All posts by Grow Trains

Cascades Without Amtrak?

Analysis from the Seattle Transit Blog:

Last month WSDOT quietly released a Request for Information,

“to gather information from providers of rail services about service delivery options to provide more convenient, rapid, and reliable intercity passenger rail service between Vancouver, British Columbia and Eugene, Oregon.”

Noting that these submittals “are not responds to deliver the service”, WSDOT is nonetheless seeking input from the private sector (and presumably other governmental rail operators) about how to make Cascades more efficient and reduce its operating costs. If the responses sufficiently pique their interest, WSDOT may issue a full competitive Request for Proposal (RFP).

A little background: the Bush-era Passenger Rail Improvement and Investment Act of 2008 (PRIIA) forced Amtrak to cease funding operations of its most successful routes (state-supported corridors of less than 750 miles). It was a masterfully cynical bill, for though Republicans generally love to hate Amtrak, they also love once-daily legacy service in their districts, which just so happens to be colossally expensive to operate. So they wrote a bill that trimmed the muscle and left the fat, as it were.

Amtrak had been funding 20% of Cascades service, but from October 2013 onward Washington and Oregon have had to bear 100% of operating costs. Though Cascades farebox recovery is relatively good at roughly 66%, farebox recovery is a rate, not an outlay. As Cascades is mandated to add at least 2 more trips between Seattle and Portland by 2017 as a condition of receiving $800m in stimulus (ARRA) funds, it is important to remember that farebox recovery could continue to improve while total costs rise. With a stalemated legislature that loves to play politics with rail, it’s the total costs that matter. Ergo, Cascades has no choice but to seek ways to cut costs.

Amtrak to detour Empire Builder westbound trains in North Dakota

Amtrak has agreed to a request by BNSF Railway Co. to temporarily detour the westbound Empire Builder in North Dakota to speed the improvement of BNSF infrastructure between Fargo and Minot, N.D., Amtrak officials announced this week.

Chartered buses will cover the missed Amtrak stations in Grand Forks, Devils Lake and Rugby through Sept. 30. The use of an alternate route will enable BNSF to complete work in less time. The eastbound Empire Builder will operate normally and serve all scheduled stops, Amtrak officials said in a press release.

Via Progressive Railroading

Chinese experts ‘in discussions’ over building high-speed Beijing-US railway

‘China-Russia-Canada-America line’ would run for 13,000km across Siberia and pass under Bering Strait through 200km tunnel

China is considering plans to build a high-speed railway line to the US, the country’s official media reported on Thursday.

The proposed line would begin in north-east China and run up through Siberia, pass through a tunnel underneath the Pacific Ocean then cut through Alaska and Canada to reach the continental US, according to a report in the state-run Beijing Times newspaper.

Crossing the Bering Strait in between Russia and Alaska would require about 200km (125 miles) of undersea tunnel, the paper said, citing Wang Mengshu, a railway expert at the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

Via The Guardian

Yes, but what phones do train riders prefer?

Android Users Are More Likely to Take the Bus, While the Frequent Fliers Choose iPhones

“You would think iPhone users are all pinot-drinking yoga enthusiasts,” said Jonathan Sills, the Battery Ventures entrepreneur-in-residence who conducted the firm’s study. Well, that’s at least partially true.

It turns out more iPhone users do in fact prefer wine to beer. They are also more likely to own stock and to have flown on a plane in the past year. Meanwhile, Android users are more likely to rely on public transportation, describe themselves as religious, have eaten McDonalds in the past month or to smoke tobacco….

Sills said many of the differences go away when the user base is adjusted for income.

Cape Cod summer train service to add a station

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority (CCRTA) recently announced the CapeFLYER weekend rail service from Boston to Cape Cod and the Islands will operate May 23 through Labor Day, with a new station stop at Wareham Village.

The CapeFLYER, which launched summer service last year, carried 16,586 riders and generated $290,756 in fare revenue in 2013, officials said in a press release….

CapeFLYER trains in 2014 will include a station stop at Wareham Village. By the height of the summer season, trains will include separate coaches for two of the service’s most popular amenities: the café coach and bike racks with tools for on-board tune-ups.

Via Progressive Railroading

CHSRA Board Approves Fresno to Bakersfield Route

From the California High Speed Rail Blog:

The California High Speed Rail Authority board voted unanimously today to approve the route from Fresno to Bakersfield, including an eastern bypass of Hanford. All the final documents can be found here.

The vote was yet another huge step forward for the project, four and a half years after voters approved in in 2008. With this action there is now an adopted final route from Madera to Bakersfield that can be constructed in the near future, especially if cap-and-trade funds are used to help fund it. There of course remains the legal challenges to the project brought by NIMBYs in Kings County. Once those are resolved, however, the path could be clear by the end of this year to have construction either under way or close to it throughout the San Joaquin Valley.

GROW AMERICA keeps rail passengers moving forward

From the US Department of Transportation’s FastLane blog:

Last Tuesday, it was a privilege to be able to send Congress the GROW AMERICA transportation bill, our comprehensive plan to create millions of good new jobs building the transportation system America will need to remain competitive in today’s economy. And it was an honor to cap the day by addressing the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) annual citizen advocacy event, “NARP Day on the Hill.” Continue reading GROW AMERICA keeps rail passengers moving forward

BNSF budgets $1 billion for key Northern Corridor capital projects

Progressive Railroading

BNSF Railway Co. today highlighted $1 billion in capital projects planned in five states along its Northern Corridor. The projects are part of the Class I’s record-setting $5 billion capital spending budget for 2014.

Situated between the Pacific Northwest and Chicago, the Northern Corridor runs through parts of Washington, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota and Illinois. Some of this year’s corridor projects are designed to help expand capacity and improve traffic flow for all freight and passenger trains [including Amtrak’s Empire Builder] that use certain routes.

President Proposes $19 Billion for Rail; Let’s Make it Happen!

The proposal to provide $19 billion for improved rail service needs us to be active supporters and lobbyists if it’s going to happen. We’d like to turn this site into an online community where we could share information and ideas, and encourage people to become active spokespeople for better train service. We can also support NARP and the local rail advocacy organizations in their efforts.

May Day means Amtrak Day #1: May 1st, 2014

Commentary from Railpac.org

Once again, for the 43rd time, here we are on May Day, the anniversary of the official day of Amtrak operations beginning on May 1, 1971. It was the day most of the still-operating passenger trains in the country disappeared, and the freight railroads breathed a sigh of relief because the heavy hand of the ICC was no longer upon them forcing them to run trains they didn’t want to run “in the public interest.”

The almost exclusively all-male railroad management cadre of the day, many of them struggling to save their own freight operations from bankruptcy in a heavy regulatory environment, were happy to be rid of the cost of passenger stations, a fleet of cars and locomotives which were reaching what everybody thought was the end of their useful life (sadly, this was especially true of equipment built by Pullman Standard, which used a different assembly process and materials than its wiser competitor, Budd), and all of the expensive employees it took to run passenger trains. They could cascade many of their unwanted employees onto Amtrak’s employee roster (of particular note, the former Pennsylvania Railroad employees in Philadelphia who were sure they could run passenger trains better than anyone else), and, allegedly, finally do what they thought railroads should only do, turn themselves into corporate conglomerates (remember the various “Industries” titles tacked onto the end of railroad names?) focusing on moving products, not people, and buying and managing other businesses they didn’t know how to run.