Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 4 No. 9, March 3, 2003
Copyright © 2002, NCI, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - James Furlong
Editor - Leo King

A weekly North American rail and transit update


NCI ANNUAL CONFERENCE...  NCI Annual Conference

April 28, 29

The National Corridors Initiative’s 2003 Conference

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

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

Keynote Speakers:
Hon. Gov. Tom Ridge, Secretary of Homeland Security (Invited)
Amtrak Board Chair John Robert Smith
Amtrak President and CEO David Gunn
Amtrak Board Vice-Chair Michael S. Dukakis
American Public Transportation Assn. President William Millar

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


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

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

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

Click HERE for more information and registration materials. Register On-Line! (Secure Server!)


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MBTA at theFront Yard

NCI: Leo King

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has named a new consortium to run its commuter rail operations. The Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad will take over from Amtrak on July 1. In September 2001, these two strings awaiting their next assignment lay in the “Front Yard,” part of Southampton Street Yard in Boston. The five-year contract is expected to cost $1.1 billion.
Bay state signs deal

New commuter rail
operator in Boston

It took a little while, following some negotiating, but the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has named Amtrak’s replacement to run the “T’s” commuter services.

A consortium, named The Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co. (MBCR), has signed a five-year, $1.1 billion deal to replace Amtrak as the operator of the MBTA’s commuter rail network. Massachusetts Bay will take over the service July 1. The MBTA disclosed the deal February 25.

“We are committed to working in full cooperation with the MBTA to provide superior commuter rail services for the Boston metropolitan area,” Jack Leary, managing director of Massachusetts Bay, said in a press release.

The consortium includes the North American subsidiary of European rail operator Connex, the transport division of France-based Vivendi Universal’s 41 percent-owned Vivendi Environnement unit, Alternate Concepts Inc., a Boston transportation consulting firm, and Bombardier, Inc. of Montreal.

Bombardier owns 20 percent of the new railroad entity. The new carrier will operate and maintain the authority’s fleet of 80 locomotives and 377 coaches. The commuter network is the fifth largest in the U.S., with six lines radiating from North Station and 11 from South Station.

The longest line on the Northside is the Fitchburg route main line at 31.5 miles where it terminates at Littleton, Mass. On the longest south side route, the trains follow the same line as Amtrak’s trains, 44 miles to Providence.

The new railroad company has already begun working with the T to ensure a seamless transition, and it has begun negotiations with the commuter rail’s 1,600 workers, according to the Boston Herald.

“We’ve had a couple of meetings with them. Our talks have been cordial,” said Charlie Moneypenny, chairman of the MBTA Commuter Rail Labor Coalition, which represents 1,300 workers.

“Talks have been fine. We have more talks scheduled and we’ll see where we go. I wouldn’t describe us as close to a deal, but both sides want a deal.”

Last fall, the rail unions balked at Massachusetts Bay’s initial overture. According to a memo obtained by the Herald, it included a $2,000 signing bonus, a 3 to 4 percent pay hike and two additional sick days per year.

Workers, who feel they’ve been short-changed by Amtrak for years, say they are seeking a “significant” wage increase, noting that they earn 15 to 20 percent less than other commuter rail workers in the Northeast.

While failure to strike a deal with the workers could conceivably lead to a shutdown of the commuter rail, T General Manager Mike Mulhern said the agency has no contingency plan in place.

Mulhern said the transition has gone “very well” so far and T officials don’t expect any problems to crop up.

“We’re going to be ready,” said Mulhern.

The contract, which averages $200 million a year, is more than the $180 million the T is paying Amtrak annually, but Mulhern said that’s because the T has consolidated some outside costs within the deal with Massachusetts Bay.

“It’s not apples-to-apples,” said Mulhern. “We took some work that was being performed by others (and incorporated it into the new contract). The first year out it looks like there’s a little bit of a bump in the contract price, but when you factor in the additional scope of service, it’s very favorable to what we pay now.”

Those additional services include things like environmental management responsibilities, station cleaning, insurance, and workers compensation coverage.

Mulhern said the current deal with Amtrak also included annual increases that would have pushed the cost higher than what the T is paying MBCR.

Amtrak didn’t bid on the commuter rail contract. President David Gunn viewed the T’s bid proposal as making “a mockery of the competitive process.” Gunn wrote in an October memo to Amtrak’s board of directors, “The winning bidder will be the one paying the highest salaries.”


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House subcommittees support
railroad, airport connections links

By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

The high-speed “train-to-plane” concept is making a comeback on Capitol Hill – at least in terms of rhetoric from serious people. Congressmen and transportation experts expressed strong support for this approach in a House hearing February 26.

Serious talk of high-speed rail has faded on the radar screen since Amtrak CEO David Gunn arrived on the scene and discouraged it with a “first-things-first and back-to-basics” approach. Nonetheless, the idea refuses to die.

Two subcommittees (representing rail and air travel) of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a joint hearing on using high-speed rail to connect with airports.

Railroads Subcommittee Chairman Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.) said this connection “is a neglected part of our overall national transportation network.”

More rail-air links, he added, “will benefit both the airlines and travelers.”

Rail-air connections are taken for granted in much of Europe, but are relatively rare in the U.S. There are good rail transit connections in Chicago and to one of Washington’s airports, just to name two examples, but nothing in terms of “high speed” connections. The traveler booking a flight from the U.S. to a specific European city may find himself automatically thru-ticketed with a train connection after landing on the ground on the continent.

Another lawmaker expressing a desire for that convenience here was Aviation Subcommittee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.).

“It’s time for Congress to think outside of the box,” he declared. He noted that at some airports like JFK, Newark, LaGuardia, and Reagan National, “it is impossible to expand runways. Even if more runways at our major airports can be added, their multi-million dollar price tag and development costs make connecting transit for short-haul distances an attractive alternative.”

Mica called for a maglev super high-speed line to “free up the Northeast Corridor for commuter and freight service” and “provide a cost-effective solution to our future congestion problems.”

Maglev, while desirable on paper, has serious cost problems that have hindered its advancement even in Europe. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), to cite one pro-rail U.S. lawmaker, has said that maglev proposals he has seen are over the top in terms of money required.

At the hearing, R.E.G. “Ron” Davies, a transportation historian and economist, quipped that maglev has been the wave of the future and it always will be. Proposing high-speed steel wheels on steel rail, he said, is another matter.

“One high-speed double-track occupies only one-tenth of the land needed for a divided highway and the trains can carry 10 times the number of people,” he told the Congressmen.

Transforming airports into “travel ports” was tossed onto the discussion table by Hank Dittmar, the co-director of a group called Reconnecting America.

“The idea,” he said, “is to turn airport terminals into travel ports where rail, bus, and urban transit would be added to the traditional mix of aviation, parking and rental cars.”

This gets right down to the core issue, a coordinated transportation system for America, something that eluded this country in the years immediately following World War II.

“Although intermodalism is often mentioned as a policy goal,” observed Quinn, “it is seldom carried out in practice.”

Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska), who heads the parent committee, is an ardent supporter of high-speed rail, as are Mica and Quinn. The problem over the years has been getting the visions off the drawing boards and into reality. Money and “NIMBYism” have been pivotal impediments.

Still, when one considers rail transit connections or planned (not high-speed, but convenient) connections in such cities as Washington, Chicago, and San Francisco, the old adage that one can expect to “crawl before you walk and walk before you run” gains currency.

The committee noted that air travel has increased 123 percent since 1980. The lawmakers also cited estimates from the Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry that the cost of aviation delays to the U.S. economy range from $9 billion in 2000 to over $30 billion annually by 2015.

The discussion of high-speed rail will continue.

Amtrak CEO David Gunn, who did not testify before the hearing, has said, in effect, “Don’t look at me. I’ve got my hands full keeping the current system running in first class condition and improving it on an incremental basis.”

By narrowing the focus specifically to the air-rail connection, the discussion (outside the realm of Amtrak) may sink in with planners who in the past have been oblivious to the concept.

Meanwhile, the full House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved a group of bills aimed at upgrading security for the various conveyances that move Americans. One of them provides assistance to families of passenger train accident victims.

HR 874 requires the National Transportation Safety Board designate both a director of family support services within the agency, and “an independent party outside of government” to help address the needs of families of victims of rail passenger accidents.

This bill would apply to accidents involving intercity passenger trains “and interstate high-speed rail passenger carriers.” It does not apply to rapid transit, commuter or excursion trains.

Another part of the bill sends a “Down, boy! Down, boy!” message to professional ambulance chasers. It prohibits trial lawyers from making unsolicited communications with families or individuals injured in the accident, other than an employee of the rail passenger carrier, before the 45th day following the accident.

The passenger carriers would be required to submit plans to the NTSB and the DOT Secretary outlining how they plan to address the needs of families of passengers involved in an accident.

The measure was sponsored by Committee Chairman Young (D-Alaska) and Railroads Chairman Quinn and the ranking members on those panels, David Oberstar (D-Minn.) and Corrine Brown (D-Fla).

The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is online at www.house.gov/transportation.


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Hutchison pledges to fight for Amtrak

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) last week pledged to fight for enough funding for Amtrak to keep the rail system efficient. She said she will again will seek full funding for Amtrak, despite efforts by the Bush administration and Congress to trim spending.

“I just don’t want to give up on Amtrak; but I want it to operate efficiently,” Hutchison told Texas reporters who gathered in her Capitol Hill office, reported the San Antonio Express-News on February 27.

Lawmakers recently compromised and agreed to give Amtrak $1.05 billion for the current fiscal year, which began October 1.

Amtrak officials last week said they would need $1.8 billion in fiscal year 2004 to keep its passenger service operating coast-to-coast, including two routes that pass through the Lone Star State.

The Texas Eagle, which runs from San Antonio to Chicago, and the Sunset Limited from Florida to California with Texas stops that include San Antonio, have been threatened annually with elimination. More than 45,000 passengers board those trains in San Antonio, according to Amtrak, and in Texas, the carrier employs more than 200 workers with an annual payroll of $11.7 million.

Hutchison said Amtrak has been “starved” for resources to maintain infrastructure and make capital improvements, but is finally getting a financial footing.


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S&P may cut Amtrak’s ‘BBB-minus’ rating

Standard & Poor’s financial rating service reported last Tuesday (February 25) its “BBB-minus issuer credit and unsecured debt ratings on Amtrak remain on CreditWatch with developing implications, where they were placed Nov. 13, 2001.”

S&P made the rating despite Amtrak getting its fiscal year 2003 appropriation of $1.05 billion.

The New York firm added, “While this amount was somewhat below the $1.2 billion that Amtrak had requested, the company also received an unspecified extension on repayment of a $100 million loan it received in the summer of 2002. The appropriation will enable the company to maintain its operations through September 2003.”

The company also noted Amtrak has requested $1.8 billion in funding for fiscal 2004, “and has indicated it will need approximately $2 billion a year through 2008, primarily for capital projects. Thus far, the Bush administration has proposed $900 million for fiscal 2004, and has indicated Amtrak must reform itself. The administration has proposed the elimination of underused and inefficient long-distance routes and the reduction of overhead operations where other options could perform them more efficiently.”

S&P credit analyst Betsy Snyder said, “Amtrak’s fiscal 2003 $1.05 billion appropriation will aid the company over the intermediate term, but longer-term questions remain as to the structure and magnitude of its operations, which will depend on the level of future and ongoing appropriations.”

Resolution of the CreditWatch, “which is anticipated to occur in the near future,” according to S&P, “will be determined by an assessment of the company’s financial and operating plans over both the intermediate and longer terms. The ratings on Amtrak would likely be affirmed if Standard & Poor’s determines that the company should be able to secure sufficient funding to maintain its operations. Ratings could be raised if administration support is evidenced by secure access to long-term funding that will enable Amtrak to maintain its operations and invest in infrastructure. Alternatively, if adequate funding is uncertain over the near to intermediate term, ratings would likely be lowered.”

S&P explained, “The issuer credit rating reflects Amtrak’s important public service role, and continued assistance from the federal government, offset by a very weak financial profile and uncertainty over Amtrak’s future form. Amtrak is the only provider of long-distance passenger rail transportation in the U.S. and is an important contract operator of commuter and short haul rail service in various markets.”

The financial experts also spelled out how important politics are to the railroad.

“Substantial evidence of political support is reflected in the current ratings because, without such support, Amtrak could not cover its cash operating expenses from operating revenues. However, Congressional support may not extend to the full system or to the current structure. The federal government has historically been a primary source of operating and capital funds since Amtrak’s creation in 1971.”


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The ‘fat lady’ has not sung

“Of course, what the ‘fat lady’ in an opera would sing is “...until the twelfth of never, and that’s a long, long time.”

What San Francisco travel agent Gene Poon was talking about was the 79 mph speed limit, which is supposed to happen on Amtrak’s Downeaster route between Boston’s North Station and Portland, Maine.

The STB ruled for a third time, and that was it, right?

Wrong.

On February 20, Guilford Rail System filed a “Petition for Reconsideration regarding STB docket FD33697, which is entitled National Railroad Passenger Corporation, Petition for Declaratory Action – Weight of Rail,” on behalf of Boston & Maine Corp., Springfield Terminal Corp., and Portland Terminal Co.

Guilford is claiming that despite the reconstruction of the track and roadbed to Class 4 standards (60 mph freight, 79 mph passenger), it should still be the right of Guilford to set a lower speed limit because it is the sole discretion of Guilford to determine what speed is safe.

Stay tuned.


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Rails spread under Texas GulfLiner

No one was injured February 23 when a trailing locomotive on a slow-moving charter train in Texas went on the ground under spread rails. The train, just pulling into Galveston on Sunday night, resulted in a bus ride home for about 40 passengers. The lead engine and the train’s four passenger cars remained on the track.

The Texas GulfLiner, a charted Amtrak trainset that operates on busy tourist weekends, was moving at 2 or 3 mph when the locomotive fell between the rails, said John Dundee, executive director of the Galveston Railroad Museum. The train halted within sight of the museum, where it was to arrive at 6:30 p.m., from League City, according to The Daily News.

The museum, located in the former Galveston offices for the Santa Fe Railroad, was also the depot.

Dundee, a former railroad engineer and general manager of Galveston’s trolley system, said derailments were commonplace.

“Was it bad news? – yes,” he said. “It looks bad and it sounds bad, but it happens every day on every railroad in the world.”

The locomotive was rerailed the following day and the track was repaired.

Dundee said the tracks passed inspection prior to the train’s running during Mardi Gras. It was making third leg of the day and was to depart Galveston for League City at 7 p.m.

Many of the passengers were taking a round-trip for the experience of being on a passenger train, Dundee said. The Goodman Corp., the city’s transportation consultant active in getting the Amtrak service, refunded tickets.

The Texas GulfLiner is a demonstration project aimed at showing the benefits of rail at times highway traffic into Galveston is congested.


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Amtrak looks to cut jobs

Amtrak’s management wants to cut jobs on some trains, and the number of workers at its repair shops in Delaware and Indiana, moves that would require concessions from the workers’ unions.

“There are rules that dictate how many employees of a certain position need to be on a certain train,” Amtrak spokesman Dan Stessel said. “We would like to review those rules with the unions to see if those numbers are necessary. For example, on long-distance routes, you need a certain number of conductors, and we might want to reduce that number.”

Stessel said Amtrak’s president, David Gunn, also wanted to reexamine the number of people in Amtrak’s major shops in Wilmington, Del., and Beech Grove, Ind., as well as in smaller shops around the country, according to States News Service of February 23.

A spokesman for one of the 13 unions representing Amtrak workers said they would listen to what Gunn had to say, but urged the management to remain open-minded.

“We certainly will talk to them and have an open mind with regard to their proposals,” said Frank Wilner, a spokesman for the United Transportation Union, which represents about 4,000 Amtrak conductors. “We will have some thoughts as well, and we hope their minds will be as open as ours will be.”

Wilner said his union’s priority is “to ensure that we preserve and expand a national intercity rail passenger network. We consistently have said to Amtrak management that we are prepared to sit down and talk about ways to mutually achieve that goal.”

The Beech Grove repair facility employs about 560 people, but that total is about 225 fewer workers than a year ago. Each week, workers at the maintenance yard in the southern Marion County city of Beech Grove overhaul a diesel locomotive and refurbish 17 cars. The railroad recently started bringing back furloughed employees at Beech Grove.

Amtrak also has rehired about 40 of 178 electricians, machinists, pipe fitters, and sheet-metal workers who were furloughed last February from its Delaware shops.

Gunn said Amtrak now has about 22,500 positions, about 500 fewer than when he took over in May. About 200 of those cuts have been management positions.

“We’re very interested in improving our efficiency,” Stessel said. “We’ve been under the microscope and we’re struggling to survive.”

Gunn said the national passenger carrier would seek work-rule concessions from its major unions representing 20,000 engineers, conductors, maintenance people, ticket sellers, and other employees as part of its drive to operate more efficiently.

“We’re not talking about being draconian; we’re being reasonable,” Gunn said. “We have to be efficient. We’re fighting for our survival.”

Stessel said Gunn had not yet scheduled a formal meeting with the unions to discuss changes in work rules, but one is expected within the next few weeks.


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Amtrak continues Missouri service

Encouraged by the prospect of getting more money, Amtrak said Thursday (February 27) that it has decided to continue its twice-daily passenger train service between St. Louis and Kansas City. The passenger railroad had threatened to eliminate one of the two trains on March 1 if the state did not come up with an additional $1.2 million to subsidize the service from March through June.

Missouri’s legislature has not given final approval to the money, but the House has approved an additional $800,000. That legislation is now pending in the Senate, according to The AP.

“We are encouraged by that, so we decided to keep operating the trains in the hopes that we can work something out for the continuation of service,” said Amtrak spokeswoman Kathleen Cantillon in Chicago.

House budget leaders assumed the remaining $400,000 sought by Amtrak could be covered through service cuts, such as a $5 boarding surcharge and the elimination of staff at the Jefferson City and Kirkwood depots.

The staffing cuts will take effect April 1 and save about $80,000 over the final three months of the fiscal year that ends June 30, said Brian Weiler, director of multimodal operations for the Missouri DOT.

The $5 surcharge, still being negotiated with Amtrak, would run from April through September and would be charged each time a person boards a train at any stop between St. Louis and Kansas City, Weiler said.

“Amtrak has agreed in principal to that concept,” although it may be a first-of-its kind experiment nationally, Weiler said.

Cantillon said Amtrak was still in discussions with state officials about service cuts that could reduce the state’s costs. She left open the possibility that Amtrak still could be forced to halt one of the two trains at some later date.

“Whether we’re able to continue operating through the end of the fiscal year will depend on how much money is approved and how (lawmakers) decide to spend the money,” Cantillon said.

When preparing the current state budget, lawmakers decided last year to appropriate $5 million for Amtrak service, instead of the $6.2 million requested for a full year’s worth of twice daily train service. That funding difference is what led to the recent uncertainty about Amtrak service.

For the next year’s budget, Amtrak has requested $6.4 million to operate the trains at their current level of service. The permanent staffing cuts would shave $320,000 off that, Weiler said. The $5 boarding surcharge also could be continued, he said.

Under the current schedule, Amtrak trains leave both St. Louis and Kansas City around 7:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., stopping at eight cities in between as they cross paths.

If service had been cut, the only options would have been an eastbound 7:30 a.m. train from Kansas City and a westbound 3:30 p.m. train from St. Louis.


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Ohio could lose all Amtrak service
under Bush’s plan, say Ohioans

Ohio would lose all intercity passenger rail service under President Bush’s proposed transportation budget. It slashes Amtrak funding for its long-distance trains, effectively eliminating them.

“Ohio’s only rail passenger service comes from long-distance trains, so where does that leave us? It leaves us with nothing,” said Ohio Association of Railroad Passengers (OARP) Administrative Director Stu Nicholson on February 10.

“Worse,” Nicholson added, “without the basic foundation of our existing Amtrak service, the development of higher speed train services will be more difficult and expensive.”

OARP is a nonprofit, educational organization founded in 1973 advocating service and safety improvements to intercity passenger rail and urban transit services.

He said the Ohio Rail Development Commission (ORDC) is now studying faster, more-frequent passenger rail services, and “Amtrak’s trains provide ‘a foot in the door’ to implement the ORDC’s plans,” Nicholson said.

He noted that according to a poll conducted in 2001 by The Ohio State Univ. Center for Survey Research, “Four out of five Ohioans (80.2 percent) said they support governmental efforts to develop passenger rail in Ohio. Three out of four Ohioans (74.1 percent) said a modern, convenient and effective passenger rail network would improve the quality of life in Ohio.”

Those results are similar to opinions on a national level. The U.S. Conference of Mayors’ survey in 2000 stated there was extensive sentiment in support of passenger trains. Those surveys were taken before the terrorist attacks in September 2001, which “exposed our lack of transportation options.”

In a CNN poll conducted last January 24, 82 percent said “yes” to the question, “Is Amtrak worth another $2 billion dollars a year in taxpayer money?”

“In a post-September 11 world, Americans want more transportation choices, not less,” Nicholson said. “Other, albeit less dramatic disruptions, like bad weather, traffic jams and construction, expose our lack of travel choices daily. Our economic productivity would be that much stronger with a balanced transportation system that includes passenger rail service.”

He said the Bush Administration’s view toward passenger trains “exposes a troubling double-standard in comparison to its funding approach toward other modes of transportation.”

Perhaps preaching to the choir within these pages, he spelled out some details.

“Infrastructure used by privately owned motor vehicles and airplanes is heavily subsidized as it is owned, administered and financed by the federal government. For passenger rail, the exact opposite is the case, with the tracks privately owned and the passenger trains subsidized by the federal government, albeit with no permanent capital trust fund,” he added.

“Commercial aviation has had more losses than profits in its 75 years of existence, according to the USDOT,” Nicholson said, “yet no one is proposing to eliminate its subsidies.”

He said that includes the Essential Air Service subsidy to prop up unprofitable service to 114 small cities, the FAA’s multi-billion-dollar funding and ownership of the air traffic control system, tax-exempt construction bonds for airports, and the property tax exemption for airports.

“Without these programs, commercial aviation would be in worse straits than it already is, and probably would cease to exist,” Nicholson exclaimed.

On the highway side, he said the double-standard argument is at least as compelling.

“Governmental ownership of highway infrastructure gives it benefits railroads do not enjoy, such as a property tax exemption, whereas railroads must pay $500 million per year in property taxes,” according to the American Association of Railroads. Highways also enjoy “tax-exempt construction bonds and substantial petroleum and auto use subsidies to keep the per gallon price of gas artificially low,” he said.

He spelled out the highway situation in more detail.

“Petroleum and auto use subsidies are particularly compelling. According to the International Center for Technology Assessment, these subsidies amount to $558.7 billion to $1.69 trillion per year. In their absence, the retail price of gasoline would skyrocket to a per-gallon price of $5.60 to $15.14, if those subsidies were offset by gas taxes paid at the pump.

“If governmental subsidies didn’t exist and we again let the marketplace determine the shape of our transportation system, that system would look vastly different – but government subsidies for all forms of transportation aren’t going away anytime soon. That is, unless you ask the Bush Administration about Amtrak,” Nicholson said.

Ohio Assn. of Railroad Passengers in online at http://www.oarprail.org/, but the site is under construction.


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Augusta looks for trains

Trains may once again be carrying passengers to Maine capital in Augusta.

“I think it’s going to happen, and it’s not too early for the city of Augusta to plan for it,” said Ron Roy of Maine’s DOT. Trains may be running on the city’s west-side tracks later this decade and possibly farther north, he said.

The Kennebec Journal reported on February 27 that Augusta’s city council on March 3 will consider adopting a resolution that encourages DOT to extend passenger train service from Brunswick to Augusta and beyond to Bangor. The state is also proposing to run passenger trains to Lewiston-Auburn, and planners have spent six years working on that project.

Amtrak trains currently operate from Boston to Portland, Maine.

Jack Sutton of Belgrade, chairman of the Maine Rail Passenger Corridor Committee, said he is concerned that the DOT could bypass Augusta and connect Lewiston-Auburn with Bangor. He drew that conclusion by citing a DOT report published in 1998-99.

“Curiously, there’s no future passenger service shown between Augusta and Bangor,” Sutton told councilors earlier this week in urging them to approve the resolution.

Other cities and towns in the area have already passed similar non-binding measures. They include Hallowell, Gardiner, Richmond, Fairfield, Waterville, and Bowdoinham. The city councils in Brunswick and Bangor have also asked the DOT to make sure that passenger trains serve Augusta and Waterville.

Mayor William Dowling of Augusta said the city would benefit from the link.

“I’d really like to see train service back in Augusta. What you’ve got out there now is a rubber tire railway going up and down the turnpike,” he said. Rail passenger service was popular in Maine before the 1960s.

Maine Coast Railroad in 2000 started a passenger line between Richmond and Augusta, but the business eventually failed. Maine DOT owns the track between those two communities, which runs along the Kennebec River.

The track on the east side of Augusta and into Waterville is owned by Guilford Industries. The rail bridge connecting the east and west sides, just north of the downtown Father Curran Bridge, is in good shape, said Roy.

He said the city could start preparing now for passenger train service.

“It’s not too early for them to think of the other pieces,” said Roy, the former manager of Augusta State Airport. Establishing train service is a complicated process, he said.

For instance, the municipal administrators in Brunswick, Freeport and Auburn have developed plans to connect train passengers with other forms of transportation and with other destinations such as shopping centers. DOT prefers that new stations and platforms for passengers to board and depart trains be built in downtown areas, Roy said.

He said Augusta has time to consider where a train platform could be located and buy the land. The downtown Greyhound-Vermont Bus Lines station and the airport would be part of the city transportation mix by complementing one another.

He added, before DOT commits to Augusta, everything should be in place and federal and state funds must be available, and the Amtrak line from Boston to Portland must continue to be viable.

“One of our concerns is that you can’t fail. If you get out too far ahead without ensuring the stability below you (the Amtrak service), you’re doomed,” he said, when asked when DOT could confirm Augusta as a passenger train destination.

Passenger rail service is relevant here because a large number of state workers could use the train to commute to and from work, he noted. He also said extending the line from Brunswick to Bangor, via Augusta, would be advantageous for those cities and towns along the route.

Councilor Stanley Koski brought the resolution to the council’s attention.

“It’s obviously something I support,” he said at a recent meeting. Only Councilor Thomas Sotir expressed reservations about the board endorsing the proposal. Other councilors indicated support, but said they needed more information before voting for the resolution.

Roy said the next passenger rail extension in Maine will be from Portland to Brunswick. Bangor could be connected, as a lower-tier priority, from the Lewiston-Auburn line, he said.

Although no passenger train service is available in Augusta now, Guilford freight trains deliver supplies on the east side to businesses, including a steel firm and a feed supply house.


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Georgia solon looks for fast-tracks cash

Opening a new chapter in his push for a high-speed rail network linking the Southeast, Rep. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) said Wednesday he will ask Congress for $10 million to study the concept.

Isakson, who has long championed the idea, told reporters and business leaders from the South that he will seek the funding under a bill that will pay for highway construction over the next seven years, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on February 27.

Congress is expected to pass the bill this spring, and while many legislators will be asking for money for projects, Isakson said he’s confident his request will be approved. Getting the federal and state governments to fund the rest of the project, which is pegged at $5 billion, will be a bit harder, but once the rail system is in place, Isakson said, it will be run privately and will not be subsidized by the government.

So far, business leaders in the Southeastern Economic Alliance – a coalition of 14 chambers of commerce across six states – have allocated $300,000 toward the project, which aims to link cities from Birmingham to Washington via Atlanta, with trains traveling 100 mph.

Another route Isakson advocates would begin in Chattanooga and make three stops in Georgia, at Atlanta, Macon and Savannah.

Business leaders say high-speed rail would give commuters an alternative to air travel, spur economic growth and help ease congestion on major roadways such as I-85. It would also help air quality by reducing traffic.

Amtrak serves the region now, but it doesn’t make enough stops to accommodate the needs of business travelers, said Milton Jones, president of Bank of America Georgia and co-chairman of the alliance.

Only two trains, the Crescent, one northbound, the other southward, call on Atlanta today. No. 19 operates daily between New York City and New Orleans, and departs Atlanta at 9:18 a.m. daily. Its counterpart departs at 8:09 p.m.

“We think this opens up a tremendous opportunity for a whole new industry,” Jones said at Wednesday’s news conference.

“This is a unique opportunity, and we think the time has come.”

Isakson, who has been working with Rep. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) on the project, also said high-speed rail would make it easier and more convenient for tourists to travel throughout the Southeast.

“Seven years ago, I took my wife to Europe,” he said. “We flew from Atlanta to Paris, we got on a high-speed bullet train from Paris to Nice, and we were in an automobile from Nice and went to [another city], and it was easy as pie.” Isakson expects to request the funding for the study in the next few weeks.


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COMMUTER LINES...

Greenbush restoration hits a snag

Rail supporters were glum last week when they learned the Greenbush, Mass., commuter rail line restoration has been delayed six months. The line is nearly an 18-mile branch from the Old Colony line – but it is also a project that has divided Scituate residents for years.

Now, town officials are wondering when or if Scituate will get the $10.4 million in funds promised in the mitigation agreement inked with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, The Scituate Mariner reported on February 20.

A fortnight ago, the MBTA halted all construction work on the 17.7-mile commuter rail line running from Scituate to Boston due to permitting problems and wetlands issues that could plague the project down the line. The design process and permitting is still moving forward, but for all intents and purposes, the project is on hold, said the town’s MBTA liaison Susan Phippen.

“We’re really at a crossroads right now,” said Phippen. “We really don’t know what this is going to mean and we won’t for a while.”

Phippen said several of the Army Corps of Engineers permits dealing with historical resources, wetland-designated areas and issues with the Clean Water Act are at the forefront for delays involving Scituate, while larger issues with contractors in Braintree are causing some uneasiness with project.

Scituate signed its $10.4 mitigation deal with the MBTA in March and construction was slated to begin in Scituate next month. After the preliminary brush-clearing along the tracks was finished last fall, the biggest step was to be the demolition of the Stockbridge Road bridge scheduled for March 1, but without the necessary permits, such a move would not make sense, Phippen said.

Scituate officials are more concerned with how, when and if the mitigation money will come through, and what it will mean for other projects dependent on that money.

The MBTA issued its “Intent to Proceed Construction” to the town January 10, meaning payments for the mitigation money would begin in 60 days, or March 10 – but with the project’s delay, officials say they must now wait and see.

Gannett Road resident Gilman Wilder said he and many of his neighbors are delighted with the decision to delay the project and hopes it is a sign the train may not come at all.

“I’ve been hoping [Gov. Mitt] Romney would put a thumb on it, and hopefully he still will,” Wilder said. “I’m overjoyed (with the news) I’ve had no love for the project for the last 20 years anyway.”

Wilder said he’s hoping this delay will give the MBTA an opportunity to seriously consider what Greenbush would do to an already “horrendous” budget.

“There are too many questions without any answers,” he said, and officials are saying that although this delay isn’t necessarily the project’s demise, it could mean future trouble – both financially and logistically – for the Greenbush restoration line.

“In some people’s minds, this is proving what many of us have been saying for many years: the MBTA has been low-balling this all along,” according to one source.

“I think if they take an honest look at the project and the cost per rider and look honestly at alternatives to the project, they may reconsider all of this.”


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Blue Line expansion to Lynn inches forward

Two of five alternatives under study by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority would bring the Blue Line to Lynn, but both depend on federal funding.

“We’re doing a draft environmental impact statement,” said Assistant General Manager for Planning and Real Estate at the MBTA, Dennis DiZoglio. To obtain federal funding, which the project will need to be completed, the “T” must show it has looked at alternative plans, he explained to the Lynn Daily Item on February 25.

The first alternative is to look at the result of doing nothing, to illustrate what would happen if the Blue Line were not extended; the second is a low-cost alternative that would include things like adding more buses instead of extending the rail line.

Alternative three is a plan to connect the existing Wonderland Blue Line stop to a commuter rail stop to be located behind the Wonderland Dog Track.

The final two alternatives would be direct routes to Lynn. One is by way of the Point of Pines neighborhood with what MBTA officials call the Narrow Gauge corridor; the other is referred to as the eastern branch and runs along the existing commuter rail line.

Lynn Mayor Edward “Chip” Clancy was unavailable for comment but Jamie Marsh, the mayor’s chief of staff, said Clancy feels “any which way they can get it here, just get it here.”

Marsh said he is aware both the direct routes have hurdles, one environmental and one with Point of Pines residents, but said, “Clancy is ready to jump those hurdles to get us there.”

DiZoglio noted the Point of Pines area has seen a lot of recent development and neighbors are not happy with the idea of the Blue Line being extended.

He agreed the eastern branch would propose certain environmental obstacles because it runs through a marsh, but said engineers are looking at building trestles for the train rather than filling in the area.

Clancy is a strong advocate for bringing the Blue Line to the North Shore for three reasons – to allow state services to open satellite offices in the city, to allow residents cheaper and faster access to Boston, and to give businesses the ability to come into the city and still have access to a broad spectrum of customers and workers.

Marsh said Lynn has had no problem attracting business such as “dot-com” companies because they are not dependent on foot traffic, but he would love to see Lynn become home to outlet stores or other retail-based industries.

Marsh said extending the Blue Line to Lynn also provides a cheaper form of transportation to people who work in Boston.

“You’re talking $20 a day to drive versus a buck on rapid transit,” he said.

Marsh said Clancy also supports the expansion effort because it would allow state services, such as the Department of Health and Human Services, to open satellite offices in Lynn.

“Under the existing law, state services can’t relocate to Lynn because they have to have access to rapid transit,” Marsh explained. “We are out of that concentric circle if you will.

“It’s an absolute ripple effect of bringing people in, and bringing people out,” Marsh said. “We’re isolated without it.”

Unlike Clancy’s “any which way you can” attitude, Revere Mayor Thomas Ambrosino is opposed to extending the Blue Line as a straight shot through to Lynn.

“A straight shot would have too much of an impact on our neighborhoods. Our preference is to locate behind Wonderland (Dog Track),” he said.

Ambrosino has been a vocal proponent of bringing commuter rail to Revere, but said he could in no way support the Narrow Gauge alternative and said locating a stop behind the dog track has an added bonus.

“There is room to put a commuter rail stop there as well,” he said.

DiZoglio said once the alternatives are filed with the federal government and each has been analyzed, the MBTA will choose the preferred alternative.

“We should know by springtime,” DiZoglio said. “We’re close to having the information to make a decision soon and once we have the decision we can take that to Congress and ask for funding.”

Congress may approve a new national transportation bill in October.


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Connecticut stations scaled back;
Shore Line East is in a service quandary

A new station for Madison and three of the other Connecticut towns will only be an ADA-compatible elevated platform and canopy on the south side of the tracks.

With a project to rebuild the Quinnipiac River Bridge near New Haven, and major construction on Interstate 95 from New Haven to Branford, state DOT officials are attempting to provide some alternatives for shoreline commuters, according to the Shore Line Times of February 26.

Plans announced last summer included ambitious improvements to the DOT’s Shoreline East commuter rail service, including more frequent service from the shoreline towns to New Haven, and improvements to facilities in those towns, including 400 parking spaces per station; but now, due to financial issues and changes from Amtrak, plans are being scaled back considerably.

According to First Selectman Thomas Scarpati, the original plan called for new stations in Branford, Guilford, Madison, Clinton and Westbrook, and each would have a platform beside each of two tracks and an elevated “up and over” pedestrian walkway that could also be accessed by elevator.

The new stations would be compliant with ADA regulations and would not interfere with Amtrak’s Acela Express high-speed trains.

Amtrak new administration, in conjunction with the state DOT, reviewed those requirements and concluded that there need not be ‘up and overs,’” said Scarpati.

As a result, the new station for Madison and three of the other towns will consist of only an ADA-compatible elevated platform and canopy on the south side of the tracks. The town of Guilford, however, will retain its original “up and over” plan due to its parking configuration, and because it recently spent almost $900,000 in a land purchase, some of which will be used for parking on the north side of the tracks – the inbound track toward New Haven and New York.

The plan for 400 parking spaces in Madison is still on the table and will be located on Bradley Road near Route 79 where the town’s Laidlaw school buses are currently parked now. Scarpati said the town is looking for a new parking lot for the buses.

Construction on the stations in Branford, Guilford and Clinton is slated to go out to bid and begin at the end of this year, but in Madison and Westbrook construction will not begin until a year later. Madison and Westbrook stations are on new sites, which have to undergo evaluation for environmental impact, whereas the other three towns have already undergone such preliminary review.

Also to be scaled back is the more frequent service that DOT had originally discussed. Scarpati was hoping for more frequent service to Madison on weekdays as well as the addition of service on weekends, which currently does not exist. When he and the four first selectmen of the other shoreline towns met with DOT Commissioner James Byrne February 11, they learned that this was not in the cards for the foreseeable future due to cost.

Scarpati reported that the cars being used for Shoreline East runs are somewhat older used cars that are expensive to maintain and thus kept in limited service.

Any service expansion would require either more trains – new or used – the money for which would have to be approved by the state legislature. As it is, the state spends $1 million a year in subsidies for the service.

Shore Line East ridership is at only about one third capacity, so many officials feel the cost of new trains would not be justified by the demand. “You can argue that if there were more trains, more times available, there would be more people that use it,” said Scarpati, “and they’re saying ‘when people start using it, then we’ll think about putting more on.’”


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PATH writes WTC station timetable

The Port Authority of New York reports that a temporary PATH station at the World Trade Center site is scheduled to open in December. Meanwhile, an Exchange Place station in Jersey City will open in June, with new connecting ferry service to lower Manhattan.

The World Trade Center station, destroyed on September 11, 2001, caused flooding in the downtown PATH tunnels and at Exchange Place.

The Port Authority described work on the PATH system at a meeting of advisory committees to the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. (LMDC) on February 20, reports Mobilizing the Region of February 24, a weekly bulletin from the non-profit Tri-State Transportation Campaign in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

To make Exchange Place a temporary terminal, the port authority had to excavate a new track crossing. Flooding in the tunnel required a thorough overhaul of the line under the Hudson, including new electrical and signal equipment, and new track underpinnings.

A port authority spokesperson said the refurbished tunnel would provide a smoother, faster and quieter ride under the Hudson, but it will not permit additional train service at peak hours because the new signals do not extend farther than Jersey City.

PATH is working on a broader signal modernization that will not be complete for some time.

PATH officials project 50-53,000 trips in each direction through the temporary station (presumably for its first year of operation), down from 66-67,000 prior to the Trade Center attack.

The temporary World Trade Center site station now being built will be roofed, but not fully enclosed or heated. The authority said its work on the temporary station anticipates construction of the permanent station on the same site.

Port Authority presentations to date on the future station have depicted a design featuring extensive natural lighting and an open, multi-level concourse design that will link the PATH terminal to lower Manhattan subway lines.

The Thursday LMDC meeting focused entirely on Port Authority projects. No one from the MTA or NYC Transit was present, though a New York Daily News report Friday said MTA planners were pushing for the overall plan in other public meetings. Thursday also omitted any discussion of various West Street tunnel proposals.

Much of the meeting was taken up by the objections of family members of people lost in the World Trade Center attack to Port Authority plans to locate bus parking underground in the “bathtub” foundation area. Planners anticipate that a World Trade Center memorial will draw significant numbers of tour buses, potentially adding to the bus parking and idling burden that downtown already suffers.

Some of the family members feel that bus parking would be a violation of the hallowed nature of the attack site. However, they do not seem to object to the presence of the PATH station, whose construction is already occupying a significant portion of the “bathtub” area.

According to a recent edition of the Downtown Express, Gov. George Pataki’s recent request to federal officials stated, “safe pedestrian across West St. will be restored. Such restoration will likely occur through the tunneling of some portion of Route 9A.” It is still unclear what portion would be submerged and how much of the federal rebuilding fund would be spent on such a project.

One Year to PATH MetroCard Compatibility

A port authority spokesman told Lower Manhattan Development Corp. advisory committees last week that the PATH system would accept fare payments by MetroCard by the end of 2003 or in the first few months of 2004. That statement appears to be the first by the authority that puts a timetable on implementation of PATH’s new fare system.


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JFK rail link may be ready by June

AirTrain, which will link Manhattan and JFK Airport, with stops in Howard Beach & Jamaica, may be ready by June.

Despite being delayed after a fatal accident last year, the AirTrain could start operating to Kennedy Airport by then, a Port Authority official said.

“AirTrain will open this year,” Charles McClafferty said at a news conference last week that detailed his agency’s $5billion budget for 2003, according to the New York Daily News of February 24.

McClafferty is chief financial officer for the Port Authority, which operates the airport and is building the AirTrain, the light-rail link from lower Manhattan to Kennedy Airport.

Though test runs for AirTrain have been suspended since the September 27 accident that claimed the life of 23-year-old engineer Kelvin DeBourgh, McClafferty expressed confidence that the service, which will link the airport to the city’s subway and commuter rail systems, would be open this summer.

“We’re still waiting for the final investigation,” he said, “[but] we expect it to happen soon.”

Though the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) inquiry into the crash is continuing, it has said that 16,000 pounds of concrete ballast, used to simulate the weight of passengers on the train, was unsecured and slid and crushed DeBourgh as the train made a turn.

Canada-based Bombardier, AirTrain’s builder, said the train was traveling between 55 mph and 58 mph, exceeding the 25-mph maximum speed for the curved section of track.

DeBourgh’s family is suing the Port Authority for $50 million. An NTSB spokesman said that the federal agency’s report on the incident could be released in June.

A Port Authority spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit, but the agency stated that work at the Jamaica AirTrain station is about half complete, and the Howard Beach station and airport terminal stops are nearly finished.

McClafferty’s announcement came after his agency approved a $60 million increase in money for security enhancements, and $500 million over five years for improvements in existing buildings and infrastructure.

In addition, about $700 million in construction contracts are planned for this year, a sizable drop from the $1.1 billion the agency awarded last year.

Another $1 billion has been budgeted for ongoing projects, including $300 million for a temporary PATH station at the World Trade Center site.


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Third track ‘not derailed,’ says LIRR

Earlier this year an MTA procurement notice cancelled a contract for the environmental impact statement for a Lon Island Rail Road’s main line third track project, but LIRR and Nassau County officials said the project is not dead, but that the request for proposals was halted due to unspecified administrative problems.

A spokesman said another RFP may be issued in a few months.

A third track on the Long Island’s main between Jamaica and Hicksville, according to Mobilizing the Region, would provide capacity for more peak train service, and especially for the railroad’s ability to run both west- and east-bound service during rush hour. It is an important complement to the East Side Access project and, according to the LIRR, required to create a freight yard at the Pilgrim State Hospital Site.


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D.C. Subway may see longer hours

Washington, D.C. denizens may have something new to hail at dawn’s early light, and way past twilight’s last gleaming: The capital’s subway system plans on extending its hours.

Metro officials want to start trains at 5 a.m. weekdays, a half-hour earlier than they do now, and shut them down at 3 a.m. on weekend nights—an hour later than they now close, according to an AP report of February 27.

The subway system unveiled the new plan last Thursday. Officials hope the expanded hours will help justify a planned hike in ticket prices.

A study forecast a cost of $3 million for the extra hours and anticipates an extra 1.1 million riders per year. The lowest fare now costs $1.10.

The board that governs Metro operations must approve the new plan, which would not be launched until July 1.

Metro expanded its weekend closing time from 1 a.m. until 2 a.m. in 2000, pitching the extended service mostly to youthful partygoers in this city with a large university student population.

Officials said an average of more than 4,800 riders boarded the weekend trains between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. last year, exceeding expectations.

The Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority is online at www.wmata.com


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Charlotte’s trolleys aren’t what the used to be

Charlotte’s streetcars aren’t strong enough for heavy use, delaying full-time trolley service between uptown and South End for at least a year.

The historic cars were scheduled to begin full-time daily service this summer. Instead, they will run only during lunch hours and weekends, transit chief Ron Tober said.

Business interests, who have invested $380 million along the line, are outraged, reports the Charlotte Observer of February 8.

“How do you justify spending millions to have them run a couple hours a day?” said developer Tony Pressley, who helped bring the trolley to South End. “This doesn’t make sense.”

Pressley and others had counted on daily 12- to 16-hour service, but Tober said the three trolleys, all more than 70 years old and restored largely by volunteers, aren’t up to the job. Currently, one streetcar runs only on weekends.

“The cars need a lot of work so they will be reliable and safe in a seven-day-a-week operation,” Tober said. “In their current condition, they’re not.”

The abbreviated streetcar schedule will last at least a year while workers make improvements. It is not clear what repairs will cost, but taxpayers likely will pay some of the bill.

The city and Charlotte Area Transit System have spent $40 million to improve the track, build a bridge over Stonewall Street and complete a tunnel through the Charlotte Convention Center. That work is needed to bring light rail into the city by 2006 and trolleys into uptown this summer.

City Council member Lynn Wheeler said she wants to know why the condition of the vehicles wasn’t discussed in 1998, when the council approved the money.

“It’s amazing at practically the last minute CATS says ‘Oh, our trolleys are not in good enough shape,’ “ she said.

CATS plans to take over streetcar operation July 1. It inspected the trolleys last fall, said Charlotte Trolley Inc. president Miller Jordan.

The first sign of problems didn’t become public until about a week ago, when Tober released a proposed budget that showed only lunchtime and weekend trolley service this summer.

Tober said he had not discussed the trolley schedule with the City Council because the countywide Metropolitan Transit Commission had not approved CATS’ takeover of the cars. That approval is expected in March.

The streetcars are owned by nonprofit Charlotte Trolley and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Landmarks Commission. Charlotte Trolley is responsible for getting the streetcars ready, but Tober and Jordan say it’s not clear yet what that will cost.

“All of this is still under discussion – how much they will be able to afford and what we can do to help,” Tober said.

Tober says CATS is committed to daily trolley service. He has budgeted more than $1.4 million over the next years to operate the cars. In 2005, CATS plans to spend another $200,000 to add a fourth car.

Tober also budgeted $7 million for a streetcar garage, either at Pressley’s Atherton Mill or the original trolley barn, a historic building on Bland Street near the tracks.

“I don’t see any bad guys in this,” Jordan said. “We know the community expects full-time service, and we’re going to do that.”

Wheeler, though, said the promise of daily trolley service encouraged property owners to build restaurants, apartments and condos along the tracks. CATS’ failure to offer full-time service this summer, she said, “is a tremendous blow.”


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Minnesotans pitch commuter rail to governor

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and other senior administration officials met on February 19 with members of the Northstar Corridor Development Authority (NCDA) and other local officials at the United Defense headquarters in Fridley to discuss Northstar commuter rail. NCDA members presented commuter rail as the most cost-effective solution for the corridor.

The Northstar Corridor is an 82-mile stretch along highways 10 and 47 from St. Cloud and Rice to Minneapolis, and is reported to be the fastest growing area in Minnesota.

“The analysis of the benefits and costs shows that commuter rail is the best choice for relieving congestion in the Northstar corridor quickly and cost-effectively,” said NCDA Chair Duane Grandy as he urged Pawlenty to support the rail line.

“No major highway improvements are scheduled or funded for this corridor through 2020, making Northstar commuter rail, which can be operational by 2006, the most logical solution for our immediate and future needs,” he said.

Local officials highlighted the mounting transportation problems in the area, Northstar’s cost effectiveness and broad public support of the project as reasons to support the commuter rail line.

“The project creates benefits of $2.97 for every state dollar invested, making it the most cost-effective transportation solution for this corridor and a smart investment for the state of Minnesota,” said Paul Anton, an economist from Anton, Lubov and Associates, Inc.

Details explained at the meeting showed Northstar commuter rail construction costs are approximately one-third the cost of upgrades to Highway 10, operating costs will be less than other transit options, and current ridership projections show that its trains will carry 10,000 passengers daily, which is the equivalent of one-and-one-half lanes of traffic during peak traffic times. Also, 82 percent of corridor residents said they would use the commuter rail for one or more purposes.

The governor remarked, “Paul Anton’s economic analysis was very interesting. We are going to take the information back with us and give it a good hard look. The state faces serious financial challenges, but we still want to make smart transportation choices for Minnesota.”

The NCDA is requesting $123 million in low-interest bonding money from the 2003 state legislature for construction costs of Northstar commuter rail. Local governments in the corridor have committed 10 percent to the capitol costs and the federal government is expected to provide the remaining 50 percent of the construction costs.

The NCDA is a joint powers board of 30 counties, cities, townships and regional railroad authorities along the corridor.

Northstar Corridor commuter rail project is online at www.mn-GetOnBoard.com.


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Hastert helps Metra extend route

Chicago’s Metra will receive $5 million from the federal government for an engineering study on extending the Chicago-to-Aurora commuter rail service to Oswego, said a spokesman for U.S. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) who is from Yorkville. The grant was included in a $397.4 billion spending bill that President George W. Bush signed last week, Crain’s Chicago Business News reported February 22.

Extending service into Kendall County, the Speaker’s home county, is part of Metra’s long-range plan for its commuter route along the Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Ry., but the Oswego extension was not among the projects Metra recently cited as priorities for the upcoming reauthorization of a $218-billion federal spending bill covering mass transit.

The Chicago-to-Aurora service is one of Metra’s most popular routes.


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Economic engine must fuel new line

The vision of a Sonoma-Marin, Calif., commuter train rides on a prediction that it would draw more passengers than rail lines serving much larger cities such as San Diego and San José – but critics don’t buy the numbers, and say basing the rail system on such an optimistic forecast would be a ticket to disaster.

The $200 million plan envisions transit hubs from Cloverdale to San Rafael, linked by a 68-mile commuter train running along the spine of the North Bay on now unused railroad tracks paralleling Highway 101 reported the Santa Rosa The Press Democrat on February 23.

It is built on a study that predicts the trains would attract 5,090 riders a day in a two-county region of about 750,000 people, lured by easy parking at stations and trains running every 30 minutes during rush hour; yet, that ridership is 60 percent more than the actual passengers on a commuter train from Stockton to San José, an economic engine in the heart of Silicon Valley, and it is slightly higher than the ridership on the commuter train running from Oceanside to San Diego, the nation’s seventh biggest city.

“We’re confident the numbers are realistic,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Tim Smith, co-chairman of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District, or SMART.

“The proof will be in the pudding once we get the system up and running, assuming we can do that.”

The district intends to ask voters for sales tax support late next year and hopes to put trains on the tracks by 2007. It is headed by political leaders from both counties who are pushing ahead this year with environmental studies, looking for more state and federal money to help build the system, shopping for trains that could carry passengers and planning for stations along the rail line.

Critics say the proposed train is a gamble based on projections that don’t account for North Bay demographics. The small cities strung along Highway 101 have no major downtowns, and the rail line will not make it to San Francisco.

Most other successful rail systems in the country feed a big city.

“The problem with this train proposal is that it stops in San Rafael,” said Marin County Supervisor Susan Adams, who thinks improving bus service would be a better investment. “Having a train that goes from Cloverdale to San Rafael isn’t going to be the regional transportation solution we’re looking for.”

The validity of the study is important because it helps local leaders, who plan to ask taxpayers for help, to decide if rail is worth the investment.

It would cost $200 million to buy trains, build stations and upgrade the tracks. Operating the North Bay commuter rail would run $9 million a year, with $3 million coming from train fares and $6 million from taxpayers, according to the district.

Actual ridership on other commuter rail systems in metropolitan areas with populations exceeding 1 million raises questions about the patronage forecast.

In San Diego, 4,800 riders a day board the Coaster’s 42-mile route from coastal suburbs to the city. Downtown San Diego has about 75,000 jobs, several times more than downtown Santa Rosa and San Rafael combined.

The Altamont Commuter Express, an 86-mile line from Stockton to San Jose, drew 3,178 daily riders last year. It serves an area with 3.7 million people, more than five times the 700,000 people in Sonoma and Marin counties.

The San José train drew more riders before the economy tanked, but it still never averaged more than 5,000 a day.

Perhaps a better comparison is MetroLink’s San Bernardino-Orange County line, a suburb-to-suburb train like the one proposed for the North Bay.

It averaged 2,900 weekday riders between October and December, far less than the Sonoma-Marin train projection. Its 100-mile route between San Bernardino and Oceanside also runs through an area far more populous than Sonoma and Marin. San Bernardino, Riverside and Orange counties have a combined population of 6.1 million people.

Carl Schiermeyer, the consultant who did the ridership forecast for the Sonoma-Marin train, said there is a simple explanation why he predicted it would attract such a large ridership: He assumed it would be a better service than trains in San Diego, San Jose and Orange County.

For instance, the Stockton-San Jose system runs only six one-way trains a day, three west in the morning and three east in the evening.

The Sonoma-Marin train would have up to 16 one-way trips each day, with trains leaving every 30 minutes during peak commute hours for optimum convenience.

It would primarily serve commuters heading south in the morning and north in the evening, but it would also have northbound morning trains to capture the reverse commute, and midday trains to accommodate varying work schedules, which the San José train does not offer.

Every station would have plenty of parking, and shuttles would bring commuters to nearby jobs within minutes of them getting off the train.

Sonoma and Marin are ideal for rail because the train tracks hug Highway 101, the main north-south corridor close to job centers in Santa Rosa, Petaluma and San Rafael, Schiermeyer said. A fast and convenient train will act like a vacuum, sucking commuters out of their cars and into coaches, he said.

“If you have enough service where there’s potential ridership, you’ll capture the ridership,” Schiermeyer said.

Helping matters is consistent freeway congestion. Trains would make the trip from Santa Rosa to San Rafael in 55 minutes, compared to 80 minutes by car during the morning rush hour, train planners say.

Some rail critics say it’s not so easy. Providing shuttle connections from each station to jobs – a key assumption in Schiermeyer’s study – will be problematic because the jobs are in every direction, they say.

“What kills the train in suburbia is the trip from the train station to the job and the trip from the house to the train station,” said Novato resident Mike Arnold, a critic of the Sonoma-Marin rail plan who maintains the ridership forecast is inflated. “If you start adding that stuff up, the car will be faster every time, even with traffic.”

Already, some of Schiermeyer’s assumptions are unraveling.

There is no plan to build parking at the downtown San Rafael station, which Schiermeyer predicts would be one of the busiest for the reverse commute.

That lack of parking will take a significant bite out of ridership and fare revenue. Train planners say they hope to compensate for the lack of parking with shuttle service to the station.

Critics say it’ll take a lot more than parking and shuttle buses to make the rail plan work. The fatal flaw for the Sonoma-Marin train is that it doesn’t go to San Francisco, they say. For that reason, critics have dubbed it the “train to nowhere.”

A big-city destination is the key ingredient for nearly every other successful commuter rail system in the country. With large concentrations of people surrounding a dense urban center, areas like New York, Boston and Chicago are perfect for commuter trains. Frustrating traffic jams and a lack of city parking leave commuters with no other choice but to ride mass transit.

Indeed, rail can move a lot of people. The Long Island Rail Road, the busiest commuter train system in the country, hauls nearly 350,000 riders a day.

Since the early 1990s, commuter trains have gained a stronger foothold on the West Coast. As affordable housing on the suburban fringes sprawls ever further from good-paying city jobs, commuters are looking for ways to avoid congested freeways, but the new commuter trains in California serve big markets.

“Rail works really well in highly populated areas, but in the suburbs it just doesn’t work,” said Elizabeth Deakin, director of the Univ. of California Transportation Research Institute at Berkeley. “Rail doesn’t make sense in Marin and Sonoma counties because they’re too spread out and the downtowns aren’t that big.”

Local rail proponents say suburban commuters are starting to get big city headaches.

Population doesn’t matter. If the highway is clogged and downtown parking is a hassle, people will ride the rain, they say.

“The growth is happening in the suburbs. It’s changing. You can’t say rail only works if you have a radial system into a downtown core,” said Lillian Hames, project director for the Sonoma-Marin rail system.

“If there are no constraints, like parking in downtown or congestion on 101, you wouldn’t get the ridership; but if you have those constraints, people will ride the train.”

Local rail planners hope to extend service to a ferry landing for connections to San Francisco, but those plans are preliminary.

Sonoma and Marin are not alone in their pursuit of trains. There are more than 20 proposed new commuter rail systems in the country, according to the American Public Transportation Association. From Alaska to Georgia, transportation officials are trying to get people off the highways and onto tracks.

In smaller markets, it has proven difficult to convince voters and politicians to support taxes or tolls for a train system that only a limited number of people will use. Since 1990, three sales tax initiatives that included money for rail have failed in Sonoma County and two measures have failed in Marin.

Local officials want to put another rail sales tax to voters in 2004. They have produced three ridership forecasts since 1997 to make their case that the North Bay would use commuter trains, but the results have varied widely.

A 1997 study said trains running from Healdsburg to a Larkspur ferry landing would get more than 20,000 riders a day.

That study assumed trains would run all day and new homes and businesses would be concentrated around train stations.

Three years later, a different study said a commuter train from Cloverdale to San Rafael would attract 2,900 riders a day, a fraction of the previous forecast.

Schiermeyer did the latest study, which projects 5,090 daily trips, 75 percent more than the 2000 forecast. He assumed people would be willing to drive farther to the train and a larger percentage of commuters would use it than the previous study.

Local transportation officials have expressed confidence in Schiermeyer’s projections, citing his success in predicting the ridership on other systems and his forecast method specifically designed for commuter rail. They acknowledge the numbers are preliminary and could change.

If SMART can’t afford to buy as many trains as projected and can’t provide frequent service, if it can’t schedule convenient shuttle bus connections to jobs or if it can’t create sufficient parking at train stations, ridership would go down.

These factors are being examined in greater detail as part of an environmental study expected to be finished later this year, rail planners say.

Even if the revised projections show a smaller ridership, commuter rail is still a good investment, Sonoma County Supervisor Smith said.

“I do know this: Unless we have various modes of transportation, we’re going to remain in gridlock,” he said. “Not utilizing our north-south rail corridor is almost criminal.”


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Albuquerque unveils light rail plan

Light rail tracks will start being laid in 2006 in Albuquerque, N. Mex., and the city will spend $700 million to get the job done.

Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez said last week the first phase of a rapid transit system will link the Coronado Mall area with the Alvarado Transportation Center downtown, New Mexico Business Weekly reported last week.

The second phase, which could begin in 2008, will link the Albuquerque International Sunport with the city’s Westside. Both lines will run down Central Ave., Chavez said.

Half of $700 million cost will be borne by the federal government. The other half will be paid for by the city. However, the city does not yet have the money for its portion of the project.

Chavez said the city hopes to get a revenue stream in place, such as a three-cent-a-gallon gas tax, to allow it to raise the rest of the money through a bond issue.

Chavez said light rail is necessary in order to make Albuquerque a major city.

“We are the only city of any size in the West that has not aggressively pursued light rail,” Chavez said.

“We cannot allow ourselves to drop to the level of third-tier cities like Amarillo or Lubbock. We are a great city. This is an expression of the will of the citizens of Albuquerque to be a great city.”

Beginning early 2004, Albuquerque will begin a rapid transit bus system, Chavez said.


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FTA okays California rail corridor pact

Twenty-two miles of California track got a big boost from the feds last Wednesday when Federal Transit Administrator (FTA) Jennifer L. Dorn inked a document giving the FTA’s okay to add passenger rail to a freight line.

Dorn and the North San Diego County Transit Development Board signed the pact in a Full Funding Grant Agreement for the Oceanside-Escondido Rail Corridor in Oceanside, Calif. on February 26.

The Oceanside-Escondido rail project will convert an existing 22-mile freight rail corridor into a diesel multiple-unit transit system running east from the coastal city of Oceanside through the cities of Vista, San Marcos and portions of San Diego County, to the city of Escondido, stated the FTA in a press release.

The proposed rail service includes a 1.7-mile loop of new right-of-way to serve the campus of California State Univ. at San Marcos, and includes building 15 stations, including four at existing transit centers.

A new vehicle storage and maintenance facility will also be constructed near Escondido, with a capacity for 19 vehicles.


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A California idea

Developers look for commuters;
build homes near new stations

When is the last time you saw or heard of a developer looking for trains to build homes near?

In South Pasadena, Calif., four months before trains will start running a block away, developers broke ground on Mission Meridian Village, a 67-home project aimed at rail commuters. They dug up the earth on February 21 in a dedication ceremony, reports the Pasadena Star-News.

Not only that, the opening day timetable has been moved up a month as well.

The development is just north of the Gold Line’s Mission Station.

The village will include an underground parking garage with 142 of its spaces reserved for light-rail passengers, and is being built on a 1.6-acre parcel on Meridian Avenue, between Mission and Magnolia streets.

The outdoor ceremony on a warm winter morning included a long list of “thank-yous” to government officials who shepherded the transit village project from concept to fruition. Developer Michael Dieden, president of Creative Housing Associates, recounted the five-year process.

“This project had close to zero chance of success,’ he said before an audience of city officials, including Mayor Harry Knapp and council members; representatives of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority; state Sen. Gilbert Cedillo (D), whose district includes South Pasadena; and state Transportation Secretary Maria Contreras-Sweet.

The project, one in a growing trend of “transit villages,’ will include 5,000 square feet of retail space along with 14 artist lofts, 50 courtyard-style town homes and three single-family homes.

A 347-apartment transit village also is under construction in Pasadena, next to the Gold Line’s Del Mar Station. Knapp said projects like Mission Meridian Village promote “a lifestyle that’s not dependent on the automobile to get to work.”

Saeta announced that the Gold Line’s operational date long scheduled for July has been pushed up a bit, to June 20.

Residents of the Mission Meridian Village slated for completion in late 2004 will be able to walk a block to board to the 13.7-mile, Los Angeles-Pasadena rail line.

“Unlike the rest of us, they won’t have to sweat the hassles of the freeway system,” said Duarte City Councilman John Fasana, an MTA board member.

“We’ll be moving dirt next week,’ said Sal Gangi, chairman of the board of Gangi Builders, a Glendale company hired as general contractor for the project.

“We have 45,000 cubic yards of dirt to move off the site,’ Gangi said. “We’ll have all the dirt (excavated) in six weeks before the train’s operation.” 150 truckloads will move each day, he said.


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West Seattle merchants unhappy over monorail

A preliminary route plan for a so-called “Green Line” monorail would run trains over the eastern part of the West Seattle Junction district, a layout that has merchants fearing they might be displaced.

The line would turn at the corner of Southwest Alaska Street and 42nd Avenue Southwest, then proceed southwest above retail shops before straightening at California Avenue Southwest.

In doing so, reported the Seattle Times of February 22, the tracks would pass through what is arguably the most sensitive block in the 14-mile corridor. The turns are sharp, the streets are tight, and the business community seems open-minded but jittery. Voters in the surrounding precinct split evenly on last fall’s monorail proposition while the West Seattle Jct. Assn. remained neutral.

Meanwhile, Clay Sales, owner of Guppy’s, a gay bar in the Junction area, is frustrated at being bypassed for nomination to the nine-person Seattle Popular Monorail Authority board.

Of the eight known or likely picks so far, none is a merchant in the shadow of the Ballard-West Seattle corridor.

“The whole process feels to me very much like a downtown, inside job,” he said yesterday.

City and monorail officials say their nominees are sought to fill niches of expertise in finance, labor, government relations and public transit, and that there are other chances for neighbors to weigh in.

“There are a dozen different neighborhoods it could go through. You only have nine positions, so you can’t represent every neighborhood,” said pro-monorail City Councilman Nick Licata.

On the route issue, monorail spokesman Paul Bergman said numerous comments from West Seattle favored the 42nd Avenue Southwest turn to the alternative, a swing around the retail district at 44th Avenue Southwest, which would slice the Junction north-south.

Before the monorail project publishes a “preliminary preferred alternative” on April 2, there will be one more round of community forums in March.

Seattle Popular Monorail Authority ideas include three station options at the Junction, all on the same block. One is on the northeast corner in a future eight-story building. The second is a parking lot.

The third, and most contentious, is above the Petco store. According to Sales, newly hired monorail representative Josh Stephenson told merchants last week it was the leading idea.

“Their plan is to take out everything from Petco down,” Sales worried. Businesses there include Curious Kidstuff, Liberty Bell Print and Guppy’s, as well as West Seattle Town Hall.

Bergman replied that none of the three station sites is a front-runner, and a preferred site will be selected in March. He said there has been no decision or known need to demolish buildings.

The Junction association had suggested putting the station along Southwest Alaska Street, but from there, the trains couldn’t make the turn to and from California Avenue Southwest, Bergman said.

“It’s great if people want to bring ideas to us,” he added. “It’s just going to make this project better.”

The monorail agency held more than 300 public meetings before the election and is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on outreach personnel and forums this year.

Nevertheless, Sales said, “Ultimately, without board representation, there’s no accountability.”

He intends to run for one of the two elected seats opening in November but worries that major decisions about routes, a bond sale and contracting methods for the fast-moving project will already be cemented.

A phone call from the Mayor’s Office didn’t make Sales feel any happier.

During the phone call notifying Sales that he was not one of the mayor’s two monorail-board picks, an aide encouraged him to consider volunteering for the advisory Seattle Commission for Sexual Minorities. Sales, who told the aide he wasn’t interested, later said he felt “ghettoized” by the offer.


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APTA HIGHLIGHTS...  APTA highlights...

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


 

Policy Forum Showcases Research Supporting Federal Transit Investment

APTA brought together experts in public transportation research for its first Public Transportation Policy Forum, February 7 in Washington, to present their findings in support of the economic, environmental, and other benefits of public transportation in preparation for reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century.

The forum, organized by the Public Transportation Partnership for Tomorrow (PT)2 initiative, was attended by about 100 Congressional staffers and transportation and community activists, including leaders of the American Assn. of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the American Road and Transportation Builders Assn., and the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations.

Speakers at the event were Dr. Robert J. Shapiro, a nationally renowned economist and a non-resident fellow of the Brookings Institution; Robert G. Stanley of Cambridge Systematics; Jeffrey Parker, principal of Jeffrey A. Parker and Associates; and Paul M. Weyrich and William S. Lind of the Free Congress Foundation.

The experts reported on why lawmakers should support TEA 21 reauthorization; the value of the gasoline tax to the economy; the economic impact of public transportation investment; the results of funding guarantees stemming from TEA 21; and the benefits of public transportation in energy conservation and preserving the environment.


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Coalition of Local Officials Urges Increased MPO Control Over TEA 21 Funds

A coalition of 11 national associations representing local government is urging Congress to allow local and regional officials and planners to make more decisions on how to spend federal funds on surface transportation projects. Local Officials for Transportation held a news conference February 10 in Washington to unveil its policy platform for reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century.

Overall, LOT is pursuing reauthorizing legislation intended to stimulate the economy, increase safety, and combat congestion at the local level. The coalition of national associations representing local elected and appointed officials formed in 2001 to further a transportation reauthorization agenda that reflects the needs of cities and counties.

The coalition of mayors, counties, planning organizations and regional councils, city and county managers, and other local and regional officials presented several specific TEA 21 principles and policy recommendations for Congress.

Building on the foundation of TEA 21, the coalition’s goals include increasing funding for the federal highway and transit programs; protecting the strong gains of TEA 21, including the firewalls; creating new approaches to combating congestion in metropolitan areas; increasing safety on rural roads; and increasing the role of local officials in planning transportation projects and funding decisions by suballocating resources to the regional level.


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Howlett Named President of Rotary Lift

Eric Howlett has been selected as the new president of Rotary Lift Consolidated in Madison, Ind. He succeeds Michael Jobe, who will be assuming the role of president at Heil Environmental Industries. Both Rotary and Heil are Dover Industries companies.

Howlett joined Rotary in 1998 as operations manager at its world headquarters location in Madison. He then served for three years as managing director of the company’s European operation, and returned to Madison to serve as executive vice-president shortly before the announcement was made that Jobe would be moving to Heil.


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Charles Shannon Dies; VIA Board Chair

Charles Shannon, 54, a community activist in San Antonio, Texas, and chair of the VIA Metropolitan Transit Board of Trustees, died unexpectedly in his sleep on February 4.

Shannon had served on the VIA board since 1995, and was elected its chair in 2001. During his tenure as chair, VIA added 139 low floor, environmentally friendly buses to its fleet.

He also led the agency’s Planning and Development Committee and represented VIA on the Metropolitan Planning Organization, the San Antonio Mobility Commission, the Metropolitan Partnership for Energy, and the newly formed Commuter Rail District.


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House T&I Committee Names Leadership, New Members

At the February 12 organizational meeting of the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Rep. Thomas E. Petri (R-Wis.) was approved as chairman of the renamed Highways, Transit, and Pipelines Subcommittee. Rep. William O. Lipinski (D-Ill.) was named ranking member, and Rep. Bob Beauprez (R-Colo.) as vice chairman of the subcommittee.

For the Railroads Subcommittee, Rep. Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.) was named chairman; Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) as ranking member; and Rep. Jon C. Porter (R-Nev.) as vice chairman.

The T&I committee is the largest committee in Congress, with 75 members – 41 Republicans and 34 Democrats. The committee has oversight of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, and is charged with writing the new reauthorizing legislation.


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Transit Rallies as East Coast Digs Out from Severe Snowstorm

The record snowfall that slammed the east coast over the President’s Day weekend, February 16 and 17, also left public transportation systems from Washington to New England to dig out and cope with high banks of snow, diminished visibility, and unplowed streets. The most affected areas began digging out by Tuesday, Feb. 18.

The National Weather Service reported that snowfall levels reached one to three feet of snow, with about two feet reported in Boston, New York City, Baltimore, and Washington. News reports stated that snowfall levels from the President’s Day storm were the highest in 81 years in Baltimore; the fifth highest in Washington history; and the fourth highest in New York City in recent times.

Complicating matters, some parts of the northeast also had to deal with additional light snow on February 18.


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Congress Funds Federal Transit Program at $7.2 Billion in FY 2003

Congress passed a Fiscal Year 2003 omnibus spending bill on February 13 that funds the federal transit program essentially at its fiscal 2003 guaranteed level of $7.2 billion, a 7.1 percent increase over fiscal 2002 levels.

The President was imminently expected to sign the omnibus bill into law, as Passenger Transport went to press. The bill covers the remaining 11 regular appropriations spending measures that had not yet been passed for fiscal 2003. For the first five months of the current fiscal year, transit has continued to be funded at the fiscal 2002 level through a series of continuing resolutions.

The final agreement includes an across-the-board cut of .65 percent applicable to all federal programs, which represents about a $47 million reduction for transit.

Under the bill, new starts receives an additional $45 million above its guaranteed amount transferred from the Jobs Access and Reverse Commute program, which is reduced to $105 million.

As in the past, Congress has transferred the $50 million for the Clean Fuels Program to the discretionary bus and bus facilities program.


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Sound Transit Wins Constitutional Challenge Against Initiative 776

A state court in Washington ruled unconstitutional on February 10 a state ballot initiative, known as I-776, that has threatened funding for Sound Transit’s growing multi-modal operations, as well as securing future bonds for the system’s capital projects.

State Assistant Attorney General Jim Pharris defended I-776 in court on behalf of the main defendant, the state. However, he said his office has not decided whether to challenge the case in the state Supreme Court, although “that's what usually happens with these sort of cases [involving ballot initiatives].” He noted that the initiative's proponents also could challenge the decision in the state Supreme Court, which typically hears cases involving a public vote.

Peter Thein, deputy director of legislative affairs at the Washington State Transit Association, said he expects Sound Transit and the other plaintiffs in the case to prevail in a challenge before the Supreme Court because the high court already rejected a similar initiative a few years ago.

I-776 eliminates surcharges on the state’s Motor Vehicle Excise Tax paid when registering a car or renewing license plates. Until last November when voters approved the initiative, the only taxing districts charging a surcharge were Sound Transit; King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties, in the Puget Sound region; and Douglas County, in eastern Washington. The counties use the locally adopted $15 fee for road-related projects, said Thein.

Although Snohomish and Douglas counties dropped the tax after the initiative was enacted, King and Pierce counties kept it and challenged the initiative in court, he said. The Sound Transit District extends across King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties--the most populated and congested areas in the state.


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ATC Appoints Two New General Managers

ATC announces the appointments of general managers at two of its properties: Anthony Beckford at Westside Transit in Jefferson Parish, La., and Jeanne Snyder at ATC’s operation in Chula Vista, Calif.

Beckford began his public transportation career as a bus operator for Hillsborough Area Regional Transit in Tampa, Fla., in 1988. He soon advanced to road supervisor and Transitway Terminal manager, and later to marketing coordinator responsible for advertising sales, community outreach, and public relations. He also participated in the effort to revamp HARTLine’s routes and schedules.

After leaving HARTLine, Beckford started his own consulting firm, assisting transit systems with their marketing strategies.

As general manager for Westside Transit – a property managed by ATC since 1949 – Beckford is responsible for a 42-bus fixed route operation that provides local service from the west bank of the metropolitan New Orleans area to downtown.

Snyder served as general manager for ATC’s 68-vehicle fixed route and paratransit operation in Greensboro, N.C., from 2000 to 2002. The North Carolina Public Transit Assn. recognized the Greensboro system as the state’s safest public transit system in 2001.

She earlier served as assistant general manager for ATC’s Charleston, S.C., operation from 1999 to 2000, and as director of safety and training and director of administration for ATC’s Denver operation from 1995 to 1999.

ATC began operation of the 37-bus operation in Chula Vista in July 2002, having previously operated the system from 1987 to 1992.


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LABOR LINES...  Labor lines...

Labor fears for Amtrak workers

By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

The AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Dept. apparently has spotted a red flag in Amtrak President David Gunn’s intention (first expressed last summer in his one-on-one D:F interview) to seek “work rules changes” in upcoming contract negotiations.

Although Gunn promised, in announcing his Fiscal Year 2004 budget request on February 20, that he would not ask for “anything Draconian,” rail labor has long maintained that it has given back enough.

The old complaint about rail “featherbedding” – which gained currency for more than a century – is now not relevant, if it ever was, according to the unions. They stress that Amtrak workers have gone without new contracts since 1998, and that between 1980 and 2001 “real wages” (accounting for such factors as inflation) for Amtrak workers “fell dramatically.” They also argue Amtrak’s union employees make approximately 28 percent less than those in freight rail.

The opening shot in this battle was actually fired last spring at an annual NCI meeting. As D:F reported at the time, United Transportation Union (UTU) Legislative Director James “Broken Rail” Brunkenhoefer warned that any attempt to “reform” Amtrak on the backs of labor would encounter serious political roadblocks. Such “reform,” he said, falls into the category of “Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny.”

The UTU is actually outside the AFL-CIO, but Brunkenhoefer is a well-known figure around the Capitol. His credibility among lawmakers and industry leaders is high.

The union leaders also urged Congressional approval of “at least” the $1.8 billion budget request submitted by Amtrak President David Gunn. Gunn told reporters that amount was taking into account some hoped-for “work rules changes.”

The statement was made by the labor chiefs during the AFL-CIO meeting in Hollywood, Fla., and was followed by a press release in Washington.

Speaking of the Amtrak budget, a D:F reader wanted to know if the $768 million Gunn requested for operations includes money for the Railroad Retirement Trust fund.

Amtrak spokesman Dan Stessel told us Friday that about $175 million would have to come out of the overall budget to meet that obligation. However, he and his colleague, Cliff Black, noted that the entire Amtrak budget, including that portion financed through ticket sales, comes to about $3.1 billion, and that Railroad Retirement, administered by the federal Railroad Retirement Board, does not necessarily come specifically out of operations. The same applies to Amtrak’s payment of debt interest. All that is in addition to what employees contribute.

Where does the
retirement cash
come from?

It gets confusing, but here’s how Dan Stessel explained the retirement situation in a late Friday afternoon conversation with Correspondent Vernon:

“Stessel said the Amtrak budget earmarks $163 million for interest on the debt out of the operating budget and $117 million out of the capital budget for the principal on the debt. If you add $163 plus the $175 million for railroad retirement, that adds up to $358 million, supposedly out of the operating budget. Subtracting that from the $768 million, that would water down the actual operating Amtrak money to about $410 million. He emphasized, however, that ‘We use one checking account’ out of the $3.1 billion total (counting ticket sales), and it is not written in stone that every penny of that $358 million comes out of operations. There is some flexibility there.”


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The labor leaders also issued a broader statement calling for a reauthorization of federal highway and transit projects, arguing “workers are hurting as America’s anemic economy continues to sputter.” They also urged that Congress “move ahead with a multi-year TEA-21 bill that funds the nation’s growing surface transportation needs and supports real job creation.”

They particularly objected to “proposals that have recently surfaced to use Mass Transit Account gas tax resources for highway purposes.”

This appears to be the old highway lobby argument in reverse. Highway interests have long protested programs that supposedly “rob” the Highway Trust Fund to pay for transit projects that do not finance the seemingly endless pouring of concrete.

In TTD’s policy resolution, the labor leaders reaffirmed “its long support of Amtrak.”

“Amtrak must not be forced to limp along as it has throughout its more than 30-year history. Any notion that Amtrak can be saved through downsizing, break-up or privatization schemes should be rejected,” the labor leaders stated in their press release.

“Lost in the debate over Amtrak’s future is the fact that Amtrak’s already underpaid workers continue to ‘pay’ for the passenger railroad’s shaky financial state,” the labor leaders said.

“Treating Amtrak workers as second-class employees must end,” the resolution declared.

“As Congress and the President secure Amtrak’s future, transportation labor will insist that the jobs and livelihoods of Amtrak employees are not ignored or cast aside and that new collective bargaining agreements are completed without further delay,” the transportation labor leaders declared.

“Workers are hurting as America’s anemic economy continues to sputter,” said Sonny Hall, TTD president, following the unanimous vote on a policy resolution. Reauthorization of the landmark Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) presents an opportunity for “real jobs creating legislation that invests in our transportation system and infrastructure,” Hall said.

TTD leaders noted that the 1998 legislation has invested more than $200 billion to help better move a nation, and in the process has supported an estimated 9.4 million jobs. Despite a recent White House veto threat of the fiscal 2003 budget that cited the President’s opposition to fully funding Amtrak and federal highway programs, TTD said that Congress “should not be deterred by these warnings and should move ahead with a multi-year TEA-21 bill that funds the nation’s growing surface transportation needs and supports real job creation.”

Transportation labor leaders united behind continuing funding guarantees and budget “firewalls” that provide state and local officials the certainty they need to plan, finance and implement their programs.

“America’s shaky economy cannot afford a step backward in transportation spending,” the resolution stated, adding, “TTD strongly supported maintaining the historic balance between highway and transit program needs, and opposed revising funding formulas and federal-state match requirements in ways that disadvantage certain states, as well as proposals that have recently surfaced to use Mass Transit Account gas tax resources for highway purposes.”

Regarding safety and security concerns, the resolution declared, “Congress and the President must do everything possible to protect against the use of our transportation system to carry-out acts of brutal terror.”

Specifically, TTD expressed opposition to industry attempts to “roll back or weaken federal safety requirements such as hours of service rules and hazmat worker protections.”

Additionally, the resolution called for mandating safety and security plans and training by transit systems and requiring intrastate commercial vans transporting nine or more passengers to meet commercial drivers licensing and drug and alcohol testing requirements. “If, over our objections, cross-border truck and bus movements increase at the Mexican border,” transportation labor said, “our government must ensure adequate resources for inspection personnel and facilities, and enforcement of U.S. laws and regulations.”

The Transportation Trades Dept. is online at www.ttd.org.


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STATION LINES...  Station lines...

Culpeper depot, 98, gets funding to finish repairs

Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board has approved a $402,994 enhancement grant contract that will complete renovation of the 98-year-old Culpeper railroad depot. The contract, already finalized with the town of Culpeper, went to a Lynchburg contractor. Work was expected to begin today at the earliest, said Town Engineer and Director of Planning Chuck Stephenson.

“We’re ready to go,” Stephenson said. The project would probably take about 90 days to complete, according to the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star.

The 3,200-square-foot area along Norfolk Southern tracks at one time was the Southern Railroad’s freight depot. It will be turned into a community meeting room complete with a catering kitchen and rest rooms. Amtrak picks up passengers at the Culpeper depot, which was built about 1905. There is no ticket office now.

Stephenson said movable partitions would allow the facility to be used for small meetings or conferences that could accommodate more than 100 people. Renovation of the 6,000-square-foot depot began in 1998 with the aid of a $700,000 grant.


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Desolate Berkeley station to get makeover

The Berkeley, Calif., City Council okayed funds February 20 to renovate the town’s desolate West Berkeley Amtrak stop – setting aside plans for a full-service train station indefinitely.

The upgrade will add a platform and better lighting to the dim outdoor waiting stop under the Interstate 80 freeway overpass, writes the Daily Californian of February 21. Construction is set to begin by September, although a few agreements with Caltrans and Union Pacific need final approval.

State and federal grants, and the city’s Redevelopment Agency will fund the $1.7 million project.

“It’s something that is long overdue,” said Council member Miriam Hawley. “It feels neglected, and you wonder if it is really a train station.”

Renovations will bring the station in compliance with federal disability guidelines. It is not possible for disabled patrons to use the station now, said Council member Dona Spring.

City officials said they hope the upgrade will attract more visitors from as far as Sacramento and San Jose to Berkeley’s upscale Fourth Street shopping district.

City officials said the station is one of the most run-down in California. The stop is one of only a few along the Capital Corridor train line that do not have an indoor waiting station.

About 200 people use the stop daily, but riders cannot purchase tickets in advance. Amtrak plans to install an electronic timetable there this summer. Passengers at Berkeley’s only train stop complain they feel unsafe. People vandalize the stop on a regular basis, said Mike Albanese, project manager for Amtrak.

“I wish they’d have a real station where you can buy tickets,” said Univ. of Calif.-Davis English professor John Boe, who uses Amtrak four times a week. “I’m all for renovation, but Berkeley has the worst train station on the line.”

Although the stop sits next to the closed-down Southern Pacific Railroad building, the city is still looking for approximately $2 to $3 million to purchase the building and adjacent restaurant.

Last year, the City Council and former Mayor Shirley Dean made a push to purchase the old building. With this year’s city budget crisis, finding the funds will be difficult, said Iris Starr, city redevelopment coordinator.

Amtrak officials will not service a station because there are not enough riders to merit the investment, Starr said. City officials said they would continue negotiations with the old station’s owner.

“The train project is a real push while we still have capital money to do it,” Starr said. City officials may set up some businesses inside the building to cover the costs.

The plan went through a long hearing and environmental review because the project is near an Ohlone Indian archeological site.

As a compromise, builders will only dig two feet underground, supervised by an archeologist.

Despite the piecemeal renovations, city officials have grand plans for the area.

The West Berkeley Project Area Commission plans to build a promenade connecting Fourth Street and the pedestrian overpass to the Marina through the West Berkeley Amtrak stop.

“It will be difficult to make an area under a freeway a pleasant place,” said John McBride, who sits on the commission.


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FREIGHT LINES...

Michael Ward, CEO of CSX  CSX Logo Engine

Two photos: CSX

Michael J. Ward, CSX’s CEO, has made Jacksonville, Fla. the railroad’s corporate headquarters.
CSX moves to Jacksonville

It’s official – Jacksonville, Fla., is now CSX’s corporate headquarters. The firm is leaving its former headquarters in Richmond, Va.

The firm’s recently appointed CEO, Michael Ward, already lives in Jacksonville. He replaced John Snow, who became Treasury secretary in the Bush Administration. The change was effective on February 25, the same day the carrier disclosed the changes. By week’s end, the railroad had also named a new chief operating officer, Alan F. Crown. He is also a vice-president, and consolidates the engineering and mechanical groups in addition to his transportation responsibilities.

“This decision continues CSX’s strategic evolution from a multimodal transportation company to a streamlined enterprise with greater focus on our railroad,” said Michael J. Ward, CSX chairman, president and chief executive officer. “As a result, we no longer need a central location for our holding company, and it makes business sense to locate the corporate headquarters in the same city as the major operating unit, CSX Transportation.

“We have a deep and lasting gratitude for the relationships formed in Richmond and will continue to work with the city and the Commonwealth to remain part of important economic activity,” said Ward. He further noted that Richmond has a strong business climate and that CSX will continue to have more than 200 employees in the city and almost 1,400 in the Commonwealth.

With this transition, CSX becomes the second Fortune 500 company headquartered on Florida’s First Coast and the 12th in the state. More than 7,000 of CSX’s nearly 40,000 employees are located in Florida. The company has more than 5,200 employees in Jacksonville.

Ward added, “Political and business leaders at the state and local levels have long worked to make Florida and Jacksonville great places for people to live and companies to prosper. It is to the credit of leaders like Mayor John Delaney and Governor Jeb Bush that they have created an environment that promotes strong business growth and a great quality of life.”

In addition to the corporate and railroad headquarters, Jacksonville also serves as headquarters for CSX Technology, a company that provides a wide range of information technology applications, and CSX Intermodal, one of the nation’s largest transcontinental intermodal transportation service providers.

Ward added, “Our goal is to continue to be a good corporate citizen whose employees contribute not only to the economic strength of Jacksonville and Florida, but to the community’s strength as well.”

CSX Corp. Employs 34,000 people over a 23,000 route-mile network in 23 states, the District of Columbia and two Canadian provinces.

CSX is online at http://www.csx.com/.


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Rail industry lobbies Capitol Hill

By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

More than 250 representatives of the national rail industry, speaking for both large and small carriers, as well as rail labor and the rail supply firms, fanned out over Capitol Hill on February 27 to buttonhole their Congressmen to emphasize the important role railroads play in the economy.

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) described this fifth annual “Railroad Day on the Hill” as “the largest gathering ever for this annual industry event” in Washington.

In addition to the AAR, which is the voice of the Class I lines, the entities visiting the lawmakers included the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Assn. (ASLRRA), Railway Supply Institute (RSI), and United Transportation Union (UTU).

Four issues predominated.

They were the infrastructure needs of the small railroads and the reauthorization of the Transportation Efficiency Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21); opposition to any proposals to “re-regulate” the railroads; repeal of the 4.3 cents per gallon diesel fuel tax paid into the general fund by the railroads (though their primary competitors get to put their share of that tax into their trust funds, thus effectively being allowed to use their own money as they see fit); and the importance of technology to today’s railroads.

What was the feedback from the lawmakers?

In an interview with D:F at the concluding reception and dinner that evening, AAR President Edward Hamberger said each of those issues has its own nuances, but that overall “I sense that there is a tremendous sense generically that freight is very important and has been ignored by policymakers here.”

Because TV sets, home-building materials, outdoor grills are inanimate objects that don’t write their congressmen, the focus has been such that “it’s always been passenger; but now they’re looking at freight, and within that, they’re looking at rail.”

Hamberger then cited a recent report by the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO). Normally, as its name suggests, it is focused almost exclusively on highways. In this instance, AASHTO called for better coordination of traffic in all modes, mentioning specifically rail, and, as Hamberger put it, “talked about the public benefits of freight railroads,” and further saying that “if the country wants to really take advantage of all the public benefits, then the public’s probably going to have to pay for some of those benefits.”

“The private sector,” noted Hamberger still discussing the AASHTO report, “can only invest up to a certain level where there’s a good rate of return and makes economic sense – but if you want to get the environmental and the energy and the congestion benefits,” there will have to public participation.

Hamberger said freight transportation is expected to double over the next 20 years. To meet all the challenges, rail freight will be playing a bigger role.

ASLRRA President Rich Timmons issued a statement noting that railroads “pay the entire cost of building and maintaining their infrastructure while aviation and highways receive billions of dollars beyond what they pay in user fees.”

Correcting that “imbalance,” he said, is “especially important for many smaller railroads.”

The Davis-Bacon “prevailing wage” issue is said to be the major sticking point in providing public resources to enable the smaller railroads to exchange cars that weigh more than 286,000 pounds. The Democrats on the Hill won’t approve it without Davis-Bacon. Republicans don’t want it if Davis-Bacon is included.

In its statement issued at the annual AFL-CIO conference in Hollywood, Fla., February 23, the giant labor federation’s Transportation Trades Department (TTD) pointedly noted that protections such as Davis-Bacon “have been instrumental in maintaining labor-management cooperation” in many areas.

That could be interpreted as saying in effect, “We’re not budging on this one.”

(See separate story in this issue regarding labor issues. – Ed.)


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CSX completes sea lines sale to equity firm

CSX and The Carlyle Group, a global private equity firm, say they have completed the conveyance of CSX Lines, LLC, from CSX to a venture formed with The Carlyle Group. CSX received $300 million, consisting of $240 million in cash and $60 million of securities issued by the venture. Former CSX Lines president and CEO Charles G. (Chuck) Raymond is heading the Charlotte, N.C.-based ocean carrier, now named Horizon Lines, LLC. Raymond will also chair the board of directors.


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NS says territory benefited from development

Norfolk Southern Corp. says it participated in the location of 93 new industries and provided support for the expansion of 33 additional industries along its rail lines in 2002.

The new plants and expansions represent an investment of $3.9 billion by NS’s customers. They are expected to create more than 4,700 jobs on the railroad’s territory and generate more than 91,100 carloads of new rail traffic annually.

The industrial development projects include facilities involved in handling automobiles, plastics and agricultural and food products.

“New and expanding businesses on the Norfolk Southern network increased 16 percent over 2001, despite challenging economic conditions for our customers and communities,” said Larry Collingwood, assistant vice-president for industrial development.

The largest projects last year were in the automotive sector.

General Motors and Mitsubishi expanded auto assembly plants at Moraine, Ohio, and Normal, Ill.; and Southeast Toyota Distributors opened a new auto processing and distribution facility in Jacksonville, Fla. NS stated in a press release it will also serve additional auto assembly plants under construction by Toyota at Princeton, Ind., Mercedes-Benz at Vance, Ala., and Honda in Lincoln, Ala. All are scheduled to open this year and in 2004.

The freight railroad “continued its success in the plastics and food-related product divisions, helping to develop 11 and 17 location projects respectively, including the Aero Plastics Inc. consumer products plant in McDonough, Ga.; the Wenger Feed mill in Shippensburg, Pa.; and the Owens-Brockway Plastic Products Inc. bottle manufacturing plant in Altavista, Va.,” according to the press release.

NS is online at http://www.nscorp.com.


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Beans, of all things

NS finds unique way to longer track life

An unlikely new and environmentally friendly track lubricant – made from soybeans – is now in use on the Norfolk Southern Ry.

SoyTrak™ biodegradable soybean oil-based grease is being used as an alternative to petroleum-based grease for lubricating rails to reduce rail side wear and wheel flange wear in curves.

“Soybean grease is better for the environment, competitively priced and very effective,” said John M. Samuels, senior vice president operations planning and support. “It can increase the life of rail on curves substantially.”

NS’s Research and Test Department in Roanoke, Va., and the Univ. of Northern Iowa’s Ag-Based Industrial Lubricants Research Program, in partnership with exclusive distributor Portec Rail Products Inc., invested three years of laboratory and rail environment site research to ensure that the grease’s performance met the demanding requirements of freight railroads. Formulated from U.S.-grown soybean oils and additives, SoyTrak is produced by Environmental Lubricants Manufacturing in Waverly, Iowa.

“Norfolk Southern’s approval, after extensive research, including tests at the Association of American Railroads’ Transportation Technology Center, gives new credibility to bio-based products,” said Lou Honary, UNI professor and director of the university’s lubricants research program.

Summer- and winter-grade blends are in use, and an all-season blend is being developed. “SoyTrak decomposes through natural processes in a matter of weeks after application, so it’s beneficial for the environment,” said Don Cregger, NS manager project engineering. “It’s more efficient than petroleum grease in reducing wear through its greater durability and capacity for reducing friction.”

In a letter to NS, U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said, “Your company’s decision to use bio-based lubricants is indicative of your appreciation for the initiatives of the Farm Bill and recent strategic emphasis on the use of bio-based products.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa added that, “Bio-based alternatives open new markets for Iowa agricultural products.”


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Wichita corridor project ready for bids

A $113 million project designed to cut traffic problems caused by trains passing through downtown Wichita is about to be sent out to bid, city officials said February 25. Rights-of-ways and agreements with the railroads are in the final stages of negotiations, according to the Wichita Business Journal.

Known as the Central Rail Corridor, the project will create an elevated railroad through central Wichita from Douglas Avenue to about 18th Street.

The plan includes four overpasses. All east-west streets without overpasses will dead-end at 20-foot retaining walls that will be built along the elevated railroad.

The project should be completed in 2006. HNTB Companies received $4.2 million for its design work.

The city also is working on a railroad grade separation project on Pawnee that involves the Union Pacific Railroad. That project should begin next year, says Steve Lackey, director of public works.

The project has hit a snag because of a dispute over whether the city should provide the railroad with two tracks or one track and a maintenance road, Lackey said.


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FEC wants to merge two stock classes

Florida East Coast Industries is recommending to its shareholders they okay a director’s plan to merge two classes of common stocks into a single, new class.

A spokesman said on February 28 that the board recommended eliminating its dual-class structure by reclassifying its “Class A” and “Class B” common stocks “into a new single class of common stock on a one-for-one basis.”

The directors also declared a quarterly dividend of $0.025 (2_1/2 cents) per share on all shares of common stock issued and outstanding.


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Texas solon wants to add
freight line to highway route

Texas State Rep. Mike Krusee of Round Rock has asked the state to change its plans for the Texas 130 toll road so a freight rail line can be added as the road is built in eastern Central Texas.

That could set off a chain of events desired by nearly every transportation group in the region and raises the possibility of passenger rail along MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1), fewer long-haul trucks on Interstate 35 and thus better traffic flow, and special MoPac carpool lanes whose tolls could pay for noise walls residents have coveted for decades.

It’s a house-of-cards idea pegged to a goal unfulfilled by local and state officials for more than 20 years: Persuading Union Pacific Railroad to move the bulk of its freight operations off the former Missouri Pacific Railroad tracks it owns, reports the American-Statesman of February 25.

It’s also an idea transportation activists are giving stronger odds than previous attempts, with a new commuter rail district and regional mobility authority increasing the chances of doing cross-county rail.

“I think it has to happen,” said Ross Milloy, the head of the Austin-San Antonio Corridor Council, who is familiar with the freight rail push. “I think it’s critical for the whole area, critical for the state’s economy.”

Freight and passenger rail have long been sought in the Texas 130 area by those who want an alternative to driving as Central Texas struggles with its transportation needs. Rail wasn’t included in the final Texas 130 plans, partially because of money problems and partially because of a lack of political will.

Now the state DOT is studying how to accommodate freight rail as engineers for its contractor, Lone Star Infrastructure, design the first portions of Texas 130. Construction on the toll road is expected to begin sometime before spring. Krusee, a Round Rock Republican and the head of the House Transportation Committee, wants to weave in freight rail needs before the final designs are finished.

First, though, the state wants to make sure freight rail would not upend the Texas 130 schedule, which calls for drivers to have 49 miles of road to use by December 2007. The state also must notify Wall Street, where bond investors are paying the bulk of the $3.2 billion price tag for Texas 130, a tolled portion of MoPac and Texas 45 North, the planned east-west toll road in southern Williamson and northern Travis counties.

”Nothing’s been decided. We haven’t made any decisions,” said Gaby Garcia, a spokeswoman for the Texas DOT. “We don’t have answers yet.”

Krusee said he expects to announce in March that the idea is feasible and could be done without upsetting the toll road timetable. He sent letters Monday to Capital Metro and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority asking both organizations to start planning ways they can participate in a regional passenger rail, toll road and freight rail system.

As now envisioned, freight rail trains would run at 79 mph from the planned Toyota plant in San Antonio to Georgetown, following the Texas 130 corridor. That also fulfills part of Gov. Rick Perry’s plan for high-speed rail, toll road and pipeline corridors across the state.

“I’d like to see the 130 corridor have a chance at the next Toyota, the next Samsung, the next Dell,” Krusee said, “and I think to do that, we need freight rail.”

Texas 130 will have a 103-foot-wide median that could accommodate high-occupancy-vehicle lanes, long-distance commuter rail, shorter-distance light rail, more traffic lanes or freight rail. There is also room along the sides of the road and the intermittent frontage roads planned.

Trains need flatter, straighter runs in order to build up speed. To make it worth their while to shift their goods from trucks to trains, freight shippers want guaranteed speed. So the state is examining whether some of its designs – how steep a grade the highway would have, for example – would hinder freight rail.

”It’s kind of a good time to be doing it now while we are in design of 130, as opposed to later if someone came in and wanted to make it more rail-friendly,” Garcia said.

Private companies or a body like the regional mobility authority would build a rail system, not the state. Krusee, who helped form the authorities and the commuter rail district, expects to file bills in the next two weeks giving mobility authorities the power to do rail projects.

How much all of this would cost and who would pay for it are among the unanswered questions, which also includes when freight rail could be under way, but the wish-list scenario follows a line of thinking that includes high-speed freight rail along a less-developed corridor, which would entice UP to move the bulk of its freight trains off the MoPac tracks. That frees up the MoPac tracks for passenger rail, most likely a commuter rail system between San Antonio and Georgetown.

If Union Pacific refused to move, other freight railroads could use the Texas 130 area and at least help I-35 congestion by removing more trucks. That would appease road boosters, as well as environmentalists worried about air pollution from vehicle exhaust.

“It kind of hits a couple of buttons, so we are happy with that,” said Dick Kallerman, the Austin Sierra Club’s transportation chairman. “Putting in new freight rail, we definitely support that strongly.”

With a freight rail shift, the road, rail and neighborhood groups that so often battle over Central Texas transportation projects could find something they’d each like – even if they still disagree on how to use the opportunity.

“It’s Austin, Texas,” Krusee said. “Of course there is going to be opposition.”


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Winter storm takes bite out of rail traffic

A heavy winter storm that affected much of the Northeastern U.S. resulted in reduced carload freight during the week ended February 22, in comparison with the corresponding week last year, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported on Thursday.

U.S. railroads originated a total of 306,836 carloads during the week, a 5.2 percent reduction from the corresponding week last year. Loadings were down 11.5 percent in the East, but just 0.1 percent in the West.

Intermodal volume was below that of other recent weeks, but still above that of the corresponding week last year. Intermodal volume, which is not included in the carload data, totaled 175,392 trailers and containers, up 2.6 percent from last year. Container volume was up 7.2 percent while trailer traffic was off 9.5 percent.

Total volume was estimated at 27.4 billion ton-miles, down 5.5 percent from last year.

Coal volume was especially hard hit by the storm, with loadings dropping 13.4 percent from last year. Also off sharply were loadings of lumber and wood products, down 9.8 percent; and primary forest products, down 7.4 percent. Sharp increases were reported in loadings of metallic ores, up 53.7 percent from last year; coke, up 17.5 percent; and pulp, paper and allied products, up 11.4 percent.

The AAR also reported the following cumulative totals for U.S. railroads during the first eight weeks of 2003: 2,498,276 carloads, down 0.3 percent from last year; intermodal volume of 1,416,835 trailers and containers, up 9.5 percent; and total volume of an estimated 222.4 billion ton-miles, down 0.6 percent from last year’s first eight weeks.

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

On Canadian railroads, intermodal volume was up while carload traffic was down during the week ended February 22. Intermodal traffic totaled 40,175 trailers and containers, up 3.5 percent from last year. Carload volume of 63,132 cars was down 1.8 percent from the comparable week last year.

Cumulative originations for the first eight weeks of 2003 on the Canadian railroads totaled 485,782 carloads, down 0.9 percent from last year, and 309,629 trailers and containers, up 13.4 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first eight weeks of 2003 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 2,984,058 carloads, down 0.4 percent from last year and 1,726,464 trailers and containers, up 10.2 percent from last year.

The AAR also reported that carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended February 22 totaled 9,141 cars originated, up 8.0 percent from last year. TFM reported originated intermodal volume of 3,798 trailers or containers, up 42.7 percent from the eighth week of 2002.

For the first eight weeks of 2003, TFM reported cumulative originated volume of 68,394 cars, up 12.6 percent from last year, and 27,500 trailers or containers, up 55.9 percent.

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

The AAR is online at http://www.aar.org.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

March 3 - Source: Bloomberg.com

  This
week
Last
week
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)25.00025.400
Canadian National(CNI)42.460 42.650
Canadian Pacific(CP)20.88021.170
CSX(CSX)26.86027.020
Florida East Coast(FLA)23.44024.590
Kansas City Southern(KSU)12.15011.830
Norfolk Southern(NSC)19.06019.190
Union Pacific(UNP) 55.19056.370


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CANADIAN LINES...

Canadians at odds over proposed amendments

The Government of Canada is proposing a series of amendments to the Canada Transportation Act (CTA) to fine-tune the legislation’s provisions – but not all Canadians agree with the notion, especially vocal Canadian National.

“Straight Ahead, ” as the measure is nicknamed, involves all transport modes – rail, air, and highway.

In its passenger rail provisions, the government proposes to establish VIA Rail’s mandate in legislation. Unlike most Crown corporations, when VIA Rail was established in 1977 through incorporation under the Canada Business Corporations Act, separate legislation was not developed for it. This new legislation, the VIA Rail Canada Act, will confirm and continue VIA Rail’s current mandate, structure, powers and operations.

The proposal would also amend the Canada Transportation Act to allow publicly funded passenger rail service providers, when commercial negotiations are unsuccessful, to seek adjudication from the Canadian Transportation Agency on the terms and conditions of operation on federal rail lines, including fees and service charges by the host railway.

Another item would make public the details of future contracts between railways and publicly funded passenger rail service providers. Existing agreements would also be made public unless one of the parties can demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Canadian Transportation Agency that the contract contains sensitive information and that it would be harmed by its release.

CN said The introduction of the bill on February 25 is the first step towards fulfilling a number of commitments set out in Straight Ahead - A vision for transportation in Canada, which Transport Minister David Collenette tabled the same day, but the freight railroad argued “Collenette’s transportation vision for Canada misses an opportunity to further deregulate the nation’s world-leading rail transportation system.

E. Hunter Harrison, CN’s president and CEO said, “Canada has the best rail transportation system in the world – the lowest freight rates, the best service, and the most efficient operators in CN and CPR as a result of an enlightened policy of rail de-regulation since 1987. “The minister’s vision document fails to build on these strengths, and it fails to further de-regulate the grain transportation sector.”

CN said it is concerned that the vision paper recommends that a regulated connection rate provision be incorporated in the Canada Transportation Act.

Harrison said, “A regulated connection rate – a regulated rate for moving goods over an originating railway to an interchange point for transfer to a connecting railway – would be an unprecedented regulatory measure, replacing the Competitive Line Rate under the current CTA regime.”

He added, “There is no need for an RCR, given the conclusions of the Canada Transportation Act Review Panel - a panel established by the minister – that effective rail competition in Canada produced a 26 per cent decline in freight rates over the past decade, and that Canada’s railways are neither anti-competitive nor do they abuse their market position. The RCR risks putting the rail industry on a path toward re-regulation and may ultimately lead to unfair treatment of the railways.”

He averred the rates “would not be reciprocal – shippers in Canada could use them to access U.S. railroads, but there would be no comparable right for U.S. shippers to access Canadian carriers. This could confer unfair and unwarranted advantages on our U.S. competitors.”

CN also expressed concern about the minister’s plan to remove the “substantial commercial harm” test that shippers must satisfy to qualify for regulatory relief in certain situations. The removal of this test would invite shippers to resort increasingly to the regulator, rather than a commercial agenda, on rate- and service-related issues.

“This is not the right approach,” Harrison said. “Even the minister’s CTA Review Panel said government transportation policy should be driven by market forces and that regulatory intervention should be a very last resort.
“CN will make its views known fully to the minister and will participate actively in the continued evolution of his transportation vision document and in the legislative process that will follow.”


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OVERSEAS LINES...  Overseas lines...

Talent multiple-unit train,Germany

Dave Beale

A local train stands in the Osnabrück, Germany, station. It is a diesel powered Talent multiple-unit train, operated by Nordwest Bahn, a division of Connex (which is a unit of Vivendi Universal). They have a franchise to run local and regional trains in the northwest part of Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony) state from the state government. The train is from the new generation of line self-propelled passengers trains (from Adtranz - now Bombardier), available in both diesel and electric powered versions. “It was a bright, sunny day in northern Germany today – cold, but sunny,” writes Correspondent Dave Beale, on February 27.

 

Bombardier opens China offices

Bombardier Transportation has started a joint venture company in China to build, market and maintain propulsion equipment for rail vehicles.

The new company, Bombardier-CPC Propulsion Systems Co. Ltd. (BCP), is owned equally by Bombardier-Power (Mauritius) Ltd. and Changzhou Railcar Propulsion Engineering R&D Center. It is located in the city of Changzhou, some 1,000 km South of Beijing. The Montreal-based manufacturer disclosed its plans on February 25.

Ake Wennberg, Propulsion and Controls president, said “This is demonstrating our commitment to the Chinese market. We are now in the position to equip the rail vehicles that we build in China with propulsion and control systems that are being produced locally, as well.”

Manufacturing is scheduled to start this year. The number of employees working in the new plant, which is currently around 120, will gradually increase to 400.

Bombardier stated Bombardier in Sweden and Germany would train Chinese workers. European experts will support the production start-up. The BCP plant in Changzhou, where propulsion and control systems for trams, metros and electric multiple units will be manufactured, is designed for a capacity of 700 converters per year.

Bombardier Transportation has two current rolling stock joint ventures in China. The Changchun Bombardier Railway Vehicles Co. Ltd. (CBRC) has already received three large-scale orders to build metro trains – 156 vehicles for Metro-Line 2 in Guangzhou, 132 vehicles for Phase 1 of Shenzhen’s metro network, and 60 vehicles for Metro-Line 1 in Shanghai.

Bombardier Sifang Power (Qingdao) Transportation Ltd. (BSP), located in Qingdao, Shandong Province, is a joint venture between a Chinese company and international partners. It manufactures passenger cars for China and other nations.

In 1999, BSP was awarded an order for 300 high-grade railway passenger cars by the Ministry of Railways of China (MOR).

Bombardier employs some 1,000 people in China. It also builds airplanes with 27 aircraft for 6 airlines. The firm began doing business with China some 20 years ago.


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ALSTOM to refurbish Atlanta cars

Atlanta Transit


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ALSTOM won a contract recently to overhaul an additional 118 metro cars for the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), in a follow-on option worth about $139 million (€ 129 million).

MARTA is exercising an option associated with a contract awarded December 9, 2002, worth some $127 million, under which ALSTOM is overhauling 120 cars.

Including this option, the total number of cars ALSTOM is refurbishing for MARTA comes to 238, bringing the total value of the contract to about $266 million.

The 118 additional cars, built by ALSTOM between 1979 and 1981, will be refurbished at ALSTOM’s facilities in Hornell, New York. Deliveries are scheduled to begin at the end of 2004, at the rate of up to eight cars a month.

MARTA carries about one-half million passengers each day.


 

South Korea subway toll now 189

South Korean authorities raised the death toll from the devastating subway fire a fortnight ago to 189 after forensic experts found 56 more sets of remains in the debris of the two scorched trains. The AP reported most of the newly discovered bodies, as of February 26, were so heavily burned and disintegrated as to make immediate identification impossible, said Choi Chong-hoon, an official at the Central Disaster Center. He put the new death toll at 189, up from a previous estimate of 133.


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Shinkansen engineer falls asleep

An engineer fell asleep at the helm of one of Japan’s bullet trains while it was speeding at 170 mph with 800 passengers on board, the railway company said last week.

It was the first time on record someone has nodded off while driving the Shinkansen, or bullet train – a high-speed train that reaches maximum speeds of 180 miles per hour, West Japan Railway said. The train was apparently on autopilot at the time.

Officials discovered the incident Wednesday afternoon (February 26) when the train pulled into a station en route from Hiroshima and Tokyo and came to a halt about 300 feet before it was supposed to, leaving the last three train cars stopped before end of the platform, wrote The AP.

When officials from the station rushed to the engineer’s car, they found him asleep in his chair, JR West said.

The 33-year-old man told West Japan Railway officials he “had no memory” of what happened for about eight minutes until he was awakened. Shinkansen operators normally take over from the automatic controls and operate the train manually in the final approach to a station.

West Japan Ry. said he had gotten plenty of sleep and hadn’t been drinking alcohol before the incident. The company is still investigating why he fell asleep. There were no injuries to anyone on board. Local police said they are investigating the engineer for negligence and possible violations of railway laws.


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OFF THE MAIN LINE...

Less smog from cog railway

The Cog Ry. locomotives chugging up to the summit of Mount Washington, N.H., the Northeast’s highest peak, will be powered by heating oil instead of coal starting next year.

The trains still will run on steam, but without using the coal that causes wear and tear on the trains, the environment and on some passengers’ patience. Visitors who book a ride on the three-hour trip frequently are showered by hard, burning cinders.

“I think people are enthused about the fact that its coal, but once they’re exposed to coal, some of that mystique goes away,” said the railroad’s owner, Wayne Presby.

The first of the railroads seven trains refitted to burn heating oil will begin running next year, with more to follow if the initial changeover goes well, he said.

The railway has attracted visitors from around New Hampshire and beyond since 1869. The trains, invented by a meatpacking mogul who got lost in a storm hiking to the summit, originally burned firewood to build up steam that drove the engines, but its owners soon switched to coal and stayed there.

After Presby and his business partner, Joel Bedor (who also own the Mount Washington Hotel and Resort) bought the railway in 1983, they started thinking about making a switch. Difficulties with burning oil in engines built for coal, however, delayed the transition until more advanced technology made refitting the engines feasible.

For now, the railway uses about 1,500 tons of low-sulfur coal each season, which lasts from early May to early November.

Coal used by power plants, which is ground into a fine dust before being burned, tends to hang in the air after combustion and contribute to air pollution, Presby said, but the coal used by the locomotives emits large particles and cinders, which produce thick black smoke, but don’t linger in the air as long.

“Its a dirty fuel, and I don’t mean in terms of what goes into the air, necessarily, but what drops to the ground,” he said. The cinders and coal dust extend as far as a half-mile in either direction of the cog railway, and over the years, have accumulated to depths of as much as three feet beside some sections of the track, Presby said.

Presby said he and Bedor want to switch to heating oil to cut down on maintenance problems caused by the cinders, which scour the trains and foul other equipment, contributing to the company’s $1 million annual maintenance costs.

They also want to create a cleaner railway for their workers and passengers, and to clean up the smoke they produce, Presby said.

Environmental groups and researchers say the switch is a good first step, but a few said natural gas or other clean fuels would make better choices.

“This cog railway is in an incredibly pristine environment,” said researcher Kevin Gardner, of the Environmental Research Group at the Univ. of New Hampshire.

“I think heating oil will be a big improvement over the coal they’ve been burning – which is not ideal - but its certainly not as far as they can go.”


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THE WAY WE WERE...

Unknown tea kettle steamer

William and Jane Drury Collection

Here’s a puzzle: We’re sure this is a New England railroad around the turn of the 19th century, but which railroad? We can’t identify the tea kettle, but it’s hauling people, which is always a good thing. We suspect it was a Boston & Maine train because of the wires and pulley to the right of the station and behind the structure. In the early days, the B&M used “ball signals.” Could it be Old Colony? Perhaps the Boston & Providence? Both routes would predate the merger with the New York, New Haven & Hartford.

End Notes...

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

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

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

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

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


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