In this edition...
Amtrak InkLocomotive 654, at the Wilmington, Del. locomotive maintenance facility, is undergoing its first five-year heavy overhaul. It will cost more than one-half million to overhaul each. Another, just behind, awaits its turn. The story is below.
Bush: zero Amtrak funding?
We should know today if stories circulating in the national media last week were correct regarding President Bush zeroing out Amtrak funding for the next fiscal year.
President Bushs budget for fiscal 2006 which begins October 1 will propose eliminating operating subsidies for Amtrak, administration officials said February 2 the day before the President delivered his State of the Union speech, the reports stated.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because, they said, they were not supposed to give out details of the budget before it was presented Monday, The New York Times reported. Reuters broke the story on February 1.
During his speech the next day, on Wednesday, President Bush said, Americas prosperity requires restraining the spending appetite of the federal government. I welcome the bipartisan enthusiasm for spending discipline. I will send you a budget that holds the growth of discretionary spending below inflation, makes tax relief permanent, and stays on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009. My budget substantially reduces or eliminates more than 150 government programs that are not getting results, or duplicate current efforts, or do not fulfill essential priorities. The principle here is clear: Taxpayer dollars must be spent wisely, or not at all.
The chief executive was not specific about which programs he wants to cut, but in each of the past few years, the administrations budget for Amtrak has been smaller than what the railroad said it needed to survive, and Congress then raised the amount.
Historical probabilities are that Congress will restore a fair amount of funding, regardless, said a Capitol Hill aide with much experience in transportation budgets.
Angered solons wasted no time letting their voices be heard, starting on Friday.
Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), a regular Amtrak rider, decried the proposed funding cuts, saying the move contradicts the goal of reforming the nations passenger rail service, wrote The AP.
Everyone agrees Amtrak needs to be reformed. That discussion should be heard, Castle spokeswoman Elizabeth Wenk said. She added, Its going too far, in our opinion.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) called the move to strike Amtrak subsidies from the 2006 budget a nonstarter in Congress.
Carper said, At a time when gas prices are going up and congestion is getting worse, it makes absolutely no sense to propose eliminating Amtrak as we know it. The economy in the Northeast relies heavily on Amtrak, and the administrations approach will negatively affect businesses and everyday travelers.
Carper spokesman Bill Ghent said eliminating Amtrak subsidies undermines any attempt at reform and makes it harder for legislators to settle on a right amount of funding.
If you want to send the right signal, you can do it in a way that engages Congress on this, Ghent said.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said on Saturday the administration is finally being honest about their true agenda: shutting down Amtrak permanently.
Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee's transportation panel, said, By recommending a budget with nothing for Amtrak, the President has made the decision to leave millions of regular Amtrak riders standing on the platform and thousands of employees standing on the unemployment line, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported Saturday from its Washington bureau.
Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black said the railroad would not comment, and Amtraks boss, David L. Gunn, said on Friday he would have nothing to say until Monday.
Earlier this week there were press stories stating that when President Bush proposes his fiscal 2006 federal budget to Congress on Monday, he will only include $360 million for capital projects in the Northeast Corridor and nothing more for Amtrak. Because theres really been no official word on this, I will hold off commenting until Monday.
Amtrak supporters along the Northeast corridor sided with the Delaware lawmakers.
President Bush is willing to spend billions to send a couple of people to Mars, but not one dime for Amtraks 25 million annual travelers who want better rail service to destinations on this planet, said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).
Bush has expressed a wish to have manned flights to the moon and Mars.
Both New Jersey senators asked the President not to cut federal funding for Amtrak. Democrats Lautenberg and Jon Corzine said cutting funds to Amtrak would bring the railroad to the brink of bankruptcy, which would have disastrous effects for New Jersey commuters. The senators said nearly four million New Jerseyans ride Amtrak every year, and some 82,000 daily commuters take more than 300 New Jersey Transit trains that operate along Amtraks Northeast Corridor each day.
For the current fiscal year, the administration proposed $900 million and Congress raised that to $1.1 billion, of which about $570 million was operating subsidies. For next fiscal year, the budget includes nothing for operating subsidies and about $360 million for capital expenses for the Northeast corridor, the administration officials said.
The White House has always proposed money for Amtrak but has threatened to cut subsidies sharply unless the railroad is revamped.
At least one rail labor executive took exception to the reported Amtrak cut.
Edward Wytkind, President of the AFL-CIOs Transportation Trades Department, said, If the published accounts are true, the White House vision for Amtrak would strand millions of passengers, choke already congested highways, and send Amtraks 22,000 workers to already long unemployment lines.
Wytkind added, This reckless move comes as no surprise from an Administration that has spent the past four years choking Amtraks funding, ignoring the needs of passengers and workers, and peddling the radical notion of breaking-up Amtrak and selling off its key routes.
Wytkind accused Bush of being out of touch.
The Bush Administration is badly out of touch with the American people and large majorities in Congress who overwhelmingly support Amtrak. This is no way to run a railroad.
The National Assn. of Railroad Passengers was quick to argue on Tuesday that it was outraged at Reuters and The New York Times reports that President Bush will propose zero funding for the next fiscal year.
We understand that the $360 million that has been characterized as for Northeast Corridor capital improvements is actually for continuation of commuter rail operations on the Northeast Corridor, said executive director Ross Capon. He added, Any zero budget request would end intercity passenger rail for Americans, notwithstanding Administration claims to the contrary. It would also be a tired reminder of similar, failed efforts by past administrations, which proposed Amtrak zeroes for fiscal 1986 through fiscal 1991, when Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush occupied the White House.
Capon added, The Administration talks a lot about Amtrak reform. However, Amtrak under President and CEO David L. Gunn has experienced more reform in the past two-and-a-half years than probably in the previous thirty. Headcount has dropped by 3,900 not counting the transfer of Boston area commuter rail to another operator.
This would be the first time the current Bush administration has proposed no operating aid, but President Reagan did so in 1985, describing Amtrak as a mobile federal money-burning machine. Democrats and Republicans voted against Reagans proposal.
In 2003, the administration proposed changing the financing for intercity rail service so it would resemble federal aid for transit projects, with Washington paying part of the capital costs and the states covering the rest of those costs and the operating deficits. Amtrak supporters said that structure would probably kill the railroad.
The basic problem is that despite efforts to reform Amtrak, there has not been substantial improvement in its design and operations since it was created in 1971, an administration official said.
Amtraks largest mileage reductions and national service cancellations occurred in 1978-1979 under President Carter and in 1996-1997 under President Clinton.
Capon pointed out the number of daily trains has risen from 265 in 2002 to 300 today, and Amtrak has taken on no new debt since June 2002, although costs of servicing previously incurred debt continue to be significant.
Amtrak has shown a 4.3 percent ridership growth in fiscal 2004, he said.
The Bush Administration's proposal to reduce Amtrak subsidies while continuing support for the nation's busiest rail route was praised on Friday by Joseph Vranich, who promoted past Amtrak expansions but today declares Amtrak the least efficient North America railroad.
Amtrak remains just one more government bailout away from bankruptcy even though federal and state subsidies are ballooning way beyond reason, said Vranich.
The ultra-Amtrak critic dismissed the railroad citing, in his view, Amtrak's costs are enormously disproportionate to its meager traffic and the railroad refuses to implement true reforms.
Numbers decline somewhat,
October through December
Amtraks operating expenses were somewhat higher than the carrier expected, and passengers carried were somewhat less then expected, according to a quarterly report the carrier issued on January 31. It covered the first fiscal quarter, from October 1, 2004 to December 31.
Amtrak is required by law to provide a quarterly financial report to the Transportation secretary, House and Senate transportation committees and the FRA.
Amtraks adjusted loss, before depreciation, for the three months was $181.3 million, which was $24.9 million worse than budget.
The passenger carrier stated, Core revenue per train mile was $42.58 below budget by $2.30, or 5.1 percent. Core expense per train mile was $76.14 above budget by 29 cents, or 0.4 percent. Its core revenue shortfalls accounted for $18.5 million of the unfavorable variance to budget.
The accountants stated in the report The dominant portion of the revenue shortfall against budget, $11 million, was on the Acela and Metroliner where demand continued to be soft due to reduced business travel, increased competition from low-cost airfares and poor on-time performance. Ridership was down 11 percent and ticket revenues were down 12 percent.
Long-distance revenues were also below budget, by $7.3 million.
Again, ridership was down 5.9 percent and ticket revenues were down 8.5 percent. Regional trains and Pacific Surfliner ridership was ahead of budget, bringing total system ridership to budgeted levels, but since these services are at lower fares, they depressed average ticket prices.
Other revenue shortfalls were more than offset by favorable commercial revenues including a favorable contract dispute settlement and better retail fees.
Core expenses were unfavorable to budget by $10.2 million, the carrier stated.
Salaries, wages and benefits were substantially below budget, but were expected to be so, the statement added.
Total active employees at the quarters end were 19,908 versus an approved headcount of 21,090. Since fiscal year-end 2004, there have been 394 terminations and/or furloughs and 285 new hires.
Fuel and power did nothing to help the budget they led to a bigger loss, at $6.5 million, reflecting higher energy costs. Materials were unfavorable to budget at $6.3 million, primarily due to a revised estimate for wreck and repair costs.
Inventory, or the railroads net of reserves, was $142 million at month-end, up $23.5 million or 20 percent from the same period last year reflecting the increase in inventories to support capital projects and maintenance of equipment. Inventory turns for December were 1.70 substantially ahead of the 1.35 last December.
Cash was $125.2 million, compared to a balance of $201.1 million a year earlier.
The report noted the most recent forecast projects the year-end adjusted loss to be unfavorable to budget by $24.2 million, which is a $50.3 million passenger revenue shortfall and $3.0 increase in expenses, excluding depreciation; offset by $23.2 million increase in all other revenues and $5.9 million in other costs and adjustments.
The carrier it is working to identify actions to offset this shortfall and, therefore, no revision is requested to the estimated quarterly operating grant distributions.
The FRA-defined requirement for supporting trains was unfavorable by $3.9 million for the year-to-date as compared to the budget, and is projected to be unfavorable by $7.2 million for the full year.
A half-dozen routes have reportable variances since through December they reflect a requirement for additional support. They need more money, which Amtrak said was over $1 million, or 25 percent, and would exceed the budget for a full year. They are Adirondack, Silver Service, Empire Builder, California Zephyr, City of New Orleans, Texas Eagle and Sunset Limited. No budget reset is requested for these routes since contributions from other lines of business and actions to be identified are expected to cover the additional support required.
The railroad added funding of $49.8 million for debt service principal payments through January was received on December 8. Through December, Amtrak spent $19.6 million on principal payments, and added, Amtrak anticipates expending the remaining funds in January. No other funding for capital expenditures has been received.
President Bush wasnt the only person delivering a state of our union message last week. American Public Transportation Association (APTA) president William W. Millar delivered what he viewed as Public Transportations State of the Union, and, in brief, his message is that the Congress needs to pass TEA 21 reauthorization to meet the publics growing demand.
Millar said, Public transportation in the U.S. is a $38 billion growth industry with Americans riding public transportation 32 million times a day, he said, In 2004, ridership grew in many places as Americans responded to new and expanded services.
Last year there were 15 new rail extensions in the U.S. coast-to-coast from Sacramento to Salt Lake City to Memphis to Pittsburgh, Millar pointed out. He noted, New rail lines were introduced in cities that previously did not have rail systems, including Houston, Minneapolis, Little Rock, and Charlotte. Bus service also has improved and expanded in areas such as Las Vegas and Salt Lake City, and bus rapid transit is taking shape in San Diego and Oakland.
Noting that ridership increased in 2004, Millar said, Overall, public transportation is on the move. The increases are not just in ridership and in new services, but also in the publics demand for transit, as seen in last Novembers successful local and state transportation initiatives.
At the 2004 elections, voters passed 80 percent of the local transportation financing ballot initiatives for a combined total of $55 billion, which is used as a non-federal share for local projects. The largest ballot initiative for public transportation was passed by 57 percent of the Denver voters for a $4.7 billion light rail and commuter rail expansion project.
Clearly, people have spoken loud and clear in support of public transportation, said Millar. The results of these initiatives in urban, suburban, and rural communities show that people want more transportation choices.
He explained, Public transportation plays an important role in helping to alleviate road congestion. According to last years Texas Transportation Institutes (TTI) annual report on congestion, bus and train services saved 1.1 billion hours in travel time in 2002. In addition, the TTI report states that without public transportation, nationwide travel delays would have increased by 32 percent.
Millar said Given the growth in public transportation and the increased demand by the American people to have a balanced transportation network that includes public transportation, I call on President Bush and the leaders of Congress to make the reauthorization of a long-term, well-funded and fully guaranteed transportation bill a top priority.
Despite their success over the past year, he added, The nations public transportation systems have been unable to plan for the future as this all important piece of federal transportation legislation failed to pass. Delays in passage have meant delays in planning and will lead to increased costs for projects throughout the country.
There is no time to lose as the current TEA 21 extension expires at the end of May. Today, when President Bush delivers his State of the Union Address, I look forward to hearing him mention the importance of transportation and the need to pass a new surface transportation bill soon.
Robert Crandall, the former American Airlines CEO, wont be an Amtrak board member. Turns out he primarily a Democrat, not a Republican.
Maria Recio, a reporter in the San Antonio Star-Telegram Washington Bureau, told his readers on Saturday Crandall has always been his own man, a trait appreciated by President Bush, who nominated him in 2003 to the Amtrak board of directors but when the White House discovered late in 2004 that Crandall had contributed the maximum $2,000 to the Democratic presidential campaigns of both Howard Dean and John Kerry and nothing to re-elect Bush officials wasted no time in cutting Crandall loose.
Crandalls nomination was to be voted on by the Senate at the end of the Congressional term in December, but the nomination got held up by congressional bureaucracy and politics, and it died quietly. Officials do not expect it to be resubmitted.
I dont know how public this is, said Ross Capon, executive director of the National Association of Rail Passengers, but I heard that he gave money to Democrats, and so its not surprising that his nomination didnt move forward.
Senate staffers knowledgeable about the nomination confirmed the decision to pull the nomination was a consequence of his political contributions.
That pattern would send up red flags in any White House, said one senior Senate Republican aide who requested he not be named because of the sensitive politics involved.
There are thousands of people who went to the wall for George W. Bush this election. Can you imagine if this got out?
According to the Federal Election Commission database, Crandall gave $2,000 in 2003 to Dean and $2,000 to Kerry in 2004.
Crandall made a $1,000 contribution to Bushs presidential campaign in 1999 when the president was governor of Texas but did not contribute anything to his re-election campaign.
Crandall, asked about the status of his nomination, said in an e-mail exchange, I know very little about it.
The former American executive did not comment on his political contributions. He retired in 1998.
My understanding is that there is so much bad blood that the Senate failed to approve a very large number of appointments to many boards, study groups, commissions, etc., he wrote. As I understand it, large groups are usually approved in a single resolution at the end of each session, but that did not happen.
He added, Obviously, no one in Washington really cares what happens to Amtrak, and there is no national transportation plan, or things like this would not happen.
Bush proposes to end federal subsidies for Amtrak, but some members of Congress have vowed an all-out fight to keep the federal money flowing because they believe that the rail system will die without it.
Crandall and two other nominees to the Amtrak board had a confirmation hearing November 6, 2003, before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and the former airline chief was received warmly by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the committee chairman.
After an impasse over judicial nominations and appointments was resolved in the Senate, the committee approved the Amtrak board members on November 18, 2003, in executive session, according to committee spokeswoman Melanie Alvord, but Congress adjourned last December 8 without taking action, and all pending nominations expired.
Mechanics at the Wilmington, Del. locomotive shop overhauled one HHP-8 locomotive in December and are on schedule to complete a second during February. Six of the 8,000 high-horsepower electric engines are slated to be completed this fiscal year, at a cost of $550,000 each. They are currently being cycled through the Wilmington backshop to undergo their first five-year heavy overhaul, reports the February issue of Amtrak Ink.
Powering Amfleet single-level cars on the Northeast Corridor, Amtraks 15 Bombardier-built HHP-8s are the most powerful in Amtraks fleet. Motorized by four 2,012 horsepower AC traction motors, the locomotives can haul a larger consist than those pulled by any of Amtraks other locomotives.
Fencing between tracks at Amtrak stations in Pennsylvania from Overbrook to Paoli are being temporarily removed to allow track-laying equipment to pass through the stations. The fences started coming down on February 1.
The trackwork is part of a $145 million project on the Philadelphia-Harrisburg Keystone Corridor, jointly funded by Amtrak and the Pennsylvania DOT. Upgrading began between Paoli and Bryn Mawr. That much is expected to continue through December. Next, tracks between Bryn Mawr and Overbrook stations will be repaired, starting in June through June 2006.
No Trespassing and warning signs are being installed at entrances to stations and along platforms to remind passengers and the public that crossing tracks is prohibited. Many trains pass through these stations at high speeds without stopping.
The fences will be reinstalled after the track work is complete.
For NCI: Thomas J. Van Haag
Hiawatha trains, crews, riders have a bad day
January 23 was a lousy day for the Big A between Chicago and Milwaukee and the Hiawatha service.
Amtrak train No. 329 was annulled on January 23 because of equipment problems, lack of equipment, and a crew deadhead on No. 331 to Milwaukee after arriving late at a hotel and working on 4 hour cut. No. 332 was also annulled.
No. 333 departed Chicago about 90 minutes late because of frozen doors that had to be thawed out before boarding could begin, and engine problems that necessitated adding a unit. P-42 No. 30 had three traction motors cut out due to ground faults, believed caused by snow in the motors, so engine 519, a P-32 BWH, was added ahead.
Because train 333 was so late, No. 336 was delayed and on the way, the 519 got a smashed window, taking it out of service. There was no more operable power at Chicago, so the equipment could not turn for Train 337, which was canceled and replaced by two buses.
As a result, train 340 was also cancelled due to lack of equipment, its passengers handled on Train 342.
Hiawatha No. 334 departed Milwaukee with one traction motor cut out, again believed to be due to snow in the motor, and it lost 20 minutes to Chicago due to inability to maintain track speed. The equipment came back the same way on No. 335.
Lack of equipment also forced cancellation of the first Hiawatha out of Chicago on Monday morning No. 329 of January 24 and its turn, No. 332.
Some good new, though business was brisk at the new Milwaukee Airport station. On January 23, 10 people boarded No. 332, train 333 detrained 34 passengers, and No. 335 detrained 40 folks. The three-week-old station is getting used.
At left: The vestibules of one of Canadas finest products is clogged with snow between Chicago and Milwaukee on January 23. Hiawatha service was hit heavily by winter woes and other problems that Sunday.
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New England 24, Philly 21
Super Bowl draws a super train
It isnt often a goliath goes to a David for some help, but it happened last week.
Railroaders might have liked to watch the Super Bowl game on TV yesterday, but for CSX folks living in the Jacksonville, Fla., area, they also got a chance to see a super train as well.
Amtrak spokeswoman Marcie Golgoski in Washington told D:F on Friday, If there is any pickup due to the Super Bowl, we wouldnt have numbers until next week. Several Amtrak trains pass through Jacksonville over CSX lines each day.
The tourist railroads two diners and a coffee-shop car, all built in the early 1950s, are among the relatively few food-and-beverage cars with luxury features that remind passengers of the golden age of train travel. Such cars are leased for thousands of dollars a day by corporations and political campaigns seeking to impress their guests and audiences.
This year, The AP reports, CSX approached the Cumberland-based railroad about leasing its cars for the Super Bowl, said James Stafford, president of the WMSRR board of directors. The game was played yesterday in Jacksonville CSXs home town.
Its kind of an honor for our scenic railroad, Stafford said. We bought these cars years ago when the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad came into existence in 1990, and weve kept them up and restored them.
CSX spokesman Gary Sease wouldnt discuss the Super Bowl train, citing security concerns, but he acknowledged that CSX sometimes leases restored dining cars to supplement its office car fleet.
Theyre old, classic rail cars that were manufactured with some very nice appointments, Sease said. Its a long-honored tradition among railroads to have these cars available primarily for business, but for some entertainment as well.
For NCI: Mike RayA new paint job has spiffied up North Carolina Railroad engine 1792, City of Raleigh, on January 4. The GP-40P-2 power was in Norfolk Southerns Chattanooga paint shop.
Raleigh-Durham rail inches onward
The Triangle Transit Authority is sticking with its timetable for starting commuter train service between Raleigh and Durham, N.C. despite questions from Washington about assumptions underlying the project.
Engineers, lawyers, purchasing agents and planners are pushing ahead with the aim of breaking ground on the $695 million project this year, and launching service in 2008 writes the Raleigh Observer of January 31.
There have been a lot of folks misunderstanding that the federal money is not going to be coming, or the project is somehow in grave trouble, said Wib Gulley, an authority lawyer.
The fact is that it is closer to construction and implementation than it ever has been, said Gulley, a former Durham mayor and state senator who helped create the TTA in the late 1980s. Already, a great deal of work has gone forward. The feds have increased the height of one last hurdle, but were going to clear it.
TTA officials want to keep moving while the Federal Transit Administration resolves its doubts about a computer forecast that predicts chronic traffic congestion and sluggish highway speeds across the Triangle.
TTA hopes to regain the agencys recommended rating this summer and win the governments final pledge to pay 61 percent of a commuter rail lines cost.
Some critics say the new questions from Washington provide an opportunity to reconsider the project. Among them, Philip Isley, a Raleigh councilman, predicts that TTA trains will carry few riders and steady operating deficits.
I cant say for sure whether its dead or alive now, Isley said. I think this is a pretty significant bump in the road. If I had my druthers, I would hope this might get us back to the drawing board.
Isley said he thinks the TTA should reroute its trains to pick up more passengers at destinations such as Raleigh-Durham International Airport, and in areas with heavy population density. As possible routes, Isley suggested the Wade Avenue and Glenwood Avenue-U.S. 70 corridors in northwest Raleigh, the area he represents on the city council.
TTA officials have shown no inclination to reconsider the 28-mile route, which follows a freight corridor through Raleigh, Cary, Research Triangle Park and Durham.
The rail project has built momentum over the past eight years, propelled by steady approval from the Federal Transit Administration and fueled so far by more than $100 million in public funds.
John D. Claflin, TTAs general manager, must award two crucial contracts before the end of March to meet the 2008 timetable.
Archer Western Contractors of Atlanta has been chosen to design and build a rail operations and maintenance yard on 26 acres off Ellis Road in Durham County for $25.7 million.
United Transit Systems, a consortium of Japanese and Korean manufacturers, has been chosen to design and build up to 32 self-propelled diesel rail cars for up to $90 million.
Claflin will not have the federal agencys approval by March to spend those large sums, but he wants permission to get the work going, awarding design contracts now and construction contracts later this year.
Hoping to break ground late this year, TTA engineers are pushing ahead with final plans for 28 miles of twin tracks that will include 35 bridges.
Claflin and Gulley say they have nearly wrapped up negotiations with Norfolk Southern Railroad on an agreement about how it will work with TTA on their shared corridor. Operating agreements already have been signed with CSX and the North Carolina Railroad (NCRR).
At the southern end of Research Triangle Park, NCRR is spending $5.5 million to replace a 1927 bridge over state route 54. That will make room for the TTA tracks, allow faster train speeds and clear the way for the TTAs Triangle Metro Center station nearby.
Plans for the Triangle Metro Center include a 168-acre development with shops, offices, a hotel, and as many as 2,800 apartments and condominiums in buildings up to eight stories high.
Purchasing agents are moving ahead with land acquisition for the 12 station sites. The TTA closed last week on its biggest single purchase and the only one displacing a large business when it paid Dillon Supply Co. $9.8 million for 6.1 acres in downtown Raleigh.
TTA has engaged in friendly condemnations requested by a few of about two dozen small businesses and landlords affected by the project. Instead of postponing payment while the two sides haggle over a price, the process allows landowners to collect the money offered by TTA quickly with the possibility of winning a judgment that will increase that payment later.
People might see a condemnation and think were doing a bad thing, but its really not the case, Gulley said. Some affected businesses have closed, while a few have leases with TTA to continue operating for several more months.
Final station designs will incorporate artwork based on neighborhood themes and regional flavors. The TTA will award commissions this spring after a panel reviews proposals from 125 artists who want to participate in its Arts in Transit program.
Local governments are reviewing site plans for some of the 12 rail stations, and negotiating with TTA about items such as the possibility of more parking around the Ninth Street Station in west Durham.
The start-up date has been moved before, and Claflin doesnt want to see another delay.
TTA had hoped to start service in 2007, but Congress fell behind in agreeing on highway and transit spending plans. Then TTA took longer than expected to get construction and operating agreements with municipalities, railroads and the others affected in Durham and Wake Counties.
Last year marked the first time the presidents budget proposal included the TTA rail project, though Congress has approved some funds every year since 1997. With such a history of support from Congress and the Federal Transit Administration, Claflin said he is optimistic about winning full project approval.
Amtraks board of directors on Thursday approved a deal to lease eight locomotives to Connecticut for more than $1.9 million for the first year as the national railroad faces the threat of having a huge government subsidy pulled.
Jim Boice, bureau chief of the state DOTs rail office and finance, said DOT and Metro-North Railroad engineers will select the 1,800hp P-40 locomotives (800-843 series) and that Amtrak will retrofit them to work in Connecticut. Train operating systems are configured differently depending on the area of country where they operate, according to ConnDOT.
Cliff Black, an Amtrak spokesman, said the locomotives became surplus when the railroad dropped out of the mail freight business in September. He said the locomotives are up to 10 years old.
The locomotives will allow the state to put into service the 26 coaches it bought from Virginia in September to help shore up the Connecticut-owned fleet of rail cars, which are old and prone to breakdown.
The Virginia coaches are about 10 years old and will be used primarily on the Shore Line East railroad that operates between New London and New Haven. This will allow the DOT to transfer other coaches from Shore Line East to Metro-North, adding more seats to the line that runs from New Haven to New York City. That line uses rail cars that are about 30 years old, according to the DOT.
The state has an option to buy the locomotives for $12 million, Boice said. Under the terms of the deal, the state will pay $20,000 per locomotive per month after taking delivery and must act on the buy option by July 2007, he said.
When the locomotives will enter service is the big question, one Boice said he cant answer until after he receives a report from the engineers.
James Cameron, vice chairman for the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, said the lease agreement is a step in the right direction but hopes the state will start to buy new equipment.
Weve begged, borrowed and leased used cars and locomotives to death, Cameron said.
His organization has been lobbying for new cars for Metro-North for more than five years as the old rail cars continue to break down, leaving standing-room-only during rush hours.
Boice said the DOT estimates it will cost $1.2 billion to buy 340 new coaches and create the maintenance facilities needed to take care of them. Gov. M. Jodi Rell has said she will unveil her rail-fix plan with her budget on Wednesday.
U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays (R) said he supports funding Amtrak operations that have strong ridership numbers but would like to see some lines cut.
The Amtrak board meets monthly, Black said.
Solons file rail safety bills
In a sign of growing Congressional concern about railroad safety and security, two senators, a Republican and a Democrat, joined February 1 to introduce legislation to toughen federal oversight of the rail industry.
The bill is one of several legislative efforts being pursued after a string of derailments and grade-crossing accidents in the last year that have prompted public officials to question how well the federal government is regulating rail safety, reports The New York Times.
Two other Senate Democrats separately say they are pursuing their own legislation.
Spurred by a deadly derailment last month in South Carolina that spewed poisonous chlorine gas, the District of Columbia Council voted February 2 to ban temporarily large-scale shipments of toxic chemicals through the city. The ban could prompt other cities to take similar action, causing trains to travel longer routes.
The South Carolina derailment killed 9 people and caused the evacuation of more than 5,000. Last summer, a tank car leaking chlorine gas killed three people near San Antonio. Early on Monday, a Norfolk Southern freight train derailed near Pittsburgh, causing the evacuation of 200 people after a tanker car leaked anhydrous hydrogen fluoride, a toxic gas used in steel making, the authorities said. No one was injured, though the tanker, which ended up in a nearby river, continued to leak on Wednesday, a state official said.
The bipartisan Senate bill introduced yesterday by Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, and Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, for the first time requires the FRA to investigate each fatal grade crossing accident. Federal officials now fully investigate only a handful of the hundreds of fatal accidents that occur at rail crossings each year. The bill also requires that railroads file accident reports more quickly, increases the number of inspectors focusing specifically on grade crossings and hazardous materials, and raises fines for railroads that violate safety rules.
Spurred by several deadly U.S. rail accidents, Washington, D.C. lawmakers voted last week to ban train and truck shipments of hazardous materials through the nations capital.
The measure is titled, Terrorism Prevention in Hazardous Materials Transportation Emergency Declaration Resolution of 2005.
A bill sponsor, Kathy Patterson (D), said on January 29 nine of 13 D.C. Council members had signed on as co-sponsors, giving the measure the support needed to implement a ban immediately for 90 days, an emergency action that does not require Congressional review. The measure prohibits shipments of certain explosives, flammable gases and poisonous gases and materials without a permit within 2.2 miles of the Capitol, the Washington Post reported.
AARs Edward R. Hamberger, who is president and CEO of the railroad trade organization, was not happy with the vote.
The D.C. City Councils action is regrettable. Rerouting does not eliminate the overall risk, but merely shifts it to other communities, he said on February 2.
Hamberger added, Rerouting is a serious issue that requires serious discussion at the federal level. Railroads are required under federal law to carry hazardous materials because they are deemed important to our nations public and economic health.
Carol Schwartz (R), whose committee has oversight over the issue, opposed the bill. The Bush administration, and CSX Corp., which owns the freight rail line that runs through Washington, have worked on voluntary rerouting of shipments since April based on information about potential threats, Schwartz said.
The rail line has attracted national scrutiny because it cuts through sensitive sectors of Washington, passing within a few hundred yards of the Mall and Capitol, for instance. A Naval Research Laboratory scientist estimated last year that in a worst-case event, a catastrophic chlorine release could kill 100,000 people in the area.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security conducted risk assessment and security studies of 42 miles of track in the area last year. It has implemented safeguards but has not released results of the studies publicly.
CSX and federal rail regulators have said a D.C. ban would violate Constitutional provisions that give the federal government alone the power to regulate interstate commerce, and Homeland Security officials said rerouting could create safety problems elsewhere.
Something remarkable happened last year in the railroad industry.
The mature industrys growth rates have long followed the nations industrial production. As the nations factories produced, traffic grew but that rubric appears to have shifted last year.
Two of the nations four largest railroads No. 4 Norfolk Southern Corp. and No. 2 Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. reported double-digit revenue growth, thanks to a combination of rising traffic and increased shipping rates.
Meeting with analysts a fortnight ago in New York, NS reported that its 2004 revenue surged 13 percent to $7.3 billion. Only BNSF grew faster, with 16 percent revenue growth last year, The Virginian-Pilot reported on January 30.
Norfolk Southern showed me revenue growth numbers that in 20 years as a rail analyst I thought I was never going to see, said Anthony B. Hatch, an independent analyst in New York.
A renaissance for the rail industry is under way, and the railroads that have the capacity are taking advantage of it while others are choking.
The nations railroads are shifting from being carriers of industrial goods to carriers of a mix of industrial and consumer products. The shift is being driven by the globalization of manufacturing, a rethinking of supply chains and growing constraints on the nations highways and trucking industry.
Among the biggest railroads, NS and BNSF were well positioned to accommodate the demand. No. 1 Union Pacific Corp. and No. 3 CSX Corp. both struggled and didnt experience the same growth.
Hatch and other analysts liken the difference to the haves and have-nots. NS and BNSF clearly are haves.
Suffering from congestion, accidents and bad weather, UP is a have not, and CSX is somewhere in between, but improving.
Investors are taking notice as well. NS stock climbed about 50 percent in the past year. It recently settled somewhat.
Theres also worry that recent rail accidents, including the deadly NS wreck on January 6 in Graniteville, S.C., could lead to increased scrutiny and perhaps renewed regulation of the railroad industry for safety issues.
Clearly part of our growth is attributable to the strong U.S. industrial economy, said Charles W. Wick Moorman IV, NSs new president. However, we believe that shifting international trade patterns in terms of both consumer products imports and global energy sourcing, along with highway transportation issues, also are key structural drivers of that growth.
The railroads freight volumes last year, as measured by carloads, surged 8.8 percent, about double the anticipated rate for U.S. gross domestic product in 2004.
The company is clearly benefiting from being the best East Coast rail operator, the supply and demand dynamic within the tight freight transportation industry, and strong demand for most of its lines of business, said John Larkin, rail analyst at Legg Mason, a Baltimore-based brokerage house, in a research report written January 5.
The railroads 2004 growth came in every business segment except automotive, which slipped 1.6 percent. Metals shipments rose 10 percent. Coal shipments increased 4.7 percent, driven by a 35 percent gain in its profitable shipments of exports haul.
The big gainer was intermodal traffic, which jumped 17.2 percent. Intermodal involves the shipment of truck trailers and international shipping containers, which often carry consumer products.
Norfolk Southern was always a good operating company, but whats good to see is theyve become an intermodal player, Hatch said.
Intermodal shipments have long held the promise of becoming a hot growth sector for railroads that can handle the business efficiently and competitively. Railroads compete directly with the trucking industry for such traffic.
Truckers can be faster and more time sensitive, but they are more expensive the longer the haul gets. The trucking industry is facing growing highway congestion, government spending constraints on further highway building and a driver shortage that is pushing up prices and slowing its responsiveness.
As a result, shippers are rethinking their supply chains and turning more and more to railroads to haul their freight. Railroads are also safer and more environmentally friendly than trucking.
Railroads are not going to displace trucks; theyre working with trucks, Hatch said.
At the same time, imports of consumer goods from Asia have boomed as manufacturers chased cheaper labor in China and elsewhere. Congested West Coast ports prompted container shipping lines to begin offering direct services from Asia to the East Coast.
With a rail franchise that reaches every major East Coast port, Norfolk Southern was able to take better advantage of the manufacturing and shipping shifts than rival CSX, which also saw intermodal growth but not as strong as Norfolk Southerns.
We have a total supply chain capacity issue heading at us in the U.S. right now, with the truckers sort of at their maximum capacity and the railroads sort of at or near the maximum of what they can handle, said Jason Seidl, an analyst with Avondale Partners, a Nashville-based investment bank, in an interview on Bloomberg News.
This could be a good thing for the railroad industry because it does leverage their pricing power, he said.
The railroads leveraged that power last year, explaining why the top four increased revenues faster than their volume grew. With their service in demand, they were able to raise prices.
U.S. rail carload traffic fell 0.7 percent (9,576 carloads) while U.S. rail intermodal traffic rose 7.4 percent (57,796 trailers and containers) in January 2005 compared with January 2004, the AAR reported Thursday.
On the carload side, commodities with significant gains in January 2005 included crushed stone, sand, and gravel (up 6,125 carloads, or 8.6 percent); metallic ores (up 3,841 carloads, or 8.5 percent); and coal (up 2,720 carloads, or 0.5 percent). Commodities with carload declines in January 2005 included grain (down 5,425 carloads, or 5.6 percent), waste and scrap material (down 3,740 carloads, or 9.2 percent); and grain mill products (down 2,084 carloads, or 5.5 percent).
Intermodal the movement of truck trailers or containers on rail cars accounts for approximately 23 percent of U.S. Class I rail revenue. Over the past 10 years, it has been the fastest growing major segment of the U.S. freight rail industry. In January 2005, the trailer component of intermodal was up 5.2 percent (10,514 units), while containers were up 8.2 percent (47,282 units).
Total volume for the first four weeks of 2005 was estimated at 119.6 billion ton-miles, down 0.1 percent from January 2004.
Even under the best of circumstances, freight railroading is extremely demanding. Throw in torrential rain and mudslides, blizzards and bitter cold as we had in January in different parts of the country and maintaining fluid operations becomes that much more difficult, noted AAR Vice President Craig F. Rockey. That railroads moved as much traffic as they did in January is a credit to the hard work of rail labor and management.
Canadian rail carload traffic was up 0.1 percent (235 carloads) and Canadian intermodal traffic was down 1.1 percent (1,731 units) in January 2005 compared with January 2004. Grain traffic on Canadian carriers was up 6.1 percent (1,991 carloads); carloads of metallic ores were up 14.6 percent (1,405 carloads). On the down side, carloads of farm products excluding grain were down 33.3 percent (1,597 carloads), motor vehicles and equipment were down 5.1 percent (1,436 carloads), and carloads of coal were down 4.8 percent (1,391 carloads).
Carloads originated on Transportación Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM), a major Mexican railroad, totaled 33,178 in January 2005, up 3.8 percent (1,211 carloads), while intermodal originations of 14,540 units were up 24.2 percent (2,830 trailers and containers).
For just the week ended January 29, the AAR reported the following totals for U.S. railroads: 326,054 carloads, up 2.1 percent from the corresponding week in 2004, with loadings up 1.3 percent in the East and up 2.8 percent in the West; intermodal volume of 212,766 trailers and containers, up 8.1 percent; and total volume of an estimated 30.3 billion ton-miles, up 3.1 percent from the equivalent week last year.
For Canadian railroads during the week ended January 29, the AAR reported volume of 64,633 carloads, up 11.9 percent from last year; and 41,215 trailers and containers, up 11.3 percent from the corresponding week in 2004.
Combined cumulative volume for the first four weeks of 2005 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 1,543,719 carloads, down 0.6 percent (9,341 carloads) from last year; and 996,373 trailers and containers, up 6.4 percent (59,527 trailers and containers) from 2004s first four weeks.
The AAR is online at www.aar.org.
|Burlington Northern & Santa Fe||(BNI)||47.51||47.14|
|Florida East Coast||(FLA)||43.91||41.98|
|Genessee & Wyoming||(GWR)||25.14||25.17|
|Kansas City Southern||(KSU)||18.90||16.93|
|Providence & Worcester||(PWX)||12.35||12.78|
EMDGeneral Motors Electro-Motive Division (EMD) delivered its 100th Class 66 freight locomotive to UK-based Freightliner Group Limited on February 2 in London, Ont. The unit is one of eight that will go to work on Freightliners intermodal and heavy haul freight networks. Freightliner operates more than 100 daily freight trains. The engine is classified by EMD as the JT42CWR but known throughout the UK as the Class 66. This latest order brings to 103 the number of Class 66 locomotives Electro-Motive has supplied to Freightliner since 1999. Neither firm stated how much the contract was worth.
Kroes may sue France for Alstom bailout
The European commission set in motion a showdown with France over its industrial policies by threatening to take it to court over last years state-backed rescue of the Alstom engineering group.
Neelie Kroes, the competition commissioner, told Hervé Gaymard, the French finance minister, that Paris had failed to implement any of the measures it had agreed to win EU approval for the $4.4 billion (£3 billion) rescue.
She warned that France would be taken to the European court of justice within weeks unless it agreed to open up its railway rolling-stock market to outside competition.
Last night, after talks between Gaymards advisers and Kroess senior officials, the commission said contacts would continue with a view to ensuring rapid implementation of the concrete measures to open up [that] market.
But the Dutch Liberal warned that France had failed to meet two deadlines November 1 last year and January 1 for liberalizing its markets.
Her predecessor, Mario Monti, set the conditions when he approved the rescue plan last July. This involved a rights issue, new credit lines and the state acquiring a 31.7 percent stake in Alstom, which makes TGV high-speed trains and power stations.
The company insisted it was meeting all its commitments. However, if France fails to act quickly, the aid will be deemed illegal and reclaimed via the court.
Road killed rail
The following editorial appeared in the February 3 edition of the Concord, N.H. Monitor. Lets hope the editors of newspapers in the 29 other states with obsolete highway lobby amendments get the message!
We are extremely wary of proposals to amend the nations or the states Constitution but when the change is made to correct a mistake or to allow precepts adopted two centuries ago to keep up with the times, an amendment can be just and needed. The Legislature faces such a decision now.
In 1938, with the nation in a depression and most of the states roads still dirt, a state constitutional convention proposed that the future of roads and motor vehicles be assured by constitutionally restricting the use of highway money to road-related purposes.
Then, as now, lawmakers were quick to fall upon any pot of unguarded money. At the time, an attempt was made to use highway money to purchase additional land for the Daniel Webster Homestead.
Anticipating future raids, language was added to the Constitution that dedicates all revenue raised by the gas tax, drivers license and auto registration fees and tolls exclusively for the construction, reconstruction and maintenance of the public highways within the state.
In 2002, the states transportation department tried to use highway money to pay part of the states $12 million share of the cost of the Nashua Commuter Rail Extension Project, a plan to connect Nashua with Lowell and Boston. Transportation Commissioner Carol Murray and others backing the rail link argued for a broad interpretation of the word public highway one that would allow spending for rail projects and other measures that would relieve traffic congestion and offset some of the environmental damage caused by cars, trucks and buses.
The states trucking and road-building lobbies predictably sued to block the move, and in 2003 the Supreme Court ruled in their favor. The language of the Constitution and minutes from the convention were clear, the court said. Highways meant roads only. It was the right decision legally, but it allows a bad policy to remain in place.
Restrictions on the use of highway money made sense at the time. The states secondary road system was only half done, and trucks were beginning to replace trains to haul freight. But with war in the Middle East, oil prices flirting with $50 a barrel, the polar ice sheets melting and roads and sprawl consuming more of the landscape, the restriction no longer makes sense. While others move on, it weds a state congenitally loath to raise revenue to the past.
This year, Rep. Martha Fuller Clark of Portsmouth is sponsoring a proposal to add the words "intermodal transportation projects" to the list of appropriate uses for highway money. If it passes, money from the highway trust fund could be used to support bus, rail and who knows what other forms of travel as alternatives to the automobile. The state's population is destined to grow. If new approaches aren't taken, its roads will keep getting bigger yet remain clogged.
Yes, we realize that New Hampshire's roads and bridges are in serious need of repair, and we know that previous efforts to change the Constitution to allow highway fund money to be used for other forms of transportation have died in the Legislature, but a study by the Center for Clean Air Policy, a group established by the governors two decades ago, estimates that by 2025 auto traffic in New England will increase by 57 percent, truck traffic by 69 percent.
New Hampshire cannot pave its way out of the problem this will cause and remain New Hampshire. The restrictions on the use of highway money should be loosened to include energy-efficient and less-polluting forms of transportation.
As I scan newspapers all over America it is beginning to look more and more like any gutting of Amtrak will be Dead on Arrival in the U.S. Senate. There simply is too much invested in America to end the service.
Communities across America have spent millions of dollars in renovation of their train stations. Citizens think it is foolish to have a nice train station without a train they can ride on.
The American public continues to be behind the survival of passenger trains in this country.
This will save Amtrak. In it present form, no probably not, but to make the system one that runs only in the Northeast is simply not the answer. I read remarks every week on the internet about how bad Amtrak service is; yet I find many of the same problems on airplanes. I do not plan to give up the fight, and have been very pleased to see Senators from across America quickly reject the Administrations proposal to kill our only system of Nationwide passenger trains. Many more will be speaking out against this gutting of Amtrak very soon.
Let us join ranks to improve the company, not shut it down. Across America in the coming months the National Association of Railroad Passengers will hold regional rail meetings. I urge all rail passenger advocates to attend one in your area. You can find out where the one in your region is by going to the NARP web page, narprail.org. At these meetings you will hear from some very dedicated individuals who believe this country can have the type of rail passenger service we all deserve in our beloved USA.
Contrary to what some may believe, the Directors of NARP are not all wealthy. I serve as a Director of NARP from Texas, and I sure do not bleed green with $$$. Instead of sitting on the sidelines, join the battle. Our U S. Senators and House members need to hear your voice of support. That voice should be to improve Amtrak, not dismantle it. That effort is certainly worth it, and I urge you to join in the fight.
All of the comments are mine alone and do not reflect the views of any rail organization Im a member of, or hold office in.
I just wanted to share my observations on a subject that another reader commented on a few weeks ago, Amtrak dining.
I traveled from Birmingham, Ala. to San Diego last summer. I did not have one bad meal. The food was very good and the service ranged from good to great. The food was not bland. The menu changed from train to train. Even the heat and eat fare in the lounge cars and Surfliners were more than okay. Some items are pre-cooked, there are still items that the crew can doctor up. The steaks and beef, all had different spices and flavor.
The reason that I have waited this long to respond, is that I had a trip planned for a couple of weeks ago. I rode Nos. 20 and 19 from Tuscaloosa, Ala. to New York and return. I had two breakfasts, three lunches and two dinners.
The food and service was great. The food was better than most moderate restaurant chains.
I listened to other passengers comments. Every one of them was pleased and impressed with food quality. A business traveler (yes, they do ride long distance trains) proclaimed to the four of us at our table, This beats the hell out of Delta!
Dining car No. 8512 had antique railroad travel posters framed and hanging on the walls. An elderly lady told her companion that the art and the flowers added to the dining experiences - an experience that she found enjoyable.
Those are my most recent Amtrak dining observations.
John E. Humphrey
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