Hotline #836 -- November 8, 2013

Construction is moving forward on the Cincinnati streetcar line, despite vows to kill the project by the man who was elected mayor this past Tuesday.

Mayor elect John Cranley has been a vocal opponent of the line, saying that the benefits of the line will not be worth the cost. 

“They should immediately (stop it) and they should not be ordering these cars to be built three weeks before my swearing-in. I mean, seriously, look at who got elected yesterday,” Cranley told WLWT.  “I don’t, I don’t, I don’t relish stopping the streetcar. I don’t say, ‘Yay, yay, yay, we get to stop the streetcar.’ The fact is, it’s just not worth the money.”

Many residents and business owners aren’t happy with Cranley’s decision to oppose the line, believing it will threaten the city’s development and ability to attract residents.

“It was so exciting because everything what was talked about for so long is suddenly becoming reality and you're watching it and you're witnessing history,” local business owner Vik Silberberg told WLWT. “A lot of people are moving from the suburbs, young professionals and older professionals and empty-nesters that are moving here. The process is unstoppable and it will be a shame to see such a beautiful project coming to an end.”

The streetcar project has already spurred real estate development along the corridor.

The city has already spent $23 million on the project, with another $94 million tied up in contract.  Further complicating matters, the Federal Transit Administration has said the $45 million grant cannot be used for other purposes.  The end result could be that killing the project is more expensive than completing it—something the Mayor-elect has said he’ll take into consideration.

Until then, the outgoing administration says it will move forward with construction, as directed by the City Council. 

Residents of the region who want to voice their support for the streetcar are encouraged to call the office of Senator Sherrod Brown.  Please give personal reasons why you want the streetcar project continued.  One trolley supporter says Brown’s office told him the caller he was the first pro-trolley car the office had received.

District (Brooke Hill):  513-684-1021

Washington, D.C.:  202-224-2315

Supporters have also organized a Save the Streetcar campaign on Facebook.

 

The Spanish train-manufacturer Talgo filed a $65.9 million claim against the state of Wisconsin yesterday, the latest chapter in the saga sparked by Governor Scott Walker’s decision to reject an $810 million federal grant to a high-performance Madison-Milwaukee-Chicago train service. 

Talgo Inc.’s $65.9 million claim breaks down to $23.5 million in lost business, $18.6 million in unpaid invoices (plus interest), $10.5 million in damages stemming from state officials "continually defaming" the company’s reputation, and $9.8 million in foregone maintenance work.  Wisconsin has already paid $40 million to Talgo.  Regardless of whether or not the state pays, it will not take ownership of the train sets because it breached the purchasing contract by refusing to accept delivery when Talgo informed the WI DOT the trains were completed, per the their contractual agreement.

In an added wrinkle, the manufacturing company is claiming that the state must immediately repay $70 million to the bond holders it borrowed from to finance the trains it never took possession of.  Wisconsin had planned to pay the sum back, but over the course of many years. 

Governor Walker, a Republican, made killing the rail project a centerpiece of his campaign in 2010, focusing on President Barack Obama’s decision to make high performance rail a point of emphasis during his first term.  Ironically, Walker called the project a boondoggle and said killing the project would save money.

Wisconsin had been awarded $810 million to extend passenger rail service from Milwaukee to Madison, with an eventual goal of extending west to Minneapolis. The state contracted with Talgo to provide two additional train sets.  As part of that deal, Talgo agreed to invest millions in setting up a manufacturing plant in Milwaukee and a permanent, in-state maintenance base.

When Walker killed the train, the federal money was redistributed to other states, the maintenance base was abandoned, and the plans for the manufacturing plant greatly reduced.  In all, hundreds of construction and manufacturing jobs were lost.

The Wisconsin state Claims Board will now review Talgo’s claim.  If it is rejected, Talgo is expected to move ahead with a lawsuit.

 

The board of the California High-Speed Rail Authority approved the route between Bakersfield and Fresno for the 220 mph Los Angeles – San Francisco high speed train.

The route, which will run through downtown Bakersfield, was approved by a unanimous vote.  However, Board Chairman Dan Richard emphasized the alignment is not final.

The decision was met with approval from farmers in Shafter and Wasco.  However, many officials and residents in Bakersfield were unhappy because the downtown alignment will cause disruption and land takings.  Bakersfield representatives have pushed for the new station to replace the current Amtrak station located on the eastern side of town.

CAHSRA is expecting construction to begin sometime this year, and are holding firm to reaching a goal for the first segment to become operational by 2022.

 

Tuesday’s elections were a good day for public transportation ballot initiatives, according to a survey done by the American Public Transportation Association.

Six of seven ballot initiatives passed, with the seventh defeated by the narrowest of margins.  That brings the total success rate for transit initiatives for 2013 to nine out of 13, or 69 percent.

“The high passage rate of these initiatives demonstrates voters trust their public transit agency with their hard earned tax dollars to make their community better and more inviting to all,” said APTA in a statement. “Year in and year out voters support public transit because they see the impact these systems have on their communities.”

Items passed in the November 5th elections include:

·         Property tax increases to support public transportation in Schoolcraft County, MI.

·         Property tax increases to support public transportation in Missoula, MT.

·         Property tax increases to support public transportation in Lake County, OH.

·         A sales tax increase to support public transportation investment in Grays Harbor County, WA.

·         A sales tax increase to support of public transportation investment in Okanogan County, WA.

·         A multimodal transportation bond package worth $100 million in the state of Maine.

 

North Carolina’s Department of Transportation unveiled a new website for rail passengers this week at NCByTrain.org.

“This website helps us better accommodate the growing number of people choosing to travel by train in North Carolina, and make their experience better and more convenient than ever before,” said NCDOT Rail Division Director Paul Worley.

NCDOT says the new site will offer passengers an easy way to buy train tickets, check the status of a train, locate stations, and read the latest news projects to improve rail service and safety initiatives.

North Carolina has more reason than most states to invest in the passenger interface; the state's Piedmont and Carolinian trains are among the fastest growing in the Amtrak system, setting new ridership and revenue records in Fiscal Year 2013.  The NCDOT Rail Division is investing $520 million in the network to meet surging public demand.  The Piedmont Improvement Program will expand and improve the state-owned rail corridor between Raleigh and Charlotte—for passenger and freight trains—and add two additional daily round trips of the Piedmont Service.

 

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and the European Rail Industry Association (UNIFE) signed a memorandum of understanding to reinforce ties between the European and American rail sectors on November 6.

The agreement outlines a framework for cooperation and information exchange between the two associations. 

"APTA is delighted to work closely with UNIFE, and we look forward to close cooperation and collaboration as both organizations work to advance rail transportation," APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy. "The European and United States rail sectors have much to learn from each other. This [MOU] facilitates the sharing of best practices and the robust exchange of information in technical and policy areas."

Most American passengers who have traveled aboard the generally superior European transit rail systems will be heartened by this news.  Of course, the most useful piece of advice the Europeans could offer the U.S. may well be: invest more in your infrastructure.

 

Amtrak announced on November 6 that Gerald Sokol, Jr. will take over the role as Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for the railroad, effective December 3.

Sokol previously served as President and CEO of Vertis Corporation, a $1.2 billion revenue direct mail and newspaper insert printing company, and Executive Vice President of finance at AOL.  He will be responsible for corporate finance, forecasting, and growth strategies to help secure the long-term viability of the national system.

 

Portland’s TriMet transit system announced that it will reorganize its Operations Division following a terrible week on its MAX light rail system to refocus on reliability.

TriMet’s MAX carried 35.2 million trips in FY 2012, capping a decade of ridership growth.  But this growth has led to difficulties in meeting demand.  Crews initiated repair work on worn out elements on the Steel Bridge, which handles 559 light rail train crossings each day.  Excavation work led to problems with the electrical system, however, resulting in widespread delays and an abysmal 40 percent On Time Performance. 

“We are growing the transit system at the same time we’re managing an aging system,” McFarlane said. “This requires us to be even more focused on our vehicle and track system to deliver more reliable service to our riders.”

TriMet has outlined an 18 month reinvestment plan that will undertake $2.5 million in track and switch improvements.  Over the next two and a half years, the agency will use $585,000 in federal grant monies to replace and improve signals, gate mechanisms, and other electrical systems.

 

From the NARP Blog

Did "petty politics" kill Florida HSR?: The Atlantic Cities has an interesting discussion of how and why Florida Gov. Rick Scott killed the state’s high speed rail project. It is based on a Tampa Tribune report about communications between Scott and Republican State Senator Paula Dockery. There is evidence that the decision was driven by “petty politics” rather than “fiscal prudence.” [Read More]

—A national transportation network for the price of one highway bridge: In response to a letter from a constituent urging him not to cut Amtrak funding, Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), who represents areas north and west of Cincinnati, said he would rather see Amtrak’s entire annual federal grant used to replace the Brent Spence Bridge, which carries Interstates 71 and 75 over the Ohio River between Cincinnati and Covington, KY. This is a classic case of the nearsighted thinking that plagues many politicians: that the only good kind of federal spending is that which directly benefits “my constituents.” [Read More]

—With Thanksgiving Fast Approaching, the Time to Book is Now: With the fourth Thursday of November rapidly approaching, Amtrak is reminding passengers to book early and book often.  (Well, that last part is more NARP’s mission). [Read More]

—New Apps turn transit options into transit system: Redundancy in transportation infrastructures is an attractive and efficient thing, as long as you’re aware of the alternative option’s existence. I realized this for the umpteenth time aboard a New Jersey Transit commuter train bound for Philadelphia 30th Street Station. [Read More]

—W. Graham Claytor, Jr. Destroys the Media’s View on Rail in 1985 and today: “Mr. Claytor, if President Reagan gets his way, all federal subsidies to Amtrak will end September 30. How many passenger trains will you be able to run then?” Claytor’s answer was, as always, direct and non-negotiable, “NONE.” [Read More]

—“The taxpayer train?” How about the taxpayer highway?: ABC 11 WTVD, a TV station serving North Carolina’s Triangle region (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill), ran an “I Team Investigates” report last night about what the State of North Carolina is paying for the Piedmont and Carolinian “taxpayer trains,” which together offer three daily round-trips between Raleigh and Charlotte, serving the state’s biggest population centers. The story focuses too much on what revenue the trains generate, not on the benefits of the service, and avoids comparison to other modes of transportation, which are even more heavily subsidized. [Read More]