Vol. 7 No. 15
March 27, 2006

Copyright © 2006
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

Destination:Freedom
The E-Zine of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - Jim RePass      Editor - Molly McKay
Webmaster - Dennis Kirkpatrick

A weekly North American rail and transit update

For railroad professionals
Political leaders at all levels of government
Journalists from all media

* Now in our Seventh Year *

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

  News Items... 
Schumer announces support of Trans-Hudson tunnel
Drive to add Amtrak trains picks up steam
Transit workers facing fines for 2005 strike. They are still
   without a contract and could face binding arbitration
  Commuter lines… 
SEPTA board approves purchase of new Silverliner V
   regional rail cars
Virginia Railway Express forum focuses on customer service
Subway riders to get message boards
The mess continues
  Safety lines… 
Study: widening two-lane roads, shoulders could add to crash risk
Punctured gas main stops vehicles, trains
Bomb scare evacuates BART station
Three SEPTA workers hurt in explosion
Smooth sailing expected on Bartlett streets with RR repairs
  Friday closing quotes… 
  Freight lines… 
Coal trains threading their way through Connecticut
Mexico hopes cargo looks south. Port growth seeks
   to capitalize on clogged California
  Editorials… 
The Transportation Research Forum
Happy trails in Sammamish
  Opinion… 
Rail lines need more than new equipment
  End notes… 

Schumer announces support
of Trans-Hudson tunnel

Across the wires from the Journal News

PEARL RIVER, NJ—New Jersey Transit has been given a promise by New York Senator Charles Schumer that he is unwavering in his commitment to secure funding for the Trans-Hudson Express Tunnel project.

At the Pearl River rail station the week of March 15, standing next to NJ Transit Executive Director George Warrington, the Senator announced his “full-fledged support” for the proposed tunnel, writes Journal staffer Khurram Saeed.

Schumer’s backing is more than symbolic. The New York Democrat is a member of the Senate Banking Committee, which funds the nation’s mass-transit projects.

The tunnel is being promoted as an attractive alternative to driving, offering commuters a pleasant way to avoid congestion on the highways. It could save at least 15 minutes for Rockland County commuters who now spend approximately one hour driving into Manhattan.

The Trans-Hudson Express would have two new single-track rail tunnels to supplement two existing ones, owned by Amtrak, that carry NJ Transit commuters to midtown. The project would include a new multilevel station under 34th Street, which would connect to Penn Station.

Construction could begin next year and be completed by 2015.

“Right now, as we know, Rockland County residents have too few convenient options for mass transit,” Schumer said.

The Tappan Zee Bridge is also an issue of concern. Many officials believe it should be completely rebuilt, which would cost $14.5 billion. For an estimated $500 million, it could be brought to a state of good repair. A new Tappan Zee would give Rockland County commuters a one-seat ride to Manhattan on Metro-North.

Schumer said the tunnel project would not affect funding for a replacement for the Tappan Zee Bridge.

“No one should mistake this as a substitute for that,” Schumer said at the news conference. “It’s not an either-or proposition.”

The federal government could pay for up to 50 percent of the tunnel project, he said. The rest would come from New Jersey, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and other, private sources.

The tunnel proposal is farther along than the bridge study. Public hearings are expected to begin on its completed draft environmental impact statement this year.


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Drive to add Amtrak trains picks up steam

Across the wires from Copley News

SPRINGFIELD, IL March 23 – In the past some Amtrak routes between Chicago and downstate cities have been threatened, but this year legislators want Amtrak to operate two additional round-trips between Chicago and St. Louis.

They are willing to triple what the state pays Amtrak in order to do that.

The proposed increase also would fund one extra round-trip along the Chicago-to-Carbondale route and another round-trip between Chicago and Quincy.

This fiscal year, the state is paying Amtrak $12.1 million. Identical bills in the Illinois House and Senate would increase that annual support to $35 million.

“This proposal is building up a head of steam, and it will likely be altered in the coming weeks to reflect the financial capabilities of both the state and federal government,” said state Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg, D-Evanston, a bill sponsor.

The extra money would be needed to employ additional crew members, print new schedules and add rail cars.

Amtrak supports the legislation and has talked with lawmakers about the added service, but “without an appropriation, or an authorization on an appropriation, we can’t get very much further down the line,” said Marc Magliari, an Amtrak spokesman.

The bill was heard in a Senate appropriations committee Friday.

“It’s been our experience that ridership grows when there’s more opportunities for people to take the train on their own schedules,” said Magliari, noting that service on the Quincy line has not changed since the early 1970s.

The Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce is among organizations supporting the increased Amtrak spending.

“We support that, obviously, because of the ramifications on our tourism industry,” said chamber president and CEO Gary Plummer, who added that since the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum opened, there has been an increase in ridership.

“We think that more routes would enhance that even more,” Plummer said.

The Quincy Area Chamber of Commerce found widespread support for increased service in a survey of its members, said Executive Director Amy Looten, citing the popularity of the Quincy-Chicago route among local business travelers.

“The other thing is it’s just a matter of convenience, for our business people as well, if they want to schedule an early morning (meeting), that’s difficult the way it is now,” Looten said. “It (would give) us a lot more flexibility.”

Although 47 state senators and 97 state representatives have signed on to support the bills, funding for the added routes is uncertain.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Rod Blagojevich said he has not yet decided whether to support the legislation.

“We see a lot of merit in the bill, but it is a budget issue,” Abby Ottenhoff said. “It would have to be worked out as part of the budget process.”


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Transit workers facing fines for 2005 strike

They are still without a contract and could face binding arbitration

Across the wires from WABC – New York

March 23—MTA workers are now facing the stiff penalties imposed by law for their participation in the transit strike last December. This is the first week they are being docked, and they are not happy seeing the fines levied against them for the illegal strike.

Eyewitness News reporter Tim Fleischer has more on how much it cost workers.

“Five hundred fifty one taken out of mine,” one worker said.

That’s right -- a $551 dollar fine for this driver who asked that his name not be used. He will see the same amount taken out in his next check.

“I gotta pay a car payment, I gotta pay my mortgage ... it’s no joke,” he added.

Thousands of Transport Workers Union employees of the MTA walked off their jobs just before Christmas last December, stranding hundreds of thousand commuters, violating the Taylor Law which prohibits strikes.

But Deryck Dacon, a bus driver, has no regrets.

Deryck: “We went out there and we did what we had to do and we stand up for what we believe in ... it’s sad.”

Commuters who had to endure the inconvenience, many of them walking several miles in freezing temperatures to get to work, had different opinions about the fines.

“They have to pay the penalty and others too ... If the law says that they broke the law, they know the law,” one rider said.

But several others were sympathetic, saying that the workers had no choice and should not be fined.

These union workers are still working without a contract, waiting for a settlement.


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

SEPTA Board Approves Purchase of
New Silverliner V Regional Rail Cars

Across the wires from PRNewswire. Source: SEPTA

PHILADELPHIA, March 23 -- The SEPTA Board today has approved the purchase of 104 new Silverliner V Regional Rail cars from United Transit Systems, LLC for

The contract price is $244,236,714.

“This purchase is an important step for the Regional Rail system,” said SEPTA General Manager Faye Moore. “SEPTA will now have an opportunity to add service to rail routes that have continued to attract new riders every year.”

SEPTA will retire 73 Silverliner II and III cars, which have operated since the 1960s.

Overcrowding on the trains has been a problem and the new cars will relieve that. In addition, SEPTA ridership is growing at over 3% a year. Already, FY 2006 year-to-date growth is 5%. Office space in Center City will expand by one million square feet with construction of the new Cira Center at 30th Street Station and the new Comcast Center near Suburban Station. These expansions will provide many new daily rail commuters.

Delivery of three pilot rail cars will be scheduled for two-and-half years from Notice to Proceed of the contract, with all of the new cars anticipated in service four years from Notice to Proceed.

Final assembly of the Silverliner V cars will be done at a site leased by United Transit Systems at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.

The contract also contains options to purchase up to sixteen additional rail cars for probable ridership growth.

The rail cars will have larger windows, wider aisles, a state-of- the-art climate control system, and enhanced seating arrangements with more two-passenger seating. Each car will be equipped to accommodate two wheelchairs. The combination of aisle width, placement of wider doors and interior seating arrangements will provide a more pleasant environment for passenger movement and seating.

The new cars will have electronic exterior and interior destination signs and voice annunciation of train destination and upcoming station stops. The enhanced public address system will enable SEPTA’s Control Center to broadcast messages directly to passengers on trains. Cars will be equipped with a passenger emergency intercom system.

United Transit Systems is a Consortium of Sojitz Corporation of America and Rotem Company.


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Virginia Railway Express forum
focuses on customer service

Across the wires from the Free Lance-Star Publishing Co.

March 24—At the public library in Fredericksburg on Thursday night, a handful of Virginia Railway Express passengers got to pose questions for two hours to the commuter rail’s CEO.

The conversation started with discussion on the proposed $62.8 million VRE budget, which was the main reason for the meeting. If the budget passes, ticket prices will increase an average of 6 percent beginning in July.

From there, Star writer Kelly Hannon reported, commuters brought up many smaller issues that affect commuters every day: a burned-out bathroom light, lack of on-time performance, unpredictable changes in the schedules, an earlier train from Fredericksburg.

VRE’s budget request is $3.3 million greater than last year. The extra money is needed to offset the cost of rising diesel fuel prices and a whopping 100 percent increase in the price of insurance, due to the risk of terrorism.

VRE expects to raise $1.4 million from the higher fares, and $1.9 million from higher subsidies from the communities that use the service. Some riders brought up their anger at Spotsylvania County which sends passengers but pays no funding.

CEO Dale Zehner said negotiations are going on with Spotsylvania.

“They still have not voted to join, the [Spotsylvania] Board of Supervisors,” Zehner said. “ They’ve indicated they will not join until they have a contract they agree to.”

He told the group that Spotsylvania County had passed a bond referendum for a new $13 million rail station.

He also said an earlier train out of Fredericksburg is a good possibility.

“I know you want it and I think it’s a wise move to make,” Zehner said.

But CSX, who owns the tracks, he said, will have to be convinced it won’t interfere with their schedule. He hopes he can do this when a new railroad bridge opens over Quantico Creek in spring 2007, expanding rail capacity.

Anyone who missed the public hearing can e-mail comments to

Email: publiccomment@vre.org or fax them to 703-684-1313.

VRE’s budget must be approved by the VRE Operations Board, the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission, and Northern Virginia Transportation Commission before fare increases would go into effect.


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Subway riders to get message boards

Across the wires from MTA

NEW YORK, March 20--The days of waiting on the subway platform not knowing when the next train will come will soon be a thing of the past.

The Transit Authority is installing new electronic message boards that will give subway riders a countdown to the next train arrival.

The message boards are part of a $160 million upgrade for the subway system.

Similar signs are already used in Washington, London and Paris.

The message boards will gradually be installed on all the subway lines in New York City.

The first ones will be placed on L train platforms by the end of this year.


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The mess continues

SEATTLE, March 23--For nearly two years, residents and businesses in Seattle’s Rainier Valley have endured torn-up streets, traffic congestion and the grit and grime associated with early construction of Sound Transit’s light-rail line, part of the link between downtown Seattle and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Work on the nearly 5-mile segment through Rainier Valley is nearing the halfway mark, with much of the underground utility work in place. Next comes the repaving phase along the Martin Luther King Jr. Way South corridor.

A Sound Transit spokesman said the agency is working with the community on plans to preserve access to local homes and businesses.

Sound Transit will hold an open house from 5:30 to 7 p.m. today to update the community on light-rail construction in Rainier Valley at New Holly Community Center, 7054 32nd Ave. S.

The agency spokesman said the open house will provide information about the project, including completed projects and future work.


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SAFETY LINES...  Safety lines...

Study: widening two-lane roads,
shoulders could add to crash risk

Associated Press

STORRS, Connecticut, March 23. – The Hartford Courant reported that a study by the University of Connecticut indicates that widening the travel lanes and shoulders on two-lane roads can encourage higher speeds and create the potential for more severe head-on crashes.

The study, released on Thursday, said head-on crashes on two-lane roads are most likely to occur on stretches with frequent curves, sharp turns, hills and several retail and commercial driveways.

John Ivan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at UConn and author of the study, said the extra-wide shoulders added to some of those roads seem to send an inadvertent signal to drivers that faster speeds are safe.

They restrict their speeds more often when they feel hemmed in on narrow, potentially hazardous stretches, he said. But wider lanes and shoulders lend the feel of more room for correction than actually exists.

“Drivers are largely having trouble determining what is a safe speed,” Ivan said. “When you’ve got these wide roads, the things you might hit are farther away from you, so you’re more confident going faster.”

Six foot wide shoulders can add to the safety of a two-lane road, but wider than that can actually make the road more dangerous.

About two of every five crashes nationwide occur on two-lane roads, but they tend to be more serious than those on highways, according to federal transportation statistics.

In fact, 75 percent of the nation’s fatal crashes each year occur on two-lane roads, usually either when a driver veers off the road and strikes an object or heads into incoming traffic.

Sprawl adds to the problem, increasing the number of cars and trucks on two-lane roads that inadvertently become the main artery to many growing suburban towns, the study says.

Ivan’s study examined crashes on 720 two-lane rural segments in Connecticut of 1 kilometer each. They varied in their topography, width, traffic volume and other factors.

He said he does not want his report interpreted to blame the State Departments of Transportation have for decades nationally accepted traffic planning standards - which include wider shoulders - to protect themselves from liability.

To ease the problem on Connecticut roads, many of which were almost a hundred years ago when cars did not go as fast, some creative solutions should be tried, Ivan said. Rumble strips can be effective although people who live or have businesses near the road often object to the noise.

Ivan said transportation planners should try those kinds of creative solutions more often.

He also cited the “two plus one” design used in some other states, in which a passing lane is added at some spots on two-lane roads so drivers can overtake slower cars without pulling into oncoming traffic.

For additional information on Connecticut highway development issues see Stop Stealth Highways (www.stealthhighways.org).


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Punctured gas main stops vehicles, trains

From the Internet

CHICAGO, March 23--A punctured gas main had fire officials and railroad crews very nervous last Tuesday as crews from North Shore Gas secured the leak to repair the damaged pipe.

Traffic was halted for nearly an hour on Half Day Road.

A road crew working on that road is suspected of puncturing the 4-inch main around 3 p.m., Buffalo Grove Fire Chief Timothy Sashko said.

The puncture occurred near the intersection with the Canadian National Railroad tracks, causing great concern for public safety, Sashko said. Because any spark from a train or static electricity from the rail could have been enough to cause an explosion, rail traffic was halted.

Sashko said Metra commuters were bused from the Prairie View station to the Buffalo Grove station to help get them to their destinations.

No one was evacuated from the area, thanks to some help from Mother Nature.

“There was enough wind to clear the area pretty quickly,” Sashko said. “The wind helped out a lot. It kept the gas from hanging around in the air.”


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Bomb scare evacuates BART station

Across the wires from Associated Press

OAKLAND - A bomb threat at the West Oakland BART station Wednesday morning shut down all traffic at the station for nearly an hour and caused major delays throughout the east San Francisco Bay area, authorities said.

The incident started shortly after 8 a.m. when two men at the 12th St. Oakland City Center station shouted there was a bomb on a train that had just left the station, BART spokesman Linton Johnson said.

The train arrived at the West Oakland station about one minute later. BART police evacuated the station and searched the train with a bomb-sniffing dog, Johnson said.

Authorities did not find anything suspicious. The all-clear was given about an hour later, but caused delays of nearly an hour, Johnson said.

Two people were detained in connection with the threat, but a witness who reported the incident was unable to identify them and they were released, Johnson said.

Authorities plan to examine surveillance videotape to help identify the men.


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Three SEPTA workers hurt in explosion

From the Internet

March 23 -- An explosion sent three SEPTA workers, one critically injured, to area hospitals after a boiler blew up in South Philadelphia yesterday morning, said a transit agency spokesman.

The explosion in the Southern District Depot at 20th and Johnston Streets happened shortly after 7 a.m. as two of the employees were working on a large boiler that provides heat for the depot, a building used for storage and maintenance, spokesman Richard Maloney said.

“They were working on it when it exploded for unknown reasons,” Maloney said. “It caused significant structural damage to that part of the building.”

One of the workers, a technician working on the boiler, was taken to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania with critical injuries, Maloney said. The other technician and a third employee, who works at the depot, were taken to Jefferson University Hospital for treatment.

Police identified the victims as Wayne Kamman, 36, who had second-degree burns on his lower legs; John Vellucci, 47, the technician, who had second- and third-degree burns on his hands and arms; and Richard Printz, 47, transported for observation.

Maloney said the building was evacuated. City and state officials are investigating the cause. Maloney said parts of the large building, which encompasses a city block, are expected to be cleared for operation.


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Smooth sailing expected on
Bartlett streets with RR repairs

From the Internet

BARTLETT, TN March 23--When it is finished, it will be so smooth that you won’t even know it’s there. That is what city officials hope for the Altruria Road railroad crossing renovations scheduled to begin March 27. Altruria Road will be closed to all traffic between Sungate Drive and Stonetrace Drive until the project is completed.

“The repairs should take no more than a week as long as the weather stays agreeable and everything goes as planned,” said city engineer Rick McClanahan.

The city of Bartlett in conjunction with CSX Transportation will make improvements on the crossing. CSX Transportation will be making the needed improvements to the actual railway while the road repair will be paid for and completed by the city of Bartlett

“The city has budgeted $40,000 for the improvement at Altruria, but we expect it to be significantly less,” said McClanahan, “We wanted to leave some room for unexpected expenses should they arise.”

The railroad crossing at Yale will be the next crossing/roadway improvement project between the city of Bartlett and CSX Transportation. The Yale Road crossing project has also been allotted $40,000 of the city budget for improvements, said McClanahan, but a start date has not been scheduled at this time.

“We are taking it one thing at a time,” said McClanahan. “We won’t be closing Yale though, we will work on it one side at a time.”

Residents who must cross the tracks often are more than willing to endure some inconvenience to have the railroad crossing repaired.

“The railroad crossing is dangerous. Not only can it tear up your car, I am surprised it hasn’t caused any serious accidents,” said Cindy Diana, who crosses the tracks several times a day. “If you live in this area, you know to slow down, in fact, you have to practically stop. If you don’t live around here and you hit the tracks too fast, you could possibly be thrown into oncoming traffic.”

While some may see the railways through Bartlett as an aggravation, it is important to remember that while we may not use the rails as a form of transportation in Shelby County, they still serve a vital function. Every railcar trip removes approximately three truck trips from congested highways. On a per ton mile basis, railroads emit one-tenth the hydrocarbons and diesel particulates as trucks and one-third the oxides of nitrogen and carbon. Railroads can move one ton of freight three times as far as a truck on a gallon of fuel which reduces the need for oil.

Bill Anderson of the Tennessee Department of Transportation said the state is working with the railroads to open up better lines of communication between cities like Bartlett and rail owner operators like CSX.

“There is this magical 10 feet that surrounds the rails and the road,” said Anderson, “But we have been working on better communication between road crews and railways and everyone is starting to realize that to make a better roadway it takes two.”

CSX Transportation operates and maintains 1,000 miles of track in the state of Tennessee and invested $21 million in 2004 to maintain and upgrade track in the state. The Altruria Road crossing is one of 1,200 grade crossings operated in Tennessee by CSX.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: MarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)80.3580.79
Canadian National (CNI)47.5745.95
Canadian Pacific (CP)49.1250.87
CSX (CSX)59.0159.46
Florida East Coast (FLA)52.8853.35
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)32.3131.88
Kansas City Southern (KSU)24.5023.78
Norfolk Southern (NSC)53.3053.94
Providence & Worcester (PWX)16.3916.31
Union Pacific (UNP)92.1891.07


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

Coal trains threading their way through Connecticut

By: Howard French , Journal Inquirer

Residents in Stafford and other towns strung along the New England Central Railroad have been spotting some colorful new traffic on the old line in recent months, in the form of coal trains hauled by diesel locomotives that are running through from the Providence & Worcester Railroad.

The orange and chocolate-brown diesels are hauling unit trains of 50 or so hopper cars filled with coal bound for a power-generating plant near Binghamton, N.Y. It is a test, of sorts, for the use of low-polluting coal from South Africa, which starts its circuitous U.S. routing at the dock in Providence.

The trains then run north up one of the Providence & Worcester’s lines into the railroad’s headquarters city, Worcester, then south along a second P&W line through Putnam to New London. From there, the same train is shifted to the New England Central Railroad, previously the Central Vermont Railroad, which takes it north again through Norwich, Windham, Mansfield, and Stafford, then on through Massachusetts as far as Bellow Falls, Vt.

The coal’s then turned over to the Vermont Rail System, which routes it over the spine of the Green Mountains, near the Okemo Mountain ski resort in Ludlow, Vt., to Rutland and into New York State, near Whitehall. The train then turns south again, making the last lap of its run down the Canadian Pacific Railroad’s former Delaware & Hudson line to a power plant at the Binghamton end of the route.

Frank Rogers, vice president of the Providence & Worcester, said Thursday the seemingly roundabout routing - collectively being called the New England Gateway - is actually economical. It competes with more direct routes on larger railroads, like the CSX Corp., which operates the former Boston & Albany rail route east and west across the middle of Massachusetts.

“Additional coal into this market will be driven by market factors,” Rogers said. “As far as the route, we have a close working relationship with the other ‘regional’ railroads in New England, specifically the New England Central and Vermont Rail System, and although appearing circuitous the route to New York was very workable.”

“The need to reduce emissions has played a large part in developing this market,” Rogers said. The import coal is cleaner than domestic coal, with lower emissions, he added.

“The ability to move this coal by rail has removed thousands of trucks from area highways,” Rogers said, adding the coal has originated from South America and Russia, as well as South Africa.

Nearly 400,000 tons of coal was handled through the Port of Providence in 2004, according to railroad statistics.

P&W began operations on a former line of the defunct New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad in 1973. Through a series of acquisitions of connecting lines, it has grown from 45 miles of track to its current system of approximately 545 miles, more than 300 of them in Connecticut.

The company transports a variety of commodities for customers, including construction gravel, iron and steel products, lumber, chemicals, scrap metals, plastic resins, cement, and food. The P&W counts among its major customers Dow Chemical, Northeast Utilities, Exxon Mobil, Frito-Lay, General Dynamics, International Paper, Smurfit Stone Container, and Tilcon Connecticut.


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Mexico hopes cargo looks south

Port growth seeks to capitalize on clogged California

Across the wires from Associated Press

Shipping containers are stacked on a cargo ship docked at the Ensenada International Terminal port facility in Ensenada, Mexico. Last year, the facility acquired two additional cargo cranes, bringing the total to four.

Mexico is expanding plans to improve its ports so they can handle growing trade with Asia that now is clogging ports in California.

The latest proposal involves Punta Colonet, a sparsely populated, wind-blown bay on the Baja Peninsula 150 miles south of the U.S. border.

Mexican officials in coming weeks plan to study the feasibility of turning Punta Colonet into a superport on par with facilities at Los Angeles and Long Beach, the largest western port complex in North America.

Lazaro Cardenas is Mexico’s deepest port, and Hutchison Port Holdings, the world’s largest independent port operator, plans to pump about $200 million into expanding container ship capacity there.

“We are ready. The port is ready,” said Hector Carranza, business director for the port at Lazaro Cardenas. “The infrastructure is ready for anything shipping companies need.”

Kansas City has a stake in trade with Mexico and plans to build an “inland port” center that would allow freight to pass customs in Kansas City and avoid long border delays for trucks crossing into Mexico. And freight that goes by rail rather than truck can mean business for Kansas City Southern de Mexico, the country’s biggest railroad, formed when Kansas City Southern bought out its Mexican partner, Grupo TMM.

Kansas City has agreements fostering business and government partnerships with counterparts in Lazaro Cardenas and its state, Manzanillo, along with another deep-water port city, Manzanillo.

Private companies have approached ports in Mexico looking for backup routes in case of work stoppages in California.

“The world’s biggest retailers want to have more options open,” said David Eaton, a spokesman for Kansas City Southern de Mexico.

“We are not trying tale business away from U.S. West Coast ports, but rather to absorb a significant percentage of projected growth.”

Los Angeles-Long Beach handles 40 percent of all the cargo shipped into the United States and 80 percent of U.S. imports from Asia.

But with the amount of cargo steaming into the American West Coast expected to outpace the capacity of ports there in coming years, Mexico wants to be ready for the surplus.


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EDITORIALS...  Editorials...

The Transportation Research Forum

By Jim RePass
President & CEO
The National Corridors Initiative

The Transportation Research Forum is a well-respected academic organization that for nearly 50 years has been helping to organize and direct the nation’s university-based transportation research efforts. Each year they hold a conference to share ideas, projects, and studies, and to give awards. This year’s conference was at New York University in New York City; next year’s will be in the spring of 2007 at Boston University.

This year we were lucky enough to be invited to attend and participate in a panel session hosted by the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association’s Dave Mears. The subject: “Amtrak, the Northeast Corridor, and the Future of Passenger Rail.” It was, to say the least, a thought-provoking session, with a broad spectrum of views represented, all the way from “It’s time to invest in the national rail system”, to “Let’s break up Amtrak and start over,” with much spirited audience participation. To paraphrase the day’s witty luncheon speaker, Port Authority COO Ernesto Butcher, it is always dangerous to speak in front of people who are experts, and who not only know your business, but will happily advise you how to run it better.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, I come down on the side of investing in the national passenger rail system. That doesn’t necessarily translate as “save Amtrak no matter what.” But it just so happens that we do believe that Amtrak is worth saving, and not out of feelings of nostalgia or any other “wet” reason, as the British might say, but because of the value Amtrak contributes, and can continue to contribute, to the national transportation system.

The reality is that there is a huge well of concentrated knowledge at Amtrak, at all levels of the company, which would be lost if Amtrak were broken up, sold off, or otherwise disassembled into component pieces. While good management is a pre-requisite of any real improvements, it is pointless to demand Amtrak “reform” without providing money for infrastructure investment, long neglected. Amtrak has never been given any serious money for capital improvements.

Instead, as I am fond of saying, Amtrak has always been given just enough money to fail slowly. Ironically, in the last three years, because of the enormous respect David Gunn earned on Capitol Hill while running the railroad, the Republican-dominated Congress appropriated sufficient funds for Amtrak to at least get started on some long-overdue capital projects. That has prevented the Bush Administration from wrecking the railroad “in order to save it.”

And speaking of good management, it is important to remember that Amtrak had, categorically, the best manager in its history up until November, when Bush administration functionaries fired David Gunn for refusing to begin implementing their long-planned program to parcel out the railroad’s assets, particularly the Northeast Corridor’s valuable real estate, to private investors.

While everyone who has ridden Amtrak has experienced the results of the decades of neglect of our rail infrastructure, the fact is Amtrak does a superb job with what it has been given. America invests less in its rail system, per capita, than many third world countries, and far less than the modern European or Asian countries, or even the emerging Asian and South Asian countries, with which we must compete. We do at our peril.

The criticisms of Amtrak, and its critic’s frustration with it, are largely due to failures that are beyond Amtrak’s control. I experienced that once again Friday evening when, returning from the conference, my train, Amtrak 94, originating in Newport News, was delayed more than an hour. There was the usual grousing on the platform, the usual, “Well, what you expect of Amtrak?”

Once on board, however, I took the trouble to find out what had happened. Sure enough, in Richmond earlier that day, a CSX freight train had pulled a coupler while passing through Richmond station just as 94 was stopping there. Instead of pushing the broken train out of the way, CSX chose to fix it while it fouled the main line, causing the delay. Amtrak, of course, got the blame.

Amtrak has been the stepchild of the American transportation since its creation in 1970. Until we reform the way we fund ground-based transportation --- and that includes freight rail infrastructure --- there is no point in calling for “reform” of the railroad, because without money we are just re-arranging the proverbial deck chairs…

That includes changing the “Highway Trust Fund” into a “Transportation Trust Fund”, and creating new ways to pay for infrastructure. NCI’s contribution to this debate is the “Tizzie” (“Transportation Infrastructure Investment Zone”), part of our TransPlan 21 program (see our main website). In a Tizzie, which runs the length of a transportation corridor and extends five miles (or ten or 20) on either side of same, a percentage of the growth of all tax revenues in that zone --- state, Federal, local, however raised --- goes to a capital fund that is used to back long-term infrastructure bonds, so that things like the absurd $6 billion short-fall in Northeast Corridor capital investment that exists, for example, between New York City and Washington DC, is never allowed to happen again.

Much more than funding reform is needed. But, as the British found out when they “privatized” rail and then had to pay billions of pounds to make the system safe to operate (after decades of Amtrak-like neglect of BritRail), it is essential to start with that. Otherwise, we are just blaming the victim --- and in the long run, harming ourselves.

As Train 94 sped North, a young couple slept through their “change at New Haven” stop for the Springfield (MA) train. The Amtrak crew went to work, and found a Shoreline East commuter train that had finished its run, but was waiting to “deadhead” (empty return, no passengers) to its base. With a few calls on the radio, the Amtrak crew arranged for the Shoreline East to take two passengers back to New Haven, to catch the Springfield train. It’s the kind of thing I’ve seen often on Amtrak, but that you never read about in the newspapers, or hear in a Jay Leno monologue. Good job, Amtrak.


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Happy trails in Sammamish

March 23--An editorial in the Seattle Times touts the benefits of a recently opened trail, the East Lake Sammamish Trail. Thanks to the members of the Cascade Land Conservancy, who pooled $2 million from public partnerships and twice prevailed in federal court, the trail is now ready and will enhance the quality of life citizens of the area.

The seven-mile path is a scenic beacon to cyclists, walkers and nature lovers. To those with an extra-long memory, it is also powerful testament to the doggedness of groups and local government committed to a good idea. Stroll down memory lane to gain an appreciation of how uncertain the trail was.

In 1996, the then-Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad stopped using its line along the east shore of Lake Sammamish. The land lay fallow. In 1998, the county bought the rail corridor through a federal program called Rails to Trails.

A nearly decade-long battle ensued between lakefront property owners and advocates of a trail. The legal wrangling ended after trail opponents lost in federal court.

That’s in the past. There is now a navigable trail that links Sammamish with Redmond. The route connects an 11-mile trail between Redmond and Issaquah and is part of a 40-mile trail system extending eastward from Ballard to the northern tip of Lake Washington and south to Interstate 90.

This victory is a testament to local officials and citizens who would not give up.


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OPINION...  Opinion...

Rail lines need more than new equipment

Letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer, reprinted with permission

March 23--While it’s nice to know that SEPTA is getting new equipment for its regional rail lines (“SEPTA expected to approve 104 new regional rail cars,” March 17), one would hope that the agency would rethink the type of service it provides on these lines.

Service is far too infrequent, with one-hour and two-hour gaps between trains. If you miss a train, you are out of luck! The fare system is a complicated crazy-quilt of zones, and far too expensive.

The arcane fare system on the regional rail lines does not mesh well with that of the trolley, bus and subway systems. Would it hurt SEPTA to accept tokens and transfers for train rides? Why can’t trains be free for seniors during non-peak hours? And isn’t charging a penalty for not buying your ticket from a machine or ticket agent just plain dumb?

On the positive side, the personnel of the regional rail lines seem much more friendly and helpful than those on the rest of the SEPTA systems. Maybe they could serve as a kind of “charm school” for their non-regional rail colleagues!

Rudolph Masciantonio
Philadelphia
Rudolphus9@aol.com


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End Notes...

We try to be accurate in the stories we write, but even seasoned pros err occasionally. If you read something you know to be amiss, or if you have a question about a topic, we’d like to hear from you. Please e-mail the editor at editor@nationalcorridors.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write. For technical issues contact D. M. Kirkpatrick, NCI’s webmaster at webmaster@nationalcorridors.org.

Destination: Freedom is partially funded by the Surdna Foundation, and other contributors.

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Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images by Leo King and other photo journalists should contact our webmaster@nationalcorridors.org for additional information.

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 transportation initiative 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 link, please send the uniform resource locator address (URL) our webmaster@nationalcorridors.org.


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