Posts Tagged ‘Federal Railroad Administration’

Court Sides With Railroads in Amtrak Dispute

March 25, 2017

In the end Amtrak’s freight railroads prevailed in court.

A federal judge ruled in their favor by ruling that Section 207 of the 2008 Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act is unconstitutional and thus the metrics and standards that the Federal Railroad Administration had issued in 2011 in terms of evaluating on-time performance have now been struck down.

The ruling was made by Judge James E. Boasberg based on the due process clause of the U.S. Constitution against the taking of life, libery or property without due process of law.

The Association of American Railroads had filed suit challenging the legality of Section 207.

Boasberg’s ruling was made after the case had been remanded court by the U.S. Supreme Court with instructions as to how to proceed in the case.

Therefore, observers say, it is unlikely that the U.S. Department of Transportation will appeal the ruling.

In his ruling, the judge relied on a precedent set in an 1886 Supreme Court ruling involving Southern Pacific that found that rights granted to people by the Constitution are also granted to corporations.

The court ruled that the regulatory authority of the federal government rests only with individuals appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, which is also known as the appointments clause.

The AAR had challenged Section 207, in part, because it allowed Amtrak to have some regulatory power even it is a part of the industry that is being regulated.

In July 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals found that Amtrak is a private company that may not be granted regulatory powers, overturning a May 2012 ruling by the District Court that Amtrak is a governmental entity.

A unanimous Supreme Court in March 2015 ruled that for the purposes of the constitutional clauses in question, Amtrak is a part of the government.

In sending the case back to the district court, the Supreme Court instructed it to rule further on the questions of due process and appointments.

The latest court ruling means that although Congress may lawfully create companies that act commercially within an industry and may also create regulatory bodies, it cannot create entities that do both at the same time.

AAR had asserted that Section 207 allowed Amtrak to do that.

FRA Not Expected to Complete Review of Ann Arbor Station Site Assessment Until Summer

March 25, 2017

The Federal Railroad administration has acknowledged that it is likely to be summer before it completes a review of a draft environmental assessment report pertaining to a new Amtrak station in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Once that is completed, there will be a 30-day public comment period.

Only then will the design and engineering work for the new station begin. That’s a problem for Ann Arbor because the city is set to lose a federal grant if it isn’t used by Sept. 30.

The question city officials are grappling with is whether there will be enough time to use the federal funds for station design.

An FRA spokeswoman, Desiree French, told the Ann Arbor News/Mlive.com that the federal grant will be available for use after its expiration date.

It will be the city’s responsibility to complete preliminary engineering and National Environmental Policy Act compliance work. That will mean paying for it out the city’s own pocket.

“We’re working very closely with them to help them meet that sunset date,” French said.

The Ann Arbor City Council in January approved a contract with Neumann/Smith Architecture to conduct the design and engineering work once the environmental assessment has cleared all of its hurdles.

Officials estimate that the preliminary design and engineering is $2.37 million with another unallocated contingency of $101,131 making the total cost nearly $2.5 million.

Ann Arbor had expected $2 million of that to be covered by federal funding awarded to the city in 2011 and accepted in 2012.

The city had hoped to have the preliminary design and engineering work completed by May 31, which it figured to be enough time for the FRA to review it before the grant expires.

French said the Sept. 30 expiration date is part of the authorizing legislation that approved the funding and the FRA has no authority to extend it.

Eli Cooper, Ann Arbor’s transportation program manager, said he was expecting the FRA review of the environmental assessment to be completed much sooner.

“Summer sure sounds like a lot more time than what information I’m working on,” he said. “The implications on the schedule, as it relates to the grant, is also something that is of interest to me and the city.”

French said the FRA is working with the city and the Michigan Department of Transportation to prepare a draft environmental assessment that complies with the National Environmental Policy Act.

Although Ann Arbor had submitted a draft  environmental assessment to the FRA in December, it sent a revised and more complete document to the agency in February.

At the time, the city expected the FRA would complete its review of it in 30 days. But that now appears unlikely to occur absent some change of heart at the FRA.

The FRA awarded MDOT a $2.8 million grant 2011 that was originally expected to help Ann Arbor plan for a new Amtrak station on Fuller Road in a city-owned parking lot near the University of Michigan Hospital.

But planning for that site was disrupted in 2012 when the FRA asked the city to consider other potential station sites and funding assumptions for the project changed.

The Fuller Road site is still under consideration, but city officials have said they also are looking at sites on Depot Street, where the current Amtrak station is located.

French said the FRA has encouraged the city to advance the preliminary engineering and NEPA compliance tasks simultaneously.

“It was the city’s decision to wait until NEPA and an alternative is selected to complete preliminary engineering,” she said.

Ann Arbor officials have declined thus far to say which site they prefer and the FRA won’t comment on sites, either.

“It would be premature for the FRA to comment on a preferred location for the station until completion of the NEPA process,” French said.

AAR Says Technology Making Rails Safer

March 24, 2017

The Association of American Railroads said this week that U.S. railroads had a record low accident rate in 2016.

Using data compiled by the Federal Railroad Administration, the AAR said derailment rates fell 10 percent while track-caused accident rates were also at all-time lows. Additionally, the employee-on-duty injury rate dropped 1.8 percent in 2016 compared with 2015.

Since 2000, the train accident rate is down 44 percent; the equipment-caused accident rate is down 34 percent; the track-caused accident rate is down 53 percent; and the derailment rate is down 44 percent.

The figures were calculated on per million train miles using March 2017 FRA data.

In a news release, AAR touted gains in research, development and implementation of new technology as being the primary contributor to the improved safety statistics.

The trade group also cited private spending averaging $26 billion annually in recent years
“Our goal remains zero incidents and zero injuries, but it is still noteworthy that railroads today are the safest they have ever been,” said AAR President and CEO Edward Hamberger.

Among the use of improved technology that the AAR mentioned were multidimensional ultrasonic technology to locate defects in tracks and the use of drones for track and bridge inspections.

Train-Vehicle Collisions Down, but Deaths are Up

March 23, 2017

Operation Lifesaver reported this week that vehicle-train collisions fell by 2.4 percent in 2016, but the number of fatalities increased 13.7 percent when compared with 2015 data.

Also increasing were the number of trespassing deaths on train tracks, which rose 12.8 percent in 2016.

The figures were derived from Federal Railroad Administration data.

During 2016, U.S. crossing collisions fell to 2,025 from 2,075 when compared with 2015.

But crossing-related fatalities were 265 compared with 233 and crossing injuries dropped 22.7 percent to 798 from 1,032.

Trespassing deaths and injuries climbed to 994 in 2016 from 868 in 2015; trespassing deaths rose to 511 from 453; and trespassing injuries grew to 483 from 415.

States with the most 2016 crossing collisions were Texas, California, Illinois, Indiana and Georgia.

States with the most trespasser casualties (deaths and injuries combined) were California, Texas, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania.

“While we are encouraged to see highway-rail crossing collisions and injuries continuing their downward trend, we are very concerned about the increase in crossing deaths, trespass deaths and injuries,” said OLI head Bonnie Murphy.

Ann Arbor Station Development Delayed by FRA

March 22, 2017

The clock is starting to tick louder in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where the city is racing against a deadline to spend a federal grant to develop a new Amtrak station.

But the city has yet to get the Federal Railroad Administration to approve a draft environmental assessment, which it needs to get done before preliminary station design can begin.

The draft has been at the FRA since December but the agency has yet to act on it.

The Ann Arbor City Council in January approved a $2.14 million contract with Neumann/Smith Architecture for preliminary design and engineering services.

But the consultants can’t do much until the FRA signs off on the draft.

The draft report identifies a preferred location for the new station and a 30-day public review period is expected to follow the release of the report.

City officials have declined for months to say what site they prefer for the station.

One proposal is to build the station in Fuller Park in front of the University of Michigan Hospital while other sites are being considered along Depot Street, where the current station is located.

City officials told the city council this week that they are working with several parties to try to prod the FRA to move along its review process due to the looming deadline to spend the grant money.

One of those parties is U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, who represents Ann Arbor.

Eli Cooper, Ann Arbor’s transportation program manager, said a revised draft was sent to the FRA in early February when the FRA said the review would be completed in 30 days.

But last week, the FRA told the city the review has been delayed and did not indicate for how long although Cooper said, “I would expect their review comments, if any, imminently.”

Cooper said the city will release to the public the environmental assessment identifying the preferred station location once the FRA authorizes its release.

FRA Reports PTC Progress

March 20, 2017

A Federal Railroad Administration report released last week said that positive train control has been installed and is active on 16 percent of freight railroads and 24 percent of passenger railroads.

That is an increase from 16 percent on freight railroads and 23 percent of passenger railroads in the third quarter of 2016.

The FRA said that 41 percent of passenger railroad locomotives are fully equipped with PTC technology, compared with 29 percent in the third quarter.

The percentage of freight railroad locomotives equipped with PTC rose to 42 percent compared with 38 percent in the third quarter of 2016.

The railroad industry faces a Dec. 31, 2018, deadline to install and implement PTC.

C&O 1309 Tickets Sales Have Been Strong

January 28, 2017

Tickets sales for excursions behind the restored Chesapeake & Ohio No. 1309 have been good enough to prompt the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad to add trips to accommodate more passengers.

Western Maryland ScenicThe additional trips behind the 2-6-6-2 Mallet will be run in the latter half of 2017.

“At the moment, we’re selling about $2,000 worth of tickets per day. Once word more generally gets out, it will rise steadily,” project manager John Hankey told Trains magazine.

The 1309 has been in restoration since the WMSR purchased it in June 2014 from the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum.

The WMRS is aiming at a July 1 inaugural run for the locomotive. Hankey said the Federal Railroad Administration is expected to complete a boiler inspection soon and a hydrostatic test could be undertaken by the end of February.

Flues, tubes and applicances must still be attached and Hankey expects trial runs under steam to be conducted in May.

RBM&N Installing Locomotive Event Recorders, Plans to Boost Trains Speeds Above 25 MPH

January 14, 2017

Faster track speeds on the Pennsylvania-based Reading Blue Mountain & Northern will require the road to comply with a Federal Railroad Administration standard that at least one locomotive of a train be equipped with an event recorder.

PennsylvaniaThe RRM&N has about 320 miles of track at which trains can run at speeds of more than 30 mph.

The railroad recently installed the event recorders in a pair of its EMD SD50s at a cost of $12,000 per locomotive.

Railroad CEO Andy Muller said the company is still determining which of the other 40 locomotives that it owns will receive event recorders.

FRA rules require that the event recorders keep track for 48 hours of the train speed, selected direction of motion, time, distance, throttle position, and the applications and operations of the automatic and independent brakes. The event recorder does not necessarily need to be in the lead unit.

RBM&N plans to operate trains with a unit having a working event recorder at speeds of 40 to 50 mph.

“When you’re running through schedule freights from Reading to Scranton you can’t run 25 mph,” Muller said.

Muller said the RBM&N has track good for 40-50 mph operation and is adding more CTC-controlled territory, but train speeds were previously held to 25 mph.

FRA Collects Record Amount of Civil Penalities

December 24, 2016

The Federal Railroad Administration has collected a record amount of $15.75 million in civil penalty payments this year.

FRAIn a news release, the FRA said its “enforcement of federal rail safety rules has led to the highest-ever civil penalty collection rate in the agency’s 50-year history, surpassing last year’s record-breaking rate.”

The FRA said that for fiscal year 2016, which ended on Sept. 30, the agency projects that it will collect 79 percent of the civil penalties it assessed on railroads, hazardous materials shippers and others for violating federal safety regulations.

That would be a 4 percent increase over FY 2015, and the largest percentage rate ever achieved by the agency.

Last year, more than 6,268 railroad company violations resulted in civil penalties.

Chicago-Columbus Rail Route Planning to Start

December 20, 2016

All Aboard Ohio said Monday that enough funding has been raised to begin what it described as an alternatives analysis and public input process for a proposed Chicago-Columbus passenger rail route.

Amtrak 4The Indiana Department of Transportation submitted an application to the Federal Railroad Administration in support of the planning process for the route.

In a news release, AAO, a rail passenger advocacy group based in Cleveland, said INDOT offered the locally-raised funds, totaling $350,000, to start the planning process as part of an arrangement with the FRA.

The initial planning work is to be completed by late 2017.  AAO also said the support of the Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association was also critical.

The Chicago-Columbus route would operate via Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Lima, Ohio, using large portions of the former Pennsylvania Railroad’s Fort Wayne Line, which hosted Amtrak trains until November 1990 when the trains were rerouted due to Conrail downgrading the route.

“There are only two rail corridors to the east of Chicago that lack heavy freight rail traffic and could offer the potential for frequent, reliable, 110-mph passenger trains,” said Ken Prendergast, executive director of AAO.

The Fort Wayne Line is one of those with Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit being the other.

Prendergast noted that work is already underway to upgrade the Michigan corridor for 110-mph passenger service.