Vol. 7 No. 21
May 8, 2006

Copyright © 2006
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

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

A weekly North American rail and transit update

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

* Now in our Seventh Year *

This page is best viewed at 800 X 600 screen resolution


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

  News Items... 
After 35 Years, Amtrak’s future uncertain
Former Amtrak CEO David Gunn - featured speaker at
   two important events this month.
  Commuter lines… 
MBTA proposes fare increase on all services
SFRTA/Tri-Rail gets a green light
SEPTA provides Broad Street Line ‘Sports Express’ service
Caltrain told to electrify or lose funding. Project would
   make locomotives faster.
  Environmental lines… 
It’s BESS for buses
  Maintenance lines… 
Mechanical goals advance toward a state of good repair
‘T’ worker uses hair cap to save agency money
  Off the main line… 
Retail returns to Randolph Street Metra stop
Amtrak is just the ticket to beat high gas prices and
   visit downstate Illinois
  Freight lines…  
Union Pacific will hire 5,000 this year
Gas prices actually drive business up for one
   First Coast industry
  Friday closing quotes… 
  Business lines… 
Boom Time for North America’s Railways
Probing Question: Why don’t we have high-speed trains
   in the U.S.?
NCI responds
  We get letters… 
  End notes… 

After 35 Years, Amtrak’s future uncertain

Across the wires from Associated Press

In an article by Donna de la Cruz, Washington analysts express a variety of opinions on the source of problems that have plagued the railroad for 35 years.

Last year, President Bush proposed no federal aid for Amtrak. Its highly touted high-speed train was sidelined for months with brake problems and its president was fired. Still, the passenger railroad chugs on and celebrated its 35th birthday last Monday, May 1.

“Amtrak keeps making promises that things would get better, one promise after another,” said Joseph Vranich, a former Amtrak spokesman and former member of the Amtrak Reform Council. “But people fall for the promises, and Amtrak survives.”

Former AMTRAK Chair, David Gunn

AP PHOTO-Vaughan Merchant

Former Amtrak President David Gunn, poses for a photo in West Bay, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia on Friday April 28, 2006. Amtrak and its critics are at odds over the railroad's future, as it marks its 35th anniversary.
Keith Ashdown with the group Taxpayers for Common Sense said Congress shoulders some of the blame for Amtrak’s financial woes. The railroad always seems to teeter on the brink of failure, only to be pulled back by a last-minute infusion of cash from Capitol Hill.

Amtrak has debt of more than $3.5 billion and its operating loss for 2005 topped $550 million.

“Congress has been practicing schizophrenic leadership, trying to give Amtrak tough love, but then giving them the money anyway, but no real clear consensus opinion on how they want Amtrak to change,” Ashdown said. “There’s never been any real direction given to Amtrak except saying that they have to be more fiscally responsible.”

David Hughes, Amtrak’s acting president, said the railroad’s future is bright. It is streamlining its finances and revamping the long-distance routes while, at the same time, boosting customer service. He lauds the accomplishment of establishing a mission: to provide the country with “safe, reliable intercity passenger service in an economically sound manner that will exceed customer expectations.”

But his predecessor, David Gunn, isn’t buying it.

Gunn, fired last November after opposing the Amtrak board on a host of issues, said he believes the board will hire a president who “won’t challenge City Hall” and will not block the Bush administration’s goal of dismantling Amtrak.

Administration officials say they want to reform Amtrak, not destroy it.

“If they hire a serious person, someone who believes there should be intercity passenger service in this country, that person is being hired by a government that is trying to destroy the company,” Gunn said from his home on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, Canada.

“Reform is their code word for ‘Make it go away,”’ he added.

Bush had proposed no money for Amtrak in 2005, but Congress approved $1.3 billion in subsidies. Amtrak’s budget request for the next fiscal year is $1.59 billion, while Bush is calling for $900 million.

Gunn said $900 million would force the railroad to “eviscerate the system,” saying that is too little for capital costs.

Some analysts say Amtrak must stop relying on subsidies, and that some of its operations should be privatized.

Ronald Utt, a transportation analyst with the conservative Heritage Foundation, said Amtrak should look to Japan, Britain and Canada for some ideas.

He used Britain as an example where rail routes were put out for bid and now some of the private companies have turned a profit

He also mentioned that Canada has reduced its railroad’s annual subsidy and that much of Japan’s railroad industry is privatized.

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Former Amtrak CEO David Gunn will be the featured
speaker at two important events this month.


On May 16, David L. Gunn, former Amtrak CEO and president, will participate in a panel at the Virginians for High Speed Rail 10th Annual Meeting at the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News.

Topic for the panel is: “If rail (passenger and freight) is such a good idea, why aren't we seeing more progress in the USA? What will it take to make rail a more attractive option?”

Gunn will be joined by James McClellan, recently retired senior vice president of planning for Norfolk Southern, and Don Phillips, former rail writer for the Washington Post, now with the International Herald Tribune in Paris. Phillips will serve as moderator of the panel.

The meeting will begin at 11:45 a.m. at the Mariners“ Museum, 100 Museum Drive, Newport News. Lunch will be at noon.

Registration can be done on line at www.vhsr.com by credit card or by mail with a check. Mail checks to VHSR, 5101 Monument Ave, Richmond, VA 23230

For more information, visit the website or call (804) 864-5193.


On May 24, Gunn will speak at the Annual Meeting of The Association for Public Transportation.

This special evening with the former Amtrak President & CEO will feature a lively discussion on the Future of Intercity Passenger Rail in America.

The meeting will start at 7:15 PM at Harvard Club Back Bay, 374 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA 02215

For further details --- APT Hot-line: 617.482.0282 e-mail: apt@car-free.com - www.car-free.com.

Registration: Members: $25   Non-members $35.

Mr. Gunn has more than four decades of experience in railroading, including senior management positions at Toronto Transit, Washington DC Metro, NYC Transit Authority, SEPTA, New York Central, and Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe. Earlier, he was Director of Operations at the MBTA. Mr. Gunn has a unique appreciation of the challenges facing passenger rail, both nationally and locally. He holds Bachelors and Masters degrees from Harvard College and Harvard Business School, respectively.

The Association for Public Transportation was founded in 1973 with the mission that efficient, affordable, and accessible public transportation is critical for the region's economic prosperity and quality of life. APT works for an improved and expanded public transportation network in Greater Boston and New England. APT publishes the classic transportation survival book “Car Free in Boston” which is now in its tenth edition.

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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

MBTA proposes fare increase on all services

By DF Staff and select press outlets

According to numerous press sources the MBTA is proposing more fare hikes that would see subway fares go to $1.70 per trip, up from $1.25. Commuter rail passengers would see increases of about 25 percent, and bus fares that currently range from 90 cents to a $1.55 would be set at a uniform $1.25.

The last fare increase took effect less than two-and-a-half years ago in January 2004, when the base subway fare rose from one dollar, and bus fare went from 75 cents to 90 cents. If approved, the new fare structure and associated changes would go into effect January 2007.

The MBTA says it is several billion dollars in debt, and faces rising costs of fuel and security.

Among the changes that would take place along with the rate increase, free rides on the outbound Green Line may be discontinued.

“ It’s a ritual of most Boston University and Boston College students, enacted on lazy Monday mornings as well as on big-party Friday nights: taking the free outbound ride on the B Line, up through Allston and beyond. The elderly on the C Line use the free ride as well. As do the Northeastern students on the E Line, and the Fenway [baseball] fans on the D,” said Deirdre Fulton in a story for the Phoenix Media/Communications Group.

Fare-increase workshops will take place on Monday, May 15, from 4:30 to 6:30 pm, at the State Transportation Building, 10 Park Plaza, Boston; Monday, May 22, from 3:30 to 5:30 pm, at the Tip O’Neill Federal Building Auditorium, 10 Causeway Street, Boston; Tuesday, May 23, from 6 to 8 pm, at the Cambridge Citywide Senior Center, 806 Mass Ave, Cambridge; and Tuesday, June 6, from 4:30 to 6:30 pm, at the Copley Square Public Library, 700 Boylston Street, Boston.

Public hearings on the fare increases are scheduled for May and June, when many of the above-mentioned Green Line riders are out of town. Comments can be sent to fareproposal@mbta.com. Additional information can be found at www.mbta.com.

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SFRTA/Tri-Rail, The first of six new GP49H-3 locomotives

For NCI: Bill Volkmer

The first of six new GP49H-3 locomotives which were purchased from Norfolk Southern and remanufactured by Mid-America Car and Locomotive Company of Kansas City, MO. These locomotives have EMD 12 cylinder, 645 engines as prime movers and Detroit Diesel engines for the head end power. Tri-Rail expects to achieve much greater fuel economy than currently being experienced with 16 cylinder engines


SFRTA/Tri-Rail gets a green light

Car rental surcharge bill goes to Gov. Bush for signature

By DF Staff and from press sources

In a 34-4 vote, the Florida Senate has given final approvals to a bill allowing for a $2-daily surcharge on car rentals as reported by the Sun-Sentinel news.

The measure is designed to provide the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority with a steady source of cash. The SFRTA would use the expected $48 million in annual revenue for mass transit projects designed to ease the region’s traffic congestion.

If Gov. Jeb Bush signs the measure, and area the county commissioners give their approval, the levy would start Jan. 1, 2007. However, Florida’s car rental industry and anti-tax legislators believe the surcharge could damage the state’s tourism industry and also affect more residents than tourists because of in-state rentals.

In late March of this year the SFRTA initiated a new 40-train daily schedule between Miami Airport and Mangonia Park, which is north of West Palm Beach. The service is an increase from the previous 28 daily trains, signifying the end of a double-tracking project begun in 1995. Yet to be completed is a double track flyover bridge over the New River in Fort Lauderdale, which is currently being served by a single-track drawbridge. Completion of the double track flyover is slated for 2007.

The ten-year double-tracking project also included the expansion of several of the line’s stations from single to double platforms and several new bridges over some canals. Passenger traffic is already up about 10% over previous levels as a result of the more frequent service and improved on-time performance.

In addition to six new locomotives, SFRTA/TriRail has received the first two of six double deck diesel-multiple-unit (DMU) cars being constructed by Colorado Railcar Co. of Fort Lupton, CO.

In a story by Chuck McGinness for the Palm Beach Post he notes, “The self-propelled car, known in the industry as a diesel multiple unit, is one of the largest — and most luxurious — commuter rail cars ever built. It’s 2 1/2 times more fuel-efficient and more than four times quieter than the typical locomotive in tests on the Mangonia Park-to-Miami rail corridor. The interior is more luxurious than that of the typical Tri-Rail car, with extras for both casual and business travelers, such as theater-style seats and booths with work tables and power outlets for laptop computers.”

“This is a major milestone for us,” said Jim Scott, vice chairman of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority.

The commuter rail is now on the rebound after months of late-running trains caused by construction and freight trains interfering with passenger service. Hundreds of riders were driven away by the unreliability of the service.

“ ‘We’ve had passengers who’ve had to endure a lot,’ said Joe Giulietti, the authority’s executive director. ‘To those passengers who quit riding, all I can say is, it’s going to be better than before.’ “

[ Thanks to Bill Volkmer who contributed to this article - Ed .]

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SEPTA provides Broad Street Line
‘Sports Express’ service

Across the wires from SEPTA, via PRNewswire

PHILADELPHIA, May 5 /PRNewswire/ -- SEPTA was ready to provide special Broad Street Line “Sports Express” service for the 27th Annual Blue Cross Broad Street 10-Mile Run this past Sunday, May 7.

Every competitor was offered a free ride on the Broad Street Line to the race starting line at Broad Street & Somerville Avenue. The race was scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. and all participants were invited to ride the subway to the Olney Transportation Center (Broad Street & Olney Avenue), near the race starting point. Runners were required to display their official competitor bib number upon entry at any Broad Street Line Station to ride free.

Starting at 5:15 a.m. six Broad Street Line Sports Express trains were added to the regular Saturday schedule for the race.

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Caltrain told to electrify or lose funding.
Project would make locomotives faster.

Across the wires from Inside Bay Area.com

Three counties in the San Francisco area are being warned they may lose $41 million in regional funding if they can’t cover the $91 million shortfall by 2007 in the project to electrify Caltrain, writes Erik Nelson in an article for Inside Bay Area.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission issued this warning last Wednesday, May 3, in an effort to get things moving.

“If all we’re going to do is talk about this project, you can do it 10 years from now,” MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger warned commissioners from San Francisco, who succeeded in putting off the ultimatum’s deadline until Dec. 1, 2007. “We have seen through bitter experience that with big-ticket projects, delay and time is the enemy.”

Three independent counties must be able to come to an agreement on sharing the funding. Right now, San Francisco is on the hook for almost the whole $91 million. With a little more flexibility in the deadline and the percentage required from each county, this should help the three counties to work out a plan.

The electrification would have many benefits:

It would make trains faster and quicker to accelerate, quieter and less polluting than the diesel locomotives that now pull the train.

In addition, it would permit the extension of the line to San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal, where passengers could switch to BART and Muni rail service as well as buses and ferries connecting with the rest of the Bay Area.

The $471 million project is estimated for completion by 2014.

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ENVIRONMENTAL LINES...  Environmental lines...

It’s BESS for buses

Source: Long Island BusinessNEWS

GARDEN CITY, NY, May 2 -- With an eye toward efficiency, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is introducing a new method to power its buses, writes Jean Paul Vellotti, in an article siting cost savings and “off the grid” electricity for MTA.

The New York Power Authority has begun construction of a “battery energy storage system” (BESS) at the MTA’s Garden City facility.

Presently, 220 MTA Long Island buses are powered by compressed natural gas instead of petrofuels, such as gasoline. The new battery unit will specifically power the energy-hungry compressor required to fuel these CNG buses.

By storing electricity purchased “off the grid” during nighttime hours, NYPA said, the bus company will be able to avoid higher energy costs than those generated during peak daytime hours. The MTA had previously tried to lower associated fueling costs by running the compressor only at night.

The system, which cost $3.8 million, is expected to be complete by the fall. ABB, a Norwalk, CT.-based clean energy company, will help manage the installation and then test the system, which is capable of discharging one megawatt over a seven-hour period.

NYPA’s Energy Services Program has earmarked $1.9 million for the project, with an additional $1.9 million in funding by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, the Electric Power Research Institute, the Long Island Power Authority, the Canadian Energy Association, the American Public Power Association and several other electric utilities. The MTA will pay back NYPA over several years.

The MTA has an additional one-hundred-ten petrofuel buses that make up its Nassau County fleet.

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MAINTENANCE LINES...  Maintenance lines...

Jon Gedek installs water piping in Superliner I Sleeper Car 32056

Photo: Amtrak Ink

Pipefitter Jon Gedek installs water piping in Superliner I Sleeper Car 32056, scheduled to be released next month.


Mechanical goals advance toward
a state of good repair

Reliability and availability improves in FY ‘06

Source: Amtrak Ink

With half the fiscal year under its belt, the Mechanical department has made steady progress on its goal to increase the reliability and availability of Amtrak’s equipment.

As a result of the department’s efforts over the past several years to upgrade, rebuild and maintain the rolling stock, Amtrak estimates that 53 percent of passenger cars and 91 percent of the locomotive fleet will be in a state of good repair by the end of this fiscal year.

With the successful re-launch of the Empire Builder service last year with a “captured fleet” of remanufactured cars, work is continuing on equipment to expand this initiative to one or more other services. Accordingly, Superliner remanufacture and overhaul projects aimed at refurbishing a total of 134 Superliner I and II cars are underway at the Beech Grove Maintenance Facility.

Budgeted at approximately $46.7 million, the project involves the overhaul of 68 Superliner I cars and remanufacture of 66 Superliner II cars. To cycle this number of cars through the back shop, Beech Grove employees are minimizing the shop time by improving processes and increasing efficiencies.

A remanufacture differs from an overhaul in that all of the car’s components are removed and new and rebuilt parts are installed, often according to a new or updated design. Remanufactured Superliner cars are equipped with new bathroom modules, toilet systems, lighting, carpet and interior walls, along with overhauled bunks and other amenities.

Vanessa Thomas replaces the weather stripping on the collision post door on Amfleet I Coach Car 44943.

Photo: AMtrak Ink

Car Repairman Vanessa Thomas replaces the weather stripping on the collision post door on Amfleet I Coach Car 44943.

The FY ‘06 fleet program also includes the remanufacture of 20 Horizon coaches and the overhaul of 21 Heritage cars (four diners, two crew dorms and 15 coaches).

Another part of the capital plan calls for Bear Car Shop mechanics to remanufacture 60 Amfleet I coaches, 24 Amfleet II coaches and to convert eight Amfleet II smoker lounge cars to diner/lounges.

Not to be confused with the Superliner diner and lounge cars that are being redesigned to support the Simplified Dining Service that will ultimately offer continual meal service on many long-distance trains, the converted Amfleet cars are designed to add flexibility to the food and beverage operation by offering a combination of lounge and/or dining car seating in instances when two cars are not necessary. The diner/lounge prototype was released to revenue service in March.

Also at Bear, mechanics are remanufacturing eight cab cars that will operate along the Keystone Corridor [between Philadelphia and Harrisburg]. This is just one element of the Keystone Corridor Improvement Project aimed at providing all-electric service and a faster, more reliable and comfortable trip on the 105-mile line starting this fall.

Ironically, part of the plan for ‘06 includes not doing some things. For example, Amtrak is storing 60 Amfleet coaches (in part due to the transfer of Clocker service [between Philadelphia and New York City] to New Jersey Transit). By storing these cars instead of cycling them into the fleet, Amtrak will save about $33 million in remanufacturing costs it otherwise would have had to perform this year.

“This doesn’t include the cost of preventive maintenance, layover servicing and periodic bad order repairs either,” said Mechanical Director of Master Scheduling Tom Butler.

This year’s locomotive program targets the overhaul of 35 P-42s, four P-32s, eight F-59s, two F-40 cab cars and the renovation of five locomotive wrecks.

On the electric locomotive side, overhauls are being performed on 21 locomotives at the Wilmington Maintenance Facility this year. Mechanics are overhauling five AEM-7 ACs, eight AEM-7 DCs and eight HHP-8s. Four AEM-7s owned by MARC, whose fleet is operated and maintained by Amtrak, are on tap for overhaul.

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‘T’ worker uses hair cap to save agency money

Across the wires from the Associated Press

BOSTON, May 4 – An ingenious idea from an MBTA employee is saving the agency thousands of dollars in subway train engine repairs.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, challenged by a high debt load and facing an unpopular fare increase, has to deal every winter with Orange Line train motors that fail when air intakes get clogged with snow.

Tom McHale, a repair foreman, noticed when he was in a wholesale butcher shop in 2004 that the fine-mesh hair cap he was required to wear was the same size as the air intake on the Orange Line motors.

Subway Maintenance Foreman Tom McHale and Superintedent Bob Doyle explain the so-called hair net solution.

Photo: MBTA

Subway Maintenance Foreman Tom McHale and Superintedent Bob Doyle explain the so-called ‘hair net’ solution.

McHale, 42, of Reading, took the hair cap home and a few days later taped it over an air-intake. “It fit perfect,” he said.

The cap will allow air to pass but not snow.

Snow is sucked into the train motors through the air-intake which is designed to cool the engines. As the train stops and starts, the snow melts and refreezes into thick squares that block the intake, causing the motors to overheat and fail.

A major snowstorm can cripple motors on the Orange Line, T officials said.

Repairing a motor can cost $9,000. Replacing it costs between $35,000 and $50,000. Using the polypropylene hair caps, which cost $50 for a box of 1,000, will save the agency $126,000 in repairs in an average year.

Maintenance Foreman Tom McHale receives a commendation from Transportation Secretary John Cogliano and MBTA General Manager Dan Grabauskas.

Photo: MBTA

Maintenance Foreman Tom McHale receives a commendation from Transportation Secretary John Cogliano and MBTA General Manager Dan Grabauskas.

Last winter, which was mild, the T did not experience any engine failures on the largely aboveground Orange Line, thanks in part to McHale’s idea.

The T had tried a number of methods to solve the problem but none worked as well as McHale’s hair net.

Orange Line operating documents read that before a snowstorm, “All traction motor intake filter cage assemblies shall be wrapped with a protective hair net, taking care to fully cover any possible opening where the ingestion of snow is possible. The hair net shall then be secured using standard 1 1/2-inch electrical tape.”

McHale was scheduled to be promoted and honored for his idea last Thursday.

Not all lines can use the solution since the configuration of the motors is not the same as the Orange Line trains.

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

Retail returns to Randolph Street Metra stop

By Guy Tridgell from his column “On the Move”
Daily Southtown in Chicago
Reprinted with permission

Thursday, May 4, 2006

Some old friends are returning to the Metra stop formerly known as the Randolph Street station.

The end-of-the-line station in downtown Chicago for Metra’s Electric Line and the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District’s South Shore Line was the kind of place that could get a day off to a rotten start.

After parts of it were declared unstable in 1998, the station was gutted for repairs. The longest station rehabilitation in the history of mass transit followed.

Nothing was done for years while commuters slogged through substandard conditions.

Water dripped into pails from a ceiling of exposed pipes and ductwork. Plywood walls covered the spaces once occupied by shops and eateries. Portable toilets posed for regular bathrooms.

The atmosphere was truly frightening. Think of a gulag for political prisoners in the old Soviet Union.

The fortunes for south suburban commuters started to turn in 2004, when the doors opened to a revamped station with new ticketing areas, shiny bathrooms, and stylish concourses.

The subterranean terminus even got a new name: Millennium Station at Randolph Street. The name was not a knock at how long the $22 million remodeling took, but a reflection of the station’s location next to Millennium Park, the new crown jewel in the city’s park system.

Another blast from the past arrives this month.

The first new retail tenants since the station was ripped apart likely will set up shop in May.

The first three will be a newsstand called “Millennium News,” a candy shop coined “Sweet Tooth Cafe” and a “City Scents” flower shop.

Beitler Corp., a Chicago developer, was hired by Metra to arrange the leases.

More deals are coming.

Letters of intent have been signed with a Subway sandwich shop, a Cinnabon and a “brand name” coffee shop, according to Metra officials.

Beitler Corp. also is in negotiations with Bath & Body Works, a Chase bank branch and an unnamed video store, officials said.

The wait for the station to return to its status as a vibrant commuter hub has been agonizing.

But at least there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Two other items of interest from Guy’s column:

The Illinois Department of Transportation will be rolling out the suggestion box at an Orland Park hearing next week.

The department, seeking comments from the public while it develops a statewide strategy for traffic safety, brought its traveling show Thursday to the Orland Park Civic Center, 14750 Ravinia Ave. Doors opened at 6 p.m.

Similar hearings have been held throughout the state for the last month.

Amtrak riders, rejoice! The new state budget that passed the House this week includes an additional $12.1 million for passenger rail.

That translates into Amtrak adding five new round trips: two between Chicago and St. Louis, one between Chicago and Quincy and another between Chicago and Carbondale.

If you have any suggestions or comments for On the Move, transportation writer Guy Tridgell may be reached at gtridgell@dailysouthtown.com or (708) 633-5970.

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Amtrak is just the ticket to beat high
gas prices and visit downstate Illinois

Prizes & free tickets at informative Union Station event

From Amtrak.com

CHICAGO, May 5 -- Amtrak and several downstate Illinois communities are teaming up on May 11 to show how easy it is to use three Amtrak routes to visit Downstate Illinois without paying high gas prices. “Downstate Illinois Day” in the Great Hall of Amtrak Chicago Union Station from 7:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. will feature representatives of cities and businesses, along with the Illinois Bureau of Tourism and regional tourism groups, providing brochures and information.

Drawings will be held for free tickets, and other prizes will be given away throughout the day in the station, which is located at 210 South Canal Street. Also represented will be Operation Lifesaver (a safety organization supported by the railroad industry), the Midwest High Speed Rail Association and Chicago radio station WTMX (Mix 101.5) for a live broadcast from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

The event celebrates the ease and enjoyment of travel to and from Chicago from downstate cities and reminds travelers that Amtrak offers a distinct transportation advantage. “Take the train and save the gas,” said Amtrak Marketing Director Tracy Robinson. “It’s easy, fun and relaxing, especially when gas is high and our fares are low.”

Many Amtrak fares are cheaper than a tank of gas, as little as $22 each way to and from St. Louis, $30 each way to and from Carbondale and $24 to and from Quincy.

“High gas prices are giving Chicago area residents more reasons to look at Amtrak’s low fares for relaxing getaways,” said Robinson. “Thanks to partnerships in the hospitality industry, lodging can be arranged with hotels and motels, or bed and breakfasts to make trips even better and more memorable using comfortable and reliable Amtrak trains.”

Represented on the Chicago-St. Louis route will be the Dwight Tourism Bureau, Pontiac Convention & Visitors Bureau, Bloomington-Normal Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, Springfield Convention & Tourism Bureau, Central Illinois Tourism Development Agency, Mother Jones Festival in Mount Olive and the Alton Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Represented on the Chicago-Carbondale route will be the Champaign Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Southwestern Illinois Tourism Agency, representing the Centralia and Carbondale areas.

Represented on the Chicago-Quincy route will be the Aurora Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Mendota Chamber of Commerce, LaSalle County Tourism Bureau, Princeton Tourism and Visitors Bureau, Henry County (Kewanee) Tourism Bureau, Galesburg Convention & Visitors Bureau, Western Illinois Tourism Development Office, Macomb Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, Western Illinois University and the Quincy Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The state-supported service on the Chicago-St. Louis, Chicago-Carbondale, and Chicago-Quincy routes, is operated by Amtrak under a contract with the Illinois Department of Transportation.

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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

Union Pacific will hire 5,000 this year

Across the wires from The Salt Lake Tribune

SALT LAKE CITY, May 5 -- “Union Pacific Corp., the nation’s largest railroad, will hire 5,000 employees this year as it works to meet rising demand for rail shipments,” wrote Paul Beebe in an article for The Salt Lake Tribune.

Last Thursday, May 4, CEO Jim Young made the announcement at the UP annual shareholders meeting in Salt Lake City.

“Our hiring is really across our whole system, and it’s not only where you think traditionally of train and engine crews, conductors [and] engineers. It’s really across the board, in all of our ranks,” said Young, who answered a shareholder’s question about hiring. “If you know anybody who wants to work for Union Pacific, refer them over to us.”

UP employs nearly 50,000 people, and the company has signed up more than 13,000 employees in the past two years as it hires for growth and to offset attrition. That figure will reach 20,000 by the end of this year, Chairman Richard Davidson said.

Union Pacific is expecting a turnover of half its workforce by 2013.

For many years the railroad industry experienced very slow growth if any at all. But today, a resurgence of new demand for freight rail is occurring for several reasons: the huge numbers of imports from Asia, shortages of truck drivers and rising fuel prices.

Union Pacific has invested in sophisticated freight locomotives that are three times as fuel-efficient as over-the-road trucks, according to the article.

“In fact, in the first quarter, we handled a record volume [of freight] without an increase in fuel consumption,” Young said.

The boost in business is getting Wall Street’s attention. UP’s shares went up 46 % in the last twelve months and income for the first quarter of 2006 was up 143% from the same quarter last year. Net income was $311 million for this period.

“Investors are excited about the long-term fundamentals of the rail industry. They see strong demand and improving yields, as well as additional efficiency gains that will drive further earnings improvements,” Young said.

Earnings over the four quarters of 2006 are expected to be up by 12 percent plus, Young said.

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Gas prices actually drive business
up for one First Coast industry

Across the wires from First Coast News

JACKSONVILLE, FL – “Gas prices may make you groan,” writes Grayson Kamm for First Coast News, “but they’re putting a grin on the faces of the folks who run railroad companies based on the First Coast. People who have to ship things are turning away from the roads, and to the railways.”

The switch from trucks, to trains, and back again is the secret to saving money and adding jobs even as gas prices rise higher, the article continues. It’s called “intermodal.”

As the team works in swift, well-coordinated movements, containers are loaded onto tractor trailers in rapid succession.

“A gigantic ‘side loader’ -- a cross-breed of a crane and a bulldozer -- hefts huge cargo containers off a flatbed train car and whips them through the air and toward the ground. The skeleton of a tractor-trailer ducks underneath at the last moment. The container snaps into place on the semi’s own flatbed trailer and the newly-formed truck speeds off.”

This industrial “dance” is repeated 800 times a day.

And now, thanks to rising gas prices, there are more ‘dance’ partners lining up all the time.

“The higher fuel prices are driving more business to rail because of the cost savings that we can provide,” said C.S.X. Corporation spokesman Gary Sease.

Here’s where those cost savings come from: think of a train engineer as some kind of super truck driver. He and just one other person can haul the same load as 100 semi trucks.

And a railroad group says when it comes to gas mileage, trains are three times more efficient than tractor-trailers.

“With an enormous fuel savings, [trains] can do that long-distance haul from Chicago to Jacksonville. And then the truckers make their money with deliveries at either end,” Sease said.

In a year’s time, this intermodal business has grown by nearly ten percent nationwide, according to the Association of American Railroads.

Florida East Coast Railway, which is based in St. Augustine, has seen a similar jump.

Their intermodal runs are up almost 18 percent in profits this year, according to the company’s financial reports through the end of March.

“It takes a lot to run a terminal like this, and to support an intermodal network. And that means jobs,” C.S.X.’s Sease said.

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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: MarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)83.1979.53
Canadian National (CNI)47.5944.91
Canadian Pacific (CP)55.4153.14
CSX (CSX)74.1968.49
Florida East Coast (FLA)55.6655.90
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)33.8732.77
Kansas City Southern (KSU)27.4424.30
Norfolk Southern (NSC)56.2054.00
Providence & Worcester (PWX)16.5416.75
Union Pacific (UNP)93.2591.21

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BUSINESS LINES...  Business lines...

Boom Time for North America’s Railways

Source: Railway News.CO.UK Independent website for British Railway Industry

May 6 -- North America’s Class One freight railways are enjoying a major boom, according to emerging traffic and business reports for the first quarter of 2006.

This has coincided with the 25th anniversary of the Staggers Act, which deregulated US railroads — named after Harley Staggers, Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee where the legislation was drafted, and signed by US President Jimmy Carter.

Before Staggers became law, more than 20% of the US rail industry had gone bankrupt over the previous decade. Earnings had averaged less than 2% on investment. Rates were rising faster than inflation.

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) says that in the last 25 years productivity has tripled, inter-modal traffic has almost quadrupled, market share has increased, and rates have declined sharply while earnings have improved significantly.

North American freight railroads (which include both of Canada’s two main rail companies, whose operations penetrate extensively into the USA) now move more freight than any other rail system in the world — more than all of Europe’s railways combined, and at lower rates — says AAR.

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UNION PACIFIC has reported a net income of $311 million, compared to $128 million in the prior year period. This was the best first quarter earnings ever posted by UP. Operating revenues reached a record $3.7 billion (Q1 2005: $3.2bn). Operating income almost doubled to $605 million (up 93% from $313m in Q1 2005), and the operating ratio improved by 6.4 points to 83.7% (Q1 2005: 90.1%).

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BNSF, the other main western US railway, achieved a 25% increase in net operating income, which improved to a record $US 792 million.

On the eastern side of the US, CSX has reported first quarter 2006 net earnings of $245 million — driven by stronger results in its Surface Transportation division, which includes the company’s rail and inter-modal businesses. Record revenues of $2.3 billion were achieved due to strong overall demand. Operating income was up 39% to a record $487 million, and the operating ratio improved 4.2 points to a record 79.1%.

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NORFOLK SOUTHERN has reported a net income of $305 million for the first quarter of 2006, an increase of 57% compared to $194 million in the prior year period. Net income increased by 57% to $305 million. Railway operating revenues were up 17% from $1.96 billion in Q1 2005 to $2.3 billion — the highest of any quarter in Norfolk Southern’s history. Income from railway operations climbed 37% to $551 million and set a first-quarter record, despite a 54% increase in diesel fuel expenses.

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In Canada, CANADIAN PACIFIC RAILWAY has reported a 38% increase in net operating income to $C111 million ($US95.8 million) and cut its operating ratio by three points to 79.4%.

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CANADIAN NATIONAL RAILWAY — which is also the principal sghareholder in EWS in Britain — increased its first quarter profit by 21% to $C362 million and managed to shave another three points off its operating ratio to an impressive 66.2%.

In another feature of North America’s rail freight boom, Canadian National has announced it is to invest US$100 million to rebuild and upgrade its major train yard in Memphis, Tennessee, to cope with growing freight traffic to and from the southern United States and the Gulf of Mexico region.

The reconfigured yard will have capacity for more than 3,100 freight cars when it is finished in 2008, compared with 2,800 today, CN said, and will be able to handle 35 or more freight trains a day, compared with a current maximum of 25 to 30.

Traffic going through Memphis will include containers from as far away as the new Pacific port terminal under construction at Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada, due to open next year to handle containers from China, reported Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

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OPINION...  Opinion...

Probing Question:

Why don’t we have high-speed
trains in the U.S.?

By Lisa Duchene - Source: Research/Penn State, PhysOrg.com

Sent to Destination: Freedom by
Doug Alexander, Rail Program Manager - Georgia Rail Passenger Authority

[ photo place holder ]

Photo from iStock

The next time you need to get to New York or Washington, D.C., think how much easier it would be if high-speed trains were as common here as they are in Europe. Such trains would leave every hour and get you to your destination -- even right to the airport -- on time and faster than driving.

Here in the United States, high-speed trains are fantasy, but not in Europe or Japan. Eurostar trains run on the hour, speeding London passengers at up to 186 mph to Paris in about two and a half hours, for about $266 round trip. Trains between Barcelona and Madrid soon will reach 210 mph.

Japan’s high-speed trains, the world’s first, have linked Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka since 1964. The shinkansen, or “bullet” trains now reach speeds of more than 186 mph, shuttling riders from Tokyo to Osaka in two and a half hours, for about $120 each way.

Here, Amtrak’s Acela Express makes the trip from Washington, D.C., to Boston in about six and a half hours for about $321 round trip. The Acela typically runs at speeds up to 120 to 130 mph and on one short stretch at 150 mph, speeds that make it the fastest train in America but are considered slow by global standards.

Why are we so far behind?

The answer is simple, said John Spychalski, professor of supply chain management in Penn State’s Smeal College of Business. The U.S. government won’t pay for high-speed trains.

“(High-speed train service) is not going to be built by private enterprise, no more than the interstate highway system was built by private enterprise,” Spychalski explained. “The U.S. would not have the air-transport system developed to where it is today without public-sector involvement.”

A lack of political support at the federal and state levels keeps Amtrak in an annual battle just to survive, ensuring that high-speed train service is not available in most of the country, said Spychalski.

This political vacuum has been consistent over many decades among both Republicans and Democrats, he noted, and has its roots in public attitudes.

“What does the average person know of high-speed rail? Very little,” Spychalski said. “Their mindset is centered on two things they know: autos and airplanes.” Where trains are seen as a quaint part of our history, Americans view their cars as status symbols, an extension of ego and class distinction.

Over the 20-year period from 1978 to 1999, federal spending on rail travel totaled $18.3 billion, about 3.6 percent of total transportation spending. In the same period, the nation spent $251.5 billion on highways (49.9 percent), and $114 billion on air (22.6 percent). During these two decades, spending on rail dropped 1.9 percent annually as spending on every other transportation mode increased annually up to 10 percent, according to a recent report from the Mineta Transportation Institute.

Last year, President Bush proposed zero funding for Amtrak, but then signed Congress’ final budget with $1.3 billion for rail service. This year, Bush proposed cutting Amtrak’s budget back to $900 million. Amtrak officials say they need $1.6 billion to operate at the current level and can’t afford to make any progress.

“Funding of Amtrak is always hard-scrabble,” said Spychalski. “Amtrak is always trying to catch up.”

The benefits of high-speed train service, he explained, would include relieving pressure on the air traffic control system in crowded regions like New England, California and Chicago by getting passengers city-to-city faster than air flights.

Environmentally, rail uses the least land to move the most people, and high-speed trains promise better air quality, he added.

Traveling by rail is safer than traveling by car, Spychalski says. Plus, rail tends to be less vulnerable to severe weather and to terrorism.

The better-linked a rail system is to autos and air -- i.e. the rail stations at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport and Frankfurt’s Airport -- the more valuable it is, said Spychalski. “We need to look at the transport system from a total system perspective and look at how the air, rail and road relate to each other.”

Despite the political barriers, there are some U.S. rail success stories, said Spychalski. They include restoration of rail service between Boston and Portland, Maine, and both inter-city and commuter rail passenger services serving key areas within California. Ridership is increasing in both places.

Here in Pennsylvania, the state and Amtrak are working on a $100 million project to make train service between Harrisburg and Philadelphia faster, safer and more convenient.

The many benefits of high-speed rail and these success stories keep Spychalski hopeful that someday U.S. trains will eventually climb that political mountain, just like the Little Engine that Could.

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EDITORIAL...  NCI responds...

NCI responds

[ The following was sent by NCI’s Jim RePass in response to an editorial in The Columbian, Vancouver, WA - Ed.]

Re: your more-in-sorrow-not-in-anger anti-Amtrak editorial (Amtrak Too Costly-May 4), allow me to quote your words, then comment:

1)   “The national railroad passenger service’s operating loss last year alone was $550 million.”

In 2000, America spent $130 billion (state, Fed, local) in tax dollars to subsidize highways, and spent $521 million on Amtrak. That’s a ratio of 250:1. When you spend 250 times as much money on one mode of transportation as another, what result do you expect? Amtrak needs more money, not less, to serve this country.

2)   “When Amtrak was established in 1970, the claim was that after a few years its operations would pay for themselves. In 1997, after $22 billion in federal subsidies and no end to them in sight, Congress said this time it really meant it.”

No transportation system in the world pays for itself --- highways, airlines, or rail. Claims to the contrary invariably leave out multi-billion-dollar investments in infrastructure (Japan, France, Britain, Germany), or simply lie. The highway lobby claims self-sustainability. That’s a lie, too. Big time.

3)   “That might mean, for example, an end to the storied Empire Builder.”

Well, yes, killing Amtrak would end it, all right. It would also end non-highway intercity ground transportation in not only Washington, but in places like Montana, which rely on the Empire Builder for basic transportation. But the heck with them, right? I mean, really, the train doesn’t pay for itself!

The Amtrak Reform Council you compare to the non-partisan Base Closing Commission was in fact created by the Bush Administration’s right wing to kill Amtrak, and it almost succeeded. Fortunately, Congress has refused to do in one of the few alternatives we have to the automobile.

Good thing, too, as gas is going to $4-$5 a gallon, divvied up between the shameless new robber barons who think $600 million payouts TO ONE MAN are justifiable, and unstable Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia (desperately delaying their very own coming insurgency by paying off terrorists with our money), or nutcase regimes like Iran’s (gleefully building nukes to use on Israel --- or us --- paid for by you and me). And you have problems with Amtrak? Why don’t we just surrender to Osama. It’s the exact same thing.

What we need is energy independence, a truly free America, and a national rail system that is the best in the world. We’re Americans. It’s time to start acting like it.

James P. RePass
President & CEO
The National Corridors Initiative
Boston, MA

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WE GET LETTERS...  We get letters...

[In reference to D:F April 17 – Home on the Hiawatha: Development along light transit line exceeds early projections].

Dear Editor,

As a geography/urban studies major in the Twin Cities, I have watched the Hiawatha from day 1 in here. There are some great features - floor level boarding, integrated fares with the bus system, beautifully, and simply, designed bike racks in every car, and so forth. (I'm from Boston - the “T” really could take a hint from Minneapolis in any new subway cars they order.) While the outer suburbs in the Twin Cities are joined at the hip to their cars (and mostly SUVs) Minneapolitans seem to be embracing the new LRT.

What you failed to mention is the "other" corridor in the Twin Cities. Much of Hiawatha's run is that of a commuter train, from downtown to satellite lots and residential areas (as well as a major airport and the biggest mall around). Still, there is only so much business you can take out of what is a mainly single-family, residential neighborhood. The main reason Hiawatha was built first is that it was easy - the route was cleared for a highway that was never built, and the land was vacant. All they had to to was lay down track, rebuild downtown, tunnel two miles under the airport, and voila.

The Central Corridor is quite different from Hiawatha. About a mile from the terminus in downtown Minneapolis (which will soon be extended to a new commuter rail station, and maybe even a new ballpark) the Central Corridor splits off and goes right through the University of Minnesota Campus (with 50,000 or so students and tens of thousands of staff) before it continues down the middle of University Avenue, through the Midway, a major shopping district, and on to Downtown Saint Paul, a smaller city than Minneapolis but still the state capital. At rush hour, a jammed bus plies University every three to five minutes, with another route running express on the interstate a couple blocks south. Ridership estimates are 40,000 - and Hiawatha has shown that these estimates are generally on the low side. One eleven-mile corridor with 50,000 riders a day? Not out of the question. And if the housing along Hiawatha seems like a lot, there are already hundreds of units going up along University, with years to go until LRT (and no firm plans) and many more lots on which to build.

One question is whether the corridor will support LRT or Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). The current trend is leaning heavily towards LRT, since although it is more expensive BRT would be overburdened quickly and would not connect with the line in Minneapolis. It all depends on funding - and hopefully it will be funded because it is a sorely needed next step in bringing rail transit back to the Twin Cities, which until the early 1950s boasted one of the best streetcar systems in the nation. Central Corridor success would be a boon to The Cities and the region as a whole.

Ari Ofsevit
Macalester College
Saint Paul, Minn.

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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 editor at editor@nationalcorridors.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write. For technical issues contact D. M. Kirkpatrick, NCI’s webmaster at webmaster@nationalcorridors.org.

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

Photo submissions are welcome. NCI is always interested in images that demonstrate the positive aspects of rail, transit, and intermodalism, as well as of current newsworthy events associated with our mission. Please contact the webmaster in advance of sending images so we can recommend attachment by e-mail or grant direct file transfer protocols (FTP) access depending on size and number. Descriptive text which includes location, train name, and something about the content of the image is encouraged. We will credit the photographer and offer a return link to your e-mail address or web site.

Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images by Leo King and other photo journalists should contact our webmaster@nationalcorridors.org for additional information.

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 transportation initiative 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 link, please send the uniform resource locator address (URL) our webmaster@nationalcorridors.org.

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