Category Archives: News (current)

Can Amtrak bar NJ Transit from Northeast Corridor if state withholds rent?

Governor Chris Christie (best known for George Washington Bridge) posed this question and NJ.com covered the story.

NJ Transit pays Amtrak $93 million a year so that more than 400 of its trains can use the Northeast Corridor, but Gov. Chris Christie wants to stop making the lease payment until he gets answers to maintenance questions after an April 3 derailment in Penn Station…
NJ Transit paid $62 million for maintenance for 2016, in a lump sum payment after executing a contract with Amtrak in February, spokesperson Nancy Snyder said. That payment wasn’t late under the agreement, she said.

NJ Transit officials are waiting for an invoice from Amtrak for this year’s $74 million maintenance payment. That bill will be reviewed and, once any discrepancies have been reconciled, NJ Transit will make arrangements to pay, Snyder said. Amtrak officials said NJ Transit makes monthly rent payments.

At the same time, NJ.com reported Amtrak officials are citing mechanical issues with an NJ Transit train as the cause for the incident that stranded 1,200 passengers for several hours in the Hudson River tunnels between New Jersey and New York on Friday night.

“Amtrak has determined that the incident involving NJ Transit Train 3850 last Friday was not caused by Amtrak infrastructure, and that the preliminary cause appears to be a NJ Transit mechanical problem involving the train’s pantograph (power collector),” said Mike Tolbert, an Amtrak spokesman in a statement on Monday.

Then a story from Bloomburg: After three passenger-train mishaps in the past month underscored the fragility of New York City rail travel, Amtrak Chief Executive Officer Wick Moorman said the only solution is the $23 billion Gateway tunnel project.

“The fundamental problem is: What is plan B?” Moorman, 65, said in an interview at Bloomberg headquarters in New York. “I don’t know.”

Then WABC-TV chimed in: Recent train disruptions in New York that caused cascading delays between Boston and Washington, D.C., have refocused attention on a multibillion-dollar tunnel project that could have ameliorated future problems if it hadn’t been canceled by Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in 2010.

Whether Christie feels any pangs of remorse over the decision was left unanswered Wednesday at a news conference to urge President Donald Trump’s administration to honor a pre-existing commitment to fund a new tunnel project.

California: Connecting With High Speed Rail

This map from ACE shows the future connections with ACE to future High Speed Rail, San Joaquin, Capitol Corridor, Caltrain and BART. The future ACE route will be on the UP right of way with a separate track for ACE passenger trains. The UP will be able to use this track when there are no passenger trains using it to relieve UP freight congestion in the San Joaquin Valley.

You’ll soon be able to get to Chicago an hour faster

From the Belleville News-Democrat via California Rail News

“We’re getting close to finishing the project,” said Scott Speegle, the Passenger Rail communications manager for IDOT.
Work this year includes upgrades at 21 rail crossings between Granite City and Shipman, Speegle said.
Upgrades include putting in four quad gates to prevent cars from weaving through crossings when a train is approaching. Signaling upgrades, increased fencing and pedestrian gates, if necessary, also are planned. Most of the work is expected to be completed by the end of the summer, Speegle said.
The crossings will be temporarily closed while upgrades are taking place.
What has not received much press are efforts to throw a money wrench to raise passenger speeds in the Midwest by the UP. Where it controls the rails that used government funding for track improvements to reduce running times for passenger trains, the UP is trying to block the use of new High Speed “Charger” locomotives. Among the issues UP is claiming is the the Chargers don’t meet current FRA regulations. One thing the UP is claiming is that since the Charger uses LED lights, it can’t be used on American railroads since FRA regulations says nothing about LED lights.

Ferromex’s owner nears deal to acquire Florida East Coast Railway

The owner of Ferrocarril Mexicano (Ferromex), Mexico’s largest railroad operator, is nearing a deal to acquire Florida East Coast Railway for more than $2 billion, including debt.

The potential deal shows that Ferromex’s parent, Mexican mining conglomerate Grupo Mexico , is now seeking to apply its railroad operating expertise to foreign assets after dominating the railway freight sector. The acquisition would come at a sensitive time for relations between the United States and Mexico, following a pledge by U.S. President Donald Trump to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement and tighten immigration controls. Grupo Mexico has prevailed in an auction for Florida East Coast Railway and is now negotiating final terms with the U.S. regional railroad’s owner, Fortress Investment Group LLC

If the negotiations are completed successfully, a deal could be announced as early as this week, the people added, asking not to be identified because the sale process is confidential. Fortress declined to comment. Ferromex, Grupo Mexico and Florida East Coast Railway did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Based in Jacksonville, Florida East Coast Railway operates a 351-mile (565-km) freight rail system located along the east coast of Florida. Fortress took Florida East Coast Railway private in 2007 for $3.5 billion. Fortress, an investment firm with $69.6 billion in assets under management as of the end of December, agreed last month to sell itself to Japan’sSoftBank Group Corp for $3.3 billion.

Grupo Mexico, one of the world’s largest copper producers, together with Kansas City Southern de Mexico and Ferrovalle, control more than 72 percent of the Mexican rail freight market. Grupo Mexico and Kansas City Southern de Mexico together have a 75 percent stake in Ferrovale. Earlier this month, Mexico’s antitrust watchdog criticized Grupo Mexico and Kansas City Southern de Mexico for using their rail freight market share to fix prices, restrict supply and impede access to their networks.

President Trump is Interested in The Hyperloop!!!

Earlier this week, Elon Musk dined at the White House with the president to discuss his infrastructure plan for the country, according to reports from The Wall Street Journal. President Trump in turn expressed his interest in the Hyperloop.

While no concrete plans have been provided, the administration has stated their intentions to dedicate significant budget towards improving America’s roads and bridges. That certainly could include the latest technologies, like the Hyperloop. That being said, Trump’s curiosity for Musk’s ambitious transportation project doesn’t necessarily mean it come to fruition under his administration. According to The American Society of Civil Engineers, the U.S. would need $3.6 trillion to update the entire country’s infrastructure — and that’s not counting the Hyperloop.

Of course, apart from Musk sitting down with the President, there aren’t any concrete details that would suggest Trump could allot trillions from the federal budget for the project. Still, Trump’s interest could hint that the administration is looking towards privatizing American transportation infrastructure.

Hyperloop One has been in the headlines quite a bit recently, particularly after images of the Nevada test track surfaced online.

While it’s only a third of a mile (and has yet to be tested using actual pods or undergo public trials) the track is the first full-scale Hyperloop track. It also managed to complete a public trial of its propulsion system last year — however, it fell short of targets.

Ideally, the Hyperloop should be able to travel at 750 mph. The five-second, podless rail test only managed to hit 300 mph.

According to Musk, it would cost around $6 billion to create a Hyperloop line from Los Angeles to San Francisco. If that sounds like a lot, when you look at the cost per mile ($11.5 million) it actually works out to be less than a high-speed rail, according to Forbes. Musk’s intention to build the system in tunnels is putting more focus on additional costs, however. Of course, this all rests on the premise that a perfectly working Hyperloop can be built — and it’s still up for debate whether that, and the projected cost, is actually feasible.

Yes, our group is still very interested in the planned Hyperloop between Louisville and Chicago!

The Greatest Show On Earth DIES. What a Terrible Event!

After 146 years, the curtain is coming down on “The Greatest Show on Earth.” The owner of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus told The Associated Press that the show will close forever in May.

Good Bye to a big part of America. No more Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus Combined Shows

The iconic American spectacle was felled by a variety of factors, company executives say. Declining attendance combined with high operating costs, along with changing public tastes and prolonged battles with animal rights groups all contributed to its demise.

“There isn’t any one thing,” said Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment. “This has been a very difficult decision for me and for the entire family.”

The company broke the news to circus employees Saturday night after shows in Orlando and Miami.

Ringling Bros. has two touring circuses this season and will perform 30 shows between now and May. Major stops include Atlanta, Washington, Philadelphia, Boston and Brooklyn. The final shows will be in Providence, Rhode Island, on May 7 and in Uniondale, New York, at the Nassau County Coliseum on May 21.

The circus, with its exotic animals, flashy costumes and death-defying acrobats, has been a staple of entertainment in the United States since the mid-1800s. Phineas Taylor Barnum made a traveling spectacle of animals and human oddities popular, while the five Ringling brothers performed juggling acts and skits from their home base in Wisconsin. Eventually, they merged and the modern circus was born. The sprawling troupes traveled around America by train, wowing audiences with the sheer scale of entertainment and exotic animals.

By midcentury, the circus was routine, wholesome family entertainment. But as the 20th century went on, kids became less and less enthralled. Movies, television, video games and the internet captured young minds. The circus didn’t have savvy product merchandising tie-ins or Saturday morning cartoons to shore up its image.

“The competitor in many ways is time,” said Feld, adding that transporting the show by rail and other circus quirks — such as providing a traveling school for performers’ children— are throwbacks to another era. “It’s a different model that we can’t see how it works in today’s world to justify and maintain an affordable ticket price. So you’ve got all these things working against it.”

The Feld family bought the Ringling circus in 1967. The show was just under 3 hours then. Today, the show is 2 hours and 7 minutes, with the longest segment — a tiger act — clocking in at 12 minutes.

“Try getting a 3- or 4-year-old today to sit for 12 minutes,” he said.

Feld and his daughter Juliette Feld, who is the company’s chief operating officer, acknowledged another reality that led to the closing, and it was the one thing that initially drew millions to the show: the animals. Ringling has been targeted by activists who say forcing animals to perform is cruel and unnecessary.

Attendance has been dropping for 10 years, said Juliette Feld, but when the elephants left, there was a “dramatic drop” in ticket sales. Paradoxically, while many said they didn’t want big animals to perform in circuses, many others refused to attend a circus without them.

The Felds say their existing animals — lions, tigers, camels, donkeys, alpacas, kangaroos and llamas — will go to suitable homes. Juliette Feld says the company will continue operating the Center for Elephant Conservation.

Some 500 people perform and work on both touring shows. A handful will be placed in positions with the company’s other, profitable shows — it owns Monster Jam, Disney on Ice and Marvel Live, among other things — but most will be out of a job. Juliette Feld said the company will help employees with job placement and resumes. In some cases where a circus employee lives on the tour rail car (the circus travels by train), the company will also help with housing relocation.

Kenneth Feld became visibly emotional while discussing the decision with a reporter. He said over the next four months, fans will be able to say goodbye at the remaining shows.

In recent years, Ringling Bros. tried to remain relevant, hiring its first African American ringmaster, then its first female ringmaster, and also launching an interactive app. It added elements from its other, popular shows, such as motorbike daredevils and ice skaters. But it seemingly was no match for Pokemon Go and a generation of kids who desire familiar brands and YouTube celebrities.

“We tried all these different things to see what would work, and supported it with a lot of funding as well, and we weren’t successful in finding the solution,” said Kenneth Feld.

You can still find us on the Web: https://penneyandkc.wordpress.com/circus-trains/

UBER’s Rise From SCAB To Superstar

So in case the term is new to you, what is a SCAB?

The Urban Dictionary defines it as: ” A worker, often temporary, who crosses a strikers’ picket line, going to work in place of the strikers.” An example of usage:
“The scabs had their cars egged when they arrived at the factory.”

SCABS used to be looked down on in America.

Well, this is how UBER arrived on the business scene in 2008.

uber03

What happened? First of all, UBER started using a computer “APP” to order a taxi (or whatever you call it in UBERese).

Uber had some financial problems like trying to break into China. But some smart financial persons solved their money problems by modifying their business plan. Now they are in the “self driving car” business.

uber02

Now they are in the “tech elite” of America!

No word about “scab labor” anymore.

They even got invited to Donald Trump’s “tech conference”. This is the same Donald Trump who counts on support of organized labor embracing a “scab company”.

California could not handle testing of self-driving cars, so they relocated to Arizona

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BEWARE OF MEDIA AND THEIR POLLS: They are not perfect!

The election of 1948 had a lot in common with 2016. It was CLOSE. All kinds of results from polls. Day after election the Chicago Tribune (probably the second biggest newspaper in the United States) ran with a Dewey victory! The single most famous newspaper error…..ever.

Harry Truman was not popular. He had taken over the Presidency when popular President FDR died. Truman ended up making the most important decision in the history of the United States: to drop the Atomic Bomb on Japan.

Thomas E Dewey was the Governor of New York and was relatively unknown throughout the country. Dewey had “made his mark” as New York City District Attorney in successfully prosecuting “The Mob”.

I trust Presidential polls as far as I can throw them. They are only as good as the people who participate in them. I have never been asked to participate in a Presidential poll AND I AM NOT ALONE.

Finally a story about Dewey. In 1948, Presidential Candidates did not rate Secret Service protection. (Not until 1968 when candidate Robert Kennedy was assassinated).

I was on a train from Utica, New York to New York City in 1948 near the election. Our train stopped at Albany Union Station. We looked out the window and saw Governor Thomas E Dewey on the platform headed for OUR TRAIN. He was accompanied by just a single New York State Trooper (in uniform and armed with his service revolver).

Now I thought in 1948 that the New York State Troopers were great and could do anything. My grandfather (at that time Paymaster of the NY Central System) joked that Dewey should have ridden in a “Pay Car”. A Pay Car had a railroad detective and two armed paymasters). Of course, by 1948 all the pay cars had gone to scrap and the whole system was paid by check from Utica (the reason I was born in Utica).

Written by Ken Kinlock

How Hyperloop One Went Off the Rails (Muhammad Ali Hyperlink))

The transportation startup is trying to make a pod levitate in a tunnel, but can it rise above founder clashes and employee lawsuits?

In December 2014, an engineer with the unlikely name Brogan BamBrogan was in the driveway of his clapboard Los Angeles house, loading up his car for a holiday road trip to Northern California, when venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar messaged him for a favor. The two were founders of Hyperloop One, a startup building futuristic tubes to zip people from city to city. Shervin Pishevar, a partner at Sherpa Capital, was the money guy; BamBrogan the chief technical officer. Pishevar’s brother, Afshin Pishevar, was driving west from Washington to join the company as general counsel, and needed a place to stay. BamBrogan and his wife stopped packing, cleaned the bathroom, and tucked a spare key under the front mat of his Los Feliz home. When they returned a few days later, Afshin Pishevar was still there. Their houseplants were littered with cigarette butts.
Twenty months later, neither BamBrogan nor Afshin Pishevar work at Hyperloop One, and in June, BamBrogan and three other former employees filed a lawsuit against the Pishevar brothers and the company, also naming Chief Executive Officer Robert Lloyd and investor Joseph Lonsdale in the suit. It alleges the men didn’t have the company’s interests at heart, and also makes claims of assault and defamation. In its countersuit against BamBrogan and the other ex-employees, Hyperloop One said the insurgent employees were trying to start a competing firm. One dispute surrounds a long, looped rope BamBrogan discovered on his office chair one morning, in the shape of a noose or a lasso, depending on your perspective. There is no mystery over who left it there: his former houseguest, Afshin Pishevar.

Startups, including success stories Facebook and Twitter, often suffer founder clashes, executive churn, and squabbles over equity. But at Hyperloop One, a high-profile company spawned from an idea by Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk, things got very toxic, very fast. The dueling lawsuits and lurid accusations threaten to sully the company’s idealistic mission to create a new form of transportation.
A lawyer representing Hyperloop One, Orin Snyder, a partner at Gibson Dunn, said: “We are confident that at the end of the day it will be obvious that their entire lawsuit was a crass publicity stunt based on lies and smears intended to cover up a failed coup and illegal plot to steal intellectual property and create a competing hyperloop company.” BamBrogan and his co-plaintiffs deny they were attempting a coup. Through his lawyer David Willingham, Afshin Pishevar denied leaving the cigarette butts in BamBrogan’s home.
The company, now run by Lloyd, former Cisco president, is moving forward with plans to make a viable transportation mode out of large pods zooming through tubes. Early next year, Lloyd said, they’ll have their “Kitty Hawk moment,” aiming to levitate a pod inside a tunnel. The test is crucial for persuading investors to sink more money into Hyperloop, whose projects will likely each cost billions of dollars.
“These are big steps for a company that’s only 20 months old,” he said. Although the events of the past few weeks are “not something I would have hoped for,” Lloyd believes they will ultimately make the company stronger. “We all come together more closely when somebody surprises us, or we feel attacked,” he said.

Shervin Pishevar, a well-connected entrepreneur turned venture capitalist, made his name through an early investment in Uber, after having moved to the U.S. from Iran as a child in the late 1970s. He likes to name drop his famous friends, and once flew to Cuba with Musk and actor Sean Penn to try, unsuccessfully, to negotiate for a U.S. political prisoner’s release.

Inspired by Musk’s vision, Shervin Pishevar searched for a technology prodigy to execute it, settling on BamBrogan, a wiry, handlebar-mustachioed former SpaceX engineer. Until 2014, his name had been Kevin Brogan, but he legally changed it to merge names with his wife, Bambi. At Musk’s SpaceX, BamBrogan was employee #23, and a polarizing figure. Known back then as K-Bro, he was the cool kid among the brainy engineers. BamBrogan would organize parties and other diversions for the over-worked 20-somethings. He had plenty of enemies there, though, particularly those who did not feel like part of the BamBrogan clique.
Shervin Pishevar offered him six percent of the company and started raising funds, bringing in Lonsdale, co-founder of the data-analysis behemoth Palantir Technologies. BamBrogan began drawing up designs.
BamBrogan instilled a hard-charging, fast-moving culture at Hyperloop One. He angered quickly, but commanded considerable loyalty. Many employees kept fake million-dollar bills with his image on them taped to their desks. A few months after the company had moved into a former factory in Los Angeles, BamBrogan announced another expansion by bursting through a wall wearing a Kool-Aid suit.
Shervin Pishevar’s brother Afshin worked as a lawyer near Washington for years, with one of his cases landing on Washingtonian Magazine’s 2014 list of top personal-injury verdicts. That year, tragedy struck when his son died in a flying accident, according to the countersuit. Hyperloop offered a fresh start.
Afshin Pishevar eventually found his own apartment, but he and BamBrogan started butting heads. BamBrogan chafed when he thought Afshin Pishevar was slow with paperwork, according to a person familiar with the situation. Through his lawyer Willingham, Afshin Pishevar said startups sometimes act hastily, entering into agreements against their best interests, and it is the chief legal officer’s role to make sure actions are within the letter of the law.
Hyperloop One could sometimes feel like college. Workers stayed late, batting around ideas, playing board games, and eating leftovers from the day’s catered lunch—tacos, curries, burgers. But tight deadlines and regular changes of plan also created stress and led to tiffs, according to former employees. Hyperloop employees often had to tidy up for VIPs arriving for tours. Hosting celebrities like Katy Perry has its perks, but the visits and parties started to wear thin on some. A spokesman for the company, Farrell Sklerov, denied that the events were frequent.

BamBrogan was for a time the interim CEO of Hyperloop One, but a reluctant corporate leader. Last summer, the board hired Lloyd, who started in September. The staff had just received raises, and spirits ran high. To celebrate, everyone whacked at a piñata that spilled out fake bank notes emblazoned with images of Lloyd and other executives.
Meanwhile, Afshin Pishevar was the subject of several complaints alleging “unprofessional outbursts,” according to the July lawsuit filed by BamBrogan and other former Hyperloop employees. In one instance, learning of an internal meeting that didn’t include him, Afshin Pishevar joined the gathering and in a raised voice demanded to know why he wasn’t invited, where one of the participants went to college, and when he had graduated, according to a person present at the meeting. BamBrogan and others hoped Lloyd would rein in Afshin Pishevar. Lloyd declined to discuss Afshin Pishevar’s tenure. Through Willingham, Afshin Pishevar denied behaving unprofessionally.
At first, Lloyd promised overhauls, and some hoped that meant the departure of Afshin Pishevar, people familiar with the situation said. Sklerov denied Lloyd ever said he would fire Afshin Pishevar.
In an interview, Lloyd was reluctant to rehash the past, but made plain he preferred spending time on areas where his big-company background makes a difference, such as negotiating partnerships and hiring top-notch staff. “You focus on the things you can control,” Lloyd said, speaking generally.
Lloyd oversaw a major funding push, raising an additional $80 million this year, bringing total capital raised to over $100 million. But to some, the fundraising exacerbated another grievance: employee equity. BamBrogan had received additional shares as the company arranged the $80 million fundraising round, according to Hyperloop One’s counterlawsuit, but most employees had not. Some wanted more.
Meanwhile, Lloyd had his own frustrations with BamBrogan, meeting with him on at least five occasions to discuss “negative and disruptive behavior,” according to the countersuit. BamBrogan said the meetings were to discuss Lloyd’s performance, not his.
In one instance, BamBrogan smashed a beer bottle when angered, according to the countersuit; BamBrogan acknowledged smashing the bottle outside.
By late spring, BamBrogan believed the time had come to hold a frank discussion with Shervin Pishevar to press him again on the employee equity and other issues. He was able to corner Shervin Pishevar at the test site in the Nevada desert where the company was gearing up to show off its propulsion system. The two exchanged “tough words” about equity, the tours, and other concerns, BamBrogan said, but they agreed to work things out.
The propulsion system test in mid-May was successful: They managed to accelerate a sled on a track to 116 miles per hour in just over a second. Reporters gathered around BamBrogan, Lloyd and Shervin Pishevar embracing. But things were still tense. And back in Los Angeles, little seemed to change.
By late May, a group of top employees decided to take action. They convened in Ripley, a conference room named after the monster-battling character in the movie “Alien.” They drew up demands, including engineering representation on the board in the form of BamBrogan and engineering president Josh Giegel, more equity for staff, and an end to Shervin Pishevar’s tenure as executive chairman, according to the litigation. The group hoped that Lloyd, just back from a China business trip, would sign the letter, too. They called him, but he declined.
The company has its own take. In its countersuit, Hyperloop One said BamBrogan, former vice president of business development Knut Sauer, former assistant general counsel David Pendergast, and former finance vice president William Mulholland were seeking to take over the company or start a rival company, even purchasing the domain name “Hyperlooptoo.com.” The plaintiffs issued a statement labeling the countersuit “complete fiction,” but added that once their “attempted intervention” antagonized board members, it wasn’t surprising they considered “looking for other work.”
Lloyd wasn’t caught off guard by the letter’s demands, but something else gnawed at him. “I was surprised by the tone, and the aggression,” he said. “And suggested there were better ways to work things out.”

Board member Justin Fishner-Wolfson was deputized to patch things up. On May 31, he met for seven hours with the disgruntled employees, having worked over Memorial Day weekend with other board members on a response that incorporated many of the employees’ demands, including changing equity provisions, according to the countersuit.
The group kept coming to work. On the morning of June 15th, employees who signed the letter were gathering once again in Ripley, preparing to meet with Fishner-Wolfson and Lloyd. BamBrogan entered, wheeling his desk chair. On it rested a rope, looped at the end. To BamBrogan, it was a noose and a threat. The company insists it was a lasso, saying in its countersuit that Afshin Pishevar intended it “for someone acting like a cowboy.” Through Willingham, Afshin Pishevar said designating the rope a noose amounts to “an ill-fated attempt to bolster a meritless lawsuit.”
Gathered around the reception desk reviewing security video footage, several staff members watched a grainy image of Afshin Pishevar walking toward BamBrogan’s desk late the night before, rope in hand. He was angry that BamBrogan had notified Russian investors of the group’s grievances shortly before Shervin Pishevar was due to meet with them, according the countersuit.
The countersuit cited a text Shervin Pishevar had sent his brother on the night of the incident: “One comment and guidance. Act completely calm and don’t show any emotion. Don’t say anything negative or provide any ammunition for them to use against us, our family, or our company. Thanks.” Willingham declined to comment on the text.
Afshin Pishevar admitted leaving the rope, according to the countersuit. Another person familiar with the situation characterized the rope as a “prank.” Prank or threat, within the hour, he was fired and escorted out of the building. The police arrived. Lawyers convened.
By day’s end, Pendergast was also fired. The next day, BamBrogan, Sauer and Mulholland resigned, and weeks later, they and Pendergast filed their lawsuit alleging breach of fiduciary duty and other claims. Within days, the company responded with its countersuit, also alleging claims including breach of fiduciary duty.

Sarah McBride
@mcbridesg