|What are they doing in New Orleans that has transit riders so excited? Jim RePass has the answers in Transit lines. - Ed.|
NCI: Leo KingCSX hosted the quarterly National Railroad Passenger Corp. meeting at its "Fishing Club" conference center in Jacksonville, Fla. last week. Amtrak's Intercity lines spokesman Kevin Johnson, in Chicago, said Amtrak brought down the Beech Grove (theater car 10001) on one of the Silver Service trains to be used as a place to meet with and entertain officials from the freight carriers. The locomotive, P-42 No. 122, provided "hotel" power. Thursday was Johnson's last day with Amtrak. He said he was pursuing other interests. Following Debbie Hare's departure several months ago for personal reasons, the railroad hired Kathleen Cantillon to be its principal Intercity spokesperson.
Amtrak ridership grows
while airlines' decline
We learn from the National Assn. of Railroad Passengers via Friends of Amtrak that Amtrak ridership continues to rise while air passenger traffic continues to decline. In a recent press release, NARP noted Amtrak's strong and airlines' weak February results, in spite of heavy discounting by the airlines, and aggressive pricing by Amtrak.
NARP's executive director, Ross B. Capon, reported to that organization's membership "February was the sixth straight month in which Amtrak performed much more strongly than did the airlines in terms of year-to-year percentage change comparisons. It also saw Amtrak's strongest percentage increases of the fiscal year."
He stated Amtrak ridership was 6.4 percent above the February 2001 level while passenger-miles rose 8.6 percent. The Air Transport Association reported declines for domestic service of 12.5 percent and 10.3 percent, respectively. Amtrak's passenger revenues were up 17.0 percent.
"Strong demand for passenger rail is truly nationwide," Capon wrote, "and is not confined to the Northeast Corridor. On sleeping cars, ridership was up 13.1 percent, passenger-miles 18.0 percent and ticket revenue 18.0 percent."
For the third consecutive month first class ridership on the Los Angeles-Seattle Coast Starlight hit an all-time record, increasing 10.7 percent compared from a year ago, while ticket revenue was up 12.3 percent.
Meanwhile, ridership on the Pacific Surfliners and Cascades "surged 9.6 percent and 14.2 percent, respectively," he said.
Capon did not cite his source for the figures.
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|Will Twilight Shoreliner be cut?|
The tentative cuts list of long distance trains now includes two New England trains - the Twilight Shoreliner, operating from Boston to Newport News, Va., and the Lake Shore Limited, between Boston and Chicago.
The Boston Globe reported that Amtrak spokeswoman Cecilia Cummings said the railroad has organized a tentative list of 18 routes that will be "provisionally noticed" on March 29 as possible cuts.
Last month, the company warned that it would discontinue a number of long-distance, overnight train service routes in October if Congress did not give the railroad $1.2 billion in the coming fiscal year.
Other New England routes appear to be on safer ground. For example, the Vermonter, a daily train that runs from St. Albans, Vt., to New York City and on to Washington, receives subsidies from the state of Vermont.
The Downeaster, which began operating in December between Boston and Portland, Maine, is ahead of ridership expectations for 2002.
The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority reported recently that 20,000 passengers rode the train in January, typically the slowest month for train travel in the Northeast.
NARP's Ross Capon warned that cutting long-distance, overnight routes could be the beginning of the end for many Amtrak routes.
Eliminating cross-country routes would end Amtrak service in 24 states. Capon worries that making Amtrak service exclusive to the Northeast and the West Coast would end its support in Congress, paving the way for even lower federal subsidies, or a drastically different method of running trains.
"Ending Amtrak service from Boston to Chicago would be an enormous national mistake, with an especially regrettable impact on our local communities," said U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.)
"If you shut down the Lake Shore Limited, which carries more than 200,000 passengers each year, you're pulling the rug out from under rail service in Western Massachusetts.
"Pittsfield would lose access to the national rail system completely. Springfield, Framingham and Worcester would lose a fundamental part of their train service, leaving passengers with just one train each day to get to Albany, Hartford or, in the case of Springfield, Boston. This is a case of short-sighted budget cutting, and I'll fight for a policy of common sense instead," Kerry said.
Capon warned that unless the system gets funding for infrastructure improvements and repairs, even Amtrak's popular Northeast Corridor will eventually be affected.
"They probably can go another year or so, after which time the Northeast Corridor is going to show the lack of investment, Capon said.
"You're going to see bad things like increases in delays, and they may ultimately have to add time to their schedules to reflect new realities."
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NCI: Leo KingLast Wednesday was the first day of spring. In Jacksonville, Fla., the temperature climbed to 87 degrees - although one out-of-kilter thermometer recorded 93. In CSX nomenclature, Amtrak's Silver Meteor is listed in its employee timetable as PO97 - Passenger Operation No. 97. It arrived that day about a half-hour late, and the engineer who brought the passenger train from Savannah, Ga., got off while a fresh crew would conclude the train's journey to Miami. Meanwhile, a local fuel oil dealer gave the thirsty engine a gulp from his tanker truck.
Two Southern states select
high-speed route to N.C.
Trains traveling up to 110 miles per hour from Washington, D.C. to Charlotte, North Carolina came one step closer to reality on Thursday as North Carolina Transportation Secretary Lyndo Tippett and Virginia Transportation Secretary Whitt Clement announced the preferred route for the Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor.
A spokesman for the North Carolina DOT said, "Following nearly three years of intensive environmental study and significant public involvement, the secretaries announced the two states would work together to develop high-speed rail from Washington, D.C. to Richmond, South Hill, Henderson, Raleigh, Greensboro and Charlotte. The route also will include a connection to Winston-Salem."
"Communities throughout both states expressed enthusiastic support for the project and told us they want high-speed rail," said Tippett, "but nowhere was that support more obvious than in the Winston-Salem area. It makes good economic sense to include them."
The environmental study evaluated nine possible routes examining potential impacts on air quality, wetlands, historic sites, parks, communities and businesses. The report also assessed the engineering feasibility, revenue, ridership, costs, public and agency input for each alternative. The analysis indicates the route that stretches from Washington, DC to Richmond, South Hill, Henderson, Raleigh, Greensboro and Charlotte would have the best potential for high-speed rail service while having the fewest environmental impacts. Strong potential ridership and cost-recovery, along with tremendous public and business support, lead the departments to include a connection to Winston-Salem, as well.
"Today's corridor selection marks a critical first step to bring high-speed rail to the Southeast," said Clement. "Although this project has a long way to go before going to construction, we are moving in the right direction to provide more travel options to the public, help ease future congestion and improve overall transportation efficiency within this busy corridor."
NCDOT spokesman Doug Alexander said the North Carolina DOT and Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation "held 52 information workshops, 18 formal public hearings and 14 small group meetings to discuss the project and solicit public input. The agencies also conducted numerous interviews with community leaders in both states. More than 80 percent of the feedback from both states indicated support for high-speed rail."
Alexander, who is also an NCI member, added, "Mayors, Chambers of Commerce and other business groups echoed that support and worked together to tout the economic and quality-of-life benefits of a high-speed rail system."
The governing transportation boards, along with the secretaries of transportation from both states, "have approved the route. Next, the Final Environmental Impact Statement, will be completed and submitted to the USDOT, state, and local agencies and the public for review," said Alexander, and added, "Following satisfactory review, the USDOT will approve the selected route and the second study phase will begin."
In the second study phase, which may take up to a few years to complete, the state transportation departments will more closely analyze the impacts of track location and determine potential station improvements. Once completed, these studies will be used to acquire the permits needed for construction.
The agencies will work to first develop high-speed rail along the selected route. Meanwhile, the North Carolina DOT will work with the Piedmont Authority for Regional Transit to determine how best to connect Winston-Salem to the high-speed rail line.
Completion of the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor is dependent on securing federal funds to help develop the route. Congress currently is considering several pieces of legislation that would provide dedicated funding for development of high-speed rail corridors. If funding is approved, the Washington to Charlotte corridor could be completed as early as 2010. The route would later be extended to Atlanta and Macon, Georgia, Columbia, South Carolina and Jacksonville, Fla.
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|Texas readies for future|
Photos, Texas ARP:
Jim RePass, at left, was the keynote speaker at the Texas Region 9 Association of Railroad Passengers meeting in Fort Worth on March 16. He exalted the virtues of passenger rail. Meanwhile, Steven E. Simmons, P.E., Texas DOT's deputy executive director, at far right, presented the new Trans-Texas Corridor Plan - a Texas-sized notion with an aim of creating a series of transportation corridors 1,200 feet wide and some 4,000 miles long. The corridor will provide for six-lane highways, rail lines with six tracks, plus utilities. The initial plan is due in the governor's office in June. One of the key reasons for doing something now is that it is expected that Texas will have an additional 29 million citizens in less than 50 years, so planning for this growth must start now.
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|Family sues Amtrak|
One day after the one-year anniversary of an Amtrak derailment near Nodaway, Iowa, the family of the only passenger killed has filed suit claiming negligence by Amtrak and three other defendants.
The complaint, filed in the United States District Court in Chicago, states all four defendants failed "to exercise a proper degree of care for the safety of those on board" that would have prevented the California Zephyr from crashing on March 17, 2001.
The suit also named Burlington Northern Santa Fe Ry., and Herzog Contracting Corp. as defendants and seeks punitive damages for alleged gross misconduct from BNSF.
"Amtrak and Burlington Northern Santa Fe had specific rules they were to follow in order to operate safely, but they didn't, and as a result Stella Riehl died," said Donald Nolan, a Chicago attorney representing the Riehl family.
Last week, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued its final report on the accident citing defective rail as the cause, but, according to the Riehl lawyers, "the board failed to address that the section of track where the train derailed had been replaced 32 days before the crash with rail known to be defective."
"We have reason to believe that defective scrap rail was carelessly used to repair the section of track where the train derailed. There seemed to be no system to prevent this horrendous mistake from happening."
Charles Romstad, who is Mrs. Riehl's son said, "If we knew then what we know now about the rail system, our mother never would have been on that train. It is likely that there are miles and miles of defective track out there and the next disaster is around the corner. I want answers, and the public needs to know."
The Zephyr was traveling from Chicago to Emeryville, Cal. with 241 passengers and 16 crewmembers aboard. Riehl died and 96 other passengers were injured.
The NTSB's board members recommended 5-0 that the FRA require railroads to perform ultrasonic inspections on replacement rail.
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|Union Switch gets a green light|
The Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAAC) has awarded Pittsburgh-based Union Switch & Signal Inc. a contract for a new operations control center (OCC) system that will regulate traffic on the PAAC's light rail "T" line, but the price tag has yet to be worked out.
US&W spokesman Gregory Babicz said, "The contract value was not announced because the final value will be defined once final scope definition has been completed and agreed upon."
The new dispatching center will replace the existing system, located in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. It, too, was designed and delivered by US&S in the 1980s.
According to a press release, "It will feature the latest computer hardware and software that will allow the PAAC to provide better service to 'T' line commuters and to accommodate the expansion of the system that is underway."
US&S will provide material and engineering required to design and implement the new control center, which will provide centralized LRV traffic control, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), closed circuit TV, security and voice and data communications functions.
US&S is also providing the wayside signaling and control systems for the Library Line extension and the Stage II signaling and control project, which includes the reconstruction of 12 miles of the Overbrook, Library and Drake lines through the South Hills.
"The award of the OCC contract puts us in the position of being able to provide the Port Authority with an integrated overall control system that will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the whole "T" operation," observed US&S President and CEO Ken Burk.
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Three photos: NCI: Jim RePassCar Number 2001 (now No. 402) was the first in the series. It was hand-built in 1998 and 1999, and provided the proof that New Orleans Regional Transit Administration could cost-effectively build its own streetcars. Another 23 are being built using modular body panels, off-the-shelf air conditioning and door-opening components. New Orleans expects to produce these streetcars for about $1.2million each, about half the cost of similar commercial products.
No blues along Canal Street
Trolleys reborn in New Orleans
In the near-riverbend side of an ancient but newly fitted-out industrial building, in a city where most industry exists only in the past tense, and where one's geography in relation to the Mississippi means more than any compass point, a miracle is taking place.
Engineers and craftsmen, who for 80 years of sheer necessity and lack of capital resources, have practiced their industrial art in order to preserve and keep in daily service America's oldest operating street cars - the wonderfully clanking, sighing, ringing St. Charles Avenue Streetcar Line - are very close to issuing the first of 23 new streetcars to be used on the reinstituted Canal Street line. The men and women of New Orleans will build every one of them in the Carrolton Avenue Streetcar Barn of the New Orleans Regional Transit Administration (RTA).
In the city where the noun "party" first became a verb, and where food and drink are closer to a religious experience than many people can imagine, it comes as sure surprise that a new manufacturing venture has taken root; but that it has, and with an originality, resourcefulness, and brilliance so keen that the cost of the streetcars being built is, at $1.2 million each, about one-half the amount that would be spent in a conventional light rail purchase.
Fifty years after the decimation of streetcar lines across America - even the tiniest burg used to have a trolley - can it be true that a revival is underway?
Looking at the statistics, and it would seem apparent. Despite a serious propaganda war by the enemies of public transportation who want highways and nothing but highways, light rail, heavy rail, and everything in between, has been on a comeback in America since the 1970s when former San Jose Mayor Norm Mineta - that's right, the same fellow who is today U.S. Secretary of Transportation - defied the skeptics and reintroduced trolley service to his California city.
Since that time, scores of cities have followed suit, either to reintroduce absent service, like Portland, Ore., and St. Louis, or extend or replace existing lines, like Boston and New York.
What is happening in New Orleans is unique.
In a move that must have seemed like yet another Absinthe-soaked, wild-eyed New Orleans scheme, the RTA has not simply ordered new cars from a conventional vendor (to go into service on the restored Canal Street line now almost completely in place, replacing a service discontinued in 1964).
The wheel-truing machine at RTA's Carrolton Avenue streetcar barn permits wheel-truing with the wheels still on the car, reducing work time for that task to hours, instead of days.
Instead, with the active participation and leadership of the men and women of the RTA's streetcar maintenance department, they have not only specified and gone to bid on the components that will allow them to build their own cars, but they have done so in a way that New Orleans RTA might well be able to provide "new" trolley cars to other cities around the country, signifying the rebirth not only of the Canal Street line, but of trolley manufacturing in the United States. In an era when America is more and more of a service economy, and less and less of a manufacturing one, such a move is nothing short of revolutionary.
Here's how they are doing it:
First, start with decades of experience.
New Orleans' lone surviving streetcar line (until the start of the new Riverfront service about 15 years ago), the St. Charles Avenue line still operates Perley-Thomas streetcars built in North Carolina is the 1920s. In that era, there were almost as many streetcar manufacturers in the United States as there are PC builders today, and New Orleans Public Service Inc., or NOPSI as it was then called, had a wide choice of vendors. They chose well, because the Perley-Thomas cars seemed indestructible.
As the 1940s and 1950s went by, and as streetcar lines in New Orleans (Tchoupitoulas, Magazine, Elysian Fields, the famed Desire Street line) were, as was the case in most American cities, replaced by diesel bus service, NOPSI was able to cannibalize old streetcars for parts for the remaining Canal Street (until 1964) and St. Charles Avenue lines. But over time, even this method reached the point of diminishing returns, and more and more replacement parts had to be hand-fabricated in the machine shops of the Carrollton Avenue Streetcar Barn.
When serious proposals were made in the 1980s, and then funded, to re-introduce Canal Street service, and in the 1990s, when trackwork began, it was clear that New Orleans would have to purchase new cars.
Seven cars has been hand-built in the Carrollton Streetcar Barn in the 1990s for the new Riverfront Line, and a series of tests with imported streetcar and light rail vehicles was run, and the foreign-made vehicles looked attractive and worked well - and indeed, there were no longer any large American manufacturers left to compete, other than assembly plants owned by European and Japanese firms meeting the America-content requirements of federal transit laws, and some smaller boutique-style manufacturers specializing largely in restoration work.
Support jacks hold up the entire carbody.
There was something missing, and it was this: the Perley-Thomas cars, and their distinctive trolley-car look, had become such an institution in New Orleans that no one, from the mayor on down, wanted to order their replacement with jarringly modern, although beautiful, Euro or Japanese models. Indeed, they had become such icons of what a trolley should be that all over America, small buses designed to look like miniature New Orleans-style trolleys were introduced into service in city after city, and in resort areas, and were wildly successful.
At the same time, the craftsmen and engineers of the Carrollton Avenue Streetcar Barn had over the years disassembled, repaired, and re-assembled the Perley-Thomas cars so frequently that they knew them the same way a Jaguar-only mechanic knows those cars: like the back of his hand.
So, the Carrolltoneans proposed, let us build the streetcars.
Now, it is unlikely that in any other city than New Orleans, such a proposal would have been taken seriously. It would almost certainly have been met head on by the Committee in Charge of Killing New Ideas, a standing committee in most organizations that operates on the rule of corporate survival, which is: avoid decisions at all costs. In fairness, most organizations, like most people, are averse to really radical ideas... such as re-inventing an entire industry in a 70-year-old streetcar barn.
Fortunately (or so it seems so far), the committee had gone out to the Maple Leaf Bar over on Oak Street (yes, the Maple is on Oak, that';s right) the night before, and was in no condition to object to anything, or to even wake up, for that matter, and so, improbable as it seems, the Carrolltonians got the green light, and they have run with the ball.
Possessing decades of hands on-experience, and a small federal grant, they hand-built a "new" streetcar, No. 2001.It is painted red instead of the traditional St. Charles Avenue green, but it is otherwise based upon the familiar, sturdy Perley-Thomas design.
They needed to see what would be required build a complete car, and to dissect and analyze the manufacturing steps that would go into the process. Then, they divided up the manufacturing components into Light, Medium and Heavy Fabrication branches. A fourth branch was propulsion, wiring, and controls. After understanding the manufacturing process, out to bid they went.
All along the way, under the leadership of Superintendent of New Vehicle Assembly Construction Elmer von Dullen; former Superintendent of Maintenance, now promoted to Acting Rail Superintendent Joe Menashy, and Vehicle Project Manager Fred Basha - and with a lot of ideas that came straight from the rank-and-file - the carbuilding project took advantage of existing technology and systems to keep costs down. One of the main reasons for high mass-transit vehicle cost is that many transit agencies insist on custom designed vehicles with special characteristics for their operations; while there is often good reason to do that, it adds to the costs.
New Orleans decided in advance to use modular construction, and off-the-shelf and existing components and systems wherever possible. The result has been dramatic savings, approaching 50 percent. The door opening mechanism, for example, a key component of a light rail vehicle whose doors will open and close hundreds of times a day, was adopted from Salt Lake City's new light rail vehicles, instead of being designed afresh.
The air-conditioning system is from Thermo-King. Yes, these will be the first New Orleans streetcars to be air-conditioned, despite the city's sultry clime. It is a standard unit, fitted into the car's roof and disguised with a faring so as to be invisible from the street.
The trucks and motors are adapted from and provided by Brookwell Mining Equipment of Pennsylvania. Their robust electric mining vehicles must operate reliably under extremely hostile environmental conditions; they are also supplying (through a subcontractor) the controls, and installing all of the wiring: thus, there will be no finger-pointing when electrical bugs crop up, as they almost inevitably will during shakedown tests.
The distinctively New Orleans-elliptical front and back ends of the car, elegantly curved but hard to make, are coming from Textron Marine and Land Services of nearby Slidell, a marine builder knowledgeable in boat hull construction; such products have similar curvilinear construction requirements. The windshield wipers are the same as used by FedEx ground delivery trucks, and so on.
In all, every single part and component for the Carrolltonian Streetcar comes from a vendor within 50 miles of New Orleans, an amazing accomplishment in and of itself.
When something couldn't be found, such as child-safety window locks for a car whose windows open manually, Elmer von Dullen and his staff invented it.
Finally, you notice one more thing when you tour the Carrollton shops to watch history being made: these guys and women are having a ball, yet being smart at the same time. The attention to detail, and the forethought that preceded the start of the manufacturing process, are just outstanding. For example, while the cars are designed and built to a tolerance of one-sixteenth-of-an-inch, some variation is going to develop in a car nearly 50 feet long. So, there is one last little space between the fabricated roof, and the fabricated nose-tail module: and on that section, the Carroltonians will insert their own custom cut aluminum pieces, cut to fit just so.
The first in the Canal Car series will emerge in late April, with the rest following at regular intervals; the Canal Street line is already partially complete, with full service targeted for the first quarter of 2004.
If there is any justice in life, these man and women of New Orleans deserve the Baldridge Award, given for manufacturing excellence, not simply for building the cars, but for so carefully planning the manufacturing process. At the very least, their sons and daughters and other relations should be shown these words, so that they might understand the terrific accomplishment of their parents and grandparents.
Make no mistake about it, this is indeed a kind of miracle, and in an unlikely place, and these words should also be shown to those manufacturers who have skipped over New Orleans because the employee pool is, they have said, too poorly educated to man today's high-tech factories. They should visit the Carrollton Avenue Streetcar Barn, and admire the work.
Information about transit in America can be found at http://www.publictransportation.com, a new site of the Center for Transportation Excellence and the PT Squared (Public Transportation Partnership for Tomorrow) website.
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|MBTA scales back plans|
The Boston Herald reported on March 16 that barring some sort of sudden windfall, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's (MBTA) planned commuter rail extension to Fall River and New Bedford, Mass., appears dead in its tracks.
T officials have earmarked $33 million for the $600 million project over the next five years, and are acknowledging publicly that it won't get built without some help from the legislature.
"We're going to have to look for funding sources outside the T's capital plan to move forward on Fall River and New Bedford," said Jon Carlisle, spokesman for the Executive Office of Transportation and Construction.
The multimillion-dollar funding gap virtually guarantees that the new line doesn't stand a chance of being up and running by its planned 2005 opening, much to the chagrin of officials in the area who have been banking on the introduction of passenger rail service to Boston.
"I think after the length of time we've waited for this service and in conjunction with the fact this is the last metropolitan area (in Eastern Massachusetts) not to be hooked to rail, I think there's a fair amount of anger," said Fall River Mayor Ed Lambert.
Charles Chieppo of the Pioneer Institute said the T's inability to pay for Fall River-New Bedford is symptomatic of what his group and the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation pointed out in a study a few weeks ago.
"The money simply does not exist to run the system and do all these (planned) expansions," said Chieppo.
"I think it's good they're being straight (about Fall River-New Bedford), but (the prospect of state funding) certainly doesn't seem likely to happen in this environment."
The Fall River-New Bedford line is one of a handful of key transit projects to be cut in the T's most recent capital investment plan, which was released to the public last week. The MBTA board of directors decided to postpone approving the plan after hearing complaints about it not covering certain key areas.
Also targeted is the restoration of Arborway trolley service through Jamaica Plain and the Urban Ring, the outlying transit corridor that allows riders to travel from Roxbury to Cambridge. The former is slated to get $10 million over the next five years, while the latter will receive a $3 million, a fraction of what each project will cost.
MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said that in the case of the Arborway and the Urban Ring more funds will be allocated once the T gets further along in its design of the projects and has a better handle on each project's price tag.
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|Metro-North to buy 300 cars|
Metro-North Railroad plans to spend $2.5 billion to buy 300 new M-9 and other electrically propelled coaches by 2020. The railroad anticipates carrying an estimated 37 percent more riders in 18 years as a direct result of housing growth in the outer suburbs of northern Westchester, Putnam, Rockland, Orange and Dutchess counties, according to an AP report of March 21.
Metro-North so far has only secured $531 million for the new trains, and expects the federal and state governments to eventually provide the rest of the money.
Metro-North President Peter Cannito said last week, "The new trains will be aesthetically more pleasing. They'll be brighter. They'll be more reliable. It'll be a more comfortable trip."
He said the building boom in the northern suburbs would drive the demand for train service. Some of those new residents also will be commuting to jobs in suburban employment centers such as White Plains.
Cannito said more trains also are needed because the new ones will have less seating for passengers. The new trains have more interior space used by wheelchair lockdown areas and train components.
The railroad expects its biggest growth surge, 163 percent, to come from Rockland and Orange counties, where morning rush-hour riders are expected to increase from 2,700 in 2000 to 7,100 in 2020. The increase is expected on the Pascack Valley and Port Jervis lines, after the Secaucus Transfer Station, scheduled to open later this year, shortens the train ride into Manhattan.
Commuters who now take those trains must ride to Hoboken, N.J., then transfer to PATH trains into Manhattan.
According to the passenger railroad's rolling stock plan, between now and 2004, all AC multiple unit cars will be retired on the Harlem and Hudson line.
The "M" series paired electric coaches will see various changes.
Forty M-1s will be rehabilitated on that line, while 180 M-7 units are expected to be delivered by 2004.
On the New Haven line, M-2s are listed as "critical system replacement," while M-4s and M-8s will be remanufactured beginning in 2005.
The railroads few remaining FL-9, FL-9AC, and F-10 locomotives are slated to be retired by the end of 2004.
All the Comet Is should be gone by the end of 2004 as well, but 65 new cab cars and coaches will be on the property by then. The carrier expects to remanufacture seven diesel locomotives, and buy two more.
The Genesis engines, from GE, were delivered at the end of 2001. The railroad expects to buy two more dual-mode engines by 2004.
By 2014, M-N expects to have 120 new M-8s roaming its lines, but 142 M-3s will be retired by then. M-9 purchases will continue until 2019 with 140 copies, and 120 M-8s.
Budd and GE built the oldest M-series cars while various builders manufactured the rest.
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|BART brings back long trains|
Some Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) riders found a welcome surprise at the station on March 18 longer trains.
Reacting to rider complaints about shortened and crowded trains over several weeks, BART is keeping longer trains on track later in the morning commute, and to add cars to trains on the Dublin-Pleasanton line, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.
BART managers frequently adjust train lengths as ridership levels rise and fall, and the times and places people travel change. Most of those changes go unnoticed, said Paul Oversier, deputy general manager of operations.
In late January, the transit district took "a more aggressive approach" to shortening trains because of falling ridership and declining revenues.
BART riders noticed the difference.
"We've got a fair amount of feedback in the last few weeks," he said, "and as a result, we're making some changes."
Those changes will keep six lengthier trains on track later in the morning before they are "broken" into shorter trains to carry the smaller crowds that ride BART during non-commute hours. And of the nine trains on the Dublin-Pleasanton line, four will add a coach to make eight-car trains.
"That only makes sense," said Patricia James, a lawyer who lives in Oakland and rides BART to her San Francisco office.
BART began running shorter trains in January as part of an effort to cope with a projected $32 million budget deficit through the end of June without resorting to fare increases. Other money-saving measures included putting off some system rehabilitation, selling off a fleet of staff cars and cutting the workforce, mainly through leaving open positions vacant, but possibly with some layoffs.
The deficit was caused by drops in BART ridership and fare revenue and by declining proceeds from the transit district's half-cent sales tax.
Ridership is down 7 percent from last year's all-time high, and sales tax revenue has dropped 9 percent.
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|Denver gets $54.4 million grant|
Denver's Regional Transportation District (RTD) last week received a $54.4 million grant in Federal Transit Administration (FTA) funds.
USDOT Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, said, "President Bush has proposed $7.2 billion for the Federal Transit Program as part of the Fiscal Year 2003 budget, further reinforcing the Administration's commitment to efficient public transportation as a strategic investment." Mineta added, "This grant strengthens that commitment and will help the RTD provide safe and reliable transit services to the residents of Denver and surrounding areas."
U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard said he was glad President Bush and Mineta recognized "the importance of the Southeast Corridor Light Rail project. With the growing population in the Denver-metro area, these funds are crucial in continuing to deal with our transportation needs."
Allard noted, "This funding will allow the RTD and the Colorado DOT to keep the Southeast Light Rail project on time and on budget."
The grant will be used for right-of-way appraisal, relocation, and acquisition; design and project management services; and construction of structures for the Denver Southeast Corridor Light Rail Transit (LRT), a 19-mile LRT system extending from the existing LRT station at I-25 and Broadway in Denver along I-25 to Lincoln Avenue and I-25 in Douglas County, with an LRT spur line along I-225 to Parker Road in Arapahoe County. The project includes 14 stations, 34 light rail vehicles, a maintenance facility and system upgrades. The double track system will operate in an exclusive, grade-separated right-of-way and connect with the existing 5.3-mile Central Corridor LRT in downtown Denver at Broadway.
At I-25 and Broadway, the Southeast Corridor LRT also will connect with RTD's 8.7-mile Southwest Corridor LRT.
Ridership on the Southeast Corridor project is estimated at 38,100 average weekday boardings, including 12,900 new riders.
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NCI: Leo KingA CSX general merchandise freight train heads north from Jacksonville on March 20. Six lines radiate from the Northeastern Florida city.
CSX bridge fire forces carrier
to reroute several trains
A CSX bridge fire near New Orleans one week ago today forced the railroad to reroute its trains. A CSX spokesperson said, "In coordination with both western and eastern railroads, CSX is rerouting freight traffic that is affected by the Rigolets Bridge fire that occurred 25 miles east of New Orleans Monday afternoon."
The spokesperson added, "The rerouting will remain in effect until April 1 when restoration of the bridge is scheduled to be completed."
The railroad reports there were "no injuries or damage to any freight due to the fire, which occurred in an uninhabited area."
CSX spokeswoman Susan Keegan said the fire's cause is under investigation and had not yet been determined by Friday afternoon.
Not quite 500 feet of ties on the wooden structure on the north approach burned, she said, and added "The bridge is about one mile long."
Amtrak trains Nos. 1 and 2, the Sunset Limited, terminated in New Orleans and passengers were bused eastward to Orlando, and from that Florida city to New Orleans.
CSX had already adjusted service in the area with scheduled track work that continued from Sunday until Thursday.
Scheduled freight traffic moving east of New Orleans was being rerouted through Memphis, St. Louis or Chicago. Intermodal traffic moving east was rerouted via Norfolk Southern through Atlanta.
Westward traffic was rerouted north around New Orleans while traffic destined for New Orleans was rerouted around the bridge.
The carrier said customers could generally expect delays of 24-36 hours.
Meanwhile, rail operations on CSX's rail line from New Orleans to Flomaton, Ala., were suspended for five consecutive days last week as well, as more than 700 railroad employees descend on the territory to perform scheduled track upgrades, highway-rail crossing improvements, and bridge replacement or repair.
CSX spokeswoman Kathleen A. Burns said, "The engineering 'jamboree,' which began March 17 and continued through March 21, would enable CSX to complete in five days what would have taken two months to accomplish if train operations were not suspended."
About 200 trains normally operate in the corridor over five days.
This year's jamboree follows the major success of a similar event held on the territory in July 2001.
"This approach to performing major line maintenance and replacement has proven to be highly effective in accomplishing a large amount of work in a relatively short period," said Michael Cantrell, senior vice-president for engineering and mechanical.
"Instead of working in brief 'windows' between train movements, we're able to have the line to ourselves until the work is completed. The result is increased safety and minimized disruption for our customers and the communities along our railroad.
He said the engineering, operations and sales and marketing departments at CSX had been "coordinating the event for months to ensure that rail customers and Amtrak are fully aware of the service suspension and have planned their inventories and work schedules accordingly."
The railroad coordinated its bridge work with the Coast Guard and contacted local officials to help ensure that the public knew the project was under way.
For the 2002 jamboree, 11 tie and rail crews refurbished track segments between New Orleans and Mobile, and between Mobile and Flomaton, Ala., including 19 miles of rail and 56,000 crossties. In addition, bridge teams replaced or repaired four bridges. Fourteen highway-rail grade crossings were to be reworked during the project.
The bridges, which are located in isolated bayou country and not accessible to the public, would have required about two years to complete using conventional railroad engineering work processes. The track work, meanwhile, would have disrupted rail traffic for two months.
On a typical day, more than 30 trains, including two Amtrak passenger trains, traverse the lines that were affected.
CSX began reducing train traffic on the line on March 15, but by March 22, train operations were to be back to normal.
Also affected were lines between Flomaton and Montgomery, Ala., and between Flomaton and Pensacola. Fewer trains ran on those segments as result of the suspension of operations west of Flomaton.
Engineering forces performed trackwork between Flomaton and Montgomery from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., but trains were able to run over the line at night.
Although revenue train operations stopped between New Orleans and Flomaton during the jamboree, residents throughout the region were warned to remain alert to moving work equipment and work trains hauling ballast.
CSX operates over 23,000 route-miles with 35,000 employees.
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Rose named BNSF chairman;
Krebs retires, will leave board
Matthew K. Rose was elected Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. (BNSF) chairman, effective March 22. Rose had been president and CEO since December 7, 2000. BNSF's board of directors promoted the 42-year-old Rose on the same day at the railroad's Fort Worth headquarters.
Meanwhile, Robert D. Krebs, 59, stepped down as BNSF chairman and is retiring. The board stated Krebs will not stand for re-election to the board, and will retire as a board member effective with the April 17, 2002, annual shareholders meeting.
Krebs said, "The transition that we began in 1999 when Matt was named BNSF president is now complete. As I have watched Matt lead our company as CEO, I continue to be impressed by the confidence the BNSF community has in him and the progress he is making to operate BNSF more effectively as a team in support of meeting our customers' expectations."
Rose observed, "Rob Krebs has had a stellar railroad and business career. His leadership of BNSF since its creation on Sept. 22, 1995, is seen by businesses worldwide as a classic example of melding the best cultural, social, financial and operational practices to create a new company. That task was made all the more difficult given the fact that both predecessor railroads had been operating for 120 years or more when they were combined in 1995."
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|CSX sees gold in rusty spurs|
CSX has decided to go out and beat the bushes for business-literally, in some cases. The railroad expects to wring as much as $5 million in revenue in 2002 out of rusty, weed-covered industrial spurs that have seen little or no recent use.
"The goal is to bring on as much new business and returning customers as possible," said Wayne Bolla, director of property services on February 24. "Obviously, where the track goes is the first place we should be looking.
CSX is combining its database of 22,000 industrial sidings to find those that produce under $25,000 in revenue annually, or 10-12 carloads a year. Small potatoes? You bet, and it bucks the Class I trend of exiting loose-car railroading.
"Our service is better than ever," Bolla said. "If we can't do it now, we never can."
The results of the "Phoenix Project," as CSX calls its effort, have been encouraging since it began in July 2001.
"We've had about 180 qualified leads, worked out 70, and converted something like 36 to wins," Bolla said. Some business is from new companies, and some from shippers increasing their use of rail or returning to rail. The Phoenix Project yielded $650,000 for CSX in 2001.
CSX is also asking train crews to help identify potential Phoenix spurs - but there is a flip side: if shippers on a spur decide not to ship by rail or won't increase their shipments, CSX assesses a maintenance fee to retain access or prepares to rip out the switch to save on track maintenance.
- Trains Online, via BLE Bay State Division 439, Boston
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued a new rule on March 18 intended to make safety transitions easier as railroads acquire other rail properties.
Administrator Allan Rutter said the final rule is the culmination of a multi-year cooperative effort involving the Surface Transportation Board (STB).
Rutter said, "We have an obligation to do all we can to ensure the safety of merged rail operations, particularly where consolidation could have a significant impact on the thousands of rail employees nationwide and the communities in which they operate. I believe this rule accomplishes that goal."
The rulemaking was initiated in response to FRA's identification of systemic safety deficiencies related to large-scale railroad mergers that took place in the mid-1990s involving the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific as well as the Burlington Northern and Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe. Subsequently, the STB, at FRA's request, required "Safety Integration Plans" (SIPs) to be filed of as part of the joint acquisition of Conrail by CSX Corp. and Norfolk Southern Corp., and the merger involving Canadian National and the Illinois Central.
SIPs are intended to address the safety of railroad operations during every phase of a proposed transaction. Specifically, SIPs outline in detail the actions each rail carrier plans to take to ensure the safest integration of operations, operating practices, and corporate cultures.
In fact, the SIP that was filed as part of the Conrail transaction is credited with enhancing the safety of both CSX and Norfolk Southern's new operations, particularly in the newly acquired territories in the Northeast and Midwest, Rutter said.
As a result of the SIPs' success, the FRA and STB in 1998 entered into a "memorandum of understanding" formalizing the FRA's role in reviewing SIPs and monitoring their implementation. The FRA and STB then agreed to codify the SIP evaluation process and published coordinated Notices of Proposed Rulemaking in December 1998.
The final rule addresses mergers, acquisitions, or consolidations of property involving all Class I railroads and in more limited cases, Class II railroads. Companies proposing such transactions will be required to submit a SIP to both the FRA and STB after which the FRA will review the document and report its findings and conclusions to the STB.
While the STB is responsible for the approval or disapproval of proposed transactions, the FRA is responsible for monitoring safe implementation of transactions approved by the STB. The STB has published a complimentary final rule of its own.
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Free ferry to continue plying New York waters
Six days after September 11, two of Staten Island's orange ferries made a detour. After pulling out of the Lower Manhattan terminal, the boats veered left, threaded through the narrow channel between Brooklyn and Governors Island and chugged down the Brooklyn shore to Bay Ridge. It was the start of a free service financed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to supplement subway and bus service disrupted by the World Trade Center attack.
Within a few weeks, The New York Times reported last week, most subway service was back and the bridges had reopened, but service on the Bay Ridge ferry has not ended, partly because it turned out to be a lot more popular with commuters than its organizers had anticipated.
"People love it," said Iris Weinshall, the city's transportation commissioner. "There are people who come out from all over, not just Bay Ridge."
At a town hall meeting last month, commuters asked that the service be extended and even made permanent. The agency has not decided how long it will continue to pay for the service, although the city's DOT said it was confident that the financing would continue into July. After that, the service could be run by the city or by a private agency, like the ferry service that once served Bay Ridge but ended last August.
After its peak in September, with 3,400 trips a day, use of the ferry leveled off at 2,200 trips a day. Many people drive in from as far as the Rockaways and Long Island and park in the state DOT's free lot. The ferryboat sails by the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge before passengers debark in downtown Manhattan.
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Far, far off the main line...
First space 'railroad' launches in April
Expanding the new frontier just as they did the old, railroads will take flight next month as the first space railroad is launched aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis.
Circling Earth aboard the International Space Station, the car on this railway will have a top speed of only 300 feet per hour, but the entire line - tracks and all - will travel almost nine times faster than a speeding bullet, over 17,000 miles per hour, in orbit. The rail line eventually will stretch almost 100 yards along the structural backbone of the station, serving as a mobile base from which the station's Canadian-built robotic arm can assemble and maintain the complex.
"To build the rails that linked the East and West Coasts of the United States, thousands of workers endured desert heat, frigid mountains and countless obstacles. These rails in space will run in temperatures far hotter than any desert and far colder than any mountain," said NASA Mobile Transporter Subsystem Manager Tom Farrell at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
"Just like the transcontinental rails pulled together our country, these rails pull together 16 nations around the world, cooperating in orbit."
Atlantis will launch the railcar, called the Mobile Transporter, and an initial 43-foot section of track as it delivers the first segment of the International Space Station's exterior truss. Designated "S0 (S-zero)," the first section of truss will be carried aloft by Atlantis on shuttle mission STS-110 in April. Part flatcar and part locomotive, the Mobile Transporter weighs 1,950 pounds and is a horse made of aluminum, not iron.
More sections of track will be added during the next two years as eight segments of the girder-like truss are launched aboard the shuttle. By the end of this year, the tracks already will stretch more than 130 feet. When completed, the truss will stretch over 360 feet, the longest structure ever built in space.
An additional base system will be attached atop the flatcar-like Mobile Transporter during a shuttle flight in May, but the space train will leave the depot for its inaugural run during Atlantis' April mission. After space walkers loosen launch restraints and attach electrical and computer cable reels, Mission Control will command the Mobile Transporter railcar to inch its way up and down the 43-foot section of track.
"It's built for precise positioning and smooth velocity control; it's not built for speed," said Randy Straub, subcontract technical manager for the system with The Boeing Co. in Huntington Beach, Calif.
Railway operation is critical for continued assembly of the station. It will allow the station's Canadarm2 robotic arm to carry future truss segments and solar arrays down the tracks to install them.
The Mobile Transporter was built by TRW Astro in Carpinteria, Calif., for Boeing, the prime contractor for station construction. It measures three feet high, nine feet long and eight feet wide and moves along two parallel rails attached to the station truss at speeds varying from one-tenth of an inch to one inch per second. Although driven by dual electric motors that generate only about a hundredth of one horsepower, the transporter can move 23 tons of cargo down the rails.
What is the hardest part about building a zero-gravity railroad?
"We've done a lot of work to make certain it can't jump the tracks," said Farrell. "We have to be sure it will be safe during all the station's activities, like reboosting its orbit or having visiting vehicles dock."
The transporter stays on track with three sets of wheels, one set that propels it and two sets in roller suspension units, spring-loaded units that have rollers on both sides of the track to ensure the transporter can't float loose. The railcar will have 10 stops, specific locations called worksites where it can be locked down with a 7,000-pound grip, allowing the robotic arm to safely maneuver cargo.
Although it can be driven from the station or from the ground, the engineers for NASA's space railroad will normally reside in Mission Control, Houston, driving the train from thousands of miles away and hundreds of miles below.
Although the Mobile Transporter will be a freight train and not a passenger train, space-walking astronauts will have their own form of personal rail transportation aboard the station. Astronauts will operate a small handcar to maneuver up and down the rail line, a car that they will pull along the zero-gravity railway by hand to move themselves and their gear from place to place. Called the Crew and Equipment Translation Aid, two such carts will be delivered to the station before the end of the year.
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NCI: Leo KingAmtrak's share of the ticketed market between Washington and New York has jumped from an already robust 40 percent to a dominating to 53 percent after just 12 months of Acela Express operation.
Congress, Amtrak stand at the brink
There will be no muddling
Kevin Brubaker is with the Environmental Law & Policy Center of Chicago, Ill. Jim RePass is publisher of Destination: Freedom and President of the National Corridors Initiative. - Ed.
For 32 years, Amtrak has served as the Congress' whipping boy for Congress' own failure to develop a national transportation policy. Often the loudest critics have been the very same Representatives and Senators who have been least supportive of Amtrak, yet who take a peculiar pleasure in excoriating Amtrak for its failings.
Such has gone on for years, reported by rote by the press with but the shallowest understanding of the history or context that has lead us to the present pass, and who are in their own way as complicit in the creation of the current mess as are Amtrak's enemies - a transportation mess combining congested highways and airports with a starkly underutilized rail system (passenger and freight).
For now, it is a costly inconvenience. Tomorrow, it may kill people, as the horrible war imposed on us gets worse, as it assuredly will, and in ways that we do not even wish to imagine. Perhaps there once was a time in America's halcyon past, as we will come to remember the pre-September 11 era, when we might have had the luxury of ignoring the facts, and postponing the tough decisions that must be made if America is to have a hardened, efficient, intermodal, integrated transportation system. That time has past.
Year in and year out since its creation in 1970, Amtrak, or, as it is known legally, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, has gone hat-in-hand to its legislative parent and asked for the capital funding it needs to invest in, and develop, a robust national passenger railroad system such as found in other Western industrialized democracies.
Each year, Congress has dodged that request, in a fusillade of rhetoric designed to conceal the fact that it neither has a policy, nor is likely to develop one. While lavishing subsidies on the highways and the airline system, either through disingenuously misnamed "trust funds," or direct subsidies like the air traffic control system that is one of many taxpayers' many gifts to the airlines, Congress has voted just enough funds for Amtrak to fail, but slowly.
Here's why action is a must this time, and why any attempt by Congress to "muddle through" will lead to disaster. It is because, while there appear to be four basic positions on the Amtrak question, there are really only three. To the casual person, it would seem that you can do one of the following re: Amtrak:
Do nothing/delay/obfuscate/muddle through.
Give it adequate money but demand and enforce reform.
Just throw money at it.
Most would agree that there are relatively few people in either house of Congress that simply want to kill Amtrak, and either leave it for dead and the nation without passenger rail service, or invent something totally new. There are also very few who just want throw money at it.
That apparently leaves as realistic choices categories "Do nothing/delay/obfuscate/muddle through" and "Give it adequate money but demand and enforce reform."
Of course, while most knowledgeable people, including Congressmen, would say they would pick the third option, because they want better rail service and, importantly, they want to keep the Amtrak legal structure and its statutory right to run on freight railroads. That is an essential fact whose absolutely critical importance to a national passenger rail system few people understand.
There are relatively few real innovators and leaders in Congress as in life, and relatively more followers and conventional thinkers. While each of us might like to flatter ourselves that we are the former, in practice and in life, we tend to be the latter, except perhaps in the case of Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon, "where all of the children are above average." Therefore, despite the apparent intellectual attraction of option three, most Congressmen (and, probably, most people) would default to the second option, "Do nothing/delay/obfuscate/muddle through."
After all, Congressmen, being all too human, would normally just as soon not upset the apple cart and do something radical, when doing what one did last time looks so easy. After all, we are just as guilty of resisting real change as are our Congressmen, since we re-elect more than 90 percent of the incumbents who seek re-election, a record equaled only by the former Soviet Union and present-day Cuba.
Muddling through implies that, as usual, Congress will debate all through spring and summer, and then take an August recess, and then come back in September to solve all 13 appropriations problems (there are 13 appropriations committees that actually spend your dough, in case you wondered where, specifically, it went). At the last possible minute it will make a decision, and then give Amtrak about what it got last year, which never includes capital for regular equipment replacement and infrastructure maintenance, but frequently is delivered to Amtrak with admonitory messages to provide good service to this or that route (i.e., Congressional district or state).
Congress then goes home feeling satisfied, or at least sufficiently tired from all-night House-Senate conference committee meetings, at least vaguely ennobled.
That, at least, has been the normal scenario for the past 32 years. If it was enough last year, then, give or take a few million dollars, it should be okay this year, too, right?
First of all, it was not adequate last year, or the year before that, or before that. The southern (New York City-Washington, D.C.) end of the Northeast corridor is $5.8 billion behind in basic infrastructure repairs. "But" (a Congressman says softly), "Amtrak kept running all those years, so what's the harm of doing another business-as-usual appropriation?"
Tonight's the night, Ethel.
This time around, something else has happened. That something else is called the Amtrak Reform Council.
A product of the 1998 Amtrak Reform Act, the Amtrak Reform Council was created by Congress, in tandem with a $2.2 billion one-time capital grant to Amtrak - as a sop to the Gingrich-era ideologues who believed in the free market religion the same way the Taliban used to believe in Toyota 4x4s, designer turbans, and mascara: gotta have it.
The legend was that Amtrak had to wean itself from the federal teat, and the ARC was charged with determining whether or not that was likely by December 2002. If not, the ARC was to make recommendations as to reforms.
Amtrak - and here is the Newt-era mischief - was to draft a plan to "liquidate" itself in the absence of Congress choosing other options.
Now the word "liquidate" has specific legal meaning that usually applies to corporations already in bankruptcy; but never mind. One of the Amtrak haters in Congress slipped in that loaded word unchallenged in 1998, and there it silently rested until November 6, 2001 when the ARC let fly with its "finding" that indeed, surprise, Amtrak, the long-suffering poor-relation transportation stepchild would not, after all, return a profit any time soon after December 2002.
Then, by statute, Amtrak had 90 days from November 6 to deliver to Congress its "liquidation" plan. Well, the Amtrak-haters went wild with that word. At the Amtrak Reform Council press announcement of its recommendations, the oil-lobby financed Cato Institute conveniently had ready a pre-printed booklet helpfully (?) providing a "liquidation" plan for Amtrak.
In a slew of Op-Ed pieces authored by Amtrak critic Joe Vranich, the headline and copy in the article used the word "liquidation" repeatedly, even though no one except Vranich and the Libertarian think-tank Cato Institute were actually proposing any such thing. As for Amtrak's requirement to produce a report for its own liquidation - ah, old bomb-thrower Newt must have enjoyed reading about that, wherever he is - a couple of senators caught on to what was happening and slipped in an amendment to a defense bill that ordered Amtrak not to prepare any such plan.
Much damage was done.
Within hours of the ARC report, Amtrak's bankers were on the phone asking about this "liquidation" story, and demanding cash and higher interest rates. Amtrak reports the "liquidation" word cost it $51 million in immediate damage, an enormous number to cough up for a company so poverty-stricken that the doilies have been removed from seat headrests to save money (they cost one-third of one cent each)
Occasionally, Congress has voted capital funds to buy specific items, like locomotives or passenger cars.
In 1991, after another 20 years of delay, it voted to complete the electrification of the Northeast Corridor all the way to Boston. Despite misinterpretations by some in the media who don't understand that top speed is irrelevant while average speed is critical, and have therefore reported the service as little changed, riders seem to be able to tell the difference: the new Northeast Corridor and the Acela Express TGV-derived trainsets have been a stunning success. Those who don't think so should read this: Amtrak's share of the ticketed market between Washington and New York has jumped from an already robust 40 percent to a dominating to 53 percent after just 12 months of Acela Express operation, and on the section from New York to Boston where travel time has been cut from 5 hours to 3 hours and 22 minutes, ridership has more than tripled from 10 per cent (with slow diesel service) to 38 percent.
Even that is 15 minutes longer than it should be because the State of Connecticut, which owns the 55 miles of track between New Haven and the state line with New York (at New Rochelle), has, despite a decade's advance notice, failed to replace the 100-year-old catenary that supplies power to the trains, meaning that the Acela Express trains can only travel at a fraction of the speed they could otherwise achieve on that segment.
This is interesting, because the ARC report suggests that the states could form high-speed rail companies and run the trains in place of Amtrak. If Connecticut is an example, and it is a prime beneficiary of Amtrak high-speed service, that looks doubtful. It is even becoming an issue in the gubernatorial race in Connecticut, where not only Amtrak riders, but some 30,000-plus commuters get home to their loved ones 15-20 minutes later, and have to leap out of bed 15-20 minutes earlier than they should have to, because Connecticut DOT (ConnDOT) equipment operated on Metro-North also must travel more slowly than otherwise would be possible.
Watching the current debate over Amtrak reminds us of the "tastes great vs. less filling" debate featured a few years ago in advertising for Bud Lite.
One side argues that Amtrak is a relic of antiquated transportation and inept management that has cost U.S. taxpayers $25 billion over the last thirty years, and has yet to turn a profit. The only solution is to radically change the organization through some form of privatization.
What kind of railroad did you expect, responds the other side, when you give it less than one-half of one percent of the federal transportation budget? Sure, Amtrak has cost taxpayers $25 billion over thirty years, but we will spend that much on highway construction in the next nine months.
Private airlines get about $12 billion in subsidies every year, a subsidy that exceeds airline profits in all but the best years.
As with the beer slogan, the truth lies not with one position or the other, but with one position and the other.
Passenger rail needs reform and money. Neither action by itself will solve anything, but with their joint application, America can have a passenger rail system worthy of this great nation, and the Midwest can reap the benefits of a high-speed rail network.
Virtually everywhere in the world except North America, passenger rail fills an important role in moving people from city to city. From Japan's "bullet" trains to the French TGV, trains are moving people and creating economic opportunity while reducing oil consumption and greenhouse gases. They attract riders, technical innovation and private capital while earning the respect of passengers, transportation planners, and elected officials. Why? Because governments worldwide have enacted rail policies designed for success rather than failure.
Reform is needed so that Amtrak can succeed. Run a plane, bus, car, transit line or barge, and the federal government will plan, promote, coordinate and fund the infrastructure for you to succeed. Run a passenger train in America, and you are asked to do it all yourself. Worse, you are told to both run a national passenger rail network as a public carrier and to earn a profit as a private business. Is it any wonder that Amtrak has not kept pace with the rest of the world?
The Amtrak Reform Council and others have thought hard about how to transform Amtrak into a respected, efficient company that responds to market demands. While one could endlessly debate the ideal mix of reforms, some dramatic change is necessary; but even if Amtrak and rail policy were perfected, it would be meaningless without federal funding.
The United States spends less per capita on its passenger rail infrastructure than Estonia, and a tenth of what most European nations do. As DOT Inspector General Ken Mead was quoted in the January 28 Wall Street Journal saying, "For what it has been charged to do, it's amazing that Amtrak has gotten this far."
To say that passenger rail should earn its way in the marketplace, though, is to doom it to failure. No other mode of transportation is asked to operate under these conditions. Airlines are paid to serve small communities through "Essential Air Service," but Amtrak is expected to earn money providing the same service. With the federal government spending $30 billion per year on highways and $12 billion per year on airports (leaving aside the $15 billion given to "for-profit" airlines ostensibly in reaction to September 11), the playing field is so skewed that passenger rail cannot succeed. It isn't even possible for state transportation agencies to make rational decisions on where to invest state dollars when the federal government provides 80 percent of the cost of every mode except passenger rail.
As long as our government is going to pay a substantial portion of the cost of transportation, it ought to spend its dollars wisely, which means making both cost-effective investments, and ensuring that those investments meet society's broader goals.
Rail can meet both these criteria.
A study by the State of Washington has concluded that it can buy more than twice as much transportation capacity for the dollar with railroads as it can with highways. In the Midwest, high-speed rail is not only cost-effective but can save energy, reduce air pollution, and revitalize urban centers. High-speed trains are three times as energy efficient as cars and six times as efficient as planes on a per passenger mile basis.
By serving downtown train stations they are not only convenient to travelers but can work to counter the centrifugal force of urban sprawl caused by outlying highways and airports.
Federal funding is not only necessary, but also appropriate. In a society where the federal government pays to rebuild Wacker Drive in Chicago, or a new interchange for I-4 in Tampa, or any one of more than $100 billion worth of highway work each and every year, surely there is a role for federal funding of interstate passenger rail. The alternative is the sort of feudal bickering between states that led 13 newly independent colonies to form our federal government in the first place.
Take the Chicago-Detroit high-speed rail corridor, for example. Northwest Indiana receives only a small portion of the benefit of this project, but a huge portion of the cost of this project would be borne by Indiana. Should Michigan and Illinois forego this important transportation initiative because it isn't a priority for Indiana?
States have demonstrated a willingness to pay their fare share. Last month, trains began running at 90 mph along part of the Chicago-Detroit rail corridor - the first speed increase outside the Northeast in more than a generation. Those improvements are just the first fruits of a multi-year effort by Michigan, Amtrak and the federal government to develop a high-speed corridor. In Illinois, the state is investing more than $100 million to improve speed and performance between Chicago and Springfield.
Passenger rail can succeed in the United States. When targeted investments are made to improve train frequency, speed, and comfort passengers will use them. Ridership on Amtrak's "Capital Corridor" between Sacramento and San Francisco, for example, has grown tenfold in the last ten years. Simply putting new European-style trains on the corridor between Seattle and Portland has led to a 250 percent ridership increase.
There is no reason all of America could not enjoy similar service. The Midwest, with more than 80 million people residing within 400 miles of Chicago, the region is ideal for the service trains have to offer. With higher speeds, increased frequency, and improved amenities, trains could be delivering people downtown-to-downtown faster than planes and at a fraction of the cost.
What of the long distance trains, derided as land cruises by those who have never ridden them? Long-distance service is the only lifeline into and out of scores of smaller communities and cities, especially in the West, Midwest, South, the Southwest, rural New England, and upstate New York. Some would kill Amtrak's long distance trains and cut those people off, punishing them, in effect, for choosing not to live in larger cities. In fact, unless the Congress votes to support Amtrak, those trains are indeed to be eliminated October 1, with official six-month notices, as required by law, going out March 29.
So the clock is ticking already. We are in the midst of a war where our enemies are expected to plant time bombs. Let's not blow up one ourselves, by killing Amtrak. Instead, Congress and the Administration should act together to support the Hollings Bill, S.1991.
The first comprehensive capital-funding bill for Amtrak in its history, it will allow continued operation of the national passenger rail system and the construction of new, Euro-style high-speed corridors. Let's take this problem, and turn it into an opportunity.
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The passengers are there,
A Washington lawyer who bills clients $175 an hour got so fed up with airport security and baggage checks that he switched from the air shuttles to Amtrak when traveling from Washington to New York because he figured that all the hassle had stretched an advertised one hour trip to four hours.
That item from Financial Times clearly illustrates the problem facing us right now, as passengers are flocking to the rails since September 11. The passengers are ready for the trains, but unlike the service available in the Northeast Corridor to this high-priced Washington lawyer, the trains in many parts of the country are not ready for the passengers.
This is something passenger train advocates recalled when Sen. John McCain on March 14 disingenuously proclaimed that Amtrak carried less that 1 percent of the total ridership.
Someone get the senator a cram course in high school physics so he won't embarrass himself again by an apparent lack of understanding that if the trains are not physically on the tracks, the human beings find it utterly impossible to ride them. Mary Poppins' impromptu umbrellas are not available to them, senator.
The Financial Times article stated, "There is a migration going on in American business travel. Flyers, frustrated by long security queues, are choosing to drive or take the train, rather than put up with delays."
That probably does not fit in with McCain's "less than one percent," but then when you consider that "all travel" would include transport to the dentist or to pick up a prescription, Amtrak is not likely to accommodate that traffic. Nor will any supermarket allow you to wheel your grocery shopping cart aboard the Lake Shore Limited, assuming anyone with a screw loose would consider that an option.
Rail passenger service is competitive when it is a viable option, and where the trains actually, well, actually exist.
MCI WorldCom has done a survey of 323 business travelers and finds ten percent say they will never fly again. 25 percent reduced their air travel because family members fear for their safety.
A report from the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) said that February was the sixth straight month in which Amtrak performed much more strongly than the airlines in terms of year-to-year percentage changes comparisons.
The problem now is how to blend the coming demand for more rail travel into the need of the freight railroads to increase their own capacity, especially as the economy picks up again.
This past Friday at the Transportation Table at the National Press Club, Gary M. Spiegel, executive vice president and CEO of Rail America, largest owner of regional and short line railroads, said that, in his dealings with the Class I lines (with whom his members connect), he found that their on-time and efficiency performances were better than ever. Their customers require it. They expect it.
Recently, a long piggyback train made it from the West Coast to North Bergen, N.J. is just 65 hours. For many crack "streamliners" 60 years ago, that was expected - but this was freight traffic.
Recently, North Carolinians brought 110 MPH Washington-Charlotte passenger service one step closer to reality Thursday by picking the preferred route for the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor.
Rail service, for all its problems, is on the march.
Where are we going to put it all?
The passengers are there, but in many cases, the trains are not - not yet; and freight capacity needs and speed requirements are more acute than ever.
Congress and the administration will have to bite the bullet and decide for themselves if this country is going to finally play catch up with a national modern rail passenger and freight network.
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Monorail is real and is a viable alternative to at grade rail. In many of the National Transportation Corridors it is probably the only means that can be built without interfering with the existing rail services. NCI should recognize Monorail and let the public know that there is a reliable, safe alternative to conventional steel rail.
We agree. - Ed.
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ASCE - Second international conference
Supply Chain Expo
Donald E. Stephens Convention Center
ASLRRA annual meeting and exhibition
World Center Marriott
NCI 2002 Conference
Washington, D.C. Marriott Hotel
This conference will feature a major debate about the future and direction of passenger rail in America, conducted by the people who will actually determine that outcome.
Conference speakers will include Amtrak Board Chair Michael Dukakis, Amtrak Reform Council Chair Gil Carmichael and Executive Director Tom Till, DOT Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson, Author Tony Hiss, Barron's magazine editor Tom Donlan, Florida rail activist and businessman Doc Dockery, Janelletech President Janellen Riggs, rail consultant Randy Resor of Zeta-Tech Associates, Inc., Railway Age magazine editor Bill Vantuono, attorney and rail activist James Coston, and many other of the top thinkers and "doers" in American rail and transit industries.
Further details regarding advance registration will be announced in upcoming issues of Destination: Freedom.
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NCI: Leo King CollectionIf the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad was famous for anything, it was its DL-109 first generation dual service diesel engines. They would haul the fast passenger liners during the day, and at night, would frequently be found in freight service. Consider, for example this 0746 being shopped in the Boston roundhouse and preparing to ride the turntable.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write.
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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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