Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
  NCI Logo Vol. 2 No. 9, March 5, 2001
Copyright © 2001, NCI, Inc.
James P. RePass, President
Leo King, Editor
 

A weekly North American Railroad update


Cascades service suspended 24 hours

Earthquake hits hard in Seattle

By Leo King
Editor

Both freight and passenger trains came to a rapid stop on March 1 after an earthquake pummeled the Pacific Northwest.

Amtrak service between Seattle and Portland was canceled until 6 p.m. Thursday, after the earthquake, measured at 6.8 on the Richter scale, hit the Pacific Northwest city, which meant no Amtrak passenger trains would depart until Friday.

The quake struck at 10:54 a.m. PST about 35 miles southwest of Seattle and 30 miles deep, according to the National Earthquake Information Center of Golden, Colo. People as far away as Vancouver, B.C. and in Oregon felt the temblor. In Portland, Ore., some 140 miles distant, buildings swayed for a half-minute.

Washington State Gov. Gary Locke declared a state of emergency. The last major 'quake to hit the region was a 7.1-magnitude earthquake that in 1949.

BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas told D:F via e-mail, "There were no injuries. Tracks were shut down for a 400-mile radius from Olympia, Wash. on day of the quake, and 88 trains were stopped before noon (Wednesday). Inspections after two to three hours determined there were no problems to the physical plant including bridges, tunnels, buildings, track and signals."

Melonas added, "All lines were open on evening of the earthquake, however the majority of trains were moving mid-afternoon. The only damage occurred near Olympia where alignment to the main line at various locations in a five-mile stretch were required."

The first Amtrak arrival in Seattle was Cascades No. 14, operating from Eugene to Seattle, and scheduled to arrive at 8:25 p.m. A following train, No. 754, would not arrive until 9:45 p.m. from Portland, according to the timetable. The first departure either north or south could not leave until Friday morning. No. 751 from Seattle to Portland, was due out at 7:30 a.m. Fifteen minutes later, No. 760 would leave for Vancouver.

Washington State's DOT posted a simple single line on its web site following the earthquake, "All trains are stopped until further notice due to today's earthquake" (at http://www.wsdot.wa.gov).

An on-line press report stated, "Amtrak suspended train service between Portland and Seattle until tracks could be inspected, a spokesman said. Two trains with more than 220 people aboard were halted between Seattle and Tacoma and buses were sent to pick up stranded passengers."

Meanwhile, Amtrak spokeswoman Jennifer McMahon, in Oakland, Calif., said, "No Amtrak guests or employees sustained any injuries as a result of Friday's earthquake. Amtrak equipment was also unharmed." The Seattle Amtrak station re-opened on Friday after a structural inspection, she added.

By Friday, it was obvious the state's Transportation Building in Olympia had been heavily damaged. WashDOT managed to post messages on its web site, and it told DOT employees the building "remains closed to employees through Friday, 3/2/01. Cleanup and needed repairs will begin on Friday and continue through the weekend. The goal is to have the Transportation Building open for employees to return on Monday, 3/5/01."

They also instructed its employees not to go to work on Friday "unless you are called by your manager. There is an estimated $1 million damage to the building, including flooding, broken windows, and lots of debris. The building inspectors are going through the building today and we expect to hear late Friday about when we might be able to get back into the building."

The DOT was able to open a limited communications center with a small communications staff. The telephone information center moved into an "Olympic regional office on Friday to set up a communications center for calls from the media and the public. The center will operate from 8-5, Monday through Friday."

Amtrak published a press release on its site by Friday morning (http://amtrak.com) stating "Regularly scheduled Amtrak service in the Pacific Northwest will resume later today, beginning with trains scheduled to depart after 4:00 p.m. (PST) today [Friday].

Spokeswoman McMahon explained, "Standard operating procedure following an earthquake or event of this nature is to halt all rail traffic pending a thorough track inspection and clearance. The Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway, which owns the tracks, estimates that the tracks will be re-opened for passenger service by 4:00 p.m. (PST) today."

Four Cascades trains began operating on their regular schedules Friday afternoon - trains #754, 755, 762 and 763.

Eastbound Empire Builder trains, Nos. 8 and 28, operated on their regular schedules, she said. Coast Starlight service, trains 11 and 14, operated as scheduled, "but guests were provided motorcoach service between Seattle and Eugene; trains will not operate north of Eugene, Ore."

McMahon added, "While regularly scheduled service will resume, guests may encounter moderate delays due to reduced speeds along the route." Amtrak trains scheduled to operate earlier on Friday were cancelled, but buses were "provided where possible."

The Cascades operate on the 466-mile Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor from Vancouver. to Eugene, Ore. The Coast Starlight operates daily between Los Angeles and Seattle, and the Empire Builder runs daily between Chicago, Portland and Seattle.


Bush keeps 'A's' budget intact;
some cash left over from Clinton era
By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

There's good news and bad news in the first Amtrak budget of the new Bush administration.

The good news is the change of administrations does not leave Amtrak any worse off politically than it already was.

The bad news is that, as was the case with the last few years of the Clinton administration, Amtrak is being funded at about half the authorized amount that was supposed to put it on a glidepath to operational self-sufficiency by October 2002.

This has been a little publicized facet of the effect of the entire 1997 Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act. President Clinton did not get out in front and actively override his OMB director's decision to keep that annual appropriation down to about half of what was promised. Some lawmakers swear they had a solemn promise from the ex-president that his budget would fully fund the Amtrak "glidepath" effort.

Even Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), arguably Amtrak's harshest congressional nemesis, has criticized what he sees as Amtrak management's lethargic response to the Clinton White House's failure to go after the full funding. Since McCain's comments have suggested to some that the funding would be at zero if he had his way, the senator may be making a record wherein if Amtrak fails to reach its October 2002 goal, it can be shown that Amtrak officials themselves failed to go after the funding which they were promised.

That President Bush is continuing in the same mode causes some analysts to conclude that the new administration has either decided this is a beginning in a long-term effort to lead us into the high-speed era, or else not quite decided exactly what to do with Amtrak, and thus is leaving its status more or less "on hold" for now.

The GOP platform pledged a national rail passenger system, and Amtrak Chairman Tommy Thompson, the former Wisconsin governor, also serves in the Bush cabinet as Health and Human Services secretary.

While some believe that it will ultimately be difficult for Thompson to hold both jobs, he shows no public inclination to leave Amtrak, as of this writing. But his voice is likely to be heard in cabinet meetings when the subject of Amtrak comes up. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, a Democrat, supported Amtrak during his 20 years in Congress, though he was not usually out front on the issue.

One knowledgeable analyst on Amtrak matters, Amtrak Conductor David Bowe, figures that if Amtrak had received its full funding all these years, the passenger service would have new Viewliner and Superliner coaches, diners, sleepers and lounges. "But it is for naught," he added.

Sources inside Amtrak headquarters indicate the company decided not to make a lot of noise about not getting the full authorized funding, figuring Amtrak can better make its case politically by taking a hard-nosed businesslike approach, using the cards that it had been dealt.

In fact, Amtrak President George Warrington sees good cause for optimism in the new president's budget. Warrington has focused on the operating side of the budget which is where, by most interpretations of the 1997 law, is where the "glidepath" is. The infrastructure or capital side is another matter. In fact, Amtrak has said it will need $1.5 billion a year for the next 20 years to meet its capital requirements.

"Amtrak has reduced its federal operating grant from $318 million in fiscal year 1999 to $59 million this year," the Amtrak CEO announced, noting that kept the company on the glidepath. If Congress passes the Bush budget (with which Warrington says he is "pleased,") "this appropriation will enable a capital improvement program helping to reverse years of neglect of the nation's passenger rail infrastructure and reducing the transportation gridlock on our highways and in our aviation system."

NARP sees a bright spot in that the Bush Amtrak funding is "scored" for budget purposes at 100 percent, meaning Amtrak will get all the money up front.

This represents a welcome change from the Clinton years, in NARP's view, because at that time, "first-year scoring (had) been 40 percent, with 60 percent of the funding postponed a year."

"Thus," said NARP Executive Director Ross Capon, "under the Bush proposal for 2002, Amtrak would get about $834 million, 60 percent of the $521 million from 2001, plus 100 percent of the $521 million for 2002."

NARP urges its members to gear up for the fight on Capitol Hill, noting that for all the good news from the White House, highway funding is up a proposed 2.8 percent, aviation shoots up 10.8 percent, mass transit 6.8 percent, and Amtrak, the perennial step-child at a flat zero percent, moving neither up or down.

Capon sees NARP's 2001 agenda in the Congress consisting of passing the Bush budget and the High-speed Rail Investment Act, which will be considered separately, to provide the $12 billion bonding authority. Its purpose is to get the nation's high-speed trains off the drawing boards and into reality.

Meanwhile, the Amtrak Reform Council announced that it would release its second annual report on Tuesday, March 20th at a press conference, followed immediately by a public business meeting of the panel.

The council was created by the 1997 act to monitor Amtrak's progress on the glidepath, and, as interpreted by most of the members, to ask the "what if" questions and "think out of the box." For merely following this congressional mandate, the council has been on the receiving end of endless vituperation from the leaders of organized rail labor who leave the strong impression that, in their view, almost any change at all is necessarily a threat to Amtrak's future.

Last month, the 32-member Executive Committee of the AFL-CIO accused the ARC of having "exposed its anti-Amtrak motives by seeking an acceleration of Amtrak's budgetary self-sufficiency 'glidepath' to the date December 2, 2002."

TTD President Sonny Hall said 2004 is the first full fiscal year that Amtrak must be operationally self-sufficient, according to what Hall said is "an accurate reading of current law."

Lawyers may be required to sort it all out.

If that is what TTD saw as evidence of an "anti-Amtrak" bias, then that "bias" would have to extend to Amtrak President Warrington, the Amtrak board, and any number of pro-Amtrak lawmakers who have repeatedly described October 1, 2002 as the target date for operational self-sufficiency. If naming December 2, 2002 (two months later) makes ARC "anti-Amtrak," one has to question the rationale.

But even the lawyers don't necessarily have a handle on it. Jim Coston is a Chicago lawyer who was appointed to the council by Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, largely at the behest of organized labor. He can't figure it out either. "It's very confusing," Coston tells D:F, adding he has heard conflicting interpretations of the 1997 law's glidepath deadline.

Coston, a onetime Amtrak employee and passionate supporter of passenger trains - and who is no enemy of organized labor by any means - says the council is serving a constructive purpose.

"We want to help Amtrak," he said. He maintains the ARC is doing its job by focusing on long-term capital and infrastructure needs and where Amtrak can improve.

"We want Amtrak to succeed," Coston said, and added, the ARC members are constantly seeking consensus on how Amtrak "can get there."

The life-long Democrat insists ARC is not seeking to "trigger privatization" as an end in itself or to dismantle Amtrak, but is looking for "what works."

Moreover, at the March 20 meeting, Amtrak Reform Council Vice Chairman Paul Weyrich plans to re-introduce, with Coston's support (or so he tells D:F), his proposal urging Amtrak to ask Congress for a one-year pushback on the glidepath schedule. The rationale for this is the high-speed Acela delay in the Northeast, which has hindered Amtrak's business plan.

Some ARC members have privately urged members of the Amtrak board to do exactly that, but the board, marching in lockstep, has rejected the idea, saying the business plan deadline can still be met.

I've covered Amtrak for 30 years. I've covered the Amtrak Reform Council since its inception. About a year ago, in what may be a D:F record for sheer length, I dealt with all the political intrigue involving the ARC and its organized labor critics. I try to call the shots as I see them. My conclusion was then and is now that the overwhelming majority of council members do not have an "anti-Amtrak bias" and that the ARC does not present any threat to Amtrak.

That TTD has persuaded some lawmakers to the contrary is a tribute to what can be accomplished with the huge lobbying budget of the AFL-CIO targeting a tiny low-level agency with barely a shoestring for its own operations, let alone a high-priced lobbyist to schmooze or put the arm on members of Congress.

Regarding the Bush budget, NARP Assistant Executive Director Scott Leonard told D:F, "If you're asking me if we're as well off politically as we (passenger train advocates) were a year ago (or better off, given the "scoring" mentioned earlier), I'd have to say yes we are." However, Leonard is looking for outspoken moral support from this young administration, hopefully similar to that offered by former Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater and former FRA Administrator Jolene Molitoris.

Of course, Mineta has barely taken office and the FRA Administrator has yet to be announced. We'll see.


Amtrak to ask for track speed ruling on Portland-Boston route
By Leo King
Editor

Amtrak is planning on going before the Surface Transportation Board as early as this week to get a clarification, and perhaps another ruling, from the federal Surface Transportation Board over the issue of Guilford Transportation Systems insisting on operating Amtrak's eight Downeaster passenger trains at 59 mph instead of the planned 79 mph.

Bill Epstein, the Northeast Corridor's Director of Governmental Affairs, said last week, "Guilford is saying right now that they the believe the tracks should be operated at low speed, but very early in March, meaning probably next week, we'll be going to the STB to ask for a clarification and explanation of its earlier order."

In essence, it's Amtrak's position that the STB and FRA have already ruled in Amtrak's favor regarding the higher speed with 115-pound rail and ballast 32 inches deep. Guilford had been seeking 132-pound rail.

"In our view, there's no question," Epstein said. "We would not run a train if we didn't think it was safe. We also want to get out there and test the track by running [test] trains" over the route."

Epstein added, "There are standard tests we do. We run all the time along the tracks" checking for alignment, deficiencies and other technical considerations.

Epstein, who is a journalist by trade, cited the STB's service order of Oct. 22, 1999 in which the federal body agreed the higher speed was all right.

Guilford has not yet permitted Amtrak on its line to start training its crews. Training was supposed to start Feb. 1, according to Chalmers Hardenbergh, editor of a Yarmouth, Maine-based rail industry newsletter.

In the waning days of February, the president of Guilford Transportation Industries clashed with passenger-train advocates at a press conference on Feb. 22, revealing frustration and anger on both sides. Critics of Guilford said Amtrak should consider taking the company's rail line by eminent domain, charging that Guilford wants to stop the startup of passenger service from Portland to Boston, the Portland Press Herald reported.

What was expected to be a "routine news event" at Portland City Hall was anything but when Guilford's president, David Andrew Fink, his son David Armstrong Fink and two other Guilford officials showed up.

After hearing someone remark about the use of eminent domain, the elder Fink walked to the podium and declared, "I'm the owner of that property you want to take."

In a tone that was loud and sometimes angry, Fink said Guilford is not standing in the way of passenger service. But he said he will not allow trains to travel more than 59 mph because the new rail, rated at 115 pounds, is not engineered for higher speeds.

The senior Fink said any test would be flawed because only a section of rail can be tested at any given time and cannot assure him that the entire 78-mile stretch owned by Guilford is safe all the time. He said the rails are not heavy enough and the ballast is not deep enough to meet requirements for rail rigidity. He said there is no test available that will convince him otherwise.

"I'm the person who sets the standards on my railroad," he said. "We are not going to jeopardize other people's safety. That is all there is to it."

Fink said rail authority officials have known for two years about his objections, and he faulted them for not taking the dispute to the STB earlier.

Michael Murray, executive director of the rail authority, said attorneys had advised the agency to finish the railroad upgrade before going back to the transportation board.

State officials have not yet decided whether to start train service at 59 mph or wait until they can get a new STB ruling, which could take several months.

The 1999 STB decision stated, "Having reviewed the pleadings and the FRA's analysis, we find that Amtrak may operate at speeds up to 79 miles per hour over 115-pound rail, provided that the line is rehabilitated to and maintained at the levels indicated in the FRA's analysis." [STB Finance Docket No. 3369.]

Guilford, under contract with Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA) performed the track upgrade, and was paid about $60 million to do the work.

Meanwhile, a legislative committee researching the possibility of passenger rail service between Kittery, Maine, New Hampshire and Newburyport, Mass., agreed on Feb. 28 to begin petitioning the state for support. Although the project is still in its early planning stages, the plan is to have a commuter rail re-established along a former line, beginning in Kittery and continuing on into Boston, with stops in Portsmouth, Hampton and Seabrook. The former line, which has rail missing in some places and in need of replacement in others, saw its last passenger train in 1965.

In the final analysis, it all comes down to engineering standards, testing methods, and human interpretation of the data found.

The Feb. 16, 1999 STB decision was in response to a petition Amtrak filed in which the passenger railroad "sought to resolve a dispute between itself and Guilford over the appropriate weight of continuous welded rail that must be installed on a specified line in order to ensure that Amtrak will be able to operate its trains safely at speeds of up to 79 miles per hour. Because the FRA has expertise on safety issues such as this one, the board requested that agency to participate in this proceeding and assist us."

Looking back at that STB decision of two years ago regarding speeds, Dr. Arnold D. Kerr, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Delaware, presented evidence on behalf of Amtrak.

He based his analysis on American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association (AREMA) engineering standards. Kerr stated, "As the line over which Amtrak is to operate will be rehabilitated before operations begin, it is meaningless to determine the 'k' value of the subject track in its current condition."

AREMA track stress and deflection limits are determined using mathematical formulas that are uncontested, the STB wrote in its decision, but both railroad operators disagreed, "in certain respects, over the value of one component of the formulas, the 'elastic modulus of rail support,' also known as the track modulus," which AREMA refers to in its manual by the letter 'k.' It measures the vertical stiffness of the track below the rail base.

"The stiffer the track structure below the rail base the higher the 'k' value, and the less the rail bends under the weight of a train moving over the track." The manual further defines "track modulus" as "load (in pounds) that causes a one-inch vertical rail deflection per lineal inch of track."

The STB noted, "Amtrak, NNEPRA, and Guilford... were unable to reach an agreement as to the appropriate weight of rail required for the 'safe, consistent, and continuous' operation of Amtrak trains at speeds of up to 79 miles per hour. Amtrak and NNEPRA asserted that 115-pound rail was adequate. Guilford claimed that 132-pound rail was required. Amtrak and NNEPRA stated that, due to budgetary constraints, 115-pound rail, not 132-pound rail, would be installed on the line regardless of the board's findings."

The STB found that "the effect of the board's decision would be to determine whether rail passenger operations over the line may be conducted at speeds of up to 79 miles per hour or must be limited to 60 miles per hour."

In a footnote, the STB stated, "Under the parties' proposed amended terms and conditions, the subject line would be maintained to permit Amtrak to operate over described segments at specified speeds ranging from 20 to 79 miles per hour. Operations over certain segments would be limited to 65, 70, 75, or 79 miles per hour. The record does not reveal how the parties determined the specified speeds. Our decision here should not be construed as approving operations at speeds exceeding 60 miles per hour except under the conditions set forth in our discussion and findings."

In his analysis, Kerr estimated a 'k' value that corresponded to that of well-maintained wooden tie track. As guidance for his estimate, he referred to a 1982 book, Railroad Engineering, by W. W. Hay, which listed "a 'k' value as 2,900 to 3,000 lb/in2 for well-maintained wood-tie track resting on 32 inches of ballast." He also referred to tests funded through an FRA grant to the Univ. of Delaware that he personally conducted on wood tie track near Chester Station, PA, in 1995. Using a loaded car pushed by a locomotive over track which he asserted had characteristics similar to those that the subject track would have after rehabilitation for 79 mph operation, Kerr determined that 'k' values ranged from 2,750 to 3,000 lb/in2, so in determining whether the AREMA bending moment and deflection criteria were met by 115-pound rail, he used a 'k' value of 2,750 lb/in2 for well-maintained wood-tie track.

Using that value, Kerr's calculations showed that "the maximum stresses in the rail base would be 24,497 psi, which does not exceed the allowable value of 25,000 psi, and the maximum rail deflection would be 0.249 inches, which does not exceed the permissible value of 0.25 inches."

Kerr concluded that 115-pound rail "would satisfy the criteria for the planned train speeds of up to 79 miles per hour, provided that a track modulus value equal to or greater than 2,750 1b/in2 is maintained."

Dr. Allan M. Zarembski, President of ZETA-TECH Associates, Inc., argued for Guilford. Zarembski said he also examined the relative rail bending strength of 115-pound and 132-pound rail sections in accordance with AREMA standards.

Zarembski said he varied parameters that vary in the field; specifically, he "considered rail bending stresses at 'k' values between 1,000 and 3,000 1b/in2 for locomotive wheel diameters of 40 inches (new wheel diameters), 38.5 inches, and 37 inches (the shortest permissible diameter).

His analysis revealed that "The bending stress on 115-pound rail would exceed the allowable value of 25,000 psi when wheel diameters were 37 inches and 'k' value was 2,150 lb/in2 or less, when wheel diameter is 38.5 inches and k value is 2,000 lb/in2 or less, and when wheel diameter is 40 inches and 'k' value is 1,750 lb/in2 or less.

"For 132-pound rail," he testified, "'k' values would have to be below 1,000 lb/in2 at each wheel diameter before bending stress limits would be exceeded." He concluded that 115-pound rail did not meet the criteria for allowable bending stress for track with modulus values of less than approximately 2,000 lb/in2. In contrast, he asserted, 132-pound rail will meet AREMA's bending stress criteria.

Other people also presented evidence on both sides of the issue, but in the final decision, the STB came down on Amtrak's side.

Kerr argued that AREMA track design recommendations "contemplate track structures that are designed to provide adequate support, which would then be maintained during revenue service." He also pointed out that it "would be uneconomic to design an inadequate track structure with a modulus of 1,000 1b/in2 and then to try to make up for the inadequate structure by selecting heavier rail."

The FRA's technical presentation was based on the agency's interpretation of a study performed for it by Foster-Miller, Inc., as well as Kerr's 1995 study.


P-42s to take over principal jobs;
F-40s role diminish on corridor
The mainstay of the Amtrak locomotive fleet, the ubiquitous F-40PH, will soon be a memory on the Northeast Corridor, particularly between Boston and New Haven.

An informed source said that the Twilight Shoreliner (formerly the Night Owl) will soon be all-electric as AEM-7s and the new HHP-8s displace the 25-year-old diesels.

Meanwhile, P-42s are expected to begin operating on the inland route between New Haven, Hartford, Springfield and Boston, in addition to the Lake Shore Limited, trains 448/449.

F-40s will be stationed back to-back as protect engines in strategic locations, and will begin taking on a more utilitarian role, such as yard switcher duties.

The changeover is expected by mid-March.


Corridor lines...

Atlanta-Macon line delayed again

Georgians in the central part of the state say they are disappointed that Gov. Roy Barnes' budget proposal will cause at least a one-year delay in the creation of a passenger rail service from Macon to Atlanta.

"I'm disappointed that he was not able to do more for rail," said Rep. Terry Coleman, D-Eastman, a train advocate who is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, according to the Macon Telegraph.

"There were other priorities he chose," said Coleman. Barnes chose to focus on a system of high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes as a faster solution to traffic congestion in metro Atlanta.

"We need to invest in a system of HOV lanes, buses and eventually rail if we are going to reach the air quality levels required by the federal government," Barnes said in his budget address to the Legislature on Thursday.

Advocates of rail service to Macon had hoped it could begin in 2004. Barnes' budget will delay the service until at least 2005. However, environmental consultants were instructed to examine the impact of two possible rail routes to Atlanta.

Meanwhile, the Columbus Ledger-Inquirer reported that the Georgia House recently approved a supplemental budget that could boost future freight and passenger rail services from Columbus to the river port of Bainbridge, and lower commercial dependence on the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers.

The House, by a 155-19 vote, passed a list of projects that includes $6 million for freight rail service from Bainbridge to Cuthbert and $7 million for freight and passenger rail service from Preston to Rochelle.

The package the House passed totals about $800 million, about $500 million of which is for school construction. The bill was sent to the Senate for its consideration.

Via Georgia Rail Chronicles


Fond du Lac service delayed
Amtrak's proposed Milwaukee-to-Fond du Lac service isn't likely to start until late this year at the earliest, railroad representatives said Feb. 28, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The carrier plans to extend its Milwaukee-to-Chicago Hiawatha line to Fond du Lac for one daily round trip, and is expected to carry express freight as well as passengers. The train would leave Fond du Lac before 6 a.m. and return after 10 p.m., but negotiations to use the Wisconsin Central Ltd. tracks for the service are on hold until Canadian National Railroad completes its purchase of Wisconsin Central, Amtrak spokesman Kevin Johnson said.


Will the Heartland Flyer eventually go to Denver?
Oklahoma officials have new hope that Amtrak will agree to extend the Heartland Flyer passenger rail route north to Newton, Kan., just north of Wichita, Kans.

Extending the present Fort Worth-to-Oklahoma City route depends on several things happening, said Joe Kyle, a railroad program manager at the Oklahoma DOT.

He said Amtrak has not yet approved the plan and must negotiate an arrangement with BNSF to use its tracks.

"Until we get the figures on the cost, it is premature to even guess when a decision will be made," Kyle said.

If the Heartland Flyer route is extended to Newton, there are plans to establish a passenger rail link with Denver, and Kyle is hopeful.

"I think the indications are it is a logical extension and would be beneficial not only to Oklahoma but to Amtrak for its service," he said.


Locomotive lines...

Alstom to build some EMD engines

Alstom Transportation Inc. has been awarded a contract to assemble 23 passenger train locomotives for General Motors' Electromotive Division. The parts for the F-59 locomotive, which is distinctive for its bullet-shaped design, will come from GM-EMD plants in LaGrange, Ill., and London, Ontario, project manager Tom Morey said.

The locomotives will be built in Alstom's Hornell Car Shop, where the Erie and Erie-Lackawanna railroads overhauled steam and freight locomotives for decades.

The contract is seen locally as a milestone, as locomotives have been overhauled and finished there but rarely, if ever, assembled from scratch.

Supplies began arriving last week, and the first complete F-59 locomotive is scheduled to roll out in the first part of July. Company officials hope to produce three to four a month and have the last engine completed by November.

The first locomotives will go to CalTrans, the California state DOT, whose passenger lines are operated by Amtrak California. Alstom in Hornell is now finishing work on Pacific Surfliner cars run by Amtrak in California.

Company officials would not disclose the value of the contract.


Freight lines...

Medics question railroad's reasoning over DNA testing

Medical ethicists and legal authorities in Texas and elsewhere are mystified why BNSF ever considered its now-ended practice of genetic testing on some of its injured workers.

"It sounds like really dumb corporate behavior," said Stanford Univ. law professor Henry T. Greely. He said it "was very puzzling. Puzzling scientifically, puzzling legally and puzzling as a matter of public relations."

Fort Worth-based BNSF agreed a fortnight ago to stop its program after the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit contending it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. It was the first time that the EEOC had challenged genetic testing.

The testing involved employees who filed claims for carpal tunnel syndrome, a wrist condition believed to be caused by repetitive hand motions. Along with related injuries, it is the leading workplace hazard, according to the National Academy of Sciences railroad spokesman Dick Russack stopped short of acknowledging that adopting the program one year ago was a mistake.

"I don't know, maybe it was," he said, and added, "Some people think that it was."

Dr. Jeffrey P. Kahn, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Minnesota, said news of the BNSF program was "sort of a wake-up call" for the public about genetic testing.

The freight railroad employs about 40,000 people.

The program came to light when BNSF workers from Nebraska, North Dakota and Minnesota complained to their union. The union, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes, said the testing was conducted in secret.

Allegations of secrecy raised the most concern from medical ethicists.

"If you're going to collect blood for research purposes, you should tell people what you're doing," Kahn said.


Maine line gets a new president
The Bangor and Aroostook Railroad has anew president. Frederic W. Yocum Jr., a 30-year veteran of the railroad industry, began his new tasks on Feb. 23. Yocum took over the job held by Daniel R. Sabin, who resigned effective Feb. 20 as vice president and chief operating officer, reports the Bangor, Maine Daily News.

Yocum has been a consultant since 1998 to and director of the B&A's parent company, Iron Road Railways. Iron Road bought the freight line in 1995.


International lines...

Four railroaders die in Brit wreck

Four railroaders died in last week's train wreck in Great Britain. They were GNER passenger train locomotive engineer John Weddle, buffet car chef Paul Taylor, GNER customer operations leader Raymond Robson, and freight train engineer Stephen Dunn.

A university professor is also among those feared missing and dead. Staff at Teesside University said Professor Steve Baldwin, who pioneered research in the controversial children's drug Ritalin, was believed to have boarded the doomed passenger train. He has been missing since Wednesday, according to This is London, a web-based news medium at http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/.

At least 76 other people were injured on Wednesday when a London-bound train was derailed by a Land Rover and trailer which tumbled on the track.

About 100 people were aboard the Newcastle to King's Cross express.

The disaster happened at Great Heck near Selby, North Yorkshire, at 6.12 a.m. when the Land Rover, towing a Renault on a trailer, sustained a blowout on the M62 highway. The vehicles careered off a motorway bridge and blocked the East Coast main line track.

According to a RailTrack spokesman the locomotive engineer, traveling at 125 mph, saw the vehicle on the track but was unable to stop. The spokesman said the impact knocked the train off the rails but it continued to travel upright for half a mile until it was met head-on by a freight train carrying 1,000 tons of coal, traveling at 75 mph. The freight train driver realized the danger, but could not prevent the collision. The Land Rover skewed off the highway and rolled down an embankment.

As of Saturday morning, the known death toll was 10 people, and recovery teams faced the grim task of moving the two most badly damaged coaches from the site of the rail crash. A 200-ton crane was being used to lift both cars clear of the tracks, before placing them in a nearby field. Police said if there were any more bodies to be found, they likely would be hidden in or under those cars.

Superintendent Tony Thompson, of British Transport Police, said, "These carriages have been severely compacted, and there are areas which we have not been able to search. We simply do not know what we will find until the carriages are moved."


'Flying' on a train to Stuttgart gets a tryout
Echoing an idea touted by Amtrak's CEO George Warrington and the railroad's Acela Express trains, three European airlines have picked up the notion it sometimes is faster to take the train that it is to fly - especially from city center to city center.

Switching passengers from short flights to fast trains has long seemed an obvious way to free precious runway capacity at busy airports, so this week, the theory is being put to the test in Europe, the Financial Times reported on Feb. 26.

In an experiment that began yesterday (March 4), Lufthansa, the German airline, began offering the alternative of rail travel to customers flying from Stuttgart via its hard-pressed hub at Frankfurt Airport.

Trains will carry Lufthansa's flight codes, and service on board will be identical to that in its European business class. Passengers will be able to check bags through to their final destination on their outward journeys and when they return. The airline says there will be customs facilities at Stuttgart station.

Soon after the trial begins, Air France is expected to confirm that it will axe flights between Paris' Charles de Gaulle - which has its own mainline station - and Brussels, and switch passengers to high-speed Thalys trains instead. The airline currently operates five round trips a day on the route.

However, it is not yet clear whether customers will be able to check bags through to their final destinations before boarding trains at Brussels' Midi station; or traveling the other way, whether they will have to pick them up at the airport before traveling on to the Belgian capital.

The Lufthansa service will operate initially on six daily round trips. One first-class carriage with 46 seats will be set aside for passengers on each train.

"The rail connection will be available to passengers flying in any of our three classes," said Wolfgang Weinert, the project manager. "The service on board will be exactly the same as it is in our business class, with newspapers, snacks, drinks and so on, except it won't have to be so rushed."

The train trip takes 73 minutes, compared with 55 minutes for the flight, but in the rush hour getting from the center of Stuttgart to the airport can take anything from 45 minutes to one hour.

Lufthansa has also identified Cologne, Nuremberg and Dusseldorf as possible future rail link candidates, but a decision on whether to launch pilot programs on any of those routes will depend on customer reaction to the Stuttgart trial.

"Once the high-speed track between Frankfurt and Cologne is open, and we expect that to happen in December 2002, it will take only 50 minutes by train against 55 minutes by air," Weinert said.

In order to persuade customers to connect by train, he stressed, the total journey time must not increase. The rail-air alternative will be relegated by computer reservation systems programmed to turn up the fastest options. "If it is not on the front page, you may as well forget it."

That fast trains running between city centers attract a lot of air travelers is beyond doubt. Eurostar calculates that business passengers make up about half of its traffic. It claims 62 per cent of the total London to Paris market, including leisure travelers, and 46 per cent to and from Brussels.


World's first commercial line

China builds maglev railway

China began construction last week of the world's first commercial magnetic levitation high-speed train. It rides on a cushion of magnetism instead of wheels.

The new maglev line from the Shanghai financial district to one of the city's two airports is to open in 2003, and the German-designed train will carry 600 passengers at 250 mph.

After a brief ceremony alongside the planned route, the Communist Party secretary for Shanghai, Huang Ju, pushed a button to start a piledriver that began sinking the first foundation girder for a railway workshop.

German firms that have spent decades and billions of dollars developing maglev hope to use the Shanghai train as a model to show prospective buyers. Also at the ceremony were executives of the two German firms building the train, Siemens and ThyssenKrupp. Both firms are supplying the trains and stations, while Chinese companies are building the magnetic track. Neither side has disclosed a price, though the Germans say their portion should cost less than $950 million.

Maglev uses powerful magnets to hold a train a fraction of an inch from the track and drive it with little noise or vibration. Japan has developed its own version of maglev, and both countries operate trains on test tracks.

Critics say maglev is too expensive and will waste energy. They say Japanese, French and German high-speed trains using standard rails can go almost as fast and have proven reliability.

Elsewhere in China, Bombardier Sifang Power (Qingdao) Transportation Ltd. (BSP), a Sino-Canadian railcar joint venture in East China's Shandong Province, will become operational next month.

Jointly founded in November 1998 by Qingdao Sifang Bus Manufacturing Plant, Bombardier and the Canadian Power Investment Co., BSP will be designing and manufacturing intercity and high-speed passenger rail cars, metro cars and light-rail vehicles.

President and chief executive officer of the Canadian Bombardier Inc., Robert E. Brown, who is part of the entourage of the visiting Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, recently inspected the progress of the joint venture's construction this morning.

"Our cooperation with China has been going on well. A lot of negotiations are now underway with the Chinese companies. We know that anything has its own pace, and everything so far has been going well," Brown said

In 1999, BSP received a $345 million (U.S.) order for 300 intercity passenger rail cars from the Ministry of Railways of China and the Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing, Zhengzhou, and Shenyang railway administration bureaus.

The first delivery is expected in early 2002.

Some $72 million has been spent on BSP's expansion. The plant now covers 150,000 square meters with a building area of some 50,000 square meters, and with the anticipated production, at the plant is expected to grow from around 300 at the start-up period to about 1,300 by the end of 2001. Some 50 Chinese engineers and managing staff of BSP will gain first-hand Bombardier technology experience by attending training programs in France and Canada.


Meetings...

New England Railroad Club

The New England Railroad Club will hold its engineering and transit night dinner meeting on March 22 at Boston's Copley Plaza Hotel. Guest Speaker is Mike Franke, vice-president, Amtrak's MidWest Rail. For tickets, go to http://nerailroadclub.com.


Surface Transportation Board

The Surface Transportation Board will conduct an oral arguments hearing concerning its proposed, new "major railroad merger regulations" rulemaking proceeding, Major Rail Consolidation Procedures, STB Ex Parte No. 582 (Sub-No. 1). The oral arguments will begin at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, April 5, in the Board Hearing Room, Room 760, on the 7th Floor of its offices in the Mercury Building, 1925 K Street, N.W. (at the corner of 20th and K Streets) in Washington, D.C. Chair Linda Morgan said she anticipates providing a total time of four hours for participants.


Amtrak Historical Society

The seventh annual Amtrak Historical Society Conference will be held in Chicago between April 27-29 at The Quality Inn in downtown Chicago, One Mid City Plaza (Madison at Halsted Streets). Highlights will include a tour of Amtrak's Chicago Reservation Call Center and a tour of the city's Historic Pullman District and Pullman Porter Museum, as well as presentations by Amtrak. Each year, the conference is held on the weekend closest to Amtrak's Anniversary and this year is Amtrak's 30th Anniversary. For details, go to http://www.trainweb.com/ahs/2001/


2001 Union Pacific steam trips

June 10

Union Pacific reports two steam excursion scheduled so far this year. Challenger steam engine No. 3985 on June 10, 2001 from Council Bluffs to Sargeant Bluff, Iowa and return. Contact The Camerail Club
Sioux City & Pacific Excursion
6307 Seward St.
Omaha, NE 68104-4761 e-mail DaveS402@yahoo.com

June 19

Challenger steam engine No. 3985 on June 19, 2001, from St. Louis to Gorham, Ill., and return. St. Louis Chapter, NRHS is also hosting the 2001 annual NRHS convention, June 19-23.
Contact St. Louis Chapter, National Railway Historical Society
2129 Barrett Station Rd., PMB 271
St. Louis, MO 63131-1638
(314) 839-2356
E-mail via http://www.stlouisnrhs.org


Letters...

We (read, the editor) also do dumb things sometimes. We received a letter from a reader who pointed out Boston's "Big Dig" and the "Third Harbor Tunnel Project" were two separate projects. We lost the reader's letter, but acknowledge he was right. We also unintentionally deleted his letter - honest. - Ed.


The Erie Limited

Erie Railroad - Leo King collection

Colourpicture of Boston Mass., was in the post card business in the 1950s when they published this photo of The Erie Limited. enroute from New York City to Chicago and crossed the century old - even fifty years ago - Starucca Viaduct near Susquehanna, Penn. The card stated, "The Erie Railroad serves New York, Binghamton, Elmira, Jamestown, Youngstown, Cleveland, Akron, and Chicago, the heart of industrial America."
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.

Destination: Freedom's editor, Leo King, also writes for "ThemeStream," a forum for writers and readers. King's articles are all rail-related, and mostly chronicle events over the last ten years on the Northeast Corridor, particularly in New England. Look for his articles at http://www.themestream.com under the heading "Travel," and the sub-heading, "Riding the Rails."

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 Site in Boston.


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