Latest Rail News
Massachusetts received a total $64.3 million in transit-related stimulus funds on Thursday, $43 million for commuter rail improvements mostly on MBTA’s Haverhill and Fitchburg lines.

The city of Monroe, La., once again has completed another project in its five-year struggle with Kansas City Southern railroad to observe a “quiet zone” through downtown, according to the Monroe News Star. City engineer Sinyale Morrison said Public Works installed two concrete transversal curbs on both sides of the tracks on North Fourth Street this week.

Back in March, city officials thought they had completed all aspects of what was required by the railroad, the Federal Railway Administration and the state Department of Transportation and Development. At that time, the railroad asked the city to close off a North Fourth Street entrance to a city parking lot south of the railroad tracks and the entrance nearest the track to Washington Plaza on the north side of the tracks. Those tasks were recently completed with a new entrance being constructed to the south side parking lot closer to DeSiard Street.

The city’s engineering department thought it had completed the tedious process of applying for a Federal Railroad Administration quiet zone through downtown last August after three years of work. Morrison then reported at the end of August the FRA had accepted the city’s application and placed it on the agency Website. ??In September, letters were sent to police, fire and ambulance services saying the designation would become reality. Things then came to a standstill until Morrison was notified about the parking lots and then the curbs.

The city started more than three years ago trying to get a quiet zone as increasing train traffic made it harder to conduct business downtown. The city closed North Second, Third, Fifth and Sixth street crossings and gated crossings at Walnut-South Grand, Fourth and DeSiard streets. The plan eventually is to construct an underpass at North Fourth Street.

Councilman Jay Marx said the designation would mean a quieter working environment for downtown businesses and better traffic flow. He said by closing the four crossings downtown, trains are already moving faster and making fewer stops that block traffic.
The public is invited to a community meeting July 29 at Ayer, Mass., Town Hall on protecting the underground wells at Spectacle Pond, organized by Congresswoman Nikki Tsongas, local newspapers report. Representatives from the Surface Transportation Board, EPA, DEP and railroads will hear community input and questions about the plans to protect the aquifer that supplies drinking water to 15,000 people in Ayer and Littleton, Mass.

Pan Am Railways is building a 25-acre parking lot on the Ayer/Littleton town line, over underground wells that supply 60 percent of Ayer’s drinking water and is a Zone III aquifer for Littleton. The water supply could be permanently contaminated by runoff and spills from the railroad and new Ford cars to be unloaded at the 800-space lot. The handling of toxic chemicals by a known polluter over an irreplaceable water source poses a huge risk for Ayer and Littleton. The public is invited to comment on the plan and ask questions.

In March 2009, Pan Am Railways was fined $500,000 for a spill of 900-1,700 gallons in Ayer, which was the largest criminal environmental fine in the history of the Commonwealth. The fine was one of many imposed against Pan Am Railways because of scores of spills in New England. Ironically, the fine was levied while the company broke ground on the lot, without giving the town 60 days notice, as stated in the 2003 Consent Decree, which the towns and company are legally bound by.

Pan Am was back in federal court July 8 with its parole officer (yes, Pan Am Railways has a parole officer) to ensure it had implemented environmental protections and trained employees to prevent spills. It hadn’t. Another hearing is set for Oct. 15, with Pan Am’s parole officer. The $500,000 fine is in escrow because Pan Am Railways appealed the fine.

The towns of Ayer and Littleton have been fighting this project for more than a decade.

Attorney General Martha Coakley described Pan Am in the March 2009 memorandum on sentencing: “The defendants have a long track record of violating the environmental laws, including a particularly long record of unreported releases of oil and other hazardous materials to the environment, and have utterly failed to develop reliable or consistent environmental management systems despite having been ordered to do so repeatedly.”

State Sen. Jamie Eldridge [D-Ayer/Littleton] is working to intervene.
“I am deeply concerned about Pan Am and Norfolk Southern Railroads’ proposed car unloading facility being placed so close to an aquifer. A spill at the site would be devastating to our local communities, deeply compromising the safety of the water we drink. We have the responsibility to protect our supply for current residents and generations to come.”
(This article by Frank Busalacchi was published by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He is chair of the States for Passenger Rail Coalition and secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.)

Everyone who travels the nation's roads, bridges and rails has a stake in a major project under way in Congress this year: the reauthorization of the country's surface transportation law. This mammoth law, rewritten every six years, determines how much money will be available to maintain and expand the country's transportation system. Moreover, the legislation determines how this huge pot of money -- $286.5 billion in the last bill -- will be spent.

As chair of the States for Passenger Rail Coalition and secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, I strongly urge Congress to revisit our transportation priorities, which for too many years have favored highways and airlines. It's time to reinvest in a highly valuable and underused transportation mode: intercity passenger rail service.

The reasons for spending more on rail are many. Perhaps the most important reason is public demand. Travelers are voting for more intercity passenger rail service by boarding trains in record numbers. In 2008, Amtrak carried a record 28.7 million passengers -- the highest number in the passenger railroad's history. When gasoline prices broke the $4-a-gallon barrier last summer, increasing numbers of travelers changed their travel plans to rail, including nearly 900,000 travelers in Wisconsin.

Price alone is not the only reason many travelers are switching to rail. Growing congestion on our nation's highways and increasing delays in the air are making rail an attractive option for millions.

Of course, as more people choose to travel by rail, the demand on the system rises. Amtrak is facing an unprecedented equipment shortage: 17 percent of Amtrak's locomotives and 15 percent of its passenger fleet are out of service. Investment in track and signal infrastructure is needed now to deal with existing rail congestion and to add new passenger rail service for the future.

In the midst of an economic recession, investing in rail is a wise use of federal dollars. It is estimated that for every $1 billion invested in passenger rail projects, 30,000 new, good-paying jobs are created. In Wisconsin, Amtrak pays $4.3 million annually in wages.

Last year, I had the pleasure of serving on the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission. The commission's most significant finding illustrated the financial magnitude of the need: $357.2 billion in capital improvements required by the year 2050. Additionally, a commitment of $5 billion per year will be needed for the 80/20 federal rail grant program over the six-year reauthorizing period.

This important program provides 80 percent federal and 20 percent state funding for passenger rail projects, mirroring the funding split in highway projects. This funding split finally recognizes the importance of passenger rail in our national transportation system. The commission also identified a series of inherent advantages in passenger rail that further demonstrate the value in greater funding for this important transportation mode. Chief among them are:

Mobility: Intercity passenger rail offers an alternative to using the private automobile, bus or airplane for transportation. At the current average of 2.2 million monthly riders, this means that several million people every month are removed from the already overcrowded roadways and airports.

System redundancy: Intercity passenger rail creates system redundancy in the intercity corridors it serves. Redundancy helps to ensure that transportation is possible even when an event occurs that disrupts the primary transportation system.

Delay reductions: One of the potential benefits of intercity passenger rail service is reduced highway congestion. In congested corridors, intercity passenger rail would only have to capture a small share of the total traffic in order to generate a substantial public benefit for all corridor travelers.

Environmental: Intercity passenger rail may also generate potential health benefits by reducing vehicle emissions, lowering pollution, and indirectly mitigating health and environmental costs.

Safety: Passenger rail is one of the safest modes of travel -- far safer than highway travel.

The reasons to invest more in passenger rail are compelling and in the national interest. The question is whether Congress has the will to take a fresh look at the nation's surface transportation system and increase funding for rail -- the transportation mode that moves people efficiently while reducing the burden on our congested highways and airlines.
New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine and Congressman Steve Rothman said that they are teaming up to deliver passenger rail to Bergen County with an extension of light rail service. Joined by N.J. Senator Loretta Weinberg, Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, Bergen County Executive Dennis McNerney and Ridgefield Mayor Anthony Suarez, as well as other state and local officials, the announcement came after the conclusion that another long-studied rail technology being advanced by NJ TRANSIT did not offer a practical alternative for Bergen residents in the near term.

“The time has come to put the Bergen in Hudson-Bergen Light Rail. The twin facts that NJ TRANSIT has settled on a mode of service and Governor Corzine is here pledging his personal support for the Northern Branch gives me renewed hope that the dream of passenger rail will be realized for Bergen County,” said Rothman.

“We can no longer wait for emerging technologies that make the perfect the enemy of the good. Light rail will enable thousands of Bergen residents to get to work on the Waterfront, or make easy connections to PATH and ferries into Manhattan,” said Corzine.

Bergen light rail will provide significant environmental benefits, including reduced carbon emissions, taking 8,500 cars off the road each day. The Hudson-Bergen Light Rail system has been a catalyst for economic development and a national light rail transit model with nearly 45,000 passenger trips daily, with a 24th station under construction at 8th Street in Bayonne.

NJ TRANSIT submitted a Draft Environmental Impact Statement to the Federal Transit Administration last year that studied both light rail and re-emerging Diesel Multiple Unit types of equipment. However, in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the only manufacturer of DMUs that met American safety standards for operating in mixed freight/passenger territory filed for bankruptcy. A global search for another manufacturer that could meet strict Federal Railroad Administration safety requirements led NJ TRANSIT Executive Director Richard Sarles to conclude recently that the possibility of new DMUs rolling off the production line is several years away at best.

Sarles also acknowledged the Federal Transit Administration’s efforts to advance multiple New Jersey rail projects, noting that NJ TRANSIT has received the Record of Decision for the Mass Transit Tunnel; the MOS FONSI for the Lackawanna Cutoff; completed environmental review for the Edison Station Parking Expansion Project, the Lower Hack Bridge Phase II project, and HBLR’s Danforth Interlocking project over the last several months.

“We appreciate the leadership of FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff and hard work of the Regional Administrator and staff to continue to effectively move many projects forward at once,” said Sarles.

FTA’s release of the revised Northern Branch DEIS will trigger local public hearings as soon as this fall. The hearings will give communities along the planned service route an opportunity to raise any additional issues that need to be incorporated into ?NJ TRANSIT’s service plan. NJ TRANSIT expects preliminary engineering to begin in 2010.

At full operating capacity, the light rail service is planned to operate from early morning through late evening hours, seven days a week, with trains departing every 6-12 minutes in the peak travel periods. A trip from the northernmost portion of the line will take 21 minutes to Tonnelle Avenue, 25 minutes to Port Imperial for ferries to New York, and 37 minutes to Hoboken for PATH and NJ TRANSIT commuter rail connections.

Light rail ridership is estimated to be about 24,000 passenger trips daily. While the cost estimate for extending light rail has not yet been finalized, preliminary estimates set the price at about $800 million to $900 million. The Northern Branch project is included in the joint long-range capital program of the NJ Department of Transportation and ?NJ Transit, benefitting from a mix of federal and state Transportation Trust Funds.
Wick Moorman, CEO of Norfolk Southern Corporation, called on the nation’s governors to consider railroads as “a vital part of the solution to our nation’s transportation crisis.”

Addressing the National Governors Association at Biloxi, Miss., Moorman said “railroads offer significant economic and environmental benefits while helping relieve highway congestion – which is fast becoming public enemy number one.”

“Our nation’s transportation network is a complex, interdependent system that demands our combined creative efforts to operate it most efficiently,” Moorman said. “Our experience at Norfolk Southern has shown that by working together in public-private partnerships, we can achieve far more in far less time and with far greater public benefits than any of us can by working alone.”

Moorman cited two rail routes – the Heartland Corridor between the Port of Virginia and Columbus, Ohio, and Chicago, and the Crescent Corridor linking New Jersey to New Orleans and Memphis, Tenn. – as examples of how public-private partnerships “can create additional capacity in our rail transportation network, with public benefits of jobs creation, less highway congestion, lower environmental emissions, and fuel savings.” He said the Crescent Corridor project alone will result in 41,000 “green” jobs over the next decade and move more than a million trucks annually off the highways onto rail, saving more than 150 million gallons of fuel every year and reducing carbon emissions by nearly two million tons per year.

“It’s clear we must do something,” Moorman said. “Freight volumes in this country are projected to grow 88 percent by 2035 alone. To handle that freight, we must improve our national transportation infrastructure.”
GE Transportation said that Central Puget Sound’s transportation authority, Sound Transit, has officially opened its north-south Central Link light rail line, operating with a complete GE Transportation communications and train control signaling solution.

U.S. Rep. Tim Walz is "incredibly pleased to support" a Rochester, Minn., railroad bypass proposal, he told a group of business leaders, the Rochester Post-Bulletin reports.

Commonwealth Railway in Virginia will be incorporating RailComm’s Track Warrant Control functionality into its existing Domain Operations Controller System (DOC®). Commonwealth Railway has dispatched trains within CTC territory by accessing RailComm’s web-enabled Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) delivery model. RailComm’s SaaS offering provides a “pay-as-you-go” model, thus eliminating capital equipment procurement constraints. Through this state-of-the-art SaaS delivery model, the Commonwealth Railway is remotely dispatched by Genesee and Wyoming’s Portland & Western Railroad located in Oregon. With the addition of the Track Warrant Control module, Commonwealth Railway will be able to seamlessly dispatch both its CTC and its dark territory from the same control desk.

The DOC® SaaS provides built-in disaster recovery capability. Because the application is accessed over the internet, in the case of evacuation of the dispatch building, the dispatcher’s can be re-located to any internet connected location to continue moving trains. Additionally, since the DOC® control application resides on servers within RailComm’s managed data center in Rochester, NY, the requirement for local IT support at each railroad is greatly reduced. These are just some of the features that are contributing to the rapid growth and success of RailComm’s SaaS delivery model.
Metropolitan Planning Organization members approved spending $25,000 in hopes of eventually gaining millions to relocate about seven miles of Norfolk Southern tracks in Colbert County, Ala., local newspapers report. The board hired engineering firm Barge Wagner Sumner & Cannon to prepare a grant application that, if approved, would fund the estimated $80-million relocation project. Funds would come from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program. The federal program is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

City and county officials have discussed the need to relocate the tracks away from high-traffic areas in the county. Some city officials say delays and safety concerns created by the railroads tracks have stifled economic development opportunities and are causing stores to lose business. MPO member and Tuscumbia Mayor Bill Shoemaker, who is a former Alabama Department of Transportation engineer, said the railroad relocation discussion has been going on for about two decades.

The most recent cost estimate for relocating railroad tracks that wind through Tuscumbia, Sheffield and Muscle Shoals is about $80 million. Before the recovery act was approved, local governments had no means of paying for the project.

Jesse Turner, director of Transportation Planning for the Northwest Alabama Council of Local Governments, said the $25,000 includes a $5,000 match from Colbert County, Sheffield, Tuscumbia and Muscle Shoals. He said the relocation project must be approved by the Alabama Department of Transportation.

The federal program, which is known as TIGER, makes $1.5 billion available for large road and bridge projects, passenger and rail freight, public transportation and port infrastructure. Allen Teague, a preconstruction engineer with the Alabama Department of Transportation, said the state plans to submit five projects to be considered for a TIGER grant.
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