Destination:Freedom Newsletter
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
  NCI Logo Vol. 2 No. 3, January 13, 2001
Copyright © 2000, NCI, Inc.
James P. RePass, President
Leo King, Editor

A weekly North American Railroad update

Acela Express train No. 2150

NCI: Leo King

Its run completed, Acela Express train No. 2150 is now just a deadhead move to Southampton Street yard for servicing and cleaning as it leaves South Station and exits under the new city bus terminal. The city's skyline has been permanently obliterated when viewed from the platforms.
Amtrak is happy with early Acela results
Amtrak reports its new Acela Express high-speed service drew strong ridership, outperformed financial projections and established consistently high on-time performance during its first month of operation.

During the four weeks between December 11 and January 5, Acela Express attracted more than 11,000 passengers and earned over $1 .25 million in ticket sales, beating projections by 12 percent. The service ran 18 of the 20 weekdays over the four-week period, not running on Christmas Day, nor one day when the carrier was unable to dispatch the train from Washington.

Amtrak launched Acela Express service Dec. 11 with one weekday roundtrip between Washington, New York and Boston.

The railroad is also comparing its on-time performance based on airline standards.

Based on the 15-minute tolerance the airline industry uses, a spokesman said, Acela Express averaged overall on-time performance of 94 percent in the Washington to New York and Boston to New York markets. The southbound Boston-to-New York leg achieved 100 percent on-time performance with 11 of the 19 trains arriving ahead of schedule in New York Penn Station by as much as six minutes.

According to the most recent statistics kept by the U.S. Department of Transportation, for the month of November 2000, 22 percent of the flights from Boston's Logan Airport to New York's LaGuardia Airport arrived over 15 minutes late.

'Cramdown' remains thorn for rail labor
By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

A top official of organized rail labor says any congressional effort to re-authorize the Surface Transportation Board (STB) will not get labor support without a firm settlement on cramdown policy.

Edward "Ed" Wytkind, Executive Director of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, also told the Transportation Table luncheon at Washington's National Press Club that public funding for rail infrastructure should be accompanied by adequate protections for rail workers.

"Cramdown" is the policy by which, when two railroads merge, employees of one of the lines are forced to take a loss of seniority rights on assignments, a pay cut, or both to fit the contract of the railroad which offers the less desirable pay and benefits.

This has been a thorn in the side of union labor for years and has become especially acute with the rash of railroad mergers in recent years.

The STB's re-authorization has been held virtual hostage to this and other issues, although the agency has continued to operate.

"The STB must fix cramdown," Wytkind declared.

Without directly alluding to the threat of a general rail strike this year, that is something that is seen as a near certainty. Wytkind said, " Air and rail labor issues should not be poisoned by politics." The Washington-based labor official added, "Unresolved issues in the air and rail industry should be resolved at the bargaining table, not by Congress."

This was a reference to the fact that every time there is a rail strike, Congress invokes provisions of the Railway labor Act to bring about a settlement. This is usually done by "binding arbitration" whereby a board is appointed to resolve the strike issues while the workers return to their jobs.

Labor unions don't like it because often they are dissatisfied with the end results of the "arbitration." Legislation by Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) and others to allow rail strikes to proceed in the regular collective bargaining process have not met with success. The reasons are essentially political. There is a fear on Capitol Hill that allowing a rail strike to take its "natural course" would result in voter anger when shipments of energy and other necessities of life delivered by the rail freight operations are curtailed.

As for the bonding bill for high-speed passenger rail, Wytkind pledged to support the legislation promised by Senate leaders Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) when the measure died in the final hours of the last Congress - but with a caveat.

"We have said though that it's (got to be done) while complying with basic labor standards (including) Davis-Bacon obligations (prevailing union wages) and is done in a way that protects the interests of employees."

Whether that gets in the way of passing a bill is in question because labor backed the effort in the previous congressional session. But labor concerns will go into that legislative stew, and that, of course, expands the list of considerations in crafting the "perfect" legislation.

In answer to my question about labor's position on the beginnings of a debate in the industry as to whether public funding should be available to underwrite infrastructure needs of the railroads to accommodate freight and passenger expansion, he replied, "We've always supported good sound public financing for all modes (highways, airport funding, air traffic control). We think there's a case to give Greyhound some money."

However, "The issue of public financing for railroads, they don't know what they want either." Wytkind says not only the class Is are having their debate, but there are also the regionals and short lines.

While rail labor thinks public financing for worthy infrastructure projects is a "good thing," says Wytkind, "I'm not going to respond to questions of public financing for railroads until I see the proposal."

And here again, the question of "what standards and obligationsäHow are employees affected?" How about "people on the ground?" and "who is going to be protected in the event someone is adversely affected?" This goes to such rail-related issues as safety standards. What are the rules?

Rules? So there should be some strings attached?

"It's not a question of strings attached. There should be rules of engagement. If you get federal money, of course rules come with it. Standards are attached," labor standards, environmental standards, or whatever.

That goes to a central question in the industry debate: To what extent would federal subsidies for rail infrastructure undermine the control that the private railroads maintain over their own track? On the other hand, what "rules" would be applied in contracts and regulations anyway, even without subsidies? And can the railroads survive without them? These points will be much-discussed in the months and years ahead.

Wytkind said he wants to get Amtrak off the concept of "glide path" to operational solvency by the end of 2002, a part of the 1997 Amtrak law which he described as "phony anyway." The earliest Amtrak can hope to achieve this is 2004, he said. "Why cut Amtrak at the knees?"

In that respect, rail labor is singing a different tune than Amtrak management and the Amtrak board. Both are adamant they can make the end of 2002 goal. But Board Chairman Tommy Thompson, presumably on his way out now that he's been named to the Bush cabinet, has said Amtrak will require infrastructure subsidies on into the foreseeable future, just as is the case with all other transportation modes.

More fiber optic lines going in on corridor
Amtrak and GPU Telcom Services have inked a contract to allow the communications company permission to build a 375-mile fiber optic pathway along Amtrak's Northeast Corridor between New York City and Washington D.C., and along the railroad's Keystone line between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pa. The fiber optic system will also include Newark and Baltimore.

We get letters...

I just started reading your travelogue, and I noticed an interesting typo. At the very beginning of the article, you spell Acela Express with three "s."

Daniel Chazin

As a high-speed rail advocate and a ESPA member here in the Empire State, I very much enjoy reading through the weekly issues of "Corridor Initiatives" on your website. I had the eye-opening experience of traveling over the rails of Europe in October for a month and came away extremely impressed, particularly with the Deutsche Bundesbahn in Germany. Although many Germans I spoke with rolled their eyes, I remarked in jest that perhaps the Germans should come over and run our rail passenger system after we rid ourselves of Amtrak. It took me only a few rides on their EC and ICE trains to form this opinion.

I hired out in engine service on Conrail now working for CSX. At that time I was based out of Cedar Hill Yard in New Haven and I am very familiar with the operating problems and procedures on the Shoreline, Hartford Line, New Haven Line, Hell Gate Line, Hudson Line and other segments as well. It does not surprise me now that through freight trains have virtually disappeared from these lines.

As you probably know, investment in rail passenger service in New York State has been frozen in time for approximately 20 years now. The only significant investments during this time have been the Empire Connection to Penn Station in New York City, the introduction of Genesis locomotives, and the new Albany Renssaeler train station now approaching completion. The Turboliner revival program is clearly a political initiative that is a pitiful waste of precious HSR resources, and the CSX line west to Buffalo continues to get downgraded as track conditions deteriorate under CSX ownership.

I would like to see your website cover additional stories on emerging HSR corridors particularly in the Midwest where exciting things are happening in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan. I think that expanded coverage on other corridors besides the Northeast will promote more interest in HSR nationwide.

Daniel Russell

When you tell people about the Naval observatory, just type in "Naval observatory," and everyone else will get it. It is neither "tick" nor "tock." I tried both web sites that you gave in your January 8, 2001, update but according to AOL, there are no such addresses. Do you have different web sites for that?

What we published came from a program named "Atomic Clock" that works fine for us. It contains links to various sites around the world for time checking.

In the latest Destination: Freedom newsletter (January 8), you mention that on your Acela Express trip on December 14, all crossover moves were made over the 80 mph, 20-motor type.

Those types of interlockings exist on the "North end" only between New Haven and Providence, at five locations: Guilford, View, High St., Kingston and Davisville. Their mainline crossovers are No. 32.7, with three motors driving the switch points, and two to move the moveable point frog on each switch panel.

North of Providence, the concrete-tie interlockings at Lawn, Hebronville, Holden, Mansfield and Junction use what look like No. 20 (45 mph, limited speed) panels, each switch having two point motors and one movable point frog motor, for a total of twelve motors for each mainline pair (Hebronville and Holden, neither of which are universal interlockings, have 6 each; the former also has another No. 20 movable point frog unit where Track 4 begins, and Holden has two additional No. 20 movable point frog units where Tracks 3 and 4 end. I believe [Canton] Junction also has such a switch from Track 2 to the Stoughton Branch.).

I've been over the Mansfield crossovers twice before, and it was at limited speed both times. Transfer interlocking has only wooden tie No. 20 crossovers without movable point frogs, as do Forest and Plains at Forest Hills; all these date from the completion of the Southwest Corridor project in 1987. I wish all these were No. 32.7 interlockings; perhaps the MBTA (who owns the right-of-way in Massachusetts) didn't want the extra expense associated with them.

Also, I was on No. 2175 from Boston to Philadelphia on December 13, and I found First Class most enjoyable. Pretty much on time, too.

John Hay

The way we were...

Old west rail builders...

NCI: Leo King, via Gil Emery at

Whether we were building around hills in New England, or in straight lines out west, the result was the same: the tracks went down because men, with help from mules, put them there. We don't know where this scene was photographed, nor who the photographer was, nor when, but it summarizes what railroaders do: make ready to run trains.
End Notes...

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

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

Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images that appear in Destination: Freedom may do so at a nominal fee of $10.00 per image. "True color" .jpg images average 1.7MB each, and are 300 dots-per-inch for print publishers.

Destination: Freedom's editor, Leo King, also writes for "ThemeStream," a forum for writers and readers. King's articles are all rail-related, and mostly chronicle events over the last ten years on the Northeast Corridor, particularly in New England. Look for his articles at under the heading "Travel," and the sub-heading, "Riding the Rails."

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 Site in Boston.

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