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Service to Begin on Sound Transit Extension

August 26th, 2016

Seattle’s Sound Transit will start light rail service on the 1.6-mile South 200th Link Extension on September 24, 2016. The $383 million extension will open four years earlier than planned in Sound Transit 2, the ballot measure approved by voters in 2008. The extension is also $40 million under budget.

“Opening the Angle Lake Station marks another milestone in building a vibrant, regional light rail system,” stated Dow Constantine, Sound Transit board chair and King County executive. “Trains running every six minutes will give thousands of riders fast, reliable service to jobs, schools, and Huskies, Seahawks, Sounders and Mariners games.”

The extension will travel from Sea-Tac Airport to South 200th Street and South 28th Avenue and feature an elevated guideway and station, which will serve as the southern terminus for Link until the extension to Kent/Des Moines opens in 2023.

The station will feature a 1,050-stall garage, 70-space surface lot, van pool parking, and a passenger drop-off/pickup area. The facility will also offer covered waiting areas, a nearby transfer area for local and RapidRide bus connections, and secured bicycle storage.

A feature of the station is an art sculpture entitled “Cloud” by artist Laura Haddad, which is installed on the elevated platform. It consists of 6,000 hanging disks that change appearance in response to fluctuations in light, weather or the approach of a train.

The Sound Transit Board approved the four year acceleration of the project after congressional leaders helped secure $10 million in TIGER funding. The extension will be the first design-build project completed by the agency.

The Angle Lake Station is expected to serve 5,400 riders coming and going each weekday by 2018.

MassDOT, MBTA to Host Public Meetings on Restoring South Coast Rail Service

August 26th, 2016

Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) will host a series of public meetings in September on the proposed restoration of passenger rail service between the South Coast and Boston.

Designers are currently considering using the existing MBTA Stoughton Commuter Rail Line for a new connection, with the design for this route 15 percent complete. In addition, MassDOT and the MBTA are also considering an alternative rail route between Boston and the South Coast that could potentially be designed and constructed more quickly than the Stoughton route.

The public meetings will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the following places:

  • September 7, New Bedford at the Greater New Bedford Vocational High School Auditorium;
  • September 12, Taunton at the Bristol Community College;
  • September 14, Fall River at the Bristol Community College;
  • September 15, Easton at the Middle School Auditorium;
  • September 19, Canton at the Canton High School Auditorium; and
  • September 22, Middleborough at the High School Auditorium.

RTD Begins Power Line Construction on N Line

August 26th, 2016
Work to install OCS poles on the North Metro Rail Line. Photo: courtesy of RTD.

Work to install OCS poles on the North Metro Rail Line. Photo: courtesy of RTD.

The Denver area’s Regional Transportation District (RTD) is installing the first foundations and poles for the Overhead Catenary System (OCS) along the North Metro Rail Line between the Northglenn-112th and Eastlake-124th stations.

The OCS poles are located adjacent to the tracks and are essential to carrying the wires that energize commuter and light rail trains. The poles hold messenger and contact wires that distribute 25,000 volts of alternating current for commuter rail operation.

There are approximately 580 OCS poles along the first 13 miles of the North Metro Line. Each varies in height from 25 feet to 42.5 feet and they weigh roughly 2,000 pounds.

CN, Partners See Increased Container Shipments at Illinois Inland Port

August 26th, 2016

Canadian National Railway Company (CN), Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) and the Midwest Inland Port (MIP) have announced that collaborative logistics and marketing efforts are driving increased container shipments over ADM’s privately owned Decatur, Ill., intermodal ramp. CN and ADM have a partnership history on other rail freight opportunities, including shipments to Mexico.

“CN is a supply chain enabler and its collaborative efforts with ADM and MIP through the Midwest Inland Port Strategic Development Coalition is forging new logistics chain and growth opportunities for ADM and other enterprises in Decatur and the surrounding region,” said JJ Ruest, CN executive vice president and chief marketing officer.

“CN brings to the table an unparalleled three-coast network reach, extensive contacts in Asian markets, sophisticated freight-forwarding knowledge, and expert U.S. customs and marketing support,” added Ruest.

CN has has seen an increasing number of import containers to the Decatur facility from the Ports of Montreal and Prince Rupert. The railroad delivers products three times a week to Midwest customers at the intermodal facility, where ADM reloads the empty 40-foot import containers with export loads of grain and processed products for global markets. ADM uses CN’s rail network and its Canadian port gateways to ship the containers.

Dennis Whalen, ADM’s vice president transportation, intermodal freight, stated, “We are pleased to see rising volumes of imported containers arriving at our intermodal ramp via CN for area distribution in Illinois. The resulting empty container capacity is essential to our efforts to grow exports of our products to global markets, especially in Asia.”

“CN and ADM are helping to grow our area economy, which benefits from CN’s connectivity to Atlantic and Pacific ports, our region’s uncongested rail network, a good supply of land for development located on the Decatur Central Railroad served by CN, and a skilled, motivated workforce,” said Ryan McCrady, president of the Economic Development Corporation of Decatur and Macon County, which oversees MIP.

Blumenthal Urges Metro-North to Expedite PTC

August 25th, 2016

In a letter to New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Metro-North Railroad President Joseph Giulietti, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal urged the railroad to stop delaying Positive Train Control (PTC) implementation on its system and to confirm that they will meet the federal government’s December 2018 PTC deadline. The Senator addressed the issue due to a recent Federal Railroad Administration (FRAprogress report that revealed Metro-North has made almost no progress in implementing PTC.

Blumenthal states in his letter that PTC technology would have prevented the death of four Metro-North passengers at Spuyten Duyvil in December 2013, and saved more than 300 other lives nationwide since 1970 when the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) first urged railroads to implement PTC. Currently PTC is not in operation on any of Metro-North’s track, and the railroad has made little progress over the past year towards installing the system.

“Metro-North should be leading the way – a model of timely, sound investment, not safety delay,” wrote Blumenthal. “The Spuyten Duyvil disaster was a red flag for this railroad, but Metro-North seems to have missed the signal, and it apparently will miss another timetable.”

Blumenthal’s letter stated that he wrote to Metro-North in August of 2015 asking for a date that the agency would complete installation of PTC on its lines. “Metro-North responded that it would be “irresponsible” to project a completion date,” noted the Senator. “At that point, Metro-North had failed to equip any locomotives, install any radios or obtain the necessary spectrum for a PTC system to operate.”

“I urge you to take the PTC mandate seriously and provide me with your assurance that PTC will be operational and fully effective by the December 2018 deadline,” stated Blumenthal in his letter to MTA.

Senator Blumenthal is member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. He opposed a blanket extension of the PTC deadline from 2015 to 2018 because possible extensions could lead to a five-year delay to 2020.

Weekly U.S. Rail Traffic Down 6.4 Percent

August 25th, 2016

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) has reported that U.S. rail traffic for the week ending August 20, 2016, totaled 531,484 carloads and intermodal units, a 6.4 percent decrease compared to the same week in 2015.

U.S. carloads, which totaled 270,464 for the week, were down by 6.4 percent compared to the same week last year. U.S. intermodal volume for the week totaled 261,020 units, a decrease of 6.4 percent compared to 2015.

U.S. Class I railroads also shipped 56,454 carloads of crude oil in the second quarter of 2016, a drop of 6,807 carloads, or 10.8 percent, from the first quarter of 2016. This was also a decrease of 49.2 percent, or 54,614 carloads, compared to the second quarter of 2015.

Four of the 10 carload commodity groups that are tracked by the AAR posted an increase for the week ending August 20, 2016, when compared with the same week in 2015. Grain increased 36.5 percent to 24,944; motor vehicles and parts were up by 4.9 percent to 18,974 carloads; and miscellaneous carloads were up 4.8 percent to 10,558 carloads.

Petroleum and petroleum products showed the largest decrease in the commodity groups, with a drop of 24.2 percent to 10,933 carloads. Coal declined by 16.6 percent to 89,599 carloads, and forest products dropped 14.3 percent to 9,869 carloads.

For the first 33 weeks of 2016, U.S. rail volume totaled 16,633,599 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 7.3 percent when compared to last year. Carloads, with a total of 8,126,642, were down by 11.4 percent, and intermodal, with a total of 8,506,957, dropped by 3 percent.

On the 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads, combined North American rail volume for the week ending August 20, 2016, was 692,369 carloads and intermodal units, down 5.9 percent.

For the first 33 weeks of 2016, North American rail volume was down 7.1 percent, with a total of 21,751,535 carloads and intermodal units.

LIRR Track Laying Completed Between Central Islip and Ronkonkoma

August 25th, 2016

New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has announced that the new track laying between Central Islip and Ronkonkoma for the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) double track project has been completed. The entire double track, which runs from Farmingdale to Ronkonkoma, is on schedule to open in 2018.

The double track project marks the MTA’s first use of the New Track Construction machine, which is capable of laying one mile of track per day. This is more than ten times faster than the 500 feet of track per day that the MTA manually laid previously. Use of the machine reduces the cost of laying Phase I’s 3.5 miles of track from more than $3.6 million to $1.2 million, saving approximately $2.4 million.

The machine is pulled from the front end by a bulldozer along the route of the new track, and automatically handles the flow of materials, negating the use of overhead cranes for track construction. The machine is also able to bring in supplies by rail. The MTA plans to use the machine in future projects in response to the Governor’s challenge to increase efficiency in its projects.

In concert with the proposed Main Line Expansion Project, which would add a third track to the heavily utilized segment between Floral Park and Hicksville, the construction of the Double Track between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma will support Long Island-wide resiliency by enabling the LIRR to provide better Main Line Service options in conditions where either the Montauk Branch or Port Jefferson Branch is compromised because of severe weather.

MTA is also moving forward with other projects that will help improve railroad operations, including the Jamaica Capacity Improvement Project, which streamlines the Jamaica track layout and modernizes the switch and signal system; the expansion of the train storage yard in Ronkonkoma; and the addition of pocket tracks along the Port Washington and Babylon Branches.

Alstom Finalizes Work on Paris’ Line A

August 25th, 2016
Line A of the Paris RER. Photo: courtesy of Alstom.

Line A of the Paris RER. Photo: courtesy of Alstom.

Alstom has completed the dismantling and reassembly of signaling and speed control equipment for the Réseau Express Régional (RER), the commuter rapid transit system serving the Paris area, which was necessary for the renewal of ballasted track on RER’s Line A.

The work was carried out between July 23 and August 21, 2016. The RER A line was reopened for passengers on August 21, in line with the schedule announced by the Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens (RATP), the Paris public transport operator.

Benoit Pellerin, Alstom’s managing director infrastructure France, said, “This operation confirms Alstom’s know how in managing signaling works and demonstrates our expertise and flexibility in complex urban rail projects, at the service of our clients, and in this case the RATP.”

The Alstom teams removed more than 150 items of signaling equipment, namely beacons, track circuits and track speed control equipment, so that the public works company could renew the ballasted track. The operation took into account working conditions in tunnels and difficult access, leading Alstom’s teams to intervene over several kilometers of line, on different sites. Alstom was on very strict deadlines to enable traffic to resume on the scheduled date.

Once the new ballasted track had been installed, the Alstom teams reinstalled the signaling equipment and carried out performance tests to avoid any problems linked to the opening of the line.

STB Chairman to Discontinue Annual Letter to Rail Industry

August 24th, 2016

Surface Transportation Board (STB) Chairman Daniel R. Elliott III will discontinue the practice of sending an annual letter to the railroad industry asking Class I and other railroads to comment on their end-of-year outlook for traffic volumes and operations.

His decision reflects changes that have occurred in the rail industry since mid-2000, with the weekly reporting of service performance data to the agency by Class I railroads also diminishing the need for the “Fall Peak Letter” that the chairman sent out.

“I appreciate the railroad industry’s past responses to the chairman’s annual end-of-year outlook letter,” said Chairman Elliott. “Over the years, the responses have been very helpful to the agency in assessing the preparedness and resilience of the network.”

“However, the industry has changed significantly over the past twelve years. With this in mind, it is appropriate to discontinue the practice, especially in light of service performance data that Class I railroads are providing on a weekly basis,” added Elliott.

The practice started in 2004, with the letter motivated by severe capacity constraints and periodic service disruptions that plagued the rail industry during the last decade. Because of these issues, the chairman sought written assurance from the industry as to its preparedness to handle the yearly seasonal spike in agricultural, intermodal, and energy-related traffic.

In recent years, there is no longer a highly-conspicuous peak season. And, in October 2014, the Board began collecting weekly service performance reports from the Class I railroads, providing a snapshot of the industry in near real-time.

Although Elliott has decided to discontinue the practice of requesting outlook letters, he expects the railroad industry to be forthcoming to the agency in the event of unanticipated service disruptions.

G&W’s MVRY Begins Service to Ohio Diesel Exhaust Fluid Terminal

August 24th, 2016

The Mahoning Valley Railway Company (MVRY), a subsidiary of Genesee & Wyoming Inc. (G&W), will begin service to Pilot/Flying J’s new diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) terminal in Struthers, Ohio.

MVRY is a six-mile short line railroad in eastern Ohio that interchanges with Norfolk Southern (NS) and CSX Transportation. MVRY primarily carries steel and energy products. It was acquired by G&W in 2008.

“Pilot/Flying J is proud to have MVRY as a rail partner for our Eastern Ohio DEF market,” stated Wes Mailhos, Pilot/Flying J’s manager of rail operations and business development. “The railroad made every effort to learn our business and offer a transportation strategy that helps our DEF production process, and we now have an excellent rail solution as part of our supply chain.”

Engines in diesel-powered vehicles use DEF to lower nitrogen oxide emissions, in accordance with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2010 heavy-duty engine and vehicle emissions standards. MVRY will deliver urea to the terminal, which is needed to produce DEF. After the DEF is produced, Pilot/Flying J will transload the DEF to truck for delivery to its area retail travel centers.

“MVRY is happy to participate in the emerging DEF market by offering Pilot/Flying J a safe and cost-effective option for receiving raw material,” remarked Dave Ebbrecht, president of MVRY. “We are also well-positioned to support other industries in northeast Ohio and western Pennsylvania and help companies within those markets develop transload or direct rail solutions.”