Destination: Freedom

The newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative

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

Bill would enhance access to freight lines;
could lead to more high-speed passenger trains

By Wes Vernon

An influential lawmaker has introduced legislation to grant commuter rail authorities the same unfettered access to freight railroad rights of way enjoyed by AmtrakĖs inter-city service.

While the bill by Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.) does not specifically deal with high-speed rail projects, it could have an indirect effect.

Privately-owned freight railroads and publicly-owned passenger rail authorities are engaged in ongoing negotiations to form a "framework" for future cooperation on track-sharing for commuter operations in major metropolitan areas.(See "Millennium" article elsewhere this issue).

Capitol Hill talk of a congressionally mandated agreement on this issue (Oberstar has been discussing it for months) is credited by many for the new spirit of willingness of the two sides to talk.

At least one freight rail executive, David Goode of Norfolk-Southern, says he may be lobbying for Amtrak capital funding to accommodate high-speed rail.

If the effort of the freight and passenger executives to agree on shared trackage bears fruit, the "spirit of cooperation" could result in some "give-and-take" that spreads to the area of high-speed rail.

Oberstar is no back-bencher. As the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation Committee, he is well-positioned to see that the measure gets serious consideration in the 2000 session of the 106th Congress.

First through electric train expected this month

We have learned that AmtrakĖs first "in service" Acela Regional train is scheduled to make its first through run from Washington to Boston on Jan. 17, 2000. The consist will be an AEM-7 with six Capstone refurbished Amfleet cars. Details were not available at press time.

Shiny new Surfliner coaches are en route

Alstom will be building six double-deck intercity coaches for Amtrak in an order worth more than $14 million. Amtrak exercised its first option under a contract signed with the locomotive and car builder in February 1998. The base contract, worth $100 million, provided for eight five-car double-deck trainsets.

The new cars will enter service on the new Pacific Surfliner trains, replacing 30-year-old equipment on the San Diegans, and will include one custom class car, two coaches, one combination coach and cafģ car, and a cab (control)-baggage-coach car. The six option cars include a coach, a custom class car, and a cafģ-coach car, plus three cab-baggage-coach cars.

The cars will be equipped with reclining seats and restaurant facilities. Each car also complies with Americans with disabilities requirements, an Alstom spokesman said.

The stainless steel carbody shells will be manufactured at AlstomĖs plant in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and then shipped to the companyĖs facility in Hornell, N.Y. for final assembly.

Alstom is also building AmtrakĖs high speed Acela trains in a consortium with Bombardier.

Penn Station fire disrupts heavy Christmas travel

 Penn Station in New York City was nearly back to normal on Dec. 20 following a fire Sunday afternoon in a switch and signal control bungalow near track 18 in the underground facility.

Amtrak spokeswoman Karen Dunn told Crossrail that "Trains were delayed 10 to 15 minutes by 8:30 a.m." during the Monday morning commute. She also said some trains had been annulled, others diverted to Grand Central Station, and their passengers found alternate means of transportation.

The station was evacuated on Sunday after a smoky, two-alarm fire was reported at 3:17 p.m. New York City fire department's Mike Pendergast reported the blaze was under control just after 5 p.m. The station reopened at 7:20 p.m., police said, but trains did not move again until some time after that. No serious injuries were reported.

Amtrak spokesman Russell Hall said the damage to switching and signal equipment was extensive. He said ''What burned had controlled all the switches and the signals.'' The fire broke out in a trailer filled with electrical switches and wires, and operated by Amtrak.

Service on Amtrak and suburban commuter railroads Ō the Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit Ō stranded passengers in Manhattan for hours during the busy weekend before Christmas.

Westbound trains 163 and 55 were combined at Gate Interlocking, leading to Hellgate Bridge. Eastbound train 94 was held at Swift Interlocking (just west of the Hudson Tube), and train 176 was held at Newark Station where New York-bound passengers could transfer to PATH trains to Manhattan. Subway service on the Eighth Avenue lines, which run near the site of the fire, were diverted to the Sixth Avenue lines. Yet other trains were diverted to Grand Central Station.

By 8:15 p.m., the combined trains were moving across Hellgate Bridge at restricted speed, or about 20 miles an hour. Amtrak trains 94, 176, 20 were also moving eastward into Penn Station. Meanwhile, All Amtrak trains coming into New York from Upstate New York were sent to Grand Central Terminal on Metro-North iron.

Amtrak reported heavy delays for Northeast Corridor trains between Washington, D.C., and Boston. Trains heading south from Boston were stopping at New Haven, Conn., and northbound trains were halted in Newark, N.J. Heavy delays continued for hours.

On the LIRR 50 trains were delayed, and so were 25,000 passengers. New Jersey Transit ran its first train after the fire at 8:30 p.m.

Alabama group looks to bring at least one train southward

The Railroad Passengers Association of Alabama (RPAA) is proposing a plan to extend the new Kentucky Cardinal southward. The RPAA is working to return Amtrak to a large portion of the southeast, which has been without train service for over 20 years.

A southward extension, as proposed by the group, would provide additional connections with Amtrak trains at Birmingham and Mobile, Ala.

They are asking supporters to contact key legislators in Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama for help RPAA's web address is http://homestead.juno/lnrr/alabamarail.html

Thanks to Craig OĖConnell and his Friends of Amtrak website, at

MoodyĖs raises Amtrak rating; Îstable outlookĖ is result

MoodyĖs Investment Services raised AmtrakĖs credit rating to A3 during the week of Dec.19.

"A3" means a "stable outlook," Amtrak said.

After assessing AmtrakĖs finances and its Strategic Business Plan, MoodyĖs assigned the A3 rating and noted that it "reflects MoodyĖs assessment of the financial strength of Amtrak in relation to its unique operations and prominence in the U.S."

The financial rating firm noted that the rating is based on "÷MoodyĖs expectation that operational self-sufficiency will be achieved, but that the federal government will continue to provide financial support for AmtrakĖs capital program."

MoodyĖs also wrote, "The Amtrak Reform Council may recommend the dissolution of Amtrak if it fails to meet the self-sufficiency goal, which in MoodyĖs view is unlikely, given achievements to date." Congress created the independent ARC as part of the Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act of 1997 to monitor the corporationĖs progress toward operational self-sufficiency.

In fiscal year 1999, Amtrak achieved record total revenue of $1.8 billion and reduced expenses in accordance with its business plan. Ticket revenue was supplemented by nearly $100 million in revenue from AmtrakĖs mail and express shipment business and also other commercial ventures. This all resulted in Amtrak exceeding the target set for the corporationĖs reliance on federal operating support ($484 million) by $8 million, and was the second consecutive year Amtrak surpassed its financial target. Ridership improved for a third consecutive year, increasing to more 21.5 million.

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