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Amtrak Picks Freight Rail Veteran as New Leader at a Critical Time

From The New York Times:

Amtrak, which is pressing to build a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River between New York City and New Jersey, on Friday named a freight rail veteran as its next chief executive.

The national passenger railroad said that Charles W. Moorman, the former chairman of the freight rail operator Norfolk Southern, would succeed Joseph Boardman next month. Mr. Boardman, who has led Amtrak since late 2008, is retiring.

Mr. Moorman, who is 64 and known as Wick, arrives at a critical time for Amtrak, which has said that its existing century-old tunnel under the Hudson was severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy four years ago. Officials with the railroad have said that the two tubes in the old tunnel will eventually need to be shut down, one at a time, so that repairs can be made. Without the additional tunnel, which would also have two tubes, the repair process would reduce train capacity across the Hudson by 75 percent.

Making steady progress toward obtaining the billions of dollars needed for the new tunnels is expected to be one of the goals the Amtrak board will set for Mr. Moorman. The tunnels are part of a larger infrastructure project known as the Gateway program that Amtrak has said could cost nearly $24 billion.

“It is an honor and privilege to take on the role of C.E.O. at Amtrak and I look forward to working with its dedicated employees to find ways to provide even better service to our passengers and the nation,” he said in a statement issued by Amtrak.

Photo

The Portal Bridge, which crosses the Hackensack River in northeastern New Jersey, would be replaced as part of a larger Amtrak infrastructure project that also includes the planned construction of two new tunnels under the Hudson River. Credit Robert Stolarik for The New York Times

He does not appear to be taking the job for the money. He has agreed to an annual salary of $1, with the potential for earning a yearly bonus of $500,000 — about what Mr. Boardman’s total annual compensation has been.

In 2014, Mr. Moorman’s last full year running Norfolk Southern, he earned more than $13 million, according to the company’s financial filings. Having started as a management trainee, he had been at the company for more than 40 years when he retired at the end of last year.

Amtrak had been searching for a successor to Mr. Boardman since early this year. Anthony Coscia, the chairman of the Amtrak board, sounded thrilled about the hiring of Mr. Moorman.

“Regardless of where Wick is in his career, he is undoubtedly one of the smartest people in this business in the country,” Mr. Coscia said in an interview. He said he believed that Mr. Moorman’s presence would help Amtrak attract the capital required for the Gateway program and other improvements to its rail network.

“His primary job is to transition the company from one that is about survival to one that is about growth,” Mr. Coscia said. He added, “People don’t invest in companies if they don’t think they’re particularly well run.”

The announcement of Mr. Moorman’s hiring came just a few months after Amtrak suffered its second fatal accident in less than a year. In April, two track workers were killed near Chester, Pa., when a train crashed into equipment they were using to repair tracks. In May 2015, a speeding train bound for New York derailed in Philadelphia, killing eight passengers.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/20/nyregion/amtrak-ceo-charles-w-moorman.html?_r=0

Metro Detroit leaders reach regional transit deal

From The Detroit News:

An eleventh-hour deal was struck Aug. 2 by the top elected leaders in Metro Detroit to save a $4.6 billion transportation millage proposal to help fund regional rapid transit.

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson said Tuesday that a “deal to make the deal” had been reached.

“It’s a huge breakthrough today,” he said.

The agreement comes after the Regional Transit Authority’s board voted 4-5 Thursday against placing the 20-year, 1.2-mill tax on the Nov. 8 ballot that would fund rapid transit.

A recent rift between counties threatened the authority’s millage proposal, but the secret afternoon meeting Tuesday addressed the concerns raised by county executives Mark Hackel of Macomb and L. Brooks Patterson of Oakland, and secured their support.

At issue was whether future funding votes would protect the interests of a few or each county, guarantees on funding allocations and concerns about when the authority would take over the M-1 Rail system now known as the QLine. In addition, Oakland received assurances that transit service would be granted to more communities in the master plan, officials said.

Patterson also said the deal addresses concerns such as ironclad assurances that every county receives 85 percent of what they raise in terms of tax revenue from the millage and that each county will have to approve any funding allocations in future votes.

“Now we’re going to set about memorializing it in writing so we know where we stand,” said Patterson.

The group of regional leaders met in downtown Detroit on the last day to move forward to have the ballot language for the transportation millage certified by county clerks in time for the Nov. 8 ballot.

A tentative meeting was set for Thursday to vote on the plan for Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties.

Detroit Mayor Michael Duggan, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans and RTA chief Michael Ford also attended the meeting.

The 20-year millage would cost the owner of a $200,000 home about $120 annually.

“I congratulate the other members of the Big Four, because nobody went in there with the idea to sink it,” Patterson said. “We all wanted to save it.”

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said the eleventh-hour negotiations addressed his concern about governance of the transit authority with representatives from Detroit and Wayne, Macomb, Oakland and Washtenaw counties.

“There will be at least one vote from each county and the city of Detroit,” he said, adding that the structure ensures no community will be marginalized.

“It’s a great way of resolving the issue,” he said.

The latest development was good news for Ford, the transit authority’s CEO.

“We’re pleased that the regional leaders have reached agreement on a regional transit plan to place before voters in November and look forward to a successful vote at the special RTA board meeting Thursday morning,” Ford said in a statement.

Evans said after meeting that he remained hopeful that residents will be able to vote on the millage in November.

“While there are still minor concerns that must be addressed, our goal is to improve the public transit system in southeast Michigan,” Evans said in a statement. “The improved public transportation system that the RTA is proposing will build upon the progress that Detroit and Wayne County have made in the past few years, progress that has strengthened our region. With this plan everybody wins.”

Duggan also issued a statement Tuesday following the agreement.

“We appreciate our partners agreeing to come together and move our region forward,” Duggan said. “This regional transit plan will bring not only independence and opportunity for people all over southeast Michigan, but it will allow us to compete with metropolitan areas across the country for development and investment. This agreement also signifies that our region is starting to move beyond a half-century of infighting that has served only to divide us and hold southeast Michigan back.”

Source: http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/oakland-county/2016/08/02/metro-detroit-regional-transit-plan-deal/87975238/

Bells & Whistles: Trains Return To Traverse City

It’s not your imagination: You’ve been hearing and seeing more trains in and around Traverse City. And if Chris Bagwell and James Bruckbauer have anything to say about it, the local tracks will be getting even busier.

For years since the Grand Traverse Dinner Train ceased operation in 2006, area tracks were rarely used; the economy had turned sour and freight rail traffic nationwide was drying up.

But now the bells and whistles have returned to northern Michigan, heralding a stronger manufacturing sector in the region as companies ship goods across the state and nation.

Enter Great Lakes Central Railroad, the Owosso-based company that operates trains along 400 miles of Michigan tracks from Ann Arbor to Petoskey and branch lines in between. Great Lakes’ rail cars are hauling grain, plastics, lumber, fertiziler and hazardous materials within the state and connecting to the major rail companies criss-crossing the nation.

Today, companies from Williamburg (Amerhart) to Kalkaska (Magnum Solvents) to to Grawn (Cherry Growers) are regular Great Lakes customers, as are Petoskey Plastics to the north and clients in Cadillac to the south. All told, Great Lakes’ General Manager Chris Bagwell tells The Ticker a train or two per week rumbles through Traverse City.

(The next time you’re tempted to complain about the delay as you wait at one of Traverse City’s 11 railroad crossings, consider this: most local crossings hold cars for 30-60 seconds. It’s not uncommon in a downstate town like Plymouth for 90-car trains to hold crossings for 45 minutes).

Though freight trains serve important roles as engines of commerce, it’s the tantalizing potential of passenger rail that has many in northern Michigan excited.

A campaign to begin passenger service between Ann Arbor and Traverse City is gaining steam, led by TC-based Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities. It’s an idea that will require political support, funding, and a proven market – but the most immediate problem is the track itself: An estimated 95 percent of the tracks between Ann Arbor and Traverse City are ready to haul tourists north, but that last five percent is located right here in northern Michigan.

The Federal Railroad Administration classifies all track; class 6 track allows for speeds above 100mph for freight or passenger traffic. Much of the local track is classified as “excepted track,” which falls below Class 1, which carries a 10mph speed limit for freight and does not allow use by revenue passenger trains.

Groundwork is prioritizing advocacy for more funding to upgrade those tracks because – according to Bruckbauer – there is “widespread interest in establishing passenger rail service,” noting his organization has received “dozens of support letters from various communities and groups along the line, and we’ve raised enough funding to advance a major study on the project.”

Great Lakes Railroad’s Bagwell reminds that freight “will always be what pays the bills,” but quickly adds that “anybody can see that Traverse City continues to grow, and the economic development groups up there are really pushing [passenger rail].” His company envisions it as a way to diversify beyond just hauling grains or raw goods.

The state-sponsored study that Bruckbauer hails as an important milestone will explore track conditions, potential costs, economic impact, ridership, and more. The study is part of Michigan’s State Rail Plan and is expected to begin this fall.

SOURCE: http://www.traverseticker.com/story/bells-whistles-trains-return-to-traverse-city

 

August 2016 edition of OnTrack

We hope you enjoy our new issue. And don’t forget that we like to hear from you. Do you have story ideas? Would you like to write one of your own? Let us know!

Highlights of the August issue:

  • MARP’s 43rd Annual Meeting on 24 September features an exciting keynote speaker
  • Information on registering to attend the Annual Meeting
  • The 4th Annual Michigan Rail Conference in Marquette MI features a panel on passenger operations in an era of lean public investment
  • The 21st Century State Infrastructure wants to hear from you
  • A Bylaws change will be voted on at the Annual Meeting
  • Reactions to the STB decisions on on-time performance and preference
  • Indian Trails, Inc. promotes “Pure Michigan” with new buses
  • Students now save 15% on Amtrak travel

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MARP Members Gather August 17, 2016

In conjunction with the 4th Annual Michigan Rail Conference
Northern Michigan University
University Center Building
1401 Presque Isle Ave
Marquette MI 49855

IT’S NOT TOO LATE! Make plans now to join fellow MARP members on August 17 at the 4th Annual Michigan Rail Conference on the campus of Northern Michigan University in Marquette.

MARP members will receive the “early bird” discount through August 9 when registering online. The fee will be $100 (a savings of $75). To receive the discount, enter the code MRC_MARP-late2016 in the box at the upper right of the final registration screen when entering your payment information (detailed instructions below).

MARP members wishing to attend only the passenger rail session at 12:45 on August 17 will be allowed to enter free, for that session only. This session is a panel discussion titled “Passenger Operations in an Era of Lean Public Investment”. Panelists include:

  • Chad Cushman, VP Business, Indian Trails, Inc., on Amtrak Thruway service in the Upper Peninsula.
  • Chris Bagwell, Executive VP & General Manager, Great Lakes Central Railroad, on restoration of passenger service in northern lower Michigan.
  • Larry Krieg, Chairman Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers, with an overview of Michigan passenger trains.
  • Frank Loetterle, Project Manager-Passenger Rail Office, Minnesota DOT, on the Northern Lights Express, a proposed higher-speed rail project linking the Twin Cities and Duluth.

View the complete Conference Program HERE

Here’s how to register online:

  • Click HERE to go to the registration page
  • Click on ADD TO CART
  • Complete the registration information form, then click CONTINUE. (The field trip is full. The golf outing is an extra charge.)
  • Click CHECKOUT on the next page
  • Add your e-mail address (sets up an automatic response for your registration), then click CONTINUE UNREGISTERED
  • Finally, put the Promotional Code MRC_MARP-late2016 in the box on the right side of the screen & click APPLY
  • Continue to follow the prompts to enter payment information and finish your registration.
LOOKING FORWARD TO SEEING YOU IN THE UP!