Vol. 6 No. 2
January 10, 2005

Copyright © 2005
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

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

A weekly North American rail and transit update

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

* Now in our Sixth Year *

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


Rail rally, summit, coming in June

Look the National Corridors Initiative’s 2005 conference in the month of June in Washington, D.C. It will include a rally and a transportation summit.

NCI President Jim RePass said on Friday, “By June 15, the Congress may have passed – at last – the multi-year successor to the current TEA-21 transportation law.

“We believe that fundamental changes in the way transportation is financed by the federal and state governments must now be addressed so that America can build a balanced transportation system, such as those found in Europe and Japan.”

He added, “On June 15 the National Corridors Initiative and its allies will rally and conduct a transportation summit on Capitol Hill to demand that America start funding rail infrastructure in the same way it funds highways and airlines: with tax dollars.” He said details would be published soon in D:F.

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Wreck in SC

Andrew Davis Tucker, The Augusta Chronicle via The AP

Wreckage from two Norfolk Southern trains near downtown Graniteville, S.C. the morning of the derailment. Train 192, heading north, ran into the Aiken local’s engine that was tied down in a Graniteville siding.


Nine die following NS derailment

By Leo King

The engineer running Norfolk Southern Ry. freight train No. 192, with two locomotives and 42 freight cars, died early Thursday morning after his train struck the Aiken local, tied down with two cars on a siding at Avondale Mills, S.C. The collision released chlorine gas and other chemicals near downtown Graniteville, S.C.

Authorities said at least nine people died and more than 200 others were treated at South Carolina and Georgia hospitals.

Most of the injured were residents suffering from respiratory difficulty, said Thom Berry, a spokesman for the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Wreck in SC

Nina J. Nidiffer, The AP

Both locomotives of Norfolk Southern train 192 and 14 of its cars lay in a jumble, with one car leaking chlorine gas.


The New York Times reported on Saturday the engineer of the moving train, Christopher Seeling, 28, of West Columbia, S.C., was killed, possibly from chlorine inhalation. The other deaths were local townspeople.

Investigators were trying to determine why the train, carrying chlorine gas, left the main track and hit the NS local parked in a siding, and whether the crew that had parked the train a few hours earlier had left the switch in the wrong position.

Debbie Hersman, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board on scene, said investigators from her agency were interviewing the three-man crew of the local, who had gone off duty at 6:59 p.m. Wednesday, and then taken a taxi back to Aiken, S.C. The crash happened about 2:40 a.m. Thursday.

NS tackles claims

Robert A. Wells, Norfolk Southern’s general manager of casualty claims, pointed out his railway established a temporary emergency Local Assistance Center “to expedite the handling and payment of certain expenses and losses incurred by citizens impacted by the accident and subsequent evacuation.”

Wells added, “It is our intent through the settlement of claims involving incidental expenses, inconvenience, evacuation costs and substantiated property damage to ease the impact of the accident and evacuation on the community.”

He said, “Recently there has been an inquiry about the scope of the release language associated with endorsement of the settlement check. This is to confirm that, as indicated by Norfolk Southern claims personnel, settlements of such claims for incidental expenses, inconvenience, evacuation costs and property damage claims, where we have utilized endorsement checks, does not preclude submission of personal injury claims, claims for subsequently incurred incidental expenses, and unforeseen property damage claims in the future.”

He said all claims “will be addressed on an individual basis and will be handled by the local Norfolk Southern claims office. Claims should continue to be presented at our Local Assistance Center in Aiken while it remains open, and thereafter to:

Thomas Tate
Senior Claim Agent
Norfolk Southern Ry.
1770 Andrews Road
Columbia SC 29201
(803) 733-3993
(803) 733-3936 (fax)
Doug Shoun
District Claim Agent
Norfolk Southern Ry.
1914 North Tyron St.
Charlotte NC 28206
(704) 378-3890
(704) 378-3767 (fax)
Earlier, The AP reported, Gov. Mark Sanford declared a state of emergency for Aiken County, and officials told residents within a mile of the crash site to leave.

Authorities ordered an evacuation of some 5,400 residents living within a one-mile radius of the wreck.

Seventy people were treated for breathing difficulties and eye irritation at Aiken Regional Medical Centers, and 20 of them were admitted, said Lt. Michael Frank, spokesman for the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office. Many others were taken to University Hospital in Augusta, Ga., he said.

Area residents went to two local schools, where paramedics evaluated them and sent many to hospitals, where more than 50 were admitted.

Susan Terpay, a Norfolk Southern spokeswoman, said the train was traveling at track speed, 49 mph. She added that the road freight’s engineer died in the crash, which she said occurred at 2:40 a.m. Its conductor was hospitalized, she said. The cause of the crash is not yet known. Terpay said that the train holding the main was en route from Macon, Ga., to Columbia, S.C. The parked local engine was on a siding in downtown Graniteville, she said, about 15 miles northeast of Augusta, Ga.

Afterward, the two locomotives of the road train and 14 of its cars lay in a jumble, with one car leaking all its chlorine gas, Terpay said. The train was also carrying two other hazardous chemicals, sodium hydroxide and cresol, she said.

NS said it opened a Local Assistance Center to serve local residents who incurred loss, inconvenience or personal injury as a result of the accident.

The carrier stated, in a press release, residents who go to the center would be able to speak with NS officials. Representatives of the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health also will be at the center to respond to questions and concerns from the public.

The Local Assistance Center is located at the First Presbyterian Church, 224 Barnwell Ave., NW, in Aiken. Terpay said on Friday residents can contact Norfolk Southern Railway’s Local Assistance Center in Aiken by calling 803-642-7119 and 800-230-7049.

NS is a 15-time consecutive winner of the Harriman Award for safety – the best record in railroading.

Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board launched a “Go-Team” to investigate the collision. Jim Southworth is the investigator in charge of the 12-member team.

The FRA got into the act, too. Robert D. Jamison, the FRA’s Acting Administrator, said USDOT “Secretary Norman Y. Mineta and I have dispatched a veteran team of three senior safety experts to the incident scene.”

Jamison added they would join five FRA safety inspectors and one operations specialist already on site, as well as the NTSB investigators.

He said the FRA team went to the crash site “to assist the NTSB by providing expertise critical to its review of circumstances surrounding the crash.” Includes is FRA’s top railroad hazardous materials expert, who will conduct a separate investigation into the circumstances surrounding the breach of at least one chlorine tank car “to determine precisely how the derailment led to the release of chlorine gas into the area.”

The Augusta Chronicle reported the train on the main track was hauling 25 loads and 17 empties, including three that contained chlorine and others that contained sodium hydroxide and cresol, two less-volatile chemicals that could irritate the skin and eyes.

In the wake of the second deadly train accident in Graniteville in less than two months, Aiken County officials renewed their call for slower train speeds through the city and the other mill towns of the Midland Valley.

“It’s obvious we’re going to have to continue to push this forward to the front burner,” said state Rep. Roland Smith, a Republican solon from Langley, who is also the chairman of the Aiken County legislative delegation. “We’re going to push until we get that speed lowered.”

Local and state officials have been hampered in the effort to reduce the speed limit on the line, which runs between Augusta and Columbia. An attempt by Aiken County Council to pass a speed limit ordinance stalled when the county attorney said they didn’t have jurisdiction.

State transportation officials say they have no jurisdiction over the rail line, and federal railway officials say their only concern is whether NS meets the maintenance specifications for the Class 4 track, which has a maximum speed of 60 mph.

That means state, local and federal officials will have to lobby NS officials to lower the speed limit. Officials of Avondale Mills, which owns seven textile plants in Graniteville, including two that are adjacent to the wreck site, said they have joined the lobbying effort.

“You certainly assume that the railroad company would be motivated to improve safety in that area in the wake of these tragedies,” said Stephen Felker, Jr., Avondale Mills spokesman.

“There’s an overarching need to improve the safety of that railroad line through Graniteville, and speed certainly is a factor,” Felker said.

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SAFETY LINES...  Safety lines...

FRA adopts reflective tape rule

There are simply too many motorists driving into the sides of moving trains, says the FRA, so the agency has made permanent a rule that all rolling stock must have reflective tape on their sides.

The FRA stated in a press release last week “reflective materials will be installed on the sides of locomotives and freight rail cars as a safety measure to make trains more visible to motorists at railroad crossings.” The notice came as a final rule published in the January 3 Federal Register. Its title, part of 49 CFR Part 224, is Reflectorization of Rail Freight Rolling Stock; Final Rule.

Nearly one quarter of all highway-rail grade crossing collisions involve motor vehicles running into trains occupying grade crossings, according to the FRA.

“The large size and dark colorization of trains in combination with poor lighting or limited visibility may contribute to motorists having difficulty detecting the train in their path. The reflective material will help reduce the number and severity of this type of accident by giving motorists an additional visual warning of the presence of a train,” the agency explained, adding, “Reflectorization has become an indispensable tool for enhancing visibility and safety in virtually all modes of transportation. Extending the benefits of reflective materials to railroads will improve highway-rail grade crossing safety and prevent many avoidable accidents.”

The final rule requires railroads to install yellow or white reflective materials on locomotives over five years, and on freight cars over ten years.

“The reflective materials will be installed on all newly constructed locomotives and freight rail cars and on existing ones during periodic maintenance or repair, unless alternate implementation plans have been developed that meet the requisite timetables. The effective date of the rule is March 4, 2005.”

The rule published last week is the most recent effort by the FRA to increase the visibility of trains at highway-rail grade crossings. Previously, it issued a regulation requiring locomotives to have headlamps and auxiliary lights – so-called “ditch lights” – to help motorists better judge the distance and speed of approaching trains.

Since 1994, the number of vehicle-train collisions at highway-rail grade crossings has decreased by 41 percent and the number of fatalities has been reduced by 47 percent.

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LaTourette heads House rail subcommittee

U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, last week selected the panel’s six subcommittee chairmen for the 109th Congress. Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio) is the new Railroads Subcommittee chairman. LaTourette previously chaired the Economic Development Subcommittee from 2001-2004.

On Wednesday, the House Leadership selected Young to serve his 3rd term as Chairman of the 75-member committee, the largest in the U.S. House.

“I look forward to addressing the challenges facing America’s massive transportation system in this Congressional session,” Young said. He added, “As such, one of my primary goals is to pass a six-year highway and transit bill that adequately addresses our nation’s crumbling infrastructure and increasing congestion crisis.”

Young also said passing the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), the Rail Infrastructure Development and Expansion Act for the 21st Century (RIDE 21), the Coast Guard reauthorization, the Economic Development Act, and a variety of aviation issues would be priorities for the Committee.

Young today selected the following Members to serve as subcommittee chairmen:

Member Subcommittee
Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.)Aviation
Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.)Coast Guard & Maritime Transportation
Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Penn.)Economic Development, Public Buildings & Emergency Management
Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.)Highways, Transit & Pipelines
Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio)Railroads
Rep. John J. Duncan (R-Tenn.)Water Resources & Environment

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Taxpayer group attacks Amtrak over VRE

“The Virginia Railway Express (VRE) Operations Board should stand up for Virginia taxpayers and commuters by standing up to Amtrak.”

That’s the view of the 350,000-member National Taxpayers Union (NTU), which sent a letter to Board Chairman John Jenkins on January 5 recommending the railway break free of Amtrak’s grip by competitively contracting out the system’s services. The citizen group has 8,500 members in Virginia.

“Over the past 30-plus years of Amtrak’s existence, the railroad has hindered, not helped, the development of rail networks,” said NTU Director of Government Affairs Paul Gessing.

“Amtrak has repeatedly threatened commuter rail systems like VRE with shutdowns and work stoppages, while offering services that are often not even competitive on a price basis when compared with those provided by outside contractors.”

The NTU letter noted that the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) bid out Amtrak maintenance contracts and awarded a contract to the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company, resulting in a cost savings of $100 million over a five-year period and improvements in system on-time rates and breakdowns. Similarly, Southern California’s Metrolink recently severed its 12-year relationship with Amtrak by approving a contract with Connex, the private firm now managing service for MBTA, to replace Amtrak by mid-2005.

“In spite of strong opposition from Amtrak and the monopolistic railroad’s repeated attempts to foil competitive contracting efforts, more and more commuter railroads are successfully embarking upon such endeavors,” said Gessing.

He added, “The VRE Operations Board should follow suit and stop Amtrak from taking taxpayers for a ride any longer.”

According to Gessing, the VRE system’s managers have a special responsibility to make cost control and reduction a primary goal since Virginia taxpayers alone provide approximately $15 million in annual subsidies to VRE. NTU even recommends that VRE officials “take any necessary anti-trust actions” if Amtrak attempts to stand in VRE’s way, as it did in the Massachusetts case.

“Regardless of whether Amtrak or a private entity ultimately wins, under a truly competitive bidding process, taxpayers and commuters are the ultimate winners,” Gessing concluded. “VRE should blow the whistle on Amtrak’s railroad robbery and hop off at the next stop.”

NTU describes itself as a “non-profit, non-partisan organization working for lower taxes, smaller government, and more accountability from elected officials at all levels.”

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Amtrak, BNSF trains slink by sinkhole

Trains are still running through Hutchinson, Kans., but very slowly, as officials evaluate a sinkhole discovered just south of a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. track.

City and state officials are working on a plan to evaluate the sinkhole, discovered Monday night. It was about 75 feet from the track, The AP reported.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari in Chicago said its passenger trains would go through at a walking pace.

Hutchinson Fire Chief Kim Forbes said geologists from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment are concerned the sinkhole, about 80 feet in diameter and 20 feet deep, might get bigger.

“The tracks are closed,” Forbes said. The railroads are continuing to use the track at their own risk, he said.

Two Amtrak trains and six BNSF freight trains use the route every day. Railroad spokesman Steve Forsberg said there is no alternative route and it was decided to let them continue, but only at speeds less than 10 mph.

“We will have engineers taking track measurements every hour on the hour to make sure the structure is not moving,” Forsberg said, “and a track inspector will walk ahead of the train. We are being very, very cautious. It’s a track that is traveled fairly lightly, which is a blessing.”

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Chambers named NRA officer of the year

The National Rifle Assn. named Amtrak police officer Rodney Chambers its 2004 NRA Law Enforcement Officer of the Year.

On the evening of June 9, 2003, Chambers was on patrol at Union Station, the Washington, D.C. area’s largest train station, when he was dispatched to investigate a report of a man with a grenade on the West Porch.

The suspect had just tried to rob a store inside Union Station by threatening to detonate the device if the clerk did not give him money. The attempt was abandoned when a group of customers entered the store.

Chambers located the suspect walking away from Union Station, heading toward North Capitol Street N.E. When Chambers stopped the suspect, he turned around, dropped a cloth from his hands to display part of the grenade, and pulled the pin. As the suspect started to drop the grenade, Chambers made a split-second decision. He grabbed the suspect’s hand and squeezed it around the grenade, which prevented the device from activating.

Disregarding his own safety, Chambers wrestled the grenade from the suspect’s control as another officer arriving at the scene moved in and placed the suspect in custody. Chambers then moved as far away from bystanders as he could, placing him at risk but hoping to minimize casualties if the grenade he was holding exploded. He held onto the grenade for about 20 minutes while waiting for bomb disposal officers to arrive. During this time he noticed that the grenade was leaking a detergent-based substance, which led the officer to believe the device was homemade, and more unpredictable that standard military-issue grenades.

The bomb disposal officers arrived and carefully took possession of the grenade; the next morning technicians were able to determine that it was inoperable. The suspect had taken a grenade body and tried to turn it into an explosive device by packing a substance inside the grenade.

At the time of the incident, Chambers had no way of knowing the condition of the grenade and without hesitation risked his own life to protect others. Because Chambers was able to make the right decision under tremendously stressful conditions, there were no injuries to citizens, other safety personnel or the suspect.

As Amtrak’s Chief of Patrol John O’Connor said during a press interview, “Officer Chambers ran to the danger and not away from the danger. This represents the finest in Law Enforcement.”

Ron Kirkland, NRA’s Director of the Law Enforcement Activities Division, added that, “Officer Chambers’ courage, decisive action and split-second judgment exemplify the best qualities of an officer. He is a credit to his department and to the law enforcement profession. NRA is proud to honor him.”

The NRA Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award was established in 1993.

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Some Amtrak fares to rise tomorrow

Amtrak reported last week in response to continued strong ridership on many services across the country, “Amtrak will increase many rail fares, multi-ride fares, explore America fares and accommodation charges on January 11.”

Price changes for sleeping car accommodation charges will vary by route, many increasing, but some decreasing and others unchanged, the carrier stated.

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New Hiawatha stop at Milwaukee airport

On January 18, Amtrak says it will begin serving a new station at the Gen. Billy Mitchell International airport, just south of Milwaukee.

The city code, Amtrak says, is “MKA.” All Hiawatha trains except the Empire Builder will make a daily stop there. The unstaffed station will offer no passenger services, and fares may be paid on board without extra charge. A free shuttle will operate between the airport rail station and the airport terminal.

In other service adjustments, Omaha-Kansas City Thruways are being discontinued this month as the bus service provider pulls out.

Renzenberger, Inc. operates the daily thruway van service between Kansas City, Missouri And Omaha, Nebraska. Renzenberger told Amtrak that they will no longer operate the public passenger service operation.

The last date of operation of Nos. 8505 and 8506 will be on January 14.

It will also end all service at St. Joseph, Mo. With no replacement service available.

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Amtrak has enough cars on hand this week

From time-to-time, D:F will present a snapshot of how Amtrak is faring on keeping its fleets in running condition. On January 4, the railroad appeared to be in good condition, except for a couple of categories where the carrier was close to its required levels.

Amtrak’s principal passenger train power, P-42 locomotives, counted 195 active, 158 required, 168 available, and 27 out of service.

Among Amfleet II coaches, 119 were active, 96 were required, 108 were available, and 11 were out of service. Amfleet II lounge cars found 22 active, 19 required, 15 available, and 7 out of service.

Viewliner sleeper found 49 active, 38 required, 39 available, and 10 out of service.

There were 22 active Heritage diners, 15 required, 17 available, and 5 out of service.

Among Superliner coaches, there were 160 active, 133 required, 138 available, with 22 out of service. Superliner sleepers found 105 active, 83 required, 86 available, and 19 out of service. 56 active Superliner diners were counted, 38 required, 43 available, and 13 out of service. Superliner lounges added up to 49 active, 36 required, 40 available, and 9 out of service

Of 39 active Transition sleepers 30 are required, 31 were available, and 8 were out of service.

AutoTrain bi-level auto carriers were 38 active, 32 required, 34 available, 4 out of service.

52 active baggage cars were counted, 53 required, 45 available, 7 out of service.

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LABOR LINES...  Labor lines...

Labor to protest tomorrow in D.C.

Railroad workers plan on holding a demonstration and rally tomorrow in Washington protesting what they claim is a Bush Administration attack on worker rights.

Michael Buckley, spokesman for the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Dept. said the workers would assemble at Franklin Park on K Street NW between 13th & 14th Streets, and at McPherson Square Metro between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m., then march to the National Labor Relations Board, at 14th & L Street.

The National Mediation Board scheduled to hold a hearing on anti-worker proposal at 9:00 a.m., Buckley said.

“The nation’s giant railroads have sold their friends in the Bush Administration on a scheme to tax workers’ rights,” said Buckley and Galen Munroe, of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

“Under the thin disguise of new ‘filing fees,’ a rail worker would be forced to pay up to several hundred dollars to speak out on critical issues such as working conditions, safety, and pay.”

Both noted “If the big railroads can find $1 million for tickets to this year’s Super Bowl (CSX), or pay their CEO $18.7 million a year (Union Pacific), why are they trying to nickel and dime their own workers?

“Trying to silence your workers is no way to run a railroad.”

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Labor coalition to negotiate with NCCC

Seven railroad unions, in a historic move on January 3, joined forces to create a coalition to strengthen their bargaining power at the negotiating table with a committee that represents the railroads.

“We have more strength and can negotiate a better contract for our members,” said George Francisco, coordinator of the coalition and president of the National Conference of Firemen and Oilers – but not all unions are on board with the coalition, citing competition among themselves and unresolved contract issues as some of the reasons The Roanoke Times reported.

The Rail Labor Bargaining Coalition, consisting of 85,000 rail workers, will negotiate with the National Carriers’ Conference Committee, the bargaining agent for most of the freight railroads.

Under coalition bargaining, the carriers’ group would bargain with the coalition. Any agreement must be met with 100 percent union approval.

“For the first time in decades, rail unions are joining together to make sure our members get a fair contract,” Francisco said.

The NCCC is reviewing the bargaining coalition proposal and does not discuss bargaining with the media.

The fact that unions are talking as a coalition is not unusual, said Joanna Moorhead, general counsel with the NCCC. “We’re looking forward for bargaining to begin. We would not comment on any particular proposal.”

The national contracts cover issues such as wage increases, holiday pay, work rules, health and insurance.

What typically happens is that each union negotiates its own contract. The first carrier that signs an agreement then becomes the benchmark for subsequent negotiations, said Francisco. That “divide and conquer” approach would disappear under collective bargaining. Some unions, including the Firemen & Oilers, got shortchanged with substandard agreements, he said.

“The carriers can’t divide us,” Francisco said. “The important thing is we formed a coalition to get a better contract for the employees we represent. This is the best avenue; it’s long overdue for employees to be represented by a coalition.”

Coalition bargaining strengthens the union side at the bargaining table, said Daniel Silverman, an adjunct professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City.

“The unions feel they can deal with the railroads on a more equal basis,” but employers may not choose to collectively bargain with the group.

Traditionally, the Carriers’ Committee has negotiated agreements for its representative railroads on a multi-employer basis. Occasionally, the committee has negotiated with coalition of rail unions on particular issues such as health and welfare.

The United Transportation Union, which represents conductors, wants no part of the new coalition.

Because it negotiated an agreement with the major railroads requiring one conductor on each train, it does not want to compete with another union, namely the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, which does not have similar protection for its members, said Frank Wilner, spokesman for the UTU.

“If we gave power of attorney to a competing union with no such protection for its members, our protection could possibly be undermined,” Wilner said.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers is still deciding whether it wants to join the coalition.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers wants to resolve contract issues that go back five years, before joining an effort to resolve new contract issues. The Rail Labor Bargaining Coalition includes the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, National Conference of Firemen and Oilers, Brotherhood of Railway Signalmen, Sheet Metal Workers International Assn., International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, American Train Dispatchers of America a BLE division), and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division.

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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

NJT at 25

For NCI: Robert Benkovitz

New Jersey Transit F40PH-2CAT engine 4120 flashes by Millburn, N.J. on January 28, 2004, 17.2 miles from Hoboken. The westbound commuter job accelerates upgrade toward Short Hills.


NJT at 25

In New Jersey, trains, buses run on time

Special to Destination:Freedom

New Jersey Transit celebrated its 25th anniversary on December 15 after a somewhat bumpy ride over those years. The date was chosen to commemorate the anniversary of the first meeting of the new corporation’s board of directors. The corporation was chartered on July 17, 1979, with the passage of New Jersey’s Transportation Act of 1979.

NJT is the Garden State’s multi-modal transportation agency, operating 10 commuter rail lines, three light rail lines and more than 200 bus lines throughout the state.

The celebration lasted all day, beginning with the regular meeting of the directors. After the regular business of the meeting, Transportation Commissioner John F. Lettiere, acting in his capacity as NJT’s board chairman, and Executive Director George D. Warrington presided over a session that honored the corporation founders, and highlighted NJT’s accomplishments over the past quarter-century.

Warrington praised the integrated rail, light rail and bus system that today carries riders to many places in New Jersey, as well as to New York City and Philadelphia, contrasting today’s statewide transit network with the situation that existed in 1979.

“The State’s transit system in its current form does not resemble anything we faced when the state took over failing commuter rail and bus companies” said Warrington.

“A host of bankrupt bus companies needed to be salvaged and completely overhauled, and a handful of railroads were trying to quickly get out of the unprofitable passenger business. To say that it was a ragged assortment of infrastructure, rolling stock and service plans would be an understatement,” he added.

Warrington saluted the longest-serving employees and specifically complimented former state Sen. Francis X. Herbert, who sponsored the original NJT legislation, and former Gov. Brendan T. Byrne, who signed it hours after it was passed.

Herbert also praised Byrne.

“He was one of the greatest governors we ever had,” said Herbert, “and he was a strong supporter of my bill. He pushed hard for the bill, even though most Republicans and some of our fellow Democrats opposed it. He wanted me to be with him in Trenton for the signing and sent a helicopter for me, because I had just gotten home after a long and tiring day. The vote on the bill came in the middle of the night, and it passed by just one vote.”

After the board meeting, guests took an NJT train to the new Secaucus Station, where lunch was served and music provided by Sounds of the Street, a doo-wop quintet consisting of four conductors and one commuter from Transit’s North Jersey Coast Line.

A reception in downtown Newark saw new inductees into New Jersey Transit’s Hall of Fame.

Among the honorees were Martin E. Robins, the corporation’s first (acting) executive director, and Shirley A. DeLibero, who was executive director from 1990 to 1998. Robins is now Director of the Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers Univ., and DeLibero is a transportation consultant, having recently retired as President of Houston Metro. Her tenure at New Jersey Transit was marked by service and infrastructure improvements and no increases in fares. During that time, DeLibero also served as chair of the American Public Transportation Assn. for two years.

Master of ceremonies was John L. McGoldrick, an attorney from Princeton who has been a member of NJT’s board since its first meeting in 1979.

The primary focus of the day’s activities was the improvement in New Jersey’s transportation during the past quarter century, in terms of both infrastructure and delivery of transit services.

Many of NJT’s original employees were on hand for the celebration, and so were some riders who remembered how bad things were under the old system.

John D’Amico, Jr., a retired judge who now heads the state’s Parole Board, was a commuter on the North Jersey Coast Line. He remembered long delays and unreliable service in the days before New Jersey Transit, as well as actions by riders and their spouses to protest poor service.

D’Amico specifically praised the efforts of the riders, on his and other lines, who became advocates for better rail service. Not only were Jersey Shore commuters upset, but so were riders in other parts of the state. Sidney L. Palius, a retired telephone systems engineer, was the first chair of the Lackawanna Coalition, a commuter watchdog organization founded in Millburn, N.J. in April, 1979 over concerns about poor service on the Morris & Essex Line.

“It’s a miracle that New Jersey’s entire commuter rail operation did not completely shut down both from a lack of funding and the departure of experienced rail operations management” Palius told the Railgram, the Coalition’s newsletter in 2004.

Things were equally bad on the bus side. Transport of New Jersey, once the streetcar subsidiary of Public Service Electric & Gas Co. and still owned by the utility at that time, was operating a fleet of aging buses and the Newark City subway, the last remnant of a once-vast statewide streetcar network. Bus riders were unhappy with unreliable service and deep cuts in bus services that occurred through the 1970s.

Before the 1979 legislation that gave New Jersey Transit its start, transit was under direct control of the New Jersey DOT, which subsidized private bus and rail companies. Rail service was supervised by the Commuter Operating Agency, a unit within NJDOT that lacked strong regulatory power and could do little more than subsidize rail operations.

Louis J. Gambaccini, who was Transportation Commissioner at the time, assembled the group that became New Jersey Transit’s first management team.

Warrington was a member of that group.

“In those days we were 20- and 30-somethings and, as the expression goes, we didn’t know what we didn’t know. What we lacked in experience, however, we made up in energy, talent and devotion to Lou’s charge and mission,” recalled Warrington.

Gambaccini also fought alongside Herbert and Byrne to replace the system of state subsidies to private carriers with one where the state had the authority to build an integrated transit system. D.C. Agrawal was also a member of the Gambaccini team and is still employed by NJT, as Assistant Executive Director of Corporate Strategy, Policy and Contracts.

“We were negotiating contracts with the railroad and bus companies and came to the conclusion that we are paying too much to the bus companies to keep them operating” Agrawal told Enroute, NJT’s employee newsletter.

In 1980, Agrawal signed the check on behalf of NJT that purchased the assets of Transport of New Jersey, effectively taking control of most of New Jersey’s bus operations and the Newark City Subway. NJT began direct operation of the state’s rail lines when Conrail gave up commuter rail operations on January 1, 1983. Since that time, NJT has operated all trains in the Garden State, except for Amtrak trains and privately operated tourist excursions.

Today, New Jersey Transit provides reliable rail, light rail and bus transportation seven days a week. It is the only statewide transit agency that provides both bus and rail services, and it is the third largest transit provider in the nation. New rail infrastructure has been built, and service has been upgraded on most bus and rail lines during the past 25 years.

There is even talk of restoring some of the rail services that were discontinued in the 1970s and early 1980s. It takes money to pay both the capital and operating costs to keep NJT going – or any other transit provider.

At New Jersey Transit, as at most transit agencies, funding is a constant source of concern. Still, it is easier to get around New Jersey on transit today than it was when New Jersey Transit was founded.

That, in itself, is something to celebrate.

David Peter Alan is a member of New Jersey Transit’s Citizens’ Advisory Committee (Local Programs) and Chair of the Lackawanna Coalition. He lives and practices law in South Orange, N.J. – Ed.

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Army engineers okay Greenbush line

Massachusetts’ Greenbush rail line builders declared a major victory when the Army Corps of Engineers said they backed the Boston-Scituate commuter rail project on January 4.

“It’s the final big permit milestone for us to complete work on the project,” said state Transportation Secretary Daniel A. Grabauskas.

Work on the Scituate-to-Boston commuter rail project has been hamstrung without the approval, which is needed to work in environmentally sensitive areas. The decision clears the decks in three of five communities along the train’s path, the Boston Herald reported.

The holdup threatened to swell the $479 million cost as state officials feared the delays would further push back completion time past late 2006. With permits in hand, the state should be able to give a firm completion date, Grabauskas said.

Construction crews are still leashed by wetlands appeals in Cohasset and Scituate, but Grabauskas said he was confident the project’s success in court would continue.

“We’re something like nine-for-nine in terms of challenges to the project,” he said.

Vocal opposition has stalled revitalization of the long-dormant train line by some on the South Shore. Greenbush opponent John Bewick of Hingham, a former state secretary of environmental affairs, vowed to not let the most recent setback derail his efforts.

“If George Washington had taken the advice to quit, he never would have entered the battle of Trenton, which eventually led to winning the war of independence,” he said.

Bewick said a broader review by the Army Corps of Engineers would have killed the project.

Even if Greenbush proceeds on schedule, Bewick said the opposition has netted numerous benefits, including forcing the MBTA to build a tunnel under Hingham Square.

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On the Downeaster:

New Hampshire irks Maine

Maine, unable to persuade New Hampshire that it should help subsidize passenger train service between Boston and Portland, may try getting tough with its neighbor. State lawmakers are being asked to consider a bill that would order operators of the Downeaster to add a surcharge to tickets sold in New Hampshire. The fees would be combined with voluntary subsidy payments from Maine to keep the train line solvent.

“New Hampshire, hopefully, will be a partner – willingly or not,” said state Rep. Boyd Marley (D), the bill’s sponsor, The Portland Press-Herald reported from Augusta.

Marley, co-chairman of the legislature’s transportation committee, is proposing the surcharge to ensure that Maine isn’t left to cover the entire subsidy for the line. Ridership on the Downeaster, which makes stops in communities such as Durham and Exeter, N.H., is declining in Maine and increasing in New Hampshire.

Marley’s bill does not specify how much the surcharge would be or when it would start.

“I would not want to guess what the response would be,” said Christopher Morgan, administrator of the New Hampshire DOT’s bureau of rail and transit.

The decision to use legislation to push New Hampshire to contribute to the Downeaster comes as the two states try to negotiate payments for upgrading the three-year-old train line.

New Hampshire has never contributed to the Downeaster. Maine is urging the state to pledge $1.2 million in federal money for track improvements that would increase revenues and add a fifth daily round trip between Portland and Boston.

Both states will meet on the request this winter, though members of New Hampshire’s Executive Council will make a final decision.

Marley said negotiations could work and may be the better approach, but if the states do not reach an agreement, he wants to ensure that Maine has a way to make New Hampshire help pay for the line.

The Maine House of Representatives referred Marley’s bill to the Transportation Committee on January 4. Committee staff members and Maine DOT officials will analyze the bill.

The main issue they will consider is whether the legislature has the legal right to require the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority to assess a surcharge in New Hampshire.

Wayne Davis, chairman of Portland-based Trainriders Northeast, had immediate concerns about a surcharge. He said he would rather see the two states work out the issue without legislation.

“We don’t think fares should be set by politics,” said Davis, whose group pushed to get passenger service between Portland and Boston.

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BUILDERS LINES...  Builders’ lines...

For Albuquerque:

MotivePower gets locomotive contract

Wabtec Corp. reported on January 5 it has signed a $12.7 million contract to build commuter locomotives for the Mid-Region Council of Governments in Albuquerque, N.M., which is planning to initiate commuter rail service in the region.

The contract is for five “MPXpress” locomotives, spare parts and training to be delivered this year. The locomotives, to be manufactured in MotivePower’s Boise, Idaho plant, will be similar to those built for San Francisco’s Caltrain commuter line in 2003.

Compared to earlier-model commuter locomotives, the MPXpress units feature higher-horsepower engines to increase acceleration, greater fuel efficiency, reduced emissions, microprocessor controls and compliance with the latest crashworthiness standards. The units include a significant number of components produced by other Wabtec subsidiaries.

Lawrence Rael, executive director for the Mid-Region Council of Governments, which is working on behalf of the New Mexico DOT to implement the project, said: “We were impressed with the performance and environmental characteristics of MotivePower’s MPXpress locomotives and look forward to putting them into service. We have a very ambitious schedule for the implementation of service, and we were amazed that we could purchase such high-quality locomotives and still meet our timeline.”

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APTA HIGHLIGHTS...  APTA Highlights...

Here are some other transit headlines, from the pages of Passenger Transport, the weekly newspaper of the public transportation industry published by the non-profit American Public Transportation Assn. For more news from Passenger Transport and subscription information, visit the APTA web site at http://www.apta.com/news/pt.

Boston’s MBTA Opens Silver Line Waterfront BRT

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in Boston introduced operations on the Silver Line Waterfront, the second phase of its Bus Rapid Transit service, in ceremonies December 17 attended by top state and city officials. The new line operates in a tunnel from South Station to the World Trade Center and Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, dubbed by MBTA officials “first new subway line in Boston since 1918.”

MBTA held the celebration and ribbon-cutting ceremony at Courthouse Station, which will serve as the primary transportation hub for the economic development projects being planned around the U.S. Courthouse and along the waterfront.

The project’s $600 million system of tunnels and stations also will provide air travelers with direct access between Logan International Airport and South Station. The station is the hub of Boston’s transit system, where customers can make easy connections with services provided by MBTA (Red Line and commuter rail), Amtrak, and private bus carriers.

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Sen. Kennedy, Rep. Olver Headline Berkshire Facility Opening

The Berkshire Regional Transit Authority, a First Transit property in Pittsfield, Mass., recently dedicated its new $11 million Intermodal Transportation Center in ceremonies headlined by U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and U.S. Rep. John Olver (D-Mass.).

The ITC provides, for the first time, a single facility with connections to intercity rail, intercity bus, and local BRTA buses, with direct pedestrian access to downtown Pittsfield and the central business district of the Berkshires. BRTA named the facility in memory of the late Joseph Scelsi, Pittsfield City Council president and a former Massachusetts state representative.

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LACMTA Introduces Rapid Bus Service on Two More Lines

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority introduced Metro Rapid bus service December 20 on two new lines, Hollywood-Pasadena Metro Rapid Line 780 and Hawthorne Metro Rapid Line 740. The new lines join nine other Metro Rapid lines already in service.

Hawthorne Metro Rapid Line 740 operates Monday through Saturday, serving the cities of Redondo Beach, Lawndale, Hawthorne, Inglewood, Los Angeles, and a portion of unincorporated Los Angeles County. Starting at the South Bay Galleria on the south end, the approximately 19-mile line ends at Patsaouras Transit Plaza in downtown Los Angeles. The line connects with the Vernon-La Cienega, Florence, Crenshaw, Vermont, and Broadway Metro Rapid bus lines, and with the Metro Red and Gold rail lines at Union Station.

Hollywood-Pasadena Metro Rapid Line 780 runs weekdays in Los Angeles, Glendale, and Pasadena. The line spans approximately 15 miles from the Metro Red Line subway station at Hollywood and Vine to Pasadena City College.

The Metro Rapid Bus Program debuted on Wilshire-Whittier and Ventura boulevards in June 2000. Metro Rapid buses will operate on a total of 28 lines when expansion of the program is complete in 2008.

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Oklahoma City Appoints Cain as Transit Director

Rick Cain, a 14-year Oklahoma City employee, has been named the city’s director of transit services following a nationwide search. He also will serve as administrator of the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority.

Cain joined the department as a buyer in 1990, becoming operations manager in 1991 and assistant director/business manager in 1994. He has served as acting transit director since Randall Hume resigned in September.

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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

Alaska spends big bucks on rail

The Alaska Railroad plans to spend more than $76 million on capital improvements this year, with three-quarters of the money coming from the federal government.

The state-owned railroad, which has about 500 miles of mainline track between Seward and North Pole, provides passenger and freight service.

It’s been on a building tear since 1996, when the federal government recognized it as a passenger railroad akin to a big-city commuter line, giving it access to funds for which it previously had not qualified.

The Anchorage Daily News reported on January 6 this year’s total federal allotment is $57.7 million, bringing to $420 million the total amount of federal grants received since 1996, railroad officials said.

A significant new project on this year’s roster is preliminary environmental, engineering and design work on a proposed extension of the railroad to connect it with Fort Greely near Delta Junction, said Mark Peterburs, the railroad’s project-management director.

A $14 million grant from the U.S. Defense Department is paying for that work, which is starting this year and is scheduled to be completed in 2006, Peterburs said.

Today, the tracks end at Eielson Air Force Base, southeast of Fairbanks. Railroad officials want to extend them to Fort Greely, which is about 80 miles to the southeast.

Such an extension would support resource development in the Delta Junction area – including the Pogo gold mine now under construction – and link Fort Greely and its adjacent training areas with the Port of Anchorage, they say.

The construction costs, however, would be considerable. The current estimate is about $480 million, Peterburs said.

The railroad also is adding two cars to its passenger fleet this year, at a cost of $6.6 million, said Tim Thompson, a spokesman.

The new cars are double-deckers, with expansive windows on the upper level that offer panoramic views of the passing terrain. They’ll be used for a new first-class service option starting this summer on the Denali Star train, which runs between Anchorage and Fairbanks, Thompson said.

The full trip to Fairbanks will be $279 on the new cars, compared with $179 for a regular ticket, Thompson said.

About $15 million of this year’s capital budget is going to replace worn rails, ties and surfacing the roadbed, where needed, along the entire line, Peterburs said.

The railroad, which has about 250 people working on capital improvements during the peak summer season, also has a host of ongoing projects throughout the Railbelt.

In Anchorage, the railroad is installing and testing a system to reduce noise from train whistles at a cost of about $1.2 million. The idea is to install stationary automated horns at crossings that, when a train is approaching, sound a warning directed down the street toward oncoming traffic.

The railroad also is installing concrete barriers at some crossings to prevent vehicles from going around the gates when they are down. That would eliminate the need for the trains to sound their whistles when approaching, Peterburs said.

The railroad has installed a stationary whistle at Klatt Road and barricades at 36th Avenue in Anchorage. It is considering expanding the system to seven additional crossings in town.

Crews also are continuing to straighten the track between Anchorage and Wasilla, a project that started in 2000 and is expected to be completed by next year, Peterburs said.

Other Anchorage-area projects this year include an expansion of the rail yard at Ship Creek and the completion of a new Anchorage operations center on Whitney Road.

Project managers and Alaska Railroad executives will be available to talk about all the railroad’s planned projects during an open house from 4:30 to 6:30 tonight at the Ship Creek Depot.

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BUSINESS LINES...  Business lines...

UP slides as Bear Stearns downgrades

Shares of Union Pacific slumped $1.11, or 1.7 percent, to $66.33 last Tuesday after Bear Stearns cut its recommendation on the rail carrier. (UP’s Friday closing number appears below with the D:F rail stock roundup).

Analyst Edward Wolfe said on January 4 the operational turnaround “is most likely not just around the corner” adding that valuation already appears to factor in much of the good news if a turnaround is realized.

“Poor velocity trends and shipper comments support our view of a slow turnaround,” Wolfe said.

“Today we are lowering our rating on UNP from ‘peer perform’ to ‘underperform’ based on our assessment that the operational turnaround is most likely not just around the corner and given valuation which appears to factor in much of the good news if a turnaround would be realized,” analyst Thomas Wadewitz told clients.

Since a period of brief improvement in mid-September, the analyst noted that UP’s operating metrics have been on a “trend of deterioration,” even though management in September had communicated to a group of shippers its expectation of improvement through year-end.

The central driver of UP’s financial performance and stock, according to Wadewitz, is the trend in how efficiently the company operates its rail network. The parent company’s railroad subsidiary is the leading rail freight carrier in the U.S.

“Despite a sharp focus on adding train crew and locomotive resources in 2004, UP has not sustained a trend of improvement in the critical operating metrics and has not shown a turnaround in operating expense performance,” he said.

He believes, however, the period of seasonally slower volumes in December through early February provides a window of opportunity for the company to gain operational momentum.

Although Wadewitz indicated that pricing gains and falling fuel prices provide support and result in better-than-expected earnings performance, he said his sense was that upside risk was still likely to be modest.

“If UP is unable to show a meaningful near-term improvement it its rail network operation and the company communicates a muted expectation for 2005 EPS growth, we would expect to see more meaningful downside for UP stock,” Wadewitz said.

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CSX leases W. Virginia line to Watco

CSX Transportation (CSXT) said on Friday that it will lease a 158-mile segment of its track from Grafton to Cowen, W. Va., on former B&O territory, to a subsidiary of the Pittsburg, Kans.-based Watco Cos., Inc. Watco is a transportation holding company that currently owns 10 shortline railroads in 11 states. The lease will become effective March 25.

Neither carrier disclosed terms.

“This is a unique segment of railroad because of the customer base and the geography,” said Les Passa, Vice President-Strategic Planning for CSX Corp.

“Segments of railroad with such specific needs sometimes can be more efficiently operated by shortline railroads. Larger Class I railroads, like CSXT, are better at long-haul moves. So, the Class I and shortline relationship is an effective means to provide the most efficient level of service to rail customers,” Passa continued.

CSXT interchanges with more than 230 shortline railroads across its 23-state system.

“Coal is an important commodity to the rail industry and to our country, and we are pleased to have the opportunity to operate in one of the most important coal-producing states,” said Rick Webb, Watco’s CEO.

He noted, “We are also pleased that CSXT has chosen us to provide that critical service, as well as serving other important merchandise customers along this route.

“We got our start in the rail industry by repairing coal cars and switching a forest product company. Those first two customers are still our customers today, more than 20 years later.”

Webb said, “We are excited to bring our commitment to our new customers and to our new employees to West Virginia in the months ahead.”

CSXT and Watco said they will be soon visiting each rail customer located along the route to answer any questions and ensure that the lease of this line will not interrupt their service. In the meantime, coal customers may contact Guy Martin at 800-852-4923 with any questions, and merchandise customers may contact David Martin at 904-359-7419.

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Freight railroads make record-breaking year

U.S. freight railroads completed a record-breaking year by originating 1,588,950 carloads of freight in December 2004 and an additional 1,029,547 intermodal trailers and containers, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported Thursday.

December 2004 carloads were up 2.6 percent (40,321 carloads) over December 2003, while intermodal loadings were up 16.1 percent (143,106 units) for the month. For the fourth quarter of 2004, U.S. rail carloadings were up 2.3 percent (99,491 carloads) and intermodal originations were up 13.1 percent (330,344 units).

Full-year 2004 U.S. carloads totaled 17,423,309, up 2.9 percent (483,912 carloads) over 2003. Full-year 2004 intermodal loadings were 10,993,662 units, up a remarkable 10.4 percent (1,038,057 trailers and containers) over 2003.

“2004 was an excellent year for U.S. freight railroad traffic, with the vast majority of all major commodity categories experiencing significant gains,” noted AAR Vice President Craig F. Rockey.

“The top 28 highest volume intermodal weeks in history occurred in 2004, leading to full-year intermodal volume that broke the previous record (set in 2003) by more than 10 percent. Total U.S. rail traffic volume – an estimated 1.61 trillion ton-miles for reporting carriers – was also higher in 2004 than ever before, and with the consensus forecast calling for U.S. GDP growth in the 3 percent-4 percent range for 2005, it appears that railroads are well positioned to continue their traffic growth as they help our economy move forward.”

Carloads of coal rose 1.8 percent (11,382 carloads) in December 2004, 2.8 percent (46,185 carloads) in the fourth quarter, and 3.0 percent (198,143 carloads) for 2004 as a whole. Chemicals saw carloadings increase 4.0 percent (5,611 carloads) in December 2004, 2.3 percent (8,699 carloads) in the fourth quarter, and 4.3 percent (64,615 carloads) for all of 2004. Motor vehicles and equipment saw carloads rise 5.3 percent (5,288 carloads) in December, fall 3.3 percent (10,046 carloads) in the fourth quarter, and fall 3.0 percent (36,815 carloads) for all of 2004.

Grain, crushed stone, and metallic ores were among other major commodity categories seeing carload gains on U.S. railroads in 2004 over 2003. Of the 19 major commodity categories tracked by the AAR, 14 saw U.S. carload gains in December, 13 saw gains in the fourth quarter, and 14 saw gains over 2003 for the full year.

Canadian rail carload traffic, which includes the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads, was up 3.3 percent (9,899 carloads) in December 2004 to 313,155 units, thanks largely to solid increases in carloads of chemicals (71,553 carloads, up 8.5 percent over December 2003) and lumber and wood products (16,904 carloads, up 9.2 percent over December 2003). For the fourth quarter of 2004, Canadian carloads were up 2.9 percent (24,636 carloads) to 876,261.

For all of 2004, Canadian carload traffic totaled 3,480,826 units, up 6.7 percent (219,031 carloads). Carload gains in Canada in 2004 were led by grain (up 13.5 percent, or 53,080 carloads) and chemicals (up 7.0 percent, or 50,221 carloads). In 2004, chemicals, grain, coal, and motor vehicles were the four highest volume commodities carried in carload service in Canada.

Carloads originated on Transportación Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM), a major Mexican railroad, were up 12.5 percent (4,774 carloads) in December 2004 to 43,056 carloads, while intermodal originations of 17,265 units were up 36.2 percent (4,590 trailers and containers). For the full year 2004, TFM carloadings of 453,660 units were up 4.4 percent (19,168 carloads), while intermodal traffic rose 10.4 percent (18,460 units) to 195,821 trailers and containers.

For just the week ended January 1, 2005, the AAR reported the following totals for U.S. railroads: 282,979 carloads, up 0.7 percent (1,931 carloads) from the corresponding week in 2003, with loadings up 2.2 percent in the East and down 0.4 percent in the West; intermodal volume of 164,511 trailers and containers, up 17.4 percent (24,432 units); and total volume of an estimated 26.5 billion ton-miles, up 1.9 percent from the equivalent week last year. The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is traditionally one of the lowest volume weeks of the year for U.S. freight railroads.

For Canadian railroads during the week ended January 1, the AAR reported volume of 46,537 carloads, down 6.9 percent (3,473 carloads) from the previous year; and 26,248 trailers and containers, down 3.2 percent (870 units) from the corresponding week in 2003.

Combined cumulative rail volume for 2004 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 20,904,135 carloads, up 3.5 percent (702,943 carloads) from 2003, and 13,160,494 trailers and containers, up 8.7 percent (1,050,408 units) from 2003.

The AAR is online at www.aar.org.

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AAR publishes Ten-year trends

AAR’s 21st annual edition of Railroad Ten-Year Trends is now available from the association’s Policy and Economics Department. The new edition presents data for the years 1994 through 2003.

Railroad Ten-Year Trends provides tables and graphs, which present an economic overview of the U.S. freight railroad industry, including Class I industry performance, traffic, financial statistics, employment, plant and equipment, and operations.

In addition, the publication includes selected information on regional and local railroads as well as the web sites of approximately 250 Canadian, Mexican and U.S. railroads. It also lists all U.S. freight railroads and offers profiles of rail-related organizations.

Copies are available for $100 for non-members and $50 for AAR members. Domestic shipping and handling fees are $6.00 per order.

To order copies, visit the AAR web site at www.aar.org.

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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: CBSMarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)45.1147.31
Canadian National (CNI)56.1061.25
Canadian Pacific (CP) 31.8034.41
CSX (CSX)38.8540.08
Florida East Coast (FLA)42.1845.10
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)27.0028.13
Kansas City Southern (KSU)16.1917.73
Norfolk Southern (NSC)36.4636.19
Providence & Worcester (PWX)13.2813.48
Union Pacific (UNP)64.8067.25

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

Railroader mourns lost daughter, wife

Nimal Premasiri first closed the window to avoid being splashed by the unusually high waters, but the next waves that struck the Queen of the Sea train were as big as elephants, recalled a survivor of the tsunami onslaught that claimed more than 800 lives in a single blow. Premasiri is a stationmaster for the state railway. His daughter told him not to worry when she saw the rushing wall of water. She could swim.

He never saw her again.

The Associated Press writer Dilip Ganguly reported the train was chugging slowly up the sandy, palm-fringed Sri Lanka coast and was nearly reaching its destination at the historic port city of Galle when the waves struck.

“It looks (like) God did not want to take me,” Premasiri said January 7 in Ragama, fighting tears as dozens of neighbors and family gathered to mourn at his home in this suburb of the capital, Colombo.

“We first saw the waves that they were higher than usual, and fearing that I will get drenched I closed the window on my side,” said Premasiri, recounting the tragedy that took the lives of his daughter, Taranga, 18 and wife, Mallika, 51.

“Then I saw waves as big as elephants coming toward us,” he said. “My daughter told me not to worry, she was a good swimmer and will help us... Those were the last words I heard from her.”

The waves also took the lives of 800 others, including the engineer. Premasiri survived with a few scratches to his leg.

“I can’t recall what really happened after I heard those words of my daughter,” said Premasiri. Somehow, he found himself sitting on the coach roof after the tsunami slammed into the train.

Premasiri, the stationmaster of Colombo’s 100-year-old Fort railroad station, had been traveling to Galle in southern Sri Lanka in the last car of the eight-coach train. In the “brake van” as the carriage is called. The ride is free for the families of railroad officials.

The occasion was important. It was the 10th anniversary of the death of his mother-in-law, and the family was to feed Buddhist monks in Galle to secure their blessings. Other members of Premasiri’s extended family were also in the carriage – and some of them survived.

The train’s eight rust-colored cars now lie in deep pools of water amid a ravaged grove of palm trees. The force of the waves had torn the wheels off some cars, and the tracks twisted.

A thousand tickets were sold in Colombo for the train, and rescuers recovered 802 bodies. No relatives claimed 204 of those corpses, so they were buried in a mass grave.

Sitting on a white plastic chair in the garden of his home, Premasiri’s eyes brightened when asked about preparations for the Sunday journey.

“Being a stationmaster, I am very careful with time,” he said.

He got his family up at 4:30 a.m.

“By 6:00 a.m. we were out of the house,” he said with a tinge of pride at having managed to make everyone be on time.

By 6:30 a.m. the family was at Fort Railway Station.

“I was thinking what a lovely day we are going to have,” he said.

Three hours later, disaster struck.

“When I found myself on the rooftop of the carriage, I saw many other people, trying to hold onto the rooftop. Some did, but some did not,” he said.

He found his wife’s body on Tuesday and his daughter’s on Wednesday. He cremated his wife on Wednesday and his daughter on Thursday.

“I felt terrible pain, look here,” he said pointing to the photos of his wife and daughter that were placed on a white table.

A moment later, Premasiri regained his composure.

“I have my son,” he said of his 20-year-old boy Ranga, who is studying computer science at the Univ. of Arkansas.

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Train collision in Italy kills 14

A passenger train and a freight train collided in thick fog Friday in northern Italy, killing 14 people and injuring dozens, rescue officials said. The crash, on a line between Bologna and Verona, left several train cars in a wreck of buckled metal. At least one carriage was lifted high into the air by the force of the collision. The crash happened at 12:50 p.m. in a rural area of Bolognina di Crevalcore, 25 miles north of Bologna, The AP reported.

Workers pulled bodies from the wreckage and laid them in body bags in a misty field. Eight bodies had been recovered, according to police in the nearby town of San Giovanni in Persiceto, who were overseeing the efforts. Rescue officials in Rome said 14 people were killed and 80 injured, several seriously.

The Civil Defense department said around 100 people were aboard the passenger train, which was a local train traveling south from Verona to Bologna. The freight was headed north from Rome to San Zeno Falzano.

The cause of the crash was not known, but officials said there was thick fog at the time of the collision. The Transport Ministry said it was opening an investigation.

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Eurostar nears 2007 profits

International high-speed rail firm Eurostar is on track to make a profit in three years after notching up record passenger numbers and sales last year.

The French arm of the Channel Tunnel train operator, which is also owned by the UK and Belgium, is expected to break even in 2007 – earlier than anticipated, Eurostar said.

Eurostar said it hoped the British division, which pays more to use the tunnel than its French and Belgian counterparts, would make a profit “as soon as possible after 2008” if it can repeat last year’s record performance in 2005 and 2006.

A spokesman said “This is the first time that Eurostar as a business has been able to look at the prospect of profitability in the next few years – and that is very encouraging.”

Eurostar, which runs from London’s Waterloo station, carried 7.27 million passengers last year, 15 percent more than in 2003.

Its on-time performance figure of 89.2 percent of trains running on time was up 10.9 percent on the 2003 performance, and was also an annual record.

The company completed a “hat-trick” of best performances by achieving sales of £433 million in 2004, a 15 percent rise on the 2003 total.

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Japan to sell JR Central

The Japanese government is aiming to sell its 40 per cent stake in Central Japan Railway (JR Central) “as soon as possible” in a transaction that could be one of the biggest public offerings this year, a transport ministry official said. JR operates the Shinkansen trains.

The government’s plan to sell its JR Central stake – worth roughly ¥740 billion ($7 billion in U.S. dollars) is the second such announcement in as many days. On Thursday the government said it planned to sell 1.12m shares in NTT, the former telecom monopoly, this year in a transaction valued at ¥450bn ($4.3 billion).

Both proposed share sales will serve as important litmus tests of investor demand for government-issued shares and trigger intense competition among domestic and foreign investment banks to underwrite the issues.

Kozo Fujita, an official with Japan’s transport ministry, said on Friday that the government was aiming to sell its stake as soon as possible to assist in the total privatization of JR Central.

Fujita said the government had not yet invited investment banks to send in proposals for underwriting the issue. Nomura and Goldman Sachs underwrote the JR East issue, while Nikko Citigroup and UBS were the underwriters for the $2.5 billion JR West share offering last year.

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OPINION...  Opinion...

The Times publishes a RePass letter;
a rail rally is coming to D.C. in June

NCI president and CEO Jim RePass wrote a letter to the editor at The New York Times, which the newspaper published on January 2.

The Times’ usual thorough coverage, this time of grade crossing accidents (“Death on the Tracks: Questions Raised on Signals at Rail Crossings,” December 30) by Walt Bogdanich has the facts but misses the point: rail traffic must be grade-separated from highway traffic.

No one in his right mind would suggest that we allow, say, a gasoline tanker truck to cut across the end of a runway while a 747 is taking off. Yet at thousands of grade crossings across America every day, that is precisely what happens. The news is not that we have so many deadly grade crossing accidents. The news is that we have so few.

On June 15 the National Corridors Initiative and its allies will rally and conduct a transportation summit on Capitol Hill to demand that America start funding rail infrastructure in the same way it funds highways and airlines: with tax dollars.

Modal grade separation is just one of the many important infrastructure projects America must fund, if we are to have a safe, competitive, and world-class transportation system. Over-reliance for decades on highway-skewed Federal transportation policy has yielded growing gridlock and economic waste in city after city. It doesn’t have to be that way, but we can’t pave our way out. Not anymore.

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Want a better Amtrak? Help states build tracks

Another serious passenger rail advocate, Chicago attorney Jim Coston, wrote to the Washington Post, which published his letter on January 4. His associate, James Plous, said, “the essay was picked up by the Seattle Times and other publications. CNBC booked Coston to do a live interview on the Kudlow & Cramer show on January 6. Coston has worked for Amtrak and served on the Amtrak Reform Council. He is chairman of NewTrains Leasing System, which provides financing for passenger train equipment and infrastructure.

By James Coston

America’s intercity passenger rail company, Amtrak, cannot survive much longer – at least not in its current size and shape – on the amount of annual funding that Congress and the Administration provide. That was the conclusion of the Transportation Department’s inspector general, Kenneth M. Mead, in a report delivered November 18. It ought to be heeded.

The administration wanted to provide Amtrak with $900 million this fiscal year. Congress came through with $1.2 billion, but Mead agrees with Amtrak chief executive David Gunn that even the higher figure is not enough to keep the full operation going.

“Unsustainably large operating losses, poor on-time performance, and increasing levels of deferred infrastructure and fleet investment are a clarion call to the need for significant changes in Amtrak’s strategy,” the inspector general wrote. “Continued deferral brings Amtrak closer to a major point of failure on the system but no one knows where or when such a failure will occur.”

Mead noted that on the Boston-New York-Washington Northeast Corridor, the only substantial piece of railroad that Amtrak owns and controls, century-old movable drawbridges could fail at any time for lack of upkeep or replacement. One such failure would close the line, forcing a massive, expensive and probably unmanageable diversion of the region’s business and personal travel to already overburdened highways and airports.

Outside the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak rents track space from the privately owned freight railroads. That infrastructure is more sound, but freight-train congestion and antique signaling throw passenger trains off schedule. Meanwhile, Amtrak’s diversion of scarce capital funds to patch track along the Northeast Corridor leaves no money to rebuild or expand its small rolling-stock fleet. Ridership grew by double digits on key corridors in California, Washington state and in the Midwest last year – but no funds are available for more cars or locomotives.

Whether it’s the railroad falling apart in the East or the fleet failing in the rest of the country, Amtrak is not getting the federal support it needs to meet demand.

Mead did not say why this is happening or what needs to be done about it. As a veteran Washington bureaucrat adept at ministering to multiple contending constituencies, he eschews the blame game. Instead, he handed the job of sorting it out to Congress, which, after all, is the body that will have to fund any solution.

“Congress needs to provide clear direction for Amtrak’s operating and capital investment priorities as well as federal funding levels in reauthorization legislation,” Mead wrote. He suggested five possible strategies: refocus on under-500-mile corridors, where fast trains outperform air and auto transportation; cut low-performing operations; increase funding to develop the entire existing system; fund only to maintain the status quo; or “any combination of the above.”

That’s an interesting slate of choices, but all of them amount to micromanagement unless Congress first takes another, global step: It has to stop treating passenger trains as a business and start treating them as a federal transportation program.

What does a federal transportation program look like? Simple: like our highway and airport programs. The federal government doesn’t operate the vehicles or market the service. There’s no such company as “Amcar” or “Amflight.” Instead, Washington helps the states to fund a state-of-the-art infrastructure that private operators can have access to – highways for private cars and commercial motor coaches, airports for airliners. Congress needs to stop focusing solely on Amtrak, a government-owned train company operating on obsolete private and public infrastructure, so that it can refocus on getting matching funds out to states and communities that want to build up their intercity railroad tracks and start running fast, frequent, comfortable trains that people will pay to ride.

Several impatient states – California, North Carolina and Washington – couldn’t wait for a federal program, so during the go-go 1990s they spent some of their taxpayers’ money to build track capacity and buy trains on their own. Their programs are successful—California’s 60 daily departures are carrying more than 4 million riders a year, and growth is quickly surpassing the capacity of the state-owned fleet.

Even rich states such as California have hit the fiscal wall, much as Pennsylvania did in 1939, when it ran out of money to finish its new turnpike and had to wait for an emergency grant sought by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Unless Congress develops a federal-state matching-grant plan for railroad tracks like the highway program it started in 1916 and the airport aid program it passed in 1946, passenger trains will continue to starve, highway and airport backups will grow, and Mead’s successors at the Transportation Department will continue to scratch their heads about why the federal government can’t seem to run a profitable train business.

Passenger trains used to be a profitable business in this country – many, many years ago, when railroads enjoyed a monopoly over mechanized overland transportation and the federal government was not yet building and subsidizing two competing travel systems.

Those days are gone.

To expect a passenger train company to earn a profit on today’s underfunded, obsolete and downsized track network is an exercise in nostalgia – but to expect fast, frequent, efficient trains to carry masses of travelers who now fly, drive or stay home is the height of reality, provided the funding is there for a railroad infrastructure as modern as the ones government provides for cars and airplanes.

The key is our proven federal system of matching grants. It’s amazing how much money a state legislature will appropriate for a project when it knows there’s money waiting in Washington to match it, and it’s amazing how eager entrepreneurs are to provide quality transportation once they’re sure government will keep funding the infrastructure.

Look at the airlines. They’re broker than Amtrak, but they keep trying, because win or lose, they know government will keep paying for the airports. Infrastructure assistance, not operations, is the federal government’s proper role in a better train system.

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WE GET LETTERS...  We get letters...

Dear Editor:

Re your BLE and Long Island Rail Road story in the January 3 D:F – Bombardier M7s are third rail, not catenary, and no Long Island Rail Road trains run under catenary. Only Connecticut DOT and Metro-North New Haven Line trains on the Northeast Corridor operate under wire.

Peter Hine
Pleasantville, N.Y.

Dear Editor:

An M-7 is an electrically powered paired coach that does not get its energy from catenary. Someone at the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers fed you the wrong info. It’s third rail powered.

Phil Hom
Stafford, Va.

A phone call to the Long Island Rail Road on Friday gleaned some details. M-7s are indeed third-rail powered. – Ed.

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End Notes...

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

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