House Subcommittee on RailroadsJayEtta Z. Hecker of the General Accounting Office testifies before the House Subcommittee on Railroads about the potential benefits and costs of developing a national policy on intercity passenger rail service.
Administration remains in
turmoil over Amtrak future
One of the President's men did not appear at a House hearing on Thursday, and the Government Accounting Office said, in effect, Amtrak has been short-changed.
USDOT Secretary Norman Y. Mineta wrote a letter to Rep. Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.) on Wednesday stating Federal Railroad Administrator Allan Rutter would be unable to testify at Thursday's Amtrak hearing.
Mineta wrote, "Unfortunately, after many meetings with the highest levels within the Administration, our work is not yet complete. For that reason, I ask that you not insist that Mr. Rutter appear before your Subcommittee tomorrow."
Quinn, who is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, responded, "While I'm disappointed that we won't hear Administrator Rutter's testimony tomorrow, I have been assured personally by Secretary Mineta and Mr. Rutter that Rep. Bob Clement (D-Tenn.) and I will have an opportunity to hear the Administration's views next week."
An undercurrent of all this is that while the USDOT wants to help Amtrak, the bean-counters in the White House Office of Management and Budget see Amtrak solely as a drain on the economy, hence a behind-the-scenes battle between the two agencies - with OMB having the upper hand because they are located inside the White House.
Thursday's hearing, entitled, "Passenger Rail in America: What Should It Look Like?" was to be the third and final hearing in a series.
Quinn added, "If the Administration's proposal is not totally prepared, it doesn't make that much sense to have Mr. Rutter testify about it. Thursday's hearing will still go on as scheduled, with other witnesses offering their proposals on Amtrak's future."
The hearing heard from several witnesses, including a GAO representative and NCI's Jim RePass, in the Rayburn House Office Building.
JayEtta Hecker, the director of Physical Infrastructure Issues for the GAO, said, "Changes need to be made to improve passenger the rail system." She outlined a report entitled Intercity Passenger Rail: Congress Faces Critical Decisions in Developing A National Policy, which focuses on the potential benefits and costs of an expanded intercity rail system.
"As has become increasingly clear and as we observed before this subcommittee last summer, the current approach to intercity passenger rail is not likely sustainable," Hecker said.
In what appeared to be a change of heart, at least to some degree, the GAO did not vilify Amtrak.
"Given Amtrak's worsening financial condition and opportunities for intercity passenger rail to play a larger role in our nation's transportation system, there is growing agreement that the mission, funding and structure of the current approach to providing intercity passenger rail needs to be changed."
Hecker said, "Currently, intercity passenger rail plays a small part in the nation's overall transportation system with the exception of some shorter distance corridors."
As an example, she explained that on average, about 64,000 passengers in 46 states rode Amtrak trains each day in 2001 compared to the 1.8 million passengers who flew commercially each day in 2000, and the 984,000 passengers who rode intercity buses each day.
Hecker noted that with a significant financial investment, an expanded intercity passenger rail system could provide some benefits in certain markets, including alleviating some congestion, reducing vehicle emissions, reducing energy dependency and fossil fuel consumption, and a potential reduction in automobile accidents.
Amtrak numbers continue to rise
Amtrak reported on Friday that in month-to-date figures, ticket sales totaled $51,594,275, and issued 1,965 Service Guarantee Certificates valued at $126,442. Sales vs. last year were up $6,065,667, or 13.32 percent.
Live audio and video broadcasts were transmitted via the committee's website, http://www.house.gov/transportation.
Other witnesses included Ed Hamberger, President of the Association of American Railroads; Anthony Perl, Professor, University of Calgary; Bruce Richardson, United Rail Passenger Alliance and others.
The immediate need for an improved and expanded intercity rail system was widely supported at the hearing focusing on Amtrak's future, and possible changes to America's passenger rail service.
"Today, we looked into the future," Chairman Quinn said later.
"With Amtrak's authorization expiring at the end of this fiscal year [September 30], and a near consensus that the current route system is unsustainable under current funding levels, Congress must decide what shape our passenger rail network should take."
The lawmaker added, "The witnesses provided insightful testimony on Amtrak's future in America. Although the subcommittee didn't get a chance to hear the Administration's views on the topic today, I look forward to discussing the future of Amtrak with FRA's Rutter next week. The subcommittee needs the Administration's input in this debate."
The chairman said, "I cannot envision this country without a national passenger rail system. I recognize that all of my colleagues do not share my views on Amtrak and the need for more federal funding. My job is to bring all the conflicting opinions together and to forge a compromise that will result in a more efficient, productive and reliable passenger rail network. I am willing to listen to all of the ideas on the table, and today's witnesses represent a variety of them."
Meanwhile, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman, warned there is much work to do in the Congress to find a unified idea that will work. Young, who was not present, submitted written comments.
"One thing will be clear from today's hearing - there are lots of good options from which to choose. Nevertheless, it will take time to generate consensus in Congress for any one proposal for comprehensive reform of passenger rail."
The Alaska Senator remarked, "In the meantime, it appears we will need to take action to ensure that Amtrak continues to operate this year and to give the Congress time to agree upon a comprehensive reform plan. Any short-term action we take, however, must require Amtrak to be accountable for the additional investment that taxpayers would make in its business."
NCI's RePass told the House panel, "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."
The Boston-based executive pointed out, "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."
RePass added, "The first thing to understand about Amtrak is that over the years, it has been given just enough money to fail, slowly. There has never been a dedicated source of revenue, such as the highway and air system trust funds, that other modes have. All transportation modes need major federal participation, especially to build infrastructure; but even then, transportation is a chancy business."
The NCI chief clearly stated his position.
"Does Amtrak have problems? You bet it does. It has the problems of any organization that has been systematically starved of capital, yet has been ordered to deliver a service efficiently, cleanly, and cost-effectively.
"Today, and in previous days before this committee, you have heard ideas about franchising pieces of Amtrak, privatizing it, introducing competition, and otherwise rearranging the existing system. Some of these ideas are good ideas; some of them are not. I will say this: until this government decides to fund the passenger rail system in the same way, and with the same degree of commitment with which it has funded highway and airline travel, all such talk, no matter how well-intentioned, is utterly meaningless."
Committee chairman Young said he was "compelled to address Amtrak's continued threat to shut down trains. No one who has seriously studied Amtrak's situation believes that Amtrak will discontinue any routes this year. Amtrak does not have the money to pay the obligations it would incur by shutting down these routes. Moreover, current law does not require Amtrak to make a discontinuance announcement at this juncture."
The committee chairman declared, "Amtrak has proven in the past that it can provide service on all routes with an appropriation of only $521 million. Further, up until a few months ago, Amtrak never raised concerns about its ability to provide service on all routes. To the contrary, Amtrak asserted that it would be financially self-sufficient."
Young and Quinn are the sponsors of landmark legislation that would open the door for $71 billion in railroad infrastructure expansion and improvements, titled, The Rail Infrastructure Development and Expansion Act for the 21st Century, abbreviated as "RIDE 21," and formally introduced in the hopper as H.R. 2950.
The "RIDE 21" legislation would provide $36 billion in tax-exempt bonds for high-speed rail projects over 10 years; $35 billion in loans and loan guarantees for freight and commuter rail improvements, including $7 billion for short lines; and $35 million per year through 2009 for corridor planning and technology development.
Elsewhere on Thursday, D:F learned that at least a dozen companies, including the operator of the Paris Metro, are interested in running parts of America's passenger rail network if Congress ends Amtrak's monopoly, a transportation consultant said Thursday.
"There is a wide range of robust and well-run companies that could step in and be private operators," said William Rennicke, vice president of Mercer Management Consulting.
Rennicke, a consultant to transport operators, said the last decade has seen a marked increase in private-sector involvement in train operations, maintenance, and financing.
Rennicke said he recently drafted a blueprint for possible private participation in U.S. passenger rail service and distributed it to major transportation companies. He said 10 to 12 companies responded within 48 hours to express interest, including RATP, the Paris transit authority; France's Alstom Ltd., which helped to build Amtrak's high-speed Acela Express trains; and Britain's Great North Eastern Railway.
Rennicke also named Continental Airlines, but a company spokesman disputed that.
"Any suggestion that Continental Airlines is interested in being in the railroad business is incorrect," said spokesman Jeff Awalt.
Some railroads subcommittee members said Congress should not waste time talking about shifting passenger rail service from Amtrak's control.
"We ought to stop kidding ourselves that we're going to shut Amtrak down," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.)
Congress is to vote this year on Amtrak's future. Lawmakers have proposed a range of ideas, from dramatically increasing Amtrak's federal aid to breaking up Amtrak and letting money-losing routes die.
Several subcommittee members urged Quinn to hold another hearing once the Bush administration is ready to lay out its policy. Administration officials are said to be at odds over whether to let Amtrak continue to monopolize intercity passenger rail or allow franchising of at least some Amtrak services.
Talk of breaking Amtrak's monopoly on intercity passenger service got a boost in February when the Congressionally created Amtrak Reform Council recommended franchising routes to introduce competition into passenger rail.
Scott Spencer, the President of the Railway Service Corp., detailed several changes that, in his view, would help improve intercity rail service that would provide a major public service throughout the nation.
"While the debate before us regarding Amtrak's future presents a difficult challenge about developing a successful solution, most Americans will agree that we need good rail passenger service," Spencer said.
"No other form of transportation combines the speed, safety, comfort and convenience of passenger train travel. In addition, trains save energy, cut pollution and reduce the congestion plaguing our nation's air and highway networks,"
Spencer added, "Rail service should be part of a strong transportation triad that includes highway, air and rail to provide for both defense transportation capacity and the safe and efficient mobility for civilians and commercial freight needed for strong economic growth. As we know, it will be extremely difficult due to environmental limitations to provide capacity for future economic growth by building more highways and airports, therefore, our transportation needs would be best served by establishing a dedicated trust fund for the rail leg of a strong transportation triad to establish an upgraded national rail network that is served by both freight and passenger trains."
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|Eagle delayed on UP|
Amtrak issued an advisory on Thursday that because the FRA "placed a 10 mph speed limit over all switches on Union Pacific's former Texas and Pacific [line] between Longview and Fort Worth, Tex., the operation of the Texas Eagle will be subject to extensive delay until further notice."
Locals said the switches really are that bad, which have resulted in several UP freight derailments in the past few weeks in that territory, and that it was "only a matter of time before the Eagle itself would be derailed at a bad switch."
Elsewhere in the far West, effective April 11, UP's Los Angeles Area Timetable No. 2 became the new order of the day at 00:01.
Some of the big changes include the Santa Barbara Subdivision from San Luis Obispo, Cal. to Moorpark going from timetable direction west and east to north and south.
For trainmen and dispatchers, it meant, among other things, "No more hearing problem, '100 miles west' of Santa Barbara," - out in the Pacific the ocean.
Since the UP takeover, dispatchers refer to the trains by the railroad's numbers, 11 and 14. There is no longer any reference to 12 or 13. The trains do not operate by timetable authority any more, and all track warrants and clearances must identify the trains by their engine numbers.
Thanks to Gene Poon
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NCI: Leo KingThe Acela Expresses are gathering passengers and their greenbacks. Here, a set arrives in Southampton Street Yard in Boston.
|Acela Expresses are doing well|
Seven months after the terrorist attacks, Amtrak's high-speed Acela Express trains appear to be running neck-and-neck with the Delta and US Airways shuttles along the heavily traveled Boston-to-Washington corridor.
Backed-up airport security lines, fear of flying, and the comforts of the new train are among the reasons given for the steadily growing number of business travelers trying the 15-month-old Acela service, according to an AP report from Boston on Friday.
The trains, which serves Boston, New York and Washington, got a big boost after September 11, and according to the best available records from Amtrak and the airlines, the advantage appears to be holding, with the shuttles yet to rebound fully from the terrorist attacks.
The attacks, though tragic, "did give us the opportunity to showcase our product and the amenities we offer," said Amtrak spokeswoman Karen Dunn from her Philadelphia office. She said Acela ridership is 5.5 percent ahead of projections for the current fiscal year.
Still, Acela's initial projections of 3.9 million annual riders at full capacity looked rosy, and nobody knows how Acela Express will fare once the novelty wears off and airport lines shrink - if they shrink.
Amtrak also faces enormous financial problems. Acela ridership stood at 96,037, or 218 passengers per train, in August, the month before the attacks. It jumped to 201,176, or 340 per train, in October, according to Amtrak figures. The numbers dipped in the fall as the airlines rebounded and Reagan National Airport near Washington reopened, but they passed 200,000 again in February and last stood at 219,917, or about 300 per train. There are 304 seats on every Acela train.
Ridership can be higher than 304 because some seats are used more than once as passengers get on and off at various points. The airlines do not release shuttle statistics, but Bureau of Transportation Statistics filings show that last December, Delta and US Airways reported 215,366 passenger boardings on the shuttle routes, down from 330,040 in December of 2000.
Airline figures for the first three months of this year are not available, but both airlines acknowledge that traffic remains below its pre-September 11 level.
Amtrak has tried to lure customers with comfortable seats, leg room and audio outlets. The carrier runs 10 daily Acela Express round-trips between New York and Boston and 13 between Washington and New York.
The airlines offer 14 to 17 round-trips daily. A next-day, same-day return Acela ticket between Boston and New York cost $236 on Amtrak's web site last week (http://www.amtrak.com.) A comparable flight on both airlines cost $411.
For business travelers, September 11 altered the train-versus-plane equation.
"It boils down to, 'How much time is it going to take when I leave my office in Boston to when I arrive in New York?'" said Thomas Nulty, president of Navigant International, an Englewood, Colo.-based company. Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, said research shows that among business travelers who have cut back flying 25 percent or more, 56 percent cited airport hassles as the No. 1 reason, followed by costs at 27 percent. Safety was a distant third.
David Loevner, a money manager at a Somerville, N.J., company, said it was both a "spirit of adventure" and long lines at the airport that led him to try Acela on a recent trip to Boston. He found room to work, a "quiet" car for those seeking tranquility, and a voucher for free travel that almost made up for a two-hour delay. He called it a good experience, "even if you don't want to work, if you just want to nap or look out the window and reflect."
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|To ride a train to the Master's...|
More than two-dozen CSX and Norfolk Southern railroad office cars moved in a special train to Augusta, Ga., and the 2002 Master's Golf Tourney last week. Included in the consist were FP-40H2s 9992 and 9993, both ex-Amtrak F-40s, now listed as CSX "Executive power."
In all, 26 passenger cars made the journey from various locations to Augusta. Business cars included Jordan, road office car; Georgia, No. 994318, a theater-track observation car, and an ex-Georgia Railroad coach; sleeper Mississippi, 994008; office car Washington, 994307; diner Greenbrier, 994319; office car New York, 994010; sleeper Michigan, 994012; office car Baltimore, 994317; office car North Carolina, 994300; office car Florida, 994308.
Also making up the train were office car West Virginia, No. 994310 - and still with its baggage door; sleeper Youngstown, 994011; and dormitory car Kentucky, 994363.
Norfolk Southern sent some cars carrying executives and guests to the tourney as well, including office car Claytor Lake, NS-3; office car West Virginia, NS-21; diner General William Mahone, NS-18; diner Kentucky, NS-19 as well as ex-Penn Central office cars NS-5, NS 4, and NS 7, all in Pullman Green livery.
Also included were ex-Penn Central power car Conrail 50, a Pullman Green box car with generator set; twin unit office car Virginia, NS-1, with a brass-railed rear platform; twin unit office car Carolina, NS-2, without brass rails; sleepers Ohio, NS-20; Illinois, NS-11; Indiana, NS-12; and Alabama, NS-9.
Each car designated "office car," except for Carolina, have rear brass railed platforms. All NS equipment is smooth sided and painted Tuscan red and gold.
All CSX cars are smooth sided in CSX blue and gray livery except theater car Georgia and sleeper Michigan, which are fluted stainless steel sided and painted in CSX blue and gray.
Thanks to Al Langley
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Fast trains are going to
Florida high-speed rail is moving along, although it would seem to be at a snail's pace, according to one interested observer. "Invitations" to pre-qualify were sent out last January, and 11 firms responded - with lots of questions and a single common complaint - not enough time allowed for them to write their proposals. They got an extension.
Among the bidders was Amtrak.
Back on November 7, 2000, Florida voters approved an amendment to the Florida Constitution directing the state's legislature, governor and cabinet to develop a high-speed ground transportation system in Florida.
Nazih Haddad, staff director for Florida's High Speed Rail Authority, told D:F last week, "This system is required to use effective and efficient technologies capable of operating at speeds in excess of 120 mph, and must consist of dedicated rails or guideways separated from motor vehicular traffic. The amendment also dictates that the system must ultimately link the five largest urban areas of the state and that construction must begin by November 1, 2003."
In terms of railroad building, that is not far away.
Haddad noted the Florida legislature last year enacted the Sunshine State's High Speed Rail Authority Act, "which created a nine-member authority and charged the authority with planning, administering and managing the preliminary engineering and preliminary environmental assessment of the intrastate high speed rail system, he added.
The law also "required that the first segment of the system be developed and operated between the Tampa Bay area and Orlando with future service to Miami, he said.
The solons gave the authority $4.5 million to do its work.
As of last week, the authority had held twelve meetings and has submitted a report on its findings to the governor and the legislature.
The high-speed report is online at the authority's web page. Point your browser to http://www.dot.state.fl.us and click on "High Speed Rail."
Meanwhile, C.C. "Doc" Dockery, the futurist who had the foresight to get the ballot placed on the ballot in the first place - and by spending $1.5 millions of his own hard-earned cash to do it - is now an authority member.
In a letter dated April 2, 2002 to Rep. Marty Bowen in Tallahassee, Dockery stated, "Subject to approval of the House budget, FHSRA will be in a position to start the bidding process this fall to build the first segment of a high speed ground transportation system."
Dockery was also grateful for his support of high-speed rail and broadening the authority's powers.
Dockery noted, "In a joint response, international transportation builders Fluor Daniel and Bombardier Transportation pledged that they would assume all operating and maintenance costs for the system if they were to be the successful bidder."
They told Dockery "The public sector (State of Florida) will not be exposed to marketing or ridership risk... All ridership and operating cost risk will be born in... (a) private-sector component that will be financed with... private equity," they said. The consortium also said it would assume private sector financing for the rolling stock - the trainsets.
"This equity contribution is estimated to be worth $300 million. Additionally, they promise guarantees of 'project completion, taking risk for scope, quality, cost, schedule and system start-up.'"
Dockery said The Washington Group International, Inc. responded with an innovative financing suggestion.
"It is the intention of Washington Team's Plan of Finance to utilize an innovative lease/leaseback structure to maximize private sector capital contributions and federal funding for the construction of the Florida High Speed Rail Project. The structure... eliminates the need for the FHSRA to raise debt supported directly by a state guarantee for the Project."
The team, he said, reported that "The bottom line result for the State/FHSRA is a residual lease payment which ranges from a high of $60 million per year to a target low of $19 million per year, depending upon the actual percentage of private, local and federal contributions realized."
American Maglev Technology, Inc., proposed that a segment between Orlando International Airport and Disney World be constructed entirely with private funds. Subsequent links would require public support, according to the firm, but "the state will face no additional ongoing expense for operations and maintenance."
The Global Rail Consortium composed of Korea Railroad Technology Corp., Arcadis G&M, Inc. and Paine Webber, Inc. agreed that "operation of a system will be profitable." The consortium noted, "Total integration of high-speed rail into the lives of Floridians will not only help alleviate crowded road conditions and provide alternatives to air and ground travel, [but] proper implementation of high-speed rail will create an economic stimulus and boost development and redevelopment in targeted areas."
Dockery told D:F, "Studies completed for the Florida DOT by STV predict 11,000 new jobs will be created with the first phase of the first link between Orlando International Airport and Tampa." STV also stated "The economic benefit of the $1.2 billion project will amount to $12 billion."
Other companies responding to the "Invitation To Prequalify" included Siemens Transportation Systems; Connex; American Railworld Corp.; Magplane Technology, Inc.; TransFlorida Express, and George Teacherson.
"Clearly, private industry is anxious to become an equity partner with the State of Florida in building the nation's first dedicated high speed rail ground transportation system," Dockery wrote.
He said, "Work is continuing on the PD&E process through our general consultant HNTB of Orlando and Parsons Transportation."
Dockery said two routes, or corridors, are being studied through the selection process. "Actually, the Federal Railway Administration will be the one which will give the nod to the alignments."
Last January 24, the authority issued "Invitations to Prequalify" (ITP) requesting private sector proposals to design, build and operate the system.
In all, "Eleven proposals were submitted by private sector consortia in response to the ITP," Haddad said. Meanwhile, the authority has begun the federal environmental review process on the Orlando-Tampa project "and is currently conducting a major investment-grade ridership study on the project."
The authority also received a $3 million appropriation from Congress this year to help get the job done.
By March 20, the authority received ten proposals from firms that made cross-commitments with other firms as well as bidding on their own.
Magplane Technology, Inc.; Connex North America; George Teacherson; TransFlorida Express with Skanska USA, Civil Granite Construction, Grupo Dragados, Lane Construction, Talgo Renfe, EDS/AT Kearney, Amtrak, STV Inc., Edward and Kelcey, Jacobs Sverdrup, Reynolds, Smith and Hill and H.J. Ross.
Also entering the race were American Maglev Technology with Dominion Resources, Lockheed Martin, Halliburton/Kellogg Brown and Root; Korea Railroad Technology Corp. with Arcadis, UBS Paine Webber, Inc., Fluor Daniel and Bombardier Transit Corp.
Washington Group International with Amtrak, Siemens; Siemens Transportation Systems, Inc. with Amtrak, American Railworld Corp.
A note from the authority pointed out that "an eleventh proposal responding to the invitation was received on March 21," one day after the deadline. The proposal from Transrapid International-USA was sent via Federal Express on March 19, "but due to terrible weather in the Memphis area, FedEx was unable to deliver it until March 21. Due to these circumstances and after receiving advise from the authority's legal counsel, the proposal from Transrapid will be accepted and added to the list of proposals," the authority stated.
Among some of the questions the authority received was one from Connex, which wanted to know "Is it necessary at this point to be associated with a group or consortium in presenting qualifications? The answer was "No, but to be qualified, the applicant must have the requisite qualifications in all areas necessary to be a... lead contractor."
Connex also wanted to know if the firm, "as a potential operator of the train services, submit qualifications and, if the authority deems qualified, be available as a qualified service provider to any group or consortium with whom we reach a suitable business arrangement?"
The authority responded, "The ITP is for the qualification of a lead contractor. A potential operator of the train service, would not, by itself, be qualified. A qualified applicant in responding to the RFP can change its train service provider."
Another firm wanted to know if the "Constitutional Amendment allows proponents to included new technologies, i.e., technologies not in use today? The answer was yes, because "The Constitution uses the term 'innovative.' However, the technology must have been demonstrated to be commercially feasible and must meet all health, environmental, and safety standards."
Another questioner asked, "What, if any, will the state and federal financial participation in the project? Can the proponent leverage this?"
The short answer was, "We don't know yet." The authority spelled it out this way:
"At this time, there are no identified state and federal funding sources. For a discussion of potential funding sources see the Authority's 'January 2002 Report to the Legislature,' available on the Authority's Web Site."
Tampa Bay Engineering Group Inc. asked, "If a firm is currently under contract as a prime or sub to the Florida High-Speed Rail Authority, is it still eligible to become a qualified applicant and submit on this current ITP?"
The authority responded, "Those consultants and their affiliates who have been substantially involved in the development and crafting of the ITP; those who will be involved in the review and evaluation of the qualifications of the responses to the ITP; and those who would be involved, on behalf of the authority, in the RFP process, will not be eligible. Subcontractors with no involvement and who are not affiliates of such consultants would be eligible."
Arcadis asked a critical question: "Is it acceptable for consortia responding to the ITP to make projections on issues such as ridership, routing and environmental impacts, which can be revised as the Authority's consultants conclude their work?"
"Yes," the authority members responded, noting "Revisions are expected in the RFP process."
Another questioner asked, "During the period responses to the ITP are being prepared, can Consortia present questions to the authority, which can be exempted from public records?"
It's a matter of public record. Consider this report.
"Any prospective provider may ask questions in accordance with Section 3 of the invitation. The questions and answers will be posted on the web, and will not be exempt from public disclosure."
Fluor Daniel and Bombardier Transit Inc. wanted to know, "What is the current status of the Environmental Impact Statement [and] Record of Decision for the corridor?"
They were told "The process is underway."
"Has the federal government agreed to the process?"
"The federal government has approved the PD&E process generally; the specific process for this project is being initiated with the federal government expected to designate lead or co-lead agencies in the near future."
"Is all free and clear right-of-way for the alignment owned by the state?"
"How many stations are to be included in the final alignment?"
"To be developed in the RFP process or later."
"Will the RFP require a minimum trip time for travel between Tampa-St. Petersburg and Orlando airport?"
"Premature to speculate on the contents of the RFP at this time."
The authority does not yet know the exact route for the project.
"Will a specific safety ruling be required from the Federal Railroad Administration for this project?"
"It will depend on the alignment and technology to be deployed as to whether existing safety standards are used or whether a new rule of particular applicability will need to be promulgated."
"Is the stated requirement to operate at speeds in excess of 120 mph applicable at the start of revenue service?"
"The requirement is to "be capable of speeds in excess of 120 mph, but this may be expanded upon in the RFP."
"Has any preliminary applications for state funding of the system been applied for?"
The authority stated it has no power to issued bonds "at this time."
"Will prospective providers be allowed to comment on preliminary results and review the detail results of the final ridership study before submitting bids for the System?"
"Yes, through a public advisory process instituted by the Authority."
Talgo America, as well as several other bidders, noted it was concerned about the "limited time provided for submittal of proposals, and that it would have difficulty in putting together financial commitments before exact route, ridership and other project details are known.
The authority agreed, and revised its timetable.
Another firm advised "a firm commitment to starting construction of Phase 1 by November 2003 cannot be made by the proposing entity since many factors are outside the proposer's control," but the authority responded, "The November 1, 2003 start date is set by the Florida Constitution, Article X, Section 19. The ITP requires the ability to meet this date - see Section 5.2. F."
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|Mail car derails; no injuries|
A 24-car Amtrak train heading from Buffalo to New York City lost an empty mail car on April 8 that derailed on CSX tracks near Pembroke, N.Y.
At first, No. 48's crew didn't know the 13th car of the eastbound Lake Shore Limited had derailed as the train headed toward Rochester. An uninvolved westbound locomotive engineer noticed it off the tracks just west of the Village of Corfu, said Genesee County sheriff's deputies.
The car never separated from the train, so the airline remained intact.
No passengers were injured because of the derailment. The train's engineer stopped the two-engine train after the westbound engineer notified him of the car's derailment.
Investigators found that the initial derailment occurred about eight miles west. It's still unknown what caused the car to leave the tracks, but numerous ties were scarred.
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|Southwest Chief may be rerouted|
Amtrak's Southwest Chief, which runs between Chicago and Los Angeles, is under review for a possible reroute, said an Amtrak official addressing a group of National Association of Rail Passengers meeting in Omaha.
Brian Rosenwald, Chicago, Amtrak's general manager of the Southwest Chief, California Zephyr and Empire Builder, stated at the NARP Region X membership meeting in Omaha, "BNSF has taken the position of selling up to 400 miles of the route east of La Junta, Colo." Rosenwald added, "They have notified us they want move to the Wichita and Amarillo route."
Rosenwald said the proposal is under study and that BNSF "would have to do a lot of things to make it a better business decision." Rosenwald said Amtrak has not taken an official position on the proposed reroute.
"I don't think there's a less scenic route in the world than this one. What's the value of switching to a route that doesn't have Raton Pass or the canyons of the Lamy, New Mexico area?" he asked.
Rosenwald said BNSF has run models that show the Southwest Chief can run on a schedule via the new route under the same running time. That schedule would include, he assured his listeners, a stop in Albuquerque, the largest city on the current route between Kansas City and Los Angeles.
An inspection trip is scheduled for next week, he said.
Rosenwald said the reroute would mean the loss of Boy Scout business bound for Philmont Ranch, at Raton, N.M., which amounts to $500,000 annually.
The Denver connection to Raton would disappear as well as service to Garden City, Dodge City and Hutchinson, Kans., and Lamar, La Junta, and Trinidad, Colo.
Operationally, the proposed reroute could mean fuel savings by running fewer locomotives. The reroute would not require an extra engine used for the steeper northern New Mexico grades.
"The issue is still in its early stages. Amtrak has not taken a position on it yet," Rosenwald said. He added, it would be "several months" before Amtrak takes a position on the route change.
The BNSF transcon line, which is mostly double-track from Florence, Kan., through Wichita, Woodward, Okla., Amarillo, Tex., Clovis and Belen, N.Mex., is limited to 70-79 miles per hour, compared to the trains current 89 mile per hour operation through western Kansas, Rosenwald said.
He said if the Chief, is rerouted, it would enter Albuquerque "the wrong way, backing up from Belen 30 miles to the south." The train would be positioned correctly on its continued trip west from Albuquerque.
Rosenwald did not express enthusiasm for the prospect of the reroute. He said scenery has been a big selling point of Amtrak's popular long-distance trains. Unfortunately, he said, Amtrak's marketing department has not determined a monetary value for scenery.
Rosenwald expressed strong support for Amtrak's long-distance trains and thanked rail advocates for fighting for their continued operation, but he decried recent service cuts. He said Amtrak management is considering barring people - now prevented from checking baggage at many long-distance stations - from boarding the train if they bring more than two carry-on bags.
That would be in place - even when checked baggage is eliminated - from boarding trains. Dining car menus would also be nationalized - one menu fits all.
The cuts Amtrak is making on the system's long-distance trains will do nothing but hurt passenger train travel, Rosenwald said. The cuts in 2002, he said, are much worse than previous cuts. He said they are longer, larger, and deeper in scope.
"These serious and drastic cutbacks are having a dramatic impact on our business."
Rosenwald questioned the value of the massive station cuts that Amtrak management ordered on station hours, station staff and checked baggage service for the western long-distance trains.
"The cuts were done almost exclusively at intercity stations," he said. "The cuts did not go on at Northeast Corridor and very little at Amtrak West. Personally, I question whether this is the right way to go."
Rosenwald said the checked baggage cuts have meant passengers are carrying-on more than two bags. He said Amtrak management is seriously considering preventing passengers who bring more than two bags on board trains from boarding trains.
"If it's not safety-related, it's now considered a low priority," he said. "It's heart-breaking for me," and, he added, "It may get to the point where we won't take that guest."
Due to cost savings, dining car savings are also being studied. The carrier is going to a national dining car menu starting in May. Trains will have a regional selection, he said, and it will be that way for quite some time.
So, don't expect to see Rainbow Trout on the California Zephyr.
Rosenwald doesn't agree with the cuts that are being make-up its $285 million shortfall. He said the dining car changes will "take away a little bit of the soul of the train." He said Amtrak is now in a survival mode.
He said his original plan was to transform the California Zephyr to the service level the train offered during the 1950s.
"I wanted to make it a true land cruise (experience)," he said.
He led earlier efforts that transformed the Seattle-Los Angeles Coast Starlight into a rail cruise experience. He said there is enough demand to run the popular California Zephyr in two sections, one being sleeping cars only, and another with only coaches.
"When you see sleeping car demand (increase) May through October with little or no advertising, that tells you something, that the demand is there."
When the product is upgraded, more people who wouldn't normally ride overnight trains are attracted to the trains, Rosenwald said.
"Many young people don't know or think about trains. This is not a recipe for long-term success," he said.
Rosenwald said the fight over Amtrak comes down to a political battle beyond the power of Amtrak's managers to fix.
"Clearly, we are in a terribly difficult situation that's putting our long-distance trains at risk."
Rosenwald said he respected Amtrak's former president, George Warrington, who recently resigned.
Rosenwald told rail supporters that Warrington, who comes from a New Jersey transit background, "Never rode an intercity train, nor Amtrak's senior marketing people. They need to see what's right and wrong with long-distance trains. If you know the product, the better you can sell the product."
Amtrak's intercity trains, he said, are normally the last area of concern for Amtrak senior management.
"We hope that changes," he said.
Of Amtrak Intercity, the Southwest Chief, which runs through Kansas City and Albuquerque on its Los Angeles to Chicago journey, is ranked second, in terms of operational performance, only to the Empire Builder, which runs from Chicago to Seattle and Portland, Ore., via Minneapolis-St. Paul and Montana. The Chief, Rosenwald said, has an 87 percent operational rating compared to the Empire Builder's 88.4 percent.
The third train he manages, the Zephyr, which traverses the scenic Rocky Mountains on its journey from Chicago to the San Francisco Bay area, "is one of the worst trains on the system for dependability."
Union Pacific, he said, is "absolutely unable, nor willing... to run it on time."
The Zephyr, which stops in Omaha and Lincoln, Neb., Denver and Salt Lake City, "is late every day, all the time," he said. Despite its poor on-time performance, the train is enjoying large ridership increases.
NARP's Region X is comprised of rail passenger advocates in Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah.
Thanks to Doug Ohlemeier, Editor, MOKSRail Newsletter via the web and the All-Aboard list.
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Greenbush gets green light
The plan to restore the Greenbush commuter rail line reached a major milestone April 4 as Massachusetts officials signed a $252 million contract with a construction team to restore the Boston-to-Scituate, Mass., line.
Cashman Construction of Quincy will partner with British construction giant Balfour Beatty to revive the 17.5-mile train line, which closed in the late 1950s as commuters opted to drive their cars to Boston on the newly-opened Southeast Expressway, according to The Patriot Ledger.
With Boston-bound traffic now backed up for hours each weekday morning, state transportation officials have been working for years to get the necessary approvals to restore the Greenbush line.
Greenbush is the third branch of the Old Colony Railroad. Commuter rail service has already been restored on the Plymouth and Middleboro branches.
Scituate recently became the fifth and final community on the South Shore affected by the Greenbush restoration project to sign a mitigation agreement calling for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to take steps to minimize noise, pollution and possible construction problems.
''Through many months of work and negotiations, we have proven that this much-anticipated rail line can be built within the anticipated budget and time frame," acting Transportation Secretary James H. Scanlan said.
Longtime opponents of reviving the rail line are quietly admitting defeat. ''I'm not going to be one of those Japanese soldiers in the South Pacific hiding out in the caves for the next 50 years, thinking I can still win the war," said state Sen. Robert L. Hedlund (R), but he predicted that the total project cost will exceed the $440 million estimate.
''I think they're applying the Big Dig strategy: start the project and come back to the legislature for the money," he said.
Scanlan maintains that the rail line will open in late 2005 without budget overruns. The ''design-build" contract with Cashman and Balfour Beatty stipulates that the state will be charged for cost overruns only if it calls for changes in the scope of the project, he said.
The Cashman-Balfour Beatty consortium will spend the rest of the year on environmental permitting and design work, Scanlan said. Ground is to be broken in the spring of 2003. Scanlan said the design work is about 15 percent completed. Track and station layouts have been done.
Elsewhere, the MBTA is moving ahead with plans to build a Greenbush station with two parking lots in Weymouth Landing, while Braintree and Weymouth officials continue to argue for a plan with three parking lots and a connector road.
''The plan is to move forward with the project as spelled out," T spokesman Joseph Pesaturo said. ''The station project is part of the overall contract that's been approved and signed."
The T reaffirmed its position during a Thursday meeting with the Braintree and Weymouth Greenbush mitigation committees. Afterward, committee members said they will ask Braintree selectmen and Weymouth Mayor David Madden to push for the plan the committees prefer.
Last year, the T agreed to run the Greenbush line under Commercial Street in Weymouth and Quincy Avenue and Shaw Street in Braintree. As part of that plan, the agency intended to build a Weymouth Landing station with two parking lots. One would be near a former lumber yard, Clarke said, and the other would be off Quincy Avenue in Braintree, near a liquor store.
Last November, during a workshop with the T, the Braintree and Weymouth mitigation committees developed a plan that added a third parking lot and a connector road linking Commercial Street in Weymouth to Quincy Avenue in Braintree, Clarke said. Town officials believe this approach would be better for traffic flow, although they want the T to perform a traffic study to test the theory.
The T has never agreed to the three-parking-lot approach, Clarke said.
''We still have to negotiate," he said. ''They believe there's a higher cost involved in what we're proposing and we're supporting, and those things have not been agreed to yet."
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Alameda Corridor opens up
So long, four branch lines. So long - at last - 200 grade crossings. So long, s-l-o-w trains.
Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta and California Gov. Gray Davis launched the first cargo container train on the Alameda Corridor during a grand opening ceremony on Friday.
A first-of-its-kind freight rail expressway opened Friday in Los Angeles County, speeding everyday consumer products from the nation's two busiest ports to the transcontinental rail yards near downtown Los Angeles, providing a model for public-private partnerships and delivering multiple benefits to the nation, state and region.
One of the nation's largest public works projects, the $2.4 billion Alameda Corridor opened on time and on budget. Reflecting the project's significance, more than 1,000 people, including USDOT secretary Norman Y. Mineta, California Gov. Gray Davis, Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn and Long Beach Mayor Beverly O'Neill attended a grand opening ceremony on Friday.
Mineta hailed the corridor.
He was joined at the event by Gov. Gray Davis, Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn, Long Beach Mayor Beverly O'Neill, and other federal and state officials and representatives from the Los Angeles metro area.
"International trade is a vital component of our nation's economy and a major segment California's economy," Mineta said.
"The Alameda Corridor will help the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach accommodate the increasing trade growth in the future while helping our national economy capitalize on southern California's standing as a major trade hub of the Pacific Rim," the DOT chief added.
Mineta said the corridor would also improve safety and enhance mobility in the Los Angeles area by concentrating rail and truck traffic within the corridor, preventing delays in auto and truck traffic.
The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, also known as the San Pedro Bay ports, represent the third largest port complex in the world. About one-quarter of all U.S. waterborne international trade depends on the ports to reach market.
The project, which was begun in 1997, cost $2.4 billion, including $1 billion raised by revenue bonds issued by the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, $400 million directly from the ports, $460 provided by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and a $400 million loan from the USDOT. The loan is scheduled to be repaid in 30 years.
At the north end of the corridor are three principal projects - The new Los Angeles River Bridge, dedicated in 1998, which replaced a single-track bridge with a three-track structure.
The Washington Boulevard and Santa Fe Avenue grade separation divides rail and street traffic, and the Redondo Junction project elevates Amtrak and Metrolink passenger train lines over the corridor.
In the mid-corridor section, freight trains now will travel through a 10-mile, 33-foot-deep trench between SR 91 and 25th Street. East-west streets bridge the trench.
The south end of the corridor includes two major projects - The Henry Ford Avenue grade separation project separates automobile and train traffic while sections of Henry Ford Avenue are rebuilt. The Compton Creek-Dominguez Channel project replaces a current single-track bridge over Compton Creek with a three-track bridge, and adds a second three-track bridge over Dominguez Channel.
ACTA is widening Alameda Street south of State Route 91 from four to six lanes. North of SR 91, the City of Los Angeles is installing new signals, new pavement, and left-turn pockets. $1.8 million was directed to smaller corridor cities (Lynwood, Compton, Huntington Park, Southgate, Carson and Vernon) for a feasibility-design study on construction staging and traffic management.
The Alameda Corridor was built by the Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority (ACTA), a joint powers authority governed by the cities of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
When operations began April 15, the Alameda Corridor was operated by a unique partnership between the Port of Los Angeles, the Port of Long Beach, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, and Union Pacific Railroad.
"The Alameda Corridor was a monumental undertaking and an example of what can be accomplished when government agencies join together to work in cooperation with the private sector," ACTA Chief Executive Officer James C. Hankla said. "The project also demonstrates that we can facilitate economic growth and international trade without sacrificing quality of life."
The adjacent ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are the two busiest seaports in the nation, handling more than $200 billion in cargo in 2001. Approximately half of the cargo, including everyday consumer products such as electronics, apparel and shoes, is transported by rail outside of Southern California to destinations across the country. The volume of cargo containers handled by the ports doubled in the 1990s to approximately 8 million units. Those volumes continue to increase, and the ports project more than 24 million units by 2020.
Today, there are 20-35 daily freight train trips on the four branch lines serving the ports, with trains averaging 10 to 20 mph. The Alameda Corridor is designed to accommodate the 100 daily train trips to and from the ports projected for 2020, with trains averaging 30-40 mph.
By providing a more efficient way to transport cargo, the Alameda Corridor delivers significant economic benefits to the nation, state and region. Leaving a legacy beyond construction of a public works project, the Alameda Corridor also provided direct benefits to local communities and residents, including construction industry-specific job training for 1,281 local residents, including 637 placed in union apprenticeships; on-the-job training and education credits for more than 420 young adults who performed multiple community beautification projects through the Alameda Corridor Conservation Corps program; and aggressive outreach and technical assistance for disadvantaged businesses, which earned Alameda Corridor contracts worth more than $285 million.
The project also resulted in Alameda Street being widened and repaved and other improvements to improve traffic flow, including new turn lanes, curbs and gutters and synchronization of traffic signals; extensive landscaping and other beautification work along the street, including thousands of new trees, decorative lighting and paving and public plazas.
The $2.4 billion corridor, a first-of-its-kind freight rail expressway, was funded through $1.16 billion in revenue bonds sold by ACTA, a $400 million loan from the USDOT and $394 million from the ports. Bond debt service will be paid with fees collected from the railroads for the transportation of cargo containers outside of Southern California.
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|CN inks pact with operating unions|
Canadian National said April 10 the Canadian Council of Railway Operating Unions (CCROU) has ratified a new three-year collective agreement with CN in Montreal.
The CCROU consists of the 1,900-member Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and the 3,000-member United Transportation Union.
The CCROU agreement, retroactive to January 1, 2001, improves wages and benefits and includes productivity improvements. CN said it had renewed labor agreements with five bargaining groups representing 13,000 unionized employees in Canada.
The 250-member Rail Canada Traffic Controllers - the last union with which CN is seeking a new collective agreement in national bargaining in Canada - is conducting a ratification vote on a tentative agreement.
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100 passengers stranded
Rail chiefs last week launched an investigation after a train split in the middle, stranding 100 passengers in the rear half on busy tracks.
Wendy Toms, chairman of the watchdog Rail Passengers Council for Southern England, who was aboard said, "There was a tremendous jolt so severe my glasses came off. We sat for 45 minutes without being told what was going on. Then people said the front half of the train was missing," reported This is London of April 7.
It happened soon after Connex's 10:00 p.m. Charing Cross to Ramsgate service left Orpington with about 260 passengers. Both halves of the "slamdoor" train were backed to Orpington, and passengers were picked up by a delayed, crowded later service.
A Connex spokeswoman said, "The train has been taken out of service. Passengers weren't in danger but we apologize for long delays."
New replacement coaches are more than a year late because of many problems, one being they don't couple and uncouple properly. The new equipment carries a price tag of £1 million.
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|Australia starts major rail link|
Workers began laying tracks on April 8 for an 880-mile railroad that will complete Australia's long-awaited north-south rail link and provide a new trade route to Asia.
Officials gathered in Katherine, about 150 miles southeast of the Northern Territory capital city of Darwin, reported The AP, for a ceremony to mark the start of work on tracks that will cross the desert Outback.
The $685 million line, which has been planned for a century, will link Darwin - Australia's closest seaport to Asia - with the central city of Alice Springs, where it will connect with an existing railway to the southern coastal city of Adelaide.
Over the past 100 years, Australia's government has planned to build the railway but could not raise enough funds, but now, state and federal governments and a consortium of private companies have come up with the cash.
"A continuous rail corridor will bring enormous trade advantages with Asia, cheaper freight options, significant job opportunities and a considerable boost to tourism and regional development," said Federal Transport parliamentary secretary Ron Boswell.
Mechanized tracklayers will put down about one mile of rail a day, completing the link by early 2004.
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Assuming you're the same Leo King who wrote the piece [in last week's D:F], a couple of name corrections:
- URPA's president is Bruce Richardson, not William Selden. The latter in fact sounds like a merger between William Lindley and Andrew Selden, two of URPA's many vice-presidents. It would be tempting to suggest that they are all Internet personalities, but I met Bill Lindley on a train years ago, so I know he's real.
The Univ. of Calgary professor is Anthony Perl, not Anthony Pearl. I know that not because of his time in Canada - I think he's originally from Alberta - but because he was the founding president of New Jersey Assn. Of Railroad Passengers, and was just stepping down when I joined that organization in the mid-1980s.
An interesting report in any case. It's good to get details even if some of them have burrs on the edges.
Thanks for pointing out those "burrs on the edges." I should have known it was Bruce Richardson, and it is also, indeed, Andrew Selden. - Ed.
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ASCE - Second international conference
Supply Chain Expo
Donald E. Stephens Convention Center
ASLRRA annual meeting and exhibition
World Center Marriott
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.
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Ed LevineThis steam engine represented the very latest in high horsepower engines when it was built - near the very end of the steam era in the late 1940s. About four years ago, railfan Ed Levine, who lives in New Jersey, was in Mahwah to take pictures of the Reading 614 on a railfan day. The 614 is a Baldwin 434-ton, 4-8-4 road engine. He recalls that "When it was running from Hackensack to Port Jervis in 1996-97, it had the B&O logo." We have some questions - where is the engine now, who owns it, is it in service, and exactly when was it built?
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 email@example.com. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write.
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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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