July marked the ninth straight month Amtrak ridership dropped as cuts in business travel impacted ridership, attributable to the ongoing recession, the national passenger rail corporation says.
Ridership fell 8.4% to 2.5 million from the year-ago month. Short-distance route riders declined 9.6%; long-distance ridership fell 4.9%. Northeast Corridor ridership fell 6.5%, paced by a 12% decline in Acela travelers.
The decline follows six straight year of ridership records by Amtrak, and began last November. It also occurs as federal stimulus funds have allowed the carrier to begin rehabilitating sidelined passenger equipment to expand capacity.
The Montana State Land Board Monday, fearful of conflicting effort, rejected a right-of-way application from a proposed Wyoming border coal mine seeking to build a rail spur into Montana. The rail line would connect the Youngs Creek coal operation to the existing BNSF Decker spur line.
Land board members worried the Wyoming coal mine could compete with Otter Creek coal access plans that the state seeks to advance. State Gov. Brian Schweitzer said the issue would be revisited at a September meeting focused on developing the state-owned coal.
Montana’s proposed access to Otter Creek coal reserves involves plans by the Tongue River Railroad, Inc., to construct 17.3 miles of new rail line. The project is opposed by ranchers and environmentalists, but in October 2007 the Surface Transportation Board issued a decision granting final approval to the Tongue River Railroad to construct the line, known as Tongue River III or the "Western Alignment," subject to environmental mitigation.
Britain's transport Secretary, Lord Andrew Adonis, has proposed a plan to create a network of 250-mph trains that would "progressively replace" short-haul flights.
"For reasons of carbon reduction and wider environmental benefits, it is manifestly in the public interest that we systematically replace short-haul aviation with high speed rail," said Lord Adonis. A public-private partnership is envisioned.
He said a new company, High Speed Two, will plan the first phase of the network, an $11.6 billion line between London and Birmingham.
As elsewhere, funding could be a problem. According to The Guardian, Lord Adonis acknowledged doubts over the potential of a line from London to Glasgow costing $48 billion.
He also said: "Other countries which have made high speed rail a priority have found it affordable by allocating long-term infrastructure funding to it. The French have decided to allocate 16 billion euros [$22.6 billion] to high speed rail between now and 2020. It looks to me the more you build it the cheaper it becomes."
New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) released a proposed new five-year capital investment program Monday. It adds up to $25.5 billion and includes, during the period 2010-2014, more than 500 new subway cars, 410 new regional railcars, 2,800 buses, signaling improvements and upgrades for the subways and regional railroads, station improvements, and improved access for the disabled.
MTA also released a draft 20-Year Capital Needs Assessment Plan. "Taken together, these documents identify the MTA's long-term infrastructure needs and a short-term plan to begin addressing them within current budget expectations," said the agency. They are available online at www.mta.info, where the public can also submit comments.
An MTA statements said: "Since 1982, the MTA has invested more than $75 billion in six successive programs that have restored the legacy of a system once on the brink of collapse. As a result, ridership levels are the highest since the 1950s, and our infrastructure is more reliable than ever: The distance subway traveled between breakdowns has increased 1800% for subway cars and 670% for buses and more than 500% for commuter rail cars.
"The proposed 2010-2029 Twenty Year Needs and Preliminary2010-2014 Capital Program are based on two guiding principles–rebuild the MTA's infrastructure and expand its system to accommodate growing demand. The $25.5 billion Proposed Draft 2010-2014 program focuses first and foremost on rebuilding the MTA's core infrastructure, which makes up 73% of the total program. Many of the proposed investments repair and replace fundamental components of the transit system," the MTA said.
In addition to rolling stock, signaling, and station improvements, the MTA contemplates such technological improvements as:
• A new contactless fare payment system to more fully integrate regional travel;
• Real timecustomer information to allow customers to optimize trip planning;
• Bus rapid transit initiatives, using low-floor buses, off-board fare collection, dedicated bus lanes, and signal prioritization to speed bus service;
• New train control systems to increase capacity and safety on subways and commuter railroads; and
• New subway transfers and strategic commuter rail investments to make the existing system work better for customers.
MTA said these " rebuilding investments are complemented by investments to expand the system to meet growing regional demand.
MTA's expansion plan includes the completion of its three ongoing projects and analysis of a number of new initiatives:
• First phase of the Second Avenue Subway, which will relieve overcrowding on the Lexington Avenue subway lines and carry more than 200,000 customers;
• East Side Access, which will save 76,000 daily customers up to 40 minutes a day by bringing LIRR trains to Grand Central Terminal;
• Extension of the 7 subway line to 34th Street and 11th Avenue, which will support development of Manhattan's Far West Side;
• Study of Staten Island's North and West Shore travel corridors, which will identify ways to support faster and more reliable transit service on Staten Island;
• Queens Boulevard Corridor study, which will evaluate solutions for meeting today's high demand and serving projected population and employment growth as well;
• Regional bus analysis to learn about the opportunities and challenges of a more unified regional bus system; and
• Continued study of Tappan Zee corridor, which will evaluate alternatives for the Bridge, including transit, to reduce congestion and improve mobility.
The American Public Transportation Association Monday released its latest “Transit Savings Report,” stating individuals who rode public transportation saved on average $9,167 annually, or about $764 per month, based on the August 7, 2009 national average gas price and the national unreserved monthly parking rate.
The monthly report calculates the average annual and monthly savings for public transit users. The report examines how an individual in a two-person household can save money by taking public transportation and living with one less car.
APTA said the national average for a monthly unreserved parking space in a downtown business district is $154.23, according to the 2009 Colliers International Parking Rate Study. Over the course of a year, parking costs for a vehicle can amount to an average of $1,850.
APTA offers a calculator to determine individual savings with or without car ownership, available at www.publictransportation.org.
Communities lining Ontario’s North Shore are racing to beat an Aug. 15 deadline to preserve freight rail service on the Huron Central Railway, linking Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury. A committee formed to implement a rescue plan says any measure would require infrastructure investment by senior levels of the provincial government.
Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.-based Huron Central has said the short line needs more than C$33 million (US$30.3 million) in upgrades to make it feasible. The company, a subsidiary of Greenwich, Conn.-based Genesee & Wyoming Inc., also said it could not continue to operate the line at a loss.
New Democrat Tony Martin, minister of parliament (MP) for Sault Ste. Marie, said, “This rail corridor is vital to all communities in northern Ontario,” adding that Ontario needs “the kind of rail transportation plans that the other provinces have are where the province and Ottawa are directly involved.”
The plan at present requires a “buy-in” from municipalities and rail customers, but Martin insisted the region also needs a commitment from the provincial and federal governments to establish … such a plan.”
But the Ontario Northland General Chairperson's Association believes a better solution, both for the short and long term, is to have Ontario Northland Transportation Commission assume control of the rail line.