The New York Metropolitan Transportation Agency faces a $113 million cut in state funding in the new fiscal year if the legislature accepts Gov. David A. Paterson's plan for dealing with a looming state deficit.
The MTA cut is part of a $2 billion reduction in state funding that Paterson said Thursday he will propose for the fiscal year that begins next April. The reduction would help close a projected state deficit that has now ballooned to $3 billion.
MTA, a state agency that operates the New York City subways, the Long Island Rail Road, and Metro-North Railroad, has been struggling with its own daunting defects. The agency has imposed sizeable fare increases and some service cuts. A financial plan released July 29 projected cash balances of $29 million in 2009, $39 million in 2010, and $1 million in 2011, and "manageable deficits for 2012 and 2013."
At that time, MTA said that "significant spending restraints, building on the substantial expense reduction taken in 2009, [will] save $64 million in 2010 and grow to $279 million by 2013."
That is the context in which MTA received news of a substantial loss of millions of dollars in state funding for the new fiscal year. The agency had no immediate comment.
Bids for upgrading a Metro-North rail yard in New Haven, Conn., have come in significantly lower than the $291 million anticipated cost, according to the Connecticut Department of Transportation, which oversees Metro-North operations in the Nutmeg State. The agency said Torrington, Conn.-based O&G Industries submitted the lowest bid, $124.8 million.
The work involves upgrading maintenance shop capabilities adjacent to New Haven's Union Station, establishing a central repair hub for the state's fleet of Metro-North’s new M-8 rail cars.
In a statement, state Gov. M. Jodi Rell said she was pleased with the unexpectedly low estimate for the work, and touted the additional economic boost the related construction jobs will provide state businesses once the project is under way. "The immediate impact, of course, is the construction jobs created by the project, but the overall impact will greatly upgrade commuter rail service in Connecticut with state-of-the-art cars and a state-of-the art facility to service them," she said.
The bid is under review, a process that can take two months, with the DOT planning to start construction this winter, DOT spokesman Judd Everhart said.
Washington state’s Port of Vancouver has identified localcontractor Rotschy Inc. as the low bidder for constructing a 7.3-mil rail loop at Terminal 5, designed to expand the inland port’s intermodal capacity. Rotschy outbid four other competitors with a low bid of $15.26 million, portofficials said.
The rail loop is part of the $137 million West Vancouver Freight Access project, which will encircle 1.8 miles of the port's new Terminal 5 on the former Alcoa-Evergreen aluminum site. The contract includes grading and excavation work as well as construction of the rail line and electrical work.
The port commission expects to formally award the contract to Rotschy at its Oct. 27 meeting. Work is to begin next month, with completion by June 18, 2010.
All five bids came in above the port's budgeted project cost of $14.6 million due to the addition of three optional items that weren't included in the original estimate, said Julianna Marler, senior contract manager for the port. The port will likely remove one or two of the options, which include additional lighting and an extra track, to fit within the budget, Marler said.
"It'll be a larger contract for our company," said Dan Korpela, senior estimator for Rotschy Inc., which employs about 100 workers. "Our schedule going into winter for our grading crews is empty and to get this project will keep a lot people working for the winter."
Italy Infrastructure Minister Altero Matteoli said Friday work on a controversial high speed rail line linking the city of Turin with Lyon, France, would resume late this year, most likely in December.
Construction on the Italian portion of the route was halted by protests before and after the Turin Winter Olympics in 2006. Some regional residents protested HSR’s potential impact, and also objected to planned tunnel construction along the route, claiming such work would release harmful materials such as asbestos and uranium.
The Turin-Lyon route is one of several in the European Union’soverall effort to unite the continent with high speed rail links stretching from Lisbon, Portugal, to Kiev, Ukraine.
The long-proposed and long-struggling proposal for a light rail transit line on Manhattan’s famed 42nd Street resurfaced into public view this week, courtesy of The New York Times. The proposal envisions LRT linking the United Nations Building, on Manhattan’s East Side, with Grand Central Terminal, Times Square, and the Port Authority Bus Terminal, before reaching the Jacob Javitts Convention Center on the West Side.
The Times duly notes the proposal has failed to gain support from current Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose administration suggests the line would “compete” with MTA New York City Transit’s existing subway lines (both the No. 7 and the "Shuttle") and bus services, as well. Bloomberg has invested substantial political capital, as well as considerable city fiscal resources, to extend the No. 7 west from its current terminus at Times Square.
Left unaddressed under this logic is why MTA’s existing modal services aren’t considered in “competition” with each other already. But the Bloomberg administration at leasts offers a reason for its reluctance; predecessor Mayor Rudolph Giuliani studiously ignored the 42ndStreet proposal despite support from some business groups.
George Haikalis, co-chairman of citizens group Vision42, notes the group has tried to advance the idea for more than 10 years, but acknowledges that Mayor Bloomberg’s support could be a decisive factor. “The real gain here is you could handle three times as many people with roughly the same cost,” Mr. Haikalis said. “A lot of people have expressed interest in this, but have not signed on, because they’re awaiting interest from Mayor Bloomberg.”
Haikalis, assisted over the years by rail advocates in New York and New Jersey and by various lower-level city transportation staffers supportive of LRT (even if the city is not), has conducted field trips across the Hudson River on Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Transit, which runs on a north-south route paralleling Manhattan and the river, for interested city and state officials.
“City officials can literally see HBLRT from their windows in their Manhattan offices,” Haikalis observed recently to Railway Age, “but somehow can’t make the connection that a successful light rail line literally in full view could be duplicated in Manhattan itself.”
Others have grasped the concept, however. Among those supporting Vision42’s concept, in whole or in part, are Douglas Durst, the chairman of the Durst Organization, which owns five office buildings on 42nd Street, and Jeffrey Katz, chief executive of Sherwood Equities, which owns One Times Square as well as the building housing the Renaissance Hotel in Times Square.
Katz, among others, has reservations over closing 42nd Street completely to auto traffic, but supports the LRT concept. Others have questioned how truck deliveries would be made to businesses along the route, though Vision 42 notes almost every building on the street already have freight access on adjacent streets.
U.S. intermodal rail traffic volume reached its highest level in September since last November, the Association of American Railroads says, even though when compared to September 2008 levels, intermodal rail traffic declined 14.4%.
AAR’s monthly Rail Time Indicators summary with downloadable report and embedded video summary note that the relative improvement in intermodal traffic may be related to retailers restocking shelves for the upcoming holiday season.
September’s monthly carload data showed a decline of 14.2% compared with a year ago. AAR says weather may have been a factor, since flooding in the Southeast affected traffic across many commodity categories. Lower natural gas prices and the relatively mild summer may also have been a factor in carload declines, since there was a 13.3% drop in demand for coal, the single largest commodity shipped by railroads, compared with year-ago levels.
“The data in the October report gives us some indication that better things may be on the horizon,” said AAR Senior Vice President of Policy and Economics John Gray. “While some of this activity is seasonal, railroads have taken more than 15,000 cars out of storage between September 1 and October 1. However, we must continue to wait and see.”
Officials in Woodbridge, N.J., say they’ve reached accord with Conrail to create “quiet zones” at four township grade crossings, which will include quad gates at two of the crossings, to resolve noise issues generated by increased rail freight activity.
A boom in the ethanol industry has boosted rail traffic for refineries in the township’s Sewaren neighborhood. "Because of increase in train activity, they're blowing (the horn) five times during the day," said First Ward Councilman Charles Kenny, who has lobbied to get the quiet zones in his ward. "Six blocks away from my house, when I have the windows open, I can hear the train whistle from the first, second, and third crossings at one in the morning."
The zones will be installed at crossings on Woodbridge Avenue, Blair Road, Rahway Avenue, and St. Georges Avenue.The Woodbridge and St. Georges crossings each will sport quad gates. The Blair Road crossing will allow quieter whistle use under the agreement.
Amidst a tight gubernatorial race and with Election Day looming Nov. 3, New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D) has said he’ll weigh raising the state’s gasoline tax should he be re-elected to a second term. Corzine also said that, failing such a hike, he would consider diverting money from other programs to keep the state’s Transportation Trust Fund solvent.
Both options are problematic. New Jersey consistently sports the third- or fouth-lowest state fuels tax within the U.S., with most residents opposedto raising the current 14.5-cent-per gallon tax for any purpose, let alone railand transit uses. Diverting money, in turn, would exacerbate looming shortfalls for other needs already anticipated by a budget gap that could reach $8 billionin New Jersey’s next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Despite that, Corzine said some kind of action would be required. “I’m more than happy to do either one of them, not because I like doing it, but because it’s going to be necessary,” he said in a recent press interview.
“Fifty years from now, when the trains are going under the Hudson River, people will say somebody was willing to make an unpopular decision to do something,” he said. The state’s Transportation Trust Fund is expected to supply New Jersey’s matching share of the $8.7 billion Mass Transit Tunnel under the Hudson River connecting New Jersey and New York.
As recently as last year, Corzine said raising the gas tax would be “a very, very last resort.”
CSX Corp. saw its third-quarter earnings fall 23% from the comparable period a year ago due to the continued effects of the economic slowdown. CSX earned $293 million in the third quarter on revenue of $2.29 billion, also down 23%. But earnings of 74 cents per share still beat Wall Street consensus estimates of 71 cents per share for the quarter.
The performance contributed to a strong performance by CSX shares Wednesday, up 5.76%, or $2.55, to $46.83 in midafternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
Though CSX cautioned that demand for coal will remain weak well into next year, it also noted that the decline in third-quarter volume wasn't as steep as had occurred in the second quarter of 2009, suggesting that freight traffic losses were nearing a bottom. "The third quarter reinforces our view that the worst of the recession is likely behind us," Chairman, President and CEO Michael J. Ward said in a statement.
CSX offset some slower business in the third quarter by drastically cutting expenses, resulting in a 24% decline in total operating costs. Fuel costs were less than half what they were a year ago. The company said "pricing remained strong and consistent with prior quarters," although it made less money per unit of freight than it did at the same point last year.