Archive for the ‘Other News’ Category

United Express to Link Akron-Canton and Houston in June; Airport CEO to Retire Late This Year

January 16, 2018

United Express will launch nonstop service from the Akron-Canton Airport to Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport starting on June 8.

Bush Intercontinental is a major hub for United Airlines and serves as the carrier’s gateway to Latin American.

The regional jet flights to Houston will be operated by ExpressJet under the United Express brand name, departing from Akron-Canton at 7 a.m. and returning at 10:12 p.m.

In an unrelated development, the airport’s CEO has announced he will retire at the end of 2018 after serving in that position for the past decade.

Rick McQueen began working at the airport in 1982 as an accountant. During his time leading the airport, it has implemented an $118 million capital improvement plan that includes a runway extension, new parking and substantial terminal improvements.

“Nothing at the airport looks the same as the day I began working here,” McQueen said in a statement.

McQueen has seen the airport grow and then contract by losing service from such carriers as Southwest Airlines, Frontier Airlines and Allegiant Air.

Passenger traffic of late has been trending downward from a high of 1.84 million in 2012 to 1.36 in 2016.

McQueen continues to be optimistic that passenger traffic will begin growing again, saying that it tends to be cyclical.

“We’ve had our ups, we’ve had our downs. We think we’ll turn the corner and grow again,” McQueen said.

Akron-Canton has four airlines flying to 14 destinations, although at present none of those are located west of the Mississippi River.

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Senate, Chao Talk About Infrastructure Plan

January 11, 2018

Talks between members of the U.S. Senate and the Trump administration about the latter’s proposed infrastructure package were held this week on Capitol Hill, although few details of those discussions have been released.

Speaking for the administration was Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who was joined by other administration officials.

Although news media reports have said the infrastructure plan is expected to be $1 trillion, some recent reports have put the size of the package at a lower figure, perhaps no more than $200 million.

There has been speculation that the package will be rolled out in the coming weeks, probably after the state of the union address on Jan. 30.

Senator John Barrasso, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said in a statement that the meeting featured “a direct back-and-forth with administration leadership on their priorities.”

Senator Tom Carper, the ranking minority party member of the committee, said in a statement that, “While there is no shortage of issues on which the president and I disagree, the kind of large scale trillion-dollar infrastructure investment that then-candidate Trump talked about is something that has the potential to elicit bipartisan support here in Congress.”

More than 150 national trade organizations, including some in the railroad and railroad supply industries, have urged Congress to approve an infrastructure investment package.

CVNP Begins Construction of Visitor Center

January 10, 2018

A groundbreaking ceremony was held this week for what is being billed as the first full-service visitors center in the 44-year history of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Although eight people engaged in a ceremonial turning of a shovelful of dirt, the new visitor’s center actually will involve renovating what had been a privately-owned apartment building adjacent to the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad tracks just south of the Boston Mills station.

The visitor’s center is projected to cost $5.9 million and open in spring 2019.

It will supplement and not necessarily replace the nearby Boston Store visitor’s center, which will remain open but be given a new focus.

Park officials do not consider smaller-scale facilities at the Hunt House and the Canal Exploration Center to be visitor centers.

Once opened, the Boston Mills Visitors Center will be described as the main stop for park visitors to learn about attractions and activities inside the 33,000-acre park.

The CVNP was created in late 1974 as the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation area.

Now one of 59 national parks, CVNP drew more than 2.4 million visitors last year, ranking it 12th in attendance among the national parks.

FERC Rejects Coal Plant Saving Plan

January 10, 2018

In a setback for an Ohio utility company and the coal company that supplies its generating plants with fuel, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission unanimously rejected an effort by Energy Secretary Rick Perry to prop up beleaguered coal and nuclear power plants.

Perry had asked FERC to guarantee financial payments to power generating plants that face closure due to competition from natural gas and renewable energy.

The proposed “grid resiliency pricing rule” would have covered the costs of power plants that keep on hand a 90-day fuel supply.

FERC Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur spurned Perry’s effort to support the policy because the nation’s electric grid is in danger.

She said Perry failed to produce evidence to prove that point and said he was actually trying to freeze resources of yesterday into place indefinitely.

“I believe the Commission should continue to focus its efforts not on slowing the transition from the past but on easing the transition to the future,” she wrote.

Akron-based FirstEnergy Corporation and Murray Energy based in St. Clairsville, a coal mining company, had heavily supported Perry’s proposal.

Critics of the Perry plan had argued that it would undermine the power markets that regulators have spent decades building.

FERC did order the nation’s regional grid operators to submit information within 60 days about their ability to judge “naturally occurring and man-made threats.”

Energy industry observers had said that had the rule been implemented it would have had its greatest effect in the PJM power grid that stretches over 13 states between the Midwest and East Coast.

FirstEnergy warned in a statement that “without timely action, more of these facilities will close prematurely, jeopardizing the ability to provide clean, reliable and affordable power to customers while harming economies across the region.”

A Wall Street Journal article about the FERC vote said there is a widespread belief that another round of coal-powered generating plant closures are coming, which would not be good news for railroads.

Last November, FERC had projected that 20.6 gigawatts of coal-fired electric generating capacity will be retired by 2020 with less than 2 gw of coal-producing electricity coming online to replace it.

By contrast, more than 92 gw of natural gas produced electricity will come online with just 11 gw of gas-fired electric generating capacity retired.

At present, natural gas generates 40 percent of the nation’s electricity while coal accounts for 23 percent. Nuclear and renewable energy provide 9 percent apiece of the generating capacity.

A Department of Energy study ordered by Perry early in his tenure at the urging of Murray Energy and released last August concluded that less expensive and abundant natural gas is the primary driver of changes in the U.S. electric generating industry.

Murray had urged Perry to use DOE’s emergency power to order the firm’s coal customers to keep running. Perry had sought to frame as a national security issue the proposed rule that FERC rejected.

When asked at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing last October if the proposed rule would cost consumers several billion dollars a year, he responded, “What’s the cost of freedom? What does it cost to build a system to keep America free?”

Perry argued that the power grid’s vulnerabilities posed a threat to national security.

In a September letter to FERC calling for it to act quickly, Perry asserted that “the resiliency of the electric grid is threatened by the premature retirements of these fuel-secure traditional baseload resources.”

In its decision, FERC said the feedback it received from grid operators on the Perry proposal “do not point to any past or planned generator retirements that may be a threat to grid resilience.”

OLI Launches Campaign for Kids

January 9, 2018

Operation Lifesaver has launched a program aimed at children that is designed to promote safety at railroad grade crossings and rights of ways.

The program is oriented toward students from kindergarten through middle school and includes new materials and trained volunteer speakers.

The theme of the program is Train and the Whateveritwas and it will present key safety messages in an entertaining and engaging format.

“Operation Lifesaver is working to change people’s behavior around railroad tracks and crossings with our educational materials and tips for people of all ages,” said OLI Interim President Wende Corcoran. “Reaching school-aged students with free presentations by our volunteers that are interesting, fun, and that convey lifesaving information is an important part of our multi-faceted approach to reducing those numbers.”

The age-appropriate materials to be used in the program will introduce children to basic safety messages and train attributes, while emphasizing the importance of being cautious around trains and tracks.

The information is presented as a story and divided into grade specific programs.

For students in grades three through five (ages 8-11), the presentation covers general safety messages, signs and signals, and trespass prevention messages using information and interactive games sequences to keep the attention of this age group.

For middle school students, the presentation uses emoji-like characters in a colorful, yearbook-style story line to appeal to smartphone-savvy students.

The presentation covers general safety messages, signs and signals, and trespassing prevention messages.

Corcoran said that the three new educational tools are available for viewing in the kids section of the Operation Lifesaver website

To request a free safety presentation, visit http://bit.ly/request-an-OL-presentation or http://www.oli.org.

CVSR Names Engine After Retired Mechanic

January 6, 2018

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad has named locomotive No. 1822 after Fred Daigneau, who retired last year after working for the railroad as a mechanic for 17 years.

In a news release, the CVSR said that Daigneau has signed on to become a volunteer engineer.

The 1822 is an Alco RS18u that was originally built for the Canadian Pacific in May 1958. It was acquired by the CVSR in fall 1998.

The CVSR in the meantime is in its early January hibernation. The National Park Scenic will resume operations on Jan. 20, operating on Saturdays between Rockside Road Station in Independence and Akron.

There will be two roundtrips departing Rockside at 9 a.m. and 12:50 p.m., and from Akron Northside station at 10:55 a.m. and 2:50 p.m.

Historic Toledo RR Bridge Available for Free

January 5, 2018

If you’ve driven on the Ohio Turnpike past Toledo you’ve probably seen an abandoned railroad bridge over the Maumee River alongside the highway.

It once carried the tracks of the Toledo Terminal Railroad, which made a loop around Toledo. It was in its day the only complete railroad beltway in the country to form a complete loop.

Now The Wood County Port Authority and the Ohio Department of Transportation have a deal in place that will allow the bridge to be removed.

The agreement, which also includes the Ohio Historic Preservation Office, requires the bridge to be documented and, if possible, reused.

The bridge was built in 1902 and in its current condition cannot be used for railroad, highway or even trail uses. CSX conveyed it to the port authority in 2011.

The port authority is willing to give the bridge to a community or park system if they will place it somewhere else.

ODOT has agreed to preserve the spans before and after they’re removed. The swing spans are eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places because they are an example of an uncommon type of bridge.

A commemorative plaque and display about the bridge and railroad will be placed near its present site and parts of the bridge could be used along the Chessie Circle Trail.

Before the bridge is removed, it will be documented using Historic American Engineering Record standards. So far, no one has come forward to claim the bridge.

Pa Turnpike Hiking Tolls by 6%

January 5, 2018

Planning a railfan excursion in central Pennsylvania this year, say, along the Pittsburgh Line of Norfolk Southern in the Allegheny Mountains?

Better take some extra cash because effective this Sunday (Jan. 7) the tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike are going to rise by 6 percent.

It is the 10th consecutive year that the tolls have been jacked up, er, increased on the highway that people love to hate.

It is the second consecutive year that tolls have risen by 6 percent. Tolls have more than doubled since 2009.

Under the pending increase a passenger vehicle traveling from Ohio to New Jersey will cost $51.85 to $55, depending on the route chosen, for cash customers and from $37 to $39.25 for those with an E-ZPass.

Turnpike officials estimate that the average toll for cash-paying customers will be $2.10, while the average for E-ZPass customers will be $1.30. The average cash toll was 75 cents in 2008.

But those figures are averages that mean nothing to a motorist entering the Keystone State from the Ohio Turnpike.

You pay $7 just to enter Pennsylvania. Starting on Sunday that toll goes up to $7.45. The tolls for those with E-ZPass are $4.89 and $5.18 respectively pre- and post-toll hike.

In a news release, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission said tolls were being increased to meet funding obligations.

“The Turnpike Commission is obligated by state law to augment Pennsylvania’s infrastructure needs; in fact, the commission has delivered $5.65 billion in toll-backed funding to PennDOT in the last decade,” said Turnpike CEO Mark Compton in a statement.

Pennsylvania law requires the Turnpike Commission to contribute $450 million a year to PennDOT to help pay for public transit and highway infrastructure projects not involving the turnpike.

The commission borrows money to make those payments and debt payments account for nearly two-thirds of the agency’s annual $900 million budget.

A 2016 lobbying effort by the Turnpike Commission to prod the state legislature into finding another source for transit revenue was spurned due to a state budget shortfall.

In the meantime, Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has said he will conduct performance audit of the Turnpike Commission.

DePasquale said the turnpike can’t continue to increase fares without eventually pushing motorists to other roads without tolls.

“What we want to analyze is their belief from their consultants that despite the increase in tolls, they’ll have increased traffic,” DePasquale said. “I am not convinced this is going to happen.”

He said his audit will also review whether the turnpike’s annual payment to PennDOT can be reduced.

The audit will determine how much debt the Turnpike Commission has and review its process of selecting construction contractors.  “We get feedback on (social media) on contracting across the board, and the turnpike is no exception,” DePasquale said.

DePasquale began a similar audit of PennDOT last May to determine areas in which that agency can reduce its spending.

Related to that, the Turnpike Commission is cracking down on the practice of some motorists evading tolls by driving in E-ZPass lanes without having a working E-ZPass transponder.

The commission has identified more than 10,000 motorists who have racked up more than $17 million in unpaid tolls during the past three years and plans to bring third-degree felony charges against those who owe more than $2,000.

The commission will also ask PennDOT to revoke the vehicle registrations of those with unpaid debts who commit another violation.

An audit released in September 2016 found toll violations were increasing, causing the commission to write off $12 million to $20 million per year.

The rising tolls are also being used to pay for construction on the turnpike. The Turnpike Commission said about 85 percent of its budget is focused on renewing, rebuilding, and expanding it system.

The commission has reconstructed more than 124 miles with another 20 miles currently being rebuilt and widened, and more than 90 miles in planning and design phases.

Cleveland Company Teams Up with PowerRail

January 4, 2018

A Cleveland company is providing components to be used by a railroad parts company based in Pennsylvania.

PowerRail said it is partnering with Interstate-McBee of Cleveland to provide fuel injectors and other diesel engine parts.

In a news release, PowerRail, which is based in Duryea, Pennsylvania, said it has spent the past 14 years building a customer-centered distribution network.

The company operates PowerRail Locomotive Services and PowerRail Mobile Maintenance – East Coast; and Rail Power Services – West Coast.

“The entire PowerRail team is proud to form this partnership with Interstate-McBee. We are pleased to be able to offer this product line to our customers and stand behind the quality that Interstate-McBee is known for,” said Paul Foster, president and chief executive PowerRail in a statement.

Last Allegiant Youngstown Flight Leaves Today

January 4, 2018

Allegiant Air will fly from the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport today for the final time.

The low fare carrier has cited low boardings for ending flights from Youngstown.

The last Allegiant flight is expected to lift off at 5:37 p.m. en route to Clearwater International Airport in Florida.

Allegiant, which began flying into the Youngstown-Warren airport in 2006, is the last carrier to provide scheduled service there.

However, airport officials have said they are talking with other potential carriers about providing flights.

Officials of one of those carriers, Southern Airways Express, attended a public forum last month to gauge interest in providing service to Baltimore-Washington International Airport and Detroit’s Coleman A. Young International Airport.

Dan Dickten, director of aviation for the Western Reserve Port Authority, which runs the Youngstown airport, has also talked with SkyWest Airlines and Sun Country Airlines about serving Youngstown.

Sun Country has provided charter flights from Youngstown and Dickten said there’s a possibility it may begin low-cost commercial flights similar to those of Allegiant or Spirit Airlines.

“Things like this just don’t happen overnight,” Dickten said. “There will be a break in service before we are able to get a new service in here.”

In the meantime, the airport authority has sued Aerodynamics Inc., which briefly operated scheduled flights between Youngstown and Chicago in summer 2016 before abruptly terminating the service.

ADI, which operated the service under the brand name Great Lakes JetExpress, has countersued the airport.

The trial in those cases is expected to begin next August at the U.S. Courthouse in Youngstown.