Destination: Freedom

The newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative

Vol. 1 No. 1 ©2000, NCI, Inc. January 3, 2000

Sure, Acela beats Metroliner,
but this is only the beginning

By Wes Vernon

Two hours and 15 minutes, New York to Washington!

That promise came from Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) while introducing his High Speed Rail Investment Act.

With Amtrak's chairman, Gov. Tommy Thompson (R-Wis.) and board vice chairman, former Gov. Michael S. Dukakis (D-Mass.) standing by his side, Lautenberg announced bipartisan legislation authorizing Amtrak to sell $10 billion in rail bonds over ten years to develop "Corridors of the Future" nationwide.

"If this bill is passed", declared the senator, "a 2-hour and 15-minute ride from New York to Washington would be possible," even surpassing the speeds of the new 150 mph trains slated for the timetables this year.

The new 150 mph Acela Express is scheduled to take as little as 2 hours and 28 minutes between the two northeast cities. But that is on the very fastest trains with only one stop, probably in Philadelphia. More typically, the Acela Express will make the Manhattan to District of Columbia time in 2 hours and 45 minutes. That still beats the 125 mph Metroliner's 2 hours and 59 minutes (virtually 3 hours) schedule. The trip time from New York City to Boston on the north leg of the corridor is scheduled to shrink from 5 to as little as 3 hours.

Lautenberg's bill is national in scope. It would allow the federal government to provide credits to bondholders in lieu of interest payments. States would be required to match at least 20 percent of Amtrak's share, ensuring that the passenger railroad will invest the funds in only the most economically viable projects.

It means private sector funds will go into helping along capital improvements in the Northeast Corridor, but also assist in bringing faster and more frequent service into federally-designated corridors in the Midwest, Southeast, Gulf Coast, and Pacific Northwest.

The announcement came on the heels of the announcement that Amtrak had exceeded its fiscal 1999 bottom line target in the "business plan" to achieve congressionally mandated operational self-sufficiency by Jan. 1, 2003 — a self-sufficiency that does not apply to capital funding, which would include the cost of building high-speed rail systems.

"These senators have seized the day (to support) the grassroots movement growing nationwide to improve and expand rail service", said Thompson.

The money would be used for such projects as the purchase of high-speed rail tracks, which could be a major part of new high speed plans beyond the northeast (See "High-Speed Millennium" article elsewhere this issue), locomotives and passenger coaches, as well as upgrading the Northeast Corridor.

Dukakis noted the new millennium would usher in "America's rail renaissance," and that this legislation would spread the "renaissance" throughout the nation.

Lautenberg's original co-sponsors included Moynihan (D-N.Y.), Kerry (D-Mass.), (Hutchinson (R-Tex.), Jeffords (R-Vt.), Cleland (D-Ga.), Biden (D-Del.), and Smith (R-Ore.), all from areas where upgraded rail service — high speed and otherwise — is a big issue.

High-speed guru sees growth
from Wisconsin to Georgia

By Leo King

"By end of December we will have a through electric route from Boston to New York," says Amtrak's high-speed magician, "which," he adds, "will consist of most of the trackage."

A few holes will remain, but not on the main line, David Carol told Destination: Freedom on Dec. 13. Carol is Amtrak's vice president for high-speed rail. The job "will be completed over the winter and early spring. This will be enough for us to run Acela Regional service electrically." The target date to get at least one track completely functional was Dec.21, but that later slipped to Dec. 29 while work continued on the corridor between Boston and an interlocking named Transfer, some 10 miles west of South Station. Meanwhile, the trains including MBTA commuters, ran via the Dorchester Branch from Boston to Transfer.

He added that the "remaining trackage will be fully electrified by the time our new Acela Express trainset service begins," sometime this spring. A firm date has not yet been set.

Carol sees a future for speedier trains across the rest of the nation as well.

"There is immense focus on 90 to 110 mile-an-hour service across the country, which is very achievable using existing technology. Both Talgo and Bombardier are building trains with speeds between 140 to 150 mph tops. We expect 110 is an achievable milestone, but it is certainly not the top speed we hope to ultimately achieve."

He made it clear, however, that speed was not the most important salad on the plate.

The veep said they don't define what "high-speed" is. "Our focus always has been trip time.

"The key, of course, is not top speed, but trip time. We are working on comprehensive programs with the states to develop train services that are competitive with trip times offered by air or highway." He pointed out that a major focus around the country "is not only trip time, but reliability and capacity growth. We will not be successful with high-speed passenger service unless we can fully accommodate planned commuter and freight rail growth as well."

Big things are coming to mid-America.

"We are progressing right now a specification for new equipment [trains] specifically for a Midwest regional rail system with the goal of working a contract in late summer of 2000. This would be used for the first phase of the Midwest high speed rail system."

"We'll have this procurement this summer, but it's unclear who will participate, but I assume Bombardier and Alstom" will be bidders. So, hopefully, sometime later this year we'll award a contract for the first new, completely re-designed corridor high-speed rail equipment."

The cars will not necessarily be the same dimensions as the Acela cars. Carol points out that Talgo makes smaller cars.

"The Talgo cars are about two-thirds, or about 60 percent, the size of a regular car." An Amfleet coach measures about 87 feet. The Amfleet cars, which are being re-named "Capstone cars" as they come out of the shops, are being refurbished inside and out. In one variation, they have a distinctive teal shade along the window line, and a dark blue "Acela logo" variation splashed atop the teal. Inside, the cars are being set up with 110-volt outlets for people with laptop computers who have to work while literally on the go, and the seats are spaced farther apart.

Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin are at the top of his list, but the Southland is close behind.

"We expect to see momentum build significantly this year in extending high-speed service to Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia, particularly between Atlanta and Macon."

[See related story in "Corridor lines"—Ed.].

As far as his personal future is concerned, Carol said he will not be moving anywhere, soon, which means he won't be leaving Old Saybrook, Conn. His office is there, next door to Old Saybrook station and adjacent to the Northeast Corridor main line. A glance out his window yields a view of trains as they flash by. His home and family are also within a few minutes drive. But when it comes to conducting railroad business, he can get to Washington and other places quickly. In essence, no matter where he lives, he is always going somewhere.

"I live in airports," he quipped.

Catenary construction nears completion;
many sections are now energized

By Leo King

Catenary installation is nearly complete between New Haven, Conn., and Boston.

Amtrak reports that the overhead wire that will allow Amtrak to run electric-powered Acela Express and Acela Regional trains next year. Tracks 1 and 2 were expected to be energized from Sharon substation (at milepost 212.3) to the end of the line at South Station, Boston (MP 228.7), and on track 3 from Transfer interlocking (MP 218.5) to Boston on Dec. 29.

Station tracks 1 through 13 — all of them — were also powered up that day, as was the first quarter-mile of track between the station, Fort Point Channel bridge, and the Dorchester branch. The double-track branch itself will only be wired for the first mile, far enough to get to Southampton Street Yard in Dorchester. Mass Electric and other contractors will now concentrate on the Dorchester, a piece of iron call the "Amtrak Runner," and some other short track sections leading to Southampton Street Yard. All 16 yard tracks have catenary erected over them, but are not yet powered.

On December 6, electrification forces energized the 27 miles between New London and Old Lyme, Conn. In November, the wires were energized between New London, Conn., and Richmond, R.I., and also between Warwick, R.I. and Norton, Mass. Meanwhile, a pair of AEM-7 locomotives are testing the routes on all electrified tracks between New Haven and Boston.

Over the last six months, Amtrak said it had been working with each community between New Haven and Boston to train police, fire and EMTs in proper procedures while responding to an emergency along the electrified right-of-way. The training is intended to help coordination between local emergency officials and Amtrak emergency officials, as well as on-board people, according to Amtrak Spokesman Chris Riley in Old Saybrook, Conn.

High-speed rail will take on the airlines

By Wes Vernon

Amtrak Vice Chairman Michael Dukakis says, in his judgment, the major airlines may decide to get out of the short-haul shuttle business in the northeast once the new 150-MPH Acela trains are up and running.

Although there are no signs of immediate plans by the airlines to simply pull up stakes in the air shuttle market, there are clear signs they are quietly laying plans to meet the high-speed rail competition.

At a two-day National (high speed) Corridor Initiative (NCI) conference in Washington, I had asked the former Massachusetts governor and onetime presidential candidate if the Acela era is likely to prompt the airline shuttle companies to pull Amtrak into a price-cutting war.

His response was that the airlines ought to seriously consider ending their shuttle services, "particularly between Boston and New York" once Amtrak's Acela Express begins operations.

Dukakis made it clear that if he were still the governor of Massachusetts, his appointed transportation authorities would be urging the air carriers to do just that, especially considering that we have a "congestion problem" in the air.

Even so, Dukakis assumes there will be some price cuts, but that "We're going to price our service a third less than theirs, whatever it is."

The former governor, who is now teaching in his home state and, during the winter months, in California, reminded those attending the two-day seminar attended by rail professionals from the private and public sectors that the regular Acela Regional service will also be attractive. Those who are content to ride Boston to New York City in 3 hours and 58 minutes on refurbished Amfleet equipment (as opposed to the Acela Express fastest three-hour schedule with the brand new tilt mechanism cars) will ride at substantial savings on trips that are competitive.

The fastest Acela Express train is expected to make it from Washington to New York in 2 hours and 28 minutes, compared to three hours in the current schedule of the Metroliner which it will replace. That could spell the difference for the time-sensitive traveler once you factor in the time it takes to get to and from New York's LaGuardia Airport.

Reporters from Washington and New York newspapers over the years have run some "races" to see whether the plane or the train wins in door-to-door traffic. The results have been mixed, depending on the taxi ride from LaGuardia Airport to Manhattan where the Metroliner terminates. Beyond the time factor, the cab ride in New York is expensive, which may or may not be a factor with the expense account rider.

"I don't know what (the airlines) are going to do", added Dukakis who said, "If we're rational, it seems to me÷you know, you want to get those flights out of there so that Logan (Airport in Boston)÷and others can do what they do best, and what rail doesn't do, which is handle long national and international flights.

"And I would hope that we could sit down together with the airlines and others and kind of work that out". He cited as an example of the need to "work that out" the experience of an acquaintance who paid $46 for a cab ride from midtown Manhattan to LaGuardia, and he had started just four blocks from Penn Station.

"If Acela is as good as we hope and expect it to be, who would go through that?" he asked. Amtrak trains are currently on a five-hour New York City-to-Boston schedule, slower in some cases than trips on the old New Haven Railroad decades ago.

W. A. Clifford, President of the American Train Dispatchers Assn. department of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, pointed out to the conferees that U.S. Air and Delta, the longtime major air shuttle services in the Washington-New York-Boston markets, are adding service between Boston and Reagan National Airport, not far from downtown Washington, and that United inaugurated new shuttle service between Boston and Washington Dulles International Airport, much farther away from the city of Washington. Clifford concluded that this means the airlines "see the handwriting on the wall" and decided they can compete with the Acela from Boston to Washington, but not New York to Washington and New York to Boston.

Dukakis agreed, saying, "that may be okay" because there are still lots of intermediate cities on the rail line and there's "a lot of business on that corridor" and that he had no problem with air shuttles from Boston to Washington, but that hourly air shuttles on the shorter distances between New York and the two other major northeast cities would be contributing more to congestion than to needed service. Speaking for himself, he said it would be "less of a hassle" if he could go to Washington's Union Station at 5 p.m., after an Amtrak board meeting, knowing he would be at Back Bay Station at about 10:25.

A check with the United Airlines website revealed that the company had not only inaugurated new shuttle service from Boston to Dulles, but also New York to Dulles.

United spokeswoman Susana Leiva later told me the new service is aimed at linking the New York and Boston financial centers with the growing and thriving business and residential areas near Dulles Airport in Loudoun County, Virginia. While carefully avoiding any comment that could be construed as discouraging those willing to use the service and then pay an expensive cab fare into Washington, D.C., Leiva made it clear that this new flight schedule is aimed mainly at an entirely different clientele than that which is served by the Delta or U.S. Air shuttles to Reagan National or, for that matter, the Acela which will end up in downtown Washington.

U.S. Airways began hourly non-stop shuttle service between Boston and Reagan National last July 9, and inaugurated service each hour between Boston and Dulles, as well as New York and Dulles, on September 9.

The common thread running through the United and U.S. Airways East Coast expansions are, of course, the increased Boston to Washington frequencies and a new emphasis on Dulles. Those are two factors that avoid the Acela's strongest selling point; i.e. ultra-fast service on the shorter trips. Reagan National is closer to downtown Washington, and thus positioned for the D.C.-bound business traveler.

Some Amtrak officials and rail labor leaders are convinced the new Dulles service is not merely a reaction to the undoubted leaps and bounds growth of Loudoun County, which has been a magnet for new high tech businesses, in part because it is home to the airport. Nor do they believe it to be a coincidence that Delta Airlines is inaugurating its first non-stop shuttle service between Boston and Reagan National, starting at two-hour intervals, and ultimately going to hourly service as soon as "slot restrictions" are lifted. While not joining United and U.S. Airways in gravitating to Dulles, the Delta move also looks to the future in the Boston-Washington market.

The long taxi ride to which Dukakis refers is a deterrent in both directions where New York-Dulles traffic is concerned. The business traveler trying to save minutes is unlikely to want to cab it 30 miles from Union Station out to bustling Loudoun County.

"We're not competing for that (Loudoun County) business", said Amtrak spokesman John Wolf. "We're competing downtown to downtown."

A "more the merrier" attitude best describes the view of Delta spokesman John Kennedy. He sees the new high-speed trains as a possible stimulant to increased air shuttle business. His scenario projects business travelers using the train one way in the morning and then, once accustomed to the tighter schedules than those offered by the old train timetables, hurrying home in the evening aboard the shuttle.

Amtrak is relying on the sleek new trains to help it shed its need for federal operating subsidies by the end of 2002, a goal set by Congress in 1997. There is some talk of pushing that deadline back another year in light of Amtrak's announcement September 1 that the Acela will begin its phase-in next Spring, finally with a full schedule in the Fall of 2000. But that deadline change remained uncertain in early December.

The airlines generally declined to comment on whether Amtrak's high-speed rail service will be a factor in their own plans.

Rick Weintraub, a spokesman for U.S. Airways, says he is legally barred from disclosing whether there will be a fare reduction to meet the Acela challenge. And he refused to say whether the new ground transportation competition figures in any company discussions or planning. Nor would he acknowledge the new Boston-Washington schedules were prompted in part by the anticipation of the Acela's arrival.

Without much fanfare, Amtrak is preparing its equipment for the big changeover. You may have seen, as I recently did, a refurbished Amfleet car that is to be a part of the Acela Regional Service. You may also have noticed that the "club class" designation on the premium fare Metroliner cars has been wiped out, replaced, for now, by nothing. This is part of Amtrak's campaign to get its riders used to three classes on the Acela trains — first class, business class, and coach class.

Dukakis said failure on the part of the Acela is not an option. "We've been testing the hell out of this thing," he added.

So they have. The postponement is grounded in the old saying that you get only one chance to make a good first impression.

Upper Amtrak managers take new posts

By Leo King

Amtrak's upper management has been moving around into some new and different jobs, ranging from VP Anne Hoey who takes on additional duties to a helper in the high-speed rail department.

Ron Scolaro was appointed in November to a new position of vice president, High-Speed Rail Corridor Planning and Development, and reports to High-Speed Rail vice-president David Carol.

Carol led the railroad through the legislative mazes in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts and getting the tracks electrified between New Haven, Conn. and Boston.

In the broader picture, Amtrak president and CEO George Warrington observed, "There has been tremendous momentum generated recently by states across the country, all eager to launch high-speed rail corridors."

The moves came amid Amtrak making the shake-up from Chicago to Washington, including the Intercity business unit's chief moving up. Entire departments were also consolidated with others. All the affected people are on the railroad's management committee, and most of the changes were effective Nov. 16.

The operations department is now the department of Service Operations, and under the direction of Hoey. The restructured unit will report directly to Warrington, and will include the chief mechanical officer as well as the functions of equipment and mechanical services, safety, and a new environmental group. It will also oversee food and beverage contracts, crew management services, and operations standards.

New additions to the department will be an "Office of Service Success," intended to track the carrier's service guarantee program, "and to ensure consistent quality in all Amtrak products and services," and the Office of Station Standards, which will guide staffing and training plans, and support a station investment program.

Relationships with freight railroads has also become a key ingredient in Amtrak's mix. Warrington said, "At the center of virtually every key to our success — from high-speed rail development across the country, to the growth of mail and express — lie our vital partners," the freight railroads.

Lee Bullock, president of Amtrak Intercity, heads the new position of corporate vice president of Freight Railroad Affairs, effective Dec. 1. Bullock will remain on the Management Committee and report directly to Warrington. Meanwhile, railroad veteran Ed Walker was appointed the new Amtrak Intercity president, effective Dec. 1. For the past six years he was NEC's Mid-Atlantic Division general manager.

On another front, Warrington said, "Last year, commercial development of the company's assets added $50 million to our bottom line, mostly due to the strong leadership of attorney Sally Bellet, NEC vice president of Commercial Development and counsel to the Amtrak president. She will now also manage and real estate holding in Amtrak West and Intercity business units.

Elsewhere, responsibility for the Consolidated National Operations Center (CNOC) and every-day railroad operations shifts to the Northeast Corridor, under NEC president Stan Bagley. To strengthen CNOC's operations even further, said Warrington, Amtrak Police Chief Ron Frazier is being named NEC vice-president of System Operations and Police Services, and will be in charge of day-to-day center management. The CNOC is headquartered in Delaware.

Another new vice president is Emmett Fremaux, talking over Hoey's former tasks as vice president of Customer Relationships and Revenue. He held that post on an acting basis while Hoey managed the Service Standards lead team. Since the department is so closely related to sales and marketing, it will report to executive vice president Barbara Richardson.

Warrington said the railroad needs to fully implement the service standard initiatives, including service guarantees; improve its relationships with freight railroads, "dramatically expand mail and express, grow and improve long-distance service, deliver on the promise of Acela, and meet the demand for high-speed rail across the country."

 Bombardier via FRA

Acela look-alike — FRA's 5,000 HP gas-turbine locomotive shell gets its paint applied at Bombardier's upstate New York plant.

FRA's speedy engine approaches

By Leo King

A 5,000 horsepower gas-turbine locomotive, which was in the fabrication stage last November at Bombardier Transit Corp., and three Acela-like coaches, will soon ply tracks up to 150 miles an hour in a demonstration project. But where, at the moment, remains a mystery. All 50 states were invited to bid on the project, and the successful bidders — as well as the rest of the nation — should know by February 16. The Federal Railroad Administration, which sought the new kind of power, said the review process would be completed within 90 days after the Nov. 19, 1999 closing date.

FRA chief Jolene Molitoris said that the FRA "may at its option, request more detailed proposals from some or all of the applicants, or move forward in negotiating appropriate agreements with the selected applicants based solely upon the statements of interest."

Writing in the Sept. 3 Federal Register, Molitoris stated that her agency was developing a high-speed, fossil fuel passenger engine "for demonstration on designated intercity high-speed rail passenger corridors." The rules not only allow adjacent states to present a joint plan if the corridor passes through two or more states, but is encouraged. They will receive priority. She stated that the FRA was "seeking statements of interest" from states which would be required to participate in the experimental project with the FRA, Bombardier, and Amtrak.

If all the entities involved are able to stay on track, the engine and three cars should begin demonstration runs this summer. Bombardier has agreed to provide three tilting coaches — one first class and two business-class — and will seat about 175 people. The coaches will be similar to those that will be entering Amtrak's Northeast Corridor Acela Express service later this year. Two cars will also be modified to permit low platform service.

She added that the engine is being developed as part of FRA's "Next Generation High Speed Rail Program." Other areas include grade crossing risk mitigation, track and structures, and advanced train control systems.

Some of the technical specifications asserted that successfully developing and demonstrating lightweight, high power, non-electric locomotives "is critical to the introduction of passenger service in the United States at speeds above 90 mph." The engine is expected to be a 69-foot, 100-ton gas turbine machine. FRA invested $3 million in 1998, another $7 million last year, and Bombardier added $10 million. The prototype was being assembled in Bombardier's Plattsburgh, N.Y., plant.

Molitoris also noted that "The cost of electrification may not yet be justifiable in some corridors. Further, locomotives based primarily on designs appropriate for freight applications are not practical for speeds above 100 mph, due to poor acceleration and weight, particularly unsprung mass which is incompatible with sustained use on typical track structures because of the large forces generated at high speeds.

"For territories where operations are shared with freight, high-powered locomotives, with high rates of acceleration, are essential to the introduction of high-speed passenger operations."

In a contract with the FRA, Bombardier is producing a prototype locomotive "capable of 125 mph sustained operations, with the goal of ultimately being capable of 150 mph operations, with acceleration characteristics approaching or equal to current high-speed electric locomotives used on the Northeast Corridor. In future phases of the project, the locomotive may also be capable of demonstrating enhanced performance using the energy storage element of the flywheel developed as part of Advanced Locomotive Propulsion System (ALPS) project."

The first copy, and ultimately, perhaps the only copy, will be tested at the Transportation Technology Center in Pueblo, Colo., and other locations, "to validate its readiness for passenger operations on the general rail system."

She added that "initial testing will be followed by more extensive demonstrations of the technology over a wide range of operating conditions in which high-speed non-electric locomotives might operate," meaning any of the designated high-speed corridors, such as those in the midwest radiating from Chicago, others in the Pacific Northwest, or the San Diego-Los Angeles corridors. The states will still have to compete for inclusion.

Molitoris said the transportation agency would glean information from the trials on the "performance of the prototype locomotive operating under a wide range of conditions similar to those in which production versions of high-speed non-electric locomotives might operate in the future."

She also noted that two distinctly different demonstrations will be conducted.

In one, considered a concept demonstration, railroaders will see the prototype locomotive operate on several of the designated high-speed rail corridors from "three to fourteen days to obtain train performance data over a wide range of operating conditions." It will also "gauge the reaction of and solicit input from various potential users of the equipment, including operators, host railroads, and the general public on design and performance aspects of the prototype."

She also anticipates that the demonstrations will involve "static displays as well as a limited number of train movements over segments of designated corridors at speeds up to the maximum allowable speed for the current track class and local conditions for those segments."

In the service demonstration, the train will operate "in revenue service for an extended period of time (three to six months) in one or possibly two designated corridors to obtain longer term performance data concerning durability, reliability and maintainability. This demonstration will also be used to more fully explore the capabilities of the prototype, including its ability to operate in conjunction with modern passenger rail equipment in use in North America."

That's where Amtrak comes in. This part of the demonstration will see the train run in revenue service.

"The service demonstration will begin after completion of the initial concept demonstration and after any necessary servicing to and adjustments of the prototype" are completed.

Later, the locomotive "may perform additional concept demonstrations in selected corridors before being used to test a high-speed lightweight generator system being developed by the ALPS project team. At the completion of this testing it is possible that the locomotive may again be available for additional revenue service demonstration."

FRA is approaching the project as a scientific engineering project as well as a practical new railroad concept. Molitoris said that in cooperation with its partners, the FRA will evaluate the "statements of interest" using criteria that will examine "the overall scientific and technical merits of the proposal," as well as "the degree to which the proposed demonstration will advance the feasibility of U.S. high-speed rail operations by providing public exposure of HSR technology and operational information on the performance and public acceptance of the demonstration train."

The administrator added that "The qualifications and demonstrated experience of the proposing organization to support the proposed demonstration" would be a factor, as well as "the reasonableness and realism of the proposed costs, and the degree to which federal funds are leveraged by private, non-federal or federal funds available from sources other than FRA programs, including the degree to which funds are offered to offset FRA's costs of moving the locomotive between demonstration corridors."

Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin either already have corridors in place that can be upgraded to high-speed service, or have the potential to do so.

More news appears in "Second Section" and "Corridor lines" 

National Corridors Initiative - Destination: Freedom Vol.1 No.1 ©2000, NCI, Inc. January 3, 2000

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