Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 4 No. 18, May 5, 2003
Copyright © 2002, NCI, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - James Furlong
Editor - Leo King

A weekly North American rail and transit update


Two Acelas meet in Wash DC

NCI: Leo King

Acela Express 2209, meet Acela Express 2256. The time is 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, May 27. No. 2209, at left, is just arriving on time in Union Station, Washington, D.C. from New York City. Its counterpart, No. 2256, is due at Penn Station, New York at 5:50 p.m., then will continue on to Boston to arrive, if it stays on time, at 9:52 p.m. The next day, both the House and Senate had a flurry of hearings while our NCI meeting was in session. The big question remains: How do we get the folks on the Hill to finally declare, “We need trains!”

 

‘State of good repair!’

Smith, Dukakis explain Amtrak plan
at NCI’s conference; $2 billion a year

By Leo King
Editor

Washington – April 29 The battle cry at Amtrak these days is “Get the railroad reliable and in a state of good repair!”

David Gunn echoed that in Congressional testimony last week as well as board chairman John Robert Smith – who is also NCI’s chairman – at the National Corridors Initiative’s annual gathering April 28 and 29 in Washington.

Amtrak, which celebrated its 32nd birthday in a tumultuous week on Capitol Hill, was created May 1, 1971.

The two-day NCI affair was almost a “who’s who” from Amtrak top management and people working on behalf of passenger rail around the nation, including Amtrak board vice-chairman Michael Dukakis, Midwest High-speed Rail Coalition’s Rick Harnish, former Amtrak Reform Council member James Coston, American Public Transportation Assn. president William Millar and many others.

Smith told the gathering in the Washington Marriott Hotel that under Gunn’s proposal, which the board approved a week earlier, “More than half the funding for capital investment in two categories would include 1,959 track miles of infrastructure Amtrak owns and maintains.” He added, the “passenger fleet needs standardizing, better reliability and availability.”

Smith said the fleet would be “reduced about 10 percent.” That would see the present-day locomotive and car fleet shrink to 2,057 by October 2007 (the start of Fiscal Year 2008) from today’s 2,278, but the result, he said “would be better availability, therefore better capacity with fewer cars.”

There is a great deal of detail in the five-year plan. Details appear elsewhere in this edition of D:F. – Ed.

The five-year plan will take a great deal of money – more than Amtrak has ever asked for before. The bottom line is that Amtrak is tired of playing second fiddle to the highway giant, which gets nearly everything it wants. In short, the carrier isn’t getting a fare share.

“We must focus on the road ahead,” Smith said.

“The basis of the fiscal 2004 plan is the need to bring stability to passenger rail, and to provide safe, secure and reliable service, and reverse recent deterioration of physical plant and equipment,” he explained.

Smith, who is a pharmacist by trade and is sitting mayor of Meridian, Miss., told his audience of about 60 people in his distinctive deep south speech pattern, funding will range from this year’s $1.8 billion “to under $1.5 billion in fiscal 2008 for combined capital investment and operating needs.”

John Robert Smith

NCI: Leo King

John Robert Smith

He admitted the “glide path to self-sufficiency was a myth.”

From 1997 to 2002, federal support for Amtrak averaged $1.1 billion annually, he said.

“On top of that, to make ends meet, Amtrak borrowed $400 million annually, increasing debt by more than $2.5 billion.”

The railroad also “halted capital projects and deferred some non-safety related maintenance to remain solvent” which resulted in “deteriorated equipment and infrastructure – and debt servicing of $250 million annually.”

Smith said starting now, “Amtrak seeks full state funding for incremental operating losses on existing state supported trains.” There will be no new train services “unless the operating loss is covered by the states.”

He said many people have used the term “reform” regarding Amtrak, but depending on whom one speaks to, one is like to get several definitions.

Smith said some policymakers are unhappy with Amtrak, but there is “little consensus on how to reform the railroad.” In his view, he explained, what is needed is a “detailed plan dealing with the legal, financial and physical realities of Amtrak. There is no ‘silver bullet.’”

European nations, especially France, spend upwards of $4 billion annually on their railroads, yet that nation only approximates the size of Texas. America is many times that size, yet we spend only a fraction of that amount. It is a wonder Amtrak has survived at all. – Ed.

He said the five-year plan “will not make us profitable, but it will make us better.”

He said the USDOT would be critical to Amtrak’s future as well.

“We can and must work cooperatively with the DOT because we can agree on the need for prudent fiscal management and a return to a state of good repair as a foundation of any railroad – no matter how it is structured – that serves millions of passengers every month.”

Smith had nothing but praise for David Gunn.

“Gunn was showing he could deliver on tighter accountability and control, and financial transparency.”

Former Massachusetts governor and 1988 Democratic Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, ever a dynamic a speaker, delivered his remarks with gusto.

He said this day’s speech would be his “swan song” because he was coming to the end of his five-year term on the Amtrak board.

He predicted if Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) “becomes President, we will have the first President in my lifetime who feels passionately about the importance of the national high-speed rail system.”

Kerry was Dukakis’s lieutenant governor.

Amtrak board vice-chairman Michael Dukakis said at last week’s NCI meet some top Amtrak officials will travel to Tallahassee, Fla. later in May to meet with that state’s transportation secretary. Their intent is to convince the Jeb Bush administration the state does not need high-speed rail. They are going to propose Amtrak use a currently freight-only CSX single-track line between Orlando, Tampa and Miami and if necessary, double track it.

Dukakis said, “The numbers being thrown around area absolutely ridiculous. For less than $1 billion, using existing rights-of-way, we can give Florida a relatively high-speed rail passenger system, including new equipment. Compare that with the $3 billion the state is currently spending to widen Interstate 4 – 87 miles from Orlando to Tampa.”

Gov. Mike Dukakis

NCI: Leo King

Michael Dukakis

The route is about 264 miles and passenger trains currently travel up to 79 mph. Dukakis said the Amtrak proposal will be to increase speeds to 110 mph. Currently, trains 89/90, the Palmetto; 97, the Silver Meteor (southward); and 92, the Silver Star (northward) travel the route. – Ed.

Reviewing the last five years, Dukakis said when the new board was appointed in 1997 and 1998 under new reauthorization legislation, “We were told by the Congress to do everything we could to make this system ‘operationally self-sufficient.’ Some people suggested we should have gone right up to Congress after we were confirmed and said, ‘It won’t happen, there’s no way, forget it.’”

He added, “If Congress, in its wisdom, says, ‘We’re creating a new board, we’re going to give you some modest, capital funds and we want you to make this system operationally self-sufficient,” then I think you have a responsibility to try to do everything you can to try to do that.”

He emphasized, “You can’t do it without an assured source of capital investment in the system.”

Dukakis had ridden the Federal overnight from Boston on its inaugural run (it replaced the Twilight Shoreliner) and would return to Northeastern Univ. for a graduate student class that afternoon. He said there “was a brand-new, rebuilt café car just out of the Bear shops (in Delaware) on the train… a forerunner of things that are going to happen in the future – I hope.” He teaches political science. He flew home. – Ed.

He said the result of all that was that “We had to borrow more, not only for capital investment, but, at times, for operating expenses.”

Dukakis added, “A portion of the funds we now need to support ourselves – $250 million – is debt service.”

He also explained “We are also spending about $160 million a year on what we call ‘excess railroad retirement,’ that is, payments into the railroad retirement fund on account of employees who never worked for Amtrak. That’s something in excess of $400 million, which we have to pay now because of our collective failure to create a obstruction and an assured source of capital funding which this system can use just as our friends on the highway and airport and transit people now enjoy.”

He, too, had high praise for David Gunn.

“We’ve already seen the effects of focused, intensive management of this company. David’s arrival on the scene has not only provided credibility generally for Amtrak, but he has won a lot of friends, and I think it sets the stage – I hope, at least – a serious debate about reauthorization which will take us into the future, without continuing complaints that we’re fat and happy.”

In retrospect, he continued, “You better go out and do everything you can to buy stuff that’s tried and tested,” an oblique reference to the Acela Express trains.

“As we look ahead, and given our experience with the Acela, one of the important lessons we’ve learned is that when you go out to build a modern, relatively high-speed national rail passenger system, look for tried and tested technology. Don’t get too cute, don’t get too fancy, don’t try to invent a train. Buy something that works and can meet those kinds of speeds, and do it as quickly as you possibly can.”

He noted that in California, the trains are “heavily supported by the state,” for both capital and operating plans.

He said even though the country is “in the middle of a travel depression, ridership of the Pacific Surfliner is up about 26 percent, the Capitals are through the roof,” although he had no specific numbers, “and even the San Joaquins are up about 6 percent.”

The state “has invested more than $1 billion,” he said, and that is why ridership is rising.

He said a similar result is occurring in the Pacific Northwest and the Cascades service.

“Absolutely trouble-free operations” there, he said.

Amtrak’s biggest question mark for the days ahead is what will the Congress do with, for or about Amtrak – if anything.

Dukakis declared, “It seems quite obvious – I think there is a bipartisan majority – at least in the Senate – which will support this.”

He explained, “When we went out to get sponsors for the so-called High-Speed Rail Investment Act,” the answers they got were, ‘It’s too complicated, it’s too difficult.’ We had about 65 cosponsors of that bill… and the Senate hasn’t changed that much.

“For heaven’s sake let’s come up with the money and let’s commit it.”

He continued, “The House is a different kettle of fish, but….” His thought remained unfinished.

“Duke,” as his friends call him, views passenger railroading in America as a “no-brainer. If we’re going to build this kind of system, we have to have a trust fund. We do not have to raise a new tax. I don’t care what the revenue source is. Pick it. Pick a source and raise about $4 billion a year and designate it for rail. As long as it grows with inflation, that’s all you need.”

He urged the movers and shakers to “look at the states, look at localities. We take a penny of the sales tax… At one time we were paying for capital expenses for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority with cigarette tax money in Massachusetts. There doesn’t necessarily have to be a correlation between the revenue source and the users; but it’s a question of designating a source at whatever level we’re looking for, and I would argue $4 billion is the right level (it’s right where the Hollings bill sets it).”

He said Gunn’s goal of $1.5 billion is about right for Gunn’s plan to keep the railroad “in good repair, and with good operations. He’ll need a couple of billion to get serious about cars. That’s essentially what we need – about 8 percent of what we’re spending on highways, airports and airline subsidies today.”

The former governor, speaking without reference to notes or text, said, “I know there are other views in this town, although I sense a lot of skepticism among many of our supporters – Republicans and Democrats alike – in Congress over these so-called reform proposals. It doesn’t work for the airlines, and it can’t work for rail. It just isn’t close. I think one of the great contributions our new CEO has made to this debate is to demonstrate, in point of fact, you can’t manager Amtrak and manage it well when we’re just beginning that process. You also have to acknowledge that we’ll require a short source of capital funding and modest operating subsidies.”

Iraq came into his presentation.

“I don’t know what we’re spending on Iraq’s rail system, but last week, we began to spend U.S. tax dollars on rebuilding Iraq’s rail system. Think about it. Now that may be the right thing to do; I don’t know – I’m not an expert on the Iraqi economy – but all I know is your tax money and mine is already beginning to flow as of last week Iraq’s rail system. Isn’t it interesting, that one of the first things out of the block when it comes to the reconstruction of that country is the rail system, and it will be American taxpayers that do that.”

After the Gulf War ended in 1991, the Iraqi State Railways remained mostly in disrepair, sources said.

Dukakis was critical of the Bush administration.

“I don’t understand what the Bush administration is talking about. What’s the model for its proposals for reform, or, for that matter, the reform council?

The Bush administration proposed a national rail plan on April 29 to restructure Amtrak and leave important decisions about train service, including long-distance routes, to the states. “We do not propose to eliminate Amtrak, but we do propose comprehensive structural changes,” said Michael Jackson, the deputy transportation secretary, said at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing. Details appear below. – Ed.

“Is it the airlines? I mean, is that the model for which we’re going to base the new national rail passenger system? I’m not quite sure that’s the standard to which we want to repair. As Gunn has said repeatedly, there’s nothing wrong with the model, but it has to be managed very, very well, and it has to have an assured source of capital funding, preferably in a federal-state sharing basis –80-20, 75-25 percent, when everything is appropriate, which is roughly equivalent to what we do with highways and airports.”

Dukakis drew some analogies.

“The market is a wonderful thing, but it doesn’t work in health care, right?” he asked his audience.

“It doesn’t work in transportation, otherwise we would be not pouring billions into the airline industry, and heavily subsidizing truckers and buses with your taxes and mine, and urban transit as well.”

He also pointed out, “It clearly didn’t work when it came to generating and distributing electrical energy” to Californians.

“When it comes to transportation,” he explained, “we’re dealing with something else.

“Now I know there are proponents both within the Administration and outside the Administration who think the way we ought to go is to separate responsibility from infrastructure from operations – a truly ‘looney idea,’ to quote my friend Gunn. I agree with him.”

He recalled as governor, he ran the MBTA for 12 years, “and the notion of separating those responsibilities was completely insane.” He added, “This notion that we’re going out to bid on individual lines to somehow maximize efficiency and competition is just foolish.”

He opined he was sorry to see Amtrak giving up the MBTA contract, particularly since ridership had grown 8 percent to 9 percent annually since the carrier took over commuter operations from the Boston & Maine Corp. He was the Massachusetts governor at the time, in the late 1980s.

“There were serious liability issues” with the T’s new proposal, he said.

“We’re doing everything we can to make sure this transition to the new operator is a seamless and a good one.”

Massachusetts Bay Railroad Co. will take over train operations on July 1, but Amtrak will retain dispatching services, at least on the Attleboro line. Amtrak and MBTA trains leaving South Station in Boston enroute to Attleboro and Providence travel over the Northeast Corridor, and Amtrak’s trains continue on to New York and Washington.

“The winning bidder will be paid in the first year of his contract $45 million more than the T is currently paying Amtrak. By the way, we’re now told we’re going to get a fare increase.”

The big question concerning Amtrak remains: How do rail advocates get the people on Capitol Hill to finally declare, “We need trains!”


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Don Phillips gets first Phillips award

Don Phillips, acknowledged by the NCI board of directors to be the best reporter from a general news publication, was last week’s recipient of the first Don Phillips Media Award for excellence in journalism. The Washington Post reporter has consistently demonstrated his ability to understand railroad “lingo” and turn it into copy an average, non-railroader can understand – and remain accurate.


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Thank you

To each of our speakers and all of our attendees, thanks so very much for helping to make this year’s conference one of the most successful ever. While turnout was lower than last year, we expected that, and we know that our message is getting through. The quality of this year’s presentations was just superb.

Best to all, and again, many thanks. Any and all ideas for next year’s conference are welcome. I have begun work on it already.

Jim RePass
President & CEO
The National Corridors Initiative


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Colordo RAILCAR DMU deisel commuter unit

Christopher Holliday

Are Colorado Railcar’s products in Amtrak’s future? Railroad president and CEO David Gunn has called for the carrier to acquire “diesel rail cars” for its New Haven, Conn. – Springfield, Mass service, a short, 62-mile route. Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black says, “This hasn't been detailed as yet, so it's premature” to state specifically it’s these kinds of cars the railroad is considering. “It’s still in formative stages.” On April 12, Colorado Railcar’s RDC called on Napierville, Ill., and its station. The two fellows are (L) Tom Rader, Colorado Rail Car’s president, and Tom Janaky, the firm’s vice-president, sales. The occasion was a demonstration ride for attendees of the APTA Commuter Rail Conference held in Chicago April 12 to 16. The firm describes its DMU as a “self-propelled commuter railcar… that can pull up to two additional coaches.”

 

Quinn remains pro-Amtrak; changes lie ahead

Congressional hearings abounded last week, both in the House and Senate.

Federal and state transportation officials told a House panel that while has Amtrak has made “some improvements” in its operations and passenger rail service during the past year, “many more substantive improvements are needed” to transform it into a profitable system that provides better service to rail customers.

The testimony on Amtrak’s operations came during a hearing by the House Subcommittee on Railroads.

“A little less than a year ago, Amtrak was on the brink of a system-wide shutdown,” said Rep. Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.), the subcommittee chairman.

“The vaunted Acela train was having serious reliability problems, a fleet of wrecked and damaged cars was sitting outside the repair shops, employee morale was at an all-time low and the company’s coffers were nearly empty. Fortunately, that crisis was avoided,” Quinn recalled.

“In his time at the helm of Amtrak, David Gunn has streamlined the company workforce, begun discussions on providing parity on state-supported trains, begun a repair regimen to return the wrecked and damaged cars to service, terminated unprofitable lines of business and refocused the company on its core mission – moving passengers. Amtrak is now operating under ‘Generally Accepted Accounting Principals’ and its books are open for review,” Quinn said.

“David Gunn has proven that he is the right man at the right time, but he needs our help. Despite these recent successes, Amtrak is still teetering on the brink of financial insolvency. A single setback could cause Amtrak to miss its payroll. Congress must act now to provide stability to our passenger rail system.”

Quinn, who is passionately pro-Amtrak, told the panel and witnesses, “Our nation’s rail infrastructure, both passenger and freight, has been suffering for years from a lack of long-term capital investment. The Northeast Corridor is in need of major rehabilitation. Tunnel improvements along that system are estimated to cost billions. These issues must be addressed – regardless of what form they take – if we want a viable passenger rail system in the future.”

He noted that he recognized “the various opinions of my colleagues on the need to privatize part of the system, and I am willing to entertain any proposals that ultimately will result in a safe, reliable and efficient passenger rail system in this country; but I stand firm in my commitment to a national system. Simply eliminating the unprofitable long-distance trains will not fix all. I look forward to a greater focus on corridor development and working with the states to explore ways to provide necessary service at a reasonable price to the federal government,” Quinn said.

Among the first witnesses was FRA administrator Allan Rutter, who testified Amtrak has made improvements since Gunn began leading Amtrak last year, but that the Administration still has proposed some major changes that must be made to improve Amtrak’s service and operations.

“Money alone is not the answer,” Rutter said, then asking, “What to do?

He answered himself.

“In short – embrace a new business model for passenger rail, and because meaningful change will be difficult, we should be willing to implement needed reforms at a deliberate, but measured pace. In fairness, I believe that many House members who voted for the last authorization of Amtrak thought they were doing just that. In retrospect, that legislation was insufficiently bold and fundamentally flawed to the extent that it relied upon Amtrak to reform itself.”

Rutter said the Administration supported expanding the Amtrak authorization period from four years to six years to allow enough time to fully implement needed restructuring in one authorization cycle. During this six-year period, Amtrak “would be required to form a pure operating company – one that does indeed make a profit by providing excellent service” for its customers.

Rutter also said the Administration’s proposal would create a new legal entity, a federal-state compact to operate the Northeast Corridor infrastructure under a 99-year lease from USDOT.

Rutter added, “The Administration’s proposal would authorize multi-state interstate compacts to operate intercity rail in areas served by access to freight railroad tracks. Either individual states or regional rail operating companies formed for this purpose could apply for and receive capital grants from the DOT for corridor modernization.

He said, “They would also have the authority to enter private debt markets to finance capital improvements.”

David Gunn, Amtrak’s president and CEO, told the Subcommittee that rail service has improved since he became the head of Amtrak in May 15, 2002.

“Expenses at the railroad are dropping as the result of many actions, while maintenance activity is increasing,” Gunn said.

“We have redirected resources into basic maintenance and restored vital programs. We are rebuilding wrecked, out-of-service cars and should have 15 cars back in service by May.”

“On the infrastructure front, our track-laying system train will be back in service in May after sitting idle for a number of years, and it will be removing aged wooden ties and replacing them with concrete ties which creates greater road bed stability and better ride quality,” Gunn said.

He also outlined Amtrak’s proposed five-year strategic plan that he said would further improve service.

“We will stabilize Amtrak and bring the railroad up to a state of good repair, and if fully executed, our equipment will be in good condition – and on regular maintenance cycles, which means improved reliability and utilization. The backlog of critical needs to our Amtrak infrastructure will be significantly reduced.”

David King, the Deputy Secretary of Transit for the North Carolina DOT, told the subcommittee that many state transportation agencies are seeking to move forward to improve passenger rail service.

“I want to assure the committee that many states are ready to begin implementing a high frequency, high-speed rail passenger network now,” he said.

King is also chairman of the States for Passenger Rail Coalition.

“States are making investments in commuter, intercity and high-speed rail systems that serve state, multi-state and national interests,” he said.

“States make these investments in concert with local communities and commuter agencies, with Amtrak and the freight railroads, and with adjoining states. However, the federal government should not expect the states alone to build a national high-speed rail system. States need federal leadership and a strong federal funding partner to more fully undertake this task.

“Development of a high-quality, high-speed intercity passenger rail network can help mitigate congestion. Development of high-speed rail transportation will help stimulate economic growth by creating new jobs and by increasing mobility,” King said.

The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is online at www.house.gov/transportation


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Capitol Limited at Union Station, Wash DC.

NCI: Leo King

Train No. 29, the westbound Capitol Limited, will be en route to Chicago from Washington in less than ten minutes on April 27. One week ago Sunday was its last day on the old schedule (3:10 p.m. departure). It now leaves our national capital at 5:20 p.m., daily. Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black tells us the only Superliner-equipped trains in this region right now are the Capitol Limited and the Auto Train, which ends its northerly run from Sanford, Fla., at Lorton, Va.

 

Jackson explains Bush rail plan
to Senate committee; Gunn testifies

The White House says the only way to go with Amtrak is to write legislation for a six-year plan for national rail service – and the states would have to pay a share, too.

The Washington Post’s Don Phillips reported the feds would pay about half the capital costs for passenger routes, mainly new short-distance corridors between urban areas, and states would assume liability for operating costs nationwide.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, chaired by Amtrak arch foe Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) took testimony from Deputy Transportation Secretary Michael P. Jackson, Amtrak CEO David Gunn and others.

Jackson said the plan is not a “Trojan horse” to abolish passenger rail.

“When this model is embraced, I personally think that the nation will see more rather than less passenger service,” Jackson told the Senators.

The long-promised bill is the Administration’s effort to solve Amtrak’s continuing budget problem. Amtrak is dependent on federal subsidies, with the government providing a little more than $1 billion in the current fiscal year. Amtrak’s Gunn has said he will need $1.8 billion next year to continue operating the system and begin refurbishing the run-down Northeast Corridor.

Under the Bush plan, the badly deteriorated rail infrastructure between Washington and Boston would be leased for 99 years to a federal-state compact that could apply for capital-improvement grants and could also finance improvements through private debt markets.

The plan is not in final legislative form, and several key questions remain unanswered, including how much money the Administration would be willing to commit. If the federal government funds half the capital costs of only a moderate number of the urban corridors that states already have in the planning stages, it will spend many billions of dollars more per year on passenger service than it does now in subsidizing Amtrak.

States are likely to view the program in sharply different ways. For California and Oregon, which are already paying most of the capital and operating costs of their expanding passenger rail systems, the plan could provide a windfall of new capital funds.

Northeast Corridor states, which now pay for a minor portion of capital improvements, would be expected to pay for half of such improvements, potentially a new multibillion-dollar liability. Some estimates put the cost of making the deferred capital improvements as high as $12 billion. Almost 90 percent of trains in the corridor are commuter trains serving Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Jackson said that the bill’s financing requirements would be phased in over the six-year authorization period, apparently meaning that the federal government would pick up a major portion of that initial capital investment.

The plan faces an uphill battle in Congress, which has repeatedly voted to keep Amtrak running in its present form but has provided far less money than needed to keep the system in good repair.

The committee asked almost no questions about the Jackson plan. Instead, the hearing evolved into the familiar argument among committee members over whether Amtrak should operate a “national system”—code for long-distance trains.

The hearing sometime grew testy as McCain repeatedly asked why some long-distance trains, such as the Orlando-Los Angeles Sunset Limited, are allowed to run at all, and Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) saying a “national system” is necessary.

Under the administration plan, states would be allowed to form compacts to continue operating long-distance trains, with the states paying all operating costs. For the planned new short-distance corridors, the federal government would provide passenger-train grants to states and state compacts, much as the Transportation Department’s Federal Transit Administration now funds new rail transit systems.

Because the federal government owns most of the Northeast Corridor, it would be treated differently, with a new federal-state organization handling financing and applying to the federal government for grants. Initially, Amtrak would be broken into two companies – one handling operations and the other doing maintenance; but the compact would eventually be required to put out operating and maintenance rights to competitive bidding to other entities, in addition to Amtrak.

In areas where Amtrak trains now run on freight railroads, the FRA eventually would accept competitive bids from operating companies, including Amtrak, and award operating rights. Amtrak’s current “preemption” rights to run on freight railroads would be transferred on a route-by-route basis to any new operator.

In an effort to ease the staunch opposition of freight railroads to any such idea, Jackson said the preemption rights would be awarded to only one operator.


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Gunn’s unabridged text to the Senate
Commerce-Transportation committee

The following material is the testimony of David L. Gunn, President and Chief Executive Officer of Amtrak before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Tuesday, April 29, 2003.

Chairman McCain, Ranking Member Hollings, and members of the committee, I thank you for the opportunity to appear today to discuss the future of Amtrak, the company’s FY04 funding request and the broad strokes of our five-year capital plan.

When I arrived at Amtrak on May 15 of last year, the corporation was in serious trouble. Amtrak faced insolvency. Sometime in July, we would miss our payroll. The physical plant had been allowed to deteriorate. Heavy maintenance of cars and infrastructure had ceased several years ago –over 100 cars were wrecked or damaged and out of service. Fiscal controls were inadequate. We would be unable to close our books for FY01 until September of the following year. There was no regular reporting of financial results. The organization was poorly defined and did not lend itself to effective decision-making. Amtrak’s management was top heavy – 84 people had “vice-president” on their title. The budget process was ineffective, and there was no control over staffing. Our credibility as an organization was in tatters.

Our immediate goal in June and July 2002 was to secure funding to allow us to survive into FY03. However, at the same time, we had to lay a foundation for the future. The Board of Directors and I set a goal to have in place by October 1 a functional railroad organization, a zero-based budgeting process, and public reporting of financial and physical results. We also began focusing on controlling expenses. We were successful – we secured a loan from DOT and a supplemental appropriation from Congress that allowed us to make it through the end of the year and avert a transportation crisis.

We entered FY03 with an appropriation from Congress which was essentially zero based and which focused available resources on beginning the rebuilding process, as well as controlling expenses. Highlights of the events of the past ten months are contained in the exhibits you have before you.

Expenses at the railroad are dropping as the result of many actions, while maintenance activity is increasing. We have redirected resources into basic maintenance and restored vital programs. We are rebuilding wrecked, out-of-service cars and should have 15 cars back in service by May. To bring our passenger equipment to a higher state of reliability and utility, we have restored the overhauls of cars simultaneous with their four-year inspections.

On the infrastructure front, our track-laying system train will be back in service in May after sitting idle for a number of years, and it will be removing aged wooden ties and replacing them with concrete ties which creates greater road bed stability and better ride quality. In addition, concrete ties last about three times longer than wooden ones, and so you immediately cut recurring maintenance costs with each concrete tie you put in. With a thousand fewer people now versus 12 months ago, we are doing all this with a smaller budget, and we are doing it effectively. We have a long way to go, but it is a start.

We have closed our FY02 books, six months earlier than last year, and I will make them available to you very soon. Our board receives complete GAAP (generally accepted accounting principals) financials, three weeks after the end of each month – which you receive as well. Barring forces beyond my control, we plan to make our budget for FY03, although our cash situation will be perilous. In any event, we must restore our working capital – a necessary requirement for any business.

Earlier this year we sent to Congress our board approved FY04 funding request for $1.812 billion of which $1.044 billion would be spent on capital investment and $768 million for operating support. Earlier this month I testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury to this effect. The capital investment would be used to continue the restoration of our fleet to improve reliability, service and revenue, fulfill our statutory mandates, and make critically needed infrastructure investments to the existing national system and the Northeast Corridor, which we own. There is no new borrowing assumed in this budget, nor any expansion of service. We have seen a reduction in our total costs from FY01 to FY02, and we expect the trend to continue from FY02 to FY03.

Regarding the future, I realize that many are unhappy with Amtrak, and usually every discussion ends with the call for reform. Unfortunately, there is little agreement on the nature of reform. What is needed, no matter how we define this reform, is a detailed plan which deals with the legal, financial, and physical realities of Amtrak. The progress we are making so far is the result of a plan – many small steps that already and will ultimately continue to improve our service and financial results. It will not make us profitable; it will make us better. There is no single, simple solution to the Amtrak problem. One cannot be developed overnight – it will take time and thought. I guarantee you though, the problem will be a lot easier to deal with if my approach is successful and the railroad is in a state of good repair.

The only way to bring discipline to large organizations like Amtrak is to build a tight structure, hire and retain competent managers, and institute a strict budget process. My philosophy for managing includes five basic tools:

With these five tools in place, you can manage. They also keep you honest. For too long Amtrak did not have a process that created internal accountability, and the annual funding provided by Congress has always left it close to the edge. So it is no wonder why the problems we have had are both significant and recurring. Even with tighter management and better financial accounting, there are still big risks. However, through better management, we will be able to avoid these recurring financial crises, which divert attention from the real problems and decisions which need to be made.

Clearly, over the next few years, we must define the reform we want and develop a detailed plan to achieve it. We have already instituted several reforms, but in considering reform, I would ask you to bear in mind the following myths that are prevalent in some circles:

Myth #1 – Amtrak can be profitable.

No national rail passenger system in the world is profitable. Without public subsidy, there will be no passenger rail transportation systems in the United States.

Myth #2 – The private sector is dying to take over our services.

Remember why we were formed. We are what is left of a once privately run enterprise.

Myth #3 – Long-distance trains are the problem.

This is perhaps one of the biggest myths. If on a fully allocated basis, you might start to save significant amounts of money after a number of years. Focusing on this problem is not going to save Amtrak. This approach is a red herring.

Myth #4 – Amtrak is a featherbed for labor.

Our wage rates are about 90 percent of the freight industry and are even lower when compared to transit. Wages are not the problem; generating a higher level of productivity, that is the challenge. It is management’s duty to seek such improvement.

Myth #5 - The Northeast Corridor (NEC) is profitable.

The NEC may cover most of its above-the-rail costs, but it is an extremely costly piece of railroad to maintain. Railroads, both passenger and freight, are extremely capital intensive. The NEC is not profitable and never will be. Sure, private groups might be interested in having it, but they would take it only with the promise of massive capital infusions.

Myth #6 - There is a quick fix – reform.

The word reform is like catnip to those interested in a quick fix to Amtrak. If the answer were quick and easy, we would have solved the problem long ago. What needs to be done is to tightly manage the company and its finances and begin to make incremental but critical improvements to plant and equipment. As I stated before – there is no silver bullet.

At some point, Congress will turn its attention to the reauthorization of Amtrak, and it will be in this venue that the future of rail passenger service will be decided. In the year that I have been here, I have been struck by the amount of attention that Amtrak generates without real progress occurring in addressing the long-term funding problems that everyone knows exist. I realize that Amtrak is partly to blame for this paralysis of action; recurring crises distract us from the central issues that should be discussed. I know that Amtrak for too long had been engaged in the charade of pleasing its detractors by endorsing the concept of self-sufficiency.

Let me be clear, however, that despite the best management that could be brought to this railroad, without support for a realistic investment over the next few years, we will always remain on the edge and the problem will grow worse, risking a real disaster either physically and/or financially. The lack of a detailed policy will soon produce unwanted consequences.

You have before you Amtrak’s five-year strategic plan. I believe it is both a practical and pragmatic plan that shows what needs to be done and what can be accomplished with a consistent level of funding from FY04 through FY08. We will stabilize Amtrak and bring the railroad up to a state of good repair. If fully executed, our equipment will be in good condition – and on regular maintenance cycles, which means improved reliability and utilization, and the backlog of critical needs to our Amtrak infrastructure will be significantly reduced. Regardless of what policymakers decide is the future for Amtrak or rail passenger service in the United States, I would argue that the steps outlined in the five-year plan are essential and would have to be done in any case. The first down payment on that plan would be in FY04.

Our plan also represents the least expensive and least disruptive course of action for the Congress. Unfortunately, in the past few years, a troubling pattern has emerged of creating new oversight responsibilities as a substitute for a real discussion on the issue. This is a “mugs game,” a distraction with no real benefit to anyone unless the goal is to interfere with this company reaching fiscal stability and a state-of-good-repair.

Repairing and improving this railroad is the board’s and my immediate goal and is in everyone’s interest. We have a five-year plan that will accomplish this, and I am asking for your support and leadership as we move forward. I would urge you to consider this plan in the broader context of Amtrak’s reauthorization where it really should be done, and end this stutter-step practice of reforming Amtrak through the annual appropriations process.

Whatever you ultimately decide to do, I would argue that what is proposed in the plan will have to be done in any event, and it will be the least costly option. The railroad must be stabilized and the asset improved – regardless. Taking these steps will provide clear guidance, goals and objectives that will help all of us to avoid these regular and recurring crises that have become so tiresome. If we fail to take these steps now and address these issues, the results could be disastrous.


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Five-year plan looks for big repairs

Amtrak released a five-year strategic capital investment and operating plan on April 25 to restore its physical plant and train equipment to “a state of good repair” and improve the railroad’s operational reliability.

An Amtrak press release stated, “The plan is based on prudent investments in existing infrastructure and equipment, and proposes no new significant passenger services, focusing instead on improving the reliability and cost-efficiency of the passenger railroad’s existing services.”

In outlining the plan, Amtrak President and CEO, David L. Gunn said, “This plan is very specific and precise. It details exactly what we propose to do with equipment, track, signals, interlockings, bridges, maintenance facilities and other assets and how it will improve our operational reliability.

“While there has been much discussion of ‘reforming’ Amtrak in recent years, no matter what reforms policymakers may want, you have first got to get costs and reliability under control,” said Gunn.

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

To support the strategic plan, Amtrak proposes that annual federal funding range from “$1.8 billion in Fiscal Year 2004 to under $1.5 billion in fiscal 2008” for the combined capital investment and operating needs, with more than half of this funding invested in two major capital categories – the “1,959 track miles of infrastructure that Amtrak owns and maintains and the passenger fleet, which would be better standardized to increase reliability and availability, while reduced by about 10 percent (from 2,278 passenger cars and locomotives today to 2,057 in fiscal 2008),” the press release stated.

Gunn noted, “Infrastructure improvements under the plan include installing 428,000 concrete ties” over 162 miles of track, “replacing 270 miles of rail and refurbishing 200 miles of catenary – including replacing some catenary poles more than 90 years old – replacing 225 miles of ballast, and replacing 40,000 switch ties and 26 interlockings.”

Among the improvements to communications and signals would be installing new computer systems at dispatching centers in Boston, Philadelphia and New York, replacing seven signal houses and updating 30 miles of electrical cable with fiber optic cable.

The plan also includes replacing two movable bridge spans in Connecticut over the Thames and Niantic (Nan) Rivers, improvements to eight other bridges (including an annual replacement of 2,200 bridge ties), and completing a new maintenance facility in Oakland, Calif., which is currently under construction.

Under a four-part fleet rehabilitation program emphasizing the retirement of very old cars, repairing wreck-damaged cars, overhauls to achieve intended “asset lifespan” and remanufacturing to extend lifespan beyond original design, “Amtrak intends to substantially increase the reliability and availability of passenger cars and locomotives. On average today, only 81 percent of cars on corridor trains are available for revenue service,” the press release stated.

This would increase to 90 percent with increased overhauls and remanufacturing under the plan. Similarly, while only 71 percent of the long-distance fleet is available today, the four-part initiative would increase availability to 89 percent (locomotive availability would also increase from 68 percent to 86 percent).

Overall, 46 corridor passenger cars, 142 long-distance passenger cars, 147 locomotives and all 64 aging Auto Train auto carriers would be retired.

The railroad would buy “14 new RDC units, 75 long-distance cars, 25 switch engines and 80 new auto carriers.”

Gunn said, “This plan is comprehensive and thorough. Every dollar is strictly accounted for, and anyone reviewing the plan can understand where and why the money is being invested.”

Gunn added, “The dividend of such investment would be a railroad in good operating condition, with overhauled, safe, reliable, and well-maintained equipment. For the tracks we own, it will mean a state of good repair, far fewer speed restrictions that degrade capacity, riding comfort and schedule reliability.”

Over the course of the five-year strategic plan, Amtrak estimates that its operating cash loss will decrease from $744 million to about $650 million, as a result of a combination of management initiatives and revenue growth based in part on improved operational reliability.

Management initiatives include “rationalizing the mail and express service, which is presently underway, improved schedules, better crew utilization and negotiated work rule changes with its agreement-covered employees,” Gunn said.

Taken altogether, these initiatives are expected to result in $120 million in annual savings by fiscal 2008, according to Amtrak.

“While the current annual baseline passenger revenue growth is 1 percent, with improved equipment, greater reliability, some individual trip time reductions, and an improved travel economy by fiscal 2005,” the company estimates an annual revenue growth of 4 percent, or $222 million by fiscal 2008.

Amtrak stated it “will not undertake new train services unless any operating loss is fully covered by the state or states it serves. Additionally, beginning in fiscal 2004, Amtrak plans to seek full state funding for any incremental operating loss associated with existing state-supported services.”

The first part of the carrier’s five-year plan is its current request for a $1.8 billion appropriation, currently under consideration in Congress.


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Legislators save Georgia Rail Passenger
Authority; $400,000 in new plan

The Georgia Rail Passenger Authority has survived a tumultuous state budget process that at one point threatened to doom the rail development entity.

Rail Manager Doug Alexander said the GRPA’s Fiscal 2004 budget was cut by $156,000 from the preceding year to $400,000. In addition, the unit will lose $75,000 that had been contributed to it annually by the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, whose own budget was reduced by 9 percent.

Despite these cuts, Alexander said, “Considering that the Senate had originally wanted to zero out the…[GRPA] budget, we are in pretty good shape. Special thanks go to the Speaker of the House, Terry Coleman. He went to the mat for the authority and kept us from going under.” Alexander also expressed gratitude to supporters who had e-mailed, written or phoned members of the legislature.

GRPA was created by the General Assembly in 1985 to develop rail passenger service for Georgia, and the authority’s board was constituted in 1994. The legislature has provided modest funding so far – enough to pay for studies, “but never nearly enough to get trains running,” according to the Georgia Association of Railroad Passengers, Inc.


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BNSF stops Amtrak P-42s on San Joaquins

Burlington Northern & Santa Fe last week restricted all Amtrak P-42 engines from San Joaquin service and blamed the engines for not tripping grade crossing protection.

The 4,000 hp locomotives were restricted following two incidents, on April 23 and another on the 25th.

Train 702 of April 25 ran with engine 78 hauling four cars. BNSF reported that the train “failed to operate the grade crossing warning devices” at milepost 1,056 in Merced, Calif.

BNSF had reported the same problem two days earlier with Train 717 at several grade crossings between MP 1,014 and MP 1,060 in the same area.

A BNSF investigation showed a train running ahead of 717 had triggered all the grade crossing warning devices properly.

When Train 702 (on the 25th) arrived at its destination, Bakersfield, BNSF inspected the equipment and found no defects. Amtrak Mechanical forces from Los Angeles also inspected the equipment and found no defects. As a result of these incidents, and with no apparent explanation for two failures of P-42-equipped San Joaquins to trigger grade crossing warning devices, BNSF stopped any P-42s as sole power on the trains.


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LABOR LINES...  Labor lines...

Labor says unions not to blame

Total labor costs at Amtrak, including wages and benefits, have remained constant over the past 21 years and have actually declined in real dollars, providing conclusive evidence that Amtrak’s employees are not to blame for the national passenger rail carrier’s financial troubles, according to an economic study released last week.

“Just as the myth that Amtrak can exist without subsidy must end, so too must the myth – and the scorn it breeds – that Amtrak workers make too much and sacrifice too little,” said Edward Wytkind, Executive Director of the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD).

Wytkind released the report on behalf of the organization’s rail unions in testimony this morning before the House Railroads Subcommittee in support of securing long-term financing for Amtrak and its infrastructure. Rail workers and their unions have long been at the forefront of efforts to urge Congress and the White House to increase investments in Amtrak and America’s intercity passenger rail network. Just last summer, TTD and its rail unions mobilized to save Amtrak from financial insolvency by securing a much needed federal loan guarantee and later winning the battle in Congress for adequate federal assistance.

The report, prepared by noted economist Thomas Roth of the Labor Bureau, Inc., shows that Amtrak employees earn 22 percent below the prevailing rates of their counterparts in the freight rail industry. It also states that Amtrak’s labor costs account for 47 percent of the carrier’s total operating expenses, well below the same costs associated with commuter and urban rail systems.

In addition, the report found that as a percentage of total operating expenses, Amtrak’s employment costs have not increased since 1984. The report notes that since 1980, Amtrak wage rates have fallen in real terms, increasing between 82.8 and 83.1 percent compared with the 103 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index.

In his testimony, Wytkind stated that Amtrak workers have gone since 1998 without new contracts and said, “We insist that the jobs and livelihoods of Amtrak employees are not ignored or cast aside. New collective bargaining agreements must be completed without further delay.”

The Roth study and testimony are online at www.ttd.org.


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Railroad retirement threat derailed

United Transportation Union’s national legislative director, James M. Brunkenhoefer, who was a speaker at the NCI conference last week, said on April 30 that an initiative that threatened unemployment compensation and pension benefits administered by the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board has been derailed

“This is another victory in the preservation of Railroad Retirement,” said UTU International President Byron A. Boyd Jr.

Brunkenhoefer explained how a Congressional initiative related to proposed tax cuts could have affected railroaders’ benefits.

He said, “The Bush Administration recently proposed to Congress an enormous tax cut that would extend over a ten-year period. Congress had to make room for this tax cut by cutting government expenditures. The Republican House Budget Committee included in House Concurrent Resolution 95 (HCR 95) language that required that within the ten-year period, additional legislation would be passed that would cut $3.7 billion in ‘waste, fraud or abuse’ from transportation mandatory programs.”

Brunkenhoefer detailed his report and said, “This obviously was inspiring rhetoric, but those voting on this legislation appear to have failed to recognize that the only way to achieve savings of this size would be a severe cut in Railroad Retirement and unemployment compensation programs.”

He added, “After the passage of HCR 95 by the House of Representatives, it appears that Congress recognized its mistake. When the conference committee considered HCR 95, the language that would have affected Railroad Retirement was removed.”

He opined, “Even if the proponents had been successful, there were still several other legislative requirements before any such cuts could become a reality,” so, “In effect, this train was derailed before it ever made it past the first siding, much less before it arrived at its home terminal.”


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IN THE DESERT...  In the desert...

Iraqis repair Baghdad-Umm Qasr line

The Train Orders web site (www.trainorders.com) reports British military and Iraqi railroad workers made a test run on April 30 of a vital rail line from Baghdad south to the port city of Umm Qasr.

Expected to open for passengers April 26, the train line should be a boon to the U.N. World Food Program, which plans to move some 140,000 tons of food per month on freight trains along the route. The train also is expected to bring fuel oil from Umm Qasr to Baghdad to power electric plants in the Iraqi capital.

On the railroad, Iraqi crews, working under British military supervision, repaired the line within three weeks. The original tracks were built by the British around the turn of the century, and much of the rail line had fallen into disrepair over the past decade.

“There's been some damage from the conflict, but on the whole, the line’s pretty much intact. Most of the damage is from neglect and lack of machinery," a British officer said.

“They knew how to do their job well. They just haven't had the equipment,” he added.


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

AAR reports ‘flat’ freight traffic count

Freight traffic on U.S. railroads was virtually the same during the week ended April 26 as it was during the corresponding week last year, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported May 1.

Intermodal volume totaled 187,683 trailers or containers, up just 0.3 percent from last year. Carload freight, which doesn’t include the intermodal data, totaled 330,058 cars, virtually the same as last year, with loadings up 1.2 percent in the West, but down 1.5 percent in the East. Total volume was estimated at 28.7 billion ton-miles, the same as last year.

Eleven commodity groups showed gains from last year with coke up 40.6 percent; metallic ores up 29.8 percent; and both farm products other than grain and waste and scrap materials increasing 11.5 percent. Among the eight commodities registering decreases were motor vehicles and equipment, down 20.0 percent and grain, off 8.9 percent.

The AAR also reported the following cumulative totals for U.S. railroads during the first 17 weeks of 2003: 5,418,428 carloads, up 0.6 percent from last year; intermodal volume of 3,097,596 trailers and containers, up 7.7 percent; and total volume of an estimated 481.0 billion ton-miles, up 0.8 percent from last year’s first 17 weeks.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 90 percent of U.S. carload freight and 96 percent of rail intermodal volume.

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

On Canadian railroads, intermodal volume was up while carload traffic was down during the week ended April 26. Intermodal traffic totaled 42,801 trailers or containers, up 2.6 percent from last year. Carload volume of 65,658 cars was down 1.7 percent from the comparable week last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 17 weeks of 2003 on the Canadian railroads totaled 1,048,525 carloads, down 1.0 percent from last year, and 679,085 trailers or containers, up 10.6 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 17 weeks of 2003 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 6,466,953 carloads, up 0.4 percent from last year, and 3,776,681 trailers and containers, up 8.2 percent from last year.

The AAR also reported that carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended April 26 totaled 6,896 cars originated, down 25.5 percent from last year. TFM reported originated intermodal volume of 3,185 trailers or containers, up 5.4 percent from the 17th week of 2002.

For the first 17 weeks of 2003, TFM reported cumulative originated volume of 147,834 cars, up 3.9 percent from last year, and 60,028 trailers or containers, up 41.3 percent.

AAR is online at www.aar.org.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: Bloomberg.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)28.00027.890
Canadian National(CNI)47.69046.870
Canadian Pacific(CP)22.69022.730
CSX(CSX)32.01031.060
Florida East Coast(FLA)26.45025.800
Kansas City Southern(KSU)11.00011.210
Norfolk Southern(NSC)21.15020.600
Union Pacific(UNP)59.70059.360


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OPINION...  Opinion...

Needed: a small town lobby for Amtrak

By Wes Vernon

Small town America is going to have to organize and use the political process to defend its own interests on the issue of rail passenger service.

More to the point, small town America is going to have to correct all the misinformation, half-truths and outright lies that are being spread in the media with regard to the long-distance trains that connect the small towns to each other and to urban centers. In that sense, it is not only the small towns that will suffer if long-distance train service disappears.

“My wife and I go to New York and stay in hotels, we’ll see a show and do some shopping,” Altoona, Pa., Mayor Tom Martin recently told The AP, “I know a lot of people who do that because it’s convenient and cheap.”

In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg already may be in the process of shooting himself in the foot by proposing tax hikes that risk driving residents and businesses out of the city, thus possibly reducing the city’s revenue. He doesn’t need even further erosion of already declining tourism. He and other big city mayors should also make the case for trains that go beyond getting commuters into the center city from their bedroom communities, although, if Bloomberg’s commuter tax becomes a reality, that may be a problem, as well.

However, this fight will have to be organized and advanced by the small towns, some of which would be threatened with a form of isolation if they lose their train service.

Last month, Amtrak’s director of governmental affairs, Ray Lang, made a trip to Shelby, Mont., to appear at a Saturday morning (April 26) forum at Shelby High School Auditorium, specifically to address the future of the Empire Builder in that state. He is made the trip at the invitation of Sen. Conrad burns (R-Mont.).

“Many Montanans have contacted my office with concerns about the future of the Empire Builder,” Burns said in a press release issued last month, “I felt it important for folks on the “hiline” [remote areas not far from the Canadian border] to hear it directly from Amtrak and asked Mr. Lang to come out to Shelby and talk to Montanans.”

The U.S. Postal Service has just bailed out of its contract with Amtrak for mail service west of Minneapolis, despite the lack of good highways to some of the small towns in Montana and North Dakota that are serviced by the Builder.

Lacking hard evidence, I will refrain from any conspiracy theories about the fact that this deprives the train of revenue, thus providing potential ammunition for Amtrak’s critics to “bloviate” about how the train supposedly is bleeding red ink to the tune of XYZ dollars per passenger in taxpayer subsidies.

In some instances, passenger rail advocates have fallen into a “divide and conquer” trap. Edson Leigh Tennyson, a onetime Pennsylvania Secretary of Transportation when Milton Schapp was governor, has outlined in an e-mail message why Lewistown in his state is more deserving of passenger train service than Temple, Texas. He was taking issue with an AP article that compared the plight of the two communities. Small towns that are in danger of losing their passenger trains don’t have the luxury of arguing among themselves over this issue.

Exposing the lies in the attack on small town America – and that is exactly what it is – can best be exposed with plain facts.

Comes now Dick Spotswood, former Mayor of Mill Valley, Calif., and a director of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District.

Writing in the February 28 issue of Rail Travel News, he laments that “We have failed to get the truth out to the press, opinion makers, and our Congressional representatives.”

The op-ed pieces and letters to editors that grassroots small town Americans need to write, he says, “must correct the record, while pointing out the economic and practical merits of long distance passenger trains.”

In a long article taking stock of David Gunn’s first year performance in office, the Washington Post for April 21 says the Amtrak boss “has avoided being dragged into the perennial debate over what to do about long-distance trains,” other than to note their relatively small portion of the Amtrak deficit.

In a House hearing in early April, the Administration, which had severely criticized long distance trains in its 2004 budget proposal, had “modified” that attitude “somewhat,” the Post reported.

The agenda for small town America is clear.

In addition to setting the record straight and untangling the botched and distorted statements and figures echoed by the fact that the average mainstream journalist has other priorities and thus is transportation ignorant, there is a political dimension that must be confronted.

The small towns in the “red states and counties” that George W. Bush carried in 2000 need to let it be known that if the “somewhat modified” rhetoric on long-distance trains is calculated to “cool it” until after the 2004 elections, with an intent to lower the boom after the votes are counted, it won’t work. The folks in rural America were not born yesterday. They should and will see right through it. They should hold the politicians accountable now, and for a change, make rail passenger service an issue.

The President is understandably distracted by other priorities, with the recent war in Iraq, the war on terrorism and the economy here at home. There is no intention here to add to his already immense burden. I happen to think that George W. Bush is a good President. By the time his tenure is at an end, there is a good chance he will prove to be a great President (There are other issues besides transportation, after all).

That does not negate the fact that the small towns that gave him their votes and were instrumental in putting him in office have every good reason to seek a commitment from his administration on the future of their passenger trains.


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

RS-3 at Boston

NCI: Leo King

Back in the good ol’ days, the New Haven Railroad ran RS-3s built by Alco. Oh, sure, they had fancier Alco power, like their sleek and spiffy DL-109s, and a few years later, their PAs and FAs – all made by Alco. The NYNH&H (its formal name was New York, New Haven & Hartford, but everybody, on and off the railroad, called it the “New Haven”) was a big branch line road. The New England freight and passenger carrier found multiple uses for their road-switchers. They could haul a local freight one day, then turn around and tug a commuter train the next, maybe from Greenbush or Fall River, Mass., to Boston; maybe from New Haven to New York’s Grand Central station; Springfield to New Haven.

End Notes...

We try to be accurate in the stories we write, but even seasoned pros err occasionally. If you read something you know to be amiss, or if you have a question about a topic, we'd like to hear from you. Please e-mail the crew at leoking@nationalcorridors.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write.

Destination: Freedom is partially funded by the Surdna Foundation, and other contributors.

Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images that appear in Destination: Freedom may do so at a nominal fee of $10.00 per image. "True color" .jpg images average 1.7MB each, and are 300 dots-per-inch for print publishers.

In an effort to expand the on-line experience at the National Corridors Initiative web site, we have added a page featuring links to other rail travel sites. We hope to provide links to those cities or states that are working on rail transportation initiatives - state DOTs, legislators, governor's offices, and transportation professionals - as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists.

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


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