Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 4 No. 4, January 27, 2003
Copyright © 2002, NCI, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - James Furlong
Editor - Leo King

A weekly North American rail and transit update


Gunn joins NCI’s April speakers list

Amtrak president and CEO David Gunn has been added as a confirmed keynote speaker at The National Corridors Initiative’s 2003 Conference on April 28 and 29 in Washington, D.C.

This year’s topic is Rail Futures: Building Secure and Successful Transit and Intercity Rail for America.

Gunn joins confirmed guests Amtrak Board Chair John Robert Smith, Amtrak Board Vice-Chair Michael S. Dukakis, and American Public Transportation Association President William Millar.


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Acela at Boston's South Bay Yards

NCI: Leo King

In September 2000, Amtrak was testing its new Acela Express trainsets between South Hampton Street Yard in Boston and Kingston, R.I. The newly installed catenary was functional by then, but since that time, the high-speed trains sustained a series of problems that are being overcome. All but one set are in service as of today. The last set has not yet been accepted.

 

Amtrak Acela problems wheel into past

By Jim Furlong
Publisher

Amtrak is gaining momentum as it pulls away from the crisis that struck its high-speed Acela Express service last August when cracks were discovered in the understructures of its Acela locomotives.

An FRA spokesman in Washington said Amtrak and Bombardier, of Montreal, have presented the FRA with their ideas for a permanent fix for the cracks, which occurred in the locomotives’ yaw damper brackets, part of an assembly designed to prevent side-to-side sway and wheel-hunting.

Though the FRA hasn’t yet responded to the companies in writing, “We’re satisfied that this will be an acceptable fix,” said spokesman Warren Flatau. He said the FRA should issue a formal response “in the very near future,” after some loose ends are tied up.

Amtrak previously had rejected two Bombardier designs before they could be passed on to the FRA.

Discovery of the cracks last August had caused the railroad to take its entire Acela fleet out of service temporarily for inspection and, in many cases, repairs. The troublesome brackets hold in place a sway-resisting shock absorber assembly.

Amtrak had purchased 20 Acela trains, three maintenance facilities and 15 separate high-horsepower locomotives from the consortium consisting of Bombardier and France’s Alstom for $800 million. The first Acela train went into service in December 2000. The final train has not yet been delivered. The 15 high-horsepower locomotives that were part of the purchase had similar problems to the Acela, but all are now back in service.

Carol Sharpe, a Montreal-based spokesperson for Bombardier Transportation, said of the proposed permanent solution, “The parts are ready… The yaw damper bracket and mounting plate have been re-engineered to be more robust and to better distribute stress loads.” She said the problem had developed because stresses proved greater than what had been indicated by data presented to Bombardier. Amtrak and the consortium have sued each other over the Acela project, and their legal actions are before the courts, but the companies are cooperating to solve the mechanical problem.

News of the impending permanent fix represents another milestone on Amtrak’s journey toward recovery from the Acela crisis. Acela departures on the Boston-New York section of the Northeast Corridor have been at pre-crisis levels since last October, while Washington-New York Acela traffic continues to operate somewhat below. New Acela runs are being added in the Boston-Washington corridor today (January 27), an Amtrak spokesman said.

Until the permanent fix is in place, Amtrak is checking the Acelas for cracks after each run under an enhanced inspection program. Seriously cracked brackets are replaced by thicker versions, while minor cracks are ground out and then welded.

Under the current maintenance and repair routine, 12 of the 19 trainsets are in service at any one time, though quick turnarounds are aimed at getting as much track time out of the 12 as would normally be derived from 15. At any time, three trainsets are held in reserve, and four are being inspected or repaired at shops at Washington, Philadelphia, New York and Boston. Only the front and trailing locomotives of the eight-unit trains have the yaw damper brackets.

An Acela train consists of eight cars that are fixed in place. They are the leading locomotive, 1 first-class car, 2 business-class cars, 1 café car, 2 more business class cars, and the trailing locomotive.

Amtrak spokesman Dan Stessel said trains are operating at pre-crisis speeds, which means a top of 135 mph between Washington and New York and a maximum of 150 mph on a stretch of track in Rhode Island. The on-time record of the train between Boston and Washington has been at 79 percent in the current month, he said. Accounting for delays are winter weather, commuter train traffic, lengthy passenger loading times on the “very popular” Acelas, and train congestion at New York’s Penn Station.

Stessel said that in contrast to last August, reports of cracks are coming in slowly now – at the rate of only about one every three weeks for the whole fleet.

 

Today’s Acela Express timetable

New Acela runs that are being added today are:

Boston to New York, departing South Station at 11:15 a.m.

New York to Boston, departing Penn Station at 12:03 p.m.

Washington to New York, departing Union Station at 8:30 p.m. This train will offer an introductory rate, good through April 25, of $59, less than half the normal fare

 

The new trains will bring to 10 the number of daily Acela round trips between New York and Boston, up one round-trip from the pre-crisis level.

In net effect, the new train from Washington leaves the number of Acela round trips between Washington and New York unchanged at 12, but adds a one-way trip. Prior to August, Acelas had made 16 roundtrips weekdays between Washington and New York. The route also is served by a number of Metroliners, as well as non-express trains. A typical Acela does the Washington-New York run in 2 hours and 45 minutes, with Metroliner finishing in about 3 hours. The non-expresses cover the ground in around 3 hours and 10 minutes.

The entire Boston-Washington rail trip amounts to 457 miles, with the Boston-New York leg accounting for 231 miles and New York-Washington totaling 226 miles.

The Boston-New York Acela run takes approximately 3 1/2 hours, against the normal service of 4 to 4 1/2 hours. (Metroliners don’t operate between New York and Boston.)

Stessel said Amtrak has captured 53 percent of combined rail and air passenger traffic between Washington and New York, with the remaining 47 percent shared among U.S. Air, Delta and American. The rail share is up from 36 percent about three years earlier, prior to the advent of Acela and the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

The flying time between Washington and New York (excluding ground travel, connections and pre-flight processing) is about 1 hour and 5 minutes. Ticket price comparisons are difficult owing to major variations on the airline side. The business class Acela price is $126-$157.

Between New York and Boston, Amtrak takes 37 percent of the combined rail and air traffic, about double from 18 percent three years earlier. Flying time is 1 hour and 10 or 15 minutes, again not comparable to train times without considerable upward adjustment for ground travel, connections and processing. The price of an Acela business class ticket is $102-$127.

A tiny, informal sampling in New London, Conn., early Friday morning turned up anecdotal evidence both of one frequent customer’s satisfaction and of a willingness among others to try the Acela.

Shared tracks at New London, CT

NCI: Leo King

Conventional trains share the same tracks with Acela Express trains between New York City and Boston, including New London, Conn.

Waiting for the 6:35 a.m. southbound Acela in New London’s station were three passengers. Outside, biting waterfront winds swirled around the 115-year-old Romanesque brick station, which sits on the opposite bank of Thames River from a giant, brilliantly spotlighted General Dynamics plant and a Pfizer manufacturing complex with belching stacks.

Claire, a young Washington-based pharmaceutical scientist with a British accent, said she was taking the train to the Capital after a business trip to New London. She said she rides the Acela between New London and Washington several times a month, and finds the on-time record “pretty good” and the service aboard the train “good.” The ride is longer than by plane but “much easier,” she said, particularly considering the requirement to arrive at the airport 90 minutes ahead of time.

Two other passengers, Bridget of Quaker Hill, Conn., and Sunit of Groton, Conn., were first-time riders. Bridget was headed for Philadelphia to attend a board meeting of a volunteer organization she works on. She said she loves riding trains, and vastly prefers them over cars, but said she finds the Acela quite expensive. Sunit said he didn’t consider driving because he was headed for lower Manhattan.

When the impending arrival of the Acela was announced, riders walked to the special new raised platform just south of the station. The station attendant laid a bridge plate between the platform and the train, allowing passengers to cross safely. When he withdrew it, the door closed, and the sleek train nosed off into the frigid semi-darkness right on time.


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Gunn looks ahead,
maps five-year plan

By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

As Amtrak begins its first full calendar year of the David Gunn era, several long-range policy goals are falling into place.

True “high-speed” service in the Northeast Corridor (NEC) ideally should put Amtrak on a timetable to achieve its original projection of three hours from Boston to New York and less than two-and-a-half hours from New York to Washington, hopefully within the next two to three years. The states on the NEC spine will be asked to kick in for the cost of upgrading the infrastructure. NEC operations, on the other hand, are paid for out of the fare box.

Other goals include the states outside the NEC served by short to medium distance corridor service being asked to pay for operating losses in direct proportion to their benefit. Further, Amtrak need not, though likely will be, the sole provider of such state-dictated upgrades.

Other major goals include getting damaged cars repaired and out on the road, and continue at a steady pace; maintaining a “national passenger rail network” which will remain “a federal responsibility,” and thus the multi-state overnight long distance trains will be underwritten from Amtrak’s general budget.

The Wall Street Journal on January 21 reported that in pursuit of these goals, Amtrak – while seeking $1.2 billion for the current fiscal year – will need much more next year – $1.5 billion to $2 billion – to start working on the long neglected capital needs on the NEC and elsewhere. That figure will be needed each year for the next five years, for fiscal year 2004 up to fiscal 2009.

$1.2 billion for 2003 was originally put on the table by Amtrak’s previous management. Although Gunn goes along with it for this year only because it was already in the budget pipeline on Capitol Hill, he believes $1.2 billion is inadequate. The Senate backs it, while the House has approved $762 million and the Bush administration is willing to allow $521 million. As of D:F’s Friday deadline, House and Senate conferees were to reconcile the House and Senate figures.

This is no spending binge. Amtrak says this is what it takes to provide the service that Amtrak customers expect. It is a no frills, real-world plan.

“Mr. Gunn is pretty conservative in the way that he works with numbers,” Amtrak spokesman Dan Stessel told D:F on Friday. “There isn’t much room for error. For the first time, we’re looking at a five-year plan now.”

The aim is to keep the NEC “functioning,” with current high-speed service and make an attempt to improve it where that can be done. The Northeast corridor is the one route where operations – not to be confused with capital or infrastructure expenses – break-even through passenger ticket sales.

There is a huge need for infrastructure improvements, and Gunn is proposing that those needs be paid for in a cooperative effort with the states that would be divided up with 80 percent federal money, 20 percent from the state. That works well in mass transit projects. Gunn reasons it can work just as well with the NEC, given that in some ways, that line in the nation’s most densely populated area serves as a de facto transit system.

On the NEC, the Gunn management aims to see to it that the Acela comes closer to its potential “high-speed,” a goal that is currently not achieved on most of the Boston-Washington Amtrak-owned line because of long neglected infrastructure needs.

For example, much of the infrastructure on the “south end” between New York and Washington dates back to 1910 when the old Pennsylvania Railroad built it. The catenary is in excess of “thirty, forty, fifty” years old, dating back to the Pennsy’s big electrification project which went forward in the ’thirties despite the Great Depression of that era, and is in need of replacement.

The first two years of the five-year plan are aimed at maintaining the current level of service, not only through catenary replacement, but also by upgrading track roadbed and the tracks themselves. Because of “the years of neglect,” the first order of business is to “reverse the deterioration and maintain [the quality of infrastructure],” Stessel explained.

Also taking top priority are the “life-safety concerns” with tunnels in Baltimore and New York. D:F was the first media outlet to spotlight the dangerously deteriorated tunnels in Baltimore and New York. Better ventilation, better lighting, and better access are among the improvements needed. The repair work has been ongoing on an incremental basis. Given the urgency of “safety first,” Gunn aims to speed up the timetable.

“On a conservative basis, we would like to get down to a three-hour trip time between New York and Boston, and certainly coming under two-and-a-half hours between Washington and New York,” Stessel said. Beyond that, who knows? Anything is possible with money.

Infrastructure is key, even though the high-speed line also accommodates the slower trains, commuter operations up and down the NEC, and freight traffic. It is not like your typical mainline European or Japanese high-speed trains that operate on dedicated track.

Nonetheless, within that “delicate balancing act,” there are some things that can be done.

Take the speed limits in the Baltimore tunnels, for example, currently at 30 mph. If that were to be doubled to 60 mph, that could boost trip times by as much as 10 minutes. All these “little steps” can add up to a big difference. The “little steps” can make advertised “high-speed” r-e-a-l high-speed.

To hear Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) floor speeches on Amtrak, you would think Amtrak’s long distance trains are bleeding the treasury.

Actually, the long-distance runs “are not the problem. They’re not what causes Amtrak to need money from the federal government,” Stessel said. “That is one of the myths Mr. Gunn” has confronted. In fact, the amount of money that Amtrak would save by canceling the long distance routes is “not significant.”

A big reason for that is Amtrak does not invest in the capital expense of the long distance routes, which operate on the infrastructure of the freight railroads.

Yes, Amtrak pays the Class I carriers for that, Stessel acknowledged, but “we’re not paying for construction of track, we’re not paying for – in many cases – the stations or anything like that.”

Amtrak’s own NEC, on the other hand, “is a huge, huge capital expense to keep that running.”

Beyond the NEC, the Gunn administration at Amtrak has proposed “a mechanism for funding Amtrak going forward that involves greater state support for corridor service,” i.e. generally for routes of less than 500 miles.

New York State, for example, operates its Empire Corridor between New York City, Albany, Buffalo and Niagara Falls. It includes 13 trains a day between Albany and New York in each direction. As a service, that benefits solely New York State.

“The approach going forward will be to ask the states to pay the operating loss for the services within their boundaries.” For the Empire Corridor, that means New York State pays the operating loss.

Another example? Currently, the state of Maine pays for the losses for the Downeaster from Boston to Portland. However, perhaps 10 years down the line, when Amtrak is soliciting money to operate the Downeaster from Maine to Massachusetts, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts would be assessed for “the loss incurred within the boundary of that state.”

The same principle applies on the West Coast to the Cascades operating between Oregon and Washington State. Those two states contribute to the operating loss of those trains.

The states would have greater control over the level of service operated on corridors, taking into account, of course, freight operations on a given route. The state governments, however, would have greater say on schedules, fares, meal service, type of equipment used.

It is important that the federal government agrees to allow states to use part of some of their transportation dollars for intercity passenger rail. Presumably, that would involve funding allocated in the giant T-21 bill up for reauthorization later this year.

Here, Stessel showed how Amtrak, under Gunn, is breaking new ground.

“That would allow the states [to put that money] in Amtrak’s direction or put it in the direction of another operator, if they so choose.”

Given that Amtrak has the already existing expertise and experience, an alternate operator may not be that easy to find for a corridor operation. Nonetheless, this opens the door for breaking the Amtrak monopoly on intercity rail corridor service – no small event in Amtrak’s history.

Just so there’s no confusion here. This is by no means an endorsement either of the Bush Administration’s proposal to split the operations from the infrastructure on the NEC or its companion plan to “franchise” out segments of the long-distance routes – an idea rejected not only by Amtrak, but by the freight railroads as well.

In the first place, “The private sector isn’t exactly dying to take over our [passenger rail] services,” Stessel explained, recalling Amtrak was formed in the first place because the private railroads were begging to be allowed to get out of their money-losing passenger business.

That is the irony of the situation. There are those who seriously believe that the federal government can make a profit out of the rail passenger business when those same profits eluded the private sector. Pure fantasy, said Stessel.

The NEC infrastructure, non-NEC operations involve Parts 1 and 2 of Amtrak’s proposed funding mechanism.

Part number 3 is the long-distance trains. Amtrak is committed to maintaining a national passenger rail system. In that spirit, given the fact that most of the long-haul trains operate through “six, seven, eight states,” getting them to agree on a level of funding and how it would be divided up would be “nearly impossible.”

“It is our position that maintaining the national network of long distance trains is a federal responsibility,” declared Amtrak’s Stessel, “We will look to the federal government to take care of the operating loss of those trains.”

Again, to sum it up: States on the NEC would kick in for infrastructure upgrades on a federal-state transit-like split of 80 percent and 20 percent. NEC operations pay for themselves. Outside the NEC, states would pay operating losses reflecting their benefit from corridor schedules. A non-Amtrak operator may be selected. Long-distance trains remain a federal responsibility. Damaged cars are heading back to the road from the repair shops.

Those are crucial elements of the Gunn era’s five-year plan.


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Gunn: Amtrak came close to missing payroll

Amtrak president and CEO David Gunn said last week the railroad came close to missing its payroll last summer during the railroad’s money crisis.

Gunn was a guest on CNN’s Lou Dobbs Moneyline on January 23. Guest Host Jan Hopkins asked, “It seems, Mr. Gunn, that, just a few months ago, you were asking for more money or Amtrak would shut down. Is this a bottomless pit?”

Gun responded “Oh, no, not at all. The recent problem we had was, we were going to miss our payroll and we needed funds to get through the fiscal year; but what we’re doing is, we’ve put together a look-see at what we’re going to need over the next five years. The funding is anywhere from $1.2 billion this year to under $2 billion in each of the next five years.”

Gunn said the railroad needed the money to fix up the tracks, among other capital programs.

“The bulk of the money is going into capital. What’s happened over the years is, there’s been a lot of deferred investment or maintenance in our facilities, for example, in the Northeast Corridor – and we have to restore that facility in our equipment to a state of good repair.”

Gunn said Amtrak is not going to be profitable.

“If you look at passenger transportation in the United States, whether it’s by road, by air or by rail, it all requires massive government subsidies. Just look at airline industry, for example. They all require subsidy.”

He explained, “In a number of markets, we’re the cheapest mode in terms of providing mobility for passengers. I would submit, for example, New York-Washington, the best way and the cheapest way to move people between those two cities by public transportation is on Amtrak. So, you have to spend a couple hundred million dollars fixing up the plant in each of the next five years. But imagine what it would cost to replace our capacity by road or even by air. It’s a bargain.

His questioner asked a question he has har many time before.

“If it’s not going to make money, what about the plan to have the routes that are potentially more profitable spun off to private companies to run and to maybe shut down the ones where there isn’t much service anyway?”

Gunn answered, “One of the myths surrounding Amtrak is that it can make money. Amtrak was created when the private sector, i.e., the railroads, gave up on passenger service. They could not make money in a much easier time; 30 years ago, it was easier to run a railroad than it is today. They couldn’t make money. While there may be somebody out there that thinks they can run some of our routes at a profit, God love them; and they’re welcome to put forward proposals. I think, realistically, passenger rail service is not going to be profitable. Even the Northeast Corridor covers its operating costs, but it doesn’t generate capital.

Hopkins asked, “Do you think that Congress is going to subsidize Amtrak or, at some point, will it pull the plug?

“I would argue that they should view us as they view the airlines and the highways, and that you should look at the alternatives in each market. Which is the best mode for providing public transportation in a given market? Is it cheaper to support rail or do you want to build more highways? It’s going to cost public money, no matter what you do – and I think we’re the cheapest mode in a number of areas.”

In a question to its viewers, which appeared to be slanted anti-Amtrak, CNN asked, “Is Amtrak worth another $2 billion a year in taxpayer dollars. By 9:15 a.m. Friday, The results showed 78 percent, or 1,285 of 1,653 voters in favor of funding Amtrak while 22 percent, or 368 people, said no.

Other polls by other organizations have produced similar results.


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LEGAL LINES...  Legal lines...

Amtrak’s rail weight argument in Maine
among STB ‘sunshine’ conference topics

STB changes meeting date to Friday from Thursday

By Leo King
Editor

Amtrak’s argument with Guilford Transportation over rail weights and higher speeds will be among the cases in which the Surface Transportation Board (STB) will vote in public during its January 31 open voting meeting (D:F January “ 'Sunshine'; to enter STB meeting”).

Its formal title is, “Finance Docket No. 33697, National Railroad Passenger Corporation [Amtrak] – Petition for Declaratory Order-Weight of Rail.”

STB Chairman Roger Nober explained, “At issue is a request by Amtrak that the board determine that Amtrak has rehabilitated a 78-mile line of railroad track between Plaistow, New Hampshire, and Portland, Maine, owned by the Guilford Rail System, according to the terms of a 1999 STB decision.”

Even though Amtrak began operating the Downeaster between Boston’s North Station and Portland, Me., more than one year ago, passenger train speeds have remained a sticking point. Amtrak argues 112-pound rail – which Maine paid for and Guilford installed – is sufficient to run its trains at 79 mph over the rehabilitated track, while Guilford has argued 132-pound rail is required to operate at that speed.

Other conference topics will include:

STB Finance Docket No. 34178, Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad Corp. and Cedar American Rail Holdings, Inc. for control of the Iowa, Chicago & Eastern Railroad Corp. The board will vote to approve or deny the DM&E’s proposal to control the IC&E and two related filings.

STB Finance Docket No. 33995, SF&L Ry., Inc. – acquisition and operation exemption for Toledo, Peoria & Western Ry. Corp. between La Harpe and Peoria, Ill.; STB finance docket No. 33996, Kern W. Schumacher and Morris H. Kulmer, continuance in control exemption for SF&L; and STB Docket No. AB-448 (Sub-No. 2X), SF&L Ry., Inc. for an abandonment exemption in Hancock, McDonough, Fulton and Peoria Counties, Ill.

At issue is an SF&L petition asking the board to reopen and reconsider its October 2002 decision revoking various exemptions from regulation concerning SF&L’s acquisition of an approximately 72-mile portion of railroad line (the “La Harpe Line”) from the TP&W, and ordering the reconveyance to TP&W of SF&L’s interest in the La Harpe Line.

STB Docket No. AB-565 (Sub-No. 11X), New York Central Lines, LLC (NYC) – an abandonment exemption in Lake County, Ohio; and STB Docket No. AB-55 (Sub-No. 617X), CSX Transportation, Inc., discontinuance of service exemption in Lake County. At issue is an NYC and CSX petition seeking an exemption from the STB’s prior-approval regulations allowing NYC to abandon, and CSX to discontinue service on about three track miles in Lake County.

STB Finance Docket No. 34114, Yolo Shortline Railroad Co. A lease and operation exemption at Port of Sacramento. At issue is a Union Pacific Railroad (UP) petition asking the board to reject the notice of exemption from agency regulation to lease and operate 3.1 miles in West Sacramento, Calif., or to revoke the exemption authority that became effective as a result of that notice. The Yolo Shortline Railroad filed the exemption notice in 2001.

-STB Finance Docket No. 34304, The Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Ry. Co. and a trackage rights exemption regarding the Portland & Western Railroad, Inc. At issue is a notice of exemption concerning trackage rights (the use of a railroad’s track, for a rental fee, by another railroad). BNSF filed a motion for the board to dismiss a notice of exemption from agency regulation filed by BNSF allowing BNSF to obtain overhead trackage rights to operate over a portion of a line that BNSF owns, but now operationally leases, to the Portland & Western. BNSF asserts that the STB’s separate authorization of the trackage rights at issue is unnecessary.

Ex Parte No. 282 (Sub-No. 20), Railroad Consolidation Procedures: Class Exemption for Temporary Trackage Rights Transactions. At issue is an STB proposal to establish a new class exemption that railroads could use to obtain limited-term authorization of trackage-rights arrangements that, by their terms, expire on a certain date. The current class exemption for trackage-rights arrangements between railroads gives railroads authorization that extends indefinitely until board authority is obtained to terminate operations.

The STB conference will begin at 10:00 a.m. on January 30 in Room 760, the STB hearing room, on the 7th Floor at the agency's headquarters in the Mercury Building, 1925 K St., N.W. (on the northeast corner of the intersection of 20th and K Sts.), Washington, D.C.

Nober reiterated, “While the public is invited to attend the voting conference, no public participation will be allowed.”

He added there would be no reserved seating, and because of security considerations, urged people to “plan to arrive early enough to be seated no later than 9:45 a.m.”

He also asked people to arrive via the board's 20th Street (west-side) entrance, approximately midway between K and L Streets (at the tall sidewalk flagpoles). All visitors must be cleared through security in the STB’s Suite 100 before being escorted to the hearing room.

“For security reasons, be prepared to produce photo identification (such as a driver's license), pass through a metal detector, and submit to an inspection of all briefcases, handbags, etc.,” he said, and noted quiet laptops and tape recorders may be brought into the hearing room, “but absolutely no provision will be made for the connection of personal computers to board telephone lines.” He said cell phones cannot be used in the hearing room.


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Amtrak engineer sues trucker, CSX, Amtrak

The engineer of the Amtrak passenger train that smashed into a logging truck last May is suing for his injuries.

Frank L. Coates, 52, filed the lawsuit in South Carolina’s Jasper County Courthouse last week. The Pamplico, S.C. railroader’s lawsuit says the trucking company, Transport Inc., and its driver, Eric McKinney as well as track owner CSX Railroad were negligent, according to a report from The AP.

On May 14, the 10-car New York to Miami Silver Meteor was carrying 103 passengers and 14 crewmembers when it struck McKinney’s truck near Ridgeland. The train was traveling 79 mph when it hit the rear quarter of the fully loaded logging truck.

McKinney was charged in May with failure to yield the right of way to a train.

No passengers were killed or critically injured. Coates suffered a permanent knee injury and has undergone surgery, but hasn’t returned to work, his lawyer, W. Mullins McLeod Jr. of Charleston, said.

The truck was at a crossing on U.S. 17 near Interstate 95. There are neither crossing arms nor signals, sources said. The lawsuit states Amtrak and CSX knew that crossing was “hazardous due to excessive vegetation, severe sight restrictions, severe horizontal curves, poor drainage, loose dirt and gravel... and slow-moving logging trucks.”

It’s hard for locomotive engineers to see trucks and it’s hard for the truck drivers to see the train, McLeod said.

Coates’ lawsuit also argues Transport Inc. hired an inexperienced driver, McKinney didn’t pay attention, CSX didn’t maintain a safe rail crossing, and Amtrak failed to provide a safe work environment.

In May, McKinney said he didn’t hear or see the train in time to stop. “That’s the reason he hit me; that’s the reason he needs to learn to start blowing the horn,” he said then.

McKinney, who had worked in that area irregularly for six months, said he only saw the train as he reached the tracks.


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NCI joins agreement for passenger rail
to garner federal dollars investment

Forty-seven groups, including citizen advocacy organizations, associations of state officials, unions and corporations said on January 16 they had signed on to the American Passenger Rail Agreement.

Midwest High-Speed rail Coalition president Rick Harnish, in Chicago, said, “The agreement advocates the development and preservation of a nationwide, interconnected passenger rail system and calls on Congress and the Bush Administration to provide passenger rail with funding, policy development and oversight comparable to that given to highway, civil aviation, transit and waterway programs.”

The agreement calls on the federal government to “establish a dedicated, multi-year federal capital-funding program for intercity passenger rail, patterned after the existing federal highway, airport and mass-transit programs.”

Boston-based NCI’s president and CEO, Jim RePass, said The National Corridors Initiative was among the signatories, along with The National Conference of State Legislatures, the giant Parsons-Brinckerhoff civil engineering firm, the States for Passenger Rail Coalition (which represents 22 state DOTs, and other groups, including the Washington Association of Railroad Passengers.

Harnish, quoting the agreement’s preamble, said, “America needs a balanced, integrated transportation system and the American people need diverse transportation choices.” He added, “Passenger rail is a critical component of a modern, multi-modal transportation system and needs to have financial support, unified policy development and oversight similar to that afforded to our air, highway and mass-transit modes.”

Laura Kliewer, Director of the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission, said, “It is significant that this broad range of groups has agreed on a common set of principles for setting passenger rail on the ‘right track,’” She added, “The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), aviation programs and Amtrak all are up for reauthorization by Congress this year. From Boston to the state of Washington, from the South to the Midwest, we are committed to educating Members of Congress and the Administration on the importance of passenger rail to our national transportation system, and to seeing a revitalized, efficient, modern passenger rail system realized.”

“All transportation in the U.S. – except intercity passenger rail – relies on long-term programs of federal infrastructure development,” said Ross Capon, executive director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers.

“Is it any wonder that rail is the least-developed mode of travel in this country? If rail is going to become more relevant and grow at a reasonable rate, it has to be brought under the same roof as the nation’s other transportation programs and given access to the same long-term federal funding, planning and oversight that made air and highway travel accessible to a wide range of Americans.”

Joe Szabo of the United Transportation Union said, “Passenger trains represent the next great leap in American mobility, but they will need billions of dollars of new track, new grade separations, new stations and high-tech signaling to become effective. Only the federal government can provide that kind of oversight and funding.”

Harnish noted, “Federal funding is the key. All of the nation’s transportation programs struggled helplessly for decades until they won federal funding – first the highways in 1916, then the inland waterways in 1919, then the airports in 1946, and finally mass transit in 1975.”

In Harnish’s view, “Designing and building transportation infrastructure is a long-term process that requires steady, predictable funding over a multi-year time frame. Annual Congressional appropriations are too unpredictable to fund the civil engineering improvements we need to make passenger train service fast, frequent and reliable.”

The agreement, signed in Chicago, also urges the FRA or a similar agency within the USDOT to “develop, fund and oversee” a new federal railroad-development policy, much as the Federal Aviation Administration plans and funds airport and air-traffic control improvements and the Federal Highway Administration develops the Interstate highway system.

The final statement in the American Passenger Rail Agreement calls upon the Congress to provide full funding for Amtrak while a more advanced passenger rail system is being designed, so the national passenger rail operator can keep its nationwide fleet of trains operating and improve service levels.


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Amtrak’s Chicago reservation center may close

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) met with Amtrak President and CEO David Gunn on January 23 to try to head off closing the railroad’s Chicago Loop reservation center and putting 270 people of work.

Cash-strapped Amtrak is poised to close its Chicago Reservation Service Call Center as part of the belt-tightening that is needed if the passenger rail agency is to survive.

Durbin said his meeting with Gunn was “disappointing,” with service cuts and layoffs “likely to be a painful part of Amtrak’s future. Mr. Gunn was frank in saying that Illinois will not likely escape these painful realities.”

The senator said he wants Amtrak to explore more options for finding other work for the 270 Chicago employees if the center closes, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

“It is important for Amtrak to look for creative ways to address its financial difficulties that avoid unnecessary job loss.”

Amtrak officials were scheduled to meet with the Chicago employees on Friday.

“Clearly, the company must deal with its financial problems,” Durbin said in a statement, “but I am disappointed that, to date, Amtrak management has not taken the time to consult with its employees or work more closely with those of us who believe the Chicago Call Center should remain open.”


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Florida to spend some state dollars
to start its high-speed rail program

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) put zero dollars in his budget request for high-speed rail, but because the requirement was written into a state Constitutional amendment two years ago, the plan would still get $8,763,905 in state dollars.

The deadline for starting construction on a statewide high-speed train, which voters ordered in 2000, is this November. The private sector will pick up most of the cost, but Bush warned last week he would campaign for repeal of the project if too much is left for the state.

The state’s general revenue budget for fiscal year 2003-2004 will grow by 3 percent, or $633 million, for a total of nearly $22 billion. Florida is projected to end the current fiscal year with a $140 million surplus in its general revenue fund and $960 million in its “rainy day fund.”

Like virtually all other states, though, Florida is feeling a financial pinch until the state and national economies recover – but that contrasts sharply with most other states, some of whom are experiencing budget deficits as high as 20 percent.

Bush highlighted the budget uncertainties related to the upcoming implementation of constitutionally mandated initiatives such as class size, pre-K, and high-speed rail.

Overall, the governor’s recommended transportation budget included $5.33 billion, about $942 million less than this year.

The governor’s fiscal package now goes to the state legislature for action.

On November 7, 2000, 2.7 million Florida citizens voted to require Florida to build a high-speed rail system by amending the Florida Constitution.

Seven months later, the governor signed into law a bill implementing the provisions of the Constitutional amendment, creating the Florida High Speed Rail Authority (FHSRA). In the 2002 session of the legislature, the High-Speed Rail Authority statute was amended to give the authority broader responsibilities to build and operate a high-speed rail system.

The authority issued its “Request for Proposals” last November to design, build and operate a high-speed rail system connecting Tampa and Orlando. Responses are due February 10.

Depending on the final right-of-way and guideway design, state and federal government will pay for the infrastructure, which will include rights-of-way, tracks, stations, and maintenance facilities, including yards. The estimated infrastructure cost to build between Tampa and Orlando is $1.5 to $1.7 billion.

Matching funds from the federal government or funds from other sources may be used to accelerate the retirement of bonds issued by Florida or to build additional segments.


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Amtrak’s e-Bay auctions are okay, it seems

Before Christmas, Amtrak started a marketing push by offering a limited number of tickets on selected routes to bidders on e-Bay, the online auction site.

“We’re always looking for new audiences, and new ways to advertise the product,” Amtrak spokeswoman Karina Van Veen said recently. “It’s going really well.”

So well, in fact, that the initial mid-February deadline for e-Bay sales probably will be extended, she said.

Amtrak is offering 100 tickets a week on e-Bay. Each posting gives the train route, dates available for a trip, links to schedules and the latest bid. Payment is by credit card.

The site for bidding is www.stores.ebay.com/amtrakauctions.

Van Veen said that one of the most popular routes has been the Auto Train between Lorton, Va., and Sanford, Fla.

“Sometimes Auto Train can be a little bit expensive, so people are looking for a deal,” she said.

Other popular routes have been from Washington to Chicago, New Orleans to Orlando and some scenic routes in California.

“We hope to persuade travelers who may not be regular Amtrak riders to give the train a try,” marketing vice-president Barbara Richardson said in a news release.

Travelers are advised to begin their e-Bay checks by first checking Amtrak’s Web site at www.amtrak.com, or calling (800) 872-7245 to check regular fares. They should also see what discounts they might be eligible for, such as AAA or AARP, and any online special Amtrak may be offering.

Sources warned that travelers should not pay more on e-Bay than they might get through regular Amtrak bookings.

Winning e-Bay bidders are charged a $4.95 service fee that includes first-class mail delivery; overnight delivery costs $9 more.

No sleepers are available, but Van Veen said, “We’re working on that. Soon, e-Bay users will be able to bid on sleeping accommodations”


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LABOR LINES...  Labor lines...

BLE files remote control dissent

Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE) President Don Hahs filed his labor union’s dissent January 16 to Chairman Gil Vernon’s decision in a locomotive remote control arbitration case, which found in favor of the freight railroads (D:F January 20).

Vernon was the “neutral” member of the four-member board, which also included Hahs, National Carriers Conference Committee chairman Robert Allen and United Transportation Union President Byron Boyd.

Vernon, Allen, and Boyd voted in favor of Vernon’s decision. Hahs cast the lone dissenting vote.

Hahs’s dissent stated that the Chairman’s decision was an “aberration that was fundamentally flawed.”

“The carriers’ common agreements with BLE have always been applied to require an engineer on every locomotive that moves cars and freight and to require the carriers to assign the operation of locomotives, regardless of the means of control, to locomotive engineers,” Hahs wrote.

“As far back as 1944, the carriers and BLE expressed their understanding in the so-called ‘Diesel Agreements’ that a locomotive consist could be operated from one cab by one engineer with one set of controls and that the duties and responsibilities of engineers regardless of the size of a consist will not be assigned to others. The operation of locomotives to move cars and freight is what those ‘duties and responsibilities’ have always been.”

Hahs disputed Vernon’s opinion that a computer or microprocessor had replaced or eliminated the duties of the engineer.

“This is not a situation where an employee’s work has been eliminated by technology,” Hahs stated.

“The Board has mistakenly compared this situation to advances in radio telemetry and data input. This is a case where the carrier, under the guise of technological advancement, has assigned the actual duties and responsibilities of one craft to another,” he added.

Hahs also said he was appalled at Vernon’s dismissal of many local agreements that were presented by BLE General Committees of Adjustment during the November 18-19 hearings.

Many of these local agreements were manning agreements stipulating that at least one locomotive engineer must be assigned to all train movements.

In BLE s opinion, these agreements proved that the assignment of remote control work to other than engineers was a violation of the brotherhood’s collective bargaining agreements.

A copy of BLE’s dissent is online at http://www.ble.org/pr/pdf/dissent.pdf
(Requires Adobe Acrobat Viewer at http://www.adobe.com)


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COMMUTER LINES...

Two solons may cut some mass transit
funding; send $4 billion to highway projects

Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, have indicated their plans to shift a substantial share of existing public transit funding to provide resources – more than $4 billion – to prop up highway spending levels, which are already at the highest level ever. The current commitment of $31.8 billion is about 15 percent higher than what TEA-21 provided, according to a January 17 report in Transfer, published online by the Surface Transportation Policy Project.

Their plan envisions eliminating the federal Mass Transit Account as a way to increase funding for the highway program in TEA-21 reauthorization without raising gas taxes, by diverting gas tax revenues now committed to public transit investment over to highway spending.

The plan would terminate all federal assistance to areas with a population of one million or more. Baucus, who also serves on the Environment and Public Works Committee, campaigned on improving transit for rural communities in the November elections and increasing funding commitments to highway programs.

The Surface Transportation Policy Project is online at http://www.transact.org


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Mixed reactions from Davis’s rail plan

California Gov. Gray Davis’ proposal to put California’s high-speed rail program under the state DOT has drawn howls of protest from some fans of the project, but others are not so sure it’s a bad idea.

Davis called for the merger in the state budget plan he recently unveiled. He said the move would “bring the transportation expertise of Caltrans to the high-speed rail project,” according to a report in the Bakersfield Californian of January 15.

Planning for the project is now the responsibility of an independent nine-member authority that oversees a small staff. The governor appoints five authority members, and legislative leaders appoint the other four. It has a budget this year of a little under $1 million.

Critics and supporters of the merger agreed it would not save any money.

Davis is proposing to give Caltrans an extra $1.8 million to finish environmental studies on the project next year.

A $10 billion bond issue to build the first leg of the project, from San Francisco to Los Angeles, will go before voters next year. When completed, the project would run trains at up to 220 mph between San Francisco and San Diego, with stops in Bakersfield and other valley cities. Modeled on bullet trains in Japan and elsewhere, it is viewed as an alternative to increasingly scarce and expensive short-haul airline service.

The merger is a terrible idea in the view of state Sen. Dean Florez (D), a former member of the authority board. Florez said he is seeking fellow lawmakers’ signatures on a letter to Davis bitterly protesting the plan.

“All our hopes and aspirations for this great historical undertaking turned into despair with the proposed budget action to move the authority’s staff and work into Caltrans,” the letter stated.

“The proposed action would result in the death of the project and a missed opportunity.”

The letter cites several rail transportation projects that Florez believes were bungled by Caltrans and notes the agency was responsible for high-speed rail until the project was taken away and placed in the independent agency about a decade ago.

Florez’s mother, Fran Florez, the mayor of Shafter and a current member of the authority board, agrees with her son.

”It’s just not going to get done under Caltrans,” she said.

Ron Brummett, executive director of the Kern Council of Governments who follows the issue closely, agreed.

”Caltrans is generally focused on building roads and highways,” Brummett said.

”If it goes under the Caltrans umbrella, it gets tied up in that huge bureaucracy. Right now, the authority has direct access to the governor.”

A different view came from former Sen. Jim Costa of Fresno, whose credentials as a booster of high-speed rail go back farther than Florez’s.

”I don’t think it’s necessary,” Costa said of the merger, “but I don’t think it’s fatal, as some have argued.”

Costa sponsored one successful bond issue to fund increases in regular passenger rail service and was the legislative author of the $10 billion 2004 bond proposal for high-speed rail, for which he is expected to head the campaign.

Costa said turning the project over to Caltrans would make it more “cumbersome” to plan and build the project, but that would not doom its chances.

The governor’s proposal has strong support from Train Riders of California, a citizen consumer group that has closely watched the development of the high-speed rail project.

The group supports the concept of the system, but it has sharp disagreements with many of the authority’s decisions on routes and other issues, said Alan Miller, its executive director.

”We’re supporting the governor on this,” Miller said.

“We feel the High Speed Rail Authority has largely been wasting the money they’ve been given. They’ve largely become a political organization, and we feel Caltrans would do a better job of looking at it as a statewide project.”

The group opposes such things as the authority’s consideration of a tunnel to bring the trains through the mountains from the Bay area to the valley. It also wants to route most of the trains through open farmland around valley cities, rather than through downtown areas.

As a group, the High-Speed Rail Authority’s board has not weighed in with an official position on the governor’s plan.

That is expected to be a major topic of discussion at its next meeting on January 28 in San Francisco.


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Sound Transit to stop at ‘SeaTac’

Sound Transit and the Port of Seattle January 15 agreed in principle to establish a Central Link light rail station location and track alignment at SeaTac International Airport.

“Making sure light rail connects directly to the airport has been a major priority of mine during the last year as chair of Sound Transit. We have worked diligently with the port to meet their needs and ours, “ said Sound Transit Board Chairman and King County Executive Ron Sims.

“This agreement is a critical step for getting light rail to the airport and beyond.”

The agreement, signed by Sound Transit Executive Director Joni Earl and Port of Seattle Executive Director M. R. Dinsmore, identified a shared conceptual vision for a light rail station next to the airport’s existing terminal and parking garage, integrated within the Port’s updated plans for expanding the airport.

“We’re looking forward to the day when light rail is here to give people a convenient way to get to the airport and to connect two vital economic hubs in our region – the airport and downtown Seattle,” said Port of Seattle Commission Chairwoman Patricia Davis.

“A thriving city needs a world-class airport to compete in the international economy, and by connecting Seattle’s downtown to the airport, the Port of Seattle and Sound Transit are investing in the long-term economic health of the area, ” she added.

When the light rail line opens in 2009, shuttle buses will meet light rail passengers at the line’s interim southern terminus at SeaTac’s South 154th Street and carry them the short remaining distance to the airport.

“This agreement identifies the path we’ll follow in working with the Port to develop an alignment south of 154th Street and a station at the airport,” Earl said.

Details of the connection, including costs and funding scenarios, will be established based on Sound Transit, Port of Seattle and City of SeaTac planning and design decisions. The Sound Transit Board has authorized $10 million to design the light rail extension to the airport, and the Port of Seattle Commission has authorized $10.6 million to develop a Comprehensive Development Plan for the SeaTac Airport North End Development program.

The agreement calls for the port to relocate the North Expressway to create a median where the light rail line will run. An initial step will be the Port’s targeted June 2005 completion of sufficient design for the expressway for Sound Transit to move forward with preliminary engineering, environmental review and final design for the light rail extension.

The station will be developed on Port property on the western edge of International Boulevard in the vicinity of South 173rd to 175th Streets. Passenger access to International Boulevard is envisioned to be designed in conjunction with the City of SeaTac.


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Salt Lake City had some Olympian
transportation hurdles to overcome

Transportation operations at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City succeeded beyond planners’ wildest dreams, save for a few panicky moments that officials discussed for the first time publicly last week at a National Academy of Sciences forum.

Leaders of the 2002 transportation systems for the Utah DOT and the Salt Lake Olympic Committee were among the featured presenters at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board, which drew more than 9,000 transportation professionals and researchers.

While much of their multimedia presentation focused on the successes of technology, planning and cooperation, the state transportation executives acknowledged that behind the scenes, there were tense moments as they helped move 3,500 athletes, 12,000 media members, 20,000 volunteers and 1.6 million spectators to and from venues for the 14 days of the international competition last February, reports the Salt Lake Tribune.

For instance, on one of the busiest days of the games, a TRAX light-rail vehicle’s rooftop power collector tore down more than a mile of trolley cable that had loosened from support poles, leaving the section of rail line without power and useless. It happened between events, and Utah Transit Authority (UTA) crews were able to repair the line, finishing just as the first throngs of figure-skating spectators left the Delta Center.

Officials also spent three days during the games trying to figure out why critical federal highway safety advisory radios kept losing data stored in the devices’ memories, eventually discovering the radios’ solar-powered batteries were discharging nightly, erasing the memory.

When the infamous Bud World “riot” near Gallivan Plaza spilled down Main Street to the TRAX staging area on the final Saturday night of the Games, UTA officials held their breath as a military Blackhawk helicopter hovered overhead, ready to drop commandos into the crowd of commuters.

“I heard this ‘fwoop-fwoop-fwoop’ in the sky, and a policeman standing next to me that night radioed in, ‘No, we don’t need the Blackhawks,’ “ UTA Director John Inglish told the audience. “I didn’t want to think what would happen if a bunch of soldiers dressed in black suddenly slid down ropes from the helicopters into the crowd of people waiting to board the train.”

Polls of visitors to the games found more than 90 percent ranked the transportation “excellent” or “good,” with news media churning out dozens of positive stories, including Newsweek.com’s assessment that the transportation planners “must be the smartest people in the universe.”

Andrew Gemperline, SLOC’s transportation director, said the team appreciated the accolades but owed much of its success to good weather.

“We were very fortunate that we did not get socked by a major snowstorm during the Games,” he said.

An aggressive public relations campaign helped reduce “background” traffic on downtown Salt Lake City streets by as much as 40 percent, and incident response crews from Washington, Illinois and Tennessee joined UDOT’s rapid response teams to quickly handle freeway accidents.

“We had a tractor-trailer that had tipped on its side cleared within 20 minutes,” said David Kinnecom, UDOT traffic operations engineer.

Inglish said public transit during the games could not have succeeded without support from dozens of other cities that lent 700 buses and 1,200 “superb” drivers to shuttle spectators, resulting in only two fender benders over the 14 days. He also heaped praise on Dallas, which lent UTA 29 new light rail vehicles worth nearly $90 million to double the size of the TRAX fleet.

“Would you loan someone your $3 million car?” he said. “This is a period of time I look back on as transit Camelot, where, for one brief moment, transit ruled. Life is kind of boring now.”


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Lawnmowers may help Cascades train

Oregonians’ lawnmowers could help save the popular morning train that takes Eugene passengers to Portland and on to Vancouver, B.C.

The state-sponsored Cascades run may be cut if voters turn down the Measure 28 tax increase tomorrow (January 28). The mid-morning train would roll for the last time in mid-April, according to an AP report.

There is a little-known pool of tax dollars collected when Oregonians buy gas for their lawnmowers, leaf blowers, rototillers and chain saws and other machinery that does not run on roads. It is exempt from the 24-cents-a-gallon gas tax.

Since it is impossible to determine exactly how much of the gasoline sold in Oregon does not go into road vehicles, experts had to come up with an estimate.

”It’s a guess,” said state Sen. Bruce Starr (R), the vice chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, who favors using the lawn mower money to save the train.

The law allows a rebate for all tax money the state collects when they buy gas for their lawn mower, but few except large landscapers ever apply. So, the fund accumulates about $7.6 million in a two-year budget cycle.

It would be the first loss of passenger rail service since 1994. Otherwise, the train has made steady gains in runs and ridership. Many of the train stations have been spruced up.

“When you consider we’re in a down economy, the fact that you have any growth is good,” said Bob Krebs, the state’s passenger rail coordinator.

Meanwhile, rail officials say the legislature has shown good support for trains in the past couple of years.

Earlier this month state rail division manager Claudia Howells asked the Legislature’s emergency board for money to buy trains for a special Portland-to-Astoria run for the next three summers to celebrate the Lewis and Clark bicentennial. She came away with $400,000.

”I walked out of there almost stunned that we got anything at all,” she said.

Former Eugene Mayor Ruth Bascom, chairwoman of the rail advisory committee, said the trains have turned a corner.

”It’s basically a rather exciting time,” she said. “This little flame of interest in passenger rail seems to be burning a little brighter every year.”

But problems remain. At the state level, the train’s fate is far from certain. Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Rick Metsger (D), said that the legislature is unlikely to keep the run if Measure 28 fails.

Any extra money in the lawnmower fund would be likely to go to the Oregon DOT, freeing general fund dollars for critical programs, such as human services or public safety, he said.

”As important as the train is long term, it certainly would not be in the top priority list,” Metsger said.

”We might have to use the money to sustain some police officers for a few months.”

Starr, a train enthusiast, said the state should save the lawnmower money for the trains.

”Anytime you’ve got folks riding the train between Eugene and Portland you’re taking vehicles off the highway,” he said.


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Fitch rates some Connecticut bonds at ‘AAA/F1+’

The State of Connecticut’s $421,980,000 twenty-year, second lien special tax obligation refunding bonds, transportation infrastructure purposes (variable-rate demand) bonds, consisting of $220,385,000 2003 series 1 and $201,595,000 2003 series 2, are both rated ‘AAA/F1+’ by Fitch Ratings,” the rating firm reported January 16.

The bonds were offered beginning January 22 through negotiation with Lehman Brothers and are being insured by Ambac Assurance Corp., whose insurer financial strength “is rated ‘AAA’ by Fitch.”

Both series of bonds will be due February 1, 2022, subject to optional call at par in the weekly mode, and to mandatory sinking fund redemption. The bonds may be in commercial paper, daily, weekly (initial mode), term or fixed-rate mode, with mandatory tender in the event of a mode change.

The new bonds will be on parity with $142.9 million second lien 1990 series 1 (rated ‘A-/F2’ by Fitch based on a letter of credit with Commerzbank AG) and $100 million second lien 2000 series 1 (rated ‘AAA/F1+’ based on FGIC whose insurer financial strength is rated ‘AAA’, and liquidity provided by Dexia Credit Local), and junior to $2,551 million senior lien bonds (rated ‘AA-‘) outstanding upon completion of this advance refunding of $379.5 million senior lien bonds.

For more details, contact Fitch Ratings, New York City.


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POWER LINES...

Bombardier’s JetTrain goes to Canada;
Montreal-New York City link may lie ahead

Bombardier, Inc.’s new turbine powered train, developed in the U.S. in conjunction with the USDOT, will be making its first trial runs in Canada, according to a company official.

The JetTrain is scheduled to arrive in February in Central Canada, and then travel to Alberta.

Lecia Stewart, Bombardier’s vice-president in charge of high-speed rail in North America, said in a Canadian Press interview that JetTrain would make its maiden tryouts on Via Rail and its Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto corridor. The story was published on January 19.

The promotion of the sleek turbine-propelled locomotive will take place just as Finance Minister John Manley puts the finishing touches on his budget, to be tabled in February.

Via Rail, at the request of Transport Minster David Collenette, submitted proposals last fall to improve service in the Quebec City-Windsor corridor where Via carries 3.2 million of its four million annual passengers.

This will require extra funds beyond Via’s $170-million-a-year subsidy, and Collenette has reportedly asked his cabinet to inject as much as $3 billion into rail improvements, both freight and passenger.

Meanwhile, the Quebec government has just issued “tenders” to study a rapid passenger link to connect Montreal and New York, in addition to a parallel study under way for a fast rail link between Montreal and Boston.

These are all indications that high-speed passenger rail could start to occupy a bigger place in North America, and the timing is perfect for Montreal-based Bombardier, which in October rolled out its turbine locomotive after five years of development.

Not everyone is enthusiastic about more public funds for the railway.

Just before Christmas, a group representing intercity bus and aviation interests formed a coalition to stop Collenette’s subsidy plans in its tracks.

Paul Benoit, president of the Ottawa Airport Authority and coalition member, said there has to be a level playing field.

“Should the government come up with subsidies to Via when they are bleeding other forms of transportation?” Benoit asked in an interview.

“Every passenger taking the train to Toronto from Ottawa is subsidized by every taxpayer across the country.”

Stewart said JetTrain’s next promotional stop will be in Alberta where that government is considering a rapid transit link between Edmonton and Calgary. After that, authorities in the Chicago area and in California are anxious to try it out, she said.

 

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

 

APTA to Head Federal Security Effort for Transit Sector

APTA has been designated as the sector coordinator by the U.S. DOT in the creation of an Information Sharing and Analysis Center to further promote security for the public transportation industry.

As the designated sector coordinator, APTA will serve as primary contact to organize and bring the public transportation community together to work cooperatively on physical and cyber security issues. Throughout the implementation of the ISAC, APTA will work directly with U.S. DOT to further define the transit sector’s participation.

Specifically, the public transportation ISAC will collect, analyze, and distribute critical security and threat information from government and other sources. Best security practices and plans to eliminate threats, attacks, vulnerabilities, and countermeasures are drawn upon to protect the sector’s cyber and physical infrastructures. The ISAC is full service, responding to indications and warnings on a 24-hour basis, seven days a week.

APTA will retain a private sector contractor to establish and operate the ISAC. Initially, a pilot project will be conducted with a range of public transportation systems from throughout the United States. Once the ISAC is fully established, all sizes of participating transit systems will be able to access analyzed security information.


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CTA Railcar Travels to Washington for Smithsonian Transportation Exhibit

In preparation for the Nov. 19 opening of “America on the Move,” a permanent exhibition now under construction at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, invited guests came to the Washington museum Jan. 9 for a first look at a refurbished Chicago Transit Authority rapid transit car donated to the Smithsonian by the CTA. The museum has closed its popular Hall of Transportation for thorough renovations to accommodate the new exhibit.

APTA and its members are among the major donors for this exhibit.

The Chicago rail car is one of the first major historic objects to be installed as part of the exhibition, which will depict the influence of U.S. surface transportation from 1876 until 1999, and show how transportation became a key component of global trade expansion. The museum said this ground-breaking exhibition of nearly 300 transportation-related objects will be the largest in its history.

The exhibit is planned in a way that visitors will have a multimedia experience of the context in which each vehicle or other surface transportation-related object was operated or used—virtually to transport visitors back in time.


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Federal Transit Funding Continues Under Stopgap Bill

The new 108th Congress passed a continuing resolution during its first week in session to fund federal programs—including transportation--at the fiscal year 2002 levels through Jan. 31.

Since Oct. 1, the start of new fiscal year, the federal transit program has been funded under a series of six continuing resolutions. The only two spending bills passed for FY 2003 are defense and military construction.

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have indicated plans to pass the 11 remaining FY 2003 appropriations bills prior to the President’s State of the Union address on Jan. 28.


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McDonald to Introduce Fixed Routes in Longview, Texas

The city of Longview, Texas, has entered into a transit management services contract with McDonald Transit Associates Inc., effective Jan. 1, for the startup, management, and operation of fixed route and Americans with Disabilities Act complementary paratransit service. New buses will begin operating on fixed routes in April.

Longview has operated paratransit service for senior citizens and persons with disabilities since the mid-1990s, but the new three-route system will be its first venture into fixed route operations. Seven fixed route vehicles and four paratransit vehicles will be used to serve the community, which is home to nearly 80,000 residents.

Edward Esparza has been named by McDonald Transit as resident manager for the Longview operation. Esparza previously served as the management assistant for finance with Citibus in Lubbock, Texas.


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ATU Local Enters Incentive-Based Contract with DART First State

A five-year contract approved recently by DART First State and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 842, representing fixed route operators and maintenance personnel in New Castle County, Del., includes a unique provision for performance-based worker incentives on top of the usual wage increases.

The 250-member Local 842 ratified and endorsed the contract including the special incentives by a two-to-one margin vote on Dec. 22, 2002. The contract is to be signed in a formal state ceremony at the end of January.

While the agreement calls for base wage increases to be tied to those authorized by the Delaware General Assembly—an annual 1 percent minimum guarantee for the first four years of the contract, rising to 3 percent in 2007, for a total of 7 percent over the life of the contract—DFS employees also will be eligible for a 2 percent lump sum increase if increases in ridership and revenue goals are attained.

In addition, and as an attendance incentive, the system will buy back a specified amount of unused employee sick time at the end of each contract year. The contract also calls for a half- hour increase in spread pay time, from 10.5 hours to 11 hours, resulting in significant savings.


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Chance Coach Inc. Is Becoming Optima Bus Corp.

Chance Coach Inc., manufacturer of the American Heritage Streetcar trolley-replica bus and the low floor OPUS small and mid-size transit bus, announced Jan. 15 that it will change its name to Optima Bus Corp., effective Feb. 1.

The company will retain its headquarters in Wichita, Kan.

Chance Coach had been a division of Chance Industries Inc. since its purchase of the Mini-Bus product line in 1976. It became independent of Chance Industries in 1998.


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Triangle Transit Moves Ahead on Regional Rail Plans

The Triangle Transit Authority in Research Triangle Park, N.C., recently received a Record of Decision from the Federal Transit Administration on TTA’s Phase I Regional Rail Project, determining that the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 have been met for Phase I of a regional rail system in metropolitan Raleigh and Durham.

TTA General Manager John Claflin said receiving the Record of Decision from FTA was a critical step in the process to execute the regional rail transit project, allowing TTA to proceed with real estate acquisition along the corridor.

Under current plans, the rail project would enter service by 2007, operating self-propelled, bi-directional diesel rail cars on new tracks installed in the existing railroad rights-of-way to connect Durham, Research Triangle Park, Cary, Raleigh, and North Raleigh. The new passenger rail system will be 35 miles long when fully constructed, at an estimated cost of approximately $724 million in 2002 dollars. This service is expected to carry about 28,000 daily riders by 2025.


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FREIGHT LINES...

Apache RR Lumber Train

Apache Railroad via BNSF

Lumber lumbers along the Apache Railroad from Snowflake, Ariz. enroute to its BNSF interchange at Holbrook MP 253.0 (from West Baca) and Oregon destinations.

 

BNSF log trains help salvage Apache timber

The Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Ry. (BNSF) on January 15 transported the first unit train of burned timber salvaged from the devastating forest fires that struck the White Mountain Apache Reservation in 2002.

BNSF is moving the salvaged logs in both unit and manifest trains from Snowflake, Ariz., to destinations in California, Oregon and Washington. The timber was burned during the summer of 2002 by the Rodeo-Chediski fire, the largest wildfire in Arizona’s history, which burned a total of 469,000 acres on the Native American reservation.

BNSF moved the first carloads last December 19 from the Apache Ry. in Snowflake to the BNSF interchange at Holbrook (MP 253.0, from West Baca, Ariz.) to Klamath Falls and Prineville, Ore. Over the next six months, BNSF expects to transport 5,000 cars of logs, which equates to approximately 85 million board feet of lumber.

“BNSF will take loaded manifest or unit trains daily from the Apache Railway,” said Ray West, Apache’s transportation manager.

In an effort to salvage some value from the trees damaged in the fire, the tribe, which operates one of the last major sawmills in Arizona, will allow California-based Sierra Pacific Industries and Mississippi-based TCB Construction to harvest the logs.

“The trees must be harvested quickly to avoid further decomposition from the fire damage,” said Chadeen Palmer, spokesperson for the White Mountain Apache Tribe.

“We are very pleased with the immediate response the parties have taken at salvaging the trees so that they are taken in their best condition.”

“The logs will be used for high-end, high-value industrial lumber such as high-grade moulding for doors and windows,” says Dickie Joe Ladner, project manager for TCB Construction. “The interior of the log will be used in the home building industry as framing material.”

“It took a great deal of teamwork and coordination to support the salvage effort,” says Dick Krase, BNSF manager of sales in Vancouver, Wash.

“The efforts of our operating and fleet management teams have allowed us to create a great service product to move the logs. The lumber companies and the Apache Railway have been a tremendous help and we could not have asked for better partners,” said Krase.

In order to accommodate the loads, modifications were made to more than 230 flat cars.

“BNSF went out of their way to supply and modify the cars needed for this project and because of their diligence, this project is a success,” said Ladner,” who added, “Only in America, with our great American railroads, can we pull a project of this magnitude off.”

BN&SF is online at http://www.bnsf.com/


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BNSF elects Watts to its board

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. directors elected J. C. Watts, Jr., 45, to its board last week. The four-term U.S. Representative from Oklahoma did not stand for re-election last November.

BNSF Chairman and CEO Matthew K. Rose said Watts’ “distinguished record in Congress and his leadership as chairman of the House Republican Conference and as a member of the House Armed Services Committee earned him respect from both sides of the aisle.” He said Watts’ “perspective and experience on a range of issues will be of critical value to our board in the years ahead.”

He has no prior business experience.


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Bombardier, Gunderson to build 500 freight cars in Mexico

Bombardier Transportation said last week that Gunderson-Concarril, a joint venture formed in 1998 by Bombardier and The Greenbrier Companies, has received an order valued at $35 million to build 500 freight cars for TTX Co. Bombardier’s share of the order represents $17.5 million.

The consortium is building conventional freight cars. Under the terms of the joint venture, Bombardier provides manufacturing know-how and facilities, and Greenbrier provides marketing and engineering expertise. The Gunderson-Concarril plant is located in Bombardier Transportation's manufacturing complex in Sahagun, Mexico.


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QUARTERLY RESULTS...  Quarterly results...

Canadian National

Canadian National’s directors declared a first-quarter 2003 dividend on January 21 on the company's outstanding common shares. A quarterly dividend of 25 cents per common share will be paid on March 31, 2003, to shareholders of record at the close of business on March 10, 2003.

The dividend represents a 16 per cent increase over the previous quarterly dividend of 21.5 cents per common share, and is the seventh dividend increase since CN became a publicly traded company in November 1995.

CN also reported its record 2002 free cash flow rose 16 per cent to $513 million.

Its 2002 net income was $800 million, or $3.97 per diluted share, compared with net income of $1,040 million, or $5.23 per diluted share, for 2001.

Operating income for the year ended Dec. 31, 2002, was $1,469 million, compared with $1,682 million for 2001. Revenues for 2002 were $6,110 million, compared with $5,652 million for 2001, while operating expenses for 2002 were $4,641 million, compared with $3,970 million for 2001.

CN’s 2002 and 2001 results include certain items affecting the comparability of the Company's financial performance. Excluding these items, 2002 adjusted net income (1) was $1,052 million, an 8 per cent increase over comparable net income of $978 million for 2001, while the related diluted earnings per share rose 6 per cent to $5.22 from $4.92 for 2001.

On an adjusted basis, 2002 operating income increased five per cent to $1,870 million. Operating expenses rose 10 per cent to $4,240 million, owing primarily to the inclusion of a full year of expenses attributable to the operations of Wisconsin Central and higher expenses associated with the movement of merchandise traffic. As adjusted, CN’s operating ratio for 2002 was 69.4 per cent, compared with 68.5 per cent for 2001.

CN's 2002 revenues increased by eight per cent, reflecting its acquisition of Wisconsin Central (WC) and a strong performance by the majority of the company’s other business units – petroleum and chemicals, automotive, intermodal and forest products. Gains by these businesses were partially offset by continued weakness in Canadian grain and coal revenues.

CN president and CEO E. Hunter Harrison said, “Our business model focuses on service quality, which drove the strong revenue performance of our service-sensitive merchandise and intermodal units. This enabled us to offset the sharp downturn in grain revenues. Scheduled railroading also permitted us to control some of the cost increases associated with moving a higher proportion of merchandise traffic on our trains, and to boost asset utilization. As a result, we generated record free cash flow of $513 million in 2002.”

Harrison said, “For 2003, we remain cautious about CN’s prospects given uneven North American economic growth, uncertain precipitation levels in Western Canada, and potentially volatile international energy prices. Based on our service levels, we are optimistic that our merchandise and intermodal revenues will outpace overall economic growth.”

Carloadings for the year increased nine per cent to 4,164 thousand.


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Burlington Northern & Santa Fe

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. directors voted on January 16 to pay a regular quarterly dividend of 12 cents per share on outstanding common stock.

Dividends on common stock will be paid April 1, 2003, to shareholders of record March 11, 2003. Common shares outstanding on December 31, 2002, totaled approximately 376 million.

The directors also authorized extending its current BNSF share repurchase program, adding 30 million shares to the total of 120 million shares previously authorized in equal amounts in July 1997, December 1999, April 2000 and September 2000.

BNSF has repurchased more than 116 million of the shares previously authorized. Common shares outstanding on December 31, 2002, totaled approximately 376 million.


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Kansas City Southern

The Kansas City Southern’s directors declared a regular quarterly dividend of 25 cents per share on the outstanding KCS preferred stock on January 17. The dividend is payable on April 1, 2003, to preferred stockholders of record at the close of business on March 10, 2003.

The directors also set the annual stockholder’s meeting to be held in Kansas City, Mo., on May 1. Stockholders of record as of March 3 will be entitled to notice of the meeting and to vote at such meeting.


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Intermodal remains strong, says AAR

Intermodal traffic on U.S. railroads registered a double-digit gain from a year ago during the week ended January 18, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported on Thursday (January 23).

Intermodal volume for the week totaled 186,564 trailers and containers, up 12.4 percent from the comparable 2002 week. Container traffic was up 18.3 percent, while trailer volume was off 2.8 percent.

Carload traffic, which doesn’t include the intermodal data, totaled 321,943 cars, 1.9 percent below the total for the comparable week last year. Carload volume was off 4.8 percent in the East but up 0.4 percent in the West. Total volume was estimated at 28.7 billion ton-miles, down 2.4 percent from 2002.

Sharp increases in comparison with last year were reported in loadings of farm products other than grain, up 42.3 percent; metallic ores, up 41.8 percent; metals, up 17.2 percent; and metallic ores, up 11.4 percent. Nine of 19 carload commodity groups were down in comparison with last year, with coal off 10.1 percent, nonmetallic minerals off 11.7 percent and grain down 6.4 percent.

The AAR also reported the following cumulative totals for U.S. railroads during the first three weeks of 2003: 923,415 carloads, up 1.9 percent from last year; intermodal volume of 499,940 trailers and containers, up 10.6 percent; and total volume of an estimated 81.6 billion ton-miles, up 1.5 percent from last year’s first three weeks.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 90 percent of U.S. carload freight and 96 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 96 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.

Intermodal freight was up but carload traffic was down on Canadian railroads during the week ended January 18. Intermodal traffic totaled 38,095 trailers and containers, up 13.0 percent from last year. Carload volume of 62,860 cars was down 2.5 percent from the comparable week last year.

Cumulative originations for the first three weeks of 2003 on the Canadian railroads totaled 171,196 carloads, down 2.3 percent from last year, and 108,901 trailers and containers, up 28.2 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first three weeks of 2003 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 1,094,611 carloads, up 1.3 percent from last year and 608,841 trailers and containers, up 11.9 percent from last year.

The AAR also reported that carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended January 18 totaled 8,976 cars originated, up 32.8 percent from last year. TFM reported originated intermodal volume of 3,982 trailers or containers, up 50.5 percent from the third week of 2002.

For the first three weeks of 2003, TFM reported cumulative volume of 24,516 cars, up 17.2 percent from last year, and 8,781 trailers or containers, up 34.6 percent.

The AAR is online at www.aar.org.


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LETTERS...

Dear Editor:

One sentence can best describe Amtrak’s year (fiscal 2003) and future:

“Thank God for David Gunn!”

John E. Humphrey
Knoxville, Tenn.


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MEETINGS...

February 9-11

APTA Legal Affairs Seminar

Savannah Marriott Riverfront
Savannah, Ga.

Contact: Kristen O’Grady, kogrady@apta.com


March 9-12

APTA Legislative Conference

JW Marriott Hotel
Washington, D.C.

Contact: Heather Rachels, hrachels@apta.com.


March 18, 19

Advanced Rail Management Connections
2003 Rail/Wheel Interface Seminar

Holiday Inn
O’Hare International Airport
Rosemont, Ill.

Contact: Brandon Koenig, coordinator@arm-seminars.com


April 28, 29

The National Corridors Initiative’s 2003 Conference

Rail Futures:
Building Secure and Successful Transit and Intercity Rail for America

The Washington Marriott, 1221 22nd St., N.W., Washington, D.C.

Keynote Speakers:
Hon. Gov. Tom Ridge, Secretary of Homeland Security (Invited)
Amtrak Board Chair John Robert Smith
Amtrak President and CEO David Gunn
Amtrak Board Vice-Chair Michael S. Dukakis
American Public Transportation Association President William Millar

Special Conference Session for Journalists and Industry:
The News Media and Transportation – “Making News”

$475 (corporate); $375 (government); $350 (non-profit, union)

Checks should be payable to NCI Inc., 35 Terminal Road, Suite 210, Providence RI. 02905

Arrange hotel accommodations at special low conference rates directly with the Washington Marriott 202-872-1500 fax 202-872-9899 and mention NCI.


Looking Ahead...

June 4-9

APTA International Rail Rodeo

San Jose, Calif.
Hotel to be announced

Contact Anitha Tharapatla, atharapatla@apta.com


June 8-12, 2003

APTA Rail Transit Conference

Fairmont Hotel
San Jose, Calif.

Contact Heather Rachels, hrachels@apta.com.


September 21-24 2004

Innotrans, Berlin, Germany

Convention and trade fair for railroaders and rail transit comprised of rail transit manufacturers, service providers, operators, consultants.

Contact: Björn Bieneck at berlin@exhibitpro.com

Innotrans, http://www.innotrans.de/ or http://www.exhibitpro.com


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THE WAY WE WERE...

2-6-0 steam in the snow

William and Jane Drury Collection

“Extra section following” is what the green flags are signaling at the front of the smokebox on New York, New Haven & Hartford 2-6-0 steam engine 453. How do we know they’re green flags? Because they are not white – and flags seldom got so uniformly dirty. White flags would indicate the train is an extra. Next question: Where was the photo snapped? Bill Drury’s wife, Jane, inherited 44 negatives and plates from Willis Parkhurst, and this is one of them. The Drurys live in Chelmsford, Mass. They don’t know when the photos were snapped, but we are guessing sometime before 1920.

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.

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

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

In an effort to expand the on-line experience at the National Corridors Initiative web site, we have added a page featuring links to other rail travel sites. We hope to provide links to those cities or states that are working on rail transportation initiatives - state DOTs, legislators, governor's offices, and transportation professionals - as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists.

If you have a favorite rail link, please send the uniform resource locator address (URL) to the webmaster in care of this web site. An e-mail link appears at the bottom of the NCI web site pages to get in touch with D. M. Kirkpatrick, NCI's webmaster in Boston.


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