Saturday, November 5, 2011

November 5, 2011 weekly rail news

The big story:

On one hand, you imagine the California HSR Authority folks must have gone through a moment like this in one of their meetings:

On the other hand, even the $98.5 billion now proposed only represents something like 0.18% of California's state gross domestic product over the next 20-ish years:

I should make a similar image for the Northern Lights Express here in Minnesota. Its dot would be even smaller—We have a state GDP of more than $225 billion. Even if the cost of the $700 million line is amortized only over the course of four years, it would represent just 0.08% of that cash flow. Instead of being 13 pixels in diameter, the NLX's dot would be 9. Stretching it out over 20 or 30 years would make it barely visible at that scale. Actually, I should look at the cost of the entire planned statewide intercity passenger rail system.

Anyway, returning to California: Even though the current California HSR plan is only a tiny percentage of the state's cash flow, it remains a very good idea to trim the plan down. A rendering was released showing what elevated tracks would look like running through San Jose, a city which already has a grade-separated commuter rail corridor for Caltrain.

There's really no excuse for building such massive structures in the middle of a city. In case you missed it, the viaduct was matching the rooflines of buildings that rise six, seven, and eight stories tall. We're not talking about crossing a big valley or anything—it's just to get through a city center. Not only is it really tall, it's also really long—six miles, in fact. This could very easily blight the landscape, something that can be avoided by building more of it at or closer to ground level.

Fun stuff:

  • Dashloc has put together a great video of AVE trains in the Spanish desert:

  • Amtrak is adding Wi-Fi service to a dozen routes in the Northeast that carry about 60% of the railroad's passengers.

  • Jesse Ventura, ex-Governor of Minnesota and currently a TV host, says he won't fly commercial airlines in the U.S. any longer because of TSA screening procedures. However, he then began rambling on about conspiracies (a TV crew from his show Conspiracy Theory was there at his press conference), denounce the symbols of the United States, and say he was applying for dual citizenship with Mexico while almost simultaneously saying he might run for U.S. president just to do away with TSA procedures. (I generally find WCCO's Pat Kessler to be too critical, but he made some significant observations in his report.)

    But anyway, I do think there is a growing trend of people looking for alternatives that don't require going through security. Ta-Nehisi Coates was a guest on Up with Chris Hayes last week mentioned he had just taken a train trip instead of flying.

Planning, funding, and construction:

  • Minnesota Public Radio's lawsuit against the Metropolitan Council regarding noise mitigation methods along the Central Corridor line next to their building has been tossed out by a Ramsey County judge.

  • Chicago-based Walsh Construction has again been given reduced bonuses for work on the Central Corridor due to low marks from businesses along the route in Saint Paul. Three committees of business owners and residents have had complaints about construction-related issues such as pedestrian access and safety.

  • The state of North Dakota is seeking $33 million in TIGER grant funds for the Empire Builder route. Earlier this summer, Amtrak and BNSF had agreed to each pay one-third of the $100 million cost to repair and upgrade the line running through the Devils Lake and Churchs Ferry area (subject to a decades-long period of rising waters), and North Dakota has to come up with the remaining funds.

  • Steven Dornfield gives Metro Transit's Arterial Transit Corridor Study some coverage at MinnPost. Alex of Getting Around Minneapolis gives us graphs!

  • Skyway 24 over Sixth Street reopened in downtown Saint Paul. The Pioneer Press gave the most in-depth coverage, comparing the skyway reopening to the opening of the San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, among other oddities. (Well, their building is across the street from it, so I suppose they can justify being a bit over-the-top about it).

  • Some more TOD is planned at the Hiawatha Line's Lake Street station, including a three-season farmer's market space.

  • Canadian National has opened a new Chicago-area connection from its ex-Illinois Central line to the former Elgin, Joliet & Eastern, which CN acquired in 2009.  The junction is in Matteson, Illinois and now reportedly has 4-way connections.

  • I was unaware of it until this week, but the Union Pacific railroad bridge across the Minnesota River in Carver is being demolished. It had gotten damaged over the years by floods, logs, and ice dams, and service over the bridge ended in 2007 after a nearby trestle collapsed.


  • Amtrak passengers in Lancaster, Pennsylvania had to break through locked doors on Wednesday because no Amtrak staff were available to open them. There were some construction workers on-site, but they didn't have keys for either the building's front door or the door leading to the platform. The workers let the passengers in through a side entrance, but a padlocked bar across the door to the platform ended up being broken before Amtrak staff arrived.

1 comment:

  1. I wish more of the coverage and commentary surrounding CAHSR matched the tone of your overview—it’s a worthwhile project, but it’s outrageously designed in some places and we should also focus on getting costs down too—I wouldn’t have switched from CAHSR supporter to opposer over the last week. What worries me is that everyone who supports CAHSR has seemed to go all-in for it, pushing the project without pushing to make it better. Given the lack of clout people like Clem Tillier have, I’m pessimistic that it can be made better.