Posts Tagged ‘Michigan’

Ex-CN Signal Maintainer Facing Prison Term After Cutting Crossing Wires in Battle Creek, Michigan

January 11, 2018

A former Canadian National signal maintainer is facing a 20-year prison term after he pleaded guilty in a federal court in Michigan to a felony charge of impairing a railroad safety signal by cutting wires at grade crossings in Battle Creek.

Jeffrey Alan Taylor, who lives in the Upper Peninsula, was captured on video cutting the wires during a 2017 visit to the Battle Creek area.

The result was that the crossing gates went down and stayed down even though no train was approaching. That caused a traffic backup.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Davin Reust told the court that it must reject Taylor’s contention that the result of his action was nothing more than an inconvenience for motorists.

“This argument ignores the obvious; removing one of multiple safety systems cannot make the system safer . . .,” Reust wrote in a memorandum to the court. “Taylor’s argument boils down to one that he should not be held accountable for intentionally creating a safety hazard because no catastrophe occurred here.”

The first two wire-cutting incidents occurred in January 2017. After the second incident, the railroad installed hidden surveillance cameras at Battle Creek crossings.

Taylor was captured on video in June after CN received a report of the gates being down.

The video showed him parking his truck near a crossing, walking to the site and using wire cutters to cut signal wires

He was not employed by CN at the time of the wire cutting incidents, but had worked for the railroad between 1994 and 2009.

William Weise, an attorney representing Taylor, said his client accepted full responsibility and did not bear any ill will toward CN. Nor was this an act of terrorism.

Weise contended that Taylor was suffering from undiagnosed depression at the time of the wire-cutting incidents.

Taylor grew up in Richland, Michigan, and was the owner with his wife of a motel in St. Ignace in the Upper Penisula that was struggling financially. The attorney also said that Taylor had been caring for his mother, who died last February.

“Mr. Taylor believed his actions would be a nuisance to the railroad,” Weise said. “This has been an agonizing experience for Mr. Taylor as he has seen the effect this has had on his family and the community around him.”

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MDOT to Fund 40 Grade Crossing Projects

December 15, 2017

The Michigan Department of Transportation plans to award $3 million in funding to 40 railroad grade crossing projects.

The funding comes from the 2018 Local Grade Crossing Surface Program. Projects receiving funding were chosen through a competitive process according to criteria established by state law.

MDOT said in news release that the projects range from minor asphalt repairs to installing new track and surface materials.

The agency received 89 applications from road agencies in partnership with 19 railroads.

The annual program offers 60 percent funding for eligible projects, with railroads responsible for the remaining 40 percent of costs. The railroads and their contractors perform the repair work with cooperation for detour routes provided by local road agencies.

MDOT identified the 2018 recipients on its website.

Port Huron Wants New or Improved Amtrak Station

October 19, 2017

Port Huron wants a new or renovated Amtrak station and has received a grant to study that prospect.

The Blue Water Area Transportation Commission received the $125,000 that will fund a station site study. Public hearings will be held on Oct. 19 and 26.

It is not clear at this point if a new station would be built at the existing site on 16th Street or elsewhere.

“We’re reaching out to the public to do a couple of things. One, let them know this study is occurring, and two, get their input or feelings on the existing Amtrak station or any potential sites they can think of,” said Dave McElroy, BWAT assistant manager and finance director.

“I think it’s been talked about in the community for a long time. It’s been highlighted in a few community long-range plans. It’s one of the few Amtrak stations that hasn’t been updated in the state.”

Most of the grant funds came from the federal government with the remainder channeled from the Michigan Department of Transportation. The study is expected to be completed next spring.

The primary objective of the study is to identify potential site options and determine what requirements may exist for a new or rehabilitated station.

“There is no predetermined location and it has not been predetermined that an existing station will be replaced,” McElroy said.

Among the complaints that passengers have expressed about the current Port Huron station are parking and security issues, as well as access for those with disabilities.

“I’m not talking about the neighborhood. I’m talking about the lighting, the parking, blind spots, things that make people feel unsafe,” McElroy said. “It’s just the lighting and layout that exists there. If parking’s (an issue) now, and they project ridership to increase, it’s going to be a problem then. But we’ll see when the study comes back.”

Port Huron is the eastern terminus of Amtrak’s Blue Water, which originates in Chicago.

Sanders Presents at Michigan Conference

September 29, 2017

Akron Railroad Club President Craig Sanders gave a presentation at the 14th Michigan Railroad History Conference titled Michigan’s Bootstrap Campaign: Passenger Rail Development in the Amtrak Era.

The conference was held on Sept. 23 at the Maas Conference Center of Hope College in Holland, Michigan.

Sanders described how the now-named Michigan Department of Transportation sought to improve rail passenger in the state following the inauguration of Amtrak on May 1, 1971.

Michigan’s intercity rail service in the early Amtrak years was limited to two daily roundtrips between Chicago and Detroit.

Since then service in the state has expanded to three routes linking Chicago with Detroit, Grand Rapids and Port Huron. The Detroit corridor also reaches north to suburban Pontiac.

The state has purchased much of the Chicago-Detroit corridor within Michigan, buying from Norfolk Southern 135 miles between Kalamazoo and Dearborn, and landing $511 million in federal funding to upgrade the line for higher speed service.

The state and communities served by Amtrak have also invested in station rehabilitation and many cities not served by Amtrak are linked to it by connecting bus service.

Despite these successes, the state has also had some misses. It stopped funding an Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter operation after ridership fell substantially, and a Detroit-New York train funded in part with the state of New York ended in 1979, in part due to lower ridership between Detroit and Buffalo, New York.

Several proposals to establish service between Detroit and Grand Rapids have failed to come to fruition.

The Michigan Railroad History Conference began 30 years ago at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn as an educational outreach program of the Bluewater Michigan chapter of the National Railway Historical Society.

The conference features a full day of presentations on Michigan’s railroad history and is rotated among various cities in the state.

CSX Repairing Route of Pere Marquette

September 28, 2017

CSX is repairing a broken seawall below the CSX railroad tracks in St. Joseph, Michigan, that hosts Amtrak’s Chicago-Grand Rapids, Michigan, Pere Marquette.

The break in the seawall had allowed waves to erode the bluff. A barge and giant crane are lowering rocks to fill the gap in the seawall.

CSX pulled permits from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to add stone to shore up the hillside, which local officials believe will last longer than a steel wall.

Nearby residents first noticed a gap in the wall in the 1990s. At that time it was about 20 to 30 feet wide, but today it is an estimated 120 feet.

The residents said they have been communicating with CSX about the problem for 15 years, but the railroad has not taken action until now.

St. Joseph City Manager John Hodgson said CSX officials told him they did not think the bank was in danger of collapse or that the tracks, 45 feet from the edge, were at risk.

Hodgson, though, insisted that this type of slope can fail without warning and that it has occurred in the past.

In May 1943 heavy rains washed away the bluff, derailing a freight train.

MDOT Taking Comments on Freight Plan

August 30, 2017

The Michigan Department of Transportation is accepting public comment through Sept. 29 on its draft state freight plan.

The plan is a supplement to the 2040 MI Transportation Plan and provides a comprehensive overview of the state’s freight transportation system, including existing assets, system performance and investments needed to “ensure long-term success,” MDOT officials said in a news release.

It will provides a framework for freight system improvements and priorities.

A public webinar has been set to discuss the plan on Sept. 12.

Michigan’s railroads handled more than 479 million tons moved to, from, within and through the state in 2014. Coal, chemical products and metallic ores were the top commodities moved by rail in 2014.

By comparison, tucking companies hauled 65 percent of tonnage moved, while rail handled 21 percent, according to the plan.

Some Amtrak Michigan Trains Subject to Delay

August 4, 2017

Amtrak has warned that some Michigan corridor trains are subject to delay due to the performance of system maintenance.

Affected are Wolverine Service trains 350 and 355, and Blue Water trains 364 and 365. The service advisory said the trains may experience delays of 15 to 30 minutes.

Amtrak did not say how long the maintenance program would last.

Pere Marquette 1225 to Pull All-Day Trip in October

July 26, 2017

Pere Marquette No. 1225 will pull an all-day trip in late October.

The 2-8-4 will travel from Alma to Owosso in an excursion named the Curwood Highlander. The Steam Railroading Institute said the Oct. 28 journey would be the first time the engine has pulled an all-day excursion between those two points.

The train is expected to depart from Alma at 10 a.m. Coach tickets are $99 per person and caboose class tickets are $129 per person.

FTA Urges States to Enact Safety Programs

June 21, 2017

Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Michigan are among 30 states that have been reminded by the Federal Transit Administration that they must establish a state safety oversight program by April 15, 2019.

The rule was promulgated in 2016 and sets a three-year time frame for states to obtain certification for their SSO programs.

Failure to do so will mean the  FTA will not obligate funds to transportation agencies in that state until certification is achieved.

The FTA said it is encouraging states to act quickly to enact necessary legislation required to meet certification requirements.

Nine states have yet to enact legislation prior to FTA certification. FTA Executive Director Matthew Welbes said that by law the 2019 deadline cannot be waived.

“The affected states should act to establish an FTA-certified SSO program that is compliant with federal law and provides the highest level of safety for their rail-transit riders and workers,” he said in a statement.

Detroit SMART to Serve Troy Amtrak Station

June 15, 2017

Local bus service will return to the Troy Transit Center in suburban Detroit, which is also used by Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains.

The signing of a court order this week involving the city of Troy and an Oakland County developer paved the way for the return of bus service provided by Detroit’s SMART bus system.

The settlement ended years of litigation that began in 1999 and had kept the buses away. “We’re very happy that the parties were able to reach an agreement without going to trial,” said SMART communications manager Beth Gibbons.

SMART buses will resume picking up and dropping off riders at the Transit Center.

The City of Troy agreed to pay $100,000 to developer Gary Sakwa and his Grand/Sakwa Properties, owners of a 75-acre shopping center and condominium complex that surrounds the transit center.

An earlier lawsuit was settled when Troy agreed to spend $4.15 million in federal transportation funds to buy the 2 acres under the center from Sakwa, whose ownership he claimed under previous legal rulings.

“It certainly is a welcome step in the right direction” for mass transit in southeast Michigan, said Megan Owens, executive director of TRU, or Transportation Riders United, a nonprofit group of bus riders.

Six daily Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverine Service trains serve the transit center.