Vol. 5 No. 4
January 26, 2004

Copyright © 2004
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

Destination: Freedom
The E-Zine of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - Jim RePass      Editor - Leo King
Washington, D.C. Bureau Chief - Wes Vernon
Webmaster - Dennis Kirkpatrick

A weekly North American rail and transit update
* Now in our Fifth Year *

This page is best viewed at 800 X 600 screen resolution

 

Growing pains at D:F

Destination:Freedom has reached a milestone this month. We are now five years old and going strong. Our readership comes from all over the globe.

With age, comes some growing pains – and D:F is no exception. We are rapidly running out of hard disk space for presentation of our weekly editions.

In order to accommodate editions for the year 2004, we will soon remove D:F editions from our inaugural year, the year 2000. We expect to do that sometime close to February 1 or shortly thereafter.

Readers may want to review some of the back editions to see if they may wish to avail themselves of the rich archival material before it's taken off the active web page offerings.

The editions from 2000 will not be discarded, but saved off-line. We will keep them available for reference purposes. If there is a demand, we might even consider making a CD available. In any event, take a look while you can before they are gone.


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


New fire standpipes in tunnels

Amtrak

Fire standpipe work progresses inside the East River Tunnel. All six Amtrak tunnels will get 16 miles of standpipe.

 

‘NYP’ tunnels get
major upgrades

Those tunnels:
A story behind the story

By Wes Vernon
Washington Bureau Chief

The story of the plan to upgrade badly needed work to make the New York Penn Station tunnels safe from cataclysmic disaster is partly a story of different priorities by Amtrak’s two latest bosses.

In early 2000, D:F pinpointed Penn Station as “a disaster waiting to happen.”

Deteriorating conditions on the Northeast Corridor infrastructure had been spotlighted by no less than three government agencies – the Government Accounting Office (GAO), The Amtrak Reform Council (ARC), and USDOT’s Inspector General, Kenneth Mead.

The problem had been addressed in testimony before a House subcommittee, but most of the media ignored it for months, concentrating instead on the marathon soap opera as to whether Amtrak would make it to operational self-sufficiency by December, 2002, a goal later abandoned.

At the time, the Acela “high-speed” trainsets were coming on-line, and plans were being drawn up for upgrading Penn Station by getting it out of its glorified subway style facility beneath Madison Square Garden and into a new expanded facility in the Farley Post Office Building across the street.

Then CEO George Warrington was concentrating on the “glidepath” Congress had mandated. He was also forging ahead with promises that the Farley project would restore Penn Station to its former glory, and scheduling the new Acelas – which supposedly heralded a new “high speed” era.

Since succeeding Warrington, current CEO David Gunn has suspended the Farley Building project and expressed regret the Acelas, which have encountered reliability problems, were ever delivered and vowed to order no more of them.

In short, “the glamorous stuff” was getting priority attention, while the New York media outlets were ignoring a “ticking time bomb” right under their noses.

Only D:F touched the story. Journalistically, it’s nice to have a story all to yourself, but when lives are at stake it is far less gratifying.

It is not as if this had been a deep dark classified secret that someone had to shoot to us over the transom or slip to us in a Washington garage a la “Deep Throat” in the Watergate case. It was public information. About eight or nine months after D:F broke the story, the New York Post breathlessly reported that yes, “a half million people traveling to and from Penn Station daily ride through century-old railroad tunnels that are catastrophes waiting to happen.” After that, others hopped on the bandwagon.

The DOT IG’s original report was issued in March 2000, followed by media silence.

On October 23, 2000, D:F reported on a study by the now-defunct Amtrak Reform Council that the Northeast Corridor Fixed Plant (NECFP) has “physical problems that present both barriers to Acela’s effective operation and a risk of substantial liability.” Specifically, the report added, “Amtrak’s inability to fund more than $650 million in emergency fire, safety and life safety improvements in [Penn Station] could expose Amtrak (as owner) to potentially extensive tort liability, even though Amtrak’s passengers are less than 15 percent of passengers using the complex. New Jersey Transit (NJT) and the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) carry far more passengers in and out of Penn Station [using those same tunnels] than does Amtrak.”

Earlier that year, in March, Amtrak executives acknowledged the requirements needed to overcome the safety defects in a Penn Station infrastructure that was built back in the early 1930s by the old Pennsylvania Railroad. Some of it dates back to the Penn Station opening in 1910. Amtrak, at that time, was telling the lawmakers that rebuilding the infrastructure would have to be done on a piecemeal basis because Amtrak doesn’t have the money to do it any other way. Added to that, they said, would be the problem of intolerable disruptions during the construction work.

That was not good enough for the then chairman of the House subcommittee, Rep. Frank Wolf, (R-Va.), who demanded a better plan.

At his request, the IG came back with a report in December, saying at the rate the railroads were investing in urgently needed safety improvements, the six tunnels would not be safe until 2030, contrary to Amtrak management claims that the job could be completed by 2014.

Wolf responded by saying a 30-year wait for passenger safety is unacceptable, “particularly when lives are at stake.”

“A fire in any one of the tunnels under Penn Station could have catastrophic results,” the lawmaker said then. The Virginian had even urged his own family members not to use the facility when traveling to New York.

With some indignation, he compared the $150 million that had then been spent by Amtrak, NJT, and LIRR to $344 million in federal funds “that have been spent just since just 1994 on converting the Farley Building to a new railroad terminal, for an expected total of $800 million by the targeted completion date of 2005.”

When Gunn took over the reins of the passenger railroad, he was less than impressed with the Farley project for a number of reasons, not the least of which was his philosophy of “putting first priorities first,” i.e. safety is the first priority of any railroad.

Amtrak’s principal guideline from its employee timetables and rulebooks:

“Safety is of the first importance in the discharge of duty.”

Moreover, whereas the Farley project offered much in the way of aesthetics, it would force Amtrak passengers to make a long walk from the waiting room to the trains. NJT and LIRR commuters would have “rioted” had they been subjected to the same indignity, according to Gunn, who noted original planners apparently foresaw this and arranged for those commuters to avoid the inconvenience. Only the Amtrak passengers would have to undergo that experience.

So Farley is on ice under the Gunn regime, and as the story nearby clearly indicates, it will not be necessary to wait for 30 years to get the job done.

Gunn’s philosophy of “fix what we have now and run it right,” before venturing into exotic territory has won the respect of most in the industry, but also prompted complaints from detractors among those Amtrak supporters believe that after three decades, it is time for the U.S. to reach for its full potential on passenger train service, along with the rest of the industrialized world.

Gunn said that’s fine when Congress gives him the money to do that. Until that day arrives, he is determined not to preside over a plant that is literally and figuratively falling apart.

Even as it is, the Amtrak boss says increased traffic under the Hudson River tunnels to and from New Jersey will soon reach the point of saturation. This is especially so since NJT has diverted a good slice of its train schedule directly into NYP instead of to Hoboken where commuters transfer to the PATH trains to the Wall Street area. Then more recently, the traffic increased with the Secaucus Transfer Station that poured more New Jersey commuters in and out of those two lone tunnels. (There are four tunnels under the East River for LIRR).

During a talk last year at the National Press Club, Gunn said at this rate, everything will always have to be exactly on time or it won’t work and could cause unacceptable delays.

A third tunnel is something that could be considered, he indicated, and if that means tolerating the glorified subway station a few years more, so be it.

No “bells and whistles” in the Gunn era at Amtrak. Just run the trains safely and without delays that jam up the system.


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Unless you’re a firefighter, the term “standpipe” is probably foreign to you. The water-carrying pipes are, however, life-saving devices in confined spaces – especially the tunnels Amtrak uses getting into New York City.

The impact both Hudson River and the four East River tunnels have on New York City’s economy and its surrounding areas is significant. Considering the complexity of the tunnel system, the infrastructure must support rail traffic under every conceivable circumstance, railroaders explain.

Amtrak’s engineering department recently completed a major ventilation renovation job, and now is installing standpipes inside the tunnels. They are two of several projects to bring the tunnels to a “state of good repair,” which CEO David Gunn has said is required to keep the railroad running. They are the first parts of the company’s Fire and Life Safety Program (FLSP).

The 11-year, $900-million program jointly funded by Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, Long Island Rail Road and the FRA is aimed at “upgrading ventilation, egress, structural, and other systems in New York Penn Station and the Amtrak-owned tunnels that lead in and out of Manhattan,” according to the January issue of Amtrak Ink, a monthly company publication for employees.

Explaining how important it is to have the entire system in top condition, FLSP director Steve Alleman remarked, “You have to think of Penn Station at the bottom of the hill, and the tunnels feeding into it.”

The carrier’s New York Penn Station Complex Ventilation Project was completed on December 15. Eleven new bidirectional fans were installed at strategic locations throughout the station at platform level to provide exhaust and ventilation in case of emergencies and extraordinary air-quality circumstances.

On the railroad, Penn Station is abbreviated to “NYP.” It’s in the New York Terminal District, and at milepost 0.0 within the district. It’s about 231 miles from Boston, and 226 miles from Washington, D.C. Track speeds through the tunnels is 60 mph, but 15 mph adjacent to the platforms.

Powered via three new electrical substations, the computer-controlled fans are operated by Amtrak’s operations manager at the Penn Station Control Center.

The project required installing new substations, and construction and modification of the seven fan rooms. Some track outages were necessary to construct the flues that connect the roof of the tunnel with the ventilation system.

Following a detailed examination of the tunnels’ condition in an Amtrak and FRA-commissioned report (known as the Schirmer Report), planning for the Penn Station Ventilation Project and other targeted work on the six Amtrak-owned tunnels began in 1997.

Built in 1905, the tunnels were originally equipped with ventilation systems that did not anticipate the heavy traffic and special circumstances the infrastructure experiences today.

In 1997, work began on improving communications, repairing tunnel leaks, enhancing emergency power, improving heat and smoke detection systems, and installing bench wall handrails and ladders in the tunnels. In addition, all six of the tunnels’ floodgates, which were in use in the 1940s but disabled in the 1950s and 1960s, were on the list of items to be repaired.

By October 2003, more than half of the projects begun in 1997 were finished. For example, tunnel bench wall handrails and ladders are now complete, and the scope of the floodgate project is done.

The events of September 11, 2001 shed more intense light on the need to improve the security and infrastructure of the tunnels. A special $100-million federal grant for Homeland Security in early 2002 augmented the railroad’s improvement program that was already underway. The program was put in the care and management of Amtrak, with joint fiscal partnership from the other players.

“What happened as a result of September 11 is that we went from projects dedicated to improving the tunnels, to a full-fledged, comprehensive program,” Alleman said.

The success of Phase I of the Fire and Life Safety program – from 2002 through 2008 – “relies on completing six major projects. The New York Penn Station Ventilation Project, the Fire Standpipe Project, the Weehawken Ventilation Project, the Long Island City Ventilation Project, and the 1st Avenue Ventilation Project, as well as the projects begun in 1997, at a cost of approximately $315 million,” he explained.

Originally, the overall program was managed by outside consultants who oversaw private contractors responsible for each of the projects, but “about nine months ago, those functions were brought in-house, so that full-time Amtrak employees were responsible for managing the projects.”

Led by Alleman, six Amtrak project managers work with an outside construction management team that supervises the day-to-day execution of the projects. Because of the complex nature of the entire program, an Amtrak project integration team runs the program’s finance, scheduling, and project reporting functions.

“Managing the project in-house and with fewer people not only yielded a cost savings to the program, but it also fostered a real sense of ownership and accountability,” noted Amtrak’s chief engineer, David Hughes.

When the Pennsylvania Railroad built the two-mile long tunnels nearly a century ago, the fire standpipes only reached 200 feet into the bores, making it difficult to quickly reach a fire deep within.

At the end last September, Amtrak had completed a number of milestones associated with completing the standpipe project. Some 16 miles of remote, computer-controlled standpipe infrastructure in all six tunnels and Penn Station are in service. This improvement allows responding firefighters greater access to the fire suppression system throughout all tunnels.

The 1905 construction of the North River Tunnel in New Jersey included an opening on the roof of the portal for ventilation, which Pennsylvania Railroad workers covered in the 1940s.

Correcting this ventilation risk, along with upgrading the ventilation system with the new fans, installing new stairways and constructing a completely new seven-story ventilation portal structure in Weehawken are some of the goals of this project, which is currently one-third complete.

 

What’s a ‘standpipe’?

A standpipe system is defined as a wet or dry system of piping, valves, outlets, and related equipment designed to provide water at specified pressures and installed exclusively for fire fighting. Some designs use a vertical pipe, open at the top, between a hydrant and a reservoir, to equalize the flow of water. It can also include a large vertical pipe, near a pumping engine, into which water is forced up, to give it sufficient head to rise to the required level at a distance. In a steam boiler system, a supply pipe of sufficient elevation enables water to flow into the boiler, notwithstanding the pressure of the steam.


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Artist rendering

Amtrak

An artist’s rendering of the nine-story structure in Manhattan that will be part of the First Avenue Tunnel ventilation system. This structure, which will require cranes and other heavy equipment to operate in the middle of Manhattan, will rise nine feet from a New York Univ. Hospital building.

 

A cross-town project begins

On the other side of Manhattan and across the East River, the Long Island City Ventilation Project is underway, Amtrak reports. That job includes new bidirectional fans, new staircases, new substations to power the ventilation system – and a new nine-story ventilation structure in Manhattan.

An innovative tunnel shield has been constructed and installed in the tunnel roof to isolate train traffic from the on-going work. This tunnel-shield concept is the first of its kind and will serve as a model for other tunnel work.

The design for the First Avenue Tunnel Project, a particularly complex project involving easement agreements and special construction considerations, is now complete.

Amtrak said it recently reached agreement with New York Univ., required because the ventilation system occupies land on the NYU’s hospital grounds. The new structure’s construction will call for kid-glove care, because the south side of the ventilation structure will rise only nine feet from the hospital – and noise, dust, and vibration concerns take priority.

The end result will include the new structure, a new ventilation system with new stairways, and bi-directional fans.

All the ventilation shafts in the tunnels will have new scissor-step stairways, which have landings that enable emergency crews to pass those being evacuated.

The third phase, which will begin in 2008 and continue until 2013, is currently being designed. Its focus will be rehabilitating the tunnel infrastructure.


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Senate okays spending bill

The Senate approved the 2004 omnibus spending package on January 22, including funding for USDOT – and Amtrak’s $1.218 billion. It was approved 65 to 28. The bill passed the House in December and now goes to President Bush for his signature.

The National Assn. of Railroad Passengers reported on Thursday that the staffs of Sens. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) are merging the provisions of “ARRIVE-21” (S.1961), the American Railroad Revitalization, Investment, and Enhancement Act of the 21st Century introduced in November, and “AREA,” the American Rail Equity Act of 2003, (S.1505) introduced last July. Both were introduced in Senate.

The new, single bill is to be introduced as a floor amendment to the TEA-21 reauthorization bill. As a floor amendment, the railroad provision will not have a separate bill number.

Looking ahead to fiscal year 2005 appropriations, President Bush sends his budget to Capitol Hill February 2, and Amtrak releases its request February 15.

Bonds-related publication The Bond Buyer noted Hollings, who is an advocate of using taxable tax-credit bonds to build rail infrastructure, wants to add a tax-credit rail bond provision to pending TEA-21 replacement measures, a Hollings aide told a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington on Thursday.

Hollings is the ranking Democrat on the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, which oversees rail issues in the Senate, and sees the legislation that would reauthorize the current TEA-21 as a good vehicle to enact a tax-credit rail bond measure.

“The most likely vehicle is the highway and transit reauthorization,” said Debbie Hersman, who works for Hollings on the committee. “Our expectation... is to be included as part of that larger package.”

Last summer, the commerce committee, which has jurisdiction over safety provisions in the pending reauthorization legislation, approved its portion of the bill, but before the safety measure was approved, the committee attached an amendment that included placeholder language to establish a nonprofit corporation to issue taxable tax-credit bonds to help finance improvements and additions to the nation’s rail infrastructure.

Hersman said that Hollings hopes to replace the placeholder language on the Senate floor with a provision that would authorize funding for rail infrastructure with tax-credit bonds. Hollings, who is retiring when the current session of Congress ends late this year, is currently working with a group of other senators to iron out the details, according to the aide.

In November, Hollings introduced a bill that would create a nonprofit entity called the Rail Infrastructure Finance Corp., or RIFCO, to issue $30 billion in tax-credit bonds over six years to fund rail infrastructure development.

Under the bill, ARRIVE-21, RIFCO would provide grants to states and Amtrak for high-speed rail and intercity passenger rail projects. ARRIVE-21 also would provide grants to states for freight rail capital projects that benefit the public. In order to receive grants, states must prepare a rail plan and provide a 20 percent non-federal funding match to RIFCO, similar to what states currently do for other federal transportation grants. ARRIVE-21 currently has six cosponsors.

Hutchison, who chairs the commerce committee’s rail subcommittee, introduced a similar measure last summer. AREA would also create a RIFCO, which would issue $48 billion in tax-credit bonds for capital improvements to upgrade Amtrak services. A portion of the bond proceeds would be placed in a sinking fund to repay the bond principal. To receive AREA funds, a 20 percent state match would be required.

The bill, which has three cosponsors, would also authorize $12 billion to Amtrak for operating expenses.

Meanwhile, the mayors’ conference is circulating a letter among its members that supports a TEA-21 reauthorization proposal by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that would provide $375 billion over six years for highways, transit projects, and safety initiatives. The plan calls for an estimated eight-cent gas tax increase over the six years, but the mayors have not endorsed any particular funding mechanism, according to Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, who is chairman of the conference’s transportation committee. The mayors intended to send the letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), by Friday.

The Congressional Quarterly Today suggested on January 21 that with a six-year highway bill set for action in both chambers this year, other transportation issues could hitch a ride on the measure, including language to reauthorize Amtrak, which was not reauthorized for the past two years because lawmakers were unable to decide whether to privatize it – as urged by the Administration – or to give the company more money to deal with its debt and project backlog.

David L. Gunn, Amtrak’s president and CEO, asked local officials at the mayors gathering on Wednesday to call their representatives and push for more money for Amtrak.

“Don’t kid yourself that someone can come in and change the economics of what’s happening,” Gunn said. “It’s a myth that privatization can bring you inter-city passenger service without subsidy.”

ARRIVE-21 is the brainchild of Sens. Hollings, Susan Collins (R-Maine), Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), and Arlen Specter (R-Pa). It would form a nonprofit corporation to issue $30 billion in tax-credit bonds over six years to fund rail infrastructure development. Such bonds would offer purchasers tax credits in lieu of interest payments. Amtrak would be authorized at $1.5 billion annually for six years.

The other bill, AREA, was put into the hopper by Sens. Hutchison, Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), and Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), would generally retain Amtrak’s current structure, authorizing $60 billion over six years, $48 billion of which would come from issuing tax-exempt bonds.

The bill would remove a stipulation in current law that requires Amtrak to turn a profit and would allow privatization only of lines that were on time less than 80 percent of the time.

“It’s been almost impossible to get a rail bill brought up by itself,” a Senate aide said.

It remains unclear, however, whether Congress will be able to agree this year on a surface transportation reauthorization at all, in which case an Amtrak reauthorization may have to wait.

So far, lawmakers are divided over whether to raise the federal gas tax, now at 18.4 cents a gallon, to pay for an increase in surface transportation spending, or authorize a more modest expansion of highway projects than many members want. President Bush has threatened to veto a gas tax increase.


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Amtrak Rescue

©Suwannee Democrat (North Florida Online): Yvette Hannon

Rescuers inside Amtrak’s Sunset Limited steady the victim while lowering him with ropes as paramedic Stephanie Whitehurst, on the ladder, braces him for the 20-foot trip down to U.S. Highway 129. Suwannee County Dispatch, EMS and Fire and Live Oak Fire joined with the Florida Highway Patrol to save the life of the heart attack victim.

 

Suwannee rescues man from Sunset

It was a sight to see, that tiny female paramedic maneuvering down a 20-foot ladder balanced from the window of an Amtrak sightseeing coach stopped in the middle of U.S. Highway 129 in downtown Live Oak, Fla.

Everything around the train came to a screeching halt while more than a dozen rescue, fire and law enforcement officers worked to safely remove a heart attack victim from the eastbound Sunset Limited (Amtrak train No. 2) by sliding him down the ladder to a waiting ambulance.

Susan K. Lamb, managing editor for North Florida Online (Suwannee Democrat) told her readers on January 21 traffic stopped on both the north and southbound sides of the highway as the passenger train blocked the road. Office workers stopped working and stood outside their places of employment to watch while kids rode by on bicycles and a new non-street legal scooter, taking it all in.

The incident began at about 1:21 p.m. on January 19 when a call came in from the Amtrak train that a passenger was having a heart attack and an ambulance was requested.

The train’s crew maneuvered the Superliner car so it stopped at the U.S. 129 crossing right in the middle of town – where Live Oak Fire Fighters, EMTs and Florida Highway Patrol Officer Kin Weaver met it on the north side. On the south side, Suwannee County EMS, County Fire and Live Oak Police appeared. Paramedics boarded the train and stabilized the patient before realizing they could not remove the 6-foot, 6-inch tall man from the train via the spiral staircase.

They put a 20-foot ladder through a large window on the scenic lounge car, bracing it on the highway. The windows are made with Lexan sandwiched between two pieces of safety glass, and weigh 70 to 90 pounds. Each is mounted in rubber gaskets, one gasket on the car inside and one outside – and the gaskets can be pried up with simple tools, like a screwdriver, pocketknife or a sturdy ballpoint pen if the plastic handle is missing.

As about 8 or 10 people, including several volunteers, braced the ladder, Weaver and others inside the train, including Amtrak employees, Live Oak Fire fighters and EMS Lt. Robert Eyer strapped the man to a backboard and attached nylon rope to the backboard for safety.

Paramedic Stephanie Whitehurst scurried up the ladder while bystanders, including a conductor and another Amtrak employee, watched as the patient was slowly eased through the window feet-first, where Whitehurst was waiting to guide the bottom of the backboard slowly down the ladder.

Whitehurst moved backward down the ladder on her belly, aided by ground support and those inside the train all the way down until the patient was safely at the bottom, where about 10 people assisted in putting the patient onto a stretcher and safely loading him into the ambulance.

It all happened flawlessly and seemed effortless. As it turned out, a recent training session prepared the paramedics for this very same scenario, they said later.

The patient, who could not be identified because of new Florida patient confidentiality laws, was transported to Shands Hospital at Live Oak.

The nearest regular stop for the Sunset is Madison, Fla., about 40 miles west of Live Oak.

As soon as the patient was safely in the care of EMS, the train continued its journey to Miami.


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Rail bond vote delay earns support

Nearly a week after California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) recommended that lawmakers remove a $9.95 billion high-speed rail bond measure from the November ballot, a number of local high-speed rail supporters are echoing his advice.

“High speed rail is something that’s needed in California, but it doesn’t make economic sense right now,” said Dr. Lee Boese, a Merced orthodontist and chairman of the Merced County high-speed rail committee, the Merced Sun-Star reported on January 16.

Likewise, state Sen. Jeff Denham (R) threw his support behind the governor, saying he believes the bond initiative would have been defeated by voters.

Denham said that with the passage of Assembly Bill 1506, which would have required that workers on projects financed by the bond be granted “prevailing wage” contracts, the rail bond would likely be defeated.

“I think the voters of California will see through this and ultimately it would force the defeat of high-speed rail,” he said of the prevailing wage provision.

Schwarzenegger, in budget proposals released last Friday, asked the state legislature to remove the bond proposal from the ballot, saying the state couldn’t afford the interest payments on the bonds.

“Given the state’s current fiscal situation, it would be premature for the state to move forward with additional general fund debt of this magnitude at this time,” the administration said. “The needs for funding high-speed rail will be reviewed as part of an overall discussion of transportation resources.”

At the same time, the governor is asking the legislature to support a $15 billion bond to consolidate the state’s outstanding debt. He also has proposed borrowing an additional $925 million more to pay down state pension obligations for long-term savings.

The high-speed rail bond proposal would allow the state to raise $9 billion to help pay for the first leg of a proposed 700-mile high speed rail line that would carry passengers between California’s major cities at top speeds of more than 200 mph.

The first leg would link the Los Angeles, Merced County and the San Francisco areas. Eventually the system would also stretch to Sacramento and San Diego.

The rest of the bond money, $950 million, would be used for improvements to light rail and conventional intercity lines.

Former Gov. Gray Davis signed legislation in 2002 putting the bond measure on the November 2004 ballot, saying the state needed a “21st century transportation system” to supplement its highways and airports.


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Revenue rises at Amtrak to $487 million

Amtrak financial numbers continue to improve. For the fiscal year through December 2003, its total operating revenue was $487,068,000. The carrier had expected to earn only $465,132,000.

Operating expenses totaled $757,345,000 whereas Amtrak had planned on spending $779,023,000.

Ridership was up, at 6,338,202 people, even though management had expected some 5,791,586.

Its on-time performance was still off – at 74.2 percent. The system goal is 85.0 percent.


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Acela Expresses get quieter on weekends

Shhh.

Amtrak has made one car a “quiet car” on its Acela Express trains hustling between Boston, New York and Washington – at least on weekends. The change was made on January 15.

The carrier stated, “Quiet cars are now consistently adjacent to the first-class car on Acela Express and Metroliner trainsets.”

Its quiet car policy began on Metroliners in February 2001.

The quiet car will remain quiet, Amtrak said, “even on sold-out trains.”

So, passengers who sit in the quiet car “are asked to refrain from speaking loudly or using cell phones and other devices audible to fellow passengers.”


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Amtrak adds Philadelphia-Boston as city pair

In an effort to bolster its share of the Philadelphia-Boston city pair market, Amtrak added Philadelphia as a “select city pair,” according to the January 20 edition of Travel Weekly.

As a result, members of Amtrak’s “Guest Rewards” program riding Acela Expresses will receive 500 points for each one-way trip in business class and 750 points for each one-way trip in first class between Philadelphia and Boston.

Members earn similar points for traveling between Boston and New York, and Boston and Washington.

In all, 22 city pair routes are eligible for the bonus points.

Amtrak said its share of the Philadelphia-Boston market is steadily climbing, currently at 25 percent, vs. 6 percent in 1998, according to officials. Its share jumped to 10 percent when Acela Express trains were introduced in 2000, and rose as high as 29 percent in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Travel Weekly also reported last week travelers booking reservations on http://Amtrak.com now can access low hotel rates due to an improved link between the site and http://hotels.com’s booking engine.

Amtrak said the new online functionality builds on Amtrak’s existing three-year preferred hotel provider agreement with Hotels.com, under which Amtrak’s reservation agents transfer customers interested in discounted lodging to Hotels.com.

Previously, travelers bookings hotel rooms at Amtrak.com would be linked to Hotels.com to complete their hotel bookings. The new booking functionality allows the entire booking to be competed at Amtrak’s Web site.

Amtrak said that with a single click, customers arrive at the Amtrak/Hotels.com reservation page, where they can search for hotels by destination city, date, and brand.


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Cafe car interior

Amtrak

Amfleet I Dinette 28366 is open for business on No. 138 from Washington to New York. The car returned to service on Nov. 20, 2003 after being remanufactured at Bear Maintenance Facility. Its last heavy overhaul was in November 1995.

 

Amfleet I food cars being rebuilt

Mechanics at the Bear, Del., Maintenance Facility completed remanufacturing six Amfleet I Dinettes in November, some of which had not been overhauled in eight to ten years.

About 21 types of food service cars are in Amtrak’s inventory, but once the rebuilds are completed, it will be reduced to three — full dinettes, full club cars, or club dinettes, reports Amtrak monthly employee publication, Amtrak Ink.

By next October, Bear mechanics will have remanufactured 64 Amfleet I food service cars.

All the cars will have taken 4,000 hours to complete. Rebuilding includes replacing diaphragms, couplers, trucks, brakes, 480-volt train line cables, control panels, evaporators, under-car refrigeration equipment, and air conditioning units.

The interiors were gutted and upgraded with new booths, carpet, bathroom modules, and plastic wall and ceiling panels.

The first six cars completed and returned to service in October and November 2003 were Amfleet I full dinettes 28364, 43360, 28365, 28366, 28367, and 28368.


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Alaska Railroad

NCI: Leo King

Thirty years ago this sign marked the end of the line for passenger trains in Fairbanks, Alaska, at MP 470.3.

 

ARR draws up station plans

The Alaska Railroad Corp. plans to disclose soon whether construction of a new Fairbanks depot will begin this year, railroad board chairman John Binkley said last week. Binkley said he’s optimistic the company will find the money to finish the depot on schedule. Also on the railroad’s agenda is a plan to realign track in Wasilla.

The railroad is primarily a freight operation, but it also runs its own passenger trains.

About $6 million of preparation work for the depot and a new loop track project, originally estimated to cost a total of $22.5 million, is already completed. The station is located at milepost 470.3. MP 0.0 is in Seward while Anchorage is at MP 114.3.

Rising lumber costs and Fairbanks’ busy building season appeared to keep some contractors from bidding on the project, said Brett Flint, railroad manager of facility construction.

Along with the new depot, the railroad wants to build a loop track that crosses land now owned by Sourdough Express and Golden Valley Electric Assn. The railroad must acquire the land before that part of the project can proceed. The railroad has reached an agreement with one of the companies, while another deal is in the works, said Chris Anderson, railroad program manager for land and right-of-way.

Railroad officials discussed the depot and other upcoming and ongoing projects January 16 at an open house at the existing Fairbanks depot.

Mark Fejes, who said he leases property from the railroad on the 1200 block of Well Street, questioned whether there would be adequate walking access to the new depot.

“It looks to me like they’re building it for tour buses,” Fejes said.

Also on the carrier’s menu is a Wasilla track realignment plan and a Wasilla Intermodal Planning project.

The track project is close to construction readiness, while the intermodal plan is still in the planning stages and has no predicted completion date. The railroad held an open house at the Lake Lucille Inn on January 13, reports the Frontiersman.

The track realignment project, around MP 159.8, will straighten tracks near the Seward-Meridian Parkway to prevent derailments on curves, as well as allowing trains to move faster and more smoothly. The railroad has already received funding for the project, and hopes to begin construction, if conditions remain favorable, sometime in 2005 or 2006.

The second, more preliminary intermodal planning project, intends to relocate the tracks outside of downtown Wasilla, possibly transferring the rail from the north to the south side of Lake Lucille.

Wasilla has grown considerably recently, and a track running through the center of downtown Wasilla could impede the city’s development.

“We feel we need to go around Wasilla,” said Bruce Carr, director of strategic planning for the railroad. “It’s probably time for us to get out.”

The railroad plans to purchase a 300-foot corridor of land to accommodate this project, provided it can acquire funding and come to a satisfactory agreement with the city of Wasilla and the public. Any change of the track’s current location is bound to affect Wasilla homeowners in the Knik-Goose Bay and Lake Lucille areas.

“It’s going to be a tough choice for the community,” admitted Carr. “It was contentious three years ago and it’ll be contentious three months from now.”

A hot issue is the amount of noise generated by trains blowing their whistles at road crossings, required by law and enforced by the FRA. Currently, there are 11 road grade crossings. Carr said that the corporation hopes to reduce this number to five or fewer.

“We’re concerned about this since we’re right on Knik Road,” said Elmer Feltz, president of the board of directors at the Wasilla Senior Center.

“I don’t see any threat by what they’re showing us here, but you never know.”

The railroad has planned public works sessions for this spring (dates to be announced) in order to receive feedback from locals.

“We want the community to help us decide,” said Carr, who believes that the decision for the realignment must be made with care.

“It’s got to be in a place that meets the needs of the community and meets the needs of the railroad.”

Railroad officials emphasized that the Intermodal Planning project is still in the preliminary stages and nothing has been set in stone yet.

“All we’re doing now is planning and trying to get public input,” said Carr.

Brett Flint, another railroad spokesman, remarked, “We’re a long way from even being on the same page.”

The railroad is also planning a Commuter Rail Study to investigate the possibility of running commuter trains between Anchorage and the Matanuska Valley.

Though the corporation itself will not be operating these trains, there is a possibility that a separate transit authority might operate the service using Alaska rail. This project is still in the planning stages as well; the railroad is investigating possible sites for stations and tracks.

“The community has expressed a lot of interest in commuter rail,” Carr said, noting that a commuter advocacy group has been formed in Anchorage.

The railroad is also actively pursuing projects to straighten the tracks leading from Anchorage to Wasilla. The result would reduce transit time between the two locations from 90 minutes to 58 minutes. ARR also wants to reinforce and replace aging bridges, replace worn rails and ties, and perform multiple improvements to stations around the Anchorage area.


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Gunpowder bridge under reconstruction

Two photos: Amtrak

Running only five minutes late through the Gunpowder River bridge work area, Acela Express No. 2155 tiptoes over the span on September 4 while the bridge rehab gang repairs the deck.

 

‘Gunpow’ gets major upgrades

Northeast Corridor passengers may not notice a difference in the quality of their ride across Amtrak’s Gunpowder River Bridge, but the work done by the railroad’s Engineering forces last fall certainly will make a difference in the operational reliability and structural integrity of the nearly mile-long span.

Listed as ‘Gunpow’ in the employee timetable, the bridge is located at milepost 79.3. That’s 79 miles from Zoo tower in Philadelphia, but only 16 miles north of Baltimore.

Amtrak’s engineering department completed significant repairs on the aging ballast deck bridge in early November, transforming it to a smooth and reliable connector from a potential operational risk on the Northeast Corridor.

The Pennsylvania Railroad built the bridge in 1913. The 5,000-foot span was originally a movable bridge that allowed small boats to pass, but Amtrak later closed the drawbridge permanently and converted it to a ballast deck by placing timbers across the steel beams.

Amtrak’s monthly employee publication, Amtrak Ink for January, reported annual inspections revealed significant wear on the double-track bridge, including decayed timber decking boards and deck girder span steel deterioration.

Joe Lileikis, senior engineer of structures explained, “Coordinating the timing is crucial to getting a project like this done. Each phase of the project was dependent on the successful execution of the phase before it – and these phases took place at different times of the day, with a range of teams, calling for very different types of equipment, all in a very short period of time.”

The work on track 2, normally the southbound track, took place in September, and the repairs on track 3, usually the northbound track, began in late October. It returned to service on November 1.

Five weeks of preliminary work was necessary for each track to prepare the bridge for the construction.

“The work done to ready the bridge for the project was extensive,” noted Bill Breneman, assistant division engineer

He said, “The prep work, such as attaching ballast retainers to the bridge and installing handrails, was important to accomplish the job safely.”

A bridge fabrication gang in Wilmington, Del., made many of the new components.

In order to minimize the impact on NEC traffic, one of the two tracks was kept open while work was being performed on the other. Dispatchers directed northbound and southbound trains on the open track, between interlockings on either side of the bridge at Magnolia and Gunpow or River and Gunpow. All three locations have switches and signals.

Magnolia, north of Gunpow, is about two miles to the north, and River is some five miles distant southward. A major portion of the work – especially removing track panels – and preliminary work was performed at night.

“An experienced passenger might notice a smoother ride over the bridge,” said Lileikis, “but what’s important is that if this bridge wasn’t repaired soon, we might have had passengers noticing that there was no service at all on that end of the corridor.”

The bridge contains 190 26-foot concrete spans, a 43-foot deck girder span, and a 30-foot through-girder span. The 73-foot segment that required the work was made up of the deck girder and the through-girder; the entire deck girder span was replaced with a new steel I-beam span encased in concrete, and rotted timbers were replaced with pre-cast concrete slabs.

A bridge rehabilitation gang from the Mid-Atlantic Division track department, Communications and Signals, electric traction forces, and system track production gang employees got the job done.

They removed existing rail and ties (panel by panel), and ballast. They also dismantled decomposed timber decking and installed concrete beams and slabs, then replaced the track – again, panel by panel – and dumped new ballast. After that, they surfaced and lined the track with Amtrak’s high-speed “Continuous Action Tamper,” and finally welded the rails back together so it would return to being continuously welded rail.

Both tracks returned to service after each was visually inspected.

Gunpowder Bridge

A crane and crew remove decayed wood timbers and deteriorated steel beams on September 6 before inserting concrete beams at ‘Gunpow’.


More buses stop at California Amtrak station

Starting February 2, the new Amtrak depot in Auburn, Calif., will have frequent visitors. Gold Country Stage Route 5 will stop at the Auburn depot on Nevada Street, which recently opened. It will serve as the main transfer hub for passenger riding Amtrak trains with buses operated by Gold Country Stage, Auburn Transit, and Placer County Transit, according to Bill Derrick, Nevada County transit services manager.

– The Union, Nevada County, Calif., January 20.


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A vision for the future

It was a short sentence in a long speech, but it won United Technologies Corp. CEO George David the biggest gasp – and the loudest applause at the meeting in Cromwell, Conn. On January 21.

What if, he said, you could get from Hartford to New York City in one hour?

The business leaders in the audience laughed, sighed, snorted, then listened. United Technologies (UTC), after all, builds space shuttle components, jet engines and military helicopters. Did David and his engineers have a suggestion?

“I know absolutely nothing about transportation,” the CEO confessed. “I know less than anyone in the room, but it just seems to me like it‘s really important.”

AP writer Matt Apuzzo observed the crowd whooped with applause.

“It‘s not hard. This can be done, with a will,“ David said. “It‘s all a question about priorities.”

Speaking to the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, David cited transportation as one of the top issues facing Connecticut business, along with education.

“The results of that would be gigantic,” he said. “It would actually redefine New England.”

After his speech, area transportation experts were all ears. On a good day, Hartford to New York is a two-hour drive. On a bad day, four. Amtrak‘s high-speed Acela Express trains take passengers into New York in about 90 minutes, but that‘s from New Haven. A direct trip from Hartford takes nearly three hours.

“Talk about a visionary statement, saying you want to go from Hartford to New York in an hour,” said R. Nelson “Oz” Griebel, chairman of the state Transportation Strategy Board.

Griebel was in the audience. He agreed that a speedy route into New York would remake the region‘s business – but how would it be done?

“I certainly don’t have an answer,” David said. “But I know what I‘d do to begin with: I’d get a ruler and a map.”

A straight-shot trip from Hartford to Manhattan is less than 70 miles, an easy distance to cover by car or train in an hour – but the route looks nothing like the current, winding snakes of Interstates 91 and 95.

The straight line cuts through Naugatuck, past Redding and western Fairfield County and into New York through White Plains rather than Rye and New Rochelle.

“It‘s nice to draw a line on the map, but I don’t know if it’s even feasible for any technology,” said Jim Boyce, chief of policy and planning for the state DOT. “He could start with helicopters tomorrow.”

John Wiltse, a spokesman for Gov. John G. Rowland, called David’s challenge “a bold vision,” but said it would need to be measured against the cost.

David maintains that it is possible. France’s high-speed TGV train goes from Paris to Avignon – roughly the same distance as from Boston to Washington – in less than three and one-half hours.

Griebel said he would rather see the state first focus its efforts on getting passengers one-seat service from Hartford the New York, meaning they would not have to change trains. If the trip took 90 minutes or slightly longer, he said it would still be successful. He was unsure about straight-line rail service. That would cost billions of dollars and take years to develop.

“The technology exists to do anything you want,” said Amtrak spokesman Dan Stessel. Trains could travel 300 mph, cutting across southwest Connecticut in a flash.

“It‘s not only an exorbitant amount of money,” Stessel said, “but also the most valuable real estate on this continent: the Northeast.”

It‘s a challenge, David said. “If you don‘t set big goals, you don‘t get big results.”

Griebel shares that idea, but said it might be easier said than done. When the CEO of UTC issues a directive, the company responds, Griebel said.

“When someone says we want to put high-speed railway from Hartford to New York, not everybody stands up and salutes,” he said. “Probably more people give you other digital gestures than saluting.“


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COMMUTERLINES...  Commuter lines...

Trains may roll to Dulles airport

By Wes Vernon
Washington Bureau Chief

“Rail is back on track,” to Dulles International Airport.

That’s the word from Gerald Connolly, the Fairfax, Va. Board of Supervisors chairman.

Barely a month after taking office, the top man in a key Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C. was able to report that a group representing 800 landowners in the area of the huge Tyson’s Corner shopping mall have petitioned Fairfax County to set up a special tax district for commercial property owners, who would pay an additional real estate tax to extend the D.C. area’s Metrorail “subway” system from Falls Church to Reston.

Only last month, the Herndon, Va. town council bailed out of a previous construction plan, fearing that their taxpayers would kick in their share of the tab only to risk ending up with no Metro reaching their area at the farther west end of the line.

Under the new plan from the landowners’ group, “LEADER” (Landowners Economic Alliance for the Dulles Extension of Rail), and assuming property owners in the eastern segment (the Tyson’s area and mileage closest in to D.C.) give their approval, they would pay for the tracks that would reach them. The farther out suburbs could create their own tax district, and contribute to the second phase of construction of the line, but those landowners would get their money back if federal funding for the leg is not secured by 2006.

Connolly told the Washington Post that the western landowners have indicated “a firm commitment to proceed on heels of the first [phase].”

The entire line, when and if both segments are built, will be 23 miles long. Without a local financing plan to demonstrate a “serious” intent to go through with it, the rail extension to Dulles, which has been on drawing boards for decades, would not go forward and would miss a deadline to go after federal funding this spring.

It takes a majority of the Tyson’s area property owners to get the plan off the drawing boards and on toward reality. 63 percent of the property owners in the Tyson’s area signed the petition.


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Wisconsin transit allies at odds

Longtime allies are becoming competitors in the struggle to upgrade public transit systems in Wisconsin’s two largest metropolitan areas, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel of January 20.

In both the Milwaukee and Madison areas, tight government budgets have sparked a conflict among supporters of commuter trains, light rail and guided electric buses, as transit advocates realize they would be lucky to get even one of those systems in each city.

The competition has shown up at a time when both areas are moving closer than they have been in years toward a decision on whether to add a new form of transit - and, as a result, at a time when the discussions about what to build and how to pay for it have become more serious.

In the Milwaukee area, local officials have authorized the start of preliminary engineering on a $152 million extension of Chicago’s Metra commuter trains from Kenosha to Racine, downtown Milwaukee and the southern suburbs.

Authorities also have called for environmental study of the Milwaukee Connector, a $300 million plan to link downtown and nearby neighborhoods with public transit, most likely guided electric buses.

Both systems have been studied and discussed in different forms for years – and for years, transit advocates dreamed of a day when passengers could ride Metra or Amtrak trains to downtown Milwaukee, then switch to the connector to reach their final destination at the lakefront, Miller Park or the Univ. of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Just as those dreams came a step closer to coming true, with the decisions last year to move into the final stage of study on both systems, then-Milwaukee Mayor John O. Norquist joined Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker in asking that $91.5 million in federal money reserved for the connector be shifted to the commuter rail line.

In theory, studies could continue on both systems. In reality, however, the system with the $91.5 million attached is a lot more likely to be built, said Jim Rowen, Norquist’s former policy chief.

“They’re both good ideas,” Norquist said in an interview before he stepped down on January 2 to take another job, “but my judgment of it at this time is that the politics are really good for commuter rail.”

Commuter rail has attracted bipartisan political and business support, Norquist noted, but he conceded public support has never solidified behind light rail operating under trolley wires and on tracks that could be laid in streets or separate rights of way.

Even after the connector study ruled out light rail, Walker and other light rail opponents continued to attack the less-expensive electric buses, which could be guided by either a single rail, electronic eyes or magnets.

Any attempt to shift the federal money would require Gov. Jim Doyle’s approval. Doyle has not decided what to do, spokesman Dan Leistikow said. He declined to say whether the governor would wait until after the April 6 mayoral and county executive elections before acting on the request from Norquist and Walker.

Norquist’s interim successor, Mayor Marvin Pratt, previously objected to taking the money away from the connector, but more recently has moved closer to Norquist‘s position.

In the Madison area, commuter rail was zipping ahead until a light rail advocate was elected mayor. Nearly a year ago, the Madison Common Council and the Dane County Board had authorized preliminary engineering on a $188 million rail line from Middleton to Madison’s East Towne Mall, to be linked to a $53.4 million countywide express bus network.

Not long after that, then-Madison Mayor Sue Bauman and Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk started pushing to speed up the process and build a $30 million to $50 million starter line from Middleton to downtown Madison within two years – but then environmentalist Dave Cieslewicz replaced Bauman as mayor.

As a member of the commuter rail study committee, Cieslewicz had fought for light rail or its original form, streetcars, instead of commuter rail. All he had won was a goal to add streetcars at some later date.

Now Cieslewicz’s views carry more weight.

Cieslewicz argued that Madison needs rail transit service that would run more frequently and stop more often than a commuter rail line could.

Anne Canby, president of the Surface Transportation Policy Project, says different transit modes shouldn’t compete. Instead, communities should pick the mode that suits their needs and consider that one might be a steppingstone to another, she said.


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Commuter rail district wants UP track

The Austin-San Antonio Inter-municipal Commuter Rail District is adding muscle to its effort to boot Union Pacific Corp. from its freight line in the region.

A special task force formed by the Texas district will begin negotiations with UP by March. The rail district has set aside $64,000 from a federal grant for administrative, legal and travel expenses over the next two years, according to the Austin Business Journal of January 16.

The district, established in 2002, wants to put a commuter rail line on UP’s existing freight tracks, which covers 65 miles from San Marcos to Taylor. Amtrak’s Texas Eagle also operates over the line.

The district is assembling a task force that will include one representative from the governor’s office, another from the Texas Transportation Commission, a Texas elected official, a federal elected official, and a representative of the rail district.

Sid Covington of Austin, vice chairman of the district’s board, said the task force will provide a unified voice in negotiations with UP. The goal is to complete negotiations by 2005.

“If we can’t reach an agreement with UP, it makes this project much more difficult,” Covington said.

“As long as the freight operations remain the same or better, we’ll favor the project,” UP spokesman Mark Davis said.

“We have an obligation to serve our existing customers. Whatever alternative is presented has to meet or beat the current operation.”

Part of the equation includes Amtrak, which has a deal with UP to put passenger trains on the freight line. Amtrak would be involved in negotiations with the commuter rail group.

“Our customers and their considerations are first in our mind,” Davis said. “We also have to be able to operate trains on any proposed rail, and it has to meet our current schedule.”

About 30 freight and passenger trains travel each day between San Marcos and Round Rock.

Sharing the rail line with UP isn’t under consideration.

“The UP rail is already close to its capacity,” Covington said, “so the plan is to find another route for UP to use in order to free up that line for commuter rail.” A 1999 study from Texas DOT predicted a commuter rail corridor between the Austin and San Antonio areas would carry nearly 11,000 daily passengers in 2020. The study found a new 110-mile system between San Antonio and Georgetown, a suburb 30 miles north of Austin, would cost $250 million to $475 million.

The district was formed to determine the feasibility of commuter rail along the I-35 corridor in Central Texas.

District board member Gerald Daugherty dissented in voting against creation of the task force.

“We need to get more information from Union Pacific before we spend $64,000,” says Daugherty, a Travis County commissioner.

The task force will initiate talks with UP about relocating the freight line.

Covington said using the line for commuter passengers instead of freight would ease traffic tie-ups at grade crossings. The freight line also carries some rail cars transporting hazardous materials through congested areas, he said.

“The freight trains can be up to a mile long, so the time to wait for one train can be pretty lengthy,” Covington said. He added, “Commuter rail trains will be one to two cars long, and one will run every 30 minutes.”

Relocating a freight line isn’t easy, said FRA’s Warren Flatau.

“Generally speaking, a line relocation is a substantial undertaking, but the trend we’re seeing nationwide is that regional or metropolitan planning commissions are looking at existing rail freight lines over which they might operate inner-city transportation services.”


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Slow going for new Tri-Rail track

Commuters eagerly waiting for the day when Florida Tri-Rail begins 20-minute rush-hour service may be stuck at the station longer than expected.

Construction of the last 43 miles of a second track, most of it in Palm Beach County, is falling behind schedule, according to the Palm Beach Post of January 18.

Progress reports show 62 percent of the contract time has expired, but only 48 percent of the work is finished. Tri-County Rail Constructors, the contractor on the $334 million project, has requested an extension until September 2005, six months past the scheduled completion of March 2005.

The South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (RTA), the agency that oversees the commuter rail operations, is not ready to concede that work cannot be done on time.

The contractor said work could be accelerated and wrapped up in 14 months if certain conditions are met. The company faces a $50,000-a-day fine for not meeting the deadline.

The RTA and contractor are looking at various options to “open windows“ throughout the week, when constructions crews can work without the interruption of passing trains.

One idea is to bus passengers, including those riding Amtrak from the Northeast, between West Palm Beach and their destinations in South Florida. The “bus bridges“ would operate from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. daily. During the past few months, riders occasionally have been bused on weekends along the north end of the line.

“We can‘t build track when you have 150-car freight trains coming through,“ said Andrea Voss, spokeswoman for Tri-County Rail Constructors. “We need solid time to work.“

The project is the largest expansion in Tri-Rail‘s 15-year history. It includes renovating nine stations, including five in Palm Beach County, and safety improvements at 70 rail crossings.

RTA officials said this construction project is no different than others. Problems, both expected and unexpected, can cause slowdowns.

Construction has been hampered by turnover in management and the need to move miles of fiber optic cable buried in the corridor.

About 60 gopher tortoises that were nesting along the tracks had to be moved. Gopher tortoises are protected in Florida and listed as a species of special concern. About $400,000 was spent to build the tortoises a new home at a nature preserve in Boca Raton.

A major issue is the fact that the RTA does not own the property that is being improved along the tracks.

CSX Transportation sold the 72-mile corridor to the state in the 1980s, but retained control of track maintenance and train dispatching. Construction plans and any changes have to go through CSX for approval, RTA Executive Director Joseph Giulietti said.

Further complicating plans to operate more-frequent service is rebuilding the New River bridge in Fort Lauderdale. The bridge was originally part of the double-track project, but the Federal Transit Administration wanted it built separately, with money from other transportation sources. The new bridge is scheduled for completion in fall 2005.

The RTA still intends to operate 30- or 40-minute rush-hour trains this summer. Once the second track is built, the agency will try to run 20-minute trains.

“Until we get the New River bridge done, we can‘t operate a 20-minute schedule reliably,“ Giulietti said.

Two years into the project, ridership has seen its ups and downs. Ridership in November was down 2.5 percent from November 2002, but rose 2 percent in December over the same period in 2002.

The RTA and contractor hope to reach an agreement in the next month to speed up construction.

“There‘s nothing right now that indicates we won‘t meet the schedule,“ Giulietti said. “That doesn‘t mean problems won‘t arise in the future.“


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Sounder begins Everett service

Sound Transit cleared the way in December to expand Sounder into Snohomish County on December 21. The commuter service and Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Ry negotiated an agreement to use tracks into perpetuity.

The agreement also will allow Sounder trains to run from Tacoma to Nisqually in about five years, but Sound Transit agreed to pay the railroad $10 million more than a figure that had been discussed. That pushed up Sounder’s cost overruns by about $500 million.

The first commuter train over the line was an extra to a Seattle Seahawks football game, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported in December.

The latest ridership figures for the line, ending January 18, showed 1,652 people riding the train during that week in both directions. Some 15,912 commuters rode the Tacoma-Seattle line during the week.

Sound Transit officials said they won important concessions, but by linking Seattle and Everett by commuter rail, they said they were making history.

“Things are rolling, the trains have started,” said King County Executive Ron Sims, Sound Transit’s chairman.

The agreement, reached after two years of negotiations, calls on Sound Transit to pay the railroad $290 million over the next seven years. Of that, $258 million will give the agency the right to run up to four trains a day from Everett to Seattle in the morning and back to Everett during the afternoon rush hour. The commuter train will stop in Edmonds and eventually in Mukilteo as well.

Sounder logo
For the other $32 million, Sound Transit is buying the tracks between Tacoma and Nisqually, but agreed to allow the railroad to continue using them to move freight for a minimal price. Railroad spokesman Gus Melonas said Burlington Northern & Santa Fe was willing to accommodate Sounder as long as it didn’t disrupt freight movements.

The agency acknowledged that commuter rail’s price tag had gone up to $1.2 billion, from the $746 million anticipated when voters created Sound Transit in 1996. Much of the additional cost is because BNSF demanded more than expected and because of higher costs associated with building the Everett, Mukilteo and Edmonds train stations. The $10 million agreed upon in the last month of negotiations comes on top of that.

The additional money comes on top of another important concession Sound Transit made – to abandon plans to run trains for the reverse commute between Seattle to Everett in the mornings and afternoons. That means fewer people will be riding the line.

Sound Transit officials said they won some important concessions for the additional $10 million. Most important, the railroad will allow commuter rail service to begin immediately instead of waiting until all track improvements are completed around 2007.

As track improvements are made, Sound Transit plans to add a second round trip in late 2005, and two more round trips in late 2007.

Cost overruns are an especially sensitive issue to Sound Transit, given the problems facing its separate light rail project. The plan approved by voters called for a line running from Westlake Center to South 154th Street near Sea-Tac Airport.

Board members say they’re sensitive to the cost, but said the agreement is the latest in a series of steps turning around the agency. In the past couple of months, the agency won federal funding for light rail, and began construction. Its light rail line in downtown Tacoma is nearing its 250,000th rider.


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Remember TRANSIT TAKES ACTION WEEK!

FEBRUARY 9-13

Write your Members of Congress and ask them to Reauthorize Now.

Visit the Transit Action Center at  www.apta.com  for a sample letter
and information.


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APTA HIGHLIGHTS...  APTA Highlights...

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


Northwestern U.S. Hit by Winter Storms; Transit Reacts

Public transportation systems in the Northwestern U.S. stepped up to maintain service to residents and commuters stranded by uncharacteristically severe snow and ice storms in the weeks following Christmas.

Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, Wash., were among the areas hardest hit by weather called the region’s worst in a decade, with many area residents taking transit – some for the first time – because they chose not to drive in the wintry weather conditions.

During the storms, transit agencies kept the public abreast of service changes through the call center and through media outreach. Transit systems reported unusually high volumes of phone calls and e-mails to their rider-assistance centers, as well as heavy traffic on their web sites, which were frequently updated.

Transit agency representatives praised their operators and maintenance staffs for their hard work in keeping transit equipment on the roads despite the inclement weather. Many agencies implemented snow routes for some or most of their buses.


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Las Vegas Monorail Under Budget, On Schedule for March 1 Opening

The $650 million monorail serving the Las Vegas Strip is on schedule to begin revenue service by March 1, and is expected to be completed $23 million under budget.

Transit Systems Management, management firm for the Las Vegas Monorail Co., also has announced the appointment of James Gibson, formerly a member of the monorail company board of directors, as chairman and chief executive officer of the management company, effective immediately.

In addition to providing much-needed relief for traffic congestion on and around the Strip, the monorail will be another unique attraction for Las Vegas, according to TSM.

The four-mile Las Vegas Monorail will link eight major Las Vegas resorts with more than 24,000 hotel rooms and nine convention facilities, including the Las Vegas Convention Center, on a route running east of and parallel to the Las Vegas Strip. Plans call for the monorail eventually to connect downtown Las Vegas and McCarran International Airport.


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FTA Names 10 Agencies for Environmental Management Program

The Federal Transit Administration has announced the 10 U.S. public transportation agencies it has selected to participate in training and assistance for implementing Environmental Management Systems.

The winners, selected from the 100 transit agencies with the nation’s highest levels of ridership, include the City of Tucson DOT; Community Transit in Snohomish County, Wash.; Hampton Roads Transit, Hampton, Va.; Boston’s Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority; the Phoenix Public Transit Department; San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District; Seattle’s Sound Transit; the Transit Authority of River City in Louisville, Ky.; the Utah Transit Authority in Salt Lake City; and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

According to the FTA, an EMS is an organization’s set of operational procedures to assure compliance with federal, state, and local environmental regulations, as well as to facilitate environmental stewardship. These procedures address such issues as energy conservation, efficient water use, materials recycling and waste minimization, vehicle emission reduction, improved fueling operations, and hazardous materials management and substitution. Organizations with EMSs are better able to manage their environmental obligations, and report cost savings over time, improved bond ratings, reduced insurance premiums and better community relations.


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OCTA Approves Route for CenterLine Light Rail in Orange County

The Orange County (Calif.) Transportation Authority Board of Directors voted January 12 to support a CenterLine light rail route from the Depot at Santa Ana to John Wayne Airport.

After conducting five countywide open houses and public hearings, and listening to testimony from hundreds of elected officials, business leaders, and community members, the board also agreed to include an additional 0.8 mile spur to serve Santa Ana College.

The complete 9.3-mile route will provide service to John Wayne Airport, the South Coast Plaza shopping center and Orange County Performing Arts Center, Mater Dei High School, the Santa Ana Civic Center, the County Government Center and Courthouse, the Santa Ana Artists Village, and the Depot at Santa Ana, where it will connect with Amtrak and Metrolink commuter trains, as well as several OCTA bus routes.


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Kent Is Transit Manager in Elk Grove, Calif.

The city of Elk Grove, Calif., announces the appointment of Christian T. Kent as its first transit manager. He has the responsibility to establish a new dedicated public transit system for the city.

Kent comes to Elk Grove with 16 years of industry experience, working mostly with private-sector transit management firms. He most recently served as general manager for ATC Transportation Companies in San Jose, Calif.


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Syracuse’s CENTRO Names Kobliski as Executive Director

Frank Kobliski has been appointed executive director of the Central New York Regional Transportation Authority in Syracuse to lead the authority and its subsidiary corporations.

He assumes the top position after serving as chief operating officer for the past four years and as a member of the authority’s three-person Executive Management Team.

Since joining Centro in 1977, Kobliski has held positions of increasing responsibility. Prior to serving as COO, Kobliski was CENTRO’s senior vice president of operations and was interim executive director in 1999. He oversees operations of the Centro systems in Onondaga, Cayuga, and Oswego counties. He currently serves as president of the New York Public Transit Association, and is the authority’s representative to the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council, chairing the Executive Committee.


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‘In Focus’ on the Year Ahead

The January 19, 2004, issue of Passenger Transport features a variety of stories examining public transportation and its challenges in the year ahead. Topics include how transit can meet the needs of an aging population; a legislative overview; the business perspective; international innovation; safety and security initiatives; transit and road pricing; transit-oriented development; future commuting trends; workforce development; standards creation; and Intelligent Transportation Systems.


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Coast Mountain Bus Signs Exclusive Service Contract Aided by Labor Stability of New Pact

Coast Mountain Bus Company of Vancouver, B.C., has signed a $12 million (U.S.) service contract to operate smaller community shuttle buses in the region, a deal helped by the completion of a new labor pact signed four months early.

At the close of 2003, CMBC’s 3,400 drivers and mechanics, members of Canadian Auto Workers Union Locals 111 and 2200, ratified a new master collective agreement that will run from April 1, 2004, to March 31, 2007. CAW members voted 76.3 percent in favor of extending the current agreement with the addition of annual wage increases of 2.75 percent, 2.75 percent, and 2.50 percent.

Meanwhile, with the labor stability, the regional transit authority TransLink, which owns CMBC, negotiated a “right of first refusal” agreement with CMBC for future Community Bus contracts over the next three years—an opportunity for CMBC to grow and integrate the new community shuttle service with its core conventional service.


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Adams to Leave LexTran; Garcia Crews Is New General Manager

Jim Adams, general manager of the Lexington Transit Authority in Lexington, Ky., since Nov. 3, 2003, has stated that he is leaving that position effective Jan. 16 to undertake another position within the transit industry.

LexTran announced that Terry Garcia Crews will join the system as its new general manager. Both Adams and Garcia Crews were proposed as general manager candidates by Professional Transit Management, Ltd., which was hired in October to manage the transit system.


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

Alaska’s Murkowski promotes
railroad extension to Lower 48

Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski (R) told a railroad conference in Juneau last week that construction of a natural gas pipeline could help spur an extension of the Alaska Railroad to the Lower 48.

“It’s an extraordinary opportunity for both our governments,” Murkowski told assembled officials from the U.S. and Canada. “It’s a rare opportunity to do things right.”

Murkowski was one of the keynote speakers at a January 15 conference on a railroad extension, “Connecting Resources, Building for the Future.”

“Now is the time for a concerted effort to develop a connection for the Alaska Railroad to the Canadian and lower 48 rail system,” Murkowski said.

He added construction of a gas pipeline running down the Alaska Highway would present the perfect opening for an extension of the Alaska Railroad, The AP reported.

The rail line currently ends at Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks, but it could be extended to a contiguous rail system to British Columbia, about 1,100 miles away.

Murkowski said, “An Alaska-Canada transportation corridor will provide synergies with an Alaska natural gas pipeline,” and he noted, “The railroad could transport material, provide logistical support, and share a fiber optic system with the pipeline. They are compatible projects.”

Though there is no gas pipeline in the works, Murkowski is optimistic that market forces and legislation will soon lead to a pipeline project.

“What we’re talking about is providing access to the Northwest region in a way that’s never been there before,” Alaska Railroad president Pat Gamble said.

Alaska could get a head start on the railroad extension if the state’s Congressional delegation comes up with the $300 million or so to extend the railroad about 70 miles to the Fort Greely area for military purposes.

Former North Pole Rep. Jeannette James, who now serves as a railroad adviser for Murkowski, said U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens supports the extension to provide support for the U.S. Army’s new Stryker brigade.

Murkowski was not optimistic that money might be coming this year.

James said the project could cost about $3 billion.

Murkowski noted that with U.S. Rep. Don Young, (R-Alaska), as head of the House Transportation Committee, it is more likely that federal legislation could be crafted to finance the project. Murkowski argued the time to act is now, before Young’s chairmanship ends.

The biggest holdup for a rail link right now, speakers said, is in Ottawa. Back when he was a senator, Murkowski sponsored a bill to establish a joint U.S.-Canada commission to study a rail line. The bill passed and $6 million appropriated for the group, but the Canadian side has yet to respond.

“They just haven’t been enthusiastic” about the idea, said Larry Bagnell, Yukon representative to the Canadian Parliament. Bagnell and other Canadians said they have had positive responses from new Prime Minister Paul Martin, who was inaugurated last month.

Murkowski also pointed to the needs of the U.S. military, such as a new ground-based missile defense project being built at Ft. Greely, as another reason why the time has come to expand the Alaska Railroad.

“We have been in discussions with the U.S. military in the Interior, and their efforts could help us in getting our rail link closer to the border,” he said.


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North Dakota takes BNSF to task
over grain rates, car shortages

The groundwork for a federal complaint against railroad shipping rates in North Dakota should be completed this spring, state officials said on January 20. The state began building a rate reduction case early last year, saying North Dakota’s farmers pay more than producers in other states to ship their crops by rail.

The Fargo Forum reported last week research for a rate complaint should be completed by April, according to Jon Mielke, a division director at the North Dakota Public Service Commission.

In the absence of competition, North Dakota farmers are getting poor railroad service, yet are charged higher shipping rates than producers in other states, Gov. John Hoeven (R) said.

Hoeven, U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D)and railroad officials spoke to about 300 farmers and elevator operators at the annual three-day North Dakota Grain Dealers Convention on January 19.

The 2003 Legislature appropriated $250,000 to prepare a rate complaint case against the state’s major railroads.

The next step, waging a complaint before the federal Surface Transportation Board, could cost well over $1 million, Public Service Commissioner Tony Clark said.

Farmers in Iowa pay $500 less per rail car to ship their crops through North Dakota to the Pacific Northwest, Dorgan said.

Hoeven said what seems like a small shipping rate reduction – just one cent per bushel – would put $2.5 million back into farmers pockets.

The rate complaint case would affect all railroads in the state, but it’s BNSF’s service and shipping rates that are drawing most of the criticism from grain dealers.

“I think our relationship with Burlington Northern is one of which we’re just tired,” said Dorgan, who added, “We’re tired of a railroad that promises services that aren’t provided.”

BNSF and Canadian Pacific Ry. officials said their companies have taken steps to avoid service delays that plagued North Dakota during the 2003 crop year.

North Dakota piled nearly 19 million bushels on the ground this year, waiting for rail cars to haul it away. Bumper crops from Kansas to North Dakota fueled the need for more railcars, said Bryce Leigh, BNSF’s director of grain operations. BNSF will add 6,000 railcars over the next four years to ship grain faster, Leigh said.

CP is adding 1,800 hopper cars to its fleet, buying 35 new locomotives and training more engineers, said Jim Clements, the railway’s grain services director.

Steve Strege, executive vice president of the state’s Grain Dealers Assn., said BNSF should also treat small and large elevators equally.

BNSF is providing quicker service to the state’s “shuttle-car elevators,” those large enough to load 110-ton cars. Smaller elevators are waiting as much as 50 days longer for service, he said.


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CN, CAW agree on labor pact

Canadian National Ry. Co. on Friday said it reached a tentative pact with the Canadian Auto Workers union.

The strike deadline for 5,000 shopcraft, yard and clerical workers on Thursday had been extended to early Friday morning as bargaining talks continued over wages, pensions and other issues. Their three-year contract expired on December 31 and they were in a legal strike position, Reuters reported.

Details of the new three-year contracts are being withheld pending ratification by union members, the company said.

CN is in talks with six other Canadian unions, representing about 8,500 employees, whose contracts also expired at the end of last year.


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CSX

NCI: Leo King

CSX and CN are now writing interline pricing quotes. A car from, say Simpson Yard in Jacksonville, Fla., can go anywhere in Canada or vice-versa, and the shipper or receiver will know exactly how much it will cost before a car is loaded.

 

CSX, CN to bring instant interline pricing

In a rail industry first, Canadian National and CSX Transportation (CSX) said on January 21 they can now tell customers how much it will cost to ship a loaded car over their networks. The electronic tool gives customers instantaneous interline prices.

The new tool, called “A+B Pricing,” uses Web Services Internet technology, and allows railroad account managers to retrieve and combine CN’s and CSX’s revenue requirements to quote market competitive interline prices in real time for any origin, destination and commodity on the two rail systems.

The railroads expect to make the tool available on their web sites this year for customers to access directly. Customers will be able to go to the originating railroad’s web site and ask for a combined interline price.


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CSX to test three ‘Green Goats’

CSX Corp., of Jacksonville is leasing three “Green Goats” for 90 days from RailPower Technologies Corp. of Vancouver, B.C.

Both firms disclosed the agreement on January 21.

RailPower CEO Jim Maier said “CSX has over 600 locomotives in switcher service, so this trial is a major potential opportunity for our technology.”

He said trial Green Goats will be built on EMD GP-9 frames, the same frame as the original unit. CSX has the option to extend the lease by an additional 90 days.

Mike Munley, CSX’s assistant vice president for locomotive operations, said three Green Goats would be involved in the trial for statistical reasons.

“We will get much better data by using three Green Goat switchers.” The engines will have varying duty cycles during the 90-day trial. “Analysis will focus on fuel efficiency and productivity so we can compare Green Goats with conventional switchers in terms of best use of assets from a business and environmental perspective,” Munley added.

CSX did not state where the engines would be tested.


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Tiny G&U sues Milford over zoning

A struggling family-run railroad has charged that the town of Milford, Mass., is obstructing its chance to pull itself out of financial despair and has taken the town to federal court.

Grafton & Upton Railroad Co., owned and operated by the Lucey family of Worcester, has filed an injunction against the town seeking a court order allowing the railroad to lease its 5.6-acre Milford, Mass. freight yard to a steel shipping company, Boston Railway Terminal Corp.

The Boston Globe reported on January 15 the town contends that the residential-zoned property, which contains wetlands and is close to town water wells, must be protected and that any commercial use of it is subject to local zoning laws and Conservation Commission regulations.

In something of a reversal of stereotypes about industry and community, the town is being portrayed as an unsympathetic giant, throwing its weight around to prevent a tiny operation that has been in the region for 131 years from getting a new start.

“It’s not some huge company running roughshod over a town,” said Michael B. Flynn, an attorney for the railroad, stating that only three people run the company. “We’re really talking about a mom-and-pop operation.”

The G&U maintains that the yard, next to Vernon Grove Cemetery, is protected by federal regulations that exempt railroads from local zoning requirements and the state Wetlands Protection Act. The two sides will argue their cases in front of a federal judge tomorrow morning.

Town officials recognize the protection of railroad companies provided by federal statutes; however, they say the law is intended to protect rail carriers as they pertain to transportation of people or goods. It does not, they say, protect related companies that either depend on or operate in conjunction with rail companies. In this case, Milford officials say the G&U is trying to elude local and state regulations by presenting itself in its proposal as a rail carrier.

“This is not a rail carrier,” said Milford Town Attorney Gerald M. Moody, speaking of the proposed relationship between the railroad and Boston Railway. “It’s a trucking company.”

Last month, the town filed a brief with the STB seeking a declarative order that the G&U is not exempt from local and state regulations.

The case is pending; however, the railroad seeks immediate relief from the U.S. District Court in Worcester, asserting that the company is losing potential income. In addition, the company says it could lose the Boston Railway Terminal Corp. (BRT) business entirely if a deal is not worked out soon because Boston Railway is under a timeline to leave its current South Boston facility.

Incorporated in 1873, the G&U Railroad Co. once operated 5.5 miles of track from North Grafton to Milford. Though a significant passenger carrier in its early years, the company prospered during the 1930s and 1940s as a regional freight carrier moving cattle and motor vehicles.

Since then, however, the business has steadily declined, and today exists in near dormancy with much of the track in disrepair.

Rail officials see the Milford yard, which has gone unused for more than a decade, and the BRT deal as an opportunity to pull the company out of its economic hole and reestablish itself as a profitable railroad.

Calls to BRT were not returned, the Globe stated, but according to court documents, the company receives about 140 rail cars of steel a year via CSX, and then delivers it by truck to customers throughout New England. The Milford yard is ideal for the shipping company because of its comparable size to the South Boston facility and, more importantly, its immediate proximity and connection to the CSX line.

Rail officials dispute the town’s contention that the Milford yard would really be a trucking company, and have said G&U will be an integral part of the yard’s operations.

At the South Boston location, the BRT runs a locomotive that moves freight cars from a CSX connection into the yard where steel is unloaded onto BRT trucks. Flynn said in Milford, the G&U would own and operate the locomotives.

The town contends that the rail company has changed its proposal to appear more legitimate to the court, and that originally the company had no intention of operating any of the trains – only leasing the property.

“They’re attempting to make it on paper more complicated, but in our view it is the same thing that is going on in South Boston,” Moody said.


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TMM tax rebate blocked; shares drop

New York-traded shares of Mexico’s leading transport company Grupo TMM plunged nearly 9 percent on January 21 after tax officials blocked a long-awaited $195 million tax rebate for its TFM rail unit.

Shares of TMM (TMM) touched an intra-day low of $4.15 on the Big Board, Reuters reported. Later in the session, the stock traded at $4.19, down 8.11 percent. Local shares hadn’t traded yet but closed at 47.50 pesos on Tuesday.

Debt-laden TMM said on Tuesday its TFM rail unit won the tax rebate from the government after a seven-year legal battle. Hours later, the refund was held up by tax authorities who argued the payment documentation did not meet fiscal requirements.

It was not immediately known how the company would be able to receive the funds from the government.

Analysts have said the tax reimbursement is key for persuading TMM debt holders to agree to a $377 million debt restructuring deal.

“This is astonishing: first they say they have the money and now they don’t,” said a trader who bought shares on Tuesday following the tax rebate news.

TFM is 39 percent owned by U.S. railroad operator Kansas City Southern. TMM has a 41 percent stake while the Mexican government owns the remaining 20 percent.

Earlier in the day, Kansas City Southern stated that TFM, S.A. de C.V. (TFM) received a tax rebate, described as a “special certificate,” from the Mexican federal treasury on January 19 for 2,111,111,790 pesos, or about $195 million in U.S. dollars. The certificate has the same face amount as the value added tax refund claimed by TFM.

TFM initiated legal proceedings to recover the special certificate in 1997. The Mexican railroad received a ruling from the Mexican Federal Court of the First Circuit on November 5, 2003, KCS stated, “sustaining the Fiscal Court’s ruling in favor of TFM.”

KCS “has an indirect 37.3 percent economic interest in TFM, according to the U.S. carrier, but “is currently reviewing the significance of the delivery of the special certificate to TFM” with its lawyers and “with TFM officers.”

In Mexico City, Reuters reported Mexico’s leading transport firm Grupo TMM, struggling with heavy debts, said its rail unit TFM won the tax rebate after a long legal battle against the government.

The rebate could help the company in persuading debt holders to agree to a $377 million debt restructuring deal.

TMM bought the Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) rail unit from the government in 1997 and said it paid value added tax (VAT) on the deal. It has since fought for a refund on the grounds that VAT is not applicable on privatization sales.

In August, a tax tribunal backed the company’s claim and told the government to issue a certificate covering the VAT refund to the rail unit.

The company said TFM received the tax certificate on Monday. It can be used to pay taxes due the government, although company officials said a part of the certificate could be converted into cash.

TMM had valued the tax refund of its subsidiary at close to $950 million by including interest payments, and company officials said on Tuesday they would continue talks with the government on payment of that interest.

“Regarding inflation and interest adjustments to the VAT certificate, the company will provide additional information as soon as it becomes available,” TMM said in a statement.

TMM shares gained 0.76 percent to 46.15 pesos on Mexico’s stock market on Tuesday morning and its New York-traded shares rose 2.61 percent to $4.32.

TMM defaulted on debt payments last year and is trying to pull off a restructuring deal on $177 million of senior notes due 2003 and $200 million of senior notes due 2006.

The company said last week that holders of about 64 percent of the debt had agreed to the deal. The restructuring can only go through, however, if 95 percent of the 2006 notes’ principal and 98 percent of the 2003 notes’ principal are tendered for exchange.

TMM provides ocean and land transportation services. The TFM subsidiary, in which it has a 41 percent stake, moves over 40 percent of Mexico’s rail cargo and has a concession to operate through 2047 the important Mexican freight line to Laredo, Texas.

U.S. railroad operator Kansas City Southern (KSU) owns 39 percent of TFM and last year agreed to buy TMM’s stake for $412 million but the Mexican company later pulled out of the deal.

Mexico’s government holds the remaining 20 percent stake in TFM.


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BNSF closes 2,000 grade crossings

Burlington Northern and Santa Fe says it closed its 2,000th highway-rail grade crossing in December. The freight railroad began the closings in 2000.

Over four years, BNSF reported last week it closed 6 percent of its grade crossings in a cooperative effort with landowners and communities along its routes to identify unnecessary or redundant grade crossings.

Some 30,000 at-grade crossings remain across its 32,500-mile rail network.

“There’s no question that eliminating an unnecessary or redundant crossing can improve safety,” says Greg Stengem, BNSF’s vice president, Safety, Training and Operations Support.

“In some cases, when we can close a crossing, motorists are redirected to an adjacent grade crossing with a heightened level of grade crossing warning, such as gates and warning lights. With every grade crossing eliminated, we’re also able to reduce the number of train whistles that must be sounded in the community.”

Stengem said the closings would continue this year, with a target of more than 400 grade crossing closures by December

“We commend BNSF’s long-term commitment to the tough work of closing highway-rail crossings,” said FRA’s Allan Rutter.

“These successful efforts positively demonstrate that crossing closure is a viable option, one deserving full consideration by all communities seeking to address highway-rail crossing safety,” he said.

The grade crossing closure initiative is part of BNSF’s grade crossing safety program, which has the goal of reducing grade crossing collisions, injuries and fatalities. That program also includes community education, enhanced crossing technology, crossing resurfacing, vegetation control, installation of warning devices, and track and signal inspection and maintenance.

BNSF has one of the lowest highway-railroad grade crossing collision rates in the rail industry. From 2000 to 2003, grade crossing collisions on BNSF track declined 26 percent, decreasing from 568 collisions in 2000 to 422 in 2003. From 2002 to 2003, the number of grade crossing collisions on BNSF track was reduced by 13 percent, according to statistics reported to the FRA.


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ON THE HIGH IRON...  On the high iron...

The Challenger Steam Loco

Union Pacific

Union Pacific Challenger 3981 in revenue service at Riview, Wyoming ca. 1945. It was a sister engine of No. 3985, which is enroute to the NFL’s Super Bowl, to be played next Sunday in Houston, TX.

 

UP Challenger continues its journey

As D:F reported last week, Union Pacific Railroad’s Challenger No. 3985, the world’s largest operating steam locomotive, is on a nine-state, 3,500-mile tour on its way to Houston where it will be on public display during Super Bowl XXXVIII activities.

The 60-year-old 2-6-6-2 locomotive will be publicly displayed in Kansas City, St. Louis, Pine Bluff, and North Little Rock.

The tour is celebrating the railroad’s heritage.

“Houston is steeped in railroad history, and having the world’s largest operating steam locomotive on display during the Super Bowl seemed a natural fit,” a spokesman said.

No. 3985, an articulated locomotive is 122 feet long and weighs more than 500 tons. Its 72-inch drivers can reach a top speed of about 70 mph. No. 3985 was built in 1943 for fast freight service and was retired in 1959. In 1981, it was restored to running condition by UP employee volunteers for special service. The Challenger is based in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Route Map

No. 3985 Super Bowl XXXVIII Tour Schedule

 

The engine is expected to arrive in Hearne, Texas around 2:00 p.m. on Sunday (January 25), and will depart at 8:00 a.m. today (Monday).

U.P. pointed out the train is not operating on a fixed schedule. It may be delayed enroute because of revenue traffic, and may also depart places earlier than scheduled.

No. 3985 is expected to arrive in Houston at 2:00 p.m. Houston at the Holly Hall Street crossing Near Reliant Stadium. From Tuesday through Sunday, February 1, it will be on public display, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

The engine will remain in Houston over the Super Bowl weekend, and won’t depart until Tuesday (February 3) at 8:00 a.m.

The return journey will see the steam engine arrive around 11:00 a.m. at Crockett’s old UP depot where crews will service the locomotive.

For the rest of the journey home, point your browser to http://www.uprr.com/notes/corpcomm/2004/0113_3985.shtml


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Freight traffic registers solid gains

Freight traffic on U.S. railroads registered a solid gain during the week ended January 17 in comparison with the corresponding week last year, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported Thursday.

Intermodal traffic totaled 199,452 trailers or containers, up 6.9 percent from the comparable week last year. Container traffic registered a 5.1 percent gain, while trailer volume rose 12.6 percent from last year.

Carload freight, which does not include the intermodal data, totaled 338,862 cars, up 5.0 percent from last year with volume up 5.4 percent in the East and 4.7 percent in the West. Total volume was estimated at 30.2 billion ton-miles, up 6.3 percent from last year.

Twelve of 19 carload commodity groups were up in comparison with last year, nonmetallic minerals up 28.0 percent; coke up 20.1 percent; waste and scrap materials up 16.2 percent; grain up 12.4 percent; and coal up 6.7 percent. Loadings of farm products other than grain were off 19.6 percent while motor vehicles and equipment were down 6.7 percent.

The AAR also reported the following cumulative totals for U.S. railroads during the first two weeks of 2004: 656,848 carloads, up 0.9 percent from last year; intermodal volume of 388,174 trailers or containers, up 4.0 percent; and total volume of an estimated 58.4 billion ton-miles, up 2.1 percent from last year’s first two weeks.

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. Railroads provide more than 40 percent of the nation’s intercity freight transportation, more than any other mode, and rail traffic figures are regarded as an important economic indicator.

Canadian railroads also reported gains in both carload and intermodal freight during the week ended January 17. Carload volume totaled 64,180 cars, up 5.8 percent, with agricultural products registering a 35.6 percent gain. Intermodal traffic totaled 39,250 trailers or containers, up 4.3 percent from last year.

Cumulative originations for the first two weeks of 2004 on the Canadian railroads totaled 127,467 carloads, up 4.1 percent from last year, and 79,204 trailers and containers, 0.4 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first two weeks of 2004 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 784,315 carloads, up 1.4 percent from last year and 467,378 trailers and containers, up 3.4 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 17 totaled 8,403 cars, down 6.4 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 3,263 originated trailers or containers, down 18.1 percent from the second week of 2004. For the first two weeks of 2004, TFM reported cumulative originated volume of 16,125 cars, down 9.6 percent from last year, and 5,566 trailers or containers, down 22.7 percent.

The AAR is online at http://aar.org.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: CBSMarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)32.7431.70
Canadian National(CNI)62.0361.50
Canadian Pacific(CP)27.6027.23
CSX(CSX)35.3133.85
Florida East Coast(FLA)33.2733.03
Genessee & Wyoming(GWR)37.1836.75
Kansas City Southern(KSU)15.1014.54
Norfolk Southern(NSC)23.1322.90
Union Pacific(UNP)65.6366.75


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QUARTERLY REPORTS...  Quarterly reports...

PRPX

Portec Rail Products (PRPX) opened at $10.30 per share on its first day of trading last Friday, above its $10 price. The shares soon cooled off in the open market, however, trading back at the $10 level on volume of 378,000 in midday action. Portec raised $20 million by offering 2 million shares with underwriter Ferris Baker Watts. The Pittsburgh-based maker of track accessories and rail lubrication products, the third initial public offering of the year, saw its deal priced below the underwriters' $11-to-$13 range in a bid to stoke demand. It closed its first day of trading at $9.96, down thirty four cents.


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UBS downgrades NS stocks

Brokerage UBS on January 20 said it had reduced its investment rating on Norfolk Southern Corp. (NSC) to “neutral” from “buy,” saying the U.S. rail stock had little prospect for gains after a 22 percent run-up since October.

“The stock currently trades at 15.1 (times) 2004 EPS estimates, compared to 13.8 (times) for the sector,” UBS analyst Rick Paterson said in a research note.

“Norfolk Southern is easily the most expensive stock in the group, which we believe will inhibit material upside through the first half of 2004,” he said in Miami.


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UP earns hefty profits

Union Pacific reports its fourth quarter operating revenue was up 5 percent to nearly $3 billion. As a result, the freight railroad is paying $1.28 in dividends per share for the quarter. A year ago, UP paid $1.38.

Omaha- based UP reported a fourth quarter record net income of $551 million, or $2.12 per diluted share. This is a 46 percent increase over the 2002 net income of $378 million, or $1.41 per diluted share.

The 2003 quarterly results include $0.84 per diluted share, earned from the company’s sale of its Overnite trucking subsidiary, as well as earnings from Overnite’s October operations.

Reuters reported from Miami that Omaha-based UP sees sustained gains from an expanding U.S. economy, and expects first-quarter profit 30 percent to 40 percent higher than the 57 cents a share from continuing operations reported a year ago, the company’s CEO said on January 21.

Dick Davidson, CEO of the biggest rail group in North America, told institutional investors that high fuel costs were stealing some lift from the economy’s improvement, but that overall volumes and prices were improving.

The stocks of other big U.S. rails, which have often hedged more aggressively against higher fuel costs, were modestly ahead as Union Pacific detailed a sustained rise in business from the expanding U.S. economy.

“They are definitely facing a headwind with fuel,” said Kirk Schmitt, an analyst at money manager Victor Capital Management. “That is not going to change until volumes pick up substantially or fuel prices go down.”

UP executives said higher fuel prices added $255 million to 2003 operating costs.

For the full year, net income increased by 18 percent to a record $1.6 billion, or $6.04 per diluted share, compared to $1.3 billion or $5.05 per diluted share in 2002. The company earned $1.1 billion or $4.07 per diluted share in 2003 versus $4.78 per diluted share in 2002.

Davidson said “We have retired the entire $1.5 billion of convertible preferred securities issued in 1998 and improved our debt ratios to below the 1994 level, which was before the Chicago & North Western and Southern Pacific mergers. We also rewarded our shareholders with a 30 percent increase in the quarterly dividend.”

In the fourth quarter of 2003, UP Corp. reported a 5 percent increase in operating income to $589 million compared to $562 million during the same period in 2002.

The railroad’s commodity revenue was up 6 percent to a fourth quarter record $2.8 billion, with all commodities posting increases for the quarter. Business volume, as measured by gross ton-miles, was up 5 percent over 2002 to a fourth quarter record level of 264 billion, but operating margin remained flat, in spite of continued high diesel fuel prices.

Elsewhere, the railroad reported intermodal traffic was up 13 percent over 2002 levels, industrial products movements were up 9 percent, chemicals and energy rose 3 percent, agricultural products increased by 2 percent, and automotive rose 1 percent.


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

UK shakes up British rail

The United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for Transport, Alistair Darling, is preparing to announce the biggest shake-up of British railways since privatization.

The Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) is set to be largely stripped of its powers under the changes, detailed on January 18 by the Transport department, the reports said. They added that Darling intends to appoint powerful regional controllers with the authority to run both tracks and trains.

The Independent on Sunday learned that an experiment is already in operation at London’s Waterloo station, where a “Fat Controller” has authority to sort out problems affecting Eurostar, Network Rail, South West and other trains.

Transport officials have been hoping to use the same model in other parts of the country, although they recognize it will be more difficult in places where there is more than one train operator involved.

The Independent reported on January 17 that the Health and Safety executive also faced losing its responsibility for the railways under the plans. The ministry refused to comment, but did not deny that an announcement was imminent.

“We are not going to comment on speculation. What we want is reliable trains,” a spokeswoman said.

The regional controllers will act as the link-pins between Network Rail, which is responsible for the tracks, and the 25 privately run train operating companies, London’s Daily Mail reported January 17. The move would restore the traditional links between tracks and trains that were broken at privatization.

Some senior figures in the industry characterized the proposed announcement as “rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic,” but with 18 months to go to a possible election, the government believes the industry is still hopelessly fragmented and in need of more centralized control to boost performance.

Darling was absent from a cabinet meeting at Chequers on Sunday, preparing details for the announcement. Officials at the SRA and the ministry cancelled all meetings involving outside agencies.


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Chaos in French one-day rail strike

A one-day railroad strike caused delays and frustration for French commuters on January 21, stepping up a wave of protests intended to put pressure on the government over pay, conditions and reforms.

The 24-hour strike by unions at SNCF forced the cancellation of many trains into Paris and other cities, one day after energy workers downed tools to protest against plans to reform Electricite de France.

Reuters also reported from Paris that health workers and doctors’ unions struck for a day on Thursday over working conditions and staff shortages.

The protests are seen as a warning rather than a major irritant for Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, but he is watching voters’ sentiment carefully two months before regional elections, which could become a referendum on his performance.

“Both strikes are directed against the government’s reform plans, which are going to make everyone’s life harder,” said Paris-based teacher Olivier Pens.

Some commuters living in the suburbs were expected to take the day off work rather than face long waits for the limited number of trains that were still running. Others drove to the edge of Paris and went to work by bus or metro, which were not affected by the strike.

SNCF said the Eurostar line was not expected to be affected.

Workers at SNCF, which employs 180,000 people, want a pay rise of up to six percent and are angered by the company’s plans to shed 3,500 jobs this year.

The strike also targets a demand by President Jacques Chirac to establish a minimum transport service during strikes.

Strikes over pension reforms brought transport to a grinding halt in Paris last year, but Raffarin has stood firm over his reform plans, saying he is determined that the French people will benefit from an economic upturn.


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Asia-Europe railway runs ‘by 2007’?

Trains could be zipping goods to Europe from far-flung Asian cities such as Singapore, Hanoi and China’s Tianjin by 2007, saving exporters time and money, according to the United Nations.

Twenty-five countries agreed at a UN meeting in 1992 to try to link some 49,710 miles (80,000 km) of railways into an Asian network and establish rail corridors to Europe.

“By 2007, the network will be operational,” Barry Cable, director for transport at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), told Reuters. “The political will is so strong now, I would have to imagine it will be completed.”

Building the rail network, which would more than halve the time it takes to ship between the two continents now, mostly involves fusing existing national lines.

Many countries are buying new rolling stock and upgrading and extending lines, arousing the interest of rail specialists such as Germany’s Siemens AG, Canada’s Bombardier Inc and France’s Alstom. A 1,056 mile (1,700 km) trial container run from Tianjin to Ulan Bator in Mongolia in November showed it is technically possible to send goods by train from China’s industrial heartland, via Mongolia and Russia, to Finland in 10 days.

Cable said Korean firms and Japanese manufacturers with factories in China were very keen on this “northern corridor”.

He said the route would be operational by mid-2004, saving many firms the cost of a 10-day shipment to the trans-Siberian railway at Vladivostok in Russia.

“Movement of goods now is much more than the railways can handle, but the network can provide for a niche market for rapid delivery,” Cable said at the U.N.’s Asia headquarters in Bangkok.

“Cutting the water link saves in the region of 10 days. I would assume costs would be substantially lower as well.”

UNESCAP did studies on Asia-Europe links in the 1990s as part of its work with Asian rail authorities to build a trans-Asian railway network.

Asian railway officials are trying to set up compatible schedules, customs procedures and container loading services at borders where track width changes. For example, many parts of Southeast Asia use “meter gauge,” China uses standard gauge and Mongolia, Russia and Kazakhstan use 1.52 meter-wide “Russian gauge”.

China is taking the lead in Asia on track development, laying lines from the richer east coast cities to the lagging western interior, a region the Communist government feels is important to develop for the country’s political cohesion.

It also plans a high-speed link between the capital, Beijing, and the country’s financial center, Shanghai.

The promise of free trade with China within a decade is also spurring track development in Southeast Asia. The World Bank and Asian Development Bank are considering funding a $65 million track project to link Thai, Cambodia and Vietnamese railways. It would provide a continuous, if circuitous, line from Singapore to the southern Chinese city of Kunming.

Railways already handle much of the cargo traveling between neighbors Thailand and Malaysia, but efforts to speed up services are faltering.

In Malaysia, the government has put a $3.8 billion dual-track electrification project on hold, citing budgetary constraints.

The country’s biggest builder, Gamuda and partner Malaysia Mining Corp., which have right of refusal when the project is revived, originally won the deal.

The Thai government wants dual tracks on major lines, but the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) is short of money.

“Possibly the government and the SRT will have to come to an agreement, with infrastructure funded by the government and railroad services self-financed,” said Kumropluk Suraswadi, head of Thailand’s transport planning office.

“If we settle that we’ll be able to assess costs and proceed with financing and procurement.”


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THE WAY WE WERE...  The way we were...

UP Steam line up

Union Pacific

At night, Union Pacific’s engines had to be fed and watered between trips. The railroad used steam engines to haul heavy freights and passenger trains until the early 1950s. Consider this view from the UP archives with the 4002, 3958, and 3953 at its Ogden roundhouse ca. 1942.

End Notes...

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

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