NEWS RELEASE

 

For immediate release: 2004 April 5

For more information -- Glenn A. Walsh:

                    E-Mail < gawalsh@planetarium.cc >

                    Telephone 412-561-7876

 

TAX MONEY TO BE WASTED BY PAT ABANDONMENT

OF NEVER-USED RAIL CAR STORAGE YARD

                               

Pittsburgh, April 5 – Taxpayer money expended in the 1980s, to construct a never-used, seven-track [i.e. five stub tracks, and a loop track originally designed for PCC cars which can now be used as two additional storage tracks] Mid-Day Rail Car Storage Yard at Penn Station in Downtown Pittsburgh, may be completely wasted if a Port Authority of Allegheny County proposal to abandon this rail yard is implemented. According to Port Authority Operations Director Stephen R. Banta, abandonment of the rail yard is necessitated by the proposed construction of a new Convention Center Subway Line, part of the proposed “North Shore Connector” rail project approved by the Federal Transit Administration in February.

 

According to long-time public transit advocate Glenn A. Walsh, “The Mid-Day Rail Car Storage Yard, located adjacent to the Port Authority Police Station near the Pennsylvania Railroad Station, was constructed as part of the Stage I Light Rail Transit project, to permit the storage of extra light rail vehicles Downtown between the morning and afternoon rush-hours. However, after more than fifteen years, this rail yard has never been used for its intended purpose—in fact, it has never been used, at all, for the storage of light rail vehicles! Now, with the proposed construction of the Convention Center Subway Line, this rail yard will be completely abandoned, wasting the original capital investment of the taxpayers in the 1980s.”

 

Mr. Walsh states that the actual cost of construction of this rail yard is unknown, as the Port Authority has never specified the cost of this one part of the Stage I project. Hence, in an April 2 letter to Port Authority Chief Executive Officer Paul P. Skoutelas (copy of letter attached), Mr. Walsh asks for the cost of construction of the Mid-Day Rail Car Storage Yard, under terms of the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law. According to a 2002 amendment to the Right-to-Know Law, State law requires that the Port Authority honor Mr. Walsh’s information request, within five business days of receipt of the written request.

 

With the relocation of the primary rail car storage yard, from South Hills Junction in the City’s Beltzhoover neighborhood [not far from Downtown], to a new Rail Center adjacent to South Hills Village in Upper Saint Clair, the designers of the Stage I Light Rail Transit project saw a need for a new rail yard, in the Downtown area, for temporary storage of light rail vehicles. These extra vehicles, needed for the morning and afternoon rush-hours, but not required during the late morning and early afternoon, would otherwise have to make the ten-mile trip between South Hills Village and Downtown for the temporary storage between rush-hour periods in the main rail yard.

 

Although a very nice rail yard was built for this temporary storage of vehicles, as part of the Stage I project, it has never been used! Following the conclusion of the morning rush-hours, excess light rail vehicles have always been sent the ten miles back to South Hills Village. With the beginning of the afternoon rush-hour period, these vehicles are, again, sent these ten miles back to Downtown to begin bringing people home from work.

 

Why was this rail yard never used? From discussions with Port Authority staff members over the years, Mr. Walsh concludes that the staff considers access to and from this rail yard as a nuisance and believes it could cause switching problems on the main line. For instance, after a rail trip is completed at Gateway Center, a rail car must go back, past Steel Plaza, to a special “pocket track” near Fourth Avenue. The operator would then have to move to the other driving position, then move the light rail vehicle back onto the main line, At Steel Plaza, the rail car would then move onto the Penn Station rail line and proceed past the light rail station at Penn Station to the rail yard.

 

 

 

 

News Release: Tax Money To Be Wasted On PAT Abandonment of Never-Used Rail Yard   2004 April 5   Page 2 of 2

 

 

Mr. Walsh considers this explanation to be an excuse, as the problem cited would have been obvious to the designers of the Stage I project. Mr. Walsh says, “The designers of the Stage I alignment must have been aware of this design drawback. But the rail yard was built anyway. Obviously, they must have thought that this rail car movement was a problem that could be lived-with.”

 

Traffic on the Penn Station rail line, which runs from Steel Plaza, past the light rail station at Penn Station, to the Mid-Day Rail Car Storage Yard,
has always been light. From June of 1988 to February of 1993 a shuttle rail car ran between
Steel Plaza and Penn Station during business hours
on weekdays; the elimination of this shuttle came with transit service cutbacks in 1993. This shuttle service, which ran about every
ten-to-fifteen minutes, provided access to the
East Busway and the Amtrak railroad station, from Steel Plaza.

 

Currently, only two roundtrips operate to and from Penn Station, in the afternoon rush-hour period. Had the Mid-Day Rail Storage Yard been
used, as intended, there would have been much more traffic on the Penn Station line and much more service to the light rail station
at Penn Station.

 

As a long-time advocate of public transportation, who neither owns nor operates a motor vehicle, Mr. Walsh has actively
supported the expansion of rapid transit service in
Pittsburgh. However, Mr. Walsh finds it appalling that the Port Authority would
spend limited government grant money to construct a rail yard, never use it, and then attempt to abandon it.

 

Further, with abandonment of this rail yard, the Federal, State, and County governments may ask that the money used to build the rail yard be returned, since the rail yard was never used. Following the abandonment of the “PATrain” commuter rail service to the Mon Valley in 1989, the Federal Government required a partial refund of grant money used to build new
commuter rail stations in the mid-1980s.

 

“This is a clear-cut example of the waste of limited taxpayer funds available to aid public transit,” Mr. Walsh said. He added, “Good public
transit is very important to urban areas such as
Pittsburgh. Yet, understandably, the taxpayers may object to providing government funds
to an agency that shows such poor financial judgment. More public scrutiny, over Port Authority operations and capital projects, is
needed to regain public support for this vital public service.”

Mr. Walsh has also sent a letter (copy of letter attached) to Port Authority Board Chairman John A. Brooks, asking, under terms of the
Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, to address the PAT Board regarding this matter at the Board’s April 23 meeting.

 

                                                -30-

 

Note to Editors and Reporters: Glenn A. Walsh has been an advocate of public transportation, and has closely followed proceedings of the Port Authority of Allegheny County (including the attendance of many meetings of the PAT Board of Directors), for more than twenty-five years. Mr. Walsh was a charter member, in 1984, of the Allegheny County Transit Council, a citizens' advisory body designated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to advise the PAT Board of Directors. Mr. Walsh served three consecutive terms on the Council, as allowed by the Council By-Laws, leaving the Council in 1989. Views expressed by Mr. Walsh are his own and do not represent the views of the Allegheny County Transit Council.

 

Internet links to the two letters cited in the News Release --

 

Letter to Mr. Skoutelas: < http://andrewcarnegie2.tripod.com/transit/L-SkoutelasRailYard.htm >

 

Letter to Mr. Brooks: < http://andrewcarnegie2.tripod.com/transit/L-BrooksRailYard.htm >

 
gaw  2004 April 3
 
 
Glenn A. Walsh
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