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.
Officials of Austin, Tex.’s Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority continue to address operations issues plaguing the state capital’s MetroRail system, originally scheduled to open in late 2008, then rescheduled for a March opening, before being placed on hold indefinitely.
CMTA says it has been correcting safety concerns identified by the Federal Railroad Administration. A monthly status report, which chronicles the advancements the agency has made on the 32-mile rail line, said crews are performing what they call a system validation test.
Crews are testing the integration of the MetroRail's signaling, including signal houses, electric circuits, and train location system. Inspection crews will be testing the rail line's systems electronically and will then conduct a performance test on those same systems with one of the system's diesel light rail transit (DLRT) vehicles.
"We still have a few milestones to reach," said CMTA spokeswoman Erica McKewen. "We are kind of going through it with a fine-tooth comb." Capital Metro started its system validation process Aug.3 and has so far tested 25 of the 120 items requiring testing.
CMTA and FRA also had been at odds on the classificication of the the line, with CMTA seeking a waiver to operate DLRT equipment—six Stadler-Bussnag diesel units—under temporal separation (time-sharing) rules similar to that employed by New JerseyTransit’s RiverLINE. FRA in 2008 rejected the request, saying it would “exercise its jurisdiction over the CMTA system, as it does any commuter railroad.”
Denver’s Regional Transportation District (RTD) said Friday it has received the first of 55 light rail vehicles for its new FasTracks fleet from Siemens Transportation Systems, which manufactured the car at the Siemens plant in Sacramento, Calif.
The new fleet will help RTD accommodate service expansion on its West Corridor, I-225 Corridor, Southeast, and Southwest extensions.
RTD said the remaining 54 cars will arrive throughout the next 18 months.
“The arrival of our first light rail vehicle for the new FasTracks fleet represents a considerable milestone,” said RTD Interim General Manager Phil Washington. “This is a visible example of our FasTracks tax dollars at work and the substantial progress being made on the FasTracks program.”
Siemens staff will inspect and test the new vehicles onsite,with the guidance of RTD staff. After that, each vehicle will undergo a 1,500-mile “burn in” period designed to ensure the safety and functionality ofthe car. During this process, the cars will be operated out-of-service throughout the existing system to test its operations.
Vietnam Railways says it will use Japanese high speed rail technology for its proposed HSR route linking Ho Chi Minh City with Hanoi, the capital. Vietnam may seek funds from Japan’s official development assistance program, as well as from the Asia Development Bank and the World Bank, to advance the project.
Work on the $56 billion, 1,560-kilometer (967-mile) line is scheduled to begin in 2020, and would be standard gauge, as opposed to the narrow gauge (1,000 mm, or 3feet, 3/8-inches) rail line currently linking the two cities.
The announcement by Vietnam Railways, made August 17, prompted gains in shares of several Japanese companies on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, including Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Kinki Sharyo, and Nippon Sharyo.
U.S. Class I railroads employed 150,400 workers in mid-July, 786 more than they employed in mid-June. The 0.53% month-over-month increase was welcome news after a long decline, but the numbers were still 8.65% below July 2008.The biggest numerical increase in July compared with the prior month was in the transportation (train and engine—or operating crew) category, where employment rose 2.49%.Two other groups also showed month-over-month increases—professional and administrative, up 4.26%, and maintenance of way and structures, up 0.14%.Only one group showed an increase over July 2008 — professional and administrative, up 0.61%. Declines were registered in the categories of executives, officials, and staff assistants, down 6.84%; maintenance of way and structures, down 1.07%; maintenance of equipment and stores, down 6.08%; transportation (other than train and engine), down 1.62%; and transportation (train and engine), down 16.60%.
Patriot Rail Corp. and the City of Temple, Tex., announced that Patriot’s new subsidiary, Temple & Central Texas Railway ,has been awarded an exclusive long-term license agreement to provide rail switching and related services to customers at Central Pointe Rail Park.
The 3,000-acre industrial park is owned by the City of Temple, and has more than 50 tenants. The facility has approximately 10 miles of rail line currently serving four customers. Temple & Central will interchange traffic with BNSF and expects to move more than 6,000 carloads in its first year of operation.
Canada’s commissioner of official languages has launched two investigations into allegations VIA Rail Canada staff did not offer emergency instructions in French to 334 passengers who had to be evacuated from a train August 17.
Some passengers, including a journalist, reported emergency instructions were given only in English to passengers on board a train bound for Ottawa, the nation’s capital. Others, however, dispute this.
Member of Parliament Richard Nadeau said he would raise the issue with a House of Commons’ committee when Parliament resumes this fall.
Catherine Kaloutsky, a VIA Rail spokeswoman, said the company “is not disputing” that some customers heard messages only in English. But, she said, there are reports other customers heard messages in French and in English. Staff on board spoke French and VIA has only hired bilingual front-lineworkers since 1985, she said.
Moreover, Anne Marie Harbec, a passenger on board the train, said she witnessed VIA Rail employees giving instructions in French. “They went above and beyond, I certainly have a lot of praise for how they handled it,” Harbec said. She added that some firefighters or fellow passengers who volunteered to help with the evacuation effort may have been unilingual, “but I don’t think VIA can do anything about that.”
Notwithstanding such observations, VIA Rail has issued an official apology and said it was launching its own investigation, saying it is interviewing the staff on board and reviewing its emergency response, including why messages from its megaphone weren’t clear.
China’s Shanghai Composite Index rallied 4.5% Thursday, prompting other Asian markets, their Europe counterparts, and Wall Street to follow suit in similar fashion. While the rally on Wall Street was attributed to several contributing factors, including expansion in U.S. regional manufacturing, some analysts cite China’s continued strong investment in rail infrastructure as abullish factor affecting markets worldwide.
Before Thursday's advance, the Shanghai index was down more than 20% from its early August peak, officially putting it into bear market territory and making global investors nervous.
But China’s Ministry of Railways says its investment for the first seven months of 2009 is up 110% compared with the comparable period of ayear ago. China previously had noted its commitment to invest 700 billion yuan (roughly $100 billion) per year in each of the next three years on rail infrastructure, to promote economic growth and ease transport bottlenecks. It hopes to have upgraded or put in place 86,000 kilometers (53,320 miles) of rail by year’s end, expanding to 110,000 kilometers (68,200 miles) by 2012.
The 700 billion yuan commitment to rail infrastructure expansion and upgrading represents roughly 17.5% of China’s overall stimulus package of 4 trillion yuan.