TRANSPLAN 21 conference and rally for rail
June 14, 15 on Capitol Hill Washington, D.C.

Vol. 6 No. 18
May 2

Copyright © 2005
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

The E-Zine of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - Jim RePass      Editor - Leo King
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 Sixth Year *

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

  News Items… 
Gunn says Bombardier overestimated brake rotor
  lifespans by about half
House committee okays three rail bills, including Amtrak
Shh: no horns, please
  Commuter lines… 
Georgia commuter rail gets $106 million
New Jersey Transit raises fares
Rail included in Twins plan
Widow sues Metrolink
  APTA Highlights… 
As Fuel Prices Climb, Transit Ridership Grows
Community Leaders Share Success Stories on
  Transit Ballot Initiatives
APTA Among Participants in Event on Aging Issues
  Freight lines… 
CSX, BNSF report big gains
AAR says freight traffic is up again
  Selected Friday closing quotes…  
  Across the pond… 
Japan’s deadliest rail crash in 40 (photo)
50 die in Sri Lanka accident
Swiss finish Alpine bore
Marseille is rail gateway to Mediterranean, Cote d’azur
  We get letters… 

Acelas On Hold

For NCI: W. Hill

The only New York-Washington Acela Express trainset to operate on April 18 after the fleet was grounded four days earlier was the 2038. It is backing into Washington Union Station past HHP-8 No. 660 waiting for a signal on a throat track near the New York Avenue Metro Station.


Gunn says Bombardier overestimated
brake rotor lifespans by about half

Amtrak President David Gunn said on April 27 he believes the makers of the Acela Express trains overestimated the life expectancy of their brake rotors, forcing Amtrak to pull the entire fleet out of service for repairs.

“I believe they misjudged the life of the rotors,” Gunn told The Associated Press during a break in a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Amtrak's Fiscal 2006 budget.

“Their life expectancy was less than they had planned and they were caught without a supply.”

Helene Gagnon, a spokeswoman for Montreal-based Bombardier, Inc., said the brakes' disc face – or front of the disc – showed normal wear but what caused the cracks on the spokes of the brakes was still under investigation, which will take weeks to determine, she said. When the train brakes are applied, the brake pads rub against the disc face, causing friction, she added.

Bombardier and Alstom SA of France make the Acela trains, and have said the brakes should last 1 million miles. The current Acela fleet had about half of that mileage, Gunn said.

Gunn said the timetable for bringing back the Acela trains on a gradual basis was still this summer, adding that Bombardier and Alstom had yet to give Amtrak a delivery schedule for the brakes. Gagnon said the companies hoped to have a schedule within a few days.

Amtrak was forced to pull all of its 20 Acela Express trainsets out of service on April 15 after finding millimeter-size cracks in 300 of the high-speed rail fleet’s 1,440 disc brake rotors. Each train has 72 brakes.

The brake problem surfaced when an FRA inspector discovered the cracks on April 14 after a high-speed run to test whether Amtrak could speed up the Acela trains slightly on curves in New Jersey between Trenton and Newark.

Amtrak's chief operating officer Bill Crosbie said last week that the brake part is unique to the Acela and there was no active production line casting them. Crosbie said the companies had fewer than 70 disc brakes in stock.

Amtrak has had to replace its Acela train routes with slower trains to operate its Washington to Boston trips, but riders and observers have said timekeeping was comparable to the Acelas.

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House committee okays three
rail bills, including Amtrak

Amtrak would receive $2 billion annually for next 3 years


Legislation that would authorize annual funding of $2 billion over the next three years to finance Amtrak’s capital and operating expenses was approved by a voice vote Wednesday by the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

“Although serious disagreements still exist about Amtrak’s long-term management strategy and structure, there is a common understanding of the need for near-term funding,” said Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young.

“This bill, at its requested level of $2 billion per year, will allow Amtrak to continue with critical work under its current five-year plan,” he added.

Young noted, “The legislation also contains funding accountability procedures closely modeled on those already in effect under the current appropriations laws. It is my hope that the funding authorized in this bill will allow a window of opportunity for a last-chance Amtrak turnaround. Whether such an effort succeeds or fails may well depend on how promptly the President selects, and the Senate confirms, a fully-staffed Amtrak board of directors.”

“Just as during the past seven years since the Amtrak Reform Law was enacted, the most important factor will be the willingness of Amtrak management to use the freedom it was given in 1997,” Young said.

House Committee Image

House T&I Committee

House Railroads Subcommittee Chairman Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio), in the middle, convenes a hearing on April 28 on new technologies for rail safety and security. At right is subcommittee member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.)
Ranking Democrat James Oberstar said, “I think very little is understood about the enormous progress Amtrak has made in the past year to improve the quality of the track, the railbed, its rolling stock and to upgrade its operations.”

Oberstar observed, “In David Gunn, Amtrak has a true railroader heading that organization. He is arguably the best person we’ve had in that position since Amtrak was created in 1970, and Railroad Subcommittee chairman Steven LaTourette added, “Years of deferred maintenance have left Amtrak with a deteriorated physical infrastructure, infrastructure which is used not only by Amtrak but also by thousands of commuters each day.”

The solons agreed the measure provides enough funds to begin a capital program to improve both the Northeast Corridor and Amtrak’s aging long distance fleet.

Under the legislation, Amtrak is required to provide Congress with a yearly business plan and bimonthly reports, so the House can track its progress in improving operations and completing necessary capital upgrades.

LaTourette said, “Most importantly, this legislation sends a clear message that we recognize the vital role passenger rail service has in our national transportation system. I hope that H.R. 1630 will give a renewed sense of mission to Amtrak’s workforce, which has been struggling for years just to keep the trains running.”

Specifically, the measure would authorize $2 billion per year for each fiscal year from 2006 through 2008 to the Secretary of Transportation for the benefit of Amtrak capital and operating expenses, and Amtrak excess railroad retirement expense.

The USDOT Secretary would be required to set aside a reserve to ensure that Amtrak meets all of its contractual obligations related to commuter rail and state-supported rail services. Amtrak would be required to submit to the Secretary comprehensive business plans and follow-up reports with separate accounting for its various lines of business, and reports related to capital projects expenditures.

According to Amtrak, this level of funding would be sufficient to begin to address critical needs outlined in its five year capital plan, which is geared to restoring the Amtrak system, including the Northeast Corridor, to a good state of repair, according to a house committee spokesman.

In other House Transportation Committee business, it approved a $60 billion high-speed rail and rail infrastructure bill.

The Railroad Infrastructure Development and Expansion Act for the 21st Century, also called “RIDE 21,” and carrying the number H.R. 1631, was approved by a voice vote.

“RIDE 21 is a historic commitment from this Congress to improve and expand our nation’s rail infrastructure and develop a viable high-speed rail system,” said Young.

“This is a state-empowering bill in which the states will call the shots. States will select and design their own corridors, choose whether to use steel-wheel or Maglev trains, and also determine how and on what schedule they will finance and construct projects,” according to Young.

Oberstar noted, “It is shameful that the United States, the world’s leading economy, is a third-world country when it comes to passenger rail.”

LaTourette added, “Ride 21 has been carefully crafted to preserve the rights of rail workers under existing collective bargaining agreements,” and the legislation “will help our economy by providing thousands of new jobs as high-speed rail expands across the nation. The $60 billion provided in this bill will provide a long-term rail infrastructure program of truly national scope.”

Subcommittee Ranking Democrat Corrine Brown of Florida stated flatly, “This nation sorely needs high-speed rail. The RIDE-21 legislation passed today in the Transportation Committee will allow us to continue to build a transportation system that meets the needs of the future.”

The Railroad Infrastructure Development & Expansion Act for the 21st Century establishes authority for states or interstate compacts to issue $12 billion in federally tax-exempt bonds and $12 billion in federal tax-credit bonds for infrastructure improvements for high-speed passenger railroad infrastructure.

The Secretary of Transportation may approve overall corridor design that has in place agreement of owning freight railroad if its rights-of-way are to be used, eliminates or avoids railroad grade crossings that would impede high-speed operations, and applies prevailing wage rate standards to construction projects. It would also have an interstate compact in place for multi-state corridors.

The USDOT Secretary “may approve projects” to complete a major portion of the infrastructure “to complete a viable and comprehensive corridor for high-speed rail” as defined in 49 U.S.C. sec. 26105 (including corridors designated under ISTEA/TEA-21) at 125 mph or higher.

The Secretary may give preference to projects that use a mix of tax-credit and tax-exempt bonds, link rail passenger service with other modes of transportation, are expected to have a significant impact on air traffic congestion, and are expected to also improve commuter rail operations.

They must also have all environmental work completed and are ready to begin, or have received state or local financial support.

The Secretary may designate $1.2 billion per year for 10 years of private-activity tax-exempt bonds, plus $1.2 billion per year for 10 years in tax-credit bonds. Authority to designate unused annual amounts of each type of bond carries over to subsequent years.

State and local government bonds used for high-speed rail infrastructure must be designated by the Secretary to be tax-exempt. Tax-exempt bond amounts are excluded from the $225 million cap on state-issued, federally tax-exempt bonds.

Potentially displaced workers are provided protection through hiring preference for positions with new providers of high-speed rail passenger service.

States are required to submit annual reports on status of bonds and bond-funded projects.

The legislation reauthorizes and modifies the existing Swift Rail Development Act, a program to develop high-speed rail corridors, by extending the program authority through fiscal year 2011, and offering $100 million per year in general fund grants that are subject to appropriation.

It changes funding emphasis from technology development (from $25 million per year to $30 million per year) to corridor development (previously corridor planning) (from $10 million per year to $70 million per year) and allows acquisition of locomotives, rolling stock, track and signal equipment with program grants.

Several other existing laws remain in place as well.

Finally, federal officials and representatives of the railroad industry some of the steps taken – and potential future steps – to implement new technologies to improve rail safety and security in the U.S.

“Today we heard testimony about new railroad safety technologies, some of which are already yielding benefits to railroad employees, freight carriers and the traveling public,” said LaTourette.

According to FRA data, he said, “Railroad safety has improved significantly over the past two decades. The rate of employee injuries has declined nearly 21 percent during that same period, and railroad employees have an injury rate lower than many other heavy industries.”

FRA Deputy Associate Administrator for Railroad Development Jo Strang said “In general, the safety trends on the nation’s railroads are favorable.”

She pointed out “The preliminary data for calendar year 2004 show that since 2003, total accidents and incidents are down 3.92 percent, and total employee casualties are down 8.75 percent.”

Strang and other witnesses highlighted several safety and security technologies in development. One technology that has interested the NTSB for years is Positive Train Control (PTC) – a relatively new technology involving advanced digital communications and automatic positioning systems to manage and control railroad operations.

“In the past six years, the NTSB has investigated 38 railroad accidents where Positive Train Control is a safety issue,” said NTSB Director of Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Investigation Department Bob Chipkevich.

“Causal factors have often been attributed to train crew mistakes and failure to operate trains in accordance with operating rules.

“Automatic train control systems are safety redundant systems that can override mistakes by human operators and prevent collision and over-speed accidents.”

Strang described the steps FRA has taken to implement PTC, the most recent being a final rule that became effective in March.

“The rule is a performance standard for PTC systems that railroads may choose to install, but does not require PTC systems to be installed. Rather, the FRA is promoting the implementation of PTC by sponsoring development of PTC technologies through partnerships with states and railroads; and by helping to provide the Nationwide Differential Global Positioning System, a satellite-based navigation aid that is essential for communications-based PTC projects,” Strang said.

Tom Rader, President of Colorado Railcar Manufacturing Co., introduced the Subcommittee to his company’s new generation of self-propelled passenger railcars called a “Diesel Multiple Unit” or DMU. According to studies by Rader, the DMU uses approximately half the fuel of a locomotive-hauled train, and significantly reduces air and noise pollution. The vehicle meets all federal standards could provide economical rail service on light-density lines.

Jeremy Hill of Union Switch & Signal testified about his company’s Track Integrity System and a new Automated Train Stop System which monitors train speeds and automatically stops the train for red signals.

The Subcommittee also heard testimony on security technologies in development to prevent and mitigate incidents involving hazardous materials by rail.

According to Strang, “An important component of minimizing the impact of a hazardous material release is the emergency response. Initial discussions with the railroads and emergency responders show both interest and willingness to pursue an improved flow of information. All necessary information is currently available, [but] the missing piece is communications infrastructure to support response improvement,” Strang said.

Daniel Collins, of the Operation Respond Institute, testified that first responders and the railroads have been cooperating with them to provide this information infrastructure through the Institute’s software.

“This software provides a direct link between the software user and the manifests of participating railroads. Through this mechanism, responders can obtain verification of hazardous materials contents of leaking rail cars in less than one minute.”

He added, “All Class I railroads in the U.S. and Canada have signed license agreements with Operation Respond facilitating the exchange of information.”

Strang added that FRA is researching the behavior of tank cars in accidents and car failures in order to improve tank car design.

The FRA also intends to “explore the possibilities of explosive-resistant coatings,” she said, currently used by the military to improve vehicle protection, to prevent and lessen the severity of tank car punctures.

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Shh: no horns, please

Thousands of communities nationwide will have the choice to consider silencing train horns at highway-rail grade crossings based on meeting safety needs, under a final rule the FRA made public a fortnight ago. The new rule also provides a process for localities with existing whistle bans to retain their bans.

“At every step of the process we listened closely to the concerns of the public and local officials to craft a rule that balances safety and quality of life issues,” said FRA Acting Administrator Robert D. Jamison.

“Communities will have significant flexibility to establish or maintain quiet zones for the benefit of their residents while keeping highway-rail grade crossings safe for motorists.”

The “Final Train Horn Rule” becomes effective on June 24, and is the result of a 1994 law mandating the use of the locomotive horn at all public highway-rail grade crossings with certain exceptions. This rule will pre-empt applicable state laws and related railroad operating rules requiring locomotive horns be sounded, and it will supersede an interim final rule.

The final rule provides for six types of quiet zones, ensures the involvement of state agencies and railroads in the quiet zone development process, gives communities credit for pre-existing safety warning devices at grade crossings and addresses other issues including pedestrian crossings within a quiet zone.

Creating a new quiet zone requires, at minimum, that each grade crossing be equipped with flashing lights and gates. Additional safety measures may be required to compensate for the absence of the horn as a warning device. New quiet zones can be in effect 24 hours a day or just overnight between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Communities with a whistle ban in effect on October 9, 1996, the date Congress directed FRA to specifically address the issue of existing bans, and on December 18, 2003, the date the interim final rule was published, will be able to continue to keep the train horns silent for at least five to eight years more as they plan for and install any additional necessary safety measures.

Communities with a whistle ban created after Oct. 9, 1996, and in effect on Dec. 18, 2003, will have one year to install any additional necessary safety measures before the train horns will start sounding again.

The rule also establishes the first-ever maximum train horn volume level and will reduce the amount of time the horn is sounded, which will be beneficial to communities that decide not to pursue quiet zones.

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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

Georgia commuter rail gets $106 million

While the Atlanta-Macon commuter rail line has been talked about for years, this once-elusive project is getting closer to realization.

“We're very excited,” said Georgia DOT spokesman Bert Brantley who added, “The DOT is totally committed to the Atlanta-Macon commuter rail project,” the Macon Telegraph reported last week.

Georgia has secured $106 million, mainly from the federal government, for the project, he said.

Macon Mayor Jack Ellis said April 25 “We can build one mile of rail cheaper than we can one mile of interstate.”

Brantley said the commuter rail system is a DOT priority because it can provide the most ridership for the least cost and use existing Norfolk Southern Ry. tracks.

He said the first phase of the system, from Atlanta to Lovejoy in south Clayton County, is expected to be in use by fall 2006. The second phase would extend the line to Griffin in Spalding County and is expected to be operational in 2008.

No timetable has been set for the third phase, which would stretch from Griffin to Macon, but Ellis said the rail service could be in Macon within a year after Griffin begins service “if we have the political will (in the state Capitol) to commit resources to mass transportation.”

Unlike Atlanta, Macon will not have to build a station from scratch for the rail service, Ellis said.

“The Terminal Station will be used for rail and buses,” he said. “We've got the only true union station in the state.”

Brantley said the Macon link is still years away.

“Right now, there's no need to go any farther than Lovejoy as far as formal meetings. We're on track for [the] Lovejoy (project) moving pretty soon, but it's too far off in the future to settle on a date for Macon.”

Joel Harrell, a vice president for Norfolk Southern in Georgia, said that talks are still ongoing with GDOT. He added plans are on schedule for passenger rail to begin operation in fall 2006.

Under the agreement still being hammered out, the state would lease the rail line from NS, he said, and would make improvements on the line.

“We would be partners with the state,” he said, “but a final decision on that hasn't been reached yet.”

The state would have to upgrade the tracks with heavier rails, new ties, better ballast and super elevation on curves for faster speeds, Harrell said.

The new rails would be able to handle speeds up to 59 mph, he said; right now, the line can handle speeds of only 30 mph.

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New Jersey Transit raises fares

Special to Destination:Freedom

New Jersey Transit’s directors voted April 21 to increase fares, including a controversial provision that would raise off-peak rail fares two-and-one-half times as much as peak-hour and commutation fares, on a percentage basis.

The plan was proposed in January (NJT Fare Increase Draws Ire from Rider Advocates: D:F, January 31), and the board unanimously adopted it, with slight modifications.

One-way, weekly, and monthly rail fares will be increased by 9.9 percent, rather than the 13.3 percent originally proposed. The increase in off-peak round trip rail fares will be 25 percent, down from the original proposal of 32 percent. The percentage of increases were cut after management costs were decreased by $8 million and an additional $4 million came from non-fare revenues.

Some weekly and monthly commuters may see reductions in their commuting costs, however. Commuter ticket holders will be able to get free transfers to feeder buses. Currently, commuters can ride feeder buses at a discounted rate. According to NJT, commuters take 1.1 million feeder bus trips annually, but that will not be extended to single trip or off-peak round trip riders.

The Lackawanna Coalition and the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP) led the opposition to the fare hikes and were joined by the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition. The advocacy organizations complained that it was unfair to subject transit riders to an increase in costs when the gasoline tax in New Jersey, the fourth lowest in the nation, has not been increased since 1988. The riders’ groups also objected to the disproportionate increase in fares for off-peak (midday, evening and week-end) riders, arguing that a huge increase in off-peak fares would discourage discretionary riders from using the trains, and would send many of them onto the state’s highways.

Transit funding in New Jersey remains problematic. There is no dedicated source of funding for either the capital or operating sides of the NJT budget at the state level. There also appears to be insufficient legislative support at this time for an increase in the gasoline tax, despite the fact that transit fares have increased three times since the gas tax reached its present level 17 years ago.

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Rail included in Twins plan

Hennepin County, Minneapolis and the Minnesota Twins last week unveiled a proposal to build a $360-million Twins ballpark in the downtown Warehouse District. Under the terms of the plan, the Twins and the county would build the ballpark on the site near Interstate 394, the end of the Hiawatha Light Rail line and the proposed Northstar commuter rail line.

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Widow sues Metrolink

The widow of the sheriff’s deputy who died in a fiery Metrolink chain-reaction crash near Glendale earlier this year filed a lawsuit April 25 against the commuter rail agency. She is alleging that her husband’s train was unsafe because its locomotive was in the rear, according to the Los Angeles Times.

James Tutino was riding in a train that lacked “adequate safeguards” because it was being pushed rather than pulled by a locomotive, according to the lawsuit filed by his widow, Rita Kay Tutino.

“This tragedy occurred because the train was in push-mode,” said Tutino’s lawyer, Jerome Ringler, who is representing about a dozen other plaintiffs over the derailment that killed 11 passengers and injured about 180 others.

The lawsuit, the first to be filed since the January 26 crash, will likely add to the controversy over the widespread practice of using locomotives to push passenger trains.

Some rail safety experts say trains pulled by a locomotive, rather than pushed, are safer because the locomotive provides added protection for passengers in a head-on collision. They also say that pushed trains are more likely to derail because the cab car in front, lighter than a locomotive, can be wrenched from the tracks more easily. Others say the research is not conclusive and that having a locomotive in front at all times would either be too costly or not feasible.

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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

As Fuel Prices Climb, Transit Ridership Grows

As the price of gasoline passed the $2-a-gallon mark in early 2005 and continues to rise, many drivers are realizing that public transportation offers a more cost-effective way to go. Transit ridership began to climb as agencies put out the message that traveling their way can be cheaper than the car, and the ridership growth has continued as U.S. news media picked up the story.

Transit agencies are marketing their services as a cost-efficient alternative, using piggy banks, vacations, and mortgage payments to get the message across.

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Community Leaders Share Success Stories on Transit Ballot Initiatives

The ins and outs of passing pro-transit ballot initiatives at the state and local levels were the theme of Transit Initiatives and Communities: Lessons Learned 2005, a conference sponsored by the Center for Transportation Excellence, April 10-12 in Charlotte, N.C.

Participants in the conference learned the inside story on many of the successful transit initiatives throughout the country approved by voters in 2004, and lessons that can be applied to other communities.

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APTA Among Participants in Event on Aging Issues

APTA President William W. Millar spoke about the importance of public transportation for older Americans April 14 at an officially designated event for the White House Conference on Aging. The program on “Transportation Solutions for an Aging Society” was held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.

The meeting was one of a series of meetings leading up to the White House Conference on Aging, to be held in October. It was co-hosted by USDOT and AARP along with MIT.

Participants in the Cambridge event agreed on five policy recommendations to be presented to the Policy Committee of the 2005 White House Conference on Aging as part of the process to develop the final agenda. Two of these recommendations are relevant to public transportation: increased investment in public transportation, and Medicare providing payment for non-emergency medical trips.

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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

CSX, BNSF report big gains

CSX and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. both reported large increases in first-quarter profits on Thursday, pushed by higher demands for coal and merchandise transportation.

CSX, based in Jacksonville, Fla., reported first quarter income jumped to $579 million, or $2.56 per share, from $30 million, or 14 cents, in the one-year-ago period. Earnings included an after-tax gain of $425 million, or $1.88 per share, from the sale of its international terminals business.

Earnings from continuing operations in the 2005 quarter were 68 cents per share, compared with 13 cents per share a year ago. The prior year results reflect 14 cents per share in restructuring costs. On average, analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial were looking for a profit of 45 cents per share.

CSX said its core surface transportation business saw revenue grow 11 percent to $2.1 billion from $1.9 billion, led by strength in coal shipments and merchandise, which grew 20 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

BNSF said Thursday that its profits also rose sharply in the first quarter, lifted by strong gains in revenue across all of its divisions.

The nation's second largest railroad company, based in Fort Worth, said quarterly income jumped 66 percent to $321 million, or 83 cents per share, from $193 million, or 52 cents, in the year-ago period. On average, analysts polled by Thomson Financial were looking for income of 73 cents per share.

Operating revenue totaled $2.98 billion for the quarter, an increase of 20 percent from $2.49 billion a year earlier. The company said volume grew 8.6 percent to reach 145.8 billion revenue ton-miles, as revenue per thousand ton-miles climbed to $19.88 from $18.23 last year.

By segment, revenue from shipping coal and industrial and agricultural products swelled 18 percent to $2.9 billion, while consumer-product shipments expanded 22 percent to $1.13 billion, BNSF added.

Both rail companies predicted rosy futures.

“We continue to see unprecedented demand for rail growth,” said Matthew K. Rose, BNSF chairman, president and CEO in a conference call Thursday.

Ward, the CSX chief, said the growth in the economy, restrictions in the trucking industry and record car loadings show a strong future in the growth of rail transportation.

James J. Valentine, an analyst with Morgan Stanley, complimented CSX on its “strong first quarter results, led by good cost control at the railroad and slightly better pricing across all of its transportation divisions.”

Thomas Wadewitz, an analyst with Bear Stearns, mentioned a brief labor strike Wednesday by 8,000 conductors who are members of the United Transportation Union on the northern segment of BNSF. The company quickly obtained a court order forcing them back to work.

“Even if the UTU attempts another strike, our sense is that it is unlikely to be sustained. As a result, we see little risk to BNI stock from this apparent issue with the UTU,” Wadewitz wrote.

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AAR says freight traffic is up again

Freight traffic on U.S. railroads was up during the week ended April 23 in comparison with the corresponding week last year, the AAR reported Thursday.

Intermodal volume totaled 225,201 trailers or containers, up 5.7 percent from last year, with containers up 7.6 percent and trailers up 0.2 percent.

Carload freight, which does not include the intermodal data, totaled 344,323 cars, up 0.8 percent from last year, with volume up 0.9 percent in the West and 0.6 percent in the East.

Total volume was estimated at 32.3 billion ton-miles, up 1.6 percent from last year.

Twelve of 19 carload commodities were up from last year, with farm products other than grain up 13.5 percent; crushed stone, sand and gravel up 11.5 percent; metallic ores up 10.2 percent; and grain up 7.4 percent. Loadings of primary forest products declined 11.4 percent while motor vehicles and equipment were off 11.2 percent.

Cumulative volume for the first 16 weeks of 2005 totaled 5,445,115 carloads, up 2.6 percent from 2004; 3,440,286 trailers or containers, up 7.3 percent; and total volume of an estimated 506.3 billion ton-miles, up 3.5 percent from last year.

On Canadian railroads, during the week ended April 23 carload traffic totaled 71,159 cars, down 4.8 percent from last year while intermodal volume totaled 43,865 trailers or containers, up 4.5 percent from last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 16 weeks of 2005 on the Canadian railroads totaled 1,120,083 carloads, up 0.9 percent from last year, and 668,358 trailers and containers, up 4.2 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 16 weeks of 2005 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 6,565,198 carloads, up 2.3 percent from last year and 4,108,644 trailers and containers, up 6.8 percent from last year.

The AAR also reported that originated carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended April 23 totaled 8,925 cars, down 2.9 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 4,218 originated trailers or containers, up 15.2 percent from the 16th week of 2004. For the first 16 weeks of 2005, TFM reported cumulative originated volume of 138,073 cars, up 3.8 percent from last year, and 60,454 trailers or containers, up 9.4 percent.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 88 percent of U.S. carload freight and 95 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 95 percent and 100 percent. The Canadian railroads reporting to the AAR account for 90 percent of Canadian rail traffic. Railroads provide more than 40 percent of U.S. intercity freight transportation, more than any other mode, and rail traffic figures are regarded as an important economic indicator.

The AAR is online at

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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...


  Friday One Week
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)48.2548.94
Canadian National (CNI)57.2158.93
Canadian Pacific (CP) 34.9235.91
CSX (CSX)40.1339.59
Florida East Coast (FLA)42.6042.55
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)23.9824.98
Kansas City Southern (KSU)18.9219.61
Norfolk Southern (NSC)31.4032.72
Providence & Worcester (PWX)13.6213.90
Union Pacific (UNP)63.9364.48

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

Japan Wreck


Timekeeping may have led to Japan’s deadliest rail crash in 40 years on April 25. A morning rush-hour derailment killed at least 73 people and injured 442 others. Japanese officials are still investigating. Seven cars jumped the rails at high speed, and two coaches slammed into a building. Officials calculated that the train would have had to be traveling at 82 mph, or almost twice the 43 mph speed limit on that section of track, for its wheels to lift off. The train was not capable of such speeds, they said.

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50 die in Sri Lanka accident

An intercity passenger train collided with a bus racing to get to its destination on April 27, killing at least 50 people and injuring 40 others, police said.

The passenger bus, The AP reported, ignored warning signals and tried to cross the tracks near the town of Alawwa in northwestern Sri Lanka when the train hit it, police said. Police at the scene confirmed that at least 50 people were killed, while 40 others were injured, 30 of them seriously, Perera said.

“Our initial investigation suggests that two buses were competing with each other to reach Colombo faster,” Perera said.

A senior railway official said the railroad gate at the site of the accident was the type that closes traffic on the left side of the road. Some drivers in the country risk crossing railroad tracks by using the right lane when the warning signs are going off.

“In this case the bus driver decided to pass using the right side of the crossing,” said G.R.P. Chandratilleke, the operating superintendent of the railways.

The train was traveling from the capital Colombo to the temple city of Kandy when the accident took place. The bus was on its way to Colombo from Dambulla.

Sri Lanka, an Indian Ocean island country of 19 million people, has a tiny railroad system established by British colonial rulers in 1865.

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Swiss finish Alpine bore

With a final blast through mountain granite on Thursday, Swiss engineers linked Europe’s north and south by completing drilling for the world’s longest overland tunnel under the Swiss Alps. It will shave about an hour off the travel time for skiers in Germany heading down to resorts near the Matterhorn.

The AP reported the 21-mile Loetschberg tunnel is the latest in a string of engineering feats – from the Channel Tunnel linking France to England to a bridge spanning Sweden and Denmark – that are breaking down natural barriers in an increasingly borderless Europe.

The Loetschberg, set to open to trains in 2007, will be longer than the current overland record-holder, Japan's 16.4 mile Hakkoda Tunnel, and will become third overall behind the underwater 33.5-mile Seikan Tunnel, also in Japan, and the 31.3-mile Channel Tunnel.

It will trim to less than two hours the time trains will need to cross between Germany and Italy, a journey that now takes about 3 1/2 hours.

The Loetschberg has been dug parallel to an even more ambitious project, the 36-mile Gotthard Tunnel, which will be the world's longest when it is completed over the next decade or so.

For Swiss taxpayers - who are footing the bill for the twin, multibillion-dollar projects, the main selling point is that they will move heavy European Union trucks off narrow highways and onto trains.

The Loetschberg tunnel will have the additional benefit of getting skiers to Swiss resorts more quickly. The trip from Bern, at the northern end of the tunnel, to Visp near ski regions like Switzerland’s Zermatt and Italy’s Courmayeur on the southern side of the tunnel, will be cut in half to 55 minutes from 110.

Trips across Switzerland will be shorter, because trains will not have to make slow, switchback climbs to reach older tunnels. The new track with rails cushioned on rubber will be suitable for high-speed trains from Germany, France and Italy.

On Thursday, after a civil engineer sounded three warning blasts on a horn, dynamite blew through the 12 feet of granite still blocking the way between the tunnel drilled from the north and the other half bored from the south.

“With the breakthrough we have carved out the mountain for all to see. We are moving on,” said Moritz Leuenberger, Switzerland's transport minister.

Switzerland is at the center of a north-south European axis where traffic has increased more than tenfold since 1980. The Swiss have tired of traffic jams caused by big rigs and vacationers filling their narrow valleys.

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People at the station

NCI: Leo King

Throngs of travelers to and from small towns and big cities put their lives in the hands of Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français (SNCF) each day, including at Marseille’s St Charles station, built in 1848.

Marseille is rail gateway to
Mediterranean, Cote d’azur

By Leo King

Photos by the author

French Republic flag
Atop St. Charles Station, the French Republic flag flies in a stiff breeze.
Marseille, April 29 – You would think taking a train to go take some railway photos would be a simple and pleasant thing to do – and it usually is. Sometimes though, bumps lay along the way.

April 25 was a beautiful, sunny day in the south of France, but a bit cool, around 50 degrees. I was out my door by 10:30 a.m. waiting for the Ciotabus that would take me from the Fardeloup section of La Ciotat, France, to the city’s SNCF station, then onto a train for about a dozen miles or so to Marseille, a city of some 2 million people, and big enough to have its own rubber-tired subway lines. The bus was about five minutes late, just late enough so I missed the last morning commuter train. I had to buy my “Marseille return” ticket as well. That’s the French verbiage for a round-trip ticket.

So, the next train going where I needed to go was due at 1:40 p.m., and it was a pleasant day to sit outside and watch all the other trains go by. Since I had spent a couple of hours there a week earlier, I didn’t snap many pictures at the La Ciotat station.

Station Construction

Cogito Technologie

St. Charles Railway Station opened in 1848, with the arrival of the Paris-Lyon-Mediterranean railway. Its large stairway became famous through movies. These 104 steps were meant to link up the station with the city center and to provide an impressive ending to the Boulevard D'Athènes. The project began in 1911 but was only realized in 1926 following WW I.
My train arrived on time, but I was surprised at how decrepit it looked – maybe the oldest push-pull trainset on this part of SNCF. The dark blue paint was barely discernable under all the grime on the control car. The grey with orange striped engine pushing wasn’t much better.

At least the train was clean inside. I sat in a backward-facing seat.

We stopped briefly at a few stations, including Aubagne (“oh-bon-yuh”) and its yard, sometimes with tank cars and other wagons, always with a stored work train with hopper cars, probably used to spread ballast. An elderly diesel switcher is usually present, too. Cannot tell which builder made it, nor which model it is. I was not close enough.

This was the third French train I had ridden, and I was surprised that not only did no one come by to lift my ticket, but I never saw a train crewmember, either.

We arrived in Marseille on time.

Station repairs underway

St Charles is getting a complete facelift – and it needs it.

I’m told the locals spell the city’s name as “Marseille,” but years ago the British added an “s” to it, so most people of the world spell it as “Marseilles.” In print, though, in local newspapers and elsewhere, the “s” is absent.

I waited for most of the travelers to get off. When I left the train, I headed away from the station so I could get some exteriors of the trains.

Some trainmen in black conductors’ uniforms crossed the tracks near my location, and one asked, as best as I can reassemble what I think he said, in French of course, was, “Is that a camera?”

“Oui,” I responded, “pour la choo-choos.” I was pointing to a TGV set.

They got a chuckle out of that.

I started working my way back toward the station, snapping photos as I went. The French flag waved atop the trainshed’s peaked roof. TGVs were all over the place – some arriving, some departing from and for distant places, others going out a mile or so to an engine facility that has a roundhouse – and makes a complete circle. I could not get out there on this day.

The Loacl Arrives

The dust-covered, early afternoon local approaches La Ciotat en route to Marseille.

Destination sign

The Toulon line would take me to La Ciotat, but...
I spent some three hours taking pictures, including going outside onto Athens Boulevard to snap a few of some new construction, which is largely replacing the old steps leading up to the station from the street. That much of the station may have been an architectural gem, but for travelers, it was an incredible pain in the you-know-what, especially if you had multiple suitcases to wrestle with.

I went back inside, up an escalator, and snapped a few more frames.

A security man came over and said something. I thought I caught the phrase, “non fotos.”

I replied in French, “Je ne parlais la français ”– “I don’t speak French.”

He repeated himself a little more slowly. This time, I clearly heard, “...non fotos!”

“Okay.” I put the camera down and put on its lens cap. No argument.

TGVs lined up ready to go

TGVs are lined up for Paris, the azure coast... and the yard.

He took the wind out of my sails. It was around 3:00 p.m. At least he didn’t demand to take the camera. It’s a 4-year-old Nikon Coolpix digital on a monopod.

Now it was time to find a train back to La Ciotat.

Guess what?

A TGV had run into a problem on the Auvignon line, so all trains were running from 15 minutes to 90 minutes late.


A late train means it may not be able to make its return trip on time.

I kept reading the departures board inside the terminal, but not understanding French very well is really a handicap. What was worse was that the departure times on the board didn’t agree with the printed timetable I was holding.

Finally, I heard the woman train caller say something that sounded a lot like “La Ciotat” (pronounced lah see-oh-tah). I listened closely as she went through the list of stations again.

Yup, that’s what she said, but now I had to figure out which track, and if was an express or not – an express to the end of the line at Hyères, some 50 miles away along the Cote d’azur – the Azure Coast.

Instinct took over. Some years working at Amtrak helped. It would make little sense to run an express making no stops with so many people stranded there. Beyond that, she had called a bunch of station names. A crowd had begun marching toward a particular train, so I joined the throng.

It was a newish regional trainset. Not a crewmember in sight. I climbed aboard and found a seat in the now-crowded train.

We left at 4:17 p.m. A “ter” train is scheduled to leave at 4:14. That’s a Mediterranean commuter train. Our first stop was five minutes later at Marseille-Blancarde, but that in itself didn’t mean much. Just like Back Bay Station is five minutes away from Boston’s South Station and all trains stop there, the same, I thought, could be true here.

We stopped at Aubagne, another Marseille suburb, and 14 minutes from our starting point.

TGV departs

These are not local trains – they are the 200 mph high-steppers that Amtrak – and America – can only dream about.

The train was making most stops. We had passed two small stations.

After I got home and had time to calmly study my timetable, I discovered the train I had climbed onto was the scheduled 4:14 departure, enroute to Hyères.

We arrived in La Ciotat on time, and the train departed on time.

Another bus took me close to home, and I walked the rest of the way, camera and monopod still in hand.

The next day was a nightmare. I discovered I had lost my passport. My fiancé, Christianne Hohanessian, and I went to the town hall to get our marriage license. She teaches French to elementary school students, but has Wednesdays off.

Everything was in order, or so we thought. When the clerk asked me for my passport, I reached into my shirt pocket and found – air. I had lost it.

We notified the local police who didn’t care much and said contact the American Consulate in Marseille. We did – but it is a number that only tells a caller things he or she needs to do. There is no way anyone can speak directly with an American representative. No e-mail address, either. I had to go to the downtown consulate the next day (via train of course), ride the rubber-tired Métro four stops over on the No. 1 line, and walk a short distance to the U.S. building. About a month earlier, I had registered there. You never know when you might need their help.

Also, before I left Jacksonville, Fla; for my trip to Europe, I had gotten a couple of spare passport photos – just in case.

Because of our June 4 wedding plans and travel plans after the ceremony, the folks at the consulate fast-tracked it. I had to pay about $90 for a new passport, but it should be ready within a few days.

Stay tuned.


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Poppies trackside

Poppies grow wild everywhere.

WE GET LETTERS...  We get letters...

Dear Editor:

Poor condition and maintenance of equipment, and critical equipment shortages are crippling Amtrak’s long distance trains, but it doesn’t seem that anybody beyond the affected passengers... are paying much attention, even as the company and the media pay such great attention to the Acela trains in the East, now sidelined until late summer 2005 or into the fall.

For two days in a row, Train 28, the eastbound Portland section of the Empire Builder, has departed with only two cars, due to the poor condition of equipment arriving Portland on the westbound train.

Train 28 of April 27 departed with only a coach, a lounge, and no sleeping car. Some passengers were reaccommodated from Spokane in a transition sleeper on the Seattle section; the rest were downgraded to coach. No coach-baggage, so no checked baggage.

The next day, the same train departed with only two coaches. Neither coach was a coach-baggage, so again, no checked baggage. No sleeper, either. Some passengers were reaccommodated from Spokane in a transition sleeper on the Seattle section, the rest were downgraded to coach. No Lounge, therefore no lounge on the Empire Builder all the way to Chicago.

Meanwhile, the Southwest Chief, Train 4 of April 27 set out two cars the next day, a sleeper and a lounge, after both failed their 1,500-mile inspection at Albuquerque. Reasons? Shelled and thin wheels.

Things are bad out here and not getting any better. Amtrak West now has a list of “bad actor” locomotives, which have caused repeated delays due to problems that haven’t been fixed.

As of April 27, until someone can definitively fix them, certain engines will not be allowed to operate on their own as a single unit, or as one of a pair in long distance service. They include two P-42 engines – the 114 with a fuel leak, and 115 with electrical problems. Engine 453’s diesel engine is ill.

As of April 28, add the CDTX 2014. It’s one of the newest Caltrans-owned “Amtrak California” engines, with bad traction motors and dynamics.

Each of these units has delayed at least two trains due to a single recurring problem.

Gene Poon
Rohnert Park, Cal.

Dear Editor:

Regarding your story last week from La Ciotat, France, the most common four-axle container cars used in Europe are approximately 60 feet (20 meters) long. That allows them to carry up to three 20-foot containers, two 28-foot containers, one 40-foot and one 20-foot container, or one 48-foot container by itself.

Some cars have locking pedestals for all these combinations; some are equipped only for some of these loads.

There are some articulated (three-truck) freight cars, with each platform being 20 meters long, and some of these are so-called “pocket” (well) cars that can carry both containers and tall truck trailers.

Though European clearances preclude double-stacking of containers (as on some U.S. lines using well cars) the pocket cars are able to handle tall highway trailers by putting the wheels in the depression between the trucks.

There some older two-axle freight cars also used for containers.

These can carry up to two 20-foot containers or one 28-foot container or one 40 foot container – however, as the four-axle intermodal cars are generally rated for higher speeds and weights, the two-axle cars are slowly being phased out.

Most modern European freight equipment is rated for 120 km/h (approximately 75 mph); some cars for express goods are rated higher, and, of course, some older cars are only allowed at lower top speeds.

In general, European railroads try to keep freight trains moving at faster speeds in order to be able to mix them with passenger trains on the same lines, therefore European freight trains are usually assigned a much higher total horsepower per trailing ton than American trains.

Yes, European freight trains are much shorter. The average long-distance freight is about 40 cars, but even small electrics typically put out more power than the largest American diesels.

Ernest H. Robl
Durham, N.C.

Dear Editor:

You wrote, “If Europe unites itself into a single nation [D:F, April 25], for which residents will be voting on May 29, it will be a borderless region of the world, like the U.S. among the states.”

Actually, only France is voting on May 29, and it is voting to approve or disapprove the current draft of a constitution for the European Union.

If all 25 EU countries adopt the constitution – including France – that nation and all the other countries remain 25 separate countries.

The constitution will standardize certain legal processes, laws and government procedures as well as better defining the EU’s roles and responsibilities as well as the roles and responsibilities of the governments of the member states.

As for a borderless region, time will tell. From the railroad standpoint, the borders will remain for at least a few more decades, as from what I know and have read, Europe’s railroads operate many different standards, some of which are very expensive to overcome. Included in this are different track gauges. Much of Spain and Portugal have a broad-gauge track network. The Baltic countries also have a broad gage track network as does Finland, but it is the so-called Russian broad-gauge, different from Spain and Portugal. Ireland also has a broad-gauge rail network, but as you might have already guessed, it's not the same as Spain nor Portugal, nor the same as the Russian gauge. Much of Greece (especially the southern areas) is a narrow-gauge network.

Then there is the electrification – four different systems in common use across Europe, including 25,000 volts at 50 Hertz (Hz) in parts of France, parts of Great Britain, Denmark, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, parts of Czech Republic and Slovakia plus all TGV and Eurostar lines).

Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, and Norway use 15,000 volts at 16 2/3 Hz.

Parts of France and Holland use 1,500 volts direct current, and Belgium, Italy, Poland, Slovenia, Spain, parts of Czech Republic and Slovakia find 3,000 volts D.C. useful.

Then there is the automatic train control systems and signaling, and nearly every railroad in Europe has its own unique system. Each system in general not compatible with the ATS or signaling system of neighboring countries, which means locomotives in international operations are equipped with more than one system, adding to costs and weight.

The UK has a slightly smaller “loading gauge” than continental Europe, which means slightly larger rolling stock from mainland Europe can interfere and have physical contact with bridges, platforms, nearby structures, etc., on most of the British rail network due to inadequate clearance between these fixed objects and the right-of-way above the tracks.

“For a retired Amtrak train director and block operator, it was an incredible show to watch. La Ciotat is not a junction point, but a great deal of mainline running...” you wrote.

Welcome to Europe.

Here in Haste, Germany, there are on the average each hour four ICEs (two westbound, two eastbound), two to four IC trains (conventional intercity trains), four commuter trains (two westbound, two eastbound), and six to eight westward or eastward freight trains. About 16 to 18 trains per hour equals about 300 to 330 trains per day, not counting the branch line from Haste to Weetzen, which carries two round trip commuter trains per hour during weekdays, one roundtrip per hour otherwise.

Dave Beale
Haste, Germany

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End Notes...

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If you have a favorite rail link, please send the uniform resource locator address (URL) to the webmaster in care of this web site. An e-mail link appears at the bottom of the NCI web site pages to get in touch with D. M. Kirkpatrick, NCI’s webmaster in Boston.

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