Category Archives: Trains

BRIGHTLINE’S Second Train Arrives, Limited Service To Start In July

Brightline this week heralded a milestone — arrival of its second train — and at the same time announced an apparent setback: When passenger service commences in July it will be even more limited than previously announced.

Instead of carryingpassengers between West Palm Beach and MiamiCentral, a sprawling downtown-Miami rail station with commercial, retail and residential space, Brightline in late July will begin service only between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

Service is to expand to Miami in late August, when work on MiamiCentral is complete, according to Brightline. Stations in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale are “nearing completion,” Brightline said in a news release.

The project’s second phase, full service to Orlando, is at least several years away, with service commencing in 2019 at the earliest, the company estimated in January.  On Monday, Brightline said it is “currently finalizing permitting and will have a better idea of timing to Orlando after operations begin this summer.”

The project has faced opposition from Treasure Coast residents who say the railroad would endanger the public and the environment. It is facing lawsuits by Martin and Indian River counties.

Meanwhile, BrightPink, Brightline’s second completed passenger train, on Monday afternoon rolled through the Treasure Coast on the final leg of its trip from California to the railroad’s maintenance facility in West Palm Beach.

The four-car, two-locomotive train — named for its vivid hue — passed through Vero Beach at 3:45 p.m. and Stuart at 4:25 p.m. The passenger railroad’s first train, BrightBlue, was delivered Dec. 14, but rolled through the region in the early-morning hours.

BrightPink and BrightBlue are the first in Brightline’s five-train fleet that will run along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks, eventually between Miami and Orlando.

BrightRed, BrightOrange and BrightGreen are to be delivered from manufacturer Siemens’ Sacramento plant every six weeks, with all five trains assembled in West Palm Beach by early July, according to Michael Cahill, president, Rail Systems Division.

Brightline said it will hold a grand opening and official launch of the railroad in September.

Hoosier State Train Dies But AMTRAK Adds “Amenties” To Replacement

February 28 was the last day of service for Iowa Pacific Holdings on the Hoosier State train. Beginning March 1, Amtrak takes over full operation of the line.

For many, the appeal of the Hoosier State train is the amenities it offers. Although the cars now will be Amtrak’s equipment, the company plans to retain many of the amenities Iowa Pacific provided.

The train will have a cafe car with public and private dining options. Food and drinks, including alcoholic beverages, may be purchased in the cafe car. The train will also be equipped with wifi.

Amtrak will continue to offer business class seating in a private, curtained car. This includes large, leather seats with extensive legroom, as well as complimentary tea and coffee.

Three cars in all will be utilized for the service, two coach cars with 68 seats each and a combination business class car with 14 seats, and the cafe car. The dome car, a windowed observation car owned by Amtrak, also will be on loan to the line for March.

“This is similar to the St.Louis-Kansas City service we operate under contract with the Missouri Department of Transportation,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said.

For March, Amtrak is offering a special promotion for riders. Tickets will be buy one, get one free.

Lafayette-to-Chicago ticket prices range from $17 to $30. There will be no change in the train’s schedule.

The locomotive legacy of U.S. Sugar

A piece of Florida locomotive history has come home to the sunshine state after being away for nearly half a century. Steam Engine No. 148 arrived in Clewiston late last year, although not under its own power. The engine and its tender (fuel and water car) arrived from Colorado strapped to two railroad flat cars. Well, most of it arrived by rail.

“We were able to gather and collect most of the pieces that were already removed from the locomotive,” said Ted Dobrie, chief mechanical officer for U.S. Sugar, “and we crated and cataloged all that equipment and shipped all that back by truck. We’re just missing a couple of minor pieces that we’re going to have to track down.”

So, what does a 97-year-old steam locomotive engine have to do with a company in the business of growing and refining sugarcane? Quite a bit, actually. Founded in 1931, U.S. Sugar needed a way to transport sugarcane from about 187,000 acres of fields to its sugar mills.

“When we were started back in the early ’30s, rail transportation was how freight was moved, and there were very few roads of any sort out here,” said Judy Sanchez, senior director of corporate communications and public affairs for U.S. Sugar. “There certainly wasn’t a reliable network for moving sugarcane from the fields to the mill, so our company made a decision at the beginning to put in an industrial private railroad that linked our fields and mill.”

Faced with the same transportation problem that challenged cypress logging companies in Florida, U.S. Sugar pursued the same solution. The company installed about 120 miles of rail across its fields for its internal rail line. Then, to transport its products out as well as haul agricultural equipment and supplies in, the company began operating a short-line freight railroad called the South Central Florida Express, which connects with commercial freight railroads CSX Transportation at Sebring and the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) at Fort Pierce.

Between the internal and external lines, the company currently operates nearly 300 miles of rail. A decision originally made for expediency, the rail transportation infrastructure has turned out to provide efficiency for U.S. Sugar’s operations.

“Our trains are one of the things that set U.S. Sugar apart from our colleagues and competitors in the sugar business in the United States,” Sanchez said. “It’s been a transportation method, but over the years it’s become more a transportation advantage because we’re not having to put all that cane into tractor-trailers and haul it out on public roads. It’s much more efficient as well since you can haul up to 100 boxcars of cane behind a locomotive, and that one locomotive is the only part of the train using fuel.”

u-s-sugar-team-locomotives-1930s

“Our CEO is a history buff,” Sanchez said. “He has a love of machinery and of anything historical, so to him it’s fascinating.”

The search eventually led to Monte Vista, Colorado, where No. 148 had been taken for repairs with the intention of operating it, once again, for tourist excursions. However, the 2008 economic downturn stalled the entire tourist railway project and work on the partly disassembled steam engine stopped. U.S. Sugar purchased the legacy locomotive and brought it back to its Clewiston shop for its own locomotive team to restore, using historical diagrams and photos from Bramson. Dobrie said some parts of the project will also require help from engineering consultants who specialize in steam engines.

Dobrie said the restoration could take up to a year and a half. After restoration, Sanchez said U.S. Sugar intends to obtain some period passenger cars and offer excursion rides to draw tourists to Clewiston.

“It’s going to be not only an amazing project, but it’s going to attract marvelous goodwill and bring national attention to United States Sugar,” Bramson said. “Not only do you attract thousands of people out to see the steam engine, but you generate an enormous amount of positive publicity for your company. What they’re doing is for very positive reasons, being most of all a major contribution to the incredible history of United States Sugar, Florida East Coast Railway and the state of Florida itself.”

Trump’s ‘sanctuaries’ crackdown imperils transportation projects

A tunnel under New York’s Hudson River may be imperiled. In Los Angeles, millions of dollars could be at stake for port improvements. And other communities’ hopes for major transportation projects could be caught in the crossfire as President Donald Trump threatens to strip federal funding from “sanctuary cities” that defy his immigration policies.
Considering that Boston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., have all declared themselves sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants, Trump’s reprisals could end up canceling or delaying major infrastructure projects in some of the nation’s most congested areas — even as the administration touts a $1 trillion proposal to rebuild the United States’ roads, railroads, bridges and airports.

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Congressional Republican threats to Caltrain funding could cripple Bay Area’s growth

Caltrain has a problem.

Passenger numbers are exploding thanks to the Bay Area’s tech boom, and service has not kept up with demand. Peak trains are full, and it is difficult to find the capacity to run more. Service frequency is the same as it was in the late 2000s, but daily ridership has grown from 36,000 in 2009 to 62,000 in 2016.

Riding outside rush hour is no better: off-peak trains don’t come frequently enough, and take more than an hour and a half to go between San Francisco and San Jose.

All of Caltrain’s problems have solutions. These involve smart investments in better service and one of the keys is the Caltrain electrification project. For $2 billion, it would wire the line between San Francisco and San Jose and buy new high-performance electric trains, reducing local travel time by twenty minutes.

And yet, the Republican Party is threatening to cancel the project.

INDOT Train Bites the Dust

Amtrak is taking over the Hoosier State train starting March 1.

On Monday, the Indiana Department of Transportation announced its contract with Iowa Pacific Holdings, which has operated the Hoosier State train since July 2015, would only remain in effect until the end of February.

INDOT said Iowa Pacific wanted more money than was agreed upon in its contract.

“They were looking for a minimum monthly subsidy that was outside the budget we had,” INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said. “Even under the existing contracts, their needs were beyond what we had budgeted.”

To date, INDOT has paid $500,000 to Iowa Pacific to provide on-board service, marketing and equipment for the Hoosier State and $3.9 million to Amtrak to run the actual train. It agreed to pay Iowa Pacific an additional $300,000 to operate the train through the end of February.

“It should be said we signed contracts in good faith with Iowa Pacific that was through the end of June, and then they came to us and said they we’re unable to continue under those contracts,” Wingfield said.

INDOT didn’t indicate what would happen to the Hoosier State if it’s unable to find a long-term replacement for Amtrak.

In a reply to a customer’s question on Facebook, Iowa Pacific wrote that it was “unable to continue providing passenger train equipment and on-board services under the terms of its existing contract for the Hoosier State.”

In a separate Facebook post, Iowa Pacific President Ed Ellis said INDOT was transitioning to “a different service model.”

INDOT’s two-year contract with Iowa Pacific was supposed to run until June 30. The contract included the option of a four-year extension.

Iowa Pacific introduced a host of amenities to the Hoosier State — including an on-board chef, wifi and dome-car seating — that led to increased ridership on the line.

While Ellis said Iowa Pacific demonstrated “that service enhancements can drive improvements in customer satisfaction, revenue and ridership,” the train’s on-time performance was lacking. On numerous occasions, the train made it to its destination hours late, and sometimes not at all.

INDOT said it’s working on a plan to ensure amenities including wifi and business-class seating are retained on the Hoosier State.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said a major change is that Amtrak’s equipment will run on the Hoosier State line, not Iowa Pacific’s.

“We want it to be seamless, and we don’t want any disruptions in operations,” he said.

The Hoosier State runs four days per week between Indianapolis and Chicago, with stops in Crawfordsville, Lafayette, Rensselaer and Dyer. The other three days per week, Amtrak’s long-distance Cardinal train makes those stops.

The Hoosier State is funded by INDOT, Lafayette, West Lafayette, Tippecanoe County, Crawfordsville and Rensselaer.

Maybe Indiana had better start thinking of hopping on board the planned Louisville to Chicago HYPERLOOP? It will run right thru Indianapolis  to Gary  where passengers will change to the South Shore Railroad.

BRIGHTLINE LeadsThe Charge of Changes In Florida Rails

The first phase of All Aboard Florida’s passenger-rail service is slated to launch in 2017. In the past year, crews have made progress on construction of the Brightline stations in downtown West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Train car manufacturer Siemens also delivered the first train set to Brightline’s maintenance facility just north of West Palm.

This service could be a game-changer for jobseekers looking for work in one of the three station-holding cities, but who don’t necessarily want to live there. The relatively short commute on Brightline could make working in downtown Miami and living in downtown West Palm Beach seem a lot more appealing, when that commuter is facing traffic congestion along the I-95 corridor.

“Starting in 2017, Brightline will transform travel in southeast Florida,” said Brightline CMO Julie Edwards. “The new express passenger rail service will allow more people to live in West Palm Beach and work in Fort Lauderdale and Miami, or vice versa, seamlessly connecting the three cities in less than an hour and without the hassle of dealing with traffic.”

Critics say the increase in rail traffic along the Florida East Coast Railway corridor could create safety and traffic issues. FEC, sister company to All Aboard Florida, is partnering with state and local agencies to implement quiet zones and awareness campaigns along the line.

Bottom line: In the short-term, Palm Beach County will see more train traffic and a push to use Brightline as a commuter service. In the long-term, we could see more of Miami-Dade and Broward counties’ residents moving north to the West Palm Beach area to escape congestion.