Latest Rail News
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.
From 10 p.m. Friday, July 17 until 4 a.m. Monday, July 20, service on the Chicago transit Authority Blue Line between the Western/Milwaukee and Washington stations will be temporarily suspended as work continues in the Dearborn subway to reduce slow zones. Bus shuttles will operate as a substitute for rail service.

Blue Line trains will operate normally from Forest Park to Washington, and from O’Hare to Western/Milwaukee. Service through the Dearborn subway will resume normal operation at 4 a.m. on Monday, July 20.

In 2007, CTA began a project to eliminate existing slow zones in the Dearborn subway that were having a major impact on travel time for riders. With the funds available at the time, CTA was able to make repairs that allowed trains to resume normal speeds. From July to September 2007, repairs were made to 6,336 feet of slow zones between the Damen and Clark/Lake stations. Crews replaced more than 5,000 deteriorated wooden rail ties with concrete rail ties.

Recently the CTA received federal stimulus funding that allow it to renew all of the remaining track (approximately seven miles or 39,000 feet) from Division on the O’Hare branch to Clinton on the Forest Park branch. Crews are replacing deteriorated wooden half ties with concrete half ties, running rail and contact (third) rail to remove emerging slow zones and help prevent the creation of new slow zones.
Installation of a new pedestrian crossing at San Marcos Street will require a short detour on buses for some Sprinter train riders this weekend, the North County Times reports. The commuter trains will continue to operate west of the Palomar College Station and east of the San Marcos, Calif., Civic Center Station on Saturday and Sunday.

The North County Transit District, which owns and operates local public transportation, will operate special buses on a 1.6-mile route between the two stations to bridge the gap in service.

The reason for the changes is the installation of a pedestrian railroad crossing across the tracks at San Marcos Street in an area where people have been climbing the fence to cross the tracks illegally since the Sprinter began running in March, 2008. Many of the pedestrians seen jumping the fences are believed to be coming or going from San Marcos Middle school, which is south of the railway.

The crossing will give residents of the city's Richmar neighborhood a sanctioned path to cross, protected by warning bells and by automatic metal gates that close when a train is coming. Sam Marcos councilman and transit district director Chris Orlando said that it took extra effort by city employees to get approval for the crossing, which is expected to cost nearly $800,000 to install.

"The city had to do a number of surveys to demonstrate that the safest way to handle the problem we have out there was installing the crossing," Orlando said. It took additional work, he said, to find the cash to pay for the crossing. The bulk of the cost will be paid with a $596,230 Safe Routes to School grant from the state Transportation Department.

Securing permission to add ground-level pedestrian crossings to active rail lines has been difficult in North County. Encinitas has been working for years to add four undercrossings in sections of coastal rail where pedestrians often illegally cross tracks. Because trains move at up to 80 mph in the area, federal regulators have resisted simple ground-level crossings like the one to be installed in San Marcos. Instead, vertically-separated crossings are under consideration. Those crossings, basically tunnels under the rails, were estimated at $5 million in 2008, more than five times more costly than the San Marcos solution.
RailWorks Corporation named William Dorris vice president and area manager for the Greater Chicago area for its operating subsidiary, RailWorks Track Services, Inc. Dorris has successfully led projects of all sizes for Class I, government and transit agencies and private industry throughout his 32-year career in the railroad construction and maintenance industry. Under his leadership, RailWorks’ Chicago-based track construction operations achieved revenue growth of more than 200 percent over the past several years.

In his new position, Dorris will expand his geographic base to include northern Indiana and Michigan, as well as the Chicago metro area. He also will lead the company’s new project to construct the track infrastructure for Union Pacific’s new intermodal yard in Joliet, Ill.

RailWorks Corporation Executive Vice President John August said Dorris’ promotion is part of a broader, longer-term commitment by RailWorks to provide a comprehensive construction and maintenance service offering throughout the Midwest and Northeast.

“We recently expanded our offices in Minooka, Ill., constructed a new shop and office facility in Youngstown, Ohio, and established a satellite office in western Massachusetts, “ said August. “These expansion activities and Bill’s promotion reflect RailWorks Track Services’ continued commitment to expand both its geography and its customer service capabilities.”
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said that the Federal Railroad Administration has received 278 pre-applications for grant funding totaling $102 billion. The money will come from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail competitive grant program.

“The response has been tremendous and shows that the country is ready for high-speed rail,” Secretary LaHood said. “It’s time to look beyond our highways and invest in public transportation services like rail, which will enhance regional mobility and reduce our carbon footprint.”

Pre-applications by region:

Northeast
Total Number of Pre-applications Submitted: 79
Total Requested Funds: $35 billion

South/Southeast
Total Number of Pre-applications Submitted: 44
Total Requested Funds: $16 billion

Midwest
Total Number of Pre-applications Submitted: 47
Total Requested Funds: $13 billion

West
Total Number of Pre-applications Submitted: 108
Total Requested Funds: $38 billion

Forty states and the District of Columbia filed pre-applications. While not all proposed projects can be funded, the Department will work with states and regions to identify priorities and prepare for ongoing high-speed passenger rail development.

Congress passed the Recovery Act, which included an $8-billion competitive grant program as a down payment to develop high-speed and intercity passenger rail networks. The President has proposed a continuing $1-billion annual investment to further this effort.

The Department of Transportation issued a strategic plan for high-speed rail in April 2009, followed by guidelines for states and groups of states to apply for the economic recovery money in June 2009. The Department expects to announce the first round of merit-based grants in the fall.

The final application deadline is August 24 for funding on individual projects and planning, and October 2 for corridor programs.
South Hampton Roads' chances of getting high-speed rail could be hurt because the state has overpriced how much money it would take to connect to the growing passenger train network, Norfolk, Va., Mayor Paul Fraim said, according to The Virginian-Pilot.

Fraim's comments came on the heels of the state rail department releasing for the first time a cost estimate of $412 million for running trains from Richmond to Norfolk along the U.S. 460 corridor.

Chip Badger, Department of Rail and Public Transportation director, told the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization in a meeting that the figure includes $150 million for the segment between Richmond and Petersburg. The cost of that segment is also included in the state's highest priority rail project - $1.57 billion for high-speed rail from Washington to Petersburg.

Fraim said counting that segment twice "is simply unfair to South Hampton Roads. The state knows they have to bear the cost from Richmond to Petersburg anyway." Decision makers often base judgments on costs, Fraim said, and the cost will be inflated for the Norfolk link.

Both the Southside and Peninsula are vying for federal money to be connected to the national high-speed network under President Barack Obama's $8-billion rail-stimulus package.

Virginia has submitted paperwork to federal authorities for federal stimulus money for the Washington to Petersburg link. A corridor from Washington to the Virginia state line along Interstates 95 and 85 has been designated as part of the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor.

The state also submitted a Hampton Roads connection for a second round of federal funding. In addition to the original $8 billion, Obama has proposed another $5 billion over five years for high-speed rail.

However, it has not been determined which route a Hampton Roads line would take: either along U.S. 460 to Norfolk, on the current Amtrak line parallel to Interstate 64 on the Peninsula, or both. Speeds of up to 110 mph are proposed, up from a maximum of 79 mph on the Peninsula Amtrak service.

A state study examining the costs and ridership of bringing the higher-speed trains to Hampton Roads is expected to be released later this summer. So far, the state has estimated the cost, depending on the route, would range from $330 million to $844 million.

Meanwhile, the transportation planning organization passed a resolution endorsing a Hampton Roads high-speed rail connection without specifying a route. The resolution states it's "an important regional priority."

Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms, who chairs the transportation agency, said high-speed rail is critical to the region's viability. He requested that a special meeting be held to focus on the issue.
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.
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