Vol. 5 No. 7
February 16, 2004

Copyright © 2004
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

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

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

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


Norfolk Southern

NCDOT Rail Division

North Carolina is busy rebuilding its H Line so Norfolk Southern freight trains can operate over the route with shorter trip times. Consider Funston Siding between mileposts H47.8 and H49.9, about 50 miles east of Greensboro. Current track speed is around 60 mph, but when the work is finished, including inserting ties, it will be up to 80mph and a longer siding. NS track gangs are doing the work. An update leads in “Freight lines.”

 

Amtrak’s needs won’t go away, says Gunn

By Wes Vernon
Washington Bureau Chief

Amtrak’s need to run a customer-friendly “state-of-good repair” railroad remains stubbornly in place regardless of whatever political maneuvering its budget causes on Capitol Hill, says Amtrak CEO David Gunn, so he is back with a fiscal year 2005 budget that is about the same as his nearly $1.8 billion proposal of last year.

The Senate okayed a highway bill which includes $2 billion for Amtrak. See the following story. – Ed.
Amtrak ended up in fiscal 2004 with what – on paper – turned out to be $600 million less, but considering deferral of a 2002 loan from USDOT to avoid a shutdown at that time, plus cash on hand and belt-tightening moves, the passenger train company ended up with only about $269 million less than it requested.
“State-of-good-repair” is Gunn’s signature mantra because that is where the passenger is directly affected in terms of such factors as air conditioning failures, rough track, or malfunctioning toilets.

Although Amtrak “got by” this year, the Amtrak boss said on February 10, “we will need a full appropriations fiscal 2005 if we are to continue stabilizing the railroad according to our strategic plan and eventually return our plant and equipment to a good state-of-repair.”

That means another uphill battle in Congress. “We go through this dance every year,” he said.

Early indications are that the “dance” will proceed. Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.), who chairs the House Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, told the Washington Post that Amtrak should seek state and local funding for “its handful of successful routes, rather than continuing heavy federal subsidies that we can’t afford.”

Amtrak supporters remain firm, and their ranks may be growing.

“We’ve been able – based upon performance – to slowly rebuild some credibility on the Hill,” Gunn said in response to a D:F question at his annual briefing.

He believes several advances buttress that credibility in his 21 months in the Amtrak executive suite.

For starters, better service with fewer employees, which is down from 23,393 in May 2002 to 19,976 in December 2003, mostly through attrition, according to the boss, and that includes the 1,500 employees lost when Amtrak lost the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority contract. Also, duplicate management layers have been eliminated.

Amtrak continues to phase out or “rationalize” express and mail service whose profits were “marginal at best.” This helped to reduce trip times on the long distance trains.

The Los Angeles-San Diego corridor is carrying about 2 million riders each year, and is getting an upgrade that includes extension of double-tracking and eliminating some grade crossings. Those trains run alongside I-5, which is “totally plugged.”

Upgrades are in store for the Philadelphia-Harrisburg corridor where Amtrak owns the infrastructure, with electrification upgraded and restored for more use. Push-pull electrics will replace diesels, shaving 15 to 20 minutes off the schedule. That will enable two daily round trips out of crews in a single day instead of one as at present. Top speed would go from 90 to 110 mph.

Heavy overhauls, wreck repairs and remanufacturing of 103 passenger cars and locomotives continue apace. 21 wrecked Amfleet and Superliner cars were rebuilt, all part of the “good repair” policy aimed at keeping riders satisfied.

Speaking of which: Ridership hit an all-time high in 2003, “and I think we’ll break that record again in 2004,” Gunn said. In terms of sheer results, Amtrak believes those figures speak volumes.

The Bush administration’s $900 million proposal for Amtrak remains a “shutdown budget,” he said, but even with the Administration, Gunn sees some silver linings.

He cites DOT Secretary Norman Y. Mineta as having said Amtrak’s numbers are “about right,” and added he and FRA Administrator Allan Rutter have “a good working relationship.”

Moreover, he said where building short-to-medium distance corridors is concerned, he and the Administration are on the same page.

The Administration has called for state and federal partnerships in developing corridor service that shows promise. Gunn agrees, but he and the Administration part company on using a similar formula for long-distance rail service. He believes that would be impractical and that long haul trains are basically a national responsibility.

Gunn said he has a good rapport with the Class I carriers whose tracks host most Amtrak service outside the Northeast. In fact, he empathized with them.

“They have a pretty serious problem,” he said. “Their earning capacity or profit margins are not sufficient to maintain the existing plant and equipment, let alone provide for added capacity for the volumes and tonnage that they’re handling, and their tonnage has been going up. Over the last few years, their tonnage went up by 50 percent.”

Speaking for the freight carriers, Tom White of the Association of American Railroads (AAR) told D:F Friday that “freight railroads are profitable but don’t earn their cost of capital. This hampers their ability to invest in capacity enhancements for future growth.” However, he also said, “investment in capital improvement does continue to be made,” much of which will enhance future growth. White adds it is “simply not true that the railroads are not maintaining existing plant and equipment.” Otherwise, he noted, they could not have handled the growth they’ve experienced.

Gunn pointed out that on-time performance on the Texas Eagle had improved so dramatically over Union Pacific tracks that Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) wrote a letter praising UP’s performance. The freight railroads “are trying,” says Gunn, even though that “doesn’t mean we’ll always be on time.” Riders can look for some changes for the better on the single-level long distance trains. Gunn thinks it is long past time to phase out all high-maintenance Heritage cars, inherited from the private railroads decades ago. So he has budgeted for design of 75 replacement Viewliners. Procurement would begin in 2006.

If this plan goes forward, look for a return of the diner and lounge combo car on some routes. He cites the separate diner and lounge currently on the Cardinal. “You can meet the demand on that train with just one car instead of two,” Amtrak’s CEO believes.

Good repair includes 147,600 new concrete ties installed, 22 miles continuous welded rail track installed, 33 miles of signal cables replaced, and 22 bridges re-timbered (14 converted to ballasted deck).

Even with all this, Gunn figures it will take about two years before passengers can always expect with absolute certainty (barring highly unusual circumstances) that they will avoid such inconveniences as air conditioning failures in Florida, toilet malfunctions, or annulment of sleepers on some trains, as happened recently on the New York-Chicago Cardinal (temporarily) and the Boston-Washington Federal (indefinitely).

“You can’t re-build these things any faster,” the Amtrak chief told DF. “If you go to Bear [the repair facility in Delaware] and see the production line we’ve set up there, I mean the shop is pretty full, and it’s a pretty complicated process of gutting these cars.” Moreover, years of deferred maintenance require adequate time just to play catch-up.


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Road bill includes Amtrak money

Compiled from press reports

It took more than a week to get the job done, and President Bush has threatened to veto the bill, but the Senate passed the $318 billion transportation bill on Thursday, 76 to 21. An even larger sum is being worked upon in the House version. The vote margin would be enough to override a possible Presidential veto.

The six-year plan, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2003, or “SAFETEA” (S.1072), would fund mass transit, highways, bridges, road improvements, and safety programs, and is the successor to the $218 billion “TEA-21” transportation bill passed in 1998. It expired last year but had been extended through continuing resolutions to February 29.

One day earlier, the House passed a four-month extension of current transportation law, because the $375 billion measure crafted by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) has been stalled.

The Senate bill also authorizes $2 billion a year for Amtrak over the next six years, a provision opposed by the White House. The Administration wants $900 million for Amtrak next year, and has called for the passenger railroad to shift more costs to states in which it provides services.

The White House blasted the Republican-controlled Senate late Thursday after lawmakers overwhelmingly approved S.1072, despite a veto threat from President Bush, CBSMarketWatch reported Friday.

Bush’s budget blueprint, released last week, seeks to hold highway spending to $256 billion over six years.

“With passage of an excessive $318 billion highway funding bill, the Senate today missed an important opportunity to rein in spending. It is disappointing that the bill significantly exceeds the President’s budget and fails to meet the responsible principles outlined by the administration,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan, in a written statement released after the vote.

McClellan repeated that Bush’s advisers would recommend a presidential veto of any bill that includes “excessive spending ... including the bill passed by the Senate.”

Earlier in the day, Treasury Secretary John Snow - former CSX Transportation CEO - told the Senate Finance Committee that failure to hold to Bush’s call for a bill of no more than $256 billion could undermine the confidence of the financial markets in the White House’s ability to reduce the deficit.

Failing to hold the line “would have a very, very, very corrosive effect in financial market confidence in all of us,” Snow warned.

The local transportation projects the bill would finance are politically popular with lawmakers and their constituents, but the costs cannot be covered completely by the federal Highway Trust Fund, which is supported by the gasoline tax. The price tag has alarmed fiscal conservatives at a time of rising budget deficits and calls from President Bush to rein in spending.

After losing an 86 to 11 vote that ended their filibuster of the bill early Thursday, GOP conservatives tangled with other Republicans who were willing to accept higher spending in return for the 1.6 million jobs they said the bill would create, wrote the Washington Post.

“Never get between a Congressman and asphalt, because you will always get run over,” said Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who opposed the bill. “A bunch of us are about to be roadkill... The bottom line is, we’re spending a ton of money and we’re not paying for it.”

Supporters said the bill had to be large to address crumbling bridges and traffic-clogged roads that burden the economy and, by extension, dampen tax revenues.

“America will rescue us from this fiscal situation if America can get to work in the morning,” said Sen. James M. Talent (R-Mo.).

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) called the bill “one of the most important” on Congress’s agenda this year. “It is an essential element in moving our economy forward,” he said.

Democrats, who generally favored the bill, needed little convincing. “Our highways, our rail and our interstate system, in particular, are the foundation for jobs and economic growth,” said Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.).

“When are we going to start backing up our words with our actions?” asked Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who said the measure was the product of “reckless fiscal insanity.”

Senator Don Nickles, Republican of Oklahoma and chairman of the Budget Committee, supported blocking the measure because it exceeded the budget limits.

“I’m amazed at people thinking we’re going to be able to get all these new highway monies for nothing,” Mr. Nickles said.

Lawmakers who wrote the bill, backed by a majority of senators interested in the hundreds of millions of dollars the legislation would provide to each state, prevailed, noted The New York Times.

“This is a good bill,” said Sen. James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.) and a senior member of the public works panel. “I’d like to see it a little bigger.”

Senate majority leader Bill Frist (Tenn.) said he recognized the objections being raised by some lawmakers and indicated he might favor eventually lowering the cost to about $290 billion.

“I hope we will be able to find a compromise with the House of Representatives and the administration that will meet all concerns,” Frist said.

“This is a jobs bill,” said Jeffords, who added, “There’s no other jobs bill that can do so much.”

Bush had requested a $256 billion, six-year transportation bill, which represents a 21 percent increase over the previous law. His advisers said this week they would recommend that he veto the Senate bill.

“This is the first test for the Congress when it comes to spending restraint,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Thursday. “We urge Congress to hold the line on spending.”

The House, which voted Wednesday to extend the existing transportation program through June, is considering a bill bigger than the Senate plan.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is expected to take up a $370 billion measure on February 25, said Steve Hansen, a committee spokesman.

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), the panel’s chairman, has proposed an increase of 8 cents a gallon in the federal gasoline tax over several years to pay for it. Under his proposal, the tax would rise about a nickel the first year and then be adjusted annually for inflation, reaching about 26.4 cents a gallon by 2009. House conservatives ardently oppose increasing the tax, as does Bush.

The fuel tax was last increased in 1993, Hansen said, and Young’s goal is to compensate for inflation since then.


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Whistle rulemaking gets extension

The FRA is extending the public comment period on the agency’s Interim Final Rule on the Use of Locomotive Horns at Highway-Rail Crossings by sixty days. An FRA press release stated comments could be submitted until April 19.

Under the rule, local governments will be able to establish “quiet zones” at designated public highway-rail crossings, of which there are approximately 150,000 nationwide – but grade crossings will need to meet particular safety criteria.

Communities and jurisdictions with existing whistle bans will have at least five years and perhaps as many as eight years, to undertake any safety upgrades required under the rule. Train horns will remain silent in these communities.

The Federal Railroad Safety Authorization Act of 1994 requires that locomotive horns be sounded on approach to and while traveling across public highway-rail crossings, except under specified conditions.

The new rule will now take effect next December18.

FRA Administrator Allan Rutter said, “We believe it’s important to provide communities more time to share with FRA their views about the new train horn rule….”

The interim final rule, published in the Federal Register on December 18, stated the public comment period was to end on February 17, but Rutter said the FRA “received several requests for an extension… from members of Congress as well as other interested parties.”

The last public hearing on the rule was conducted on February 4 in Washington. The FRA plans no further formal public hearings on the rule.

The agency said comments could be submitted by mail or the USDOT’s online Docket Management System (DMS) website at http://dms.dot.gov. The proceeding docket number is 6439.


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BNSF

For NCI: Bill P Mahan

Frost, on the BNSF Cajon Subdivision in Victorville, Calif. On February 3, greets Amtrak train No. 3, the westbound Southwest Chief. Four P-42s are leading the train 58, 174, 4 and 80 to get over Burlington Northern & Santa Fe’s hill. About an inch of snow covers the ground.

 

Blizzard halts Empire Builder;
weather hits equipment hard

By Leo King
Editor

Snow driven by wind gusting to 70 mph halted an Amtrak train in the northern Plains last week. Some highways in western South Dakota had drifts three feet high, authorities reported.

Blizzard conditions halted the Empire Builder on February 10, operating across North Dakota, said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari in Chicago.

Amtrak trains began crossing the far Northern Plains again Thursday, a day after winds gusted to over 70 mph and snow drifted up to 20 feet deep. The cold lingered, however. The weather service warned residents of eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota that winds could combine with subzero temperatures to make the outdoors feel as low as 40 degrees below zero before conditions improved by midday.

Amtrak CEO David Gunn said last week, “Over the last two weeks we’ve made service changes or cancellations in the Northeast and removed Viewliner sleepers on some long-distance trains, as cars were damaged from the unusually severe winter weather conditions.”

The so-called “Alberta Clipper” storm blowing out of Canada did not bring heavy snow – two inches of snow were reported at Jamestown, N.D. – but the wind picked up snow and caused drifting and visibility-cutting whiteout conditions. Visibility was down to about 200 feet in central South Dakota, the state highway department stated, The AP reported February 11.

Passenger R.D. Knutson of Fargo, N.D., said the train had to stop about 21 miles east of Williston, N.D., late Tuesday and back up into the city.

Magliari said the train reached Minot, but the rest of the eastbound run was canceled. Stranded passengers were put up in hotels, he said.

Wind and blowing snow also caused travel problems in southern Minnesota, while in Montana, many secondary routes in the eastern part of the state were impassable.

Gunn noted in a message to employees this winter has been particularly harsh.

“Winter conditions in the East have reached record levels. Boston’s January temperatures were the coldest in 111 years, the second lowest in recorded history. New York City had the coldest January since 1977, recording 20 days below freezing and double its average snowfall. In Washington, D.C., January temperatures were the coldest in 10 years.”

Gunn said the result was that equipment maintenance has been less than sterling for some time.

“Because Amtrak’s car and locomotive maintenance was often deferred over the last several years, the equipment has become more vulnerable to extreme weather conditions. As more and more cars and locomotives go through their recently stepped-up overhaul and preventive maintenance programs, they will gradually be restored to a state of good repair, improving operations and better preparing them for future winter weather.”

The wintry results led to train cancellations.

“Due to the shortage of equipment, we have had to make decisions – based on customer demand in consultation with Revenue Management – to cancel trains and modify schedules while providing Northeast Corridor passengers other options, such as riding a train an hour earlier or an hour later.

Gunn said, “Mechanical forces are working hard around the clock to restore the portion of the fleet that is freeze-damaged. Repairs are being done on frozen or broken plumbing pipes, malfunctioning doors, failed heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems and damaged freeze-protection systems.”


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California crawls toward fast trains

Imagine stepping out of a downtown San Francisco office building, strolling down the street to the Transbay Terminal and climbing aboard a sleek modern train. Settle into a high-backed seat, read a book, nap or gaze out the window as the train zips down the Peninsula, shoots through the Central Valley and surges into the Los Angeles Basin.

Two and a half hours later, walk off the train into bustling Los Angeles Union Station, San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Michael Cabanatuan told his readers on February 6.

Sound like a dream? At this point, it is, but advocates of a 700-mile high-speed rail system say it’s a vision within the Golden State’s reach. They also say California needs to build the system to handle the state’s growing population and travel needs.

A key environmental study released one week earlier supported that conclusion, saying it would be far cheaper, less polluting and faster than building more highways and airports.

The idea of a California high-speed rail system has been discussed and debated for a decade, but with the state budget crisis and political controversy waiting down the tracks, the high-speed rail movement could slow to a stop.

Backers say it’s time to get moving.

“It’s not a question of if we will have high-speed rail,” said Joseph Petrillo, a San Francisco attorney who is head of the California High Speed Rail Authority. “It’s a question of when.”

The authority, a state commission charged with planning a potential fast train system, proposes building a railroad that links the Bay Area and Sacramento to Los Angeles and San Diego via the San Joaquin Valley with trains traveling up to 220 mph. By 2020, the authority says, 68 million passengers a year would ride the high-speed trains. They would pay one-way fares between the Bay Area and Los Angeles of about $50.

“It’s the kind of dream that Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, Collis Huntington and Mark Hopkins had of building a (transcontinental) railroad across the Sierra,” said Rod Diridon, a member of the California High Speed Rail Authority.

But standing in the way of the nation’s first true high-speed rail system are obstacles as formidable as the rugged mountain peaks and canyons of the Sierra Nevada.

Since 1999, the price tag for the system has swelled to between $33 billion and $37 billion from an original estimate of $25 billion, and state budget woes have caused the governor to urge removal of a high-speed rail bond measure from the November ballot. Controversies have erupted on both ends of the state over which route the fast trains should traverse.

As with any transportation project, finding the money to pay for high- speed rail will be the biggest challenge.

The bond measure, which state lawmakers voted last year to put on the ballot, would raise money to link downtown San Francisco with downtown Los Angeles by high-speed rail – the first phase of the system – with another $9 billion coming from matching federal funds that project backers hope to win.

An opinion poll conducted last summer by the Public Policy Institute of California found that 65 percent of voters would vote for the measure, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed removing it from the ballot indefinitely, saying the state can’t afford to finance more bonds.

“Notwithstanding the potential merit of providing high-speed rail as part of the transportation system, and given the state’s financial situation,” said Schwarzenegger spokesman H.D. Palmer, “we think it’s premature to put a bond measure of that magnitude on the ballot at this time.”

Some high-speed rail supporters think it would be wise to wait until 2006. That, they say, would allow the state’s economy to recover and would give the rail authority more time to hold public meetings, complete the environmental review process and better publicize the plan.

Others want to stick to a November vote, saying California can’t afford to delay starting construction on the Bay Area-to-Los Angeles stretch of the project, estimated to take about 10 years.

“We need to be under construction by 2006 or 2007,” said Diridon. “Otherwise, we’ll lose $1.5 billion a year (in cost increases) with delays.”

The rail authority won’t sell the bonds until it needs the money, beginning when construction starts, Diridon said, “so there is no reason we shouldn’t keep the bond measure on in November.”


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Downeaster commuter fares rise

Commuters will pay more but occasional users will not see a fare increase when new rates go into effect for Amtrak‘s Downeaster next month.

Commuter tickets will increase by 7 percent, the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority said on February 10. The increases will only affect monthly commuters and 10-Ride passes, The AP reported.

John Englert, the rail authority‘s executive director, said monthly passes still work out to less than $9 per trip between Portland and Boston.

One-way tickets will remain $21, the same rate that has been in effect since the service began in December 2001, and midweek discounts are available to passengers making a same-day round trip.

FlexPass tickets, which allow riders to make six one-way trips on either the Downeaster or on a Concord Trailways bus, remain $99.


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Missouri House committee rejects
bid for Amtrak’s Mules funding

The Missouri House Budget Committee rejected a funding request on February 10 Amtrak sought to continue its twice-daily, cross-state passenger service for the next several months.

Unless lawmakers later reverse course, the committee’s vote Tuesday would leave Missouri with only one train running between St. Louis and Kansas City, meaning passengers could no longer make a round trip in one day, according to an AP report.

The Ann Rutledge will survive, but the Kansas City-St Louis Mules will end.

Although state transportation officials have said they have enough funding to last only until the end of this month, an Amtrak spokesman said there is no specific date for one of the two trains to halt.

“We’ll continue working with lawmakers on the issue, and as long as there’s evidence the legislature is still considering supplemental appropriations, we’ll continue to operate the service,” said Marc Magliari, an Amtrak spokesman in Chicago.

Amtrak service costs the state about $6.2 million annually, but this year, as it did last year, the legislature appropriated just $5 million for Amtrak. Last year, when Amtrak threatened to end one of the two trains by March 1, 2003, the legislature agreed to spend an additional $800,000, and state officials struck a nationally unique deal with Amtrak to impose a $5 per passenger surcharge on Missouri trips. Amtrak also eliminated ticket agents in Jefferson City and Kirkwood to help make up the difference.

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

The current funding is enough to keep one train running through the June 30 end of the state’s fiscal year – but Amtrak is seeking an additional $884,815 to operate the second train until then.

Rep. Brad Lager ®, the vice chairman of the House Budget Committee, led the effort to reject the funding request. His motion passed 13-11, with Republicans generally in favor of the cut and Democrats generally against it.

Lager noted that Amtrak ridership dipped to its lowest level during the last fiscal year since 1996, and he expressed frustration that last year’s funding deal was not meeting the costs.

“To continue to be held hostage by Amtrak is a bad situation that we’ve just got to remove ourselves from,” Lager said.

The House Budget Committee’s action of the may not be the last word.

Committee chairman Rep. Carl Bearden said negotiations will continue with Amtrak and state transportation officials to reach a funding agreement, and the Senate still could add money for Amtrak.

Amtrak supporters worry that ridership will fall dramatically if the extra funding is rejected and one train ceases. After a three-month suspension of the second train in the mid-1990s, it took about three years to build Amtrak ridership back to previous levels.


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FRA gets an earful in Chicago

The Federal Railroad Administration made a stop at Chicago’s City Hall on February 5 to describe a new train horn rule affecting the city, but the officials got an earful on an issue that has been bugging aldermen for decades: railroad neglect.

One by one, aldermen unloaded on the federal bureaucrats about everything from litter-strewn embankments and viaducts to brush so overgrown, gangs can “hide their guns and dope,” reported the Chicago Sun-times.

Alderwoman Ginger Rugai described one Southwest Side crossing in such bad condition, it was “sending cars airborne” and causing numerous accidents.

The gripe session ended with a demand from the aldermen’s Transportation Committee Chairman Tom Allen that the FRA flex its regulatory muscle against railroads now running roughshod over the neighborhoods they serve.

“You’re the 800-pound gorilla that can control the railroads. They don’t listen to us. They don’t listen to the police. You regulate speed, weight, the class of track they ride on and the foundation and strength of the structure, but we’re not in the Wild West where aesthetics didn’t make a difference. It does make a difference now,” Allen said.

Larry Hasvold, the FRA’s regional administrator, tried to wiggle off the hot seat by insisting that the agency’s powers were limited. “Our regulations are based on safety,” he said.

He only made matters worse when he all but absolved the railroads of responsibility for litter by blaming fly dumping, which is illegal.

“You can’t really expect the railroads to clean up after all of these fly dumpers running around,” Hasvold said.

Alderman Isaac Carothers countered, “You are full of insults and appalling statements.... In Chicago, everyone else who has a fly dumping problem has to clean it up. Why would you think the railroads should be exempt?”

Alderman Anthony Beale added, “There’s only one way to get a person’s attention and that’s to hit them in the pocketbook. I don’t know when the last time a railroad has been shut down, but that’s where the money stops.... We’re not beyond shutting down the railroads.”

Somewhat lost in the aldermanic tirade was a proposed federal train horn rule scheduled to take effect December 18. It will allow Chicago and other cities to maintain or even enhance the number of “quiet zones” where train horns don’t sound without an emergency so long as they meet certain safety criteria. It will be measured by a complex formula that weighs a string of factors including train and vehicle traffic, accident frequency, and types of warning devices in place at that location.

Quiet zones that score above the threshold will have to make a choice: Drop the whistle ban or make costly safety improvements at the expense of local taxpayers since the federal rule is not accompanied by federal money.

Chicago, rail center of the nation, has roughly 400 crossings. More than 100 of them are “quiet crossings” where horns are silent.


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Virginia GOP plan would tax rails

Virginia House Republicans are proposing to eliminate certain business tax exemptions including repealing existing law exempting railroad carriage, saying the GOP had “seen the light” on the need for new revenue.

Republicans claimed their plan would generate about $520 million by ending sales tax exemptions for railroads, airlines, utilities, shipping, and other industries. The state general fund and local governments would each get 44 percent, or about $229 million, and the Transportation Trust Fund would receive about $62 million, The AP reported.

Current law states, “...and tangible personal property sold or leased to a public service corporation engaged in business as a common carrier of property or passengers by motor vehicle or railway, for use or consumption by such common carrier directly in the rendition of its public service,” but the proposal would eliminate that language.

A day after accusing Republicans of trying to “legislate by ambush,” House Minority Leader Frank Hall said, in Richmond, the staunch anti-tax element in the House had finally put forth a proposal to generate revenue by reforming the state’s antiquated tax code.

“Now they have acknowledged without question what this administration has been saying for days and days and days,” Hall said. “There is a structural imbalance and you can’t cut your way out of it; you can’t spend your way out of it.”

“They put a tax increase on the table,” he said.

Republicans dropped the proposal, HB1488, on the House floor Friday afternoon and then rushed it through an evening Finance Committee meeting with a speed that rattled Democrats and industry lobbyists.

Democrats and industry lobbyists, shaken by the 11th-hour proposal, urged Republicans on the Finance Committee to give them more time to study the ramifications of the measure, saying it could put certain businesses – such as already ailing US Airways – in dire straits.

In addition, Tax Commissioner Kenneth Thorson said Friday the figures cited in Del. Phillip Hamilton’s bill were based on a five-year-old Department of Taxation study and were “really shaky, like standing on quicksand.”


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

New York may see fight
over LIRR, subway tunnels

Three of the four options presented last week by New York Gov. George E. Pataki (R) and the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. would displace subway trains from existing tunnels in order to create a Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) connection downtown.

This emphasis is likely to set up a bruising fight over the project, which has little support except among downtown business groups and the political leaders they have enlisted, writes Mobilizing the Region, a publication of the commuter watchdog organization Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

One alternative would use the A-C Cranberry Street subway tunnel, pushing C trains to the F-train Rutgers Street tunnel (and thus preventing C riders from reaching stations in lower Manhattan).

Another would run LIRR trains through the M/N/R train Montague Street tunnel, displacing other subway trips through lower Manhattan (though the N-train will soon be rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge). A third would take both subway tunnels, one for JFK Airport service and one for LIRR trains.

The fourth would not disrupt subway configurations, but would require a new tunnel between Brooklyn and Manhattan, costing billions.

Even without the problem of removing subway capacity, there are big, basic feasibility and fairness questions the project will have to face. First, the JFK-downtown market is likely to be quite small, and the downtown LIRR market is dubious at best.

“The Regional Plan Assn. has already made the case… that such a link will provide little time-savings for Long Islanders working downtown, and that the Second Avenue subway is a far more important investment for lower Manhattan,” the magazine stated.

“Second, the MTA is preparing to invest billions in a Long Island Rail Road link to Grand Central Terminal. Of all the big transit needs facing the region, are two Long Island rail links at the top of the list? The Long Island Rail Road has never identified a downtown link as a need, and the Long Island business community says it has a half-dozen big priorities it would place ahead of this project,” according to the magazine.

One of the major developments on the issue a fortnight ago was a statement by MTA Chair Peter Kalikow to reporters that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is prepared to make a “significant contribution” to the project in the agency’s 2005-2009 capital program. Kalikow had previously distanced the MTA from the project.


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M-N nears new contract deal

Metro-North Railroad in New York and Connecticut is close to sealing a new four-year contract with the union that represents its frontline employees, according to the Journal News of White Plains, N.Y.

Conductors, engineers, signal maintainers and yardmasters, all members of the Assn. of Commuter Rail Employees, or ACRE, have been working with an expired contract for a year. The union’s 1,600 members are now being asked to vote on the new contract, with the results to be tallied February 20.

If members agree to the deal, the contract will go to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board for approval. ACRE is the first of 17 Metro-North unions to reach a new labor agreement this year.

The contract calls for a 9 percent salary increase, spread over four years, with no pay raise in the first year, retroactive to 2003.The salary terms are identical to deals struck by Metro-North’s parent company, the MTA, and unions representing railroad workers at Long Island Rail Road and New York City Transit.

In exchange for accepting no pay raise in the first year, each union member would receive a $1,000 check. Union members also would receive different pension plans, improved vision benefits and a larger death benefit. Newly hired employees will have to pay a portion of their health-care costs for the first time.

“We’re very proud of this contract,” said Anthony Bottalico, ACRE’s general director.

“It goes a long way in making our members’ lives better.”


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New Jersey jobs may be cut

The New Jersey DOT and New Jersey Transit both plan to trim as many as 100 jobs from their payrolls, according to a published report. No final decisions have been made, but both agencies expect to have their plans completed within the next few months.

The Record of Bergen County, citing unidentified sources in the McGreevey administration on February 12, said the cuts were not expected to affect staffers who provide direct services to the public, such as locomotive engineers, maintenance workers, and bus drivers.

Both agencies plan to make most of the cuts through attrition, such as eliminating vacant positions, but some layoffs were possible at NJ Transit. Together, both agencies employ about 13,500 people.

The DOT plans to cut about 75 to 100 jobs in the upcoming fiscal year, according to the report, while NJ Transit expects to trim about 100 non-union positions.


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N.H. court reviews gas tax law

New Hampshire's Supreme Court is considering whether the state can use gasoline tax money to help pay for a commuter rail line.

The state Constitution says the money, 18 cents a gallon, must be used exclusively for public highways or supervising highway traffic. The state said that should include the proposed commuter railroad connecting Nashua with the commuter line that runs from Lowell to Boston.

The state said railroads are public highways and that the rail project would improve roads by reducing traffic, so it fits the constitutional restriction.

The New Hampshire Motor Transport Assn., which represents trucking companies, argues that the money should go only to highways.


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‘Blue Line’ inches along in Lynn

Massachusetts and Lynn, Mass., transportation officials gathered in Lynn in early February to evaluate the latest study results related to extending the Blue Line rapid-transit rail northward from Revere, and most agreed it should be extended to Lynn, if not to Salem, the Lynn Daily Item reported on February 2.

No final decision can be made until the state’s primary transportation and planning authorities formally accept the plan, after which it would be submitted to Washington, D.C. for funding consideration.

“In some respects, this is the final stage. The state’s official transportation agency, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, hopefully will now recommend to the federal government one of the programs that they would like to see completed – namely, the Blue Line extension on the North Shore,” said Thomas Costin, Jr., chairman of the Lynn Business Partnership’s Transportation Committee.

“Based on the plan most favored, the line would go first to Lynn and then to Salem, if the latter community wanted it.”

According to Costin, the MBTA is making the Blue Line extension a top priority as it mulls the larger issue of North Shore transit improvements involving 32 communities.

“We went to Washington, D.C. in 1992 and were told the only way we could ever be considered for funding was to have the plan recommended by the state’s transportation authority, so we had to come back and go through this process,” Costin said. “It’s essential if we’re ever to receive any federal dollars.”

Federal budget officials are already projecting toward 2012, which suggests any funding for the Blue Line would be appropriated before that date, said Costin. He added that it’s always possible the local project could be fast-tracked.

“The federal government wants to know not how much the project would cost today, but how much it will cost during the year that it’s constructed. They need to account for inflation; but as I’ve said from the start, this is ultimately going to be a political decision,” he said.

Costin, a former Lynn mayor who once served as president of the U.S. Postmasters’ Union in Washington, said the Lynn transportation initiative dovetails with Gov. Mitt Romney’s plan to revitalize the state’s urban areas.

“The governor has made it clear that he’s more interested in reinvigorating the cities than in building housing in the rural areas,” he said. “That’s exactly what we’ve been doing in Lynn: reinvigorating the downtown.”


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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.


VTA Saves $2.8 Million with Owner-Controlled Insurance Program

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority in San Jose, Calif., reports saving more than $2.8 million for both general liability and workers’ compensation insurance since 1999 through its use of an owner-controlled insurance program for capital projects. The state of California permits use of an OCIP when civil construction costs for a public construction project exceed $50 million.

VTA noted that it has achieved the $2.8 million savings since the inception of the OCIP in July 1999 from insurance for its three light rail transit extension projects. The system said it anticipates similar savings for its highway improvement projects.

In an OCIP-insured project, VTA purchases combined workers’ compensation and general liability policy coverage on behalf of the contractors, using the leverage of the larger purchase to obtain more economical premiums. As a result, OCIP policy rates are between 30 and 60 percent lower than market rate, allowing VTA to reduce its costs while providing full insurance protection to contractors and the general public. In contrast, construction contractors have reported premium rates more than 200 percent higher than the OCIP rate when they purchase insurance themselves.


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USDOT Recommends Five New Transit Capital Projects

USDOT has recommended five projects to receive new multi-year Full Funding Grant Agreements during Fiscal Year 2005, and cited two additional projects, both located in North Carolina, as “promising” projects for receiving FFGAs during the fiscal year.

Federal Transit Administrator Jennifer L. Dorn announced the recommendations at a February 3 press briefing in Washington for the release of the Federal Transit Administration’s Annual Report on New Starts, in conjunction with the release of the U.S. DOT budget. The report makes recommendations for 34 current and pending transit projects for a total of $1.531.9 billion.

The five projects recommended to get new FFGAs and expected to be ready in FISCAL 2005 include.

Cleveland’s Euclid Corridor Transportation Project, $25 million in fiscal 2005 for a 9.4-mile Bus Rapid Transit project with 35 stations, with a total estimated cost of $168.4 million;

Las Vegas’ Resort Corridor Fixed Guideway, $40 million in fiscal 2005 toward a 2.3-mile extension of the Las Vegas Monorail preparing to open in March, at a total cost of $453.9 million;

MTA Long Island Rail Road East Side Access in New York City, a $5.26 billion project of approximately seven miles to provide LIRR service to Grand Central Station, of which $100 million would be funded by U.S. DOT in fiscal 2005;

Central Phoenix/East Valley Light Rail Corridor, $75 million in fiscal 2005 for a 20.3-mile light rail system serving Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa, Ariz. The total project is expected to cost approximately $1.37 billion; and

Pittsburgh’s North Shore LRT Connector, $55 million in fiscal 2005 for a 1.5-mile extension to the city’s existing 25-mile light rail system. The total cost is $362.8 million.

The two “promising” projects are the South Corridor Light Rail Project in Charlotte, N.C., which would receive $30 million in fiscal 2005 for a 9.6-mile light rail line costing $385.9 million, and the Triangle Transit Authority’s regional rail project providing passenger service serving Durham, Raleigh, and Research Triangle Park, N.C., with $20 million in fiscal 2005 toward a total cost of approximately $843.8 million.


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LACMTA Approves Contract Agreement

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors voted January 22 to approve the tentative agreement reached in December on a new three-year labor contract between the authority and the United Transportation Union, which represents 5,000 bus and rail operators.

According to UTU spokesperson Goldy Norton, the contract, which is retroactive to July 1, 2003, includes no wage increase for the first year, and increases of 2.5 percent each in the second and third years. It also assures the financial viability of the union’s trust fund, and renews a cost-of-living provision effective its last day, June 30, 2006.


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Murray to Head First Transit

FirstGroup America has announced the appointment of Michael C. Murray as interim president of its subsidiary, First Transit. Murray, who succeeds Rich Clair, has nearly 20 years of experience in the transportation industry, most recently as deputy chief executive officer and general counsel for FirstGroup America. In his new role, Murray will be responsible for oversight and general management of all of First Transit’s service offerings.


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

McLeansville Road

NCDOT Rail Division

McLeansville Road is east of Greensboro at milepost 8.1. This part of the layout has already been upgraded to 79 mph and is now signaled.

 

North Carolina upgrades its main stem

North Carolina is spending about $24 million to make significant track and signal improvements between Raleigh and Greensboro. NCDOT’s Pat Simmons said in January that would cut at least 20 minutes off the travel time between the two cities – and once work the is completed, travel time for passenger trains will shrink to about 80 minutes from one hour, 40 minutes.

On Thursday, NCRR and NS reported that Faulconer Construction Co. of Charlottesville, Va. has been awarded a contract to begin replacement of state highway 54 railroad bridge in Research Triangle Park.

The $5.5 million track and bridge project, at MP H64.1, will take approximately 20 months to complete, authorities said. Once completed, it will allow for increased freight and passenger train capacity and the expansion of Highway 54 to five lanes and two sidewalks, greatly improving traffic flow in and around Research Triangle Park.

The 317-mile, state-owned corridor links Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh and extends to the state’s seaport at Morehead City. Norfolk Southern Ry. operates trains along the entire corridor under a lease agreement with NCRR. CSX Transportation shares operation of a portion of the NCRR corridor between Raleigh and Cary.

The 85-mile H Line stretches from Greensboro to Raleigh, and the rest of the work in this year’s project begins at MP 283 in Greensboro and ends at MP 380 in Charlotte.

A typical location is Funston Siding between mileposts H47.8 and H49.9, about 50 miles east of Greensboro. Current track speed is around 60 mph, but when the work is finished, including inserting ties, it will be up to 80mph and a two-mile-long siding. A one-mile long siding was at the site.

The state is investing state, federal and surface transportation funds throughout the state to improve existing tracks, install new signals and build stretches of new track to improve the state’s rail infrastructure.

Working with the North Carolina Railroad (NCRR), Norfolk Southern Railway (NS) and CSX Transportation, the NCDOT is upgrading existing rail corridors to improve safety, efficiency and capacity for freight and passenger train services.

Simmons said NCDOT provided the preliminary engineering and design plans and is paying for all of the rail improvements with state transportation funds.

NS wrote the final plans and is doing the actual construction. The work that is currently underway should be completed this year.

Map of upgrade area

NCDOT

From Charlotte to Selma, the North Carolina Railroad, operated and dispatched by Norfolk Southern, is getting a complete make-over.

 

The first phase of the Highway 54 bridge project is to build a portion of the new deck for the main track. After the main track is realigned over the new bridge, the old span will be removed and the remaining deck for a second track will be completed. Reduced track curvature in the realignment will allow train speeds up to 79 mph. The new bridge will allow for increased rail capacity and will be located to allow room for the Triangle Transit Authority’s planned regional rail bridges over Highway 54 within the NCRR corridor.

“The existing bridge, built in 1927 when there was little traffic other than farming vehicles, has a horizontal opening of only 25 feet,” said Scott Saylor, NCRR President. “It is a bottleneck on what has become a main artery.” The overhead clearance is currently only 13 feet, 4-inches, which restricts passage of most trucks. The new bridge will have a vertical clearance of 16_ feet and a horizontal opening of approximately 90 feet, and will allow the North Carolina DOT to widen and improve state route 54 between Davis Drive and Miami Blvd.


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UP, other roads, short of hired help

A rash of early retirements has left the Union Pacific Railroad with too few locomotive engineers and conductors to keep pace with brisk business, disrupting rail traffic and commerce from Washington to California.

The worst problems have occurred in the Willamette Valley, reports The Oregonian, where UP freight trains have stood dead on the tracks for hours at a time while awaiting replacement crews. They have slowed freight deliveries and caused headaches for passenger trains and motorists.

The result is the average wait time for a freight car at UP’s classification yard in Hinkle jumped from 29 hours in January 2003 to more than 40 hours last month, according to the AAR.

Amtrak, which pays UP to run passenger trains on UP’s tracks, saw its on-time performance between Eugene and Vancouver, B.C., plunge from 74 percent in January 2003 to 51 percent last month. Twice since January 24, Amtrak trains have become stuck in and around Portland for five hours behind a UP freight train, say Oregon and Washington transportation officials. UP also loses incentive payments – in the millions – by not keeping Amtrak on time.

Oregon DOT officials say they are preparing to fine the railroad for violating a law that prohibits blocking public crossings for more than 10 minutes during the day. Some motorists have complained about trains blocking public crossings for more than an hour, state transportation officials said.

UP, the state’s largest railroad, has gone on a hiring spree to fix the problems.

“If anybody ever wanted to become a railroader, this is a golden opportunity,” said John Bromley, a spokesman for the Omaha-based company.

Meanwhile, Amtrak officials say they are losing patience with the delays.

The delays are unacceptable, said Vernae Graham, spokeswoman for Amtrak.

“We’ve been working with them and the state to try to improve it. So far, there has not been any improvement,” she said.

Many of the problems stem from UP’s failure to foresee the number of early retirements among its engineers and conductors, and an increase in shipping demand throughout last year, Bromley said.

A change in federal law in 2001 allowed railroad workers with 30 years on the job to retire at age 60, launching a rash of retirements in Portland and elsewhere across the country, Bromley said.

The railroad could not say how many workers had retired in Oregon, but nationwide, the number of applications received by the federal Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) from all railroads jumped from 6,165 in 2001 to 11,942 in 2002 and about 8,000 last year. In Oregon and six Washington counties, applications jumped from 75 in 2001 to 214 in 2002 and 120 last year, the agency said.

“That, coupled with the economy, has left us short of people,” Bromley said.

Across the nation, UP’s business volume, in gross ton-miles, rose 5 percent between 2002 and 2003, Bromley said. COFC and TOFC traffic was up 13 percent. Industrial product volumes, including lumber, were up 9 percent, he said. The railroad employs 1,659 statewide, and 505 in Portland.

The labor shortage is not unique to UP. Railroads nationwide expect to hire thousands of workers in the next five years as a result of retirements and increased demand. Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Ry. (BNSF), which has a heavy presence in Washington, plans to hire 1,500 conductors a year for the next five years, spokesman Gus Melonas said, including 25 this year in Vancouver and 35 in Seattle.

So far, only UP appears to be struggling to manage the labor shortage, state officials say.

A local union leader said members have been warning the railroad to replenish its ranks for several years.

“They’ve finally acknowledged what we’ve been telling them, that they need more people,” said Russell Bennett, local chairman of Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, Division 236 in Portland.

To deal with its labor shortage, UP has brought managers in from out of state to recruit and train new conductors, Bromley said.

Systemwide, it expects to hire 3,000 workers this year, 600 more than it hired last year, he said.

The railroad is actively recruiting in Wyoming, California and Nevada, as well, he said.

UP conductors start at $40,000 a year, can make $79,000 within two years and have a good chance at a quick promotion to engineer.

“Right now,” Bromley said, “I wouldn’t think it’d take very long.”

Adding workers is the key to unclogging the rail lines.

The company’s staffing problems are so severe that its two-person crews often have no replacements when they get to the end of their shifts.

Hours-of-service laws prohibit railroad crews from working longer than 12-hour peer shift.

“If there isn’t a replacement crew there, the train just stays there,” Bennett said. “You tie your train down wherever that happens to be.” He said he left such “dead trains” on about one-third of his runs last month.

Some trains have been tied down on sidings for more than a day because the railroad couldn’t find a replacement crew or had difficulties reaching the train, state officials said.

With a lot of single-track corridors throughout the Willamette Valley, dead trains slow the entire system, occupying sidings normally used to let Amtrak trains pass slower freight trains.

As a result, “Amtrak gets frogged,” Bennett said. Amtrak Cascades trains have experienced long delays between Portland and Eugene as recently as January 29, state officials said. The delays have also slowed Amtrak’s Coast Starlight run between Seattle and Los Angeles.

“If they’re stuck behind a train that’s dead on the line, they’re stuck,” said Claudia Howells, rail division administrator for the Oregon DOT.

Howells was on an Amtrak Cascades train on January 24 that got stuck behind a dead engine for five hours just south of Portland. Her train finally arrived in Salem at 2:00 a.m., she said.

Two weeks ago, a UP freight train went dead north of Kelso, Wash., on a track owned by its chief competitor, BNSF, said Jeff Schultz, rail operations expert for the Washington DOT.

“Having a UP train without a crew on the BNSF mainline is a really bad thing,” Schultz said.

The backups have triggered a spate of complaints in the Willamette Valley about blocked public rail crossings, Howells said, particularly near Natron, a railroad outpost southeast of Springfield.

“It’s terrible, especially on weekends,” said Arleen Lentz, who lives and operates a mill along a UP-owned rail line. “We can be stopped from 45 minutes to two hours. It’s been going on for months now.”

Lentz said she and her husband sat for several hours in their car one weekend night before they could turn onto their road.

“We’re getting really tired of it,” she said.

State law prohibits trains from blocking public crossings for more than 10 minutes during daylight hours. Penalties range as high as $3,000 per violation. The Oregon DOT has alerted the railroad of recent violations and is preparing penalties, Howell said.

She could not say how much they would be.

Lloyd Haley, who has lived along the rail line near Natron for 40 years, said the blocked crossings are worse than they’ve been for years.

Before its merger with UP in 1996, Southern Pacific owned the stretch of track crossing the road, and there weren’t many problems, Haley said, “but since this other outfit took over, there’s been nothing but trouble.”

Both Haley and Lentz said horse owners who rent stables on the road have had to wait for long periods while transporting horses. The stable owner couldn’t be reached for comment.

Businesses have complained about late freight pickups, Howells said, but she declined to name the affected companies.

Weyerhaeuser, one of UP’s largest customers, has not seen anything out of the ordinary in rail service to its mills, said company spokesman Mike Moskovitz. Larry Phipps, president and general manager of Portland & Western Railroad, which carries 4,000 cars each month between UP yards and areas outside Portland and Eugene, also said he’s noticed only “typical operating difficulties, but no chronic problems.”

Bromley acknowledged that the railroad receives public complaints about the idle trains and that some delays have “cost us money.” But he said he could not tell when the problems will clear up.

“I wouldn’t guess on when we’re going to get it fixed,” Bromley said.

“It certainly has our attention.”


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‘Tower 17, out’

Dispatchers, computers replace
another tower, this time in Texas

“Tower 17,” Tower Director Richard Acebo called Monday evening to a westbound train approaching on the main line from Sugar Land, Texas.

The engineer responded, having no idea it was the last time he would hear those words. By the time he passed through Rosenberg again, Tower 17, the last manned interlocking tower in the state, would be history.

“We’ll throw the last switch tonight,” Acebo said sadly, just hours after learning he and his four coworkers at the tower would have to accept positions as far away as Dallas if they want to continue to work for the Union Pacific.

Acebo spoke from his desk overlooking one of the busiest crossings in the country, wrote the Rosenberg, Texas, Herald-Coaster.

“Some days, as many as 70 trains go through here in a 24-hour period,” he said.

Stepping through the century-old tower’s door is a step back in time. The ancient wooden desk resembles a low-set antique postmaster’s desk. Beneath it, framed by a rectangular metal bar, is a small pedal similar to those on pianos. The gadget operates much like a button on a walkie-talkie, with Acebo stepping on the bar and pedal each time he speaks on the “hoot and holler” system. When he finished speaking, he released the device awaiting a reply from the dispatcher.

“What do you have?” the voice on the other end asked.

“They’re all jennies,” Acebo replied as he and the dispatcher conversed in a dialect known only to railroaders.

Jennies are small rock cars. A rock quarry located just west of the tower means countless jennies rumble past the tower every day.

Hot trains carry high-end, expensive merchandise; a zebra is the highest-priority train.

Destinations are given to specific types of cars and their destinations. For instance, a car designated as “C” is a coal car; an “A” transports automobiles; an “R” carries rock; an “M” is delivering merchandise; and one designated “HOSA” is traveling from Houston to San Antonio.

“Train people have their own language,” Acebo explained with a laugh.

To his left is a device reminiscent of the old telephones from the days of “The Andy Griffith Show,” where Mayberry residents picked up the earpiece and spoke into a wall-mounted wooden box, rousing Sara, the operator. In Acebo’s case, he rouses the dispatcher, who is located in Spring. The antique apparatus into which Acebo speaks is mounted on an accordion arm, making it easy to position, as Acebo frequently got up and down to switch tracks via the manually operated interlocking plant.

About the size of a large, squared-off upright piano, the plant’s machine is constructed of heavy wood, and features a row of 28 wooden handles with brass knobs. The finish on the knobs is worn off, revealing a silver-colored undercoating and divulging a century of use. Above each is a corresponding lighted number, indicating the switches, locks and signals each handle controls.

In contrast, a microwave and small refrigerator sit nearby, and a computer rests on the desk opposite the accordion phone.

A lighted board is perched atop the plant, showing the tower directors at a glance where trains are located on any number of tracks located in the immediate area, and often lit up like a Christmas tree.

“Orange lights on the board show switch positions, red indicates a train is approaching and flashing red means he’s here – coming across as we speak,” Acebo shouted as a train roared past the tower.

An electric current which runs from the plant to the tracks below moves the switches according to which handles are pulled. Different levers also give signals to train engineers.

In the old days, tower directors used colored flags to signal trains during the day and lanterns at night.

The actual construction date of Tower 17 varies depending upon the expert being questioned; but it is known to have been constructed around 1900, at the same time the plant was installed.

The area controlled by Acebo and the other tower directors is known as the interlocking, and includes two main lines, several side tracks and switches where two main tracks converge.

“It’s my job to get them through the interlocking safely,” said Acebo.

“Nothing moves in here without my authority. What I’m doing is playing traffic cop, here.

“It has been this way since 1902, and it’s been loyal and true,” he said as he returned a lever on the plant to its original position, “but it’s getting old, and it’s being retired.”

If the plant doesn’t work for some reason, tower directors or their maintainer, from Communications and Signals, must walk down to the tracks and manually switch them using a crank.

A sound similar to a traditional doorbell rings as trains enter and exit the interlocking, and devices resembling fishing poles are lined up next to the plant. Known as high-speed train order poles, they are used to deliver train orders to engineers and conductors as the trains speed by.

Amtrak’s Sunset Limited, trains No. 1 and 2, pass this way.

In the old days, tower directors wrote on onionskin paper messages to engineers and conductors, attached them to the thin white cord hanging from the pole and placed the poles on the side of the tower. The position of a T-shaped mast atop the tower alerted the engineers and conductors when messages awaited them, and they would grab the flimsies as their locomotives sped down the tracks. The poles are still used today, in case of glitches in communications.

“I don’t know how they’re going to get orders tomorrow,” Acebo said Monday evening.

That night, C&S completed their cutover to connect to the dispatcher’s computer.

On Tuesday, trains began being guided through the interlocking by the Spring dispatchers. A new, metal, unmanned building – a bungalow –about one-fourth the size of Tower 17, rested quietly in its shadow, where it began wielding all the power Tuesday morning via new dual-control switches. From now on, if a problem arises with the switching of tracks, engineers will have to stop their trains, climb down from them and manually crank the switch, just as Acebo and the other tower directors – Ed Satsky, Nora Harvey, John Rocha and Delton Hollman Jr., –had done for years.

“There’s always something happening,” said Acebo. “The dispatcher’s going to have fun. He’ll be busy. He’ll be aware of a lot of things he’s not even had to know about before, much less deal with - things that we took care of.”

Only one major derailment is recorded near the Rosenberg interlocking. It took place in the 1970s, just east of the tower and just outside of the mechanical plant.

Tower 17 and many of all its contents will soon be relocated to the Rosenberg Railroad Museum (at 1921 Avenue F.) The historic tower has always attracted train enthusiasts, and on Monday, countless such folks stopped by to wish the tower directors well and observe them directing trains through the interlocking for the last time.

Amateur and professional photographers alike captured memories on film and digital cameras up and down the tracks, and some even trekked up the tower’s steps to photograph the view from its antique desk and through its timeworn windows.

No gripes from management on this day.

On a dry-erase board near the tower door were messages from men who worked with the tower directors over the years.

“Nice working with you guys,” read one.” Later, ’gator,” another read simply, accompanied by a reverse rendition of a smiley face.

The messages were encouraging to Acebo and the other tower directors, one of whom gazed through the hazy windows to the tracks below for the last time Monday and said softly, “They didn’t know when they were digging those holes down there to lay those tracks that they were digging a grave and throwing our jobs in it.”

“Yep, we’re just about history,” Acebo said as he pulled first handle 6, then 8, switching tracks for a Union Pacific train headed his way. The first sight of the train with the naked eye was a headlight slowly coming into focus as the engine rounded the bend east of the tower.

Before long, the mighty train roared past the tower, shaking its very foundation and reflecting in Acebo’s eyes as he watched it fade into the distance on a drizzly Monday evening.

Tower 17, out.

Unofficial reports, and not from the newspaper, reported on its first day of dispatcher control UP had trains backed up on both sides of Tower 17 in Houston. During the first two hours of CTC at Tower 17, the Glidden Sub radio traffic indicated “They are still having signal problems down there, and it seems that both DS23 and the Glidden dispatcher are having to give trains authority to cross each other’s tracks.”– Ed.


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‘No sale,’ says CSX on terminal

CSX denied on Thursday denied a Hong Kong newspaper report that it was looking to sell its global terminal network, CSX World Terminals.

“There is no truth to that (report),” CSX spokesman Gary Sease told Reuters in a telephone interview from Jacksonville.

“There is no current transaction under way,” he said.

The South China Morning Post reported on Thursday that CSX needed to raise funds and was looking to unload its wholly owned unit, CSX World, quoting industry sources.

An unidentified executive close to the deal was quoted by SCMP as saying that former CSX World CEO Robert Grassi had been removed from the helm last month to pave the way for the sell-off.

CSX World owns a global container terminal network and operates Hong Kong’s container terminal number three in Kwai Chung port. It also owns 29.5 percent of Asia Container Terminals, one of the developers of Hong Kong’s newly built Container Terminal No.9.


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BNSF adds 149 customers

Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Ry. said last week 149 new or expanded customer facilities were located along its track last year. The freight carrier stated in a press release, “These facilities involved investments of $1.1 billion and creating of 3,845 new jobs.”

The businesses included ethanol facilities in eight states, lumber yards and transload facilities in three states, and consumer and perishables products warehouses in fur states. Other facilities located along BNSF lines in 2003 include several locations for plastics, aggregates, a copper firm and a paper mill.

The railroad didn’t state how many businesses might have left during the year.


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Intermodal rail traffic up yet again

Intermodal traffic was up, but carload freight was down on U.S. railroads during the week ended February 7 in comparison with the corresponding week last year, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported on Thursday.

Intermodal traffic totaled 198,977 trailers or containers, up 7.2 percent from the comparable week last year. Container traffic registered a 4.1 percent gain, while trailer volume rose 16.8 percent from last year.

Carload freight, which does not include the intermodal data, totaled 307,449 cars, down 4.1 percent from last year with volume down 5.1 percent in the West and 2.9 percent in the East. Total volume was estimated at 27.5 billion ton-miles, down 3.2 percent from last year. Winter storms in some sections of the country may have affected rail traffic volumes during the week.

Thirteen of the19 carload commodity groups were down compared with last year, with metallic ores off 14.5 percent, coal down 8.4 percent and motor vehicles and equipment off 7.6 percent. Five commodity groups showed gains, with coke up 36.4 percent, nonmetallic minerals up 16.4 percent and crushed stone, sand and gravel up 11.6 percent.

The AAR also reported the following cumulative totals for U.S. railroads during the first five weeks of 2004: 1,613,117 carloads, up 1.2 percent from last year; intermodal volume of 980,712 trailers or containers, up 5.8 percent; and total volume of an estimated 144.0 billion ton-miles, up 2.3 percent from last year’s first five weeks.

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. Railroads provide more than 40 percent of the nation’s intercity freight transportation, more than any other mode, and rail traffic figures are regarded as an important economic indicator.

Canadian railroads reported an increase in intermodal volume but a decline in carload freight during the week ended February 7. Carload volume totaled 59,371 cars, down 5.4 percent. Intermodal traffic totaled 40,766 trailers or containers, up 1.8 percent from last year.

Cumulative originations for the first five weeks of 2004 on the Canadian railroads totaled 310,512 carloads, up 1.4 percent from last year, and 196,455 trailers and containers, down 1.3 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first five weeks of 2004 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 1,923,629 carloads, up 1.2 percent from last year and 1,177,167 trailers and containers, up 4.5 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 7 totaled 7,557 cars, up 0.5 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 3,119 originated trailers or containers, down 9.9 percent from the fifth week of 2003. For the first five weeks of 2004, TFM reported cumulative originated volume of 39,422 cars, down 8.4 percent from last year, and 14,925 trailers or containers, down 18.6 percent.

AAR is the world’s leading railroad policy, research and technology organization focusing on the safety and productivity of rail carriers.

The AAR is online at www.aar.org.


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QUARTERLY RESULTS...  Quarterly results...


NCI: Leo King

FECI reported last week it is in good financial health. Its railway earned $46.8 million, up 6.0 percent.

 

BNSF

Directors of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. (BNI) voted on February 12 to pay a regular quarterly dividend of 15 cents per share on outstanding common stock.


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FEC

Florida East Coast Industries continued to show profits for the last quarter, and for all of 2003. It’s railway division, Florida East Coast, also resulted in healthy earnings, according to the company’s financial report, published February 11.

Robert W. Anestis, FECI’s chairman, president and CEO said last week “In 2003, our railway and realty businesses continued to show steady improvement.”

In the fourth quarter, he said, “Railway freight revenues, operating profit, and operating profit before depreciation all increased compared to fourth quarter 2002.”

Anestis added he expects its division to continue to bring in positive earnings.

“In 2004, the company’s core businesses are expected to continue to improve. The railway should benefit from Florida’s growth through the railway’s transport of aggregate (rocks) and other commodities and from recent improvements in its intermodal franchise.”

He pointed out, “In 2003, the company paid its shareholders a $55 million special dividend, initiated an ongoing share repurchase program of up to $75 million, and increased the quarterly dividend by 60 percent. In 2004, the company will consider additional shareholder distributions or share repurchases from cash balances that prove surplus to our core businesses’ needs.”

For the fourth quarter, FECI reported consolidated revenues of $103.7 million, compared to $122.2 million for the fourth quarter 2002. Revenues for the fourth quarter 2003 included realty sales of $40.0 million, compared to $62.8 million for the fourth quarter 2002. Income from continuing operations was $25.2 million, or $0.68 per diluted share, for the fourth quarter 2003 (which includes $20.7 million of after-tax profit from land sales), compared to income of $32.9 million, or $0.90 per diluted share, for the fourth quarter 2002 (which includes $28.1 million of after-tax profit from land sales).

FECI reported consolidated fourth quarter 2003 net income of $26.0 million, or $0.70 per diluted share, compared to $38.1 million, or $1.04 per diluted share, for the prior year quarter. Included in the fourth quarter 2003 net income is income from discontinued operations related to a sold building and a building held for sale. In the fourth quarter 2002, net income included income or loss from discontinued operations related to the sale of buildings and a partnership interests, the sale of the Company’s former telecommunications subsidiary and its exit from the trucking business.

For the full year 2003, FECI reported consolidated revenues of $339.0 million, compared to $301.2 million for 2002. Revenues included realty sales of $90.5 million for 2003, compared to $70.6 million for 2002. Income from continuing operations for the year was $41.4 million, or $1.12 per diluted share, for 2003 (which includes $34.8 million of after-tax profit from land sales and $10.1 million of after-tax expense for the estimated cost of ending a long-term ground lease), compared to $50.1 million, or $1.37 per diluted share, in the prior year period (which includes $31.4 million of after-tax profit from land sales).

FECI reported full year 2003 net income of $43.2 million, or $1.17 per diluted share, compared to a net loss of $107.8 million, or $2.94 per diluted share, in the prior year. Included in 2003 net income is income from discontinued operations related to a building and partnership interest sold and a building held for sale. Included in 2002 net income is income or loss from discontinued operations related to the sale of buildings and a partnership interests, the sale of the Company’s former telecommunications subsidiary and its exit from the trucking business.

The company’s expectations for full year 2004 operating results assume continuing improvement in the national and Florida economies.

Anestis said he expects the railway segment revenue and operating profit growth to be “in the low single digits versus 2003.”

Capital expenditures for the railway are expected to range between $30 and $33 million.

FEC Ry. fourth quarter results show revenues increased 6.0 percent to $46.8 million from $44.2 million for the fourth quarter 2003 over the prior year period. Included in the revenue increase is $1.2 million of revenue from the drayage operations managed by the railway since November 2002 and $0.4 million of fuel surcharges.

Total carload revenues “grew 2.2 percent primarily due to a 13.2 percent increase in stone and aggregate revenues, reflecting a combination of strong construction demand and new business from existing customers partially offset by a 14.5 percent decrease in revenues from transporting vehicles.”

Intermodal revenues increased 4.1 percent compared to the prior year period, “reflecting success in the direct marketing of the railway’s intermodal services to retail customers and truck carriers, partly offset by a small decline in revenues from connecting carriers.

The railway segment’s operating profit increased 3.2 percent to $12.2 million versus $11.8 million due to higher revenues, which were partly offset by higher salary and wages and depreciation expense. The Railway’s operating ratio was 74.0 percent compared to 73.3 percent in the prior year quarter.

The operating ratio was impacted by the addition of lower margin drayage operations, the company stated in its financial report.

“The drayage operation allows the railway to provide a seamless door-to-door transportation solution that is an integral part of its intermodal strategy.”


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GWI

Genessee & Wyoming reported February 11 that net income in the fourth quarter of 2003 increased 36.7 percent to $7.9 million, compared to net income of $5.8 million in the fourth quarter of 2002.

The carrier also prepared for a 3-for-2 stock split.

GWI’s diluted earnings per share in the fourth quarter of 2003 increased 30.3 percent to $0.43 with 18.2 million shares outstanding, compared to diluted earnings per share of $0.33 with 17.7 million shares outstanding in the fourth quarter of 2002. As previously announced, the fourth quarter of 2003 included a $0.05 per share non-cash charge due to the write-off of unamortized financing fees at the Company’s 50 percent-owned subsidiary, Australian Railroad Group (ARG), in conjunction with the refinancing of ARG’s senior credit facilities.

For the year ended December 31, GWI reported record net income of $28.7 million, a 12.2 percent increase over $25.6 million of net income in 2002. Net income for 2003 was composed of $18.1 million (62.9 percent) from North America, $10.4 million (36.1 percent) from Australia, and $0.3 million (1.0 percent) from South America. Diluted earnings per share increased 10.3 percent to $1.61 in 2003, with 17.8 million shares outstanding, compared to $1.46 per share in 2002, with 17.6 million shares outstanding.

GWI’s directors approved a three for two split of the company’s common stock. The stock split will be in the form of a 50 percent common stock dividend, payable March 18, to shareholders of record as of February 27. The number of shares of GWI’s Convertible Preferred Stock will automatically adjust due to its anti-dilution provisions. Per share amounts have not been adjusted for the stock split, according to the firm.

In the fourth quarter of 2003, GWI’s North American revenue increased 9.5 percent to $61.5 million compared with $56.2 million in the fourth quarter of 2002. Of this $5.4 million increase in revenue, $3.4 million was same-railroad growth, $1.8 million was due to the appreciation of the Canadian dollar, $0.9 million was from the start-up of a new rail line in Oregon, offset by a decline of $0.7 million from the depreciation of the Mexican peso.

North American operating income was $8.3 million in the fourth quarter of 2003 compared with $9.8 million of operating income in the fourth quarter of 2002. Operating income in the fourth quarter of 2003 included a net gain of $0.2 million on the sale of rail assets, compared with a net gain of $2.8 million on the sale of rail assets in the fourth quarter of 2002. GWI’s North American operating ratio was 86.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2003, which includes the 0.4 percent impact of asset sales, compared with an operating ratio of 82.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2002, which includes the 4.9 percent impact of asset sales.


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KCS

The Kansas City Southern’s directors declared a regular quarterly dividend of 25 cents per share on the outstanding KCS 4 percent non-cumulative preferred stock. The dividend is payable on April 6 to preferred stockholders of record at the close of business on March 8.

directors also set the Annual Stockholder’s Meeting to be held in Kansas City, Mo., on May 6.

“Stockholders of record of KCS’s common stock and its 4 percent non-cumulative preferred stock as of March 8 will be entitled to notice of the meeting and to vote at such meeting,” the railroad stated in a press release.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: CBSMarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)32.4032.80
Canadian National(CNI)61.7560.67
Canadian Pacific(CP)25.4825.98
CSX(CSX)31.6031.40
Florida East Coast(FLA)34.3533.09
Genessee & Wyoming(GWR)35.4633.25
Kansas City Southern(KSU)14.3014.64
Norfolk Southern(NSC)22.3022.16
Union Pacific(UNP)64.8464.88


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ACROSS THE POND...  Across the pond...

Eurotunnel wants to renegotiate debt

Eurotunnel, the operator of the English Channel tunnel link between France and Britain, indicated it is seeking to negotiate a reduction in debt and interest payments, as well as an extension of debt maturities.

It said it sent proposals to the U.K. and French governments as part of its plans to “significantly reduce access rates for train operators in a manner which will align the incentives of the cross-Channel operators and reduce their costs” CBS MarketWatch reported from London on February 2.

It expects the lower tunnel access rates should enable Eurostar to increase its traffic to existing destinations and would assist the introduction of new destinations such as Amsterdam.

“The £10 billion cost of the Channel Tunnel was financed entirely by the private sector. In addition, taxpayers have directly or indirectly put around £15 billion into the infrastructure surrounding the tunnel, but traffic growth for Eurostar and rail freight is strangled by high tunnel access charges and we have too much debt to reduce them unilaterally. Taxpayers are not getting the benefit they should for their money, and Eurotunnel’s shareholders have seen a substantial loss on their investment,” CEO Richard Shirrefs said.

“To enable reductions in tunnel access charges, we need a definitive solution which improves our profitability and gets our financing onto a sensible and sustainable basis once and for all.” Eurotunnel said it is seeking to reach agreement in principle during 2004 with implementation in 2005, adding “however, the issues are complex and there can be no assurance as to the eventual outcome at this.”


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Eurotunnel gets French freight license

Eurotunnel, the Channel Tunnel operator, has become the first private company to be granted a license to run freight trains in France, it announced on Friday.

The company expects to start a service between Milan, Italy and the English Midlands early next year. The company will haul the trains itself between Basle in Switzerland and Dollands Moor, near the Tunnel in Kent.

The move has been made possible by European legislation liberalizing Europe's market in international rail freight. The legislation took effect last March and Eurotunnel applied to the French transport ministry for the license in April.

While Eurotunnel's operation is expected at first to produce only about £13 million ($25 million) of revenue per year, it should double the rail freight between France and the United Kingdom.

Volumes on freight trains through the tunnel – currently operated only by the UK’s EWS and SNCF, the French National Railway – have been disappointing, particularly since severe disruption in 2002 when asylum-seekers regularly tried to board the trains.

Friday's granting of the license follows Eurotunnel's announcement on Monday that it was seeking deals with governments and rail operators to boost its revenues and reduce its debt to head off a cash crunch. Arrangements guaranteeing the Tunnel minimum revenues from cross-Channel passenger and freight trains expire in November 2006 and, at present traffic levels, the end of the arrangements would sharply reduce Eurotunnel's revenues. The company is already unable to cover interest payments on its £6bn debt.

The freight service was one of several plans previously announced to generate extra revenues. Eurotunnel also confirmed Thursday its plans to build a small terminal near Folkestone capable of handling containers and other freight, which is on continental European intermodal freight cars too large for the low and narrow bridges and tunnels of the British system.

Eurotunnel is one of several private freight operators to have applied for a license in France. Others have yet to gain permission to start operations.

In November, SNCF announced a complete restructuring of its freight operations, which have a poor reputation, to prepare for competition. Shares in Eurotunnel closed up 1p at 34p in London on Friday.


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JR East wants faster bullet trains

East Japan Railway Co. will build two prototype bullet trains capable of a top speed of 250 mph (400 kph) and test them from 2005 to 2008 in northeastern Japan, the railway operator said Tuesday.

It aims to launch the trains by 2013 and run them at a maximum speed of 225 mph (360 kph), which it says would be the fastest in the world for commercial trains, according to The Japan Times for February 11.

Under the plan, the travel time between Tokyo and Aomori would be within three hours, JR East President Mutsutake Otsuka told a press conference last week.

While Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) opted to develop magnetically levitated trains and set a world speed record of 360 mph (581 kph) during a manned test in December, JR East has emphasized making bullet trains faster, which it considers more cost-effective.

According to JR East officials, the prototype trains will be equipped with newly developed high-powered motors that are small and light.

Their noses look like pencils and will be about 53 feet (16 meters) long to lessen shocks on entering tunnels.

One of the prototypes will have eight cars and the other, six, and one is designed to run on dedicated bullet-train lines, while the other would use old lines.

The company will place an order with manufacturers by March for the trains to be completed in summer 2005 and spring 2006.


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Japanese railroad’s board fires president

Choshi Dentetsu’s board of directors, a railway company in Choshi, Chiba Prefecture, Japan, fired its president on January 31 for repeatedly using the company’s name to borrow at least 9.3 million yen for private purposes, the Daily Yomiuri of Tokyo recently reported.

The company intends to file a lawsuit soon against Kenjiro Uchiyama for breach of trust. The total debt he accrued under the company’s name is thought to run to several tens of millions of yen.

According to the company, Uchiyama’s alleged misappropriation came to light after the company’s bank account was seized by some of its creditors on December 22. The company then found out that the company’s name had been used in February and November to take out loans totaling 9.3 million yen.


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Bombardier reportedly quits project

Bombardier Transportation reportedly is quitting its light rail construction project in Tel Aviv.

Globes newspaper in the Israeli city attributed unnamed “sources” to its February 12 story.

The publication stated Bombardier is withdrawing from the Tel Aviv light rail project “for commercial reasons.”

Senior transport industry sources said, “Bombardier found the Tel Aviv project not economically worthwhile, and therefore withdrew from the tender.”

A few days ago, Bombardier notified its partners in the consortium, the Dan Bus Cooperative, Property and Building and Bouyges Construction and RATP of France, that it had made a strategic commercial decision not to participate in the construction of the Red Line of the metropolitan Tel Aviv light railway.

The Adanim group, of which Bombardier was part, is considering whether to join one of the other consortia, or to withdraw from the tender.

Bombardier withdrew in January 2002 from the tender for the first line of the Jerusalem light railway project. The Adanim group, which included Bombardier, Housing and Construction, FIBI Holdings, and Etgal, withdrew from the tender, also for economic reasons.

The Ministry of Transport responded angrily to Bombardier’s withdrawal, saying that the company was unworthy of participating in tenders in Israel, after behaving improperly in two important tenders.

Another source claimed that Bombardier’s motives were solely economic. Preparing the Jerusalem tender cost an estimated $4 million, and the Tel Aviv tender an estimated $10 million. The source said these costs were unreasonable.

No response from Bombardier was available. NTA Metropolitan Mass Transit System chairman Yossi Kucik said he had no information about the matter.


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France reportedly wins China project

France has won a bid to build a multi-billion dollar high-speed rail link between Beijing and Shanghai, beating out rival bids from Japan and Germany, a Hong Kong newspaper said on Thursday.

China will use the French system, also used by France’s TGV network, for the 100 billion yuan ($12 billion) scheme, the Beijing-backed Ta Kung Pao via Reuters said on Thursday, quoting sources in China’s Ministry of Railways.

Spokesmen for the Ministry of Railways and the Shanghai city government declined comment, as did France’s Alstom, which the newspaper said would lead the project.

The paper said construction could begin in two years.

Last month, Germany’s Siemens AG, which worked with steel and engineering group ThyssenKrupp in the TransRapid consortium to develop maglev rail technology, said it would not build the link to Beijing.

TransRapid has built a maglev line in Shanghai linking the Pudong financial district to its international airport.

Maglev trains, which float on a magnetic cushion, can hit speeds of up to 270 mph (430 kph). German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder traveled to Beijing in December to drum up support for German business and the maglev scheme.


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WE GET LETTERS...  We get letters...

Dear Editor:

Something appears to have been omitted from the story “Army contracts for bridge removal” (D:F February 9).

The missing detail is: Why is the U.S. Army getting involved in the removal of bridges owned by private railroad corporations? Don’t the railroads build, maintain, dismantle and replace their own infrastructure?

I suspect this story has to do with bridges that cross a navigable waterway, something that would be under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They have very careful specifications about what kinds of bridges can be used to cross rivers handling barge and towboat traffic.

For example, UP’s draw span over the Mississippi at Clinton, Iowa is supposed to be replaced with a clear span 115 feet over the surface. UP will have to raise the tracks on fill for a mile on either side of the river to provide that clearance.

I don’t know when this project is due to start, but the Army Engineers and the Coast Guard (which has jurisdiction over waterway safety), has said they want all of the old rotating draw spans and lift spans replaced with new ones creating a wider navigation channel, or eliminated entirely and replaced with bridges so high that they need not be raised or rotated to permit passage of water craft.

Can somebody please find out what’s going on in K.C. that makes it necessary for the Army to pay for bridge replacement?

Frederick “Fritz” K. Plous
Chicago

We were wondering the same things. We’ve queried the Pentagon press office, but so far, no response. - Ed.


Dear Editor:

We’d love to claim him, but Senator Hollings is from South Carolina (D:F, February 9).

Don Stewart
Fayetteville, N.C.


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

PW RR

NCI: Leo King

It wasn’t that long ago when a Providence & Worcester peddler rolled by the fine New London, Conn. Victorian station on its way down the hill to make deliveries to the New England Central. Just a couple of years earlier, the switch up near John Street led to the Central Vermont Ry., but things change. It was an ownership change when Canadian National sold its New England property to NECR. Maybe P&W will pick up some loads or empties in the yard. This scene was a mere five years ago, and the catenary was up for the high-steppers to pass – like the new Acela Expresses. Freights passed at 20 mph., and all passenger trains at 25. Do they still? Shore Line East commuter rail used to come this way, too, but no more. No “cat” over track 4, where the freight is rolling.

End Notes...

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

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

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


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