Destination:Freedom Newsletter
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 4 No. 6, February 10, 2003
Copyright © 2002, NCI, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - James Furlong
Editor - Leo King

A weekly North American rail and transit update

Gunn scheduled for C-SPAN appearance Monday morning

David Gunn is scheduled to be a guest on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal program this morning (Monday) at 7:45 a.m. EST. He will discuss the reforms underway and challenges ahead for the railroad, including federal support. Gunn is a confirmed keynote speaker at NCI’s April 28, 29 conference in Washington, D.C. The topic this year will be Rail Futures: Building Secure and Successful Transit and Intercity Rail for America.

Return to index


Kent Patterson

The Bush budget leaves no wiggle room for Amtrak. Services may be cut; indeed, the entire system may shut down, including services to Kalamazoo, Mich., where the Wolverine paused in May 2002.


Bush’s Amtrak budget
pegged at $900 million

By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

The Bush administration’s fiscal year 2004 budget for Amtrak is an anomaly: While it is far more than any Administration has asked for the passenger train network in years, it falls woefully short of what Amtrak believes is necessary to keep the system running in an efficient manner – just at the present level.

The abrupt hike in the budget comes as more-or-less a delayed reaction to former Amtrak President George Warrington’s news conference almost exactly one year ago wherein he admitted, in effect, that the “operational self-sufficiency” goal was an illusion. Some would use the word “fraud.”

The Bush budget is the latest development on a political trail littered with broken promises, band-aid solutions to long-term problems, desperate deals (a la New York’s Penn Station), unconventional bookkeeping practices, and threatened shutdowns.

There are those who would cite claims (by D:F sources who say they heard it first-hand) that President Bill Clinton broke a promise made to lawmakers to maintain a level of funding that would help beef up the Amtrak operation so that it could reach the late 2002 self-sufficiency goal, only to budget only a little more than half the amount in the ensuing years. This left the whole concept of a “self-sufficiency” goal – extremely difficult at best – crippled at the Capitol Hill starting gate.

But Bill Clinton is gone. George W. Bush is in the hot seat right now, and the task of picking up the pieces rests on his shoulders. With war clouds hanging over the Middle East, it is a matter of skepticism as to how much of President Bush’s day is focused on Amtrak. His people at Office of Management and Budget (OMB), DOT and FRA have put together a proposal which is about half of what Amtrak President David Gunn has told the Wall Street Journal he will need.

Amtrak spokesman Dan Stessel reiterated to D:F that Amtrak will require between $1.5 billion and $2 billion in each of the next five years just to get the railroad in shape, with no grandiose plans envisioned, but more input from the states (See D:F January 27).

Gunn has kicked over the last traces of the “Let’s pretend” culture that preceded his arrival at Amtrak 10 months ago. While many lawmakers and Amtrak critics see this as refreshing, the jury is still out on whether his straight, no-nonsense talk comes in time to rescue the passenger train system from those who would seek excuses to apply the ax.

Some Amtrak cheerleaders will say that it was Congress and the previous administration that put it on the “Let’s pretend” self-sufficiency “glidepath,” and that the railroad was merely following orders mandated in the law. As former Amtrak Chairman Tommy Thompson (now Health and Human Services secretary) used to ask, “After we reach self-sufficiency, then what?” That was a warning that did not sink in very deeply with policy-makers.

David Gunn and Amtrak’s current chairman, John Robert Smith, reacted to the Bush budget with a statement that the document “begins the process of determining Amtrak’s funding level for the next fiscal year.” For them, “the immediate priority” is resolving the fiscal 2003 funding.

The Senate has approved Amtrak’s request for $1.2 billion for 2003. The House figure was at $762 million.

“Amtrak has undertaken significant reforms to improve its cost-efficiency in the past year,” Gunn and Smith noted. This includes eliminating more than 500 positions, adjustments to routes and schedules and the withdrawal from the money-losing express business.”

“These reforms,” they added, “show clearly that Amtrak’s administration is not conducting business as usual, and they will continue.”

The Amtrak brass found common ground with the White House, agreeing with the Administration statement that the Amtrak reauthorization process should begin as soon as possible.

“We urgently want to work with Congress and the states to build on the foundation of our passenger rail system to further improve and reform its service and cost recovery and make Amtrak a full partner in the nation’s transportation system,” Gunn said.

The Amtrak chairman and the passenger railroad’s CEO further expressed agreement with Transportation Deputy Secretary Jackson (who sits on the Amtrak board) that passenger rail is an important part of our nation’s transportation system “and as such, we believe long-distance trains play a significant role.”

That last comment was obviously intended as a polite swipe at the White House’s OMB, which singled out six long-distance runs as supposed big money-losers. Many questions have been raised, notably by the National Association of Railroad Passengers, as to OMB’s math on that, but the six so-called “losers” are the Sunset Limited, Pennsylvanian, Texas Eagle, Three Rivers, Southwest Chief, and Kentucky Cardinal.

Before the ink was dry on OMB’s document, Gunn had already cut back the Chicago-Pittsburgh leg of the Pennsylvanian and cancelled the Kentucky Cardinal (The full Washington-Chicago Cardinal remains). Both of these moves were made as part of Gunn’s phase-out of Amtrak’s express operations. The Pennsylvanian, by the way, was put on a more passenger friendly schedule on the remaining New York-Pittsburgh portion.

NARP issued a blistering rebuttal to OMB’s supposed “losers.” For starters, the passenger advocacy group questioned OMB’s ability to count its change, noting in its statement that “routes regularly lose hundreds of millions of dollars every time a passenger steps aboard.”

Observed NARP: That is “an inaccurate way to complain about the average loss per passenger, which – obviously – goes down every time another passenger steps aboard.”

Return to index
‘Heavyweights’ give and get
at APTA policy forum in D.C.

By Jim RePass

A roomful of D.C.’s heaviest hitters in the transit world met Friday in our national capital at an American Public Transportation Assn. (APTA) forum to hear the results of some recent and soon-to-be-released reports that, for the first time, quantify the benefits of public transit in a detailed way.

As Washington both simmered under a “Stage Orange” terrorist alert and froze under a heavy mid-winter snowstorm, the Washington Court Hotel conference room was soon packed to hear APTA Chair Celia Kupersmith, President William Millar, CNBC Capital Report host Alan Murray, FTA Administrator Jennifer Dorn, and a half-dozen others lay out the case for public transit investment.

Among the best-known speakers was conservative leader Paul Weyrich and his associate Bill Lind, who presented their recent work, Transit Means Business: Ten Reasons Why Conservatives Should Support New TEA Legislation.

Published by the Free Congress Foundation Weyrich heads and available through ATPA, Weyrich and Lind rattled off in decisive fashion why political conservatives should be natural allies of public transit, especially as more and more people that vote Republican or are otherwise more conservative than might be expected have turned to public transit in recent years.

Weyrich and Lind immediately debunked a standard canard against transit, often cited by its opponents, that only 1 percent of trips are made by that mode.

“Only one-half of the American public even has any access to transit,” noted Weyrich and Lind, then added, “one has to ask, what percentage of trips that transit can compete for can it then provide?”

“More and more conservatives are now using public transit, particularly commuter rail, light rail, and streetcar lines,” noted Weyrich and Lind, adding that “All transit is not created equal: people with a car will not take a bus, but will take a train.”

As proof of this, they cited the Chicago area METRA commuter rail system, where 3.8 percent of all commuters travel by train, but a much larger percentage of upper income people do so: 11 percent of commuters with incomes of $75,000 or more and 8.5 percent of those earning between $50,000 and $75,000 use commuter rail to get to work.

Individual counties served by METRA show even higher figures. In DuPage County more than 15 percent of commuters earning more than $75,000 use rail; in Lake County, that number is 15 percent, they noted. They also added, “...all the Congressmen representing Lake and DuPage counties are Republicans.”

Of the 10 reasons listed, one in particular stood out: security.

Lind, who is even better known as a military expert than he is in the transit field, fully expects a terrorist strike on U.S soil involving nuclear or biological weapons that will necessitate mass evacuations, and, as both he and Weyrich noted, the roads will instantly lock up when and if such an event takes place. Transit, although likely to be a target as well, will be an essential means of moving large numbers of people in the emergency that will rapidly develop.

Dr. Robert Shapiro of the Brooking Institution, a former Deputy Undersecretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration, made the economic case for transit, in a paper to be released soon on “The Basis and Value of Federal Taxes on Gasoline and Other Fuels,” and in one already released, “Conserving Energy and Preserving the Environment: The Role of Public Transportation, co-authored by Dr. Kevin A. Hasset of the American Enterprise Institute, and Dr. Frank S. Arnold, president of Applied Microeconomics Inc.

Using an approach that actually understates the value of public transit investments, Shapiro said that transit returns a far greater benefit to the public than do highways as a percentage return on investment (ROI). The capital stock of all the roads and highways in America stands at $1.5 trillion, said Shapiro, and yields $237 billion annually in benefits, a healthy 15.8 percent.

Non-highway surface transportation (primarily rail), while having a current-value capital stock of only $164 billion, yields $26 billion annually in benefits, also 15.8 percent – but these numbers exclude the value of transit to individuals, said Shapiro, which are $450 billion annually for commuters in time saved (based on average pay per hour, also a conservative figure.

All told, said Shapiro, transit yields a benefit of $700 billion annually, despite the relatively tiny investment in it. In fact, he stated, if the U.S. could raise the number of transit trips to 12 percent from 1 percent, it would not only stimulate the economy by a billion, but eliminate the need for all the oil imports from Saudi Arabia.

[More next week]

Return to index
A trip to Boston in thirty minutes?

The following story illustrates what we think is an excellent example of transportation reporting by a reporter from the general (i.e., not rail trade) news media. It is balanced and thorough, with some homework done to deliver context. It is reprinted with permission of the Concord, N.H. Monitor of February 2. – Ed.

By Amy McConnell
Proposed Route


The proposed Boston-Montreal trains would travel 325 miles over several different carriers to make the journey. A Boston-Montreal High Speed Rail organization is online at
A high-speed rail plan would revive the historic train route.

In its way: financial concerns.

Picture a trip from Concord, N.H. to Boston this afternoon: Rows of taillights stretch ahead and behind you. You spend nearly 90 minutes on Interstate 93, pay the tolls, navigate the city’s ceaseless construction projects and spend $20 to park for just a few hours.

Now picture a better route: The landscape whizzes by as you ride a bullet train that will connect with the subway at Boston’s North Station in just over half an hour.

For a $12 fare – and many millions of dollars in capital improvements – that second vision may become a reality in a mere decade or two, as New Hampshire works with Vermont, Massachusetts and federal officials to rebuild the historic rail link between Boston and Montreal through Concord. Proponents say the rail line, which could ultimately allow rail travel at speeds of 100 miles per hour or more, would relieve the region’s growing traffic congestion and boost economic development along the entire route.

The proposed line follows the MBTA tracks from North Station in Boston to the New Hampshire state line, where Guilford Transportation tracks operate to Manchester. From there, the trains would travel over the New England Southern to Pennacook, N.H., then west toward Vermont.

In Vermont, the New England Central would take over dispatching functions from White River Jct. to St Albans, and the Canadian National would operate it the rest of the way to Montreal.

A reliable source noted, “Except for Boston to Lowell and White River to Montreal, the tracks, where they still exist, aren't in tip top shape for passenger service. Guilford's portion is freight only, operating at 25 mph tops.”

Whether local communities would support train travel remains to be seen, according to New Hampshire Transportation Commissioner Carol Murray.

“High-speed rail works, and it has been demonstrated in other parts of the country that it works,” Murray said. “The question is, when you go out into the community and start talking about high-speed rail, do people want it coming through their community?”

Rebuilding the region’s – and even the nation’s – rail network has long been dismissed as a pie-in-the-sky notion. Rail was too slow and too expensive to attract many riders or to justify the multimillion-dollar investment and possibly the continuing subsidies required to build and run it; but that was before gridlock in southern New Hampshire, as in other bedroom communities outside large cities, became nearly intolerable as the population surged over the past decade. That was also before new technology made it possible to run high-speed “bullet trains” between major cities at speeds of 100 miles per hour or more.

Now, supporters of rail, from state and local planners to environmental groups, are finding increasing support from a public grown weary of sitting in traffic.

Initial interviews with members of the public suggest that a rebuilt Boston-to-Montreal line could attract a following, for the right price and at the right speed, according to Kit Morgan, administrator of the New Hampshire rail and transit bureau.

The project’s first phase of study, which has just been completed, showed that the potential riders would continue driving their cars to Boston and Montreal if the train ran at speeds of 60 miles per hour, Morgan said, but if the train traveled at 90 miles per hour or more, the study showed that the train would win over enough drivers and attract enough new travelers to be financially feasible.

The fare that brought in the most revenue was about 20 cents per mile, about $24 for a round trip to Boston, which would likely be the fare, according to the study. Four trains would run per day, with stops in Nashua, Manchester, Concord, West Lebanon and several towns along the Interstate 89 corridor through Vermont to Montreal.

Freight trains and commuter trains also could use the track, according to planners.

Funding for the second phase of the study, which would determine exactly what improvements need to be made and establish a cost for those improvements, remains uncertain, according to Morgan.

On the federal level, the Senate has included about $500,000 for the study to continue, but the House has not included funding in its version of the budget. In New Hampshire, a cash-strapped budget might make the state’s $165,000 match a hard sell.

“The governor loves rail, and he certainly supports the establishment of the Boston-to-Montreal railroad,” said Gov. Craig Benson’s legal counsel, Kelly Ayotte.

“He’s dedicated to finding the money (for the project), but at this point he can’t guarantee he’ll find the money because of the current budget crunch,” Ayotte added.

If funded, the project’s next phase will establish what improvements need to be made and what they will cost, but nearly all of the track along the 325 miles of existing railroad right-of-way between Boston and Montreal must be rebuilt with new rails, new ties, new drainage and new ballast, Morgan said.

Although planners don’t know the cost of building the project and running the railway, he said, they’re almost certain that fares can’t cover expenses.

“You can pretty well bet that cost is going to be greater than revenue,” Morgan said. “But just because something costs money isn’t necessarily a reason not to do it.”

The benefits, proponents say, are not entirely financial, and the financial benefits aren’t always obvious.

A rebuilt track, they say, would support something like the JetTrain, which has been successfully tested in high-speed runs between Boston, New York and Washington, D.C., according to the manufacturer, Bombardier Transportation of Montreal.

The JetTrain uses a modified 5,000 hp turbine engine that runs on conventional diesel fuel but is lighter than a regular diesel engine, allowing faster acceleration and braking. The JetTrain, according to company literature, can be used on existing rail tracks at current track speeds.

As the track and signals are upgraded, the train can be run at speeds of 150 miles per hour or more, the company said.

Inside the train, seats lie back farther than coach airplane seats and have enclosed overhead compartments, electrical plugs for laptop computers and multiple radio stations for headsets. It offers food, movies and bar service. With that speed and level of comfort, Bombardier said it could draw enough riders to change the region’s transportation habits, reducing current greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent along a typical 700-mile corridor.

Using a diesel engine would largely offset the environmental gains made by taking cars off the road and reducing emissions, according to Nancy Girard, director of the Conservation Law Foundation. The foundation, along with the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, the Audubon Society, New Hampshire Public Interest Research Group and the Sierra Club, supports rebuilding a full, heavy-gauge rail system along the existing railbed. (The state DOT has said light rail, which could not carry freight, could be part of the proposed expansion of Interstate 93).

Locomotives’ air quality emissions could eventually improve, Girard said. Meanwhile, trains could shoulder some of the freight now transported by trucks, lightening the damage to highways and improving public safety.

Few people likely would get off the train to eat dinner or shop in Concord instead of Boston or Montreal, according to Concord’s Assistant City Planner, Stephen Henninger, but the train could be promoted as a way to sample tourist attractions around New England over two or three days, he said.

Canterbury Shaker Village could be one attraction, he said, and others could be developed in and around Concord.

“If the train station was within the downtown area, or walking distance from downtown, you could develop some interesting things around Concord,” Henninger said.

A rail link between Boston and Montreal would encourage tourism and help attract manufacturers who want to ship goods by rail, said Peter Griffin, president of the New Hampshire Railroad Revitalization Association.

The state also needs a rebuilt train system – and not only along I-89 but also north of Concord along I-93 – simply to give travelers more choices, he said.

“If you were going to a restaurant, would you go to a restaurant with one thing on the menu? Do you wear the same thing every day? When you invest, do you buy just one stock?” Griffin said.

“Then why are we mandated to choose one mode of transportation?”

What should happen and what will happen, however, might not ever correspond, Griffin said.

“There’s a horrible double-standard when it comes to trains in New Hampshire,” he said. “The prevailing sentiment among the power brokers is, ‘Yes, we should spend $400 million plus for the widening of I-93,’ but when it comes to investing in a rail system they balk at making the investment.”

Return to index
Amtrak trains diverted after barge hits span

A barge loaded with gravel moving up the Harlem River struck Amtrak’s Spuyten Duyvil railroad swing bridge early Friday morning, disrupting Amtrak service to upstate New York and closing the Harlem River to all boat traffic, authorities said.

The barge, being pushed or towed by the tug Sea Wolf, struck the span’s central steel beam at about 12:45 a.m.

Witnesses said the bridge was stuck in the open position.

Amtrak spokesman Dan Stessel said no one was injured, but the bridge, which links Manhattan and the Bronx where the Harlem and Hudson Rivers meet, suffered structural damage and is expected to be out of service until Tuesday. Amtrak began making steel rods and plates on Friday to reinforce the bridge and began inserting them on Saturday, Stessel said.

Seven trains on Amtrak’s Empire Line to upstate New York were canceled on Saturday, and the remaining six trains were leaving from Grand Central Terminal instead of Pennsylvania Station, he said. Those trains were delayed 30 minutes so passengers could get to Grand Central on time, he added. Trains arriving Friday night from Montreal and Toronto were delayed several hours because of the accident.

D:F learned from a reliable source that southward Amtrak trains will arrive on Grand Central’s track 42, then loop to tracks 20 or 21 to make the departures. The exceptions will be trains 64, 65 (the Maple Leaf, New York-Toronto), 48 and 49 (the Lake Shore Limited, New York-Chicago), which will run to Penn Station via New Rochelle, then travel the last 19 miles over Hell Gate Bridge on the Northeast Corridor.

The trains travel from a wye track at Mott Haven Jct., where the Harlem and Hudson lines meet, to New Rochelle.

Empire Service-only trains are operating via Grand Central.

On Friday, No. 49 was a makeup train New York to Albany to connect to the “real” 49, which turned at Rensselaer, N.Y. off No. 48. On Saturday, No. 48 ran all the way to Penn Station via the detour. A similar arrangement was expected thereafter, until the bridge is repaired.

On Friday, Stessel said some Amtrak passengers from Albany were transferred to Metro-North commuter trains at the Croton-Harmon station, but the altered schedule is not expected to disrupt commuter train service.

The area around the bridge is known as Spuyten Duyvil, or ”spitting devil,” because of the strong currents that run through it.

The barge and tugboat continued up the Hudson River after the accident, and were moored at a sand gravel quarry in Haverstraw, N.Y., according to a Cost Guard spokesman. Sea Wolf Marine of Bayonne, N.J. owns the tugboat.

Return to index
Amtrak, hotel sign pact

Amtrak and announced a three-year agreement on February 5 under which Amtrak’s reservation agents will transfer customers interested in discount lodging to

Under the agreement, passengers will be able to book discounted rooms at thousands of lodging properties in the more than 500 destinations served by Amtrak with a single phone call to Amtrak's 24-hour toll-free reservations line: (800) USA-RAIL. Customers who express interest in hotel accommodations will be transferred to one of’s sales agents dedicated to serving Amtrak customers' lodging needs.

Return to index
Philadelphia makes way for new garage

Amtrak and Berwind Property Group broke ground on February 6 for a new 30th Street Station parking facility in Philadelphia. Some 973 new spaces are to be added, according to a press release. The facility will eventually create 1,525-car parking spots, and will include a raised, enclosed walkway connecting the facility to the 30th Street Station concourse.

The site is at the Arch Street parking lot, across from the station.

Return to index
Continental Air links with European rails

Continental Airlines has been a pioneer in supporting so-called intermodal transportation links with rail transit, most prominently with the AirTrain system that provides direct rail connections from its terminals in Newark to Amtrak’s Northeast corridor and regional commuter train stations in New York and New Jersey.

Now though, Continental is showing an interest in rail connections overseas as well. The airline recently said it had agreed with the French rail company SNCF to begin an air-rail code-share partnership to allow travelers to transfer easily between Charles de Gaulle Airport, which serves Paris, and high-speed rail stations with service to and from 13 French cities, according to The New York Times of February 4.

Under the agreement, which went into effect January 26, travelers can make a single reservation for both air and rail transportation. Continental “OnePass” members also earn frequent-flier miles for travel on the French trains in conjunction with Continental flights.

Return to index

Vermont commuter rail to end March 1

Gov. James Douglas’ (R) administration is suspending Vermont’s only commuter train on March 1, saying it doesn’t carry enough riders to justify its cost.

The administration had proposed stopping the Champlain Flyer, which operates from Burlington to its suburbs, by July 1, but the governor left it out of the budget for the fiscal year that starts that day. Now, the state will cut it off around March 1 to save about $150,000 a month, said state officials.

“It’s in the state’s financial interest to stop a losing proposition sooner rather than later,” Douglas said, according to the Boston Globe of January 31.

The Champlain Flyer was launched by Gov. Howard Dean’s administration in December 2000 to run the 13 miles between Charlotte and Burlington, with stops in South Burlington and Shelburne. The service was touted as an alternative for commuters to Route 7, where major construction was scheduled to start.

The construction still hasn’t started, but it’s now due to begin this summer; meanwhile, the train usually makes its round trips every day nearly empty. It was frequently derided as a waste of money by Dean’s adversaries when he was governor.

Under the Douglas plan – which must first be approved by the federal government – the Champlain Flyer will stop running just months before the long-delayed construction on Route 7 is finally scheduled to begin.

Douglas said the state might start using the Champlain Flyer again if doing so appears likely to ease congestion on Route 7 during the roadwork. The state owns the coaches, but the Vermont Ry. owns the engine.

Vermont has other priorities, Douglas said.

“I like trains, and this doesn’t mean the end of commuter rail in Vermont forever, but it means we’ve got to develop a long-term comprehensive transportation plan, and decide where commuter rail might play a role.”

He added, “We have to maintain our roads and bridges that are in need of repair, and this is not a high-priority in light of all our other infrastructure needs.”

The Vermont Transportation Authority oversees commuter train operations. Last fall, the state received federal funding for an eight-mile extension for the train between Essex and Burlington that the Flyer’s operators said would help the commuter line be more viable.

Among other things, operating the train enabled the state to receive $17 million from the federal government to rehabilitate a stretch of track near Burlington for freight service.

That alone made the Flyer a good deal for the state, said Sen. Richard Mazza (D), the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. That was not why the state ran the Champlain Flyer, he added.

“The reason was to experiment with commuter rail,” Mazza said. “What came with that was the chance to upgrade the 29 crossings and the rehabilitation of the track, which is there forever.”

The state also built stations at stops on the route.

“I don’t think it’s a waste,” Mazza said, noting, “I suspect commuter rail will be back some day.”

Return to index
Fixing up one Metra line may also help another

The Burlington Northern & Santa Fe (BNSF) line, the busiest route in the Metra commuter rail system between Chicago and many suburbs, is running at capacity – but there seems to be a solution to the congestion, which may lie with a new proposal to upgrade a neighboring Metra line to the north.

Metra officials said they would seek federal funding to add tracks and improve signals on the Union Pacific (UP) West Line, which runs between the Ogilvie Transportation Center downtown and Geneva. The $235 million project would enable Metra to add seven to nine extra trains each day on the UP West Line, Metra executive director Philip Pagano told the Chicago Tribune on February 3.

Metra anticipates that commuters who live close to stations on the UP West Line, but who ride BNSF because of more frequent express service on that corridor, would migrate to the West Line.

In turn, that would help ease the lack of parking at the BNSF stations, particularly in Aurora, at Illinois Highway 59, Naperville, Lisle and Downer’s Grove. Daily parking spaces at some of the stations are filled up by 7:30 a.m. In addition, fewer passengers would be forced to stand during their commutes.

Metra currently operates 95 trains a day on the BNSF route and 59 trains on the UP tracks, which operates on a major freight corridor and ranks the lowest in customer satisfaction for on-time performance among Metra routes. The line will soon be extended to Elburn, under previously announced plans.

Seeking to untie other bottlenecks, Pagano said Metra will also seek federal aid to expand service and consolidate rail yards on UP’s Northwest Line to Harvard and McHenry. Up to five additional trains will operate each weekday on the main branch of the line, Metra said. The $145 million project also would extend the current service from McHenry to Johnsburg.

Metra is also looking for cash to ease a chokepoint for trains heading to and from Ogilvie and Union Station in downtown Chicago. The improved configuration, costing about $150 million, would allow Metra trains on the Milwaukee District North and West Lines, the North Central Service and the UP West Line to run at higher speeds through a segment of intersecting tracks.

Metra said once an agreement for federal funding is secured, the three projects could be completed in six years.

Return to index
Honolulu ponders rail vs. bus

A proposal by Hawaii Senate President Robert Bunda to “dust off our plans for a light-rail mass transit system” to alleviate Oahu’s traffic congestion received mixed reactions on January 15.

“Those of us in the legislature must be willing to revisit this proposal to break the gridlock of indecision,” Bunda said in his speech at the opening of the state legislature. “If we fail, we will surely choke on the mounting traffic problems of a growing population.”

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported Mayor Jeremy Harris said he hopes that talk of a rail system will not derail his Bus Rapid Transit plans.

“I don’t think anything should be done that’s going to disrupt that,” Harris said. “Now that doesn’t mean (BRT) has to be the exclusive solution.”

The Senate Transportation Committee is proposing to pay the state’s share of the rail cost – 10 percent, with the federal government paying 90 percent – with an increase in the gas tax.

The proposal comes a year after the legislature passed a bill to cap Hawaii’s gas prices.

“As for our matching funds, I am looking at the possibility of a 2-cent gasoline tax for Oahu residents only,” Senate Transportation Chairman Cal Kawamoto said.

House Speaker Calvin Say said Bunda would have to come up with the source of financing for the project.

“I would be very much in favor because of the traffic conditions that we have,” said Say.

Gov. Linda Lingle said she was surprised by Bunda’s rail proposal but welcomes the discussion.

“Overall his point was a good one, and that is, we should be willing to entertain new ideas as well as ideas that maybe hadn’t gone forward in the past,” Lingle said. Lingle does not support the mayor’s BRT proposal. She has her own proposal, which she plans to reveal later, she said.

Return to index


APTA HIGHLIGHTS...  Apta Highlights...

Here are some other transit headlines, from the pages of Passenger Transport, the weekly newspaper of the public transportation industry published by the non-profit American Public Transportation Assn. For more news from Passenger Transport and subscription information, visit the APTA web site at


Report: TEA 21 Guarantees Key to Success

The funding guarantees incorporated in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century have led to a win-win situation, allowing more flexibility in the use of federal funds while allowing the recipients to plan for the future and leverage other funds.

That is the basic thesis of “The Benefits of TEA 21 Funding Guarantees,” a new report by consultant Jeffrey A. Parker commissioned by APTA under the Public Transportation Partnership for Tomorrow (PT)2.

In the report, Parker shows how Full Funding Grant Agreements provide a greater “bang for the buck” than the year-to-year funding offered through the 5309 Discretionary Bus Program. With their multi-year allocations for transit projects, FFGAs can be used as collateral for borrowing, or as a basis for leveraging other funds. With a year-to-year program, the actual fund levels are less certain, he said, so they can’t be used as a basis for borrowing.

“We’re creating value here because of the funding guarantees, allowing us to operate more efficiently, more cheaply, and attract more matching money,” Parker added. “The guarantee allows us to create more value. The result is that these guaranteed dollars are more valuable than the ones that come unpredictably on a year-to-year basis.”

Return to index


Study Finds DART Rail Stations Add Value to Nearby Properties

Office and residential properties located near Dallas Area Rapid Transit light rail stations show enhanced property values when compared with similar properties not located near a station, according to a new study from the University of North Texas.

The study shows that office properties near suburban DART rail stations increased in value 53 percent more than comparable properties not served by rail, and values of residential properties near the stations rose 39 percent more than a group of control properties not served by rail.

The study, prepared for DART by Drs. Bernard Weinstein and Terry Clower of UNT’s Center for Economic Development and Research, compares the values of 3,924 properties located within one-quarter mile of 23 DART stations against 4,898 comparable properties not sited near a station. Downtown Dallas properties were not included in the study, the researchers said, because tax increment financing funds in the area prevent accurate comparisons.

The study concludes that “DART rail is an amenity-enhancing service most keenly affecting the market values of properties where people live and where there are comparatively high concentrations of non-industrial jobs—i.e., office buildings.”

Return to index


Bradley Is New Miami-Dade Transit Director; Alvarez Heads New County Department

Miami-Dade Transit in Florida announces the appointment of Roosevelt Bradley, an MDT employee since 1985, as its new director. He succeeds Danny Alvarez, who has been named executive director of the county’s newly created Office of Public Transportation Management.

Bradley brings more than 25 years experience in bus passenger transportation, heavy and light rail, and freight transportation systems to the transit system, the second largest government department in Miami-Dade County and the sixteenth largest public transportation system in the U.S. He manages more than 2,800 employees, an operating budget of $227 million, and a capital budget of approximately $104 million.

Miami-Dade Transit is preparing to institute widespread improvements following the successful passage of a one-half percent sales tax transportation initiative on Nov. 5, 2002. Approval by the voters of the People’s Transportation Plan directs Bradley to double the size of the bus fleet within the next three years, and expand Metrorail another 89 miles. When the expansion is complete, MDT is expected to see its number of employees double and the size of its budget more than triple.

Alvarez has served as a Miami-Dade County administrator for almost 25 years. In his new position, he ultimately will be responsible for implementing the People’s Transportation Plan.

Return to index


Kelsey Named CEO of British Columbia’s SkyTrain

TransLink, the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority in Vancouver, B.C., has announced the appointment of Doug Kelsey as president and chief executive officer of BC Rapid Transit Company Ltd., the TransLink subsidiary that operates SkyTrain automated light rail.

He succeeds Larry Ward, senior vice president of TransLink, who also served as head of SkyTrain to oversee the integration of the Millennium Line last year.

In addition to his new job, Kelsey retains his position as president and CEO of West Coast Express, TransLink’s commuter rail subsidiary, which will continue to operate separately from SkyTrain.

Return to index



CSX rolls by in FL

NCI: Leo King

CSX finally got the tax break it was looking for in New York after battling communities between Buffalo and Albany, as ell as other places, for years. This train is nearly 1,000 miles southward, in Orange Park, Fla.


New law lowers New York rail property taxes

Freight railroads in New York State finally got the tax break they have been seeking for years – by nearly half.

Gov. George Pataki (R) said December 31 he had signed a bill into law that cuts property taxes for railroads by nearly half, and cushion the ensuing revenue blow somewhat for local governments. The Rail Infrastructure Investment Act, approved by the state legislature last year, will also end a long-standing dispute between localities and railroads, particularly CSX, over the property tax assessments on tracks, rail yards and other facilities.

Pataki predicted that the law would result in the expansion of rail lines across the state and, in turn, spark economic development.

Having easy access to freight rail lines is crucial for many companies' manufacturing operations, Pataki said.

The law will roll back property taxes by 45 percent over the next seven years on railroad holdings. CSX Corp. and other freight haulers own the tracks used by Amtrak passenger trains. CSX has complained that while it has 7 percent of its tracks nationwide in New York, it pays 31 percent of its property taxes in the state.

Losses to local taxing units in the first two years will be made up entirely by the state. For the eight years after that, the state will cover 50 percent of the losses to local governments. The state offset, totaling up to $70 million, would lapse after the 10th year.

The freight lines had complained that there was little incentive for them to improve or expand facilities if they would have to face what they regarded as exorbitant new property tax assessments as a result.

The law will head off litigation by freight lines against towns, school districts and other property taxing jurisdictions in the state over property tax assessments in 2003 and future years. CSX said it is still pursuing a settlement in the federal court suits it filed in White Plains against local governments over tax assessments in 2001 and 2002. The company said it saw its tax bills jump by 55 percent during those two years alone and is disputing tens of millions of dollars in charges.

Return to index
Canadian shippers are irked
over proposed U.S. imports law

The U.S. government plans to require up to 24 hours' notice of all commercial shipments into the United States by October, a move Canadian exporters say will hit both economies hard.

Canada’s National Post reported from Ottawa on February 1 that the advance notification plan would force truckers to submit a contents list four hours before loading their cargo, an impossibility for just-in-time operations such as the Big Three automakers, which ship $100-million in components across the border each day. Railroads would need to give 12 hours’ notice.

Under proposed U.S. Customs Service regulations, air couriers would need to submit a manifest list eight hours before loading, and marine shipping would be subject to a 24-hour notification deadline.

The rules would apply equally to all countries, but none has the $1.9-billion-a-day in cross-border trade that Canada does, and only Canada and Mexico have to worry about truck and rail shipments, many of which are designed to arrive within a few hours of being ordered. An estimated 30,000 trucks cross the Canada-U.S. border each day.

“Nobody in Canada feels the four-hour notification is workable,” said Elly Meister, vice-president of the Canadian Trucking Alliance. “We could be shut out of markets in the United States because of this.”

Paul Cellucci, the U.S. Ambassador to Canada, has warned that the border could be all but closed if the United States goes to war against Iraq.

“Based on intelligence and threat information, that’s always going to be a factor,” Cellucci said at a press conference Thursday at the Peace Bridge between Fort Erie, Ont., and Buffalo, N.Y., across the Niagara River. Cellucci is a former Massachusetts governor.

The move comes as several bitter trade disputes have come to a head, threatening to be even more of a hindrance to commerce between the two countries.

Among them is a softwood-lumber debate, which has simmered for years with no resolution, though Canadian and U.S. officials say they could arrive at a deal as early as this week.

Since March 2001, Canadian lumber producers have been paying an import duty of 27 percent, or about $4 million daily, after U.S. producers complained to their government that Canadian lumber is both subsidized and being illegally dumped at low prices in the U.S. market.

The Bush Administration also has the Canadian Wheat Board in its sights. In December, U.S. officials served notice that they planned to complain about the “monopolistic” Winnipeg-based grain board, threatening to impose anti-dumping laws and to hit Canadian imports with duties as high as 44 percent.

These disputes, along with the new advance-notification plan at the border, could spell disaster for the economy, officials believe. The U.S. government is still accepting comment on the new border rules from affected industries, but has made it clear pre-notification is coming, likely by this fall.

“Although they’re holding consultations, it’s not over whether but how they’re going to do it,” said Nancy Hughes-Anthony, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. “It is going to have a profound effect on our ability in Canada to keep an efficient border.”

She said the move could also have an impact on investment.

“If you are about to put a company in Canada and you need to serve the North American market, it will make you think twice.”

The same argument has been made repeatedly by those lobbying to keep Canada inside a so-called North American security perimeter, where harmonized rules would allow easy passage between the two countries.

A U.S. government spokeswoman said Washington remains open to working on the concerns of Canadian exporters about the pre-notification.

“We’re in the comment period right now. There’s a lot of time to work through this,” said Beth Poisson, a U.S. embassy spokeswoman in Ottawa.

The regulations are designed to implement a law Congress passed on bioterrorism in 2002. The idea is if customs agents have enough notice of shipments, they can sift through them and better target resources at the border – but the rules will cause problems for a whole host of shippers and products, from perishables such as lobster to last-minute courier packages.

Meister said it may take the involvement of the U.S. Big Three automakers to get Washington to reconsider some elements of the package. Their Michigan plants depend on parts delivered from Ontario plants.

“The U.S. trucking industry is making its views known to the government,” Poisson said.

Truckers are also upset because they have been working on another system of pre-notification that they hoped would satisfy U.S. concerns. The system, already in operation, certifies individual truckers, their companies and the firms supplying the cargo, but does not require a complete manifest to be deposited with U.S. authorities before each trip.

Ms. Hughes Anthony expressed concern the United States is taking a scattergun approach to security, with different parts of the government implementing separate but sometimes overlapping regulations to deal with the same issue.

Just two days ago, the Food and Drug Administration announced it will require 24 hours’ notice of all food and beverage shipments into the United States.

Canadian officials said they are aware of the problem and working with the U.S. Administration to try to soften the proposal.

On January 30, Bill Graham, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, sent a direct message to Washington that he will be seeking an exemption from the rules requiring all Canadians entering or leaving the United States to be registered.

“This is a huge problem for us,” Graham said after a meeting with Colin Powell, the U.S. Secretary of State. “Our preference would be to have an exemption for Canadians.”

Border control and security was one of the main issues on the table at the meeting, he said.

Return to index
RailAmerica to sell some assets

RailAmerica, Inc., said Thursday it plans to sell more than $100 million in assets by the end of 2004 in an effort to reduce debt and boost earnings.

Proceeds will be used to help reduce the company’s net debt-to-capital levels to the current industry average of about 50 percent by the end of 2004, a RailAmerica press release stated.

As of September 30, the Boca Raton, Fla., company’s long-term debt stood at $437.6 million, equal to 62 percent of capital. Its long-term debt-to-equity ratio was nearly 230 percent of the industry average.

The asset sale plan includes a proposal to sell its 55 percent interest in its Chilean railroad, as well as the sale of several small non-strategic railroads, non-operating real estate and other non-core assets in North America and Australia, the company said.

RailAmerica had annual revenue of $369.6 million in 2001.

Return to index
Intermodal continues up in January as carloads
continue slide; last week was also up for containers

U.S. intermodal rail traffic rose 11.2 percent (87,164 units) while U.S. rail carload traffic fell 0.1 percent (2,020 carloads) in January 2003 compared to January 2002, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported on February 6.

Intermodal, the movement of trailers or containers on rail cars, accounts for approximately 20 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 and now plays a critical role in making supply chains far more efficient for retailers and other firms and industries. Intermodal is expected to soon surpass coal as the top rail revenue source.

On the carload side, commodities with significant gains in January 2003 included metallic ores (up 18,930 carloads, or 38.5 percent), chemicals (up 7,898 carloads, or 5.8 percent), steel and other metal products (up 7,872 carloads, or 14.3 percent), and coke (up 3,432 carloads, or 19.7 percent). All told, 10 of the 19 commodity categories tracked by the AAR saw gains in carloadings in January 2003 compared with January 2002. Commodities with carload declines in January 2003 included coal (down 43,625 carloads, or 6.5 percent) and grain (down 5,044 carloads, or 4.5 percent).

“Excluding coal, U.S. rail carload traffic was up 4.7 percent, or 41,605 carloads, in January 2003 compared with January 2002,” noted AAR vice-president Craig F. Rockey.

He added, “On a year-over-year monthly basis, U.S. rail coal volumes have now fallen for 13 consecutive months. These declines reflect continued doldrums in export coal markets, utility drawdowns of coal stockpiles, and other factors.”

Canadian intermodal traffic in January 2003 was up 17.6 percent (28,441 units) compared with January 2002, while Canadian carload traffic was down 1.0 percent (3,075 carloads). Grain traffic on Canadian carriers was down 17.4 percent (6,928 carloads), and carloads of grain mill products were down 17.7 percent (1,637 carloads). Chemical traffic in Canada in January was up 7.4 percent (5,139 carloads), while carloads of metallic ores were up 12.2 percent (980 carloads)

“In recent years, U.S. and Canadian railroads have spent billions of dollars on intermodal-related investments in infrastructure and equipment, including new or expanded intermodal terminals, freight cars, state-of-the-art locomotives, and added track capacity and advanced signaling systems to accommodate faster, more frequent intermodal trains,” noted Rockey. “The result is responsive, cost-effective, environmentally-friendly service that helps meet the increasingly demanding freight transportation needs of our nation.”

Carloads originated on Transportación Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) of Mexico were up 21.1 percent (7,362 carloads) in January 2003, while intermodal originations were up 47.2 percent (5,274 trailers and containers).

For just the week ended February 1, the AAR reported the following totals for U.S. railroads: 316,951 carloads, down 0.6 percent from the corresponding week in 2002, with loadings down 1.1 percent in the East and down 0.1 percent in the West; intermodal volume of 186,285 trailers and containers, up 13.5 percent; and total volume of an estimated 28.4 billion ton-miles, down 0.7 percent from the equivalent week last year.

For Canadian railroads during the week ended February 1, the AAR reported volume of 62,930 carloads, up 3.5 percent from last year; and 40,511 trailers and containers, up 20.6 percent from the corresponding week in 2002.

Combined cumulative volume for the first five weeks of 2003 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 1,843,095 carloads, down 0.3 percent (5,095 carloads) from last year; and 1,058,334 trailers and containers, up 12.3 percent (115,605 trailers and containers) from 2002’s first five weeks.

The AAR is online at

Return to index

Former Conrail chief heads London tube

Tim O’Toole, the former Conrail CEO, has bee tapped to take over London’s ailing Underground. London Mayor Ken Livingstone disclosed the move on Friday.

The change will begin in the spring, when the partial privatization begins. O’Toole ran Conrail from 1998 to 2001.

Livingstone recently took control of the system after agreeing to drop his legal challenge to the plan to place the Tube under the management of a public-private partnership, The AP reported.

He had strongly opposed the idea, saying it would endanger commuters’ safety and waste money, but Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government prevailed.

Livingstone selected O’Toole as managing director of the Underground on the recommendation of Transport Commissioner Bob Kiley, who is also an American and formerly headed the New York City subway.

O’Toole told reporters safety would be his priority.

“The bottom line for me is that although this is an enormous job and very complex, we do have a great opportunity to return the Underground to the great system it once was,” he said. “I will leave no effort undone to see that happen.”

Under the privatization plan, London Underground Ltd., a publicly owned company, will retain control over train operations and fare collection, while two private consortiums will lease the infrastructure.

London has the world’s oldest subway system, with some trains still running through tunnels that opened in 1863.

Problems on the system often prompt complaints of poor service and maintenance. A recent derailment forced the closure of the Central Line, the Underground’s longest and one of its busiest.

Return to index

By Jim RePass

Come again? How much is a ticket?

I’d like to call your attention to the comments of our friend and colleague Ray Dunbar of Longview, Texas regarding the Administration’s recent comments that it would be cheaper to buy some Amtrak passengers airline tickets than to continue to carry them on along distance train. His comments appear in the following “We get letters” section.

Ray very neatly puts the lie to this old canard, which has been used by Amtrak’s enemies for years to justify killing long-distance trains. The fact is that the long distance trains serve people in the smaller towns and cities across the South and West, not just the big cities, and unlike planes they can and do stop frequently to pick up and discharge passengers. This is a costly thing to do, on a network system so underfunded by Congress that frequencies are once or twice a day at best, and three times a week at worst.

Even if the cost figures are high, they would pale compared to what airline fares would be if air passengers had to pay for the billions of dollars in subsidies they get (before September 11, 2001, not just now) for costs like the air traffic control system, or the FAA.

We hope that our journalist readers, and those of our readers who talk with the press, will cite or send along Ray’s example, and make sure that the whole story gets out. Rail travel is a bargain, but even if it weren’t, it is the only means of connecting people all across America – not just big city dwellers who enjoy discount airline fares – with each other.

Without the long distance trains, many millions of Americans in the West and South would be doomed to Depression-era isolation. It isn’t fair, it isn’t just, and the Administration – at least the Office of Management and Budget, which is setting the agenda – need to realize that.

Unless it is the goal of this Administration to depopulate large areas of the West and South, its leadership needs to think things through before aping the gratuitous words of anti-rail partisans who think only the wealthy should be able to travel.

Return to index

Dear Editor:

I have done this before, but thought you all might be interested in this post again. I read with no surprise the comments about flying folks from Texas to Chicago and how much cheaper it was than a train trip.

I decided to see what the cost would be if I decided to leave from Longview, Texas on American Eagle and fly to Chicago this week [of February 2 – Ed.].

I went to the Amtrak web site and also American Airlines web page. I put in no discounts, no advance purchase, no special promos, or anything else. I just asked for the total cost, period.

My results showed:

Amtrak – Round-trip (coach) Longview to Chicago and back, $165.00 (total cost).

American Airlines/American Eagle – Round trip (coach) Longview to Chicago and back, $1,144.19 (total cost).

While I'm sure I could drive over to Dallas-Fort Worth, pay to park, and go through a thorough safety screening and get a cheaper seat, I prefer to leave from the train station in Longview, park free, and avoid the metal detectors. Heck, I can even get a sleeper and nice hotel in Chicago for the cost difference.

The recent “hot air” rhetoric on Amtrak costs that were reported in the budget talks [last week] is nothing short of a slam at small- and mid-size American cities. Who knows, we may or may not even have air service in my town of Longview before long. I guess then the government will then tell me to either drive a car or ride a Greyhound bus to the Windy City. I doubt I will do either.

Ray Dunbar
Longview, Texas
Served by Amtrak, American Eagle Airlines and Greyhound, for now.

Dear Editor:

Just a minor correction to my story about the VT-11 Trans Europe Express and the term Deutsch Bundesbahn.

DB is nowadays officially called Deutsche Bahn AG (Aktien Gesellschaft – a stock company), or Deutsche Bahn, “DBAG” or Die Bahn. The Deutsche Bundesbahn died in 1993 or 1994 (not sure of the exact date), when in rapid succession the Deutsche Bundesbahn, the state-owned railroad of Federal Republic of Germany (BRD – Bundesrepublik Deutschland) was merged with its east German equivalent, Deutsche Reichsbahn, the state-owned railway of the Democratic Republic of Germany (DDR, or Deutsche Demokratische Republik).

The combined company was (sort-of) privatized and removed from the federal government as a state-owned enterprise.

Today, it is (supposed to be) a private, for-profit company with stock traded on the financial markets just like Conrail was before it was purchased and split between CSX and Norfolk Southern.

DBAG actually has several semi-independent divisions, I am not sure about all of them or what they do, but the major ones are:

DB Reise and Touristik – runs the long distance intercity trains including ICE, Auto Train and Euro Night trains.

DB Cargo – self-explanatory.

DB Regio – runs commuter and local trains under contract with local and regional government transit agencies.

DB Netz – operates and maintains the fixed structure and rail network.

There has ongoing speculation for several years that some of these divisions could be split up or sold off to other companies (including competitors) at any time. DB Regio and DB Cargo are the ones where those rumors and speculation seem to happen the most often.

Dave Beale
Haste, Germany

Danke. - Ed

Dear Editor:

This is in response to Wes Vernon’s complaint about lack of Metrorail service in Georgetown.

As a former D.C. resident, I agree that it was a big mistake to leave Georgetown out of the original rail system, and I would love for future plans to include it somehow; but Mr. Vernon implies that Georgetown has bad bus service too, and that were it not for the privately-organized blue bus (with which I am not familiar) it would be hard to get to Georgetown using mass transit. That is false.

Metrobus’s 30-series route travels along Wisconsin Avenue all day, and connects to Metrorail at both ends. Headways are under 10 minutes on weekdays, sometimes as little as three or four minutes. The bus runs every 10 minutes on Saturday and every 15 on Sunday. It begins service earlier in the morning than Metrorail and runs later at night. The D6 route also provides good service, though at longer headways, between Georgetown and Dupont Circle.

There are probably other Georgetown services too, of which I’m not aware since I don’t live there anymore.

Of all cities in the country, Washington, D.C. is one of the very best served by transit. The WMATA system (including buses) goes almost everywhere. It operates well-maintained equipment, is usually on time, and has frequent and convenient schedules all over the city, including Georgetown.

If he lives in the D.C. area, Mr. Vernon doesn’t know how good he has it. If he doesn’t, I’m shocked that he was not impressed by the quality and convenience of the Metro system. I’m surprised that D:F would give him a forum to whine about a (falsely) perceived inadequacy in a transit system which is far superior to the systems that serve almost every other city in America.

Will French
Birmingham, Ala.

Mr. Vernon is temporarily without a computer. We have forwarded your letter to him, and perhaps he will respond when he is able to read his e-mail again. – Ed.

Dear Editor:

Good story on that Georgetown bus. In case anyone wants to web search for info, the correct name is “Georgetown Metro Connection” and the sponsor is a business group called the Georgetown Partnership (online at

Many of your readers may not realize how awful WMATA’s Metrobus service is, since they’re more familiar with the attractive Metrorail service. Routes are Byzantine, vehicles are old, many operators are unreliable and rude, and supervision is weak. In my humble opinion, it was the worst local bus service I’ve had to use.

I’m sure the lousy service had something to do with the decisions by many Maryland and Virginia jurisdictions to manage their own transit services instead of having WMATA do it.

Matthew Mitchell
Glenside, Penn.
Delaware Valley Assn. of Railroad Passengers

Dear Editor:

I read George Harris’s comments on the Amtrak-Guilford 115-pound vs. 136 pound rail size. It’s good to see that myopic thinking is not only limited to the U.S. [Rail weight is measured in pounds per yard – Ed.]

There was more to the 115-136-pound rail size than just the extra steel involved.

To upgrade to the 136-pound rail section would have required Maine to purchase 78 miles of 136-pound tie plates (and all those other appurtenance). The existing tie plates were 5_-inch bases and were suitable for 115-pound rail section.

Maine was strapped for cash and did not have the additional $ 71,800 per mile or $ 5.6 million available in the approved budget.

This does not include the cost of tearing out and rehabilitating all those 112-115 pound grade crossings or turnouts.

So, as you can see, what appears to be a simple decision of 115-136-pound rail is not so simple.

No one else offered to pick up the additional cost either, and the FRA, FTA and Amtrak agreed with the design criteria before the rail was procured.

The discussion about highway lane width is off the mark, but nevertheless also proves a point. The AREMA standards are not standards but only guidelines, and as such, should not be used for design purposes without specific limitations and understanding of the engineer of record.

It must be nice to design rail and transit systems in green fields where budgets are unlimited, but I guess that doesn’t happen much anymore in the U.S. due to the current economic climate.

Brett Rekola
Webster, Mass.

Return to index

Also see our new Meetings & Conferences page at

March 9-12

APTA Legislative Conference

JW Marriott Hotel
Washington, D.C.

Contact: Heather Rachels,

March 18, 19

Advanced Rail Management Connections
2003 Rail/Wheel Interface Seminar

Holiday Inn
O’Hare International Airport
Rosemont, Ill.

Contact: Brandon Koenig,

March 29

National Assn. of Railroad Passengers Region 5 meeting

Amtrak board vice chairman Michael Dukakis, keynote speaker at NARP Region 5 meeting in Fayetteville, N.C. Other speakers include Debbie Wetter, Amtrak; Lyndo Tippett, NCDOT Secretary; Pat Simmons, NCDOT rail division director. Contact

April 28, 29

The National Corridors Initiative’s 2003 Conference

Rail Futures:
Building Secure and Successful Transit and Intercity Rail for America

The Washington Marriott, 1221 22nd St., N.W., Washington, D.C.

Keynote Speakers:

Hon. Gov. Tom Ridge, Secretary of Homeland Security (Invited)
Amtrak Board Chair John Robert Smith
Amtrak President and CEO David Gunn
Amtrak Board Vice-Chair Michael S. Dukakis
American Public Transportation Assn. President William Millar

Special Conference Session for Journalists and Industry:
The News Media and Transportation – “Making News”

$475 (corporate); $375 (government); $350 (non-profit, union)

Checks should be payable to NCI Inc., 35 Terminal Road, Suite 210, Providence RI. 02905

Arrange hotel accommodations at special low conference rates directly with the Washington Marriott 202-872-1500 fax 202-872-9899 and mention NCI.

Looking Ahead...

June 4-9

APTA International Rail Rodeo

San Jose, Calif.

Hotel to be announced

Contact Anitha Tharapatla,

June 8-12

APTA Rail Transit Conference

Fairmont Hotel
San Jose, Calif. Contact Heather Rachels,

September 21-24 2004

Innotrans, Berlin, Germany

Convention and trade fair for railroaders and rail transit comprised of rail transit manufacturers, service providers, operators, and consultants.

Contact: Björn Bieneck at

Innotrans, or

Return to index
The old steamer, now historic

2 Photos - NCI: Leo King

Commerative plaque Back in 1922, the American Locomotive Company of Schenectady, N.Y., built this handsome Pacific steam engine for the Florida East Coast Ry. Its crews traversed the line between Jacksonville and Key West until the 1935 hurricane (which was before we started naming them) tore out much of the Key West extension. Its 68-inch drivers toiled hauling such notables as President Calvin Coolidge in 1922. The engine developed 1,500 hp and 29,000 pounds tractive effort, according to a plaque at the Gold Coast Railroad Museum in southwest Miami, where the engine now resides. It is out of service, and has been since Hurricane Andrew struck in 1992.

Return to index


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 Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write.

Destination: Freedom is partially funded by the Surdna Foundation, and other contributors.

Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images that appear in Destination: Freedom may do so at a nominal fee of $10.00 per image. "True color" .jpg images average 1.7MB each, and are 300 dots-per-inch for print publishers.

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.

|| Home Page || Destination: Freedom Past Editions || Contact Us || Article Index || Top of Page

This edition has been read by || || people since date of release.

Copyright © 2003, National Corridors Initiative, Inc. & Leo King.