Vol. 6 No. 7
February 14, 2005

Copyright © 2005
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
Webmaster - Dennis Kirkpatrick

A weekly North American rail and transit update

For railroad professionals
Political leaders at all levels of government
Journalists from all media

* Now in our Sixth Year *

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


It’s Valentine’s Day. Good idea to let your
sweetie know you remembered.

 

TransPlan 21 Logo

 

TransPlan 21 Logo Courtesy of Cesar Vergara

NCI prepares for Transplan21, rail rally in Washington

The National Corridors Initiative will be conducting its national conference and a rally for rail on Capitol Hill in Washington, on June 14 and 15.

NCI will launch the national campaign for TransPlan21: A Transportation Plan for the 21st Century, a new American way to plan, fund, develop and build a balanced national transportation system.

Former House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.) will be the keynote speaker. He is now President, Cassidy & Associates (confirmed).

Other speakers will include former Amtrak chair and Presidential nominee Michael S. Dukakis (confirmed) plus leaders of the rail industry, labor unions, economic development professionals, city and town planners, designers, preservationists, environmental activists, transportation builders, operators & advocates, government leaders, and financiers.


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Pres. G. W. Bush

White House photo: Eric Draper

President George W. Bush addresses the Detroit Economic Club in Detroit on February 8. “We’re moving forward with an ambitious agenda to ensure that our economy remains the freest, the most flexible, and the most prosperous in the world,” said the President. The Bush agenda includes writing off Amtrak.

 

Bush unfunds Amtrak

* * *
Raises ire of labor, political figures, advocates

By Leo King
Editor

President Bush released his budget for the nation last week, and it included writing off Amtrak, although it would provide a pittance for some commuter rail operations. It would force the railroad to become bankrupt. The budget proposal for fiscal year 2006 was unveiled on February 7, and is now in Congress’ hands. Amtrak’s fiscal years begin October 1 and end September 30.

“USDOT’s discretionary budget authority would decrease 6.7 percent to $11.8 billion under the President’s proposal. Total budget resources, however, which include trust funds for certain transportation modes, would increase slightly to $59.5 billion from $58.7 billion,” the Washington Post reported.

In explaining why the White House’s Office of Management and Budget zeroed out Amtrak, OMB staffers said, “Amtrak’s debt payments have more than doubled,” and they showed a bar chart displaying debt payments “increasing from $111 million in 1997 to $294 million in 2009 with a peak of $359 million in 2007.”

They stated, “Amtrak, the current model for providing intercity passenger rail service, can and must be significantly improved. Amtrak is almost 35 years old, and the cost to taxpayers since its inception has been approximately $29 billion. It requires hundreds of millions of dollars in operating subsidies annually, particularly for its long distance trains, to remain solvent,” and, they argued, “Amtrak’s World War II-era route system goes through nearly every state, but in terms of intercity passenger miles, the commercial bus industry is seven times larger, and the air carrier industry is larger by a factor of 92.”

The bean counters declared “Amtrak is currently saddled with a growing stream of debt service payments. The railroad also has several billion dollars of deferred capital projects that continues to grow. Along the Northeast Corridor, which Amtrak owns, major bridges and tunnels date to the 1860s. As Amtrak’s infrastructure ages and as it continues to defer capital investment, service has deteriorated and safety is at risk.”

They explained that from 2003 to 2004, Amtrak’s on-time performance dropped from 74.1 percent to 70.7 percent, and they forecast Amtrak facing “increasing risks of a major infrastructure failure because it has spread its capital funds thinly between the heavily-used Northeast Corridor and long-distance passenger trains that run on its nationwide route network.”

Highlights of OMB’s Passenger Rail Investment Reform Act would see Amtrak split into a private infrastructure company and a train operating company, effectively separating the Northeast Corridor (NEC) infrastructure from long-distance train operations.

The USDOT would lease the NEC infrastructure to a compact of states that would be responsible for managing the infrastructure and train operations along the corridor, and outside the Northeast where Amtrak does not own track, individual states and interstate compacts could negotiate with the freight rail companies to develop new routes. This should lead to the development of short-corridor routes between major population centers.

OMB proposed following a transition period, “States would bid contracts” for infrastructure maintenance, and others for train operations among the former Amtrak companies and other private companies. The agency proposed states cover train-operating subsidies. Federal matching grants would help pay for infrastructure, which is similar to the federal-state cost sharing arrangement of other DOT transportation programs.

For 2001, OMB said, Amtrak received $520 million in federal funding. For 2005, it received $1.2 billion.

OMB pointed out that in 2003, the Administration proposed the Passenger Rail Investment Reform Act, which built on what they described as “The successful state-federal partnerships that are hallmarks of other transportation programs. Ultimately, states and localities would have the freedom to develop custom rail services demanded by their citizens. The federal Government’s role would be to assist in funding capital investments.”

It was clear the White House intended to see Amtrak become bankrupt and force the national passenger carrier to shut down.

OMB declared, “Until such reforms are enacted, the Administration will not propose continued federal subsidies for Amtrak. On its current course, Amtrak’s performance will decline and its infrastructure will deteriorate even with well over $1 billion in annual federal appropriations. With no subsidies, Amtrak would quickly enter bankruptcy, which would likely lead to the elimination of inefficient operations and the reorganization of the railroad through bankruptcy procedures.”

They expect to see a different kind of service to blossom.

“Ultimately, a more rational passenger rail system would emerge, with service on routes where there is real ridership demand and support from local governments, such as the Northeast Corridor.”

The 2006 budget “proposes $360 million for the Surface Transportation Board to maintain existing commuter services and freight traffic along the Northeast Corridor and elsewhere.”

The Administration, OMB said, “would endorse increased funding in subsequent years for intercity passenger rail, on the condition that real legislative reforms are enacted. This amount could fund the reforms envisioned in the Administration’s restructuring proposal, including addressing the Northeast Corridor deferred maintenance backlog, and investing in new state-sponsored capital projects.”

Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said last Monday (February 7), “It is clear the current model of passenger rail services is flawed and unsustainable.”

The Bush budget also calls for eliminating the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program, a government loan program that Mineta said was redundant. A next-generation high-speed rail research program would also be eliminated.

In a White House press briefing the same day, press spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters, “If you look at the budget, it shows that we are exercising even greater spending restraint than we have in the previous few years. This is a responsible budget that funds our nation’s highest priorities and keeps us on track to cut the deficit in half over the next five years.”

Speaking in the James S. Brady press briefing room, McClellan said, “The President is strongly committed to a deficit reduction plan. It is based on, first and foremost, continuing strong economic growth, because if you have strong economic growth, that increases revenues coming into the Treasury.”

He explained the thinking within the White House is that “It’s also based on working with Congress to continue to exercise responsible spending restraint. We’ve seen Congress meet the President’s commitment to exercise spending restraint in the previous budgets, and we believe that they will do so again this year.”

A reporter asked McClellan, “If you’re doing such a great job at restraining spending, why is the deficit projection higher for next year than it was for this year?”

McClellan responded, “You have to go back and look at what we’ve been through over the last few years. I can go through that again, but I think you’ve heard it, everything that we’ve been through – and we’re in a time of war.”

McClellan noted, “There are important challenges that we have an obligation to meet, first and foremost, to protect the American people, to defend the homeland from attack and to make sure we win the war on terrorism. That is our nation’s highest priority.”

The press secretary added, “We also have a priority to continue expanding prosperity and opportunity here at home, and the budget reflects a commitment to meeting that priority, and part of expanding opportunity and prosperity is showing spending restraint.”

“It’s a budget that reduces and eliminates redundancy,” Bush said after meeting with his cabinet at the White House to discuss his plan for $2.57 trillion in government outlays for the fiscal year starting on October 1.

“We’ve had a history of being successful in terms of passing good, strong budgets, and so I’m very optimistic that we can do so again this year,” reported The New York Times.

Mineta unveiled the Administration’s $59.5 billion budget request “that meets the transportation needs of the country and emphasizes spending restraint,” he said.

He said the proposal “includes increased funding for highway, transit and safety programs, allows for the hiring of additional air traffic controllers, and makes a strong call for reform of Amtrak.”

The USDOT’s budget request also includes $28 billion funding increase for the six-year surface transportation reauthorization proposal, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2003 (SAFETEA) from $256 billion to $284 billion.

The largest portion of the request to the Congress “provides $35.4 billion for the Federal Highway Administration. This funding level will provide dollars for states, along with greatly expanded flexibility under SAFETEA to encourage private investment and achieve more efficient use of our highways,” he said.“

This legislation provides the blueprint for investment that allows state and local governments to tackle gridlock in new and innovative ways and also improves the overall safety and performance of our transportation system,” Mineta said.

He declared, “It is imperative that a new reauthorization measure be completed early this year.”

The budget request contains no funding for Amtrak unless immediate and significant reforms along the lines of the President’s proposed Amtrak legislation are made to the passenger rail service, the Secretary said. “If those reforms are made, the Administration would support additional funds for intercity rail.

“After 34 years of Amtrak operating losses and $29 billion in taxpayer subsidies, it’s clear that the current model of passenger rail service is flawed and unsustainable,” the Secretary said. “The President’s budget this year is a call to action.”

Mineta also noted that the budget request “includes $360 million to support existing commuter and freight service along the Northeast Corridor and elsewhere.”

The proposed budget also proposes a $14 million increase in funding for the Nationwide Differential Global Positioning system, which allows railroads to use positive train control technology to track speed and train location, and has the potential to reduce accidents and improve operations along crowded tracks.

He said the increase in funding was made possible by legislation enacted last year that directs ethanol tax receipts into the Highway Trust Fund and combats fraud that siphons money out of the fund, Mineta said.

He added, “The funding level will meet the country’s transportation needs, without raising taxes or increasing the deficit, provided Congress avoids a proliferation of earmarks, set-asides, and new programs.”

Funding for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrations for highway safety increases by $45 million in 2006, and doubles over the life of the SAFETEA proposal, Mineta noted.

The budget request also includes $14 billion for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to support new infrastructure, hire new air traffic controllers and deploy technology that enhances aviation capacity and safety, Mineta said.

The budget triples funding for the Joint Planning and Development Office, which will help deliver an air transportation system with the capacity to allow travelers to choose how, where, and when they want to travel while making their experience as safe, secure, and hassle free as possible. The FAA budget request also includes $24.9 million to hire 595 additional air traffic controllers as part of a multi-year plan to address anticipated controller retirements.

Under the proposal, the Department’s new research agency, the Research and Innovative Technology Administration, will receive $39 million to carry out its mission of more effectively managing and coordinating USDOT’s research portfolio; and $131 million is requested for the new Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration to guard national pipelines, and transporting hazardous materials.

Although many Capitol Hill Republicans welcomed the entire budget bill as the first ambitious effort to check the growth of government since right after the Republican takeover of the House in 1994, other GOP Congressional members were clearly leery of some specific proposals.

Democrats denounced the budget as wrongheaded in its priorities and said it masked the fiscal effects of the Administration’s policies.


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Moody’s keeps close eye on Amtrak

Moody’s Investors Service on February 8 said it may cut Amtrak’s debt ratings because the railroad operator would likely be forced to file for bankruptcy under U.S. President George W. Bush’s proposed 2006 budget.

Reuters reported the proposed budget would eliminate all subsidies for Amtrak and give just $360 million for the National Transportation Safety Board to maintain commuter service in the Northeast Corridor if the railroad goes bankrupt.

Moody’s said it estimates that Amtrak could likely operate for barely one month without some external supports such as these subsidies.

Moody’s rates Amtrak’s debt at “A3.”


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Life without Amtrak?

NARP, labor, politicians rush to rescue

Reaction came quickly – within hours – of the President’s budget proposal. From Amtrak’s president to the National Assn. of Railroad Passengers to labor leaders and political figures, friends of Amtrak started rushing to the rescue.

Amtrak President and CEO David Gunn, at Amtrak headquarters in Washington Union Terminal, said the budget “Provides no funding for Amtrak. In contrast, this year we are spending $1.4 billion, of which $1.2 billion is from a federal appropriation to support our operations and capital programs across the country.”

Gunn stated, “The President’s proposal does provide $360 million to the Surface Transportation Board for continued commuter and freight operations on the Northeast Corridor only after forcing an Amtrak bankruptcy. It also isn’t accompanied by any kind of plan for how Amtrak could continue operations.”

As one could imagine, Gunn was unhappy about the directions the White House was taking. In a terse sentence, Gunn said, “In a word, they have no plan for Amtrak other than bankruptcy.”

In a letter to employees, he wrote, “Obviously, the proposal is irresponsible and a surprising disappointment. It doesn’t acknowledge all the hard work you’ve done over the past two years to run a tighter and better ship. Our costs are more under control than ever before. That’s quite an accomplishment.” He added, “It is critical that reforms and improvements must continue. Amtrak’s management is engaged with its board, the USDOT and others for this purpose. That work continues. We are committed to an efficient and productive rail passenger system. The plan to force us into bankruptcy would be counterproductive to this goal.”

Gunn, who has been at Amtrak’s throttle for about three years, said, “The President’s proposal is only the start of a long legislative process, and we are taking it very seriously. This process has a lot of twists and turns, and it always takes six to nine months to sort out. It won’t have any impact through the 2005 fiscal year, but there’s going to be very little cash left at the end of this year. Rest assured that after all we have been through, I am committed to doing everything I can to secure adequate funding for 2006.”

He pointed out, “We have strong support in Congress and a lot of support across the country.”

National Corridors Initiative president and CEO Jim RePass declared, “The President’s actions in submitting a zero Amtrak budget are both unfortunate and counter-productive. America has spent the last 75 years paving itself and building airports while ignoring the rest of the transportation industry. We are now reaping the results, in a costly transportation tailspin which has and continues to drive up the cost of goods and passenger travel for everyone.

NCI’s top executive said, “OMB cites Amtrak’s debt and its decrepit infrastructure as reasons to kill it, which entirely misses the point: if Amtrak had been funded at anywhere near its requested levels since since1970, there would be no reason for either circumstance. Blaming Amtrak for its poverty after deliberately starving it for 35 years is hypocritical, dishonest, and hateful. We spent more money in Iraq in 35 weeks than we have on Amtrak in 35 years. While we must defend ourselves, we also must have a transportation system that is balanced and serves all Americans, not just a bi-coastal elite. The middle of America, and the middle class, are under attack in America, and the attack on Amtrak is part and parcel of that. Congress must, and will, stop this ideologically driven disaster from going further.”

The National Assn. of Railroad Passengers bit hard in its criticism of the Bush proposal:

“The National Association of Railroad Passengers condemns this proposal as radical and irresponsible.”

NARP executive director Ross Capon declared, “It would end virtually all intercity rail passenger service in the nation, including through service on the Northeast Corridor between Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. This places the burden of funding intercity passenger rail entirely on states that do not have the financial resources to assume such an unfunded mandate.”

He said, “States with limited resources would place first priority on saving the commuter operations within their borders. The $360 million the Administration proposes is to allow freight and local commuter rail operations over the Northeast Corridor to continue. It is not clear that this would be enough to accomplish these purposes, and not even the Administration claims it would allow continuation of any Amtrak trains.”

Capon added, “Past experience suggests that the only way to fund services which cross multiple state lines is at the federal level,” and added, “The Bush Administration misleads the public by saying that a ‘restructuring’ based on zero federal support ‘should lead to the development of short-corridor routes between major population centers.’

The 37-year-old NARP is a non-partisan organization funded by dues and contributions from some 16,000 members.

“On the contrary, the existing system has provided the framework and infrastructure for the significant corridor development we have seen on the West Coast, the Midwest, and in upstate New York.”

The passenger rail advocacy group leader said, “Eliminating Amtrak would jeopardize many of those improvements, and would preclude the possibility of improvements elsewhere. It completely disregards the nation’s growing need for the rail travel alternative.”

He noted, “Even if every short-distance corridor survived, the resulting “network” would be four isolated units serving a total of 21 states. Travel options would be dramatically reduced even in those states.”

Capon argued, “Administration claims that an Amtrak bankruptcy would eliminate ‘inefficient operations’ and lead to the emergence of a ‘more rational’ passenger rail system that served routes where there is ‘real ridership demand’ and ‘support from local governments – such as the Northeast Corridor’ – are false. Clearly they are targeting Amtrak’s long distance services and misrepresenting crucial facts.”

He outlined some of those “crucial facts.”

Far from lacking demand, the long distance routes handle 59 percent more travel than the Northeast Corridor. In fiscal 2004, the long-distance routes accounted for 2.7 billion passenger-miles, the Northeast Corridor for 1.7 billion. (A passenger-mile is one passenger traveling one mile.)

The per-passenger-mile operating grant required for conventional, Northeast Corridor trains is comparable to that of the long-distance network. It is a common misconception that the long-distance trains are “money losers” while the NEC trains are “profitable.” None is, including the new high speed Acela Express.

The amount of federal funding needed to run the entire, nationwide network is only about 20 percent greater than what would be required to run the Northeast Corridor alone.

“The Administration compares $521 million in fiscal 2001 federal funding with $1.2 billion in fiscal 2004 to imply that things have skyrocketed out of control,” Capon said, and added, “Fiscal 2001 was the aberration, not fiscal 2005.”

Fiscal 2001 was the lowest point in Amtrak’s financial history. The low funding in fiscal 2000-2001 allowed for no capital investment and helped create today’s deferred capital problem.

One indication that the Administration is not serious about intercity passenger rail of any kind, said Capon, “is the zeroing out of the FRA’s ‘next generation high-speed rail’ programs of research, development, planning, and technology demonstration. This modest program was funded at $39 million in fiscal 2004 and $31 million in fiscal 2005.”


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On Amtrak:

Labor takes a dim view as well

Edward Wytkind, President AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Dept., is frustrated with the Bush proposal:

In Washington last week, he exclaimed, “Here we go again.”

At a press conference with members of Congress and others, Wytkind was in an attack mode.

“For four years we’ve seen this Administration abdicate its responsibility to ensure America has a first-class national passenger rail system. For four years we’ve seen the White House push its agenda to first starve Amtrak, and then kill it through risky privatization schemes.”

TTD represents 35 unions in all transportation modes.

Wytkind said, “For four years we’ve seen this Administration push its wildly unpopular proposal to dump huge passenger rail costs on the states at a time when cities and states are starving for more, not fewer, transportation options.”

He was also critical of the Administration’s treatment of labor.

“The Bush Shut-Down Amtrak plan is nothing more than a slap in the face to the 22,000 workers who have done everything possible to keep this carrier going. If adopted, this plan would send 22,000 more American workers to already crowded unemployment lines.”

He observed, “Amtrak has been forced to limp from one financial crisis to the next – never really getting the resources it needs and asked to do the impossible, and now the Administration wants to privatize it and assure its destruction.”

Wytkind offered a brief history lesson from the U.K.

“In England, privatization was such a disaster – with rampant delays, steep fare increases and higher accident rates – that the government has spent the last several years trying to undo this failed transportation experiment, and last fall it was estimated that taking the British system back to public ownership would cost about $40 billion.

“That is a mistake we cannot afford to repeat here in the United States.”

Wytkind added, “The Bush Administration’s plan is even more bizarre – force Amtrak into bankruptcy and out of the ashes a new private sector service will somehow emerge. Kind of reminds me of ‘Voodoo economics.’

If the Bush plan succeeds, Wytkind foresees a dim future – if not sinister – for the railroad retirement system, administered by the federal Railroad Retirement Board.

“To make matters worse, an Amtrak liquidation, which the Bush Administration seems more than willing to force on America, would have a devastating impact on the railroad retirement system. Thousands of rail workers in the freight and commuter side would see payroll taxes soar and retirement, disability, widow and widower and unemployment benefits threatened.

“I have to ask: Is there a retirement system this Administration doesn’t want to ruin?”

He argued, “These workers live under a cloud of fear and uncertainty as the survival of Amtrak and their job is questioned. They’re told there isn’t any money to do the things a passenger railroad must do to succeed, and yet, these 22,000 dedicated men and women report to work everyday making sure the trains keep running.

UTU representative David Bowe in Boston noted, “Amtrak’s wages in all crafts have been about 20 percent below the freight railroad wages for at least 20 years, in all crafts.”

In Wytkind’s view, the Administration blames labor for Amtrak’s ailments.

“Some still insist that workers are somehow to blame and if we could lower wages and cut just a little bit more, then everything would be okay.

“Wrong.

“Let’s set the record straight once and for all. Amtrak workers have paid too high a price for federal government neglect. Let me point out that they earn significantly less than freight and commuter workers. I suppose the President would have them work for free.”

He argued, “These workers live under a cloud of fear and uncertainty as the survival of Amtrak and their job is questioned. They’re told there isn’t any money to do the things a passenger railroad must do to succeed, and yet, these 22,000 dedicated men and women report to work everyday making sure the trains keep running.

In Wytkind’s view, “Amtrak’s infrastructure is also suffering. Deferred maintenance is placing the entire system at risk. Trains are out of service, track conditions have been allowed to deteriorate and tunnels and bridges are in desperate need of critical safety and security upgrades.”

He said, “The DOT Inspector General has called this game of deferred maintenance “Russian Roulette” and it is a game with no winners, and it has to stop.”

He added, employees receive no security training, policing of the rail network is “grossly inadequate” and costs for security personnel are putting further strain on Amtrak.

Wytkind argued, “The President’s Shut-Down Amtrak plan is not a serious proposal. It is more of the same, [but] instead, this time, the Administration is prepared to pull the trigger on Amtrak’s destruction,” and he sees Congress – and members of both major political parties – coming to the rescue instead of following the Bush proposal.

“Fortunately, once again, in the absence of any leadership from this President, Members of Congress are stepping up to the challenge and mobilizing to defeat this dangerous and misguided plan to liquidate our national passenger railroad.”

Other labor organizations were equally dismayed at the Administration proposal.

The Transportation Communications Union, which represents Amtrak’s clerks and others, took a dim view of the notion,

Union president Robert Scardelletti said, “Once again President Bush has sent a message to American working men and women that he is no friend to them. Not only does this budget proposal put the jobs and livelihoods of 20,000 men and women at risk, but it also jeopardizes the solvency of the Railroad Retirement system.”

Scardelletti stated, “TCU will do everything possible to fight this unfair proposal and to secure adequate funding for the continuation of Amtrak and to preserve the 20,000 good paying jobs with benefits.”

Paul C. Thompson, United Transportation Union International president, put it this way: “Hell, no. You won’t kill Amtrak.”

The labor leader, whose members are Amtrak’s conductors, said, “For every airline passenger in America, five people travel via rail passenger train, rail commuter train or rail transit. By zeroing out Amtrak in its fiscal 2006 budget request, the Bush administration ignores that no form of transportation in America is more important than rail.”

Thompson said, “If there is any good news attached to the Bush administration’s zero-budget request for Amtrak, it is that Republicans as well as Democrats in the House and Senate are most likely to disagree with the President and restore Amtrak funding.”

In his view, “Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle – and with strong and unceasing encouragement from the UTU – will work to ensure that when the final budget document is passed by Congress later this year, Amtrak will receive the funds necessary to continue as a national intercity rail passenger network.”

He pointed out Amtrak serves 46 states and 500 destinations over a 22,000-mile route system that includes trackage rights over freight railroads.

Thompson, too, provided a brief history lesson.

“Recall last year, after the President proposed just $900 million for Amtrak, that Congress voted to provide Amtrak with $1.2 billion. Amtrak responded by carrying a record 25 million passengers,” and he added, “What the Bush administration really is up to is to eliminate our national intercity rail passenger network through privatization – a code word for elimination of long-distance intercity rail routes and the hiring of non-union employees for what’s left. We’re not having any of it – and neither will our many friends in Congress.”

Thompson spoke directly to the White House.

“Mr. President: You are not going to kill Amtrak because the UTU will exert every force it is able and enlist every friend it can muster to ensure the United States of America does not lose its national intercity rail passenger network.”

The No. 2 Democrat in the Senate – Dick Durbin of Illinois – perhaps said it best just hours after the president’s budget was announced, Thompson said.

“Senator Durbin went to Chicago’s Union Station – an Amtrak hub – to declare in the presence of UTU’s Illinois legislative director Joe Szabo, ‘Can you think of a worse idea than eliminating the only passenger rail service in America?’

Durbin observed that the federal government subsidizes other forms of transportation, including air and highway travel. Amtrak, which helps keeps cars off already congested and polluted roads, should get federal money as well, he said.

UTU’s National Legislative Director, James Brunkenhoefer, meanwhile, “already has heard from many of our Republican friends in Congress who are committed to keeping Amtrak operating,” Thompson said.

“U.S. Senators Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum, both Republicans from Pennsylvania, told Brunkenhoefer and Pennsylvania state legislative director Don Dunlevy that they would work to ensure Amtrak funding.”

Thompson went beyond superficial chest-beating and told his membership, “What is particularly offensive about the Bush administration’s budget treatment of Amtrak is that it contains a request for $360 million to support existing commuter and freight service along the Northeast Corridor after Amtrak goes bankrupt and disappears. Can there be any more clear indication that this administration is gunning for Amtrak?”

He added, “Speaking of the Northeast Corridor – which is just one element of our national intercity rail passenger network – nowhere in the President’s budget is there appropriate recognition of the pressing security demands attached to commuter as well as intercity rail passenger service. Passengers and baggage continue to move aboard trains without sufficient security checks, and station security is also dreadfully lacking.”

He noted, “It is so disheartening to see a budget that contains almost $36 billion for new highways that benefit trucking companies – and zero for Amtrak.

“This President’s budget shockingly disowns rail passenger service, barely pays lip service to rail freight needs, but plays handmaiden to highway and trucking demands.

“The nation’s largest railroad union, the United Transportation Union, is not going to let the Bush administration get away with its mean-spirited bias against railroads and in favor of trucks.

“In short, Mr. President, hell, no. You won’t kill Amtrak.”


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Many politicos nationwide react
favorably in defending Amtrak

The group of people who will be the folks who will make or break Amtrak in its newest fiscal crisis will be the people who populate the House and Senate.

Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), said on February 8 he would take a “hard look” at the President’s Amtrak proposals. He said he supports rail service, despite what the government must pay to keep it viable.

“If it costs Indiana jobs, if it’s going to lead to more congestion on the highway, if it’s going to be leading to more air pollution; I’m not sure that’s the right way to go. Once it’s closed down it would be very hard to bring back,” he told the Indianapolis Star.

Also, Amtrak’s maintenance facility in Beech Grove likely would be closed, the Star reported in a separate story.

“We go down this track every year, going back at least to the Reagan administration,” said Andy Fisher, spokesman for Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.)

“A variety of cuts and zero subsidy have been proposed before. Congress will decide the final and appropriate fate of Amtrak,” He said.

Bayh said he hopes Congress can find other ways to reduce the deficit “rather than cutting support for a facility like Beech Grove that offers so many important benefits for Indiana.”

Eight states have more Amtrak employees than Indiana, which has 1,036. More than half – 640 – work at Beech Grove, one of two primary maintenance yards where most of the company’s coaches and locomotives are overhauled. The other is in Delaware.

Rep. Julia Carson (D-Ind.), whose district includes Beech Grove, said she received “an onslaught” of calls from Beech Grove workers when Bush’s budget on Amtrak was announced.

“Amtrak has been a major (employer) of that part of the city and to lose it would have a devastating effect on the schools and the families (there),” Carson said.

Carson also said at a Capitol Hill news conference on “Black Tuesday,” with other Democratic lawmakers that Amtrak never will run a profit, but it still should be supported.

“There is no passenger rail system in the world that operates on a profit,” Carson said. “America needs passenger rail service. It is economically friendly for the passengers. It is environmentally friendly for the public.”

Although Beech Grove Mayor Joe Wright said the city probably wouldn’t have been founded if it weren’t for the train yards, the city’s finances no longer are tied closely to Amtrak. Amtrak doesn’t pay property taxes and most employees don’t live in Beech Grove.

While the city would be sorry to lose a longtime neighbor, Wright said, he is aware that there are larger fiscal issues.

“I also understand the President’s position of ongoing spending concerns regarding the heavy subsidizing of passenger rail service,” Wright said.

“Unfortunately, there are many factors outside the realm of Amtrak that play a big role in their operation and bottom line.”

The Associated Press reported on the same day the leading House Democrat on transportation issues, Minnesota Rep. Jim Oberstar (D), predicted a “test of wills” over the Bush administration’s proposal to eliminate subsidies to Amtrak.

“You’re either for Amtrak or you’re for letting it expire,” he said. Oberstar is the minority leader on the Transportation Committee.

Several other Democratic representatives joined Oberstar at a news conference. He noted that Congress has resisted previous attempts by the Bush Administration to cut funding for Amtrak – but, he said, this time is different.

“This is serious,” he said. “They really intend to eliminate Amtrak. It’s going to be a test of wills between the Congress and the Administration to restore funding.”

Oberstar said that in reviewing budget proposals for 40 years as a staffer and lawmaker, “Never have I seen one so harsh or crass as this... It would cause widespread disruption and hardship.”

New Jersey Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell, said that Congress and the Bush administration engage in a game of chicken over Amtrak every year.

“The game has reached a new level,” he said. “They’re about to run Amtrak off a cliff... We’re going to fight it, and we’ll see who blinks first.”

House Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) has not decided what he will do about the Amtrak proposal, said his spokesman, Steve Hansen.

Reuters News Agency, which first broke the story about the White House’s plans for Amtrak, reported Tuesday (February 7) the White House proposal could backfire and disrupt train travel for millions of commuters, Congressional and labor officials said.

Reporter John Crawley wrote that while few expect Congress to fully embrace the Administration’s zero aid proposal for the nation’s only city-to-city railroad, Amtrak supporters in the House of Representatives said insolvency would not guarantee continuity in commuter services and could create pension and other headaches for the government.

“It’s far from clear that the outcome of bankruptcy would be a more efficient Amtrak,” said Oberstar.

Oberstar and other Democratic Amtrak supporters in the House said plans to set aside $360 million for a tiny quasi-governmental agency – the Surface Transportation Board (STB) – to find a way to assume oversight of sprawling commuter networks fully or partly run by Amtrak, was untested.

“It’s not clear how the board’s power would interact with the obligation of the bankruptcy court to preserve assets for creditors. The bankruptcy court may be unwilling to have Amtrak’s assets continue to be used for commuter operations,” Oberstar said.

The STB is primarily responsible for resolving railroad rate and service disputes and reviewing proposed railroad mergers. USDOT said the board would not run commuter rail services but find operators to do it.

Oberstar said without Amtrak workers paying into benefit programs, the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Account would be exhausted by 2006, and nearly $297 million would have to be borrowed to make up the loss.

Brian Turmail, a USDOT spokesman, said the criticism was unwarranted and bankruptcy could only occur if Congress did nothing to reform what Administration officials call a broken system based on a failed business model.

“It shows they are not interested in making desperately needed reforms,” Turmail said.

West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd (D) observed on Thursday Amtrak provides a link between big cities and small communities. Byrd said that without Amtrak, many rural regions could return to isolation.

New Jersey’s two U.S. senators and acting Gov. Codey on February 4 asked President Bush not to cut federal funds for Amtrak, saying any reduction would have disastrous effects for their state’s commuters.

In a letter to Bush, Democrats Jon Corzine and Frank Lautenberg urged the President to reconsider his proposal. The railroad has no long-term funding mechanism or trust fund and has to rely on year-to-year appropriations by Congress.

“Without an adequate federal funding commitment for the next fiscal year, Amtrak will again be brought to the brink of bankruptcy as it was in 2002,” the senators wrote. “This will have disastrous effects for New Jersey commuters, who rely heavily on Amtrak.”

In a separate letter to Bush sent Friday, Codey said any cuts to Amtrak would severely impact the state’s traffic congestion, quality of life and economy.

“Without the [Northeast] Corridor, New Jersey would have to build 600 lane miles of capacity – three times the length of the Garden State Parkway – for the additional automobile traffic that would be generated,” Codey wrote.

“Without the corridor, small businesses such as newsstands, convenience stores and cafes would lose $200 million in annual revenues in New Jersey alone,” he stated.

“The President from Texas clearly does not understand the needs of the commuters, or the economy of New Jersey, or the Northeast Corridor,” Corzine said, “We have stopped this ill-guided attempt to shut down Amtrak before – and we will again,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The Boston Globe observed, “President Bush’s 2006 budget would force Amtrak into bankruptcy, jeopardizing the future of long distance passenger train service including the popular Acela Express that moves millions of people between Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C., every year.”

Former Massachusetts Democratic Gov. Michael S. Dukakis said, “It’ll be another one of these fights about how much we’re cutting when we should be talking about increasing funding for passenger rail service.” Dukakis served on Amtrak’s board during the Clinton administration.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts officials worried that the $360 million would not be enough to keep vital commuter trains operating. In Massachusetts, the state owns and runs commuter rail, but Amtrak dispatches the commuter trains and maintains the rail lines.

“This would not benefit Massachusetts at all,” said Michael H. Mulhern, general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which runs the state’s 465-mile commuter rail system.

Even some of the Administration’s supporters in the region said killing Amtrak would be unwise.

“These are unacceptable figures,” Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said of the President’s proposal. “I intend to lead a coalition this year to provide funding for Amtrak. We have to have it.”

Calling many of the cuts in President Bush’s fiscal 2006 budget “unacceptable,” Specter said on February 9, “We’re going to have to make substantial modifications in the Congress.”

Specter, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, singled out the elimination of federal operating subsidies for Amtrak as a program he would work to restore.

“These cuts are unacceptable,” Specter said. “We have a tremendous deficit we have to deal with, but the deficit is created by costs in Iraq and Afghanistan and an increase in the military budget and so all of this has to be very carefully considered. I’m going to take a close look at all of it as we work through the appropriations process.”

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) said that while he believes some reform at Amtrak is needed, he “supports continued funding for the system,” but the Amtrak cuts pose a conundrum for him because he is up for reelection next year. The budget puts Santorum “between a track and a hard place,” said Phil Singer, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

“Either he supports Bush’s budget plan to eliminate Amtrak and continues to walk in lockstep with Bush or he... risks angering the White House.”

In a statement, Santorum said he understood how important Amtrak was to Pennsylvania, and said the President’s request represented the beginning of the budget process.

“While I support the Administration’s disciplined efforts to cut the federal deficit in half within five years, I also support the careful review by Congress of each of the budget programs,” Santorum said. “I will continue to support funding that ensures the safety and security of our men and women in uniform, promotes economic growth and job creation, expanded educational opportunities and improved access to health insurance and health care.”

Rep. Curt Weldon, a Republican who represents Pennsylvania’s Delaware County, called for better management of Amtrak as a way to reduce its need for subsidies, but said Bush’s proposal was one of several in the budget that Congress would reject.

“While I’m not happy with Amtrak’s management, there’s no way we’re going to eliminate it,” Weldon said in an interview while he was riding one of the railroad’s trains from New York to Philadelphia.

Rep. Chaka Fattah (D) said Amtrak’s fate rests with the President’s party. “The question is, how many Republicans will support it?” he said.

Amtrak’s passenger service along the Northeast corridor is regarded as a crucial cog of the region’s transportation system.

Elsewhere in Washington, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison )R-Texas) an ardent champion of national rail service , said Congress has shortchanged Amtrak, limiting its effectiveness outside the Northeast Corridor. Hutchison said railways can alleviate highway congestion and improve transportation.

“We need to either commit to a national railroad or abandon the pretense of one. National or nothing. Today’s budget represents an inadequate middle ground,” Hutchison said.

Referring to the President’s plan to gut Amtrak, members of Illinois’ Congressional delegation are vowing to fight the proposed cuts, saying Amtrak is an important part of the state’s transportation network, The Pantagraph reported last week.

“Can you think of a worse idea than eliminating the only passenger rail service in America?” asked Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin during a press conference in Chicago on February 7.

Republican U.S. Rep. Jerry Weller sided with the Bush administration that the budget must be cut, but, he said, he’d keep an eye out for the future of Amtrak.

“All programs need to be looked at for efficiencies, however, I’m particularly sensitive to proposals impacting Amtrak. Let’s remember that it’s the Congress that writes the budget,” said Weller, who is the deputy majority whip in the GOP-controlled House.

Freshman U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, a Chicago Democrat, called Amtrak “vital” to the state, and urged Bush to cooperate with lawmakers to craft a balanced spending plan.

“I believe with a return to pay-as-you-go discipline that forces lawmakers to outline their proposals and how they plan to pay for them, we can work together to achieve fiscal discipline without mortgaging our future or sacrificing programs we believe are important,” Obama said.

Durbin also said cutting Amtrak would squander the millions of dollars that have been invested in making the line between Chicago and St. Louis suitable for high-speed train traffic.

Delaware Democratic Sen. Joe Biden told Delaware Online, “We‘re going to get hit very, very hard by this budget,” but, he added, he believes most of the targeted programs will survive.

Many of the projects Bush is targeting have been targeted before and survived, including Amtrak. The President can propose a budget outline, but only Congress can spend the government‘s money, and in the past Congress has restored funding for programs that Presidents have tried to kill.

“I give the President credit for putting forth a lean budget that aims to cut the deficit and reduce the debt,“ said Republican Rep. Mike Castle, also of Delaware. He leads a coalition of moderate Congressional Republicans who have been critical of the ballooning federal deficits.

“I support his effort to scrub every federal program for waste and abuse to generate savings,“ Castle said, “[but] programs like Amtrak… have so much support in Congress that I believe the funding will be restored. I believe it‘s a question of manageable control versus total elimination.”


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Harnish sees Bush wrong on Amtrak

Rick Harnish, the Executive Director of Midwest High Speed Rail Assn. said last week President George W. Bush is taking the wrong approach toward interstate rail travel.

“We need to expand interstate rail travel, instead of eliminating it,” Harnish said, in response to the President’s budget, which includes a pittance for Amtrak.

The word of no funding for Amtrak has evoked criticism from officials ranging from Macomb, Ill. Mayor Mick Wisslead and U.S. Rep. Lane Evans to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, and just about everybody in between.

Harnish said if Bush gets his way, Amtrak will be no more, which would be a serious economic blow to Macomb and dozens of other communities in the state. Amtrak makes numerous stops in Macomb each day.

“Amtrak is the direct line for many of our university students from the Chicago area,” Wisslead said. “It not only affects us, a number of students at schools like Quincy College also depend on that link. We have local business people who use Amtrak to travel to Chicago for meetings or shopping. They do not have to worry about the drive, parking, anything. They get on the train here and return later that night.”

Harnish said even if it is done in “baby steps,” interstate rail travel needs to be expanded.

“Adding a morning stop here or an evening stop there, would be well worth the investment to a local economy,” Harnish added.

Durbin has been a long-time supporter of Amtrak. Local and state officials are hoping Durbin, who is now the Minority Whip in the Senate, will do what he can to change the budget numbers for Amtrak.

In his response to Bush’s budget, Durbin addressed the Amtrak funding.

“Chicago and 29 other communities in Illinois would lose state-subsidized Amtrak service altogether, leaving the three million passengers a year who rely on Amtrak service in Illinois out of luck and pushing 2,000 Illinoisans out of jobs. The $70 million Illinois has invested in a high-speed passenger line connecting Chicago, Springfield and St. Louis would be wasted.”


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New England Council adds
its voice in supporting Amtrak

Following the release of President Bush’s proposed budget which would slash funding for Amtrak rail service, New England Council President James T. Brett joined other regional leaders in calling for the Administration to reconsider this proposal.

The New England Council is the nation’s oldest regional business organization.

“Rail service is very important to the New England economy,” Brett said on February 9. “Any loss of service will have a deleterious impact on the movement of business and leisure passengers along the east coast and the ability of the economy to grow.”

He added, “Obviously we are concerned about what this proposal might mean to the future of service on the Northeast Corridor. Intercity passenger rail is a major transportation option for New England. Losing it would be devastating to the region.”

Brett pointed out, “Amtrak is also in the middle of a five-year capital improvement plan to bring its equipment and infrastructure to a state of good repair. Amtrak was already under-funded in its current fiscal year budget allocation to fully meet their goals.”

Brett said, “We are open to discussing ways to restructure Amtrak in the future, but before any serious discussions can really get going, the federal government needs to commit to getting the Northeast Corridor’s infrastructure to a state of good repair. That has to happen first.”

According to Amtrak, some of the most significant infrastructure needs are in New England. Their survey cited three bridges in Connecticut – the Thames River Bridge, the Niantic River Bridge and the Connecticut River Bridge – which are all at least 85 years old and in need of replacement.

These bridges frequently open and shut to allow ships to pass through. If that mechanism fails, service between New York and Boston would be severed.

The council pointed out, in a press release, 40 Amtrak trains run over those bridges daily and maintain a vital link of business and leisure passenger service on one of the most heavily traveled rail corridors in the nation.

Amtrak owns and operates 400 miles of the Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston. The corridor is one of the busiest and most technically advanced track structures in the world, used by more than 1,700 trains a day, including freight, commuter trains and high-speed rail service.

Brett noted, “A shutdown of Amtrak would also affect service for eight commuter railroads that operate over Amtrak-owned or operated infrastructure throughout the Northeast. More than 750,000 commuters use the service daily.”

He also said, “More than 7,000 people are employed in the rail industry throughout New England. In recent years, particularly with the introduction of high-speed rail along the Northeast Corridor, rail has become a success story in New England.”

Brett said, “While some of the Administration’s proposal may have merit, the Administration needs to make a monetary commitment to the Northeast Corridor’s infrastructure.”

The New England Council includes more than 50 business groups and companies along the East Coast.


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House unveils $284 billion road bill

A $283.9 billion, six-year highway and transit funding bill was introduced in the House on Wednesday by a bipartisan group of senior representatives.

President Bush released an updated reauthorization proposal submitted with the fiscal year 2006 budget earlier this week that supports the same level of funding for federal highway, transit, and highway safety programs, MarketWatch reported Thursday.

“I strongly believe that we have a much better chance of moving this legislation quickly in the 109th Congress, now that we are working with the same top line funding level that the President has endorsed,” Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) in a statement.

Last year, the Transportation Committee, House leadership, the Administration, and the Senate couldn’t agree on funding legislation. The President said last year he would veto the bill if was larger than $256 billion. The $283.9 billion in guaranteed funding proposed this year would be available between 2004 through 2009, and represents a 42 percent increase over the $202 billion provided under the reauthorization bill covering the previous six-years.

“We need to move this bill quickly and get it through conference by the end of May, when the current authorization extension expires,” said Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), the ranking minority member.

In part, the legislation would increase highway obligation authority to $41 billion in 2009 from $34.4 billion in 2004, increase public transportation funding to $10.3 billion in 2009 from $7.3 billion in 2004, create a $6 billion Projects of National and Regional Significance program to help states pay for high-cost highway projects that have significant national or regional benefits, provide $830 million to build dedicated truck lanes, and provide $590 million for a new High Risk Rural Road Safety Improvement Program.

It would also create a new Safe Routes to School program to provide $875 million over five years in formula funding to states for projects to allow children to walk and bicycle to school, and provide $2 billion over six years to fund rural public transportation, an increase of 60 percent from the last reauthorization bill.


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Don Saunders

Amtrak Ink

St. Louis ticket agent Ralph Devine watches as General Superintendent Don Saunders cuts the ribbon to commemorate the opening of St. Louis’ new interim station on December 20.

 

St. Louis gets a new Amtrak station

St. Louis got a new Amtrak passenger station in December, and it opened with some fanfare. Local and state officials, Amtrak employees and others attended the event to open the facility that replaced the modular station – disparagingly called an “Amshack” – which had been in use since 1978.

The new 4,000-square-foot structure is intended to be an interim station until a permanent intermodal transit facility is built by the City of St. Louis. The interim station will be converted to a crew base for Amtrak’s Operating and Mechanical employees once the intermodal facility is built.

The building, made of masonry and steel, was built entirely with Amtrak funds at an estimated cost of more than $600,000.

“This comfortable modern facility vastly improves Amtrak’s presence in St. Louis, both for our passengers and employees,” said General Superintendent Don Saunders. He added, “Moving to this facility helps clear the way for the permanent station,” slated to open next year.

– From Amtrak Ink, February 2005


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Midwest high-speed corridors
have profit potential, says speaker

The high-speed passenger rail network proposed for Illinois and eight other Midwestern states – now projected to cost $7.7 billion and nearly double earlier estimates – could operate at a profit without taxpayer assistance, a consultant pushing the plan said last week.

“This is the system that prevents you (from) having to have operating subsidies,” Alexander Metcalf of Transportation Economics & Management Systems, Inc. told rail proponents at a luncheon in Chicago on February 9.

“It has already been done. It has already been achieved in ‘corridors’ of similar length elsewhere in the world,” reported the Peoria Journal Star.

That standard generally has not been achieved here at home, he said, and pointed out Amtrak operates intercity passenger rail across the U.S. with federal subsidies and loses money. Illinois government pays the passenger railroad $12 million a year to run daily short-distance trains across the state.

Metcalf argued the Midwestern system would enjoy “economies of scale” that spread fixed costs over a 3,000-mile network while preserving current union labor standards. At full build-out, it would generate $632 million in revenues in 2025, exceeding maintenance and operating costs of $466 million, according to a report Metcalf helped prepare for the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, the partnership of the nine states.

First, however, the federal government and the states would have to pay startup capital costs to upgrade freight lines for faster, more frequent train service and buy train equipment. The estimated price tag was $4.1 billion just a few years ago but has been updated and revised to $7.7 billion over 10 years.

The cost likely will increase with further study, Metcalf said.

“That’s pretty much the way big infrastructure projects work,” said Rick Harnish, director of the Chicago-based Midwest High Speed Rail Assn.

“There were two things that happened. One was inflation, and the other is they decided to get more details on what the railroads would really require for infrastructure work. So this is a strong effort by the states to be honest about their costs.”

Within the network, the cost of developing the Chicago-St. Louis rail corridor that passes through Springfield, Ill. has grown to $445 million, the report said. A January 2001 estimate from the nine-state group put the price at $350 million.

The Illinois DOT already has spent millions to overhaul track and crossings along the middle leg of the corridor. Once complete, trains would travel from Chicago to St. Louis at 110 mph – current top speed is 79 mph – and save passengers 90 minutes over today’s travel time of about 5 and one-half hours.

The larger Midwestern plan has been around for years, but Congress has not acted on various high-speed rail proposals that would offer states matching grants to develop corridors as an alternative to driving and flying. Also, some policymakers are critical of Amtrak and its potential role in such a plan.

Kevin Brubaker, a passenger rail advocate for the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said Metcalf’s vision of a profitable train system isn’t impossible to achieve.

“He said it can only make a profit if we build out the entire system,” Brubaker said. “Since it’s unlikely we’ll be able to build out the system immediately, the states will continue to provide operating assistance until it’s built out.”

Asked about the Midwestern plan, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the railroad is more “focused” on a largely different group of rail corridors it previously identified as the best prospects for high-speed development. The “tier one” group includes the Chicago-St. Louis corridor.

The Midwestern system also includes the rail corridor that connects Chicago with Quincy via Galesburg. Trains would reach 90 mph top speed on that line, according to Metcalf’s report.


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Lott, Hutchison get new posts

Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) has been named chairman of the Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Subcommittee under the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The subcommittee oversees legislation dealing with railroads, ports and trucking.

Lott said in a statement Tuesday that the subcommittee will look at the reauthorization of the trucking and automobile safety programs as well as freight rail and railroad safety issues, The AP reported.

The subcommittee has jurisdiction over the administration of highway, railroad and maritime transportation and safety programs.

“It’s vital that these programs have the stability of being renewed in a multi-year reauthorization so that the states can get to work on their implementation,” Lott said. “Port security also continues to be an issue, and we want to make certain that our ports aren’t vulnerable.”

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) will have an expanded role in overseeing the nation’s space exploration program as chair of the Science and Space Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in the 109th Congress.

She has been a member of the panel, which authorizes our national space, science and technology programs, for 10 years.

The Subcommittee’s chief responsibility is to oversee the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).


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NTSB to present ‘PTC’ symposium

The National Transportation Safety Board will hold a symposium to discuss an automated system to prevent train collisions known in the industry as positive train control (PTC), says NTSB Chair Ellen Engleman.

The two-day affair will begin at 9:00 a.m. March 2 at the NTSB Academy in Ashburn, Va.

“The goal of this symposium is to reinvigorate the dialogue between industry and both state and federal agencies on the issues relevant to the implementation of positive train control systems,” Conners said.

PTC has been on the federal agency’s “Most Wanted” list of transportation safety improvements since its inception in 1990.

Conners will open the forum; other safety board members are expected to attend, but NTSB staffers will lead technical panel discussions that will examine each major aspect of positive train control systems including safety, efficiency and operational issues.

Rail industry, suppliers and federal and state organizations will contribute presentations highlighting their perspectives.

The complete agenda and registration information is on the NTSB website, www.ntsb.gov/academy, and the NTSB Academy is at 45065 Riverside Parkway, Ashburn, Va.


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

Transit does well in Bush economics

By a D:F staff writer

Transit projects around the country made out pretty well in the Bush budget proposal.

USDOT spokesman Paul Griffo told reporters on February 8 the President’s budget recommended to Congress more than $1.5 billion in funding for up to 26 new or expanding major transit projects aimed at increasing mobility and easing congestion in urban and suburban communities like Charlotte, New York City, and Phoenix, according to Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta.

The President’s budget provides for multi-year funding commitments for 16 existing and four new transit projects, and makes developing projects in San Diego, Denver, New York City, Washington County, Ore., Dallas and Salt Lake City eligible for funding based on their progress this year.

“When completed, these projects are expected to carry more than 273 million riders each year, while saving over 128 million hours in travel time and reducing vehicle-related pollution in many of our nation’s most congested cities,” Mineta said.

In addition to providing annual funding for 16 projects to which the federal government has already made long-term funding commitments, known as “Full Funding Grant Agreements,” this year’s recommendations include making funding available for similar commitments for four new projects. One such commitment has been executed so far for a new 19.6-mile light rail system in Phoenix, which was approved last month. The system will connect commuters from the Spectrum Mall to several of the area’s major business districts, Sky Harbor Airport and professional sports venues.

This year’s largest proposed project recommended for a funding commitment is the extension of New York’s Long Island Rail Road that will ease commutes into and out of Manhattan and Queens.

Other recommended full-funding grant agreements include a 9.6-mile light rail line in Charlotte, N.C., and a 1.5-mile extension of Pittsburgh’s light rail system from downtown to the North Shore area. Six additional projects will be considered for funding contingent upon further progress and continued qualification under the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) New Starts criteria and other requirements.

“The Federal Transit Administration ensures that American taxpayers are getting the most for their money by conducting rigorous reviews of transit projects and making funding recommendations based on sound risk analysis,” said FTA Administrator Jennifer L. Dorn.

These recommendations were included in the FTA’s Annual Report on New Starts for fiscal year 2006, which includes federal funding recommendations for important subway, light rail, commuter rail and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) projects.


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Who gets how much and for what?

Here is a list of proposed full-funding transit projects for which grant agreements have been executed in prior years, according to USDOT’s Federal Transit Administration. All are for fiscal year 2006:

Los Angeles – Metro Gold Line East Side Extension – $80 million. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA) is constructing a 5.9-mile light rail transit (LRT) line in the East Side Corridor, connecting downtown Los Angeles with East Los Angeles. The project will cost $898.8 million, with a federal New Starts share of $490.7 million. It is expected to carry 23,000 daily riders by 2020.

San Diego – Mission Valley East LRT Extension – $7.7 million. The Metropolitan Transit Development Board (MTDB) is constructing a 5.9-mile light rail transit (LRT) extension, from its current terminus east of I-15 to the City of La Mesa. The line will include a connection to the existing Orange Line near Baltimore Drive. The project will cost $430.96 million, with a federal New Starts share of $329.96 million. It is expected to carry 10,800 daily riders by 2015.

Oceanside-Escondido Rail Corridor – $12.21 million. The North County Transit District (NCTD) is converting an existing 22-mile freight rail corridor into a commuter rail line running from the coastal city of Oceanside through the cities of Vista and San Marcos, portions of unincorporated San Diego, to Escondido. The project will cost $351.52 million, with a federal New Starts share of $152.1 million. It is expected to carry 19,000 daily riders by 2020.

San Francisco – BART Extension to San Francisco Airport – $81.86 million. The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans) have completed an 8.7-mile heavy rail extension from BART’s Colma Station through Colma, San Bruno to Millbrae, with a station at San Francisco International Airport. The total project cost under an amended full funding grant agreement budget is $1.55 billion, with a federal “New Starts” share of $750 million. Daily riders in October 2004 totaled 27,000.

Denver – Southeast Corridor LRT – $80 million. The Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD) and the Colorado DOT are constructing the Southeast Corridor Light Rail project, dubbed “T-REX.” It is a 19.1-mile double-track light rail transit (LRT) extension to the existing system, which follows I-25 from Broadway in Denver to Douglas County, with a spur along I-225. The total project cost is $879.27 million, with a federal New Starts share of $525 million. It is expected to carry 38,100 daily riders by 2020.

Chicago – North Central Corridor Commuter Rail – $20.61 million. Metra, a commuter rail operator in the Chicago metropolitan region, is constructing 16.3 miles of a second mainline track and a 2.3-mile segment of third track along the existing 55-mile North Central Service (NCS) commuter rail line to accommodate increased service and operating speeds. The total project cost is $225.52 million with a federal New Starts share of $135.32 million. It is expected to carry 8,400 daily riders by 2020.

Douglas Branch Reconstruction – $45.15 million. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) is reconstructing 6.6 miles of the existing Douglas Branch of CTA’s heavy rail Blue Line. The total project cost is $482.68 million, with a federal New Starts share of $320.10 million. It is expected to carry 6,000 daily new riders by 2020.

Ravenswood Line Extension – $40.0 million. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) is reconstructing platforms and stations on the existing Ravenswood (Brown) Line to accommodate eight-car trains, along with other related capital improvements. The Brown Line extends approximately 9.1 miles from the Kimball Terminal on the north side of Chicago through the “Loop Elevated” in downtown Chicago, and includes 19 stations. The total project cost is $529.91 million, with a federal New Starts share of $245.52 million. It is expected to carry 68,000 daily riders by 2020.

South West Corridor Commuter Rail – $7.28 million. Metra, a commuter rail operator in the Chicago metropolitan region, is constructing an additional 12 miles of track within an existing 33-mile corridor connecting Union Station in downtown Chicago to 179th Street in Orland Park. The total project cost is $198.12 million, with a federal New Starts share of $103.02 million. It is expected to carry 13,800 daily riders by 2020.

Union-Pacific West Line Extension – $14.29 million. Metra is constructing an 8.5-mile extension to the existing 35-mile Union-Pacific West Line. The project will extend passenger service from Geneva to Elburn. The total project cost is $134.56 million, with a federal New Starts share of $80.76 million. It is expected to carry 3,900 daily riders by 2020.

Baltimore – Central LRT Double-Track – $12.42 million. The Maryland Mass Transit Administration (MTA) is upgrading 9.4 miles of designated areas of the Baltimore Central Light Rail Line (CLRL). The project includes double-tracking eight sections of the existing 29-mile Baltimore CLRL and new platforms at four existing stations. The total project cost is $153.7 million, with a federal New Starts share of $120 million. It is expected to carry 44,000 daily riders by 2020.

New Jersey – Hudson-Bergen MOS-2 – $100.0 million. The New Jersey Transit Corp. (NJT) is constructing an extension to the Hudson-Bergen Waterfront Light Rail Transit System. The project includes a 5.1-mile, six-station extension from Hoboken Terminal to the Tonnelle Avenue park–and–ride lot in North Bergen and a one-mile, one-station extension south from 34th Street to 22nd Street in Bayonne. The total project cost is $1.21 billion, with a federal New Starts share of $500 million. It is expected to carry 34,900 daily riders by 2020.

Cleveland – Euclid Corridor Transportation Project – $24.77 million. The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) is constructing a 9.4-mile, 35 station bus rapid transit (BRT) line along Euclid Avenue from Public Square in downtown Cleveland to the Stokes–Windermere Rapid Transit Station (Red Line) in East Cleveland. The total project cost is $168.4 million, with a federal New Starts share of $82.2 million. It is expected to carry 39,000 daily riders by 2020.

Portland, Ore. – Interstate MAX LRT Extension – $18.11 million. The Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet) completed construction of a 5.8–mile extension of its light rail transit (LRT) line known locally as the Interstate Metropolitan Area Express (Interstate MAX). The line extends existing light rail service north from the Rose Quarter and the Oregon Convention Center to North Portland neighborhoods and the Metropolitan Exposition Center. The project commenced operations in May 2004. The total project cost is $350 million, with a federal New Starts share of $257.5 million. In October 2004, the average daily ridership was 12,100.

San Juan, P.R.Tren Urbano – $10.2 million. The Puerto Rico Highway and Transportation Authority (PHRTA) completed construction of a 10.7-mile heavy rail system between Bayamón Centro and the Sagrado Corazon area of Santurce in San Juan. The total project cost under a planned full-funding grant agreement amendment will be $2.25 billion, with a federal New Starts share of $307.41 million. The system began limited weekend service in December 2004 and PHRTA plans to initiate daily revenue operations in March 2005. It is expected to carry 113,000 daily riders by 2010.

Seattle – Central Link Initial Segment – $80.0 million. The Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority (Sound Transit) is constructing a 13.9-mile light rail line that will run from Convention Place through downtown Seattle to South 154th Street in the city of Tukwila. The total project cost is $2.44 billion, with a federal New Starts share of $500 million. It is expected to carry 42,500 daily riders in 2020.

Phoenix – Central Phoenix East Valley Light Rail – $90 million. The Central Phoenix East Valley Light Rail project is a 19.6-mile light rail system running from the Spectrum Mall area in Phoenix, through the downtown areas of Phoenix and Tempe, to Mesa. The project, overseen by Valley Metro Rail, will provide access to major employment centers including the Phoenix and Tempe central business districts, Sky Harbor Airport, and Arizona State University (ASU); and large special event venues including Civic Plaza Convention Center, Bank One Ballpark, America West Arena, and Arizona State University’s Sun Devil Stadium. The project will cost $1.4 billion, with a federal New Starts share of $587 million, or 42 percent.

The Federal Transit Administration also expects to grant funds to a few other communities before September 31.

New York City – Long Island Rail Road East Side Access – $390 million. The New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) are proposing a commuter rail project that will link LIRR passengers to a new passenger concourse in Grand Central Terminal on Manhattan’s east side. The 3.5-mile East Side Access (ESA) project, using an existing rail tunnel under the East River, will increase LIRR tunnel capacity across the East River and significantly relieve over-crowded conditions throughout the LIRR network. The project will provide direct access to the east side of Manhattan for users of the LIRR, who must currently transfer to other transit lines or walk to get to the east side from Penn Station.

The ESA project will serve a portion of the strongest transit market in the country. By 2025, through reducing travel time to Manhattan’s east side and relieving overcrowding conditions on existing LIRR service to Penn Station, the East Side Access will carry more than 167,000 average weekday riders, including 26,000 daily new riders. The project will cost a total of $7.74 billion.

The President’s budget includes $390 million for the project.

Charlotte – South Corridor Light Rail Transit – $55 million. The project sponsored by the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) is a 9.6-mile light rail transit line extending from the city’s central business district to Interstate 485 in south Mecklenburg County near the South Carolina state line. It will carry 18,000 weekday riders by 2025. This is the area’s first light-rail line. The capital cost is $426.8 million. The budget recommends $55 million next fiscal year for the project.

Pittsburgh – North Shore LRT Connector – $55 million in fiscal 2006. the project sponsored by the Port Authority of Allegheny County is a 1.5-mile extension of the region’s 25-mile light rail transit system, which would connect downtown Pittsburgh’s Golden Triangle area to the city’s North Shore area. It will also provide a connection to the Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh. The project will cost $381 million.

Other projects to be considered for funding in the next fiscal year include a set-aside totaling $158 million to be available for additional projects, which includes these projects, “contingent upon further progress and continued qualification under New Starts criteria and other requirements:”

Dallas – Northwest/Southeast Light Rail. The 20.9-mile extension will provide fixed guideway transit service in heavily traveled transportation corridors. From Dallas’ central business district, the line will extend northwest 10.7 miles along I-45 to the city of Farmer’s Branch, and southeast 10.2 miles to Buckner Boulevard. The project will provide an alternative to congested highway facilities, increase transit capacity, improve connectivity to regional activity centers, and provide economic development opportunities. The line will provide nearly 46,000 average weekday rides by 2025.

Denver – West Corridor LRT is a 12-station light rail extension that begins at the existing Auraria Station in downtown Denver and extends 12.1 miles west, parallel to West 6th Avenue, which carries the second highest traffic volume in the region. The West Corridor LRT will serve Lakewood and other Westside activity centers, and will provide connections to the Denver Tech Center, the second largest employment center in the Denver metropolitan area. It will also facilitate development opportunities along the corridor. It will carry 28,700 riders each weekday by 2025.

New York City – Second Avenue Subway 2.3-mile project on Manhattan’s east side will provide extended Broadway subway service between Brooklyn, Lower Manhattan, West Midtown, and East Harlem. The project is expected to serve 202,000 riders each day by 2025.

San Diego – The Mid-Coast LRT 3.4-mile Extension of the region’s light rail system will extend the existing LRT from the Old Town Transit Center in San Diego to Balboa Avenue, and provide an alternative to the congested conditions on I-5 north of downtown San Diego. By 2025, the project will carry more than 10,000 daily riders.

Weber County/Salt Lake City – The 43-mile, nine station Utah Commuter Rail project will provide Pleasant View, Ogden, Clearfield, Layton, and Bountiful with direct access to downtown Salt Lake City. The commuter rail line is will serve nearly 12,000 weekday riders by 2025.

Washington County, Ore. – Wilsonville/Beaverton Commuter Rail line is a 14.7-mile, five station commuter rail link that will connect to Tri-Met’s existing Westside light rail line at the Beaverton Transit Center. The project will connect the rapidly growing suburban communities in the Wilsonville-Beaverton Corridor and alleviate existing and future traffic congestion in western Washington County. The line will carry 3,000 weekday riders by 2020.

Other FTA “recommended” and “highly recommended” projects, based on New Starts criteria, include:

Northern Virginia – Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project is an extension to Wiehle Avenue, and is an 11.6-mile extension of the region’s Metrorail system from the existing East Falls Church Metrorail station through the large Tyson’s Corner employment and retail center to Wiehle Avenue in the town of Reston. The extension will serve more than 73,000 passengers a day by 2025.

Boston – The Hub’s Silver Line Phase III is a one-mile tunnel under Tremont and Essex Streets connecting existing Phase I Silver Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service operating on Washington Street between Dudley Square and Downtown Crossing with Phase II service connecting South Station and the Seaport World Trade Center in the South Boston Waterfront area. The service will include a branch to Logan International Airport. By 2025, the line will serve nearly 100,000 weekday riders.

San Francisco Central Subway – A 1.7-mile extension of the Third Street light rail transit line, which is currently under construction. The completed projects will provide a continuous 7.1-mile light rail line connecting the heavily transit-dependent communities along the eastern edge of the city with downtown, the financial district and Chinatown, and would restore a continuous transportation link that was lost when the Embarcadero Freeway was destroyed by the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. By 2025, the line will serve 61,000 weekday passengers.

Portland, Ore. – South Corridor I-205/Portland Mall, an 8.3-mile new light rail transit line consisting of two segments connecting to the existing “MAX” system. The first segment of the proposed project is a 6.5-mile line that runs north and south and parallel to I-205, connecting the Clackamas Regional Center in southeast Portland with the Gateway Transit Center east of downtown on TriMet’s existing light rail transit (LRT) system.

The second segment of the project is a 1.8-mile LRT extension, which would begin at the existing Rose Quarter Transit Center and terminate at Portland.

A State University in south downtown Portland segment would run along the existing downtown bus mall on 5th and 6th Avenues. The new line will serve 46,500 weekday riders by 2025.

Some projects remain “not recommended” because they “do not currently meet FTA’s expectations for demonstrating local financial commitment and/or project justification.” The FTA explained that a “Not Recommended” rating does not necessarily mean that the project does not or will not ever have any merit.

“Rather, as with all projects evaluated, it is a snapshot in time, and reflects conditions as of November 2004.”

Las Vegas – Resort Corridor Downtown Monorail Extension –

The Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) of Southern Nevada, in cooperation with the Las Vegas Monorail Corporation (LVMC), is proposing a 2.3-mile extension of a privately funded 3.6-mile monorail system. The proposed New Starts project would serve the northern portion of Las Vegas Boulevard (the “Strip”) along Main Street between Sahara Avenue, the Freemont Street entertainment district, and downtown Las Vegas. The project includes four new passenger stations and a new maintenance facility. The project cost is $453.9 million. It is expected to carry 36,500 daily riders by 2020.

Santa Clara – Silicon Valley Rapid Transit Corridor The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (SCVTA) is proposing to construct a 16.3-mile heavy rail extension from a proposed Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station at Warm Springs to downtown San Jose and the Mineta International Airport. The project scope includes the construction of seven passenger stations, a new maintenance yard, and 106 vehicles that would be added to the BART fleet. The project will cost $6.2 billion. Projected ridership figures are not available.

Fort Collins, Colo. – Mason Transportation Corridor Transfort, the transit agency for the city of Fort Collins, Colorado, is proposing a 5.3-mile bus rapid transit (BRT) system within its Mason Transportation Corridor (MTC). In addition to implementation of the South Transit Center, the project scope includes construction of 17 new stations, 475 park-and-ride spaces, and the procurement of seven new buses. The project will cost $66.0 million. It is expected to carry 5,900 daily riders by 2020.

Hartford, Conn, – New Britain-Hartford Busway – The Connecticut DOT is proposing to construct the New Britain-Hartford Busway, a 12-station, 9.6-mile bus rapid transit (BRT) system operating primarily in an existing and abandoned railroad right-of-way on a new two-way roadway between downtown New Britain and downtown Hartford’s Union Station. The project will cost $337.0 million. It is expected to carry 17,200 daily riders in the anticipated opening year of 2010.

Tampa Bay, Fla. – Tampa Bay Regional Rail – The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) is proposing to construct the Tampa Bay Regional Rail System. The proposed project is a 20.1-mile light rail transit system in three corridors: the 13.4-mile Northeast Corridor, the 1.5-mile Southwest Corridor, and the 5.2-mile West Corridor. The scope of the project includes purchasing 34 light rail vehicles, and building 26 stations and 3,250 park-and-ride spaces. The project’s estimated capital cost is $1.46 billion.

New Orleans – Desire Streetcar Line – The New Orleans Regional Transportation Authority (NORTA) is proposing to construct a 3.6-mile extension of its at-grade streetcar system along North Rampart Street and St. Claude Avenue, just east of the New Orleans central business district and parallel to the nearby Mississippi River. The project’s estimated capital cost is $121.2 million.

Minneapolis – Big-Lake to Northstar Commuter Rail – The Minnesota DOT, in cooperation with the Northstar Corridor Development Authority (NCDA), is proposing to construct a 40.1-mile minimum operating segment (MOS) commuter rail line that would connect the Minneapolis central business district (CBD) with the town of Big Lake. The scope of the projects includes a four-block extension of the Hiawatha Corridor light rail, a proposed multimodal station at 3rd Avenue North. The project’s estimated capital cost is $265 million. It is expected to carry 5,600 riders daily in 2025.

Philadelphia – Schuylkill Valley Metrorail – The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) and the Berks Area Reading Transportation Authority (BARTA) have proposed developing a 74-mile electrified commuter rail system in the Schuylkill Valley, extending from downtown Philadelphia northwest to Reading. The alignment of the proposed project would generally parallel the Schuylkill Expressway (I-76), the Route 422 Expressway, and the Schuylkill River. The proposed 34-station rail line would operate on shared track utilizing existing SEPTA and Norfolk Southern Railroad right-of-way, as well as Philadelphia’s Center City Tunnel. The projects estimated capital cost is $2.59 billion.

Some projects remain “not rated.” A “Not Rated” status generally indicates that FTA has serious concerns about the reliability of the information submitted for the project justification criteria, including cost effectiveness. For such projects, FTA is working with local agencies to improve their ability to produce reliable estimates of project costs, benefits, and impacts.

Raleigh, N.C. – Raleigh Durham Regional Rail – The Triangle Transit Authority (TTA) plans to initiate rail service using diesel multiple unit vehicles on a 28.1-mile corridor between the downtowns of Raleigh and Durham, N.C. The project would cost $694.6 million. The FTA stated it is “working with TTA to more reliably estimate the anticipated benefits of the project.”

Los Angeles – Exposition Corridor LRT – The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA) is proposing to construct a 9.6-mile light rail transit (LRT) line extending from 7th and the Metrocenter Blue Line/Red Line station in the Los Angeles central business district west to Culver City. The project would cost $552.1 million. FTA is working with LACMTA to update the ridership forecasts.

Orange County, Cal. – CenterLine LRT – The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) is proposing to construct a 9.3-mile light rail transit system from the Santa Ana Regional Transit Center through downtown Santa Ana, Costa Mesa, and Irvine to the John Wayne Airport. The project would cost $1.2 billion. FTA is working with OCTA to more accurately capture the project’s benefits.

Miami – North Corridor Metrorail Extension – The Miami-Dade Transit Agency (MDTA) is proposing to construct a 9.5-mile Metrorail extension along NW 27th Avenue between the existing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Metrorail station and the Broward County line. The project would cost $842.5 million. FTA is working with MDTA to better estimate ridership.

Norfolk, – Norfolk LRT – Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) is proposing to construct a 7.4-mile light rail transit (LRT) line within the city of Norfolk that is intended to serve as the initial segment of a regional rapid transit system. The project is estimated to cost $203.5 million. FTA is working with HRT to update project cost and ridership estimates.


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APTA has some misgivings about
budget amount, security

At least one transportation organization was at least partially happy last week with the Bush budget.

An American Public Transportation Assn. (APTA) statement said, “At a time when President Bush is proposing cuts and the elimination of domestic programs, APTA is pleased that the Administration’s proposed fiscal 2006 budget recommends increased investment in the nation’s public transportation infrastructure in the context of reauthorizing TEA 21.”

The budget proposal would increase transit funding to $7.78 billion next fiscal year from this year’s $7.65 billion.

“This increase of $132 million, representing less than a 2 percent increase, is a small step in the right direction. In a time of domestic budget cuts, we appreciate that President Bush understands that transportation is an important priority that needs to be addressed, not cut” – but APTA sees that as just a start.

“This increase should be a starting point for the TEA 21 reauthorization discussions, since it does not fully meet the public’s growing demand for public transportation. In contrast, the USDOT’s most recent annual Conditions and Performance Report concluded that $20.6 billion needs to be invested annually in public transportation.”

The unnamed APTA writer stated, “In addition, we are disappointed that the Administration proposal does not guarantee the transit general funds and does not preserve the traditional balance between transit and highway programs. We are committed to working closely with Congress in addressing these critical issues.”

The writer stated, “A long-term, well-funded and fully guaranteed TEA 21 reauthorization bill is needed to meet the mobility needs of millions of Americans who depend on public transportation. Every year there are 9.6 billion trips on public transportation. Other public transportation benefits include access to jobs, growth in economic development, congestion relief, and improved air quality.”

Elsewhere, APTA was not so warm toward the Administration.

The President’s proposed Department of Homeland Security (DHS) budget establishes a security infrastructure program that includes public transportation for the first time.

The new program, called the “Targeted Infrastructure Protection program,” would provide $600 million in federal grants for the protection of critical infrastructures including public transportation, seaports, railways, and energy facilities – but APTA stated, “We are disappointed that the amount of funding available in this new program is far below the identified security needs for these critical infrastructures. For public transportation alone, APTA has identified in excess of $6 billion in security needs.”

APTA said it was happy the Administration finally included a transit plan, but “We are disappointed that a specific line item for transit security was not provided in this program’s budget, which is to be used for several different industries. Consequently, we are concerned about the uncertainty of DHS transit security funding.”

The writer added, “We are committed to working with the Bush administration, the new DHS leadership, and the 109th Congress to provide adequate funding for our nation’s transit security. We will encourage the Bush Administration and 109th Congress to make this a top priority in our country’s homeland security.”

America’s public transportation systems record 9.6 billion trips a year, according to the industry organization.

“Transit security is a very important issue for America’s transit riders. Every day Americans take public transportation 32 million times a day – 16 times more than ride domestic airlines.”


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Dukakis urges California commuter rail

Former Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis visited Santa Barbara, Cal., on February 7 to urge local leaders to embrace commuter rail as a solution to gridlock on Highway 101.

“You give people good rail-based transportation, and they will ride it,” said Dukakis, a former Massachusetts governor, former Amtrak board member and failed Presidential candidate in 1988.

Transportation officials in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, however, were skeptical of Dukakis’ “build it and they will come” mantra, saying rail might be a viable option but requires a critical study of potential riders and costs, according to the Ventura County Star.

Dukakis, a visiting professor of public policy at the Univ. of California at Los Angeles, spoke at a commuter rail forum convened as a special meeting of the Santa Barbara City Council. More than 120 people attended.

About 16,000 people commute daily from Ventura County to jobs in Santa Barbara and Goleta. Housing costs in south Santa Barbara County – where the median price is $960,000 – have driven droves of middle-income workers to Ventura and Oxnard for cheaper housing, but many still commute north to work.

Dukakis criticized proposals to add more lanes to freeways, saying widening doesn’t work, costs too much and takes too long. Within two years, the roads become congested again, he said.

On the other hand, transit projects create jobs and bring together elected leaders, unions, business leaders and tourism officials, Dukakis said.

“This is investing in economic growth in the best sense of the word,” Dukakis said.

Federal policy, however, doesn’t offer incentives to local government to finance public transit projects. The federal government allocates about $50 billion for highways and airports and only $7 billion for transit. To get the latter, local governments must contribute ever-increasing amounts of matching funding.


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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 http://www.apta.com/news/pt.


Michigan Report Critiques Sprawl

The Michigan Land Use Institute and United Cerebral Palsy of Michigan recently released a report citing the role of state spending in “Michigan’s sprawling patterns of development and its many ugly side effects – urban decay, environmental degradation, poor public transportation services, and increased hardships for people in general and those with disabilities in particular.”

The report, titled Follow the Money: Uncovering and Reforming Michigan’s Sprawl Subsidies, states that “Sprawl cannot exist without massive public spending for roads, water, sewers, public buildings, and business development.” The authors – MLUI Deputy Director Keith Schneider, Operations Manager Mac McClelland, Grand Rapids Project Director Andy Guy, and UCP Transportation Project Coordinator Kevin Wisselink – cite the impact of the state’s “system of grants, subsidies, tax abatements and incentives, loans, bonds, and direct outlays.”

The aim of the report is to show how the state’s deeply rooted habit of “intense, taxpayer-financed intrusions into the market have distorted the landscape, ruined central cities, harmed the environment, and reduced the quality of life.”

The report proposes 10 multi-pronged actions for the state to take to deal with sprawl, including improve public transit and other transportation alternatives through full constitutionally allowed funding, encourage student biking and walking through “Safe Routes to School” programs, and invest in pedestrian-friendly development near transit.


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Robert Pully Dies; Washington Rail Pioneer

Robert W. Pully, 78, who was hired as the first employee of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Commission in 1963, died January 16 at his home in Reedville, Va. The commission was an interstate compact agency that promulgated the legislation that created the WMATA, and abolished the National Capitol Transportation Authority, which was doing the planning for the Washington area at that time.

Pully subsequently became the first employee and executive director of the Washington Suburban Transit Commission, created by the Maryland General Assembly to build a regional rail transit system. In this position, he was responsible for planning and financing the part of the Metrorail system in the Maryland counties of Montgomery and Prince George’s. In 1969, he participated in the first Metrorail ground-breaking ceremony.

He then went to Jacksonville, Fla., where he served as deputy director of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, and to Oakland, Calif., as agency coordinator for DeLeuw Cather and Associates, engineering consultants for the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District system. Pully joined Parsons Corp. when it took over DeLeuw Cather, and served as a consultant to Jackson R. Bell, Inc. Just before his retirement in 1994, he returned to WMATA.

Pully was active in APTA, serving in the 1980s on the former Associate Member Board of Governors and the APTA Board of Directors.


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Phoenix Receives $587 Million FFGA for Light Rail

Federal Transit Administrator Jennifer L. Dorn visited Phoenix January 24 to announce that the FTA has issued a $587.2 million Full Funding Grant Agreement to Valley Metro Rail toward completion of the Central Phoenix/East Valley Light Rail Project. Dorn and U.S. Reps. Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.) and J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) joined more than 300 community leaders and rail supporters at a celebration in Phoenix.

The METRO light rail system will run 19.6 miles from the Chris-Town Mall area in Phoenix through 27 stations, including many at major activity centers such as downtown Phoenix and Tempe, to the city of Mesa. Valley Metro Rail is a nonprofit, public corporation overseeing the design, construction, and operation of the light rail system, which is scheduled to open in December 2008.

To date, the METRO light rail system has received $134 million in federal funding, nearly one-quarter of the total funds it will receive through the $587.2 million grant. The FFGA covers 42 percent of the $1.4 billion project costs.


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SORTA Approves Labor Contract, Institutes Fare Increases

Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority employees in Cincinnati represented by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 627 will receive graduated wage increases under a three-year contract that became effective February 1. The union represents 743 SORTA bus drivers, mechanics, and operations support employees.

Enactment of the contract followed approval of a report from an Ohio State Employee Relations Board fact-finder by the SORTA Board of Trustees and the union. This report became the basis of the contract.

The contract provides for hourly wage increases of 20 cents at three points in 2005, 25-cent increases twice in 2006, and 30-cent increases twice in 2007. These are for top-operator pay; other increases are proportional.

Other provisions in the contract include increased employee co-pays for medical services, prescriptions and increased employee premium cost-sharing, as well as increases in life insurance, uniform allowance, and tool allowance.

The new labor contract will add $1.1 million to SORTA’s costs this year, increasing the budget shortfall to $3.7 million. On January 26, the Cincinnati City Council approved SORTA’s first base fare increase in 12 years to help offset this shortfall.


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

BNSF starts LA intermodal port plan

BNSF said on February 9 that the Port of Los Angeles and its Board of Harbor Commissioners named the freight railroad to begin discussions on a new intermodal container transfer facility, about five miles north of the Port.

The facility, which will be developed on part of the Port’s existing classification yard, is located between Sepulveda Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway, in a highly industrialized area with direct access to the Alameda Corridor.

This new intermodal facility will allow trucks loaded with cargo containers from ships to travel just a short distance before transferring the containers to rail cars that would then travel through the Alameda Corridor and on to destinations in the Midwest, Southeast and beyond.

“BNSF looks forward to working in partnership with the Port of Los Angeles to develop and operate this critical addition to the ports’ infrastructure,” said Matthew K. Rose, BNSF Chairman, President and CEO.

“The new facility would significantly increase our capacity to service the ports’ customers and to strengthen the role of international trade in the Southern California economy in an environmentally responsible manner,” he added.

Rob Reilly, General Manager of Operations, Los Angeles, said, “The development of a new intermodal near-dock facility will alleviate traffic congestion, improve air quality, and create local jobs.”

The facility will improve the efficiency and safety of cargo transfer from ports to customers and allow shippers to use more efficient truck-rail transportation.

The new facility is expected to eliminate millions of truck miles annually from the 710 freeway while allowing truck drivers to make shorter and more frequent trips.

Some 800 to 1,000 new jobs are expected to be created, representing nearly $40 million in annual direct wages and benefits, and hundreds of millions of additional dollars in indirect economic impact.


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Henriques replaces Anestis at FEC

Florida East Coast Industries Inc. said Thursday that Adolfo Henriques has been appointed Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer succeeding Robert W. Anestis effective on or about March 28.

The firm, which includes its railway division, said “Anestis will remain in his current capacity until then to ensure a seamless transition.”

Henriques, 51, Regional CEO of Regions Bank (South), is a “seasoned executive with deep ties in Florida, particularly South Florida, where FECI has significant commercial real estate, raw land and rail operations.”

It was not clear on Friday where Anestis is going. FEC spokesman Husein Cumber told D:F, “He is not ready to publicly disclose that information.” Anestis joined FECI in 1999.

Henriques has been an FECI board member since 1998, and Audit Committee chairman for four years. His business experience includes group CEO of Union Planters Southern Group, and other senior executive positions with NationsBank, Barnett Bank and the Bank of Nova Scotia.


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NS train crew is fired

Norfolk Southern fired its three-man crew accused of failing to properly line a switch before last month’s South Carolina freight train crash and deadly chlorine leak, The AP reported. Railroad spokesman Robin Chapman said on February 4 the workers were terminated because they “failed to perform their duties properly.”

Union officials said the three men will appeal, and each had at least 25 years of experience. The January 6 accident killed nine people, injured hundreds more and forced the evacuation of thousands of residents of Graniteville, S.C. It was the deadliest train wreck involving hazardous material in nearly three decades.

Investigators have preliminarily determined that, after parking their train on a siding, the three crew members failed to line the switch back to the main line, which allowed an oncoming freight train to ram the parked cars.


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WALL STREET LINES...  Wall Street lines...

CSX

CSX Corp. declared a 10-cents per share regular quarterly dividend on the company’s common stock on February 9. It will be payable on March 15 to shareholders of record on February 25.


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FEC

Florida East Coast Industries reported a record fourth quarter and full year 2004 results last week. Its Florida East Coast Ry. posted record fourth quarter segment revenues of $55.8 million, up 19 percent compared to the 2003 fourth quarter. It was “driven by a strong economy, hurricane rebuilding efforts, improved pricing and new business,” the carrier stated.

The railway segment operating profit increased 29 percent to $15.7 million compared to the prior one-year period.

Its operating ratio improved to 71.8 percent from 74.0 percent, and intermodal revenues grew 27 percent, recording six consecutive quarters of improvement.

CEO Robert W. Anestis, who is also the corporation’s chairman and president, said, “During the fourth quarter our railway and Realty businesses delivered record results. The railway quickly rebounded from the third quarter hurricanes, and delivered strong fourth quarter revenues and operating profit. Loadings of aggregate and intermodal units were particularly strong in the quarter.”


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Rail freight traffic up sharply, again

Rail freight traffic on U.S. railroads was up sharply during the week ended February 5 in comparison with the corresponding week a year ago, the Association of American Railroads reported on Thursday. The AAR noted that traffic in the year-ago week was adversely affected by severe winter storms.

Intermodal volume for the week totaled 218,755 trailers and containers, up 9.9 percent from a year ago, with containers up 12.5 percent and trailers gaining 3.0 percent.

Carload freight totaled 335,416 units during the week, up 9.0 percent from a year ago with loadings up 12.1 percent in the West and 5.2 percent in the East. Total volume was estimated at 31.2 billion ton-miles, up 10.2 percent from 2004.

Fourteen of 19 carload commodities were up from the comparable 2004 week, with coke up 22.5 percent; metallic ores up 20.3 percent; metals up 14.7 percent; coal up 14.0 percent; and grain up 13.4 percent. Loadings of primary forest products declined 12.7 percent while nonmetallic minerals were off 8.9 percent.

Cumulative volume for the first five weeks of 2005 totaled 1,629,496 carloads, up 1.1 percent from 2004; 1,058,286 trailers or containers, up 7.9 percent; and total volume of an estimated 150.8 billion ton-miles, up 1.9 percent from last year.

On Canadian railroads, during the week ended February 5 carload traffic totaled 66,882 cars, up 13.7 percent from last year while intermodal volume totaled 42,397 trailers or containers, up 4.4 percent from last year. In Canada, as in the U.S., traffic in the comparison week from last year was affected by severe winter weather.

Cumulative originations for the first five weeks of 2005 on the Canadian railroads totaled 316,331 carloads, up 2.7 percent from last year, and 199,239 trailers and containers, up 1.8 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first five weeks of 2005 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 1,945,827 carloads, up 1.4 percent from last year and 1,257,525 trailers and containers, up 6.9 percent from last year.

The AAR also reported that originated carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended February 5 totaled 8,852 cars, up 16.6 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 4,103 originated trailers or containers, up 27.9 percent from the fifth week of 2004. For the first five weeks of 2005, TFM reported cumulative originated volume of 42,030 cars, up 6.2 percent from last year, and 18,643 trailers or containers, up 25.0 percent.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 88 percent of U.S. carload freight and 95 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 95 percent and 100 percent. The Canadian railroads reporting to the AAR account for 90 percent of Canadian rail traffic. Railroads provide more than 40 percent of U.S. intercity freight transportation, more than any other mode, and rail traffic figures are regarded as an important economic indicator.

The AAR is online at www.aar.org.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: CBSMarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
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Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)47.2747.51
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Providence & Worcester (PWX)13.0312.35
Union Pacific (UNP)60.4759.17


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OPINION...  Opinion...

Budget tabulations are a numbers game

Writer Craig Gordon at Newsday’s Washington Bureau noted on February 8 that President Bush said his new budget makes good on his promise to cut the deficit in half in five years, down from $521 billion.

When did the deficit hit that lofty height? Never.

Bush is using some creative accounting to claim victory – basing his claim on a deficit guess for last year that came in too high, so that his cuts look deeper in comparison. Using the actual dollar figures, he falls short of his goal.

It‘s just one example of the fiscal sleight-of-hand Bush used in his 2006 spending plan, but the kind that critics charge makes for a disingenuous reading of the nation‘s fiscal health.

Bush’s budget also fails to factor in the billions of dollars in long-term costs of Bush‘s twin second-term priorities - the war in Iraq and a Social Security overhaul.

Don’t look for the figures on either item anywhere in the 2,428-page, 4-inch-high stack of budget books the White House released [last week]. The numbers on Iraq and Social Security are nowhere to be found.

Democrats leapt on what they called politically motivated omissions and other rose-colored readings of budget numbers by Bush to brand the budget a “hoax.”

The remainder of Gordon’s piece can be found online at www.newsday.com. – Ed.


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WE GET LETTERS...  We get letters...

Dear Editor

Thanks for another great news page for 7th February. I noticed that the link www.narp.org is stated near the bottom of the page as the link for the National Association of Railroad Passengers, but it should read www.narprail.org. I've done that myself and ended up at the retired persons’ site.

Kevin Sinclair
Cromarty, U.K.


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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.

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” Joint Photographers Group (.jpg) images average 1.7MB each. Print publishers can order images in process color (CMYK) or tagged image file format (.tif), and are nearly 6mb each. They will be snail-mailed to your address, or uploaded via file transfer protocol (FTP) to your site. All are 300 dots-per-inch.

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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