Facing a $160 million deficit, the Massachusetts BayTransportation Authority (MBTA) is waiting for a rescue plan from the state legislature before it goes forward with its annual approval of money of replace and maintain subway cars and buses as well as rail infrastructure. The board delayed a scheduled vote on April 13.
MBTA's ongoing capital investment plan, mostly to maintain "state of good repair" with only 2% designated for expansion, would require the borrowing of $1 billion to support this year's planned $3.9 billion program.
One board member, asserting that "this is the most highly leveraged transit system in the United States," was quoted as saying: "We just cannot afford to borrow an additional million."
While it waits for the legislature to make a final decision on a proposed increase in the gasoline tax to help pay for transit improvements, the agency is considering rail, rapid transit, and bus service cuts that have been called "potentially drastic."
Amtrak reports that it carried 1,849,000 passengers in February, down nearly 8.87% from the 2,029,000 carried in February 2008. On-time performance improved to 82.3% this year from 72.1% in February 2008.
Ticket revenue was down 10.7% to $106,387,000 compared to February of last year.
In the first five months of the current fiscal year, which began last Oct. 1, Amtrak carried 10,878,000 riders, down nearly 2% from the corresponding period in the prior fiscal year. On-time performance improved to 77.4% from 72.6%.
Ticket revenue for the fiscal year so far was $657,281,000, 2.36% below revenue for the prior-year period.
Dwayne Meadows, a bridge supervisor for Norfolk Southern, has won the 2009 Dr. Gary Burch Memorial Safety Award. The award honors individuals who have “significantly enhanced rail passenger safety,” according to the family of Dr. Burch and the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP), which announced the honor Tuesday.
“Our family is pleased to present this award to Mr. Meadows,” said Bette Burch, widow of Dr. Burch, who died in a passenger rail derailment in 1991; the Burch family established the $1,000 award in 1994. “We are gratified that Norfolk Southern has joined the ranks of those submitting nominations, and that its first nomination was this year’s winner. We give particular consideration to the workers in the field who make safety happen on a day-to-day basis. Mr. Meadows perfectly fits this description.”
Meadows, a 31-year veteran at NS, has supervised numerous groups and “garnered a sterling safety record. The bridge gangs he supervises have gone 19 years--working on high-traffic freight and Amtrak routes--without a Federal Railroad Administration reportable injury,” NARP said.
Meadows, of Altoona, Pa., actively has pursued improvements to Amtrak's station platforms on NS rights-of-way in Pennsylvania, according to NS Vice President C.J. Wehrmeister, who submitted Meadows’ nomination. “He replaced plywood with sturdier materials that reduce ice-buildup in all the platforms between Harrisburg and Latrobe; at Greensburg he removed the platform that allowed passengers to cross the tracks rather than using a pedestrian tunnel; and he has consistently displayed a willingness to respond to problems at stations outside of his district; all to ensure the safety of passengers,” Wehrmeister said.
House Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), an ardent supporter of streetcars and light rail transit, has drafted the “Fast Starts Program Act of 2009,” designed to recapture “Small Starts” funding that Blumenauer and others say has been largely diverted to Bus Rapid Transit projects instead.
Language in the draft bill bluntly declares, “A delay in authorizing grants under the Small Starts program has created a backlog of streetcar projects requiring attention outside of that program.”
The bill also takes pains to specifically identify the given mode, stating “the term ‘streetcar project’ means a new fixed guideway capital project that is electricity and rail based.”
As reported in the February issue of Railway Age, in recent years the Federal Transit Administration, encouraged by the Bush Administration, touted Bus Rapid Transit as an alternate, less costly “fixed guideway” mode that small urban areas could more readily afford.
Bluemenauer’s office also is drafting a revised “Small Starts” bill for the current congressional session, the “Federal Streetcar Revitalization Act of 2009,” which would increase the amount of federal funding support available to potential streetcar projects. The draft legislation emphasizes economic redevelopment potential, land use, and other environmental impacts, including reduction of greenhouse gas emissions—language that may be targeted specifically toward thwarting use of funds by diesel bus options.
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.