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FASTLANE Grant Applications Total Nearly $9.8 Billion

May 27th, 2016

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) received 212 applications totaling nearly $9.8 billion for grants through the newly created Fostering Advancements in Shipping and Transportation for the Long-term Achievement of National Efficiencies (FASTLANE) grant program. States and localities requested more than 13 times the available funding, underscoring the need for infrastructure investment across the country.

Of the applications received, 136 represent projects in urban areas and 76 would support rural projects.

“Transportation creates jobs and makes jobs of the future possible. We know there is pent up demand for projects that will speed up the delivery of goods and make America even more competitive. Today, we have even more evidence,” said Secretary Foxx. “We’re going to do our best to support high impact transportation projects that will lay a new foundation for job creation and exporting American made goods throughout the world.”

Established in December 2015 as part of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, FASTLANE grants provide dedicated funding for projects that address major issues facing the nation’s highways and bridges.

The grants will address many of the challenges outlined in the USDOT report Beyond Traffic, including the need for a strong multimodal transportation system to support the expected growth in freight movement both by ton and value.

The deadline for submitting applications was April 14, 2016, and the USDOT is currently reviewing all eligible applications.

U.S. Weekly Rail Traffic Drops 8.5 Percent

May 27th, 2016

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) has reported that U.S. rail traffic for the week ending May 21, 2016, totaled 506,983 carloads and intermodal units, an 8.5 percent decrease compared to the same week in 2015.

U.S. carloads, which totaled 244,290 for the week, were down by 10.6 percent compared to the same week last year. U.S. intermodal volume for the week totaled 262,693 units, a decrease of 6.5 percent compared to 2015.

Four of the 10 carload commodity groups that are tracked by the AAR posted an increase for the week ending May 21, 2016, when compared with the same week in 2015. Miscellaneous carloads increased 20.7 percent to 10,071 carloads, nonmetallic minerals were up 4.7 percent to 37,326 carloads, and motor vehicles and parts were up by 2.1 percent to 19,067 carloads.

Coal showed the largest decrease in the commodity groups, with a drop of 28.8 percent to 66,709 carloads. Petroleum and petroleum products declined by 21.5 percent to 11,593 carloads, and forest products dropped 8.3 percent to 10,341 carloads.

For the first 20 weeks of 2016, U.S. rail volume totaled 9,954,037 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 8.1 percent when compared to last year. Carloads, with a total of 4,803,310, were down by 14 percent, and intermodal, with a total of 5,150,727, dropped by 1.7 percent.

On the 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads, combined North American rail volume for the week ending May 21, 2016, was 665,243 carloads and intermodal units, down 7.7 percent.

For the first 20 weeks of 2016, North American rail volume was down 7.6 percent, with a total of 13,055,579 carloads and intermodal units.

Funding Agreement Amended for California High-Speed Rail

May 27th, 2016

Following the recent approval of the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s (Authority) new 2016 Business Plan, the Authority and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) have updated an existing 2010 ARRA grant agreement.

The amended agreement makes a number of adjustments, primarily to reflect the changed circumstances around the program and progress the Authority has made since it was originally executed in 2010. The amendments will ensure that ARRA funds are expended by the mandated deadline of September 30, 2017.

Key amendments to the agreement include:

  • Modification of the overall project schedule from 2018 to 2022, to incorporate the Central Valley segment into the operating segment.
  • Establishment of a working capital account for right-of-way which streamlines the payment process.
  • Allows for the expenditure of federal funds first, followed by the use of state funds.
  • Includes the Construction Package 1 northern extension to Madera and the purchase of Radio Spectrum to support train communications and safety measures.
  • Increases the amount of ARRA funding that can be expended on project development.

“High-speed rail construction is underway in California and this agreement is consistent with our efforts to connect Silicon Valley and the Central Valley by 2024, and then move forward with connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles,” said Authority CEO Jeff Morales. “This amendment to the existing agreement makes a number of technical fixes and updates the document to reflect the Board’s recent approval of the 2016 Business Plan and the Legislature’s commitment of Cap and Trade proceeds to the project.”

With the commitment of Cap and Trade proceeds, the Authority has been able to expand the scope of the project funded with the original grant – using state funds – to go beyond the basic infrastructure and all the way into an operable segment. This is the first amendment to the grant agreement since December 2012.

California’s OCTA Advances Bridge Projects

May 26th, 2016

The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) has advanced two more projects in the O.C. Bridges program, which is separating car and pedestrian traffic from the freight rail line that now travels underneath the new bridges.

Representatives from the OCTA joined city officials at a recent completion ceremony for the new Orangethorpe Avenue overpass. Earlier this year, finishing touches, including landscaping and final striping, were put on the Tustin/Rose overpass project.

“There is good reason to celebrate each of these new bridges along the rail line, which help improve the quality of life for the people who travel through the area with enhanced safety and quicker commutes,” said OCTA Chair Lori Donchak. “We appreciate people’s patience through the construction and we’re excited to have them experience the results.”

The Orangethorpe overpass is nearing completion with OCTA and the cities of Anaheim and Placentia working together to open the lanes to traffic within the next 30 days. The total cost for the Orangethorpe project is estimated at $110.5 million, while the Tustin/Rose project is approximately $94.3 million. Both projects, as with each of the seven O.C. Bridges projects, are significantly funded by Measure M, the county’s half-cent sales tax for transportation improvements.

Underpasses have already opened at Placentia Avenue and at Kraemer Boulevard. Construction on the final three projects in the O.C. Bridges program – at State College Boulevard, Raymond Avenue and Lakeview Avenue – are underway and expected to be open by 2018.

At least 70 trains travel the BNSF rail line each day, with the number of trains projected to increase to 130 trains each day by 2030. Without the bridges and underpasses, a train would block one of the intersections every 10 minutes.

Metra Applys for Grant to Fund PTC Recovery System

May 26th, 2016

Metra, the Northeast Illinois commuter rail system, has applied for a federal grant to help fund a $3.7 million disaster recovery system for its federally mandated Positive Train Control (PTC) safety system. The disaster recovery system would activate automatically if the primary back-office server system fails due to a power failure, natural disaster, routine maintenance or an unforeseen event.

Without the disaster recovery system, any failure to the primary system controlling Metra’s PTC would severely disrupt rail operations for passenger and freight railroads, forcing trains to operate at greatly reduced speeds throughout the Chicago region.

“Nationally, the cost to carry out the PTC mandate is estimated to exceed $10 billion, including $3.48 billion for commuter railroads,” said Metra Executive Director/CEO Don Orseno. “We will continue to look for new revenue sources to help pay for this complex system as we plan for full implementation of PTC by 2019 or sooner.”

Metra plans to house its disaster recovery system, which will run simultaneously with the primary PTC server system, at its Kensington Yard facility on Chicago’s south side. The project will also lay the groundwork for Metra to eventually establish a second, fully redundant dispatching center.

The grant is being sought through the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) Railroad Safety Technology grant program, which is limited this year to PTC system implementation. Projects receiving grants will have up to 80 percent of costs covered and require a 20 percent local funding match. Metra is requesting $3 million in grant funding and has identified $750,000 in local matching funds for the project.

Amtrak Adds Saturday Night Service on Milwaukee-Chicago Line

May 26th, 2016

Amtrak has announced that it is adding late night trips on its Hiawatha Service, which travels between Milwaukee and Chicago, for Saturday nights from May 21 through September 3, 2016. Train 343, which departs from Chicago at 11:10 p.m., and Train 344, which departs from Milwaukee at 10:40 p.m., will be added to the line for the summer months.

The Hiawatha Service is one of the top six Amtrak routes, with approximately 800,000 passengers riding on it in the past year, including intermediate stops at Glenview, Ill., and in Wisconsin at Sturtevant and Milwaukee Airport. The trains are jointly sponsored by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Illinois Department of Transportation.

This is the third improvement in Hiawatha Service since April, following trainside checked bicycles and a carriage for passengers with small pets.

CSX Makes Senior Leadership Changes

May 25th, 2016

CSX Chairman and CEO Michael J. Ward has announced several senior management changes, including the July 1 retirement of Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Lisa Mancini.

Mancini, who joined CSX in 2003, is a member of the chairman’s executive management team and responsible for people functions, procurement and real estate.

“We thank Lisa for her many contributions to CSX’s people and success. We wish her the very best in her retirement,” Ward said.

Also effective July 1, Cressie Brown will move from vice president labor relations to senior vice president and chief administrative officer, and Kathleen Brandt will move from CSX’s information technology subsidiary to senior vice president and chief information officer. Both Brown and Brandt will join the executive management team and report to Ward.

Brown, who joined CSX in 1988, held leadership roles in critical operational and support functions, including technology, finance, service design, and customer service before being appointed vice president labor relations.

Brandt, who joined CSX in 1985, served in organizational strategy and capital planning roles and rose through the information technology organization to become its leader. She will now lead CSX teams in accelerating deployment of automation, analytics and systems to contribute to next-generation safety, service and efficiency.

Zachery M. Jones will succeed Brown as vice president labor relations. Jones, who joined CSX in 2010, is currently assistant vice president employee services and involved in addressing workforce issues and improving employee engagement. Prior to joining CSX, he was with the National Mediation Board in Washington, D.C.

“These promotions underscore the importance of continuing to develop our highly skilled and committed employees, while accelerating CSX’s next-generation technologies and performance in safety, service and efficiency,” Ward said.

Metra to Continue Studies on BNSF Extension

May 25th, 2016

Metra, the Northeast Illinois commuter rail system, has announced it is resuming work on engineering and environmental studies to extend the BNSF Rail Line past Aurora in Kendall County. The decision was made after local officials strongly supported the planning work despite the challenges of securing funding for the extension. The two studies are expected to be completed in approximately 18 to 24 months.

Metra Chairman Martin J. Oberman said, “I am impressed by the deliberate and thoughtful way the leaders of Kendall County came together to show their support for the extension of the BNSF extension. They clearly understand the financial demands that will be facing them and I look forward to working with them in the future.”

Metra initiated preliminary engineering and environmental studies on the extension when local elected officials secured $7.5 million in federal funding in the mid-2000s. In June 2015, those studies were suspended to determine if there was consensus among local officials to spend the remaining $6.6 million in planning and design funds on the extension rather than other infrastructure needs in the area. Metra could not fund construction of the BNSF extension, which has an estimated cost of more than $200 million, due to its $11.7 billion in state of good repair needs over the next decade.

Local leaders decided to continue the engineering and environmental studies for the project and an additional dedicated funding stream would be created with Kendall County residents covering the remaining costs of the extension.

“We are humbled that local officials are so convinced of the value of Metra service that they are willing to take on this challenge,” said Don Orseno, Metra executive director/CEO. “We thank Senator Kirk and Congressmen Hultgren and Foster for their leadership and support of this project.”

UP Investing in Colorado Rail Infrastructure

May 25th, 2016

Union Pacific Railroad (UP) has announced plans to invest $70.9 million on rail infrastructure improvements in Colorado in 2016. A total of $67 million will be used to maintain railroad track, and $3.4 million will be used to maintain bridges in the state.

This year, Union Pacific will spend $16.7 million to replace 36 miles of rail between Garden City, Greeley and Windsor and $5.9 million to replace more than 43,000 railroad ties and install 29,000 tons of ballast on the rail line between Columbine, Castle Rock and Palmer Lake.

An additional $5.6 million will be spent to replace more than 31,000 railroad ties and install 23,900 tons of ballast in the rail line between Pueblo and Trinidad.

“We constantly evaluate our customers’ needs to make targeted investments that enhance our efficiency and deliver the goods American businesses and families use daily,” said Donna Kush, UP vice president  public affairs, northern region. “Continuing to aggressively invest in our infrastructure is an important element in Union Pacific’s unwavering safety commitment.”

UP invested nearly $123 million on Colorado’s transportation infrastructure from 2011 to 2015.

Alstom to Modernize Shanghai Line Trainsets

May 24th, 2016
Alstom to modernize cars on Shanghai metro. Photo: courtesy of Alstom/H. Koh Sien Chin.

Alstom to modernize cars on Shanghai metro. Photo: courtesy of Alstom/H. Koh Sien Chin.

Alstom has been awarded a contract by Shanghai Shentong to modernize 68 metro cars in service on the Shanghai metro line 5 and to supply traction and train control management systems for 198 new metro cars. The new metro cars will circulate on the existing line and its extension, which is expected to open by the end of 2017. The contract is worth €46 million.

“This new contract will strengthen Alstom’s position in China,” said Ling Fang, managing director of China and East Asia of Alstom. “The great performance of the metro cars in Shanghai over the last 13 years, our 16 years of expertise in the supply of traction system in China, as well as our 25-year experience in train modernization have been essential in the award of this contract. Alstom is committed to accompanying its customers in Shanghai and elsewhere in China to offer efficient, reliable and comfortable mobility solutions to passengers.”

Alstom will modernize the 68 metro cars, which will increase their reliability and adapt them to a new signaling system that will be implemented on the line. The cars were originally supplied in 2003 by Alstom’s Chinese joint venture Shanghai Alstom Transport Co. Ltd. (SATCO). The traction systems for the 198 new cars will be manufactured by Alstom’s joint venture Shanghai Alstom Transport Electrical Equipment Co. Ltd. (SATEE).

Shanghai’s metro line 5 is 17.2 km long and includes 11 stations. The extension will add 16.6 km and 9 stations.