Latest Rail News
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo said proposed rules are designed to prevent train collisions through the use of Positive Train Control. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking prescribes how railroads must use Positive Train Control systems to prevent train-to-train collisions.

PTC technology is capable of automatically controlling train speeds and movements should a locomotive engineer fail to take appropriate action. For example, such technology can force a train to stop before it passes a red signal, thereby averting a potential collision. Other benefits of PTC systems include prevention of over-speed derailments and misaligned switches, as well as unauthorized incursions by a train into work zones.

“These proposed rules give railroads the framework to use this life-saving technology,” said LaHood. “We believe this is an important step toward making freight, intercity and commuter rail lines safer for the benefit of communities across the country.”

Under the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, major freight railroads and intercity and commuter rail operators must submit their plans for PTC to FRA for approval by April, 16, 2010. PTC systems must be fully in place by the end of 2015. The proposed rules will specify how the technically complex PTC systems must function and indicate how FRA will assess a railroad’s PTC plan before it can become operational.

“FRA is setting the bar high in terms of design, construction and oversight of PTC technologies among different railroads,” said FRA Administrator Joe Szabo. “FRA will continue to advocate for ways to strengthen safety standards in the railroad industry.”

The major freight railroads have reached an agreement for the operation of PTC technology across different rail systems, allowing for industry-wide use. In addition, FRA is coordinating efforts with the Federal Communications Commission to make a sufficient amount of radio frequency spectrum available, which is essential for PTC technology to function properly. This development will allow PTC technology to send and receive a constant stream of wireless signals regarding the location and speed of passenger and freight trains moving along rail lines.

At a ceremony at Toronto's Union Station, the Government of Canada and VIA announced C$300 million dollars in support for the largest-ever improvement and investment program in the 153-year history of passenger rail service between Montreal and Toronto: VIA's Canadian National Kingston Subdivision Project.??Totaling more than C$300 million, VIA's CN Kingston Subdivision Project is a series of infrastructure improvements at eight locations along the 539-kilometer (334-mile), double-track rail line. It will boost capacity by eliminating bottlenecks and greatly reducing delay-causing conflicts between VIA passenger and CN freight trains.

Phase I of the project will allow for the addition of two daily roundtrip frequencies on VIA's busy Toronto-Montreal and Toronto-Ottawa routes. The latter operates over the Kingston Subdivision between Toronto and Brockville.

VIA's CN Kingston Subdivision Project is part of an unprecedented C$923 million investment by the Government of Canada in passenger rail renewal and expansion. Of this amount, C$407 million is under the government's Economic Action Plan.

Other elements of VIA's program include expanded, fully-accessible station facilities at strategic locations on the Montreal-Toronto route, major infrastructure and station upgrading on other routes, accessibility projects for travelers with special needs and the complete rebuilding of service-proven locomotives and rolling stock. The program will benefit rail travelers across the entire VIA transcontinental system, from Halifax to Vancouver Island.

Highlights of VIA's CN Kingston Subdivision Project include: construction of additional (third) main line track to enable VIA and CN trains to pass or overtake each other safely and quickly; extensions to sidings and yard tracks to allow CN freight trains to exit and clear the main line when required; and- other track and signal improvements to smooth the flow of VIA passenger and CN freight traffic, assuring consistent on-time performance for both.

Work on VIA's CN Kingston Subdivision Project will begin this summer and wrap up in 2011. To date, CN has hired 100 track and signal workers for its portion of the work, which will be performed under contract with VIA. Additional jobs will be created throughout the two-year span of the project within both CN and other private sector companies participating in this project.
Keokuk Junction Railway Co. doesn't necessarily want to own the swing-span railroad bridge between Keokuk and Hamilton, Ill., but that may be the best solution for all parties involved, according to company President Mike Carr, the Burlington Hawkeye reports.

"We really aren't too excited about owning it," Carr said. "I'm not even sure I want to own it. But I think in the long run, it's going to be best for the city and us if we do. We don't want to buy it for money. We want them just to give it to us."

A controlling majority of Keokuk Junction Railway stock is owned by Peoria, Ill.,-based Pioneer Railcorp.

The Keokuk City Council kicked around the idea of selling the bridge for years. But the idea began to get more attention last month after the council proposed raising the cost of using the bridge. The council proposed raising the fee for the next three years from $16.67 a car to $19.67 per car and charging a second fee of $50 an hour for the time a city employee operates the bridge.

Keokuk Junction Railway, the only rail company that uses the bridge, rejected the initial proposal. But the two parties have come to tentative agreement of a single fee of $20.76 per car for a year. The council is expected to vote on raising the rate raise, which must be done by ordinance, later this month.

As part of the agreement, city officials pledged to make a concerted effort to determine whether the council would agree to sell the bridge and to explore questions that need answering before the bridge can be sold, Mayor David Gudgel said. Gudgel, who didn't rule out the possibility of simply giving the bridge to the railroad, said It could be years yet before the city gets all its questions answered and is ready to divest itself of the bridge.

Carr points out the rate increases are passed directly to the two customers it has in Keokuk -- Roquette America Inc. and Griffin Wheel.

"We can maintain the bridge cheaper and more effectively, more efficiently than the city can. And that is the bottom line. ... Those bridge fees get passed on directly to those customers that use rail. We'll be able to keep the costs down for them, our customers. Which in turn helps them, which in turn helps the city of Keokuk," Carr said.

The current rate simply isn't enough to pay for bridge maintenance and employees who have to operate it, Gudgel said. Officials hope with the rate increase, the bridge will be able to pay for itself. The city spends at least $500,000 annually on maintaining the bridge. Although in 2008, costs were closer to $1.2 million, partially due to damage done during flooding last summer, said Keokuk Public Works Director Gerald Moughler.

Giving up the bridge would mean no more maintenance costs, which should be payment enough for the city, Carr said.

Before the council is willing to part with the bridge, officials first plan to shop it around to see if any other companies would be interested in the structure, such as BNSF, the Southeast Iowa Regional Economic and Port Authority or Roquette.

Carr was less than enthusiastic about the idea of another company owning the bridge and pointed out no other company could use it because Keokuk Junction Railway owns the tracks on either side of the bridge.

There are at least two other issues needing resolved before the city sells the bridge:
• Determining what the city would do with the $3.7 million fund it has in case the bridge ever needs to be demolished.
• Forging a legally binding agreement to guarantee the new owner does not abandon the bridge.

Gudgel added that if bridge were no longer maintained, the new owner would be required to remove it.

"I'm telling them (the city council members) if you give us the bridge, transfer it to us, you guys can keep that money for demolishing the bridge and use it for whatever you want in the city. We'll take care of that (bridge). Because the last thing we want to see is that bridge demolished," Carr said.
The Alaska Railroad is revisiting the longest-running controversy in its 20-plus years as a state-owned carrier with a new application to use weed-killing herbicides on some sections of its track, the Anchorage Daily News reports. This time, railroad officials say they want to use a chemical that targets only plants and doesn't affect animals or fish. They say it will be heavily diluted, and would be used next year only along sections of track between Seward and Indian that are at least 100 feet from water bodies.

Critics are standing ready with counterarguments: They say the railroad's weed-killer of choice is dangerous to people and animals, and that there's hardly anyplace along the railroad's line where water is far away.

A decision on whether the railroad, which argues that weed removal is a safety issue, can go ahead is expected sometime next spring from the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The agency rejected the last request to use herbicides two years ago.

Anticipating another heavy response, Kristin Ryan, director of the agency's environmental health division, has doubled the normal 30-day public comment period to 60 days. It starts today.

Public hearings are scheduled for Aug. 10 in Whittier, Aug. 11 in Seward, and Aug. 12 in Anchorage.

The railroad has been fighting weeds since the state acquired it from the federal government in 1985. With rare and isolated exceptions, it's been required to do so with non-chemical means that have ranged from mowers, steam and hot water to one 1992 phase in which prison inmates were paid $1 an hour to hack the vegetation down. Railroad vice president and chief operating officer Ernie Piper said this week that weeds and brush in and near the tracks have gotten out of hand, especially on the southern 90 miles of line between Indian and Seward.

The Federal Railroad Administration, which regulates the Alaska Railroad, has promised hefty fines and expensive operational restrictions -- cutting the speed at which trains can move or emergency closures of some sections of track -- if the tracks aren't cleaned up. In some places, plants and brush push roots into the gravel bed, or ballast, the track rests on, Piper said. That undermines the stability of the rail line. In other places, weeds and grass grow so thick through ties and rails that safety inspectors might not be able to spot flaws in welds or connections.

"They say, 'we can't see the ties and the fasteners and the plates,'" Piper said. "Particularly in the welded rail we've been putting in, you get expansion in the summer with the heat. They're constantly under stress, and you've got to be able to look for the telltale clues."

Piper and railroad spokesman Tim Thompson said the track maintenance workers have done their best over the years with non-chemical controls.

"In the '90s we tried the steam and the infrared and hot water, burning (vegetation)," Piper said. "None of it worked very well."

To their knowledge, they said, Alaska is the only state where railroads aren't allowed to use herbicides in at least some places.

Last time around, the railroad's application was turned down in part because the chemical wasn't approved for use in water and might hurt fish, Ryan said. This time, the railroad is proposing using a weed-killer called "glyphosate," which Piper said is "the most benign of them all" and targets only plant growth.

"If you don't photosynthesize, you have nothing to fear from it," he said. "If you ingested berries that had been sprayed with glyphosate, you'd just excrete it in your urine. Same thing with other animals and fish and so on."

But Pam Miller, director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics, said "a wealth of new scientific research" indicates that glyphosate "can harm animals and human health." Miller also argues that the railroad hasn't done enough to try out non-chemical means of weed control, regardless of what the agency's executives say.

"For them to say they've tried these methods is misrepresenting what they've done, which is just giving them sort of a (cursory) try without actually rigorously applying them to see if they can be effective," she said. "The railroad proposing the use of herbicides again really flies in the face of years of citizen opposition.
Canopies that cover the platforms at the Belmont and Fullerton stations will be extended following the Chicago Transit Board’s approval of a change in the original contract with FHP Tectonics Corporation to renovate the stations as part of the Brown Line capacity expansion project. The canopies will be extended to approximately 320 feet – the equivalent of a six-car train – rather than the original distance of 128 feet or a 2 1/2-car train.

“We knew we wanted to offer back some amenities that our customers really needed and wanted,” said CTA President Richard L. Rodriguez. “The increased ridership on the Brown Line demonstrates more customers are using the Line and extending these canopies will help protect them from the elements and make their commutes more pleasant.”

Belmont and Fullerton are busy transfer points for Brown, Red and Purple Express Line customers. On an average weekday, the Belmont station records 12,064 entries and Fullerton 12,717.

The Brown Line capacity expansion project involves modernizing 18 stations, extending platforms and making each facility ADA compliant. To date, 15 of the 18 stations included in the project have been completed. The only station now closed for construction is Wellington, which will reopen to customers later this summer. Although construction remains under way at Belmont and Fullerton, service continues to operate at both stations.

The cost of the contract change order is $5.5 million.

Philadelphia's SEPTA will operate shuttle train service on the West Trenton (R3) Regional Rail line the last two weekends of July (18-19 and 25-26) and the first weekend of August (1-2). The shuttle will avoid possible delays to Airport (R1) line train service due to three grade crossing renewal projects at Pine, Rydal and Red Lion Roads.

During these weekends Meadowbrook Station will be closed. Passengers can utilize nearby Bethayres or Rydal stations.

Revised timetables are available online at www.septa.org and will be posted at all affected stations on the West Trenton Line.

 

Dollars made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will be used to expand parking at two Chicago-area Metra stations. Chicagoland Paving Contractors Inc. of Lake Zurich, Ill., submitted the lowest responsive bids for two projects to expand parking at the Pingree Road and Elburn stations.

The project at Pingree Road Station on Metra’s Union Pacific Northwest in Crystal Lake, Ill., includes the construction of 330 parking spaces, four electronic payment boxes and re-striping of the existing lot. The contract, valued at $574,900, will provide nine full-time jobs during its construction and is slated for completion by year’s end.

The project at the Elburn, Ill., Station on the Union Pacific West Line includes the construction of 329 parking spaces, expanding the existing lot to the west. The contract, valued at $1,130,011.50, also includes eight electronic payment boxes. The cost of the payment boxes ($99,900) will be paid for by the Village of Elburn. The construction project will provide 15 full-time jobs.

Metra is receiving $140.9 million as its share of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Other Metra projects that will be funded with these dollars include the remanufacture of locomotives, bridge replacements as well as station additions and renovations.
The Delaware River Port Authority Commissioners have approved spending up to $500,000 to hire a professional design consultant to begin work to reopen the PATCO Franklin Square Station in Philadelphia.

First opened in 1936 as one of two Philadelphia stations on the Camden Bridge Line, the station has opened and closed several times over the years. A refurbished Franklin Square Station opened to cater to bi-centennial traffic on May 14, 1976, and on July 4, 1976, 23,000 people exited the Franklin Square Station en route to bi-centennial events.

The Franklin Square Station was closed in 1979 because of low patronage and has remained closed since then.

DRPA Chairman John Estey says, “substantial economic and demographic changes near Franklin Square have increased the viability of the station. PATCO riders could use Franklin Square to visit the National Constitution Center and the African American Museum as well as the planned President’s House and National Museum of Jewish American History. In addition, further enhancements and amenities are being added within the park to make Franklin Square a destination in itself.”

According to DRPA Vice-Chair, Jeff Nash, “reopening the Franklin Square Station should increase ridership among intra-city and reverse commuting customers. The station is also expected to result in increased weekend ridership.”

Franklin Square itself now attracts 750,000 visitors a year.? ?An online survey on PATCO’S website, www.ridepatco.org, asked riders their thoughts about reopening the Franklin Square Station. 588 customers have responded so far. 455 people, or 77.3 percent, believe reopening Franklin Square is a good idea. In addition, 297 riders, or 50.5 percent, said if Franklin Square were to reopen they would use PATCO more frequently for recreational travel.

DRPA CEO & PATCO President John J. Matheussen says, “the design work should be done by the end of the year and then a decision will be made on how best to proceed with the project.”

Matheussen also points out a refurbished Franklin Square Station will keep with the Authority’s Green Initiative by incorporating low energy and very minimal maintenance L.E.D. decorative light fixtures. It’s expected the concourse areas will be similar to other PATCO concourse improvements slated to begin soon at the four subway stations in Philadelphia and two in Camden.
The land where Norfolk Southern wants to build an intermodal yard was annexed July 13 by the town of Rossville, Tenn., paving the way for the railroad’s proposed multimillion-dollar, multi-acre facility, the Memphis Daily News reports. Only one hurdle remains—getting the land rezoned industrial—before the Norfolk, Va.-based company receives the official green light to begin one of the largest economic investments in Fayette County’s history.

Although that final step won’t be resolved until next week, Norfolk Southern CEO Wick Moorman is expected to confirm that the company has selected a site in South Fayette County for the new yard, dubbed the Memphis Regional Intermodal Terminal. At 2 p.m. July 16, at the Bank of Fayette County in Piperton, Moorman and other railroad representatives will be joined by a host of state officials, including Gov. Phil Bredesen, to announce the terminal will be built on about 500 acres in the newly annexed land in southwestern Rossville. Done deal

The city this week annexed nearly 1,600 acres in Rossville’s urban growth zone, stretching from just south of Tenn. 57 down to the state line. Much of the land is owned by former Direct General Insurance Co. owner William Adair, who sold that company and subsequently paid $28 million for 3,200 acres in Fayette County and Marshall County, Miss.

Adair bought the land with plans to develop it into a mixed-use subdivision called Piperton Hills. That project is still on the table, but Adair decided to sell a portion of his acreage to the railroad for the intermodal terminal in response to Norfolk Southern’s original site location, which county residents opposed.

The initial site was north of Tenn. 57 between Rossville and Moscow near the Wolf River. Locals reacted negatively to that site because of increased truck traffic along 57 and potential damage to the Wolf River.
Meanwhile, Norfolk Southern began looking at alternative sites.

State Rep. Barrett Rich, R-Somerville, said Norfolk Southern easily could have started building at that location (dubbed the Windyke site) because of the eminent domain that railroads possess.

“Instead, Norfolk Southern, when contacted by the South Fayette Alliance and the people in Fayette County, did what they could to be a good neighbor, come into our good graces and look for other property,” Rich said. “They knew (Windyke) was going to put an extraordinary amount of distress on Rossville and that the state would have to four-lane 57 highway. They listened to the concerns and they went out looking for another property.”

Norfolk Southern will now allow its option on the Windyke property to expire and will move forward with the land owned by Adair, who declined to disclose the terms of the deal.

Also, railroad officials declined comment prior to the event, but the intermodal yard is a key component of Norfolk Southern’s Crescent Corridor, a 2,500-mile rail network linking the southeastern and northeastern U.S. The Memphis yard, using a combination of trucks and trains to move goods into and out of the area, will serve as a critical western gateway for the corridor, whose $2.5 billion price tag is being funded by the railroad and the government.

The overall economic impact of the yard on Fayette County and the surrounding area, including Memphis, won’t be known for some time. First, the completion of the facility will take years. Second, the true benefit of the yard might come from ancillary businesses such as warehouses and distribution centers that tend to sprout near intermodal yards, and the development of those could be slow because of the sagging economy.

Rossville Mayor James Gaither said the development of the yard will provide some property tax base for the city and county, but beyond that he wasn’t sure of the direct impact for the economy or for jobs. All he knows is the annexation issue cleared the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. Also, the first reading of the land’s rezoning is complete with the second scheduled for Monday. Once that is finished, the next step is for the railroad to submit a site plan before the lengthy construction process can begin.

He also knows that the Adair site is a much better choice than Windyke, which might have resulted in a groundswell of protests like the railroad is seeing with intermodal site selections in Alabama and East Tennessee.
The Denver Regional Transportation District has agreed to buy BNSF Railway property that’s to become part of the FasTracks system, including an initial southern segment of the Northwest Rail Corridor, according to the Longmont Times-Call. RTD expects to pay $93.7 million to buy BNSF right-of-way and other properties the railroad company owns between Denver’s Union Station and a point near 72nd Street in Westminster, under an agreement the transit agency announced July 16.

The RTD plans to use that real estate for commuter rail service on FasTracks’ Gold Line between Denver and Wheat Ridge, as well as for the southern segment of the Northwest Rail Corridor between Denver and Longmont.

The RTD’s agreement with BNSF also commits the transit agency to spending an estimated $32 million to relocate or realign several BNSF facilities between Union Station and Pecos Street, including work at BNSF’s 23rd Street yard.

The RTD board is still wrestling with how to cover a projected $2-billion shortfall to complete the entire $7-billion FasTracks system by the original 2017 target date. But FasTracks spokeswoman Karen Morales said that the money to buy the BNSF properties and pay for relocating BNSF facilities will be available under the transit agency’s current system-improvements budget.

Formal purchase agreements are to be carried out by January, when the RTD expects to take over ownership of the BNSF property.

Morales said the RTD still is negotiating with BNSF over terms of an operating agreement under which the RTD would pay the railroad company for “time slots” to operate Northwest Rail Corridor passenger service on the tracks north of Westminster — tracks BNSF would continue to own and use for its freight trains. Morales said the RTD expects to complete the agreement about shared use of those tracks sometime in 2010.
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