Destination: Freedom
                    The newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative
                    Vol. 1 No. 6 ©2000, NCI, Inc. May 13, 2000
                        Now offered weekly, beginning with this issue

Amtrak is mum

Truckers council steamed at Amtrak

By Wes Vernon
In what has to be one of the angriest letters, even by the standards of an angry political city, the president of the National Private Truckers Council excoriated Amtrak for an ad promoting the Washington area-Florida Auto Train.

In an April 19 letter, Truckers Council President John A. McQuaid told Amtrak President George D. Warrington he was writing to "express our outrage in the strongest possible terms" about an ad in the "Washington Post and other newspapers along the east coast, I assume."

The headline on the ad is "Drive to Florida. It's Semi-Fun!"  accompanied by a cartoon of a motorist and his family squeezed between two "smirking semi-tractor trailer drivers."  The ad, according to McQuaid, "is one of the most egregious examples I have ever seen of an attempt to exploit public fears and perpetuate unfair stereotypes for profit."  McQuaid's letter noted that his Council's membership includes "most of the Fortune 500 companies that manufacture, process, or distribute goods."

And just in case anyone missed the "we're paying our way, and you're not" implications, the Truckers Council boss said he was "further outraged that Amtrak, a quasi-public corporation whose Board of Directors is almost entirely comprised of public sector individuals, including the Secretary of Transportation" is promoting a "scurrilous" ad that amounts to a government-subsidized "slanderous swipe at responsible transportation providers operating in the private sector." The ad, he said, "does a grave injustice to men and women who safely move goods (including most of Amtrak's)*."

He cited Transportation department figures showing truck fatalities down in 1999 despite more trucks on the road. He cites other safety programs in which the truckers have cooperated, including the rail industry-backed Operation Lifesaver, which aims mainly to eliminate accidents at grade crossings.

The letter's goes for the jugular in saying the ad "gives credence to the view that Amtrak cannot expect to become profitable by competing fairly." Nothing short of pulling the ad and issuing "a public apology" to the trucking companies, "their employees and their families" will do, as far as McQuaid is concerned. To make sure his complaint does not go unnoticed where it counts, copies of the letter were sent to the entire Amtrak board and the chairmen and ranking minority members of the key congressional committees handling Amtrak legislation.

When asked for comment on the letter, Amtrak spokesman John Wolf replied, "Our comment is that we have received the letter and will respond." Does that mean that Amtrak will share the response with NCI when it is formulated and sent? "We'll respond directly and personally to McQuaid. I'll let you know if we release it publicly."

Amtrak plans to move a million moms

Amtrak reports it is adding up to 3,000 extra seats in the Northeast Corridor Mother's Day weekend in anticipation of exceptionally large ridership for Mothers Day, and the "Million Mom March" in Washington. In addition to the usual increase in riders for the holiday, Amtrak said it expects "thousands of participants to take the train from Boston, New York and Philadelphia" between May 12-15.

More fast European trains begin service

New high-speed trains will begin service between Belgium, France and Switzerland, according to Rail Europe. Launched in April and May, the rail links join Brussels to Geneva and six French cities using high-speed TGV trains.

On May 28, Thalys International 186 mph trains will run once daily in each direction between Geneva and Brussels, seven days a week, shortening the route to 5 hours and 15 minutes.  Presently rail travelers between Brussels and Geneva must change trains in Paris for the 7-hour journey, or take a longer route through Switzerland and Germany of up to 10 hours.

Round trip, second-class leisure fare is $220 U.S.

Also, new French premier trains between Brussels and the Lille, Lyon, Satolas Airport (Lyon), Avignon, Marseille, and Nice will run most weekdays and use high-speed TGV equipment (168-186 miles per hour) in both countries.

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