NCI: Leo KingAmtrak service cutbacks have begun in the Midwest. Will the Northeast Corridor eventually be affected?
Smith takes the throttle;
Mc Cain: throttle Amtrak
Mayor John Robert Smith of Meridian, Mississippi is the new Chairman of the Amtrak Board of directors. He was unanimously elected Friday by his fellow Board members.
A member of the board since June 1998, he succeeds former Chairman Tommy Thompson who is now Health and Human Services Secretary.
Acting chairman Michael Dukakis nominated Smith. The onetime presidential candidate, who is a Democrat, said Smith, a Republican, "has the skills to harness the energies of our fellow board members and our dedicated employees to build the kind of first-class passenger rail system that America deserves."
Dukakis will continue to serve as the board's vice-chairman.
Smith said he believes "very strongly that our country's economic competitiveness and the mobility of all Americans depend on a vital national passenger rail system," and added, "Working with President Bush, Congress, governors, mayors and business and community leaders across the country, I'm committed to securing sufficient funding for Amtrak's national network in the year ahead and - in the long run - helping policymakers ensure the kind of rail service our nation needs."
Currently serving as chairman of National Corridors Initiative, Smith also chairs the Great American Station Foundation. He is founder and co-chairman of the Crescent Corridor Coalition, composed of mayors dedicated to development of higher-speed passenger rail services in the southeastern United States.
He is widely respected by his fellow mayors and among passenger train advocates.
He also has experience running the family business, a Meridian pharmacy. He is a registered pharmacist and is president and co-manager of the family's drug and gift store. Years ago, his grandfather was a locomotive engineer.
Smith was first elected Meridian's mayor, a community of 40,000 residents, in 1993 and was most recently re-elected last June to another 4-year term. Before that, he served as a member of the Meridian City Council.
Amtrak's Crescent, from New York City to New Orleans, calls on his hometown.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said, "I am especially pleased that a Mississippian has been elected to this very important post. He certainly has the strength and commitment to lead Amtrak through the challenges before it," the AP reported.
Among those challenges will be attacks from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and perhaps others, who would just as soon throttle Amtrak. Of immediate concern, however, is 1,000 people being let go so the railroad can at least try to make ends meet.
McCain has introduced what he calls an "Amtrak restructuring bill." In terms of real-world probabilities, the measure would likely "restructure" Amtrak in much the same manner that U.S. bombers "restructured" Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.
The ranking member and former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee clearly wants passenger trains to end in most parts of America. Over the years, the senator has had no apparent problems with the heavily subsidized airline service in his state, which also "does not make a profit" and depends on the taxpayers to keep it afloat.
Nonetheless, he claims that his plan would "provide for a restructured, capitalized and streamlined rail passenger network."
Bemoaning the fact that Amtrak debt had grown and experienced the "largest losses in history, (No concomitant spread sheet on the losses of I-95 was presented by the senator) McCain would authorize the DOT secretary to contract out rail passenger service to franchises that meet specified safety and liability requirements, provided such operations would not result in a significant downgrade in rail freight franchises.
No mention is made of the raging debate in rail freight boardrooms over whether to accept federal funding to enable them to double-track their main lines, something they've lacked the resources to do for many years.
McCain would also split Amtrak into three for-profit businesses: Amtrak operations, Amtrak maintenance, and Intercity Rail Reservations. All three would have to be completely privatized no later than four years after enactment.
Under McCain's plan, an Amtrak Control Board would direct Amtrak's operational restructuring to approve budgets, and oversee privatization. In addition, beginning October 1, 2003, Amtrak would halt service on any route where revenues do not cover expenses unless states contribute financial support to cover losses.
His bill would give states the flexibility to use highway trust fund dollars on rail passenger service at each state's discretion. This is a positive aspect of McCain's plan. When combined with the rest of the bill, however, its significance is largely negated.
The measure would authorize funding to address rail passenger security and tunnel life-safety needs, would allow DOT funding to address rail capital costs and infrastructure investment to bring the Northeast Corridor up to repair. Other users and states along the corridor would also contribute to capital costs, "much like the states must contribute toward highway and infrastructure."
The bottom line, once you get past all the "whereases," McCain is willing to help build up the NEC and tell the rest of the country to fend for itself, provided the NEC states kick in with an unspecified amount of money - and Amtrak would have to give up its 999-year mortgage lease on ownership of the NEC.
The AP reported many of McCain's recommendations are in line with the Amtrak Reform Council. Such similarities are superficial, at best.
Unlike McCain, the Amtrak Reform Council (ARC) has come to grips with the fact that early "profitability" for the passenger train system is an exercise in fantasyland, although ARC's own plan does allow, not mandate, franchising out some routes.
McCain's obsession with "making a profit" prompted D:F to investigate DOT's Essential Air Service (EAS) program; specifically, how the hard-working taxpayers are footing the bill for its operations in McCain's Arizona.
A long-time diligent researcher and good friend, George Fleming, has been doing some digging. He reports, for example, that the annual cash subsidy for service from Phoenix to Prescott is $541,102. The total annual subsidies for three of four of such routes totals $2,334,981. Service on a fourth route, Phoenix to Page is "under negotiation." The subsidy reported for Fiscal Year 2001 (reported as of March of that year) was $432,564.
All of this, mind you, is taxpayers' money. These air services do not "make a profit," although the senator from Arizona has not hauled the plane operators before his committee and demanded to know why they are not "self sufficient."
For Phoenix to Prescott, assuming service levels as of February 12, 2002 remain constant, the subsidy is approximately $541,502 at 1,157,792 miles, or 25 cents per seat-mile, or $42 subsidy per seat per round trip.
The subsidy per passenger is higher than that seat-mile subsidy if any empty seats are flown. In other words, if the seats were half full on an annual basis, the subsidy per passenger is double the calculated seat capacity.
So you have a nearly $3 million subsidy for branch air service in just one state alone. This does not include the money - not all of it paid for by the ticket tax - that funds airports, traffic controllers, and other parts of air infrastructure.
"This is not to say that such cash subsidies are useless or to be mocked," researcher Fleming assures us.
"It is possible, even likely, that businesses will be much more likely to locate in areas such as Prescott (if it is connected by air service) to Phoenix, and, by extension (through connections), the rest of the USA and the world... even if (Phoenix is) only 84 miles away.
Why such a subsidy is good for air service but a subsidy for Kingman to Flagstaff on Amtrak is bad is difficult to reconcile. There is an exactly equivalent subsidy of $541,502 for Phoenix-Kingman service. All flights on that route operate between Phoenix and Kingman with a stop at Prescott.
According to a December 5 press release by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the EAS program is funded to the tune of $63 million spread out over 83 airports from around the nation. That would come to just under $1 million per airport.
Amtrak President George Warrington has raised the bar on Amtrak's needs by calling for $1.2 billion for fiscal 2003, as opposed to President Bush's promised $521 million, same as last year, and a "placeholder" while the administration weaves together its own outline for passenger train service.
Warrington has said if he doesn't get what he's asking for, he will eliminate 18 long-distance trains from the system when fiscal 2003 begins in October. In other words, no more pretending that Amtrak can reach operational "self sufficiency" by late 2002.
ARC Vice Chairman Paul Weyrich, who spent six years on the Amtrak board, was instrumental in forming Amtrak in the first place, and who loves passenger trains, defends the proposed ARC proposal to allow franchising out certain routes.
In a column for his Free Congress Foundation, Weyrich reveals that "ARC has had all sorts of inquiries about the possibility of running trains on routes ranging from long distance trains that run from Los Angeles to Seattle, the Silver Service from New York and Washington to Florida, the New York-New Orleans via Atlanta train, the Keystone Corridor trains from New York and Philadelphia to Harrisburg, the trains from Chicago to Detroit, and on it goes."
Then Weyrich gives us an idea of who it is that wants to consider buying a franchise to operate some of Amtrak's trains: "(Those) that have contacted ARC include well-capitalized business concerns, including a bus company, foreign concerns that operate trains overseas, and rail companies in this country that once operated passenger trains."
That last one is very interesting. A class I freight railroad that used to run passenger trains is now interested in getting back into the business?
Not really. Internal discussions have indicated most of them do not want to go there, but at least one has indicated a willingness to consider it if the government would make it an offer to run the trains at a profit.
Free Congress spokesman Steve Lilienthal told D:F such interest has been expressed to ARC by the Peter Pan Bus Co.; First, a U.K. rail company; Stagecoach (U.K.); G.B. Railways Co. (U.K); Conex (U.K.); CGEA; and rail companies from Europe, Latin America, and Australia.
In fact, a recent issue of Railway Age as close to being the "bible" of the rail industry as any one publication, speculated on the different colors that could be used by some of the freight railroads running passenger trains, which included yellow for Union Pacific, green and black for BNSF. Interesting concept, but alas, probably only academic.
Weyrich also comes to grips with something we've repeatedly discussed when he stated, "Yes, rail proponents are correct in pointing out that taxpayers have poured billions into our roads and airports while failing to invest adequately in rail. Somehow this has been branded the American thing to do."
Sadly, he has a point there.
I have had this discussion with railroad-savvy people. Mind you, these are folks who know the history of every major railroad and many smaller or defunct lines. You almost have the feeling they know every turn in the track of a given line.
Raise the issue of why the infrastructure of railroads should not be funded as the airlines and automobiles are, and they will look at you as if you had just landed from Mars.
Ask such questions as "When was the last time I-95 made a profit?" - something we have asked in this space, and they will look at you and stammer, "But-but-but-th-th-that's the way it has always been!"
"Until this generation educates the next, to the point that all forms of transportation require subsidy," argued Weyrich, "it's time to go with a competitive national rail passenger system which will represent an improvement. Amtrak enthusiasts," he insisted, "will be surprised at how a few positive changes would reverberate among the public."
If that scenario works, assuming Congress goes along with it, Weyrich apparently believes a new ARC-promoted system could take the political heat off so-called "money losing" passenger trains.
As for educating the next generation, the logical teacher would probably be his ARC colleague Jim Coston. Would he be willing to hit the road and make all the TV and radio talk shows explaining the virtues of his Rail Trust Fund (See D:F-January 21)? Presumably, in a perfect world anyway, the next generation would then be willing to put rail funding on a level playing field with the other modes. Now, the next question is: Who or what entity is prepared to make it worthwhile for Coston to put aside his Chicago law practice while he pursues this crusade?
Twenty-one members of the Senate from California, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Vermont, and West Virginia signed a letter to the Senate Budget Committee urging that Amtrak for fiscal 2003 be funded at the $1.2 billion requested by Amtrak.
Some high drama on this lies ahead.
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|Amtrak starts 1,000 job cuts|
Those promised 1,000 job cuts at Amtrak have begun. Reports began filtering in late on Tuesday from the Midwest. Various reports from within the railfan community online said stations are closing around the country, and those one- and two-person stations are hardest hit. These appear to be the cuts Amtrak President and CEO George Warrington said on February 1 would be forthcoming.
Responding to a query from D:F, acting Amtrak board chairman Michael Dukakis said, "We authorized George to make his announcement at our January board meeting."
He said, "I don't know that I would characterize it as a 'blockbuster'" announcement when he responded to a reporter's question.
"The reality is that we need an operating subsidy of about $200 million a year to support our long distance trains, and a modest but consistent commitment to capital funding of approximately five percent of what we are currently spending in federal dollars for highways and airports - before the bailout. That doesn't seem like an awful lot to support a first class, modern, national rail passenger system."
Ray Dunbar of Texas, a frequent online contributor to the "All Aboard" e-mail list, wrote, "I do not have all the details and I'm sure they will posted by others on AA, but late this afternoon huge employee staffing cuts were announced at Amtrak. Most of the cuts seemed to hit the workers."
Dunbar stated, "I have not gotten the exact word on how many managers got their pink slips, but this is very bad news for several reasons." He said one of those reasons was "all the loyal and dedicated Amtrak employees who have families and have done their best to keep the trains running," and also because "America's transportation system and the paying passengers who will now have to put up with sub standard station staffing.
"I wish I could tell you why the U.S. still doesn't have a firm commitment to passenger rail," Dukakis said. "It seems like a no-brainer to me, and when they give us the capital, we do the job. We are carrying ten thousand people a day in the Northeast Corridor - and growing."
As Dunbar wrote, "If we thought the sky was getting dark for passenger rail a few days ago, it now appears that we may not make it until 10-1-02."
Elsewhere, the Associated Press reported on Thursday six station attendants in Arkansas lost their jobs as part of Amtrak's program to shore up costs.
Five workers at the Little Rock station and one in Texarkana were laid off, the national rail line said. The stations are the only two in the state that Amtrak staffs.
The Texas Eagle, the only passenger train that serves Arkansas, is among those on the chopping block if Amtrak does not get $1.2 billion it requested from Congress. The Eagle travels between Chicago and San Antonio, passing through Arkansas.
The Little Rock station, until last week open 24 hours Monday through Saturday with fewer hours on Sundays, is now open from 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. daily. Trains depart at midnight and 5:00 a.m., "but if we have a late train or whatever, we're going to have problems," station manager Steve Perry said. The Texarkana station will be open from 7:10 a.m. to 10:10 a.m. and from 8:15 p.m. to 11:15 p.m. The Eagle also stops at unstaffed stations at Arkadelphia, Malvern, and Walnut Ridge.
Gene Poon of California wrote online, "Details are starting to drift in. From the upper Midwest, it has been confirmed that Milwaukee is losing three station agents, and Columbus is closing entirely. There are also losses among the Milwaukee crew base."
Poon is also a travel agent in the San Francisco area.
From another discussion board, an item posted by a former manager who went back to his union job a while ago, wrote of changes mostly having to do with the Texas Eagle and Sunset Limited in Texas.
He stated, "El Paso is down to one clerk, San Antonio reported to lose four, Austin down from four to two and depot closed on weekends, Temple from two down to one and depot closed on weekends; Fort Worth B&A clerk abolished, seven (agents) down to three."
He added, "San Antonio mechanical and Fort Worth Mechanical called in for some members to get pink slips. This is a huge bloodletting. Wounds may not heal, ever."
Three station jobs are reported lost at Minneapolis-St. Paul with two more to be coming. One ticket agent will have to do baggage work and leave the other with a typical over-100 passengers boarding the Empire Builder.
A poster, who is apparently an Amtrak employee as well, wrote "Checked baggage is being eliminated to all stops on the Empire Builder except for a handful of stations, including Chicago. All other stations are being staffed at one shift, five days a week. They are being closed on weekends, and closed for some train arrivals. No station caretaker will meet the train when the station is closed, and if the train is late past the agent's shift, he goes home - there will be no overtime. Also, if the agent goes on vacation or is sick, the station will be closed."
The writer stated that "On board the train, despite a high-priced yield management policy where coach space will be sold at higher prices, there will be only one coach attendant to handle all the coaches, both in the Seattle and Portland sections. That's four coaches, separated by the lounge and dining cars."
He also expected cuts in mail, express and mechanical departments.
Elsewhere, a writer on the Heartland Flyer list via the Trainorders list wrote, "Just about every station will either be closed or have its staffing reduced," and he cited some examples.
Flagstaff, Ariz., will drop from six to three agents, Albuquerque from 11 to four, Denver from 29 to 11, and so on. He wrote about "65 percent of all jobs are going," and that "on-board services and train and engine crews are next."
He also warned, "Not all trains will be covered, such as at El Paso." Train No. 2-422 on Mondays will not be covered, short-term vacancies such as sick days and most vacations will not be covered; the station will be closed. Many other examples like this on the Eagle route and Southwest Chief... No overtime. if the train is late and the agent's shift is up, the agent is not to stay. Very strong but unsaid hint that work should be performed off the clock."
Still up in the air is what happens to checked baggage and express on those days the train runs but the station is unstaffed, the writer noted.
As a sidebar, the writer noted, "Interesting observation that at least on the Eagle and Sunset routes the ratio of management to rank and file will be near one-to-one. The same number of managers that run things today will still be 'needed' to run the much reduced operation."
The writer, who was apparently savvy in train operations, stated, "Also under consideration is 'en-route turning of trains.' Not entirely sure what this amounts to, but it sounds like the Sunset, Eagle, and others may become a series of short haul or medium haul trains. Also, this is a way to break up the big crew bases and force people out without actually cutting them. That's just a rumor though."
The poster concluded, "Other than the strong hints that agents should perform work they aren't paid for while management sits tight, the claim is that if Amtrak gets its $1.2 billion, most of the jobs will return. $200 million needs to be saved by October 1 - and this is only the down-payment."
A Boston Amtrak conductor noted, "Many good railroaders are in the process of losing their jobs today. I know how hard it must be for certain "AAers" to believe there are actually some Amtrak employees out there who care about their passengers, trains and coworkers."
He cited an example.
"This guy who sent me this e-mail is a fairly new trainman who worked in Commuter Rail service [the MBTA] and flowed over to Intercity service with us. There's a very good chance if these cuts continue, he will end up laid off (on the street).
"This guy is just one of many examples of people I work with who really care about the railroad."
The conductor he was referring to wrote, "Although you have been around a long time (since dinosaurs roamed the planet I have heard!), today is a great day for me. I've worked hard over the years to get to this point and am proud of what I have been able to do.
"When I got out of school in 1982 I was told forget about the railroads, they'll be gone in a few years. It was pretty tough to hear that when all you wanted to be was a railroader. I had grown up idolizing the crew of the B&M locals that danced around the passenger trains working in my hometown. Catching the train to Boston was always a treat because I saw lots of B&M conductors and trainmen that were dressed sharp, and they carried themselves like pros.
"My dad took me on my first real train - the New Haven - to Providence to visit friends. Wow! South Station.
"The dream never left me even after years in the dairy business. I finally had my fill of management and started in train service on the Massachusetts Central in Palmer.
"I think I learned the old way being alternately cursed and ignored by my conductor and engineer until I got the hang of things. Those old New Haven guys from Cedar Hill [a former major classification yard in New Haven, Conn.] could be cantankerous. When things slowed down there, I went to Rutland, Vt. to dispatch on the Vermont Railway until Amtrak called with the interview offer.
"Now, here I am all dressed up in my 'Flying Quahog' outfit, ready for work. I know after reading your stories that the current situation has soured many of your views, but there is still no better place to be and in many cases no better people to work with.
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|Vermont train could be pricey|
A consultant has put a $27 million price tag on a proposed commuter train between Burlington and Essex, and the regional bus system isn't welcoming the train with open arms. A countywide transportation planning board is considering whether to add the train and associated improvements to its long-range plan, reported the AP last week.
The board is likely to do so, because a "no" vote could jeopardize $6 million in federal money that would otherwise be lost, said Bill Knight, the executive director of the Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Putting the train plan into the long-range plan satisfies federal requirements for the earmarked money. If the $6 million is ultimately not used, Knight said, it would revert to the federal government for use in a project elsewhere.
One source of opposition to the project is the Chittenden County Transportation Authority board, which is recommending against adding the Burlington-to-Essex train to the county's long-range transportation plan.
Nobody has determined precisely how to pay for all of the train's preparations and operations, said Dave Davis of Shelburne, chairman of the CCTA board.
Davis said he worries that property taxes would fund the train. The CCTA, which operates buses in much of the county, receives about 30 percent of its revenue from local property taxes.
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|Bombardier gets bi-level commuter coach orders|
Bombardier Transportation has been awarded a series of orders in recent weeks to manufacture and supply its new generation of bi-level commuter rail cars from four North American transportation authorities - the North San Diego County Transit District, the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority, the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission and the Fort Worth Transportation Authority. The total value of the contracts is approximately $92 million Canadian dollars, or $58 million U.S.
In a press release, Bombardier stated, "These contracts total 12 cab cars and 18 coaches that will be manufactured by Bombardier at its Thunder Bay, Ontario; and Barre, Vermont facilities. Deliveries are scheduled during 2003.
William Spurr, President of Bombardier Transportation, North America, said the cars "will be compliant with the new FRA Tier I regulations as well as the recently published APTA Press standards."
He said, "These new Bombardier bi-level commuter rail cars are the next generation of the most widely used passenger rail car design in North America. They are thoroughly proven."
Bombardier Transportation began building bi-levels in 1975 when it started the original production models for GO Transit, in Toronto. Since then, Bombardier has produced more than 660 bi-level cars.
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|Bay State land deal in limbo|
Last year, Massachusetts Turnpike Authority officials estimated that Harvard University would pay as much as $150 million for 87 acres in Allston so it could expand on the Boston side of the Charles River. Most of it is CSX's Beacon Park Yard - and CSX has a 90-year lease, so CSX can stay there as long as it cares to.
When the railroad gave up part of the right of way for the turnpike, they received the right to use the land at Beacon Park virtually for as long as they like.
Meanwhile, CSX has no other yard nearby.
Sources with long memories told D:F the CSX tenancy goes back to when the New York Central sold its four-track right-of-way to the turnpike commission in exchange for a new two-track right-of-way. In 1960, NYC filed its application to the Interstate Commerce Commission, the forerunner of today's Surface Transportation Board.
The property conveyed the agreement over the years to Penn Central, Conrail, and now, CSX.
The turnpike's board had ordered its staff to assess the value of the authority's land holdings, according to the Boston Globe, with an eye toward improving its depleted financial reserves by selling real estate to help pay for the Central Artery and Ted Williams Tunnel projects.
According to an August 2001 document, prepared by the turnpike's chief development officer, Stephen J. Hines, and an outside law firm, the sale of the Allston acreage was tentatively to have been wrapped up by mid-December. Estimates of its value to Harvard or another buyer ranged from $75 million to a "best case" of $150 million.
The land, which is near the Cambridge-Allston toll plaza, is part of what was determined to be between $300 million and $500 million worth of marketable real estate held by the turnpike, according to court documents filed in an ongoing dispute over the turnpike board's makeup.
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|Sunnyside Yard employees charged|
Eighteen Amtrak Sunnyside Yard workers have been charged with using credit and telephone calling cards lost or forgotten by Amtrak passengers to place $100,000 worth of calls from telephones on the trains. Queens district attorney Richard A. Brown said last week that some employees face up to 15 years in prison.
From 1997 to 2000, mechanics and car cleaners placed 47,000 minutes of long-distance and international calls, authorities said. The employees were accused of criminal possession of stolen property and other charges, reported The New York Times.
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Toledo corridors 'well-positioned'
With fast-train planning well under way for Cleveland and Chicago, Toledo is right where it wants to be - in the middle, the Toledo Blade reported last week.
"Toledo will be located on two corridors. It will be a tremendous advantage for economic development," said James Seney, executive director of the Ohio Rail Development Commission.
Seney was among the people who gathered in Cleveland last month to take the first steps toward gaining that city's federal designation as a high-speed rail development hub.
Chicago has been a focus for fast-train planning since the mid-1990s, but transportation officials began a study last month that could lead toward a similar focus on Cleveland.
A corridor linking Cleveland, Toledo, and Chicago is one of nine routes eligible for federal planning funds as part of the Chicago-based Midwest Regional Rail Initiative. A Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati corridor also has federal planning approval.
The Ohio & Lake Erie Regional Rail Study proposes overlapping a Pittsburgh-Cleveland-Toledo-Detroit corridor onto the proposed network, adding a Cleveland-Buffalo-Toronto route, and incorporating the three-C's line into the Cleveland hub.
A Cleveland-based rail network would help establish that city as an international travel gateway and form a link between the proposed Chicago-based network to the west and more-established rail corridors along the eastern seaboard, Seney said.
Cleveland is Ohio's best candidate to join the ranks of world-class travel gateways because of its location and transportation assets, he added.
The city has an international airport that directly adjoins the main railroad line linking Cleveland with major regional cities, but there is no passenger train station at the site.
"Trains are an obvious part of transportation's future," Seney said. "We need to link all these international air hubs together, or we're not in the game."
The Cleveland-Chicago corridor through Toledo "is one of the most powerful" in the proposed network, the rail commission head said. He said that a cross-route between Detroit and Columbus should eventually intersect that east-west line here.
Columbus-Detroit is likely to be high-speed only north of Toledo, with the southerly section being a slower-speed feeder route with more frequent stops, he said.
James Hartung, president of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority and a delegate to the Midwest High-Speed Rail Coalition, said establishing Cleveland as a northern Ohio hub would not take anything away from Toledo.
"We're a major location on the east-west route. Toledo is a natural beneficiary of high-speed rail. I think we can fit into that profile pretty well." Hartung said.
"Being on the main Chicago-to-New York route, you're geographically well-positioned," agreed Rick Harnish, the executive director of the Midwest coalition, a multi-state planning and lobbying organization.
While Toledo Express Airport is unlikely to develop as an international air-travel hub, its location near the same rail line that passes Cleveland Hopkins International and the Ohio Turnpike points to growth potential, Seney said. Land along the tracks near the airport needs to be preserved for a transfer terminal for passengers and cargo, he said.
In the short term, the most likely route for trains west of Toledo is along that main line, which is used by six Amtrak trains a day between Toledo and Chicago, but a budding discussion point is whether an alternate route should be developed to run through Fort Wayne, Ind.
While Fort Wayne is lobbying for that option, it has aroused concern in Whitehouse, where village leaders question how trains running 80 mph or faster can safely run through the center of town.
The most direct rail route between Toledo and Fort Wayne ran through Whitehouse, but was abandoned during the 1980s and now is a bicycle path. The same right-of-way crosses numerous Maumee streets at grade.
Whitehouse Village Administrator Randy Bukas said that it makes no sense to run a line through Whitehouse. He said if a Fort Wayne route is added it should go to Liberty Center, north on the old Detroit, Toledo & Ironton rail line, which goes toward Delta before switching to the old Norfolk-Southern line into Toledo.
Seney said it's too early to discuss details such as how the trains might run through places like Whitehouse. "Right now, we're planning corridors, not planning construction," he said.
"There are some issues we don't have to deal with yet. We are not going to go barreling through towns at 80 or 100 miles per hour. That's why we're planning, walking the corridors, and listening to what people have to say."
So far, the most advanced rail route east of Chicago is the line to Detroit.
Last week, Amtrak and the Michigan DOT announced the success of an advanced train-control and signaling system that allows trains to travel at 90 mph over 45 miles of track between Kalamazoo and New Buffalo, Mich.
Ohio and Indiana "are very far behind" Michigan in developing passenger-rail service, Harnish said, and even the tens of millions of dollars that Illinois and Michigan have spent is far short of the "hundreds of millions" that a full-scale rail program will need.
"Ohio needs to get really serious about spending some real money," Harnish said. "From Congress, we need a program structured like the interstate highway program." He noted the term "high-speed rail" is really being used as a code for "non-Amtrak rail" because of Amtrak's uncertain financial future.
Compared with European and Asian trains, whose speeds exceed 180 mph, he said, the 80 to 110 mph proposed for the Midwestern corridors is hardly "high-speed." Yet, even 80 mph service can succeed if there are frequent trains and they run on time, he and Seney agreed.
"We're looking at a 50-year planning cycle," Seney said. "I don't see trains getting beyond 80 miles per hour in my tenure, but I can set the table for somebody else."
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|Macon is still in the mix|
The proposed Macon-Atlanta passenger rail line is still one of the state's high-priority transportation projects and is further along in planning than a separate rail line in metro Atlanta, a top state transportation official told The Macon Telegraph on February 20.
Gov. Roy Barnes said recently that the Macon-Atlanta line no longer would be the state's top priority for passenger rail transportation. Instead, Barnes moved a light-rail line in Cobb County to the top of his list, and money for the Macon line was not included in Barnes' fiscal 2003 budget, leading local leaders to fear the rail's start date may be pushed into the next decade.
However, the Macon line is "much farther ahead" of the Cobb County line because an environmental study for the Macon line has already been approved, Catherine Ross, executive director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, told a Senate committee Tuesday.
Also, the Macon project isn't negatively affected by plans for the Cobb project because it would receive money from a different federal source than the Cobb County line, Ross said.
"Building one doesn't take money away from the other," said William Mecke, a GRTA spokesman.
However, for Georgia to receive federal funding for the Macon-Atlanta line, the state must first approve its own plan to fund the rail. Once the state approves its share of the funding, that triggers the federal match, Mecke said - and there is the rub. Barnes and Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor both said this month that the Macon-Atlanta line is no longer the state's top rail transportation project because of a breakdown in talks with Norfolk Southern Corp., which owns the rail lines.
For the second straight year, Barnes did not request $12 million in funding for the Macon-Atlanta line. If that money were approved, the project would qualify for a federal match of $68 million.
Sen. Robert Brown, D-Macon, said he may ask that some or all of the $12 million be put back in the budget for fiscal 2003, which begins July 1. That budget will be finalized in March.
"We need to get more information so we can make a better decision," Brown said. "Obviously I am very much interested that this rail line remain in place and remain viable. At the same time, we have to be responsible with handling the state's funds."
The state's budget crunch has affected the plans and may push back the Macon line's start date, Ross said. Barnes has ordered agencies to trim more than 5 percent from their budgets for next year.
"I don't see a major shift in direction, but it's more cautious now," Ross said.
The Macon line had been projected to begin in 2005. Macon Mayor Jack Ellis said last week he expects the rail line will not begin service until about 2012.
The Cobb line is projected to be ready in 2007, according to GRTA.
The Macon line would be funded partly by the Federal Highway Administration, but the Cobb line would get its funding from the Federal Transit Administration.
"It's like comparing an omelet to cabbage," Ross said.
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|New passenger train starts|
A sixth passenger train on the San Joaquin line in California began running last week. The Sacramento Bee noted train service in the valley will have come a long way from its low almost 30 years ago.
"Now that's a tremendous rebound for passenger train service from 1974, when we had nothing," said Modesto's George Gaekle, a member of the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee and the National Association of Railroad Passengers.
The sixth valley train is the second running between Bakersfield and Sacramento. It will travel north in the morning from Bakersfield and return in the afternoon. Four other San Joaquins travel between Bakersfield and Oakland.
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|'Quiet cars' arrive in Sacramento|
Amtrak is rolling out quiet cars on its Sacramento-San Jose Capital Corridor trains. Enough passengers complained about the noise of cell phones, beepers and laptop computers that Amtrak thought it was time to take action, KCBS reported last week.
Now passengers on one designated car on each train will have to switch off electronic devices that make noise. Conductors even have the option to dim lights to help create a more calming atmosphere.
Amtrak says it first introduced quiet car concept two years ago on the Northeast Corridor where, they said, it was successful.
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Trains clog Illinois highways
As monster freight trains, many of which are more than one mile long, increasingly block railroad crossings and snarl traffic, frustrated police from Vernon Hills to Blue Island, Ill., are fighting back, dispatching officers to slap the crews with tickets. The Chicago Tribune of February 15 reported in Melrose Park, where a video camera is mounted outside the police station to nail Union Pacific trains stopped on nearby tracks, cops have written more than 100 tickets in the last year - 44 since November - for at least $500 each.
The story is much the same throughout the area, as more officials turn to a 1999 state law that allows them to levy fines when freight trains stop on tracks for more than 10 minutes. The issue looms large in Illinois, which has about 14,000 crossings, of which more than 6,000 are in the Chicago area.
Last month in Mundelein, police wrote $12,000 in tickets at a single crossing, one for $2,500 when a Wisconsin Central freight train closed a major intersection for 42 minutes during rush hour. Blue Island collected $100,000 in fines last year.
The municipalities keep the fines but local officials say that's not the point. They want unobstructed crossings because businesses are being hurt, motorists are risking their lives by going around lowered gates, and traffic is spilling dangerously onto other streets as people try to avoid delays.
"The railroads don't hesitate to pay," said Melrose Park Police Chief Vito Scavo, who keeps an eye on the video monitor near his desk, "but that's no consolation for the aggravation."
Linda Olson, 25, of Mundelein, is familiar with the aggravation. She recently found herself among about 60 motorists stalled by a freight train at Illinois Highway 60 and Butterfield Road.
"It's extremely frustrating," Olson said. "I don't appreciate spending my lunch hour behind the wheel of my car."
Bisected by railroads, Franklin Park has been forced to place a fire station on each side of the main set of tracks to ensure that trucks aren't held up during an emergency, Deputy Police Chief Jack Krecker said. Police have had to adopt new patrol tactics to avoid being stopped cold, or "railroaded," on emergency calls.
Meanwhile, other states a joining the party. California and Louisiana have climbed aboard with Illinois, passing laws in the last few years that permit authorities to fine railroads that block crossings. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is co-sponsoring legislation that would require the federal government to address safety concerns, in particular how obstructed crossings affect emergency response times. An identical measure has been introduced in the U.S. House.
In Illinois, a bill would hold railroad executives personally accountable, and make chronic delays a misdemeanor punishable by a fine and up to six months in jail. The measure passed the Senate each of the last three years but failed in the House. Sponsors say they are considering whether to try again this session.
A landmark case on the issue is playing out in the state of Washington's Supreme Court, which is considering the constitutionality of a Seattle ordinance that bans trains from obstructing crossings during rush hour. A lower court agreed with the railroads that federal law prohibits the city from regulating rail operations.
Neither the state nor federal governments are required to keep records on how often crossings are blocked by stalled trains, but officials with the railroads and Federal Railroad Administration admit it is happening more often and attribute the problem largely to the boom in freight business, which increased 30 percent in the last decade.
The railroads tracked the robust economy, providing the cheapest way to transport bulk freight and perishable goods coast-to-coast, officials say.
"Freight train traffic is at a level unprecedented in our history," said FRA spokesman Warren Flateau.
To accommodate that spike in demand, railroads have added almost 1,000 feet to the average length of a freight train, so that trains with 100 cars or more, many more than 1.5 miles long, are increasingly common, officials said.
Technological breakthroughs over the last few decades have also allowed railroads to nearly double the capacity of a standard boxcar. The longer, heavier trains have more difficulty clearing grade crossings, as they roll to a halt to unload freight or await clearance to cross a competitor's rails, said John Bromley, spokesman for Union Pacific, and the flurry of railroad mergers and consolidations in recent years has meant more traffic on fewer tracks, he said.
As a consequence, "We're like the bull in the china shop of modern America," Bromley said.
Illinois is the U.S. leader in the volume of freight carried on the nation's rails, according to the Association of American Railroads. Eleven percent of the coal moved by rail in 2000 ended up going through Illinois, more than any other state, Those coal trains are typically the longest, often running 134 cars, Bromley said. He attributed complaints about freight trains blocking roadways to a widening gap between the rail industry and those it serves. For many people, encounters at blocked crossings are the only contact they have with railroads.
The contributions railroads have made to the nation can be hard to appreciate when big trains virtually paralyze traffic, Blue Island Mayor Don Peloquin said.
The south suburban community grew up around the railroads, but the increase in freight traffic and longer trains have soured that relationship, said Peloquin, whose father worked for the Rock Island Railroad for 45 years.
"With the longer trains, the yards can't hold them and they back up into the city, blocking roadways. Sometimes, entire crews will abandon the trains, leaving them parked on the tracks," he said.
The $100,000 the city collected in railroad fines last year doesn't compensate for the headaches and potential dangers, Peloquin said.
In Illinois, it has been unlawful since 1999 for a train to obstruct a highway grade crossing for more than 10 minutes. Fines range between $200 and $500 if the obstruction is between 10 and 15 minutes. The amount increases for each additional five minutes. After 35 minutes, the fine hits $1,000 and increases by $500 for every five minutes.
Derek Hilldale, who owns a restaurant several hundred feet west of a crossing in Franklin Park, said the delays are rough on his lunch trade.
"Some days, I'll get a bunch of phone-in orders for lunch, then a bunch of phone calls 15 or 20 minutes later canceling the orders because a freight train is blocking the tracks and my customers, many who live and work east of the tracks, can't get here," Hilldale said.
"It's obnoxious," Jaclyn Javurek, 18, a college student from Buffalo Grove said of the delays she encounters at Illinois 60 and Butterfield Road in Mundelein. "A few weeks ago, the train sat on the tracks for about a half hour, and I was really late for work."
Krecker believes the frustrations associated with blocked crossings are contributing to fatal accidents. Frequent delays in Franklin Park spur some motorists to drive around stopped freight trains, he said, only to collide with trains heading the opposite direction. Plus, people trying to avoid crossings clog other roads, leading to more accidents, police say.
Nationally, the number of fatalities at highway rail crossings increased to 425 in 2000 from 402 in 1999, according to the FRA. In Illinois during that same period, 68 people died in accidents at rail crossings, 62 percent of them involving freight trains. Illinois is second to Texas in the number of fatal train accidents.
"This is about more than making people late for work," Krecker said.
"We have at least one incident a year in which a motorist is killed as a result of going around a stopped freight."
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|CN sells Tranz Rail holdings|
Canadian National reported on February 20 it has sold its entire 23.7 per cent stake in Tranz Rail Holdings Ltd. (Tranz Rail) for about C$70 million. Tranz Rail is New Zealand's leading commercial rail freight and inter-island ferry operator. The sale counted 28,684,918 Tranz Rail shares. CN's investment in Tranz Rail was acquired through its acquisition of Wisconsin Central Transportation Corp. last October. The firm did not state who the buyer was.
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|G&W buys Emons|
Emons Transportation Group reported on February 20 reported that shareholders approved the sale of the company to Genesee & Wyoming Inc.
The transaction, valued at $29.4 million on December 3, 2001, was expected to be consummated last Friday through a merger of Emons with a wholly owned GWI subsidiary.
Emons shareholders will receive $2.50 per share in cash.
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|Guilford engines close courthouse|
Diesel exhaust fumes from two idling locomotives closed a courthouse and forced workers to evacuate the White River Jct., Vt., building February 15, reports the Burlington Free Press. The closing forced court officials to cancel hearings and turn away people hoping to file cases.
"It was ugly," Assistant Judge William Boardman said. "Nobody was fainting and vomiting, but people were feeling nasty and headachy."
Jim Richardson, the director of state facilities said wind caught the gray smoke billowing from the engines "on just the wrong way." The exhaust floated over two parking lots and into the air exchange system for the building that houses Vermont District Court, Windsor Family Court and the states traffic ticket adjudication division.
Guilford Rail system of Billerica, Mass., which owns the locomotives, said it couldn't shut them down out of consideration for the court because the diesel engines can't easily be restarted in cold temperatures after being shut down.
Guilford said moving the engines before the early afternoon was impossible because its engineers were taking a federally mandated rest period at a nearby hotel.
The court was closed at around 10:30 a.m.
At one time or another, exhaust fumes have been a problem for almost every workplace near the train station. The courthouse has shut down because of diesel fumes before, said Susan Eastman, the Court's Clerk.
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Buses over light rail? Maybe
The rapid transit bus is pulling ahead of light rail in a study that's examining future ways to travel in Jacksonville, Fla.
The Jacksonville Transportation Authority's ongoing study of rapid transit has found that it's more cost-effective to build lanes dedicated to express buses instead of constructing light rail lines, the Jacksonville Times-Union reported last week.
If ridership on the bus rapid transit system grows enough, then Jacksonville could justify the higher cost of building light rail, said Ed Castellani, the rapid transit project manager for the JTA.
"It would be an evolutionary approach," he said.
The transportation study will determine how the JTA spends $100 million to buy rights-of-way for a future rapid transit system. The Better Jacksonville Plan, which voters approved with a half-cent sales tax in 2000, earmarked the funding. The JTA board will decide in a year on a route, at which time the authority will also determine the type of transit.
Light rail has been the preference of a citizen committee that has been working with the JTA.
In a comparison of various routes through North and South Jacksonville, the JTA estimated the construction costs of light rail would range from $741 million to $910 million. Building a bus rapid transit system would cost $320 million to $462 million.
On a per-trip basis, the expense of building and operating a light rail system would translate to a cost of about $11 a trip for a passenger, whereas the expense for bus rapid transit would be about $3.50 a trip.
The cost estimates are subject to change based on the length of the route that's selected, but the trend shows the advantage of bus rapid transit from a funding standpoint, officials say.
In bus rapid transit, lanes are built for use only by express buses and possibly car pools. The separate lanes allow buses, which now get caught in traffic jams along with other vehicles, to travel at the road's speed limit any time of day. The buses would have elevated ramps to take them over congested intersections without stopping at traffic lights.
Like light rail, the bus rapid transit would have a network of stations with covered waiting areas where people would get their tickets and board. The travel speed will be comparable to light rail.
"It really is light rail without the rails," JTA Executive Director Derek Morse said.
Other cities are opting for bus rapid transit when they compete for federal funding, said Dennis Hinebaugh, co-director of the National BRT Institute, an effort launched by the Center for Urban Transportation Research in Tampa and the University of California at Berkeley.
"There are about 200 metropolitan areas that are looking for light rail funding, but there's only funding to do about 10 or 12 light rail starts in the next 10 years," he said.
The JTA wants to use the $100 million in funding for rights-of-way as a local match to attract several hundred million dollars in support from the federal government.
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373 die in Egyptian train fire
A train crowded with Egyptians leaving Cairo for a religious holiday caught fire and sped on in flames for miles on February 20, killing 373 people, including some who died as they jumped from the burning cars, police said.
Associated Press writer Nadia Abou El-Magd reported from Reqa Al-Gharbiya that a cooking gas cylinder that burst reportedly started the fire, and it swept through the last seven of the train's 11 cars. Workers in gloves and masks pulled charred and twisted bodies from the wreckage. Firefighters said some of the corpses were found curled up under seats and dozens more lay alongside the tracks.
Maher Abdel Wahid, who led a team of state investigators to the scene, said he did not expect the toll to rise much beyond 373.
Officials called it the worst train accident here in decades.
"There has been nothing in the recent or distant past like this," Ahmed al-Sherif, director of the state-owned Egyptian Railway Authority, said at the scene. "I've been with the railway for 32 years and never seen or heard of an event of this size."
President Hosni Mubarak, who was in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheik, was quoted by the Middle East News Agency as expressing his "deepest regret and profound sorrow" to the families of the victims.
The news agency said the cause of the fire was a burst gas cylinder used for cooking in the dining car, but al-Sherif said the cause had not yet been determined. He said the train had no dining car, but that passengers often brought gas cylinders and small stoves aboard despite regulations forbidding it.
Each car is designed to hold about 150 passengers, but they were all crammed with twice that number, police said, which would have put more than 3,000 people aboard.
Survivors said the train was so full that they were sitting on the floor. Al-Sherif put the number aboard lower, at about 1,200. Al-Sherif said the train left Cairo on its 300-mile journey to Luxor about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday and the fire broke out about 1 a.m. Wednesday. The train traveled in flames for two-and-one-half miles before finally stopping at Reqa al-Gharbiya, a village 60 miles south of the capital, Cairo. Al-Sherif said it was not clear why the emergency brakes were not applied immediately.
The flames were put out hours later as the train sat in Reqa al-Gharbiya.
Firefighters said high winds had hampered their efforts.
The fire appeared to have broken out in the fourth car, which was the most badly burned. The blaze consumed seven cars before it was extinguished. Said Fuad Amin, a 22-year-old construction worker, jumped from the burning train and was being treated for a broken hand and a suspected concussion in Ayyat.
He said the first signs of trouble were shouts and screams that he attributed to a fight. Then he saw flames and people running, including a woman whose clothes were on fire.
"People were running like crazy," Amin said.
Amin ran, too, until he found a window broken open. He hesitated at first because the train was moving fast.
"I thought I was going to die anyway, so I jumped," he said.
Abdel Wahid, Egypt's prosecutor general, said that if his 25 investigators and 45 coroners determined "there was any kind of negligence, and that's what we are looking into, the punishment will be severe."
Prime Minister Atef Obeid, who came to the scene, told reporters his government "has mobilized all its efforts to help the families of the victims and alleviate their suffering."
The government announced compensation of about $665 for families of the dead and $222 for the injured, but did not admit responsibility.
Mosques were opened to the rescued and villagers supplied blankets, food and hot drinks to the stranded passengers.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the banned fundamentalist movement that is Egypt's main opposition group, questioned how the fire could spread so quickly.
Members of the group serving in parliament as nominal independents issued a statement calling for an investigation into the "gross negligence that led to this tragic incident."
The Brotherhood has in the past won praise from ordinary Egyptians for its disaster relief efforts. The government, wary of the group's growing popularity, several years ago banned non-governmental organizations from providing emergency aid.
Mohammed Mersi, head of the Muslim Brotherhood faction in parliament, said the group would abide by the aid ban but study what else it could do to help.
Wednesday afternoon, a warning siren blared repeatedly in Reqa al-Gharbiya as workers placed bodies, many burned beyond recognition, into ambulances.
Corpses had melted together in piles on the train. Among charred luggage collected nearby, lay a Bible, children's clothing and what appeared to be a wedding dress.
Police said 65 people were being treated for injuries, most in the hospital in the nearest town, Ayyat, 12 miles to the north.
Many of the passengers were going to their home villages for Eid al-Adha, or the "Feast of the Sacrifice," a four-day holiday that started Friday.
The holiday commemorating God's provision of a ram to Abraham as a substitute sacrifice instead of his son is regarded as the most important feast in the Islamic calendar.
Adel Hassan Fadlallah, a 21-year-old laundry worker being treated at Ayyat Hospital, said his car quickly filled with smoke. He jumped from a window and suffered wounds to his head and hands.
Some jumpers weren't so lucky. Ambulance workers say 40 bodies were recovered from along the tracks.
The rail line linking Cairo with southern Egypt was closed indefinitely.
Wednesday's fire was the deadliest train accident in years in a country where such tragedies are common. In 1998, 47 people were killed when a train jumped its rails and slammed into a crowded town square.
Prime Minister Obeid defended the railway, saying the trains were in good shape.
The Egyptian Railway Authority has been plagued by overstaffing and old equipment. It relies on state subsidies to operate some 1,300 trains every day, keeping fares low for poor Egyptians.
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Nobody rides the train anymore
The writer resides in Westbrook, Conn., and was graduated from Gordon College in Wenham, Mass., in 1995 with a degree in English literature. The bride will be Ms. Caroline Billings, a third-grade teacher from Rural Hall, N.C. (near Winston Salem). They plan to marry on June 15. His "real" job is that of a 911 Telecommunicator for a regional 911 center, where he answers 911 calls and dispatches fire and EMS crews for eight towns. - Ed.
You will not find a stauncher supporter of rail travel than I.
Railroading works its way into every corner of my life, and like everyone here, it tends to burn me when people clamor for shutting down Amtrak because they see rail travel as anachronistic at best.
However, there are some points made by these people that shouldn't be overlooked.
Amtrak, in its current state, really does not lend itself to effective traveling. Not that it couldn't - but the one thing that it seems to have going for it is the right to operate all over the place. Most of the rest of what happens when you try to travel by train is not conducive to good travel.
For example, I happen to be engaged to a woman from the Triad area, in North Carolina.
If I want to travel there to see her for the weekend, my options for rail travel involve leaving Old Saybrook, Conn. shortly after 11:00 at night, sleeping in a coach seat, and arriving at Washington, D.C. around 6:45 a.m.
I then sit in Union Station until 10:30 or so, at which point I board another train, sitting in my coach seat until 6:30 p.m. The train stops in Greensboro, so it's nearly the same as the airport there, but there is no place to rent a car, or even to sit out of the rain waiting for a ride unless I'm lucky enough to land one of the dozen or so seats in the tiny waiting room. So, the trip takes nineteen hours, and costs $293.00.
If I leave after work on Thursday, I arrive Friday night, and have to leave Saturday night to get home by Sunday night... not much time at my destination before the 18-hour return trip.
By comparison, to fly, even with arriving at the airport an hour-and-a-half in advance, I can arrive at the airport at 6:00 a.m. and be to Greensboro by lunchtime, and for about 30 percent less cost. (An advance purchase airplane ticket is about $190.00).
There are also several flights to choose from, but by rail there are exactly two trains, and one leaves at 3:30 a.m.
Adding accommodations to an Amtrak ticket makes the price skyrocket, generally as much as 100 percent of my fare. To Amtrak's credit, it's noteworthy that a last-minute plane ticket has a horrible price penalty where Amtrak does not, but if you have any idea you're traveling, it's often more expensive to take the train - and lateness, and here I mean serious lateness, seems to be the rule. (That's why they call it the "Late for Sure" Limited).
Those of us in New England have become used to trains flying by at a hundred miles per hour or more, and of having several trains a day between our major cities. In other sectors, speeds of 40-45 mph are often the norm, with only one or two trains per day (and often not every day) and station facilities that are inconvenient, scary, in poor repair, with no car rental, bus, taxi or other public transportation available, or simply locked up tight for any train not arriving during the daylight hours.
Trains do not travel in straight lines between cities. For instance, should my brother in Wisconsin wish to travel to the wedding by rail, once he drives to the nearest station (an hour's ride), he has to travel first to Washington, D.C. or New Orleans, and deal with the layover and astronomical cost of traveling this way, and having it take nearly two days.
Transcontinental travel is even worse, it takes several days, costs many times over what a plane ticket would, and unless he has nearly doubled his ticket price by purchasing a sleeper, that means no way to bathe for the length of the trip, even during the lengthy layovers.
Modern philosophies seem to have landed on all forms of travel except travel by rail.
Airlines have no maintenance of their travel corridors, and would be quickly bankrupt were they expected to build, furnish, equip, maintain, and operate their airports in the manner that railroads are required to maintain their stations and terminals.
There are no Greyhound-operated road maintenance crews. Railroads are expected to build and maintain their infrastructure, Amtrak to maintain and update fleets, build operate, staff, and maintain stations, and show a profit or risk losing their federal subsidy.
Okay, so maybe nobody does ride the train, but maybe if the price was reasonable, and the service timely, and the facilities convenient, more people would. For the government to eliminate mass transit, even over long distances, because "nobody" rides anymore is irresponsible. This is akin to the local police department having a fleet of aging police cruisers decide to put all its officers on a foot beat because the cars are always in the shop anyway.
Worse, once Amtrak is gone, the only way a long distance train would be possible would involve the major commercial freight railroads shouldering the burden of allowing trains to pass through their territory with no expected incentive or advantage to the companies to do so.
NIMBYs abound, and the likelihood of any new rail corridor being built to connect any major populated centers is ludicrous.
"For the good of everyone" is as anachronistic an idea these days just as the Feds seem to think rail travel is, and anyone who wants to know what a good idea privatization of passenger rail is should ask someone from Great Britain how well it worked there.
Government isn't profitable... or at least it's not supposed to be. Imagine converting I-95 to a linear park or recreational trail because the Feds were tired of "wasting" money on it.
Now, before people tell me how many more people use I-95 than the train, imagine, if due to bureaucracy, outdated approaches, and lack of funds, that the speed limit on I-95 was lowered to 25 mph, and whole sections of it were missing, forcing the use of city streets for long stretches. Imagine shutting down the State Police because they weren't turning a profit on that highway.
Why the rail road is any different in governmental thinking than the paved road is anyone's guess. Railroads were operated privately, and for profit, for a long time, and in a manner that tended to cause some bad feelings in a number of people. Times are different, and there are no J. P. Morgans making huge profits while the government helps with subsidies. This is now an issue of transportation or no transportation.
Air travel will always be with us, in some form, but there are people who cannot afford to fly, or who need to travel to places that aren't profitable for airlines to serve. There are people who need to travel long distances who have no car, and cannot afford a plane ticket who will now be out of luck barring a trip on Greyhound... but that's another diatribe for another day.
The government is going to have to participate in the rail road in the same way that they do the interstate highway system, the inland waterways, and every other form of transportation infrastructure this country uses to keep going, and not based on what kind of money they can make from it. The focus is going to have to be on providing efficient, useful, service, and at keeping prices practical, at the very least. As the highways even outside the big cities become more clogged (try I-95 in Connecticut in the summer) and the skies reach maximum saturation, there's going to have to be a way to move people.
Shooting ourselves in the foot by destroying permanently the only available transportation links off the road and out of the air is not the answer.
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The Mount Washington Cog Ry. crew helped out.
|Dearest Caroline, would you... ?|
When Matthew Brown proposed to Caroline Billings up on Mount Washington in New Hampshire a while ago, Matt tells us, "You should have seen the expression on her face when that train appeared from the fog, with the sign, the 18 screaming accomplices aboard, the other 40 or so passengers they'd enlisted to cheer with them, the cheering and whistle-blowing engine crew... she nearly fainted, and that was before she got a proper look at the ring!"
Ah, yes, love is grand.
"We're following this up with a honeymoon to Alaska, with, of course, a stop in Skagway for the day. Where else?"
Riding the White Pass & Yukon, no doubt.
Matt is 33. Once he finishes paying off the tuition, student loans, et cetera, "I'll even have the degree to prove" that he is college grad. His bride-to-be teaches third grade in North Carolina.
He grew up in Clinton Conn., and now lives in Westbrook, adjacent to Old Saybrook.
Matt and Caroline expect to marry on June 15 of this year.
He told us he wrote that opinion piece (published elsewhere in this issue) "because I'm one of the last of the children to dream of growing up to run a train, and have therefore spent years of my free time standing beside the tracks waiting for trains to go by, modeling trains, and even playing with the 1:1 size ones as a conductor at the Valley Railroad in Essex, and the Connecticut Trolley Museum in East Windsor."
"I have always loved to travel by train," he writes, "and were it convenient and affordable would do it all the time, but as my piece explains, that just isn't the case most of the time. I've been to Europe, and seen how rail travel is there, and I've always hoped it wouldn't take our gas prices climbing to four and five dollars per gallon to induce people to use mass transit over short and long distances."
Matt continued, "I really hope that someone in a position of power will see reason in the idea that allowing the possibility of long distance travel to die is not to anyone's advantage. When the private railroads won't make room for passenger travel because it's not to their financial advantage to do so, and all the other rights-of-way have been given over to linear parks and bike trails, it will be too late to lament the fact that the traffic is so heavy that it takes three days to drive to Pennsylvania, and gasoline won't be cheap forever, either."
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APTA Legislative Conference
Supply Chain Expo
Donald E. Stephens Convention Center
ASLRRA annual meeting
World Center Marriott
NCI 2002 Conference
Washington, D.C. Marriott Hotel
This conference will feature a major debate about the future and direction of passenger rail in America, conducted by the people who will actually determine that outcome.
Conference speakers will include Amtrak Board Chair Michael Dukakis, Amtrak Reform Council Chair Gil Carmichael and Executive Director Tom Till, DOT Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson, Author Tony Hiss, Barron's magazine editor Tom Donlan, Florida rail activist and businessman Doc Dockery, Janelletech President Janellen Riggs, rail consultant Randy Resor of Zeta-Tech Associates, Inc., Railway Age magazine editor Bill Vantuono, attorney and rail activist James Coston, and many other of the top thinkers and "doers" in American rail and transit industries.
Further details regarding advance registration will be announced in upcoming issues of Destination: Freedom.
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NCI: Leo King CollectionBuggy fix - Do Carmen still fix broken trucks this old-fashioned way - up on jacks? Certainly not buggy trucks. Few cabooses remain in today's railroad scene. Here, though, back around 1953, they jacked up one end, rolled the truck out from under (Lord knows how) and disassembled it enough to fix what was broken.
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In an effort to expand the on-line experience at the National Corridors Initiative web site, we have added a page featuring links to other rail travel sites. We hope to provide links to those cities or states that are working on rail transportation initiatives - state DOTs, legislators, governor's offices, and transportation professionals - as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists.
If you have a favorite rail link, please send the uniform resource locator address (URL) to the webmaster in care of this web site. An e-mail link appears at the bottom of the NCI web site pages to get in touch with D. M. Kirkpatrick, NCI's webmaster in Boston.
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