Tuesday, February 2, 2016

New Rail Link to Maine Waterfront Could Revive Port

SOURCE:   ABC news Tom Bell/AP

Freight trains are rolling through New England carrying the first-ever shipping containers loaded on the Portland waterfront. The new train service is the product of years of planning and millions in public and private investment, with the goal of connecting this once-thriving port by rail with freight customers throughout North America.

State officials see the rail link as key to reviving the port, which was among the largest on the East Coast a century ago but had fallen in past decades to a near-dormant state, losing business to larger ports.

Stuck at the end of the nation's supply line, Maine has struggled with higher transportation bills, which make manufacturing less competitive and increase costs for consumers.

The LePage administration has been trying to change those dynamics, first in 2013 by luring Eimskip, an Icelandic shipping company, to carry containerized cargo between Portland and Europe, and then by expanding the Portland container terminal. The state spent $29 million in state and federal money to modernize the terminal and expand it by about 1,500 feet to reach the end of the rail line, which previously had only carried bulk cargo, like rolls of paper, to and from the port.

The opening of the rail link is an historic moment for the port, said Jack Humeniuk, vice president of the Portland Longshoremen's Benevolent Association, whose members loaded the containers onto flat rail cars. "We're not looking at Maine as being at the end of the transportation trail, but as the front door to a different part of the world."

The new facility allows containers to be moved between ships and trains, and also between trucks and trains.

Pan Am Railways began the service Friday, hauling Poland Springs bottled water packed in blue Eimskip containers. This is the first phase of a pilot project. Three days a week — Friday, Saturday and Sunday — a train carrying 15 containers of bottle water will travel to Ayer, Massachusetts. There, the containers will be put on trucks and delivered to nearby wholesale suppliers.

Until now, Maine companies that lack rail access had to truck containers to terminals in Ayer and Worcester, Massachusetts. It's generally cheaper to move heavier cargo by train than by truck, because more can be moved at one time with lower fuel costs and fewer workers.

Because Pan Am trains will carry containers delivered by both truck and by ship, it will have enough volume to support regular service to Portland, Humeniuk said.

Chop Hardenbergh, editor of Atlantic Northeast Rails & Ports, a trade publication, said he is skeptical the new terminal will be successful. He said he has seen others in Maine fail because there hasn't been enough demand to make the operations economical.

"The big unknown is what Eimskip can bring to this," he said. "Can Eimskip add enough volume so Pan Am will say it's worthwhile to run a train?"

Vermont Rail System Files Complaint Against Shelburne

... Selectboard member Toni Supple described the gating off of Railroad Lane as mean-spirited and small-minded. She expressed dismay that Vermont Rail System President David Wulfson, a Shelburne resident, could act like this toward his own community.

“The way it’s escalating, it’s not good,” Selectboard member Tim Pudvar said. “It’s not good for them. It’s not good for us.” ......

READ ARTICLE:  Vermont Rail System files complaint against Shelburne 

Damaged Amtrak #102 modeled at Springfield MA Show

Spotted at the Springfield MA mega-train show, Amtrak #102, which was damaged in an October 2015 derailment in Northfield VT.  

(cell phone photo by Wayne Hart)

The real locomotive can be seen HERE

Monday, February 1, 2016

MBTA Works on Locomotive Woes

Even good news for the MBTA, it seems, comes with bad news. The latest example: The T's finally put into service 40 new commuter rail locomotives it bought for over $5.5 million apiece, replacing units that were in some cases nearly 40 years old.

But from July to December, they still had over 60 breakdowns. And according to new data first reported by Nicole Dungca in The Boston Globe Monday, failures with the new units accounted for nearly a third of all delayed trains from June through December. Two of the brand-new locomotives have even been sent back to Motive Power Inc. and its engine subcontractor, General Electric, for major repairs.

Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, in an interview after Monday afternoon’s meeting of the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board, said she is not worried that the HSP46 locomotives are lemons.

“There's a reason why you buy locomotives with two year warranties, and it does take a certain amount of time to shake them down,’’ Pollack said. “We’re obviously seeing things that need to be fixed, and we fully intend to hold the manufacturer accountable for under the warranty.’’

MBTA General Manager Frank DePaola said that “we’re not completely pleased” with the units but agreed that problems are being fixed, some “operator error” issues with engineers and mechanics have been addressed, and they are proving to get more reliable.

In December, the most recent month with full statistics, the HSP46 units went on average 18,723 miles between failures, according to data provided by MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo. That was three to five times better than most of the other older units still in operation.

Kate Price of Wellesley, waiting for her afternoon train home, said she’s been enjoying reliable service this winter. “I take it every single day, and it’s been good so far, knock wood,’’ Price said. She never notices what kind of locomotive is pulling her train. “Not really, no. I just want it to get me there,’’ Price said.

The T first ordered the locomotives back in 2010 and many that arrived in Boston in 2014 were kept off the road for months while problems were worked out. The T boasted then the units would reduce emissions and save 36,500 gallons of diesel fuel annually compared to other units.

“You need to look at the overall performance of the fleet,’’ Pollack said. “While it is not where it needs to be, and we will get it better, and we will get anything fixed that is owed to us under warranty, as a fleet it is working better than the locomotives it replaced. There is no question about that.’’