NCI: Leo KingThe high-speed trains are leaving the stations nationwide, but will political actions allow them to succeed? As always, Washington hold the keys.
|High-speed rail act moves to front burner|
There's a new High-speed Rail Investment Act on Capitol Hill. As the promotions would say, "Back by popular demand! Now bigger than ever!" It's a 40 to 50 year project, and a majority of the U.S. Senate is in for the long haul.
An expanded route system (with lines added during the two years since the bill was first introduced) has prompted lawmakers to increase last year's $10 billion bond authorization to $12 billion over ten years to, as Amtrak CEO George D. Warrington says, "help ease traffic congestion, especially in metropolitan areas of our country."
The states must pony up a 20 percent match before bonds can be sold for a particular project, and already, 51 U.S. senators, a clear majority, had signed on to the bill before about a dozen of them gathered for a news conference. Last year, only 22 had co-sponsored the bill at first. That grew to 67 senators, a veto-proof majority that had added their names to the list of backers of the original bill that failed passage at the last minute in December, just before the 106th Congress shut down. And this time, two of the 51 senators co-sponsoring the new legislation are Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and Minority Leader Tom Daschle.
Of course, the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has the responsibility of authorizing the measure, John McCain (R-Ariz.) is dead set against it.
At the Jan. 31 news conference, I asked only half facetiously if a political barrier to HSRIA would be eliminated if the route-planners would add a high-speed line that includes Phoenix and Tucson, since McCain has made it obvious he would like the bury the measure in his committee.
Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), a member of McCain's committee, said he had "talked to John (McCain) about this," that Chairman McCain is "a fair-minded person who allows the committee to vote its intentions," and that when push comes to shove, "we have the votes to report this bill out of the committee."
Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) says he and McCain have gone back and forth on this legislation. The senator from Arizona has asked why the taxpayers of his state should shell out bucks for Biden's Delaware constituents to commute back and forth from Wilmington to Philadelphia. Biden's response has been, "Same reason my mother pays more for her drinking water than your mother-in-law does out in Arizona. But we made a deal. He cuts off the rail, and we cut off all water to the west."
And besides, even though it's not on the map now, Los Angeles-Phoenix may be viable at some time in the future. After all, the Interstate Highway system wasn't built in a day. Neither will Interstate 2 (as Amtrak Reform Council Chairman Gil Carmichael calls the envisioned high-speed network).
By my count, the HSRIA contemplates the fast trains serving thirty states and the District of Columbia, plus trips over the border to serve the Canadian cities of Montreal and Vancouver, and that's before you even get to talk about L.A.-Phoenix or L.A.-Las Vegas, which would add two more states. Most of the remaining states would continue to be served by Amtrak's long distance trains, which would connect with the high-speed corridors.
Kerry made the point that rail passenger service is the l-e-a-s-t subsidized form of transportation in the United States.
"Since Amtrak was formed," he said, "we have spent $380 billion on highways. We have spent $160 billion plus on airports. By contrast, we have spent only 23 billion total on Amtrak. Only 4 percent of the entire transportation budget of this country has gone to rail over the last 30 years. Not one railroad system on the face of this planet in any country operates without a subsidy."
The Class I freight railroads would argue they are subsidy-free, but some of them, as we have reported to you in previous articles, are coming to view that as a disadvantage where capital needs are concerned.
Amtrak meanwhile, has estimated it will need $1.5 billion a year to catch up on deferred maintenance and to modernize its system. Starts authorized by HSRIA would cover part of that. Amtrak's Warrington told the Washington Post that, yes, Amtrak was behind on its business plan, caused in large part by the year and a half delay in the startup of the Acela high-speed service in the northeast.
"We don't have a lot of working capital in this company," Warrington was quoted as saying. He says the railroad will keep running through "creative accounting."
At the news conference, in following up on my question to the senators, Warrington added the need for capital funding is nothing new. Capital funding for Amtrak, as has been pointed out many times in this space, is the single greatest roadblock to making it a first class rail passenger operation.
Of further note is the fact that construction costs of high-speed rail are significantly less than other alternatives such as increased highway capacity in urban areas. At peak travel times, passenger rail offers greater capacity and costs less than the alternative of increased highway lane miles.
Although the map presented at the high-speed news conference included 30 states, Amtrak distributed a fact sheet saying that there are plans across the nation for significant upgrades to existing rail corridors for faster access to urban business centers, "including projects in 38 states." Obviously included in those additional states are Iowa and Nebraska where the Chicago to Omaha high-speed line, while not on the Amtrak map, is envisioned in the Midwest High-speed Rail Initiative, a state-driven proposal.
At the end of the week, the new chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) announced he intends to "examine the feasibility of a new high-speed Magnetic Levitation (Maglev) rail program in the western United States."
Young, who took over the chairmanship of the panel from Rep. Bud Shuster (R-Pa.) who was term-limited (as are all GOP committee chairmen), and retired at the end of January, is unhappy that former DOT Secretary Rodney Slater awarded D.C.-Baltimore and the Pittsburgh, Pa. area as candidates for maglev projects.
Young noted these areas are in the east and that "the West Coast should have a chance to alleviate traffic with a high-speed train." The Alaska lawmaker thinks, "The East Coast has already had more than its fair share of rail improvement projects." Now it's the west's turn. He believes a line from California to Las Vegas ‚ the fastest growing urban area ‚ would have been a better choice.
The map included in the HSRIA includes very heavy emphasis on the West Coast. There is a route between Vancouver, Seattle, Portland and Eugene. In California, there is both a coastal and inland route from Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area down south to Los Angeles and San Diego.
Moreover, as we've noted recently, maglev, the super high-speed 250 mph technology that the cutting edge Europeans and Japanese are not sure of, may serve to confuse and delay plans for the tried and thoroughly tested high-speed rail contemplated in HSRIA.
But what is significant is that this new chairman is taking an active interest in upgrading rail service. He is new to the job and has a regional perspective, as do most politicians who know where their voters are. Nonetheless his interest in pushing any rail project at all would have to be viewed by passenger train advocates as a plus.
All of these inputs will ultimately come together, hopefully resulting in Interstate Two. The debate is on. Dare we say the train is leaving the station?
Looking at maglev, too
Young reconstitutes rail subcommittee
Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure chairman, has reconstituted its Subcommittee on Railroads, and has named Rep. Jack Quinn (R-NY) to chair the subcommittee. The assignments were made last week, and were made public on January 31.
Young is in a new post himself. He formerly chaired the House Committee on Resources, but was assigned to his new post by Republican leadership. He reestablished the railroads subcommittee, which, during the 106th Congress, had been combined with highway and mass transit programs. That subcommittee has now shed all its railroads responsibilities.
He is serving his 15th term as Alaska's sole House member, is the 13th ranking member of the entire House, and sixth highest-ranking Republican member.
His home is in Fort Yukon, Alaska, A village of about 700 people located seven miles above the Arctic Circle in central Alaska.
Young said the railroads subcommittee "will have jurisdiction over all matters relating to freight railroads; rail passenger service including Amtrak; high-speed rail systems; railroad labor; railroad safety; railroad retirement; railroad workers' compensation; and railroad unemployment insurance."
Quinn, from Hamburg, N.Y. with offices in Buffalo, is in his fourth term and represents New York's 30th District as well as other committees.
One of Young's first acts as chairman will be to "examine the feasibility of a new high-speed magnetic levitation (maglev) rail program in the western United States."
He said, in a press release, "I fully intend to revisit this issue this Congress and work with the new Bush Administration" to promote a maglev program in the west.
During the final days of the Clinton Administration, outgoing USDOT Secretary Rodney Slater named two candidates for the high-speed maglev program, both in the eastern U.S.
"I'm upset and disappointed by the 11th hour decision by the outgoing secretary," Young said. "Frankly, the West Coast, with all of its heavy congestion, should have a chance to alleviate traffic with a high-speed train." Both of Slater's projects are located on the East Coast where costs are extremely high and land acquisition is difficult.
(Read Wes Vernon's article, above. - Ed.)
"More importantly, the maglev project is not meant to be, or designed to serve as a short-hop commuter line. The maglev is designed to provide high-speed, intercity ground transportation over distances between 100 to 750 miles. Neither of Slater's projects qualifies under this criteria."
Young said one candidate not selected was the California-Nevada route, the so-called I-15 corridor project, "arguably one of the least costly and best positioned for construction. The West Coast project would relieve gridlock from the country's most populous state, California, and the fastest growing metropolitan area, Las Vegas, in the United States."
Young remarked, "Amtrak... has spent millions of dollars upgrading track and railcar improvements for its high-speed rail, Acela, which serves the corridor between Washington, D.C. and Boston, but I think taxpayers and elected officials in the Western states would like to see a rail project or two developed outside of the Eastern Seaboard. As Chairman of the Transportation Committee, I intend to take a hard look at the feasibility of such projects out west."
|Amtrak starts 20-year capital plan|
Last Wednesday, Amtrak disclosed its first-ever long-term capital plan to help relieve the nation's chronic highway and airport congestion and provide more rail service for travelers.
The 20-year plan, which requires $1.5 billion in federal capital each year, would finally give the railroad a reliable source of long-term investment funds.
In a weekly news fax to employees, management stated, "The plan is designed to modernize and expand the intercity passenger rail system nationwide, accelerate plans for high-speed service in 11 federally designated corridors, and attract billions more in non-federal investment."
Amtrak released the plan publicly just one day after more than half of the Senate co-sponsored and reintroduced the High-Speed Rail Investment Act of 2001. The legislation, which passed the House last year but failed in the larger final spending hill, would provide Amtrak with $12 billion in state and federally supported hands over 10 years to invest in high-speed rail projects throughout America. Senators Joe Biden of Delaware, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi champion the proposal.
"The capital plan, which is the result of the most comprehensive assessment of long-term needs for intercity passenger rail ever conducted, is part of Amtrak's annual strategic business plan," the carrier stated, and added, "The business plan makes clear the need for diligent cost management practices," and shows that while the carrier "will fall $119 million short of its original plan for Fiscal Year 2OO1 ‚ largely because of the delays in Acela Express service ‚ various cash management practices will allow it to continue on its glide path to zero federal support for operations."
Since fiscal 1999, Amtrak said it will have cut federal operating support from $318 million "to only $59 million this year."
|Amtrak adds 'quiet cars' to Metroliners|
Amtrak reports it is increasing the number of "quiet cars" for passengers on its Northeast Corridor Metroliner trains "in a move to balance the needs of a 'wired society' with those of travelers who are just looking for a little peace and quiet," according to Northeast Corridor spokeswoman Karen Dunn.
Starting last Wednesday, a "quiet car" was designated on Metroliner trains 106 and 107, she said, and noted, Amtrak's Metroliner service "has long been the transportation choice of business travelers because they have unlimited use of their cell phones and other electronic devices. Now, there is a new market demand for a space away from the noise of cell phones, pagers and computers."
NEC President Stan Bagley said, "Amtrak in no way wants to discourage business travelers who choose to work on the train, but by creating these åquiet cars,' we're is responding to a consumer demand."
The first business class car behind the locomotive on the 9:00 a.m. Metroliners out of both Washington D.C. and New York are the designated quiet cars.
|A question: Where are the platforms?|
The trains may be going from Boston to Portland, Me., in three months, but where will passenger get on and off? That's the dilemma now facing potential northern New England train riders.
Not a single station or platform has yet been built, and the lack has some people worrying the long-awaited service will be derailed yet again.
More than 10 years in the making, the Downeaster is scheduled to start May 1, on Amtrak's 30th anniversary, but construction in three New Hampshire towns and four Maine towns hangs on the approval of agreements between Guilford Rail Systems and the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA).
NNEPRA attorneys are expected to meet with Guilford's lawyers today in Billerica, Mass., and the railroad's headquarters. The rail authority wants to lease the land along the right-of-way where platforms will be built. A railroad spokeswoman said Guilford sent out platform lease agreements last summer, but talks failed to produce a final deal.
|Is your cab 'FRA clean'?|
The Federal Railroad Administration issued a "Notice of Proposed Rulemaking" on January 2 that would set sanitation standards for toilets and sinks in locomotive cabs.
If the new rules are adopted, the FRA said, "the regulations would require a daily inspection to determine whether the toilet facilities met the new standards. Those standards include adequate ventilation; supply of toilet paper; a washing system; trash receptacle; door closure and modesty lock; potable water; proper maintenance of the toilet system, and a requirement that the sanitation compartment be sanitary."
The rules "would apply to leading locomotives and any occupied trailing locomotives, except those used in switching or transfer service, commuter service, Class III railroads where access is provided en route, tourist and scenic lines, and excursions."
The proposal provides exceptions for certain existing equipment and operations, and establishes servicing requirements.
The proposed rule is the product of the Rail Safety Advisory Committee on Locomotive Cab Working Conditions, the federal agency stated, and it will accept comments until March 5.
|Herzog loses suit with Amtrak, unions|
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has thrown out a lawsuit brought by Herzog Transit Services, which resulted in a victory for Bay Transit Authority (BTA) commuter rail service workers in the San Francisco area.
The United Transportation Union (UTU) and the Transportation Communications International Union (TCU) were the lead opponents, which centered over the federal transit act's section 13(c) provisions protecting a wide range of transportation workers' jobs.
A decision by former U.S. Labor Secretary Alexis Herman to enforce current law was upheld by in a ruling issued on January 13.
BTA workers were threatened when Herzog sought to bid against Amtrak to renew a contract to operate commuter rail services. The Herzog bid would not have complied with section 13(c) regulations, giving Herzog a competitive advantage over Amtrak and sparking Herman's decision.
Amtrak waged a similar battle with Herzog about two years ago when it attempted to wrest the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority maintenance contract from the railroad. Amtrak won that case.
"This was a big win," said UTU International President Charles L. Little. "This ruling not only serves UTU-represented conductors and assistant conductors working on Amtrak, but also offers aid and support to all transportation workers whose contracts rely on the protections afforded by section 13(c)."
Among other things, the law authorizes the Secretary of Labor to condition the certification of bids in order to protect workers' collective bargaining rights. The district court held that Herman's decision was "neither arbitrary, capricious, nor unlawful," and instead was "fair and equitable" in upholding those provisions.
When federal funds are used to acquire, improve, or operate a transit system, the Federal Transit Act requires arrangements to protect the rights of affected transit employees. Those protections are found in section 13(c), which specifies that the arrangements "must preserve the rights and benefits of employees" under existing collective bargaining agreements; continue collective bargaining rights; protect individual employees against a worsening of their positions in relation to their employment, and provide assurances of employment to employees of acquired transit systems, including priority of re-employment, and paid training or retraining programs.
|Rail retirement changes in the offing - again|
The 2001 campaign to pass the Railroad Retirement and Survivors' Improvement Act is off and running.
National officers and legislative representatives from each rail union in the Coalition of Rail Employees for Improved Pensions (REIP) met on January 16, in Washington, D.C. with representatives of every major railroad and retiree organization to plan strategy to enact railroad retirement improvements this year.
"Every union and railroad at the meeting pledged that achieving railroad retirement reform would be their top legislative priority this year. Last year's campaign came close to succeeding," a REIP press release stated. The measure passed the House of Representatives 391-25, and 83 senators signed a letter of support. The Senate Finance Committee voted for it, but it never come up for a vote in the full Senate due to the opposition of a handful of senators who were the majority leadership.
Retiring Rep. Bud Shuster (R-PA) submitted a bill (HR 180) before he retired last month that mirrors last year's proposed measure.
The bill, if enacted, "will reduce the age to receive a full annuity to 60 with 30 years of service from age 62; improve surviving spouse benefits so that surviving spouses would inherit the full Tier II annuity of the deceased retiree instead of the current 50 percent of the retiree's annuity; reduce vesting from ten to five years; remove artificial caps on benefits that penalize long-term employees who left the industry; reduce carrier taxes by an equivalent amount; and require the carriers to insure that the Railroad Retirement Account maintains a sufficient fund-to-benefit ratio in the future by agreeing to automatic future tax hikes if necessary."
In addition, the carriers, represented by the National Carriers' Conference Committee, "stand by the agreement that when such legislation is enacted, they will provide retiree health insurance at age 60 instead of the current age 61, and annually increase the existing $75,000 cap on benefits by the rate of medical inflation."
The increased benefits and reduced taxes "will be made possible by allowing the money contributed to the fund in excess of social security to be invested in non-governmental securities, using prudent investment standards, as every other pension plan already does." The Railroad Retirement Board Actuary has updated the projections based on the year delay, and concluded that fund solvency will be unaffected.
Some 17 rail-related unions support the reform. None have been opposed.
|More New England trains may be on the horizon|
A New Hampshire task force is looking into resuming passenger service between Kittery, Maine and Boston's North Station via Portsmouth, N.H., and Newburyport, Mass.
The last time train riders could make that journey was in 1965.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority would most likely operate the service, reports the Portsmouth Herald. The MBTA has a record of success in expanding service to people outside of Boston.
The task force, created by the state legislature, has been meeting since June to gather information with an eye to a service with stops in Kittery, Portsmouth, Hampton, Seabrook and Newburyport before going on to Boston, all without making a change.
Officials said the commuter service would not compete with Amtrak passenger service between Portland and Boston, scheduled to begin in May. That train, the so-called Downeaster, will stop in Biddeford, Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Wells, Dover, the Univ. of New Hampshire and Exeter before going on to Boston's North Station.
GE's Locomotive business slumps
General Electric's locomotive building plants will lay off 160 workers at plants in Erie and Mercer counties in Pennsylvania, a company spokeswoman said last week. GE Transportation Systems said the layoffs in Erie and Grove City are among 200 in the division.
About 80 percent of the workers are hourly union employees. The rest draw salaries, said Susan Breon, a GE spokeswoman. The Erie factory employs 5,000 people and is among the state's largest factories, and another 600 people work in Grove City.
The layoffs follow two years of declining orders for locomotives made at the Erie plant. After making a record 911 engines in 1999, the company shipped 700 units last year and expects to build 550 to 600 this year.
GE Transportation Systems Chief Executive Officer John Krenicki said the slowing economy and a struggling railroad market will keep orders low this year.
"It's a tougher market. If you look around the state of our customers, they are having a downturn," he said.
Built a tunnel, tear down a bridge
Here's an idea: Build tunnels under the Hudson River that carries rails as well as trucks and autos, then tear down the Tappan Zee Bridge.
That's not such a far-fetched idea.
Twin tunnels that carry trains and cars could be built beneath the Hudson in less time and for less money than repairing or replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge, a study has shown.
In addition, tunnel advocates claim, this alternative approach to easing congestion in the region's busiest commuter corridor will have little to no impact on traffic, riverfront communities or the environment, according to a report in the Westchester Times Herald-Record, and the tunnel will also permit the existing bridge to be demolished and the beauty of the river and shorelines to be restored.
"Why replicate a failed bridge?" asked Alexander Saunders. "Why do we have to have the Hudson River messed up some more?"
Saunders, a veteran of many Hudson Valley environmental causes, and John Vargo, vice president of Boating on the Hudson magazine, pitched their plan to the public for the first time last week.
About 25 political, community and environmental leaders from Rockland and Westchester counties attended the news conference at a riverside restaurant with a view of the bridge.
"It's up to the public now," said Saunders, whose vision has attracted widespread interest via Vargo's magazine. "If they want it to happen, it will; if they don't, it won't."
Saunders and John Brockway, a U.S. representative of Herrenknecht, a German manufacturer of tunneling equipment, presented a short slide show about the technology, which is routinely used in Europe and Japan where real estate is at a premium.
Brockway estimated Europe has about 3,000 tunnels and Japan, about 5,000, under seas, rivers, harbors, cities and mountains.
They estimated the so-called "Tappan Tunnel" could cost between $700 million to $850 million, based on a similar project being built now in the Netherlands. The New York State Thruway Authority has estimated repairing the bridge would cost $1.2 billion and replacing it with capability for rail, $1.5 billion.
Saunders said he thinks the tunnel shouldn't stop on the river's east shore but continue beneath Westchester County and Long Island Sound to Oyster Bay in Nassau County, ultimately linking all the region's major highways and freight and commuter rail lines.
Tunneling equipment is custom-built for each project and Saunders thinks once $30 million to $40 million is spent on one for the Hudson, it should be put to optimal use.
He added that the quarry opposite the Palisades Mall just off the Thruway would make a perfect site for staging the construction, processing gravel and other excavated material for sale and building the entrance to the tunnel.
In fact, the pluses so dominated the presentation that a woman was motivated to ask if there were any downsides to a tunnel. "No views," said Saunders.
|Chicago is cool toward fast trains|
Despite bipartisan support growing in the Congress for federal investments in high-speed rail, Chicago, which would be a huge beneficiary of rail expansion, is surprisingly lukewarm about the potential benefits, reports Crain's Chicago Business News Online.
Although Mayor Richard M. Daley endorses the $10-billion measure to fund improvements to Amtrak lines, the city is ambivalent about high-speed rail in general, at least in comparison with transit, highway and aviation concerns. Also, city officials are wary that it could help fast-track the state's plans for a new airport at Peotone.
"I don't know how high it is on the priority list," says Rep. William Lipinski, D-Chicago, the city's point man in Congress on transportation issues. "There was concern it might be helpful to supporters of a third airport."
Illinois transportation planners are nearing a critical decision, probably by April, on the best route for bringing upgraded, 110-mph passenger train service into Chicago, including two routes through Joliet and one through Peotone.
In cooperation with Amtrak, the state is contracting for $72 million in track improvements along the 1-mile route between Springfield and Dwight, including $20 million for 13 sets of high-speed engines and passenger cars, enabling trains to run at 110 mph vs. 79 mph today.
While still far from the caliber of bullet trains in Japan and Europe, the state's plans for track upgrades and faster trains would cut an hour off of the 5_-hour trip to St. Louis. Eventually, when the entire route is upgraded, the trip will take less than 3_ hours.
"That's where we'll really compete well with cars," says Merrill Travis, chief of the Illinois Department of Transportation's (IDOT) Bureau of Railroads.
Proponents say "build it and they will come," says Miguel d'Escoto, commissioner of the city's DOT, adding that the city has commissioned an outside study of high-speed rail's potential economic payoffs for Chicago. "I don't believe we are convinced that's necessarily the case."
Yet proponents of faster passenger trains say the city's wait-and-see approach belies its enviable status as the logical hub for any high-speed routes in the Midwest.
"It's not clear exactly where this fits in the city's priorities right now," says Jim LaBelle, executive director of Business Leaders for Transportation, a coalition of Chicago business groups that strongly supports high-speed rail as both an economic boost and an answer to congestion problems in the region.
"What you'd like to see is a level of involvement like they have with the airport," says Richard Harnish, vice-president of the Midwest High-Speed Rail Coalition. "Right now, they're kind of watching it."
Despite the city's opposition to the Peotone route, two alternative routes through Joliet would entail the closing or upgrading of many more grade crossings to accommodate faster trains, and local opposition is heated.
"It would kill our downtown," says Lockport Mayor Frank Mitchell, adding that the Joliet route would send 100-mph trains within 10 feet of historic buildings. "I would recommend to the City Council that we pursue legal action."
The Peotone route has the advantage of only three grade crossings between Dwight and Chicago, compared with 30 for the Joliet route along the Heritage Corridor, which means the Peotone route would be much faster. Currently, however, the main problem concerns slow-moving freight trains on an NS connecting track which the state needs for the Peotone route. If those concerns can't be resolved, the state may have to choose between the two routes through Joliet.
|Montana wants passenger trains|
Montana Rail Link would host passenger train across the southern tier, if a plan bears fruit. The Montana House wants state government to be on record in favor of establishing passenger train service across southern Montana.
Attempting to add a legislative voice to a citizens' campaign for the route, the House voted 80-20 on January 21 for House Joint Resolution 3. It said Amtrak should operate a Denver to Spokane, Wash., train, which would cross southern Montana, reports the Great Falls Tribune.
Resolutions express positions on issues, but they have no force of law, and a House member against the railroad measure called it a "do-nothing, feel-good" statement.
Rep. Joe Balyeat, R-Bozeman, also said buses are better than passenger trains because they are faster, cost less and can go more places. The proposed rail service would lose money and always require a government subsidy, said Balyeat, a leading advocate of leaner government.
The Montana/Wyoming Association of Railroad Passengers is pushing for the train service, and Montana's U.S. senators, Republican Conrad Burns and Democrat Max Baucus, are sponsoring a bill that would help finance the route.
A passenger route through southern Montana was discontinued in the 1970s, but Amtrak still operates its Empire Builder across the state's northern tier, and in 1997, the railroad discontinued a Chicago-to-Seattle route that passed through southern Wyoming.
Advocates of the proposed route say it would stimulate economic development and provide a transportation alternative for Montanans.
Thanks to NP TellTale list and Mark Meyer
|Texas trains may be delayed|
A fight over money and land could delay commuter rail service to the Texas & Pacific Terminal Building at the southern end of downtown Fort Worth by up to six months, officials with the Fort Worth Transportation Authority said last week.
Developer and investor Taylor Gandy is seeking a court order that would force the transportation authority, also known as the T, to return a 3.8-acre strip of land that runs south of 12th Street on the eastern edge of downtown, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported last week.
Gandy is also asking that the T stop construction work just south of the Intermodal Transportation Center at Ninth and Jones streets until he and T officials agree on a purchase price for the property.
"That land belongs to us until they legally take it away," Gandy said on January 29. "I don't think that any government agency has the right to take possession of a piece of property until the owner is compensated, and we certainly have not agreed on the fair market value of the land."
But the T, which said it needs the land to build the Intermodal Transportation Center, says it has already offered Gandy more than enough money for the property.
"This is just a maneuver on his part to further delay the process," said J.R. Kimball, chairman of the T's executive committee. "We are trying to be a good neighbor and have made several concessions already to the Gandys."
Kimball said Gandy's legal action would not affect when the popular Trinity Railway Express comes to the transportation center, but it could delay the start of commuter rail service at the Texas & Pacific Terminal Building on Throckmorton St., until spring 2002. Plans call for the Trinity rail line to run to both the Intermodal Transportation Center and the T&P building by October.
CN to buy WC
Wisconsin Central Transportation Co. has agreed to sell its business to Canadian National Railway Co. for $800 million in stock. The railroads disclosed their plans last Tuesday.
WC is headquartered in Rosemont, Wis., and CN in Toronto, and WC is a transportation holding company with a North American railroad system of Class II and Class III railroads consisting of approximately 2,850 miles of track and trackage rights in Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan's Upper Peninsula and Ontario.
CN would pay $17.15 for each outstanding share of WC stock in exchange for its track and trackage rights in the four states and one province.
WC's shares were trading at $15.88 at Friday's close on the NASDAQ. That day's range was between $15.81 and $15.94.
The corporation has approximately 46.5 million shares outstanding, giving the transaction a total enterprise value of approximately $1.2 billion, including approximately $400 million of WC debt.
WC had been under pressure to sell from shareholders, some of whom formed a dissident group, led by former CEO Edward Burkhardt, which launched an unsuccessful bid late last year to take control of the company, according to Crain's Chicago Business News.
WC's CEO Thomas Power Jr. said the railroad approached CN about a potential acquisition. "The merger... is the best transaction for our shippers, stockholders and employees," he said.
CN's CEO Paul Tellier said the company is "committed" to keeping the U.S. tracks open.
WC stockholders will have to okay the deal.
CN President and CEO Paul M. Tellier said, "CN's acquisition of WC makes sense for several reasons. First, it will secure a link in CN's NAFTA network ‚ the main-line railroad connecting Chicago, Superior, Wis., and CN's transcontinental network across Canada. Under a 1998 agreement, WC already hauls CN freight between Superior and Chicago."
Single-line service over that link under CN ownership "will improve the competitiveness of CN and WC and their customers in Canada-United States trade, which is growing annually at more than 10 per cent."
Tellier added that the "efficiencies that will result... offer the prospect of enhancing CN's top-line growth in the domestic U.S. marketplace and benefiting customers with improved through service at the busy Chicago gateway."
He said the transaction "is expected to be modestly accretive to CN's earnings and cash flow per share" in the first year following the U.S's Surface Transportation Board (STB) approval, and increasingly thereafter ‚ if the board approves the deal.
Tellier said, "The CN-WC transaction is a simple, straightforward, pro-competitive, end-to-end combination. Not a single åtwo-to-one' point will arise in the U.S. as a result of the merger, and there will be no other significant adverse impacts on competition. CN is committed to keeping gateways open."
He also explained that "Equally important, CN will offer shippers a service implementation plan that will assure that service levels on the combined CN-WC will be equal to, or better than, current levels. Both CN and WC believe the transaction should be treated as a minor one by the STB, but if it is not, CN reserves the right to terminate the merger agreement without penalty."
WC's president and CEO, Thomas F. Power, Jr., said, "The merger is the best transaction for our shippers, stockholders and employees. Founded in 1987 and pieced together from rail lines divested by Class I railroads, WC's management and employees have created what I believe is the most efficient and successful regional rail system in the U.S. Now, it's time for Wisconsin Central to join a broader North American rail network, and to move to the next level of excellence by combining with CN."
He described CN as a "natural fit for WC, offering it the best long-term prospects."
|NS realigns divisions; loses one|
Norfolk Southern said on Friday it will realign divisional operations in the central part of its 22-state service region in order to increase operating efficiency. Most of its Kentucky and Tennessee divisions were combined to form the new Central Division, with headquarters in Knoxville, effective February 1. The main routes of the new Central Division will extend from Cincinnati and Louisville to Chattanooga, from Knoxville to Chattanooga, and from Knoxville to Asheville, N.C., Andover, Va., and Bristol, Va.
As a result, Kentucky and Tennessee division lines were reassigned to other divisions, including the Kentucky Division's 260-mile line from St. Louis to Louisville, and branch lines, which are now part of the Illinois Division, with headquarters in Decatur, Ill.
Elsewhere, the Kentucky Division's 336-mile route from Cincinnati to Chattanooga, and branch lines, will become part the Central Division; the Kentucky Division's 90-mile line from Danville, Ky., to Louisville, and branch lines, will become part of the Central Division; and the Tennessee Division's 203-mile line from Chattanooga to Memphis, and branch lines, will become part of the Alabama Division, with headquarters in Birmingham.
Some terminals were also reassigned, including Louisville Terminal, which was added to the Central Division; as were Cincinnati and Chattanooga Terminals; Memphis Terminal went to the Alabama Division, as did Sheffield Terminal.
NS said, "Some of the changes require further handling with the union representing the company's involved train dispatchers, and the realignment of involved train dispatching functions will be implemented after completion of that process."
Central Division superintendent will be Paul E. Gibson Jr., who was superintendent of the former Tennessee Division. Train and engine personnel in all areas of the realignment will continue to report to their usual locations.
With the consolidation, Norfolk Southern reduces from 12 to 11 the number of its operating divisions. These are the Georgia, Piedmont, Virginia and Pocahontas divisions in the Eastern Region; the Dearborn, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh divisions in the Northern Region; and the Central, Alabama, Illinois and Lake divisions in the Western.
|CSX files for $800 million in securities|
|CSX Corp. filed to offer $800 million of debt securities, common stock, preferred stock, depository shares and warrants, according to a statement filed Wednesday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The net proceeds would be used for ågeneral corporate purposes," including the reduction or refinancing of debt, capital expenditures, working capital, implementation of work force reductions and other cost reduction measurements. Chase Manhattan Bank is the trustee for the debt securities, the filing noted, but underwriters were listed.|
In your December 18 newsletter, I read the story about how Kahn (I forgot his first name) was talking about the future of railroads. Is he right about what he says or is that just his imaginary viewpoint? Does anyone really know about the future of the railroad industry for the 21st Century?
We asked our Washington correspondent, Wes Vernon, who replied, "Mr. Holt might want to re-read the article, or at least the early part of it. I specifically stated that Fritz Kahn was asked by author Frank Wilner 'to let his imagination run wild.' And that is indeed exactly what he did. At no time did Mr. Kahn lay claim to the proverbial crystal ball. This is all freely acknowledged speculation and was clearly labeled as such."
So long, Lionel...
Toy train maker moves to China
Toy train collectors and fans were surprised lat week when toy train maker Lionel disclosed last week it is moving its manufacturing operations to China from Chesterfield Township, Michigan.
The firm's president and COO, Richard Maddox, of Lionel LLC, said Thursday that "all manufacturing of Lionel products at its Chesterfield factory will cease by August and be transferred to China," Kalmbach Publishing reported last week on its web site at http://www.trains.com
Maddox said the decision was based on increased costs of domestic manufacturing, increased competition and continued changes in the marketplace, and was not a reflection of the workforce of the Chesterfield manufacturing operation.
"What would cost a half a million dollars to manufacture here would cost $50,000 to $75,000 overseas," Maddox said. "Wellspring (Lionel's parent company) has invested $20 million over the past three years to keep Lionel competitive in the toy train market. Twelve to 15 percent of yearly sales go back into tooling."
"This is an experienced and devoted workforce. Naturally they're feeling betrayed," said a bitter Dan McCarthy, president of UAW Local 417. "Loyalty cuts both ways. It's a loyal workforce. They didn't deserve this."
McCarthy said the union presented Lionel with options that he claimed could have saved Lionel "millions of dollars, but it wasn't good enough for them." The union's cost-savings suggestions included reducing the workforce at the Chesterfield plant, but "maintaining a core operation here."
|A farewell profile: O. Winston Link|
Master photographer O. Winston Link died last week. He was 86.
He tried to document an era, and as far as we are concerned, he succeeded. The man who captured incredibly memorable images for rail enthusiasts and photographic skills aficionados died en route to a hospital on January 30 in New York State near his home. He had stopped his car and asked for help, but it was too late.
Just the night before, fire gutted the former Virginian Railway station in Roanoke, Va. The date also marked the 45th anniversary of its last use as a passenger station, according to the Norfolk & Western Historical Society. The Virginian Ry. became part of Norfolk & Western in 1959.
The wood frame structure was built in 1909, and remained active station until 1956, when the Virginian ended passenger train service. It remains, however, on the Roanoke Valley Preservation Foundation 2000 list of Most Endangered Sites, the Roanoke Times reported. The station housed a store. The cause of the fire had not been determined by Saturday morning.
Link chronicled railroad life in the 1950s and became not only an international name in photography, but also captured the last days of the American steam locomotive.
He had been sick for some time when he drove himself to the hospital in Mount Kisco, N.Y., on Tuesday afternoon and suffered a heart attack en route, said his publicist, Tom Garver. Link died before he got there.
There had been recent talks of creating an O. Winston Link museum in the passenger station in downtown Roanoke. Link was lobbying to have his steam engine, the 1218, a ten-wheeler displayed, but he had said he would not cooperate with the museum project unless the locomotive he described as "the most beautiful engine in the world" was part of it.
For many, Link not only captured the last days of the steam engine, but also froze an innocent time of the world in his camera lens.
Besides the engines billowing steam, Link's photos showed such scenes as railroaders sitting around a wood stove sharing a story or a young boy waving to the engineers as a train chugged by.
"He was trying to document an era," said longtime friend Joan Thomas, who markets British Broadcasting Corp. videos made about Link. "He knew that not only the steam engines were going, but also a way a life."
An internationally known photographer, Link was featured in the January issue of Vanity Fair, which featured photographers of the century. His photos would take days to construct sometimes, complete with numerous flashes and wires galore. N&W would work with Link on his photos, manipulating the trains to his liking.
"It was an impossibly beautiful relationship," Link said recently.
Link was born in Brooklyn in 1914, grew up in Park Slope, and studied civil engineering at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn. He graduated in 1937. In the mid-1940s he established his own commercial studio business, and specialized in industrial subjects.
Unlike much of today's lightweight, portable photographic equipment, Link's was formidable, weighing close to 500 pounds. For the N&W project, undertaken at his own expense, Link and an assistant carried large format cameras, flash reflectors two feet in diameter, thousands of feet of wiring and heavy batteries along the railroad's 2,300 miles of track.
From January 1955 to May 1960, Link passionately documented the operations, sights and sounds of the railroad, producing approximately 2,400 negatives and transparencies, and more than six collections of sound recordings, over the course of twenty trips. His efforts produced richly theatrical, nighttime black-and-white images that captured the end of an era while romanticizing the rugged individualism of steam locomotives and the towns and people who once lived along the railroad.
His last photo shoot took place on April 1959. Norfolk and Western ran its last coal-burning steam locomotive in May 1960.
Funeral services were conducted at Clark Associates Funeral Home on Saturday, February 3, 2001 at 11:00 a.m.
O. Winston Link via Roanoke Times
|This photo is typical of the kind of dramatic photography O. Winston Link created. Neither the Times nor we know when he snapped the photo, but it was the kind of image that evoked the splendor of steam railroading on the Norfolk & Western at Roanoke, his hometown.|
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