Texas’ capital city, awaiting regional rail service delayed by at least one year, is nonetheless evaluating possible streetcar alternatives. Austin’s City Council Thursday approved $1 million to complete a preliminary engineering study for a streetcar operation designed to connect some of the city's key business districts.
Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority late Thursday approved plans for an 8.5-mile light rail line, running roughly north-south, dubbed the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor Project. LACMTA cited input from numerous community leaders and citizens calling for LRT to augment, or replace, existing bus service (many rejecting calls for Bus Rapid Transit in the process).
Still at issue for the proposed line is one of location. Some supporting the LRT line want much of it placed underground. Despite that residual concern, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas hailed the decision, saying, "It's a huge victory for the Crenshaw community and the South Bay community ... I expect it will have a highly positive impact on the quality oflife in that corridor."
The line would run from Exposition Boulevard to Imperial Highway, following Crenshaw Boulevard and passing through Leimert Park and Southwest LA, before running southwest through Inglewood and south to Aviation Boulevard near Los Angeles International Airport.
Officials hope to break ground on the project in 2012 or 2013, and open the line in 2018.
Five regional planning organizations Thursday announced the formation of the Western High Speed Rail Alliance (WHSRA). The alliance envisions a Denver-to-Los Angeles corridor with regional hubs in Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Denver, and Phoenix as well as links from Denver to Salt Lake City to Reno, Nev., and ultimately to San Francisco.
"We believe implementation of a regional high speed rail plan for the Rocky and Intermountain West is critical to the development of a national high-speed rail system. Corridors must be studied now to lay the groundwork for additional development," said Jacob Snow, chairman of the organization.
To fund these studies, WHSRA will request $50 million from the reauthorization of the Surface Transportation Act that Congress will take up next year.
Included in the alliance are the Denver Regional Council of Governments (the greater Denver area), the Maricopa Association of Governments (the greater Phoenix Area), Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (Las Vegas), the Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County (Reno), and the Utah Transit Authority (Salt Lake City).
Union Pacific says its Pipeline Express service has reached a milestone by delivering its 25,000th rail car of customerproduct since being formed in 2005.
Pipeline Express serves the steel pipeline industry for oil and gas producers with truck-competitive transit times and a rail network that aligns well geographically with new pipeline projects. Pipeline Express has grown from moving approximately 1,700 rail cars in its first year to nearly 8,000 for its customers through year-end 2008.
“By offering the best value proposition to the natural gas industry, Union Pacific has emerged as the clear transportation choice,” said Greg Shimonek, senior business director for the railroad’s Pipeline Express service. “Our carloads tell the story.”
Natural gas reserves are expected to grow 39 percent from 2007 levels by the end of 2009, according to the Energy Information Administration. Having invested nearly $17 billion in its rail network since 2005, Union Pacific says it is ready to serve that growth. “We have the industry’s largest fleet of 89-foot flat cars capable of hauling 100 tons of pipe,” Shimonek said.
The Association of American Railroads reported Thursday that traffic volume on U.S. railroads for the week ending Dec. 5 added up to an estimated 31.8 billion ton-miles, down 4.8% from the same week last year, and off 7.6% from 2007.
The railroads originated 284,177 carloads during the latest week, down 5.4% from the same week in 2008 and 13.3 % from the same week in 2007. (The AAR notes that in order to offer a complete picture of the progress in traffic, it is now comparing 2009 volume with both 2008 and 2007.)
Intermodal traffic, at 207,242 trailers and containers, was down 4.25% from 2008 and 13.6% from 2007.
Increases were reported in nine of the 19 carload freight commodity groups compared with the same week last year: nonmetallic minerals (25%), metals and products (17.1%), grain (14.1%), chemicals (13.9%), farm products not including grain (13.7%), motor vehicles and equipment (8.95), grain mill products (8 %%), metallic ores (1.3%), and waste and scrap metal (0.7%). Declines ranged from 0.6% for food and kindred products to 21% for crushed stone, sand, and gravel.
Canadian railroads reported 62,576 carloads for the week, down 12.4% from last year, and 39,608 trailers or containers, down 13.5%. Mexico’s two major railroads originated 12,393 carloads, down 4.8% from the same week last year, and 6,241 trailers and containers, up 0.8%.
Minneapolis’ Metropolitan Council will open the America Boulevard Station (at 34th Avenue) to Hiawatha Line light rail riders Saturday, after dedicating the station Wednesday, one month ahead of deadline.
The new stop is the final one of 19 planned stops on the original plans for the route, but construction of the $3.3 million station was deferred due to redesign of the southern portion of the 12-mile route, according to Bob Gibbons, director of customer services for Metro Transit.
America Boulevard Station is northeast of the Mall of America and a short distance from Bloomington Central Station. Three hotels, an office complex, and large long-term parking lots are located nearby. The area, which is called Airport South, is slated for redevelopment, and Bloomington officials view the new station as a component to those plans.
The station opening follows completion last month of the north end of the line, when a new station at Target Field opened that serves both the Hiawatha Line and the new Northstar commuter rail line.