Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood unveiled a $928.6 million grant on Tuesday to build the initial Central Valley segment of the state’s high-speed rail system. “Construction will begin next year in Fresno,” the Federal Railroad Administration says.
After the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s latest estimate that the entire San Francisco-Anaheim line will cost $98 billion generated a wave of criticism, LaHood reminded a skeptical public that the cost of not building the line will be much greater:
“California’s population will grow by 60 percent over the next 40 years,” said LaHood. “Investing in a green, job creating high-speed rail network is less expensive and more practical than paying for all of the expansions to already congested highways and airports that would be necessary to accommodate the state’s projected population boom.”
The first construction project is expected to put more than 100,000 people to work during the next five years, in a region suffering from high unemployment. Over the course of the network’s construction, more than one million jobs are expected to be created, and the economic activity spurred by the new system is expected to add up to 450,000 new non-high-speed rail jobs to the California economy by 2040, according to the US DOT press release.
The initial Fresno-Bakersfield segment will become the central piece of a brand-new world-class high-speed railroad that will extend from San Jose to Anaheim. Trains will reach top speeds of 220 mph on the line, and use existing Caltrain tracks to reach San Francisco from San Jose.
As soon as the initial segment is built, Amtrak Oakland/Sacramento-Bakersfield San Joaquin trains will be able to use it, trimming time off the trip and enhancing reliability.
Secretary LaHood also announced on Tuesday a $150 million grant to the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to improve tracks used by Amtrak’s Wolverines and Blue Water trains.
The grant enables the state to purchase from Norfolk Southern most of the non-Amtrak-owned portion of the Chicago-Detroit line, a federally-designated high-speed rail corridor, and to begin track and signal improvements between Detroit and Kalamazoo in spring 2012, which will support speeds of up to 110 mph on 77 percent of the Wolverine and Blue Water routes.
Secretary LaHood said, “With America’s population set to grow by 100 million over the next 40 years, high-speed rail will play a vital role in meeting America’s long-term transportation challenges. Projects like this will employ local workers, use American-made materials and lay a strong foundation for future economic growth.”
Previously announced FRA investments in the line include new continuously welded rail and ties, fiber optic lines and infrastructure to support a positive train control system, rebuilding 180 highway-rail grade crossings and installing gates and flashers at 65 private highway-rail grade crossings. The Michigan corridors will also benefit from some of the new American-made bi-level trains that Michigan and five other states will purchase.
Local advocacy group Western Pennsylvanians for Passenger Rail (WPPR) staged a news conference Tuesday morning, Nov. 22, at Pittsburgh’s Amtrak station, as the New York-bound Pennsylvanian was boarding, calling attention to the need for increased train service to Pittsburgh and the region.
The event, headlined “More Trains for Pittsburgh,” received some coverage, including in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Speakers included WPPR President and NARP State Representative Michael Alexander; Allegheny County Executive-elect Rich Fitzgerald (D); Railroad Development Corporation/Iowa Interstate Railroad President, Pittsburgh resident and longtime NARP member Henry Posner; and Friends of the Cardinal Chairman and NARP West Virginia State Representative J. Charles Riecks.
Fitzgerald had made expanding mass transit a key plank in his campaign platform, and was elected November 8 by a nearly 2-1 margin.
WPPR, nearly two years old, plans to do more of this type of event in the future as it seeks to gain influence on the local level. Among its goals is the gradual extension of train frequencies west of Harrisburg to Pittsburgh and daytime service between Pittsburgh and Chicago.
A $16.7 million federal High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail grant to the state of Washington allows the complete restoration of Seattle’s ornate King Street Station by late 2013.
Work on the 1906-built station, which served 696,900 Amtrak riders during fiscal 2011, mostly on the Portland-Seattle-Vancouver Cascades corridor, will begin in the spring. State funding will cover the remaining 20% of the cost. This comes on top of the nearly $30 million that has already been invested in station improvements since 2008.
“Passenger stations are an important part of the travel experience and act as the gateway to communities served throughout the Northwest Cascades corridor,” Washington Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond told the Lake Stevens Journal. “These upgrades and this restoration will make King Street Station a more modern facility while protecting its historic character, and that’s a key step toward improving and expanding rail service between Portland and Vancouver, B.C.”
The investment will strengthen King Street Station and its clock tower to better withstand earthquakes, as well as restore the historical features of the station’s main hall and upgrade electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems to modern standards. To restore the main hall to its original grandeur, the building’s white marble walls, decorative lighting and other features removed during “modernization” of the station more than 50 years ago will be rehabilitated or replaced, where possible. Also, improvements to both the Jackson Street and King Street entrances will significantly improve the public’s access to the station.
Now through December 31, when you buy Amtrak Guest Rewards points online, you get a 30% bonus!.
This is in addition to the regular rate $0.0275 per point. So $137.50 buys you a total of 6,500 points (normally, it would only buy 5,000). At current point redemption rates, a round-trip coach ticket within the Northeast Zone costs 6,000 points, so by purchasing 6,500 points for $137.50, you may save considerably over the regular round-trip fare and still have 500 points left over.
For more information, and to purchase points and redeem for free travel, go to http://www.amtrakguestrewards.com and log in to your account.
German-based railroad equipment manufacturer Siemens, which won a contract with Amtrak to build 70 new electric locomotives for Northeast and Keystone Corridor service, unveiled a mock-up of the new locomotive’s cab on Monday at its Sacramento, CA plant.
The locomotives, called ACS-64 (for “Amtrak Cities Sprinter”), will replace the aging AEM-7 locomotives that have been the workhorses of the Washington-Boston NEC and Philadelphia-Harrisburg Keystone line for over two decades, as well as newer, though unreliable, HHP-8 electrics. The first ACS-64s will be delivered in 2013. They will be capable of 125-mph operation on the NEC and 110 mph on the Keystone line.
Monday was the Maryland Transit Administration’s deadline for bids to be received from companies interested in taking over the operation of MARC commuter trains from Amtrak (Penn Line) and CSX (Camden and Brunswick Lines). So far, neither the names of bidders nor any other information has been released.
There has been speculation that French-based firm Keolis, which won the contract to operate Virginia Railway Express commuter trains in 2010, would bid to operate MARC as well. Both services share a terminus at Washington, DC’s Union Station.
MARC’s Penn Line provides hourly service (greater frequencies at rush hours) throughout the day weekdays between Washington, Baltimore (Penn Station) and Perryville, MD. The Camden Line operates in both directions at rush hours between Washington and Baltimore’s Camden Yards, and the Brunswick line runs rush-hour service (inbound mornings, outbound evenings) between Washington, Brunswick, Frederick, MD and Martinsburg, WV. There is no MARC service on weekends or holidays.
After reports surfaced that passengers were stuck on a stalled Metro-North Harlem Line train near the Southeast station for 11 hours during the Oct. 29 snowstorm, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called on the state’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to implement a “bill of rights” for Metro-North riders similar to the one in place for Long Island Rail Road riders (MTA also operates the LIRR).
“What happened at the Southeast stop during last month’s storm is just unacceptable,” Schumer told the Lower Hudson Valley Journal-News. He said the MTA “did the right thing on Long Island” and needs to do the same for the northern customers, so they know what is happening during an event, when they might be evacuated or when they can expect to arrive at their destinations.
Metro-North officials say they’re already working on the idea.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MinnDOT) is moving forward with plans to upgrade the Amtrak Empire Builder route between the Twin Cities and Milwaukee for faster, more frequent corridor train service, despite neighboring Wisconsin’s current lack of interest in developing passenger rail north and west of Milwaukee.
MinnDOT officials will hold two public hearings (Stillwater on Dec. 12 and Winona on Dec. 13), plus an interactive online Webinar on Dec. 14, to present its plan to the public and get feedback from concerned citizens. More information at the NARP Event Calendar.
The planning work is being partially funded through federal High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail grants, and is a prerequisite for the state to be able to apply for future federal grants for actual track improvement work or equipment purchases.
The rail system in Nigeria, expected to be the world’s third most populous nation (behind China and India) by mid-century, is the subject of an article in the special Nigeria section of today’s Financial Times.
Transport Minister Idris Umar pledged in July to revive the railways. “He told journalists accompanying him that Nigeria had a 25-year plan to ensure the railway system, which he admitted had been ‘comatose’ for decades, was ‘fully resuscitated.’”
Railroads, once the primary way to move freight between Nigeria’s interior and its ports, declined due to competition from road transportation and lack of maintenance. Another factor that has historically stunted the development of Nigerian railroads is that many use the narrow 1,067-millimeter gauge also used on Welsh mountain railroads, while others use the world standard gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches.
“With standard gauge, you can double-stack containers and run reasonably fast intercity passenger trains, whereas, if you stick to narrow gauge, you cannot do much faster than 100 km/h [about 62 mph],” international railway consultant Michael Schabas told the Financial Times.
Amtrak’s only dome car running on Chicago Hub trains through Nov. 28: Amtrak’s “Great Dome” car is running the next several days on Amtrak’s short-distance corridors radiating from Chicago. This is the same car that ran this fall and last on certain runs of the Adirondack between Albany and Montreal and the Cardinal between Chicago and Washington. The car is scheduled to run as follows (train numbers in parentheses):
A mudslide over BNSF Railway tracks near Everett, Washington, forces cancellation of Amtrak Cascades service north of Seattle through Friday, fouling the Thanksgiving travel plans of many.
BNSF policy forbids the operation of a passenger train through an area affected by a mudslide for 48 hours after the slide occurs. The two daily Cascades trips between Seattle and Vancouver, BC, will be replaced by buses for the remainder of today and tomorrow. Service south of Seattle is running on normal schedules.