Roundup of Railroad News Around The United States

Amtrak Extending Additional Blue Water, Wolverine Trains Through September

Extra Amtrak trains will still be rolling through southern Berrien County and Cass County through the end of September. Amtrak is extending the summer schedule for the Blue Water route from Chicago to Port Huron and the Wolverine line from Chicago to Pontiac for another several weeks. An additional eastbound train will keep running on Sundays, while one extra westbound trip will remain on the schedule for Monday. Amtrak added the extra routes at the end of May, and they were originally scheduled to end on August 31. Both the Blue Water and Wolverine lines have stops in New Buffalo, Niles and Dowagiac. The changes to the schedule were put in place to allow crews to make track and signal improvements this summer. Roughly 44,000 crossties were to be replaced, which Amtrak says will result in a smoother ride and a more reliable schedule. There are no changes to the Pere Marquette schedule. That line runs from Grand Rapids to Chicago and stops in St. Joseph, Bangor and Holland.

Short-line developments in California, South Dakota and Texas

Pacific Harbor Line (PHL) in July began serving customers in three industrial areas near the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., that are linked to a 10-mile industrial spur owned by Union Pacific Railroad.

Owned by by Anacostia Rail Holdings, PHL now provides service to seven customers six days a week. Located along the Patata, Reyes and Carson industrial leads, the shippers include Cargill Milling Inc., PCCR USA, Contractor’s Cargo, International Paper, Epsilon Plastics, Grow More Inc. and Konoike-Pacific California Inc.

“Union Pacific asked us to switch the line on their behalf,” said PHL President Otis Cliatt II in a press release. “The intent was to extend PHL’s switching franchise to these new customers, bringing them the same efficiency and customer focus that we’ve provided to other shippers in the L.A.-Long Beach terminal area.”

PHL provides rail transportation, maintenance and dispatching services at the ports, and interchanges with UP and BNSF Railway Co. The short line’s customized customer service and local management presence should yield a significant volume increase on the spur over time, said PHL Marketing Director Don Norton.

Meanwhile, R. J. Corman Railroad Co./Texas Lines L.L.C. yesterday announced the purchase of the Texas South-Eastern Railroad Co.’s (TSE) assets.

A Georgia-Pacific L.L.C. subsidiary, TSE serves several industrial customers, including Atlas Roofing, Agridyne, Momentive Chemicals, Georgia-Pacific and Laminate Technologies. The short line operates 12 miles of yard track in Diboll, Texas.

“We are very pleased to complete the acquisition of [the] TSE,” said R. J. Corman Railroad Group President and Chief Executive Officer Craig King in a press release. “This acquisition will complement our existing Texas assets and is consistent with our company strategy to responsibly grow our rail and rail-related assets and services.”

In short-line labor news, a majority of Rapid City, Pierre & Eastern Railroad Inc. (RCP&E) workers on Aug. 27 voted in favor of joining the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) Transportation Division.

Launched on June 1 after its owner Genesee & Wyoming Inc. acquired the former Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad (DM&E) west end line from Canadian Pacific earlier this year, RCP&E operates 670 miles of track predominantly in South Dakota, with segments in Minnesota, Nebraska and Wyoming.

The DM&E’s workers previously were represented by the United Transportation Union, which through a merger helped form the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers.

MBTA opens first new station in 27 years

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick joined state and local officials in the city of Somerville to mark the opening of the first new Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) station in 27 years.

The new Assembly Orange Line station is a “key element” in creating a transit-oriented development at Assembly Row, and providing a vital transit link between Assembly Row and Boston, MBTA officials said in a press release.

“The new Assembly Orange Line station is a concrete reminder of what can be achieved through public-private partnership and investment in our communities,” Patrick said in a prepared statement.

Assembly is the first new MBTA subway station to be opened since the southern portion of the Orange Line was moved from the Washington Street Elevated Line to the Southwest Corridor in 1987. The new station’s daily ridership is projected to reach 4,800 to 5,400 by 2030. The $56 million station was funded with federal, state and private dollars.

“Assembly is a modern, fully accessible, environmentally friendly Orange Line station that will serve this blossoming new neighborhood and the city of Somerville well for years to come,” said MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott.

The station’s sustainable elements include extensive daylighting, storm water retention, and energy-conserving electrical power controls and lighting fixtures. The station features passive solar power design, which allows the building windows, walls and floors to collect, store and distribute solar energy in the form of heat in the winter and reject solar heat in the summer, without using electricity, agency officials said.

The transit-oriented development will feature more than 2.8 million square feet of office space; 635,000 square feet of retail, restaurant and entertainment uses; and 1,813 homes.

Senate transportation committee to hold hearing on grain-by-rail service issues

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation will hold a hearing Sept. 10 on U.S. rail service issues associated with transporting agricultural products, U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) announced yesterday.

Titled, “Freight Rail Service – Improving the Performance of America’s Rail System,” the hearing will examine grain-car backlogs in South Dakota and throughout the farming region that have led to service disruptions for South Dakota farmers, ethanol producers, utilities and other businesses, said Thune, the committee’s ranking member, in a press release.

“With the backlog in rail service and grain bins reaching capacity, South Dakota producers have limited storage options for both last year’s and this year’s expected record-breaking harvest,” said Thune. “I will continue working with Chairman Rockefeller and the Surface Transportation Board [STB] to seek commitments from the railroads to address the backlog of grain orders to minimize the harm that South Dakota producers face in getting their crops to market.”

Since the beginning of the year, the senator has worked with the STB, BNSF Railway Co., Canadian Pacific and the Rapid City, Pierre and Eastern Railroad to address grain service issues. The committee hearing will follow a STB field hearing to be conducted tomorrow in Fargo, N.D., that will enable shippers and the public “to reiterate the ongoing delays and what it means to agriculture, energy and other shippers,” said Thune.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) yesterday called on CP to add resources to meet the growing demand for ag products shipping in North Dakota, and to change its method of reserving cars and tracking orders in a way that’s more fair and transparent to shippers.

“We have pushed BNSF to add resources, which they are doing, and we are pushing CP to make the same kind of commitment to meeting the needs of our agriculture shippers,” said Hoeven in a press release. “Our business needs are growing, so Canadian Pacific needs to be clear about how many more rail cars, locomotives and personnel they plan to devote to our market.”

Hoeven and his staff have had ongoing discussions with CP officials this year to push for better service and more transparency in the system used to report backlogs, the senator said. Hoeven plans to make the same point at the STB hearing tomorrow in Fargo.

In their weekly reports to the STB, BNSF and CP officials say their respective railroads are making progress in reducing the grain-car backlogs. For example, in its report dated Aug. 29, BNSF showed past-due cars totaling 2,029, down 22.2 percent from the 2,609 cars reported on Aug. 22. CP’s Aug. 29 report states that customers have removed 20,710 open requests from its system and the number of open requests stood at 9,010.

“Over the next couple of weeks, as other customers remove additional open requests we expect the number of open requests to continue to come down significantly,” CP officials said in the report.

Tennessee transportation agency hires firm to study proposed commuter-rail line

The Middle Tennessee Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) has authorized a contract with Parsons Brinckerhoff Inc. to study the possibility of building a commuter-rail line between Clarksville and Nashville, Tenn.

Grant money and a local match by the RTA totaling $1.2 million has been secured for the study. Parsons Brinckerhoff was selected after a request for qualifications was issued in April, RTA and Clarksville officials said in a press release.

“People have been talking about the possibility of a commuter-rail service between Clarksville and Nashville for a long time. By working with the RTA, we are moving closer to making that a reality,” said Clarksville Mayor Kim McMillan, who serves as RTA’s vice chair.

This project will build upon recommendations in a 2008 feasibility study and explore alternatives to improve the commute between Clarksville and Nashville, RTA officials said.

Investor group advances plan for Baltimore-D.C. high-speed line

A group of investors on Wednesday applied to the Maryland Public Service Commission to take over state franchise rights of the former Washington Baltimore & Annapolis Electric Railroad in order to build a high-speed, superconducting magnetic levitation (SCMAGLEV) rail system that would transport riders between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., in 15 minutes.

In its filing, Baltimore Washington Rapid Rail L.L.C. (BWR) states that the Japanese government has committed to providing $5 billion or more in financing toward the cost of building the line. In addition, the Central Japan Railway Co., which is building a SCMAGLEV line that will eventually connect Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, will transfer the SCMAGLEV technology to the project without license fees, according to the document.

BWR plans to seek authority to construct the SCMAGLEV line from the Surface Transportation Board.

The document did not indicate a total cost for the project. Japanese financing has been hinted at for a maglev line between the cities for some time, but Wednesday’s filing was the first time that details of the financing have been revealed, according to a report in The Baltimore Sun.

A major shareholder in the BWR is Wayne Rogers, the chairman and chief executive officer of The Northeast Maglev, a separate company backing the project, the Sun reported.

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