NCI: Leo KingThe beat goes on, day after day. A train shoves out of Southampton Street yard's service and inspection building as its yard crew takes it the one mile to South Station, Boston, where the road crew will take it to New Haven Conn., where another crew will take it to New York city's Penn Station, where yet another crew will take to Philadelphia where the final crew will move it to Washington, D.C. After servicing at Ivy City Yard, the cycle will begin again.
Freight lines say
'no new Amtrak'
WASHINGTON - The nation's freight railroads, which own most of the track on which Amtrak operates, told a Senate committee on Thursday they have real problems with various plans to franchise out passenger train service to different companies or government entities around the country.
"Safety requirements and the integrated nature of railroading necessitate that intercity passenger rail should be provided by one entity - Amtrak," Association of American Railroads President Edward R. Hamberger told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
"Further," he added, "Amtrak's right of access, preferential access rates, and operating priority should not be transferred or franchised."
Thus, for different reasons, rail management is aligned with rail labor in opposition to privatization franchise proposals such as those proposed by the Amtrak Reform Council and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)
In an interview with D:F at the conclusion of the hearing, Hamberger said, "What we're trying to avoid is a situation where we're trying to get perishable freight coast-to-coast in five days, and here we have eight or ten different passenger operators around the country. Some of them might say that the freight timetable is our problem, that they are paid to operate the passenger trains on a certain schedule" and it's our tough luck "if we have to wait for them."
Under the franchise ideas, as Hamberger sees it, a railroad could be denied access to its own tracks, even with priority shipments.
The man who is the voice of the freight railroad industry in Washington also outlined other significant issues that he believes must be addressed before the future of passenger trains is settled.
"Freight railroads should receive full compensation for the use of their assets by intercity passenger operators," he told the senators.
The AAR and its member Class Is have been agitating for this for years, so it is not new.
What is new is that we are at a critical juncture in Amtrak's history when expansion of passenger service is being seriously considered. Every plan that is on the table calls for a prominent role by the freight lines.
The clear message that Hamberger is sending is that fair compensation should figure into that equation. Congressional plans call for assistance to and upgrading of freight service, too. Hamberger seems to be saying that's all well and good, but let's start with paying for the services and facilities the Class I carriers provide.
And he says don't even think of diverting the 4.3 percent fuel tax for that or any other purpose. This so-called "deficit-reduction" tax has long been a sore point for the railroads that pay this fee while their primary competitors do not.
Thursday's hearing again brought more pressure to bear on the Bush administration to come up with its own plan so Congress has a starting point in the great rail passenger deliberations of 2002.
"You've asked a lot of questions," Committee Chairman Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (D-S.C.) said to Deputy Transportation Secretary Michael Jackson "When are you going to have some answers? Why can't you make up your mind?" he asked.
"Look, it's time you had a specific plan," added McCain, the committee's ranking Republican. "The worst thing that can happen is to send a bill up to President Bush not knowing what he wants, and then he vetoes it."
Hollings said, "You folks manage to make decisions on matters occurring around the world. You know they (Amtrak) mortgaged Penn Station (in New York) just to pay the light bill. You know that. What are you going to do?"
When Jackson stressed the value of continuing dialogue, Hollings shot back, "We've had dialogue since 1971." That was the year Amtrak began operations.
When the high-ranking DOT official promised an administration outline in the near future, McCain replied, "Please do that."
After the hearing, Jackson stopped short of commenting directly on D:F's information that the administration's blueprint for rail passenger service has been held up by a White House family fight between Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson who wants a robust national rail passenger train operation and White House Budget Director Mitch Daniels who does not.
"Well, there's been some give and take," he acknowledged to us, "but the Bush administration is working to formulate a plan."
The senators managed to get into a regional argument on the Northeast Corridor vs. the rest of the country.
"I am very concerned that what is called the national rail system is really a Northeast Corridor rail system," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.).
"The current Amtrak system, " declared Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) "is a system of the Northeast, for the Northeast, and by the Northeast." He noted outgoing Amtrak President George Warrington came on board after working for New Jersey Transit, and is now leaving Amtrak to rejoin NJT.
Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) urged his colleagues not to be "bamboozled by a fake divide pitting us against each other." What's happening in the Northeast, he said, is a "blueprint for what should be happening in the rest of the country."
Hutchison pointedly said to McCain, whose bill is called a national plan for Amtrak, that she believes in having a national plan "provided the purpose is not to kill one." McCain's legislation is widely viewed as a "kill Amtrak" bill in everything but name.
One of the more colorful witnesses to testify was Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) who commutes to and from Washington every day by Amtrak.
He pointed to the steadfast refusal of Congress to allow the states to use part of the Highway Trust Fund money "that we can now use to build a bicycle path, that we can now use to buy buses and have a bus system on it."
So why, he asked shouldn't the states - "not the federal government - the states," use some of that money "to go to Amtrak and say we'll give you this money to run a passenger train to serve us."
Gesturing to the lobbyist-filled audience in the hearing room, Biden said, "But all our cement boys back here, they're telling us that's a real bad idea."
"You can use trust fund money to build a bicycle path and to buy buses, but you can't use an existing railroad track that sits in the middle of your state? This is ridiculous," thundered the senator.
Congress had authorized twice as much for Amtrak in the last two years as it had appropriated, Biden noted.
Once again, the wire services are missing the story. Both Reuters and The AP have noted the superficial similarities in the franchising privatization proposals of the McCain and the Amtrak Reform Council, but there is a world of difference between them. The ARC plan is a serious attempt to improve passenger operations. McCain, on the other hand, offers what amounts to "a decent interval" while national rail passenger service is effectively terminated.
After hearing from Hamberger, the differences may be moot. The freight operators don't want to become entangled in any multiple franchise plans where they have to beg several entities to run priority shipments on their own tracks.
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|Hollings' bill has meat|
Senate Commerce Chairman Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) introduced a comprehensive passenger rail reauthorization bill, S.1991, the National Defense Rail Act on March 6. It had 22 sponsors two days later, including Sens. Ted Stevens (R) of Alaska, who is Appropriations chairman; Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex
If the bill is enacted without changes, according to the National Association of Rail Passengers, it would authorize, for 2003 only, $1.26 billion for various rail security needs (similar to S.1550), including $360 million for Amtrak security needs (half available for Northeast Corridor), $5 million for DOT to perform a security assessment of all passenger and freight rail systems, $895 million for life and safety upgrades to Amtrak tunnels in New York, Baltimore, and Washington, $3 million for preliminary design work for Baltimore tunnels.
The measure would also authorize, from 2003 through 2008, $1.55 billion for high-speed rail, of which $25 million is for DOT research and development; $25 million is for DOT planning; and $1.5 billion for corridor implementation (other than the Northeast Corridor, unless the NEC receives no other federal funding).
It would also expand the current network of federally designated high-speed corridors by adding Atlanta-Charleston; Raleigh-Florence-Charleston-Savannah; Florence-Myrtle Beach; and Los Angeles-Las Vegas. Highest priorities would go to hubs identified as Chicago, Atlanta, and Dallas-Fort Worth. DOT may add to corridor designations, or reduce them.
The comprehensive bill would annually authorize $1.31 billion for the Northeast Corridor, of which $720 million is for infrastructure, $100 million is for rolling stock, $70 million is for stations and facilities, $20 million for technology upgrades, $400 million is for growth. That would begin in 2003. Any operating profit resulting from Northeast Corridor train operations would be required to be reinvested in Northeast Corridor infrastructure, and, starting in 2003, authorizes $5 million annually for a passenger rail research and development program at the National Academy of Sciences, similar to those already in place for highways and transit.
Between 2003-2007, $500 million would go to Amtrak, of which (on average-amounts vary from year to year) $160 million would be dedicated to mandatory excess railroad retirement payments, $267 million is for debt payments, $30 million for environmental compliance, and $43 million for Americans with Disabilities Act compliance. Any profit resulting from Amtrak's non-passenger activities must be invested in non-Northeast Corridor growth. It would also authorize $2.5 million for one-time external assessment of Amtrak cost accounting, as well as other Amtrak programs.
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|Smith takes strolls, meets crews|
We learned late Friday, through the pages of Amtrak Advisory, that the railroad's new board chairman made the rounds in Washington visiting employees.
The weekly e-mail letter to employees stated, "Favorable impressions were created this week when new Amtrak Chairman John Robert Smith took it upon himself to meet with employees in both Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, assuring them that 'we're working to protect your future.'"
Smith, who is mayor of Meridian, Miss. And is also NCI's board chairman, said it was important for employees to know that the board of directors "is working aggressively to ensure that Amtrak has the funding and leadership it needs to succeed." He repeated those messages with dozens of employees throughout Washington Union Station and Philadelphia's 30th Street Station.
Walking casually through Washington's ticketing area, crew base, and onboard an Acela Express train about to take on passengers, Smith introduced himself to every employee he saw, and thanked them "for what you do to help us all succeed."
In answer to questions, he emphasized that the board was determined to convince Congress of Amtrak's need to be reauthorized at sufficient funding levels. He assured employees that an interim successor to George Warrington "will be onboard as soon as possible. We've already talked with some excellent candidates."
A similar walkabout in Philadelphia, including a tour of the Centralized Electrification and Traffic Control facility, was well received. Having just met Smith, one employee said, "It's so wonderful to hear such a positive attitude. It's reassuring to see that he's focused and really cares."
Smith also met with representatives of Amtrak's AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions on Wednesday, who spontaneously broke out in "Happy Birthday" to him when they discovered it was his birthday. The new chairman seemed energized after the two days of meeting with employees.
"I want to do more of this. This has been great." Plans are in the works for Smith to visit with more employees around the system.
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|Tracks are 'Rail Day' focus|
More than 100 representatives of the nation's rail industry gathered on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to promote the role railroads play in the U.S. economy, and to urge Congress to pass legislation helping the industry meet its infrastructure requirements.
At the "Fourth Annual Railroad Day On The Hill," representatives of members from the Association of American Railroads (AAR), American Shortline and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA), and Railway Progress Institute (RPI) scheduled appointments to meet with more than 100 individual members of Congress on March 13. The three organizations represent both large and small railroads as well as the railway supply industry.
"Railroads provide more than 40 percent of the nation's intercity freight transportation, and that's a higher percentage than any other mode," said AAR President and Chief Executive Officer Edward R. Hamberger.
"Railroads can provide important solutions to problems related to congestion and the environment, but only if we can maintain and improve our infrastructure to keep up with growing demand for freight transportation."
ASLRRA President Frank Turner noted, "There has been a tremendous imbalance in the way the nation meets its infrastructure needs." Highways and aviation receive billions of dollars annually beyond what is raised from user taxes. Railroads, by contrast, pay the entire cost of building and maintaining their infrastructure."
He said smaller railroads face a special problem in keeping up with infrastructure demands.
"New freight cars can weigh 286,000 pounds or even more. Tracks on many of our smaller railroads, often serving largely rural areas, simply weren't designed to carry that much weight." Upgrading those tracks is "important to the economic development of rural America," he added.
RPI President Robert A. Matthews said, "The nation's economy relies on safe, efficient rail service, yet railroads are short-changed by current infrastructure policies."
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|Downeaster gains yet more riders|
Amtrak's Downeaster has exceeded ridership expectations for the third month in a row, and the operator of the service is seeking to revise schedules and add more capacity for the service.
In February, 25,824 passengers road the train during what was supposed to be a sluggish month for train travel, said Michael Murray, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA).
It's becoming clear with each passing month that the Portland-to-Boston service launched on December 15 will meet or exceed its goal of 325,000 passengers during the first year, Murray said last week.
"We can see a trend starting to build, particularly in light of this being the slowest part of the season," he said.
The solid ridership numbers will help Murray as he prepares to meet with Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority officials to negotiate schedule changes, according to an AP report. He's also asking Amtrak for more seating capacity.
Right now, the train typically consists of a locomotive, two passenger cars and a dining car with total seating capacity of 216.
That wasn't enough during a recent weekend, when passengers were standing in the aisles as the train arrived in Boston's North Station. "It's a great problem to have," Murray said of the crowded trains.
Right now, Amtrak can add an extra car with another 60 seats on some runs. Murray already has asked Amtrak to add two cars for additional capacity of 120 seats on each run this summer.
Murray also plans to meet with the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority as early as next week to begin negotiating schedule changes at North Station.
When the service was launched, the MBTA did not provide the best arrival slots at the busy station. Murray hopes that the trend toward greater ridership will encourage the MBTA to open up more desirable slots.
Other changes to be discussed include three-part tickets allowing riders to take the Downeaster to North Station and the T's Orange Line to South Station to get access to Amtrak's Northeast Corridor.
The solid ridership numbers also opened the door to renewed discussions for a shuttle service between North and South Stations.
NNEPRA is also seeking to install ticket machines in New Hampshire stations to reduce unexpected walk-on traffic, Murray said.
All told, more than 60,000 passengers rode the Downeaster between December 15 and the end of February, generating nearly $1 million in revenues, Murray said.
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|Trains slow to arrive in Hyannis|
The $5.6 million Hyannis, Mass. Intermodal Transportation Center was designed to serve as a transportation hub for trains, buses and automobiles and to provide links to nearby ferry service, but for its first year, the building essentially will be a bus depot.
It is expected to open in the spring, perhaps by Memorial Day, but exterior finishing needs to be completed as well as landscaping.
Plymouth & Brockton Street Ry., a bus carrier headquartered in Plymouth, Mass., will move into the new center, but the Cape Cod Central Railroad will not. P&B is on the verge of agreeing to a lease of space in the transportation center, said P&B's John Greene.
"We're still talking; I hope we wrap this up in one more session," Greene said.
John Kennedy, president and chief executive officer of the Cape Cod Central Railroad, said he is staying put for another season, which starts in April.
"The rail aspects, including the platform, of that building won't be ready for another year," Kennedy said. " We're staying where we are until at least Dec. 31." The railroad is currently based at the former New York, New Haven & Hartford rail station.
The center has been billed as playing a key part of efforts to restore feeder rail service to MBTA commuter trains at Buzzards Bay, as proposed by Kennedy.
The new center dominates a parcel at Hyannis's east end
Cape Cod Transit Task Force members say the Hyannis center is the pivotal element in ongoing efforts to get visitors out of their cars during their trips to Cape Cod and the Islands.
The center would be the hub of a tightly coordinated public transportation program. It would receive airline passengers from a nearby airport or direct travelers to that facility via an upgraded state route 28.
The building would also be the hub for the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority's fleet of buses, the schedule for which may be expanded if public transportation funding on Cape Cod widens.
Terrence M. Sheehan, a project director for the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge, said the Cape must promote new uses for the Hyannis travel center if the hub aspects of the operation are going to prove viable.
"Marketing is the key to success," he said. "People have to be made aware of what's available and where it is and how to use it."
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NCI: Leo KingThe Worcester, Massachusetts station is spruced up to like-new condition.
|Worcester awaits station plan vote|
Magnificently restored at a cost of nearly $40 million, Union Station in Worcester, Mass., may be the most expensive empty building in New England.
About 10 years ago, city officials scrapped a demolition plan for the train station, built in 1911, and instead used federal transportation funds to bring it back to life. But the project was supposed to include cafes and kiosks within its cavernous waiting hall, a bus depot, and a broader redevelopment of the surrounding area -all of which failed to materialize.
Now, a new plan is before the City Council, authored by the Worcester Business Development Corp., a private, nonprofit group, that calls for housing, offices, a hotel, and a parking garage on land around the station, land that includes a large traffic rotary in front and a seldom-visited park in its center, but a council subcommittee voted for major changes in the plan last Wednesday, and once again the city is mired in disagreement over how to revitalize its struggling downtown.
Tensions are especially high because everyone involved in the debate is haunted by past attempts to revitalize Worcester. The nearby Worcester Common Fashion Outlets, with its fortress-like parking garage, is seen by many as a mistake; the self-contained, $215 million Medical City complex has also failed to spark an urban renaissance like the one unfolding 35 miles away in Providence.
And so city leaders are feeling like batters with two strikes against them. They are determined to make this latest redevelopment scheme, dubbed the Union Station-Washington Square district, the one that finally works, but they are anxious over recent missteps.
"If we blow this, I'm not sure we'll get another chance," said Stephen Mita, a Worcester firefighter studying urban design, who helped draw up an alternative Union Station-area plan that he says would bring more life into the center. "We may reach a point where we make such a mess out of downtown we can't fix it," he said.
"The stakes are high, believe me," said City Councilor Michael C. Perrotto. But, he said, that does not mean councilors will "rubber-stamp" the city administration's current proposal.
The station restoration was completed in 1999. The plan by the Worcester Business Development Corporation was issued in 2001, and the city wants to start signing up developers and move forward. But disagreement about the plan takes many forms.
Some want more retail and restaurants, based on the model of the festival marketplace or Union Station in Washington, D.C.; the Worcester Business Development Corporation plan emphasizes housing and office space. Others want a new rotary to accommodate traffic, rather than the four-way intersection and park that has been proposed for the train station's front door.
There are complaints about public process. The city hired the development corporation for $480,000 to take the lead on the project after City Hall-led redevelopment efforts faltered in the '90s. That contract was awarded without going out to bid, and was steered in part by assistant city manager Philip Niddrie, who just weeks earlier had come to City Hall from the Chamber of Commerce, which was affiliated with the development corporation.
Critics say the development group is pushing a redevelopment plan that is tied to downtown revitalization projects of the past, in part because it is led by former councilor and assistant city manager David Forsberg, who was involved in the mall and Medical City projects while working for the city. Although there have been a handful of council subcommittee hearings, some say the Worcester Business Development Corp. plan is dedicated to keeping the mall in business and as such is not likely to be altered by public input.
Forsberg said he is guided by one major principle: being realistic. Marketing studies indicate there won't be enough people to make a Faneuil Hall-style marketplace successful in downtown Worcester; he wants to "bring people in, to live and work here, and go to the next step. Some people think that's shooting too low, but we don't want a failure. We want to be smart about how we grow this area incrementally."
The Union Station-Washington Square project, Forsberg said, "suffers from the tyranny of the pretty picture. People perceive opportunities that are not really there. You just can't lead with retail. This creates a foundation, and the market will do the rest, but you've got to walk before you can run."
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|'T' starts bid process again|
Two years after seeing privatization efforts scuttled by unprecedented federal intervention, the MBTA has quietly relaunched and expanded a controversial plan to put commuter rail operations out to bid, according to the Boston Herald of March 6.
The T a fortnight ago began actively searching for companies willing to take over its commuter rail network from Amtrak, whose labor unions used their political muscle to derail a similar, if less ambitious plan, in 1999.
Mike Mulhern, the T's new general manager, is promising that the 10-month competitive bidding process will be handled differently this time around.
"We're trying to take a less antagonistic approach," Mulhern said.
"We don't want to get involved in a protracted labor dispute that would compromise our ability to deliver (quality) service."
Amtrak has overseen commuter rail operations since 1987 after outbidding Guilford Transportation Systems, Inc., of Billerica, but its current contract with the T expires June 30, 2003. The T recently published a legal notice soliciting companies interested in bidding on the new five-year contract.
In 1999, the T broke the commuter rail-operating contract into three pieces and put the vehicle maintenance portion out to bid. The agency's board of directors later inked a deal with Bay State Transit Services that would have saved taxpayers $116 million over five years.
Amtrak came in as the highest of the four bidders, but pro-labor forces, with key help from late U.S. Rep. Joe Moakley, managed to quash the deal and keep the cash-strapped federal rail agency in charge.
Charlie Moneypenny, chairman of Commuter Rail Workers United, defended the strident opposition to the privatization plan two years ago, pointed out that Bay State had only a handful of senior officials. He said the company planned to simply absorb Amtrak's commuter rail workers without extending existing wage or benefit guarantees.
"I've always believed that what was done last time was ideologically driven, not common sense driven," said Moneypenny, whose ad hoc group consists of commuter rail workers.
"There were folks that decided they were going to make privatization work... and refused to look at the reality of it."
While the T's new initiative goes even further than the previous privatization push -covering everything except maintenance on the Attleboro-Providence Line -officials have thrown in a sweetener for the unions.
The bid specifications require the winning bidder to retain all current employees and adopt existing wage and benefit packages, a move that is earning cautious praise from union leaders.
"I would have to call that a significant improvement over how we started out last time," said Moneypenny. "There are an awful lot of hard feelings over what transpired last time, but if the T wants to work with us, they will find us willing partners in that effort."
The T is required by federal law to put the contract out to bid every five years. Mulhern said bidding not only presents an opportunity to save money, but also to improve service.
T officials have long complained about Amtrak's stewardship, saying the cash-strapped railroad often puts its own priorities ahead of the T's.
"We want to make sure that whoever is operating the commuter rail network is placing the interest of the Massachusetts customer and taxpayer first and foremost," said Mulhern, "and you don't always get that with the national railroad."
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Amtrak apparently fails to notify
Delaware authorities of death
Amtrak apparently failed to notify Delaware authorities after one of its trains struck and killed a man in Ogletown, Del., hampering the state's investigation of the death, state police said March 12. Investigators used fingerprints to identify the victim as 19-year-old Buckley M. Aboukoura, of Ogletown.
Calls from reporters alerted state police to the incident, which occurred at 4:55 p.m. the previous day, but police were unable to find the location (near Red Mill Road) until Amtrak called to ask for a phone number for the medical examiner 90 minutes later, state police spokesman Cpl. Walter Newton said.
The train's engineer already had been sent home to New York, preventing police from testing him for drug or alcohol use, Newton said. By the time police arrived, passengers aboard Amtrak's Acela Regional train No. 85 had been shuttled onto another train and had departed. The train was on its way from New York to Washington, D.C.
Amtrak spokeswoman Cecilia Cummings in Philadelphia said Amtrak police were investigating to make sure procedures had been followed. State police said they would continue to investigate.
"Depending on the outcome of this investigation, the testing of the engineer may not be an important factor," Newton said, "but it's something that we would request."
Engineers are not always tested for alcohol or drug use following accidents, Cummings said. "There were no irregularities perceived at the scene that would have required such a test," Cummings said.
The railroad is not required to notify local police and emergency workers "when there is no question of fatality," she said. Amtrak police were on the scene, investigating.
Newton said he could not remember another train accident in which local police and emergency workers were not alerted. Anytime there is an unnatural death in the state outside of an incorporated town, state police investigate, Newton said.
"When you notify us of an accident of this caliber, you're automatically going to get a response from the emergency medical services side," Newton said.
Cummings said the train's engineer saw "a person who came from the woods west of the tracks and sat down on the tracks."
The train was traveling the speed limit for that area, 125 mph, she said. "The engineer blew his horn and signaled, but could not stop," Cummings said. The train did not come to a stop for a mile, Newton said.
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|'Yahoo!' car runs on corridor|
The Northeast Corridor Amtrak YAHOO! equipped car began running on Metroliner trains 104 and 117, on March 11, Amtrak reports.
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Rail bill moves to 'front burner'
A $6 billion bond measure has been proposed to help jump-start construction of a high-speed train route from the Bay Area to Los Angeles, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Long just a gleam in transportation planners' eyes, the high-speed rail line could be under construction as early as 2005, with partial service in 2008, if the bond is approved in November, backers said Tuesday.
"I have traveled high-speed trains around the world," said state Sen. Jim Costa, (D-Fresno). "They are safe. They are reliable and an efficient way to travel. The question is: Do we have the boldness and vision to start now?"
High-speed trains, which already operate in Europe and Asia, run at speeds of 150 mph or more. Interest by the state in such a system has waxed and waned. Gov. Gray Davis earmarked $8 million in his proposed budget plan to complete an environmental review of the project.
Backers of the bond tout a high-speed rail system in California as a way to ease congestion on freeways and at airports, offering a low-cost alternative to air travel.
When fully built in 2020, the system would serve 10 million commuters and 32 million intercity travelers, advocates say.
Construction costs of $25 billion would yield an estimated $900 million in annual revenue once the system is complete.
The system would be built in stages. The first, since it will probably be the most profitable, would begin on both sides of San Francisco Bay in Oakland and San Francisco. Both lines would meet in San Jose, pass through Gilroy and Los Banos (Merced County), and then drop down the center of the San Joaquin Valley, ending in Los Angeles.
State Treasurer Phil Angelides said building the system would be California's "first major infrastructure investment of the 21st century" and a boon to the Central Valley economy.
Once the first leg is running, revenue could be used to build future lines, which would extend south through Orange County to San Diego and north from Merced to Sacramento.
Bond money would cover half the cost of constructing the Bay Area-to-Los Angeles line. The rest would come from the federal government and private sources.
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|Caltrain gets six new engines|
California commuter rail operator Caltrain is spending $14 million for six new passenger locomotives with Motive Power, Inc. The agreement includes an option to purchase six additional locomotives within 12 months. The3,600-horsepower units will be manufactured in the company's Boise, Idaho facility, and are scheduled to be delivered in 2003.
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|Midwestern group looks for answers|
Middle Eastern countries are running faster trains than operators in the U.S., and the possible demise of Amtrak is making thing really tough for organizers of high-speed rail routes in the U.S.
Consider, for example, the Midwest High Speed Rail Coalition, which met on March 9 in Chicago to plan its agenda for transportation reform in 2002. Members traveled from six states to learn how they could help get high-quality train service for their communities, said Rick Harnish, the coalition's executive director.
An emergency meeting was called "as a result of the financial crises at the country's only intercity passenger train operator -Amtrak," Harnish said.
It followed a summit held a week earlier at which leaders from fourteen rail advocacy groups established a common set of goals for the year.
"It is embarrassing that the US has allowed its rail service to deteriorate, while countries like Kazakhstan are buying state-of-the-art-trains and preparing to run them at 135 mph," Harnish said.
"The Midwest will lose its ability to compete globally unless we invest in a strong, high-quality rail network," he added.
Coalition members learned about possible impacts of Amtrak's recent ultimatum to discontinue some long-distance trains. On February 1, the passenger carrier stated that it would stop running all overnight trains unless it received its full grant request of $1.2 billion.
"Cutting these trains would be a huge blow to the states' efforts to develop faster, more frequent trains," said Harnish, and added, "Even the recent cuts in staffing and maintenance will make it more difficult to provide a high level of service in the future."
He said the coalition's top goal for this year "is to create a moratorium on train discontinuance. Additionally, Amtrak be must be given enough funding" to stabilize the system.
Kelly Thayer, Transportation Project Coordinator with the Michigan Land Institute observed, "Given the increasing demand for expanded rail service, it would be very shortsighted to make any cuts now before a national policy has been established."
Another goal, said Kevin Brubaker, "is to establish a dedicated source of funding for railroad infrastructure development. The highway, aviation and transit development programs are successful, in large part, because they have steady, predictable and self-perpetuating funding which facilitates long term planning."
Brubaker noted, "Passenger rail needs a comparable funding stream to allow it to reach its transportation potential."
The third goal is to create a new federal agency devoted to creating rail policy, managing funding and performing oversight functions.
"The federal highway program is an excellent model for creating a successful rail program," said Harnish. "The Federal Highway Administration does not actually build highways, it raises the money and administers the funding. the rail program needs a similar system to create crucial checks and balances."
Harnish said recent bills introduced in the Senate -from Senators John McCain (R-Ariz) and Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) "attempt to address these critical issues. Both of these bills have excellent components." He held out hope "they can be combined into a stronger proposal."
Attendees were instructed to write letters to Congress highlighting the need for high-quality rail service. Members also agreed to attend campaign events in order to educate the candidates.
"It is crucial that Congress deal with this issue this year," said Harnish. "Another year of delay will damage our chances of getting the kind of rail service necessary to grow the Midwestern economy."
Nick Noe, with the Kentucky Indiana Rail Advocates concurred. "Congress cannot continue to avoid this issue year after year."
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First commuter trains:
Carolinians look to 2008
2008 is when the Triangle Transit Authority in North Carolina will run the first passenger trains onto its new, Durham-to-Raleigh tracks, inaugurating the region's commuter rail service.
The Federal Transportation Administration has given TTA Rail a crucial green light. Congress, the North Carolina General Assembly and key Triangle leaders are all aboard, according to The Independent Online.
About $754.7 million in capital investment will come from Congress (about half), one-fourth from the state and one-fourth from local taxes, which will pay for 35 miles of double track and 16 stations.
The service also needs enough engines and coaches to have a train arriving and departing every 15 minutes at peak hours (30 minutes off-peak and weekends). The goal is to drop to 10 minutes at peak and 20 minutes otherwise by 2015.
This is not light rail. The cars will be bi-directional, self-propelled and diesel-powered (not electric), and they will be heavy-duty enough to travel at speeds up to 65 mph, whether singly or in two- or three-car trainsets. The average speed is expected to be 31 mph, meaning the full 35-mile route will take about 68 minutes.
TTA, using standard transportation models that consider population density, income levels and highway alternatives, estimates ridership will be 17,600 passengers daily by 2020. Just for a rough comparison, one extra highway lane carries about 1,000 cars an hour, and judging by recent cost estimates for widening Interstate 40 and I-440 near Cary, N.C. -$5 million a mile for the former and $20 million a mile, in a heavily developed area, for the latter -the cost of carrying those same 17,600 passengers over 35 miles of widened roads might be less than $754.7 million.
The TTA is staking its claims in a freight corridor. Rather than try to hack a new rail line through the Triangle's subdivisions, the agency, created in 1989, opted eight years ago for the path of least resistance: It would share an existing route plied by freight trains and, for part of the way, by Amtrak. This had the advantage of being relatively cheap, although in places TTA has found it must buy land to widen the corridor so everyone's tracks will fit. It had the disadvantage, though, of skirting the most populated areas rather than going through them.
As Ann Franklin sees it, that is an advantage. She was involved in starting TTA as a Raleigh official and came back two years ago as a board member. Because much of the route is barren, but also adjacent to cities, she said, it has the potential for high-density development without upsetting suburban neighbors. It is density that makes public transportation work.
"To create a new right-of-way was prohibitively expensive," Franklin said. "Using a corridor where land is extremely underdeveloped, I consider that to be in the public interest."
Not so, say TTA's critics. Conservatives like the John Locke Foundation's John Hood and former Raleigh Mayor Paul Coble argue that suburban cul-de-sacs and office parks are what people want. Rather than try to force them into downtown condos, they think the TTA should use buses that can go to where the people are. A fixed-rail line just won't work.
It won't work if local governments continue to prefer sprawl to density, says Roland Gammon, a Raleigh developer. Gammon has built downtown condos - projects like Park Devereaux, near City Hall, where Franklin lives - but he's not much excited by the prospect of the train line coming through. "We're not New York City," he said. "I want to be a supporter, but I've never really been captivated by it."
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|New San Joaquin launches today|
Amtrak launches its sixth San Joaquin round-trip train today when it doubles direct service to and from Sacramento. The new train operates between Bakersfield and Sacramento, and is the second round-trip train between those two communities.
The Sixth San Joaquin train will depart Bakersfield at 7:15 a.m. today, Wasco 7:42 a.m., Corcoran 8:14 a.m., Hanford 8:32 a.m., Fresno 9:10 a.m., Madera 9:34 a.m., Merced 10:08 a.m., Turlock-Denair 10:34 a.m., Modesto 10:49 a.m., Stockton 11:20 a.m., Lodi 11:34 a.m. and arrive in Sacramento at 12:30 p.m.
Four other San Joaquin roundtrip trains operate between Bakersfield and Oakland. Lodi is also added as a regular stop for both daily San Joaquins.
Amtrak Thruway buses connect Lodi passengers to other San Joaquin trains in Stockton. Inaugural ceremonies are scheduled to greet the first northbound San Joaquin train at Lodi, beginning at 11:00 a.m.
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NCI: Leo KingThat's 4,000 hp Union Pacific locomotive 4195 leading southbound CSX freight train Q177 in Middleburg, Fla., preparing to cross County Route 220 at about 50 mph on March 14. The crossing is about one-half mile from the editor's new home. The freight train operates daily between Jacksonville and Tampa on CSX's "A" Line, and the engine is one of 703 SD-70M engines UP owns.
|Radio-controlled locomotive hits train|
A radio-controlled train plowed through a power plant's coal yard, hitting another locomotive whose engineer jumped to safety.
The unmanned diesel-electric engine, in Michigan City, Ind., was pushing six coal cars when it approached the drop-off area going about 30 mph March 14 morning, workers at the Northern Indiana Public Service Co. plant, according to the Michigan City News-Dispatch. The train was operating under a remote-control system that has been in place for less than a year, they said.
The standard procedure, workers said, is for the coal trains to travel only 1 mph within the last 100 yards in the drop-off area.
The impact sent the second train rolling about 200 feet, crashing through a fence and uprooting a bumper post intended to halt runaway trains. The wreck also ripped up rails.
Bill Keegan, a spokesman for the utility company, said a malfunctioning switch on the control box caused the accident.
"There was a switch malfunction that controls and stops the locomotive that brings in coal," Keegan said. "There was minor damage to the locomotive. It did not affect our operations. There were no injuries, and the appropriate parties are investigating the situation."
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Dallas gets $69.3 million grant
The Dallas Area Rapid Transit Authority (DART) became $69.3 million richer on March 11. USDOT Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said the agency would receive a grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) so it can lay more tracks.
Mineta made the announcement at the American Public Transportation Association's annual legislative conference in Washington, D.C.
The $69.3 grant will be used to continue construction of DART's North Central Light Rail Transit (NCLRT) line extension for the Dallas area. The project will be a 12.5-mile double-track rail system with nine stations extending from the terminus of DART's "starter system" at Park Lane in Dallas through the city of Richardson to Parker Road in Plano.
DART's 20-mile light rail transit starter system became operational in 1996. The authority is currently constructing two extensions to the Starter System -the Northeast Line to Garland, and the North Central Line extension to Plano.
Last week's grant and the FTA's previous commitment of $161,612,674 will provide a total of $230,913,590 toward the $333 million committed to the project in a full funding grant agreement that was approved on Oct. 6, 1999.
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SNCF suspends freight traffic
SNCF, the French state-owned railway company, stated last week it had suspended 'indefinitely' all freight traffic from France to England through the Channel Tunnel.
Passenger services are unaffected, as are the car and commercial vehicle transporters operated by Eurotunnel.
Illegal immigrants to England have invaded freight yards in large numbers just as trains are preparing for departure. French authorities appear reluctant to spare any manpower to prevent the actions.
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'Nimby' factor and 21st century rail
The Surface Transportation Board (STB) has just decided a case that symbolizes a major problem railroads (both freight and passenger) will have to deal with as they plunge ahead with plans to expand in the 21st Century: The "NIMBY"(not in my back yard) factor.
Just as the freight carriers (Class Is and short lines) anticipate a future need to expand capacity, so, too, is interest in passenger service making a comeback after a generation in decline.
What that means is populations perhaps accustomed to one or two trains a week in their neighborhoods are now seeing heavier traffic.
Many community activists are egged on by vote-hungry politicians raising their hackles over an increased volume of trains, complete with bells and whistles, rumbling past their homes at all hours of the day and night.
It matters not that "the railroad was here first." One man who had just moved into Kensington, Md. started circulating a petition against the CSX line there that dates back over 100 years to early days of the old B&O. No one forced the man to move into the community against his will, but he believes that now that he's there, the railroad can simply get out.
The STB on March 8 decided that NIMBY complaints from the Salt Lake City neighborhoods of Glendale and Poplar Grove would have to tolerate the increased traffic on a Union Pacific line going through their communities.
As the STB put it, "The decision balances the concerns of the city and local interests against the federal interest in maintaining the line as part of the interstate rail network."
The board further explained that UP had suspended service on the 1.32-mile line in 1999 due to a highway construction project, but resumed with test trains in December 2001 after the highway project had been completed. Further, the STB stated, UP did not need the board's permission to reactivate the line or reroute its trains.
Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, a demagogue's demagogue who fanned the flames of resentment in such a way as to make it appear the minority population in the neighborhoods was being unfairly targeted, immediately called the STB commissioners "lackeys of the railroad industry."
"I'm sure there's not one member of the board of directors of Union Pacific that has a home where their family's quality of life is so undermined as to compare with what the people in our neighborhoods are going through," the mayor declared.
The STB noted the railroad had been forced to suspend usage of the line when the construction projects were underway and had shown that it "intended to use the line again and is now doing so."
Toward the end of the two-year interim period when the railroad announced plans to resume operations on the line with up to 12 trains a day, Anderson revoked UP's contract to cross city streets.
He argued that UP had forfeited its rights under the agreement by abandoning the line for two years. Somewhat disingenuous given that the railroad had no choice but to suspend operations during a construction project over which it had no control.
Now the mayor is treating the forced abandonment as a violation of some holy writ, but on Tuesday of last week, U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart disagreed and sided with the STB. The judge said, in fact, it was the city, not the railroad that violated the contract. Besides which, he added, the contract really doesn't mean much because federal law pre-empts it.
Anderson is just the type of politician who can throw sand in the gears of any plan to upgrade the nation's rail system so as to reduce the nation's over-reliance on highways. A nearby community official says the Salt Lake mayor "tends to shoot first and ask questions later." A Salt Lake City council member says Anderson "goes in like a bull in a china closet" for whom "compromise" is a word that is "not very much in his vocabulary."
The woods are full of politicians like that. They don't need facts. All they need is a howl of protest from a group of voters to galvanize them into action.
Fear of running afoul of NIMBY demagogues coast-to-coast may be a consideration on the minds of Bush administration officials as they try to formulate a national policy for freight and passenger rail service.
Deputy Transportation Secretary Michael Jackson indicated as much at a Senate hearing March 7.
When senators asked him when the administration would finally unveil its plan, Jackson replied, "Very soon," but then listed concerns over "noise" as one of the factors going into the mix. Translation: We don't need a few dozen Rocky Anderson's raising the roof at election time.
The Chicago Tribune a couple of years ago ran a story about residents in a small Illinois town who were concerned that high-speed trains in their community, as envisioned in the multi-state Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, would be disruptive.
They don't mind the current slow trains. They're okay. They're used to them. It's just the proposed high-speed rail service they fear.
In Washington D.C.'s suburbs, a badly needed light rail line has been on hold in Montgomery County, Md. because nearby residents and a country club with high-profile members don't want new trains on a longtime abandoned rail right-of-way in their neighborhood.
There is no end to it. One of the headaches that will plague efforts to rebuild railroading in the U.S. is that the "fly-drive" system that built up after World War II is something that dictated an infrastructure complex to which most people are accustomed, though not necessarily with pleasure. A full generation has grown up not even considering the matter of railroad construction or increased service.
That is why efforts to bring more trains to cities and suburbs introduce a new factor that will meet fierce NIMBY resistance.
In the early 19th Century, there were angry speeches that the then new steam locomotive would scare the cows and chickens by going at the ungodly speed of 15 mph.
This is history repeating itself. But rail planners will need to gear up for the fight.
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Very few photos in this newsletter. I love the pictures, especially those of South Station and the yard in Boston. Until five months ago, I took commuter rail from Worcester to Boston. I enjoyed South Station immensely and called it the Venice of the New World. Unfortunately, my company moved and now I'm driving.
You're right, Ms. Newman, we have been light on photos, lately. The reason was mostly because of my move from Rhode Island to Florida after I retired from Amtrak on January 30. Between house-hunting and actually moving here (to Middleburg, Fla.) it has been a tough chore to get the newsletter out, but all the other folks who contribute in day-to-day NCI operations pitched in to pick up the slack. With this edition, you should begin to see more photos. - Ed.
Don't worry, be happy.
Commercial on ABC news for investing in transit: Franklin Funds. Wall street can no longer count on Uncle Sam for transportation. They are going to have to pay for it themselves. You think they are going to invest in highways when they can have the same movement from rail for one-twentieth the cost?
John L. Smyth
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Supply Chain Expo
Donald E. Stephens Convention Center
ASLRRA annual meeting and exhibition
World Center Marriott
NCI 2002 Conference
Washington, D.C. Marriott Hotel
This conference will feature a major debate about the future and direction of passenger rail in America, conducted by the people who will actually determine that outcome.
Conference speakers will include Amtrak Board Chair Michael Dukakis, Amtrak Reform Council Chair Gil Carmichael and Executive Director Tom Till, DOT Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson, Author Tony Hiss, Barron's magazine editor Tom Donlan, Florida rail activist and businessman Doc Dockery, Janelletech President Janellen Riggs, rail consultant Randy Resor of Zeta-Tech Associates, Inc., Railway Age magazine editor Bill Vantuono, attorney and rail activist James Coston, and many other of the top thinkers and "doers" in American rail and transit industries.
Further details regarding advance registration will be announced in upcoming issues of Destination: Freedom.
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NCI: Leo KingOnce upon a time, in Providence, R. I., where the editor grew up, the NYNH&H had a roundhouse, a turntable, and a huge coaling station. He never saw a steam engine getting refueled nor watered, but the reminder of the steam era was still there in 1952, for yet a short time longer.
We try to be accurate in the stories we write, but even seasoned pros err occasionally. If you read something you know to be amiss, or if you have a question about a topic, we'd like to hear from you. Please e-mail the crew at email@example.com. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write.
Destination: Freedom is partially funded by the Surdna Foundation, and other contributors.
Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images that appear in Destination: Freedom may do so at a nominal fee of $10.00 per image. "True color" .jpg images average 1.7MB each, and are 300 dots-per-inch for print publishers.
In an effort to expand the on-line experience at the National Corridors Initiative web site, we have added a page featuring links to other rail travel sites. We hope to provide links to those cities or states that are working on rail transportation initiatives - state DOTs, legislators, governor's offices, and transportation professionals - as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists.
If you have a favorite rail link, please send the uniform resource locator address (URL) to the webmaster in care of this web site. An e-mail link appears at the bottom of the NCI web site pages to get in touch with D. M. Kirkpatrick, NCI's webmaster in Boston.
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