywhere again, but some residents and business owners in Wildwood and elsewhere along the southern part of the Jersey Shore are complaining that Gov. Chris Christie has spent too much time campaigning in New Hampshire and not enough time in New Jersey. That is a political story that is better covered elsewhere, but there is another rail story that came from the storm. Although the week-end blizzard unleashed its fury mostly in the Northeast, Amtrak ran little service anywhere east of Chicago or New Orleans. We will look at this Amtrak service disruption, which affected places as far as 1000 miles beyond the area of the storm’s impact, in our next edition.


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RESTORATION LINES... Restoration Lines...  

Amtrak To Test Restoration Of Rail Service
Lost Since Hurricane Katrina

By Keith Laing
The Hill

Amtrak is planning to test the feasibility of restoring rail service on the Gulf Coast between New Orleans and Florida that has been dormant since Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago.

Trains on Amtrak’s Sunset Limited route, which used to run between Los Angeles and Orlando, have ended in New Orleans since the 2005 storm, which wiped out tracks along the Gulf of Mexico.

Amtrak is planning to operate a test train on the route, which includes stops in Alabama and the panhandle of Florida before it heads south to Orlando, to examine the feasibility of restoring the service, the company announced this week. The train will run from New Orleans to Orlando on Feb. 18-19 with Amtrak leaders and elected officials, according to Amtrak officials.

The company said “the goal of the invitation-only trip is to examine the existing CSX railroad infrastructure and to better understand rail’s economic, cultural and mobility opportunities.”

“We want to work with community leaders and CSX,” Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman said in a statement. “Additional regional economic development can come from shared infrastructure investments on a timeline to better connect the region to the rest of the country and more than 500 other Amtrak destinations.”

A recently completed study showed restoring the rail service between Louisiana and Central Florida would attract between 138,300 and 153,900 passengers annually.

The study, conducted by Amtrak for the Southern Rail Commission, also showed it would cost $5.48 million to operate a daily roundtrip train on the shuttered Gulf Coast route if states chip in under a 2008 law that allows Amtrak to contract with local governments to provide increased service on shorter routes.

The cost would rise to $9.49 million if additional service if instituted between New Orleans and Mobile, Ala., under the proposal.

Other options that were studied include operating two daily trips from New Orleans to only Mobile, with bus connections from there to existing Amtrak service in Jacksonville, Fla., and operating the one daily New Orleans-to-Florida trip under Amtrak’s long-distance route structure.

The study said the long-distance proposal would attract 69,100 passengers and cost $14.4 million per year to operate.

Advocates of restoring the dormant Gulf Coast rail service have been hoping to convince Amtrak of the feasibility of the route since a provision authorizing the study was included in a highway funding bill that was passed by Congress last year.

“The Gulf Coast region is home to numerous regional, national and global tourist destinations and events, including New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, the theme parks of central Florida, Gulf Coast beaches and casino gaming/resorts,” the authors of the feasibility study wrote in the begging of their report.

“Major league sports teams, NCAA bowl games, three cruise terminals with weekly mass-market cruise ship departures and convention opportunities also draw visitors to communities in the region, while military bases and major defense contractor facilities bring business and military travelers,” the report continued. “Reintroduction of rail passenger service to this market presents numerous marketing opportunities and Amtrak has the marketing capability to assist in promoting any service which is implemented.”

The 1,995-mile Sunset Limited is one of Amtrak’s national, or long-distance, trains, which have been dubbed money-losers by critics for years. The truncated route between Los Angeles and New Orleans carried 105,000 passengers in the 2014 fiscal year, the lowest total of any long-distance Amtrak service, according to figures released by the company.

From an item at:
http://thehill.com/policy/transportation/267101-amtrak-to-test-restoration-of-rail-service-lost-since-katrina


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EXPANSION LINES... Expansion Lines...  

Seattle First Hill Streetcar Opens
With “Soft Launch”

From Rail, Track, And Structures

MAP

Image: Fist Hill Streetcar
In Seattle, Wash., the First Hill Streetcar opened with a soft launch on January 23, a few weeks before its grand opening ceremony and celebration.

Seattle Department of Transportation and its partners, Sound Transit and King County Metro, will now be able to provide riders an easy link to other modes of travel, including Metro buses, Link light rail, Pronto bike sharing, Washington State Ferries, Sounder and Amtrak. The streetcar will connect riders to the diverse and vibrant neighborhoods of Capitol Hill, First Hill, the Central District, Little Saigon, Chinatown, Japantown and Pioneer Square.

The First Hill Streetcar line will serve major medical centers (Swedish Medical Center and Harborview Medical Center), institutions of higher learning (Seattle Central College and Seattle University) and major sporting event venues (CenturyLink & Safeco Field).

Streetcar

Photo: Seattle Streetcar

Extra cars were sent to handle the crowds that turned up for the First Hill Streetcar’s opening day.

Found at:
http://www.rtands.com/index.php/passenger/rapid-transit-light-rail/seattle-first-hill-streetcar-opens-with-soft-launch.html


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Starting March 19, Trips From Downtown Seattle To
University Of Washington Will Take Just 8 Minutes

By Marc Stiles
Puget Sound Business Journal

The commute from downtown Seattle to the University of Washington Medical Center is about to get a whole lot easier, and faster.

Sound Transit officials on Tuesday said March 19 is the opening day for the $1.8 billion University Link project, which will connect Westlake Station in downtown Seattle to the new University of Washington Station, which is between the medical center and Husky Stadium. The line has another station on Broadway at East John Street on Capitol Hill.

The underground trip from downtown Seattle to the UW will take eight minutes, bypassing some of the region’s worst traffic. The trip currently takes around 30 minutes by bus and 10 minutes by car, if traffic isn’t congested.

Trainset

Image: Sound Transit

One of the trainsets at the ready

Completion of the line along the region’s most densely populated neighborhoods is expected to significantly boost light-rail ridership. Sound Transit forecasts that University Link will add 71,000 riders to the system by 2030, bringing the system-wide total to 114,000.

The opening of the line is a major milestone for rapid mass transit in the Puget Sound region, and comes as public transportation is getting much more accessible in Seattle.

The Seattle Department of Transportation finally started service Saturday on the long-delayed First Hill Streetcar, which was initially planned to open in 2013. The line runs from the International District/Chinatown light rail stop to the Capitol Hill rail station.

King County Metro has been expanding bus service with funding that city of Seattle voters approved in 2014. Proposition 1 raises an estimated $45 million a year. Service expansion is under way and will continue.

Currently, a quarter of city residents live within walking distance of a bus that comes every 12 minutes or less. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said that by March, when expanded service is fully operational, 72 percent of residents will live within walking distance of such stops.

“That’s almost New York levels of service,” Murray said in a Jan. 14 speech to the Economic Development Council of Seattle & King County.

For the full article see:
http://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/blog/2016/01/starting-march-19-trips-from-downtown-seattle-to.html


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MTA Approves Final Contract
For East Side Access Project

By Carolina Worrell
Railway Age Magazine

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Board on Jan. 27, 2016 approved the final major contract for the East Side Access project, which will build and finish four platforms and eight tracks for the new Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) terminal some 100 feet below Grand Central Terminal in New York City.

Under another contract awarded last month, a tunnel approach will be built and a bridge rebuilt in Sunnyside, Queens. The total value of both contracts is nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars.

“These are a significant milestones for East Side Access and will turn raw underground caverns into the modern station that LIRR customers will use when they head directly to and from the East Side of Manhattan,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast. “And the Sunnyside contract will make it possible for trains to reach Grand Central Terminal. East Side Access will save Long Island and Queens customers up to 40 minutes a day in travel time, demonstrating why transit expansion is a key element of our 2015-19 Capital Program.”

For the full version of this news item see:
http://www.railwayage.com/index.php/passenger/commuter-regional/mta-approves-final-contract-for-east-side-access-project.html


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FUNDING LINES... Funding Lines...  

Riders Knock MBTA Fare Hikes,
Service Levels At Hearing

By Andy Metzger, State House News Service
Via WBUR.Com

Sen. Thomas McGee and Rep. Brendan Crighton, both Lynn, Massachusetts Democrats, called for lower fare hikes, while Sen. Joan Lovely, a Salem Democrat, asked officials to look into what she said is deficient fare collection on the commuter rail, in a hearing held in Lynn Massachusetts last Monday.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) are currently holding a series of community meetings to seek public input on fare increases, service issues, and a plan to eliminate late-night service from the downtown district into outer Boston communities.

“Please put it on me and folks that are professionals, that are able to pay more,” said Lynn City Council President Dan Cahill, a State House lobbyist. In keeping with Crighton and McGee, Cahill advocated for a 5 percent fare increase — less than the 6.7 percent and 9.7 percent proposals on the table — and called the more expensive increase a “non-starter.”

“It’s just another tax on the poor,” said Pamela Bush Miles, of the Greater Four Corners Action Coalition, who said she represents riders on the Fairmount Line through Boston. Noting the rising cost of housing, Bush Miles said, “We just want the fares to stay at a level that people can afford because poor people cannot afford to dig money out of any more pockets to try and pay these higher fares.”

A Dorchester resident, Bush Miles critiqued the location of the meeting, walking distance from some commuter bus routes but more than two miles from the city’s commuter rail stop.

“It took me over an hour to get here from Boston and I couldn’t take the MBTA so I had to drive,” Bush Miles said.

Near the end of the hearing at Breed Middle School, Lynn businessman Rick Wood said he hardly uses the service and wants it to better sustain itself.

“I think that the transit system should pay for itself, so I’m not opposed to the increase,” said Wood. He said, “They just keep taxing the citizens more and more and more.”

Monday’s event was the first hearing on proposals aimed at securing another $33.2 million to $49.4 million from riders throughout the system. State taxpayers kick in about $1.2 billion to the authority’s roughly $2 billion budget and the fare proposals are part of the agency’s attempt to close what had been forecast as a $242 million budget deficit in fiscal 2017.

“If you want to raise the rates, show us something in return, that we can get to work on time,” said Lynn resident Judy Bower, who said she commutes into Boston on the commuter rail and her phone is filled with alerts about train delays.

The commuter rail schedule changes — aimed at streamlining the system to reduce “cascading delays” — would add some stops in Lynn, while removing a 6:53 a.m. inbound train making a stop in the city.

James Smith, a State House lobbyist, said the site where the meeting was held would have been a highway were it not for local activists, and he criticized the fare structure on the commuter rail, which he said charges Lynn riders more than riders from Winchester — though they are a similar distance from North Station.

Smith said roads receive taxpayer subsidies, too, but “nobody looks at the public road system as also having a deficit,” and he said raising fares “will inevitably lead to more people driving more miles” and more greenhouse gas emissions.

Linda Bruce, of Marblehead, said riders are “getting squeezed” by fares and not seeing improvements in service.

“Nothing changes. Another few years, they’re going to come back and say they need some more money,” Bruce said.

From an article appearing at:
http://www.wbur.org/2016/01/26/mbta-riders-knock-proposed-fare-hikes


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Amtrak Cuts Proposed By Illinois Governor
Fail To Materialize

By Stan Polanski
Effingham Daily News

Gov. Bruce Rauner (R-IL) last spring proposed a 40 percent cut to Amtrak funding that threatened to end two lines running through Effingham, Il. But the lines are still operating.

Amtrak has not reduced service and does not plan to, according to a company spokesman.

“We’re operating at the same level of service as we were before,” said Marc Magliari, media relations manager for Amtrak.

Despite the state’s budget impasse and the original plan to trim Amtrak’s budget, the national railroad company hasn’t had any funding cuts, according to a state official.

In May, a group of Illinois university officials and mayors told a senate committee that the proposed 40 percent would hurt businesses and students.

Riders around Effingham voiced their frustration as well.

“It’s cheaper than driving,” Penny Lycan of Sullivan told the Effingham Daily News in April. She said she relies on the two lines that were in jeopardy of being shut down to visit her daughter. “Just raise the ticket prices because it would still be more affordable. Don’t get rid of the service.”

Amtrak may have avoided cuts so far, but some warn that future funding for the railway remains uncertain.

Richard Harnish, executive director for the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, an advocacy group, said that cuts could come in Amtrak’s budget for the 2017 fiscal year.

“Nothing really happened,” Harnish said, referring to the proposed cuts for the 2016 fiscal year. “But nothing has been decided either. As the budget moves forward, there’s still a question in 2017.”

“People need to convey to Springfield that they want the service to expand,” Harnish said.

For the original see:
http://www.effinghamdailynews.com/news/local_news/amtrak-cuts-proposed-by-governor-fail-to-materialize/article_1d657f7d-5d64-5775-8e1d-8bc1fbf6140c.html


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STOCKS...    Selected Rail Stocks...
BRKB – Burlington Northern Santa Fe

CNI – Canadian National

CP –  Canadian Pacific

CSX – CSX Corp

GWR – Genessee & Wyoming

KSU – Kansas City-Southern

NSC – Norfolk Southern

PWX – Providence & Worcester

UNP – Union Pacific


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COMMUTER LINES... Commuter Lines...  

Metra Fare Hikes Begin Feb. 1

By Joe Ward
DNAInfo.Com

New Metra fare hikes will be kicking in next week as the commuter rail line works to update infrastructure and safety systems.

Beginning Monday, Feb. 1, riders will begin paying more for one-way tickets, 10-ride passes, monthly passes and for tickets purchased on the train, Metra said in a statement Tuesday.

The fare hikes were approved as part of Metra’s 2016 budget that included a percent net increase in ticket revenue that officials hope will generate $6.5 million in new revenue, Metra said.

Here’s how the fare increases will impact riders:

Also, the surcharge assessed to customers buying a ticket on-board will change from $3 per person to $5 per group, Metra said. This change was originally slated to roll out in 2015 but was postponed until mobile ticketing via the Ventra app was launched, Metra said.

Even with these increases, Metra’s one-way and monthly passes remain the lowest of any its “peer railroads” in the country, Metra said in a statement.

From an item appearing at:
https://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20160126/beverly/metra-fare-hikes-begin-feb-1


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ENVIRONMENTAL LINES... Environmental Lines...  

SEPTA Plans 8.75-Megawatt
Energy Storage Project

From Rail, Track, And Structures

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) plans to install a battery storage network, which will help reduce operating costs, ensure energy resiliency and support the stability of the energy grid.

Constellation, a subsidiary of Exelon Corporation, will fund, own and operate the 8.75-megawatt battery storage network, deployed at seven SEPTA substations. The network is designed to used stored energy to power trains as they accelerate from stations and can provide emergency generation for trains in the event of a power outage. An expansion of SEPTA’s 1.8 MW battery storage pilot program completed in 2014, the new network brings the agency’s total battery storage capacity to more than 10 MW.

“SEPTA’s Sustainability Program is all about finding and deploying cutting-edge innovations to reduce costs in addition to improving environmental performance,” said SEPTA General Manager Jeffrey Knueppel. “This project is right in that sustainability sweet spot and we are pleased to partner with Constellation and Viridity in bringing it to market right here in the Philadelphia region, an emerging hub for innovative energy projects.”

The project, which SEPTA says is among the first commercially-deployed battery storage systems in a transit operation, requires no upfront capital investment from SEPTA and will be financed through a 20-year battery services agreement with Constellation.

Gary Fromer, senior vice president of distributed energy at Constellation said, “This battery storage network, along with $26 million in guaranteed savings from efficiency improvements Constellation is implementing for SEPTA, will help SEPTA deliver on its budget and energy resiliency goals.”

The stored energy will help to balance electric load on the PJM Interconnection, the regional transmission organization that manages the movement of wholesale electricity in 13 states and the District of Columbia. Viridity Energy will provide energy market services for the project, bidding the batteries into the PJM market as frequency regulation resources to help match generation with demand and maintain the desired electrical frequency on the grid.

“Our ground-breaking regenerative braking pilot at SEPTA proved that energy storage can be used by transit systems to create substantial cost savings, generate revenue and contribute to sustainability goals,” said Viridity Energy Chief Executive Officer Mack Treece. “By expanding the pilot to a full deployment, SEPTA will demonstrate to rail transit systems throughout the world that energy storage can be a core part of their overall energy and sustainability strategy when paired with the right technologies and market expertise.”

ABB will provide engineering, procurement, construction and operations services to Constellation for the project. Saft will provide the lithium ion battery technology.

Construction activities are scheduled to begin in the second quarter of 2016 with estimated commercial operation in late 2016.

From an item at:
http://www.rtands.com/index.php/passenger/commuter-regional/septa-plans-875-megawatt-energy-storage-project.html


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POLITICAL LINES... Political Lines...  

Rep. Higgins Provides Support To
NFTA Rail Extension In Buffalo

From Rail, Track, And Structures

Rep. Brian Higgins (D-NY-26) is encouraging the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) to pursue Alternative B, also known as the Buffalo River plan, in a study examining options to enhance access and expand connectivity along the southern end of the Metro Rail line in Downtown Buffalo, N.Y.

“Today’s decisions will determine tomorrow’s opportunities and the Buffalo River option that fully integrates the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad (DL&W) Terminal into the future of Metro Rail gives this community the best opportunities moving forward,” said Rep Higgins.

The NFTA is currently considering options relative to the proposed extension of Buffalo’s Metro Rail beyond its current last stop at the Special Events Station at First Niagara Center, around the foot of Main Street to the DL&W building along South Park Avenue. Alternative A, the South Park option, would provide a new station platform along South Park Avenue on the north side of the DL&W. Alternative B would allow for Metro Rail cars to pull right into the DL&W, delivering passengers to a stop on the ground floor of the DL&W adjacent to the Buffalo River.

In addition to a new platform on the first floor of the DL&W Terminal, the Buffalo River Alternative includes stair and elevator access to the 2nd level of the terminal, a pedestrian bridge spanning South Park Avenue, public access to the Riverwalk and the option for future extensions.

Higgins pointed out that the Buffalo River Plan (Alternative B) best represents current planning preferences centered on Transit-Oriented Development, which focus on integrating transportation centers with mixed-use development. In addition, the Buffalo River alternative creates a multi-modal transportation hub allowing for bus and automobile traffic along South Park, light rail within the DL&W Terminal, connections to bicycle and pedestrian trails along the water’s edge, as well as boat and kayak opportunities in the Buffalo River.

The interior DL&W stop would complement Transit-Oriented Development currently underway down the tracks with construction of the University of Buffalo Medical School above the existing Allen Street Station within the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

Last September Rep. Higgins released a report detailing the more than $169 million in federal investments made along the Buffalo River over the last decade. In the report he listed development at the DL&W Terminal as an important next step in Buffalo’s waterfront revival. Rep. Higgins previously secured the $249 million New York Power Authority federal relicensing settlement that continues to fund redevelopment at Canal side and Buffalo’s Outer Harbor.

“We applaud the NFTA’s foresight and community involvement,” said Rep. Higgins. “Now, the decision is ours. Do we want to create a rail stop or a destination?”

From an item at:
http://www.rtands.com/index.php/passenger/rapid-transit-light-rail/rep-higgins-provides-support-to-nfta-rail-extension.html


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LEGAL LINES... Legal Lines...  

For MBTA And Amtrak, FAST Act
A Fast Track To Federal Court

By William C. Vantuono
Editor-In-Chief, Railway Age Magazine

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is suing Amtrak in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts after the two companies failed to reach agreement on new, vastly increased access fees for MBTA commuter trains operating between Attleboro, Mass., at the Rhode Island border, and Providence, R.I., on the Northeast Corridor.

According to reports published by the Boston Herald and Politico, the Capitol Hill-based newsletter, the MBTA is asking a federal judge to throw out a claim that it owes Amtrak $28.8 million in annual fees. Amtrak, MBTA’s 26-page court filing says, is “claiming that it is both permitted and required ... under a pair of federal statutes ... [to] demand that MBTA pay it tens of millions of dollars each year for the very services that Amtrak is already obligated by the Attleboro Line Agreement to provide MBTA without charge.”

The existing Attleboro Line Agreement was struck by MBTA and Amtrak in 2003, when Amtrak ceased operating MBTA trains under contract and MBCR (Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad) took over. Keolis has been MBTA’s contract operator since July 2014. In ?exchange for allowing Amtrak to operate its intercity trains on the state-owned portion of the NEC between Attleboro and Boston’s South Station, Amtrak maintains portions of the right-of-way and ?provides access for MBTA trains operating between Attleboro and Providence, R.I.

According to the MBTA, Amtrak has cited language in the new FAST (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation) Act and PRIIA (Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008) that established a commission tasked with establishing cost-sharing policies used to replace existing contracts between Amtrak and state commuter rail agencies. Amtrak reportedly has threatened to go to the Surface Transportation Board if the MBTA doesn’t fork over the near-$30 million.

The commission, the Northeast Corridor Infrastructure Operations and Advisory Commission, is named in MBTA’s suit along with Amtrak.

The MBTA argues that “federal law that Amtrak is invoking ... is unconstitutional ... Congress cannot by statute relieve federal agencies, such as Amtrak, from their contractual obligations without putting those agencies into breach of contract.” The MBTA is asking for declaratory judgments saying that the new cost-sharing policy violates the U.S. Constitution, and that Amtrak is in breach of contract with the MBTA.

According to the lawsuit, under FAST and PRIIA, Amtrak saves $56 million a year on the Northeast Corridor, while requiring Massachusetts (MBTA) to pay $28.8 million, New Jersey (NJ Transit) to pay $90 million, Pennsylvania (SEPTA) to pay $14 million and Maryland (MARC) pay $1 million.

The complete lawsuit, Civil Action No. 16-10120, “MASSACHUSETTS BAY TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY, Plaintiff, v. NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORP., d/b/a AMTRAK, and NORTHEAST CORRIDOR INFRASTRUCTURE AND OPERATIONS ADVISORY COMMISSION, Defendants,” can be downloaded in PDF form by going to:

http://www.railwayage.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&task=download&id=6_881d3a84e53c0ca7e1d411924ba09d5e

From an item at:
http://www.railwayage.com/index.php/passenger/commuter-regional/for-mbta-and-amtrak-fast-act-a-fast-track-to-federal-court.html

[Ed Note: Destination: Freedom will be following this case as it progresses. ]


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TOURIST LINES... Tourist Lines...  

Saratoga & North Creek Railway To Offer
New Dining Cars, More Train Trips

By Don Lehman
PostStar.Com

Saratoga & North Creek Railway plans to dramatically boost its dining car offerings this year after finding plenty of interest in meals on rails in recent years.

The railroad plans to bring new dining and lounge cars to its line to try to increase ridership on the tourist train.

The company will offer dinner, brunch and lunch train trips, with much of the food and beverages offered on the trips to be provided by local suppliers.

SNCRR will offer 94 dining trips between Saratoga Springs and Thurman Station starting June 4 and running through Oct. 28, an increase over the 15 offered last year.

Diners

Photo Courtesy of Saratoga & North Creek Railway

Saratoga & North Creek Railway is planning to add a Pullman lounge car, similar to this one, to its local rail line in addition to making other improvements this year.

The trips will be run on new equipment that includes a bigger, 48-passenger dining car with a full kitchen, and a “luxurious” lounge car with couches and a bar, said Justin Gonyo, SNCRR’s general manager. The trips have been dubbed The Pullman Table.

Gonyo said the company had seen that dining car trips were selling out in previous years, with all but one of 28 over the last three years being booked solid.

“This is a very exciting business franchise,” Gonyo said.

The kitchen can turn out up to 300 meals per trip, he said. Wine will be provided by Greenfield winemaker The Fossil Stone Vineyards, and local farmers and food suppliers will provide ingredients for meals.

Menus posted online listed standard breakfast offerings, with entrees like prime rib, grilled salmon and “Adirondack casserole” and the “D & H Deluxe Burger” for later meals.

SNCRR’s parent company, Iowa Pacific Holdings LLC, offers the same service on its other affiliated railroads in Oregon, Texas, Illinois and Louisiana.

The company has been dogged by lower-than-anticipated ridership numbers, though the Polar Express holiday trips have done well. SNCRR canceled snow train trips for skiers this winter between Saratoga Springs and North Creek.

The railroad’s five-year contract with the county expires in June, but county Administrator Paul Dusek told county supervisors Monday that negotiations for a new deal are progressing.

“It looks like it’s going to be a go for another five years,” Dusek said.

From an item at:
http://poststar.com/news/local/saratoga-north-creek-railway-to-offer-new-dining-cars-more/article_34b040f6-9cc9-5913-a623-e5cd57e4467b.html

[ Editor Notes: It is highly ironic that Ed Ellis’ Saratoga & North Creek offers a dining-car experience like that on a two-hour trip, while Amtrak only offers standardized food from Aramark that barely hovers above fast-food quality on a two-day trip. Maybe Amtrak can learn something from Ed Ellis. - David Peter Alan.]


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EVENTS... Events...  

Save the Date!

 

RUN To Boston !

Breaking News !!

Thanks to a generous sponsor, registration will be FREE this year.

Join the Rail Users’ Network (RUN) in Boston, Massachusetts on Friday, April 29th for the RUN Annual Conference. The conference theme will be “Who’s Looking Out for You? The State of Rail Advocacy in New England.”

Plan to stay in town for a tour of the wide variety of transit modes offered by the “T” to Bostonians and other area residents. The tour will take place on Saturday, April 30th, and there may be some other surprises, too.

So mark your calendars and plan to RUN to Boston after the upcoming winter ends and spring returns to New England.

The conference will take place at the facilities of the Boston Foundation, 75 Arlingston Street, in downtown Boston, MA. The location is accessible by the MBTA’s Green Line subway. (Arlingston Street Station). You must have an ID to display in order to gain entrance into this building, so please have a picture ID with you on the day of the conference.

Your fare for the optional MBTA tour event (a day pass will do) will be your own responsibility. If you want more information, or wish to register, please check the RUN web site, www.railusers.net or call RUN Chair Richard Rudolph at (207) 776-4961.


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PUBLICATION NOTES...  Publication Notes...

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In an effort to expand the on-line experience at the National Corridors Initiative web site, we have added a page featuring links to other transportation initiative sites. We hope to provide links to those cities or states that are working on rail transportation initiatives ñ state DOTs, legislators, government offices, and transportation organizations or professionals ñ as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists. If you have a favorite link, please send the web address (URL) to our webmaster.

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