TRANSPLAN 21 conference and rally for rail
June 14, 15 on Capitol Hill Washington, D.C.

Vol. 6 No. 13
March 28, 2005

Copyright © 2005
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 - Leo King
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

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

  News Items… 
Mineta continues anti-Amtrak message in Boston, Detroit
Jeffords finds some answers
Harnish spells out his plan
Rebutting Mineta: NARP defends Amtrak’s record
Laney may not be so willing to derail, bankrupt Amtrak
Portland-Montreal passenger trains?
  Labor lines… 
Santorum feels heat from labor
  Commuter lines… 
Senate prepares to take up transit bill
New commuter bird to ‘fly’ in New Mexico
APTA commuter rail conference starts April 2 in Los Angeles
Duff irked at Rell; not getting answers
  APTA Highlights… 
Cleveland’s Red Line Rail Celebrates Golden Anniversary
Barre, Vt., Voters Back Increased Transit Funding
Rogers Steps Down as Delon Hampton President, CEO
Lane Transit, Union Members End Weeklong Strike
  Builders’ lines… 
Greenbrier buys two GE plants
  Freight lines… 
CSX brings big dollars to U.S.
Freight rail traffic continues upward
  Wall Street lines… 
UP raises earnings estimate
NS
  Selected Friday closing quotes… 
  Opinion… 
Amtrak: oranges and apples
Bankrupt Amtrak – what then?
  Endnotes… 
 

Daylight Saving Time begins April 3. Most of the nation will return to daylight time at 2:00 a.m. Sunday when clocks will be set ahead one hour.


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Acela Express departs Providence, RI

File photo

USDOT Secretary Norman Mineta visited Boston and Detroit last week, delivering the zero funding message for Amtrak on behalf of the White House. He suggested the federal agency would give the Washington-Boston route to the seven states – the route of Amtrak’s Acela Express and other Amtrak and commuter passenger trains. He made no mention of federal support for the Northeast Corridor.

 

Mineta continues anti-Amtrak
message in Boston, Detroit

By Leo King
Editor

USDOT secretary Norman Mineta continued taking the White House plan to wreck Amtrak around the U.S. last week, visiting Boston and Detroit.

“The federal government will assume control of the network of tracks and equipment that make up Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and rebuild them under the Bush Administration’s proposal to reform Amtrak,” said Mineta on March 23.

With him at the State House was Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R). Mineta said, “Romney and I agreed that Amtrak urgently needs reform. It is dying, and if we continue down this current track, there is no hope for recovery.” He added, “We talked about the Bush administration’s plans to reform Amtrak, and I explained how this fresh approach could bring long-needed improvements to the Northeast Corridor.”

As the Boston Herald pointed out, it “could leave Massachusetts paying millions of dollars a year for service currently funded by the federal government.”

Jeffords finds some answers

At the request of Senator James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.), the Congressional Research Service performed an analysis of the potential implications of an Amtrak bankruptcy. Jeffords is the ranking member of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, the National Assn. of Railroad Passengers reported on Friday.

The report states, in part, "A complete elimination of federal support could leave few options other than liquidation for a bankruptcy court and trustee."

Among is finding was that “...should the Bankruptcy Court and trustee decide to liquidate Amtrak, much, if not all, the encumbered rolling stock could already have been repossessed by the lessors or creditors. Other forms of collateral, in this case mostly Amtrak real estate, would be protected from claims according to the bankruptcy code.”

The transportation secretary offered, “It is important to recognize that a primary reason why Amtrak is dying is its neglect of the Northeast Corridor – its single most valuable asset and single most lucrative market.”

Mineta was in Boston to meet with Romney to discuss Bush’s commitment to reform – which some people view as a euphemism for destroying – the nation’s passenger rail system. Bush unveiled a budget a month ago that proposed to end taxpayer subsidies for Amtrak. The White House offered a little more than $300 million to run commuter trains in the Northeast, but zero-funded the rest of the system. Not one word was uttered about financial aid given to the troubled airline industry.

Romney said, “He (Mineta) and I are working out of the same book, maybe a little different page right now, but we are going to keep looking for ways to reform Amtrak,” The AP reported.

“Clearly the federal government is going to look to the states to pick up a bigger share than we’re going to want to pick up.”

Romney said he is continuing to make the case for rail service improvements to the state’s congressional delegation and the federal government.

A spokeswoman for Romney declined to say whether Romney supported the specifics of Bush’s proposal, but said he wouldn’t back any cuts that would hurt rail service.

U.S. Senators Edward Kennedy and John Kerry strongly oppose the Bush plan.

“What we see again and again from this Administration is the call for reform, without the resources to achieve it,” Kennedy said during an Amtrak debate last week.

“It doesn’t work in education, and it won’t work with the nation’s passenger rail system.”

“Amtrak is dying, and if we continue down the current track, there is no hope of recovery,” Mineta said. “We have a different vision where the Northeast Corridor becomes a world-class example of modern passenger rail travel.”

He said travel throughout the Northeast would benefit because the Amtrak reforms include plans to repair the tracks, tunnels and bridges along the Northeast Corridor.

“President Bush understands how vital the Northeast Corridor is, and we are committed to doing what it takes to get these tracks back into shape.”

The proposal, Mineta said, would “level the playing field” between Amtrak and its competitors by freeing Amtrak of the cost of maintaining tracks and stations. Instead, the company would be able to focus on its core operation, “running the trains on time.”

He did not specify who or what he meant by “competitors.”

The Herald noted “While agreeing with the need for reform, Romney said plans to turn over maintenance of rail infrastructure to the states by 2011 could leave Massachusetts facing a hefty economic burden.”

“Clearly, the federal government will want the states to take up a larger share than they want to pick up,” Romney said.

Mineta said, “The plan would also introduce healthy competition for better rail service by letting states chose from Amtrak, private companies, or public rail operators to run key routes.” The proposal, Mineta added, would establish a 50-50 federal match for state investments in passenger rail infrastructure, like stations, trains and track. The secretary failed to add highway funding gets 80-20 percent matching grants – 80 percent federal.

Mineta announced that he would submit the Administration’s Amtrak reform proposal, the Passenger Rail Investment Reform Act, when Congress reconvenes in April.

Mineta pointed out USDOT’s Inspector General, Ken Mead, “has warned about Amtrak’s neglect of the Northeast Corridor on many occasions. He has raised concerns about Amtrak’s failure to maintain vital pieces of the corridor – including the Thames River Bridge in Connecticut, switches in New Jersey, and the Hudson River tunnels.”

So has David Gunn, the railroad’s CEO. As reported in D:F last week, Amtrak’s directors agreed to include funding to replace the Thames span, between New London and Groton, Conn., in next year’s budget. A problem remains, however, that the board offered a zero budget to the White House and to the Congress.

“This neglect has left Amtrak unable to take full advantage of the capacity that it has along the Northeast Corridor, and as a result, the burden falls on highways like I-95 and airports like Boston’s Logan,” he said.

Mineta said, “We have a different vision – a vision where the Northeast Corridor is a world-class example of modern passenger rail travel; a vision where travel by train from Boston to Washington, D.C., is comfortable, efficient, and reliable; and a vision where competition and a new federal-state partnership are building a stronger rail network and attracting new riders in thriving markets across the country.”

Spelling out some rosy details, the secretary said, “Our plan will breathe new life into passenger rail by leveling the playing field, providing healthy competition for better rail service, rebuilding the Northeast Corridor, and creating a federal-state partnership for investing in improved passenger rail service,” and, he added, “We accomplish this by transferring the tracks and stations owned by Amtrak today to state and local control. Commuter trains constitute the majority of traffic on Amtrak’s tracks, so it just makes sense to put state and local officials in charge of the tracks and stations that are so vital to their economies.”

No word from Mineta on a specific dollar amount the DOT is ready to include.

The 72-year-old Mineta pointed out, “Massachusetts has shown us that this approach works. The Commonwealth owns the tracks and stations on the Northeast Corridor, and they have operated them successfully.

“Massachusetts also provides us with an example of how competition can revitalize and reenergize rail service. Three years ago, the Commonwealth shopped around for its commuter train service. A private company won that competition, and despite predictions of doom and gloom, the T’s commuter trains have been a reliable and profitable system ever since.”

The CSX line from Boston to Springfield, Mass., was also included in his speech, delivered solely to the media and invited guests, presumably GOP faithful. The visit to the Hub was not publicly disclosed until after the speech was delivered.

Mineta said, “Amtrak may in fact be America’s last monopoly. Today, if the Commonwealth of Massachusetts wanted a better deal on Boston-to-Springfield trains, it could only choose from Amtrak or… Amtrak.”

That statement was not quite correct. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is considering extending trips to the central Massachusetts city over CSX tracks.

“Our plan will instead allow states to choose who runs their intercity trains. Amtrak will compete with private companies and public operators to run routes, and this healthy competition will give Amtrak a reason to run the trains on time, to keep them clean, and to provide better service.”

Mineta told the reporters, “I reassured Governor Romney that, under our plan, the Department of Transportation will continue to invest in intercity passenger rail, but instead of handing the taxpayers’ money to a company in Washington, D.C., we will partner with states so that investments are made in repairing, rebuilding, and improving the nation’s networks of tracks, tunnels, bridges, and stations.”

Bay State Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry have both said they are opposed to the Bush plan.

Mineta added, “The Northeast Corridor is a unique case, because the network itself belongs to Amtrak. As I noted, it has been sorely neglected. So our plan would have the Department of Transportation assume responsibility for the Northeast Corridor while we bring this once great network back into a state of good repair.”

Not a peep about Gunn and his efforts, nor about the Congress underfunding Amtrak for so long.

He said the Administration is “committed to doing what it takes to get these tracks back into shape,” and then added, “Once that process is completed, we will transfer the Northeast Corridor infrastructure to local control. Now, local control does not mean that the federal government will stop investing in our passenger rail system. On the contrary, under our plan, states around the country will be eligible for federal matching grants to improve rail systems” – the 50-50 offering.

Washington State, North Carolina, “and my own home state of California already have been making substantial investments on their own to upgrade tracks and improve service. Under our plan, for the first time, they will be eligible for federal matching grants” Mineta said.

The USDOT leader said, “These capital grants are the key to revitalizing passenger rail travel in America. When the nation’s tracks are maintained, when they can handle state-of-the-art passenger train service, when service is reliable, then ridership will increase, making trains more popular and more profitable. More profitable and more popular rail service means that states will have to pay less, or nothing at all, to run these railroads. In turn, states will have more money to invest in new train service, or other vital transportation projects.

“Ultimately, our plan is about saving Amtrak, rebuilding the Northeast Corridor, and creating, for the first time, a meaningful federal-state partnership for passenger rail travel.

“Governor Romney understands that we must find a solution – this year – to a passenger rail system that has so clearly failed the Northeast Corridor and failed America. And I told him that I am prepared to work with him, and with the Congress, to put passenger rail service in America back on track.

Passenger rail advocates say Bush’s plan will dismantle Amtrak and imperil service by putting maintenance in the hands of state agencies that are not equipped to handle it. “Connecticut has (maintained) its right-of-way for many years and it is the single worst section in the Northeast,” said Jim RePass, president of the National Corridors Initiative.

Harnish spells out his plan

Midwest High-Speed Rail Assn. executive director Rick Harnish said he was able to share some of his organization’s plans for fast trains in the region. He wrote, in a position paper on its website (http://www.midwesthsr.org/), “We believe that the successful implementation of the Midwest proposals will require the following short-term actions: Stabilize existing routes and services, provide essential funding to put Amtrak’s physical plant and rolling stock in a state of good repair, including purchasing new sleepers, diners and coaches, and eliminating bottlenecks in the national railroad network.

Harnish wrote “new performance measures” are needed, “similar to those now used for commuter rail – that stress growth in passenger miles and set realistic farebox recovery goals.”

He also wants to “create a predictable and long-term funding stream dedicated to capital projects throughout the country.”

He suggested, “picking the low-hanging fruit. State departments of transportation have identified infrastructure projects that can be implemented quickly and at a low cost. If implemented they would dramatically improve the performance of the existing network.”

Harnish recommended “removing NEC infrastructure costs from Amtrak’s budget and fund them outside of the annual appropriations process. Also, the USDOT should create a vision for an intercity rail network that connects all regions and metropolitan areas and serves all important transportation routes. The network will combine fast and frequent service in high-density short haul markets with lower frequency long haul service to unite all routes into a single integrated system.”

Explaining the concept further, he added, “The DOT should then create an agency to perform the same core functions for railroads that the Federal Aviation and Highway Administrations do for their respective modes – promotion, planning, funding and oversight.”

That agency would “set policies for allocating public funds to regions and services, establish guidelines for balancing volume growth with farebox recovery, and provide criteria for developing public-private partnerships with the freight railroads to ensure shared goals for improving both passenger and freight services.

The agency would also authorize “new, publicly owned, high-speed rail segments in those routes where frequency and speed make joint use with freight operations impractical.”

In Detroit, Mineta was critical of people who criticize Bush and him. The Daily Oakland Press reported he denied Thursday that the Bush Administration has a hidden agenda of wanting to kill the Amtrak passenger rail system, including the three trains that now make daily round trips between Pontiac, Mich., and Chicago.

“Those who claim the President and I are out to kill Amtrak should stop writing press releases,” said Mineta, who spoke at the downtown Detroit Amtrak station to drum up support for what he called an Amtrak reform proposal.

He repeated much of what he said in Boston.

Mineta told the Motor City gathering, “I had the opportunity to go over those plans this morning with Richard Harnish, the executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Assn. Let me just say that, as the Secretary of Transportation, I am excited by the growing enthusiasm for passenger rail here in Michigan and across the Midwest – and I believe that the federal government ought to be doing more to help. Unfortunately, with the broken system that we have today, we cannot.”

He continued to deride Amtrak.

“Every year, the taxpayers have been anteing up more than one billion dollars for Amtrak; and Amtrak, instead of making prudent investments in support of passenger rail service, insists on using these funds for routes that have long since faded from use. These investment decisions leave little money to improve service along corridors where there is such clear public support. As a result, the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative and similar innovative approaches to intercity passenger rail around the country are starved for funding.”

He said, “We have a different vision – a vision where travel by train from Detroit to Chicago is fast, efficient, and reliable; a vision where a vibrant and viable passenger rail network connects Midwesterners and links them to business and educational opportunities throughout the region; and a vision where competition and a new federal-state partnership are building a stronger rail network and attracting new riders in thriving markets across the country.”

Mineta customizes part of his speech for each audience he speaks to. For example, he told his Midwest audience, “Amtrak continues to delay desperately needed maintenance of the infrastructure that it already owns. This neglect leads to unreliable service and unacceptably slow travel times between places like Detroit and Chicago. Two out of every five trains on the Wolverine line arrived late last year – and that was the best performance among Amtrak’s passenger lines serving Michigan.” He didn’t explain why the trains were late. A skeptical audience listened to Mineta. Many were passenger rail supporters who said financially troubled Michigan simply can’t come up with the matching funds that Mineta was talking about to improve Amtrak.

Mineta said, “Today, Amtrak is a dispatching company, a real estate business, a track repair firm, and a reservation system. If Amtrak were in the aviation business instead of passenger rail, it would be assuming the role of airline, travel agency, airport, and the FAA all rolled into one.”

What he didn’t say is that is how all railroads have operated for more than a century – including the freight railroads.

“To me, this reform plan is delusional,” said Ed McArdle, conservation chairman for the Southeastern Michigan Sierra Club.

“Michigan and most other states are in terrible financial shape, and hoping for private investors is just a way of killing Amtrak.”

That view was echoed by Clark Charnetski, a board member and former chairman of the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers, and Bishop Bill McCullum, past vice president of a faith-based group called Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength, also known as MOSES, which has lobbied for years for better public transit in the Detroit area and improved passenger rail service.

“It would be difficult to get any more money from any of the states where Amtrak operates,” Charnetski said.

Waterford Township resident Greg Powell, state legislative chairman of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, which represents the 25 Amtrak engineers in Michigan, was even harsher in his criticism.

“As far as we are concerned, President Bush just wants to bankrupt Amtrak,” Powell said.

“What would be better is if the federal government came up with a subsidy large enough for Amtrak to be run effectively. The way Amtrak is subsidized now is like a Band-Aid.”


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Rebutting Mineta:

NARP defends Amtrak’s record

The National Assn. of Railroad Passengers defended Amtrak last week, stating USDOT Secretary Norman Mineta was plain wrong on several fronts.

Executive Director Ross Capon said, “He again downplayed the killer impact of eliminating federal operating grants that now support all Amtrak trains. By taking aim at the Empire Builder, one of Amtrak’s strongest long-distance routes, he appeared to underline a commitment to end long-distance services, and thus service in every ‘red’ state.”

Capon said, “Asked to back up his previous comment that Amtrak runs routes that ‘nobody’ wants to ride, which Mineta declared about a month ago in his opening salvo on behalf of the Bush administration, Mineta said, ‘the problem is if the Empire Builder is going from Seattle to Chicago and it’s going through lets say Montana, but there are only 53 people a day using that train service, can I really justify pouring that kind of subsidy into the Empire Builder for a segment of that service?’”

Capon pointed out that in fact, in fiscal year 2004, the Empire Builder handled 437,200 passengers, “an average 1,195 per day (597 per trip, since there is one eastbound and one westbound train per day). This was 5 percent above the fiscal 2003 level, and 19 percent above that of fiscal 2002. In fiscal 2004, boardings and alightings within the state of Montana totaled 129,044 or an average of 353 per day. At the same time, about 100,000 passengers (average 275 per day) traveled all the way across Montana en route between Idaho-west and North Dakota-east points.”

Capon added that Mineta repeated his attack on the concept of having the same organization (Amtrak) own both track and trains, calling Amtrak “one of the last monopolies.”

Capon pointed out that “Vertical integration,” or common ownership of tracks and trains, is standard railroad procedure in the U.S. both for freight and many commuter railroads.

“Separating Amtrak into various ownership and operating entities would create duplicative bureaucracy, and new legal “turf wars,” said Capon. He offered an example.

“Operating railroads want to maximize track availability; track-owning companies want to give work crews maximum time to maintain the track. Thus, when a single CEO cannot mediate such disagreements – because the responsibility is split between two companies – wasteful litigation can result.”

Mineta repeated previously stated concerns about Amtrak’s on-time performance, and said that “Delays to Detroit-Chicago Wolverine service trains were due to “Amtrak continues to delay desperately needed maintenance of the infrastructure that it already owns.”

Capon countered, “Michigan trains were delayed a total of 218,537 minutes during fiscal 2004. Delays due to Amtrak infrastructure conditions accounted for 8,369 minutes or 3.8 percent of these delays. The lion’s share of delays to these services come from freight train interference encountered on tracks owned and operated by Norfolk Southern and Canadian National Railways.”


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Laney may not be so willing
to derail, bankrupt Amtrak

Amtrak chairman David M. Laney, has signaled for the first time that the independent board that runs the railroad objects to significant parts of President Bush’s plans to overhaul the passenger rail system, especially the idea to reorganize the company through bankruptcy – but the board he heads has still not agreed on its own proposal.

Matthew L. Wald, writing in the March 25 edition of The New York Times reported Bush has called for eliminating federal aid in six months, which would kill the railroad unless it is restructured. He also proposed turning over the tracks from Washington to Boston to a new entity, made up by the states, and letting competitors offer train service around the country [See today’s lead story]. The administration has also said that if Amtrak is forced into bankruptcy, “ultimately a more rational passenger system would emerge.”

Now, Laney, a Bush appointee and campaign contributor, said in a telephone interview on Monday with the Times that while he shared the President’s determination to overhaul the passenger railroad, the White House’s suggestion that the tracks from Washington to Boston be turned over to a compact of states was “not the position of the board,” with the exception of one of its four members, Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta.

Laney also indicated that the board, for the first time made up entirely of Bush appointees, wanted to avoid bankruptcy, saying that it “remains on the table as a last resort” but that “I don’t think it’s a resort anybody wants to default to.”

The board declined to offer any figure a month ago when the dollar amount was due, virtually making it a zero request.

The states, meanwhile, have started making it clear that with Amtrak saying it needs $2.5 billion over the next five years to make upgrades on the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak’s major asset, they do not want to bear the costs.

“I see no evidence even the Bush administration believes that the change in the structure changes the economics,” said Roy Kienitz, deputy chief of staff to Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania, a Democrat. “They just want someone else to be left holding the bag at end of the day.”

In New York, where Republican Gov. George E. Pataki presides, a spokeswoman for the state DOT, Jennifer Post, said, “We believe Amtrak’s operations need to be reformed,” adding, “We continue to be interested in learning more about the specifics of the plan, and the availability of federal funding to help finance it.” She added, “New Yorkers already pay enough to support Amtrak’s operation.”


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Portland-Montreal passenger trains?

Railroad developer Don Adams of New England Railroad is proposing passenger service between Portland and Montreal through northern New Hampshire and Vermont, The AP reported Friday from Gorham, N.H.

He said he hopes to start up the service this fall using the St. Lawrence & Atlantic line from Portland through northern New Hampshire and Vermont. In Canada, the train would travel over Canadian National into Montreal.

Adams said he has been discussing leasing track rights with the various railroads. He is meeting this week with New Hampshire Transportation and Trail Bureau representatives, and other state and local officials.

Adams said he has investors and is not looking for any public money. He described his firm, New England Railroad, as a limited liability corporation based in Maine.


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LABOR LINES...  Labor lines...

Santorum feels heat from labor

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) irked some labor leaders last week – and they’re angry as well as disappoint over a vote he cast.

“He went on national television to oppose the Bush plan to kill Amtrak. Then he voted for it,” wrote several labor leaders in a joint letter to the senator.

On March 23, leaders of Pennsylvania rail unions sent him an angry letter, protesting his vote.

“We are writing to express our profound shock and disappointment over your March 16 vote against funding for Amtrak,” the stated.

The labor leaders – representing 10 unions in various forms of transportation, stated, “Your vote ignored the needs of our state. Amtrak is an essential part of both Pennsylvania’s economy and its transportation system. Pennsylvania ridership was 4.8 million passengers last year, and Philadelphia is Amtrak’s third busiest station. Both SEPTA and New Jersey Transit commuter rail operate on Amtrak’s infrastructure.”

Amtrak employs more than 3,000 Pennsylvania residents, and in 2004 “spent $123 million on goods and services” in Pennsylvania.

“GE Transportation in Erie builds Amtrak locomotives, and Johnstown America is building 80 auto-carrier cars for the railroad’s popular AutoTrain service,” they pointed out.

“Simply put, an Amtrak bankruptcy would be a disaster for Pennsylvania, and your vote brings us a step closer to that,” they declared.

The state's other upper chamber member, Sen. Arlen Specter, voted to support Amtrak.

Railroad unions represented included the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division, IBT; Sheet Metal Workers International Assn.; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; International Association of Machinists; and Aerospace Workers; Transport Workers Union of America; American Train Dispatchers Assn.; Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen; Transportation•Communications Union; and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, IBT.

Now word yet if Santorum has responded.


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

Senate prepares to take up transit bill

Most people simply call it “the highway bill,” but the most important public works legislation Congress will consider this year has more than $50 billion to help people get around – without their cars.

The thousands of off-road projects range from more than $400 million for a Los Angeles subway extension to $150,000 for a historic bike path in Pascagoula, Miss., hometown of former majority leader Sen. Trent Lott (R), The Associated Press reported last week.

The House has passed, and the Senate will soon debate, the $284 billion surface transportation bill that will be the blueprint for projects providing hundreds of thousands of construction jobs over a six-year period.

Some $225 billion is directed to roads and $6 billion to safety programs. The rest, $52.3 billion in the House bill and $51.6 billion in the Senate version, goes to public transit.

Several senators said they will push to boost that amount, now at 18 percent of total funding, so that it approaches the goal of an 80-20 split between highways and transit.

“I’m very concerned about the transit share of this bill,” said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

What’s envisioned in both bills is well above the $36 billion for transit projects in the previous six-year plan that expired in September 2003.

“It’s not enough, it’s never enough,” said William Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Assn., “but particularly in these tough budget times, it is certainly a very good number.”

Nearly half the transit money in the 800-page House bill is allotted by complicated formulas to urban area transit departments. Some $2 billion over the six years also is set aside for rural areas.

While public transit ridership from 1996 to 2002 rose 21 percent to 9.6 billion passenger trips a year, 40 percent of the nation’s counties still have no public transportation.

The Senate bill adjusts the formulas, based mainly on population, so that growing states such as Colorado or Nevada or places with special needs, such as college towns, get priority.

There’s more than $1 billion in the House bill for a reverse commute program to help people living in cities get to jobs in the suburbs, $540 million to make it easier for the disabled to use public transit, and $525 million for buses using cleaner fuels.

One pilot program to reduce congestion in national parks by increasing use of public transport gets $72 million. Another to link bus and train stations to bicycle and pedestrian roads gets $28 million. And $65 million is set aside for an Alaska railroad.

The bill gives the go-ahead to fund 26 “new start” projects approved or recommended by the Federal Transit Administration. These projects, which will carry 273 million riders a year when completed, include the L.A. Metro Gold Line East Side Extension, a BART extension to San Francisco Airport and a light rail system in Phoenix that will provide links to the airport, downtown sporting facilities and Arizona State University’s stadium.

The federal share of the $1.4 billion Phoenix project is $587 million.

The legislation also authorizes design and engineering studies for other proposals, such as a rail link to Washington Dulles International Airport.

On a smaller scale, there’s $935 million in the House bill for a new “small starts” program to help communities begin trolley or streetcar service. It contains 440 specific bus and bus facility projects, many in the $2 million to $3 million range, requested by members for their districts.


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New commuter bird to ‘fly’ in New Mexico

Rail Runner

New Mexico DOT Photo Gallery: Marti Niman

Albuquerque mayor Martin Chavez takes a close look at the Rail Runner rendering on March 21. The Albuquerque design firm Vaughn Wedeen Creative.
There will soon be a new bird in New Mexico – and Gov. Bill Richardson said the name for Albuquerque’s new commuter rail service will be “New Mexico Rail Runner Express.”

He also unveiled the railroad’s new design and paint scheme. Large figures on the sides of equipment show a darting roadrunner. Its colorful tailfan is pushing vertically, as if in full stride. The symbol of the Rail Runner is a sleek, flowing rendering of a roadrunner, the state bird, wrote the Valencia County News-Bulletin.

“Commuter rail represents our vision for the future of transportation in New Mexico,” said Richardson at the Mid-Region Council of Government (MRCOG) headquarters in Albuquerque.

Richardson said that the Belen-Bernalillo line is on schedule. Station design and engineering is nearly complete for most locations. Next month, platform construction projects will go out to bid.

“Eight stops are currently planned for Belen to Bernalillo,” said Chris Blewett of the regional government council.

Engines and coaches are being built, and all should be finished by October. The New Mexico Rail Runner Express and the designs emerged from a six-month, $75,000 contract, said Lawrence Rael, MRCOG executive director. Six focus groups in various communities gave opinions on design proposals.

The Albuquerque design firm Vaughn Wedeen Creative, whose clients include the Albuquerque Isotopes and Flying Star Cafe, created the design.

Estimated operation cost for the Belen-to-Bernalillo line is between $8 million and $12 million annually. Federal, state and local government spending, as well as user fares, are expected to fund operations.


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APTA commuter rail conference
starts April 2 in Los Angeles

More than 400 commuter rail leaders from across North America will meet at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles on April 2 for four days at the American Public Transportation Assn. (APTA) Commuter Rail Conference to focus on the latest in commuter rail technical and management issues.

With 408 million trips taken last year on America’s commuter railroads, commuter rail systems are an important part of the national transportation system.

Some conference events include a talk on Sunday by Kathryn D. Waters, vice-president, commuter rail & railroad management, Dallas Area Rapid Transit.

On Monday Jolene M. Molitoris will host a “New Starts Roundtable. ” She is currently president and CEO of GeoFocus, L.L.C.

Other speakers will include Steven Wylie, assistant executive director of the Southern California Regional Rail Authority, and Rick Carey, senior project manager, transit & rail group, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. as well as Ron Riese, staff director, crossing safety & transportation division, Federal Railroad Administration.

On Monday, April 4, the Opening General Session – Freight/Commuter Rail Relations will present Richard A. White, APTA Chair and general manager, who is also the CEO for Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

APTA President William W. Millar will also speak, along with Linda Morgan, partner, Covington & Burling; Ronald J. Hartman, senior vice-president, business development, Connex North America, Inc.; D.J. Mitchell, assistant vice president, passenger operations, BNSF Corp.; Robert W. Turner Sr., vice-president, corporate relations, Union Pacific Railroad; H. Craig Lewis, vice president, corporate affairs, Norfolk Southern Corp. John M. Gibson Jr., vice president, passenger and operations planning, CSX Transportation Inc.


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Duff irked at Rell;
not getting answers

Connecticut state Sen. Robert Duff (D) went public on March 22 and held a news conference in Darien. He was irked about seeing few ex- Virginia Railway Express coaches in service. He said he was unable to get answers from the governor’s office or the Connecticut DOT on stalled plans to use the former VRA cars to ease overcrowding on Metro-North Railroad’s New Haven Line between New Haven and Grand Central Terminal in New York.

“I’m not getting answers and that’s a problem,” Duff said as commuters at the Darien train station listened while waiting for a New York-bound train, reported the Stamford Advocate.

“This has been a problem since Day One. If we can’t rely on the (DOT) to get 38 used cars on the Metro-North Railroad, how can we trust them to purchase new cars with the $1 billion the legislature is ready to hand to them?”

The governor and DOT have been evasive as to why it’s taken so long to add the used VRE cars to the state’s overtaxed fleet, Duff said.

The issue has become an embarrassment for Rell, who vowed last September to get the additional trains in service by winter despite warnings from DOT officials about the timeline.

Last summer, the state legislature authorized buying 38 used coaches from VRE. They would be added to the Shore Line East Railroad, and the extra SLE cars would be transferred to the New Haven Line, adding more than 2,000 seats to the state’s commuter rail system.

By September, the state had agreed to purchase 33 rail cars, seven of which were to stay in Virginia for an additional 18 months.

So far, DOT has put 10 Virginia cars on the Shore Line East and three Shore Line East cars on the New Haven Line – but the state has hit a roadblock in adding more because it needs to purchase locomotives to pull the additional rail cars.

In February, Rell announced a lease agreement with Amtrak for eight locomotives was on the verge of being finalized, but issues within Amtrak’s legal department have stalled that deal, DOT officials said.

Amtrak officials said the deal is about 90 percent done, but the agreement has been complicated because three parties are involved with negotiations – DOT, Metro-North and Amtrak.

“We’re optimistic we’ll sign off on the lease soon,” said Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black. “By soon, I mean, weeks, rather than months.”

Duff said he’s tired of hearing “excuse after excuse” as to why more cars have not been utilized.

“I’m just making sure commuters have their trains,” said Duff, who started the morning riding the train from the Westport station, handing out fliers reading “Where are the Cars?” to passengers.

“It’s their job to figure out how to do this,” Duff said of the DOT. “If they don’t know how, then someone’s been asleep at the switch.”

DOT hoped the deal with Amtrak would have gone “more expeditiously, but Amtrak has had a lot on their plate lately too,” said DOT spokesman Christopher Cooper.


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APTA HIGHLIGHTS...  APTA Highlights...

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


Cleveland’s Red Line Rail Celebrates Golden Anniversary

The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority marked the 50th anniversary of service on its Red Line rapid transit system on March 15. Some 503 million passengers have ridden on the rail line, believed to be the first U.S. rapid transit system constructed after World War II, since it opened in 1955.

City officials marked the anniversary with a city resolution proclaiming: “March 15, 1955, was a great day of community celebration in Cleveland, as heavy-rail Red Line Rapid Transit service began from the Windermere Station in East Cleveland to the Terminal Tower on Public Square.”


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Barre, Vt., Voters Back Increased Transit Funding

On March 1, voters in Barre City, Vt., approved the Green Mountain Transit Agency’s funding request for a $36,572 annual allocation from the city by a margin of 592 in favor and 572 opposed. The city had allocated $21,000 to the agency in 2004, and $20,000 annually for the previous seven years.

GMTA set the new funding level through a “fair share” equation based on general population, total numbers of elderly residents and residents with disabilities, and the percentage of those living below the poverty level to assess each municipality for its allocation.

The Vermont Agency of Transportation and the Chittenden County Transportation Authority in Burlington created GMTA following the bankruptcy of an earlier transportation provider, WHEELS, which had maintained service for several years despite stagnant revenue. Since then, GMTA has successfully re-established much of WHEELS services in Barre, Montpelier, Northfield, Morrisville, Waterbury, and Burlington, operating with 18 buses and paratransit vehicles.


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Rogers Steps Down as Delon Hampton President, CEO

After more than 16 years with Delon, Hampton & Associates, Elijah B. Rogers is stepping down as president and CEO of the engineering services company headquartered in Washington, effective March 31. He will become a senior advisor to DHA, and continue to serve as a member of its board of directors.

Jeffrey L. Humber Jr., who joined DHA on March 22, 2004, will succeed Rogers as DHA’s president and CEO on April 1.


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Lane Transit, Union Members End Weeklong Strike

The Lane Transit District in Eugene, Ore., and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 used a community mediation panel to reach a compromised contract agreement, ending the one-week strike that began March 7.

A tentative agreement to end the first strike in LTD’s 35-year history was reached late on March 12, and union members ratified a three-year contract March 13 by a vote of 186 to six. LTD buses were back on regular routes by Monday morning, March 14.

A highlight of the contract is the establishment of a stop-loss account fund for unexpected health costs encountered by union members, aimed at limiting out-of-pocket expenses. The contract also addresses workplace rules and wage increases. The agreement reached on wages calls for a 6 percent increase over three years.


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BUILDERS LINES...  Builders’ lines...

Greenbrier buys two GE plants

The Greenbrier Cos. of Lake Oswego, Ore., said on March 21 that its Gunderson Rail Services subsidiary has acquired two railcar repair facilities from General Electric, in Dothan, Ala. and Hodge, La.

GE said it would provide Gunderson with a minimum base workload for railcar repairs and services at the two facilities over 10 years.

Financial terms were not disclosed.

Greenbrier said it “anticipates revenues from the locations will grow to about $10 million” annually and that “The acquisition will be accretive to earnings starting in fiscal 2006.”

Tim Stuckey, president of Gunderson Rail Services, said, “The acquisition extends our geographic reach into new markets in the Southeast. It also positions Gunderson Rail Services to better serve customers through connections with the Norfolk Southern, CSX and KCS railroads. Our railcar repair and refurbishment network will extend to 16 locations across North America.”


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

CSX brings big dollars to U.S.

CSX Transportation, Inc. (CSXT) said last week that in 2004 the company participated in 145 industrial development projects, attracting approximately $1.5 billion in investment capital, and helping to create more than 4,500 new jobs in 17 states.

“It marks a 20 percent increase in the total number of projects where CSXT has helped its customers locate or expand, highlighting a positive three-year industrial development trend in which customers are increasingly using rail to position products closer to their markets,” the railroad stated in a March 22 press release from its Jacksonville headquarters.

“The high number of industrial development projects in 2004 demonstrates the growing demand in the rail system,” said Derrick Smith, CSXT vice president of emerging markets.

He added, “Customers are more and more using rail to better position their products closer to the markets they want to reach, as well as to improve their logistics efficiency.”

Its new customers will generate more than 95,000 carloads to be transported by the railroad annually.

CSXT reported the greatest number of industrial development projects overall in Florida and Kentucky where the company partnered with 35 industries to create more than 2,100 jobs and invest more than $557 million.

In 2004, CSXT saw the highest number of projects generated by plastics producers and receivers, representing more than $552 million in capital investment for the communities along the rail network. Other industries in which CSXT saw significant location or expansion activity during 2004 included scrap metal and steel processing plants, wood chips, municipal solid waste and construction and demolition debris facilities.

“Another major factor contributing to our increase in projects last year was our continued commitment to work with our shortline partners,” added Smith. “A total of more than 9,000 potential carloads of new business for CSXT can be attributed to 15 industries we assisted in locating on 11 CSX-connecting shortline railroads. As a result of collaborating with the shortline industry, CSX has been able to expand its industrial development efforts and help businesses locate on the rail system.”

He said CSX, the rail division of the CSXT Corp., has “more than 3,000 available rail-served sites along the CSX rail network, and sites on connecting shortline partners.” CSX connects to 20 Eastern ports, and major Western railroads.


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Freight rail traffic continues upward

Freight traffic on U.S. railroads rose during the week ended March 19 in comparison with the corresponding week a year ago, the reported Thursday.

Carload freight totaled 347,650 units during the week, up 3.6 percent (12,101 carloads) from a year ago, with loadings up 4.3 percent in the West and 2.8 percent in the East.

Intermodal volume for the week totaled 220,361 trailers and containers, up 6.5 percent (13,385 units) from a year ago, with containers up 4.9 percent and trailers gaining 10.7 percent.

Total volume for the week was estimated at 32.3 billion ton-miles, up 4.2 percent (1.3 billion ton-miles) from 2004.

In the carload segment, coal was up 6.5 percent (8,670 carloads) to 143,008 carloads for the week; coke was up 28.0 percent (1,538 carloads) to 7,023 carloads; and grain was up 3.6 percent (802 carloads) to 23,355 carloads. All told, 14 of the 19 carload commodity groups tracked by the AAR rose for the week. Commodities seeing carload declines for the week included motor vehicles and equipment (down 4.4 percent, or 1,130 carloads, to 24,283 carloads) and waste and scrap materials (down 6.6 percent, or 711 carloads, to 10,124 carloads).

Cumulative volume for the first 11 weeks of 2005 on U.S. railroads totaled 3,710,363 carloads, up 2.8 percent (102,298 carloads) from 2004; 2,365,766 trailers and containers, up 9.2 percent (199,972 units); and total volume of an estimated 344.5 billion ton-miles, up 3.7 percent (12.2 billion ton-miles) from last year.

On Canadian railroads, carload traffic during the week ended March 19 totaled 70,045 cars, up 2.0 percent (1,356 carloads) from last year, while intermodal volume totaled 43,024 trailers and containers, up 10.6 percent (4,109 units) from last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 11 weeks of 2005 on Canadian railroads totaled 729,349 carloads, up 2.5 percent (18,012 carloads) from last year, and 454,661 trailers and containers, up 6.8 percent (28,759 units) from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 11 weeks of 2005 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 4,439,712 carloads, up 2.8 percent (120,310 carloads) from last year, and 2,820,427 trailers and containers, up 8.8 percent (228,731 units) from last year.

The AAR also reported that originated carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportación Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended March 19 totaled 8,598 cars, up 1.9 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 3,572 originated trailers and containers, down 12.5 percent from the corresponding week of 2004. For the first 11 weeks of 2005, TFM reported cumulative originated volume of 95,169 cars, up 6.0 percent (5,366 carloads) from last year, and 42,160 trailers and containers, up 11.2 percent (4,244 units).

Railroads reporting to the AAR account for 88 percent of U.S. carload freight and 95 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 95 percent and 100 percent. The Canadian railroads reporting to the AAR account for 90 percent of Canadian rail traffic. Railroads provide more than 40 percent of U.S. intercity freight transportation, more than any other mode, and rail traffic figures are regarded as an important economic indicator.

The AAR is online at www.aar.org.


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WALL STREET LINES...  Wall Street lines...

UP raises earnings estimate

Union Pacific Corp. raised its earnings estimate on March 22 for the first quarter, citing unexpectedly strong revenue growth and a quick recovery from West Coast storms. Its shares rose nearly 3 percent.

Earnings should range from 43 cents to 48 cents a share for the period ending March 31, the company said. That is up from previous estimates of 25 cents to 35 cents a share. Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call had expected earnings of about 35 cents a share based on estimates Union Pacific issued in January.

Revenue should be up about 8 percent in the first quarter compared with last year, vs. 4 percent to 6 percent previously forecast, UP officials said. Carload volumes are expected to increase 1 percent, with higher yield and fuel surcharges responsible for the rest of the projected revenue increases.

Fuel prices have been higher than expected, however, averaging about $1.43 a gallon in the first quarter compared with projected costs of $1.30 to $1.35 per gallon, UP stated.

January storms that blocked key rail lines on the West Coast cost the company about $115 million in expenditures and lost business, about $85 million less than the projected $200 million, said UP chairman and CEO Dick Davidson. He noted some of the losses would be covered by insurance.


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NS

Avondale cut Norfolk Southern (NSC) to “market perform” on March 25.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: CBSMarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)55.6955.00
Canadian National (CNI)62.4563.18
Canadian Pacific (CP) 35.4136.28
CSX (CSX)42.7342.66
Florida East Coast (FLA)43.4044.00
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)26.5226.28
Kansas City Southern (KSU)19.2919.52
Norfolk Southern (NSC)38.0237.66
Providence & Worcester (PWX)15.3014.41
Union Pacific (UNP)68.9766.39


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OPINION...  Opinion...

Amtrak: oranges and apples

By James E. Coston
Special to Destination:Freedom

DOT Inspector General Kenneth Mead last November warned that Amtrak, the federally owned rail passenger carrier, was failing financially.

Unlike earlier studies arguing that Amtrak’s funding was too low to produce a commercially competitive service, Mead hinted at a massive service failure. The Boston-Washington Northeast Corridor, which Amtrak owns but lacks the budget to maintain, is in critical condition due to deferred maintenance, Mead said.

Century-old movable drawbridges could fail at any time, forcing a service suspension that would throw the Northeast’s mobility into turmoil.

“Continued deferral brings Amtrak closer to a major point of failure,” Mead wrote, “but no one knows where or when such a failure could occur.”

Two months later the Bush administration, tired of Amtrak’s perpetual operating losses, asked Congress to end the federal operating subsidies it has provided since Amtrak’s founding in 1971.

Amtrak’s numerous critics immediately began rushing to co-sign the railroad’s death warrant.

The Wall Street Journal went first. In a February 10 editorial, “No Way to Run a Railroad,” it cited a recent study by DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) alleging that between 1990 and 2002, Amtrak trains required a subsidy of $186.35 per 1,000 passenger-miles, while commercial airlines required only $6 for the same output (private autos, bizarrely, were said to return a profit of $1.91 per 1,000 passenger-miles to the highway system).

On February 16, the Chicago Tribune published a me-too editorial that recycled the Journal’s figures.

What’s going on here? How could the numbers for passenger trains be so far out of whack with the ones for airplanes and cars?

Answer: An apples-to-apples comparison broke down because some oranges found their way into the barrel.

In other countries, air, auto and passenger rail can be compared because all are funded with government capital – but in the U.S., passenger rail is still treated as a business, while highways and civil aviation are considered government transportation programs.

What that difference adds up to is lots of federal infrastructure money for highways and airports, but none for passenger rail.

As far back as 1992, Univ. of Denver Professor Stephen Paul Dempsey estimated the current replacement value of the highway system and the airports to be about $1 trillion each. Yet the net asset value of the entire U.S. rail industry is only about $300 billion, virtually all of it devoted to freight hauling.

This “infrastructure gap” explains the apparent low productivity of Amtrak’s trains in the BTS study. BTS was doing what any good economist does in comparing systems: It tried to find economies of scale.

When it looked at the nation’s monster highway and civil aviation programs, it found plenty, but when it looked at Amtrak, it couldn’t find any – because it couldn’t find any scale.

The U.S. rail infrastructure – and particularly the part of it devoted to carrying passengers – is simply too puny to generate low unit costs.

Rail is a form of mass transit: It is efficient only when it carries masses of people on masses of trains. America has the masses of people that need to be moved, but it lacks the trains to move them because its rail system is disastrously under-built.

The editors of the Journal and Tribune should have consulted an earlier BTS study, the “End Points Analysis,” published in 1995. It showed that since the end of World War II, the heaviest intercity travel corridors in the U.S. have developed in places where adequate passenger-train tracks never were built or from which they were removed when the hapless U.S. rail industry began to buckle under the triple assault of federal regulation, federally funded superhighways and federally funded airports.

Critics of an expanded and better-funded passenger-train system often state as fact that only the Northeast Corridor has the “European-style” demographics that favor train travel.

The BTS found that the heaviest demand for corridor travel occurs nowhere near the Northeast Corridor. More people travel each day between Los Angeles and San Diego by all modes of transportation – car, airliner, bus, train and motorcycle – than between any other metropolitan pair in the nation.

The problem is, most of them can’t take a train. Single track and obsolete signaling limit the L.A.-San Diego corridor to 11 Amtrak round-trips per day at an average speed of 50 mph.

The nation’s second-busiest travel corridor – L.A.-to-Las Vegas – has no passenger trains at all – just a single Union Pacific track overwhelmed by freight traffic.

Yet the nation’s third-busiest travel corridor, New York-Philadelphia, has 51 Amtrak round trips per day. Why aren’t more trains running where the people are?

Simple: The U.S. government never committed itself to chasing population growth with modern passenger-rail infrastructure as it did with modern highways and airports.

Instead, it permitted a downsizing of rail plant while population was growing. Booming Sun Belt cities such as El Paso, Dallas, Las Vegas, Orlando and Albuquerque are struggling with antiquated, freight-congested single track built to serve 19th-century cow-and-cotton economies. Older Eastern and Midwestern cities that continued to grow actually have fewer tracks than they did 50 years ago.

The result is that most Americans couldn’t ride a train if they wanted to. Either no passenger train serves their city, or those that do are too few and too slow.

Columbus, Ohio (population, one million), has no passenger trains at all. Neither does Phoenix, (population, three million). Neither does Nashville, which Amtrak names as the most-requested destination it does not serve. Grand Rapids, an area one million, has one train a day, and only to Chicago – not Lansing or Detroit.

At the heart of industrial economics lies economy of scale. In U.S. transportation, economy of scale is driven by federal investment in infrastructure.

Only a large, modern infrastructure assures the scope, the depth, and the technological and networking capability that enables each mode to realize its economic potential. The U.S. has made that investment in roads and airports, but not in passenger rail.

That failure is why the economic potential of U.S. passenger trains remains unrealized.

James E. Coston is a Chicago attorney, served on the Amtrak Reform Council from 2000 to 2003, is director of the Midwest High-Speed Rail Assn., and is chairman of Corridor Capital, LLC. His opinion originally appeared in Association for Transportation Law, Logistics and Policy. Republished with permission of the writer.


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Bankrupt Amtrak – what then?

By Neal Peirce
Washington Post Writers Group

It’s hard to overstate the irresponsibility of the Bush administration’s effort to “zero fund” Amtrak.

We’re being told that the 34-year old national railroad corporation is so bureaucratic and wedded to long-distance routes that perpetually lose money – “running trains that nobody rides between cities nobody wants to travel between,” says Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta – that it should be thrown into bankruptcy.

But an abrupt cutoff of federal support, currently $1.2 billion a year?

It’s worth remembering that Amtrak, which last year increased its ridership 4.3 percent, to 25 million passengers, plays a critical role in U.S. transportation. Regional and local commuter rail systems are tied closely to it. It’s a lifeline for hundreds of cities and smaller towns across 46 states (including many “red” Bush states). Plus, an Amtrak shutdown would be a body blow to the crowded Northeast Corridor (Boston-Washington) – a critical part of the U.S. economy.

Even the threat of a sudden federal funding cutoff is a red flag to the fiduciaries of insurance firms, banks and credit card companies that Amtrak deals with, warns James RePass, president of the National Corridors Initiative. Amtrak wouldn’t have the luxury of “time-out-to-reorganize” bankruptcy provisions the airlines have used.

With the Bush zero-budget announcement, RePass asserts, “Amtrak came within hours of closing instantly, stopping trains and forcing people to get off.”

“Zero Dollars equals Zero Trains,” warns the National Association of Railroad Passengers.

What then? Mineta predicts private operators would bid for new regional passenger rail opportunities, and the federal government would consider a 50-50 match with states that are willing to invest in new track and stations.

The idea may sound nice, but it’s a political non-starter: The governors, meeting in Washington recently, made it clear they lacked the budget power or will to step up to the plate. Even with will, Carl Fowler of the Rail Travel Center asserted in a recent commentary for UPI, the multi-state compacts to subsidize actual operations would prove “unimaginably difficult to reach.” What if one state – along the Northeast Corridor, for example – refused to cooperate? Would trains, as Mineta suggests, pass through with doors locked?

Plus, as Ross Capon of the National Association of Railroad Passengers explains, “Amtrak is a complex legal, economic and geographical balancing act. If it gets smashed it will be very difficult to pick up the pieces.” Amtrak enjoys, for example, preferential legal rights to run its trains on rights-of-way the freight railways own, and at legally restrained prices. It has the legal right to lease and operate stations owned by the freight lines. It has system-wide liability insurance. New operators, starting arm’s length negotiations on each issue, might well get swamped in the costs and legalisms.

A related quandary: isolated pockets of regional service couldn’t command the broad Congressional support that Amtrak (or any other form of national rail service) needs to exist.

The Bush crowd should buy a history book, and glance around the globe. A prime reason we abandoned the Articles of Confederation and formed a Federal Union was to develop as a nation, not warring camps. How much of a national road system would we now have if Washington had told the states to go construct the interstate highway system – and just maybe, guys, we’ll pay half the bill.

Other advanced nations are now building world-class rail systems.

Every system, like roads or air or any transit form, receives massive government subsidy. Japan and Germany, notes Sen. Edward Kennedy (Mass.), spend some 20 percent of their national transportation budget on trains, compared to the 2 percent Amtrak has requested.

Check the energy factor, too. One train can replace hundreds of cars driven on today’s congested (and federally subsidized) highways, saving thousands of gallons of gasoline. As oil prices soar, doesn’t rail make more sense than ever?

This is the moment the U.S. should be building a top-notch national system. Our immense geography does suggest that despite some continental rail connections, most of our focus should be on regional rail systems – Midwest, Pacific Northwest, California, Florida, Texas, the Mid-South, for example.

In a larger sense, we need to think how all the transportation forms of every region – road, rail, water, even bikeways – actually relate and could promote conservation through by smart interconnections.

RePass of the National Corridors Initiative has a best new idea to get there: reorganize the transportation committees of Congress so their subcommittees are organized by major region of the country, not individual mode (a system that typically pits highway interests against aviation against railroads in a zero-sum scramble for money and power).

With a regional system, Congress could at least attempt a systems-approach analysis of how transportation could evolve in real places, and national policy would be inured against the kind of rash shortsightedness of the Bush push to bankrupt Amtrak.


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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 crew at leoking@nationalcorridors.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write.

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

Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images that appear in Destination:Freedom may do so at a nominal fee of $10.00 per image. “True color” Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG or JPG) images average 1.7MB each. Print publishers can order images in process color (CMYK) or tagged image file format (.tif), and are nearly 6mb each. They will be snail-mailed to your address, or uploaded via file transfer protocol (FTP) to your site. All are 300 dots-per-inch.

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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