Vol. 6 No. 8
February 21, 2005

Copyright © 2005
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

Destination:Freedom
The E-Zine of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - Jim RePass      Editor - Leo King
Webmaster - Dennis Kirkpatrick

A weekly North American rail and transit update

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

* Now in our Sixth Year *

This page is best viewed at 800 X 600 screen resolution

 

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


Designer Cesar Vergara, who created the Transplan21 logo explains, “The two circles represent rails, but also unity and intermodality. I hope it is easy to understand. The fact that the rings and word circumvent the 21, represent trasnportation for the 21st century.” The NCI conference and rally will be held June 14-15 on Capitol Hill.

For conference info and to register click here.

 

Amtrak chair acknowledges
crisis, notes progress

*           *           *

Seeks non-zero options for carrier

By Jim RePass and Leo King
D:F staff writers

Amtrak’s board chairman David M. Laney, a Bush appointee who has been able to earn the respect of both sides in the Amtrak debate, this week sent a detailed message to Congress outlining his views on the future he believes Amtrak should have – and sending a clear message that while Amtrak is as subject to sharp scrutiny as any other recipient of tax dollars, the nation’s future must have passenger rail.

While acknowledging Amtrak’s on-going struggle to provide efficient, cost-effective, and reliable service and the serious debate about what scope that service should take, Laney credits the successful efforts of Amtrak President David Gunn, a legendary operations expert recruited out of a comfortable retirement in Nova Scotia to rescue Amtrak, to stabilize Amtrak and get it back into what Gunn calls a “state of good repair.”

Supporting the GOP position on cost-effective management, he nevertheless warns that bankruptcy talk in some quarters is just as potentially damaging to Amtrak as it would be to any other on-going enterprise, where remarks about financial failure can provoke and precipitate the event just as surely as poor financial performance.

Laney suggests an alternative to zero-funding in a “transition” budget, if Congress votes to choose the shut-Amtrak path, but without detailed numbers at this time.

In a letter last Thursday to Vice-President Dick Cheney as President of the Senate, and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Amtrak board chairman Laney stated, “Because Amtrak is engaged in a strategic planning process which could affect its needs for fiscal year 2006, any such submission at this point would be premature. A grant request will follow as soon as [the] planning process permits.”

Laney, a Dallas attorney with Jackson-Walker, stated to Congress, “America’s intercity passenger rail service have reached a critical crossroads. At current funding levels [for the current fiscal 2005 which ends September 30] existing operations and capital investment will have to be severely curtailed or discontinued beyond fiscal 2005; conversely without meaningful reform, Amtrak cannot reasonably expect to attract levels of funding from any combination of federal, state, local or private sources at levels adequate and predictable enough to sustain passenger service in this country.”

Laney added, “The Amtrak Reform Board agrees that the President’s proposed operating budget of ‘zero’ is the right message. Status quo at Amtrak is neither viable nor acceptable. To effect needed reforms at Amtrak, however, ‘zero’ is not the right number at this juncture.”

The issue is, he indicates, the long practice of annual funding as opposed to long-term funding for Amtrak. In his view, annual funding is not practical for an enterprise that must do long term capital planning for infrastructure and equipment.

“In recent years, a number of thoughtful voices have weighed in on the ‘reform’ of Amtrak and passenger rail service in the U.S. Virtually all have recognized that that passenger rail presents the promise of an alternative mode of transportation as well as increasingly valuable added capacity for national transportation networks, particularly in our most congested regions.”

He sees another method.

“The promise of passenger rail can only begin to be realized if it is more effectively structured, more efficiently operated and adequately funded over a longer term than year-to-year.”

He added, “In coming weeks, we will receive input from numerous states constituting the principal ‘stakeholders’ in corridor operations in our most highly congested regions,” and he hopes to have “the broad outlines of our recommendations before April.”

He emphasized no matter what the outcome, money will be needed.

“It is abundantly clear to Amtrak’s board and management that without adequate funding Amtrak operations and investments will have to be curtailed or eliminated” in the next fiscal year, and he argued, “There could be no greater impetus for reform.”

Laney is opposed to bankruptcy.

“The threat of insolvency or bankruptcy can undermine the stability of any business; in Amtrak’s case, the disruption of financial and operating stability Amtrak has achieved over the last two year could stop our reform in its tracks.”

He added, bankruptcy “might prove a reform strategy of last resort,” but it is too soon for that and would be “counterproductive.”

Gunn quietly outlined in a memo that accompanied Laney’s letter what has been accomplished since 2002 when he took over the reins from former CEO George Warrington. His note included facts such as numbers of concrete ties inserted this year (152 miles), wrecked locomotives repaired (29 this year, along with 114 Amfleet cars), and the like, along with a reiteration of financial requests and grants. The passenger carrier received $1.21 billion in the current fiscal year – which was reduced by USDOT’s requirement to repay “$20 million of the DOT loan plus interest.”

Gunn wrote, “The fiscal 2005 budget includes a number of multi-year projects, which will have a significant impact on future year capital budgets.”

He said again, as he has said many times, they are projects that have been deferred year after year, and they are “once in a lifetime” major jobs on the Northeast Corridor – including replacing three Connecticut bridges, tunnel cable replacement, and replacing Shell Interlocking at milepost 16.7 in New Rochelle, N.Y. which Amtrak and Metro-North share. It is 16.7 miles east of Grand Central Station, M-N’s terminal. Amtrak operates over M-N for some 55 miles from Shell to New Haven, Conn.

Gunn stated the railroad might be able to borrow money by establishing a line of credit, but “The company does not have (and cannot reasonably obtain) a traditional line of credit from commercial banks because such lenders are aware of uncertainty of Amtrak’s Congressional funding.”

He also noted the carrier may be able to get a short-term line of credit from the Treasury Department for $250 million. That agency makes small loans for government-sponsored enterprises. He noted those loans are offered at Treasury’s interest rate, and would require the balance to be “zero at least once each fiscal year.”

Gunn made it clear long-distance route-cutting is not the answer.

“In the short term, wholesale cutting of services will not save any operating expenses; on the contrary, any savings would be more than offset by labor protection requirements and other shutdown costs.”

In addition, rail experts recognize that the cost of Amtrak’s long-distance trains is over-stated by Amtrak’s antiquated accounting structure, which attributes overhead costs that really should be assigned to Northeast Corridor operations to the entire system instead, falsely raising the apparent costs of those trains.

Amtrak’s enemies have made a practice of homing in on the long-distance train numbers, and many journalists, who must often be “instant experts” in a bewildering number of fields, are too rushed to uncover that fact.

Also on Thursday, 35 U.S. senators entered the fray. The solons from the upper chamber wrote a letter to Sens. Judd Gregg, Senate Budget Committee chair and Kent Conrad, ranking member of the same committee, in support of Amtrak funding.

They noted “Without [federal funding], Amtrak would quickly enter bankruptcy, and shut down all Amtrak services…and would leave millions of riders and thousands of communities without access to the essential and convenient transportation that Amtrak provides.”

The signers included diverse members of both parties – Paul Brown, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Byron Dorgan, Frank Lautenberg, Max Bauccus, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Patrick Leahy, Susan Collins, Ted Kennedy and others.

They asked budget leaders to “provide sufficient funding in the Fiscal Year 2006 Budget Resolution to sustain Amtrak's national network of passenger rail service. Amtrak's 5-year Strategic Plan, which was approved by Amtrak's Board of Directors on June 10, 2004, specifies that approximately $1.8 billion will be required for fiscal year 2006 to provide safe and efficient operation of the railroad.”

The senators pointed out “Amtrak has made real progress reforming itself over the last few years by reducing its operating costs to help fund needed capital improvements. Over the last 30 months, Amtrak CEO and President David Gunn has cut operating costs, reduced the employee headcount... increased the number of trains... and implemented internal reforms designed to control costs and improve efficiencies. Amtrak’s core operating expenses are now less than they were in 2000.”

One week ago today, USDOT Secretary Norman Mineta made it clear he had no use for Amtrak.

In a closed press conference in Chicago, he said, “Amtrak cannot spend money on new, innovative services that people want, because it is spending so much money running trains that nobody rides between cities that nobody wants to travel between.”

He did not define which cities he had in mind.

“On some Amtrak routes, the company could actually save money by not running the train and buying the riders an airplane ticket instead,” he declared.

“Even worse, Amtrak has over the years shifted money away from repairs, maintenance, and upgrades for tunnels, bridges and track – and instead used it to cover operating losses,” he contended. He did not say that was because the Congress had not properly funded Amtrak during that period.

The only Democrat, at least in party affiliation in the Bush cabinet said, “Passenger rail is too important, in too many parts of the country – including here in Chicago – to just stand by and watch a major mode of transportation strangle under a funding system that is fundamentally irrational.”

A moment later he added, “The system as it stands now is dying and everyone knows it.…There is another word to describe the current system: It’s nuts.”

The former California Congressman said, “We cannot afford to continue to waste money this way when there are critical investments that have to be made in passenger rail,” and added, “Some critics of passenger rail like to point out that fewer than one percent of travelers in America take the train – but that ignores the fact that there are places in the country where passenger rail does more than just make sense – it is absolutely critical. For example, today, Amtrak trains will carry just as many passengers between New York and Washington, D.C., as all of the airlines combined.”

Mineta said the “Bush administration will re-introduce a comprehensive reform package that aims to put passenger rail back on track by recognizing the reality of rail travel today,” and that “In drafting our Passenger Rail Investment Reform Act, we looked at where passenger rail was working. It is not hard to find examples, and they all have one thing in common. All the places in the country where passenger rail is thriving, and where growth is likely to occur, are places where states and local governments are actively involved in the planning process and in the investment decisions.”

He cited the Pacific Northwest as “One of the best examples that I know of. In fact, it would be fair to say that the Cascades service between Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, British Columbia, serves as the model for national reform.”

Over some 10 years, according to Mineta, Washington State made investments to upgrade stations, to upgrade tracks, and to purchase new and higher-speed trains, and subsidizes the operating costs of the service while Amtrak runs the trains under contract.

“Ridership is up over 330 percent,” Mineta said, and the Administration’s plan “would make only two changes to what happened in Washington State.”

Washington State “should not have had to bear the infrastructure costs of that project alone. Our proposal would establish a 50-50 federal match for state investments in passenger rail infrastructure, like stations and trains and track.”

“In highway and airport funding, the shares are more like 80-30 percent.

Mineta’s second point was that “We think Washington State should have had a meaningful choice in picking someone to run the trains. Fair and open competition for that contract in the future will benefit everyone.”

He said bluntly Amtrak is a failure.

“For 30 years, the federal government has had a partnership with Amtrak on passenger rail. That partnership has failed. Our plan would forge a new federal-state partnership that is the foundation of every other mode of passenger transportation.”

He said, “In every other area of transportation, it is the mechanism that we use to set priorities, and to make sure that the money follows public demand.”

He said he does not want to dismantle Amtrak.

“Our proposal does not call for an end to Amtrak. Instead, we would work hand-in-hand with states and local entities to invest in track, tunnels, bridges and stations, freeing Amtrak from that responsibility.

Amtrak could then focus on its core mission – running the trains on time.”

It appeared the Bush White House is trying to make Amtrak private enterprise.

“When the states are ready to pick an intercity passenger rail operator, we believe that Amtrak will be in a strong position to compete for those contracts. Others may come forward – other private companies or transit agencies – that want the job, too.”

Edward Sirovoy, an observer of the rail scene in Chicagoland, noted the news conference was held in a side room off the great hall in Chicago Union Station where access could be controlled to legitimate press. Sirovoy noted, “About 75 Amtrak employees picketed outside the doorway,” and he observed about 15 rail passenger advocates present, along with Amtrak police.” There were rent-a-cops, Cook County Sheriff’s deputies and Chicago Police Department. “Cops just kept in background,” he said.

“As the conference began the picketers began chanting slowly ‘Nnnooorrrmmmaaann.’ Very spooky.”


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In retrospect: how things change...

Some four years ago, USDOT secretary Norman Mineta came as down pro-Amtrak while Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson stepped down as Amtrak chairman to eventually take the Health and Human Services post.

We reported back then, when Mineta was our keynote speaker at NCI’s meeting in Washington, “Norman Y. Mineta stated clearly on May 9 he is in Amtrak’s corner despite major cash flow problems, and told some 150 conferees at the National Corridors Initiative’s annual meeting that Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Tommy Thompson, had submitted his Amtrak chairmanship resignation within the last fortnight to President Bush. Mineta also said Amtrak’s books are not so good.”

He paid particular attention to Amtrak.

He said, “In this coming year, all of us will be involved in discussions and actions regarding Amtrak reauthorization, and the role that rail will play in our transportation system and the economy. Since 1989, the National Corridors Initiative has been on the front line of these issues, and you understand how important, how rail impacts on people’s lives, therefore, your input is both valued and needed, so I really appreciate this opportunity to speak with the members of NCI about how rail is, without a doubt, an important part of the solution to our nation’s transportation challenges. I look forward to working will all of you to insure that rail thrives in the 21st century.”

Mineta joined the Republican Bush administration after serving as Commerce secretary in the Democratic Clinton administration.


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Drilling new rail bolt holes

Two photos: Amtrak Ink

Machine operator Freddie Butts, Jr. drills new bolt holes with a portable rail drill as part of the rail replacement program on the Harrisburg Line in Pennsylvania.

 

Keystone Corridor repairs, cleanup continue

A lengthy effort to clean up and begin major infrastructure improvements on the Keystone Corridor between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pa., began in fall 2003 and is still going on. It is an undertaking that will result in revitalizing a route that has suffered following at least 20 years of deferred maintenance.

In fall 2006, Amtrak and Pennsylvania expect to restore the 105-mile route to an all-electric railroad that will yield faster, more reliable and more comfortable passenger rail travel. Speeds will increase to 110 mph between Paoli and Harrisburg, in the sections of track that will allow it.

The February edition of Amtrak Ink, the company’s monthly newspaper for employees, reports the project is an illustration of what state partners can accomplish with federal backing. Last summer, Amtrak President David Gunn and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said that $145.5 million would be dedicated to address the years of deferred maintenance, and to revitalize the route, the cost of which is split equally between the two agencies.

“This level of commitment to the Harrisburg Line is unprecedented – our work teams have made incredible progress and we’re already seeing some tangible results,” said Chief Engineer David Hughes.

Engineering forces completed a 13-month rail renewal project between Middletown and Lancaster, Pa. last December.

By the time the project is complete, trip times for local trains will be cut to 105 minutes from 120, and express trains will arrive in 90 minutes. Four additional weekday roundtrips between Philadelphia and Harrisburg will increase the frequencies from 9 to 13.

The infrastructure improvements include installing new continuously welded rail – often simply called “CWR” – concrete ties, upgraded communications and signaling, and catenary systems, as well as improvements to bridges and stations.

The jointed rail on the route – vintage 1940s and 1950s bolted rail on both main tracks between these points a total of 48 track miles – is being replaced with CWR, which will enable scheduled trains to operate at higher speeds, reduce maintenance requirements, and more importantly, improve ride quality.

Starting last month and continuing into 2006, the civil engineers will completely renew Roy and Cork interlockings, as well as 37 switches. Wood ties, timbers and varying sections of rail will be upgraded using the latest technology in concrete switch ties.

The renewal program also includes restoring both main tracks between Lancaster and Parkesburg, and No. 2 track between Paoli and Villanova by installing 150,000 new concrete ties as well as 24 track miles of new CWR.

All track improvements will be supported by a newly upgraded signal system capable of operating trains on both tracks in both directions – making it “Rule 261” territory. Rehabilitation of 30 undergrade bridges and structures, along with the rehabilitation of electrical substations and the existing catenary system, are also scheduled through 2006.

Harrisburg Line clean-ups

Overgrown trees and brush on the Harrisburg Line caused power failures and service disruptions. The vegetation along the right-of-way in Conewago, Pa., was one of the project's long-overdue targets. Clearing the brush was one segment of the 45 track miles line that were cleared. The result was reduced power outages and service failures by 20 percent since last spring. The tree branches are now clear of the catenary and signals.

 

Tree and brush cutting are additional long-overdue projects that will improve functional and efficient operations.

Since early spring 2004, civil engineers directed clearing overgrown brush on more than 45 track miles and cutting a 250-foot radius around Frazer and Thorndale substations.

This program has reduced the number of power outages and service failures by 20 percent since last spring.

All-new tracks are designated for required ballast renewal as well as complete resurfacing. Beginning in October, the concrete tie and rail renewal work will continue on No. 2 track between Villanova and Overbrook, No. 3 track between Paoli and Overbrook and No. 4 track between Overbrook and the 36th Street Connection.

Another program continuing through this summer is cleaning up nearly 30 years’ worth of old track materials that have accumulated along the railroad right-of-way. In addition to its unsightly appearance, the clutter causes drainage restrictions and makes use of the railroad’s access roads difficult, which in many cases, limits response time to service delays.

Amtrak is currently using two “slot machines” to pick up and dispose of old ties and other debris, in addition to reestablishing and maintaining drainage. As of the end of December, more than 110,000 scrap ties were picked up between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, with about 20,000 left to be picked up March. About 27 miles of old rail and other track materials have been disposed of between Lancaster and Harrisburg, with an additional 25 miles remaining in the ongoing cleanup effort through this spring.

Sorting and disposal sites are set up at Thorndale, Downingtown, Atglen and Middletown, and will remain in operation until all cleanup is completed this summer.

Elsewhere, a massive sorting and cleanup program is near completion at Zoo Interlocking in Philadelphia, on the east end of the Harrisburg Line.

“For over 20 years this line fell victim to minimal maintenance as well as the lack of capital funding. There have been very few upgrades or improvements to this segment since the days prior to the bankrupt Penn Central Railroad,” said Logistics Support program director John Lesh.

Noting that the project not only raised the condition of the line to a state of good repair, Gunn said it also “demonstrates how incremental improvements to existing rail corridors can go forward at reasonable cost and show real results in the near term.”

Upgrading the Keystone Corridor is one of eight Tier I corridor routes in Amtrak’s five-year plan unveiled last summer. Completing the project relies on the availability of FRA grants for capital work.

John Lesh contributed this story.


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

Call it ‘CP Ormiston’ in Los Angeles

A Metrolink control point, an interlocking, will be renamed in honor of deceased conductor Thomas Ormiston of Local 84 of the United Transportation Union in Los Angeles, according to the Southern California Regional Rail Authority.

Effective March 1, the CP Metro control point on the East Bank Line will be renamed CP Ormiston. The name change will be permanent, according to a memo issued by John Kerins, Metrolink’s director of operations.

Ormiston was one of 11 people who died January 26 in a Metrolink commuter train derailment that prosecutors said was triggered by a suicidal man who parked his SUV on the tracks. The 13-year Metrolink veteran left a wife, two adult daughters and six grandchildren.

Meanwhile, a memorial fund established by members of Local 84 will remain open until April 11, said Local 84 Chairperson Keith Moore.

Donations will not be accepted after that date.

“We hope to present the proceeds to Mrs. Ormiston at our local meeting on April 18,” said Local 84 Secretary & Treasurer Richard Albitre.

“April’s local meeting will be held at the Ramada Inn in Burbank, at 10:30 a.m.”


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APTA Highlights...  APTA Highlights...

Here is another transit headline, from the pages of Passenger Transport, the weekly newspaper of the public transportation industry published by the non-profit American Public Transportation Assn. For more news from Passenger Transport and subscription information, visit the APTA web site at http://www.apta.com/news/pt.


JTA Provides 450,000 Trips During Super Bowl Weekend

When Super Bowl XXXIX came to Jacksonville, Fla., on February 6, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority was prepared to transport the crowds.

Between Thursday, February 3, and game day, JTA provided a total of about 450,000 trips, of which 350,000 were on its buses and the rest on its automated guideway Skyway system over St. John’s River. JTA Executive Director and CEO Michael Blaylock noted that the festivities leading up to the Super Bowl included the NFL Experience, on the south bank of St. John’s River, and the Times-Union SuperFest street entertainment zone on the north bank. The Super Bowl-related activities covered about a three-mile radius from downtown Jacksonville, he said.


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

Rail freight traffic does well

U.S. freight railroads registered a strong week in terms of volume during the week ended February 12 in comparison with the corresponding week a year ago, the AAR reported Thursday.

Intermodal volume for the week totaled 221,999 trailers and containers, up 11.6 percent from a year ago, with containers up 15.1 percent and trailers gaining 2.4 percent.

Carload freight totaled 341,577 units during the week, up 6.0 percent from a year ago with loadings up 7.7 percent in the West and 4.0 percent in the East. Total volume was estimated at 31.8 billion ton-miles, up 7.1 percent from 2004.

Fourteen of 19 carload commodities were up from the comparable 2004 week, with farm products other than grain up 22.5 percent; metallic ores up 20.9 percent; crushed stone, sand and gravel up 14.2 percent and coal up 11.2 percent. On the downside, loadings of primary forest products declined 5.0 percent and loadings of motor vehicles and parts were down 4.9 percent.

Cumulative volume for the first six weeks of 2005 totaled 1,971,073 carloads, up 1.9 percent from 2004; 1,280,285 trailers or containers, up 8.5 percent; and total volume of an estimated 182.6 billion ton-miles, up 2.8 percent from last year.

On Canadian railroads, during the week ended February 12 carload traffic totaled 67,612 cars, up 2.6 percent from last year while intermodal volume totaled 43,472 trailers or containers, up 6.5 percent from last year.

Cumulative originations for the first six weeks of 2005 on the Canadian railroads totaled 383,943 carloads, up 2.7 percent from last year, and 242,711 trailers and containers, up 2.6 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first six weeks of 2005 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 2,355,016 carloads, up 2.0 percent from last year and 1,522,996 trailers and containers, up 7.5 percent from last year.

The AAR also reported that originated carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended February 12 totaled 8,714 cars, up 11.5 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 4,088 originated trailers or containers, up 14.1 percent from the sixth week of 2004. For the first six weeks of 2005, TFM reported cumulative originated volume of 50,744 cars, up 7.1 percent from last year, and 22,731 trailers or containers, up 22.9 percent.

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

AAR is online at www.aar.org.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: CBSMarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)49.2247.27
Canadian National (CNI)62.8561.48
Canadian Pacific (CP) 34.1734.50
CSX (CSX)40.2839.85
Florida East Coast (FLA)42.0842.86
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)23.7024.36
Kansas City Southern (KSU)19.6619.10
Norfolk Southern (NSC)35.3935.75
Providence & Worcester (PWX)13.9013.03
Union Pacific (UNP)63.7660.47


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


For NCI: three photos, David Beale

An S-Bahn local train from Hamlen via Hannover Hauptbahnhof (Central Station) pulls into the underground train station at Hannover-Langenhagen Airport on February 10. The travel time from the Hannover airport to downtown is about 15 minutes with the train.

 

From the train to the plane:

Europe sees intermodal
connections as good idea

By David Beale
European Editor

Hannover-Langenhagen, Germany, February 10 – In 2004 the German airports of Cologne-Bonn and Leipzig-Halle joined an already large list of European airports with train stations either within the passenger terminal area or within a short walking distance from the airport terminal. Nearly all major German airports, including Berlin Schoenfeld, Hannover, Munich, and Stuttgart are now linked to the country’s rail network.

Frankfurt-Main and Düsseldorf airports have two train stations each, one for local and regional trains and one for intercity and long-distance trains. Numerous other airports around the globe have similar airport rail stations with direct connection to the country’s rail network, such as Amsterdam, Zürich, Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, both Tokyo airports, all three London airports, Manchester (UK), Hong Kong, Paris, Philadelphia, San Francisco and many others. Transportation planners have long advocated this intermodal link between air travel and rail travel as a way to avoid highway congestion and air pollution.

High-speed trains depart Frankfurt Airport

Intercity “ICE” high-speed trains depart Frankfurt Airport to many destinations with parallel airline flights including Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, Hannover, Köln (Cologne), Stuttgart and Zürich.

 

These train-to-plane connections are a tangible aspect of the uneasy relationship passenger rail has with passenger airlines. In the recent past new high speed rail lines in Western Europe have decimated passenger volume of competing air transportation.

Perhaps the most dramatic examples are the knockout punches delivered by EuroStar and TGV to the Paris-London and Paris-Brussels flight legs. After these high-speed rail corridors started operations, passenger traffic on parallel commercial airline flights dwindled to a fraction of what it had been. In fact, Air France stopped flying Paris-Brussels, and now “code shares” on SNCF’s TGV high-speed trains operating from Paris’ Charles De Galle airport to Brussels. Similar airline “code share” agreements have popped-up elsewhere along Europe’s growing high-speed train network.

On the other side of the train-plane equation are the new generation of low cost airlines – Billigflieger, in German. Statistics from the past 3 or 4 years show a significant decline in ridership on long distance conventional (non high-speed) trains, especially international trains operating north and south in continental Europe.

Numerous low cost airlines such as Ryanair, Easy-Jet, Air Berlin, Virgin Express and several others are taking significant passenger volume from these long distance trains. In some cases, these Billigfliegers have airfares priced nearly the same or even less than the railroads for a trip from Belgium to Italy, or Germany to southern France.

The new low cost carriers benefit from operating at secondary airports where the local political powers will often offer special financial incentives to move in. Additionally, the new low cost airlines, like all other airlines in Europe, fuel their jets with tax-free kerosene, while Deutsche Bahn and other railroads buy diesel fuel and electricity loaded with user fees and energy taxes to power their trains.

Statistics for 2004 show that low cost airlines increased their passenger boardings in Germany by 8 percent. Deutsche Bahn statistics for the same period show a slight drop in passenger traffic on intercity passenger trains of just under 1 percent.

Air Berlin B737-800

An Air Berlin B737-800 taxis to the gate at Hannover-Langenhagen Airport. Air Berlin is one of four low-cost airlines flying to Hannover.

 

Deutsche Bahn, under increasing pressure from the new generation of low cost airlines operating in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, is lashing back and appealing to the government to even the playing field.

In a report in the German news daily Tagesspiegel, Deutsche Bahn chief Hartmut Mehdorn demanded that the German federal government consider the investments DBAG has made in climate protection and reduction in energy consumption when formulating tax policy. The German railroad firm paid € 200 million worth of environmental taxes and € 400-500 million in fuel taxes in 2004, while airlines paid no taxes on their jet fuel purchases.

In a February 3 report in the daily, Mehdorn insisted, “We want to be dealt with fairly, we don’t want any handouts.” In reference to Ireland based low cost airline Ryanair, he added, “We are annoyed that we pay a bunch of taxes while the Irish employ minimum-wage flight attendants and get tax reductions from us.”

Mehdorn stated that his impression is, that the German federal government will not halve the value-added tax rate on train tickets, as Green Party politicians recently requested, but an ecology-based bonus-point system may be conceivable in future tax code revisions. However the firm would reconsider its future investments for reduction of CO 2-emissions when, as Mehdorn puts it, “If we get nothing, then we will do nothing.” Deutsche Bahn is continuing its lawsuit in the European Union court system against the tax-free status of jet fuel for passenger airlines.

Deutsche Bahn is under financial pressure not only from low cost airlines, but also a requirement to eventually end its status as a quasi-state enterprise and soon go public in an IPO on major stock markets. An IPO was planned for 2005, but due to on-going financial performance issues and political concerns, the IPO and stock market debut of Europe’s largest transportation company was indefinitely delayed.


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End Notes...

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

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

Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images that appear in Destination:Freedom may do so at a nominal fee of $10.00 per image. “True color” Joint Photographers Group (.jpg) images average 1.7MB each. Print publishers can order images in process color (CMYK) or tagged image file format (.tif), and are nearly 6mb each. They will be snail-mailed to your address, or uploaded via file transfer protocol (FTP) to your site. All are 300 dots-per-inch.

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

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


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