Saturday, October 29, 2011

October 29, 2011 weekly rail news

Fun stuff:
  • A photo from the Minneapolis Bike Love forum of installation of a new bike/ped bridge in Uptown over the Midtown Greenway, the former Milwaukee Road corridor through Minneapolis. (The building on the left is Mozaic.)

  •  The Rick Mercer Report gives us the state of Canadian high-speed rail, which sounds pretty familiar (via @ttpolitic):

Construction, planning, and funding news:
  • The Met Council has put out word that they're looking for businesses to provide engineering services for the Southwest LRT line.

  • Walsh Construction reportedly has until November 30th to reopen four lanes of traffic on the 3-mile stretch of University Avenue between Emerald Street and Hamline Avenue in Saint Paul. Crews are working at a pretty furious pace at the moment, but if they need to have it all back to 4 lanes, they definitely aren't going to make it (traffic finally shifted to the south side under the Minnesota Commercial Railway bridge between Cleveland/Transfer and Prior a few days ago, and there's no way they can redo the north side in only about a week—however, there aren't any driveways along that stretch either.). They have also had to rip up some intersections in downtown Saint Paul where tracks had been improperly embedded in black concrete (I had been wondering why the intersections had been inconsistent).

  • The Red Rock Corridor got a bit of coverage from the Star Tribune, mostly related to TOD planning in cities such as Newport.

  • In the Northeast, Amtrak is going to suspend operation overnight from Saturday, November 5th to Sunday the 6th in order to replace two bridges along the NEC.

  • The Surface Transportation Board has given their approval for the 190-mile DesertXpress line from Victorville, California to Las Vegas.

  • The U.S. Army has acquired some Virginia Railway Express cars which they intend to use for a service to carry military students from Fort Lee to Fort A.P. hill on. The military believes the train is safer than transferring students on buses (they need to have more than a dozen to carry all of the participants). Trains will run about three times per month.

  • Caterpillar/Progress Rail/EMD have rolled out the first new locomotive built at their Muncie, Indiana facility which they just started working on about 10 months ago (partly explained by the fact the building formerly built locomotives for ABB).  The first SD70ACe off the line was built for the Mexican railroad Ferromex.

    ...and, of course, any mention of Muncie is not complete without a clip from The Hudsucker Proxy:

Thursday, October 27, 2011

New tracks, fresh pavement

New tracks, fresh pavement by Mulad
New tracks, fresh pavement, a photo by Mulad on Flickr.
University Avenue as seen on Wednesday evening from the temporary bus stop at Cromwell (the east-side frontage road for MN-280).  The top layer of asphalt has been put down on the south side along with the final striping configuration.  I'm expecting that the north side will get its top layer soon, meaning that this segment of track is getting very close to done (at least at ground level -- installation of catenary infrastructure should begin in the spring if I understand correctly).

Saturday, October 22, 2011

October 22, 2011 weekly rail news

Fun stuff:
  • The Google Street View team put one of their trikes onto a flatbed car and scanned a Swiss railway. I'm hoping that they will do this on a lot more rail lines, but for now they seem to be most interested in capturing historic sites.

Planning, funding, and construction news:
  • The U.S. DOT handed out $928.5 million in transit grants split among more than 300 projects. Minnesota got four. Two are state-of-good repair projects for bus operations facilities: $7 million went to Rochester, and another $340,000 went to Albert Lea. Metro Transit got the other two: $2.6 million for bus stop improvements in downtown Saint Paul, and $600,000 for an alternatives analysis for bus or rail service in the Lake Street/Midtown Greenway corridor in Minneapolis.

  • Amtrak is apparently trying something new by leasing 100 miles of track from CSX in New York in order to upgrade it.

  • Amtrak is proclaiming that their Amtrak Thruway bus network has expanded in Wisconsin, with new(?) routes connecting to Empire Builder stations in Portage and Columbus (often listed as the "Madison" stop, even though it's nearly 30 miles away). Lamers Connect is providing the service. The Columbus connection links to Madison, Beaver Dam, Waupun, Fond du Lac, Oshkosh, Appleton and Green Bay, while the Portage connection links to Westfield, Stevens Point, Mosinee and Wausau.

  • Just because I've got a coworker visiting over there who snapped a shot of it, I'll mention that the first segment of the Namma Metro opened on October 20th in Bangalore, India.

  • Freight currently transported on flatbed trailers may soon move to special open containers which have vertical supports allowing them to be double-stacked. Canadian Pacific is trying them out.

  • The current going price for the Grenada Railway line facing abandonment in Mississippi is $21 million (supposedly the scrap value of the line).

  • Poking around on Google's LatLong blog after seeing their video on the Street View project, I saw that the company has published their spec for GTFS-realtime, which can provide trip updates, service alerts, and vehicle position data from transit providers.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

October 15, 2011 weekly rail news

Fun stuff:

Planinng, construction, and funding:
  • Metro Transit held three meetings discussing "rapid bus" services that may be implemented in several arterial corridors in the Twin Cities. I'll try to avoid calling it "BRT" in the future, since these are very unlikely to have exclusive lanes, though most other BRT features are being considered. Alex has a writeup of his perspective. Also check out the comments at the Minnescraper thread on the subject. One more meeting got added and will occur this week from 6–8 p.m. on October 18th at the Fridley Community Center.
  • Officials broke ground on the $133 million Englewood flyover in Chicago on Monday, part of the CREATE program to alleviate train traffic congestion in the area.

  • About 18 were injured when an Amtrak California San Joaquin train struck a stationary Coast Starlight head-on at Jack London Square station in Oakland, California on Wednesday as the Starlight was unloading passengers. The lead locomotives of each train were derailed, interrupting service for several hours.
  • Iowa Interstate Railroad began operating again on rails through Tiskilwa, Illinois where there was a fiery train crash involving ethanol cars on Friday last week. The Illinois EPA has recommended that the state take action to make the railroad pay for cleanup and continued monitoring of the site.

  • Amtrak got more specific about their ridership from this past fiscal year. They reached 30.2 million riders (up 5.1%) and pulled in $1.9 billion in ticket revenue (up 8.5%) across the whole system. The handful of routes that showed ridership losses were led by the hard-hit Empire Builder. Cancellations from flooding and other interruptions caused a slide of 12%, from 533,493 passengers last year to just 469,167 in FY2011. It's the first time in several years that the Builder has dipped below 500,000 riders. Most of the other routes showing losses had been impacted by weather (like the Vermonter) or major construction (like the Chicago–St. Louis Lincoln Service).

Saturday, October 8, 2011

October 8, 2011 weekly rail news

Fun stuff:
  • Here's Local Motives, a Macalester student film discussing the Central Corridor, Northern Lights Express, and the debate about whether trains to Chicago should go down the Mississippi River or through Rochester:

    Local Motives from James Christenson on Vimeo.

  • Canadian Pacific has put up a website to show when and where their annual Holiday Train will show up. In Minnesota, travel dates appear to stretch from December 5th to December 15th.

Planning, construction, and funding news:
  • According to a article, the cost of the Twin Cities & Western freight rail reroute/relocation is being added to the cost of the (previously) $1.25 billion Southwest Corridor light-rail line. It's estimated at between $70 and $150 million at this point. I'm of the opinion that the tab for this should really go to Mn/DOT, who severed the (ex-Milwaukee Road) TC&W tracks in the 1990s to make way for the interchange at Hiawatha Ave and Lake Street and forced the railroad down its current Kenilworth route.

  • The Federal Transit Administration is redirectiong $6 million originally intended for the Kenosha–Racine–Milwaukee (KRM) commuter train in Wisconsin, which is now canceled. Some in Milwaukee had hoped to get the money to help fund a planned streetcar line there.

  • In New England, the Vermonter has resumed normal service after a summer of bustitution as tracks were upgraded.  In combination with upgrades now beginning between Springfield and New Haven, CT,

  • EMD is planning a new streamlined 125-mph diesel passenger locomotive for the American market (and our screwy crash standards), though it will take until 2014 to see a prototype. EMD is now owned by Caterpillar, and the new locomotive is planned to have a Cat engine inside.

  • BNSF Railway says that flooding-related repairs, particularly along the Missouri River, are going to cost them $375 million this year.

  • On Tuesday, yet another mudslide blocked tracks near Tacoma, Washington and forced Amtrak to cancel Cascades service and presumably truncate Coast Starlight trains. Just last month, the state received $16 million for rail improvements including up to $10 million for mudslide mitigation. This week's outage was expected to last 48 hours.

  • An Iowa Interstate Railroad train derailment and ensuing fire has forced evacuations in Tiskilwa, Illinois. Some of the train's tank cars were loaded with ethanol.

  • A chunk of concrete fell and hit a Metra locomotive as it was parked on Track 5 at Union Station in Chicago on Thursday.

  • I guess I missed it last week, but officials in Washington had begun backing off a bit with regard to the tampering that occurred along BNSF tracks which initially led to cancellations and later reduced speeds as trains were escorted through the area. Police now say that the tampering did not pose any threat to trains or passengers, with one official calling it "a nuisance type thing."

  • The Twin Cities' Transportation Advisory Board is looking for three new members from three Met Council districts:

    • District A (Council Districts 1 and 2)
      Includes the Hennepin County cities of Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Champlin, Corcoran, Dayton, Greenfield, Independence, Loretto, Maple Grove, Maple Plain, Medicine Lake, Medina, Osseo, Plymouth, Robbinsdale and Rogers, and the town of Hassan, and the Anoka County cities of Columbia Heights, Fridley, Hilltop, and Spring Lake Park.

      District B (Council Districts 3 and 4)
      Includes the Hennepin County cities of Chanhassen, Deephaven, Eden Prairie, Excelsior, Greenwood, Hopkins, Long Lake, Minnetonka, Minnetonka Beach, Minnetrista, Mound, Orono, St. Bonifacius, Shorewood, Spring Park, Tonka Bay, Wayzata, and Woodland, Carver County and Scott County, except for New Prague

      District C (Council Districts 5 and 6)
      includes the southwest portion of Minneapolis and the Hennepin County cities of Bloomington, Crystal, Edina, Golden Valley, New Hope, Richfield, St. Louis Park and the unorganized territory of Fort Snelling.

  • dscf0084-contrastCanadian Pacific is moving out of the Soo Line Building in downtown Minneapolis to One Financial Plaza right next door on the same block. The building was the tallest skyscraper in Minneapolis when it was built in 1914. The building, which is just an intersection away from the Hiawatha Line's Nicollet Mall station, is planned to be outfitted with 250 upscale rental units.

  • In labor relations, a 30-day cooling-off period ended overnight on Thursday/Friday. A dozen railroad unions representing 92,000 workers have been negotiating with the National Carriers' Conference Committee representing the Class I railroads and many regional lines. The largest union -- the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen -- voted almost unanimously to go on strike, and apparently several others followed. However, as expected, President Obama set up a 5-member Presidential Emergency Board to recommend a settlement. The board will have 30 days to come up with a recommendation, and the unions will have another 30 days to accept or reject it. The United Transportation Union has accepted an earlier proposal to increase wages by 17% over the next 6 years and limit monthly health care premiums to $200.

  • A dozen counties along the route of the (ex-Illinois Central) Grenada Railway line in Mississippi that is threatened with abandonment are looking into creating a regional rail authority to take over the line and keep it in operation. Shippers have complained of rate hikes designed to kick them off the rails, and a state-owned rail line to Kosciusko also objected to the abandonment plan. Grenada's parent company V&S Railway and it's affiliated companies have a history of buying out lines and scrapping them.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Railroad strike on hold for now

Just because my brief note about the railroad strike planned for tonight got a sizable number of hits, I'll mention that President Obama has created a Presidential Emergency Board which will help to mediate the dispute. The creation of this board should delay any potential strike action for at least 60 days.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Major railroad workers' strike planned for Oct. 7

Members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen are planning to walk off the job just after midnight on the morning of October 7th. 97% of the union members voted in favor of strike action. Some details here.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

October 1, 2011 weekly rail news

Fun stuff:
  • Amtrak has squeaked past 30 million riders this fiscal year, continuing their pattern of record-setting ridership. I suppose their next target might be to get to 32.6 or 32.7 million, which would double the 15.8 million they carried in 1972, the first full year of Amtrak's existence. Despite this year's gains, several routes will see reduced numbers because of cancellations due to flooding in the West and because of construction along the line between Chicago and St. Louis.

  • The Saint Paul Union Depot continues to get news. The Historic Structures Report prepared in the run-up to the current renovation has received another award.  Twin Cities Public Television also received a regional Emmy for their documentary Lowertown: The Rise of an Urban Village, which is mostly about redevelopment of the area but also touches on the history of the depot and railroading in Saint Paul. (It can be viewed online, or for folks in the Twin Cities, it will re-air this coming week on October 4th & 5th.)

  • The old Canadian National depot up north in Baudette, Minnesota has been restored and the city plans a grand reopening celebration for October 21st and 22nd. The depot is along a line which Canadian National and VIA Rail used to carry passengers from Winnipeg, Manitoba to Thunder Bay, Ontario, though VIA ended operations in 1977.

  • And, oh yeah, another Minneapolis bike video:

    Minneapolis' Midtown Greenway: Good for Biz, Good for Bikes. from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

Planning, construction, and funding news:
  • Minneapolis is continuing to move toward building a streetcar system.  An alternatives analysis is set to begin in January 2012 for a corridor down Central Avenue and Nicollet Avenue, though a streetcar line will only be one of the alternatives analyzed (BRT is a likely other option). I did a brief write-up on Wednesday.

  • Olmsted County is also moving forward with a 2-year, $2.3 million service development plan study for the Zip Rail line from the Twin Cities to Rochester, and are backing that up with a $15 million state bonding request to fund later work that would move the line through the NEPA process and into preliminary engineering.

  • Partially overlapping the streetcar AA is a broader Arterial Transit Corridor Study being done by Metro Transit to implement BRT and/or "rapid bus" techniques along several urban corridors. The corridors currently represent about half of all bus ridership in the Twin Cities (assuming they're disincluding the Hiawatha Line, that works out to roughly 110,000 daily riders). Public meetings are planned in just over a week:

    • Tuesday, Oct. 11 - 6 to 8 p.m.
      Metro State University, Founders Hall
      700 E. 7th St., St. Paul

    • Wednesday, Oct. 12, 6 to 8 p.m.
      Midtown Global Market, basement meeting room
      920 E. Lake St., Suite G10, Minneapolis

    • Thursday, Oct. 13, 11 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.
      Central Library, Doty Board Room, N-280
      300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis

    Alex beat me to doing a write-up and put up a post at Twin Cities Streets for the People.

  • A small amount of chatter out of Zumbrota on the Twin Cities to Chicago line following a Ramsey County official's visit on September 20th. He said that the route would go along the Mississippi River and would stop in Red Wing (23 miles from Zumbrota) like the Empire Builder does today, though Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority officially supports that route, so I'm not sure if that's an indication of what Mn/DOT and WisDOT are currently thinking.

  • Michigan is one state that is actually prepared to accept and spend some money on rail projects: The state's House of Representatives has appproved state funds to a pot that now totals $39 million, which will match $161 million from the federal government. Norfolk Southern and the City of Ann Arbor had previously added $19 million(!?!) and $1.5 million to the local match, respectively.  Part of the money will go buying the Norfolk Southern line to Detroit currently used by Amtrak's Wolverine service.

  • There has been some discussion that the U.S. DOT has been sending out a lot of money lately for rail projects. It's not the billions that would be required to build true high-speed rail, but it's hundreds of millions. I can't claim anything more than passing familiarity with those projects, but the American passenger rail network continues to need all the money it can get. Getting money to go to projects that are actually building things and improving speeds is very important, though I'm also of the opinion that cost-constrained times are great moments for planning. A few million here and there can do a huge amount to advance what are now decades-old projects through the acres of red tape involved in the NEPA process and get them to the point where large sums could be spent on full engineering and construction. (Actually, we also need to be spending money to train and educate the engineers and other workers who will be needed when things really get going).

  • Meanwhile, New Jersey has agreed to pay back $95 million to the federal government, 35% of the money they spent on the now-cancelled ARC tunnel to Manhattan. The state has also been ordered to spend $128 million on other transit projects in the state.

  • The longshoremens' strike at the Port of Longview in southwest Oregon (north of Portland/Vancouver) may have led to track tampering at a dozen locations along 60 miles of the BNSF Railway line that passes nearby. The tracks were shut down for a time on Monday, September 26th as tracks were inspected. After the line reopened, many trains—including Amtrak Cascades and the Coast Starlight—have been getting escorted through the region at slow speeds with hi-rail trucks leading the way. Union protests had previously turned violent when dock workers released grain and damaged buildings and equipment in the port area. BNSF is offering up to $10,000 in reward money for information that would lead them to the responsible parties.

  • A pickup truck was struck head-on by a train in Andover, MN on Tuesday night (on the BNSF Hinckley sub to Duluth). However, the driver of the truck has yet to be found—it's not entirely clear whether he (the registered owner is male) was in the vehicle when the crash occurred, since the truck was destroyed but no blood was inside.

    View Larger Map
  • On Friday night, an Amtrak California San Joaquin train hit a farm truck at a rural grade crossing near Brentwood (the city in/near the Bay Area, not the LA neighborhood). The crossing doesn't have any warning lights. No injuries to the truck driver or passenger, but 39 people from the train were taken to area hospitals to be treated for "minor to moderate" injuries.
  • Metro Transit held their annual bus "Roadeo" competition this past week.  It began almost 30 years ago: [video removed since it has an ad that auto-plays... Bah!]

  • The former Illinois Central line in Mississippi where Casey Jones wrecked in 1900 is probably going to be abandoned by current owner Grenada Railway. Grenada bought the line from Canadian National back in 2009. The abandonment is planned to stretch more than 80 miles from Grenada to Canton.

  • DB Schenker has launched a daily train service to carry BMW car parts 6,800 miles (11,000 km) from Leipzig, Germany to Shenyang, China. Each train will take 23 days(!) to make the journey (partially running on the Trans-Siberian line), but that's only half the time it takes to ship by sea.