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Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’

During the Obama Administration, the FRA began work on a NEC Future plan that was to modernize and speedup the Northeast Corridor Acela service. One of the easiest bang-for-the-buck opportunities is along the Connecticut shore, where train speeds slow considerably. The FRA proposed an inland bypass option, which would have solved the problem. But now the local Nimby’s have succeeded in killing it off:

Bowing to local pressure, the Federal Railroad Administration has dropped plans for a controversial new rail line along the eastern Connecticut shore from its ambitious project to overhaul the railroad system in the Northeast corridor.

[The] FRA dropped plans to add new tracks from New Haven to Providence, preferring instead to focus on increased maintenance and repair of the existing rail line and allowing Connecticut and Rhode Island to work with the FRA and other states, including Massachusetts, on a “capacity study” that could include alternatives to the existing route.

This decision means that NYC-Boston travel times will probably never be made competitive. It should also be noted that political opposition came not so much from anti-rail Republicans, but from anti-rail Democrats — i.e. Connecticut Senator Blumenthal and Governor Malloy.

blumenthal

Senator Blumenthal

 

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In 2012, Nippon Sharyo won a contract to build new bilevel railcars for California and the midwest. The railcars were supposed to have gone into use by now, but the project (predictably for the usual reasons) has suffered major setbacks. Last year, the carbody prototypes failed FRA crash standards, forcing designers back to the drawing board. There have been reportedly hundreds of change orders.

In January 2017, Caltrans was supposed to present an update for the “next-generation” bi-level cars at a TRB conference. That presentation was abruptly canceled.  Steven Keck, CalTrans’ interim chief for rail, gave a cryptic explanation that no further information could be given due to ongoing negotiations over the schedule delays. Last month, Nippon Sharyo announced major layoffs at its plant, due to ongoing difficulties with the project:

Nippon Sharyo is cutting its workforce by about 110 employees because of continued complications with a prototype rail car, the company announced Monday. The rail-car manufacturer has laid off nearly two-thirds of its workforce in the past 5 months: It dropped 100 of its 350 employees in January.

“We continue to confront technical complications and delays with the bi-level rail car project that have forced us to evaluate the volume of work and the needs at our Rochelle facility,” the company said in a statement. “As a result, we have made the difficult decision to reduce our workforce.”

The project is funded by $551 million in federal funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. If the company cannot deliver on the contract by Sept 30, the funds revert back to the US Treasury.

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Secretary LaHood announcing the Amtrak railcar order at the Nippon Sharyo plant, where he said: ” thanks to a standardized design initiated by our Federal Railroad Administration…the parts and components for passenger rail cars and locomotives lowers the costs of production and improves competition. It also makes it easier and reduces costs for operators to maintain equipment.”

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And this is why we can’t have nice things:

“This plan looks more like fantasy than fact, and we’re going to fight it,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal told reporters.

The Federal Railroad Administration’s proposal to overhaul sections of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor route in Connecticut has already hit heavy resistance in southeastern Connecticut, where the agency wants a new 30-mile inland segment to bypass the curving, twisting tracks between Old Saybrook and Kenyon, R.I.

The FRA met stiff opposition in Connecticut last week when it released a massive report documenting how it wants to modernize Amtrak’s heavily used but badly deteriorating 456-mile Northeast Corridor route from Washington, D.C. to Boston.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Sen. Chris Murphy, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney and Blumenthal all slammed the proposal for Connecticut, where Amtrak’s Acela and Northeast Regional trains run along the shoreline from Greenwich to Stonington.

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Amtrak is really trying to upstage airlines on complicated boarding procedures:

On the day of your trip, check in with a uniformed Amtrak employee who will verify your ticket, and issue you a boarding pass. You will then be directed to the appropriate boarding area to wait for your train. The earlier you check in, the earlier you’ll be in the boarding process. If you don’t check in, you’ll be among the last to board.

Board with Your Assigned Group
About 30 minutes before departure, a boarding call will be announced and you’ll board with your assigned group.

General boarding for passengers traveling in Coach Class will take place in the Great Hall. There will be signs to direct you to the location of your assigned group. Customers who purchased a $20 Priority Boarding Pass for the Legacy Club will be the first Coach Class group to board.

They also recommend arriving at the station at least 45 minutes before departure, to deal with this nonsense. And “boarding gates” will close 5 minutes before takeoff train departure.

gate

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Conor Friedersdorf has been reporting on Amtrak passengers getting the DEA shakedown:

“I found my backpack moved and open, and my wallet, which was set down on the room table, had $60 missing,” he said. “I told one of the dining car attendants that I felt Amtrak and the DEA violated my rights. She told me that Amtrak is forced to give passenger info to Feds, that the DEA comes on every trip, usually arresting someone in the sleeping car or taking all their money.”

[…]

Last year, the Associated Press reported that the DEA “paid an Amtrak secretary $854,460 over nearly 20 years to obtain confidential information about train passengers, which the DEA could have lawfully obtained for free through a law enforcement network.” (This was reportedly done so that the DEA could avoid sharing seized assets with Amtrak police, which hints at how lucrative such seizures are.)

The ACLU has filed a Freedom of Information Act request, to determine the scope of the problem.

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If you are planning to board Amtrak buses in San Francisco, be prepared for some insane TSA-style security checks:

Security Check

Upon entering the facility, passengers must show your Amtrak ticket or photo I.D. to the Greyhound Security Staff. Greyhound security will also inspect bags and wand passengers for metal contraband who enter the building. Please allow additional time arriving for this process.

So now you can’t even enter a bus terminal without a security check.

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Assault on Amtrak

assaultUrban Shield, the SWAT team and arms manufacturer trade show, was recently held in Oakland. The event, funded by the DHS and organized by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, featured a number of training scenarios. Here is one event, the Assault on Amtrak (starting 50 seconds into the video clip):

Mother Jones reporter Shane Bauer has been covering the event — or at least trying to. The Sheriff’s department kicked him out of the convention center:

bauer

 

The Alameda Sheriff’s department is one of the biggest proponents of militarization, including the use of unmanned drones and a gunboat.

 

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