Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 4 No. 17, April 28, 2003
Copyright © 2003, NCI, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - James Furlong
Editor - Leo King

A weekly North American rail and transit update

 

TODAY, TOMORROW

Millar, Smith, Dukakis
headline NCI’s two-day meet

APTA’s President Bill Millar, Amtrak Chairman John Robert Smith, and Amtrak Vice Chair Michael S. Dukakis are principal speakers at NCI’s conference today and tomorrow at the Washington, D.C. Marriott; The Washington Post’s Don Phillips to be honored for the body of his work in rail transportation matters

By James P. RePass
President and CEO, NCI

What a year!

Thanks to an astonishing display of tough-love management and leadership by new Amtrak President and CEO David Gunn, for the first time in its history Amtrak has a fighting chance of becoming the successful national passenger rail system it was supposed to be. While far from “set,” a new day has opened in American transportation history.

I invite you to be with us April 28-29 at the Washington Marriott (at 1221 22nd St.) and enjoy what has come to be the best and most thought-provoking conference of its kind, the National Corridors Initiative’s annual gathering of the best and the brightest of the passenger, freight, and commuter railroad industry.

Rail Futures: Building Secure and Successful Transit and Intercity Rail for America”, will kick off April 28 by Bill Millar, who, over the past three years, has reinvented (as well as renamed) the American Public Transportation Assn., making it a dynamic voice for transit in the United States and Canada. Monday’s closing speaker has not yet been determined.

Tuesday belongs to opening keynoter Amtrak Vice Chair Mike Dukakis. Amtrak Chairman John Robert Smith will close the session.

Amtrak president and CEO David Gunn, who had accepted our invitation to attend, was called away because of a Senate hearing on the Hill on Tuesday. The hearing “will focus on the future of intercity rail passenger service and Amtrak,” according to a committee spokesman.

The full committee, chaired by Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), will be listening to testimony from several witnesses all day, including Michael Jackson, USDOT’s deputy secretary; Ken Mead, USDOT’s inspector general; Gunn and five others.

At NCI’s conference, Washington Post Reporter Don Phillips will receive the first Donald Phillips Award for Excellence in Transportation Journalism, for 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.

Sign up on-line (www.nationalcorridors.org) or by fax (617-269-3943) now.


Agenda

Monday, April 28th 2003

7:30-9:00 a.m.Registration and Continental Breakfast
9:00 a.m.Greetings: Jim RePass, President, The National Corridors Initiative
9:10 a.m.Opening Keynote Address:
William G. Millar, President, the American Public Transportation Association
9:30 a.m.Ross Capon, Executive Director, National Association of Railroad Passengers
10:00 a.m.Around the country: Report from the Corridors
The Midwest: Rick Harnish, President, Midwest High Speed Rail Coalition
Texas/Southwest High Speed Rail: Paul Mangelsdorf, Texas Rail Advocates
Southeast: Pat Simmons, North Carolina DOT
12:00 – 1:30 p.m.Luncheon Speaker: Cesar Vergara, Jacobs Engineering
2 p.m.James Coston, Amtrak Reform Council, Coston & Lichtman
2:30-4:00 p.mPresentation of the Don Phillips Award – by William Vantuono, Editor, Railway Age Magazine
Panel on the News Media and Coverage of Transportation Issues:
Don Phillips, The Washington Post; Ledyard King, Gannett News Service; Molly McKay, Sierra Club Transportation Activist and Columnist, The Hartford Courant; William Vantuono, Railway Age Magazine; David Barnes, Office of the Inspector General, US DOT
4:00 p.m.Monday Closing Keynote Speech Amtrak Chairman John Robert Smith
5:00 p.m.Reception


Tuesday, April 29th 2003

7:30-9:00 a.mRegistration and Continental Breakfast
9:00 a.m.Greetings and Conference Opening, Day 2
Jim Brunkenhoefer, United Transportation Union National Legislative Director
9:10 a.mOpening Keynoter: Amtrak Vice Chair Michael S. Dukakis
9:30 a.m.Mark Replogle, Transportation Director, Environmental Defense
10:00 a.m.Anne Canby, President, the Surface Transportation Policy Project
10:30 a.m.Break
11 a.m.Joseph Silien, Senior Vice President, Parsons Brinckerhoff, and APTA Intercity Chair;
Gil Mallery, Amtrak Vice President for Planning and Business Development
Matthew Hardison, Chief of Sales Distribution and Customer Service
12:00 – 1:30 p.m. Luncheon Speaker: Rod Diridon, Chairman, California High Speed Rail Authority
1:30 p.mFunding A National Rail System: Industry Leader Panel
Chair, Michael Pracht, Railway Supply Institute Intercity Passenger Rail Committee
Donald Itzkoff, Principal, Foley & Lardner; Former Congressman Al Swift; Timothy Gillespie
3:00 p.m.Closing Keynote Speaker --- David Gunn, President & CEO, Amtrak (testimony permitting), introduced by Amtrak Chairman John Robert Smith

 

PRESS CONFERENCE TO FOLLOW IMMEDIATELY
AFTER CLOSING KEYNOTE ADDRESS


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Acela at Mystic River Bridge, CT

NCI: Leo King

Acela Express 2190 darts across Mystic River Movable bridge in June 2001. Amtrak has cut fares on the premier train, but boat traffic at the bridge, along with four spans, have caused commuter rail to fail east of Old Saybrook, Conn. Separate stories are below.

 

Amtrak lops Acela Express fares

By Wes Vernon
Washington Bureau Chief

Starting today (April 28), you can board an Acela Express train between New York and Boston at a considerable cut-rate fare. Beyond that, this is no “fire sale.” The new fares are here to stay.

Amtrak announced April 22 that there will be a top Business Class fare on the high-speed train at $99 on that segment of the Northeast Corridor route. Furthermore, if you want to “step up” to First Class, you will be able to do so at a fee of $50 or less.

There is more. This is just for the peak travel period. Off-peak departures will cost you even less. Proportionately, so too with departures for travel to and from intermediate destinations such as New Haven or Providence.

That $99 rate is a 27 percent cutback from the current $127. Fares for non-peak will range from $85 to $92, down from $102 to $119.

First-class fares are to take a dive too. Between Boston and New York, you’ll pay $149 or less, down from the current range of $170 to $195.

The lower fares will apply indefinitely, and they will require no advance purchase.

D:F asked Amtrak spokesman Dan Stessel if the rollback was prompted by a falloff of ridership on the north leg, perhaps a response to fare-slashing on the part of the airlines, maybe a need to reintroduce the high-speed train after recent cancellations of some scheduled runs for a few days while Bombardier, at the insistence of Amtrak, was playing catch-up on maintenance, or the general economic slump.

His response: None of the above.

Yes, ridership – probably due to the economy – is down “slightly,” but that is not the rationale for the fare rollback. To say that this was a marketing decision and that no one was pushing any panic buttons is “a good characterization,” Stessel told us.

Acela Express high-speed service in New England is, in the grand scheme of things, a relatively new concept, whereas [in contrast] Metroliner has served the Washington-New York market for thirty-plus years,” the passenger railroad spokesman added. Prior to the Acela, Amtrak Boston-New York service was about a five-hour ride. Now the timetable clocks it at three-and-a-half-hours or less.

Amtrak’s marketing judgment is that “if the business travel market is ready for a rebound, we will be well-positioned to take advantage of that and continue to grow the Acela Express customer base on the north end.”

The fare structure will not apply to the south leg where the Acela Express, supplemented by the Metroliner, continues to build on years of traditional fast-rail service. However, north leg riders can board or detrain as far south as Newark or Metropark if the other end or starting point of the trip is north of New York.

The pre-April 28 timetable showed that most, though not all, of the Acela Express trains make the full Boston-Washington run in both directions.

The deal includes double points credit for “guest rewards” members riding the Acela Express between Boston and New York.

Amtrak’s press release of the fare changes includes a reminder that unlike many airline journeys which require non-refundable purchases, Acela Express tickets are refundable or exchangeable “at any time, without penalty.”

The Boston Herald reported on Wednesday (April 23) there may be a service fly looming in the ointment. The newspaper reported Amtrak’s plan to lure riders back to its high-speed Acela Express trains to New York could be hampered this summer by a “sizable” exodus of workers to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s new commuter rail operator, according to union officials in Boston.

Union officials are warning that any ridership gains will be wiped out by cutbacks in service if Acela workers bail out on Amtrak for better wages and benefits with the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co. (MBCR), which won the commuter rail contract and is set to start operations July 1.

“This service could (be in trouble) July 1,” said Charlie Moneypenny of the Transport Workers Union of America. “I know there are a lot of folks interested (in leaving Amtrak)… there’s every possibility you could have 20 percent of the work force disappear come July 1.”

Amtrak did not rebid on the commuter rail contract last fall, and the railroad’s senior employees could also make the jump, using their seniority to move over to fill an uncertain number of job vacancies.

Moneypenny said Amtrak doesn’t have anyone in the pipeline to replace potential defectors because the cash-strapped carrier has failed to create a pool of workers who have gone through the special 16-week training program for the Acela Express service.

Amtrak officials said they’re not worried about losing workers to the T and have not written a contingency plan to address any staffing shortfalls on the bullet trains, according to the Herald.

Ridership on Acela Expresses has dropped 16 percent between Boston and New York compared to last year – more than 10,000 passengers per month. In addition, on-time performance last month was 77 percent, considerably short of Amtrak’s goal of having 90 percent of its premier Acela Express trains arriving and departing on time.

Not all is rosy, however, within the union ranks.

An Amtrak employee at Southampton Street Yard in Boston put it this way recently: “Mr. Moneypenny likes to talk to himself while looking in the mirror. He should take over as information minister in Iraq. There are many, many senior craftsmen and women that want to do just the opposite.”

The worker, who is also a union rep within the United Transportation Union, averred “They want to come over to Amtrak from MBTA Commuter Rail to keep their pass privileges when they retire. Senior T&E [train and engine] employees want to come over to the NEC from Commuter Rail so they can stay on their national seniority rosters, and have the option to bid jobs in warmer climates down south and west when they get closer to retirement age.”

He was not keen on the Boston Herald, either.

“We look at the Boston Herald to be like the National Enquirer of newspapers. The only thing it's good for is to line my cat’s litter box.”

He said Moneypenny “left out a few important facts. Recently, the locomotive engineers walked out on negotiations with the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad. The trainmen have a meeting this weekend (April 26, 27) to deal with their upcoming agreement. It's all not a done-deal.”

On the table is a $2,000 signing bonus – before taxes.

“No back pay to the day when the contracts expired back in late 1999,” he said.

He noted, “An 18 percent raise over five years might look good at first, but when you have to immediately deduct 6 percent of your weekly earnings – after taxes – to pay for the healthcare benefits you are enjoying now for free, it isn't a pretty picture. That's what's on the table.”


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Boats open RR bridge spans

NCI: Leo King

Large power boats as well as tall sailing vessels require five movable bridges to open and close frequently during the summer. Connecticut’s Shore Line East commuter rail service lost a bid to boaters over who get the bridges first.

 

Trains vs. boats disputes kill
New London commuter rail

In summer, when southeastern Connecticut fills with vacationers, a little turf war breaks out between recreational boaters and Amtrak. They battle over the use of five old-fashioned, moveable bridges that blend into the region’s salt marshes and waterways.

Both sides agree the bridges have to be down when the trains go over, and up when the boats go under, but the fight over how often these bridges should be up or down has embroiled everyone from commuters and environmentalists to transportation leaders and the influential boating lobby.

“There’s no question this is a delicate balancing act between competing needs,” said Amtrak spokesman Dan Stessel. “You can’t please everyone all of the time.”

The biggest casualty in this turf war is Shore Line East, a commuter rail operated by Amtrak that runs along Connecticut’s shoreline from New London to Stamford, The Associated Press reported on April 23.

Amtrak said last week it will end all but one Shore Line East train to New London and start service instead in Old Saybrook, to avoid having to run over those five bridges. The railroad stated it would still operate one train daily from New Haven to New London, and an additional train on Friday nights in the summer.

The changes are happening so that Amtrak can run more of its high-speed Acela Express trains from Boston to New York without running afoul of Connecticut environmental permits.

Five bridges

The five bridges causing so much ruckus date back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Beginning at the east end of the layout, the bridges span the Mystic River, Thames River, Niantic River, Shaw’s Cove, and the Connecticut River.

Of the five, the Connecticut River bridge, at milepost 107, is the largest, at seven spans. It was installed ca. 1918. Boaters call it “Old Lyme Draw,” but railroaders call it “Conn.” Old Saybrook lies on its western shore while Old Lyme is on the east.

The second largest is Thames River Draw, at MP 124, built ca. 1914. New London lies to the west and Groton to the east. The U.S. Navy’s submarine fleet must pass under this span to get to the New London Submarine Base.

Mystic and Shaw’s Cove are the two newest bridges, new spans built ca. 1988 replacing two elderly decks.

Mystic River Draw, at MP 132 is a swing span like Shaw’s Cove (MP 122.5).

The oldest is also the shortest – “Nan,” over the Niantic River (MP 116.7) between Niantic and Waterford. It was installed ca. 1895.

Mystic and Shaw’s Cove are swing bridges, the rest are bascule bridges. All are double-tracked.

The permits favor boaters’ rights to use the waterways, and they limit the number of times the bridges can be lowered to let the trains pass.

“Amtrak’s not being a really good neighbor, and Shore Line East is the casualty in this fight,” said state Sen. William Aniskovich (R), a leader on the legislature’s Transportation Committee whose district runs along the shore line.

Amtrak said it will honor the New London commuters’ monthly Shore Line East passes to New Haven. About two-dozen people ride the two trains from New London each weekday. There is no weekend service.

Amtrak and other supporters of the change, including the boaters’ association, point out that Amtrak’s trains are nicer and have speedier service.

“If you’re a person in New London who wants to go to New Haven, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you can get an express trip on Amtrak, you’re better off,” said Harry Harris, the chief of public transportation for the state, but to regional planner Linda Krause and other fans of mass transit, the needs of recreational boaters should not dictate state transportation policy.

“These are people with large recreational boats, for the most part. It seems to me they are on vacation and they can wait, instead of ending the only public commuter transportation that goes across the Connecticut River,” said Krause, director of the Connecticut River Estuary Regional Planning Agency.

Krause and Rep. Andrea Stillman (D) also said that any cutback in Shore Line service runs against state transportation policies.

The Transportation Strategy Board, which has been studying ways to alleviate traffic on Interstate 95, recommends increases to Shore Line East as a way to reduce highway traffic.

Boaters, represented by the Connecticut Marine Trades Assn., insist Amtrak has been trying to run over the rights of boaters since it electrified the northeast corridor.

Each time a bridge is lowered for a train, boats back up along the waterways. The situation harms marina business, interrupts schedules and can create a safety hazard.

State permits limit Amtrak to 44 trips per day over the bridges. The Department of Environmental Protection said Amtrak violated the permits by running 47 trains in January.

“Just because we’re small doesn’t mean you can step on us. You do have to play the game by the rules we’ve set up,” said Grant W. Westerson, executive director of the boating group.

Westerson also pointed out that few people ride Shore Line East from New London and that the state heavily subsidizes the rail line while offering no aid to boaters.

The DEP is caught between the desire to maintain access to waterways and the desire to beef up mass transit.

“We tried to make sure everyone was on board with this, that it would meet everyone’s needs,” said Tom Ouellette, an environmental analyst with the DEP’s Office of Long Island Sound Programs.


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Catenary, tunnels, ties, bridges,
new coaches top Gunn’s plans

Rebuilding corridor infrastructure in five years is CEO’s goal

 

Compiled from press reports

Amtrak president and CEO David Gunn aims not only to end further deterioration of the Northeast Corridor, but to rebuild catenary between Washington and New York City, restore some tunnels, replace three bridges in Connecticut – two of which are movable – as well as other major infrastructure changes, and buy some new rolling stock. There is a fly in the ointment, though – two USDOT officials are skeptical of Gunn’s plan.

The rebuilding would cost $8 billion over five-years in the passenger train recovery plan, which, he said on Friday, is intended to stop further corridor deterioration, and to repair locomotives and cars. Some of the equipment is more than one century old, and some tunnels are Civil War-era bores.

The carrier unveiled a $4.5 billion capital program as part of the $8 billion operating plan through 2008 it will soon present to Congress. Gunn presented his proposal to the Amtrak board on Thursday.

“If you’re going to have any service left, this is what you’re going to have to do,” Gunn said about the refurbishing plan.

“When it’s done, we’ll have a good railroad.”

Gunn said Amtrak needs twice the $900 million President Bush wants to spend in 2004 to keep the trains running.

The CEO said an engineering survey between New York and Washington found that more than 9,800 of the catenary poles have foundations that are “in trouble” and must be shored up.

“What we’re going to do is rehabilitate the system,” Gunn said of the nearly 2,000 miles of track in the Northeast that Amtrak owns. Tracks for most other routes are owned by freight railroads.

The railroad also needs to install 162 miles of concrete ties and replace 270 miles of track on the 1,900 miles of track it owns. Station platforms, roofs and escalators need repair. Catenary strung in the 1930s between New York’s Penn Station and New Rochelle, N.Y., must be replaced.

Replacing a tunnel in Baltimore that was built in the late 1860s would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Amtrak instead is planning to fix the tracks and drainage inside, said spokesman Cliff Black.

Gunn’s proposal, which is several thousand pages long, is by far the most detailed capital plan ever produced by Amtrak, giving exact budgets and schedules for thousands of projects. It envisions a federal subsidy of $1.8 billion in Fiscal Year 2004, gradually declining to $1.5 billion in fiscal 2008 as capital projects come on line and Amtrak is able to operate more efficiently.

The total federal subsidy would be $4.5 billion in capital funding and $3.5 billion in operating subsidies. No new services would be added, unless states pay all costs.

“This strategic plan focuses on running a fiscally tight business and bringing the railroad to a state of good repair so that it costs less to operate and costs less for the taxpayer to support it,” Gunn said.

The railroad has no access to capital markets because of its nearly $4 billion in debt and worsening finances in recent years, but Gunn said Amtrak is working to change that.

He said Amtrak auditors have signed off on the 2002 books and the railroad has increased efficiency and cut expenses to firm up future borrowing prospects. Gunn says it is a myth to think Amtrak, which has never made money in its 32-year history, will ever be profitable, but he said the railroad can operate at reasonable cost with good service if certain steps to fix its infrastructure are addressed promptly. He said capital improvements are essential to maintain high-speed service.

In the current fiscal year, the Bush administration requested $521 million for Amtrak, but Congress approved $1.034 billion, just slightly less than Gunn requested. Gunn said that without that amount of money, deterioration would continue, and that would force Amtrak trains to slow down, ending high-speed rail service in the one place in the U.S. where it is now available.

“If the capital plan is under-funded, then the whole thing falls apart,” Gunn said.

Gunn said Amtrak spent an average of $1.5 billion a year more than its revenue between fiscal 1997 and 2002, by borrowing against assets such as New York’s Penn Station. Amtrak now owns almost nothing outright and has more than $250 million a year in debt, Gunn said.

Deputy Transportation Secretary Michael P. Jackson, who is also a member of the Amtrak board, said the plan is “more meticulous, thorough and thoughtful than has been presented in the past,” but he said it is “incomplete” because it fails to quantify many issues, mainly “vulnerabilities” such as looming requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act. He also noted that Gunn said that new passenger equipment must be ordered after the end of this five-year plan, but he did not quantify the cost.

Gunn will appear tomorrow (Tuesday) before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and on Wednesday he will address the railroad subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He had been expected to attend NCI’s two-day meeting in Washington, but the hearings changed those plans.

Much of the work under Gunn’s plan would be concentrated between New York and Washington, but some of the most urgent individual projects are north of New York, including replacing three bridges in Connecticut.

Two bridges in Maryland will need major repair work, including the bridge over the Susquehanna River at Perryville. The Baltimore & Philadelphia (B&P) tunnels south of Baltimore’s Penn Station and a tunnel south of Washington’s Union Station also will need major work.

The plan also calls for replacing dispatching centers and installing modern signal and communications systems. The electric traction system, the catenary, would largely be rebuilt, but the electric upgrades will not include a “constant-tension” catenary structure that would allow 150-mph speeds south of New York. Gunn said that could be added relatively easily later, after the structure has been strengthened.

When catenary was installed between Boston and New Haven, Conn., a few years ago, it was all constant tension.

Other capital priorities include overhauling more than 150 damaged or wrecked passenger cars and locomotives to ensure that the railroad’s rolling stock is reliable, and fixing platforms, roofs, elevators and escalators at big stations.

Gunn, who has been on the job for a year, said critics calling for Amtrak reform – including some senior Bush administration officials – need to “get real” about the complexities of operating a national railroad and the length of time it will take to fix it.

USDOT spokesman Leonardo Alcivar said the department does not expect to ask Congress for more money. He also was skeptical of Gunn’s plan.

“What was presented [on Friday] represents a staff draft and is unfortunately a best-case scenario that consists of several assumptions, multiple risks and is noticeable for what is not included as potential costs,” Alcivar said.

He said the plan makes unrealistic cost estimates for buying new rail cars and assumes Acela’s troubles will go away. Last year, the high-speed trains were taken out of service because of cracks in their four yaw dampers that prevent each locomotive’s trucks from hunting. The express trains operate with power at each end.

Gunn wants to buy 14 self-propelled diesel cars to run between New Haven, Conn., and Springfield, Mass., and on the Chicago-Milwaukee line. He also wants to replace 75 fifty-year-old cars that would cost more to overhaul than the cost of new cars.

Now, only 81 percent of Amtrak’s passenger cars can be used. Overhauling old cars and rebuilding them by replacing toilets and electrical systems will make 90 percent of them available in five years, Gunn said.

Putting the trains in better condition will save money by requiring fewer employees to maintain them, he said. For example, the New Orleans maintenance depot must staff a 12-person gang to put trains over a pit and change axles overnight.

“You should not be trying to rebuild the equipment overnight,” Gunn said.

As for the passenger railroad’s most modern innovation, the high-speed Acela Express from Washington to Boston, Gunn hopes the manufacturers, Bombardier and Alstom, can keep the troubled equipment on the tracks after last year’s yaw damper problems.

Unless the railroad is brought into good operating condition, Gunn said, fewer people will take trains, and Amtrak will need a bigger operating subsidy. Amtrak no longer claims it can ever become self-sufficient.

Critics want Amtrak to shut down the long-distance train routes that lost the most money per passenger, and Gunn closed down two segments. He cut the Pittsburgh-Chicago segment of the Philadelphia-Chicago Pennsylvanian and ordered elimination of part of the Louisville-Chicago Kentucky Cardinal in July. The train now operates between Chicago and Jeffersonville, Ind. Some expected express business never materialized.

He said getting rid of long-distance trains would save only $300 million annually, and not for another three or four years because of labor contracts that require payments to workers whose jobs are cut.

Gunn said the detailed capital plan, the first in years, will allow Congress to decide which parts of Amtrak can be brought into good working condition and which can be deferred.

“Everyone’s flying around at 30,000 feet reforming Amtrak,” Gunn said.

“We’re bringing it down to the ballast.”


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Florida’s fast trains

First no, then yes in House vote

First, the Florida House of Representatives in Tallahassee voted “no” on April 22 to send a state Constitutional amendment – agreed upon by the voters two years ago – back to the electorate. Then, overnight, the Republican-controlled House reversed itself and put the bill back onto its docket for reconsideration. The topic is Florida’s plan to build a high-speed rail system.

Under pressure from Gov. Jeb Bush and Republican leadership, the vote represented a stunning overnight reversal. The House rejected the measure (HJR 309) one day earlier, but now it will again debate giving voters a second chance on the Constitutional amendment approved in 2000 – and opposed by Bush.

The motion to reconsider, brought by House Majority Leader Marco Rubio ®, passed the GOP-led chamber by a 75-40 vote, in contrast to the chamber’s 61-57 vote Tuesday to reject the measure, according to an AP report.

“Yesterday you told us the public didn’t know what they were doing when they voted, and today you are telling us that the Legislature didn’t know what they were doing when they voted,” Rep. Ken Gottlieb (D) said.

Voting for reconsideration last Wednesday were 69 Republicans and six Democrats. Voting “no” were seven Republicans and 33 Democrats.

Sixty-nine of the 81 House Republicans voted to reconsider, including 19 who voted against putting it back on the ballot a day earlier, plus Rep. Don Brown, another Republican, who did not vote on Tuesday. Five Republicans did not cast a vote.

Democratic Rep. Roger Wishner changed from a “no” vote Tuesday to an “aye” on the reconsideration.

In order for the Legislature to get an amendment before voters, a three-fifths majority in each chamber instead of the usual simple majority must approve the bill. That would be 72 votes in the 120-member House, 24 in the 40-member Senate. Senate President Jim King ® has said he opposes sending the question back to voters.

The vote Tuesday was such a stinging rejection of Bush’s legislative priorities that it was hardly a surprise that Republican lawmakers sought to revive it under pressure from the governor.

“Historically, since I’ve been here, they twist the arms and get the votes,” Gottlieb said. “I assume the governor wants the public to vote until they agree with him and he wants the Legislature to continue to vote until they agree with him, and I don’t think that’s the way the democratic process works.”

House Speaker Johnnie Byrd called the reconsideration “a matter of professional courtesy” to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bob Allen®, who had made the motion Tuesday to take a vote on the bill and then changed his mind and asked his colleagues to postpone action.

The Bush administration offered its approval.

“We’re pleased the leadership in the House is going to reconsider this resolution,” said Alia Faraj, a Bush spokeswoman. “We think the voters should have the opportunity to readdress this issue with more information.”

The ambitious plan to build a Japanese-style “bullet train” railway linking Miami to Tampa survived, at lest for one day, on April 22 in a rare political defeat for Bush, who has argued the train was far costlier than voters realized when they approved it in 2000.

If the House defeats the bill to reconsider again, it means the first leg of the rail line connecting Tampa to Orlando could be built within five years, and the Miami leg sometime thereafter, the Miami Herald reported

The Japanese Shinkansen, or “bullet train,” travels upwards of 250 mph.

Bush had made axing the train, along with repealing a cap on public school class sizes approved by voters last year, a centerpiece of his March State of the State speech, arguing that the two Constitutional amendments are unreasonable in tough fiscal times.

He wanted to send the measures back to the voters, either in a special election this year or, as the legislation defeated last week would have done, in November 2004.

Most GOP strategists believed the powerful governor would get his way, but with Tuesday’s dramatic 61-57 thumping and a two-hour debate – during which Bush met with legislators in the speaker’s office adjoining the House chamber – the rail proposal stayed on track – until Wednesday.

“We’re disappointed and had hoped the voters would have had a chance to readdress this costly amendment,” said Bush spokeswoman Faraj, who said Bush did not lobby House members on their vote.

“The costs of the class-size amendment and high-speed rail will have a huge fiscal impact on our state.”

Faraj would not rule out the potential that Bush would try again before the regular session ends next week or during the regular session next year, but legislators on both sides of the debate said the matter had been settled and suggested they would now focus on finding money to pay the expected annual tab of $75 million.

The vote was surprising not just because it was a loss for a man widely viewed as the most powerful governor in Florida history, but also because of the margin.

To put the issue on the 2004 ballot, Bush needs a three-fifths vote, or 72, a seemingly easy task, considering his Republican Party’s 81-seat majority out of 120 House members; but to the amazement of Republican leaders, Bush couldn’t even muster a simple majority, with a broad coalition of Democrats and Republicans from the affected urban regions joining to save the fast train.

“You have a lot of members who took their oath of office to uphold the Constitution very seriously,” said state Sen. Paula Dockery, a Polk County Republican and wife of C.C. “Doc” Dockery, a retired insurance executive who spent upwards of $2 million of his own money to put the train on the 2000 ballot and into the Constitution. Voters liked the proposal two years ago.

Bush has argued that the so-called bullet train and the class-size cap, both of which could cost billions of dollars, are luxuries that the cash-strapped state cannot afford.

He predicted during his reelection campaign last year that he would raise taxes if the class cap were passed, a pledge that GOP leaders fear would complicate matters for the 2004 reelection campaign of his brother, President Bush, in a competitive swing state like Florida.

Some GOP strategists say the very fact that the governor called for the repeals, whether they actually pass, gives him and his brother the ability to at least say they tried and that state budget cuts over the next two years could move public opinion against the train and class-size amendments.

House Democratic Leader Doug Wiles suggested last week that the railway’s survival was a bad sign for the class-size repeal effort, saying legislators were reluctant to pull a “mulligan,” the golf term for a do-over.

The new railroad’s first leg from Tampa to Orlando is scheduled to be constructed within the next five years at a cost as high as $2.7 billion – but much of the cash is expected to come from ISTEA-21 coffers and other federal sources.

Backers say the state’s share of the costs would be a pittance compared with the price of building more roads. Adding two lanes to Interstate 4 over 60 miles between Tampa and Orlando costs about $1.6 billion, Dockery said.

“That’s money the state will never see again,” she said.


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Starlight has a foul day in Western journey

An Amtrak passenger train was more than 17 hours late in California after striking a Union Pacific work crane on April 23.

At about 7:45 a.m. PDT Train No. 14, the Coast Starlight, hit the work crane 10 miles south of Dunsmuir at Sims, a passing siding. Sources said both engines were damaged as well as the first three cars. No injuries were reported.

Electrical power was knocked out throughout the train. The second car sustained airbrake damage, but temporary repairs were made. The train operated without lights from Sims to Dunsmuir where the second car was set off and the first car, a baggage car, was shifted to the rear. Around 2:00 p.m., the Starlight’s crew set out the dorm car and moved the baggage car. It departed at 2:39 p.m., 9 hours and 35 minutes late.

The train needed a UP engine to continue the journey because both Amtrak units were operable as head-end power generators only, due to damaged safety equipment.

No. 14 departed Klamath Falls 10 hours, 58 minutes late; Chemult, 15 hours, 45 minutes late; Eugene 16 hours, 25 minutes late; and Albany 17 hours, 28 minutes late.

The train took a siding two miles south of Albany awaiting a “dogcatch” crew because the crew operating the train “outlawed” on hours of service laws.

A Cascades Talgo train from Eugene also overtook it there.

No. 14 departed Salem 17 hours and 31 minutes late and arrived in Portland 17 hours, 25 minutes late, where it terminated.

Passengers traveling onward were bused. The equipment turned for the next day’s Train No. 11, the southbound Coast Starlight.

A Contra Costa Times reporter wrote hundreds of miffed passengers rode out the collision with a crane, a power outage and an overused bathroom. They were sleep-deprived and peeved. The embattled Seattle-bound train was pulled from service in Portland after a trip from Martinez that took twice as long as usual.

“It was half ‘Twilight Zone’ half train ride from hell,” said one rider, Sarah-Grace Rothgery, of Concord, Calif.

“It was an absolute mess,” said Rothgery’s boyfriend, Tom Hartnett, who kept tabs from Concord on a cell phone.

An Amtrak spokeswoman said the logistics of the breakdowns prevented them from transferring the passengers onto buses to finish the troubled, 31-hour trip.

The Coast Starlight – or, as Oregon locals call it, the “Star Late” – runs daily between Los Angeles and Seattle. In most instances, it’s a picturesque, 14-hour journey shadowing the Pacific coastline, with lava flows, rugged canyons and pine-covered groves coloring its windows.

No. 14 left Martinez at 12:38 a.m. Wednesday, already about 90 minutes late.

The first trouble occurred about 7:45 a.m., when the train clipped a small crane that had been leaning into the tracks about 20 minutes south of Dunsmuir, a river town about 370 miles south of Portland.

Rothgery, a 24-year-old Diablo Valley College student en route to visit relatives in Albany, Ore., was jolted from a nap.

“The brakes were frozen. The engine was spewing noxious fluids, and we couldn’t get off the train,” she said in a phone interview. “There was no power. One toilet.”

UP, which owns most of the tracks that Amtrak uses in California, accepted blame for the crane accident.

A crew had left the equipment in a bad spot. Three crewmembers were being investigated for drug use, according to a Union Pacific spokesman, but that is normal procedure for all railroads in an investigation following a mishap. Federal law mandates it.

The slow-moving train, meanwhile, made it to Dunsmuir without electricity, but chicken pot pies, salads and other foods spoiled during the outage.

Passengers crawled out of the train and into the wet streets of Dunsmuir, which grew up around the former Southern Pacific railroad line in the 1880s.

Sarah Swain, an Amtrak spokeswoman, said the area was too remote to reach passengers with alternate transportation.

“We contract with bus companies, but it wasn’t a good fit in this situation,” she said.

“We like to avoid inconvenience, but in this case, it was out of our control.”

Seven hours later, after electricity was restored, the trip began again. At a stop about 5:50 p.m. in Klamath Falls, Ore., the train encountered another delay.

Crewmembers handed out 360 Subway sandwiches to the waiting passengers as federal inspectors tried to figure out whether the train could push on alone.

“They determined that it couldn’t,” Swain said.

So, Union Pacific locomotives helped pull the train to Portland.

About 7 a.m. Thursday, 31 hours after boarding in Martinez, Rothgery climbed off in Albany.

“I was near tears, with a horrible headache,” she said. “My back hurt. I had two nights sleeping on a train. I’m ready to see my grandparents, who are in their 90s. I lost a day with my family.

“But it’s not the worst thing,” she said. “It’s frustrating. I’m angry. I just need some sleep.”


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Amtrak’s boxcars find little work these days

They used to be called “Amtrak Express” cars, but now the boxcars rest in yards, waiting for new owners and new work.

Near the end of March, here is the tally, according to Amtrak:
Equipment TypeActiveStoredTotal Fleet
50 ft. Greenbrier Express Cars104050
60 ft. Greenbrier Express Cars12773200
60 ft. Trinity Express Cars3367100

Online correspondent Bill Seymour wrote, “You can see a bunch of the non-MHC (material handling cars) boxcars sitting around in St. Louis. Every once in a while, No. 305 comes in with a string of empties on the end. They get spotted on track 53 west of the station” which is still Amtrak property, “and when enough of them accumulate, the Terminal Railroad picks them up and takes them across the river to somewhere in Illinois where they get sold.”


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Amtrak starts ad agency search

Amtrak has placed its $27 million ad account into review, according to AdWeek of April 18.

The railroad has sent requests for proposals to 16 Northeast and mid-Atlantic agencies, according to Amtrak representative Karina Van Veen. That paperwork was due back late last week.

Amtrak has queried shops located within a day’s car trip from its home base in Washington, D.C., Van Veen said. The search has gone as far south as Richmond, Va., but mainly targets New York and Baltimore. The client is not working with a consultant on the process, which is scheduled to finish in June.

Incumbent White & Baldacci is defending, said Matt White, CEO of the independent shop in Herndon, Va. W&B handles creative and media duties, both of which are up for grabs.

Amtrak is seeking shops able to craft different campaigns for different regional areas, as well as multicultural efforts, sources said.

W&B has worked for Amtrak since 1978. It was given the lion’s share of the account in late 2001 after Amtrak parted with Ogilvy & Mather, New York, a few months after tapping the WPP Group shop. At that time, the client was spending an estimated $35 million on ads. Prior to O&M’s selection, Omnicom’s DDB, New York, handled Amtrak for nearly 20 years.

Other shops on the Amtrak roster for promotions and niche marketing assignments include The Godwin Group, Jackson, Miss., and the Chisholm-Mingo Group and Source Communications, both in New York.


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Cascades near Oregon chopping block

The twice-daily Amtrak train between Eugene and Portland would be suspended under a budget proposal enroute to the Oregon legislature. The bill has not yet been written, but the notion was introduced April 24.

With revenue plunging and voter rejection of an income-tax increase fresh in their minds, lawmakers said they must make tough choices about spending priorities and increased taxes, the Eugene Register-Guard reported on April 18.

One such choice is to end the twice-daily Amtrak Cascades trains, which would save $9.3 million for the state. Should those two trains be eliminated, only the daily Coast Starlight run would call on Eugene’s station.

Sen. Steve Harper, vice-chairman of the Joint Ways & Means Committee and an author of the spending blueprint released Thursday, said the proposed elimination of funding for the Cascades symbolized the entire budget dilemma for Oregon.

“That $9 million will buy you about 10 or 12,000 kids health insurance,” he said, “so we’re going to ask 90 legislators to make a choice, and they’re going to have three choices in front of them: kids’ health insurance, the train to Eugene or raising taxes.”


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...
Bob Brigham at the microphone in Boston

NCI: Todd Glickman

Bob Brigham gets warmed up at Boston’s South Station. “The four-forty train to SHTOE-tun,” he calls. The train is going to Stoughton, Mass. “The 4:30 train to Framingham” also stops in “AWWWW-Burn-daaaaaale,” while an Acela Express to “New York, Philadelphia, and WASH!-ing-tun, D.C.” produces many smiles.

  <---Click icon to hear Bob's unique announcement style (252k WAV file)

 

‘May I Have Your Attention, Please…’

Boston voice adds life to train calling

By Todd Glickman
Special to Destination:Freedom

“May I have your attention, please…”

With those words, Bob Brigham addresses his audience – an ever-changing audience of local commuters, long-distance travelers, visitors, and the homeless. Five days a week (currently Thursday through Monday, 3:00 p.m. to midnight), Brigham’s voice booms through Boston’s South Station concourse. He’s the “Solari announcer,” who has the job of ensuring that travelers find the right train, at the right time. Solari is the Italian manufacturer who built the train announcement and display system.

Tucked away in a busy room behind the Amtrak ticket office, Brigham juggles messages from the telephone and intercom; logs of train schedules, and two computer screens. Each weekday, he handles about 75 Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority commuter trains and 15 Amtrak trains; each of the outbounds requiring two announcements. The first, 10-15 minutes before departure, then the “Final call!” about two minutes before it is scheduled to leave.

If there was the right job for the right person at the right time, this is it for Brigham. He’s been with Amtrak for 13 years, holding various positions from ticket seller to Redcap, but four years ago, he found his niche: informing and entertaining the tens of thousands who pass through South Station each day.

Brigham is a life-long railfan. In fact, he says, “Railroading is my passion.” He’s into big trains and small – as an avid modeler of many gauges. Not limited to long-distance railroading, he’s also a big fan of streetcars and the history of urban rail transportation.

Nattily dressed in his Amtrak uniform, Brigham sits behind an L-shaped desk, in a large room that houses a number of behind-the-scenes Amtrak functions. He’s unfazed by the distractions of people roaming around, talking on the phone, and having loud conversations nearby.

In front of him on the left-hand wing of the desk are three microphones. Two are intercoms to talk to dispatchers upstairs, the information desk, the ticket counter, and other locations. The third – the smallest of the three – is his link to the public. Sitting on top of a NYNEX phone book for a bit of extra height, it’s plugged into an amplifier box and audio switcher, and from there, his voice is routed to overhead speakers in the South Station waiting room and on the platforms.

Directly behind that microphone is a well-worn pad of paper that contains a listing of every train departure and its station stops. To the right we find the first computer monitor, at the corner of the “L,” that displays a schematic of South Station’s track layout. As trains move through the interlockings into the terminal area, train numbers appear and disappear, and the “tracks” change color to show permitted routings and signal aspects.

To the right on the other half of the desk is a typed chronological log of every train movement into and out of the station, on which he hand-writes the assigned track. Finally, we come to the “Solari terminal,” that controls the two big boards in the waiting room and the smaller monitors on the platforms. When a train is ready to depart, Brigham keys in the departure track, and starts the process of announcing the train. He also clears the boards of departed trains, and puts in information about late arrivals. With his two hands and one voice, all communications to the public flow through Brigham.

There are many who sit in this chair through the course of the week, but when Brigham is there, you know it. His announcing style is unique – loved by many, and criticized by a few. Stand in the South Station waiting room when he’s working and watch the faces of commuters when he announces the “Four-forty train to SHTOE-tun,” the 4:30 train to Framingham that stops in “AWWWW-Burn-daaaaaale,” or the Acela Express to “New York, Philadelphia, and WASH!-ing-tun, D.C.” and you’ll see a lot of smiles.

“When I was ten years old and in Catholic school, I hated speaking in front of the class. I would break into a cold sweat, and my heart would pound like the compressor on an Osgood-Bradley streetcar,” explains Brigham, but he would love to listen to train announcers when he was a kid, and vowed that he would learn to speak with authority, expression, and feeling when it was his turn.

“There is a science to announcing. You have to visualize when you talk; know that you are directing people who are in a hurry and who have only one chance to get on the right train,” said Brigham. He added, “A few have questioned my pronunciations and enunciations from time-to-time, but most love my style – of emphasizing certain syllables in words over and over.”

What was his most embarrassing moment? A while back he had a small model train layout on his desk and was chatting with a friend when one of the cars slipped off the track. “My God! A derailment!” he yelled out, only to his horror to find the PA microphone keyed on. Fortunately, the alternate “mike” in the ticket selling area was selected, and so he was saved.

Now he knows the golden rule of broadcasting: never say anything in front of a microphone you don’t want to go over the air.

His most challenging moment came some years ago when both the PA system and signboards failed. He climbed up on top of a rubbish barrel in the middle of the waiting room with the train manifests in hand. In his pockets, a number of two-way radios; antennae making him look like an octopus. Grabbing a bullhorn, he yelled to the crowd, “I am your link to your train!” and went about his job, truly the professional.

Brigham estimates he’s said “May I have your attention please?” over 80,000 times in his career, but for a man approaching retirement age, he sees no end in sight to doing what he loves.

“It’s not a job – it’s a dedication.” For Bob Brigham, the “final call” is a long way away.

Boston-based Todd Glickman rides the MBTA Commuter Rail daily and Acela Express often. He works full-time at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and part-time for WCBS Newsradio 880 in NYC as an on-air meteorologist. He also volunteers as an instructor at the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, Maine. When he was a teenager, he would stand on the Long Island Rail Road Jamaica station platform and call out the stops alongside the announcer. – Ed.


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Greenbush project may still go

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney offered support of the controversial Greenbush commuter rail line April 17 but stopped short of saying the project would be spared as part of his fiscal reforms.

Romney, speaking before Greenbush supporters at the South Shore Chamber of Commerce’s annual luncheon, said the rail line is still on the table but refused to be more specific about its future, according to The Boston Globe of April 18.

“Don’t believe everything you read in the paper,” he said, referring to recent reports that quoted administration officials as saying the line did not fit into their new policies.

“I’m not going to make an announcement because we haven’t completed that analysis on Greenbush or any of the other projects, but I’m going to say that based on my back-of-the-envelope calculations, Greenbush is a project that’ll look pretty good.... It’s not a hugely expensive project compared to some. It moves a lot of people,” Romney said

The South Shore chamber recently began a heavy lobbying campaign in favor of the commuter rail project, targeting the governor and his back-to-basics transportation policy.

The Globe also reported the following day a $601 million MBTA project to sink three tunnels into Fort Point Channel in Boston, near south Station and the Post office, intended to bring the Silver Line to South Boston has been delayed, according to T officials, not by cost overruns or mismanagement, but by an Ice Age-era boulder embedded in the channel.

Geologists blame the delay of up to seven months, and possibly pushing the project past the Democratic National Convention in July 2004.

The rock is a large and fiercely strong piece of Salem gabbro-diorite, MBTA officials said. The abrasive rock is four times stronger than granite and escaped detection despite numerous test borings, even though the boulder, with an estimated diameter of 8 feet by 12 feet, sits in a 60-foot-wide work area.

Michael H. Mulhern, the T’s general manager, said the MBTA would not bear added costs. Officials said the delay could run up to seven months, though Mulhern said it will be closer to between three and four months. This section of the project was originally expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Mulhern said he believes the contract holds the contractor, Modern Continental Construction Co., responsible for the delay. If not, he said, a $50 million contingency fund could help pay for any delays – but “we’re not expecting to have to use that. This is not the type of story that’s going to lead to a major cost overrun.”

David Ryan, the MBTA’s assistant general manager in charge of construction, said attempts to lift the boulder using a dredging bucket proved useless. A diamond-headed chisel broke apart. Even taking a core sample proved problematic when the drill bits snapped off.

“The deepest we got was 54 inches,” Ryan said. “We were hoping we were going to pass through to the other side [of the rock], but we didn’t.”

One official compared the rock to a giant granite wisdom tooth. Others still aren’t sure how far down the rock extends into the channel’s floor.

It is the second major delay for the Silver Line Transitway. Service on the line’s first leg, from Dudley Square to Downtown Crossing, began operating almost a half year late. The $1.6 billion projected cost of the entire project remains stable, though the costs of a planned one-mile tunnel under Tremont Street in Chinatown to South Station in downtown Boston have risen 50 percent since the project began in 1995. The Fort Point tunnel project is a key component of the Silver Line, allowing the bus line to service the South End, downtown Boston, and the South Boston waterfront.

The tunnels originally were scheduled to be buried in the channel last fall, but were delayed due to concerns about the effect dredging would have on the channel’s lobsters.

Modern Continental, the company responsible for more Big Dig work than any other contractor, was to float three 230-feet tunnel tubes from a Marine Industrial Park dry dock in South Boston to the Fort Point Channel, but despite test borings and installation of steel sheets to help with dredging, the rock was not discovered until it was too late.

Mulhern said the rock alone has delayed the project for the past two months since being discovered in February. The contractor, he said, is prevented from blasting in the channel because of environmental concerns and the impact it would have on nearby buildings.

Only recently did construction divers begin making progress on chipping away at the rock, coming up with a piece the size of a conference table, Mulhern said.

Hydraulic splitters and an eight-ton chisel are being used to whittle it away. Mulhern said about four feet has to be removed before the tunnels can be sunk. Geologists have said the rock is probably a glacial erratic boulder, made up of large and small pieces of orphaned rock commonly found throughout New England. The rock was pried loose by glacial ice and transported great distances before being abandoned when the ice fields melted.


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Chicagoans mull new Wisconsin airport station

Chicago area commuters could take a 50-minute train ride from the suburbs to Milwaukee’s airport, once a new station is completed there. Wisconsin officials are building a new train station on Amtrak’s Hiawatha line at Mitchell Airport.

The train runs seven times a day for the 90-minute ride between Chicago and Milwaukee, with a stop in Glenview, from where it’s under an hour to the airport, writes the Chicago Daily Herald for April 21.

The tracks run right next to the airport, where the Wisconsin DOT hopes to open the new station late next year, spokesman Ron Adams said.

The fare will be $20 one way.

Wisconsin taxpayers are paying $3.9 million this year to subsidize the service, while Illinois pays $1.3 million.


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Tampa Rail gets FTA green light

A light-rail system from West Shore to downtown Tampa or New Tampa passed a critical hurdle last week by gaining planning approval from the Federal Transit Administration.

“It’s not saying it’s going to happen, but it is saying it can happen now,” said Ed Crawford, a spokesman for “HARTline,” which has spearheaded rail-planning efforts the Tampa Tribune reported on April 18.

The 20-mile rail system would have 26 stops and nine park-and-ride lots. It’s expected to cost $975 million in 2002 dollars, a price that also includes more than doubling the present bus system. The federal government would cover half the cost; state and local governments would have to pay for the balance.

“This opens the door to start looking for the money,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Jan Platt, who is chairwoman of the board that oversees the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority.

She predicted construction wouldn’t begin for at least a decade but said the system would take Tampa to a new level compared with other U.S. cities.

“We’re headed toward being a full participant in the 21st century,” Platt said.

Commissioner Tom Scott isn’t sure there is public support to pay for the rail.

“I’m not so sure this community is ready to buy into that,” he said.

There has been little serious talk about the light-rail system for more than three years. In 1999, a group of community and business leaders called the Committee of 99 proposed a comprehensive $1 billion transportation plan that did not include a light rail. The county rejected it.

In 2000, Hillsborough County Administrator Dan Kleman suggested the county hold a referendum to add a quarter-cent sales tax in Tampa for 20 years to pay for light rail, but no action was taken, and since then the county and city have been for the most part mute on the subject – but that is changing.

Tampa’s new mayor, Pam Iorio, has promised to take on transportation issues, including rail, and Scott, who is chairman of the county commission, is organizing an ongoing transportation “summit” to coordinate with other state and local elected officials and craft long-term transportation planning.

Last week’s decision was one step in a long process.

“At least it opens the door for further discussions,” Iorio said.

Asked whether a rail system is realistic for Tampa, she said population density needs to increase.

“Certainly for the shorter term it’s not,” she said, “but we need to think long term when we think transportation.”

Commissioner Kathy Castor said, “I think you have to tie it [light rail] to the city and the county’s transportation initiative. This doesn’t mean that light rail will be constructed anytime soon, but it does position us to compete nationally for federal funding.”

The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce has been working for about 18 months to have a referendum included on the 2004 ballot for a half-cent sales tax increase as well as a gas tax increase.

“There is a strong and keen interest in the business community for improved transportation services,” said Michael English, chairman of the chamber’s transportation committee.

Much of the system would operate over existing rail lines owned by CSX Corp. The lines either could be bought outright from the Jacksonville-based company, then leased back as needed, or the rail system could lease the lines from CSX, Crawford said.

Land for the line running from downtown to West Shore and Tampa International Airport would have to be assembled piecemeal, and Platt wants to start that process as soon as possible.

“It’s time for the politicians to be statesmen and leave a legacy,” she said. “The price of land in Florida is only going to increase.”


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Seattle loses monorail plan in Senate

Seattle monorail fans lost a significant battle in Olympia last week, reports the Seattle Weekly for April 9.

A House bill that would have required Seattle residents to register their cars in the city and ensured that taxpayers would repay monorail bonds even if the monorail agency is dissolved died silently at the hands of Sen. Jim Horn (R), who kept the bill locked up in his Highways and Transportation Committee.

Horn said earlier he felt the Seattle Popular Monorail Authority (SPMA) was rushing to issue bonds too quickly, an opinion echoed by House Transportation Committee chair Rep. Ed Murray (D), and Washington state Treasurer Michael Murphy.

Despite the setback, the monorail agency remained officially optimistic.

“We’re still hopeful that the legislation will move forward,” says SPMA spokesperson Paul Bergman. “We don’t think it’s over.”


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APTA HIGHLIGHTS...  APTA Highlights...

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


 

WMATA, Red Cross, and Federal Agencies Initiate Transit Safety Partnership

The American Red Cross, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and representatives of U.S. DOT, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the Federal Transit Administration joined together at an April 14 event in Washington to announce a new partnership and program designed to help commuters better prepare for emergencies involving WMATA facilities and rolling stock.

The purpose of the “Together We Prepare” program is to help public transportation riders plan responses to different kinds of emergencies that could affect their daily commute. In coming months, APTA, FTA, and the American Red Cross will encourage transit agencies and local Red Cross chapters nationwide to develop similar programs tailored to local and regional needs, working with each other and with the FTA and the Department of Homeland Security.


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PATH Resumes Service to Exchange Place on June 29

The Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corporation announces that service will resume June 29 to the Exchange Place Station in Jersey City, N.J. The station has been closed since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which caused flooding of the tunnels into and out of lower Manhattan along with the destruction of PATH’s World Trade Center Station.

Because the tunnels were flooded, PATH explained, the system was unable to get its trains into and out of Exchange Place in a timely fashion. PATH has built new crossover tunnels and installed new track to allow the restoration of service. In addition, PATH is installing a new, modern signal system, as well as new tile and lighting, and is rehabilitating the station’s escalators and elevators.


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Fannie Mae’s Smart Commute Mortgage Program Goes Statewide in Delaware

DART First State, the statewide public transportation system, has joined with Fannie Mae and other partners to bring the Smart Commute program to Delaware. This program offers a financial incentive for homebuyers to purchase a home near DART First State’s 2,500 bus stops and four train stations.

At an April 7 media event in the antique waiting room of the historic Amtrak station in Wilmington, Del., Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner; U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.); Delaware Secretary of Transportation Nathan Hayward III; and representatives of DART First State, Citizens Bank Delaware, and Fannie Mae joined together to announce the statewide program.

The Smart Commute program gives prospective homebuyers throughout Delaware the opportunity to qualify for a mortgage with the help of savings realized from using DART’s public transportation. Citizens Bank Delaware, a subsidiary of Citizens Financial Group Inc., will originate mortgage loans under the Delaware program, and Fannie Mae will purchase the eligible mortgage loans.

As an added incentive, DART First State will provide six weeks’ worth of free bus transit passes to homebuyers who purchase a home under the Smart Commute program. Delaware state employees who use the state’s vanpool service also are eligible to apply for mortgages under this Initiative.


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Denver RTD Employees, Board Approve Three-Year Contract

Members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1001, representing 1,900 employees of the Denver Regional Transportation District, voted April 9 to accept the contract agreement reached by union and management leaders on April 2. The RTD Board of Directors ratified the contract at its April 15 meeting.

Preliminary vote counts show 61 percent in favor of the three-year pact and 39 percent opposed, with more than 86 percent of the membership participating in the election.

When RTD and ATU representatives reached the tentative agreement at 4:12 a.m. on April 2, following a 19-hour bargaining session, they averted a threatened strike that could have begun at 12:01 a.m. that day.


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POWER LINES...  Power lines...

GE unveils loco fuel savings idea

General Electric introduced “Auto Engine Start Stop,” last week, a new locomotive technology that should lower the amount of fuel used by non-GE locomotives, as well as significantly reducing engine noise, smoke and other emissions.

GE Transportation Systems first introduced this technology on GE-manufactured locomotives in 2001, said Dave Tucker, general manager of GE Transportation Systems’ global service operations.

Tucker said Auto Engine Start Stop (AESS) “is a software and hardware package that saves fuel by performing an automatic shut down of an idling engine when oil temperature and zero speed conditions are met.”
He added, “The engine is automatically restarted when conditions are exceeded or power is called for. By controlling the amount of excess idle, the locomotive is optimized for lower fuel usage, eliminating additional smoke and emissions.”

Tucker said, “At $4 billion per year, diesel fuel is the single largest cost that Class I railroads face when operating a locomotive.” He added, “Smart fueling technologies like AESS lower the amount of diesel needed by our customers by 3 percent per locomotive per year. With 26,000 freight locomotives operating in North America today, this is a tremendous opportunity for savings.”

Coupled with other smart fueling services, Tucker estimated that customers could see greater than 10 percent fuel savings. First launched as an integrated system available only on GE-manufactured locomotives, AESS is now available on freight locomotives built by other North American manufacturers.

GE Transportation Systems is online at http://www.getransportation.com/.


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

Brosnan Yard in GA

NCI: Leo King

Back in 2000, Norfolk Southern’s Brosnan Yard in Macon, Ga., was fairly busy with wood chip trains in hoppers, at left, and kaolin, in the covered hoppers, along with general traffic. Last week, NS and a host of other railroads reported profits for the last quarter.

 

Hola, Mejico!

KCS, TMM to become ‘NAFTA Rail’

If Kansas City Southern and Grupo TMM, S.A. get their way, they’ll merge and be known as NAFTA Rail. They must now hurdle federal regulators.

The firms last week disclosed a series of agreements that have been approved by their respective boards of directors, that will, following shareholder and regulatory approval, place The Kansas City Southern Ry. Co., (KCS) the Texas Mexican Ry. Co. (Tex-Mex), and TFM, S.A., de C.V. (TFM) under the common control of a single transportation holding company, NAFTA Rail, to be headquartered in Kansas City, Mo.

“As part of the transaction, KCS will change its name to NAFTA Rail, which will trade on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE),” a press release from KCS stated.

The common control of KCS and Tex-Mex under NAFTA Rail would require approval of the Surface Transportation Board in the U.S. The deal would also require Mexico’s approval by the Competition Commission, and the Foreign Investment Commission.

KCS’s CEO Michael R. Haverty declared, “Common control of these three railroads, which are already physically linked in an end-to-end configuration, will enhance competition and give shippers in the NAFTA trade corridor a strong transportation alternative as they make their decisions to move goods between the U.S., Mexico and Canada.” Haverty is also KCS chairman and president.

He said, “KCS already owns KCSR and has significant investments in Tex-Mex and TFM, so these agreements are just a natural business progression offering KCS and Grupo TMM shareholders greater value through the operating efficiencies that will come from common ownership and control.”

José Serrano, chairman and CEO of Grupo TMM, said, “These transactions will be pro-competitive and allow Mexico to strengthen its position in the North American economy. NAFTA Rail will provide a viable rail alternative, while still preserving existing competitive gateways at the border between Mexico and the U.S.”

Haverty will become chairman, president, and CEO of NAFTA Rail, and Serrano will become its vice chairman as well as chairman of TFM. He will also join the NAFTA Rail board of directors along with Javier Segovia, president of Grupo TMM. The remainder of the 10-person board will be made up of existing KCS directors. Mario Mohar will remain as TFM’s CEO.

Under the Grupo TFM acquisition agreement, TMM Multimodal, a subsidiary of Grupo TMM, will receive 18 million shares of NAFTA Rail representing approximately 22 percent (20 percent voting, 2 percent subject to voting restrictions) of the company, $200 million in cash and a potential incentive payment of between $100 million and $180 million based on the resolution of certain future contingencies.

The KCS press release stated Grupo TFM owns 80 percent of the common stock of TFM and all the shares entitled to full voting rights. The Mexican government owns the remaining 20 percent of TFM. TFM holds the concession to operate Mexico’s Northeast Rail Lines for 50 years ending June 2047, and has the option to extend the concession for an additional 50 years. The TFM rail network consists of more than 2,600 miles of main track.

KCSR will remain headquartered in Kansas City, Mo.; Tex-Mex in Laredo, Texas; and TFM in Mexico City.


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UP buys 500 new ‘reefers’

Union Pacific is buying 500 new refrigerator cars from Trinity Industries, and is upgrading 2,600 others, the company reported last week.

The railroad reported traffic demand was high for its “Express Lane” service for perishable goods.

UP said it “expects to take delivery of the first of the new-technology ‘reefers’ this summer.”

The new equipment, designed by Trinity Industries of Dallas, “holds up to 40 percent more product than a conventional refrigerated car and features Carrier Ultimate Premium refrigeration units. The new refrigeration units allow for data retrieval via satellite to monitor temperatures and fresh air exchange for commodities such as onions that require fresh air circulation. The new equipment offers perishable customers the ability to ship highly-sensitive and valuable food products in a safe and reliable manner,” according to a UP press release.

Refrigerated cars keep fruits, vegetables and a variety of other perishable products chilled as they move across the nation, but UP also uses them to ship frozen commodities such as french fries, meats, poultry and dairy products.

The freight carrier stated it carries more than 48,000 shipments of refrigerated and frozen products annually, “and is the country’s largest owner of refrigerated rail cars with nearly 5,000 refrigerated cars in the current fleet.”


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CSX Boston’s Beacon Park yard in limbo

In yet another chapter in the political struggle over Harvard University’s attempt to purchase 90 acres of industrial Boston land, an environmental review agency informed the would-be seller last week that they intend to review the sale and could even stop it completely.

Two weeks ago, Harvard bid $75 million to buy the land – an industrial plot crossed by CSX Railroad and cut by the Massachusetts Turnpike – from its current owner, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which is low on funds after pouring billions into the Big Dig.

Writing for the Harvard Crimson, reporter Alex L. Pasternack told his readers on April 22 the parcel, known as Allston Landing South, has been the subject of political wrangling for months, including recent protests from a slew of powerful politicians, who say they are concerned that Harvard would push the rail yard – which some say is crucial to the local economy – off of the land; but two weeks ago, the Turnpike Authority authorized their chair to approve Harvard’s bid. Pending all of the paperwork, the deal seemed a sure thing.

A fortnight ago, the state’s Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA) instructed the Turnpike to prepare for an environmental review of the land, which could potentially derail the deal completely, according to Katie Cahill, an EOEA spokesperson.

“Basically we would need to be assured that the [railway] link will be kept operational for as long as the state needs it to be,” Cahill said of the EOEA’s review process.

The EOEA warning follows closely on the heels of outcries from prominent political officials, including Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and the state transportation secretary.

Many have said that the parcel’s tracks, CSX’s Beacon Park Yard, play a crucial role in freight transportation as the only major rail yard near Boston’s port.

Cahill said that her agency needed evidence that the freight yard would remain as a crucial part of Boston’s port system. The loss of the yard could also affect untold environmental impact in the surrounding area, she added.

“[If the railroad is evicted] the stuff that comes into the port will have to be trucked out to Worcester [the next nearest rail yard], which causes its own traffic and pollution problems.”

Worcester is also site of an intermodal yard for containers and TOFC as well as an interchange point with the Providence & Worcester Railroad.

The EOEA sent a letter to the Turnpike Authority, requesting documentation on how Harvard could change the land if they owned it. If the agency decides that the sale could cripple the railway at anytime in the future, the deal could be halted entirely, Cahill said.

Turnpike Board Chair Matthew Amorello, who received the EOEA’s letter last week, said he was unsure about how the review could impact the deal, and could not confirm that the Turnpike’s land transfers were lawfully subject to EOEA approval.

“I just looked at it and we sent it to the legal department,” said Amorello. “I don’t know what it means.”

He and other board members pointed out CSX’s permanent easement, a guaranteed right-of-way on the land, as reason that the railroad company could stay in Boston permanently. The railway also passes through a 48-acre parcel called Allston Landing North, which the university purchased from the Turnpike in 1997.

“Harvard has owned its other holdings in Allston for two years now, and nothing’s happened to the railroads there,” Amorello said. “The railroads there too are protected by federal and states’ statutes.”

Officials from several state agencies remain unconvinced, saying that Harvard could flex its financial muscle to convince CSX to move from the land.

“Harvard’s purchase of the property would give Harvard a financial incentive to induce CSX to leave the property,” said Dick Garver, deputy director for planning at the BRA, which has already overseen some of Harvard’s development in the Allston area.

Garver echoed Boston politicians in emphasizing the economic importance of the railway.

“It’s the link to the port, it serves local businesses, it carries products to local consumers at a lower price than can be done by truck,” he said.

Bruce Houghton, whose chemical company is adjacent to the land and uses the railway frequently, said that the railway’s loss would be a major blow to his company and other local businesses, partly because it would mean a greater reliance on more costly freight trucking.

“The key to all of this is not who owns it, but really what happens to that rail yard, and how does that affect the pricing of all goods, affect the competitiveness in industry,” Houghton said in January.

“If there were no rail available it would substantially increase our costs, which I suppose we would pass onto our customers. If that happened to all the freight coming in, the cost of living in New England would increase to some extent.”

Local politicians have also criticized the deal as unnecessarily rushed and not transparent enough.

“We’re not saying don’t go ahead with the sale, but we just want to have a discussion with other transportation officials before that sale goes forward to fully realize what implications such a sale might have for the next hundred years,” said John Carlyle, spokesperson for Transportation Secretary Daniel Grabowskis.

“We’re not sure what the terms of [CSX’s] easement are,” he said.

“There’s a little curiosity out there as to why this process seems to be expedited,” Carlyle said, “and why its difficult to get meetings and even phone calls returned.”

A day before voting on the sale, the Turnpike board met privately with concerned officials to attempt to calm their fears, Turnpike spokesperson Steve Hines said.

“We have stated publicly that we will make ourselves available at their convenience and provide them with any information they need,” Hines said.

While Harvard says it has no plans for the land and has not officially met with interested officials, University officials say they are keeping close tabs on the deal.

“It’s a Turnpike process and we’re following it,” said University spokesperson Lauren Marshall.

“It’s a long term investment for the University,” Marshall said, “and in terms of changes of the use of that property, we don’t expect any changes in the foreseeable future, should the [sale go through].”


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GATX awaits recovery; another tough year

The CEO of GATX Corp. warned at the company’s annual meeting on Friday that 2003 would be another tough year for the Chicago-based rail car lessor.

Ronald Zech opened the meeting by quoting remarks he made a year earlier, when he said 2002 would be tough but a recovery should be underway this year, reports Crain’s Chicago Business.

“The prediction of a return to normality missed the mark,” he said.

The weak economy and the embattled air travel sector both are weighing on the company, as demonstrated during the first quarter. The firm also leases aircraft.

For the first quarter the company posted $1.8 million in net income, or 4 cents per share, compared with a loss of $9.8 million, or 20 cents per share, a year earlier. Revenues slipped 5 percent to $287.5 million. The most recent quarter’s results include an $11 million after-tax loss provision related to GATX’s air portfolio; the year-earlier results include a $34.9-million goodwill impairment charge.

Excluding the impact of the first quarter charge, the company expects 2003 earnings to be in the range of $1.30 per share.

In 2002, the company posted $300,000 in net income, a huge decrease from $172.9 million, or $3.51 per share, in 2001. Revenues fell 14% to $1.27 billion. The results in 2001 included a $163.9-million after-tax gain on an asset sale.

At one time the firm’s name was General American Tank Car Co.


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QUARTERLY REPORTS...  Quarterly reports...

NS

Norfolk Southern Corp. (NYSE: NSC) reported on April 21 its regular quarterly dividend of 7 cents per share on its common stock, payable on June 10 to stockholders of record on May 2.

The carrier reported its first-quarter profits more than doubled to $209 million, largely due to a gain from an accounting change.

The Norfolk-based railroad said on April 23 its earnings for the period ended March 31 came to 54 cents a share, compared with $86 million, or 22 cents per share, in the first quarter of 2002.

Excluding a $114 million gain mainly from a required accounting change and a $10 million gain from discontinued operations resulting from the 1998 sale of a former motor carrier subsidiary, earnings were $85 million, or 22 cents per share. The accounting change was for the cost of removing railroad crossties.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call had estimated earnings of 21 cents.

First-quarter coal revenues declined 1 percent to $354 million as demand for industrial and metallurgical coal decreased. But total revenues rose 4 percent to $1.56 billion, as general merchandise revenues climbed on the strength of automotive and agricultural shipments and intermodal revenues were boosted by increased international container business.

CEO David R. Goode said “We are intensely focused on diverting freight traffic from the highways to the rails, reducing debt and costs, and strategically positioning Norfolk Southern to capture the opportunities for business growth as the economy rebounds,” he said.

Railway operating revenues set a first quarter record, increasing 4 percent to $1.56 billion.

General merchandise revenues climbed 6 percent on strength of automotive and agricultural shipments.

Intermodal revenues rose 7 percent bolstered by increased international container business.

Earnings per share from continuing operations, before accounting changes, were $0.22 per diluted share.

The firm stated its “first-quarter income from continuing operations, before required accounting changes, of $85 million, or $0.22 per diluted share, compared to $86 million, or $0.22 per diluted share, for the same period a year earlier.”

First-quarter net income was $209 million, or $0.54 per diluted share, “and included a $114 million, or $0.29 per diluted share, gain largely due to a required change in accounting for the cost of removing railroad crossties, and a $10 million, or $0.03 per diluted share, gain from discontinued operations resulting from the 1998 sale of a former motor carrier subsidiary.”

Railroad operating revenues during the first-quarter were $1.56 billion, 4 percent higher than first-quarter 2002, while carloads rose 3 percent, compared to the same period in 2002.

General merchandise revenues of $918 million also set a first-quarter record, climbing 6 percent compared to the same period a year earlier. All general merchandise commodity groups exceeded first quarter 2002 results. Automotive revenues of $242 million surpassed first quarter 2002 results by 6 percent, while carloads increased 2 percent over the similar period last year. Agricultural revenues increased $12 million, or 8 percent, and were the highest for any quarter.

Intermodal revenues during the first quarter increased 7 percent to $289 million, compared to the same period of 2002, primarily as a result of strong international business. Container volume increased by more than 31,000 units, or 8 percent, while container revenues climbed 12 percent compared to the same period a year earlier.

First-quarter coal revenues declined one percent to $354 million, compared to the same period a year earlier, largely as a result of decreased demand for industrial and metallurgical coal.

Railway operating expenses were $1.33 billion for the quarter, a 5 percent increase compared to the first quarter of 2002. The increase was largely due to higher diesel fuel prices and severe winter weather conditions in Norfolk Southern’s operating territory.

For the quarter, the railway operating ratio, the percentage of revenues required to operate the railroad, was 85.2 percent compared to 84.2 percent a year earlier.


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BNSF

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. reported last week its first quarter 2003 earnings was $0.40 per share, “before the cumulative effect adjustment for a change in accounting principle,” compared with first quarter 2002 earnings of $0.45 per share. Including the cumulative effect adjustment of $0.10 per share after tax, first quarter 2003 earnings was $0.50 per share.

The carrier stated its freight revenues increased 3 percent to $2.20 billion for the first quarter 2003 compared with the 2002 first quarter. Also, its operating income was $346 million compared with $380 million a year ago, “despite a $90 million fuel expense increase substantially driven by fuel prices.”

“BNSF achieved year-over-year quarterly revenue growth for the first time since the second quarter of 2001. Excluding the impact of higher fuel prices, our operating expenses were essentially flat and the operating ratio would have been approximately 1 point lower than the first quarter of the prior year,” said Matthew K. Rose, BNSF Chairman, President and CEO.

Rose added, “We believe revenue growth will continue this year along with earnings growth even though the outlook for certain segments of the U.S. economy continues to be cloudy.”

Freight revenues for the first quarter increased 3 percent to $2.20 billion compared with 2002 first quarter revenues of $2.14 billion, including a $16 million increase in revenue from fuel surcharges. Consumer products revenues increased $70 million, or 9 percent, to $848 million, as a result of record revenue levels in the international, truckload and perishable sectors.

Coal revenues decreased $23 million, or 5 percent, to $485 million, as a result of lower volumes from the draw-down of utility stockpiles, utility maintenance outages and a March blizzard in the Powder River Basin.

Industrial products revenues grew $20 million or 4 percent to $511 million from increased steel, aluminum and clay shipments in the construction products sector and increased military-related and waste products shipments in the building products sector.

Agricultural products revenues declined $3 million, or one percent, to $358 million, largely because of reduced Pacific Northwest wheat-export demand.

Operating expenses of $1.89 billion were $103 million higher than the same 2002 period. Fuel expense was up $90 million, or 49 percent, to $274 million compared with the same 2002 period primarily as a result of an average increase of $0.29 per gallon in the cost of diesel fuel to $0.94 per gallon, which includes a hedge benefit of $0.08 per gallon. Purchased services expense increased $24 million to $299 million due to higher service contract expense for equipment maintenance and outsourcing of computing infrastructure.

Operating income was $346 million for the 2003 first quarter compared with $380 million for the same 2002 period. BNSF’s operating ratio was 84.3 percent for the 2003 first quarter compared with 82.2 percent in 2002.

Rose said “BSNF adopted Statement of Financial Accounting Standards (SFAS) No. 143, Accounting for Asset Retirement Obligations, on January 1, 2003,” and he explained, “This statement disallows the accrual of asset retirement costs that are not legal obligations. The net cumulative effect of this accounting change on years prior to 2003 was an increase to net income of $39 million, net of tax, or $0.10 per share, which is reflected in the cumulative effect adjustment recorded in the first quarter of 2003.”

During the 2003 first quarter, BNSF repurchased approximately 3 million shares of its common stock at an average price of $25.58 per share. This brings total repurchases under BNSF’s 150-million share-repurchase program to approximately 119 million shares as of March 31, 2003, at an average price of $25.96 per share since the program was announced in July 1997.


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FEC

Florida East Coast Industries reports its railway freight revenues for the first quarter “increased 2 percent to $40.9 million versus first quarter 2002.”

The Jacksonville, Fla.-based firm noted its “railway segment operating profit decreased 9 percent to $8.8 million due primarily to decreased intermodal haulage revenues and increased equipment and depreciation expense.”

The railway segment’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization decreased 2 percent to $13.7 million.

FECI’s CEO, Robert W. Anestis, said, “In the first quarter of 2003, our railway…held up well despite the economy. The railway’s freight revenues increased over the prior year period for the sixth consecutive quarter.”

FECI reported consolidated revenues of $76.3 million for the first quarter 2003, compared to $60.0 million for the first quarter 2002. Revenues included realty sales of $14.9 million for the first quarter 2003, compared to $3.1 million for the first quarter 2002. Income from continuing operations was $7.0 million, or $0.19 per diluted share, for the first quarter 2003 (which includes $3.9 million of after-tax profit from land sales), compared to $6.9 million, or $0.19 per diluted share, for the first quarter 2002 (which includes $1.2 million of after-tax profit from land sales).

FECI reported net income of $6.9 million, or $0.19 per diluted share, compared to a net loss of $0.4 million, or $0.01 per diluted share, for the prior year quarter. Included in net income is income or loss from discontinued operations related to a building sold in 2002, and the company’s former telecommunications and trucking businesses.

Anestis said, “The company’s expectations for the full year 2003 assume a moderate improvement in the economy. For 2003, the company continues to expect the railway segment’s revenues to range between $174 and $177 million, and now expects the railway segment’s operating profit to be comparable to 2002 as opposed to its previous expectation of single digit improvement over 2002, due primarily to reduced intermodal haulage and higher net equipment costs.”

He said fuel represents, on average, “approximately 10 percent of the railway’s operating expenses; therefore, significant changes in fuel prices could affect the company’s results unexpectedly.”

Capital expenditures for the railway are expected to range between $30 and $32 million.

The Florida East Coast Ry. first quarter revenues increased 8.1 percent to $44.3 million for the first quarter 2003 over the prior year period. Included in the revenue increase is $2.4 million of revenue from drayage operations formerly performed by the company’s trucking subsidiary that were assumed by the railway in November 2002 and $0.4 million of fuel surcharges.

Carload revenues grew 3.9 percent primarily due to a 6.0 percent increase in aggregate, reflecting strong construction demand. Increased revenues from new business transporting coal and metals products contributed to the increase.

Intermodal revenues decreased 0.5 percent, compared to the prior year period. Lower revenues from a connecting carrier for intermodal haulage and from LTL carriers were partly offset by higher revenues from the Hurricane Train service from Atlanta to South Florida and business gained from new intermodal customers.

Operating profit decreased by 9.0 percent to $8.8 million versus $9.7 million, primarily due to reduced intermodal haulage and higher equipment and depreciation expense. The railway’s operating ratio was 80 percent compared to 76 percent in the prior year quarter. The increase in the operating ratio was also affected by the addition of lower margin drayage operations that were previously performed by the Company’s trucking subsidiary.

The railway launched a new transportation relationship with BJ’s Wholesale Club. The freight railway expects to deliver 60 to 80 intermodal loads weekly from BJ’s distribution center to stores located in South Florida.


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UP

Union Pacific Corp. (NYSE: UNP) reported on April 24 even though the railroad showed a profit, high fuel costs lowered its earnings.

The carrier reported 60 cents per diluted share in first quarter 2003 income before the cumulative effect of a change in accounting principle related to the adoption of “FAS No. 143, Accounting for Asset Retirement Obligations.”

Net income was $1.67 per diluted share, or $429 million, including the $274 million after-tax cumulative effect adjustment. This compares to net income of $.86 per diluted share, or $222 million, in 2002.

“The high cost of fuel was the main driver behind our shortfall in earnings this quarter,” said Dick Davidson, chairman and CEO.

Davidson said “Diesel fuel was up more than 39 cents a gallon versus year-ago levels, costing us nearly 30 cents per share. We also incurred a one-time expense for severance payments and March storms reduced coal revenues. Moving beyond fuel and weather, our operations are running smoothly and we are well positioned for future growth.”

Union Pacific Corp., excluding its trucking line, Overnite Corp., reported operating income of $368 million compared to $489 million for the same period in 2002. Operating Revenue was $2.7 billion, a first quarter record, the railroad stated in a press release from its Omaha corporate headquarters.

The average commodity revenue per car was at an all-time best of $1,188 per car while employee productivity, measured in gross ton-miles per employee, increased 3 percent for a first quarter record.

Industrial products revenue was up 8 percent, automotive revenue was up 7 percent, intermodal and chemicals were both up 2 percent, and agricultural was up 1 percent. Only energy was down, by 4 percent.


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CN

Canadian National Ry. (TSX:CNR) reported on April 23 that its directors approved a second-quarter 2003 dividend on its outstanding common shares. A quarterly dividend of 25 cents (Cdn $0.25) per common share will be paid on June 30 to shareholders of record at the close of business on June 9.


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AAR reports modest freight traffic gains

Total freight traffic on U.S. railroads was up slightly during the week ended April 19, in comparison with the corresponding week last year, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported Thursday (April 24).

The total volume for the week was estimated at 28.3 billion ton-miles, up 0.7 percent from the comparable week last year. Intermodal traffic totaled 184,426 trailers or containers, up 0.1 percent from last year. Container volume was up 2.2 percent while trailer traffic was down 5.7 percent.

Carload freight, which does not include the intermodal data, totaled 323,992 cars during the week, down 0.2 percent from the corresponding week last year. Loadings were up 0.6 percent in the East, but down 0.9 percent in the West.

The 2003 week included Good Friday, which is a holiday on many U.S. railroads. The comparison week from last year did not include the holiday.

Nine commodity groups showed gains from last year with coke up 24.6 percent; farm products other than grain increasing 13.0 percent; and coal up 3.7 percent. Among the nine commodities registering decreases were petroleum products, down 17.6 percent; motor vehicles and equipment, off 14.6 percent; and primary forest products, down 9.2 percent.

The AAR also reported the following cumulative totals for U.S. railroads during the first 16 weeks of 2003: 5,088,370 carloads, up 0.7 percent from last year; intermodal volume of 2,909,913 trailers and containers, up 8.2 percent; and total volume of an estimated 452.3 billion ton-miles, up 0.8 percent from last year’s first 16 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 19. Intermodal traffic totaled 39,819 trailers or containers, up 4.0 percent from last year. Carload volume of 64,427 cars was down 3.3 percent from the comparable week last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 16 weeks of 2003 on the Canadian railroads totaled 982,867 carloads, down 1.0 percent from last year, and 636,284 trailers or containers, up 11.2 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 16 weeks of 2003 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 6,071,237 carloads, up 0.4 percent from last year, and 3,546,197 trailers and containers, up 8.8 percent from last year.

The AAR also reported that carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended April 19 totaled 8,126 cars originated, down 17.9 percent from last year. TFM reported originated intermodal volume of 2,925 trailers or containers, down 9.0 percent from the 16th week of 2002.

For the first 16 weeks of 2003, TFM reported cumulative originated volume of 140,938 cars, up 6.0 percent from last year, and 56,843 trailers or containers, up 44.0 percent.

The AAR is online at http://www.aar.org.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: Bloomberg.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)27.89027.080
Canadian National(CNI)46.87045.760
Canadian Pacific(CP)22.73022.420
CSX(CSX)31.06031.110
Florida East Coast(FLA)25.80025.500
Kansas City Southern(KSU)11.21011.770
Norfolk Southern(NSC)20.60019.850
Union Pacific(UNP)59.36058.400


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ACCROSS THE POND...  Across the pond...

Ireland will need to spend €8.4 billion
to keep its national rail services on track

A MASSIVE €8.4 billion (Euros) is needed to maintain and improve existing rail services and open new routes, a top-level government review of the Irish national rail network reveals. The report also states cars are far quicker than trains on many of Ireland’s busiest routes.

The Strategic Rail Review (SRR) shows as much as €3.4 billion is needed just to maintain and improve current services, and it would cost another €5 billion to open up new lines, stated the unpublished report, details of which were obtained by the Irish Independent online for March 17.

The newspaper added Transport Minister Seamus Brennan was expected to bring the report to the Cabinet to outline why the €3.4 billion for existing services will have to be a priority instead of new routes.

The long-awaited report carried out by consultants Booz, Allen, Hamilton concluded €3.4 billion is needed for the intercity and suburban routes, €4 billion would have to be found to open up new rail links such as Navan and the Western Corridor from Sligo to Limerick and other routes, and €1 billion is needed for a new underground rail interconnector, which would link Heuston and Connolly stations in Dublin.

It is understood the minister, whose publicly stated policy is to get people out of cars and on to public transport, plans to push hard for funds after the report criticized the “history of under-funding and under-development”.

The report stated the railway has the potential to be the preferred mode for commuting, particularly in the Dublin area because of congestion. However, there had been significant investment in rail safety and upgrading tracks following a number of damning rail safety reports commissioned by the government.

Iarnrod Eireann is frequently criticized regarding overcrowding and the state of many trains, despite its plans to improve services.

The report recommends the new inter-connect linking Heuston and Connolly stations as the next significant project after Dublin Port Tunnel, Luas and the planned metro line to Dublin Airport.

Substantial investment in the rail services is needed and it appears this will now be mainly ploughed into existing inter-city routes, as these have the highest usage.

Despite widespread calls for the opening of a rail corridor between Sligo and Limerick and other new routes, the lack of funding is bound to hit these demands.

Rail times are faster on only a limited number of major routes, the Strategic Rail Review reveals.

The report exposes how journey times for trains have not yet improved to a satisfactory level.

“Only on a limited number of major rail routes do rail journey times compare favorably,” the report stated.

The minister has said he wants to get people out of their cars and onto public transport, but the report shows that:

The car was quicker for journeys from Dublin to Tralee (by 9 minutes), Waterford (16 minutes), Westport (12 minutes), Ballina (29 minutes), Sligo (8 minutes), Rosslare (52 minutes), and Ennis (23 minutes).

Two other routes showed similar results, but the train was faster for journeys from Dublin to Cork (by 48 minutes), Limerick (6 minutes), Galway (9 minutes), Belfast (12 minutes) and Kildare (16 minutes).

The figures were for off-peak driving and weekday off-peak trains.

The report hits out at the historic “underfunding and underdevelopment” of railways, which has partly led to the private car becoming more attractive in terms of speed, comfort and efficiency.

“For the railway to increase mode share it needs to provide a real alternative to the private car,” the report said.

“That means measuring up against a number of critical factors, such as cost, journey time, reliability, frequency, comfort and personal security.”

The consultants found that an estimated 60-70 percent of the population is within a 20-minute drive from a railway station.


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OFF THE MAIN LINE...  Off the main line...

1880s teakettle has new home in Illinois

The Illinois Railway Museum has acquired a steam locomotive once operated by legendary engineer Casey Jones in the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

The museum bought engine No. 201 from a shuttered museum in Minnesota for $200,000, provided by an anonymous donor. The steam engine, built by William Rogers’ works “in 1880, is a 2-4-4RT suburban locomotive,” said museum president Kevin McCabe. The engine will be on display beginning May 3.

Jones, an Illinois Central Railroad engineer, was the only fatality when his passenger train, drawn by a 4-6-0, struck a stalled freight train in Vaughn, Miss., in 1900. His attempts to avert the crash are credited with saving his passengers and crews on both trains.

McCabe said No. 201 is the last surviving engine Jones operated, and “he ran this one during the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.”

He said the locomotive is in “Good cosmetic condition. Operational restoration would cost roughly $300,000 to $500,000. If someone should donate the cash, then sure, we’d be glad to restore it. First, though, we need to raise another $25,000 to pay for its transport and track space.”

The museum is at 7000 Olson Rd., Union, Ill., and is online at www.irm.org.


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LETTERS...  We get letters...

Dear Editor:

My guess for the Illinois Central picture (D:F, April 21, “The way we were”) is somewhere in Illinois.

If I see correctly, there are six passenger cars plus a baggage car. I would suspect the City of New Orleans based on the shadows, but the train seems very short for the CNO.

More likely would seem to be a summer time City of Miami, but it is short even for that. If it is the CMi it could be going in either direction – but if the CNO, it must be southbound, and probably north of Carbondale to be that short, as some coaches from St. Louis were added at that point.

My reasons: There appears to be some rock outcropping in the cut. That would not occur on any of the double-track sections south of Cairo, Ill. Also, Memphis to Jackson, Miss. was single track. The sun appears to be nearly straight up, so I would say that the time would be somewhere in the vicinity of 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

The IC main almost follows the 90-degree west longitude line, which defines the time for the Central time zone.

Aside from being flatter than the country in this picture, New Orleans to Jackson, Miss., would be early morning, hence long shadows for the northbound CNO or southbound Panama Limited (PL), late afternoon with long shadows for the northbound PL, and after dark for the southbound CNO.

I was able to leave Chicago early enough to be on the Memphis drop-off Pullman on the Panama. You had to say it out in Memphis, because if you just said “the Pan” you could be referring to the Memphis section of the Louisville & Nashville Pan American, also referred to as the “baby Pan” to differentiate it from the big Pan on the Cincinnati-Nashville-New Orleans main line.

At least in the early 1960s when I was riding it regularly, the CNO had a railway post office north of Memphis, which this train does not. The RPO, plus on weekends at least, usually a third unit and some coaches were added northbound at Memphis and taken off there, southbound. It was usually managed within the 10 minutes allowed for the stop.

The normal north of Memphis train was about 10 coaches, plus a diner and an observation. I counted 20 coaches on Easter Sunday 1963, and the total train length was 24 cars. Some coaches went to St. Louis.

The summertime City of Miami in the early 1960s was usually about 10 cars, which included a baggage, two Pullmans for Miami, one each for Tampa and St. Petersburg, a diner, two coaches for Miami and one each for Tampa and St. Petersburg. In winter it would usually run to about 20 cars, about evenly divided between coaches and sleepers.

Since it did not run daily, it never carried an RPO. Even in winter there was usually only one sleeper each for Tampa and St. Petersburg, it could be that there were times that one or both of these did not operate in the summer, thereby giving the six car consist. My observation points for the CMi were Martin, Tenn., where I was in college 1962 to 1964 and Jackson, Tenn., at random times in the 1950s and 1960s.

I understand the City of Miami was originally an all coach train with a diner.

By the late 1950s it had sleepers, but I do not know when they were added.

There were some points with rock outcroppings on the CMi line south of Corinth, Miss., but the line was all single-track.

The CMi was the last scheduled passenger train to operate on St. Louis-San Francisco (Frisco) rails, as the IC had trackage rights on the Frisco from Jasper, Ala., to Birmingham. So, actually, there was passenger service operated on the Frisco until the advent of Amtrak, even though they did not operate it.

If I were a gambler, I would bet on an early City of Miami in summer time in either direction somewhere between Carbondale and Effingham.

George Harris
Taipei, Taiwan, but originally Olive Branch, Miss.


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

LIRR 4-6-0 Class 52 type

NCI: Leo King Collection: Long Island Rail Road

Decades ago, the Long Island Rail Road, operating from Montauk Point to New York City, operated tea kettles like this “Camelback,” as this particular steam engine configuration was nicknamed. The LIRR’s Class 52s, in service during the early 1900s, were 4-6-0 freight engines. Yes, at one time, the LIRR operated freight lines, too.

End Notes...

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