The National Corridors Initiative Logo

June 6, 2016
Vol. 16 No. 22

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 Editorial…
Our View: Passenger Rail Should Come First
  Construction Lines…
Where’s the Gateway?
  Amtrak Lines…
Amtrak Chief Visits Modesto CA To Talk About
   Adding Trains
  Commuter Lines…
SEPTA Postpones Fare Increases
  Transit Lines…
The NYC Subway Accounts For 100-Percent Of
   The Nation’s Transit Growth, Says New Study
Sound Transit Considers Accelerating
   Light-Rail Expansions
  Expansion Lines…
Gov. Christie On Trenton River Line Extension
   To Statehouse: ‘Use Uber’
 
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Builders Lines…
Is Light Rail Feasible For Las Vegas?
   Two Experts Debate The Question
  Safety Lines…
Watchdogs Seek Answers After Fire
   Hobbles Metro-North
  Across The Pond…
The World’s Longest Rail Tunnel Opens
   For Business In Switzerland
Floods, Strikes And Fuel Shortages In France
Alstom Unveils Paris Metro Train Design
  Publication Notes …


GUEST EDITORIAL... Guest Editorial...  

Our View: Passenger Rail Should Come First

From The East Oregonian

Passengers and freight have always competed for precedence on rail lines. For 40 years, passenger trains have come first. Now that is being challenged. The U.S. Surface Transportation Board will be deciding whether to accept the argument of freight railroads, which argue that Amtrak’s tacit priority on rail lines should be changed.

The Wall Street Journal’s story last week on this case describes the conflicting worlds. Amtrak ridership is up markedly. With fossil fuels in decline, freight lines are struggling and need an advantage.

The Surface Transportation Board will likely parse this dispute five different ways. But at the end of the day, its decision will be about America’s future. And one way of describing that is that we must nurture and generate new mass transportation solutions. That imperative is driven by growing traffic congestion and the need for energy conservation as it relates to climate change.

Put simply, rail passengers replace drivers and vehicles on the highway.

Freight trains travel more slowly than passenger trains. On-time performance is everything for the Amtrak rail passenger network.

Giving freight trains precedence would be a giant step in the wrong direction.

Found at:
http://www.eastoregonian.com/eo/editorials/20160531/our-view-passenger-rail-should-come-first


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CONSTRUCTION LINES... Construction Lines...  

Where’s the Gateway?

Whose Gateway Is It, Anyway?

Third in a Series
By David Peter Alan

It started as the Gateway Project in February, 2011. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, appeared with Amtrak officials, including the railroad’s president, Joseph Boardman, to announce a new plan that would replace the ARC (Access to the Region’s Core) Project. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had terminated ARC only four months before. Members of Christie’s Republican administration in Trenton, as well as New Jersey Transit (NJT) officials were conspicuously absent from Lautenberg’s and Amtrak’s news conference, held appropriately at the Hilton Gateway Hotel across the street from Penn Station in Newark.

The former ARC Project started life in 1995 as a plan to build new tunnels between New Jersey and New York’s Penn Station. One of the project alternatives, Alternative G, called for an extension of the rail line through Penn Station to Grand Central Terminal (GCT) on the East Side of Midtown Manhattan. Many transportation managers and officials, along with essentially all of the advocates for the riders, supported that version of the plan; a major benefit, because approximately twice as much office space is located within walking distance of GCT than within walking distance of Penn Station.

Beginning in 2003, the ARC Project was downgraded, losing connections to GCT and Penn Station. This was ostensibly due to technical problems, but more likely for political reasons and to save money on construction costs. The final “preferred” alignment was a separate railroad for the last eight miles into Manhattan. It would not have gone to Penn Station, but to a dead-end, deep-cavern terminal twenty stories below 34th Street. Advocates at the state and regional level (including the Lackawanna Coalition, New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers and Empire State Passengers’ Association) and the national level (Rail Users’ Network and National Association of Railroad Passengers) fought against that alignment, as did advocates in other states and regions, as far west as the Mississippi River. NCI also opposed it. The cost of the project rose quickly, too, and Christie hung his hat on what he considered to be an unaffordable price for New Jersey as his primary reason for terminating the project.

When Republican Christie killed the project, advocates pushed him to turn his attention to suggesting a new tunnel project, while Democrat Lautenberg wasted little time in proposing Gateway as a substitute. In effect, this took Christie off the hook. Among other features, the Gateway proposal included a new station immediately south of the existing Secaucus Junction Station and Penn South, a stub-end terminal immediately south of the existing Penn Station. As with the former ARC Project, Amtrak planned to reassign NJT trains to the new station, further away from subways and most offices in Midtown. A few NJT trains would still call at the existing Penn Station during peak-commuting hours, but the vast majority would be exiled to the south.

The Gateway proposal is still alive today, and it stands behind the scenes, watching NJT officials promote the Hudson Tunnel Project (HTP), which is actually a component of the Gateway Project. The HTP proposes a tunnel with two new tracks into Penn Station (one “tunnel” with two separate single-track “tubes” under the river, according to the “HTP EIS Scoping Document” language). Rider advocates in New Jersey are divided about Gateway. The New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP) has endorsed Gateway in its entirety without qualification, while the Lackawanna Coalition has not; expressing its concern about the plan to drop New Jersey’s commuters a block further from the subway and from their offices. The latter organization has called for the study of an earlier alignment that would have resulted in a four-track railroad, rather than two two-track railroads. Despite these differences, advocates agree on one issue: they welcome the announcement that new tunnel construction had finally been promoted to a high-priority position.

The existing tunnels were damaged by flooding from Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Of the total length of the tunnels (almost two miles), 2000 feet of one and 1000 feet of the other were flooded. Their current state is not critical in the short run, but Amtrak officials warned in 2014 that they must be taken out of service and repaired within twenty years.

In a case of strange bedfellows, NJT planners are now promoting new tunnels, which are actually a part of Amtrak’s Gateway design, although the names “Amtrak” and “Gateway” were assiduously kept out of the notice about the project in the Federal Register. It is billed as a joint project of NJT and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), but the fact remains that it is a component of the overall Gateway Project, which Amtrak designed and has always promoted.

NJT and FRA officials stated in the scoping document that there will be no additional capacity resulting from the HTP and the eventual return of the existing tunnels to service, after they have been repaired. So, while it is not stated explicitly, these officials imply that New Jersey riders must wait for additional capacity into Penn Station until after the entire Gateway Project is completed, including the proposed new NJT station at Penn South; all of which is now estimated to cost $24 billion.

Despite the apparently-friendly relationship between NJT and Amtrak concerning the tunnel project, there have been times in the recent past when the two railroads stood as adversaries. Before 2002, George Warrington was President of Amtrak. He was toppled from his position and replaced by David Gunn, but he immediately returned to NJT and was promoted to Executive Director. During Gunn’s tenure as head of Amtrak and Warrington’s as head of NJT, the ARC Project was changed to include a separate eight-mile railroad from Swift Interlocking (where NJT’s Morris & Essex Line joins Amtrak’s NEC, west of Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River) to the deep-cavern terminal that NJT was planning far below 34th Street, north of Penn Station. NJT wanted to minimize its use of Amtrak’s railroad, and Warrington was quoted as saying that, if you don’t control your own railroad, you’re out of luck. (Warrington’s quote was actually much more graphic than that; this writer heard him say it).

So NJT had previously wanted to keep off of Amtrak’s NEC to the greatest extent possible, but is now helping to sell Amtrak’s Gateway tunnels as a quasi-stand-alone project, with the help of the FRA. There is reason for this, and it has nothing to do with operations. As a local transit provider, NJT can conduct environmental reviews and secure funding grants that Amtrak cannot. The two railroads are not equals; Amtrak is NJT’s landlord, and collects rent for NJT’s use of the NEC, under Section 212 the Passenger Railroad Investment & Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA). NJT’s rent is approximately $100 million and scheduled to rise by another $15 million for next year, with more increases coming.

Amtrak and NJT have completely different reasons for building new tracks between New Jersey and Penn Station. Amtrak wants redundancy and reliability, because it would be difficult for it to continue its current NEC operation without them. However, it would probably still be possible. Amtrak and NJT have subsisted with a single-track operation on week-ends for years. There is a temporal separation in effect: most trains leave Penn Station during the half-hour after the “straight up” on the clock, while most trains enter Penn Station during the other half of the hour.

Without NJT trains on the railroad, Amtrak could also run its entire weekday schedule with a single track between New Jersey and Penn Station, although there some schedule-tweaking might be required. Amtrak could also lengthen its Acela and Regional trains to carry more people, increasing revenue without running more trains. There would be no redundancy in the event of a service disruption, and the sole remaining track would constitute a choke point for the duration of the project. Still, Amtrak could survive for a year, or somewhat longer, with only a single track under the Hudson River.

New Jersey’s riders could not. The customary measure for peak-hour capacity is the number of trains entering Penn Station in the busiest sixty minutes of the morning-peak commute. From 7:31 until 8:30 in the morning, 25 trains arrive there on the current schedule, and only three are Amtrak trains. Amtrak planners have said that, even with a single-track operation, six trains could get to Penn Station during that critical hour. It is difficult to fathom how these rare slots would be rationed. Morris & Essex, Montclair and Gladstone trains could be diverted to Hoboken Terminal “for the duration”; Hoboken has enough capacity to receive them. Trains from Trenton and the Shore (North Jersey Coast Line) cannot, so it would be necessary to determine which of those trains would still run; at least into Penn Station.

So it is NJT’s riders, and not Amtrak’s, who need the additional capacity. Despite that, NJT has been completely unwilling to help pay for new tunnel construction or for improvements in Penn Station, in order to give its riders the capacity they need. Now, NJT is promoting a project that promises no additional capacity for NJT riders during the foreseeable future.

Last week, this column examined funding for Gateway and reported that it is unlikely that the entire Gateway Project will be funded. Christopher Maag reported in the Bergen Record that the estimated cost of the Hudson Tunnel Project is $7.7 billion. By any accounting, that is a large amount of money, especially for a project that promises to deliver no new capacity. It appears that neither Amtrak nor NJT can raise enough money to build new tunnels, which are needed before Amtrak repairs the existing ones. NJT’s operating support from the New Jersey Legislature and Gov. Christie decreased by 90% from 2008 until last year, and the agency has been kept alive by one-shot infusions of cash from capital funds. The budget proposal looks slightly better for NJT this year, but there is no long-term solution in sight. New Jersey’s elected leaders cannot even agree on extending the Transportation Trust Fund, a majority of which pays for highway projects, and the rest which pays for capital projects for NJT.

Everybody seems to agree that new tracks into Penn Station are desirable. Everybody agrees that new capacity is desirable. Despite this desire, the Amtrak Gateway design for a new tunnel (with two “tubes”) does not promise any such capacity, probably because Amtrak does not need it. It appears that Amtrak wishes to hold new capacity hostage to all of Gateway and the $24 billion it would cost. To this writer, it appears unlikely that the current push for new tunnels sooner than later would have occurred, if Sandy had not forced the issue by flooding the existing tunnels in 2012.

What is not so certain is who would benefit from new tunnel construction, and who should pay for it. There were other capacity enhancements proposed in the past, but were never built. We will look at some of those ideas, and examine the issue of whether or not they should be revived, as we conclude this series in the next issue.


David Peter Alan is Chair of the Lackawanna Coalition, as well as Contributing Editor of D:F.


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AMTRAK LINES... Amtrak Lines...  

Amtrak Chief Visits Modesto CA
To Talk About Adding Trains

By John Holland
Modesto Bee

Amtrak’s boss recently rode his official train into Modesto, California to talk about upgrading its San Joaquin Corridor.

Joe Boardman, president and chief executive officer of Amtrak since 2008, said last Tuesday that he sees great potential for the service. Amtrak has four round trips a day between Bakersfield and Oakland and two that take in Sacramento, but he said they are not convenient to many travelers.

“The more frequency that you have, the more comfortable people are with using that service,” Boardman said.

His four-car train was on a cross-country trip that reached Modesto on Monday night. It pulled off the Amtrak route into the rail yard of the Modesto & Empire Traction Co., a short line serving the Beard Industrial District.

Boardman held onboard meetings with local, state and federal officials about funding and management of the service.

The San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority, which oversees the corridor, proposes $1.5 billion worth of improvements over the next decade. The plan includes upgrades to tracks, which are shared with freight railroads, and other work that reduces travel times.

Now, a trip from Modesto to Oakland takes about 2 1/2 hours and gets there no earlier than about 11 a.m. The Sacramento trip is about 1 hour, 40 minutes, and arrives no earlier than about 12:30 p.m.

The corridor nonetheless is the fifth-busiest for Amtrak, with about 1.2 million passengers a year. The main route runs up the San Joaquin Valley from Bakersfield to Stockton, then bends west to Martinez, Richmond and Oakland. Two trains a day go straight north to Sacramento. Amtrak also serves the capital and many other cities with buses connecting to the train stations.

The authority is close to announcing a seventh daily round trip and is in the planning stage for an eighth. It also envisions starting some trains from mid-route locations, such as Merced or Fresno, so residents can reach Oakland and Sacramento early in the day.

The authority last year assumed oversight of the San Joaquin service from the California Department of Transportation, which still provides funding. It also runs the Altamont Commuter Express, which gets people to work on a route from Stockton to San Jose by way of Livermore and Fremont.

Dan Leavitt, manager of regional initiatives for the authority, said the San Joaquin trains need to add business travelers to the leisure riders they now serve.

“We think there’s great potential for improving the San Joaquin service,” he said. “We have a really good service now, and it’s a great asset to the San Joaquin Valley, but the key issue is that we really need to get more trains running.”

Boardman’s trip started Thursday of last week in Washington, D.C. He rode the Capitol Limited route from there to Chicago, then switched to the Southwest Chief to Los Angeles. He got to Bakersfield via a slow ride across the Tehachapi Mountains, on substandard track that has forced Amtrak to use buses for regular customers. He passed stations that included Merced and Denair before arriving in Modesto.

“It’s the best way for me to see what’s going on with the railroad,” Boardman said. He planned to reach Sacramento on Wednesday to accept the last of 70 electric locomotives being built there by Siemens for use on the East Coast.

From an article at:
Read more here:
http://www.modbee.com/news/article80929617.html#storylink=cpy


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COMMUTER LINES... Commuter Lines...  

SEPTA Postpones Fare Increases

By Steve Tawa
CBS Philadelphia

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s (SEPTA) new operating budget delays proposed fare increases for another year, and its capital budget includes adding more hybrid buses to grow its greening fleet.

The transit agency decided to postpone hiking fares because the timing of it would coincide with the long-planned rollout of SEPTA Key, its new fare payment and collection system.

“So we deviated from our usual pattern of doing fare increases every three years,” said SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch. “The last fare increase went into effect in July of 2013.”

SEPTA will revisit the possibility of a fare increase at the earliest in July of 2017.

The SEPTA Board also approved spending nearly $412 million to acquire 525 diesel-electric hybrid buses so it can retire older straight diesel buses.

“Another step in building one of the cleanest bus fleets in the nation,” said Busch.

He says at the end of the five-year contract with the manufacturer, New Flyer, 95% of SEPTA’s buses will be the more energy-efficient hybrids.

From an item at:
http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2016/05/31/septa-postpones-fare-increases/


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TRANSITLINES... Transit Lines...  

The NYC Subway Accounts For 100-Percent Of
The Nation’s Transit Growth, Says New Study

By Diane Pham
6sqft.com - Transportation

Although the NYC subway system may be hemorrhaging money, unable to turn a profit despite annual fare increases, expanded services and a slew of other measures, there is one thing that it can gloat about. According to a just-released annual report from the American Public Transportation Association (h/t New Geography), the New York City subway accounts for ALL of the transit increase seen in the United States between 2005 and 2015.

In the last decade, subway ridership has ballooned nearly a billion trips, while transit systems outside the New York City subway saw a loss of nearly 200 million riders over the same period. And if current figures are any indication of what’s to come, this trend will only strengthen. As 6sqft reported in April, NYC subway hit 1.7 billion annual trips, the highest since 1948 when ridership was at its peak.

Image

All graphs via New Geography.

Graphics derived from American Public Transportation Association data.<

“The New York City subway accounts carries nearly 2.5 times the annual ridership of the other nine largest metro systems in the nation combined,” New Geography points out. It carries 11 times more riders that the Chicago “L” system, 10 times that of Washington’s Metro, and 50 times more than the Los Angeles system—though to be fair, L.A. has only in the last two decades started to build out its rail system, whereas the NYC subway is more than 100 years old. Moreover, the NYC subway also benefits from population density, 24/7 service and safer riding conditions (i.e. lower crime rates—largely what’s given it significant boosts since the more troubled 70s and 90s).

Image

Unsurprisingly, the subway also dominates over other regional transit systems, including the PATH, LIRR and Metro North, at 67 percent. “Other” inner-city transit options (e.g. the bus) make up just 5 percent of the total.

Image

Adding to all of this, just last year, the American Public Transportation Association found that 2014 national transit ridership marked an unprecedented high for the United States. Meaning the success of our country’s transit can wholly be attributed to how “effective” NYC’s subway system is. Oh, the irony.

From an item at:
http://www.6sqft.com/nyc-subway-accounts-for-100-percent-of-the-nations-transit-growth-since-2005/

[ Editor’s Note: While New York may have a place in the equation, we reflect that some substantial transit and commuter rail systems were not considered in the graphs. Seattle’s rather extensive system of transit and commuter rail comes to mind. Still... this is something to ponder.]


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Sound Transit Considers Accelerating
Light-Rail Expansions

From Progressive Railroading

Sound Transit’s board late last week unveiled a proposal that would speed up plans to expand the Seattle area’s light-rail system.

Under proposed changes to the upcoming Sound Transit 3 (ST3) ballot initiative, the agency would reduce the completion timeframe of most light-rail extensions by two to five years.

In particular, a light-rail extension to Everett, Wash., via Paine Field would open five years earlier than previously stated, while extensions to downtown Redmond and Federal Way, Wash., would be completed four years early. The agency would work with partners to further improve timelines where feasible, Sound Transit officials said in a press release.

“These amendments accomplish the longtime goal of a truly regional light-rail system faster than we thought we could, reaching Tacoma three years earlier while extending Tacoma Link to Tacoma Community College two years earlier,” said Sound Transit board member and Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy. “Our changes also include increasing investment in Sounder, which ... has seen ridership increases over the past year.”

Improvements to the Sounder commuter-rail network include extended platforms to accommodate two more cars, track capacity expansions and service to Tillicum and DuPont, Wash.

The changes to the ST3 measure also call for building a total of 62 miles of light rail, marking an increase from the agency’s earlier proposal to expand the light-rail system by 58 miles.

The board’s decision to accelerate light-rail projects came in response to the “overwhelming emphasis of public comments” received during a community input period that concluded in May, Sound Transit officials said.

In November, residents will be asked to vote on the ST3 ballot measure, which would increase various taxes to pay for a slew of transit expansions.

Meanwhile, Sound Transit’s board also announced that it selected the site for a new Sounder vehicle maintenance base. The facility will be located in a rail yard along the commuter-rail system’s right-of-way between Steilacoom Boulevard Southwest and 100th Street Southwest in Lakewood, Wash.

The 40,000-square-foot facility will house six maintenance bays, ancillary tracks, material storage areas, and offices for operations staff. Additionally, the maintenance base will be able to accommodate 14 locomotives, 40 coach vehicles and 27 cab cars, with enough space to store and maintain 10 additional vehicles.

The $80 million facility will accommodate current service and three additional weekday Sounder south trains to be added by 2017.

Sound Transit chose the Steilacoom Boulevard site after evaluating six potential locations in Everett, Tacoma and south of downtown Seattle. An alternative analysis identified Lakewood as the preferred site due to its proximity to Sounder tracks and its ability to support commuter-rail operations in a corridor that serves more than 14,500 south line riders on an average weekday, agency officials said.

The location also would allow Sound Transit to save money in a right-of-way acquisition because the agency already owns the rail line in Lakewood and likely would need to acquire only two parcels to build the project.

Found at:
http://www.progressiverailroading.com/passenger_rail/news/Sound-Transit-considers-accelerating-light-rail-expansions--48418


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EXPANSION LINES... Expansion Lines...  

Gov. Christie On Trenton River Line Extension
To Statehouse: ‘Use Uber’

By David Foster
The Trentonian

The lofty ambitions of Mayor Eric Jackson and MIDJersey Chamber of Commerce CEO Bob Prunetti to extend the New Jersey Transit River Line to the Statehouse appear to be derailed.

Gov. Chris Christie said last Wednesday at a press conference that he was “a skeptic” of the light rail line “to begin with.”

“I’ve spent a lot of time going between Camden and Trenton when I was U.S. Attorney and watched that River Line go up and down between Camden and Trenton often fairly sparsely populated,” the Republican governor said. “So the idea of spending money and resources to extend it to the Statehouse, I’m not so sure. Use Uber. You can get there.”

Last month, Jackson and Prunetti held a press conference at City Hall about expanding the River Line light rail past the Statehouse to free up state-owned surface parking lots in Trenton for redevelopment. The duo said state and federal sources would need to pony up at minimum an estimated $400 million for the project.

The River Line opened in 2004, and it was initially proposed that the line be extended to the Statehouse, but funding concerns put a stop to that idea. The line that starts in Camden currently ends at the Trenton Train Station. Prunetti’s plan has the line going up North Clinton Avenue, taking a left on East State Street and ending past the Statehouse near the new Thomas Edison State University nursing center by Calhoun Street.

Despite those dreams being shot, Trenton did receive some good redevelopment news from Christie.

The governor said he is not opposed to moving the New Jersey Department of Education offices from the Trenton waterfront.

“It’s certainly something I’d be willing to consider,” Christie said. “If the city and business officials have a plan that makes sense on the waterfront near the stadium where those offices are that could be of a more advantageous use to development in the city and the tax base in the city, I’d certainly be happy to consider that and move them to other locations in the capital city.”

Last month, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon) mentioned the idea to Christie at a press conference in Trenton.

The longtime 15th district legislator introduced legislation last year to boot the New Jersey Department of Education from its offices located between Arm & Hammer Park and Rho to build an entertainment district. The state currently leases space from a private company that owns the buildings.

Christie warned that the proposal cannot be an “abstract thing.” “Someone’s got to come through with a plan that makes sense and that I’d certainly be happy to discuss it,” he said. “It’s not like I’m wed to keeping people there. If that’s an area that a developer would be interested in developing and it could really help the city, I’d more than happy to consider that.”

From a piece at:
http://www.trentonian.com/general-news/20160601/gov-christie-on-trenton-river-line-extension-to-statehouse-use-uber


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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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BUILDERS LINES... Builders Lines...  

Is Light Rail Feasible For Las Vegas?
Two Experts Debate The Question

By Ric Anderson
Las Vegas Sun

As the former chairman of the Nevada Regional Transportation Commission and a guiding force behind such projects as the Desert Inn arterial and the 215 Beltway, which was named in his honor, Bruce Woodbury is a foremost expert on the transportation systems of Las Vegas. The former Clark County Commission chairman, who also played a key role in establishing the RTC bus system, has been called the father of Southern Nevada transportation.

Image

Photo: Valley Metro Regional Public Transportation Authority

A Valley Metro Rail train is shown on the Arizona State University campus in Phoenix. Built at a cost of $1.4 billion, the light-rail system became operational in late 2008 and since has been expanded from 20 miles to 26. As Phoenix proceeds with plans to add 40 miles to the system by 2034, officials in the Las Vegas Valley have begun discussing proposals to establish a light-rail system here.

Brookings Mountain West Co-Director Robert Lang is an urban planning policy expert who has studied Las Vegas transportation extensively and has helped drive community dialogue on a number of projects aimed at improving the flow of traffic and increasing the accessibility of transportation.

So when Woodbury recently wrote a letter to the editor of the Las Vegas Sun questioning the feasibility of a proposal to build a light rail system connecting McCarran International Airport and the Las Vegas Strip — a proposal that Lang and the Sun have supported — the Sun asked Woodbury and Lang if they would sit down for a free-wheeling discussion about light rail and other ideas to improve the city’s transportation system. They agreed, resulting in a conversation that would last nearly an hour.

The discussion largely centered on light rail, including a multi-phase proposal that would first establish a 5.5-mile route from McCarran down the middle of the Strip to Sahara Avenue. Lang and other proponents of that concept believe it could be completed for $400 million and could be funded through room taxes. But in his letter, Woodbury said that while the community should consider all alternatives for enhancing mobility, “the light rail concepts proposed in the Las Vegas Sun ... are simply not realistic.” He raised concerns about safety issues involving pedestrians getting to and from resorts to light rail stations, especially in the intense summer heat, and pointed out that light rail systems in other communities have required large subsidies through tax revenues for construction and operating costs.

Woodbury and Lang also differed on a proposal by Clark County to build a $200 million set of elevated expressways connecting the airport and the Strip. Lang raised concerns that it would add to congestion on the Strip by making it easier for cars to get to and from the resort corridor, and would reduce air quality by increasing traffic. He also pointed out that similar expressways have been torn down in other cities after coming to be seen as eyesores that divided communities, leading to increases in crime and poverty, and weren’t effective at moving traffic. Woodbury said that although he hadn’t studied the expressway proposal extensively, it was developed by a competent staff and deserved to be fully vetted.

For the remainder of this article and the discussion that took place see:
https://lasvegassun.com/news/2016/may/31/is-light-rail-feasible-for-las-vegas-two-experts-d/


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SAFETY LINES... Safety Lines...  

Watchdogs Seek Answers After
Fire Hobbles Metro-North

By Don Stacom
Hartford Courant

In the aftermath of a massive fire May 17 that crippled Metro-North traffic between Manhattan and Connecticut, public officials and passenger advocates are pressing for better emergency communications by the railroad.

Separately, Sen. Richard Blumenthal is pushing for federal regulations guaranteeing better oversight of what’s stored beneath railroad bridges or viaducts.

The fire that shut down the country’s busiest commuter railroad was fueled by gasoline, chemicals, wood pallets and fertilizer that the Urban Garden Center was storing under the elevated tracks in Harlem. Tanks of propane didn’t explode, but the city of New York has hit the garden center with a summons for storing combustible materials without a permit.

The fire stopped service in and out of Grand Central Terminal until the next day, disrupting the commute for tens of thousands of passengers. Some later complained that railroad staff were hard to find — and too often gave incomplete or wrong information about alternate ways to get home.

Connecticut-bound riders at Grand Central complained that Metro-North workers told them to take a subway to the Fordham Road station. But they ended up lost in the Bronx because Metro-North’s nearest station is blocks from the subway exit, and the railroad had not sent anyone to give directions.

“The bottom line is that Metro-North’s emergency communication system was not up to snuff,” Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement afterward.

Schumer told the railroad in a letter that it has to do better, saying, “Metro-North must make passenger communication a high priority, especially in response to service disruptions, and that communication needs to go beyond posting messages on websites and infrequent PA announcements that are often difficult to hear in crowded stations.”

Railroad spokesman Aaron Donovan said Metro-North is reviewing Schumer’s letter, adding, “We are always working to strengthen customer communication—in particular during periods of inconvenience.”

The Connecticut Commuter Rail Council has been polling riders about their experience that night and the next morning, and plans to present its findings to Connecticut’s transportation department.

“We’ll definitely be pursuing what happened with communications,” council Vice Chairman John Hartwell said.

Preventing Future Fires

Blumenthal wants federal agencies to investigate and then propose a way to prevent the same thing from happening anywhere in the country.

Metro-North operates on 1.7 miles of viaduct in northern Manhattan, part of the route used by hundreds of trains a day leaving or heading to Grand Central. If those tracks are out of service, passengers must get to the Bronx by subway, bus, taxi or on foot to get a train.

The potential viaduct vulnerability extends much further: Large segments of the city’s subway are on elevated tracks, along with Amtrak’s route through Queens. Elevated tracks also are common in Philadelphia, Chicago, San Juan, Los Angeles and other urban centers, and Blumenthal said the country needs a national standard to determine what can be stored beneath them — and who must enforce those rules.

“Railroad tracks will increasingly carry hazardous materials – fuel, oil and other materials. The fire [in New York] could have been a catastrophic conflagration if a freight train carrying oil or gas had been on the tracks,” Blumenthal said.

Metro-North inspects the properties of tenants who lease railroad-owned land under its tracks, but the garden center was operating on city of New York property. Metro-North inspectors will begin looking at all properties under or alongside its tracks regardless of who owns them, according to Thomas Prendergast, chairman of the railroad’s parent organization.

“We have no choice but to be able to do that,” Prendergast told the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board last week. “People want to know who is responsible for inspecting the area beneath elevated structures.”

From a story at:
http://www.courant.com/breaking-news/hc-metro-north-communications-0530-20160530-story.html


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ACROSS THE POND... Across The Pond...  

Installments By David Beale
NCI Foreign Editor

 

The World’s Longest Rail Tunnel Opens For Business In Switzerland

Europe’s Leaders Stress “Close Ties” At Gotthard Base Tunnel Opening

Via Alptransit Press Release, DPA, And European Railway Review

Lugano, Switzerland – With great fanfare and multiple ceremonies Switzerland opened the world’s longest rail tunnel to the public and the start of revenue service operations last Wednesday (1st of June). The new Tunnel in the heart of Switzerland’s Alps mountains is now the longest rail tunnel in the world at 57.5 km (35.7 miles), exceeding the previous record holder, the Seiken undersea rail tunnel in northern Japan. The new base tunnel is an alternative route to the long-existing Gotthard Tunnel rail route, which snakes through the Gotthard Pass in the high Alps via the historic Gotthard Tunnel and numerous horse-shoe curves and bridges. The new base tunnel follows more or less a straight line route from north to south deep under the Alps, thus reducing the travel distance and increasing the speed of rail traffic between southern Switzerland and northern Italy. The historic Gotthard Tunnel and rail mountain pass route will remain in operation for the foreseeable future, although the new base tunnel will ramp up to as many 320 trains per day (both directions), of that 320 trains per day in the double track tunnel, approximately 64 trains per day will be passenger trains.

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All Photos By Alptransit.

Tunnel to the future – view from a special chartered passenger train as it enters the southern portal of the new Gotthard Base Tunnel on the opening day. Most of Switzerland rail lines uses left hand traffic (similar to France, Italy, Belgium and the UK) on double track rail lines, including the new Gotthard Base Tunnel.

Construction of the Gotthard Base began in early 1999 after a Swiss voter referendum in 1993 approved a proposal to build a new base tunnel under the Gotthard Pass. Detailed planning, design, and vendor / contractor selection plus geological testing and exploration of the proposed route then filled the next six years after the passage of the referendum and before heavy construction and tunnel boring started. The total cost of the project is reported to be € 11 billion (US $13 billion).

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Crowd pleaser - one of the first passenger trains - loaded with VIPs, top management of Alptransit (the company which operates the tunnel and managed the nearly 20 year long planning and construction project), senior management from Swiss Railways plus their family members and special guests - arrives at one of the tunnel portals after the rather short 20 minute ride through the 57 km long tunnel. The new tunnel will handle both electric locomotive-hauled and Electric Multi-Unit (EMU) passenger trains (such as seen in operation here). Not quite a decade ago, a major but somewhat silly controversy erupted over alleged potential safety issues related to the use of EMU passenger train sets in the somewhat shorter France - UK Channel Tunnel, after Eurostar ordered high speed EMU train sets of the Siemens Velaro model series, rather than more conventional locomotive-hauled train sets from Alstom based on their TGV family of high speed trains including the existing Eurostar train fleet.

European leaders used the global media platform of the Gotthard Base Tunnel opening ceremony on Wednesday to stress the importance of maintaining close European relations, although Switzerland is not a member of the European Union (Switzerland has signed a number of trade and freedom of movement treaties with the EU, which give Switzerland a sort of unofficial “associate member” status in the EU, albeit without voting rights in the EU’s governing bodies). The heads of state of Germany, Italy, France, and several other countries joined in the Gotthard Base Tunnel. Britain holds referendum in approximately three weeks to decide to remain in the European Union, or to leave the EU, by ending financial, legal and political participation in the EU government, which it has been a part of since the mid-1970s.

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Bash Dance. An interpretive dance show – including dancers dressed as tunnel construction workers – was part of the many festivities at the northern and southern ends of the new Gotthard Base Tunnel of the 1st of June. Some news media reporters referred to the light, music and dance show as “strange” and “bizarre”. Other performances at the open ceremonies such as a classic music concert and a tribute to construction workers who passed away during tunnel construction with traditional Swiss folk music were more conventional and less eyebrow raising as this unusual dance show.

Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann travelled with French President Hollande, German chancellor Merkel and Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi in a first-class carriage on one of the first trains through the new tunnel, which offered the leaders the chance to discuss matters in a “relaxed manner”, said news agencies. Merkel told members of the press it was “marvelous” to think about taking a journey with 2,000 meters of mountain rock above her head.

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Speech Time – Press conferences and speeches from various VIPs were the main staple of the day during the opening ceremonies of the new tunnel.

The new tunnel was entirely funded by non-EU member Switzerland, but leaders from the bloc have hailed it for improving connectivity from Rotterdam to the Adriatic at a time when the continent’s divisions have dominated headlines. With Europe’s political unity shaken by a massive migrant crisis and the looming threat of Britain’s EU exit, Schneider-Amman said the tunnel would “join the people and the economies” of Europe.

The new Gotthard Base Tunnel along with the still-under-construction Cereni Tunnel, which starts not far from the southern end of the Gotthard Base Tunnel and ends just short of the Swiss – Italian border, will form an almost entirely underground north-south rail corridor in southern Switzerland linking among other cities and regions Zurich to Milan. When the new Cereni Tunnel enters service in 2020, passenger train travel times between Milan and Zurich will decrease by nearly a full hour compared to the current 4 hour travel time.


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Floods, Strikes And Fuel Shortages In France

Yet Another D:F Readers Traveler Advisory

Wet Weather And Domestic Political Tensions Combine To Make Summer Vacations And
Business Travel In Paris And Other Destinations In France “Difficile”

Via US State Department – US Embassy In Paris Security Message Posted On The 3rd June 2016

Paris – It could be a long, hot, tense, wet and difficult summer for visitors coming to Paris and elsewhere in France. Heavy rains of the past week in parts of France have brought some rivers and streams to extreme flooding conditions, including in central Paris. Meanwhile ongoing strikes in France against pending labor reform legislation in the rail , highway trucking and transportation sectors is severely hampering both passenger and freight traffic on France’s highways and rail network. Many gas stations along France’s roads are running out of fuel, as are some airports.

D:F Readers Travel Advisory

The U.S. Embassy in France informs that several national labor unions in France across a variety of sectors continue strikes in protest of proposed labor laws. Affected sectors include, but are not limited to the national rail network, air traffic control, airline pilots, the Paris public transportation system, truck transport, and oil refinery operations.

Disruptions to these sectors may be exacerbated by weather conditions and local flooding. Flooding may impact roadways and traffic patterns in affected areas. Forecasts for the coming week indicate less rain but weather conditions in France are often variable.

Travelers are advised to verify the status of their flights, trains, or other public transportation services prior to their travel. Travelers are advised that these strikes could result in delays or cancelations of trains, flights, and other transportation services.

The following strikes have been announced for the week of the 6th of June :

Rail - The national unions which represents rail workers renewed their call for strikes limiting rail services along the TGV, RER and SNCF networks. An “unlimited strike” is started on Tuesday, May 31, 2016.

Paris-area Public Transportation - The union representing the Paris metro area transportation (RATP) called for an “unlimited strike,” which started on June 2, of all public transportation services, including the Paris metro, buses, and RER trains.

Air – Airport workers at Charles de Gaulle (Roissy) airport have called for general strikes on Tuesday, June 7, 2016, which could result in delays or cancellations of flights originating in France.

Travelers can also track updates on Twitter through services such as Aéroports de Paris (@ParisAeroport) or your local airport or air carrier, the Prefecture de Police for your area (@PrefPolice is the one for Paris), SNCF (@SNCF), and your metro or rail line. French news sources such as BFMTV (http://www.bfmtv.com/), Le Parisien (http://www.leparisien.fr/), and France24 (http://www.france24.com/en/) are also likely to carry information about the strike’s impact.

If you need to cancel or exchange a TGV or Intercity train, visit the SNCF website here: http://www.sncf.com/fr/echange-remboursement-tgv-intercites

For up-to-date information on SNCF plans (or to check your specific train), consult the SNCF website here: http://www.sncf.com/fr/horaires-info-trafic#animation-1

RATP – Paris local transport system – for information on metros, buses, and RER lines:  http://www.ratp.fr/informer/trafic/trafic.php

Transilien – for Paris region transport: http://www.transilien.com/info-trafic/temps-reel

Travelers should be aware that these strikes, particularly the transport and oil refinery worker actions, have resulted in fuel shortages at some gas stations. Lines at gas stations may be long and some stations may not be able to supply gas until they are replenished. Travelers may wish to track availability of gasoline at the following sites:

http://www.linternaute.com/actualite/societe/1306008-penurie-d-essence-liste-des-stations-fermees-ou-sans-carburant-cartes-22052016/

http://www.huffingtonpost.fr/2016/05/20/stations-service-penurie-carburant-carte-essence_n_10064760.html

Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. You should avoid areas of demonstrations, and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations.


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Alstom Unveils Paris Metro Train Design

By David Briginshaw
International Railway Journal

The design and internal layout for the fleet of MP14 rubber-tyred metro trains which Alstom is building for Paris Transport Authority (RATP) was unveiled at Alstom’s Paris headquarters by the company’s chairman and CEO Mr. Henri Poupart-Lafarge.

The new design was shown to Mr. Valérie Pécresse, president of Ile-de-France regional council and president of Ile-de-France Transport Authority (Stif), Ms. Elisabeth Borne, CEO of RATP, and Mr. Philippe Yvin, chair of Société du Grand Paris (SGP).

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Image: Paris Transport Authority (RATP)

Artist rendering of the planned new rail vehicle

Alstom awarded a € 2bn 15-year framework contract by RATP last year for up to 217 MP14 trains. The first confirmed order within the contract is for 35 trains worth € 520m funded entirely by Stif. These are for Line 14 which is being extended 5.8km north from St. Lazare to Mairie de Saint Ouen. The new eight-car trains will replace the existing six-car fleet increasing capacity from 30,000 to 35,000 passengers per hour. The MP14 trains will then enter service on lines 4, 11 and 14 when the latter is extended south via Villejuif to Orly Airport at which time it will become part of the Grand Paris express metro network.

The design of the MP14 trains is the result of collaboration between Stif, RATP and SGP. The train will have streamlined contours, and the exterior design will be consistent with that of the platform screen doors at stations. Internally, the trains will have what Alstom describes as vast reception areas to improve access and boomerang-shaped seats to increase capacity for standing passengers. The air-conditioned trains will be fitted with LED lighting and a video-protection and dynamic information system.

The MP14 will have an entirely electrical braking system to recuperate energy and feed it back into the network as electricity. Electrical braking will limit the emission of fine particles caused by mechanical braking systems. Alstom says this system should reduce the energy consumption of the trains and air pollution by up to 20% compared with the MP05 rubber-tyred trains currently operating on the Paris metro.

From an item at: http://www.railjournal.com/index.php/rolling-stock/alstom-unveils-paris-metro-train-design.html


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