Beginning August 27, Amtrak‘s Vermonter service to the Knowledge Corridor will include a stop in Holyoke, Mass. The Vermonter, which operates daily between Washington and St. Albans, Vt., began service in December 2014 to the Massacusettes cities of Northampton and Greenfield.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) has been leading the effort to improve the infrastructure and shorten trip times within Massachusetts with the restoration of passenger rail service to the Knowledge Corridor. Funding for the project was provided through the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The Vermonter recorded 89,000 passengers in Fiscal Year 2014, an increase of 6.6 percent.
Today, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) begins work to activate a new signal system and separate CSX Freight and SEPTA passenger tracks on the Authority’s West Trenton Regional Rail Line.
The West Trenton Separation Project will allow SEPTA to fully implement Positive Train Control (PTC). The separation of the six-mile section of track between the Woodbourne and West Trenton stations that is shared by SEPTA and CSX will help to alleviate rush hour train congestion in the area.
SEPTA and CSX have experienced sustained growth along this section of track, with SEPTA West Trenton ridership increasing 60 percent over the last decade and CSX Transportation operating approximately 25 trains through the area daily.
Due to the work, shuttle buses will replace all train service today between Woodbourne and West Trenton Stations on the line. SEPTA’s web site has specific West Trenton Regional Rail Line service information.
ENSCO, Inc. has announced that its wholly owned subsidiary, ENSCO Rail, was awarded a contract to provide its Digital Track Notebook®, a paperless track inspection solution, to Genesee & Wyoming (G&W). The solution allows track inspectors to use a web-based application to conduct track inspections electronically and features the ability to automatically schedule inspections based on federal and railroad specific schedule requirements.
The application also allows for inspections and defects to be logged electronically, inspection reports to be created for the Federal Railroad Administration and Transport Canada, and allows upper management to create and review performance reports.
“A paperless work environment is definitely the direction the industry is going, and we are excited to be a leader in it,” said Boris Nejikovsky, ENSCO President.
ENSCO provides automated and autonomous inspection systems, web-based data management systems, vehicle dynamics analysis and simulations, and large-scale systems integration for federal and commercial railways. Its ENSCO Rail subsidiary provides commercial track inspection products and services.
The Association of American Railroads (AAR) has approved Kelso Technologies Inc. new bottom outlet valve (BOV) design for commercial field trial testing. The valves are widely used in the transport of hazardous materials such as crude oil, ethanol and chemicals as well as many non-hazardous commodities. BOVs are used on rail tank cars for unloading contents of the tank. The BOV must be a low-profile design, positioned at the lowest point of the tank to discharge all of the contents in the tank.
Kelso’s BOV design prevents valve operating stem leaks and features the use of non-corrosive ceramic materials and a seal protecting wiper. It also meets the new DOT-117 tank car specifications to be implemented on October 1, 2015, and the new M1002 Tank Car Standards requiring a removable handle.
“The railroads; oil companies; tank car owners and manufacturers; provincial, state and municipal governments; along with federal and industry regulators are currently implementing plans to comply with the new DOT-117 specifications commencing on October 1, 2015,” said Kelso CEO James R. Bond. “The focus of the new DOT-117 rules is that the use of BAST (best available safety technologies) equipment and safe railroad operating procedures is a paramount priority, not optional and cannot be ignored.”
Kelso has stated that numerous railway stakeholders have agreed to provide the required field trial testing. Testing will commence shortly and may take up to two years to complete. Final approvals must be received from the AAR.
“Once the AAR approves our BOV and VRV for commercial use then Kelso can offer a full suite of commercial BAST equipment to the railway industry,” Bond added. “These products will improve the operational safety of a tank car during transport of hazardous commodities while increasing the survivability of a tank car in a derailment involving fire.”
R. J. Corman Railroad Company has started work on the 80-mile former Carolina Southern Line that the company acquired on August 17, moving in equipment and clearing shrubs on the line two weeks before the final contract was signed.
R. J. Corman Railroad Group President and CEO Craig King said that local and state officials provided unparalleled leadership.
“We are grateful to the many community leaders who had the vision and determination to work together, form the interstate railroad committee and make this transition possible,” said King. “We are especially grateful to Columbus and Horry Counties, which helped fund the project, and Mark Lazarus and Bill Clark who provided guidance and support in that effort.”
R. J. Corman expects to begin moving freight on the railway, which stretches from Mullins, S.C., to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and connects to lines in North Carolina, within six months.
Interstate railroad committee Chairman Doug Wendel of Myrtle Beach and Co-Chairman Dennis Worley of Tabor City recognized the importance of rail service for their towns.
“Creating a prospering community today requires leveraging every resource possible,” said Wendel. “We have so much going for us already, with our location, our weather, our stable businesses and our people that having a vibrant railroad is going to make our economy grow exponentially.”
“There were some who doubted we could bring this to a successful close, but Doug and I knew we would work it out because we have the backing of this whole region, along with a patient and dedicated partner in R. J. Corman,” said Worley. “We’re already hearing about new and growing businesses as a result.”
“We’re ecstatic to be on track to once again have rail service for this region,” said Mark Lazarus, chairman of the Horry County Council. “In addition to being more cost effective for our industries and producers, the railroad will reduce highway congestion, making travel easier and safer for residents and the millions of people who visit the Grand Strand every year.”
King also spoke on the public being aware of safety near railroad tracks and property.
“We are reminding everyone that it’s time to start paying attention to railroad crossings again,” said King. “We’ll be saying this over and over again, ‘When you see tracks, always think TRAIN!’ There is no contest between a train and person or a car, so we ask you to please stop, look and listen before crossing any tracks.”
In the coming months, King said residents should especially watch for large equipment working on the railroad and highrail vehicles that are equipped to ride the railroad as well as drive on the street. He also noted that it is against federal law to be on the tracks, other than moving over designated crossings as necessary. Anyone on the rails or on the railroad right of way is trespassing and in danger.
In an agreement between the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) and Keolis Commuter Services, service improvements to commuter rail lines will take place over the next five months. Following the significant service disruptions in February and March of this year due to unprecedented winter weather, the agreement will cover winter weather resiliency plans.
Stephanie Pollack, Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) secretary and CEO, said, “We can, and will do better. I’m pleased that Keolis has agreed in writing to work harder to achieve our shared goal of providing the level of service Commuter Rail customers expect and deserve.”
The agreement incorporates findings from an analysis that identified areas for improving reliability and resiliency following the service disruptions in February and March. The areas of focus included in the agreement are winter resiliency, on-time performance (OTP), staffing, operations, equipment maintenance, customer service and fare collection. The agreement is endorsed by MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board.
“Through this agreement, we are committing to the MBTA and our customers that we will further improve our service,” stated Keolis General Manager Gerald C. Francis. “More importantly, this agreement serves as a road map for how we are going to deliver this improved service and rebuild the confidence and trust of our passengers by delivering on this commitment.”
The agreement includes the following provisions:
- Committing to ensuring that 65 locomotives are available for service each weekday;
- Providing the necessary coach seating capacity required under the contract;
- The development of a plan to enhance fare collection;
- A complete review of the system schedule to develop revisions that meet customer demand and optimize on-time performance;
- Periodic training and workforce development programs for commuter rail staff;
- A new Life Cycle Maintenance Plan for early detection of future maintenance needs.
The MBTA and Keolis will measure improvements in service against an overall adjusted OTP goal of 92 percent, with no individual line below 90 percent. A working group will develop targets for peak period trains.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has released a report written by Dr. Allan Zarembski that focuses on the safe rail transport of Bakken Crude oil in Pennsylvania. This assessment addresses derailment risk, tank car breach/rupture risk and regulatory oversight.
Zarembski, an internationally recognized expert in the area of railway track and structures, vehicle-track dynamics, failure and risk analysis, safety, railway operations and maintenance, was hired in April by the governor to study ways to improve the safety of trains transporting crude oil through the state.
Governor Wolf stated, “Every week, roughly sixty to seventy trains carrying crude oil travel through Pennsylvania destined for Philadelphia or another East Coast refinery, and I have expressed grave concern regarding the transportation of this oil and have taken several steps to prevent potential oil train derailments.”
In his report, Assessment of Crude by Rail Safety Issues in Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Zarembski presents 27 recommendations divided into 18 primary and 9 secondary categories. Primary categories are those expected to have direct safety results and can be implemented by the railroads directly working with the state or by the state itself. Secondary categories include activities that are more difficult to implement or may require action by a party other than the railroad or the state.
Norfolk Southern (NS) and CSX Transportation (CSX) ship large volumes of crude oil through Pennsylvania. The governor has met with executives from both companies and discussed safety measures that could lower the risk of derailments.
“Protecting Pennsylvanians is my top priority and Dr. Zarembski’s report is important in helping my administration take the necessary steps,” said Governor Wolf. “I will also continue to work with CSX and Norfolk Southern, both of which have demonstrated concern for rail safety and an interest in working with my administration.”
The Association of American Railroads (AAR) has reported that U.S. rail traffic for the week ending August 15, 2015, totaled 564,502 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 1.7 percent compared to the same week in 2014.
U.S. carloads, with a total of 288,059 for the week, were down by 5.2 percent compared to the same week last year. U.S. intermodal volume for the week totaled 276,443 units, up by 2.3 percent compared to 2014.
Four of the 10 carload commodity groups that are tracked by the AAR posted an increase for the week ending August 15, 2015, when compared with the same week in 2014. Miscellaneous carloads increased 16.8 percent to 9,949 carloads, followed by grain, up 9.6 percent to 19,708 carloads, and motor vehicles and parts, up 3.2 percent to 17,940 carloads.
Metallic ores and metals showed the largest decrease in the commodity groups, with a drop of 15.4 percent to 23,787 carloads, and coal was down 10.4 percent to 106,339 carloads. Petroleum and petroleum products declined by 10.3 percent to 14,034 carloads.
For the first 32 weeks of 2015, U.S. rail volume totaled 17,370,957 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 1.1 percent when compared to last year. Carloads, with a total of 8,883,173, were down by 4.3 percent, and intermodal, with a total of 8,487,784, was up by 2.5 percent.
On the 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads, combined North American rail volume for the week ending August 15, 2015, was 730,550 carloads and intermodal units, down 2.1 percent.
For the first 32 weeks of 2015, North American rail volume was down 0.5 percent, with a total of 22,655,831 carloads and intermodal units.
The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has announced that crews will begin landslide mitigation work this at three sites near Mukilteo and one near Everett to help limit disruption to passenger train service north of Seattle.
When a landslide covers or disturbs rail lines it triggers a mandatory 48-hour halt to passenger train traffic while BNSF clears tracks and ensures the area is stable.
The crews will install retaining walls to catch debris before it hits tracks and slide detection fences for early landslide warning. Work will also include slope stabilization, erosion control and improved drainage systems. The work is designed to help reduce landslides or minimize their damage to rail lines.
The Landslide Mitigation Work Group was formed in 2013 by WSDOT, Amtrak, BNSF Railway, Sound Transit and other partners. The group researched slide locations and causes and used the data to identify six project sites. Two projects were completed in 2014, with work taking place now on the final sites.
WSDOT is spending $16.1 million in federal funds on slide management projects to help shore up slopes along rail lines.
Ahead of the upcoming September 12 opening of the MAX Orange Line, Oregon’s TriMet is expanding MAX light rail service as part of its new fall schedule. MAX schedules change on August 30, to integrate the new Orange Line into the system.
The MAX Orange Line runs 7.3-miles between Portland State University, South Waterfront, Southeast Portland, Milwaukie and Oak Grove in north Clackamas County. The Orange Line includes Tilikum Crossing, Bridge of the People, the first multimodal bridge in the United States that will carry MAX light rail, Portland Streetcar, buses, bicycles and pedestrians, but no private vehicles. The line includes 10 new MAX stations and brings the system to a total of 60 miles.
To celebrate the opening of the new MAX Orange Line, TriMet will host an Orange Picnic and Fireworks Spectacular at Zidell Yards on August 22, featuring live music and food carts. Fireworks will be displayed off the deck of Tilikum Crossing, Bridge of the People. Also in celebration of the opening, TriMet, the Portland Streetcar and Portland Aerial Tram will offer free service on September 12.