In a first for “The Old Dominion State,” Virginia will provide $25.2 million in state funding to run two round-trip Amtrak trains serving Washington, D.C., over a three-year period. One train would link the nation’s capital with Lynchburg, Va., adding a second frequency over Norfolk Southern right-of-way used by Amtrak's Crescent. A second round trip would add more Amtrak service between Richmond and Washington, over right-of-way owned by CSX Transportation.
Current plans call for Lynchburg service to begin Oct. 1, with the added Richmond trains beginning operations on Dec. 15.
Amtrak’s Board of Directors is expected to approve the move at its next meeting in April. At a meeting March 12 in Washington with members of the Railway Supply Institute, Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman noted that Richmond was, in some ways, becoming “the true southern terminus” of the Northeast Corridor.
Virginia will pay Amtrak $17.2 million to operate the tworound-trip trains, while $8 million will be used to rehabilitate cars and locomotives for the new service. Each train will consist of up to eight passenger coaches, a business-class coach, and a café car.
State officials anticipate ridership of 42,000 for the added Richmond frequency, and 51,000 per year on the Lynchburg service. Both trains will depart from their respective Virginia cities bound for Washington during the morning, returning from Washington in the evening, as part of Amtrak’s Northeast Regional service reaching as far north as Boston on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.
Though Amtrak provides eight trains each way per day between Richmond and Washington, early-morning northbound service from Richmond to Washington is covered only by the Silver Meteor, a long-distance train originating in Florida, departing at 5:09 a.m. when on schedule. The next train northbound departs at 12:37 p.m. The proposed new morning train from Richmond, originating and departing from Staples Mill Station at 7:00 a.m., likely could provide a more punctual alternative for potential "short-distance" Amtrak customers, especially business and day-trip riders traveling to and from Washington.
Virginia is the 14th state to assist Amtrak intercity passenger in some fashion. Amtrak expects the new services to generatesignificance “induced demand”: Virginia will get revenue credit for any ticket purchased for the new services, even if the purchase occurs outside of Virginia from any portion of the NEC.
Amtrak employees will receive 100% of their back pay on May 1, according to Amtrak President Joseph Boardman, who informed UTU International President Mike Futhey of the move Thursday. Boardman said the action has the full support of Amtrak’s Board of Directors; the funds come from Amtrak’s appropriations budget.
The current contract covering Amtrak agreement employees provides for a wage-increase and lump sum retroactive payment package totaling $573 million. Amtrak, citing budget constraints, is paying out the sum over a two-year period. Amtrak so far has funded some $428 million of the $573 million contract settlement, leaving the balance of $145 million to be paid May 1.
Amtrak has designated May 1 as "Employee Appreciation Day."
Claude S. Brinegar, an oil industry executive who served as U.S. Secretary of Transportation under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and became a persuasive advocate of federal funding of mass transit, died in Palo Alto, Calif., on March 13.
President Nixon named Brinegar to succeed John A. Volpe as DOT Secretary in December 1972. Volpe, a construction company executive who was known as "the concrete builder" when he came to DOT, surprised his critics when he turned into an ardent backer of mass transit. Brinegar carried on his work and helped Nixon push through the landmark Federal Aid Highway Act of 1973, which allowed the Highway Trust Fund for the first time to be used for public transit.
Brinegar is also remembered for his role in forming Conrail out of several bankrupt Northeast railroads, and for pushing legislation creating a nationwide 55-mph speed limit.
U.S. freight traffic for the week ended March 14 fell 15% from the comparable week a year ago, the Association of American Railroads reported, though traffic was up 1.5% from the previous week. Loadings fell 14.2% in the West and 16.1% in the East. U.S. intermodal volume dropped an even steeper 18.3%. Eighteen of AAR’s 19 carload freight commodity groups declined from 2008 levels.
Total volume was estimated at 29.6 billion ton-miles, down 14.0% from the comparable week in 2008.
Canadian freight traffic fell 21.4% for the week compared with year-ago levels, while intermodal declined 11.3%. Mexico’s two major railroads, however, reported freight traffic rose 15.2% for the week compared with a year ago, while intermodal declined a relatively modest 4.3%.
For the first 10 weeks of 2009, U.S. freight traffic fell15.7% from the comparable 2008 period; Canadian freight fell 18.7%, and Mexican freight declined 10.0%. U.S. intermodal declined 15.8%, Canadian intermodal fell 11.6%, and Mexican intermodal dropped 19.9%, for the 10-week period compared with 2008.
Combined North American rail volume for the first 10 weeks of 2009 on 14 reporting U.S., Canadian, and Mexican railroads totaled 3,464,158 carloads, down 16.1% from 2008, while intermodal fell 15.2%.
The Indiana Rail Road Co. says it has signed an agreement with Peabody Energy to construct a 5.2-mile rail spur to Peabody’s new Bear Run Mine in Sullivan County, Ind., which it says is the largest surface coal mine in the eastern U.S.
Construction will proceed once approval is granted by the Surface Transportation Board. Rail officials expect to have the new line completed by early 2010. Peabody already has announced its plan to invest up to $500 million to develop the coal site, and expects to produce 8 million tons of coal annually after 2010.
Indiana Rail Road initially will invest $17 million, with at least $5 million in additional improvements planned thereafter to accommodate increased traffic volume generated by the facility.
The regional railroad, based in Indianapolis, operates a 500-mile route system based primarily in Indiana and Illinois, with terminals in Chicago, Indianapolis, Terre Haute, Ind., and Louisville, Ky.
The St. Paul, Minn., City Council Wednesday approved the proposed $914 million, 11-mile Central Corridor light rail line linking downtown St. Paul with Minneapolis and the existing Hiawatha Line LRT. The approval makes it more likely that the project will remain on schedule and also receive federal funding.
President Obama late Wednesday, March 18, nominated Joe Szabo to head the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Szabo is the Illinois state legislative director of the United Transportation Union (UTU).
Szabo is a fifth-generation railroader. He hired out with the Illinois Central (now part of CN) in 1976, where he worked as a yard switchman, road trainman, and commuter passenger conductor. In 1987, he went to Chicago Metra when IC sold its rail commuter division. In 1984, Szabo was elected secretary/treasurer of UTU Local 1290, progressing to delegate and legislative representative. In 1992, he was elected vice chairperson of the Illinois State Legislative Board, and in 1996 elected state legislative director. He also has been serving as a vice president of the Illinois AFL-CIO.
If confirmed, Szabo, age 51, will go to the FRA from a labor union that has unresolved bargaining issues with the railroads. UTU International President Mike Futhey said on Feb. 9: "Our lobbying power before a labor-friendly, Democrat-controlled Congress and White House may be our most effective tool to assure employees are treated equitably at the bargaining table."
Futhey said the railroads "have renewed their push to eliminate the craft of conductor and operate trains with one-person crews" and have also balked at union requests on on entry-pay levels.
Ontario is providing a C$12.8 million (US$10 million) grant to support a five-year investment by Thales Rail Signalling Solutions worth C$85 million (US$67 million) to improve the province’s rail transit signaling technology. Thales will use the provincial grant to invest in “green” researchand development programs to create signals allowing for tighter equipment headways and reduced energy consumption, thereby increasing passenger capacity.
The provincial grant comes from Ontario’s C$1.15 billion Next Generation of Jobs Fund, a partnership with businesses designed to advance the provincial economy. Thales is working on the Urban Rail Signalling and Control market, estimated to be worth US$6 billion.
“The grant by the Ontario government means almost C$100million more being invested in our economy in one fell swoop,” said Ontario Minister of Economic Development Michael Bryant in a statement. “The world is looking for the next generation of green technology and products. We want to ensure Ontario is a leader in greenhouse gas reductions, energy efficiency, and the green economy.”
Paris-based Thales Rail Signalling Solutions Inc. is a subsidiary of Thales Group, with a divisional center located in Toronto.