Saturday, September 3, 2011

September 3, 2011 weekly rail news

[I'm going to try shifting this to a weekend day, since I want my Friday to be a little more flexible.]

Fun stuff:
  • Nice Ride MN is having a sale! $40 for an annual subscirption, $30 if you're a student.
  • Check out a rendering of the planned Central Corridor stop in downtown Saint Paul at 5th & Cedar.
Construction, planning, and funding news:
  • Metro Transit announced their annual fall schedule changes, which seem to partly reflect the Metropolitan Council's reduced funding from the legislature. Many routes saw a few daily trips eliminated.  Other major bullet points included I-35W buses skipping the northbound Lake Street stop during the morning rush hour, a frequency reduction on route 32 along Lowry Ave, and dropping one daily Northstar stop each direction at Fridley.

  • Three Minnesota rail corridors were in the news this week, plus a BRT corridor for good measure:

    • A bus tour was given on Tuesday in North Minneapolis of the possible Bottineau Boulevard transitway routing options.  Two on-street routings would have tight squeezes on Oliver Ave and Penn Ave, respectively.  If Oliver gets used, it would likely become a transit mall.  Alternatively, Penn might just have a single lane for cars.  Another alternative would run along MN-55 and turn north onto a BNSF freight rail corridor, but that would skip past populated areas.

    • Mid-week, backers of the 155-mile Northern Lights Express intercity train to Duluth announced they'd received Federal Railroad Administration approval for the route they'd chosen. I believe the route's environmental impact statement is wrapping up within 1-3 months, and they plan to begin preliminary engineering work in early 2012, with a target to begin operation by 2015. The NLX is projected to run at a surplus within a few years of opening and for that reason the FRA is willing to pay up to 80% of the $650 to $750 million cost to build it. Check out my recent article for a map.

    • On Friday, the Federal Transit Administration gave their approval for preliminary engineering to begin on the 15-mile, $1.3 billion Southwest LRT line from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie.  Their plan is to begin construction in 2014 and open to service in 2017 or 2018.  Unlike the FRA, the FTA typically covers up to 50% of the capital cost.

    • The Cedar Avenue BRT line along MN-77, already kind of operating with express buses but set to begin proper station-to-station service in 2012, is having some funding issues.  The Metropolitan Council is refusing to buy seven new buses for the route until someone comes up with operational funding for the first three years.  Since the route runs through territory of Republican legislators who voted to strip Met Council funding, this seems like a pretty decent tit-for-tat move to me.  The amount of funding in question is only $1 million per year, so it shouldn't be hard to scrounge up the funds—they should probably check the couch cushions of those legislators first.

  •  I'll have to defer to others who actually live out on the East Coast for good details, but Hurricane Irene did indeed cause significant disruption and destruction in the Northeast.  While most rail service has been restored, a few Amtrak routes remain disrupted (Northeast Regional service to Newport News, Va., and Empire Service and Maple Leaf trains to Buffalo/Niagara Falls, NY).  While a variety of commuter services were affected from Philadelphia to Boston, perhaps the most significant damage occurred on the MTA/NJT Port Jervis line which may take months to repair.

  • The California Zephyr has been suspended since the Aug 26 crash in Nebraska when the train hit a crane boom. It's supposed to begin running again from Emeryville to Denver Sept. 3rd (eastbound) and 4th (westbound).  Service further east will continue to be disrupted for a while longer because of freight traffic being rerouted due to flooding.

  • An Amtrak train struck a vehicle in Lake Township near Toledo, Ohio early this morning, injuring the SUV's two passengers.  The driver had apparently been drinking.  No injuries on the train.
  • Former Congressman Jim Oberstar is hosting a forum on the Stillwater Bridge on September 9th.

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