Take New York transportation into the 21st century

(Above picture from the Ken Kinlock collection. Taken in 1950’s with a “Brownie Hawkeye” camera)

In recent years, the expansion of public transit has taken other American cities by storm: Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Denver and San Francisco, to name but a few. Yet, the City that Never Sleeps seems to have drifted off to a Rip Van Winkle state of mind.

The last time a new subway station opened in the Bronx was 1933. Brooklyn’s last opening was 1956. The Second Avenue Subway, first proposed in 1919, has been under construction — on and off — since 1972, with completion now slated for 2029. And while the 34th Street-Hudson Yards extension did open last year, it was the first new station in New York City in over a quarter century. Meanwhile, large swaths of the city — Northeast Queens, Southeast Brooklyn, the entirety of Staten Island and East Bronx — are still waiting to be connected to a subway network that is bulging at the seams.

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Assemblyman Robert J. Rodriguez, D-Manhattan, represents the 68th District in East Harlem, and chairs the Assembly Subcommittee on Infrastructure.

We need to wake up and get New York moving again.

Last fall, ridership broke an all-time record: Over 6.2 million people used the subway on their way to and from work, school and recreation. As New York City is expected to gain almost 800,000 more residents by 2040, the overcrowding and unreliability of the transit system might eventually bring the city’s $1.3 trillion economy — the state’s economic engine — to a grinding halt.

Luckily, a solution is within reach.

Last week, a diverse coalition of New York City Assembly members introduced landmark legislation that will address chronic transportation funding deficits, fill transit deserts and get New York — city and state — moving again. The Move New York Fair Plan (A09633) will improve the lives of millions of New Yorkers — from downstate commuters to upstate manufacturers and their employees.

The Move NY bill will help fill the MTA’s 2015-19 capital funding gap and beyond by focusing additional investment in communities that have little or poor transit access. It will generate, through bonding, over $12 billion in transit investment in the MTA region, which means tens of thousands of jobs at subway and bus manufacturing plants in upstate counties like Clinton, Albany and Oneida, and cities like Yonkers.

Move NY also protects upstaters from what seems to be the Legislature’s default plan: increasing taxes on the state’s income earners to subsidize a downstate system they don’t use.

With a new, rationalized tolling system — where folks with fewer transit options pay up to 48 percent less to travel across the MTA’s outermost city bridges, and those with good transit pay their fair share to drive into the most congested area of New York City — we establish a sustainable revenue source to expand transit across the MTA’s 12-county service region while maintaining the city’s roads and bridges.

Unlike other funding mechanisms, under our bill, those who use the system contribute to it. And for the first time, they will see a real return on their investment.

Designed to fund transit projects in parts of the city with limited public transit access, the legislation’s $4.5 billion Transit Gap Investment Fund will pay for expansion projects such as the Triboro RX subway line, connecting Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx; an LIRR subway conversion between Brooklyn and Queens; and a Bus Rapid Transit line along Staten Island’s north shore.

For the first time in history, elected representatives will work with their constituents, the MTA and NYCDOT, to help set priorities, ensuring those most in need of better service get it.

These types of projects will create over 30,000 local jobs and tens of thousands of upstate jobs above and beyond what might be created by the MTA’s five-year capital plan alone.

The longer we procrastinate, the more certain that our transit system continues to fail us and the hard-working manufacturers in upstate New York who rely on a working downstate transit system for their livelihoods.

It’s time to shake off the slumber of the last half century of disinvestment and make the investments needed to move our city and state boldly into the 21st century.

 

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Longevity Inequality Is Increasing: The Rich Get Older, the Poor Die Younger

New research from the Brookings Institute shows that gains in longevity have been unequal between the rich and poor over the past three decades.

 

hile it’s no surprise to researchers that the rich live longer than the poor, the life expectancy gap between the haves and have-nots in the United States is widening alongside income inequality, according to new research from the Brookings Institute.

“There’s nothing particularly mysterious about the life expectancy gap,” Gary Burtless, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and one of the researchers in the study, wrote in an Los Angeles Times opinion piece, arguing that the growing life expectancy gap points to the urgent need to address questions around access to U.S. social security.

“People in ill health, who are at risk of dying relatively young, face limits on the kind and amount of work they can do,” Burtless explained. “By contrast, the rich can afford to live in better and safer neighborhoods, can eat more nutritious diets and can obtain access to first-rate health care.”

According to the study, the life expectancy gap between the bottom and top 10 percent of income earners increased from three and a half to 10 years for women and five to 12 years for men between 1970 and 1990.

“Recent gains in life expectancy have tended to favor men and women who have high lifetime earnings or other indicators of economic and social advantage,” reads the report.

Burtless argued that proposals to address funding shortages in U.S. social security would disadvantage low-wage workers by extending working years longer and closer to their life expectancy, while high-income earners would still have the benefit of longevity.

Those who recognize longevity inequality argue that the poor shouldn’t have to work their whole lives so the rich can play in their old age, enjoying the fruits of working-class labor through their pensions as they live out their longer life expectancy.

“The disparity in wages during the working years leads to greater differences in pensions and other forms of wealth accumulation for retirement,” the report reads.

According to U.N. population data, the average life expectancy in the U.S. is 79 years, or 76.5 years for men and 81 years for women.

Regional of the Year: Central Maine & Quebec Railway

Regional Railroad of the Year: Central Maine & Quebec Railway

Years from now, the history books will recount the tragic story of the Lac-Mégantic crude oil train disaster, a wreck that claimed 47 lives and decimated a small, bucolic Canadian village. But if history is to be accurately served, the history books will also recount how a new railroad came in, and did its best to set things right, restoring service, but more important, helping a community get back on its feet.

Thus, the story of our 2016 Regional Railroad of the Year, the Central Maine & Quebec Railway. Here is the CM&Q story, as told by its own people:

Twenty months ago, Railroad Acquisition Holdings (an affiliate of Fortress Investment Group) bought the U.S. and Canadian railroad assets of the bankrupt Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway and named the new railroad Central Maine & Quebec Railway. Fortress is one of the leading investors in transportation and infrastructure assets and currently has $75 billion under management. Prior to the purchase of CM&Q, Fortress previous rail investments included RailAmerica and Fortress continues to own the Florida East Coast Railway.

CM&Q’s first daunting task was rebuilding the railroad, which at the time of the purchase was severed in the middle following the tragic accident in Lac-Mégantic. Faced with a neglected infrastructure that included more than 230 miles of main line track with restricted speeds of 10 mph, multiple Transport Canada notices and orders, and the formidable goal of earning back the trust of the public, customers, employees and connecting carriers, CM&Q invested in excess of $22 million in track and infrastructure improvements. Those improvements include ties, ballast, rail, surfacing, bridge repairs, weed spraying and culvert replacements.

Recently, CM&Q led the initiative to apply for (along with our partner roads) and was awarded a $20 million TIGER grant that provides funding to rehabilitate approximately 380 (109 on CM&Q) miles of track through Maine, creating more reliable rail service. In total, this is a $37 million public-private partnership. In addition, in January of this year, CM&Q was awarded operation of the state-owned Rockland Subdivision, which adds 58 miles of track to our network.

CM&Q began operations by completely shutting down the railroad for two days in both the U.S. and Canada. These two days were used to introduce the new leadership members to the rest of the team and to teach what we call the “CM&Q Way,” which focuses on the key elements of integrity, safety and “being your brother’s keeper,” productivity, excellence and continuous improvement.

Once the track in Lac-Mégantic was reconnected, CM&Q negotiated a social compact with the town of Lac-Mégantic that included open communication with the Mayor and the promise not to operate hazardous goods through the city until our 2014 capital improvements were completed and we were satisfied that the tracks were safe to handle those commodities.

The transport of hazardous commodities has resumed through the town, but CM&Q is, out of respect for the residents in Lac-Mégantic, not handling crude oil through the town in 2016.

In a recent article in the Bangor Daily News, Conrad Lebrun, Director of Buildings and Projects for Lac-Mégantic, agreed that the Central Maine & Quebec and the city have developed a good working relationship. “It is good,” he said. “We have access to CM&Q representatives. When we need to, we call them and they call us right back and we work issues out well. We expect it to keep going in the future.”

CM&Q has invested heavily in safety and employee training. Employees are trained on an annual basis rather than tri-annually. In July 2015, CM&Q volunteered to be the first railroad to participate in the Railway Association of Canada’s Safety Culture Assessment. This assessment was aimed at understanding what improvements are required within the railway in order to cultivate and maintain a positive safety culture. More than 90% of CM&Q employees (U.S. and Canada), including management, supervisors and tradespeople, participated in the initial safety culture assessment phase.

The results of the survey and focus groups enabled CM&Q to identify and promote safety improvements and enhancements across the company. As a result, CM&Q received the 2015 RAC Annual Safety Award for our participation, leadership and contributions to railway safety.

Safety and training has not stopped with just the employees, since beginning operations CM&Q has reached out to many towns and communities along the railroad and participated in onsite training demonstrations and opportunities.

In June 2015, CM&Q participated with Department of Environmental Protection, the Maine Emergency Management Agency, local firefighters and first responders by providing staff, locomotives and tank cars enabling the agencies to perform a real-life exercise on a derailment with a hazardous chemical.

In an effort to educate local fire departments, CM&Q sponsored three firefighters to attend a Crude by Rail Emergency Response Training program at TTCI in Pueblo, Colo. This training program provided them with basic knowledge, skills and abilities to respond to incidents involving crude by rail.

CM&Q has been working diligently to regain business lost prior to the accident as well as increase business. When operations began, the railroad was handling a little more than 3,000 carloads per quarter. Today we are reaching close to 7,000 carloads, and this has been achieved by providing customers with a dependable and economic transportation option, working with local municipalities and our partner railroads to develop new business opportunities.

CM&Q has made significant progress, and we continue to look to the future to grow business and help our customers improve their reach into the marketplace.

Ohio DOT slates meetings for Cincinnati commuter-rail line

The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) this week is hosting a series of open houses to share the results of studies evaluating feasible alternatives for a commuter-rail line in the Greater Cincinnati area.

Known as Oasis Rail Transit, the 17.1-mile line would run between Cincinnati’s Riverfront Transit Center and Interstate 275 in Milford. Much of route’s alignment would use publicly owned rail right-of-way and could use existing freight lines. In other places, new tracks would be built to complete the necessary connections, ODOT officials said in a press release.

The department will hold three open houses on Feb. 24 and 25.

During previous ODOT community meetings, the public previewed information on the line’s proposed technology, operation schedules, station locations, ridership and costs. That information has been updated based on current information and public input, department officials said.

ODOT now is inviting public review and feedback on the results, which will be documented as part of this phase of study.

The Oasis Rail Transit project is a core component of the Eastern Corridor Program, which calls for integrated, multimodal transportation investments between downtown Cincinnati and Clermont County, ODOT officials said.

3 Amtrak trains in jeopardy

Posted by Fred Frailey

Some friends of mine in the railroad business now question the viability of CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern as going concerns. One such person awoke the other night with brain spasms. Holy moly, he thought, veering in and out of sleep, Virginia and West Virginia in 2016 are beginning to look a lot like Pennsylvania in 1960. Back then, Pennsylvania railroading was defined by the movement of coal. Anthracite was dying, and Erie, Lackawanna, Lehigh Valley, Jersey Central, and Delaware & Hudson all tried to recast themselves successfully as merchandise railroads. None succeeded (which should give folks in Jacksonville and Norfolk pause). And we all know what happened to the 800-pound gorilla in that state, the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Now CSX and NS are being drawn into that same struggle, thanks to the collapse of their lucrative coal markets. Both railroads appear to see the intermodal business as their salvation. But at the same time, these railroads must also rationalize their networks or drown in avoidable capital and operating costs. For instance, what is the excuse for having two mostly double-tracked railroads crossing Virginia on an east-west axis? (Out west, BNSF Railway and Union Pacific have stranded assets of their own.)

How the eastern railroads come out of this I’ll leave for another day. Right now I want to talk about Amtrak. Amtrak, you say? What’s it got to do with coal? A lot. Here are three possible accidental victims of coal’s demise.

California Zephyr. I rode the Zephyr from Chicago to Glenwood Springs, Colo., just three days ago. It was dark by the time we crossed the Mississippi River into Iowa. But the next morning after breakfast, leaving Denver was again one of those experiences you live for. Over 185 miles and almost seven hours I stayed glued to the tall windows in the Sightseer Lounge, unable to take my eyes off the scenery and the wildlife that inhabits it: South Boulder Canyon, Coal Creek Canyon, Fraser Canyon, Byers Canton, Gore Canyon, Glenwood Canyon—and for much of the time, the icy headwaters of the Colorado River.

But listen up: The Union Pacific route we took out of Denver is about two mine closings from being an ultra expensive-to-maintain, worthless vestige that UP cannot afford to retain in its present form. Already, coal traffic  down 28 percent on this line in January from a year ago, according to UP filings with the Surface Transportation Board. Were the mines around Steamboat Springs (on a branch north of the line Amtrak uses) to shut their operations, the economic justification for keeping the Denver-Salt Lake City route intact collapses. Mines in western Colorado, around Grand Junction, can be served by sending trains west to Salt Lake City and then east on UP Overland Route.

The California Zephyr could easily enough be run via Cheyenne and Green River, as could BNSF trains that run Denver to Salt Lake City on trackage rights.

So I say, if you’ve been thinking of riding this train, do so this year. Long term, the future of this train through Colorado’s Rocky Mountains is clouded.

Silver Star. Between the town of Selma, N.C., and Savannah, Ga., more than 300 miles, this New York-Miami train veers west, to ply the route of the former Seaboard Air Line, through Raleigh and Hamlet, N.C., and Columbia, S.C. Though equipped with Centralized Traffic Control (a heritage of SAL days) and good for 79 mph in places, it is not a major CSX freight corridor, the north-south traffic using the former Atlantic Coast Line through Fayetteville, N.C., and Florence and Charleston, S.C. Most of the freight traffic on the Seaboard side is coal. Oops, did I say coal?

Now maybe you see the problem. Sooner or later, like it or not, CSX will rationalize its system. Actually, it has already begun that transition, relegating the former Clinchfield Railroad, a one-time coal corridor, to the status of a train-a-day branch line. I think the Seaboard line (the S Line to we in-the-know folks) may soon get the same treatment.

What does that mean to the Silver Star? Possibly, it could be combined with its New York-Miami twin, the Silver Meteor. At least former Star riders would get their dining car back—or would they?

Cardinal. This Chicago-New York train utilizes CSX from suburban Chicago to Clifton Forge, Va., 710 miles. Then it pops onto the Buckingham Branch Railroad from Clifton Forge to Orange, Va., 125 mountainous miles, before joining Norfolk Southern for the ride to Washington, D.C.

Buckingham Branch leases this trackage from CSX, and its economic viability go up and down based on the number of empty westbound coal and grain trains CSX runs over it between Richmond and Clifton Forge. BBRR collects traffic rights fee for every train. CSX has its own single track, CTC-equipped line between these points, cleaving to the James River. Today, with traffic down, does CSX really need the Buckingham Branch in order to relieve congestion on its James River main line. I think not. Were CSX to move empty unit trains to the James River, Buckingham Branch would have its props pulled from beneath it.

I raised this point with BBRR’s chief executive, Mark Bryant. He replied: “Yes, the decline of coal has certainly had an impact on us. We’ve made adjustments and are doing fine.” Further, he does not anticipate CSX taking those empty unit trains off of his railroad, implying that it would be impractical for CSX to put everything on the James River line. Given all this, Bryant does not see the Cardinal being at risk over his railroad.

I know and admire the Bryant family. But as I said, CSX is going to have to do a lot more rationalizing of its route structure if it expects to survive and thrive. How fast will coal continue to decline? Nobody knows. Therein lies the risk to the Cardinal.

 

 

The railroads are valuable for transportation because of their rights of ways. For both passenger and freight it would be a wise investment for the Federal Government to spend money upgrading tracks on many of these lines for expanded freight service by trailer and container as well as long distance passenger service. This would be cheaper and easier than expanding or building new roads, have fewer environmental impacts and would be good for the economy of many of these regions where the economy is suffering from the decline in coal and oil production.