Friday, August 19, 2011

August 19, 2011 weekly rail news

Fun stuff:
  • The Minnesota State Fair will begin August 25th and run through September 5th, bringing with it a number of traditional transit changes. Some park-and-ride facilities have free rides, while more distant locations have per-person round-trip costs of $5 (though it's possible to pre-order family passes for $15 before the fair opens). The regular routes 3 and 84 go past the fairgrounds, of course, and express route 960 runs from downtown Minneapolis to the fair via I-94, MN-280, Energy Park Drive, and the UMN transitway.

    Construction along the west end of the transitway is also expected to be wrapping up in time for the fair traffic to begin. The bike/ped path adjacent to the transitway will remain closed through 2012, however (though I tend to bike on the roadway anyway).

  • The Minnesota Historical Society put together a video describing some of the railroading items in their collection:

  • Alon Levy says, Every Time You Justify Infrastructure on Competitiveness Grounds, A Kitten Dies (indeed!)

Construction, planning, and funding news:
  • A Northstar Line station for Ramsey is almost fully funded. The Anoka County Regional Rail Authority has submitted a request to CTIB for the last $2 million. More details in yesterday's post. Meanwhile, KSTP put up their own report on the associated parking ramp for the station where they counted 104 vehicles at midday yesterday.

  • The headhouse of the Saint Paul Union Depot will have a completely different look on the inside when it reopens later this year. Workers are applying a much brighter paint scheme, which represents the time when the building opened. While it may look like they are covering up stone, it turns out that much of it is fake—it's really just plaster.

  • The city of Saint Paul put together a video showing construction progress along the Central Corridor. Some details that jumped out at me were discussions of pervious pavement used in the sidewalk along University Avenue (I'd wondered why they used brick there) and the plantings that will be put in place along much of the route:

  • Union Pacific is spending $7 million to refresh 24 miles of track from St. Paul to Hudson, replacing old jointed rail segments with continuous-welded rail, and rebuilding 26 grade crossings. The upgrades will also benefit Minnesota Commercial Railway, which uses the route to reach customers in Bayport.

Looks like I'll have to start reading some meeting minutes... Here's some info from the August 8th meeting of the Metropolitan Council's Transportation Committee.
  • The Hiawatha Line's outage on August 5th due to a snapped power cable on the MN-62 flyover was a bit more significant than what we'd heard in initial reports. A power surge occurred when a train hit the break, and it jumped past protective insulation all the way up to Target Field which caused some communications equipment to be damaged. While trains resumed operating later in the day, it took 2½ days for all of the supporting equipment to be repaired.

  • Some traffic signaling improvements are apparently coming along the Hiawatha Avenue corridor in Minneapolis. $1.1 million is planned to be spent on altering stop light phasing, improving detection loops, and other fixes to improve traffic flow. The changes won't affect the priority of the Hiawatha Line itself, however. (I wonder if they remembered pedestrians with this—the delay for a "walk" signal across Hiawatha Ave is often unacceptable and people tend to cross during gaps in traffic.)

  • A proposal to use $20 million in G.O. bonds for several bus and rail stations and planning processes was working its way through during the meeting. Headline items include $11 million for the Interchange station project in Minneapolis and $4 million for the aforementioned Northstar station in Ramsey. $2 million will go to park-and-ride expansion at Maplewood Mall (called part of the "Rush Line" corridor, although the route 285 bus runs farther west). $500,000 will go to a park-and-ride expansion in Newport along the Red Rock Corridor, though that could increase to $1.75 million if CTIB backfills $1.25 million that the proposal would otherwise send to the Gateway Corridor folks along I-94. There was also $1 million set aside for I-35W BRT and $250,000 for the Robert Street Corridor.

  • CTIB grant requests were also being planned for capital funding to plan and engineer the Southwest LRT line, and to continue construction and property acquisition for the Central Corridor. Grants for 2012 operational funding for the Hiawatha Line ($12.5 million), Northstar Line ($8.8 million), and I-35W/Cedar Ave BRT routes (totaling $910,000) were also discussed.

Collisions and incidents (Amtrak nationally, freights in the upper Midwest):
  • August 13: A 50-year-old male pedestrian was killed when struck by an Amtrak train in Alton, Illinois.
  • August 14: A woman in her 30s was struck and killed by an Amtrak train while walking on the tracks at the Bridesburg SEPTA station in Philadelphia.
  • Alex of Getting Around Minneapolis delved into the topic of bus stop spacing in St. Louis versus the Twin Cities. He discovered that the Citizens' League had talked to executives at the old (post-streetcar) Twin City Rapid Transit Company about the issue back in 1956! (and they also had some other useful suggestions that transit advocates pine for these days.)

  • Gov. Terry Branstad of Iowa has declined to renew the state's membership in the Midwest Intercity Passenger Rail Commission (unfortunately, an organization I've never heard of until now).

  • Out in California, Amtrak is losing its contract to operate service for Caltrain. TransitAmerica has been chosen as the new operator.

  • Amtrak's second daily Cascades train to Vancouver, British Columbia—initiated in the run-up to the 2010 Winter Olympics—will continue indefinitely. Canadian customs officials had previously threatened to stop staffing their station in October.

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