Vol. 6 No. 1
January 1, 2005

Copyright © 2005
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

Destination:Freedom
The E-Zine of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - Jim RePass      Editor - Leo King
Webmaster - Dennis Kirkpatrick

A weekly North American rail and transit update

For railroad professionals
Political leaders at all levels of government
Journalists from all media

* Now in our Sixth Year *

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IN THIS EDITION...  In this edition...


Tsunami toll tops 120,000

Some 1,000 die as sea sweeps away Sri Lanka train

By Leo King
Editor

More than 120,000 people were feared dead by yesterday after a tsunami, following an earthquake in the Indian Ocean, ravaged several Indian Ocean rim countries one week earlier on December 26.

Food drops and other aid trickled toward the Indian Ocean region from around the world on Friday, but slowly enough that the injured and the stranded in many places still had to fend for themselves as the toll from an unprecedented global catastrophe surged past 120,000.

The New York Times reported from Jakarta, Indonesia, the human tally in that nation jumped after officials said that nearly 28,000 more bodies had been uncovered in Aceh Province, on the island of Sumatra, near the epicenter of Sunday's enormous undersea earthquake. The discovery brought the death count close to 80,000 in that country alone.

The Associated Press reported from Telwatta, Sri Lanka, near Galle on December 28 that police estimated that some 1,000 people were killed on that Sunday when their train, the Queen of the Sea, was swept off the track by last week’s raging tsunami, and several hundred bodies pulled from the twisted wreckage were buried Tuesday alongside the railway line.

Map of Sri Lanka

CIA World Factbook


Sri Lanka

Only Sri Lanka lies on the main world shipping routes. The port of Colombo, on which most of the country’s state-owned railroads converge, handles most of the foreign trade. The U.S., Japan, India, and the United Kingdom are the largest trading partners.

The Sri Lanka government owns about 1,208 miles of broad gauge and meter gauge track (1,944 kilometers), and the network extends radially from Colombo to northern, eastern, and southern coastal cities, but service to northern and eastern areas is erratic because of domestic unrest.

Sri Lanka Railways operates the country’s railroad network. Rail routes connect the main cities of all nine provinces in the country. The railroads were developed during the British colonial period, with the first line from Colombo to Kandy opening in 1867. About 36 daily passenger trains now operate over the lines.

 

AP writer Christopher Torchia reported the train had come to a stop amid rising waters just before it was struck by the giant wave. Many of the dead were villagers living nearby who tried to escape the waves by climbing onto the top of the train, police said.

“Tsunami” is a Japanese word, and adequately described the huge wave. Various witnesses estimated the wave height to be between 30 and 60 feet high.

The eight rust-colored coaches lay disconnected and overturned in deep pools of water yards away from the track amid debris and fallen palm trees Tuesday. The force of the waves had torn off some of the wheels, and the tracks were twisted like a loop on a roller coaster.

About 15 corpses were visible in the torn wreckage, and Police Superintendent B.P.B. Ayupala said more bodies were believed to be submerged in the swampy earth under the train. Baggage and clothes from the train was strewn along the tracks. Children’s bicycles and toys were strewn about, from a nearby school that was heavily damaged.

The bodies of more than 200 people, many of them victims of the train disaster, were buried in a mass grave with Buddhist monks performing traditional funeral rites. They chanted and poured water on the grave to symbolize the giving of merits of the living to the dead.

The train had nearly reached its destination Sunday when the tsunami struck – a wall of water some 30 feet high, enveloping the Queen and lifting its cars off the track into a thick marsh, killing at least 802 people.

In the utter wasteland around this once-picturesque area, the train stands out – both as a testament to the force of nature that tossed it off the tracks and as the largest single loss of life on an island that suffered at least 19,000 dead.

The train, which started from the capital, Colombo, Sunday morning, had stopped at Telwatta, a village 15 miles from Galle, just before the wave came racing ashore. Many of the dead were local villagers who tried to escape rising waters by climbing on top of the train with the help of the passengers.

Moments later, the Queen and the surrounding area were little more than debris, with eight rust-colored cars that lay in deep pools of water amid a ravaged grove of palm trees.

Baggage from the train was strewn along the tracks, and some of the clothing and other items looked new, possibly New Year’s gifts for family or friends.

One thousand tickets were sold in Colombo for the train, and rescuers recovered 802 bodies from the train's cars, said military spokesman Brig. Daya Ratnayake.

No relatives claimed 204 of those bodies, so they were buried in a mass grave, with Buddhist monks performing traditional funeral rites. They chanted and poured water on the grave to symbolize the giving of merits of the living to the dead.

Venerable Baddegama Samitha, a Buddhist monk and former parliamentarian who presided over the ritual, said he realized some of the dead were of other faiths. The region has a significant Muslim population. A moment’s silence was held to honor them.

“This was the only thing we could do,” he said. “It was a desperate solution. The bodies were rotting. We gave them a decent burial.”

Trains 94 and 95 operate daily. The Intercity Train between Galle and Colombo Fort departs, No. 94, departs Galle at 7:40 a.m. and arrives Columbo Fort at 10:00 p.m. The reverse trip leaves Columbo fort at 5:00 p.m. and arrives in Galle at 7:15 p.m. No trains will be able to operate until major track and right-of-way repairs are made.

Sri Lanka has three deep-water ports, at Colombo, Galle, and Trincomalee. Colombo handles the highest volume of cargo, followed by Galle.

The destruction across Sri Lanka’s coasts from Sunday’s disaster was so heavy that authorities were not immediately aware of train’s loss, said Sasanka Jayasekara, a lawyer and member of the local government.

The train, named Samudradevi, meaning Queen of the Sea, had left Colombo at 7:30 a.m. and was traveling 70 miles southeast to Galle along the coastal rail line, which runs about 200 yards from the shore. It was near the village of Telwatta, about 15 miles from Galle, when the water began to rise.

“The people in the village ran toward the train and climbed on top of it,” said Ayupala. “Then the water level went down,” the effect of the approaching tsunami sucking in the coastal waters before its strike, “and 10 minutes later, it came back” in the giant wave, he said.

The train’s engineer survived, though police under his authority had not spoken to him. Ayupala said the train stopped just before it was struck, but he was not sure why.

It was unclear how many people on the train survived. Police and local residents said one survivor was a woman who lost three children when the coaches were flooded. She sought refuge in a Buddhist temple before leaving the area. Waves flattened most houses in the area, and many people had moved away from the area to find lodging.

Ayupala said authorities took fingerprints of the dead so that they could be identified later if possible.

At a nearby police station, officers laid out identification and credit cards, drivers’ licenses and bank books found at the train site. The people in the cards included an electricity board secretary, an assistant lecturer at a state research institute of social development and a student from the Univ. of Jaffna, in the north of the island nations.

“Police told us to come and have a look at this collection of ID cards,” said Premasiri Jayasinghe, one of many searching for relatives believed to have been on the train.

At the train site, a young man wept in the arms of friends as the body of his girlfriend was buried. The distraught man spoke out to his lost sweetheart.

“We met in university. Is this the fate that we hoped for?” he sobbed. “My darling, you were the only hope for me.”


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Gunn: Troubles in September, again

Amtrak’s boss sees fiscal troubles come next September when he expects the railroad will run out of cash again.

David Gunn, writing in the January 2005 edition of Amtrak Ink, a monthly employee newspaper, stated December was not a quiet month for the carrier’s budget and federal appropriation.

Congress passed its Fiscal Year 2005 federal grant, and President Bush signed it into law. The law was contained in an omnibus government spending bill.

“While on paper the appropriation is $1.2 billion, it is really closer to $1.1 billion with partial repayment of our DOT loan and other hold-backs, plus our revenue shortfall,” Gunn wrote.

He added, “With a federal grant that falls short of what we requested, plus the additional adjustments we’re making, it’s going to be a difficult year.”

He said it was “a serious situation.” He said he wrote his remarks “just before the holidays,” and “Even with the deferral of a number of capital projects, the budget for fiscal 2005 will leave us with almost no operating cash at year-end. Our budget does not afford us much wiggle room, particularly if we encounter unforeseen circumstances, which we invariably do.”

The CEO said “Because things are going to be tight, this year we are also going to have to rely upon the Federal Railroad Administration to provide our grant payments in a reliable and steady way. We can’t afford to have funding ‘speed bumps.’”

He took issue with part of USDOT Inspector General Kenneth Mead’s October report.

The report said that “our board of directors should direct our management to develop a budget consistent with its likely appropriation to run the railroad and to do this without adding to the already significant list of capital deferments – on this point we disagree,” Gunn said, while noting, “If our federal support continues at $1.2 billion under the present circumstances, then capital deferments are unavoidable.”

He also noted “The report stated that there is a mismatch between the resources made available to fund intercity passenger rail and the cost of running the entire system – on that we agree.”

Gunn told Amtrak employees scattered around the U.S. in his letter to Mead, “I wrote that the lack of a comprehensive national rail transportation policy impedes meaningful long-term passenger rail reform – not Amtrak’s management or its board. Our board has consistently supported our Five-year Strategic Plan and approved our last budget.” He said that included “a contingency budget, in case we didn’t get the funding we requested.”


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Perhaps like the Phoenix rising from the ashes
Florida may yet get its fast trains

A question is now arising in Florida – did voters halt Florida’s bullet train in its tracks, or just tap the brakes in November?

Again, a proposed high-speed rail line that would span the state has reached a roadblock. On Election Day, citizens overwhelmingly chose to repeal a state Constitutional amendment requiring the construction of a network.

Four years ago, when the voters first approved the amendment, high-speed rail was touted as a 21st-century solution to the state’s traffic woes. This time, Gov. Jeb Bush (R) successfully portrayed the project as an express train to financial ruin.

The system’s first leg, from Orlando to Tampa, was forecast to cost $2.3 billion, with the entire network carrying a price of $25 billion. No construction has begun.

“The original ballot question was, ‘Would you like?’” said David Luberoff, a Harvard Univ. expert on the politics of decision-making for transportation, The Associated Press reported from Orlando on December 29.

“Then it was, ‘Would you pay?”” There is no doubt the state needs either a drastic improvement to its tangle of roadways, or an alternative. Year after year, studies declare Florida as home to bloody asphalt and choking gridlock.

A month after the election, the Washington, D.C.-based Surface Transportation Policy Project said Florida’s roads are the nation’s most dangerous for people walking along them. Tampa ranked first among the state’s metropolitan areas with 3.69 pedestrian deaths annually per 100,000 people. Orlando was next with 3.15, and Miami-Fort Lauderdale had 2.94.

This is the second time Bush has stopped a high-speed rail line from being built. One of his first acts when taking office in 1999 was to kill the proposed Florida Overland Express.

The bullet train’s biggest backer isn’t about to let his dream derail into oblivion.

C.C. “Doc” Dockery, the Lakeland businessman who spent $3 million from his own wallet in 2000 to get the amendment passed, believes work can and should continue on the system’s construction. Indeed, at the first meeting of the Florida High Speed Rail Authority after the election, the talk was not about disbanding but of choosing a new route while renewing discussions with a rejected contractor who had come forward with a more lucrative offer.

“Interestingly enough, a lot of newspapers are beginning to pick up editorially... to not do away with the authority, that we need an alternative” for transportation, Dockery said.

A recent poll showed some support for the train. Of 800 voters living in the Interstate 4 corridor surveyed earlier this month, 45 percent believe the legislature should move forward with the project, with 34 percent against it. The poll by Political/Media Research Inc. carries a margin for error of 3_ percent. [[DENNY:one-half]]

However, Dockery added patience is needed over the next two years, until Bush is term-limited out of office.

“The proponents have come to realize that not much is going to happen in the way of funding as long as the governor is adamant in his opposition, because he has line-item veto authority,” Dockery said.

Last year, Bush removed from the budget $7.2 million earmarked for planning. He can’t do away with the authority himself, but hopes he has lawmakers’ support.

“The people have spoken,” Bush said. “It’s time to move on. I think the legislature should put a stake in it, but that will be up to them.” If the authority is disbanded, the project would move under the control of the state Transportation Department.

“There’s really no reason to spend taxpayer money keeping the rail authority alive,” said Sen. Ron Klein (D), vice-chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. Rep. Ray Sansom (R), who chairs the House Transportation Committee, also agrees with Bush.

Added Republican Sen. Jim Sebesta, the Transportation Committee’s chairman, “As long as there is an entity in Florida working on high-speed rail, I don’t care who it is. Maybe (DOT) is where it should’ve been anyway.”

Sebesta still believes high-speed rail can work in Florida, yet he pointed to the 64-36 margin at the polls to show what won’t work.

“Clearly, if the voters in Florida have to foot the bill for the whole thing, no dice,” Sebesta said. What’s needed, he said, is financing from three parties: the state, the federal government and the private sector.

The contractor Global Rail Consortium, bypassed a year ago, has extended a new offer with $400 million in upfront spending, Sebesta said. The state could offer up to $25 million annually, he added. That’s a third of what was proposed before the amendment’s repeal.

The Fluor-Bombardier consortium got the design contract, and plans had developed a track layout.

“If Congress to decides to fund high speed rail, then Florida will be right up front,” Sebesta said. “I think this still could become a reality in a couple of years.”


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Rebuilt switcher at Wilmington-MP15

Amtrak Ink: Dan Koronkiewicz

Mechanics at the Wilmington, Del. maintenance facilities have reached the midpoint of Amtrak’s MP-15 overhaul program. They completed rebuilding their sixth switcher in December. At a cost of $700,000 per locomotive, The engines had not been overhauled since the 1980s, and another 20 years service are being added to their service life. The rebuilding program began last February, and an overhauled MP-15 rolls out of the Wilmington backshop every two months.

 

Quinn takes presidency with lobby firm

Jack Quinn

The Hill

Jack Quinn
Retired Rep. Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.) is joining the lobbying world next year as president of top firm Cassidy & Associates, The Hill reported a fortnight ago.

Quinn will join a leadership team at Cassidy that already includes firm founder Gerry Cassidy, CEO and former Rep. Marty Russo (D-Ill.) and COO Gregg Hartley.

Quinn said earlier this year that he would retire after representing the Buffalo area for 12 years.

He is one of a number of members planning to become lobbyists this year. Retiring Rep. Jim Greenwood (R-Pa.) will lead the Biotechnology Industry Organization, and Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.) said recently that he is forming his own lobbying firm.

Quinn said in a telephone interview from his home in Buffalo that he had briefly considered other offers but that “Cassidy seemed to be a natural fit. I happen to have known people at Cassidy for a long time.” Russo plays basketball with Quinn, and Cassidy lobbyist Arthur Mason is a longtime friend.

In the Congress, Quinn chaired the Railroad Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and was a strong defender of Amtrak. He briefly considered an offer from the Bush administration to lead the FRA, a House source said.


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Midwest fast trains could carry
13.6 million passengers by 2025

A high-speed rail network radiating from Chicago’s Union Station through nine Midwestern states could carry 13.6 million passengers annually by 2025, according to a December report.

The Midwest Regional Rail System report confirms the viability of a 3,000-mile rail network through Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin, said Mark Wandro, Iowa’s transportation director in Des Moines.

Trains would travel at speeds of up to 110 mph, cutting hours off trips between major cities, The AP reported recently.

The study, led by Transportation Economics & Management Systems Inc., a Frederick, Md.-based consultant, said significantly reduced travel times, increased service, improved reliability and connections to other forms of transportation would draw passengers.

Wandro said the network would be phased in over 10-years and costing $7.7 billion for new equipment, and track and signal improvements.

“This is an incremental and phased plan for improved passenger rail service. However, it will require significant federal funding for it to be implemented,” Wandro said.

John Schwalbach, chief of the bureau of railroads for the Illinois DOT, said the “hub-and-spoke” system would allow for passenger rail travel from downtown to downtown.

“You can go from downtown Chicago, to downtown St. Louis, to downtown Milwaukee,” he said. “You don’t have to worry so much about parking issues.”

Schwalbach said some track improvements have been made in Illinois. A stretch from Mazonia to Springfield has been upgraded to carry higher speed trains, and a new signal system is being installed, he said.

Officials said the report not only increases awareness of the Midwest rail plan but also shows Congress that there has been in-depth study.

“The DOTs in the central part of the country have looked at this and think it’s a viable alternative,” Schwalbach said.


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Some Christmas trains were late

In the recent cold snap blanketing the Midwest, cold-delayed Amtrak trains prevailed on Christmas Day.

The worst timekeeping was recorded by No. 48, the Lake Shore Limited, from Chicago to New York and Boston. It was six hours late.

Train No. 69, the Adirondack, operating between New York City and Montreal, was 3 hours and 39 minutes late leaving Gotham. It was scheduled to depart at 8:15 a.m.

Third worst late was No. 305, the State House, from Chicago to St. Louis, posting 2 hours and 48 minutes late. It’s due out daily at 5:15 p.m.

Some other trains were also late, but by less than two hours.

The next day, cold weather again hit Amtrak hard in Chicago.

Train No. 348 did not operate at all that day because there was no equipment at Quincy, Ill. No. 347 was also cancelled because of frozen equipment. Passengers for both cancelled trains were “bustituted” – with five buses for No. 348.

Train 318 was delayed 2 hours, 37 minutes while a coach that sustained freeze damage was replaced.

Train 347 was delayed 1 hour, 27 minutes, because of freeze damage to a coach that had to be removed from the train. There was no replacement car to insert.

No. 364 was delayed 2 hours, 32 minutes while its crew set out a coach with burst pipe, train 350 was delayed one hour because of frozen drains in its café car, and No. 354 was delayed 1 hour, 6 minutes to thaw out toilets in two coaches.


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Amtrak returns to Greensboro, N.C. depot

Amtrak passenger train service will return to downtown Greensboro, N.C. in August, leaving behind a tiny building in a freight yard that has greeted visitors for decades.

The City Council voted December 21 to lease the main hall of the former Southern Ry. station to the state on behalf of Amtrak, reported the Greensboro News & Record. The building, known as the J. Douglas Galyon Depot, was renovated by the city into a bus station and office space.

Officials hope that passenger trains will begin making their stops downtown in August.

The centerpiece of the main hall is a 15-foot mural of Southern’s passenger network as it was in 1927 when the building opened. Last fall, Presidential hopeful John Kerry held a rally in the space, giving it national exposure.

The state will pay $105,000 a year on behalf of Amtrak for the 16,000-square-foot space. It will also pay for any costs to outfit the station for use by the national passenger railroad. Earlier plans had Amtrak using a smaller space in the building that once housed the black waiting room in the formerly segregated station, saving the main hall for another use.

When the depot’s renovation was being planned, officials hoped the hall would be used by a business or as a theme restaurant, but the expectation that businesses would flock to the downtown building has yet to materialize. Officials hoped that companies would pay market rates for the main hall and other space in the building, money that could be used to pay for upkeep and utility costs.

So far, the city and regional bus systems, Greyhound, and Amtrak are the only tenants, with 40 percent of the building vacant.

The council allowed a model railroad group to use space in one building for a nominal rent until a commercial tenant could be found. Renting out the building’s signature space to Amtrak may signal that there is little hope of finding another tenant.

Mayor Keith Holliday said he reluctantly supported Amtrak‘s move to the larger space but regretted that it may not get much use from the few people who still use the train to travel.

“I‘m afraid we‘re going to see that big, huge, beautiful hall with 15 to 20 people a night, but otherwise it’s going to be empty,“ Holliday said.

Councilman Tom Phillips, who had been a persistent critic of spending taxpayer money to renovate the building, said he was merely glad the state was willing to pay the city more than $100,000 every year in lease payments.

“Pigs must be flying outside that we‘re actually going to get some revenue out of this building,” Phillips said with a laugh.


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Kirkwood, Mo. buys rail station

Kirkwood Station, Mo. now belongs to the city of Kirkwood. The deal was sealed recently with the Union Pacific Railroad, its former owner. Kirkwood paid $985,000 for the station and associated parking areas where Amtrak trains call daily. Volunteers through the city currently run the station. Amtrak passenger trains stop at the station, but it no longer sells tickets there.

– St. Louis Post-Dispatch


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LABOR LINES...  Labor lines...

LIRR engineers take railroad to task

The Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) is under fire by its locomotive engineers. Unionists are alleging the carrier is “taking unnecessary risks with safety and jeopardizing service to tens of thousands of commuters.”

The LIRR, which has engaged Canadian firm Bombardier to perform maintenance work covered by warranty on commuter trains and cars at the Arch Street Yard in Queens, plans to use non-union, unqualified, and uncertified Bombardier employees to operate trains beginning January 1 – “putting safety at risk and violating the railroad’s contract with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen,” union leaders said Thursday in a press release.

Robert M. Evers, General Chairman of the BLET, which represents engineers on the LIRR, all of whom are agreement-covered employees, notified LIRR President James Dermody that the locomotive engineers will walk off the job if and when a Bombardier employee operates a train or moves an M-7 car anywhere on LIRR property.

An M-7 is an electrically powered paired coach that gets its energy from catenary.

“There are no warranty issues concerning the movement of trains and engines on the LIRR,” Evers said.

“Why entrust a floundering company when the railroad already employs experienced, certified engineers and trainmen?” he asked.

Bombardier, which suffered a $141 million loss during the first nine months of 2004, “witnessed the recent” abrupt “departure of CEO Paul Tellier, and recently announced it was cutting 7,600 jobs in their transportation division, including 2,200 jobs in its rail division.”

Evers said, “In light of Metropolitan Transportation Authority and LIRR budget difficulties resulting in substantial fare increases and future service cutbacks, We wonder who is responsible for spending millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money to build a facility for the exclusive use of a private company,”

He added, “Perhaps an investigation by the MTA Inspector General or the appropriate State Agency is in order.”

The BLE represents 55,000 trainmen throughout the U.S., and is a division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters’ Rail Conference.


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BUILDERS LINES...  Builder’s lines...

Call it ‘FreightCar America’ now

Johnstown America has changed its name to FreightCar America, Inc. The change was effective on December 17. The carbuilder makes railroad freight cars, especially coal-carrying hoppers. It is headquartered in Chicago. FreightCar America also reported it had named Kevin P. Bagby as its Vice-President of Finance, Chief Financial Officer, Treasurer and Secretary of the company, effective as of last November 22.


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

New Haven to get new repair facility

In an effort to deal with the repeated breakdowns of aging cars in the Metro-North railroad fleet, Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell (R) said recently a new $18 million maintenance facility will be built in the New Haven Rail Yard – but the move did not satisfy a leader of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, who termed it “grossly in-adequate.”

Rell, who is now recovering from breast cancer surgery, delivered the news on the first day this season that Metro-North commuters contended with snow and cold weather, allegedly resulting in multiple delays and cancellations.

Rell said on December 21 in New Haven, “We are working very hard to increase both capacity and reliability on Metro-North’s New Haven Line.”

She added, “While we work to build our fleet, we also need to maintain it. This new facility will be a big help in the state Department of Transportation’s continuing efforts to improve service.”

The New Haven Register reported Rell said that much of the maintenance work done on the rail cars “is performed in the open, subject to the whims of the weather, including snow, wind and ice. When weather takes cars out of commission, workers now have to wait for the cars to ‘thaw out’ before repairs can be made.”

Over the next 12 to 18 months, Rell said, an enclosed, heated facility capable of holding 12 cars will be built to serve as an interim maintenance location.

This will be used for five to seven years while a master plan for a permanent facility is completed.

Jim Cameron, vice chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, said Metro-North now has just 18 service bays for 340 cars and that increasing this to 30 bays “is grossly inadequate, given the age of the fleet.”

Cameron added, “Today, the first day of cold weather, 43 trains in Connecticut were late and several cancelled.”

Even on warm days, Cameron charged, 15 percent of the fleet is in the shop for repairs.

“That’s why the trains are short of cars,” he said.

Metro-North spokesman Dan Brucker was not available for comment.

Several months ago the state purchased 33 used rail cars for $14 million from the state of Virginia and Virginia Railway Express to add capacity for the Nutmeg State. Rell said that 260 seats have been added to the New Haven Line as a result, and 440 seats added to Shore Line East.

Ultimately, she said, 2,000 seats will be added to the New Haven line because of the Virginia purchase.


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

BNSF, UP build new transcon

Burlington Northern and Santa Fe as well as Union Pacific are racing across the American West building a new transcontinental railway.

The Wall Street Journal noted on December 28 both want to be the first to run parallel tracks between Chicago and Los Angeles, more than 135 years after the first transcon was laid down by the UP and Central Pacific, which later became the Southern Pacific. Over four years, they laid as much track as possible to win government bonds and land grants. The contest ended with the legendary hammering of the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit, Utah, in 1869. UP laid down 1,086 miles of track, compared with CP’s 690 miles.

The contemporary 2,100-mile double-track railroad will allow multiple trains to travel the same route at different speeds and in opposite directions without trains having to stop or use sidings.

BNSF had a head start because a large portion of its Chicago-Los Angeles freight mainline, the transcon, already has two lines, and it now has now double-tracked about 90 percent. That’s far ahead of UP, which had less double track to begin with and constraints on capital spending. UP has completed only about one-third.

“We’re ahead and we prefer to keep it that way,” says Lewis Ruder, a BNSF construction engineer.

UP is working feverishly to narrow the gap, although there’s little chance it can catch up. When BNSF tried to secure another track-laying machine last spring, the company quickly learned that UP had snagged it. The soonest either side could finish will be 2008.

Whoever first spans the continent with a two-lane rail line stands to capture the deluge of Asian DVD players, toasters, apparel and toys that are unloaded at Southern California seaports. The winner also will take the lead in eliminating the bottlenecks that snarl the nation’s tracks. About 70 freight trains race through Tangier, Oklahoma every day, and the number will increase when the double-track is finished.

In total, BNSF has spent $656 million since 1996 to add 278 miles of second track to the transcontinental route. By the end of this year, work crews will have moved a total of 17 million cubic yards of rock and dirt, enough to fill a train more than 1,000 miles long. The company is moving much more slowly than its 19th-century predecessors, but it is doing the work with fewer employees and the quality of the track is better.

At times, more than 200 track people are installing the new high iron, compared with more than 10,000 men the first time around.

The process starts with surveyors, who are followed by land agents, who negotiate with farmers and homeowners to buy a strip of land that will carry the second track. Then grading crews clear the right-of-way.

Track workers with nicknames like “Rabbit” and “Tiny” take pride in the powerful machines that do the work once done by armies of laborers. Chief among their equipment is the massive track-laying machine made by Harsco Track Technologies, a unit of Harsco Corp., Camp Hill, Pa. It costs between $2 million and $5 million to buy.

“It’s a thrill, it’s adrenaline,” said Jim Lyons, who operates the machine’s mobile crane amid the Oklahoma sagebrush. The crane hovers over flatcars loaded with 800-pound concrete crossties, grabs 21 at a time and moves them to the front of the machine. There, a conveyor belt lowers the ties to the ground, where track workers push them into position.


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‘SI’ is back in business

Construction has begun on reactivating the eight-mile Staten Island Railroad to provide rail-freight access to Staten Island, N.Y. The $72 million project is a joint venture of the New York City Economic Development Corp. and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

“The project,” officials said, “will create more than 780 construction-related jobs and 330 permanent jobs for Staten Island – and reduce truck traffic on the island by 100,000 trips a year.”

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “This is a critical project for the economic and environmental future of Staten Island.” He added, “Reactivation of the Staten Island Railroad will help support local businesses with low-cost rail transportation, improve the environment and reduce wear and tear on our roads. In addition, because shipping goods via rail costs about half as much as shipping by truck, it will also save consumers money.”

Gov. George Pataki added, “We’ve made a commitment to improving and expanding New York’s port infrastructure in order to maintain our competitive economy.”

The Republican governor noted, “restoring rail service to Staten Island and the Howland Hook Marine Terminal will help boost economic activity for New York City by providing low-cost transportation of goods. The people of Staten Island can also look forward to fewer trucks on the Staten Island Expressway and the Goethals Bridge.”

In 1994, New York City, using Federal and City funds, acquired the New York State portions of the Staten Island Railroad from CSX.

Reactivation will provide direct rail service to the New York Container Terminal at Howland Hook, the Department of Sanitation’s Fresh Kills Transfer Facility, Visy Paper and VanBro Corp., as well as other industrial businesses on the Travis Branch Line, which runs along Staten Island’s western shore. Reconstruction of the rail line will add more than $93 million in economic activity to the city’s economy. By 2010, the total economic impact of the reactivation on New York City’s economy will be more than $200 million.

The project will include several improvements to the SIRR. The Port Authority is constructing an intermodal facility to provide the New York Container Terminal at Howland Hook with direct rail access. Tracks will be added to allow direct service to Arlington Yard, and a new one-mile rail spur will connect the railroad to Fresh Kills and Visy Paper.

Three wooden trestles over creeks will be replaced with more stable concrete structures. The Arthur Kill lift bridge, which connects the SIRR to the Port Authority’s Chemical Coastline Connector in New Jersey, will undergo minor structural repairs and repainting. EDC renovated the lift bridge several years ago. The construction is expected to be completed in early 2006.

Port Authority Executive Director Kenneth J. Ringler Jr. said, “The Port Authority…will invest $350 million in it to help boost economic activity for New York City and the region. The Staten Island Railroad will add critical rail service to the terminal, allowing the facility to grow and reducing its current reliance on trucks for the distribution of cargo.”

EDC President Andrew M. Alper said, “The project is just one part of what the City and State are doing to improve Staten Island’s industrial waterfront at Howland Hook. In addition to the rail spur to provide rail service directly to the facility, New York Container Terminal is undergoing major expansion projects including the addition of 500 feet of berth, an on-dock-rail facility, and the renovation of a 212,000-square-foot warehouse. These improvements and new capacity will add 200 employees to the terminal’s current workforce of 800.”

Since it reopened in 1996, the New York Container Terminal, formally known as the Howland Hook Marine Terminal, has become the fastest growing marine terminal in New York Harbor and Staten Island’s largest employer.

Other terminal improvements include installing four new post-Panamax cranes as well as other modernization, representing an overall investment of nearly $50 million. With the improvements currently underway or planned, and a dredging project by the Army Corp of Engineers to deepen its channel from 35 to 50 feet to accommodate modern container ships, the terminal has the potential of creating an additional 1,200 jobs over the next 20 years.


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SWLC puts new Oklahoma tracks in service

The Stillwater Central Railroad began operations on December 29 over about 15 new miles of track that connects two of its existing railroad Oklahoma subdivisions.

Through a lease agreement with The Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Ry. Co., the Stillwater Central Railroad (SLWC) took over operations between Wheatland and Oklahoma City. Thirty customers will be served, predominantly industrial switching customers. Commodities primarily moved on the addition include steel, chemical, food, and forest products, and building materials.

SLWC also took over operation of the BNSF’s “North Yard” in Oklahoma City. Operation of this yard allows the SLWC to partner with the BNSF, moving BNSF traffic from Oklahoma City to Tulsa.

Neither carrier disclosed terms.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: CBSMarketWatch.com

  This Week
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)47.31
Canadian National (CNI)61.25
Canadian Pacific (CP) 34.41
CSX (CSX)40.08
Florida East Coast (FLA)45.10
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)28.13
Kansas City Southern (KSU)17.73
Norfolk Southern (NSC)36.19
Providence & Worcester (PWX)13.48
Union Pacific (UNP)67.25


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ACROSS THE POND...  Across the pond...

Germany, Russia look to expand rails

By David Beale
Special to Destination:Freedom

Haste, Germany (December 28) – Deutsche Bahn AG (German Railways) reported on December 21 DB and Russian State Railways (RZD) plan to increase joint train operations between Germany and Russia.

Also to be included in the discussions will be Polish Railways (PKP) and Belarus Railways (BC). The goal is to gain a larger share for the railroads of the rapidly increasing freight traffic between Russia and Germany and other EU countries. At present, the current main rail route from Russia to Germany, the so-called “Pan-European Corridor II” is underused and experienced a 2 percent fall in freight volume last year.

DB’s freight subsidiary, Railion, plans a number of small projects to improve DB connections via Poland to several Russian ports on the Baltic Sea, and from Berlin to the industrial regions surrounding Moscow.

Long-term plans of all four railroads include improving speed and quality of freight train services from eastern Russia, China and central Asia to western Europe with several facility and infrastructure improvements as well as marketing and service improvements. Those will include automated shipment tracking, internet based ordering, enlarged customer service organizations and sales campaigns.

Elsewhere in Russia, Russian State Railways recently ordered 60 high-speed trainsets from Siemens.

Bombardier will join in a joint venture with Power Corp. of Canada and China South Locomotive and Rolling Stock Industry Corp. to develop and produce 20 trainsets of eight car, 125 mph intercity passenger trains for China. The total value of the contract in U.S. dollars is $424 million, and Bombardier’s share is $263 million.

The trains will be assembled in China with design and development activities supported by Bombardier’s Västeras, Sweden works with wheel, suspension and propulsion components from its Siegen, Germany facilities.

The trains will be based on Bombardier passenger train models already in service in Sweden, Denmark and Norway and are planned for delivery and initial revenue service in China during 2006-07.

Also in China, Bombardier was selected to build 48 train sets for the Guangzhou city rapid transit system via its joint venture company Changchun Bombardier Railway Vehicles Co. Ltd. (CBRC). The order for the six-car trains is valued at U.S. $71 million, of which Bombardier will receive a $20 million share. The trains will be assembled in the northern Chinese city of Changchun with propulsion and suspension system components to be delivered from Bombardier facilities in Germany, Sweden and Canada. The design and project management for the order will be handled by Bombardier’s Hennigsdorf, Germany facilities. The new trains will be used on Guangzhou’s metro lines 1 and 2.


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Contrack Int’l drops Iraq projects

Rising violence and associated security costs have prompted a U.S. company to pull out of a $325 million contract to rebuild transportation infrastructure in Iraq, a military spokesman told Reuters News Service on December 22 in Baghdad.

The decision marks the first time a prime contractor had pulled out of an Iraqi rebuilding project, said Lt. Col. Eric Schnaible, a spokesman for the Pentagon’s Iraq Project and Contracting Office.

Arlington, Virginia-based Contrack International, Inc. decided by “mutual agreement” with U.S. officials to withdraw as prime contractor after eight months overseeing a consortium rebuilding roads, bridges, airport facilities, and railways.

“The security environment is not always permissive to doing the kind of work that they were trying to do,” Schnaible said.

Instability and the anti-American insurgency have delayed an $18.6 billion U.S.-funded rebuilding program and forced more money to be diverted to security.

Contrack issued a statement saying it was dropping out “because the original scope of work that was envisioned could not be executed in a cost effective manner under the present circumstances.”

There are no plans to rebid the contract. Schnaible said the work will continue, with U.S. authorities overseeing the sub-contractors.

“We’ve agreed to see it through from here on out,” he said.

Schnaible dismissed speculation that other contractors would follow suit and drop work in Iraq.

“It’s not indicative of everyone pulling out of Iraq,” Schnaible said. “The work is continuing to go on.”

Contrack said it and members of its consortium were “committed to the ongoing reconstruction efforts, are actively working in Iraq and continue to look for new construction opportunities in the country.”

Orascom, an Egyptian group dominated by the Sawiris family, is a part owner of Contrack.


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Rail freight traffic up during Christmas week

Freight traffic on U.S. railroads was up sharply during the week ended December 25 in comparison with the corresponding week last year, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported Thursday. Both weeks included the Christmas holiday.

Intermodal volume totaled 167,884 trailers or containers, up 25.7 percent from the comparable week last year. Trailer volume rose 27.7 percent while container traffic gained 25 percent.

Carload freight, which doesn't include the intermodal data, totaled 272,421 cars, up 7.0 percent from last year, with volume up 14.9 percent in the East and 2.0 percent in the West. Total volume was estimated at 25.6 billion ton-miles, up 8 percent from 2003.

Fourteen of 19 carload commodities registered gains from last year, with crushed stone, sand and gravel up 32.7 percent; lumber and wood products up 29.5 percent; nonmetallic minerals up 26.8 percent; and coal up 4.8 percent. Among commodities reporting declines were farm products other than grain, down 31.0 percent and metallic ores, off 7.7 percent.

The AAR also reported the following U.S. rail freight cumulative totals for the first 51 weeks of 2004: 17,140,330 carloads, up 2.9 percent from last year; 10,829,151 trailers or containers, up 10.3 percent; and total volume of an estimated 1.581 trillion ton-miles, up 5 percent from the first 51 weeks of 2003.

On Canadian railroads, during the week ended December 25 carload traffic totaled 56,303 cars, up 18.6 percent from last year while intermodal volume totaled 31,877 trailers or containers, up 19.2 percent from last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 51 weeks of 2004 on the Canadian railroads totaled 3,434,289 carloads, up 6.9 percent from last year, and 2,140,584 trailers and containers, up 0.6 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 51 weeks of 2004 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 20,574,619 carloads, up 3.5 percent from last year and 12,969,735 trailers and containers, up 8.6 percent from last year.

The AAR also reported that originated carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended December 25 totaled 8,392 cars, up 30.3 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 2,965 originated trailers or containers, up 72.7 percent from the 51st week of 2003. For the first 51 weeks of 2004, TFM reported cumulative originated volume of 446,387 cars, up 4.3 percent from last year, and 193,982 trailers or containers, up 10.1 percent.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 88 percent of U.S. carload freight and 95 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 95 percent and 100 percent. The Canadian railroads reporting to the AAR account for 90 percent of Canadian rail traffic.

The AAR is online at. www.aar.org


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WE GET LETTERS...  We get letters...

Dear Editor:

Your article on the Amtrak Chef School (D:F, November 29) was a piece of propaganda unbefitting Amtrak riders who have had to put up with the same boring food on every Amtrak dining car since spring 2002. I have ridden more than 160,000 miles on Amtrak since 1996, and have been on every train operated since that time, some of which no longer exist.

In short, Amtrak has no need to train chefs in the art of cooking. Many were trained at the Culinary Institute of America and other top cooking schools. Others cooked on ships and other places where meals were the highlight of the day. They already know how to slice tomatoes and do other things that chefs do.

What they are no longer allowed to do is cook. All the food is so standardized that it is dull and tasteless. Worse yet, it has replaced regional specialties like Rocky Mountain Trout on trains 5 and 6, and red beans and rice on trains 58 and 59.

Before the changeover to standardized meals in 2002, I had never had a bad meal in a dining car. Since that time, I have never had a good one. Chefs are not even allowed to season the food they cook, and many have transferred to other jobs, like lounge car or coach attendants.

Amtrak managers like Gil Mallory and Brian Rosenwald improved the quality of on-board services on the long-distance trains, and they were once complimented for their efforts. Today, dining service is under the control of operations managers, who cannot be counted on to know anything about food service. Would you want your favorite restaurant to be managed by a railroad operations manager?

Amtrak sleeping cars are like an American plan hotel, which depends on the dining service to provide a pleasant experience for people who pay the price for premium accommodations. Fortunately for Amtrak, a good dining service also attracts coach passengers to eat, thereby improving revenue collection. Amtrak presently pinches pennies to provide standardized and boring meals at high prices to riders. I have personally heard a number of complaints from riders about the dull food in the dining cars.

This is a problem that can be easily remedied by giving chefs back their authority to cook, like they have in land-based restaurants and in tourist-oriented “dinner train” operations that charge a premium price. Rail travel for many riders is about enjoying the experience. While meeting new people has always been an enjoyable part of the dining car experience, good food should also be part of the journey. I urge Amtrak to bring dining service back to the high standards of three years ago. Your chefs already know how to cook. Please give them permission to do their jobs, so they will come back to the dining car kitchen.

David Peter Alan
South Orange, N.J.


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End Notes...

We try to be accurate in the stories we write, but even seasoned pros err occasionally. If you read something you know to be amiss, or if you have a question about a topic, we’d like to hear from you. Please e-mail the crew at leoking@nationalcorridors.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write.

Destination: Freedom is partially funded by the Surdna Foundation, and other contributors.

Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images that appear in Destination:Freedom may do so at a nominal fee of $10.00 per image. “True color” Joint Photographers Group (.jpg) images average 1.7MB each. Print publishers can order images in process color (CMYK) or tagged image file format (.tif), and are nearly 6mb each. They will be snail-mailed to your address, or uploaded via file transfer protocol (FTP) to your site. All are 300 dots-per-inch.

In an effort to expand the on-line experience at the National Corridors Initiative web site, we have added a page featuring links to other rail travel sites. We hope to provide links to those cities or states that are working on rail transportation initiatives – state DOTs, legislators, governor’s offices, and transportation professionals – as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists.

If you have a favorite rail link, please send the uniform resource locator address (URL) to the webmaster in care of this web site. An e-mail link appears at the bottom of the NCI web site pages to get in touch with D. M. Kirkpatrick, NCI’s webmaster in Boston.


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