In this edition...
Building Inter-Modal Metropolitan Rail Corridors: A Public Policy Forum
Attention DF Readers and NCI Members:
Registration for February 21, U of Delaware / NCI Conference
The University of Delaware February 21 Conference Building Inter-Modal Metropolitan Rail Corridors: A Public Policy Forum featuring former Amtrak CEO David Gunn is designed for the leadership of and active participants in the American transportation debate, and is by invitation. If your work puts you in this category, and you wish to be a part of this conference, email NCI President & CEO Jim RePass (email@example.com) , to obtain registration information. There is no charge for registration.
Presenters at the conference will be (so far) David Gunn; Jim RePass; Jerome R. Lewis, Director, Institute for Public Administration; Beth Osborne, Office of U.S. Senator Thomas Carper (DE); Jean-Paul Rodrigue, Department of Economics and Geography, Hofstra University; Bruce Agnew, Cascadia Center, Seattle; Howard Learner, Environment Law & Policy Center, Chicago; Eugene Skoropowski, Capital Corridor Joint Powers Authority, Sacramento, CA; Allison L.C. De Cerreno, Co-Director, Rudin Transportation Center, New York University; U.S. Congressman Michael Castle (DE) (INVITED).
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Amtrak gets a boost and a kick as
WASHINGTON, DC --- Amtrak, the national passenger rail system whose fortunes rise and fall according to the whims of Washington, got both a boost and a kick this past week as Congress returned to work, and as the White Office of Management and Budget (OMB) prepares to forward the Presidents proposed 2006-2007 budget to Congress.
The boost will come from OMB, which reportedly will include a $900 million line item for Amtrak. While less than the $1.3 billion approved by Congress and signed by the President for the current fiscal year, it represents a significant increase from the zero-dollar line item in last years budget message to Congress. Last years OMB budget submission was ignored even by Congressional Republicans, who saw it as even more ideologically driven than they could accept.
With the firing last November of David Gunn, Amtraks strong operations-oriented CEO, it is unclear whether current Amtrak management will seek additional funds, especially for the kind of capital improvements and repairs that were made possible by this years $1.3 billion budget allocation. Amtrak has a strong bi-partisan constituency in Congress, and may well find more champions on the Hill, as it has in the past, who recognize the need for a functioning national transportation system.
The kick came from the House Ways and Means Committee Chairman, Bill Thomas (R-CA), whose motion to strip out $24 billion in funding for national high speed rail corridors carried 20-15 in committee, essentially gutting HR 1631. RIDE-21, as HR 1631 is named, or the Rail Infrastructure Development and Expansion Act for the 21st Century), is sponsored by Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chair Don Young (R-AK). RIDE-21 cleared the T&I committee last year with bi-partisan support.
Chairman Thomas said his actions to strip the tax-oriented bonding authority from the bill derived from a concern that a funding bill with tax-related provisions should be vetted by a Ways and Means subcommittee before going forward.
High-speed rail is a newer technology and clearly it shows promise for the future, said Chairman Thomas in a prepared statement. However, RIDE-21 would start special treatment for an activity already able to qualify for tax-preferred financing under present law. Any such proposal, the Chair believes, should be thoroughly vetted by the tax-writing committee.
Other tax-preferred bond ideas are also of interest to Committee members, added Thomas. In order to start a far-ranging discussion of the issues with bonds, I have asked Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) of the Select Revenue Measures Subcommittee to have a comprehensive review of the use of tax-preferred bonds as this Committee explores the many options of reforming the federal tax code, he added.
The changes by the Ways and Means voted left intact some $100 million annually, or $800 million over the life of the bill, for high speed rail research.
A summary of the provisions in RIDE-21, as provided by the Ways and Means Committee, is as follows.
Summary of H.R. 1631
H.R. 1631 was approved by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on April 27, 2005. The bill would increase Federal subsidies for high-speed rail projects as follows:
Summary of Chairmans Amendment
The Chairmans amendment struck all of the tax provisions from the bill.
Groundbreaking for intermodal station
at T. F. Green Airport, Rhode Island
WARWICK, RI -- Rhode Island is moving ahead with plans for an intermodal station at Green Airport. Two buildings have been demolished to clear space for the new station, which will be linked to the airports terminal by a skywalk. Earlier plans for a people mover were scrapped in favor of the skywalk.
The $195 million project will include a parking garage for Amtrak and MBTA passengers and parking spaces for rental cars.
The buildings will be connected by moving sidewalks instead of horizontal elevators to eliminate waiting times.
Governor Don Carcieri has said the state would break ground on the project by next month.
At right: A rendering of the proposed intermodal station in Warwick.
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February 01The Times Picayune reported that New Orleans will have part of their streetcar service rolling ahead of expectations thanks to an important piece of equipment being lent to the stricken city by the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority. A 22-year-old portable electric substation, which will power the street cars while the Regional Transit Authority continues to repair damage from Katrina, was due to arrive in New Orleans last Friday. The entire Canal Street trolley line, including the Carrollton Avenue spur to City Park, may be ready to roll in six weeks.
Were just overjoyed, RTA spokeswoman Rosalind Blanco Cook said to Times writer Leslie Williams. Without this donation we would not be able to extend streetcar service in March.
The Riverfront line and small portions of the Canal Street line were restored in mid-December when the RTA took the historic Perley Thomas streetcars that had not been damaged and put them into service.
With the borrowed equipment, full service could return to the Canal line by mid-March.
The substation electrical equipment, which hadnt been used by the MBTA since 2004, was due for a complete overhaul, but when the agency learned of New Orleans need in a conversation between the Massachusetts agencys acting chief operations officer Richard Leary and RTA project administrator Don Hyde, the decision was made to send it to New Orleans.
The RTA will have to run some tests which could reveal problems with the overhead catenary system, reported Williams, but Mr. Hyde said they are in the process of getting their most experienced operators back.
This is a unique opportunity for the MBTA to help a great city get back on its feet, said John Cogliano, the Massachusetts transportation secretary. Across the country, the outpouring of assistance for the victims of Hurricane Katrina has been overwhelming, and the T (MBTA) is proud to take part in this effort.
Whether its Boston or New Orleans, the key to a citys economic vitality is its ability to provide the public with safe and reliable transit services, said Daniel A. Grabauskas, general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. The T is very pleased to be able help NORTA restore streetcar service to those who rely on it for getting to school or going to work.
The heavily-used Charles Street line, where many large trees were downed by Katrina, is not expected to be back in service until December.
A memorandum between the two agencies calls for New Orleans to ask the federal government to reimburse the Massachusetts agency for expenses incurred in the transport of the substation. It is also agreed that in an emergency, the device will be returned in five days.
February 3 ---The Chicago Sun Times reports that cab riders wont face rising fare increases whenever gas prices soar thanks to a plan that will allow the industry to enjoy a new revenue source: taxicab advertising.
This will hold down lease rates and hold down fares, said City Council Transportation Committee Chairman Tom Allen (38th).
Cab executives for years have been urging City Hall to allow the same type of advertising that the New York City cab industry has enjoyed for decades.
Permission for rooftop, side door and interior ads will be signed this week by the full City Council, turning the 6100 Chicago cabs into rolling billboards come spring.
Thirty-five percent of gross ad revenues -- up to $300 a month for rooftop ads, $150 for side doors and $50 for interior ads -- will be returned to drivers in the form of lease rebates. Monthly reports and random audits will verify the break.
The city will collect a 6 percent lease tax and an annual $100 permit for each ad location.
In return for a revenue stream that doesnt drive passengers away, City Hall will demand twice as many wheelchair-accessible vehicles and fuel-efficient cabs.
Incentives for Fuel efficiency
Size requirements for cabs will be rewritten to accommodate smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles.
An incentive plan is being proposed that would allow fuel-efficient cabs to move to the head of the line at OHare Airport and have exclusive access to cab stands at prime locations like Metra stations, Michigan Avenue and McCormick Place.
RENO, NEVADA - The idea was undeniably romantic: riding a train that snakes leisurely through the treacherous beauty that is the High Sierra in winter, like Bing Crosbys yodeling party clickity-clacking toward Vermont in White Christmas.
Only with a lot more booze.
Oh, and more dancing, more music, more snow, really bad drinking jokes, better views (sorry, Vermont) and, truthfully, a whole lot more fun.
There is, it turns out, a reason its called the Reno Fun Train.
Started in 1963 to get gambling hordes up to the ghost town that is Reno in winter, the Fun Train has grown into a mobile tailgater for 680 people, a 15-car block party that attracts Bay Area and Sacramento Valley riders with stunning scenery, plenty of entertainment, cheap drinks (BYOB allowed) and the promise that no one has to get out and put chains on while 18-wheelers thunder by.
I climbed on board at Emeryville for a three-day weekend - leaving on Friday and returning Sunday - to indulge in three travel rarities: a journey definitively more important than the destination; a chance to travel overland without the drudgery; and sightseeing in the Sierra with no danger of rear-ending anyone.
The first order of business, once I stowed my luggage above my seat and met Eddie, the affable cabin attendant for Car No. 8, was to explore the trains attractions. Passenger cars are standard, older Amtrak, with airline seating (only with more room in the seats and aisles), but the 1940s-era Piano Lounge Car and the Dance Car are privately owned and leased for the season, nostalgic reminders of rail travels Golden Age.
Navigating presents few dilemmas, being limited to forward or back, and for the most part, the ride is smooth. (There are times, however, when the train is like an airplane with bendable joints - the turbulence is side to side instead of up and down.)
I spent the first few hours watching Crockett, Martinez, the Sacramento Delta, Suisun and Davis drift by from the Dance Car, where the main attractions are the full bar and the dance floors on either side of the FunAtics, a four-piece dance band that converts to a strolling Dixieland combo during depot stops.
With each stop, the cabins began to fill up with riders, large picnic coolers and a festive atmosphere. I asked Eddie, a Fun Train veteran in his seventh season, if riders are generally happier than on other Amtrak routes.
Most people bring their own liquor and food, he said. It can get pretty rowdy.
Crossing a flooded Yolo Bypass, we were suddenly engulfed in fog and, with water seemingly right up to the tracks on both sides, we might as well have been sailing on the bay. The six car-choked lanes of the nearby Yolo Causeway were a million miles away.
In almost every valley or gorge was a skeletal hulk of a crashed pickup truck clinging to a slope, the surest sign yet wed entered rural hill country. We had a few thousand feet of altitude gain and drop before Reno, with 400 tons of engines pulling 1,100 tons of cars that were, like some passengers, fully loaded.
When the Southern Pacific and the Reno Chamber of Commerce started the service, the Fun Train was a bit tamer, with sing-alongs and party games. A new operator tried to make it a deluxe private train in 1990 but went bust. Amtrak gave the contract in 1993 to current operator Key Holidays, which added meals, strolling musicians, the dance band and theme trips (Hawaii, Country, Mardi Gras).
These days, the Fun and Snow trains deliver about 11,000 passengers per season into Reno, where they drop about $6.4 million into the economy. Large groups and repeat customers are the Fun Trains bread and butter, but even as a lone first-timer, I was welcomed and befriended.
Based on some of tales I heard on board, there is such a thing as too much fun. The train, apparently, is a bastion for amorous passengers trying for membership in the Clickity-Clack Club, a rail version of the Mile High Club that gives new meaning to the term train coupling. Some groups have managed to get banished from the Fun Train.
Most of the fun, however, is pretty clean, says Chapman. We call it the greatest party on wheels. You just cant experience it on any other train.
High in the mountains, I gravitate toward the Piano Lounge Car, where the furniture is comfy and the pianist knows a dizzying array of tunes (who knew there are words to Begin the Beguine?), and to the Dome Car.
The mood calmed some as we climbed, which I attributed to the tremendous mountain vistas rolling by - alpenglow on the snowcapped peaks above us - and fatigue: Serious partiers had been going four hours without a break.
The ride home on Sunday was more of the same, albeit with daylight views of the Sierras eastern slopes and a slightly quieter mood among those whod spent Saturday seeing small fortunes won and lost. When we descended into the valley, a summer-camp vibe set in as new friends realized the party was almost over.
If You Go ...
Fun Train: Key Holidays, (800) 783-0783, http://www.keyholidays.com. Leaves Friday, returns Sunday. Must be 21.
Light dinner going to Reno, deli lunch on return. Stops at Emeryville, Martinez, Suisun, Roseville and Sacramento. Train only, $199 per person; train and two nights lodging, $229-$369 per person, double occupancy, depending on hotel.
Dates: Friday; Feb. 10 and 24; March 3, 10, 17, 24.
Fatal crashes spur railroad company to move tracks
Compiled from reports
GRANITEVILLE, South Carolina An Associated Press report announced that Norfolk Southern Railroad will move part of its tracks here so that a dangerous grade crossing can be made safer with flashing lights and gates.
Two fatal accidents in 2005 led to this decision. In one, a Norfolk Southern train slammed into a parked train, causing a toxic chlorine release that killed nine people. Two months later, a car trying to cross the tracks was hit by a train. Five people were killed.
Norfolk Southern spokesman Robin Chapman told the AP reporter, Its what needs to be done. Everyone agreed.
About two-thirds of a mile-long track will be moved a few feet for the project, which will cost about $1.3 million, officials said Tuesday.
Norfolk Southern is contributing $312,000; the state Transportation Department is giving $600,000; and the Aiken County Transportation Committee is funding $350,000.
MBTA and MBCR move forward
in transit, service partnership
Boston, MA Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company (MBCR) has hosted the companys first graduation ceremony of five new locomotive engineers who will operate commuter rail trains throughout eastern Massachusetts.
The ceremony at Bostons South Station featured remarks by MBCR General Manager Paul Lundberg and Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority General Manager Daniel Grabauskas.
MBCRs Locomotive Engineer Training Program is one of the most challenging in the country. After completing training, the five graduates earned Class I Passenger Engineers certification, the highest Locomotive Engineer certification attainable under federal law. Prior to this class, locomotive engineer training was handled by Amtrak and outside of New England.
Photo: MBTAGraduating class of new MBTA / MBCR Engineers posses with an MBTA GP-40 engine
To become locomotive engineers, graduates Daniel Cadogan, Matthew Coyne, Alan Craven, Kerry Woods, and Barry Paquette had to undergo a rigorous year-long training program, including 10 weeks of classroom training in airbrake systems, diesel engine theory and trouble-shooting, electrical systems, safety, federal law, train handling theory, and railroad operating rules.
In-field training included extensive instruction from certified instructor engineers and supervisors of locomotive engineers, ending in qualification tests on the physical characteristics of the entire commuter rail territory and certification in all classes of train service.
The transportation agencies also announced that its new internet-based Customer Service Center was to go live Wednesday, February 1st.
This new service is designed to provide MBTA Commuter Rail customers with accurate, updated information regarding commuter rail service and a direct line of communication with commuter rail management. The service can be accessed at www.mbcr.net and www.mbta.com.
Equally important to delivering safe and reliable service is providing timely and accurate information, said MBTA General Manager Daniel A. Grabauskas. Addressing the needs of our customers will always be our top priority.
The Commuter Rail Web Based Customer Service Center will help MBCR fulfill its commitment to providing superior commuter rail service in Eastern Massachusetts, said Paul Lundberg, MBCRs general manager. By investing in web-based technology, MBCR and the MBTA can better communicate with riders and better address their concerns and needs.
The Commuter Rail Web Based Customer Service Center will include online customer feedback forms for customer concerns, complaints, and questions, frequently asked questions (FAQs) about issues like lost or stolen passes or train safety regulations, and will offer the download of system maps and schedules, station and parking lot information, and fare information.
The Commuter Rail Web Based Customer Service Center is part of an ongoing effort by MBCR and the MBTA to improve vital infrastructure and facilities in order to enhance rider experience on commuter rail.
PAWTUCKET, RI -- Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc (VHB) has been hired to explore the possibility of restoring commuter rail service along the Pawtucket-Central Falls city line. VHB, one of a half dozen firms that bid for the contract, has extensive experience with commuter rail projects. In 2001, they completed a study of the South County Commuter Rail Project for the Rhode Island Department of Transportation and, that same year, the Connecticut Department of Transportation hired them to determine the preferred site for a commuter rail station.
Pawtucket Mayor James Doyle and the Pawtucket Foundation believe that commuter service will help revitalize the neighborhood and will lead to the restoration of the Pawtucket-Central Falls train station which has deteriorated into a ruin. No trains have stopped there since the late 1970s.
To fulfill a federal requirement, VHB must explore another property as an alternate location for a rail station -- an 8-acre depot, owned by Providence and Worcester Railroad.
There are ownership issues at both places, reported John Castellucci of the Providence Journal. The Providence and Worcester depot is being leased to a group of out-of-state developers who want to turn it into a waste transfer station and are suing the city for blocking their plans. The 3.4-acre Pawtucket- Central Falls train station belongs to Oscar W. Seelbinder of Memphis, Tenn., who wants to build a small shopping plaza on the site.
The two ownership issues should not have a negative impact on the plans to restore commuter rail. The tracks in that area belong to Amtrak. City officials are confident they can have right of access to the tracks and also build a station platform should commuter rail service resume.
The VHB study will take a year and will involve ridership, parking spaces and the type of platform that will be needed.
|Burlington Northern & Santa Fe||(BNI)||78.75||77.14 <|
|Florida East Coast||(FLA)||48.15||49.80|
|Genessee & Wyoming||(GWR)||39.26||39.29|
|Kansas City Southern||(KSU)||24.50||25.77|
|Providence & Worcester||(PWX)||15.84||15.30|
Plaintiffs rest case in derailment lawsuit
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Plaintiffs suing the Canadian Pacific Railway over a 2002 derailment and chemical spill at Minot, N.D., rested their case Thursday at a trial here.
The defense was scheduled to begin presenting its case on Friday.
Plaintiffs Melissa and Richard Allende, Jodi Schulz, and Jeanette Klier told the jury this week their stories of what happened to them the morning of Jan. 18, 2002, when a train left the tracks and unleashed a plume of toxic anhydrous ammonia fertilizer that killed one man and injured hundreds of people.
Railroad attorney Tim Thornton has tried to show a pattern of inconsistency on the part of the plaintiffs in reporting medical problems.
The railroad has admitted liability in the cases. Jurors are being asked to determine the amount of damages.
The National Transportation Safety Board earlier said inadequate track maintenance and inspections were to blame for the derailment, a finding the railroad disputed.
Six lawsuits against the railroad have been settled out of court. More than 100 cases are pending
Amtrak and the State of the Union
The Presidents State of the Union Message delivered to Congress this past week must have evoked some very mixed emotions both from those who have supported him, and those who have not.
While the predictably negative reactions of the virulent Bush-haters was unsurprisingly vituperative, what was more telling was the subdued response of most of the news media and of the general public. Ask someone you know, and the chances are they will say, Not a bad speech, but what of it?
The fact is that the GOP has lost out not only in a quantitative sense --- its poll numbers over the past two years have trended downward on almost all issues. More importantly, the party has simply lost momentum as well. It is hard to maintain your credibility when you have been elected on a platform of integrity and fiscal restraint, as the GOP was in 1994 --- when it took control of the House and Senate and then six years later took the White House --- and then proceed to develop lobbying relationships which seem to sell the government to the highest bidder, while ramming through tax cuts that most economists believe are going to wreck the economy sooner rather than later.
While the Democrats have yet to develop a leadership cadre that is both articulate and electable, the Republicans have certainly made the way easier for an opposition almost any opposition --- to gain ground.
Amtrak fits into this picture because it enjoys broad bi-partisan support in both houses of Congress. Its appropriation of $1.3 billion passed on 96-3 vote in the Senate, for example. Yet it has failed to muster the kind of support for large, long-term capital investments such as that given Americas Intestate Highway System, and which are necessary to build a world-competitive ground-based transportation system that we so badly need.
For more than a decade the Republicans have controlled both houses of Congress although for one Congress (the 107th), the Democratic presidential candidate (Al Gore) outpolled the Republican (George W. Bush) in the popular vote yet lost in the electoral college, so it took the Vice President, sitting as President of the Senate, to give the GOP the 51 votes needed to prevail.
The fact is, both houses of Congress have been split nearly 50-50 all this time, and no presidential elections have been by any stretch landslides, yet the GOP particularly the White House --- has governed as if they had a broad rather than a narrow mandate. The American people are an inchoate bunch, especially lately, but the one thing we are is essentially fair. Amtrak, which serves so much of the country geographically, and could do so much more if it were properly funded, should not be an ideological experiment for this White House or any other. The new Congress, we believe, knows that. If the State of the Union Address is any indication, then the White House also understands that the era of ideological rigidity is over. Lets hope so.
Capitol Watch: Take the helm
Two Kitsap County legislators offer what they argue are last-ditch efforts to save passenger-only ferry service for those commuting to Seattle from Vashon Island and Southworth. Gov. Christine Gregoire shouldnt allow it to come to this.
Rep. Beverly Woods, R-Kingston, and Sen. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island, want the ferry system to sell the two passenger-only boats now carrying Vashon and Southworth riders, as well as two much newer but mothballed passenger-only ferries. The proceeds would help subsidize passenger-ferry service from Southworth, Bremerton and Kingston provided by counties or local transit districts, and likely run by private operators. The state would still operate the Vashon-Seattle route.
Senate Transportation Committee Chairwoman Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, has provoked such acts of desperation by insisting that passenger-only service should be provided by the private sector. Shes rejected the more sensible Vashon-Southworth-Seattle triangle route using the now-mothballed fast ferries.
The Legislature last year put the secretary of transportation under the governors direct authority. The governor needs to respond to her new transportation authority by taking the lead in defining the ferry systems role in moving commuters across Puget Sound.
The governor then needs to exert her influence over legislators who would compromise the ferry systems mission by failing to fund this regional mass transit.
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