Category Archives: Travel

Cuomo has short-sighted take on transit

When it came to transportation, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s annual State of the State speech had great sound bites but provided little substance. Cuomo failed to give any specifics of how he will come up with the $8.3 billion promised to meet the shortfall in his proposed 2015-2019 MTA Five Year Capital Plan. Cuomo is kicking the can down the road.

The original proposed 2010-2014 MTA $29 billion Five Year Capital Plan was cut to $24.2 billion before being approved. This doesn’t include $8.3 billion more pledged by Cuomo and $2.5 billion by NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio to help cover shortfalls in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s proposed $28 billion 2015 – 2019 Five Year Capital Plan (cut from $32 billion). When will these billions become reality?

How can the MTA justify cutting $9 billion in badly needed capital improvements over a ten year period and still provide the day to day services millions of New Yorkers count on? How many critical capital improvement projects will be postponed into the next 2020 – 2024 Capital Program?

The 2020-2024 MTA Five Year Capital Program will first have to deal with $9 billion in unfunded carryover capital projects and programs. By waiting all these years, the costs will have gone up by another billion or two. This includes $1 billion or more to construct Phase 2 of the Second Avenue Subway. Next is $1 billion or more to finish LIRR Eastside Access to Grand Central Terminal. What about finding $500 million to build the No. 7 subway station at 10th Avenue and 41st?

Also needed is $1.5 billion for the LIRR Main Line Third Track project. The LaGuardia Airport Train to the Plane baseline budget of $450 million in the years to come will require up to an additional $550 million.

The $3 billion new Penn Station will end up needing far more than $300 million in combined assistance from the MTA, Amtrak and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Does anyone believe that potential developers will spend $2.7 billion of their own funding to pay for this?

Some Queens residents will look for $100 million toward the $200 million Woodhaven Boulevard Select Bus Service. These dollars may be necessary if NYCDOT can’t secure $100 million in U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration New Starts funding. Others will continue to lobby for restoration of LIRR service on the old Rockaway LIRR branch at $1 billion, Triboro X Subway Express (new subway line connecting the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn for $1 to $2 billion) and most recently the Brooklyn-Queens Waterfront Street Car Connector at a cost of $1.7 billion.

Combined, all of the above would make Cuomo’s tab for unfunded transportation improvements exceed $26 billion! Cuomo reminds me of the character Wimpy who famously said “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” When the bills become due, taxpayers will be stuck with Cuomo’s tab. Why would the next governor want to pay for any of Cuomo’s bills?

Larry Penner , Great Neck

Saratoga & North Creek Railway to offer new dining cars, more train trips

Saratoga & North Creek Railway plans to dramatically boost its dining car offerings this year after finding plenty of interest in meals on rails in recent years.

The railroad plans to bring new dining and lounge cars to its line to try to increase ridership on the tourist train.

The company will offer dinner, brunch and lunch train trips, with much of the food and beverages offered on the trips to be provided by local suppliers.

SNCRR will offer 94 dining trips between Saratoga Springs and Thurman Station starting June 4 and running through Oct. 28, an increase over the 15 offered last year.

The trips will be run on new equipment that includes a bigger, 48-passenger dining car with a full kitchen, and a “luxurious” lounge car with couches and a bar, said Justin Gonyo, SNCRR’s general manager. The trips have been dubbed The Pullman Table.

Gonyo said the company had seen that dining car trips were selling out in previous years, with all but one of 28 over the last three years being booked solid.

“This is a very exciting business franchise,” Gonyo said.

The kitchen can turn out up to 300 meals per trip, he said. Wine will be provided by Greenfield winemaker The Fossil Stone Vineyards, and local farmers and food suppliers will provide ingredients for meals.

Menus posted online listed standard breakfast offerings, with entrees like prime rib, grilled salmon and “Adirondack casserole” and the “D & H Deluxe Burger” for later meals.

SNCRR’s parent company, Iowa Pacific Holdings LLC, offers the same service on its other affiliated railroads in Oregon, Texas, Illinois and Louisiana.

The company has been dogged by lower-than-anticipated ridership numbers, though the Polar Express holiday trips have done well. SNCRR canceled snow train trips for skiers this winter between Saratoga Springs and North Creek.

The railroad’s five-year contract with the county expires in June, but county Administrator Paul Dusek told county supervisors Monday that negotiations for a new deal are progressing.

“It looks like it’s going to be a go for another five years,” Dusek said.

All Aboard begins construction of train maintenance facility

All Aboard Florida on Monday began construction on a rail repair facility that will service its Brightline trains when they begin shuttling passengers between South Florida and Orlando next year.

The facility, just north of downtown West Palm Beach, will be used to repair, maintain, clean and store Brightline’s trains, All Aboard officials said. About 50 people will work out of the 12-are site at 601 15th Street, which is also expected to serve as an office for the company’s conductors, engineers, and on-board service staff.

Initially, five Brightline trains will be housed at the site, officials said.

“Every morning when the train services begin, the train will be leaving from this area,” said Adrian Share, Brightline’s executive vice president of rail infrastructure.

Crews for Archer Western, the firm selected to build the facility, started preliminary work at the site this fall. On Monday, the construction team poured the first batch of concrete in what will become a “maintenance pit.” The pit will allow Brightline crews to work underneath trains to perform required inspections and other daily service.

As part of the project, a warehouse on the site, which had previously been used by the Florida East Coast Railway, is being converted to offices, crew quarters and training rooms.

Brightline officials said they plan to have several full-time employees working at the site. Siemens, the company contracted to build and to perform maintenance work on the trains, will also have employees at the repair facility, officials said.

The repair facility is expected to be completed in July and ready for use in August, Share said.

Monday’s work marks another milestone for the company, which plans to run 32 trains a day along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks with stops in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando. The company plans to launch service between Miami and West Palm Beach in 2017. The West Palm Beach-to-Orlando span is expected to begin by the end of 2017.

“This is a transformative transportation project and it really does change the way people live,” said Adrian Share, Brightline’s executive vice president of rail infrastructure. “Everything we are doing here is state of the art in terms of design and construction.”

Construction has started on the company’s four stations in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando, and crews in South Florida have begun work needed to add a second track to the Florida East Coast Railway line.

Brightline’s trains are under construction at Siemens’ solar-powered plant in Sacramento, Calif. The shell of the first passenger coach is expected to be completed next week, Brightline officials said.

 

New York City snow storm is BIG!!!!

Could be 30 inches of snow in NEW YORK CITY tonight!

Andrew Cuomo, NY Governor, has ordered the city shut down.

Bridges and tunnels are shutting.

Due to deteriorating road conditions and poor visibility, NYC Transit and MTA Bus have suspended all local, limited and express bus service. Access-A-Ride service has also begun an orderly shut down of service.

Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North Railroad and above ground NYC Subway service will begin an orderly shutdown of service at 4:00pm due to deteriorating weather conditions and concerns for customer and employee safety. Crews and snow fighting equipment have been dispatched and are working to keep platforms and rails clear of ice and snow. We advise customers if at all possible to remain at home during the duration of this storm.

 

As you can see. NY City Garbage Trucks are now SNOW PLOWS

 

 

 

Denver Station Restoration Leads Way To Rail Revival

If you arrive at the city’s historic and marvelously restored Union Station, you may not want to leave it.

The station reopened in July 2014 after a 2 1/2 -year closure for renovation and repurposing, a century after it debuted in its current configuration. (The original dates to1881.)

Read more on Denver Union Station

We recently wrote about Denver’s Train To The Plane

Pieces in place for Fort Collins to Denver Amtrak route

And yes, we have our own great WebSite about Denver.

How We Got Into This Mess: A History of Bay Area (California) Transportation

“Growing congestion due to a booming economy.”

“An influx of new people into already crowded cities.”

“Rising real estate prices.”

Sounds like the San Francisco Bay Area today, no? But actually, these are clips from newspapers stories in the 1950s, when San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose saw rapid population growth due to soldiers returning from World War II and the first phase of the baby boom.

That is when the region embarked on a plan to build what was then the largest public works project in American history — the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, now known as BART — which opened in 1972 and is, today, a vital pipeline for the region, carrying more than 400,000 people each workday.

Today, the Bay Area is in the midst of another boom, due to the region’s lucrative tech sector. The region’s population has grown by 200,000 since 2010, and another 2 million are expected by 2040, while our regional transport system – highways, buses, BART and Caltrain – are already reaching peak capacity. Yet, there is little momentum for the type of massive, public works project we saw in the ’50s and ’60s.

Here’s how we got into this mess.

Missing links

The Bay Area was initially not a single metropolitan area, but three. San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose all grew with very different political, urban and, ultimately, transport structures. Then came the suburbs.

“As suburban populations centers got more power … they wanted to get away from [big urban areas], and so they created their own cities and transit agencies,” Rod Diridon Sr., with the Mineta Transportation Institute, told TriplePundit.

With the sprawl that came with the post-World War II population boom, these suburbs sprung up and filled in the gaps between – and spread beyond — the three initial populations centers. Highways became a fixture in the region, and, besides BART and, to some extent, Caltrain, transit was left to the individual cities and counties that were reluctant to cede control to a regional authority.

That means, today, there are an astounding 27 different transit agencies operating across the nine counties that make up the Bay Area — which, according to Gerry Tierney, an urban mobility expert at Perkins + Will’s San Francisco office, is one of the chief reasons we lack a comprehensive regional transportation system today.

“When you have 27 separate transit agencies, it is impossible to get coherent transportation planning that will operate on a complete Bay Area basis,” Tierney told Triple Pundit.

“We have a 19th-century political structure trying to address 21st-century problems.”

In the early 1990s, 32 regional business leaders, community activists and academics came together to push to address the region’s lack of integration as part of the Bay Vision 2020.

The commission’s final report, which quoted then University of California-Berkeley chairman Ira Michael Heyman, sounds incredibly prescient and is apt to the challenges facing the region today.

“As with most people in the region, we cherish the Bay Area and seek to assure its beauty, livability, economic strength, and the opportunities it affords those who live here. We have concluded, however, that these qualities are in jeopardy because we have no effective means for addressing the problems that cross city and county boundaries. Only by some changes in the structure of government in the region can we tackle increasing traffic congestion, long commutes between home and job, shortages of affordable housing, loss of valued open space to urban sprawl, predictable air pollution, and deterioration of our economic base.”

The report set out an initial plan to merge the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Association of Bay Area Governments and the Air Quality Management District in order to integrate planning and decisions for land-use, transportation and air quality. This would then lead to greater integration of the region’s myriad transit agencies. It went to the state legislature, where it passed the House but, after intense lobbying by agencies and certain Bay Area cities, it was defeated in the Senate.

“My guess, it would put them out of business,” said Diridon, speaking of the opposition to what seems to be a common sense plan. “Instead of having three different very powerful boards, three different executive staffs, and so on and so on, you’d have one.”

“That would [have been] the first step in beginning to merge the transit agencies.”

Had the bill passed, it could have allowed a powerful regional agency to plan for the challenges now facing the region. Moreover, it could have avoided absurd situations like the one now facing Caltrain. The commuter rail between San Francisco and San Mateo and Santa Clara counties is facing a steep budget shortfall: Three of the agencies that fund it – San Mateo County’s SamTrans, Santa Clara County’s VTA and San Francisco’s MTA — are planning to cut subsidies, despite the fact that Caltrain is not only the region’s most efficient system, but has also seen higher ridership growth than services run by the three agencies.

New, informal transit

There is another side-effect of the region’s transit shortcomings: Entities setting up their own as informal systems. The most well-known of these are the controversial tech shuttles.

Before the shuttles emerged, driving was the optimal choice for those commuting to Genentech, Google and Facebook’s campuses, which are far from mass transit; hours on public transit was deemed unfeasible. Many commuters don’t stick to a single transit agency area, but travel across the region and across multiple jurisdictions that, to this day, don’t connect, coordinate or have a combined fare structure. Shuttles were created to fill in a missing gap, and are used not only by tech companies, but aso by UC-San Francisco, Mission Bay, and even cities like Emeryville and San Leandro.

“It is estimated that up to 45 percent of non-automobile users in the peninsula are on private shuttles,” Tierney said. For Tierney, shuttles are an integral part of the region’s transport picture, and are likely here to stay, but they need to work together with existing, public and private transportation infrastructure.

This shows that companies are aware of the transit challenges in the Bay Area, and it is an opportunity. Remember that crisis in the 1950s? Then, it was Bay Area business leaders who pushed for transit measures that led to BART. This time, as the region faces another challenge, it is yet to be seen if the new business tech bigwigs are willing to push for the comprehensive, regional, integrated transit system we so desperately need.

 

Amtrak may suspend rail service in mid-December

Add Amtrak to the list of railroads that may suspend some rail service if Congress doesn’t extend a Dec. 31 deadline for railroads to install positive train control (PTC) safety technology.

Amtrak President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph Boardman on Monday warned Congress that, as of Dec. 1, it will begin notifying passengers through the railroad’s reservation system of service disruptions that may occur if the PTC deadline isn’t postponed.

“There will be significant impacts to our service and on our customers and tenant railroads,” Boardman wrote in an Oct. 5 letter to Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. “The potential economic impacts would also be substantial, since a vast majority of our network would be inoperable without an extension of the deadline.”

Amtrak will work with state and local partners, commuter-rail operators and freight railroad to ensure that passengers and partners are aware of service disruptions that may occur, he added.

Amtrak is the latest passenger or freight railroad to notify Congress of a potential rail-service shutdown that could occur after Dec. 31. The rail industry has been warning Congress for years that railroads will need more time to implement the new technology.

Amtrak has said it will be able to meet the PTC deadline for most of the track it owns, which includes the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C.

However, most of the 21,000-mile national network that Amtrak operates is owned by other railroads, and those railroads are responsible for PTC installation on their infrastructure. Many freight railroads have said they may refuse to transport freight and may suspend passenger service on their track that is not PTC-compliant, Boardman’s letter stated.

“Based on information that we have gathered from the hosts, Amtrak will plan on suspending service on the national network beginning mid-December on routes that not PTC compliant,” he wrote.

The Senate included an extension in a broader transportation bill that hasn’t yet passed Congress. Meanwhile, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee last week introduced a bill that would extend the deadline for three years.  House and Senate leaders have said that they are negotiating to get some legislation to President Obama this month, according to news reports.

Denver airport to get commuter-rail stop in April 2016

The Regional Transportation District of Denver (RTD) will provide commuter-rail service from Denver Union Station to Denver International Airport starting April 22, 2016, the transit agency announced yesterday.

The agency made the announcement after receiving an official notice from Denver Transit Partners, the concessionaire in the public-private partnership that’s building what will be called the University of Colorado A Line, according to an RTD press release.

The line is 23 miles of new electric commuter-rail service, which is part of the Eagle P3 project, the nation’s first public-private partnership for transit. The $2.2 billion project is being funded with local RTD taxes, a $1.03 billion federal grant and $450 million from Denver Transit Partners.

“The opening of the University of Colorado A Line is a historic milestone towards the completion of RTD’s FasTracks program and continues our success rate of opening major infrastructure projects,” said Dave Genova, RTD’s interim general manager and chief executive officer. “We continue to transform the region and the University of Colorado A Line will connect the Denver metro area to the world.”

The University of Colorado A Line got its name as a result of the first sponsorship through RTD’s naming rights program.

Trains on the new commuter-rail line will travel at a top speed of 79 mph, RTD officials said. The line will serve eight stations, including Denver Union Station and the airport stop, which will be located at the south terminal.

READ ALL ABOUT RAIL AND TRANSIT IN DENVER, COLORADO

Amtrak panel recommends solutions to Chicago rail gridlock

Always interested in Chicago. Wondered about alternatives to everything on rail going through Chicago. Looked at Chicago Bypasses

Have to remember Chicago is the nation’s RAIL CAPITA

Amtrak‘s blue ribbon panel formed a year ago to examine recurring rail gridlock in Chicago issued its final report yesterday, recommending railroad operational improvements and infrastructure projects to alleviate the problem.

The Chicago Gateway Blue Ribbon Panel called for bringing together rail traffic control dispatchers that are now scattered across the country, improving operating practices by Amtrak and other railroads, and funding for priority projects already identified in northern Illinois and Indiana, according to an Amtrak press release.

The panel also released a study it commissioned that showed rail congestion in Chicago poses the greatest potential economic vulnerability to the economy of all the major U.S. rail hubs. Industry observers have referred to Chicago as America’s “rail traffic speed bump.” creates an economic vulnerability of up to $799 billion every year.

“The panel interviewed experts with the freight-rail industry, Metra commuter rail, the states of Illinois, Indiana and Michigan and others and the verdict was unanimous: the implications of failing to act are dire for the economy of the nation in general and the Chicago area in particular,” said Amtrak President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph Boardman, who appointed the panel in October 2014.

The panel acknowledged that its proposals would be expensive, but without additional actions, the gridlock will only worsen. Panelists called for a mix of state, federal and private financing to advance priority projects.

The panel recommended:
• real-time operational coordination among Chicago’s railroads, including coordinated dispatching;
• railroads, including Amtrak, should continue efforts to improve operational performance in the Chicago terminal;
• adequate and sustained public funding for vital projects;
• prioritizing the CREATE 75th Street Corridor and Grand Crossing projects;
• additional investments for the Porter, Indiana-to-Chicago corridor;
• innovative financing through the federal Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) loan program; and
• consistent environmental review requirements among all transportation modes, and prioritized for projects of national importance.

The report, the study it commissioned and a video overview can be found at Amtrak.com/ChicagoGateway.

 

How About A Cable Car In Nice, France?

The possibility of a cable car system to link Nice to the surrounding hills has been discussed again. The project would dramatically reduce traffic in the city and allow the council to scrap a number of bus services currently carrying passengers from the hilly suburbs into the town. The idea has been raised before and is still only at the early stage of discussions. The mayor says that he’s not against the idea in principle but many more studies need to be carried out and if it goes ahead the cable car system would need a much bigger electricity supply than can currently be provided.

Shown above is the cable car system in Grenoble, France

Mayor Estrosi, here is a suggestion for you:

The Dutch Railway Could Run Solely On Wind Power By 2018