The National Corridors Initiative, Inc.

James P. RePass - President & CEO
Phone:  617-269-5478

The Hon. John Robert Smith - Chairman

MA Office: 59 Gates Street, Boston, MA. 02127
CT Office, 8 Riverbend Drive, Mystic, CT, 06355
RI Office, 35 Terminal Road, Suite 210, Providence, RI. 02905

Fax (CT): 860-536-5482

October 7, 2007

 

Leadership Forum on Transportation
and Infrastructure

“We Are All In This Together”

Massachusetts Lt. Gov Tim Murray, Chair


Regarding Passenger and Freight Rail Operations
in New England Corridors

By Vincent Terrill, Terrill Track Consultants
And Ronald O’Blenis, HDR Engineering, Inc.

 

From NCI’s Destination Freedom Weekly Newsletter
Vol. 8 No. 42 - October 29, 2007
See This Link For Additional Articles And Photos From The Event

 

BOSTON --- The National Corridor Initiative conference on October 11, 2007 in Boston, MA provided a full day of discussion by State and industry leaders regarding rail transportation in the Northeast Region of the country. In response to the suggestion of the conference leaders, the following comments have been prepared by Terrill Track Consulting and HDR Engineering, Inc. to highlight the importance of the dual purpose of rail in the New England region to carry both freight and passengers.

The increasing use of the regions highway system has resulted in many of the major and minor roadways being forced to carry volumes of passenger vehicles and trucks that far exceed their design capacities. The results are increasing gridlock and deterioration of our roadway system. This situation was highlighted by many of the Conference speakers. There were even several participants who noted that they were late because of the overburdened highway system and the resulting long and frustrating trip by automobile.

As most transportation officials would concede, the likelihood of building new major roadways in New England is very low. It is therefore natural, and in our opinion appropriate, to look to the existing rail system to provide potential solutions for our transportation needs. The conference speakers all shared the vision of an improved regional railway system that works with our highway system to provide an integrated transportation network.

Many of the speakers focused on the need to increase the use of passenger trains to respond to additional commuter and intercity travel needs. The success of the Amtrak Acela intercity service, and the MBTA and Metro-North commuter rail operations were cited as evidence of the premise of “build it and they will come.”

To that end, we applaud the Connecticut initiative to expand passenger rail service from New Haven to Hartford and beyond to Springfield, MA a true regional approach. In this regard, HDR Engineering will be undertaking the evaluation of Union Station in Springfield, MA to determine ways to maximize its revitalization as a multimodal facility to serve the western portion of Massachusetts; and provide a prominent multimodal rail line terminal for the future passenger service and the current Amtrak intercity service currently operating in the region. In short, Terrill Track Consulting and HDR Engineering are most supportive of the focus on improving and restoring passenger service to many lines within the Northeast region.

As with the highway system, the utilization of the rail system for both increased passenger and freight rail will not be accomplished by the building of new rail lines on new rights-of-way. Rather, the existing rail lines will need to be restored, if inactive right-of-ways, or upgraded if they are currently being used for passenger or freight service. This seemingly simple task has several major realities that must be considered when envisioning future passenger service. These considerations are succinctly characterized by noting several points. First, that most railroad right-of-way is either owned by private railroads operating freight trains on the lines or on lines owned by others on which freight carriers have retained rights to operate freight trains; and secondly, that there is a general reluctance to invest public funds in a private business, and in some cases regulations against it. These considerations are not stated to discourage the use of rail for passenger or even freight initiatives, but rather to note that these issues must be understood and addressed head on to create a successful long term rail related transportation plan,

Industry experience here in New England and elsewhere around the country demonstrates that the joint use of railroad lines for both passenger and freight can be accomplished successfully. The positive present day story of the Amtrak DownEaster, so eloquently and passionately, described at the conference by the NNEPRA Executive Director, Patricia Quinn, is a perfect and local regional example of how passenger and freight service can co-exist, and even complement each other. However, the long path to the success of the DownEaster highlighted the fact that railroad owners who feel that their primary business is the moving of freight are not willing to share the use of their property for public use and benefit without sufficient investment for rail capacity improvements by the public in the rail line to allow both services to co-exist and even thrive.

The stumbling block for many passenger initiatives comes when the improvements required by the rail line owners associated with the use of the rail lines for passenger service are viewed by some as excessive and giving the railroads a “windfall” of rail line improvements at the expense of the public. The purpose of raising this point here is not to try to define an appropriate answer for any situation, but to suggest that policy makers and railroad industry leaders must work together to define and quantify the value of investment in rail projects for the traveling public, the freight railroads, and associated with the related environmental and social benefits. The objective of this value based approach is to demonstrate that the investment in railroad projects, whether on private or publicly owned rail lines, is a worthwhile investment when viewed from the perspective of total public benefits.

Terrill Track Consulting and HDR Engineering staffs have long recognized that defining the public benefits associated with the investment of public funds or resources in private operations is paramount to moving public-private partnerships forward. The efforts to fully define such public benefits can only be accomplished when both the public and private entities are engaged in the defining of a project’s purpose and needs at the outset of the planning process of which Conferences such as this are an integral part.

As illustration, adding improvements a rail line to support new or additional passenger service can also result in the increase of freight handling capacity. This in turn would provide the opportunity to divert freight traffic to rail from trucks or to increase the capacity to move additional freight within a region of already “at capacity” highways without adding additional roads. At HDR Engineering, we have developed methodologies that quantify such benefits to the public. Application of such methodologies to demonstrate to public officials and the general public the benefits that will accrue from a public investment in a rail proposal has led to successful public/public partnerships for rail passenger and freight related projects. Thus, it is our opinion that the ability to define, quantify, and articulate the benefits to the public will be, and should be, the single most important part of any rail investment project.

We would like to conclude our comments by saying that as active members of the engineering and railroad community, we are encouraged by the increasing level of awareness that the railroads are a key component of our local, regional, and national transportation system. The regional approach to evaluating rail improvements as evidenced by the participation at the Conference of representative from many states and regions is commendable. And finally, it is our recommendation that the movement both passengers and freight be equally considered when developing future rail improvement policies and plans.

 

(Respectively submitted by Vincent Terrill for Terrill Track Consultants and Ronald O’Blenis for HDR Engineering, Inc.)

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