Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
  NCI Logo Vol. 2 No. 13, April 2, 2001
Copyright © 2001, NCI, Inc.
James P. RePass, President
Leo King, Editor
 

A weekly North American Railroad update

 

Just in case you forgot, Daylight Savings Time began at 2 a.m. Sunday, when clocks were set ahead one hour.
 

Acella train sets at Southampton yard

NCI: Leo King

Amtrak finally has enough Acela Express trainsets on hand so it can rotate the small fleet through its shops in Ivy City Yard, Washington; Sunnyside Yard, New York; and Southampton Street Yard, Boston, with breathing room. In Boston on March 26 at 11:00 p.m., the 2031-2030 trainset, at left, has just arrived as No. 2150 and will become the next day's afternoon 2175. At right, the 2020-2009 set will be the next morning's 2153, and is ready to go. More Acela departures will begin on April 29 when five sets will be in service. All 20 sets are expected to be in service by summer's end, with one held out as a spare. See story below.
Tunnel 'alarms' sound again
By Leo King
D:F Editor

USDOT Deputy Inspector General Mark R. Dayton has again sounded the alarm over the Penn Station tunnels in New York City. Dayton testified before the New York State Senate Transportation Committee on March 9.

He said, "Nearly $900 million is needed to bring existing systems up to par with modern safety standards, including the replacement of narrow, winding, spiral staircases, installation of modern ventilation fans, and the rehabilitation of benchwalls."

He told the panel, "six times in the past year, we have alerted the U.S. Congress" to Inspector General Kenneth Mead's "concerns with the longstanding fire and life-safety needs in the tunnels approaching Penn Station in New York City."

He pointed out Amtrak warned Congress in 1998 that "the age and condition of the tunnels, coupled with the projected growth in traffic, would raise the potential for a serious and consequential accident." Repairs are currently scheduled to be completed in 2014.

Dayton said he did not believe "that operations through these tunnels are so unsafe as to merit closing them until work is complete, but the current extended schedule of repairs places the public at prolonged and unnecessary risk."

Traveling eastward, the tunnels run between Hackensack, N.J. to Manhattan's 10th Avenue, and between Manhattan's 1st Avenue to Long Island City, where Amtrak turns northward toward Hell Gate Bridge.

The deputy IG pointed out that Amtrak, the Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit share the tunnels, and even though Amtrak owns the holes, it runs far fewer trains through them that either LIRR or NJT. Fewer than 20 percent of the trains operating there are Amtrak intercity trains, and, he added, "Other users... bear responsibility for ensuring safe transport."

Dayton said the three railroads "have also worked with the local fire departments in New York and New Jersey to develop an emergency response protocol to tunnel fires that emphasizes alternatives to evacuating passengers" from the bores.

He also noted that since the IG sent a letter to Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) in December 2000, Amtrak had begun several projects "to make the most out of the limited federal capital funding" it had available, including installing a dry standpipe system which will be able to "remotely charge and drain," and should be in service during late 2003.

He said the first thing the tunnel repairs need is cash. "Accelerating the schedule for life-safety improvements can only be accomplished if adequate funding is made available," and added, multiple operations exist for funding.

Selling the tunnels to someone else, he said, "is not a viable option," and he pointed out the Penn Station redevelopment project and the tunnel improvements are distinctly separate projects.

He noted that last fall, Amtrak, LIRR and NJT "developed an accelerated schedule that would complete all the work by 2010, and the most critical projects by 2005," but accelerating the schedule "can only be accomplished if adequate funding is available."


House high-speed rail bond bill nears
By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

The $12 billion high-speed rail bond bill is set to be introduced in the House in the week ahead. The office of Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), one of the leader's of last year's unsuccessful effort to get the measure passed, tells D:F the revived bill, officially dubbed the High-Speed Rail Investment Act, or HSRIA, will likely be unveiled at a Wednesday (April 4) news conference.

This is an effort to get high-speed rail in this country off the drawing boards and into reality.

The Senate version of the legislation, introduced January 31, now has 53 sponsors. One of the latest to sign up is Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), but at the same time, the bill lost a senator who had signed on, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.).

Last year, Baucus forced an amendment to the ultimately unsuccessful legislation providing that if Amtrak were to use any other unauthorized funds from the Highway Trust Fund, its bonding privileges would be suspended for that year.

Montana appears nowhere on any high-speed rail map, and Baucus, who faces a tough re-election battle next year, can afford to make this move. In his state, highways provide the only ground transportation to the voters.


Mainers look ahead

Permanent Portland station is in offing

Maine rail planners are considering several options for ways to get Amtrak trains running closer to downtown Portland, including building an elevated line.

The Portland Press Herald told its readers on March 26 planners are examining the notion of building an elevated rail line through much of the Portland peninsula. The state DOT had considered building street-level crossings, but federal officials said the crossings could snarl traffic at nearby highway interchanges and create safety hazards.

A proposed elevated line would run from Deering Oaks, over Forest Avenue and the Franklin Arterial, under the Interstate 295 ramp at Washington Avenue, then along the mouth of Back Cove on a bridge ending behind the Burnham & Morrill plant. It would also require that Portland's proposed Bayside rail station be elevated.

State Transportation Director John Melrose says that elevating the line would cost at least $20 million - twice the cost of a street-level line.

Amtrak was scheduled to begin Boston-to-Portland service in May, but the start has been pushed back indefinitely because of several unresolved issues, primarily speeds, between the state and Guilford Transportation Industries, which owns the track between Portland and New Hampshire.

At startup - whenever that is - the trains will stop in Portland at a temporary station on Sewall Street, near Thompson's Point. Maine and Portland politicians eventually want to run the trains into Bayside, which is much closer to downtown Portland. They also want to keep the tracks as close to I-295 as possible, to give Amtrak service more visibility and keep more land in Bayside open for redevelopment.

Some immediate concerns involve recently renovated tennis courts at Deering Oaks, and Fitzpatrick Stadium. Jeffrey Monroe, Portland's transportation director, said elevating the track on a concrete trestle would be more expensive, but would not impinge on the park. State officials are also considering running Amtrak trains over an abandoned so-called "Union Line," which winds through the city, would require several street crossings and divide the Bayside section of the city, making it difficult to develop. The trains would also have to travel slower.

If the elevated line proves impractical, it still may be possible to keep the tracks near I-295 and provide street-level crossings, said Paul Lariviere, division administrator for the Federal Highway Administration. He said highway ramps could be widened to give motorists a place to park while trains pass.

"Everybody would like to get the tracks close to the interstate," he said. "We are not trying to fight that. We just want to know what is feasible. From an engineering perspective, does it work? And finally, are the benefits worth the costs?"


Weekend express trains to run at month's end;
four more trains added to weekday schedule
Amtrak said last week it will double its high-speed Acela Express service between Boston, Providence and New York on April 29, providing two morning and two afternoon roundtrip trains on weekdays, and introduce weekend service.

"Boston and Providence already account for more than one third of our initial Acela Express ridership and the demand is growing," said Amtrak President George D. Warrington. "Adding more trains will offer travelers more choice and continue to position Acela Express as a bona fide alternative to the air shuttles."

Beginning on the 29th, expresses will leave Boston's South Station at 6:12 a.m. and 7:12 a.m., and arrive in New York's Penn Station at 9:40 a.m. and 10:42 a.m., respectively. Afternoon trains will leave at 3:12 p.m. and 5:12 p.m. with arrival in New York at 6:42 p.m. and 8:42 p.m.

From New York, the Acela Expresses will leave for Boston at 7:03 a.m., 8:03 a.m., 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.

The new schedule also introduces weekend express service as Amtrak "moves to tap the leisure travel market. Amtrak has been increasing its premium Metroliner weekend service between New York and Washington because of increased demand and will aggressively utilize Acela Express high-speed trains for weekend leisure travel all along the Northeast Corridor as it continues to phase in service" according to Amtrak spokesman Rick Remington.

Weekend express trains will leave Boston at 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. from Boston for New York and continuing through to Washington. Northbound service to Boston will include a train that departs New York at 8:03 a.m. and a 1:00 p.m. train from Washington that leaves New York at 4:03 p.m.

"Getting off to a good start in New England was critical to the ultimate success of Acela Express and the early numbers show the market is responding," Warrington said.

"In January, we averaged 152 boardings a day in the Boston area, comparable to our established and profitable Metroliner service which averaged 114 boardings in Washington and 154 in New York."

The carrier stated since the speedy train service was launched on December 11, more than 47,000 passengers have used the service, a number that is expected to exceed 55,000 by the end of March. Revenue estimates have beaten expectations by 10 percent.


Labor takes dim view of council report
An organized labor leader from the AFL-CIO has taken a dim view of the Amtrak Reform Council's (ARC) March 19 second annual report.

Edward Dubroski, chair of the Rail Labor Division of the AFL-CIO's Transportation Trades Department (TTD), said, "The ARC issued yet another disappointing report about the future of Amtrak and national passenger rail service in this country. The ARC had a chance to make a clear, bold show of support for Amtrak, but instead offered up a complicated series of recommendations that further underscore the ARC's anti-Amtrak bias."

Dubroski stated taxpayer dollars were wasted.

"The ARC could have issued a rallying cry for making our national passenger rail service a long-term success, but instead missed another opportunity to convince the American people that it performs a worthy function. After reviewing the ARC's latest report, we deeply regret that American taxpayer dollars were wasted on the work of this misguided panel and vow to continue our effort to zero out federal funding for this unnecessary oversight panel."

His gloomy appraisal added, "The ARC has rolled out a murky series of options and rationales for its ideological agenda, when it should have called on Congress and the President to fully fund Amtrak and give it a real chance to be viable. Then - and only then - can responsible policy leaders examine options for Amtrak into the future. The restructuring proposals put forth in the report are radical, unnecessary and could cause more harm than good to the cause of intercity rail passenger service."

He said it is time to "stop the globetrotting and reports and give Amtrak a genuine chance to be a world-class passenger rail operation by providing a real, sustained federal financial commitment to our national passenger railroad."

On a brighter note, he said, "One investment measure that has wide bipartisan support is the High-Speed Rail Investment Act. (See Wes Vernon's story elsewhere in this issue - Ed.)

"We had hoped that the ARC would have realized the innovation behind this legislation and believe the council missed an opportunity by failing to join in support of this bill.

"For all the global jet-setting ARC members did at taxpayers' expense, you would think they would have noticed that no nation in the world allows its intercity passenger rail service to wither on the vine. Every nation subsidizes passenger rail to ensure it can deliver first class transportation services. From their globetrotting journeys, we would have hoped that ARC members understand that other countries, particularly England, are reeling from the dire consequences of privatization including the degradation of safety and service. Instead, the ARC majority would steer America down that road as well.

Dubroski said, "Amtrak and its 20,000 employees are at a crossroads. Long-term and sustainable financing, not ideologically driven proposals to break up Amtrak, will ensure a strong and viable national passenger rail system. The ARC should heed that call or cease to exist."


Derailments rise over four-year span
Poorly maintained track and inadequate inspections by the railroads could be partly to blame for an 18 percent rise in derailments over the last four years. 318 more trains went on the ground in 2000 than in 1997.

Statistics from the FRA and DOT showed that the number of railroad industry inspectors has been reduced, and federal and state governments have only 550 people to check 230,000 miles of track.

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) refuted the press report.

FRA's associate administrator for safety, George Gavalla, said the agency has focused its efforts on heavily used tracks and rail yards, and all tracks that carry passengers and hazardous materials. On those tracks, accidents are down, he said. Many of the derailments occur in yards when crews assemble train cars, according to an Associated Press report.

A spokesman for the professional railroad organization stated the report "failed to mention that the derailment rate on mainline track - where Amtrak and intercity freight trains operate - is improving. The last two years were the safest in history on mainline track in terms of the track-caused derailment rate, according to the FRA."

The AAR stated, "The large majority of railroad derailments occur in yards, in sidings or on industrial track. These derailments typically occur at speeds of about five mph and present little danger to the public because they occur in areas isolated from the public. This is equivalent to a "fender bender" involving two trucks in the parking lot of a truck stop."

FRA numbers show that derailments on all tracks and rail yards rose from 1,741 to 2,059, or 18 percent, between 1997 and 2000, but, argues the AAR, "The railroad industry's commitment to safety has never been stronger. That is why railroads annually spend more than $9 billion to maintain and improve their right-of-way."


Slow orders up for Metro-North trackwork
Metro-North Railroad began major track work on April 1, which affected not only their commuter trains, but Amtrak's intercity trains as well. Virtually all Empire Service trains are affected in both directions.

Some weekend Vermont trains are being temporarily cut altogether, and somewhat later during the season, the weekday trains will also end, for a time.

Train 295, the Ethan Allen Express, which leaves Penn station at 6:15 a.m. for Rutland on Saturdays and Sundays, will not operate between April 1 through July 8. An Amtrak service order stated normal weekend service would resume July 14.

Train 236 will also be cancelled between April 29 and July 8.

On weekdays, the train will not operate between April 30 through July 6, but normal weekday service is expected to resume on July 9.

Meanwhile, trains 291 and 297 will undergo temporary schedule changes. No. 291, due out of Penn Station at 3:45 pm. daily except Friday will leave New York City 25 minutes earlier, at 3:20 p.m. The train will operate daily including Friday evenings, and will replace No. 297.

Amtrak said it expects "some crowding between New York and Rhinecliff" on Fridays.

Other trains are also being affected by the track work, and most schedules are being change. For example, train No. 240, which normally leaves Albany for New York City at 5:10 a.m., will instead leave 15 minutes earlier, at 4:55 a.m.

Some trains will leave up to 25 minutes earlier, like No. 248, which will leave at 7:50 a.m. It normally leaves Albany at 8:15 a.m.

Trains are being affected in other ways, too. No. 265, which will depart at 5:50 p.m. instead of 5:30, will not stop at Croton-Harmon. In addition, 10 minutes is being added to the schedule to allow Metro-North locals to go by between Beacon and Poughkeepsie.


Ethan Allen 'reroute rail' arrives
CSX dispatched a 31-car rail train from Croton-Harmon yard on March 27 to the CP (D&H) at Kenwood Yard, Albany. The rail was destined for the Vermont Railway at Rutland, Vt. Sources said the rail is intended to restore the Rutland-Bennington segment in anticipation of Amtrak's Ethan Allen reroute. An earlier rail train had been dispatched from New Haven, Conn., and another was to follow within days. What is not clear is if Guilford has agreed to run the train over its segment.

- Thanks to Andy Kirk


Big Apple trains

AirTrain gets its first cars

The first of the driverless AirTrain cars that will carry riders between Kennedy Airport and stations in Howard Beach and Jamaica have arrived.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey plans to get the full complement of 32 fully automated cars, at a cost of $2 million each, for the light-rail system by the fall, authority officials said.

The first car arrived in November and the second earlier this year. Both were tested over short distances on guideways at the airport, where crews completed laying the system's foundation on March 2.

An official said the plans are on schedule.

The fully automated cars are 60 feet long and 10 feet wide, according to the authority's AirTrain Web site.

Riders toting baggage and valuables in the driverless coaches will be safe, as employees in contact with authority police will monitor them remotely via close-circuit television.

"We can hear what's happening in the car," she said.

Construction on the $1.9 billion, eight-mile-long AirTrain began in 1998. The entire rail project is an elevated double track system and is expected to be ready for passengers in 2003.

It will link the JFK's passenger terminals to one another and to employee and long-term parking lots, rental car areas and off-airport transit connections. It will also connect to the "A" train in Howard Beach, the "E," "J" and "Z" subway lines at Jamaica Center, and the Long Island Rail Road at Jamaica station.

Construction continues on the 3.1-mile, $600,000 AirTrain link from Kennedy Airport to Jamaica. All 140 concrete columns needed to support the guideway along the Van Wyck Expressway have been built, and crews are now working along 94th Avenue.


Corridor lines...

Some 'Amfares' decline in recent days

Destination: Freedom has learned that some Amtrak fares were reduced in eight selected markets on March 22. Specific trains and route segments included:

  • Southwest Chief - Chicago-Flagstaff, and Chicago-Albuquerque
  • California Zephyr - Chicago-Denver
  • Lake Shore Limited, Three Rivers - Chicago-New York City; Chicago-Boston
  • Three Rivers, Pennsylvanian, Capitol Ltd. - Chicago-Pittsburgh
  • Capitol Limited - Pittsburgh-Washington
  • Silver Service trains - Orlando-Miami

Enola line showdown

NS gives SEPTA a June deadline

Reacting to pressure from southern Lancaster County officials, NS has given SEPTA until June 30 to decide whether the Philadelphia commuter service will rebuild the Enola rail line to carry freight traffic through Solanco, Pa. NS officials have also promised to give the 23-mile abandoned rail line and its 850 acres of land to seven Solanco municipalities if the freight line proposal falls through, reports the New Era.

Previously, freight railroad officials said it would hold onto the historic rail line indefinitely. Rudy Husband, an NS spokesman, said that Solanco officials and state Rep. John Barley have expressed their concerns over the continued uncertainty of the rail line, which has been in limbo for more than a decade.

"There's an open question out there that very much involves the seven municipalities," Husband said. "The townships are saying, 'We want to bring this to closure.'"

He said he really hopes "2001 is the year all these questions concerning the Enola branch are laid to rest."

Conrail, the rail line's previous owner, was on the verge of turning the long-controversial rail line over to the municipalities in 1999. The arrangement was shelved when the line was sold to the Virginia-based carrier.

A citizens group had previously planned a public recreation trail from the Chester County line to the Susquehanna River, but Solanco officials persuaded Conrail to give them ownership of the rail corridor.

Conrail abandoned the rail line, also known as the Low Grade Line, in 1990. Rails, railroad ties and ballast were salvaged and sold.

Another chapter in the line emerged last year when SEPTA and Berks Area Regional Transit Authority announced plans for a new commuter rail line between suburban Philadelphia and Reading.

To get the right-of-way to an existing rail line between both cities, SEPTA had been considering a plan to buy the route in the Philadelphia-Reading corridor, and to rebuild 32 miles of the Enola line in Lancaster County. A rebuilt Enola line would reroute NS Philadelphia-Harrisburg freight trains, which now run through Reading.

Husband said today that both measures could well cost $1 billion.

Indiana city looks for financial help

Underfunding Amtrak has brought difficult times to Beech Grove, Ind., but so has losing other federal sources. Mayor Warner Wiley asked a House subcommittee last week to increase the level of federal transportation funding for the city's Amtrak repair facility next year, but Amtrak is not the Mayor's sole concern when it comes to Beech Grove's economic future. The Amtrak shops there are the most substantial on the railroad. It is where major locomotive and car rebuilds are made following wrecks and other events.

Wiley has formed a new economic development task force, which met for the first time last week, wrote Marda Johnson, reporting in Beech Grove, Indiana's The Southside Times (http://reporter-times.hoosiertimes.com) on March 15.

Five years ago, Wiley started the Amtrak task force, which focused on finding ways to keep Amtrak in the community. Moreover, while that effort was successful, Wiley said, the city still has to make up for the revenues it no longer collects because the federal government phased out Amtrak's tax contribution to the community over the past five years.

That contribution once amounted to $1 million for the city and local schools. The new task force will be looking at ways to offset that loss. More specifically, the group will seek ways to encourage development on two key parcels of property within the community.

The task force involves more than 15 people, representing the community, local government, state government, business and schools. Even with the start of the new initiative, Wiley is not overlooking the Amtrak facility itself.

Wiley told the House Railroad Subcommittee that is considering appropriations for transportation and related agencies he is seeking an increase in the proposed funding for next year.

President Bush has proposed funding $521 million for Amtrak in 2002, the same level it received for this year; but the amount is off more than 40 percent from the $955 million the Congress authorized. The dollars simply were never released during the Clinton administration.

Keeping Amtrak healthy is a part of the push for renewed economic development in the city, Wiley noted.

"Amtrak is important to Beech Grove, and we're going to do everything we can to keep it here," he said.

- Thanks to Howard Bingham and Sherm Frost

High-speed rail backers say they have the plans, the support and the momentum to start 110-mph train service between Milwaukee and Madison in less than three years - but the money is missing.

The Milwaukee-Madison route, targeted to start in late 2003, would be the first service under the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, a $4.1 billion plan to run fast, frequent trains across a nine-state region, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (http://jsonline.com) reported on March 25.

Plans for high-speed rail in Wisconsin and nationwide depend on Congress approving $10 billion in borrowing to build the rail lines, and on the survival of Amtrak. At the same time, Amtrak is trying to persuade Congress to keep it in business.

Rail supporters don't believe a possible departure for Amtrak Chairman Tommy Thompson will stop the push for high-speed trains. Thompson is also President Bush's Secretary of Health and Human Services. The rail advocates note that Amtrak's reform council last week held up Midwestern rail plans as a model for how high-speed rail service should work nationwide.

Thompson's leadership helped push Wisconsin to the front lines of the rail debate. The Milwaukee-to-Madison route, targeted to start in late 2003, would be the first service under the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, a $4.1 billion plan to run fast, frequent trains across a nine-state region.

Eventually, 110-mph trains would link Milwaukee with Chicago, Madison and the Twin Cities, with 79-mph service to Green Bay. Stations at Mitchell International Airport, Brookfield, Watertown and other Wisconsin communities could be part of the deal.

The plan is opposed by the Stop the Train Coalition, consisting of people who live near the tracks and don't want high-speed trains zipping past their homes.

Waterloo Alderman Mike Kent, the coalition's leader, sees the Midwest plan as a political deal that will fall apart without Thompson. State DOT officials and rail advocates disagree, saying the plan has broad support and does not depend on a single person.

However, "to make it happen, we need the bill to pass," said Ron Adams, the DOT's railroad chief. He was referring to the High-Speed Rail Improvement Act, which would give tax credits instead of interest payments to investors who buy rail bonds.

Rick Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High-Speed Rail Coalition, agreed the legislation is "extremely important," but said rail supporters would look for other funding if it failed. Adams, however, said states would not pick up the whole tab.

The bill has strong bipartisan support in the Senate. Its 52 sponsors range from Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) to Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and include both parties' leaders and both Wisconsin senators, Democrats Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl.

High-speed rail is backed by 69 percent of voters in 10 major metropolitan areas, including Chicago and Minneapolis, according to a December poll by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, yet the bill faces powerful opposition from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who does not want to spend any more money on Amtrak unless the railroad meets Congress' 2003 deadline to free itself from federal operating subsidies. The ARC, set up to monitor the railroad's progress toward that goal, last week called for restructuring Amtrak.

But the council, of which Milwaukee Mayor John O. Norquist is a member, also praised the Midwest rail plan as a model for high-speed train service, with Amtrak operating as a contractor to the states and the federal government helping only with construction costs.

Wisconsin played a major role in the debate over Amtrak's future in another way, drawing national criticism for the little-used Chicago-Janesville route. Amtrak had hoped express freight revenue would cover the costs of the year-old Lake Country Limited, which drew an average of five to 10 riders per train and reportedly lost $483 per passenger, but the express freight business never materialized, and the railroad announced March 16 that it would kill the route, effective Sept. 24. Until then, Amtrak has cut service from one round trip daily to Saturdays only.


Boise wants to see Amtrak back on track
Boise could regain its lost Amtrak rail service if GOP Sen. Mike Crapo gets his way with a bill that is now winding its way through Congress.

Crapo, who met with Amtrak West President Gil Mallery last week, said he would try to get money for Boise-Portland rail service by amending a bill introduced last month that would provide $12 billion in tax credit financing for Amtrak. The company would use the money to build 11 high-speed rail projects around the country, including one between Portland and Vancouver, B.C., according to the Idaho Statesman (on the web at http://www.idahostatesman.com).

Crapo said the bill needs to also provide more money for expanding rail service to rural communities. As written, only $1 billion could be used to purchase equipment and put down rails in rural areas, with the rest earmarked for urban areas, he said.

Also, none of the money could be used for operating expenses, which is what would be needed to reinstate Amtrak service to Boise. A task force set up by Crapo and Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden found that Boise-Portland rail service would have an annual operating shortfall of $5 million, even if the trains hauled freight as well as passengers.

"It may be an uphill battle, but I want to see if we can make money available for ongoing operations," Crapo said.

The bill ran into trouble last week when Montana Sen. Max Baucus, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, withdrew his support when he discovered that it allowed some rail projects to dip into the federal Highway Trust Fund. The bill's sponsors are working with Baucus to remove the offending language.

Last year, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), killed a similar bill in the Senate.

During the U.S. Conference of Mayors Rail Summit in January in Washington, D.C., Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said Congress will pass a major rail financing bill this year.

Crapo said Idahoans are hungry for rail passenger service. Four years ago, in a cost-cutting move, Amtrak shut down its Portland-Salt Lake City service that ran through Boise. Since then, Crapo said, he discovered that Amtrak maintained other less-profitable routes, apparently for political reasons.

Thanks to Ray Dunbar


Freight lines...

NS may cut 4,000 miles

Norfolk Southern is considering selling off up to 4,000 miles of rail lines. It is searching its routes now to find what specifically is excess.

The freight railroad stated, in its first issue of Newsbreak, a new online publication for NS employees (at http://www.nscorp.com/nscorp/html/newsbreak/0301/index.html), that the company "will identify about 4,000 miles of track that could be used differently. Among the possibilities are selling or leasing to short line railroads, having required track upgrades funded by the customers on low-density lines, and abandoning some lines."

Steve Eisenach, strategic planning director in Norfolk, said, "Low-density lines could be transferred to short line operators who can continue to provide the local rail service." He added, "Our goal is to keep the traffic moving on the main lines. That way everyone benefits."

NS says its traditional markets and traffic mix have changed significantly in the past 10 years, and "A declining export coal market and increasing intermodal traffic mean that NS must rethink its core system structure. That's the driving force behind the company's decision to resize its 21,800-mile network," said Jim McClellan, planning senior vice president in Norfolk. The line rationalization is one component of an NS restructuring announced in January, according to the newsletter.

"As we've done many times in the past, we've taken a very close look at every mile of track we own," McClellan said.

"We analyzed diversity of commodities on routes, growth potential and proximity to our changing marketplace. It is clear to us that available resources must be focused on improving our core network.

"Our current route structure adds a level of complexity that is the enemy of reliability," he said. "We see network simplification, of which route rationalization is just one element, as an essential part of improving service reliability."

McClellan said 48 percent of NS' active stations account for only 1 percent of the company's rail revenue. A large number of low-volume interchange points also have been identified.

"We have to look at the way we schedule our trains to accommodate our changing marketplace," he said. "The effort now under way with multimodal to develop a zero-based operating plan also addresses our need to improve service quality.

"I liken it to airlines," he said. "They have a core route structure that carries the bulk of their flights. They don't try to go everywhere, and planes are rather full when they do fly. We have to run our railroad more that way than the way we have in the past."

Meanwhile, Eisenach said a federal loan program recently made available to short line railroads to fund rail improvements could help them maintain lines over which they would operate.

"Now that we've identified these 4,000 miles of track, we'll focus on the best way to preserve rail service to that track," he said. He also noted it would "take about two years to resize NS' system for maximum efficiency. In the end, NS and its customers will see many benefits."

McClellan added, "We'll also maintain our traffic from low density lines feeding into our core system, just as smaller airlines feed into major airline hubs."


UP finally finds a new container home
After being rebuffed twice in its search for a site for a new rail freight hub, Union Pacific Corp. hopes the third time is the charm as it negotiates for land in ex-urban Rochelle, Ill.

Union Pacific is searching for new facilities because the railroad's eight Chicago-area railports - sprawling railyards where freight is transferred from trucks to trains - already are at capacity, Crain's Chicago Business News Online reported March 26 (http://www.crainschicagobusiness.com).

The company thought it had a deal for a 1,000-acre site adjacent to the DuPage County Airport two years ago, but local residents beat back the proposal because of concerns about congested roads and noise.

Then, a year ago, its plan to build a rail port on 1,000 acres near rural Maple Park in western Kane County encountered similar opposition and was dropped.

Despite the economic benefits, railports have become about as popular as landfills. Fort Worth-based BNSF succeeded in negotiating a deal for a large rail port near Joliet, probably because of the site's remote location at the former U.S. Army Arsenal, far from complaining neighbors. The facility is expected to be built in the next couple of years.

In contrast to officials in other communities, Rochelle city leaders are laying out the welcome mat for Union Pacific, and for BNSF, for that matter, if it decides it needs another rail port. Both railroads have main lines that intersect in downtown Rochelle, a town of almost 10,000 some 80 miles west of Chicago, notable for several large food plants and verdant farmland.

Rochelle also lies at the crossroads of two major highways, Interstates 88 and 39, so it is ideally situated for the railroads and the trucks that service railports. The town is so rail-conscious that it even started its own short-line railroad a decade ago to serve an industrial park southeast of town. The line cost the city $1.5 million but turns a profit of $100,000 a year.


Employees take BNSF to court-again
BNSF Railway Co. workers filed a federal lawsuit against the company, alleging that the railroad secretly conspired with lawyers representing workers in hearing-loss claims to hold down the value of settlements.

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Seattle, alleges that BNSF collaborated with Portland, Ore.-based law firm Bricker, Zakovics, Querin, Thompson & Ritchey in more than 4,000 settlements.

The suit claims hearing-loss settlement amounts were decided by a secret, predetermined formula, saving BNSF hundreds of millions of dollars in claims, reports Dow-Jones & Co. via The Wall Street Journal (http://dowjones.work.com).

The suit also alleges that Bricker, Zakovics and the railroad acted jointly to conceal the scheme from the law firm's clients, failing to inform them of the settlement schedule and that the amounts offered were far below similar claims decided in court.

The law firm denied any wrongdoing. 'We have done nothing wrong and, obviously, we will defend ourselves,' a spokesman from the law firm said.

A spokesman for Burlington Northern said the lawsuit "appears to be a lawyer-manufactured lawsuit, and we believe it lacks merit."

If certified as a class action, the suit would represent more than 4,000 railway workers who used Bricker, Zakovics to handle hearing-loss claims.

That action comes in addition to a suit brought by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in February for allegedly violating privacy rights when it required employees submitting claims of work-related carpal-tunnel syndrome, a repetitive-stress injury of the wrist, to furnish blood samples for DNA tests.

After the suit was filed, BNSF said it stopped genetic testing of employees who file claims for carpal-tunnel syndrome injuries.


Lines across the pond...

MPs: Railtrack performance is not sterling

Railtrack's record on safety, maintenance and renewal is so poor that the government should seriously consider renationalization, says a committee of MPs (Members of Parliament).

The Commons Transport Select Committee branded the chaos on the rail network after last October's Hatfield crash as "simply not acceptable," reports the BBC (on the web at http://news.bbc.co.uk).

Its report, published last Thursday, comes as a joint inquiry into the Ladbroke Grove and Southall rail crashes set deadlines for the introduction of new safety systems.

The committee's report said, "Railtrack has not maintained and renewed the network to a standard which could reasonably be expected of it. Its past record is simply not acceptable."

Despite being warned several times that its policy of using contractors to monitor and repair tracks was not working, it had taken a major crash to make the company take the issue seriously, say the MPs.

They are "far from confident" Railtrack can deliver the major infrastructure improvements outlined in the government's 10-year Transport Plan, which proposes investing 15 billion (about $22 billion).

The MPs say it is "unacceptable" for a private monopoly to continue sucking up such vast amounts of taxpayers' cash without ceding some control of its operations to the government.

Their report blames the massive disruption and extra spending caused by the renewal program after the Hatfield crash principally on Railtrack's past failure properly to manage maintenance and renewal of the national rail network.


Opinion..." ... and probing deeper

Thompson not leaving Amtrak - for now

By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson denied reports that he is planning to leave Amtrak last week, but in an interview with the AP, he refused to slam the door on the possibility that he may exit the passenger train company by the end of his term in 2003, saying, "There has been no final decision made either way."

"Completely news to me," Thompson said of reports on his supposed imminent departure from Amtrak.

It very well could be completely accurate that the former Wisconsin governor was blindsided by the report. That would not contradict the Austin American Statesman story quoting "White House sources" to the effect that Thompson was about to quit Amtrak, a story that its reporters reiterated to D:F as "100 percent accurate."

Notice that the story relied on "White House sources" and did not claim the newspaper had independent knowledge of such plans. Nowhere in the story was Thompson himself quoted. This would tend to lend some credence to our own speculation that what is going on here is another case of Washington gamesmanship.

The scenario (as we've pieced it together):

Thompson, who has acknowledged that he is feeling pressure to step aside from Amtrak, is urged in that direction by "higher ups" close to the President, or maybe even the President himself, though one assumes Mr. Bush has weightier issues on his mind and would delegate this one.

The HHS secretary refuses to resign, saying he has served for years either as an Amtrak board member or as board chairman, and he has expertise to continue. Thompson is told that it is important that he leave the Amtrak post because the President wants to put his transportation secretary, Norman Mineta, on the board and (Here we're quoting the AP), "(Mineta) cannot join the board as long as Thompson is on it."

A very sticky situation since Mineta has the job Thompson really wanted in the first place.

Informed of Thompson's desire to remain at Amtrak, someone at the White House leaked the story to President Bush's "hometown" paper through its Washington bureau that the HHS cabinet secretary is about to leave. This would serve as a signal to Thompson that the President of the United States wants him to step down. The HHS secretary was not born yesterday. He sees the story in a newspaper that has developed a relationship with the President during his six years as Texas governor, and is able to put two-and-two together.

White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan declined comment.

Amtrak officials, meanwhile, are hoping Thompson will remain. Amtrak's Vice Chairman Michael Dukakis, a former Massachusetts governor, says losing Thompson "would be a tragedy."

He is a passionate supporter of Amtrak who is a Republican (at a time when the GOP controls the White House, Congress and the majority of the governorships), and he does not hail from the Northeast, a region of the country which many other states feel has received a disproportionate share of Amtrak's attention and rail schedules. In fact, the Northeast has such a high volume of rail passenger traffic that Amtrak, in recent years, has issued two separate timetables  one for the Northeast and the other for the rest of the country.

Last January, Thompson told the Milwaukee Journal, "Until I'm ordered off (Amtrak), I intend to stay."

If the signal from the Austin American Statesman does not have its probable desired effect, that very push may indeed come to shove, with an order succeeding where a strong hint failed.


Off the main line...

NCI: Leo King

North Conway Scenic steam engine 108, a Baldwin product from Philadelphia, a 2-6-2 "Prairie," pushed and pulled tourists in 1982 on the New Hampshire rail way.
The Conway Scenic Railroad of New Hampshire is gearing up for the 2001 operating season. Revenue service resumes April 13 with the Easter Bunny Express making its first trip at 4:00 p.m.

Preparations kicked into high gear on March 27. GE 44-tonner No. 15 switching the line's Chicago coaches in the yard. EMD F-7, formerly Boston & Maine 4266 and GP-7 No. 573 were hauled into the engine house, where they were thawed out, watered, oiled, refueled and fully serviced and prepared for the season. Before some moves could be made, ice had to be chopped from rails and flangeways, and from underneath wheelsets.

Over the winter, the dining car, and the observation car Gertrude Emma, among others, had extensive maintenance done. The GP-7 had substantial repair work done to its engine.

Later in the week, a bucket loader removed piles of snow and ice from many of the crossings, including also piles that had been plowed onto the right-of-way at some grade crossings. Snow removal for the rest of the line should begin soon.

A new event has been added to the calendar this year. The first annual Junior Railfan day will be held on Saturday, June 2. The focus will be on activities aimed at families with younger children. Special family passes will be available, and extra trains will run.

The Conway Scenic has a website at:
http://www.conwayscenic.com.


Meetings...
Surface Transportation Board

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


Amtrak Historical Society

The seventh annual Amtrak Historical Society Conference will be held in Chicago between April 27-29 at The Quality Inn in downtown Chicago, One Mid City Plaza (Madison at Halsted Streets). Highlights will include a tour of Amtrak's Chicago Reservation Call Center and a tour of the city's Historic Pullman District and Pullman Porter Museum, as well as presentations by Amtrak. Each year, the conference is held on the weekend closest to Amtrak's Anniversary and this year is Amtrak's 30th Anniversary. For details, go to HTTP://WWW.TRAINWEB.COM/AHS/2001/


Financing Freight Transportation Improvements Conference

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


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

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

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

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

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


2001 Union Pacific steam trips

June 10

Union Pacific reports two steam excursion scheduled so far this year. Challenger steam engine No. 3985 on June 10, 2001 from Council Bluffs to Sargeant Bluff, Iowa and return. Contact The Camerail Club
Sioux City & Pacific Excursion
6307 Seward St.
Omaha, NE 68104-4761
e-mail: DaveS402@yahoo.com

June 19

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

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


The way we were...
X2000 on test run.

NCI: Leo King

It was in January 1993 when Amtrak began seriously exploring the notion of high-speed rail in America, and electrifying the iron between New Haven and Boston to complete the route the Pennsylvania and New Haven railroads began some eighty years earlier from Washington to the Hub of New England. Swedish State Railways loaned "Big A" one of its X2000 trainsets, designed and built by Europe's Asea-Brown-Boveri. It toured the Northeast Corridor for several months, but eventually the 20-set contract was let to Canada's Bombardier-Alstom consortium.
End Notes...

We try to be accurate in the stories we write, but even seasoned pros err occasionally. If you read something you know to be amiss, or if you have a question about a topic, we'd like to hear from you. Please e-mail the crew at leoking@nationalcorridors.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write.

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

Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images that appear in Destination: Freedom may do so at a nominal fee of $10.00 per image. "True color" .jpg images average 1.7MB each, and are 300 dots-per-inch for print publishers.

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

In an effort to expand the on-line experience at the National Corridors Initiative web site, we have added a page featuring links to other rail travel sites. We hope to provide links to those cities or states that are working on rail transportation initiatives - state DOTs, legislators, governor's offices, and transportation professionals - as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists.

If you have a favorite rail link, please send the uniform resource locator address (URL) to the webmaster in care of this web site. An e-mail link appears at the bottom of the NCI web site pages to get in touch with D. M. Kirkpatrick, NCI's Site in Boston.


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