Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 4 No. 12, March 24, 2003
Copyright © 2002, NCI, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - James Furlong
Editor - Leo King

A weekly North American rail and transit update


April 28, 29

The National Corridors Initiative’s 2003 Conference

Rail Futures:
Building Secure and Successful Transit and Intercity Rail for America

The Washington Marriott, 1221 22nd St., N.W., Washington, D.C.

Keynote Speakers:

Hon. Gov. Tom Ridge, Secretary of Homeland Security (Invited)
Amtrak Board Chair John Robert Smith
Amtrak President and CEO David Gunn
Amtrak Board Vice-Chair Michael S. Dukakis
American Public Transportation Assn. President William Millar
Surface Transportation Policy Project Chair Anne P. Canby
Environmental Defense Transportation Director Michael Replogle
California High Speed Rail Authority Chairman Rod Diridon.
Transportation designer Cesar Vergara

Special Conference Session for Journalists and Industry:

The News Media and Transportation – “Making News”

$475 (corporate); $375 (government); $350 (non-profit, union)

Checks should be payable to NCI Inc., 35 Terminal Road, Suite 210, Providence RI. 02905

Arrange hotel accommodations at special low conference rates directly with the Washington Marriott 202-872-1500 fax 202-872-9899 and mention NCI.

Click HERE for more information and registration materials. Register On-Line! (Secure Server!)


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NCI prepares for ‘Rail Futures’ conference;
first Phillips Journalism Award to be given

The National Corridors Initiative’s Year 2003 Conference, Rail Futures: Building Secure and Successful Transit and Intercity Rail for America, will be headlined this year by Amtrak President David Gunn, APTA President William Millar, Amtrak Chairman John Robert Smith and Vice-Chair Michael S. Dukakis on Monday, April 28 and Tuesday, April 29, at the Washington Marriott, 1221 22nd Street NW, in Washington, D.C.

At the conference, Washington Post reporter Don Phillips will receive the first Donald Phillips Award for Excellence in Transportation Journalism, which will be presented from time to time by NCI to general (i.e., non-trade) news media reporters. Phillips, who is considered by his peers to be the dean of American transportation writers, will be honored for the body of his work.

Following a year in which new Amtrak President David Gunn succeeded in pulling Amtrak from the brink of bankruptcy, and then persuaded Congress to fully fund the company’s operating shortfall, President Gunn launched a systemwide restructuring of the railroad that eliminated three-fourths of the company’s vice presidents, and streamlined operations, maintenance, and procurement.

Joining Gunn at the 2003 conference as keynoter will be William Millar, President of the American Public Transportation Assn., whose multi-year public affairs campaign, “Public Transportation: For Wherever Life Takes You” has had a growing effect on the public’s understanding of the importance of public transportation not only for city dwellers, but in many of the smaller towns and cities of America.

Rounding out the keynote spots will be Amtrak Chairman Mayor John Robert Smith (R) of Meridian, Miss., a national leader for more than a decade in the fight for intercity passenger rail, and Vice Chair Michael S. Dukakis, a former Massachusetts governor and a transportation activist for many decades, and the Democratic nominee for President in 1988.

Featured speakers at the conference will be newly named Surface Transportation Policy Project Chair Anne P. Canby. She is a former Delaware Secretary of Transportation.

Also speaking will be Environmental Defense Transportation Director Michael Replogle, legendary transportation designer Cesar Vergara of Jacobs Engineering, and California High Speed Rail Authority Chairman Rod Diridon.

Also, Railway Age magazine Editor William Vantuono, Texas Rail Advocate Paul Mangelsdorf, National Association of Railroad Passengers Executive Director Ross Capon, Midwest High Speed Rail Coalition President Rick Harnish, Railway Supply Institute Intercity Passenger Rail Chair Michael Pracht, and many others.


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In the Oval Office

White House: Eric Draper

President Bush receives an update on the status of military action in Iraq Thursday morning from CIA Director George Tenet in the Oval Office. Also present are Vice-President Dick Cheney and Chief of Staff Andy Card.

 

U.S. rails remain on high alert

‘American and coalition forces are in the early stages
of military operations to disarm Iraq,to free its people...’

By Leo King
Editor

America, at war in Iraq, finds its railroads on high alert as well, along with all other transportation modes, prepared to defend against terrorists.

President George Bush made a brief, four-minute speech at 10:15 p.m. on March 19 telling Americans – and indeed, the world – “At this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people, and to defend the world from great danger.”

U.S. forces had fired cruise missiles and bombs from stealth aircraft at a group of structures near Baghdad in an attempt to take out Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and other leaders as “Operation Iraqi Freedom” began. Defense department spokesmen described that particular action as a target of opportunity, and not in the original plan. They took their actions based on CIA reports from the field, according to CNN.

Railroads around the U.S., both freight and Amtrak, had increased security two days earlier when the nation went back up to an “orange” or high alert for terrorism. It was also the day President Bush gave 48 hours’ notice to Saddam to leave Iraq or the U.S. would begin shooting.

“Operation Liberty Shield” is the name of the national U.S. defensive action – which saw heightened security measures, including freight railroads and Amtrak.

“Amtrak follows Department of Homeland Security alert status, and when the country was elevated to Orange Alert – high danger of terrorist attack – Amtrak implemented its own, higher alert level,” railroad spokesman Cliff Black told D:F on Wednesday afternoon, before military action began.

Black added, “This involves extending Amtrak police tours of duty (generally from 8 hours to 12 hours), effectively doubling the police presence at major Amtrak facilities when they are most needed. Both uniformed and plain-clothes police are deployed throughout our system, some in stations, some in yards and rights-of-way, some on trains.”

Dogs are also on the job for the passenger-carrying railroad, according to Black.

“We have enlarged our K-9 bomb-sniffing dog division since 9/11, and these teams are deployed randomly throughout the system.”

The spokesman, in Washington, noted, “Since the fall of 2001, Amtrak has required passengers to show a government-issued photo ID when purchasing tickets at ticket counters or checking baggage. We also require all baggage – checked or carry-on – to be tagged with the owner’s name and address, and carry-ons are limited to two per person (excluding laptop computers, briefcases and purses). Also, automated ‘QuikTrak’ ticketing machines are tied into the same FBI watch list of names as the rest of the reservations system. None of this has changed.”

Amtrak’s employees are also directly involved in the defensive posture, he said.

“The elevation to orange has also served as a reminder to all Amtrak employees that they have the responsibility to be on the alert for any suspicious activity or circumstances and to report their observations to the Amtrak Police, who will take appropriate action, and managers have been directed to reinforce this policy.”

He said the “measures are in place generally throughout the system, so I can’t be specific about specific stations. In Florida, for example, we do have an Amtrak police presence, but we also work with local law enforcement on any matters involving threats to people or property, or other criminal activity.”

Black added, “This is the case everywhere, even in the Northeast Corridor, where Amtrak owns the most property, operates the most trains, and deploys the largest numbers of its own police department. Penn Station, New York, is the only Amtrak facility whose security is augmented by National Guard troops. That has been the case for some time, he said, “for months, at least, if not a year or more. There is no indication that this will change.”

In New York City, the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which runs Metro North Railroad and the Long Island Rail Road as well as the city’s subway system, stated it was virtually operating at “alert orange” already. In addition to having access to National Guardsmen, an MTA spokesperson said police do spot checks at various stops.

A New York City commuter noted, “When I was at Grand Central Terminal on Sunday evening, I noticed a group of policemen with submachine guns and a dog just outside one of the entrances to the terminal,” operated by Metro-North.

He said he also saw several “policemen and one National Guard officer standing near the ticket windows.”

In Albany, N.Y. Amtrak officials said there was no rush of passengers canceling travel plans.

On Friday, New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey told his constituents he had ordered further security “at our railways, tunnels, bridges” and other locations “by increasing the number of New Jersey National Guardsmen and State Police that are deployed at these critical areas.” He said “We have increased State Police presence on New Jersey Transit trains, PATH trains, and major rail stations.”

Labor organizations are also taking an active role. The Pennsylvania Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers issued an alert warning last week to all its locomotive engineers operating trains on the state's 5,600 miles of track following a recent train bombing that killed 10 and wounded 70 in Bombay.

North America’s major freight railroads are taking additional security steps, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

As fears that “sleeper cells” of terrorists – under the discipline of al Qaeda or Iraq or perhaps operating on a “freelance” basis – might strike at America’s industrial infrastructure, the Class I carriers are on their own extra alert status.

In an AAR statement to D:F, the industry assured that these steps “will ensure that commerce continues to move safely along our nation’s freight rail system [much of which also hosts Amtrak passenger trains], which carries more than 40 percent of America’s goods and products.”

America’s mainline railroads were already on heightened alert since September 11, 2001, as AAR President Ed Hamberger has stated.

“Under a comprehensive security plan developed by the industry with the assistance of counter terrorism experts, the freight railroads established a progressive series of counter terrorism measures based on the level of threat against the industry,” AAR added.

The actions include increased cybersecurity, restricted access to railcar location data, spot employee identification checks, increased tracking and inspection of certain shipments, new encryption technology for selected data communications, increased security at physical assets, and increased employee training to ensure that the industry’s more than 200,000 employees serve as the “eyes and ears” of the security effort.

The freight railroads also created a Pentagon-certified around-the-clock operations center that links the railroads with the appropriate national security intelligence officials. This allows the railroad industry and the intelligence community to immediately share information and respond to threats.

Specifically as to the war going on as D:F was going to press:

“With military action against Iraq, the industry has taken additional security steps, including real-time monitoring and additional surveillance of designated trains, increased security at certain rail yards, increased inspection of priority track, tunnels and bridges, and working with customers to tighten control of supply chain logistics.”

“Just as we have in the past,” stated the AAR, “North America’s freight railroads will meet the nation’s transportation needs in times of both peace and war.”

The battle on the ground in Iraq is not limited to soldiers.

An unconfirmed report from London, according to trains.com (Kalmbach Publishing Co. of Milwaukee) stated an act of sabotage occurred 20 miles south of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul along the Tigris River, where Iraqi opposition troops blew up a stretch of track on the Mosul-Baghdad line, causing a train to derail.

Before returning to their Kurdistan base, the saboteurs left piles of leaflets by the side of the track urging the Iraqi soldiers who were sent to investigate the explosion to “join the International alliance to liberate Iraq” from “Saddam the criminal.”

In a separate incident, a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at a train transporting fuel from Baghdad to Syria, allegedly in violation of U.N. agreements.

Railroads were asked to increase security at major facilities and rail hubs when the alert status was increased. Governors were asked “to provide additional police or National Guard troops at selected bridges” to improving rail security.

Back in the U.S., A published report from Moline, Ill. noted Amtrak is increasing on-board surveillance with its own uniformed and plain-clothes officers. Amtrak plans to keep its normal schedule running.

A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) notice did not specifically name which bridges it wanted to see protected, but in Des Moines, Iowa, officials were asked to step up security at two Mississippi River railroad bridges. Homeland Security identified Union Pacific’s bridge in Clinton and the Burlington Northern & Santa Fe’s bridge in Fort Madison as “assets that need protection” while the nation is under a heightened security alert. Clinton County authorities said armed guards would be posted at the bridges until further notice.

Both Iowa railroad bridges are among 250 “critical assets” across the country.

Crossing the Thames-Engineer's perspective

NCI: Leo King

Railroad bridges are under particular railroad police scrutiny. This one, with a movable deck, spans the Thames River in Connecticut. To the right is an Interstate 95 span.

 

Elsewhere, security increased at major U.S. ports and waterways, including more Coast Guard patrols, escorts of passenger ships and additional sea marshals and other actions.

More law enforcement personnel and patrols are now at airports, and airlines have been told to review the validity of all IDs for people with access to secure areas. Temporary flight restrictions were also put in place over Washington, D.C., New York City and certain other unidentified U.S. cities.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency stated on its web site (http://www.fema.gov/) on March 17 “Operation Liberty Shield” is a “comprehensive national plan designed to increase protections for America’s citizens and infrastructure while maintaining the free flow of goods and people across our border with minimal disruption to our economy and way of life,” and includes stronger transportation protections and several other anti-terrorist actions.

Of the rail protections, it noted carriers needed to increase hazardous material (HAZMAT) safety.

“At the request of the USDOT, private railroad companies will monitor shipments of hazardous material and increase surveillance of trains carrying this material.”

Matt Reilly of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Assn. reported on Friday someone has been stealing derails in Texas.

“Since January 1, nine derails have been stolen in the East Texas area,” Reilly said.

Seven were stolen from the Greenville area, “including three from Hunt Yard, one from the Rubbermaid Plant, two from the Bonus Crop.” All are on the Dallas Garland & NorthEastern Railroad (DGNO), and another from a Kansas City Southern yard. Another was stolen from DGNO’s Dalrock Siding near Lake Ray Hubbard and another from the KCS at Winnsboro, he said.

Those two were taken “during the week of March 10. All of the stolen derails were the portable hinged type.”

A derail is a hard steel device used to derail a piece of equipment off a track. Reilly explained, “It is used to protect main lines sidings, branch lines, and industrial leads by preventing equipment from accidentally rolling onto the main rail route from a secondary track.”

These are not the kinds of things thieves usually go after.

“What makes these thefts a bit alarming is the nature and intended use of this equipment. Theft of this equipment is unusual, since it has little value outside of the rail industry and serves no known purpose other than its intended use. The use of derails is strictly controlled by federal regulations and company policy, and when not in the hands of an experienced person, could be potentially dangerous.”

He advised freight train crews to look for them “while operating their trains.” He also suggested managers include a notice “as part of your job briefings for all of your crews.”

Overseas, commuters are taking threats seriously.

Reuters reported on March 19 London commuters were beginning to carry gas masks and even chemical protection suits on the Underground as fears grow that a terrorist attack might follow a war with Iraq.

Some people, according to the report, were even abandoning the capital altogether for the safety of country retreats.

The government launched a new anti-terrorism website on March 19 warning there was a risk extremists would use military action against Iraq to carry out terror attacks and encouraging people to stock up on canned foods and batteries.

“We know at least 1,000 people are traveling with respirators every day on the Tube,” said Edward Klinger, managing director of Ozonelink, a London-based firm which supplies gas masks and protective suits to civilians.

Unlike the large rubber masks handed out during World War II, these masks can be carried discreetly, he said.

“We've seen about a 15-times increase over normal trading and inquiry levels because of the current security environment. People are worried about poison gas attacks erupting in places like the Tube,” he added.

Reuters also reported on March 20 from Paris the French Interior Ministry said traces of the deadly toxin ricin were found in the Gare de Lyon railway station in Paris.

A spokesman said two small flasks containing traces of the poison were discovered in luggage left at the mainline railway station, which serves the south of France.

Ricin, one of the deadliest naturally occurring poisons, is derived from castor plant beans, which are grown worldwide to produce castor oil.

The chemical, which is many times more deadly than cyanide, is considered a likely bio-warfare agent and is on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “B” list of agents, considered a moderate threat.

Washington Correspondent Wes Vernon contributed to this report.


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Wayne O. Burkes

STB photo

Wayne O. Burkes
Surface Transportation Board Vice-Chairman Wayne O. Burkes resigned from the board on Thursday (March 20), He is going home to Mississippi to campaign for State Treasurer, he said. Burkes said “The Surface Transportation Board has been a great home to me, but I find that I must return to my home state” to campaign for the elective office. “I will very much miss the friendships and professional associations that I have made during my four years at the Board,” he said.


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Lawmakers say they’ll include rail
in forthcoming transit legislation

By Wes Vernon
Washington correspondent

Mass transit does play a role in the huge $375 billion highway bill unveiled March 12, but the bill itself is yet to be introduced. Committee spokesman Justin Harclerode tells D:F that in fact, “We’re some months away from introduction. Nothing specific is settled in the way of user fees, though we do have various proposals for increasing highway revenue.”

It is clear that the panel is heading in the direction of some kind of gas tax. That is where the committee’s leadership is running into opposition from House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill) and Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.)

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) wants to double its previous appropriations to about $14.3 billion. However, the transit-lobbying group figures in the end, that will develop into about $65 billion.

“You’re talking about a six-year proposal,” APTA Legislative Vice President and General Counsel Daniel Duff tells D:F, “and we would go from $7.2 billion, and then grow 12 percent each year up till Fiscal Year 2009 when we would be up to $14.3 billion. The total of those numbers is $65 billion” to $75 billion. “It’s a significant program for us,” the APTA lobbyist added.

The “discretionary program” includes a “new start” component of “a couple of billion a year for the construction of new rail systems all over the country.”

Yet another component of the discretionary program goes for “rail modernization.” That pays for the upkeep and updating of the older systems that have been in place for years, perhaps decades (such as Boston, New York and Philadelphia).

“There are [transit] projects all over the country,” Duff told us.

The “formula program... provides money to all urbanized areas throughout the country for the ongoing maintenance and upkeep of transit properties.”

“We think there’s a real need for investment and certainly the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee,” Duff said. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) and the committee’s ranking Democrat Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) favor it.

At a price tag of $375 billion, if one assumes the high end of Duff’s calculations of a $75 billion slice for transit over six years, that would come to about 80 percent for highways, 20 percent for transit.

(We have an assessment of the political fallout from the measure elsewhere in this issue).

Meanwhile, Young announced on March 19 that his committee had reached an agreement with Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) that will allow for new budget authority for highway and transit programs.

That is no small matter. Nussle is no spendthrift. He has been leading an effort to make 1 percent cuts throughout the government, with the exception of a military that will require funding to conduct the war, Social Security and specific emergencies.

“We have been assured that the budget resolution that will be considered on the floor will include a contingency procedure that will accommodate new budget authority for surface transportation programs,” Chairman Young said.

“When Congress re-authorizes the TEA-21 highway and transit programs later this year,” the Alaska lawmaker explained, “the budget resolution will allow for increases in budget authority for these programs if Congress agrees to raise additional revenues to meet our nation’s transportation needs. Our agreement insures that we will be able to spend highway user fees on highway and transit projects.”

Young says that he and Oberstar, as well as Highways Subcommittee Chairman Tom Petri (R-Wis.) and Subcommittee ranking Democrat William Lipinski (D-Ill.) are all on the same page in “our desire to see increased revenues into the Highway Trust Fund so that we maintain and improve the highway and transit infrastructure in all 50 states.”

Again, though the yet-to-be-introduced $375 billion measure is billed as a “highways and transit” proposal, much of the committee rhetoric places heaviest emphasis on highways.

“Today’s agreement between our Committee and the Budget Committee,” according to Young, “will help make this possible by permitting any increases in Highway Trust Fund revenues agreed to by all relevant committees to be spent on highways.”


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Senate passes Amtrak budget bill

An amendment to add $912 million to the Amtrak fiscal year 2004 budget passed on Friday, 51-49, raising the total proposed appropriation to Amtrak’s requested $1.82 billion.

The Senate Budget Committee last week approved a 2004 budget resolution with $900 million for Amtrak – the same as the Bush Administration proposes, but half of what Amtrak says it needs to work toward a state of good repair. The budget resolution will set broad spending limits for appropriators to use later on.

“The budget resolution was debated Friday, and Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) introduced an amendment to raise the Amtrak figure to $1.8 billion,” said National Assn. of Railroad Passengers spokesman Scott Leonard.

The money, approved on a roll call vote, is expected to allow repairs resulting from deferred maintenance.

Earlier, the Bush administration said it was willing to quickly grant Amtrak the money it needs to operate, but warns it may require cuts in service or delays in capital improvements to ensure the national railroad’s efficiency and fiscal discipline.

In a recent letter to Amtrak President David Gunn, the USDOT spelled out its guidelines for approving Amtrak funds through September 30, the end of the fiscal year, according to Reuters of March 14.

The guidelines build on mandates Congress imposed last month as a condition for approving $1.05 billion in subsidies. Amtrak critics who favored a lower subsidy and tighter control over how the railroad spends its money urged the changes.

Federal aid for Amtrak now goes to USDOT, which must approve the railroad’s spending plan and disperse grants. Previously, Amtrak had the final say on where to direct its subsidies. The guidelines say Amtrak’s grant requests must include “sufficient supporting detail and justification” to ensure the money will be spent responsibly.

They further say Amtrak may have to reduce service or change plans for capital improvements to ensure the railroad meets contractual obligations. Critics have targeted Amtrak’s long-distance trains, which allegedly generate large losses.

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta can reject some or all of Amtrak’s grant requests if he is not satisfied with spending proposals. Amtrak is set to receive the first installment of grant money early next month.

“DOT will not be a rubber stamp for what Amtrak proposes,” Kenneth Mead, the agency’s inspector general, told a Congressional hearing on Thursday.

Mead said he was skeptical that Amtrak could avert another cash crisis this summer based on its operating results since the fiscal year began in October. The railroad nearly shut down service last July before negotiating a government bailout.

Amtrak’s passenger volume ran even with projections from October through January, but ticket revenue was behind by about 9 percent because of discounting.

The railroad hopes to save money through work rule changes from its 20,000 unionized employees, which have yet to be negotiated, and its streamlined mail hauling service that could lead to 200 job cuts.

“There are certainly many variables on ridership and expenses. We’ll see what the next six or seven months hold,” said Amtrak spokesman Bill Schulz.


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Amtrak makes a national ‘platform day’

Last Wednesday was a different day for train and engine crews on Amtrak – it was designated “platform day” across the system. On-Board Services (OBS) crews were also included. It was a day remindful of military service for some.

The intent of the plan, according to Amtrak, was to “ensure that all train and OBS employees are current with all required rulebooks, instructions manuals, and in compliance with the current national uniform and grooming standards.”

The order came from Amtrak Operations. Employees affected were required to have with them what they should have with them on every trip anyway – including any required operating rulebooks and timetable special instructions for the territory over which they work.

They were required to demonstrate they had “in their possession current copies of all other manuals and rulebooks as required by their craft and/or territory, are current with all of their required instruction and medical dates.”

Engineers are required to get a physical every six months, and conductors annually.

They also needed to be “in compliance with Amtrak’s national uniform and grooming standards as specified in the Service Standards manual and in OSA No 03-19 dated 02-27-03, Uniform Program Guidelines.”

Employees who had ordered uniforms in order to comply with the railroad’s current uniform policy, but who had not yet received their uniforms or parts of uniforms by March 19, were required to “produce a copy of their submitted order or receipt.”

Transportation and Passenger Services supervisors were at “locations designated by each division, performing inspections.”

Uniform coordinators were available at major crew base locations “to provide assistance with uniform garment orders, and to supply accoutrements such as buttons, nametags and hat badges.”


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Piedmont halted while NS resurfaces tracks

North Carolina rail officials abruptly canceled most weekday service for April on the Piedmont, a state-funded Amtrak train that runs between Raleigh and Charlotte on Norfolk Southern tracks.

The train, Nos. 73 and 74, which leaves Raleigh at 7:05 a.m. and returns at 9:10 p.m., won’t run Monday through Thursday between now and April 17, according to The Raleigh News & Observer.

A typical weekday sees between 100 and 125 boardings, including some large groups. A Durham church group and an Apex elementary school group were among those who had made reservations that will have to be changed or canceled.

Amtrak and the NCDOT, which pays Amtrak to run the train, scrambled to notify riders and come up with alternatives for the groups that couldn’t change their reservations, including chartering buses.

The DOT said it had no choice but to cancel the service after NS said Thursday that it planned to start resurfacing the tracks this week.

That would mean “extreme, severe delays” for the Piedmont, said Julia Hegele, a spokeswoman for the DOT’s rail division. She also said NS’s announcement caught the state completely off guard. Susan Bland, a spokeswoman for the freight carrier, said there appears to have been a “miscommunication or lack of communication. It sounds like there was an error on our part, and if that’s the case, we will have to try to work better with these folks in the future,” she said.

Bland said canceling the trains would allow NS crews to work without interruption and finish the job quickly.

The Piedmont will continue to operate as scheduled Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The weekends are busier, particularly in April, with 180 to 225 daily boardings.

Service on another Amtrak train, the Carolinian, which starts in Charlotte and stops in Durham, Cary and Raleigh on its way to New York City, will not be affected because its schedule doesn’t interfere with the track work, officials said.


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‘Travelports’ would knit nation together

“The time is right to remove the barriers that preclude effective links between air, rail and highway systems,” says Scott Bernstein. He said clearly last week, “An integrated system would benefit business and consumers alike.”

Bernstein was the keynote speaker at a meeting in Chicago March 15 at the non-profit Midwest High-Speed Rail Coalition, who gathered “to discuss possible solutions to the nation’s crisis in intercity travel,” said Rick Harnish, the organization’s executive director. More than 125 Midwestern residents attended, according to Harnish.

“Individuals traveled from as far away as Nebraska and Ohio to learn how a highly integrated network of airline, railroad and bus services can help Americans retain the high-levels of mobility that we have become accustomed to, Harnish said.

Bernstein, President of the Center for Neighborhood Technology and Co-Director of Reconnecting America, outlined the history and depth of the current intercity travel crisis. He then proposed a solution based upon the development of high-quality intercity railroad service and high-quality intercity bus service integrated closely with the aviation system.

Bernstein said in addition to the long understood travel and environmental advantages, fast, frequent, high-quality trains can play a pivotal role in reducing the financial burden facing the nation’s airports. As the owners of America’s airports, cities and counties will bear the brunt of the current airline fiscal crisis.

“The high levels of airport debt have put local government finances at risk,” Bernstein continued.

“They will need to find new ways of generating additional revenues at the airport.”

By redefining airports as “travelports,” airport owners can use rail and bus services to build volume and increase revenues, reducing the financial risk to local governments.

Anthony Perl, author of New Departures: Rethinking Rail Passenger Policy in the Twenty-First Century, described the federal policies that have kept the U.S. far behind the rest of the industrial world. He described Amtrak as a “policy blocker” that keeps policy makers from addressing the real issues surrounding intercity railroad development.

“We need a new paradigm,” he said. “As long as the debate is limited to saving vs. killing Amtrak, this country will never have the railroad service it needs.”

Adding to the remarks made by Bernstein, Perl suggested an equal paradigm shift in the airline industry.

“Airlines have two choices. They can continue to make across the board cuts – an ever downward spiral – or they can focus on high-volume, long distance routes and partner with railroads to build volume at hub airports.”

Steve Schlickman, Coalition Manager for “Rail Advocates for Infrastructure Legislation,” outlined Illinois Rep. William Lipinski’s (D) proposed federal railroad infrastructure program, a potential funding source for intercity railroad service.

Schlickman added that “We need a comprehensive national program similar to the federal aviation program to upgrade rail infrastructure to ensure effective freight, passenger, and commuter rail service and create the intermodal connections that will best serve our competitive standing in a global economy.”

Mike Blaszak, an attorney in private practice in railroad transportation issues, rounded off the conference by describing the Cascades, a successful rail service operating in the Pacific Northwest. The states of Oregon and Washington have partnered with Amtrak to steadily upgrade rail service between Portland and Seattle. Travel time reductions, made possible by the introduction of high-performance trains, combined with more frequent departures, have resulted in a dramatic increase in patronage since the program began.

“The Pacific Northwest model can be applied directly to the Midwest,” Blaszak stated. “It is just a matter of building a stronger commitment to the program.”

Throughout the conference, attendees were reminded that individuals who want to enjoy the benefits of high-quality railroad travel should communicate loudly to their elected officials, both in Washington, DC and in their respective state capitals.


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Amtrak won’t help fund a station renewal

It looks like long-awaited improvements to a historic railroad station in Elizabethtown Borough in Pennsylvania may have been derailed. Borough officials learned recently that Amtrak’s piece of the ambitious and costly reconstruction project has been pulled.

Refurbishments to the 88-year-old station, which was abandoned nearly 25 years ago, will cost an estimated $2.2 million. Amtrak had promised $464,500 toward the project writes the Lancaster, Pa., Intelligencer Journal of March 14.

“There is no money for train station improvements in the current Amtrak budget,” borough manager Pete Whipple told council during a work session last week.

Borough and state officials met recently to try and “kickstart this train station project, which is basically just languishing without project approval,” Whipple said.

“We’re doing everything we can possibly do to get this project moving,” he said. “The solution to all of our concerns is to get the project going.”

In a letter dated March 6, borough officials stated the “Elizabethtown Train Station Improvement Project has been indefinitely delayed due to a funding shortfall within the Amtrak system.... Apparently, funds for station initiatives in the Keystone Corridor are not budgeted in Amtrak’s current financial plan.

“Further complicating this funding shortfall,” the letter continues, “Amtrak cannot allocate the engineering or governmental affairs resources to review and approve our locally funded site plans and specifications.”

Whipple said the plan cannot be allowed to languish any longer.

“We were willing to hang in there because we had other work to do,” he said after Thursday’s meeting. “When dealing with any large entity like Amtrak, one has to understand delays. You have to wait your turn, but it got to the point we weren’t seeing any movement anymore.”

To move matters along, borough officials recommended Elizabethtown “release Amtrak from its funding obligation... and secure the needed funds elsewhere from federal or state resources.”

In return for that consideration, the recommendation stated, Amtrak should be required “to allocate the resources to finalize plan review and approval.”

The borough has received commitments for more than $1.1 million through three successive TEA-21 grants, which are federal grants administered by the state, and nearly $200,000 from successive LATS grants, which are state grants disbursed through Lancaster County.

An additional $15,000 came from the Great American Station Foundation. Elizabethtown Borough committed $400,000 from its own budget, over several years, to get the job done.

“We’re not going to pay for the missing $464,000,” Whipple assured council. “We’re going to find it somewhere, but not from borough funds.”

The situation is even more difficult because all of the railroad officials connected to the Elizabethtown project have left Amtrak.

“It would be great if we could get a shovel in the ground this fall,” Whipple said. “This is council’s No. 1 priority. As soon as we can make up this shortfall, we’re going to get moving.”

About 38,000 people per year are serviced by the Elizabethtown platform. That’s up from about 32,000 riders in 1999.

Council in 1998 signed a 100-year lease agreement with Amtrak, giving the borough control of the station and the surrounding 5 acres for $1 per year.


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Seven bidders for two Maine rail lines

Seven companies submitted proposals on March 14 to the Maine DOT to operate the state-owned railroad lines from Brunswick to Augusta, and from Brunswick to Rockland.

The current contract with Safe Handling Rail Inc. of Auburn expires on August 31, but a new agreement is expected to be in place by September 1.

The companies submitting bids were Safe Handling Rail Inc.; Cayuga Railway Co. of Syracuse, N.Y.; R. T. Ames Co. of New Sharon, Maine; Finger Lakes Railway Corp. of New York and Newcastle, Maine; Morristown & Erie Railroad of Morristown, N.J.; Cascade Transportation of South Portland, Maine; and C & J Railroad Co. of Indiana.

“The review team will read them and rate them,” DOT’s Alan Bartlett of the said March 14. The seven applications are expected to be narrowed down to two or three finalists in the coming weeks, according to the Portland Press Herald.

The finalist is expected to be identified by June 1, and further contract negotiations will occur after that date, Bartlett said. The length of the agreement and financial terms will be firmed up between June and August, he said.

The 34-mile Brunswick to Augusta line has been inactive for more than two years, since Maine Coast Railroad Co., which had operated the freight line for 10 years, shut down in December 2000.

Maine Coast Railroad also had the contract for the 57-mile Brunswick-Rockland line, which Safe Handling also inherited with an interim contract. Freight customers, including Bath Iron Works and Dragon Cement Co., receive supplies from the railroad on that route.

DOT officials have said that passenger trains, perhaps Amtrak, could be running into Augusta later this decade. The City Council was expected to consider adopting a resolution to support the service.

Amtrak currently operates north to Portland and is expected to run trains to Brunswick by 2006. Maine DOT has spent $30 million over the past two years to upgrade the rails from Brunswick to Rockland and supports passenger service to that mid-coast city after 2006.


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Kansas House moves toward rail tax break

Despite a budget crisis in Kansas, the Kansas House gave final approval Friday to a bill giving the state's railroads a two-year, $2.78 million tax break. The vote was 82-40 and generally ran along party lines, with Democrats opposed and Republicans in favor.

Opponents said the state couldn't afford to give up that revenue, while supporters said passage would halt a threatened lawsuit by the railroads that could cost the state more than $8 million.

The Kansas City Star reported that in 1998, lawmakers approved a bill giving companies a tax credit to offset 15 percent of the property taxes they pay on machinery and equipment. Railroads, however, were left out of that bill, and their lawyers say that omission violates federal law.

The 2002 Kansas legislature attempted to correct that oversight by giving the railroads a tax credit of 20 percent for tax year 2005. It would increase to 25 percent in 2007.

The railroads, however, wanted a 15 percent credit for this year and next year.


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COMMUTER LINES...

Boston to put Bredas back on track

Bay State safety officials approved the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s plans to reintroduce its derailment-prone No. 8 Breda trolley cars to service, with the low-floor trolleys possibly picking up passengers on the Green Line’s “B” branch by the end of the month.

More testing in warmer temperatures is needed before the state will allow Breda Costruzioni Ferroviarie cars – the name of the Italian manufacturer – on all Green Line branches, according to a report released last week by the Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Energy. In past testing, the cars have made only cold weather runs in which the metal rails are less likely to buckle or expand.

The reintroduced Breda cars will run only on the Green Line’s “B” branch between Boston College and Government Center and will be limited to 25 miles per hour.

T spokesman Joe Pesaturo said that if further testing were successful, Bredas could be seen on the Green Line’s “C” and “E” branches by year’s end.

In mid-December, state safety officials stopped the T from reintroducing 17 low-floor Breda cars, saying it needed more information and at least a month to review the T’s plans. The cars, introduced in 1998, suffered a series of brake problems and derailments that caused the Italian-made trolleys to be taken out of service several times before being removed completely from the T system in late 2001.

A subsequent independent review of the problems focused on several factors, including the relationship of the wheels to the T’s rails and the T needing to be more diligent in upgrading and maintaining the century-old tracks on which the Bredas were used.

The April 2002 report by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), a nonprofit advocacy group for public transit, concluded that the T could have avoided growing and unexpected costs if it had tested the trolley cars before buying them, and accepted more of the blame when problems arose.

Since October, the T has tested the cars at night on the “B” branch during off-peak times for about 5,000 hours and has experienced no derailments – but if future testing fails to solve the problem completely, the T could face a $25 million overhaul of all the trolleys’ trucks, according to an independent review.

Thus far, the T has taken delivery of just 17 of the 100 Bredas it ordered, halting requests for the remaining cars, and has paid less than half of the $250 million contract. It is trying to restart talks with Breda officials.

Despite the approval of the T’s plans, the state safety report released last week said the success of the effort to reintroduce the Bredas will depend heavily on several factors, including new track inspections, maintenance standards, and the enforcement of the 25-mile-per-hour speed limit.

The 100-car Breda order stemmed directly from the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires transit agencies to guarantee that people with disabilities can board their trains without using specialized lifts. At the time, the change represented the first attempt outside of Europe to operate modern, low-floor trolley cars on a rail system that dates back a century.


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Pennsylvania vies for maglev line

Pennsylvania is in line for a nearly $1 billion grant to build a high-speed maglev railroad from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter said March 17.

“I would like to see it come through here,” Specter told about 60 members of the media and transportation officials at a ceremony at Harrisburg International Airport (HIA) to mark construction of a new terminal there, according to the Carlisle, Pa. Sentinel.

Federal officials already have promised the state more than $20 million in seed money to explore feasibility of the train that reaches speeds of 300 miles per hour, the senator said.

Pennsylvania is in competition with the Washington, D.C.-Baltimore corridor for a $950 million federal grant to fund a maglev, but “they may not be pursuing” the funding, he added.

Specter said he had met with U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and Gov. Ed Rendell about funds for a local match and Rendell is “prepared to provide the capital money needed for the match.”

The rail line would be a stimulus for the “little lag in the economy” the state is experiencing, not only for a 27-county corridor in the state, but also for Pennsylvania steel makers, which would provide construction materials, Specter said.

Specter was at the airport to announce final approval of $44 million in Federal Aviation Administration funding for airfield and security improvements to the Harrisburg airport.

Federal and state grants, bonds, state transportation dollars, a regional capital improvement account and passenger fees are funding the $221.6 million project.

The project includes an Amtrak station connected by two covered automatic walkways to the three-story multi-modal facility that includes accommodations for parking, buses and taxis.


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Texas, UP chat over commuter rail

For motorists, the trains that chug through Fort Bend County in Texas every hour are a five-minute delay on the way to work or the grocery store – but numerous elected officials believe the same rail lines also could be used to deliver people to the Texas Medical Center and downtown Houston. So, they have initiated a study of a 27-mile commuter rail line from Rosenberg to just south of Reliant Stadium as an option for improving traffic flow in the fast-growing western suburbs, reports the Houston Chronicle.

“It is really not a rail study,” said Missouri City Mayor Allen Owen. “It is more or less a mobility study, and rail is obviously a part we are looking very closely at.”

The $300,000 study, conducted by the Houston-Galveston Area Council (HGAC), should be completed next month. If rail is shown to be feasible, Fort Bend officials will ask the Texas DOT to take a more extensive look at a commuter rail line.

The state put up $175,000, while the Metropolitan Transit Authority and HGAC each paid $62,500 to fund the study.

Earl Washington, senior transportation planner for HGAC, said the study focuses on general mobility in the U.S. 90A-South Main corridor. The rail component looks at key issues such as noise, grade crossing safety, ridership, cost and compatibility with Union Pacific’s freight operations.

Washington said an agreement with the railroad is vital.

The Omaha-based UP owns the right of way and runs about 24 trains daily on the line, its primary west-east corridor, said director of public affairs John Bromley.

Bromley said the company is not against participating in a passenger service as long as the commuter trains do not interfere with freight operations.

“We are always willing to sit down and talk to folks,” he said.

Owen said that if the current study proves rail is feasible, a second, more detailed study would be needed to look at engineering, environmental and other issues. This stage could take two years and possibly cost $2 million to complete. Then, a government agency to plan, finance, build and operate the line would have to be created.

Owen said the legislature likely would have to establish a commuter rail district that could issue bonds. The bonds would finance the construction of the line, which could cost $3 million to $5 million a mile, he said, and that any bond issue would be subject to a public referendum.

Planners envision a line running from the center of Rosenberg, alongside the UP tracks into Houston. Washington said a Fort Bend commuter line probably would connect with Metro’s light-rail line near Reliant Stadium.

The commuter line would require one or two tracks adjacent to UP’s, Washington said. It also would require a bridge across the Brazos River at Richmond.

Each train probably would carry about 200 people; estimated travel times range from about 42 minutes from Rosenberg to just six minutes from the Westbury station.

A recent survey of Missouri City residents found a 67 percent support for rail.

“I believe we should put this on a referendum and let the people vote, and I don’t think there is any question how it will turn out,” added Stafford Mayor Leonard Scarcella.

U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay (R), who blocked Metro from receiving federal dollars to build its light-rail line, said last year that he would support a commuter line for Fort Bend if the county’s residents want it.

“If the voters make a decision that they would like to go forward on this, then we are not going to stand in the way of it,” spokesman Jonathan Grella said last week.

DeLay has explained his opposition to Metro’s light-rail project by citing an alleged lack of an overall transportation plan and the lack of a referendum.

A Houston referendum that could have stopped work on the project by prohibiting use of city streets was held two years ago after Metro started construction on the rail project, and three of four voters approved proceeding with the work.

Scarcella and other rail enthusiasts believe the line’s primary customers would be the people who work at the Texas Medical Center.

“It would also provide a lot of mobility for people who have to go to the medical center for treatment who can’t drive,” Scarcella added.

Exact figures on the number of people who live along the rail corridor and work in the Medical Center are hard to determine. Both Scarcella and Owen said they have heard that as many as half the employees at the medical center live close to the U.S. 90A corridor.

Mary Schifflett, of the Texas Medical Center, said that about 61,000 people work there each day. Of that, she said, about 22 percent live outside Harris County, and the majority of those people reside in Fort Bend.

Determining ridership will be a key element of the feasibility study.

Washington said early indications, based on rail projects in other cities, show that about 3,000 to 5,000 people would use the line each day.

Although rail proponents say a line would ease traffic congestion, none is touting the project as the cure-all to the area’s air pollution and traffic problems, “but it will be a major component of a solution,” Scarcella added.


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FTA gives Norfolk a red light

A proposed light rail starter line in Norfolk has received a “not recommended” rating from the Federal Transit Administration because of new criteria that considers time savings for riders.

The rating caught Hampton Roads Transit and Norfolk officials by surprise. The FTA endorsed the 8-mile, $222-million project in October when the agency granted permission to begin the next development phase, preliminary engineering, reported the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot on March 13.

“We were totally shocked,” said Ross A. Kearney III, HRT spokesman. “Why would they give us permission to proceed with preliminary engineering then all of a sudden come back with this rating?”

Congress relies heavily on the FTA’s recommendation when deciding which projects to fund. The Norfolk light rail project, however, is a year or two from seeking a federal commitment.

W. Randy Wright, HRT board chairman and Norfolk city councilman, said the transit agency has talked to top FTA officials and are optimistic that the rating will not be fatal to the project.

“We need to figure out what does this mean and what do we need to do to correct it,” Wright said.

“Basically, its a downgrade for the time being,” he said, adding, “We never had any illusion that we don’t have a long way to go on this project. It’s just another hurdle to jump.”

The FTA says the rating is not a reversal of its endorsement and that preliminary engineering on the project will continue.

“It is plausible that new light rail projects may receive lower ratings with this new cost effectiveness measure if they haven’t been able to revise their work in light of the new measure,” said Gail Taylor, an FTA spokeswoman.

The Norfolk light rail project had a “recommended” rating in October, but the FTA’s latest report, released to Congress last month, re-evaluated projects using new criteria.

The FTA’s old measure of cost-effectiveness analyzed the cost as it relates to the number of new transit trips. The new measure looks at cost as it relates to time spent riding the new train.

Norfolk’s proposed starter line did not rate well because it is short for a new transit system.

“The new category made it virtually impossible for any starter line to be recommended because the user benefit index is a time savings thing that’s really not applicable to shorter lines,” Wright said.

HRT officials were warned in a November letter from Herman Shipman, FTA’s acting regional administrator, that the new criteria could be a problem.

“It is plausible that the Norfolk LRT (light rail transit) project may receive a lower rating with the new cost-effectiveness measure because you would not have had time to refine the project in light of the new measure,” Shipman wrote.

That’s exactly what happened. The new FTA report states that the new “user benefit measure” allows the agency to more accurately assess the value of the project.

The new FTA report summarized Norfolk’s new status: “The Not Recommended overall project rating is based on the less than adequate project justification although the project presents acceptable financial criteria at this time.”

Yet the project, at $27 million a mile, has been praised by the FTA for its low costs.

Norfolk is not the only project to be stung by the new criteria.

“It’s a new issue people are having to grapple with and time will tell how it shakes out,” said Amy Coggin, spokeswoman for the American Public Transportation Administration. “Sometimes it takes several go rounds to iron out kinks and answer questions.

“It’s not necessarily the kiss of death.”

Norfolk officials are optimistic as well.

“We’re not real alarmed about it right now,” said Shurl Montgomery, assistant city manager. “There’s probably been a lot of times when FTA rated a project Not Recommended and a few months later when they get new data they put it in the Recommended category.

“HRT will continue to talk to the FTA on this interpretation to try to get this clarified,” he said.


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APTA HIGHLIGHTS...  APTA Highlights...

Here are some other transit headlines, from the pages of Passenger Transport, the weekly newspaper of the public transportation industry published by the non-profit American Public Transportation Assn. For more news from Passenger Transport and subscription information, visit the APTA web site at
http://www.apta.com/news/pt.


 

House T & I Leadership Outlines Revenue Plan for TEA 21 Reauthorization

A plan that would link motor fuel user fees to the Consumer Price Index, allowing the Highway Trust Fund to keep pace with inflation, is among the proposals outlined March 12 by leaders of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that could significantly increase federal transit and highway funding through Fiscal Year 2009.

Also at the news conference, committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) and Ranking Member James L. Oberstar (DFL-Minn.) presented the results of two national polls showing strong public support for increased funding of public transportation, highways, and bridges in the legislation that will replace the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, which expires Sept. 30. Young noted that the committee could release its TEA 21 reauthorization proposal in April.

The revenue-raising measures, he said, are designed to bring the surface transportation system into a state of good repair, and to improve passenger and freight mobility and road safety.


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Mineta: Challenges ‘Will Affect Transit for Decades’

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta called on participants in the March 10 opening General Session of APTA’s 2003 Legislative Conference to help him meet “challenges before us that will affect public transit for decades”: specifically, the coming reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, and keeping transit funding at record high levels.

Making his first public appearance in recent months following health concerns, Mineta told the crowd at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Washington that “APTA has always been one of the ‘go-to’ associations that I have had the pleasure to partner with.”

The secretary said the Administration’s TEA 21 reauthorization proposal focuses on “making our transportation system and how we fund and build it safer, smarter, and simpler. Moving Americans safely and securely remains our primary goal, and our efforts in streamlining indicate where we intend to be simpler and smarter.”

Mineta noted that the FY 2004 budget proposal maintains the record $7.226 billion funding level reached in FY 2003, which was 7 percent higher than in the previous fiscal year. “We expect to build on these numbers in the future, as well as base the reauthorization legislation on principles that will help communities enhance those federal dollars,” he added.


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Population Center Focuses on Demographic Issues in Reauthorization Debate

Officials and policy analysts speaking at a Population Resource Center panel discussion March 7 in Washington addressed demographic, social justice, and planning aspects of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century reauthorization.

The panel sponsor, PRC, is a non-partisan, non-advocacy organization encouraging decision-makers to use up-to-date demographic research findings in the development of public policy.

One speaker, Phillip A. Salopek, chief of the Journey-to-Work and Migration Statistics Branch at the U.S. Census Bureau’s Population Division, outlined numerous trends revealed in Census 2000’s long form, such as an increase over the past decade in the number of people driving alone to work.

Richard Stolz, senior policy analyst at the Center for Community Change, said the data shows that adequate transit services foster increased transit ridership. “The rate of usage of public transportation outstripped vehicle miles travel and airline travel for the past five years,” said Stolz who coordinates the CCC’s Transportation Equity Network, a national coalition of grassroots organizations concerned with transportation issues.

Nancy L. Firfer, senior advisor to Chicago Metropolis 2020, said granting greater authority to MPOs and increasing public involvement in transportation planning would result in transportation investments that better serve community needs and meet greater public approval. Chicago Metropolis 2020 is a non-profit organization formed by 300 executives from some of the top companies in Chicago and others to advocate for enhanced regional planning.

“Some of the tougher transportation and quality of life issues can only be solved regionally,” said Firfer, who also addressed the growing distance between people’s homes and their jobs. “If we plan better, we can lower costs and enhance quality of life.”

According to Firfer, the new authorizing legislation should promote cooperation between land use and transportation planners. She also said transit-oriented development helps mitigate congestion and air pollution, and addresses population growth.


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Gee Promoted to General Manager at TARTA

The Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority in Toledo, Ohio, has promoted James K. Gee, a TARTA employee since 1992, to serve as general manager following the departure of Richard L. Ruddell in January to head the Fort Worth Transportation Authority. TARTA Comptroller Craig Bruns served as interim general manager.

Gee has served TARTA in positions including planning intern, administrative manager, and most recently director of planning. For APTA, he has served on the Standard Bus Procurement Guidelines Committee, participated in the International Transit Studies Program, and is a member of the current class of Leadership APTA.


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Transit on ‘Radar Screen’ of Conservatives

The demand for public transportation and its many success stories at the local level have made transit more relevant among conservative legislators, Free Congress Foundation President Paul M. Weyrich said during a March 10 breakfast at APTA’s Legislative Conference.

“Transit is on the radar screen among conservatives for the first time in history,” noted Weyrich, adding that the perception of transit has begun to change in response to the numerous examples of places where fixed guideway systems are working well. Rail transit systems, such as in Dallas and Los Angeles, have exceeded ridership expectations, he noted. Also, other cities perceived as automobile-dependent, he said, are getting or expanding rail transit systems, including Houston; Charlotte, N.C.; Phoenix; and Memphis, Tenn.

“I think transit has a great story to tell [to legislators]” as they prepare to reauthorize the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, said Weyrich during the session sponsored by APTA’s business members, titled “TEA 21 Advocacy: The Business Perspective.”


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Partners Stress Unity in Reaching Reauthorization Goals

Three of APTA’s partners in reauthorizing the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century spoke passionately of the vital need to work in unison to achieve the greatest gains during a March 11 general session at APTA’s Legislative Conference in Washington.

The session aptly titled “TEA 21 Reauthorization: We’re All in It Together!” brought together John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials; Dr. T. Peter Ruane, president and chief executive officer of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association; and Tim James, director of politics, corporate and governmental affairs for the International Union of Operating Engineers, AFL-CIO.

Their message to the audience of public transportation leaders was clear: Work together to grow the federal surface transportation program. APTA, along with the organizations represented by the three speakers, are members of the United States Chamber of Commerce-led coalition, Americans for Transportation Mobility, which is working to boost investment in transportation infrastructure.


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FREIGHT LINES...

CN speeds up customs logjams

Canadian National and customs brokerage company Livingston International last week stated they had jointly developed a new electronic link to increase the speed and accuracy of customs clearance processes for Canadian importers.

CN, in a transportation industry first, now sends manifest information to Livingston electronically instead of by fax. This eliminates the need for Livingston to key in faxed data into its computers.

Tom Ruth, Livingston’s senior vice-president for Canadian and U.S. brokerage, said information such as an importer’s name automatically triggers the transmission of the manifest directly from CN to one of 40 client service teams at Livingston. Upon further processing, complete information is sent electronically to Canada Customs and Revenue Agency (CCRA) officials for a clearance decision.

CN has for years transmitted advance manifest information electronically to the CCRA, while the manifest delivery to brokers was through a fax process. The automation of this information delivery with Livingston completes the electronic customs cycle for rail shipments.

Anita Ernesaks, vice-president of e-Business at CN, said “The new electronic manifest link between CN and Livingston will accelerate the customs clearance process and help our customers better manage their supply chain costs.”


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Norfolk Southern publishes annual report

Norfolk Southern Corp. issued its 2002 Annual Report on March 17. In a letter to stockholders, David Goode, the railroad’s chairman, president and CEO stated that despite a “tough economic climate, NS made significant progress in 2002 and demonstrated that we are moving in the right direction.”


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AAR: Freight totals up from last year

Both carload and intermodal freight registered gains on U.S. railroads during the week ended March 15, in comparison with the corresponding week last year, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported Thursday.

Carload freight totaled 330,296 carloads during the week, a 4.5 percent increase from the corresponding week last year. Loadings were up 5.6 percent in the East, and 3.6 percent in the West.

Intermodal volume, which is not included in the carload data, totaled 185,255 trailers and containers, up 9.7 percent from the comparable week a year ago. Container traffic was up 14.2 percent, while trailer volume was down 1.5 percent.

Total volume was estimated at 29.5 billion ton-miles, up 4.6 percent from last year.

Double-digit increases were reported in loadings of metallic ores, up 30.0 percent from last year; coke, up 36.7 percent; and metals and products, up 14.7 percent. Coal, which is the railroad industry’s largest source of tonnage, was up 8.8 percent. Nine out of 19 commodity groups were down, with farm products other than grain down 12.4 percent; crushed stone, sand and gravel off 9.8 percent; and lumber and wood products down 9.3 percent.

The AAR also reported the following cumulative totals for U.S. railroads during the first 11 weeks of 2003: 3,461,127 carloads, up 0.4 percent from last year; intermodal volume of 1,963,876 trailers and containers, up 8.7 percent; and total volume of an estimated 308.5 billion ton-miles, up 0.2 percent from last year’s first 11 weeks.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 90 percent of U.S. carload freight and 96 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 96 percent and 100 percent. Railroads provide more than 40 percent of the nation’s intercity freight transportation, more than any other mode, and rail traffic figures are regarded as an important economic indicator.

On Canadian railroads, intermodal volume was up while carload traffic was down during the week ended March 15. Intermodal traffic totaled 39,146 trailers and containers, up 8.2 percent from last year. Carload volume of 62,096 cars was down 3.6 percent from the comparable week last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 11 weeks of 2003 on the Canadian railroads totaled 672,990 carloads, down 1.2 percent from last year, and 428,678 trailers and containers, up 11.2 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 11 weeks of 2003 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 4,134,117 carloads, up 0.1 percent from last year and 2,392,554 trailers and containers, up 9.1 percent from last year.

The AAR also reported that carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended March 15 totaled 8,736 cars originated, down 3.7 percent from last year. TFM reported originated intermodal volume of 3,611 trailers or containers, up 20.0 percent from the 11th week of 2002.

For the first 11 weeks of 2003, TFM reported cumulative originated volume of 96,260 cars, up 10.9 percent from last year, and 38,745 trailers or containers, up 48.4 percent.

AAR is online at www.aar.org.


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OPINION...

Does the new highway-transit bill really fix the problem?

By Wes Vernon

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Don Young, Alaska Republican, and the committee’s ranking Democrat, James Oberstar of Minnesota, have proposed a new six-year, $375 billion dollar highway and transit measure on Capitol Hill that intersects with three problems.

A hike in the gas tax is envisioned at a time when the economy is dragging. Most economists will tell you that it is a bad time to slap a new tax on people and, if steep enough, it can make a bad economic situation worse. That is why House Speaker Dennis Hastert is, to put it mildly, less than enthusiastic for the new proposal.

This brings to mind an old beef: If surface transit backers have to figure out how their projects are to be financed, how come no one puts that same onus on the backs of those pleading for other causes competing for the resources of the public purse?

When was the last time, for example, that education or agriculture interests coming to Washington for money were told they would have to go out to the country and the Congress and sell them on a tax hike? How many other interests have that monkey on their backs?

The taxpayers provide the money to run the government. It is Congress’s job, and through the veto power, the President’s job as well, to decide how to allocate resources, and how to raise the revenues for it.

There are “trust funds” for highways and airlines. The concept is a double-edged sword. It sets aside money specifically earmarked for those purposes, but also tempts policymakers to give the highway and airline interests a certain responsibility for selling the public on tax hikes.

Even in some instances where the trust fund is not involved, however, the first question greeting any advocate of transit is, how are you going to pay for it? Not an entirely illogical question, but perhaps it should apply to other government programs as well. Hopefully the taxpayer could then get full transparency that would result in weeding out some frivolous pork items Congress tacks onto appropriations bills in the middle of the night when no one is looking.

As pointed out in our APTA interview appearing elsewhere this issue, the best calculation of how the Young-Oberstar proposal is divided up indicates that transit would get 20 percent. Does that mean the rest is for pouring concrete for highways? To what extent does that make for “balanced transportation?” 80/20? How balanced is that?

Speaking of which: The measure, which is months away from being introduced, according to committee sources, fails to come to grips with the longstanding problem of coordinating our transportation system.

Several years ago, Congress made a decision to include transit in the highway bills. That was progress. It was more than a baby step – but it did not finish the job. Later, that move was made to give transit a larger share.

At the time, then Amtrak President Tom Downs complained, and rightly so, that intercity passenger rail was left out in the cold and Downs was exactly right.

It is time for the next step toward a coordinated surface transportation system, and include intercity rail passenger service in the big bill.

While we’re at it, instead of beating the drums for more taxes, let’s eliminate at least one: the 4.3 cents a gallon fuel tax that is imposed on America’s freight railroads. Their direct competitor, the trucking industry, now gets to plow that so-called “deficit-reduction” tax back into its own infrastructure, i.e. its trust fund. Since the freight railroads don’t have a trust fund and don’t want one, they should get to keep the money they earn so they can upgrade their infrastructures, as well. This would not be a “giveaway.” It is called letting people keep their own money.

This pernicious tax has cost the railroad industry $2.1 billion since it was implemented in 1990. That year, you may remember, the first Bush administration pushed the panic button and reneged on its “Read my lips, no new taxes” pledge, and the lid was off.

According to the AAR, adding track capacity costs upward of $1 to $2 million a mile; each new locomotive costs $2 million or more; new freight cars cost $50,000 to $100,000 each. Money going to non-existent “deficit reduction” obviously restricts the industry’s ability to invest in these improvements.

Because railroads are the nation’s most capital intensive industry, in part because they are the only major transportation mode that pays privately for the upkeep of its infrastructure as well as its operations, they have, on average, put more than 18 percent of their revenues into capital improvements over the past five years. The average for manufacturing over that same period was 3.8 percent.

In recent years there have been indications that some freight railroads are willing to accept public help, and in at least one case, to enable a state government to actually save their taxpayers’ money by building another freight railroad track instead of another highway lane, in other cases to help them partner with passenger rail carriers’ efforts to upgrade their services.

If freight rail carriers say they are willing to cooperate with passenger entities that want to use their rights of way provided the owners of the property are paid a fair rate for it, the new transportation legislation would be the perfect place to take a serious look at how best to implement that policy. Let’s do that before we talk about socking the taxpayers with another hike in the gas tax.

Taxation is under the purview of another committee, House Ways and Means; but if Chairman Young can be persuaded to pick up the phone and talk to his W&M counterpart, Bill Thomas of California, maybe some element of the right hand knowing what the left hand is doing may emerge. Who knows?

While The Wall Street Journal’s description of the yet-to-be introduced $375 billion measure as a “Porky Pig” bill may be a bit strong (There are some real needs out there) that does not negate the fact that $375 billion, even if spread out over six years, is a lot of money.

The price tag, placed alongside the crumbs allotted Amtrak whose fiscal condition was demonstrated last year when it teetered on the brink of bankruptcy and shutdown, presents an ideal time to rethink the question of forging a coordinated surface transportation policy.

One could also make the argument that, with the airlines asking for billions in bailout money, they should also be included in any such overall plan. Their problems, which predated September 11, have gone from bad to worse since the day terrorists hijacked jets and slammed them into the World Trade Towers, the Pentagon, and a Pennsylvania field. It is not for nothing that Warren Buffet once said it would have been a good thing for investors if someone had shot the Wright brothers before the day they took off at Kitty Hawk.

The private sector should be encouraged to remain in the airline business – or any other transportation endeavor, for that matter – but we should make an honest assessment as to what extent this reflects the real world once subsidies, hidden and otherwise, are considered.

It is possible to prioritize the highway interests’ wish list. Some projects are more important than others, and everyone knows that if some highway men had their way, we would pave over the entire country until there was no land left for paving. I once had lunch with a road person who seriously proposed solving the nation’s transportation problems by double-decking our highways. I have little in common with those who revere environmental activism as a secular religion, but by any standard, that idea carries uglification of the landscape to new heights. It shows there is no limit to which some of these interests will go if you don’t lay down barriers somewhere and say, “Stop!”

After pruning the highway bill, we can also set standards in the transit sector that demand that communities proposing new transit programs get their acts together before they are taken seriously.

In my home base of Montgomery County, Maryland, it has been 14 years since the county council voted in principle to go forward with a light rail line that would connect the Silver Spring and Bethesda stations on the Red Line of the Metro “subway.”

Since then, it has been blocked by a coalition of NIMBYs (Not in My Back Yard), trail enthusiasts, country club golfers, and general protectors of the status quo. Notwithstanding its backing by high profile civic, labor, and business groups (including the American Automobile Association), the project, now called the “Inner Purple Line” and extended to New Carrollton in Prince Georges County, is mired in paralysis by analysis. It lacks the enthusiasm of the present Montgomery County Executive (a Democrat) and the Maryland governor (a Republican).

It’s hard to believe, yet it is true, that back in the late 1980s the then governor offered the county a way to get the Silver Spring-Bethesda leg built quickly and on the cheap. It remains unbuilt today, in part because some professionals and federal bureaucrats living in Montgomery County (in Washington D.C.’s suburbs) deem themselves intellectually superior to their counterparts in Baltimore, which quickly accepted a similar offer and built a fine light rail system that has been running for years. But no, that was too simple and logical for the professional engineers, lawyers and federal officials in Montgomery.

Personally, I favor the inner Purple Line. There is a demand for that kind of transport to enable people to get to work when their jobs require a cross-town journey. It has been studied to death, but if Montgomery and other communities can’t get their acts together and “just do it,” Washington should accord priority to those other areas that appreciate the limits to the exercise of dithering ad infinitum.

Prioritizing highway and transit projects can help avoid raising taxes. Include Amtrak in the overall transportation planning. It is not an unrelated foreign entity. It belongs there. It connects the large metropolitan centers with people in small town America. They pay taxes too, remember. Give the freight railroads a break by eliminating the fuel tax they pay, and encourage them to cooperate with passenger services without infringing on the Class I railroads’ status as shareholder-owned companies.

Finally, thinking in terms of long-range planning and in the interest of connectivity, the airlines can be encouraged to through-ticket passengers from long distance flights to short distance trains, as is done in other parts of the world.

All of this constitutes a tall order, and even if it were to be made official policy, many of us would not live long enough to see all or even most of it accomplished. However, the huge Young-Oberstar transportation plan, complete with its price tag and accompanying tax hikes, presents an ideal opportunity to consider “the big picture.”

If Congress can be persuaded to look at the whole transportation structure, then to the extent that the private sector is unable or unwilling to participate, the taxpayers, through their elected officials, can decide how to connect America’s entire transportation network.

Yes, we know the tooth fairy isn’t going to pay for it. However, if the waste and inequities of mode-specific trust funds can be replaced with an overall transportation trust fund, it is conceivable we could build a better transportation network for less than what we’ll end up paying if each mode is financed in a vacuum.

Having been in this town for 35 years, I’m not so naive as to believe lawmakers will immediately start this bandwagon rolling next week. The above ideas are hardly new, but someday push will come to shove. Looking ahead, those who want some coordinated sense in how Americans get from here to there should “make the case,” and not let the idea die.


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BUSINESS LINES...

Bombardier cuts 665 aircraft jobs

Bombardier Inc. will cut about 665 of 2,000 jobs at a Toronto aircraft building plant under a contract agreement that workers ratified March 15, the Canadian Auto Workers Union said. Wages at the Downsview plant, according to Bloomberg News, will rise about 7 percent over the three-year life of the contract, and the incentive to take early retirement will more than double. The plant will keep making the Q Series, or Dash-8, turboprop until at least June 2006, and will retain most of the Global Express jet except for work on that model’s fuselage, which will be shifted elsewhere.

“It was a very critical decision for our people and a very tough decision,” the union president, Buzz Hargrove, said. ”We have firmed up the company’s commitment to make the Global Express.”

Bombardier, based in Montreal, makes railroad cars and small commercial jets. It said earlier this month that it would eliminate 3,000 jobs at plants in Canada and Ireland over the next year as it slowed production to cope with falling aircraft orders.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: Bloomberg.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)26.49024.170
Canadian National(CNI)43.47041.750
Canadian Pacific(CP)20.75019.730
CSX(CSX)29.99026.950
Florida East Coast(FLA)24.80023.610
Kansas City Southern(KSU)12.07011.170
Norfolk Southern(NSC)19.92018.410
Union Pacific(UNP)58.26053.180


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THE WAY WE WERE...

What a line up!

NCI: Leo King Collection – Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Ry.

Wow! That was my reaction when I received this and some other photos from ATSF’s Chicago PR office when I was a lad attending Nathan Bishop Junior High School ca. 1952 in Providence, R.I. The term “middle school” didn’t exist yet. A description attached to the photo stated, “An array of diesels stands outside a Santa Fe engine house at Barstow, Calif.” Locomotive No. 18, “a new 6,000 horsepower Electro-Motive engine made of four units, stands in the foreground.” Is it an FP-7 set? The Santa Fe’s “warbonnet” scheme was a classic for passenger trains. Beside it are No. 127, an EMD freight engine; “No. 158, a passenger locomotive of older design than No. 18; No. 53, an American Locomotive Co. (Alco) diesel,” a PA-PB set, “which is a three-unit 6,000 hp diesel.” Farthest away is No. 153, “another freight engine set similar to No. 127,” and in the distance, left of the telephone pole and apparently with its engineer blowing its whistle, a steam engine raises a plume of white clouds. This was during the transition period from steam to diesel.

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 crew at leoking@nationalcorridors.org. 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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