NCI: Leo KingWHAT'S AHEAD? - What lies around the bend for Amtrak is murky at best.
From the publisher
The ARC, Amtrak, and the future
By Jim RePass
The Amtrak Reform Council, called into being by the Amtrak Reform Act of 1997, delivers its final report to Congress in early February, but the media maelstrom generated by ARC's on-going process has made all of us pay attention, to a degree not seen in years, to the future of Amtrak and of passenger rail service in America.
We were critical of the ARC when it proposed splitting off the Northeast Corridor or otherwise fragmenting the national rail system, which has been put together with so much pain and effort over the past 30 years. As inadequate as the present system is, it would be a colossal mistake to make it worse by Balkanizing Amtrak, as many have noted.
We also would not separate the operating company from the track maintenance responsibilities, as some have proposed. We have no need to duplicate the tragic failure of the English model, which did exactly that kind of separation with catastrophic results, and which has pushed England's transportation system to the brink of collapse, as The New York Times reported this week.
The problem with the ARC is not simply that some of the ideas floated by its members - indeed, ideas like encouraging interstate compacts, and more regional involvement in the rail system, are good ideas and deserve support. The problem is what has not been understood: that to tinker with the structure of the national passenger rail system without addressing the fundamental lack of funding that for a generation has prevented any meaningful success, is merely to rearrange the deck chairs while the ship is taking on water.
First and foremost, before any debate about structure and form, the Congress and the President, together, must decide that the national rail system is as least as deserving of public funding as are the highways and airline systems, which receive subsidies every year that dwarf anything that Amtrak has ever received. Together with a healthy mass transit system - which will be receiving a big, new push in upcoming editions of D:F - we must have a national rail grid for passenger and freight service.
I would especially like to call upon the news media - and we know we have many D:F readers especially in the general press - to learn all they can about the background of Amtrak, and the way in which it is funded, because Amtrak is no more of a "money-losing" or "subsidized" transportation system than are the highways and airlines. Indeed, the airlines got $5 billion on September 12 for losses that had already occurred in the previous fiscal year, because their health is also essential to the nation.
It is also true, and it is also important, that we are at war. There are going to be other incidents and attacks, some of them no doubt beyond imagining. We must have a redundant and robust transportation system, where one mode can step in when another is damaged, as is going to happen. That was true before September 11. We just didn't know it until then. We need to stay angry, and stay focused. We need a transportation system that works.
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Amtrak's future is large gray mass;
think of it as an 'approach' signal
Rail passenger service in the U.S. could be an entirely different animal by this time next year. At week's end, the Amtrak Reform Council was considering three options that had been whittled down from nine, but a top labor leader says time is short because Amtrak is running out of money, possibly by March.
One thing appears to be settled among the Reform Council members. Rail passenger assets will remain in the public sector. There may very well be room for contracting out some segments of the system to the private sector on a selective basis, but with careful oversight from the government. We are not going back to the old days when private railroads sported their showcase luxury trains and took their losses for public relations purposes and to impress prospective freight customers.
However, there are some rumblings about possibly getting the freight railroads involved in passenger trains.
No one dreams that some of the popular long-distance routes will ever turn a profit. What is in play is a possibility that a private operator could be granted a franchise to operate a given route and cut its losses by, say, 20 percent. The balance would continue to be borne by the government, but the operator, in such a case, would not own the service. That is just one of many ideas kicking around among ARC's 11 members.
Amtrak Reform Council spokeswoman Deirdre O'Sullivan told D:F Wednesday that some property rights could be assumed by compacts between states in a given region. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is one example. Other than the PATH subway service between the two states, however, that Port Authority has concentrated its efforts on the harbors, roads, tunnels and bridges. What some ARC members envision is a series of regional passenger rail compacts among states.
High on the list of options the council is considering is to separate infrastructure from operations. We have noted for some time in this space that this separation in the airline and highway systems in the key reason railroads, and passenger trains in particular, suffer a significant disadvantage in the scheme of things.
That also happens to be the view of Amtrak Reform Council Chairman Gil Carmichael, who has long argued that getting Amtrak out of the infrastructure business on the Northeast Corridor and elsewhere can free the passenger entity to do what the public expects it to do: run the trains. If he had his way, high-speed trains would be criss-crossing the country in a rail counterpart to the Interstate highway system. And that would be facilitated, among other things, by separating infrastructure from operations.
The assets, however, would remain public property. ARC appears to be backing away from proposals to sell the Northeast Corridor assets to the private sector.
Also being floated is the idea of replacing Amtrak with a transportation department entity. This new creation, in turn, would carefully monitor private companies that are allowed to acquire franchises to run specific segments of the passenger train system.
As D:F was going to press late Friday, the Amtrak Reform Council had held a daylong meeting where several recommendations to Congress were settled.
Any subsidy to intercity passenger rail should be offered on a performance basis. The basis of any operating subsidy should include a percentage of revenue performance measure or farebox recovery ratios.
That proposal was offered by Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist, as was a proposal to create an investment tax credit for the purchase of right of way, roadbed, rail equipment, station property and other facilities needed to support regularly scheduled passenger service. Also to allow airports to treat passenger rail facilities, including intermodal stations necessary to connect air and rail, as the equivalent of runways. Short route rail can cost effectively replace short distance aviation, says Norquist.
Another of the mayor's ideas, to encourage Congress to allow states and local governments to use federal transportation funds with more flexibility, was approved.
ARC member Wendell Cox made a proposal that was passed with 7 yeas, two no's and two abstentions. It would encourage passenger train service and administrative decisions as much as possible on the regional and local levels.
Jim Coston won approval for his suggestion that Congress bear in mind that airways and highways have had their infrastructures funded by government while passenger railroads have not had the same advantage and to the extent possible, an effort should be made to remedy that. The motion carried with 10 yeas and one abstention.
The abstention came from labor rep Charlie Moneypenny, who feared the issue could mean a split (i.e. the NEC), which he did not favor. Moneypenny, however, was very supportive of Coston's stem-winding statement to his colleagues that outrageous inequities of funding had left Amtrak at a severe disadvantage. We'll have details on that next week.
ARC was inclined to urge Congress to consider three overall options. One would encourage much, though not all, of the status quo. The second would encourage more franchising for corridor operations. The third would encourage franchising for both corridor and long-haul services.
At the time we headed to deadline, ARC was debating the third (supposedly favored) option. But Moneypenny had problems with a staff addition that would dilute the commitment that Amtrak labor contracts would follow the employee in any franchised or contracted out operation.
Members seemed to sympathize with Moneypenny and also were skeptical of a sentence saying that Amtrak would ultimately be privatized. We'll let you know next week how all of this turned out.
The original nine options for Amtrak's future are summarized at the end of this article. Bear in mind, many of them have been discarded, merely thrown out on the table for discussion and carefully guarded by ARC staff, lest the word gets out that some of the more improbable ideas on the list are actually taken seriously.
That may or may not be a factor in the alarm bells that are sounding off in some precincts of organized rail labor.
United Transportation Union (UTU) President Byron Boyd, Jr. has called for a summit of the freight railroads and labor to discuss the big picture of passenger train service in America.
Amid that statement, Boyd drops a bombshell by contemplating the possibility that Amtrak, which "has been teetering on the edge of bankruptcy," could run out of cash as early as March. For that reason, he said, "an effective solution must be found quickly." As of press time, Amtrak had not commented.
That was bombshell number one. Bombshell number two was Boyd's claim that "many freight railroad executives already are studying one alternative, which would be to return responsibility for operating rail passenger service to the freight railroads."
Boyd lends currency to rumors floating around for years that Norfolk-Southern has contemplated operating passenger service. He discloses the UTU "has learned that two of the nation's largest privately-owned freight-rail systems - Norfolk-Southern and Union Pacific - have commenced internal studies to "determine how and under what circumstances they might again operate passenger trains."
He also quotes Kansas City Southern CEO Mike Haverty as saying he "supports the concept of public-private partnerships,' which could benefit rail passenger service.
Boyd even cited Canadian National for a willingness to operate passenger trains in the U.S. through its subsidiaries, Grand Trunk Western and Illinois Central, "if they could receive sufficient and reliable funding through, perhaps tax rebates and tax credits."
Norfolk-Southern and Union Pacific denied Boyd's claims - sort of.
"There's been some talk about the current involvement. I wouldn't call it a study. Some discussion would be a more appropriate term," said UP spokesman John Bromley. "We are definitely not considering getting back into the passenger train service."
NS allowed as how it was examining "what the potential effect would be if Amtrak is liquidated or restructured" but that its officials "are not contemplating operating passenger trains."
Make what you will of those responses.
CN confirmed Boyd was essentially correct about its attitude of running the trains provided sufficient funding is provided.
The UTU chief, in his own statement, lamented, "the national rail passenger network serving America is in danger of being Balkanized or scrapped."
Meanwhile, the folks at the office of the National Association of Railroad passengers (NARP) are going on offense.
In a statement released Thursday, NARP called for a federal financial commitment to Amtrak's rail passenger network and the High-Speed Rail Investment Act. Faster trains on the designated high-speed corridors, says NARP, will improve Amtrak's bottom line by improving schedules and reliability of all trains using them. That includes Amtrak, freight trains, short distance and commuter operations.
NARP also warned that proposals to separate Amtrak from profitable non-rail assets "bear a disturbing similarity to the early steps in the process that led to Britain's current railway crisis."
Others lament that the British experience seems to have given any and all change in passenger rail operations anywhere in the world a bad name. Changes in the U.S. passenger system, they point out, can actually profit by the mistakes made in Britain. Separating infrastructure from operations in airways and highways in this country, they point out, surely did not lead to the demise of those systems.
Looking at the list of original ARC options, one can see why labor and NARP are concerned. But again, bear in mind, many of the ideas included below have since been discarded. Some of them make more sense than others. And as a longtime Capitol Hill observer, this writer would have to say there would be political problems in Capitol Hill with all of them. That leads one to wonder if, after all these years of huffing and puffing, we just might end up with the status quo.
That would be unfortunate, but the trick here is to make sure the cure is better than the disease. Here for your edification are the original nine ARC scenarios:
Replace Amtrak with a wholly owned government corporation responsible for the running, planning and funding train service. An operating company and infrastructure company would be created as subsidiaries. Only the Northeast Corridor would survive as a real property asset. Another corporation would be created to take over and ultimately devolve the others.
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|Northeast Corridor gets new veep|
Amtrak's president named New Jersey's DOT chief to be the new vice president for Amtrak's Northeast Corridor on January 10, and passed over the acting veep for the job.
George Warrington said on Thursday James Weinstein was appointed senior vice president for the NEC, bypassing Lynn Bowersox, who had been the acting vice-president. Warrington, who also once worked for NJDOT, said Bowersox "will play an important and expanded role in the corridor as we move forward." He was not specific.
Weinstein begins his new job on February 5. NJDOT's commissioner since 1998, he replaces Stan Bagley, who was promoted to systems operations executive vice president last year.
Weinstein chairs the New Jersey Transit Corp. board of directors, and from 1999 to 2001 served on the board of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
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|Bombardier engine readies for work|
Bombardier's prototype turbine-electric engine is getting ready to go to work in the "real world." (D:F, December 3, 2001).
The builder stated in its December 2001 issue of Innovation in Motion, a corporate rail update periodical, following several months of getting the engine into its final configuration, the prototype will head out for "testing and demonstration on a variety of rail corridors across the country."
No specific schedule has been announced yet.
"My understanding is that the dates and locations for the demonstration are still being developed. We expect the tour to begin during the late spring," USDOT spokesman Warren Flatau told D:F.
The FRA, Bombardier and Amtrak will conduct concept demonstrations, including static displays as well as "a limited number of train movements," for three to 14 days at a time, "to obtain train performance data over a wide range of operating conditions" and to get input from various potential users.
Service demonstrations will put the engine, which has the body styling of an Amtrak Acela Express power car, in revenue service for an extended period in one or two corridors. Bombardier will be gathering long-term performance data "concerning reliability and durability" as well as looking at maintenance concerns.
The engine reached a top speed of 156 mph on May 24, 2001 at the Transportation Technology Center's high-speed test track in Pueblo, Colo.
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|STB ponders 11 rail-building jobs|
The Surface Transportation Board is looking at 11 rail construction proposals, varying in size from nearly 300 miles to just 4,000 feet.
STB chair Linda Morgan said the carriers range from Class I lines to shortline railroads, and is an "unprecented" number of new construction in the industry.
Among the jobs the agency is considering is a Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad Corp. proposal to build about 280 miles of new line and rehabilitate 600 miles of its existing line to provide new rail access to the low-sulphur coal reserves in the Powder River Basin.
Six Utah counties have joined forces to construct a 43-mile line between Salina and Levan to provide rail service to shippers in the region, while The Great Salt Lake & Southern Railroad's proposes a 32-mile line in Tooele County, Utah ancillary to the creation (subject to approval by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) of an interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel.
The shortest track job comes from Midwest Generation, which is proposing a rail line approximately 4,000 feet long to the Joliet power station in Illinois.
In other STB news, Morgan reported on January 3 Commissioner Wayne O. Burkes was elected the board's vice-chairman, succeeding former vice-chair William Clyburn, Jr., who served in that position during 2001. The vice-chairmanship rotates among commissioners annually.
Burkes, who is the fifth board member since the agency's creation in 1996, was nominated by former President William J. Clinton, and was confirmed by the Senate on February 22, 1999, for a term expiring December 31, 2002.
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Three NCI photos: Leo KingSPIFFY STATION - Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited and other trains daily call on rehabilitated Union Station in Worcester, Mass.
|'Rehabbed' station still incomplete|
If you had seen Worcester's Union Station three or more years ago, you would have seen a dilapidated, abandoned, creepy structure with debris lying all over the main hall floor. It was a homeless haven, and ripe for a torch job, at the least. That, however, did not happen.
Instead, the station was thoroughly rehabilitated - well, almost.
Several months after the grand opening of Union Station in late 1999, reports the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, many officials involved with the project learned that it had a potentially fatal flaw.
There was no back access to the $38 million building. As a result, bus companies have not been able move in and potential business tenants have been reluctant to come forward.
A small driveway at one corner of the building's main entrance allows mini-buses to arrive and depart, but not full-size city or other buses.
MAIN ROOM - The main floor is now a grand, open, bright room. Ticket windows are to the left behind some doors, as are steps leading up to the tracks.
All of the promise of Union Station involves the former Parcel Post building on Franklin Street, currently used for storage by the University of Massachusetts Medical School. The city is tied up in negotiations with the school over accessing the building. The university has been using the warehouse for more than 30 years, but the city did not begin negotiations for it until 2000.
The city's brand-new mayor Timothy P. Murray, who took over the office a fortnight ago, said the city has been negotiating with the university, which also included U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern (D), one of a number of local, state and federal officials frustrated with the situation.
"My understanding is we are at a point where that space can be utilized for some thing other than a warehouse," the Congressman said.
"If you want to make Union Station a success, it involves not just what happens between the walls of that structure. It's the whole area, as well. That piece of property, that warehouse, is important for the development of the station and to make it viable," he said.
That fact has been evident to people close to the Union Station project for several years. But many only learned about the situation with the warehouse after the project was completed, and they were very unhappy about it, according to County Treasurer Michael J. Donoghue.
Donoghue was on a committee formed several years ago to begin planning a Union Station revival. He said, "A number of meetings were held by this committee, to talk and work with the Worcester Redevelopment Authority and city officials. At just about every meeting I attended - and we had a few dozen meetings over the course of the six years - one of the questions I always raised was, 'What is the economic plan for this area and how does Union Station stimulate the rebirth of Shrewsbury Street, Water Street, Harding Street and Grafton Street?' I never got an answer. It was always, 'We're working on it.'"
The newspaper reported, "Even today, the railroad station is virtually empty. A planned parking garage has not been built," and links to the nearby economic arteries of the city have not been established. The warehouse building is attached to Union Station through a tunnel that is blocked off. Access would allow the station to be used for bus traffic and for deliveries to the restaurants, convenience stores and other merchants that officials have been envisioned as tenants for the cavernous station.
Turrets adorn the corners of Worcester's Union Station, and a white marble sheet above the entrance contains the names of the original owners - "Boston & Albany, New York, Haven & Hartford, Boston & Maine."
Parts of Union Station itself remain undeveloped. Donoghue said the city may have to spend well over $1 million to spruce up the areas left untouched by the rehabilitation project. He noted the committee was never told that access to the back of the building was an issue.
"That came to light after the project was completed," he said.
"When I discovered that, myself and others made our feelings felt to the administration and to individuals at UMass Medical School to work with the proper officials to get this resolved so we could use this building and get access onto Franklin Street," he said.
"We didn't know until seven years after that we did not have access to Franklin Street and that there was only a main entrance at the circle and one door underneath the bridge, where you have to shake your hands to shoo away the pigeons if you dare walk out that door," he said.
UMass spokesman Mark Shelton said the university is trying to negotiate a deal that will benefit everyone involved.
"This has been raised at various times over a period of years, various times when the city or the city's representatives have expressed an interest in revisiting the subject," he said. "I do know they have been actively discussing it in recent times."
Mr. McGovern said he does not pin the blame for the predicament on UMass.
"The people in charge of Union Station, in my opinion, dropped the ball on a whole range of issues, not just this," Mr. McGovern said. "I'm not sure when UMass was first approached, but it wasn't at the inception of this project."
Nevertheless, as the project went along, McGovern, along with U.S. Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kerry, helped the city secure federal money for the project.
After the grand opening, when it became clear that the building was not living up to its promise, McGovern said he was among people who suggested that David P. Forsberg and the Worcester Business Development Corp. get involved.
The city earlier this year gave the WBDC - a private nonprofit public-purpose development corporation - a two-year, $480,000 contract to be the city's agent to manage development in Union Station and its environs.
"There is a boatload of federal money involved here," Mr. McGovern said. "We want the end result to be something this community can be proud of, something that represents a good investment of federal money."
Philip J. Niddrie, the city's chief development officer, said the City Council had expected to receive a report on Union Station on Friday. Among other things, he said, the report will propose that Union Station become a key component of the Blackstone Valley National Heritage Corridor; but he said he does not expect negotiations with UMass to be completed by the time the report is published.
Earlier this year, engineers from Peter Pan Bus Lines and Greyhound Bus Lines were looking at the UMass building as a possible bus port, and the rest of the building is being considered for a parking garage.
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|Town sues MBTA over rail line|
Lawyers representing the town of Scituate last week served a lawsuit on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, and also on state Environmental Affairs Secretary Robert Durand.
Town officials allege that the T and Durand have ignored Scituate's concerns about the proposed $434 million Greenbush rail project, according to The Patriot Ledger.
The town filed the Greenbush suit in October and had 90 days from that date to serve it. January 5 was the deadline. Serving the lawsuit was largely a procedural move meant to keep the town's litigation options open, Scituate officials said. Selectman Joseph Norton said that Scituate would not, by serving its lawsuit, be attempting to stop the train project.
"The impression is that Scituate's position is anti-rail and that we're doing everything that we can to stonewall (negotiations), and this is not the case," Norton said. With the lawsuit served, the MBTA will have an opportunity to respond to Scituate's complaint. Town officials say a court hearing is still a long way off, perhaps six months or more.
Scituate's lawsuit is technically an appeal of Durand's approval of the environmental impact report submitted by the MBTA. Town officials said the impact study failed to consider alternatives to the commuter rail restoration and did not adequately address Scituate's traffic and business concerns.
MBTA spokesman Jon Carlisle yesterday defended the environmental impact report and called the rail restoration "the best alternative for the South Shore." "We are confident that if there is legal action taken against us, we will prevail," Carlisle said.
Scituate officials hope that the lawsuit will, in addition to preserving the town's legal rights, jump-start negotiations with the MBTA, which have been stagnant since October. MBTA and Scituate officials are trying to agree on a compensation package for the two train stations and a layover facility the T wants to build in town.
Scituate is the only town of the five towns through which the Greenbush line will pass that has not settled with the T. In May 2000, Hingham accepted a $35 to $40 million mitigation package calling for a tunnel beneath Hingham Square. Cohasset settled for a $3 million package in May. Last month, Weymouth and Braintree agreed to settlement packages. Braintree is to receive $30 million; the size of Weymouth's package was not disclosed.
Scituate officials say they want to see more detailed plans for the layover site north of the so-called "Driftway." The layover location has been the major sticking point in the town. MBTA officials had wanted to build it south of the Driftway, but officials asked them to move it to a less environmentally sensitive area
An MBTA selection committee recently recommended hiring Cashman Construction of Boston and the British company Balfour Beatty to build the line. Scituate officials say they will withdraw their lawsuit if a settlement can be reached in the coming months.
Meanwhile, MBTA officials knew one of two companies they selected to build the Greenbush commuter rail line had a history of cost overruns and faced investigations on four continents, state Transportation Secretary Kevin Sullivan said last week.
The T's board of directors stepped in January 4, the Patriot-Ledger reported the next day, and delayed awarding the construction contract for the Boston-to-Scituate rail line until it gets some answers from the low bidders selected by the T for the project. The companies involved in the bid denied any wrongdoing. Sullivan said the state remained convinced Greenbush would open in April 2005.
"We ought to give them an opportunity to come and answer some of these allegations," Sullivan said.
Sullivan predicted questions surrounding the British-based construction company Balfour Beatty would not delay the Greenbush opening. The MBTA's board of directors said yesterday they have questions about whether to award the Greenbush contract to Balfour Beatty and Cashman Construction of Boston.
"It seems to me it would be penny-wise and pound-foolish for this board to even consider this company," said Janice Loux of Boston, a member of the 11-member board.
"I would think bribery, fraud and shoddy work is a pretty strong argument against this construction company."
Balfour Beatty and Cashman Construction formed a partnership to bid for the design and construction contract for the 17.5-mile Greenbush line. Balfour Beatty is by far the larger of the companies, but Cashman has the local knowledge and connections. The British company and Cashman, which is headed by Quincy native Jay Cashman, propose to build the rail line for $251.8 million, $17 million less than runner-up bidder White Construction of Framingham.
A selection committee gave Balfour Beatty and Cashman the highest technical ranking among bidders. Attorney Jeff Mullan, hired by the board of directors, outlined a series of embarrassing episodes involving Balfour Beatty, including cost overruns on an Amtrak rail electrification project between Boston and New Haven, and the Pennsylvania DOT's efforts to bar the company from that state. Mullan also described overseas incidents, including a fatal train derailment in Hatfield, England in October 2000; a large fine for a tunnel collapse outside Heathrow Airport; and bribery scandals in South Africa and Malaysia.
Mullan told a meeting of the board of directors that the company had been accused, but not convicted of wrongdoing in any of those matters, and for the most part was a peripheral player in the events. A spokesman at the London headquarters of Balfour Beatty said the company is the victim of a smear campaign.
"From our point of view we are the leading railway engineering contractor in the world," said Tim Sharp, Balfour Beatty's director of corporate communications. "We're very proud of our rail expertise."
At the recent directors' meeting, board members pressed Mullan to find out more about the FBI's seizure of records relating to the Amtrak rail-electrification project in June 2000.
"That's key with me," said board member Willie J. Davis of Newton. Sharp said the FBI has not implicated the firm in any criminal activity.
"It was a big, complicated project which was opened on time in January 2000," he said.
Balfour Beatty held the rail-electrification contract with Massachusetts Electric Construction Co. of Boston. Mullan also told T board members that Pennsylvania transportation officials stopped short of barring Balfour Beatty following a dispute over delays to a highway construction and widening project. Balfour Beatty failed to complete the $84 million project by a September 1999 deadline. Balfour Beatty is under investigation as one of three firms responsible for rail operations at the time of an October 2000 train derailment in Hatfield, England, that left four people dead.
The company was responsible for track inspections and had recommended the tracks be replaced, Sharp said. Sharp said bribery allegations against Balfour Beatty and four other companies operating in South Africa were dropped last month, and he said the company was not involved in a 1994 bribery scandal in Malaysia, where the company was building a hydroelectric dam.
Balfour Beatty maintains its track record has been exaggerated and misstated by opponents of a controversial dam construction project in Turkey.
"Some of the information that they've propagated against us have found its way to the Internet and elsewhere," Sharp said. "We have been the subject of a campaign and we have to quietly come out of that and set ourselves straight."
Transportation Secretary Sullivan said Balfour Beatty and Cashman Construction are still in line to get the Greenbush contract, stressing that a T selection committee had known about the incidents outlined last week, but, he said, he wanted the companies to personally address those concerns to the T board.
Balfour Beatty is a publicly traded company on the London Stock Exchange, employs 25,000 people worldwide, and does $4 billion a year in business, including close to $1 billion in the United States, Sharp said. Cashman Construction employs between 400 to 800 employees and does more than $100 million a year in business, its owner Jay Cashman said.
Cashman defended Balfour Beatty's track record. He said, "The Big Dig costs more than $9 billion in hard construction dollars. Every two years, this company pretty much does a Big Dig."
Elsewhere in "T" construction news, bids are due tomorrow for construction of a new layover facility in Pawtucket, R.I. including tracks, utilities, earthwork, a maintenance building, an electrical substation and site access road to expand commuter rail service between Boston and Providence.
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Florida's fast tracks take a step
The first leg of a Florida statewide high-speed train ordered up by voters should run from Tampa to Orlando and construction can begin by next year's deadline, a planning group said last week.
The High Speed Rail Authority submitted its report Thursday to Gov. Jeb Bush and the Legislature, according to the Associated Press.
The authority, set up by lawmakers last spring to start planning the bullet train, said the second leg of the train should run from St. Petersburg to Tampa and construction should begin in 2005.
All decisions remain with lawmakers. The report is merely a recommendation.
Voters approved a constitutional amendment requiring state leaders to begin construction by November 2003 of a high-speed rail that ultimately will link Florida's five major urban areas. The cost of the first leg is estimated to range from $1.2 billion to more than $6 billion depending on how high-tech and fast the trains, which would begin running in 2007.
The report said in order for the state to meet the November 2003 construction deadline, the train will have to be built either along I-4 or on an existing railroad's right-of-way.
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|Georgia commuters, NS, start chats|
As metro Atlanta rounded the turn into a new year, commuter rail for the region inched forward toward reality.
The first trains likely to ride the rails will be Macon-to-Atlanta service, which could begin by 2005. The estimated cost, including expenses for new stations along existing Norfolk Southern freight lines, is currently $326 million. With environmental assessments complete and approved by federal transportation officials, negotiations with NS to use their tracks are under way, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported last week.
"We're closer than we've ever been to rail service," said Crew Heimer, rail program manager for the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority. "We can spend federal money on a rail project. We've never been there before."
Plans for commuter rail got a significant boost last year when Gov. Roy Barnes announced his $8 billion state transportation program. His plan calls for the state to borrow money for planned transportation projects, with the money to be repaid over 30 years by federal funding Georgia receives annually for its transportation needs.
Ridership on the Macon line is projected to reach 7,260 passengers per day by 2025. The trains to Macon are estimated to cost $16.2 million per year to operate, Heimer said. About $9.9 million of that, or 61 percent, would come from fares.
A one-way ticket from Macon to Atlanta would cost $11.90. Fares from other stations on the line, which would include Jonesboro, Griffin, Forest Park, Morrow, Lovejoy, Hampton, Barnesville and Forsyth, would be less.
Studies also are under way on the feasibility of an Athens-to-Atlanta line. Expected to attract between 9,380 riders daily, the line would have stops in Lilburn, Lawrenceville, on the Ronald Reagan Parkway and on Cedars Road near Dacula. It's estimated that line would cost $16.8 million per year to run.
Plans for the Athens line are less complete than for the Macon line, and no projected starting date has been set. The Athens line also would use existing tracks. The estimated cost for stations and other start-up needs is currently $378 million, according to Heimer. Some 72 percent of the annual operating cost would come from fares. A one-way ticket on the Athens-to-Atlanta train would cost $10.10.
Until federal officials approve environmental assessments for the line, its construction timetable will remain uncertain.
"If we wanted to built it tomorrow, we couldn't because it would be all state money," Heimer said. GRTA officials hope to complete the necessary assessments late this year, he added.
Long-term state transportation plans call for commuter trains to Canton, Bremen, Senoia, Covington and Gainesville and high-speed rail lines to Albany, Savannah, Augusta, Columbus and Greenville, S.C.
Currently, however, only the Bremen, Senoia and Gainesville lines are included in regional transportation funding plans for the next 25 years
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|Ohioans see commuter rail future|
Four meetings over two weeks will look for public comment on key transportation decisions for the next quarter-century in the Canton-Akron-Cleveland travel corridor.
A draft proposal, issued for public comment before transportation planners in Cuyahoga, Summit, Stark and Portage Counties make final recommendations, include new commuter rail service in the corridor as well as highway improvements and bus service upgrades.
The work is a product of the Canton-Akron-Cleveland Inter-Regional Travel Corridor Major Investment Study, begun in 1999. "The study," a spokesperson said, "is nearing pivotal decision points about which travel modes will be pursued in the regions planning for long-distance trips in the corridor."
The last of four meetings will be held tonight in Canton at 7:00 p.m. in the Stark County Area Transportation Study offices. Three other meetings, in Cleveland, Cuyahoga Falls and Brecksville, have already been held.
Rail improvements will include service between Akron and Cleveland, with several stations in the first phase of development, including Tallmadge Avenue in North Akron, Cuyahoga Falls, Hudson, Macedonia, Bedford, Garfield Heights, and Cleveland (at East 88th and Union, East 55th). Euclid, and North Coast Harbor. Extending commuter rail service from Tallmadge Avenue south into downtown Akron and then to Canton are planned in later-phase rail development.
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|Chicagoans ponder more buildings, trains|
Downtown Chicago can and should add 40 million square feet of office space by 2020, a one-third increase, says City Hall, but reaching that target will require bigger buildings in the West Loop, near the commuter railroad stations, and major upgrades in public transportation.
That's the critical recommendation as the Windy City prepares to go public later this winter with drafts of two closely related reports developed over the past year. One is a rewrite of the city's 46-year-old zoning code; the other is a new central-area plan.
Both documents, set to be released around March 1, deal with a score of far-reaching issues, many of them controversial, reports Crain's Chicago Business News. They range from what ought to be done to revitalize outmoded neighborhood strip shopping districts to whether to require luxury housing developers to include low-income units in their plans.
The report says the city will need to boost transit by continuing the rehab of the Chicago Transit Authority's Brown and Blue train lines, adding new stations near McCormick Place and on Division Street and partly reviving, in new form, the long-moribund proposed downtown circulator system.
City officials are closemouthed about exactly what they have in mind for a circulator and how they would fund it, but they are eyeing a network of dedicated busways and perhaps light-rail lines to connect train stations, McCormick Place and Navy Pier, via the Loop.
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Railpower, Inc.Railpower's 2,000 horsepower "Green Goat" is testing on Union Pacific. The 52-foot hybrid switcher, mounted on a former GP-9 frame, travels up to 20 mph.
|UP leases 'Green Goat'|
Union Pacific has signed a one-year demonstration lease for RailPower Technologies Corp.'s "Green Goat." UP signed the lease on January 8, and will move the hybrid yard switcher from its Canadian manufacturer's shops to its Roseville yards, near Sacramento.
Railpower, of Vancouver, B.C., explained its "Green Goat is an electric hybrid switcher that makes use of a microturbine engine and energy storage to allow it to offer a 15 to 45 percent reduction in fuel savings during yard switching operations while at the same time is quieter and produces 80 to 90 percent less noxious exhaust."
Microturbine power produced is stored in the batteries, "making the Green Goat able to respond instantly" to the engineer's commands at a conventional control stand.
Michael E. Iden, UP's general director for car and locomotive engineering, said, "UP is looking at ways to operate more cost effectively and to improve the environment by reducing locomotive exhaust emissions. The Green Goat switcher offers the opportunity for substantial operating cost advantages through lower fuel usage, lower maintenance and higher productivity."
He said UP had looked at several options "to replace our aging switcher fleet, but the Green Goat offered "a capital cost that makes sense to the railroad for a 20-year solution." He added, the engine "has no impact on our fueling infrastructure as both its two generator modalities (conventional engine and microturbine) use standard diesel fuel."
The locomotive is built on a conventional GP-9 frame, the manufacturer stated.
"Not only has the short hood been chopped, but the long hood as well, giving excellent visibility in all directions. The batteries take up the majority of the space under the long hood, with a small space left over for the prime mover and generator," according to documentation at RailPower's website, http://railpower.com.
Since the batteries are heavy, "they provide the weight needed to give the locomotive good traction. The Green Goat looks somewhat like a slug or booster unit with a control cab; in fact it's a completely functional 2,000 HP switching locomotive."
RailPower President Gerard Koldyk added, "The Green Goat was created to provide a long-term superior economic solution for yard switching that would also meet and exceed all the existing and contemplated North American emissions requirements for the railroads. Our strategy is to focus on the immediate markets of environmental sensitivity in California, Texas and New York and then broaden out to general fleet operations and industrial applications."
Koldyk said the Green Goat's development has been timely.
"The switcher fleet is aging, and major railroads are looking at a 20-year answer that is economically sound and solves all environmental concerns. Considerable interest has been generated in the Green Goat. We are priced very competitively. We have the performance and, perhaps most important of all, we have a technology that will deliver operating cost savings we believe will be in excess of 30 percent compared to conventional switchers. This is RailPower's final stage of its Green Goat research and development."
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|More cops on trains - maybe|
The board that oversees Caltrain will decide this week whether police officers will ride the commuter trains free, and if San Mateo County Sheriff's deputies will be paid to patrol the trains that run from Gilroy to San Francisco, according to the Palo Alto Daily News of January 8.
"In the face of September 11, more security is better," said Caltrain spokeswoman Jayme Maltbie.
She added, "The uniformed presence makes everyone feel more secure September 11 has affected everything that's security related. We want to increase the visibility of law enforcement."
The cost of allowing uniformed and non-uniformed officers from any law enforcement agency on board without charge would be "negligible" and would increase security, a staff report to board members says.
Currently, eight uniformed Amtrak police officers patrol the trains, Maltbie said. Caltrain pays Amtrak to run its train line, although Caltrain owns the actual trains. Amtrak police will continue to monitor activities on and around Caltrain in addition to the new deputies, the spokeswoman said.
Under the proposal the nine-member Caltrain board will vote on Thursday, $250,000 would be spent to employ up to six sheriff's deputies in the next six months when a new fiscal year begins. In the coming fiscal year, about $500,000 would set aside for county law enforcement on Caltrains.
The new deputies would also be using a new dispatch system on the trains, Maltbie said.
Instead of calling in reports to an Amtrak dispatch office in Philadelphia, the new train force will work directly with the San Mateo Sheriff's Office and its dispatch system.
Extending the county's communication system will cost about $33,000, Maltbie said.
The plan also calls for the Samtrans bus system - under an umbrella agreement with San Mateo County - to pay about $125,000 for deputy sheriffs to patrol buses for the next six months, Maltbie said.
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Amtrak enhanced its security measures on trains and stations. All riders 18 years and older now must produce valid photo identification, such as a driver's license, to purchase tickets or check baggage at stations.
As Napa Valley roads become more clogged with traffic, rail supporters imagine the day when Napa Valley residents and tourists can get to work and play without having to get in their cars, but skeptics say these are pipe dreams, that locals and tourists will never give up their cars. Passenger rail is the past, not the future, according to some naysayers.
To decide perhaps finally who's blowing smoke, Napa County will be part of a $450,000 study of the feasibility of reviving passenger rail, according to the Napa Valley Register.
If passenger trains do return to the valley, they will be the first in a half-century.
Boosters say that by reviving the rail network that existed in the 19th and early 20th centuries, a resident of Napa or Calistoga could zip by train to the Vallejo ferry for a day of recreation or work in San Francisco.
Tourists by the tens of thousands could do their sightseeing by train, supported by vans and buses, avoiding weekend gridlock on Highway 29.
A consultant will be hired to plan and test the economics of a passenger rail system from Calistoga to the Vallejo ferry, with a line through Jamieson Canyon to the Amtrak station in Suisun.
There has not been passenger rail in the Napa Valley for more than a half century, except for the Napa Valley Wine Train, which has run dining trains between Napa and St. Helena for 12 years.
The study will determine who is likely to ride a new train service, the cost of developing it, what the price of tickets would be and, most importantly, the impact on local communities, said Mike Zdon, executive director of the Napa County Transportation Planning Agency.
Passenger trains could take some of the pressure off of Highway 29 and Jamieson Canyon, which are jammed at rush hour and on weekends, Zdon said.
Roads are heavily congested and getting worse, Zdon said. While Napa County is pushing for a $106 million widening of Jamieson Canyon to four lanes, the likelihood that Highway 29 or Silverado Trail will ever be widened is nearly nil, he said.
That's why passenger rail is such an enticing possibility. Except for the St. Helena-to-Calistoga segment, the tracks are already in place, carrying primarily freight instead of people, Zdon said.
The Napa transportation agency and the Solano Transportation Authority are each putting up $125,000, with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, a Bay Area planning agency, contributing $200,000 toward the study.
A consultant will be hired in March. The study, which requires analysis of complex station siting, equipment and ridership issues, will take a year.
Even if the report concludes that passenger trains would do the job, any new service is a decade or more away, Zdon said.
If the full two-county system were built, the cost will be at least $100 million, he predicted, requiring Napa and Solano counties to seek substantial grants from state and federal sources.
Local taxpayers would be asked to fund a share, probably in the form of a new sales tax devoted to highway, trains, and other mass transit projects, Zdon said. Raising the sales tax would require public approval at an election.
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NCI: Leo KingPCC cars like this Mattapan-Ashmont car would operate in the reopened Arborway line.
|'T' to restore Arborway trolleys|
In the first public forum since the MBTA's announcement of restored Arborway trolley service, T officials on January 9 pledged their commitment to the project they once opposed and vowed to work with residents and businesses to address traffic and safety concerns. The service, which last ran between Forest Hills and Heath Street in 1985, was ordered restored by the state Office of Environmental Affairs in November after years of contention by the T that the route on Centre and South streets was not feasible.
"Some of the concerns the MBTA had prior to (the order) remain. Nonetheless, we are committed to this project," T acting General Manager Mike Mulhern told a crowd of 100 residents and business owners, most of whom voiced support for the route.
Some of them did not, however.
"We're extremely apprehensive," said Bob Shortsleeve, a Centre Street business owner.
Calling the loss of parking and interruptions during construction "grave concerns," Shortsleeve said he would accept the T's invitation for all parties to join the planning process. "We'll be an active participant. We'll be constructive," he said.
Arborway activist Franklyn Salimbene praised Mulhern for his commitment, as well as his selection of San Diego light rail consultant Bill Lieberman to marshal the initial planning phase.
Construction on the route is scheduled to begin in fall 2004 with completion expected in 2006.
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|New York subway may reopen|
Port Authority of New York transit officials said January 8 that the subway line partially destroyed near the collapsed World Trade Center would be rebuilt and open again in November. That is more than one year earlier than originally planned.
Both the city and state have conceded that it would be too costly to reroute the line to make it more convenient for Battery Park City residents, so it will be rebuilt mostly as it was before September 11.
The plan would reconstruct more than one thousand feet of subway tunnels near ground zero that were either completely collapsed or pierced by falling beams, but instead of regaining all three stations that were closed after the attack, Cortlandt, Rector and South Ferry, the plan is to open only Rector and South Ferry along what was once the 1 and 9 line.
The Cortlandt Street Station, which is directly beneath the trade center plaza and was heavily damaged, will be demolished, and the shape of any new station in that area will be part of much larger plans for redevelopment and a memorial at the trade center site, officials said.
Elsewhere, The state-city agency charged with rebuilding lower Manhattan will explore creating a downtown transit hub along the lines of Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal, the board chairman said last week.
John Whitehead, head of the Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Corp., said rebuilding and improving mass transit links around the World Trade Center site is a priority for the panel.
Transit repair would be addressed in two broad phases.
Short-term emergency needs - resuming PATH train and subway service - would be completed as quickly as possible, Whitehead said at the agency's second meeting. At the same time, the agency would explore constructing a "central terminal... akin to the major terminals that are uptown," Whitehead said. The Long Island Rail Road could be connected to the terminal, but nothing has been decided.
Several preliminary concepts are being worked out. The most detailed, coming from the Port Authority, envisions an underground mega-hub with connections to the PATH and 14 subway lines, and retail space similar to what was in the destroyed World Trade Center concourse.
Stretching 3,000 feet, the passageway would originate at the World Financial Center along West Street, near expanded commuter ferry slips on the Hudson River, and extend to William Street on the east side.
Customers could whisk through the hub on airport-style people movers to reach shops, a new PATH station below Ground Zero or subway stops, which would include the 1 and 9 lines on the west side, the N and R trains at Church Street and the 2, 3, 4, 5, A, C, E, J, M and Z lines at the Broadway-Nassau/Fulton Street station.
That station, a dingy depot that connects a tangle of subway lines initially constructed to be separate, also would receive a facelift and be expanded to include more retail space.
"The idea is to replicate what we did at the World Trade Center over at Fulton," said Chris Ward, the PA's chief of strategic planning. "If we are going to build a great PATH station, there also should be something similar on the east side."
About 70,000 subway riders a day pass through turnstiles into the Broadway-Nassau/Fulton St. station. Tens of thousands more transfer there.
Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Tom Kelly said the agency is working with the PA to develop a subway-PATH plan, but added that the concepts were in "preliminary stages."
"The MTA will go along with whatever the ultimate decision is by the redevelopment agency," he said.
The PA has estimated that building a PATH station would cost about $1.5 billion and take four to five years. In the meantime, it will construct a temporary station with an entrance on Church Street that could be open in 18 months to two years.
Gene Russianoff, staff attorney with the Straphangers Campaign, praised the possibility of better rail connections and a renovated Broadway-Nassau/Fulton St. station.
"It seems to me there is a consensus that transportation is key to bringing downtown back," he said. "If you want to attract people, you have to make it better than it was, and better means better connections."
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NCI broadens its scope
A message from NCI President Jim RePass
Our astute readers may have noticed last week that our mission statement, and the subhead to our newsletter's title, both have changed.
The reason, quite simply, is that since 1989, NCI has worked to advance the cause of rail transportation in America. Over time, we have heard from thousands of fellow advocates and citizens about rail and all the issues that surround it. One of the most important has been the realization that it must be the goal of transportation systems not simply to work within their own mode, but to work with other modes. In other words, the job of the national rail system, Amtrak, or any regional rail system, is not just to get a passenger from one station to another. Rather, it is to get him home, or to the office, or to wherever he or she has to go.
The key to making that happen is transit, usually in the form of public transportation.
Although most people would never know it, America has a wonderful rail network between almost every city. Although passenger service is far below the level it should be, the basic track structure is there - although that too needs massive new investment to help not only passenger service, but to make freight rail service a more viable shipping option.
The revival of America's urban environment, and the need to keep the smaller towns and cities of rural New England and the South and West connected to the urban corridors, will not succeed unless we pay attention to strengthening the nation's transit systems, not just the rails that run between the cities.
Therefore, effective immediately, the National Corridors Initiative's newsletter Destination: Freedom will be "a North American rail and transit update," and our new mission statement reads as follows:
"The National Corridors Initiative exists to support the development of an integrated national transportation system that has intercity corridor rail as its heart, and strong and vibrant regional and municipal transit as its arteries and veins.
"We believe that while any national transportation system must seek to be efficient and economical, economic justice and access to transportation are just as important as cost-effectiveness.
"Therefore, we advocate that the goal of federal, state, regional and local governments should be to provide transportation systems to serve the maximum number of people in a safe and efficient manner. These should be built and operated in such a way as to facilitate economic growth while minimizing the impact on the environment.
Rail and transit are essential parts of the rail-highway-air triad, but have been systematically neglected and under-emphasized in the United States, even as Europe and Asia have made great strides investing in, and benefiting from, ground-based transportation.
Further, high-speed rail, built in cooperation with privately owned freight railroads upon the existing underutilized rail network, and fed by strong regional and local transit systems, offers an economically viable and environmentally desirable complement to air and automobile travel, and as an intermodal adjunct enhances the utility of those modes, as well as providing a vital service in its own right.
"NCI is a private non-profit, non-partisan 501(C)(3) organization. We work through conferences, seminars, meetings, speeches by our board members, outreach to the media and to the public, Op Ed pieces written for local, regional, and national news outlets, and educational programs.
"The National Corridors Initiative welcomes the participation and support of like-minded citizens, business persons, and others who share our commitment to re-building North America's ground transportation infrastructure.
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NCI: Leo KingIt's hard to believe so much time has passed, but it was in February 1993 that ASEA-Brown-Boveri's X-2000 came to the U.S. from Sweden to test on American rails. In this scene, it was the view out the front window at South Station, with a revenue train to the left.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write.
Destination: Freedom is partially funded by the Surdna Foundation, and other contributors.
Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images that appear in Destination: Freedom may do so at a nominal fee of $10.00 per image. "True color" .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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