Category Archives: News

M-1 Rail selects team for Detroit streetcar technical center

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.


Prospects for Algoma passenger trains looking up

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.”


Amtrak posts ridership growth, but long-distance lines lag

From USA Today:

Amtrak released fiscal 2014 ridership numbers on Monday that show overall ridership gains but declines in long-distance lines.(Photo: Ben Margot, AP)
Amtrak released fiscal 2014 ridership numbers on Monday that show overall ridership gains but declines in long-distance lines.(Photo: Ben Margot, AP)

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.

Amtrak touts ridership growth as Congress weighs budget

From The Hill:

blue-business-graph1Amtrak is touting an increase in ridership on its trains in fiscal 2014 as lawmakers are debating a funding measure for the company.

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.”


New station opens in Grand Rapids

From The Grand Rapids Press:

Guests attend the grand opening for the new Vernon J. Ehlers Amtrak Station on Monday, Oct. 27, 2014. Adjacent to the Rapid Central Station, the $6.1 million station will integrate bus and rail transportation system. (Emily Rose Bennett |
Guests attend the grand opening for the new Vernon J. Ehlers Amtrak Station on Monday, Oct. 27, 2014. Adjacent to the Rapid Central Station, the $6.1 million station will integrate bus and rail transportation system. (Emily Rose Bennett |

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.