S-B Rail Group Staff Report: UPDATED May 23—Global Railway Industry Recovery From The COVID-19 Pandemic

Written by Simmons-Boardman Rail Group Editorial Staff: Railway Age, RT&S, IRJ
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This continually updated staff report from the editors at Railway Age, Railway Track & Structures and International Railway Journal now shifts to the latest developments surrounding recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, which in late April was beginning to show signs of slowing down, as some areas of the economy gradually reopen.

U.S. and CANADIAN DEVELOPMENTS

Demonstration of UV disinfecting technology at the Corona Maintenance Facility on Tue., May 19, 2020. Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) announced an ultraviolet (UV) light pilot program proven to kill COVID-19, with the first phase set to launch on subways, buses and other New York City Transit facilities throughout the system early the week of May 25. The MTA pilot will deploy approximately 150 dual-headed mobile devices from Denver-based startup PURO Lighting to test and evaluate the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of UVC technology in a number of settings across New York City Transit including trains, buses, stations and occupational facilities, using strict protocols and procedures to ensure the safety of the employees and customers. After evaluation, the pilot’s second phase will expand to Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North.

“These funds will provide a critical funding bridge to ensure that NJ Transit can continue to provide essential services to hospital workers, first responders and other essential personnel,” said NJ Transit President and CEO Kevin Corbett.

NJ Transit has been awarded $1.4 billion in federal aid through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The CARES Act Funding can be used for operating expenses to prevent, prepare for and respond to the COVID-19 crisis dating back to Jan. 20, 2020. NJ Transit can use these funds to reimburse operating costs to maintain service and lost revenue, the purchase of personal protective equipment and administrative leave of operations personnel due to a reduction in service. Other operating costs may also be eligible.

Amtrak photo

As states begin or continue the process of allowing more businesses and public facilities to open, some members of the traveling public wonder how many trains Amtrak will run this summer. Amtrak is running fewer trains than ever on the Northeast Corridor (NEC) and other corridors, as part of the shutdown of much of the nation’s activity in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. At this writing, a few places have loosened some of the virus-related restrictions, while others are planning how and when to do so. Amtrak will probably return to a level of service approaching the schedule at the beginning of March someday, on some lines if not all of them, but nobody knows when. Apparently not even Amtrak is sure and, for some trains, Amtrak lacks the authority to make those decisions.

Metrolinx continues to make progress on its Eglinton Crosstown line in Toronto.

Toronto’s Eglinton Crosstown light rail project is moving along swiftly. After the tunnel boring machines came back up to the surface and were removed, Metrolinx, the agency that coordinates and integrates all modes of public transportation in the GTHA (Greater Toronto Hamilton Area), released several videos showing project progress, as RT&S reports.

New York has long been known as the “City That Never Sleeps,” partly because its subway system has, with very few exceptions (Superstorm Sandy and 9/11 among them) continuously operated 24/7 since it opened in 1904. That will soon change, as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has announced that the system—plagued with homeless people who have turned it into a trash-strewn shelter—will shut down for four hours, between 1:00 and 5:00 a.m., every night, beginning in the early hours of Wednesday, May 6, for cleaning. As well, the MTA has instituted new rules implemented new rules to restrict those who have been camping on the system.

AMTRAK: The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is making more than $1 billion under the recently enacted Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act available to Amtrak. FRA will make or amend existing grants to Amtrak to provide approximately $1.02 billion: $492 million for the Northeast Corridor and $526 million for National Network Grants, as authorized by sections 11101(a) and 11101(b) of the FAST (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation) Act. At least $239 million of the CARES Act funds will help mitigate the cost of providing service on Amtrak’s 28 State-supported intercity passenger rail routes, where, under PRIIA (Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008), State governments are required to pay for ticket revenue shortfalls. These funds will be used in lieu of any increase in States’ payments.

FEDERAL TRANSIT ADMINISTRATION: In response to COVID-19, the FTA is giving transit agencies more time to meet the requirements of the Public Transportation Agency Safety Plan (PTASP) regulation. The PTASP regulation requires transit agencies to incorporate Safety Management System (SMS) policies and procedures as they develop safety plans to manage safety risks. The regulation set July 20, 2020 as the deadline for transit agencies to certify that they have established a compliant agency safety plan. However, with this announcement, FTA is alerting transit agencies that it will provide relief by refraining from taking any enforcement action until Dec. 31, 2020 against agencies that are unable to meet the July 20, 2020 deadline. More information about the PTASP requirement is available on FTA’s website, and further information about this announcement is available in the Notice of Enforcement Discretion.

OVERSEAS DEVELOPMENTS

Italo-NTV has adopted a more cautious approach than Trenitalia in reintroducing services.

Trenitalia and Italo-NTV have started to reinstate high-speed train services which were reduced to a skeleton service due to COVID-19 travel restrictions in Italy.

Trenitalia was the first operator to reintroduce trains. On May 18, 20 Freccerossa high-speed services were added to the timetable increasing the number of daily trains to 38. These were supplemented by 16 Intercity trains. In addition, the number of regional trains was stepped up to more than 4400 trains per day, equal to 64% of the normal timetable.

Trenitalia provides passengers with a safety kit prior to boarding Frecciarossa and Frecciargento high-speed trains. The kits contain a mask, hand sanitizing gel, latex gloves and disposable headrest covers.

Trenitalia is also taking the opportunity to introduce a new Frecciarossa high-speed service on June 3 linking Turin and Reggio Calabria. There will be two round trips per day.

Italo-NTV, which was only running one round trip per day between Venice and Rome during the height of the coronavirus travel restrictions, is now serving 16 Italian cities following the reinstatement of some services on May 21.

Italo-NTV is running a total of eight trains per day on the Turin – Salerno and Venice – Naples routes. More trains will be introduced on June 3, and services will be reintroduced between Bolzano, Trento, Verona, and Rome.

Enhance safety measures on Italo-NTV trains include:

  • compulsory wearing of a suitable face mask covering the nose and mouth.
  • provision of the passenger’s name corresponding with that on a valid identity document when purchasing tickets.
  • frequent hand hygiene is encouraged.
  • seats are blocked off to guarantee social distancing between passengers.
  • temporary suspension of on-board catering.

One of three conditions imposed on Air France in exchange for a €7 billion coronavirus aid package is that it will stop competing with TGV high-speed rail services where HSR offers a viable alternative. The ban on short-haul domestic air travel will apply to routes where rail offers a journey time of 2.5 hours or less. This means Air France will no longer be able to sell tickets for domestic travel on flights between Paris and Bordeaux, Lyon, Nantes or Rennes. Only passengers using these flights to connect with flights to other destinations will be allowed to travel by air. “The plane should no longer be a means of transporting [people] in one hour or one hour 15 minutes, which could be done at lower cost of CO2 by train in two hours or two hours 30 minutes,” French Economic and Finance Minister Bruno Le Marie said. “This must be the rule, and we will enforce it.” Le Marie wants Air France to be more profitable, more competitive, and the most environmentally friendly airline. Air France will have to reduce its CO2 emissions per passenger-km by 50% of 2005 levels by 2030 and cut CO2 emissions on its short-haul flights by 50% by the end 2024. Air France will also have to reach a target of using 2% of its fuel from sustainable sources by 2025. 

Messe Berlin has announced that InnoTrans will now be held on April 27-30, 2021 following its announcement on April 22 that it would not be possible to stage the exhibition on September 22-25 due to coronavirus restrictions. The Berlin Senate imposed a ban on staging large events, particularly trade fairs attracting more than 5,000 people, until Oct. 24, 2020, in order to prevent the spread of COVOD-19. Messe Berlin says that, in principle, stand allocations that were confirmed by April 21 will remain valid, but if changes are necessary, exhibitors will be notified in autumn 2020. However, this does not apply to the locations of rail vehicles on the outdoor display area, which may have to be changed. Exhibitors will have until May 11 to cancel their booking for the new date, and any down-payments of fees will be refunded without charge. Messe Berlin has set up a hotline telephone number for queries: +49 30 30 38 31 31. More information can be found on the InnoTrans website.

Britain’s Department for Transport (DfT) has switched all passenger rail franchises into management contracts for six months to prevent operators from becoming insolvent. All revenue and cost risk is being transferred to the government. Franchisees will continue to operate services in return for a fee, which will be set at a maximum of 2% of the cost base of each franchise before the coronavirus pandemic began. “The maximum fee attainable will be far less than recent profits earned by train operators,” says the DfT. “In the event that an operator does not wish to accept an emergency measures agreement, the government’s operator of last resort stands ready to step in. Allowing operators to enter insolvency would cause significantly more disruption to passengers and higher costs to the taxpayer. The management fee will allow operators to act in the national interest in tackling COVID-19.”

Reporting and analysis by David Briginshaw (IRJ), David Burroughs (IRJ), Andrew Corselli (Railway Age), Kevin Smith (IRJ), David Lester (RT&S), William C. Vantuono (Railway Age) and Bill Wilson (RT&S); plus Railway Age’s Contributing Editors.

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