NCI: Leo KingNo. 2175 slips out of its mooring dock at Southampton Street Yard in Boston during the first day of the non-blizzard.
|Nor'easter is troublesome for Amtrak|
While air shuttles were not running during the snowstorm that hit portions of the northeast last week, Amtrak ran a generally normal schedule, with some notable exceptions and with a number of relatively minor delays. A storm that forecasters had touted to be a blizzard was instead a strong Nor'easter.
The exceptions were the Acela Express No. 2170, slated to leave New York at 6 p.m. and arrive in Boston at 9:28 p.m.
That train had to be canceled on its very first day, Monday, March 5, because, said Amtrak spokeswoman Karen Dunn, the equipment for it had to be pressed into service as a special New York to Washington run to accommodate an overload of stranded air passengers who were unable to travel by their usual mode.
Canceling 2170 left Boston without any Acela equipment overnight, thus forcing the next day's cancellation of Acela Express No. 2153, scheduled out of Boston at 6:12 a.m. and arriving in New York at 9:40 a.m.
The weather in New York Monday had caused a catenary problem near Newark, N.J., which delayed the New York arrival of the inaugural run of Acela Express No. 2180 for about eight minutes. The non-stop left Washington at 6:50 a.m. and was scheduled into New York at 9:18 a.m.
And how did the passengers on 2170 and 2153 take the news that their expected rides on the new high-speed, 150 mph Acela were not to be?
Dunn said they were notified in advance that the all-reserved, high-speed trains would not be in service that day, and offered alternatives on the slower Acela Regional or Northeast Direct operations.
Aside from minor delays, according to Dunn, Amtrak held up quite well as the snowstorm and threat of a snowstorm descended on the area.
We say "threat of the snowstorm" because outside of New England, the storm turned out to be somewhat less than expected. Even so, there was enough there to shut down the air shuttle operations, with Amtrak acquiring many normal shuttle riders.
But if weather problems on the East Coast made travel by rail at times annoying and inconvenient, they were nothing compared to what West Coast rail riders had to endure. March on "the left coast" did indeed "come in like a lion."
Things got so bad that Amtrak broke the age-old conventional wisdom that you don't put out a press release to announce bad news.
Heavy rains, caused by "severe winter storms" (which in California means rain rather than snow) caused severe flooding along several routes in southern California.
The continued thunderstorms, sustained high winds, flooding and localized threat of mudslides persuaded Union Pacific, the Class I carrier owning the tracks, to close a 118-mile section of the railroad between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, and a 176-mile section from Los Angeles to Goleta.
Service was cancelled on several Pacific Surfliner trains. The Seattle-Los Angeles Coast Starlight was cancelled between L.A. and Oakland, with temporary termination at Emeryville. Where it was possible, Amtrak substituted buses.
NCI: Leo KingNo. 84 is one mile away from South Station, Boston, and running 15 minutes behind schedule as it transits the beginning of catenary on the Dorchester branch during the second snowstorm in the same week, on March 9.
California railroaders write 20-year plan
|If a $10.1 billion high-speed rail plan being developed by Amtrak West and other organizations in a coalition of railroaders and rail advocates, in 20 years train will travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles once again, and they will be speedy trains - and from 3 million passengers a year to 12 million by 2020.|
AmtrakA California train pauses at Fullerton station.
Amtrak said last week it was responding to growing gridlock in California's vast and complex transportation system, so the 20-year, $10.1 billion passenger rail improvement plan to increase mobility and provide more choices for travelers was explained last week by a broad coalition of public and private partners led by Amtrak.
Officially titled The California Passenger Rail System 20-Year Improvement Plan, it calls for faster, more frequent and more convenient passenger rail service to all of the state's major population centers. It establishes goals for the state's existing and emerging rail corridors and proposes ridership growing by 300 percent over the next two decades, including hourly service between Los Angeles and San Diego, with a trip time of less than two hours, lopping off the additional 45 minutes it now takes.
Some 21 additional intercity roundtrips moving at 125 mph are in the plan, which will develop the first downtown Los Angeles to downtown San Francisco service in 30 years.
The plan calls for many curves to be straightened, signals modernized, new sidings installed, and tunnels drilled beneath Del Mar and Miramar in San Diego County. All that would be done to boost speed, with top speeds jumping from the current 79 mph in most places to 90 mph, 110 mph and 125 mph, the Los Angeles Times reported on March 6. Hourly service between San Jose, Oakland and Sacramento would begin, with a trip time of 2 hours and 20 minutes, down from the current three hours. Other improvements would see expanded service in the Central Valley between Bakersfield and Sacramento, and between Bakersfield and Oakland.
The plan identifies new or expanded services to Las Vegas, Palm Springs, Monterey, Reno and Redding. It also addresses improvements required to expand Metrolink service to the Antelope Valley, San Bernardino, and Riverside.
"Rail is a vital component of California's transportation system and represents the most efficient and practical means of reducing congestion in our urban transportation corridors," said California Gov. Gray Davis.
"This is the work of a broad coalition sharing a fundamental belief that paving more highway lanes or building more runways won't meet the transportation challenges of the 21st century in California," said Amtrak Vice Chairman Governor Michael Dukakis.
"Passenger rail gives people a choice and people are responding. Amtrak ridership in California and across the country is skyrocketing. It offers a safe, comfortable and enjoyable alternative to freeway traffic and airport delays. And we will never solve the airport problem in California or elsewhere, unless we get serious about high-speed rail," Dukakis added.
The plan provides a blueprint to guide future rail planning in three phases: immediate, up to 3 years; near-term, 4-8 years; and long-term, 9-20 years. It identifies and prioritizes specific improvement projects that would reduce congestion in the state's four primary intercity rail corridors - San Diego to San Luis Obispo (served currently by the Pacific Surfliner), Bakersfield to Sacramento (San Joaquin), San Jose to Sacramento (Capitols), and Los Angeles to Oakland-San Francisco (Coast Starlight). The first three are among the five busiest passenger rail corridors in the country, and San Jose to Sacramento is the fastest growing passenger rail route in the nation, an Amtrak spokeswoman stated.
"These projects are important to the communities they serve," said Rob Krebs, BNSF Railway chairman.
"Each addresses a community need, whether it's air-pollution reduction, traffic congestion mitigation, downtown redevelopment, or other community quality-of-life benefits," he said.
The plan itself was the result of a major community-based planning initiative. Four task forces were created for each of the corridors to review existing service, define future needs, and identify projects for improving commuter, recreational, and business travel as well as freight rail operations. The task force members were comprised of local elected officials, Caltrans, Caltrains, Metrolink, freight and commuter railroads, rail advocates and the FRA.
David R. Solow, Metrolink's CEO, said he agreed to work with Amtrak only after assurances that his Southern California commuter rail line would not face competition from the national giant. Both railroads depart Union Station in Los Angeles southward in Orange County.
"We made very clear what we believe our business is and what their business is," Solow said. "The only reason they got our name on there is we basically agreed to be complementary and not competitive."
"Amtrak can play a significant role in meeting future transportation challenges in California," said Amtrak West president Gil Mallery.
"We want to dramatically reduce trip times," he added.
"The winners will be the public. The public is tired of sitting in congestion, be it in a train, on a runway or on a freeway."
He noted, "Through phased improvements bolstered by a strategic vision developed with local, regional, and state leaders, passenger rail will provide solutions for enhancing quality of life in communities while supporting economic growth."
Confronted with long-standing political reservations about the feasibility of high-speed rail, the plan's authors say they have drafted a mix of technical detail and political balance that recognizes California's maze of competing rail lines and the always intense geographic jealousies between Northern and Southern California.
Bridge nudged; trains soon running again
"Amtrak Cascades trains resumed operation between Portland, Ore. and Seattle, and Seattle with points north the late afternoon of Thursday, March 2," wrote Gay Banks Olson via e-mail, who is Amtrak's Cascades service manager in the Pacific Northwest corridor. She was responding to a D:F. e-mail query.
Communications in much of the Pacific Northwest were "iffy" at best, following the March 1 temblor, which reached 6.8 on the Richter scale.
"No Amtrak trains derailed as a consequence of the earthquake," she wrote, and "no Amtrak employee or guest was injured as a result of the quake."
She explained that all tracks Amtrak operates over in the earthquake zone are owned by BNSF.
"Standard operating procedure following an earthquake or event of this nature is to halt all rail traffic pending a thorough track inspection and clearance. BNSF completed their inspections in a safe and timely manner. There was a section of rail out of alignment and a slight settling of the Nisqually River bridge, but all damage was addressed, repaired and ascertained safe for passenger traffic before Amtrak was cleared to resume operations."
She added, "The first trains run on their schedules in these corridors were 754, 755, 762 and 763. The Empire Builder service, (trains 8 and 28) also began operations on their regular schedule," but, she added, "The Coast Starlight did not run through to Seattle until Friday, March 2 and out of Seattle on Saturday, March 3. We turned the Coast Starlight in Eugene for two days prior."
Buses helped out too, she said.
"We continued to run our Portland-Eugene service Wednesday and Thursday with some minimal delays due to motor coach connections from the north."
Taking a closer look
Federal financial help for short lines?
Government funding for infrastructure, a necessity for all other means of transport but widely regarded as a "luxury" for railroads, is again a front-burner issue.
The smaller railroads are putting the matter squarely in the spotlight. The man who is putting it there is Frank K. Turner, President of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASL&RRA). He told the Transportation Table at Washington's National Press Club on March 9 that his members needed help to upgrade their trackage.
It is not that the roads have failed to keep their tracks up to past standards, Turner said. It is simply that the demands are increasing as to what is necessary to exchange freight cars with the Class Is. The major trunk lines are providing larger and heavier equipment, a trend that has been in place for several years.
Turner expects that soon, perhaps by the time you read this, there will be legislation on Capitol Hill to provide federal funding for his member railroads to upgrade their infrastructure so that they can carry cars weighing up to 286,000 pounds.
Bottom line: $350 million per year for three years, "going toward infrastructure for Class II and Class III railroads." Members of the ASL&RRA range from "Mom and Pop" operations to entities that are barely a heartbeat away from the more exclusive Class I club.
Turner said the proposal has "support from the Class Is. We have support from labor... and also from the leadership in the House."
He added, "I am really excited about going forth with this, and I think we will get an appropriation bill, I hope, in the very near future." It would include "possibly... a match from our members."
He told the journalists, "To be perfectly honest with you, there are probably segments of track in this country where to upgrade to 286 (thousand pounds) is not going to be economically feasible" in the private sector.
Just to put the economics of this in a comparative "scale" measurement, the smaller railroads' Washington representative noted that "the average revenue from a Class II or class III railroad is about $6,000 per mile, (compared to) about $263,000 a mile for Class Is."
Turner added, the small lines are "looking under every stone to see where money is available to the infrastructure of the Class II and Class III railroads."
That includes help from some of the Class Is. Canadian National (CN) gave "over $1 million to one of our members. That was a win/win deal" for both since CN can enjoy the economies of the larger cars and be able to exchange them with a smaller line. The smaller road benefits for obvious reasons, but the ability of CN to exchange the heavier cars with that short line enables CN to attract more customers.
Obviously, however, the treasuries of the Class Is limit their potential to do that on anything like a regular basis, hence the forthcoming legislative proposal.
In the question and answer period following his remarks, I told Turner that I assumed that the $350 million was not necessarily the last of his requests for federal help, and that he was not slamming the door to going back to that (federal) well "somewhere down the line" given that changes and new maintenance problems are likely to arise in the future.
"We're not bashful about going for federal money," he replied, "and it is a break in tradition with railroads (which have) historically not gone to the federal government for infrastructure. But I think the time is here. Our competitors do it. We want to compete on a level playing field. Yes, we want that federal money. We're not going to tell them (that we'll shy away from further requests) after three years, if we need more and we understand the problem more. We'll be back."
Given the fact that 315,000-pound cars are not out of bounds in the future plans of Class I lines, the smaller roads probably have not reached "the end of the line" on federal infrastructure requests.
Exactly how the projected $350 million would be dispersed is a matter that would involve the Federal Railroad Administration.
This is a serious proposal. It is not some throwaway idea tossed in the hopper by a freshman seeking publicity without hope of results. In answer to a D:F inquiry to the ASL&RRA, we learned the measure is backed by Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Chairman Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.) of the newly revived Railroads Subcommittee of that Young panel, and Rep. Bob Clement (D-Tenn.), ranking Democrat on the Railroads Subcommittee. That is real legislative firepower. Quinn, by the way, has far more rail labor support than the average House Republican.
So, the infrastructure funding debate rolls on. We have tracked that industry discussion in this space through the high-speed passenger rail movement, the entire arena of freight-passenger relations, and in the corporate boardrooms of the proudly independent Class I carriers. Now, as Turner demonstrated, that same thread, with support from the Class Is, is weaving its way into legislative proposals involving the short lines and regional railroads.
In this country, we have a great tradition of free enterprise. It is an honorable tradition that works best when the rules are applied on "a level paying field" to all competitors in a given industry. Railroads are no exception to that rule.
I have heard some who make their living in transportation assert that perhaps we should go the other way and leave all forms of transportation strictly to the free market for both infrastructure and operations, and let the chips fall where consumers are willing to put their money. Some steps in that direction are seen in a proposal to privatize air traffic controllers, an idea roundly denounced by transportation unions. But even if that were to take place, it would be only one relatively small step in the overall scheme of things.
Nowhere in the world are all competing forms of transport completely in the private sector, so we don't know whether a complete laissez faire policy in this part of the economy would work, and few are willing to chance it; thus, the rail industry debate on accepting the same help accorded competing modes.
The new parking lot is going onto a former double-tracked right-of-way.
An old railroad tunnel in Providence, R.I. is getting a new use - at least its west approach is. It is becoming a parking lot.
East Side Tunnel, opened in 1908 for the former New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, ran passenger trains through the mile-long, double-tracked bore until 1938, when the Great Hurricane wiped out the dual tracks to Bristol and Newport.
After that, it was freight only, with an occasional train to Narragansett Park in East Providence, where the horses ran.
Up to the mid-1950s, 35-car daily freight trains ran through the hole to East Providence, but by the Penn Central and Conrail eras, traffic had dried up, withered away with companies moving out of the region or going belly-up. By the time the Providence & Worcester got the line, which was state-owned by then, there was virtually no traffic left.
Rhode Island DOT spokesman Paul Carcieri said last week the "property has been leased for 20 years to a group called Armory Revival. It's also known as the Benevolent Improvement Assn." The state-owned plot is the railroad right-of-way.
That group "is developing some adjacent private property for commercial and residential condominiums," Carcieri said. DOT has leased 40,000 square feet at the face of the former East Side Tunnel for vehicle parking." He did not state the dollar amount of the lease.
Several years ago, following a drunken riot among mostly college students inside the tunnel, the city administration erected steel barriers at both ends of the hole to keep people out. Small steel doors were installed and locked, but those locks are now broken. The western portal lies between Benefit and North Main Streets, and the eastern face is near Gano Street, leading to the continuously upright Seekonk River drawbridge.
Roof joists, and large drainage pipes, are near the tunnel mouth, but Carcieri said, "There's no type of construction going on on our property that we rented to them. They're using our land for surface parking only. What you saw may be material they are using to develop the adjacent private property."
An adjacent office building at the corner of North Main and Thomas Streets, which formerly housed law offices, has been torn down, and is part of Armory Revival's project. They have a large banner erected that so states.
Carcieri said if railroad service were ever to be restored, the state has a clause in its contract to take the property back.
"All of our licenses and leases have termination language, so if that eventuality came around, we could terminate."
Up until December 1999, the land had returned to nature with weeds, bushes and trees. A single, rusty track remains inside the tunnel, but with many wooden ties missing.
When I was a boy, this part of the railroad was virtually my playground. I used to love sitting off to the side and wait for the trains to go by. I learned that an oil drag from East Providence would exit the hole at about 4:30 each weekday afternoon. Usually some time afterwards, a long freight with perhaps 35 to 40 cars of mixed types would exit.
The first engines I remember seeing, circa 1952, when I was 14 years old, were 0-8-0 steamers, coal-burning switchers and branch line power that could carry some pretty hefty loads. The heavy, chuffing, black smoking beasts were eventually replaced by American Locomotive Co. (Alco) 1,200 hp diesel-electric RS-3 road switchers. Those, in turn (but I don't know exactly when) were replaced by Fairbanks-Morse HH-16-44 1,600 hp diesel engines. Track speed through the tunnel was down to 30 mph.
Penn Central came along as did Conrail, with "U-boats," U-23bs, but by then track speed was down to a dismal 5 mph. Between 1963 and 1964, while I was wearing a green uniform in Pleiku, Vietnam, the New Haven single-tracked the line. Finally, P&W traveled through the tunnel a couple of times while the track was still barely passable, but they gave up on it.
For years, probably going back to the time when the tunnel opened, Rhode Island School Of Design students used the Providence Art Club parking lot atop the tunnel's western portal as a platform to get some pretty good perspectives of nearby architecture. Most ignored the railway line itself, but concentrated on some of the unique buildings, some of which were not even in view.
Years after the trains went away for good, the art students began paying a lot more attention to the tunnel itself - and it became not only an object for perusal because of its engineering and structural design, but because it also lent itself to becoming an enormous canvas. Unnamed kids began painting its expressionless concrete face, changing its very core, its mantle, and its essence. It no longer was simply a utilitarian fa┴ade, but with this steel trap shutting its gaping mouth shut, that too, became a canvas for contemporary art.
The results are self-evident.
Does it qualify as art? Sure, just not serious art. The steel face and concrete tunnel walls provide the canvas for Rhode Island School of Design students.
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
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
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
Great Northern: Leo King collectionIt was sometime in the 1950s, and this Great Northern publicity photo shows The Empire Builder rolling along the southwestern border of Glacier National Park in Montana The engines are three EMD F7s, and the leader is numbered 360C. It is hauling 15 cars, as near as we can make out in this 50-year-old print.
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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.
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