Vol. 6 No. 5
January 31, 2005

Copyright © 2005
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

The E-Zine of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - Jim RePass      Editor - Leo King
Webmaster - Dennis Kirkpatrick

A weekly North American rail and transit update

For railroad professionals
Political leaders at all levels of government
Journalists from all media

* Now in our Sixth Year *

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

Los Angeles wreck


Two Metrolink commuter trains collided in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale, Calif., on Wednesday. Nine persons died, including an Amtrak conductor. The engineer is hospitalized. The NTSB is investigating.


11 die, including conductor,
in multi-train collisions in L.A.

*      *      *      *     

Demented man parks his Jeep Cherokee on tracks

By Leo King
Compiled from D:F sources, press reports

Prosecutors filed potential death penalty multiple murder charges Thursday against a Compton, Calif. man who allegedly caused two commuter trains to collide when he drove a vehicle onto rail tracks in a suicide attempt.

The criminal case moved forward against Juan Manuel Alvarez as police and forensics experts worked to gather evidence from a crime scene the length of several football fields and coroner’s investigators searched the tangled wreckage for any remaining body parts.

Alvarez was being held after his arraignment on suspicion of murder after he left his vehicle on the tracks near the Glendale, Calif. station. Eleven people died on two Metrolink commuter trains after the trains collided with his Jeep, jumped the rails, and then collided with each other and a parked Union Pacific work extra.

A man apparently intending to commit suicide parked his Jeep Grand Cherokee in the path of a Metrolink commuter train Wednesday morning, then jumped out of the way in time to watch a chain-reaction wreck that resulted in the deaths, and injured about 180.

The crash was the deadliest on a railroad in the U.S. since 1999. It morning quiet near Griffith Park with what witnesses described as the sound of scraping gravel followed by a sustained boom that shook the ground.

D:F has learned that at 6:03 a.m. PST, eastbound Metrolink train 100 struck the unoccupied Jeep Cherokee at milepost 6.4 on the Metrolink Valley Sub, just west of Glendale passenger station.

Train 100 was operating close to or at track speed, about 79 mph, in “push” mode with cab car 625 leading two coaches and engine 886. After striking vehicle, the train continued east and derailed.

Its cab car struck Union Pacific work train WGSPTD-18, a ballast train, on Glendale Slide siding. It hit UP engine 4323 so hard the diesel was flipped onto its side.

Train 100 then jackknifed into the side of westbound Metrolink train 901 in “pull” mode with Metrolink engine 873, two coaches and cab car 623. It had just departed Glendale station and was traveling at about 45 mph.

The nearest grade crossing is Chevy Chase Road, protected by gates, cross-bucks, flashers and bells, and the authorized track speed is 79 mph.

The derailment resulted in 11 fatalities, including an Amtrak conductor in Metrolink service. The other Amtrak employee, on train 100 was its engineer, who was injured and transported to Glendale Memorial Hospital.

Amtrak president and CEO said Amtrak conductor Thomas Ormiston “was one of our employees aboard Metrolink train 901,” and he died in the wreck. Ormiston had been with Amtrak since 1992.

Each train is crewed by an Amtrak engineer and conductor.

The engineer aboard train 100, Bruce Gray, “sustained injuries and has been hospitalized,” Gunn said.

Gunn told employees company-wide in a fax, “A catastrophe of this scale is very distressing, particularly when we have lost one of our family. It affects all of us and as we mourn the passing of Conductor Ormiston, our thoughts are with his family.”

Gunn said, “Our thoughts are also with the families of our employee in the hospital and with the families of the deceased and injured passengers.”

Metrolink consists

Train 100
Cab car 625
Coaches 133,197
Engine F-59PHI 886

Train 901
Engine F-59PH 873
Coaches 177, 148
Cab car 623

“Before I knew it, there was a big, big bang. I looked out the window and saw fire,” said Teresa Alderete, 50, of Reseda, a commuter whose coach was transformed in an instant into a nightmare of flying bodies, torn metal and shattered glass.

“I was one of the fortunate ones to walk out,” she told The Los Angeles Times.

Officials said the carnage was caused by a despondent man, Juan Manuel Alvarez, 25, who parked his green Jeep Grand Cherokee on the tracks that run along the border of Glendale and the Los Angeles neighborhood of Atwater Village. As Metrolink’s regular commuter train No. 100 from Moorpark to Union Station bore down on him just after 6 a.m., Alvarez leaped from the vehicle, Glendale Police Chief Randy Adams said. He was arrested at the scene and, after being taken to County-USC Medical Center, was booked on suspicion of murder

“It was almost like a perfect storm of an accident,” said Mary Travis, who oversees rail programs, including Metrolink, for the Ventura County Transportation Commission.

“The timing of those three trains being at the same spot at the same time is just too horrible.”

The crash renewed long-standing questions about rail safety in Southern California, where commuter lines share tracks with busy freight systems and intersect frequently with parts of the nation’s most extensive urban road network.

Passengers aboard the Metrolink trains described how the roar of the crash gave way to isolated moans; the chaos of flying bodies and briefcases was followed by a stunned determination to survive. There was little panic, and those who were able helped those who were not.

“Most of the people in my car were fairly calm,” said David McAfee, 50, an architect who works in downtown Los Angeles. “We gathered our thoughts and someone shouted to get us off the train.”

At a makeshift triage center established in an adjacent Costco parking lot and, later, at a community room at the Glendale Police Department, anxious relatives waited for news of the missing.

Throughout the day, the families huddled around tables, speaking quietly with counselors and watching endless reports of the crash on a big-screen television. Periodically, police would enter to deliver the news that another body had been found.

There was no precise count by Wednesday night of the number of passengers aboard the two passenger trains, but Metrolink spokesman Francisco Oaxaca said the southbound train from Moorpark typically carried 200 to 250 people, and the northbound train carried about 30 to 50.

More than 120 people were taken to 14 hospitals, officials said. An undetermined number of others were treated at the scene or sought medical help on their own. As of Wednesday night, at least four people remained missing as rescue crews continued to search the wreckage, some of which burned after the crash.

Torn and twisted wreckage, yards from the Costco store on Los Feliz Boulevard, showed the force of the collision. The southbound Metrolink train had split into a mangled V, its passenger compartments ripped open in a tangle of roughly sheared metal.

About 20 yards from the trains lay a wheel and axle, believed to be from the sport utility vehicle that caused the wreck.

Emergency exit panels, seat covers and bloody paper towels were strewn next to the coaches, as were a jacket and backpack left behind by fleeing passengers.

Within minutes, rescuers, initially, Costco workers, then firefighters and police from Glendale, Los Angeles and elsewhere, were helping pull the dazed, injured and dead from the wreckage.

In one car, firefighters said, they found an injured man who had written a message in blood on a piece of metal under his seat. It read: “I (heart) my kids. (heart) Leslie.”

The man, whom officials did not identify, was rescued and taken to a hospital.

Alvarez could face separate charges under a law that makes derailing a train a federal crime. If the derailment results in fatal injuries, that law also provides for execution or life in prison without parole.

Wednesday’s crash was the third fatal Metrolink crash in less than three years, and it brought fresh urgency to calls for costly projects that would put rails below or above roadways.

It also raised questions about Metrolink’s practice – a common one among commuter railroads – of running trains is push-pull mode.

Russ Francis, 48, of Simi Valley, who has been taking the train several times a month, said he follows a personal safety plan he devised for train travel.

“I always sit in the second-to-the-last car from the back,” he said. “I figured that you don’t want to be in the front car if you get in a wreck, and you don’t want to be in the very last car because of the whip.”

Suddenly, the train jumped.

“It was scary. I thought we either hit a car or ran over something really big on the tracks,” he said.

For about 10 seconds, the scraping, screeching sound intensified. “It got faster and faster, louder and louder,” then the lights went out and there was more screeching.

Fearing an impact, Francis grabbed a nearby pole and braced a foot against the side of the car.

“Then we started hearing heavy metal,” he said. “The metal sounded like it was being ripped around.”

“I realized we were done, we were crashing.”

The impact was strong and quick. And immediately following, silence. Francis looked around and saw passengers lying on the floor, eyeglasses strewn about. In the darkness he could make out a bloody forehead and a bloody neck.

The next-to-last car did not overturn.

Francis grabbed his rolling suitcase and started to make his way toward the door, watching a woman trying to help a man off the train.

“We’ve got to get out of this train right now,” he remembered telling the couple. He estimated that it took him 10 seconds to get out of the car.

Outside, he trekked up to the first car and found a man in a uniform shirt lying on the ground. He reached out and grabbed his hand to help him, but the injured man fell back, unable to move.

Nearby, Francis saw another severely injured man lying on the ground, wearing what appeared to be a uniform jacket. His face was like “a hood of blood. It looked like a shell where his head should have been. He had no face.”

By noon Wednesday, The National Transportation Safety Board had launched a “Go-Team” to investigate the collision. Ted Turpin is the Investigator-in-Charge of the NTSB team.

Commuter Charles Hobbs told D:F he “usually rides the Metrolink Ventura Line between Chatsworth and L.A., most workdays.

He said he “usually take the third train of the day. The one that crashed was the first train.

After his family called him he turned on the TV “and watched the coverage. Indescribable. I watched until about 9:30 or so, then I drove in to work.”

On Thursday, he “drove to the Chatsworth station to find the parking lot nearly empty (it is ordinary quite full, and in fact was recently expanded to accommodate more passengers). He added, “The train arrived at its scheduled time, but there were very few people aboard. We picked up a few more passengers in Northridge and Van Nuys, but all had to get off at Burbank, as a bus bridge was being provided between Burbank and Glendale stations in order to get around the crash site.”

The MTA buses were routed on I-5 between the two stations.

“At Glendale, two trains (an Amtrak Surfliner set and a Metrolink set were providing shuttle service to and from Union Station every 30 minutes. We got into Union Station about 30 minutes later than normal, due to the bus bridge and transfer.”

While on board, he talked with a fellow commuter “who I see on the train quite often. He asked me if I knew a certain person who also rides the train. Upon hearing the name I said “Only vaguely.” I was then told that he was one of the fatalities.”

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UP reopens West lines, slow speeds;
New England rails still digging out

Union Pacific Corp. reopened the last of its rail lines that were closed by storms in California and Nevada on January 24.

The California Coast Line and Nevada’s Caliente line were the last of five lines to reopen after snow and rain damaged the tracks nearly two weeks ago. Traffic will not resume at track speed, however, The AP reported.

UP stated it plans to phase in Amtrak and Metrolink passenger train speeds in the Oxnard-Santa Barbara-San Luis Obispo area. The track is open, but more work, such as clearing mud and replacing ties, is needed before the line can fully accommodate passenger train service, UP officials said.

Commuter operations resumed last week between Los Angeles and Oxnard, and passenger train service between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles should be possible by February 8. Full restoration between Los Angeles and Oakland was expected by February 28.

The rail line in Nevada will be limited to about 15 freight trains each day for about a week before opening to its full capacity of up to 30 trains per day.

Damage from the storms and lost income could cost the railroad more than $200 million, though some of that will be recouped from insurance, Union Pacific officials said.

In New England, a weeklong cold snap and a weekend blizzard brought a sudden reversal of what had been shaping up to be a wimpy winter, once again fulfilling Mark Twain’s observation about New England‘s fickle weather.

Any talk of this being a sub-par winter among New Englanders accustomed to heavy snow and bone-chilling cold ended over the January 23, 24 weekend.

Some schools were closed Monday and many were still digging out after more than a foot of snow fell across southern Maine and New Hampshire. Hundreds of motorists needed help getting cars started Monday because of frigid temperatures.

Most folks seemed to take the weather in stride.

“I personally love storms like this. If it‘s going to snow, let it snow,” said Dave Melendez, a member of Portland Public Works‘ snow-removal operation, who‘ll be working the overnight shift removing huge snowbanks all week.

Before the storm, Maine’s largest city was 8.4 inches below average for snowfall. Afterward, Portland was nearly a foot of snow greater than normal, with a total of 44.3 inches after a blizzard left behind 15 inches.

The temperature swing was similarly dramatic. The average temperature was nearly 7 degrees above normal through January 14, when the mercury hit a balmy 53 degrees. Since, the mercury has plummeted to below normal average temperatures.

“We‘re back to a more normal winter pattern,“ said Tom Hawley, meteorologist from the National Weather Service office in Gray.

By Monday Amtrak’s Downeaster and regional bus services returned to normal, and flights were resuming. AAA responded to more than 1,600 service calls, mostly from motorists needing jump-starts Monday morning, in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

The New Hampshire Department of Transportation estimated that the weekend blizzard carried a price tag of $36,000 per hour at the height of the storm.

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Istook loses subcommittee post

Oklahoma Rep. Ernest Istook, an “arch enemy” of Amtrak, is about to lose his powerful position on the House Appropriations Committee and the ability to steer millions of extra dollars to Oklahoma transportation projects, the solon said Thursday.

GOP Istook, who had been one of the 13 Appropriations subcommittee chairmen for the last six years, was an odd man out in a reorganization that whittled the number of subcommittees from 13 to 10.

“It appears that, as a result of reorganization, I will not be chairing a subcommittee this session,” Istook said in an interview with The Oklahoman last week.

“Certainly I expect to be back as a chairman in the not-so-distant future.”

Appropriations subcommittee chairmen have the lofty nickname of “cardinals” and exercise great influence over spending in their particular area. In the last Congress, Istook was chairman of the subcommittee that handled transportation issues.

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CSX trackwork to affect Sunset

CSX Transportation plans to perform maintenance on tracks it owns between Jacksonville, Fla. and New Orleans between February 1 and May 20, according to Amtrak, so it will affect Amtrak’s Sunset Limited.

“This maintenance requires a temporary shift in scheduling for Amtrak’s Sunset Limited, train Nos. 1 and 2, which operates three times a week each way between Orlando and Los Angeles. The change affects one eastbound and one westbound trip each week.

Westward No. 1, which originates in Orlando on Thursdays, will instead originate in New Orleans on Fridays from February 4 to May 20. Passengers will have the option of bus transportation between Orlando and New Orleans from February 3 to March 3. No alternate transportation will be provided thereafter.

Eastbound No. 2 from Los Angeles to Orlando on Wednesdays, will instead terminate in New Orleans on Tuesdays from February 1 to May 17.

Buses will be provided between New Orleans and Orlando from February 1 to March 1, and no alternate transportation will be provided thereafter.

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Worn switches blamed for DC derailment

Amtrak said a train derailment north of Union Station in Washington last week was caused by two worn-out switches. Railroad spokesman Cliff Black the repairs forced Amtrak and other rail services – like MARC – to use a single track in the area, which caused major delays.

Two cars of an Amtrak train headed from Washington to New York left the tracks on January17. No one was hurt.

Delays for travel between Washington, New York and Boston also were caused by the weekend’s snowstorm along the East Coast.

Out West, wrote Amtrak CEO David L. Gunn on January 24 to Amtrak employees, the storm damage to the Union Pacific Railroad in parts of Colorado and California were extensive, forcing the temporary suspension of parts of the California Zephyr, Coast Starlight and Pacific Surfliner services.

“That’s had a lot of fallout for T and E crews, on-board services crews, and station employees, as service was stopped and stations closed. While the UP has been working hard to fix the damage, this has forced the emergency annulment of many positions.”

In short, a number of employees found themselves without a job.

Gunn offered that “Employees whose positions were annulled have had the opportunity to exercise their seniority in other positions, attend current block training classes, or take vacation to mitigate their loss of income during this time.”

At Amtrak, as on all railroads, employees get paid vacations.

“As things stand now,” Gunn continued, “we expect to fully restore service on the California Zephyr on January 28 and 29” – Thursday and Friday last.

He said he expected people to be able to return to their regular jobs after the repairs are completed and the trains start rolling again.

“I hope that this will pan out, but I’m concerned about all of the congestion on the UP right now. Last week, there were 36 UP trains without crews on the route, and headway on clearing the congestion has been slow at best.”

He said the outlook for the Pacific Surfliner and Coast Starlight is less bright.

“According to [the January 23] Centralized National Operations Center ‘Flash Report,’ the UP is telling us that they expect to restore the tracks between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara by February 8 and restore the tracks between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo by February 28. That’s a long time from now and we are pushing them to complete the work quicker, but again, the damage is severe.”

Gunn declared, “The disruption to these three services has cost us more than $4 million in lost ticket revenue and that total is going to climb higher.”

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Elizabethtown station clears hurdle

The $2.2 million Elizabethtown train station renovation project has cleared another significant hurdle. Amtrak has reviewed the borough’s engineering plans and issued a small number of comments on the proposal that must be addressed.

“It is extremely important,“ Peter Whipple, Elizabethtown Borough manger, said. “We have been looking forward to this next step for nearly two years.”

The project includes renovating and remodeling the station‘s interior, improving parking and repairing the decaying platform.

Eventually a visitor’s center, shops, or a restaurant or other accommodations may be added.

The borough has budgeted $400,000 for the project and secured financing from other organizations including $465,000 from Corridor One and more than $1 million from PennDOT.

Whipple told the borough council two weeks ago that DPK&A, Elizabethtown‘s architect for the project, would meet with Amtrak soon to discuss the comments and attempt to find a resolution. Such meetings are routine for projects like this, he added. Whipple could not estimate how long the process would take or when renovations might begin.

“They are engineering issues and not some of the side issues that we have been delayed with over time,” he said.

Those side issues have long been a source of frustration for Elizabethtown officials. In 2003, the borough tried to jump-start the project by offering to reimburse the financially struggling passenger rail carrier up to $15,000 to review the train station plans. Without Amtrak‘s approval the project could not move forward.

Several months passed before a final reimbursement agreement was signed, but a dispute arose between DPK&A and Amtrak over legal language concerning liability protection during construction at the site which further delayed the project.

Having Amtrak review the plans is a significant victory for the borough and could signal a much smoother ride ahead for the ambitious project. However, even after the engineering concerns are resolved, there could be more challenges. The Pennsylvania DOT and Corridor One, both significant financial partners in the project, will review the plan.

Norfolk Southern’s approval is also necessary.

“I‘m still cautiously optimistic, but this is a major, major step in this process,“ Whipple said. “We have been waiting for this for some time.”

Elizabethtown‘s train station has been closed for 30 years, but the platform remains in use and serves an estimated 38,000 passengers each year. In 1998, the borough began looking into plans to reopen the station, which it believes could be useful to commuters, college students, visitors to Masonic Village and spark an economic revitalization of the western end of town.

The borough views the train station as a critical link in an effort to extend the downtown business district along West High Street to create a mix of homes, businesses and industrial sites. The Elizabethtown Economic Development Corporation is expected to announce details of that proposal in the coming weeks.

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Hall, Sosa names sent to Senate

The White House reported last week two Amtrak board nominees’ names have been forwarded to the Senate for confirmation. They are Floyd Hall, of New Jersey, to be a Member of the Reform Board (Amtrak) for a term of five years, replacing Amy M. Rosen, who’s term expired.

Enrique J. Sosa, of Florida, also for five years, replacing former Virginia Gov. Linwood Holton. His term also expired.

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Amtrak income down, ridership up

Amtrak earned $17.5 million less that it expected in December, yet ridership was up, and expenditures were improved. Figures from the carrier showed its total operating revenue for the month brought in $468.2 million, but it had planned on earning $485.7 million.

Riders totaled 6,500,154 but the carrier had planned on 6.5 million.

Its total operating expenses came to $762.1 million but had budgeted for $758.7 million.

Timekeeping remains off the mark. Amtrak’s system goal is 85.0 percent, but it only achieved 72.6 percent.

In the safety department, its reportable injury ratio was 2.9 with a goal of 3.3.

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Railroads offer to help rebuild
in countries devastated by tsunami

North America’s railroads have offered to assemble a team of experts to travel to South Asia to help rebuild critical rail lines that were destroyed by the tsunami that hit that region on December 26, reports the AAR.

According to recent press reports, medical supplies, food and other humanitarian relief are being delivered by helicopter because roads, bridges and railways have been washed out. Many aid agencies and charitable organizations are having problems distributing aid to the affected regions because of the lack of infrastructure.

“The tsunami decimated the countries’ infrastructure,” said Edward R. Hamberger, AAR president and CEO.

“Recognizing the importance of that infrastructure in delivering aid to the tsunami victims, America’s railroads want to assist in this effort to rebuild.”

In a letter to USDOT Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, Hamberger said the railroad industry is “prepared to recruit and support a multidisciplinary team of experts in rail infrastructure to travel to South Asia to help rebuild the all-important railroad lines in the affected areas.”

DOT is part of an inter-agency group working to assess needs and direct U.S. reconstruction assistance in the tsunami-impacted region.

“Assistance from groups like the AAR will be a crucial element of the U.S. reconstruction effort,” wrote Mineta in a January 27 letter.

“To that end, the State Department, working with the U.S Agency for International Development, has been assembling a list of private sector entities that have expressed a willingness to assist and their capabilities. We will ensure that the AAR is included on that list, and will be in touch as specific reconstruction priorities are identified.

“On behalf of the Administration, let me thank you and the railroad industry for your generous offer.”

Hamberger said that the rail industry effort could be led by experts from the Transportation Technology Center, Inc., (TTCI) an AAR subsidiary that operates a world-renowned research and test facility in Pueblo, Colo. TTCI has conducted substantial amounts of research and testing for railroads throughout the world.

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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

NJT fare hike proposal draws ire

The writer is a New Jersey resident, and raised the objections he writes about. Alan adds, “I have disclosed my affiliations identifying me as a rider advocate, and I have not quoted myself or anyone else speaking for the Lackawanna Coalition. The one member of the coalition who is quoted, Al Papp, spoke in his individual capacity.” – Ed.

By David Peter Alan
Special to Destination:Freedom

New Jersey Transit’s current proposal to increase fares has drawn criticism from advocacy groups representing rail riders in the state.

The plan, unveiled at the January 26 NJT board meeting by Executive Director George D. Warrington, calls for an average increase of 13.3 percent for rail and bus fares, with an increase of 32 percent to 34 percent in the price of off-peak round trip rail tickets.

Warrington claimed that the fare increase is necessary, citing rising costs for fuel, employee health benefits and security. He said that many more trains are being operated now than had been three years ago, when fares were last increased. The fare increase plan does not call for any service cuts.

The proposal comes at a critical time for New Jersey’s transportation system. The Transportation Trust Fund, which funds highway projects and much of NJT’s capital budget, will run out of money at the end of June. After that time, there will be no money available for new rail or road projects. All revenue from the motor fuels tax will be needed for debt service on existing obligations.

A commission appointed by then-Gov. James E. McGreevey recommended an increase of 12.5 cents per gallon in the state’s Motor Fuels Tax to keep the TTF alive, but neither the legislature nor acting Gov. Richard J. Codey has endorsed a gasoline tax increase. New Jersey’s gas tax is the fourth lowest in the nation, and has not been increased since 1988. NJT has raised fares twice since that time.

The fare increase proposal drew immediate criticism from representatives of the New Jersey Assn. of Railroad Passengers, and the Lackawanna Coalition. Douglas John Bowen, President NJARP, called for dedicated funding for NJT to keep transit running smoothly and avoid service cuts. “You don’t shrink your way to greatness” he said.

“We face the same challenge that Amtrak supporters face in Washington,” said Albert L. Papp, Jr., Secretary of the National Association of Railroad Passengers and an officer in NJARP and the Lackawanna Coalition.

“We need stable, secure and adequate funding for both the capital and operating sides of the transit budget, and we have to challenge the legislature and the governor to enact a balanced transportation policy. Keeping the motor fuels tax so low that our infrastructure will start to fall apart and depriving NJT of the money that they need to provide necessary services for their riders is no way to build a transportation system for the 21st Century,” he added.

Rider advocates particularly criticized the proposal to raise transit fares without a proposal from Trenton, the state capital, for a commensurate increase in revenue from motorists.

“A fare increase is a tax increase” stated William R. Wright, a retired railroad executive who is active with NJARP, the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition and two of NJT’s advisory committees. Wright continued, “We’re always subsidizing automobile use, even in our real estate taxes. Raising our fares while the motorists get such a cheap ride will just drive people off the trains and onto the highways.”

The specific proposal that drew the sharpest criticism was a reduction of the discount for off-peak travel, traditionally 25 percent and slated to be cut in half. This will result in an increase of 32 percent for off-peak round-trip fares if peak-hour and commutation fares are raised by 13.3 percent. A 15 percent increase in base fares will raise off-peak fares by 34 percent.

Rider advocates claim that this change will be unfair to discretionary riders and drive many of them either onto peak-hour trains or onto the highways, exactly the result that NJT wants to prevent. Under the proposal, the new off-peak fares will be essentially equal to the current peak-hour fares.

Papp, a former vice-president for research specializing in energy for a Wall Street firm, called the proposed jump in off-peak fares “counterproductive” in light of decreasing petroleum reserves, increasing environmental degradation, and a steady rise in highway congestion. “You can’t build your way out of road congestion with even more highways” Papp said.

Hearings are scheduled at several locations around the state during February. The NJT Board is scheduled to take formal action on the proposal at its April meeting, and the fare increases would go into effect on July 1.

NJT says it is accepting written comments on the proposal. Their address is Public Hearing Office, Fare Proposal Comments, New Jersey Transit, 1 Penn Plaza East, Newark, N.J. 07105, or e-mail transitfares@njtransit.com or NJT’s regular web site, www.njtransit.com. All written comments must be received by midnight, February 26.

David Peter Alan is a member of New Jersey Transit’s Citizens’ Advisory Committee (Local Programs) and Chair of the Lackawanna Coalition. He lives and practices law in South Orange, New Jersey.

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Phoenix prepares for light rail

Transportation authorities in Phoenix signed an agreement on January 24 to free up $587 million in federal money for a light rail system they hope will better connect the sprawling metropolitan area.

“This city is strangling on its congestion. For it to not plan ahead on something that is not focused on the automobile would be fool-hearted,” Federal Transit Administrator Jennifer Dorn said after signing the agreement with the mayors of Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa and Glendale.

Street construction on a segment of track near the border of Tempe and Phoenix is set to begin by the end of February. A train will run on about a mile of test track by next spring.

A starter segment that was initially set to open at the end 2006 is now scheduled to open in December 2008.

In 2000, Phoenix passed a four-tenths of a percent sales tax for a transit plan that included bus service improvements and light rail. The initial 20-mile arterial route will cost $1.3 billion, about half of which comes from the federal government.

The route will start in north Phoenix, go south into downtown, then head east past the airport and through downtown Tempe, ending about a mile into suburban Mesa.

An extension of the line is planned for 2012.

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Hearing awaits alternate station idea

The Pawtucket, R.I. mayor is threatening to veto an ordinance that would pave the way to demolish the existing but unused Pawtucket-Central Falls station and constructing a small shopping plaza on the property.

Mayor James E. Doyle said he would exercise his veto power if the City Council gives the ordinance second passage without hearing a competing proposal to preserve the station and restore commuter rail service to the site – but a veto may not be necessary.

Three tracks run under the elevated station, which is at street level.

City Council President Donald R. Grebien, who voted with four other council members a fortnight ago to give first passage to the ordinance, said he would support a motion to table it when it comes up for second passage on February 9.

The ordinance is controversial because it would allow the mother of a city councilor to sell the 90-year-old station to a developer planning to demolish the building and build a strip mall.

The ordinance would do that by changing the zoning on part of the train station property from residential to commercial, one of the conditions of the sale.

Jean Vitali, mother of newly elected City Councilor Albert J. Vitali Jr., has an agreement to sell the train station to developer Oscar W. Seelbinder for $1.4 million.

Vitali recused himself from the deliberations when the council took up the proposed zoning change and didn’t cast a vote.

Five other city councilors, including Grebien, who was elected council president after Vitali decided to support his candidacy, voted in favor of the zoning change. Grebien said yesterday he was still in favor of the change.

People who watched or attended the council meeting where it received first passage got the wrong impression, he said, concluding that he and Councilors David P. Moran, David Clemente, Robert E. Carr and Paul J. Wildenhain were fast-tracking the station deal and giving the competing proposal short shrift.

Grebien said he hopes to correct that impression by voting to table the zoning change until the council has conducted a hearing on the competing proposal next month.

The competing proposal, which is being put forth by the Pawtucket Foundation, involves soliciting proposals for redeveloping what would be a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority station after acquiring the property by eminent domain.

The competing proposal is popular with preservationists and the city’s burgeoning downtown arts community because it would preserve the Beaux Arts station building and give priority to restoring commuter rail.

Seelbinder, a Memphis, Tenn., developer, plans to build a mall containing a pharmacy, clothing store and auto parts store on the train station property, then explore the possibility of restoring commuter rail service in the low income neighborhood.

No trains have stopped at the station since the early 1970s, when the Penn Central Railroad went bankrupt and the station building was sold.

Moran and Carr said they would support Grebien’s plan to table the zoning ordinance, in effect reversing the position they took at last week’s council meeting, when speaker after speaker urged them to table the matter until the Pawtucket Foundation proposal was heard.

Wildenhain, the other council member who voted in favor of the zoning change, sounded surprised that there was a move afoot to table the ordinance.

“There is? Well, why didn’t we table it the first time?” he asked in a telephone interview with the Providence Journal.

“The logic behind that – if there is any logic – is to give the other people a chance to present their case.”

Wildenhain said proponents of the Pawtucket Foundation plan had a chance. They testified at length about the plan at last week’s public hearing, he said, and didn’t persuade him. Wildenhain said he still believes that acquiring the train station by eminent domain would be the wrong strategy.

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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.

Severe Weather, Mudslides Challenge Transit Systems in the West

Public transportation systems in southern California, from Santa Barbara to San Diego and Reno, Nev., spent the first two weeks of the new year coping with a succession of storms that rolled off the Pacific Ocean, flooding roads, blocking rail lines, causing landslides, and bringing overwhelming amounts of snow.

The southern California flooding began on December 28, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported the highest single-day rainfall ever seen in December in Los Angeles: 5.05 inches. When the final storm moved through the city 15 days later, the city reported a total of 17 inches of rain, marking its wettest period since the beginning of record keeping in 1877. For comparison, NOAA reported that the average annual rainfall in Los Angeles, from 1977 through 2000, was 6.57 inches.

On January 10, a landslide blocked Highway 101 in the town of La Conchita, between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, halting buses and Amtrak trains along the coast. The only alternate route for motorists to get around the landslide area was a seven-hour trek through the mountains, according to an employee of a sightseeing boat company in the area.

As the storms continued to move eastward, they dumped 71 inches of snow in the valley around Reno and 19 feet of snow on the surrounding mountains over 11 days. The storm buried more than 1,100 Citifare bus stops around the 102-square-mile service area of the Regional Transportation Commission in Reno.

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Agreement Reached on Extending Sound Transit’s Light Rail to Airport

Sound Transit, the Port of Seattle, and the city of SeaTac recently announced a plan to extend light rail service directly to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport by December 2009.

The plan locates the Central Link light rail airport station on the fourth level of the existing airport parking garage, with an elevated walkway to International Boulevard and a pedestrian connection to the airport’s ticket counters.

Sound Transit Board Chair John Ladenburg said the extension can be financed with existing revenues, and the connection will be completed before for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

The plan also includes accelerated construction of new roadways to enhance airport vehicle access and make way for the airport’s continued expansion.

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Community Transit Opens Lake Stevens Transit Center

Community Transit in Snohomish County, Wash., recently opened its first transit center in eastern Snohomish County, in Lake Stevens.

Commuter service to downtown Seattle immediately began operating from the center with four round-trips each weekday. In mid-February, local service connecting Lake Stevens with Everett, Granite Falls, Marysville, and Quil Ceda Village will be added. Those local routes currently serve stops within a few blocks of the transit center.

The $4.5 million project is an important part of Community Transit’s effort to expand service in the Lake Stevens and east Snohomish County area, said Community Transit Board Chair Cathy Reese. She added, “This facility is great for people who use Community Transit, because it will be a comfortable, convenient place to transfer or catch a bus.”

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U.S. Postal Service Introduces Commuter Benefit for Employees

The U.S. Postal Service has introduced a commuter benefit program for its entire career workforce, working with WageWorks. Under the program, USPS employees can save up to 40 percent on commuting costs by paying for public transportation, parking, and vanpool expenses with pre-tax income.

More than 700,000 USPS career employees across the country will be eligible to participate in the program when the phased implementation is completed. The Postal Service is one of the largest employers in the U.S., operating at the center of the $900 billion mailing industry, with $69 billion in revenue in Fiscal Year 2004.

The WageWorks program will be provided through an interagency agreement with USDOT. The company already provides commuter benefits to government clients including the city of Philadelphia, the Smithsonian Institution, and the states of New York, Ohio, and Illinois.

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Monroe to Stay On as Pierce Transit CEO

Pierce Transit in Lakewood, Wash., has announced that Don S. Monroe has agreed to remain as CEO until early 2006. Monroe, who has headed the system since 1981, earlier had announced his plans to retire by the end of 2004.

Monroe agreed to stay after Peter Sklannik, selected for the CEO position by the Pierce Transit board, withdrew his candidacy on January 18. Sklannik reportedly plans to stay with his current employer, Trinity Railway Express commuter rail in Dallas-Fort Worth, as its operations chief.

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Kingsberry Heads DART First State on Interim Basis

Stephen B. Kingsberry has been named acting director of DART First State in Dover, Del., following the departure of Raymond Miller to head the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority in Tampa, Fla.

Kingsberry has served since 1999 as director of development with the Delaware Transit Corp.

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Cubic Acquires Parking Assets of Lexis Systems, Forms New Company

Cubic Corp. has acquired the assets of Lexis Systems, a Vancouver-based provider of revenue collection systems for parking and public transportation. The acquisition includes intellectual property, technology, the complete product line and software suite, inventory, and the Vancouver-based operations.

The assets from Lexis Systems, together with the recently acquired Traf-Park, will comprise a new business unit for Cubic Transportation Systems, called Cubic Parking Systems. The company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Cubic Corp., headquartered in Vancouver with regional offices in Montreal, Toronto, Nashville, and San Diego.

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Weed Selected GM at Clallam Transit

The Clallam Transit System in Port Angeles, Wash., has appointed longtime system employee Terry G. Weed as its new general manager, effective January 1.

Weed has worked for Clallam Transit for 24 years, since its creation, and has served as its operations manager for the past two decades. He succeeds Daniel A. Di Guilio, who retired December 31 after a career of 30 years in public transportation.

Weed joined Clallam Transit as a dispatcher on September 8, 1980, when, as he said, “it was basically a two-bus fleet.” Earlier, he had worked in commercial radio in Seattle and Port Angeles, including the news director’s post for radio station KONP-AM. He is a graduate of the Univ. of Washington in Seattle, and served four years in the U.S. Air Force.

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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

Schumer writing rail legislation

Asserting that Rochester, N.Y.-area residents are endangered by two separate railroad problems, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said last week that he was submitting legislation to beef up federal regulation of railroads.

“The FRA... right now has the power of a wet noodle,” Schumer said at a news conference held amid frigid, snowy conditions at a CSX railroad crossing on Monroe Avenue in Pittsford, N.Y. on January 25.

Sen. Charles Schumer

Rochester Democrat & Chronicle

Sen. Charles Schumer
The New York Democrat said he would introduce legislation that would bolster the FRA’s power by toughening regulations, increasing its ability to fine railroads and doubling the number of FRA inspectors.

Schumer’s focus was on two seemingly disparate areas – the shipment of hazardous materials by rail and the safety of railroad crossings. To bolster his case he noted a number of accidents, including the December 2001 derailment of a CSX freight train in Charlotte as well as the deaths of a Henrietta couple nearly a year ago at the CSX crossing on South Winton Road.

“They all have the same root – and that is, we don’t regulate our railroads strongly enough. I hate to say it, but railroads get away with murder,” Schumer said.

Schumer said people across New York State, including tens of thousands in the Rochester area, are threatened by the shipment of hazardous cargo on local rail lines. He said that 1 million tons of chemicals and other hazardous cargo pass through this region each year. Schumer noted the January 10 derailment of a tanker carrying chlorine in a small town in South Carolina, an accident that killed nine people and sent 250 to hospitals.

“Imagine if it had occurred right here in Pittsford” or in another, more populous area, Schumer said.

The senator said half of the 60,000 rail tank cars that carry hazardous materials predate current federal rules and should no longer be used. He said his legislation would require the use of newer tank cars that are more crash resistant.

His bill would require railroads to install automated switches on all tracks. The failure of a crewmember to throw a manually operated switch on a track siding has been implicated in the Graniteville, S.C., accident.

About 40 percent of switches nationwide are hand-operated, he said.

Schumer said his measures, which would be phased in over five years, would cost railroads several hundred million dollars.

He also wants to increase FRA inspection of hazardous shipments, and increase the maximum fine that the agency is allowed to levy in relation to hazardous materials violations.

CSX, the nation’s third-largest freight railroad and the dominant carrier in the Rochester region, hauls hazardous cargo on rail lines that traverse Monroe County, as well as on a spur that runs to Kodak Park and then to Charlotte. It was a train hauling coal and three tank cars of toxic solvents to Kodak Park that rolled out of control and derailed in Charlotte in December 2001, causing a huge fire and contamination of soil and water.

CSX spokeswoman Jane Covington said she could not comment on the quantity of hazardous shipments here, or their frequency, for security reasons.

“We do share that type of information with agencies that need to know. It’s not something that we share publicly,” she said.

Two smaller railroads ,the Rochester & Southern and the Livonia, Avon & Lakeville, also carry some hazardous shipments in the region, according to the companies’ web sites.

Covington noted that chemical shipping companies, not CSX, own the tank cars used to transport hazardous cargo. Railroads are legally obligated to move the cargo as long as the shippers meet federal rules, she said.

There were 12 train accidents involving suspected hazardous shipments in New York State in January through October 2004, according to FRA data. No hazardous materials leaked in those accidents, but evacuation was ordered in just one case.

Schumer also said he intended to upgrade FRA enforcement in the area of railroad crossings.

His legislation would double the number of FRA inspectors, from 400 to 800, he said, and would give the FRA broadened power to investigate and prosecute railroads that chronically violate rules. He also wants to give the FRA the ability to impose larger fines, including discretion to seek million-dollar penalties if needed.

As the Democrat and Chronicle reported a month earlier, only about three percent of all FRA inspections in 2003 focused on rail-crossing regulations, and the average fine per violation in recent years was $2,133. The maximum possible penalty for most violations now is $11,000.

Steve Kulm, a spokesman for the FRA, said the agency had received a letter from Schumer about his concerns and would respond directly to him.

Kulm said that over the last four years, the FRA has increased the number of inspectors by 12 percent, the number of inspections by 33 percent and the fines collected by 141 percent. This year’s federal budget includes funding for 17 more inspectors, Kulm said.

“In a general sense, the FRA has been involved in improving rail safety for the last 30 years, and we’ve had great success.”

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Some CSX Chicago whistles go silent

CSX has issued an operational bulletin instructing train crews to discontinue regular locomotive horn use from 99th Street in Chicago to 87th Street in Evergreen Park. Crews will continue to sound horns in the presence of maintenance workers and if emergency conditions exist.

The company issued the instruction on Thursday.

The railroad finished construction and pre-operational safety monitoring of the final three railroad crossings within CSX’s “Quiet Zone” last week.

As part of establishing this quiet zone, new median barriers were installed at 95th Street and 87th Street, and four-quadrant gates were installed at 91st Street in Evergreen Park. In addition, one private crossing was closed and one relocated to accommodate safety regulations, the railroad stated in a press release from its Jacksonville, Fla. headquarters.

In September 2004, CSX began operating under quiet zone conditions from Chicago’s 123rd Street to 103rd Street. The total quiet zone extends for approximately four miles over 14 crossings, through parts of Blue Island, Chicago, and Evergreen Park. The project was funded through a $3 million grant from the Illinois Commerce Commission, sponsored by Illinois State Rep. Kevin Joyce.

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NS estimates Graniteville wreck costs

Norfolk Southern Corp. said on January 24 it expects the first quarter 2005 to reflect expenses in the range of $30 to $40 million (pretax) relating to the January 6 derailment at Graniteville, S.C.

The carrier stated in a press release, “The amount includes NS’s self-insurance retention under its insurance policies, as well as other uninsured costs.”

It added, “Although potential losses may exceed self-insurance retention amounts, NS expects at this time that insurance coverage is adequate to cover the potential claims or settlements. The amount does not include any fines or penalties that could be imposed.”

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New logo for BNSF

Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Corp. unveiled its new corporate and railway subsidiary logos on January 24. Its railway is now BNSF Ry. Co.

CEO Matt Rose rang the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange on that day. He said the corporation would retain both its name and ticker symbol, BNI.

“During the 10 years since the merger that created BNSF, much has changed in the railroad landscape,” Rose said.

“BNSF has identified itself as progressive, vital, approachable and resourceful – a strong part of the global transportation network. As we look to the future, we believe that our identity should reflect those core attributes.”

The new BNSF identity will be phased in over time. It will appear on locomotives and other rolling stock, stationery, signage, the BNSF Web site, logo merchandise and other promotional items.

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QUARTERLY RESULTS...  Quarterly results...


Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Corp. (BNI) on Tuesday said profits rose 54 percent in the fourth quarter, helped by rising demand for freight shipping. The results beat analysts’ estimates.

Net income rose to $347 million, or 91 cents per share, from $226 million, or 61 cents per share, a year earlier. That easily beat the 78 cents per share forecast from analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call.

Revenue increased 20 percent to $2.98 billion, above the $2.86 billion expected by analysts.

BNSF shares rose $2.60 or 5.8 percent, to $47.25 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange, near their 52-week best of $49.25.

The Fort Worth-based company said shipments of consumer goods rose 22 percent, shipments of agricultural products and coal each gained about 17 percent, and industrial products rose more than 16 percent.

The railroad said operating expenses rose 15 percent, mostly due to higher fuel prices and a 10 percent increase in miles times tons carried.

For all of 2004, profits fell 3 percent to $791 million, or $2.10 per share, from $816 million, or $2.19 per share, in 2003. The 2004 figure included a charge against earnings of $288 million, or 77 cents per share, to cover a changed estimate for asbestos and environmental liabilities.

Full-year revenue rose 16 percent to $10.95 billion from $9.41 billion in 2003.

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Canadian National Ry. reported on January 25 from Montreal that it will pay a quarterly dividend of twenty-five cents (Cdn $0.25) per common share on March 31 to shareholders of record at the close of business on March 10. CN stated “The dividend represents a 28 per cent increase over the previous quarterly dividend of nineteen and one-half cents (Cdn $0.195) per common share.”

It is the ninth consecutive increase in CN’s cash dividend since the company’s initial public offering of shares in 1995.

The Canadian carrier said its fourth-quarter net income was $376 million, or $1.29 per diluted share. Net income for the fourth quarter of 2003 was $224 million, or 78 cents per diluted share, including a deferred income tax (DIT) expense of $79 million, or 27 cents per diluted share. Excluding the 2003 DIT, net income for the fourth quarter of 2004 rose 24 per cent, and diluted earnings per share increased 23 per cent. The carrier noted its quarterly revenues of $1,736 million was an increase of 15 per cent, its fourth-quarter operating income was $607 million, up 19 per cent year-over-year, its quarterly operating ratio was 65.0 percent, a 1.1-percentage point improvement over the fourth-quarter 2003 performance, and the carrier’s full-year 2004 free cash flow totaled $1,025 million, compared with $578 million for 2003.

CEO E. Hunter Harrison said those were record results.

“Our railroaders delivered the best quarterly and full-year operating ratio in company history, along with record annual operating income, net income and free cash flow. CN’s outstanding performance resulted from strong core business growth at low incremental cost, the early benefits of two acquisitions, and the discipline of precision railroading.”

CN spans Canada and mid-America.

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CSX Corp. on Tuesday posted half the fourth-quarter net income it reported a year earlier, but the figure surpassed estimates thanks to the railroad operator’s higher volumes of merchandise, coal and intermodal shipments.

Shares in the Jacksonville, Fla.-based company rose $1.97, or 5.3 percent, to $38.96.

Net income fell to $66 million, or 30 cents a share, from $123 million, or 57 cents, in the year-earlier period.

Excluding one-time charges from the $1.15 billion sale of its international terminals business in the quarter and a tax obligation, CSX would have earned $225 million, or 71 cents a share. The charges totaled $159 million, or 41 cents a share.

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Kansas City Southern (KCS) (KSU) declared a cash dividend of $5.3125 per share on the outstanding 4.25 percent Redeemable Cumulative Convertible Perpetual Preferred stock. The dividend is payable on February 15 to shareholders of record at the close of business on February 1.

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Norfolk Southern Corporation (NSC) reported an increase in the quarterly dividend to 11 cents per share on its common stock, payable on March 10 to stockholders of record on February 4.

On that basis, analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call had expected earnings of 62 cents a share.

UBS upped NS to a ‘buy’ rating last week.

Revenue for the quarter, which included one more week than the year-earlier period, rose to $2.17 billion from $1.9 billion, higher than Thomson’s forecast of $2.06 billion.

That 8 percent increase was driven by higher shipments of merchandise, coal and intermodal units, which travel part way by truck.

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Providence and Worcester Railroad Company (PWX) declared a dividend of four cents per share on its outstanding common stock, payable February 17 to shareholders of record on February 3.

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Union Pacific Corp. said January 24 that its fourth-quarter profit plunged 86 percent from a year earlier, as the big railroad was beset by congestion and ugly weather.

Storms and heavy rainfall in the West caused even more havoc in the current quarter. The costs of mudslides and flooding in California and Nevada earlier this month may add up to about $200 million in repair bills and lost revenue, though insurance should cover part of the loss, UP said.

CEO Richard Davidson told a meeting of analysts, “The railroad isn’t completely up to snuff or up to its pre-flood capacity. It will take some time before we get these lines back up to full speed.”

The Omaha-based railroad aggressively hired more employees and acquired new equipment, but in the fourth quarter, the average speed of its trains slipped and too many of its carloads sat idle because of bottlenecks.

Net income in the quarter that ended December 31 plummeted to $79 million, or 30 cents a share, from $551 million, or $2.12 a share, a year earlier.

The latest results included an after-tax charge of $154 million, or 58 cents a share, related to previously announced asbestos-related claims against the railroad. Union Pacific‘s fourth-quarter revenue rose 8 percent to $3.22 billon from $2.97 billion.

Citing the costs of the storms and rising fuel prices, Union Pacific anticipates earnings for the current quarter to range from 25 cents to 35 cents a share. Wall Street had expected the railroad to earn 58 cents a share, according to analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call, The Los Angeles Times reported.

James Valentine, an analyst at Morgan Stanley & Co., said in a note to clients that he was looking for profit of 50 cents a share in the first quarter, because he “had assumed only a $25 million hit“ to Union Pacific from the storms.

The $200-million estimate of the flood damage could be revised, Davidson said. “We‘re still trying to sort through things.”

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Weather affects rail freight volume

Rail freight traffic on U.S. railroads declined during the week ended January 22 in comparison with the corresponding week a year ago at least partly due to winter storms, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported Thursday.

The AAR reported that railroads moved 29.3 billion ton-miles of freight during the week ended January 22, 3.9 percent less than in the comparable week a year ago. Carload freight totaled 316.569 cars, down 4.3 percent from 2004, with loadings down 2.3 percent in the East and 5.8 percent in the West. In spite of the continued closure of some rail lines out of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, intermodal volume, which is not included in the carload data, rose 5.1 percent from 2004, totaling 206,838 trailers or containers.

Fifteen of 19 carload commodities were down from the comparable 2004 week, with farm products other than grain down 43.3 percent, food and food products down 11.3 percent and grain down 8.8 percent. Loadings of metallic ores rose 16.2 percent while coke volume was up 4.1 percent.

Cumulative volume for the first three weeks of 2005 totaled 968,216 carloads, down 1.7 percent from 2004; 626,765 trailers or containers, up 7.2 percent; and total volume of an estimated 89.3 billion ton-miles, down 1.1 percent from last year.

On Canadian railroads, during the week ended January 22 carload traffic totaled 60,603 cars, down 7.0 percent from last year while intermodal volume totaled 37,326 trailers or containers, down 4.7 percent from last year.

Cumulative originations for the first three weeks of 2005 on the Canadian railroads totaled 184,816 carloads, down 3.5 percent from last year, and 115,627 trailers and containers, down 2.1 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first three weeks of 2005 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 1,153,032 carloads, down 2.0 percent from last year and 742,392 trailers and containers, up 5.6 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 22 totaled 8,590 cars, up 9.9 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 4,212 originated trailers or containers, up 35.2 percent from the third week of 2004. For the first three weeks of 2005, TFM reported cumulative originated volume of 24,579 cars, up 2.4 percent from last year, and 10,203 trailers or containers, up 18.3 percent.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 88 percent of U.S. carload freight and 95 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 95 percent and 100 percent. The Canadian railroads reporting to the AAR account for 90 percent of Canadian rail traffic. Railroads provide more than 40 percent of U.S. intercity freight transportation, more than any other mode, and rail traffic figures are regarded as an important economic indicator.

The AAR is online at www.aar.org.

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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: CBSMarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)47.1446.02
Canadian National (CNI)58.3755.79
Canadian Pacific (CP) 33.1333.05
CSX (CSX)39.0637.32
Florida East Coast (FLA)41.9842.10
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)25.1724.96
Kansas City Southern (KSU)16.9316.46
Norfolk Southern (NSC)34.0635.32
Providence & Worcester (PWX)12.7812.58
Union Pacific (UNP)58.9060.41

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

Israel, Gaza to connect by rail

Israel plans to build a railroad connecting the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to provide Israelis with safer travel without the security threat of Palestinians in Israeli territories.

According to Israeli political sources, Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres, will demand credit from the World Bank to support the project if it is approved. Hence, Israel wants to avoid the accusation that if they withdraw from Gaza, they will leave Palestinians in isolation. An Israeli political source said the railroad would be 100 kilometers length and would pass through the Israeli Ashod Seaport allowing Palestinians benefiting from maritime trade.

The Anadolu News Agency reported from Istanbul, Turkey on January 26 that according to the plan, the name of the West Bank terminal would be “Tulkarim.” Israel also expects that half of the project’s funding will come from the international community.

Khalid Meshal, political leader of the Palestinian group Hamas, told Al Hayat, a daily Arabic newspaper, that they were ready for a provisional ceasefire if Israel ends what it termed “the murders” and releases the Palestinian convicts.

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OPINION...  Opinion...

Saving Amtrak

By Paul M. Weyrich

Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

Amtrak is in trouble again. Congress didn’t give Amtrak the money Amtrak says it needs to solve many of its problems. Recently the majority of members of the Amtrak Reform Council, which went out of business a couple of years ago, returned to Washington to make a plea to Congress to consider the reforms which the Council had recommended. (I was a member of the Council). Among the reforms was a call for public and private partnerships.

One member of the Council, Jim Coston, has formed a company that could be the basis for public and private relationships not only with Amtrak but also with many of the commuter agencies around the nation. Coston’s company is called New Trains Leasing System and is an exciting step in the right direction for solving at least a part of the problem we have with under-funded rail operations.

For years we have had public and private partnerships in the automobile and airline industries. A brilliant paper on the subject by Coston’s associate, Fritz Plous, points out that the Highway Trust Fund has not always been able to pay for highway projects. The Highway Trust Fund is paid for by, in effect, a user fee. You buy gasoline to ride on the highways and the fee (tax) you pay per gallon of gas fills the coffers of the Trust Fund.

Unfortunately, there are often cost overruns that the Trust Fund will not pay for. Even then local and state governments must come up with at least 10 percent of the entire project cost and these projects can run into the billions of dollars.

The federal government funds the entire air traffic control system.

If it had not been, and the airlines were forced to add that cost to the price of a ticket, none but a few elite millionaires would be able to afford to fly…and they probably would have their own aircraft.

Despite what truly can be called a public/private partnership most airlines are near bankruptcy. In fact, since the end of World War II, when flying became popular, few airlines have made money even in prosperous times. There are reasons for that, and Southwest Airlines, the only major airline not to take a government bailout after September 11, 2001, has shown that the business can be profitable but, of course, it still is subsidized.

The point is that both highway and air transportation are subsidized. Yet the public perception is that in the case of highways the user fees take care of everything. Airlines are seen as private companies and the government’s contribution to their ability to carry lots of people largely is forgotten or ignored.

As Plous points out in his paper, “The other reason large losses are accepted in the civil aviation and highway system is that the financing of these systems were [sic] ingeniously designed to make sure that whatever possibilities for profit were identified in the system, those possibilities could be exploited and realized by private entrepreneurs.”

Plous highlights the very successful trucking industry, which has been encouraged by not only the construction of highways but by undercharging user fees to the trucking industry. The government, he says, has “encouraged the growth of a large, diversified, and for the most part, economically successful trucking industry which in turn has enabled millions of entrepreneurs to succeed in businesses of their own which depend on a strong trucking industry for their success.”

Plous goes on to make the case for true public and private partnerships in several aspects of rail operations in this country today. The first is the rail fleets themselves. Amtrak and most commuter lines are starved for capital, and long-term leasing (30 to 50 years) will enable them to get more cars on the road (in many places demand is significantly increasing) without waiting for a reluctant Congress or state legislatures to come up with the money.

The second is maintaining rail equipment. The same companies which finance the fleet can be responsible for maintaining it at costs often lower then government owned facilities.

Next is real estate and infrastructure. Many of the facilities for maintaining trains are owned by Amtrak or the state transit authorities. These buildings can be sold for cash or new trains and can be leased back, thus putting new flexibility in the hands of the rail operators.

The next, and this applies primarily to Amtrak, are the on-board food and beverage services. This is one of the most costly aspects of operating long-distance trains. As Plous points out, “If food service cars were privately owned, the operator, not Amtrak, would be free to operate the cars with its own employees and provision them with products of its own choosing from vendors able to meet its higher standards.” Plous points out that the Maine DOT already employs non-Amtrak employees on its four daily Portland-to-Boston roundtrips for food service, and is using a private caterer in Portland to furnish the food, which has been met with “great public acceptance.”

Finally, there are ticketing and reservations. Maine has dispensed with the national ticketing system that Amtrak maintains and for which every state agency using Amtrak to run its trains gets charged. With the ability to order most tickets online without the benefit of a railroad ticket agent there is no reason to maintain this costly overhead, especially for state agencies.

In his paper, Plous says that Amtrak remains in many ways not only a typical state-owned corporation, modeled on the now obsolete mid-20th Century European-Socialist template, but also to a large extent modeled on the even more obsolete private-American railroad model. Plous points out that Amtrak must be tied to government in order to maintain its privileged access to America’s privately owned freight railroads. If it weren’t for the law that allows Amtrak access, passenger trains would be put on a siding for hours while freight trains had priority of passage. The connection with government also helps the passenger train industry obtain insurance at reasonable rates. For these reasons, Plous says, “These essential resources cannot be unbundled from Amtrak or from government.”

He concludes, “a great deal of Amtrak can – and should – be unbundled, and most of the unbundled components can be successfully relocated in the private sector. The first and most important of these – and the key to the successful unbundling of all the others to follow – is the ownership of the next generation of American Passenger cars. Amtrak and the states cannot provide them. The rapid development of a privately owned fleet of railroad passenger cars for lease to Amtrak and the states that sponsor Amtrak trains must be the first priority in ‘Amtrak Reform.’”

Plous is exactly right. Further, his associate Jim Coston is in a position to do something about this situation. Whether it is Coston’s company or some other company, Congress should insist before it gives another dime to Amtrak that Amtrak begin to negotiate with a private company for the next generation of rail cars, which can be leased by Amtrak at a fraction of the cost of ownership. The clock is ticking on Amtrak reform.

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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” Joint Photographers Group (.jpg) images average 1.7MB each. Print publishers can order images in process color (CMYK) or tagged image file format (.tif), and are nearly 6mb each. They will be snail-mailed to your address, or uploaded via file transfer protocol (FTP) to your site. All are 300 dots-per-inch.

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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