Posts Tagged ‘commuter railroads’

South Shore Resumes Educational Programs

June 23, 2021

The South Shore Commuter line has resumed providing onboard educational programs by the Midwest Rail Rangers.

The programs are offered two to three times per month on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Upcoming dates featuring the programs are July 1, and 25; Aug. 12, 21, and 29; and Sept. 2 and 19. Additional dates through November are listed at the Rail Rangers website.

Thursday programs are provided on eastbound train No. 7, departing Chicago’s Millennium Station at 8:45 a.m., with westbound programs on train No. 18, departing South Bend’s Airport station at 12:49 p.m.

On Saturdays and Sundays, eastbound programs are given on train No. 504, departing Chicago at 8:40 a.m., and westbound train No. 506, departing South Bend at 1:05 p.m.

The programs are offered in one car near the center of the train designated by yellow signs.

There is no additional cost to ticketed passengers to hear the programs and seating in the Rail Rangers car is on a first-come, first-served basis.

The programs are presented in partnership with the Northwest Indiana Commuter Transportation District and Indiana Dunes State Park.

NICTD Rejects Track Project Bids

May 14, 2021

The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District rejected the two bids it received for a project to install double track on the South Shore commuter line.

The agency said the bids were too high and it will seek new bids in an effort to stay within the agency’s estimates of the $228.6 million project cost. The bids NICTD received were $399.7 million and $424.5 million.

NICTC officials said they will talk with the two bidders and others in the industry to see how the project cost can be lowered and to “find out why some other firms did not participate and provide a bid.”

That process is expected to take 30 to 45 days and set a goal of receiving new bids by August.

South Shore to Realign Track in East Chicago

March 22, 2021

The South Shore Line has launched a project to realign the tracks at its East Chicago, Indiana, station in a bid to shave nearly two minutes off the running time between Chicago and Michigan City, Indiana.

The $2 million project also involved upgrading signals and computerized train control.

Most of the funding is coming from federal funds with other money coming from the South Shore’s annual capital improvement budget.

Officials said that during the work midday trains could be delayed for 10 to 15 minutes.

Trains are at present restricted to a top speed of 15 miles per hour at the East Chicago station.

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.

South Shore Projects Timeline Shown

January 29, 2021

Construction contracts for the double-tracking project of the South Shore commuter rail line in Indiana are expected to be awarded this spring with work starting in mid-to-late summer.

The Northern Indiana Commuter Transit District, which oversees the South Shore, recently awarded a $17 million construction management contract to WSP USA to oversee the project.

The $491 million project involves building a second mainline track between Gary and Michigan City, Indiana.

Also included in the project is construction of four new bridges and three high-level station platforms.

NICTD head Michael Noland said that construction should get underway this fall for the West Lake Corridor project, which will create a 7.8-mile extension of the South Shore from Hammond to Dyer, Indiana.

The NICTD Board recently approved a $1 million contract with A&K Railroad Materials for the acquisition of rail.

The West Lake Corridor project is projected to cost $944.9 million with service starting in late summer or early fall 2023.

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.

Contract Awarded in South Shore Project

December 2, 2020

The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District Board of Trustees has approved a $2.7 million contract for demolition work in Michigan City, Indiana, that is part of a project to double-track the South Shore commuter line.

Green Demolition of Chicago won the contract that is part of the project to build 17 miles of second main and remake Michigan City’s signature street running, including closing 21 grade crossings.

The new track, which will be laid between Michigan City and Gary, Indiana, includes four new bridges and eight new station platforms.

Work is expected to begin next summer if NITCD receives a Federal Transit Administration grant as expected in early 2021.

Commuter Railroads on Track to Meet PTC Deadline, APTA Says

November 14, 2020

The American Public Transportation Association said this week that the commuter-rail industry is on schedule to complete full implementation of positive train control by the Dec. 31 deadline set in federal law.

As of Sept. 30, 100 percent of commuter railroads are PTC certified by the Federal Railroad Administration or are awaiting approval on submitted PTC safety plans

In a news release, APTA said seven out of 23 of the railroads are certified by the FRA, and 16 railroads have submitted their safety plans to the FRA, a required step before certification, and are awaiting the agency’s approval.

Six other commuter railroads are tenants and their hosts have been approved by the FRA.

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.

Contractor Hired for South Shore Extension Project

November 4, 2020

A contractor has been hired to be part of the team building an extension of the South Shore Line in Northwest Indiana.

Infrastructure and Energy Alternatives, through its subsidiary Ragnar Benson, will have a 30 percent interest in a joint venture with F.H. Paschen in the $550 million contract to build the 8-mile West Lake Corridor between Dyer and Hammond.

Groundbreaking on the project was held last week. When completed, the West Lake Corridor will offer direct service to downtown Chicago while other trains will connect in Hammond with South Shore mainline trains.