Destination:Freedom Newsletter
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
  NCI Logo Vol. 2 No. 12, March 26, 2001
Copyright © 2001, NCI, Inc.
James P. RePass, President
Leo King, Editor

A weekly North American Railroad update

Fundamental changes:

ARC recommends two rail corporations: one for trains, another for infrastructure

By Wes Vernon
Washington correspondent

The Amtrak Reform Council (ARC), following through on a study done last year by its staff, has recommended that Amtrak get out of the infrastructure business and stick to its main mission, running passenger trains, with mail and express included.

The council, created by Congress in 1997 to take a "long range view" or offer a "second opinion" on what course of action to follow for the future of the 30-year old passenger service, said it is time to consider separating Amtrak operations on the Northeast Corridor from the headaches of owning and maintaining the infrastructure - the tracks, bridges, signals, stations, and so on.

In its second annual report, the ARC concluded that Amtrak's fundamental problem is "a flawed institutional structure." Council Chairman Gilbert Carmichael and executive director Tom Till both emphasized this was not a criticism of Amtrak management, employees nor its directors.

The flaws, as ARC sees it, are these:

  • Amtrak operates as both a commercial enterprise and a governmental agency.
  • Ownership and maintenance of the Northeast corridor "sap Amtrak resources" and divert Amtrak's attention from its primary mission as a service provider.
  • There is not effective government program administration, policy development, and oversight.
  • There is no secure source of funding for passenger rail service.

To help remedy these problems, the council voted 9-1 with one abstention, to recommend five options, or combination of options, including placing the Amtrak-owned Northeast corridor infrastructure into a separate entity, possibly a government corporation. This would accomplish the goal of concentrating Amtrak's attention to running trains, but it does not consolidate the governmental functions of program administration, policy development and program oversight.

Another idea would separate Amtrak's train operations from its infrastructure, but make each a subsidiary of one wholly owned government corporation.

Another notion would involve the states more directly in planning, developing, operating and paying for the national rail passenger system. This would give the states a greater say in the rail map and priorities for high-speed rail development. The drawback here is that some states are farther along in passenger rail development than others, thus possibly making a national rail system map more difficult. Running "sealed" trains through non-participating states could cause more problems than it would solve.

Partial privatization is another consideration, in which Amtrak's national train operations would be privatized, with Amtrak-owned NEC infrastructure placed in a separate entity.

If all Amtrak had to worry about was running trains, in the same sense that United Airlines just runs planes without the problem of building and maintaining airports and air traffic control systems, there might be some potential for a private operator someday, but not right away. The problem, said the council members, might come if the government tries to set up a private operator "without major investment up front." That would likely be "unworkable."

The fifth consideration is full privatization of both Amtrak's NEC operations and the NEC infrastructure under separate entities. Here, the ARC report rejects this idea as the least likely to succeed or in the council's words, "financially and programmatically unworkable."

The council members said considering that Amtrak itself has said it will need $1.5 billion each year for capital funding after reaching its goal of operational self sufficiency within the next two years-plus (depending on whose lawyer is interpreting the1997 Amtrak law), there remains the question of what will happen when states start competing for federal support for high-speed rail funding, all of which the council figures could run the totals up to somewhere between $80 and $100 billion.

The ARC majority cited time delays and cost overruns in the recent NEC electrification project between Boston and New Haven, and stated, "There are questions as to Amtrak's ability to manage and transparently account for large capital projects on time and within budget."

Large capital transportation public works projects frequently experience cost overruns and delays. The "Big Dig" tunnel in Boston is only the most extreme and outrageous example, but that is beside the point where the ARC is concerned. Its focus is Amtrak and passenger trains, and its concern is how to avoid wasting time and money with passenger rail capital projects, regardless of problems elsewhere.

The council members added, "Effective government oversight is needed to gain the confidence of federal and state governments and the freight railroads."

The freight railroads, which own the tracks carrying Amtrak trains outside the Northeast Corridor, indeed will have to be brought in on the planning for this expansion big time. At the news conference where the ARC report was released, I pointed out that there are a lot of far-flung plans for high-speed rail corridors and new commuter rail operations on Class I lines, and the freight carriers are saying, in effect, "Fine! Show us the money!"

Carmichael said he had been in contact with most of the freight railroads, and "They are now realizing the development of these high-speed corridors will allow them to run high-speed intermodal container trains in a joint venture possibility there."

The ARC chairman, a Mississippian who served as FRA Administrator under the senior President Bush, said "KCS right now has a $100 million bond issue in the Mississippi legislature (in which) Amtrak is partnering with them." KCS wants to double-track its route to Dallas while Amtrak wants to run a new train there.

"I see the freight railroads (all across the country) having changed their whole attitude in the last two or three years. They don't have the investment money to go back and double-track their systems."

Carmichael also cited Norfolk Southern CEO David Goode, who is pushing for a $900 million subsidy for the Shenandoah line, a " high-speed corridor" for freight traffic and possibly ultimately for Amtrak.

The one vote against the council report was cast by the rail labor representative Charlie Moneypenny who participated in the March 20 meeting by long-distance telephone from his sick bed in Boston where he is recuperating from an illness. DOT secretary Norman Mineta cast the lone abstention. The Bush administration has not yet fully focused on the issues raised in the study.

Rail labor itself handed out a press release giving the whole council report the old Bronx cheer, reiterating its oft-repeated mantra about ARC having "an anti-Amtrak bias."

As a member of two labor unions myself, I understand where the brotherhoods are coming from. When you're running a labor union, your members demand benefits in the here and now. Any report coming down the pike from "outsiders" suggesting possible change, no matter how promising that change may be in a potential creation of jobs and concurrently more union members added to the rolls, is likely to be viewed with suspicion. It's the old "bird in the hand vs. two in the bush" syndrome.

This has the effect of making the unions look more regressive than collectively they are. In fact, I've heard many constructive, well thought-out ideas expressed by Amtrak employees "out on the road." They are closest to the real action, after all.

All that having been said, in the final analysis, it is the public at large and the Amtrak passengers, real and potential, who would have to take priority in the consideration given for improvement of rail passenger service. Hopefully, the interests of passengers and employees would not necessarily conflict.

The National Association of Railroad Passengers, for its part, was considerably more moderate in its reaction to the ARC study.

Executive Director Ross B. Capon said that he appreciated the fact that "most Amtrak Reform Council members want intercity passenger rail to expand and prosper. We believe they share our view that the U.S. economy, environment, and quality of life would not be well served by a continuation of the mostly 'fly-drive' transportation investment program."

However, the passenger consumer advocacy organization offered words of caution on the idea of a new infrastructure agency. Among other things, Capon argued such an agency would "not make it easier to get Congress to vote the funds that are widely acknowledged to be needed if passenger rail is to flourish." He also said such a new agency would have an even greater Northeast bias than Amtrak does today.

Capon and others raised the issue of the privatization effort in Britain, as did the ARC report itself.

ARC member Wendell Cox, in effect, said what problems there are with the British privatization can be traced in large part to the fact that the former Conservative Party government there knew it would not be re-elected, so the outgoing government officials devised a system that was so convoluted that the incoming Labor Party would be unable to disentangle it. Those were not Cox's exact words, but that's the way I interpret them.

The bottom line is that that syndrome need not be repeated if, and when, passenger privatization comes to the U.S. It is largely academic anyway because the majority of the council believes that any privatization is far in the future.

Till, who has had some experience with railroading in the U.K., noted that, whatever the problems across the pond, the Brits have "seventeen-hundred more trains operating than you had four or five years ago."

Amtrak had vehemently objected to the separation proposal before ARC released it. Amtrak leaked the report's contents to the Associated Press, along with a broadside, which, among other things, cited the British experience.

One of the problems most often cited in the British situation is the safety factor, the accidents that have occurred there in recent years.

This was unfortunate timing for the critics of Britain's safety procedures because during the same weekend that Amtrak was releasing its critique of the ARC report, Amtrak's California Zephyr derailed in Iowa, killing one woman and injuring many others, two of them seriously.

The fact that the derailment occurred on a freight railroad is beside the point. What the council and others are saying is that if the British model has its flaws, then the case can be made that our own setup lacks what is needed for a passenger train network that can be a more significant factor in America's transportation system.

As one who has covered Capitol Hill for 33 years, I can say that Capon probably has a point when he notes that the idea of a separate entity for the Northeast corridor would be hard to sell to lawmakers. That is because most members of Congress, like most people in general, have a superficial understanding of transportation matters. Beyond their own ability to get from Point "A" to Point "B," they pay little attention; so if the reform council's plea to go beyond the status quo is heading in the direction of a brick wall, one can appreciate Capon's problem as a pro-passenger train lobbyist.

At the same time, few will argue that the status quo is ideal. And now that even members of Congress are experiencing crowded airports with "winglock," caused in large part by the fact that the rail alternative is inadequate, perhaps we will see a higher level of discussion as to how the entire railroad system, freight and passenger, has had to compete with highways and airways with one hand tied behind its back, i.e. no steady source of income for its infrastructure.

There are warning signs out there. The Iowa accident is nothing compared to the disaster that would occur if a cataclysmic accident were to kill hundreds of people in the deteriorating tunnels in New York City's Penn Station. ARC's newest member, Nancy Connery, made note of this problem in her concurring statement. Amtrak, under the present arrangement and the lack of adequate funding, has had to tell the Congress that, at the present rate, it will take 30 years to bring that infrastructure up to a reliable safety standard. That ticking time bomb, first publicized last year by D:F, could spell the death-knell for Amtrak. There appears to be one option - provide the funding to deal with it.

In its criticism of the ARC report, Amtrak said the council's proposal would create "a new federal bureaucracy," an allegation that Carmichael denied. He said the idea was to streamline the process and make it more efficient and, in the final analysis, attract more passengers.

In a discussion I had with Amtrak officials following the news conference, we focused on the fact that United Airlines just runs planes and doesn't worry about building and maintaining airports. I was reminded that United Airlines does have to hassle with the FAA and airport authorities to get slots for needed flights, and Amtrak does not need that headache on the busy Northeast Corridor.

"There are ways to get around that," a Capitol Hill transportation staffer told me the next day.

In that regard, we should note that although he voted to approve the Council report, ARC member Jim Coston filed a statement saying it is essential that Amtrak must retain its control over the NEC. "Regardless of any change in ownership, Amtrak must retain its ability to operate the NEC in conjunction with the various commuter rail authorities that are its customers." He added this could be accomplished "outside of ownership."

Coston, who is a lawyer, added that an equipment shortage means that long-distance equipment "that should be undergoing rehabilitation for the summer vacation surge has instead been reassigned to Midwestern corridor day trains." He also stated the government must identify Amtrak's "obscene amount of debt" and pay it off.

He observed the ARC report did not adequately address the problem of trains that are neither high-speed nor long distance. As an example, he cited the corridor trains in the Midwest that are on slower schedules than many of the steam trains 60 years ago. Those trains need attention over the next 20 years while the high-speed network is being built.

"Amtrak's fixation with its own high-speed route in the East and its desperate anticipation of an illusory $180 million in 'profit' from its expensive-to-operate, low capacity (304 seats vs. more than 700 seats for a Eurostar or French TGV trainset), high-speed Acela Express trains suggest Amtrak has taken its eye off the ball in seeking promising growth areas."

"Any talk of privatization is absurdly out of place," he said.

The lone dissenter on the report, Charlie Moneypenny, echoed many of the arguments Amtrak and its labor unions have made against splitting off the NEC infrastructure into a separate entity, but he expressed support for the majority's position "that Amtrak and its management and employees are not preventing Amtrak from making needed improvements." Moneypenny hailed this as a "welcome departure" from past reports and studies.

Cox issued a concurring statement with the caveat that the case had not been made for more Amtrak funding nor high-speed rail. In this, he is out of step with the overwhelming majority on the panel.


It's time for a new commuter compact

The woes of the Penn Station tunnels, a story which D:F's Wes Vernon broke last year, point up the result of a long history of cross-subsidization by Amtrak of the region's commuter rail lines, which use Amtrak-owned Northeast Corridor and station facilities. For three decades the transit agencies have run the vast majority of trains on the corridor, yet have paid only the marginal maintenance costs of such service - a bargain that everyone on the industry recognizes, yet no one talks about.

Because Amtrak has never been given a steady source of capital funds to make major infrastructure investments on the route, and never gets even the bare-bones operating subsidy caused in large part by such neglect, it cannot independently assemble large pools of money to make the kind of infrastructure improvements needed.

The condition of the Penn Station tunnels illustrate that fact, and the time is fast approaching - indeed, it is at hand - where the Northeastern states which have so greatly benefited from cross-subsidization by Amtrak, will need to step up to the plate and pay for the infrastructure improvements now needed, including new and safer tunnels in New Jersey and New York City.

James P. RePass
President & CEO

The National Corridors Initiative and
Publisher, Destination: Freedom

Thompson is still at throttle
By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

There were signs as we went to press at week's end that Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy Thompson was getting set to leave his other job as chairman of the Amtrak Board of Directors.

Tommy Thompson

There were tell-tale signs that the former Wisconsin governor's exit, when and if it comes (perhaps by the time you read this), will be accompanied, if not by kicking and screaming, at least by extreme reluctance. "Tommy Thompson remains chairman of Amtrak," said Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black. "We know of no plans for the secretary to leave (Amtrak)," said a spokeswoman at HHS.

However, a story by Ken Herman in the Austin American-Statesman stated otherwise. That daily newspaper, based in the Texas state capitol, is President Bush's "back home" paper, having covered him when he was governor there for six years. He knows them and undoubtedly knows several of their reporters.

That would suggest the paper's sources come from a very high level of the administration.

"I can assure you the information in the story is 100 percent accurate," said Jena Heath, Herman's partner at the American-Statesman's Washington bureau.

Herman's story quotes "White House sources" as saying that "Thompson has decided to step down from the railroad post."

Ever since Thompson, who originally wanted to be Secretary of Transportation, ended up accepting the job at the helm at HHS, it has been assumed to be only a matter of time before the other shoe drops and he leaves Amtrak.

The reason for this widespread assumption is that Thompson has to support the policies of his president; that is expected of any cabinet member - support the policy or maintain a discreet public silence. What if the administration implements a policy at odds with the Amtrak board that Thompson heads? He has an obvious uncomfortable conflict of interest. One would think the governor, fervent Amtrak supporter though he is, would not want to put himself in that position. If he goes out the Amtrak door, Thompson still attends the President's cabinet meetings, and gets the chance to speak his mind whenever the subject of Amtrak comes up. But he will be silenced as a public advocate if his views and administration policy conflict.

Back at the railroad's Washington corporate headquarters, Black told D:F on Friday, "Tommy Thompson is chairman of the board of Amtrak. That's all we know." Black added, "He is chairman of the board unless we are told otherwise by him," and, he added, "We do not speculate."

He noted, "We're just as curious as you are, but it's not something we're beating down the bushes to find answers to.

"We simply serve the management of the company, so we don't question them or speculate on what their political motives are, or what might happen. We just go along until things change."

Black, who has been with the railroad for a decade, said, "It is possible that we'll find out that the newspaper story was accurate. But so far, we certainly can't confirm it. What's a 'White House source'? It could be somebody who's first cousin of somebody, although, on the other hand, it might be an absolutely solid thing. Some of the stuff in that story seemed to make logical sense; but Tommy Thompson remains the chairman of Amtrak, until we hear otherwise."

Thompson has resisted administration efforts to get him to resign as Amtrak's chair.

Herman wrote, "There was no word on when the change would take place. Thompson's agency referred questions to Amtrak, where spokeswoman Karina VanVeen said railroad officials have heard nothing about a pending resignation."

Thompson has said he planned to keep both jobs even though it could put him in the delicate position of being involved with Congress on widely divergent issues. Amtrak President George Warrington also has said Thompson planned to keep both posts.

Thompson is unpaid for his post with Amtrak. He served on the Amtrak board from 1990 through 1994 and rejoined the railroad in 1998 as its chairman. His interest in transportation issues, including rail service, led him to declare late last year that his cabinet post preference was transportation secretary, but Bush put him in the HHS role.

As we went to press, this city was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Leo King contributed to this report.

'Multimodalism' is May's topic
for NCI conference in Washington
"Partnerships for Corridor Building: Making Multimodalism Work" is the theme for this year's NCI conference, being held on May 10 and 11 at The Washington Marriott, 1221 22nd St N.W., Washington D.C.

In a "dear colleague" letter to its membership, NCI President Jim RePass told the membership, "Every now and again the world changes for the better, and in recent weeks we saw that happen in America with the start of Acela Express service on the DC-Boston's fully electrified Northeast Corridor - the first Euro-style High Speed train service in the U.S."

RePass added, "That was an important event, but this year, at our May conference, you will see how that event was not unique, because all over America we have the opportunity to build a balanced transportation system using high-speed rail as a backbone. In May, the people making that happen will be gathering in Washington to share their experiences, tell their stories - and let the national news media know that the National Corridors Movement is gathering momentum."

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) will be this year's recipients of NCI's highest award, the Claiborne Pell award. RePass said it would be presented to them because they kept their promise to reintroduce legislation to provide capital for intercity passenger rail. Last year's recipient was Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) who worked hard to keep passenger trains running in her state.

NCI supports a system of national intercity rail service based on cost-effective corridor investments through conferences, op-ed pieces, and special events highlighting balanced transportation. This year's conference will also feature keynote speaker Norman Y. Mineta, U.S. Transportation secretary; Javier Ruperez, Ambassador of Spain, a strong advocate of international trade; Amtrak Vice Chairman Michael S. Dukakis; Amtrak Reform Council Chair Gilbert E. Carmichael, who is also Chairman of the Board of the Intermodal Transportation Institute at University of Denver; and NCI Chairman and Amtrak Board Member Mayor John Robert Smith, along with more than 20 other speakers.

Rail retirement bill returns for another try
By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

An upgraded Railroad Retirement Act has been reintroduced in the U.S. House with strong backing from management and labor, liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans.

This legislation represents an agreement between management and labor, and is a win-win for both. The bill allows investment of railroad retirement assets in a diversified portfolio. The result, championed by the industry and its workers, is to provide benefits to railroad retirees and lower taxes on railroads.

An identical bill passed the House last year 391-25 only to be stopped cold on the Senate side  even though 83 senators had signed on to it.

At a Capitol Hill news conference to unveil the revived legislation, I reminded a chief sponsor, Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure that the determination of a tiny minority of senators were able to bring it down, largely because of the rush toward adjournment. Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), with support from Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.) killed the bill by promising a protracted fight over it.

Young replied that this was one reason the measure was being introduced early in this Congress so as to avoid that end-of-the-session squeeze, and to the applause of those gathered in the room, he added that he was determined to see to it that "the truth" gets out this time.

"This is not money from the federal treasury," he said, "This is the workers' own money we're talking about."

Last year in the Senate Finance Committee, Gramm complained that it was unfair that railroad retirees should get so much more than those receiving Social Security. Sponsors of the Rail Retirement bill argue, on the other hand, that the Gramm comparison was of the "apples and oranges" variety.

And Young fired a shot across the bow by promising that if any legislative tricks are used to undermine the clear will of the overwhelming Congressional majority, he would "see to it that maybe certain other legislation won't pass either," a hint that two can play the same game of legislative obstruction.

The resurrected measure has the full support of Rep. James Oberstar (Minn.), ranking Democrat on the House Transportation Committee, as well as House Railroad Subcommittee chairman Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.) and his panel's ranking Democrat, Rep. Bob Clement (Tenn.)

Among the features that make the bill so popular with workers is that surviving spouses would inherit the full annuity of the deceased retiree. Presently, the surviving spouse gets only 50 percent of the retiree's annuity.

Currently, an employee with 30 years of service is eligible to retire at age 62 with no actuarial reduction in benefits. The new legislation, dubbed "60/30" by many railroaders, would allow early retirement at age 60 after 30 years of service with no reduction in benefits. The spouse of such an employee would be allowed an unreduced annuity at age 60.

The bill has the enthusiastic backing of rail employers as well.

Edward R. Hamberger, President and CEO of the Association of American Railroads (AAR) stated, "By permitting the investment of some of those (retirement) funds in a diversified portfolio of private equities and government securities, this legislation will provide the nation's 700,000 railroad retirees and their surviving spouses with a better, more secure retirement while reducing the current tax burden on the railroad companies." Responsibility for the financial health of the system rests squarely on the railroad companies, as Hamberger pointed out.

Speaking for rail labor was Robert A. Scardelleti, International President of the Transportation-Communications International Union, AFL-CIO.

"Calling this a historic opportunity really doesn't do it justice," he declared. Emphasizing an urgency for the enactment of the bill, he noted that "Each month that goes by we estimate that more than 65,000 retirees and surviving spouses are losing out on substantial amounts of benefits, and employees who want to retire with full annuities are delaying their plans. We can't let them down this year."

Rails, unions agree to end 'cramdown'
By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

On the very day rail management and labor gave their support to another congressional effort to enact the newly revived Railroad Retirement Act, they reached an agreement on one of the thorniest issues in the industry's labor relations.

That issue is known as "cramdown," a process by which, when two railroads merge or one acquires the other, the employees of one merging partner are often required to abide by the frequently less desirable terms of the other merging entity. That can result in workers suddenly having to accept lower wages, lower working conditions standards, shorter vacations, reduced seniority privileges, and reduced health and retirement benefits.

The unions have long complained that this is manifestly unfair and violates valid contracts signed at the bargaining table. The labor leaders have tried, without success and much to their frustration, to get some sort of satisfactory relief from the Surface Transportation Board.

Thus, management and labor have come together to take their case to Capitol Hill. They have agreed on proposed legislation on cramdown, hopefully to be introduced soon in both the House and Senate.

The agreement was initially signed by seven labor unions and five railroads. Representing labor were the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE), Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes (BMWE), Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS), International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), Transportation-Communications International Union (TCU), Transportation Workers Union of America (TWU), and the Sheetmetal workers.

Railroads signing the agreement included Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), CSX, Kansas City Southern (KCS), Norfolk Southern (NS), and Union Pacific (UP).

Under the agreement, as explained in a press release from BLE, "if there is a consolidation or coordination of work, then the union(s) involved will decide which agreements will apply if more than one applies.

"In addition, when seniority rosters (are) integrated, the (newly merged) carrier must give deference to the seniority integration plan developed by the union(s)."

While awaiting action by Congress, which can take a while, the railroads and their unions are to be bound by the terms of the agreement that they have just signed.

"The terms of this agreement will become null and void when enacted into law," reads the text of the pact.

The agreement applies to any effort henceforth to override or modify collective bargaining agreements. It does not apply "to any implementing agreement established prior to the date of this agreement as a consequence of voluntary negotiations or arbitration pursuant to protective conditions imposed by the ICC or STB." The Interstate Commerce Commission was disbanded in 1996, but the newly created Surface Transportation Board took over many of its duties.

The agreement does not bar the parties, by mutual agreement, from reaching accord on related issues "in an alternative manner." Prior to congressional enactment of the agreement, labor and management will jointly petition the STB "to enact a regulation providing that the award of an arbitratorä shall be treated as a final decision of the board." After that, the District of Columbia U.S. Court of Appeals will enforce the agreement.

Edward R. Hamberger, President and CEO of the Association of American Railroads (AAR), said he was "delighted that labor and management have reached agreement on standards to govern when rail employees are affected by consolidations and mergers."

The Class I carriers' Washington representative noted that "both labor and management have agreed to actively support 'clean' legislation reauthorizing the STB while opposing provisions or amendments which would adversely change the regulatory structure applicable to the railroads."

So, another longstanding sticking point apparently is being resolved, as the railroad corporate board rooms and the houses of organized labor move on to the problems that face this industry in the new century.

Amtrak takes Maine case to STB
Linda J. Morgan, Surface Transportation Board chair, appeared before two Senate committees for an STB oversight hearing on March 21.

In her remarks, she said, "Amtrak has asked the board to become further involved in the proceeding in which the agency acted earlier to facilitate restoration of passenger service between Boston, Mass., and Portland, Maine."

She did not add any details regarding Maine service in her statement.

She testified before Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), Chairman of the Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Subcommittee.

In other business pending at the STB, she said, "The application of Canadian National Railway to merge with Wisconsin Central Railroad system is anticipated," and rail construction is also on the three-member board's collective minds.

"Pending are the application of the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad to extend coal-hauling capability by that carrier into the Powder River Basin, and several other rail construction cases geared to produce new competition where the market will support it."

Corridor lines...

Zephyr resumes normal operations

Amtrak reported on March 19 its California Zephyr began operating over its regular route again between Chicago and Emeryville, Calif., with that day's 3: 35 p.m. departure from Chicago.

The stretch of BNSF track near Nodaway, Iowa was restored to safe operating condition and reopened for service at 1:40 a.m. CST Monday. One woman died and more than 90 people were injured March 17 when both P-42 engines and 11 of 16 cars went on the ground. Several cars overturned. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is looking into the wreck. Weak rail is suspected to be the culprit.

Officials have determined the train was traveling at a speed of 53 mph when it left the tracks based on data downloaded from the train's event recorder, which was recovered following the incident. The maximum authorized speed on that section of the track was 79 mph.

The train was traveling from Chicago to Emeryville, Calif., and carrying 195 passengers and 15 crewmembers.

We get letters...


The link to NARP following the Iowa accident report is incorrect. It should be

Don Stewart, Director
National Assn of Railroad Passengers


Surface Transportation Board

The Surface Transportation Board will conduct an oral arguments hearing concerning its proposed, new "major railroad merger regulations" rulemaking proceeding, Major Rail Consolidation Procedures, STB Ex Parte No. 582 (Sub-No. 1). The oral arguments will begin at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, April 5, in the Board Hearing Room, Room 760, on the 7th Floor of its offices in the Mercury Building, 1925 K Street, N.W. (at the corner of 20th and K Streets) in Washington, D.C. Chair Linda Morgan said she anticipates providing a total time of four hours for participants.

Amtrak Historical Society

The seventh annual Amtrak Historical Society Conference will be held in Chicago between April 27-29 at The Quality Inn in downtown Chicago, One Mid City Plaza (Madison at Halsted Streets). Highlights will include a tour of Amtrak's Chicago Reservation Call Center and a tour of the city's Historic Pullman District and Pullman Porter Museum, as well as presentations by Amtrak. Each year, the conference is held on the weekend closest to Amtrak's Anniversary and this year is Amtrak's 30th Anniversary. For details, go to <>

Financing Freight Transportation Improvements Conference

USDOT's modal agencies will discuss financing freight transportation improvements, including existing financing options from the federal, state, local, and private sectors, innovative financing approaches, program and policy issues and options to finance future freight transportation projects between April 29-May 2 in St. Louis. Rail topics will include Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing Program (RRIF), Class I Railroads Financial Overview and Future Investment Needs, and several other programs. Contact Karen McClure at 202-493-6417 or email

Partnerships for Corridor Building: Making Multimodalism Work
- National Corridors Initiative

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta and Rep. John Cooksey (R-La.) will be the keynote speakers May 10-11 at NCI's 2001 Conference at the Marriott in Washington, D.C. (

Mineta is a former Chairman of the House Public Works Committee and was a U.S. House member from California.

Cooksey, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is both a pilot and a practicing physician, and has become a strong advocate for intermodal transportation investment.

NCI's highest award, the Claiborne Pell award, will be presented to Sen. Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Sen. Minority Leader Tom Daschle (R-S.D.), who have kept their promise to re-introduce legislation to provide capital for intercity passenger rail. Last year's recipient was Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX).

2001 Union Pacific steam trips

June 10

Union Pacific reports two steam excursion scheduled so far this year. Challenger steam engine No. 3985 on June 10, 2001 from Council Bluffs to Sargeant Bluff, Iowa and return.

Contact The Camerail Club
Sioux City & Pacific Excursion
6307 Seward St.
Omaha, NE 68104-4761

June 19

Challenger steam engine No. 3985 on June 19, 2001, from St. Louis to Gorham, Ill., and return. St. Louis Chapter, NRHS is also hosting the 2001 annual NRHS convention, June 19-23.

Contact St. Louis Chapter, National Railway Historical Society
2129 Barrett Station Rd., PMB 271
St. Louis, MO 63131-1638
(314) 839-2356
E-mail via

The way we were...

NCI: Leo King collection

A couple of weeks ago we published a short story about East Side Tunnel in Providence, R. I. It was primarily a freight line by the 1950s, but occasionally the NYNH&H would operate a passenger extra on Saturdays through the hole to East Providence and Narragansett Park where the ponies galloped during racing season. The racetrack is now a shopping center, these fluted side coaches are long gone, and the tunnel is abandoned.
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 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.

Destination: Freedom's editor, Leo King, also writes for "ThemeStream," a forum for writers and readers. King's articles are all rail-related, and mostly chronicle events over the last ten years on the Northeast Corridor, particularly in New England. Look for his articles at under the heading "Travel," and the sub-heading, "Riding the Rails."

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 Site in Boston.

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