The California High-Speed Rail Authority’s environmental impact statement for the Bay Area portion of its proposed 800-mile, $44 billion high speed rail system is inadequate, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny ruled Wednesday.
The decision validated some of the objections filed by conservation groups, joined by outright opponents of HSR in the Bay Area communities of Atherton and Menlo Park. Other objections, such as the claim that HSR promotes urban sprawl, were judged to be without merit and dismissed by Kenny.
Left open for political maneuvering was the specific route of the system in the Bay Area. Some contend that HSR would carry more passengers if the service followed a route over the Altamont Pass instead of the recommended Pacheco Pass routing.
The judge ruled the Authority’s environmental impact report did not fully address vibration issues, land-use impacts outside of sprawl, such as the displacement of residences and businesses, or the impact of Union Pacific’s refusal to share its right-of-way for HSR use.
One observer said the ruling appears not to require any change to the current proposed route in the Bay Area. But the non-profit Planning and Conservation League, one of the plaintiffs, said the decision means the choice to build the train along the Pacheco Pass route will be rescinded and the impacts and alternatives more thoroughly studied.
Tina Andolina, the group’s legislative director, said, "We hope the Authority will get right to work on a thorough and comprehensive review. The public supports high speed rail but wants it done right since we simply can't afford to throw $10 billion [sic] at a project that is done haphazardly."
Andolina said the alternative route along the Altamont Pass route would have fewer environmental and community impacts, serve more riders, and likely cost less than the proposed Pacheco Pass route.
As an indication that the rail industry is truly on the rebound, analysts have been awaiting the return of stored freight cars and locomotives to service. That is now happening.
Norfolk Southern is reported to have returned to duty approximately 9,500 of the 35,000 freight cars previously in storage, along with about 200 of 700 idled locomotives. This has happened gradually in recent weeks and leaves about one-fourth of the railroad's total freight carfleet and around 14% of its motive power in storage.
Rising traffic demands have also led Union Pacific to bring back on line an undisclosed portion of its stored rolling stock.
All major Class I chief executives commented in announcing second-quarter results that the recession appeared to have bottomed out. The year-over-year percentage decline in traffic, which at one time was in the mid-20s, has recently been in the upper teens.
Seattle’s Sound Transit has begun reviewing bids for tunnel boring work required for its $1.9 billion University Link light rail transit extension, set to commence early next year. The work would connect Seattle’s existing transit tunnel with Capitol Hill, with the extension set to open in 2016.
Sound Transit reports the estimated costs came in below expectations. The lowest bid of $153.6 million submitted by JCM U-Link Joint Venture was $20.7 million, or 12%, below an engineering estimate. The joint venture comprises Jay Dee Contractors, Frank Collucio Construction Co., and Michaels Corp. A second bid, at $154.1 million, was submitted by a Kenny Construction/J.F. Shea Construction Co. joint venture.
Sound Transit’s Board of Directors expects to select a winning bid this fall.
Siemens AG, through its Siemens Transportation Systems subsidiary, and German Rail (Deutsche Bahn, or DB) have announced a joint effort to tap the potential U.S. market for high speed rail.
Spokespeople from both companies say the Obama Administration’s commitment to grow HSR in the U.S. made such a joint venture practical.
Germany’s Der Spiegel reported that Siemens would supplyhigh speed ICE-3 trains and transport technology, while Deutsche Bahn would offer itself as a qualified operater of any U.S. HSR route. DB’s position could be the more problematic of the two, since numerous U.S. private concerns, as well as Amtrak, presumably would compete for such a role.
Officials of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 said Tuesday the union had overwhelmingly approved a new contract with Bay Area Rapid Transit, just a little more than a week after a strike deadline August 17threatened to shut the system.
More than 80% of union members voting on the contract with BART approved the deal.
Union president Jesse Hunt said the agreement calls for a four-year contract. Terms include reducing overtime, charging employees more for premium health benefits and eliminating jobs through attrition instead of layoffs. The contract is similiar to one accepted by two other BART unions. Train operators and station agents had previously rejected a four-year contract, and their union was seeking a shorter contract.
"We've accepted the cuts and sacrifices asked of us for the next four years, which are greater than those asked of any other employees, union or nonunion," Hunt said. "Today, a majority of our members have voted to ratify this contract. We will sign this contract."
Public support for a proposed $40 million rail transfer station in Pennsauken, N.J., across the river from Philadelphia, appeared substantial at a Community Information Session held Tuesday in the municipality by New Jersey Transit. NJT seeks to build the station to tie its east-west Atlantic City Line passenger rail service to and from Philadelphia with its north-south RiverLINE diesel light rail transit (DLRT) line linking Trenton and Camden.
Such a station was to be built during construction of the RiverLINE, which opened for revenue service in 2004, but was deleted as a cost-saving measure by New Jersey Transit.
NJT seeks to build the station in two stages, mostly due to the its reliance on American Recovery and Reinvstment Act (ARRA) stimulus funding requirements.
One southern New Jersey rail advocate who attended the meeting said no one present appeared opposed to the project, a strikingly different sentiment given the past vocal opposition by Pennsauken residents and other nearby neighbors to the implementation of both existing rail passenger lines involved. Current concerns focus more on security at the new facility and its adjacent parking area.
Two states operating regional rail service with Washington, D.C. as their hub have submitted requests for federal funding to provide upgraded infrastructure. Unlike many of their brethren, however, Maryland and Virginia, to differing degrees, are piggybacking many of their own needs onto those of Amtrak, owner and operator of the Northeast Corridor.
Maryland officials have submitted a request for $360 million in federal funds for upgrades on two lines used by its MARC regional passenger rail service—its Brunswick Line (owned by CSX Corp.) and its so-called Penn Line, part of Amtrak’s NEC.
Maryland seeks much of the funding for studies, engineering, and/or construction of several projects on the NEC that have been delayed or postponed for years, if not decades. They include tunnel replacement in Baltimore, a notorious pinchpoint on the NEC, as well as expanding BWI Thurgood Marshall Rail Station on the NEC, which serves Baltimore/Washington International Airport. As well, Maryland seeks capacity expansion for three NEC bridges spanning the Susquehanna, Gunpowder, and Bush rivers, which would ease capacity constraints and aid both MARC regional and Amtrak HSR operations.
Funds also are sought for GPS-based train location on both the Penn and Brunswick lines, and for construction of a new rail yard near Washington Union Station.
South of the Potomac River, Virginia’s $74.8 million funding request would allow the state to upgrade CSX right-of-way between Washington and Richmond, the state capital, to handle Virginia Railway Express and Amtrak trains at speeds up to 90 mph. Amtrak is increasing its train frequency on this stretch, seen by many industry observers as a de facto extension of the NEC. In addition, VRE trains, like their MARC counterparts, also lay up near Union Station.
"Amtrak has stated repeatedly they want to see the Northeast Corridor extended from Washington down to Richmond," said Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation director Chip Badger, noting such a desire gave Virginia an advantage in seeking federal funding.
The Maryland/Virginia submissions may have an edge with Amtrak, but California, to no one’s surprise, weighed in with 42 applications totaling $1.1 billion. California has committed $9.9 billion in state funds to advance its high speed rail program, strengthening its case for a federal contribution.
Erie, Pa.-based GE Transportation is partnering with Stockholm, Sweden-based EuroMaint Rail to provide maintenance and technical support to Europe’s rail industry, including service on new GE locomotives. The parties announced the deal Monday.
The partnership, or “collaboration,” will provide rolling stock maintenance, service, and spare parts services to bear as Europe's rail industry grows under deregulation. It also will provide service to existing rail fleets, as well as GE's new European PowerHaul Locomotive, which should be delivered to Freightliner Group Ltd. in the United Kingdom later this year. The supplier says the PowerHaul Locomotive is projected to cut fuel use by up to 9% compared to current operating fleet averages.
GE Transportation is a subsidiary of Fairfield, Conn.-based General Electric Co.; EuroMaint Rail is owned by Ratos, one of Europe’s largest listed private equity companies.
“This collaboration offers a clear win-win opportunity for both organizations and our customers,” said Mats Önner, CEO of EuroMaint Rail. “We bring our rolling stock maintenance network, component servicing expertise, spare parts logistics, and experience in developing reliable maintenance solutions into a collaboration which I believe will show European customers the value of increased rolling stock availability, while strengthening both companies’ European growth ambitions, as the deregulation of the European rail industry continues.” Jim Hilderhoff, general manager of GE Transportation’s Global Service business, said, “Combining our locomotive and service technology expertise with EuroMaint Rail’s rolling stock experience enables us to offer our customers the first pan-European service offering for all rolling stock types."
Trinity North American Freight Car said Monday it will be idling its Fort Worth, Tex., railcar plant beginning Oct. 20. The company made its intent known in a letter to the Texas Workforce Commission.
The company, a subsidiary of Dallas-based Trinity Industries, Inc., said the closure will last at least six months and could be permanent, though it also noted it was possible that the plant will reopen when business conditions improve. The company plans to furlough 158 employees.