Amtrak to Repair East River Tunnels

According to an announcement by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), Amtrak will use $86 million in Superstorm Sandy federal recovery funds to perform maintenance work on four East River tunnels used by Amtrak, the Long Island Rail Road, and some NJ Transit trains enroute to or from Sunnyside Yard in Queens.  Several issues in the tunnels recently have delayed commuters, mainly Long Island Rail Road customers; problems have included broken rails.

Problems in the tunnels, owned by Amtrak, can have a severe impact on service because of the difficulty of removing derailed trains and of evacuating passengers.  Planned changes include replacing all of the old “jointed” rail segments, which are particularly prone to failure; improved track inspection; and a new, preemptive track maintenance and replacement program.  Sen. Schumer said he worked out the program following a September meeting with Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia.

 Reporting by the Associated Press (November 18); the Crain’s New York Business article is archived at Ahttp://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20131118/TRANSPORTATION/131 (subscribers only).

Amtrak Sets Records on NEC

A decade or so ago, airlines were the dominant players in the Northeast Corridor transportation market.  However, today air travel suffers from high fares, frequent delays, and time-consuming airport security checks; meanwhile, Amtrak offers its Acela premium service, on-line ticketing, and, importantly, workstation access; the result has been to tip the market share in favor of Amtrak’s trains, according to Ron Nixon’s reporting in The New York Times  (August 16).  Amtrak reports that now 75% of travelers between New York and Washington choose the train; in 2000, before Acela and post-9-11 airport security, the rail carrier had only one-third of the market.  Between New York and Boston, bolstered by electrification of the rail line east of New Haven and the same disincentives to fly, Amtrak’s share grew from 20 to 54%.  The high usage is causing the infrastructure to fray, however; most days, Northeast Corridor trains are full, and some rolling stock is pushing the 30-year-old mark.  Amtrak estimates that demand could increase by a factor of four by 2040.  Amtrak improvements are stuck in Congress, like almost everything else; meanwhile, cheap buses have had an impact, with their $1-to-$40 pricing and wireless access attracting riders despite somewhat longer travel times.  Airlines fight back with brand-loyalty programs, noting that while trains and buses can compete over a few hundred miles, “The train can’t take you to South Africa.”

 The Lackawanna Coalition supports infrastructure investments that will enable all Northeast Corridor service providers, including Amtrak and NJ Transit, to meet the increasing rider demands in the future.

Conductor’s Punch: Obsolete?

On most railroad systems, passengers present their tickets to train crew who walk the aisles, making holes in the ticket with their time-honored punches.  (Some systems collect fares automatically at stations, and NJT uses magnetically-coded tickets at Newark Airport and Secaucus Junction.)  However, the days of the old punch may be numbered.  Brian X. Chen, writing in the New York Times  (May 7), reports that Amtrak is trying a new approach: instead of punching the ticket, the conductor simply scans the ticket electronically, using a modified iPhone.  Not only is the new system faster than the manual punch, it allows Amtrak’s headquarters to know instantly how many people are on each train and adjust equipment and sales accordingly.  The customer need not even have a paper ticket: the conductor can simply scan an image of the ticket from the customer’s own smartphone.  The new system seems long overdue in an age where airlines have long used automatic check-in, but railroads are unusually challenging to automate, given the many stops, with passengers frequently boarding and detraining.  Amtrak is initially deploying the new system between Boston and Portland, Maine, and between San Jose and Sacramento, California.  By late summer, Chen writes, 1700 Amtrak conductors will be using automatic scanners across the country.

The Lackawanna Coalition believes that accurate collection of fares and reliable data regarding train usage are essential to efficient management of any transportation system.

Amtrak’s Gateway Proposal Includes “Bergen Loop” to N.Y.C.

This article was published in the Bergen Record. It is quoted here as a matter of interest, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Lackawanna Coalition.

Bergen and Passaic county commuters could have a direct ride into New York if Amtrak’s proposed Gateway project is built, an official said Tuesday.

Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole, citing an April 12 PowerPoint presentation, said Amtrak’s plan to build a pair of rail tunnels under the Hudson River to connect North Jersey with New York includes a “Bergen Loop option”.

He said that would allow trains carrying commuters on NJ Transit’s Pascack Valley and Main-Bergen lines to link into the Northeast Corridor to New York

Those lines don’t directly feed into the corridor; as a result, commuters transfer at Secaucus or Hoboken.

The article was formerly found at this link: http://www.northjersey.com/news/Amtraks_Gateway_proposal_includes_Bergen_loop_to_NYC.html

Let’s Get Behind Amtrak Tunnels

This editorial article was published in the Asbury Park Press. It is quoted here as a matter of interest, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Lackawanna Coalition.

It’s all water under the bridge now, or more precisely, water over the tunnel.

But the release on Tuesday of a federal Government Accountability Office report concerning the scuttled Hudson River rail tunnel project has opened old wounds and brought about a whole new round of “Gotchas!” and “I told you sos” from champions of the project and those who opposed it.  This is decidedly unhelpful.

What would be helpful is to put an end to partisan sniping and after-the-fact finger pointing, and find a way to get across the river.  And, in fact, there is one remaining possibility: the proposed Gateway Tunnel being studied by Amtrak, which would involve building a second set of tunnels and an annex to Penn Station in New York.  Instead of rehashing the past, New Jersey’s senators should continue their support for the Amtrak proposal, and the state ought to do what it can to move it along.

This article was formerly available at thttp://www.app.com/article/20120412/NJOPINION01/304120006/Let-s-get-behind-Amtrak-tunnels

Amtrak Says Joint Tunnel with NJT is Dead

Late Thursday, November 11, Amtrak officials said that any talks with NJ Transit on a joint new tunnel under the Hudson are dead, according to the Bergen Record, reported by Karen Rouse. “We are no longer interested in this project,” said Vernae Graham, spokeswoman for Amtrak. “There were exploratory talks going on with NJ Transit,” Graham said. “The talks have stopped. . . .  That was commuter rail, and we are interested in intercity rail projects.”

The Amtrak announcement comes a day after NJ Gov. Christie told The Record that Amtrak was interested in possibly purchasing from NJ Transit engineering work that had already been done; Amtrak would then use the work to begin planning their high-speed rail tunnel.  NJ Transit spokesman Paul Wyckoff said only that, “We’re all interested in exploring affordable alternatives to the trans-Hudson challenge,” according to The Record.

The Lackawanna Coalition believes that a new tunnel is necessary, both for commuters and for intercity rail service; but that it needs to be a coordinated solution that addresses both NJ Transit and Amtrak’s needs, and therefore needs to serve Penn Station and be usable by both railroads.  We encourage NJT and Amtrak to work together on an affordable solution that truly furthers regional rail service.

Amtrak Unveils 30-year High-Speed Rail Vision

At a news conference on Tuesday, September 24, Amtrak’s President, Joseph Boardman, unveiled the railroad’s vision for high-speed rail in the Boston-Washington Northeast Corridor.  The plan envisions full service by 2040, but says some service could begin as early as 2015.  The visionary plan would cut travel time between New York and Washington to 96 minutes from 162 minutes, and to 84 minutes from New York to Boston.  The cost is estimated at $117 billion, an amount which is far more than Amtrak’s current budget; the construction project would create 44,000 jobs each year for 25 years and also create 120,000 permanent jobs.  The project would bring to the U.S. technology already in service in many European and Asian countries.  Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell said, “No one should take a plane trip shorter than 500 miles.”

“How can we not afford it?”  In contrast, while Amtrak was announcing its plans to bring high-speed rail to the U.S. over the next 30 years, China announced an extension of its recently-built line to Tibet, on a much faster timetable.  The extension will connect the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, with the region’s second-largest city, Xigaze, according to state media (reported by Andrew Jacobs in The New York Times, Sept. 28).  The 150-mile long line will cost about $2 billion and take 4 years to complete.  Officials plan 2 more extensions, including a proposed route to the Nepal border.

The Lackawanna Coalition supports Moynihan/Penn Station First ARC alternative, which would allow the continuation of service on the Morris & Essex and Montclair-Boonton Lines into the existing Penn Station, where Amtrak trains go, and where the high-speed service will presumably call as well.