From M-1 Rail:
M-1 RAIL announced it has selected a vendor and will begin negotiations for the design and build of the individual streetcars, which will run along the Woodward Avenue route beginning in 2016. The value of the contract is expected to be approximately $30 million for six separate custom coaches that will feature both regulatory compliance and customer comfort.
“M-1 RAIL will negotiate the final terms and conditions with Inekon Group to build our streetcars,” said Paul Childs, chief operating officer of M-1 RAIL. “Inekon has a strong track record with other streetcar projects in Portland, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., and owns a 40-percent share of U.S.-installed projects. While Inekon is headquartered in the Czech Republic, our requirements specify that it will be compliant with the U.S. Government’s “Buy America” initiative.”
Childs said that the Buy America provisions ensure that U.S.-based transportation infrastructure projects are built with American-made products. “We want to assure that materials, parts, labor, manufacturing processes, and final assembly will meet the Buy America requirements.” Childs said that the M-1 team will announce a final assembly location in the future, but added that several locations in Southeast Michigan are under consideration. “It’s too early to talk about any sourcing or potential manufacturing locations, but we are committed to the principles of Buy America’s support of U.S.-based suppliers and the families who work for them.”
M-1 RAIL’s streetcars also will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), allowing for station-level access for pedestrians, and persons who use mobility assist devices such as wheelchairs. Vertical bicycle racks will be included in the design to accommodate Detroit’s burgeoning bicycle community, as well as wireless access for busy passengers, and HVAC systems to facilitate the swings in Michigan’s weather.
Each streetcar will be 73 feet long, 8.5 feet wide and 13 feet high, with a vehicle weight of approximately 76,000 pounds. The cars will be operator-driven, with a double-ended, double-sided configuration. They will be powered by lithium-ion battery packs, enabling the entire line to run “60 percent off-wire,” said Childs. “Other streetcar projects utilize overhead wiring for everything from vehicle propulsion to the infrastructure of their maintenance and repair sites. M-1 RAIL will minimize its impact on the aesthetics of Detroit’s iconic Woodward Avenue, and we also will not have the labyrinth of wires overhead at the Penske Technical Center,” he said. The ‘off-wire’ technology also enhances safety and enables faster maintenance and repair due to safe, but simpler, procedures for technicians.
Other design-build aspects include: regenerative braking that adds to the efficiency of the line; ability to travel in the same lane at the same speed as bus and vehicle traffic; 100% low-floor, eliminating multi-level trip hazards on-board; and doors in three locations on each car to efficiently manage access and egress.
Childs said the negotiations with Inekon, coming on the heels of the recently-announced contract for the Penske Technical Center, will complete the design, engineering and construction requirements for the M-1 RAIL project. “Among our next significant activities will be to develop requirements and solicit proposals for the system operator, which will eventually run the entire line.”
Childs said the final design of the streetcars, as well as future contracts with U.S-based or Michigan suppliers will be announced later as the project proceeds. M-1 RAIL expects to be operational in 2016.
“Among our next significant activities will be to develop requirements and solicit proposals for the system operator, which will eventually run the entire line,” Childs said.
In anticipation of its busiest travel week of the year, Amtrak is adding more 18 trains to its schedule to operate between Chicago and Michigan destinations during the 2014 Thanksgiving holiday season. Passengers are encouraged to book early.
The attached schedule (also on Amtrak.com) provides information on these extra trains that will operate in addition to the Amtrak Wolverine Service, Blue Water and Pere Marquette trains sponsored by the Michigan Department of Transportation. Michigan passengers also will find new stations in Grand Rapids and Troy.
To accommodate the expected surge of holiday riders nationally, Amtrak will operate every available passenger rail car in its fleet and is scheduling extra trains and adding capacity on several routes. The busiest travel days are the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after the holiday. Other than Thanksgiving Day, morning trains typically have more available seats than those in the afternoon and evening.
CLICK ON SCHEDULE TO ENLARGE
From The Lansing State Journal:
Amtrak says a record number of passengers rode trains on its Blue Water line last year.
The line, which runs from Port Huron to Chicago, includes stops in East Lansing, Battle Creek and Kalamazoo.
The nation’s passenger rail service said today the Blue Water carried 191,231 passengers for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. That was up slightly from 191,106 a year ago.
The Blue Water also was the only Michigan-based Amtrak service to see more riders. The number of passengers on the Wolverine line that runs from Pontiac to Chicago dropped 6 percent to 477,157. Ridership on the Pere Marquette line that runs from Grand Rapids to Chicago was down 3 percent to 100,961.
Nationally, Amtrak said ridership topped 30.9 million, up less than 1 percent from the previous fiscal year. It said passenger growth was hindered by delays caused by harsh winter conditions, freight trains and aging infrastructure.
Ticket revenue grew 4 percent to $2.2 billion.
From Progressive Railroading:
M-1 Rail has chosen a design-build team for the planned Penske Technical Center near the northern terminus of the city’s future streetcar line at Woodward Avenue and West Grand Boulevard in Detroit.
The team — which will include Turner Construction Co., 3.L.K Construction, ABE Associates Inc. and RNL — will construct the center in Detroit’s New Center neighborhood. The facility will be named after Roger Penske for his leadership of M-1 Rail and Penske Corp., one of the major donors to M-1 Rail’s streetcar line.
“This facility will be one of the first new construction projects in the neighborhood, and is a key part of the entire project,” said Paul Childs, chief operating officer of M-1 Rail, in a press release. “Members of the community have had a voice in the eventual design of the building, which will serve as the maintenance and storage and technical center for the streetcars.”
M-1 Rail is the nonprofit organization leading the design, construction and future operation of the 3.3-mile streetcar line that will operate along Woodward Avenue between Larned Street and West Grand Boulevard.
From The Northern Hoot:
Members of the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains (CAPT) and all parties that have a concern for continued passenger rail service along the ACR are feeling hopeful and excited. CAPT has dedicated several years to raising awareness about the economic, cultural and environmental benefit of passenger trains in the Algoma District.
In January 2014 the Canadian National Railway Company (CN) announced that they were axing passenger service from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst. The decision came from Transport Canada who made the decision that the Algoma Central Rail (ACR) no longer met the criteria for the Remote Passenger Rail Program (RPRP).
RPRP “provides funding to ensure that safe, reliable, viable and sustainable passenger rail services are provided to certain areas of the country where these services are the only means of surface transportation for remote communities.”
Following Raitt’s announcement the City of Sault Ste. Marie struck up a committee, Algoma Passenger Rail, comprised of numerous stakeholders including CAPT. The committee has been frantically scrambling to find a way to continue running passenger rail service along the ACR- and their hard work has proven fruitful.
“We have four very credible third parties that are all interested in taking over the passenger train and the Agawa Canyon Tour train,” said Al Errington, co-founder of CAPT.
Errington anticipates that the third parties expressing interest are keen to do much more than maintain the status quo along the ACR. “I really feel very confident that we are looking at the passenger train making a much greater impact on economic and employment opportunities.”
Dr. Linda Savory-Gordon, co-founder of CAPT, bubbled over the prospects. “The possibilities are really unlimited. These companies are really interested in passenger trains. They are passionate about doing a good job with passenger service and they want to be creative and innovative.”
Errington added, “CN is anxious to get this moving forward as well. It’s not in their culture to run passenger trains. They did it because they were required to. I think the requirement was correct however, making a company that doesn’t want to provide passenger service doesn’t work very well.”
The ACR was the only passenger service that largest freight company in North America- CN, operated.
It is anticipated that the third party operator will be identified towards the end of November. Algoma Passenger Rail and CN will collaborate on the decision.
It is important to note that this great progress does not negate the continued need for RPRP investment.
“Regardless of who takes on the role as third party operator we really do need to have investment from Transport Canada,” commented Gordon. “We have shown in our study that the 2.2 million from the investment produced 38 million dollars of benefit to the regional economy. If the government continues to invest we could be producing much more with a really great passenger service.”
According to the Ministry of Transport two rail services are in receipt of the RPRP investment: Keewatin Railway (passenger rail service between The Pas, MB and Pukatawagan, MB), as well as Tshiuetin Railway (passenger rail service between Sept-Îles and Schefferville, QC).
In an effort to encourage the government to continue the RPRP investment to the ACR, CAPT has launched a post card campaign. You can visit the CAPT website to find out how to acquire these post cards.
The Ministry of Transport justified taking away the RPRP investment from the ACR recently stating, “Algoma Central Railway operates a passenger service in a rural region where other transportation options, including local highways are available. Established, year-round communities along the rail line, which at one point relied on the railway as their only means of access, now have other transportation options.”
However what may not have been taken in to consideration – in addition to the economic benefit to the region, is that there are tremendous distances between communities in the North and the real concern for safety on the highway – especially during Northern Ontario’s dramatic winter months.
Errington believes that Northerners must continue to emphasize to both levels of government that investment in Algoma’s passenger rail service is an economic deal breaker. “The transportation of people and goods are fundamentals of a successful economy. If we don’t do that well, and I don’t think we have been, then the other countries that we compete with who have a better transportation matrix will succeed far more readily than we will. Keep telling our politicians that we need our rail.”
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From USA Today:
Amtrak’s ridership and ticket revenue increased in fiscal 2014, buoyed by continued growth in the Northeast Corridor, the rail service reported Monday.
But the numbers also indicate flagging activity on long-distance lines and regional services that rely partly on support from taxpayers in some states.
Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman warned that ridership on those lines could continue declining unless freight railroad companies that own the tracks and operate the dispatching system do a better job accommodating passenger trains.
Overall ridership exceeded 30.9 million, a modest increase of 0.2% over the previous fiscal year. Amtrak last year reported record ridership of 31.6 million but revised that downward to 30.85 million, reflecting a more accurate passenger count based on ticket sales.
Ridership growth cooled off last year due to a harsh winter season and on-time performance issues associated with freight train delays and infrastructure needing replacement, the company said in a release Monday.
While passenger growth barely rose, ticket revenues grew by 4% — from $2.11 billion in fiscal 2013 to nearly $2.2 billion in fiscal 2014.
“Amtrak is clearly selling a product that is very much in demand,” Tony Coscia, the company’s board chairman, said in Monday’s release.
More than 11.6 million riders climbed aboard Acela and other Amtrak trains traveling the Northeast Corridor linking Washington and Boston in fiscal 2014. That was up 3.3% from last year and set a record, pushing ticket revenue up 8.2%, the company said.
But regional, state-supported lines saw a 0.6% decline in passengers, while ridership on long-distance routes fell about 4.5%. Twelve of the 15 long-distance lines saw decreases, contributing to a 2.9% drop in revenues, Amtrak reported.
Lines that showed the biggest declines in riders were the Empire Builder that operates between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest (down about 16%), the Texas Eagle operating between Chicago and Los Angeles (down almost 9%), and the Silver Meteor operating between New York City and Miami (down nearly 7%).
Some in Congress have long sought to eliminate the money-losing lines, but lawmakers from states served by Amtrak have fiercely protected them. Despite some improvements, many continue to suffer from delays, low ridership and increased operating costs.
Boardman said Amtrak’s efforts to improve long-distance service have been hampered by a lack of cooperation from freight lines.
“The freight railroads simply have to do a better job in moving Amtrak trains over their tracks,” he said in the release. “Amtrak is prepared to take all necessary steps with the freights to enforce our statutory, regulatory and contractual rights to meet the expectation of our passengers for improved on-time performance.”
He said the company is working with the freight railroads to address congestion and is pursuing remedies through the federal Surface Transportation Board.
A spokesman for the Association of American Railroads said freight companies are spending more than $2 billion a month upgrading and growing the rail network.
“The freight rail industry shares Amtrak’s concern and the nation’s railroads are working hard to improve both passenger and freight reliability,” said Ed Greenberg. “It is important to recognize that in addition to working with Amtrak to address record passenger traffic, freight railroads are now moving more goods than since before the recession in order to meet the demands of American consumers and industries.”
Release of the ridership and revenue figures comes a little more than a month after the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed a four-year reauthorization of an Amtrak funding bill. The measure, which has yet to reach the House floor, would split Amtrak’s operations into two accounts — one for the profitable Northeast Corridor and one for its money-losing national network.
Under the bill, Amtrak would be required to seek requests for proposals from private investors to redevelop its train stations and the rights-of-way along its tracks. And the bill sets a deadline for ending losses on the rail system’s food and beverage service.
The Northeast Corridor also would be the only part of the passenger rail system to qualify for high-speed rail funding — to improve the speed of its Acela trains.
“We need to focus on the Northeast Corridor first to prove to the American people we can really run a passenger railroad system that can get higher speeds and utilize the Acela trains,” the committee’s chairman, Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said in an interview at the time.
From The Hill:
Amtrak said Monday that it carried 30.9 million in the fiscal year that ended in September, which the company said was an increase of 0.2 percent over the same period for 2013.
Amtrak Board of Directors Chairman Tony Coscia said the ridership increase showed Congress should increase funding for passenger rail service in the U.S.
“Amtrak is clearly selling a product that is very much in demand,” Coscia said in a statement.
“Achieving strong ridership and revenue despite the challenges with aging infrastructure and freight rail congestion demonstrates Amtrak’s commitment to improving its financial and operating performance, and is a credit to Amtrak’s management and staff,” he continued. “It is now time to leverage Amtrak’s successes in increasing ridership and improving performance by making much-needed investments in our nation’s passenger rail system.”
Amtrak has traditionally received about $1 billion per year for a combination of operations and construction from the federal government since its inception in 1971.
Lawmakers in the House unveiled a measure earlier that would maintain most of the company’s operation budget, but cut Amtrak’s authorization for construction projects by 40 percent.
Amtrak President Joe Boardman said the ridership figures released on Monday showed that congressional spending on rail construction should be increased, not cut.
“As more and more people choose Amtrak for their travel needs, investments must be made in the tracks, tunnels, bridges and other infrastructure used by intercity passenger trains particularly on the Northeast Corridor and in Chicago,” Boardman said in a statement. “Otherwise, we face a future with increased infrastructure-related service disruptions and delays that will hurt local and regional economies and drive passengers away.”
From The Grand Rapids Press:
Bearing floor-to-ceiling windows to brighten its interior, officials quipped the city no longer is home to an “Amshack” station.
The new Vernon J. Ehlers Amtrak Station ceremoniously replaced its Wealthy Street predecessor early Monday, October, 27, 2014, connecting Grand Rapids to Chicago. Ehlers, the former West Michigan congressman whose name appears on the hub’s façade, could not attend though his statesman-like approach to Congress was highly regarded among those at the station’s grand opening.
Retiring U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., remarked Ehlers had a grasp on the community and fought for its people while serving in the House from 1993-2011. It was Ehlers who worked in Washington, D.C., to secure federal funding for the $6.1 million station.
Ehlers brought no “I” nor selfishness to the job, Levin said, only “we.”
“‘Earmark’ is not a dirty word. … We know our communities more than anyone,” said Levin, referring to Ehlers securing $3.8 million for the station. “The loss of earmarking is a loss of representation for the people.”
Ehlers later would vote against the spending bill that contained appropriation dollars for the station in spring 2009. He said it was irresponsible during a time of crisis — the height of the recession.
Ehlers’ daughter, Marla, spoke on behalf of the family. She said Vern Ehlers used to joke that he served on education and science committees because of his profession.
“… And he served on the (House) Transportation committee because he wished to be reelected,” Marla Ehlers said.
Other guests at the ceremony include U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell, plus Michigan Department of Transportation and Amtrak leaders. The Jewel Tones, the City High chorale, entertained guests.
Officials wager passengers not only will enjoy the convenience of the new location near the Rapid bus station, but that the amenities will bring a boost to ridership on the Pere Marquette line. MDOT reports the route carried 109,501 passengers between Grand Rapids and Chicago in 2012 and 102,932 riders in 2013.
About 75,964 passengers have traveled the route so far in 2014, with the previous winter to blame for the dip in ridership, said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.
The new Amtrak station, at 440 Century Ave. SW, only is steps away from The Rapid’s Central Station. That transportation hub serves greater Grand Rapids with at least 20 bus routes and its new bus rapid transit system, Silver Line.
It features at least 115 parking spaces, a covered platform, a larger waiting room and a clock tower paying homage to stations of old, seen from U.S. 131 to the east.
The station’s opening was pushed back several times following its groundbreaking in 2011.
The station’s inaugural riders left on the first train at 7:40 a.m. Monday, which is expected to return at 9:55 p.m. If successful, a second daily trip could run on the line, something Heartwell predicts is on schedule.
“This is the first of many good things to come,” he said.
From a METRA press release:
Federal, state and local officials celebrated in October 2014 the opening of the $142 million Englewood flyover, a major railroad bridge that has eliminated a significant source of train delays on the south side of Chicago and has reduced emissions and noise from idling trains in the neighborhood.
The flyover bridge replaced a crossing between the Metra Rock Island tracks and a set of Norfolk Southern tracks at 63rd and State St. With the completion of this project, 78 weekday Rock Island Line trains are now carried over the busy freight tracks used by approximately 60 freight and Amtrak trains, eliminating conflicts between trains that result in service delays.
The flyover is a major accomplishment of the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) program, a first-of-its-kind partnership between U.S. Department of Transportation, the State of Illinois, City of Chicago, Metra, Amtrak, and the nation’s freight railroads to eliminate railroad bottlenecks in the Chicago area.
“The Englewood flyover is one of the pillars of the CREATE program and helps to strengthen Chicago and Illinois as the transportation hub of North America,” Gov. Pat Quinn said. “Projects like these that invest in our infrastructure are economic engines that create jobs, encourage economic growth and improve the quality of life for residents throughout the region.”
“Chicago has been the rail hub of our nation for more than a century, yet for too long this area was plagued with freight congestion and bottlenecks that hurt productivity and rippled across the system. I’m proud to have played a role securing the funding needed to unsnarl the bottleneck and make the Englewood flyover a reality,” said Sen. Dick Durbin. “Today we’re here to celebrate a project completed with more than 90 percent federal funds that will bring improved Metra and Amtrak service, more efficient freight movement, and economic developments for today and the future.”
“We have been looking forward to this day for a long time,” said Wick Moorman, chairman and CEO of Norfolk Southern. “It’s impossible to overstate the positive impact this project will have on Norfolk Southern’s service, along with Amtrak’s and Metra’s. Not only will this project eliminate many hours in freight and passenger train delays daily, but it frees up additional capacity for all of us to continue to grow our business.”
“Fourteen daily Amtrak trains to and from Chicago have faced delays at this location that are felt in Michigan, Indiana and all the way to the East Coast,” said Tom Carper, Amtrak board member and past chairman. “Delays drive up cost and hold-down ridership, so CREATE projects such as this one are truly of national importance and big wins for Amtrak passengers, Metra commuters and the freight railroads, too.”
“The completion of the Englewood flyover means improvement in the quality of life for area residents,” said U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski. “The benefits include fewer delays for Metra and Amtrak users, fewer delays for area drivers, better air quality, a reduction in noise from idling trains, and an overall improvement in safety. I am committed to seeing the rest of the much-needed CREATE projects through to completion.”
“The Englewood flyover will ease congestion through this busy rail area, an essential step in maintaining Cook County’s position as the critical intersection for the transportation network that serves America,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “Unclogging the rails is an important step in ensuring a smooth running transportation system, which in turn will lead to economic growth for our entire region.”
“Metra could not be any happier to have this bridge completed,” said Metra Executive Director/CEO Don Orseno. “Our riders are already enjoying the benefits of passing through this area without experiencing any delays due to conflicts with freight or Amtrak trains. This project would not have come to fruition without the cooperation, funding and support provided by our partners in this project and our federal and state elected officials. It is a prime example of the progress we can make in the region when we all come together.”
The flyover was funded with $126 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act High-Speed Rail funds, $4.9 million in other federal money, $8.2 million from the State of Illinois and $3 million from the railroad industry, including Metra.
The Englewood flyover is the first project planned under the CREATE program to reduce conflicts between passenger and freight trains in the Englewood area and prepare the corridor to accommodate high speed rail service. Its completion lays the groundwork for two more CREATE projects. The planned 75th Street Corridor Improvement Project will divert trains on Metra’s Southwest Service to the Rock Island District at a point south of Englewood. The planned Grand Crossing Project will divert six daily Amtrak trains to Norfolk Southern tracks east of Englewood. With the flyover in service, the 75th Street and Grand Crossing projects can move forward without creating further bottlenecks at the busy Englewood interlocker.
From The Ann Arbor News:
The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority has announced the start of a new technical study to determine the feasibility of WALLY commuter rail between Howell and Ann Arbor.
WALLY is short for the “Washtenaw and Livingston Line,” a proposed 27-mile rail service that would use existing freight tracks to carry passengers from Howell into Ann Arbor for work in the morning, and back out to Howell at the end of the work day.
North-south commuter rail is a long-range project being considered as an alternative to ease traffic congestion along US-23.
The new technical study follows an earlier feasibility study that consulting firm RL Banks and Associates conducted in 2008.
The new study is expected to be a more in-depth process looking at model-based ridership estimates, more detailed cost estimates, station locations, train storage and maintenance facility locations, and governance and funding feasibility considerations.
The scope of work also includes a review of possible alternatives, such as express bus service and high-occupancy vehicle lanes on US-23.
The study, which AAATA officials indicated in early January would be starting this year, is being funded by a $650,000 federal grant.
While the grant requires a 20 percent match, funds were collected in advance by the AAATA in partnership with local contributors. AAATA officials said no funds from a new transit tax that voters approved in May are being used for the study.
The study will be led by Smith Group JJR and is expected to take 18 months to complete. It will be managed in cooperation with the Michigan Department of Transportation and will include a large public involvement effort, with plans for general public meetings and focused discussions with local elected officials, businesses, environmental groups, and other interest groups.
AAATA officials said new conditions now exist that were not available for the previous study six years ago, including recently upgraded track north of Ann Arbor, a fleet of 23 refurbished commuter railcars, support from the Friends of WALLY community group, and a change of railroad ownership in the city of Ann Arbor.
The Ann Arbor Railroad, now owned by Watco, has expressed a willingness to consider passenger service on their rail line through the city.
“We are very excited about this next step forward,” Michael Lamb, a Howell resident and Friends of Wally organizer, said in a statement.
“It is nice to see that local governments, both in Livingston and Washtenaw counties, have been working together to obtain the grant that helped make this possible. We look forward to the two counties taking the next steps to make north-south commuter rail a reality — a reality that is needed and wanted by the commuters using US-23.”
In addition to north-south commuter rail, the AAATA has been in talks with MDOT about launching AAATA express bus service along US-23 north of Ann Arbor.
The AAATA previously indicated it planned to meet with the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, city of Ann Arbor, MDOT and Livingston County to talk about possibilities for funding such a service.
MDOT has indicated it would be willing to purchase land for the AAATA to develop a 250-space park-and-ride lot for US-23 bus service, possibly near 8 Mile Road, which could fit in with a WALLY station for future commuter rail service.
Celebrate the grand opening of the Grand Rapid’s Vernon J. Ehlers Amtrak Station at 10 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 27, 2014.
Located at 440 Century SW, it is adjacent to Rapid Central Station and will integrate bus and rail transportation, offer more passenger amenities and streamline train operations.
The special guest speaker is U.S. Senator Carl Levin.
Light refreshments will be served following the ceremony.
Please RSVP to Ronda Frazer at email@example.com or 616-774-1185.
For bus route information, visit www.ridetherapid.org. Parking is also available at the station.
From The Detroit News:
More than 200 people witnessed the ribbon-cutting for the new Troy Transit Center Tuesday, including Brian Smiatacz, 36, who had two kids in tow.
Four-year-old Adam, and Grace, 2, came outfitted with train engineer hats.
“They’ve been waiting for a year for this to open,” Smiatacz said. “We were watching it get built. It took a long time for this to happen.”
The $6.3 million facility took 14 years to complete. It replaces a much smaller stop about a quarter mile down the tracks. Located at the southwest corner of Maple and Coolidge, the station provides shelter from the elements, as well as free complimentary short- and long-term parking.
“This is a big day for Troy, and a big day for Oakland County,” Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson said.
Sarah Wodtke, 36, of Rochester, has waited a long time for the center to open. She travels to Chicago every other week for her job.
“It’s the availability and the safe parking,” Wodtke said of the new station. “It’s faster for me to get here — much faster than going downtown.”
The center is a major improvement for the railroad company’s service, which includes six daily trains between Pontiac and Chicago via Troy, Detroit, Dearborn and Ann Arbor, Amtrak officials say.
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the Troy Transit Center is the first of three new stations opening in Michigan this year. Stations in Grand Rapids and Dearborn will open over the next six weeks. A fourth station is under construction in East Lansing, and talks are underway about new stations proposed for Ann Arbor and Port Huron, Magliari said.
“(The Troy Transit Center) is built for growth, because in the state of Michigan we have plans over the long term to add service,” Magliari said. “We know there’s demand.”
The project overcame numerous hurdles since 2000, when the city initially partnered with the neighboring community of Birmingham to build the center. At that time, real estate developer Grand Sakwa Properties donated the land with the condition that funding for the transit center be secured by 2010. Birmingham backed out a year later.
Troy secured an $8.4 million federal grant, but Grand Sakwa said the money wasn’t acquired before the deadline, meaning the property ownership reverted to the company. The city took the developer to court and offered to pay the company $550,000, based on a 2010 appraisal.
The City Council approved a scaled-down version of the transit center in January 2012. Construction of the 2,000-square-foot center was completed last fall. But Amtrak officials said the company couldn’t sign a lease until the city had title to the property.
In May 2013, an appeals court granted the reversion of the parcel. Troy initiated a condemnation case, allowing the city to buy the site, officials said. Then in February 2014, an Oakland County circuit judge dismissed the city’s lawsuit, affirming Grand Sakwa’s ownership of the land.
Two months ago, an Oakland County circuit judge issued an order transferring title to the property to Troy, on condition that the city pay Grand Sakwa $1.05 million.
Nick Fiorvento, of Shelby Township, came prepared to board the train Tuesday. He was headed back to Albion College, where he’s a junior, carrying a duffel bag, lunch box, umbrella and ample reading materials.
“It’s going to make it a lot easier for me to get home.”
In this issue:
- a report on MARP’s 41st Annual Meeting held at Durand Union Station
- John Guidinger’s notes on the 2nd Michigan Rail Conference where you’ll find out what a bogie is
- a South-of-the-Lake route update and information on upcoming public hearings – PLEASE PLAN TO ATTEND
- how to let the STB and your representatives in D.C. know that you want action to improve train on-time-performance
- recognition for 30 years of service by an Amtrak engineer on the Pere Marquette
We hope you enjoy the issue and that you will let us hear your comments and suggestions. If you would like to write a story or suggest an item to be covered, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
For those without a PDF reader, click on the images below to view them full screen.
From The Toledo Blade:
Christine Smith boarded Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited in Chicago on Tuesday night to visit a friend in Toledo.
The train left Chicago two hours late and made it only about 15 miles to Indiana’s northwest corner, where it sat for about three hours, Ms. Smith recalled. By the time it got to Toledo, it was six hours behind schedule.
It was only the latest of a series of late Amtrak trains the Melbourne, Australia, resident said she had encountered since arriving in Los Angeles last month and riding from there to San Francisco, Portland, Ore., Spokane, and Chicago.
Late trains are nothing new for Amtrak, particularly for the overnight, long-distance trains such as those that serve Toledo — the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited. Trains running more than three hours late have become the norm recently, and they have often lost that much or more just on the Chicago-Toledo portion of trips. The Capitol Limited was 12 hours behind schedule on Sunday.
While there have been exceptions, by far the biggest obstacle to Amtrak’s time-keeping across northern Indiana and northern Ohio has been tracks blocked by freight trains belonging to Norfolk Southern, which owns and operates the line Amtrak uses between Chicago and Cleveland.
“It’s absolutely unbelievable what they’re doing to the American people. It’s a fraud,” Ms. Smith said. “Every train I’ve been on has been late leaving and late arriving, and freight trains are given as the reason.”
During the 12 months that ended in August, Capitol Limited trains arrived at their end stations in Chicago or Washington within 30 minutes of schedule only 22.5 percent of the time, while the Lake Shore reached Chicago or New York on time 30.8 percent of the time, according to Amtrak.
But August itself was significantly worse, and September data, when available, is unlikely to show improvement. In August, the best performer was the eastbound Lake Shore, which reached New York within 30 minutes of schedule 6.5 percent of the time — two trips. The westbound was late into Chicago every day of the month, and the Capitol Limiteds arrived on time once in each direction.
Late westbound arrivals in Chicago also translate to late eastbound departures, because Amtrak lacks spare equipment in Chicago to make up replacement trains when equipment arrives late, and it also does not have enough engineers and conductors to always have an extra train crew ready to replace one that has worked the maximum 12-hour shift set by federal regulation.
Marc Magliari, an Amtrak spokesman in Chicago, laid even the late departures from Chicago at Norfolk Southern’s feet.
“If the train is late getting to Chicago, it’s most likely going to be late eastbound while we’re servicing equipment and getting proper rest for our crews,” Mr. Magliari said. “The result is to drive up our costs, dissatisfy our passengers, and create ‘never again’ riders.”
While its ridership pales in comparison to major stations like New York and Chicago, Toledo historically has been Amtrak’s busiest Ohio stop, and its ridership has declined of late.
After peaking at more than 90,000 riders in 2010 and 2011, Toledo’s Amtrak ridership dropped to 87,073 in 2012 and 86,252 last year, according to statistics provided to the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, which owns the Toledo station.
During the first seven months of 2014, Amtrak’s Toledo ridership has fallen by another 7 percent, those statistics show.
David Pidgeon, a Norfolk Southern spokesman, said the freight-train backlog is a product of “more trains and capacity challenges in the corridor between Chicago and Cleveland” because the freight traffic exceeds what the company handled before the 2008 recession.
“We generally have a cooperative relationship with Amtrak because we are each other’s landlords,” Mr. Pidgeon said. “We run on their network and they run on ours, so there’s plenty of business and personal incentive to keep the cooperation going.
“We want to keep freight and passenger trains moving, period.”
One of the busiest pieces of railroad in the entire United States, Norfolk Southern’s double-track main has become, to varying degrees, an obstacle course of stopped and slow-moving freight trains.
A particular growth area has been oil shipments from the Bakken oilfields of North Dakota to terminals on the East Coast, rail traffic that simply didn’t exist before 2009 but now accounts for dozens of trains through Toledo each week.
Norfolk Southern is building a third main track between Chesterton and Gary, Ind., a 30-mile section that is the busiest stretch of the region’s busiest freight railroad. It includes several major junctions and runs through the heart of one of America’s most heavily industrialized areas, the steel mills and a major oil refinery along Lake Michigan’s southern shore. Until that third track is ready for use, its construction is impairing train traffic.
When only one track is open for trains, traffic only goes one way while opposing trains wait. The spot where Ms. Smith’s train stopped is near the west end of the Chesterton-Gary construction zone. LaPorte, Ind. — where the Chicago-bound Amtrak trains from Toledo have often sat for hours in recent weeks — is near the east end.
And not only have passenger trains to and from Toledo been affected by that problem, so too have Amtrak’s five daily round-trip trains between Chicago and Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Port Huron, Mich., which use the same rails west of Chesterton.
The third track in northwest Indiana is one of several capacity-improvement projects under way on Norfolk Southern in the region.
Most prominent among the others is a $160 million expansion of the Bellevue, Ohio, yard, which will double in size when the project is done later this year, easing congestion at other yards, Mr. Pidgeon said.
That “will ease the demand for space in Elkhart and hopefully significantly reduce transit times for our freight trains, keeping us moving and the network fluid,” he said.
Norfolk Southern has 50 new locomotives soon to be delivered and also has bought several hundred used ones in the past year or two to address shortages.
It also is hiring close to 100 new train conductors in the Toledo area and has transferred 120 more from other parts of its system to the Cleveland-Chicago corridor to alleviate crew shortages, Mr. Pidgeon said.
The Ohio Association of Railroad Passengers, an advocacy group, cites another factor in the freight-train delays: An automated dispatching system Norfolk Southern has been introducing on portions of its rail network during the past two years.
The system, called the Auto-Router, is designed to mimic a job human train dispatchers have done for years — deciding which trains run on which tracks at what time. The automated system could supplement that work, allowing the human dispatchers to work larger territories, or eventually it could replace them.
Train dispatching is a job with a lot of variables because freight trains don’t all travel at the same speed. Some are long, heavy, and slow; others are short and, ideally, fast.
Hills, track repairs, and certain trains’ need to stop at yards along the way to pick up or drop off cars also can factor into how trains are dispatched.
Critics of the system including OARP — also known as All Aboard Ohio — and Norfolk Southern sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because they’re not authorized to talk to reporters said the Auto-Router system’s flaws are contributing to the railroad’s congestion.
While Amtrak riders interviewed by The Blade said they understand how the passenger trains are at the freight railroads’ mercy, some said the passenger-train operator could handle the situation better, too.
Jean McGraw of Port Clinton, who boarded the Boston-bound Lake Shore in Sandusky in late September to visit a sister in New Hampshire, said she and her travel companion got two emails “in the middle of the night” about train delays but got no updates after that.
And when the bus Ms. McGraw and other Boston-bound passengers rode from Albany got to Boston at 4 a.m. the next day, the station there was locked. The passengers cajoled the bus driver into letting them take shelter in a neighboring bus garage, she said.
“That was it — it was ridiculous,” Ms. McGraw said.
As compensation, Amtrak offered vouchers good toward future train travel. Ms. McGraw said she hopes to use hers once the current problems are resolved, but her companion swore off train travel because of the experience.
Untested is whether Norfolk Southern’s handling of Amtrak violates a 1973 federal law directing the freight railroads to give the passenger trains preferential handling.
A more recent federal law, passed in 2008, directed the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak to develop performance standards for Amtrak trains.
However, a later appellate court ruling stalled this. According to the rail passengers association, Amtrak’s overall on-time performance has plummeted since that 2013 ruling, which is the subject of a pending Supreme Court appeal.
Dan McMackin, a United Parcel Service spokesman, said his company has recently changed the train routes it uses to move packages in response to train delays, though he did not confirm that the company specifically removed its cargo from the Norfolk Southern route.
“We have seen some recent lower reliability in several lanes and are adjusting accordingly, with guidance from our rail service partners as to appropriate network corrections,” Mr. McMackin said. “While there have been lanes affected over the last several months, we expect long-term reliability to return and most of our adjustments are seen as temporary.”
But while UPS may be ready to send packages back to the Cleveland-Toledo-Chicago corridor once Norfolk Southern’s problems are resolved, Amtrak could have a harder time winning back Tanya Miller, of Taylor, Mich., one of the riders who boarded the New York-bound train in Toledo on Wednesday morning.
“This is my first time and my very last time taking Amtrak,” she said. “I’m not recommending Amtrak to anyone.”
Read more at http://www.toledoblade.com/local/2014/10/06/Amtrak-trains-often-trickle-into-Toledo-after-rash-of-delays.html#CxCf2dGyodcVf60M.99
MARP MEMBER MEETING
Saturday, October 18, 2014
10 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Rapid Central Station
Grand Rapids Transportation Center
250 Grandville Ave SW
Grand Rapids MI 49503
Map & Directions
MARP’s October 18, 2014 meeting will be in the Conference Room on the 2nd floor of the Grand Rapids Transportation Center, beginning at 10 a.m.
Opened on June 14, 2004, the Transportation Center was the first LEED-certified transit facility in the country. Built with a number of green features and strategies, Rapid Central Station combines cutting-edge technology with solid design to provide a passenger facility that is both functionally sound and environmentally responsible. When MARP last met at Rapid Central Station, our guest speaker was Seth Horton, a member of the architectural firm Progressive AE that designed Rapid Central Station and was also part of the design team for the new Grand Rapids Amtrak Station We will have an opportunity to get a close look at the new station which is located just south of the transit facility and slated to open later this month.
The other exciting development in Grand Rapids is the opening of The Silver Line, a 9.6 Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line that connects downtown with the southern suburbs. The Silver Line began boarding passengers on August 25. Supporters hope that the line will replicate the success of Cleveland’s bus rapid transit system, which has stimulated about $6 million in development since 2008. We have invited a speaker to provide us with details on the BRT operation and plans for expansion.
You might want to plan to catch The Silver Line at some point on its route from the Park-and-Ride at 54th St SE, northward along Division Street to the Rapid Central Station. Be sure to take note of the Rapid’s newest feature, The Living Wall before you enter the building.
Following the meeting, we will enjoy lunch (no host) across the street at Founders Brewing, one of several venues that are part of the transformation of downtown Grand Rapids into a thriving destination spot.
Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers
Some Links to Help You Plan Your Visit
From Trains Magazine:
The grand opening for the Troy Multi-Modal Transit Center is scheduled for Oct. 14, 2014. Construction work on the transit center was completed in last fall, but a property dispute held up its opening. In late September, a settlement by Troy to acquire the land and lease the site to Amtrak was reached.
This week the Troy city council approved a 20-year lease agreement with Amtrak that will cover all costs to operate the center. Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains will use the new facility.
In 2000, a nearby property owner gave the city of Troy title land on which to build a new station, with the provision that funding for a transit center was secured within 10 years. In 2011, the cities of Birmingham and Troy were awarded a federal grant to assist in replacing the station with a new, multimodal transit center across the tracks in Troy.
However, the mayor of Troy rejected the funding on ideological grounds, thus terminating the project. The project was resurrected by a subsequent Troy city administration, and broke ground on Nov. 27, 2012, and was completed in October 2013. The legal dispute over title to the land under kept the center from opening.
The $6.6 million construction cost for the project was provided by grants from the Federal Railroad Administration.
From Trains Magazine:
Time has caught up with the famed “BO” tower in Kalamazoo this week. On Tuesday morning, signal crews working on Amtrak’s Michigan Line upgrades retired the 44-lever Saxby & Farmer interlocking machine, marking the end of the tower era in western Michigan.
For the time being, operators still work around the clock at BO, operating signals from a control panel in the tower. The signals will eventually be remote-controlled, once responsibility for MDOT’s Kalamazoo-Dearborn route is handed from Norfolk Southern’s dispatchers in Dearborn, Michigan to Amtrak’s train directors in Chicago.
The installation of the interlocking by Michigan Central, a New York Central affiliate, was approved by the Michigan Railroad Commission in January 1915, leaving BO’s original interlocking machine to end its service life just four months short of its centennial celebration.
The tower once controlled lines affiliated with the Grand Trunk Western, New York Central, and Pennsylvania, along with an interurban. Both of the lines remaining today were conveyed to Penn Central in 1968 and then split between Amtrak and Conrail in 1976. Norfolk Southern acquired both remaining Conrail routes in 1999, and then spun off the north-south alignment, the former Pennsylvania route, to Watco-owned Grand Elk Railroad in 2009. The state acquired the former New York Central route east of the tower in 2013 with NS retaining freight rights.
Amtrak and the state of Michigan are in the process of upgrading the Kalamazoo-Dearborn corridor for 110 mph speeds, which includes major track upgrades along with a complete replacement of the signal system to modern hardware that provides positive train control.
From The Grand Rapids Press:
It’s light at the end of the tunnel: the vacant, yet new, Amtrak station finally is set to connect to the rest of the region in the coming month.
City crews are slated to shut down Century Avenue SW at 8 a.m. Monday, Sept. 29, 2014, while CSX Corp. reconstructs its railroad crossing. It’s one of the last steps necessary to finally set a guaranteed grand opening of the adjacent Vernon J. Ehlers Amtrak Station, said Peter Varga, CEO of The Rapid.
The station has been mired by delays; it originally was scheduled to open in 2013. Setbacks pushed the opening to either spring or summer 2014. The end of September was considered, too, though work on the crossing likely won’t be completed until 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 10.
Fall 2014 is the safest time frame at this point as the rail itself will have to be examined before opening, officials say.
“The track work has to be inspected by CSX, that’s a separate agreement, as we own the railroad spur,” Varga said.
Work began to relocate an underground sewer line below Buchanan Avenue SW earlier this summer as it would not be strong enough to hold the weight of the spur. Officials relied on the conclusion of that project, although an analysis was conducted in 2012, before moving ahead with CSX’s portion.
Rapid officials tout the convenient location of the new station as Central Station, which serves all of the six-city bus system’s busiest routes and the new Silver Line bus rapid transit system, is just down the street.
The $5.2 million station, named after the former West Michigan congressman, will replace the old hub on Wealthy Street serving Amtrak’s Pere Marquette route. It travels two and from Grand Rapids and Chicago, with three stops each day.
An additional, daily trip between the two cities could launch upon the station’s completion.