Saturday, September 24, 2011

September 24, 2011 weekly rail news

Fun stuff:

A variety of stories popped up in local news because of the Railway Interchange 2011 conference held in Minneapolis on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. It's a new conference which appears to be the combination of five events that have previously been held separately.
  • The conference itself was held at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Train cars and locomotives were displayed at Canadian Pacific's Humboldt Yard. A handful of railfans have been able to get some access. Some shots were also taken of a Canadian Pacific special pulling Milwaukee Road cars (the locomotives were also ex-MILW units). Here's a video too:

  • Coverage of Ray LaHood's speech at the conference on Monday From Railway Age.

  • LaHood then traveled to Saint Paul and spoke in front of the Union Depot. Video and other coverage available from a variety of sources: MN2020, Met Council, Star Tribune, KARE, KSTP.

  • Railroads are going through a hiring boom as employees retire and as the economy recovers. Railroaders are able to retire at age 60 if they've been employed for 30 years or more, and about 30% of railroad workers are expected to retire within the next five years.

  • The Star Tribune does a profile of Loram, a company based in Hamel, Minnesota that makes track maintenance equipment including massive rail grinders.

Construction, planning, and funding:
  • TPT's Almanac gets in on Union Depot coverage as David Gillette takes a tour.

  • The city of Marine on St. Croix (north of Stillwater) is looking into the possibility of putting up a train depot. They are at the southern terminus of the Minnesota Transportation Museum's Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway, which runs weekend excursion trips in the summer. The other two stops on the line, respectively in Dresser, Wisconsin and Osceola, Wisconsin already have depot buildings, so a building in Marine would make the route more complete.

  • It looks like the final details aren't worked out yet, but area transit bigwigs are moving toward fidning operational funding for Cedar Avenue BRT. They need $3 million, so apparently the Central Corridor/Green Line train vehicles looked like a juicy target (they cost about $3.3 million each), and Dakota County members of the Counties Transit Improvement Board threatened not to support purchase of additional Central Corridor trains until some sort of deal was reached.

  • Nationally, there has been chatter about the Senate's transportation bill, which currently only includes $100 million for high-speed rail projects, down from President Obama's proposed $4 billion ($8 billion total for intercity rail, if I recall). That's a tiny amount to try and spread around. Here's some attempt at context:

    • $125 million – U.S. 169/I-494 interchange project (includes 5 ¾ roundabouts).
    • $115 million – Planned (but not yet funded) third main line project to increase capacity between BNSF's Northtown Yard and Coon Creek junction (only a few miles of track, but it includes cost of a new train station at Foley Boulevard, the grade-separation of Foley Boulevard itself, and lengthening of the MN-610 highway bridges currently spanning the track).
    • $34.3 million – Elk Run diverging diamond interchange project along U.S. 52 between Oronoco and Pine Island, Minnesota (includes several miles of additional frontage roads and other nearby upgrades).

  • The empty parking lot on the south side of the Hiawatha Line's Nicollet Mall station is going to turn into a residential tower (with a 6-story podium containing 4 levels of parking. That annoys me, but I'm hoping it will lead to the demise of the ugly, aging ramp on the block's northeast corner).

  • It may have migrated behind a paywall, but HSR Updates' coverage of LaHood's visit to the Twin Cities included notes at the end about 110+ mph links from the Twin Cities to Milwaukee/Chicago and to Rochester. (If you hit a paywall, take a shot at clicking through from Facebook.) It's not clear to me if anything has actually changed in the last several months, but they talked with Dan Krom of Mn/DOT who said the MSP–MKE segment options will be narrowed from four down to one. However, $600,000 promised for the study has not yet been "obligated". A $2.3 million study for the line to Rochester is also planned, with most money coming from the state of Minnesota and the balance being provided by Olmsted County.

  • Anoka County has reduced its 2012 rail tax levy. Funds for studying transit options north to Cambridge have been eliminated, and total funding for corridor development have gone down from $320,000 to $64,000. The Northern Lights Express project will get $54,000, and the Rush Line project will get $10,000 (I didn't think that went through Anoka County, but parts of I-35/I-35E do skim through the southeastern edge)

  • To the south, Union Pacific is planning to double-track an existing bypass route near Omaha in order to increase capacity. They plan to spend $300 million to add 29 miles of track on the segment between Fremont, Nebraska and Missouri Valley, Iowa.

  • Amtrak California #713, part of the San Joaquin service, hit a truck carrying tomatoes near Turlock, CA on Monday. 22 passengers sought treatment following the crash.

  • Amtrak's eastbound #8 Empire Builder originating on September 19th was delayed by 14½ hours, getting into Saint Paul at around 10 PM. on the 21st (the delay was more than 15 hours for St. Cloud passengers). KARE 11 has the story. Delays caused by locomotive failures were compounded when the crew "died" (reached the limit of work hours). In what seems to be a common refrain, passengers again complained of lack of information about what was happening.

  • Investigators believe that the truck driver involved in the July crash of an Amtrak Downeaster in North Berwick, Maine was talking or texting on his cell phone before the collision. In related news, track was just repaired this week at the site of the collision. Workers replaced about 400 ties in the process.


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