Category Archives: News (current)

Private rail car travel will accompany some Amtrak runs

Roanoke.com

Private rail car operators plan to tag along shortly after Amtrak resumes service to and from Roanoke next week.

Private rail cars, which offer what’s billed as a premium rail travel experience, will be hitched to Amtrak trains for special outings. Two operators currently offer the excursions in restored passenger cars of yesteryear, one as a fundraiser for the Virginia Museum of Transportation.

Amtrak has scheduled service to and from Roanoke beginning Tuesday, offering hundreds of daily seats with leg room, Wi-Fi and access to a food and beverage car. There is a four-piece luggage allowance and the option to bring a cat or small dog for a nominal fee.

Private rail car travel is a second option that has received less attention than Amtrak’s return, which will result from a private-public partnership and nearly $100 million investment of taxpayer money. Private rail cars do not operate on a schedule as Amtrak does, nor travel as often. But when put into service in response to passenger demand, they go anywhere Amtrak goes hitched to the rear of the standard train.

Private rail car travel is available to individuals or groups. Options are endless as private rail car operators say they can create a unique experience. Name your destination and “we’re [able] to put something together for you,” said Chuck Akers, who co-owns a restored Pullman car built in 1923. He is in business as the Roanoke-based Virginia Rail Investment Corp. with partner Chuck Jensen and has sold out trips from Roanoke to Washington, D.C., Nov. 4 and 5, he said.

The Pullman car seats 20 people in the day and sleeps 10 during overnight travel. It has a kitchen and the company will provide food and a chef or allow groups to bring and cook their own food. Information is available at http://www.virginiarail.com.

The car reserved for the transportation museum trips is a Moonlight Dome belonging to the Cincinnati Railway Co. based in Ohio.

The Moonlight Dome, which seats 24 in a luxury setting, will travel to Roanoke from Washington, and vice versa, on various dates between Nov. 10 and 13. Tickets cost $225 each way, which includes food and beverages. From each ticket, $16.11 will go to the upkeep of the museum’s 611 steam engine, said Shayne Dwyer, museum spokesman. Further details are available at FireUp611.org.

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Moody’s: Amazon still far from ruling retail

From Amazon’s Prime membership numbers to its entry into the grocery space to its retail “dominance,” Moody’s analysts led by Charles O’Shea tackled some widespread assumptions about the e-commerce giant’s place in the world in a recent report emailed to Retail Dive. Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Analysts with the bond rating agency noted that, though Amazon dominates online sales, those sales account for just 10% of the industry as a whole. As for its recent acquisition of Whole Foods, the analysts wrote, “We believe it’s a big stretch to say — as many in the market have been doing — that Amazon will dominate food retail, and some have said this will happen within two years.” They pointed out that Amazon, even now with Whole Foods in the fold, controls only a $20 billion piece of an $800 billion market for food sales in the U.S.

O’Shea and his fellow analysts also called into question oft-cited estimates of Amazon’s Prime membership at 85 million, which they call “seriously overstated,” “highly improbable” and made “in the absence of any real guidance from the company itself.” Moody’s analysts, based on an evaluation of demographic data, think the figure for Prime members is closer to 50 million, well below Costco’s total of 86.7 million members.

RetailDive.com

CSX Woes Hurting Shippers…Wake Up Hunter Harrison

Dozens of U.S. trade groups have asked federal rail regulators to investigate CSX Corp’s “chronic service failures,” saying problems at No. 3 U.S. railroad have rippled across the North American rail network, according to a letter seen by Reuters.

The letter, from the Rail Customer Coalition sent on Monday, is the latest challenge to CSX Chief Executive Hunter Harrison’s effort to ramp up productivity at the Jacksonville, Florida-based railroad and fulfill investor expectations for substantially better financial performance.

The 44 trade groups, representing chemical and agricultural companies, steel and auto makers, and beer producers and importers, among other companies, told U.S. lawmakers on House and Senate Transportation committees “chronic service failures” could degrade the nation’s broader rail network.

“This has put rail dependent business operations throughout the U.S. at risk of shutting down, caused severe bottlenecks in the delivery of key goods and services, and has put the health of our nation’s economy in jeopardy,” they said.

The shipper groups want Congress to make it easier for them to file complaints and allow other operators to use CSX track during service disruptions, according to their letter.

CSX spokesman Rob Doolittle said the company has acknowledged that some customers are experiencing service issues as Harrison implements his vision for driving efficiency, known as Precision Scheduled Railroading.

The letter comes about two weeks after the Surface Transportation Board notified Harrison of complaints about CSX’s service. And an analyst survey last month found shippers have moved freight to rival Norfolk Southern Corp and truckers.

CSX’s service problems were exacerbated by an Aug 2 derailment in rural western Pennsylvania that forced the company to re-route trains. Federal safety officials are investigating the cause of the accident.

Shippers and employee sources said Harrison’s changes and cuts are causing rail cars and trains to sit idle or be re-routed across multiple states, delaying product shipments, and leading to inadequate customer service.

Crowley Maritime Corporation hauled 150 container loads by truck from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Jacksonville, Florida, and then loaded them onto Florida East Coast Railway trains to avoid CSX’s system issues.

Current and former CSX employees say the railroad is suffering from poor communication from leadership, job cuts, and rapid changes to operations – like doubling train sizes, shutting hump yards where train cars are sorted, increasing the frequency of crew changes on a service line, and blocking overtime pay.

In Montgomery, Alabama, dwell times jumped to 60.9 hours from 35.8 hours a year earlier, and doubled in Nashville, Tennessee, to 71.9 hours. However, some of CSX’s cost-cutting moves do not appear to be dramatically affecting operating performance in other locations, based on data CSX provides to the AAR.

At CSX’s Barr Yard in Chicago, roughly seven managers now run the company’s service line, down from more than 35 managers a month ago, an employee told Reuters. The overall work force has been halved by furloughs, he said.

Gondola plans pushing forward in Albany, New York

Detailed ridership, economic impact assessment being prepared.

Just over a year after the concept was first floated to wide publicity, backers are quietly planning construction of an aerial gondola over the Hudson River between the Rensselaer Amtrak station and downtown Albany.

“We have continued our work on the project, developing plans, meeting with stakeholders and raising private investment capital,” said Peter Melewski, project manager for the proposed Capital District Gondola and national director of strategic planning for McLaren Engineering Group of West Nyack, Rockland County.

A detailed ridership and economic impact assessment for the project is being prepared, he said. In addition to providing a scenic option for people arriving at the Rensselaer Amtrak station on business, a feasibility study completed last November concluded an aerial tram would have significant tourism potential. More information is expected after Labor Day, he said.

“The gondola, combined with other visitor attractions, will enhance the area as a major destination,” Melewski said.

The idea, first proposed in July 2016, has received support — at least as a concept — from local officials on both sides of the river.

Since it was proposed, plans for the state to spend $15 million on a gondola at the State Fargrounds in Syracuse were announced — an idea many people have ridiculed on social media. Melewski said the projects are different, and each should be judged on its own merits.

Initial construction for the Albany project has been estimated at costing between $17 million and $20 million, with annual operating costs of about $2.4 million. These costs could potentially be offset by a mix of private funds, passenger ticket revenue, advertising and public funds, according to McLaren Engineering’s November report. Melewski said the current emphasis is on trying to raise private financing. He didn’t have a timeline for how quickly money might be raised.

The rail station is owned by the Capital District Transportation Authority. CDTA CEO Carm Basile said he’s continued to have contact with the backers over the last year.

“They’re legitimately pursuing it,” Basile said Wednesday. “There are still a lot of questions that need to be answered, especially in the financial area.”

McLaren has identified a one-mile-long corridor between the Amtrak station and a proposed station on South Pearl Street near the Times Union Center. In a later phase, the gondola could continue to the Empire State Plaza.

The gondolas would run on cables anchored to towers on each side of the river. Such systems being used for public transportation are rare in the United States, but are found in other parts of the world.

McLaren is working with is Doppelmayr USA, the U.S. branch of Doppelmayr Garaventa Group, an Austrian-Swiss aerial gondola system maker whose projects include the gondola system built for the London Olympics.

A project scenario developed by McLaren has up to 45 gondola cabins operating 16 hours per day, with the potential to move up to 3,000 people per hour. The travel time across the river would be roughly four minutes — less time than it takes to drive between the two destinations, according to Google Maps.

Public officials including U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, and Rensselaer Mayor Daniel Dwyer have expressed support for the idea, though without making any financial commitments.

Andrew Kennedy, president of the Center for Economic Growth, a nonprofit economic development organization in Albany, said he’s attended meetings with McLaren’s engineering and finance teams in recent months.

“We’re excited about the possibility, and from that point of view, you want to be encouraging and hopeful,” Kennedy said. “Something like this, if the numbers make sense and there is limited taxpayer money involved, it would be a great thing to have, giving people another option for getting to and from the train station.”

He cited the credentials of some of the other partners involved as a reason to take the gondola idea seriously.

The partners with McLaren include Doppelmayr, Capital Gondola LLC, Camoin Associates, Lemery Greisler, Urban Gondola Systems LLC, and Harrison & Burrowes Bridge Constructors Inc. So far, all the development work has been self-funded.

The complete study is available on the McLaren website, http://www.mgmclaren.com.

Published in the Schenectady Daily Gazette

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, swilliams@dailygazette.net or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

So What Is Going On With TWITTER?

Last night I finished planned work early and decided to do something I had never done before! Go on TWITTER. So I typed “www.twtter.com”. I guess I am already logged in because of always posting blogs and WebSites. They must “track” my interests as I got a lot of train pictures.

Then I got a “tweet” from @Write inTrump
“Jeff Bezos may be the richest man in the World but how many nuclear submarines does he have?”

Then I got a picture of Amazon Headquarters

Finally, a cute little poster

Then I got tired and gave up.

Super train that would speed between cities at 700mph has its first successful test

The concept of a ‘hyperloop’, a rail system that works in a vacuum tube and thus reaches very high speeds, has been a pipe dream for a while now.

Elon Musk mentioned the concept back in 2012 and liked its immunity to weather, speed and low power consumption.

The speeds of such creations, which some analyses suggest could reach up to 760mph, would reduce a 6 hour journey by car to 35 minutes – even quicker than a flight, which currently takes around 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Now, one of the startups working on this transportation system, just shared footage of their first full-scale test in a vacuum.

The trial run in a track built outside Las Vegas, saw the test vehicle reach 70 mph using magnetic levitation, pulling 2 Gs of acceleration.

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Walmart commissioning Griffiss Airport for drone delivery research

From Utica OD

ROME, NY — Drone delivery service just got a little closer to becoming a reality — at least for Walmart.

The Oneida County Legislature Wednesday approved two resolutions that will allow the national corporation to rent and commission research on the possibility of drone delivery for orders.

″(Walmart) is working with another UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) test site; they’ve already started doing preliminary work and they’re working out West,” said Oneida County Aviation Commissioner Russell Stark. “We’re going to basically be the East Coast arm for research and development.”

The first resolution is for a lease agreement for Nose Dock 785 at Griffiss International Airport in Rome. The agreement started July 1 and will end June 30, 2018, for $84,000. Included in the lease, there are provisions for nine one-year extensions following the first year.

The other resolution is for a research services and testing agreement between the county and Walmart. The agreement is for a two-year term, ending June 30, 2019, and will bring in $1,674,816.

High-Speed Rail Service Between Springfield, Boston Proposed

From NECN via California High Speed Rail

Some senators say a proposed high-speed rail service between Boston and Springfield could solve the skyrocketing cost of living in Boston.
Under the proposal, the line would link Boston, Worcester and Springfield, the state’s three largest cities.

Senators supporting this project believe it would help solve the out-of-control cost of living in eastern Massachusetts and help the economy in western Massachusetts that is being left behind.

This proposal is part of the 2018 budget and could make it onto the governor’s desk.

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Additional Pittsburgh-Harrisburg rail service subject of study

Tribune-Review via California Rail News

Greensburg’s stately but normally sleepy train station bustles for a few minutes twice a day as passengers board and disembark Amtrak trains during brief stops.

The state Senate wants to see what it would take to triple that activity by adding two daily passenger trains to the route linking Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.

I think it’s a great idea. Because I have said for years, we should have trains back and forth,” said Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield.

She especially likes the idea of regular train service between Pittsburgh and Greensburg, allowing commuters to take the train instead of using the Parkway East and braving the Squirrel Hill Tunnel.

“We’ve been a little crippled because we have to go through those tunnels all the time,” Ward said. “I think the studies will show there will be plenty of passenger traffic on that train.”

The route currently has one passenger train, the Pennsylvanian , which travels from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg — and on to New York City — every morning and back each evening. It had 222,940 riders from October 2015 through September. Rail advocates believe it would have many more if a train or two were added to the schedule.

“We believe that there’s a lot of unmet demand between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg because there’s only one train a day,” said Mark Spada, president of Western Pennsylvanians for Passenger Rail. “We believe that the train is running at its realistic capacity. It really holds down the potential ridership because you only have a choice of one daily train.”

The Pennsylvanian route has been debated for years. PennDOT would make the final decision about whether to add trains, and there are many obstacles, spokesman Richard Kirkpatrick said.

“We welcome (the Senate) review, but there are challenges facing Pennsylvania as it weighs that second cross-state train,” he said.

The biggest issue is cost. The state pays Amtrak $2.1 million a year to run the Pennsylvanian, and early estimates show adding one train could cost another $3.7 million to $6 million annually.

There might not be enough riders to justify that cost, Kirkpatrick said.

It takes more than five hours to take the Pennsylvanian from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg, which is about two hours longer than by car. Many cross-state travelers opt to drive rather than buy a $49 ticket for a longer trip, Kirkpatrick said.

There’s also a logistics problem.

Although Amtrak owns the Pennsylvanian, Norfolk Southern owns the track, which freight trains use. It might be difficult to fit extra passenger trains into the busy freight schedule, Kirkpatrick said.

A second Amtrak train on the route was canceled in 2006 when Amtrak stopped carrying mail, Amtrak spokesman Mike Tolbert said.

“We welcome any discussion regarding additional Amtrak service,” Tolbert said.