Posts Tagged ‘commuter train service’

MARC Service to W.Va. Continues Unchanged After Nov. 30 Deadline Passes for Additional Funding to be Made

December 13, 2019

No change has occurred in MARC commuter rail service to West Virginia despite a Nov. 30 deadline for the state to increase its funding to continue the existing level of service.

A West Virginia legislator said negotiations continue over MARC’s demand for $3.4 million to fund service at existing levels.

The West Virginia legislature provided just $1.1 million, which led MARC to say it would trim service from three weekday roundtrips between Washington and Martinsburg, West Virginia, to one roundtrip.

West Virginia legislator John Doyle said the parties continue to discuss funding and an agreement appears to be near.

Some local West Virginia communities have agreed to provide funding for the service.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has said the state will pay the difference between what local governments agree to pay and what MARC is seeking.

MARC has said it will not reduce the level of service without issuing a 30 day notice, which it has yet to do.

W.Va. Mulls Support for MARC Service

February 28, 2018

West Virginia policymakers are eyeing a range of options to continue Maryland Rail Commuter service operating in their state.

This includes a fare hike of $4 and increasing state funding of the service.

MARC recently said that if a new contract is not reached that it would end service as early as this summer to Martinsburg, Duffields and Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, from Washington.

Maryland has demanded that West Virginia pay $3.2 million to keep MARC trains running to the Mountain State.

The proposed fare increase is expected to generate $600,000 a year.

West Virginia Department of Transportation Secretary Tom Smith said about $500,000 in funding could be taken from the state budget negotiations, which would still leave a funding gap of $2.1 million.

Smith said other funding sources could include federal funding and private sector support.

South Shore Begins Limited Stop Trains

March 17, 2015

The South Shore Line began its South Bend-Chicago express service on Monday.

Train No. 6, dubbed the “Sunrise Express,” has intermediate stops at Dune Park and East Chicago. It departs South Bend at 6 a.m. EDT and arrives at Chicago Millennium Station at 6:55 a.m. (CDT).

Train No. 11 departs Millennium Station at 3:57 p.m. (CDT) with intermediate stops at Van Buren Street, Museum Campus/11th St., 57th Street, East Chicago and Dune Park before arriving in South Bend at 6:55 p.m. (EDT).

The South Shore has characterized the limited stop express trains as experimental. The eastbound trip is scheduled at three minutes longer than the westbound journey.

The full updated South Shore schedule is available online at www.nictd.com.

South Shore Starts South Bend Express Trains

March 6, 2015

The South Shore commuter railroad this month launched an express train from South Bend, Ind., to Chicago that will cover the distance in just under two hours.

The departs from South Bend at 6 a.m. (Eastern time) and arrive at the Millennium Station in Chicago just before 7 a.m. (Central time)

The current running time from South Bend to Chicago is 2 hours, 36 minutes.

The return express train in the afternoon will take slightly longer to cover the distance.

“This certainly is the wave of the future for this railroad,” said South Shore general manager Michael Noland. “It’s what people want and it’s what the strategic plan can deliver.”

The express train will make only two stops in Indiana, at the Dune Park stop in Chesterton and East Chicago.

Three other rush-hour trains will also have their travel time cut due to now having fewer stops.

As Rail Cars for Michigan Commuter Services Sit, Some Question Spending Millions on Leasing Them

February 7, 2015

They sit in waiting in Owosso, Mich., but aren’t likely to see any use for at least two more years.

Five years ago the Michigan Department of Transportation leased 23 bi-level ex-Metra commuter rail cars for use in commuter service between Detroit and Ann Arbor, and between Ann Arbor and Howell.

But the cars have yet to operate and are costing Michigan taxpayers $1.1 million a year.

In the meantime, the cost of starting up the commuter service is nearly $12 million and rising.

Some Michigan lawmakers are concerned about the expenditures .

“They’re betting on something that might not even come to fruition,” said Rep. Marilyn Lane, D-Fraser, who is minority vice-chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

“I’m mad,” Lane said. “If we have these dollars to peel off, we should be fixing the roads. For MDOT to jump so far out front on this is concerning.”

Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, said he doesn’t want to say much until he has more information on the contract.

The deal was signed during the administration of former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, but amended four times during the administration of Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican — each time to increase the contract’s maximum cost.

“Any lease that we’re not using for something does concern me,” Hansen said. “I need to find out at the end of the day what are their plans, what is the time frame, when are the cars going to be used.”

Tim Hoeffner, director of MDOT’s Office of Rail, agreed that the commuter rail project is “costing us more money than we wished it would.”

“I’m not going to try and spin this,” Hoeffner told the Detroit Free Press. “Would we have liked to have gotten the service up and running sooner? Absolutely. Would we have liked to have timed the lease and the overhaul of the equipment to better fit with the start of the services? Absolutely.”

But Hoeffner said he doesn’t think MDOT made a mistake because there is a long lead time need to get equipment.

He said MDOT was correct to acquire equipment before other needed items were in place.

Hoeffner said a poor economy kept the commuter rail services from starting more quickly.

He said that the project has been a boost to Michigan workers and businesses because much of the money spent to renovate the cars was spent in-state.

“Monday morning quarterbacking, hindsighting this, yes, we could have done a lot of things differently,” Hoeffner said. “Based on the available information, and based on the estimated risks, we made sound decisions,” and “time will tell … whether or not we have failed miserably or been great visionaries.”

The 1950s and 1960s-era cars are owned by Great Lakes Central Railroad. MDOT has paid $7.6 million to overhaul the cars and another $2.7 million in lease charges. The cars were previously used in Chicago and sold by Metra.

The per-car lease costs more than doubled in 2013 and 2014 as refurbishments were completed and the cars were certified as rail-worthy.

The contract with MDOT required it to start paying “in-service” rates that total about $3,000 a day, even though the cars are just sitting in a yard in Shiawassee County about 30 miles northeast of Lansing.

MDOT has paid another $1.1 million to its consultant on the rail car project, Pennsylvania-based Quandel.

Hoeffner said it can cost $2 million to $3 million per car to purchase new cars, and $400,000 to $500,000 per car to purchase new equipment.

On that basis, the cost of the project — which now approaches $500,000 per car when renovation costs are included — is not out of line, he said.

“Without having firm dates as to when these services are going to start and what all of that is, I believe that it is prudent to question what we’ve done,” Hoeffner said.

The cars are sitting because there is no funding or operator for the commuter operation. Also, the required environmental studies are not complete.

The tracks to be used between Detroit and Ann Arbor service, which are also used by Amtrak, are about to undergo a rebuilding.

The $11.4 million that MDOT has spent to date on the commuter rail project has come from Michigan’s $300-million Comprehensive Transportation Fund. The money in this fund comes largely from fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees, and is mainly used to pay for transit and rail.

Under state law, at least 10 percent of appropriations from the fund must be allocated for intercity passenger services, which includes rail projects.

Michael Frezell, a spokesman for MDOT, said the project money came from that allocation and could not have been spent on roads, although it could have been spent on other eligible projects such as a bus service between two Michigan cities or another rail-related project.

The project costs are small when compared to the $1.2 billion that Gov. Snyder wants to raise for additional road repairs through a May 5 ballot proposal that would raise the sales tax to 7 percent.

MDOT could have leased and overhauled just 15 of the 23 cars and Hoeffner said that in hindsight it would have made sense to have done that.

He estimates that only five cars, including a spare, need to be allocated to a Howell-Ann Arbor commuter service.

That service, he said, is likely to go into operation before the Ann Arbor-Detroit service.

MDOT has been moving the cars around for display in places such as Ann Arbor and Dearborn to drum up interest in the commuter services.

The state agency is also looking for temporary and short-term uses for some of the cars.

One ideas is to assign them to Amtrak’s Chicago-Grand Rapids Pere Marquette, which MDOT helps to underwrite. 

Hoeffner said that would require the cars to have handicapped-accessible restrooms. Initially, Hoeffner opted to refurbish the cars without restrooms but has since reconsidered.

MDOT recently spent $300,000 to equip two of the cars with handicap restrooms and may pay to put similar restrooms in other cars.

Michigan Auditor General Doug Ringler has also been looking into the commuter rail expenditures and will report to the Legislature soon.

Carmine Palombo, deputy executive director of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, has been working with local officials on developing the commuter rail services.

He said there’s enthusiasm for the projects all along the proposed lines, but the best bet for the Detroit-Ann Arbor service might be if the new Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan decides to include the proposed service in a four-county transit-related ballot proposal planned for November 2016.

Rail upgrades are under way for the next two construction seasons on the state-owned former Michigan Central route to Ann Arbor.

Hoeffner and Palombo said they don’t want to start commuter rail service during that construction period because it could cause delays.

“The real key on both of these services is that without a commitment from the local communities to provide funding to help cover the operating deficits of the service, they’re not going to get moving,” Palombo said.

Michael Cicchella, a former supervisor of Northfield Township in Washtenaw County, said he worked hard on promoting the commuter service in 2007 and 2008 before stepping aside in frustration.

He cited resistance in Livingston County for the project not proceeding when he thought it should have.

Cicchella said commuter rail service between Howell and Ann Arbor could save lives by taking thousands of commuters a day off heavily congested U.S. 23.

New Life for the Akron Branch?

November 23, 2012

Looking north on the former Pennsylvania Railroad’s Akron branch on October 21, 2012, from Hudson Drive. The bridge in the background carried the Lake Erie & Pittsburgh line of the New York Central. It is now a hiking and biking trail.

I’ve never seen a train on the Akron Branch. By the time that I arrived in Northeast Ohio in August 1993, Conrail had pretty much shut down operations on this former Pennsylvania Railroad line. In November 1994 the branch was abandoned between Hudson and Cuyahoga Falls and a year later it was sold to the Summit County Port Authority.

Since then, it has been railbanked to preserve it for possible commuter train service between Akron and Cleveland. That proposal has been dormant for years and shows no sign of coming to life anytime soon.

A few years back Akron Metro and Silver Lake duked it out in court over the town’s efforts to stop a proposed dinner train service on the line. The court ruled against the town, but the dinner train never turned a wheel.

In the meantime, the right of way became overgrown with trees and other vegetation and CSX removed the switch in Cuyahoga Falls that connected the Akron Branch with the former Baltimore & Ohio mainline that runs through Akron.

In recent months, though, there have been reports that the branch might be reactivated to serve an industrial park. Akron Metro in early 2011 began studying the freight potential of the Akron Branch and the ex-B&O route between Akron and Canton. The latter is now used by the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad and in some places the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway.

In late October, I was out with fellow Akron Railroad Club member Roger Durfee on a local outing to photograph trains.

We were driving to a location that Roger didn’t identify other than I would find it interesting. That turned out to be the grade crossing of the Akron Branch with Hudson Drive.

We got out and walked the tracks southward. There was plenty of evidence that a crew had been through earlier to clear the trees that has grown between the ties and rails.

More work needs to be done to get the track ready for service. But the rails, although rusted, appeared to be in reasonably good condition. They could support a slow speed operation to serve local industries.

The Akron Branch was Akron’s first railroad, reaching the city on July 4, 1852. The first train ran between Akron and Hudson the next day.

Akron’s first railroad was also the first to be dismembered.  It has been removed between Cuyahoga Falls and Arlington Street in Akron. In theory, the Akron Branch lives on between Arlington Street and Clinton (Warwick) because CSX uses what for decades was a joint trackage operation between those points.

Much still needs to happen before the Akron Branch comes back to life. But perhaps I will get the chance to see and photograph a train on the line after all.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

Looking southward after walking a short distance along the tracks south of Hudson Drive.

The area to the left used to be the location of a siding or short branch. That it has been maintained and mowed could indicate that a track might be put back in here.

One of the smaller trees that the crews cut down that had sprouted between the rails.

The distant signal for Hudson has been dark for years. At one time this signal mast probably held a PRR-style position signal head.