In this edition...
Storm, power shortage hits Amtrak
As we went to press Sunday evening, a blizzard was blanketing the Northern U.S. Forecasters in Boston and Providence were staring at snow overnight with temperatures expected to be around 19 degrees overnight and 26 to be the Monday daytime high.
Amtrak told its passengers on Sunday afternoon Due to the snowstorm on the East Coast and lower than normal ridership, Amtrak will operate on a reduced schedule on Sunday and Monday.
A company spokesperson added, Since Massachusetts has declared a state of emergency and because of commercial power outages across New England, Amtrak service between New York and Boston is extremely limited and subject to delay. Passengers attempting to travel to locations in Massachusetts should be aware that the state of emergency in Massachusetts may inhibit their ability to leave the station once they arrive.
It wasnt just the snow that was a bother.
An informed source told D:F that of the Northeast Corridors 8,000hp AEM-7 workhorse locomotives, the railroad was short three engines. A report stated 49 are active, 34 are required, but only 31 were available.
Adding to that, of 15 active 8,000hp HHP-8 electric locomotives, only four were available - but eight are 8 required. Eleven were out of service.
Amfleet II Lounges, although not as critical as power, showed 17 to be available, but 19 required. Five are out of service. Superliner Coaches fared worst, with 133 required but only 124 available. 160 are active in the fleet, but 36 are out of service.
Amtrak stated service between Washington, D.C. and New York is operating with minimal delay on a reduced Sunday schedule.
Service between Niagara Falls, Albany and New York City was also operating on a reduced schedule with some delay due to track maintenance by CSX, which owns, operates and maintains the tracks between Niagara Falls and Albany.
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NCI: Two file photosAn Amtrak train on the Groton side of Thames River Movable Bridge approaches the span at 25 mph, the authorized track speed over the span. New London station is barely one mile ahead.
Down and locked, but
Amtrak bridge is nearly stuck down
Amtraks aging Thames River Movable Bridge is in dire straits for nearly two weeks, preventing some larger boats to pass between New London and Groton, Conn.
A bearing on the span cracked on January 13, according to New London Day, but Gary Kassof, a Coast Guard bridge program manager, said the bridge should be repaired quickly. The replacement part needs to be built and will not be ready until the end of the month at the earliest, he said.
The movable bridge was built in 1914.
Amtrak spokeswoman Tracy Connell, in Washington, told D:F on Friday that since last Thursday, the bridge has been operating by request while it awaits some repair. It isn't broken or stuck and can be opened, but openings must be coordinated with Amtrak and the Coast Guard 24 hours in advance. Amtrak and the Coast Guard are working closely with the Navy and commercial marine traffic to arrange for these openings. The repairs should be complete by the end of the month.
An attempt to temporarily repair the bridge last week, on January 18, was thwarted by an electrical problem, but engineers attempted to weld a temporary fix again the next evening.
Amtraks Thames River Movable Bridge has been in dire straits for nearly two weeks after a bearing broke.
A spokeswoman for Amtrak said earlier after the temporary repair the bridge will open on a schedule instead of when a request is made. She said she did not have any information about scheduled openings. The Thames River bascule bridge opens like a drawbridge, using a 4-million-pound counterweight to raise one end of the 188-foot span. The bridge opened 2,100 times in 2003, including 15 times a month to let submarines pass.
A two-year, $45 million plan to replace the bridge is currently in jeopardy, as is much of Amtraks $570 million plan to improve infrastructure. The railroad asked the federal government for $1.8 billion, but the Congress only authorized $1.2 billion. President Bush, who was inaugurated for the second time on Thursday, recommended $900 million.
Amtrak CEO David Gunn has been arguing continually that he needs the required cash to replace both bridges, as well as the equally elderly Niantic River movable bridge called Nan, on the railroad between Niantic and Waterford.
Some AmWest service returns
Amtrak plans to restore full California Zephyr service later this month when the Zephyrs west of Denver will be restored on January 28, 29. Service was disrupted after washouts in several locations disrupted traffic on Union Pacific.
Effective with the westbound departure from Chicago on January 28 and the eastbound departure from Emeryville, Calif., on January 29, the CZ will operate over its full route between Chicago and Emeryville, via Omaha, Denver, Salt Lake City and Reno.
Until then, the Zephyrs are operating between Chicago and Denver
Amtrak Capitol Corridor Service trains will continue to operate from Emeryville east, to and from Auburn, via Sacramento, and Capitol Corridor Thruway Motorcoaches will continue to operate to and from Reno. The Reno station will remain open on an abbreviated schedule; otherwise, all Amtrak stations between Reno and Denver will be closed through January 28, including Salt Lake City, Utah, and Grand Junction and Glenwood Springs, Colo.
Meanwhile, some Pacific Surfliner service was restored January 19 between Los Angeles and San Diego. The coastline route north of Los Angeles remains suspended. Service is not expected to resume before January 26.
Coast Starlight service remains suspended south of Emeryville. The Starlights are running between Seattle and Emeryville, but remain temporarily suspended between Emeryville and Los Angeles due to the track damage north of Los Angeles. San Joaquin service between Los Angeles, the Bay Area and Sacramento was unaffected by the storms.
Southbound Coast Starlight passengers destined for San Jose will transfer to a Capitol Corridor train from Emeryville. Passengers traveling to points south of San Jose may transfer to a San Joaquin train in Martinez or Emeryville. The daily northbound Coast Starlight will originate in Emeryville. Passengers from Los Angeles may transfer from a San Joaquin train to the Coast Starlight in Sacramento.
UP said on January 18 it could reopen its California Coast Line service and a stretch of a rugged desert canyon line northeast of Las Vegas for partial service by January 24. Severe storms earlier in January had knocked out portions of both lines, which are the last of five routes severely damaged.
An embargo remains in order to control traffic into the region and the railroad said it is working to reduce its backlog of trains waiting to leave the area.
Our people have been working under very difficult conditions, said Dick Davidson, UP chairman and CEO.
Davidson added, We have been working closely with our customers to assure that critical chemical, grain and coal shipments into the affected areas are being handled. Outbound trains from the region are moving to work off the backlog of trains delayed by the storm.
The Coast Line was closed when the storm, along with torrential rain and heavy surf along the line triggered washouts, coastal sinkholes and covered the track with mud over 139 miles of former Southern Pacific track that runs next to the Pacific Ocean between Guadalupe and Moorpark, Calif.
A work force of 150 people with 40 pieces of heavy earth-moving equipment was deployed to the region working daylight to dark. Most of the initial clean-up on the tracks was completed with slope and embankment work underway. Two work trains with specialized equipment to clear mud from the line along with other mechanized gangs repaired the tracks.
In Nevada, UP mobilized 200 people working around the clock to repair more storm damage, this time over 80 miles in a remote canyon south of Caliente, Nev. Sixty pieces of heavy equipment and their operators are restoring the damaged roadbed. Work also is underway to build a new bridge to replace the Cottonwood Wash Bridge buried under up to six feet of mud and rock. The track will be raised ten feet in that area.
The narrow canyon channeled floodwaters that washed the roadbed out from under the tracks in numerous locations, and damaged bridges and signals. UP crews have had to rebuild washed-out roads in order to reach portions of the track. Seven work trains are hauling rock to fill the washouts from both ends of the canyon.
Caliente is about 130 miles northeast of Las Vegas, near the Utah state line. The route is an important freight link between Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and the Midwest.
UP crews repaired other storm damage in Southern California last week, reopening critical rail links to the Los Angeles Basin.
More than 200 Union Pacific employees have volunteered to temporarily shift to various locations in the West to help move trains detouring around the flooded segments, Davidson said.
UPs weather-related embargo on intermodal freight moving to California is posing challenges to customers and their service providers but one of the freight railroads largest customers, Pacer Stacktrain, said the washouts have not shut down the states flow of commerce, nor even UPs role in it.
UPs intermodal trains are beginning to move on a daily basis between the Los Angeles Basin and the Midwest some on Burlington Northern and Santa Fe (BNSF) tracks and some via alternate UP routes, said Tom Shurstad, president of Pacer Stacktrain.
He said, We anticipate based on current information that the UP will have largely resolved its storm-related network problems on the hard-hit south-central corridor within weeks.
Shurstad said the crippling work stoppages conducted by owner-operator truckers last April and May, coupled with railroad service issues, constituted a significantly greater barrier to the flow of intermodal cargo than does this current, one-off problem faced by UP.
Traffic out of Northern California during that period in 2004 came to a complete halt as a result of the work stoppages, he said.
Amtrak will continue to operate the Caltrain commuter service for the next three years between San Francisco, San Jose and Gilroy Calif. The Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board approved extending the current contract a fortnight ago.
Amtrak offered no details in a press release.
The agreement increases revenue to Amtrak by revising payment methods and reducing punitive assessments. In addition, general administration and management fees are increased. The contract also provides the option to further extend the agreement by two successive one-year increments.
Amtrak provides operations, equipment maintenance, dispatching and on-board service crew services to Caltrain, which runs 86 weekday and 62 weekend trains in the Bay Area.
Two photos: Wisconsin DOT, Michael GoetzmanAn Amtrak Hiawatha calls on brand-new MKE, the railroads newest station, serving Gen. Billy Mitchell Airport, five miles south of Milwaukee and 723 feet above sea level.
Amtrak opens newest airport station
Amtrak and Wisconsins DOT opened the railroads newest station last week, and once again, it was at an airport. Gen. Billy Mitchell International Airport, just five miles from downtown Milwaukee, lies along Canadian Pacific tracks. The $6.8 million station is located on the western edge of the airport, and 723 feet above sea level.
The approximately 1,600 square-foot heated station includes restrooms and a seating area, and a covered walkways leads from the drive-up area to a 400-foot passenger-boarding platform, and includes parking for 300 vehicles.
The station will serve rail passengers connecting to the airport, along with rail-only passengers riding Amtraks Hiawatha Service trains. The carrier operates seven daily round trips between Chicago and Milwaukee. Milwaukee County and Mitchell Airport provide a free shuttle bus connecting the airport and rail station.
Today, as we open this new passenger rail facility, were also opening a new chapter in Wisconsins inter-connected transportation system, and a doorway to new economic opportunities that will benefit the entire state, said Gov. Jim Doyle. He added, We wouldnt be here today without a strong federal partnership, and I want to commend Sen. [Herb] Kohls hard work and leadership in securing the federal earmark that funded this project.
Amtraks Barbara Richardson noted, Amtrak looks forward to building upon its growing Hiawatha Service by introducing another rail-to-air connection. She is the railroads vice-president of sales and marketing.
She added, Our successful experience in the East with the Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI) station demonstrates the great potential for the Milwaukee airport station.
BWI is in the top 20 of the more than 500 Amtrak destinations, with more than a half-million passengers annually to and from the station in suburban Maryland. Along with the BWI and Mitchell stations, Amtrak has two other stations serving airports in the U.S. Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport in California and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.
About six million passengers pass through Mitchell Airport, which is serviced by 14 airlines that offer direct or non-stop flights to 90 cities. There are 230 arrivals and 230 departures daily.
The five-runway airport includes two pairs of parallel runways the longest of which is nearly 10,000 feet long and 200 feet wide.
Amtrak and Connecticut DOT are haggling over a new contract, and Amtrak is cutting a deal to lease eight used locomotives to ConnDOT while also demanding that the state pay up to 10 times more for using its tracks east of New Haven.
News of the lease and vast increase in charges emerged during a January 19 meeting of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, according to Fridays Connecticut Post.
Amtrak owns the rails east of New Haven and has a contract to operate the Shore Line East Railroad for the DOT. The two are negotiating a new agreement to cover service between New London and New Haven. The previous 10-year contract ends on June 30.
The proposed hike comes at a bad time for the state, which is facing a budget deficit of more than a $1 billion for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
According to the DOTs most recent operational report, in 2003, the state paid Amtrak more than $7.5 million to run Shore Line East service on its tracks.
Cliff Black, an Amtrak spokesman, on Thursday confirmed that the railroad is looking to increase its access fee by nearly 10 times what it is now. Black said the $7.5 million that Connecticut pays includes charges for track access, operating costs and maintenance work. He said negotiations are ongoing and he didnt want to say how much this would drive up the total price tag for Shore Line East.
Amtrak already charges Connecticut more for access to its tracks than the state charges Amtrak to use New Haven Line tracks. Connecticut owns the rails west of New Haven to the New York border.
Connecticut cant raise the fee it charges Amtrak because Congress sets it.
The disparity in charges is fair, according to Black, because Amtrak needs the money.
Black denied that this dramatic increase was due to Amtraks failure to get more than $1.7 billion it requested from Congress in 2004. Amtrak will receive $1.2 billion instead a figure the railroad says wont allow it to keep functioning.
Black said Amtrak is just trying to charge what it costs to operate and maintain a railroad. He added that Amtrak might be willing to offset its rising access fee if Connecticut uses some of its federal transit dollars to improve the tracks Amtrak owns east of New Haven.
Each year Connecticut applies to Congress for money to make capital improvements to roads and train tracks.
Carl Bard, a DOT deputy commissioner, said Thursday he couldnt discuss the negotiations because they had just begun. He didnt deny any of Blacks claims, but said it is too early to discuss actual figures and what the two sides were debating.
As to the new locomotives, Bard confirmed that the Amtrak deal is close to being done, but contract language is still being approved by the Connecticut Attorney Generals Office. He said the DOT expects to announce the deal on Wednesday.
The locomotives are needed to pull the 26 coaches the state bought from Virginia Railway Express last fall. The state doesnt own enough locomotives to put the Virginia cars into service, but the plan is that once those cars are in service on Shore Line East, equipment from that service can be transferred to the Metro-North New Haven Line, adding much-needed seating capacity there.
The New Haven Lines fleet is prone to breakdown in the winter and any extra equipment should help the situation there, according to the DOT.
Amtrak and Hollywood are joining up promoting a movie and travel and a winner can get a
trip to Los Angeles with the Amtrak Catch A Ride To Hollywood sweepstakes.
Its all wrapped around a picture named, Are We There Yet? It stars Ice Cube. Amtrak, Columbia Pictures and Revolution Studios are conducting the sweepstakes in conjunction with the January 21 family-oriented film.
The online sweepstakes runs through January 31, Amtrak said last week. Details are at www.amtrak.com/rwethereyet.
Snail-mail entry postcards are available in select stations in 13 major cities throughout the country Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Oakland, Philadelphia, Dallas, Atlanta, Miami, Seattle, Boston, Portland and Detroit.
The Catch A Ride To Hollywood Sweepstakes grand prize package includes four round-trip coach domestic train or airline tickets to Los Angeles, passes for four to a Columbia Pictures film premiere, a rental car and two nights hotel accommodations. Orbitz will provide the airline tickets and hotel.
One first-place winner will receive four Amtrak round-trip tickets. Five second-place winners will receive Amtrak toy train sets and ten third-place winners will receive an Amtrak duffel bag, backpack, hat and Red Cap Bear.
In the film, Nick (Ice Cube), a smooth operator, is trying to land a date with Suzanne (Nia Long) but the problem is Suzanne, a divorcee, is stuck working in Vancouver and miserable because she misses her kids. Seizing the opportunity, Nick gallantly offers to make her wish come true and his own in the process by bringing 7-year-old Kevin (Philip Daniel Bolden) and 11-year-old Lindsey (Aleisha Allen) up from Portland, Ore., to be reunited with their mom. What Nick doesnt know is that Suzanne's children think that no man is good enough for their mom and will do everything they can to make the trip a nightmare for him. It will be a bumpy ride.
Amtrak employees, their immediate family members and persons living in the households of such persons and those associated with the film or its agencies are not eligible to enter or win the contest.
NCRR aims to spruce up stations
The North Carolina Railroad plans to transform battered train stations into vibrant facilities that improve communities and the railroads bottom line.
The company has tentatively budgeted $8 million over the next four years to renovate, relocate or redevelop 13 railroad-owned buildings along the tracks between Kannapolis and Morehead City, The AP reported last week.
Money generated by the projects will pay for upkeep and upgrading the lines, railroad President Scott Saylor said.
NCRR, whose stock is controlled by the state of North Carolina, owns and manages the tracks and other properties along 317 miles of tracks that stretch across the eastern half of the state.
What is key to us is doing what is best for the building in those communities were in, he said.
We want them to be viable income-producing properties in those communities.
We think they should more than recover their cost, as well as spur economic development in those areas.
Some of the planned projects have already gotten under way.
The Havelock Historical Preservation Society, for example, has raised money to renovate the old Havelock Station and plans to move it down the street.
New Bern got $100,000 from the NCDOT to help renovate a station that the city may sublease to a retail market or another tenant.
Ideas for the Kinston depot have ranged from a restaurant or a beer brewery to a community center or farmers market, said B.J. Murphy, executive director of Pride of Kinston.
The railroad would like to move an old baggage depot in Morehead City that sits on prime real estate in the downtown waterfront area. The land could be used for a retail outlet or a hotel.
There has been some informal discussion of using the building for a train museum and to house an old wooden baggage car now in a warehouse in Spencer, but Morehead City Manager Randy Martin said that plan could be expensive.
It may cost a quarter of a million just to get the car here, and then youve got to renovate the building, Martin said. Obviously, that would be difficult for the city to swallow and do on its own.
The National Assn. of Railroad Passengers NARP has named Carl Bloom Associates (CBA) to build membership support and awareness for its advocacy of improved rail service for the American public.
NARP is an individual-membership organization of railroad passengers and citizens who want more sensible transportation choices that include improved and expanded high-frequency intercity corridors and commuter rail lines interconnected by a national network of trains traveling longer distances.
The organization is a leader in the growing movement for more trains, faster and efficient service, and more destinations.
NARP advocates passenger trains and modern transit systems are good for the economy, the environment, and quality of life in America and should serve people at all economic levels.
A press release from NARP states its members want government to increase rail resources and service, not to eliminate rail lines and restrict consumers ability to choose travel by train.
CBA is a general advertising agency and direct marketing company based in White Plains, N.Y.
Triangle finds bump in plan
A recent flap over Federal Transit Administration ratings had some concerned that the Triangle Transit Authoritys commuter railway project might come to a halt. Each year, the FTA evaluates projects submitted. This year, the TTA did not receive a rating because of an ongoing review by the FTA of its cost-benefit model. The TTAs plan seeks to connect the urban centers of Cary, Durham and Raleigh and to alleviate traffic conditions.
We are in a kind of a limbo waiting for this model to be reviewed, said John Claflin, general manager of TTA.
Writer Amy Eagleburger at the Univ. of North Carolinas The Daily Tar Heels January 19 edition, reported the model is an evaluation of economic, demographic, location, existing transit and roadway, and environmental factors that will produce a benefit rating. The FTA uses this rating to determine if a project should be funded.
It was bad timing for us, Claflin said.
In terms of funding, a non-rating will have no effect on the future of the project.
It has nothing to do with funding, Claflin said. The project is still strong It hasnt lost any of its luster.
The current FTA schedule states that the conclusion of the review will be in mid-February. The results will be released immediately.
This project is one of many commuter rail systems being implemented across the country.
Metrolink, a commuter rail system in Los Angeles, connects cities across southern California and has made a dent in the areas infamous traffic.
We were in essence directly taking cars off the freeway, said Metrolink CEO David Solow.
In a report released last July, Metrolink has reduced the average number of weekday car trips in California by 24,971 per day.
In a national sense, Edward Hudgins, Washington director of the Objectivist Center, said the popularity of such systems might have more to do with politics than practicality.
Its not so much a matter of the use becoming popular as the federal money becoming popular, he said. The federal government will put up a substantial portion of the money if the local government will put up matching funds.
Hudgins said he thinks the commuter rail movement does not offer effective results. The problem is that after the rail system is built, what a lot of jurisdictions find was that the congestion was not eased and now the local jurisdictions have to put up with the upkeep.
The issue of where to build the tracks and stations also can be problematic. In most areas, it would be very difficult to put in a system because you have buildings already there, Hudgins said.
Ground will break on the TTA rail project this year and is expected to be completed in 2008.
Here are some other transit headlines, from the pages of Passenger Transport, the weekly newspaper of the public transportation industry published by the non-profit American Public Transportation Assn. For more news from Passenger Transport and subscription information, visit the APTA web site at http://www.apta.com/news/pt.
Transportation Leaders Push for Speedy Action on Reauthorization
Transportation leaders, using the rallying call Get It Done! urged the new 109th Congress to move quickly on reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century.
Officials representing several national organizations and state DOTs joined together in delivering this united message at the January 11 press conference in Washington called by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. Speakers stressed in their message to members of the U.S. House and Senate that Congress must pass a new bill before this May, when the current extension of TEA 21 expires.
AASHTO Executive Director John Horsley laid out a schedule for Congress: Introduce measures in the House and Senate in January; mark up and pass the measures in February; resolve House and Senate differences in conference by March; and have a bill on the Presidents desk by April.
APTA President William W. Millar was among several national officials participating in the press conference, including Pete Ruane, president and CEO of the American Road & Transportation Builders Assn.; Tim James, director of federal relations at the International Union of Operating Engineers; and Stephen Sandherr, CEO of the Assn. of General Contractors. State DOTs were represented by Allen Biehler, secretary in Pennsylvania; Phil Shucet, commissioner in Virginia; Gordon Proctor, director in Ohio; and John Njord, executive director in Utah.
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Public Transportation Topics Explored at TRB Meeting in Washington
Supporters of transit-oriented development described their efforts and presented documentation on the positive effects of building lively neighborhoods centered around transit stations at a January 10 session during the Transportation Research Boards 84th annual meeting in Washington.
Speakers at the TOD session, titled Improving Transit-Oriented Development Around New-Start Transit Projects, were Shelley Poticha, executive director of Reconnecting Americas Center for Transit-Oriented Development; G.B. Arrington of PB Placemaking; and Robert Tuccillo of the Federal Transit Administration.
Other TOD-related topics addressed during the session included parking, demographics, zoning, ridership benefits, and property values.
More than 9,000 transportation officials participated in the TRB meeting, January 9-13.
The conferences agenda included more than 2,500 presentations in 500 sessions. Among the dozens of transit-related topics addressed were operating conditions for commuter rail; light rail transit planning; transportation for seniors and persons with disabilities; high-speed rail and maglev systems; advanced technologies at airport, bus, and rail terminals; bus rapid transit; innovative partnerships among state DOTs, local communities, other government agencies, and the private sector; and seamless transfers between modes of transportation.
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New York MTA Takes Over Liberty Lines; Other Private Bus Lines to Follow
MTA Bus, a new agency of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority created to take over the operations of seven private bus lines that operated under franchises from the City of New York, instituted the first stage of the takeover on January 3 by beginning to operate the routes of Liberty Lines Express: seven express bus routes that operate between the Bronx and Manhattan.
The following day, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and MTA Chairman Peter S. Kalikow accepted delivery of 10 new coaches, replacing antiquated coaches that previously operated on the express routes. The MTA noted that it has committed substantial funds for the purchase of 125 new buses for use on the new MTA Bus lines.
The city has developed a staggered schedule through which MTA Bus will assume operation of the private bus companies as their franchises expire. MTA Bus will begin operating Queens Surface Corp. buses by February 26; New York Bus Service buses, by March 26; and Command Bus Corp., Green Bus Lines, Jamaica Buses Inc., and Triboro Coach Corp. buses, by April 30. The lines serve 400,000 daily riders in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens.
Drivers employed by two of the private bus lines, Command Bus Co. and Green Bus Lines, went on strike January 3. The two companies provide service in Brooklyn and Queens, and the drivers are presented by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1179.
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Transportation Issues Examined in Advance of White House Conference on Aging
By 2025, the U.S. will have a population of more than 60 million people aged 65 and older, and they will be seeking mobility options and depending on alternative methods of transportation.
That was the message of J. Barry Barker, executive director of the Transit Authority of River City in Louisville, Ky., when he spoke on behalf of APTA about the importance of public transportation for seniors mobility at a January 8 listening session for the White House Conference on Aging Policy Committee, held in Washington in conjunction with the Transportation Research Board 84th annual meeting. TRBs Committee on the Safe Mobility of Older Persons hosted the session.
The purpose of the meeting was to help develop the agenda for the White House Conference on Aging, held once a decade and scheduled for October. Another officially designated event, Transportation Solutions for an Aging Society, is scheduled for April 14 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Faculty Club in Cambridge, Mass., co-hosted by USDOT, AARP, and the MIT AgeLab.
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NYRR completes transit financing
New York Regional Railroad said last week Transit Rail LLC has invested $400,000. The transaction completes Transit Rails total committed investment of $2.5 million.
Donald B Hutton, NYRR executive vice-president and board member, said on January 19 The final payment to settle the remediation case between the City of New York v. New York Cross Harbor Railroad Terminal Corp., et al., will also be completed by the additional investment.
He noted Over the last year the successes weve accomplished have been a direct result of the steady faith that Transit Rail has had in making its investment in NYRR. This last investment has been critical. The company has used these proceeds to reduce its liabilities and to settle legal issues which have hampered our ability to move forward.
NYRR CEO Ron Bridges added the railroad is reporting a sharp increase in the number of rail cars moved. During the year ended December 31, rail car movements increased 50 percent to 3,406 from 2,286. He aid the 1,120 car increase was made possible, in part, by continuing the carriers infrastructure and capital investment project, which was a direct benefit of the Transit Rail investment.
New York Regional Rail is a transportation holding company. Its two principal subsidiaries are New York Cross Harbor Railroad and JS Transportation. It also owns and operates the only rail-float barge operation in the New York Harbor.
David R. Goode, chairman and CEO of Norfolk Southern Corp. (NSC), has been named 2005 Railroader of the Year by railroad industry trade journal Railway Age.
In 2004, a year characterized by record traffic and revenues but spotty performance by railroads coping with the difficulties and expenses of handling such enormous volume Norfolk Southern was the best-performing of the U.S. Class Is, said Railway Age Editor William C. Vantuono.
The editor stated in a press release, Norfolk Southern stock over the past year handily beat both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Dow Jones U.S. Railroad Average. The railroads operating ratio dropped by nearly six percentage points to 74.7 in third-quarter 2004, compared to the prior-year period.
Vantuono noted, Add to that an unprecedented 15 Harriman Gold safety awards in a row. All this is the result of sound management and a disciplined approach to operations, combined with solid forecasting and planning. Norfolk Southern saw the business boom coming and prepared for it with a carefully thought-out program of select capital investments, hiring and training, and operations planning.
An accident killed a railroader at Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp.s North Plant. The Times Leader of Martins Ferry, Ohio, reported on January 18.
Kenneth Cesaro, 54, of Wintersville, a conductor on the steel companys in-plant railroad and a 33-year employee, died while working in its North Plant yard.
It occurred during a switching operation, company spokesman James Kosowski said, adding the incident is under investigation. Further details were not available.
United Steelworkers of America Local 1190 President Bernie Ravasio said the incident was the fifth time a railroad worker has been killed at the plant since he began working for Wheeling-Pitt in the 1970s, with the last railroad fatality occurring in 1992.
Its one of those very unfortunate accidents, he said. (Cesaro) was a friend. Naturally, our sympathies go out to the family.
The last fatal accident at the plant was in 1998.
Working on the railroad
Consider Portec, adviser writes
The following is an independent investment commentary and analysis from the Reuters.com investment channel expressing views that are not connected with Reuters News.
Railroads dont often get much attention in the financial media but this seemingly old-fashioned business is very much alive, and shares of successful carriers have been quite rewarding to those who owned them. Besides, wrote Marc Gerstein, Reuters director of investment research on January 17, there are a lot more folk songs out there about railroads than there are about stock quotes.
Portec Rail Products (PRPX.O), an IPO that appeared recently in the Reuters Select Insider Buying screen (January 15) is not a railroad, but it is a major supplier of components that are indispensable to keeping the trains rolling.
From an image standpoint, railroads have been great at capturing the imaginations of many railfans (note the coffee-table books and glossy magazines dedicated to this sort of thing) but have done a poor job in selling the story to Wall Street.
Perhaps theres a certain dis-economy of scale; there are just so may companies out there, and when you purge the list of less successful entrants, the number of opportunities may be too small to attract much attention, but successful investors understand that lack of attention can often be a positive (creating better conditions for buying low).
Geography may be another factor. Although we live in a global community with free-flowing information (so we like to say), the reality is that the heart of the investment community and the investment media remain in and near New York City, an area where freight railroading lacks a big presence. In many (most?) other parts of the U.S., railroads are much more conspicuous.
The visibility of railroads outside metropolitan New York is not a mirage. This mode of transport remains highly viable, if not for passengers than for freight, including some categories that are too darn bulky to be effectively moved overland by plane or truck (coal and agricultural products are key categories).
Even where viable choices exist, railroading can, in many cases, compete well given increased highway congestion and higher energy prices. Low energy prices that were prevalent for much of the last 20 years may be another reason why we dont think much about railroads. The last time oil prices were high (the mid-1970s and early 1980s), we gave a lot more consideration to this group because it is a much more fuel-efficient mode of transport than trucking, so much so that in the early 80s, intermodal transport (truck trailer on railcar) kicked into gear for long-distance portions of truck shipments.
There are certain limitations to railroads that do cap the upside. The carriers cant go where there are no tracks, and physical assets can be burdensome to maintain. That simply means we need to realistically consider the relevant factors, just like we do for any other stock. As we do in other situations, if a particular stock price seems well aligned with fundamentals, that would be OK.
Theres a lot of business lore out there from the California gold rush of the mid-1800s to the effect that the way to make money was not through actual digging but by selling equipment to those who do the work. That way, you can cash in without having to incur the risks of picking the right spot, etc.
I suppose you can cite this as an analogy for how PRPX relates to railroading. It sells products all railroads need in order to function.
The companys rail products division is a major supplier of rail joints also called joint bars, angle irons, and other odd names. These are always in demand as a matter of routine maintenance. Beyond the standard need, theres some extra demand resulting from the way increases in train speed, axle load and utilization add pressure to joints. In some instances, there are needs for different kinds of joints (for example, insulated joints facilitate transmission of electric current relating to signal systems).
This PRPX division also sells friction management products, which consist of lubricants placed between the wheel flanges and railheads. Increasing weight, speed and utilization likewise boosts demand for these.
Do you notice how on highways, debris can sometimes fly off trucks if loads are not adequately secured? For some kinds of shipping, the same can happen with freight cars. To combat that, PRPXs shipping systems division sells load-securing products that keep cargo in place.
Most of PRPXs business is in the U.S., but it is also successful in Canada and is building its presence in the U.K.
This is not a growth business in the same league as others that typically capture investment headlines. PRPXs historic five-year rates of sales and EPS growth were 5.1 percent and 8.9 percent respectively.
That does not necessarily bother me. Im willing to accept low numbers if I can get companies that outperform their respective industries. PRPX seems to have that quality.
Industry-average five-year sales and EPS growth came in lower, at 2.5 percent and minus 2.8 percent respectively. So it seems that there really is a virtue in selling shovels to miners rather than digging for gold ones self.
Meanwhile, the IPO gave PRPX a strong, liquid balance sheet (which facilitated a late-2004 friction management systems acquisition that could add $0.15 to its 2005 EPS). Returns on capital for the trailing 12 moths (the period for which we have data) are well above industry norms.
Low growth, no matter how far ahead of industry averages, would still not cut it if the stock was priced in such a ways as to reflect expectations of greater progress. Thats not the case here.
I estimate that PRPX shares would be reasonably priced if the companys EPS can advance at a five-year average annual rate of just 5.8 percent.
That seems doable.
For one thing, I used as a stating point the EPS estimate for 2004. I therefore gave PRPX no credit for the accretive acquisition and its likely impact on 2005. My data-driven growth expectation comes in at 6.5 percent. The one analyst who published a forecast (from the firm that did the IPO) is at 8 percent. Combining both growth estimates produces an overall expectation of 7.2 percent.
Wintry weather and mudslides in the western U.S. helped turn the second week of 2005 into a down week in terms of rail freight traffic, the AAR reported Thursday.
The industrys reporting organization said that railroads moved 30.5 billion ton-miles of freight during the week ended January 15, 1.3 percent less than in the comparable week a year ago. Carload freight totaled 329,982 cars, down 2.2 percent from 2004, with loadings up 3.5 percent in the East, but down 6.5 percent in the West. In spite of the impact of weather on rail traffic out of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, intermodal volume, which is not included in the carload data, rose 7.0 percent from 2004, totaling 213,383 trailers or containers.
Twelve of 19 carload commodities were down from the comparable 2004 week, with primary forest products down 9.2 percent; nonmetallic minerals off 8.8 percent; and grain down 6.6 percent. Among the seven commodities reporting increases were crushed stone, sand and gravel, up 16.0 percent; coke, up 11.4 percent; and farm products other than grain, up 10.0 percent.
Cumulative volume for the first two weeks of 2005 totaled 650,523 carloads, down 0.5 percent from 2004; 419,927 trailers or containers, up 8.2 percent; and total volume of an estimated 60.0 billion ton-miles, up 0.3 percent from last year.
On Canadian railroads, during the week ended January 15 carload traffic totaled 62,759 cars, down 1.3 percent from last year while intermodal volume totaled 41,534 trailers or containers, up 6.2 percent from last year.
Cumulative originations for the first two weeks of 2005 on the Canadian railroads totaled 124,213 carloads, down 1.6 percent from last year, and 78,301 trailers and containers, down 0.8 percent from last year.
Combined cumulative volume for the first two weeks of 2005 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 774,736 carloads, down 0.7 percent from last year and 498,228 trailers and containers, up 6.7 percent from last year.
The AAR also reported that originated carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended January 15 totaled 7,837 cars, down 6.3 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 3,491 originated trailers or containers, up 8.0 percent from the second week of 2004. For the first two weeks of 2005, TFM reported cumulative originated volume of 15,989 cars, up down 1.2 percent from last year, and 5,991 trailers or containers, up 8.7 percent.
Railroads reporting to AAR account for 88 percent of U.S. carload freight and 95 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 95 percent and 100 percent. The Canadian railroads reporting to the AAR account for 90 percent of Canadian rail traffic. Railroads provide more than 40 percent of U.S. intercity freight transportation, more than any other mode, and rail traffic figures are regarded as an important economic indicator.
The AAR is online at www.aar.org.
|Burlington Northern & Santa Fe||(BNI)||46.02||46.11|
|Florida East Coast||(FLA)||42.10||42.82|
|Genessee & Wyoming||(GWR)||24.96||25.22|
|Kansas City Southern||(KSU)||16.46||16.65|
|Providence & Worcester||(PWX)||12.58||12.93|
All photos for NCI: David BealeA Hungarian Railways (MAV) Regional Train Standing in Budapest East Station on a rainy day in October.
Hungary by Rail
Rails have to catch up to West
Hungary, one of the 10 new entrants to the European Union (EU) still offers visitors a glimpse into what typical European railroads were like before the advent in western Europe of sleek high-speed trains such as TGV and ICE, stark space-age steel and glass train stations which double as shopping malls, and the on-going rapid phase-out of conventional locomotive-hauled passenger coaches in commuter and regional rail operations in favor of high-tech, light-weight, self-propelled electric or diesel multiple-unit rail vehicles, which have much more in common with newer trams and light rail vehicles used in urban city centers than with traditional long-distance trains.
Our trip in October 2004 to Hungary was my familys and my third visit to the former Warsaw Pact nation, which lies east of Austria, north of the former Yugoslavia and on the western borders of Romania and Ukraine. As before, we traveled to Hungary from our home in northern Germany via trains, but this time we visited the rural eastern part of the country instead of the well-known and heavily touristy Lake Balaton region in the western part of Hungary, which we visited during our two previous trips to that nation several years earlier.
Overnight sleeper train of Romanian State Rys. with MAV V-43 series electric locomotive in Budapests Keleti-pu (East Station).
The main reason we chose to travel with trains again was to save wear-and-tear on my car, on myself and on my wife, as our two children dont take kindly to sitting in the back of a compact Opel for the 16-plus hours drive (in two days) each way. The local roads and streets in Hungary are generally in good to excellent condition, better than in many parts of North America, and are as safe as in anywhere in western Europe or North America to drive on. However the country has relatively few multi-lane limited access highways, and speed limits on country roads as well as in towns tend to the low side (rarely above 80 km/h or 50 mph). Local and state police vigorously enforce speed limits and other traffic laws.
The country is one of several European nations which have a zero threshold for DUI arrests. Any detectable amount of alcohol in a drivers blood or breath is sufficient grounds for a DUI conviction. Road signs on local roads are not always consistent and reliable for directions, certainly not up to the same standards of Germany, Holland or Great Britain, which means possession of good maps or an up-to-date navigation system is a must for driving in Hungary.
The countrys rail system is a similar story to its road and highway system, generally safe and in good condition, but speeds tend to be much lower than in nations such as Germany and France with state-of-the-art rail networks. In many instances signs, schedules, passenger information and announcements in Hungarian rail stations also are not up to international standards, which means one needs to have advance information in-hand regarding train departure times and intermediate stops, in order to avoid boarding the wrong train, getting off at the wrong station or other goofs.
A potential problem area for visitors to Hungary is the language barrier. Generally hotel and restaurant staff in Hungary tend to be multi-lingual (including in English), but this is definitely not the case with the employees of the railroad and public transit. Except for the main train stations in Budapest, train schedules announcements and public information tends to be only in Hungarian.
Fortunately for us, a significant minority of the Hungarian population speaks German as a second language fairly well, a legacy which remains from Hungarys past membership in the Hapsburg and Austrian-Hungarian empires, when German was the de facto international language in central Europe stretching from the western Alps and Rhine River valley all the way to the shores of the Black Sea and frontier areas of western Russia. However, even in downtown Budapest, we frequently encountered public transit staff that spoke neither English nor German, when we attempted to buy tickets or obtain directions.
Hungarys rail network can be characterized as a hub-and-spoke system, with Budapest in the north central part of the country as the hub. The city has four large intercity passenger train stations in addition to numerous intermediate stations for commuter trains. Budapest is connected by main-line rail to other nearby European capitols such as Vienna, Prague, Bratislava, Belgrade and Zagreb, usually with international Euro City passenger trains. Additionally a number of overnight trains connect Budapest directly to other destinations such as Warsaw Poland, Bucharest Romania, Munich and Berlin Germany, Venice Italy and Thessaloniki, Greece. Main rail lines to these international destinations as well as Hungarys other large cities are typically double-track and electrified. However most of the Hungarian rail network is single track with passing sidings located at each towns rail station and many of these rail lines are yet to be electrified.
Budapest has four main stations for intercity trains, three of which are terminal stations. The fourth, Kelenföld, in the citys western part, is a through station. The three terminal stations are named Deli-pu, Nyugati-pu and Keleti-pu, when translated into English mean simply West Station, North Station and East Station respectively.
North Station and East Station handle the majority of the international intercity trains, which serve Budapest. Both North Station and East Station are large and beautiful passenger rail hubs with impressive late 19th century architecture.
West Station has a more modern structure, built sometime after World War II, perhaps in the late 1950s or early 60s. The 19th Century era North Station has been recently refurbished, but East Station from the same era is in serious need of updates and repairs, although the basic structure is still sound.
As we waited in East Station on our last day in Budapest for our train to Vienna, with a significant rain storm affecting the region it was obvious to us that the roof of East Station was affected by numerous and significant leaks. Much of the interior of East Station appears is as it did a half a century or longer ago and is showing obvious signs of a lack of any significant restoration work since the post World War II era. A comprehensive restoration of this century-old major European rail hub similar to overhauls of Paris Gare du Nord, New Yorks Grand Central Terminal, Leipzigs Hauptbahnhof or Bostons South Station is long overdue.
Despite its dilaptated interior, East Station offers people an interesting mix of passenger rail stock. Local commuter trains stand next to intercity trains from several other countries including Poland, Serbia, Austria, Czech Republic and other nations. Our train to Vienna had originated in Belgrade and consisted of rolling stock from Serbian Rys. Several platforms away an overnight train to Bucharest with rolling stock from the Romanian State Railroad was being prepared for its journey.
Commuter trains standing in Budapest East Station.
Budapest itself is a beautiful city split by the Danube River into two major parts. Although the city still contains many reminders of its grim Communist-ruled past, it has hundreds of centuries-old historic buildings, numerous parks, elegant churches, a wide variety of museums, many interesting hotels, shops, restaurants and night clubs, and the magnificent Hungarian Parliament complex. In its suburbs one can see many new industrial parks and office complexes occupied by dozens of American, Asian and West European firms eager to do business in the booming markets of Eastern Europe. Budapest is served by three underground subway (metro) lines identified as M1, M2 and M3 and an extensive tram network. The city also is served by conventional suburban commuter trains, which operate from the four main city train stations.
Prior to our return trip via Budapest, we had spent one week in rural eastern Hungary at a large hotel development in the village of Hortobagy, the home of a national park and large horse stable and riding grounds complex. The village lies on a single-track branch rail line, which runs between the city of Debrecen and the town of Füzabony. The ride with the train from Budapest with a change of trains in Füzabony to the local train was an interesting one.
The train itself was a relic from the 1960s with an MDmot series diesel locomotive. Station stops were never announced, probably because the P.A. system in the train stopped functioning a decade or more ago. Not that would have mattered to us, since the conductors on-board spoke neither English nor German. The ride to and from Hortobagy on the train gives one an interesting of overview of the flat and extremely rural landscape of the eastern Hungarian heartland. As on previous journeys into the rural heartland of Hungary, we had to pay close attention to the time and the station signs of the intermediate stops (if and when station signs were still present) to know when it was time to get off the train. Despite the sometimes antiquated rolling stock and infrastructure of MAV, the Hungarian state railroad, trains always ran within a couple of minutes on-time during our visits to the country.
During our stay in Hortobagy we made a couple of day excursions by train to the nearby city of Debrecen, Hungarys second largest city located in the eastern corner of the country near the Romania-Ukraine border. The central train station in Debrecen is a masterpiece of Communist era architecture. It appears to have been built in the early or mid 1960s.
Painted on the walls in the stations vast waiting rooms are interesting murals of workers toiling away in the fields and factories for the glorious revolution. Numerous large apartment buildings populate the vicinity next to the central train station, also built during Hungarys Communist times, but now falling into serious disrepair, as are similar apartment blocks all over Eastern Europe. Further beyond the Communist era apartment buildings is the city center of Debrecen, which has been very nicely restored to its picturesque pre-communist era beauty with a large pedestrian zone in the city square and numerous historic churches, shops, houses and other buildings around the city center. The city is well served by several light rail or tramlines.
Debrecen City Center in Hungary.
Rolling stock on Hungarys rail system consists predominantly of various models of conventional UIC standard passenger coaches hauled by locomotives. The new generation of diesel and electric MU trains, which are a common sight on the rails of Germany, Britain, France and other western Europe rail systems are a rarity in Hungary, same as in most other eastern European countries. Hungarian intercity trains have relatively modern, clean and fully air conditioned coaches manufactured in Hungary, Poland, Germany or Serbia, and certified for speeds of 200 km/h or 160 mph, but many regional and local trains operate with older rolling stock with heating systems that have just two settings (freeze or bake), and with maximum certified speeds of 100 km/h (63 mph) and restrooms that make the toilet facilities in your average punk-rock night club look squeaky clean by comparison. Graffiti on Hungarian local and regional trains is epidemic.
Hungary also uses on lightly traveled branch lines a large number of diesel rail buses built in the 1970s and 80s in Czechoslovakia, a number of which have been updated with new interiors, electronic information displays and air conditioning in the past 2 to 3 years. Examples from a fleet of new diesel MU coaches purchased from Russia are hard to find in operation, since these cars have proved to be highly unreliable in everyday service, causing Hungarian rail operator MAV to sideline most of this equipment until the technical and quality problems with these vehicles can be resolved.
Regional train from Debrecen pauses in Hortobagy.
At the end of our stay in eastern Hungary, we traveled back to northern Germany via Budapest and Vienna. The leg from Vienna to Hannover was with the overnight sleeper train Euro Night 490. This train operates with Austrian State Rys. (ÖBB) sleeper cars hauled by a Deutsche Bahn (German Rys.) 101 series locomotive, which is DBs standard intercity passenger train electric locomotive model since the mid 1990s, with several hundred of the type currently in operation. While this section of the trip was a big hit for our children, for me personally it was a sleepless night. Our sleeper coach was the first car behind the locomotive, and therefore closest to the various sounds and noises this model of locomotive makes during operation. For an electric locomotive, this model is surprisingly noisy. During initial acceleration from a standstill the electronics within the locomotive make an interesting but loud series of musical tones. As it gains speed the traction motors and their reduction gearing of the 101 make a rather loud howling or whining noise, unlike most other electric locomotives, which produce little or no external noise other than what comes from the wheels rolling over the rails.
Deutsche Bahns 101 series intercity passenger train locomotive (photo from Bombardier).
Aside from all the noises coming from the locomotive, there were also numerous stops between Vienna and Hannover, including an extended stop at approximately 1:15 a.m. in Nuremberg to split the train into two sections, one to Hannover and Hamburg, the other to Frankfurt, Cologne and Düsseldorf, which made for a rather noisy and busy ride in this overnight sleeper train. None of this made for a sound rest for those who are light sleepers, such as I.
Despite the lack of a good nights sleep, I would still recommend that anyone who has the chance to travel by night train across Europe to do so, because with the ever increasing pressure from low-cost airlines as well as from expanding use of daytime high speed-trains, overnight sleeper trains across western and central Europe may soon be headed on a one way trip into history.
Hungary is a beautiful and interesting country with many interesting traditions, fascinating history, beautiful cities and rustic countryside, along with an interesting, if sometimes quirky rail system. By western European standards, prices in Hungarian hotels and restaurants are extremely reasonable. For railroad followers who want to experience the look and feel of European railroads prior to the dawn of rather sterile high-speed trains such as ICE and TGV and other new rail vehicles which look like something out of science fiction movies, Hungary is an excellent place to visit.
Despite the considerable language barrier one may experience in more rural parts of Hungary, its people are warm and friendly and eager to share their interesting culture with foreign visitors. The Hungarian rail network, despite its eccentricities, is a safe and enjoyable way to travel across this new member of the European Union.
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