Friday, August 5, 2011

August 5, 2011 weekly rail news

Fun stuff:
  • The new Fountains of Wayne album includes a track named "Acela".
Funding, planning, and construction news:
  • KMSP had a fairly good segment on the Saint Paul Union Depot renovation which includes comments from John Diers, co-author of Twin Cities by Trolley who is now working on a book about the depot.

    There was also news recently that the Sibley Street closure near the depot has been extended until September 1st because flooding along the Mississippi this spring delayed work.

  • California, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan and Missouri will together receive $362.8 million in ARRA funding for new Amtrak locomotives and bilevel cars capable of more than 110 mph. (Amtrak's current fleet of P40/P42 locomotives are capable of 110, though they are aging and becoming unreliable. Standard Superliner bilevel cars are only rated for 90 or 100 mph. Faster trains in the U.S. generally use single-level equipment.) The Midwestern states will get 7 locomotives and 48 cars as part of the order, though Illinois had already received funding for another 12 locomotives and 30 cars in December of last year, so the total for the Midwest is 19 locos and 78 cars. Adding everything up from that press release, it looks like Amtrak and states around the country have put together $1.3 billion for 103 locos and 120 passenger cars in the last 12 months (which can also be added to the 130 single-level cars ordered last year for $298 million).

  • In order to allow construction of the junction to the Central Corridor, the Hiawatha LRT Trail (the bike/ped path next to the light rail line) will be detoured starting August 8th, and will remain so until the end of 2012.

  • The Southwest Corridor from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie may soon get the green light to go ahead with preliminary engineering, although the FTA has expressed concerns about the funding situation in Minnesota going forward. (I'm surprised that it's now expected to cost $1.25 billion in 2015 dollars—it has previously been quoted as $865 million to $1.4 billion, though I thought the high side was only going to be reached if the route went through Uptown. I know the route is a few miles longer than others built recently, but the Southwest line will mostly be built along an old freight rail corridor where there really isn't much stuff in the way, so it should be much cheaper. Grumble grumble.)

Amtrak collisions and incidents:
  • John Davis Trucking Company, owner of the truck that crashed into the California Zephyr on June 24th (killing the truck driver and five aboard the train) is suing Amtrak and Union Pacific, claiming they failed to maintain a safe crossing at the crash site and did not provide sufficient warning of the oncoming train. The NTSB has also released a preliminary report on the crash, which mentions that the lead locomotive had an external camera and microphone which showed the gate arms were down by the time the train reached the crossing. There wasn't much else mentioned in the preliminary report, however.

  • An eastbound California Zephyr struck a center pivot irrigation system at about 6 AM on August 1st about a mile west of Exeter, Nebraska. The irrigator had some sort of failure that caused it to wander onto the tracks. The lead locomotive was damaged enough that it couldn't continue the trip (damage included a broken windshield), so a BNSF locomotive was eventually substituted. One article reports that two engineers were treated and released by a local hospital, but no other injuries were reported. The incident added about 6½ hours of delay in reaching the next stop in Lincoln, and the lower top speed of the freight locomotive likely contributed to additional delays as the train continued to Chicago.

    View Larger Map

  • Also on Monday the 1st, A southbound Amtrak Coast Starlight train hit a tractor-trailer truck which stopped on the tracks outside Vacaville, California. Only slight injuries to the engineer were reported, and the train departed three hours after the incident, after the damaged lead locomotive was taken off. Some Amtrak California Capitol Corridor passengers had to be bused past the incident site while the crash was being investigated and cleaned up.

    View Larger Map

  • A man was struck and killed by an Acela Express train near Hyde Park station in Boston the night of August 4th.

Other collisions and incidents:
  • The aftermath of last month's collision near Wenzhou, China continues to unfold. The Communist Party sent out edicts that journalists should stop reporting on the story. My interest is fading because we'll probably never know quite what happened, but the politics of it are intriguing.

  • BNSF's Northern Transcon apparently reopened on August 1st after more than 4 days of repairs following last week's washout that occurred last week near Blanding, Illinois.

  • Flickr photographer Dave Glad caught the aftermath of a collision between a Hiawatha light rail vehicle and a Ford E-series van making an illegal u-turn down by I-494 in Bloomington, apparently on Monday, August 1st. I haven't been able to find any news reports for the incident.

  • 300 people were evacuated on Wednesday, August 3rd and remained so as of Thursday, following a Canadian Pacific train derailment along the former Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad's Tracy Subdivision near Eagle Lake, Minnesota, which is a few miles east of Mankato. Four tank cars derailed at 4:45 PM. None have leaked so far. The line is expected to be reopened late Friday or early Saturday.

  • Hiawatha light rail service between MSP airport and the Franklin Avenue station was interrupted when a power line snapped just before 8 AM today (Friday the 5th). The line went down on the bridge across MN-62 just north of the Fort Snelling station. Repairs are expected to be complete by the evening rush hour.


  1. I think the key to understanding the inflated cost of the SW Transitway alignment is on pp 18-19 of the LPA Report:
    It goes through some changes to the conceptual engineering:
    1. crossing the BNSF tracks just east of Van White station instead of at Glenwood, which saves money because the Glenwood overpass could remain
    2. grade-separating the crossings at Cedar Lake Pkwy, Shady Oak Rd and Flying Cloud Dr, which would cost a lot more
    3. running along Technology Dr instead of Hwy 5, which should save some money by avoiding the cloverleaf
    4. elevating a long segment between Smetana Rd and the Shady Oak station, and rebuilding an intersection at Smetana, which I'm guessing is the lion's share of the cost increase

    If you check out Technical Memo 7A, it shows that these changes add around $50m to the build year cost for alignment 3A.

  2. Also I forgot to mention the $865m low estimate was for the alternative that would end in Hopkins. The current LPA had been estimated at $1.15t.

  3. Thanks for digging into that, Alex. I had no idea there had ever been an option for cutting the line short in Hopkins. I've paged through some documents on their website before, but again I think I've tended to skim them a bit too much and have missed some important details. I'm not sure if I've ever looked at their DEIS docs, though.

  4. My mistake - the $865m low estimate was for the alternative that continued west of Hopkins on the right of way west of the Golden Triangle. There was an alternative studied that ended in Hopkins (known as 4A) but it wasn't included in the DEIS because it would have the same environmental impacts as 3A.