U.S. railroads posted significant safety improvements in 2009, according to a report posted Wednesday on the Federal Railroad Administration’s website.
The industry’s safety record commands particular attention at a time when railroads are under an unfunded federal mandate to implement Positive Train Control (PTC) as a safety measure. The cost could exceed $15 billion.
The new FRA report, compiled by its Office of Safety Analysis, shows that train accidents were down 25.2% in 2009 to 1,841, compared to 2,997 in 2006, 2,668 in 3007, and 2,461 in 2008.
The number of collisions declined 28.9% to 135 in 2009, compared to 203 in 2006, 211 in 2007, and 189 in 2008. Derailments were down 26.4% to 1,308 in 2009, compared to 2,195 in 22006, 1,930 in 2007, and 1,727 in 2008. Yard accidents dropped 28.8% to 974 on 2009, compared to 1,579 in 2006, 1,195 in 2007, and 1,368 in 2008.
Rail fatalities of all kinds--due mainly to highway/railcrossing accidents and trespassing--declined 11.2% last year to 713, vs. 903 in 2006, 849 in 2007, and 803 in 2008.
Crossing fatalities dropped 14.2% in 2009 to 248, compared with 369 in 2006, 337 in 2007, and 289 in 2008.
Trespassing deaths declined 5.2% last year to 434, compared with 480 in 2006, 408 in 2007, and 458 in 2008.
Amtrak has tapped Nomad Digital for its launch this week of AmtrakConnect service on its Acela service plying the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C. Amtrak is offering the service free of charge, at least initially, and has advertised the offering in various media outlets throughout the Northeast.
Newcastle, England-based Nomad Digital says AmtrakConnect will provide passenger WiFi using a technology platform provided by the company. Amtrak determined that using a single 3G network would not be sufficient to provide the quality of connectivity that Acela passengers expect, and therefore a solution able to aggregate the capacity of multiple 3G networks would be essential.
Nomad, in cooperation with The GBS Group, Virginia Beach, Va., was selected on the strength of its WiFi platform technology, and its extensive experience in delivering best-in-class WiFi solutions, the company said.
Nigel Wallbridge, Nomad Digital chairman, said, “We are absolutely delighted to be working with Amtrak. Nomad believes in making public transportation more attractive to passengers to reduce road and air traffic and help the environment. We look forward to working closely with Amtrak over the coming years and to continuing to develop our business in North America.”
The Washington Metropolitan Transportation Authority, burdened with budget problems and dealing with serious safety issues on its Metrorail system, is drawing upon the talents of three transit veterans in an effort to get the troubled agency back on more-secure footing.
Former New Jersey Transit Executive Director Richard Sarles, who departed NJT last month, has been identified by WMATA as a candidate for Metro’s interim general manager for at least six months, and possibly for a year.
Metro’s Board of Directors, scheduled to make a decision Wednesday, seeks Sarles’ experience as it tries to address safety and fiscal concerns plaguing the sytem. Any interim general manager would have to address funding issues, including adequate funds for capital needs and to fill an estimated $190 million budget gap for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Metro Chairman Peter Benjamin identified Sarles as “somebody who knows transit well and can step right in and do the job, and somebody who will not be a caretaker, who will be an assertive and aggressive leader of the organization because we have a lot of issues we have to tackle, starting with safety."
Sarles (top), if chosen, would succeed General Manager John B. Catoe, Jr., whose resignation takes effect April 2. Sarles also worked in executive positions at Amtrak and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Benjamin said a search for a permanent general manager will take place during the remainder of the year.
In a related development, former WMATA General Manager David Gunn (second from top)—well known and highly respected in the rail industry for his ability to turn troubled transit systems around—has been hired as a consultant to make recommendations on safety and operational issues. A straight shooter who has never been one to tolerate political shenanigans, Gunn served as WMATA GM from 1991 to 1994.
Gunn was asked to consult by yet another rail industry icon: new WMATA board member Mortimer L. Downey (bottom), the former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation from 1993 to 2001 and former Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer
of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Downey is now a senior executive at Parsons Brinckerhoff.
Both Gunn and Downey are recipients of Railway Age’s W. Graham Claytor Jr. Award for Distinguished Service to Passenger Transportation.
John S. (Jack) Gallagher, Jr., a railroad economist and consultant who in the 1950s was traffic and transportation editor of Railway Age, has died at the age of 94. Gallagher was part of a high visibility effort in the mid-20th Century to reinvent the passenger train. His friend, rail historian Geoffrey Doughty, recalls that at the age of 90 Gallagher was still working on high speed and lightweight train development. Death came on Dec. 31, 2009.
“In addition to his work for the World Ban and US AID in Asia,” recalls Doughty, “It was Jack Gallagher who developed passenger studies for the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, and then was appointed to lead New York Central’s passenger research bureau by Robert R. Young. It was Gallagher who, along with his small department, undertook passenger studies that resulted in the passenger service plan bearing his name, and was manifested in NYC’s short-lived Travel Tailored Schedules of 1956-57 during Young’s crusade to revolutionize America's passenger service. Young’s ‘new trains’ were highly publicized during his brief leadership of NYC 1954-1958.
“Although the passenger research bureau was disbanded following the death of Young in January 1958, the bureau's findings were late rimplemented by President Al Perlman in his drive to eliminate passenger losses and then passenger service altogether. NYC's (and later Amtrak’s ‘Empire Service’) was based on Gallagher’s findings. Indeed, he was one of the corporation’s early advisors and the overall results of his studies have served as an economic cornerstone of fundamental passenger service operations.
“He eagerly and generously helped a platoon of usyounger passenger transportation advocates (and historians) understand the past while looking to the future of passenger rail transport,” Doughty says.
Perhaps echoing liability concerns voiced frequently by North America's Class I freight railroads, Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman has cited similar concerns “emerging as a significant obstacle to the improvement of existing passenger rail service and the development of new, including high speed and intercity corridor, passenger rail service in the United States.”
Boardman, in a five-page letter to four congressional leaders dated Feb. 26, says in part, “The core of the problem is the unwillingness or inability of a growing number of entities, including states and other public bodies, to enter into the kind of agreements for risk allocation … and/or to purchase insurance at all or at sufficient levels …”
“Moreover, the attitude from a number of private parties and state entities alike seems to be that Amtak, in significant part because of its federal funding, should assume the greater share or risk of liability.” That, Boardman warned, could curtail or terminate state-supported services Amtrak currently provides.
Boardman (pictured at right) specifically cited the potential difficulties involved (and reported earlier) “as the State of Florida seeks to purchase a CSX rail line in Central Florida and begin operation of its new Sunrail commuter service.”
Stressing the concern is of national import, Boardman notes, “If Amrak continues to operate service on this 61-mile rail line after Flroida close on its purchase from CSX, it exposes the citizens of California, Washington, and New York to paying for personal injury claims by Sunrail commuter passengers.”
Boardman addressed the letter to: Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chair of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee; Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), ranking member of the Commerce Committee; Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.), chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; and Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), ranking member of the House T&I Committee.
“Amtrak recognizes that there are no easy solutions,”Boardman says, but “unless solutions are developed, the expansion of passenger rail service that both Congress and the Administration have decreed as an important policy directive will be delayed.”
Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle Tuesday announced that Talgo, Inc. (the U.S. subsidiary of Patentes Talgo, S.A.) will locate a U.S. “high speed” rail manufacturing and assembly facility in Milwaukee. Talgo, Inc. will acquire the former Tower Automotive site in the state’s largest city.
Though it has a Minnesota state lawsuit filed, the University of Minnesota Monday said it wouldn’t add make its squabble with the St. Paul Central Corridor light rail line a federal case, at least for the present.
The university has objected to the routing of the $1 billion, 11-mile LRT route planned for the state capital, saying noise and vibrations could disrupt some of its research facilities and at times claiming student and pedestrian safety would be jeopardized. It previously had filed a state lawsuit in Hennepin County, across the Mississippi River from adjacent Ramsey County (St. Paul also serves as the Ramsey County seat).
But Monday’s announcement was hailed as “very, very good news” by Nancy Homans, a spokewoman for St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.
The university and the Metropolitan Council have clashed repeatedly in recent months over the Central Corridor, which will link up with existing Hiawatha Line LRT in Minneapolis. Rough agreement has been reached over addressing purported potential disturbances to sensitive research equipment by vibrations and electromagnetic fields generated by LRT. But a final accord has proved elusive.
Both sides are expected to enter "lockdown" negotiations, perhaps this week, officials said Monday. The stated goal of both sides is to emerge from such talks with a memorandum of understanding that will lead the university to withdraw its existing lawsuit.
Besides the University of Minnesota, Minnesota Public Radio also has filed suit, saying the Metropolitan Council has reneged on its commitment to protect the radio station from noise and vibrations caused by trains running along Cedar Street, close to its downtown St. Paul facility.
Critics of MPR, both locally and nationwide, have noted the seeming contradiction of public radio’s general support for light rail while (in MPR’s case) protesting its actual implementation, and have accused MPR of a Not-In-My-Back-Yard (NIMBY) mindset.
The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey Board of Commissioners has awarded a $525 milion contract, the largest to date, toward construction of the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, which will eventually serve more than 200,000 rail customers each weekday.
The contract went to Skanska USA Civil NortheastInc./Granite Construction Northeast Inc./Skanska USA Building Inc.
It covers construction of the PATH Hall in the World Trade Center site's West Bathtub as well as four rail platforms and the installation of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems.
Previously, the board awarded a $338.8 million contract to DCM Erectors to furnish, fabricate, and erect 22,305 tons of structural steel for the hub.
Transit officials in Vancouver are evaluating various transit services set up in part to handle Winter Olympic crowds, trying todetermine which pieces should remain in operation to handle the city’s residents and workers.
TransLink may embed the price of transit into ticket prices for one-day sporting events, such as Vancouver Canucks hockey games, to help maintain the TravelSmart program established during the winter games.
During the 17-day Olympic activities, which formally ended Sunday, record numbers of people used transit, with 280,000 boarding the Canada Line on Feb. 18 alone. During the first week of the Olympics, an average of more than 1.6 million people a day used buses, SkyTrain, the SeaBus, and the West CoastExpress.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin chaired a meeting in Sochi Feb. 27 at which Russian Railways (RZD) President Vladimir Yakunin announced that the company’s investment budget for 2010-2011 is 555 billion rubles (more than $18.5 billion).
Yakunin noted that 78% of the investment budget, 120 billion rubles ($4 billion), will be used to build a road/rail link between Adler and the Alpika-Service mountain resort.
Other investments include 72 billion rubles ($42.4 billion) to buy new rolling stock, plus funds to renew and improve track, bridges, signaling, and communications systems.
Yakunin says Russian Railways has found investment funds "severely restricted" by the world economy and now depends on the willingness of state regulators to approve rate increases.
The presence of Prime Minister Putin at the meeting was seen as an indication of the priority railways command in the national transportation policy.
While the Russian railway budget exceeds those of many systems, it pales in comparison with the $60 billion planned this year by China's railways.