Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 4 No. 15, April 15, 2003
Copyright © 2002, NCI, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - James Furlong
Editor - Leo King

A weekly North American rail and transit update


April 28, 29

Smith, Dukakis, Gunn, Millar
headline 2003 NCI Conference

Washington, D.C. – The National Corridors Initiative’s Year 2003 Conference, Rail Futures: Building Secure and Successful Transit and Intercity Rail for America, will be headlined this year by Amtrak President David Gunn, APTA President William Millar, Amtrak Chairman John Robert Smith and Vice Chair Michael S. Dukakis, Monday, April 28 and Tuesday, April 29, at the Washington Marriott, 1221 22nd Street NW Washington.

At the conference, Washington Post reporter Don Phillips will receive the first Donald Phillips Award for Excellence in Transportation Journalism, which will be presented from time-to-time by NCI to general (i.e., non-trade) news media reporters. Mr. Phillips, who is considered by his peers to be the dean of American transportation writers, will be honored for the body of his work.

Following a year in which new Amtrak President David Gunn succeeded in pulling Amtrak from the brink of bankruptcy, and then persuaded Congress to fully fund the company’s operating shortfall, President Gunn launched a systemwide restructuring of the railroad that eliminated three-fourths of the company’s vice presidents, and streamlined operations, maintenance, and procurement.

Joining Gunn at the 2003 conference as keynoter will be William Millar, President of the American Public Transportation Assn., whose multi-year public affairs campaign, “Public Transportation: For Wherever Life Takes You” has had a growing effect on the public’s understanding of the importance of public transportation not only for city dwellers, but in many of the smaller towns and cities of America.

Rounding out the keynote spots will be Amtrak Chairman Mayor John Robert Smith of Meridian, Miss., a national leader for more than a decade in the fight for intercity passenger rail, and Amtrak Vice-Chairman Michael S. Dukakis, a transportation activist for many decades, and his party’s nominee for President in 1988.

Featured speakers at the conference will include Amtrak Reform Council member Jim Coston, of the Chicago-based international law firm of firm of Coston & Lichtman; former Delaware Secretary of Transportation and newly named Surface Transportation Policy Project Chair Anne P. Canby, Environmental Defense Transportation Director Michael Replogle, legendary transportation designer Cesar Vergara of Jacobs Engineering, and California High Speed Rail Authority Chairman Rod Diridon.

Also, Railway Age magazine Editor William Vantuono, PB Transit & Rail Systems, Parsons Brinckerhoff Vice President and APTA Intercity Chair Joseph Silien; Texas Rail Advocate Paul Mangelsdorf; National Association of Railroad Passengers Executive Director Ross Capon; Midwest High Speed Rail Coalition President Rick Harnish; Railway Supply Institute Intercity Passenger Rail Chair Michael Pracht, and many others.

Register on-line (secure server) at www.nationalcorridors.org, or via fax to 617-269-3943.


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Troops rerail Iraqi Engine

Defense Department

Coalition forces rerail an engine

 

Getting back on track

At the U.S. Central Command media briefing on Saturday from Camp As Sayliyah near Doha, Qatar, Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said coalition forces had rerailed a locomotive, and showed a slide of the engine.

It was not immediately known what kind of engine it was, but it appeared to be similar to a GE 44-ton locomotive.

Brooks said, “Our efforts are to put as much of the existing infrastructure back into use. This locomotive is being aligned on its tracks in Umm Qasr, which is the end of the rail line in the southeast, and it’s just one of the ways we’ll move supplies north toward Al Nasiriyah and beyond. The coalition plan for combat operations deliberately avoided infrastructure like the rail system to ensure that they would be ready for use as quickly as possible after we were able to make assessments of their condition.”


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Sec. Rumsfeld give press conference

Defense Department

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tells reporters on April 9 in the Pentagon that Iraqi freight trains loaded with water and other humanitarian aid should begin moving within a week

 

Coalition forces to start running
north-south Iraqi railway route

By Leo King
Editor

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on April 9 during his Pentagon briefing on the war in Iraq that the rail line between the British-held southern port of Umm Qasr and Nasiriyah “is intact.” He said the rail station at Umm Qasr had been cleared of ordnance, and trains should start carrying humanitarian aid this week, particularly water.

Rumsfeld was answering questions at the daily briefing.

Iraq RR Map

The rail line between Umm Qasr and Nasiriyah should reopen this week. The heavy blue line represents tracks. The red lines are highways. The map was drawn ca. 1996.

The secretary explained, “The humanitarian problem occurred under the Saddam Hussein regime for a decade. The circumstance of those people has been terrible. They had been denied all kinds of things because he was unwilling to cooperate with the United Nations. Now, what’s happening now is that humanitarian assistance is coming in. That doesn’t mean the situation is worse, it means that it’s better – and it is better.”

He said, “The more people who go into that country and see how serious the situation is, the needs of those people, and their real needs, they are going to report there’s a humanitarian crisis, the implication that it just occurred. It didn’t just occur. When they say one-third of the city doesn’t have sufficient water, compare that with six months ago when maybe half of the city didn’t have sufficient water.”

In Umm Qasr, he said, “It’s generally a permissive environment, flourishing somewhat due to the increase of aid and border activity. The population has increased from 15,000 to 40,000, due to the availability of supplies and employment.”

He stated the community’s water supply was above prewar levels, thanks to a combination of U.K. pipeline and trucking; also, electricity had been restored by U.K. engineers, and sufficient food is readily available. He added, medical facilities are sufficient and operating with UNICEF is providing supplies.

The port is cleared of mines and open to limited operations, although the channel needs dredging so ships carrying relief supplies can enter the port.

The “Railway station was cleared by an explosive ordnance detachment, and the rail line is intact from there to Nasiriyah – and they intend to open a line within seven days, which will allow movement of bulk water up the Euphrates Valley.”

Later in the day, Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage, speaking in Washington and being interviewed by domestic print journalists, echoed Rumsfeld. Armitage said, “I think, as I understand it, through Umm Qasr and Basra now, there are missions going up. Water and infrastructure are – right now, in Basra, I was told today we have got 70 percent of the water, which is higher than they had pre-war. Electricity is being turned back on. The U.S. military and coalition forces are looking at getting the north-south railroad running.”

The port is one-mile distant from the warehouses where the food is being stockpiled.

Two weeks earlier, on March 28, urgent humanitarian aid arrived in Umm Qasr, after being held up for days by discovery of mines and because of drawn-out fighting in the region.

The 800 tons of water, food and medical supplies came in aboard the British navy landing ship RFA Sir Galahad, escorted by two U.S. ships and helicopters.

It was met by a phalanx of media brought in from neighboring Kuwait, and by Australian, British, and U.S. personnel who had been working to ready the port since the capture of Umm Qasr.

A British officer in charge of the delivery, Maj. Gen. Albert Whitley, admitted that “perhaps” the delay in getting the supplies into port was costly, “but I think we’re now getting our message out,” he said. Drinking water was the principal necessity brought in. Around 260,000 gallons of bottled water were aboard.

Much of the cargo was supplied by Kuwait.

“This is the first boat of many. It is very important that the humanitarian aid comes in,” said the head of Kuwait’s state Humanitarian Operations Centre, Ali Al-Mu’min, who was also on the pier to greet the Sir Galahad.

A British logistics officer, Colonel Paul Ash, said many more aid deliveries would follow, adding that he hoped commercial freighters would be docking in Umm Qasr within 30 days.

“I understand there are two Australian ships already on the way, each with 50,000 tons of grain,” he said.

Ash said British military engineers had also completed building a water pipeline from Kuwait to the former UN compound in Umm Qasr, which would supplement the aid shipments brought in by the coalition forces and Kuwait.

The priority after establishing a regular water supply was to reconnect the electricity to the port and to the town, to speed unloading with the giant waterside cranes and with a limited freight railway that was in the process of being made operational, he said.


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Alstom

In 1980, Iraq bought locomotives from Alstom of France.

 

Elusive Iraqi engine photos pop up on Brit’s web site

Andrew Grantham, a 25-year-old employee at Railway Gazette International magazine in the United Kingdom, assembled what little information is available on the former Iraqi State Railway on his web page, at http://www.ajg41.clara.co.uk/iraqrailways.html. Much of the material presented here was gleaned from his searching the Internet. The locomotive photos, he states, were from Alstom photos via http://www.locopage.net/Francorail.htm.

The Francorail CSE 26-21 locos in the shops were built in France by the consortium GIE Francorail-MTE. The locos were fitted with U.S. built 16-251F ALCO engines of 3,600 hp (2,650 kW). The locomotives were a “kit” of different French builders, the trucks were made by Creusot-Loire, electric equipment and traction motors by Société MTE, body and final assembly was made in the workshops of Carel-Fouché.


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Iraq bought 72 engines from France in 1980

On May 27, 1980, the Iraqi Republic Railways Organization (Ministry of Transport and Communications) signed a contract with GIE Francorail-MTE for 72 high-power diesel-electric locomotives, of which 61 were for freight traffic and 11 for passenger services, according to Alstom.

The engines were intended to haul freight across Iraq, and mostly on new track – and mostly across a wide expanse of flat, desert country, except in Mesopotamia.

Iraq’s subtropical climate sees temperatures rising to 131 degrees Fahrenheit (55 Celsius) in the shade in summer, but falling to as little as 45-50 F in winter.

This plain, whose maximum altitude is 1,970 above sea level, is prone to violent sandstorms, which can erupt suddenly, and last for three days at a time. During these storms, visibility may fall to as low as a few feet. Rail and other and traffic is quickly brought to a halt, or has to considerably slow down. Sand quickly piles up on tracks.

Even in calm weather, passengers traveling at 90 mph have their view obscured by shimmer, and it is barely possible to signal from one locomotive to another over the couplers when double-heading. It is under such conditions that locomotives have to operate between Baghdad and Al Qaim along the Euphrates River, and in particular when serving the Akashat phosphate mines in the open desert.

Iraq owns a wide range of locomotives, ranging from American Locomotive Co. power, DL-500Ss (DEM 2101), built in 1965 to Montreal Locomotive Works MXS-620 (DEM 2301), delivered between 1975 and 1977. Some Electro-Motive Division (General Motors) engines J26CW/AC 16-645E (2401-2454?) rated at 2000 hp appeared in 1981, and others, including the Francorail C-C CSE 26-21s.

Of the 382 locos mentioned in Railway Directory, only around 20 were working, Railway Gazette International reported in February 2000.

Iraqi rolling stock is reported to be in deplorable condition, with windows in coaches a rarity.

All signals on the Baghdad-Basra main line are reported out of service with trains being run on train orders via telephone. Speed restrictions abound, so that the 336-mile trip takes up to 16 hours. Train crews are not paid regular wages, just for each trip completed, according to Railway Gazette International of February 2000

The Thomas Cook Overseas Timetable for July and August 2002 noted three classes of accommodation were available – first, second and tourist. First- and second-class seats convert into berths for overnight travel; sleeping and refreshment cars operate on some trains, and all services are air-conditioned.

Timetables were given for Baghdad – Ar Ramadi East (on the line towards the Syria border at Abu Kamal); Baghdad to Basra, and Baghdad to Al Mawsil (for links to Syria and Turkey) services.


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Search begins for Iraq locomotives


Alstom

Alstom built engines more than 20 years ago for Iraq.
“Rail travel in Iraq has hit the buffers – because all the war-torn country’s locomotives have disappeared.” That was the lead sentence is a story from Umm Qasr, Iraq by a British journalist writing for the Suffolk Evening Star of Suffolk, U.K. on April 7.

His story was also about a home-town woman, Lt. Liz Davies.

“Army rail experts are now hunting all available locomotives so rebuilding the country for the Iraqi people can steam ahead, the reporter wrote.

Army railroad expert Davies was handed the massive task of getting the south of the country back on track after more than a fortnight of fighting against Saddam Hussein’s regime – once she has found some locomotives.

Commander of the Bicester-based rail troop of 17 Port and Maritime Regiment, Royal Logistics Corps, the 24-year-old from Ipswich has already successfully reintroduced a three-mile rail system to transport shipments of thousands of tons of humanitarian aid at Umm Qasr. Mines floating in the harbor of this key entry point for aid hampered the operation, she said.

Within one day, her 20-strong team of rail engineers from 17 PMR and the Royal Electrical and Mechanical engineers repaired the original tracks and switches around the port that had been poorly maintained, but a bigger job lay ahead – opening up the south’s vital train network, which stretches from Basra through Syria to Turkey, and to connect Iraqi communities cut off by war.

“What we have had to do so far has been quite straightforward. For instance, the state of the track could have been quite bad and at least we had locomotives there.”

“A lot of the stuff has gone up north, we believe, but we have received reports that there may be a new Chinese locomotive in the Basra area.”

Former Northgate High School pupil Lt Davies is hoping found to transport supplies to towns left stranded by the fighting.

One of these villages is Engabashir, a town of around 200 people, who have been starved of supplies since the war began. Events of the next few days could unearth some rolling stock. The last train left several weeks earlier when the rail system shut down. Some 70 or so Iraqi soldiers deserted their posts and went home as soon as the first shots were fired on March 21.

“What we want to do is bring supplies in by locomotive as quickly as possible to get it up and running so we can hand it over to them as quickly as possible,” said Davies as the first large consignment of water for days was handed out to the villagers by an army “hearts and minds” civil affairs team.

“We could get it started in a matter of hours once we’ve found the motive power,” she exclaimed.

She added that the tracks has stood up well to searing Middle East temperatures because the British brainpower behind it when the system was laid “in the 1950s or 1960s” took into account expansion of the rails in hot conditions.

“This meant they haven’t buckled. It is the same gauge as the U.K. – 1,435 mm,” or standard, 56-1/2 inches.

Captain Andy Bell, operations officer for the 17th PMR, reckoned it would take a month to six weeks before the rail system was fully handed over to the Iraqis. Aid agencies are looking to organize the main humanitarian effort in the next fortnight, he said.

“At the moment all the aid is coming by road and the next aid shipment is due tomorrow. Finding a locomotive is a starting point,” he said.

Two days earlier, on the 7th, the Evening Star reporter James Fraser told his readers, “Engabashir, as the military interpreter uncertainly called it, was a town in the midst of the western desert so small it appeared on no military maps.”

Royal Engineers from 16 Air Assault Brigade’s 23 Regiment literally stumbled across it as they searched the railway line that cuts through the brigade area of the Rumaila oilfields and into the desert wastes, but whatever its insignificance to the outside world, all 200 or so of its inhabitants had turned out in temperatures nudging 104 degrees (F) on the promise of free drinking water from the civil affairs team – or CIMICs as the civilian and military coordinators are known.

The stationmaster was Majid, who wore a pink Aladdin t-shirt, and he performed a magical feat of organizing the assembled throng into melee more orderly than you would expect from people who were forced to rely on a trickle of supplies of fresh water and food that could be carted on the back of the couple of pick-ups which rust just about allowed to be drivable.

He was left stranded a fortnight ago by the outbreak of war in this town which amounted to nothing more than an all-important station platform, a station house, a few mud huts and a school abandoned by teachers who fled to their homes in nearby Nasiriyah when the shooting started.

“For the two hours we were there I was unable to speak to him, much as I would have liked to, if only for the way he barked orders as if he was redirecting trains, swatting away anyone who made an uncalled for lunge towards the precious plastic bottles, time after time dismissing them as that most famous of Arabic thieves ‘Oi…Ali Baba…Ali Baba.’”

Unperturbed by the row, a man who called himself the emir, stood serenely in front of the “mudhif” – a traditional guesthouse woven out of reeds as ornately as a downsized Gothic cathedral. Mesmerizing to look at, inside where a row of cushions and brass teapots were arrayed to welcome guests, it was as cool as a flag-stoned cloister.

A line of five women we understood to be the emir’s wives giggled as they made faces at him behind his back

For the townspeople, clothed in dish dashas and shemaghs, this was a special day, but they had expected more.

An elderly woman, whose eyes set deep in the furrows of her leathered face were marbled with glaucoma, waved her hands and black robes at me.

Some of the townsfolk were fisherman who trawled on reed canoes the nearby cobalt waters of the canal, a concreted offshoot of the Euphrates bridged by a railway crossing which had sustained only slight damage.

Most of these people worked on the railway, which, from its hub at Basra, helped service the market towns that fed the network of communities which have been isolated by the lack of trains since the conflict started. The local Marsh Arabs fresh fruit and vegetables has had nowhere to go.

The teeming mass of children, who hungrily demanded only that our group of journalists take an endless stream of pictures they could then instantly inspect on the digital viewfinders, were unforgettably Iraq’s Railway Children. Their beaming, infectious smiles seemed to me to be the red flags for the war to stop.

Like an Eminem track with teeth, Hussein, a gregarious teenager, introduced all his friends in the same comical, rudimentary English learned before lessons had stopped, pointing at them one by one.

“My name is Mustafa…My name is Ahmet…My name is Mohammed…”

According to Captain Fiona Steele, part of the brigade’s civil affairs team usually based in another railway town of Colchester (mind that war has yet to stop Anglia’s service) said that these people were in no desperate state and they had been left unaffected by the outrages elsewhere of Saddam’s regime, “but they are anti-regime,” she said somewhat incongruously, recovering by adding they locals referred to Saddam in disdain, slicing at their throat.

“She was right. They did when I asked what they thought of him – but keep grinning. Smiling in spite of it all.”


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RailAmerica sponsors letter-writing campaign

“Our thoughts and prayers are with you each day and we pray for you to return home safe.” The simple statement from a third-grade class in Parker, Ariz., sums up “Hearts and Rails,” a campaign spearheaded by RailAmerica, Inc. to write letters of support for American troops in Iraq.

“As a U.S. Army veteran, I know how dedicated our troops are to our country and its freedom,” said Gary O. Marino, Chairman, President and CEO of RailAmerica.

“This is a difficult time for troops, many of whom are seeing battle for the first time. We want them to know that there are people back home who admire their courage and bravery and can appreciate the hardships they are experiencing,” Marino said.

Due to security restrictions, hard copy letters, packages and other gifts to the troops can no longer be sent, unless addressed to a specific soldier, sailor or aircrew member. With the Hearts and Rails program, RailAmerica is collecting digital letters, pictures, banners and other electronic documents that will be delivered to the troops.

Marino said the response has been overwhelmingly positive from schools in towns served by RailAmerica’s 38 U.S. railroads. Some of the notes written by Tamara Page’s third-grade class at Blake Elementary School in Parker, Ariz., where RailAmerica’s Arizona & California Railroad is headquartered, are simple and to the point:

“Dear Military Officer:

“We are writing to say “thank you” to you for fighting (for) our freedom. We are third graders in Mrs. Page’s class, from Parker, Arizona. We live in the desert, similar to Iraq. Our temperature was 91 today. We are taking standardized tests this week.

“We are glad that there are brave people like you that can protect us. Our thoughts and prayers are with you each day and we pray for you to return home safe. Thanks again.

Said Marino, “We are pleased that schools in the hometowns of our short line railroads are taking part in this program and we welcome teachers and students from anywhere in the country to join our Hearts and Rails campaign.”

He noted, “RailAmerica’s short line railroads are deeply embedded in their communities. In addition to moving bulk commodities, we want to play a role in moving messages of support and encouragement to our men and women in Iraq. We all hope for a timely resolution to this war, but we are committed to our Hearts and Rails campaign for as long as our troops are serving in Iraq.”

He noted that people who care to participate may send digital letters, pictures or other electronic files to mhightower@tilsonpr.com with “Hearts and Rails” in the subject line.

Rail America is online at http://www.railamerica.com.


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USDOT starts Amtrak grants

Last week, Amtrak began getting its quarterly grants from USDOT.

In a letter to employees date April 9, Amtrak CEO David Gunn wrote, “You will recall that under a new arrangement set up by Congress, we must seek quarterly grants from the USDOT for the funds that have been set-aside for us by Congress. Today, after many weeks of discussion with the DOT, the agency approved our grant request and delivered the first installment of the money.”

He did not state how much cash changed hands, but Amtrak spokesman Cliff black told D:F on Friday the railroad received “Approximately $135 million. Amtrak had been receiving monthly installments according to the Continuing Resolution starting Oct 1, 2002. They were approximately $90 million per month.”

Gunn stated the railroad must still make a fourth-quarter funding request for this year. He said, “It is to continue to stay on budget.”

He explained, “After six months, we are favorable to budget on expenses and unfavorable on revenue. I believe the revenue story is mostly written by the war and the economy, but rationalizations are a mugs game. There is no choice. We must make our budget; i.e., expense under-runs must occur to offset the drop in revenue. If we are successful, we will rebuild our credibility and the public’s confidence that we can capably manage and operate this business.”

Later in the day, in testimony before the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury and Independent Agencies, Deputy Secretary of Transportation Michael P. Jackson hailed the signing of an agreement between DOT and Amtrak as “The first step toward a new era of accountability in the operation of a viable inter-city passenger rail service.”

Jackson testified that the day before he had “approved Amtrak’s business plan for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2003 and executed the Amtrak grant agreements contemplated by the Fiscal 2003 Appropriations Act.”

Jackson is Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta’s delegate on the Amtrak board of directors.

“USDOT unambiguously communicated to Amtrak and its board the following requirements: this year there will be no federal loans or loan guarantees, no ‘creative financing’ by Amtrak, no gimmicks, no shutdown drama, no threat against commuter operations, and no kidding – Amtrak will live within the budget that Congress appropriated.”

The 2003 appropriations law gives the DOT specific oversight of each phase of Amtrak spending and the authority to withhold grant payments until Amtrak agrees to spending parameters approved by DOT. The Federal Railroad Administration will be the DOT agency overseeing Amtrak’s financial performance.

“To that end, we will monitor Amtrak’s condition monthly, and will be working with Amtrak to help it meet the targets laid out in its business plan. DOT will provide monthly reports to you on Amtrak’s progress,” Jackson said. “We expect to provide Amtrak’s fourth quarter grant in early July, but if necessary at that point we can make partial disbursements on a monthly basis to ensure fidelity to the bottom line of Amtrak’s business plan. Let me be clear about DOT’s role under the law. Amtrak itself retains its daily management responsibilities; DOT will provide oversight and enforce accountability.”

Jackson praised the cooperation from Amtrak’s senior management that led to the first-ever agreement.

“David Gunn has worked with the Amtrak Board of Directors to reduce operating expenses, de-layer management, improve customer service, address the numerous material weaknesses identified by Amtrak’s auditors, instill financial discipline, and provide Congress and the Administration with more accurate and timely financial data.”

DOT Secretary Mineta last year spelled out five principles that he argues must form the core of any successful reform of intercity passenger rail service, which would create a system driven by sound economics. They would require Amtrak to transition to a pure operating company, and introduce carefully managed competition to provide higher quality rail services at reasonable prices.

The principles would also establish a long-term partnership between the states and the federal government to support intercity passenger rail service, and create an effective public partnership, after a reasonable transition, to manage the capital assets of the Northeast Corridor.


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Guilford again blocks 79 mph train speeds

The Surface Transportation Board last week reported a court action was instituted on March 26 before the U.S. Court of Appeals in the district, effectively blocking any chance of Amtrak’s Downeaster running at 79 mph until the case can be heard. The court action involves the proceeding, No. 03-1086, Boston and Maine Corp., et al, v. Surface Transportation Board and United States of America.

The train operates between Portland, Maine and Boston. Amtrak, the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority and Guilford Transportation Systems at odds over whether 112-pound rail was safe enough to run passenger trains at 79 mph. Four times the STB has ruled in favor of Amtrak and NNEPRA, but Guilford continually finds ways to block the speed. Trains are now limited to 59 mph.


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AARP adopts passenger rail policy

The American Assn. of Retired Persons had adopted passenger rail in its 2003 policy book.

Chapter 10-14 The Policy Book spells out its newly adopted policy. It states, “Passenger rail is another mobility option for midlife and older people who travel both within congested regional corridors and between cities separated by long distances. The 1995 American Travel Survey found that people age 65 and older make more than a half-million long-distance trips (100 miles or longer) by train. Amtrak estimates that nearly a quarter of its national ridership (4.7 million people) is age 55 and older, and that on 13 of 36 routes, more than a third of the riders are age 55 and older.

The policy booklet also states, Passenger rail provides essential service to many rural communities, and it is an alternative to air travel in the more congested corridors, such as in the Northeast. Many states perceive rail as an important contributor to economic development.”

The AARP policy book is online at http://www.aarp.org/legipoly.html.


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BART, Postal Service offer ‘tax relief’

Tomorrow, Tuesday, April 15 is – oh, you know – America’s tax day.

So, the Bay Area Rapid Transit System out in California and the U.S. Poster Service are joining hands, so-to-speak, to offer “tax relief” to customers. BART riders will be able to mail their tax returns, which are ready for mailing, at the 12th Street-City Center BART station from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Postal workers will be in the free area near the main gate to collect tax returns – that is, envelopes with the correct postage already aboard. They will not carry money nor sell stamps.


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Turbotrains to finally roll to New York

Newly rebuilt Turbotrains will begin running this week between Rensselaer and New York City as Amtrak tests them in revenue service.

The trains will be substituted for conventional trains on some runs, although schedules haven’t yet been determined, said Amtrak spokesman Dan Stessel, the Schenectady Daily Gazette reported on April 10.

The Turbotrains are expected to begin regular scheduled service during the first week in May, Stessel added.

So far, Amtrak has taken delivery of two of the trains, which are being rebuilt by Super Steel Schenectady at its suburban Glenville plant.

A third one is nearly complete, and work is moving ahead of three more train sets. The fleet consists of seven train sets, which originally went into service along the Empire Corridor between New York City and Buffalo in the mid-1970s.

California-based Rohr Industries built the French-designed trains.

The five-car train sets, with “power cars” at each end where the turbine engines and the engineer’s controls are located, were stripped to their steel shells and outfitted with more powerful engines, new interiors and electrical wiring, and a new paint job.

The project to rebuild all seven turbotrains is expected to cost about $93 million.

The trains will be able to cruise at 125 mph although current CSX track and signal conditions along the route to New York City will limit those speeds to 110 mph. Tracks and signals are slated for improvements under Gov. George Pataki’s high-speed rail program, permitting higher speeds along some stretches of track.

The trains were ready for service several months ago, but Amtrak said it had been waiting for spare parts, operating and repair manuals and crew training.


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Amtrak to continue dispatching duties

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority agreed on April 10 to let Amtrak continue handling train dispatching duties along the busy Boston-Attleboro-Providence commuter rail line for the next 30 years. MBTA General Manager Mike Mulhern said Amtrak also agreed to let a commuter rail supervisor monitor Amtrak’s dispatching at all times, easing concerns commuter rail trains would play second fiddle to Amtrak’s trains.


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Hello again, Federal; ’bye, Twilight Shoreliner

From the April South Station Journal, a note that Amtrak’s business is up while the airlines are down. The publication also reported late this month Amtrak will change the name of the Twilight Shoreliner overnight train to Washington to the Federal. It will have three classes of service, leaving south station at 10 pm and arriving in D.C. at 7:30 am. A development worth watching is a single daily non-stop train that now runs between Providence and Penn Station, New York. Amtrak discarded the name Federal as a train name several years ago after a Conrail locomotive ran a stop signal in Maryland and collided with the passenger train.


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

Final rails welded for Tacoma Link Light Rail

With sparks flying, track workers on April 7 welded into place the final section of rail for Sound Transit’s 1.6-mile Tacoma Link light rail line.

“The days of driving a “Golden Spike” are history,” said Sound Transit Board Vice-Chair John Ladenburg, “but this is historic nonetheless.” He is also Pierce County’s Executive.

“We laid the first section of rail on a cold, rainy morning 482 days ago,” added Ladenburg. “Today, we complete the job, paving the way for testing of the entire system this summer and the beginning of service this September.”

Tacoma Link is “an important piece of the Sound Transit network,” said Sound Transit Board member and Tacoma City Councilman Kevin Phelps.

“Not only is it the first new light rail line in Western Washington in more than 60 years,” he said, “riders will be able to board T-Link in downtown and connect at Tacoma Dome Station with ST Express regional bus service, Sounder commuter rail, local Pierce Transit bus service along with Greyhound and nearby Amtrak.”

Construction on Tacoma Link began in spring, 2001. The first section of rail was placed on December 11, 2001. T-Link will run 1.6 miles with five stops between Tacoma Dome Station and the Theater District.

In 1996, voters approved funding for Sound Transit to provide a regional system of transit improvements, including Sounder commuter rail, express regional bus service, numerous capital improvements (including park-and-ride lots, transit centers and direct access ramps) and Link light rail.


Sound Transit

Two construction workers on Sound Transit’s Tacoma Link Light Rail project oversee the final weld on the last piece of track in the 1.6-mile line.


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Georgia rail authority in jeopardy

Georgia Senate leaders last week drew up a budget for next year that eliminates the Georgia Rail Passenger Authority. The proposal was expected to go before the Senate Appropriations Committee by last Friday.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s online edition of April 8 reported Senate leaders wrote a budget for next year that avoids a tax increase partly through accounting maneuvers and makes dozens of further spending cuts.

Among those proposed cuts is the Georgia Rail Passenger Authority, which would save about $556,000.

A source in Atlanta told D:F the Senate plan has to be approved first by the Senate Appropriations Committee, and then it has to be approved by the whole Senate, after which it will go to a conference committee to work out the differences.

The source said the rail authority is included in the House version of the budget, “So there is room to work and hope.”

Senate President Pro-tempore Eric Johnson (R-Savannah), said last Thursday that his chamber was forced to quickly come up with a new plan because the House on Monday passed a $16 billion budget that raises property taxes and doesn’t include Gov. Sonny Perdue’s proposed tobacco tax hike.

Because the Senate won’t approve the property tax increase, and the House won’t go with the tobacco tax hike, Johnson said the budget for fiscal 2004, which begins July 1, is more than $500 million in the hole.

A source explained Georgia has been using its tobacco funds for an economic development program called “One Georgia,” so it hasn’t been used in the general fund. Overall, the state is not dependent on the money for its regular expenses.

Senate leaders met late into Monday night, drawing up a new plan that could go before the chamber by the end of this week. The measure now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee.


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CANADIAN LINES...  Canadian lines...

Montreal to get major transit overhaul

Montreal will benefit from a $4 billion transit upgrade, which will include an extension of the metro system, a Montreal newspaper reported April 4. According to La Presse, more than half of the money will be for public transit.

The subway suffers from flooding and the trains need to be repaired frequently. It is also controlled by computer systems for which replacement parts are no longer available.

The City of Montreal and the Montreal Transit Society (MTS) will both contribute money to extend the metro’s blue line five stations eastward, toward the borough of Anjou.

Details of the transit upgrades will be announced in December, at the same time that an urban development plan will be presented for the metropolitan region.

According to the head of the city’s transportation committee, Claude Dauphin, once the provincial elections are completed, the province’s Transportation minister will have to quickly make some important decisions.

One month ago, the MTS asked the province for authority to replace the 336 cars in the metro system which, after 37 years, are among the oldest in service in the world.


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Some Vancouver residents support light rail

People in the Lower Mainland, Vancouver, support a Richmond-Airport-Vancouver rapid transit line, even though it will cost up to $1.7 billion.

They also said they would rather have it underground where possible than at street level or elevated, according to results released April 4 by the RAV project office after a series of public consultations and a public survey, according to the Vancouver Sun.

In Richmond, where it’s impossible to go underground, people would prefer it to be elevated.

The survey showed that Vancouver residents are somewhat less enthusiastic than people in Richmond or the Lower Mainland as a whole about the project, but even in Vancouver, 43 percent of those surveyed said they “strongly agree” with the project proceeding, while another 33 percent somewhat agree, for a total of 76 percent in favor.

The most enthusiastic group was airport users, who were 86 percent in favor. People who live along the corridor were the least enthusiastic, with 72 percent in favor.

Critics of the RAVP’s planning process to date said they’re not surprised by the results.

People always say they like rapid transit when you ask them, said Vancouver Councilor Anne Roberts, but, she said, their answers are different when they’re presented with the costs of different options.

“Their survey didn’t say, ‘Do you think it’s worth spending $500 million more to go five minutes faster?’ or ‘Do you think it would be better to spend this money to have more buses?’”

Project manager Jane Bird said the survey clearly said the project would cost $1.5 to $1.7 billion and tried to get at what people valued most.

By a huge margin, people in the Lower Mainland said travel time and speed were the most important issues for them. For 35 percent of people, it was the most important issue.

The cost, the ease of connecting to other lines, safety, reliability, not having to transfer and a host of other issues all trailed behind, with those issues being the most important to 2 to 7 percent of those polled.

The survey polled 501 residents from the Lower Mainland, with an over-sample in Vancouver and Richmond, so that at least 300 people were phoned in each municipality. A sample size of 300 is considered accurate within plus or minus 5.7 percent, 19 times out of 20.

The main question describes the project, says the route it will be on is “one of the busiest corridors in the region,” and says it is “expected to cost between $1.5 and $1.7 billion, cost-shared by the federal and provincial governments, TransLink, Vancouver International Airport and the private sector.”

Those polled were then asked whether they strongly or somewhat agreed or disagreed with the project proceeding.

TransLink directors are supposed to decide in May on whether to support the project with a $300-million contribution. The provincial government and airport authority have already committed $300 million each, but there has been no word yet on the federal government’s hoped-for contribution of $450 million.

Although the previous Vancouver city council supported the project, the new left-center party has raised many questions about it. In particular, they are worried it will drain the region of money for needed rapid-transit lines to Coquitlam and the University of B.C., along with money for improving the bus fleet.

They also worry that the public-private partnership model proposed by the RAV team will leave too much risk on local taxpayers’ shoulders.


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

Rail America Engine

Rail America

RailAmerica has signed contracts in Washington State and Nova Scotia that should earn the parent company some $26 million in new business. RA used this picture on the cover of its annual report last year. The carrier’s Allison Tomek said their graphic artist “took one of our trains and placed it into a photo where a different one was originally. The track is on our New England Central Railroad.”

 

RailAmerica gains $26 million agreements

RailAmerica, Inc. of Boca Raton, Fla., reported April 11 that two of its railroads have entered into transportation agreements for more than $26 million in new business with customers in Washington State and Nova Scotia, Canada.

RailAmerica’s Puget Sound & Pacific (PSAP) contracted with the Port of Grays Harbor in Aberdeen, Wash., and Ag Processing, Inc. (AGP), the world’s largest cooperative soybean processing company, to move grain products from the Midwest to the port for export.

The contracts, with terms of up to 30 years, have a potential value to the railroad of more than $25 million. The port and AGP are developing an export elevator, along with a deepwater, 600-foot long berth dedicated to this business. The Port and PSAP expect that these enhanced facilities should also result in attracting new customers, which will benefit both the Port and PSAP.

Gary Nelson, Executive Director of the Port of Grays Harbor said, “The AGP business has the potential to double the number of ships calling Grays Harbor in the first five years of operation.”

The PSAP, based in Elma, Wash., operates 149 miles of rail line between Hoquiam, Centralia and Bangor, Wash. The railroad, which moves approximately 23,000 carloads of lumber, logs and pulp annually, interchanges traffic with Class I partners Union Pacific and Burlington Northern & Santa Fe. RailAmerica acquired the PSAP in early 2002 as part of the acquisition of ParkSierra Corp.

RailAmerica’s Cape Breton & Nova Scotia Railroad (CBNS) has signed a new transportation agreement with American Metals & Coal, Inc. (AMCI) to move 4,000 carloads of coal from Sydney, N.S., to the Nova Scotia Power plant in Trenton, N.S. The one-year contract is expected to generate approximately $1 million in revenue in 2004 and has the potential for additional revenue thereafter.

CBNS also agreed to continue rail operations on that rail line, which was previously approved and scheduled for abandonment. Nova Scotia’s provincial government facilitated the move.

The agreement guarantees rail service at least until the end of 2004 for CBNS’ 18 current customers on the eastern part of the railroad, including Superior Propane, Irving Oil, Copol International, Canwell Distribution and Trans Atlantic Perform.

“The province is pleased to have played a role in helping to facilitate a business case solution that will allow for the continued rail service in Cape Breton,” said Cecil Clarke, Nova Scotia Economic Development Minister

In addition to facilitating a deal between CBNS, Canadian National (CN), VIA Rail Canada, Nova Scotia Power and AMCI, the province of Nova Scotia and the federal government of Canada, through Enterprise Cape Breton, have agreed to fund nearly $1 million in capital improvements for CBNS over the next two years to sustain the resource.

“Our ability to work closely with customers and the local governments to grow the business on our railroads continues to be a strength of our North American short line marketing and operations team,” said Gary O. Marino, Chairman, President & CEO of RailAmerica. “These projects are two fine examples of public-private partnerships. At PSAP, our team worked for more than three years with stakeholders several thousand miles apart to consummate a long-term business arrangement. While at CBNS, we were able to preserve rail service for customers, which should allow for continued economic growth of the entire Cape Breton community, as well.”

The CBNS, based in Stellarton, Nova Scotia, Canada, operates 245 miles of rail line from Truro to Sydney, Nova Scotia. The railroad, which moves approximately 28,000 carloads of coal, pulp, paper and liquefied petroleum gas annually, interchanges traffic with Class I partner CN. RailAmerica acquired the CBNS in early 2000 as part of the acquisition of RailTex, Inc.


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FRA loans $11 million to Arkansas line

The Arkansas & Missouri Railroad, headquartered in Springdale, Ark., received an $11 million Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) direct loan on Friday from the FRA.

Administrator Allan Rutter said the loan would allow A&M to buy 141 miles of track from the Burlington Northern & Santa Fe (BNSF) Railroad as well as track refurbishment, to reduce the risk of derailments. The acquisition will also permit A&M to exchange traffic with BNSF, Union Pacific and Kansas City Southern. The Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department supported the railroad’s loan application.

The A&M Railroad extends from Monett, Mo., to Fort Smith Ark., and serves 140 customers, some of which are rail-dependent. The expansion and rehabilitation projects are expected to promote additional economic development in the region. The term of the loan is 25 years.

Provided for in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), the RRIF Program authorizes the FRA to provide direct loans or loan guarantees to acquire, develop, improve or rehabilitate existing or new intermodal or rail equipment facilities.

Eligible borrowers include railroads, state and local governments and government sponsored authorities.

The FRA is online at www.fra.dot.gov.


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Freight traffic up on U.S. railroads

Freight traffic on U.S. railroads was up during the week ended April 5, in comparison with the corresponding week last year, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported Thursday.

Intermodal traffic totaled 191,508 trailers or containers, up 13.5 percent from last year. Container volume was up 16.3 percent while trailer traffic registered a 6.3 percent gain.

Carload freight, which does not include the intermodal data, totaled 328,700 cars during the week, up 3.2 percent from the corresponding week last year. Loadings were up 7.5 percent in the East, but down 0.2 percent in the West.

Total volume was estimated at 29.0 billion ton-miles, up 4.7 percent from last year.

Ten out of 19 commodity groups were up from the corresponding week last year, with coke volume registering a 37.6 percent increase. Also up sharply were loading of motor vehicles and equipment, up 22.3 percent, and waste and scrap materials, up 19.6 percent. Coal was up 4.8 percent from last year. On the downside, loading of metallic ores was off by 23.7 percent and primary forest products declined by 7.5 percent.

The AAR also reported the following cumulative totals for U.S. railroads during the first 14 weeks of 2003: 4,439,181 carloads, up 0.8 percent from last year; intermodal volume of 2,536,224 trailers and containers, up 9.1 percent; and total volume of an estimated 395.8 billion ton-miles, up 0.8 percent from last year’s first 14 weeks.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 90 percent of U.S. carload freight and 96 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 96 percent and 100 percent. Railroads provide more than 40 percent of the nation’s intercity freight transportation, more than any other mode, and rail traffic figures are regarded as an important economic indicator.

On Canadian railroads, intermodal volume was up while carload traffic was down during the week ended April 5. Intermodal traffic totaled 41,772 trailers or containers, up 8.9 percent from last year. Carload volume of 64,805 cars was down 0.9 percent from the comparable week last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 14 weeks of 2003 on the Canadian railroads totaled 851,606 carloads, down 0.8 percent from last year, and 552,902 trailers or containers, up 11.8 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 14 weeks of 2003 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 5,290,787 carloads, up 0.5 percent from last year, and 3,089,126 trailers and containers, up 9.5 percent from last year.

The AAR also reported that carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended April 5 totaled 9,466 cars originated, down 1.4 percent from last year. TFM reported originated intermodal volume of 4,078 trailers or containers, up 63.9 percent from the 14th week of 2002.

For the first 14 weeks of 2003, TFM reported cumulative originated volume of 123,803 cars, up 9.4 percent from last year, and 50,165 trailers or containers, up 50.8 percent.

AAR is online at www.aar.org.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: Bloomberg.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)25.81025.210
Canadian National(CNI)44.85044.530
Canadian Pacific(CP)22.10021.840
CSX(CSX)29.28029.510
Florida East Coast(FLA)24.41024.800
Kansas City Southern(KSU)11.14011.000
Norfolk Southern(NSC)19.50019.000
Union Pacific(UNP)56.95056.880


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THE WAY WE WERE...  The way we were...

Great Northern switcher

NCI: Leo King Collection – Great Northern Ry

Baldwin? Alco? Memories fade, but this certainly was a Great Northern Ry. freight loco rated at 1,000 hp – “a combination road and switch locomotive,” according to the photo’s cutline. There are other questions, too – Where was the crew switching? It appears to be a granary. Which line were they on? Which job was it?

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.

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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