Posts Tagged ‘commuter rail service’

Commuter Railroads Face Late March Insurance Deadline

March 13, 2021

Commuter railroads are facing a March 27 deadline to purchase new liability insurance coverage of at least $323 million.

The U.S. Department of Transportation said that is $28 million more than is currently required.

The insurance mandate is required by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act of 2015.

During a March 10 hearing of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sharon Valentine said some transit agencies are facing challenges getting an insurance policy before the deadline.

The Commuter Rail Coalition said commuter railroads recently have experienced dramatic premium increases, despite having no losses, and now face the prospect of fewer insurers in the market willing to write policies, thus threatening their ability to operate.

CRC said insurers that provided coverage in the past “have endured losses due to wildfires and hurricanes for other industries and have made a strategic decision to withdraw in part or in whole from the excess liability market; many are no longer writing policy coverages.”

Railroads “have struggled for the past several years to obtain sufficient coverages that are oftentimes provided through multiple layers of coverage provided by numerous insurers. As fewer insurers offered policy coverage, premiums were driven up, sometimes by more than 100 percent in annual increases.”

Valentine said a coalition of commuter railroads is working with the federal government to extend the deadline or obtain congressional authorization to allow commuter railroads to secure additional liability coverage in time to meet that deadline.

CRC has asked U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to extend the March 27 deadline by a minimum of 120 days.

During another congressional hearing last November, Paul P. Skoutelas, president of the American Public Transportation Association, said his group is researching how liability costs have increased for the commuter rail industry and seeking to determine the reasons for the increases.

Skoutlelas said during that hearing that federal law provides a backstop to cover losses above liability limits where the insurance marketplace has become noncompetitive and premiums unaffordable.

APTA is developing a legislative proposal to reduce liability insurance premium costs for commuter railroads.

SEPTA to Serve Newark, MARC Suspends Service for Inauguration

January 16, 2021

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority will resume weekday service at Newark, Delaware on Jan. 25.

SEPTA had suspended service to two stations on its Wilmington/Newark regional rail line due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Delaware service is being underwritten by the state at the Newark and Churchmans Crossing stations to provide travel options during an Interstate 95 construction project scheduled to start in February and last through 2023.

In an unrelated development, MARC will suspend commuter train service on all three of its routes starting Jan. 17 in advance of the presidential inauguration set for Jan. 20 in Washington.

Affected will be service to West Virginia on the Brunswick Line.

MARC said trains are expected to resume operating on Jan. 21 but it advised riders to check the Maryland Transit Administration Twitter feed or the MTA Transit app for more information.

The transit agency said the service suspensions are part of tightened security surrounding the inauguration.

Bus Ridership Outpacing Rail in Public Transit

November 5, 2020
A Greater Cleveland RTA Blue Line train arrives at the Lee Road station.

An analysis published on the website of Trains magazine this week gave a sobering assessment of the future of commuter rail in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although ridership of public transit buses has begun to snap back from pandemic-induced doldrums, rail ridership continues to lag.

Transit officials attributed that to the nature of the ridership.

The bus rider is more likely to be someone of lower income who holds a job at which being physically present at a work site is mandatory.

Rail riders tend to be more affluent suburban residents who work in officers where the work can more easily be transferred to the employee’s home.

Transit officials have taken note of a trend by which office work will at significant levels continue to be done remotely well into 2021.

Even when that work is brought back into the office, transit officials are finding that those who once rode the train are more likely to drive to work because they value the privacy of their own motor vehicle.

 “COVID-19 reduced our ridership to the kind of the folks who are utterly dependent on transit,” said Steve Poftak, general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

Poftak said his agency’s buses are now handling 41 percent of 2019 passenger levels while rail commuter rail line ridership is 12 percent.

Similar stories are being told in other cities. Chicago Transit Authority bus ridership is now at 70 percent of pre-pandemic levels whereas Metra commuter rail passenger volume is 10 percent.

In Los Angeles the buses are seeing 50 percent of previous ridership while trains are at 10 percent.

New York City bus ridership is half of pre-pandemic levels while Metro North commuter train ridership is 16 percent.

The American Public Transportation Association said consolidated data from across the nation shows commuter rail ridership was down 90 percent during the April to June period while bus ridership was down 65 percent.

Even when companies do bring workers back into downtown offices, not all of them are no longer following the pre-pandemic norm of 9 to 5 shifts.

Instead, companies are having employees report to work at staggered start times and having them work from home on some days and in the office on others.

Some surveys have found widespread desire among office workers to have the option of working from home, including 75 percent in a study conducted by computer giant IBM.

That prompted Metra CEO to tell his board of directors that the rail agency must transform itself because if these trends continue to hold up Metra ridership will be affected in the long term.

Another transit executive, Catherine Rinaldi, president of New York’s Metro-North Railroad, said passengers who had been riding daily before the pandemic aren’t necessarily riding every day now.

“We’ve never experienced anything like this as an industry,” she said.

Some public transit officials say their future may lie in serving the needs of those who can’t work from home, who are employed at low-wage jobs, and may not own a car.

They are the workers who need public transit and where they need to travel may be where transit agencies will put their resources, including ramping up service on high-demand bus routes.

This may mean that some rail lines will lose priority and see reduced service. There will be fewer dollars available for expansion of rail service or capital improvements.

Resolution Supports Commuter Rail Expansion

August 29, 2020

A Pennsylvania township governing board has approved a resolution calling for rail commuter service between Reading, Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia.

The Board of Commissioners of Lower Pottsgrove adopted the resolution, which directs township manager Ed Wagner write a letter in support of the effort by Berks Alliance.

The community development organization is pushing for revival of the long-abandoned rail service, saying it could have an economic development value of more than $1 billion.

Lower Pottsgrove is located on the proposed route at about the halfway point.

South Shore Line Resumes Normal Schedules

June 10, 2020

The South Shore Line resumed normal service on Monday after operating reduced schedules since March 23.

The commuter carrier that operates between Chicago and South Bend, Indiana, said it will continue to continue to seek to protect the health of passengers and employees by requiring passengers to wear masks on train cars and at stations, asking them to practice social distancing when possible, and encouraging them to use hand sanitizer stations in each car.

However, the South Shore said one car on each train will allow passengers to forgo wearing a mask if they so choose.

“We want everybody to be safe,” said Michael Noland, the South Shore Line’s president.

South Shore has also resumed its Bikes on Trains program with bike racks available in select cars on designated trains.

Noland said South Shore ridership dipped to a low of 5 percent of normal at the depth of the pandemic and of late has been averaging 10 percent of normal.

“It’s going to be lean for a while,” he said. “It’s not like turning on a light switch.”

Most passengers who have ridden during the pandemic have been health-care workers and people going to Chicago for medical appointments.

South Shore Reduces Service Due to Pandemic

March 20, 2020

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the South Shore Line will implement on March 23 a temporary modified weekday train schedule.

The schedule will be essentially a modified weekend/holiday schedule with the addition of two morning and two afternoon rush hour trains. Weekend train schedules will remain unchanged.

In a notice posted on its website the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District said it has experienced a substantial drop in daily ridership.

The service reductions will seek to balance service with the reduced demand and include offering more railcars per train and all cars open to promote social distancing.

The agency also said it is conducting deeper cleaning of out-of-service equipment.

It also asked passengers to purchase tickets in advance through the South Shore mobile app, ticket vending machines, or ticket agents.

“Reducing or eliminating cash transactions with our train crews will help reduce our employees’ exposures relating to cash fare collections,” NITCD said.

NITCD said it understands that its still provides an essential public service that is used by healthcare professionals for travel to their essential assignments, and by passengers with previously scheduled medical appointments.

Service in service will be promptly posted at http://www.mysouthshoreline.com, on the South Shore Line Facebook and Twitter pages, on its mobile app, and via email notifications.

Chicago-area rail commuter operator also announced that starting March 23 it will reduce its service to account for lower ridership due to school closures, work-from-home mandates and other consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

The only line that will not see service cuts is the Heritage Corridor to Joliet.

Metra said it is monitoring ridership and may further reduce service to meet the ridership demands.

The reduced schedules will remain in effect until health officials deem the crisis has passed and/or ridership begins to return to normal. Metra will operate on regular weekend schedules this weekend.

W.Va. Gets More Time to Find MARC Funding

November 13, 2019

The Maryland Department of Transportation has given West Virginia interests additional time to come up with additional funding to preserve the existing level of MARC commuter rail service.

MdDOT had planned to reduce MARC service between Washington and Martinsburg, West Virginia, to one roundtrip on weekdays in late November.

That deadline has now been pushed back with MdDOT agreeing to provide 30 days notice before making any service changes.

MARC also serves the West Virginia communities of Harpers Ferry and Duffields.

In the meantime, negotiations continue in West Virginia for local funding that will supplement what the state pays for MARC service.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s administration has been pressuring West Virginia to pay another $3.5 million a year that Maryland says its taxpayers spend to provide that service to the Mountain State.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and the communities served by MARC are scrambling to find that money.

West Virginia state Delegate John Doyle said a top aide to the governor said recently that if the communities served by MARC service could come up with $300,000 among them, the state would provide the rest.

Doyle said having the communities pick up 10 percent of Maryland’s reimbursement and the state of West Virginia the rest, is a one-year fix.

He said there needs to be a discussion to hammer out a longer-term solution next year.

“We sat down and we parceled it out by population,” Doyle said. “Berkeley County has come up with their allotted $170,000.

“The city of Martinsburg has come up with its allowed $25,000. Charles Town has come up with its allotted $8,800. Ranson, it’s allotted $7,700. Bolivar its allotted $1,500. And Harper’s Ferry, which was allotted $410, has come up with $2,500.”

Thus far Jefferson County has yet to agree to pay its share although at a meeting last week, members of the County Commission voted to come up with $40,000 to keep MARC trains running, less than half of the $82,500 it was due to pay under the formula.

“I do think we’re almost there,” Doyle said.

MARC service to West Virginia is used by residents of the state who work in more prosperous Montgomery County and the District of Columbia.

The currently level of service is three trains eastbound in the morning and three westbound trains in the event.

These trains carry approximately 250 West Virginia passengers a day.

 

 

Commuter Rail Agencies Can Seek Grants

February 22, 2018

The Federal Transit Administration said on Tuesday that commuter railroads may qualify for a portion of a recently announced grant program being sponsored by the Federal Railroad Administration.

The FTA said commuter rail agencies could use funding from the $73 million FRA program for positive train control, grade-crossing improvement and congestion mitigation projects.

Grants from the FRA program are being awarded on a competitive basis with Amtrak and freight railroads also eligible.

The funding was authorized by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act and comes from the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017.

The FRA said last week it is taking applications for the grant program, which is designed to improve railroad safety.

Detroit-Ann Arbor Commuter Rail Service Getting Boost From Southeast Michigan RTA Master Plan

May 23, 2016

A Detroit-based public transportation agency is trying to jump start the long dormant idea of instituting commuter rail service between downtown Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority is proposing linking the Detroit-Ann Arbor service with the currently under construction Detroit streetcar network.

SE Michigan RTAThe RTA board is proposing to include the Ann Arbor service as well as bus rapid transit in its Michigan Avenue corridor study.

Lack of funding has stalled development of the 38-mile Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter service, which would use the same tracks used by Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains.

Those rails are now mostly owned by the state of Michigan, which several years ago leased passenger cars for use in the service.

To fund the Ann Arbor commuter service, RTA is proposing to include that cost into its November millage request.

If the millage request is approved, RTA officials say the service could begin around 2022 and have an operating cost of $11 million to $19 million.

The service would required $130 million in capital costs to get started, which would include building a maintenance facility.

“It’s a significant connector between Ann Arbor and Detroit,” said Paul Hillegonds, the RTA’s board chairman. “One of the criticisms of rail always is it’s much more expensive than bus rapid transit, but in this case, the existing infrastructure is in place. It makes sense from a cost-effective standpoint, and I think will be very attractive to riders, and I think a very significant economic development tool for the region.”

RTA will present its commuter rail line proposal on May 31 as part of its master plan

The Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter service would operate eight times a day with trips spread out to include morning and afternoon rush hour service as well as afternoon and evening trains.

Intermediate stops would include Ypsilanti, Wayne and Dearborn. Trains would terminate in Detroit in the New Center area.

The Michigan Department of Transportation has spent $7.6 million to overhaul 23 former Chicago Metra bi-level commuter cars, but stopped paying the lease payments on them last year.

RTA estimates it would cost $4,000 per month per car to lease them from current owner Great Lakes Central Railroad. The agency has proposed leasing nine of the cars, which are currently sitting in Owosso, Michigan.

Saying that development of rail, bus rapid transit and other transit options is needed to create an “integrated system” to help people get where they want to go, RTA CEO Michael Ford said that Ann Arbor and Detroit are major hubs for jobs.

“People being able to get back and forth conveniently and quickly,” Ford said. “I think it’s a game-changer in a lot of ways. I know it’s been tried many times before, but having that kind of frequency of service, it’s very important to the region and getting people where they want to go.”

ODOT Bailing Out of Cincy Commuter Rail Project

February 13, 2016

A proposed commuter rail line in Cincinnati appears dead unless local officials can come up with $400 million to fund it after the Ohio Department of Transportation decided to walk away from the project.

An ODT study concluded the 17-mile line from downtown Cincinnati to Milford would cost between $337.5 million and $394.6 million.

ODOT 2The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that an ODOT memo to local leaders said the project “is not currently in the public’s interest for ODOT to expend any additional funding for the next stages of this project.”

The memo was written by ODOT Chief of Staff Matthew McAuliffe.

ODOT has spent $4.5 million planning the project. The likelihood of local governments coming up with the money needed to move the Oasis Rail project forward appear to be slim given that Cincinnati and Hamilton County are facing their own budget challenges.

The commuter rail project has been in the planning stage for years and Ohio leaders have shown little to no interest in funding passenger rail.

ODOT has a statewide waiting list of $5.6 billion in transportation projects.

The state began an updated study of the commuter rail project last summer to update the cost estimates.

That’s study’s results will be presented during a series of public meetings later this month. The memo from McAuliffe said that soon after those hearings have concluded that ODOT plans to end its major involvement in the project.