California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in Shanghai Monday that California will seek China's help in building its estimated $44 billion high speed rail system.
So far, the federal government has pledged $2.25 billion of the funding through the high speed rail stimulus plan; state voters in 2008 approved another $9.95 billion in debt financing to launch the project. To help fill the huge remaining gap, Schwarzenegger said California would seek funding from China as well as construction bids from Chinese companies.
“We look to China to build our high speed rail, to be part of the bidding process that we are going to go through,” Schwarzenegger told a U.S. trade mission. Noting that “many countries will be bidding to build our high speed rail,” he said California would also seek Chinese funding.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in Seattle last week that federally financed Americans trains should built in the U.S. There has long been strong “Buy America” requirements for federally-aided transit equipment, and a number of foreign firms have established construction plants in the U.S. The Federal Railroad Administration’s curent requirements for HSR projects call for 100% U.S. content—in the opinion of some, an unrealistic provision.
The Federal Railroad Administration Monday said Amtrak has joined FRA’s Confidential Close Call Reporting System (C3RS), a safety pilot project that permits rail employees to voluntarily and anonymously report “close call” incidents that could have resulted in an accident or injury but did not.
Amtrak is the fourth railroad to join the C3RS program, following Canadian Pacific, Union Pacific, and New Jersey Transit. Under the program, employees can report “close call” incidents that did not result in an accident without fear of sanction or penalty from the railroad or the federal government.
“This pilot program has the potential to transform safety and has already prevented injuries and saved lives where it’s being used,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Once evaluated, we hope to make this reporting system a permanent part of our national safety strategy involving railroads across the country.”
“Amtrak’s national reach gives us the last piece we need to make this pilot program complete,” said FRA Deputy Administrator Karen Rae.
FRA currently requires all railroads to routinely report a wide range of accidents and incidents. While “close call” events are not required to be routinely reported, they could be potentially serious. Understanding these events will help railroads and FRA take appropriate steps to ensure accidents don’t actually occur by helping develop and institute mitigation strategies, countermeasures, and best practices, FRA said.
The cumulative results of confidential close call reporting are being analyzed by the Department’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) to determine areas of potential risk and to develop solutions to prevent and minimize their occurrence in the future. Preliminary analysis by RITA of Union Pacific’s close call reporting project at its railyard in North Platte, Neb., have already shown a significant reduction in human factor-related incidents, making it first in safety in the Union Pacific system.
In order to participate, Amtrak, the United Transportation Union, and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen each ratified an agreement with the FRA to allow employees to make confidential reports of close calls.
The agreement covers Amtrak employees in yards and terminals in the Northeast Corridor, and also in the Chicago, Miami, Seattle, and Los Angeles areas. Amtrak anticipates adding its mainline routes to the C3RS program in the future, thus covering the entire Amtrak national system.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is assisting FRA on this research effort using its authority to protect the confidentiality of the data, as it currently does with the airline industry and Veterans Administration Hospitals.
New Jersey Transit has suspended further work on two new Hudson River commuter rail tunnels for least 30 days at it re-examines prospects for funding the $8.7 billion project. The Federal Transit Administration, through which federal funds flow, is reportedly concerned by the prospect of cost overruns.
In a written statement, New Jersey Transit Executive Director James Weinstein said: “The governor has made it clear to me that the project must stay on time and on budget. Anything short of that is unacceptable.”
The project has not won universal applause among transportation economists. But project advocates claim that it would come close to doubling trans-Hudson commuter rail capacity.
The Ohio Rail Development Commission says it has approved a staff recommendation for the Commission to act as the public sponsor for a $750,000 dollar grant from the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission. The grant would leverage $250,000 in CSX funds for a project to lower the tracks beneath the Front Street bridge in Downtown Columbus, the state capital (near the Arena District).
ORDC says the project would also benefit the environment and reduce traffic congestion by taking up to 70,000 longhaul truck moves off of Ohio’s highways, resulting in substantial fuel and diesel emissions savings.
In a second major project, ORDC staff approved a $125,000 grant to help leverage funds from Norfolk Southern to build a new switch and rehabilitate a rail spur to help revive a vacant South Columbus plant and create jobs.
The switch and spur project will enable Phoenix-based International Technical Coatings to establish a manufacturing operation in the vacant Techneglas plant in South Columbus, and create an estimated 120 to 200 jobs. The Columbus site reportedly was the choice of ITC over a site in Kentucky because of the access to rail and favorable electric rates. In addition, grants are being provided through grants and tax credits from the Ohio Department of Development, the City of Columbus, and Columbus-based American Electric Power.
“Projects like these are the essence of how the ORDC works with the private sector to make significant economic development happen,” said ORDC Executive Director Matt Dietrich.
The important trend, Union Pacific Chief Financial Officer Bob Kight told a Credit Suisse conference in New York Wednesday, is “being in a position to discuss volume growth.” The rate of growth remains a question.
UP expects a peak fall season generally, but as for the seasonal peak in the flow of containers from Pacific Rim countries into the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Kight was quoted as saying, it could be “more of a bump” than a “historical, traditional peak.”
UP’s total freight volume is growing, though more slowly than in the second quarter. UP’s third-quarter volume through August was up 13% from last year. Intermodal was up 24%.
CSX Transportation said at a Dahlman Rose conference on Wednesday that it’s preparing for a peak fall season, with intermodal strengths continuing at least through the rest of this year.
In a decision released Friday, the Surface Transportation Board authorized U S Rail Corp. to build and operate a three-mile line in Brookhaven, Suffolk County, N.Y., that will connect with the Long Island Rail Road, over which the New York & Atlantic provides freight service. The agency said the approval is subject to environmental mitigationconditions.
STB said the purpose of the construction is to enable U S Rail to serve the Brookhaven Rail terminal as a common carrier and to deliver up to 500,000 tons of aggregate annually from sources in upstate New York to Sills Road Realty, the owner of the underlying property, and its affiliates and related companies on Long Island.
U S Rail also will install a rail switch, crushed stone aggregate handling and storage facilities, an intermodal freight storage area, and a transload area with truck scales.
The regulatory agency said the new line will reduce truck traffic in the New York metropolitan area.
New York City’s Department of Transportation and Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) announced late Thursday a $295,000 study to evaluate a longstanding proposal to reintroduce streetcar service in Brooklyn, specifically designed to bolster transportation in Red Hook district, a neighborhood now enjoying an economic resurgence.
San Francisco-based URS Corp. will conduct a five-month evaluation of the proposed route, currently envisioned to link an Ikea store in Red Hook with either Borough Hall or to the Brooklyn Bridge waterfront. Funding comes from a federal grant Rep. Velazquez helped secure in 2005.
“A streetcar system in Red Hook has the potential to reconnect this neighborhood with the rest of the city and greatly improve transit options for residents,” Velazquez said. NYCDOT plans to meet with local groups to explore how a streetcar route would impact the neighborhood.
The project has been delayed for numerous reasons for decades, despite its being championed by the Brooklyn Historic Railway Association, which at one point received approval to move ahead with portions of the project. Several industry observers—and even a few NYCDOT staffers interviewed by Railway Age in recent years (though not for attribution)—have suggested that NYCDOT has been hostile to streetcar restoration in general.
Some, however, note that the city’s current mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has been less averse to exploring streetcar options. And in a statement Thursday, NYCDOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said, “Once ubiquitous in New York City's streetscape, streetcars remain part of the transportation mix in cities from Toronto to Melbourne, and we need to consider all options toimprove transit access in underserved neighborhoods like Red Hook.”
Rep. Velazquez reportedly has requested $10 million in funds for construction of a Red Hook route, with funding currently being considered by the House.
Hill International said Thursday a joint venture of Hill, Systra Engineering, and Gannett Fleming has received a contractfrom the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey (PA) to “provide expert professional planning, project management, and related services on a call-in basis” in connection with the $4.1 billion capital program of the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) rail system.
The contract has a one-year base period and up to sevenone-year option periods, Hill said. The amount of the contract was notdisclosed.
PATH a bistate service with 13 stations, links terminals in Newark and Hoboken, N.J., with end points in Midtown and Downtown Manhattan.