January 2015 edition of OnTrack

January 18, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Newsletter 

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We welcome in the New Year with:

  • the lame duck legislature’s actions on road funding
  • a report on the MARP executive committee retreat
  • a look at the new Troy Transit Center
  • CSX’s “Oyster Express”
  • Transit Riders United annual meeting coming up
  • Amtrak’s Midwest Winter Warm Up Sale
  • Amtrak Chair asks Congress to “Unlock Passenger Rail’s Potential”

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 marprail@yahoo.com

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Save 20% on Amtrak tickets

January 5, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Announcements, FYI 
Amtrak is offering discounts on select routes in Michigan beginning January 5, 2015:

winter2013Book your travel now through March 30, 2015, for travel January 5 through March 31, 2015, to save. Your trip could take you to shimmering shores of Lake Michigan or Lake Huron, or bring you as far as Grand Rapids or Detroit.

Travel the following routes, including:

  • The Blue Water – which stops in Kalamazoo, Battle Creek and the maritime town of Port Huron
  • The Pere Marquette – offers a scenic ride that connects Chicago and Grand Rapids.
  • The Wolverine – travels east from Chicago all the way to Detroit.
Have a Relaxing or  Adventurous Winter Getaway

Make the most of The Midwest Winter Warm Up Sale and enjoy traveling in comfort with less stress and great amenities. Your winter getaway begins the minute you step onboard. And when you book now through March 30, 2015, for travel January 5 through March 31, 2015, you’ll have even more to enjoy — a savings of 20%.

CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS: http://www.amtrak.com/travel-to-michigan-and-save-20-percent-this-winter?WT.mc_t=MIWinter2015_EXT&WT.mc_n=MichiganPage&WT.mc_r=365

Terms and Conditions
  • Valid for 20% off the regular (full) adult rail fare.
  • Valid for sale now through March 30, 2015.
  • Valid for travel January 5 – March 31, 2015.
  • Blackout dates:
    – February 13, 2015
    – February 16, 2015
  • Advance reservations are required a minimum of one (1) day prior to travel.
  • Seating is limited; seats may not be available on all trains at all times.
  • Up to two (2) children ages 2 – 12 may accompany each adult at half the regular (full) adult rail fare.
  • Children and infants must travel with an adult who is 18 years or older.
  • Valid for travel on the following services: Blue Water, Pere Marquette and Wolverine.
  • Valid for Coach seats.
  • Upgrade to Business Class is available upon full payment of applicable accommodation charges.
  • Fares, routes and schedules are subject to change without notice.
  • Not combinable with any other discount offer.
  • In addition to the discount restrictions, this offer is also subject to any restrictions, blackouts and refund rules that apply to the type of fare purchased.
  • Once travel has begun, no changes to the itinerary are permitted.
  • Other restrictions may apply.

MARP meets Jan. 10, 2015 at REO Town Depot in Lansing

January 5, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Announcements 

MARP Member Meeting
Sat., Jan. 10, 2015
10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Former GTW Depot, now the REO Town Depot
Lansing Board of Water & Light
1205 S. Washington Ave
Lansing MI 48910

Map & Directions

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero delivered his 2013 State of the City address in the newly restored Grand Trunk Western depot adjacent to BWL's new REO Town power plant. / Courtesy photo

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero delivered his 2013 State of the City address in the newly restored Grand Trunk Western depot adjacent to BWL’s new REO Town power plant. / Courtesy photo

MARP’s first meeting of the New Year promises to be a memorable one. Bob Johnston, well-known to us for his interesting articles in TRAINS Magazine will be our very special speaker. We expect to hear his insights on such Midwest  issues as the Hoosier state, the South-of-the-Lake project, and the possibility of Talgo trains in Michigan, as well as thoughts on the future of Amtrak’s long distance trains. Bob also promises a special “surprise” for us.

The meeting will take place at the historic Grand Trunk Western Railway Station in Lansing. Built in 1902, this classic Spier & Rohn-designed building hasn’t seen service as a passenger station since 1971 and was 4 years into its life as a restaurant when Gerald Ford dropped by for lunch during a whistle stop campaign tour in 1976.

The building has been painstakingly restored in conjunction with the development of the new Lansing Board of Water & Light cogeneration plant with which it shares the 5.3 acre site in the area known as REO Town. The depot is listed on the State Register of Historic Sites and the National Register of Historic Places.

The BWL spent more than $2.8 million restoring the depot to serve as the home for board meetings and employee training. From its terra cotta roof to the dark wood ceiling, period light fixtures, windows, walls and wainscoting, the restoration has been described as “stunning”.

Two design firms, Ann Arbor’s Quinn Evans and Cornerstone of Grand Rapids, shared the design work on the restoration. Two Lansing-based companies, Granger Construction and Christman Co., did the exterior and interior work, respectively.

The eye-catching terra cotta roof involved a bit of serendipity. The tiles were 110 years old and needed to be replaced. The original manufacturer — Ludowici Roof Tile Co. of New Lexington, Ohio, a 120-year-old company with roots in Renaissance Rome and still in business — had the original plans for the depot and produced 14,600 new tiles to the original specifications.

Following the meeting, please plan to socialize over lunch at Clara’s Lansing Station, another of Lansing’s historic railway stations, at 637 East Michigan.

Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers

M-1 Rail details winter work schedule

December 27, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: News 

From Crain’s Detroit Business:

Photo from M-1 Rail.

Photo from M-1 Rail.

The orange barrels making for a traffic slalom course on Woodward Avenue north of Grand Circus Park will continue through the winter for M-1 Rail streetcar construction in Detroit, the project said today.

Work will include continued construction on freeway overpasses and underground utility relocation, M-1 COO Paul Childs said.

Woodward, even in construction zones, will be plowed in accordance with city and state policies.

The project will suspend work if temperatures and weather conditions become unsafe for workers.

“Our protocol ensures the dedicated crew members who work in the cold are protected should the weather become too severe,” Childs said. “The safety of our crew is an overriding priority; simply, if the cold is extreme, we won’t work that day. However, we don’t anticipate an impact to our overall schedule, since we accounted for these situations when we developed our timeline for completion in late 2016.”

Construction will be halted on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.

Storm/sewer work will begin soon in the neighborhood between West Grand Boulevard and Bethune Street, M-1 said.

“Working through the winter lays the groundwork that allows for our construction crews to quickly ramp up once the weather breaks,” Childs said. “Next year, construction will reach its peak; we have an aggressive schedule planned that will ensure we are able to deliver the project safely and on time in 2016.”

Dates, times and locations will be announced in early 2015 for community update meetings to discuss the spring construction schedule, M-1 said.

In 2015, M-1 expects to install track between State and Larned streets, around Campus Martius Park and between Adams Avenue and I-75 as soon as weather permits.

Station platforms will be poured at Larned, north of Campus Martius Park, at Grand Circus Park and north of Montcalm Street, M-1 said.

The Michigan Department of Transportation will begin its Woodward reconstruction from the Fisher Freeway north to Chandler Street. M-1 will concurrently install its track.

Additionally, foundations for the overhead electrical lines that will power M-1’s six streetcars will be installed next year, along with new traffic signals, streetcar system conduits, station platforms and other infrastructure upgrades.

The Woodward overpass at I-75 and I-94 should be completed by late fall 2015, M-1 said.

The $6.9 million Penske Technical Center between Custer and Bethune streets will be designed and built next year. The facility will be used for the system’s maintenance and operations.

Construction of the $137 million 3.3-mile streetcar loop began in July.

M-1 Rail is a nonprofit using a blend of public and private funding to finance construction and operations.

The line is a mostly curbside fixed-rail streetcar circulator system, which will be commingled with traffic. It will have 20 stations at 12 stops between Grand Boulevard and Congress Street, and run in the median at its north and south ends.

Organizers predict 5,000 to 8,000 riders a day.

Specifics on work schedules and project details can be found at m-1rail.com.

Source: http://www.crainsdetroit.com/article/20141212/NEWS/141219946/m-1-rail-details-winter-work-schedule-crew-will-work-through-cold-to

M-1 Rail receives second phase of federal tax credit funding

December 27, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: News 

From Crain’s Detroit Business:

Photo from M-1 Rail.

Winter construction of the M-1 Streetcar project is underway on Woodward Ave. in Detroit, Photo from M-1 Rail.

The second phase of $8 million in federal New Markets Tax Credit funding for the $137 million M-1 Rail streetcar project in downtown Detroit has been received.

The first round was received earlier this year, according to a news release.

New Markets investors receive over seven years tax credits equal to 39 percent of the total qualified investment — 5 percent each of the first three years, and 6 percent each of the next four.

The M-1 Rail project is the first public transportation initiative to receive funding through New Markets Tax Credits, said a news release.

Investors in the NMTC funding are J.P. Morgan Chase, Invest Detroit, the Great Lakes Capital Fund, Local Initiatives Support Corp., and United Fund Advisors.

The NMTC was created under the Community Renewal Tax Relief Act of 2000.

M-1 Rail streetcar project, which began construction in July, is 3.3 miles (6.6 miles total) along Woodward Avenue between Grand Boulevard and Congress Street. It will have 20 stations at 12 stops in that stretch.

Organizers predict 5,000 to 8,000 riders a day, with a basic one-way fare of $1.50.

Funding the project are private companies, foundations and hospitals, along with local, state and federal government agencies — making for a 24-part public-private arrangement that took seven years to negotiate and create.

Source: http://www.crainsdetroit.com/article/20141224/NEWS/141229920/m-1-rail-receives-second-phase-of-federal-tax-credit-funding

Amtrak adds more Wolverine trains for Christmas-New Years travel period

December 18, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Announcements, FYI 

Amtrak is adding 12 additional Wolverine Service trains between Michigan and Chicago to provide expanded December and January holiday travel options. Amtrak will offer an additional eastbound and westbound Wolverine Service train daily between Chicago and Ann Arbor from Dec.26, 2014 through Jan. 4, 2014.

Passengers should book their tickets now for best availability and pricing. Ordinarily, Amtrak and Michigan Department of Transportation provide three daily round-trips between Detroit-area stations and Chicago.

The extra Wolverines (Trains 356 & 359) will operate in addition to regular Wolverines (Trains 350-355) with approval from Norfolk Southern and CN railroads. Please see the attached schedules, which include the Blue Water (Trains 364 & 365), which share the Wolverine route between Battle Creek and Chicago.

The success of extra Amtrak trains during the Thanksgiving period, with more than

35,000 passengers in Michigan, prompted additional Amtrak trains this month and next.

Amtrak-Michigan-Holiday-ATK-14-115_Page_2

December 2014 edition of OnTrack

December 18, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Newsletter 

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Inside you’ll find:

  • Hometown Christmas celebration at Niles Amtrak station on Saturday, December 6
  • Christmas Dinner at the Historic Durand Union Station, December 12
  • Trans4M Advocacy Day at the Capitol, Wednesday, December 10
  • Public Comment Due December 19 on Chicago-Detroit/Pontiac Passenger Rail Corridor DRAFT EIS
  • Legislature Poised to Increase Transportation Funding
  • Report of MARP Meeting in Port Huron, November 15

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 marprail@yahoo.com

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Open house Dec. 15, 2014 at the new Dearborn Amtrak station

December 15, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Announcements, FYI 
Photo by Steve Sobel

Photo by Steve Sobel

The city of Dearborn is hosting an open house 4 to 6 p.m., Monday, Dec. 15, 2014 at the John Dingell Transit Center, 21201 Michigan Ave.

The new 16,000-square-foot facility is the first of many steps to boost intermodal transportation and encourage more people to take the train when they travel.

The transit center was funded entirely with $28.2 million from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. With almost 80,000 travelers in 2014, the old facility located about a mile east of the new station, was one of the busiest train stations in Metro Detroit.

During the open house, visitors can tour the station, see informative displays and talk with people knowledgeable about the future of train travel. A mural created by Dearborn students will also be featured. Congressman John Dingell (D-MI) and his wife, Debbie are expected to be at the open house.

First train pulls out of new Dearborn Amtrak station

December 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: News 

From Detroit Free Press:

Rev. John Koski, associate pastor of Springwells Church in Dearborn, waves as the trains departs.(Photo: Eric Lawrence, Detroit Free Press)

Rev. John Koski, associate pastor of Springwells Church in Dearborn, waves as the trains departs.(Photo: Eric Lawrence, Detroit Free Press)

As Wolverine Train No. 351 to Chicago left Dearborn this morning, the Rev. John Koski was there, waving as it pulled away from the platform after picking up 68 passengers at the new John D. Dingell Transit Center shortly after 7 a.m.

Koski, 64, of Dearborn and associate pastor of the city’s Springwells Church, was impressed.

“This is going to be a great place,” he said, noting its proximity on Michigan Avenue near Evergreen to The Henry Ford and a local bike path. “This is going to be a great asset to Dearborn.”

Koski said he was also at the station to “dedicate this to the Lord” ahead of an open house planned for 4-6 p.m. Monday.

The federally funded, $28.2 million, 16,000-square-foot center is designed as an intermodal passenger rail station on the Chicago-Detroit/Pontiac. It’s near the Rouge River Gateway Greenway Trail that connects to the University of Michigan-Dearborn and Henry Ford College campuses, and a pedestrian bridge should make it easy for passengers to enter the Henry Ford and Greenfield Village, Dearborn city spokeswoman Mary Laundroche has said.

The station, which features a mosaic of blue tiles stretching out in rays and stars and smaller green arches designed by local students, also has a number of interesting features, including heat lamps in a mostly enclosed waiting area outside. And the platform itself can adjust so the distance to the train is less for those boarding or move to accommodate wider loads passing through, according to Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

A Tim Hortons also is being completed near the station.

It’s the third train station to open in Michigan in recent months. In October, the long-delayed $6.4 million Troy Transit Center and the $6.1 million Vernon J. Ehlers Amtrak Station opened in Grand Rapids opened for business.

This morning, the lobby of the new Dearborn station at 21201 Michigan Ave., which is about two miles west of the old station, was filled with riders, many of them who had visited Niagara Falls as part of a tour group.

Gary King, 54, of Ridgway, Ill., called the station gorgeous, while Sherri Ulbrich, 72, who was traveling with her husband Bob Cox, of St. Charles, Mo,, noted with a smile that the temperature could be warmer.

But Debbie Williams, 43, of Riverview marveled at the packed lobby.

“I’ve never seen it this full,” she said, describing the new station as an improvement. “The old station could fit in (this lobby). … It’s probably a little overwhelming compared to the last one. I had to make sure I was in the right place.”

Williams said she was traveling to Chicago to see a Bob Seger concert with a friend.

Patrick Socia, 58, of Texas Township near Kalamazoo, was headed home. He works for Quicken Loans in Detroit and travels back and forth regularly.

He takes the train more often when gas prices are high.

“You can plug in, do your work. It’s comfortable, not as ugly as a bus,” he said.

Hyginia Malinowski, 54, who recently moved to Dearborn from Williamsburg, Va., after her husband got a job with Ford, was traveling to Chicago with her friend, Susan Smith, 56, of Basel, Switzerland.

She was a bit anxious about the trip after learning that a man with possible mental health issues had been accused of stabbing four people Friday on a train heading to Port Huron, but she noted that “what are the chances it would happen again?”

This trip would mark her first in Dearborn.

“Everybody tells us it’s the best way to go,” she said.

Source: http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/wayne/2014/12/10/amtrak-opens-new-train-station-dearborn/20195409/

Via Rail eyeing private capital to build its own dedicated rail lines

December 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: News 

From the National Post (Canada):

fp1205_viacorridor_c_mfVia Rail Canada hopes to reduce congestion by building its own network of dedicated tracks, and the passenger rail service wants to enlist the help of private equity to do it.

Currently, 90% of the track that Via uses is owned by Canadian National Railway Co., and this shared infrastructure can result in bottlenecks as freight and passenger trains vie for space.

“Our on-time performance has deteriorated significantly over the last 12 months,” Yves Desjardins-Siciliano, president and CEO of Via Rail, said in an interview at Via’s headquarters in Montreal.

“Congestion is the No. 1 issue, and it has negative impacts on the Canadian economy as a whole because it makes both freight traffic and passenger traffic less efficient.”

CN said it does not publicly disclose how much of its revenue comes from Via.

In the third quarter, Via’s trains were on time 77% of the time, down from 83% a year earlier. The worst performer was the tourist-friendly route from Toronto to Vancouver, known as the Canadian, where on-time performance fell to 25% from 41% in the second quarter.

Mr. Desjardins-Siciliano — who was Via’s chief corporate and legal officer before he was appointed CEO in May — said the solution is to gradually build up a network of dedicated tracks that Via can use, separate from the freight carriers and commuter trains. Currently, Via owns only 2% of the network on which it operates.

Via’s first priority is acquiring track in the busy corridor between Quebec City and Windsor, Ont., which accounts for 90% of the railway’s volume. But the challenge for the Crown corporation is finding the money to undertake the costly process of building its own dedicated line.

Last week, the federal government announced $204 million in new funding that will be divided between Via and federally-owned and operated airports.

Mr. Desjardins-Siciliano said he doesn’t know exactly how much of that money will go to Via, but the funds will be used to acquire rail lines. And he plans to ask provincial and municipal governments for funding as well if they want Via to provide additional service — something Amtrak has done in the United States.

Via will consider buying tracks that other railways don’t need anymore, acquiring existing railway beds that have been abandoned, or building new tracks from scratch, he added.

“You don’t build it overnight,” he said. “You build it a trunk at a time.”

Unlike his predecessors, Mr. Desjardins-Siciliano is also open to exploring funding options beyond taxpayer dollars, including private capital.

The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and Borealis Infrastructure — an arm of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System — paid approximately $3.4-billion in 2010 for the rights to operate High Speed One, the rail link between London and the mouth of the Channel Tunnel to France.

“So there is an interest in investing in infrastructure for passenger rail, provided there’s a business opportunity,” said Mr. Desjardins-Siciliano.

“And we believe that business opportunity is self-feeding, meaning if you have dedicated tracks, you’d be able to provide reliable, on-time service at greater frequencies and shorter trip times, and that’s what justifies private investment.”

Mark Romoff, president and CEO of the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships, said he believes there would be “a lot of interest” from the private sector in Via’s project.

“Depending on how they chose to structure it, it could go ahead as a public-private partnership and yes, there would be a lot of interest on the part of the financial community to engage in a project like this,” Mr. Romoff said.

But Mr. Desjardins-Siciliano said he won’t make his pitch to private investors until Via improves its financial results.

“You can’t go to the private markets when you have bad on-time performance, lower or stagnant passenger volumes and congested rail infrastructure and are losing $300-million a year and expect private investors to be interested,” he said. “I believe you have to make the case first.”

In the third quarter, Via shrunk its operating loss by 12.1% to $65.8 million, allowing the government to reduce its contribution by 9.4% to $83.1 million. Passenger revenues rose 6.6% to $77 million.

Mr. Desjardins-Siciliano said his goal is to reduce Via’s reliance on federal funding by getting its busiest routes — those in the Quebec City-Windsor corridor and tourist-friendly offerings like the Canadian — to break even. The government would then only need to subsidize remote routes and capital investments like locomotives and train tracks.

“You don’t get subsidized to go to Cuba and someone shouldn’t be subsidized to go see the Rockies or go to the beach in New Brunswick,” he said.

You don’t build it overnight… You build it a trunk at a time

One way for Via to break even on its busier routes is to increase passenger volumes so that each train generates more revenue at a lower cost per passenger.

The company is making a concerted effort to become more attractive to potential passengers. Since 2007, Ottawa has invested almost $1 billion in Via and the railway has put that toward renovating its carriages, offering better food, improving service and developing promotions aimed at particular groups, such as university students and business travellers.

Mr. Desjardins-Siciliano said Via is focused on attracting people who usually drive but are frustrated by the amount of congestion they encounter.

“There are days when getting in and out of Montreal or Ottawa, for example, will be 50% if not more of the travel time between Montreal and Ottawa,” he said. “That’s where train travel is a huge advantage.”

He added that congestion is much more likely to motivate people to take the train than high gas prices, and he doesn’t expect much impact on passenger volumes from the recent drop in oil prices.

Ultimately, though, Via needs to change Canadians’ perceptions of the value of train travel if it wants to win them over, Mr. Desjardins-Siciliano said.

“One of the drawbacks or difficulties of promoting and marketing Via Rail is many Canadians have not experienced Via since they were kids, so they may have a romantic view of Via, or they may have a past experience of Via as being old technology,” he said.

“We are trying to get people to recognize that the Via of today is a much more modern experience than people may remember.”

Source: http://business.financialpost.com/2014/12/04/via-rail-eyeing-private-capital-to-build-its-own-dedicated-rail-lines/

Three companies submit bids to operate Algoma Central

December 10, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: News 

From the Sault Star:

1297568111753_ORIGINALThree rail companies have submitted formal bids to operate the Algoma Central Railway passenger service between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst.

The same three rail companies have also submitted bids to CN Rail to operate the tour train service.

The ACR Passenger Service Working Group met Monday to hear CN Rail’s take on the formal bids and to further assess the bids for the passenger service.

“We will move the markers forward, we’re just not sure how much yet,” said city CAO Joe Fratesi prior to the meeting.

If CN Rail provides information that it has selected a preferred operator, then the working group will need to determine how it’s plans and ideas will merge with that operator.

Following the meeting, Fratesi said that CN and the working group have zeroed in on a provider but still needs to seek some clarification and missing information.

“It’s fairly important details that we’re looking for,” Fratesi said. He anticipates a response by the potential operator in early January.

He could not disclose what information is needed by either CN or the working group.

Once that information is received, and all the parties are satisfied, Fratesi said a plan can be put together for the Transport Minister.

It’s believed that all parties are pleased that the same companies submitted bids to run both the passenger service and the tour train operations.

“It would be very awkward if they were not the same of if one company was good for one purpose but not the other,” Fratesi said.

He stressed that there will be a role for the federal government to play in the continued operation of the passenger rail service.

“We have been told that they (the federal government) won’t play a role to the contribution they are currently involved in, but there will be a role for them,” he said. “And we have never faltered in our view that there needs to be federal support there for the long term and we all need to feel comfortable with the arrangement.”

Linda Savory-Gordon, co-chair of the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains and member of the working group, said she’s pleased with the quality of the applicants.

“We’re anxious for a decision to be made so we can move forward with a sustainability plan and increase ridership and train events,” she said.

Savory-Gordon is a firm believer that special train events will create a strong draw and boost in revenue for the successful operator.

“We saw our Searchmont North Pole Express sell out in 20 minutes and I believe that’s a strong indication that these type of events could boost the revenue stream and make the train more sustainable,” she said.

Once a third-party operator is selected to operate the passenger service, a sustainability plan will be presented to the federal government, outlining recommendations that include efficiency improvements, economic benefits of a continued rail passenger service and a request for assistance to continue the train operations.

The ACR Passenger Service Working Group represents a large number of stakeholders who rely on the passenger train service for their communities, businesses or tourism, among other things.

It was formed in 2014, shortly after the federal government announced its intention to eliminate a $2.2 million annual investment in the remote passenger rail operation.

The service is currently operating as a result of the government granting the funding a one-year extension, giving the stakeholder’s group an opportunity to come up with a working plan.

The funding ends in March.

An economic impact assessment completed by BDO Canada showed that the ACR passenger service generates more than $38 million in annual economic activity in the region.

Source: http://www.saultstar.com/2014/12/08/acr-passenger-stakeholder-group-moving-forward

Amtrak train stabbings suspect arraigned in Niles; preliminary exam set for Dec. 16

December 10, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Uncategorized 

From The Kalamazoo Gazette:

A Saginaw man accused of stabbing four people on an Amtrak train in Niles Friday was arraigned today in Berrien County District Court.

Michael Darnell Williams, 44, was formally charged with four counts of assault with intent to murder, according to the Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

He is being held in the Berrien County Jail on a $1 million bond.

Williams’ preliminary examination has been scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 16. He is expected to be represented by a court-appointed attorney, according to the prosecutor’s office.

At about 7 p.m. Friday, the Niles Police Department received a report of a man “acting odd and becoming agitated” on board an Amtrak train heading toward Niles and was requested to send officers to investigate.

Niles Police Chief Jim Millin previously said officers who arrived at the depot noticed a “commotion” on one of the train cars as passengers tried to exit quickly. Officers then pushed their way onto the train and confronted Williams, who was armed with a knife.

Williams was subdued with the use of a Taser and was taken into custody, Millin said.

Millin said officers located four victims on the train car who had been cut and stabbed by the suspect. The victims included a train conductor, who remains hospitalized in stable condition, an Amtrak spokesman said Monday.

Since the incident, several family members have expressed concerns about Williams’ mental health, including his sister, Tracy Williams. She told the Saginaw News that Michael Williams is a veteran who she believes was suffering from paranoid hallucinations that made him fear for his life.

Berrien County Assistant Prosecutor Amy Byrd, who is leading the prosecution of Williams, did not immediately respond to an inquiry Wednesday pertaining to whether a psychological evaluation would be conducted on Williams to determine if he was mentally fit to stand trial.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said earlier Monday that Amtrak is assisting Niles Police Department in the investigation and isn’t conducting its own investigation into the incident.

Knives are prohibited on Amtrak trains, and Amtrak police perform random inspections of passenger baggage, the company said in a statement issued to the Kalamazoo Gazette on Monday.

The stabbings occurred on Amtrak train 364, the Blue Water line, which runs between Chicago and Port Huron, and 172 passengers were on board at the time of the incident.

Source: http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2014/12/amtrak_train_stabbings_suspect.html#incart_story_package

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Dearborn train station construction finally reaching the end of the line

December 10, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: News 

From the Dearborn Press & Guide:

The John D. Dingell Transit Center is ready to take on its first passengers on Dec. 10th. (Photo by Steve T. Sobel)

The John D. Dingell Transit Center is ready to take on its first passengers on Dec. 10, 2014. (Photo by Steve T. Sobel)

Amtrak passengers have to wait just a few more days before taking advantage of the new station’s amenities. It is scheduled to open Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014.

The first train will roll into the new station, 21201 Michigan Ave. at 6:51 a.m.

Amtrak is moving all of its operations from the current train station behind the Dearborn Police Station to the new 16,000-square-foot Dingell Transit Center.

City leaders say the transit center promotes intermodal transportation, connecting travelers via train, bus, taxi and pedestrian and bike paths to work, education, cultural attractions, shopping and recreation in Dearborn and beyond.

The station is an important component in initiatives to boost commuter rail from Ann Arbor to Detroit and accelerated speed rail from Pontiac to Chicago.

Six Amtrak trains will stop daily at Dingell Transit Center, with increased Amtrak service and the addition of commuter rail expected in the coming years.

Almost 80,000 passengers used the current Amtrak station during the 2014 fiscal year.

In fact, Dearborn is the most popular Amtrak location in the Detroit metropolitan area, according to Marc Magliari, spokesman for Amtrak.

He expects that number to grow.

“Dearborn is excited to be part of the future of rail. We will continue to work with our partners to increase convenient travel that starts in Dearborn and takes riders throughout southeast Michigan, as well as between Dearborn and Chicago,” said Mayor Jack O’Reilly.

“We’re anticipating bringing more customers to our Dearborn businesses and more visitors to our cultural and entertainment venues,” O’Reilly said. “And in the near future, people are going to find it very easy to get on a train in Dearborn and connect with the new M1-Rail in Detroit for an evening out or to go to a game.”

Magliari said Amtrak is planning to expand in the future, adding to the six lines already running from Dearborn.

Right now, he said the most popular trips from Michigan are to Chicago and sites in western Michigan.

The transit center was funded entirely with $28.2 million from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The city of Dearborn owns the station and the seven-acre site, while Amtrak will run the facility.

Residents hoping to get a look inside the new facility are welcome to attend an open house scheduled for Dec. 15.

The open house takes place from 4-6 p.m. at the transit center, which sits near Brady Street and marks the entrance to the west downtown business district.

During the open house, visitors can tour the station, see informative displays and talk with people knowledgeable about the future of train travel. A mural created by Dearborn students will also be featured.

Congressman John Dingell (D-MI) and his wife, Debbie are expected to be at the open house.

In addition, people attending the open house can enter a free drawing to win tickets to The Henry Ford’s popular Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village.

The Henry Ford has historic displays inside the center, including an iconic Davenport train engine.

The transit center also features a pedestrian bridge over the tracks that will allow travelers to access a new entrance to The Henry Ford complex, including the Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village, the IMAX Theater, and Ford Rouge Factory Tours.

About 1.6 million people a year visit The Henry Ford.

Ford Motor Company expects to showcase a new F-150 on site, as well.

The transit center has received a silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s

Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design. The building features a metal roof with solar collectors, energy efficient lighting and geothermal heating and cooling.

Source: http://www.pressandguide.com/articles/2014/12/05/news/doc5481b8177aefd896121105.txt?viewmode=fullstory

Car-train crashes happen about weekly in Michigan and are almost always avoidable, authorities say

December 3, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: News 

From M-live.com, The Kalamazoo Gazette:

car-train-accidents-kalamazoo-cbc2e86f9932659b

They are almost always avoidable.

But whether because of impatience or negligence, vehicles and trains crashed about once a week in Michigan last year. There were 58 vehicle-train accidents in the state in 2013, including five in Kalamazoo County. That’s up 35 percent from the 38 car-train crashes statewide in 2012 and the most since the 61 recorded in 2007, according to data from the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning.

And while the majority of the crashes didn’t cause injuries, they sometimes turn fatal. On Tuesday, three people were killed when a passenger train struck a minivan on 11th Street near KL Avenue, just west of the city of Kalamazoo. Police say 20-year-old Joshua Cartwright drove around vehicles that were stopped by train crossing signals and was struck broadside by an eastbound Amtrak train.

All three of the van’s occupants — Cartwright, 20-year-old Ashley Melson and 19-year-old Justin Mastin — were pronounced dead at the scene. The investigation revealed that railroad crossing lights, gates and bells were functioning at the time of the crash.

“Unfortunately, it’s all too common,” Marc Magliari, spokesman for Amtrak, said of the cause. “It happens every two to three hours across the country,” he said of car-train crashes.

Michigan State Police Lt. Dale Hinz said police don’t receive reports of motorists driving around train crossing arms very often.

“It doesn’t happen terribly often, thankfully. Because it’s a terrible idea,” said Hinz, commander of MSP’s Paw Paw Post.

According to statistics from the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning, from 2007 through 2013 there were 55 car-train crashes in Kalamazoo, Allegan, Berrien, Calhoun, Cass, St. Joseph and Van Buren counties in Southwest Michigan. Of those, 34 resulted in no injuries, 17 involved injuries and four were fatal.

Accident reports show that many of those crashes were caused by motorists disregarding traffic signals, driving around crossing arms or claiming they didn’t hear bells and whistles.

“It’s almost always the driver’s fault,” Hinz said. “The train is confined to the tracks. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.”

Said Magliari: “Trains rarely can stop in time. Whether it’s going 50, 90 or 110 miles per hour, it’s simply not possible in the law of physics for the train to stop.”

In Tuesday’s crash, the Amtrak train was going about 80 mph and didn’t come to a complete stop until about a mile after striking the van, police said.

Recent fatal crashes in Southwest Michigan are tragic examples of what can happen when drivers aren’t careful near train tracks.

On Sept. 15, 2011, Austin Porter, 21, was killed in a collision with a freight train near Schoolcraft. According to Kalamazoo Gazette archives, investigators said Porter was driving west on U Avenue and failed to yield to a northbound Grand Elk Railroad freight train.

Police said they believed Porter attempted to drive around the lowered crossing arms, realized the train was coming, struck one of the crossing arms as he tried to continue over the track and was unable to make it across before the train hit his Chevrolet Impala.

This came two days after 19-year-old Zachariah Zellmer was killed when, according to police, he drove his 1997 Pontiac Sunfire around crossing arms on 52nd Avenue near County Road 687 in Van Buren County’s Hartford Township and was struck by an Amtrak train. The train’s bells, lights and whistles were all working and the crossing had working lights and control arms, authorities said.

On Sept. 14, 2008, Aubrey Noble, 25, was westbound on McGillen Street in Mattawan when she drove into the path of a westbound Amtrak engine. The train struck Noble’s vehicle, breaking it apart, according to the crash report.

As for Tuesday’s crash, Hinz said investigators are awaiting toxicology results and continuing to interview witnesses to corroborate their statements. Amtrak provided a video recording of the crash that police are reviewing, he said.

Magliari said Amtrak is committed to reducing the number of car-train crashes, working with police agencies to make sure laws are enforced and providing educational materials to motorists about railroad crossing safety.

M-1 Rail selects Czech-based Inekon Group to build Detroit’s streetcars

November 12, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: News 

From M-1 Rail:

DOWNTOWN1-e1406063122563-426x298M-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.

Source: http://m-1rail.com/m-1-rail-announces-vendor-streetcar-build/

Amtrak schedules extra trains for Thanksgiving travel

November 12, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Announcements, FYI 

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

Amtrak-Chicago-Michigan-Thanksgiving-ATK-14-098,0-2Amtrak-Chicago-Michigan-Thanksgiving-ATK-14-098,0-3

Amtrak’s Blue Water line sets ridership record

November 12, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: News 

From The Lansing State Journal:

An Amtrak train arrives at the station on Harrison Road in East Lansing. Amtrak says its Blue Water Line had a record number of passengers last year. (Photo: Lansing State Journal file photo )

An Amtrak train arrives at the station on Harrison Road in East Lansing. Amtrak says its Blue Water Line had a record number of passengers last year. (Photo: Lansing State Journal file photo )

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.

Source: http://www.lansingstatejournal.com/story/money/business/2014/10/27/amtrak-blue-water-service-sets-ridership-record/18015393/

M-1 Rail selects team for Detroit streetcar technical center

November 12, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: News 

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.

Source: http://www.progressiverailroading.com/passenger_rail/news/M1-Rail-selects-team-for-Detroit-streetcar-technical-center

Prospects for Algoma passenger trains looking up

November 12, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: News 

From The Northern Hoot:

A passenger steps off the Algoma Central Railroad passenger train.

A passenger steps off the Algoma Central Railroad passenger train.

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.”

Source: http://www.northernhoot.com/news/economy/passenger-rail-along-acr-looking-up-third-party-interest-abounds/

November 2014 edition of On Track

November 12, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Newsletter 

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