Destination:Freedom Newsletter
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 4 No. 8, February 24, 2003
Copyright © 2002, NCI, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - James Furlong
Editor - Leo King

A weekly North American rail and transit update

Crossing the Miamicock River in CT

NCI: Leo King

Amtrak CEO David Gunn wants to spend some money “reconstructing” Nan and Thames movable bridges, and a fixed span over the Miamicock River, all in Connecticut. Nan spans the Connecticut River, and Thames over the Thames River. More than two years ago, when F-40PHs were still in charge of moving fast passenger trains, No. 173, with engine 300 in charge, blasted over the deck at 55 mph.


Gunn wants Amtrak on a ‘pay as you go’ budget;
wants $1.8 billion for fiscal 2004

By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

Amtrak President David Gunn said last week he would seek a 73 percent increase in Amtrak’s budget for fiscal year 2004, about twice what the Bush administration has proposed.

Having just been granted $1.05 billion for the current fiscal year, the passenger rail CEO announced a request of $1.812 billion in operating and capital investment for fiscal 2004. That compares with the Bush budget of $900 million.

At a press briefing at Amtrak’s Washington headquarters, Gunn said the money is needed not for any grandiose expansion – There are no plans for that – but “in order to continue... efforts to bring stability to the passenger rail service, provide its customers with safe, secure and reliable service and reverse the deterioration of its physical plant and equipment.”

The breakdown is $1.044 billion in capital needs and $768 million to support operations.

If that appears to be a mammoth leap in spending, Gunn points out that, unlike past fiscal years, there is no borrowing planned for the coming cycle. Thus, he is, in effect, putting the railroad on a “pay as you go” basis.

When you include borrowing, he notes, in the seven years from 1997 to 2003, combined federal capital and operating support for Amtrak averaged $1.1 billion – and that was when the railroad had no money to repair damaged cars, and in some cases, had to scrounge the equipment pool just to make up consists.

In what some would define as a classic understatement, an Amtrak press release noted that “this [past] level of funding was insufficient to support Amtrak’s true capital and operating needs. Consequently, the company’s previous management increased Amtrak’s debt by more than $2.5 billion and slowed or halted important capital projects and deferred maintenance during this period to keep trains running and avoid insolvency.”

Not that there was anything “malicious” in this, Gunn explained. It’s just that previous management did that to try to keep on the elusive “glidepath to self-sufficiency.”

Not only is the phase-out of the money-losing express service continuing full tilt, but the Gunn regime at Amtrak is “taking a look” at mail service on the trains, as well. That part of it that makes money (or at least doesn’t lose money) will remain. Mail service on other routes may very well go the way of the express service.

“We’re going to go back to being a passenger railroad again,” he said, since that is Amtrak’s mission, after all.

“Amtrak’s past practice of borrowing money and deferring capital investment to make payroll cannot be sustained,” declared Gunn, “We must address the deteriorated assets and, over the next several years, return our equipment and infrastructure to a state of good repair if operation is to continue.”

The aim is to keep the trains – both on the Northeast Corridor which Amtrak owns, and on other parts of the system where Amtrak is hosted by the freight railroads – “are returned to a good condition.”

Gunn is proposing to repair 20 more damaged coaches and 10 locomotives for fiscal 2004, rebuilding five major interlockings, installing 120,000 new ties, and investments in several major maintenance facilities.

Trackwork will include reconstructing five major interlockings between New York and Washington. Amtrak and Metro-North will join forces for an at-grade project at Shell Interlocking, in New Rochelle, N.Y., where westward Amtrak trains leave M-N iron and return to Amtrak territory.

Another capital project that merits attention, he believes, is initial reconstruction of three important bridges on the NEC, all of them in Connecticut.

[D:F Vol. 1 No. 9; June 2, 2000] –Ed.]

In answser to my questions Thursday, however, Gunn said that, as important as the reconstruction of the bridges is, their shortcomings cannot be blamed for failure of the Acela Express to reach the goal of 3 hours Boston-NY. (It is closer to three-and-a-half hours, still a significant improvement). In the past, the Amtrak CEO has spoken of incremental speedups on the NEC. Its ownership of the tracks there gives Amtrak more control than in most other parts of the country where the Class I freights prevail and call the shots.

One deck in need of replacement is over the Miamicock River, opened in 1906. It is a 76-foot fixed span at MP 114.3 in East Lyme, Conn.

Two William Scherzer-designed rolling lift bridges are in need of major overhaul, including Nan, at milepost 116.7. Completed in 1908, this deck spans the Niantic River between Niantic and Waterford. The other is the Thames River Bridge, MP 124.2, between New London and Groton, completed in 1912. All three are double-track bridges.

Amtrak management envisions operating locomotive-less trains on the New Haven, Conn. to Springfield, Mass. branch of the NEC and the short-distance Chicago-Milwaukee service. That would enable Gunn to “get rid” of some 4,100hp locomotives, which are expensive to run. These diesel multiple unit trains would resemble old self-propelled Budd equipment, which merely required a cab for the engineer on the head-end car. No contracts have been signed, but one company that Amtrak is looking at as a possibility for this order is Colorado Railcar Mfg. Co. of Fort Lupton, Colo.

The switch engine fleet would be downsized, but would be made more reliable. Some of them, Gunn said, are 50 to 55 years old. In some cases, “It’s a wonder they’re running at all.”

There may be some long drawn-out labor negotiations as union contracts expire – or maybe not. Gunn said he’s looking for work rules changes, but that they will involve “nothing draconian.” He would not elaborate, saving that for the negotiations. Whether the changes he has in mind are something the unions can live with will be discussed as he sits down with the labor leaders or representatives at the bargaining table.

Since last summer, the workforce has been reduced by more than 600 employees. Amtrak has also closed a reservations center, much to the chagrin of some rail supporters in the Chicago area where that center was located.

Security is an issue that Gunn believes will be handled by the new Transportation Security Administration. Security on the railroad, he said, presents problems that are different from those of the airlines where they are more internal. The railroad has an infrastructure spread out for thousands of miles on the ground, as opposed to the air carriers where “three hundred people are enclosed thousands of feet up in the air.”

He said Amtrak’s performance in the recent snowstorm when it was virtually the only conveyance that was moving, demonstrated its potential value in a security emergency. The bad weather did not deter Amtrak from operating most of its trains on the NEC where it owns its own tracks. Spokesman Dan Stessel told D:F Wednesday that during the storm that buried the Northeast for several days, 75 percent of the NEC trains continued to operate, mostly on time.

Elsewhere, the story was different. CSX closed the tracks heading south out of Washington. Not only were all passenger trains south of D.C. canceled, but one in particular, the Washington-New Orleans Crescent, had to be scrubbed in both directions just because of the CSX-owned seven-mile stretch from Washington to Alexandria, Va. Most of the Crescent’s run is on Norfolk Southern which imposed no such all-encompassing restrictions. Just that one seven-mile stretch served as a bottleneck that wiped out the train.

[See separate storm story. – Ed.]

CSX said it had its hands full rescuing its own stopped freights, and did not have the manpower or equipment to rescue stranded passenger trains. On February 18, the freight railroad issued a press release saying it was attempting to get D.C-Virginia commuter rail service back to normal as soon as possible. The commuter rail service Virginia Railway Express was quite put out about the stoppage, but Amtrak’s Stessel declined to pass judgment on an emergency decision made by CSX.

As D:F noted last week, the just-passed fiscal 2003 appropriation provided that Amtrak, for the first time, will have to go to the Secretary of Transportation for specific pots of money, including the operation of individual long distance trains.

President Bush signed the omnibus appropriations bill on Thursday.

Some observers have raised questions as to whether this kind of short-leash micromanagement makes it difficult for Amtrak to make business decisions.

At Thursday’s briefing, Gunn said he had already had conversations “with those people” and would not criticize a process that had not even been implemented yet.

He dismissed a scenario where, as D:F phrased it in a question, the USDOT Secretary would be deciding how many dining car attendants are required on a specific run.

Speaking of which: Those who have blamed the long-distance trains for Amtrak’s problems are pursuing “a red herring,” Gunn believes. The White House OMB and others have pinpointed figures running into hundreds of dollars per passenger supposedly being lost every time certain trains operate. Gunn said the math on that is questionable because it includes allocated overheads that would still prevail if the train were to disappear. It isn’t clear how much of those figures include “avoidable costs,” he told the Thursday briefing.

The Gunn budget appears to be a “put up or shut up” document. Congress has reaffirmed time and time again that it wants Amtrak to survive. Amtrak’s seventh CEO, in the executive suite at Washington’s Union Station for eight months, has stated that the days of “Let’s pretend” budgets and fantasy “glidepaths” are over. He has said that if Congress and the people want a national passenger train system, they are entitled to a straight cards-on-the-table outline of what it costs to run it in an efficient, no-frills way. As it is, he said, Amtrak has been “close to insolvency.”

With those cards on the table, Gunn is looking to Capitol Hill and saying, in effect, “This is what it costs. Let the debate begin.”

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NCI: Leo King

The Northeastern U.S. repeated scenes like this through the Presidents Day weekend as a blizzard raged from the Ohio Valley to Maine. Here, Amtrak’s No. 84 whipped up the snowflakes in March 2001 as they were falling on the Dorchester Branch, one mile west of Boston. An F-40PH led the train past South Bay Tower (behind the camera) to its final destination – before catenary construction was completed.


Snow slows Northeast trains

By Leo King

Railroads across the eastern half of the country were shut down by a blizzard last weekend and into the Presidents Day holiday. The storm extended from the Ohio Valley to Maine. Amtrak was forced to halt northward Silver Service trains at Jacksonville, Fla. The Crescent was annulled on Saturday, and other southward trains en route to Washington, Richmond, Va., and beyond never left Sunnyside yard in Queens, N.Y. Most Northeast Corridor trains ran between Washington and Boston, but they, too, were affected by the storm.

By Tuesday and Wednesday, things were beginning to get somewhat back to normal – but still far from being so.

Amtrak began operating its Florida trains again on Wednesday, including the AutoTrain, which originates in Lorton, Va., and runs to Sanford. An Amtrak spokesman said the carrier would also run at least three or four other trains from Washington to points south. The Sunset Limited, operating between Los Angeles and Orlando, was not affected.

Service south of Washington, D.C., was suspended while CSX cleared its tracks of deep snow, ice, debris and stranded freight trains. In many cases, fresh crews could not get to those stranded trains over snow-clogged roads, CSX said. CSX crews rode plow-equipped locomotives to cut down fallen trees and perform other maintenance because their trucks could not get to the railroad.

Rail service in the Northeast Corridor was nearly back to normal by Wednesday.

From its headquarters in Jacksonville, Fla., CSX told the media it was “working as quickly and safely as possible to restore normal service to its commuter and passenger operations in the greater Washington, D. C. metropolitan area,” following one of the worst snowstorms on record.

“We are hopeful that we will have near normal service available for commuters in Washington, Virginia and Maryland by Thursday or Friday at the latest,” said Al Crown, CSX’s executive vice-president of operations. He added, “Until then, we have made enough progress that we will be able to safely resume restricted service” on Wednesday “as we continue to address a number of weather-related service issues.”

Crown said that among the major obstacles facing the railroad was the “ability to get crews and other personnel on location to address service issues and to clear switches” and other equipment.

“We have people who want to work who simply cannot get to where they need to be given the hazardous road conditions,” said Crown. In addition, he said that all rail crossings needed to be cleared and all crossing gates and warning signals checked to ensure that the storm and high winds did not cause any damage.

“We’ve got our teams working around the clock to restore full service as quickly and safely as possible and we will continue to update the public on our progress,” he said.

Limited service returned on Wednesday for MARC, VRE and Amtrak in the D.C. metropolitan area.

The Washington Post reported CSX’s prompted Virginia Railway Express (VRE) to question whether CSX was adequately prepared.

CSX said it refused to let the passenger and commuter trains operate because it was the safe thing to do.

VRE operates over Norfolk Southern (NS) tracks from Manassas to Alexandria, and CSX tracks from Fredericksburg to Washington, where the trains enter Amtrak territory.

NS kept most of its service running throughout the storm, and offered to operate Manassas line trains to Alexandria, but CSX would not allow those trains to operate on its tracks into Washington from Alexandria, forcing VRE to suspend the service.

VRE in the past two to three years spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for electric switch heaters between Alexandria and the Potomac River to be certain that its trains could operate in winter weather. The heaters worked but there were no trains to run over the tracks.

“A number of people have requested me to find out how well prepared CSX was for the snow emergency,” said VRE’s COO Pete Sklannik Jr.

He said VRE and Virginia “are concerned that we have made investments in the infrastructure,” and want to know what they got for their money, he said.

Even in the seven miles from Alexandria to Union Station, CSX did not want to take a chance that a passenger train would be stranded, said Jay S. Westbrook, CSX assistant vice-president for passenger and operations planning.

“We made a wise and prudent decision to do the safe thing for the traveling public,” Westbrook said.

CSX on Tuesday allowed some passenger service on its tracks, starting with the AutoTrain. Three VRE trains were to operate Thursday from Fredericksburg, which uses an all-CSX route, and five from Manassas. Limited service also was to start on the two Maryland Commuter Service lines that run on CSX tracks to Baltimore and Brunswick.

CSX also would not allow MARC to run on Tuesday, but then MARC decided not to run service over the Amtrak-owned Philadelphia-Washington main because the government was shut down.

All Amtrak service south and west from Washington was halted by CSX when the storm hit. However, the Amtrak-owned and operated Northeast Corridor between Washington, New York and Boston, remained open with a reduced schedule. Amtrak did what it has done in the past during major snowstorms, keeping only two tracks open and using no switches. Indeed, it was a straight-iron railroad. One of the major problems in such storms is clogged or frozen switches.

NS continued operating almost all its lines, although on reduced schedules, and operated Amtrak passenger service between Philadelphia and Chicago. Vice President Robert C. Fort said the storm caused delays, closed some yards and forced cancellation of some freight trains. He said only one line was closed, a low-traffic secondary line from Cincinnati to Portsmouth, Ohio.

NS even managed to keep its main Atlanta-to-New Jersey line open over a mountainous stretch between Manassas and Front Royal, overcoming 35 inches of snow and drifts at the summit near Markham, Va.

The CSX line over the Alleghenies west of Cumberland, Md., was blocked for at least two days, but NS kept open its crossing of the Alleghenies through Altoona and Cresson, Pa., a few miles north of the CSX line.

NS told reporters on Thursday operations were “improving, but continue to be hampered by the effects of a record setting winter storm which moved across the Midwest and into the Northeast.” Impacted areas stretched from Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia into New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New England.

As the storm began, temperatures hovered around 12 degrees or lower, and record snowfalls were measured in many places. West Virginia recorded 59 inches in one spot, and Logan International Airport in Boston measured more than 27 inches at the storm’s end.

The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning Sunday night for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, The AP reported. The warning is put into effect under conditions of blistering wind gusts and dense snow.

The snowfall began in midtown Manhattan Sunday evening, and most areas of the city had received about 10 inches by 7:30 a.m. Monday, meteorologists said.

During the 1995-1996 snow season, New York City accumulated 90 inches of snow. Last winter the city only saw 3-1/2 inches. So far this year, there has been 25 inches, not including Sunday’s storm, officials said.

Amtrak canceled about 25 percent of its northeast trains as part of a modified holiday schedule and operated empty trains overnight to keep fresh snow from settling along the tracks, said Dan Stessel, a railroad spokesman in Washington.

Dan Brucker, a spokesman for Metro-North Railroad, said the commuter railroad ran a Sunday schedule instead of a holiday schedule on Monday, meaning there were about 12 fewer trains than previously scheduled.

The Long Island Rail Road was experiencing system-wide delays of 20 to 30 minutes due to weather-related switch problems, said Sam Zambuto, a LIRR spokesman. Plans to run extra trains were canceled.

The storm originated about a week earlier over California, and blew its way eastward. It blew heavy snow along the Ohio Valley and into the mid-Atlantic states Sunday, and was part of a huge storm system that also produced thunderstorms in the South, including an early morning tornado that damaged a house in northern Florida.

In Tennessee, where more than 7 inches of rain fell earlier, a mudslide early Sunday destroyed an apartment building outside Knoxville, chasing out several dozen tenants. One man was hospitalized in serious condition, the Knox County sheriff’s office said.

West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise declared a state of emergency as his state had 20 inches of snow in the north, floods that blocked roads in the south and ice elsewhere. Some 27,000 customers were without power. Williamson closed its flood wall as the Tug Fork River rose toward a crest of up to 3 feet above flood stage.

Radar showed snow falling Sunday from Missouri to New Jersey, and flakes fell at a rate of up to 4 inches an hour in parts of Maryland. National Weather Service forecasts ranged from a foot of snow by late Monday in Rhode Island and Massachusetts to 20 inches in New Jersey and 2 feet in Maryland and northern Virginia – and up to 3 feet of snow in West Virginia’s most mountainous counties.

On Monday – Presidents Day – CSX advised its customers, “Severe weather conditions continue,” and its Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac sub[division] is still shut down.”

The carrier stated long-haul service south of Washington was canceled – meaning Amtrak’s trains between Richmond and Washington as well.

Amtrak told its passengers, “Due to the winter storm that hit the East Coast this weekend, some Amtrak trains have been affected by snow and ice conditions. Most trains between Boston and Washington continued in-service Sunday afternoon, however, most trains between Washington and Florida were cancelled on Sunday. Currently, Amtrak expects to continue running most trains between Washington and Boston through Monday.”

On the Internet, there was a great deal of chatter.

A New Jersey online poster, who coincidentally works for Metro-North, noted, “Finally, after a day of anticipation, it has begun to snow and stick. My son is annoyed because he already had the next two days off from school.”

Another railroad watcher noted, “Amtrak has been getting good press all day on the local TV stations in the Baltimore and Washington stations. She noted, “There has been nothing but snow coverage all day long, at least when I’ve been in the house. Periodically they get reports from all the transportation venues. The buses in Baltimore gave it up. BWI Airport was trying to keep one runway active while plowing another one, but by this afternoon all flights in and out had been cancelled.”

Amtrak cancelled its Louisville Cardinal she said, noting a TV report.

“The representative said there was flooding in Ohio,” but she wasn’t sure if the reference was to the Ohio River or the state in general.

The Amtrak report was of slight delays in all directions from Baltimore and D.C., except to and from the south.

“The trains from Miami were going to have serious delays. The reporter asked, ‘By slight delays, don’t you mean a few hours?’ and was surprised to learn that the delays were only 10 or 15 minutes in the Northeast – although the long-distance trains might be an hour late; then all trains headed south had to stop running because of ice in Virginia.”

She went outside “to bring my horses in early. Here in Annapolis, it is very difficult to walk even a little way. All our doors and gates are snowed shut. The canopy over a golf cart my husband needs to get around collapsed even after I shoveled it off earlier. We have a metal chair on our back deck, and the snow is higher than the seat.”

Another poster quipped, “We have a backhoe you can borrow, but Governor Erlich will give you a $1,000 fine if you take it on the highway during the snow emergency.”

On Tuesday, NS told its customers in a service alert, “The effects of a record-setting, winter storm, which moved across the Midwest and into the northeast over the holiday weekend, continue to hamper normal operations across a wide area.”

The carrier reported, “Heavy snow, ice, and wind are impacting operations in a number of locations from Ohio, West Virginia, and Virginia into the Northeast,” including the shared asset area operations in New Jersey.

NS stated, “customers with traffic moving through this area should expect delays due to line interruption resulting from commercial power outages, local road conditions, frozen switches and conditions associated with the lingering effects of this storm.”

Stalled CSX stated, “The Level 3 winter weather alert in effect between New Castle, Pa., and Baltimore, Md., Richmond, Va., and Northern N.J., and the Indianapolis, Ind., terminal area has been amended to include Cincinnati to Russell, Ky., and between Cincinnati and Corbin, Ky. All of the shared assets territory in northern and southern New Jersey is included in the weather alert.”

A “level 3 alert is defined as “Adverse weather conditions have severely affected the specified region. Only critical trains will be operated. Trains will operate on straight move and limit use of crossover moves to the extent practical. Local switching, scheduled service, and normal traffic connections will definitely be affected.”

The carrier told its customers it could help railroad employees to work safely by “keeping the switch points clear of snow and ice so that the switch can be operated safely, keeping the area around switch stands clear of snow and ice, and cleaning walkway areas where crews may need to access the facility or cars during service.”

The note added, “Make sure that close-clearance signs are free of snow and clearly visible for the switching crews.”

By Tuesday (February 18) morning, the Long Island Rail Road was trying to operate on a weekday schedule.

“We are currently experiencing one-hour delays systemwide as a result of weather-related problems,” the commuter carrier stated in a press release.

Service on the Hempstead Branch was “suspended as a result of a disabled train at Hempstead.”

Customers were advised to “take alternate LIRR service, if possible, at main line stations (Mineola, Merillon Avenue and New Hyde Park.”

They also warned commuters some trains would “not have their full complement of cars, and there will be some canceled trains.”

All New Jersey Transit rail lines were 10-15 minute late, and many bus lines also experienced delays. NJT said it would will cross-honor all bus, train and light rail tickets, through Tuesday. The commuter system said its trains and light rail lines would “operate on an enhanced Saturday schedule, and a regular weekday bus schedule.” NJT’s Hudson-Bergen light rail service operated on a Saturday and Sunday Schedule.

Midtown direct trains were suspended between Newark, Broad St. Station and New York Penn Station for a time, and all trains were “diverted to Hoboken... where Path service to Manhattan is available. Service to and from Hoboken on the Raritan Valley Line is suspended.”

The weather also impacted several subway lines – NYC Transit ran on a Saturday schedule.

Service on the Staten Island Railroad was suspended. “A” service was suspended between Rockaway Boulevard and Far Rockaway as well as “F” service between Jay Street and Church Avenue. A shuttle train operated between Church Avenue and Avenue X. Several other lines were also affected.

Another online poster wrote, “I got to the station in Orlando at 1:15 [Tuesday] afternoon. The parking lot was jammed and there were double-parked cars all over. Inside the [Amtrak] station there was a line from the ticket windows almost all the way out the door. The illuminated sign indicated ‘No. 98 [Silver Meteor] delayed 1:05 p.m.’ but it clearly hadn’t arrived yet. Within minutes, headlights appeared.”

No. 98 is due out of Orlando at 12:21 p.m.

He noted the train departed at about 1:48, and No. 1, the Sunset Limited, “followed it into the station at a crawl and stopped at 1:50.

No. 1 is due out of Orlando at 1:45 p.m., where it originates.

Another follower of the railroad scene wrote, “Channel 4 in New York City last night showed a video clip of a worker shoveling out the vestibule of a train that had arrived from Washington. This was obviously blowing snow, which had drifted in through the cracks and crevices, but the reporter seriously intoned, “That shows you how deep the snow is getting out there.”

A Boston Amtrak conductor who works the “graveyard shift” noted, “To start my night off, Acela Express 2256 arrived Boston in 2258’s time slot. It was packed at South Station, full of holiday weekend travelers, so I imagine the trip was a memorable one. 2258 was annulled.”

Dave Bowe observed, “Train 140 arrived just a couple hours late via the inland route with 13 cars, so it must have combined with another train earlier in the trip.”

Bowe and his crew “shoved train 88 from South Station to the yard [Southampton Street] at 2:40 a.m. on Monday.

“It was about seven hours late. After I pried the frozen vestibule door open, I discovered three feet of snowdrift in the rear vestibule. Sure wish I had my camera. Paula, the train’s only attendant for the whole trip, was still open on arrival in Boston (as she always is) and served us a fresh pot of coffee.”

Bowe continued, “Yup, she was on duty for 18 hours behind that counter and still told us a couple stories about her journey. She was my hero for that night and is the true definition of a railroader. Yes, we each tipped her a buck for the java.”

He also noted, “It didn’t start snowing here in Boston until 10:00 o’clock Monday morning.”

By mid-Tuesday afternoon, reported that the AutoTrain was running.

Another online poster remarked, “at least the tracks are open. I was supposed to be on Monday’s 98 which was cancelled and stranded me in Florida. I managed to get a coach seat on Wednesday’s 92, so hopefully I won't have to drive back. I stopped by Kissimmee station and saw a full Silver Service consist heading south and a three-coach and snack car consist heading north doing Florida-service only.”

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Petibone working the rails

NCI: Leo King

Petibones, tracks and bridges sometimes seem to go together. The operator on this piece of track equipment is waiting for the main span across the Connecticut River – named “Conn” on the railroad – to come down so he can perform some maintenance tasks in summer 2001. In this particular circumstance, the bridge needed help getting completely back down, so the weight of the ’Bone assisted, after the rails were nearly all the way down.


Mineta remains hospitalized, continues work

Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta continues to recover from back surgery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

He is working out of a suite once used by President Eisenhower, who spent three weeks at Walter Reed following surgery in 1956. Mineta is regaining the strength in his legs and running the 160,000-person agency by phone, computer and various other electronic tools – and has been for the last 2-1/2 months, reports The AP.

“With 7,000 employees at headquarters, I’m not in touch with every one of them,” Mineta said, “but I’m in touch with 50 or 60 of them in the course of a day.”

John Flaherty, Mineta’s chief of staff, and Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson have managed the department’s headquarters in Mineta’s absence, but aides said Mineta makes major policy decisions from his hospital room.

Mineta, 71, is the only Democrat in President Bush’s Cabinet. The former 10-term House member and ex-mayor of San Jose, Calif., became the first Asian-American Cabinet secretary in 2000, when then-President Clinton named him to head the Commerce Department.

Mineta has had a series of health problems since joining the Bush administration. He had a hip replaced about a year ago and had surgery in August to relieve persistent back pain, which reappeared after a long plane trip in November.

After checking into Walter Reed on Nov. 29, doctors found the pain was caused by a staph infection and made worse by curvature of the spine. He received treatment and left the hospital for only brief periods before having back surgery three weeks ago.

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Reservation agents rally to save jobs

More than 100 Amtrak employees called on railroad management on February 15 to make across-the-board cuts instead of axing its Chicago Loop phone-reservation center.

“There are alternatives so the impact won’t be so huge on one location,” union chief Daniel Biggs said at the rally, held at Rainbow-PUSH Coalition headquarters on the South Side, according to the Chicago Tribune. Amtrak station employees and some reservation supervisors joined the reservations agents at PUSH.

Last month Amtrak announced it would close the Loop office, which employs 271 reservation agents, by year-end to save money. Company officials stood by the plan Saturday.

“This was a difficult decision for us,” said spokeswoman Kathleen Cantillon in Chicago, “but at the end of the day, it’s a business decision – the kind of decision Amtrak needs to make more of in order to survive.”

Employees said there are better ways to save.

Biggs said staffing could be reduced in all three of the company’s centers in Chicago, Philadelphia and Riverside, Calif., and that Chicago’s employees could move to a smaller facility than its office on East Monroe Street.

Cantillon said those ideas won’t solve the company’s staffing problem.

“It’s more effective to cut one [center] instead of from all three,” she said, adding that real estate costs also factor into the company’s choice of Chicago.

Employees said the planned cuts would affect other employees besides the call-center agents. Under union rules, they said, former call-center employees could take other company jobs, bumping workers with less seniority. Union leaders also expressed worry for workers’ families.

“Where there are 200 employees, there are 200 families and 200 sets of children,” said Robert Berry, a reservation agent.

PUSH activist and state Sen. James Meeks (D) of Chicago urged Amtrak employees at the rally to protest the cuts.

“You have the right to save your jobs,” he said. “You have a right to fight back.”

Many of the agents left the rally early to work an unusual Saturday shift, a move some employees said was designed to stop them from protesting, but company officials said the office was open because of a two-for-one sale that was expected to bring more calls.

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Two Florida solons file bills to repeal
high-speed rail Constitutional amendment

One week after four consortiums unveiled plans to run the state’s proposed high-speed-rail system, some lawmakers say it’s time to ask voters whether they’re sure they want the project.

Two state legislators have introduced measures that would overturn a state Constitutional amendment voters approved more than two years ago. Rep. Bob Allen (R) and Sen. Ron Klein (D) filed the bills. The bills would put the high-speed-rail question back on the ballot in 2004, asking voters whether they’re certain they want the state to build the multibillion-dollar system connecting Florida’s five major cities.

The idea has angered rail supporters who say Allen and others want to circumvent the state constitution – and the will of the electorate – simply because they don’t like high-speed rail, the Orlando Sentinel reported on February 20.

“When they took office, they swore to uphold the state Constitution,” said C.C. Dockery, a member of the Florida High Speed Rail Authority and one of the project’s most vocal supporters. “You don’t do that by trying to tear a page out.”

Voters approved the measure in 2000, but critics say the initiative was fatally flawed because no one knew how much the rail network would cost.

With the opening of the bids, figures have begun to crystallize, and Allen said he doesn’t like nor trust what he sees.

“The numbers just don’t add up,” he said. “It’s a lot of wishful thinking.”

Corporations interested in running the system estimate the Tampa-to-Orlando leg could cost as much as $2.7 billion to build. State and federal tax money would be used to cover construction costs.

Operating the first leg could cost $2 billion over 30 years, but the private consortia said they would cover those expenses through fares and other revenue generated by the system. (See an earlier D:F story in the February 17 issue).

Each of the four firms say the rail line, at least the Tampa-to-Orlando leg, could be profitable. Rail backers such as Dockery have said the state could cover its share of costs by setting aside $75 million a year for 35 years. That’s about 2 percent of annual transportation spending in Florida; but skeptics abound, and they worry the public may ultimately get stuck with the bill.

“If they’re off on their ridership numbers,” said Rep. Andy Gardiner (R), “you know the taxpayers are going to end up paying to run that train.”

Critics have a powerful ally in Gov. Jeb Bush, who dislikes the project. One of his first acts as governor was to kill an earlier rail proposal, the Florida Overland Express (FOX). Bush said recently he would seek to repeal the rail amendment if he thought the private teams weren’t bringing enough money to the table. He has not yet said how much he expects.

Allen’s bill would have to be passed by three-fifths of the legislature. Allen thinks that support is there, although it’s probably too soon to tell.

“It’s tough to get three-fifths,” said rail-authority board member Bill Dunn. “Getting half of them to do anything is a challenge.”

Still, lawmakers may be more prepared than ever to revisit the issue. Florida faces a $4 billion budget shortfall next year, and legislators are desperate to rein in spending.

Even state Sen. Jim Sebesta (R), a backer of high-speed rail, said the timing might not be right. Sebesta has suggested that if voters are asked again about high-speed rail, they should be given the option of delaying construction a few years.

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Texas county joins rail group

The Brazos County Commissioners Court voted February 18 to spend $35,000 to join the Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corp. The membership fee, which was also paid by the cities of Bryan and College Station, will help send high-speed rail lobbyists to Washington, D.C.

“I’d hate to miss an opportunity, even though I know that’s a lot of money,” said Commissioner Kenny Mallard. “For now, for this year, I’m in favor of it.”

He was joined by two other commissioners while one nay vote was recorded. Another member was not present.

Congress is expected to review the National Defense Rail Act and the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century sometime this year. Both call for federal funding of high-speed rail projects.

No routes through Brazos County are included in the bills, but some say that could change.

”It’s important for us to be at the table,” said College Station Councilman John Happ, who is serving as vice chairman of the corporation. “Right now we are not.”

Texas has the ability not only to be included in the projects, but also the ability to be first in line when it comes time to build the rails, U.S. Rep. John Carter told the commissioners during a special meeting last month.

”We have the space and the ability – especially with eminent domain – to get in with a cheaper price than any of the other corridors,” he said during the January meeting. “We’ve got a cheaper process with a cheaper land price.”

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Scranton-New York train could be a three-hour ride

Work plotting future rail service from Scranton to New York continues, but the Lackawanna County Regional Planning Commission learned February 13 that the trip will likely take nearly three hours unless tracks in the Poconos are upgraded.

Even though the line won’t be up and running until at least 2006, engineers have calculated speeds between the two cities. On most of the tracks, passenger trains should be able to move at 79 mph, and a 30-mile stretch from Dover, N.J., to the Delaware Water Gap could have speeds of 110 mph, according to Larry Malski of the Lackawanna County Rail Authority.

The Scranton Times Tribune reported those speeds, and with eight planned stops – five in Pennsylvania at Scranton, Mount Pocono, Stroudsburg, East Stroudsburg and Delaware Water Gap, and three in New Jersey at Morristown, the Oranges and Hoboken – the ride is expected to take two hours and 54 minutes. If a 20-mile stretch in the Poconos is upgraded, speeds there could soar to 110 mph and shave time off the ride.

“Normally, upgrades like these just involve putting in more crossties” and spikes. “It’s not that complicated of a process usually,” said Steve Pitoniak, a senior planner for the commission, “But we just don’t know for sure yet. That’s something that’s going to have to be studied.” Project planners are also putting together a “ridership forecast,” or estimate of how many people will use the train. That is expected to be complete this summer.

The $200 million rail project, funded by federal and state money, does not include upgrades to the Poconos tracks. The train will run from Scranton to Hoboken, where ferries and subways operate to New York City.

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Thieves take token booth cash; injure guard

Three thieves, two with guns and one wearing a mask, robbed two New York City Transit armed guards on February 14 after the agency’s armored train stopped at a Midtown station to pick up cash from a token booth, according to New York City police.

The gunmen fled late Friday night with about $21,000 after pistol-whipping one of the guards and stealing his weapon in the old IND line station at East 53rd Street and Third Avenue just before midnight police said. The thieves apparently surprised the guards as they left a token booth in the station with 16 bags of cash, officials said. They took the bags of money and fled to the street.

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Mica irked over slow commuter rail progress

U.S. Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) scolded Central Florida officials a fortnight ago, saying they needed to “get their act together” if they want rail transit in Central Florida.

Mica said $4 million in federal money is available to help pay for a start-up commuter-rail system, but local leaders must agree to chip in on the system’s operating costs. Otherwise, he said, the cash will go elsewhere, possibly to Tampa or Miami. A decision is needed, he said, by late summer or early fall, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

“This is really the last chance,” Mica said on February 14. He has not been friendly toward Amtrak.

He used a press conference to dress down area leaders. “We’re not going to wait on Central Florida any longer.”

The federal money would buy trains for a commuter-rail demonstration project Mica has been pushing for two years. He announced in September that he had secured $8 million for the project, but that amount ultimately was halved. The rail service between DeLand and downtown Orlando probably would start with three trains in the morning and evening.

Supporters think the system would attract suburban commuters, especially when the state begins rebuilding Interstate 4. Start-up costs, possibly under $50 million, are relatively cheap in the world of rail transit. The downside of a start-up program is that it would have a capacity of only 2,200 riders day, a little more than 1 percent of those who use I-4 every day.

Local officials generally support Mica’s efforts, but they have not committed to paying a share of the system’s operating costs. They won’t know what those costs will be until a rail study is completed this summer.

Complicating matters is the fact that any system will need the approval of CSX Transportation, the company that owns the tracks that would be used for the system. CSX has made it clear that it will not allow commuter rail to hurt its freight business.

Mica’s testy tone puzzled Altamonte Springs Mayor Russ Hauck, who is also the chairman of the region’s transit agency.

Hauck pointed out that earlier this week, Central Florida officials passed a resolution supporting both commuter rail and light rail, a modern-day trolley.

Communities aren’t ready to back that up with a financial guarantee, he said, because they won’t know for several months what the systems will cost to run. Typically, rail systems collect about 30 percent to 40 percent of their costs through fares, leaving taxpayers to cover the rest.

“I don’t want to get into an argument with the congressman,” Hauck said, “but we’re doing the things right now that need to be done to make a decision.”

Though Mica focused on commuter rail, he also mentioned several other projects in line for federal money, including $2.1 million for high-speed rail between Tampa and Orlando, and $2 million to help American Maglev Technology jump-start its stalled magnetically levitated train engineered in Volusia County.

Other projects included $750,000 for buses, shelters and other passenger amenities; $1 million for Orlando-Sanford International Airport to double the length of a runway; and $1.7 million for DeLand’s Intermodal Transportation Facility.

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Phoenix light rail project gets ‘A+’

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) reported on February 5 the Phoenix, Ariz., light rail project is one of the best new rail projects in the country. City officials reported the project “received the highest possible federal rating from the FTA in its Annual New Starts Report to Congress.” It was one of only two projects in the country to receive a “highly recommended” rating out of 59 rail projects nationwide seeking a federal funding commitment. The report is used by Congress to evaluate projects for federal funding, a city press release stated.

The news of the rating came on the heels of another federal approval of the project one week after a “Record of Decision” from the FTA, which is required before the project can move into the next design phase.

The Central Phoenix-East Valley Light Rail Transit Project is not yet eligible for a full-funding grant agreement. That is a commitment from the federal government that it will fund half the project cost.

The project has the third highest federal funding level of any project at the same phase of planning and design, with $34 million in federal funding to date. Project officials cannot apply for the agreement until at least half the project is designed. It is now about one-third completed, an official said, but they expect to get an agreement by spring 2004, shortly before construction begins in April 2004. Trains are expected to start running in late 2006.

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BART writes financial plan;
airport extension delayed

Bay Area Rapid Transit is making new financial plans in its San Francisco International Airport (SFO) extension, which extends BART to the airport and Millbrae from San Francisco. The financial planning is contained in a board of directors’ fiscal year 2003 budget. The extension was expected to open several weeks ago.

Other major concerns include “A” and “B” car comprehensive renovation, which would completely rehabilitate two-thirds of the district’s rail vehicle fleet; and an “Automatic Fare Collection Equipment Modernization/Translink Implementation” project, which would replace and refurbish ticket vending machines and faregates throughout the system to accept “smart card” technology.

BART’s directors released the district’s draft fiscal 2003 Short Range Transit Plan and Capital Improvement Program on February 18, but public hearings will begin June 12 when the directors meet at 9:00 a.m. in the BART board room at the District’s Oakland headquarters, 800 Madison St. (above the Lake Merritt BART Station).

The document is a management and financial planning tool, providing a long-term perspective for the current year operating and capital programs and laying out the District’s approach to capital investment decision-making and capital funding strategy. The document gives an overview of BART’s organization, facilities, and fare structure, as well as information on current rail ridership, service, and operating performance. The document also provides forecasts of ridership and service plans, which include the four-station BART-SFO extension.

A press release stated, “One of the critical themes encompassed by the capital program is a continued focus on the vital renovation and replacement of the existing physical infrastructure necessary to maintain current levels of service to BART passengers. The capital program also discusses investments in capacity enhancing projects to address cycles of dramatic growth in ridership.”

The capital program includes a section on activities in the arena of station-related planning, development, access and capacity, highlighting another critical theme for the District, creating successful partnerships with communities in order to facilitate access, improve the passenger experience, and promote core values, such as prudent land use.

It could be months, though, before the long-awaited extension to San Francisco International Airport opens. Contractor Tutor-Saliba/Slattery, which was supposed to wrap up construction in early November, still hasn’t turned over the project to BART so that testing of the $1.5 billion extension can begin, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

“Every week, we wonder: ‘Is it this week?’” said Molly MacArthur, a BART spokeswoman for the extension project. “We don’t have any expectation of when it’s going to be turned over, but we are anxious.”

The 8.7-mile, four-station extension from Colma has already passed several deadlines. When BART broke ground in November 1997, officials predicted that the first train would roll into SFO’s international terminal by the end of 2001. Then weather and an endangered snake that was crushed at a construction site combined to push the deadline back to late fall 2002.

In July 2002, BART officials admitted they wouldn’t finish in time for the holidays and predicted a January opening. Last month, they admitted they wouldn’t meet that deadline.

Tired of announcing opening dates and then having to retract them, BART officials have stopped making projections until they take possession of the extension and can begin two to three months of testing.

BART riders appear to be as eager for the extension as the officials.

Several have called or e-mailed The Chronicle wondering whether it’s going to be completed in time for their spring or summer trips out of SFO.

“I left California about a year ago and they were talking about an opening date then,” said Matthew Ko, an electrical engineer from Richland, Wash., who often flies into SFO to visit his family in Davis. “It seems silly to me that it’s taking so long to open it up.”

Under the best of circumstances, which would have included a contractor turnover last week, the earliest BART could run its first train full of passengers into SFO’s international terminal would be around the end of April, but sources at BART say privately that a May opening seems more likely.

Ron Tutor, Tutor-Saliba president, did not return Chronicle messages left at his office on February 14, but BART spokesman Mike Healy said Tutor has assured BART officials that the turnover will come “very soon.”

In an interview last month, Tutor cited “some minor difficulties in control and testing,” but no major problems. A $65,000-a-day fine has been piling up since the company missed the November deadline, although BART and Tutor-Saliba will arrive at a settlement that takes into account who was responsible for which delays.

BART officials say there’s no specific station or system that’s holding up the turnover and final testing—just a lot of little things.

“It’s kind of a checklist of a bunch of various items,” said BART’s Healy.

That includes certifications for elevators at the Millbrae station, completing fare-gate installation at the SFO station and testing escalators, he said.

Tutor-Saliba is obligated to turn over “a complete and working system,” said MacArthur. BART inspectors have gone over the system and identified problems that need to be fixed, she said, likening the process to a walk-through inspection on a new house.

“It’s our last chance to make sure everything is done,” MacArthur said.

BART is online at

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Rail line gets okay for environmental studies

Nevada’s Regional Transportation Commission voted February 13 to initiate environmental studies on a proposed commuter rail line linking downtown Henderson and the south end of Las Vegas Boulevard. The studies are the first step in qualifying for federal money local officials will seek to fund construction.

“We have talked a lot about commuter rail, and this is the first step in getting it delivered to the community,” said Transportation Commission General Manager Jacob Snow. “You can’t accept big money until you get the environmental studies done.”

The plan is to run diesel-powered trains on the Union-Pacific Railroad’s Henderson rail spur, which was built decades ago. By foregoing the expense of buying land and laying track, transportation officials believe an 11-mile rail line could be up and running for between $50 million and $60 million, a fraction of the cost of light rail systems being built in many cities around the country, reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The initial commuter rail system would connect downtown Henderson and the intersection of Sunset Road and Las Vegas Boulevard, where a Citizens Area Transit bus transfer station is now under construction.

Eventually, it could extend north to downtown Las Vegas and on to North Las Vegas, with key stops near the Fashion Show mall and at a new downtown transfer station tentatively planned for Bonneville Avenue and Main Street.

Transportation Commission officials have expressed optimism the federal government will fund 80 to 95 percent of the project, but that will hinge on its inclusion in a massive transportation bill Congress will consider this year.

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Sound Transit to pay BNSF to divert traffic

Sound Transit directors have approved a deal that will shut down freight tracks to make it safe for Tacoma’s Link streetcar to cross South 17th Street and Pacific Avenue. The 15-member board voted unanimously to pay Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Ry. $2 million to shut down a 2.1-mile downtown stretch of track and divert trains to other tracks – otherwise, Sound Transit would have been forced to spend $2.2 million satisfying federal safety requirements at the intersection.

The agreement, expected to take effect in March, means that freight trains will no longer roll through the Univ. of Washington Tacoma campus, reports The Tacoma News Tribune of February 14.

In September, Sound Transit plans to launch its 1.6-mile light-rail system in Tacoma. The five-stop line will run between downtown and the Tacoma Dome.

BNSF will close the section of track from milepost 0.60 to milepost 2.7, which includes a grade crossing at South 17th Street and Pacific Avenue.

The tracks that would be closed carry just a handful of slow-moving trains, but they offer a ride through history. They follow the original Northern Pacific route to Puget Sound.

BNSF did not respond to D:F queries.

“From the standpoint of the history, it’s kind of something that I hate to see go,” Tacoma architect Jim Merritt said upon learning of the potential closure.

For 20-some years, Merritt has done business close enough to the line to have passing trains drown out phone conversations. Since he’d like to see the history of the line preserved, he wouldn’t want buildings to pop up in the old right of way, but he understands why streetcars and freight could have trouble co-existing.

”Some years back, I saw a runaway freight car come careening through there,” he said, “and it was shocking to me. This thing went flying through there about 50 mph.”

A collision between a streetcar and a freight train would be ”worse than gut-wrenching,” he said.

UW Tacoma spokesman Mike Wark said many consider the railroad part of the unique character of the campus.

”People can certainly tell when it comes through,” Wark said.

But he said, “It hasn’t been a negative for us.”

UW Tacoma included a bridge over the track when it built its science building.

”When you’re in a hurry and the train goes by, we won’t have to worry about that,” he said.

Michael Runyon, who works with Merritt in the neighborhood, grew up in a railroad family. He would miss the trains.

”Wherever there’s the rail is sort of where the heart is,” he said. “I know a lot of people want to gentrify things, but there’s something nice about having to stop for a train every once in a while.”

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MAGLEV LINES...  Maglev lines...

Virginia maglev project to get $2 million

Old Dominion Univ. will be getting $2 million in federal funds to complete a Maglev project on the campus. University President Rosanne Runte said the funding was included in the recently enacted omnibus spending package for fiscal year 2003 – which began last October.

The Mace and Crown, a student-run newspaper, stated they learned of the funding on February 14 in their February 18 edition.

Funding for the project ran out last fall due to a series of problems with the new technology. Two “grand opening” events, first in September and again in November, passed without ceremony, before construction on the stations and track stopped completely.

Work to eliminate bumps and rattles, one of the biggest engineering hurdles, has been continuing at Lockheed Martin’s laboratory in Florida as engineers and scientists work to improve the train’s controls for a smoother ride.

Officials hope the money will be released in a few weeks. Robert Fenning, vice-president of administration and finance, will meet with the contractors to discuss the immediate restarting of the final phase of construction, Runte said. No date was specified.

The project was originally budgeted at $16 million. Private contributors Lockheed Martin and Dominion Virginia Power provided $7 million, another $7 million was provided in state loans, and the remaining $2 million came from federal funds.

The university stated it is not a financial partner, nor were student fees used in the project.

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STB boss offers rail funding notion

By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

The new chairman of the Surface Transportation Board (STB) believes policymakers should focus on new ways to facilitate the movement of freight traffic.

Speaking at the National Press Club’s Transportation Table on February 14, Chairman Roger Nober emphasized he was not advocating proposals to open up the Highway Trust Fund to help pay for capital railroad projects. However, he indicated those in policymaking positions who actively oppose the idea should come up with alternative ideas to make freight movement as efficient as possible.

Nober acknowledged that the issue had “pitted railroads and trucking companies against each other for generations.”

He expressed hope that in the T-21 re-authorization, “there is an opportunity to make progress on the subject.” Further, he urged those who care about the issue, “to just step back a little bit and look at policy goals that are broadly shared.”

This he believes, “could lead to [an] outline of a policy consensus on the need for federal programs to facilitate the movement of freight.”

After all, he said, the truckers have expressed as much frustration as the railroads at their inability to get their projects funded. All too often, he said, there has been a failure to make freight concerns a part of the policy planning process.

All of this despite a consensus among the members of Congress and the Administration that there is a need to remove hindrances to “the [timely and swift] movement of freight nationally.”

The STB does not decide the issue of how to fund freight traffic, but does deal with many of the results of whatever decisions are made on Capitol Hill. Congress this year is to consider reauthorization of the giant T-21 transportation bill.

Not surprisingly, when D:F asked Nober if he intends to weigh in with his point of view on this when Congress deliberates the T-21 bill, he responded to knowing laughter, “No, I do not.” Obviously he has no desire to spend his rookie days on the job plunging into a hornet’s nest that he can’t do anything about in the first place. Of course, that would not necessarily deter any one of the lawmakers on key transportation committees on the Hill from asking him about it when he appears to testify on matters related to his agency. This is how the new STB chairman clarified his position at the Transportation Table.

“I think that people who are proposing this [using the Highway Trust Fund for rail] can find common ground, but if they simply come in and say, ‘We want railroads to be funded because trucks pollute too much and cost too much money to run,’ you’re never going to find consensus on the matter with trucking companies saying, ‘Hey, we’re not going to give an inch on taking a dime of our money – railroads are our competitors – and we’re not going to give money to our competitors.’

That takes us back to the same old divided thinking that keeps great projects from going forward, and it is the ultimate frustration that those in the freight constituency feel about their projects not getting funded that perhaps has brought railroads and trucking companies to join together in coalitions to look at ways to improve the flow of freight overall.”

Translating broad policy goals into substantive solutions can be elusive, Nober added. While no advocate of breaking open the Highway Trust Fund for rail, he effectively challenged the policy-makers to come up with a workable alternative solution. He believes confronting the issue is long overdue.

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CSX to get major train dispatching makeover

Union Switch & Signal said last week CSX has awarded US&S a contract to design and install its “Next Generation” dispatch” system for the Kenneth C. Dufford Transportation Center in Jacksonville, Fla.

The program will eventually replace the current CSX dispatching system, according to US&S, which originally installed CSX’s current system in 1988.

The firm will migrate Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) and dark territory control applications from the current VAX-based computer system to the new US&S distributed Unix-based platform. Subsequent tasks will include moving train message, bulletin and train sheet functions.

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Military vehicles on flat cars vandalized in Florida

The U.S. Army and FBI are looking for thieves who stole supplies and equipment from several military vehicles mounted on flat cars bound for Blount Island, a trans-shipment site from land to vessels. The cargo trucks, transport trucks, jeeps and “HumVees” were strapped onto 89-foot flats in Moncrief yard.

Blount Island, northeast of Jacksonville, lies in St. John’s River between Jacksonville and Dames Island-and New Berlin. It is also a Jacksonville Port Authority major complex.

While stopped at the yard, someone climbed onto the cars and grabbed the goods. The train stopped a couple miles up the tracks in Oceanway after the train’s crew realized what had happened. The vehicles belong to the 101st Airborne Division, which is gearing up for deployment in the Middle East.

Moncrief Yard is on Jacksonville’s west side, and it is about 20 track miles from there to Blount Island.

The vehicles, along with soldiers’ personal items, were damaged. The freight train had stopped at about 4:00 a.m. while it waited for clearance to enter Blount Island, said Susan Wiles, a CSX spokeswoman.

“The tragedy of the event is they broke into the personal lockers of the soldiers who were to receive these vehicles on the other end,” Wiles said. “When this stuff gets to the 101st Airborne, there are going to be some unhappy soldiers.”

The train was carrying equipment from the 101st Airborne’s home base at Ft. Campbell, Ky. Among items that might have been taken from the vehicles were shoes, boots, reading materials, meal packs and clothing, Wiles said.

The FBI was called to the scene. Special Agent Jeff Westcott said it appears that it was a crime of opportunity rather than a terrorist act and his agency was called only as a precautionary measure.

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CSX to build hangar at Jacksonville

In what appears to be preparation for its headquarters move to Jacksonville from Richmond, Jacksonville International Airport officials said last week CSX Corp. plans to build a hangar at JAX and move aircraft it currently operates out of Richmond.

CSX already rents hangar and office space at the airport for three jets, but it now plans to build its own facility at the airport and move a Richmond, Va.-based jet and a helicopter there, said Bing Parkinson, assistant director of business development for the Jacksonville Airport Authority.

CSX, listed as a “Fortune 500” company, wants to lease 2.7 acres of undeveloped land for $20,000 a year, Parkinson told the airport authority board during its monthly meeting. The company wants an initial 10-year lease with an option to extend it four additional periods of five years apiece.

The JAA board approved the deal yesterday, but the final contract hasn’t been signed yet. Parkinson said CSX wants to begin the project as soon as possible.

CSX spokesman Adam Hollingsworth said the move has nothing to do with relocating the CSX corporate offices.

“It’s not related to any headquarters issue,” he said, “it’s just to accommodate some space issues we had at the aviation facility.”

CSX’s railroad headquarters are already located in Jacksonville, as are a number of parent corporation subsidiaries.

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Intermodal volume remains strong; carloads rise

Intermodal traffic on U.S. railroads was up sharply again during the week ended February 15, in comparison with the corresponding week last year, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported Thursday.

Intermodal volume for the week totaled 187,500 trailers and containers, up 8.6 percent from the comparable 2002 week. Container traffic was up 14.1 percent, while trailer volume was off 5.8 percent.

Carload traffic, which doesn’t include the intermodal data, totaled 323,770 cars, 0.1 percent above the total for the comparable week last year. Carload volume was up 1.6 percent in the East, but down 1.2 percent in the West. Total volume was estimated at 28.9 billion ton-miles, virtually the same as last year.

Double digit gains were reported in loadings of metallic ores, up 39.5 percent from last year; coke, up 18.1 percent; and metals, up 17.5 percent. Grain loadings were down 10.5 percent while coal was off 5.4 percent from last year. In all, 11 of 19 commodity groups registered gains from the comparable 2002 week.

The AAR also reported the following cumulative totals for U.S. railroads during the first seven weeks of 2003: 2,191,440 carloads, up 0.4 percent from last year; intermodal volume of 1,241,443 trailers and containers, up 10.5 percent; and total volume of an estimated 195.0 billion ton-miles, up 0.1 percent from last year’s first seven weeks.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 90 percent of U.S. carload freight and 96 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 96 percent and 100 percent. Railroads provide more than 40 percent of the nation’s intercity freight transportation, more than any other mode, and rail traffic figures are regarded as an important economic indicator.

On Canadian railroads, intermodal volume was up while carload traffic was down during the week ended February 15. Intermodal traffic totaled 48,995 trailers and containers, up 4.3 percent from last year. Carload volume of 62,772 cars was down 0.7 percent from the comparable week last year.

Cumulative originations for the first seven weeks of 2003 on the Canadian railroads totaled 422,650 carloads, down 0.8 percent from last year, and 269,454 trailers and containers, up 15.0 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first seven weeks of 2003 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 2,614,090 carloads, up 0.2 percent from last year and 1,510,897 trailers and containers, up 11.3 percent from last year.

The AAR also reported that carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended February 15 totaled 9,535 cars originated, up 63.4 percent from last year. TFM reported originated intermodal volume of 3,786 trailers or containers, up 85.7 percent from the seventh week of 2002.

For the first seven weeks of 2003, TFM reported cumulative volume of 59,253 cars, up 29.7 percent from last year, and 23,702 trailers or containers, up 64.3 percent.

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

AAR is online at

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Airlines, bus firms fight rail proposal

Canada’s airlines and bus companies have teamed up to fight a proposed high-speed rail system along the Quebec City-Windsor corridor. Both industries lobbied behind the scenes to make sure that when Finance Minister John Manley delivered his budget, there would not be a lot of money going to the $3 billion proposal, according to the Toronto Globe and Mail of February 17.

“We don’t mind rail services as long they’re not subsidized,” said Brian Crow, president of Motor Coach Canada, which represents intercity and tour bus operators.

“High-speed rail doesn’t make any sense from a policy standpoint,” added Warren Everson, vice-president of policy at the Air Transport Association of Canada, the industry group representing airlines.

“It provides a service that’s extremely similar to air.”

Everson said it would be wrong to spend taxpayers’ dollars to improve a subsidized rail system in Ontario and Quebec at a time when the country’s airlines are struggling.

The industry associations for the airline and bus industries have come together under the name “Coalition for Fair Transportation Policies,” which also includes labor groups from the two industries. The lobbying campaign has been something of an uphill battle for several reasons.

The fast-train proposal is being championed by Jean Pelletier, the chairman of VIA Rail Canada Inc., who is Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s former chief of staff.

Transport Minister David Collenette, a train buff who has been publicly supportive of the plan, is one of the Prime Minister’s closest allies in cabinet.

Montreal-based transportation giant, and an apparent government favorite, Bombardier Inc. stands to benefit if the proposal goes ahead, through sales of its new JetTrain, which is powered by a Pratt & Whitney Co. Inc. turbine aircraft engine – a Bombardier subsidiary.

There is also pressure on the federal government to use its budget to show that it will honor its commitments to lower greenhouse gas emissions in compliance with the Kyoto accord.

VIA officials said they could not wade into the debate, since it’s a policy decision to be made by the federal government, but they are clearly perturbed at the way the other modes of transportation have ganged up against them.

“It’s a little disappointing that it’s kind of: ‘My mode, not your mode,’ “ railroad spokesman Paul Raynor said. “I don’t think that serves the broader purpose.”

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At least 130 die in Korea subway fire

Forensic investigators were gathering ashes and bones by February 19 from the scorched metal skeletons of two subway trains in a Taegu, Korea, station seeking to identify scores of commuters who disappeared in the underground inferno one day earlier.

By last Friday, the number of identified victims of the rush-hour arson attack stood at 130 people dead and 142 injured, The New York Times reported.

The police said they had arrested a 56-year-old former taxi driver with a history of mental problems. Witnesses identified him as the man who held a green plastic milk bottle, filled with paint thinner, and repeatedly flicked a cigarette lighter.

Passengers wrestled with the man, Kim Dae Han, but were unable to prevent him from igniting the paint thinner, which burst into a fiery explosion. The fire knocked out power, locked station doors and trapped riders. About five minutes after the first fire, a second train pulled into the station and was soon caught in the blaze.

In a nation where cellphone ownership is nearly universal, family members of victims reported receiving desperate calls from relatives trapped in the trains. The engineer of the second train, where about 70 people are believed to have died, reportedly locked train doors to protect riders from the toxic smoke.

”Everything is gone,” Sung Bo Hun, a firefighter, told Reuters after emerging from the Chungang-ro station on Tuesday night. “You can’t recognize the people inside. It is all black and gray.”

The two wrecked trains were removed from the station on Wednesday.

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‘RailKey’ may make for easier ticketing

A Massachusetts firm is introducing its “Railkey” in Europe as a means to make train reservations and tickets easier to get.

Wandrian, Inc. described its RailKey as a “new rail portal” and “enables travel-related businesses and web sites to instantly provide a personalized full-featured e-commerce rail business on their site.”

Michael T. Fuller, Wandrian’s president and CEO, said RailKey “revolutionizes the way rail travel services are sold by providing a simple, easy, secure and scalable solution for both the seller of rail travel and the buyer.”

He explained, “RailKey takes full advantage of the new paradigm in travel distribution by combining information, planning and fulfillment tools in a comprehensive online solution.”

He said the Newton firm’s RailKey service provides “one-stop shopping for all European rail products such as Eurail, BritRail, country passes, point-to-point tickets, premium high speed trains,” like Eurostar between London and Paris, and reservations services.

Fuller said his firm has not yet come to an agreement with Amtrak, but “We are in the process of adding other railways into the system. I have had initial meetings with Amtrak and they seem interested.”

He added, “We are close with Australia, New Zealand and are trying to get VIA Rail Canada and Japan Rail.” He said his firm had not yet contacted any South American railways.

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NCI MEETINGS...  NCI Conference...

April 28, 29

The National Corridors Initiative's 2003 Conference topic will be

Rail Futures:
Building Secure and Successful Transit and Intercity Rail for America

Click here for more info and to register

Hon. Gov. Tom Ridge, Secretary of Homeland Security (Invited)

Confirmed Keynote Speakers:

Amtrak Board Chair John Robert Smith
Amtrak President and CEO David Gunn
Amtrak Board Vice-Chair Michael S. Dukakis
American Public Transportation Assn. President William Millar

Special Conference Session for Journalists and Industry:
The News Media and Transportation “Making News”

The Washington Marriott, 1221 22nd St., N.W., Washington, D.C.

$475 (corporate); $375 (government); $350 (non-profit, union)

Checks should be payable to NCI Inc., 35 Terminal Road, Suite 210, Providence RI. 02905

Arrange hotel accommodations at special low conference rates directly with the Washington Marriott 202-872-1500 fax 202-872-9899 and mention NCI.

For additional Meetings & Conferences of interest, please see our new Meetings Page

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DeWitt Yard at the Penn Central

NCI: Leo King

In 1974, Penn Central was struggling to make a go if it. They failed. Eventually, DeWitt yard in Syracuse became part of Conrail, which was an incredible turn-around for the struggling PC. Its engines ran, but they wheezed a great deal. Lots of Alcos were still on the property, and so were GEs. EMD was in the neighborhood, too, but not on this summer night.

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 Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write.

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

Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images that appear in Destination: Freedom may do so at a nominal fee of $10.00 per image. "True color" .jpg images average 1.7MB each, and are 300 dots-per-inch for print publishers.

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

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

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