THE WEEK’S TOP RAIL AND TRANSIT NEWS (in chronological order):

(MON) The Washington State Department of Transportation, BNSF, and the Federal Railroad Administration announced an agreement that will allow Washington State to secure $590 million in federal high-speed rail funding to improve Amtrak Cascade rail service between Seattle, WA and Portland, OR. The agreement will allow for the operation of up to six daily round-trips, additional to Amtrak’s “Coast Starlight” train, and will also include the building of new bypass tracks, a ten-minute reduction in travel time, and reliability improvements of up to 88 percent. The project is targeted for completion by 2017. (ffd: AASHTO, NARP, USDOT)

(MON) Criticism mounted related to Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad train service. On Monday evening, a train operating from Boston to Worcester arrived three hours late, with riders noting the following day continued poor performance on the line. On Thursday, MBCR’s parent organization, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, said that it was considering dismissing MBCR as MBTA’s commuter rail operator. “We have leverage over the MBCR…to scare them to prove to us that they have credible customer service,” said MBTA General Manager Richard Davey. (ffd: Trains)

(MON) New Jersey Transit Executive Director James Weinstein announced a new scorecard of accountability measures that will be established to keep the public informed of the agency’s performance. A NJT spokesman said that the scorecard would report the agency’s performance in customer satisfaction, safety and security, fiscal health, service accountability, and workforce engagement. (ffd: Progressive Railroading)

(TUE) Metro North put the first of 380 new Class M-8 commuter rail cars in service on its New Haven Line. The line has notably suffered equipment problems this winter, including 40 percent of its fleet being out of service at one point. On Friday, Metro North restored train service on its Waterbury Line, the stations of which had been served by buses for several weeks while its regular trainsets were diverted for use on the New Haven Line. (ffd: NYMTA)

(WED) House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chair John Mica (R-FL) said that his committee would begin work later this month on new six-year surface transportation legislation. He said that it would be a “multi-modal bill” because “we’ve got to improve all of the elements of infrastructure” and predicted that Congress “should be done with it” before the next federal budget year begins in October. (ffd: Journal of Commerce)

(THU) The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 14-to-1 to approve the Railroad Antitrust Enforcement Act of 2011 sponsored by Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI). Among other anti-trust related changes, the bill would put rail anti-trust matters under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Justice. The bill, a version of which was withdrawn by the previous Congress, now goes to the full Senate for debate. (ffd: Progressive Railroading, Railway Age)

(THU) The Federal Railroad Administration proposed new regulations related to emergencies situations at grade crossings. The proposed regulations would require railroads to post a toll-free number at each crossing to reach the railroad in an emergency and also the crossing’s federal National Crossing Inventory identification number. Past a period for public comment and possible change, the proposed regulations are scheduled to go into effect later this year. (ffd: FRA, Progressive Railroading)

(THU) The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration announced new regulations related to the transport of hazardous materials. Among other changes, the new regulations allow federal inspectors to investigate shipments of hazardous materials in transport and to take tougher enforcement action against companies shipping in an unsafe manner. The new regulations are scheduled to take effect May 1. (ffd: OSHA, PHMSA)

(THU) Investors Business Daily noted a surge in international demand for U.S. coal. It cited analyst reports that predicted that U.S. steam coal exports will nearly double this year to 40 million tons, and that total U.S. coal exports this year may be from 92 to 94 million tons. It noted that, in late February, 18 to 20 coal-carrying ships were waiting to be loaded at Lamberts Point Piers in Norfolk, VA. (ffd: BB&T Capital, Investors Business Daily)

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