Posts Tagged ‘Federal Railroad Administration’

FRA Releases Midwest Passenger Rail Plan

October 14, 2021

The Federal Railroad Administration on Wednesday released an ambitious plan for intercity rail passenger service expansion in the Midwest.

The Midwest Regional Rail Plan calls for a network of high-speed trains serving four core corridors linking Chicago with Indianapolis, Detroit, St. Louis, and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

These core routes would have a series of connecting regional lines. Service on the core routes would be 24 trains a day while the regional lines would feature 15 trains a day.

The plan envisions all routes being integrated with public transit systems. Ridership is projected to reach 17 million annual trips by 2055 if all routes and connections are developed.

FRA deputy administrator Amit Bose discussed the plan at a news conference on Wednesday at Chicago Union Station.

He and others then boarded an Amtrak Wolverine Service train to attend the annual Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission meeting in Detroit.

An FRA news release described the plan as the culmination of a cooperative effort involving the agency and MIPRC, and developed in partnership with 12 state departments of transportation, as well as Amtrak, freight railroads, transit organizations, councils of government, metropolitan planning organizations, chambers of commerce, regional railroads and advocacy groups.

Amtrak’s Midwest network currently has routes linking Chicago with Milwaukee; Quincy, Illinois; St. Louis; Carbondale, Illinois; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Port Huron, Michigan; and Detroit (Pontiac).

Another route links St. Louis and Kansas City. Service on all corridors is funded by the states of Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Missouri.

Ann Arbor’s New Amtrak Depot Plans Got Too Big and Expensive

September 7, 2021

In the wake of a decision by the Federal Railroad Administration to pull out of a project to build a new Amtrak station in Ann Arbor, Michigan, city officials are seeking ways to keep the project going, including reducing the project’s scope.

Work on getting a new Amtrak station in Ann Arbor began about a decade ago.

At the time, then Mayor John Hieftje projected the station would cost $30 million and the city would pay less than $3 million of that with the federal government picking up most of the tab.

Hieftje expected to do what Dearborn, a suburb of Detroit, did in building a new $28.2 million Amtrak station with federal stimulus money paying for most of it.

But over time the size of the proposed Ann Arbor station expanded and so did its costs. After cost estimates reached $171 million, the FRA backed away.

News accounts of the FRA’s decision focused on the agency’s belief that the station would have too much parking for intercity rail service.

But Amtrak passengers were not expected to be the only user of the station.

At one time local government planning agencies in Ann Arbor, Detroit and other communities along with the Michigan Department of Transportation were eyeing creating a commuter rail service.

The University of Michigan offered to buy commuter train tickets for its employees in lieu of them buying parking permits on the crowded campus.

MDOT acquired a fleet of passenger cars that would be used for the service.

The expectation of commuter rail service was the major deciding factor for locating the new station in Fuller Park next to the University of Michigan Hospital.

Rather than paying $1,000 a year for a parking pass, employees would be able to ride free on a commuter train.

Heiftjie noted that tens of thousands of daily commuters have jobs in Ann Arbor. City officials saw an opportunity to create a place where more people could travel without cars and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The UM hospital is the most visited place in Ann Arbor on a daily basis.

But the commuter rail concept collapsed after Michigan voters rejected a bond issue that would have funded development of the service.

All along, city planners had seen the station as a two-phase development with the second phase hinging on the creating of the commuter rail service.

The proposed station would have a parking deck with 1,300 spaces, although most of those spaces were expected to be used by commuter train passengers.

But other design features also drove up costs, including elevating the station and building a bridge over the tracks. Another considerable expense included constructing a retaining wall to stabilize the slope leading to the UM hospital.

But most of the expense of the project involved the parking deck, including elevator/stair towers and a metal fin design to soften the deck’s appearance and make it look like “an art object.”

A first floor bus station was also included in the plans as well as a bicycle maintenance and storage area.
In pulling out of the project, the FRA described the project costs as being “an order of magnitude higher” than other stations the agency had funded.

Heiftjie has since left office and his successor as mayor, Christopher Taylor, continued to support building a new Amtrak station.

The city’s current station is located west of the former Michigan Central depot, which is now a restaurant.

Built in 1982, city officials consider the station too cramped given the level of ridership there.

Ann Arbor is the busiest passenger rail station in Michigan although it suffered significant ridership losses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ridership of the Wolverine Service route between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac) in 2020 was 278,450 compared with 990,068 in 2019. In Ann Arbor ridership fell from 154,813 in 2019 to 41,013 last year.

Hieftjie said he doesn’t regret pushing the project even though in hindsight he believes the city tried to go too big in recent years and proposed too much parking.

He said when he began pushing the project it was a different world and he had high hopes for significant growth in rail ridership.

Now Hieftjie is not so sure that could happen due to changes brought about by COVID-19.

“The environment has changed,” he said. “We’re obviously in a whole different period. Due to COVID, people are not riding trains like they used to. I think it’s going to be a while before people return to transit.”

Ann Arbor Station Project Derailed by FRA

August 27, 2021

Years of effort to develop a new Amtrak station in Ann Arbor, Michigan, may have hit a dead end after the Federal Railroad Administration pulled out of the project.

The agency cited high costs and unacceptable design features, including too much parking, for halting work on the environmental assessment of the project.

Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor called the FRA’s action an “unwelcome surprise.”

He will seek the assistance of Michigan’s congressional delegation to try to get the FRA decision reversed. The city also is seeking the help of the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Taylor said the existing Amtrak station in Ann Arbor is inadequate.

Efforts to create a new Amtrak station in Ann Arbor, which is served by Wolverine Service trains between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac) go back at least a decade.

The city wants to put the new station in Fuller Park, a 60-acre recreation area location next to the University of Michigan medical center.

The plan is to place the station over the tracks, something the FRA said has resulted in high design costs. The agency also said the number of parking spaces planned for the facility exceed intercity passenger rail needs.

The station is estimated to cost $14.7 million, with another $86 million required for the first phase of construction.

Ann Arbor officials want the federal government to provide much of the funding of the project.

FRA to Take Applications for CRISI Grants

August 27, 2021

The Federal Railroad Administration will be taking application soon for the fiscal year 2021 Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety grant program.

The agency plans to publish on Aug. 31 a notice of funding opportunity. This year’s grant program has $362 million to award to eligible projects.

To be eligible applicants must demonstrate that their projects reduce congestion; address highway-rail grade crossings; upgrade short line and regional railroad infrastructure; relocate rail lines; improve intercity passenger rail capital assets; target trespassing; enhance multi-modal connections; and facilitate service integration between rail and other modes, such as at ports or intermodal facilities.

FRA officials said applications will be evaluated on how they foster safety and equitable economic strength; improve core assets and ensure racial equity and economic inclusion; address climate change and resilience; and modernize the nation’s transportation infrastructure.

A quarter of the grant money is set aside for rural projects, another $75 million is for projects that support the development of new intercity passenger rail service routes, including alignments for existing routes; and $25 million is earmarked for capital projects and engineering solutions targeting rail trespassing.

FRA Revises Rules on PTC Reporting

July 31, 2021

The Federal Railroad Administration has revised its rules governing changes to positive train control systems and railroad reporting on PTC system performance.

In a notice published July 27 in the Federal Register, the FRA said it recognizes the railroad industry intends to enhance FRA-certified PTC systems to continue improving rail safety and PTC technology’s reliability and operability.

The agency said it is changing the process by which a host railroad must submit a request for amendment to the FRA before the railroad makes changes to its PTC safety plan and FRA-certified PTC system.

The rule also expands an existing reporting requirement by increasing the frequency from annual to biannual.

The change also broadens the reporting requirement to encompass positive performance-related information, including about the technology’s positive impact on rail safety, not just failure-related information.

The new rules will go into effect on Aug. 26.

House Budget Bill Boosts Transportation Spending

July 20, 2021

The House Appropriations Committee last week approved a spending bill for fiscal year 2022 that would boost spending on transportation programs over FY2021 levels.

The bill, known as the Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies legislation provides an increase of $1.9 billion for the U.S. Department of Transportation.

USDOT is allocated $105.7 billion in budgetary resources, a 22 percent increase above the FY2021 enacted level ($86.7 billion) and the President Joseph Biden’s FY2022 budget request of $87 billion.

Among the spending levels authorized for transportation programs are:

• $1.2 billion for National Infrastructure Investments, a 20 percent increase from FY 2021. It includes $20 million for Transportation Planning Grants to assist areas of persistent poverty, a 100 percent increase over FY 2021. An additional $100 million is included for a new grant program to “spur thriving communities nationwide.”

•$4.1 billion for the Federal Railroad Administration, up 46 percent from FY 2021. This includes $625 million for the new Passenger Rail Improvement, Modernization, and Expansion (PRIME) grant program “to support projects that improve, expand or establish passenger rail service”; $500 million for the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) grant program, a 33 percent increase from FY 2021; $2.7 billion for Amtrak, a 35 percent boost over FY 2021, which includes $1.2 billion for Northeast Corridor Grants and $1.5 billion for National Network Grants.

• $15.5 billion for the Federal Transit Administration, including $12.2 billion for Transit Formula Grants to expand bus fleets and increase the transit state of good repair; $2.5 billion for Capital Investment Grants to construct more than 23 new transit routes nationwide, a 22 percent increase above the FY 2021 enacted level and equal to the president’s budget request; and $580 million for Transit Infrastructure Grants to purchase more than 300 zero-emission buses and 400 diesel buses, and to support “transformative research for transit systems,” which is a 12 percent increase above FY 2021.

Jake Safety Award Winners Named

June 4, 2021

The American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association said this week that 346 railroads will receive a Jake Safety Awards with 19 member railroads being recognized as President’s Safety Award winners.

In a news release, ASLRA said the awards recognize members for above-industry average safety performance during 2020.

An ASLRRA member must perform better than the industry average reportable injury frequency rate for railroads other than Class Is, commuter railroads and Amtrak based on data reported to the Federal Railroad Administration. Railroads must have completed all FRA-required employee-on-duty reporting for 2020.

That average industry reportable injury frequency rate for 2020 was 2.18 per 200,000 employee on-duty hours.

President’s Award winners posted the lowest reportable injury frequency rate per FRA regulations as measured within man-hour categories.

The Jake Awards are named for Lowell S. “Jake” Jacobson, the president and general manager of the Copper Basin Railway who pushed to establish the award program named in his honor.

Among the Jake award winners were the Buffalo & Pittsburgh, Evansville Western, Indiana & Ohio, Gary Railway, Indiana Rail Road, Kanawha River, Paducah & Louisville Terminal, and Union Railroad.

President’s award winners included the Columbus & Ohio River Railroad for 150,000 to 250,000 man hours worked, and Gary Railway Company for 250,000 to 500,000 man hours worked.

OLI Chapters Awarded Grant Funds

May 27, 2021

Operation Lifesaver in partnership with the Federal Railroad Administration and the Posner Foundation of Pittsburgh has awarded grants to chapters in Indiana, Pennsylvania and Ohio for grade crossing safety and trespassing prevention projects.

The grants in partnership with the FRA totaled $200,317 and were made to Operation Lifesaver programs in 12 states while the Posner Foundation grants totaled $245,317 in combined grant funds.

The FRA-funded grants will be awarded to OLI chapters in Alabama, California, Georgia, Indiana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota and Tennessee.

Most of the Posner Foundation grant money is being awarded in Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and New Jersey.

All of the grants were awarded through a competitive process.

Hedlund Intended to Replace Begeman on STB

May 3, 2021

The nomination of Democrat Karen J. Hedlund to the Surface Transportation Board is intended to be a replacement for Republican Ann Begeman.

Although Begeman’s term expired Dec. 31, 2020, by law she is eligible to remain on the board in holdover status for up to 12 months or until replaced.

Begeman has served two five-year terms on the STB and was acting chair until replaced in that position by Democrat Martin Oberman last January. STB members are limited to two five-year terms by statute. 

Hedlund will need to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate before replacing Begeman on the board.

Congressional observers told Railway Age magazine that Hedlund’s nomination is not expected to get a Senate floor vote until June or July.

A former counsel and deputy administrator at the Federal Railroad Administration, Hedlund since January 2015 has worked at WSP USA (then Parsons Brinckerhoff).

Previously she worked with federal, state and local transportation agencies as well as private companies to facilitate financing and development of transportation projects.

Those included Amtrak’s Gateway Program, Chicago O’Hare Airport Express Rail and the California High-Speed Rail Program.

Hedlund received a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center and a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University.

Bose Nominated as FRA Administrator

April 24, 2021

Amit Bose will be nominated to be the administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration.

Bose is currently deputy Federal Railroad Administrator and has had a two-decade career in public agency positions related to transportation.

He also once served the FRA as chief counsel and a senior adviser, helping to oversee the implementation of positive train control systems.

Bose also worked for the U.S. Department of Transportation as associate general counsel and deputy assistant secretary for governmental affairs.

Before that he worked for New Jersey Transit, the New Jersey Department of Transportation and as a congressional staff member.

He earned a AB from Columbia College, an MIA from the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, and a JD from the University of Georgia.

The Biden administration also plans to nominate Carlos Monje Jr. as under secretary of transportation for policy.