American Railroads

News each weekday of American railroads. Our focus is on freight rail, but Amtrak and commuter rail are also essential ingredients. Nothing published on holidays.

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Location: Middleburg (Jacksonville), Florida, United States

Published in Trains magazine, Railfan & Railroad, Passenger Train Journal

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Lundberg quits MBCR

The head of the consortium that runs the MBTA’s commuter rail system resigned last week under withering criticism about late trains and chronic poor service, which worsened after the Big Dig tunnel closings sent more commuters to trains.

Paul Lundberg, general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad, was responsible for the management and operation of the commuter rail system and its 1,750 employees. The railroad operates commuter Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority trains under contract.

After meeting with the consortium’s top officials on Wednesday, the Boston Globe reported, Lundberg submitted his resignation around 6 p.m., officials said.

Lundberg was immediately replaced by James F. O’Leary, former MBTA general manager and president of Alternate Concepts Inc., one of the commuter rail consortium’s partners.

Lundberg, who had led MBTA consortium since it signed a five-year, $1.07 billion contract with the “T” in 2003, was under increasing pressure from both T and top consortium officials to improve service.

While the consortium was generally credited with making improvements since taking over commuter rail from Amtrak, there had been periodic complaints and service breakdowns, especially during the summer and winter.

Then, in the past six weeks, the consortium also had to deal with thousands of additional passengers after a fatal Big Dig ceiling collapse on July 10. It was a summer filled with canceled trips, coaches with faulty air conditioners, and, on many days, hundreds of angry passengers stranded on station platforms.

Last month, Daniel A. Grabauskas, now the T’s general manager, summoned Lundberg and other commuter rail officials to a meeting where they were given a scathing review and ordered to improve service immediately.

Olivier Brousse, chairman of the consortium’s board of directors, said the former general manager was not forced out.

“We made an agreement to part ways,” said Brousse, chairman of consortium partner Veolia Transportation North America, who flew to Boston from Paris for Wednesday’s meeting.

He said the consortium was also bringing in transportation specialists from its three companies to assist O’Leary and his team with a host of problems, including equipment shortages and faulty air conditioning.

The consortium faces future pressures, including completing a slow-moving $23.5 million program to refurbish the T’s ailing commuter rail fleet and helping to open the Greenbush commuter rail line on the South Shore by next summer, Brousse said.

When the Greenbush line opens, the number of coaches required for rush-hour service will jump from 333 to 357, and the number of locomotives from 56 to 60. Without major improvements in maintenance, T and consortium officials fear that service will suffer.

“The coming months are going to be particularly challenging for MBCR,” Brousse said.

“We believe that the reputation of the three groups is at stake. We are determined to prove that we can do better than Amtrak, and that’s what we intend to do.”

Northstar Rail close to FTA’s okay

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) told Congress on Thursday it will give the Northstar Commuter Rail project approval to move into its final design stage.

The Northstar Corridor Development Authority (NCDA), which is overseeing the project, said Thursday that the decision puts the project closer to receiving necessary federal funding, according to the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal.

The Northstar rail project calls for a new rail service between Big Lake and Minneapolis. The service would to run along 40 miles of existing track, and additional stops are planned for Elk River, Anoka, Coon Rapids and Fridley.

Last year, the Minnesota Legislature approved $37.5 million in state bonding for Northstar Commuter Rail. This year, legislators approved another $60 million. The NCDA is now looking for matching federal funds.

Overseas

Germans nab third bombing suspect

German police arrested a third suspect Friday in connection with a failed attempt to blow up two trains, while Lebanese authorities picked up a fourth man believed to have been involved, officials said.

The man arrested in Germany, whose identity was not released, was detained in the southern city of Konstanz on suspicion of membership in a terrorist organization, attempting to set off an explosion and multiple counts of attempted murder, The AP reported from Berlin.

“Whether, and to what extent he was involved in preparing the attacks is the subject of the investigation,” said Frauke Scheuten, spokeswoman for the federal prosecutor’s office.

Prosecutors said the man was an associate of Youssef Mohamad el Hajdib, one of two Lebanese men accused of planting the bombs July 31.

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s Prosecutor General Saeed Mirza said police in his country detained a 24-year-old, whom he identified only as H.K.D., on suspicion he was involved in the failed bombing plot.

Mirza said information received from the second suspect, Jihad Hamad, led to the arrest.

After a nearly three-week lull following the attempted bombings, the case has moved quickly in recent days. El Hajdib, 21, was arrested August 19, and Hamad, 20, was arrested Thursday in Lebanon.

The two are accused of planting the bombs at the Cologne train station. The detonators for the devices went off, but the bombs failed to explode and were discovered on regional trains in Koblenz and Dortmund.

Pioneer Railcorp pays dividend

Pioneer Railcorp reported on Thursday from Peoria, Ill., its directors declared a five-cent dividend to its stockholders of record September 1, payable September 15. Pioneer Railcorp is a shortline railroad holding company with 16 freight railroads operating in ten states with over 463 miles of track.

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