Posts Tagged ‘fra’

FRA Releases NEC FUTURE Tier 1 DEIS

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

by Dave Towers, P.E.

HMMH is proud to be a part of the team that prepared the NEC FUTURE Tier 1 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that was released by the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) earlier this week.  NEC FUTURE is a comprehensive plan for improvements to the Northeast Corridor (NEC) rail line from Washington, D.C. to Boston, Massachusetts and the objective of the Tier 1 EIS is to evaluate the broad environmental impacts of several NEC alternatives. HMMH was responsible for evaluating the potential noise and vibration impacts of these alternatives to residential and other sensitive land uses along the existing NEC and potential new routes.  The noise and vibration analysis was conducted based on the methodology outlined in guidance documents for noise and vibration impact assessment prepared by HMMH for both the FRA and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). Estimates of noise and vibration levels accounted for passenger and freight rail operations as well as roadway and aircraft traffic in areas along the routes and the results provided estimates of residential populations and sensitive resources within impact zones for each of the alternatives.  After the Tier 1 process is completed, a Tier 2 EIS will be undertaken to evaluate impacts for a preferred alternative in site-specific detail.

National Train Day

Monday, May 16th, 2011

by Dave Towers

There are a number of holidays that occur in early May including May Day, a traditional spring festival celebrated on May 1, and Cinco de Mayo, celebrating Mexican heritage and pride on May 5.  In addition, a colleague recently informed me that the day prior to Cinco de Mayo is celebrated as National Star Wars Day:  May the 4th be with you!  However, for railfans and those who work on projects in the rail industry, the most notable holiday during this period is National Train Day.

National Train Day is a holiday started by Amtrak in 2008 as a means to spread information to the general public about the advantages of rail travel and the history of trains in the United States.  Since then, it has been held each year on the Saturday closest to May 10th, the anniversary of the pounding of the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit in Utah (not Promontory Point as often misstated) which marked the completion of what is generally considered the first transcontinental railroad.

Although the joining of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads was a grand achievement, the claim of being “first” needs to be qualified, as one could not yet ride rails without interruption between the Atlantic and Pacific on May 10, 1869.  There was a 1,500-foot gap across the Missouri River between Omaha, Nebraska and Council Bluffs, Iowa, and another gap between Sacramento and Oakland, California.  While the California gap on the Central Pacific was closed a few months later, the Union Pacific did not complete its permanent bridge across the Missouri River at Omaha until March 22, 1872.  In the meantime, transcontinental rail service on the Kansas Pacific Railway via its bridge at Kansas City was achieved when the final spike was driven at Comanche Crossing, Colorado on August 15, 1870, marking the completion of the first uninterrupted transcontinental railroad between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

First Transcontinental Railroad

In any case, National Train Day was celebrated this year (in conjunction with Amtrak’s 40th Anniversary) on Saturday May 7, with train equipment displays and events at several of the major stations across the Amtrak system.  As a representative of the Rail Group at HMMH, I decided to attend the local festivities at South Station in Boston.  The attractions included a jazz trio concert, a display of an Amtrak Acela train, tours of South Station and various informational tables with souvenir items.

South Station, Boston

The Acela is the first and only “high-speed” train in the U.S. and has been operating on the Northeast Corridor between Boston, MA and Washington, DC since December of 2000.  The train travels at speeds of up to 150 mph (240 km/h) for brief intervals, but its average speed is much less due to the many curves in the track; not exactly high speed by European and Asian standards.  One popular feature of the Acela introduced by Amtrak is the “Quiet Car” which provides a quiet refuge for train travelers that is especially appreciated by those of us in the noise control field.  This concept has spread to several U.S. commuter rail systems, including those in Philadelphia, New Jersey and Boston, where it has been very well received.

Acela Train

 

Acela's Quiet Car

I capped off my visit with a guided tour of Boston South Station.  Although the tour was limited to public station areas (not a behind-the scenes tour), the guide did provide some interesting information.  The station was constructed in 1897 as a “union station,” consolidating several existing railroad lines, and became the busiest station in the country by 1910.  As this area of Boston was originally under water, the station is supported by 36,000 piles, one of which is exposed and visible in the passageway between the railroad terminal and the MBTA Red Line subway.  By the 1970s the condition of the station had deteriorated significantly, but the station was modernized and restored to its former grandeur in the 1980s as part of the Northeast Corridor Improvement Project.  Although the original mechanical train board (sold on Ebay) has been replaced by an electronic one, the clacking sound that occurred during train information updates has been retained.

Boston's South Station

 

This Building Erected by The Boston Terminal Company

Exposed Piles in Passageway

All in all, participation in National Train Day was a meaningful way to spend a Saturday afternoon.  Unfortunately, given the current economic and political conditions, the future of high-speed and other forms of rail transit is somewhat clouded.  However, considering the many benefits of passenger rail transportation to the public and to our environment, it can only be hoped that these types of events will help to keep the dream alive.

Environmental Smackdown – Aviation v. High Speed Rail

Monday, February 14th, 2011

by Mary Ellen Eagan

I’m inspired by a few recent events to pontificate on this subject; those events are:  (1) Joe Biden’s recent remarks on high speed rail (HSR) in the US, (2) Greg Principato’s response, and (3) a recent session at the TRB Annual Meeting: “Environmental Tradeoffs of Aviation and High Speed Rail”.

First, let me be clear:  I do not think that one mode of transportation is “better” than another.  In fact, I’m quite sure that we have a need for both and our focus should be on complementarity, not competition.  That said, high speed rail advocates in the U.S. are making statements that unequivocally claim that high speed rail is “better for the environment”.  But let’s check the facts, as far as I’ve gathered them (admittedly, a somewhat cursory review):

  • Capacity:  Matt Coogan and others have prepared a comprehensive case study of the impact of high speed rail on aviation capacity in ACRP 31:  Innovative Approaches to Addressing Aviation Capacity Issues in Coastal Mega-regions.  They conclude that while introduction of Acela Amtrak service between Boston and New York has reduced passenger traffic by about 1/3, the number of flights between the two cities has dropped by only about six percent – shuttle operators have just adapted by substituting smaller aircraft on those routes to meet the schedule demand.
  • Noise:  Noise assessments for aviation and high speed rail both rely on Day Night Average Sound Level, but the similarities end there.  The FRA’s HSR Guidance Manual determines impact on noise sensitive communities by comparing project levels to existing noise levels to determine two categories of impact (moderate and severe), while the FAA’s Order 1050.1E determines impact by identifying noise-sensitive land uses that are projected to experience an increase in noise of 1.5 dB or more in those areas already exceeding DNL 65.  To make matters even more complicated, people appear to respond differently to aircraft noise than rail noise (they are more annoyed by it); on the other hand, if the rail vehicle in question is moving fast enough to cause startle (i.e., HSR), it’s not clear whether annoyance reaction is more like aircraft than rail.  Ruth Mazer and I gave a presentation at TRB comparing aviation and HSR in the Boston-New York Acela corridor, using both the FRA methodology and the FAA’s Integrated Noise Model.  We estimated that the number of people exposed to Sound Exposure Levels (SELs) from aircraft flying BOS-NYC high enough to cause speech disturbance (85 dB) ranges from 1,000 to 1,500 (depending on runway, flight path, aircraft type, and airport); whereas the number of people exposed to the same level on the BOS-NYC route is 12,000.  On the other hand, there are close to 30 shuttle flights per day in each direction and only 10 trainsets.  Is it better to expose the same 1,000 people to excessive noise 60 times per day or twelve times as many people only 20 times per day? 
Source: EU Position Paper On Dose Response Relationships Between Transportation Noise And Annoyance, 2002

Source: EU Position Paper On Dose Response Relationships Between Transportation Noise And Annoyance, 2002: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/noise/pdf/noise_expert_network.pdf

  • Air Quality:  Mikhail Chester from UC Berkeley also gave a presentation at TRB entitled, “Life-Cycle Assessment of High Speed Rail:  Total Environmental Accounting”, in which he compared the total air quality outputs from automobiles, aviation, and HSR.  LCA includes not just the operation and maintenance of the vehicles, but the infrastructure development and energy production.  Two interesting figures are presented below, which demonstrate that although emissions per passenger kilometer traveled (PKT) is highly dependent on vehicle loading, HSR consistently produces less CO2 than aviation only when it is assumed that the HSR uses “clean” fuel, and is not a clear “winner” over aviation when comparing NOx.  More detail on Mikhail’s research is here.
Lifecycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Source: Mikhail Chester, 2011

Lifecycle NOx Emissions, Source: Mikhail Chester, 2011

 

Lifecycle NOx Emissions, Source: Mikhail Chester, 2011

Lifecycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Source: Mikhail Chester, 2011

I look forward to your responses, and to seeing some real data – especially noise – on this subject.

Railroad Environmental Conference

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

by Lance Meister

I attended the Railroad Environmental Conferenceat the University of Illinois last week.  The conference is a good one, but quite focused on the freight rail industry.  Chris Barkan and Kim Hagemann do an excellent job of planning the conference every year.  The presentations are more technical than at many conferences, and there’s a good mix of people from across the industry.  In addition to the University of Illinois Railroad Engineering program, the conference is also sponsored by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and the American Railway Engineering & Maintenance of Way Association (AREMA).

The conference attendance is comprised of freight railroad environmental staff, consultants in the field and academics.  The focus of the conference has shifted somewhat over the years, from one focused on hazardous waste and remediation to air quality, greenhouse gases and sustainability.

Freight railroads (along with transit) have been promoting their “green” side, focusing on removing cars and trucks from the roads, and the inherent advantages in rail transportation of bulk commodities.  If you have time, here’s an interesting report discussing freight vs. trucks in significant detail.  The railroads are also being required to introduce locomotives that reduce diesel emissions.

While noise and vibration are not central issues to the freight railroads, HMMH has participated in this conference for a number of years, presenting papers, chairing sessions, or participating on the planning committee.  Last year I took over for Carl Hanson of HMMH on the planning committee and chaired the noise and vibration session.  This year I presented a paper on noise and vibration considerations in shared use corridors. The presentation deals with the noise and vibration issues that arise on corridors where freight and transit either share the tracks or the right-of-way.  Planners are looking at freight corridors more and more as potential locations for transit projects, so this topic is becoming more of an issue.  HMMH has worked on a number of these projects around the country and experienced many of the challenging problems that can arise on these types of projects.

The conference will be held again next fall in Champaign.  If you are interested in participating, keep watching the site.  The call for papers usually goes out in March/April, and the hotels always fill up fast!  The conference organizers are hoping to get more involvement from passenger railroads and consultants in that field, so if you think you have something of interest (not just in noise, but any environmental topic) you should consider submitting a paper.

High Speed Rail Acceleration

Monday, February 1st, 2010

by Lance Meister

In what was, I think, widely regarded as something of a surprise last year, President Obama announced that $8 billion dollars would be allocated to high speed rail (HSR) projects around the country.  This was a complete and fundamental about-face from previous policy and totally unexpected.  The next several months were spent by the administration and the FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) trying to determine what projects would qualify and how the money would be allocated.

The late summer and early fall was a frantic time for project sponsors, trying to meet the requirements for the grant applications.  HMMH was involved, in a small part, in a number of those applications, including in Florida, California, New York and the Mid-West.  Since then, it’s been a waiting game.

On Thursday, January 28, President Obama made the announcement regarding the grant awards.  The full list of awards is here.  Given that he was making the announcement in Florida, it came as no surprise that the Tampa-Orlando project was one of the big winners.  Other big winners were the California HSR project, New York-Albany-Buffalo and the Mid-West projects, including Chicago to St. Louis.  Many of the projects on the list are not really high speed rail projects, but are really just upgrades to existing lines to improve speeds and safety.  However, Florida and California are dedicated HSR projects, and if implemented as proposed, would represent real HSR in this country that would compete with systems around the world.

It’s clear that the $8 billion is not enough to build a complete HSR system, even if the entire amount had been given to one project.  However, it is very symbolic, and it’s a jump start at getting projects moving, and hopefully attracting more money at all levels to get the projects built.  The administration is also committing money each year to continue funding of HSR projects.

It’s been a long time coming in this country, and for those who have been advocating HSR for decades in the US, it’s a sweet victory.  Our own Carl Hanson has been involved in virtually every HSR project in the country over the last 30 years, and he’s as excited as I’ve ever seen him at the possibilities.

Now the fun really begins.  It’s time to get HSR moving in this country.  My hope is that one day we refer to the Obama High-Speed Rail System, much like the Eisenhower Highway System.   This may very well be the enduring legacy of the Obama administration.