Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’

Ann Arbor City Council Gives OK to Funding for New Amtrak Station Design, Engineering Work

January 20, 2017

The Ann Arbor (Michigan) City Council this week approved a contract with a consultant to begin design and engineering work for a new Amtrak station, but not before city officials had to defend the need for the new facility.

michiganBy an 8-3 vote, the council agreed to pay for the work, but not before some questioned the need for the station, saying that Amtrak ridership in Ann Arbor has been falling for the past three years.

Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, acknowledged the ridership decline, but said in any event that a new station is needed because of crowding at the existing station and its poor condition.

“I would invite council members, members of the community, to come out and experience the existing Ann Arbor Amtrak station during periods of heavy use,” Cooper said. “The waiting room is substandard for the complement of passengers boarding trains today. This is based on the current ridership.”

Amtrak opened the existing modular station in 1983. When Amtrak began service in 1971, it served Ann Arbor through the former Michigan Central passenger station.

But it was squeezed out of that facility, which is today a privately-owned restaurant known as the Gandy Dancer.

A new Amtrak station is projected to cost more than $2 million with 80 percent of that cost being picked up by a federal grant.

But the station project has drawn the ire of some council members because it is behind schedule and over budget.

The city has yet to settle on a site for the new depot, which could be built near the existing station on Depot Street or in Fuller Park.

Voting against spending money for the design and engineering work were Jack Eaton, Sumi Kailasapathy and Jane Lumm.

“This is a project that’s been consistently behind schedule and over budget,” Lumm said. “I’m not sure what makes us think that won’t continue. A good portion of the local dollars already invested are gone and, I fear, wasted. And we sit here tonight being asked to commit another $500,000 of taxpayer money.”

Lumm noted that the city faces a deadline to get the station completed before the federal grant expires.

“But because of the delays along the way, the clock is running out on the grant funding, so we’re now being asked to scramble and dive in to the next phase immediately,” she said. “That’s just not how we should be doing things.”

Cooper admitted that ridership projections that were calculated in 2014 may be overly optimistic.

One projection was that Ann Arbor would be handling nearly 1.4 million rail passengers in 2025. That would include Amtrak patronage of 969,000 and another 516.000 for a still-to-be-funded commuter rail service to Detroit. It was also based on Amtrak service increasing from three to 10 roundtrips a day between Chicago and Detroit.

In Amtrak’s fiscal year 2016, which ended on Sept. 30, it handled 122,534 passengers, an 18 percent drop from ridership of three years earlier.

“The anticipated commuter service and the forecast and projection for future growth in both rail ridership and use at this station are, if you will, perhaps not well founded, but the need for the initial investment is in order to remedy the defects of the current station,” Cooper said.

Amtrak and state transportation officials have said that falling gasoline prices have cut into Amtrak ridership in Michigan.

Another factor was that during summer and fall of 2016 track work between Battle Creek and Jackson cut the level of service.

The work sponsored by Amtrak and the Michigan Department of Transportation affected 41 miles of track and involved replacing 26,000 railroad ties, repairing or installing 15 track switches, realigning or modifying 29 railroad curves, repairing 23 railroad grade crossings and improving road profiles at crossings.

Amtrak also upgraded its signal system east of Kalamazoo. The work was originally scheduled to be completed in September but did not end until November.

The State of Michigan owns most of the route between Kalamazoo and Dearborn while Amtrak owns the route between Kalamazoo and Porter, Indiana.

The work was conducted as part of the Michigan Accelerated Rail Program with state officials saying that passengers will benefit from improved reliability, a smoother ride and the first 110-mph Amtrak service in the Midwest.

New Buffalo Station Discussed at Public Hearing

January 20, 2017

The public is now getting a chance to weigh in on where the new Amtrak station for Buffalo, New York, should be located.

Amtrak 4The first public meeting to gather public opinion was held Thursday (Jan. 19) at Buffalo City Hall.

In the meantime, a committee headed by Mayor Byron Brown expects to be done by April studying where to locate the new station.

“The clock is ticking,” said Robert Shibley, dean of the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning and the lead facilitator for the station site selection process.

Shibley said the committee is still getting organized, but consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff is already gathering information about the matter.

“They are essentially charged with answering the questions that need data support to make a good decision,” Shibley said.

Some information will come from Amtrak station policy documents and past studies conducted by CSX, Amtrak and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.

“As a starting point, the engineering firm is using a list of potential train sites from various reports,” Shibley said.

Canalside has been frequently mentioned as a possible station site due to its location near to the existing Exchange Street station. But also in the mix is the dormant Central Terminal and a site in Larkinville.

The State of New York is providing $1 million for the station study work with the proviso that it be completed within six months from last October.

Ann Arbor May Soon Start Station Design Work

January 18, 2017

The Ann Arbor, Michigan, city council is poised to approve a $2.14 million contract for preliminary design and engineering work on a new Amtrak station.

michiganThe council was to vote on the contact despite the Federal Railroad Administration not yet having approved a preferred location for the station.

City officials have narrowed the sites to Depot Street, on which the current Amtrak station is located, or in Fuller Park.

The design and engineering work contract would be with Neumann/Smith Architecture

Officials have said they want to be able to move quickly once the FRA acts and an environmental review is completed.

Efforts to construct a new Amtrak station in Ann Arbor have been ongoing for more than a decade.

The estimated total cost of preliminary design and engineering is $2.37 million, which includes the $2.14 million contract with Neumann/Smith and a city staff budget of $234,884.

Another $101,131 that has yet to be allocated will be kept in the project budget if needed to complete the environmental review phase or the preliminary design and engineering work.

“If the entire amount of the Neumann/Smith contract and the contingency is necessary to complete the project, the total cost would be $2,471,325.67,” said Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager in a memo to the council.

Cooper noted that the city could be reimbursed by the federal government for up to 80 percent of the project cost. The city would need to put up a 20 percent match.

The city council has already approved spending $342,665 of city funds for the station project but would need to pony up an additional $151,600 from the general fund cash reserves to complete the 20 percent match.

The city has said it will not complete the project without voter approval, a step not expected to be undertaken until 2018 at the earliest.

The city is facing a May 2017 deadline to complete the preliminary engineering and design work. That deadline was set by the terms of the federal grant.

CUS Gets Emerging Projects Agreement

January 14, 2017

The City of Chicago is joining with the U.S. Department of Transportation, Amtrak, Metra and the Regional Transportation Authority to create an emerging projects agreement that they hope will be able to land $1 billion in federal funding to modernize Chicago Union Station.

Chicago Union StationBy creating the EmPA, the DOT will be able to provide technical assistance for obtaining federal credit through the Build America Bureau’s innovative programs.

The redevelopment of Union Station is a public-private partnership that is seeking to rehabilitate the depot for passengers as well as foster commercial developments surrounding the station.

Michigan Residents Fear Lake Michigan Bluff Carrying Amtrak’s Pere Marquette Will Collapse

January 13, 2017

Some residents of St. Joseph, Michigan, fear that a bluff along Lake Michigan near their property has eroded to the point that it might collapse and take the CSX tracks on it with it.

michiganThe line carries Amtrak’s Chicago-Grand Rapids Pere Marquette. The bluff stands above Old Lakeshore Road.

St. Joseph Mayor Mike Garey reviewed photographs of the bluff and said its collapse “wasn’t a matter of if, but when.”

Some of those living near the bluff said they’ve been sending photographs of its deteriorating condition to CSX for 15 years. The railroad has responded that it is monitoring the situation.

The bluff is on property owned jointed by the residents, the city and CSX.

Homeowner Anson Lovillette said he met with CSX consultants four years ago and was told the railroad planned to conduct a study of the bluff. But he said he has not heard back from CSX on what that study found.

The bluff is being eroded by a gap that opened in the 1990s in the shoreline along the lake and has grown to about 120 feet in width.

Gov. Pledges Funding for Schenectady Station

January 13, 2017

New Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed spending $15 million to build a new Amtrak station in Schenectady, New York.

The funding was mentioned in his State of the State speech given this week.

Amtrak 3Amtrak currently uses a depot on Erie Boulevard. Cuomo cited the Schenectady station project while discussing plans to upgrade transportation hubs across the state.

It is not clear how much new state money will be spent on the new station. Some federal and local funding is also expected to go into the project.

The New York Department of Transportation has budgeted $15 million for the station, but that includes some federal funding that may no longer be available.

Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy said the state is expected to kick in some additional money in order to get the project going and the station open by 2018.

“Anybody that’s gone through that station, it’s an embarrassment,” McCarthy said. “It doesn’t reflect the quality of the community we’re building. We’re doing demolitions in the neighborhoods, working on home ownership, getting the casino online, and that train station is just an embarrassment.”

In March 2016, NYDOT sought bids for a new station, but received just one response. That bid was $10 million over budget, so the state scrapped its plans.

Instead, it decided to split the work into two projects, one involving razing the 1970s era that Amtrak built and now uses, and another to build a replacement station.

The Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited, New York-Toronto Maple Leaf, the New York-Montreal Adirondack, the New York-Rutland (Vermont) Ethan Allen Express and four New York-Niagara Falls Empire Service trains serve Schenectady, which handled 61,000 passengers last year.

Amtrak and the NYDOT are building a second track between Schenectady and Albany-Rensselaer to alleviate rail traffic congestion on the route. That track is expected to be completed this spring.

Some Varnish on the Water Level Route

January 6, 2017

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My girlfriend and I took a New Year’s Day drive into the Hudson River Valley by Bear Mountain.

Here at Fort Montgomery, New York, the Hudson River is about one-third of a mile wide. We were by the old NYWS&B (now CSX River Sub) hoping to catch a freight.

Of course, Murphy’s law had different ideas. Red signals and the only thing going through the tunnel was a hiker.

However, we did catch some passenger action across the river on the old Water Level Route, once home to the New York Central’s 20th Century Limited and other famous NYC trains as they sped to and from Grand Central.

Here we see a Metro-North commuter train out of Grand Central heading toward Poughkeepsie, New York, the end of the line for Metro North.

The other train we caught was Amtrak’s Ethan Allen heading to Penn Station after its journey from Rutland, Vermont.

Both trains are headed by GE P32ACDM, dual-mode locomotives that run as diesel-electric or third rail straight electric for entering New York City.

In a few months life will return to the mountains and the hills will be back to a nice, lush green, but for now the only colors in the area are the passing trains. Happy New Year, everyone.

Article and Photographs by Jack Norris

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Amtrak Reorganizes Management Structure

January 6, 2017

Amtrak President Charles “Wick” Moorman announced this week a management structure change that will restructure the management team into six units that will report to him. They include:

  • Operations: Scot Naparstek, chief operating officer
  • Marketing and Business Development: Jason Molfetas, executive vice president
  • Finance: Jerry Sokol, chief financial officer
  • Law: Eldie Acheson, general counsel and corporate secretary
  • Administration:  D.J. Stadtler, chief administrative officer
  • Planning, Technology and Public Affairs: Stephen Gardner, executive vice president

Amtrak logoTrain operations will be managed regionally through three general managers and supported by mechanical, engineering, network support, police, and security organizations.

The marketing and business development group will be expanded beyond its traditional role to include product development, planning, and contract management functions of the current business lines.

A new administration group will manage administrative and support functions including human resources, labor relations, procurement, and enterprise project management.

Certain corporate planning, information technology, and station and facility functions, as well as the government affairs and corporate communications division, will be transferred to the new planning, technology, and public affairs group.

Oxford, Miami U Pledge Money for Station

January 5, 2017

Trains magazine reported this week that the City of Oxford, Ohio, and Miami University have agreed to contribute $350,000 toward the cause of establishing an Amtrak station in the southwestern Ohio city.

Amtrak 4The station will be a platform and shelter to serve the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told the magazine that Amtrak favors establishing a stop for the Cardinal in Oxford and will work with the community and CSX to bring it to fruition.

Currently, the only Ohio stop for the Cardinal is in Cincinnati, 40 miles away.

Nos. 50 and 51 once served Hamilton, Ohio, but that service ended in 2005.

No timeline has been set for when construction of the station will begin or when service will be inaugurated.

Amtrak Ticket Agent Walls to Retire

January 5, 2017

Many Akron Railroad Club members past and present know or have met Bob Walls.

He is a lead ticket agent for Amtrak in Cleveland and has also worked in the ticket offices in Canton and Akron when Amtrak stations were still active.

Walls, who has been with Amtrak since 1972, will retire on Friday. We’ve received word that he will host a farewell party at the Cleveland Amtrak station for friends and acquaintances on Friday from 10 to 2.