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NCI: Leo KingWill a freight railroad operate the Northeast Corridor someday? How about Norfolk Southern, or perhaps CSX? Consider Guilford, which already has made a bid to buy the route, or Providence & Worcester, which embraces new traffic. The Amtrak Reform Council has stirred up quite a dilemma, as Wes Vernon explains below.
Is an old tax today's answer?
ARC would split operations from
Earth to Washington: The number one reason Amtrak is in bad shape is that the government for decades has treated passenger trains as America's transportation stepchild.
When Congress considers what to do about Amtrak, the lawmakers will have on their desks a pointed reminder of that fact. The wake-up call will come from an agency created by Congress to ride herd on Amtrak's problems and come back with some ideas on what to do about them.
In a very polite and deferential way, the Amtrak Reform Council (ARC), in effect, will be saying to the senators and representatives, "Well, what do you expect when you shower largesse on the infrastructures of the airways and highways for decades and tell rail passenger interests to sing for their supper and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, or more precisely, by their own infrastructures?"
The council voted January 11 to place that very reminder before Congress and the White House. The resolution by ARC member and Chicago lawyer Jim Coston called on Congress to provide money needed to upgrade and maintain tracks nationwide.
Under the council's final overall recommendation, the current Amtrak would be replaced by three entities.
Coston himself abstained from voting on the final plan, applauding the efforts to recognize the inequity of funding between infrastructure for trains as compared to other modes, but at the same time having some qualms about privatization provisions. Coston has his own overall proposal (See below).
Arc's labor representative member, Charles Moneypenny, cast the lone vote actually in opposition to the final plan.
The report is to be formally released in final form February 7.
ARC Vice chairman Paul Weyrich said without restructuring, "The alternative is simply to pour money into Amtrak without results and (with) greater and greater deficits."
Weyrich, who spent six years as an Amtrak director, is known to believe Amtrak is institutionally flawed. For example, during the meeting he cited Amtrak's historic inclination to apply what he considers undue emphasis on the Northeast Corridor (NEC) as if the rest of the country were an afterthought.
The Bush administration has a seat on the council, but failed to send either DOT Secretary Norman Mineta or his representative to this all-important meeting.
Perhaps that is because the administration does not want to tip its hand as to its own passenger rail program to be released early next month. Or perhaps, as D:F is hearing, it is because the administration really doesn't know what to do about passenger trains.
"It's way down the list of priorities" for the wartime administration, according to a source close to the picture who asked not to be named. However, D:F also has learned that behind closed doors at the Federal Railroad Administration, a lot of work has gone into formulating a proposed policy for the White House to consider.
Coston set the tone at the January 11 ARC meeting in a stem-winding statement delivered to his colleagues just before the daylong session's lunch break.
The "user fee" is as American as apple pie, having been set in motion as the norm by the airways and highways. And that is the concept Coston favors for rail passengers.
But ridership on America's outdated rail passenger system is too low to bring in the money to "kick-start" the system, Coston explains.
"The way to do this," says the Midwest rail supporter, is to tell the nation that there already is a Rail Trust Fund that has never been used and that the time has come to deploy it. It is a clean, simple funding source that does not require a complicated or controversial bonding agreement and need not introduce a commercial carrier such as Amtrak into the process of disbursing federal funds to state departments of transportation.
Coston would collect from the 1942 wartime ticket tax on all common carrier tickets for transportation. That tax covered all rail, bus and air tickets. The money was not earmarked for any particular purpose, but was paid into the General Fund. However, much of the funding was used to build the highway and airway infrastructures. Not a dime of any ticket tax paid by railroad passengers was set aside "for re-investment in rail capability."
On the contrary, Coston points out, that money "was confiscated and used to fund infrastructure for rail's competitors rather than improve the infrastructure this nation needed to run safer, faster, more comfortable and more economically valuable passenger trains."
"The time has now come to right this historic wrong," Coston declares, "It is time to take the revenue collected during the 20-year life of the (1942) wartime 'emergency' rail passenger tax and 'repatriate' it, with interest, to its rightful recipient, the nation's obsolete and inadequate rail infrastructure. Congress must retroactively re-allocate the proceeds of the rail passenger ticket tax so that they can be invested in the rail infrastructure from which they were withheld for sixty years. It is time to turn a tax meant to discourage rail travel into a tax designed to encourage it."
That would be $3.9 billion----in 1942-1962 dollars.
Today? In 2001 dollars, with interest, the value is just over $30 billion„nearly three times the dollars scheduled to be made available through the sale of bonds under S. 250, the High Speed Rail Investment Act.
Here's how the Coston plan would work.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) or a new infrastructure agency created by Congress would control a congressionally created Rail Infrastructure Administration, which in turn would control a new Rail Infrastructure Trust Fund.
About half the $30 billion would be deposited in the Trust Fund. The other half would be available for deposit or as tax credits for the Northeast Corridor.
The bill would provide for catching up on deferred maintenance, placing orders for new equipment and rolling stock to protect projected service startups. USDOT would own the Northeast Corridor. While Amtrak could operate it, the on-line commuter rail authorities and respective states would form a governing board to set an annual budget, user fees, approve capital projects and control all commercial applications for the corridor's property and assets.
Trust fund money would be matched at the state level in a ratio determined by Congress. Matching funds for the Interstate highway system are at an 80/20 ratio, and Coston suggests there's nothing wrong with that same formula for the train system. $3 billion would be invested in designated high-speed corridors outside the NEC. Another $2 billion would go to areas that are not designated high-speed corridors but where there is an urgent need to remove bottlenecks in the freight railroad system that are restricting the movement of Amtrak's non-corridor long distance trains. This could include double-tracking, siding extensions, high-speed signaling and other capacity and safety improvements mutually beneficial to freight and passenger trains.
As new infrastructure enables more speed, safety, and comfort, the demand for more rail passenger service will increase substantially, Coston projects, at which time he believes it will be "politically possible" to reactivate the 10 percent rail passenger ticket fee. It's also possible the freight railroads, having seen how the trust fund has raised the capacity, safety, and profitability of their own track, would agree to impose a user fee for their own shipments.
Finally, Coston says once rail travel is re-legitimized in America, Congress may be ready to impose a 1-cent a gallon charge on motor fuel to be paid into the Rail Trust Fund, and disbursed to states and regional compacts holding FRA approval for rail infrastructure projects.
The same would hold for air passengers who are likely to agree to a modest diversion of their user charge to help build airport rail stations that would permit high-speed passenger trains to act as feeder "flights" to airports. For some trips in Europe, through air-rail tickets are sold. This enables airline passengers to reach some short distance end points after landing at airports on longer distance flights.
The Coston Rail Infrastructure Trust Fund proposal gives plenty to think about. But the real rationale behind his plan lies in his poignant review of transportation history in the U.S.
Note well his comment that you can restructure Amtrak until the cows come home, but that will not, in and of itself, correct the problem:
"At the end of the day, America will lack a railroad infrastructure capable of supporting a modern passenger train service. Unless Congress provides one, as it provided modern infrastructures for airplanes, motor vehicles and barges, there is no way that passenger trains can provide a truly valuable service to large numbers of the American people and the American economy. If Congress wants to restructure Amtrak, fine; but Congress needs to understand that re-allocation of assets alone is not a substitute for the hard work of financing a modern railroad infrastructure, which this country does not have." (What's the old metaphor about "reshuffling the chairs on the deck of the Titanic?")
Among several other points Coston makes include getting the Congress to face its responsibilities. Congress has been dodging the rail infrastructure problem for more than a generation. As ARC members, Coston says he and his colleagues would be "derelict in (their) duties" if they failed to urge Congress to, at long last, address this problem.
He asks, how can we tell Amtrak's more than 23 million riders (in 2001) that we're going to restructure their trains out from under them when we lack the nerve to tell them their trains were set up for failure because we didn't provide an infrastructure that would make the trains successful? He also asks, how do we explain why stringent performance criteria are applied only to rail travel?
People who want a transportation system in this country that makes sense may want to frame this next Coston comment:
"The federal government has been using tax money to fund commercial aircraft since 1946, but it has never closed an airport down because it didn't handle enough passengers at a Śprofit.' The federal government spent over $80 billion to build an Interstate highway system, but it never threatened to close Interstate 94 through North Dakota and Montana and Śconcentrate' all the Chicago-Seattle truck traffic on I-80 to San Francisco and then up I-5 to Seattle in order to get more efficiency out of its concrete. Why are trains alone forced into this antiquated 19th Century model? Why are trains subjected to a Darwinian struggle for existence while roads and airports are built everywhere regardless of economic justification?"
This mindset he adds, contributes to the mythology that there are only two species of trains short distance high-speed European-style corridor "good" trains vs. long distance "tour" or "bad" trains. Therefore, so goes this mantra, let's take the system and "pick it apart like a turkey carcass," train-by-train, route-by-route. We're still waiting for that announcement of shutting down unprofitable airports and mainline highways through North Dakota and Montana.
There is more deliciously ironic history for you, from Coston's pen.
"When the truckers (80 years ago) began demanding that the government pave a road so trucks could carry freight from Chicago to New York, the farm lobby went ballistic, claiming intercity freight transportation was the 'natural' market of the railroads and that scarce government funds should be spent only on country roads to help farmers deliver their grain to the local elevator. When automobile owners demanded high-speed intercity highways, the newspapers went ballistic, saying only rich people had cars good enough to drive from Chicago to New York, and it wasn't the government's job to spend tax money on roads for the idle rich."
"Amtrak was started as kind of a bad joke." (Think this is a little strong? Check out the D:F Amtrak 30th anniversary edition for April 30 and read our report of White House conversations between President Nixon and Secretary Volpe.)
The system, says Coston, was never planned to grow, only contract, "and contract it did." The first Amtrak president, Roger Lewis, a refugee from the airline industry, didn't know beans about trains and doubted they would survive. This writer has heard and reported an illustrative story about a train that was delayed for hours, and Lewis did not bestir himself to emerge from his compartment to inquire as to what the problem was.
Coston worked for Amtrak for seven years, and ran profitable private sector trains for ten years.
"Don't tell us Americans don't want or can't have good passenger trains like citizens of all other civilized nations," he says, adding, "There's no longer any excuse for that dereliction. Not after September 11." Our passenger trains can be the equal of those anywhere in the world, but it won't happen "unless Congress acts, and the ARC, as Congress's advisor on the passenger-railroad question, must say so."
Having been visited on September 11 by "a spirit far more frightening than that of Jacob Marley," and having been shown in the following week "a glimpse of the Ghost of Transportation Future," Coston says we cannot afford to pretend that the experience did not happen.
At the end of Coston's speech, his colleague Wendell Cox, an ardent backer of all highways all the time (or most of the time, anyway) indicated that while he did not agree with Coston, he admired the intellectual quality of his outline.
Cox went along on the vote to include mentioning the funding disparity in the ARC report to Congress. That vote was 9 yeas, nobody voted no, but labor rep Charlie Moneypenny voted to abstain.
The fact that Moneypenny first voted no, then abruptly switched to abstain was extremely interesting. The labor movement, which he represents, has been unhappy with ARC staff proposals to split off the NEC infrastructure. So that was uppermost in his mind. For that reason, he's gun-shy of the word "split." But after Coston spoke, Moneypenny told me he liked the speech, which merely re-stated the history that has contributed to the shrinking of the rail industry workforce, to the detriment to his union members. Torn between these considerations, he simply abstained.
We in this space have harped on the historical funding problems, though not as thoroughly as Coston has done. This is the problem. Were it not for this history, there would be no shrinking Amtrak, perhaps no need for an Amtrak because passenger trains could very well be in a healthy state, no ARC would have been created, no "operational self-sufficiency" deadline would have been imposed by Congress, and our transportation system would be coordinated and balanced. The ARC has now left Congress with little excuse for sweeping this under the rug yet again.
Obviously, however, the public will remain ignorant of the "big picture" until the facts begin to seep into the consciousness of the mainstream media. The Wall Street Journal, in its own report on ARC deliberations, noted that the Council "has few illusions that passenger rail, like highways and airports, can function without government investment."
"We are going to have to subsidize the rail passenger mode just like we subsidize the aviation and the highway mode," Amtrak Reform Council Chairman Gil Carmichael told the WSJ.
Carmichael's charge that Amtrak "has failed terribly" brought a comment to the Journal from Amtrak spokesman Bill Schulz, the gist of which was that the passenger railroad did what it could with the meager funding it was given.
One labor leader, Transport Worker's Union President Sonny Hall (Moneypenny's brotherhood) wasted no time blasting the ARC plan with both barrels.
He referred to "risky privatization proposals" by "the rogue Amtrak Reform Council" which he said would "cannibalize the Amtrak network and turn it over to profit-driven commercial business interests who wish to cherry-pick Amtrak's most prized assets and rights-of-way and let the rest of the system wither."
Hall referred to the failure of the British experiment with privatization.
Most analysts have acknowledged the self-evident fact that the British system bombed. But some say that happened because it was devised in such a convoluted way as to make it impossible for future regimes to undo it. The British experiment resulted from the fact that the government-owned British Rail was up against a problem of deferred maintenance. No one wanted to face the costly music of adding the money necessary to keep it in shape. Even its highest speed trains could not compare with those in France, Germany and Japan.
Is it a given that any and every change proposed for the U.S. must necessarily repeat the mistakes of the British system? That is the core of some debate here.
Hall described the "paltry federal support" accorded Amtrak which he says "is constantly forced to focus on its survival rather than its next generation of high-speed rail passenger service."
"This is no way to run a railroad and our federal policy leaders hardly impose such a harsh economic and operating environment on any other segment of our transportation system."
The TWU president called for "a serious debate in upcoming Amtrak reauthorization legislation focused on strengthening Amtrak as a national passenger rail system, securing its long-term financing needs and giving Amtrak workers the job security they have earned."
Before we get away from the British debacle, which has dominated much of the debate as to whether any split-up of operations from infrastructure or franchising out to private operators is a blessing or a curse, the Brits this past week announced a new structure for their railroad industry.
In releasing the ten-year plan, British Transport Secretary Stephen Byers declared that Britain's railways are not fit for the 21st Century. The reason quality service has hit rock bottom, he added, is that the network had suffered continued under-investment over the past three decades.
That takes us back to 1972 and includes the many years of British Rail's deferred maintenance, and spans the stewardship of Labour and Tory regimes.
In the restructuring announcement, Britain's Strategic Rail Authority's (SRA) press release promised, "improvements for passengers and freight customers will be delivered in the short and medium term, as well as setting out long term ideas for the next decade."
British taxpayers will have to pay billions of pounds extra to finance the plan. The price tag represents a classic case of chickens coming home to roost. But for that tab, Byers promises there will be "no more excuses" for poor performance on the rail system.
Details of the plan are best reserved for a separate article. We here are concentrating on the ARC deliberations on passenger trains in the United States.
We mention the rail troubles besetting our cousins across the pond simply to point out that debates over whether Britain's problems argue against any U.S. attempt at privatization are quite beside the point. Thirty years includes much of British Rail's existence, as well as the privatization experiment.
The lesson of Britain is that deferred maintenance in the public domain will not be cured simply by dumping the problem into the lap of a privatized network, especially if that privatized plan was deliberately made complicated and failed to provide for accountability.
The operating train companies have borne none of the costs of increasing traffic, while the infrastructure company Railtrack sees none of the benefits. The London-based Economist quotes one British government official who called this a "silly incentive structure." In retrospect, at least, few would argue with that.
Just as the British are coming to grips with the reality that building a first class passenger train network costs money and that the buck has to stop somewhere, public or private, so, too, will the United States have to play catch-up with its obsolete passenger train system, as Coston advocates. Whether you agree with his particular prescription, there is no arguing with his point that the time for neglect, smoke and mirrors on passenger train funding has long since passed.
At the January 11 ARC meeting, the council members were presented with a statement of 21 states from all regions of the country saying, in effect, don't dump all the costs into our laps.
The States for Passenger Rail Coalition said, "The success of a rail corridor structure will be severely limited if the corridors are not connected by a national system framework."
Elsewhere, "A national intercity rail network," the state departments of transportation observed, "should be supported by the federal government, as the federal government has supported such investment and operation of the interstate highway, aviation, and maritime systems."
Secondly, the state DOTs added, "While states are willing and able partners in the provision of intercity rail services, states cannot do it alone," especially when "rail infrastructure is not in a state of good repair." That is an indirect way of saying to feds, "You walked away from putting rail passenger trains on a level playing field with the other modes, and you expect us to clean up the mess all by ourselves?"
The 21 states may have played a part in the fact that Cox's proposal (as reported here last week) to devolve decisions on train routes back to the states as much as possible, passed by a decidedly divided vote. Coston and Moneypenny voted no. St. Louis banker S. Lee King and independent researcher and infrastructure policy advisor Nancy Rutledge Connery abstained.
As we also reported in this space last week, Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist was the driving force behind ARC-approved plans to allow state and local governments to use federal transportation funds with more flexibility, allow airports to treat passenger rail facilities as the equivalent of runways, and create a 10 percent investment tax credit to purchase infrastructure necessary for passenger train service.
At one point, the mayor, a longtime a maverick who has outlined his own concept of the "big picture" on urban problems in a book titled, The Wealth of Cities," appeared to lose his cool. Some of the ARC staff and some of his colleagues questioned whether certain of Norquist's proposals should be so specific. For example, it's fine to advocate an investment tax credit, but must we specify that it be pegged at ten percent?
"What the hell are we here for if we try to be mealy-mouthed about making recommendations to Congress?" he asked.
"I'm an elected official myself, and when I ask somebody to study something and give me some answers, I want specifics."
Appearing on Cable News Network's Financial News channel (CNNfn), ARC Chairman Carmichael, himself a onetime FRA administrator, refused to bend to the dumbed-down cartoon nature of much of TV news. He would not supply a quick answer to anchor Jan Hopkins who asked why the council plan reorganizes passenger train service, but the service is "all under the government still rather than having private companies. Just a quick answer."
CARMICHAEL: I can't give you a quick answer.
HOPKINS: Can you give a quick answer?
CARMICHAEL: No, not.
HOPKINS: OK, then we'll have to have you back.
So that's what the public learned from CNN that day about the underlying transportation facts of life. If you wanted the real story, your best bet was catching the ARC meeting on C-SPAN.
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|Continental Air, Amtrak enter pact|
Continental Airlines on Thursday said it had signed a code-sharing deal with Amtrak that allows the railroad and the airline to share passengers and revenue at its Newark International Airport hub.
The code share is scheduled to launch in mid-March and will allow travelers to make one reservation for both air and rail services.
Under the deal, Continental will place its code on Amtrak's Acela Regional and Keystone trains for service to Philadelphia, Wilmington, Stamford and New Haven.
Newark airport opened a rail terminal late last year that also transports passengers to terminals on a monorail system.
Amtrak stated, "Convenient connections between planes and trains have been commonplace in Europe for more than a decade, with airports that double as rail stations in Paris, Frankfurt and other locations."
Amtrak and Continental Airlines have created the first multi-city plane-train partnership in America, but the railroad also makes connections with Icelandic Air for European travelers.
The Newark Airport monorail ride is ten minutes. The railroad said it would offer 1,000 Continental frequent flier miles to Acela Express passengers traveling roundtrip between New York Penn Station and either Washington D.C. or Boston. Additionally, Amtrak Guest Rewards passengers will be able to bank Continental miles to their Amtrak program accounts.
"In the list of what's in and out for 2002, what's out is the Delta shuttle," said Continental President Larry Kellner, "and what's in is Acela Express."
Amtrak President George Warrington echoed Kellner's observation.
"Two years ago, we had a little more than a third of the New York-Washington end point to end point rail/air market-we've now got half the business and are continuing to grow. It's not just there, but between Boston and New York as well."
Kellner said he expects 500 Continental passengers a day to pass through the rail station between his planes and Amtrak's trains.
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NCI: Leo KingAmtrak trains travel over CSX lines from CP-3, three miles west of Boston, to Worcester, Mass., then continue on to Springfield, Albany and Chicago. Providence & Worcester tracks lie to the left of the camera, but are unable to make a station stop for their occasional passenger extras because no track comes close to a Worcester station platform.
|Worcester okays station upgrades|
Some good news from Worcester, Mass. That central Massachusetts city's city council gave preliminary approval on January 15 to borrow $2.8 million so 26,565 square feet of space in Union Station can be fitted with utilities and other infrastructure for potential tenants.
The vote to advertise the loan order was unanimous, but some city councilors said they doubted if the city would be able to recoup the money through tax credits for Union Station, according to a report the next day in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
"If anyone thinks we're going to get tax credits for Union Station to pay for this work, that is tentative at best," said councilor Paul P. Clancy Jr.
Clancy and other councilors acknowledged, however, that even if the city ends up having to foot the bill for the so-called "build out" work, it would be money well spent because such an investment is necessary if Union Station is going to become a destination point for area residents.
The city just finished spending $38 million to renovate the station (see last week's D:F) but no tenants, except Amtrak and Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority ticket sellers, have moved in because there are no water or other utility hookups in the structure. Bus companies have not made it a stop because there is no place for their buses to make stops. An adjacent structure being used to house university documents is also a continuing problem. The space isn't being used productively to generate cash.
A development plan for the station and Washington Square area was prepared by the Worcester Business Development Corp. and Wallace Floyd Design Group.
There are sewer, heating, air conditioning and electrical hookups yet, either, in much of the structure. The consultants estimated that it would cost $2.8 million to make 26,565 square feet of space on the first and second floors ready for tenants, but city officials hope to have that space ready for occupancy and generating rent by November.
While city officials hope to use the proceeds from Union Station tax credits to pay off the loan for the build-out work, Councilor-at-Large Joseph M. Petty said there is no certainty that would happen because city officials have to renegotiate the manner in which the tax credits can be accessed.
A public hearing process will soon begin. The council referred the development plan to its Commerce and Development Committee.
That committee's chairman, Councilor-at-Large Dennis L. Irish, said the committee would discuss the kind of hearing process it would establish. He said the committee would consider the number of hearings it will hold and where they might be held.
He said, "This is a complex project. Rebuilding cities is no small task. There are builders and there are critics: it is important we have builders for this."
Councilor-at-Large Konstantina B. Lukes said the plan for Union Station should focus on making it a transportation center, making the station a self-sufficient operation and a magnet for economic development.
"We can't afford to continue to tread water on this," she added.
"This project has become our little Big Dig. We need to come up with a good plan, one that we can live with for 25 to 50 years." The "Big Dig" reference was to Boston's highway debacle.
The public portion of the development plan involves building a parking garage behind the station on Franklin Street and reconfiguring the traffic pattern in Washington Square.
A private development, meanwhile, would consist of 364,300 gross square feet of new commercial space, including office, retail and entertainment uses in five new buildings; 88 residential units in two buildings, and a 140-room hotel, and a park would be created near the station.
"This plan is based on solid evidence that Union Station, combined with some significant private development in the Washington Square area, will remain a signature building for many years to come," City Manager Thomas R. Hoover said at an earlier standing-room-only press conference.
He averred, "This will also ensure long-term economic success for Union Station."
Highlights include making 26,565 square feet of space ready for potential tenants.
Preliminary cost for a new road is $8.7 million, which would be funded by the state highway department.
Directly in front of Union Station would be a new park, flanked on both sides by four-story, 44-unit residential buildings. Both buildings would have underground garages.
Farther north, four new commercial buildings with more than 320,000 square feet of space would be added. Two of the new development parcels are properties owned Tenet Healthcare Corp., which owns the nearby Worcester Medical Center.
Sources said the city is working with Tenet to get some type of medical-related activities in those buildings.
If all four commercial parcels are fully developed, there are plans for a 560-space parking garage, near the Summer Street on-ramp to Interstate 290, to serve those buildings.
West of Union Station, on the other side of the CSX viaduct, the plans call for a 140-room hotel and a seven-berth bus station for intercity carriers, with the potential for Worcester Regional Transit Authority services.
The hotel and bus station would be connected to the Worcester Common Outlets parking garage by a walkway over Worcester Center Boulevard. They would also be connected to Union Station by a walkway under the railroad viaduct.
A former parcel post building on Franklin Street, behind Union Station and on the other side of the tracks, would be demolished and a new three-story, 255-space parking garage would be built. The garage would be for those using Union Station and not for rail commuters, a spokesman said.
The University of Massachusetts Medical School, which owns the parcel post building, has requested air rights for the potential to develop 38,000 square feet of commercial space above the garage.
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|TTC finds few track faults|
The Transportation Technology Center of Pueblo, Colo., reported last week the newly rebuilt track between Portland, Maine and Plaistow, New Hampshire, is safe for speeds up to 79 mph. The results showed that most of the rail line exceeded standards set by the Federal Railroad Administration.
The question now, once again, is when will Guilford allow the Amtrak Downeaster passenger trains to operate at the higher speeds?
The technical analysis showed that the passenger trains could safely run at higher speeds, cutting 12 to 15 minutes off the trip between Portland and Boston, according to regional rail authority officials, the Portland Press Herald reported in its January 15 edition. TTC's report was released January 14.
Train supporters hope the report will allow Amtrak to increase the speed limit on the line from 60 mph to 79 mph. They say that cutting time off the 2-hour, 45-minute ride would help the train compete with cars and buses.
Passengers should not expect faster trains any time soon, though. Guilford Rail System, which owns the line, has resisted efforts to increase the speed limit, citing safety concerns.
The question now is whether the report will coax Guilford into striking a deal with the Northern New England Rail Authority on speed limits. If not, the issue goes back to the Surface Transportation Board.
David Fink, executive vice president of Guilford, said last month that raw data produced during the study proved that the line's gravel rail bed isn't substantial enough to safely support trains traveling faster than 60 mph on 115-pound rail.
Guilford owns 78 miles of rail between Portland and Plaistow, N.H. Its crews this summer finished upgrading the line at a cost of $750,000 per mile, paid for largely with federal funds. Westward from Plaistow, the track is MBTA property.
Guilford and the rail authority have been at loggerheads on many issues over the years, but their relationship has improved during the past year, said Wayne Davis, head of TrainRiders Northeast.
"I hope that good sense will prevail," he said.
In September and November, the TTC tested the rails with a three-car test train that measured how far the rails flex when a train travels over them. The outfit used the findings to calculate the overall stiffness of the rail-supporting system, including the ties, ballast and the soil under the ballast. The train tested the track while traveling at 10 mph. It also performed tests while stationary.
According to the company's report, the track exceeds the standards on 99.95 percent of the track on which Amtrak plans to operate at speeds above 60 mph. The report said only 166 feet of track fail to meet the standards, and the problems are largely confined to an area in Kennebunk that has soil with poor drainage.
To meet the Surface Transportation Board standards, the track must deflect no more than 0.27 of an inch during the test. On average, according to the test results, the track deflected by about half that much.
The question now is whether 99.95 percent is good enough for Guilford. Fink may have given a hint of his company's position during an interview Monday when he asked if the test showed that the standards were satisfactory on 100 percent of the line.
Downeaster service began December 15.
Speedy trains or not, crowded train platforms and standing-room-only rides have been a norm for the popular month-old Portland-to-Boston passenger train service.
Despite its success, the Downeaster trains have not had the effect on the Haverhill, Mass. downtown restaurant and shopping district that many expected - people taking the train simply are not flocking downtown to eat and shop.
Other businesses, however, like the homebuyers' market, have been helped.
Realtors in Haverhill said the train is providing a selling point for them to sell homes and condos to out-of-town buyers. The train also makes three stops in New Hampshire, and real estate agents there are trying to make the most of that opportunity.
Realtor Dianne A. Burns said people thinking of buying a home in Haverhill ask to see the train station during tours of the city.
"Customers coming in from out of town know about it, and it seems to be an important factor" in deciding if they will live in Haverhill, Burns said.
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|Five Acelas left to build; new timetable arrives|
Those Acela Express trainsets are still rolling off the Bombardier assembly line, albeit slowly.
Karen Dunn, an Amtrak spokeswoman in Philadelphia, said the trains wouldn't all be in service until April at the earliest. She did not know when the last five would be delivered. The order was for 20 trainsets.
Meanwhile, the latest Northeast Corridor timetable (January 28) shows more Acela Express trains in the schedule than conventional trains - at least for those trains arriving and leaving Boston.
There are nine expresses in the weekday schedule, and eight Acela Regional trains.
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|Vermont looks for another Amtrak train|
Rutland, Vermont officials are worried they'll get railroaded by southern Vermont rivals looking for an Amtrak train for a new route to Manchester, but state officials said they're not looking at taking one of Rutland's two passenger trains to fill that need.
The mayor and members of Rutland's legislative delegation, the AP reported on January 14, are concerned that Bennington might be interested in "borrowing" one of Rutland's trains.
Work is nearly complete on $10 million repairs to the rail lines between Bennington and Manchester, which has taken nearly five years.
Robert Stannard, who has long lobbied for a train to Manchester, said he hadn't heard any talk about taking one of Rutland's trains, but he said he expected the state to find a train for the Manchester route by July.
"I don't know how actively (taking a Rutland train) is being considered," Stannard said.
"How Amtrak and the state choose to run a train into Manchester is their doing." He added, "All I can do is coax and encourage the state of Vermont to get the work done and get a train going. I guess they can look at trains in Rutland, but it's their call."
Rutland Mayor John Cassarino said he hasn't heard enough to reassure him. In fact, some of what he's heard make him more nervous. If it were up to him, Cassarino said, he would delay finding a train for Manchester until the track from Rutland to Burlington had been repaired. He said that argument was based on economic sense and fairness.
The state completed repairs between Charlotte and Burlington last year, leaving only some sections between Middlebury and Rutland to be fixed. If the state got a train running from Burlington to Rutland and onto New York City, Cassarino said, the state could expect more riders than they could from a route to Manchester.
"Our feeling is there's already a train here, we've got Killington here and if the track went up to Burlington, we'd have a lot of skiers riding the train," he said. "My thinking is there would be a lot more people riding that train than on one that ended in Manchester."
Cassarino said he also believes Rutland has been on the short end of the stick for most transportation projects and the loss of a train would be a sore blow.
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|New York looks for faster trains|
Amtrak, CSX and the New York State DOT are seeking FRA approval to run trains at faster speeds. The three petitioned the FRA two weeks ago.
They want to operate passenger trains at more than 100 mph through grade crossings along Amtrak's Empire High-Speed Corridor between New York City and Schenectady. Technically, those are Class 7 speeds. NYSDOT stated it would implement a "five-year hazard mitigation action plan, which would include crossing improvement, elimination and closure."
FRA invited interested parties to participate in the proceedings by submitting written opinions, data or comments; but the agency doesn't anticipate the need for a formal hearing at this point.
Submitted materials must reference Waiver Petition Docket Number FRA-2001-11233 and be submitted to Docket Clerk, DOT Central Docket Management Facility, Room PL-401 (Plaza Level) 400 Seventh Street, S.W., Washington D.C. 20590.
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California funds faster trains
In a one-two boost for development of a high-speed train network in California, Gov. Davis has approved funding to complete the system's environmental report, and has appointed two members to the High-Speed Rail Authority (HSRA) Board.
In the January 11 budget unveiling, Davis allocated $8.46 million for the 2002-2003 fiscal year, which combined with $1.25 million in a federal appropriation HSRA received in December, makes it possible for HSRA to complete state and federal environmental reports by June 30, 2003.
The proposed state budget does not cut funding for state-financed intercity rail. A sixth San Joaquin, already in the previous budget and which remains in the new one, is planned to operate Sacramento-Bakersfield as soon as Union Pacific finishes upgrading the former Western Pacific line between Sacramento and El Pinal (Stockton). Tentatively the train is to begin operation in March 2002.
There is no funding for any further expansion of the Sacramento-Oakland-San Jose Capitol Corridor.
$8.5 million for the California High-Speed Rail Authority is mostly coming from state Highway funds.
The budget must still be approved by the state legislature.
The governor also appointed a pair of new members to the nine-member HSRA board. They were Dr. Ernest A. Bates and Joseph E. Petrillo.
Bates, a former Senate appointee to the HSRA board, is CEO of American Shared Hospital Services in San Francisco.
Petrillo is an attorney and partner in the San Francisco law office of Sheppard Mullin Richter and Hampton.
The authority expects to complete the draft environmental report for the entire 700-mile system by June 2003. Once finalized, the next step will be to identify specific corridor alignments for construction and begin project-specific environmental clearance reviews.
So far, there are nine corridor alignment options connecting San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento, the Central Valley, Inland Empire and San Diego. The HSRA web address is www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov.
Thanks to Gene Poon
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|Midwest plans gain momentum|
The Midwest initiative to build high-speed passenger lines is picking up more momentum. The plan is being nudged in part by the financial crisis threatening Amtrak as well as the September 11 attacks.
The ambitious plan, amid lean times in the Midwest, involves combining the resources of Illinois and eight nearby states, an operating company and the Federal Railroad Administration to run a regional rail network based in Chicago, the Chicago Tribune reported January 13.
Locomotives traveling 100 mph or more would pull double-decker coach and business-class cars outfitted with large windows. Wide seats, ample legroom, computer hookups, bicycle racks and top-notch food in the dining cars would make for a comfortable travel experience between Chicago and destinations including Milwaukee, St. Louis and Detroit.
Just as European trains stop at major airports, the vision goes, the system would make O'Hare International Airport a transfer point. Eventually, it would encompass some 3,000 miles of track ranging from Ohio to Nebraska and Minnesota, all at a cost of about $4.1 billion over 10 years.
But what role, if any, Amtrak should play in the network as it develops is open to debate. Critics of the money-losing rail system say Amtrak's poor operating record makes a strong case for allowing private companies to run high-speed rail lines should the plan eventually win funding from Congress.
Meanwhile, last weekend, many Amtrak employees working at Chicago Union Station offices moved into a new facility, the Congress Center. They are getting new telephone and fax numbers, but they were not in place yet by Friday afternoon. They are expected to be completed by January 22.
If done right, according to the Amtrak Reform Council, the Chicago-Detroit corridor alone could be served by 16 trains a day, cutting the one-way travel time by nearly two hours, to 3 hours 40 minutes. The rail trip is competitive with a plane, backers say, because of the additional time needed for fliers to pass airport security checks.
The idea of operating high-speed trains has worked in France, Japan and even California, and it would succeed in the Midwest, according to proponents, including former presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, Amtrak's acting chairman.
"We're wasting millions and millions of hours every year in this country stuck on the highways and, pre-September 11, sitting in airports," Dukakis said. "There isn't any question that Americans will get on the train by the hundreds of thousands if the service is any good."
But some transportation experts warn of a financial boondoggle in the making, should Congress commit even more dollars to a high-speed rail system.
"I find it difficult to believe that anyone would take the train... given the distances and the low airfares out of Midway Airport," said Ian Savage, a professor of economics and transportation at Northwestern University. "The public shouldn't be investing in this money-losing proposition."
Nor should Amtrak lead the charge, critics say, adding that Amtrak has been given plenty of opportunities to succeed but continues to lose money. Amtrak didn't capitalize on the attacks on the World Trade Center towers and Pentagon when travel by planes plummeted. Amtrak ridership fell 6.4 percent in September, slipped 1.3 percent in October and was flat in November.
Nationwide, Amtrak lost $1.06 billion in 2001, up from $944 million in 2000. Its operating losses totaled $340 million in 2001 compared with $290 million in 2000.
In Illinois, all four Amtrak routes subsidized by the state lost money in 2000. Even with a $3 million state subsidy, the Chicago to St. Louis route lost $13.7 million, or $60.42 a passenger.
Congress has sent mixed signals over the years about the prospects of high-speed rail, but many observers, citing the proposed National High-Speed Rail Investment Act, believe support is finally evolving.
The high-speed rail act is a $12 billion legislative package to fund high-speed rail in about 10 corridors across the nation. The measure has 57 co-sponsors in the Senate and almost 200 in the House.
Similar legislation passed the House last year, but stalled in the Senate.
Betting on long-term prospects, most of the nine states included in the Midwest high-speed rail network are investing by modernizing tracks and signals.
Illinois has spent more than $100 million on improvements along part of the designated high-speed rail corridor between Chicago and St. Louis. Testing on the Union Pacific Railroad track is scheduled to begin late this year with Amtrak trains operating at up to 110 m.p.h.
By 2004, Amtrak officials said the series of improvements will reduce the trip time between St. Louis and Chicago by one hour, and trip time will be reduced by an additional 50 minutes when the program is completed.
"All the studies we have done show that the riders will be there for us," said Gary Williams, chief of the bureau of railroads in the Illinois DOT. "What we have to do is provide a service they can depend on."
In Michigan, a new train control system is in the final stage of testing and it will allow Amtrak to increase the speed of trains running on part of the Chicago-Detroit corridor from 79 mph to 90 mph, with the eventual goal of operations in the existing right-of way at 110 mph.
In Wisconsin, engineering work is under way on the eventual extension of high-speed services to the Milwaukee-Madison corridor. Preliminary engineering and capacity analyses are also under way on the other potential high-speed corridors comprising the nine-state Midwest network.
"We're ready to go," said Michael Franke, an Amtrak assistant vice president who is in charge of the Midwest high-speed rail project.
"We know where the first batch of money should be spent, and I don't think it will be difficult to provide a big boost in service just several years after the funding becomes available."
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|Augusta-Savannah route opens|
Augusta, Georgia residents have improved passenger train access this week - but it's on a bus. A daily Greyhound will carry train riders to the Amtrak station in Savannah, reported the Augusta Chronicle.
Outside the Augusta Greyhound bus terminal last week, the number of officials dressed in suits outnumbered bus passengers bound for Savannah by 15 to zero, but that was because the first passenger to use Amtrak's new Thruway Service between Augusta and Savannah would not be able to board until the following morning.
It is the first time Savannah's terminal has been connected to another city by the Thruway Service.
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|Utah commuter rail grows|
The Utah Transit Authority cinched a deal last week to buy Union Pacific rail corridors, which could lead to high-speed commuter trains along the Wasatch Front and TRAX service into the western Salt Lake Valley within five years.
"This may be one of the most complex deals ever done by a transit agency," UP spokesman Bob Starzel said last Tuesday of the sweeping purchase that is expected to top $150 million. "It is so massive," according to The Salt Lake Tribune .
Layton City Councilman Stuart Adams, who also heads the Davis County Council of Governments transportation task force, said, "This is a great day. It is monumental. This is the first step in perhaps a new era for northern Utah. Our residents will have the option of getting around [the Wasatch Front] by other than the automobile."
Natalie Gochnour, a spokeswoman for Gov. Mike Leavitt, said the governor showed his support for the project two years ago when he called top Union Pacific executives.
"This is helpful in demonstrating that it is not either/or when it comes to roads or transit through this corridor, and that there is a state commitment to both," Gochnour said.
UTA is buying access to UP's main line between Brigham City and Payson. UTA plans to build its own commuter tracks inside the UP corridor from Ogden to Salt Lake City, and eventually to Payson. The agency would use existing UP tracks from Ogden to Brigham City.
It is also getting the now-abandoned Denver & Rio Grande Western right-of-way, still owned by UP, from North Salt Lake in Davis County to Roy in Weber County. This area could be used for pedestrians, cyclists and equestrians. It also acquired the so-called Mid-Jordan Line through Midvale, West Jordan and South Jordan. These tracks would be used for light rail.
Another route, "The Sugar House" line from South Salt Lake to Salt Lake City's southeast quadrant is in the deal. This also could be used for light rail, though currently there are no plans to extend TRAX to Sugar House. The right-of-way purchase is intended to protect that corridor from residential and commercial development.
UTA hopes to build commuter rail from Ogden to Salt Lake City at the same time it is developing light rail on the Mid-Jordan Line.
The agency also is working on a new TRAX route to West Valley City, which would be created through private land and on city streets. There is no existing rail corridor to Utah's second largest city.
Last year, the Utah Legislature appropriated $10 million to help UTA buy UP rights of way. The Utah DOT added another $10 million from its Legacy Highway fund.
Mike Allegra, UTA's rail-development director, said the balance of the UP purchase would come from bonds, which would be paid off with UTA revenue, primarily from its share of sales-tax collections.
Voters in Davis, Salt Lake and Weber counties in 2000 approved a quarter-cent increase in the sales tax to pay for expanded bus and rail service.
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|Mayors meet in D.C., New York|
More than 300 mayors from across the nation will gather in Washington, D.C. and New York City to discuss homeland defense and economic security issues at their 70th annual winter meeting on Jan. 22-26. For the first time, mayors will split the meeting between two cities in a dramatic show of support by America's cities for New York City and its new mayor.
The first two days of the meeting will take place in Washington, D.C. and focus mostly on homeland defense and preparedness issues. There will also be a session on the nation's affordable housing crisis. Mayors will then take a special Amtrak Acela Express train to New York City for the second half of the meeting, which will focus primarily on economic security issues facing America's cities.
On Friday at 1 p.m., Amtrak President George Warrington and the conference leadership will conduct a press conference at Union Station's Starlight Room.
One hour later the mayors and press will depart Washington on an Amtrak Acela Express train for route New York City.
Most Washington events will take place at the Capital Hilton Hotel, 16th and K Streets, N.W. Most New York events will take place at the New York Hilton, 6th Avenue and 54th Street.
Expected speakers in Washington include New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, who is the president, U.S. Conference of Mayors, as well as Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn, chairman, Aviation Security Task Force who will discuss "Aviation security and economic viability."
Gov. Tom Ridge, director, Office of Homeland Security will discuss "Homeland security and the intergovernmental partnership."
USDOT Secretary Norman Mineta is expected to speak as well.
Friday's speakers, on January 25 in New York City, will include
Felix Rohatyn, former U.S. Ambassador to France and former managing director, Lazard Freres; Kenneth Chenault, president and CEO, American Express; Marci Rossell, chief economist, CNBC; and U.S. Sen. John Kerry, chairman, Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
New York's new mayor, Michael Bloomberg, will also address the nation's mayors at 11 a.m., followed by a press conference
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NCI: Leo KingBusiness is picking up for New England regional freight railroad Providence & Worcester.
|P&W grows its business in Worcester|
Business is picking up for New England regional freight carrier Providence & Worcester.
TI Logistics Inc., a Worcester, Mass. trucking and warehousing business, is planning a $12 million expansion in Oxford, Mass. They are buying a 75,000-square-foot former wire mill on nine acres off Dana Road in Oxford plus an adjacent 25 acres has been completed at a cost of $2.5 million, according to Norman D. Sirk and Richard A. Seder, the firmľs principal owners.
The warehouses will have a 12-track yard serviced by P&W, as well as 50 trailer-truck bays.
As demand for space from its warehouse and trucking customers grows, the company plans to expand the existing building to 140,000 square feet and build a separate 240,000-square-foot building, Sirk said.
The project's total cost is estimated at $12 million.
Meanwhile, in Rhode Island, Gov. Lincoln Almond's administration last week submitted applications for federal and state permits to develop a container port at the state's Quonset-Davisville industrial park in North Kingstown, site of a former Naval air station closed during the Nixon administration.
The administration submitted applications to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Coastal Resources Management Council to begin review of the proposed 200-acre container port.
Almond said, in a press statement, the applications and supporting documents "show that a compact container terminal at Quonset-Davisville will generate economic benefits which fulfill a variety of needs of the state and the region" with "manageable impacts on the environment."
Two railroads would benefit from additional traffic - the P&W, and industrial shortline Seaview Railroad.
Administration officials project the container port would handle up to 1.2 million containers annually and provide 11,700 in direct and indirect jobs.
Almond's decision to move forward with the controversial project is sure to draw criticism from environmentalists and many residents of North Kingstown and the rest of South County concerned about the project's environmental impact on Narragansett Bay and the local environment.
Trying to blunt the likely criticism, Almond's announcement quoted a state labor leader who favors the project because of the economic benefits.
"Construction and operation of a compact container port would provide thousands of good-paying jobs for Rhode Islanders," state AFL-CIO President Frank Montanaro said.
Recently, opponents of the proposed port said Almond's administration should halt expensive studies for the project in light of the state's emerging budget crisis.
"When the governor is slashing affordable housing and the budget is tight, it's folly to put any more money into trying to develop this losing proposition," Sarah Kite, conservation organizer for the Sierra Club's Rhode Island chapter said recently.
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|STB to examine car delays|
The Surface Transportation board is again going to look into reasons why rail car interchanges between railroads delay so many cars getting to receivers.
STB Chair Linda J. Morgan said the board was responding to a request by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) to facilitate the process.
Meetings among railroads, shippers, and other interested parties concerning delays are expected to begin shortly, but no dates have yet been disclosed.
In their usual legal rhetoric, the STB stated, "A proceeding had been instituted by the board relative to this issue in response to a petition for declaratory order (where the agency states its position in a matter of dispute), but, in a decision served December 10, 2001, the board held up the case and asked the AAR to convene the meetings to attempt to resolve the matter in the private sector."
In response to a letter filed by the AAR on December 21, 2001, the board "is issuing a Federal Register notice asking interested parties to file, with both the agency and with AAR, notices of intent to participate, along with a brief summary of the parties' positions and preliminary recommendations."
They also said they wanted people with rail operations background to testify.
"To foster practical solutions dealing with interchange issues in general, and not the collective discussion of specific rates for specific situations, the board encouraged participation by individuals with railroad operational backgrounds."
After the STB gets notices of intent, the agency said it would "adopt a new procedural schedule for convening the meetings and reporting back to the agency."
The Board issued its decision last week in Union Pacific's petition for a declaratory order, "Unilaterally Imposed Interchange Charges, STB Docket No. 42052."
The decision is online at the Board's Website, http://www.stb.dot.gov.
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|LTV Rail is on hard times|
One of five small railroads run by financially troubled LTV Corp. to haul materials to and from industrial plants, it faces an uncertain future as the steel giant, in the midst of bankruptcy proceedings, prepares to auction assets this winter, reported Chicago Sun-Times on January 14.
Rail historians fear the historic line, which operates between the Southeast Side and northwest Indiana, will be shuttered.
"We really don't know because we don't know realistically if LTV is going to truly shut down," said Bill Larsen, president of the Shortlines of Chicago Historical Society.
Mark Tomasch, a spokesman for Cleveland-based LTV, said: "We're in the process of selling the assets of the steel company, and the short line railroad is one of those assets. So I can't give you a very concrete answer" about its future.
The president of LTV's railroads, Dan Hennessy, said the Chicago railroad "is valuable as long as someone's making coke and making steel" in the area.
The Chicago Short Line is among the oldest of the 10 to 20 "short lines" in the region, said Doug Kaniuk, treasurer, secretary and webmaster for the historical society. People define them differently, but an industry trade group generally identifies short lines as railroads with $20 million or less in annual operating revenues.
The Chicago Short Line is LTV's only railroad in the Chicago area, but others are in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Before operations ground to a near-halt, viewers might see a locomotive "go to the coke plant in South Chicago and pick up 30 cars of coke and take it to Indiana Harbor, drop it at the plant and pick up empty cars and any commodities, such as finished steel, and take it to an interchange point," Hennessy said.
There, the material might be transferred to a main line, such as Norfolk Southern Ry., for delivery, he said.
The Chicago Short Line has several customers, but so much of its business involved LTV that the line probably can't survive without a major steel sponsor, experts said.
The railway includes four locomotives, all around 30 years old; 125 coke cars with 100-ton capacities; about 27 miles of track, and 24.5 acres of land. Most of the 28 employees have been furloughed.
As consolidation shrinks the number of major rail companies, many short lines are thriving because the giants find the smaller jobs not profitable enough or too tedious. But many short lines are married to a single industry or company, meaning they sink or swim with their partners.
LTV's auction is scheduled for next month.
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Houston project is over budget
Houston's Metropolitan Transit Authority's 7.5-mile light rail line, which Metro officials have long described as a $300 million project, now has a marked-up price tag of $324 million, according to the Houston Chronicle of January 16.
During several months of rumored overruns, monthly progress reports to the agency's board have repeatedly cited a "current working estimate" of $303 million.
The added $3 million was attributed to six weeks of construction delays caused by lawsuits to stop the project by then-Houston City Councilman Rob Todd.
But the reports, presented by Metro President and Chief Executive Shirley DeLibero, also have stated repeatedly that the project includes various "out-of-scope elements" beyond its original description.
These enhancements and additions, the reports said, would be funded separately, some by the city of Houston, some by business and civic interests, and others by Metro, but no figures were included in the reports.
The revised estimate, which includes three such additions, was presented January 2 to board Chairman Robert Miller and board member Tom Whitson in a briefing by DeLibero and senior Metro staff, said Julie Gilbert, the agency's vice president of communications and marketing.
There was no discussion of the new cost estimate at Metro's board committee meetings Tuesday.
"I guess I'm not surprised," said David Hutzelman, president of the Business Committee Against Rail, or Buscar.
Buscar opposed the light rail line and unsuccessfully sought to have a referendum on the project.
"And they were always Śon target and under budget.' I'm sure they didn't want any of that to get out before the election in November," Hutzelman said.
Hutzelman questioned the need for a track that could be used to test rail cars up to 66 mph, the speeds they would attain on a suburban commuter rail line.
Voters, Hutzelman said, have not authorized such a line. A referendum would be needed to issue the debt necessary for expanding the system beyond the initial line.
Documents provided in the Jan. 2 briefing said the original project cost estimate of $300 million included a $25 million (8.3 percent) reserve for contingencies, a normal provision in such projects.
Gilbert said Metro has always intended to spend the entire contingency fund, but not to exceed it.
She said Metro had continued to cite the $303 million estimate in hopes the additional items could be paid for out of unused contingency funds.
"But it doesn't look like that will happen," Gilbert said.
DeLibero said the increased costs are not properly described as overruns, since they add to the project as originally conceived.
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British rails need vast repairs
Britain's railways are not fit for the 21st century, according to UK Transport Secretary Stephen Byers. He said the network had suffered continued under investment over the last three decades, Skynews reported last week.
He made the comments as he unveiled the Strategic Rail Authority's (SRA) 10-year transport plan to MPs in the House of Commons.
Earlier, he said there would be "no more excuses" for poor performance on the rail system under a 33.5 million-pound spending package announced to boost customer satisfaction.
Byers said it was an important step in the right direction to regain the public's confidence in the reliability and comfort of train travel.
"We have the money and now we have a detailed industry plan so there can be no more excuses. It sets basic objectives, allocates funds, identifies priorities and sets a clear timetable for delivery.
SRA chairman Richard Bowker said the plan would give private rail investors "clarity of and confidence in the future".
"There is no doubt that Railtrack, or its successor, has got to seriously raise its game in the way it manages infrastructure," he said. "The whole industry has to raise its game. We at the SRA have to raise our game."
The SRA said the 10-year plan sought to halt "almost three decades of consistent under-investment in Britain's railway."
However the plan is dependent on the private sector investing £23 billion. It concentrates largely on improvements in London and southeast routes, and also indicates that some much-discussed projects are unlikely to start before 2010. The £33.5 billion is £4.4 billion more than first announced some 18 months earlier.
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|Royal Train may become only a memory|
The Royal Train may be sidetracked for good next year as part of a drive to reduce the cost of royal travel to taxpayers.
The accountant for Queen Elizabeth II said Wednesday that reduced use of the luxury nine-carriage Royal Train was making it increasingly hard to justify its existence.
Sir Michael Peat, keeper of the Privy Purse, said the distinctive maroon train would get one final chance to prove its worth this year when the queen uses it on a lengthy tour of Britain to celebrate 50 years on the throne. Complete with bedrooms and offices, the train will become her home away from home, but once the Golden Jubilee year is over, the future of the train, which costs an average of $50,400 for each 550-mile journey, is by no means assured.
"There is no complacency. We are considering all possibilities to get the cost down," Peat said.
The train has been used less frequently in recent years as the queen and other members of the Royal family have increasingly traveled by helicopter or scheduled rail services. The Royal Train's royal stock is more than 30 years old and cannot travel on main lines during the day because it would hold up other services. It also cannot use the Channel Tunnel.
When the Royal Household took over responsibility for royal travel arrangements in 1997, it reduced the size of the train from 14 to eight coaches. That cut running costs from $2.7 million a year to $864,000 by 2000.
The Brits name their locomotives. Its two Royal Class 47 diesel locomotives, Prince William and Prince Henry, are used for general duties when not needed for the Royal Train.
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O&MDA Prairie hauls riders.
Orlando steam train to start
A railroad first laid in the 1880s between Orlando and Mount Dora, Fla., will once again operate daily steam-powered passenger trains starting February 1.
Passengers aboard the Orlando & Mount Dora Ry. will experience travel at a more leisurely pace than tourists are accustomed to today, and they will have time to explore Mount Dora, a New England-style town featuring cafes, antiques, fashion boutiques and decorative art galleries all within easy walking distance of one another.
"This trip has been designed to serve as much more than transportation," says O&MD general manager Neil Bagaus.
"It has been said that a train is a place going somewhere. In our case, that somewhere is Mount Dora, and the train is a powered by an authentic steam locomotive. On board we feature stories about the railroad and a look at Florida from Śsee level' aboard our comfortable, air conditioned coaches."
No word on how many track miles.
Each morning at 9 a.m. the railway's 1913-vintage Prairie (2-6-2) steam locomotive will toot its whistle to signal departure time from Orlando.
The steam train operates daily, departing Orlando at 9 a.m. and returning at 5 p.m. Fares are $40 for adults, $35 seniors (55+), $32 children (3- 9). First class tickets, including complimentary snacks and beverages, are available for $60 each. Daily one hour rides from Mount Dora depart at 12:40 p.m. Fares are $12 for adults, $11 seniors, $8 children.
Trains depart and arrive near the Orlando Metroplex.
The railroad is online at www.mtdoratrain.com.
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First things first
By now most D:F readers have been exposed to the recommendations of the Amtrak Reform Council, the advisory body created by Congress as part of the Amtrak reform Act of 1997.
While interpretations of what ARC plans to recommend are varied, essentially the ARC wants to split Amtrak's operations from its infrastructure, and gradually privatize or franchise out (which could mean the same thing) various functions of the railroad.
While we want to make clear that new ideas about building a strong national passenger railroad system should be welcomed, we believe strongly that dividing operational and infrastructure responsibilities would be a serious and dangerous mistake, whether we are talking about Amtrak on the Northeast Corridor, or the freight railroads over which the long distance Amtrak trains largely operate, and which need capital for capacity improvements but will likely have to turn, ultimately, to the public sector to get it.
But what the Congress, the President, the media, and the public should stay focused on, in our view, is that no ideas, good bad or indifferent, will mean anything until a commitment is made to provide a steady source of capital for the national passenger rail system, and for the building of new freight and passenger rail capacity. We have spent hundreds of billions on highways and air, and only a laughable pittance on rail transportation since 1970 when Amtrak was formed to save what was left of the dying passenger system. There is just no excuse for that failure, which harms this nation every day with higher-than-needed travel and shipping costs, and a vulnerability to security threats that simply can no longer be ignored.
Whether it takes a dedicated gasoline tax, a series of elaborate tax credits, or outright grants, we must fix the money problem first, and commit a minimum of $2 billion a year in capital to making whole what we've got, and another $2 billion a year to building new corridors such as the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, which is ready to go if Congress can only act. It will serve nine states and millions of people, much as the Northeast Corridor, with its superb new Acela Express trains, is serving the Northeast. The ARC's ideas - and some of them are good ones, let's not throw them all out with the baby - will mean nothing if we don't do that first.
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NCI: Leo KingSome of the green PCC cars on the Mattapan-Ashmont line, which is really an extension of the MBTA's Red Line, are being restored and repainted in their original orange colors.
I have a couple of notations regarding the article on Boston's Arborway trolley article appearing in D:F on January 14.
First, the Presidential Conference Committee (PCC) trolley pictured, and which is still in revenue service on the short Mattapan-Ashmont connector line, can never run on the Arborway line or any of the MBTA's main lines, ever again, at least not unless its rebuilt, which is unlikely for this museum piece.
The reason is that the PCC cars still utilize a carbon "cup" device at the end of its trolley pole for connecting to the overhead catenary service.
The design replaced an actual "trolley" wheel of older, pre-World War-II cars. The Mattapan-Ashmont line is the last that maintains an overhead catenary that will accommodate this kind of power pick up device and its one of the reasons why only PCC cars are used on this line.
Pantograph styled power pick-ups would short circuit at many if not most of the support cables because they are parallel or near parallel to the level of the power cable, not above it.
At one time, the MBTA's "Green Line" main trolley branches favored an overhead catenary design that accommodated both the trolley and pantograph styled power pick-ups, but as the PCC cars were retired from service, they were removed from each branch one at a time. The catenary was upgraded to accommodate only the pantograph design (which is also similar to what Amtrak uses today).
Those few PCC cars running on the main lines as work cars have had their trolley poles replaced with pantographs.
In order for the MBTA to run its Light Rail Vehicle (LRV) class of trolleys on the Mattapan line, the overhead catenary would have to be upgraded along the entire length of the branch. There are also some concerns regarding trackage in some areas where curves may be too acute for these later classes of units, and there are no crossovers that would accommodate end-to-end operation.
There are numerous additional issues associated with the return of the Green line service to the Arborway terminus, which is immediately adjacent to the Forest Hills terminus on the Orange Line.
For one, the delay in returning service between the Heath Street Loop in Jamaica Plain and the Arborway station is subject to compliance with the "Citizens With Disabilities Act".
The existing trackage which runs in the middle of the street and among general auto traffic (not within a segregated reservation as is the case with much of the Green Line's branches), is away from the sidewalk, and it's possible for an auto to pass between a trolley and the sidewalk making disembarking from such a trolley dangerous, especially for those who may be in a wheelchair. The MBTA has spent substantial amounts of money to install raised wheelchair ramps along those Green line branches that are within rail reservations and has redesigned and pressed into service dozens of specially equipped rail cars that will interface with these ramps.
However, there is no way to implement this under the present "in traffic" rail layout along South Huntington Avenue, Centre Street, and South Street.
The MBTA was looking at either having to bring the trackage curbside at designated spots as well as purchase an entire new fleet of handicap accessible rolling stock.
At present, replacement bus service, which follows the old route, is handicap accessible and the MBTA also offers door-to-door service of chair cars via its "The Ride" service.
In the period since 1985 when this last segment of the Arborway line was closed many changes have taken place.› Indeed, the trackage has been paved over in numerous locations and the catenary is also missing in places or in need of upgrades from the PCC unit days.› As such, any return of service at this point means a complete rebuild of all trackage and catenary.
The Arborway terminus itself is mostly a vacant property utilized for overflow commuter parking for the adjacent Forest Hills station. The PCC repair shop, loop tracks, catenary, and rail and bus storage areas are long since gone. As to restoration, there remains some neighborhood controversy regarding appearance and noise because its been close to a generation since there has been an active rail yard there.
Restoration plans presently on the board for that terminus also includes the construction of a special hybrid bus (natural gas powered) maintenance and fueling facility.› Construction start-up is presently on hold while a pole storage yard on the grounds, operated by the local power company, seeks a new home.
Once completed, the trolleys will continue from the present Heath Street Loop to its former destination with a stop at Forest Hills before going the remaining 500 feet to its own end of the line; however as reflected in the article, the streets are very narrow in places and track restoration work will close off entire blocks of residences and businesses in the process as well as disrupt existing replacement bus service which has been operating along the trolley line since its discontinuance.› Vigorous enforcement of no parking areas and attendance to improperly parked vehicles will be necessary. It only takes one improperly parked or double-parked car along this branch to bring it to a complete standstill along with any auto traffic that is following in its wake, making it not only inconvenient to motorists but also downright dangerous if emergency vehicles needed passage or access. At least one very active fire station would be impacted by the restoration of service.
Although electric bus service (trackless trolley) was a consideration for this area at one time, it is apparently no longer on the table.
Mr. Kirkpatrick is Destination: Freedom's webmaster, and lives within one mile of the Forest Hills and Arborway stations.
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Web site: http://instituteforrailroadengineeering,com.
Loews Coronado Bay Resort hotel
San Diego, Cal.
Call Tom urban, 202-496-4853
Contact Margaret Mullins, 202-496-4827
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NCI: Leo King
Hurricane Carol devastated the New Haven Railroad in 1954. Most of the railroad's power - and crews - were stranded in various locations, unable to move. Dispatching was done by train orders because the signals were all dark between Boston and New York. The U.S. Army's Transportation Corps loaned the NYNH&H SD-9 power to help it get back onto its feet. The B-2078's crew stopped in front of the yardmaster's office at "Six Bridges," formally named Northup Avenue Classification Yard (there was a hump there, then) to check for orders.
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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.