Saturday, September 10, 2011

September 10, 2011 weekly rail news

Fun stuff:
  • Okay, perhaps not exactly "fun", but historian and author Larry Millett has written a work of historical fiction called The Magic Bullet which is set during the Twin Cities' 1917 streetcar strike. MinnPost has an article describing the actual events of the time.

  • Streetfilms takes another look at the Transmilenio BRT system in Bogotá, Colombia.  The system sees pretty massive use—48,000 people per hour per direction at the daily peak:

  • Hipmunk rolled out Amtrak support this week, and appears to be the first American travel website to put Amtrak trip options right next to airline flights (Momondo, a Danish company, has apparently supported Amtrak for over a year). Hipmunk's results grid they use for showing possible trips is very nice, though the site does get a bit confused by Amtrak stations that are spaced relatively close together: On one of my attempts to find fares from Saint Paul to Chicago, it wanted to originate the trip in Red Wing...

  • While we wait for the train to actually happen, Alex gives an idea of what it's like to take a Jefferson Lines bus to Duluth.

Construction, planning, and funding news:
  • Another article and video about the Saint Paul Union Depot construction, this time from the Pioneer Press. The project is now nine months in:

  • While buses may currently be skipping past Lake Street as they travel along I-35W, Bill Lindeke linked to a news update on planning for the upcoming BRT station at the site.

  • Minutes for the August 22, 2011 meeting of the Metropolitan Council's Transportation Committee are now available.  Here are some things that jumped out at me (actionable items move on to the full Metro Council):

    • A draft version of the Regional Transitway Guidelines is being made available for public comment through "late November or early December, 2011". (Gah! Be specific!)

    • 41 forty-foot Gillig buses are being purchased for $23.5 million.  33 will be hybrids, while 8 will be standard diesels.

    • The MP-36 locomotive (apparently still) being leased from Utah Transit Authority for the Northstar Line is getting closer to being purchased.  Apparently a request for a Buy America waiver was a cause for delay (Eh? It was made in Boise...).  The price increased by $112,813 to $2,911,349.

    • A motion passed to increase a Minnesota Valley Transit Authority grant by $729,000 to nearly $2.7 million.  Motion for another MVTA grant of $3.5 million for two Cedar Avenue BRT stations at 140th and 147th Streets also passed.

    • The free shuttles to the Minnesota State Fair are paid for by the fair itself, while shuttle buses from lots further afield that charge fares are able to cover their costs through revenues.

    • The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and a coalition called Drive Electric Minnesota are planning a project to install 76 public electric car charging stations in high-density areas.  These would apparently be "Level 2" chargers with 240V output, which are claimed to recharge vehicles about 5 times faster than 120V "Level 1" chargers.

    • The Metropolitan Council pays BNSF about $6 million per year for operation of and track maintenance related to the Northstar Line.  A midday run on weekdays is being contemplated, though one of the possibilities for doing that would involve reducing service on weekends.   Ridership was quoted at 2,400 daily.

  • Because of construction bids coming in $34 million under budget, the pool of contingency money for the Central Corridor Green Line has risen to $155 million.    $53 million in contingency funds will be used to purchase 16 additional light-rail vehicles to allow 3-car operation on the line.

  • A northbound Amtrak train clipped the front of a car in Bellingham, Washington on Tuesday the 6th. There were no injuries, and the train continued on its way after being delayed by about an hour and 15 minutes.

  • Less than two weeks after Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee again caused flooding along the East Coast, which has had significant impact on rail operations stretching from the Washington, D.C. area up through Pennsylvania and upstate New York.

  • A BNSF train traveling through Raymond, Minnesota (southwest of Willmar) hit a truck at a grade crossing on a private driveway.  The truck driver was critically injured and is now being treated at HCMC in Minneapolis.

  • Amtrak's California Zephyr struck a man laying on the tracks in Lehi, Utah on Thursday.

  • Union Pacific is now countersuing the Nevada trucking company whose vehicle struck the California Zephyr this summer, killing several people. Amtrak filed the first suit against John Davis Trucking Co., who countersued Amtrak and Union Pacific shortly thereafter.

  • A police report has been released for the July 11th collision between Amtrak's Downeaster and a truck in North Berwick, Maine.

  • A federal judge ruled that Arizona must reinstate mass transit funding because it assists in a federally-mandated air pollution control program.

  • At the national level, there has been a lot of chatter about transportation funding, partly because of President Obama's speech on Thursday.  The GOP released a transportation plan that would slash Amtrak funding, particularly for state-supported routes.  States would have to fully support shorter "corridor" routes themselves.  If there was an upside, it was that corridor routes would basically be treated the same everywhere, as opposed to today where some shorter routes (mostly in the Northeast) are subsidized with federal funds. However, the plan was seen as just a political move by some. If I'm understanding things correctly, it's more likely that the old, out-of-date transportation bill will simply be extended for a few months again, retaining the status quo.


  1. Maine has a state-supported corridor, so I’d guess the corridor-slashing would go nowhere or the scope of the cuts would be reduced.

    The fact that they were singled out at all surprised me—the only one I have any familiarity with (the Hiawatha) has a great deal of support from even the more conservative corners of southeastern Wisconsin’s business community, and Walker tried to get federal funds for improvements (though not extension, obvs) earlier this year.

  2. I don't know how I feel about the bus station for Union Depot being way down there across Kellogg. That's nice for transferring, I suppose, but the worst spot for walking somewhere downtown. It's already a gazillion dollar project - would it been so much more expensive to put it in one of the parking lots at 4th & Wacouta? Or actually the playground at 4th & Sibley is the best spot, but I would never expect a policymaker to choose transit over playgrounds.

    ps thanks for the link. Actually the trip to Duluth was much better than I made it sound.

  3. Yeah, the bus station has worried me. There is a stairway planned at the corner of Kellogg and Sibley which should allow direct access to the buses, though I don't like the fact that the buses themselves have to loop around to get in and out, like in so many suburban transit stations I can't stand.

  4. Have you seen a site plan for SPUD? I can't find one for the life of me. Are all the buses going to enter from Sibley?

  5. Broadway and Kellogg. The USPS sliced through the train deck at that spot to make a ramp for their trucks. The ramp is being altered to for bus use and to make an entrance/exit for under-deck parking. About half of the existing ramp will be brought down to ground level, while the rest will be raised up to be a restored train deck. A 90-degree turn to the west will be added and a new ramp made to bring buses up to the top. I don't seem to be able to directly link to it, but the image I'd like to show you is at the bottom of this page (on the Union Depot's Facebook site).

  6. Thanks for finding that. I hope they're saving a lot of money by just having a Facebook instead of a proper website.

    I suppose Broadway & Kellogg isn't so bad except for the through-routed buses. And the East Side buses. Hmmm. It kind of looks like buses will be able to cut under the parking deck and exit on Sibley, but that's still a lot of extraneous distance to cover.