A passenger rail package that passed the Florida House on Monday would create a new regional rail system for Central Florida (SunRail), provide annual funding for for the existing Tri-Rail system serving southeastern Florida, and authorize a new venture into high speed passenger rail.
In the state Senate, however, the bill barely survived its first committee vote, winning 5-4 after a pro-rail senator replaced a member of the Transportation Committee who was absent due to illness. On a tie vote the bill would have died.
The main provision of the bill would authorize the state to pay CSX Corp. $432 million for 61.5 miles of track for the long-planned SunRail regional passenger system serving Orlando and other points in Orange, Osceola, Seminole, and Volusia counties. CSX would retain the right to operate freight trains on the line under stated conditions.
The bill would also require the state to pay an annual premium of about $2 billion for $200 million in liability insurance for SunRail.
For Tri-Rail in southeastern Florida, the bill provides $13 million to $15 million in annual operating assistance.
Through earmarks totaling $2.5 billion over 30 years, mostly in federal funds, the bill would set into motion planning for a high speed rail system in the Tampa-Orlando-Miami corridor.
The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority has learned that revenue from a new payroll tax for transit will run about $200 million short of expectations, a development that MTA's chief financial officer, Gary Dellaverson, called "shocking" in an email message to board members.
The payroll tax is part of an MTA aid package that the state legislature put together last spring.
Dellaverson said the agency was concerned "both because of the magnitude of the underrun (20%) and the late date of its discovery." An operating budget of around $10 billion is to be presented to the board for its approval next week.
The MTA had to cope earlier with a reduction in the support it receives from an urban real estate that was hard hit by the recession. Dellaverson said in November that to close that gap it would need to tap $150 million in reserves.
Amtrak says its ridership during the Thanksgiving Day week this year set an “all-time record,” with ridership up 4% compared with the comparable period in 2008; ticket revenue rose 1% compared with the year-ago period.
Amtrak says 685,876 trips took place between Nov. 24 and Nov. 30, generating $44.1 million in ticket revenue, which it claims is “the best weekly performance in company history.”
“Once again, our performance illustrates the growing popularity of passenger rail service, which is a credit to our front line employees who operate a great railroad,” said Emmett Fremaux, vice president, Marketing and Product Development. “To outperform our previous ridership record from FY08, when gas prices were much higher, is a great accomplishment.”
“On behalf of the entire executive team, I want to thank every employee for their dedication to safety and customer service during such a busy time,” said President and CEO Joe Boardman.
The Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) rail system will get $356.9 million for new rolling stock, a new signal system, and other improvements under a preliminary capital spending program announced by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey.
The bistate agency's capital plan also contains $503.9 million for continuing work on Access to the Region's Core projects and $349.7 million for the World Trade Center Transportation Hub.
Under PATH's proposed new capital budget, the biggest item is a $109.9 million payment toward the ongoing acquisition of 340 new passenger cars, which are being built by Kawasaki. The new signaling system is budgeted at $65.5 million. For infrastructure improvements, PATH is allocated $30.6 million; and for stations, $11.7million.
The Port Authority's total 2010 capital program is estimated at $3.1 billion and includes investments in airport and marine facilities as well as rail.
In announcing the program on Dec. 3, PATH said that in order to maintain a focus on long-term capital improvements, it was implementing new operating cost controls including job cuts that will bring staffing to the lowest level in 40 years.
The Federal Trade Commission has given Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. antitrust approval for its planned takeover of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp.,operator of BNSF Railway. The approval, which was expected, appeared Mondayin a list of antitrust clearances routinely issued by the FTC.
Berkshire has offered to pay $26.4 billion for the 77.4% of BNSthat it does not now own. Combined with previously owned shares and$10 billion in debt, the takeover is valued at around $44 billion.
Berkshire has also filed a preliminary proxy statement withthe Securities and Exchange Commission giving notice that it has set Jan.20 for a special shareholders meeting in Omaha. Shareholders will beasked to approve a 50-for-1 split of Berkshire's Class B shares. The higher-priced Class A shares will not be affected.
The split would bring Class B shares down to about $66 eachfrom their current level of around $3,300.
Berkshire's Warren Buffett said earlier in an interview withCNBC that the split will enable "anybody that has as little as oneshare of BNSF to opt for the tax-free exchange ... So those small shareholderscan have exactly the same availability that otherwise would only have beenavailable to a big shareholder."
Jersey City, N.J., has hired a former state Supreme Court chief justice to mediate a disagreement over its Sixth Street Embankment, former ex-Pennsylvania Railroad right-of-way sought by various interests for green space, housing development, and/or light rail use.
The City Council has approved hiring former Chief JusticeJames Zazzali to mediate a resolution among city interests, developer Steve Hyman, and Conrail, the most recent rail operator of the property. The city will split the cost of hiring Zazzali with developer Steve Hyman and Conrail, which sold the property to the developer in 2005 for $3 million.
The route in dispute runs along the city’s Sixth Street between Marin Boulevard and Brunswick Street, and is an infrastructure remnant from the days when the city’s entire waterfront was served by several major Class I railroads. Hyman has fought an intense public battle to put housing, including upscale condominums, along the route. Jersey City planners seek the same right-of-way for open space and a new branch of New Jersey Transit's Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Transit system.
The city filed a lawsuit in 2006 arguing that, under federal law, Conrail, the previous owner, should have offered the site to the city before selling it to Hyman. In 2007, the Surface Transportation Board backed the city’s position. But Hyman took the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals, which threw out STB’s decision in June, saying it didn't have jurisdiction to hear the case.
The city and Embankment Preservation Coalition, a local advocacy group, have asked the appellate court to reconsider its decision. But the city and Hyman also have agreed to seek a mediated settlement out of court. "I think it's a worthwhile expenditure," said city attorney William Matsikoudis.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood gave the opening address Friday at a conference in Washington, D.C. convened to address domestic high speed rail manufacturing potential, and hammered at rail manufacturing’s potential to put Americans to work as an extension of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).
Perhaps mindful of criticism in recent days suggesting a large portion of federal stimulus dollars targeted for alternative energy development was reportedly generating jobs outside the U.S., LaHood stressed that no such scenario would occur for U.S. high speed rail. “If this program is perceived as not creating American jobs, it is not going to succeed,” he asserted. “This a tremendous opportunity for the rail industry to capitalize on a historic achievement.”
DOT noted the Federal Railroad Administration has received 45 applications from 24 states totaling about $50 billion to advance large HSR corridor programs, while 214 applications from 34 states, totaling $7 billion, were submitted for corridor planning and smaller projects.
LaHood noted that 30 rail manufacturers and suppliers, “foreign and domestic, have established or expanded their base of operations in the United States,” cognizant that in all likelihood they would be “required to build in the U.S.” if they hoped to capture any significant business.
DOT released a list of those rail industry manufacturers and suppliers, which included: GE Transportation; Wabtec; Columbus Steel Castings; Bombardier Transportation; Alstom; Talgo; Kawasaki Rail Car; Siemens; Hyundai Rotem USA; Motive Power; National Railway Equipment Co.; CAF USA; US Railcar; Nippon Sharyo; Electro-Motive Diesel; Ansaldo STS USA; Lockheed Martin; Safetran Systems Corp.; Tangent Rail; Amstead Rail; AnsaldoBreda; American Railcar Industries; CXT Tie; Railroad Controls Ltd.; A&K Railroad Materials; Cleveland Track Material, Inc.; New York Air Brake; Plasser American; Simmons Machine Tool; Ellcon-National; Harso Rail; and ORX Railway.
“This is a significant achievement for America, and a positive sign of things to come for our country,” LaHood said. “This will be a real win-win for private industry, American workers, and the traveling public.”
Questioned aggressively by one meeting attendee on the slow pace of spending the $8 billion for HSR in particular and transportation needs in general, LaHood, polite but bristling, defended DOT’s performance in 2009. “The money that hasn’t been spent is the $8 billion for high speed rail; this notion that the ‘recovery money [in general] hasn’t been spent is nonsense,” he declared.
Citing funding commitments to numerous modes, including light rail transit, LaHood asserted, “Our money is out the door, it is being spent, people are being put to work.” He added, “When it comes to DOT, I don’t care what anyone says; I know what’s going on. ... I make no apologies; our money is out the door. We’ve done our job [so far] at DOT.”
Another questioner asked whether identifying manufacturing states with high unemployment was a form of favoritism. Replied LaHood, “There are places in America that are really huring. This money could be used to put Americans back to work.” And, too, he added, the states themselves have been proactive in submitting HSR proposals, further limiting the concept of political favorites in the HSR development process. “What we want to do is what the Recovery Act is supposed to do; use the money to put people back to work.”
LaHood also lauded the current Congress, which he said was the most pro-passenger rail assemblage in recent memory. “High speed rail is a priority; this Congress gets it,” he said. “They understand that the $8 billion is a down payment.” It’s only a funding start, he acknowledged, “but it’s $8 billion more than we ever had.”
FRA Associate Administrator Mark Yachmetz echoed LaHood’s belief in opportunity for the private sector. “Success for us is development of a long-term program that transforms the way Americans view intercity travelingoptions,” he said.
“Rail capital investment was once one of the engines that drove the U.S. economy. That is not the case today,” but it could be once again, Yachmetz said, driven in large measure by the “development of the high speed rail program.”