Apr 6, 2014

Developers eyeing sites, building along Southwest light rail line

While the Southwest line hasn’t yet gotten approval, developers already are pitching plans along the five-city route.

While the proposed Southwest Corridor light-rail line sits in limbo amid a dispute over its route, developers are already eagerly eyeing sites along the line’s west metro cities — and some aren’t waiting for it to get the green light.

The nearly 16-mile line, which faces a key vote on its route from the Metropolitan Council on Wednesday, is the longest of the three Twin Cities light-rail lines and the first to incorporate development planning into the engineering of the line from Minneapolis through the western suburbs of St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie.

“We’re essentially setting the table for development,” said Peter McLaughlin, a Hennepin County commissioner.

Nearly 14 million square feet of new office space, 1.2 million square feet of retail and more than 13,000 new residential units are projected to go up along the line, according to the county. And while final approval and construction of the line is still far off — it’s projected to open in 2019 — the cities that will host it are already seeing a boost in development near the 16 proposed stations.

St. Louis Park, for instance, has had an influx in condos, apartments and senior housing near a proposed station, and in Hopkins, a 163-unit apartment building is slated to open in May a block from a station.

Other developers are holding off to see if the line is approved.

“It’s hard to plan if you have no idea if the line is going to happen and when,” said Colleen Carey, president of the Cornerstone Group, a Richfield-based real estate company, which has talked to west metro cities about possible development along the line. But, she added: “It doesn’t feel like there’s any big rush.”

Reshaping the area

As controversy swirls over the light-rail line’s exact route, many city and county leaders have been working on a related but far-less-public effort — planning development and community changes.

In fact, it’s one of the only light-rail projects in the country that has included planning of all 16 stations at once, said Katie Walker, who oversees light-rail community planning for Hennepin County.

Officials have been discussing everything from adding bike connections to improving sidewalks for pedestrians near stations, helping make the suburbs less car-oriented and more walkable, which could in turn boost ridership, she said.

“It’s really reshaping the area,” Walker said.

Also, nearly a dozen small changes were made to the engineering of the line to boost development — a strategy that wasn’t part of the metro area’s other two light-rail lines.

Park-and-ride stations were cut from 15 to seven so there will be fewer parking facilities and more space for development. Planners also shifted the station platforms slightly at Blake Road in Hopkins and along Shady Oak Road, on the border of Hopkins and Minnetonka, to open up larger parcels of land for redevelopment. That translates, Walker said, into less land acquisition needed for the line, which can save money and increase space for development.

“We’re trying to optimize the cost-effectiveness of the line and development along the line,” McLaughlin added. “We’re trying to walk and chew gum at the same time.”

Hennepin County already has invested $28.5 million along the Southwest line, largely for environmental cleanup, affordable housing and transit-oriented development — more than was spent along the Green Line that goes from Minneapolis to St. Paul.

“There’s a recognition that LRT is a game-changer and will be for that corridor,” said Jan Callison, a Hennepin County commissioner for the area that includes Eden Prairie, Hopkins and Minnetonka. “We can’t predict what private development would come in. But we know these lines are catalysts for development.”

While some developers are holding off until light-rail plans are more concrete, others are building projects near proposed stations, encouraged by the possibility of a line that’s projected to average 30,000 rides every weekday by 2030.

In Minneapolis, city leaders say they’re hearing from developers interested in sites near four of its stations such as the Royalston station near the farmers market. And an analysis is being done on the potential for development near the Van White station area.

A neighborhood transformed

In St. Louis Park, the area of Hwy. 100 and W. 26th Street, once a tired industrial area, has been transformed with an influx of apartments and condos near where the proposed Wooddale station would be, Community Development Director Kevin Locke said.

“It’s an added point of interest from them,” he said of the light rail. “We’d expect that once light rail is committed or built, there will be even more development opportunities.”

In fact, a proposal for the former McGarvey Coffee building off Hwy. 7 won’t get approval, he said, until the line and stations are finalized because it’s so close to a station.

Next door in Hopkins, construction is underway now for a 163-unit apartment building one block from the city’s proposed downtown station, while an affordable apartment building project next to the planned Blake Road station is going through the proposal process.

In Minnetonka, a proposed medical building off Shady Oak Road and Excelsior Boulevard also includes transit-friendly housing because it’s near the station. And a medical-technology firm just moved to the city in part because it’s near a future station, Community Development Director Julie Wischnack said.

Line was a draw for health titan

Light rail also was an attraction for UnitedHealth Group, which is building a $250 million, 1.5-million-square-foot office development between Hwys. 62 and 212, near where a station will go.

But the big spike in light-rail-influenced development, Walker said, may not come until after the project is approved. A recent analysis of the Hiawatha, or Blue Line, showed that light rail caused almost no increase in the likelihood of new development near rail platforms in its first six years. Yet, even researchers said development has taken off since 2010 — after the years they studied — likely because of an improving economy and the effects of light rail taking time.

Proponents like Locke, in St. Louis Park, say Southwest development is likely to be different because it’s a longer line built after the economy rebounded and includes a lot of potential development sites.

“With the Southwest line being really the third element in the system, you start to see more potential,” he said. “The more extensive our light rail is, the more possibilities for development.”
Source-star tribune

Service went off the rails, shippers say

Train cars line up to be loaded with grain in at the Farmers Cooperative in Dorchester in 2012. Rail service has suffered for months because of a combination of factors, including weather and high demand for locomotives and crews.
The big railroads on this side of the continent are making more money than ever in what's been called a renaissance for them, shipping unprecedented volumes of oil, along with ethanol, coal and agricultural commodities. 

That makes investors happy. But last year's harvest, winter's unusually harsh weather, competition for locomotives, the multiplication of crude oil traffic from the Northern Plains and other factors have combined to make things "miserable," as John Meuret of his family's grain business in Brunswick put it, for rail customers such as him.

Meuret is in line with a lot of others.

Utilities, ethanol advocates, grain shippers, farmers and others have raised enough voices that the federal agency with authority over railroad shipping issues, the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, has called BNSF Railway and Canadian Pacific on the carpet, by name, and suggested others, such as Union Pacific, show up at its hearing Thursday morning in Washington.

The agency put it politely: "to provide interested parties the opportunity to cite recent rail service issues, review proposed solutions to existing rail-performance problems and discuss additional options to improve service." The STB said its Office of Public Assistance, Governmental Affairs and Compliance has been working with "affected parties" to better understand the problems shippers are facing and to help facilitate solutions.

The problem the grain industry is facing, in particular, is months of unreliable or delayed service picking up and moving stored grain and making room for more in the elevator silos. 

The government's attention and intervention are overdue, said Meuret, merchandiser for grain and rail at the J.E. Meuret Grain Co., which has been in business since 1923. "It should've been done sooner," he said. "It's been like this since October. Everybody thought we'd see improvement after the harvest rush."

Harvest was way bigger than expected. Then the weather got the blame for continued troubles in December, January and February. And then there are the oil trains moving vastly more crude out of the Bakken formation of North Dakota, using lots of locomotives.

Meuret understands that some of the conditions, weather in particular, were unpredictable. He described the grain trade as "forgiving," but this is getting old. "I know everybody expects a lot more," he said. "We're six months into it here and we see no improvement."

Cost estimates can be ethereal. It's not possible to estimate opportunity costs, Meuret said, but for the farmer, it's a hard number, 50 to 75 cents a bushel tacked onto a $1 tariff to get a timely shipment of grain to a feedlot in Hereford, Texas. Tasks that took 15 days are taking 20.

Bruce Tinkham at Agrex in Superior has had to close down his elevator for days at a time. 

"It just happens, the train didn't show up on time, and the elevator's full," he said. "I'm sorry, but that's the way it works. ... I get served by two railroads, BNSF and U.P. A guy served by just one would have a lot more problems."

Meuret is one of those served by only one, BNSF. "You know, we've tried to share and educate the customer to help them understand, but it's very difficult," Meuret said. "Over time, the farmer's smart, he'll get to the root of the problem.

"It's just a matter of manpower, locomotives and congestion," Meuret concluded. "Efficiency, that's 100 percent of it."

To Tinkham, it all comes down to a "tremendous overload of the system, from a lot of angles."

And he sees fear as a factor in the problem's persistence. 

"The big issue is, a lot of people aren't going to talk about it because they fear retribution from the railroad," Tinkham said. "If you have one railroad coming to your house and you badmouth them, what do you think is gonna happen? That's a legitimate fear. Whether it would happen or not is another ball game. You take that risk. BN warned everybody a year ago this was gonna happen. I don't think anybody was geared up for the compounding factors."

He won't estimate costs. "You'd be talking potential profits lost," Tinkham said. "I can't bank the potential. Opportunities were lost. Could I have done something better? I've been wracking my brain on that for awhile. However well you try to plan it, when the ball gets dropped, it gets you."

BNSF has been acknowledging for weeks that service was suffering in the Northern Plains. But as Tinkham pointed out, those troubles spread to the rest of the continent.

"There's a ripple effect," he said. "They tie up power up there, you're short here." Add to it the competition for crews. "They've been on a hiring frenzy for four years," Tinkham said. "The baby boomers are coming of age to retire. ... The people issue is their biggest battle."

Now BNSF CEO Carl Ice says things are loosening up in the part of the network that includes Nebraska.

The traffic jam is being resolved more quickly on the lines linking Chicago and Los Angeles, Ice told Bloomberg News last week. “Our southern region, we see that improving right now,” Ice said. “The central a little slower and the north taking through the year.”

BNSF sent 300 additional crew members to its northern region and plans to add 500 locomotives and 5,000 rail cars this year to help ease the snarls, Ice said.

Other data are telling: Train speeds for Union Pacific Corp., whose network is concentrated in the western U.S. like BNSF’s, fell 8.7 percent in the first four weeks of March from a year earlier, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. BNSF’s velocity dropped 16 percent in the same period.

Part of BNSF’s $5 billion in capital spending this year will go to build infrastructure to ease congestion in the northern region, which is slowly improving, Ice said. At the same time, that construction can delay trains just as highway improvements can slow auto traffic, he said. 

BNSF’s traffic rose by more than 400,000 units last year, topping 10 million, and accounted for about half of the 800,000-unit increase across the industry, Ice said.

Other clients of the railroads have been more or less vocal about service deficiencies. Doug Bantam, chief operating officer of Lincoln Electric System, said LES and partners in the Laramie River Station, the coal-fired generating plant in Wyoming, are short on coal there, but not at the coal-fired plants in Nebraska LES relies on.

"For some reason they ran short of locomotives," Bantam said. "We have three train sets serving Laramie and we had two for awhile. Now three are back and running. But we're still low on our stockpile, and this is the time of year you'd hope to build."

Western Fuels Association is the contractor for the coal deliveries. "They're working with Burlington to get this thing resolved," Bantam said. "You see that coal pile limited to a number of days, it makes you a little nervous coming into summer."

Probably the harshest criticism has come from the ethanol industry, whose declared war with the oil industry influences its view, especially given the attention the railroads have given crude oil traffic coming out of the Bakken Formation.
Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, last week sent a list of questions regarding what he called the “abject failure of the rail system to adequately address the needs of all of its customers,” to Ed Hamberger, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads.

“Over the past several weeks," Dinneen wrote, "the sheer chaos that is today’s rail system" has denied consumers price relief by driving up the transportation cost for and impacting the supply of ethanol and other commodities.

Disarray on the rail system in the first quarter of 2014 has forced ethanol producers to significantly curtail output, Dinneen wrote, and costs consumers $1 a gallon in the cost of ethanol this year.

“The railroads have attributed this lackluster performance and inefficiency to winter weather," he continued. "But they seem to have forgotten that winter comes every year! ... Indeed, a more plausible explanation for the severity of the current epidemic is the explosive growth in rail car shipments of Bakken and Canadian crude oil."

According to the American Association of Railroads, crude oil shipments have increased from 9,344 carloads in 2008 to 434,032 carloads in 2013. In addition, AAR data show rail shipments of industrial sand used for fracking nearly tripled between 2008 and 2013.

"It seems absurd to suggest, as some have, that the efficiency of the rail system has been unaffected by the 45 percent increase in crude oil shipments and the 170 percent increase in sand shipments since 2008," Dinneen concluded. 

BNSF says crude is only 4 percent of its business. Hamberger acknowledged rail traffic slowed in certain areas, but he says it's preposterous to suggest the rail network is in disarray.
Source-journal star

Melksham road link for rail enthusiasts

Melksham road link for rail enthusiasts

Train enthusiasts can make tracks to Wiltshire’s biggest model railways exhibition in Melksham later this month.

A free minibus has been laid on to take visitors from the town’s station to the Trainwest exhibition at Christie Miller Sports Centre on the weekend of April 12 and 13.

The exhibition will feature 60 stands and 22 working model railway layouts, including the final appearance of the Dovey Valley Railway, which featured on The Two Ronnies on Christmas Day in 1983.

Admission costs £8 on the day or £6 with advance tickets, which are available from the Christie Miller Centre, Melksham Tourist Information Centre and Gas Cupboard Models in Trowbridge.
Source-wiltshire times

Anger over lack of Sunday rail service at Salfords station

THE lack of service at Salfords rail station on a Sunday for more than eight months of the year is continuing to anger passengers.

During the summer, trains run seven days a week, but from September to May, there is no Sunday service to allow for engineering work on the line.

The issue was put to Southern Railways and Network Rail representatives by the Reigate, Redhill & District Railway Users' Association (RRDR) at their annual meeting last Thursday.

An RRDR member, who has a season ticket from Salfords, said: "You pay for seven days and you get a six-day service"

Howard Reed, head of train planning for Southern, said: "The engineering arrangement we have from Network Rail allows all four tracks to be open [in the summer].

"During the winter the engineering access allows only two of those tracks to open and we can't get all the trains through those tracks if we go through Salfords."

The member replied: "The service is amazing from Gatwick but I can't get a train from Salfords."

Alex Foulds, commercial director for Southern, said: "Ticket pricing is done according to commuting to work Monday to Friday for 40 weeks a year. That is really what you are buying."
Source-surrey mirror

Measures to ensure safety on Siouxland rail lines a priority

SIOUX CITY | When Jim Redmond pulls up to a railroad crossing and sees the black tanker cars rolling past, he thinks about turning around.

He doesn't always do so, but knowing the train could be carrying crude oil gives him pause. He doesn't want to be nearby if the train were to have an accident.

"I put as much distance between me and the train as possible," said Redmond, executive committee chairman of the Northwest Iowa Group of the Sierra Club.

Three fiery oil train derailments -- one of them killing 47 people in Canada -- in the past nine months have raised concerns about the safety of shipping crude oil by rail. Crude oil shipments by rail increased nationwide by 83 percent last year.

As oil production increases in North Dakota, it's expected that even more trains carrying crude oil will be on the nation's rail system, including routes through Siouxland.

Emergency responders know more crude oil is traveling through the area, but not how much and when. That increase hasn't raised alarms, they said, because it's just one of many hazardous materials they might encounter at an accident scene.

"We have an enormous amount of hazardous material running up and down the rail and on the highway. There's a lot more dangerous material going through than crude oil," said Gary Brown, Woodbury County Disaster and Emergency Services director.

Sioux City Fire Rescue assistant chief Jim Clark said a train accident involving any of those materials could threaten public safety. Hazmat teams train for all possibilities, including crude oil, although no two emergencies are the same.

"It's like anything. Unless it catches fire, it causes a unique accident," Clark said.

The three recent accidents are the exception, not the rule, railroad representatives said.

"It's something we're willing to haul because we believe we can haul it safely. The reality is that rail derailments are at record lows," said Steve Forsberg, a spokesman for BNSF Railway, which has tracks in Sioux City.

Federal Railroad Administration statistics show 1,251 train derailments in 2013, down 48.6 percent from 2004. Those numbers include all trains -- freight and passenger -- and all locations, including derailments that occur when cars are being hooked and unhooked in rail yards.

For security reasons, Forsberg said he couldn't say how many trains carrying oil go through Sioux City and how often. He said BNSF loads an average of eight trains with crude oil each day. Those trains travel to refineries on the East Coast, Gulf Coast and Midwest. Crude oil makes up 4 percent of the total volume of materials BNSF ships, he said.

Union Pacific Railroad spokesman Aaron Hunt said UP, which also has Sioux City lines, shipped approximately 163,000 carloads of crude oil on its 23-state network through the fourth quarter of 2013, and only a small portion of that traffic went through Iowa. Hunt said crude oil did pass through Sioux City, but he didn't have shipments broken down by city. He said crude oil shipments make up less than 1 percent of UP's business in Iowa.

Hunt said UP takes as many safety precautions as possible.

"Our primary goal is to safely transport crude oil and all other hazardous material we move on behalf of our customers," Hunt said.

Brown said Woodbury County agencies train to respond to rail accidents involving hazardous materials. He can consult with experts from the federal Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies around the clock for the latest information, he said.

Tammy Nicholson, director of the Iowa Department of Transportation's Office of Rail Transportation, said federal regulations require rail companies that are common carriers to carry hazardous materials. The IDOT can't tell shippers to avoid heavily populated areas; shippers decide which routes trains take.

Nicholson said IDOT inspectors continually inspect tracks on routes the oil trains take to help ensure they travel safely through Iowa.

The rail industry also is seeking safer transport of crude oil. The Association of American Railroads in November urged the passage of tougher federal regulations that would require thousands of existing tank cars to be replaced or retrofitted to meet higher safety standards.

Redmond said he's heard those kinds of statements for years but has not seen much action. The Sierra Club and other environmental groups have urged railroads to direct trains carrying hazardous materials around high-population areas.

"The Sierra Club and other groups are concerned about the basics. You have an oil spill, how are you going to clean it up?" he said.

Redmond said it likely will take federal funds and a financial commitment from the rail industry to develop better ways of cleaning up spills and preventing rail disasters. An accident can happen anywhere, but he's confident in the local agencies that would respond to such an incident here.

"Sioux City has a good reputation of being prepared for disasters," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Source-sioux city

Newark plans rail safety meeting

A public information session is planned in Newark to raise awareness of railroad safety and outline emergency response to incidents involving trains.

The program is set for 6:30 p.m. April 17 at the Aetna Hose Hook & Ladder Company of Newark at 400 Ogletown Road.

The program will include speakers from the fire company, Newark Police Department, New Castle County Office of Emergency Management, the state Department of Transportation, Norfolk Southern Railroad and PBF Energy, said Lt. Mark A. Farrall, public information officer for city police.

"The meeting is being held due to recent questions and concerns from the public to [Newark City] Council and the City on the safety of the rail system through Newark," Farrall said.

A similar forum recently was held in Delaware City, where the refinery's tanker trains have fueled concerns.

"We will outline emergency preparations and response and public notification procedures in the event of a rail incident," Farrall said.
Source-delaware online

80 per cent of Metro Rail stage I complete

THE HINDUWork under way at the Nagole Metro depot in Hyderabad on Saturday. - Photo: G. Ramakrishna
THE HINDURailway Board Member (Engineering) S.K.Jain flanked by HMR Managing Director N.V.S. Reddy and MD of L&TMRH V.B. Gadgil at a press conference at the Nagole Metro depot in Hyderabad on Saturday. - Photo: G. Ramakrishna

Trial runs on the Nagole-Mettuguda stretch to be conducted in June, HMR Managing Director N.V.S. Reddy said on Saturday

The construction of the Hyderabad Metro Rail (HMR) is on course with almost 80 per cent of the work complete on Stage I (Nagole to Mettuguda). Trial runs across the viaduct on the stretch would be conducted in June as announced earlier, HMR Managing Director N.V.S. Reddy said on Saturday.

Mr. Reddy was talking to reporters after taking Railway Board Member (Engineering) S.K. Jain and senior officials of the South Central Railway (SCR) on a tour of the ongoing works, especially at sites where the Metro Rail viaduct would ‘jump’ over the railway lines.

The overhead Nagole station, which is under construction, the Uppal depot and the casting yard nearby were also inspected.

Though he was reluctant to speak much in view of the enforcement of the poll code, Mr. Jain accepted that there were technical parameters to be thrashed out to clear design plans for the Metro viaduct across the existing railway lines, and also for the take-over of portions of railway land across the three corridors.

But, he was also confident of expediting the clearances and resolving issues soon.

The Metro lines pass over the railway lines at about eight sites, including four near the Secunderabad railway station – Alugadda Bhavi, Chilkalguda, Oliphant Bridge and Bhoiguda.

Other rail crossings are at Bharatnagar, Lakdikapul, Malakpet and Begumpet. Metro viaducts will be built at a height of eight metres to 22 metres at locations when they cross the rail tracks. The concourse, or the first-level of overhead platform, will be at a height of 5.5 metres and platforms will stand 11-12 metres tall.

“Hyderabad Metro Rail is an iconic project, being the only one being done on a public, private partnership (PPP) mode. Everyone is watching its progress with interest so that it can be emulated,” remarked Mr. Jain.

Praising the efforts in optimising time and land utilisation for the construction of the Metro Rail, the railway board member also lauded the quality and aesthetics going into the project.
Source-the hindu





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