Posts Tagged ‘light rail’

NS to Pay $2.5M to Pittsburgh Light Rail Operator

November 16, 2019

Norfolk Southern has agreed to pay the Port Authority of Allegheny County more than $2.5 million to reimburse it for damage to a light rail line that occurred due to an NS derailment in August 2018.

The sum is a settlement of the Port Authority’s $3 million claim that had been submitted to NS last February.

During the derailment on the NS Mon Line, intermodal cars and containers slid down an embankment onto the Port Authority’s Station Square station.

The tumbling rail cars also damaged track and overhead wires of that section of the light rail line, which was out of service for three weeks for repairs.

The settlement must still be approved by the full governing board of the Port Authority next week.

Port Authority Chief legal officer Mike Cetra told the board’s performance oversight committee recommended that discussions with NS over the settlement were grueling at times and some claims had to be submitted to the railroad twice.

Surprised, Not Surprised at Indy Light Rail Ban Repeal Failure

March 14, 2018

I was surprised that a bill to repeal an Indiana law banning the spending of public money on a light rail system in Indianapolis sailed through the House of Representatives of the Hoosier State and not surprised that it died in the Senate.

Like all large urban areas, Indianapolis is surrounded by affluent suburbs that like being associated with the core city’s cultural and entertainment offerings but want to distance themselves from its crime and social pathologies.

Representing those suburbs are conservative and mostly Republican lawmakers who tend not to favor very much public transportation.

They are amendable to certain boutique public transportation such as transporting the elderly to medical appointments, but oppose large-scale regional public transportation initiatives.

In 2014 they flexed their muscles by adopting the light rail ban as part of a mass transit funding agreement that gave Indianapolis and surrounding counties the ability to raise income taxes for public transit by means of a ballot initiative.

Then Amazon put Indianapolis on its list of 20 finalists for its second headquarters.

The finalists were chosen from 238 applicants chasing the $5 billion project that Amazon has said will result in 50,000 well-paying jobs.

That gave Rep. Justin Moed, an Indianapolis Democrat, an opening.

One criterion that Amazon wants is access to good public transportation. That is not a strong suit of Indianapolis or, for that matter, Columbus, which also made the list of Amazon finalists.

Neither city has a rail public transportation system or even a shovel-ready plan. Moed apparently thought Amazon might notice the light rail ban in Indiana law.

The House overwhelmingly approved his bill repealing the ban but then Senate Republicans decided not to vote on the bill.

News accounts cited a proposed amendment by Senator Mike Delph, a Carmel Republican, which would have required Indianapolis to prove that public transit money isn’t needed to fill potholes.

That was a ruse to kill the bill. Delph doesn’t care about potholes on Indianapolis streets except those he drives over to get to and from the Statehouse.

Carmel is located in a cluster of affluent suburbs in Hamilton County northeast of Indianapolis. It’s the same region that made news last year when the mayor of Fishers proposed abandoning a former Nickel Plate Road branch line that in recent years had hosted the Indiana Fairtrain run by the Indiana Transportation Museum.

The mayor wants to convert the railroad right of way into a hiking and biking trail.

Many who live in such affluent places are not opposed to railroads per se. They just want them to run somewhere else.

They also have the education, the money and the political clout to do something about their NIMBY views.

The effort to repeal the light rail ban in Indianapolis reminded me of a comment I once heard about why efforts to transform the former Erie railroad line from Cleveland to Aurora into commuter rail have languished.

“Trains run both ways,” he said. Some who live in suburbs far from urban centers fear that criminals and other socially undesirable types will ride the trains to their pristine suburbs and cause all sorts of mischief and criminal activity.

However, the reasons why lawmakers from suburban and rural areas look askance at public transportation, particularly rail transit, are multifaceted.

Transportation is not something that legislators talk about much other than, maybe, highway development.

Yes, there is an anti-rail bias at work with some saying rail transportation is the technology and transportation mode of your grandparents.

Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne, told The Indianapolis Star that light rail “feels like it’s just going to be a dinosaur technology in the very near future.”

Long, who denied that the proposed Delph amendment killed the light rail repeal bill, also said any light rail project was likely to be a boondoggle. By that he meant that it would require continuous public funding of its operating costs.

That goes to the heart of much of the conservative opposition to public transportation, including funding of intercity rail service. They don’t like spending public money in an open-ended manner on things they believe are not the responsibility of government at any level.

Being proponents of small government, they do not believe, generally, that public funding should not be used to pay operating expenses for any transportation endeavor.

In their view those who use transportation should shoulder all of its operating expenses whether it is a train, plane, bus or livery car.

Yet many conservatives in Florida fiercely fought against Brightline, a privately funded intercity rail service that uses tracks owned by a private freight carrier.

So the opposition is rooted in something other than ideology about the role of government in public affairs. There are some underlying prejudices at work that rail opponents don’t want to discuss.

Many conservative lawmakers are highly sympathetic to the highway lobby. They recognize there is only so much money to be had for transportation spending and don’t want any of that money diverted toward other modes of transportation.

Indiana Senate President Long insisted to reporters that the opposition in the Senate GOP caucus to the light rail ban repeal was not partisan.

There is some truth to that. The Senate sponsor of the light rail repeal ban was a Republican who is the chairman of the Marion County Republican party. Indianapolis is located in Marion County.

The interests of Marion County and its surrounding counties don’t always coincide. Merritt also has clashed with Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, a Democrat, over the condition of Indy’s streets.

The GOP caucus was split on the light rail ban repeal didn’t want to bare that in a public fight. Majority parties these days don’t like to have to depend on votes from the minority party in their chamber to win approval of legislation.

Yet another complication was that Marion County voters had approved a 2016 public transit ballot initiative to create three bus rapid transit routes, not unlike the BRT route in Cleveland connecting downtown with University Circle via Euclid Avenue.

There is some thought that many voters favored the initiative because its backers said the money would not be used for light rail.

Lifting the light rail ban had some support in the business community. The Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce said the city needs all mass transit options on the table if it is to attract major new employers such as Amazon.

Even if the light rail ban had been lifted, there was no assurance that a light rail line would have been developed.

Fights such as the one that recently played out in Indianapolis have occurred in every city in the country where rail transit has been proposed.

Rail transit proponents have won a few skirmishes and seen streetcar and light rail lines develop in some seemingly unlikely places.

Yet the United States remains a highway oriented transportation culture and there are few signs that that is about to change. The opposition to rail transit and expansive regional public transportation is too entrenched.

Indy Light Rail Ban Repeal Appears to be Dead

March 7, 2018

The effort in the Indiana General Assembly to repeal a law that prohibits development of a light rail system in Greater Indianapolis has a hit a chuckhole.

A suburban senator who opposes light rail in the region has introduced an amendment to the legislation that would repeal the 2014 light rail ban to water it down.

Mike Delph of Carmel wants to require Indianapolis officials to prove that public transit money isn’t needed to fill potholes.

Specifically, his amendment would prohibit spending money on a light rail project until officials have “substantially remedied the pothole problem” and developed and implemented an “acceptable written plan” to remedy potholes during future winter seasons.

Some news media reports have said the amendment has been the bill’s death knell.

The Senate sponsor of the light rail repeal bill declined to bring the legislation to the Senate floor on Monday, the deadline for the chamber to consider legislation.

The bill’s House sponsor said he might seek to revive the bill later in the session, but the prospects for that are uncertain.

The bill had passed the House 95-0. Backers have said repealing the light rail ban is necessarily to try to entice Amazon to locate its second headquarters in Indianapolis.

The city is on a list of 20 finalists for the second headquarters. Amazon has said that public transit will be a factor in its decision as to where to locate the headquarters.

Indiana Senate Committee OKs Bill to Remove Light Rail Ban in Indianapolis Region

March 1, 2018

An Indiana Senate committee approved by a 7-2 vote a bill that would lift the ban on development of light rail systems in the counties surrounding Indianapolis.

The legislation is being sponsored by State Rep. Justin Moed, who said it is needed to help the city compete for the second headquarters of Amazon.

Indianapolis is one of 20 urban areas that Amazon is considering and public transportation is one of the criteria that it is evaluating.

Current law prohibits certain counties from purchasing, leasing, acquiring, constructing or operating a light-rail project.

Moed has said the legislation is needed if Indianapolis is to compete for major employers looking to locate their businesses in the area.

“This is no longer Naptown,” Moed said in a news release. “This is a growing city people are looking to move to. We just need to make sure the city of Indianapolis and central Indiana have all the tools they need to grow.”

A House committee approved the bill last month. No proposals or plans are in the works to create a light rail line in the Indy metro area.

Firm Chosen for Buffalo Light Rail Extension

February 27, 2018

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority has chosen WSP to provide environmental review and preliminary design work for the first phase of the Amherst Metro Rail extension project in the Buffalo, New York, region .

WSP will refine a 2017 study of preferred alternatives for extending the Metro Rail light-rail system along Niagara Falls Boulevard from the University Station in Buffalo to the University of Buffalo’s North Campus in Amherst, New York.

The WSP work will also include exploring options for additional storage and maintenance facilities.

Indiana May Repeal Light Rail Ban for Indianapolis

January 26, 2018

In an effort to woo a $5 billion Amazon headquarters, the Indiana General Assembly is moving to repeal a law banning light rail from the Indianapolis metropolitan area.

A House committee voted 11-1 this week in favor of legislation to repeal a 2014 law that bars state or local governments from spending money on light rail projects in the seven-county region surrounding Indianapolis.

The effort to repeal the law gained impetus when Amazon recently named Indianapolis one of 20 finalists for its second headquarters.

Also on the list are Chicago, Pittsburgh and Columbus. Cleveland applied for the headquarters but did not make the latest cut.

One of the criteria being used by Amazon to choose what is being termed HQ2 is good public transportation, including rail transportation.

Indianapolis has a bus system but not a rail transit system and there are no current plans to create one.

Amazon is headquartered in Seattle. Dozens of cities in the United States and Canada are eagerly seeking the Amazon headquarters because it promises to provide more than 50,000 jobs with average salaries of more than $100,000 annually.

“Transit is a very major factor for a lot of these major companies that are looking to move here,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Justin Moed (D-Indianapolis).

The 2014 law banning light rail was rooted in a belief by fiscal conservatives that a light rail system would require a taxpayer bailout due to its high costs.

The conservative lawmakers demanded the light rail ban as the price for their support of a measure to allow Indiana counties to increase incomes taxes through referendum for public transit projects.

Group Pushing for Rail in Columbus

July 25, 2016

A Columbus public transportation advocacy group is pushing for the development of light trail after the city won a Smart City Challenge, which will steer a $50 million federal grant to Ohio’s capital city as part of a transportation makeover.

OhioTransit Columbus posted an online petition that calls on city and Central Ohio Transit Authority to consider light rail, bus rapid transit or streetcars.

The advocacy group cautioned city officials not to rely too much on driverless cars and other technologies that were proposed in the Smart City Challenge application.

Transit Columbus said it favors a wide range of transportation options, including rail.

That bid described Columbus as a test bed for midsize cities that don’t have light rail systems or other popular mass-transit options for moving residents.

Columbus said that landing the smart city grant could enable it to “leap frog” over rail.

“If we expect to have a really prosperous city, we can’t be a city that doesn’t invest in itself, especially in transit, because it’s going to enable us to compete better with other cities in the country,” said Josh Lapp, vice chairman of Transit Columbus, in an interview with Columbus Business First.

Lapp cited Portland, Oregon, and Denver as examples of what transit should look like in Columbus, which currently has only COTA buses as its public transportation offerings.

Public transportation advocates have argued that Columbus is the nation’s largest city without a rail commuter system.

COTA is in the midst of creating its NextGen plan, which will examine the city’s long-term transportation needs through 2050. The plan is expected to be released next year.

A COTA spokesperson said the NextGen plan will “consider any number of different technologies and alternatives.”

Light Rail Ridership up 3% in 1st Quarter

June 10, 2016

The American Public Transportation Association said light rail ridership in the United States increased by 3 percent in the first quarter of 2016 compared with the same period in 2015.

APTAThirteen of the 29 light-rail systems in the country posted ridership gains.

Commuter-rail ridership rose 2.7 percent with 16 of 29 systems reporting increases.

Ridership on subways and elevated trains was up 2.5 percent.

The trade association said there were 2.6 billion trips made on all forms of public transportation, which was a 0.4 percent increase over the first quarter of 2015.

APTA said the rising patronage occurred during a time when gasoline prices remained low, noting that lower gas prices usually result in small dips in public transportation ridership.