American Railroads

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Location: Middleburg (Jacksonville), Florida, United States

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

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Fast trains are Harrisburg-bound

Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell yesterday joined with Amtrak in announcing the completion of a $145 million upgrade of the Keystone Corridor that will bring 110 mph service to the Philadelphia-Harrisburg line.

The service, which begins October 30, will feature 90-minute express trains between Harrisburg, Lancaster and Philadelphia, a 30-minute improvement over the current two-hour trip.

Local service will also improve to 105 minutes between Harrisburg and Philadelphia. Amtrak is adding three Monday-through-Friday roundtrips and one on Saturday and Sunday to the lineup of 67 roundtrips.

The 104-mile Keystone Corridor is one of Amtrak’s most popular routes.

Amtrak chairman David M. Laney said, “Over the past several years, more and more Pennsylvanians have chosen to take Amtrak when traveling across the state. Just last year we saw a 14-percent increase in ridership on our trains along the Keystone Corridor.”

“To respond to this demand, Amtrak and Pennsylvania worked together to develop a partnership to improve rail service at the local level. This new service will provide much-needed additional rail service between Harrisburg, Philadelphia and New York.”

“Throughout the past three-and-a-half years, we have made investments to significantly improve Pennsylvania’s transportation system,” Rendell said.

“Given the right service frequencies and equipment, this route easily draws a million riders a year,” Rendell added.

Completing the upgrade, which includes new rail, track, signals and rebuilt coaches, caps a long effort by the commonwealth and Amtrak on the corridor.

Rendell and Amtrak said in July 2004 an amended agreement expedited the project. Funding was split among the commonwealth, Amtrak and the Federal Transit Administration. The upgrade also marks a return of all electric service to the line. The 110-mph service will be the fastest outside Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.

Among the added upgrades are push-pull electric trainsets, which will eliminate the need to turn the train around in Harrisburg or switch engines in Philadelphia.

About 200 miles of continuous welded rail will have been installed, 216,000 concrete ties inserted along with 48,000 wooden ties and 52 new switches, and upgraded signal and electrification systems, including two dozen signal instrument houses.

This is the first upgrade of these systems in 70 years on the line, which once was part of the Pennsylvania Railroad and has had passenger trains running on it since 1834.

Commuter trains for FEC? Maybe

The idea of reviving passenger service on the Florida East Coast Ry. that Henry Flagler built more than 100 years ago has surfaced now and again, but officials from the railroad say they do not want to start anything that will interfere with its moneymaking freight operations.

The last passenger train on the FEC rumbled through Boca Raton and into history in the late 1960s.

A long-term study is being conducted to determine if the rail line could support passenger rail service. Preliminary findings of that report indicate that by the year 2030, more than 120,000 passengers a day – about 10 times the number that currently rides Tri-Rail – would use FEC commuter trains.

The Boca Raton News reported yesterday that’s only one finding of the report on moving people along the line that makes its way through 28 cities in South Florida. Even though the report won’t be finished for another three years, public reaction is already mixed.

Some people see it as a good thing since the FEC rail line goes through the center of many cities. The other railroad line, CSX, which carries freight traffic, Tri-Rail and Amtrak trains, is located some distance from downtowns – and normally connects with the center of cities via shuttle buses.

Others feel it is a waste of time and money. The study estimates the cost of commuter rail service at about $100 million a mile.

“The City Council has discussed this,” said Boca Raton Mayor Steven Abrams. “We can see some benefit, but we are keeping an open mind.”

He said the city had not received a copy of the report.

Those working on the FEC rail report are eyeing an 85-mile long, two-mile wide corridor centered on the FEC tracks between Miami and Jupiter. The corridor includes the CSX line that runs parallel to I-95.

Planners said rail service north of Jupiter is no longer an option. Projected ridership did not justify the cost to build a high-level bridge over the Loxahatchee River.

Tri-Rail is looking into plans to extend service to Jupiter.

Several options are still in the hopper, including a light-rail system similar to the self-propelled cars that Tri-Rail will be using; an elevated rapid rail, like Miami-Dade County’s Metrorail, and rapid-transit buses.

A series of public hearings will be held in November to present the various plans.

In the next phase, planners will consider specific routes, station locations and the coordination of passenger and freight traffic. Tri-Rail recently completed the double tracking of its 71-mile route. Much of the FEC is a single rail line with sidings to allow trains to pass. The idea of adding a second rail is on the planner’s table.

Greenbrier buys Rail Car America

The Greenbrier Companies reported yesterday it bought Rail Car America’s operating assets for $34 million cash.

The company stated in a press release, “On September 11, it purchased substantially all of the operating assets of Rail Car America, Inc. (RCA), its American Hydraulics division, and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Brandon Corp.”

RCA makes intermodal and conventional railcar repairs in North America, operating from four U.S. facilities. It also operates a switching railroad in Nebraska through Brandon Corp.

RCA generates nearly $40 million in annual revenues with a workforce of nearly 400 people.

“The acquisition is expected to be immediately accretive to Greenbrier’s fiscal 2007 earnings by approximately $ 0.10 to $ 0.15 per diluted share, on an anticipated EBITDA of $6 to $7 million,” the document stated.

William A. Furman, president and CEO, said, “We continue to execute on our stated strategy to grow each of Greenbrier’s business units in a balanced fashion, organically and through acquisition.” They have an “active growth plan.”

Furman also noted, “Demand for railcar repair and refurbishment is accelerating as the railcar fleet continues to age, and robust equipment utilization and traffic loadings put additional stress on railcars. These factors provide strong prospects for future growth in this part of our business.”

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