Tuesday, January 29, 2013

CSX Opens Massachusetts Double Stack Route

(via the Trains.com Newswire)

WORCESTER, Mass. – CSX Transportation has opened New England’s first main line route that can clear double stack intermodal containers. The railroad worked in conjunction with the commonwealth of Massachusetts to raise clearances on the former Boston & Albany route between the New York state line and the newly expanded intermodal terminal in Worcester.

The project involved increasing vertical clearances at 31 locations between Worcester and the state line to 21 feet. West of the New York state line, clearances have already been raised. Previously, double-stack trains destined for New England points had to stop in Syracuse, N.Y., to be converted from double-stack to single-stack configurations. The reverse occurred on westbound trains adding time and cost.

The project was part of a larger agreement with the commonwealth that enabled Massachusetts to acquire CSX lines in the Boston area to increase commuter service. In conjunction with that project, the intermodal terminal in Worcester was expanded.

“This is an excellent example of how the public and private sector can work together on projects that benefit the public, strengthen the economy, and enable highway to rail freight conversion to reduce strain on public infrastructure and serve supply chains seamlessly,” Clarence W. Gooden, CSX’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer, said.

Friday, January 25, 2013

NTrack Model Train Weekend - Lexington MA Feb 16-17, 2013

NTrack Model Train Weekend

National Heritage Museum
33 Marrett Road
Lexington, MA 02421

February 16, 2013:  10 am to 4:30 pm
February 17, 2013:   12 noon to 4 pm on Sunday
Admission is $7 per family

The Museum launches February school vacation week with model railroading fun! The Ntrak trains are smaller in size than traditional model trains, but are just as much fun. Trains climb mountain passes, shunt freight cars, and use branch lines to pick up and set out cars at the many industries and stations along the way. Call the Museum for more information at 781-861-6559.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

For MBTA, Canceling Railcar Contract Last Resort

(source: Boston Globe)

Hyundai Rotem, the sluggish South Korean railcar builder, must feel it has the MBTA and its riders over a barrel. Sure, the company lags far behind its schedule for providing 75 badly needed double-decker coaches. Sure, the four test cars it finally did provide in 2012, more than two years late, have been rife with faulty workmanship. Sure, the original $190 million contract brought suspicion on the MBTA, after it became clear the company had hired a senior T official’s father to help win a contract in Philadelphia. But what’s the MBTA going to do about it now? Cancel the whole contract and start all over again?

That’s just what the T has threatened to do in a letter to Hyundai Rotem last month, but it’s unclear how realistic a threat that is. Canceling the contract outright should be the last resort. The T has declined to comment on what its Plan B is, or, indeed, if it even has one. According to public-transportation analysts, it can easily take five years between the day a contract is put out to bid and when the new coaches start carrying passengers. Five years? The desperate need for more reliable equipment — now — is one of the reasons the questionable Hyundai deal was rammed through so quickly in the first place. That was in 2008.

Speed is not the only consideration, of course. The T’s letter raised serious questions about the quality of the four test cars, which had chassis and wiring problems. If in the T’s estimation the cars are unsafe, or will create an ongoing maintenance nightmare for the agency, it must cancel the contract. But if those issues can be addressed, and the T has no clear backup plan to fill the need more quickly than waiting for Hyundai, the best course for T officials is to grit their teeth and stick with the plan. That is what the transit agency in Philadelphia did after similar problems arose with its Hyundai Rotem deal. Philadelphia’s cars were more than a year late, but more than 90 percent of them have now arrived, and more than 100 are in service.

Whatever the T decides, the clear lesson is that the agency must take a hard look at its flawed contracting process. This is not the first major rail contract that has gone sour, with direct consequences for riders. In 1993, bowing to backroom political interference, the agency purchased concrete ties that turned out to be faulty; passengers paid the price with cancellations as the ties were replaced in 2010 and 2011 at a cost of $91.5 million. A 1995 deal with Breda for new Green Line trolleys also turned into a fiasco.

Perhaps the lesson is that the T just isn’t very good at handling big equipment contracts. There is an alternative: Even as the T mulls what to do with the Hyundai Rotem deal, the agency is also considering a new contract to operate the commuter rail system itself. The existing model has been for the T to buy cars and locomotives for the operator, but giving the contractor a longer-term deal and the responsibility to buy equipment could save the T some headaches. The delayed Hyundai cars are a powerful argument for trying a different approach.

New Pan Am Freight Train Names

According to railfans and scanner chatter, some of Pan Am's freight trains have new names.  Here are the changes:

MOAY is now 22K - intermodal
MOAY is now 206 – loaded autorack
AYMO is now 23K - intermodal
AYMO is now 205 – empty autorack
“Loaded Oil” is now MOBO / RJMA
“Empty Oil” is now BOMO / MARJ

Ayer MA to Mohawk Yard NY intermodal, now called 23K

Friday, January 18, 2013

MBTA Timeline: 23 Years of Commuter Rail Promises

READ:  Timeline: 23 years of commuter rail promises and plans

Promises and plans to extend commuter rail to Fall River, Taunton and New Bedford go back more than 20 years. Will the latest $1.8 billion plan by Gov. Deval Patrick be the one that finally makes the connection?....................  Read more: http://www.heraldnews.com/news/x1922391600/Timeline-23-years-of-commuter-rail-promises-and-plans#ixzz2INXR5IG4  

Berkshire Scenic to Bring Train Rides to North Adams, Adams MA

(source: By Andy McKeever -  iBerkshires.com)

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Scenic railroad rides are returning to the Berkshires in 2014.

The Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum, the town of Adams and the city have partnered to create the Hoosac Valley Service, which will transport passengers on a 25-minute ride from the Adams Visitors Center to Western Gateway Heritage State Park in North Adams.

The service is designed to boost tourism and increase business in the city and town's downtown, which officials hope will spur greater expansion and business.

According to state Department of Transportation, the Berkshire Scenic Railway has carried more than 100,000 passengers and contributed more than $4 million to the local economy through its South County operations.

The project will coincide with the extension of the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail and the two will share 6/10th of a mile of track in Adams.

At a press conference Friday, representatives of the three entities said MassDOT has secured funding for re-engineering of the rail trail and a mile of new track in Adams that will be built from Burke Construction (at the entrance of the Adams Corporate Park) to the Visitors Center and to purchase the tracks from Pan Am. The state has also made a commitment to provide construction money afterward.

The tracks will be state-owned with a lease to Berkshire Scenic and certain rights-of-way to Pan Am.

Museum officials said they will bring one or two locomotives and three to four coaches to operate six to 10 rides on the weekends and holidays. The museum will also continue its special events, which were lost when Housatonic Railroad Co. refused to renew a lease for use of the tracks from Lenox to Stockbridge, such as the Polar Express and wine tastings. Officials said the disagreement with Housatonic accelerated this project.

"We anticipate a lot of special events," Berkshire Scenic Director Jay Green said, adding that a Hoosac Tunnel "ghost ride" is already being planned. While they won't have access to the tunnel itself, the trip will feature a history lesson of it.

The line will run from behind the Brien Center on American Legion Drive, across Hodges Cross Road and Renfrew and Cook streets in Adams before ending at the Visitors Center.

A fence will be installed separating the trail from the rail until the last section in Adams, where the two will come together. According to Marge Cohan, president of the Berkshire Bike Path Council and supporter of the venture, trails that share with rail lines have proven to be safe.

The partnership not only provides tracks for the Scenic Railway but also emphasizes areas both municipalities are hoping to further develop.

In North Adams, Alcombright is hoping to privatize and revitalize Heritage State Park. However, he said, there is still a hurdle in getting people from American Legion Drive to the park on the other side of the tracks.

"I don't see it as a detriment to the service. Maybe this creates a more walkable environment," Alcombright said.

The mayor also sees potential with partnering with the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts for educational opportunities — such as having theater students help with the special events.

The Hoosac Valley Service will run east of Route 8, across Hodges Cross Road, across Renfrew and Cook streets and end at the Adams Visitors Center.

"This is another piece of what could be a successful Heritage State Park," he said.

In Adams, the town took control of the Visitors Center when the Berkshire Visitors Bureau moved to Pittsfield.

Adams has been on a mission to brand itself as a recreational center and is working toward revitalizing  the downtown. This project will help move both of those efforts along, according to Town Administrator Jonathan Butler.

"This is going to open up a lot of opportunities for the Visitors Center," Butler said, adding that the museum will use the Visitors Center to sell tickets.

Butler said "literally delivering thousands of people to downtown Adams" will help capitalize on the recent renovation projects to downtown facades. He called this partnership a "stepping stone to bigger and better things."

For Berkshire Scenic, the Hoosac Valley Service is something it's been trying to start since the 1980s. Green said there was nearly an agreement in 1985 but it fell through.

"We're extremely grateful to be back," Green, who was the city's administrative officer under Alcombright and former Mayor John Barrett III. "We've been trying to operate train rides up here since 1985."

The museum may purchase a used Budd Car train for the new endeavor. The museum now has two stations with no access to tracks in South County and a section of track with no stations in North County. Butler said he will be working with the museum to find it a more permanent home.

The talks began between about six entities — MassDOT, Adams, North Adams, Berkshire Scenic, state Department of Conservation and Recreation and Pan Am — for this project in 2011. The discussion made headway right about the time the rail-trail extension was set to go to bid. Butler said this addition delayed the contract for the extension by a couple months but the extension should be under construction in the spring.

"This came to be right when the bike path was set to state," Alcombright said. "This was an incredibly collaborative effort."

The exact cost has not yet been figured but officials said they are "comfortable" that the state will follow through. MassDOT representatives were at Friday's press conference in support of the project.

Also in attendance Friday were state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, and state Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield.

"It is really going to be a tremendous boost to our economy," Cariddi said.

Berkshire Chamber of Commerce President Michael Supranowicz said he is currently working on an economic impact study to see exactly what it will be mean for the local economy.

"There will be a huge economic impact," Supranowicz said. "It will be real important to have those destination stops."

New England Central Has New Owner

(source: NANCY REMSEN - BurlingtonFreePress.com)

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board has approved Genessee & Wyoming Inc.’s acquisition of Rail America, parent company of New England Central Railroad which operates in Vermont. The new ownership takes effect Dec. 28.

The board concluded the acquisition was “unlikely to cause a substantial lessening of competition, create a monopoly, restrain interstate trade, or enhance market power.”

New England Central Railroad hosts Amtrak's Vermonter passenger train which runs from St. Albans south to the Massachusetts border and continues on to New York. NECR recently carried out $74 million in upgrades on its tracks, with $20 million coming from the railroad and $52 from an economic stimulus grant.

Christopher Parker, executive director of the Vermont Rail Action Network, welcomed the change.

“G&W brings strengths in safety and marketing and customer service. Their rate of injuries is one third of what RailAmerica's had been and is better than all the other major railroads. They have promised more localized decision making regarding rates and marketing which is an important move,” Parker wrote in an email about the acquisition.
He said he understood the change in ownership wouldn’t bring dramatic changes to personnel in the state. “According to statements the company made Wednesday at Rail Council, customer service personnel are staying the same, at least initially. I understand the new company plans to keep open the St. Albans dispatching center, at least for the time being, and will continue and may expand work at the St. Albans mechanical shop. A new general manager will be hired as the line is currently being run with an interim retired manager.”

The Vermont Agency of Transportation had asked the Surface Protection Board to impose conditions on GWI to ensure that New England Central Railroad would “continue various collaborative activities that support high-speed and intercity passenger rail.”

The board rejected VTrans’ request for conditions, but offered in its decision that “GWI and NECR intend to continue collaboration with VTrans following the transaction, and have no intention of breaching any existing written agreements following the transaction.”

Monday, January 14, 2013

MBTA May Halt $190m Hyundai Rotem Rail Car Order

(from the Boston Globe newspaper, 1/11/13)

By Eric Moskowitz

Chronic delays and concerns about shoddy workmanship by the company building a fleet of double-decker coaches for the MBTA’s commuter rail line have prompted executives to threaten cancellation of the $190 million contract and possibly seek a new firm for the work.

In a letter obtained by the Globe, state transit officials express deep frustration with the South Korean company building the 75 rail cars, Hyundai Rotem, declaring that “this seriously troubled procurement is at a point of crisis.”

That letter, dated Dec. 21, details a litany of woes, including faulty chassis and wires damaged by errant drilling on 10 of the first coaches to be built.

“I am writing this letter to you to convey my profound disappointment for Hyundai Rotem’s seemingly lack of commitment to improve its chronically unsatisfactory performance,” Jonathan R. Davis, the T’s chief financial officer, wrote. He cited materials shortages and workmanship at plants in South Korea and Philadelphia that “has degraded at an alarming rate.”

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority declined to make officials available for interviews Thursday but confirmed the letter’s authenticity. In a brief statement, T spokesman Joe Pesaturo indicated that the letter caught the attention of Hyundai Rotem, with company leadership traveling to Boston this month to work out solutions short of termination.

“While some progress has been made, certain areas of concern remain,” Pesaturo said via e-mail. “It’s important that [Hyundai Rotem’s] leadership team not only understand the procurement’s ongoing issues, but also take the corrective actions necessary to address the shortfalls.”

A spokesman for the company said Thursday that Hyundai Rotem’s relationship with the T had improved markedly in the three weeks since the letter was sent.

“The communication now is much more positive, obviously, than the letter would point out,” said Andy Hyer, a US spokesman for the company. “They need their cars, and we want to give them to them. [But] it’s been a challenge to get them out quicker.”

In the December letter to Hyundai Rotem, T executives were explicit in what the consequences would be if the company doesn’t improve its performance. “Unfortunately, Hyundai Rotem inaction, inattentiveness, and generally poor performance have forced the MBTA to a final decision point relative to the declaration of default based on a material breach. Failing dramatic improvement and immediate corrective measures designed to remedy these defaults . . . the MBTA must consider terminating the contract for cause.”

When the T awarded the contract in early 2008, the first four cars were scheduled to arrive by October 2010, and all 75 were supposed to be carrying commuters in and out of Boston by the end of 2012. Instead, the first four coaches — currently going through extensive testing — did not reach the ­MBTA until two months ago.

Hyer said the company is addressing material shortages and is poised to hits its stride, with 24 Korean-built shells now being outfitted and finished for the T in Philadelphia. Four more empty shells should arrive next week, he said.

Hyundai Rotem made a bold entrance into the US market a decade ago with attractive promises, well-placed connections, and prices that beat experienced competitors.

Some in the industry considered it a risky bet, given that Hyundai Rotem had yet to open an assembly plant on American soil, a requirement under federal law, or demonstrate experience negotiating the stricter safety standards and other requirements that have bedeviled several large international corporations trying to break into the US transit and passenger rail market.

North America is the most difficult market. It is the graveyard of car builders,” said Jonathan Klein, a global transportation consultant and former executive and chief mechanical officer at multiple large rail and transit agencies; he has not worked on the Hyundai Rotem deals but can see the company’s plant from his Philadelphia office.

Klein, who previously likened the T’s contract to Donald Rumsfeld’s wishful thinking on Iraq, said the MBTA now has two choices, neither of which would deliver coaches to riders as quickly or cheaply as originally planned. It can continue to try to coax Hyundai Rotem through cooperation or threat, or it can terminate the deal, seek damages, and begin the process of finding a contractor all over again.

Hyundai Rotem built its domestic assembly plant in Philadelphia because local job creation was part of the pitch to win its first major US deal, 120 coaches for Philadelphia’s transit authority. That order is finally nearing completion, though only after the company fell far behind amid materials shortages, quality-control problems, and labor strife.

“The T has dug a hole, and it’s going to be very expensive to fill that hole,” he said.

Hyundai Rotem sought the MBTA contract soon after it won the Philadelphia deal, bidding nearly 20 percent below industry veteran Kawasaki on price and receiving high technical marks from MBTA staff reviewing the bid.

T management glossed over Hyundai Rotem’s lack of US experience and encouraged the MBTA board to approve the contract quickly, given the needs of the T’s aging fleet, according to meeting minutes and materials prepared for the board.

Some members who approved the deal were livid when they later learned that a former high-ranking Boston and Philadelphia transit executive whose son remained a T manager had been hired to help Hyundai Rotem win the Pennsylvania contract. But the T said the father and son were not involved in the Boston bidding and that the son also informed the state Ethics Commission that he was recusing himself.

Though it soon became clear internally that Hyundai Rotem was falling far behind, MBTA and Department of Transportation management did not tell the board overseeing the T until a year ago — when they asked the board to approve $4 million more on top of $10 million already committed to an engineering firm hired to provide expertise and help the T ride herd on the increasingly complicated order.

Angry board members summoned Hyundai Rotem’s chief executive, M.H. Lee, to appear before them last June. He apologized for what he deemed a corporate embarrassment and said Hyundai Rotem would redouble its efforts, promising to make up lost time without compromising quality.

The T indicated in September and November that things seemed to be improving, but Lee died unexpectedly in mid-November. The letter from Davis suggests Hyundai Rotem once more put the T on the back burner after that.

Jim LaRusch, chief counsel and a vice president for the American Public Transportation Association, could not comment on the MBTA contract but acknowledged that equipment purchases are expensive, time-consuming, and potentially fraught with pitfalls.

They start with thousand-page technical specifications that incorporate federal standards and guidelines for safety and accessibility, as well as the unique needs of that transit agency, with its array of existing locomotives and coaches and varying types of stations. Bidders must be evaluated on price and ability. “Then the fun starts,” he said, meaning years of back and forth over development, production, and testing.

“It’s a pretty complex process,” LaRusch said. “It’s not like buying a Toyota.”

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The B&M Watertown Branch in HO Scale

I recently saw this photo posted on the Model Railroader forum.  I just had to share it, as anyone who has seen the Boston & Maine/Guilford Watertown (MA) Branch will appreciate just how accurate this scene is!  The work was done by Michael "mikelhh".

Atlas Alco C424 on the neglected line to the Bakery, speed limit 3mph.
Modelled after the prototype in Watertown, MA [now closed]

Guilford #354 stuck just beyond the bridge that Michael modeled. 
I took this photo in 2004.  I only wish I had become a railfan years earlier,
as I live only a couple of miles away and could have taken come
interesting photos of the branch!

Friday, January 4, 2013

BSRM Acquires Stockbridge MA Station

According to their Facebook post:

BSRM ACQUIRES STOCKBRIDGE STATION: Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum is proud to announce that it is taking formal control of the historic Stockbridge Railroad Station through a lease agreement with the property’s current owner, the High Meadow Foundation. “We are humbled that the Fitzpatrick family and High Meadow Foundation is entrusting this important piece of Stockbridge history to the Berkshire Scenic. We will cherish it,” stated Rick Selva, BSRM President. More details to come!

Riders Making a Go of Downeaster's New Maine Stops

FREEPORT - Hannah Tyce, 18, of Augusta needed a big favor from her mother: pick up her boyfriend, who happened to be without a car in Boston. The solution?

Amtrak's Downeaster, which could deliver the boyfriend to the new train station in Freeport.

"Without this train, this wasn't going to happen," said the mother, Jane Maguire-Tyce, who on Wednesday drove to Freeport to retrieve the boyfriend.

Also aboard the train, a middle-aged couple from Saugus, Mass., who came to Freeport to spend the day shopping, a 25-year-old New Hampshire woman with two young children visiting her parents in Brunswick, and a 67-year-old woman from Naples, Fla., visiting her children and grandchildren in Waterville.

When Amtrak extended the Downeaster to Freeport and Brunswick last month, nobody could predict how the public would use the service. It's been more than 50 years since these two towns have had passenger train service.

Now, after nearly two months of service, it's becoming a bit clearer how the train is going to be used, at least during this time of............ READ WHOLE ARTICLE

Wayland MA B&M Freight House Gets Some TLC

I recently found out that the freight house in Wayland MA has been given some much needed preservation work, including new Boston & Maine colors!  If you would like to read a good article about the work, go to:  A new look for old Freight House in Wayland center.

Grant Helps Bring Laconia-built Trolley Closer to Former Glory

(SOURCE:  Bill Smith @ Union Leader.com)

A CENTURY-OLD Laconia-built trolley car, considered a point of luxury in pre-World War I interurban transportation, will inch closer to full restoration with the help of a newly won grant from the National Railway Historical Society.

The $3,800 grant will be pooled with other resources to restore the car to operating shape by its 100th birthday.

Built in 1914, the trolley car was serving as.............. READ ARTICLE