Destination: Freedom

The newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative

Vol. 1 No. 2 ©2000, NCI, Inc. February 1, 2000



‘Rail is Real’ is coming
to railroaders, suppliers

By James P. RePass
NCI President, CEO

There can be little doubt, for those of us who believe in a balanced national transportation system, that the world is moving in a new direction for rail in America, and I can cite three recent events, and an upcoming fourth, as proof:

  1. Last July, NCI hosted its tenth anniversary conference, "The National Corridors Movement: Ready For Prime Time," which not only provided its audience with some of the most interesting thinkers on rail and transportation — such as Mike Dukakis, Gil Carmichael, Paul Weyrich, and many others — but which, for the first time, gained national news coverage for the corridors movement we have been championing.
  2. In November, Railway Age magazine held its important "Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads" conference which featured NS’s David Goode — not in the traditional freight-is-good-passenger-is-bad mode — but as a sworn convert to the idea that intercity passenger rail is here to stay. Reports are that Goode is not just making nice with the passenger rail community, but mid-level and NS operating folks are beginning to show that attitude as well.
  3. Yesterday (Jan. 31), Amtrak commenced fully electrified service on the Northeast Corridor with a "press extra," in an event that is of truly historic proportions. The first scheduled trainsets will be the refurbished Acela Regional equipment, with the Acela Express, the high-speed rail service, to follow; but the big accomplishment is that the wires are up after 88 years. Electrification between New Haven and Boston was first proposed in 1912. When this service kicks into high gear and other Americans see what we have in the Northeast, they are going to want it, too. New locomotives capable of non-electrified high-speed rail are on the way to satisfy that demand.
  4. Finally, next June 26 and 27, NCI will host, in Washington D.C., "The National Corridors Movement: Rail is Real" forum with Tommy Thompson as a keynoter, and with a title that reflects a major new public affairs and outreach program, "Rail is Real," designed to provide, at long last, a common logo and common voice to the nation’s passenger and freight rail industry.

"Rail is Real™" is a simple plan to promote a common logo, and the common theme, in every ad and every announcement put forward, printed, written, or broadcast by participating rail organizations, so that the American people begin to notice that rail service, both passenger and freight, is making a major comeback on the American transportation scene.

We are working on implementing this program with the Railway Progress Institute, the Association of American Railroads, the American Public Transportation Association, and individual railroads, vendors, trade associations, and advocates, and so far reaction has been unanimous: "Why didn’t we do this before?"

The beauty of "Rail Is Real" is that we can all subscribe to that slogan and that assertion in a common voice, yet participate in the program in highly individualistic ways. There are many ideas for improving rail service in America, and they come from many places. There are different interpretations of what needs to be done, different approaches, and, yes, disagreements. But what we have come to for the first time in a half-century in America is the realization that rail will not, after all, die out. To the contrary, the artificial and political suppression of good rail service - which was both freight and passenger rail’s lot for so many decades - is lifting, and it is lifting because ordinary people are demanding better travel and shipping service, and are realizing that adding lanes to interstate highways not only does not solve the problem of congestion but makes the problems worse.

"Rail Is Real" is our conference’s name this June 26-27, but it is obviously much more than that. With the help of a Surdna Foundation grant for outreach NCI has received, "Rail Is Real" is going to become a national rallying cry for a great industry that is pro-people, pro-environment, and pro-economic growth. We invite you to join in as "Rail Is Real" rolls out over the rest of this year and next, as we unveil the "Rail Is Real" logo, soon to be released.


Amtrak's Acela Regional inaugural train pauses at New London, Connecticut for more speeches and fanfare en route to New York City.

The band played on while railroaders and guests intermingled on the station platform in New London, Connecticut.

835 at 835 at
NLC
835 west Marty

Acela Inaugural train makesİa station stop at New London, Conn.

Conductor Martin "Marty" Murphy and his crew worked the job from Boston to New York City.


 
Acela Regional service begins;
two trains each way at first

By Leo King
Destination: Freedom Editor

Politicians were in abundance on Monday as Amtrak's Acela Regional inaugural train made its first appearance at lengthy stops along they way between Boston and New York City.

Former Massachusetts governor and current Amtrak board member Michael Dukakis remarked, "Epitelos," as he rode is the last car of the eight-car train.

"That means 'finally,' in Greek," he explained.

Bay State Gov. Paul Cellucci, U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, and Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin, who is also Amtrak's board chairman, were aboard the train.

"We've been wondering why we let passenger rail service go to hell in a handbasket," Dukakis told a crowd at the Route 128 Station in Dedham, Mass.

Lautenberg, who was one of the instigators of the electrification project in the early 1990s, said Monday's train was "just the beginning." Lautenberg, a long-time Amtrak booster, was wrote legislation that allowed Amtrak to get $150 million of what grew into a $2.5 billion-dollar electrification program.

"If Germany, England, France, Italy, and Japan can have it, why can't America?" Thompson asked. Bipartisan political makeup had a great influence on the railroad's ability to carry out the project. Thompson added, "I'm passionate about this" Acela service.

The message to constituents and well-wishers at each stop was nearly identical.

Amtrak president George Warrington said regional routes from Chicago, in the Northwest and California are ripe for high-speed, electrified rail service that would help improve air quality.

"There are very few events in transportation over the last 50 years that will have the kind of significance that this investment will have," Warrington said. "This is the first step in the Northeast and nationally." Thompson noted, "We're like Cinderella. We are something of beauty, we just have to be discovered."

Despite Monday's celebrations, like a wrestling match, the main event is still to come. Later this year, perhaps this spring, perhaps in July, sleek, 150-mph trains will be riding the iron. Delays were caused when tests discovered that the coach wheels were wearing down too quickly. The first Acela Express train was supposed to be in service late last year.

"I just haven't gotten a firm and unconditional date from them," he said of Bombardier, of Montreal, and Alstom, of Paris. There are no new problems, he said, just constant "tuning and tweaking" of the equipment to get it to perform properly.

Warrington said he was "disappointed that we haven't been able to launch the service, and I think the consortium is disappointed as well, but this is too important to not get right."

BOSTON, Jan. 31 — Railroad history has been written over the last few days, especially with the beginning of Amtrak’s Acela Regional service. It began on Monday with an inaugural, non-revenue extra train with two AEM-7s leading the train for dignitaries, the press and invited guests. They were among the first electric engines to ply the tracks from Boston westward.

The day was bleak all the way from Boston to New Haven, with morning drizzle giving way by train time to mist and clouds. It remained cloudy all the way to New Haven.

Amtrak revealed its plan on Jan. 24 that the much-anticipated launch of its Acela Regional service between Boston and New York would begin today. A celebration at Boston’s South Station, starting shortly after 8:00 a.m., marked not only the historic introduction of electric train service to Boston, but also the first step in running trains in the corporation’s high-speed program.. The special made celabratory stops along the way at the new Route 128 station in Dedham. (a Boston suburb), Providence, R.I., New London, Conn., and New Haven, then continued to New York City. High school bands played at each of the stops, making merry music welcoming the train, its guests and its crew.

Amtrak’s delayed high-speed Acela Express 150 mph service should begin sometime between spring and summer, but top officials said they cannot pinpoint an exact date. CEO George Warrington said, "We haven’t received a date yet from the consortium" of Bombardier and Alsthom. Northeast Corridor President Stan Bagley said flatly, " We don’t know yet," and high-speed rail vice president David Carol said, "Late spring."

The trip aboard the Acela Inaugural was enjoyable. It left on time at 9:30 a.m., made a quick stop at Back Bay station, and continued on to Route 128 where another band greeted the special train.

The only glitch in the trip between Boston and New Haven was when the two AEM-7 engines tripped breakers at the Sharon, Mass. substation. Locomotive engineers Don Lacey and Robert Maxwell called Main Line dispatcher Kenneth Vitiello in Boston to alert him that power had been lost. Vitiello, in turn, alerted power director Ben Triveriglio, also in Boston, who was able to reset the 25KV system - after the breakers cooled down - within two minutes. A knowledgeable expert aboard the train explained that the train itself had tripped the breakers at the troublesome location. The train also began losing time, and was about 20 minutes late when it left New Haven over Metro-North territory for New York City.

Conductor Martin "Marty" Murphy, a 22-year Amtrak veteran, was in charge of the hand-picked train crew, and his assistant conductors, Kimberly Christiensen and Chinedu Ogbuike, helped the passengers as required. The train stayed close to its scheduled times: Depart Boston on time at 9:30 a.m., arrived New Haven at 1:05 p.m., left at 1:35 p.m., and arrived in New York City at 3:10 p.m.

Earlier in the day, the first revenue-Acela Regional got off to a bad start. No. 131 was due out of South Station at 6:15 a.m., but was delayed 38 minutes because of a troublesome electric engine. The AEM-7 was dropped in the station. Near the end of the day, Amtrak’s on-time performance for its Acela trains was zero for four: 131 arrived in Washington 43 minutes late, 133 was 35 minutes late nearing the end of its trip, and eastward trains 130 arrived in Boston 13 minutes late while No. 132 was running 52 minutes late at 7:45 p.m. The times came from Amtrak’s web site.

For some, Monday’s special train, given a one-time designation of No. 835 and which left Boston on time at 9:30 a.m., was almost anti-climactic.

Amtrak’s Fast Mail, train No. 12, became the railroad’s first revenue train to be hauled by an electric engine all the way — 457 miles from Washington, D.C. to Boston — four days earlier on Friday, Jan. 28. The train operated under 25,000 volts east of New Haven, Conn over the entire route, zigzagging between tracks 1 and 2 and moving where the catenary structure and power supply was completed.

Engineer M. Morgan operated the train between New Haven and Boston while conductor Bob Crom and the rest of his crew attended to the passengers. The train landed at South Station in Boston 58 minutes late. AEM-7 engines 937 and 933 led the train, with a diesel, F-40PH 316 next as a protect engine, three coaches, a café car and two mail cars.

One day before, a test train with a pair of AEM-7s, a pair of diesels and a coach became the first electric train to ply the tracks without stopping between Boston and New Haven. The consist included AEM-7 948, 25000, 25088, 25111, 44790, 21648 and AEM-7 904.

So, for the record, the first electric train to travel from Boston to New Haven was Extra 948 going west, which departed Boston at 12:07 p.m. on Jan. 27, and arrived in New Haven at 6:07 p.m. The first electric train to travel from New Haven to Boston was also Extra 948, which left New Haven at 8:06 p.m. and arrived South Station at 10:55 p.m., those trains became the first through electric trains.

Extra 834, a deadhead train that was to become the next day’s one-day-only No. 835, the inaugural extra, was not without problems, at least at first. The train arrived in Beantown okay, around 1:00 a.m., but after it went around a loop track and through a washer, a car stubbed its toe. It was rerailed, and around 4 a.m., the train went into Southampton Street Yard without further incident.

Tickets for Acela Regional, the companion service to Acela Express, went on sale Jan. 25. Fares for regular coach on a non-Acela train between Boston and New York City is $50.00, while a reservation on Acela Regional No. 131 (departs Boston 6:15 a.m. weekdays) in business class for Friday, Feb. 4 is $76.00. We called Amtrak’s now-automated answering machine with a zillion menus, but finally gave up. No. 131 was not yet in the system, so we had to speak to a reservation sales agent, who had the fare for us in less than a minute. Once a caller gets into the automated system, he must keep hitting the "0" or "Operator" button to get to a live agent.

The regional service will reduce travel times between Boston and New York from about five hours to just under four hours. Quicker acceleration when exiting curves and leaving stations will also contribute to a faster schedule.

Jan. 31 was also the day a new timetable began.

The Acela Regional trains will travel at 110 miles per hour at first, but later will go up to 125 mph in a few months after a new cab signal system is installed.

"The launch of Acela Regional is another milestone in the high-speed program. in the Northeast that will boost our ridership and revenue and positively impact the bottom line," said George Warrington, Amtrak’s president and chief executive officer.

Amtrak reported that "AEM-7 locomotives will initially be used for the service and replaced later by new, high-horsepower locomotives, currently completing testing," according to On Track, an employee publication from Northeast Corridor headquarters in Philadelphia.

The Inaugural extra consisted of AEM-7 engines 904 and 914, followed by CoachClass cars 82017 (and the coach I rode in), 82009, 82027, 82033, 82008, 82501, café 28353 and BusinessClass car 81504.

       Acela timetable
       West     Acela Regional departure, arrival times (highlights)   East
       --------------------------------------------------------------------
       133 (Daily)   131 (Mo-Fr)                           130        132
       5:00 pm       6:15 am  (Dep)    Boston       (Arr)  12:34 pm    8:54
       5:36          6:55              Providence          11:52       7:45
       6:29          7:45              New London          10:59       7:12
       7:25          8:35              New Haven           10:14       6:26
       8:59/9:30    10:10/10:25        New York City        8:06/8:35  4:30/4:55
       10:48        11:47              Philadelphia         6:47       3:00
       12:40 am      1:35 pm  (Arr)    Washington    (Dep)  5:00 am    1:10 pm

       The trains spend a little more time in New York City 
       for crew changes, window scrubbing, and housekeeping chores.


 


snowbird
F-40PHs will soon be but a memory in Boston as electric engines take over.

NCI: Leo King

Wires over diesels

Electric engines will soon occupy Boston yard

It will not be much longer — sometime in February — that this scene at Amtrak’s Southampton Street Yard at the eastern end of the Northeast Corridor will change forever. The lone F-40PH diesel and its sisters will go away to be replaced by AEM-7s, E-60s, HHP-8s and other electric engines when electrification is completed between Boston and New Haven, Conn. The former New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad was able to string wire from Grand Central Terminal to New Haven in 1914, but ran out of cash and was never able to finish the job.

On this mid-January 2000 day, the catenary is up throughout the 17-track passenger train yard in the Hub, and should be energized in February. Amtrak shares the yard with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s Commuter Rail division, but the commuter trains are expected to move to its Readville, Mass., facility, about nine miles west near the end of the Dorchester Branch.

A major section of 25,000-volt wire was powered up in January between the 13 station tracks at South Station and about 17 miles west to Sharon, Mass. Only a few gaps remain between Boston and New Haven, and mostly on track 2. Catenary is in place along the entire route.

Meanwhile, in mid-January, an Acela high-speed trainset operated southward from Philadelphia to Washington, then turned northward to Newark, N.J., then back to Philadelphia at a top speed of 150 mph, which will be the final top revenue speed of the trainset, and 10 inches of cant deficiency, which is one inch above the final revenue target. That was the first time an Acela train had done that on the Northeast Corridor.

As reported above, No. 12 became the first scheduled train to operate through from Washington to Boston with an AEM-7 on the point. A return trip left Beantown as No. 169.

Meanwhile, the Northeast Corridor timetable changed a tad Jan. 31. Eastward train 172 reverted back to the Shore Line instead of the Inland route, where it had been diverted since last spring because of the electrification project. No. 178 continues to operate via Springfield, Mass.

Northbound passengers ("customers" or "guests," in current politically correct terminology) will eventually be making cross-platform changes at New Haven station, and the stops will be for about two minutes instead of 20, but that remains for a future timetable change. The trains won’t have to split any more, and there won’t be any engine changes, either, from electric to diesel or vice versa. The electrics will operate through regularly between Washington and Boston.

Eastbound (northward from New Haven) mail train No. 10 will be a new operation between Washington and Springfield. No word yet if it will carry passengers. Mail train No. 12 does, but westward mail train No. 13, which originates in Springfield, does not.

We are told a new express trainset will be introduced each month until the end of the year, so in January 2001, the long-anticipated hourly departure schedule from Boston will finally be in place, and will alternate between regional and express trains. The high-speed Acela Express trains should also be operating by then as well.

first
electric
No.12 makes history as Amtrak's first revenue run hauled by electric engines.

 

‘Big A’ reports carrier is exceeding financial expectations

Amtrak is reporting that the corporation beat its business plan target by more than $2 million in the first quarter of fiscal year 2000 (from Oct. 1, 1999 to Dec. 31) with total revenue up 8 percent to $476 million. Since Amtrak’s Board of Directors adopted the current business plan in 1998, the corporation reported it "has surpassed its business plan targets for two consecutive years." The business plan is the corporation’s blueprint to meet Congress’ mandate that the railroad become operationally self-sufficiency by 2003.

"We are keeping our commitment to Congress and the American people to run Amtrak like a business and we continue to achieve solid financial improvement," said Gov. Tommy Thompson, Amtrak’s board chairman.

Railroad president and CEO George Warrington said, "Other components of our business plan, such as the completion of Amtrak’s most comprehensive market analysis of its route system and the full implementation of our program to deliver world-class service on every train, every day, will speed our financial turnaround."

In Amtrak’s national system, many trains saw increased ridership in the first quarter. For the corporation, ridership increased for a record 12th consecutive quarter by 1 percent compared to last year. This modest increase is significant when contrasted with the decline in the travel industry caused by Y2K. One highlight of the growth was the Texas Eagle, "that was saved from elimination by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and state and local officials. Through aggressive marketing efforts with the communities served by the train, ridership grew 17 percent for the quarter."

Other major trains showing significant improvement include the Capitols (Oakland to Sacramento, Calif.), up 33 percent and Metroliner (New York to Washington, D.C.), up 7 percent.

The corporation also reported that revenue from its express shipment business increased 55 percent from last year to $5.4 million. ("Express" is defined as the shipment of time-sensitive goods currently transported by trucks.) Revenue from Amtrak’s commercial lines of business, such as real estate and telecommunications, increased by 7 percent to $17 million compared to the first quarter the year before. Both express and commercial lines of business beat the targets set in the business plan, according to Amtrak.


  Amtrak Reform Council:

Amtrak needs more trains, newer equipment;
better and clearer accounting procedures

By Wes Vernon

Amtrak has been sharply criticized for not spending enough money to upgrade its physical plant. The Amtrak Reform Council (ARC), in its first annual report, rapped the passenger railroad for its failure to use "a significant portion" of its special one-time-only $2.2 billion in capital money "for the kinds of high priority, high-return investments that will help its bottom line."

While the report steered clear of any final judgments on the congressionally mandated goal of shedding operating subsidies by the end of fiscal year 2002, Chairman Gil Carmichael told Destination: Freedom that Amtrak should go back to Congress and get the lawmakers to clarify how they define "operating" as opposed to "capital" expenditures.

Defining those terms with precision could have much (perhaps everything) to do with whether or not the passenger train railroad meets its deadline.

The ARC report stated that instead of spending the capital money on the equipment it needs, much of the $2.2 billion has been spent on upgrading maintenance facilities, maintaining existing equipment, and making interest payments.
Chairman Carmichael says it is important that Amtrak expedite the 150 mph Acela operation in the Northeast between Washington and Boston.

The panel tabled a proposal by ARC Vice Chairman Paul Weyrich that the 2002 deadline be pushed back in view of Amtrak’s failure to start the Acela service on schedule. Chairman Carmichael said it is "too early" for that. "Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt," he told Destination: Freedom. September 30, 2002 is, for all intents and purposes, the moment of truth on Amtrak’s operational self-sufficiency timetable, and there’s plenty of time to see if that can be achieved, according to the chairman.

Amtrak had hoped to start initial Acela Express operations last fall, with all 20 trainsets on line by this Spring. The current estimate puts the first set on line in June. "No way they’re going to get all the other 19 sets out there by September 30 (the end of this fiscal year)", said Carmichael. "They need to get the [full Acela operation] out there so they can build revenues."

Carmichael is big on what he sees as the need for Amtrak to add more trains to increase its revenues. High-speed corridor operations beyond the northeast are important in this endeavor, but it’s more than that.

"UPS wants more long distance service for its deliveries", he explained, adding there will have to be more long distance trains.

"Amtrak has a strategic plan to cut costs and build revenues, and we should give them every chance and lots of support to get there."

The lack of clarity on where to draw the line between "operating" subsidies (which must be eliminated by the end of 2002) and "capital" subsidies (which Amtrak has warned it will still need, and which are enjoyed by every other transportation mode), is a matter of dispute between Amtrak management and some members of Congress, notably Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

In a 1998 Senate speech, the Arizona lawmaker accused Amtrak of attempting to wipe out operating subsidies "with a stroke of the pen."

Central to the dispute is Amtrak’s claim that the cost of overhauls and depreciation are properly categorized as capital costs.

Carmichael says that in his own experience, the normal business practice has been to put these in the "operating" column. However, he concedes that a government accounting practice could consider them as "capital" expenses. The 1997 law is vague on this point, and Carmichael believes Amtrak should go to Congress for a clarification.

FRA Administrator Jolene Molitoris, one of the three panelists who dissented from the annual report of the eleven-member Council, said that the Clinton administration had agreed to include these maintenance expenses in the capital costs. An ARC source noted that this does not jibe with the understanding of the DOT’s own Office of Inspector General (OIG).

Siding with Molitoris on this issue is the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) which issued a release saying it does not believe the law requires Amtrak "to cover the cost of depreciation and progressive overhaul costs with commercial (or other non-federal) revenues." NARP says to include these items in the "operating" budget instead of the "capital" account raises the bar by $567 million and "would insure that Amtrak could not meet the (2002 self-sufficiency) test."

However, NARP supports statements by Carmichael and Weyrich that Amtrak must add more routes and expand its mail and express business, while reducing "the number and extent of delays this business has caused".

The Amtrak Reform Council says it lacks the resources to track all of Amtrak’s 81,000 transactions in a special capital account [contained within the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, which is commonly referred to as "TRA money."] the report said Congress has asked its General Accounting Office (GAO) watchdog agency to do just that, with a report due out in February.

The ARC faults Amtrak accounting on another count, saying that while Amtrak’s report in 1999 that its 1998 strategic business plan had exceeded its projections by $8 million, the performance is actually "marginally worse" when you focus on Amtrak’s core business of providing intercity passenger service.

The Amtrak figure of $8 million better, says ARC, stems from higher than projected net earnings from commuter, reimbursable and commercial activities which were $19.6 million ahead of projections due to "renegotiated contracts for easements," "flagging" costs to contractors on the NEC, and increased charges to state and local governments and commuter authorities.

The report notes too that Amtrak needs $125 million in improvements because of the Acela Express service slated for later this year, but that the council cannot assess the effect of the delay in starting the fast train service until its gets a promised report from Amtrak regarding the effect of its strategic business plan for 2000-2004.

The day before the ARC report was unveiled, Amtrak released a report of its own, saying that the corporation has beat its business plan target by $2 million in the first quarter of FY 2000 with total revenue up 8 percent to $476 million. (See earlier story, above—Ed.).

The same release also announced the Jan. 31 startup of the Boston to New York Acela Regional service. This is the second tier Acela service with mainly refurbished Metroliner equipment.

When the premier Acela Express service begins, with all-new equipment, its fastest trips will make it from Boston to New York in three hours flat. Needless to say, there will be a ticket-cost differential between the two Acela operations.

Which gets us to another point: The ARC study cites as one of the "risks" that Amtrak faces in regard to operational self-sufficiency the possible public "resistance to the premium fares anticipated for the Acela Express over other Northeast Corridor trains." The members are asking themselves, "Is Amtrak outsmarting itself by competing with itself?" Also, what about possible increases in airline competition in response to the new faster trains?

Amtrak appears confident on the latter point. Amtrak Vice Chairman Michael S. Dukakis has said he would not be surprised to see the airline shuttles cease operations on the shorter (New York City to Boston, and Washington to New York) runs.

Around the world, airlines are coming to realize that operations of less than 500 miles are expensive and inefficient. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that many airlines flying to Europe from overseas are booking their passengers on high-speed trains for the shorter segments of their trips.

As for the less expensive Acela Regional taking passengers away from the long anticipated Acela Express, Amtrak apparently believes the same principle will apply here as currently applies between the Metroliner and Northeast Direct. The time difference between Washington and New York averages out at about 20 or 25 minutes, but the extra fare Metroliner does a booming business and has been extremely popular, especially with the time-sensitive business traveler. If 20 minutes makes all that much difference, Washington to New York, who’s to say nearly an hour difference won’t mean something to the rushed Boston clientele with business appointments in New York?

The ARC notes that in this long period of sustained prosperity, intercity rail passenger service in this country is not growing. It carefully avoids placing all the blame for this on Amtrak, apparently reflecting Carmichael’s views that Amtrak needs to get more equipment in service to "grow its revenues." Significantly, the ARC also notes that "Amtrak’s funding has actually been provided in a very erratic fashion, with significant political influence over where and how it spends its money", thus making it "difficult for Amtrak to plan effectively on a system-wide basis and make the best use of capital money."

Dissenting from the report, in addition to FRA Administrator Molitoris, were labor representative Clarence Monin and consultant Donald Sweitzer.

Monin, long identified with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, speaking for "the Rail Labor Division of the Transportation Department, AFL-CIO, whose 13 rail union affiliates collectively represent some 20,000 workers," said he was ‘extremely disappointed" in the report.

Monin accused the ARC majority of adopting "an aggressively anti-Amtrak agenda." Rail labor leaders in the past have hurled similar charges at the Council, only to be met with indignant denials. Of the 11 Council members, only 2, author Joseph Vranich and consultant Wendell Cox, have expressed anti-Amtrak sentiments. The others all want Amtrak to succeed, albeit that many of them have ideas about reaching that goal that do not comport with the beliefs of organized labor.

Monin’s dissent cites the writings of Vranich and Cox, and echoes the sentiments of Transport Workers Union Legislative Director Charlie Moneypenny who said, in recent congressional testimony, that those two do not belong on a panel whose job it is to "reform" Amtrak, not eliminate it.

But several lawmakers have made the point that the Amtrak Reform Council which has no legislative, regulatory or executive authority to bring about any changes not authorized by Congress, was appointed to "think out of the box," and that having two "devil’s advocates" out of a membership of 11 is compatible with "reform."

Monin criticizes Chairman Carmichael as "a privatizer," a dreaded word in the halls of rail labor. Carmichael has advocated an "Interstate 2" program, which would implement a national, far flung high-speed rail network that would operate on a large scale similar to that of the highway interstate system authorized over 40 years ago. He has acknowledged that getting the job done would take cooperative efforts in both the public and the private sectors.

Last July, at an NCI conference in Washington, Carmichael got into a spirited debate, asking James M. "Broken Rail" Brunkenhoeffer of the United Transportation Union, "Why won’t you join us and provide thousands of new jobs for your members?"

Brunkenhoeffer replied, "We’ve given enough already."

Indeed, Monin’s dissent leans heavily on that very point.

"Year after year," he said, "Amtrak employees have taken the brunt of Amtrak’s financial hardships. Between 1981 and 1998, Amtrak workers earned less than the national rate in order to help Amtrak through a difficult financial crisis. As a result of the sacrifices Amtrak workers have made in the form of real wage and benefit concessions, and changes in work rules, Amtrak now captures the largest percentage revenue from the fare box of any intercity passenger rail service in the world. Yet, Amtrak workers remain the lowest paid unionized workers in the industry."

One part of the report that undoubtedly went right to the heart of Monin’s concern reads, "Amtrak and the ARC are working together to define additional productivity data requirements and to agree on methodologies, both for measuring cost savings through work rule changes and for monitoring general labor productivity." Agreement on this is "essential."

As for privatization, the ARC does not slam the door on that by any means. One of the issues of concern comes in the form of a question: "Does Amtrak’s monopoly over passenger service promote the delivery of high quality, efficient, and economical service?"

Another question follows: "If (competition) is not introduced, what is the implication for public funding requirements?" Note that the questions speak of "competition" which may or may not involve "privatization."

Eight members of the Council approved the report, though some of them may have had minor disagreements with it. The difference between their outlook and that of the three dissenters seems to boil down to this: Is the ARC set up to be a cheerleader for "the party line" at Amtrak? Or was it meant to be a constructive critic, a sort of "nag" agency? The cheerleader function
is already fulfilled by the main Amtrak Reform Board, which does make crucial decisions on company policy. Since no board, no matter how effective it is, is likely to objectively criticize its own work, Congress created this "second opinion".

True, Congress last year, largely under the prodding of organized labor, had some second thoughts on its creation. But after cutting back on its proposed budget, the lawmakers allowed the ARC to remain and perform the function of a "nag" agency.
 

Amtrak, DOT, NARP respond to ARC report

The day following the Amtrak Reform Council report became public, Amtrak and USDOT responded. Amtrak is under the DOT umbrella, as is FRA and several other agencies.

Amtrak published a response on its web site, http://www.amtrak.com, and, as expected, took issue with it. No named person was quoted, but the message stated bluntly, "In reviewing the ARC report, it is important to separate fact from opinion and theory. It is a fact that Amtrak has met or exceeded its aggressive business plan targets to achieve operational self-sufficiency for two consecutive years. Ridership is up 10 percent over the last three years, and last year alone, commercial revenues exceeded the business plan by 16 percent. Those facts speak volumes about Amtrak's success in becoming more commercially viable."

The writer also stated, "The ARC report doesn't recognize this progress, but the private sector does. Recently, Moody's upgraded Amtrak's credit rating and said it expects Amtrak to be operationally self-sufficient by 2003. Just this week, Standard & Poor's also issued a favorable report."

The press release added, "Amtrak is disappointed that the ARC report also ignores the Congress’ definition of operational self-sufficiency in favor of its own test. There is only one measure of success that Amtrak must meet — the legal test for operational self-sufficiency."

Meanwhile, USDOT Secretary Rodney Slater, speaking for the Clinton Administration, said, "President Clinton and Vice President Gore believe that Amtrak plays a vital role in the nation’s transportation system, and are encouraged by Amtrak's financial performance and movement toward operational self-sufficiency.

"Amtrak continues to make tremendous strides in a variety of areas. For the first time in the corporation's history, Amtrak has increased ridership for three consecutive years — 10 percent since 1997. Last year, Amtrak increased its commercial revenues by 16 percent, and Acela Regional service [began] on Jan. 31, beginning the ramp-up to full high-speed service later this year."

Elsewhere, National Association of Railroad Passengers directors Ross Capon and Scott Leonard, in a joint press release, said, "We do not believe that the law requires Amtrak to meet the ‘test for operating self-sufficiency’ to cover depreciation and progressive overhaul costs with commercial (or other non-federal) revenues. It will be a significant challenge to reach operating self-sufficiency without covering those two items. Raising the bar by $567 million (Amtrak's fiscal 2002 estimate for those items), as the report hints, may be required, would insure that Amtrak could not meet the test.

They made it clear that "We obviously want Amtrak to be successful. We oppose changing the test in a manner that likely rules out success. We appreciate that the report, in the Council's words, ‘does not reach any conclusions’ and that Chairman Carmichael, in discussing depreciation… said that the Council is ‘not disagreeing with Amtrak.’ We urge the Council to lay the depreciation issue to rest as soon as possible."

Sonny Hall, president of AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department, said the TTD was outraged with the ARC report

"Given the conclusions contained in [it], it seems a more apt title would be A Preliminary Death Wish for Amtrak.

Hall added, "While the ARC was created by Congress, and since funded over the objections of a bipartisan majority of the House of Representatives, to provide objective assessments of Amtrak operations and offer ideas to help secure America’s passenger railroad, this report amounts to nothing more than a tired rehash of the privatization rhetoric we’ve been hearing for three decades."

The labor leader observed that "Transportation labor has repeatedly voiced concerns about the ‘dismantle and privatize’ bias which has characterized the attitudes of a number of the members of the ARC. This report simply validates those concerns and leaves little doubt that the ideological bias against Amtrak is very much alive and thriving within the ARC.

He added that "The report also represents yet another insult to the 20,000 Amtrak workers who have repeatedly sacrificed to ensure that Americans continue to have intercity passenger rail service as a transportation option. From the outset of the ARC, Amtrak’s dedicated workers and their unions have been given short shrift by most members of the council with little or no attention being paid to the people who make the system work and who, in turn, have much to offer in terms of making Amtrak operationally and financially secure for the long haul."

Hall also said taxpayers are targeted as well.

"The report is an insult to the American taxpayers who have footed the bill for hundreds of thousands of dollars of wasted spending by the ARC, including extensive travel throughout the United States and Europe for meetings about which there is little or no information. "Transportation labor will redouble its efforts to provide Americans with the best possible passenger rail service in the form of a revitalized Amtrak that will be a part of America’s transportation network for the long term. It’s extremely disheartening and unfortunate that the Amtrak Reform Council chose to waste taxpayer dollars on a report that is void of innovation for a viable Amtrak and bloated with tired rhetoric of the past."


Building high-speed rail:
fighting fire with fire?

By Wes Vernon

A lexander Metcalf is a remarkable person. He is a key figure in the drive to make America a rail-oriented country once again. And of course, he understands that high-speed trains are the way to go if we’re going to accomplish that. A ‘fifties-style passenger railroad will not do.

From his office in downtown Frederick, Maryland, the co-founder and president of the Transportation Economic and Management Systems (TEMS), is mapping strategy to coordinate efforts of the Midwest governors to implement their ambitious plan for a far flung high-speed program stretching east to west from Cincinnati, Ohio to Omaha, Nebraska, and north to south from Green Bay, Wisconsin to Carbondale, Illinois.

Those who attended the consultant’s talk in Washington’s Maryland suburbs before the Chesapeake Railway Association on Jan. 5 got a fascinating look at the "big picture."

He said many things to indicate that the Midwestern states, driven in large part by the determination of Amtrak Chairman and Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson (my observation, not his), are dead serious about this. They are not fooling around with political games for home consumption. Those governors mean to change the transportation map for the 60 million people in their heartland territory.

Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin have put up $300 million ($100 million each) just to get the ball rolling. It is understood that, over the long haul, more money — much more — will be required to cover c-a-p-i-t-a-l costs. The estimated total price tag is set at $3.5 billion. The governors fully understand that operating costs will have to be covered on the same "for profit" basis that governs the thinking of every other transportation mode. Separating the public funding (capital) from the private funding (operating) is the key to making the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative (MWRRI) work.

My question to Metcalf was this: Since the Interstate Highway System was built by combining the clout of the people who stood to make a profit from it, and since that very strategy was replicated in the successful campaign to electrify the Northeast Corridor rail line from New Haven to Boston (thanks, in large part, to the coalition-building efforts of NCI President Jim RePass), does not the future of the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative depend on precisely that kind of "follow the money" approach?

"One of the problems with us (transplanted) Midwest boys", opined the former Londoner, whose British accent is evident but obviously diminished from what it once was, "is that we’re kind of naïve in a way about Washington," and "very reluctant to do many of the things that many of the guys up on the northeast coast might find natural," such as "coming to Washington and paying a lobbyist and doing all those things."

However, the Midwest is coming to a "gradual understanding" that "it was easy to come to Washington and get highway money." That lobbying effort was well established.

In contrast, "This rail thing is all new," said Metcalf. Without "an established lobby practice (that has yet) to be developed." This, in turn stems from the fact that "the Midwest is… very, very cautious about Washington," a problem that requires time to resolve, and the MWRRI will "require putting together the kind of thing (political and business coalition) that Jim RePass has done."

Moreover, Metcalf said RePass’ National Corridors Initiative will be instrumental "in allowing us to feel comfortable in putting the pressure on Washington we need to pop the kinds of dollars that are going to make this thing work."

After years of marveling at the money involved in highway construction, there is a gradual consensus building for the realization that there is money to be made in building fast, frequent, convenient passenger train transport as well.

Metcalf, who is a seasoned veteran of rail battles here and abroad, obviously agrees that the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) and the American Public Transit Association (APTA), for all their success stories and Herculean efforts, cannot do the job alone, even though APTA includes suppliers in its membership. There needs to be more coordination with politically and financially vested interests. NARP and APTA need back-up, big time.

That notion is seconded in spades by Gil Carmichael, former FRA Administrator and current chairman of the Amtrak Reform Council. He has proposed an "Interstate 2" consisting of nationwide high-speed rail corridors.

The highway-oriented Interstate 1 has turned out to be slow speed. Rail-oriented Interstate 2 would be a high-speed system, Carmichael told Destination: Freedom.

He added that if you are looking for big lobbying firepower for this effort, you can count on "all the old contracting companies that built the roads." Once they see the potential in high-speed rail, "it won’t take them long to hire some railroad engineers for high-speed rail."

Metcalf says the MWRRI is thinking in terms of 110 MPH in the beginning because that avoids an FRA requirement for the expensive project of eliminating all grade crossings for the higher speeds. Carmichael says that’s fine for starters, but that once the system proves itself, there will be a move to upgrade it to 125 MPH, in which case the highway construction firms will have a massive project to keep them busy.

If you’re looking for some names of companies that stand to benefit, Carmichael says think of Siemens, Bombardier and General Electric as examples. Some folks from those firms could surely form a remarkable core for a moneyed coalition.

"I think old highway boys like myself are seeing this potential," he said. Last May, Carmichael waded straight into the highway camp to make this case to The Road Gang, a bi-weekly Washington luncheon group whose title reflects the membership interests.

Metcalf was asked about getting all these Midwest high-speed plans past the freight railroads that own the rights of way. He addressed that up front by noting that freight railroads will have to be paid for any impact on their operations.

"What you’ve got to recognize in the Midwest is a very strong affinity towards freight railroads," he said.

"Freight railroads built Chicago. They’re well-understood, they’re well-liked, they’re well-loved by the process out there." Though Metcalf didn’t spell it out, a big reason for the Midwest affinity for freight railroads is an understanding, perhaps more than in any other region, of the Class 1 carriers role in the local economy.

It might be mentioned here that Norfolk-Southern Chairman and CEO David Goode has left open the possibility of actually lobbying in favor of Amtrak funding for extra tracks on freight rights of way to accommodate passenger traffic.

But even supposing the system is implemented as planned, complete with faster, more frequent rail service on those corridors (doubling or tripling current frequencies), won’t the airlines still beat them?

Two things about that, according to Metcalf. First, airlines generally don’t want to fly less than 500 miles. It is not efficient. "Even Southwest (Airlines) is not excited necessarily about all these short distance movements and would be glad to be out of some of them because they’re getting to be expensive."

In addition, "Our passengers (in most cases) aren’t really coming from end-to-end (i.e. St. Louis to Chicago)."They’re going, you know, from Springfield to Chicago," etc., and "we’re really focusing on the less than 300-mile market, where they (Southwest, et al) are focusing more and more on the more than 500-mile market."

Amtrak Vice-Chairman Michael Dukakis has made similar observations about New York City to Washington, D.C. and New York to Boston air shuttles in connection with the Amtrak 150 mph Acela in the Northeast. (See Vol. 1, No. 1, Destination: Freedom).

As for amenities, it seems there will be no cramped "get-your-foot-out-of-my-face" seating conditions found in 3-and-3 air travel seating. The high-speed rail seat arrangements "will be Delta First Class" because Midwest people "will want that extra bit of space." When time to and from the airport is considered, the new Midwest high-speed trains are going to be "very competitive door-to-door."

Food service is envisioned as using the European-style rolling carts down the aisles, or "trolley service." There will be phones and plug-ins for computers.

There are those who seem to believe that high-speed corridor rail and long distance trains are somehow mutually exclusive.

Not so, according to Metcalf, who thinks high-speed rail can actually enhance the long distance trains.

"If you can get from Cleveland in four hours out of Chicago, and you can get from Cleveland to, say New York in another six, very nice overnight sleeper service."

British Rail "makes a fortune" out of sleeper trains.

"There is a new market out there — if, in fact, you got some of these regional systems to coalesce."

Going to Cincinnati in four hours and then upgrading the track from there to Washington, you could have an overnight sleeping car service that would beat either the Capitol Limited or the Cardinal, and don’t forget the attractiveness of a nice, comfortable sleeping ride vs. the "extortionate" cost of a hotel room, "then you can offer competitive service."

But that, of course, is down the road. First order of business is to get the short to medium high-speed trains running. Once that is done, the rest will inevitably follow.

The issue of the more reactionary elements of rail labor was brought up. Metcalf responded that with the prospect of going from 300 to 4,000 jobs in the Midwest, even the most hard-shelled labor leader (who has dreams of the golden years of firemen on diesels and three-day work weeks for Metroliner operators [WV]) appreciates the math that leads to more jobs (and a larger union treasury with more members).

Cost? As reported above, three states have already put up $300 million. But the operating costs, using a high-speed diesel locomotive being developed by Bombardier in close cooperation with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), will be lower than current equivalent costs on the current Amtrak system in the region. On a per train mile basis, we are looking at 50 percent less.

Sheer convenience? Compare today’s eight-hour schedule, Chicago to Cincinnati, with the projected four-hour running time.

Is the demand "out there?" Get a load of this:

The current ridership is about 1_ million, but 8 to 9 million is projected.

"The marketplace for passenger service on this network is about $360 million a year. The express parcel, same-day delivery market, was $1 billion," leading Metcalf to remark, half in jest, that "maybe we ought to let UPS run the… passenger trains and we’ll put the passenger cars on the back." He added that, of course, "if you start hauling main-line freight, not only will the unions, but the main line-carriers will come after you."

The operation would be under the wing of a company separate from Amtrak, but with Amtrak deriving an anticipated $40 million annual profit, something unheard of outside of the Northeast.

It is hard to remember when so many states (nine) have so completely coordinated their efforts on a passenger rail project.

Now comes the hard part.

Getting it done.


Coast Starlight is still on track

By Wes Vernon

Amtrak’s Coast Starlight, the premier train and backbone of several West Coast current and future corridors, is not being downgraded, insists the train’s boss.

There had been some concern that on-board amenities which had elevated the Starlight to a special place in the hearts of long-distance travelers were being discontinued and that henceforth, it would be just like any other Amtrak sleeping car train.

Not so, says Starlight General Manager Brian Rosenwald. The first class Pacific lounge, with linens and the late afternoon wine tasting, is still there.

However, there have been some adjustments in the service aboard the Seattle-Portland-San Francisco (Oakland)-Los Angeles flagship. It is true, acknowledges Rosenwald, that at the end of the fiscal year, he had come up $700,000 short on the train’s budget, and thus had to reduce the on-board entertainment (usually a magician or "magic show") to peak travel times of spring and summer, and the Christmas holiday season. Also eliminated was the little "thank you" present, typically a coffee mug.

Rosenwald speaks of the Coast Starlight with an air of pride and enthusiasm that sends a message that, roughly translated, means, "This is my baby and I wouldn’t harm it for the world." He says Amtrak does want to bring some semblance of standardization to its long-distance trains. But that does not mean that Amtrak has adopted "an unswerving dedication to mediocrity," in the words of one critic.

"We are in an ongoing process of trying to upgrade and improve our product," he told Destination:Freedom.

The Los Angeles-based train manager (who was referred to us upon our inquiry to Amtrak officials in Washington) says he was heartened to read Amtrak President George Warrington’s statement to this writer (RailNews magazine, June 1999) that "every one of our long-distance trains will look and feel like the Coast Starlight to a much greater extent over the next 12 to 18 months. We do service guarantees (on the Starlight) and we’re going to be spreading those service guarantees to every other train across the system before the end of the year."

The end of the year having now come and gone, Rosenwald says there is no intent to define the Coast Starlight downward to any lower common denominator. But Amtrak wants consistently good service so that when a Starlight passenger makes a connection to the California Zephyr, he or she won’t be disappointed.

The relatively minor adjustments that have been made are not permanently etched in stone either, he adds.

"We’re still assessing the impact, and strangely enough," the most negative feedback has focused on the absence of a "thank you" gift. Not the off-peak cutback in the entertainment, as was expected.

"We’re fanatically seeking feedback", and that helps to keep the "Starlight" operation customer-oriented.

The Coast Starlight shares the trackage of the Seattle-Portland segment of Amtrak’s Cascades corridor, the Oakland-Sacramento Capitols, and the northern San Luis Obispo-Los Angeles segment of the San Diegan (Surfliner) service, and connects with the Bakersfield-Sacramento San Joaquins and the southern Los Angeles-San Diego segment of the San Diegans.

All of these, plus Los Angeles-San Francisco, are envisioned as potential high-speed corridors for the future. High-speed planners credit the Starlight with playing a significant role in increasing public awareness of rail travel in these densely populated areas.


Blowin’ whistles
High speed, safety first, here we go

By Wes Vernon

Federal Railroad Administrator Jolene Molitoris has proposed a rule overturning local railroad whistle bans. Moreover, the rule, if implemented, could affect high-speed rail in the Midwest and elsewhere. An explanation follows, but first, the substance.

Under the rule, regardless of the time of the day or night, locomotive engineers will be not only allowed, but required to sound their horns at grade crossings.

The 1994 law allowing the FRA to pursue this matter through a rule does allow for exceptions in those cases where the local community is willing to pay for a "quiet zone." Specific measures to insure a quiet zone include cameras to record crossing violators, four quadrant gates (still not widespread in the U.S.), and median dividers that deter motorists who drive around lowered gates. Even overnight road closures could be implemented by local communities.

The FRA says grade crossing accidents are 62 percent more likely to occur at crossings where train horns are not sounded. The agency will hold hearings this spring on the proposal in Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oregon, and Washington, D.C.

The hearing in Florida should be interesting. That state’s legislature sharply reduced the fines for rail crossing violators several years ago after a trucker was hit by an Amtrak train while he was turning around his vehicle right in the middle of the grade crossing. The trucker had protested his steeper fine.

Molitoris says train horns are effective safety devices. She notes that in 1998, there were 3,508 highway-rail grade crossing collisions resulting in 431 deaths and 1,305 injuries.

Opposition to the rule immediately surfaced. The Associated Press, for example, went out and photographed a real estate broker in Arlington Heights, Illinois who worries that the policy would harm sales of condominiums under construction near the tracks.

Two congressmen from that realtor’s state have announced a bipartisan coalition responding to such local pressures. They are House Speaker Dennis Hastert, a Republican, and Rep. William Lipinski, a Democrat.

Some 365,000 people live near railroad crossings in communities that have enacted whistle bans at least during night-time hours. Undoubtedly, some of them will testify at the hearings.

Molitoris is unimpressed. She recalls an experience in Secaucus, New Jersey, when she "entered the locomotive cab of a train that had been involved in a tragic wreck, and only 20 minutes earlier they had carried out the beheaded engineer. The blood was fresh on the walls."

It is possible that this regulation could result in upgrading the high-speed trains planned for corridors around the country outside the Northeast. The Midwest Regional Rail Initiative (MWRRI), for example, is planning speeds of 110 MPH. At that rate, FRA does not require that grade crossings be closed outright. But once you get to 125 MPH, then crossings must be closed, as has been done on the electrified Northeast Corridor, including the newly electrified segment between New Haven and Boston.

Once the Midwest and other regions begin their 110 MPH operations, with more trains zipping through towns and the countryside at higher speeds than previously known, it is not inconceivable that communities will protest the more frequent train whistles. That could result in more "quiet zones" than otherwise envisioned OR eliminating many of the grade crossings. If that major expense is to be undertaken anyway, it would smooth the way for consideration of upgrading the service to 125 MPH.

Recalling last year’s grade crossing accident at Bourbonnais, Illinois, the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) says public officials opposing the rule "should remember that they - or their loved ones - could die or be permanently maimed today due to unsafe conditions."


Amtrak launches a weekly Web ‘rail sale’ effort;
discount tickets up to 70 percent from Internet

Amtrak launched a weekly Internet-based "rail sale" sales promotion on Jan. 12. Spokesman John Wolf said that it has "Internet enhancements that will provide even better service" to Amtrak customers. Through "Rail SALE" as Amtrak is billing it, passengers "can take advantage of fares discounted at up to 70 percent, on rail travel in the U.S."

Wolf noted that from October through December 1999, tickets purchased through http://www.amtrak.com "have nearly doubled, to 4.3 percent of total ticket sales from 2.3 percent during the same period in 1998. For the Thanksgiving holiday, the busiest train travel period of the year, e-commerce ticket sales were up 115 percent from the same period last year, representing almost 6 percent of total ticket sales."

When the discounted fares become available each Monday, the Rail SALE program is prominently displayed on the Amtrak home page with a banner, making access to these discounted rates just a click away. Registration is not required, Wolf added.

Barbara Richardson, executive vice president of Amtrak, said, "Currently the percentage of our Internet ticket sales are more than double the industry average. Because we know our customers want the added convenience of online ticketing, we have enhanced access to our Rail SALE fares to meet that customer need."

Richardson said the discounted fares apply not only to the cities listed but also to intermediate destinations that may even be less. Rail SALE fares are only available to customers who purchase their tickets on-line using a credit card. Once purchased, customers may have their coach-class Rail SALE tickets mailed to them, or they may pick them up at any staffed Amtrak station. They are non-refundable and may not be exchanged, but tickets may be upgraded on board the train, subject to availability. Other restrictions may apply.


Errata…

In our first issue, we told you that "Moody’s Investment Services raised Amtrak’s credit rating to A3." Amtrak’s John Wolf, in Washington, cleared up some nagging questions.

"This is our first rating from Moody’s. The increase was in comparison to Standard & Poor’s, which has rated us for ten years."


Corridor lines…

Mississippi

Amtrak is looking around for new routes and new corridors, including in Mississippi.

Next month, the railroad will decide what some of those new city parings will be, and if Mississippians have anything to say about it, at least one route will include communities in their state.

The railroad is conducting a nationwide market analysis to improve service and expand business, a spokesman said.

John Wolf, in Washington, D.C. said that for the first time in its history, Amtrak is undertaking "an expansive market analysis of its route system, including existing and potential services, designed to increase the railroad’s national market share and revenues."

Two passenger trains currently go through Mississippi — the Crescent, operating between New York City and New Orleans, and the City of New Orleans between Chicago and New Orleans.

One idea is to route a new train between Meridian, Miss., to Ft. Worth, Tex.

Meridian mayor and NCI chairman John Robert Smith, who is also an Amtrak board member, said no firm decisions about a new route through the state has been selected.

He said, "We have looked at a number of routes and we have studied those routes, based not only on projected ridership, but other revenues." Amtrak is also trying to grow its mail and express business.

Smith noted that Amtrak is seeking to improve its marketability and viability by becoming the transportation company of choice by people who either can’t afford airfare, don’t want to drive, or simply want to enjoy their travel.

California

The Golden State will see the state DOT increase $121 million from the general fund for intercity and urban commuter rail projects in both Northern and Southern California, according to news reports. Some of the projects include $30 million for two additional trainsets that will be used on the San Diegan (Surfliner) corridor, Some $20 million for track and signal improvements on the San Joaquin intercity rail corridor near Fresno, and $36 million for more coaches and rail improvements for the Altamont Commuter Express ($36 million).

The new Coyote Valley Caltrain station plus a Vasona light ail Winchester station, both in the San Jose Area, will cost about $20 million, and track and signal improvements for Metrolink’s San Bernardino Line will add $15 million.

Meanwhile, the High-speed Rail Authority is proposing a major budget adjustment for fiscal year 2000-01. A decrease of $2 million reflects the elimination of funding for external consulting contracts to develop the recently completed High-Speed Rail Authority’s business plan. The authority is scheduled to sunset at the conclusion of the budget year under current law.

Georgia

Talks will soon begin among the Georgia Rail Passenger program, CSX and Norfolk Southern railroads, whose tracks have been designated for use by commuter and intercity trains.

"We’ve got to negotiate with the railroads and find out whether we’re going to have to lay track or whether they’ll let us use their track," Jimmy Lester, a member of the Project Management Team told the Atlanta Journal and Constitution.

Program managers from the state DOT, the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority and the Georgia Rail Passenger Authority will meet with CSX and NS representatives to discuss the two initial routes, Atlanta to Macon and Atlanta to Athens.

A CSX spokesman said the carrier is amenable to passenger service if it doesn’t adversely affect the company’s increasingly dense freight traffic.

Funding the plans seems to be an immediate problem.

Efforts have begun to find local sources to build and operate proposed commuter and intrastate rail services. Some ideas include sales or fuel tax increases, both of which are certain to draw substantial opposition.

About $32 million a year will be needed from state sources combined with $128 million annually that’s expected from Washington.

Georgia is planning six commuter and seven intercity lines serving 22 counties plus extensions into South Carolina and northern Florida. The first commuter route between Atlanta and Athens is scheduled to open by 2004.

Minnesota

Planning for the Twin Cities first regional rail route has been moving ahead quietly while the Hiawatha light rail proposal has been receiving most of the public’s attention.

Called the Northstar line, it would connect St. Cloud with Minneapolis along an existing 80-mile BNSF freight corridor, serving four counties, 15 cities and four townships.

The preliminary schedule calls for service to begin by 2003 with 18 daily rush hour round trips carrying 9,340 weekday riders. The capital cost has been estimated at $223 million, of which $89 million would be contributed by the state and $111 million from the federal government. Still unresolved is who would pay the $13.8 million in annual operating costs.

BNSF officials have said they are willing to accommodate passenger service, but won’t begin serious talks with the Northstar Corridor Development Authority about necessary improvements to the line and who should pay for them until all the financing is in place. The agency hopes to obtain financing from the legislature in the spring followed by approval from Washington.

Tennessee

A 31.1-mile commuter rail route linking downtown Nashville with Lebanon has a good chance of being up and running by December 2001. This would be the first of five regional lines radiating from Nashville under a regional rail transportation plan.

Consultants Gresham Smith and Partners and STV Inc. had until Dec. 31 to complete preliminary engineering and an environmental impact study for submission to the FTA. Meeting the deadline will insure that the project has a chance to be funded during FY 2000.

"We are up against the wall," Marshall Elizer, Transportation Services Manager for Gresham Smith told the Tennessean newspaper. "It’s the last minute, but we are committed to put the resources together to get it done." The Regional Transit Authority has already secured $1 million in federal planning funds, $8 million for station and parking design and $1 million for improving grade crossings and signals. Total capital cost of upgrading the line, which is owned by the Nashville and Eastern Railroad Corp., will be $21.9 million, 80 percent of which would come from Washington. The four other corridors, owned by CSX, would serve Hendersonville and Gallatin; La Vergne, Smyrna and Murfreesboro; Brentwood and Franklin; and Bellevue and Kingston Springs. Planners hope to have all five lines operating by 2020.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania transportation officials are trumpeting a state transportation plan for the next 25 years, which, they said "focuses on 10 long-range goals including improved safety, land-use management and system maintenance." The plans have been dubbed "PennPlan MOVES" and is a first-of-its-kind effort in the state. It is intended, they reported, "to more closely involve the public at the start of the transportation planning process. PennDOT said it interviewed about 2,000 people for their views on transportation priorities before preparing and completing the long-range plan. Safety, high-speed rail, the ability to transfer between modes and smart highways were among the priorities participants cited. "MOVES" stands for the themes that emerged from the public involvement process: Mobility, Options, Voices, Efficiency, Environment, Equity, Economy and Safety.

He said PennDOT and its partn ers will use "PennPlan MOVES" to link specific projects to broader policy goals. The plan also provides mechanisms for measuring success in meeting those goals. The plan is a cooperative venture among PennDOT, regional agencies and local governments, and the public, he added. The plan has 10 specific goals, including promoting safety of the transportation system, improving the environment, and keeping jobs while expanding economic opportunities. Rail-specific goals, and other modes, include maintaining, upgrading and improving the transportation system; advance regional and corridor-based planning; develop transportation alternatives and manage demand; and promote smooth, easy connections between transportation alternatives.

Tennessee

Amtrak has a newly refurbished station in Memphis, and it is billing it as "one of the most convenient and efficient ticketing and baggage set-ups in the Amtrak system."

The bright, new facilities, as Amtrak described it in a press release, were on display for passenger train enthusiasts and local dignitaries from the Memphis metropolitan area during a two-day open house at the renovated Memphis Central Station.

The railroad held an invitation-only VIP dinner on an Amtrak dining car, which is part of a train display that included a sleeper and a lounge car.

The $17 million project, of which Amtrak contributed $100,000, included renovated Amtrak facilities, a restored Great Hall, apartments and condominiums, city bus and trolley transfer facilities and platform level parking.

In late September, 30,000 people attended a Central Station grand re-opening festival. The structure is the anchor of a multi-million dollar South Main Street Development project.

City of New Orleans calls on Memphis daily between Chicago and its namesake destination.

Maine

Guilford Rail Systems has agreed to sell its route that runs into Portland’s Bayside neighborhood as the state makes plans to extend rail passenger service north from Portland to Brunswick. Amtrak service between Boston and Portland is expected to begin late this year.

Gov. Angus King has proposed spending $10.5 million to extend the Amtrak passenger service.

Guilford Vice President David Fink said his company is also reviewing upgrades needed for Amtrak trains to run between Yarmouth and Brunswick, the AP reported.

The line extension would see passenger trains run from a station to be built on Portland’s Marginal Way. The line would continue to Brunswick and could be extended later to Auburn and eventually even to Bangor.


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