NCI: Leo KingAcela Express 2175 makes its way over Fort point Channel in Boston on its way to South Station from Southampton Street Yard. It will leave on time in 45 minutes.
Nothing definitive, yet
Passenger rail gets a nod;
It's settled. Not only will Amtrak not be operationally self-sufficient by late 2002, but also rail passenger service won't "make a profit" in the foreseeable future, if ever. However, high-speed rail around the nation may get a real lift from Capitol Hill.
That appeared to be settled wisdom at a three-hour House subcommittee hearing Thursday as lawmakers questioned members of the Amtrak Reform Council (ARC).
As directed by Congress, ARC spent four years determining that Amtrak can't reach its self-sufficiency goal by December 2002. Moreover, the very idea seems to have been thrown out the window until Congress decides to invest big bucks in upgrading the nation's rail infrastructure. Then, and only then, can we even realistically think about operating in the black. It comes down to putting the horse before the cart.
Before the House Subcommittee on Railroads, ARC members and the lawmakers alike appeared to be saying, "When was the last time I-95 made a profit?"
The council had recently formally announced its proposed reform consisting of three steps: a small federal agency to oversee a restructured rail passenger program, an operating company to provide services "responsive to market demand" with authority to franchise out some routes, and a separate government company controlled by Northeast Corridor (NEC) states to own and manage NEC infrastructure.
So how does this make Amtrak self-sufficient? It doesn't, but the question was raised by Rep. Bob Clement (D-Tenn.) He noted that after spending four years monitoring Amtrak's efforts toward that goal, ARC itself could not come up with a "self-sufficiency" plan.
Precisely, was ARC Chairman Gil Carmichael's response. That will take years. First will come the basic hurdle: money; but, he said, ARC's proposal would, in fact, put rail on a level playing field with air and highway transportation whose infrastructures are paid for by the public purse.
ARC panelists and Congressmen alike looked at the 31-year-old rail passenger service, and said the system must be changed for the better. The fact that it was badly in need of repair "is our fault, not theirs (Amtrak)," declared Rep. Robert Simmons (R-Conn.) Now it is time for Congress to act, he added, echoing much of what had been said during the hearing by his colleagues.
"Shame on us if we don't do it," agreed railroad subcommittee Chairman Jack Quinn.
Specifics? Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) said perhaps the time had come when his $12-_ billion high-speed rail bond bill, which had been languishing in the House legislative mill despite overwhelming support on the Senate side, can be merged or combined somehow with a $71 billion bond bill for fast trains, sponsored by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska). That could spike a faster track for high-speed rail legislation. Young chairs the subcommittee's parent, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, while Oberstar is that same panel's ranking Democrat.
"My dear friend, Gil," Oberstar said to the ARC Chairman, "you can't do that without money. Lots of money."
Carmichael did not dispute that. In fact, he said by his estimate, Amtrak would need $20 billion to upgrade the "south end" (Washington to New York) of the Northeast Corridor (NEC) alone. He figures the entire nation's rail upgrading will need $100 billion over the next twenty years, $25 billion of which would be required for the NEC.
That prompted Oberstar to propose that his bill, with its 80 percent funding from the feds, could merge with Young's bill, which puts about 80 percent of the financial cost on the shoulders of the states.
However, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) warned his colleagues, "The state of Maryland (one of the states on the Washington-New York corridor) cannot afford to pay for the substantial needs of Amtrak."
If Young and Oberstar can work through that thicket and resolve their own differences, they may be able to jar loose the high-speed rail legislative train lumbering along the Congressional track.
While Congressmen expressed an abundance of skepticism on some details on the ARC plan for "a new Amtrak," formally unveiled February 7, not one of them spoke out against funding rail passenger service.
There was an atmosphere that seemed to convey the message, "Let's get serious about high-speed rail service in this country." Whether that translates into substantive action in the end is another matter. It surely won't happen without a fight.
Oberstar pointed out that every single president of Amtrak had a background in industry and/or railroading, but none of them "could do the impossible" (i.e., could not run a first-class rail passenger system without a dependable funding mechanism for infrastructure, as enjoyed by air and highway competitors).
This idea that the Class I carriers gave up passenger trains because they were inherently uneconomical, is a "myth," Carmichael told the Congressmen.
"What doomed passenger trains (in the private sector)," he said, "was that there was no public support for infrastructure."
Delays on Amtrak trains had increased dramatically since 1998, the year the reform council held its first meeting. The lawmakers were reminded again that part of the problem was capacity. In the last 20 to 30 years, the freight carriers, on whose tracks Amtrak trains operate on most routes outside the NEC, could no longer afford to double-track their main lines. That has led to debate in Class I boardrooms: Should the proudly independent freight railroads accept government subsidies? Carmichael sees this as ultimately upgrading the rail trackage for both freight and passenger operations.
Another highlight of the three-hour hearing came when an ARC financial officer questioned some elements of Amtrak's accounting practices.
ARC analyst Michael Mates testified that Amtrak's financial consultants had later assumed the role of auditors. This practice is perfectly legal, but recent business scandals had called its obvious conflicts of interest into question. However, unlike the uproar over Enron and Global Crossing, no one accused Amtrak of skullduggery or cheating its employees.
While Carmichael did not dodge the bullet on the question of how much money would be needed for an improved rail passenger service, some lawmakers felt his panel had failed to come to grips with that very issue.
ARC member Jim Coston said the very idea of requiring Amtrak to reach the self-sufficiency goal had forced the rail passenger company to cut back on needed service just to try for that one end result.
The examples he cited ranged from recent layoffs at Beech Grove [and Bear] repair shops, which could mean inadequate maintenance, to smaller but important things such as discontinuing the use of tissue paper headrest protectors on its coach seats.
"Failure to protect the upper part of the seat backs from hair preparations and bodily secretions has accelerated deterioration of the seat fabrics which Amtrak also cannot afford to fix," Coston observed.
Though Coston disagrees with the idea of splitting infrastructure from operations or any privatization ("not for years, maybe not for decades") he voted for the final ARC plan, in large part to get the reform issue out on the table for Congressional debate.
"Amtrak's discredited management has issued news releases claiming that the solution to its maintenance backlogs is simply to pour more money into this dysfunctional business," Coston complained. Handing them the $1.2 billion Amtrak President George Warrington says he needs for the next fiscal year, "is merely a recipe for a more expensive status quo," argued the Chicago rail lawyer.
"If you gave them $5 billion a year, it would all go into the Northeast corridor," the Midwesterner asserted. (For details of Coston's Rail Trust Fund proposal, see D:F for January 21.)
The extent of Amtrak's cost-effectiveness depended on whose figures you believe are relevant. While Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) noted that the Bush administration's DOT budget calls for a mere $521 million for Amtrak (as opposed to multiple billions for highways and airways) ARC member Wendell Cox, Amtrak's chief critic on the panel, said Amtrak passengers were paying far more than airline or intercity bus customers.
Last week in this space, we quoted Cox's statement that no "rational human being" would propose a train from Meridian, Mississippi to Dallas, Texas. A Georgia reader took us to task for not mentioning that this train is actually an extension of the New York-Washington-New Orleans Crescent. For the record, mea culpa.
Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) said he felt ARC was going in the right direction. The Florida lawmaker opined that several high-speed short distance routes between major cities of his state could be operated at a profit, or at least break-even.
"We have to remember we're talking about O.P.M. - other people's money," he said.
"(Amtrak) sure could have used some of that O.P.M." in the billions Congress gave to the airlines, said Charley Moneypenny, rail labor's representative on the ARC and the only panelist to vote against the final Council report.
"That was to help them for the equipment that crashed into buildings (on 9/11)," Mica shot back. The Florida Republican, who heads the Aviation subcommittee, added, "I don't recall that any trains crashed into buildings."
Moneypenny's objection to the final report is focused mainly on its encouragement of privatization, which the unions fear could reduce the route structure and adversely affect their jobs.
"You can't replace something with nothing," the Transport Workers Union legislative official said, "If not Amtrak, what?" he demanded to know.
Mica, who had worked his way through college working on the railroad, said he had witnessed some "featherbedding" practices. On the other hand, he and other lawmakers on the subcommittee expressed sympathy for Amtrak employees who now are in limbo, not knowing whether they will have their jobs in the near future.
As this writer has previously noted, whatever featherbedding prevailed in the past, it clearly is not the case on Amtrak today. That conclusion comes from riding six Amtrak long-distance trains in the fall and winter 2001-1002.
Moneypenny, in his prepared testimony and in dialogue with House committee members, cited passenger rail privatization efforts in Britain, which he said had failed.
Carmichael and ARC member Nancy Rutledge Connery told the Congressional panel ARC was studying the British system and hoping the U.S. can learn from the mistakes of our cousins across the pond. (For a discussion of the British passenger train problems as they relate to the U.S., again see D:F for Jan. 21.)
Several lawmakers noted the highly touted "high-speed" Acela Express service is "not really high speed," beating its predecessor Metroliner by mere minutes between Washington and New York. The Acela actually reaches its advertised 150 mph only over 18-miles in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
Rail professionals note that average speed, not top speed, is what improves trip times and is the true measure of train performance. For example, between Boston and New York the new Acela Express has reduced the old travel time from five hours and more to less than three-and-one-half hours, despite the curving shoreline route and, especially, the elderly Connecticut DOT-owned catenary between New Haven and New York state line that adds 10-15 minutes to the schedule, and which Connecticut and Metro-North recently began to replace.
Carmichael said that gets right back to the previously cited infrastructure needs between Washington and New York.
Backed by Carmichael and ARC Executive Director Tom Till, Michael Mates, the ARC's financial officer, said getting financial information from Amtrak was like pulling eyeteeth. The ARC officials had concluded that it wasn't that Amtrak was arbitrarily trying to avoid answering their inquiries, it "was just that they didn't have it."
Mica said his office couldn't get simple information on Amtrak's advertising costs.
Till later corrected himself and said after he had complained last week of an inability to get relevant financial information - such as NEC infrastructure and operating costs - Amtrak quickly sent ARC a report which the staff had not yet had an opportunity to examine. Because ARC is in the process of shutting down, with staffers hunting for new jobs, there had not yet been time to examine the figures.
After three hours of discussing Amtrak's problems, some of which were well-known, others that have been quietly lingering for years, what has emerged for the future is possible collaboration by powerful lawmakers who could merge their high-speed bills. The Railroad Subcommittee chairman was on record as saying "Shame on us" if Congress fails to act.
Does this mean Congress is prepared to solve the problem as well as the politics of the problem? We'll see.
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|DOT urges White House funding|
A February 14 House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation hearing, billed as a look at proposed DOT security measures, turned largely into an inquiry into the Administration's plans for Amtrak Thursday as committee members pressed Acting Secretary of Transportation Michael Jackson for details of how it plans to address the issue.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta is recovering from hip surgery.
"Amtrak's got to be dealt with," asserted Subcommittee Chair Harold Rogers (D-Ky.), "but your budget punts the issue. I hope to see your long-term plan before us, very shortly."
The White House budget contains a $521 million "placeholder" amount. Amtrak has asked for $1.3 billion, and has announced that without that amount, it will virtually shut down next October 1, except for the Northeast Corridor and Auto Train service to Florida.
In his statement to the subcommittee, Jackson said, "We must decide precisely what type of intercity rail network we need, what we can afford, and how we can sustain it over time." Departing from his prepared remarks, Jackson added, in response to a question for Chairman Rogers, "It is evident that this placeholder of $521 million is not sufficient to operate Amtrak. We will work with you, Mr. Chairman, to find a solution."
"We are committed to intercity rail," he added, "as an essential component of our transportation system. We are asking what it is, absolutely, that we need, what it will cost, and how we will pay for it."
Jackson, who served in the previous Bush Administration as chief-of-staff to then-DOT chief and current Presidential chief-of-staff Andrew Card, is widely regarded as a straight-shooter by both sides of the political aisle in Washington. His job is complicated by the fact that the Administration is divided over its view of Amtrak, with Mineta and former Amtrak board chairman and present Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson on record as strongly favoring a robust national rail system, but with Office of Management and Budget director Mitch Daniels actively opposing spending on Amtrak.
The President has yet to weight in on the issue, at least in public. Amtrak has had bipartisan support in Congress for many years, although some Republicans such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and retiring Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) view it as a boondoggle, and many have criticized Amtrak for poor performance. Amtrak and its supporters counter that it has never been funded adequately, and indeed, although it was authorized at a $1 billion annual funding level over the past six years, it has received half that amount, as an actual appropriation, for much of that time.
Mineta has called for Amtrak reauthorization in 2002.
Jackson noted that this was "an unprecedented year" for the Transportation department because of the events of September 11 and the controversy surrounding airport security. Airport screeners at 429 U.S. airports were "federalized" a weekend ago.
Rogers asked Jackson to come up with a plan so that at the end of May, when the transportation appropriations bill will be submitted, decisions on Amtrak's future can be made. Jackson noted that Amtrak has two distinct types of capital needs, deferred maintenance on infrastructure [reported elsewhere as $5.8 billion], and on-going capital needs for current operations.
Rep. JosČ Serrano (D-N.Y.), describing himself as "the poster child for Amtrak" because of his frequent use of the system, asked Jackson, "What is the future of Amtrak? Are we headed towards a disaster here?"
Describing Amtrak President George Warrington's statement to the press of two weeks ago threatening to shut down the system unless given proper funding as "candid," Jackson noted that at present, "There is a substantial ground swell of support for high-speed rail, but a solution on financing has eluded us; this is a mission."
The Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, chaired by Rep. Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.), which questioned Amtrak Reform Council Chair Gil Carmichael and other ARC members at a hearing February 14 (see separate story) will hold two additional hearings, March 6 and April 11, into how Amtrak might be structured going forward.
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|Beech Grove, Bear, lay off 406|
Amtrak laid off 406 employees a fortnight ago at its two major heavy repair facilities.
Its Beech Grove, Indiana maintenance facility lost 228 employees on February 8. It was the biggest layoff there in the past decade, according to the Indianapolis Star. The railroad laid off an additional 178 railroaders at its Bear, Delaware facility on the same day. Northeast Corridor public affairs people did not respond to D:F e-mail queries.
Kathleen Cantillion, an Amtrak spokeswoman, said they received five days' pay.
The layoffs were not unexpected at the Beech Grove facility, which employs 840. Earlier this month, Amtrak announced $285 million in cutbacks, including 1,000 layoffs nationwide. Beech Grove was hit so hard because much of the nationwide cutback is in capital spending, which means orders for new and refurbished rail cars and equipment.
Cantillion said the layoffs were proportionally the same as those at Beech Grove.
Meanwhile, Beech Grove employees can still hold out hope that Congress will come through with a bailout that could result in their return, but Amtrak was offering no promises.
"We can't speculate on that at all," said Cantillion. "And we don't want to make any promises we can't keep."
The maintenance facility was established in 1908. At one point, it was the largest employer in Beech Grove, with up to 5,000 employees.
After Amtrak's CEO George D. Warrington disclosed that he would cut operating costs by $285 million but before the Beech Grove and Bear cuts were known, U.S. Rep. Julia Carson said, "Our systems of transportation contribute in important ways to our prosperity and to our civilization, and their diversification serves our nation's well-being, a fact brought home forcefully after the terror attacks of last September."
She correctly pointed out "One of the targets of the Amtrak cuts is the maintenance facility in Beech Grove... which performs vital maintenance and does it in superior ways with a highly skilled work force."
The Congresswoman said, "It is Amtrak's largest maintenance facility, and while I understand that Amtrak is Congressionally mandated to meet certain levels of operating costs, it appears illogical to make the cuts in the maintenance area of their operations."
She added, "Amtrak's infrastructure is already showing signs of stress, and to cut maintenance could result in a vicious circle where Amtrak has trains requiring serious maintenance, but nowhere to process them, therefore further deteriorating their services."
Indiana Rep. Julia Carson said, "In Congress we must consider ways to keep rail running and expand its appeal and its service. Here at home, I will fight to ensure the continuation of as many jobs at the Beech Grove facility as possible."
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|Empire state funds rail agencies|
Gov. George Pataki's proposed budget for New York State would more than double state funding for the Capital District Transportation Authority (CDTA) and boost aid to public transit systems around the state by $567 million.
While stressing increases in mass transit funding, which Pataki and his staff said are aimed at stabilizing fares and averting the kinds of service and job cuts enacted this year when promised funding did not materialize, the plan includes no increases from the current $1.75 billion allocated to maintain, repair and build roads and bridges, said the Albany Times-Union on January 23.
A $567 million overall mass transit funding increase would be added to the current $1.6 billion level of aid. The increases would be achieved through a series of complex financial maneuvers.
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|'Cat' down, trains snarled|
A Norfolk Southern freight train pulled down catenary over Amtrak's main line and commuter tracks on February 9, causing travel delays for about 2,000 Amtrak passengers and an unknown number of New Jersey Transit (NJT) riders.
Five tracks in both directions were affected. The incident happened about 5:45 p.m. near Linden, N.J. when the freight train tore down the wires. An NJT spokeswoman said that agency's Raritan Valley, North Jersey Coast and Northeast Corridor lines were affected.
Bus transportation was being arranged for NJ Transit commuters, said spokeswoman Anna Farneski. She did not know the number of passengers affected.
Travel on the Raritan Valley line was restored just before 10:30 p.m., but remained suspended on the and North Jersey Coastline and Northeast Corridor, which takes passengers to Newark International Airport.
By Sunday, traffic was nearly back to normal on. Most of the damage was repaired by 6 a.m., but work continued through the morning to get the last two tracks back in service.
One stranded passenger, Alison Greenberg, a freelance television producer from New York, says Amtrak handled the problem horribly. She said passengers were stuck on an Amtrak train at the Metro Park station in Iselin for two and a half hours, much of the time in the dark, and were given very little information about the problem.
Some people were stuck between stations for up to five hours until they could be rescued. With no power on the train, the trains' PA systems could not work.
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Texas entrepreneur sees dollars
in Maine trains, vacationers
A Texas businessman is betting that leisurely train trips featuring the beauty of Maine's interior will attract vacationers with plenty of money to spend.
Randy Parten, who owns the nation's largest fleet of private rail cars, has begun offering luxury rail tours in northern Maine during the coming summer, and fall foliage tours from Portland to Montreal, according to the Portland Press Herald of February 8.
Parten is spending about $3.5 million on the venture. His new company, the Acadian Railway Co., recently mailed 250,000 brochures to well-heeled world travelers. Starting February 20, he plans to air television and radio ads in major markets along the Northeast corridor.
Hello, Saco, Amtrak here...
Elsewhere in Maine, the Downeaster will make its first stop in Saco tomorrow. The city, working with "Saco Spirit," a downtown revitalization group, will greet the 2:15 p.m. southbound train with a ceremony celebrating Amtrak's long-awaited arrival.
Mayor Bill Johnson said a small ceremony is planned for 2 p.m. He said the city has great hopes that Portland-to-Boston train service will bring more people to Saco and surrounding areas.
At a City Council workshop this week, officials presented plans to build two parking lots for train riders, one near Main Street, and the other next to the tracks beyond the platform. Construction of a train station is also planned.
The company started accepting reservations on January 17, and has been receiving between 50 and 70 calls daily, he said.
"We want to bring people to Maine; not the coastal part of Maine everybody knows about, but the big interior part of Maine at Moosehead Lake," Parten said.
The company plans to use the same vintage coaches it uses in winter for tours in Mexico's Copper Valley region. The Acadian would consist of 10 rebuilt stainless steel, streamlined cars from the 1940s and 1950s. The train includes parlor, dining, dome, and observation cars, all finished with wood and brass interiors. All must also conform to Amtrak mechanical standards to travel over Amtrak lines.
The trains are essentially cruise ships on rails, Parten said, with five-course meals and a service staff of about 22 people. Although the train has 540 seats, tours would be limited to no more than 240 people, he said.
He said the tours appeal to the same kind of people who enjoy cruises. Like those luxury ships, the train has nothing to do with transportation, he said. A nine-day trip from New York City to Montreal, Greenville, Saint John, Halifax, Bar Harbor, Portland, and Boston and back to New York City costs $3,000 per person, double occupancy. A three-day tour between Montreal and Portland costs $819 per person, double occupancy.
Parten said the Downeaster Amtrak service between Boston and Portland is a crucial component of the company's plan to create a "circle trip" that uses trains, buses and cruise ships to connect New York City with Maine, the Maritime Provinces and Montreal.
For the fall foliage tours, Parten's cars would use the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad, which terminates in East Deering near the Presumpscot School and runs though Maine and New Hampshire to Quebec. Tourists arriving in Portland on the Downeaster would have to take a charter bus from the Sewall Street station to the St. Lawrence and Atlantic line in East Deering.
The SL&A and Parten are now in the final stages of negotiations for an agreement that calls for the railroad's locomotives to haul Parten's coaches. There are no significant obstacles to reaching a deal, said Charles Hunter, the railroad's vice president of transportation.
In northern Maine, the train would use two railroads, the Eastern Maine Ry. and the Bangor & Aroostook. Parten said he has contracts with the Eastern Maine Railway and Rail World Inc., the likely new owner of the BAR, which is in bankruptcy proceedings.
Parten said he has been working on the project for five years.
In Greenville, which has only 1,800 people, business owners and town officials are excited about the idea of seeing more than 4,000 wealthy visitors this summer. They say Parten appears quite serious and credible.
"Everybody seems to be just thrilled to death," said Sara Holman, executive director of the Moosehead Lake Region Chamber of Commerce.
Roger Currier, who owns a sightseeing flying service near the depot, said his business could get a big boost from the train.
"I'm personally cautiously optimistic about the whole thing," he said. "A lot of details have to fall into place. I've been around for a long time, and you see a lot of people get excited about things that never happen."
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|Snowmobilers halt Downeaster|
If there was any doubt many snowmobilers suffer from astonishingly lemming-like habits, their playing chicken with the Downeaster train service is causing problems.
Apparently the newly inaugurated Boston-to-Portland trains are faster and quieter then the Guilford freight trains along the tracks, so they're coming closer to making a few riders into pate on the tracks.
In January, there were several close calls in Biddeford, Wells, North Berwick, Maine and Dover, N.H. with emergency stop required on February 7 in Saco.
The riders eluded police after they buzzed away into the snow. Officials are urging clubs to get the word out to their members of the hazards.
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It runs 'on fumes,' says Dukakis
Michael Dukakis, Amtrak's acting chairman and a former Democratic presidential nominee, told a group of Univ. of California at Berkeley students that the government needs to invest $2.5 billion a year to stop national passenger rail service going the way of the dodo.
The former Massachusetts governor's call for a dedicated fund for high-speed rail service comes at a critical moment for passenger train fans, the Oakland Tribune reported on February 9..
California is inching toward a proposed $30 billion, 800-mile rail network that would link all of the major cities in the Golden State with trains that run at 225 mph. The system is proposed as an alternative to the slow, crowded, and vulnerable airports.
The anti-Amtrak Cato Institute called the proposals "too little, too late," for a system with what it described as record subsidies, record losses and stagnant ridership. The institute urged selling off the entire Amtrak system in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding.
Amtrak is projected to run out of money by the end of the year.
Last week Amtrak officials warned that unless Congress puts more money into the system, long-distance service to California, including the Coast Starlight between Los Angeles and Seattle and the California Zephyr from Oakland to Chicago, could be eliminated.
Dukakis found fault with the ideas of the Amtrak Reform Council and its recent report as well as the Cato Institute.
"If you don't like Amtrak, why would you want three?" he quipped. He pointed to the British experience of privatizing the national rail system, which has led to less efficient, more costly service and calls for again nationalizing the service. Several accidents have also occurred.
Instead, Dukakis blamed Amtrak's woes on "massive neglect and under-investment. We can't continue to run this system on fumes."
Dukakis said, "There's no way this system can be operationally profitable, if that even makes sense, unless we commit a modest amount of funding to these corridors, and particularly to high-speed rail."
President Bush has proposed a $521 million budget for Amtrak, but after annual debt payments and retirement contributions, the national rail network would run on just $231 million. The 95-mile Bay Area Rapid Transit District, by comparison, has an operating budget of $368 million.
Dukakis said the cure is to invest in profitable service, such as the run between Boston and Washington, D.C., which earned $150 million last year.
The Capitol Corridor trains, running from Sacramento through Oakland to San Jose, are the fastest-growing rail service in America, with 132 percent ridership growth in three years and an 87 percent jump in revenues.
These routes, Dukakis thinks, will prop up money-losing transcontinental service.
Gene Skoropowski, who runs the Capitol Corridors, agrees.
"With crumbs, basically, Amtrak has performed a minor miracle. In 1971 it took over the biggest pile of junk," he said. "Now they recover 75 percent of their costs from fares. That's the highest in the world, and we beat it up."
He, Dukakis, and others think it unlikely that California rail service, which enjoys substantial support from the state Capitol, will disappear. "You can't take politics out of policy," Dukakis observed. "This will be a congressionally driven solution."
Said Rick Silver, who lobbies Congress as executive director of the Train Riders' Association of California, "Each politician with an Amtrak station in his or her district that might close is going to get up and scream."
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|Davis takes another track|
After months of scraping for money, California's high-speed rail project may be headed back on track even though the state's budget picture has worsened in the last year, reports The AP of February 13.
During the 2001 energy crisis, Gov. Gray Davis cut the project's budget to only $1 million, barely enough to pay for the state's high-speed rail board and its small staff, but there was no money for environmental impact statements needed before the state could consider laying tracks, and legislators failed to find more money.
This year, however, after the September 11 terrorist attacks disrupted the state's airline system, Davis has sought the full $8.46 million requested by the board. Project supporters are hopeful that lawmakers will agree, despite a projected $10.5 billion revenue shortfall in the coming fiscal year.
"All of a sudden the governor loves us," said Mehdi Morshed, the board's executive director. Morshed said the $8.46 million would let the board complete at least a draft environmental impact report by June 2003, then would come more detailed planning to pinpoint potential routes and clear the way for construction, probably in segments.
"When you get to the project level then you actually have to do engineering work and figure out exactly where it is within an inch. How many feet from (existing) railroad tracks is it? What kind of sound wall do you need?"
The 700-mile, $25 billion system would link California's major urban areas with trains traveling at top speeds of more than 200 mph.
Supporters see it as a much-needed alternative to highways and airlines. The state's population is expected to grow an estimated 65 percent by 2040.
Until this year, Davis' support had been lukewarm at best. Shortly after taking office in 1999, he referred to the project as a space age "Buck Rogers" system and said he would prefer to improve commuter trains.
In 2000, he approved $5 million to begin environmental studies although rail planners initially sought $10 million. Last year, planners requested $14 million to continue the studies, but initially got only the $1 million from the state to pay for board's expenses. The planners eventually managed to put together about $4 million for environmental work by getting $1.25 million from the federal government, claiming about $500,000 in unused state transportation bond funds, leaving vacant staff positions unfilled and teaming up with CalDOT to study rail routes between Los Angeles and San Diego. They also cut costs by dropping consideration of dozens of potential route alignments and settling on the more traditional electric and diesel-powered trains instead of a magnetic levitation system.
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States ponder what to do
if Amtrak long routes fail
It's too early to say what Amtrak's February 1 report will do to Boise, Idaho's chances of getting back rail passenger service, reports the Idaho Statesman.
Amtrak shut down service to Boise in 1997 after two decades of connecting the community to the Pacific Northwest and the East. At the time, Amtrak said the Boise runs were not financially viable.
Boise was a stop on the Chicago-to-Seattle Pioneer, and its demise left Idaho and a large part of Oregon, east of the Cascade Mountains, with no mass transit service, except for buses.
While serving last year as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Coles continued his and the organization's push for more federal investment in rail service between cities and for inner-city transit.
Coles and others in Idaho and Oregon have suggested reinstating service only between Portland and Boise, a proposal that concerns members of the Association of Oregon Rail and Transit Advocates. They want a route beyond Boise to Texas through Salt Lake and Denver.
Looking back at a little history of the route, in the summer of 1999, Union Pacific announced it would abandon the spur linking Boise to the main line, but the FRA said UP could not remove the rails and ties until the community had an opportunity to negotiate a purchase, leading to this summer's acquisition.
Boise Mayor Brent Coles and members of the Boise City Council launched a campaign to preserve the tracks so that, sometime in the future, rail service to Boise might be restored.
The following year, the council approved purchasing 3.5 miles of track for $2 million from UP, which links to 14.7 miles of rails UP donated to the city. The 18.2-mile spur runs from the eastern Boise city limits to the UP main line southeast of the city, missing most of the region's population.
Meanwhile, writes the Charleston, West Virginia Daily Mail of February 8, a 20-year-old provision, inserted long ago into an appropriations bill by that state's Sen. Robert Byrd (D), could block Amtrak from making threatened cuts to passenger train service to Charleston and Huntington.
Amtrak may cut 18 long-distance routes in October if the Congress doesn't substantially increase its funding. The Bush Administration budget is funding Amtrak at the same level as the past three years at $521 million.
However, the Cardinal route, which serves Charleston, Huntington, and White Sulphur Springs, could be saved from the chopping block, thanks to a two-decade-old amendment Byrd authored.
In 1981, when Amtrak actually had eliminated the Cardinal, Byrd successfully included language in the transportation appropriations bill that stated, "Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Corporation shall provide through rail passenger service between Washington, D.C. and Chicago, via Cincinnati."
"The Corporation" is the National Railroad Passenger Corp., is Amtrak's formal name, and that line is the Cardinal.
Amtrak officials said last week they thought Byrd's provision would have "nothing to do with how we proceed," but the senators' staffers think the language means that the Cardinal cannot be cut unless Congress passes a new law specifically overriding current law - or if Amtrak ceases to exist.
Another West Virginia solon, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R), who sits on the House Transportation Committee, said she is concerned about Amtrak's cost to taxpayers, and worried about the loss of service to West Virginia. Amtrak's proposed cuts also could eliminate the Chicago-to-Washington Capitol Limited, which stops in Harpers Ferry.
Capito and her West Virginia colleagues have, in the last year, signed on to several bills that would help Amtrak improve its infrastructure as well as beef up security for the passenger railroad.
Capito's House Transportation colleague, Rep. Nick Joe Rahall (D), advocated including $3 billion for Amtrak in an economic stimulus measure. "Amtrak needs a financial commitment, not a service cut," Rahall said.
West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D) worries that cuts could hurt rural areas.
"Without affordable rail transportation, we could effectively isolate the vast majority of Americans living in rural areas," he said.
Rockefeller's comments echoed Byrd's, of 20 years earlier.
"A viable rail passenger service is a very important part of the overall transportation system of the nation," he said, urging his fellow senators to support the Cardinal line's continued existence. They did then, by a vote of 53-34.
In Indiana, should Amtrak be allowed to remain intact, yet not receive enough federal funding to maintain its lines through Lafayette, the corporation would still pursue a high-speed rail line from Chicago to Indianapolis that would stop in Lafayette, said Kevin Johnson, an Amtrak spokesman in Chicago.
But the prospects for Midwest high-speed rail, funding for which Congress already has repeatedly denied, would be even dimmer if the local routes are cut, said Rick Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Coalition. The Chicago-based nonprofit group includes mayors, chambers of commerce, businesses, and others, reports the Lafayette Journal and Courier.
"Right now, the train that runs through Lafayette is poor, but a significant number of people ride it every day," Harnish said. "If something is there and operating, even if it's bad, it's real. If it's not operating, it's just a concept."
However, closure of the line through Lafayette would not necessarily delay a Midwest high-speed rail network, according to Liz Solberg, Lafayette Railroad Relocation director. She also is one of four Indiana representatives to a five-state Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission.
"There is a litany of concerns about Amtrak, but I don't think that has to be viewed as a setback for a high-speed rail system," Solberg said. "There have already been, from a number of independent sources, assessments that these regional high-speed rail systems would have a lot of success. The studies don't address who would run it or who the business operator is."
Although she could not predict how Congress will handle Amtrak, Solberg said she thinks that Lafayette could lose passenger rail service for several years, then regain it when the high-speed network, funded partly by federal and state money, is up and running.
Dana Smith, president of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, agreed that Lafayette could go a few years without passenger rail if Amtrak implements the cuts. Even if a private operator resumes passenger service through the area with a high-speed rail line, it would first concentrate on connecting more populated urban areas such as Chicago to Detroit and Chicago to Cleveland, Smith predicted.
"We probably wouldn't be the first line they put in... but I think eventually something would occur," he said.
One uncertainty, Solberg said, is whether a private or state-run high-speed rail operator could force freight railroads to share use of their rails, as Amtrak now does under authority it received from Congress when it was chartered in 1971.
"That's the one question I haven't been able to get answered yet," Solberg said.
Although they realize it is not financially feasible right now in light of Indiana's budget woes, Solberg and Harnish voiced confidence that the state ultimately will invest the money needed to develop high-speed rail, if nothing else, as an alternative to spiraling highway construction costs.
"From 1990 to 2000, in the nine Midwestern states, demand for highways increased 25 percent," Harnish said. "At the same time, highway lane miles increased less than 2 percent. We cannot afford to add the transportation capacity we need by building new highways. We'll never catch up."
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|Test train checks Michigan|
An Amtrak test train set arrived in Niles, Mich., on February 10 with all-Amtrak equipment which included (in order), engine P-42DC No. 28, Horizon coach 51003, Horizon café 53001, Horizon coach 54514, and another P-42DC, No. 36. The test train began testing the next day and continued checking grade crossing warning systems for 110 mph operation all week. The tests were going on between CP192 and CP147.
- (Thanks to Gene Poon)
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|CUS to be restored, rebuilt|
Chicago Union Station developers are asking for a landmark designation that is expected to advance redeveloping the building. Amtrak and Prime Group Realty Trust are working with the Illinois city's Planning and Development department to secure remaining required approvals. The request was presented February 7.
The redevelopment plan calls for a program that will completely revitalize the building (bounded by Clinton, Canal, Jackson and Adam Streets) into a major, environmentally conscious mixed-used development including new office space, a hotel-conference center, condominiums, and retail space.
Improving and adding to this historic structure will provide the centerpiece for the redeveloping West Loop. There has been significant commercial and residential development in the downtown area west of the river, and a mixed-use development will provide this burgeoning area with additional commercial and retail services. Amtrak and Prime Group Realty Trust say they have worked to preserve the historic structure while creating enough additional development to benefit the area and make the project feasible.
The project, designed by Lucien Lagrange Architects, restores, refurbishes and enlivens a building envisioned by Daniel Burnham's 1909 Plan for Chicago. The station was designed by D.H. Burnham & Co. but completed by Graham, Anderson, Probst and White, the successor to Burnham's firm after he died. The building is a historically significant element of Chicago's transportation heritage as well as the Golden Age of intercity rail travel.
"Amtrak selected Prime Group Realty Trust to enhance one of our most valuable assets while providing rail passengers with a more comfortable and convenient travel experience," said Don Saunders, Senior Vice President of Amtrak Intercity.
As originally conceived and designed, Chicago Union Station was to be a high-rise structure, but was never completed. The building's design grew from Daniel Burnham's Plan for Chicago, which envisioned three monumental structures facing the Loop from just past the west bank of the south branch of the Chicago River. One of those originally planned buildings, the Northwestern Station, is gone forever. The second, the United States Post Office, was constructed just to the southeast of the Station.
"The plan will revitalize this great building and create a vibrant mixed-use center for the West Loop," said Richard Curto, Prime Group's CEO.
Construction is expected to begin in November and completed by fall 2004.
Major components of the 26-story, 1,100,000-square-foot mixed-use project include complete restoration and renovation of the existing Union Station building, including the Great Hall with its 112-foot-high ceiling; Creating 480,000 square feet of technologically advanced office space with windows that open; under floor heating ventilating and air conditioning; and an atrium.
Other large projects will include a hotel from Harrison Conference Center (a division of Hilton Hotels) with up to 300 guest rooms and 35,000 square feet of conference space; developing 150 luxury condominium units, private parking and a private entrance; more than 60,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, accessible from both the street and the Great Hall; and a direct connection to the recently opened 70,000-square-foot Multiplex Wellness Center across Canal Street.
The renovation does not include the passenger concourse, ticketing areas and train platforms. Existing Amtrak and METRA rail operations will not be affected. Travelers' experience is expected to be enhanced by many new amenities, which is hoped will restore the vibrant atmosphere of the early days of the station.
Union Station also will be ready for the new millennium and the arrival of high-speed rail in the Midwest, with Chicago serving as the hub for a 3,000-mile passenger rail network serving nine states.
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Mail is slow arriving;
STB oks document scans
The Surface Transportation Board (STB) is going to start scanning documents for online use. Confidential documents will also be scanned, but will not be online nor available to the public. The agency has also had mail problems.
Chairman Linda J. Morgan said as of February 6, "All substantive and procedural paper documents and correspondence filed with the board in formal proceedings, except those marked "Confidential," will be electronically scanned and placed on its website at http://www.stb.dot.gov."
Morgan also noted that "following recent events involving postal facilities within Washington, D.C., the agency had experienced delays in the receipt of materials mailed to it."
She added, "While mail delivery to the board has improved lately, it has yet to return to its former level of timeliness. This is largely because of the several days' delay involved in the U.S. Postal Service's collection of all mail destined for the board (and other federal agencies in the Capital area), the shipment of that mail to nearby states for precautionary irradiation, and the mail's redelivery to the Capital area."
She said that, "as described in a recently published news story, the irradiation process does leave mail in somewhat of an altered state and may harm computer disks, slides and other plastics."
Paper documents will be electronically accessible via the "Filings" link on the board's home page. Users will be able to search filings by filing date or docket number, and view, print and download documents. Filings marked "Confidential" also will be scanned and will be searchable on the STB's website "so that users will be able to tell that a confidential filing exists," but internet users "will not be able to view, print or download confidential filings. Only board members and staff will be able to do so."
The STB said it processes nearly 3,000 filings annually, many of which "total tens or hundreds of pages each, from law firms, businesses, governmental agencies, and the public. For the most part, currently such filings can be viewed only at the board's headquarters in their original, paper form or, approximately 45 days after their filing date, in the form of microfiche to which they are converted."
For the past year, the board has been making some filings available on its website, but is now posting all filings to make them more accessible.
The board said that it has amended its rules governing how documents are filed in agency proceedings to facilitate scanning, including how original documents are to be bound, using divider tabs, pagination and using color.
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|Georgia commuter notion falters|
A passenger rail line between Atlanta and Macon no [longer] is the state's first choice for a commuter railroad, putting the projected July 2005 start date for the route in jeopardy.
Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes said Norfolk Southern, which owns two rail lines between the cities, is asking too steep a price for the rights to one of the lines the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last week.
"What (NS) has been wanting is too high," Barnes said last week at a conference sponsored by the Georgia Press Association.
"I'm not telling you it's not going to happen, but it's going to be a good deal when it does happen."
Barnes declined to reveal the asking price, and said negotiations are ongoing.
State Sen. Robert Brown (D), called the decision "a devastating blow." The state's first commuter rail line now likely will be in the northern suburbs, Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor said. Another lawmaker said a commuter rail line in the northern Atlanta suburbs probably would be much more expensive to create than an Atlanta-Macon line.
"The right-of-way for a rail line in the northern suburbs would be on some of most expensive real estate in the country," said Sen. Robert Reichert (D).
Barnes did not include $12 million in funding, recommended by officials for the Atlanta-Macon rail line in his budget for next year. If the $12 million had been approved, it would have triggered a federal match of $68 million for the Atlanta-Macon connector.
Specifically, one year earlier, NS approached the Georgia state government with a proposal to sell one of its lines from Atlanta to Macon for commuter and intrastate passenger train service. The railroad would sell all its holdings in downtown Atlanta, including the so-called "gulch property," which is required to build a multimodal station, as well as the railroad's historic regional headquarters buildings on Spring Street.
The package would also include the Decatur line, an out-of-service track that runs from Ansley Mall through Piedmont Park to DeKalb Avenue. That rail corridor could serve as both a bicycle-pedestrian path and a line for commuter and passenger trains.
A lengthy editorial in the Atlanta newspaper argued, "If the state does not move soon on this opportunity, it literally could disappear. So much is at stake."
The writer noted, "Despite decades of talking about getting into the passenger train business, the state has always come up with reasons to not invest real money to make it happen. One common refrain: It was virtually impossible to negotiate with railroads because they wanted to dedicate their rail lines to moving freight rather than people."
That is not the case today, the writer added.
"Norfolk Southern wants to sell its rail line from Atlanta to Macon, which just happens to be the state's top priority for commuter train service. The railroad needs cash and selling its real estate and excess rail lines is one way to raise it.
"For the past decade, the state has had plans to build a multimodal station in downtown Atlanta. Despite having a $20 million federal grant awaiting a $5 million local match to move the project forward, plans for the multimodal station have languished. (The city has put up $2.5 million for its share, but the state has yet to appropriate the rest).
"Now, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin is making the multimodal station one of her top priorities in visits with the state's political leaders. Franklin, a past vice-chairman of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, clearly understands the need to diversify the state's transportation system. She also wants to make sure everyone understands that the location for the multimodal station should be downtown."
The editorial discussed pedestrian and bicycle corridors, and what might happen if NS cuts its line and sells it to private property owners.
"After a year of negotiations, Gov. Roy Barnes has stopped short of making a deal. The budget is tight. Given that he's running for re-election, this may not be the ideal time to spend several hundred million dollars in bond money to get into the train business, and Barnes may think he can get squeeze a better price out of Norfolk Southern; but if the state does not move fast enough, it could blow it, especially if the railroad's patience runs out.
"Joel E. Harrell III, Norfolk Southern's resident vice president, recently stopped in to see the governor to monitor his interest in doing the deal.
"'The indication I got was yes, he wants to move ahead with it,' Harrell said. 'It's a matter of timing and further negotiations. It's a matter of when instead of if. I do feel like progress is being made. I'm optimistic something will happen.'
"When asked about the railroad's proposal, Barnes said, 'There have been conversations, but there's never been anywhere near close to a deal. The state has conversations with folks all the time about future transportation plans.'"
"Some other considerations include noting that NS has been looking for a new location for its regional headquarters. After reviewing several possibilities in Atlanta, the railroad now is considering moving up to 2,500 jobs to another state. Susan Terpay, an NS spokeswoman, said no decision has been made.
"'It's really contingent on selling our property on Spring Street,' she said. 'It's still an option to move some of our work force out of the Atlanta area.'
"'We need to finalize the agreements with Norfolk Southern," said Sam A. Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. 'The worst thing would be to see the Norfolk Southern property slip away and see its regional headquarters go someplace else. We are very concerned.'
"As Williams added, 'Once Norfolk Southern sells the property, it's over. If you don't buy the land, you can't build the station.'
Part of the problem, as Williams sees it, is that 'nobody is in charge.' The city, the federal government, the state DOT, the Georgia Rail Passenger Program and GRTA all have a hand in the multimodal project and the commuter train service. Without a champion and a forceful leader, this fairly complex package deal may never happen.
"It's time for someone to consider the possibilities.
"Why not include the NS regional headquarters in the package? The best location for a new NS building would be on the air rights of the multimodal station. How fitting it would be to have the railroad located within striking distance of Atlanta's milepost zero, created when three rail lines intersected here in 1837, and a town called 'Terminus' was born.
"Take it one step further. The best location for a MARTA headquarters would be on top of a redeveloped Five Points MARTA station, which is right across Forsyth Street from the proposed multimodal station. Instantly, Atlanta would become home of a pivotal transportation complex - harking back to the city's origins.
"Even if such an economic development opportunity does not materialize, it is critical for the state to work out an agreement with Norfolk Southern before the railroad changes its mind.
"For those who flinch at the dollars involved, look at it this way.: The state has deferred investing in passenger rail for at least 50 years. During those five decades, the state has been spending hundreds of millions of dollars every year on its road infrastructure. Now the state needs to give railroads an equal share before it's too late.
"'We feel we have a window of opportunity here where maybe we can work something out," NS's Harrell said. 'If it strings out too long, the window starts to close. It already has begun to close, and it's going to reach a point where the window is completely closed.'
"What a darn shame that would be."
Atlanta forges ahead
The multimodal passenger terminal that has been envisioned for downtown Atlanta since 1989 is getting ready to move ahead, says a spokesman for the Georgia Passenger Rail Authority.
Doug Alexander said, "An ad hoc committee of stakeholders has been meeting for a year to establish a concept that will permit all users of the facility enough room to operate in it."
Alexander is also an NCI member.
Writing in the brand-new Georgia Rail Journal, he explained the original plan, first devised in the early 1990s, accommodated Amtrak intercity trains, some commuter trains and Greyhound's intercity buses at a central terminal building.
"Today's plan calls for the terminal to handle that plus expanded intercity and commuter rail along with GRTA's planned regional and express commuter buses.
"It was like trying to fit 20 pounds of flour into a five-pound bag," said DOT planning director Paul Mullins, who chairs the program managers' committee.
"The problem was that everyone wanted to be just a short walk away from MARTA, that that just wasn't working."
The concept wasn't working until Atlanta Planning Commissioner Mike Dobbins found a bigger bag.
"We wanted to find a way to accommodate all these uses and help the city to develop the area, too," said Dobbins. His plan puts passenger rail and regional buses adjacent to MARTA's Five Points station and Intercity Buses near MARTA's Phillips Arena station. In between will be an extension of Alabama Street that will allow for new development.
"We can bring pedestrians and activity to this area. Its proximity to the terminal will be true 'transit-oriented development."
The Georgia DOT has asked for $ 2.75 million in the supplemental fiscal 2002 budget to add to $3 million in already appropriated state and city funds. This will match $20.1 million in federal funds, for$25.7 million, which will be used to acquire land and development rights and associated storage facilities; to conduct engineering and architectural schematic and preliminary design, and to prepare the site for construction.
Rail Program managers also anticipating identifying public and private partnership opportunities in and around the MMPT site.
The Georgia Rail Journal and the Georgia Rail Passenger Authority are online at http://www.garail.com.
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|Officials mull multi-county rail link|
Officials in Marin and Sonoma Counties in California are laying the groundwork for a rail line linking both counties by pushing for a district to run the operation, reports the Marin Independent Journal of February 9. The Golden Gate Bridge District Board approved a plan to seek state legislation to create a rail transit district. Marin and Sonoma supervisors did the same earlier in the week.
"Right now there are six different agencies that have jurisdiction over these (rail) matters," Marin County Supervisor John Kress said.
"We need to have one unifying agency."
Assemblyman Joe Nation (D) is expected to help promote the legislation in Sacramento. For the last three years, the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit Commission, comprised of elected officials from the two counties, has been developing a $378 million plan for service from Cloverdale to San Rafael. Recently, there has been talk of extending the service to San Quentin if the prison closes.
The proposed line likely hinges on voter approval of a sales tax measure, which could come in November. The service would use the existing Northwestern Pacific Railroad right-of-way.
Supporters say it would be an intricate part of a comprehensive transit plan that would ease worsening North Bay traffic. They believe a rail system holds promise for thousands of Sonoma and Marin county residents commuting to jobs in Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Petaluma, Novato and San Rafael. More than 20,000 people commute daily between the two counties, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Bay Area's transportation planning agency.
Backers say it is important that the service stretch beyond San Rafael and reach to the ferry terminal in Larkspur or to a site at San Quentin.
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NCI: Leo KingWithin 18 months, Amtrak trains - if there is an Amtrak - will be rolling southward over the Florida East Coast Ry. past milepost 5 at the north end of Bowden Yard in Jacksonville.
Sure, we'll pay more
The man who speaks for freight shippers says his members would consider a surcharge on rail freight shipments in return for nearly flawless service.
However, there must be other tradeoffs, says Edward M. Emmett, CEO of the National Industrial Transportation League (NITL).
In the first place, "Flawless rail performance is a hypothetical that I have trouble with," the shipper voice in Washington said in response to a question from D:F.
The question was based on a proposal by Amtrak Reform Council member Jim Coston. He wants a rail trust fund to upgrade rail infrastructure with more double tracking and sidings, upgraded signals, etc. All of this, as Coston envisions it, would benefit both freight and passenger rail in America. Highways and airways have their trust funds, reasons Coston. Why not rail?
At the Transportation Table luncheon February 8 in Washington, Emmett said, "shippers want the most efficient method of moving their product. They don't care if it goes by donkey cart."
Bottom line, though is, "if the railroads ever got to the situation where they provided consistent efficient service - and they do for some products now - would shippers be willing to pay more for that? Sure."
Ahh, but here's the rub.
"The market won't allow them (the railroads) to do it if they price themselves at a competitive disadvantage (to the trucker competition)."
NITL's boss says here's where the problem really lies:
"If public funds are going to be expended for rail, shippers will always have heartburn giving public funds to somebody who has monopoly power.
"If there's no way for a shipper to have competitive service, on paper either through bottleneck relief or physical competitive service, they're going to say 'Well, why should the government be paying to support a monopoly?"
Some railroad presidents flinch every time Emmett says this, but it's a long-standing position, "and that isn't going to change."
This opens a can of worms that tends to bring "heartburn" to many a board room of the Class I carriers, which is one reason many freight railroaders don't want government involvement in this or any other area of their business. Once the camel's nose is in the tent, it isn't long before he's taking up all the room and calling the shots.
On the other hand, there are many freight railroaders who have come to believe that they're going to have to accept some government money if they are to remain competitive, given the fact that Uncle Sam went into the transportation business decades ago and stacked the cards against them in favor of air and highway travel. It is a dilemma that has roiled the rail industry in recent years.
Coston actually envisions the day when the rail infrastructure would be so improved to such an extent that the carriers might indeed be willing to give some ground on such issues as competitive access. No railroader is likely to public acknowledge that hypothetical, however.
Another questioner at the Transportation Table noted that a rail trust fund was proposed back in the 1970s by then Pennsylvania Gov. Milton Schapp and others, only to be rejected.
True, but the statutes are chock full of ideas that were rejected repeatedly before they were finally adopted.
As of this writing in mid-February, NITL is holding an election among its members on whether to open its ranks to carriers (of course, including railroads), third party operators, and others.
Although Emmett refused to take a position, not wanting to be accused to trying to tip the balance one way or another (an act that could backfire in any event), he did say there is a need through some means to collaborate on the common interests of the shippers and the carriers.
He cited the current vacancy on the Surface Transportation Board as one example. Freight transportation rarely pops up on the radar screen of either public attention or (more importantly) of government.
No President (Bush or any of his predecessors) wakes up in the morning and says to himself, "Now, I wonder what the Surface Transportation Board is doing today."
"We do need some kind of forum," Emmett opined.
Allowing the railroads or the truckers into NITL membership, however, is very controversial. Some shipper members believe it would be like letting fox into the chicken coop. Railroads and shippers, after all, are in a relationship that is often adversarial.
The election is supposed to be completed tomorrow.
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|FECI reports good railway profits|
Florida East Coast Industries, Inc. announced results for the fourth quarter and its fiscal year ended December 31, and its railroad brought positive news for investors.
The Florida East Coast Ry. reported its second most profitable year despite the slow economy, although 2001 revenues were $160.7 million vs. $164.8 million in 2000. Its operating profit was $41.2 million versus $43.7 million. FEC Industries reported its Flagler Development Co. recorded record results despite soft industry demand, its trucking division, Florida Express Carriers' revenues increased 15 percent to $36.2 million in 2001, but took an operating loss at $6.3 million. So did its telecommunications enterprise, EPIK Communications, which lost 67.8 million after taxes.
FECI reported consolidated revenue for the year 2001 of $298.8 million, an 8.2 percent increase over 2000's $276.3 million. The corporation reported a net loss of $61.4 million, or $1.69 per diluted share, versus net income of $25.8 million, or $0.70 per diluted share, in 2000.
In its fourth quarter results, FECI reported consolidated revenue of $75.8 million compared to $75.7 million in the fourth quarter of 2000. The corporation reported a net loss of $69.1 million, or $1.90 per diluted share compared with net income of $5.8 million, or $0.16 per diluted share, in the fourth quarter of 2000.
Robert W. Anestis, FECI's chairman, president and CEO, said, "In 2001... the railway delivered the second highest operating profit... performance of its history, second only to 2000. This also was accomplished in the face of adverse conditions in the general economy."
Anestis said the railroad "controls a 351-mile transportation corridor between Jacksonville and Miami, traversing the major east coast population centers. We believe the corridor has the potential for transportation uses beyond our freight business and we continue to explore ways to realize that value, such as our agreement with Amtrak."
He said the railroad, "continues to own a number of properties which were formerly integral to its rail operation but which are, or will become, surplus" because of its strategic location; but, he added, "We have been actively managing these for development or disposition, and we anticipate monetizing significant value for shareholders from this type of surplus property in 2002 and subsequent years."
Looking ahead to 2002, he said the company "expects continued economic slowness in the first half and recovery in the second half of the year. On this basis the company expects full year 2002 pro forma operating income to reach $47 to $49 million. 2002 pro forma net income is expected between $16 and $18 million, reflecting interest on increased borrowings with less capitalized due to completion of the telecommunications network."
Fourth quarter 2001 FEC Ry. revenues were $41.2 million compared to $41.3 million in the fourth quarter of 2000. Operating profit was $11.3 million, compared to $12.5 million. The railway's operating ratio was 72.6 percent compared to 69.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2000.
Fourth quarter freight revenues were 2 percent higher than the same period in 2000. Revenues from carloads were up 8 percent quarter-over-quarter. Contributors to the increase in the fourth quarter revenues were primarily aggregate (11 percent) on continued service and partnering improvements, foodstuffs (26 percent) due to significant new business from Tropicana Products, Inc., and motor vehicles (3 percent) as manufacturers replenished dealer stocks depleted by the favorable incentives and financing programs. Reduced revenues for other commodities, including intermodal (down 5 percent), were primarily reflective of a slowing economy. Accessorial revenues decreased by $0.5 million as customers continue to use FECR's equipment more efficiently.
The outlook for 2002 is for modest growth in revenue, assuming an economic recovery in the second half. Revenue growth is expected primarily from the railway's continued efforts to grow its intermodal business, continued increases in food and kindred traffic, and new business relationships the railway is working to develop. On the assumption of economic recovery, the railway expects a single digit operating profit increase in 2002 because of the revenue growth initiatives and the Railway's ongoing focus on cost containment and improved operational efficiency. Capital spending in 2002 is expected to range between $30 and $35 million.
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Power on the move
Jim Dundon via P&W Group at YahooFormer BNSF power enroute to the Providence & Worcester on a snowy January 18 on the New York, Susquehanna & Western's train BH-1 coming through the Norwich, N.Y., Utica branch.
P&W upgrades power for stone, coal
Seven B39-8 locomotives are now on Providence & Worcester Railroad property, based in Worcester, Mass.
P&W spokeswoman Mary Tanona said on Friday seven B-39-8 GE locomotives are now in New England, and that each is rated at 3,900 horsepower. She said the P&W is "purchasing them from General Electric Co., but we won't disclose the purchase price."
Tanona said the power is being added, "to upgrade P&W's fleet of locomotives," and they "will primarily be used for stone and coal traffic."
The freight railroad's traffic has increased in recent months in Connecticut. She did not specify by how much.
Meanwhile, Tanona said, "seven GE U-23B locomotives are going to GE as part of this transaction. Initially, they are being shipped to the New York, Susquehanna and Western shop in Utica."
U-23B No. 2202 recently left the New England railroad.
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CSXCSX's first repainted engine is SD-50 No. 8503, here in the Huntington shops.
CSX adapts revised paint scheme
CSX is modifying its paint scheme by dropping the gray tone and using a darker blue. Railroad president Michael J. Ward, said the new paint job symbolically represents a "new" company. He said the idea to adopt a different paint scheme came from employees.
The new design features a solid, deep blue locomotive body with yellow nose, tail and trim. The first locomotive to have the new look, No. 8503, is an EMD SD-50, and was painted at the freight carrier's shop in Huntington, W.Va.
Ward said all new and rebuilt locomotives will be painted with the new design, and the pigments are more durable and fade-resistant to keep the locomotives' appearance looking fresher longer. CSXT's 3,600 locomotive fleet eventually will wear the new colors. The new look is pictured on CSXT's web site at
The railroad adopted its current blue, gray and yellow paint combination in early 1990. The 8503 left the shops on train X-005-09 bound for Cincinnati. The locomotive made its first revenue run going south on train Q-141, then was third out on Q-215. It was enroute to Jacksonville, Fla. for publicity photos.
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|Judge says CSX can close crossing|
CSX Transportation should be permitted to permanently close a northwest Jacksonville, Fla. railroad crossing that was barricaded illegally in 1998, a judge has recommended.
Administrative law Judge Suzanne Hood decided on February 12 the closure of the Old Kings Road crossing poses no public safety threat and does not hamper traffic enough to keep it open, despite City Hall's arguments otherwise, according to a report in the Jacksonville Times-Union.
Public safety vehicles responded quicker after the closure, which was done without the proper permit.
"Closing the crossing would enhance its safety," Hood wrote.
Florida Transportation Secretary Thomas Barry will make a final ruling within 90 days, barring more court action. The city and CSX have two weeks to file briefs taking any exception to Hood's recommendation, but a DOT engineer had recommended the closure in January 2001, prompting the city's appeal to Hood.
Neighbors have lambasted the closing as cumbersome and unfair. When trains run along other nearby crossings, some residents complain they are stuck for an hour.
As part of a December agreement, CSX will provide $300,000 for neighborhood improvements. The company will send City Hall that check in a few weeks, spokeswoman Kathy Burns said.
"We had believed all along that safety is the key element here," Burns said.
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|UP reroutes some trains|
After meeting with the Coalition for a Safe Olympics last week, the Utah Olympic Public Safety Command demanded that Union Pacific Railroad, and all other railroads, reroute all trains hauling hazardous materials around Salt Lake City during the Olympic games.
The coalition, comprised of Utah elected officials, the Teamsters and other unions, and environmental and railroad safety groups, noted that UP had refused to halt, reroute or even curtail its hazardous materials shipments during the Olympics, despite the fact that all other "hazmat" transporters were addressing similar safety concerns.
Not so fast, though, says UP's John Bromley. He told D:F in a follow-up query, "The railroad, the Olympic security group and the Federal Railroad Administration reached agreement on a safety plan well ahead of the Olympic games."
"We are both proud and thankful that the Utah Olympic Public Safety Command and the Utah DOT took our concerns very seriously and agreed to take immediate action," said Ralph Taurone, a Teamsters vice-president.
He said more than 170,000 visitors daily and 3,700 athletes and officials from 80 nations were expected to visit Salt Lake City.
UP's Bromley added, "The plan calls for the detouring of certain commodities around Salt Lake City during the games. No agency nor the Olympic security command has demanded that we stop hauling hazardous materials through the city during the games."
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|Emons takes loss for quarter|
Emons Transportation Group, Inc. reported financial losses for its second quarter of fiscal 2002, primarily, it said in a statement, due to current economic conditions.
For the quarter ended December 31, 2001, operating revenues totaled $5.40 million, down 17.4 percent from $6.54 million for the quarter ended December 31, 2000. Income from operations declined 45.2 percent to $598,000 for the second quarter of fiscal 2002 from $1,091,000 in the prior year's second quarter, while net income decreased 54.7 percent to $260,000 from $575,000 in the prior year's second quarter. Diluted earnings per share were $0.04 in the quarter ended December 31, 2001, as compared to $0.08 for the quarter ended December 31, 2000.
For the six-month period ended December 31, 2001, the company reported a 15.6 percent decrease in operating revenues to $11.17 million from $13.24 million in the six-month period a year ago. Operating income was $1.22 million, a 46 percent decrease from the prior year's six-month period.
Net income decreased 60.1 percent to $454,000 for the six months ended December 31, 2001, from $1,139,000 for the six months ended December 31, 2000. Diluted earnings per share were $0.06 for the first six months of fiscal 2002 compared to $0.16 for the first six months of the prior year.
Robert Grossman, Chairman and President, said, "Results were down for the quarter and six-month periods because of the difficult business climate created by the economic slowdown. Further, our second largest customer, which accounted for approximately 9 percent of our fiscal 2001 revenues, ceased operations and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection during the company's fiscal 2002 first quarter. Additionally, $143,000 in expenses for professional fees was incurred in the current quarter with respect to the proposed sale of the company to Genesee & Wyoming Inc.
A press release stated the company agreed on December 3 to be acquired by Genesee & Wyoming Inc. through a merger. A meeting of Emons' shareholders is scheduled for February 20. If the shareholders approve the merger, the closing is expected to take place on February 22. Shareholders would then receive $2.50 per share in cash for each share of common stock held on the date of closing.
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BART powers up new extension
A milestone in the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) extension to San Francisco was marked on Saturday when the project received its first delivery of bulk electrical power from Pacific Gas & Electric.
In five days following the power delivery, the third rail will be turned on from Colma to San Bruno, Calif., energizing the third rail which runs beside the running rails, and will supply the electric trains with power needed to run on the nearly nine-mile route.
With more than 95 percent of construction work completed, the new San Francisco Airport extension project is 8.7 miles with four stations, South San Francisco, San Bruno, Millbrae, and inside the airport.
While most of the third rail is in the subway segment of the project, BART is advising communities and schools along the line the route is energized, and that the electrified third rail is dangerous and must be considered "on" at all times.
According to Jim Van Epps, who is the executive manager for the project, the power will be going through testing over the next several months. In addition, for testing purposes, a temporary control center has been set up for the line adjacent to the station. This control center, which is completely independent of BART's Central Control, will be used exclusively for testing purposes.
The new line is scheduled to open this fall.
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|Will the 'T' extend northward?|
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority may extend its Blue Line to Lynn and Salem. MBTA commuter trains already serve both cities, but a Blue Line rapid transit expansion would give North Shore commuters more flexibility and would bring them closer to the heart of Boston's financial district.
North Shore officials have been trying to get rapid transit service to Essex County for decades. This time around, several officials involved with the planning process say they are closer than ever to getting federal money for new construction, reports Ottaway News Service.
"Because of the possibility of federal assistance to do this, this project has a shot for the first time in a generation," said Joe Walsh, planning Salem's director.
U.S. Rep. John Tierney (D) secured nearly $3.3 million in federal money since 1998 to get the latest round of planning off the ground. With some of that money, MBTA officials plan to embark this month on a year-long environmental study that would help calculate what it would take to expand the Blue Line to the North Shore or create a new connection between the Blue Line and a commuter line in Revere. Local officials hope to use the results of that study to persuade leaders in Congress to set aside more federal funds for the project when they consider the next round of transportation spending in the spring of 2003.
The MBTA hasn't yet made a decision about which approach to take and the final price will likely be a major factor in that decision. Federal aid probably won't cover more than 60 percent of the total cost, said MBTA Director of Planning Dennis DiZoglio. It's too early to say exactly how much a Blue Line expansion to Lynn or Salem would cost.
DiZoglio said the price would easily exceed $200 million.
Another possibility involves opening a new commuter rail station in Revere that would allow North Shore riders to transfer to the Blue Line so they could easily get to Logan International Airport or Boston's central business district. All passengers on the North Shore's commuter trains now must go into North Station, which is at least a 20-minute walk away from the city's financial district.
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MBTA gets new manager;
Greenbush line advances
He started out as a track laborer some 23 years ago, and now, Mike Mulhern runs the commuter outfit. He became the MBTA's general manager on Thursday. Mulhern was unanimously approved by the T's board of directors after having to sit through a five-hour board meeting.
Mulhern was acting GM since November, when onetime T bus driver Robert Prince stepped down from the top slot after 25 years with the agency, reports the Boston Herald of Friday.
"It's the fulfillment of a dream," said an elated Mulhern. "I came here and was given a pick and shovel and an opportunity to earn a good day's wage through the union. Along the way the company afforded me an opportunity to get an education and advance up the ranks and . . . it just feels real good."
State transportation officials originally were going to conduct a nationwide search for Prince's replacement but aborted those plans when acting Gov. Jane Swift threw her support to Mulhern, who has earned a master's degree in public administration from Suffolk University.
Among the topics he will be tackling will be the controversial commuter rail extension project to Greenbush, Mass. The line came one step closer to reality on Thursday when the T's directors awarded the project's $252 million construction contract to the joint venture of Cashman/Balfour Beatty.
The board, which had grappled with concerns about some of Balfour's past problems on transportation projects in the United States and abroad, eventually approved the contract by a 7-1 margin, with Janice Loux casting the only dissenting vote.
The decision came after a three-hour closed-door executive session held under the auspices of "potential litigation" following more than an hour of criticism of the project by bitter Greenbush foes. More than a dozen critics took to the podium at the start of the board meeting to voice their displeasure with the project, an 18-mile rail line from South Station to Scituate that last saw passenger trains in the 1950s.
"I think it will be a disaster for my neighborhood and all the neighborhoods along the line," said Bonnie Armstrong of Hingham.
"If you put the train back, the decline will begin again," she said.
Greenbush opponents pulled out everything but the kitchen sink in arguing against the third leg of the Old Colony Line, which was supposed to open with the other two spurs in 1997.
They said it would not only destroy endangered species and put children at risk because of numerous grade crossings, but also would also drive local companies out of business and cause the return of unseemly "slums" that once flourished along the line.
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|Delay apparently changes stance on rail|
U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who blocked the Metropolitan Transit Authority from receiving federal dollars to build a light rail line, now says he supports extending a commuter rail line to Fort Bend if residents want it, according to The Houston Chronicle.
The House majority whip, who holds the federal purse strings for Houston-area transportation projects, made his comments at a recent meeting of the Fort Bend County Taxpayers Coalition.
"If there had been wine served, I would have thought I'd had too much to drink," said one official.
"I think his tone significantly changed (on the rail issue)," said Stafford alderman Joe Scarpinato, who also heard DeLay's comments last month. "He seemed to have a good feeling about it."
DeLay's exact words were not available, but spokesman Jonathan Grella said last week that his boss "hasn't changed a bit in his position."
Grella said DeLay "has always said that studies are necessary before a referendum occurs and that a referendum is necessary before construction occurs."
"If there was any change in tone," Grella said, "it's a reflection of Metro's commitment to do studies right away and complete them before holding a referendum."
The Metropolitan Transit Authority board has authorized in-depth studies of future high-capacity transit in three major corridors of the city and a separate feasibility study of possible commuter rail to Fort Bend County, which DeLay represents.
The county is one of the nation's fastest-growing suburban areas and home to thousands who commute to work in the Texas Medical Center and downtown Houston. Such a line would require some sort of inter-governmental funding agreement, since most of the county lies outside Metro's service area and is not subject to Metro's 1-cent sales tax. The project is likely to need federal dollars.
As now envisioned, such a line would run on Union Pacific Railroad property along U.S. 90A (South Main Street) to Missouri City, Sugar Land (DeLay's home town), Richmond and Rosenberg. At its northern end, it would link to Metro's 7.5-mile light rail line from Reliant Park to downtown.
Metro's light rail line, being built with Metro dollars in the absence of federal funding, is about one-third completed and is scheduled to open early 2004 at an estimated cost of $324 million.
DeLay has explained his opposition to the light rail project by citing an alleged lack of an overall transportation plan and the lack of a referendum. Metro canceled plans for such a vote after a county attorney's opinion that it would be illegal unless bonds were issued for the project.
A Houston referendum that could have stopped work on the project by prohibiting use of city streets was held November 6, long after construction started, but three of four voters approved proceeding with the work.
Grella said that DeLay "has spent 25 years studying transportation issues and he believes rail systems have two fundamental problems," especially in widely dispersed cities like Houston.
"They have not demonstrated a significant reduction in congestion, and they always cost more than their initial estimates and require large ongoing subsidies," Grella said.
DeLay has also stressed that funds are limited and said that buses and roads, in his view, provide more congestion relief for the buck than rail.
However, Grella said, DeLay "would not stand in the way" of commuter rail if a study showed it feasible and voters wanted it. Asked about the possibility here last year, DeLay used the same phrase.
"That's not the posture we want," Scarpinato said. "We want a man that begs and pleads for us, that will fight the fight for us."
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|Elderly subway station may reopen - sort of|
Consider a fifty-year-old abandoned subway station in Manhattan. Observe that it has been boarded up all those years, with No. 6 trains whizzing by, too and fro, with subway operators and passengers forgetting it was even there.
Now picture a No. 6 train between Union Square and 23rd Street flashing by a brightly lighted station that is no longer abandoned, but separated from the rail way by thick glass windows, and party goers, celebrators and folks looking simply for a good time revel in the city's newest bar.
Tim Hunter, 42, and Barry Glick, 54, are entrepreneurs who hope to turn an abandoned subway platform at East 18th Street and Park Avenue South into a bar and music club whose main attraction would be the subway trains flashing by, The New York Times told us last week.
The 18th Street Interurban Rapid Transit (IRT) stop opened in 1904 and was boarded up half a century ago when station platforms were lengthened.
One of several decommissioned stops (another is at Broadway and 91st Street), the graffiti-covered station is now barely visible to subway riders. Hunter and Glick, who grew up riding New York's subways, hope to change that.
"The concept is to put up soundproof glass," Glick said. He owned a Manhattan camera shop for 30 years.
"People in here will be waving to the people on the trains, and the people on the trains will be waving to them."
Hunter, who restored the 10th Street Russian and Turkish Baths 15 years ago, said he had always wanted to do something with the subway. "This system does such yeoman's work and carries New Yorkers to and from home," he said.
"This would be a way of honoring it, a way of celebrating New York and its history."
The proposed bar, tentatively named "6" after its local train, would incorporate both the northbound and southbound platforms at a total of 6,000 square feet. The men would restore original tile and stonework and add period details (they haven't decided how much of the graffiti they will keep). Asked about cost, they said only that it would be "hefty," and said the project would be financed by investors.
They face several hurdles, including approval from the M.T.A., the Fire department, Buildings department, and DOT. The men do not have an estimated opening date, but they predict that advertising will be easy. "Every few seconds you have a train passing by," Glick said, "and that's a gift from the M-T-A," the Metropolitan Transit Authority.
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|Marta names planning contractor|
URS Corp. said on February 12 that the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) had selected the firm to provide planning and engineering services to support future development and expansion of Atlanta's rapid transit system. The five-year contract has a potential value to URS of $11 million.
In a press release, the firm stated "As general planning consultant for transit corridor studies, URS will undertake a variety of studies for MARTA, including corridor alternative analyses, environmental impact statements and conceptual engineering reports."
Company president Irwin Rosenstein said MARTA's expansion program is "an important step in the development of the Atlanta metropolitan area."
He said the job involves planning, environmental, and engineering design disciplines.
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So. Korea reopens station
South Korea briefly reopened a train station near its border with North Korea on February 12, allowing hundreds of elderly South Koreans to travel by rail to a stop that had been closed since the 1950-53 Korean War.
The Associated Press reported many of the 650 passengers at Paju, South Korea, had not seen relatives in North Korea for more than a half-century. Some wept, bowed in the direction of the North and wrote messages such as "I hope unification comes soon" on the railroad ties at Dorasan Station.
The 85-minute trip from Seoul was organized to celebrate the first day of the lunar New Year, but it was also a reminder of the decades-old divisions that remain entrenched on the Korean peninsula.
Dorasan is the last train stop outside the Demilitarized Zone, a buffer zone between the Koreas that is lined on either side by fences, minefields and heavily armed troops. The station, near Paju city, is a little over a mile from the DMZ.
"I was so excited to go one step closer to North Korea, where I left behind my parents," said 68-year-old passenger Chang Duik-man, who fled to the South during the Korean War.
"My parents must have passed away now, but today's trip gave me hope that maybe we can reach Pyongyang next time."
North and South Korea agreed to reconnect the cross-border railway during a historic summit in June 2000, and the South hoped to complete the project by last year, but inter-Korean reconciliation projects stalled amid U.S.-North Korean tension that escalated the following year.
The railway would reconnect the two Korean capitals, Seoul with Pyongyang, and would be the first direct transport link since the Korean War.
At Dorasan Station, Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun urged North Korea to accept a South Korean proposal to arrange another round of temporary reunions of separated family members. Three rounds were held after the 2000 summit.
South Korea proposed last month that reunions be held around the lunar New Year holiday, but the North did not respond.
"I eagerly look forward to times when people can travel to their hometowns and pay respects to their ancestors by taking the inter-Korean railway," Jeong said.
The Koreas were divided by U.S. and Soviet occupation forces at the end of World War II.
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|Stowaways confound railroaders, police|
French and British railroaders are continuing to have a difficult time with stowaways on "Chunnel" trains. Illegal immigrants who stowed away in Milan on a freight train bound for the Channel Tunnel slashed the brake pipe hose to force the freight train into an emergency braking on February10. It stopped on the English side.
The stowaways ran off, police said, but three were picked up soon after the train stopped near the tunnel exit on Sunday night. At least ten more were rounded up in a search of the area, but officials could not confirm whether they had come from that train or another. Officials said they were looking for about 40 people, some of whom had cut their way out of a container using an ax and a chisel.
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UTU looks to help Amtrak
United Transportation Union National Legislative Director James M. Brunkenhoefer is looking for help in a new project - saving Amtrak jobs.
He wrote to his constituents, via the web, "Well, it is miracle time again. You did such a good job on railroad retirement that we are calling on you again. We are now preparing for the struggle to save the 20,000-plus jobs that are currently held by Amtrak workers."
He told the union membership, "It is imperative that we save these jobs in order to prevent a negative impact on the Railroad Retirement system. If these numbers of jobs are suddenly lost to the system, it could have a devastating impact on the future on our retirement system."
He explained that several years ago, "Congress passed legislation that created the Amtrak Reform Council (ARC). ARC's purpose was to examine the situation of Amtrak and decide if it could be self-sufficient. If they decided that Amtrak could not be self-sufficient, they were then supposed to develop a reform plan that would, in effect, end Amtrak.
"Although we did not like their findings that Amtrak could be not self-sufficient, we were not surprised at their conclusion. The thing that was most disappointing was the timing of their decision. By announcing it at the time that they did, their findings had a significant negative impact to the credit markets. This caused Amtrak's interest rate to go up costing Amtrak more precious dollars - and, as we all know, Amtrak has survived on borrowed money.
"Numerous political signals were sent to the reform council suggesting that they not act at the time that they did.
"ARC's report was approved on a 6-5 vote. Organized labor's representative, [Charles Moneypenny] the present Bush Administration's representative and Gil Carmichael, who had served under the previous Bush Administration, all voted "no," but still the anti-Amtrak zealots pressed forward.
"Since that vote, the Bush Administration representative has abstained from all other votes in order to send a message. In spite of these signals, the Reform Council continued to press forward.
"The Reform Council presented a report that has been widely criticized that is sure to not be adopted by Congress. The only thing that the Reform Council accomplished was to hurt the credit of Amtrak which put them in worse shape than they would have been had they not existed.
"Last Friday [February 8], due to the impact of the ARC vote and numerous other issues, Amtrak has proposed significant cuts. Amtrak will almost immediately lay off 700 union workers. These workers are primarily in the clerical, maintenance and shop areas. Amtrak also announced that it will soon give a six-month notice that almost all Amtrak service, except in the Northeast Corridor and a few other exceptions, would be discontinued before October 1 unless Congress almost doubles the amount of appropriations. Amtrak also announced that it was discontinuing 300 management positions. This time may be different but if they follow standard operating procedure, those managers that are laid off and do not retire will either receive separation allowances or will show up as consultants on the Amtrak payroll.
"As UTU President Byron A. Boyd noted, year-after-year, Amtrak management asked for bond money or tax credits but they never asked for enough operating money and now, surprise, just over one quarter of the fiscal year gone and they are broke.
"Also during last week, the White Hose released its projected budget for Fiscal Year 2003. Amtrak's Fiscal 2003 is supposed to begin on October 1, but it always delayed.
"This budget will provide an additional 4 percent increase if applied across the board, but that never happens. This budget will be calling for significant improvements in issues dealing with homeland defense and the military. The White House's current request in the area of transportation includes significant increases in the area of air transportation. It will provide funds for training and employment of the approximately 30,000 airport screeners. It will also provide major increases to the Coast Guard for port defense, homeland security, and a war on drugs. The money appears to be coming from the highway budget, which is scheduled for a 30 percent decrease. This has the highway builders lobby up in arms. These people provide highway construction, equipment, sand, gravel, concrete asphalt, etc. Don't forget - almost every state and local government depends on federal dollars to match local dollars in order to complete their projects. The White House has Amtrak down for almost exactly the same amount of money next year as it got this year.
"Now, you understand why we will need another miracle just like the one that we completed last year. Yes, we have spent a good deal of time telling everyone the necessity to maintain a passenger rail operation in the United States, particularly after the events of September 11. Obviously, that plea does have some support but it is not yet broad-based enough to secure a 90 percent increase in funding. We will have more allies in this fight that we had in our Railroad Retirement victory. Joining with us will be some of the same state and local governments who believe that continued rail passenger service is just as important as additional highways. We will also have on our side those taxpayers that use the rail passenger system. We can also expect support from various environmental organizations. Besides trying to fight with the lobby for the Coast Guard, airline industry and homeland defense, the only other place to get additional dollars is to either dip further into the Social Security and Medicare trust funds or raise taxes. A round of Congressional hearings [began last] week in both the House and Senate.
"I am sure that we will soon be calling on you for support when our plan is finally developed. I know all of this sounds difficult but after all of our recent victories, I am an optimistic that believes that with your help and the leadership of President Boyd, we will pull off another miracle."
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The following article appeared in the December 2001 issue of The Midwest Rail Report. The writer is the Midwest High-Speed Rail Coalition executive director - Ed.
"People don't understand long distance trains. They think only in terms of Chicago to Seattle or Chicago to Oakland. Those trains serve many different markets as they cross the country." - Paul Reistrup, Vice-President, Passenger Integration, CSX Transportation.
Long-distance trains are commonly thought to be a holdover from the past - a little-used, politically driven conveyance whose sole purpose is to maintain political support for the Northeast Corridor. Many refer to them as "cruise trains."
It is also a widely held belief that long-distance trains are the reason for Amtrak's financial woes.
These perceptions are driving the political debate and may result in some long-distance routes being discontinued. Since the future of the Midwest system is linked to the future of long-distance trains, it is important to further understand what long-distance trains really are and what they can do.
First, a word about cruise trains.
Cruise trains, such as the American Orient Express or Rocky Mountaineer, do not provide everyday transportation - they provide a service to a very select market - those who are willing to pay a premium for a luxurious train ride. Frequently the patrons fly or drive many miles just to take the train.
Just as automotive advertisers suggest that you will always drive on a scenic highway with no traffic, Amtrak's ads describe the wonderful accommodations and the fantastic scenery that you will experience when riding the train. This contributes to the perception that Amtrak's trains are similar to cruise trains, when, in fact, they are not.
Most riders travel coach. While more comfortable than flying or driving, coach is far from luxurious. Even the first-class accommodations are spartan. The food and service levels are typically good, but would not stand up to the scrutiny of a person looking for a cruise experience.
Unlike cruise trains, a single long-distance train fills many roles as it crosses the country. Primarily, it provides a comfortable, convenient, affordable and safe way to travel for an average of 364 people per train start.
In many cases, it gets closer to the final destination than flying, particularly in smaller towns where the airport can be several hours away.
Often it is faster than driving, particularly on long trips. Rail's market share remains the same, regardless of trip length.
Long-distance trains also have auto competitive times for many trips less than 500 miles (fitting the FRA's definition of high-speed rail.) For example, Chicago to La Plata, Mo. is 5 hours, 10 minutes by train vs. 7 hours, 30 minutes by car.
Trip lengths fill the spectrum from very short hops all the way up to coast-to-coast journeys. The Southwest Chief - which travels 2,250 miles between Chicago and Los Angeles - makes 32 stops, creating 528 possible trips. The average passenger trip length on this route is roughly 1,100 miles. The other long-distance routes also have average trips that are roughly half the route length.
Riders range from the most cost conscious traveler up to the very well heeled. The Chief's average fare is $130, suggesting that most riders are using the trains for basic transportation.
Serving such a broad range of purposes makes long-distance trains the most productive in Amtrak's system. In Fiscal Year 2000, the sixteen long-distance routes carried 52 percent of Amtrak's total passenger miles. They handled 181 passenger miles per train mile (pmtm) compared to Metroliners' 178 pmtm and the Midwest Corridor's 89 pmtm.
In addition to performing basic transportation, long-distance trains are performing other important functions:
They haul mail.
They provide a strong foundation on which to build future services. All the long-distance trains in the Midwest serve cities in the planned Midwest system. Many cities are only served by a long-distance train. These trains provide a market base from which to build and they protect valuable facilities needed to operate future services.
They contribute to overhead. It is very likely that routes in the Amtrak system either cover or come close to covering their direct operating costs with fares. Those that do not are burdened by inadequate infrastructure.
Cutting long-distance trains will not substantially improve Amtrak's performance; in fact, it is very likely that Amtrak's financial performance will deteriorate after route reductions.
They feed passengers to other trains. All of Amtrak's trains feed passengers to and from one another. Cutting one train will reduce usage on other trains. While there are routes that might benefit from changes, simply reducing service will degrade the performance of the remaining trains.
They provide broader political support. Just like the Interstate Highway System 50 years ago, a funding program for fast corridor trains will require a nationwide support base. That means corridor supporters will have to join with rural travelers and freight rail interests.
So what about Amtrak's report that the Chief lost $184.50 a passenger in fiscal 2000? Amtrak reports its results based on fully allocated costs, which do not represent the true value of the service nor the required subsidy.
Amtrak reported to Congress that the long distance trains lost $506.1 million in fiscal 2000 vs. Metroliner and Acela Express's profit of $64.7 million. These two facts make it very easy to conclude that cutting the long distance trains would eliminate Amtrak's appropriation, but these numbers do not tell the whole story, partly because they do not account for the longer trips that long-distance passengers make. The long-distance trains accounted for 2.8 billion passenger miles compared to Metroliner's 352 million passenger miles. The long-distance trains are providing a greater service.
These figures paint a very inaccurate picture for several other reasons, which come in the form of unanswered questions.
Should the rest of the Northeast Corridor (NEC) be cut?
The Metroliner trains - which carried 2.5 million passengers in 2000 - benefit from infrastructure and economies of scale shared with other NEC trains and several commuter operators. The other NEC trains - which carried 10.6 million passengers - lost $164.1 million in fiscal 2000. Commuter agencies pay only incremental costs for their use of the infrastructure. Cutting the long-distance trains will not make these costs go away.
What is included in the overhead? The Amtrak Reform Council estimates that the NEC infrastructure places an additional burden of $300 to $600 million per year on Amtrak. How is this cost being allocated? How is Amtrak's large management staff being accounted for?
What about NEC cost overruns? There was a cost overrun of more than $300 million on the project to extend the electrification to Boston and unreported cost overruns on the Acela Express equipment order. How were these accounted for?
How much did express freight contribute to the losses? Amtrak's ill-conceived freight program suffered large unreported losses in fiscal 2000. These losses would have been borne primarily by the long-distance trains (possibly the Midwest corridor trains as well).
Are Amtrak's trains properly serving the market? All of the long-distance routes have only one train per day. Two of them run only three days a week. This means that the trains stop in many towns at very inconvenient times.
Two trains a day is probably the minimum level of service required. Also, since little investment has been made in these routes, the existing fleet is not large enough to handle the current demand. Simply adding more cars to existing trains would grow ridership. Finally, Amtrak's freight program has caused schedules to be lengthened and continues to cause significant delays.
As a result, many trips that once worked well on Amtrak have become uncompetitive.
Are Amtrak's operating costs reasonable? The Amtrak Reform Council has reported that Amtrak does not measure the productivity of its employees, does not benchmark itself with other similar businesses, and has not set productivity goals. Therefore, we cannot judge whether Amtrak's costs are reasonable.
In short, we do not know what the true demand for long-distance train travel is. Nor do we know the true cost of operating those trains.
Long-distance trains are under attack for being poor performers and yet they perform better in many measurement categories than corridor trains.
Corridor supporters, such as the Midwest High-Speed Rail Coalition, believe that corridor trains can perform at a much higher level by investing in infrastructure and by creating a better institutional structure. This is just as true for long-distance trains.
The infrastructure and institutional improvements needed to make the corridor trains perform well are the same improvements needed to make the long-distance trains effective.
The arguments for and against corridor trains are also very similar for long-distance trains.
Because of these similarities, support for one type of train creates support for the other. Conversely, attacking the long distance trains erodes credibility and support for corridor trains.
Allowing long distance trains to be the scapegoat ultimately weakens the argument for fast, frequent trains in the Midwest.
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A perspective on transit
The writer is a viewer of the passing railroad scene and is a computer consultant in Scottsdale, Ariz. He is also a director of the Arizona Rail Passenger Association (since 1994) and is a vice-president of the United Rail Passenger Alliance - Ed.
"Rail won't work here... we don't have the density... we're too spread out... our residents love their cars too much."
Los Angeles is the perfect counter-example to these arguments, for few places are as sprawled as the L.A. basin, and it is perhaps the pinnacle of automobile mania; but every workday, hundreds of thousands of persons ride trains there.
Places like Dallas and Atlanta are also relative newcomers to the transit scene, but even in those sprawled places, rail transit lines are well patronized.
Historically, cities have built transit not after they have high density, but when they have medium density and are growing. Looking back to the early part of the last century, cities like New York found themselves choking in traffic - pedestrians, horses, streetcars, and early automobiles - and built subways. This enabled their densities, modest by modern standards, to grow much higher. Subways were built into open fields outside New York City, where a harvest of grain was soon replaced with a crop of mid-rise apartments and offices. Paradoxically, these actually reduced urban sprawl by concentrating new development.
Cities without high capacity transit today find themselves with a proliferation of parking lots and garages, which are activity vacuums and bring little tax benefit. Those swaths of parking lots and the ever-wider streets and highways needed to feed them quickly consume the property tax rolls, while perpetuating traffic congestion. Designing a city for the automobile necessitates development with expanses of empty space, which, in turn, make walking difficult; often, sidewalks are even omitted, creating a psychological barrier to personal mobility and making the addition of transit more difficult. Reversing these influences now pays great dividends later.
Far better for both the property owner and the city to fill those barren spaces with apartments, hotels, stores, and offices which take advantage of urban core infrastructure and enhance the economy; far better to create an appealing environment in which to work and live.
Cities of the American West, like Phoenix, Denver, Salt Lake City, Albuquerque, and Las Vegas now have populations in the range of one-half to two million. The U.S. Census Bureau, along with other agencies, estimates that most of these metropolitan areas will reach four to seven million residents in the next fifty years. In 2001, the Brookings Institute declared that Phoenix surpassed Atlanta's population density.
Now, when these cities are poised to attain the next level of population and density, is the time to build rail transit. Cities that wait to have density before building transit will achieve neither that density nor the viable base to ever attain it.
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Steam-drawn train runs at Olympics
Ely's Engine 93 is wowing the crowds at the Winter Olympics. The Nevada Northern's 90-ton, 93-year-old steam engine, its coal tender and two passenger cars are in Heber City, southeast of Salt Lake City, where they are part of the 2002 Winter Games Steam Team in partnership with the Heber Creeper tourist railroad.
"They are carrying hundreds of people. They are immensely popular," Scott Lindsay, interim executive director of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum, told The Associated Press by phone Monday from Utah.
The trains are carrying Olympic spectators five miles from Heber City to Soldier Hollow, the site of the biathlon and cross-country skiing events.
They also will be used for special charter excursions.
After three days of operation, Lindsay said ticket sales were in the hundreds daily. Moreover, the trains are attracting attention from the television morning shows and CNN, as well as foreign journalists. It's touted as the first time steam power has been used to transport Olympic spectators.
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Regarding those Army engines (D:F: January 21). The pictures show the Alco MRS-1, a 1,600 HP unit. They could change their wheel gauge, and had low clearances for overseas use. They were specifically built for Army use in 1953.
Jaap van Dorp
Indeed, you are correct. - Ed.
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Supply Chain Expo
ASLRRA annual meeting and exhibition
NCI 2002 Conference
This conference will feature a major debate about the future and direction of passenger rail in America, conducted by the people who will actually determine that outcome.
Conference speakers will include Amtrak Board Chair Michael Dukakis, Amtrak Reform Council Chair Gil Carmichael and Executive Director Tom Till, DOT Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson, Author Tony Hiss, Barron's magazine editor Tom Donlan, Florida rail activist and businessman Doc Dockery, Janelletech President Janellen Riggs, rail consultant Randy Resor of Zeta-Tech Associates, Inc., Railway Age magazine editor Bill Vantuono, attorney and rail activist James Coston, and many other of the top thinkers and "doers" in American rail and transit industries.
Further details regarding advance registration will be announced in upcoming issues of Destination: Freedom.
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NCI: Leo King CollectionInto the 1960s, cabooses were ubiquitous on all American railroads. The New Haven was no exception. Consider, for example, C-575 in work train service at Providence, R.I. around 1952. The older, wooden ones were used on work trains, but if there were none available, or the crew managed to scrounge up a steel hack, they would grab one of those.
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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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