Vol. 7 No. 13
March 13, 2006

Copyright © 2006
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

The E-Zine of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - Jim RePass      Editor - Molly McKay
Webmaster - Dennis Kirkpatrick

A weekly North American rail and transit update

For railroad professionals
Political leaders at all levels of government
Journalists from all media

* Now in our Seventh Year *

This page is best viewed at 800 X 600 screen resolution


IN THIS EDITION...  In this edition...

  News Items... 
Gov.’s plan is a boon to area rail. Infrastructure proposal
   aims to cut truck traffic and overall pollution
DOT head supports high-speed rail
Frist appoints conservative activist Weyrich,
   trucking exec to blue-ribbon commission
   on surface transportation
  Across the Pond… 
Snow chaos causes partial shut-down of germany’s
   rail system
Hannover hosts half million CeBIT convention visitors -
   special rail transit services planned
Hannover S-Bahn expansion stalls
Deutsche Bahn reveals world cup logistic plans
  Friday closing quotes… 
Where is the 737 of the railway world?
Peirce column notes “rebirth” of infrastructure
Not by choice: How we were driven to sprawl
Don’t confuse prevalence of sprawl with desirability
State should use Amtrak more
Railway Age International Conference
  End notes… 

Gov.’s Plan Is a Boon to Area Rail

Infrastructure proposal aims to cut
truck traffic and overall pollution

From the Internet

February 26‹The Los Angeles Times reported that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed a $222-billion rail and freeway infrastructure improvement plan for California.

Southern California has become one of the world’s most important gateways for goods coming into the country, yet it is dependent on a pre-World War II rail system that has become increasingly congested and overburdened. Present day predictions are that rail traffic will increase by 40% in the next decade, the article states.

To meet these challenges, the Governor’s plan would make major expansions to rail infrastructure: adding tracks, creating grade separations by bridging or tunneling, expanding cargo-loading facilities to ease and speed up freight trains.

The plans are creating excitement among rail and commerce officials but some are less enthusiastic. Some Democratic legislators think the investment is too costly. Some citizens are worried about noise and pollution with increased numbers of trains. Some are fearful of the trains themselves since a derailment three years ago in the city of Commerce destroyed several homes.

More and more cargo from China, Malaysia, and Indonesia is pouring into the ports south of Los Angeles, filling up the 243-acre Hobart train yard with hundreds of steel boxes. Today the Los Angeles-Long Beach seaport complex is the fifth-busiest with container traffic expected to nearly triple in the next 15 years. It more than doubled in the last decade. Every day 114 freight trains roll across the region now, sharing the railroad with 70 commuter trains. If the infrastructure can’t accommodate the rapidly increasing amount of rail travel, trains will be slowed by more than three hours just to get through the region. This alarms experts since costs will go up, possibly forcing freight back onto trucks, thereby clogging the already congested highways, not to mention adding to pollution.

The rail industry is vital to the employment situation in California. An estimated 550,000 jobs in the region are directly or indirectly associated with trade and transportation activities stemming from the twin ports, which saw trade volumes more than double over the last decade, according to the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. Planners and economists say trade volume could triple in the next 20 years.

By 2025, rail traffic is expected to grow 47% more, to nearly 390 trains a day.

The two major freight rail companies of the region, Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific, are planning their own expansions: adding second and third tracks, building new bridges, new stations and additional rail yards. Despite these expansions, experts say the situation will still be dire. Commuter trains share the freight tracks, and delays are common with freight travel increasing and it will only get worse as the freight rail increases. At the same time, commuter trains are going to increase as well.

“We’d like to go up to 56 trains by 2010,” said David Solow, chief executive of the commuter rail service that serves L.A., Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. “It’s a struggle. I can’t add any more trains without more track investment.”

In Colton in San Bernardino County, Union Pacific and Burlington Northern tracks intersect at a 90-degree angle - which means trains sometimes have to wait for each other to cross.

The Colton crossing “is a major element in slowing down all the freight in Southern California,” said John Husing, a consultant to SCAG. “The whole rail system in Southern California is reaching capacity. The tracks are overwhelmed.”

Schwarzenegger’s plan would eliminate some street-level crossings, extend tracks near stations and add a third track in the downtown to relieve the congestion caused by passenger and freight trains sharing tracks.

The governor’s plan calls for the state to pay 20% for some of the projects and the private sector 80%. Critics say the private sector may not be able to come up with their share at that level. There are also disagreements over who would have the say on which projects get funded. Scharzeneggar proposes that state officials make the decision, others say it should be transportation experts.

But one thing experts do agree on is that increasing the use of rail is one of the region’s best and quickest hopes for reducing freeway congestion and improving air quality. Also, expanding the freeway network, such as building toll lanes for trucks, could take a decade or more to complete. In contrast, major rail improvement projects could be done in a few years ‹ a much quicker fix for the region’s transportation woes and clean air needs.

“The governor’s plan is a good step forward,” said Hasan Ikhrata, director of transportation policy and planning for the Southern California Assn. of Governments. “Something has to be done, and done fast, to keep this region competitive. Now the private sector has to step up to the table.”

Return to index
DOT head supports high-speed rail

By Rob Zaleski


(We are seeing more and more stories like this as even long-time “highway men” --- and women --- are acknowledging that rail isn’t a competing mode. It is the solution for congestion. We thought this interview from the Milwaukee, WI Capital Times was a great illustration of what happens when people actually think about transportation rather than just building it--the editors).


From the beginning, Frank Busalacchi was perceived as a “roads” guy.

In fact, when Gov. Jim Doyle named the former Milwaukee Teamsters official to head the Department of Transportation in 2002, some claimed it was nothing more than a payback for the Teamsters’ staunch support of Doyle’s gubernatorial campaign.

But while Busalacchi didn’t deny that his No. 1 priority was rebuilding the deteriorating Marquette interchange in Milwaukee - at a staggering cost of $810 million - he suggested in an interview with me shortly after being appointed that if his critics were to cut him some slack, they’d find he’s a lot more open-minded than they assumed.

No, he wasn’t a “huge environmentalist.” But he insisted he wasn’t anti-mass transit and rejected the notion that lobsters would learn how to tango before he’d actually push for high-speed rail service between Milwaukee and Madison.

Four years later, Busalacchi is chairman of the States for Passenger Rail Coalition and has become an outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s refusal to adequately fund Amtrak.

But the real shocker was his recent commentary in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in which he chastised Congress for ignoring Americans’ support for expanded inter-city rail service and noted that ridership on Amtrak’s Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha line was up 14 percent in 2005.

He mentioned that he’d recently ridden the new high-speed rail network in Spain, where trains reach speeds of 215 mph. “This is happening in a country with a gross domestic product similar to that of Korea and Mexico,” he wrote. “The key in Spain, as in most Europeans nations, is that passenger rail development receives strong government funding.”

Last week, Busalacchi - who grew up on Milwaukee’s blue-collar south side and, like myself, is a graduate of Bay View High School - agreed to elaborate on his views in a phone interview.

Some highlights:

Frank, you went from being ambivalent about high-speed rail to being a big supporter. What happened?

“I got involved in the rail issues about a year after I took over the department. Because when you get involved with DOT and see the amount of dollars that’s going just to road projects, it makes you stop and think - especially as gas prices continue to creep up.”

And your trip to Spain convinced you that high-speed rail is something we should be pushing?

“Actually, I was kind of addicted to passenger rail even before I went to Spain. Because, quite honestly, this Amtrak service that we’ve got between Milwaukee and Chicago is one of the biggest success stories in the entire country.

“We keep having these double-digit increases (in ridership) and all of this stuff kept coming across my desk. That’s why I took the chairmanship of the States for Passenger Rail Coalition.

“And, you know, I’ve had a couple meetings with Norman Mineta (U.S. Secretary of Transportation) and everybody in Washington understands that gas prices are going to continue to skyrocket - and that building more roads isn’t really the total answer. We’ve got to give people alternatives.

“But the Bush administration is really stuck. They just will not do what needs to be done. That’s the real problem we’re having.”

So how can you be hopeful?

“Because we’ve introduced some bills that would fund inter-city passenger rail the same way we fund highways - 80 percent federal, 20 percent states. It makes sense to do it this way.

“What scares a lot of these people is that when you start talking about rail, it’s a lot of money. It’s huge dollars. But the payback on these dollars is many times more than what you’re putting into it.”

Some people will find it hard to believe that Frank Busalacchi, the former Teamsters official, actually supports high-speed rail.

“Well, I’ve probably become the biggest advocate for high-speed rail in the state, if not the country. I’ve been crisscrossing all kinds of areas talking about inter-city passenger rail because Milwaukee, Chicago, Minneapolis, Cleveland - they’re all dealing with gridlock. Everybody sees it every day, and we’ve got to figure out a way to give people options.

“That’s why the Hiawatha’s been so successful. Because people realize now that you can get on the train, you relax, you get into Union Station in Chicago, you take a cab or you walk to wherever you’re going. It’s real easy to do. And that message is getting out there.”

But realistically, do you think Congress will ever support a high-speed rail network?

“Absolutely. Our goal here is - if we can get Congress to step up and pass this legislation, we could extend Amtrak service to Madison very quickly. It would take us probably two years to get that done.

“But we need over $300 million in federal funds to do it. And that’s where we’re at right now. I mean, we can barely get Congress to fund Amtrak. We’ve got to change this mentality.”

But how do you do that? This high-speed rail initiative has been around for more than a decade, and some people say it’s never going to happen. What do you tell them?

“That I’m not giving up. I’m spending the time - and so is my department - talking to people, and we’ll continue to do that. There are a lot of people in Congress who believe in what we’re doing. Eventually something’s going to happen.

“This bill (co-sponsored by Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.) is going to get legs. And if it gets legs, they’re going to roll over the Bush administration on this thing.”

You honestly believe that?

“Oh yeah. Any of the large cities you go to, people are spending two hours on the road getting to work and two hours getting home. And this is very non-productive. The studies keep coming out that indicate just expanding the highways is not the answer. Because you expand them and a year later they’re obsolete again.

“And we can’t abandon the long-haul passenger trains either. Because areas like Montana and Wyoming, that’s the only way that people can get around. So going back in time - to the days when almost everyone used trains - is the way to go. It really is.” Email: rzaleski@madison.com.

- Copyright 2006 The Capital Times, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Used by permission.

Return to index
Frist appoints conservative activist Weyrich,
trucking exec to blue-ribbon commission
on surface transportation

The Legislative Services Group: Transportation Weekly

On February 13, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) announced his new appointments to the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission created by section 1909 of the SAFETEA-LU law.

Patrick E. Quinn is the co-founder and co-chairman of the U.S.Xpress Enterprises, Inc. (the fifth largest publicly-traded truckload carrier in the United States) ad is the current chairman of the American Trucking Association.  Quinn was a Nebraska attorney specializing in transportation law who went in to the equipment rental industry in 1977 and co-founded U.S.Xpress in 1985.  He lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Frist also named longtime conservative activist Paul M. Weyrich, founder and head of the Free Congress Foundation, to the Commission.  Weyrich has long been interested in transportation, but mostly in mass transit and intercity passenger rail (Weyrich served six terms on the pre-1997 Amtrak board and was named by then Majority-Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) to the Amtrak Reform Council, where he served as vice-chairman and an active member).

Weyrich was so upset by Transportation Secretary Mineta’s approval of the firing of Amtrak CEO David Gunn last fall that he wrote the following:

“Secretary of Transportation Norman Y Mineta knows little and cares less about Amtrak.  For a suitable reform plan to work, we would need a Secretary of Transportation who could work hand in glove with the Amtrak Board and its President to make things happen.  That is unlikely considering Mineta and his disinterest in Amtrak.  I believe that President George W. Bush demonstrated sound judgment when he asked certain cabinet secretaries to serve a second term.  The selection of Mineta did not reflect that.”

(Ed. Note:  Secretary Mineta is the chairman of the surface transportation commission to which Weyrich has just been named.)

Return to index
ACROSS THE POND...  Across the Pond...

Installments by David Beale
NCI European Correspondent

For NCI: Deutsche Bahn AG

A DB Netz maintenance worker attempts to remove snow from rail switches during a Feb. 2005 snow storm in Bavaria in southern Germany.


Snow chaos causes partial shut-down of Germany’s rail system

Bahn TV - DBAG

Munich - During the past weekend (4th-5th March) in Bavaria and elsewhere in southern Germany 40 cm (16 in.) or more of snow fell within 24 hours, causing wide spread chaos on the roads, airports and with the extensive rail system in that part of the country. Neither streetcars nor buses could travel, and most S-Bahn commuter trains in the Munich area had to be cancelled. Large snow drifts and frozen rail switches made train operations impossible on numerous lines. The snow removal services of Deutsche Bahn (German Railways) were on continuos duty. Only subway trains of Munich’s U-Bahn system were able to continue operations. At the Munich airport occasionally nothing moved. Innumerable flights were cancelled and passengers remained grounded.

The blizzard had stopped road, air and rail travel in Switzerland and northern Italy the day before, and continued to cause travel problems over the following two days in Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary and the Balkans.

By Monday morning (6th March) most operations had returned to normal in the Munich area, thanks to the major snow removal effort. The railroad traffic in Bavaria was restored to a full schedule on all routes by Tuesday morning (7th March).

Return to index
A DB 614 series diesel MU

Photo: courtesy of Deutsche Bahn AG

A DB 614 series diesel MU train set in Hannover central station awaiting departure to Buchholz back in 2003. 


Hannover hosts half million CeBIT convention visitors
Special rail transit services planned

DBAG press release

Hannover - On the 9th March, the CeBIT, the world largest specialty convention and fair for information and communication technology in Hannover began. More than a half million visitors are expected to attend the week-long convention and trade fair. The rail system in the region is well prepared for the onslaught of visitors. Fair visitors and participants will be conveyed by 120 additional trains quickly and comfortably directly to the EXPO- and convention center railway station Hanover - Laatzen.

Extra ad-hoc ICE train sections will travel from Berlin, Bremen, Dortmund, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Karlsruhe, Cologne and Munich to the Lower Saxony state capital for CeBIT visitors staying far away from the Hannover area, with arrival times between 8:30 and 10:30 in the morning and return trips begin starting at 16:15 in the afternoon. Additionally more than, 500 regular distance trains will make special stops at the convention center railway station in Laatzen (southern Hannover suburb where CeBIT takes place), as will the regional express-trains and the S-Bahn commuter rail line number 6 from the Hannover airport. Admittance tickets to the CeBIT trade fare typically include complementary travel on all trains light rail and bus lines in the greater Hannover Region to and from the CeBIT trade fair.

Return to index
Hannover S-Bahn Expansion Stalls

The proposed federal spending reductions on local transit in Germany made their presence felt in the Hannover Region, according to a spokesman for the state government’s transit administration in Hannover. The state agency responsible for allocating funding and resources on transportation projects in the German state of Lower Saxony figures it will loose about  €  198 million (US$ 237 million) over a three year period. Two high profile projects most likely to be placed on the back burner or even cancelled altogether are the extension of the Hannover S-Bahn commuter trains to Hildesheim, Laatzen and Sarstedt in the southern part of the region as well as the modernization and double-tracking of the Mellendorf - Walsrode - Soltau - Buchholz regional rail line in the northern part of the region.

The S-Bahn extension in the southern part of the region would have brought fast half-hourly commuter train services operated by new Bombardier "Talent" EMU train sets to Hildesheim and to several other towns and small cities south of Hannover sometime in 2008. Those areas are currently served with locomotive hauled regional trains en-route to/from Bad Harzburg or Göttingen with hourly services during peak times, and less frequent train service during other times of the day.

The rail line north from Hannover to Buchholz via Walsrode and Soltau was proposed for upgraded track and signaling as well as additional double-track sections to support more frequent train services. The line is currently electrified only as far north as Bennemühlen (end point of the S-4 S-Bahn commuter rail line), and the double track section from Hannover ends further south (closer to Hannover) in Mellendorf. Much of the signaling on this line is of the old electro-mechanical semaphore type, and other than the Hannover - Bennemühlen section which was electrified and upgraded with new track and modern signaling for start of the S-Bahn system in 2000, significant portions of the line north of Bennemühlen have speed restrictions imposed due to the old and deteriorating track and roadbed conditions. Except for the S-Bahn trains operating over the section at the southern end of the Hannvoer - Buchholz line, most passenger train services are operated with 1970s vintage DB 614 series diesel MU train sets.

The proposed Germany-wide cuts in local transit spending, sponsored by the ruling coaltion government formed by the conservative CDU/CSU party and the liberal SPD party, have passed several parliamentary committee votes, but so far have not yet been passed into law by the full parliament. German rail advocates fear substantial cut-backs in existing commuter and regional rail services as well as elimination of most future projects for upgrades or expansion of commuter and regional rail services across Germany, if the propsed federal budget cuts are passed into law.

Return to index
Deutsche Bahn electric MU train set ET 424 534-6

Photo: NCI David Beale

Deutsche Bahn electric MU train set ET 424 534-6 (Bombardier “Talent”) operating as S-Bahn line S-1 from Hannover pauses in Haste (Germany) before resuming its westward trip to Minden back in May 2005.


Deutsche Bahn Reveals World Cup Logistic Plans

From Hannover Allgemeine Zeitung

Deutsche Bahn - German Railways - released further details about its preparations for the 2006 World Cup soccer tournament, which takes place over a 4 week period in mid June thru to early July. The World Cup dwarfs the winter and summer Olympics in nearly aspect, including time span, number of venues and number of fans and visitors. Deutsche Bahn expects to capture approximately 40% of the World Cup generated passenger traffic within and to Germany.

DB plans to make an additional 250 intercity trains available for the World Cup by leasing-in rolling stock from ÖBB, the state rail company in neighboring Austria, scheduling heavy maintenance on passenger trains and locomotives around the World Cup dates in order to have a minimum number of vehicles out of service in scheduled maintenance during the tournament, and re-activation of stored trains, including all 19 ICE-VT train sets, the diesel powered variant of the ICE-3 family. DB had parked all 19 ICE-VT trains two years ago due to dissatisfaction with the reliability of these trains. The fleet has been up for sale, potential buyers to date have included Iran and Austria, but no agreement has been made so far. The ICE-VT fleet will be used mostly for transporting football teams, team staff and family members between games on ad-hoc passenger train charters.

DB plans a large number of extra trains for services between Berlin and the Rhine-Ruhr region in western Germany, which is the most heavily populated area of the country. A number of special World Cup trains are also planned for Berlin - Frankfurt, Berlin - Leipzig, Dortmund/Cologne/Düsseldorf - Frankfurt - Stuttgart and Munich - Hannover - Hamburg.

Return to index
STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: MarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)76.5179.43
Canadian National (CNI)45.5047.84
Canadian Pacific (CP)49.8252.47
CSX (CSX)55.2456.36
Florida East Coast (FLA)51.1351.58
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)44.9947.30
Kansas City Southern (KSU)22.8623.56
Norfolk Southern (NSC)50.8352.12
Providence & Worcester (PWX)15.5515.84
Union Pacific (UNP)85.7689.82

Return to index
EDITORIALS...  Editorials...

Where Is The 737 Of The Railway World?

by David A. Haydock


Mr. Haydock is managing editor of Today’s Railways, a British monthly magazine which covers railroading in Europe. Mr. Haydock has resided in northern France for slightly over 10 years and has covered railroad news in France, Britain, Belgium, Holland and elsewhere in Europe extensively. His staff covers railroad news, history and trends all across Europe and parts of western and central Asia. Mr. Haydock writes here about the on-going lack of standardization regarding procurement of new rolling stock in Europe. As North America drifts further and further away from Europe and Asia regarding its approach to rolling stock, rail infrastructure, and technology standards ( as Amtrak’s Acela unfortunately demonstrated) will American arrogance cause a similar problem of lack of interchangeable “plug-n-play” rail equipment and rolling stock for the USA and Canada in the future?


Travel anywhere in the world by plane on short haul flights and most likely you will fly in a Boeing 737. These planes are tried and tested, reliable, economical and, despite inroads made by Airbus equivalents, still ubiquitous. The basic truth is that to start up an airline without too many problems, one part of the recipe is a plane which will give no trouble.

So where is the 737 of the European railway world? The truth is that one or more exists, but nationalistic, political and short-sighted decisions mean that railway operators are still taking chances with unproven trains . . . and they should know better. The farce currently playing out in the Netherlands is a classic example. High Speed Alliance (HSA), the future operator of the new HSL (high speed line) Zuid from Amsterdam to Antwerp via Rotterdam, chose a completely new design of train, which only existed on paper from Ansaldobreda, despite a tight deadline for delivery. HSA, a totally Dutch company formed by NS Reizigers and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, had no nationalistic reason to choose the Italian firm Ansaldobreda. So were the trains chosen because of an unbeatable price?

Well, as they say, you get what you pay for! The trains will be delivered at least late, meaning that there will be no high speed trains to operate over this corridor when it opens. Ansaldobreda says that the trains are ten months late. But they will deliver the first train ten months after the official opening of HSL Zuid - meaning that they are more like 18 months late. And what are the chances of Ansaldobreda making up for lost time? Their IC4 DMU train sets for Danish Railways, another design snapped up straight from the drawing board by people who should know better, are currently 2 1/2 years late and still counting!

The fact is that HSA had a choice between two trains which already run in the Netherlands - the (German built) ICE-3 is superb but very expensive and somewhat unreliable while the (French built) TGV is modestly priced for its performance, and current versions are reliable. The customer might not like the interior of the (TGV based) Thalys (currently operating from Paris into Holland) compared with the ICE, but then the customer can choose the interior he likes, even with seats which line up with the windows. New entrant (open access) private freight train operators seem to order the same proven (off-the-shelf) freight locomotives every time. Will the others learn from their mistakes (and from the open access freight operators) this time?

Re-printed with permission of Platform 5 Publishing Limited, all rights reserved.

For NCI: Adam Auxier

An ICE Train at the Frankfurt Flughafen (Airport) Station. The new terminal is for ICE and Intercity trains only, there is a seperate station for local commuter rail.

Return to index

Peirce Column Notes “Rebirth” of Infrastructure

WASHINGTON--- Columnist Neal Peirce, a long-time student of infrastructure, regionalism, and how we combine (or fail to combine) the two in America has written an important article on the sudden revival of “big infrastructure funding” in California – under a Republican Governor.

Writes Peirce, of the Washington Post Writers Group: “Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s political rebirth this winter -- as champion of a massive $68 billion in new bonds to rebuild and expand California’s infrastructure -- has done more than trigger an earnest

tug-of-war over priorities with the Democratically-controlled legislature. The fact that the Republican governor of the nation’s largest state would embrace mega-spending on projects ranging from schools and universities to water levies and roads, is a

sure signal that infrastructure, seriously neglected nationwide since the 1970s, is headed for a big rebirth.”

That California would lead the way might perhaps not be newsworthy, unless you remember that it was California that led the way going in the other direction, in downsizing government and limiting taxation starting in the 1970’s. These policies, while once popular, have led to deterioration of the quality of life in the Golden State, to the point that California was seeing, for the first time, serious out-migration (to Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Nevada, as well as Arizona) for the first time in its history.

“Years of chronic underinvestment” says Peirce (quoting a Keston Institute report), “have brought California to a point where its transportation, flood control, water supply and other systems are seriously deficient, imperiling the state’s competitiveness and risking ‘catastrophic consequences’ through such threats as levees breaking.

Noting that “California is hardly alone,” Peirce states, “Massive infrastructure deficits are mirrored in states nationwide. It’s a reality that even spending-adverse, conservative governors and legislatures will have to deal with, both for safety and to prevent their states from slipping backward in a globalized economy.”

Peirce notes, however, that paying for years of neglected infrastructure is going to be difficult: “… as our attitudes on infrastructure shift from whether to how, a mega-question arises: where will the multi-billions for the repairs and new facilities come from? Schwarzenegger’s bid has been for pure borrowing -- general obligation bonds that have to be paid off by tomorrow’s taxpayers. But a state that adds too much new debt may find itself on thin ice.”

For the complete interview look for Neal Peirce at The Washington Post Writers Group www.postwritersgroup.com or in your local newspaper.

Return to index

Not By Choice: How We Were Driven To Sprawl

By Tom Sevigny

Published in Hartford Courant, March 5, 2006

The free market made us sprawl. This is the argument I often hear when I speak to individuals or groups about the negative consequences of our current land-use patterns in Connecticut. Someone, usually a male, stands up and says there is nothing we can do about sprawl because it is the result of our free market system - that low-density, auto-dependent development dominates our state and our country because that is what Americans prefer.

We chose sprawl, and corporations, being the profit-driven entities that they are, gave us want we wanted in the form of big boxes, big cars and big houses. Sprawl is nothing more than the fulfillment of the American dream, and any effort to challenge that dream, is, well, downright un-American.

Well, the fact is that we had no choice. Far from being the result of a free market system, urban sprawl is the direct consequence of government subsidies, intense corporate lobbying and manipulation through the legalized bribery we call campaign contributions, not to mention stifling zoning regulations that have limited the choices Americans have when it comes to where we live and how we get from place to place.

Exhibit A is our auto-dependent society. In 1922, Alfred P. Sloan, president of General Motors, established a special unit within the corporation that was charged with the task of replacing the United States’ electric railways with cars, trucks and buses. At the time, 90 percent of all trips were by rail, chiefly electric rail; only one in 10 Americans owned an automobile. There were 1,200 separate electric street and interurban railways, a thriving and profitable industry with 44,000 miles of track, 300,000 employees, 15 billion annual passengers, and $1 billion in income.

General Motors used a variety of techniques, legal and illegal, to convince electric railway owners to convert to buses. However, the primary method of destroying America’s electric railways was the formation of a holding company called National City Lines. Created by General Motors in conjunction with Firestone, Standard Oil and Phillips Petroleum, National City Lines bought out more than 100 electric railway systems in 45 cities between 1936 and 1950.

As soon as the transaction was complete, service was reduced, fares were increased, property was sold off, routine maintenance was ignored, and finally the entire system was dismantled and replaced by buses.

In 1936, when GM organized National City Lines, 40,000 streetcars were operating in the United States; at the end of 1965, only 5,000 remained. In December of that year, GM bus chief Roger M. Kyes correctly observed: “The motor coach has supplanted the interurban systems and has for all practical purposes eliminated the streetcar.” In 1949, a federal court found General Motors and its corporate conspirators guilty of criminal conspiracy. Their punishment: a $5,000 fine.

While General Motors was systematically ripping up tracks, it also ran massive public relations campaigns to indoctrinate the public with the idea that cars were what people really wanted. In addition, they formed a secretive group called the “Road Gang,” 240 representatives of the automotive, oil and trucking industries who lobbied the federal government for more highway construction.

Their lobbying and campaign contributions paid off handsomely during the Eisenhower administration, when the recently elected president appointed members of GM’s board to key governmental positions. Those appointees in turn declared the building of highways a matter of “national security.”

Eisenhower then formed a committee of business executives with ties to the auto, oil, trucking and construction industries to negotiate a deal among the various special interests. The culmination of their negotiations was the National Interstate Highway and Defense Act.

The act ensured that the automobile would be the primary mode of transportation for Americans. The money collected through gas taxes and automotive excise taxes would be used exclusively for highway and road construction. From 1945 to 1970, only 16 miles of new subway were constructed in the entire country. In addition, the highway system opened up suburban land for speculation and development to the enrichment of automobile, truck, oil, construction and real estate interests.

We are now dealing with the detrimental consequences of the General Motors campaign. While it is not, by any means, exclusively to blame for our auto-dependent sprawl society, its actions are indicative of how special interests and government officials have created a low-density, auto-oriented pattern that has effectively removed the multiple alternatives associated with a free market system.

Local and state governments have only exacerbated the problems associated with urban sprawl by developing land-use and roadway regulations that mandate large roads and large parking lots and encourage low-density, single-use developments that separate people from their destinations.

People who want affordable housing in pedestrian-friendly, multi-use neighborhoods with easy access to public transportation are simply out of luck. Simply put, government regulation favors one kind of living arrangement over another.

It is time for government at all levels to open up the market. The federal government needs to invigorate a national mass transportation system and stop viewing the construction of larger and larger highways as the means to eradicating traffic jams. For decades, federal subsidies have favored the automobile to the detriment of alternative means of transportation. We are now dealing with the implications of such exclusivity not only domestically but in the foreign policy area as well.

At the state and local level, government needs to also embrace mass transportation while allowing for coordination, cooperation and innovation when it comes to land-use decisions. Regional and state land-use plans need to be developed that will end the vicious cycle of competition between municipalities for development, driven by the desperate need for property tax revenue.

Local land-use regulations need to stop zoning out pedestrian-friendly, multi-use neighborhoods in favor of low-density, McMansion subdivisions. Finally, we as citizens need to let our elected officials know that we demand alternatives, that we demand choice, and that we want to make these decisions for ourselves, our families, and our communities through a democratic process.

That is what smart growth is all about: more choices and more community participation.

Tom Sevigny is vice president of Canton Advocates for Responsible Expansion, serves on the board of People’s Action for Clean Energy, and is a member of a Citizens Network study group on financing local education.

Return to index
Don’t confuse prevalence of sprawl with desirability

By Inga Saffron

Published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, March 6

It’s been a bad couple of weeks for the conventional wisdom. First, a landmark medical study reveals that low-fat diets don’t do much good in the fight against cancer and heart disease. Then we learn that calcium won’t necessarily keep your old bones from breaking.

And now we have a professor at the University of Illinois telling us that suburban sprawl might be a good thing for us after all.

In his slyly titled book Sprawl: A Compact History, Robert Bruegmann challenges the orthodoxy of what he calls the “anti-sprawl reformers” - those Cassandras who would stop the march of subdivisions through the landscape, banish big-box emporiums, and detangle highway cloverleafs. Bruegmann, who teaches in the art history department, has received mostly sympathetic responses to his book, which might have easily been titled, Sprawl: The Bright Side.

At first glance, Bruegmann’s book gives the appearance of being an objective historical survey. He comes with an impeccable urbanist pedigree: A professor at a downtown Chicago university. Resident of that city’s Lakeview neighborhood. Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. But the book is, in fact, a polemic on behalf of unfettered, free-market development, wherever it might be.

Bruegmann begins by arguing that, ever since the days of walled cites, people have sought to escape density and disease by building homes on the urban fringe. Given their druthers, human beings prefer peace, quiet, and their own green acre. The unprecedented affluence of modern America has simply provided more people with the opportunity to live like lords of the manor. Today, more Americans reside in subdivisions than cities, making us very much a suburban nation.

All those things are undeniably true. The problem is how Bruegmann proceeds from there. If people choose to live in sprawling suburbs, he suggests, then sprawl must be a good thing. Anyone who tries to critique that lifestyle is simply an elitist snob or a puritanical hairshirt hellbent on trying to keep middle-class strivers from enjoying the great American dream.

The attack on so-called elites should set off alarm bells. Are people who have moved to the exurban frontier for the sake of the kids really happy with the sprawl that forces them to spend more time commuting than parenting? And the fact that Americans desire something doesn’t mean it’s the best policy. As a nation, we have a record of believing we can have it both ways: gas-guzzling SUVs and independence from foreign oil, low taxes and more services, french fries and good health. Even if it’s true that the fat won’t get you, the calories surely will.

One fact Bruegmann likes to mash in the face of the anti-sprawl reformers is that Los Angeles - a place synonymous with sprawl - is now the densest metro area in America, with more residents per square mile than New York. This suggests, he says, that you can have single-family homes and a high-energy vibe, too. Bruegmann concludes that low-rise Los Angeles is a better environmental model than high-rise New York.

The Los Angeles density statistic is quoted a lot, but it seems suspect. Los Angeles is a vast territory. Although it is indeed more urban than some would acknowledge, its density ranking is probably the result of its immense size. If you were to draw the circle around Hollywood, I’d wager that it’s far less dense than Manhattan, or even Staten Island. Bruegmann begins his book with a description of his flight over L.A. Had he started by describing the scene as he emerged from New York’s Penn Station, he would immediately understand which city is truly dense.

Bruegmann also attacks the reformers for harping on the way sprawl gobbles up precious farmland. He points out that our immense country is in no danger of running out of farmland. American agribusiness could easily feed us even if the country’s stock of developed land doubled. But that ignores the main issue.

It’s not that loss of open space makes us less able to feed ourselves. It’s that we need large, contiguous tracts of undeveloped land to preserve habitats for plants and animals. We need vast natural areas to protect our water supplies and provide drainage. It might not yet be clear precisely how much land we need, or where, but there are already signs that rampant development is tainting our watersheds, depleting our aquifers, and killing our fish. While there have always been suburbs, today’s development is on an entirely new scale.

Bruegmann is right when he notes that some suburbs are becoming denser, more urban places without the heavy hand of government. There are good suburbs and bad ones. The best, for both environmental and quality-of-life reasons, are the denser ones that offer residents a choice between using the automobile or transit - such as Chevy Chase, Md., or Haddonfield. They’re desirable places despite behaving and looking a lot like Philadelphia’s Mount Airy.

Bruegmann contends that Americans left the cities and moved to subdivisions out of “choice.” But it’s more plausible that they decamped because the suburbs offered better schools, bigger yards, and the perception that they were safer. Not all suburbanites reject urban-style housing or urban bustle. Indeed, the recent fascination with New Urbanist-style suburbs suggests that many people like the idea of living on small lots, near walkable shopping.

If cities could also match the suburbs with amenities, they’d give them a run for their money. Unfortunately, the regulatory deck has long been stacked against cities. Bruegmann is right that some people will always gravitate to the next suburban frontier. But that doesn’t mean our government policies should encourage them.

Contact architecture critic Inga Saffron at 215-854-2213 or isaffron@phillynews.com.

Return to index
State should use Amtrak more

Across the wires from Bloomington Pantagraph

CHICAGO -- State employees should be traveling by Amtrak more often. The train isn’t always convenient. But when meetings are in downtown Chicago or Springfield and meeting times can accommodate the train schedule, state employees should be riding the rails.

A recent report from the Auditor General’s Office stopped short of saying the state could save money if more state workers took the train when traveling on official business. However, thanks to an Amtrak government discount, it costs only $17 each way for state employees to take the train between Chicago and Springfield. That’s much less than the reimbursement rate for driving, which would be about $80 each way. The state’s reimbursement rate is 44.5 cents per mile.

A survey for the Auditor General’s Office found nearly 80 percent of state employees preferred to take a car or plane. Reliability, schedules, meeting locations, cost and personal preference were among reasons cited by those preferring to skip the train. Personal preference alone is a poor excuse if it’s costing taxpayers more money. Of course, money might also be saved if the state capital of Springfield were treated more like a state capital instead of a satellite office of Chicago. But that’s fodder for a different editorial.

Many state offices are in the James R. Thompson Building, which is in downtown Chicago, as is the Amtrak station. However, meetings sometimes require travel to other parts of the city or suburbs, which lessens the convenience and economy of Amtrak.

There are three trains daily running each direction between Springfield and Chicago. But the first southbound train doesn’t arrive in Springfield until 11:35 a.m. - a little late for a meeting, even if it’s on time.

Amtrak doesn’t provide on-time performance statistics for route segments, such as Chicago to Normal or Springfield. It measures on-time performance at the end of the run. The train to Chicago that begins at San Antonio, Texas, has an on-time performance of 45.4 percent. For that train, Amtrak considers “on time” to be within 20 minutes of its scheduled arrival.

The two trains that start in Kansas City and St. Louis have on-time performance ratings of 72 percent and 73 percent, respectively. For these shorter routes, “on time” is within 10 minutes of scheduled arrival.

The more Amtrak can do to improve on-time performance and on-train service, the more travelers - including state employees - would be likely to use it.

Return to index
EVENTS...  Events...

Railway Age Magazine sets International Conference
on Computer Modeling for Rail Operations March 28-29

PHILADELPHIA----Railway Age magazine, in association with SYSTRA Consulting, Inc., is presenting its second International Conference on Computer Modeling for Rail Operations on March 28-29, 2006, at the Marriott Courtyard Philadelphia Downtown in Philadelphia, Pa. PDH (Professional Development Hours) credits will be awarded to P.E.s registering in advance, the magazine stated.

Speakers include: Peter Cannito, President of New York’s MTA Metro-North Railroad, Keynote Address Tuesday, March 28; Allen D. Biehler, P.E., Secretary of Transportation, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania luncheon address, Tuesday, March 28th; Al Fazio, General Manager, Services, Bombardier Transportation North America, Keynote Address, Wednesday, March 29; Kathryn McQuade, Executive Vice President-Planning & Chief Information Officer, Norfolk Southern, luncheon address Wednesday, March 29.

Railway Age, the longest continuously published magazine in America, announced that this year’s conference sponsors include Bombardier Transportation, Norfolk Southern Corporation, and Washington Group International. Railway Age also sponsors conferences in the Fall.

For more information or to register see: http://www.railwayage.com/conference2.html.

Return to index
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 editor at editor@nationalcorridors.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write. For technical issues contact D. M. Kirkpatrick, NCI’s webmaster at webmaster@nationalcorridors.org.

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

Photo submissions are welcome. NCI is always interested in images that demonstrate the positive aspects of rail, transit, and intermodalism, as well as of current newsworthy events associated with our mission. Please contact the webmaster in advance of sending images so we can recommend attachment by e-mail or grant direct file transfer protocols (FTP) access depending on size and number. Descriptive text which includes location, train name, and something about the content of the image is encouraged. We will credit the photographer and offer a return link to your e-mail address or web site.

Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images by Leo King and other photo journalists should contact our webmaster@nationalcorridors.org for additional information.

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 transportation initiative 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 link, please send the uniform resource locator address (URL) our webmaster@nationalcorridors.org.

|| Home Page || Destination: Freedom Past Editions || Contact Us || Article Index || Top of Page

This edition has been read by || || people since date of release.

Copyright © 2006, National Corridors Initiative, Inc.