NCI: Leo KingWhether Amtrak and the Florida East Coast will still join hands in running passenger trains along the Sunshine States eastern coast remains to be seen. The key stumbling block is Amtraks finances, D:F has learned, but Amtrak and FEC may yet enjoy the dance. Train No. 101 comes down the undulating grade along the savannah in St. Augustine, Fla., on February 11, approaching a wooden trestle over the San Sebastian River. One week earlier, when the weather was not so fine, NCI took a ride on this freight train. The exclusive, magazine-length feature begins on Page 2.
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NCI: Leo KingHow will Amtrak spend is newly found wealth or is it really wealth? The Secretary of Transportation now holds the purse strings, not the carrier. Will Amtrak be able to revive some long sought-after plans? Will it be able to repair infrastructure? Many questions lie ahead. In March 2002, Amtraks business car Beech Grove passed through Jacksonville, Fla. after spending time on the Florida East Coast Ry. for a management inspection run. Here, the one-car train, hauled by P-42 locomotive No. 122, pauses in Jacksonville on CSX iron on its way northward.
Battles over long-distance trains:
Declaration of war on small-town America?
At the end of last week, Congress was formulating legislation that would, for the first time, require Amtrak to go to the Transportation secretary for special request funding to keep the long distance trains running.
The good news for Amtrak supporters is that the measure would give Amtrak almost all the money it requested $1.05 million, as opposed to the $1.2 billion Amtrak CEO David Gunn said he needed to keep the system running at its current level.
It should be noted, however, that the measure would defer (beyond fiscal year 2003) the requirement that Amtrak repay the $100 million loan that DOT Secretary Norman Mineta approved for the rail passenger carrier last summer when Amtrak was on the brink of a shutdown. That brings the figure closer to what Gunn has said he needs.
This is the largest annual appropriation Amtrak has had for several years. During the next year, we are told, there will be a thorough debate over Amtrak, with the Bush administrations proposed $900 million for fiscal 2004 as a starting point, although thats on the back burner until we get the current appropriation out of the way.
Before we detail other facets of the 2003 budget, however, we should mention that debate on fiscal 2004 is already underway. In Congressional testimony last Thursday, Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson told lawmakers that passenger rail is an important component of our nations transportation infrastructure. We [the Bush administration] stand ready to work with Congress and the states in the upcoming reauthorization to create an intercity passenger rail system that is driven by sound economics, fosters competition, and establishes a long-term partnership between the states and the federal government to sustain an economically viable system.
Back to the compromise budget for fiscal 2003:
That $1.05 billion measure included in the omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal 2003 was crafted behind closed doors in a House-Senate conference committee of appropriators, and appears to represent a consensus.
The money would go to the Transportation secretary rather than directly to Amtrak.
That has raised some eyebrows among Amtrak supporters around the country. Reportedly there is a certain amount for Northeast Corridor capital, another amount for other capital, still another pot for operating, and long-distance trains.
The concern of some who have focused on the situation is that Amtrak would be unable to make business decisions based on these constraints because the railroad would be so thoroughly regulated. While no one we talked to would go so far as to say this makes the DOT Secretary the de facto president of Amtrak, it was fair to say he would surely have more direct control.
There is also the observation among Amtrak backers that this adds another layer of bureaucracy to the process of running Americas passenger trains.
However, a spokesman for House Railroads Subcommittee Chairman Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.), who is one of the leading Congressional supporters of Amtrak, said his boss and Amtrak president David Gunn have no problem with giving more input to the DOT secretary.
It was agreed upon as Quinn and others had a need to find a way to [win over] a lot of the skeptical budget-cutters on the Hill. Thus, We needed to find a way that would make Amtrak accountable [in the eyes of the skeptics], according to Quinn spokesman Michael Tetuan in an interview with D:F.
Now that Gunn has taken control (it will be one year in May), complete with his high credibility, we just need some transparency on the books [so] that members of Congress [can see that the money is well spent], according to Tetuan, speaking for Chairman Quinn.
Also according to the language in the appropriations bill, there would be some new financial reporting requirements. Amtrak would have to develop capital and operating plans that must be provided to Congress and the Secretary of Transportation and be used as the base for expenditures in 2003. Funding may not be spent for projects not included on the business plan.
Requiring Amtrak to go to the Transportation Secretary for a separate request for the long-distance trains, though, is a new wrinkle, Quinns spokesman agreed, and said he would seek the Congressmans opinion on that.
He added, The government picking up the cost for the long-distance routes shouldnt be a problem. That correlates with Gunns position that maintaining the backbone of a truly national system logically is a national obligation.
As the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) noted, turning over the funding of long distance trains puts the Secretary of Transportation in the unenviable position of having to individually decide the fate of each long distance train. NARP believes this was inserted into the bill by lawmakers as a form of protest [against] the Administrations failure to develop a clear policy on Amtrak (including draft legislation), and eagerness thus far to avoid having their own fingerprints on decisions about what routes are dropped.
That calls to mind an earlier warning by NARP that long-distance train service is being threatened on several fronts. This juncture is an appropriate place for us at National Corridors Initiative (NCI) to spotlight the issue and outline what is at stake.
First, there is some question as to how you define long-distance. NARP seems to assume that almost any intercity train would fit that description, including those on the heavily traveled Northeast Corridor.
Just how this [making the DOT Secretary responsible for approving money for long-distance trains] is supposed to work is unclear, declared NARP in a bulletin to its members February 13.
That is particularly true in the Northeast Corridor, where an order to keep commuter rail running means keeping most infrastructure operational. At least in the short term, the net cost of the Northeast Corridor if kept open for commuter trains only might actually rise in the event of an Amtrak shutdown, NARP stated.
Let us assume (as does this writer, having covered Amtrak from its first day of operation on May 1, 1971) that long-distance trains, as applied here, means the overnight trains, with sleepers, lounges, diners and other amenities.
Focusing on those trains, as NARP did in an earlier bulletin, Amtrak supporters are gearing up for an all-out drive to make the case for maintaining a true national system. As a practical matter, you cannot have a true national system without the overnight long-distance schedules. Even though (as NARP observes) anti-rail editorialists and politicians have singled out long-distance trains as an albatross that keeps progress from occurring on other services, the arguments being made for preserving long-distance trains are as follows:
*Such trains are an important part of smaller communities travel options. One could make the case that the drive against long-distance rail travel is a declaration of war against small town America. There are many areas where there are no good interstate highway connections and poor (or no) bus service. This would apply, for example, to many of the high line Montana and North Dakota towns on the Empire Builder route.
The long-distance trains, often calling at a given town once a day in each direction (sometimes in the middle of the night because the long-hauls have to stop somewhere in the middle of the night and no money is available for a second daily train to offer more convenient service) are an important travel choice for those who cannot or dont want to be left with only the fly-drive choice. This includes senior citizens, people in snowy climates, disabled people, etc.)
The overnight trains are a small part of Amtraks budget request for 2003 $200 million out of $1.2 billion. This causes puzzlement to knowledgeable people who keep reading in the so-called mainstream media that the overnight trains are among Amtraks biggest money-losers.
The long-distance trains provide links between rail corridors (existing and planned).
Amtraks overnights provide a foundation upon which to develop future corridors, NARP points out.
They also provide a mechanism for cost sharing with existing (and planned) corridors insofar as sharing terminal costs, station costs, reservations system costs, etc.
Quinn tells D:F, through his spokesman, that long-distance passenger rail should be something that the government should pay for and it should be treated as a service, not as a profit-making vehicle.
Jim RePass, NCI CEO weighed in on this issue last week with the observation, Without the long-distance trains, many millions of Americans in the West and South would be doomed to Depression-era isolation.
However, the idea of putting a DOT focus on the long-distance trains could actually have a favorable effect, in Quinns opinion, precisely because they must schedule some stops at inconvenient hours in the middle of the night.
Quinn sees this issue as one of the things we have to discuss when Amtraks budget is re-authorized for fiscal 2004. That would be part of the thorough debate.
With these long distance routes, said Tetuan, a lot of people want to take them, and they want to get away from this fear of going into airports, and going [through] 15 security screeners.
Quinn apparently believes the provision could spur debate over a need for Amtrak, as his spokesman put it, to be able to get some capital to lay some additional tracks; to say, Listen, well lay some [tracks] down for you so you dont have to share them with the freight companies, which are naturally disposed to give priority to their heavy cargo traffic that keeps America moving and keeps them and their shareholders in business.
Be that as it may, it appears the first line of defense for Amtrak is the overnight schedules. NARP has called for an all-out battle to preserve those trains which factually are not Amtraks big money losers. Given that we have a national highway system, a national airline system, and a national intercity bus system, the argument goes, why should the people, including those in small towns, not have access to a national passenger train network?
While most of those who use the long-distance limiteds travel between intermediate points, advocates believe a valid lifestyle case can be made for travel from end-point to end-point. It was voiced years ago by then Northern Pacific President Robert S. Rodine, and quoted in a recent special edition of Classic Trains magazine.
Speaking of a planned massive investment in upgrading his railroads Chicago to Seattle North Coast Limited, Rodine said, No one can go about his business constantly. People need time for relaxation and reflection, and theres no better place to get it than on a transcontinental train.
NARP reported late Friday afternoon Congress finished work late Thursday on the fiscal 2003 omnibus appropriations bill and sent it to President Bush, who has indicated he will sign it.
Amtrak gets $522 million for operating expenses, $295 million for Northeast Corridor capital expenses, and $233 million for general capital improvements.
Ross B. Capon, NARPs executive director, said The good news is that, with both the House and Senate under Republican control, Amtrak was given a funding level that is not a shutdown budget, and that provides a decent baseline from which to debate fiscal year 2004 funding.
Capon said Amtrak CEO David Gunn never called $1.05 billion a shutdown level, although the Associated Press reported February 4 that he did make such a comment about $800 million (in New Haven, speaking to about 50 people in a lecture series organized by Yale Universitys Industrial Environmental Management Program).
On the minus side of the ledger, he said The bad news is that the bill continues the tradition of giving Amtrak just enough to get by.
Gunns predecessor, George Warrington, picked the $1.2 billion, but Gunn has said he would have picked a higher number.
The bill also includes language that, in theory, could be used by the DOT Secretary to kill individual long-distance trains. This language was the price for getting the $1.05 billion, according to Capon.
However, the Administration did not seek this language and seems unlikely to use it to get rid of specific routes.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), quoted in Fridays Fort Worth Star-Telegram, said, This budget will help ensure that Amtrak continues to operate for another year as a national railroad system. We must also continue to pursue long-term reform and better service.
For fiscal 2004, Amtrak's request is $1.8 billion. The increased funding level will allow Amtrak to further stabilize the national system, continue repairing wrecked and damaged cars, and start the massive backlog of capital work needed to maintain commercially viable speeds on the Northeast Corridor over the next few years.
NARP is online at www.narprail.org.
NCI: Leo KingAmtrak has stopped operating all its mail cars properly named material handling cars because they could exhibit instability above 60 mph. These cars were at the Jacksonville, Fla., mail dock one year ago
Amtrak grounds all its mail cars
Sources report Amtrak has withdrawn all 135 serviceable material handling cars after slapping a 60 mph speed limit on all of its 1400 and 1500 class freight cars. They were withdrawn on February 11. The boxcar-like mail cars already were restricted to 60 mph on CSX, Norfolk Southern and Burlington Northern & Santa Fe.
Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black, in Washington, told D:F Computer modeling and other evidence indicated that 1400 and 1500-series MHCs could exhibit instability under certain track conditions at speeds exceeding 60 mph.
Black noted, While these track conditions are not present on the Northeast Corridor, which Amtrak owns and maintains, the company has no such control over tracks we use outside the NEC. Thus, the decision was made to restrict their maximum speed to 60 mph.
The carrier stated, The continued operation of the cars at the lower speeds in Amtrak trains would adversely impact schedule reliability, so the carrier withdrew all of them from service. The last ones operated on Northeast Corridor mail trains 10 and 13 the following day.
Current plans are to handle mail in baggage cars on the Northeast Corridor, and in RoadRailers and express boxcars off the NEC.
This might take a while, since Amtrak has been taking the express boxcars out of service and storing them. Until enough RoadRailers, baggage and express cars can be assigned for mail duty, mail trains 10 and 13 will not operate. The mail lines on the Twilight Shoreliner, trains 66 and 67, are also blanked. The mail will be handled by truck instead.
Elsewhere, in addition to the two Superliners recently returned to service from the Beech Grove, Ind., heavy repair facility, several stored-damaged cars have been upgraded to active-repair status. Among the next cars to be released are Dorm 39044 (wrecked Marshall, Texas in September 2001); Sleepers 32016, 32065 (damaged in Lissie, Texas in July 1999); 32019 (St. Louis, July 2001); and Diner 38054 (AutoTrain)
Also in the repair line are Lounge 33045 and coaches 34018 & 34053 (damaged in Kensington, Md in July 2002).
Amtrak has stricken from the roster previously stored-damaged cars smoker 31522 and coaches 34070 & 34071 (wrecked in Nodaway, Iowa in March 2001) and coach 34076 (wrecked in Kingman, Ariz. In August 1997).
Although listed as stored-damaged, sleeper 32100, coach 34126 and another car (its number is unknown at this writing) from AutoTrain were scrapped at Sanford, Fla.
Still stored-damaged at Beech Grove are six dorms, ten sleepers, nine diners, six lounges, and sixteen coaches. Several are reported to be unrepairable.
Ballast slipping down an embankment appears to be the cause of a Florida train wreck last year.
Amtraks AutoTrain derailed last April on CSX track and a sharp curve near Crescent City where a troublesome stretch of track is located. The section needs frequent repair, according to the National transportation Safety Board. The NTSB released documents to the media last week, but has not yet written a conclusion of what caused the derailment in which four people died and 36 were seriously injured.
After the wreck last April 18, the AutoTrains engineer told investigators he had seen a misalignment of the track just ahead and was trying to apply the brakes when the force of the derailment threw him against the wall.
The NTSB on Thursday (February 13) released investigators reports that will be analyzed by the agency to try to determine a cause. The reports offered no conclusions. Much of the investigation has focused on the condition of the track, according to The AP.
A CSX coal train passed over the track just before the AutoTrain took the curve, and that crew told NTSB investigators that they noticed no roughness or irregularity.
The engineer and assistant engineer of Amtraks Silver Meteor, which passed over the same area a day earlier, said the track seemed to be out of line and caused their engine to rock.
Both crew members indicated that they mentioned it out loud to each other but didnt believe that it was serious enough to report to the train dispatcher, the report said.
CSX employees and Florida rail safety inspectors told the NTSB that the section of track was troublesome because it was built on a steep embankment, and the gravel used for ballast kept sliding away.
Inspections after the accident found sections near the derailment lacking the necessary ballast in the crib between ties and along the tracks shoulders, the NTSB said. Full crib ballast is needed to keep ties and rails from creeping out of place, the report said.
Such standards should never be ignored, even for short periods, the report said, because adding more ballast later wont correct the damage already done.
This could combine with some subsequent condition, such as high rail temperature, to cause excessive rail compression, and a track buckle, the report said.
The ballast at the derailment site was destroyed, so investigators could not determine whether the proper amount had been there. Investigators also reported that some rail anchors and spikes were missing on track near the derailment.
CSX employees had inspected the section of track twice earlier on the day of the accident, and state safety inspectors had checked it just a week and a half before.
There were never any exceptions found, said CSX spokesman Gary Sease. Thats why the mystery surrounds Crescent City.
Amtrak spokeswoman Karina van Veen also said there was no indication anything was wrong with the track, and the passenger service is awaiting the NTSBs conclusions.
CSX has improved training for employees who maintain and inspect the tracks since the derailment, and is testing laser technology to help identify places that need more ballast, said spokesman Adam Hollingsworth.
The company also reduced train speeds during the summer months in case heat might have contributed to the derailment, he said.
Hollingsworth said safety improvements reduced the number of derailments caused by track problems from 102 in 2001 to 77 last year over CSXs 23,000 miles of track in the Eastern United States.
Florida High-Speed Rail AuthorityWhen the entire Florida High-speed rail system is completed, it will cover all the major population areas in the state. It is about 400 miles from Miami to Jacksonville, and another 400 miles from Jacksonville to Pensacola.
Contract would be for 30 years
Florida takes big step toward
high-speed rail; four bidders
Four corporations last week offer bids to build Floridas high-speed rail network. The initial selection process will take two more weeks, but Florida High-Speed Rail Authority (FHSRA) members will not reach any final decisions until this summer at the earliest. The contact will be for 30 years and will include the entire network. The bids were accepted on February 10.
The next FHSRA meeting is scheduled for March 3 at 9:00 a.m. at Florida DOT Central Office Auditorium, 605 Suwannee St., Tallahassee.
The FHSRA is not expected to name a successful bidder until June or July at the earliest, according to C.C. Doc Dockery, an authority member and the driving force behind getting the Constitutional question on the Florida ballot three years ago. Route selection will be around the same time. If the project eventually moves ahead, trains are not expected to run until 2007.
Floridas Gov. Jeb Bush (R) has taken a dim view of the project, and included no funding in his budget, although state law programs about $8 million this year on the project.
The bidders included a new consortium, Fluor Transportation and Bombardier Transportation, which stated it would cost between $945 million and $1.3 billion over 30 years to build the layout. Bombardier, of Montreal, in another consortium with Alstom of Paris, built Amtraks Acela Express, Americas first high-speed train.
Global Rail Consortium, a group led by a Korean high-speed rail company and the Arcadis design and engineering firm, said they would charge between $1.7 billion and $2 billion in private money.
Georgia Monorail said it could build the leg linking Orlando to Tampa for between $404 million and $644 million in public money. Industry experts, however, are skeptical about monorail because there are relatively few in operation.
Another technology even more unusual and untested came from Et3.com, of Crystal River, Fla. It would use vacuum tubes, much like a banks drive-up window system, and small capsules to whisk riders to their destination at speeds, it claims, between 300 mph and 4,000 mph. Its system would cost about $1.2 billion.
The Orlando Sentinel reported public funding is expected to finance construction, but the private corporations will cover annual operating costs.
State consultants will spend the next three weeks analyzing each proposal. They will look for, among other things, explanations in cost differences. Some are obvious Fluor-Bombardier, for example, would use diesel-powered locomotives capable of a sustained speed of 150 mph. That system is cheaper than Global Rails electrically powered trains because electric trains require catenary, an overhead power supply. Bombardier recently unveiled its turbine-powered JetTrain, a 5,000 hp trainset capable of sustained 150 mph.
In a press release, Bombardier stated, Based on the authoritys ridership projections, the service will be financially self-sustaining on an operating basis, and will start paying a return on state infrastructure investment in its second year of operation.
Dockery said the two major players, Flour-Bombardier and Global Rail, spent upwards of $2 million in preparing their bids, while the other two firms each invested around $700,000.
Other price differences are attributable to different business plans, and other differences are still buried in the hundreds of pages submitted by each bidder on Monday.
I think weve got some good numbers here, Dockery said, but its hard right now to say anything too specific. Weve really got to look at them.
In an earlier interview, Dockery told D:F the authority has not yet selected a final route, but officials are expected to break ground probably in March or April of 2004.
A still unresolved problem is Disney World management stonewalling regarding the fast trains stop only at their site, although they appeared to soften their stance on the day the bids were opened.
Dockery explained, Actually, what Disney World is saying is that they will contract with the High-Speed Rail Authority or the operator of the high-speed rail system to handle Disney business between Orlando International Airport and Disney if the run is direct from the airport [Orlando International] to Disney with no stops in between.
Dockery said Currently, most Disney tour packages are purchased outside of Florida to include transportation from, say Chicago, New York or London to Orlando International, and from there, they take a Disney bus or a Mears Transportation bus directly to a Disney hotel.
Disney is saying, in exchange for a direct route to Disney, they will take their buses off the roads and contract with the high-speed rail operator, or [the] authority, to transport their guests. This would probably produce another $10-12 million in ridership revenue on a guaranteed basis.
Dockery added, To my knowledge, Universal and the Convention Center, the other proposed stop in the Orlando area, has not offered any such arrangement. Ideally, there would be a stop at both locations and Disney would contract with the authority to haul its captive passenger market, but, I dont see that happening.
Central Florida officials are still debating which route the system should take through Orlando.
Orange County officials and International Drive business leaders said it should run from Orlando International to I-Drive via the Bee Line Expressway, and from there, it would turn south on Interstate 4 and make its way to Disney.
Disney and officials with Osceola County argue it should run from the airport to Disney along State Road 417, the Central Florida GreeneWay, skipping I-Drive altogether.
Disney has said if that route were chosen, it would support a future light-rail link to the I-Drive area, a significant shift from the companys previous position.
Fluor-Bombardier said it could build and run the GreeneWay route with $2.3 billion in public money. The Bee Line route, it said, would cost $2.7 billion; but Global Rails projections are reversed. It said the Bee Line, at $2.16 billion in public financing, is the cheaper route. The GreeneWay, it said, would take $2.5 billion in public money.
Global Rails ultimate numbers on the Bee Line, however, may change. It calculated its costs and revenue assuming Walt Disney World would be putting up to 2 million people a year on the train.
Disney recently said it would support Orange County Chairman Rich Crottys push for a one-half cent sales tax to pay for new roads, road widening and other transportation projects.
Last week, Disney spokeswoman Marilyn Waters said the companys stance toward the tax referendum was not tied to Orange County conceding to the GreeneWay route for high-speed rail.
Our support isnt dependent on anything to do with high-speed rail. Its just important for the community. Waters made her remarks about two hours after the states high-speed rail authority chairman sliced open four cardboard boxes containing the high-speed bids. Each package weighed between 20 and 30 pounds, according to one estimate.
Disney, however, has said that if the system runs along the Bee Line, it will not put its visitors on the train. Theyll continue to be shuttled from the airport to the theme park on Disney-run buses.
Disney-bound passengers, and the fares they would pay, are considered critical to the systems success.
The rail authority, however, has a more immediate concern. Gov. Jeb Bush is not a high-speed rail supporter, and he has not included any money for the project in his proposed budget.
He has also threatened to put the issue back on a statewide ballot if he is not satisfied with the proposals of the teams competing to run the system.
In mid-January, the governor said if private investors dont bear the financial risk for high-speed rail, he would lead a campaign to overturn the Constitutional amendment that mandates the costly system.
I will not support this if the people bidding dont take the ridership risk, Bush said. It would be insane for the state to take the entrepreneurial risk of this enterprise. His vow to lead a campaign to repeal the rail system drew immediate applause from the 200 business people in the audience.
The risk to Florida taxpayers, Bush said, depends on how many people actually use the system. If ridership doesnt meet projections, the revenue shortfall could be a drain on Floridas budget, he said.
Within days of taking office four years ago, Bush killed the Florida Overland Express high-speed rail plan.
Florida voters amended the state Constitution in 2000 to mandate high-speed rail linking Tampa, Orlando and Miami, with construction to start by November 2003.
Dockery, at that time, said Bushs concerns were unfounded.
We would have the state issue bonds to cover the cost of building infrastructure, the tracks, stations and maintenance yards. That would be about $1.6 billion, which would cost $75-million a year. With a total state transportation budget of more than $5-billion, Dockery estimates high-speed rail would account for 1.5 percent.
Its something in my view that the state can afford in order to address the will of the people, he said. There is no need to go back and ask the people to decide what theyve already decided.
Bush said he admired Dockerys tenacity, but said, Im not going to fall in love with a fast train, and I dont think the people of this state should, either. If it works, great.
Floridas High-Speed Rail Authority is online at http://www.floridahighspeedrail.org/.
The House Transportation Committee reorganized itself last week. Chairman Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) reappointed Rep. Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.) to chair the House Railroads Subcommittee. Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) is the ranking minority member, and Rep. Jon C. Porter (R-Nev.) was named vice-chairman. The appointments were effective on February 12.
Other members include Reps. Thomas E. Petri, Wis; Sherwood L. Boehlert, N.Y.; Nick J. Rahall, II, W.Va.; Howard Coble, N.C.; Peter A. DeFazio, Ore.; John L. Mica, Fla.; Jerrold Nadler, N.Y.; Spencer Bachus, Ala.; Bob Filner, Calif.; Jerry Moran, Kans.; Elijah E. Cummings, Md.; Gary G. Miller, Calif; Earl Blumenauer, Ore.; Jim DeMint, S.C.; Leonard L. Boswell, Iowa; Rob Simmons, Conn.; Julia Carson, Ind.; Shelley Moore Capito, W.Va.; Michael H. Michaud, Maine; Todd Russell Platts, Penn.; William O. Lipinski, Ill.; Sam Graves, Mo. Jerry F. Costello, Ill.; Jon C. Porter, Nev.; Vice-Chair James L. Oberstar, Minn. (ex officio); Don Young, Alaska (ex officio).
At its first meeting, the transportation committee adopted a subcommittee name change. The Highways and Transit Subcommittee has been renamed the Highways, Transit and Pipelines Subcommittee.
Ridership on Amtraks Acela Express between Boston and New York has yet to rebound from mechanical problems discovered last summer that temporarily knocked all of the sleek trains out of commission, reports the Boston Herald of February 10.
Since bottoming out in August, when the trains were yanked from service and just 9,611 passengers boarded, the speedy trains have been hovering around 14,500 passengers a month, between 4,000 to 6,000 less than Amtrak was carrying last winter and spring.
Certainly the cutback in business travel nationwide has been a factor, but if you look at those numbers, they havent dropped that dramatically, said Amtrak spokeswoman Karina Van Veen in Washington. She said Theyre slowly climbing back up.
Since introducing the snub-nosed trains in December 2000, ridership has averaged 13,693 monthly passengers. In its first year, as new train sets were coming online every few months, the monthly average was 11,139; last year it shot up to 16,248. The service peaked following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Ridership hit a high-water mark of 25,616 in October 2001 and 24,029 the following month.
Last years peak came in April, when 20,593 passengers took the train, but a steady decline in riders began in the months following, accompanied by a drop in on-time performance, which is a key factor in keeping riders happy. The slide was capped by the late July discovery of cracks on the brackets holding the Acelas yaw dampers, which prevent wheel hunting.
They have had a lot of empty seats (lately), said David Gergen, former communications director for President Ronald Reagan and a professor of public service at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, as he prepared to board a train from Bostons South Station recently. There are a lot of empty seats on airplanes, too, so I think its more a reflection of the times than the service.
During the difficulties with the Acelas, many riders opted for the Acela Regional service, which only takes about 20 minutes longer to travel to Penn Station from Boston. Unlike the express trains, however, ridership on the regional trains has remained steady. It attracted 22,801 passengers in December, compared to its monthly average of 21,389.
Bombardier has since devised a heavier, thicker bracket to hold the yaw dampers.
It has to be tested before we start installing it on all our trains and we consider it a done deal, said Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black, but the FRA has anointed it and said as far as theyre concerned, its acceptable.
No timetable has been set yet for retrofitting the trains, Black said.
Amtrak officials believe the fix and the addition two weeks ago of a 10th round-trip between Boston and New York - meeting its original service goal - will prove a shot in the arm.
We plan to get (ridership) back, said Black, and were going to come up with some creative ways to do it.
Amtrak reports service on the Empire line between New York Penn Station and Albany returned to normal on February 12. Service was disrupted February 7 when a barge struck the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge, which provides access to Penn Station from the north. Amtrak crews, working around the clock, made repairs allowing the bridge to be safely returned to rail service Wednesday morning. Empire service trains, the Adirondack, the Maple Leaf, and the Lake Shore Limited are back to their normal routes
Missouris six-member Highway and Transportation Commission has authorized a request for proposals for any company interested in operating the cross-state Amtrak trains.
Brian Weiler, the Transportation Departments Multimodal Operations director, told reporters after a meeting on February 7 that the requests, called RFPs, would be issued within a couple of weeks, wrote the Jefferson City News Tribune of February 7.
We have to do a pretty quick turnaround, because we have to get this information into the hands of the legislature in order for them to make an informed decision, he said.
Amtraks current contract with Missouri for the Missouri Mule ends on February 28.
The Mule is one of two trains that daily cross the state through Jefferson City between St. Louis and Kansas City. Missouris general revenue budget subsidizes their operations.
The other train, the Ann Rutledge, is a state-paid extension of a national route that connects St. Louis with Chicago.
Lawmakers last year appropriated $5 million for the subsidies, although Amtraks actual cost is about $6.2 million.
Missouris subsidy for the Amtrak service has doubled in the last few years, to over $32 each for the average 188,000 people who rode the cross-state trains last year.
Theres no question were concerned about the cost-per-passenger and the increases weve seen with that, Weiler said. It gets back into (an issue of) mobility options for our citizens who cant drive, being able to catch a train into St. Louis or Kansas City.
Weiler said students attending several colleges regularly use the passenger trains.
Weiler said there is a growing interest by some private companies, including one based in St. Joseph.
They operate several commuter lines around the nation, in Florida, Texas and California, he said. We would solicit proposals from Amtrak and any experienced rail passenger service provider. This isnt a new game. We dont really want somebody trying for the first time.
Commissioners also endorsed a resolution asking Congress to increase its national transportation budget to at least $40 billion a year, which state officials said would raise Missouris share about $190 million each year.
Arizonas members of Congress are pressing the National Park Service to consider a proposal for an express train to bring visitors to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
The lawmakers, in a letter to Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Joseph Alston released last week, stressed they are not seeking preferential treatment for the express rail proposal, or any other plan being considered to relieve traffic congestion along the South Rim; but, they said, We urge you to work in a timely manner with the Grand Canyon Ry. (GCR) to understand its proposal and enable a final decision to be made on this multiyear visitor transportation review as soon as possible.
Both of the states U.S. senators and all eight of its U.S. House members signed the letter, reports the Arizona Republic of February 13.
The railways proposal, headquartered in Flagstaff and with operations out of Williams, would offer 90-minute train rides from Williams to the South Rim via express rail, with a possible spur into Tusayan.
Announced in January 2002, the proposal anticipates that improved track on the existing 65-mile rail line would cut nearly an hour off the 2_-hour trip on the historic train ride.
The reason why this is suddenly on the table, is that Grand Canyon has proposed a new idea: a spur into Tusayan, which is an attractive alternative to people and businesses there, said Rep. John Shadegg.
He said, In its original version, the proposal was that people would have to go to Williams, and ride the train (to the canyon) from Williams.
Park officials hope to eliminate most automobile traffic from the South Rim, where about 90 percent of the parks 4.6 million annual visitors congregate. By some estimates, there could be 6 million annual visitors by 2010.
Park officials have been cool to express rail. Park spokeswoman Mallory Smith said that officials will absolutely do the requested review. She noted, however, that the plan is not among the transit alternatives evaluated in a study submitted to the Office of Budget and Management. This has been a complex analysis, Smith said. They, now, are speaking of something different.
The lawmakers wrote that the express-rail plan raises a number of fundamental questions theyd like answered, including:
What is the estimated ridership?
What are the expected initial capital costs, and how would they be funded?
What would be the annual operating revenues, expenses and operating losses?
How much would entrance fees have to be raised?
What risk would GCR bear if the train is unsuccessful in attracting the estimated ridership?
David Chambers, GCRs president, said he understands the parks concerns about further delay. He said park officials have done what theyve been asked to do: primarily consider bus solutions, but with the projected increase in park visitors and congestion, Chambers said, We feel its worth it if it takes another year to really consider all the alternatives.
Surface Transportation Board Chairman Roger Nober says the board is inviting rail shippers, railroads, and other interested persons to appear at a hearing on February 27 at its Washington offices.
At issue will be their views on ways to expedite the resolution of rail rate challenges to be considered under the Boards Stand Alone Cost (SAC) methodology, Nober said.
An STB press release stated the hearing follows the boards review of comments filed with the agency in response to a September 4, 2002, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in Procedures to Expedite Resolution of Rail Rate Challenges to be Considered Under the Stand-Alone Cost Methodology (STB Ex Parte No. 638).
In that proposal, the board sought suggestions on ways to streamline the resolution of SAC cases, and the board itself identified several possible measures to achieve that end.
Measures include a mandatory pre-filing, non-binding mediation process; discovery standards (for obtaining information that another party has) that are tailored to the boards experience in SAC cases; and the establishment of an informal expedited process, using STB staff, for resolving discovery disputes.
The public hearing will begin at 10:00 a.m. in Room 760, the Boards hearing room at 1925 K Street, N.W.
The STB is online at http://www.stb.dot.gov.
New York writes new Manhattan transit plan
New York Citys Lower Manhattan will be getting a transportation face-lift, if New York Gov. George E. Pataki (R) plans stay on track.
The governor outlined a plan on February 7 to spend up to $5 billion to restore and upgrade transportation in Lower Manhattan, including new above-ground hubs at the World Trade Center site and at the Fulton Street subway stations, as well as a rebuilt subway terminal at South Ferry, according to The New York Times.
Several of the projects, which together would be one of the largest public transit efforts in city history, would require significant excavation that could disrupt commuters and downtown traffic patterns through the end of the decade.
Pataki outlined the projects in a letter to federal officials overseeing the $21 billion in aid promised to New York to recover from the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. It calls for construction to begin next year and continue through at least 2007 for subway projects, and 2009 for the trade center project.
Its going to be a huge construction site, said Iris Weinshall, the city transportation commissioner, adding, Were going to have to play traffic cop down there for all those competing interests.
The governors letter calls for up to $5.15 billion in projects, although only $4.55 billion in federal money is available so far.
The plan essentially calls for improving existing transit lines downtown, but does not propose any new commuter connections, disappointing some business leaders who have said that greater access to downtown is crucial to the revival of Lower Manhattan. Although Pataki lists a fast, convenient link to the regions airports as a priority, it sets aside no specific money either to study or to build that connection.
Still, some officials praised the governors plans. U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, who has criticized some of the transportation proposals floated in recent weeks, said yesterday that Pataki is focusing on the big proposals that are most needed to make downtown a transportation center.
The largest of the projects includes up to $2 billion for the transportation hub at the trade center site. It would include an expanded terminal for the PATH commuter line, new connections to the subway lines that stop nearby, and a new transit hall that officials have called a downtown Grand Central.
Little more than a block to the east, the $750 million Fulton Street Transit Center would reconfigure the stations that serve the nine different subway lines stopping there. It would also provide another above-ground building with a central entrance to all the lines.
Joining the two stations would be an underground concourse stretching nearly one-half mile from the Fulton Street center to the World Financial Center. Its cost is included in those of the two transportation hubs.
Another $400 million would go toward a new three-track, two-platform terminal at South Ferry, for the 1 and 9 subway lines, with underground connections to the Whitehall subway station and the new Staten Island Ferry Terminal.
An additional $1.7 billion to $2 billion would be spread among several projects, including $500 million for bus facilities and street restoration at the trade center site.
Dollar amounts were not specified for the other projects, among them the restoration of West Street, which Mr. Patakis letter said was likely to include the tunneling of some portion of the street, most likely the stretch alongside the trade center site, from Vesey Street to Liberty Street.
Several proposals outlined last year by Mayor Michael Bloomberg were also included in the letter but without time or cost estimates. Those include new ferry terminals around Lower Manhattan and in New Jersey and elsewhere, and decking over the entrance to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, which would allow for the creation of a new park and residential community.
While the letter said, a number of airport access service alternatives are currently under study, it gives no further details. It does not mention the $250 million that state and city officials previously said they planned to set aside to study those alternatives, nor does it say anything about Bloombergs $3.7 billion proposal to create a one-seat ride to Kennedy Airport from Lower Manhattan via a new tunnel under the East River to the Long Island Rail Road.
New Jersey Transit (NJT) fired one of its top administrators February 12, one day after she was indicted on charges of taking more than $17,000 worth of gifts from companies that do business with the agency.
Stunned by the case, transit officials issued a memo to all employees the same day, emphasizing the agencys ethics standards. It also decided to re-educate vendors about the policies, according to a report in the Newark Star-Ledger on February 13.
Integrity, professionalism and high ethical standards are paramount to me and to the board of directors of this corporation, NJT Executive Director George Warrington said.
As public servants, our conduct real and perceived must be above suspicion and reproach at all times, he added.
Without waiting for the conclusion of the criminal case, Warrington terminated Maureen Milan from her $164,000 position as vice-president and general manager of bus and light rail operations.
A state indictment accused her of accepting free tickets to World Series games, concerts, hotel stays, meals, and even salon sessions from vendors.
Milan, 53, who lives in Westfield, N.J. has been on sick leave since July. She was hired as an administrator at NJ Transit in 1991.
By and large, Im not commenting on anything, said Milans attorney, Steven Brooks. Im aware of this situation. Thats all Ill say.
Authorities have accused Milan of accepting the gifts, but have not charged her with awarding contracts in exchange for them. The investigation is continuing.
Burns Hargis, chairman of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, thinks light rail is a key to economic development and population growth for the community, but he admits the case has yet to be made that a light rail system will be needed for future growth, or that if its built, it will fuel economic development.
Now the time has come, he said, to see whether such a case can be made.
We need to get in front of this issue, Hargis said. Most of the cities are building these systems after they get a horrible traffic problem. Theyre closing the door after the horses get out.
Mayor Kirk Humphreys, however, is reluctant to make light rail a priority, noting other projects, including rebuilding Interstate 40 and a $100 million overhaul of State Fair Park, need to come first, according to The Oklahoman of February 9.
The more important thing is for us to have a public transportation system that is an asset, not a liability, Humphreys said. Light rail could be part of the answer, the mayor said, but the city must first expand existing bus routes. He supports studying the feasibility of a light rail system.
Supporters say such systems are fueling growth in cities across the country. Light rail is being built or planned in cities including Houston, Little Rock, Charlotte, Cincinnati and Nashville. Ridership is growing in cities such as Denver and Dallas.
At a recent chamber of commerce retreat, light rail dominated discussions of what could be a future MAPS 3 to follow the original downtown improvement projects and public school overhaul now under way.
Hargis envisions a light rail connecting State Fair Park, Will Rogers World Airport and downtown by the states centennial in 2007. Light rail also is included in a long- range plan being released later this month by MetroTransit.
In nontraditional public transit areasand were sort of nontraditionalpeople have a tendency to be more drawn to light rail, MetroTransit Director Randy Hume said. Its very predictable as to where its going to be, and where its going to stop... and its normally more competitive in travel time, because its more direct.
Build a public transportation system, Hume said, and the ridership will go up.
Is light rail the answer? Hargis said the city must prove the investment is justified when traffic is not that bad.
Im completely convinced its a project that merits our attention, Hargis said, adding, Whether it merits being built still needs a lot of debate and attention. It would give us a way to get out front of the traffic problems that people experience in other cities, and it would provide a way to connect a lot of the important areas of our city.
One of the most outspoken light rail proponents at the chamber retreat was Patrick Boylan, whose company, PDC Productions, puts together convention and meeting presentations nationwide.
Boylan said he sees weaknesses in many of the light rail systems he has traveled, including the increasingly popular DART line in Dallas.
Some systems, Boylan said, are too focused on visitors and not on residents.
He criticizes Dallas for being too little, too late. He suggests Oklahoma City look to Portland, Ore., as a role model of how a properly planned light rail system can spur inner-city development, promote tourism and provide a popular form of public transportation.
The light rail links all the venues and attractions together, said Boylan, who visited the city nine times last year. It services almost everybody, and theyre seeing new development along the routes. I truly believe light rail turned that city around.
Boylan produced a map at the retreat showing how a light rail system could use existing lines to create four routes.
One route would serve the state Capitol, the Oklahoma Univ. Medical Center, the northeast Adventure District, Edmond and the Univ. of Central Oklahoma. Another would travel to Crossroads Mall, Moore, Norman, and the Univ. of Oklahoma.
A southeast route would serve Rose State College, Tinker Air Force Base and a General Motors plant. A southwest route would link to State Fair Park, the Interstate 40-Meridian Avenue hotel corridor, and Will Rogers World Airport.
It needs to be simple and it needs to be cheap, Boylan said, and it needs to be hip.
Also attending the chamber retreat was Steve Jones, the district director for U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook (R). Five years ago, city leaders were hoping to win $13 million in federal funding for a $16 million, 2.7-mile downtown light rail system as part of the citys Metropolitan Area Projects.
Istook blocked the project, saying it wasnt economically feasible, and instead supported a less expensive rubber-tire trolley system that now carries about 300 passengers a day.
Since the trolley system began three years ago, the routes have changed at least three times. The proposed routes for the light rail would have skipped the Oklahoma City National Memorial and the federal office building opening later this year.
The adaptability of the rubber-tire trolleys, Jones said, is a strong argument against light rail.
Its always a big, lengthy and expensive battle beyond what you plan your costs to be, whether its acquisition of right-of-way to clearing homes or getting through streets, Jones said. Its not just a matter of getting funding, and poof, youve got light rail.
Jones said Istook will consider future proposals.
We will have a hard time with it, if a downtown rail project comes up again like it did before, with the same problems, Jones said. It has to be viable, it has to make sense. Instead of involving a few hundred riders a day, a true light rail project, not just a downtown loop, should involve tens of thousands of riders a day. Whether Oklahoma City can do something like that, I dont know.
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
White House Proposes FY 2004 Transit Funding at Current Year Budget Level
The Bush Administration proposed to Congress on February 3 that public transportation is funded in fiscal year 2004 at $7.226 billion, the same funding level for the current fiscal year, as guaranteed by the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century.
Meanwhile, U.S. DOT officials said they expect the Administration to submit a TEA 21 reauthorization proposal to Congress before the end of the month.
The FY 2004 budget request does not include the administrations specific TEA 21 reauthorization proposal. However, it is seen as providing an outline of the funding levels and many of the structural changes being considered for the federal transit program and expected to be included in the proposal for the multi-year authorizing bill replacing TEA 21, which expires on Sept. 30.
Under the Administrations budget proposal, annual transit federal funding would rise slightly to $7.9 billion in FY 2008. However, a long-term structural change sought by the Administration includes the elimination of the discretionary bus and bus facilities program, likely to be funded at $607 million in FY 2003. Instead, the White House recommends using these funds to increase other programs, allocating $300 million for the New Starts program, $179 million for the urbanized area formula program, and $60 million for the rural formula program.
The proposal also allocates $5 million of the bus program proceeds to fund a new planning capacity building program, and would use $35 million and $3 million from the same pot to create ridership-based incentive programs in the urbanized area program and the rural formula program, respectively.
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Ross Steps Down at GRTA; Ritchey Named on Acting Basis
Dr. Catherine L. Ross, executive director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, has stepped down from the post, following a request by newly elected Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue for the resignations of the heads of all state departments and authorities.
At a special meeting Jan. 30, the GRTA Board of Directors appointed Jim Ritchey acting executive director of the authority. Ritchey joined the authority as deputy director early in 2002 after 11 years as general manager and chief executive officer of the Triangle Transit Authority in Raleigh, N.C.
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OC Transpo Employees Accept Contract, Avert Strike
Concerns of a strike by OC Transpo employees in Ottawa, Ont., have been relieved following a vote Feb. 4 to accept the city of Ottawas final contract offer. The contract was accepted by two-thirds of voting members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279, which represents OC Transpos operators, dispatchers, and mechanics.
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House Appropriations Committee to Undergo Changes
U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, announced Jan. 29 that the committee will undergo a major restructuring of its subcommittee jurisdictions in order to create a new Homeland Security Subcommittee from the former Transportation Subcommittee. The chairmans proposal is subject to approval by the full committee.
The Homeland Security Subcommittee is being created out of the former Transportation Subcommittee because two of its largest components, the Transportation Security Administration and U.S. Coast Guard, are already under the jurisdiction of this subcommittee. U.S. Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), who has been chairman of the Transportation Subcommittee, therefore will become chairman of the Subcommittee on Homeland Security.
Other transportation issues not related to homeland security will be moved to the jurisdiction of the former Treasury-Postal Subcommittee, which will become the new Subcommittee on Transportation and Treasury.
U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.), formerly chair of the Treasury-Postal Subcommittee, has been named to chair this new subcommittee, which adds jurisdiction over U.S. DOT to his previous purview of the Treasury Department, the White House, and other core agencies of the executive branch.
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Maryland bid reported in jeopardy
Marylands bid for the nations first segment for intercity magnetically levitated trains is in jeopardy as state legislators grope for a way to fund it. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said he still wants the $4.4 billion magnetically levitated, or maglev, train system between Washington and Baltimore, but only if a reliable funding source can be found.
The bottom line is yes, if the state can afford it, said Shareese DeLeaver, Ehrlichs spokeswoman. She said A lot of that would depend on the passage of legislation.
Ehrlich is pinning some hope for a maglev system on slot machine gambling, according to the Washington Times of February 8. Licensing fees and sales on slot machines are expected to generate $395 million in state revenue in the first year.
In addition to passing legislation on slots, the General Assembly would have to be willing to spend more of the state budget on maglev, DeLeaver said.
The fact is the state is broke, she said. This is an administration that has inherited a $1.8 billion deficit.
The 40-mile system would extend between Union Station in Washington and Camden Yards in Baltimore, with a stop at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
Business leaders say the construction parallel to current Amtrak route would create more than 20,000 jobs and give a boost to the Baltimore and Washington economies.
A state task force is scheduled to deliver a feasibility report to the governor by February 26.
It builds a fairly credible case for going forward with this, said Phyllis Wilkins, executive director of the task force, called Maglev Maryland.
The report evaluates ridership, costs, revenue and administration. It also recommends creation of an agency to oversee the maglev system, which would be jointly administered by officials from Maryland and the District.
Wilkins dismissed maglev critics as trivial. There are always going to be some people against trying to do anything new, she said.
Opponents question whether the convenience of a 17.5-minute maglev trip between Washington and Baltimore is worth $4.4 billion of taxpayer money. The same trip on Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) trains typically takes more than one hour. Amtrak trains take about 35 to 45 minutes.
Eventually, the USDOT hopes to expand the maglev line to run from Boston to Atlanta, and similar systems could be built along other regional corridors. Maglev test trains have been clocked at 320 mph, while Maryland trains would operate up to 240 mph.
The convergence of excessive highway congestion, unacceptable pollution levels, and a national over reliance on foreign oil is a compelling set of circumstances for America to finally pursue this safe, high-speed and low-maintenance mode of transportation, said Richard Cochran, director of the U.S. Maglev Coalition, an advocacy organization for maglev that announced its formation this week.
Maglev works by using the natural repulsion of magnetic poles to lift a train above the tracks on a cushion of air. One electromagnet in the bottom of a train and the other in the tracks repel each other. With no friction to slow them down, the trains can reach high velocities as electromagnetic pulses along the tracks propel them.
Competition for the maglev line has narrowed to the Baltimore-Washington area or the Pittsburgh area. The winner would qualify for the first $950 million installment of federal funds.
A final choice was expected in the spring but now is subject to federal budget decisions.
Its kind of up in the air right now, said Warren Flatau, FRAs spokesman.
The Baltimore-Washington areas strategic location in the middle of the planned line along the Eastern Seaboard makes it a strong contender, but the winning applicant must demonstrate it has local support.
In Marylands case, local support means the state must contribute $500 million in matching funds. Legislators who sent Ehrlich a letter of opposition to the project last month say the state should invest in other priorities.
They also questioned ridership projections. About 24,000 riders a day pay $10 to ride MARC trains between Washington and Baltimore. The states ridership study said about 33,000 people a day would pay $60 for a ticket on the maglev train.
I think what we need to do is concentrate on what we have before we create another system, said State Sen. James DeGrange (D) of Anne Arundel County. He is a co-author of the letter to Ehrlich and a member of the Maglev Maryland task force.
In addition, maglev was intended as an inducement in the areas bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, but New York won the bid.
Old Dominion Univ. is hoping for federal money to jump-start its stalled maglev train that has sat idle for more than two months on an elevated track spanning the campus.
The Virginia universitys dream of capturing the national spotlight for maglev development was tangled up in Congressional negotiations over the federal budget.
The Norfolk Virginian-Pilot of February 10 reported, Its extraordinarily frustrating, said Robert L. Fenning, ODU vice president for administration and finance. We keep anticipating well be in a position to be able to move ahead.
The project ran out of funding last fall after technological glitches started eating up time and money. The project missed two grand opening dates in September and November. Construction on the stations and track stopped, but not all work. Scientists and engineers at Lockheed Martin have continued to work in their Florida laboratory to improve the trains computer controls for a smoother ride. Eliminating bumps and rattles has been the biggest engineering hurdle.
This is new technology, and its going to have hiccups, said Robert L. Ash, Old Dominions interim vice president for research.
Fenning said, We may be in a holding pattern, but were not sitting around with a bunch of folks scratching their heads. We know what needs to be done.
About a dozen ODU engineering faculty members have been consulting with Lockheed Martin and American Maglev Technology Inc. to fix the problems. They believe theyve found a solution.
Meanwhile, on campus, students wonder whats up.
Theres a lot of confusion about why its not ready, said student Larry Woods. The students are anxious to see it complete. Rodney Beckner, an ODU freshman, said he looks forward to riding maglev and avoiding the 15-minute walk across campus.
Right now, weve got this huge track that everyone uses to walk under when its raining, he said. Its an expensive umbrella.
But Beckner hasnt given up hope. I dont think anyone will let something this big and this huge go down the gutter.
Testing the latest improvements requires an infusion of cash.
The Senate has set aside $2 million for the ODU maglev in its proposed budget, but the House has not earmarked funds for specific transportation projects, and had been delayed since October.
Meredith Moseley, a spokeswoman for Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), said theres significant support from both houses.
Project officials wouldnt discuss what theyll do if the federal money fails to come through, and feeling skittish after missing two deadlines, they also arent announcing a new completion date.
ODUs maglev was originally budgeted at $16 million $7 million from private contributors Lockheed Martin and Dominion Virginia Power, a $7 million state loan, and $2 million in federal funds. ODU is not a financial partner.
When the federal money failed to come through, American Maglev adjusted its plans. Then a few things went wrong in the trains development, and there was no cushion in the budget. Despite the setbacks, project officials remain optimistic.
Were in the unusual situation because we have no financial exposure on this thing, Ash said. Our patience is being tested, but on the other side, were about to have the nations first maglev system and we didnt spend any of our funds to do it.
University officials see maglev not only as campus transportation but also as a research vessel for its faculty and students.
While the ODU project stalled, the worlds first commercial, high-speed maglev train revved up in China.
The $1.3 billion maglev train reached 260 mph on a 19-mile track between downtown Shanghai and a new airport. Transrapid International sold the system to China after spending several decades and billions of dollars developing the technology in Germany. Although it made a successful trial run on New Years Eve, it wont open until later this year after testing is complete.
We want to get ODU finished and let the world see our flavor at $20 million a mile instead of $60 or $80 million a mile, Morris said.
NCI: Leo KingCarloadings were up last week, the AAR reports. A CSX merchandiser departs northward from Jacksonville, Fla. in March 2002.
Intermodal and carloadings see gains
Both intermodal and carload freight on U.S. railroads were up from last year during the week ended February 8, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported on Thursday.
Intermodal volume for the week totaled 185,543 trailers and containers, up 9.5 percent from the comparable 2002 week. Container traffic was up 14.7 percent, while trailer volume was off 4.0 percent.
Carload traffic, which doesnt include the intermodal data, totaled 320,769 cars, 3.2 percent above the total for the comparable week last year. Carload volume was up 3.2 percent in the East and 3.3 percent in the West. Total volume was estimated at 28.7 billion ton-miles, up 3.2 percent from 2002.
Thirteen out of 18 carload commodity groups were up in comparison with last year, with metallic ores registering a 53.8 percent gain; coke rose by 14.8 percent; and motor vehicles and equipment were up 10.6 percent. On the down side, coal was off by 1.9 percent from last year and grain was down 3.8 percent.
The AAR also reported the following cumulative totals for U.S. railroads during the first six weeks of 2003: 1,867,670 carloads, up 0.4 percent from last year; intermodal volume of 1,053,943 trailers and containers, up 10.9 percent; and total volume of an estimated 166.1 billion ton-miles, up 0.1 percent from last years first six weeks.
Railroads reporting to AAR account for 90 percent of U.S. carload freight and 96 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 96 percent and 100 percent. Railroads provide more than 40 percent of the nations intercity freight transportation, more than any other mode, and rail traffic figures are regarded as an important economic indicator.
Both carload and intermodal traffic were up Canadian railroads during the week ended February 8. Intermodal traffic totaled 40,525 trailers and containers, up 14.4 percent from last year. Carload volume of 63,684 cars was up 0.5 percent from the comparable week last year.
Cumulative originations for the first six weeks of 2003 on the Canadian railroads totaled 359,878 carloads, down 0.8 percent from last year, and 230,459 trailers and containers, up 17.0 percent from last year.
Combined cumulative volume for the first six weeks of 2003 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 2,227,548 carloads, up 0.2 percent from last year and 1,284,402 trailers and containers, up 11.9 percent from last year.
The AAR also reported that carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended February 8 totaled 7,518 cars originated, up 49.8 percent from last year. TFM reported originated intermodal volume of 3,461 trailers or containers, up 187.0 percent from the sixth week of 2002.
A Source said the leap is attributed to last years West Coast ports shutdown.
For the first six weeks of 2003, TFM reported cumulative volume of 49,718 cars, up 24.7 percent from last year, and 19,916 trailers or containers, up 60.8 percent.
AAR is the worlds leading railroad policy, research and technology organization focusing on the safety and productivity of rail carriers.
The AAR is online at www.aar.org.
Fewer travelers using DB trains
Since the introduction of the Deutsche Bahns (DB) new intercity fare system last December 15, the number of passengers traveling on the DB has clearly dropped.
The company attributes the fall to the flat economy.
A DB spokesperson confirmed a newspaper inquiry that the number of revenue passengers carried in January 2003 is definitely lower than the same period in 2002.
DBs spokesperson insisted that the decrease had nothing to do with the new fare system, but instead was a result of the current economic times.
Without the current economic problems, we would have been within our planned revenue target, stated the spokesman.
In 2001 there had been a noticeable drop in passenger numbers in both regional and commuter traffic as well as in intercity passenger volume. Another factor in the statistics from December and January was an increase in ticket sales and bookings after the railroads November 1 announcement of details concerning the new fare system. The fare hikes went up December 15.
The concern also said quality problems were also responsible for the decrease in passenger volume. It cited as the most obvious example on-going technical difficulties with the ICE-3 high-speed train fleet.
Most affected is the new Köln (Cologne)-Frankfurt high-speed route, which only ICE-3 trains may travel upon. Continuing problems with the ICE-3s brakes, couplers, and windows are causing significant delays along this and other high-speed lines. Weather related delays also had dramatically negative effects on DBs on-time performance during late December and early January. The firm blames this unusually disruptive winter weather for losses in passenger volume as well.
Consumer groups counter the real issue behind the drop in passenger volume is the new fare system DB has adopted.
Some consumer groups, such as Pro Bahn, have recently complained that the new DB fare system is overly complex and unfairly penalizes business travelers, the elderly and the physically handicapped, due to its higher prices for tickets purchased the same day or a couple of days prior to travel.
Recently started low-cost airline service between several German cities and from Germany to other major European cities by no-frills carriers such as Hapag-Lloyd Express, Air Berlin, Ryan Air and Virgin Express also may be taking a bite out of DB passenger volume.
A good example is newcomer Hapag-Lloyd Express (HLX). The airline operates B-737-700 aircraft on a frequent shuttle-like service between Cologne, Bonn and Berlin, a route also served by DBs ICE high-speed trains. Airfares on HLX are close to or the same as walk-up fares charged by DB for the ICE, but the travel time is only about _ of the travel time on an ICE train of 4 hours 15 minutes.
Deutsche Bahn AG (DBAG) Niedersachsen announced the biggest investment in the German state of Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony) since the preparations for the Expo 2000 Worlds Fair three years ago in Hannover.
Some 350 million (Euros) will be spent on numerous infrastructure improvements and rolling stock purchases. Included in the plan are projects to rehabilitate rail lines such as Oldenburg-Wilhelmshaven as well as Cuxhaven-Stade, where speed restrictions are in effect due to poor track conditions.
Improvements to the Hannover-Göttingen (old original rail line, not the parallel ICE line) and Hannover-Lehrte are also planned so that speeds can be increased to 160 km/h verses the current 140 km/h limit on these sections.
Also included in the investment plan are renovations for the train stations in Oldenburg, Bremen and Göttingen. New vehicle purchases include additional double-decker passenger coaches and new locomotives to haul them, plus three more sets of tilt-body diesel multiple-unit trains for the Hannover-Halle route either more orders of DBs modern VT 612 series tilt-body double-car diesel MU train sets, or new orders for an equivalent product.
Also under consideration are additional purchases of rolling stock to supplement the problem-plagued ET 424 series electric MU train sets in operation in the Hannover Region S-Bahn commuter rail system.
Genesee Valley shuts down N&WNY
The Niagara & Western New York Railroad Co. experienced a short-lived existence during the last half-year, during which plans had materialized for the service to provide year-round excursion trains in Western New York.
According to information gleaned from the N&WNY co-owner, Phil Nickse, the railroads contract for operations over the Genesee Valley Transportations Falls Road Railroad was unexpectedly canceled on January 28. The N&WNY will officially close its doors by the end of February.
At its onset, the N&WNY entered into an eight-year deal with GVT in September 2001 to provide excursion train operations over the Falls Road Railroad. Just shy of 18 months Nickse said, Trains wont be running in 2003. We are closing down.
Nickse went on to say with certainty, Id say as long as GVT operates on this line, we will not be. We had a lot of plans and were working with every village. We are reviewing our legal options at this point.
To dispel a previous report, the leased Guilford locomotives were not repossessed, Nickse said. He claims that once the contract was canceled, he contacted Guilford to arrange the return of their locomotive trio. Five leased coaches were also being returned to their owner.
The N&WNY had a busy year-and-a-half, setting up packages with area businesses, such as the Medina Railroad Museum and Medina Stone Farm bed and breakfast. Nickse said that thousands of tourists and passengers rode the trips between Lockport and Brockport, New York last year.
Early in January this year, some Lockport residents filed a petition against the railroad, claiming that locomotives left idling all night were disturbing North Avenue residents. The complaint cited concerns over the noise and fumes being released by the locomotives.
Back in December, Nickse was issued a citation for violating the local noise ordinance. That citation was dismissed after a court appearance and explanation by Nickse in early February.
Nickse believes the contract cancellation is in part due to some of those complaints and on-going attempts for legal filings. Nickse said a full statement will appear on the companys website, at http://www.niagaratrain.com/ by the end of this week.
Nickse spoke on behalf of his venture, Were very, very disappointed. We felt the whole region benefited from our efforts here. There was much potential for a tourist train and we proved it. It certainly wasnt for nothing, 10,000 people rode the train and loved it.
Thieves broke into the Strasburg Rail Roads engine house on February 9 and took historic number plates, class lights and bells.
The number plates came from engines 31, 90, and 475, a spokesman for the non-profit organization said. He said the classification lights from engines 31 and 89 were taken, and a new classification light. The thieves also took six rear-end marker lamps four kerosene, and two converted to battery operation.
They stole a photograph of engine 89 on the Green Mountain Railroad.
It is a side view with specifications. The thieves also took a Strasburg Rail Road rulebook in loose-leaf format, a half-size locomotive brass bell and yoke, and an ICC steam locomotive defect chart.
They also forced open (and destroyed in the process) a steel door to the back shop, but we havent spotted anything missing from in there yet, he said.
It appears that there were two perpetrators in that they left footprints and tire tracks in the snow. Pennsylvania State Police are investigating.
The spokesman noted, They seemed to have a specific shopping list in that they took only railfan collectibles, and only specific ones at that.
He added, We ask for the help of the community to return our property to us, and to bring these criminals to justice. If anyone has any information, please call the Strasburg Rail Road at 717-687-8421.
A victory for America
The House-Senate Conference Committee on Appropriations approval this past week to substantially okay all of Amtraks still-miniscule budget request marks a major turn of events in Amtrak history. It represents the first time in many years that Amtrak has received the amount it has asked for. All this, starting from an appropriation that was one-third of what was sought in one branch of Congress, and half in the other.
While some held-over ideological vindictiveness was still visited upon the rail system in the form of imposed micro-management in the name of reform, on the whole, this was a signal victory, not just for Amtrak, but also for the country. Reform is definitely an issue, but more and more people on both sides of the aisle have come to realize that reform is already under way at Amtrak, and its name is David Gunn.
The victory in Congress is largely due to the credibility of Mr. Gunn, who has demonstrated a visceral unwillingness to sugarcoat anything. This has often caused the needed medicine to taste more bitter than it might, but the end product has been the same. Very few people in and around Amtrak will forget that one day, not long after David Gunn took over, there were 88 vice-presidents of the company, and the next day there were 22. Such actions leave a distinct impression, and a change of attitude which even long-time Amtrak critics have begun to notice.
Amtrak was also lucky to have, at this time in its history, a chairman of the board of the caliber of Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith. Mayor Smith is someone who, coming from a small city in a state where the money for public works is very thin upon the ground, has literally transformed not only the physical environment but also the spirit of an entire city, and we have witnessed that first-hand.
He is one of the most effective speakers we have ever known, and his testimony before Congress on behalf of Amtrak, even before he was appointed to the board in 1997 by the President, has a kind of understated eloquence that is all the more impressive because it is substance, not just rhetoric, that inspires it. In combination with Amtrak CEO David Gunn and Amtrak vice-chairman Michael S. Dukakis, who brings a lifetime of rail advocacy to his role, Amtrak has a leadership core which is simply remarkable in any venue, but even rarer in this environment.
Combined with a resurgent transit industry, led by American Public Transportation Associations President Bill Millar, intercity rail is on the verge of comeback which even advocates such as NCI could not have foreseen 15 years ago when we began. Both modes must be grown with the same level of national commitment brought to bear in the 1950s when we built the Interstate Highway system.
I am proud to add that all four of the people above named Messrs. Gunn, Smith, Dukakis, and Millar are keynote speakers at our annual conference April 28 and 29 in Washington, D.C.
While the world stands on the brink of danger, and in a time of overwhelming stress, we can, this week, at least point to one small step for sanity, and a better world. The goal: a national transportation system that serves all Americans, not just business elites, and that permits economic growth without wrecking the environment in which it operates.
Thanks to those named above, for their heart, and fight, and courage.
Had I seen Will Frenchs comment on my Metro-Georgetown article earlier, I would have answered it on the spot.
He is right that the 30 Metrobus routes offer frequent service. What he overlooks is the necessity to offer a shuttle bus service that is dedicated specifically to the Metrorail rider who wants to go to and from Georgetown.
The number 30 bus routes are longer, thus confronting high probabilities of getting bogged down in Washington traffic. Moreover, the frequency depends on which of the 30 series of routes you require. For example, the best connection I can find to reach the Metrorail Red Line is the 38 bus that runs every half-hour when I need to go there. (The D6 stops at different corners in Georgetown, so I must take one or the other, but do not have a choice of the first one that comes along. This is so inadequate that I finally gave up and took a cab to the Farragut Square station.
That $10 cab ride was my lot until I discovered the Blue Bus described in my article. Its a quick hop from the Red Lines Dupont Circle station straight to Georgetown and then to Rosslyn on the other end. There are much fewer stops along the way and the shorter ride makes on-time performance more likely.
Speaking of which: The Georgetown-bound residents of the apartment complexes in Rosslyn (just across the Potomac River on the Virginia side) can take their choice. The number 38 Metrobus on half-hour headways or the Blue Bus every ten minutes.
This is the kind of option that enables the Blue Bus to attract about 4,000 riders daily, as opposed to the projected ridership of 800. It comes as close as a bus possibly can to offering the frequency, speed, and reliability that would be offered by a rail route to Georgetown. Studies have shown that these are factors responsible for rail transit gaining far more riders than your average bus route, with its stops every other block or so. If the Blue Bus were not filling a need that is unmet by Metrobus, it would not be doing so well.
The Blue Bus, of course, still must cope with street traffic. But it comes much closer to overcoming that liability than the longer multi-stop 30 series Metrobuses.
(Who lives in the Washington D.C. area)
The Bush administrations assault on Amtraks national network is misleading and idealistic.
If some or all of the national network trains are abolished, taxpayers will actually save only a small fraction of what the administration alleges. The deeply flawed method used to compute the loss-per-passenger figures is derived from fully allocated costs that include a part of corporate overhead, depreciation, and other non-cash charges that wont necessarily decrease if individual routes are canceled. Therefore, most of the savings the administration claims by canceling routes (or the whole network) would be unrealized.
David Gunn, Amtraks new CEO, has said that all 18 national network trains can be operated with only a $300 million per year investment, which represents just 25 percent of Amtraks $1.2 billion request. [The carrier got $1.05 billion. See todays lead story Ed.]
Using the administrations math and dividing the $300 million national network investment by the 4.3 million passengers these trains carried, on the average, it actually costs taxpayers only $70 per national network passenger-not the hundreds of dollars quoted by the Administration.
There are many valid reasons for maintaining and even expanding Amtraks national network.
Continued federal investment in a national network of trains will: save human lives; reduce our dependence on foreign oil and improve energy efficiency; support economic growth; expand mobility and travel choice; mitigate the negative affects of growth on air quality and the environment; provide crucial links to areas lacking in public transportation; encourage technological progress; offer a viable transportation alternative to over-crowded airports and dangerous highways; add much needed transportation capacity, and maintain our quality of life.
I encourage everyone to write to his or her member of Congress and President Bush in support of Amtraks national network.
Re the story about the former rail bridge over the Hudson River at Poughkeepsie, N.Y. (D:F, February 3):
A gauntlet is an extension on a glove to cover the wrist. Two rail tracks that converge to share a single right of way in an overlapping condition (only one train may pass at a time) are a gantlet track.
I have read much about the convoluted, complicated efforts to save this bridge and restore it to some kind of use, but had never before picked up the fact that it had had gantlet tracks.
Mea culpa. Ed.
Notices move to another page
We have moved our meetings pages to another section of our site.
It has grown so much it is difficult to keep up with it as a Friday deadline item in Destination:Freedom. We will continue to display National Corridors Initiatives annual meeting notice in this space. We will now add meetings notices as they come in, rather than waiting for our Friday deadline for all copy. Ed.
You can now reference meetings and conferences on our Meetings Page.
April 28, 29
The National Corridors Initiatives 2003 Conference
Building Secure and Successful Transit and Intercity Rail for America
The Washington Marriott, 1221 22nd St., N.W., Washington, D.C.
Hon. Gov. Tom Ridge, Secretary of Homeland Security (Invited)
Amtrak Board Chair John Robert Smith
Amtrak President and CEO David Gunn
Amtrak Board Vice-Chair Michael S. Dukakis
American Public Transportation Assn. President William Millar
Special Conference Session for Journalists and Industry:
The News Media and Transportation Making News
$475 (corporate); $375 (government); $350 (non-profit, union)
Checks should be payable to NCI Inc., 35 Terminal Road, Suite 210, Providence RI. 02905
Arrange hotel accommodations at special low conference rates directly with the Washington Marriott 202-872-1500 fax 202-872-9899 and mention NCI.
Florida Photographic CollectionDetails are virtually nonexistent, but these four Florida East Coast Ry. steam engines were lined up in Miamis station in 1927 or 1928. Below, the crew on FECs streamliner Henry M. Flagler stood for a portrait in December 1939, also in Miami. Flagler was a successful oilman who knitted several small Sunshine State railroads together and built the Florida East Coast around the turn of the 19th Century. These photos came from the Florida Memory Project and its Florida Photographic Collection, online at http://www.floridamemory.com/.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write.
Destination: Freedom is partially funded by the Surdna Foundation, and other contributors.
Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images that appear in Destination: Freedom may do so at a nominal fee of $10.00 per image. "True color" .jpg images average 1.7MB each, and are 300 dots-per-inch for print publishers.
In an effort to expand the on-line experience at the National Corridors Initiative web site, we have added a page featuring links to other rail travel sites. We hope to provide links to those cities or states that are working on rail transportation initiatives - state DOTs, legislators, governor's offices, and transportation professionals - as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists.
If you have a favorite rail link, please send the uniform resource locator address (URL) to the webmaster in care of this web site. An e-mail link appears at the bottom of the NCI web site pages to get in touch with D. M. Kirkpatrick, NCI's webmaster in Boston.
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