Possible NJ Transit Strike Looms Later This Month

NJ Transit Northeast Corridor train

Northeast Corridor NJ Transit trains connect with SEPTA trains at Trenton. (Photo by Adam E. Moreira; used under a Creative Commons License

NJ Transit rail operators may strike later this month. The transit agency is releasing contingency plans later today.

A court-ordered “cooling off period” ends March 13th; at that time rail workers can walk off the job or NJT can lock them out. A coalition of 11 rail unions has been working without a contract since 2011.

“The last thing we want is a strike,” the coalition said in a release. “Our settlement proposal is modest and fair. All we are asking is what has been recommended by two expert neutral panels.” Read more »

FRA Has Plans for a Rail Tunnel Under Center City to the Airport

northeast-corridor-940x540

The Federal Railroad Administration, having come up with three plans for the future of the Northeast Corridor (NEC) came back to Philadelphia yesterday to gather public comment on each of the plans.

Most of those who commented had this message: If you really want to transform the NEC, you’d better cut out a lot of the gold-plating on that top-drawer plan.

The FRA’s three plans, and their price tags, are: Read more »

The Politics of Amtrak Funding (Or: Why Conservatives Hate Trains So Much)

Amtrak train | Richard Thornton / Shutterstock.com. Ayn Rand stamp | catwalker / Shutterstock.com

Amtrak train | Richard Thornton / Shutterstock.com. Ayn Rand stamp | catwalker / Shutterstock.com

The House Appropriations committee made a curious move yesterday just hours after the deadly Amtrak derailment: It voted to cut $252 million in funding from Amtrak.

Just because there was a horrible train crash does not mean rail funding should be increased (or even kept the same). But, obviously, a lot of people were angry at the vote — especially after reports that a safety measure called positive train control would have prevented the train from traveling so fast around the curve. (Amtrak has begun installing PTC on the Northeast Corridor, but federal officials said it is not yet operational.) Let’s take one angry comment at random: Read more »

Gov. Wolf to Obama: Help Prevent Oil Train Accidents

Photo Credit: AP Photo | Jacqueline Larma

Photo Credit: AP Photo | Jacqueline Larma

Every week, as many as 70 trains carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken formation pass through Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf says. Many are en route to Philadelphia.

Wolf wrote a letter to President Barack Obama Friday, asking him for help preventing a tragic accident involving the trains. Here’s the letter:

Read more »

Hell Is Other People on the SEPTA QuietRide Car

Illustration by Hawk Krall

Illustration by Hawk Krall

“I wish you were going to Vegas,” says the girl in the bright orange tank top. There’s something both infuriating and admirable about her tone. The way her declarative statements bend upward in pitch, as if she’s asking a question, reminds me of Valley Girls in the ’80s, and Paris Hilton. But this hot mess clearly doesn’t care what anyone around her thinks. If she were on a reality TV show, I’d say good for you — be yourself, screw the haters. But we’re on a SEPTA train bound for the ’burbs sometime around 6 p.m., and just seconds ago, the conductor made an announcement that we’re sitting in what’s known as the QuietRide car. Even if you’re not a regional-rail regular, you can probably figure out what that’s supposed to mean. Orange Tank Top and her male companion — who, in clear violation of some hipster-slacker ethos, is rocking both a backpack and a messenger bag — drone on, oblivious to both the friendly reminder and to the fact that no one in the entire car is talking except for them.
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Increased Ridership Making SEPTA Regional Rail Packed

Septa regional rail train

I rode a 7 a.m. train into town on Monday morning, and it was packed. Every part of it! I don’t often ride the regional rail into Center City at rush hour, so I was surprised by the number of people on the train. I had to stand! The conductor squeezed by me after taking my ticket.

This is apparently the case on lots of lines. The Inquirer reports today regional rail trains are packed because of increased ridership and the frequency which cars go out of service.

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The One Big Problem With Bringing Amtrak to City Hall

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“Ladies and gentlemen, the next station stop for this train is City Hall station in Philadelphia. Please check your seat and make sure you have all personal belongings with you as you leave the train. Thank you for riding Amtrak.”

At least one Philadelphian would love to hear this announcement. In an essay in the Philadelphia Business Journal yesterday, Bob Previdi, former spokesperson for City Council member Anna Verna, noted that running Amtrak trains through the heart of the city, stopping at a renamed Suburban Station on the way to New York, would offer all sorts of benefits: increased convenience for Amtrak travelers, increased property values for homes and offices now closer to intercity rail service, and even luring New Yorkers to Philly to live, as their commutes and their tax bills would both shrink.

There’s a lot that’s appealing about this idea. 30th Street Station, grand though it is, is across the river from the heart of the city, and Previdi is far from the only person who would love to see restored the city center access that was lost when Broad Street Station was closed in 1952. And he is right to note that this city, like London, has already made a major investment in easy rail access in the form of the Commuter Tunnel.

But in saying that the only thing standing in the way of operating Amtrak service through the Commuter Tunnel is the political will to bring the passenger and freight railroads together to implement the through-tunnel service, he is ignoring one big fact on the ground.

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Train Geeks Freaking Out Over 30th Street Station Renaming

30th Street Station. Photo | Jeff Fusco

30th Street Station. Photo | Jeff Fusco

Earlier this week, we told you that United States Congressman Chaka Fattah wants to rename 30th Street Station after his barrier-breaking predecessor, William H. Gray III, making it the clunkily named William H. Gray III 30th Street Station that precisely zero people will call it. It’s a nice enough idea and not one that you’d expect people to get up in arms about. But you apparently have never met a train geek. Read more »

Federal Officials Blame Conrail for Train Derailment

Image via NTSB

Image via NTSB

The National Transportation Safety Board met today to release its report on a train derailment almost two years ago in New Jersey. The blame was placed squarely on Conrail. The NTSB says the train was allowed to attempt to cross the Paulsboro bridge despite a red light showing the rail slide locks were not engaged.

The train was allowed to proceed because Conrail was “relying on a training and qualification program that did not prepare the train crew to examine the bridge lock system,” according to the report. The NTSB also faulted the emergency response to the derailment, which caused a cloud of vinyl chloride to be released into the air. The report says state and local officials, along with Conrail, did not properly prepare first responders for the incident.

An earlier NTSB report said much of Paulsboro was sickened by the release of the dangerous petrochemical.

Read more »

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