New Haven, Conn., transportation officials are reviewing projections by two consultants, URS and TranSystems, for a proposed3.6-mile streetcar line linking Union Station (Metro-North and Amtrak service), City Hall, Yale University, the city’s theater district, and Yale New Hospital.
But according to city transportation chief Mike Piscitelli, “The city is not fully accepting either report at face value, as no formal plans are yet in place to move forward with either firm's proposals." One of the differences between the TranSystems recommendation and the city's current plan of action is that TranSystems advocates a single route, whereas the city plans to compare four different routes before making a final decision.
Also still in question, according toPiscitelli, are such variables as whether existing street widths can accommodatestreetcars as well as auto traffic. “This information is expected from the forthcoming URS report," he said.
Despite such concerns, “We are very optimistic on this,” Piscitelli said. “The TranSystems report did a good screen of our options, orders of magnitude, and cost, and this is all within a feasible, programmed, measured approach.”
New Haven would compete with a growing number of other U.S. municipalities, including other cities in Connecticut such as Stamford and Bridgeport, to receive federal funding for the proposed trolley project. Programs such as the Federal Transit Administration’s “Small Starts” program provide grants for the capital costs associated with new fixed-path transportation systems, but programs eligible for the grant must cost between $25 million and $250 million.
Recent Small Starts grants, moreover, have been awarded to bus and "Bus Rapid Transit" programs, which qualified s "fixed-path" systems. Pending legislation introduced by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), an ardent streetcar supporter, could increase the amount of funding available for rail transit options, however.
The city currently records daily bus ridership averaging 25,000 to 30,000, Piscitelli said, but the trolley would not be marketed to compete with the public bus system.
Bad weather across midsection of the U.S., combined with continued economic sluggishness, resulted in yet another decline in U.S. railfreight traffic for the week ended April 4, according to the Association of American Railroads.
AAR said U.S. railroad carload traffic fell 20.5% from the comparable week in 2008, with loadings down 19.4% in the West and 22.0% in the East. Western railroads still notched a lesser decline despite floods in the U.S. Midwest and bad weather in Wyoming, affecting coal movements, which fell 8.3%.
U.S. intermodal volume also fell, down 14.7% from the same week a year ago. Total volume of 27.9 billion ton miles was down 19.1% from 2008 levels.
Canadian railroads freightcar loadings declined 25.7% from the comparable week in 2008, while intermodal fell 17.4%. Mexican freight carload traffic fell 41.3% from last year, and intermodal plunged a similar 43.0%.
For the first 13 weeks of 2009, cumulative U.S. carload volume declined 16.7% from the comparable period in 2008; intermodal fell 15.4%, and total volume fell 15.5% during the period. Canadian railroads saw carloads fall 20.0% during the 13-week period compared to the 2008 counterpart, while intermodal slipped 12.6%. Mexican railroads reported carload freight fell 9.3% during the first 13 weeks of 2009 compared with one year ago, while intermodal fell 18.8%.
Combined North American rail volume for the first 13 weeks of 2009 on U.S., Canadian, and Mexican railroads was down 17.1% from the comparable 2008 period, while intermodal declined 15.0%.
Of nearly $73 million in grants awarded by the Kresge Foundation for the year’s first quarter, half of it, $35 million, was identified for developing light rail transit in the foundation’s hometown of Detroit. The amount is roughly 29% of the $120 million required for constructing M-1 RAIL, planned to run along Woodward Avenue from the Detroit River to the New Center area, with 13 station stops.
In a statement, the foundation said its “over-arching purpose of Kresge's community development work in its hometown is strengthening the City of Detroit's economic, social, and cultural fabric.”
"There is no more important investment this region can make in its future health and vitality than a regional mass transit system," said Rip Rapson, president of the Kresge Foundation. "The Woodward line will signal metropolitan Detroit's willingness to jump-start our region's aspiration to create such a system. It will connect inner-city residents with job opportunities. It will give rise to more intensive, sensible land use, tying neighborhood residents to new community development opportunities. It will draw together a variety of private, philanthropic, public, and nonprofit activities now in place to promote the retention and attraction of talent in the heart of the city."
The foundation’s funding, to be made over four years, will be granted as project benchmarks are met. "We have every expectation that these benchmarks will be met in a timely way, leading to the beginning of construction this year and the line's completion in late 2010," Rapson said.
Detroit’s current LRT project is a marriage of two separate proposals that were merged through a public-private partnership to expedite construction and implementation.
Officials of North Charleston, S.C., are objecting to plans by the state to improve area rail connections to port facilities, saying a lawsuit against the proposal is not an idle threat.
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey says the current proposal would undo local plans to redevelop a former Navy base, as rail lines and intermodal yards would absorb prime real estate development potential.
The mayor says North Charleston was never consulted on the plan and was not consulted before recent state legislative action advancing intermodal expansion was advanced.
Late last year the Port of Charleston eying near-dock rail connections, and possibly some on-dock options, for both CSX and Norfolk Southern to improve freight rail traffic flow in the area. At present, CSX has access to North Charleston’s Navy base site from the south, while NS has no comparable access.
City Councilman Kurt Taylor, whose district includes areas around the base, said the ripple effect of bringing trains in from the north would be extend beyond the base. It would disrupt areas around Park Circle and elsewhere if trains are allowed to come in several times a day, he said.
Peter M. Rogoff, who helped develop funding mechanisms for mass transit and Amtrak as a long-time member of the Senate Appropriations Committee staff, has been selected by President Obama to head the Federal Transit Administration at the U.S. Department of Transportation.
In addition to his work on funding initiatives, Rogoff has played a key role in the development of security and safety legislation.
He earned a B.A. degree at Amherst University and an MA degree with honors by Georgetown University.
William W. Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association, said Rogoff "understands what is needed to guide our country's federal policy on public transportation."
"As staff for the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee for 22 years, he is very familiar with transit plans and projects around the country," said Millar. "Additionally, he has worked on numerous transportation appropriation bills and issues as well as on the past three federal surface transportation bills."
Canadian National has developed a "Pipeline on Rail" strategy that the company says could move oil-sands production quickly and cheaply to markets in North America or Asia. CN believes it can offer a price-competitive alternative to conventional pipelines shipping oil from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast. Increasing pipeline capacity could cost considerable time and money, making the CN alternative even more competitive, the company says.
CN said that by the end of this year, it will be shipping 10,000 barrels daily from producers whose reserves are now stranded.
"Not enough pipeline capacity exists today to move bitumen (viscous oil-sands production), diluted bitumen, or synthetic crude," said Jim Foote, CN executive vice president of sales and marketing. "We can get their products today to market using the concept of a pipeline on rail and move it directly either into the U.S. or to the West Coast (for export to Asian markets), which creates the flexibility. It means smaller producers are not just tied to a refinery down in Texas."
CN recently acquired the Athabasca Northern Railway linking Edmonton to Fort McMurray, Alta., to tap the oil-sands market more fully. CN plans to deliver the oil-sands production through the use of insulated and heatable railcars or by reducing its viscosity by mixing it with condensates or diluents.
Lake Oswego, Ore.-based railway equipment supplier Greenbrier Cos. Inc. reported a net loss for its second quarter, ended Feb. 28 ,of $6.9 million, or 41 cents a share, compared with earnings of $1.4 million, or 9 cents a share, in the comparable period a year ago. Analysts had expected a loss of 7 cents a share. As a result, the company has suspended its quarterly dividend.
In a statement, Greenbrier said its performance was affected by a deferral of revenue and related margin on a portion of the sale price of certain railcars sold and paid for in full during the period.
Greenbrier’s revenue grew 11% to $287 million during the quarter, helped by increased sales at its manufacturing and refurbishment andparts segments. But its new railcar manufacturing backlog fell 5% to 15,100 units as of Feb 28. Additionally, General Electric Railcar Services Corp., which is scheduled to receive about 79% of the total railcar backlog, has informed Greenbrier that it may substantially reduce, delay, or otherwise cancel deliveries under the contract.
"Greenbrier believes its contract with GE contains adequate protection in the event of an attempted cancellation or renegotiation of railcar deliveries," the company said.
Company CEO William Furman said he did not expect the current economic downturn to reverse in the near future. "Year-to-daterail loadings in North America are down 16.3 %, and it is estimated that about 20%-to-25% of North American railcar fleet is currently idle, as manufacturers worldwide drastically reduce or halt production," he said.