Vol. 5 No. 6
February 9, 2004

Copyright © 2004
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

Destination: Freedom
The E-Zine of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - Jim RePass      Editor - Leo King
Washington, D.C. Bureau Chief - Wes Vernon
Webmaster - Dennis Kirkpatrick

A weekly North American rail and transit update
* Now in our Fifth Year *

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

Sosa appointed to Amtrak board

President Bush said on Friday he "intends to nominate" Enrique J. Sosa, of Florida, to be a Member of the Amtrak Reform Board for a five-year term. No further details were available at press time.

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Downeaster, 'Cabbage' end first

For NCI: Gordon Willis

Southbound Amtrak Downeaster No. 682, before the storm of 2003, passes over Salem Street in Exeter, N.H. last December 3. The train left Portland, Maine at 8:45 a.m., and is due in Boston’s North Station (BON) at 11:30 a.m. It’s a 116-mile journey. That leading unit, 90213, is a de-engined “cabbage.” A 4,200hp GE P-42 is pushing.


Senate considering highway bill;
intercity rail may be included

By Leo King

The U.S. Senate today begins further debate on a $378 billion highway funding bill which may include intercity railroad provisions. Debate of S.1072 began last Thursday, and was carried over to this week. It is an omnibus surface transportation program that reauthorizes “TEA-21” with significant changes.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) remarked on the floor on Friday, “We’ve spent a year writing the bill.” Inhofe is chairman of the Environmental and Public Works Committee chairman, and is herding the bill through the Senate.

He said no new gasoline taxes were added.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) a long-time Amtrak and intercity rail supporter, told his colleagues on Friday, “We have to be able to move people and goods efficiently, economically, safely, otherwise our economy would choke.”

He also expressed a hope that President Bush would not veto the highway measure when it gets to his desk.

“I hope the President is not approaching this with an objection in mind. Whether that objection extends as far as a veto or not, we don’t know – but I hope he that he will see that this is an essential part of our functioning society.”

Lautenberg, who sits on the Commerce committee, noted it is a complex bill with major titles coming from four different authorizing committees.

He noted the USDOT expects freight traffic to double over next two decades.

“Meanwhile, more and more Americans will need to travel to their jobs, to school, to medical appointments, to worship, to vacation, but we’re already straining capacity as we follow those pursuits.”

He added, “I’m disappointed President Bush has declined to acknowledge these needs in his vision of America’s future,” and said the bill under consideration is 25 percent larger than the Administration’s proposal. He said he expects to House bill to be half again as big as the Senate proposal.

Lautenberg said emphatically an intercity rail title needed to be added to the bill.

“I think it’s not only an appropriate title to add to this bill, it’s imperative. Intercity rail is an essential part of a national transportation network – and that’s one of the lessons we learned on 9-11,” referring to September 11, 2001, when hijackers slammed four commercial jetliners into the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon, and a Pennsylvania field.

“When our aviation system was crippled, and some 5,000 airplanes had to be grounded. The fact of the matter is, the aviation system was turned off, and we had to rely on other means of transportation. Our highways were jammed with cars and trucks. Hundreds of thousands of Americans found another way to get to their destinations – and that was passenger rail service.”

Lautenberg recalled, “There was a group from Washington, some legislators, who came up there [to New York] soon after 9-11 to see what had happened, and to see if we could do things that would prevent it from ever happening again. They had to come up by Amtrak. That was the only possible way that could reach there.”

He said the U.S. needs to have the “same kind of commitment toward rail infrastructure as we do toward highways and runways.”

He said it was essential across the country, not for just New Jersey or the Northeast Corridor, but not necessarily long-distance routes.

“It’s essential for those centers, those cities” on a corridor “a couple, 300 or 400 miles long, that could be so well-served by more efficient, high-speed rail.”

Lautenberg said will introduce amendments to the Highway bill this week.

Inhofe said Senate Majority Leader Bill First (R-Tenn.) wanted the bill concluded by the end of this week. Both men support the measure.

The Senate will reconvene at 1:00 p.m. today and resume consideration of S.1072, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act.

Meanwhile, last week, National Assn. of Railroad Passengers executive director Ross B. Capon advised his membership, “In an effort to develop a passable rail package, Sens. Ernst Hollings (D-N.C.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) have developed a new ‘rail infrastructure investment amendment’ to S.1072.”

The amendment would provide $5 billion in passenger-rail grants, $5 billion in freight rail grants, and $1 billion in federal tax credits to shortline and regional railroads for qualified maintenance expenses.

Grants require a 20 percent non-federal match, but they are grants, not bonds. To benefit directly, Capon wrote, “Amtrak would partner with a state or group of states. The bill has budgetary ‘offsets’ required to cover all $11 billion.”

The Wilmington, Del. News Journal reported on February 3 Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) also wants Congress to support a $42 billion plan they said would end battles over Amtrak funding and improve federal support of freight and passenger railroad projects.

Both Delaware solons said the six-year plan would give rail infrastructure the level of federal support that highways and air transportation projects have enjoyed for years.

“The time has arrived... to say rail is an important part of our transportation system,” Carper said.

The plan, called the American Railroad Revitalization Investment and Enhancement Act or ARRIVE-21, would get most of its money through a bond issue, which would be private investment instead of tax dollars. A non-profit, public-private corporation would oversee the fund, Carper said.

Amtrak, state governments and private rail freight companies could apply for grants to improve tracks, bridges and purchase new equipment.

Carper said money from the fund also could be used to improve freight rail lines to and from the Port of Wilmington, further helping the state economy by keeping the port competitive.

A stable Amtrak would be good for Delaware, said the senators and other local officials.

Amtrak has training and maintenance facilities in the state that employ about 1,100 people.

Carper said he hopes to attach ARRIVE-21 to a transportation bill that will be debated in the Senate this week.

State Rep. Roger P. Roy (R), who supports the plan, said it would be a real “shot in the arm” for Amtrak and other rail projects in the state. Roy said it is difficult for the state to pay for rail improvements and federal support would make projects, such as a Wilmington-to-Dover rail line, much easier to do.

Biden said the improvements would help national security by providing an alternative to airliners.

“Where would we have been on September 11 without Amtrak?” he asked.

Customer support for Amtrak is strong, said Carper. Last year, Amtrak set a ridership record of 24 million passengers.

Amtrak passengers were mixed in their reaction to the plan.

Ron Stowe of New Castle said he would want assurances the money would be “put in the right place.”

“Is it going to be a real transportation system or not? I‘d like to see a plan,” he said.

Margaret McAllister of New Castle said any additional funding to improve the system would be welcome. “I think it would be a good thing,” she said.

Amtrak‘s trains showed little improvement in on-time performance last month. They remain at the mercy of the freight railroads, but they also sustained numerous equipment failures resulting from the extremely cold weather around the nation and other mechanical problems.

ServiceOperatedLateOn TimeGoal
Pacific Surfliner7013495.185.0
Texas Eagle62591.970.0
City of New Orleans62985.570.0
Heartland Flyer621969.485.0
Acela Express62521465.894.0
Hoosier State351362.985.0
Southwest Chief622461.370.0
San Joaquins37214660.885.0
Empire Service71131156.385.0
Auto Train582753.470.0
Capitol Ltd623641.970.0
Silver Service18010939.470.0
Empire Builder1147236.870.0
Three Rivers624232.370.0
California Zephyr624625.870.0
Coast Starlight625019.470.0
Sunset Ltd262119.270.0
Lake Shore Ltd12411011.370.0

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Jersey solons look for tunnel cash

Both of New Jersey’s senators are pressing Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) to support building a third railroad tunnel under the Hudson River to New York City at a possible cost of $4 billion.

Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D) and Jon Corzine (D) met January 29 with Shelby, who chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury and General Government, to promote the merits of the project, according to a report in Saturday’s The Hill, published in Washington.

The project will come as a surprise to New York Sens. Charles Schumer (D) and Hillary Clinton (D), who had not been informed of their neighbors’ intention.

Lautenberg said a rail tunnel into New York would be a “critical national asset,” noting that rail service was the “only significantly functioning” means of transportation available “when the area was crippled” by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Shelby “understands the necessity” of the project, Lautenberg added.

He noted that the area gets “maximum use” out of the two existing tunnels and said he would “work with [Shelby] in every way possible to make this an … effective, cost-efficient investment.”

Following his meeting with the two New Jersey senators, Shelby said they were “working on funding for transit.”

Virginia Davis, Shelby’s spokeswoman, added that her boss “understands the importance of the priority to the senators, and moving forward he intends to consider the request carefully.”

Building a rail tunnel would obviously require “a significant amount of money,” Lautenberg said, but he is not looking at the price tag yet. Before that, he wants to see the design.

Corzine said the cost for the project would be $3.5 billion to $4 billion, but the federal government would share the burden with the states and the Port Authority, which have to be “heavy workers” to secure the necessary funds.

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Bush again underfunds Amtrak

President Bush is playing hardball regarding transportation funding, including Amtrak.

His Transportation Secretary, Norman Y. Mineta, issued a press release last Thursday in which he stated, “Regarding SAFETEA, Treasury Secretary [John] Snow and I have delivered to Congressional leadership this morning a letter reaffirming the Administration’s position on the appropriate funding level for the surface transportation reauthorization known as SAFETEA. As Congress gets set to begin work on the proposal, we felt it necessary to restate three important principles that must be followed if we are to recommend to the President that he sign any bill coming from the Hill.

“First, transportation infrastructure spending should not rely on an increase in the gas tax or other federal taxes.

“Second, transportation infrastructure spending should not be funded through bonding or other mechanisms that conceal the true cost to federal taxpayers.

“And third, highway spending should be financed from the Highway Trust Fund, not the General Fund of the Treasury.

Mineta and Snow stated, “Our letter is very clear on one other important point. If a surface transportation reauthorization bill that breaches any of these three principles were presented to the President, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill. The Administration’s proposal gets the job done, without raising taxes or increasing the deficit.”

The pair added they “look forward to working with Congress to pass the bill as soon as possible.”

The Bush Administration once again proposed short-changing Amtrak – back to its fiscal year 2004 proposal of $ 900 million.

Amtrak President David Gunn said “Next week,” today – February 6, “Amtrak will detail very specific infrastructure improvements it needs to make in fiscal 2005 to keep us on the road to a state of good repair, and so that our passengers can depend on safe and reliable service.”

The railroad’s president and CEO added, “As with last year, our grant request will be more than $900 million, and will be closer to the figure outlined last year in our strategic five-year plan.”

That was around $1.8 billion.

“We look forward to working with Congress in the months ahead to secure the federal support that is required for a state of good repair and the kind of reliability our passengers deserve,” Gunn said.

D:F intends to be present at Gunn’s press conference.

USA Today reported The Bush administration, facing a record federal budget deficit, is threatening to veto the highway spending bill that sends money for roads and bridges to almost every Congressional district. The President has pledged to cut the $521 billion deficit in half in five years. The veto threat, presented in a letter to lawmakers from Snow and Mineta, was framed as an expression of the resolve to hold down spending.

Snow and Mineta said he should veto the bill if it spends more than the Highway Trust Fund would cover. The fund is financed by an 18.4-cents-a-gallon gas tax. The administration warned against raising the tax.

The highway bill is an election-year imperative for lawmakers who see it as a jobs program and a way of relieving traffic congestion. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said it would create up to 2 million jobs. He urged the Senate to pass the bill by next week.

The White House also recommends reducing funding for Amtrak subsidies, environmental projects, air-traffic controllers, research on prosthetic devices for veterans and rural power and water subsidies and multiple other programs.

Elsewhere, Congress Daily reported last week GOP and Democratic Senate aides are predicting hundreds of amendments to the already mammoth six-year transportation reauthorization bill on the floor, highlighted over the next two weeks by proposals on environmental and labor issues. The Senate is in the first week of what is expected to be lengthy debate over its $318 billion reauthorization bill, while the House leadership has not settled on the price tag for its version.

On environmental issues, Sen. Barbara Boxer (Calif.) and other Democrats will look to modify the bill to reduce the impact of, or eliminate a series of, Clean Air Act and National Environmental Policy Act changes aimed at easing controls on highway construction projects. States and highway builders have long argued that NEPA rules create a lengthy and overly burdensome process that can delay highway projects for years.

Environmentalists counter that the rules should remain because they provide the only federal protection for sensitive habitats and reduce the environmental impacts of highway construction.

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MTA says Amtrak is blocking plan

New York City’s East Side access project, which is a plan to bring Long Island Rail Road trains to Grand Central Terminal that has moved in fits and starts for 40 years, has hit a snag: Amtrak’s financial straits, according to The New York Times of February 1.

Since the 1960s, the plan has been to run Long Island Rail Road trains from Harold Interlocking in Queens, shared with Amtrak, over about a mile of new track to an underused tunnel beneath the East River. That tunnel emerges in Manhattan at East 63rd Street, and from there, the trains would go through a new tunnel and join the tracks under Park Avenue that carry Metro-North trains to Grand Central. The new link would move perhaps 90,000 passengers daily on about 150 trains. It would relieve crowding at Pennsylvania Station and lure to the rails Long Island residents who work in east Midtown.

An agreement between Amtrak and LIRR is needed because of the tangled history of the area’s railroads. The old Pennsylvania Railroad largely assembled Amtrak’s Northeast corridor. About a century ago, that railroad bought the Long Island Rail Road to get access to Manhattan. Now their ownership is separate again, with the Long Island owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Northeast Corridor going to Amtrak. Ownership of the tracks in Queens is shared.

Amtrak insists that the project is not for its customers, and should therefore not cost it any money.

It also fears delays for its trains on its major route, the Boston-New York-Washington corridor.

The East Side access project also faces substantial engineering problems, mostly in digging from the East River to Park Avenue.

The project would be the largest ever undertaken by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The plan was conceived in the 1960s, when the 63rd Street tunnel was built. In the early 1990s, plans were drawn up to finish the job by 1998, with about a mile of additional tunnel on either side of the existing tunnel under the river, at a cost of about $3 billion. Now the completion date is 2012 and the price is $6.3 billion.

The immediate problem, though, is on the Long Island end, at Amtrak-owned Sunnyside Yard in Queens, and the adjacent Harold Interlocking, a two-mile switch and signal complex. On the western end are four tracks carrying trains to and from Penn Station, as well as two more that branch off toward Long Island City and Brooklyn.

On the east are additional tracks, Amtrak’s corridor main. A pair led to Hell Gate Bridge and then into the Bronx. At New Rochelle, N.Y., Amtrak joins Metro-North tracks enroute to New Haven and Boston.

Two other tracks go to the Long Island Rail Road’s Port Washington branch, and four go to Jamaica, Queens, and the other branches of the railroad.

During the commuter rush, 42 trains roar through Harold hourly – but the transportation authority would like to increase that to 66.

The task is not much different from untangling the intersection of two busy, multilane streets, except that the trains are up to a quarter-mile long and some lumber through at 15 miles an hour, making maneuvering difficult.

The transportation authority is considering digging one or more tunnels so that trains coming out of Penn Station can turn left to head for Hell Gate and New England without having to cross over at grade level in front of oncoming westbound trains.

In short, a “flyunder,” rather than a more conventional “flyover.”

That would give Amtrak an incentive to consent to allowing the work to be done on its property, authority officials said. Whatever the changes in layout, they will be for the long term, according to rail executives.

“It’s got to last 100 years,” said James Dermody, LIRR president, who pointed out that the current configuration of Harold was in place for the opening of the first Penn Station, in 1908.

A reconfigured Harold Interlocking could be a major boon for Amtrak, which often sees its trains lose valuable time as they pass through Harold on their way to Hell Gate and New Rochelle. Timeliness is crucial there because Metro-North, which owns the tracks from New Rochelle to New Haven, is so busy that it has assigned Amtrak “slots” at specific times, and Amtrak has been known to miss the window.

But there is also peril, in the form of extra costs. Amtrak says that the soil at Sunnyside and Harold is filled with toxic substances that have leaked or been dumped. Amtrak is refusing to let work proceed until the transportation authority agrees to protect Amtrak against all liability and costs arising from stirring up poison dirt.

In addition, New Jersey Transit uses the yard to store trains. That, too, could be disrupted, Amtrak warned. It has sent the transportation authority a series of blunt letters, signed by Amtrak CEO and president David L. Gunn.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority insists that the dispute is not serious. Referring to contaminated soil, William M. Wheeler, the director of planning at the Long Island, said, “Amtrak hasn’t shown us anything to indicate that.”

Amtrak has avoided the word “share.”

“I must have an agreement that will not produce any additional financial burdens on Amtrak,” Gunn wrote to Peter S. Kalikow, transportation authority chairman, on December 4. In an earlier letter he complained that the authority was proceeding “without directly addressing Amtrak’s concerns.”

Both sides say discussions are continuing.

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Some Amtrak trains lose sleepers

Amtrak is cutting sleeping car service on Eastern long-distance trains, starting on February 29 for westbound trains, and March 2 for eastbound.

The Cardinal will run without sleepers, and the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited will run without a sleeper. The Crescent will run with one sleeper instead of two.

The Federal sleeper, which had been expected to return April 1, is now in limbo. It was deleted last fall.

“The large number of sleepers that are not in condition to operate right now can be attributed to a number of causes, including difficulties in the transition to a new organizational structure, bitter cold weather, and a history of inadequate capital investment in the fleet,” National Assn. of Railroad Passengers’ Ross Capon noted.

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Amtrak, AT&T to open I-net kiosks

Starting this summer, commuters will be able to stay connected to the internet and office e-mail at stations along the Northeast Corridor. Amtrak and AT&T Wireless last week announced a new agreement that will put high-speed wireless internet – “Wi-Fi,” – service in six of the railroad’s busiest train stations in the region.

The stations include Route 128 Station in Dedham, Mass.; Providence; Penn Station, New York; 30th Street Station, Philadelphia; Wilmington, Del., and Penn Station in Baltimore.

The new Wi-Fi service is one of the largest single technology upgrades to the stations and will benefit the more than one million weekday passengers, commuters and visitors to the six facilities.

“Today’s mobile professionals are always looking for ways to stay connected and maintain productivity,” said Jeff Bradley, senior vice-president of business data solutions at AT&T.

“Our new Wi-Fi service at these Amtrak stations, coupled with our wide-area ‘EDGE’ service, will give commuters the ability to access the information they need while away from their home or office,” he added.

EDGE is AT&T’s Enhanced Data rates for Global Evolution configuration.

Anyone with a working Wi-Fi-enabled laptop or PDA will be able to access the system from anywhere and for multiple times for $9.99 over a 24-hour span. Existing AT&T Wireless Wi-Fi customers may enter their user credentials to go online.

AT&T Wireless will design, install, manage, operate and maintain the Wi-Fi systems in the six stations.

Through its own properties and roaming agreements, AT&T Wireless said it offers Wi-Fi access in hundreds of locations around the country.

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Road gets bumpy for Florida

Last week was not a good week for Florida’s high-speed rail project.

Gov. Jeb Bush (R) apparently has enough votes in the Florida House and Senate to send the amendment creating a high-speed rail system back to the voters, legislative leaders said a fortnight ago.

On January 30, opponents of high-speed rail began supporting their case with a letter sent to Bush by Rep. Ron Reagan (R), a first-term legislator. The letter claims that high-speed rail projects carry excessive costs and low ridership, the Lakeland Ledger reported on February 1.

Supporters of the bullet train say that the other side is exaggerating and that they will fight to save the constitutionally mandated project.

In an about-face from earlier statements made to two state newspapers, House Speaker Johnnie Byrd (R) said that if the governor wants high-speed rail back on the ballot, the House will make it happen, and Senate President Jim King said on January 27 that if an immediate vote were held in his chambers, a motion to send the amendment back would pass, but just barely.

Fifty-three percent of the voters in the 2000 general election approved an amendment to the Florida Constitution requiring the state to build a statewide high-speed rail system that would connect at least five metropolitan centers.

The amendment was placed on the ballot by Lakeland insurance investor C.C. “Doc” Dockery, who used $3 million of his own money. Bush is opposed to the program, calling it too expensive. The project caused a major schism between the governor and Dockery, who was one of his most ardent supporters and who stayed with him after his defeat by Lawton Chiles in 1994, working for his successful election in 1998.

Byrd and his predecessor, former speaker and now U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney, tried, at Bush’s urging, to pressure House members to stop the creation of the Florida High Speed Rail Authority and to send the issue back to the voters, but the efforts failed.

In the three years since the amendment’s passage, the authority has been formed; the first route, between Tampa and Orlando, has been chosen and studied; and a builder-operator has been hired, Bombardier.

Last year, Bush vetoed new operating funds for the authority, which some argue contravened the Constitutional mandate.

Leftover funds and federal money kept the agency going. Early this year, Bush sent a lengthy letter and documentation to both legislative bodies asking them to send the amendment back to the voters this fall.

The legislature will convene March 2.

To put an amendment on the general election ballot, 60 percent of the 120-member House, or 72 members, must vote in favor.

Though the anti-bullet train forces appear to be closing in for the kill, supporters say it is not over yet.

Byrd, who is running for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate this year, told two newspapers earlier that he did not think the amendment would get out of the House and go to the voters again, but when questioned by The Ledger on Tuesday, he replied, “I support the governor… My personal feeling about it is that high-speed rail is not something whose time has come; and so, I support the governor. If the governor wants to push it, he’ll have a vote in the House, I believe.”

Dockery disputed the point.

“I am absolutely surprised that (Byrd) claims he has the votes in the House,” Dockery said a fortnight ago, “because he had to move 14 people to his side earlier this week, and I don’t think he could do that in such a short time. I can tell you he doesn’t have the 72 votes.”

Dockery also criticized the letter that Reagan sent to Bush, which listed what Reagan said were excessive cost figures for the bullet train.

In one portion of the letter, the Bradenton representative said the cost-per-mile of high-speed rail would be 27 cents, comparable to the cost of air travel. He said “preliminary data for April 2001 show the cost per mile was 7.4 cents for passenger cars and 9.2 cents for vans, SUVs and pickup trucks.”

Even using gas prices of three years ago, Dockery said, Reagan’s information was “ridiculous.”

Part of the reason for the defeat of the high-speed rail opponents so far has been Dockery’s wife, state Sen. Paula Dockery (R). King said it is possible she will do it again.

“Senator Dockery has some loyal support in the Senate, and she is able to make a case for her causes that is hard to ignore,” King said during a recent gathering of news media editors and reporters in Tallahassee.

Senator Dockery said that the legislature does not have the votes to send the issue back – and even if it could, she hinted of repercussions.

“Since 2.9 million voters supported the vision of addressing our transportation gridlock, it seems unwise for the legislature to suggest they were incapable of making an informed decision, especially in an election year,” she said.

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As Illinois state fortunes rise
in Amtrak, two others decline

Illinois transportation officials and Amtrak are considering plans to add more passenger trains to the Chicago-St. Louis corridor.

Acting on a request from the Illinois DOT, Amtrak is compiling figures to determine the costs of adding trains to the current selection of three that roll through Bloomington and Normal every day, reports The Pantagraph of Bloomington, Ill.

“We’re responding because we think it’s an interesting idea,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari in Chicago.

“We’re responding to their questions and developing information that they’ve requested,” he said on February 6.

Efforts to bring more trains to Central Illinois come as the town of Normal is trying to build a transportation hub downtown that would combine a train station, bus station and taxi service into one central facility.

IDOT spokesman Matt Vanover said expansion talks are in “very preliminary” stages, and he could not offer a timetable as to when the state would like to add the passenger rail service.

Both spokesmen, however, said boosting the number of trains could add to the already mushrooming ridership numbers seen on the corridor.

Amtrak reports show the number of riders grew 29 percent in the final three months of 2003. That comes after a 13 percent increase in the preceding 12 months.

In all, 254,946 passengers rode the route in fiscal 2003.

Three round-trip trains a day pass through Bloomington-Normal – the Statehouse, from Chicago to St. Louis; the Ann Rutledge, operating Chicago to Kansas City; and the Texas Eagle, from Chicago to San Antonio and Los Angeles. That train operates to Los Angeles on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and makes its return trips on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

It was not clear whether the talks could result in additional money being added to the upcoming state budget. The state’s fiscal year begins July 1.

Currently, the state pays Amtrak $12 million as part of an eight-year agreement to keep passenger trains operating throughout the state. IDOT also has invested millions of dollars upgrading tracks and other technology aimed at one day bringing high-speed rail to the line.

Overall, Amtrak experienced the highest ridership in its 32-year history during the preceding fiscal year, when more than 24 million passengers boarded trains across the nation.

In Missouri, its cross-state passenger train service is again in jeopardy of cutbacks if the legislature does not commit to spending more money by the end of this month, a state transportation official said a fortnight ago.

The state subsidizes Amtrak to operate two daily trains between St. Louis and Kansas City, with eight stops in between.

The service costs the state about $6.2 million annually, but this year, as it did last year, the state legislature appropriated just $5 million for Amtrak in the MoDOT budget.

Last year, when Amtrak threatened to end one of the two trains by March 1, 2003, the legislature agreed to spend an additional $800,000 and state officials struck a nationally unique deal with Amtrak to impose a $5 per passenger surcharge on Missouri trips. Amtrak also eliminated ticket agents in Jefferson City and Kirkwood to help make up the difference.

That surcharge remains in effect this year, and is expected to generate $263,000, which counts toward Amtrak’s bill to the state.

Amtrak still will be forced to halt one of the two trains near the end of February if the legislature does not appropriate an additional $884,815 to pay the state’s bill, said Brian Weiler, director of multimodal operations for the state DOT.

“Right now, we’re basically in a survival mode, just trying to keep the service going,” Weiler told the House Budget Committee.

The committee, which also heard requests to boost midyear spending on other government programs, took no vote Wednesday on the proposal.

During the state’s 2003 fiscal year that ended June 30, Amtrak ridership in Missouri dipped to 167,245 passengers, the lowest level since 1996.

Weiler attributed the decline partly to the budget uncertainties, delays in the trains’ arrival times and track repairs that forced some passengers to ride buses for a while.

Union Pacific, which owns the tracks Amtrak uses, also plans to make track improvements this spring, which again could divert some Amtrak customers to buses, he said.

Elsewhere, in Oregon, KVAL-TV Eugene reported on February 5 that Amtrak service is threatened.

Voters recently defeated Ballot Measure 30, so because of the fallout, Amtrak will likely drop one or more of their train services from Eugene to Portland, and possibly cut back its bus service. Right now, the state pays for two of the three round trip train runs a day.

Eugene Mayor Jim Torrey says the cuts will be unfortunate, but the state has to prioritize how they want to spend what money they have.

“I think this is a surprise to those people who really want this to stay. In the best of all worlds, we’d keep every service we could – but there are no free lunches,” he said.

Torrey said the route the state will likely cut is the train No. 504, which could save about $8 million.

It would be a big hit to many in the community, said an Amtrak traveler.

“It would affect a lot of people cause there’s so many elderly people that ride the train up to see family and they can’t drive. The train is so much more comfortable than the bus,” said passenger Michelle Bridges.

It’s unclear when the train service would be cut, but Torrey said the cuts would not affect depot renovations.

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STATION LINES...  Station lines...

‘Old and Weary’ station burns

A plume of smoke rose hundreds of feet in the air on February 2 as firefighters fought to save a Middletown, N.Y. landmark. A fire broke out shortly after 8:15 a.m. at the historic New York, Ontario & Western Railroad station. The firefighters contained the fire to the back quarter of the building, saving the historic facade. The back was gutted. The abandoned NYO&W was nicknamed the “Old and Weary.”

– Middletown, N.Y. Times Herald-Record

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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

MTA at New Rochelle Interlocking

©2004 Joseph M. Calisi

A Grand Central Terminal-bound Metro-North EMU passes through the New Rochelle, N.Y. interlocking on the New Haven line on February 1 on an express run after making a last pickup in Stamford. Fine snow finding its way into traction motors has caused older electrically operated commuter cars to fail, necessitating shortened or cancelled rush-hour trains.


MTA expedites M-7 commuter car buy

By Joseph M. Calisi
Special to Destination:Freedom

The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has expedited purchasing 120 additional Bombardier-built M-7 electrical multiple unit cars (EMUs).

The additional cars are expected to cost about $238 million, financed primarily through a $208 million bond issue. The action comes on the heels of a great number of Metro-North Railroad trains being cancelled or delayed due to the effects of snow on older rolling stock the commuter agency uses.

This order of 120 new cars is in addition to the 180 M-7s that will begin arriving next month.

The purchase is part of the 2005-2009 MTA capital program, but the purchase still needs to be accepted by New York State’s capital program review board. The decision to make this purchase could be influenced by the fact that the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) has had a stellar performer with 200 of the newer M-7 cars this winter, with those cars going over 200,000 miles between failures. The M-7s use AC induction traction motors as opposed to the DC motors used on the 40-year old EMUs that are failing.

The effects of the snowstorms during the winter of 2003-04 are causing burnouts when fine-grained snow granules find their way into the traction motor commutators, creating shorts and disabling them.

Metro-North spokesman Dan Brucker said, “The number of cars in the shop varies. On a normal sunny summer day, about 100 cars are in for normal maintenance. These days, that number has ranged anywhere from 150 to a little over 200 on a given day in all of our shops.”

A great number of trains have been cancelled or delayed due to the snowy weather. Metro-North normally posts an on-time performance of 97 percent or better, but this figure was reduced into the mid-80s following the winter woes. One method used to overcome cancellations is by combining express and local service, or by having express trains make additional stops to pick up passengers, causing many passengers to stand for their entire trip into Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan.

Implementing the newer design EMUs will allow Metro-North to retire two different kinds of 30- and 40-year-old electrically operated cars on the Hudson and Harlem divisions.

The New York Central ordered some of those cars (known as the 1100-series cars), in the early 1960s. Another group of cars targeted for replacement are 96 M-1 class EMUs that were slated for a total overhaul cost of $10.3 million.

The M-2, M-4 and M-6 cars that operate from Connecticut into Manhattan are not affected by the new car purchase, but have been slated for a $145 million overhaul by the Connecticut DOT (CDOT). Those cars were also susceptible to the same traction motor failures this winter.

The Long Island Rail Road is having similar snow-related failure problems with its older M-1 fleet as well with a mean distance of less than 40,000 miles per failure. However, the LIRR M-7 fleet has been able to pick up the slack.

The news of the 120 new car purchase infuriated New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He said the money should be spent on an MTA-takeover of the private bus lines in the city and to make up for reducing MTA bus and subway services within the city due to a looming MTA budget deficit in the coming years.

New York City was the beneficiary when the MTA enacted a similar accelerated purchase process to obtain over 1,000 of the R-142 subway cars in 1999.

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SEPTA rethinks Reading plan

Pennsylvania DOT Secretary Allen Biehler has set up a new task force to rescope a Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) project and get it moving once again.

The Delaware Valley Assn. of Rail Passengers, Inc., a rail transit passenger organization primarily focusing on southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey issues, said Bieler took the action “After seeing SEPTA avoid reality and continue to spin its wheels by pushing forward with a $2 billion MetroRail plan that had been rejected by the Federal Transit Administration.”

“The move validates what DVARP and other SEPTA critics had been saying for three years – that the SEPTA plan for separate tracks and such high-frequency service all the way to Reading was based on faulty estimates of cost and ridership, and had no realistic chance of winning federal funding,” the organization stated within in its monthly magazine pages, The Delaware Valley Rail Passenger for January 2004.

SEPTA is now expected to ask its consultants to review the models, as well as to examine options for a staged implementation of the project, bringing the cost of the first phase down substantially to a figure consistent with funding commitments from federal, state, and local sources. That staging will be of critical importance; it will determine who gets service in the initial phase. It may also determine if the line will ever reach its full 62 miles.

The Delaware Valley Assn. of Rail Passengers, Inc. is online at http://www.dvarp.org.

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MBTA to review Worcester line service

A new $500,000 study of the Boston-Worcester commuter rail line will look at the cost and feasibility of adding more trains to the popular route.

Meanwhile, Fitchburg and Leominster-area commuter rail advocates are applauding the scheduled startup of express service to Boston, but are unhappy that the return express is at 4:40 p.m., too early for most riders, reports The Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has selected HNTB, a Kansas City, Mo.-based design consulting firm, to handle the nine-month review of the Worcester line, which is expected to start next month.

Central Massachusetts commuter rail advocates have been pushing for expanded and improved service on the line, which serves stations in Worcester, Grafton, Westboro, Southboro and Ashland.

The line also suffers from frequent delays and breakdowns and lacks a true “reverse commute” option for rush-hour travel between Boston and Worcester.

CSX Corp. has stymied efforts to add more trains. The freight railroad has maintained that anything above the 10 weekday round trips now offered by the MBTA would be impossible without adding an entirely new track.

“They’ll take a look at the entire line and what we’ll need and what it will cost,” David W. Ryan, MBTA assistant general manager, said at the Statehouse meeting.

The study will focus on adding a third track as well as improvements to signs and equipment on 6.5 miles of rail to better handle freight and passenger trains using the same track between Framingham and Worcester.

Constructing a new track would involve expensive land takings and extensive environmental protection work and rock blasting, Ryan said.

The consulting firm will also look at less costly options, MBTA officials said. With the cost of such work estimated at up to $30 million, area lawmakers are hoping that the MBTA study can determine whether there is a less costly alternative. MBTA officials told members of the Central Massachusetts Legislative Caucus last week that HNTB will examine environmental permits, track design and land acquisition. The study will also analyze what is needed to build a rail spur to Framingham State College.

“Maybe there are other solutions that are cheaper and more environmentally friendly,” Michael Stoffel, the MBTA’s chief of engineering and construction, told the lawmakers and legislative aides. “This would involve wetlands, land takings and rock cuts. It would be a major undertaking.”

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Doubters still question Houston light rail

Even before the first track was laid in Houston, light rail had its share of critics. Even while the Super Bowl generated the largest passenger crowds to date, there are questions as to whether it was a super success.

Light rail was back on track February 2, on Main Street, reported KHOU-TV on February 3. The trains were so crowded Friday and Saturday – Super Bowl weekend – the route had to be shortened as a safety precaution.

“I think it was important for Super Bowl,” said downtown worker Becky McKinley.

“I was down here Friday and I know it would have been so insane with the traffic if we hadn’t had the rail, so I guess it was worth it,” McKinley said.

While thousands rode the rail during the long weekend, some question whether a once in a lifetime event signals a true success for Metro. People paid for a ticket to ride, but for how long?

“That’s not the type of investment that gets paid off with one event when a few extra thousand people ride it,” said Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt.

“You’ve got to look over the long term,” Bettencourt said.

Metro doesn’t have the numbers crunched yet, but believes the weekend was a success by any measure.

“Anybody that said they wouldn’t ride light rail has been disproven many times over,” said Metro Operations Manager Jeff Arndt.

Arndt believes the super success may be the impetus needed to expand light rail even quicker than previously planned.

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Army contracts for bridge removal

The Pentagon reports ESI Environmental Specialists Inc., Kansas City, Mo., was the successful bidder on January 26 to remove some railroad bridges and install new decks.

The Defense Department announced the results last Thursday.

“A $100,000 increment was part of a $7,585,895 construction contract” to remove or partially remove four existing railroad bridges, rebuilding two existing single-track bridges, and building a new double track bridge.

Work will be performed in Kansas City, Mo., and is expected to be completed by June 30, 2005.

A brief press release from the Army did not specify if the bridges are currently in service, nor why the bridge removal and replacement was required, nor if the spans are currently in service.

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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

CSX on the move

NCI: Leo King

CSX last week cut 100 managerial jobs in Jacksonville corporate headquarters, and 20 other upper management people are out of work around the system.


CSX cuts 120 managerial posts

CSX Corp. cut about another 120 jobs on Thursday. Some 100 were in its Jacksonville corporate headquarters.

It’s the second round of job cuts and part of a management restructuring plan announced in November to cut the railroad’s costs and improve customer service.

As the corporate restructuring advances, the second stage of cuts is expected to be larger than the last, the Florida Times-Union reported. In December, CSX trimmed 20 senior-level managers. The transformation began with a relatively few powerful people at the top of CSX’s corporate ladder and is working its way down to levels that contain more employees. A total of 800 to 1,000 managerial, or non-union, jobs will be eliminated.

The employees whose jobs were eliminated held the positions of assistant vice-president and director, said CSX spokesman Gary Sease. Their terminations were effective immediately and were not voluntary.

He did not specify vice-president of what nor director of which office.

They were notified during a day-long process of individual meetings with their supervisors. The remaining employees met Friday in several “town hall” style meetings with senior executives who were to update them on the progress of the realignment.

“Everybody is just wondering what’s going to happen next,” said a CSX employee who asked that his name not be revealed for fear of being fired. “Nobody around here is making any major [personal] purchases right now.”

Several employees said that while it may be painful initially, the cuts are what are needed to improve the long-term health of the railroad. Analysts agreed.

“CSX is doing what everybody else has done, they’re just slower at it,” said Lawrence Kaufman, a Denver-based former railroad executive who is a columnist for Trains magazine and Rail Business newsletter.

“I applaud them for doing it,” he said.

For the past several quarters, CSX faced reduced earnings and poor service along its 23,000-mile rail network in the Eastern U.S. The company’s overall revenue declined from $8.152 billion in 2002 to $7.793 billion last year.

One of CSX’s key financial indicators, its operating ratio, or ratio of costs-to-revenue, was 87.4 percent last quarter. That’s down from 88 percent the previous quarter, but is still the highest of any large U.S. railroad, said Anthony Hatch, an independent railroad analyst based in New York.

The job cuts are expected to save CSX about $80 to $100 million annually as it shrinks its management layers from 11 to eight. The process is expected to be over by the end of March, CSX Chairman and CEO Michael Ward told investors in a conference call last week.

Beginning at the top of the 24-year-old company’s management, the transformation requires each management layer to redesign the layer below it. The goal is to create a more efficient railroad that is better suited to face competition in a deregulated railroad environment. That will produce savings that last longer and are greater than the headcount reduction, Ward said when unveiling the restructuring in November.

The peer review process both eliminates and creates some positions. Some employees who were called into their boss’s office Thursday were met with news of expanded responsibilities, Sease said.

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BNSF integrates phones, computers

Any casual shipper can tap into a FedEx or UPS Web site and determine the location of even the smallest of packages, but until recently, The Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Ry. Co. (BNSF) tracked its trains the old-fashioned way, through two-way voice radios located in every locomotive cab.

Train crews dropped off cars and then radioed that information back to a dispatcher at BNSF’s high-tech network operations center at the railroad’s headquarters in Fort Worth. The dispatchers would then have to type these reports into DB2 databases running on IBM mainframe computers, Computer World reported on January 26.

Though BNSF could communicate with train crews over radios connected into a private microwave system that spanned 14,000 miles in 27 states, the system provided “static information,” according to John Hicks, BNSF’s director of unified messaging.

Crews would start their day with written work orders and turn them in at the end of the day, with periodic calls to report cars dropped off or picked up.

Jeff Campbell, BNSF’s chief information officer, viewed this approach as outdated, cumbersome and incapable of meeting the demands of customers and railroad management for near-real-time data. Last year, BNSF launched a project to automatically turn those voice radio calls into data capable of integration into the company’s computer systems.

Campbell says BNSF decided to use its voice radios as the interface to an interactive voice response system and tapped ScanSoft Inc. in Peabody, Mass., to provide it with speech-recognition software. ScanSoft had never integrated an interactive voice system (contracted to “IVR”), with a radio system before, and the company found it a challenge, said Rob Kassel, ScanSoft’s senior product manager for network speech.

Two-way radio systems have lower fidelity than the phone lines traditionally used with IVR. The noisy environment of a locomotive cab compounded the fidelity problem, Kassel added.

ScanSoft built BNSF’s application on its SpeechWorks software and added noise filters. The software maker also sampled engineer radio calls to teach the software to recognize speech generated in such a noisy environment.

Dispatchers at BNSF’s network operations center in Fort Worth control the radiotelephony interface (RTI) through a phone icon on their screens. It shows all the radio frequencies as well as cellphone and landline connections. When a train crew calls in, the dispatcher clicks on the appropriate link, and the RTI takes the crew through an interactive audio menu with prompts for information such as car number and location.

BNSF rolled out the RTI in its Fort Worth division last year and said it plans to take it systemwide by 2005, starting with its Gulf and East Texas divisions this year.

Campbell declined to break out the system costs, but said BNSF’s IT budget will hit $274 million this year, up $1.5 million from 2003.

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Transit Rail invests in NYRR

New York Regional Rail Corp. said last week Transit Rail LLC is investing a half-million dollars in NYRR over the next 12 months.

NYRR said on February 5 it had created a special series of 500 “Series D” preferred shares, which were issued to Transit Rail in return for completion of the first tier of financing, totaling $500,000.

NYRR stated in a press release “Transit Rail has received a voting proxy from a major NYRR shareholder of that provides Transit Rail with voting control on most shareholder issues.”

If Transit Rail purchases 2,000 additional Series D preferred shares, it will acquire voting control of the company through its ownership of the new shares.

NYRR also appointed two new board members, Don Hutton and Douglas Szalasny.

Elsewhere, NYRR agreed to convert approximately $730,000 of debt into approximately 7.3 million shares of common stock, approximately $270,000 of which was held by company affiliates.

The railroad also completed a private placement of approximately $300,000 in return for 6.8 million shares of common stock in the fourth quarter of 2003, $25,000 of which was held by company affiliates.

The freight carrier also executed an option to purchase the remaining 49 percent of the stock of JS Transportation, Inc. in exchange for 4,000,0000 shares of common stock.

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Carload, intermodal traffic up

Both carload and intermodal traffic on U.S. railroads showed gain in January 2004 compared with January 2003, AAR reported on Thursday.

Carload volume totaled 1,305,668 cars, 2.5 percent (31,534 carloads) while intermodal traffic totaled 781,735 trailers or containers, up 5.4 percent (40,107 trailers or containers). Total volume was estimated at 116.5 billion ton-miles, up 3.6 percent from January 2003.

On the carload side, commodities with significant gains in January 2004 included coal (up 11,682 carloads, or 2.3 percent); grain (up 9,169 carloads, or 10.4 percent); crushed stone, sand, and gravel (up 7,024 carloads, or 11.0 percent); and coke (up 5,273 carloads, or 30.6 percent). All told, 13 of the 19 commodity categories tracked by the AAR saw gains in carloadings in January 2004 compared with January 2003.

Commodities with carload declines in January 2004 included motor vehicles and equipment (down 12,092 carloads, or 12.9 percent) and metallic ores (down 4,540 carloads, or 9.1 percent).

Intermodal – the movement of truck trailers or containers on rail cars – accounts for approximately 22 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 2004, the trailer component of intermodal was up 11.2 percent (20,299 units), while containers were up 3.5 percent (19,808 units).

“The railroads came out of the blocks quickly during the first month of the year,” noted AAR Vice President Craig F. Rockey.

He added, “Even with substantially depressed motor vehicle traffic and severe winter weather in parts of the country that hampered rail operations, the industry posted healthy increases in both carload and intermodal traffic in January. We obviously hope for continued strong traffic gains in the coming months.”

Canadian rail carload traffic was up 3.1 percent (7,562 carloads) and Canadian intermodal traffic was down 2.1 percent (3,351 units) in January 2004 compared with January 2003. Grain traffic on Canadian carriers was up 26.6 percent (6,885 carloads); carloads of metallic ores were up 28.7 percent (2,408 carloads). On the down side, carloads of motor vehicles and equipment were down 6.2 percent (1,911 carloads) and carloads of chemicals were down 2.2 percent (1,294 carloads).

Carloads originated on Transportación Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM), a major Mexican railroad, totaled 31,865 in January 2004, down 10.3 percent (3,659 carloads), while intermodal originations of 11,806 units were down 20.6 percent (3,066 trailers and containers).

For just the week ended January 31, the AAR reported the following totals for U.S. railroads: 318,515 carloads, up 0.5 percent from the corresponding week in 2003, with loadings up 5.0 percent in the West but down 4.9 percent in the East, where weather played a role; intermodal volume of 196,797 trailers and containers, up 5.6 percent; and total volume of an estimated 28.5 billion ton-miles, up 1.4 percent from the equivalent week last year.

For Canadian railroads during the week ended January 31, the AAR reported volume of 58,195 carloads, down 5.0 percent from last year; and 37,179 trailers and containers, down 7.3 percent from the corresponding week in 2003.

Combined cumulative volume for the first four weeks of 2004 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 1,556,809 carloads, up 2.6 percent (39,096 carloads) from last year; and 937,424 trailers and containers, up 4.1 percent (36,756 trailers and containers) from 2003’s first four weeks.

The AAR is online at www.aar.org.

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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: CBSMarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)32.8032.13
Canadian National(CNI)60.6759.95
Canadian Pacific(CP)25.9825.95
Florida East Coast(FLA)33.0933.10
Genessee & Wyoming(GWR)33.2532.95
Kansas City Southern(KSU)14.6414.74
Norfolk Southern(NSC)22.1622.30
Union Pacific(UNP)64.8864.40

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WE GET LETTERS...  We get letters...

Dear Editor:

Regarding your article about hazardous material security (D:F, February 2), by federal regulation, every hazmat shipment carries a bright-colored placard with a “UN number” designating the commodity, as well as a picture indicating whether it burns, blows up, or is poisonous.

The purpose of these placards is to inform the public and first responders of danger in the event of derailments, but the placards are also marvelous sources of information for those seeking to wreak havoc on transportation systems, cities, and the general population.

To date, TSA has shown no interest in various proposals to replace the current placarding arrangement with a less “transparent” method for tracking hazmat and advising first responders of dangers. Various alternatives do exist. The current situation amounts to telling terrorists, “place explosive device here.”

Randolph Resor
Merchantville, N.J.

Dear Editor:

There is a news item (D:F, February 2) headlined “CSX reports fourth-quarter loss.” This is flatly wrong, and it is contradicted both by the photograph caption directly above and by the first sentence directly below this heading.

Gary Widell

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THE WAY WE WERE...  The way we were...

At the Throttle

NCI: Leo King

This New York New Haven & Hartford engineer was only a few months away from retirement back in 1954. He was one of the railroaders I befriended when I was a kid, and I would occasionally get a ride in one of the New Haven’s Fairbanks-Morse H-44s, which had become the New Haven’s switcher of choice after replacing first-generation RS-3s. Those RS-3s had replaced 0-8-0 Alco steam switchers in the late 1940s. – Ed.

End Notes...

We try to be accurate in the stories we write, but even seasoned pros err occasionally. If you read something you know to be amiss, or if you have a question about a topic, we'd like to hear from you. Please e-mail the crew at leoking@nationalcorridors.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write.

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In an effort to expand the on-line experience at the National Corridors Initiative web site, we have added a page featuring links to other rail travel sites. We hope to provide links to those cities or states that are working on rail transportation initiatives - state DOTs, legislators, governor's offices, and transportation professionals - as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists.

If you have a favorite rail link, please send the uniform resource locator address (URL) to the webmaster in care of this web site. An e-mail link appears at the bottom of the NCI web site pages to get in touch with D. M. Kirkpatrick, NCI's webmaster in Boston.

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