The National Corridors Initiative Logo

May 16, 2016
Vol. 16 No. 19

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...

  Guest Commentary…
At $317 Million, Via Rail Is Cheap To Maintain
   Canada’s Rail Heritage
  Advocacy Lines…
RUN Conference Attendees Sample Transit
   In Boston
  Expansion Lines…
All Aboard Florida Rail Service Takes
   Another Step Forward
Scaled-Down Plan For The MBTA Green Line
   Extension Will Move Forward
  Transit Lines…
Light Rail Chosen For Southwest Corridor
   In Oregon
  Equipment Lines…
“Like New” Commuter Rail Engine With
   MassDOT Logo Joins Fleet
  Selected Rail Stocks…
 
  Safety Lines…
U.S. Orders Immediate Repairs To Troubled
   Washington DC Subway
Senate Unanimity: Rail Safety Bill Passes
  Freight Lines…
BNSF Idles About 45 Locomotives In Fargo As
   Shipping Demand Slows
  Across The Big Pond…
China Railway Debt Reaches $US 640bn
  To The North…
Via Rail Plan Says Its ‘Survival’ At Risk
   If It Doesn’t Get Access To Dedicated Track,
   Fleet Upgrade
Transport Minister Aims To Get On Track With
   Via Rail’s Upgrade Proposal
  And Finally…
Amphibious Buses Give New Meaning To
   The Phrase “Multi-Modal Transit”
  Publication Notes …


GUEST COMMENTARY... Guest Commentary...  

To The North

 

At $317 Million, Via Rail Is Cheap To
Maintain Canada’s Rail Heritage

By Barbara Kay
National Post, Canada

The federal auditor general’s office has just released a study casting a cloud, yet again, on the future of rail travel in Canada.

The report indicates an increase in late-arrival times over the past two years, from one in five trains to one in four. This deterioration in service – on-time performance being “the main factor in customer satisfaction” – has resulted in a decrease in passenger traffic from 4.1 million in 2010 to 3.8 million in 2014. Passengers down means public costs up: The government provided VIA Rail $56 million more in operating costs in 2014 than in 2010 – $317 million in all.

Figures like these are catnip to market libertarians, who can’t see the difference, in terms of what public conveyances governments should or should not subsidize, between a railway and stagecoaches. Let those who want to travel by train pay the full cost, they say, or let the railway die the natural death horse-drawn vehicles did. As a train lover/user, but more important, as a Canadian who believes we all benefit when the government guarantees core cultural institutions, I think subsidies to operate and improve VIA are easily defensible.

But first, a personal digression.

I live in Montreal, but work and family ties take me to Toronto quite frequently – at least once every six weeks. By preference, I travel by train whenever possible. I’m a spoiled brat, so I usually go Business Class (which isn’t quite what it was – linen-like napkins rather than linen, the meal served all at once rather than in civilized stages, but these, I know, are High Class Worries). That ain’t cheap, but it is cheaper than normal airline rates. Stress-wise, there’s no contest. The interiors have been upgraded, very nicely, I might add, with more comfortable seats and plenty of leg room. And when you add up the hours spent, rail and flying are almost a wash.

It takes me 10 minutes to get to Montreal’s Central Station. I can arrive there five minutes before departure time if I want and walk right on board, settle in immediately, open my laptop or Kindle or whatever, log into the free Wi-Fi, and get busy on business or pleasure for the next four or five hours (depending on whether it’s the express or not; personally I don’t care much – what’s an hour to a reader?)

On arrival at Union Station in Toronto, which in my case is usually on time or within 15 minutes of on time, so I guess – more on this anon – I am lucky, I generally hop on the subway and within 30 minutes am standing outside my son’s door, a two-minute walk from a subway station. At most, I have spent one hour in non-travel time, so my door-to-door time is about six hours.

When I travel by air, I must allot 30 minutes to get there (by taxi more than triple the rate to Central Station) to arrive at the airport 90 minutes before departure and those 90 minutes are never pleasant or stress-free. Security checks are tedious, likewise the boarding process. The flight is never entirely restful, because you’re – you know – trapped in your tiny seat and up in the frickin’ air! You land. You can now take the UP train to downtown, as long as that’s where you want to go, another 45 minutes including access and debarkment time, or take a $70 cab ride which, depending on traffic, can be a full hour. Altogether, by air, I might save up to two hours over the train, but I will have lost way more than two hours in reading or work time, and added an incalculable degree of stress and irritation.

Rail traffic figures may be down, but there are still millions of people who feel, as I do, that travelling by train is pleasurable, relaxing and a far more civilized way to cover a moderate distance than by air. The solution to falling revenues is not to abandon VIA, but to commit to a renewed and intelligent plan to bring VIA up to – ahem – speed in, well, speed. And efficiency.

The auditor general notes, for example, that the late arrivals are largely not VIA’s fault, but a result of the fact that freight carriers and other railway carriers own and maintain about 98% of the tracks used by VIA, so they have the right of way, and can often force halts to passenger trains, over which VIA has no control. Moreover, the report finds that the government has refused to sign off on the railway’s business plan for a number of years, forcing it to operate on a year-by-year basis. “In this context, VIA could not fulfill its mandate as economically, efficiently and effectively as desired.”

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And there should be a will because:

I don’t know what the answers are in resolving the freight-passenger conundrum, but I bet a lot of other smart people could find the answer if the government made solving the problem a priority. VIA is not only worth saving; the government should aim to make it competitive with air travel by fixing its deficits and introducing innovations to attract more users. And if that requires subsidies, so be it. Canadians have a right to ride the rails that made this country what it is, and so do their children.

Found at:
http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/barbara-kay-at-317-million-via-rail-is-cheap-to-maintain-canadas-rail-heritage


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ADVOCACY LINES... Advocacy Lines...  

RUN Conference Attendees Sample
Transit In Boston

By David Peter Alan

Last week we reported on the conference sponsored by the Rail Users’ Network (RUN), which took place in Boston on Friday, April 29th. RUN officials and conference attendees alike pronounced the event a success, although RUN believes that an important part of learning about transit is to ride it and also inspect transit facilities. Toward that end, the conference included a tour on Saturday, April 30th, in which approximately twenty conference attendees participated.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA, known locally as the “T”) operates a large variety of transportation modes; a variety equaled only in Philadelphia and San Francisco in this country. There is a 14-line “commuter rail” system, which is operated under contract by Keolis. For local transit, the “T” operates three subway-style lines; the Red, Orange and Blue Lines. The Red Line has two branches. There is also a “Green Line” which is a set of four light-rail lines. There was a fifth line at one time and one of the existing lines was longer, but Boston is one of only seven American cities that can boast streetcar lines which date back to the “Golden Age” of rail transit. An additional line operates with historic streetcars and, of course, there are plenty of bus routes. A few operate with electric trolley buses (which some locals call “trackless trolleys”), and there are also ferries plying Boston Harbor. At the time of the conference, the season for ferry operation had not started yet.

The tour began in the morning with a look at the development occurring near South Station, the terminal for the South Side commuter rail lines. Architect Brad Bellows, who is actively promoting the proposed North-South Rail Link (which was left out of the now-infamous “Big Dig” project in the 1980s) gave the group an orientation about the historic railroad terminals in the city, as well as current efforts to increase development near South Station and toward South Boston.

South Station

Tony Hisgett - Wikimedia

The exterior of South Station, at Dewey Square, Boston, MA

One of the more unusual features of the fare structure on the “T” is that holders of day passes or weekly or monthly unlimited-ride passes on local transit can also use them on “commuter” trains, as long as they do not ride beyond the boundaries of the local-transit system. All conference attendees who came from other places had purchased day passes or weekly passes, and used them to ride to Fairmount on the Dorchester Branch. Trains run hourly on that line to Readville, one stop past Fairmount, where connections are available to trains bound for Franklin or Providence. The fare for that one extra stop is considerably higher than the Fairmount “local-zone” fare, so local advocates are pursuing the “Fair Fare for Fairmount” campaign to rationalize fares in the vicinity. They are also pushing to convert the commuter line to metropolitan-style transit with frequent service. They want it renamed the “Indigo Line” and they report that their campaign is making progress.

Morton Station

Photo: MBTA.Com

An MBTA Commuter train on the Fairmount branch enters Morton Street Station

One of the leaders of this campaign is Pamela “Mela” Bush-Myles, who is also a member of the RUN Board of Directors. She took time out from a community clean-up event to join the group on the train and give an overview of how the Dorchester neighborhood would be served by the proposed Indigo Line.

Fairmount is in the Hyde Park neighborhood, in the southwestern part of Boston. As the group got off the train, D:F Managing Editor Dennis Kirkpatrick took over as guide for the next segment of the tour. Kirkpatrick lives nearby and talked about transit in the neighborhood while the group waited for the bus to Mattapan. This was the only segment of the tour that involved riding a bus.

The next segment was a journey back into transit history; a ride on a PCC car (for Presidents’ Conference Committee; a style of streetcar that was popular from the mid-1930s through the early 1950s) to Ashmont on the Red Line. The streetcar line is short; a trip takes about twelve minutes, end to end. The cars sport the historic orange and cream color scheme of the old Boston Elevated Railway Company, later the Metropolitan Transit Authority (“MTA”; made famous by the saga of Charlie, who could not get off the train because he did not have the nickel required for the exit fare). PCC cars once ran in many American and Canadian cities, and similarly-styled cars still run overseas. Today in this country, they only run in Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Kenosha, Wisconsin. A single car runs limited hours in San Diego as a downtown circulator, but a full-service line is coming to El Paso, Texas, where the city’s original PCC cars will run again.

PCC Streetcar

NCI File Photo

A Presidents’ Conference Committee Streetcar or Trolley as it is known locally enters the boarding platform at Mattapan (matt’-uh-pan) Station.

Kirkpatrick gave the group an overview of the line, its history, and a history of the cars. At this time, there is a threat from transportation officials to their continued operation, so it was essential that everyone on the tour have an opportunity to ride the PCC cars, while they are still running.

From Ashmont, the tour continued on the Red Line subway through another part of Dorchester and into downtown Boston. In a time-honored Boston transit ritual, the group got off at Park Street and changed for a Green Line car to North Station. North Station is a transfer point between Green Line cars and the Orange Line subway. Traditionally, they all used different platforms. To make the station more confusing, some Green Line cars turned around on a ground-level loop, while others continued on an elevated viaduct to Lechmere Square in Cambridge. Today, Green Line cars and Orange Line trains going in the same direction are located across a platform from one another, to facilitate connections.

Red Line at Charles

Michael Day - Flickr

A Red Line Train departs the MGH/Charles Station. The station is named after the adjacent Massachusetts General Hospital complex and its location on Charles Street. The train is seen headed toward the City of Cambridge and the Longfellow Bridge which crosses the Charles River.

North Side commuter trains and Downeaster trains to Maine, which historically were operated by the Boston & Maine (B&M) Railroad, operate to and from North Station, which was a waterfront terminal at one time. Today, it is a part of a sports complex, which happens to abut the tracks. The group observed the facility, which was not crowded, but a station that is not crowded early on Saturday afternoon would present a very different impression during the busy weekday peak-commuting time.

The group had missed the train to Porter Square in Cambridge, so the alternative plan was to have a late lunch instead. A two-stop ride on the Green Line to Government Center and a short walk gave the participants an opportunity to view the activity at the rejuvenated Quincy Market and to see Faneuil Hall, a center of political activity at the time of the American Revolution. We stopped for lunch at Durgin Park, a historic restaurant in the market, which has been serving classic Yankee food (Yankee pot roast, fish chowder, local seafood specialties and the like) since 1827.

A few of the participants left after the late lunch was over, but there was still more for everyone else to see. It was time to walk back to the newly-reopened Government Center Station, where Green Line cars connect with Blue Line trains to East Boston, Logan Airport and Revere. After retracing our route to North Station, the group caught the train to Fitchburg (on the former B&M line west from Boston that once went as far as Albany) and rode one stop to Porter Square in Cambridge; about one mile north of Harvard Square and the Harvard University campus. Porter Square is the deepest station on the Red Line subway, which we took to Park Street. There the group transferred to the “C” branch of the Green Line, which runs on Beacon Street in Brookline after emerging from the tunnel west of downtown Boston. The line on Beacon Street is one of the longest continuously-operating streetcar lines in the nation. The street itself is lined with stately apartment buildings from an earlier era, and the car was crowded with standees for most of the trip.

At Cleveland Circle, the end of the line, the group got off and took a short walk to Reservoir Station on the “D” branch of the Green Line. It is the longest streetcar line in the system, and has an interurban flavor, with no running in the median of a street or in mixed traffic. The line was originally a branch of the Boston & Albany Railroad, which the former MTA converted into a transit line in the late 1950s.

Green Line at Fenway

Image: Wikipedia

One of the MBTA’s AnsaldoBreda Type 8 Green Line cars at Fenway Station on the “D” branch. The station is about a one-block walk from Boston’s Fenway Park where the Red Sox baseball team plays its home games.

By the time the car got to Park Street, the tour was ending. Several participants went to South Station to catch the 6:40 Amtrak train to New York. Others went their separate ways at that time. Everyone who participated enjoyed the experience: the opportunity to ride a number of different transit modes in Boston, the chance to learn more about the “T” system in a manner not feasible in a classroom-style conference, and the local color; from Mattapan to Faneuil Hall to the Durgin-Park Restaurant to Beacon Street.

The tour was well-attended, and everyone left with a better understanding of transit in Boston, and appreciation for the people who explained the history and operation of that transit. Between the conference on Friday and the tour on Saturday, RUN members and other attendees had an enjoyable and educational experience, and even had a taste of the chilly weather for which Boston is famous, even late in the spring.

David Peter Alan is a member of the RUN Board of Directors and Conference Committee. He first rode the “T” during his days as a student at M.I.T., nearly 50 years ago.


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EXPANSION LINES... Expansion Lines...  

All Aboard Florida Rail Service
Takes Another Step Forward

From News13, Florida

Brightline has taken another step forward in its plans to build All Aboard Florida, a passenger rail service connecting Central to South Florida.

The company said Wednesday that its final grade crossing design plans for Brevard and Indian River counties was given approval by the Federal Railroad Administration.

“Today we have achieved another significant step towards the completion of our project,” Brightline said in a statement. “The agency has now completed its review of our plans for Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River, and Brevard counties and affirmed that we are in full compliance with applicable requirements.”

Brevard officials think a Space Coast stop for All Aboard Florida will boost ridership numbers because of Kennedy Space Center, Port Canaveral and the beaches.

Found at:
http://www.mynews13.com/content/news/cfnews13/news/article.html/content/news/articles/cfn/2016/5/6/all_aboard_florida_grade_crossing_approval.html


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Scaled-Down Plan For The MBTA Green Line
Extension Will Move Forward

From the WBUR Newsroom
With reporting by WBUR’s Benjamin Swasey and Steve Brown

Open air stations with platforms with weather shelters. Fewer changes to bridges. A simplified and shorter community path alongside.

The Massachusetts state transportation board and the Massachusetts bay Transportation Authority’s fiscal control board voted last Monday to tentatively move forward with a scaled-down proposal for the long-delayed Green Line extension (GLX), which would relocate Lechmere Station and bring six new T stations to Somerville and Medford.

The new plan, which is estimated to cost $2.3 billion, will go to the Federal Transit Administration, which also must approve the modified proposal.

State transportation officials will also need to ensure the financing is realized for the new estimated project cost.

The project was halted last year after its estimated cost ballooned from $2 billion to about $3 billion. In December, state Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack had said the entire extension could be scrapped.

The new plan brings that estimated cost closer to the original proposal.

Green Line Extension Map

Image: Courtesy of the MBTA

Green Line Extension as planned.

Nearly half of the new plan’s savings comes from scaled-back stations.

Previous GLX estimates had the stations costing about $409 million; the modified plan pegs their cost at $121 million.

The new plan would also include a much smaller vehicle maintenance facility, fewer design changes to bridges and a shorter community path.

Even with the changes, the project has an estimated $73 million funding gap. That’s also after the cities of Somerville and Cambridge announced last week they’re pledging a combined $75 million toward the project.

Nearly $1 billion of the project’s funding comes from federal grants.

Monday’s meeting was preceded by a public comment session. Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone, one of the project’s most vocal supporters, was among those to speak.

Over the weekend, he told WBUR in an interview that plans for the extension should move forward, as $800 million has already been spent preparing for the project.

“We’ve been waiting for the Green Line for generations,” Curtatone told WBUR.

View the original at:
http://www.wbur.org/2016/05/09/green-line-extension-project-decision


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TRANSIT LINES... Transit Lines...  

Light Rail Chosen For Southwest Corridor
In Oregon

By Jim Redden
Portland Tribune

Light rail was chosen as the preferred transit option in the Southwest Corridor by the Metro steering committee overseeing the project last Monday.

Light rail was selected over bus rapid transit by a 10 to 2 vote by the committee that represents seven cities in the corridor between Portland and Sherwood, along with Washington County, TriMet and the Oregon Department of Transportation.

According to Metro, the committee considered light rail to be more reliable and less expensive per ride than bus rapid transit.

The alignment under study does not actually go to Sherwood but stops at Bridgeport Village near Tualatin. A new bus line for the Tualatin-Sherwood Road employment area is scheduled to start service June 6.

The committee also voted to stop considering a tunnel to Portland Community College’s Sylvania Campus. Other connections to the busy campus will be studied. A new bus line for the Tualatin-Sherwood Road employment area is scheduled to start service June 6.

The Southwest Corridor Project is scheduled to be the next major transit line in the region. It includes transportation improvements and development opportunities along the alignment.

The steering committee will consider a draft list of alternatives and projects to include at its next meeting on June 13. The soonest the line could open is 2025.

To learn more, visit www.oregonmetro.gov/public-projects/southwest-corridor-plan.

From an item at:
http://portlandtribune.com/pt/9-news/306207-184322-light-rail-chosen-for-southwest-corridor


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EQUIPMENT LINES... Equipment Lines...  

“Like New” Commuter Rail Engine
With MassDOT Logo Joins Fleet

By Klark Jessen
MassDOT Blog

Say hello to this “like new” addition to the MBTA Commuter Rail fleet, the first locomotive in MassDOT colors and logo!

The 29 year old locomotive has been overhauled with a brand new engine, its major components rebuilt following engine failure in 2014. While a new locomotive costs about $6.5 million, the cost of rebuilding this unit is less than $1 million.

The “MassDOT” locomotive will be used for CapeFlyer service on weekends and regular MBTA commuter rail service on weekdays. It will go into service when CapeFlyer 2016 begins on Memorial Day weekend.

MassDOT Rebuilt F40 Locomotive

Image MassDOT

On a siding near the Boston Engine Terminal in Somerville, MA, MBTA locomotive 1056 is a model F40PH-2C manufactured by General Motors Electro-Motive Diesel (EMD) in 1987. The first rebuild of these locomotives was between 2001 and 2003 by Motive Power. It has a capacity of 3000 horsepower and maintains a separate head-end power (HEP) generator to serve the electrical needs of the coaches it is hauling.

The proposed MassDOT and MBTA Capital Investment Plan released last month includes $90 million in funds programmed for locomotives.

“This rebuilt locomotive represents the type of investments the MBTA must make to improve reliability and deliver the level of service our customers deserve,” said MBTA General Manager Frank DePaola. “Under the newly released Capital Investment Plan, the MBTA will spend $765 million annually to upgrade and modernize its aging infrastructure and vehicles.”

From the blog at:
http://blog.mass.gov/transportation/mbta/like-new-commuter-rail-engine-with-massdot-logo-joins-fleet/

Editor Note: The rebuilt locomotive was first seen by local rail fans a few weeks back when it first entered local rail territory. It is expected to be seen in non-revenue service as final testing is conducted. The rebuilt unit will be used to haul the CapeFlyer train which operates weekends between Boston and Hyannis, MA (on Cape Cod) between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend. Along with a newly rebuilt locomotive, the CapeFlyer also boasts a special cafe car to serve passengers, the only one of its kind in the MBTA fleet. The success of the CapeFlyer has spawned a dialogue to expand it to become regular full-time commuter service between Boston and its southern neighboring communities. That dialogue is on-going.


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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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SAFETYLINES... Safety Lines...  

U.S. Orders Immediate Repairs To
Troubled Washington DC Subway

From Reuters

Federal safety officials on Wednesday ordered immediate repairs to Washington’s troubled subway system, the second-busiest in the United States, after a series of fires since late April.

The subway system, which serves the U.S. capital and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs, is preparing for extensive maintenance that will cause partial shutdowns in a bid to improve safety and reliability.

FTA inspectors have identified three sites where urgent repairs are needed to reduce smoke and fire risk, Carol Flowers, the agency’s acting administrator, said in a letter to Paul Wiedefeld, general manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

“I am therefore directing WMATA to take immediate action to give first priority to these repairs,” she said. The subway, also known as Metro, has been under FTA safety oversight since October.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said on Tuesday he considered ordering Metro shut down last week. He warned he could use that authority if necessary.

See the original at:
http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2016/05/11/us/11reuters-districtofcolumbia-transportation-metro.html?_r=0


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Senate Unanimity: Rail Safety Bill Passes

By Ben Vient, Managing Editor
Railway Age Magazine

In a rarity in Congress, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the -- Railroad Emergency Services Preparedness, Operational Needs, and Safety Evaluation-- (RESPONSE) Act on May 11, 2016.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.Dak.) introduced the act after a train derailment in Casselton, N.Dak. in late 2013. Her bill would establish a public-private council that combines emergency responders, federal agencies, and leading experts to review training and best practices for first responders. This council, co-chaired by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), would provide Congress with expert recommendations on how to address first responders’ safety needs with increased railway safety challenges so they can best protect communities across the country. The council’s recommendations would be due in one year.

Companion legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in February 2015 by U.S. Representative Ron Kind (D-Wisc.).

“First responders—the vast majority of whom are volunteers in North Dakota—selflessly put their lives on the line and run toward danger to protect our families,” said Heitkamp. “That’s exactly what happened in Casselton one December afternoon in 2013, when responders ran toward the black smoke of a train derailment that could be seen for miles—and it’s what our country has continued to see following oil train derailments throughout the country. To make sure they are protected and able to do their jobs to keep our communities strong and safe, it’s absolutely critical for the federal government to show emergency response teams the same support. By unanimously passing my bipartisan legislation creating a public-private council to help Congress address the needs of first responders, the U.S. Senate stood in solidarity with our communities near railroads, and the first responders who keep them safe.”

From an item at:
http://www.railwayage.com/index.php/regulatory/senate-unanimity-rail-safety-bill-passes.html


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FREIGHT LINES... Freight Lines...  

BNSF Idles About 45 Locomotives In Fargo
As Shipping Demand Slows

By Dave Olson
Inforum.Com

An economic downturn involving a variety of commodities across various parts of the United States has resulted in BNSF Railway parking about 45 of its train locomotives at the railroad’s train yard just off 12th Avenue North west of the North Dakota State University campus.

“Customers’ volumes across a broad spectrum of commodities have come down somewhat from their prior estimates,” said Amy McBeth, a spokeswoman for BNSF. “As a result, we are strategically storing locomotives in some yard locations across our network.”

McBeth said the locomotives will remain stored until traffic volumes warrant returning them to service.

Quarterly profits for Forth Worth-based BNSF, which is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, fell 25 percent in the first quarter of 2016.

BNSF Locos idle on a siding

Photo: Dave Wallis / The Forum

A portion of a long line of BNSF locomotives are lined up on a curved section of tracks Monday, May 9, 2016, north of the 12th Avenue North bridge over the tracks in Fargo.

The railroad has been cutting staff in the wake of a changing economic environment that includes low energy prices, the strong dollar and other factors, McBeth said.

“Nationwide, while petroleum products volumes are down, coal is down, too, as are a number of other commodities,” she added.

The rail industry trade group AAR has reported that for the first four months of 2016 total rail traffic volume in the U.S. was down 7.8 percent from the same period last year.

From an item at:
http://www.inforum.com/news/4028191-bnsf-idles-about-45-locomotives-fargo-shipping-demand-slows

Ed Note: While Destination: Freedom mainly focuses on passenger transportation, the downward trend of freight rail traffic cannot be ignored. A combination of factors is contributing to this trend but some reports suggest the reduction in shale oil demands is a major contributor.


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ACROSS THE BIG POND... Across The Big Pond...  

China Railway Debt Reaches $US 640bn

By Keith Barrow
International Railway Journal

China Railway Corporation (CRC) has almost twice as much debt as the Greek government, according to an external audit of the company’s first quarter results, which reveals total debts reached Yuan 4.14 trillion ($US 640bn) at the end of March, a 10.4% year-on-year increase.

Beijing-based business publisher Caixin reported on May 5 that the auditor’s findings were posted on the website of China Central Deposit and Clearing Company on April 29.

Despite the increase in debt, CRC’s debt ratio fell from 66% to 65.2% because the value of its assets increased 12.2% to Yuan 6.4 trillion.

According to the audit, CRC’s first-quarter losses increased 35.1% to Yuan 8.7bn, primarily due to the continuing slump in freight traffic.

In January CRC confirmed it plans to invest Yuan 800bn this year but the report shows only 9% of this amount was spent in the first quarter.

From an item at:
http://www.railjournal.com/index.php/asia/china-railway-debt-reaches-dolus-680bn.html


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TO THE NORTH... To The North...  

Via Rail Plan Says Its ‘Survival’ At Risk
If It Doesn’t Get Access To Dedicated Track,
Fleet Upgrade

By Jason Fekete
Ottawa Citizen
Via National Post

Via Rail is warning it faces longer trip times, eroding on-time performance and service cuts if it doesn’t get its own set of dedicated tracks and fleet upgrade in the busy Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto corridor, the Crown corporation says in its newly released corporate plan.

Simply put, the play says the rail carrier’s “survival” is at risk if it has to continue operating on freight rail lines primarily owned by Canadian National Railway Co.

Via Rail is looking for federal government approval to have large pension funds invest in a $2-billion dedicated-track corridor as part of the Crown corporation’s plans for “high-frequency rail.” Via is also seeking upwards of $1.3 billion in federal funding for new electric rail cars to renew a fleet that has long surpassed its normal life expectancy.

“Via Rail is at a critical decision point. The current operating environment whereby it operates outdated passenger trains on freight railway infrastructure can only lead to greater operating deficits and great capital requirements,” say the opening lines of the Crown corporation’s 2016-2020 corporate plan, tabled in the House of Commons by Transport Minister Marc Garneau.

“There are no tactical or strategic improvements that can overcome the inherent negative dynamic of limited frequencies, poor reliability and on-time performance (OTP), longer trip times and outdated equipment.”

The rail carrier says it’s facing three critical issues in the coming years:

“In general, the service provided to Via Rail by the host railways has been deteriorating and represents a large current burden and risk to Via Rail’s survival,” says the corporate plan.

From an item at:
http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/via-rail-plan-says-its-survival-at-risk-if-it-doesnt-get-access-to-dedicated-track-fleet-upgrade


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Transport Minister Aims To Get On Track
With Via Rail’s Upgrade Proposal

Jason Fekete
Ottawa Citizen
Via National Post

Transport Minister Marc Garneau’s assessment of Via Rail isn’t nearly as dire as the Crown corporation warns about in its new five-year plan, which outlines the urgent need for a dedicated track and fleet upgrade.

At the same time, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair says Canada’s “antiquated rail system” demands the government invest in improvements, but wonders whether Garneau is “being left out there” with nothing to provide to Via Rail.

Garneau said the Liberal government is looking seriously at Via’s proposal for “high-frequency rail” on a dedicated set of tracks in the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto corridor.

Via’s 2016-2020 corporate plan warns the Crown corporation’s “survival” is at risk if it doesn’t get access to its own passenger track and government funding for a fleet of cars costing upwards of $1.3 billion. Longer trip times, deteriorating on-time performance and service cuts are inevitable if Via doesn’t get the improvements, the rail carrier says in its report.

“This is the homework in front of us during the coming months and we’re going to do it very seriously,” Garneau told reporters Wednesday.

Asked about Via’s report, Garneau wouldn’t say if he agrees with the Crown corporation’s dire assessment.

“It is a plan that proposes a dedicated line, which addresses some of the issues related to the fact that Via Rail’s on-time record has fallen. It is also something that would allow them a greater degree of control, and the possibility of increasing the frequency of trains, hopefully from their point of view to cause more people to leave their cars behind and take the trains,” Garneau said.

“It’s an interesting proposal. We put money into the budget (to study Via’s plan) because we feel it’s worth looking at very, very seriously.”

Via is proposing a $4-billion plan that would see it tap large pension funds for $2 billion to build its own tracks in the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto corridor. It’s hoping construction on the track could begin in 2017 and be operational by fall 2019.

Via owns only three per cent of the track it uses and largely relies on Canadian National Railway freight track for its passenger rail services in the corridor. Via trains are regularly delayed on CN tracks by freight traffic that is given priority.

“In general, the service provided to Via Rail by the host railways has been deteriorating and represents a large current burden and risk to Via Rail’s survival,” the corporate plan says.

The Crown corporation also wants new electric cars to replace its decades-old diesel fleet.

The average age of Via’s fleet is more than 40 years (23 years for locomotives and 43 years for cars), far beyond the life expectancy of 25 to 30 years.

The 2016 federal budget promised $3.3 million over three years to study Via’s high-frequency rail proposal. However, Garneau said a government decision on the dedicated track and fleet upgrade could come sooner.

“If it can all get done sooner than that, it will be done sooner than that. We’re also mindful of the fact that Via Rail has rolling stock as well,” he said. “Those are all things that this government takes into account. And as you know, we also currently subsidize Via Rail as well.”

Found at:
http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/transport-minister-aims-to-get-on-track-with-via-rails-upgrade-proposal


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AND FINALLY... And Finally...  

Amphibious Buses Give New Meaning To The Phrase
“Multi-Modal Transit”

Wading Through The River On Your Daily Commute . . . Without Getting Wet.

Via Press Relations Office – City Of Cologne Germany, DPA And Focus Magazine

Cologne (Köln) Germany – In the past several centuries public transit vehicles have taken on a wide variety of forms and configurations. The earliest form of public transit is the water going ferry boat for crossing rivers, lakes, bays and other bodies of water in the way of getting from point A to point B. This form of public transit remains today in very wide spread use around the world from New York City and Seattle, to Tokyo and Hong Kong, to Sydney Australia, to the Philippines, Indonesia, the Amazon River Delta in South America and across much of central and southern Africa and in a number of cities and regions across Europe.

Water Bus

Photo: Press Relations Office – City of Cologne (Stadt Köln), Germany

Making a Splash – an amphibious passenger bus takes a routine plunge into Rotterdam’s harbor (Holland) in this undated photo.

In the industrial age of the late 19th century to present day motorized public transportation spread rapidly in the form of buses (both electric and combustion engine powered), trains (including numerous variations ranging from street cars, trolleys and monorails to intercity trains and high speed rail – and in a couple of places – magnetic-levitation trains), boats and ferries powered with combustion engines, and even cable cars way above the ground crossing urban areas like a ski-lift many meters or feet above the city streets and buildings.

In some cases there have been attempts to merge these separate transit modes – some successful, others not so successful – into one transit vehicle. Some of the more successful ones include dual-mode electric / diesel powered urban buses, light rail / street trams which can operated on standard commuter / intercity rail lines, and of course cable cars, which roll of steel wheels on steel tracks but are pulled / propelled by a moving cable under the tracks, as seen in the famous San Francisco cable car network, and far less famously in several airport people mover train systems in airports around the world ranging from Zurich, Switzerland to Cincinnati – Northern Kentucky Airport near Cincinnati, Ohio. A number of cities around the world have light rail / trolley tracks and right of ways which double as bus rapid transit lanes for standard city buses. The light rail trams and the buses are constructed / configured with similar floor height so that both can use the same stops and stations to pick-up and discharge passengers.

Perhaps one attempt to merge transit modes, which proved to be not so successful was a hybrid bus / street tram or rail car vehicle, which drove on streets and roads like a normal bus, or could travel on the steel rails of railroad lines via extension of retractable steel railway wheels. Both West and East Germany and several other European countries used such vehicles in a few locations back in the 1950s and 60s, but today none are in active use, other than as museum vehicles.

Now several cities in Europe are evaluating or even deploying the next cross breed of public transit vehicles: the amphibious bus. It can navigate city streets like any other bus. And it can “cruise” across rivers, harbors and lakes like a small ship. Already Dublin, Ireland, London England, Rotterdam, Holland and Hamburg, Germany are using amphibious buses as everyday public transit.

Water Bus

Photo: Focus Magazine.

Rolling on . . . .the River. An amphibious bus making a test “drive” on the Elbe River in the Hamburg Harbor, Germany in late 2015.

Cologne (Köln), Germany commuters may soon have an unusual view out of the window on their morning bus ride if a plan to introduce amphibious vehicles on the Rhine River becomes reality. City authorities are developing an ambitious plan for a new transport network that could include boats or ferries as well as amphibious buses, Green Party transport spokesman Lino Hammer recently told the press. “There’s high pressure on transport in Cologne,” Hammer said. “As well as building roads and cycle paths, we need a whole new mode of transport.”

Cologne politicians think they can be put to more practical use to overcome the limited capacity on the city’s bridges, which turn into bottlenecks at rush hour. By shifting traffic away from the land, planners hope to solve the jams and make new-build houses along the banks of the Rhine more liveable. It’s hoped that it will be a quicker and easier way to relieve the pressure than building a new bridge - a huge construction project the city currently can’t afford.

“We already have seven bridges. They’re a big effort and very expensive,” Hammer said. “There are plans for one in the south of the city, but it could be 25 or 30 years before it’s built.”

Rather than just waiting, Hammer hopes to get the first water buses running by 2020 to relieve pressure on the city center. Now the city hopes to launch a pilot scheme with water transport between the Porz and Rodenkirchen neighborhoods – although whether it will use amphibious buses or more normal river craft has yet to be decided.


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