Russel Peterson More Optimistic About Light Rail in Pittsburgh

When it comes to gauging the prospects of new passenger rail service on the Allegheny Valley Railroad, CEO Russell Peterson is more optimistic than he was a few years ago.

A few years ago, he thought there was only a 5 percent likelihood of a passenger train between Lower Burrell to downtown Pittsburgh. Now, it’s different.

“I’ve moved above the 50/50 level,” he said. “I give it a 55 percent probability of going forward now.”

He’s hopeful a new resolution will come before City Council in the near future to establish Pittsburgh as a conduit for state and federal funding needed to conduct a study to achieve National Environmental Policy Act clearance. An environmental review process is needed so the light rail plan can become eligible for Federal Transit Administration funding.

Peterson said to expect some new partners to be announced if the city establishes such enabling legislation. He cited the backing he’s seen from Mayor Bill Peduto, who has voiced strong support for new light rail transit in the city, as his biggest reason for optimism for new passenger rail service through AVR.

“The biggest change in complexion is the new administration is much more attuned to public transit and light rail,” said Peterson. “That’s the paradigm shift.”

Read More

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Arnold to Pittsburgh Commuter Train Very Possible

From a Post Gazette Article: By Debra Duncan (Thursday, May 26, 2011)
(Link Provided Courtesy of Don Worf)

Robert Ardolino says state legislation that he expects will pass in the next few weeks should be a big boost to a commuter train project from northern Westmoreland County to Pittsburgh.

Mr. Ardolino is a consultant hired in 2009 by Allegheny Railroad, which owns the tracks from Arnold and Pittsburgh that run along the east side of the Allegheny River. Mr. Ardolino is president of Urban Innovations, which has transit projects in California and Pittsburgh.

Read more here: Plan for train from Westmoreland to Pittsburgh moves along.

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Recent Railway Transit Talk

Future Allegheny Valley Transit System from Arnold to Downtown Pittsburgh

Future Allegheny Valley Transit System from Arnold to Downtown Pittsburgh

AVR officials are working on a $228 million plan that would run diesel-powered trains along their freight tracks between Arnold and the Strip District. The trains would travel along tracks embedded in 26th Street in the Strip to the East Busway, then connect to the unused section of Port Authority’s light-rail and go directly to an empty platform at Steel Plaza subway station, said railroad CEO Russell Peterson.

“This would bring substantial new ridership to the ‘T’ at its busiest station,” Peterson said. The short-line freight railroad, which runs mostly at night, has been studied as a potential commuter-rail carrier since at least 2003.

Urban Innovations CEO Robert Ardolino said the project his company is planning could be running as early as fall 2013, with help from $171 million in private financing by an investment banking firm in Georgia. Aside from seeking Port Authority’s cooperation to plan the final leg of the line, Ardolino said the venture would not ask for funding from the cash- trapped transit agency.

“We’re trying to keep Port Authority out of this equation,” he said. “They have a role, but we’d rather not burden the authority any further.”

Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said officials would “remain open to future discussions” about the commuter line. Allegheny County spokesman Kevin Evanto said the county would work with railroad, Port Authority and Westmoreland County officials as the project moves toward planning who would run the system and how fares would be set, collected and divided.

The light-rail line between Steel Plaza and the Downtown end of the East Busway hasn’t carried passengers since 2007, when rush-hour trains to Penn Station were discontinued. To run commuter trains there, railroad officials would have to lay new tracks along 26th Street, up the busway ramp, and widen tracks through an underground tunnel to Steel Plaza.

Port Authority’s police station and a lounge for bus drivers would need to be removed from the edge of the busway, but Ardolino said they could be rebuilt nearby as part of a transfer station where riders could catch buses to the East End or Oakland.

Converting Port Authority’s portion of the tracks would cost about $28 million, while the AVR’s tracks would get $56 million in upgrades, Ardolino said. AVR may start seeking state or federal funding but would need lawmakers to pass legislation allowing public-private partnerships between companies and local governments, he said.

State Rep. Joe Markosek, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said allowing such “P3” partnerships likely would be part of the transportation-funding package legislators hope to consider this fall.

“The issue with P3s in general is that… there is still a public-funding aspect of each project,” said Markosek, D-Monroeville. “Coming up with the public side is going to be very difficult under our current circumstances.”

Editor’s Note:

[What is being advocated here is a “P3” (Public–Private Partnership)

Public–private partnership (PPP) describes a government service or private business venture which is funded and operated through a partnership of government and one or more private sector companies. These schemes are sometimes referred to as PPP, or P3.

PPP involves a contract between a public-sector authority and a private party, in which the private party provides a public service or project and assumes substantial financial, technical and operational risk in the project.

In some types of PPP, the cost of using the service is borne exclusively by the users of the service and not by the taxpayer. In other types (notably the private finance initiative), capital investment is made by the private sector on the strength of a contract with government to provide agreed services and the cost of providing the service is borne wholly or in part by the government.

In projects that are aimed at creating public goods like in the infrastructure sector, the government may provide a capital subsidy in the form of a one-time grant, so as to make it more attractive to the private investors. In some other cases, the government may support the project by providing revenue subsidies, including tax breaks or by providing guaranteed annual revenues for a fixed period.]

The passenger trains would look like bigger, diesel-powered versions of Port Authority’s light-rail trolleys, with seating for about 70 passengers per vehicle, Peterson said.

A similar commuter-rail proposal by Westmoreland County Transit, which would have shared tracks with Norfolk Southern and ended at Penn Station, appears to have lost steam. “It’s highly unlikely Norfolk Southern will allow commuter rail on their tracks,” he said. “There’s too much freight using that corridor … the liability costs are too prohibitive.”

On the lightlyused AVR tracks, passenger trains and freight operations would be kept separate: freight trains would only run between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. while passenger service would run from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., Peterson said.

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One More Argument in Favor of Rail Transit

The Pittsburgh Public Market in the Strip District will open soon. Rail transit down to the market using the existing “unused” infrastructure would be a boon to the Strip District and the people of the Allegheny-Kiski Valley. All we need to do is to light a fire under local chambers of commerce and businesses…along with local, state, and federal officials to make it a reality. We really need to get after these people…and stay after them. If there is a public outcry they will find a way to obtain the funding to make it happen.

Click on This Link to Learn More

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Rail Transit Survey Results

We wish to thank all of those who took the time to participate in this survey. Below is the survey outcome:

1. Do you use public transportation to downtown Pittsburgh?

Yes (59%)
No (41%)

2. If you answered yes to question #1, how often do you use public transportation to downtown Pittsburgh?

Daily (63%)
Once or twice per week (25%)
Other(occasionally) (13%)

3. If you answered yes to questions #1 & # 2, what form of public transportation do you use?

Port Authority Bus (96%)
Other (Taxi) (4%)

4. Would you use rail transit to and from downtown Pittsburgh if the cost was competitive with bus transit?

Yes (98%)
No (2%)

5. Would you use rail transit to and from downtown Pittsburgh if the cost exceeded the cost of bus transit?

Yes (82%)
No (18%)

6. Would you be willing to drive to the rail station and park free to take the train downtown?

Yes (94%)
No (6%)

7. Would you be willing to drive to the rail station and pay a moderate price for parking to take the train downtown?

Yes (64%)
No (36%)

8. What factors influence your position on rail transit to and from downtown Pittsburgh?

Traffic (43%)
Road Construction (27%)
Vehicle maintenance and insurance (17%)
Weather (13%)

9. Do you think PAT should be the agency in charge of rail transit for the metropolitan Pittsburgh area including adjacent counties, or should a regional transit authority representing all the counties be created?

A new regional transit authority representing all the counties should be created. (96%)
PAT should be in charge. (4%)

10. If you do not use public transportation to and from downtown Pittsburgh, choosing instead to drive, would you strongly consider reliable rail transit if it was available?

Yes (96%)
No (4%)

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More About Rail Transit in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (07/19/2010)

Headline: “Allegheny commuter rail line still distant possibility Project has $171M in financing, but much work remains.”

Monday, July 19, 2010
By Jon Schmitz, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Read here about the latest developments on Allegheny Rail Transit reported by Jon Schmitz.”

Once viewed as a possible relief valve during major reconstruction of Route 28, a commuter rail line proposed for the Allegheny Valley remains a distant dream.

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Allegheny Valley Railroad Wins Right To Railway Easement & Rail Transit

It is official:

Click Here: A Decision Has Been Rendered

Decision Information

Docket Number: FD_35239_0


Decision Type: Decision

Deciding Body: Entire Board

Decision Summary


The verdict is in. The pathway is clear. Where do we go from here? (Time for action)

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This is an Interactive Site – Join and Become Actively Engaged

Advocates For Rail Transit (ART) exists for all of the citizens of the Allegheny River Valley to join and become actively engaged. You can become an associate member by simply registering at the bottom of the right hand column. If you simply want to post a comment you can do that here too. Let us know your opinions. Become a member. Be active. Have questions? Post them here. Together we can make a difference.
“Lead, follow, or get out of the way”!

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A Parking Lot Stands in the Way of an Allegheny Valley Commuter Transit Plan

We are revisiting excerpts from an article published in the Post-Gazette Tuesday, December 15, 2009 By Jon Schmitz, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

    A slow-chugging plan for commuter rail service to the Allegheny Valley may be further sidetracked by a land dispute.

    The Buncher Co., a Pittsburgh real estate developer, is contesting Allegheny Valley Railroad’s claim of an easement allowing it to operate along a 1,500-foot corridor between 16th and 21st streets in the Strip District.

    The commuter line, which has been studied and talked about for more than a decade, would run from Arnold and New Kensington to the Strip or to Penn Station, Downtown. It is seen as a possible alternative to traffic-choked Route 28, especially during upcoming major reconstruction projects.

    Without the disputed easement, which involves Buncher-owned property that is currently used as parking lots, the railroad could go no farther than 21st Street.

    The case was heard Jan. 26th before the Surface Transportation Board in Washington, D.C.
    (As of May17th no ruling has been made on this issue.)

    Allegheny Valley Railroad, which wants to develop the commuter service, contends that when Conrail sold the property to Buncher in 1983, it reserved the right to operate rail service there.

    In 1995, Conrail deeded the Valley Industrial Track — from 16th Street in the Strip to New Kensington — to Allegheny Valley Railroad, AVR said.

    Although the tracks from 16th to 21st streets were removed or covered over in the 1980s, AVR contends it held the easement to operate rail service in the corridor, and that Buncher was barred from developing the strip of land once occupied by the tracks.

    When AVR’s chief executive officer, Russell Peterson, and a consultant met with Buncher’s president, Tom Balestrieri, in September 2008 to invite the company into a public-private partnership to build a transit-oriented development between 16th and 21st streets, Mr. Balestrieri told them the easement didn’t exist, Mr. Peterson said in a filing to the transportation board.

    The railroad in April asked the board to declare the easement valid.

    Richard R. Wilson, attorney for the railroad, said it might take three to four months for the board to rule after the January hearing. Buncher, however, is contesting the board’s jurisdiction in the case, he said.

    Regardless of the outcome, appeals are likely, Mr. Wilson said. “This could go on for some time.”

    There have been no talks on a possible settlement, he said.


    AVR claims to hold a deed from 1995, conveying the easement to them, while Buncher denies that any easement exists.

    According to Russell Peterson, CEO of AVR, if the STB rules in favor of Buncher, then the rail service will stop short of downtown, at 21st Street. This would put the success and feasibility of the commuter service in jeopardy. If the board rules in favor of AVR, Peterson believes Buncher will likely appeal to a higher court, entering a process that could take years.

    Peterson does not, however, think this decision is a make-or-break situation for commuter rail. “It might limit our options,” he says, “but it does not close the door.”

    “Even if Buncher prevails in appeals,” Peterson says, “It doesn’t mean there are not other ways to resolve the issue.”

    If AVR does eventually prevail in the hearing, the commuter service would still be many years away from breaking ground. According to Peterson, U.S. Representative Jason Altmire (a strong supporter of the service) has environmental impact study funding already in place. A study would be the next step in the process.

    Peterson says AVR would likely sell their tracks to a public\private entity which would then develop the corridor and commuter stations. Peterson believes there would be at least half a billion dollars worth of development.

    View AVR’s Pittsburgh Commuter Rail Position Here!

      Note: Download the complete video record of the actual arguments presented by both parties at the hearing right here.

      Mr. Balestrieri could not be reached for comment.
      Here is one of the Buncher Comapany’s Divisions

      Is it possible that this operation may have something to do with this deadlock? Does The Buncher Company and its CEO Mr. Ballestrieri have a hidden agenda?
      We don’t have an answer to that question. What we do have is some information on one of Buncher’s business relationships.

      It appears that The Buncher Company and and Allegheny County have a strong business relationship. Here are two that we know of:

      The following is part of a Q&A with Dan Onorato Chief executive, Allegheny County and The Pittsburgh Business Times – Compiled by Mara Mrvos on Friday, October 29, 2004.

      “Q:Have companies from outside the Pittsburgh region asked about development opportunities at the airport? If so, which ones? And who is working to get the word out about development options here?

      A: I work closely with the county’s Department of Economic Development and Allegheny County Airport Authority to proactively promote airport development to local, national and international firms. Recently, development in this area has gained significant momentum. In August, The Buncher Co., a Pittsburgh-based firm, entered into a letter of intent with the Airport Authority to construct, lease and manage a 400,000-square-foot building in two phases at the new Clinton Industrial Park, located on county-owned property at the Pittsburgh International Airport. Also, Bayer Corp. officials recently announced that Lanxess, its new subsidiary, will maintain its U.S. headquarters at RIDC West in Findlay Township. Lanxess plans to employ more than 400 people at its new facility, including employees who are being relocated from Akron, Ohio.”

      But wait, there is more:

      New County Lab Construction Update –

      On May 23, 2006, Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato provided an update on construction of the County’s new laboratories. Structural repairs are underway at a 78,000 square-foot building in the Strip District to serve as the new headquarters for the Allegheny County Medical Examiner. The Buncher Company facility, known as Penn-Liberty Plaza II, will house the Medical Examiner’s crime lab, which provides forensic, analytical and medical testing services to law enforcement agencies throughout the County, as well as the County morgue After numerous meetings with the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Allegheny County Health Department, a decision was made to move forward with building the new public health lab, which includes a Biosafety Level 3 facility, at a separate 10,000 squarefoot building in Lawrenceville, at the Clack Center Complex, due to time and cost issues. The County Public Works Department has issued re-bid requests for construction of the facility. Principal Architect Sam Taylor, project manager, has construction documents to be completed in mid-November. The new lab will replace the Health Department’s current facility located at 3441 Forbes Avenue in Oakland.

      What does all of this mean? Probably not much other than the Allegheny Valley Railroad most likely can forget about support from Allegheny County to move this project forward. We thought you might like to have access to the above information.

      U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire secured $500,000 for a feasibility study of commuter rail in 2007. The study, completed this year, determined that the plan was feasible but would need millions in operating subsidies.

      “The development of the Allegheny Valley commuter rail is critically important to our region’s future. I am hopeful that this current dispute will be resolved in a timely fashion. I remain committed to working to secure the federal funding needed to move this project forward and bring Western Pennsylvania’s infrastructure in line with its transportation needs,” he said yesterday.

      Mr. Altmire, D-McCandless, is seeking $6 million in a new federal surface transportation bill to complete planning and design of the service.Email Congressman Altmire here

    Posted in Allegheny River Valley | 2 Comments

    Train Study Results Blasted

    Let’s revisit an old article by Tom Jewell, TRIBUNE-REVIEW
    Monday, June 30, 2003

    The owner of the Allegheny Valley Railroad said he believes the Port Authority of Allegheny County has put forth “gold-plated” proposals for a commuter train running from Arnold to Pittsburgh’s Strip District.

    The authority believes it will take about 10 years and cost anywhere between $90 million and $800 million. Allegheny Valley Railroad President Russ Peterson, however, said a commuter rail service could be up and running in 2005 for $25 million. Peterson, a strong supporter of adding commuter trains to his existing freight line, has spent about $2 million over the past two years on track improvements.

    “In one of their proposals, they bulldozed everything,” Peterson said. “We’re looking at how quickly we can refurbish the existing railroad. As a private enterprise, we can have it going in 18 months.”

    Port Authority officials defended the findings of their $1 million Eastern Corridor Transit Study, saying their projections are not cost-prohibitive, and would go much further in relieving traffic congestion on Route 28, which is traveled by about 75,000 vehicles a day.

    “There’s a lot of merit in what they want to do,” said Henry Nutbrown, Port Authority assistant general manager of engineering and construction. “But they’re only talking about taking 300 cars a day off the road, and that’s not going to do much.”

    The eastern corridor transit study offered by the Port Authority calls for daily ridership of 6,700, although some of those would be downtown commuters transferring over from buses. Nutbrown said he did not know how many cars would be taken off the highway under the Port Authority’s proposals.

    But it’s the associated cost that Allegheny Valley Railroad supporters are questioning, ranging from $800 million for a light-rail line similar to the one running through the South Hills, to $250 million for a diesel-propelled train, to $90 million for a “very low budget” locomotive.

    Allegheny County Council president Rick Schwartz, who is seeking remaining funding for a more detailed $500,000 feasibility study, attributes the disparity in costs to having “too many bells and whistles” attached to the Port Authority’s study.

    “The Eastern Corridor Study proposal includes brand new tracks, purchasing the railroad itself, four new cars, and state-of-the-art stations,” Schwartz said. “”While these items would certainly enhance the commuter rail and encourage ridership, the immediate concern (is) finding an option for commuters trying to reach downtown Pittsburgh on congested highways.”

    Under the plan proposed by Schwartz and state Rep. Frank Dermody, an Oakmont Democrat, the trains would stop in Arnold, Plum, Oakmont, Verona, Penn Hills and the Strip District.

    Because of all the improvements and bridgework scheduled along Route 28, Nutbrown believes the implementation plan for a commuter line could be sped up significantly from the current eight- to 10- year projections.

    “We believe there are some costs that still have to be figured in, such as the engineering, legal work and environmental studies,” Nutbrown said. “There’s signalization that has to go in and a rigid safety review that is part of minimum federal standards.”

    Peterson, meanwhile, said the commuter and freight services can peacefully coexist. While there are areas along the route with double sets of track that would enable one train to pull off while another passes, the Port Authority said there isn’t enough and that a more extensive network is required.

    Peterson maintains that the existing track could be rebuilt to commuter train standards within two years. Schwartz agrees.

    “It’s a far cry from the estimates being touted in the Port Authority’s transit study,” Schwartz said.

    (and Fiori says: There is something drastically wrong here)

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