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.


    1. Why would Ramsey County RRA think it's appropriate to weigh in on which route to Chicago is chosen? Are they afraid that a Rochester route would bypass St Paul? Do they think that upgrades could assist Red Rock? (I also like that the article noted that the project was expected to cost $1b - presumably that's the cost to upgrade the river segment, but the article kind of makes it sound like that's the cost for the whole TC-Chicago line.)

    2. The Grenada District would make a decent passenger line from New Orleans to Memphis, actually. Maybe even a regional line from Canton to Jackson.