U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin hailed the first Midwest Amtrak expansion in nearly 20 years Tuesday in a meeting with more than 30 mayors from across the state.
Durbin met with the mayors to discuss a planned expansion of passenger rail service set to begin at the end of the month. The mayors also met with Amtrak President Alex Kummant, and discussed the possibility of future expansion of rail service in northwest and north central Illinois, The AP reported on Tuesday.
State support for Amtrak doubled to $24 million this year, resulting in more round-trip trains from Chicago to St. Louis, Carbondale and Quincy. For cities along the routes, more trains mean more connection to Chicago, which can help local businesses and attract new ones.
“I want to commend the state of Illinois for entering into a historic partnership with Amtrak to provide new jobs and new service for riders from Chicago to Quincy to Carbondale,” Durbin said in a statement.
Daily train service between Chicago and St. Louis will increase from three round-trips to five round-trips, with new morning and evening departure times.
The expansion also includes additional round-trips on the Chicago-Carbondale and Chicago-Quincy lines.
No word on what Kummant said.
Amtrak adds two St. Louis-Chicago trains
Starting on October 30, Amtrak will include two more Illinois trains on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor. The expansion also includes additional round-trips on the Chicago-Carbondale and Chicago-Quincy lines.
Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich said today the expansion is part of a plan to more than double state-sponsored passenger rail service. Round-trips between Chicago and downstate will increase from three daily to seven daily by the end of October. The expanded service comes after news that all state-sponsored Amtrak routes posted record ridership levels for Illinois’ Fiscal Year 2006.
“Amtrak is an affordable travel option, and in many communities it’s the only form of public transportation,” said Blagojevich.
The governor added, “People want and use Amtrak; that’s why we doubled our commitment to ensuring we have regular passenger rail service. During the past several years we’ve continued to see an increase in the people riding the Illinois state-sponsored trains.”
That news comes on top of an announcement earlier this week that a new train, the Carl Sandburg, will begin running on the 30th as well.
Starting October 30, daily train service between Chicago and St. Louis will increase from three round-trips to five round-trips, three of them state-sponsored.
Box car hits house
Officials demand answers in UP wreck
Two of the San Antonio area’s highest elected officials are calling for an investigation into a train derailment that severely damaged two homes just north of downtown Tuesday.
In joint letters to the National Transportation Safety Board and the president of Union Pacific Railroad, Mayor Phil Hardberger and County Judge Nelson Wolff depict the derailment as a narrowly averted catastrophe, the San Antonio Express-News reported today.
Meanwhile, concerned residents, activists and government officials renewed calls to improve railways in this city and someday divert commercial trains from urban areas.
“We were lucky this time,” wrote Hardberger and Wolff to UP President Jim Young. “We may not be so fortunate next time.”
The 106-car freight train was traveling south from Hearne to Laredo when 17 boxcars carrying scrap paper, steel coils and potash – all non-hazardous materials – jumped the tracks around 11:00 a.m. near Aganier Avenue and Hickman Street.
One boxcar slammed into a house while its resident was standing in the front yard. Another slid into the bedroom of an unoccupied home. A third missed a high-voltage power line by inches.
No one was injured, officials said, but the derailment stretched for three blocks and damaged 680 feet of track.
UP spokesman Joe Arbona said a recorder showed the train was traveling at 21 mph on a section of the track with a speed limit of 25 mph.
Railroad employees visually inspect that section of track every other day, Arbona said. He added that every two months the company uses ultrasound technology to check for rail defects.
“They abuse the tracks,” said Leonard Moyer, 51, who was working on his car outside a home he’d been renting on Weymouth when a boxcar smashed into it. “So many of them come by all the time.”
“I seen (Tuesday’s train) come off the tracks,” Moyer added, “and like slow-motion I just started running.”
Dave Arevalo, a local activist who has scrutinized UP for years, said the company either should improve the rails or reroute them from urban areas – demands echoed by Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, who represents the district in which the derailment occurred.
Rerouting many of the 70 or so trains that rumble through San Antonio daily would cost $1 billion to $2 billion and take more than a decade, according to state and local officials, who have talked about the matter since 2004.
They kicked off a study last year after a string of major train wrecks in Bexar County killed five people, released hazardous materials and sent shivers through the community.
At the same time, pressure was put on UP to beef up safety.
The study still is five months away from targeting solutions, but one idea is to build new tracks on the Southeast Side near Loop 1604 — an endeavor that could cost up to $2 billion. Construction wouldn’t even start for a decade.
A bigger question is where the money will come from.
Voters last year approved a proposition to let the state sell bonds to buy land and build and improve tracks, but the state legislature still needs to come up with funds. Texas Department of Transportation officials suggested coming up with $200 million to back $2 billion worth of bonds, but with rail needs statewide running $12 billion to $14 billion, competition will be fierce.
With rerouting a distant prospect and repairs uncertain, Tuesday’s derailment left many in the neighborhood shaken and nervous about the immediate future.
Rudy Gomez, who lives three houses from the tracks, said he believes excessive speed was to blame. After nearly 40 years in his home, he’s become familiar with the sound a train makes while rattling along the tracks, and he said this one made a impression on him, particularly as he heard the brakes screech and felt his home rattle.
“This thing was barreling through the neighborhood. I knew we were in trouble,” he said.
Neighborhood resident James Laform had other ideas. He walks the tracks often and said he has noticed that for the past month they’ve appeared to be in disrepair, with spikes protruding and ties splintered and splitting.
UP’s Arbona said the railroad spent $56 million last year to repair and add track in the San Antonio area.
Maria Berriozabal, co-founder of the Beacon Hill Area Neighborhood Association, said the incident has highlighted a major safety issue for the densely populated neighborhood.
She pointed to nearby apartments that cater to senior citizens and sit within a few blocks of the derailment, wondering what would have happened if the train had been carrying hazardous material instead of tools and paper products.
“It’s a very vulnerable population,” said Berriozabal, who also is a former City Council member.
Javier Hernandez, another Beacon Hill resident, simply wants the trains out of his neighborhood.
“Why do we have to wait for a tragedy?” he asked. “As many trains that drive through this sucker, sooner or later we’re going to have a catastrophe.”
NTSB blames crew for 2005 derailment
The National Transportation Safety Board said today that the probable cause of the October 15, 2005 collision of two Union Pacific trains in Texarkana, Ark., “was the failure of the crew of train ZYCLD-13 to remain attentive and alert and thereby able to stop before striking an observable standing train in front of them.”
Contributing to the severity of the accident, the federal agency stated, “was the puncture of a tank car during the collision, which resulted in the release of propylene, a compressed flammable gas.”
Additionally, “The yardmaster did not immediately provide emergency responders with a consist which would have immediately identified the contents in the tank cars, including hazardous materials.”
As a result of the accident in the UP yard, propylene flowed into a nearby neighborhood and an unknown source ignited the gas causing a house to explode. Approximately 3,000 residents within a one-mile radius of the punctured tank car were evacuated.
“Proper emergency notification and response procedures are vital to saving the lives of people involved in an accident and minimizing the effect on neighboring communities,” said NTSB Chairman Mark V. Rosenker.
“It is imperative that Safety Board recommendations addressing emergency response coordination and communication are implemented,” he added.
Following the investigation of this accident, the Safety Board recommended the UP implement “measures to ensure that all of your field personnel understand and comply with the procedures for responding to hazardous material incidents, with particular emphasis on timely notification and appropriate coordination with local emergency responders.”
To the City of Texarkana, the NTSB recommended the community “Implement measures to ensure that all of your field personnel understand and comply with your procedures fro responding to hazardous material incidents, with particular emphasis on timely notifications and appropriate coordination with local responders.”
The agency also suggested the International Assn. of Fire Chiefs “reemphasize through your publications, web site, and meetings the importance of conducting periodic joint emergency response drills and exercises with regional and local transporters of hazardous materials, such as railroads and trucking companies, to help ensure effective communications and coordination when accidents occur.”
The Association of American Railroads and the American Short Line Regional Railroad Assn were advised to emphasize “the importance of conducting periodic joint emergency response drills and exercises with communities adjacent to railroad yards and along hazardous material routes, to help ensure effective communications and coordination when accidents occur.”
A synopsis of the Board’s report, including the probable cause and recommendations, is available on the Board’s website, www.ntsb.gov. The full report will be available on the website in several weeks, the agency stated.