Vol. 7 No. 14
March 20, 2006

Copyright © 2006
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

Destination:Freedom
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 *

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

  News Items... 
Amtrak revives its plan for hotel at Baltimore’s Penn Station
Ticket revenue and ridership continues strongly for Amtrak
Long-distance routes will be studied as part of
   Amtrak’s efficiency review
Amtrak on an upgrade
Dining changes planned for most long-distance trains
  Safety lines… 
First-quarter safety results reflect positive trend
Miss Deaf Texas killed by train
  Commuter lines… 
Business heavyweights demand commuter rail
   service for Georgia
Nashville gets ready to ride
  Friday closing quotes… 
  Freight lines… 
Rail sale boosts South Dakota trains BNSF deal
   may get products to more markets
BNSF to expand California rail capacity
  End notes… 

Amtrak revives its plan for hotel
at Baltimore’s Penn Station

March 14 — The Baltimore Sun reported that Amtrak has revived a plan to open a boutique hotel inside historic Penn Station, which would be the first in a station owned by the railroad.

Always struggling to increase revenues, Amtrak anticipates the project will succeed since the Baltimore station is their 10th- busiest and the neighborhood is undergoing economic growth and taking on a character of its own.

This will be a boutique hotel with 72 rooms occupying three levels which formerly were used for Amtrak’s offices.

“It makes sense for us to make the best use of our properties to help supplement our passenger rail income, and real estate is one way we can do that,” Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black told Sun reporter, Lorraine Mirabella. The negotiations with an unnamed developer also include some redevelopment of the station’s main floor for shops, he said. The hotel would encompass about 40,000 square feet.

Amtrak planned a hotel there about four years ago, but the deal fell through. Some analysts feel this is a more opportune time.

The neighborhoods of Charles North and Greenmount West, and part of Barclay, have been included in the Station North Arts and Entertainment District, a state designation designed to promote revitalization and encourage arts and entertainment uses.

Plans call for converting into housing a former city Housing Authority building that sits over the rail line near Penn Station.

Another development group plans to transform the former Chesapeake Restaurant and an adjacent parking lot at Charles and Lanvale streets into a mixed-use urban renewal project with shops, restaurants, an art gallery and subsidized artists’ lofts. It also would include a 91-unit condominium tower behind the former restaurant and 11 townhouses.

And Somerset Development Co. is building luxury townhouses called Station North a block north of Penn Station on North Calvert Street.

“There’s a nice ribbon of positive development activity along the Amtrak line just north of Mount Vernon, and the hotel fits right in that ribbon,” Kirk Fowler, President of the Downtown Partnership. “A hotel at Penn Station might attract business from parents of college students at the nearby University of Baltimore, which is expanding this year from a two-year college to a four-year program, and Maryland Institute College of Art.”

“More and more people are using the MARC line, as well as Amtrak, and ... this project would fit well into the goal to have more transit-oriented development,” which typically includes a mix of development uses around mass transit,” Fowler said.

Black said he had no timetable for the current project and no details on whether Amtrak or a developer would own the hotel. “Amtrak real estate is working on this; they’re in negotiations, and we don’t want to get ahead of that,” he said.


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Ticket revenue and ridership
continues strongly for Amtrak

Source: Amtrak Ink

Amtrak ticket revenue for the first four months of FY ‘06 totaled $437.6 million on ridership of 7.8 million passengers, an 8-percent increase over the same period one-year ago and 2 percent ahead of budget. January ticket revenue was 5 percent ahead of a year ago, but fell short of budget by nearly 3 percent.

The increase was due in part to fare changes made in the fall and revenue management on Regionals, the railroad’s largest revenue producer. However, unsatisfactory on-time performance on most routes translated into dissatisfied passengers, suppressing repeat ridership and encroaching on the bottom line. While Acela delivered in January an overall 86 percent OTP, with a solid 90 percent on the south end and an improving 84 percent on the north end, system-wide OTP was 69 percent for the month, with long-distance OTP dropping to 37 percent, or 13 points lower than January a year ago.

On the NEC spine, ticket revenue through January reflected a 6- percent gain, while ridership fell by 4 percent. However, corridors outside the Northeast remained strong through the first four months of FY ‘06 with more than $92 million in ticket revenue, a jump of nearly 12 percent over last year. Rider-ship, at 3.5 million, was 6 percent better than the same period a year ago. Long-distance service year-to-date was 7 percent ahead of last year’s ticket revenue at nearly $108 million. Ridership of 1.2 million was even with the same period a year ago.

Ridership and Ticket Revenue
Fiscal Year-to-DateFY ’06/ActualFY ’05/Actual
Ridership$7,835,844$7,770,295
Ticket Revenue$437,599,650$407,041,338
   
Month of JanuaryFY ’06/ActualFY ’05/Actual
Ridership$1,718,844 $1,698,916
Ticket Revenue$94,267,991$89,873,287

January ticket revenues of $94.3 million reflected an increase of 5 percent over a year ago, due mostly to the strength of the Northeast Corridor Regionals and other short-distance and state-supported services, but was nevertheless lower than budget by 3 percent. Ridership was 1 percent ahead of last January with 1.72 million trips, with the slight increase attributed mostly to short-distance trains outside the Northeast spine.

On the Northeast Corridor spine, ticket revenue for Regionals of $27.7 million was a 10-percent increase over a year ago, while ridership dropped by 3 percent, to 486,000 trips. Although Regional ticket revenues remained strong between Washington and Boston, ridership was affected by somewhat higher fares and lower gasoline prices than earlier in the year.

The January Acela Express and Metroliner combined ticket revenue of $23.5 million dropped 5 percent and ridership was down 12 percent against last January, for a total of 192,000 trips. Acela rider-ship and ticket revenue between New York and Boston slowed due to higher prices, reduced frequencies and, potentially, airline competition.

To help promote Acela Express ridership, Amtrak’s Marketing department launched a new Guest Rewards® “Double Points” Acela offer in January, promoted through direct mail, e-mail and all NEC Quik-Trak screens. Several direct mail offers were also sent to a target audience of AGR members based on their past travel histories. Additionally, from March 13 to June 17, AGR members may take advantage of Amtrak’s “Buy 2, Get 1 Free” offer. After signing up for the promotion, AGR members who complete two roundtrips or four one-ways on Acela between select city pairs get a free roundtrip. This promotion is featured in a new television ad debuting this month.

In the Midwest and on the West Coast, short-distance trains continued to attract strong rider-ship and post solid revenue numbers in January. In the Chicago area, ridership and ticket revenue increased on all routes, with the largest gains on the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawathas. This service ended the month with a 14-percent increase in ridership and a 21-percent jump in ticket revenue over January a year ago. The year-old Milwaukee Airport rail station, which is a popular stop, generated $95,000 in January ticket revenue based on 5,000 passenger departures.

On the West Coast, Pacific Surfliner January ridership rose nearly 30 percent over last year and ticket revenue soared more than 52 percent ahead of last year, while the San Joaquins also returned a “double-double” — a 17-percent ridership increase and a nearly 23-percent spike in ticket revenue.

Overall, long-distance trains did well despite some operational troubles, such as the service suspension of the Sunset Limited east of New Orleans (due to Hurricane Katrina), the Crescent (freight derailments and reduced sleeper inventory) and the Cascades and Coast Starlight (mudslides).

Together, these complications accounted for a loss of nearly $1 million in ticket revenue. Total long-distance ticket revenue was nearly $23 million, an increase of more than 5 percent over last January. Ridership was 2 percent ahead of a year ago, with more than 254,000 trips. The Empire Builder service produced $2.5 million in ticket revenue, an increase of 11 percent over last January, boosted by the sleeper bookings. Empire Builder ridership was even with January one year ago.


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Amtrak to examine its service

Long-distance routes will be studied
as part of railroad’s efficiency review

Across the wires from Associated Press

WASHINGTON, March 17 -- Amtrak’s chairman said yesterday in a brief Senate hearing that the railroad will scrutinize all of its long-distance routes for efficiency. They may eliminate some lines, reconfigure or add others. This is an effort to show Congress the railroad can reform itself.

“There’s nothing, as far as I’m concerned, that’s off the table,” David Laney told reporters after the hearing, which focused on Amtrak’s funding request for the 2007 budget year.

Amtrak operates 15 long-distance trains over 18,500 route miles in 39 states and Washington, D.C. These trains provide the only rail passenger service to 23 states, according to Amtrak statistics.

Laney said Amtrak will study every route and decide how efficient they are. He confirmed that they are not trying to take apart the railroad but rather make it succeed.

He also announced that they would be hiring a new president in about two months.

Transportation Secretary Mineta also testified that they are not trying to dismantle the railroad, only make it more efficient.

John Thompson, board member of Virginians for High Speed Rail, an advocacy group for improving passenger rail service, said a lot of people would suffer if the Bush administration’s plan to break up the railroad were to happen. “We feel very strongly that there needs to be a national system.”


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Amtrak on an upgrade

SHELBY, Mont. – Amtrak is upgrading service on some of its long distance trains, according to an article by Daniel Machalaba in the Wall Streeet Journal.

On the Empire Builder, the long-distance train from Chicago to Seattle, service and atmosphere are offered at the luxury level. Meals cooked to order, elegant upholstery and carpeting, comfortable sleeping-car quarters, wine and cheese tasting, pleasant staff all add up to lure the affluent leisure travelers willing to pay extra.

“They dined on meals made with recipes drawn from the bygone heyday of train travel, one passenger reported. At bedtime, she found a fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookie in her spiffed-up sleeping cabin.

“It’s getting more like a cruise ship,” was the comment of another passenger who had expected an uncomfortable low-class trip not much better than a bus.

The differential in pricing is substantial. Fares vary by season and day of the week, but if someone were planning to travel, for example, on April 16, a one-way coach fare from Chicago to Seattle would cost $134 for the two-night trip. First-class passengers would pay the basic coach fare plus another $270 for a roomette or $466 for a bedroom.

Later, Amtrak plans to extend these changes to other long-distance trains, while at the other end of the spectrum the railroad will cut expenses by changing work rules, running more efficient food service in coach, and stream-lining maintenance operations, repair shops, and reservation call service.

The restructuring likely puts Amtrak on a collision course with its 17,000 unionized workers, two-thirds of whom haven’t had a new contract for about five years. Amtrak officials estimate union restrictions cost the railroad about $100 million a year.

The shake-up is in response to the Bush administration’s desire to break up the railroad and turn the Northeast Corridor over to private interests.

Nevertheless, in response to Bush’s zero budget proposal which would cut off all federal subsidy, Congress approved $1.3 billion in funding for Amtrak for the current fiscal year.

As part of Bush’s liquidation plan, Amtrak President David Gunn, who was widely praised for cutting costs while vastly improving service and maintenance, was fired last November because he would not support the plan of breaking up the railroad.

The next crucial step, according to Amtrak board chairman David Laney, is to fix some notorious customer-service problems, ranging from dirty cars to unhelpful and rude on-board employees. Mr. Laney acknowledges that passenger service by Amtrak is “in some cases superb and in some cases miserable.”

Some of Amtrak’s worst problems are beyond its control. Formed to relieve freight railroads of money-losing passenger trains, Amtrak shares nearly 22,000 miles of track with the freight trains, and congestion is worsening. Still, Amtrak believes better service will lure riders and shrink losses on long-distance lines.

On long-distance routes that are primarily used by passengers for basic transportation, starting with the Texas Eagle and the City of New Orleans, the railroad is rolling out a new type of dining service that makes greater use of precooked meals and introduces disposable plastic plates. Those changes are designed to cut the number of dining-car employees to three per train from five or six.

Meanwhile, Amtrak is replacing mandatory meal-serving periods with more flexible hours. Meal service will then be available as much as 18 hours a day, up from about eight hours now, allowing Amtrak to serve more people and boost revenue. Amtrak hopes to cut $32 million from its annual food-service loss of $123 million.

(Ed. note: more details on food service changes in the article below.)

The Empire Builder is the laboratory train for some of these changes. One of the most popular long-distance trains, started in 1929, it has been carrying an average of 500,000 passengers a year. With the new luxury service, it is enticing more passengers, particularly during the off-season periods.


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Dining changes meeting of the minds

Photo: Amtrak Ink

Director Contract Food and Beverage Mike Dwyer (center, standing) demonstrates one of the elements of the new dining service model to the on-board service crew of the Sunset Limited during a training session in Los Angeles. (L. to R.) Chef Steve Randall, Train Attendant Kirk Kensler, Lead Service Attendant Vincent Burgio, Mike Dwyer, Traveling Chef Paulette Starlwood, Service Attendant Henry Ford and Chef Christian Natoli

Dining changes planned for
most long-distance trains

Source: Amtrak Ink

Aiming to reduce its net loss on food service while maintaining quality and passenger satisfaction, Amtrak plans to broaden the scope of its “Simplified Dining Service” program to most long-distance trains by this summer.

The new dining service model represents a fundamental change in the way food service is managed aboard long-distance trains — its objective is to alter the economics of dining car service by reducing labor costs, increasing on-board sales, and improving both convenience and service quality for passengers.

Central to the initiative is a combination of a different method of food preparation and reduced wait staff through the continuous, “staggered” seating of passengers. By offering more flexible seating options, customers may chose the meal time they prefer, thereby extending the operation of the dining car and potentially accommodating more coach passengers and generating incremental sales.

The rollout of the new service in mid-February encompassed four long-distance trains — the Texas Eagle, the City of New Orleans, the Sunset Limited, and the Capitol Limited. To support the implementation, extensive training classes for on-board managers to super-vise the introduction of the new service began last month, and in-depth sessions for on-board service employees are slated before the launch of the service on each train.

The new service model features fully prepared meals that require minimal on-board cooking. Known as “center-of-the-plate” items in food and beverage parlance, the main components of the meal come already cooked and only need to be heated in an oven. Starches and vegetables are prepared fresh by the chef.

“The menu options are essentially the same meals we’ve been serving in dining cars for the past couple of years, with some new additions. These are all high-quality items that are used throughout the restaurant industry and have been well received by our passengers,” said Senior Director of Food and Beverage Tom Hall.

By reducing labor requirements in the galley with the elimination of most griddle, scullery and dishwashing work (utilizing attractive disposable dinnerware), smaller crews are needed. On most trains, the base dining car crew of five will be reduced to three, for meal counts of up to 96. At higher meal counts additional staff will be added.

An essential element of Simplified Dining Service that allows smaller crews to effectively manage the flow of patrons to the dining car is a standardized and staggered reservations system. Reservations are required for all meals and are made in 15-minute increments, so that no more than eight passengers (two tables) are seated at one time. The leadership of the lead service attendants (LSAs) and the assistance of the train attendants is critical to ensure a smooth operation, by inviting both sleeping car and coach passengers to make their reservations in advance and filling in the available slots to maximize sales.

“By controlling the flow of customers as we deliver meal service, we can ensure that the food is prepared and plated to order and that passengers are provided professional and personalized service,” said Director of Food and Beverage Standards Pete Humphreys.

The modification of dining car practices is just one ingredient in the company’s overall strategy to shrink its food and beverage loss, originally projected at $120 million this fiscal year. On an annualized basis, the Simplified Dining Service component is expected to reduce this loss by about $10 million, once fully implemented.

Other related initiatives include Amtrak’s recent renegotiation of its commissary contract with Gate Gourmet, a move that results in tighter financial controls and also provides strong incentives to the commissary provider to reduce Amtrak’s food stock and operating costs. In addition, plans are in place for capital program modifications to the food service equipment that will improve sales capability and increase labor productivity by enhancing the service delivery plat-form — a rolling restaurant — that supports the total operation. Recently passed legislation requires Amtrak to achieve operational savings by July 1, 2006, or be restricted from using appropriated funds to subsidize the net losses from food, beverage and sleeper car service on any Amtrak route. Progress toward achieving these savings will be monitored by the U. S. Department of Transportation and reported to Congress on a quarterly basis.

Commenting on the change to the long-distance dining service, acting President David Hughes said, “This is not an optional exercise. While cutting personnel is never easy, we need to realize operational efficiencies and improve customer participation or face the prospect of losing the food and beverage service altogether.”

Simplified Dining Service will be expanded next month to the Silver Star, Lake Shore Limited and Southwest Chief and in May, will roll out on the Crescent, Coast Starlight, California Zephyr and Silver Meteor. At this time, there are no plans to implement the new model on the Auto Train or the Empire Builder.

To prepare for this launch schedule, 64 managers specifically chosen for this assignment participated in training sessions held last month in Wilmington and Los Angeles. Coming from locations across the system, each of the managers is responsible for riding trains with the crews at the onset of implementation. The role of the manager is to offer guidance, hands-on training and support during the trip, and to provide a detailed evaluation of the implementation.

Instruction for on-board service employees encompasses three components: orientation, training and on-board support. The orientation briefing takes place the trip before the new model is implemented and consists of a briefing with a detailed overview of the program rationale and objectives. Before the trip on which the service begins, a two-hour training session is held that makes use of two training videos — one customized for chefs and another for lead service attendants — as well as new service guides. The training support continues on board, with hands-on assistance and coaching from one of the 64 qualified managers.

The progress of the crews will be assessed by the managers, who are responsible for filing detailed electronic evaluations in the Transportation Department Review System that will provide specific data and results for each crew. Managers will ride and support the to insure results are being achieved.

Support from other departments is also critical. For instance, better coordination with the Mechanical department to improve the response to food service equipment issues that impact service delivery is an important part of the program.

Back in December, when some of the components of the new dining service were being tested aboard the Texas Eagle and the City of New Orleans, feedback from the crews proved crucial to refining and developing the program to reach its current state — with a number of improvements made as a result of employee input.

Afterward, a group of chefs and LSAs met for several days in Wilmington in January with Customer Services department staff to finalize the program elements.

“Our on-board service crews have been extremely helpful in providing constructive ideas to help make this program work,” said Customer Services Field Operations Senior Director Brian Rosenwald. “And the fine-tuning will continue until we have a smooth and successful operation that improves our bottom line and works for our customers.”


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SAFETY LINES...  Safety lines...

First-quarter safety results
reflect positive trend

Source: Amtrak Ink

Demonstrating that Amtrak is continuing to make safety its top priority, the number of Federal Railroad Administration-reportable injuries in the first quarter of FY ‘06 dropped significantly over the same period last year and FY ‘04. Comparing quarter to quarter, this favorable trend has continued over the past two years.

Systemwide, the injury ratio, which represents the number of FRA-reportable injuries per 200,000 work hours, reflects major improvement in safety performance over the past two-year period. In FY ‘06, the first-quarter ratio dropped to 2.7, and first-quarter ratios in FY ‘05 and FY ‘04 were 3.8 and 4.5, respectively.

Overall, Amtrak employees sustained 124 injuries during the first quarter, down from 183 injuries recorded in first quarter of FY ‘05, and much lower than the 217 reported in the first quarter of FY ‘04.

The progress is also reflected in year-over-year comparisons, with a 3.7 ratio for FY ‘05 and 4.5 ratio for FY ‘04. Year-end totals for those years were 712 and 891, respectively.

Amtrak safety experts attribute the two-year trend in large part to increased attention to injury prevention, personal accountability and implementation of targeted safety programs, such as increased safety walk-abouts and safety briefings, by the three major operating departments: Engineering, Mechanical and Transportation.

During safety training courses held this past quarter in Mechanical facilities at Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington and Bear, cross-functional teams of craft and management employees pinpointed safety risks and fixes in specific work environments.

Last fiscal year, the Engineering department held a joint labor-management safety congress during which groups addressed safety issues, presented findings and made recommendations on how to resolve and or improve these issues.

The Transportation department also focused on reducing injuries by targeting high-profile injuries, such as slips, trips and falls, analyzing the root cause of each injury and then focusing on specific prevention, including MoveSmart® techniques. Transportation also targeted weather-related causes of injuries, such as extreme heat in the summer and icy conditions in the winter.

Transportation supervisors attended workshops that covered methods for providing constructive feedback to employees. Addition-ally, the department distributed pamphlets about specific injury risks and how to correct the behavior that could lead to bodily harm. Jointly, Engineering and Transportation hosted four safety fairs last summer to promote safety awareness and good health.

The Mechanical department contributed to the effort by holding joint labor-management Safety Training Camps at Sunny-side Yard aimed at tackling problem areas and providing refresher training to reinforce safe behavior.

Proper reporting is also a key to reducing injuries. A message was sent to employees by the Safety department about the importance of accurate and timely reporting — an effective tool to help prevent similar incidents from occurring.

“Working safely means watching out for each other and not hesitating to correct unsafe behavior, and we’re dedicated to providing employees the tools to do just that,” said Safety Superintendent Bob Noonan.

Noonan added that employees say they feel that local supervision plays a critical role in creating a safety-conscious culture. By coaching employees about safe behavior and recognizing outstanding performance, managers foster a safe work environment. Employees also remarked on the value of local safety committees and the responsibility the members take in promoting safety.

Based on this progress, the safety performance bar has been raised. The injury ratio goal has been lowered from 3.4 in FY’04 to 3.3 in FY’05 and, most recently, to 3.0 for the current fiscal year.


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Miss Deaf Texas killed by train

Across the wires from news8austin.com

Miss Deaf Texas - Tara McAvoy

March 13 — The reigning Miss Deaf Texas lost her life last Monday while walking next to the Union Pacific tracks, struck by a snowplow that extends about 16 inches on both sides of the tracks. The accident happened about 2:30 pm in South Austin, according to the Austin Police Report.

Ms. Tara McAvoy graduated last year from the Texas School for the Deaf, a popular lovely girl who was involved in theater, volleyball, student leadership and pageants. She had completed one semester at Gallaudet University in Washington.

Austin police said McAvoy had text messaged her mother just minutes before the accident happened. The 18-year-old said she was going to take a short cut down the railroad tracks to meet her mom at work.

“We believe she may have been sending text messages to friends and family as well during that time,” Fugitt said.

That’s a factor, plus her deafness, police said, that could have kept her from noticing the train.

McAvoy was named Miss Deaf Texas in June 2005. She was planning to compete in Miss Deaf America this summer.

Union Pacific is conducting its own investigation.


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

Business heavyweights demand
commuter rail service for Georgia

By DF Staff and from the Internet

ATLANTA --- A group of business heavyweights in Georgia has formed “the Georgia Brain Trust” to promote commuter rail service in the Northeastern section of the Peachtree State, NCI’s Georgia Director Doug Alexander tells us. The Atlanta Business Chronicle reports that Developer Emory Morsberger of Gwinnett County was elected to serve as chairman of the trust, Alexander noted.

“The service proposed would connect Athens, Ga., and Gwinnett County to Atlanta with passenger rail service following existing railroad track lines that are currently used to move freight. The group argues the low-impact transportation alternative would link Georgia’s universities, including The University of Georgia, Emory University, Georgia Tech and Georgia State University, with the emerging bioscience corridor in Gwinnett. The new passenger rail service would also connect suburban residential areas to large employers and office campuses in Midtown and downtown Atlanta,” reports the Chronicle.

“Commuter rail studies indicate the system could remove as many as 5,300 cars from already congested roadways during peak travel times. An estimated 80 percent of the train’s riders are expected to come from Gwinnett County. More than half the riders would likely get on and off at Atlantic Station in Midtown,” stated the Chronicle.

“This represents yet another business group in the Southeastern United States pushing for rail investment, both commuter and intercity,” stated NCI President Jim RePass. “The Southeast – Georgia, North and South Carolina, and Virginia --- has one of the most active pro-rail investment communities in the country,” noted RePass. “It is impressive that this region, which has already done so well to attract business, is taking nothing for granted, and is planning for future growth. Places like New England, which are losing businesses and people in part because of costly, outdated transportation infrastructure, need to wake up.”

The group, the Chronicle reports, also elected Richard Bowers, president of Richard Bowers & Co. real estate, as treasurer, and Betty Willis, a senior associate vice president at Emory University, as the group’s secretary. Other executive members include: Duke Realty Senior Vice President Kerry Armstrong, Atlantic Station Associate Adam Baker, Classic Center Authority Director of Development E.H. Culpepper, Accent Gwinnett Community Relations’ Paula Hastings, Atlantic Station Vice President of Design & Development Brian Leary, Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce President Jim Maran, Intellectual Capital Partnership Program / UGA Program Director Chris Moder, Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce Director of Economic Development Scott Morris, A. Brown-Olmstead & Associates President and CEO Amanda Brown Olmstead, Emory University Associate Vice President of Transportation Laura Ray, North American Site Services & Business/MERIAL Executive Director Bob Smith and DeKalb County Economic Development Coordinator Michael Starling.


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Nashville gets ready to ride

By Doug Alexander
NCI Vice-Chairman

Bipartisan support from Tennessee’s Congressional delegation is helping to push forward the start date of what will be the South’s fourth commuter rail system.

Called the “Music City Star,” the trains will connect downtown Nashville and Lebanon on a 32-mile corridor through Mt. Juliet. The single-track line was selected as the first corridor to be put into operation because the line is owned by the state and operated by the Nashville & Eastern Railroad Authority.

Trains were originally scheduled to begin running in the fall of 2005, but a shortfall in federal funding pushed back the start date and caused some concern that the project might not ever get rolling.

Tennessee’s Regional Transit Authority, which is building the line and will operate the trains, spent much of 2005 negotiating a $6.2 million bridge loan from local banks to carry the project forward until federal funds could be secured, but Rail Project Manager Allyson Shumate was concerned that the interest rate was too high, according to a report in the Nashville City Paper.

“Now that we have the conference report showing the appropriation coming through, we will see if that can issue some kind of line of credit at a better rate,” Shumate was quoted as saying. The RTA will also look at whether it’s better to borrow the money now or just wait for the appropriation to come through. Shumate said that a bank loan back during the summer would have saved the RTA six-to-eight months and that a bridge loan now could save the project up to four months. The federal funds are expected to be available sometime in the spring.

The RTA serves the nine-county Middle Tennessee region with various transportation alternatives such as carpools, vanpools, commuter buses, and the upcoming Music City Star commuter trains. The RTA sees the Star’s service as unique to the area, because unlike all of its other services, the trains will not be affected by traffic, highway construction or all but the most severe weather conditions.

In a joint press release by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Senator Lamar Alexander, Frist said that he had worked hard to ensure that the $6 million was included in the final conference report of the transportation appropriation bill. “The project’s future could have been in jeopardy without this federal funding, and I am pleased that we were able to help Nashville area residents score an important victory,” Frist said.

Senator Lamar Alexander said that as Nashville continues to grow, investments in different modes of transportation are needed to limit congestion and air pollution. “This funding is critical to ensure that the Music City Star leaves the station in 2006,” Alexander said.

Eventually, the Music City Star will connect several communities in middle Tennessee to downtown Nashville along a total of five corridors. The first corridor to be completed will be the East Corridor, which will begin at Lebanon, with stops in Martha, Mt. Juliet, Hermitage, Donelson Pike, and Riverfront in downtown Nashville.

The first line will be 32 miles long. Capital costs are estimated at $39.7 million, and annual operations will run around $3 million a year. Start up is now scheduled for spring of 2006. RTA will pay the Nashville and Eastern Railroad, the private short-line operator of the state-owned line, a per-train-mile fee to keep the tracks and signal systems maintained to passenger service standards. The fee will also include dispatching services, with the passenger trains having priority during peak commuting time.

Initial service will be three trains a day inbound in the morning with one outbound “reverse commute” during the rush hour. Afternoon service is similar. Also, special event and weekend service will be added as needed.

The weekday service will be covered with two train sets. The RTA has purchased three F-40 passenger locomotives from Amtrak and a total of 11 coaches from Chicago’s METRA commuter rail operation. Using modifications to the cars, as well as strategically-placed ramps on the platforms, the 30-year-old cars will be compliant with the American with Disabilities Act of 1990. RTA worked closely with Nashville’s ADA community and residents with mobility issues to make certain that the Music City Star will be accessible to everyone.

To get the railroad ready for the trains, RTA has replaced two major timber bridges with concrete structures and is building five new bridges. To date, RTA has installed 114,000 feet of rail. When finished, 53% of the route will have new rail. In addition, every third crosstie is being replaced, and grade crossing warning systems are being upgraded along the route. Centralized traffic control (CTC) is also being installed along the entire route.

The Riverfront Station, as well as the Donelson and Hermitage stations, will be integrated into Nashville’s bus system with timed connections for commuters headed to other destinations. Passengers on the Star will be able to transfer to area buses with no added fare.

Several communities are planning to incorporate private and public/private development around their stations. Mt. Juliet, for instance, is incorporating its new railroad station in the heart of their new “Town Center.”

Four other corridors are planned to complete the entire 145-mile network.: The Northeast Corridor, serving the communities of Gallatin and Hendersonville; the Southeast Corridor with service to Murfreesboro, Smyrna, and LaVergne; the South Corridor covering the communities of Franklin and Brentwood; and the West Corridor serving Kingston Springs and Bellevue.

A fifth corridor serving Cheatham and Montgomery counties is under consideration. Alternatives Analysis Studies are presently underway or in the planning stages for the other corridors.

The $39.7 million capital costs of the commuter rail project are funded with 60% Federal Transit Administration dollars, 20% Federal Highway Administration dollars, 10% state funds and 10% local dollars. Federal Congestion and Air Quality Mitigation (CMAQ) funds coupled with other federal transit funds will be used to cover the first three years of operations. RTA hopes to establish a source of dedicated funding to keep the trains rolling after the federal funds are exhausted.

The project started in 1994 with an effort to institute a regional one dollar tax on car emissions tests. Proponents said that some of the money could go for a “commuter rail system.” Although the emissions test tax didn’t take hold, the idea of the train did, and now a dozen years later, the first commuter train is about to roll.

For more information, see the RTA web site at: http://www.musiccitystar.org/.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: MarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)80.7976.51
Canadian National (CNI)45.9545.50
Canadian Pacific (CP)50.8749.82
CSX (CSX)59.4655.24
Florida East Coast (FLA)53.3551.13
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)31.8844.99
Kansas City Southern (KSU)23.7822.86
Norfolk Southern (NSC)53.9450.83
Providence & Worcester (PWX)16.3115.55
Union Pacific (UNP)91.0785.76


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

Rail sale boosts South Dakota trains
BNSF deal may get products to more markets

Across the wires from Sioux Falls Argus Leader and BNSF website

PIERRE, SD, March 17 - In 1980, the state of South Dakota bought a railroad, the Core line, owned at the time by the Milwaukee Road. It was done to save access to markets for farmers and other shippers. In 1981, the state entered into an agreement with BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) by which they would provide rail service on behalf of the state for five years.

A locomotive operator for BNSF Railway, leaves his engine

Photo: Cory Myers / Argus Leader   

S.M. Pitz, a locomotive operator for BNSF Railway, leaves his engine in the Sioux Falls switchyard.
The Railroad Trust Fund was created in 1981. Its revenue comes primarily from lease payments by companies that operate on state-owned track. It is used as a loan program to help regional rail authorities with such projects as upgrading track or building sidings. Balances in the fund, since fiscal year 2000:

Fiscal Year 
2000$6,656,019
2001$8,458,741
2002$9,492,645
2003$11,688,931
2004$17,658,048
2005$18,303,629
2006$56,760,025
Statistics - South Dakota Department of Transportation
Last December, South Dakota sold 368 miles of the Core line to BNSF Northern Santa on the condition that they allow other railroads operating in South Dakota to have access to the routes to both east and west coasts.

The $42 million deal has opened doors to shippers that South Dakota has never seen. “We have … for the first time the opportunity to hook up with every single Class One railroad in North America,” said Todd Yeaton, Chairman of the state Railroad Board.

“South Dakota producers and shippers will benefit by enhanced transportation access to markets,” said Gov Rounds. “As a condition of the sale, we negotiated a settlement protecting and expanding access to the Core line for our South Dakota shippers. This is access to worldwide markets that our smaller carriers have never before had.”

“We’re never going to get a big population out here,” says Ron Mitzel, a state Railroad Board member and official with Dakota Mill and Grain in Rapid City. “To attract industry or anything for economic development and jobs, whatever you’re making needs to move to the population, and the most efficient way to do that, especially long distance, is rail.”

Short line railroads will also benefit. Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad is proposing a multi-billion expansion to go into Wyoming coal fields. Not long ago DM&E was running about 500 carloads of freight through the county; the estimate for 2006 is 20,000 carloads.

Increased economic development along with higher fuel prices will boost the need for rail to accommodate the growth, which in turn will require major investments in infrastructure improvements . Ethanol plants and soybean processing will require new sidings, which can cost $1 million in some cases. The use of 110-car trains, an on-going development, will require longer and longer sidings.

Agreements have been worked out between the state and BNSF regarding cost sharing for all the improvements. The proceeds of the sale were put into the Railroad Trust Fund, which will be used by the state and BNSF for the infrastructure projects: new sidings at Alpena, Redfield, and North Sioux City by BNSF. The state and BNSF will improve the interchanges at Wolsey and Napa Junction, north of Yankton. The state will construct a siding north of Aberdeen.

The state’s investment in the infrastructure improvements benefiting railroads that will use the Core line will be approximately $6.5 million over the next several years.

Opportunities for the future:

Jack Parliament, president of D&I Railroad, which generally runs between Dell Rapids and Sioux City, sees opportunities for huge expansion along that line with the rail-sale agreement. The deal opens the way for the line to access three different Class One carriers at Sioux City, he said.

“In the past, shippers along the line only had access to BNSF in Sioux City,” Parliament said. “Since the sale, it’s created numerous opportunities for the shippers.”

He said the Canadian National and Union Pacific are “clearly interested in getting into the Sioux Falls market to provide some competition.”

Republican Rep. Gordon Pederson of Wall is the only legislator still serving who was also in office when the state bought the core line.

“I was here when the railroads were dying,” Pederson said during floor debate in the House. “We put on a sales tax to get it going. We got it done. It’s a good railroad, and it’s done quite a bit. Now, it looks like we may be able to get our cars out of South Dakota. And if we can get our cars out of South Dakota with our grain in them, it’s going to help our people. You’re not going to have any industrial development, any economic development, any rural development, unless you have good transportation. We are in a transportation desert, and for cripe’s sake, let’s get out of it.”


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BNSF to expand California rail capacity

Across the wires

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (March 17, 2006) — BNSF Railway Company (BNSF) plans to invest more than $100 million from its 2006 capital program to expand rail capacity in California and to maintain its track, facilities and equipment in good condition

The company’s 2006 capacity enhancements in California include a $26 million expansion of parking and stacking capacity at BNSF’s Hobart intermodal facility in Los Angeles, a $16 million track expansion on BNSF’s main line near East Barstow, and a $9 million expansion of parking capacity at BNSF’s San Bernardino intermodal facility, in addition to continuing work on a third main line on the Cajon subdivision.

About $600 million of BNSF’s 2006 capital program will be used to acquire 310 low-emissions locomotives, many of which will operate through California.

Matthew K. Rose, President and CEO of BNSF, said that as long as their return on capital investment and freight rail demand continued to increase, BNSF is committed to expanding capacity and improving customer service while keeping its physical plant strong.

BNSF Railway Company operates one of the largest railroad networks in North America, with about 32,000-route-miles in 28 states and two Canadian provinces.


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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.

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