Politico: Amtrak gets DOT’s support in new definition of on-time performance


GOOD NEWS FOR AMTRAK: As railroads argue with the Surface Transportation Board about the definition of “on-time performance,” the Department of Transportation is effectively siding with Amtrak by supporting policy that takes into account on-time arrivals at each station instead of looking solely at whether a train arrives on-time at the end of the line. Our Lauren Gardner outlines the history of ongoing battle: “The STB proposed in December defining on-time performance … by deeming a train on time if it reached its endpoint within five minutes of the scheduled arrival time for every 100 miles of travel, capped at 30 minutes. Amtrak and other parties objected, arguing that evaluating timeliness at all points along a route is crucial to providing oversight for the trips taken by the vast majority of passengers who don’t ride from one endpoint to the other.”

‘Shock waves through the industry’: The STB cares about these definitions because it’s tasked with investigating cases where a railroad service is chronically late — and is seeking to clarify in what instances it’s necessary for the regulatory body to step in. MT readers might also recall that the STB has been kicking up dust by suggesting that it may take away Amtrak’s right-of-way privileges that give the passenger rail service preference over freight rail. Together, Lauren writes, these two new controversies have “sent shock waves through the industry, and it’s unclear how the typically sleepy regulator will proceed.”

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Milwaukee Business Journal: Study to consider adding more round-trips on Amtrak Hiawatha line


The state this summer could hold hearings on the proposal to add three more round-trips a day to the Hiawatha passenger rail line between Milwaukee and Chicago.

The rail service run by Amtrak currently has seven round trips each weekday, and has seen strong ridership. It logged 804,861 rides in 2014, an 8.5 percent increase over 2009. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is preparing a study of increasing the number of daily trips to 10, said Arun Rao, Wisconsin DOT passenger rail manager.

A draft of the study could be made public this summer, prompting public hearings in late summer and potential federal sign-off later this year, Rao said. If federal officials approve that plan, the state will become eligible to apply for federal money for the additional routes, which likely would be operated by Amtrak.

Texas bullet train project pushing for Japan-friendly rules


DALLAS — Railway operator JR Tokai and an American partner will petition federal regulators to set new rules allowing an ultrahigh-speed line here to be built to Japanese bullet train specifications.

The roughly 400km line connecting Dallas and Houston would meet the same standards used by the Tokaido Shinkansen running between Tokyo and Osaka. That line is operated by JR Tokai, formally known as Central Japan Railway. A three- to four-hour trip by car between the two cities in Texas would take less than 90 minutes on shinkansen bullet trains with a top speed of 320kph.

Texas Central Partners, the company steering the enterprise, is plotting out the route and wooing investors. JR Tokai will set up a unit by year-end to lend the project technical support.

In the U.S., high-speed trains use the same tracks as freight cars and conventional passenger trains. There are no dedicated tracks for high-speed service. Regulations mandate strong, heavy rail cars to minimize casualties from collisions.

But the Tokaido Shinkansen has no railroad crossings, and centralized traffic control with an automatic braking system further reduces the odds of a collision. So its cars can be built lighter, enabling higher speeds and easing the impact on the environment.

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Sacramento Bee: Proponents put brakes on California proposal to divert high-speed rail money


Proponents of a proposed initiative to divert high-speed rail funding to water projects said Friday that they are pulling their petitions from the street and instead will pursue a place on the 2018 ballot.

The campaign, led by Republican Bob Huff, the former Senate minority leader, and GOP Board of Equalization member George Runner, budgeted for $2.65 a signature, spokesman Hector Barajas said.

This week, amid soaring signature-gathering costs, the price rocketed to about $5 a signature. Rather than pay the spiraling rate, proponents are pulling back and targeting 2018, a non-presidential year where fewer Democratic voters, and presumably less supporters of high-speed rail, turn out to the polls.

“With 300,000 collected signatures we are continuing our qualification efforts, but in a swollen field of potential 2016 ballot initiatives that are daily bidding up the cost of signature acquisition to astronomical levels, the committee is looking at its option of qualifying the measure for the 2018 cycle,” Aubrey Bettencourt, the committee chair, said in a statement. “If we have all the signatures ready by the April 26 deadline for the 2016 ballot, we will submit.”

Proponents have raised about $484,000 through mid-week, state filings show.

A poll this week found support for rail at just above 50 percent among adults (similar to findings since the question was first asked in March 2012). Among people most likely to vote this year, it registered 44 percent support, the Public Policy Institute of California found.

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MLive: Depot Town passenger train stop plans move forward


The Michigan Department of Transportation says it will consider plans for a rail stop in Ypsilanti’s Depot Town.

However, the announcement doesn’t mean a rail stop is approved. MDOT must OK plans once they are developed.

Previously, MDOT and Amtrak wouldn’t consider a train stop in Depot Town. But in a Dec. 9 letter to City Manager Ralph Lange, Al Johnson, manager of railroad operations for MDOT, wrote that the agency changed its position. He said the results of a new analysis “were favorable for intercity passenger rail service.”

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Naperville Sun: BNSF track work shouldn’t affect commuter trains, officials say


BNSF Railway will start $180 million in capital improvements on the tracks between Chicago and Lisle this summer, but the work should not cause delays for Naperville and Aurora commuters, officials said.

The project calls for the replacement of 19,000 railway ties, replacement and upgrading of rail and ballast, replacement of 1.5 miles of rail, and surfacing, undercutting and joint elimination work at various locations along the corridor, BNSF Director of Public Affairs Andy Williams said in an email.

“We will schedule work to have minimal impact on train operations,” Williams said.

Eric Galt, traffic engineer for the city of Aurora, said they don’t anticipate the improvements to have a negative impact on local residents.

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Times of Northwest Indiana: Guest Commentary: South Shore needs double-tracking


I couldn’t help but think of an over-quoted line from William Faulkner – “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” – while reading a history of passenger rail in Northwest Indiana. As we and the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District work toward expanding rail service in the Region, we are following in footsteps from the earliest days of what is now the South Shore railroad.

The South Shore’s predecessor, the Chicago & Indiana Air Line Railway, was financed by a group of investors from Cleveland headed by James B. Hanna (a distant relative? I’ll have to check!). However, Hanna’s investment in passenger rail didn’t pan out due to the same issue we have been talking about over the last few months: double-tracking of the South Shore line.

When passenger service began in 1908, it was on a line with just a single track. A few long passing sidings provided spots along the route that a train going one direction could pull over and allow a train travelling in the opposite direction to pass. This proved to be Hanna’s undoing. Before the first year of service had passed, the line suffered two head-on collisions between trains that happened because one train failed to pull over to allow the other to pass. The cost of the accidents forced Hanna to sell to the William Bicknell Co.

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Fresno Bee: In major win for high-speed rail, judge rejects claims by Kings County foes of bullet train


In a major setback to foes of the California high-speed rail project, a Sacramento judge rejected claims by opponents in Kings County that plans for the bullet train system violate state law.

The ruling by Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny is a blow to efforts to stop the project and boosts California’s $64 billion plan to develop a system of high-speed electric trains to ultimately connect Los Angeles and San Francisco, by way of Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley. But Kenny’s ruling still could be appealed to a state appellate court.

Kenny, who heard oral arguments from attorneys Feb. 11, issued the ruling late Friday, but the court didn’t release it to the public until Tuesday morning.

The attorney for Kings County farmer John Tos, Hanford resident Aaron Fukuda and the Kings County Board of Supervisors said Kenny’s ruling was disappointing, but said he sees hope there still is room to contest how the California High-Speed Rail Authority uses state bonds.

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Wall Street Journal: Canadian Pacific Approached CSX About a Takeover


Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd., which is pressing an unwanted takeover bid for Norfolk Southern Corp., recently revived a $20 billion-plus effort to combine with CSX Corp. in the latest sign of its eagerness to bring consolidation to the industry.

Canadian Pacific made a fresh approach to CSX in January, according to people familiar with the matter and Canadian Pacific Chief Executive Hunter Harrison.

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Curbed Chicago: Chicago Takes Next Step Towards O’Hare to Downtown High-Speed Rail Link


Two weeks ago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced his administration’s intention of linking Chicago’s downtown and O’Hare International Airport by way of a new high-speed express rail service. Originally championed by predecessor Richard M. Daley, Emanuel offered few details regarding the plan, stating that it would first require an engineering and feasibility report. According to Crain’s Greg Hinz, it is now know that the the city has selected firm WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff to conduct the first phase of the study.

Perhaps not too surprising of a choice, the Montreal-based engineering company has a history of partnering with the City of Chicago. The firm served as construction manager on the O’Hare Modernization Program and has experience working on large-scale rail projects across the globe. WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff will present their findings on the O’Hare express train to the city at a yet-to-be-announced time later this year.

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