Destination:Freedom Newsletter
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 3 No. 14, April 8, 2002
Copyright © 2002, NCI, Inc.
James P. RePass, President
Leo King, Editor

A weekly North American rail and transit update

Daylight Saving time began at 2:00 a.m. Sunday

Acela regional waiting at Boston

NCI: Leo King

The Congressional train is getting ready to leave the station. Will Amtrak still be the lead railroad transportation engine when they finish?
No train-offs - for now
By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

The governors of 46 states are receiving formal notification letters from Amtrak President George Warrington warning that their states may lose long-distance passenger trains next October at the end of the current fiscal year unless Amtrak is adequately funded.

The only four governors not receiving the Warrington letter are the chief executives of Wyoming, South Dakota, Hawaii, and Alaska - the only states that have no Amtrak service.

At the same time, the outgoing Amtrak CEO assured the governors of "the efforts now underway to ensure continued service on Amtrak's entire system, including service that currently runs through your state."

Warrington wrote, "The uncertainties associated with the legislative process mean that Amtrak must prepare for the possibility that it will not receive an appropriations sufficient to keep all current services in place," he adds.

Warrington reviewed the bill by Senate Commerce Committee chairman Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) and other legislation that would assure the required $1.2 billion appropriation to keep the overnight long-distance trains running through Fiscal Year 2003.

"As a corporation," noted Warrington, "we cannot rely on an uncertain outcome. While Amtrak could not be more committed to a national passenger rail system, if funding falls below Amtrak's budget, it is likely certain trains will be discontinued."

He then explained the 18 trains that are "at high risk" or "requiring more direct subsidy than others," but no final decisions about Amtrak services in fiscal 2003 have been made "at this time." the Amtrak boss added, "Amtrak intends to make decisions after the federal appropriations process has been concluded this fall."

Warrington pointed out that in circumstances where train service rests on federal appropriations, "the law does not require Amtrak to provide the customary 180-day cancellation notice as to specific routes until Congress takes action; however, in the spirit of the law, we felt it was important on February 1, and again today, to explain Amtrak's financial circumstances and the choices we may face, and to assure you that Amtrak will work closely with you in the months ahead."

He left the phone number of Joe McHugh, Amtrak's Corporate Acting Vice President of Government Affairs, for those governors who have any questions.

McHugh is Amtrak's point man among the government officials who hold Amtrak's purse strings. He is a familiar figure on Capitol Hill.

As D:F was going to press late Friday, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) urged mayors, governors, and passengers to "raise their voices over the coming months for the President and the Congress to hear."

Carper also noted took note of another factor that is relevant right now with the Middle East tinderbox in flames: our reliance on Arab oil from countries that harbor America-hating terrorists. Rail is the most energy-efficient mode of transportation.

The Delaware solon and former governor has collected the signatures of 53 senators on a letter to Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) urging the inclusion of $1.2 billion in funding authorizations for Amtrak. Conrad included the funding.

That means a solid majority of senators back the bill. And as we reported last week, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), the powerful chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, plans to introduce a similar measure on that side of the capitol.

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House rail hearings begin Thursday;
RePass to testify at Quinn's invitation
By Leo King

What to do about Amtrak is a major focus when a House subcommittee holds a hearing later this week, but its primary focus will be on "what passenger rail service in America should look like."

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Subcommittee on Railroads, chaired by Rep. Chairman Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.), is slated to begin Thursday. The hearing begins at 10:00 a.m. in 2167 Rayburn House Office Building.

NCI President and CEO James P. RePass has been scheduled to testify, along with several other witnesses, including Alan Rutter, Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration; United Rail Passenger Alliance president William Selden; Gayetta Hecker, director for physical infrastructure issues for the Government Accounting Office; and Ed Hamberger, Association of American Railroads president. Other presenters will be William Rennicke of Mercer Management; Anthony Pearl, Prof at Univ. of Calgary; Scott Spencer, president of Railway Service Corp.; and Jerald Rogers, Chairman of Williamsport and Southern Corp.

RePass, 53, who has been scheduled to be the last person to testify, said he plans to tell the Congressmen, from his prepared remarks, "I have, in the course of events, been coming to Washington for 13 years now, having set aside my business career, in support of my belief that the good of the country requires a rail transportation system worthy of the name, as surely as it requires safe and secure air and highway systems."

Each of the panelists was asked to try to answer several questions, including, "Should our policy promote a national system? If so, what is a national passenger rail system, and what is its role?" Another question was, "What role, if any, should the federal government play in determining route systems and service levels?" For that matter, "What role buses can play in serving rural communities and linking those communities to rail?"

Four other far-reaching questions asked, "Should there be competition for operating contracts? Who should own, build, and maintain the infrastructure for passenger rail? Should there be a self-replenishing fund for certain infrastructure? What is the role of high-speed rail?"

RePass says he is "particularly grateful to be a part of these last three hearings of the Railroads subcommittee to explore rail and Amtrak's future. I believe Chairman Quinn has correctly determined that we have reached a point in American history that will brook no aversion to the task at hand, which is that, once and for all, we structure rail as an integral part of our transportation system, and fund it in such a way that, like highway and air, it can engage in long-term planning and investment over the next few decades, until America has a transportation system that is once again the greatest in the world."

"In my view," says RePass, "we have reached the present crisis because the debate on Amtrak has, until now, been driven by three very faulty assumptions, as follows:

"'Amtrak is a subsidy hog.'

"On the contrary, Amtrak has performed a remarkable service given the consistent lack of reliable funding given it over the past 30 years. What is needed is the kind of full, substantial funding given to other transportation modes."

RePass, a Louisiana native now living in Boston, said he plans to tell the subcommittee members, "Those who cite highways and airlines as somehow self-sufficient, and criticize Amtrak as a subsidy hog, are quite simply wrong on the facts. Recently, my organization conducted an investigation of modal funding histories, using government-maintained statistical sources, and determined that highway systems cover at most 79 percent of their costs, with the balance being made up by direct government subsidies. Amtrak has for years achieved 80 percent of its operating costs from farebox revenues, an amazing achievement given the lack of support for rail capital investment not tied to specific routes or projects."

He added, "The point is not that my organization is opposed to air and highway systems. Quite the opposite is the case; we are a substantially business- and private-sector-oriented organization, and fully understand and support the economic benefits of a functioning highway and airline system, but we also note that for 30 years Amtrak has been treated as a problem, with periodic crises threatening to literally shut the system down, an intolerable situation in any industrialized country - but doubly so when there is just no excuse for it."

He noted, "Amtrak is not the problem: Amtrak is the solution, in terms of building a balanced transportation system for America."

"'Amtrak should be divided into pieces'

"Some have suggested this somehow would be an improvement. It would not. Under no circumstances should rail operational responsibility be divided from those who maintain the rail infrastructure. This was done in England with literally catastrophic results. Does Amtrak need reform? Yes, it most certainly does, but no amount of structural or other changes will help create a better passenger rail system unless and until the basic question of funding is resolved once and for all.

"'Amtrak should be privatized'

"This is perhaps the oddest argument of all, because Amtrak is already privatized. It was created as a private stock corporation established in the District of Columbia, with stock largely held by the Secretary of Transportation. The Amtrak Reform Act modified this status, but the point remains that Amtrak is essentially a private company. It's just that it performs a public service, without being able to count on substantial and regular public funding. It does not matter whether Amtrak is statutorily required to operate as a service, or is simply expected to do so by default. In either case, it lurches from crisis to crisis. Yes, it receives federal funding, but so do all transportation modes. The amount Amtrak gets is so small and unpredictable that it basically cannot function. Privatization is utterly irrelevant to this equation.

RePass said he intends to tell the House members the "'blame Amtrak' approach is just a non-starter."

RePass said he plans to tell the Congressional leaders, "The nation can and must have a national passenger rail system. The issue is not just what such a system would cost, it is also the cost of allowing the present intolerable situation to continue.

"There are literally hundreds of city-pairs in this country that are between 100 and 500 miles apart. Combined with continued investment in urban and regional transit systems, a system of high-speed corridors would serve not only to improve the economic viability of the regions those corridors, it would also increase the speed with which America is slowly rehabilitating the downtown areas of so many of its towns and cities."

He will be pointing out some rail success stories as well.

"The economic benefits of this revival can be seen in the real estate byproducts of the successful transit implementations in San Jose, San Diego, St. Louis, Dallas, Atlanta, Washington, and many other cities. By trying together these cities into vital economic regions, the national passenger rail system acts as a catalyst to economic development, and reduces our dependency on air and highway travel for short hops that are better served by rail."

RePass says "It is the proper role of the federal government to fund a basic network of rail corridors, just as it funded the nation's Interstate Highway corridors. It must also fund a basic level of service, superior by far, to what we have today. Fundamentally, it is our view that if a city is worth serving with one train a day in each direction, then it is worth serving with three. The idea is to enable departure and return times that are realistic and acceptable; right now there are many trains which, since they arrive only once a day in each direction, come and go in the wee hours, serving no one very well.

"What about rural communities and train service? It is essential, but for another reason: without long distance trains, many of the smaller towns and cities of America, especially in the South and West and rural parts of the Northeast, would be left in Depression-era isolation. While it is true that long distance trains do not have any great likelihood of showing a profit, their operation is a part of what unites this country, and provides transportation services to those who otherwise would not have them. We should no more eliminate those trains than we should turn out the lights in rural Tennessee, just because it costs more to serve those folks. There is an issue of fairness and balance here, and a national passenger rail system is an essential part of a just society."

RePass says he sees competition as usually a good thing, "and a better national passenger rail system will result from it. Amtrak, contrary to popular belief, dies not have a monopoly on operating train service, and that is fine. There are private operators who want to run routes, and regional transit agencies who already do that: as we improve our rail system the line between high-speed intercity rail and commuter-regional rail is going to blur, and we will find that what was once a long trip is now a regional commute.

"That, too, is a good thing, because higher speed trains in effect "grow" the size of the employee pool in a region, thereby making it more attractive for companies to locate there. Although I am sure some present Amtrak supporters see competition as an enemy, or as a threat to jobs; on the contrary. I do not. It will make the system stronger, and help it allocate its own resources rationally."

RePass also plans to address the question of who should own, build, and operate the infrastructure for passenger rail.

"It is essential to remember that most of the track over which the nation's passenger trains operate is owned by the freight railroads. Demands are being made upon them to open up access to more passenger service, both by Amtrak, and by commuter rail lines. At the same time, if freight railroads improve their track to accommodate more passenger service, they are then taxed on the improvements - hardly an incentive to cooperate in passenger rail's growth. We believe the solution is to invest public funds in freight rail rights-of-way, but with the proviso that access to the improved lines then be opened to all qualified operators, for a fee."

He expects to also point out that "Right now, Amtrak must pay only the marginal costs of wear and tear, while commuter lines have to pay far more; this situation could be remedied by teaming agreements between Amtrak and commuter rail authorities; by adopting legislation similar to that proposed which would give commuter rail lines the same access rights as Amtrak; and by exempting freight railroads from local and state property or excise taxes; or some combination of all three."

RePass points out building rail capacity "is best left to the railroads and their engineering subcontractors, absent some overriding public interest in a given rail line or route," and that maintenance is also best left to the railroads themselves." For safety reasons, "It is always best to have those who operate trains be responsible for their maintenance."

RePass opines, "One of the biggest transportation failings of the past century has been the failure to provide a self-replenishing fund for rail infrastructure investment. This is an outgrowth of a decision taken many decades ago to employ a gas tax to build highways, and highways only, while the Europeans wisely called their gas tax a 'transportation tax' and spent it on rail as well as roads. This is a situation that this Congress can and must correct, by increasing the gas tax by five cents a gallon and allocating those additional revenues to passenger and freight rail infrastructure investment. A 5-cent transportation tax would create a pool of funds of about $7 billion a year, far less than is spent each year on highways or airline subsidies, but enough to fund a radical improvement in America's rail systems."

He points out that, "Because gasoline fluctuates broadly between $1 and $2 a gallon, a 5-cent tax would be a virtually invisible tax, and painless way to transform America's backward rail system into one that would once again lead the world.

Another suggestion he will present on Thursday is that "Congress could also create national transportation corridors, paralleling for perhaps 25 miles on either side, the existing High Speed Rail Corridors created in ISTEA and TEA-21, and enact that a set percentage of future sales tax and property tax growth be set aside; the funds from these tax increments would be used to pay off bonds issued for infrastructure, and in this way provide a permanent source of capital for on-going infrastructure improvements. Of course, this would require cooperation from and participation by the states."

The NCI CEO says "We have reached a time of decision regarding the nation's passenger rail system. This time, there can be no more patches, no more temporary repairs, no more muddling through. Amtrak has for a generation been forced to make do with little, or less, and the results have been predictable. Just as was done with the interstate highway system, we need a vision, and a sustained, multi-year effort combined with the political will to get the job done. That will can, and in large measure, should come from Congress, and especially from this historic committee. We need to understand that passenger rail service, whether long distance, regional, corridor, or commuter, is a necessity for our economic and environmental health, and dispense with the notion that it is a profit-making enterprise. If Congress provides the capital foundation as it does for highways and airline systems then, yes, on a cash operations basis, rail can return a very large chunk of what is spent on it. But the broader economic benefits are far more significant

We can send the President a bill that merely postpones the problem until next year, or we can send the President a bill that will change America forever, and for the better. I ask that you, certainly, to make assure that this invaluable asset, Amtrak survives, not just for this year, but also for the future, and to do so with dispatch.

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'Rhody' falters over new station
Citing a precarious outlook for travel in the post-September 11 era, most of the car-rental agencies at T.F. Green Airport in Warwick, R.I. have told the state they are no longer interested in helping to finance a $168-million train station and parking garage on Jefferson Boulevard.

Governor Lincoln Almond and RIDOT weren't taking "no" for an answer last Thursday, but some public officials in Warwick, adjacent to Providence, the capital city, were urging them to take the rental agencies at their word and scale back the project to the $32-million range.

Michael Grande, chairman of the Warwick Station Redevelopment Agency, said he believed the fight to build the larger project had been waged and lost. He urged the state to go back to its original plan of May 1998 and build a modest station for $32 million in federal and state grants already in the bank.

That plan did not include a people mover connecting the station to the air terminal at Green, and did not include a 4,000-car parking garage, mainly to house the rental agencies and their fleets.

Rep. H. Norman Knickle, a Warwick Democrat, said yesterday, "My understanding is it's futile to continue to attempt to negotiate with the rental-car agencies. If that's true, then it's time to move on and build the train station. We're already two years behind schedule."

At DOT, Director William Ankner said Almond still supported building a "consolidated intermodal transportation facility" on Jefferson Boulevard, and "we are proceeding ahead on the assumption that this project is going to go forward."

Not so the seven car-rental companies, which dropped out of the project between February 25 and March 13, in letters to Michael Cheston, executive director of the Airport Corporation, and Richard Licht, the corporation's lawyer and chief negotiator on the project.

Budget Car and Truck Rental said, "The economic uncertainty at this time is far too great."

Payless Car Rental said it "does not think it would be a good idea to build the planned intermodal station."

National Car Rental "is not interested in proceeding."

Dollar Rent-A-Car said "it would not be prudent for us to continue our participation."

Thrifty Car Rental "is not in favor" of building the combined facility.

Enterprise Rent-A-Car "is not able to commit to moving forward."

Finally, Alamo described the project as "premature," suggesting "that we wait" until the business outlook is clearer.

STATE AND CITY officials have talked about building an Amtrak station in Warwick since the new air terminal opened in 1996.

In May 1998, the late Sen. John H. Chafee obtained a federal grant of $25 million to build the station about a quarter-mile west of the airport, on Jefferson Boulevard. Initially, the DOT promised to open the station by 2001, but those plans were set aside as the project grew in scope.

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Wreck at Altoona

WTAJ-TV: Trish Gates

Three Norfolk Southern freight trains were wrecked after a backhoe apparently slid down an embankment near Altoona, Penn.
Three NS trains wreck in Altoona;
Amtrak operations also disrupted
A derailment April 2 near Altoona, Penn., on three main line tracks stopped Norfolk Southern's and Amtrak's trains for a time. A backhoe operator was reported injured, but no trainmen nor Amtrak passengers. All three tracks were blocked near milepost 240.

Several trains normally moving over this route were delayed late Tuesday around 4:30 p.m., but NS reported operations over one main track were restored to service early Wednesday morning. Crews continued to clear and repair tracks on both remaining lines.

The disruption affected traffic moving between the West and Midwest as well as New Jersey, Delaware, the Delmarva Peninsula and Eastern Pennsylvania.

Unofficial sources said the derailment, on the former Pennsylvania Railroad in the Horseshoe Curve area west of Altoona, tied up that route line completely and forced equipment substitution west of Pittsburgh for Amtrak.

The westbound Three Rivers, No. 41, was unable to reach Pittsburgh, nor could the eastbound Pennsylvanian, No. 44 depart Pittsburgh. Eventually, the Pennsylvanian equipment was turned to become the Three Rivers, which ran from Pittsburgh to Chicago with two engines, a cafÈ car and three coaches.

Passengers were "bustituted" between Altoona and Pittsburgh.

Sleeping car passengers from No. 41, none of whom were destined to points east of Hammond, Ind., were put on the Capitol Limited, No. 29.

The derailment apparently was caused by a backhoe that slid down an embankment into the side of a moving empty coal train which did not block the tracks at first but came close, fouled No. 3 track and was hit by the first train, which derailed and fouled track 2, where the second train hit it, which fouled track 1.

It was working adjacent to the NS Pittsburgh Line, west of Altoona, and slid off an embankment into the side of empty coal train 593-01 on No. 3 track. The 3,794-ton, 128-car train sustained an emergency brake application, and derailed 13 hopper cars back into its 128-car consist.

Train 593-01's hopper cars derailed into the side of double-stack train 20G-02, operating eastbound on number 2 track, derailing 15 double-stack well cars and starting a brush fire.

Simultaneously, 12,730-ton, 95-car loaded coal train 506-02, operating eastbound on number 1 track, was hit by derailing double-stack wells and sent one coal hopper off the rails.

Meanwhile, the fire spread to the nearby hillside, igniting the dry brush. Firefighters on the ground were assisted by helicopters dropping water to help extinguish the mountain fire that consumed several acres.

The backhoe operator was trapped for a while. He suffered minor injuries, and was hospitalized in Altoona after being freed.

A conflicting report said the derailment was caused by a rockslide derailing a passing westbound empty coal train.

Wreckage blocked all three tracks of the Pittsburgh Line, just east of McGarvey Signal, at MP 239.7.

Two divisions of Hulcher Wrecking Services were dispatched to the scene and were expected to arrive before 1:00 a.m. EST.

According to Norfolk Southern, number one track would be back in service as soon as the single derailed coal hopper was rerailed and train 506-01 cleared from the line.

Railroad crews were expected to replace at least eighty feet of track on number 2 track and more than 120 feet on number 3 track. Track was undamaged under the wrecked coal hopper and trains rolled through the area with slow orders in place.

Crews from Hulcher and the railroad were constructing a new access road along the Pittsburgh Line between 24th Street and the Mill Run Road (Brickyard) grade crossing.

Thanks to Gene Poon, Kevin Burkholder of Eastern Rail News, Bill Leazer, Erich Houchens; and Norfolk Southern.

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Georgia senators approve rail plan
The Georgia Senate passed a $16.1 billion budget Wednesday that funds a commuter rail proposal, among other projects, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Senators added $12 million for the proposed Atlanta-to-Macon commuter rail to create a $38 million federal match. Much of the funding came from a tobacco settlement.

The $12 million joins another $2 million that was appropriated in 1999, that will match $56 million that U.S. Rep. Michael "Mac" Collins (R) secured, for $70 million. Collins is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee as well as the House Budget Committee. He is also Deputy Majority Whip in the Republican leadership.

"Now it's up to the House and the Conference Committee," he said.

The previous day a state representative suggested Amtrak ply the route instead of creating a commuter line.

State Rep. Terry Coleman (D) suggested having Amtrak set up rail service to Macon is preferable to the state creating a commuter-rail line between Atlanta and Macon, according to the Macon Telegraph. Coleman is the chairman of the Georgia House Appropriations Committee.

Amtrak would receive the authority to issue its own bonds under legislation pending in Congress. If passed, Amtrak intends to set up new service on the East Coast, and plans tentatively include a route that would stop in Macon on the way to Savannah.

Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.), is a co-sponsor of a bill that would give Amtrak and other rail operators the authority to sell $12 billion worth of bonds for rail projects.

"Amtrak are the rail experts," said Coleman. "They could handle getting the rail lines ready."

Amtrak would be given the authority to purchase the rights to the rail lines and make improvements needed to get the rails ready for passenger traffic, Coleman said.

Talks between the state and Norfolk Southern on the rights to use one of the railroad's rail lines between Macon and Atlanta have stalled because of disagreements on price.

The $12 million for rail also would need approval from Gov. Roy Barnes, who didn't include that money in his initial budget recommendations for fiscal 2003.

Barnes doesn't comment on pending legislation, said his spokeswoman, Joselyn Butler; however, rail to Macon still is part of Barnes' plans, she said.

"The transportation plan tries to strike a balance between rail, roads, buses and HOV lanes, and rail and the Macon line are still part of that plan," Butler said.

Earlier this year, Barnes said the Macon line was no longer the state's top passenger-rail priority.

The Senate budget package was expected to voted upon on Friday, then go to a House-Senate conference committee to resolve differences between the two versions. The House package doesn't include Macon rail funds.

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Ohio commuter rail service fails
A proposed commuter rail line from Cleveland to Akron to Canton is dead, and officials of a pro-rail group in Northeast Ohio are angry. The $170 million project was killed when the governing board of the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study voted on March 27 to withhold support.

The Akron Beacon Journal reported on Wednesday the 43-member policy committee of public officials voted 23-4 with two abstentions to drop looking at commuter rail service from Tallmadge Avenue in North Akron to Bedford Heights, said Ken Hanson, executive director of AMATS.

The Akron-based planning agency oversees federally funded highway and transportation projects in Summit and Portage counties and Chippewa Township in Wayne County.

Planning organizations in Cuyahoga and Stark counties could still push for commuter rail service, but there is no interest in the project in Summit County, barring a reversal of the governing board, Hanson said.

Asked if that killed commuter rail in Northeast Ohio, he said, "It does, as far as I can see, at this point in time." Hanson said the project, in the works for nine years, was hurt by a consultant's draft report that said the rail line would provide few benefits to Summit County and attract few riders, the cost of developing such a service would be high and the rail line would not reduce traffic congestion along Interstate 77.

The issue was on the agenda last week for discussion only, but the policy committee agreed to kill the project in Summit County. There was vocal opposition to the project in Silver Lake and Stow, but support for the commuter line in Hudson, officials said. The plan called for five trains heading from Bedford Heights to Cleveland weekday mornings and returning at night. In addition, there would have been two morning runs from North Akron to Cleveland with two trains returning at night. Service to Canton was not in that plan.

The $170 million cost to start up the line would have been divided equally between Summit and Cuyahoga counties.

The Ohio Association of Railroad Passengers is angry with AMATS' action.

"This was an ambush, plain and simple," said association Vice President Ken Prendergast, who said there is widespread support for the project. Such actions are why Americans distrust government, he said, and the committee's vote compromised the public's trust.

"For the most part, government officials are honest people," he said, "but this kind of behavior causes citizens to forget the good things they do. It's ridiculous that three metro areas (Cleveland, Akron and Canton) having more than 3 million people must be held hostage by a misinformed village (Silver Lake) and some sour grapes that aren't even part of the Cleveland-Akron-Canton corridor."

He said some AMATS officials from Portage County voted to kill the project because they were angry that rail service through Kent had been rejected earlier. He accused Silver Lake Mayor Warner Mendenhall of orchestrating the vote to kill the line.

To spend $85 million in Summit County funds for several hundred riders and to impose a quarter-percent sales tax to fund the train, Mendenhall said, would be "absolutely absurd... and an abuse of public funds."

He said the project stirred concerns in his village but that he was most troubled by the costs.

Prendergast, however, said Northeast Ohio needs commuter rail.

"If we don't build commuter rail, then we'll have to spend even more taxpayers' dollars to acquire land, demolish homes and add more expensive (highway) lanes to some highways just to handle rush-hour traffic," he said.

"This region can't afford to do that - not when there's an alternative out there that can save the taxpayers' money, save our communities, protect the environment and improve mobility choices."

A consulting firm, Parsons Brinckerhoff in Cleveland, had suggested that Northeast Ohio look at commuter rail between Akron and Cleveland, along with $629 million in highway improvements to reduce traffic congestion. The firm spent three years on the $2.5 million study, which was funded with federal and state money.

Its report recommended setting up a commuter rail from North Akron to Cleveland, with stops in Cuyahoga Falls, Hudson, Macedonia, Bedford, Garfield Heights at Interstate 480 and three stops in Cleveland.

A trip from Akron to Cleveland would have cost $3 one way and taken about an hour. The study projected 2,700 daily riders.

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Ex-MC line to be abandoned
An ex-Michigan Central line running through most of Ontario, Canada will be torn up in the weeks ahead.

The Canada Southern, built in 1873, should be history by the start of the summer. Shortly after it was built, it became part of the fabled New York Central Railroad empire of U.S. tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, and was known as the Michigan Central from 1894 to 1930. Canadian National Ry. and Canadian Pacific bought it from Conrail in 1985 and promised to run it until 2005, according to a report in Friday's The Hamilton Spectator.

CN will tear up the line from Attercliffe, near Dunnville, to St. Thomas after six years of debate and false starts. All that will be left - of the shortest rail route across Ontario - will be portions between Niagara Falls and Attercliffe, Welland and Fort Erie, and St. Thomas and Windsor. A six-kilometer section through Hagersville will also be maintained.

CN and CP announced their intention to abandon a section of the Canada Southern between St Thomas (MP 113.64) and Attercliffe (MP 30.52, in the Dunville area). on October 19, 2001.

Crews have already traveled up and down the 133-km section to remove rust and see which rails can be recycled and installed in other parts of CN's network.

"We're getting the track ready for removal," CN spokesman Ian Thomson said yesterday. "We're basically doing prep work."

Thomson says CN got no solid offers to sell the Attercliffe-St. Thomas section, which hasn't seen a train since April 1, 1996.

St. Thomas, Tillsonburg and Elgin County said they were interested in saving the line, but the counties of Haldimand and Norfolk couldn't see it in their transportation futures and the asking price of $8.3 million was too steep. Canadian Pacific Railway, which co-owned the line with CN, blocked CN's attempts to abandon the line in the last few years, but has now removed any objections.

CP struck a deal with CN last fall that allowed CP to move its trains off a CP line through downtown Niagara Falls and onto a CN track in Fort Erie.

CP spokesman Paul Thurston, however, denied there's any link between the railway removing its objection to tearing up the Canada Southern and striking a deal with CN to run its trains in Fort Erie.

Thomson said CN has long sought to sever the Canada Southern because it never fit into the system. CN has a main line between Niagara Falls, Hamilton, London, and Windsor.

"We've said it all before," he said.

"Right now, it doesn't make sense for us to have dual corridors. It doesn't fit in with our business patterns."

Norfolk county Mayor Rita Kalmbach said she personally opposed the removal, but Norfolk couldn't risk putting money into it if it couldn't find anyone to run a short line on it. She said her council viewed it as too big a gamble, but the federal Liberals let the railways out of that agreement about five years ago. At one time, about 200 people worked on the Canada Southern.

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VMV shutters its doors
One of Paducah, Ky.'s largest employers, VMV Enterprises, said Thursday it had stopped production.

Company's president Bob Pedersen said 264 employees spent their last day at work on Tuesday. He said he called them to a meeting at 3 p.m. to announce the closing.

The company had been losing business for the past several years. In 1999, its gross revenue was $90 million, but last year, Pedersen said, the company only did $47 million in business and was on pace to do even worse this year.

VMV had been in Paducah for more than 70 years, and was the largest independently owned locomotive company in the United States. Its main function was to refurbish and overhaul locomotive engines. Pedersen said he would continue looking for a buyer for the company, and meanwhile would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and liquidation in federal court.

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Freight lines...

P&W, Chevron plan harbor development;
unspecified goods to enter Ocean State

Providence and Worcester Railroad and Chevron Texaco Corp. are planning to jointly develop land in East Providence.

The railroad stated in a press release on April 3 that it has entered into a "memorandum of understanding" with Chevron to joint "development by the two companies of property located on the waterfront, but Mary Tanona, a spokeswoman for the railroad, said specifics have not yet been worked out.

She told D:F, "There is not a lot of detail I can offer at this time, as the memorandum of understanding - which was just entered into - is a preliminary step. Any development will likely need to take into consideration the requirements of the City of East Providence, which has put forth a 'vision plan' for how it would like to see the waterfront developed."

P&W owns a 45-acre site known as the "South Quay," a 33-acre parcel the freight railroad "created over a period of years between 1979 and 1998 by filling tide-flowed land on the Providence River, and an adjacent 12-acre parcel."

P&W said its "Fee simple absolute title to the 33-acre parcel was confirmed by the Rhode Island Supreme Court in 1999, and its fee simple absolute title to the 12-acre parcel was confirmed by the Rhode Island Superior Court in 2000. Chevron owns the 30-acre parcel immediately to the south of the South Quay."

The 75 acres are located on the waterfront just across the harbor from Providence but the development is not related to Wilkes-Barre Pier. She noted, "The P&W does not own Wilkes-Barre Pier."

P&W's president, Orville R. Harrold, said the site "offers a unique opportunity for development. We are pleased to be exploring the possibilities with both Chevron and the City of East Providence."

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U.S. needs a modern passenger rail service

This letter from Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (D-S.C.) appeared in the Greenville News Online on March 27. A native of Charleston, he has represented South Carolina in the U.S. Senate since 1966, and is chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

© Sen. Ernest F. Hollings

For the last 30 years, I have watched Amtrak limp along.

Instead of offering express rail service across South Carolina and other regions of the country, our national railroad has declined to the point it has had to mortgage Penn Station in New York just to pay the electric bill.

Thirty years ago, all the nation's railroads operating passenger service were losing money, and they begged the government to get them out of the business.

So Congress relieved them of their obligations and created Amtrak, but rather than making the substantial, consistent investments needed to improve and expand service nationally, Congress chose to continue the same policy of neglect.

Right to the point: Over the last 30 years, Congress invested $570 billion to build highways and airports, yet we put only $25 billion into passenger rail service. Our major freight railroads invest more on capital improvements every four years than Amtrak has received in its lifetime.

So this month, I introduced legislation, co-sponsored by 28 of my colleagues, to fundamentally change passenger rail service.

Instead of eliminating the routes thousands of South Carolinians take every month, the bill would improve service all around the country.

It would speed development of regional high-speed train service between large cities.

It would fix a backlog of repairs to its aging fleet and infrastructure, and it would improve security so essential after September. 11.

Some in Congress argue my plan is too costly. They don't think Congress should provide more money for something they don't believe will ever be profitable.

Passenger rail may never be profitable.

No country has ever built and operated a passenger rail system at a profit, but 23 countries (including Britain, France, Japan, Canada, Norway and even Estonia) have invested more money per person for such service than we have invested in Amtrak.

Why? Because it's a national priority for them to invest, but it hasn't been for us.

People are wrong if they think America can do without rail service in the 21st century, especially after September 11. Closing down our aviation system that week sent devastating ripples through the economy and reminded us we should not be so dependent on one mode of transportation.

The lack of a good system has clogged highways, and that situation is just going to get worse. We cannot, nor should we, pave the entire country. The fact is a single railroad track can carry as many people as a 10-lane highway, producing less pollution and requiring much less gasoline.

As a frequent flyer, I can tell you: Not everyone wants to wait at airports for two hours to fly distances of less than 300 miles. A high-speed train could deliver passengers from downtown-to-downtown just as fast as a plane, and in virtually all weather.

The only region where that is now available is between Washington, New York and Boston. It also happens to be Amtrak's most successful route.

More commuters between New York and Washington take the train than all the airlines combined.

I'm confident if we made a similarly strong investment in rail service in the South, Midwest, West Coast and Northwest, consumers would take advantage.

One of the best expenditures Congress ever made was to use tax dollars to build the interstate highway system. Likewise, the federal government has built airports, paid for air traffic control and now is investing in a federal airport security force to check passengers and baggage. No one has questioned those investments.

Now it's time we made substantial long-term investments in a world-class passenger rail system.

Our economic and national security depend on critical investments in public infrastructure, and they demand a national transportation system that is efficient and balanced.

My goal is to change the Washington conventional thinking on this subject and begin the effort to build a modern, national passenger rail system.

The Greenville News is online at

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Transit lines...

Station repairs begin at WTC

Work began Wednesday on restoring Port Authority of New York train service from New Jersey to Lower Manhattan. PATH crews began preliminary work on creating a temporary station at the World Trade Center site. The project will be greatly expanded once the recovery and cleanup there are complete. PATH said it plans to have the temporary station up and running by the end of next year. It is also expanding the Exchange Place station in Jersey City, and hopes to have that reopened within 18 months. Before September 11, the World Trade Center PATH station handled about 66,000 passengers daily.

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Across the pond...

Engineers cause 24-hour U.K. strike; train service disrupted

Commuters in northern England faced severe disruptions last Tuesday as nearly 700 train drivers (locomotive engineers) staged a 24-hour strike, the first of three planned walkouts in a dispute over disciplinary action.

The strike by members of the train drivers' union, "Aslef," prompted First North Western, which runs local trains across northwest England, to cancel all its services for the day. The union was also planning 24-hour strikes Friday and Monday, The AP reported last week.

In March, union members voted overwhelmingly in favor of strikes in a long-running dispute over the company's demotion and dismissal of several drivers, including one who was fired for running two consecutive red lights - stop signals.

The union accused First North Western of abusing its disciplinary action procedures. Union general secretary Mick Rix said the company was creating a "culture of blame and faultfinding."

First North Western said it dismissed the driver because of safety concerns. "Our passengers have a right to demand safety on our railways and we are not prepared to compromise that basic right," said managing director Dave Kaye.

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  Near the main line...

Odyssey on the rails is quite a trip

Some college students took an incredible train ride in recent months, and have posted their observations - along with a passel of other information - on their website.

All Aboard! The American Railroad Odyssey was a faculty approved independent project designed by seven Wofford College seniors. Wofford College is in Spartanburg, S.C.

"Studying the passenger rail service across the United States and Canada, we took a 25-day trip covering 9,671 miles of North America on Amtrak trains. Wofford's Interim program, a January term between fall and spring academic semesters, gives students and faculty time for innovative projects, overseas travel, and internships," according to the text on their home page, at

The kids traveled on Amtrak trains around the United States and into Canada in January 2002. The project was designed to take students to the most culturally rich locales of North America to study passenger rail.

"This project studies many topics including railroad history, who rides the train and why, American landscape as seen from the train, how the train is portrayed in society, comparisons with other modes of transportation, train stations, and the future of the American railroad. At the same time, we want to provide practical information about the railroad."

Their website is provides information about their investigations "into this most interesting topic through experiential summaries, academic research, and personal opinions.

They began their odyssey in New Orleans, and they have created web pages for a photo gallery of their stops, added a page that describes project participants, and the notoriety they have received over the months as well as other pages.

They visited and toured cities from New Orleans to Yosemite National Park, Niagara Falls, St. Louis, Seattle, Montreal, and Quebec.

They traveled as far east as Boston, and stopped in places like San Francisco, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. their final stop was home, at Spartanburg.

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Off the main line...

Two railroaders praised for heroism

Two rank-and-file railroaders have gotten a big "thank you" from Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta and Federal Railroad Administrator Allan Rutter.

Portland & Western Railroad (PWR) conductor Aric Jeffs received the U.S. Department of Transportation Award for Heroism for his efforts in saving a child's life, while PWR locomotive engineer Ted Kulick was presented with a Certificate of Commendation for his actions during the same incident.

Mineta and Rutter presented the awards on Friday.

"These two individuals are true heroes in every sense of the word," said Mineta.

"There is no doubt that were it not for their heroism, selflessness and professionalism, the outcome would have been tragic. Their quick thinking and life-saving actions are nothing short of remarkable and it gives me tremendous pleasure to recognize them for their efforts."

On August 9, 2001, a 30-car PWR freight train loaded with scrap steel was en route to a McMinnville, Ore., mill when Jeffs and Kulick saw a group of children on a bridge ahead of their train. As the six youths ran to avoid the train, one of them, a seven-year old boy, fell and became trapped between the ties on the trestle.

Kulick attempted to slow the train, though it was clear to him that applying the brakes alone would not be enough to avert striking the boy. With the train still moving at approximately 4 mph, Jeffs rushed to the locomotive's front steps, called out to the boy, and lifted him to safety. In so doing, Jeffs put himself at great risk in order to save the child. After making the rescue, the train continued for another 150 feet, at which point it came to a complete stop.

"It is because of the courageous efforts of Mr. Jeffs and Mr. Kulick that in this case, a potential tragedy was averted," said Rutter.

The Portland & Western operates a 444-mile system throughout Northwest Oregon. It hauls more than 60,000 carloads annually and serves 135 customers.

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Dear Editor:

In the article posted on April 1, there's mention in the story about the Silver Palm that the Kentucky Cardinal will get a Viewliner sleeper.

I'm curious to know if Amtrak conductors and staff on the Cardinal will appreciate passengers on the Kentucky Cardinal walking through the transition dorm sleeper to get to the Cardinal's diner and lounge cars north of Indianapolis?

How would the combination occur on the days that the Cardinal and the Kentucky Cardinal meet in Indianapolis? It certainly seems rather odd that the equipment would be mixed in this fashion.

Jon Calon

Interesting question. We'll look into it. - Ed.

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April 14-18

ASCE - Second international conference
on urban public transportation systems

Washington, D.C.
Contact Walter Kulyk
703 295 6300
Fax 703 295 6144

April 18

Supply Chain Expo

Donald E. Stephens Convention Center
Contact Brian Everett 952 442 5638

April 28-30

ASLRRA annual meeting and exhibition

World Center Marriott
Orlando Fla.
Contact Kathy Cassidy
202 628 4500
Fax 202 628 6430

May 13-14

NCI 2002 Conference

Uniting America:
Building a national rail system that works

Washington, D.C. Marriott Hotel

This conference will feature a major debate about the future and direction of passenger rail in America, conducted by the people who will actually determine that outcome.

Conference speakers will include Amtrak Board Chair Michael Dukakis, Amtrak Reform Council Chair Gil Carmichael and Executive Director Tom Till, DOT Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson, Author Tony Hiss, Barron's magazine editor Tom Donlan, Florida rail activist and businessman Doc Dockery, Janelletech President Janellen Riggs, rail consultant Randy Resor of Zeta-Tech Associates, Inc., Railway Age magazine editor Bill Vantuono, attorney and rail activist James Coston, and many other of the top thinkers and "doers" in American rail and transit industries.

Further details regarding advance registration will be announced in upcoming issues of Destination: Freedom.

Webmaster adds - Conference materials are now available via a convenient link at our web site's Home Page or by linking to Press statements and registration materials are available in HTML and MS Word Format for viewing or download - DMK

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The way we were...

0729 on the turntable

NCI: Leo King Collection

Charles Street Roundhouse was a great place to catch the action, sometimes even on weekends when school was out. For example, 0729, now in lowly Boston Local service after being displaced by newer Alco PA-1s, takes a spin on the Charles Street Roundhouse's turntable in Providence, R.I.. New Haven Railroad architecture was consistent, so this locale looks a lot like other places on the railroad with similar facilities.

End Notes...

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

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

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

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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