TRANSPLAN 21 conference and rally for rail|
June 14, 15 on Capitol Hill Washington, D.C.
In this edition...
Stating, As long as we fund nothing but highways, we will get nothing but highways.
National Corridors Initiative President James P. RePass today announced that former House Transportation & Infrastructure Rail Subcommittee Chairman Jack Quinn, and former Democratic Presidential Nominee and Amtrak Chair Michael S. Dukakis will keynote NCIs 2005 conference and rally for rail June 14 and 15 in Washington, D.C.
Participants can register on-line at www.nationalcorridors.org.
Unless there are fundamental changes in the way America plans, designs, and funds transportation, RePass said, we will continue to experience transportation management-by-crisis, and the fiasco of the attempted Amtrak de-funding now disrupting the nations transportation system.
RePass said, Our conferences are always designed to deal with substantive issues, but after 16 years as transportation advocates, we believe that the time is past due to address basic principles, because, as a nation, we are failing to invest in modern infrastructure, just as oil prices that drive our petroleum-dependent economy are heading for the stratosphere, he said.
Dukakis, and Quinn, who is President of Washington lobbyist powerhouse Cassidy & Associates, are of different parties, but share NCIs view that a balanced transportation system is essential both to the nations economic health, and to the health of the environment.
They will be joined by a score of the nations leading government, rail, and union officials, environmental and other leaders in introducing, debating, and putting structure to NCIs TransPlan 21 (a Transportation Plan for the 21st Century, which is geared towards a basic overhaul of the transportation status quo.
TransPlan 21, as developed by the National Corridors Initiative, is a set of principles, legislative proposals, and ideas, advanced by a citizen-driven, grass-roots campaign aimed at local, state, and Federal officials, designed to change the way America funds, designs, and builds transportation, he stated
In 1916 Congress passed the National Highway Act (Route 1; Route 66, etc.) and 40 years later, in 1956, the National Defense Interstate Highway Act, creating the Highway Trust Fund to pay for it. 80,000 miles of pavement later, theyre still at it!
In the 1930s and 1940s, at the state level, at the instigation of the petroleum-backed Highway Users Alliance, state legislatures in 37 of the then-48 states amended their state constitutions to prohibit the spending of state gas tax dollars on anything but highway construction. This completely unjustified action, still in effect in 30 of the 50 states, ensures that even if a governor wants to build transit, he or she cant use state gas tax revenues even for matching funds, let alone the projects themselves.
At the same time, a conspiracy of three major companies (General Motors, Firestone Tire, Standard Oil of California) and others using a front company called National City Lines, bought up the street rail and trolley systems in 110 American cities, tore up the tracks, and burned the streetcars, in order to force their replacement with rubber-tired diesel buses. When caught and convicted in 1949, the conspirators were fined the maximum: $5,000.
We cannot continue funding only, or even primarily, a mono-modal transportation program. Rush hour in the major cities is already hours long, morning and evening; the interstates are crammed with truck traffic night and day. A century of paving has brought us a great highway system, but it is often over-capacity and this time we cant pave our way out. In America, nothing succeeds like excess: our highway-dependent transportation is living proof of that, he said.
Here are the action items put forward by RePass for TransPlan 21, for debate, and action, by transportation activists:
At the federal level:
At the State level:
At the Local level:
The highway lobby spends billions of dollars each year telling us we are in love with the automobile. If we are so in love, why do they have to keep reminding us? The truth is, America has a wonderful highway system that has grown so immense it cant be maintained without bankrupting state budgets. New roads can be built the law is worded so that only projects adding new road capacity gets 80/20 money, thats why your DOT wants to build new roads even as they say they cant fix the bridges theyve already built.
Widening highways (which makes them eligible for 80/20 money too) makes things worse:
Rail is more cost-effective, pollutes less, and takes up less space but that wont matter if we dont change the laws that fund transportation, said RePass.
There may be a break in the offing over the impasse between Amtrak and the Administration. The crack in the wall came when National Public Radios Weekend Edition interviewer Steve Inskeep asked USDOT Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, Democrats in Congress who have criticized your proposal have said, Well this thing that Secretary Mineta is talking about is not what the budget says. The budget says zero dollars. Whats the real figure that the Administration is willing to spend on Amtrak?
Mineta responded, Probably in the area of about $1.5 billion to $2 billion, but right now the state of the tunnels and all those things are woefully neglected, and we would bring those up to good standards, and then turn it over to the states, and then we would participate on a local match on the continued improvement of any capital investment that is made into the system.
Inskeep pointed out the Bush administration said it is not trying to bankrupt Amtrak, but he noted, In the budget the President sent to Congress there in no money for the passenger rail system and that prompted an angry response from Amtrak supporters.
The Presidents top transportation official said the Administration is willing to subsidize Amtrak if its restructured.
Mineta replied, The reason that the President has put no funding for Amtrak subsidies this year is that we submitted our reform legislation in 2004. There has been no action on it, so finally we decided in order to get peoples attention we would just put no money in for the subsidization of Amtrak.
Mineta is a former Democratic Representative from California.
Inskeep questioned the transportation secretary more closely.
The President called a lot of attention to this. He said he was cutting more than 150 federal programs. Amtrak was described by the Administration as one of them. You are saying that the Administration didnt really mean that?
Mineta responded, If we get the reform that we are looking for, then we will be asking for the funds to fund a national intercity passenger rail system. That is why in our reform legislation what we do is to make Amtrak an operating company.
Mineta added, Right now, we subsidize Amtrak, and so they put money into their capital investment program as well as the operational side of their program. The problem is that much of their money goes into the operation of lines that nobody uses. At the same time, capital improvements are being starved. What we are saying is let Amtrak be an operating company and the federal government will do the financing of capital infrastructure.
The complete transcript is online at www.npr.org.
For NCI: Eric DalySouthbound Amtrak No. 91, the Silver Star, crosses the CSX diamond at Plant City, Fla., enroute to Tampa and then on to Miami on February 12. The passenger train is operating on CSXs Lakeland Sub and is crossing that railroads Yeoman Sub.
Cutting Amtrak is wrong, says Kerry;
Santorum, Young may be a tad softer
Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry (D) and the Dems 2004 election flag bearer slammed President Bushs plan to cut federal support for Amtrak passenger rail system, calling the proposed budget cut incomprehensible.
Kerry, accepting an award for public service from the Kennedy Library Foundation on February 28, said the Presidents plan to zero out Amtrak must be derailed by Congress and vowed to lead the fight.
Calling the move one of several backwards steps resulting from White House policies, the Bay State senator said the focus should instead be on building high-speed railway systems to support the industry and create jobs, the Boston Herald reported on March 1.
The Bush administration says the proposal is a way to cut government losses at Amtrak by privatizing parts of the rail service and eliminating routes that do not turn a profit.
In Washington, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), one of the Senates foremost conservatives, has made several statements on tax and wage issues in recent days that suggest he is shifting more to the left, writes The Hill, a weekly Washington newspaper.
On Meet the Press, Santorum criticized President Bushs budget for proposed cuts in Amtrak, a favorite target of many conservatives that nevertheless is important to Pennsylvanias economy.
Its not acceptable to me, Santorum said of the cuts.
I think what the President has suggested is not going to pass, number one. Number two, I think what he has been putting forward is that Amtrak has to be more efficient.
Santorums comments have drawn criticism from conservative quarters. An editorial in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review said a wage hike would stifle new hiring in the economy.
Thats what wage floors do, senator. Do we really have to send you a copy of Henry Hazlitts Economics in One Lesson? A contributor to a blog on the conservative group Club for Growths website, referring to Santorums comments on Amtrak wrote, Where conservative principles end, pork-barrel politics begin.
Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), told Traffic World, Ive been through 32, 33 budgets in my career.... The President has a responsibility under our Constitution to submit a budget, and we have a responsibility as duly elected Congressmen and Senators to write the budget.
Young said, I dont put a whole lot of credence into what right now is being proposed. Hes done what he has to have done under his philosophy. In fact, he wants to make a statement that hes not the big spender and we are but theres no way that Im going to cut money for any expansion of railroads. In fact, we should be going the other way. I didnt say Amtrak, I said railroads, because railroads relieve the congestion that occurs.
The House Transportation Committee chairman added, If you dont use rail, then youre dead meat, and right now every railroad is oversubscribed. Id like to see new rails. ...Rail is really a big answer.
Almost a year after the devastating commuter train bombings that killed 191 people in Madrid, Spain, the U.S. rail system remains vulnerable to a similar attack, according to homeland security experts.
Its about as vulnerable as it always has been, said Juliette Kayyem, a terrorism expert at Harvard University in Boston. What has been done, she added, is pretty piecemeal not part of any comprehensive effort.
Fears that the U.S. commuter rail system would be the target of a terrorist attack rose again on March 2, when a Spanish newspaper reported that investigators had found what appeared to be sketches of New Yorks Grand Central train station on a computer disk seized from the home of one of the Madrid attack suspects, MSNBC reported on March 2.
Homeland security experts say that improving commuter rail security is difficult and expensive due to the very nature of the rail systems. Absent any terrorist attack in the U.S in over three years, there is little public pressure on Congress to come up with solutions.
People are willing to put up with inconvenience every time they board an aircraft, said Francois Boo, a terrorism expert with www.GlobalSecurity.org, but if you required the same procedures every time you board a subway, every day, just to go a couple of stops, thats different.
Securing Americas commuter rail lines is a daunting task. Unlike airports, where passengers arrive an hour before their flight and can be funneled through security devices, rail systems have multiple entrances at each of what may be hundreds of separate rail or subway stops and at rush hour, its not uncommon for thousands of commuters to be boarding several trains at once in busy hub stations such as Grand Central or Union Station in Washington.
We cannot apply the same approaches to security in public transit that you do in aviation, because of the sheer volumes of people, said Greg Hull, director of operations safety and security for the American Public Transportation Assn., which represents the nations commuter rail and bus lines.
Rail security officials insist some progress has been made, much of it invisible to commuters, including promising new technologies using inexpensive RFID (radio frequency identification) tags and smart closed-circuit cameras.
Most subway and bus drivers now have two-way radios to allow them to communicate with their home base, for example, while communications systems have been upgraded to help transit workers talk directly to police and emergency rescue personnel. Transit employees, from bus drivers to custodians, are being trained to be vigilant and report suspicious behavior to supervisors. The number of uniformed and plainclothes security officials has been increased.
New technologies, meantime, are helping improve security on the rail lines themselves and in rail yards, where trains are maintained overnight. RFID tags, for example, can be read by sensors at a distance. Embedding them in employee badges allows security guards to keep track of personnel in a busy yard at night, and quickly focus on people who had no tags. So you could say that guy doesnt have the right badge or the right profile, so why is he walking around that train, said Ken Barney, a security expert at computer giant EDS.
Smart surveillance cameras may also help security guards, who are often overwhelmed by the sheer number of cameras they are supposed to monitor.
Virginia-based ObjectView, for example, is installing software to help rail officials in Madrid and Barcelona monitor their high-speed rail line. They have more than 700 cameras and only five or six people to watch them, said Carlos Angeles, managing director for ObjectView in Europe. Thats 100 cameras per person.
ObjectViews software makes that task easier by analyzing what the camera sees according to a set of rules, based on an objects size, location and movement, and if it fits a predetermined profile, sends an alarm to draw the attention of a guard.
Commuter rail officials complain that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has focused on making airlines safer, but has spent far less money on commuter rail lines some $15 billion for airlines vs. only $115 million for rail security, though as many as 16 times more people ride rail lines than airplanes.
A recent APTA study estimated that rail systems need some $6 billion for security improvements.
Greyhound Lines, the nations largest intercity bus company, is cutting bus service in 150 cities in the Southwest, the AP reported March 2. The Dallas-based company is trying to be more efficient, said Greyhound spokeswoman Lynn Brown.
The Texas cities losing service as of April 3 include Canton, Ennis, Gladewater, Hempstead, Jefferson, Linden, Madisonville and Marlin. Service will not be affected in Fort Worth, Arlington or other nearby cities where Greyhound stops. Cuts will also be made in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma and Utah.
Greyhound is eliminating service at Amtrak stations in Dallas and Houston but keeping other stations open. Amtrak passengers will still be able to connect to Greyhound in Fort Worth, Longview, San Antonio and other cities, rail spokesman Marc Magliari said.
For sale: full domes
If youve ever wanted to own your own dinner train, heres your chance. Nine full-length domes are for sale 7 Budd built and 2 Pullman built. Cars have been in daily summer service on the Alaska Railroad from 1987-2002, says Holland America, rebuilt 1994-1997. HEP, Generators, holding tanks, 66 seats in dome, two in lower dining room with kitchen. $525K-$485K. A dinner car will cost $350K.
The person to call is David Beagle: 206-281-3535, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Western trains rolling again
Amtraks trains are finally rolling through San Luis Obispo County in California after fierce winter weather damaged Union Pacific tracks and stalled freight and passenger trains for two months.
On February 26, many of the Pacific Surfliner trains operated again between San Luis Obispo and Los Angeles. Surfliner stops on the Central Coast also include Grover Beach, Guadalupe and Surf Beach, near Lompoc, and all the trains were rolling again from San Luis Obispo to San Diego by the next day.
The Los Angeles-Seattle Coast Starlight was back to work on February 28.
Amtrak stated because of storm damage, the northern trains traveled between Seattle and Emeryville, north of San Francisco, and the passenger carrier had been using buses to get passengers to their destinations.
The rains caused rockslides and flooding along the tracks on the Central Coast, as well as a large sinkhole in the Gaviota coast west of Santa Barbara.
Earlier this month, Amtrak announced that some 86,000, or nearly 17 percent, more passengers used the Pacific Surfliner between October and December 2004 than the same period in 2003. Amtrak said that ridership for each month was a record-high.
Itll cost you $1,000 extra the next time you want to tack your private car to the end of an Amtrak passenger train.
CEO David Gunn told private car owner organizations, on April 1, a $1,000 surcharge will be added to all invoices each time a private car is added to the rear of an Amtrak train.
Gunn added, This fee will not be added for one-way moves that operate less than 100 miles, or when a private car is not the rearmost car on our train.
He said for private cars that have already been approved to operate after April 1, and that have their transportation notice completed as of this date, no additional charges will be applied.
The boss said the reason for the hefty surcharge was all about economics.
I am sure that you are aware of the current economic challenges that we are facing. Therefore, we are looking at every way possible to generate additional revenue for the corporation.
A source told D:F Amtrak last June began a 40 percent tariff increase charged to private car owners.
At the time, Amtrak said that this would include the switching charge that was formerly billed separately to private car owners from a bill generated out of the local terminal where the switching occurred.
The increased tariff was all centrally generated and billed, and the local terminal had no say in it but some terminals billed high amounts, some minimal ones, but all were supposed to be rationalized and included in the base tariff after summer 2004.
A Missouri House panel looking for budget savings has voted to eliminate state funding for twice-daily Amtrak passenger train service between St. Louis and Kansas City. The House Transportation Appropriations Committee voted last week to cut the $6.4 million that Gov. Matt Blunt had recommended to subsidize the train service. Earlier in the week, several mayors and officials from cities along the route pleaded with the committee to maintain Amtraks funding.
Blunt said Wednesday he still believes Amtrak should be funded.
We need to sustain the services that exist today, he said.
The two daily trains between Missouris largest cities make eight stops in between at Kirkwood, Washington, Hermann, Jefferson City, Sedalia, Warrensburg, Lees Summit and Independence. The Amtrak service has been a target of some legislative budget cutters for several years, but has always survived in the final version of the budget.
Commuter traffic along California State Route 4 from Stockton to the Bay Area is so congested that Caltrans believes the only avenue for relief may be additional train service.
SR-4 is the most direct route from Stockton to Contra Costa County with as many as 11,000 cars drive it during peak times on weekdays.
Caltrans, which operates routes for Amtrak California, wants to add early morning and evening trains along its San Joaquins route between Stockton and Martinez with stops in Brentwood and Concord.
Union Pacific and the BNSF railroads say they have the capacity on their rails for additional Amtrak service, and counties are eager to start. However, the state is unwilling to devote the necessary funds to expand service. Caltrans has no estimate for how much the additional train service would cost, but officials indicate the price tag would be high.
Complicating matters is the proposed federal budget, which would slash funding for Amtrak. Because the San Joaquins are partially state-supported, it is not clear what impact the Amtrak cuts would have on service.
State and local officials recently participated in a grand opening and dedication of the newly restored and rehabilitated Fresno Santa Fe Depot, which serves Amtrak California San Joaquin passenger trains and Thruway Motorcoach service.
The $6 million restoration project included new and enlarged Amtrak passenger ticketing and waiting areas, a large ticketing counter, business offices, adjacent retail space, increased parking, new landscaping and better access for buses, taxis and pedestrians. Some 5,400 square feet will be devoted to San Joaquin passenger service. An additional 12,300 square feet will be available for office and retail use.
The station now appears as it did in 1899 when it opened as a structure.
Important architectural details, such as an iconic station clock and clock tower, have been restored and returned to their former prominence. The clock, fabricated from historical drawings, is a replica of the original.
Additions made in 1917 and 1952 obscured the buildings tower and clock, porte cochere (coach door) and southwest façade. The additions, along with a 1985 bridge between the depot and freight office, were removed, which exposed parts of the depot not seen in many years.
Developed as the Atchison, Santa Fe & Pacific Ry. Co.s Valley Division headquarters, the building went through nine additions or renovations between 1908 and 1985.
Now, the Amtrak Station is its original size and is a twin of the Stockton Amtrak station.
$284 billion bill:
Highway, transit measure
may be on House floor this week
Legislation that would provide $284 billion in federal highway, transit and road safety projects through 2009 was overwhelmingly approved by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on March 2.
The legislation, H.R. 3, The Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy For Users, was unanimously approved by a voice vote.
A copy of the legislation can be viewed on the Committee website at www.house.gov/transportation.
The bill now moves on to the House floor for an up or down vote. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), Transportation Committee chairman, said he anticipates the legislation will be voted on by the full U.S. House this week.
The American people deserve solutions to the problems of congestion, crumbling roads and delayed shipments of freight, Young said prior to the full Committee vote. I want to stress that in this global economy, we will not remain an economic power if we do not maintain and improve our transportation infrastructure.
Our economy and our way of life depend on our ability to rapidly move both people and products.
TEA LU, as it is nicknamed, will benefit highway and transit programs in every State, said Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.), Chairman of the Highways, Transit and Pipelines Subcommittee.
He added, It addresses the ever-growing challenges of congestion and safety, while continuing to improve freight mobility and public transportation. It is estimated that for every $1 billion invested in federal highway and transit, 47,500 jobs are created or sustained. This is an investment into the backbone of our economy. More than 67 percent of the nations freight moves on highways, an annual value to the economy of more than $5 trillion.
H.R. 3 authorizes $225.5 billion for the Federal Highway Administration, $52.3 billion for the Federal Transit Administration, $3.2 billion for the National Traffic and Highway Safety Administration, and $2.9 billion for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
For NCI: Matt BurkeMassachusetts Bay Transportation Authority train No. 811 passes under the School St. bridge in Mansfield, Mass., on February 15 enroute to Providence, R.I. The commuter train is about 25 miles west of South Station, Boston, with some 19 miles to go before arriving at its final destination. Pawtucket is just three miles east of Providence and after some 30 years of being dormant as a commuter station, is gasping for survival and restoration.
Pawtucket restoration hangs by a thread
In February, the Pawtucket, R.I. city council gave preliminary approval to a measure that would pave the way for a developer to tear down the Pawtucket-Central Falls former train station and build a small shopping plaza in its place but on February 28, the council gave equal time to a competing proposal, put forward by the Pawtucket Foundation and supported by Mayor James E. Doyle, that would preserve the train station and explore the possibility of restoring it as a commuter rail stop.
The measure, which involved acquiring the train station by eminent domain, failed on a 4-to-4 vote, The Providence Journal reported on March 1.
Supporters of the Pawtucket Foundation proposal crowded the council chamber. The list of speakers included such heavyweights as Arnold B. Buff Chace, a Providence developer busy turning empty commercial buildings into upscale apartment houses, and Friedrich St. Florian, the architect who designed the Providence Place mall and the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C.
The majority of council members were nevertheless skeptical of the Pawtucket Foundation plan, which involves acquiring the property by eminent domain while the developer, Oscar W. Seelbinder of Memphis, Tenn., is offering Jean Vitali, the mother of newly elected City Councilor Albert J. Vitali Jr., $1.4 million for the property.
Vitali recused himself from the public hearing. Other council members, among them Robert E. Carr, David P. Moran, David Clemente and Paul J. Wildenhain, made no secret of their skepticism, peppering speakers with adversarial and sometimes argumentative questions.
For example, when Arthur Hansen, the Central Falls director of planning, said that Mayor Charles Moreau and the Central Falls City Council supports the Pawtucket Foundation plan, Carr asked, I was just wondering if Central Falls will be paying half of the cost of eminent domain.
When Peter F. Kilmartin, a state representative well liked by council members, said he had gotten the General Assembly to appropriate $400,000 for a study to explore the feasibility of the Pawtucket Foundation proposal, City Councilor Paul J. Wildenhain demanded to know why no one from the Doyle administration has sat down with the developer to work out a compromise.
This is an abuse of public power. This is the power of the few trying to influence something for their own benefit, Seelbinders lawyer, Thomas V. Moses, told a reporter during the hearing.
Its very frustrating, trying to meet with public officials and being rejected. Were proposing the exact same project, Moses declared.
Moses didnt elaborate, but, in prior statements, he and Seelbinder have said that the developers plan calls for restoring commuter rail service to the station, just as the Pawtucket Foundation proposal does.
In an interview, Doyle disputed that, pointing out that the developer himself said he plans to tear down the train station and redevelop the 3.4-acre property as a shopping plaza before looking into the restoration of commuter rail.
The Pawtucket Foundation plan, by contrast, would solicit proposals from developers who promise to preserve the 90-year-old Beaux Arts train station and restore commuter rail service before developing stores and businesses on the site.
Doyle also took exception to Moses charge that such influential downtown property owners as Morris Nathanson and Ranne P. Warner are pushing the Pawtucket Foundation proposal because it would increase the value of their properties.
Nathanson, an internationally known restaurant designer, turned a mill building in downtown Pawtucket into offices and artist studios. Warner, a Boston developer, is busy turning a neighboring building into condominiums and lofts.
These are people whove taken the time to come and make a significant investment in the city, Doyle said. These people, are not, believe me, driving this process in any way, shape or form.
Nathanson didnt deny that the Pawtucket Foundation plan would increase the value of his property, but he said that restoring commuter rail service would have a broad economic impact benefiting people on both sides of the tracks.
The thing about the train station is its great for the poor people. Its great for the people in Pawtucket and Central Falls who really need it, Nathanson said.
Just think of this: Youll have all these elderly people here wholl have a way to get to Boston, a way to get to Green Airport. Just think of what it means for people here who cannot afford to have their kids live in [high-priced] housing in Boston, but who want to go to school there. They can commute.
Pennsylvania Gov. Jody Rendell swept away SEPTA riders anxieties about fare hikes and service cuts by requesting that a recent, undisclosed windfall of federal highway money be used to make transit agencies solvent statewide until 2007.
This is a good day, he said on March 1 and reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
There will be no need for service cuts, layoffs or fare increases. Riders have certainty, Rendell said as he announced a funding package far broader in scope than anticipated.
For its part, SEPTA said it would not formally act on threatened cuts and fare increases until its March 20 board meeting. SEPTA board chairman Pasquale Deon said, Im hoping what he says he can do, he can do. Well keep the system operating on that premise.
Rendell was expected late last week to transfer $68 million in highway money to float struggling transit agencies. Of that, SEPTA would get $42.5 million to rescue riders from a 20 percent service cut and a fare hike of 25 percent threatened to begin Sunday.
Rendell instead surprised everyone with a transfer of $412 million to stabilize transit agencies until 2007.
Here is another transit headline, 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.
Transit Faces Aftermath of Record Rainfall in Southern California
Record rainfall washed out railroad tracks and swamped subway stations in southern California during the Presidents Day weekend, part of the third wettest winter in the history of Los Angeles.
Los Angeles reported a total of more than 33 inches of rain between December and February; in addition to the Presidents Day storm, a similar storm in January left many area residents and transit systems stranded from mudslides and sinkholes. The largest rainfall in the regions history during the so-called rainy season was 34.84 inches, more than a century ago.
The latest storm plowed into the southern California coast on February 17, and Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Los Angeles counties issued flash flood warnings by February 21.
Coastal rail systems in the Somis area, north of Los Angeles, felt the brunt of the storm. The Southern California Regional Rail Authority reported that its Metrolink commuter rail trains were slowed to 40 mph on February 21.
Later that day, the storm washed out the ground underneath a 150-foot section of Union Pacific track used by Metrolink on the Ventura Line north of Moorpark. Heavy machinery was in place during the storm, shoring up the embankment under the tracks, but the continued rain hampered construction. Before the tracks could reopen, the roadbed, on the side of a flooded creek, needed to be stabilized, outfitted with new track, and reinforced with new gravel.
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Saginaw, Mich., Voters Approve Millage for Transit
Voters in Saginaw, Mich., voted February 22 to support a new three-mill levy against all taxable property in the city to support the operations of Saginaw Transit Authority Regional Services. The measure passed by 81 votes, out of almost 5,000 votes cast.
Under the referendum, the millage will be levied for three years, from 2005 through 2007, inclusive. Revenues for the first year have been estimated at approximately $2.1 million.
STARS had stated earlier that it would need the tax to pass if it was to survive. Cheri Ayayi, STARS executive assistant and board clerk, noted that the system will use the millage to restore some of the service cuts made in fiscal year 2004.
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Nashville RTA Names Farquhar to Head Music City Star
The Regional Transportation Authority in Nashville, Tenn., has appointed William (Bill) Farquhar as commuter rail director for Music City StarSM, Tennessees first commuter rail system.
Farquhar previously served as special consultant for two commuter rail new service start-ups: Sound Transits Sounder service in Seattle and Altamont Commuter Express for the San Joaquin Regional Rail Authority in Stockton, Calif. He also has worked with two other commuter rail operations in California, Coaster in San Diego and Metrolink in Los Angeles.
His duties in Nashville will include overseeing the implementation of the Music City Star East Corridor Commuter Rail project through construction and operations, leading up to the beginning of revenue service this fall, and helping the RTA board to develop the structure for future development, management, and oversight of future transportation corridors in the region.
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Build America Bonds Proposal Would Add $30 Billion to Federal Transportation Funding
On February 17, U.S. Sens. Jim Talent (R-Mo.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) announced a proposal to increase transportation funding through the use of Build America Bonds, a $30 billion one-time bonding program designed to generate new transportation infrastructure. The bond funding would be in addition to regular federal highway funding.
The bill is a scaled-back version of legislation introduced in the last Congress by Talent and Wyden.
The Build America Bonds legislation would create a federally chartered non-profit corporation that would issue $39 billion in bonds, of which $30 billion would be used to fund transportation projects. The remaining $9 billion would be invested for the 30-year life of the bonds, and would be expected to generate more than enough to repay the entire principal amount.
Investment under the bonds would be distributed 80 percent for highway projects and 20 percent for public transportation, including intercity passenger rail.
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Sound Transit Receives Light Rail Bid $24.7 Million Under Estimate
Seattles Sound Transit has announced that it has received a bid of $231.7 million for the last major construction contract for the initial segment of Central Link light rail. The contract for the Tukwila section of the light rail route came in $24.7 million, or 10 percent, below the cost estimated by the systems engineers.
The contract awarded to PCL Construction is for a five-mile stretch of predominantly elevated tracks from the southern end of Seattles Rainier Valley to Tukwila. This is the southernmost section of the 14-mile Central Link initial segment, which runs from Westlake in north Seattle to the Tukwila Station.
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Asleep at the switch, say transportation
labor leaders; call for sweeping reforms
The AFL-CIOs Transportation Trades Department was angry over two topics last week the FRAs seeming coziness with big railroads, and poor if non-extent port security.
At their bi-annual convention, in Las Vegas, the labor leaders denounced Bush administration regulators who are too cozy with railroad corporations.
AFL-CIO transportation unions leaders called for Congress to adopt a rail safety bill to curb an industry that, has clearly proven incapable of policing itself.
At the AFL-CIOs Transportation Trades Department (TTD) meeting, union leaders unanimously adopted a policy statement urging Congress to pass a rail safety bill, and demanded greater enforcement from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), saying that the partnership approach pursued by the FRA does not replace the role of an independent federal regulator that keeps an arms length from the industry it is supposed to regulate.
At a time of mounting accidents on the rails, scathing reports from both the USDOTs Inspector General and The New York Times have cited poor safety practices by the major railroads, and weak oversight and enforcement by the FRA. The reports even questioned why a former FRA leader vacationed with an industry lobbyist whose railroad was under investigation by the agency.
For the nations giant railroad corporations, the FRA stands for the Free Ride Agency, said Edward Wytkind, President of the AFL-CIOs TTD, adding that, the lack of enforcement is absolutely unacceptable. What the agency calls a partnership is just a Washington way of saying the fox is guarding the henhouse.
TTD called for doubling federal rail inspectors, and was sharply critical of the Bush administration failing to propose any similar increase in its fiscal year 2006 budget proposal, even in the face of a recent spate of horrific accidents.
The transportation labor leaders demanded that 2005 be the year that Congress overcomes over a decade of stonewalling by rail industry lobbyists, and passes a comprehensive rail safety bill that grants whistle-blower protections to workers, limits use of remote control technologies, addresses long-standing fatigue and training issues, and ends dark territories in which there are no track signal systems. The statement called for the FRA to slow trains down in dark territories.
At American ports, the unionists angrily declared that Our government has abdicated its responsibility in protecting the public from threats to transportation security. They also declared that further delay is not an option in closing security gaps at our nations ports, transit systems, rails, and highways.
They said progress has been made in aviation security, but the unions outlined several specific measures that must be taken immediately to protect rail and shipping interests.
We cant tolerate one more day of our governments all talk, no action approach to transportation security. Congress must step in and protect our nations workers, passengers, and the public, said Wytkind.
He remarked, nobody is made any safer by photo ops.
Leaders of TTDs 35 affiliated unions unanimously adopted a policy statement calling for several specific measures, including a significant increase in federal security aid for rail and transit systems, an area in which experts say the needs are 30 times greater than the current federal effort, and greater security training for workers, including stronger whistle-blower protections for people who report security lapses.
They also asked for expanded security for freight trains and facilities, particularly those that are involved with hazardous chemicals, increased security for intercity buses, and stronger safety and security inspections for commercial vehicles entering the U.S.
The labor leaders are also looking for greater enforcement of and funding for new Coast Guard regulations on port security and increasing the inspection of container seals and empties.
They also pointed out loopholes need to be closed that weaken both flight attendant security training and the security of maintenance performed on U.S. aircraft at overseas repair stations.
Three years after the September 11 attacks, sufficient resources have not been allocated, common-sense requirements have not been imposed, and too often employees and their unions have not been enlisted as true partners in the process, the transportation leaders concluded in their statement.
Canadian National Ry. reported on February 28 that members of the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) have ratified a new four-year labor contract with the railway. The USWA represents approximately 2,250 employees who maintain and repair CNs track, bridges and structures in Canada. The new contract, from January 1, 2004, to December 31, 2007, provides for increased wages and improved benefits. Neither party outlined details.
In another recent labor development in Canada, CN on February 14 reached a tentative contract with the United Transportation Union (UTU), which represents approximately 2,600 conductors, assistant conductors, yard service employees and traffic coordinators.
Elsewhere, CN is working to renew collective agreements with the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC), representing locomotive engineers, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), whose members maintain and repair CNs signals and communications equipment.
The Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) continues its review of CN services that should be maintained in the event of strikes or lockouts involving the TCRC, IBEW or UTU. Until the CIRB renders its decision, any right to strike or lockout is suspended, railroad management said.
CN has renewed labor agreements with the UTU section representing brakemen and conductors on the companys Northern Quebec Territory; the Canadian Auto Workers; the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference/Rail Traffic Controllers; and the Canadian National Railways Police Assn.
Toxic rail shipment ban to start this week
A Washington, D.C. city ban on certain shipments of toxic materials such as chlorine through the U.S. capital is expected go into effect on March 14 unless rail operator CSX succeeds in having the measure blocked before then, Washington officials said March 2.
The District of Columbia Council passed the ban on February 1, and Mayor Anthony Williams signed it two weeks later.
On Wednesday, city Transportation Department spokesman Bill Rice said the agency plans to publish rules on March 4 to implement the ordinance, a move that would clear the way for the measure to take effect 10 days later, Global Security Newswire reported last week.
At that point, a shipper will be required to get a permit to ship any of the hazardous materials as described in the bill within 2.2 miles of the Capitol, and presumably ... the applicant will show that theres no practical alternative, Rice said.
Fearful of what they saw as an opening for a terrorist attack using toxic-by-inhalation gases in transit as improvised chemical weapons, council sponsors designed the bill effectively to block shipments of the materials in certain quantities by requiring shippers to obtain permits that would be accorded only in rare circumstances. The regulation applies to gases in the USDOTs top two categories of toxicity, when transported in quantities of at least 500 kilograms.
CSX has petitioned the Transportation Departments Surface Transportation Board to block the ban and has filed a lawsuit against the city in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The company is supported in the former effort by the USDOT itself and in the latter by Norfolk Southern RY. Co. the AAR and U.S. House of Representatives Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va.
With implementation of the measure not expected until March 14, a CSX success on either front could block the ban before it begins. Ban supporters played down that possibility last week, stressing that the bill was designed to withstand such challenges.
We had always anticipated that there would be challenges to the legislation, Williams spokeswoman Sharon Gang said.
Greenpeace Toxics Campaign Legislative Director Rick Hind said The statute was drafted to not be relevant to [opponents] claims.
District Court filings this week by Norfolk Southern and the railroad association supported CSXs view that the Washington measure is pre-empted by several federal laws, including the U.S. Constitution, which protects interstate commerce.
Norfolk Southern said it would not accept on its lines any large-scale shipments diverted by CSX to avoid Washington in compliance with the city ordinance.
CSXTs motion demonstrates the severe harm that the imposition of the D.C. ordinance will cause its business.... CSX would be forced to implement extensive and inefficient reroutings that would drive up its costs, impair service to its customers and congest its rail lines and yards, Norfolk Southern wrote.
The district has suggested that CSX could mitigate this harm simply by rerouting its cars onto other carriers lines. ... This supposed solution is a mirage.
NS, whose lines would be the only feasible alternative routing for most if not all of this traffic, would not consent to any proposal to divert large volumes of CSX hazardous materials traffic to NSs lines, because such action would serve only to transfer the risk inherent in the movement of those shipments from the district to the communities through which NS operates, Norfolk Southern wrote.
About 200 BNSF dispatchers walked off the job for almost three hours March 2, tangling commuter rail service in Chicago and rail operations in the Pacific Northwest.
Dispatchers left their offices at the companys operations center in north Fort Worth for about two hours and 45 minutes, according to a company spokesman. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported they returned to work about 6:15 p.m. The wildcat walkout was over a dispute concerning personal leave, according to BNSF spokesman Dick Russack.
Russack said that qualified nonunion employees filled in to try to minimize delays.
The walkout was illegal, Russack said. It violates the unions agreement with the Fort Worth-based railroad, he said. The company could take legal action against the union, he said. Russack did not say, however, whether that was forthcoming.
The dispatchers are represented by the American Train Dispatchers Assn., a division of the Brotherhood of Locomotive and Trainmen union.
Union representatives did not return phone calls seeking comment.
In Chicago, hundreds of evening commuters were stranded at the downtown Union Station as the walkout delayed service for up to an hour on the Metra commuter train route between Chicago and Aurora, Ill.
Metra spokeswoman Judy Pardonnet said BNSF operates 12 tracks at Union Station, and about 30,000 people take the affected line during the evening rush hour.
In the Northwest, about half of rail traffic was affected by the strike, BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said.
The walkout delayed the evening Sounder commuter train service between Seattle and Tacoma, Wash. Buses were provided for commuters, Sound Transit spokesman Lee Somerstein said.
The union and BNSF ratified a contract in September, according to the companys web site. The railroad operates 32,000 miles of track in 28 states and two Canadian provinces.
New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has withdrawn his support for a new freight rail tunnel under New York Harbor
It was a sharp reversal of his administrations earlier support for the project, The New York Times reported on Friday.
The mayor spoke out against the project at a community meeting in Middle Village, Queens.
I think when you get done looking at all the pros and cons, Bloomberg said, The answer is we should not build this tunnel.
The freight tunnels terminal would be built in a nearby neighborhood, Maspeth, and residents have mobilized against the project, saying noisy trucks and diesel exhaust would overwhelm the area.
Bloomberg told the meeting in Middle Village, You really would destroy neighborhoods here in this area, and we just cant do this at this point.
The tunnel, with an estimated cost of as much as $7 billion, has become politically charged. The mayors leading Democratic opponent, Fernando Ferrer, the former Bronx borough president, is a longtime supporter of the tunnel. Three other Democrats who are running for mayor also announced their support recently C. Virginia Fields, the Manhattan borough president; Gifford Miller, the City Council speaker, and Rep. Anthony D. Weiner of Brooklyn and Queens.
Planning for the tunnel began under Bloombergs predecessor, Rudolph W. Giuliani, and has advanced in the last three years. Last April, the citys Economic Development Corp., in a draft environmental impact statement, endorsed the project. It concluded that the tunnel should be built between Jersey City and Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
Financing for the multibillion-dollar project has yet to be determined. In a sense, the project does not depend on the mayors support, since most of the funding is to come from the federal government. Aides to the mayor consider the support of middle-class voters in Queens and Brooklyn important to his bid for re-election.
The projects major champion, Rep. Jerrold L. Nadler, said he was unfazed by the mayors remarks.
In light of the citys own findings that the cross-harbor tunnel would bring crucial economic, health, environmental and national security benefits to New York, its disappointing that the mayor feels compelled to back down from his full-on support of the project, said Nadler, a Manhattan Democrat.
Proxies went out last week to shareholders of Kansas City Southern to approve its bid to buy control of TFM, Mexicos largest railroad.
The nearly $700 million acquisition essentially will double Kansas City Southerns size and create a single, 1,300-mile railroad between the Midwest, central Mexico and Mexicos developing Pacific ports, The Kansas City Star reported last week.
When the U.S. economy slowed earlier this decade, KCS derived much of its profits from the 37 percent of TFM it already owns, because the Mexican economy continued to grow. Although its domestic business has since recovered, KCS still expects future earnings growth to be driven mostly by TFM.
In the eight years since the freight railroad made its initial bid for control of TFM, the railroad will have gone from one some predicted would fail in the shadow of much larger rivals to one that some now believe could be a buyout target.
Its a fabulous deal for Kansas City Southern, said S. Scott Nicholls, analyst with Gilford Securities. We knew it would take a while, but it finally got done.
The railroad mergers of the mid-1990s left KCS isolated in the middle of the country, a shrinking company surrounded by mega-carriers that were taking away its customers, particularly in the West.
With bigger competitors looming to the east, north and west, KCS looked south for growth possibilities. In partnership with Grupo TMM, a Mexican transportation company, Kansas City Southern made a bid to run TFM, a carrier that operates in the heart of Mexico, which that country was looking to privatize. That was in 1997.
Over the next month or so, Kansas City Southern hopes to buy out TMMs interest in TFM and begin operating that railroad, the Kansas City Southern Ry. and a shortline railroad, the Texas Mexican Ry., under common control.
It will be the culmination of a vision that KCS chairman and CEO Mike Haverty has had since coming aboard in 1995, a railroad created to take advantage of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. It will stretch from Springfield, Ill., and Kansas City to Mexico City and ports beyond. The two railroads will maintain separate operations but derive great benefits by a single ownership, Haverty contends.
Well have different cultures, different pay scales and different languages, Haverty told analysts at a conference in Florida two weeks ago.
We will operate as a single system but keep them as separate companies. The railroads will connect from end to end, and we will move traffic between the U.S. and Mexico as though its a single line.
Census Bureau statistics illustrate how much trade there is to tap into. Exports to Mexico have grown 55.2 percent to $110.8 billion since 1997. Imports have grown 44.8 percent to $155.8 billion in those eight years.
Union Pacific said on March 1 it is modifying its near-dock container transfer operation near the Port of Los Angeles to reduce truck traffic in and out of downtown Los Angeles. The change will help eliminate an estimated 500,000 truck trips annually from Los Angeles-area highways such as the busy I-710.
UPs Intermodal Container Transfer Facility (ICTF), located just four miles from the Port, will load and unload nearly all L.A. Basin international marine containers not handled on dock, eliminating the need to truck international containers to other Los Angeles-area intermodal ramps via busy highways.
International containers will continue to make the short four-mile trip from the Port to UPs ICTF via truck, but once at the ICTF, international containers will be transferred to flatcars and then travel through the Alameda Corridor to destinations throughout the U.S.
In action a fortnight ago, the Port of Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners directed its staff to work with UP on possible expansion and provide the board with an interim status report. The proposed expansion would be consistent with phases contemplated when the ICTF was planned and constructed in the 1980s.
An expanded ICTF will support Port growth and promote increased use of the Alameda Corridor, said UPs John Kaiser, marketing and sales intermodal vice-president and general manager.
The expansion also would help control highway congestion and truck emissions by eliminating millions of future truck trips annually, he explained.
Union Pacific Corp. directors elected James R. Young, its president and CEO, to the companys board of directors on February 28. Young, 52, was named president and CEO in January 2004.
Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Ry. has appointed Dale Williams its assistant vice-president for business development, effective March 1, and Robert Haluzak joined the railway February 1 as finance director at the railways headquarters in Bangor, Maine.
Williams has more than 20 years of rail experience, most recently with CN. Haluzak is a CPA with 25 years of accounting experience, but this is his first railroad position.
CSX Corp. was upgraded to equal weight from underweight at Morgan Stanley on March 4 due to increased confidence that the worst is behind the company after a meeting with management.
Were not suggesting that CSX has fixed all of its problems, but a combination of very strong customer pricing and a more stabilized operation limit the downside in the stock, in our opinion, said analyst James Valentine in a note to clients.
|Burlington Northern & Santa Fe||(BNI)||52.61||50.71|
|Florida East Coast||(FLA)||44.11||43.40|
|Genessee & Wyoming||(GWR)||26.20||24.20|
|Kansas City Southern||(KSU)||19.99||19.97|
|Providence & Worcester||(PWX)||15.20||13.89|
Loadings of both carload and intermodal freight on U.S. railroads showed healthy gains during February 2005 in comparison with last year, the AAR reported Thursday.
Carload freight totaled 1,374,185 carloads, up 69,689 carloads (5.3 percent) from February 2004. U.S. railroads also originated 885,038 intermodal units in February 2005, an increase of 107,368 trailers and containers (13.8 percent) over February 2004.
Thirteen of the 19 major commodity categories tracked by the AAR saw U.S. carload increases in February 2005 compared to February 2004.
Februarys carload traffic gains were paced by coal (up 46,731 carloads, or 9.2 percent, to 556,222 carloads); crushed stone, sand, and gravel (up 8,255 carloads, or 11.4 percent, to 80,372 carloads); metallic ores (up 5,562 carloads, or 14.7 percent, to 43,501 carloads); and coke (up 4,171 carloads, or 18.4 percent, to 26,835 carloads). Carloads of motor vehicles and equipment were down 3,672 carloads (3.6 percent) to 97,844 carloads in February.
For the first two months of 2005, total U.S. rail carloads were up 59,923 carloads (2.3 percent) to 2,668,265 carloads, as year-over-year increases in coal (up 49,164 carloads, or 4.8 percent), crushed stone, sand, and gravel (up 14,379 carloads, or 10.1 percent); and metallic ores (up 9,403 carloads, or 11.3 percent) offset declines in waste and scrap materials (down 4,686 carloads, or 5.8 percent), food products (down 2,783 carloads, or 4.2 percent), grain (down 2,543 carloads, or 1.4 percent), and motor vehicles and equipment (down 2,420 carloads, or 1.3 percent).
The 5.3 percentage point increase in February carloadings was the second highest monthly year-over-year carload increase for U.S. railroads in more than seven years, trailing only a 5.8 percent increase in May 2004, noted AAR Vice President Craig F. Rockey. Meanwhile, intermodal growth shows no sign of slowing down after a record-setting 2004.
U.S. intermodal traffic, which consists of trailers and containers on flat cars and is not included in carload figures, was up 165,164 trailers and containers (10.6 percent) for the first two months of 2005 to 1,724,569 units.
Total volume for the first eight weeks of 2005 was estimated at 247.5 billion ton-miles, up 3.1 percent from last year.
Canadian rail carload traffic was up 15,425 carloads (6.0 percent) in February 2005 to 273,171 carloads, and up 15,660 carloads (3.1 percent) for the year to date to 522,620 carloads. Carloads of chemicals in Canada were up 5,364 carloads (9.1 percent) in February 2005 and up 6,133 carloads (5.3 percent) for the first two months of the year; carloads of grain were up 4,093 carloads (13.1 percent) for the month and up 6,084 carloads (9.5 percent) for the year to date.
Canadian intermodal traffic was up 13,682 units (8.8 percent) in February 2005 compared with February 2004 to 169,113 units, and up 15,413 units (5.0 percent) for the first two months of 2005 to 325,955 units.
Carloads originated on Transportación Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM), a major Mexican railroad, were up 4,141 carloads (13.1 percent) in February 2005 to 35,781 carloads, while intermodal originations of 16,382 were up 1,724 trailers and containers (11.8 percent). For the first two months of 2005, TFM carloadings were up 5,352 carloads (8.4 percent) to 68,959 carloads, while intermodal traffic was up 4,554 units (17.3 percent) to 30,922 units.
For just the week ended February 26, the AAR reported the following totals for U.S. railroads: 346,967 carloads, up 1.9 percent from the corresponding week in 2004, with loadings up 2.0 percent in the East and up 1.8 percent in the West; intermodal volume of 221,347 trailers and containers, up 11.6 percent; and total volume of an estimated 32.3 billion ton-miles, up 2.5 percent from the equivalent week last year.
For Canadian railroads during the week ended February 26, the AAR reported volume of 68,943 carloads, up 2.2 percent from last year; and 41,121 trailers and containers, up 17.8 percent from the corresponding week in 2004.
Combined cumulative rail volume for the first 8 weeks of 2005 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 3,190,885 carloads, up 2.4 percent (75,583 carloads) from last year, and 2,050,524 trailers and containers, up 9.7 percent (180,577 units) from 2004s first 8 weeks.
The AAR is online at www.aar.org.
For NCI: Mark St. AubinConsolidation No. 618 plods along the Provo Reservoir on February 17 on the Heber Valley Railroad. The Baldwin 2-8-0, built in 1907, tugged a special. The locomotive is owned by Utah DOT. The Heber Valley Historic Railroad Authority is an independent Utah state agency. Union Pacific donated the locomotive to the State of Utah in 1958, and it is now stored in Heber City. The railroad is a 16-mile remnant of the Denver & Rio Grande Western's Provo Canyon Branch, which operated between Provo and Heber City (27 miles). The outside connection, via Provo, was severed in 1971.
Nathans locomotive horns become
On a February afternoon, five high school students lounged patiently on a bus-stop bench in Westchester, Fla.
Lino Alvarado, Jr. slowed his truck to a crawl, smiled, and unleashed more than 150 decibels of sound from a dozen locomotive horns attached to his trucks undercarriage.
Did you see those kids flinch? Alvarado, 20, said as he breezed through a stop sign. But old people are even better.
The students were blasted by one of the areas hottest vehicle customization trends, Knight Ridder Newspapers reported last week.
A good set of train horns cost about $1,000 and packs an audio punch that can reach hundreds of feet - to the delight of people who buy them, and to the dismay of residents, who are complaining to police.
Its outrageous and inconsiderate that people blow these horns, and the state should ban these things, said Morris Sunshine, who lives in South Beach, Fla. This is merely a pitiful search for instant celebrity.
Police departments in some cities are stepping up efforts to track down and ticket those blowing the horns. In Miami Beach, police have even arrested one man for blasting his, and intend to arrest more.
Alvarado has received dozens of tickets, spending hundreds of dollars to pay them, but he believes its worth it.
Its competition on the street, like when a guy in a truck passes by, he honks his horn, and I honk mine back, he said. The next time I see him, he doesnt honk his, because he knows mine are bigger and louder.
At close range, the blowing horns are a full-body experience. The blast of air feels like a thin sheet of metal slapping the skin. Ears begin to ring. Even the prepared recoil at the force of sound.
Horn owners gloat.
Those things are so loud, and they can really get someones attention, said Pompano Beach resident Robbie Buckley, 47, who has a set of horns on his truck. I got them because Im a kid that never grew up.
Most local customization enthusiasts point to Gabby Szuster, owner of Gabbys Auto Werks in Miami, as the local godfather of the trend. A decade ago, Szuster saw a tractor-trailer truck with a set of train horns and bought them. He found a way to put them under his truck hood, then ran hoses through a hole cut in his floorboard to a manual lever in the truck cab.
It was the first stage of the invention, Szuster said. In the second stage, we ended up getting an electronic valve, and then we went from there.
We figured out ways to make the horns more user-friendly, said Frank Carralero, co-owner of Reds Auto and Truck Customization Shop in Miami.
Reds installs two horn setups. A five-horn set of genuine train horns from the Nathan Manufacturing Co., maker of horn sets for locomotives since at least 1940, costs $2,500. A chromed three-horn set made in Asia, about half as loud as Nathans, costs $950.
As the popularity of air horns has boomed, companies have begun to make cheaper air-horn kits, some with plastic trumpets and compact compressors.
Serious aficionados scorn them. Those things are junk, Carralero said.
Reds has installed the horns in everything from a Honda Civic to monstrous show trucks.
Now, in nine out of 10 trucks we do, we put in at least two sets of train horns, said Steven Menendez, 27, who works at Reds.
Szuster once installed three of the five-horn sets 15 trumpets in one truck.
Air-horn owners tell favorite stories about reactions to the powerful sound. There was the time Carralero blew the horn as he drove past a crowded Miami club: A dozen people ducked, then dropped to the pavement in fear.
Or the time Menendez blew his horns at the railroad crossing next to the shop: All these cars slammed on their brakes because they thought a train was coming. Their wheels were locking up and everything.
Not everyone with the horns blasts them in city streets.
Consider William Martin, 44, who has spent $60,000 customizing his $40,000 F-350 truck, which has tractor-trailer tires, an 18-inch hydraulic lift, Lamborghini-style wing doors, and a plexiglass steering wheel with three-dimensional flames that light up at night.
If youre going to have a big truck, you have to have big horns to go with it, Martin said. But its just not nice to go out there and blow the horns all the time and upset a bunch of folks.
The horns are a new weapon in the noise war in places such as Cocoanut Grove, near Miami, and Miami Beach, where motorcycles and car stereos already draw incessant complaints.
These horns are so much louder than the things we originally complained about, and when you hear them, you sit straight up in bed because its so unbelievably loud, said Izzy Buholzer, who lives near Grand Avenue, where many young people cruise on weekends. Sometimes its like a regular concert out there, with three of these guys blowing at each other.
Buholzer said the noise is making him consider selling his property. I just cant sleep on weekends, he said.
Japan created what engineers here call the worlds longest overland tunnel on Sunday, when railway workers blasted through a final layer of rock with a governor and other dignitaries looking on.
The 16.4 mile Hakkoda Tunnel will become part of a new Shinkansen bullet train line under construction to link Tokyo with the northern city of Aomori, about 360 miles north. The tunnel burrows under Mount Hakkoda in Aomori prefecture.
Local television showed 600 or so people sitting in the ribbon-festooned tunnel as they watched officials press a button to clear the last yard of rock with two large explosions. This is an incredible feeling, its an incredible memory, Aomori Gov. Shingo Mimura said.
The previous record, set in 2002, was a 16-mile tunnel for a railway line in a neighboring prefecture, according to the Japan Society of Civil Engineers Web site.
The Hakkoda tunnel will not hold its title for long, however. Japans Kyodo News Agency said a 22.6-mile tunnel is set for completion in Switzerland this spring.
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