Saturday, February 18, 2012

February 18, 2012 weekly rail news

I have been neglecting my weekly news round-up. It's pretty hard to do sometimes, and my regular schedule got heavily disrupted by the holidays. I'll also note that the National Railroad News blog had been blasting out links to a ton of stories recently—I was impressed by both the breadth and volume of what they linked to, though it seems the author/editor may have gotten a bit overwhelmed by the task (understandable, since I got overwhelmed by the volume of new material to sift through). Oh well, enough excuses—I'll just get back into it as much as I can.

It's relatively easy to get back into this because my spirits were greatly lifted by the news of 110-mph trains in the Midwest. I wrote on Monday about upgrades to the Amtrak-owned line between Porter, Indiana and Kalamazoo, Michigan that allow the new speeds. Amtrak ran a special train on Wednesday, Feb. 15th (the first day high speeds were officially allowed) carrying some company VIPs, supporters, and members of the media in the railroad's (rather ugly) president's car, 10001 Beech Grove. Anyway, it's great to see this finally happening after seeing the carrot dangling out ahead of us for the past decade, though it will still be a few years before the Chicago–Detroit line is fully upgraded (sounds like 2015). The Chicago–St. Louis line will probably beat them (sounds like 2014), and things will take a bit longer to get the Chicago–Twin Cities line going (it had hopefully been on track for 2017 before WisDOT stopped cooperating under direction of the Scott Walker administration, so that'll probably be delayed by a year or two).

Some coverage worth looking at: WGN, WKZO, Chicago Sun-Times

Back here in Minnesota, the route of the now-defunct Minnesota Zephyr dinner train has been purchased by the Department of Natural Resources and will be converted into a bike trail (effectively an extension of the Gateway Trail, though it's going to be called the Brown's Creek Trail).

Alex had a good series discussing the Bottineau Boulevard line through North Minneapolis: Part I, Part II, Part III. I'm a rail fanboy, so I'm pretty reluctant to agree that BRT should be the option chosen for the route, but he's probably right (a disappointment, since BRT was already being planned way back in 2004 when the Hiawatha LRT line opened and blew the doors off of projected ridership figures). The City of Minneapolis has come out in support of the under-populated D1 alignment, but with the caveat that something like Metro Transit's planned arterial/rapid bus services should also be included on surface streets.

Partly due to changes in FTA rules about what guidelines are used to choose the transit projects that get built, the city of Saint Paul is dusting off its ideas for streetcars and taking another look.

The Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority says "Expect Big Things in the Gateway Corridor in 2012." They think they're on track to be the next route to be constructed after the Southwest LRT line, which is quite uppity of them (or is that a banned word?). There's other stuff that's been in the pipeline for much, much longer (though on the other hand, I do think it was a mistake for the I-94 corridor from Wisconsin to be untouched by predecessor studies).

Cab car shells have arrived at the Talgo plant in Milwaukee, to be used for trainsets ordered by Wisconsin and Oregon for the Milwaukee–Chicago Hiawatha and the Cascades service in the Pacific Northwest.

Amtrak filed a complaint against Canadian National with the Surface Transportation Board for causing freight train interference on the route from Chicago to New Orleans 99% of the time. There were 4,000 instances last year alone.

Older than a week, but out in Troy, Michigan, there had been some back-and-forth between the city, state, and feds regarding construction of an intermodal transit station in the southwest corner of the city (on the border with neighboring Birmingham, and the site of an existing Amtrak station on the Wolverine line). The city initially voted to reject funding for the station because they didn't want to pay for ongoing operating costs (complaints similar to what was heard on the Milwaukee–Madison extension of the Hiawatha before that got shut down). Apparently they changed their minds, but only after the architects trimmed down the proposal to shave $2.3 million from the initial project cost and the city's Chamber of Commerce committed themselves to paying the estimated $30,000 annual maintenance budget.

The Trillium Solutions folks, who work on translating bus schedules in Oregon into data that is munchable by Google Maps and other services, came across a study comparing hypothetical coach bus service to the federally-subsidized Essential Air Service system and put up a post about it. Sounds like, as with many studies, the authors were a bit conservative in their estimates of what could be accomplished.

At The Transport Politic, Yonah discusses the idea of returning control over transportation dollars to the states, but the idea that the states are really lacking in control at the moment is a political canard.

Paulus Magnus put together a post of Unorganized thoughts and sources on electrification.

In France, a planned high-speed 220-mph LGV line between Marseille and Nice has been tabled in favor of upgrades to an existing line, which would be widened to 3 or 4 tracks to accommodate fairly high-speed (125 mph average speed) travel without the cost or physical impact a brand-new line would require. Sounds a lot like the Caltrain–HSR combination being planned along the peninsula route to San Francisco...

Salon had a good article, "The Tea Party's war on mass transit".

The U.S. railroad industry is planning to invest $13 billion in their infrastructure this year.

Plans to extend the Texas–Oklahoma Heartland Flyer farther north (possibly to Kansas City) have been tabled (which I'm guessing is for political reasons).

Here's a TEDx video about the Alberta tar sands that was filmed back in November and posted just recently:

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