Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 3 No. 19, May 13, 2002
Copyright © 2002, NCI, Inc.
James P. RePass, President
Leo King, Editor

A weekly North American rail and transit update



NCI meet begins today
If the speakers who are attending this year's NCI conference in Washington were Hollywood stars, they would write a veritable list of who's who. As it is, professional railroaders of various stripes are on hand today and tomorrow discussing the topic, Uniting America: Building a National Rail System That WORKS.

Among today's speakers is Amtrak Reform Council Chair Gil Carmichael, who is expected to make major news regarding the Administration's position on Amtrak, as NCI hosts its first conference following September 11.

Amtrak Acting President Stan Bagley, who has told us he will be staying on at the company, and is a legendary operating railroad man about to go to work for his seventh Amtrak president, incoming David Gunn, who starts Wednesday morning, will be the featured luncheon speaker Monday, with Amtrak board vice-chairman Michael S. Dukakis on hand to close the day.

New Amtrak board chairman John Robert Smith, who is also chairman of the National Corridors Initiative, has been asked by his state (Mississippi) delegation to head an urgent trade mission to Korea this week and had to bow out at the last minute. This is the first NCI national conference he has ever missed.

The participants received some good news last week. The National League of Cities (NLC) joined several other associations representing state and local elected officials on May 7 to urge members of Congress to support a $1.2 billion appropriations level for Amtrak for fiscal year 2003, and the next day, a House Subcommittee approved a $59 billion rail bill, as well as a $1.9 billion authorization bill for the fiscal year beginning October 1.

NLC's letter stated that without Amtrak's requested $1.2 billion funding, "Service will be severely impacted, including the elimination of its long distance service."

Poster by Doug Alexander

The letter was addressed to Senate Transportation Appropriations Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), as well as House Transportation Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) and Ranking Member Martin Olav Sabo (D-Minn.) The letter "was circulated to all members of Congress to express the strong support of intercity passenger rail by the nation's state and local leaders."

The NLC declared, "It is imperative that, like the nation's airports, the nation's rail system be maintained." Mincing no words, the letter added, "In light of the events of September 11, passenger rail has become an even more integral part of the U.S. transportation system. The Bush Administration [Amtrak] budget request of $521 million for Fiscal Year 2003 would only maintain the current level of funding and represents less than half of Amtrak's request, which will put the future of its long distance service in jeopardy."

The National League of Cities, along with the National Association of Counties, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the United States Conference of Mayors, the Council of State Governments and the International City/County Management Association, "are asking the Congress to provide the necessary funding for Amtrak to ensure that the national passenger rail system is maintained as a viable transportation mode for the American traveler."

NLC President Karen Anderson said, "Passenger rail service can provide a cost-effective, time-saving, and energy-efficient means of transporting people." She added, "It also helps alleviate overcrowding on highways, contributes to economic productivity, and provides the only mode of available, year-round transportation in many rural areas. "Jim RePass, NCI's president and CEO, minced no words, either.

"This year more than ever before the fate of the nation's passenger rail system, and especially intercity rail service, hangs in the balance, and this year, once and for all, I believe we will put to rest the nonsensical notion that passenger rail service must pay its own way, while highways and airlines systems continue to be massively subsidized by the taxpayer."

Said RePass, "I believe we will also see an end to the idea that only the Northeast Corridor needs or deserves passenger rail service, while the rest of the country goes begging."

Among the list of more than 30 speakers will be Art Guzzetti, Director, Policy Development and Member Mobilization, American Public Transportation Association; Paul Reistrup, Vice President for Passenger Services, CSX; Tom Till, Executive Director, Amtrak Reform Council; Sarah Campbell, Chair, Surface Transportation Policy Project; and Edward Hamberger, President-Association of American Railroads.

Others include Ross Capon, Executive Director, National Association of Railroad Passengers; James E. Coston, Amtrak Reform Council; and Donald Itzkoff, former Deputy Administrator, FRA.

Transportation writers will also be represented, including Neal Peirce, Syndicated Columnist, The Washington Post Writers Group; and Bill Vantuono, Editor, Railway Age. Tom Donlan, Editorial Page Editor, Barron's Magazine; and author Tony Hiss are featured speakers as well.


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Subcommittee solons okay high-speed rail bill;
awaits full committee, House
By Wes Vernon
Washington correspondent

A key House panel advanced significant Amtrak legislation on May 8, less than two hours after grassroots Americans rallied outside the Capitol for passenger rail service.

The House Subcommittee on Railroads approved The Railroad Infrastructure Development and Expansion Act for the 21st Century -nicknamed "Ride 21 and formally listed as H.R. 2950 -authorizing $1.2 billion for Amtrak in Fiscal Year 2003, and an additional $775 million for life-safety and security programs.

The measure is co-authored by subcommittee chairman Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.) and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) who chairs the parent House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

The bill includes $1.2 billion for fiscal 2003, including $800 million for capital expenditures and $200 million for operating expenditures; and $200 million for Amtrak's excess Railroad Retirement system obligations. Another $375 million is included for a grant program for rail security projects at Amtrak, and $400 million for a grant program to make life-safety improvements in Amtrak tunnels in New York, Baltimore, and Washington.

Earlier on the morning of the committee's voice vote, a loud roar had gone up at an outdoor rally when Quinn announced that his subcommittee was about to approve the measure.

The chairman complained that Amtrak has been "nickled and dimed to death," and told to "act like a business" until it came time to cough up some needed money, and then told to "act like a government agency."

"They can't have it both ways," he said.

Some rail supporters in the crowd expressed concern to D:F that the legislation would boot too much authority back to the government agencies to micromanage how it spends its allotted funds.

According to the House committee, here is how that breaks out:

Amtrak will be required to submit a work plan to the Secretary of Transportation, the DOT Inspector General, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Senate Commerce and Science Committee that includes the work to be funded, timetables, and cost estimates by October 1, 2002. In addition, Amtrak is to provide quarterly supplemental plans to those agencies on January 1, 2003, April 1, 2003, and September 1, 2003, identifying any substantial change to the original plan.

Another section will require Amtrak to submit a comprehensive business plan to the DOT Inspector General, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and the Senate Commerce Committee no later than September 1, 2002. This plan must include ridership targets, and capital and operating expenditures, and shall be broken out by business unit. The plan is to be updated by Amtrak by April 1, 2003, identifying any deviations from or changes to the business plan.

Yet another directive in the bill requires Amtrak's president and board of directors to certify the work plan, supplemental reports, business plan and follow-up assessment; and the DOT Inspector General must review Amtrak's work plan, business plan, and supplemental reports and submit a report on each to the Secretary of DOT, the House and Senate committees certifying that Amtrak is spending capital according to its work plan, etc. The Inspector General will be required to conduct inspections as necessary to ensure the progress of the capital plan.

The General Accounting Office (GAO -Congress' watchdog) will be required to audit Amtrak's accounting practices and report to the House and Senate committees by January 1, 2003. GAO then is to determine whether Amtrak's accounting practices will sufficiently illustrate how funds made available under the act are spent. Amtrak is to make all information requested by GAO available for inspection.

It would appear, then, that lots of people and entities will have slices of this pie, and that much micromanaging will be involved. It reflects a certain amount of skepticism on Capitol Hill as to how Amtrak has spent its money and a suspicion that not all of Amtrak's money woes are due to its woefully inadequate funding.

Out on the Capitol Hill lawn, the crowd of mayors, local officials and lawmakers from around the country cheered on Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) who charged that opponents of inter-city passenger rail were involved in "a spiral" of "conspiracy" to "undo Amtrak." He said the opposition was motivated by being "flat out anti-labor" or a fear of "too much competition. (Cement companies that pave the highways)."

Top rail labor leaders were also on hand, as were industry representatives.

The House measure represents a Congressional commitment to improve and expand the nation's rail infrastructure, and to develop a high-speed rail system, said Young.

"This bill addresses the increasing needs of our passenger and freight rail systems and the growing congestion problems that hinder our other transportation systems."

Young added, "The bill is of vital importance to the future expansion of our nation's rail system. It represents a constructive, good-faith effort to include the recommendations of both the Republican and Democratic leadership of this Committee."

Quinn added, "This offers the level of investment necessary to build an entire high-speed rail network."

He said, "The General Accounting Office has reported that Amtrak will need approximately $50 billion to $70 billion to build high-speed passenger rail in the United States. At $59 billion, this proposal offers the level of investment necessary to build an entire high-speed rail network -not just an individual corridor or region."

The investment is provided through three components. RIDE-21 permits states to issue $12 billion in federal tax-exempt bonds for eligible projects over ten years, and an additional $12 billion in federal tax-credit bonds. Funding authority for development of high-speed rail corridors, under the existing Swift Rail Development Act, will be extended through fiscal year 2009.

"The $100 million per year will now focus on corridor development, with an increase in technology development within those corridors." According to a committee press release.

"Also, the bill increases the amount of money available under the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) program to $35 billion. We also eliminated all of the obstacles that have prevented this program from fulfilling its potential. The RRIF program offers some great incentives to invest in America's rail system. This program needs to be funded at the highest levels," said Quinn.

The Railroad Infrastructure Development and Expansion Act for the 21st Century will -if the Congress passes it without changes -authorize states or interstate compacts to issue $12 billion in federally tax-exempt bonds and $12 billion in federal tax-credit bonds for infrastructure improvements for high-speed passenger railroad infrastructure. Other provisions include the USDOT Secretary being able to approve overall corridor design that includes particular elements, such as having in place agreements of owning freight railroad if its rights-of-way are to be used; eliminating or avoiding railroad grade crossings that would impede high-speed operations. The law would apply prevailing wage rate standards to construction projects and have an interstate compact in place for multi-state corridors.

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

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

Preference will be given to designs that have all environmental work completed and are ready to begin, or have received state or local financial support.

The DOT secretary may designate $1.2 billion per year for 10 years (beginning in Fiscal Year 2003 through fiscal 2012) of private-activity tax-exempt bonds, plus $1.2 billion per year for 10 years (same time span) in tax-credit bonds. Authority to designate unused annual amounts of each type of bond would carry over to subsequent years.

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

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

The states will be required to submit annual reports on status of bonds and bond-funded projects.

The proposed measure also reauthorizes and modifies the existing Swift Rail Development Act, a program to develop high-speed rail corridors, by extending the program authority through fiscal 2009 by authorizing $100 million annually in general fund grants that are subject to appropriation.

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

It also would expand the existing Railroad Rehabilitation and Infrastructure Financing (RRIF) loan and loan guarantee program by increasing funding authority from $3.5 billion to $35 billion of outstanding loan principal at any time. It would also modify the RRIF program by permitting interstate compacts as well as states to be eligible for assistance.

Magnetic levitation systems as well as steel-wheel systems are eligible for assistance, the amount available for primary benefit of Class II and III railroads is increased from $1 billion to $7 billion out of $35 billion in total loan principal authority, and it would eliminate obstacles in the current RRIF program (such as structure of loan cohorts, collateral requirements, artificial limits on loan amounts, and any prior rejection requirement).

The USDOT must approve or disapprove an application within 180 days after receiving it -and the secretary may not assess applicant fees or other charges.

The DOT secretary is required to publish review standards and criteria within 30 days after enactment.


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Amtrak plans new office tower
Amtrak said last week it will lease a site next to Philadelphia's 30th Street Station for a new 32-story office building.

The railroad earlier turned a former bowling alley near the 30th Street Station into a 100-space valet parking lot that sells out on weekdays at $35 a car. It also mortgaged parts of its most valuable asset, New York's Penn Station, for $300 million to keep trains running through the end of its last fiscal year.

Under the plan, according to an AP story, Amtrak would lease land next to its station to Brandywine Realty Trust for 99 years. Neither Amtrak nor Brandywine disclosed lease terms. Brandywine CEO Gerard H. Sweeney said the company is working to lease space in the building to large corporations.

Critics were not keen on the idea because of Amtrak's financial condition. By last year, the national railway was getting 43 percent of its revenue from non-passenger business, carrying packages, periodicals, first-class mail, fruits and vegetables.

"Amtrak keeps wanting to do everything," said Gil Carmichael, president of the Amtrak Reform Council (ARC), which recommends breaking Amtrak into various separate operations.

He added, "Amtrak needs to concentrate on its core business; its core business is moving passengers and moving trains."

Amtrak board chairman John Robert Smith said the Philadelphia project was part of "using every opportunity to leverage all of our assets for a stronger Amtrak. This office tower creates customers for us."

"Given Amtrak's financial shape and given the fact that Congress is examining their whole structure and funding, it might be premature to be considering long-term real estate transactions," said Tom Till, ARC's executive director.

Architect Cesar Pelli is designing the new building, called the Cira Centre. Pelli, a former dean of the Yale University School of Architecture, is best known for his design of the Petronas Towers of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the world's tallest buildings.

He said the new building would expand Philadelphia's downtown across the Schuylkill River into a barren region occupied by the train station, the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University, "to make one urban complex."


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Acela Express

NCI: Leo King

Will Acela Expresses - or trains like them - soon be traveling through Florida?
Florida to get two fast-train plans to avoid conflicts
Floridians told their political leaders in no uncertain terms at the last election that they want high-speed trains, and they approved a state constitutional amendment to make it happen. Last Wednesday, Florida's High-Speed Rail Authority authorized two evaluations to be prepared over the potential use of bullet trains spanning central Florida.

The in-depth ridership studies will cover demand for a rail line connecting St. Petersburg and Orlando, with stops in Tampa and Lakeland. Ultimately the constitutional amendment calls for the state's five most populous areas to be connected, and spells out where the line construction will begin.

Authority member C.C. "Doc" Dockery, the principal driving force on getting the high-speed rail question on the ballot, said the studies are required if the state is to get funding, according to an AP story.

"These are crucial for the people on Wall Street who will be, ultimately, purchasing the bonds to build this, It's essential that we give them a ridership study in which they can have confidence."

A less-detailed study on an Orlando-to-Miami line also was commissioned during the authority's meeting at the Orange County Convention Center.

Undertaking the analyses will be Orlando-based consulting firms HNTB Corp. and Parsons Transportation Group. HNTB, which also is doing the Orlando-Miami study, and Parsons have been working for the authority since October.

HNTB will be paid about $527,000 for its two studies; Parsons will receive $108,000. The difference in payment stems from Parsons' focus on environmental issues, while HNTB provides consulting of a general nature.

The studies will determine potential ridership using a set of varied assumptions, such as frequency of service and growth along the I-4 corridor.

In January, a less detailed study by HNTB determined that a St. Petersburg-Orlando train, running 14 times a day at speeds up to 150 mph, would carry 3.5 million passengers annually by 2010. By 2036, that number was predicted to more than double to 7.7 million passengers a year.

Tom Biggs, associate vice president for HNTB, said the new studies, following adjustments to assumptions surrounding tourist traffic and short-distance travel, will have improved forecasts. Also, they will attempt to predict who would use the train.

Both firms will use identical data so the final reports delivered to the authority will compare "apples and apples," Parsons project manager Howard Newman said.

However, the firms will work separately after receiving the data. The studies are due by November.

"Now, nobody can accuse - as has happened in the past - anybody of slanting numbers or having a particular prejudice or anything like that," said John Beck, a sub-consultant for Parsons. "Using two (studies) like this will give a very broad cross-section."

Meanwhile, the authority recently received some good financial news from Tallahassee.

On Tuesday, a House-Senate conference committee approved $5.8 million for the authority in the coming fiscal year. That amount is what the Senate sought, and is $1.8 million more than the House had allocated.

Also, the Legislature will give another $3 million if federal funds are available, but only if the state provides a matching amount. Otherwise, the authority would be forced to seek a budget amendment.

The authority's funding is dependent on the passage of the $50 billion budget currently under negotiation in a legislative special session. The budget is expected to be approved by today.

Authority chairman Fred Dudley said Gov. Jeb Bush wouldn't veto money for the authority, despite not having any similar appropriations in his proposed budget.

Bush has repeatedly expressed concern about the potential price tag of a high-speed rail system. One of his first acts when taking office in 1999 was to eliminate another proposed bullet-train program, Florida Overland Express (FOX).

In HNTB's planning report, capital costs for the St. Petersburg-Orlando line were estimated at $1.8 billion to $7.2 billion, depending on the technology used. Annual operating and maintenance costs ranged from $26.2 million to $45.4 million.

Meanwhile, where high-speed trains are already running, we learned from sources in Boston that celebrities are beginning to make the Acela Express the conveyance of choice.

"Now that we are in the middle of a high profile war with the Airlines (Delta and US Air) for the hearts and souls of the travelers on the Northeast Corridor, I am finding more and more 'celebrities' riding our trains because apparently, riding the Acela is the 'in' thing to do," a source said.

He observed, "In the last month, I have had the following people riding on my trains -Christopher Lloyd (character actor who appeared in the TV series Taxi as well as the Back to the Future movies); Joel Siegel, an entertainment reporter for a major TV network; and Keith Lockhart -conductor for the Boston Pops. The Pops and Boston Symphony Orchestra have chartered their own conventional trains quite a bit since September 11 and are very pleased with the service."

He said other recent riders have included "Singer Carly Simon, writer Tom Clancy, and the New York Yankees. They were not on my train but they chartered their own conventional trainset from Boston to New York last month (after they lost three of four games in Boston's Fenway Park to the Red Sox). The conductor on that train told me the Yankee management was 'very happy' with the train and the service."

His assistant conductor "is somewhat of a 'celebrity hound.' He recognized other folks on board our 2100 series trains including an actress from The Sopranos, a couple of people who star in daytime soap operas, and others."

Our source opined, "Now if Amtrak can use this 'war' with the airlines to track down more business and inspire its work force, we'll be all set for success. These people have been handed success on a silver platter. I hope they don't blow it."


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Engine Logo-Downeaster  Side Logo-Downeaster

NCI: Leo King      

The logo and the lettering that adorned Amtrak's "Cabbages" were credited to outgoing boss Michael Murray. His contract expires in July.
Murray to quit in July
The rail executive who helped transform Amtrak's Downeaster from a dream more than a decade ago into a reality late last year is stepping down from his post this summer.

Michael Murray worked on the Boston-to-Portland project for more than 12 years and served as executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority since its inception in 1995, according to the Portland Herald.

The rail authority stated Monday that Murray decided against extending his contract when it expires on July 29.

The chairman of the rail authority and the leader of a rail advocacy group gave credit to Murray for seeing the project through despite some rough periods including seemingly interminable delays.

The delays would have been even longer without Murray's patience and perseverance, said Wayne Davis of TrainRiders Northeast.

"Mike is clearly going to be missed. He's someone who has set the stage for this project to now progress further into Maine and to be a true success story," added Jon Carter, the rail authority's chairman.

Under Murray's leadership, the rail authority oversaw the rehabilitation of 78 miles of track owned by Guilford Rail Systems between Portland and Plaistow, N.H., and oversaw all contracts needed for the rail service.

Murray's decision comes as the service has continues to show solid numbers. Ridership and revenues have exceeded projections each month since the first train rolled out of Portland on December 15.

As of April 1, 85,249 passengers had ridden the Downeaster with revenues of $1.33 million. Official numbers are not available for April, but those numbers are expected to exceed expectations as well.

"Mike has put his heart and soul into it, and the project wouldn't be a success without Mike at the helm," Carter said.

Davis said Murray wanted to get the trains rolling and then move on. Nonetheless, he said the timing was a surprise.

This is a critical time for the rail authority, as it considers further expansion of service to other parts of Maine, he said.

Murray said, in a statement, he was honored to have been allowed to serve the people of Maine in creating the service.

"This achievement is truly spectacular and one of which we can all be proud," he said.

The Downeaster went into operation on December 15 with four daily trips in each direction between Portland and Boston.

A seasonal stop in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, is expected to begin in July. Regular stops include Saco and Wells, Maine; Dover, Durham and Exeter, N.H.; Haverhill and North Station, Boston, Mass.


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NLO to remodel station
As one of his final acts as mayor, Marc Morial signed a sweeping lease termination agreement May 3 that puts millions of dollars into city coffers to redevelop New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal and gives the city the authority to convert the 48-year-old rail and bus hub into a modern transportation center, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune of May 5.

The terminal, which opened in 1954, was the result of decades of planning to link and serve nine railroads and their cargo and passengers, all dependent on New Orleans and its strategic Mississippi River crossing.

Today, the first impression of terminal users is that of an outdated, dreary lobby with a large colorful fresco mural seeming as faded as the vinyl on the rows of seats and neon signs advertising sandwiches and video poker, but with $6.5 million on hand through the termination of 50-year agreements with Amtrak and several freight carriers, the city will use the money for immediate upgrades, including a new roof, new air-conditioning and heating.

Amtrak will invest $2 million into its operations at the terminal, moving a new preferential passenger lounge toward the track gates and revamping its offices.

Much of the $6.5 million is being paid by the freight carriers and Amtrak to address environmental concerns from decades of diesel and other contaminants being used in maintenance and other buildings. The railroads also are carrying an environmental insurance policy, and if the policy is not used after a period of years, the city will be able to collect the premiums that have been paid in.

The money also will create a high-tech nerve center to control and monitor all RTA, rail, Greyhound and traffic signals in the city.

The 50-acre parcel stretches from the terminal at 1001 Loyola Avenue and is bounded by Loyola, Earhart Boulevard and North Dupre Street. An expressway, Interstate 10 and Broad Street overpasses and ramps create a spaghetti of concrete crossing over the site.


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Commuter lines...

Jersey contractor reports cost overruns

The contractor building a Camden-to-Trenton light-rail system wants $140 million more from New Jersey Transit to cover cost overruns. The initial cost of the project, by the Southern New Jersey Light Rail Group, was $604 million.

Charles Ingoglia, a spokesman for New Jersey Transit, said the agency would resist paying most of the new costs. Ground was broken two years ago for the state-financed rail project, which Burlington County leaders promoted as a way to revive the industrial towns along the Delaware River. The system is expected to open next spring, according to The AP.


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Bombardier gets LIRR order
Bombardier said May 3 it will supply the Long Island Rail Road in New York state with 352 electrical multiple-unit commuter rail cars for C$941 million, following on a 1999 contract for 326 cars.

The commuter cars will be used by the largest commuter railroad network in North America, ferrying 500,000 passengers every weekday from Long Island to New York City.


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Freight lines...

UTU, freight carriers reach accord

The United Transportation Union and the nation's major freight railroads stated May 4 that they reached a tentative agreement on a new contract covering wages, work rules, remote control technology and health care. Now it's up to the membership to vote it up or down.

UTU International President Byron A. Boyd, Jr., and Robert F. Allen, chairman of the National Carriers' Conference Committee, the bargaining agent for the railroads, reported the settlement. UTU is the nation's largest rail union.

The agreement covers employees in train and engine service and yardmasters, who make up almost one-third of the nation's rail workforce. The agreement must be ratified by the affected UTU-represented employees.

A joint statement said details will be released after affected UTU U.S. rail general chairmen meet on May 23.

"This agreement builds upon a prior tentative agreement reached in September 2000 and deals with wages, entry pay, health care and remote control technology," Boyd said.

Freight railroads negotiating this agreement include The Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Co., CSX Transportation Co., Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern Railway Co. and Union Pacific Railroad.

National Mediation Board member Maggie Jacobsen assisted.

The UTU is headquartered in Cleveland and has some 135,000 members. The NCCC represents more than 30 freight railroads in bargaining.

Meanwhile, the UTU reports it has also reached a tentative agreement with the Delaware & Hudson (Canadian Pacific). Ballots were mailed May 3 to about 200 workers on the CP/Delaware & Hudson Ry. to vote on a new four-year contract that would eliminate entry rates and establish trip rates in place of mileage rates, according to UTU International Vice President Pete L. Patsouras.

The ballots must be received for tabulation by June 3, 2002.

"We were able to reach a tentative agreement after the first session with a National Mediation Board (NMB) official," said Patsouras. "The mediator did a great job, but so did everybody who played a part on our negotiating team." The mediator was Richard Hanusz, according to the NMB.

The UTU served Section 6 notices on the railroad in August 2000, with the last contract running through Dec. 31, 2000.

Thanks to Dave Bowe


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BNSF to pay $2 million over DNA testing
Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. (BNSF) agreed on Wednesday to pay $2.2 million to settle charges of illegally testing workers for genetic defects in the government's first case against workplace DNA discrimination. The $2.2 million is expected to be paid within 90 days and will be split among the 36 workers according to how much of the testing process they endured, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission attorney Laurie Vasichek said.

"We think that the mediation process worked well and achieved a reasonable conclusion of this matter, although we continue to believe that none of the company's actions were contrary to the law," said BNSF CEO Matthew Rose.

EEOC Chair Cari Dominguez said, "Without the willingness of (BNSF) to mediate and bring prompt closure, this case could have taken years to litigate."

While the company, one of the country's biggest railroads, denies it violated the law, the case was a milestone in the brave new world of medical privacy battles and DNA-based job discrimination, Reuters New Service reported last week.

The EEOC had charged BNSF with genetically testing or seeking to test 36 employees, most of whom were track workers who said they had job-related carpal tunnel syndrome, without their knowledge as part of a comprehensive diagnostic exam.

The EEOC also charged that employees who refused to take the test faced possible discipline, including dismissal.

The commission said the tests violated the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, by subjecting the unknowing employees to DNA analyses of whether they were genetically predisposed to carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful hand and wrist condition often caused by repetitive motion.

"While the EEOC did not find that BNSF had used genetic tests to screen out employees, employers should be aware of the EEOC's position that the mere gathering of an employee's DNA may constitute a violation of the ADA," EEOC Commissioner Paul Steven Miller said in a statement.

The ADA bars employers from requiring medical exams unless they are needed to determine whether a worker can perform a particular job or poses a threat to anyone, EEOC attorney Laurie Vasichek said.

U.S. President George W. Bush used one of his weekly radio addresses last June to declare his support for legislation forbidding employers and insurance companies from denying jobs or health coverage to people based on their genetic makeup.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who sponsored a bill to ban genetic discrimination, said the BNSF-EEOC dispute underscores the need for a nationwide law to safeguard workers' genetic information.

"The current patchwork of state laws concerning genetic information is confusing, inconsistent and inadequate," the South Dakota Democrat said in a statement.

BNSF has 39,000 employees. It reported it began genetic testing in March 2000 when it gave medical examinations to workers who filed claims of work-related carpal tunnel syndrome.

The company, one of the few U.S. employers to admit to using genetic tests, voluntarily suspended its program in February 2001, a few days after the EEOC sought a court order against the company. In an interim settlement with the EEOC last April, the company agreed not to resume the testing.

After the EEOC determined last July that the freight railroad had violated the ADA, attorneys for both sides began negotiating the settlement with an outside mediator.

Both sides said they were satisfied with the settlement, which is subject to court approval.


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Augusta, Ga. looks for rail help
Augusta, Ga., officials looking to ease downtown train traffic crossed the Savannah River to South Carolina on May 6 looking for help. Augusta commissioners asked the North Augusta City Council to support constructing a new rail route along the future extension of the Bobby Jones Expressway.

The route could spell the end to trains using Sixth Street through downtown Augusta. Study of the project is in its early phases, and there is no financing yet, reports the Augusta Chronicle.

Norfolk Southern tracks currently in use would be abandoned while a new mile-long route across swampland is installed and connects with CSX.

Land for a section of the proposed NS track has not been secured on the South Carolina side, said Skip Grkovic, North Augusta's director of economic and community development.


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CSX raises some Georgia speeds
CSX Transportation, Inc. said Wednesday that it will increase the speed of passenger and freight trains up to 45 mph operating through portions of the Georgia counties of Dekalb, Fayette and Fulton, effective May 22. Communities affected include Atlanta, Stone Mountain, Clarkston, Decatur and Scottsdale. Most of the route formerly was 25 mph.

Twelve at-grade crossings are in the affected area (Specific listings are online at http://www.csxt.com/med/press/pdf/atlanta.pdf). The speed increase will be phased in over two weeks in 10 mph increments. By May 29, all trains will be operating at their new authorized speeds.

During the past year, CSXT's engineering forces have made improvements to the track structure and changes to the highway-rail grade crossing warning devices to permit the speed increases. The speed increase will help to minimize delays to motorists at highway-rail grade crossings as well as improve operating efficiency.

The carrier said local representatives of Operation Lifesaver, a nationwide public education program dedicated to reducing crashes at highway-rail intersections, have implemented an intense campaign to alert motorists. They have met with city officials for assistance in targeting those Operation Lifesaver efforts.


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NS route returns to normal
Norfolk Southern reported on May 7 that clean up efforts were continuing following severe flooding in the East Central states which impacted Norfolk Southern's main line operations between Kenova and Williamson, W. Va.

The "Main line is back in service, however slow orders and restricted signals continue to impact operations through affected area." The freight carrier anticipated service would be restored to near normal levels last Wednesday, but they also advised "Customers with traffic normally moving over this route should continue to expect delays, and added, "Generally, this will include traffic moving from/to points in North Carolina and Virginia and points in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri.

The firm also advised its customers with committed service agreements that NS "invoked force majeure at 7:00 a.m. on May 3," but also lifted it at 8:00 a.m. on May 7.


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Prov-Worcester RR

NCI: Leo King

P&W lost nearly $200,000, according to its last quarterly report.
P&W records loss for last quarter
Providence and Worcester Railroad Co. reported a net loss for the quarter of $313,000 compared with a net loss of $191,000 in 2001. The loss per common share for the quarter was seven cents in 2002 and four cents in 2001. The firm issued its financial results on May 7.

Operating revenues for the first quarter were $4.9 million, a decrease of $133,000 or 2.6 percent from $5.0 million in 2001. In its financial statement, the company stated, "This decrease is primarily the result of a $122,000 (16.8 percent) decrease in net container freight revenues. The volume of containers handled during the quarter declined as a result of the loss of a customer, as well as weaker economic conditions."

The carrier did not name its customer, nor why it left.

Operating expenses for the first quarter of 2002 increased by $192,000, or 3.5 percent from 2001. "While increases in certain expense categories were offset by decreases in others, the overall increase is largely attributable to increased track maintenance costs as well as legal and professional fees related to the company's arbitration proceedings with Amtrak. It is expected that the arbitrator will render a decision in this matter during the second quarter of 2002."

Again, the firm did not specify what is disagreement is with Amtrak.

P&W stated "Historically, the company has experienced its lowest levels of operating revenues and profits during the first quarter of each year, and we are confident that the company will generate profits from its operations during the reminder of the year."


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RailAmerica records record profits
RailAmerica, Inc. last week reported record financial results for its first quarter ended March 31. "Income from continuing operations for the quarter increased 91 percent to $5.3 million, or $.16 per diluted share, on 35.2 million weighted average shares, compared to income from continuing operations of $2.8 million, or $.14 per diluted share, on 21.4 million shares, for the quarter ended March 31, 2001," the company stated in a press release.

The carrier reported consolidated revenues for the first quarter of 2002 increased 21 percent to $111.2 million from $92.0 million during the same period in 2001.

"In the first quarter of 2002, our company continued to make significant progress in solidifying its position as the world's largest operator of short line and regional freight railroads," said Gary O. Marino, RailAmerica's chairman, president and CEO. He said "The acquisitions of StatesRail and ParkSierra both expanded our geographic coverage and helped diversify our commodity mix, which in turn mitigate the effects of regional and economic downturns. We are pleased that despite extended weakness in the economy, our 'same railroad' carloads and revenues for the quarter compare favorably to others in the rail industry."

North American revenues for the first quarter of 2002 increased 32 to$82.0 million from $62.0 million during the same period in 2001

RailAmerica also reported last week that total carloads (including intermodal units) for April 2002 increased 21.8 percent to 122,480, from 100,565 in 2001. Year-to-date through April 30, 2002, total carloads increased 16.6 percent to 479,420 from 411,002 in 2001. Total carloads for 2002 include its StatesRail and ParkSierra acquisitions.


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Across the pond...

Britain sustains another wreck

British wreck-AP photo

AP via CNN  

Yet another British rail disaster
claims seven lives
The fifth disaster on Britain's railways in as many years left seven dead and four critically injured early Saturday morning, throwing the network back into disarray just as it was recovering from the Hatfield crash of October 2000 which killed four people. It is another blow for an industry still struggling to recover from decades of underfunding.

The Times of London reported people waiting on the platform at Potters Bar in North London ran for their lives as a train derailed, sending one of the coaches hurtling sideways towards them at almost 100 mph before it ended up embedded under the roof.

Most of the dead were believed to have been in the rear car of the 12:45 a.m. from King's Cross to King's Lynn, which was carrying 151 passengers. Sixty people suffered more minor injuries. The crash also damaged a bridge, raining debris on to traffic in the town center below.

Investigators seeking the cause of the accident -which happened five miles up the line from the scene of the Hatfield crash -were focusing on a switch where the coaches began to jack-knife. A blue tarpaulin was believed to be hiding evidence of either train or track failure.

Regular commuters said that they had noticed a jolt on the approach to Potters Bar in recent months; Kevin Kirk reported experiencing a "violent shake" as the train passed the area near the points.

But Railtrack said that its records showed that the line had been checked every week, and the points were replaced last September.

A track failure would be devastating for Railtrack, which is in administration (a form of bankruptcy) largely because of the neglect and incompetence exposed by the Hatfield crash. It would also bring renewed questioning of Stephen Byers's decision to force the company into administration last October.

Railtrack said that it had found no evidence of a broken rail, the problem at Hatfield, but the points showed signs of abrasion, indicating either that they had changed suddenly as the last car went over, or that they were damaged by wheels that had been derailed. The three inspectors at the scene were also checking the train's trucks for signs of a broken wheel or axle or damage from equipment that may have fallen from the train.

An object on the line was thought an unlikely cause since the front three cars passed safely through the station, coming to rest upright 500 yards away. The rear car leapt off the rails and twisted through 90 degrees, leaving a trail of destruction as it straddled two lines before climbing the platforms and scything through the station.

The engineer, Andy Gibson, who was not injured, said that he felt something give way but had no warning of the crash and was shocked to find the devastation behind him. Railtrack ruled out any question of a stop signal being passed, the cause of the Ladbroke Grove and Southall crashes in recent years.


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Investigators peer into stock scheme
Schroder Salomon Smith Barney is conducting an internal investigation into suspicious trades in the shares of Railtrack, the insolvent company that owns Britain's railroad tracks and stations, a spokesman for Schroder Salomon Smith Barney said last week.

Formal trading in Railtrack, which is in a form of bankruptcy proceedings known as 'administration" in the U.K., has been suspended on the London Stock Exchange since Oct. 8, but investors can still trade it by independently matching buyers and sellers in the so-called gray market.

The Financial Services Authority has been examining trades on the gray market made around March 25. On that day, Stephen Byers, the transportation secretary, announced a plan to pay Railtrack shareholders 1.3 billion ($1.9 billion) in compensation for the part played by government budget and policy decisions in the company's financial woes.

Schroder Salomon Smith Barney, an investment bank unit of Citigroup, is acting as an adviser to the government on the reorganization of Railtrack.

The investigation is focusing on the purchase of 500,000 Railtrack shares deposited in an account run by Vidacos, a clearing and settlement firm also owned by Citigroup. The Sunday Times of London reported the trades over the weekend.


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Meetings...

May 21-24

High-Speed Ground Transportation Assn.
International Conference and Expo

Wyndham Resort Hotel
Orland Fla.
Contact HSGTA via e-mail at infor@hsgt.org.;
Phone 202 789 8107; Fax 202 789 8109.


June 2-4

Transportation Marketing and Communications Assn.
Sixth annual conference

Omni Tucson National Golf Resort
Contact Sarah Shamla via e-mail at
tmcaservices@earthlink.net;
Phone 952 442 5638, Ext. 202;
or fax at 952 442 3941.


June 9-13

APTA Commuter Rail and Transit conference

Renaissance Harborplace and Hyatt Regency, Baltimore.

Contact David Phelps via e-mail at dphelps@apta.com
or via APTA's web site at http://www.apta.com;
Phone 202 496 4885.


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The way we were...

Conrail-circa 1979

NCI: Leo King Collection

Conrail was still a new corporate entity in 1979, and its equipment had not yet shed its black Penn Central image. In Rhode Island, the trains still operated on the remnants of the former NYNH&H's Northup Avenue "class" yard -informally named "Six Bridges." The Providence & Worcester had not started operating here yet, either.

End Notes...
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