Vol. 7 No. 20
May 1, 2006

Copyright © 2006
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

Destination:Freedom
The E-Zine of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - Jim RePass      Editor - Molly McKay
Webmaster - Dennis Kirkpatrick

A weekly North American rail and transit update

For railroad professionals
Political leaders at all levels of government
Journalists from all media

* Now in our Seventh Year *

This page is best viewed at 800 X 600 screen resolution

 

IN THIS EDITION...  In this edition...

  News Items... 
Georgia legislator admits authoring secret rail-killing
   budget language
CT legislature inks innovative transportation bill stressing
   rail, transit improvements
Summer schedule changes
  Commuter lines … 
MBTA Expansion: North side gets new concourse;
   South side gets new layover facility
A Familiar Face
MBTA... This just in...
  Builder’s lines… 
Century-old Saugatuck bridge to be replaced by ConnDOT
Mass Turnpike Authority discusses plans to expand highway.
  Friday closing quotes… 
  Across the pond… 
City Mobil ticket provides easier transit access
DB to install ETCS cab signaling and Automatic Train Protection in ICE-1 train sets
Germany cracks down on grade crossing lawbreakers
  Off the main line… 
Loss of critical data not new for company
  Editorials… 
Use your veto pen, Governor Perdue
Connecticut takes a step forward
Georgia Politician strikes in secret to harm rail project
Gas price hikes: More painful for Americans who are
   forced to drive
  End notes… 

Georgia legislator admits authoring
secret rail-killing budget language

From The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Internet Sources

ATLANTA --- A Georgia key lawmaker has admitted responsibility for legislative language ---- secretly inserted in the state budget bill --- designed to hobble commuter rail in Georgia.

Georgia House Appropriations Chair Ben Harbin has admitted he inserted language forcing any commuter rail project – even those already approved --- to come before the legislature and ask for specific approval before spending money, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last week in an article by staffer Paul Donsky.

“The main thing we were trying to do is make sure there is accountability in the budget,” the AJC reported him as saying.

The immediate effect was to delay start of construction on the new Lovejoy line, Georgia’s first (and only) approved commuter rail line thus far. Since the legislature has adjourned and does not meet again until January 2007, the first, long-anticipated commuter rail line has now been delayed at least until then.

Harbin did not say whether he had subjected any of Georgia’s multi-billion-dollar highway projects to the same standard.

“The language doesn’t kill the Lovejoy line, but it has clouded the project’s future. The start of construction has been pushed back until at least January, when the next legislative session begins. And as long as the paragraph remains in future budgets, any money spent on commuter rail will have to be approved by the state Legislature, which has long been reluctant to foot the bill for transit projects,” reported the AJC.

The issue has infuriated transit advocates, who have been working for more than a decade to get commuter rail started in Georgia. The Atlanta region, which grew via massive highway construction into one of America’s most sprawling cities, has among the worst air pollution and traffic congestion in the nation.

The Sierra Club’s Georgia chapter and Atlanta-based Citizens for Progressive Transit, as well as local Chamber of Commerce leaders, rallied last week at the state Capitol “to urge Gov. Sonny Perdue to use his veto power to strike the commuter rail language from the budget,” the AJC reported. The Governor has until May 9 to decide, said AJC.

The 26-mile, $106 million route that would be the state’s first commuter rail line, is 80% federally funded. State rail officials had hoped to start service in 2008, with a projected ridership of 3,000 a day.

[ Ed note- See an additional entry on this subject in the Editorials section of this newsletter. ]


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CT legislature inks innovative transportation
bill stressing rail, transit improvements

By DF Staff

HARTFORD, CT---While Georgia’s legislature, or at least one of its senior members, was sticking a shiv in its own long-awaited commuter rail system, Connecticut’s General Assembly took a big step towards the 21st century with passage of an omnibus $2.3 billion transportation bill backing rail travel throughout the state. Senate passage is expected.

House Bill 5844, authored by House Speaker Jim Amann and State Senate President Don Williams, directs the Commissioner of the State Department of Transportation to start or plan a number of rail projects, including restoring commuter rail service on the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line with shuttle bus service between the rail line and Bradley International Airport; rehabilitating rail passenger coaches for use on Shore Line East, the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line and several branch lines; developing a new commuter rail station between New Haven and Milford, and paying for the cost of capital improvements on the branch lines and of parking and rail station improvements on the New Haven Line, Shore Line East and branch lines.

ConnDOT is also ordered to study the transportation and mobility needs of residents and businesses in eastern Connecticut, including, but not limited to: (1) transportation between residential and employment centers; (2) improved rail freight service; and (3) opportunities for improved public transportation services and facilities, including the feasibility of creating a commuter rail line from New London to Worcester, as well as developing an assessment and plan for the implementation of commuter rail service on that line (New London and Worcester).

State Sen. President Don Williams has long been an advocate of improved rail service in Eastern Connecticut. A 1999 ConnDOT study of the area showed weak demand for service, but it excluded the largest trip generator on the system, the city of Worcester, simply because it was not located in Connecticut. ConnDOT has been ordered to correct that omission, which produced a false report.

At a 2004 conference of the National Corridors Initiative, Connecticut Senate President Williams, along with Worcester Mayor Tim Murray, called for re-opening of the line, which could serve not only the cities of New London, Norwich, Putnam and Worcester, but two of the largest casinos in the world, Foxwoods (in Ledyard, near Norwich) and Mohegan Sun (just outside of Norwich in Uncasville).

Other rail projects in the bill include improved rail service on Shore Line East, including, but not limited to, increased frequency of service, reverse commute service and weekend service, improved stations, and better parking. ConnDOT is ordered to move swiftly: “The commissioner shall report his findings and recommendations to the General Assembly not later than January 1, 2007.”

The bill also orders ConnDOT to fund the local share of a new Southeastern area transit service to meet trains at train stations and serve tourist venues and work places, and complete the Norwich Intermodal Transit Hub Roadway.

The bill also includes major highway projects, such as conducting environmental planning and assessment for the expansion of Interstate 95 between Branford and the Rhode Island border, the controversial Hartford-New Britain busway, and planning for the widening of Routes 2, 2A and 32 in the towns of Ledyard and Norwich; upgrading of the Pequot Bridge near Mohegan Sun casino and the site of a proposed “Utopia” theme park.


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Summer schedule changes…

Amtrak Downeaster News from www.amtrakdowneaster.com

The Downeaster’s seasonal service to Old Orchard Beach is now open. The Downeaster stops in the heart of Old Orchard Beach - just steps from the sand, shopping, dining, famous pier and amusement park.

The Ocean in Under an Hour!

Save 25% when you book same-day travel to Old Orchard Beach. Travelers must reserve by phone (1-800-USA-Rail = 1-800-872-7245) with a live Amtrak agent. Request FARE CODE X630 8:00 AM on day of travel. Take advantage of this promotion and enjoy savings now through May 31, 2006. Learn More...http://tinyurl.com/kdve4p (Temp URL)

All Aboard the Downeaster and make tracks for Old Orchard Beach this May!

Red Sox Back at Fenway

The Red Sox are back in town. Save 25% when you travel to Boston for evening sporting events. The Downeaster now offers an 11:20 pm departure from North Station so you can stay at the game even later.

  • Discount is valid for travel on Train 684, 686 or 688 and 687 when round trip is made on the same day.
  • Tickets must be purchased at least 3 days prior to travel.
  • You must mention (or type if making reservations online) Promotion
  • Code H563 to receive the discount.
  • Offer valid through June 27, 2006.
Learn More...http://tinyurl.com/gz9rc (Temp URL)

Amato’s Sandwiches

We are pleased to announce that the Downeaster Cafe now features Amato’s sandwiches made fresh daily! Amato’s - It’s Real Italian!

Ham Italian $4.50, Turkey Sub $4.75, Tuna Sub $4.75


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

MBTA Expansion:

North side gets new concourse;
South side gets new layover facility

By DF staff and from press reports

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s General Manager Daniel Grabauskas has announced the commencement of a project that will more than double the size of Boston’s North Station waiting area.

North Station serves several commuter lines that reach suburban communities and is also the terminus for Amtrak’s Downeaster service to Maine.

According to Grabauskas, the work will be “ a direct result of comments received from many of the thousands of daily commuter rail customers who use North Station, the expansion and renovation plans have been put on a fast track.”

MBTA staff and Delaware North, the owners of the TD Banknorth Garden, where the Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins play, have developed a project that is highlighted by a number of customer service benefits. North Station is directly underneath the sports arena at street level, and its subway “super station” counterpart where Boston’s Green and Orange subway lines meet, is immediately adjacent and connected below ground.

The renovated concourse will include:

“[Massachusetts] Governor Romney and Lt. Governor Healey have emphasized the importance of enhancing customer service, satisfaction, and convenience on the T,” said State Transportation Secretary John Cogliano. “This expansion at North Station will tremendously enhance one of Boston’s largest transit hubs, and it will ultimately attract even more people to the MBTA system.”

A Familiar Face

Former MBTA general manager Michael Mulhern is returning to the MBTA to take over management of the agency’s retirement fund. Last week the MBTA’s retirement fund board of trustees issued a short statement that Mulhern would take over handling of the $1.8 billion pension fund starting this summer.

Mulhern will replace Karl White who is leaving the position in June of 2006 to explore other interests.

The MBTA has not announced how much Mulhern will be paid but White’s starting salary in 2002 was $191,000 per year. Mulhern already draws a $100,000 state retirement pension.

The T’s pension fund is thought to have lost more than $1 million last year in a hedge fund failure last summer.

“This is the next exciting step in our collaboration with the MBTA in the evolution of the North Station site,” said John Wentzell, President of Delaware North Companies – Boston and the TD Banknorth Garden. “These enhancements will improve the experience for daily commuters and Garden patrons alike.”

Under the project’s aggressive schedule, the work is to begin in June and end in November of 2006. While North Station will remain open during the project, temporary pedestrian walkways will have to be established in order to accommodate the construction activity.

“The MBTA greatly appreciates the comments received from many of our loyal customers, and we look forward to providing North Side Commuter Rail users with a first-class railroad station,” said General Manager Grabauskas. “I wish to thank our customers, in advance, for their patience and understanding during the upcoming time of transition.”

On a typical weekday, 187 MBTA Commuter Rail trains bring nearly 50,000 passengers into and out of North Station.

Meanwhile, the Boston Globe is reporting that a new rail yard will soon be completed in Pawtucket, RI.

The new rail yard will be a nighttime layover facility for commuter trains on the Boston-to-Providence line, which operates on the Northeast Corridor from Boston’s South Station. The new facility is located on 12 acres acquired in 1998 by the Rhode Island State Transportation Department in Pawtucket’s Moshassuck Valley Industrial Park.

Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee joined representatives from Massachusetts and Rhode Island to inspect the new rail yard last week. Construction is expected to be completed in the next one to two months.

The new layover facility will allow the MBTA to store additional train sets overnight for the morning service runs and allow for the planning of new service to T.F. Green Airport in Warwick, RI, and to additional stations south of that. The extension of service to the popular Rhode Island airport is expected to start as soon as 2007 according to Chuck Alves, deputy director of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation.

Construction cost of the lay over yard is estimated to be in the vicinity of $19.5 million dollars in state and federal funds.

Although the majority of the project was finished in late 2004, delays from Amtrak occurred with respect to laying track and installing signals that connect the yard to the main line.

Per Amtrak spokesman Clifford Black, “It will be done in June. We’re going to stick to that.”

This just in...

Infrastructure aside the MBTA still faces a $35 million dollar deficit, and late Friday they announced a proposed fare hike of near 25%.

Fares on subway lines would jump from $1.25 to $1.70 for subways and trolleys, and from 90 cents to $1.25 for buses. Commuter rail fares would also increase in the vicinity of 22%.

The increase would help cover the standing debt and rising costs of fuel as well as change some system oddities such a free outbound ride for Green Line surface riders and an exit fare Red Line riders must pay at the two southernmost stations.

The changes being considered for next January will be subject to a series of public hearings and workshops yet to be scheduled.

According to the MBTA some daily riders could end up paying less, because systemwide transfers would become free for those using the new “CharlieCards”, the system's pre-paid pass card option. The cost of a rail-bus monthly pass would also drop by about $17. Less frequent riders, however, could find themselves paying more if they use cash or “CharlieTickets” which replaced the system's coin tokens, rather than the “CharlieCard”.

At our press deadline, there was no indication that the rate hike would offer any expansion in service. At present, the subway system closes just after midnight and connecting busses just after 1 AM until about 5-5:30 AM the next morning.


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BUILDERS LINES...  Builder’s lines...

Century-old Saugatuck bridge
to be replaced by ConnDOT

From Westport Now COM and DF Staff

WESTPORT, CT---The last time Westport’s Saugatuck River got a new railroad bridge, Teddy Roosevelt was President, it cost 2 cents to mail a letter, and steam engines still used the track (although electrification started in 1906 at Grand Central Station and worked its way to New Haven by 1912).

One hundred years later, the Connecticut Department of Transportation is planning to replace the bridge, starting in four years.

Westport’s Now COM, an online news service, reported details this past week of the $50 million project.

Westport is one of Fairfield County’s most famous “commuter towns.” Originally a small fishing town, Westport became an artist’s colony in the 1940’s when Broadway talent discovered its low-cost rents. Today it is a high-priced commuter town, but with deep artistic roots. The New Haven Railroad electrified the line 1906-1912, spurred on by New York State legislation that banned steam engines in New York’s rail tunnels, after one accident too many.

That original electrical catenary, like the bridge, is still in place, although ConnDOT is slowly replacing it between New Haven and the New York State line, which ConnDOT owns. The ancient system is the reason MetroNorth’s commuter trains and Amtrak’s intercity units have to run slowly --- often less than 70 miles an hour --- between New Haven and the state line. In Europe and Asia, commuter rail and intercity rail typically run at between 125-175 miles per hour, and up, shortening commute time by as much as 60-70% over American travel times.

“At a sparsely attended Town Hall meeting,” reported WestportNow.com, “the planners had good news and bad about the popular pedestrian bridge that runs alongside the railroad tracks from Ferry Lane East to Ferry Lane West. The good news is that the walkway will be retained in the new design – something town officials had said was critical.  The bad news is that the walkway will have to be shut down for the final two years of the planned four-year construction project set to begin in 2010.”

The current six-span, 455-foot long bridge carries four tracks and was constructed in 1905, replacing a two-track bridge built in 1844. The third span of the bridge is 108-feet long and is movable to allow for passage underneath of tall ships, reported WestportNow.com

Planners said the new bridge will include a new operator house and a new drive system that controls its opening and closing. Construction will be in two stages – with work being done on two tracks while the other two tracks remain in operation. Seven miles of track will be restricted to a two-track operation between East Norwalk and Greens Farms during construction. Temporary platforms will have to be constructed at the three stations as a result, according to the planners, reported WestportNow.com.


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Mass Turnpike Authority discusses
plans to expand highway.

BOSTON -- The Massachusetts Transportation Finance Commission was established by the Mass Legislature in 2004 to oversee and decide how the state might identify and finance large transportation projects. One of the authorities under its purview is the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority (MTA).

Last Thursday, April 27, the Finance Commission’s subcommittee on the Turnpike met to discuss the Turnpike Authority’s future independence and possible expansion of the Massachusetts Turnpike, reported Sara Hartman, staff writer of the Daily Free Press.

Seven members of the committee met to discuss, among other issues, expansion of the Turnpike.

Also discussed was whether the Turnpike Authority should take over snowplowing and other major road responsibilities presently handled by the Highway Authority.

“Currently,” the article states, “the Turnpike Authority is a semi-independent entity that reports to the government but also receives independent funding. According to the Massachusetts Turnpike website, it receives revenues from tolls as well as from advertising and real estate leasing, and it does not receive federal or state-appointed revenue. The committee discussed restructuring the entity and possibly making the agency completely independent.”

The committee plans to study similar commission structures in other states. Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida, New Jersey and New York have semi-independent Turnpike Authorities, while Indiana and Illinois have fully independent Authorities.

They also plan to look at the structure of highway authorities in Europe.

Joseph Giglio, a professor at Northeastern University and a member of the committee, said that new technologies would make it possible for the Authority to focus on things like customer service, not just revenues. “[We should think about] giving the Turnpike a larger role.” He urged the committee to “push the envelope” and consider changes that had previously been considered “audacious.”


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: MarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)79.5386.40
Canadian National (CNI)44.9147.00
Canadian Pacific (CP)53.1454.85
CSX (CSX)68.4968.08
Florida East Coast (FLA)55.9055.54
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)32.7736.21
Kansas City Southern (KSU)24.3025.20
Norfolk Southern (NSC)54.0056.18
Providence & Worcester (PWX)16.7516.75
Union Pacific (UNP)91.2195.95


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ACROSS THE POND...  Across the pond...

Installments by David Beale, NCI Foreign Correspondent


Photo by Deutsche Bahn AG

A Deutsche Bahn InterCity passenger train blasts through a grade crossing in rural Bavaria hauled by a Soviet Union (Ukrainian) built DB 232 series (V300 class) diesel-electric locomotive in summer 2004.

 

City Mobil ticket provides easier transit access

April, 2006 -- Deutsche Bahn (German Railways) in cooperation with the German association of mass transit authorities will roll out City Mobil tickets starting on the 1st of May.  City Mobil tickets will be sold both from Deutsche Bahn’s automated ticket machines as well as from ticket machines and ticket distributors of Germany’s numerous local transit authorities.  The tickets will be valid for use in local busses, trams, light rail and subways in numerous German cities, regardless of which city the ticket was purchased in, therefore saving travelers the trouble of trying to find and purchase local transit tickets for the final leg of a journey which ends in another city different from where they started.  A traveler, for example, can buy a City Mobil ticket in Berlin, which he or she can then immediately use for local travel on a bus from the central train station in Munich to an outlying suburb without the hassle of trying to find a ticket sales outlet in Munich upon arrival.

Dr. Karl Friedrich Rausch, chairman of DB AG’s passenger train operations, explained that City Mobil is another step in lowering the barriers for intermodal transit for its customers who rely on local transit to get either to or from a DB train station.  “We expect to gain additional customers who currently avoid traveling intercity by train because they either do not want or can not deal with the added burden and hassle of finding, understanding the fares and purchasing a ticket for the local bus or subway train in an unfamiliar train station.  We want to erase that problem for our travelers by selling those tickets to them prior to the start of their trips.”

When DB customers purchase their tickets on-line, or at a DB ticket automat or DB ticket sales counter, they will have the choice to add the City Mobil option to their intercity ticket for a nominal surcharge.  The City Mobil endorsement on their DB ticket will give them unrestricted use of local bus, subway and light rail connections at their end destination.


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Photo by Deutsche Bahn AG

An ETCS display in a locomotive cab during a Deutsche Bahn test program in 2005
DB to install ETCS cab signaling and Automatic
Train Protection in ICE-1 train sets

In a press release aired on its cable and satellite TV channel, Bahn TV, Deutsche Bahn stated that it would retrofit 19 of its ICE-1 train sets with ETCS (European Train Control System) for operation on the newly built Olten - Bern rail line in Switzerland.  The new rail line will be signaled and controlled exclusively with ETCS.  Deutsche Bahn’s ICE-1 trains, which currently operate to Zürich and Interlaken, will start operating on the new SBB (Swiss Railways) rail route starting in December 2006.

 

DB stated that a single ICE-1 train set has already been equipped with ETCS and has started proving tests in Switzerland in order to gain local approval of the new train control and cab signaling system prior to the December 2006 service introduction.  DB’s current ICE-1, ICE-2 and ICE-3 high-speed train fleets are equipped with LZB and SiFa train control systems.  LZB is an electronic variable speed limit time/distance-based in-cab signaling system in wide spread use in Germany and Austria which was originally developed in the 70s and 80s.


Germany cracks down on
grade crossing lawbreakers

New traffic laws which go into effect on the 1st of May in Germany include, among other changes, increased fines and penalties for vehicle drivers who disobey grade crossing signals at Germany’s 23,000 road - rail grade crossings.  Those who cross the tracks after the lights have been red for greater than 1 second will be fined EUR 150 (US$ 180) and a one month driver license suspension.  Anyone caught driving around the grade crossing gate arms after they have lowered will be fined EUR 450 and will receive a three month driver license suspension.  The new regulations apply not only to automobile, bus and truck drivers, but also to bicycle riders and even to pedestrians.  German law already provides that grade crossing violators can be held both financially and criminally liable for any property damage or injuries caused by disobeying warning signs, lights and gates at railroad grade crossings.

Deutsche Bahn stated in a press release that it invests approximately EUR 170 million per year in upgrading safety features and warning devices at grade crossings as well as replacing grade crossings with grade separated over or under passes on its busier rail lines.


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

Loss of critical data not new for company

From the Internet via Newsday, Inc.

April 28 -- A data-storage company that has been employed for fifteen years by the Long Island Railroad lost personal information of about 17,000 current and former Long Island Rail Road employees, reported Newsday in a story by Samuel Bruchey.

“On April 6, an Iron Mountain driver lost a container of LIRR data containing names, addresses, Social Security numbers and salary information for virtually everyone who has ever worked for the railroad.”

It is not the first time this has happened. In March of last year, Iron Mountain, Inc. lost computer tapes containing Social Security numbers of 600,000 past and present Time Warner, Inc. workers. Soon after, reported Bruchey, the Boston-based company lost tapes belonging to City National Bank of Los Angeles.

“ ‘It just amazes me that this kind of thing can happen,’ said Mitchell Datz, 46, of Valley Stream, a locomotive engineer for the LIRR” the article states.

Spokeswoman for Iron Mountain, Melissa Mahoney, said the company stores data for 70 percent of all Fortune 1000 businesses and makes several million deliveries a year without a problem.

An investigation by Iron Mountain into the LIRR’s missing data concluded that the incident resulted from human error, Mahoney said.

An NYPD investigation is ongoing.

Precautions need to be taken to reduce the risk, said Stephen Kahn, vice president of SK Archiving and Retrieval Services in Deer Park. The client can encrypt information before it leaves the company site or data could be sent to an off-site storage facility electronically.

“ ‘That way there are no trucks, no people involved, less room for mistakes,’ he said.’”


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EDITORIALS...  Editorials...

Use your veto pen, Governor Perdue

It is a rare thing when a governor can strike a blow for openness in government and advance a sound transportation policy at the same time, but Georgia’s Gov. Sonny Perdue can do just that, if he wields his veto pen on legislative language in a George budget bill.

It came to light last week that one of the enemies of Georgia’s long-a-borning commuter rail project had, without debate or disclosure, slipped language into a budget bill to effectively delay the start of the project, which is the first leg of a planned commuter rail system for the Atlanta region.

The sheer stupidity of the act --- killing a commuter rail program is like handing money to terrorists, because keeping our highway-only dependency forces up the price of oil --- is surpassed only by its venality. After years of debate and discussion and endless “studies” to see if rail works (check out Europe and Japan and now, China and India, and you’ll get your answer) the people of Georgia through their legislature voted to go ahead with the project.

But in secret, an opponent of rail who had lost in the open voting process was able, through his position of leadership in the Georgia legislature, to slip in wording at the last minute that voided that vote.

Gov. Perdue of Georgia has line item veto power. He should use it to strike down, publicly, the language inserted secretly, and get Georgia Commuter Rail back on track. If he does, everyone will breathe easier.


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Connecticut takes a step forward

This past week’s vote in the Connecticut House to approve a $2.3 billion transportation bill is a landmark in the region’s transportation history.

For most of the past 50 years the money has gone to highways and only highways, with the exception of Fairfield County which inherited a rickety commuter rail system from the defunct Penn Central 36 years ago, and has done relatively little to improve it since.

That is changing under the leadership of State Senate President Don Williams, who has been a strong voice for transportation alternatives for many years. Now in a position of strength, Sen. Williams is determined that modern rail transportation must be a part of all of Connecticut’s future and that highways, as important as they are, cannot be the only mode of travel or we will all end up in one giant gridlock.

In 1999, ordered by a bill also introduced by then State Senator Don Williams, ConnDOT did a feasibility study of New London- Worcester rail service. But the study omitted Worcester, the largest city in the region, from the projected traffic count! The new law will order Connecticut’s DOT to not only re-do and correct its flawed 1999 study ---- but also make plans to actually implement New London-Worcester commuter rail.

Coupled with improvements to the freight line to allow modern rail freight cars to use the line, thereby getting trucks and tankers of the Interstates, the new law will go a long way toward showing how building alternatives to highway transportation can improve the quality of life of an entire region.


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Georgia Politician strikes in secret to harm rail project

By Jay Bookman
© 2006 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Used By Permission

For a decade or so, citizens and public officials in metro Atlanta have debated the pros and cons of investing in commuter rail to provide alternatives to the automobile.

That debate has taken place in public, as it should. The final decision to proceed with a 26-mile commuter rail line linking Lovejoy in Clayton County to downtown Atlanta was also made in public, in forums from the Atlanta Regional Commission to county commissions.

But last month, in the final hours of the 2006 General Assembly, all those years of earnest debate and public involvement were rendered meaningless by a secret power grab of outrageous cynicism.

Somebody in the Legislature --- the cowards have refused to come forward and admit their roles [ He has now been identified as Ben Harbin of Augusta, GA-the Editors ] --- inserted a paragraph deep in the state budget designed to derail the Lovejoy line and leave no trace of the saboteurs’ identities.

In a nutshell, the paragraph instructed the state Department of Transportation not to spend a dime on commuter rail projects, including the Lovejoy line, unless the DOT first gets the express approval of the state Legislature, which can’t come until next year at the earliest.

In the previous three months of the legislative session, there had been no public debate about such a major change in policy. There hadn’t even been a mention of such an approach.

In fact, when legislators approved the budget in the final hours of the session, most had no idea that it contained the language in question, and they didn’t learn what they had approved until weeks later.

David Doss, chairman of the DOT board, says he didn’t become aware of the provision until a couple of weeks ago, when DOT employees discovered the language.

“They went to the folks at OPB [Office of Planning and Budget], and even they weren’t aware of it,” Doss said in an interview Wednesday.

Legally, the paragraph doesn’t have much impact, according to the state attorney general’s office. The money for the Lovejoy line --- $85 million from the federal government and $21 million in state money --- has already been appropriated and isn’t affected by language in this year’s budget.

However, Doss and his board say they will honor the paragraph anyway, out of deference to what Doss calls “the Legislature’s intent.”

That’s a dodge. “Legislative intent” implies that the Legislature intended to do something, that it took this step intentionally. An obscure paragraph secretly inserted in the mammoth state budget at the last minute --- a provision that most legislators did not know existed --- does not meet that test of legislative intent. It doesn’t even come close.

And while the specific saboteurs of the Lovejoy line may not be identifiable, responsibility lies with the Republican leadership of the House and Senate. It is hard to believe that such a major step was taken without their approval.

In fact, the underhanded, backroom nature of the move reflects what has become the defining operating style of Georgia Republicans.

Four years ago, they ran against the sometimes-autocratic Gov. Roy Barnes by labeling him “King Roy,” and they promised the people of Georgia that if elected, they would provide a more open and accessible style of government.

Instead, they have replaced Barnes’ royalist tendencies with a system that operates more like the old Soviet Kremlin or today’s China. The trappings of democracy still exist, but their natural instinct is to make decisions as far as possible from the public eye, with as little interference as possible from those not in the inner circle.

In the House, for example, the Republican leadership has gamed the committee system by creating free-floating members who ensure the will of the leadership is done.

Major bills are crashed into law before interested parties get a chance to dissect them for possible problems, increasing the odds of major mistakes, and legislators have also been eager to restrict access to what ought to be public information about our own government.

Again, the underhanded means used to derail the Lovejoy line reflects that attitude perfectly. Years of discussion, studies, debate and public votes --- why bother, when it can all be nullified by anonymous men in anonymous ways, imposing their personal whims while exempt from accountability?

[ Jay Bookman is the deputy editorial page editor. His column appears Thursdays and Mondays in the Atlanta Constitution at www.ajc.com ]


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Gas price hikes: More painful for
Americans who are forced to drive

By David Beale

In this past week Europe and the rest of the world saw oil and gasoline prices hit new highs, at least in absolute dollar terms, although not in relative terms to the oil shocks of the 1970s. In this week filled with news concerning energy, Europe also marked an important milestone in energy history, namely the twentieth anniversary of the explosion and meltdown of Reactor Number 4 at the Chernobyl power station in the then Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine. The long-term response to the reactor meltdown and subsequent massive release of highly radioactive contamination (400 times more than the A-bomb dropped on Hiroshima) all over eastern and western Europe was the proverbial icing on the cake first baked in 1979 at Middletown, PA during the Three Mile Island crisis for many countries considering more nuclear powerplants. The USA, Great Britain, Germany, Austria, and others effectively freezed new nuclear powerplant construction and looked to other sources for electrical power after Chernobyl. Other nations such as France, China, Japan and, strangely enough, former members of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact pressed on with building even more nuclear powerplants. Chernobyl was one of the defining events of the 1980s era, the same era that gave us Ronald Reagan, neo-conservatism, LBO’s, Greed is Good, MTV, Yuppies, Rambo, Terminator, Pac-Man, Iran-Contra, the S&L crisis, and the New World Order.

It was during the 1980s that the industrialized world began to react to the oil shocks and shortages of the 1970s. As with the response to Chernobyl, the response of numerous countries in the 1980s and 90s to the oil crisis of the 1970s differed widely. During this era some countries began to think very differently about energy, both nuclear and oil based. And other countries pretended nothing had changed. In the USA the 1980s response to the 1970s oil crises was essentially to leave energy policy in the hands of the "market place", i.e. in the hands of OPEC and a handful of multi-national oil companies such as Exxon, Chevron and Shell, and to continue transportation expansion based on automobiles and highways, as had been the practice of the 50s, 60s and 70s. This energy strategy in the USA continued through the 1990s and into the 21st century with little change, or with surrender of even more of the nation’s energy sovereignty to OPEC and Big Oil when George W. Bush and Dick Cheney took over the nation’s energy policy in early 2001. In other countries, especially many European countries, the reaction was entirely different, alternate modes of transportation were given equal support or at least a fighting chance against highways and automobiles. An active attempt was made to recover economic, social, and environmental costs inflicted on the general public from ever increasing automobile and truck traffic by imposing substantial gasoline and diesel fuel taxes.

During the go-go 80s the Reagan and the first Bush Administration were not exactly transit friendly. Reagan’s Administration gutted wholesale many proposed mass transportation projects in the early 80s, which were planned during the mid - late 1970s as a way to move away from dependency on foreign oil, and poured cold water on many new mass transit proposals. Reagan’s White House attempted to choke Amtrak to death, not unlike what the current White House is attempting with Amtrak today. During 1980s local transit spending came into the cross hairs of anti-tax activists who were energized in 1978 by the their landmark Proposition 13 victory in California, thus applying the brakes further to America’s rebuilding of its public transit systems. Highway funding was also a target of cuts during the Reagan/Bush Administrations, but due to its shear size in the $100 billion per year range, political inertia and plenty of local "pork barrel" lobbying kept highway spending more or less protected from any significant cuts.

Now in 2006 the news headlines which energy is making in Europe and the USA tells a story. Here in the local news media in Germany, the rapid rise in oil and gasoline prices is certainly in the news, but it is on page 4 or 5 of the newspaper or 11 minutes into the nightly news broadcast on various German TV news channels. I can see all the way from here that it is firmly on page 1 of American newspapers and the lead discussion topic on the nightly news in the USA. Because the raw material costs of gasoline and diesel fuel in Europe, i.e. the price of crude oil per barrel, are only about 25% of the retail price (the rest is distribution costs, refining costs, profit and mark ups, highway usage fees, sales taxes and energy taxes), a 20 percent increase in crude oil prices results in maybe a 5% increase in price at the pump. Add to that, the vast majority of the population in transit friendly Germany has relative easy access to various forms of affordable public transit, therefore most people are not noticing a big difference in what they have to spend to travel everyday from point A to point B, they have choices and alternatives to the automobile. It is a similar story across the rest of Europe and the U.K. Most of the taxes on motor fuel in Europe are returned and re-invested into the economy in the form of funding for building, maintenance and upkeep of highways, railways and public transit systems.

In the USA, where road and highway maintenance and capital costs are subsidized by income, sales and property taxes, each percent of increase in crude oil price results in nearly the same percent increase in the price at the pump due to the lowest motor fuel taxes and highway usage fees in the entire industrialized first world. Because reasonable access to mass transit is not available to a very large segment of the American population, many Americans have little choice short term other than to swallow the dramatically higher gasoline costs of the past few weeks and months. It is widely documented that Americans consume more fossil fuels per person than any other country in the world, a characteristic which leaves America uniquely vulnerable to rapid price hikes and disruptions of fossil fuel supplies.

There is no doubt that the rapid run-up in oil and gasoline prices is causing genuine hardship for many in the USA, therefore it easy to understand the headlines it is causing now. America’s politicians have essentially surrendered the country’s energy and transportation policies to Big Oil, OPEC and automobile industry over the past two decades, so a discussion in the public forum of how this could happened yet again is certainly justified. Surely George W. Bush and his Big-Oil-friendly Republican supporters in Congress deserve to pay a heavy political price for the current gasoline price run-up. However Democrats past and present such as Bill Clinton, who also failed to provide real leadership on transportation alternatives and energy independence, must also be held accountable for the current situation.

When are we as American voters going to hold our political leaders responsible for providing us alternatives to gas-guzzling cars, SUVs and fuel thirsty airliners? We need long term solutions and alternatives like a truly functional nationwide rail system and renewable energy supplies, instead of short term gimmicks like windfall taxes on oil company profits, knee-jerk repealing of gasoline taxes and the like. Been there, done that. It didn’t work before, no reason to believe it will work now. Here we go again. Maybe the third time around is the charm. Maybe this time America can regain energy sovereignty which it surrendered to OPEC and Big Oil a quarter of a century ago, if our political representatives will, for once in their collective lives, provide leadership and courage to make the difficult but long term beneficial decisions to regain our energy independence through investment in rail transit systems, alternative energy sources and rational highway development, instead of more of the same quick-fix tricks of yesteryear currently offered by the Bush administration and numerous members of Congress.


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End Notes...

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