Destination:Freedom Newsletter
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 3 No. 1, January 7, 2002
Copyright © 2002, NCI, Inc.
James P. RePass, President
Leo King, Editor

A weekly North American rail and transit update

Amtrak Train

NCI: Leo King

Three months after September 11, Amtrak is still looking for financial help from the Congress.
Congress readies for next round
By Leo King

The 107th Congress is expected to wrestle in the days ahead with the high-speed rail proposal that has languished since near the beginning of the first session. The second session begins on January 23.

In the first session, both houses agreed to help Amtrak fix up some elderly tunnels in New York City and Baltimore, passed legislation reforming railroad retirement, and it also excused Amtrak from its deadline to submit a liquidation plan, but three months after terrorists struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Amtrak is still waiting for Congressional help.

After the attacks, the railroad asked for $3.2 billion to increase security, improve safety and expand service. That amount was chopped to $1.5 billion for security and safety improvements only, but the Senate adjourned for the holiday recess without voting on the bill, and the matter never came before the House. A defense appropriations bill eventually helped out.

Within 11 days of the attacks, Congress promised $15 billion to the airlines, including $3 billion for security.

"You cannot address the security needs of the airlines in isolation, because by doing so, you only make it more likely that some other transportation mode, such as rail, will be targeted," Amtrak Police Chief Ernest R. Frazier Sr. told the Senate Committee on Government Affairs on December 13.

Before recessing, the Senate and House included $100 million in the 2002 defense appropriations bill to begin repairing the Penn Station tunnels, about one-tenth of the amount Amtrak says it needs to fix its tunnels in New York, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

The New York City tunnels are close to one century old, and each is about 2.5 miles long. Each hole has four potential escape routes: its entrances (which are also the exits) and two spiral staircases that are as tall as 10 stories and are so narrow they cannot simultaneously accommodate evacuating passengers and descending rescue workers.

The Congress overturned a requirement that Amtrak submit a draft liquidation plan by February 7.

Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) said, "The measure we passed sends a clear message that there are no plans to liquidate Amtrak. Congress sent a strong message saying Amtrak will not have to plan for its own liquidation - a requirement that wastes Amtrak's time and wastes the limited resources Amtrak has to meet the goal of self-sufficiency."

Biden, a staunch supporter of passenger rail, added, "We cannot afford to ignore the lessons September 11 taught us about the interdependence of our transportation system, and the vulnerability of that whole system when even one part is seriously disrupted, a lesson that the Amtrak Reform Council either failed to learn or simply chose to ignore. We in the United States Senate will not allow Amtrak to be railroaded into extinction," Biden said.

A clause in the new security bill bars Amtrak from spending any money on a liquidation plan until the company is re-authorized.

Amtrak management and its supporters had expressed concerns about the liquidating plan's effect on the company's relationship with creditors and lenders, who had expressed some nervousness over the proposal.

The defense appropriations bill for includes a provision saying no federal funds can be spent on a liquidation plan. Congress imposed the liquidation requirement as part of a 1997 Amtrak reform law that gave Amtrak five years to wean itself from federal operating subsidies, and created the Amtrak Reform Council to monitor the railway's progress.

In November, the council stated that Amtrak will fail to achieve self-sufficiency, so it voted to give Amtrak 90 days to write a self-destruction plan for its "complete liquidation."

The council has 90 days to write a plan for a restructured national rail system, and is working on its restructuring plan, which it plans to present to Congress by February 7.

The Congress also voted $100 million for critical fire and safety improvements in the New York Penn Station tunnels complex.

National Association of Railroad Passengers' Executive Director Ross Capon said, "Although Congress adjourned without passing a stimulus bill, prospects for high-speed rail legislation [in 2002] benefit from a developing consensus on the form of such legislation."

He said the version included in the stimulus bill passed by the Senate Finance Committee closely tracks with provisions in H.R.2329 (introduced by Reps. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), and Amo Houghton (R-N.Y.).

Meanwhile, November maintained the pattern of increased market share for Amtrak. Compared with one year earlier, airline ridership and average fares fell sharply, while Amtrak nationwide ridership was flat but passenger revenues were up.

Statistics gathered by the Air Transport Association on domestic routes, show ridership dropped 19.5 percent, and the average fare (normalized for a 1,000 mile trip) fell 16.3 percent to $123.68. Only Southwest Airlines was excluded because that firm remains the only profitable air carrier since September 11, and laid off no one.

System-wide, Amtrak ridership dropped one-half of one percent, while ticket revenues increased 14 percent. Total Northeast Corridor ridership was "essentially flat," but the higher fare Acela Express and Metroliner products had ridership and revenue increases of 40 percent and 66 percent, respectively, according to NARP.

"Nationwide, sleeping-car ridership and revenues increased 1 percent and 11 percent, respectively, with about 60 percent of all departures sold out in either or both of the standard or deluxe rooms," according to Capon.

Capon and three industry leaders - Harriet Parcells, Executive Director of the American Passenger Rail Coalition, which represents passenger railroad suppliers; Tom Simpson, Vice-President, Railway Progress Institute; Mark Dysart, President, High Speed Ground Transportation Association wrote a joint letter to Congress "to express our strong support for the provisions for tax credit bonds for high-speed rail development contained in the economic stimulus bill passed by the Senate Finance Committee. We urge Senate conferees to advocate inclusion of these provisions in the final economic stimulus bill that is agreed to by Senate and House conferees."

The letter was sent to Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.), with copies to Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), ranking member Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), and Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.V.)

The four told the senators, "Bonds for investments in high-speed rail would have the type of immediate economic stimulus the country needs and that are the intent of the legislation. States and regions around the country have identified rail projects on designated high-speed rail corridors that are 'ready to go.'"

The quartet noted, "States are willing to put state matching dollars toward these high-speed rail projects, but states need a federal partner to move forward. Each million dollars invested in infrastructure projects, such as rail, generates approximately 42,000 jobs. Moreover, every dollar spent on infrastructure has a multiplier effect of 3-5 times, amplifying the economic benefit of the investments."

They argued that the "terrorist attacks of September 11 made clear to citizens and policy makers the wisdom of a transportation system that provides travelers with choices, including the choice of intercity passenger trains. The attacks underscored the vulnerability of an American economy so dependent on a single mode of transportation. Three months after September 11, ridership on our nation's intercity passenger rail system remains strong. In the Northeast, where the new Acela Expresshigh-speed trains and Metroliner services operate between Washington D.C., New York and Boston, ridership is up 40 percent over the same time last year."

The first Acela Express train began operating in December 2000, but the Metroliners have been in place for much longer.

The Senate officially buried economic stimulus legislation December 21 as lawmakers rushed to wrap up the Congressional session by quickly approving the remaining spending bills along with a tax-relief bill for victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks. The next day, the Congress adjourned without passing an economic stimulus package the President had asked for.

An on-line observer of the railroad scene commented, "The ARC is purely an advisory body. Only Congress and the President actually have the power to change Amtrak. Congress can fund any kind of railroad system, railroad operation or railroad infrastructure it wants to. It doesn't have to listen to the ARC, Amtrak, the FRA, the AAR, NARP or anybody else. None of those organizations is mentioned in the Constitution as being responsible for interstate commerce" and added, "The ARC has no power to do anything."

Elsewhere, The Bond Buyer of December 20 reported the lawmakers' action this way: "The bill also stipulates that Amtrak would be prohibited from spending money to develop a liquidation plan until Congress has passed an Amtrak reauthorization bill. Sens. Joseph R. Biden, D-Del., and Ernest F. Hollings, D-S.C inserted the language. The passenger rail service's current authorization expires on Sept. 30, 2002, the end of the current fiscal year."

Biden and Hollings originally sought to nullify the 1997 law requiring Amtrak to become self-sufficient, but struck a deal with Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Phil Gramm, R-Tex., who are both notorious critics of Amtrak.

"We agreed not to change the language further in conference, and both McCain and Gramm signed off on it," said a spokesman for Biden's office.

In other Washington action, President Bush signed into law the Railroad Retirement reform bill on December 21. It will increase widow and widower benefits by an average of $300 per month, and permit people age 60 with 30 years service to retire with full benefits, and an interim health care plan financed by the carriers.

The legislation permits $15.3 billion in rail pension funds to be invested on Wall Street. The move, announced by the White House in a brief statement, allows the federally administered railroad pension system to take the assets out of U.S. Treasury bonds and invest the money in private securities instead.

The new law also will reduce to five years the vesting period for coverage under Railroad Retirement. President Bush's decision to sign the bill came following a meeting between UTU International President Byron A. Boyd, Jr., and senior White House domestic policy advisors.

"It is good to see a Republican president signing a labor-friendly bill into law," Boyd said.

"Railroads, their labor unions, Democrats and most Republicans worked together for two years to make this day possible. The bill also lowers the railroads' payroll taxes by hundreds of millions of dollars annually, and I hope the carriers will use the cash windfall to improve service quality and make railroads more competitive with trucks," Boyd added.

"I also hope that the same spirit of cooperation that made Railroad Retirement reform possible will be present next month when the UTU resumes wage and rule negotiations with the carriers," Boyd said.

The bill was scorned by a small group of Republicans who charged that railroads and their workers had colluded against the taxpayer, who would be expected to foot the bill if the new private investments go sour.

Illinois' two U.S. senators disagreed in late December about whether Amtrak should be at the center of federal high-speed rail initiatives.

Dick Durbin (D) and Peter Fitzgerald (R), both support earmarking funds for enhanced passenger rail, according to a Copley News Service report.

Durbin, however, wants the money to pass through Amtrak, even though its oversight committee recently directed the debt-ridden rail provider to begin planning for liquidation.

"I am a believer in Amtrak and its future," Durbin said after a joint appearance with Fitzgerald before the Mid-America Committee.

"I think Illinois is a case study in how it can work and work well. If we increase the number of trains, their speed and their quality, more people will use it."

Fitzgerald, like some lawmakers on Capitol Hill, questions Amtrak's management and reliance on federal subsidies. He suggested funneling high-speed rail dollars to interested states.

"I'm very concerned about just putting the money into Amtrak, because it likely will go mainly for (Amtrak's routes in the) Northeast, and I'd be concerned that we wouldn't get what we deserve out of it here in the Midwest," Fitzgerald said.

Illinois and eight neighboring states have formed a coalition that is pushing for a regional rail system, with Chicago as a hub. It would include a faster rail corridor from the Windy City to St. Louis via Springfield.

Passenger trains traveling at 110 mph - the current average speed is about 80 mph - are expected to shave about two hours off the existing five-and-one-half hour travel time.

Amtrak bashing may be popular among some policy makers, but one rail advocate warned that the service, for all its faults, would be difficult to replace.

Rick Harnish, executive director of the Chicago-based Midwest High Speed Rail Coalition, said Amtrak successors would need the same type of federal protections, such as caps on liability for accidents and mandated access to freight lines, he said.

In other Washington news, a lawmaker critical of Amtrak has proposed spinning off the only two routes that made a profit last year - the Northeast Corridor and the Virginia-to-Florida Auto Train.

A bill by Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), is the first of what probably will be several Congressional proposals to restructure or revive Amtrak, the nation's sole provider of intercity passenger train service, the AP reported.

Congress is due to consider Amtrak's future next year. The federally appointed Amtrak Reform Council is working on a restructuring plan to give to Congress by Feb. 7.

Mica's proposal would transfer control of the Northeast Corridor and the Auto Train to the USDOT. For each route, the DOT would choose whether to franchise management and dispatching responsibilities or transfer ownership to an interstate compact, a new governmental corporation or a private company.

Mica's bill is silent on the future of other routes.

The Amtrak Reform Council reported recently that Amtrak lost about $480 per passenger in fiscal year 2000, and that the only two profitable routes were the Northeast Corridor and the Auto Train.

The Boston-New York-Washington Northeast Corridor made $18 per passenger. The Metroliner service, which is gradually being replaced by the higher-speed Acela Expresses, made nearly $92 per passenger, while other trains in the Northeast lost $27 per passenger.

Auto Train, which carries passengers and their cars from the Washington suburb of Lorton, Va., to Sanford, Fla., near Orlando, made $3 per passenger.

Some rail advocates take issue with calculations showing that most routes lose money.

Bruce Richardson, president of the United Rail Passenger Alliance, said long-distance routes appear to bleed money because of the way bookkeepers divide up Amtrak's system-wide expenses.

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Filming Downeaster

NCI: Leo King

Videographers were in abundance when the Downeaster's inaugural train ran on December 14. Some were contracted video makers, and many came from Boston and Portland TV stations to record the event, but they all began on the track 7 platform at North Station, Boston.
Downeaster gets good reviews;
healthy early ridership numbers
Compiled from reports

Amtrak's Downeaster, running between Boston and Portland, Maine, has become so popular in the short run that Maine rail officials asked for and got an additional coach for No. 682, a popular mid-morning run from Portland.

Michael Murray, the executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA) said the 8:45 a.m. train to Boston is proving surprisingly popular, and usually rolls into North Station with people standing, according to the Portland Press Herald.

For example, the December 26 train - the day after Christmas - had its normal complement of three passenger cars, with 60 seats each, and the café car, with seating for 40 more, but the train had 60 people standing by the end of the trip, Murray said.

More than 4,300 people took the train during the first five days of operations, which began December 15. That works out to an average of 860 passengers a day. Amtrak estimates that 320,000 people will ride the Downeaster each year, or an average of 877 a day, but ridership is expected to be higher in the summer than the winter.

Three days later, another passenger, who likes trains anyway, said he rode the train on December 29.

"Train 682 left Portland this morning with 121 souls and five coaches," wrote John Bay on the internet on a railfan list. Another coach had already been added to what began as a trio of four-car trainsets.

"When it arrived at Boston all seats were full and there were 37 standees." The train arrived on time, he said at 12:30 p.m., but noted, "Things appear to be going very well, but they keep running out of beer."

Amtrak should have an extra car available, Murray said, because the rail system has three complete trains for use on the Downeaster, although it usually only needs two. A locomotive and passenger car are stored in Portland as spares, should a car or engine develop a problem and need to be replaced.

Murray said the rail authority is still feeling its way with the Downeaster because it has no long-term data for judging needs. In a few months, he said, the authority should have a better handle on ridership patterns and which runs need more cars. Ridership in the first few days might have been inflated by the novelty of train service, Murray said. The number of passengers riding the Downeaster is expected to decline after January 1 until the next school vacation in February. Then again, ridership could increase if there is snow, because people going to Boston may decide to take the train instead of driving.

"It's a learning process," Murray said. "I have to see what trends develop here. It would be easy to fall into that foolish trap and say, 'We've had tremendously robust ridership in the last few weeks,' but what's going to happen after the first of the year? I have to be a realist here."

Meanwhile, The railroaders are soliciting companies to advertise in the cars, to be exclusive suppliers of food and beverages, and to sponsor trip packages.

For instance, the authority is talking to the Boston Bruins hockey team about putting together packages that combine tickets for the train and tickets for a hockey game. With the Fleet Center connected to North Station, getting to and from the game would be easy. And with the last train pulling out of Boston at 11 p.m., it should be no problem for Maine hockey fans to get aboard and head home after a game.

If a game runs late, Murray said, Amtrak has some discretion to hold the train for a few minutes.

The same newspaper reported two weeks earlier Guilford Rail's vice-president, David Fink Jr., said, "Recent rail structural tests prove that Amtrak's Downeaster trains can't run safely at speeds faster than 60 mph."

He was reiterating what his civil engineers had told him several months earlier.

Fink said the raw data from tests completed December 1 vindicated the company's view that the gravel ballast isn't substantial enough to safely support trains traveling faster than 60 mph on 115-pound rail. Fink made his remarks to a reporter aboard the Downeaster Inaugural train on December 14.

Amtrak's Maine Service General Manager Vic Salleme said he couldn't discuss Fink's statement because the results aren't in yet from a USDOT test performed over the 115-mile route in November.

"As far as people saying the rail or the ballast isn't safe, well... First of all, this issue shouldn't even be about safety. It's an engineering issue. Track modulus is something that I'm afraid at this time I can't talk about. I don't know how someone can talk about it when the results haven't come back from Colorado yet."

In short, Amtrak says maintenance, not safety, is the factor in a debate over the Downeaster's speed.

"An agreement was signed in January 1999 that said we could operate at 79 mph if the Surface Transportation Board issued an order, and that is what they did," said Bill Epstein, Amtrak director of government affairs. The STB ruled that the passenger trains could reach speeds up to 79 mph if the track met certain criteria for flexing under its weight.

The speed issue was still unresolved when scheduled Downeaster passenger service began on December 15 with four round-trips daily between Portland and Boston. Its maximum speed is 60 mph for now, and the rail tests will decide whether that can be increased safely, the Maine Herald reported.

The Northern New England Rail Authority (NNEPRA) wants the trains to run at 79 mph to cut 15 minutes off the trip time. The current scheduled time is two hours, 45 minutes. That time difference could be important for some train riders. Cars and buses can travel between the two cities in about two hours.

Rail authority officials declined to comment on the rail test analysis until a consultant releases the results, probably in January.

Fink said the rail authority should have put more ballast under the track or installed heavier rails, as his company had advised.

In September and November, a special train operated by a Colorado company, Transportation Technology Center Inc., tested the 78 miles of rail owned by Guilford between Portland and Plaistow, N.H. The three-car train measured how far the rail flexes when a train travels on it. The findings are used to calculate the overall stiffness of the rail-supporting system, including the ties, ballast and the soils under the ballast.

The train tested the track while traveling at 10 mph. It also performed tests while stationary.

Fink said the train first tested 73 miles of track and found 968 defects. Every defect, he said, represents a segment of the rail that bends or deviates more than a quarter of an inch. On average, there were 13.2 defects per mile, he said. The Transportation Technology Center then performed a second test on 45 miles of rail. It found 798 defects, or 17.5 defects per mile, Fink said.

"The first set of tests were bad," Fink said, "and the second set of tests were worse."

He said his engineers observed the weeklong tests and were given raw data and charts. He said speeds faster than 60 mph would weaken the rail over time and potentially cause it to break.

Guilford installed the new ballast, wooden ties and rail under contract with NNEPRA last summer, at a cost of $750,000 per mile, and the work was paid for with public funds.

During the week following the inaugural run, there were a few glitches, a minor accident, but otherwise, things seemed to go pretty well for a new, startup operation.

Salemme noted, "The Inaugural went great and the service is running pretty good. Only had two delays since starting. One was a broken rail," and the other "was holding a train for 25 people for the Downeaster that was on a late No. 174."

Train 174 operates on the Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston, and is scheduled to arrive at South Station at 4:35 p.m.

"That was a story in itself," Salemme continued.

"I got a call from the Southside chief dispatcher telling me that Charlie Laviena" an Amtrak transportation manager, was on a late "No. 174 with about 20-25 passengers that wanted to get to Maine on the Downeaster that was departing at 6:16 p.m. last night. I was going to hold No. 685 at North Station for a few minutes. Charlie was going to take them over from Back Bay Station to North Station. All this time he was communicating via cell phone with the Southside chief, Rich Murphy, who in turn was talking to me."

Salemme said Laviena and the guests were on the MBTA, but all communication was lost. Train 683 departed a couple of minutes late (due out at 6:15 p.m.) without the people.

"The North side chief gets involved and now we are all talking. It was decided to hold 685 at Anderson station in Woburn, Mass. The 25 Downeaster passengers were heading our way on a Lowell commuter train. We did the meet and got everyone on-board."

Salemme observed, "The majority of other passengers were cheering and having a good time, some were upset. I thought it was great. It just goes to show you. You can please some, some of the time but you'll never please them all, all the time. I would do it again. The next train out of Boston was 11:00 p.m. After all that, we arrived in Portland 13 minutes late."

Another rider, who works for an airline, posted his views of the new train service on the 'net. He also observed the 25 passengers racing to get the Downeaster.

John Haney wrote, "I was in Boston coming home to Portland, when I said, 'what the heck,' and bought the 21-buck ticket, and took the train home. Everything went fairly smoothly. We did have to stop about 15 minutes outside of the station as about 20 passengers coming from a train out of New York were late into South Station and missed the Downeaster by three minutes.

"So they all got on a MBTA train and got up to us at Anderson Station. No biggie. I'm glad the folks made it."

Haney added, "The crews were really nice. I know what this is all about. I've been on a few trains in my short time on this earth and have had plenty of crews not know what the term 'customer service' actually means. A man by the name of John Bolton was the conductor in our car, and if anyone knows this man, please tell him he is the best conductor I have seen. There is a nice feeling when the conductor calls you by your name when he gives you back your ticket stub after punching it."

He said they arrived in Portland at "about 9:15. A nice ride it was, and I look forward to it again! I travel to Boston a lot, and if for some reason I don't fly down... well, its Amtrak for me. Sorry Concord, Trailways."

The Downeaster had a pretty good first week of service that featured sold-out weekend runs bridged by better than expected weekday business Foster's Daily reported during the last week of December, but rail officials remained cautious when it came to proclaiming any early successes, cautioning that there is a long way to go before they will know for sure if the train will succeed.

As far as Nate Moulton is concerned, the Downeaster's performance during its first week was exceptional. He is NNEPRA's deputy director.

All four trains that ran from Boston to Portland and back ran on time, did not experience any substantial delays and saw plenty of business, he said. Every train carried the maximum 280 passengers during its first weekend.

Two sold-out weekends would translate into some 4,480 passengers, or 2,240 per weekend.

The numbers were much less from Monday to Friday, but still better than Amtrak requires to hit its goal of 320,000 riders for the first year, Moulton said.

For example, on Friday morning (December 21) when the 11:22 a.m. Downeaster arrived in Dover on its way to Portland, an Amtrak conductor said he had 150 passengers. The train that arrived later at 1:34 p.m. reported that some 150 passengers boarded at North Station and slightly more than 100 were still on board at the Dover station.

The conductor said he had less than 100 riders when the first train pulled out of the Portland station at 6:05 a.m. and 8:45 a.m., but both numbers are close to the 110-passengers per train that Amtrak needs to meet its ridership goal.

Moulton said the Downeaster's business was so brisk last week that Amtrak conductors had a hard time processing all of the tickets sold onboard. He said rail authority officials were so swamped, they were also unable to compile the total number of reservations made.

He said there are many visible signs at all of the Downeaster's train stations in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts that things are going well. For example, the Dover train station parking lot remained relatively full during the work week.

At the Portland station where many people board No. 680 (departing at 6:05 a.m.) and No. 682 (departing at 8:45 a.m.) trains to Boston for business or pleasure, Moulton said, "I've never been over there when there aren't at least ten people in line" waiting to buy a ticket.

"Those are the two busiest trains we're seeing," said Moulton of the two earliest trains that run out of Portland. He said anywhere between 80 to 100 passengers have been using those trains during the work week. Those numbers have peaked at capacity on the weekends.

The same tends to be true for No. 685, the 6:15 p.m. train that leaves North Station in Boston to take travelers back to Portland and all the stops in-between, Moulton said.

"Everything I hear is pretty positive," he added.

So far the numbers are staying consistent with the rail authority's expectations and Moulton believes the performance is creating word-of-mouth advertising.

But as good as numbers have been, Moulton said the holiday season is not the best time to evaluate the train's performance. The novelty of the train combined with the usual bump Amtrak experiences from Christmas travelers definitely figure into the preliminary results, he said.

He said he believes it will take several months before rail authority and Amtrak officials can get a true passenger count that reflects actual daily ridership, but he is still convinced those future numbers will be strong.

Only one mishap has occurred so far.

In Saco, Maine, on December 19, a Union Oil Co. truck stopped at the York Hill crossing, according to the Journal Tribune. The warning gate came down as the Downeaster was approaching "and the gate caught the ladder on back of the oil truck, snapping the arm from the gate. The train then struck the arm as it passed through the crossing," according to Saco police.

All of the railroad crossings were upgraded and tested to make sure the gates were come down some 22 seconds before the train's arrival, NNEPRA's Moulton said.

Saco Police Cpl. Mike Maksut said the oil truck driver stopped, as is required before crossing the railroad tracks, but when the tanker was three-quarters of the way over the crossing, the warning gate began lowering. The gate caught the ladder on the back of the oil truck, snapping the arm from the gate. Then, Maksut said, the train came through and struck the gate arm.

The accident occurred as the Amtrak Downeaster was on its fifth day of passenger service between Portland and Boston.

Elsewhere around the Northeast, The new (December 10 update) Northeast Corridor timetables were out in time for Christmas, but they failed to include any info on holiday schedules, even though an item titled "Holiday Schedules" appeared with blank space under the title. On Tuesday, they ran a regular Sunday schedule - but didn't tell anybody they were going to.

An on-line poster wrote, "The ticket agent at Trenton [N.J.] absolutely denied Amtrak operated any service in the state of Maine," and he complained, "Passengers arriving at North Station, Boston, on through tickets over the NEC found themselves on their own as far as getting to South Station is concerned. Amtrak provides no shuttle. They only had 15 years to get this one right."

The poster noted, "The Downeaster cannot be used as a commuter train, since there is no train north at the time most people get out of work in Boston 5:00 p.m. You have to wait until 6:15, and you'd better catch that train because it's the last of the day."

He erred. The last train is No. 687, which leaves North Station at 11:00 p.m. and arrives in Portland at 1:45 a.m.

The writer observed, "Thanks to David Fink, the trains take 2:45 to reach Portland. The bus does it in a flat two hours. The old B&M did it in 2:15. Although each four-car train offers nearly 300 seats and the run is little longer than a commuter trip, the trains are reservation-only."

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Rail link idea gathers momentum
The North-South Rail Link crowd is energized again, spurred on by the start - finally - of Amtrak service between Boston and Portland, Maine.

Tireless rail link promoter John Businger went to the inaugural event.

"Everybody was wearing Rail Link buttons," he reported. He always says that: He gives them out. The Rail Link would connect Boston's North and South stations, which now are about a mile apart and make both intercity travel and commuting from the suburbs to anywhere but the edges of the city frustrating, according to a Boston Globe story of December 31.

A 1994 study by consultant Guy Rosmarin suggested that the Rail Link be added to the "Big Dig" project, but with its price zooming up on its own, the last thing transportation officials needed was a few billion dollars more of construction costs. The same study produced an estimate of how many Amtrak intercity passengers a North-South Rail Link would add to the system.

"They drew conclusions that were very, very conservative," said Louise Lewis, the Sierra Club's representative on the citizens' advisory committee for the project. "They didn't look that beneficial for the project or that believable."

The Sierra Club, a big Rail Link supporter, recently commissioned a London consulting company, Transport Research Institute, to look again at the estimated ridership figures. The study concluded building the link would increase ridership by 14.5 percent, significantly more than the previous study showed, according to researchers.

Some solid figures will be available this spring, when the latest population and demographic numbers are plugged into a Rail Link forecast. These will project regional ridership as commuter-rail increases as opposed to intercity numbers.

The new forecast will extend to 2025, five years more than the last one.

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Minor derailment causes major headaches
Part of Amtrak train No. 174 derailed December 27 in Canton, Mass. when engine 910 left the rails during a low-speed move. Ripple effects lasted through Friday on the Northeast Corridor.

There were no injuries in Thursday's mishap. The two head coaches of the 11-car train also dropped off the rails. Both remained upright, but both mainline tracks were blocked as well as the Stoughton branch. Track speed on the main is 125 mph. An estimated 1,000 people between Boston and Providence were affected by the derailment. An Amtrak spokeswoman in Philadelphia said 300 passengers were aboard No. 174.

The accident occurred after the engineer got verbal permission from a dispatcher to proceed past a stop signal at Canton Junction interlocking, a location that marks the beginning of the 19-mile long Stoughton branch.

The engine was still on the ground at 8:00 a.m. Friday, according to an observer at the scene, although a crane crew had succeeded in rerailing its lead truck. J.B. Mentzer, an on-line poster, wrote the engine was "fouling tracks 2 and 6. Trains were getting by at restricted speed on track 1, though clearance between these moves and the 910 looked to be about 2 feet when viewed through my 300mm lens from the east end of the track 6 platform."

"Restricted speed" is 15 mph within interlocking limits.

The interlocking had been troublesome for at least one hour before 174 arrived. MBTA commuter train 880, due to leave the junction at 5:00 p.m., was unable to begin its 15-mile journey back to Boston.

Westbound trains canceled as a result included two Acela Expresses and two Acela Regionals - 2175, 177, 2191 and 179. All four departed South Station, but all eventually were required to "pipe" back to South Station. All later returned to Southampton Street Yard.

Managers were able to hurriedly get buses running between Route 128 and Sharon, Mass., running around the accident site, to haul passengers to their destinations on trains that were turning to go back where they came from. The T began operating a shuttle train, "Extra 128," between South Station and Route 128 in Dedham, Mass.

The Twilight Shoreliner and overnight train with a sleeper to Newport News, Va., left Boston at 10:21 p.m. under diesel power, but operated via CSX from Boston to Springfield, Mass., and continued to New Haven, Conn., via the Inland Route, where it rejoined the Northeast Corridor. The train was due to leave Boston at 9:10 p.m. It ran with F-40PH engine 413, P-40 No. 824, and 13 cars.

At least a half-dozen eastbound commuter trains were stuck behind the mishap, as were seven Amtrak intercity trains. The commuter trains were from Providence, R.I. and Attleboro, Mass., as well as Stoughton.

A railfan commuter who was aboard a commuter train and was heading home in Stoughton posted his first-hand account of the events, as he saw them, on internet railfan e-mail lists, "NERail" and "All Aboard."

Chris O'Halloran was returning from work on No. 917 and left Boston at 4:42 p.m.

"We left Hyde Park about two minutes late and reduced to approach speed [30 mph] once we passed the home signal for Transfer [Interlocking], near Readville station."

He had his scanner with him, "and heard, via the headphones, that the Providence local ahead of us, No. 815, was stopped east of Junction (Canton Jct.) on track 1. The Midland Dispatcher told him he could be there a few minutes due to a switch problem at Junction, but that a C&S employee was on-site." Communications and Signals department people keep the switches and signals in running order.

O'Halloran said they made their Route 128 stop, "and crept west until we stopped behind 815. At this point it had become apparent via the scanner that we had a complete switch failure at Junction. The Midland couldn't control the interlocking and the C&S couldn't control it from a bungalow, so the C&S was asked to hand crank the '21' and '12' switches to the normal position and check the '42' and '62' switches to ensure they were normal. This way, at least mainline traffic could get on the move."

He said they "waited about 30 minutes for the hand-cranking," and observed that "Meanwhile, stacked up on track 1," the westward track, "were 815, 917, 817, 2175 (Acela Express), 919, 819, and 177 (Acela Regional) farther back near Readville."

Train 880 was trapped on the Stoughton Branch, "and the ill-fated 174 was stopped at the 2E signal just west of Canton Jct with local 820 [from Providence] behind it."

The C&S maintainer, O'Halloran continued, "now out of breath, called the Midland and reported that all switches were aligned normal." No. 815 received a Rule 241, which is oral permission to pass a stop signal, and continued west to Providence.

O'Halloran's commuter train, instead of going onto the branch, "moved west to the station track 1 platform. All passengers were discharged and those bound for Canton Center and Stoughton traversed the footbridge to board 880's equipment for a shuttle down the branch. 880's Boston-bound passengers got off that equipment and were asked to board 174 which rolled east and made a rare station stop at Canton Junction to pick up the locals.

"At this point, I had detrained and was in my car some 60 minutes late. When 174 headed east, AEM-7 No. 910's left wheels somehow grabbed the right hand rail of the 21 switch's crossover and she hit the ground, fouling both tracks 1 and 2. Speed was approximately 15 mph and there was no visible damage to the train. I couldn't see the track underneath to see if it was damaged. The catenary looked okay."

He said he returned later in the evening, and "there was obviously all kinds of activity - police, fire, buses, etc. The Midland was doing a great job keeping things moving with shuttles between Boston and 128, Sharon and Providence, and Junction and Stoughton (and buses around Junction). No sign of a crane yet, but the catenary was being grounded."

880's equipment continued shuttling between Junction and Stoughton, until the crew outlawed at 12:40 a.m.

Mentzer stayed at the century-old Canton station all night.

He wrote, "The east truck was rerailed around 3:00 a.m. The west truck is still off, though the wheels are on the ties. The west truck took two tries (with one of those tries remaining) because the boom couldn't swing due to the catenary."

Some Maintenance-of-Way assets had been parked near a Cumberland Farms siding, in a small MBTA parking lot. Some panel track was reported to be en route from Connecticut.

The crane crew apparently shifted track 1 some five inches out of alignment to force a shoofly to allow trains to pass - one at a time.

On Friday, all trains in both directions on the corridor were late. For example, No. 95 was about five hours late arriving in Washington.

By Friday afternoon, Amtrak GP-40 No. 522 was able to get into place on track 1 and dragged the errant electric engine - displaying a bent snowplow and possible frame damage - back to Southampton Street Yard at 20 mph via the Dorchester branch. The crew tied up at 2:21 p.m.

The 11 coaches from 174 had eventually been towed to the Providence Maintenance-of-Way base. They finally arrived in Southampton Street Yard by Saturday afternoon, hauled by a pair of P-40s (827 and 817) via the Dorchester Branch, and around a loop track to leave them facing in the proper direction. The crew tied down the train shortly after 3:25 p.m.

Amtrak's web site showed No. 174 was 20 minutes late in Providence on Thursday. That was the last entry for that day for that train.

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Amtrak Number 93

3 NCI photos: Leo King

Westward Amtrak No. 93, enroute from Boston to Washington on December 26, scoots under Pawtucket, R.I. station at 60 mph. The "high-steppers," like this Acela Regional train and the Acela Expresses won't be stopping here, but perhaps the MBTA's commuter trains will in a couple of years.
Dilapidated station may return from abyss, again hosting trains
The station is dilapidated, part of it is a church, and some long-unused stairs leading from the waiting room to the platform have rusted away and fallen to the platforms. The platforms are crumbling and littered with debris from a concrete ceiling, broken beer bottles, empty beer and soft drink cans, and urine. Who know what else.

Soon, however, with enough cash for the project, the Broad Street Pawtucket-Central Falls Station could come back to life, after teetering on the edge of dismal despair - as well as disrepair.

At one time, four main line tracks ran under the facility. Now, two tracks are Amtrak and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's main line between Boston and Providence. A third track is owned by the Providence & Worcester freight railroad. The passenger train iron sees several trains daily in both directions, and the P&W operates two trains over its single track on weekdays.

The route, as well as the station, was built by the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad in 1915, but it might make a comeback. The station once served as many as 79 daily trains. Today, every weekday, MBTA commuter trains make 11 round trips between Boston and Providence, but none stop in Pawtucket, even though 20,000 people live in the area.

Nearly 30 years have passed since the last passenger train stopped at the station, when Penn Central gave it up. It is a Beaux Arts architectural style building that at one time served 70,000 passengers monthly.

If even a trickle of that traffic could be brought back, the economic benefits could be significant, according to Richard C. Davis.

Since April, wrote a Providence Journal reporter, when Davis was hired as the executive director of the Pawtucket foundation, he tried to lay the groundwork to reuse the station by circulating proposals and soliciting grants. In December, he got a $4,000 grant from Ocean State Charities - which is just enough to pay for a structural analysis, one of several studies Davis said is needed to determine whether getting commuter trains to stop at the station makes economic sense.

Pawtucket Station

Looking westward, it is apparent the platforms are dilapidated and will need to be rebuilt as well as the destroyed steps.

Davis said the structural analysis will help determine whether the station's submerged platforms can be rebuilt, and whether there is adequate access to get passengers, including the disabled, up and down new staircases.

Other studies will be needed, he said, to measure the cost of rehabilitating the station building, explore the architecture issues and determine potential ridership.

Davis said the cost of the studies could go as high as $20,000, with part of the money coming from the Pawtucket Foundation, part from corporations and part from institutions.

Since 1970, when the Penn Central Railroad went bankrupt, the building has become increasingly dilapidated. Now privately owned, it has twice made the Pawtucket Preservation Society's Endangered Properties List. Davis said it blights the neighborhood, but could become the linkpin of a neighborhood revitalization project if it is restored.

Pawtucket Station

Looking eastward, the platforms are equally dilapidated.

Organized last year, the Pawtucket Foundation is a private group that hopes to jump-start the city's economic redevelopment by proposing projects and building the support needed to get them off the ground.

Other people view the station as a site for a charter school as well as new commuter stop.

Two weeks ago Pawtucket Mayor James E. Doyle, representatives of local community and private groups and William Shuey, executive director of the International Institute, met to discuss possibilities for the approximately 35,000-square-foot brick structure.

The institute has contracted with Ken Orenstein, Providence developer who has worked with nonprofits and the Providence Foundation there, and architect Friedrich St. Florian, who designed Waterplace Park and the World War II Veterans Memorial being built in Washington.

"They're very serious," Doyle said about the institute's intent of transforming the depot into a 270-student charter school.

Attorney John Partridge, co-chair of the fledgling Pawtucket Foundation formed to promote city economic growth, echoed that view.

"For them, that property is Central Falls and Pawtucket - what better place to be than a place that's got both cities," Partridge said after presiding over the foundation's first annual meeting, at the downtown Visitors Center. "That opens up that whole area of Central Falls and Pawtucket and increases property values."

With a state charter specifically for Pawtucket, Shuey said he needs to find space here despite the "chronic shortage of classroom space" in the city.

After touring the depot, owned by city resident Jean Vitali, Shuey said, "It's a great space. It's a wonderful old building. Obviously, there are a lot of ifs," including an asking price some have speculated could exceed $1 million, possible environmental concerns and an extensive rehab requiring major fund-raising for a multi-million dollar project.

"We would have to do a major renovation and it would not be cheap," Shuey acknowledged, along with the need to raise money among public, private, federal and state sources.

Vincent Ceglie, who heads the Blackstone Valley Community Action Program, said revival of the depot would dovetail with plans BVCAP is working on to revitalize the neighborhood of High, Cross, Exchange, Broad and Dexter streets and Goff Avenue.

"The Depot is the elephant in the room," he said.

"If that were to come alive and be used, it would have an immediate impact."

With a $50,000 grant from Rhode Island Housing, Ceglie said BVCAP hired consultant Dan Cahill to work up a neighborhood revival plan by meeting with local residents and businesses. Improvements could range from streetscape lighting and trees to helping businesses operate better.

"I thought it was an idea waiting to happen," Davis said. "The train spends the night here [at the South Attleboro-Hebronville layover facility] now. This is the fastest growing line on the MBTA system," which he noted is now extending service to New Bedford.

What he also learned, Davis said, is "we don't have to have that whole depot. We just have to have a platform. Get your paper there, get your coffee," visit a dry cleaner or hardware store, all on "neighborhood scale" in what Ceglie termed, "a local downtown."

The Rhode Island DOT would also be key to making the MBTA platform happen, Davis said.

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Connecticut rehabs M-2 cars
Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland said last month Connecticut is spending more than $185 million in statewide rail improvements on, including $150 million to rehabilitate a fleet of 25-year-old railroad cars on the New Haven line.

The overhaul will replace failing propulsion components of 241 aging M-2 cars on the route between New Haven and Grand Central Terminal, over the next six years. The upgrade is expected to keep the cars running another 15 to 20 years, according to the Hartford Courant.

It is part of what Rowland said would be more than $1 billion spent on state railroads in the next ten years. He said rail travel was a key component of the state's plan to reduce congestion on Interstate 95 in the southeastern part of the state.

The state is spending $2.5 million to convert its old New Haven Car Shop into the M-2 overhaul garage. It will spend $35 million to purchase four new locomotives and 10 cars for the Danbury, Waterbury and New Haven lines, adding 1,000 new seats.

The overhaul of the M-2 fleet is expected to begin now.

Commuters, who visited New Haven's Union Station to see Rowland launch a new Shore Line East service to Bridgeport and Stamford, welcomed the state's support of rail travel, but worried that state rail service would get worse before it gets better.

"These are all programs that should have been started years ago," said spokesman Jim Cameron of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council.

"It will be years before we will see the payoff. We're using a Band-Aid to cure a patient who is almost dead."

The old M-2 cars have been failing at an above-average rate, said Ray Cox, a state rail operations assistant. Anywhere from 30 to 60 M-2 cars are out of service on a typical day, reducing the number of seats available to commuters, he said.

The state will pay Metro-North Commuter Railroad crews to overhaul an average of four cars a month at a cost of about $600,000 each. The state will begin work on 30 idle cars, repairing those before taking working cars out of service.

Replacing the old cars with new ones would cost about $964 million.

That is still going to happen, Harris said, but the overhaul buys the state time to gradually phase in purchases. The state will start replacing overhauled cars with new ones in 2012.

The overhaul also will provide the state with the chance to improve comfort in an increasingly run-down fleet. Crews will replace ragged seat cushions, clogged toilets and ripped-up floors. Connecticut and Metro-North will share the cost of rehabilitating the M-2 fleet, Harris said. Connecticut will pay $100 million, using $20 million of its own cash and $80 million in federal funds, and Metro-North will use $50 million in federal funds.

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Florida governor okays $82.5 million to expand Amtrak

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said December 19 the state will provide $82.5 million to fund Amtrak routes from Jacksonville to Miami, restoring passenger rail service to Florida's East Coast after 33 years.

When fully implemented in 2006, the project would have Amtrak running six trains a day in each direction between Jacksonville and various cities farther down the state.

That was to include two trains a day in each direction on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks from Jacksonville to West Palm Beach, then carrying on to Miami on the state-owned South Florida Rail Corridor.

The last time passenger trains ran along the state's Atlantic coast was November 1968. The FEC, founded in the late 1800s by Florida pioneer Henry Flagler, ended service that year over a labor dispute.

"The September attacks on our country showed us that we must fully develop alternative modes of transportation in and out of Florida," Bush said at a meeting with a group of mayors from cities and towns along Florida's East Coast. "This restored passenger rail service is just the ticket."

The project consists of laying about 23 miles of new track for several long passing sidings, laying track in Palm Beach County linking the FEC and the South Florida Rail Corridor and building eight new stations at St. Augustine, Daytona Beach, Titusville, Cocoa, Melbourne, Vero Beach, Ft. Pierce and Stuart.

The first phase of the project is to get one train a day operating in each direction. DOT's contribution for track and station improvements is $23.5 million.

State funds totaling $15.5 million already are available, and $8 million more is to be funded in next year's state budget.

The second and final phase is set for completion in the state budget year of 2005-2006, with the remaining $37.6 million in state funds being provided.

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Trackwork should cut travel time
Amtrak trains will trim 20 minutes from their Charlotte-to-Raleigh, N.C. run after crews complete $24 million in track improvement in 2004. The work starts next summer between Cary and Greensboro.

The trip now takes 3 hours and 45 minutes. Federal funds will pay two-thirds of the cost, with the state covering the balance, said Julia Hegele of NCDOT's rail division.

The work will lengthen two passing sidings, improve two interlockings, bank some portions of track and install a centralized traffic control system. Engineers are planning a $17million project to double-track the route between Greensboro and High Point, which will eliminate the need for passenger trains to wait for freight trains to pass. Construction on that project will start in the next few years, according to the Charlotte Observer of December 22.

Ten Amtrak trains travel between the city pairs, including Amtrak's Silver Service trains from New York to Florida, the Carolinian and Piedmont as well as the Crescent from New York to New Orleans.

The state has a long-term goal of two-hour trains between Raleigh and Charlotte, which would be part of the national high-speed system now under construction on the East Coast.

It is working on plans for new train service to Asheville and Wilmington. The western service will start in about four years between Salisbury and Asheville on a track parallel to Interstate 40. The train would stop in Statesville, Hickory, Morganton, Black Mountain, Old Fort and Marion. Charlotte-area residents could catch the train in Salisbury.

The Wilmington train will start in Raleigh and run through either Goldsboro or Fayetteville. There won't be a direct Charlotte connection.

There is no start date for Wilmington service, Hegele said.

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Help wanted: a veep
Amtrak was looking for someone I mid-December for a new vice-president. The ad, from executive recruiting firm Russell Reynolds Associates, stated Amtrak was looking for a corporate vice-president for government affairs and policy.

The ad stated, "Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, (Amtrak), is the country's only inter-city passenger rail service. Created in 1970 by an act of Congress, Amtrak is a private, for-profit company largely owned by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Governed by a Presidentially appointed seven-person Reform Board and under federal mandate to achieve operating self-sufficiency by the end of 2002, Amtrak has embarked on an aggressive and creative series of strategic and operating initiatives to achieve this objective. The company, which is in the process of restructuring management of its operations, remains committed to pursuing commercial opportunities, both directly and through partnerships and other joint ventures.

  • Responsibilities

    • Reporting to the President and Chief Executive Officer, the Corporate Vice President, Government Affairs and Policy is expected to provide strong, creative and strategic leadership for the corporation in its dealings with the U.S. Congress, Executive branch and regulatory agencies. Specific responsibilities include:

    • Working closely with the President and CEO to define public policy positions that enhance the prospect of achieving the corporation's goals Driving lobbying tactics and strategy; developing advocacy plans Representing the corporation and its interests before the federal government; meeting with Members of Congress, Staff Members, Cabinet and sub-Cabinet officials of government agencies on behalf of the corporation to influence public policy.

    • Working closely with state and city governments as well as support groups such as National Conference of Mayors Developing an effective relationship with the Board Managing a small team of lobbyists Developing, maintaining and strengthening relationships with key policy makers in Washington, DC

  • Qualifications

    • The successful candidate will be a respected, knowledgeable, and widely experienced government relations professional. Although railroad industry experience is not required, familiarity with this or other regulated sectors within transportation, such as airlines, is a plus. Specific qualifications include:

    • Personal stature and presence, as well as credentials and competence to establish a high level of credibility, not only with the President, the Board, and other members of management and staff, but also with legislative and regulatory bodies, and other important constituencies.

    • Experience at a senior level in government or in another government relations office, trade association or similar advocacy entity Intellectual strength around policy and strategy; deep knowledge of the appropriations and authorizing process.

    • Established relationships with members of the executive and legislative branch; capable of interacting with influential people.

    • Demonstrated capacity to recruit, lead and marshal the talents of competent staff; ability to delegate authority yet ensure accountability.

    • Strong leadership skills and an ability to accept ever-increasing responsibilities and roles.

    • High level of energy, enthusiasm, and commitment to the position and the organization; savvy and confident.

    • Healthy sense of humor.

    • Ability to achieve results working in a large organization with a complex and changing corporate culture.

  • Compensation

    • The Corporate Vice President, Government Affairs and Policy will be compensated as a key executive of Amtrak.

    • Additional information about Amtrak is available at"

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Amtrak travels to Nashville

Amtrak operated an inspection train from Louisville to Nashville December 20 for a possible resumption of long-absent passenger train service. Riders said the special departed Louisville at 10:17 a.m., and arrived in the Tennessee city at 3:00 p.m. Several speed restrictions over the CSX route marked the journey, mostly by related track work. It was delayed a total of about 30 minutes by three northward freight trains at three different locations. The test train operated at 60 mph.

The consist included two Genesis Locomotives, a hi-level coach, sleeper Kentucky, a sightseer lounge, a transition sleeper, and CSX theatre car Maryland.

Actual running time "would have been about four hours flat if not for the speed restrictions, meeting freights, and following one south of Amqui for a few miles on an approach signal," an observer noted.

He said the track rode better than it ever did in L&N days, over all-welded, signaled rail. Former Amtrak president and CEO Paul Reistrup was also aboard.

"In all three meets, Amtrak was the one into the hole," a source said.

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MARC begins new service
Some 80 Maryland Rail (MARC) commuters rode the maiden voyage of the 5:17 a.m. train, No. 355, from Frederick to Washington's Union Station on December 17.

There were no official ceremonies to begin the Brunswick Line's Frederick Extension. The MTA said it had scheduled an event with Maryland's top elected officials on December 7 but canceled it, blaming an inability to coordinate officials' schedules, but Frederick Mayor Jim Grimes said a celebration is set for today.

Thirty-seven people boarded the 5:17 a.m. train downtown, and another 43 joined at the Monocacy Station across Md. 355 from the FSK Mall, a railroader said.

The first train made five Montgomery County stops and pulled into Washington's Union Station about 6:40 a.m., just as daylight was breaking, a few minutes ahead of schedule.

The Baltimore & Ohio, America's first passenger railroad, reached Frederick in 1831 and last provided passenger service to the city in 1949.

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Real Media gets Amtrak web contract
Real Media, Inc. reported on December 18 it had signed an exclusive agreement to represent the Amtrak Web site.

The addition of gives Real Media advertisers "access to premium, precisely targeted marketing opportunities specific to the travel industry," a press release stated.

Real Media said it is giving Amtrak a premium role on a network that reaches nearly 60 million Web users a month.

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NY Central Lounge Car

NCI: Wes Vernon

Ex-New York Central's 20th Century Limited round-end observation-lounge car New York brings up the rear of the American Orient Express.
American Orient Express:

Train returns to the days
when service was a priority
Destination: Freedom's man in Washington takes a trip away from the Beltway to take a ride on a first-class passenger train

By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

Should you ride the American Orient Express?

Why of course, you should, assuming you've been able to add some weight to your wallet in preparation for the trip.

Be aware, however, that the Class I railroads decided decades ago that the public relations value of their famous luxury trains did not adequately compensate for their hemorrhaging revenues. Ever since then, the effort to bring back true luxury passenger train service in America has been, shall we say, "a work in progress."

Certainly, no one expects Amtrak, which operates on a shoestring budget of taxpayer dollars, to operate anything beyond its current utilitarian approach to long-distance service.

Not that Amtrak hasn't entertained the idea. In February 2000, its management outlined a plan for expanded future service (most of whose components are unrealized) that would include a venture into operating a luxury train. The closest Amtrak has ever come to the concept is the Coast Starlight, operating between Seattle and Los Angeles. It is easily the best long-distance ride on the Amtrak system. But it does not claim to match the salad days of the old Twentieth Century Limited, Super Chief, Sunset Limited, or Overland Limited, or other name trains memorialized in Lucius Beebe books.

Given its problems in staying in business at all, it would be grossly unfair to criticize Amtrak for not trying to bring back that era.

Wes Vernon

NCI: Alida Vernon

A snapshot of hubby Wes inside the observation car New York.
It has been said that the main reasons the private railroads ever went all-out to maintain this service in the first place was to lure CEO's of major freight customers. Show them that when they ride Railroad X they can expect super deluxe service, complete with wining and dining, barber and secretarial service, plush carpeting, bowing and scraping, the works. Show the freight customer CEO all that whenever he rides one of your passenger trains, and the next time he decides how to ship his coal, lumber, or steel, he'll think of your railroad. Good marketing technique.

But now, once you get beyond the Metroliners and Acela Expresses, Pacific Surfliners, and maybe other short distance runs, that CEO flies. So the marketing strategy no longer makes sense. That's why we've had such a gap all these years.

This writer, back the 1980s, was involved as a minor investor in the American Zephyr, an operation that rehabilitated an old 48-seat diner and a lounge-obs to run publicly advertised and charter trips, contracting with Amtrak as other private car operators do. The dividends, in terms of hands-on experience, were fantastic. Dividends of the bottom-line variety were zilch.

So making luxury train service a self-sustaining operation is a very iffy proposition. That is why one who appreciates the value of the land cruise that can rival those at sea (which also experience their financial ups and downs) has to doff his hat to anyone willing to make a serious effort at it.

There was an air of optimism at a three-martini lunch at a posh country club in Florida back in 1989 when a deal was struck to buy and rehabilitate old passenger cars and create an entity known as the American European Express.

The operation's failure to reach its potential can be attributed to several factors, not the least among them was the idea that you could run a profitable operation by running your cars round trip between Washington and Chicago at the back of Amtrak's Capitol Limited six days a week, charging two to three times the fare being paid by the customers in the Amtrak portion of the same train.

Then the AEE hired an engine and ran its own train when someone pointed out that if that company was really looking for the scenic route between Chicago and Washington, it was better to go the way of the Cardinal through the mountains of West Virginia. Having its own engine enabled the AEE to make stops along the way, such as lunch at the Greenbrier resort.

The AEE was planning other trips when an accident gave the owner a rationale for cutting his losses and closing up shop. Nice try, but next time, consult travel industry professionals before you toss your money in such a manner as one would aim at a dartboard blindfolded.

After several years in storage, the cars were sold to an heir to the steel industry whose love of trains and business sense have given birth to a good beginning with the American Orient Express, presenting itself as the American equivalent of the European train, whose fame was magnified over the years in the classic Agatha Christie novel, Murder on the Orient Express.

The AOE, unlike the AEE, issues an annual brochure with carefully planned excursions to different scenic parts of North America aboard luxury oak-paneled, thickly carpeted varnish.

Most of the splendor of the of AEE is there, complete with three lounge cars, two dining cars, and one service person for every two passengers, not at all unlike the premium cruise ship operations.

My wife Alida and I wanted to celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary by riding the AOE's National Parks of the West tour, departing from Phoenix, calling at the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Bryce Canyon and Zion's National Park in Utah, and then heading up north to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in Wyoming.

October, when all the colors are out, was an ideal time to this trip, we reasoned. And who can beat a weeklong relaxing journey in the lap of luxury in the most beautiful mountain scenery in the world, save perhaps for the Swiss Alps?

The trip offered splendid views, good service, fine dining, premium wines, and cordial personnel.

There were the drawbacks, but what is encouraging is that the company is aware of them and appears to be attempting to remedy most shortcomings.

The two mid-train lounges, the Rocky Mountain and Seattle Club cars, retained the piano bar with professional entertainment.

The seating is comfortable enough. Conspicuous by their absence are the super plush easy chairs that were included in the AEE. We probably would not have missed them had we not experienced them in the predecessor. Once you're spoiled by something that offers "over-the-top" creature comforts, you miss it when it is taken away.

The piano player was proficient enough, but obviously had had it with requests for the Sinatra favorite, "New York! New York!" She played and sang a version with different words - it would not be an exaggeration to label them nasty - and then said she hoped no one was offended. For my part, I allowed as how her rendition might have prompted the cracking of a slight smile prior to September 11.

The attendant in our sleeping car, the Berlin, was a young woman whose pleasant and cordial manner were not enough to cause one to overlook her inexperience.

For example, when we overnighted in the Tetons and then Yellowstone, we returned after being away from the train for two consecutive nights to find that the ice bucket, half full when we left, was still standing untouched and unemptied of the water representing the ice that had melted. We expected better than that.

When returning to the train after an overnight stop, there was no one to help us with our overnight luggage. We hauled it ourselves and had to walk through several cars. Not all the places where the train had to stop had adequate platform space. We can't be sure whether this was due to lack of planning or lack of structures in areas that had not accommodated passenger trains in many years. But the least that could have been done would have been to leave the doors open between cars, making the haul a little easier.

The Presidential Suite, which we occupied, was generally satisfactory with full shower and room to move around.

The chefs aboard the AOE are true professionals. The company says most are graduates of Le Cordon Blue Program, Culinary Institute of America, or Johnson and Wales. The galley staff includes an on-board pastry chef and a sommelier.

The American Orient Express also honors rail-dining traditions. Dishes such as B&O's famous petite crab cakes or AOE's version of Harvey's Beef a la Merengo follow original recipes. The food we experienced was outstanding.

The waiters in the dining cars, Chicago and Seattle were pleasant and efficient. One slipup in protocol, while it did not offend, raised some questions about preparation for the job. Waiters in most first-class operations are trained not to refer to customers by their first names. This is not a snob thing. It is taken for granted in most upper tier service operations. It is doubtful this extent of informality can be found on the revived Orient Express, now operating from London to Venice. It surely did not happen on the original version of that train over 100 years ago.

For those of us who don't need to risk the calories that can come with eating three full meals a day seven days a week, there is a Continental breakfast served in the round-end obs car, New York, whose claim to fame is that it was dedicated in 1948 by Dwight Eisenhower and Beatrice Lillie on the New York Central's famous Twentieth Century Limited. Plush seating and a circular bay window made this an elegant place to watch the rails and passing scenery from the end of the train. One of the highlights of this car was riding up to the Grand Canyon where the train stopped for lunch the second day on the tour.

The AOE goes out of its way to select the finest hotels for departure and terminal points on the journey. We were treated especially well with hotel accommodations, which the train company had arranged for us.

All in all, a grand and fascinating journey. But why does one end a supposedly relaxing trip feeling so worn out? The western parks tour, of course, supplements its service with connecting chartered buses to enter the parks or hotel areas where there are not tracks to take the train itself.

But the bottom line, as AOE's new hotel manager, Philip Hilgersom observed, is that on this particular tour, at least, you are off the train more than you are on it. So if the object of the exercise is to relax aboard the train, and have the option of staying aboard to enjoy the full benefits thereof, you may want to pick one of the other tours this luxury operation has to offer.

Hilgersom, a Dutch native, was hired away from the Holland America cruise ship line just four months ago. Though he is discreet about expressing himself to passengers, he is known to believe that there is room for improvement at AOE. At Holland America, you just don't last long unless you know the full meaning of service, which Hilgersom appreciates.

Look for employees who fall short of the highest standard to be told before the next season begins that more will be expected of them. People who ride the American Orient Express pay too much of their hard-earned cash to receive anything that does not live up to first class cruise ship expectations in this land cruise version.

AOE is very ambitious. The company is purchasing and refurbishing more cars so that soon, there will be two trains on the road: American Orient Express and American Orient Express II. We may yet see a new generation that knows what it was like to ride the old name trains of the first half of the Twentieth Century.

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NTSB offers safety ideas to railroads, others
The National Transportation Safety Board issued some safety recommendations to Amtrak last month regarding on-board appliances and how securely they are tied down.

The board suggested, "Modify your procedures, as appropriate, to ensure that all onboard appliances are properly secured."

The board also issued recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration, the National Emergency Number Association, the Association of American Railroads, and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association.

It advised the organizations work with the National Emergency Number Association "to facilitate the inclusion of railroad milepost markers on all emergency response maps across the country."

It also advised the National Emergency Number Association to include railroad mileposts numbers on all emergency response maps across the country.

It also requested the FRA and Amtrak "Evaluate the applicability to U.S. operations of the safety requirements established by Transport Canada for lone-engineer operation on the Quebec North Shore & Labrador Railway, and implement any found to have interim utility for U.S. passenger trains that operate in areas now lacking a system of positive train control."

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NS to spend $705 million
To upgrade its system

Norfolk Southern Corp. said on December 13 it plans to spend $705 million for capital improvements this year - including $102 million for 50 new engines.

"We completed many of our major investments in line capacity, rail terminals and information systems in 2001, and that has enabled us to increase the resources devoted to maintaining our rail infrastructure," said David R. Goode, chairman, president and CEO.

"We are continuing our solid commitment to safety and service during challenging economic times with spending levels designed to keep our system strong and our service steadily improving."

The anticipated spending includes $482 million for track projects and $173 million for equipment.

In track improvements, the largest expenditure will be $366 million for rail, crosstie, ballast and bridge programs. In addition, there is $31 million provided for communications, signal and electrical projects and $17 million for environmental projects and public improvements such as grade crossing separations and crossing signal upgrades, NS stated in a press release.

Other roadway projects include $43 million for marketing and industrial development initiatives, including increasing track capacity and access to coal receivers and vehicle production and distribution facilities, and continuing investments in intermodal infrastructure.

Equipment spending includes $102 million to purchase 50 six-axle locomotives and upgrade existing locomotives. Equipment spending also includes $57 million for projects related to computers and information technology, including allocations for additional security and backup systems.

"Our equipment spending, which is lower than in previous years, reflects improved fleet management and asset utilization," Goode said.

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Snow stalls NS in Buffalo
A pattern of lake-effect snow wreaked havoc on western New York state railroads. Norfolk Southern reported on December 28 "The storm is severely impacting operations in the Buffalo area."

The freight carrier said accumulations of four feet or more were measured in some areas. More snow was expected.

"Although Norfolk Southern operations continue, they are extremely slow. Rail operations of other carriers are also impacted, limiting the interchange of traffic to connections. To the extent possible, traffic normally moving through this area is being redirected to other routes," customer advisory stated, and added, "Customers with shipments moving to, from, or through the Buffalo area should expect delays of at least 72 hours."

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$5 million project move CSX route
Traffic flow in Waycross, Ga., should improve dramatically when a $5 million project is completed. It will move a CSX track from downtown where trains have blocked crossings for decades, the Florida Times-Union reports.

The City Commission recently voted to join the Ware County Commission to approve spending $2.5 million in special purpose local option sales taxes on the project, officials said.

The work will begin this month and will include removing two track miles that arc through Waycross' main business district, installing new, additional traffic lights, crossing gates and road and track improvements, City Manager C.B. "Bucky" Heys said.

Fourteen crossings at grade - which caused traffic backups and prompted drivers to crowd onto streets with overpasses - will be closed, Heys said.

The changes will also allow CSX to move its trains through town faster, he said.

The Georgia DOT will provide some funding and the railroad will also spend to upgrade its internal operations to speed up rail traffic through its important Waycross hub, Heys said.

Benny James owns the Sports Shop in Waycross and for 40 years has watched trains pass in front of his store. He said he's hopeful the removal of the tracks will help business, but he knows that a lot of his income comes from CSX employees.

"The railroad has been mighty good to Waycross," he said.

"The crossings have an effect on traffic. I think when the traffic can flow a little better, business will improve," he said.

The railroad business has apparently been good lately because there seem to be more trains, some of them so long they can block crossings for a long time, he said.

Steve Fleming, who runs Jake and Ed's Men's Clothing downtown, said he'll miss the trains but not the crossings.

"Railroad crossings are dangerous even when they're done perfectly," he said. "I think that's going to be better for everybody."

Fleming said the trains have been part of the city for a long time. "They were here before me," said Fleming, who has been at the store 40 years.

"That's what we grew up with, the trains."

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STB gives BNSF what it wanted
Surface Transportation Board chairman Linda J. Morgan said last week that the federal body has issued two decisions addressing remaining unresolved issues raised in the fifth annual round of the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific general oversight proceeding.

In particular, the board agreed that a scheduled end of a formal, five-year oversight process established in connection with the merger should be allowed to occur. The results were posted in "Decision No. 20."

Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Co. had disputed several actions concerning BNSF's trackage rights in connection with the 1996 UP-SP merger.

Issues included the definition of "2-to-1" points, "existing transload facilities" and "new transload facilities," as well as BNSF's access to "new facilities" on the Stockton-Elvas trackage rights line, and that railroad's "right to purchase or lease 'team tracks' at 2-to-1 points."

The board held that the BNSF agreement contained a provision requiring UP and BNSF to enter into arrangements under which, through trackage rights, haulage, ratemaking authority or other mutually acceptable means, BNSF will be able to provide competitive service to shipper facilities at 2-to-1 points located on UP-SP lines over which BNSF was not previously granted trackage rights. The Board ruled that, "When read in concert with the BNSF agreement as a whole, this provision was intended only to protect the relatively few 2-to-1 points not explicitly covered by the line sales and trackage rights accorded to BNSF under the agreement; it is not intended to greatly expand the number of points open to BNSF beyond those that fall under the traditional definition of 2-to-1 points as used in this merger, that is, points at which, at the time of the merger, at least one shipper had available to it, either directly or via reciprocal switching, service from both UP and SP and from no other railroad."

The board also agreed BNSF's agreement contains a number of provisions granting it access to transload facilities, so the board ruled that, for now, there is no need to attempt to include in the BNSF agreement a precise definition of the transload facilities to which BNSF will have access.

In offering guidance for future disputes, the board observed that "The crucial issue in identifying a qualifying transload facility is whether the facility is legitimate," and added that the agency "would remain available, as it has in the past, to resolve, on a case-by-case basis, any disputes concerning the scope of BNSF's access to transload facilities."

BNSF's agreement also provides that BNSF "shall have access to new shipper facilities located on UP-SP lines over which BNSF was granted trackage rights in connection with the merger, so it ruled that BNSF has access to such new shipper facilities on all, not just some, of the UP-SP trackage rights lines, including the Stockton-Elvas trackage rights line.

(Regarding team tracks, which are tracks on which cars are placed for the public's use in loading or unloading freight using trucks, the board agreed BNSF has a right to construct, at 2-to-1 points on the UP-SP trackage rights lines, team tracks for BNSF's exclusive use. The board ruled though that BNSF has no right to require UP to sell or lease to BNSF team tracks no longer used by UP.

The Board added that, under the agreement, BNSF is to construct its own facilities, unless UP has specifically agreed to provide them.

In Decision No. 21, regarding directional running, the three board members explained that in the past several years, "UP had instituted directional running by pairing single-tracked lines that, prior to the merger, could not have been paired because one line was UP's and the other line was SP's."

On the paired lines over which BNSF already has trackage rights, BNSF's trains, as well as UP's trains, benefited from UP's directional running arrangements, but BNSF asserted that it "should be able to participate in directional running when BNSF has trackage rights only over one of the paired lines but not over the other."

The STB ruled that if BNSF can demonstrate that the institution of directional running on paired lines has interfered with its ability to provide service on a trackage rights line, BNSF must be allowed to join in the directional running.

In other results, the board stated that when UP provides reciprocal switching services under the agreement, such services must be provided on an impartial basis; UP must expeditiously address access BNSF requests and service proposals. From time to time, BNSF will access shipper facilities on UP-SP trackage rights lines that it had not previously accessed.

The board observed that a dispute has arisen between BNSF and UP regarding UP's method of adjusting trackage rights fees. The STB stated that it "would take no action at this time regarding the ongoing dispute, as it is under active negotiation, and emphasized that a settlement negotiated by the two railroads would be preferable to a solution imposed by Board order. The board noted, however, that the right of the American Chemistry Council to audit adjustment calculations of the trackage rights fees would continue under the BNSF Agreement as updated.

The Board also directed UP and BNSF to submit a final updated version of the BNSF Agreement by March 1, 2002.

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B&A future remains murky
With the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad in bankruptcy and its tracks literally falling apart, it appears highly unlikely that any one company will step forward to buy the system for the $60 million asking price, according to the Bangor, Maine Daily News.

About $123 million in claims are pending against B&A, headquartered in Greenville, which reportedly has assets in the $35 million range.

What seems more likely, and what Maine industries are most afraid of, is that the company and its 800 miles of tracks will be sold off piecemeal to satisfy creditors. That economically devastating alternative is why municipal leaders and representatives of businesses and industry from around the state welcomed representatives of New York State-based Genesee and Wyoming Railroad (GWI) in late December, in hopes that GWI will save the day for Maine's freight rail service.

In a series of meetings in Maine recently, local leaders told GWI officials, including President Charles N. Marshall, that their buying the railroad would be a sound investment. Not only would it serve the needs of Maine businesses, but also the purchase would prompt even more business growth and expansion.

A U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge in Portland placed B&A into Chapter 11 reorganization in early December after three creditors owing more than $7 million requested it.

After weeks of negotiations, an agreement had been reached between B&A and the creditors that would have kept the railroad out of court-imposed supervision, but B&A defaulted on that agreement when it failed to get a signed formal purchase agreement with Rail World Inc. and The Wheeling Corp., a consortium that offered to buy B&A System, the railroad's parent company, for $62 million. The system consists of seven railroads in Canada and New England.

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Coal trains collide; two injured
Dozens of coal cars were derailed and two crew members hurt in eastern Missouri December 13 when a coal train rear-ended another one and a third train hit the wreckage, Union Pacific Corp. said.

The three-way accident spilled coal onto a nearby highway, closing it, and also disrupted Amtrak passenger service between St. Louis and Kansas City, according to the Associated Press.

Union Pacific said a three-locomotive train pulling 133 cars of coal from Wyoming's Powder River Basin rear-ended a similar 119-car coal train stopped on the tracks west of St. Louis near the town of Pacific. A third empty 104-car train that was headed back to Wyoming in the opposite direction then slammed into the wreckage.

UP spokesman John Bromley said 60 loaded cars derailed and a number of them spilled their contents. He said the engineer and conductor of the train that hit the stopped train suffered minor injuries.

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Freight train kills conductor
A 30-year-old Norfolk Southern railroad employee was struck and killed by a southbound train in Lynchburg, Va. Christmas Eve as she helped release hand brakes on a northbound train.

The accident, near Park Avenue, snarled rail lines for at least six hours, stranding about a half dozen holiday travelers at Kemper Street station. An Amtrak train headed for New York sat idle just outside the city as railroad police tried to determine the cause of the accident.

The News & Advance reported the Lynchburg fatality came two days after another NS employee was killed when a church van struck a railcar in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Susan Bland, a railroad spokeswoman, said the two fatalities are the first she's reported since taking over as spokeswoman for the railroad in 1998.

Lynchburg police received a call about someone being struck by a train at 3:46 a.m. Garland R. Harper, an Amtrak ticket clerk, was on duty inside the train station when a call for help went out over police scanners.

"I heard the engineer say the train had hit the conductor," Harper said.

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Engineer killed in Wyoming
A grinding crash on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad took the life of a locomotive engineer near Arminto, Wyoming on December 7.

Engineer Mike W. Hoover died at the scene from injuries sustained in the 6:25 p.m. accident on a siding about 60 miles west of Casper. Hoover, 48, was a 29-year railroad employee.

The conductor on the train survived the crash, and was evacuated by helicopter to the hospital and later released.

Both railroaders were traveling westbound in dark territory when their train approached the siding at Arminto, and unexpectedly encountered a mainline switch, lined for the siding. Their train, moving at 46 mph traveled into the siding, where it collided head-on with several locomotives attached to an unoccupied train, which had been previously parked in the siding for several days.

The rail line reopened for traffic two days later. The cause of the crash is still under investigation.

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Safety train derails in Bay State
The Massachusetts Call/Volunteer Firefighters Safety Train derailed on December 14. No one was injured on the slow-moving train in New Bedford, Mass.

Eyewitnesses blamed the crew.

"Poor train handling by the CSX crew at Nash Road caused the five car derailment on the rear of a 21-car train," said John O'Neill.

"A tank car was dragged for almost a quarter-mile across two switches and across Nash Road. Finally, the car hit another switch and that caused the rest of the Safety Train to derail. All the cars remained upright, but two tank cars plowed down deep enough to completely cover the trucks with dirt," he said. He was one of the firemen accompanying the train.

R. J. Corman Co. was dispatched from Newburgh, New York, he said, to clean up the mess. The train was rerailed the following day, and was undamaged.

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Two railroaders hurt in mishap
A CSX Transportation train engineer and conductor were injured December 27 when a board flew off a passing train and smashed through the windshield of their locomotive as it traveled through Millcreek, Pa.

The Erie Times-News reported engineer John Dolly, 35, of Niagara Falls, N.Y., and conductor Michael McCabe, 32, of Holland, N.Y., were taken to a local hospital shortly after the incident. Millcreek police received at call at 2:55 a.m. Thursday.

Dolly was admitted and listed in good condition, and McCabe was released from the hospital Thursday afternoon, a hospital spokeswoman said.

A spokeswoman for CSX Transportation said McCabe suffered minor scratches in the incident and Dolly suffered a broken rib.

Police said the two were in the locomotive of a westbound CSX train that was passed by an eastbound CSX train between Pittsburgh Avenue and Peninsula Drive. A 2-by-6-foot board fell off the eastbound train and smashed through the windshield of the westbound train.

Both trains were pulling mixed freight, the CSX spokeswoman said. The westbound train originated from New York and was heading to Walbridge, Ohio, and the eastbound train was heading from Indianapolis to New York.

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Edward Jordan dies; was first Conrail chief
Edward G. Jordan, who helped to lift the remnants of several railroad freight lines out of bankruptcy as the first chairman and chief executive of Conrail, died December 28 at his vacation home in Bend, Ore. He was 72. His family said he had suffered from esophageal cancer.

He was a Los Angeles insurance executive when President Gerald R. Ford selected him in 1974 to be president of the United States Railway Association, a federal agency formed to develop a plan to take over most properties of ailing freight carriers in the Northeast and the Midwest.

A native of Oakland, Calif., Jordan graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1951 and earned a master's in business administration from Stanford University.

After he had been president of the association for 17 months, its board picked him in mid-1975 to head the new line created by the association: the Consolidated Rail Corporation, known as Conrail.

Survivors include his wife of 47 years, four children and 11 grandchildren.

In 1981, Conrail had its first profitable year and no longer required federal subsidies. On March 26, 1987, the government's 85 percent share of the corporation was sold to private investors for $1.65 billion, then the largest stock offering in Wall Street history, a transaction that completed one of the more successful federal bailouts. (Concurrent and former Conrail employees owned the remaining 15 percent of the railroad.)

In 1997, the CSX CORPORATION and the Norfolk Southern Corp. in a deal worth more than $10 billion bought Conrail.

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France closes 'Chunnel' for a time
French police used tear gas on December 26 to stop hundreds of refugees from crossing illegally into Britain through the Channel Tunnel, according to the Associated Press. At least one refugee was injured and the tunnel was shut to traffic overnight. In all, about 550 refugees from a nearby Red Cross center attempted to cross through the tunnel on foot in two waves late Christmas Day and early Wednesday.

The 31-mile tunnel beneath the English Channel connects France and England by rail. Train traffic resumed at about 8 a.m.

Dozens of refugees try to enter Britain illegally every week through the tunnel, but such mass attempts are rare. The refugees apparently were trying to take advantage of decreased holiday train traffic.

About 1,000 refugees are housed at a Red Cross center in the coastal town of Sangatte, about one mile from the tunnel entrance. Many are Kurds or Afghans. Most are looking for a better life in Britain, where immigration laws are relatively liberal, and they have an easier path to becoming legal residents.

In the first wave, about 150 refugees broke through electronic barriers and entered the tunnel at the town of Coquelles on Tuesday night. Overwhelmed security forces called in French police, who arrested 129 of them, said Helene Cargo, spokeswoman for Eurotunnel. The refugees had gotten one-quarter of the way through the tunnel. One of them suffered a fractured thigh.

Early Wednesday, another 400 refugees attempted to storm the tunnel at the same entrance. Police used tear gas to disperse them. They were taken into custody, and were slowly being sent back to the Sangatte center.

No Eurostar passenger trains were scheduled to run on December 25 or 26, but two trains each hour transported passengers with cars. People who missed their trains because of the tunnel closure were housed in hotels in France and Britain.

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Ed Danial

NCI: Wes Vernon

Ed Daniel, at the Metro Glenmont Station on opening day, "pulls the pin."

Transportation veteran retires
from Maryland transit post

By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

Truly indispensable people are rare. Almost everyone can be replaced. Almost everyone.

Every community coping to build massive rail projects has within its governmental structure someone who does a huge portion of the work and coordination required to see it through. Their names are not household words, but they make the projects possible through a day-to-day focus on it. One such person is Ed Daniel.

He has many counterparts elsewhere, probably in your own community. Many of the rail transit issues reviewed herein are also familiar on transit-building areas.

At an overflow retirement luncheon for Montgomery County, Md. Public Works and Transportation official Edward Daniel last November 28, speaker after speaker lamented that even the most competent successor that could be found for the job "will never really replace Ed Daniel," whose last title was "Special Assistant to the Director of MCPW&T" in the county, a Washington, D. C. suburb. Railroaders call it, "pulling the pin," a reference to cutting an engine from a train.

The tributes were not in a spirit of sappy sentimentalism, though Daniel is the kind of person who easily makes friends. That is simply because he is a genuinely pleasant person who "hates fights," despite an inner steel determination to advance the cause of rail transit. Added to that are the "smarts" and diplomacy to wade through the political thicket to get the job done, all the while never losing his apolitical credentials. (Apparently, it will stay that way. When we asked if he would consider running for elective office, he gave us a Shermanesque "No.") He is one of the few people seemingly born with an inability to make an enemy in the world.

Daniel is one of the select few of whom it can be said that were it not for his work, the Metrorail system might not have come to Montgomery County, at least not the Glenmont line, which was one of the last in the entire system to be completed, and the most "hotly debated" in the county.

Starting out working for the highway department in Michigan, a young Daniel just out of college developed a healthy respect for balanced transportation when he was assigned to help find a location for a new eight-lane freeway.

That alignment displaced about 400 or 450 some homes, "and I remember having gut misgivings at the time, but I was an underling, so I didn't open my mouth," he now says.

"My gosh!" the rookie highway operative thought back then, "What are they doing to those people, those communities? The disruption! Doesn't there have to be a better way?"

As Railway Age magazine noted in its 125th anniversary edition, over the past quarter century, light rail, metro, and commuter rail operations in North America have more than doubled, while rail passengers have grown by more than two-thirds.

People like Daniel are a large part of the reason rail passenger service throughout America is growing faster than automobile use. These are the unsung heroes, well known to people in government, industry and activist insider groups, but not household names to the general public.

The phenomenal growth in rail ridership tells Daniel "there was certainly an unmet demand when the nation as a whole went from getting off the rail mode into the buses and into the concentration of cars on the freeway, a building binge. We went too far," said the man who came from a highway-building family and background in the Midwest, as he watched the Interstate system being built.

"We swung the pendulum too far for too long in one direction," Daniel said in an interview, "and the scale of economic and population growth caught up with that, and we ended up with a pattern that couldn't sustain the amount of demand and the densities that we have. So you had to go back to the systems that we tore out of the streets thirty, forty, fifty years ago."

One might even stretch that to sixty years ago. The old Washington light rail line (The locals called them "streetcars" then) on Wisconsin Avenue eliminated the Chevy Chase to Rockville segment just before World War II. Today, the Metro Red Line serves that exact same area with high ridership.

There were rare post World War II transit survivors such as the Muni in San Francisco and trolley buses in Dayton. But for the most part, transportation planners "took a short-term view and forgot the long-term, but a lot of communities" are going back to the tried-and-true values of mass transit, Daniel believes.

Some political supporters of public transportation have an agenda that goes way beyond transit's basic purpose of moving people. Social activists see it as but one part of their vehicle to change the whole world.

Daniel, on the other hand, insists on keeping his eye on the ball.

For example, I, a New York City boy who cut his teeth on the subway system there as a kid, now live in a single-family detached home. Social activists, who believe strict egalitarianism must apply to all things, see rail transit as a means of dictating high-density living patterns that would discourage or ultimately eliminate single-family detached housing. Daniel takes a more realistic view.

"I don't think you're at cross-purposes," he told me, "I've never looked at this kind of a thing as either/or." Whatever works best in a given situation is "what you ought to advocate," is his "to each his own" view. The career transit-planning veteran delivered a common sense analysis. He said, "I'm not at all certain that in America, as much as we like our liberties, people, either in particular or in general, are going to be willing to have location decisions forced on them, as they are in a lot of the European areas where they come from a different legal tradition in governmental authority, and that sort of thing," but in dense areas, "there's a need for both roads and transit."

He noted, "Every type of component of the transportation system (light rail, subways, commuter rail, and bus) has a situation at which it works best, and that's when you apply those solutions in those situations."

Any strong advocate of mass transit who nonetheless cringes at hearing talk of "forcing people out of their cars" can let that diplomatically worded statement speak for itself. To add to it would be superfluous.

Daniel left his post at just the time that the state of Maryland and Maryland's Washington suburbs are seriously considering a Purple Line for Metro that would operate cross-county, hooking up with the lines that radiate into Montgomery and Prince Georges Counties from downtown Washington. It could someday become a circumferential line providing a transit alternative to the Capitol Beltway.

The outgoing Montgomery planner "can see the wisdom of both" arguments over whether the Purple Line should be up-county in the newer suburbs or the closer in communities down-county in the state. Closer in neighborhoods are more built-up and thus &qiot;more amenable to the kind of densities you look for in rail transit." However, that can change, and who is to say what those densities will be like in corridors in fifteen or twenty years?

"A case can be made for either," depending on whether you want to plan for the shorter or longer term. Among the tough questions involved is whether "you expect people who are here now to pay for the (transit that will serve) people coming in the future."

This writer has kids and grandkids living in Montgomery County, so you bet I want to leave them a better place after I'm gone. But quite often, "instant gratification" reigns in the political process.

We probably need both cross-county lines. But few expect many of us will live to see that either. After all, the Montgomery County Council back in 1989 took a vote that we thought would lead to a Silver Spring-Bethesda trolley to connect the two spurs of the Metro Red line, only to have the light rail service - still unbuilt and politically unresolved - twelve years later.

Daniel will be missed. His departure leaves a void when it comes to dealing with Montgomery County's obvious urgent transportation needs. Who will be around to do the heavy lifting on things that matter while others in the county, obviously with too much time on their hands, try to ban Santa Claus or impose stiff fines on people who smoke in their own homes?

Transportation projects don't happen overnight, and as Daniel notes, it sometimes is a case of one generation planning for the next.

Consider that the Metrorail system broke ground in 1969 and finally completed its 103 miles in 2001. It obviously covered the area quite well when it was unveiled in 1968. But now the development has stretched farther out.

But progress is progress. Daniel noted we have gone from the question of "Should there be a rail line in a circumferential fashion?" to "Where should it be?" By any standard, that is progress.

So what do we do about a system whose building process seemingly cannot hope to keep up with growth? Forcing people to change their lifestyles in a free society should not and cannot be a realistic option.

Metro's staff is looking at that right now, Daniel reminded us, analyzing "what the ridership patterns might be in fifteen or twenty years from now.

"If additional farther-out extensions are made, particularly the (line to Dulles Airport), can (Metro) actually handle them through the (existing) downtown (lines)? And they're finding actually, no. They would have to make some additional capacity enhancement to that."

More Metrorail lines in downtown Washington? Where?

"The alternative, at least in parts of the Maryland suburbs might be (commuter trains)... Is that where MARC rail (Maryland Rail Commuter) can fill the void and take some of the demand off Metro? And the answer is, probably yes. However, when you get MARC rail down to Union Station, then where do you go from there? You're back on Metrorail."

Bottom line: Ed Daniel doesn't claim to have all the answers as to how far out Metro should go, "but clearly, public transit has got to go out farther in whatever form it's going to be."

Speaking of MARC, Daniel, on his last day in office in Rockville, was asked to comment on progress with Maryland's commuter train service, with which he dealt insofar as the service operates within Montgomery County. The overall MARC operation, however, was always out of his hands. It is controlled by the state of Maryland.

While MARC has been operating for decades, Virginia Railway Express (VRE) started serving Washington's Virginia suburbs only within recent years. But once it arrived, it started off with a bang in terms of customer service, e-mail communications with regular passengers, and primarily in a willingness by the state to build extra trackage to make the rights of way more compatible with both passenger and freight.

That last effort gets us to yet another stumbling block in trying to run more MARC trains to share more of the passenger load with the Metrorail system: Maryland has problems accommodating both freight and passenger traffic during more hours on closer headways.

"If they (MARC) really want to get serious, they should talk about triple-tracking or some by-pass tracks to better deal with CSX's needs and strong desires to maximize its capability for freight operations, while not compromising the ability to run effective commuter rail service," Daniel advised, and added, "You almost have to think the VRE people have dealt with that more forthrightly than they have in Maryland."

He said, "Perhaps part of the difference is that there's a special agency they created (in Virginia) for the VRE. The MARC service, on the other hand, is just one of several systems and services with the state Mass Transit Administration."

Ed is too nice a guy to say this. So we'll say it for him. That could be a reason. It is hardly an excuse. And Marylanders thus forfeit their cherished right to peer down their noses on the supposedly backward folks across the Potomac River.

Again, he noted, you take your progress where you find it. By the time you read this, MARC should be servicing Frederick, Md. which, Daniel said, meant "good news for Montgomery County because there will more service on the Brunswick line" with 19 trains a day. The Frederick service means passenger trains in that community for the first time in decades.

The most difficult challenge in getting Metro's Red Line into Montgomery County was building the Glenmont segment north of Silver Spring to Forest Glen, Wheaton and Glenmont.

Daniel cites a staffer at federal DOT in the 1980s "who almost seemed to have a personal mission to torpedo that line because (he said) it wouldn't carry enough people." The Glenmont station ridership is now up 40 percent from the week it opened over three years ago, which would seem to settle that historical argument.

There was also a NIMBY factor at Glenmont that threatened to derail that line. This writer, a longtime Glenmont resident, actively pushed for the extension into the community. Some in surrounding areas imagined themselves to be country squires, never to be contaminated with anything so urban as a subway system.

In fact, the Glenmont station is more or less a victim of its own success. After Metro built a huge garage there, it now fills up by about 8:00 a.m. on weekdays. There's outdoor-metered parking for off-peak riders, but that doesn't help the rush hour commuter who can't get there in time to get garage space. So one of the last things Daniel did was set in motion the revival of a committee consisting of community and state and local leaders to decide what to do.

My suggestion on at least one way to deal with this is to implement dedicated frequent connecting bus service from nearby communities. The idea would be to siphon off riders who are theoretically close enough to walk to the station, but also far enough away to require considerable time to do it. Get those people on a connecting bus to make more garage room for drivers from farther away.

"That's something worthwhile to look at," Daniel agreed.

"We should have some answers after I'm gone, but Metro has done a survey in the Glenmont garage," and was compiling results.

Based on a previous survey at the Shady Grove station, the other end of the line, he suspected that "the pattern of people coming in by car (to Glenmont) is extremely spread out and diverse because the end-of-the-line stations draw from such a broad service area."

Whether even excellent short-run bus service that also runs later at night with frequency could fill the gap and obviate the need for another garage is open to question. Daniel believes we might need both better bus service and more parking.

Daniel, a professional engineer with a master's degree in urban planning, started his career as a civil engineer who specialized in traffic engineering. Over the years, he tried "to marry transportation for highways and then eventually into transit with planning objectives as opposed to strictly operations."

In Montgomery County, he started up the Ride-on bus service in 1973 as a supplement to Metrobus and as connectors to the rail service as it extended into the county.

Today, the Red Line is a horseshoe-shaped operation that serves Montgomery County at both ends, with the mid-section swerving into downtown Washington. It is, in fact, among the very busiest in the entire Metro system.

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Transit line is on schedule
The Tasman, Calif. East Light-Rail project is on schedule, with a bridge being installed along Great Mall Parkway nearly to Montague Expressway.

The Valley Transit Authority reported on December 26 pile-driving and column construction should be completed on Capitol Avenue by March, but more than two years will remain before the line and the connecting Capitol Light Rail project are opened concurrently, in summer 2004.

VTA spokesman Ethan Winston said the priorities remain to complete the project on schedule and budget, as well as with little inconvenience to residents who live near the project site, according to the Milpitas Post.

The light-rail line will travel southbound on Capitol Avenue.

VTA is widening the Penitencia Creek Bridge, which will improve flood safety issues at the crossing, Morgan said.

The Tasman East line, which already links to Mountain View and downtown San Jose, is 4.8 miles long and will cost approximately $271 million. The line is expected to draw as many as 4,000 riders daily. The Capitol line is a 3.5-mile project costing approximately $152 million. About the same daily ridership is anticipated for the Capitol line, according to VTA.

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San Diego trolleys stalled briefly
A defective catenary sectionalizing sled is blamed for stopping Sand Diego trolley service for a time on December 29. The trouble was reported at signal O6RA/LA interlocking, just north of the Old Town Station. The trolleys were unable to operate from San Ysidro to Old Town.

Trains from Mission San Diego were annulled at Morena-Linda Vista. Travelers boarded thruway buses for the County Center and Little Italy station, one-half mile north of San Diego's Amtrak station. The trolleys continued from there to the Border. As of 9:00 a.m., service was reported back to normal.

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 Guest Editorial

Amtrak deserves adequate funding

Editor's note - The writer is a former member of the Atlanta City Council, and is an active NCI member as a member of its board of directors.

By Doug Alexander

In Washington and around the nation, the debate is on as to what kind of passenger rail system this country should have.

It should have a funded one.

The Amtrak Reform Council has declared that Amtrak cannot meet Congress' 2002 deadline to be free of its federal operating subsidy. This means that the Reform Council has 90 days to come up a restructuring plan for the railroad. Amtrak has to come with a plan to liquidate itself.

Unfortunately for Amtrak, one part of the Act that hasn't been fulfilled is the $5 billion Congress promised the railroad for new equipment and to grow its business.

Congress has appropriated barely one-half that amount. Amtrak is being punished because Congress has not held up its end of the deal.

No business can succeed unless it invests in new equipment and infrastructure. Over the 30 years of Amtrak's existence, it has averaged $993 million a year in federal grants. In 2001, the Congress appropriated a little over $500 million for Amtrak; however, it will spend billions in taxpayer dollars on highways and aviation Congress gave the airlines a $15 billion infusion after September 11. It will also spend $38 billion of taxpayer dollars on highways and $12 billion on aviation - that's in addition to the airlines bailout.

Amtrak has succeeded in spite of this indifference. Amtrak today is carrying more people, more mail and more express shipments than ever.

Its new high-speed Acela trains in the east and Cascades in the west are hugely popular, and are demonstrating what an investment - even a small one - in state-of-the-art trains and tracks can do for passenger railroading.

That Amtrak has accomplished this in three decades with less than 1 percent of the federal transportation budget is nothing less than a miracle.

Thankfully, no one of consequence in Congress or on the Reform Council is suggesting the elimination of Amtrak, but some of the plans being floated could mean the end of the one train that serves Atlanta and of one or more of the three daily trains that serve Savannah.

Throughout the country, citizens and businesses are clamoring for the resumption of rail passenger service to their communities. In the Midwest, the Pacific Northwest and the Southeast, states are working on plans to begin local commuter and regional high-speed passenger rail programs; but to really make these plans work, they must connect to a national system. The states and regions need Amtrak as an active and vital national partner.

We need a national Amtrak, not one broken up into regions and paid for by the states alone. There is nothing wrong with Amtrak or with its management that full funding will not fix. What must change is Congress' commitment to passenger rail transportation.

Congress must realize, as we saw on Sept. 11, that a national rail passenger system is as important to our nation's economy and security as its highways and airways.

Congress must free Amtrak of the constraints of the past and give it the resources it needs. Congress must also pass the High-Speed Rail Investment Act, which will provide funds for the development of new routes for fast trains.

As Reform Council member James Coston has said, if the government does its job right, at some point in the future the private sector may once again want to take over and run our nation's passenger trains, but that day is decades away, at best.

It's up to our leaders in Congress to set the stage for America to have the world-class passenger rail system that this country needs and that we deserve.

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January 11-15

National Railroad Construction & Maintenance Assn.
Annual exhibit and Technical meetings
Coral Gables, Fla.

Contact Ray Chambers, 800-883-1557

January 21-25

Railroad tracks:
Evolution of Tracks, Design Analysis, Buckling, and Maintenance Institute for Railroad Engineering.
Wilmington, Del.
Web site: http://instituteforrailroadengineeering,com

February 2-5

General Manager's Seminar
Loews Coronado Bay Resort hotel
San Diego, Cal.
Call Tom urban, 202-496-4853

March 10-13

Legislative Conference
Marriott Hotel
Washington, D.C.
Contact Margaret Mullins, 202-496-4827

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The way we were...

B and M Switcher

Fred Persons; Leo King collection

We'll begin this year with a mystery. We know the photo is of a Boston & Maine 0-8-0 switcher, No. 619, but where was it working? Somerville, Mass., perhaps? In Maine, perhaps Rigby Yard? The photo was snapped, we're guessing, sometime between 1935 and 1945, but we'd like to know where the scene was. It most likely was a new yard, considering how untouched and uncluttered the yard appears to be.

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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 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" .jpg images average 1.7MB each, and are 300 dots-per-inch for print publishers.

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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