CONTACT: Jim RePass 617-269-5478 or e-mail: jprepass@aol.com

News from The National Corridors Initiative

NCI Inc.

35 Terminal Road Suite 210 Providence, RI 02905 Voice: 617-269-5478 Fax: 617-269-3943

Internet: www.nationalcorridors.org

Newsletter: Destination Freedom at website

Amtrak Board Chair Tommy Thompson, APTA President William Millar to Keynote National Corridors "Rail Is Real" Conference

in Washington, DC June 26-27

Washington, D.C. Û Progressive Republican Governor and Amtrak Board Chair Tommy Thompson and the American Public Transportation AssociationĖs innovative president William Millar will keynote the National Corridors InitiativeĖs conference, "The National Corridors Movement: Rail Is Real", June 26-27 at the Washington Marriott Hotel, NCI President & CEO James P. RePass has announced.

"Tommy Thompson is known as a visionary who delivers the goods, as his tenure as WisconsinĖs governor has proved," said RePass in making the announcement, "and Bill Millar has invigorated APTA and is bringing it to the forefront of the American transportation debate. We are thrilled to have two major leaders as our national keynoters."

The conference will introduce "Rail Is Real," a new symbol and website representing the renascent American rail industry, and a key element of the ongoing NCI outreach program funded in part by the Surdna Foundation.

"It is time for the rail industry to speak with one clear message, that rail is back, and that it is and must be a force in American transportation," stated RePass, "yet it is important that the diverse rail community of vendors, railroads, trade associations, and advocacy groups maintain their independence, creativity, and integrity. ÎRail Is RealĖ is a theme that all members of the community can use and understand, and develop in their own way, yet it gives a common voice to an industry that has for too long talked only to itself. The time has come to talk to America, and ÎRail Is RealĖ can help do that."

At the June 26-27 conference Governor Thompson and President Millar will be joined by Amtrak Reform Council Chair Gil Carmichael, Amtrak Board Vice Chair Michael Dukakis, Environmental Defense Fund Attorney Michael Replogle, National Association of Railway Passengers Executive Director Ross Capon, Discovery Institute and Pacific Northwest Cascadia Project Manager Bruce Agnew, management consultant Andreas Aeppli, author Tony Hiss, and more than a score of AmericaĖs leading thinkers and activists involved in the on-going rebirth of the passenger and freight rail systems in the United States and Canada.

"We are witnessing the rebirth of the American passenger rail system," stated RePass in announcing the preliminary program, "and recent dramatic route announcements by Amtrak Û the first sustained business-based route expansions in AmtrakĖs 30-year history Û underscore that fact. At the same time, we must address the capacity issues raised by the demands on freight railroadsĖ right-of-way that these route expansions will make, as well as those that will be made by greatly increased regional rail construction. For generations the freight railroads have been taxed, while the highways and airlines have been heavily subsidized. It is time to turn those tables."

"Although the news media has only recently begun to cover the rebirth of rail in America Û it used to be treated as a nostalgia story, but has lately been given more serious coverage Û the need for a balanced American transportation system less dependent on the automobile and airplane is finally emerging as the first transportation story of the 21st century. It is not a minute too soon," stated RePass.

Further information on the conference and on the National Corridors Initiative, a business- and environment-oriented advocacy group for passenger and freight rail development in America founded in 1989, is available at www.nationalcorridors.org. For room reservations call the Marriott Hotel at 202-872-1500.

Conference Registration Form

The National Corridors Movement Û

Rail Is Real

with Amtrak Board Chair Tommy Thompson

and APTA President William Millar

Monday, June 26th, and Tuesday, June 27th, 2000

The Washington Marriott, 1221 22nd Street NW Washington DC

Fill In and Fax This Form to NCI at 617-269-3943 or Edit and

E-mail it to jprepass@aol.com

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Conference Fees (April 30): US $425 (corporate); US $350 (government); US $325 (non-profit, union)

After April 30 add $50 per category

Checks payable to NCI Inc. can be mailed to NCI 35 Terminal Road Suite 210 Providence RI 02905

Arrange hotel accommodations at special low conference rates directly with the Washington Marriott at 202-872-1500 (fax 202-872-9899) Mention "National Corridors"

____________________________________________________________

Meeting Announcement

2nd Annual Midwest Rail Advocates Conference

Chicago

On April 1, 2000

Chicago Athletic Association

12 S. Michigan Ave.

9:00 Û 11:30 a.m. Û Advocate Workshops, Provided by the Environmental Law and Policy Center. Hands-on workshops that will give you effective tools for promoting fast, frequent rail service in your community. Pre-registrants will receive packets targeted to their region.

11:45 a.m. Û 12:45 p.m. Û Lunch

1:00 p.m. Û 4:30 p.m. Û The Main Event:

MWRRI progress in 1999 and goals for 2000

Please RSVP as soon as possible by returning this card (with check or money order and correct mailing label) to:

MHSRC, PO Box 805878, Chicago, IL 60680-4120

or call 312-409-7723

I will attend:

Workshops (free) ____ Lunch & Afternoon $35 ____ Afternoon only $10____

Corporate All Day $55____
 
 



Destination: Freedom

The newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative

Vol. 1 No. 3 ©2000, NCI, Inc. March 1, 2000

____________________________________________________________

Amtrak sees its future in running more trains, longer routes

By Wes Vernon

In a clear break with the past, Amtrak has declared that its path to solvency lies in more Û not fewer Û trains. To those of us who can remember previous Amtrak regimes calling us into the conference room in the Washington Amtrak offices at Union Station to hear a learned green eyeshade analyst solemnly intone that the passenger railroad could not withstand further operations of this or that route, the difference is a sea change.

Now there are new green eyeshade analysts who have advised that Amtrak will increase its revenues by $65 million by adding several lines to its route map for a 10 percent increase in the system. The analysts even spelled out the costs of eliminating services and concluded that they would far outweigh any savings. Not only will passengers benefit, said Amtrak, so will the bottom line, thanks to new mail and freight and express delivery business that will go with it.

Consumer activists, while welcoming the additional service, questioned whether AmtrakĖs limited rolling stock would be spread so thin as to shrink the size of current trains and thus lead to higher fares.

The short-term and long-term proposals are yet to be cast in stone. Negotiations are underway. Basically, this is an expansion plan that could be fully implemented by 2003.

There are overtones of a new compatibility with the Class I freight carriers over whose tracks Amtrak must operate outside of its own Northeast Corridor.

Amtrak President George Warrington told a news conference at the companyĖs Washington headquarters on Feb. 28 that ultimately there would likely be some federal capital funding for the freight railroads to enable them to upgrade their infrastructure to allow faster speeds for both freight and passenger service, especially with an eye to the regional high-speed rail plans which Warrington said he expects to come to fruition "in the next 5 to 10 years." Heretofore, the freight railroads have been reluctant to accept any kind of government subsidy lest their independence be compromised. But a spirit of "WeĖre all in this together" shone through a statement by Association of American Railroads President Edward Hamberger. Noting that "in the last two years" Amtrak had been working "very hard" to establish "a new kind of relationship" with the freight railroads, the AAR president pledged to work with Amtrak "in a way that will strengthen the partnerships we have begun" to improve both freight and passenger service.

Some of the expanded service, or market-based network analysis, is targeted for startup with MayĖs spring-summer timetable changes. Examples Warrington cited were the daily Chicago-San Antonio service, and splitting the New Orleans-bound Crescent at Meridian, Mississippi, with a new section going instead to Dallas and Fort Worth. Others will have to await the outcome of the negotiations.

Longer term efforts would include new service into Mexico. The proposed Aztec Eagle would operate Monterey, Mexico (pending arrangements with Mexican officials) to San Antonio with connections there to the Texas Eagle to Chicago or Los Angeles.

On the back burner is a "higher end" (Read "luxury" and high fare) service from New York to Los Angeles, a projected 60-hour run that would make "5, 6, 7, or 8 stops" (in the words of Amtrak Board Chairman and Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson), and would carry refrigerated cars with time-sensitive fruits and vegetables.

From the organized consumer viewpoint, National Association of Railroad Passengers President Jack Martin, after previewing the plan, wrote Warrington a two-and-a-half page single spaced letter Feb. 16 saying the proposals had to be suspect for lack of a Midwest-Florida service and trains from the Northwest to Denver and Texas, and Las Vegas to Chicago. Moreover, Martin feared that AmtrakĖs lack of "sufficient equipment to make meaningful expansion a reality" would result in a robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul syndrome of shorter consists on already sold out trains "with the clear intent to justify charging higher fares by limiting capacity."

While Warrington did not deny that Amtrak intends to avoid "giving away the store" where fares are concerned, he told Destination: Freedom, "We are not raising fares in connection with this plan at all. Rather, we would impose "very clear time-of-purchase fences." If you purchase a ticket "21 days out," there is a certain fare structure. Likewise with a 14-day advance purchase, and yet another level with a purchase seven days in advance. Airlines have routinely had this kind of policy. But again, "This plan does not involve an explicit fare increase with the services that weĖre (announcing) today."

As for AmtrakĖs limited rolling stock problem, Warrington says there are up to 60 cars out of service, either in storage or awaiting repairs from accidents, which Warrington hopes to activate to meet the increased demand a larger route structure would entail. He emphasized he was not referring to the very old, repeatedly refurbished Heritage equipment.

The changes, which Thompson said could be effected within AmtrakĖs current budget and without going to Congress for new money, would involve some help from already available capital funding, as well as states and localities involved, in addition to freight carriers which would benefit from smoother trackage.

Other hoped-for new service would include:

White House lends its help, too

Even President Clinton likes passenger trains Û and supports them wholeheartedly. He as much on Feb. 28.

The President met with members of the Amtrak directors board, including Chairman and Gov. Tommy Thompson, former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, former Amtrak board member Gov. Thomas Carper, and USDOT secretary Rodney Slater.

Clinton pledged his support for "full funding for passenger rail service," and called on Congress to pass his $989 million fiscal year 2001 budget request "to help Amtrak achieve self-sufficiency," and to "improve and increase the speed of rail service, laying the foundation for high-speed rail corridors."

He noted that "As our nation continues its unprecedented economic growth, highways and airports are operating at capacity. Traffic congestion is hampering regional economic growth and contributing to environmental pollution. Passenger rail, including high-speed rail, can play a key role in meeting the nationĖs transportation needs while providing solutions to the effects of economic growth and urban sprawl," and the President pointed out that "Last fall, a bipartisan group of 26 governors highlighted the increasing need for passenger rail and urged full funding for Amtrak Û the only nationwide passenger rail system Û in the PresidentĖs fiscal 2001 budget."

Part of the White House budget for Amtrak includes $468 million in capital for a new program of railway partnerships to expand and enhance intercity passenger rail service "and to ensure a vibrant national passenger rail system over the long-term. This new program will make competitive matching grants available nationwide for intercity rail service through partnerships between Amtrak and state governments."

Under the program, the transportation secretary would award 50-50 matching grants based on joint applications by Amtrak and a state or states to improve intercity passenger rail service. The grants "must be awarded to projects that demonstrate a positive net contribution to AmtrakĖs bottom line and positive net benefits for the taxpayer."

[A detailed budget story from reporter Wes Vernon appears later in this issue Û Ed.]
 
 

Naysayer Vranich takes dim view of plan

Naysayer Joseph Vranich took a dim view of AmtrakĖs plans.

He said, "The plan violates AmtrakĖs legal requirement to run ÎmodernĖ rail passenger service. Amtrak will add embarrassing trains that will not serve vital markets. Amtrak is simply stuffing more pork-barrel trains through as many Congressional districts as possible. The evidence is plentiful."

Vranich is a member of the Amtrak Reform Council (ARC). At one time, he was employed by the passenger carrier as a press officer, and said he "worked for more than two decades to expand Amtrak but is today one of its chief critics."

He was recommended to the post by Presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and nominated by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.).

Vranich argued that "most new Amtrak trains will be slower than passenger trains were in 1950 run by private railroads. AmtrakĖs assertion that millions of new travelers will climb aboard trains slower than they were a half-century ago is bogus. Look at AmtrakĖs newest train, the Kentucky Cardinal, which takes 12 hours to link Chicago with Jeffersonville, Ind. (near Louisville). ThatĖs three hours longer than it took our great-grandparents to ride a 1926 Îmilk runĖ on the same route, which was pulled by a steam locomotive and served every village along the way. This new Amtrak train Û one of the most sluggish in the world Û should be called the ÎConestoga Wagon With Lights.ĖĖ"

Vranich had nothing positive to say about AmtrakĖs expansion plans, and accused it of "squandering funds÷ which will limit upgrades on AmericaĖs most important route, Boston-New York-Washington, where the high-speed Acela Express train is in big trouble.

"When the press exposed AcelaĖs design flaws last year, Amtrak said, ÎWell, we guess weĖre going to be six months late.Ė ThatĖs false. In 1993 and 1994, Amtrak promised it would have the Acela running by 1997, so itĖs three years behind plan with no firm startup date yet in sight. In sum, Amtrak has been developing the Acela for seven years, an absurdity compared with the four years other nations take to build new tracks and start running new high-speed trains. AmtrakĖs Acela is turning into the worldĖs worst high-speed rail program."

He also asked, "Amtrak says carrying freight will improve its finances, but whereĖs the proof? Amtrak has refused to provide the reform council an accounting of profits and losses regarding freight."

He also accused AmtrakĖs board of approving its new strategic business plan on Dec. 8, "but has yet to provide a copy to ARC members. AmtrakĖs stonewalling is indefensible because the ARC has a statutory obligation to examine which Amtrak programs are succeeding or failing. When a bureaucracy wonĖt answer questions, then somebody is hiding something."

Vranich was also critical of AmtrakĖs financial condition. He said "It remains precarious, but its books donĖt fairly represent its status. Amtrak now counts taxpayer subsidies as revenue and shifts some operating costs to its capital account. Also, the use of federal bailout money to disguise poor cash flow and current indebtedness to private capital markets obscures AmtrakĖs financial hemorrhaging."

He said that he was "speaking only for myself when I say AmtrakĖs plan shows itĖs still incapable of bringing about the kinds of train services that America needs Û even after the latest $2-billion bailout by Congress," and noted that "I fought to create Amtrak, later became AmtrakĖs press spokesman, and in the mid-1990s was president of the High Speed Rail Association. I often testified before Congress to subsidize Amtrak, but IĖm now embarrassed by all that. I apologize to taxpayers for helping give Amtrak $24.3 billion in federal funding, which Amtrak has and apparently will continue to spend in a ridiculous fashion."
 
 

Key senator backs Amtrak on accounting flap

Amtrak Cannot Make 2002 Goal

Definition of ÎgoalĖ is also at issue

By Wes Vernon

As he picked up the support of a powerful Republican lawmaker, Amtrak Chairman Tommy Thompson flatly told a Senate committee that the national passenger train service will not reach its congressionally mandated goal of operational self-sufficiency by the end of 2002. At least not if Congress insists on using the accounting yardstick applied by the Amtrak Reform Council (ARC) in its Jan. 24 report [See February Destination: Freedom].

Testifying Feb. 23 before the Senate Surface Transportation Subcommittee, Thompson, who is also WisconsinĖs governor (R), told the lawmakers that, contrary to the ARC report, Congress never intended to include "depreciation, which is a non-cash cost, and progressive overhauls which are funded with capital."

The ARC, in its report, said Amtrak was shifting these costs into the capital column when, by private industryĖs generally accepted accounting procedures, they belonged in the operating category. In this scenario, observed the ARC, Amtrak would be able to make its end of 2002 goal of eliminating the need for operating subsidies, but only while pulling items out of the operating column that properly belong there. Amtrak has always forthrightly stated that it would continue to require capital subsidies, as does every other transportation mode.

Subcommittee Chairwoman Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) sided with Amtrak on the issue.

"I do not think that Congress, in writing the reform bill, envisioned that Amtrak Û our nationwide railroad Û should be treated differently than other public transit agencies," the senator said in her opening statement. Other members of Congress had a different understanding of what would be included under the "operating" column. (See following Destination: Freedom story on Clinton Amtrak budget).

Hutchison added, "I believe that covering the cost of depreciated assets should be part of capital funds, despite ARCĖs view," and that "the same can be said of progressive overhauls."

DOT Inspector General Kenneth Mead, whose reports have reflected his own criticisms of some Amtrak operations, also rejected the accounting recommended by the ARC.

MeadĖs concern, ignoring the legal argument, was based on pure practicality. He argued that by forcing Amtrak to adopt generally accepted accounting principals, the passenger railroad, with its eye on the end-of-2002 deadline, would simply refrain from doing any "progressive overhauls" and instead wait until major overhauls were required just to shift the overhaul cost into the capital column. The result, he said, would be deteriorating infrastructure and a less comfortable ride for the passengers.

As Hutchison observed, thatĖs the kind of delayed maintenance "that got Amtrak into trouble in the first place."

Thompson told ARC Chairman Gil Carmichael, who appeared on the same witness panel, that Amtrak can say right now that it will not be able to meet the 2002 goal under the ARCĖs interpretation which, the Wisconsin governor has said, "raises the bar" by $567 million.

When it came CarmichaelĖs turn to testify, he urged those who had criticized his panelĖs findings not to kill the messenger.

"IĖm just the messenger," he said. He and his panel had merely followed a legal interpretation of the 1997 Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act from which the ARC had been commissioned.

The disagreements among panel members, though profound, were without rancor and among old friends. Thompson patted Carmichael on the shoulder when he made his comment about killing the messenger.

CarmichaelĖs major concern goes beyond the legalities of the accounting system. He is less concerned with whether Amtrak is putting too much money into the operating column. His big worry, expressed at the hearing and in discussions with Destination: Freedom, is that Amtrak is taking too much badly needed money out of the capital column, depriving the system of money it needs to buy or lease new equipment so it could put more trains in service and grow its revenues.

In his prepared statement, Carmichael quoted two past Amtrak presidents to bolster his case.

From the late Graham Claytor:

"Any company that does not put in the capital to more than match its depreciation is slowly liquidating itself."

From Tom Downs: "Shifting some equipment overhaul costs÷from operating to capital budget÷is akin to eating your seed corn Û using scarce capital dollars to maintain, rather than to replace worn out assets Û and undermines our ability to invest in our future."

Parenthetically, this view was one reason Downs was fired by the then Amtrak board. His fear was Amtrak was using money needed for capital costs to pay expensive labor agreements.

William Millar, President of the American Public Transportation Association, testified that the accounting methods used by Amtrak also applied to mass transit agencies.

That, added to HutchisonĖs comments about applying the same accounting methods to Amtrak as applied to "other transit agencies" led Carmichael to wind up his testimony by saying, "ItĖs been hard to define what Amtrak is. One day itĖs a corporation. The next day itĖs a government agency. I think this committee has determined for us that it is a government agency. And we have no problem with government agencies not covering their depreciation÷So our report will reflect that."

Just as Hutchison seemed ready to acquiesce in that conclusion, Thompson quickly replied, "We are not a government agency. We are part of a government agency. And I donĖt want Gil to walk away from this table (thinking) that we are a government agency. We are part of the government. We are also a corporation."

"Will you accept quasi-government?" Hutchison asked, to which Thompson replied in the affirmative.

Another standing problem where Carmichael is concerned is the continuing use of old equipment. He told the senators that "just refurbishing these old (Heritage) cars again and again and again" simply wonĖt cut it. Amtrak could better put that money to use by buying newer cars. That is a big reason why he wants Amtrak to spend the capital money now used for "progressive overhauls" on buying new equipment.

Amtrak President George Warrington replied that Amtrak does not have the money to do that because it must target its budgeting to get over the 2002 deadline "hump" for becoming operationally subsidy-free.

"What about leasing equipment?" Carmichael asked.

At the hearing, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) bitterly complained about failure to resurrect the Seattle-Portland-Boise-Salt Lake City-Chicago Pioneer. Eliminating that train in 1997, conceded Thompson, "may have been a mistake" and he promised to "sit down" with Wyden and discuss it further.

Look for the Amtrak Reform Council, in its future reports, to encourage the states to take the lead in upcoming regional high-speed rail plans. Amtrak can provide the trains, where ARC leadership is concerned, but the states should take control of the high-speed rail networks in their areas. That is exactly what is planned for the nine-state Midwest Regional Rail Initiative.
 
 

Amtrak sees Îcritical milestoneĖ with route changes

Amtrak went out of its way to tip off employees that major changes were coming to the national system. As Wes Vernon reported in the lead story of this D:F issue, Amtrak President George Warrington disclosed the plans on Feb. 28, a day after a national newswire service broke an embargo on the story. An embargoed story means that a source will divulge details of an event, an action, or a decision Û whatever the newsworthy event is Û if members of the media, whether they be national, regional or local, agree to hold the story for a day or two at the newsmakerĖs request. The Associated Press broke the story two days in advance when they broke the embargo Amtrak had placed on the story. Reasons for embargoing a story are multitude, from trying to give everyone a chance to get the piece, to allowing camera crews to get into position somewhere to photograph the event, or related events.

Meanwhile, Amtrak published hints of what was coming Û and its significance Û in its weekly Employee Advisory, faxed weekly to employees around the country.

The document stated, "Next week will mark a critical milestone in the corporationĖs business plan to achieve operating self-sufficiency and become more market driven.

"On Tuesday morning, at a media briefing in Washington Union Station, Amtrak will announce the national strategy that emerged from more than 18 months of planning work around the market-based network analysis. The comprehensive economic analysis of AmtrakĖs national system was the first in the corporationĖs history.

The news conferenceĖs actual day became Monday because of the broken embargo.

"What will be announced Tuesday by George Warrington and the board of directors is the Network Growth Strategy (NGS). Rather than cut train routes to meet budget targets, the NGS is a blueprint for an expanded national system driven by passenger demand and commercial opportunities.

"As a group of labor leaders was told in an advance briefing by Amtrak executives earlier this week, the network being planned is not politically driven, nor is it driven by nostalgia, but by the bottom line. The improvements being announced will improve AmtrakĖs financial performance by millions of dollars in 2003.

Warrington told the labor leaders that the system improvements could bring modest job growth as services are added, rather than furloughs and accompanying service cuts.

"This will put a stake in the ground, for the first time in over 25 years, that says weĖre standing firmly behind long-distance trains and a full national system," Warrington told the group.

"Negotiations with the host freight railroads, which would need to accommodate the planned changes in long-distance trains, are underway."

Early speculation by insiders expected the railroad to add new passenger routes, expand into package delivery, and maintain unprofitable routes.

The plan would expand or improve service in 21 states, add 11 route segments and increase trains on three routes, according to a report from The AP. It also would boost by 10 percent the number of station-to-station links, and bring trains to the neighborhoods of 4 million potential new passengers.

Amtrak trains will make stops in Des Moines and Iowa City, Iowa; Rockford, Ill.; Vicksburg, Miss.; Monroe and Shreveport, La.; Lake Geneva and Janesville, Wis.; and finally run at last one train over the Florida East Coast to call on Daytona Beach, Cape Canaveral and Fort Pierce.

Sounding almost like pie-in-the-sky, at least one of those Florida trains will originate in Boston, so people will be able to board a train and travel south without having to transfer in New York City. Elsewhere, gamblers will find more trains to take them to Shreveport's casinos. Riders can board in Michigan, sleep as their train dashes through Canada and wake up in upstate New York, on the way to New York City.

But there are also losers. By taking a northern route through more heavily populated cities in Texas, the Sunset Limited train will no longer stop in Del Rio, Alpine and Sanderson.

Similarly, the International will stop in Ann Arbor and Dearborn, Mich., but no longer pass through five other Michigan cities Û East Lansing, Durand, Flint, Lapeer and Port Huron.
 
 

Clinton releases Amtrak budget; accounting dispute still lingers


By Wes Vernon

President Clinton has requested that Congress fully fund Amtrak at the $989 million requested level. Amtrak says this includes $468 million "to answer the call of the states nationwide to help develop high speed rail corridors."

Another $521 million meets the requirements of AmtrakĖs business plan to continue toward operational self-sufficiency. This figure represents a $50 million reduction from last yearĖs appropriation.

The release of the administration budget won immediate praise from the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP).

"Americans have repeatedly called for improved rail passenger service," declared a NARP press release, "and have shown their willingness to use it when it is offered."

Left unresolved in the budget is the question of what constitutes "capital" and what constitutes "operating" expenses.

NARP, in its February newsletter, asked if "an accounting debate (will) bore everyone to death or kill Amtrak."

However, several members of Congress who are supportive of passenger rail and donĖt want to "kill Amtrak" are not "bored." There is a $567 million difference between AmtrakĖs accounting procedures and those of the Amtrak Reform Council (ARC) which, on Jan. 24, said Amtrak was counting legitimate "operating" expenses in the "capital" column. (See ARC story, Destination: Freedom, Vol. 1, No.2). This has prompted Amtrak Chairman Tommy Thompson to accuse the ARC of "raising the bar in the middle of the game."

Among those not "bored÷to death" is Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), winner of NARPĖs Bent Spike Award and chairwoman of the Senate Subcommittee on Transportation. She has said that, "if we are not going to be on the same prescription of self-sufficiency, then that could be a disaster."

This controversy has a history that goes back more than two years to the original enactment of the big Amtrak bill of 1997, which set the 2002 operational self-sufficiency deadline, and created the ARC to monitor its progress.

At that time, several lawmakers, including Rep. Bob Franks (R-N.J.), now a key member of the House Ground Transportation Subcommittee, accused the Clinton administration of changing the budget rules of the new legislation by proposing a smaller operating budget than was appropriate under the 1997 bill, "the very legislation that he (President Clinton) helped to craft." [Franks made the comments to reporter Vernon. See RailNews magazine, September 1998].

The congressman, then Rail Subcommittee chairman (since replaced by the Ground Transportation panel), said Mr. Clinton was trying to phase out the operating subsidies five years early by telling the passenger railroad to draw on its capital fund if it needed more assistance than provided in his operating budget.

In dissenting from the January 2000 ARC report on behalf of Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, Federal Railroad Administrator Jolene Molitoris said the councilĖs interpretation of the law is "inconsistent with the intent of the administration and Congress."

"No, itĖs not," according to Franks.

"This is not what was agreed to just six months ago between the White House and Congress," he declared on May 21, 1998 for the September RailNews. For the record, the New Jersey Republican emphasized in the same interview that he is "absolutely unalterably committed to saving Amtrak."

This unresolved dispute is what prompted the ARC to question AmtrakĖs use of capital funds for depreciation and "progressive overhauls." The reform council believes, as did Franks two years ago, that these properly belonged in the operating accounting column.

ARC Chairman Gil said that by spending money from this special fund for what he believes are legitimate day-to-day operating costs, Amtrak is eating its seed corn, not buying new equipment that would enable it to get more trains out on the system to "build its revenues," both in its core passenger business, and in mail and express, with customers (like UPS, for example) waiting to do business with Amtrak when and if it gets more trains running.

ARC vice chairman Paul Weyrich wants Congress to change the law to give Amtrak more time - at least a year - to meet its operational self-sufficiency goal. Although he bases that desire largely on the delay in the Acela Express equipment, there is also a question as to whether Amtrak should be given more time and more operating money to reach its goal without having to dig into funds that were meant for high priority revenue producing capital expenditures.

This debate will likely be at the center of Amtrak discussions in this session of Congress. The administration interprets the law one way while leaders of Congress have a different view.

Amtrak and the National Association of Railroad Passengers, whose primary concern is the defensive effort to reach that short-term 2002 operational goal by whatever means, have thrown in their lot with the administration on this issue.

Lawmakers such as Franks blame President Clinton, charging he reneged on an agreement and shortchanged Amtrak in the process. Organized rail labor, feeling that any change might disrupt its interests, blames the ARC for spotlighting the long-festering dispute.

Thus, what amounts to a "Catch-22" for Amtrak is here. It could use the dollars in question, pegged at $567 million, to purchase big ticket items to "build its revenues," but if that revenue-building does not come in time to meet the late 2002 deadline, Amtrak is stuck with a continuing requirement for operating subsidies.

On the other hand, by using "seed corn" money and failing to sufficiently upgrade its physical plant, it may get itself over that 2002 hump, but then be stuck with the kind of short-term "quick fix" that solves the politics of the problem, but does not solve the problem.

That, of course, is the syndrome that Amtrak has had to deal with since its founding nearly 30 years ago. Perhaps it is inevitable when politicians are placed in charge of a railroad. Amtrak President George Warrington makes business deals right and left in an effort to make Amtrak "more like a business," but with politicians holding the purse strings, he cannot avoid the decisions guided more by, well, politics.
 
 

Will it become law?

Amtrak happy with PresidentĖs budget proposal

Amtrak was happy about President ClintonĖs budget proposal for the passenger carrier. In a press release, Amtrak spokesman John Wolf wrote, "Amtrak applauds the Clinton AdministrationĖs request to Congress to fully fund the railroad at the congressionally authorized level."

He said, "The PresidentĖs $989 million request for fiscal year 2001 includes $521 million, which is the amount Amtrak requires to continue toward operational self-sufficiency in accordance with its business plan. This figure represents a $50 million reduction from last yearĖs appropriation. The balance, $468 million, would be used to answer the call of states nationwide to develop high speed rail corridors."

"The Clinton Administration should be applauded because a strong national intercity passenger rail network will combat congestion, spur economic vitality and fight urban sprawl, as well as benefit the 21 million customers who depend on Amtrak each year," said George Warrington, AmtrakĖs president and CEO. "The clarion call from states has been heard: that investment in high-speed rail corridors is good for America."

Last fall, a bipartisan group of 27 governors wrote to President Clinton calling for funding Amtrak at $989 million, which is the fully authorized level for fiscal year 2001 included in the Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act of 1997.

The railroad stated "More than one quarter of the U.S. Senate, the Congressional Black Caucus, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, individual mayors, and many other national organizations wrote to the President to request funding for Amtrak at the fully authorized level."

Never passing up a chance for a little rah-rah, Wolf noted that "For the past two years and through the first quarter of this fiscal year, Amtrak has surpassed its business plan targets, putting it on track to become operationally self-sufficient by 2003, although it will always need federal capital funding. AmtrakĖs progress has been recognized by the private sector, including MoodyĖs Investment Services, which recently upgraded AmtrakĖs credit rating."
 
 
 
 

pic 133 here.

NCI: Leo King
Two Old-timers

Boston - How long will it be before electric engine 907Ûand the diesel tied to it Û will be fodder for a trash can? Both have had long service lives, but the time has come for the AEM-7s to replace the venerable F-40PH diesels on the Northeast Corridor from Beantown to our nationĖs capital. Many of the diesels are stored serviceable at Beech Grove, Ind., while others have been leased to freight railroads. The first F-40 rolled off EMDĖs production line in 1976. Today, the "juice jacks," in pairs, are hauling the first four Acela Regional trains for Amtrak, trains numbered in the 130 series, between Washington and Boston. On this Feb. 12, 2000, engineer David Luna is making his F-40, No. 411, perform lowly switching duties and push train 133 backwards out of Southampton Street yard over to South Station, while conductor Karen Garrity, guarding the rear end, keeps her eyes glued to the switches and signals. AmtrakĖs John Wolf tells us the 411 was built in 1978 for GO Transit of Canada and was later sold to Amtrak. ConrailĖs Juniata Shops refurbished it in 1990 in Altoona, Penn. AEM-7 907 was built in 1980.
 
 

No more Acela Express delays, says Dukakis;

states add more weight to high-speed battle

By Wes Vernon

The Acela Express will be ready in "late Spring," as repeatedly promised by Amtrak in recent months.

Amtrak Vice Chairman Michael S. Dukakis says the Amtrak board has ordered the Acela-building consortium to "find a way" to see to it that the long awaited premium 150 mph service is ready with its first trainset before the summer.

The board had been told at its January meeting that July would be a more realistic starting date. But after one major, well-publicized delay from an earlier projected starting date of fall 1999, the board said there was no way Amtrak wanted to go to the public and say, once again, the equivalent of, "Sorry about that, but be patient." The board would not grant the consortium another delay.

"I am confident we will have a good train system" on time, Dukakis told Destination: Freedom.

However, said the former Massachusetts governor, the long testing period is understandable.

"Remember the Turbos?" he asked.

We did.

They were supposed to be the Ė70s New York-Boston answer to the New York-Washington Metroliners, but they flopped. "And the reason is they didnĖt test them first," he added.

The Turbos were supposed to do what the new Acela (both Regional and Express) services are expected to do: Make Amtrak service time-competitive for the business traveler, but failure to test them resulted in a nice interior service upgrade.

I remember eating an at-your-seat steak dinner while viewing Manhattan from Hellgate Bridge, but the bottom line was it couldnĖt really go much faster than the conventional trains of the time.

"And you have to remember," says Dukakis, "WeĖre building a whole new train here. This is not off the shelf."

The rail infrastructure in the northeast, although significantly upgraded over the years, was originally built for steam-hauled service, especially north of New York. It has taken some time to give the Acela the testing that is merited.

The second-tier Acela Regional service, consisting of refurbished Metroliner equipment, began running "under the wires" the full length of the corridor on Jan. 31, with a Boston ceremony on that date. (See Editor Leo KingĖs first-person account last month, Destination: Freedom, Vol. 1-No. 2.)

Meanwhile, just as the Northeast was making high-speed rail history, officials representing not only the Northeast, but also the midwest and the south, were calling for more passenger trains, and not as an afterthought.

State DOT officials from New York, Illinois, Mississippi, Wisconsin and North Carolina issued a call for "adult money" for passenger rail improvements nationwide. "Adult money" does not mean tagging on a few crumbs for passenger rail while huge resources are allocated to the fly-drive culture. Bottom line: No chicken feed, please.

We should say, and cannot emphasize often enough, that weĖre talking here about capital money in much the same manner that air and highway transport have derived public benefit. Passenger rail, it should be emphasized, again not often enough, is not a part of the welfare state.

At a well-attended breakfast meeting in Washington Feb. 1, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) promised the state DOT officials that before he retires in early 2001, he would "prove that lame ducks can fly" by pushing the bill to provide bond money to upgrade rail passenger service. [See VernonĖs lead article in Destination: Freedom, Vol. 1 No. 1).

David King, deputy director of North CarolinaĖs DOT, said, "We have been so bold as to rename the NEC. We call it the ACC. ThatĖs the Atlantic Corridor. Two thirds of the people who board our trains want to go to the Northeast Corridor. ItĖs not a one-state business that weĖre about. ItĖs got to be national."

Wisconsin DOT boss Terry Mulcahy (Gov. Tommy ThompsonĖs man) said adult money also involves "adult leadership." He added, "The states have already made a difference, but÷we are at a critical point." He quoted House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bud Shuster as saying, "When the states belly up, the feds show up." Well, implied Mulcahy, whose state has shelled out millions in seed money for the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, here we are - "belly(ing) up" and "show(ing) up." Now itĖs the fedĖs turn.

It was lost on no one that the state DOT officials were making their plea less than a week before the Clinton administrationĖs budget was to be unveiled.
 
 

Can high-speed and commuter rail co-exist?

By Wes Vernon

So all of these plans for high speed trains, not only in the northeast, but in the midwest, the southeast, and the far west will usher in a new era where we are whisked hither and yon from city to city in no time flat.

Right?

Of course, the freight railroads have some concerns about capacity. How can a 100-car, double-stack share the track with a passenger conveyance that wants to rush its passengers at 110, 125 or 150 mph?

Problematical, the high-speed rail movement will acknowledge... but not a problem that canĖt be remedied to everyoneĖs satisfaction. After all, AmtrakĖs chairman Thompson has predicted that the day will come when the freight railroads will be making so much money by dealing with the rail passenger business that the Class Is "will actually be lobbying for Amtrak" on Capitol Hill. Indeed, rail freight and passenger interests are in ongoing negotiations over this point.

There is yet another capacity problem: the commuter trains. With their frequent stops at average speeds of 40-60 mph, they are unimpressed with the urgency of getting out of the way to make room for the new hotshot kid (super-speed trains) in town.

Take the issue of scheduling. Amtrak plans to run its Northeast Corridor 150 mph Acela Express trains on a "memory" schedule.

"Metro-North (the commuter service serving New York CityĖs northern suburbs) also has memory pattern schedules that have been in use for many years on the New Haven Line, and to which our customers have become accustomed," Metro-North Special Counsel Walter Zullig told the Amtrak Reform Council last year.

"At first review," he sniffed, "it appears that Amtrak schedules cannot fit with Metro-NorthĖs traditional schedules." They are hourly, half-hourly, and so on.

The Metro-North official also cited some "engineering issues" that must be resolved before Amtrak is allowed to operate at 90 to 110 mph, to say nothing of ongoing construction projects and whether they would adversely affect "the ability of Amtrak to run a reliable high-speed service" in the next few years. Zullig was skeptical as to whether the distance between tracks would allow the Acela trains to tilt around curves and whether the 90-year-old catenary system can support the higher speed operation.

At the same ARC meeting, Harry Harris, chief of ConnecticutĖs Bureau of Public Transportation, warned that if Amtrak wants its three-hour Boston to New York service on anything like a consistent basis, "more, perhaps much more, will need to be done to upgrade the rail line from New Haven to New Rochelle, N.Y." Also, he said, while Amtrak wants to upgrade the trackage from FRA Class 4 to Class 5 or Class 6, ConnecticutĖs DOT had no need for anything beyond Class 4 and did not intend to foot the bill.

Similar concerns were expressed at the same ARC hearing by Stephen Devine, Supervising Planner, for Rhode IslandĖs DOT.

Shortly after that hearing in Philadelphia on April 26, 1999, I contacted David Carol, AmtrakĖs vice-president for High Speed Rail. Speaking from his office in Old Saybrook, Conn., which he cheerfully described as "the high-speed capitol of the world," Carol noted that many of the issues to which the New England and northern New York commuter officials had alluded were subjects of ongoing negotiations with Amtrak and that none of them presented insurmountable obstacles to starting up and operating the AcelaĖs super-fast service. Some at Amtrak noted it is not at all uncommon for parties to a negotiation to take a "hard line" to strengthen their position.

The outcome of the specific negotiations between Amtrak and the commuter agencies on the Boston to New York City route will become clearer as we get closer to opening day of the Acela Express.

Our point here is to show that the developing competition between commuter and high-speed intercity trains for rights-of-way capacity is something that will have to be confronted.

It is a concern that is not confined to the Northeast Corridor. California is setting in motion an incremental plan that aims to put high-speed train plans on a (slow) glide path to a 2016 operating startup. Even with something scheduled for 16 years in the future, assuming it is on schedule, operating folks at Southern CaliforniaĖs Metrolink commuter service are already worried that this will interfere with their operations. They have their own plans for expansion in the large metropolitan areas in the southern part of a state whose population is projected to expand by 12 million people in the next 20 years. Efforts to get Metrolink to address this concern on the record were unsuccessful - but the concern is there.

We have not explored the views of Metra, the Chicago-area commuter service that enjoys an unusually cordial relationship with the freight carriers, nor its relationship to the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative (MWRRI), the far-flung high-speed rail plan which has already attracted serious seed money from Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The MWRRI contemplates Chicago as its hub.

Chicago is MetraĖs hub. No one there wishes to be seen as an obstructionist, but determining whether these folks would have at least one or two questions hardly rates as rocket science.

The nervousness about high-speed and commuter trains "getting along" on the same track is by no means a one way street. High-speed rail people donĖt want commuter trains getting in their way either.

Take, for example, the fact that two or three years ago, an Amtrak official grabbed a CSX official by the tie, and demanded to know why the freight carrier was, in effect, transferring its problem to Amtrak.

At issue was the "Penn-Camden connection," aimed at linking the CSX-owned Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) ex-B&O "Camden line" to the Amtrak-owned Northeast Corridor and ex-PRR "Penn line." Both commuter services operate between Washington and Baltimore, serving different communities en route.

CSX and MARC have had a serious capacity problem on the Camden line where CSX has been trying to get MARC to eliminate reverse commuter runs so that freight can operate during rush hour on at least one of CSXĖs own tracks. The upshot of the dispute is a proposed connection, now in planning stages, linking the two lines so that the reverse commutes and the "Baseball Specials" to and from Orioles games and other sports events at Camden Yards Stadium can shift to the Penn line.

Considering the fact that folks at the intermediate points on the Camden line would lose the benefits of the reverse commute, but also considering the fact that MARC anticipates using the connection for access to a new maintenance facility in any event, MARC and CSX are in delicate potential horse-trading negotiations as to exactly what use the connecting line is to be put. We dare not say anything here that would upset the applecart on these serious talks lest the public interest be compromised by someoneĖs nose getting out of joint.

This situation illustrates that Amtrak, which is about to make U.S. rail history by operating super high-speed (by U.S. standards) trains, is not thrilled with the prospect of adding additional commuter trains on its right of way in the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

Meanwhile, MARC has some high-speed plans of its own. The commuter train operator has been testing its new Kawasaki double-deckers to operate at speeds exceeding 90 mph on the electrified Penn line.

MARC officials ultimately would like to operate consists of the double-deckers and the single level MARC 2 cars (but not the old inherited equipment) at speeds up to 125 mph. Ira Silverman, MARCĖs chief transportation officer, says his agency has been awaiting the green light from the FRA.

As a practical matter, with tremendous traffic back and forth between Washington and Baltimore every day, one can envision regular high-speed, non-stop MARC operating half-hourly or quarter-hourly shuttle service between the two cities. This could appeal to the time-sensitive business traveler who currently drives that stretch.

But, then, it could also create yet another capacity problem.
 
 

STB hosts hearings on rail consolidations

The Surface Transportation Board is conducting a four-day public hearing beginning in six days (March 7) in Washington, D.C. (at 1925 K St., NW), to discuss "major railroad consolidations and the present and future structure of the North American railroad industry." The outcome could have major implications for Amtrak and commuters railroads. So far, Amtrak has signed up for five minutes on March 8. Most of the time has been reserved for shippers. The board said it received about 160 requests.

Chair Linda Morgan said the forum would hear views "by interested persons, including railroads, rail shippers and other users, rail employees, and other elements of the rail sector.

Originally scheduled for two days, the conference was lengthened to four days because response was so high, and will last from Tuesday to Friday.

The BoardĖs notice indicated that the hearing was"prompted in part by the initiation of, but will be conducted separate and apart from, the BNSF-CN control proceeding." Morgan said the board was "providing a forum for the discussion of broader matters that have been raised since the announcement of the proposed BNSF-CN transaction."

In a press release, the board observed "There has been a great deal of speculation that the strategic responses of the remaining North American rail carriers to the proposed BNSF-CN transaction will lead to a new round of major railroad consolidations, ultimately resulting in the formation of two North American transcontinental railroad systems."

House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure chairman Bud Shuster (R-Penn.) and ranking Democratic committee member James L. Oberstar (Minn.) sent a letter, dated Jan. 14, to Morgan stating, "recognizing the restructuring that has occurred to date in the industry and the speculation about future restructuring," urges that the board "promptly explore all options to ensure an early and vigorous debate" on whether the ÎdownstreamĖ effects... of the BNSF-CN transaction are in the public interest."

Both solons added, "The board also observed that the BNSF-CN transaction, if approved and implemented, Îmay trigger yet another full round of major transactions, as other railroads seek to position themselves and their customers to meet the competitive effects of a unified BNSF-CN.Ė"

They noted that the board waived its one-case-at-a-time rule and had indicated that it will look at the cumulative impacts and crossover effects that are likely to occur in the wake of the proposed transaction, should it be approved.

Morgan said the board noted, "among other things, that a majority of the large railroads have recently stated that now is the time to concentrate not on further consolidation but, rather, on existing opportunities to improve service."

She added, "Other persons have expressed concern about more restructuring while the industry is still recovering from service difficulties and other disruptions associated with implementation of the last round of major rail consolidations."

She said the board also is seeking views on the effects of railroad consolidations on the financial condition of the railroad industry, "and the industry's ability to provide responsive service at reasonable prices." There are also seeking opinions on "whether the railroad industry currently has, and whether it will have, the necessary infrastructure, capacity and configuration to meet expected demand for freight service now and in the future."

The hearings will begin at 10:00 a.m. in the 7th floor hearing room at the board's headquarters in Washington, D.C., and "can be expected to continue into the evening hours." Each speaker is limited to five minutes.

As of Feb. 21, first-day participants were to include U.S. Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D) and Jack Quinn (R), both from New York. Federal agencies will include USDOT, Agriculture, DoD and the ArmyĖs Military Traffic Management Command.

Class I railroads were to include BNSF, CN, CP, CSX, KCS, NS, UP. Some agencies and carriers were also expected to present more than one speaker .

Representatives from the financial community were to include speakers from Goldman, Sachs & Co., Morgan Stanley & Co., and Salomon Smith Barney.

Amtrak has five minutes on Wednesday.

Other speakers over the four days are to come from general shipper associations and groups, including the National Industrial Transportation League, intermodal companies and associations, including United Parcel Service, regional and shortline railroads and associations, and many others.

Several rail labor organizations will be present, including the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers as well as its American Train Dispatchers Department, United Transportation Union, Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes, and several others.
 
 

Nine states form high-speed rail coalition

Members of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) representing states in the nine federally designated high-speed rail corridors and other states seeking expanded rail services are forming a coalition supporting intercity passenger rail and the development of high speed rail corridors across the country.

The coalition was introduced at a congressional briefing on Feb. 2 Coalition spokeswoman Linda Thelke said, "Its goal is to speak as one voice for the states on the need for federal funding support for capital investments in passenger rail and high-speed rail corridors."

The coalition also intends "to keep states informed of key technical developments and information, and aid in the planning and implementation of high-speed rail projects.

"A diverse group of states including Alabama, Missouri, and Maine are joining us in this effort," said Terry Mulcahy, Wisconsin deputy transportation secretary. Wisconsin Gov. Tommy G. Thompson, has been leading the formation of the coalition. He is also AmtrakĖs board chairman.

"What the states all share is the need for a balanced transportation system that includes passenger rail along with highways and airports Mucahy added.

Participants in the congressional briefing included Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.); Amtrak president George Warrington, and representatives from cities, rail labor, the rail supply industry, and passenger rail advocacy groups, as well as Jack Guinan, assistant commissioner, New York DOT; David King, deputy secretary, North Carolina DOT; Kirk Brown, Secretary, Illinois DOT; and Wayne Brown, Southern District Commissioner, Mississippi DOT.

"This coalition will build on state efforts to make high-speed rail a reality across the country," said Joseph Boardman, New YorkĖs transportation commissioner.

"New YorkĖs program for high-speed improvements on the Empire Corridor between Albany and Buffalo, including the introduction of new high-speed trainsets, is an example of the kind of commitment that states are ready to make. Now we need the federal government to join us in supporting the types of infrastructure improvements required to create a 21st century passenger rail system in this country."

A spokesman explained that "High speed rail is most effective in corridors of 100 to 500 miles in length that are currently served by crowded highways and congested air service. States that are successfully developing high speed rail networks are doing so through an incremental approach that seeks to gradually build up services and speeds on existing rail lines. This approach is recognized as the most reliable method to build high speed rail, minimizes initial capital costs, allows time to establish ridership and reduces the financial risk to states and the federal government."
 
 

RailRunners, Talgos need safety exceptions

Amtrak is asking the FRA for a waiver of compliance from some requirements of its safety standards. Specifically, it wants to exempt its RailRunners, which is also the name of the manufacturer of AmtrakĖs intermodal rail vehicles.

RailRunner is seeking a permanent waiver of compliance with the Railroad Safety Appliance Standards, "which specifies the operation and location of the hand brake shaft, the location, dimension and manner of application of brake steps, sill steps, end ladder clearance, roof handholds, side handholds, horizontal handholds and vertical handholds.

The carrier also wants a variance on railroad freight car safety standards, which restrict the use of an "I" section compression or tension member on truck side frame for RailRunners The RailRunners are described as a "car-less intermodal system" consisting of modified semi-trailers, or container chassis, interconnected by special-purpose rail bogies. Trailers are fitted with receivers at each end to allow mating with the bogies. The trailers are also fitted with air lines to provide air for brakes and air springs."

The bogie itself is a fabricated radial truck with air springs which "are used to lift the trailers to proper height above the rail, and they also act as the secondary suspension." The bogies use conventional 33-inch wheels and truck-mounted brakes.

In-train longitudinal forces are transmitted through a continuous drawbar between the trailers, and each drawbar is connected to each trailer through a 3-inch diameter pin.

When the bogies are in the "run"' position, with its air bags inflated, a plate is rotated into position covering the coil springs hole in the upper frame. If the air springs inadvertently deflate, the upper frame rests on the coil springs.

Each car rolls on 6-by-11-inch roller bearings, which are rated for a total bogie weight-on-rail of 110,000 pounds

Amtrak stated that the RailRunner system passed all Chapter XI tests at the Transportation Technology Center in Pueblo. Colo.

On Oct. 18, 1999, Amtrak also petitioned the FRA for "grandfathering" non-compliant passenger equipment manufactured by Renfe Talgo of America for use on rail lines between Vancouver, BC and Eugene, Ore.; between Las Vegas and Los Angeles; and between San Diego and San Luis Obispo, California.

On Dec. 2, 1999, FRA extended the comment period until Dec. 15 following a Freedom of Information Act request that "certain items in FRA files referenced in AmtrakĖs petition be made available for review."

The FRA did not state who the FOIA seeker was, but it stated that "Talgo has objected to release of certain of the requested information under an FOIA exemption" which exempts "from release trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person that is privileged or confidential."

On Dec. 15, the FRA once again extended the comment period, to Dec. 27, "to enable FRA to finalize its response to the FOIA request, and to permit the responder time to analyze the documents released by FRA."

In short, the FRA found itself between a rock and a hard place.

"Unfortunately, processing the FOIA request has taken longer than anticipated. FRA released [some] documents on Nov. 30, Dec. 10, and Dec. 21."

The FRA removed released information that, it said, is protected under FOIA exemption 4, and added that "the FOIA commenter has appealed to the FRA Administrator FRAĖs decision to redact certain of the information contained in the requested documents."

The FRA stated it is processing the appeal.

Meanwhile, on Dec. 13, the FOIA requester again asked FRA to further extend the comment period so that the requester would have 15 days after receipt of all of the requested documents to analyze the documents and prepare comments on the grandfather petition.

The FRA agreed, and on Dec. 23, extended the comment period to Jan. 10. FRA placed in the docket for the proceeding a copy of the documents provided to the FOIA requester.

The FRA said it also placed in the docket several documents that it received from Talgo that are relevant to the Amtrak petition. Two of the documents contain comments or corrections to the minutes of the June 17, 1999 meeting between FRA, Amtrak and Talgo. The minutes of that meeting was one of the documents released to the FOIA requester. Another document contains weld information pertaining to the Talgo equipment, and the remaining documents contain design changes to the Talgo equipment requested by the FRA.

The FRA said, "Talgo has requested confidential treatment, under exemption 4 of FOIA, for certain information in the documents. FRA has redacted from the Talgo documents information that is protected by exemption 4."

On Jan. 4, the FOIA requester asked for more documents related to Amtrak's petition, but the FRA said it "is currently processing this request; while a partial response was provided on Jan. 6."

Meanwhile, the agency stated, the full response would "not be complete before Jan. 10."

On Jan. 7, the FOIA requester again asked that FRA extend the comment period. FRA said it would extend the comment period until Jan. 31, 2000, "to enable FRA time to respond to the FOIA request in full, and to permit the responder time to analyze the documents released by FRA."

FRA said it " expects that further extensions of the comment period will not be necessary."

So who was the FOIA seeker, and what did he or she discover?

Our man in Washington is looking into all this.

The FRA said it "will place in the docket a copy of the documents provided to the FOIA requester for this further request. Unredacted versions of all of the documents placed in the docket are available to agency staff and will be used in the agency's review of the Amtrak petition to the extent deemed necessary."

It also said that "Comments received after Jan. 31 will be considered to the extent possible. Amtrak's petition, documents inserted in the docket, and all written communications concerning this proceeding are available for examination during regular business hours (9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) at DOT Central Docket Management Facility, Room PL-401 (Plaza Level), 400 Seventh, SW, Washington, D.C. 20590-0001."

It added that "all documents in the public docket are also available for inspection and copying on the Internet at the docket facilityĖs Web site at http://dms.dot.gov."
 
 

Corridor lines÷

Canada

The Canadian government has abandoned its plan to privatize Via Rail Canada, and will now increase its contribution to the ailing passenger rail service, the Globe and Mail newspaper reported.

However, the exact amount of the infusion to Via's current annual budget of $170 million (Canadian) has not yet been determined, sources said.

The increased funds to the rail service were not included in CanadaĖs new federal budget, published on Feb. 28, but experts see an additional $30 million a year and a one-time injection of about $400 million for new rolling stock as necessary.
 
 

Wisconsin

A consortium of nine Midwest states and Amtrak released the final executive report on the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative (MWRRI) that confirms the viability of a 3,000-mile Midwest passenger rail network radiating from Chicago. The report was published Feb. 23.

"Utilizing the latest in train technology, a regionally-focused high-speed passenger rail service is an economically viable transportation alternative that will offer travelers fast and frequent access to urban centers and smaller communities along the routes," said Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, who is also AmtrakĖs board chairman.

The first phase of the Midwest Rail initiative in Wisconsin will be completion of the Milwaukee to Madison high-speed rail link expected to be ready by the end of 2003. When it is operational in 2010, Midwest Rail is forecast to carry 9.6 million passengers annually and earn enough revenue to cover operating costs.

Using largely existing rail corridors, modern trains capable of safely traveling at speeds up to 110 mph will reduce travel times by up to 30 percent from existing rail service, according to the report.

Midwest Rail is expected to offer downtown-to-downtown connections for business and leisure travelers, increased safety for train passengers and crews, motor vehicles and pedestrians at highway-rail crossings at grade through improvements to rail infrastructure, and about 2,000 new railroad jobs along with 4,000 construction jobs are expected.

$2.6 billion in public and private sector investment will be spent in downtown location development. Midwest Rail will be gradually implemented over 10-years, and includes the states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

Planned high-speed rail routes in Wisconsin would extend from Chicago to Milwaukee, Green Bay, Madison, La Crosse and the Twin Cities.

Over the past 16 months, the MWRRI study team said it reviewed financial, operational, ridership, and service considerations for the system. The finalized report concludes that a $4.1 billion capital investment will be required, which includes $3.4 billion for infrastructure needs such as track and signal upgrades, additional rail capacity, stations, and highway-railroad crossing improvements. Some $652 million will buy the systemĖs 66 trainsets.

Midwest Regional Rail sponsors are seeking federal funding to cover 80 percent of capital costs.

"The MidwestĖs strong economy and growing population are placing tremendous demands on our highway and airport systems," Thompson said. "High-speed passenger rail offers travelers an attractive alternative to avoid traffic and parking congestion when making regional trips of 500 miles or less."

Release of the executive report follows recent formation of a national coalition of states that will aggressively pursue federal support for high-speed rail initiatives. The coalition could involve as many as 36 states that are planning or already support high-speed or expanded passenger rail service.

The coalitionĖs goals include seeking a dedicated, long-term federal funding source for high-speed rail service, keeping states informed of key technical developments in high-speed rail, examining economies-of-scale opportunities in the procurement of equipment or materials, and providing a forum for states to address high-speed rail implementation issues.
 
 

Pacific Northwest

In the year since the launch of the new Cascades service, annual ridership on the Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor hit a record high of more than 565,100 passenger trips during 1999, according to Amtrak. The trend marked a 150 percent increase since 1993 when Amtrak and the Pacific Northwest states began their joint venture.

Cascades were also rated number-one for customer satisfaction in AmtrakĖs 42-route national system last year. Each month, customers who travel aboard Amtrak are randomly selected to respond to a series of questions to measure their satisfaction level in specific areas of service, the carrier said. Topics included range from on-board crews to stations, food quality, seat comfort, and bathroom cleanliness.

Amtrak claims its service diverted more than 31 million miles of traffic from regional highways and prevented more than 700 tons of air pollution for 1999.

Amtrak and state officials attributed the ridership rise to the launch of the Cascades service and the introduction of new, European-style train equipment, custom-built for the region.
 
 

Oklahoma

The man who spearheaded the return of passenger rail service to Oklahoma City says Tulsa could be left out of future expansion, and Kansas could be a winner as a result.

State Sen. Dave Herbert, the Oklahoma Legislature's leading rail service advocate, has pushed passenger service to Tulsa, but a plan being studied would extend service north through Wichita to Newton, where it would connect with the national rail system, according to published reports.

"That's not a pipe dream," Herbert said. "It's going to happen unless we can get Tulsa hooked up soon."

With heavy subsidies from the federal and state governments, Amtrak resumed service last year between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, but Oklahoma officials say that for the service to survive, it needs to have a northern connection.

The two most likely options are a route going due north to Newton or a route through Tulsa, then north to Kansas City. Last year, the Kansas legislature created a rail task force to look at expanding passenger service and appropriated $150,000 to evaluate different routes. The study is due back to the legislature this month.

Herbert said he would like to connect Oklahoma's two largest cities, Tulsa and Oklahoma City, but that so far estimates are showing the Tulsa route costing between $100 million and $124 million.

The consultant who conducted the feasibility study said several factors are involved in determining the best corridor.

Among those are the existing rail line's physical condition, the level of daily freight activity, the station's location and condition, capital cost for improvement and ridership estimates.

Rail promoters in Kansas say interest in rail travel would increase if more route options were available. Wichita lost its passenger service in 1979.
 
 

North Carolina

Both passenger trains operated by Amtrak in partnership with North Carolina's DOT recorded passenger growth between October and December 1999.

The Piedmont service, in particular, posted the second highest percentage increase among all trains, Amtrak reported. The Piedmont's ridership grew 22.2 percent.

The Piedmont operates between Raleigh and Charlotte, and the Carolinian between Charlotte, Raleigh and New York City.

Some 15,940 people rode the Piedmont during the period, an increase of 2,894. The Carolinian recorded a 5.3 percent increase in ridership, carrying 62,047 passengers, an increase of 3,109 over the previous year.
 
 

Illinois

All four Amtrak routes in Illinois posted strong ridership gains between October and December 1999, according to Amtrak. The Illinois Zephyr, the Illini, the State House and the Hiawatha Service saw increases ranging from 4 to 10.2 percent.

Ridership on Amtrak's Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service showed a healthy gain between October and December 1999 while the train continued to be the best on-time performer in the Amtrak system, according to Amtrak.

"The performance of the Hiawatha Service proves that Amtrak can deliver transportation that customers will support," said Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, Amtrak's chairman.

Amtrak recorded 109,561 riders aboard Hiawatha Service trains during the last three months of 1999, a 4 percent increase from the same period one year earlier. The overall on-time performance of the Hiawatha Service during the period was 98 percent, the best in the Amtrak system. The line recorded 93.5 percent last year, the best record of any Amtrak train in 1999.

Amtrak also credited dispatching by the Canadian Pacific (Soo Line) Railroad and ChicagoĖs commuter railroad, METRA.

The Hiawatha trains operate six round trips daily between Chicago and Milwaukee, and carried 412,951 passengers last year, or 6,658 more riders than the previous year.

Amtrak's Illinois Zephyr, operating between Chicago and Quincy, showed the highest gain for the first quarter with a 10.2 percent increase in ridership over the same period last year, carrying 27,491 passengers. The Illini, operating between Chicago and Carbondale, carried 28,850 passengers, an 8.3 percent ridership gain during the period. The Chicago to St. Louis State House carried 68,970 passengers, a 5.5 percent increase.
 
 

California

The first of forty bi-level rail cars ordered by Amtrak for its new Pacific Surfliner service, rolled out of Alstom's Hornell, N.Y. facility on Feb. 1, bound for Los Angeles. The coach is part of a five-car trainset due for completion in April. An Alstom spokesman said the coach was being delivered to Amtrak ahead of schedule to facilitate staff training in maintenance and operation of the carĖs new systems.

Under a contract awarded in February 1998, Alstom is building eight five-car, bi-level trainsets. Each trainset includes one combination cab control, baggage and coach car; one "custom class" car, two coaches, a combination coach-café.

In service, the train will accommodate 422 passengers. The push-pull trains will be hauled by EMD locomotives, and will operate on AmtrakĖs second busiest route, to be renamed the Pacific Surfliner service, connecting San Diego, Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo.

The blue and silver coach car delivered in seats 90 people.

Amtrak displayed the car to the public at various locations along the Surfliner corridor. In April, it will join the remaining four cars in the first trainset for testing at the AAR-DOT test tracks in Pueblo, Colo.

Meanwhile, on Feb. 19 in La Jolla, more than 75 Amtrak Coaster employees received special service recognition awards, including three for 20 years of injury-free service.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, now vice chairman of AmtrakĖs directors, joined the awards presentation. The celebration commemorated the fifth anniversary of Coaster commuter rail service that Amtrak operates under contract to the North County Transit District.

With an average daily ridership of 4,500 passengers, the 44-mile Coaster route is one of AmtrakĖs fastest growing commuter rail contract services, according to the carrier. During calendar year 1999, commuters made more than 1.2 million passenger trips on the Coaster, representing an eight percent increase over the same period in 1998 and a 59 percent increase over 1996, the first full year since establishing service.

Coaster employees have been the number one safety winner in Amtrak West three of the past five years.
 
 

New Jersey

The New Jersey Transit board approved a $123.4 million contract with Adtranz on Jan. 12 for 24 new, futuristically-styled electric locomotives. They will be higher horsepower units able to pull longer and heavier trains needed to meet an expected surge in ridership from the current 96,350 to 128,500 by 2005.

Existing locos can haul up to nine single-level and five bi-level cars, but the new units will be able to pull 12 single-level cars and 10 double-deck coaches.

"Our rail ridership has grown nearly 20 percent over the past three years alone," said NJ Transit Executive Director Jeffrey Warsh. "We anticipate even greater ridership increases when new services like the Montclair Connection, Newark International Airport Station, and Secaucus Transfer come on line in the next three to five years."

The deal includes an option for four more locomotives.

Û Julian Wolinsky, Rail Transit Online


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