|Editor's note - This week's issue concentrates on NCI's two-day conference in Washington last week. We finished writing stories Saturday evening, which is way past our regular deadline, partly because of travel requirements involved. We expect to have more detailed coverage next week.|
Mineta comes down pro-Amtrak;
Thompson steps down as chair
US Department of Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta stated clearly on May 9 he is in Amtrak's corner despite major cash flow problems, and told some 150 conferees at the National Corridors Initiative's annual meeting that Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Tommy Thompson, had submitted his Amtrak chairmanship resignation within the last fortnight to President Bush. Mineta also said Amtrak's books are not so good.
Mineta paid particular attention to Amtrak.
He said, "In this coming year, all of us will be involved in discussions and actions regarding Amtrak reauthorization, and the role that rail will play in our transportation system and the economy. Since 1989, the National Corridors Initiative has been on the front line of these issues, and you understand how important, how rail impacts on people's lives, therefore, your input is both valued and needed, so I really appreciate this opportunity to speak with the members of NCI about how rail is, without a doubt, an important part of the solution to our nation's transportation challenges. I look forward to working will all of you to insure that rail thrives in the 21st century."
Mineta, who joined the Republican Bush Administration after serving as Commerce secretary in the Democratic Clinton Administration, revealed current chairman Tommy Thompson would be leaving.
"As you know, I will probably be going on the board of directors of Amtrak. Governor Thompson has been on the board, and has served very, very well, but the law says there can only be one federal employee on the board of directors, so Tommy and I had breakfast on Monday [May 7], and I think Tommy will be stepping down after all the years of great service that he has been providing to the board. In anticipation of my going on the board, I've had a very quick tutorial and broad view about the finances of Amtrak. I've got to be very frank. They do not look good at all.
NCI: Leo KingNorman Y. Mineta: "Amtrak finances... do not look good at all... We can't afford to have Amtrak go down, so it's going to be requiring not only the good efforts of... Warrington and the members of the board, but all of you.... "
NCI: Leo KingNCI president James P. RePass concludes his introduction of U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta at the National Corridor Initiative's annual conference in Washington, D.C. on May 9 and 10.
"On the other hand, we can't afford to have Amtrak go down, so it's going to be requiring not only the good efforts of [Amtrak] President George Warrington and the members of the board, but all of you, also, being an effective part of talking to members of Congress about the necessity to keep Amtrak alive.
The quiet-spoken Mineta told the group Thursday Thompson's resignation was coming, and on Friday, Thompson reluctantly resigned as Amtrak's chairman, clearing the way for Mineta to become the newest board member.
Thompson, who is President Bush's Health and Human Services secretary, was appointed to the board when he was Wisconsin's governor. Since joining the President's cabinet, he had resisted pressure from the White House to step down, but he finally submitted his resignation in a letter to Bush, and said his last Amtrak meeting would be May 23.
"I resign with regret but with the sincere understanding that the best interests of the administration dictated that I step aside," Thompson wrote in a statement. The Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act of 1997 that restructured Amtrak's board required that a cabinet member could fill only one of its seven seats.
Mineta gets a chuckle
"As I understand it, the High-speed rail investment act, S. 250," which is now in the Senate Finance Committee, "has some 58 cosponsors," as of Friday, "but I also know, as I was making my rounds for confirmation, there were some senators who took great pride in killing the bill" last year.
"It's the kind of effort that, I think, if they don't have the capital investment, their operations are in jeopardy; so you can't just look at our $521 million or the revenues coming into Amtrak. There has to be an improvement on the capital side. Without that, they hemorrhage on the other side. It is not a very good picture, but I think it's something we all have to work collectively to stay."
In a question from the floor, Sierra Club member Molly McKay of Mystic, Conn., asked why does Amtrak need to be self-sufficient? Mineta replied, "That was the promise made by the rail corporation to Congress in 1973."
"That can't change?" she queried.
"Unless they make a different legislative effort. That was the promise they made to Congress in 1973. We know that all forms of transportation receive subsidies, and having ridden TGV (French high-speed trains) in my capacity in business development and at Lockheed-Martin, I worked very actively on maglev, so therefore I'm now recused from all maglev discussion.
"Rail has lost its luster. Rail, frankly, has not performed, whether it's freight rail or light rail, and I'm a supporter of transit, and have been since I was on the [San Jose] city council; but we're in an era of trying to balance resources. I know that highways are subsidized. I know rail is going to have to be subsidized. The mental attitude is not a level playing field, and attitudes have to be turned around. This is not going to get done overnight. Rail has a long way to go to try and convince people ‚ especially Congress ‚ about why they are important, but at the same time, from an authorization perspective, both ISTEA and especially in TEA-21. This year, our budget proposal for transit is $6.6 billion."
With some help from Mort Downey's long memory, he added, "DOT had $3 to $4 billion in 1993." He said this year's figure "is a tremendous amount even though it may seem miniscule in terms of the cost of missile development, but missile development is not our competitor. We have to look at it within the transportation realm."
Mineta, who served as chairman of the House Public Works and Transportation Committee between 1992 and 1994 and chaired the committee's aviation subcommittee between 1981 and 1988 as well as its Surface Transportation Subcommittee from 1989 to 1991, added, "The other thing that's happening is that gridlock is occurring across the country, regardless of where you live. Go to Resume Speed, Iowa, they'll complain about gridlock, and they're looking for alternatives to the automobile, so the number of applications that we have for new starts is just very, very big. The pile keeps growing in the "inbox" on new starts.
Amtrak board member Michael Dukakis said he wants to make Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) "a believer. I'm going to spend the next few weeks showing him the virtues of Amtrak."
"There's a proposal in the fiscal 2004 budget that grants go down to 50-50" from the current 80-20, which is 80 percent federal funding, the rest state and local.
He explained the reasoning was "In order to try to do two things: to put the leverage on local governments and local agencies to make sure that they're really coming up with good projects. If it's 80-20, they can say, 'I can afford to be a little sloppy. I put twenty bucks out, I get eighty bucks in, so I've got a hundred dollars to do something,' but all of a sudden if it's 50-50, then it starts weeding out some of the marginal applications.
On the other hand, because of the number of applications coming in, you can say, 'we can have more new starts,' but that also depends upon the amount of dollars being there in the future, so that the new applications you have today are going to be able to be funded through their total cycle.
"From my perspective, the amount we have available is really very big. On the other hand, given gridlock across the country, there is another thing that I'm looking at (and I just did this).
"The Puget Sound Transit District had gone to the voters in 1996 for approval of a program in the Olympia-Tacoma-Seattle area. The total program was a 21-mile system, $2.5 billion. It came in for the first phase of seven miles. That first phase was $2.6 billion, so I said, 'Hold it. What's going on?' As part of the full-funding agreement, they would have been getting $75 million for fiscal year 2002. What I did was to keep the approval in place, but I withheld $75 million, because, I think, the Puget Sound Transit District is going to have to take a look at what they're doing.
"I am not going to countenance lousy workmanship. If we are going to pay for a 10-sack concrete job, it will not be for a seven-sack concrete job."
Regardless of whether it's at the planning phase or the construction phase, I have said to our federal transit folks as well as our highway folks, 'Make sure that you have enough inspection resources.'
"I was on the Public Works and Transportation Committee for the House," he recalled. "The biggest initial investment in transportation was the National Defense Highway System. One of the things that got created on that Public Works committee was an investigations and oversight [sub]committee because of the graft and corruption. It started in that program in 1966-67. Chairman John Blotnick of Minnesota made a career, and after that, Congressman Jim Wright, as the chair of that subcommittee, ferreting out not only graft and corruption, but also poor workmanship. By 1974, when I was elected to Congress, that subcommittee on investigations and oversight had the largest staff, and the professional staff at the time I joined it was 27 retired FBI agents. Their job was just to do nothing but inspect the books and the contracts that were out there."
Looking at today's construction efforts, he noted, "With the tremendous increase in highway spending this year, as well as in transit and aviation, I want to make sure I get a ten-sack concrete job. Two years from now, I don't want the GAO [Government Accounting Office] coming back and saying, 'Look what happened to Mineta's time in office. Fraud, waste and abuse.' Just as it was during the Mort Downey-Rodney Slater time period, I'm going to make sure that this is not a slippage point for us. If we are not credible the way we are spending the money, then all we're doing is sacrificing future investments in transportation.
"For whatever reason, people have been the harshest looking at rail. They don't put rail to the same standards of tests; it's more rigid than it is in terms of aviation or highways. People think, 'I don't pay for highways. I pay for gas, gasoline tax, and all that.' Its subsidies are there, but you can't convince people that that's the case, so we have a very big educational job to do, and it has to be more than just on the basis of 'It's a nice way to travel.' We're just going to be as hard-nosed about our approach on railroads, and, frankly, apply that same approach to other modes."
Mineta praised NCI and its president, James P. RePass.
"The NCI is focused on the mode of transportation that I believe is going to see increasingly rapid growth in the coming years. Rail has captured the attention of the American people, and they look for ways to make commuting and traveling easier and more convenient."
Mineta added, "Rail transportation is no longer just an option, but a necessity. This is good news because our roadways and airways are in need of relief. Congestion and delay in these modes not only waste time but burdens our businesses and our entire economy with inefficiency and higher costs."
Mineta professed that "transportation is key to enabling economic growth to determine the patterns of that growth and to determine the competitiveness of our businesses in a world economy," so "providing the public and business with good transportation alternatives is also necessary for achieving economic success and a better quality of life, and it is clear, rail is one of those very important alternatives."
Reflecting this year's theme, "Making intermodal work," Mineta said, "During my tenure at the department, I hope to change the mindset of many who work in the transportation arena. I believe that an essential ingredient for continuing to provide the public with meaningful and tangible transportation options, is true intermodal integration."
He added, "This integration is important not only within the DOT, but for all aspects of transportation in both the public and private sectors."
The one-time mayor of San Jose Calif., who later went on to become a U.S. House member and chair of its Transportation Committee, explained, "such integration means, for example, that railroads should no longer confine their thinking to railroads alone," which was a theme heard frequently over the two days. Airport integration is a prime example of the new thinking. Transportation planners and designers can't take the airport runways to the tracks, so they take the tracks to the airports. Examples included Amtrak and Metro's BWI Airport near Washington, and a brand-new station where the land is currently being cleared in Warwick, R.I., some eight miles south of the capital, Providence. That city already has a shared Amtrak and Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority station.
"We should also consider how they work with highways and airways. Trucks can't just think about highways. We must also think about grading, and maintaining; deep water ports where they bring the exports."
The DOT secretary said, "T-21 not only provided an unprecedented amount of funding for surface transportation, but it continues to provide unprecedented flexibility to use the funds for a wide range of transportation solutions."
Mineta said the "department's surface transportation programs include formula as well as discretionary grants as well as programs that provide direct loans, loan guarantees, and lines of credit. Now, these varied and unique approaches to funding give communities a broad range of incentives to expand transportation choices. They put unprecedented emphasis on development of a seamless, intermodal transportation system that links seaports, airports, highways, rails and transit effectively."
He cited the greater D.C. area as an example, because riders can take the Metro from Virginia points directly to Reagan International Airport, or to Union station to catch an Acela Express, MARC or VRE commuter train.
"Rail and transit are truly complementary here in this region ‚ but despite this success, congestion continues to be a problem. Highways are the very backbone of our nation's transportation system, and the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System did an extraordinary job of getting our country together in making nationwide highway transportation a reality for people and goods."
He added, "It is because of this system that our country has enjoyed astounding productivity and economic competitiveness; but we are now losing that productivity growth to increasing gridlock in the system, and gains made nationwide are too often being lost because of a lack of coordination among modes of transportation, and state and local transportation officials.
Mineta became the 14th U.S. Secretary of Transportation on January 25, 2001. In nominating him, President Bush said, "Norm made a reputation in the halls of Congress as someone who understands that a sound infrastructure in America will lead to economic opportunity for all Americans."
The secretary told the NCI meeting, "A major action is now underway in the department to tackle surface transportation congestion. Technology offers particular promise, and I believe the public-private research partnerships can help to build better highway systems, air traffic control systems, as well as light and heavy rail cars and systems that are safer, and more efficient. Rail is capturing the attention of more and more people as a way to relieve congestion on our highways and airways throughout the nation, in California, the Midwestern states and parts of the South. Government and business leaders are planning for high-speed rail systems early in this century."
In a recent national survey, conducted by the U.S. conference of mayors, Mineta said, "62 percent of the people surveyed said that they would be interested in riding high-speed trains, and 69 percent said they would favor a high-speed train service in their area to connect major population centers."
He also looked back ten years and explained that the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) "created a process for the department to designate five potential high-speed rail corridors outside the Northeast Corridor, and that law ‚ which I had the pleasure of co-authoring" when he was a House member (and remained so for 10 terms following his election in 1975), "also provided a small amount of funding out of the highway trust funds for states to spend on grade-crossing hazard elimination in those corridors. ISTEA's successor, The Transportation Equity Act for the Twenty-first Century (TEA-21), designates a total of ten high-speed corridors nationwide, representing a cross-section of the country with an emphasis on the most highly urbanized areas."
He credited Former DOT official Mort Downey, who was at the two-day conference, and former Transportation secretary Rodney Slater, with creating the TEA-21 measure.
Mineta added, "We have been working with state DOTs to prepare plans for high-speed rail improvements in these corridors. Amtrak, and the freight carriers that own the track, are also very closely involved, and all of these parties have to work together to emphasize the theme of this conference, 'partnerships for corridor building.'"
Mineta, who was the opening keynote speaker, began his presentation just after 8:30 a.m. on a sunny day that would see temperatures climb into the mid-80s. He said, "The Administration is presently reviewing the high-speed rail improvement act, and as we conduct that review, I can say that President Bush understands that rail is an important part of our national transportation system. That's why he has proposed that Amtrak receive the $521 million for fiscal year 2002, which will put the corporation on the guideway to self-sufficiency. The President's budget also continues current levels of funding for the next generation of high-speed rail technology programs, which focuses on developing and demonstrating technologies to support high-speed rail corridor development on existing rail lines."
"Without a doubt, safety will continue to be DOT's number-one priority on my watch for all modes of transportation." He said the President has proposed investing $154 million for rail safety in FY 2002, "a 9 percent increase" over the current fiscal year. He cited last year as having the fewest fatalities in 20 years.
|Amtrak board, council may be near agreement|
The roaring debate over whether Amtrak should split its Northeast Corridor operations from its infrastructure may have become a mere shadow of its former self.
Amtrak Vice chairman Michael S. Dukakis says he and Amtrak Reform Council (ARC) Executive Director Tom Till are now almost on the same wavelength on the issue.
"I don't think Tom and I are that far apart," Dukakis declared at the end of a panel discussion at the Friday, May 11 session of the annual conference of the National Corridors Initiative.
On March 20, the ARC had issued a report urging such a split, reasoning that running the trains, mail and express should be the sole concern of Amtrak management, while a separate entity could manage and maintain the physical plant i.e., tracks, signals, stations, tunnels, etc. The ARC reasons that Amtrak is at a severe disadvantage in having to do both, while air and highway modes have their infrastructures (concrete, highway patrol, airports, air traffic controllers, etc.) paid for. The ARC believes Amtrak should have the same "advantage."
Amtrak, however, rejected the ARC proposal, arguing this would endanger its badly needed control of the signaling, perhaps enabling some commuter authority or state to pre-empt it and, among other things, slow down the high-speed high-priority Acela Express.
Till, in addressing the NCI conferees, noted the council did say the infrastructure agency could be an Amtrak subsidiary.
The ARC official argued taking the Northeast infrastructure off the Amtrak books would also have the advantage of reducing its deficits.
Dukakis, a former three-term governor of Massachusetts and presidential candidate, said when he took the governing job in early 1975, Boston's MBTA (light rail, subway, and commuter system) was in terrible shape, and that in his own "hands on" responsibility of running that railroad, if anyone had suggested he turn over the infrastructure to another party, he would have been sorely tempted to "throw them out of a second story window."
Till added up all the money required for huge capital expenses such as making the Penn Station tunnels in New York safe, as well as upgrading the 70-year-old electrified south end of the corridor (New York City to Washington) so that the Acela can go at its advertised speed of 150 mph there, as it does on parts of the newly electrified sections in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
He said it was high time to have a steady, reliable plan to replace the 30-year-old hand-to-mouth existence of "Oh, my God! Amtrak's going to die! We need to cough up a few billion bucks!"
"We have sat around with no substantial procedure for putting money into rail where it's needed," the top ARC staffer added.
Among the other panelists were James Stem, Alternate Legislative Director for the United Transportation Union, who said no rail passenger system in the world could expect to recover 100 percent of its costs from the farebox. To expect that of Amtrak, he argued, was "unrealistic."
Morton Downey, a top DOT official under Presidents Carter and Clinton, onetime top official of New York City's rail transit system, and now a private consultant, said whatever is decided about Northeast Corridor operations, commuter agencies "need to be at the table" since they operate far more trains on that trackage than does Amtrak, though Amtrak is the only entity operating end-to-end on the NEC.
Kevin Brubaker of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, speaking for the Midwest, complained the Northeast got the Acela high-speed train "without paying a penny" for it, while other parts of the country have to pony up money to start up high-speed service.
Dukakis, who was the 1988 Democratic presidential candidate, cited one area of the corridor where another entity actually does control the infrastructure, the New York to New Haven segment, owned by Metro-North commuter rail.
That part of the plant "looks like hell," he said, with graffiti and other aesthetic eyesores, which the Amtrak Vice-Chairman said, he has asked Metro-North (without success) to clean up.
Till said it's true that, as Dukakis had noted, that is also the one segment of the line where the Acela has had to slow down to 75 mph, but he added Metro-North has plans for an upgrade of the plant and ancient catenary.
When I asked the governor about the responsibility to speed up the New York-Washington segment and fix the Penn Station tunnels, he said there's no doubt the states, possibly through a regional umbrella organization, would have to participate in those efforts. What it takes is political will, he responded.
He added that if billions can be thrown at Boston's infamous "Big Dig," a notoriously out-of-control road project in the heart of the city, surely the money can be found to transport millions each year in the nation's busiest rail corridor.
D:F was the first media outlet to call national attention to the fire and safety hazards that threaten a cataclysmic accident at the New York City facility, Amtrak's busiest station.
In the end, Dukakis said of Till, "I don't think we're that far apart. He noted agreement on two fundamentals Amtrak needs "long term commitments," and "We need to make it clear what works."
Till's emphasis on the ARC report's stating that a separate infrastructure entity need not be beyond Amtrak's control seems to have broken the ice on this issue. There needs to be a separate responsible entity to which Amtrak's operations management can say, "Look, there's a broken track or defective catenary. You need to fix that," the ARC executive director said.
Dukakis seemed to have little problem with that.
Perhaps now the roaring controversy will diminish to a whisper.
TalgoRenfe Talgo's Talgo XXI brings tilt technology to world-class railroading, and in its diesel version is capable of 140 mph, and 150 mph under catenary.
Talgo markets new, fast train;
Spain expands high-speed routes
Spain's Renfe Talgo Corp. is not only marketing a new, fast electric train, the European nation is also expanding its high-speed corridors as well.
The Spanish ambassador to the U.S., Javier Ruperez, was the luncheon speaker on Thursday's gathering, the first day of a two-day gathering of railroad professionals, governmental leaders and transportation experts in Washington's posh Marriott Hotel.
Ruperez said, "'Renfe' is the state-owned railroad, which also owns the track." He added that "High-speed rail began about ten years ago" in his country, around 1992.
He observed that the route from Madrid to Seville is about 451 kilometers (about 320 miles), "but the problem with our track is that the track width is a little off in Spain." He acknowledged it sound amusing when people hear the reasoning, but he explained that national leaders "wanted to avoid another Napoleonic invasion."
He added, though, that Spain is converting it's high-speed lines to the European standard gauge, so Spaniards can travel by the rail throughout the rest of Europe, and vice versa.
He said emphatically he has no financial interest in Talgo, nor does he work for the transit manufacturer.
Talgo has a foothold in the U.S. with its products ‚ its trains ‚ operating in the Pacific Northwest for Amtrak and the Oregon-Washington-British Columbia transportation consortium; a regional rail system. The firm is also bidding against competitors Bombardier and Siemens for the U.S. Midwest High-speed project, particularly between Chicago and St. Louis.
Ruperez said Spain's "high-speed trains are on time 99-point-nine percent of the time, and added, "A new Madrid-Barcelona line is being built, "with trains traveling at 220 mph. By 2007, 7,200 km of high-speed rail will be in use in Spain." He also noted commuter rail had increased greatly.
NCI: Leo KingSpanish Ambassador Javier Ruperez says Talgo's newest train, the Talgo 350 will travel at 350 kilometers per hour under 25,000-volt catenary at 50 Hertz.
A Note of Thanks...
Many thanks to all our speakers and attendees at the just-concluded NCI conference "Making Multimodalism Work" in Washington. I very much appreciate all the kind words from everyone, but the reason our conferences work so well has nothing to do with me: it is all about the people who come, and participate.
This year's event certainly was fun, though, and we will all remember the newsmaking keynoters Norm Mineta and John Cooksey; but every session had something to recommend it, and I was just bowled over by the breadth and depth of the presentations. We'll be recounting those in D:F over the next few issues.
Again, many thanks to all, and especially my vice chairs Doug Alexander, who put together the binders and prepared those great posters, and John Businger, who was a superb moderator and did so much else to help me this year. Anyone who has ever staged a conference will tell you it¼s a killer, but I must admit I really enjoyed myself, and met several new people who gave me some terrific ideas for the future.
Next year's conference will be scheduled soon, but for now, I just want to say that I am more confident than ever that the National Corridors movement really is going to happen, and bring this country¼s transportation system back into balance... and it won't be a minute too soon.
- Jim RePass
NCI: Leo KingEngines 265, 291 plus three others are being shut down to be kept in reserve.
|F-40 changeover is nearly complete|
Five Amtrak F-40PHs have been ordered shut down and stored serviceable at Southampton Street Yard in Boston. Terminal Services Superintendent Paul O'Mara gave the order to Yardmaster Bill O'Brien on May 6. Engines 265 and 291, pictured here, were just moments away from turning off the headlight. They were on the east end on track 2, and the other three, the 241, 413 and 226, were on the west end on the other side of the shop. The engines were placed "in standby service."
Except for train No. 174, and the Twilight Shoreliner, Nos. 66 and 67, all Northeast Corridor trains to Boston via the Shore Line operate with electric engines, primarily AEM-7s. Train No. 174 began the new timetable on April 30 operating with F-40s so it could travel the last ten miles of its journey via the Dorchester Branch, but in recent days, it began operating with quicker-accelerating AEM-7s instead - and held the main.
When operating with diesels, No. 174 makes a right turn at Readville so it can get out of the way of daily Acela Express No. 2175. Train 84, which formerly made the journey to Boston via this route, now terminates in Penn Station, New York.
|Chicagoans make ready to move|
Long-delayed plans to transform Chicago's Union Station are slowly rolling forward, with owner Amtrak selecting Prime Group Realty Trust to redevelop the historic train depot, according to the Chicago Tribune of May 5.
A proposal by Mayor Richard Daley's administration to landmark the station was put on hold [May 4?] Thursday to allow for additional review of a mixed-use redevelopment proposal by the Chicago-based real estate investment trust.
The station was built in 1925.
The Tribune reported Amtrak signed a "letter agreement" with Prime Group in February, and in April presented a redevelopment plan to the city's Department of Planning and Development, according to an Amtrak letter submitted to David Mosena, chairman of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks.
The letter did not disclose the terms of the agreement with Prime Group or any details about the plan, except to call it a mixed-use proposal.
Prime Group executives would not comment, nor would an Amtrak spokesman comment on the redevelopment, but confirmed that the railroad early next year will move its local offices from the station to a new building at 525 W. Van Buren St. being built by Chicago-based Development Resources Inc.
|Arizona looks for ways to keep UP line open|
The director of the Arizona DOT met last week with a top Amtrak official to discuss ways to preserve a rail line west of Phoenix that is slated for abandonment.
"We think it would be in our long-term interest to retain that corridor," DOT chief Mary Peters said of a 76-mile stretch of track west of Phoenix that connects with the mainline to Los Angeles, the Arizona Republic reported on May 4.
Union Pacific Railroad said it wants to abandon the track, which has not seen regular rail service for nearly five years.
Peters said she and Ed Walker, president of Amtrak Intercity, discussed the idea of coming up with enough money to cover the railroad's expenses, such as property taxes and liability insurance. Meanwhile, the Arizona Rail Passenger Association has launched a letter-writing campaign to the Arizona congressional delegation, urging them to prevent the line from being sold and torn up.
Transport solons irked with White House inaction;
FRA's slothful loan implementation
Members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee say they are irked by inaction from the White House and voiced frustration with the FRA's slow implementation of a loan program created to provide federal assistance for badly needed rail infrastructure improvements.
The Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) Program was established as part of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21) of 1998 and authorizes $3.5 billion in direct and guaranteed loans for rail equipment and infrastructure. As written, $1 billion of that total is dedicated to smaller (Class II and Class III) railroads. Since TEA 21's passage, however, regulations enacted by the previous Administration, as well as a June 23, 2000 memo between the USDOT and the Office of Management and Budget, have crippled the effectiveness of the loan program. Funds have yet to be provided in any Presidential budget proposal to support the program.
The program must be made operative immediately, said Chairman Don Young. (R-Alaska), Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
"Not a dollar of this $3.5 billion revolving fund has been put to work, almost three years after enactment," he said.
Young expressed concern that the Administration was defying the will of Congress, embodied in TEA 21, by enacting the regulations that impeded the issuance of loans under the RRIF Program.
"I hope that we can explore with the DOT what has gone wrong and how it can be fixed now," said Young.
"All of our railroads, large and small, as well as their intermodal transportation partners, are potential beneficiaries of this program, and it must be made operative and user-friendly right away. There is a great need for improvements," said Rep. Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.), who is the Railroads Subcommittee Chairman.
"Today's hearing showed the dire need for infrastructure improvements on much of the nation's railroad tracks," Quinn noted, and added, "The subcommittee will work diligently on a bipartisan basis, whether through legislation or negotiations with the Administration, to help railroad companies make much-needed infrastructure improvements."
He added, "Three years is already too long to release money as part of the RRIF program, which would allow railroads to better compete with other modes of transportation."
Rep. Mike Ferguson (R-N.J.), Vice Chairman of the Railroads Subcommittee, observed, "Railroads are the backbone of our nation's freight and commuter transportation," and "We must do everything in our power to modernize our railroads to make them safer and more efficient."
Rail management and labor representatives also gave their support to H.R. 1020, The Railroad Track Modernization Act of 2001.
Introduced by Subcommittee Chairman Quinn, the bill establishes a program of direct grants to Class II and Class III railroads for rehabilitation and improvement of tracks, to bring the infrastructure up to a level permitting safe and efficient operation, including traffic containing the new heavier 286,000-pound freight cars being adopted as an industry standard by the much larger Class I railroads ‚ the BNSFs, UPs, NSs, CSXs and the like. The general fund authorization level is $350 million per year for fiscal year 2002-2004.
Several witnesses cited a recent study that concluded about $6.8 billion would be required to provide the needed infrastructure improvements to the Class II and Class III rail network.
|Jackson, Taylor take DOT posts|
Michael P. Jackson is USDOT's Deputy Transportation Secretary.
"Michael's experience in both the private sector and the government as well as his strong transportation background make him a valuable asset to the department's senior management team," Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said.
"I look forward to working with him as we further enhance the safety of our transportation system while addressing the growing problems of air and highway congestion."
Jackson will be the department's chief operating officer with responsibility for the day-to-day operations of 11 modal administrations and the work of 100,000 DOT employees nationwide and overseas.
Jackson is a former DOT chief of staff to Secretary Andrew H. Card Jr. from 1992 to 1993. From 1993 until 1997, he was senior vice president and counselor to the president of the American Trucking Association, where he handled freight, technology and international trade matters.
Vincent T. Taylor is the new Deputy Chief of Staff at USDOT. Taylor will provides executive direction on a variety of transportation policy matters and direct policy, program and managerial support to Secretary of Transportation in administering operations of the department.
Originally from Los Angeles, Taylor served in the State Department. Most recently, he was the Program Manager for Counter-Narcotics, Law Enforcement, and Terrorism in the Office of the Inspector General.
Is CSX getting tough with safety?
CSX apparently is getting ready to crack down sternly on employees who break safety rule violations. Destination: Freedom has learned that CSX plans to make the changes effective May 1.
The railroad has reportedly adopted "five 'life-critical' rules, including stop signal violations, blue flag violations, occupying track without authority, failure to use required fall protection [especially in the mechanical department], and negligent maintenance of signal equipment [directed at the signal department]."
The unconfirmed report stated "consequences for someone breaking any of the "Life-Critical Rules" include a 30-day suspension for the first offense, with up to 15 additional days of paid training, and termination for a subsequent offense."
A source said CSX is adopting the policy because the railroad's "safety record over the last five years has slipped significantly," and stated personal injuries for 1995 earned a 1.8 frequency index, but by 2000, it was up to 2.82, a 60 percent increase.
Train accidents for 1995 were reported at a 2.0 frequency index, but six years later were up to 4.04 ‚ a greater than 100 percent increase.
"In 2000, we experienced 57 red signal violations, the source said, "so far through March , there have been 19. Annualized, this represents a significant increase."
The source added, "We've had six significant collisions in the past 12 months ‚ one fatality, four employees injured and a hazmat incident with evacuation, and as of March 31, five incidents of occupying track without authority." The source added that as of March 31, six blue flag violations had been reported.
"Violation of 'restricted speed' is also a major concern. Concentrating on red signals will raise awareness of 'restricted speed' requirements and, hopefully, eliminate violations. The bottom line is, we don't want any more funerals. This is about saving lives, consistent with our social compact. We're committed to the social compact. This change is very much in sync with the Social Compact."
The source added, "We're doing this because we care about our employees _ we're trying to save lives. We met with [union] general chairmen in advance to discuss this change with them.
"Managers who violate any of these life-critical rules will face the same consequences."
|Intermodal volume slows in April|
The association of American Railroads reports that continued strong coal shipments helped U.S. and Canadian railroads overcome weak intermodal volume to post a narrow two-tenths on one percent gain over the comparable period of 2000 in originated carload traffic for the four weeks ended April 28.
U.S. and Canadian intermodal shipments declined 2.8 percent as U.S. levels dropped 4 percent, and volume for the January-April period showed an overall 2.6 percent drop.
The intermodal slump was marked by a 10.8 percent drop in trailers on flatcars, while container volume narrowly edged up by .4 percent. Trailer traffic is almost exclusively made up of domestic traffic, although some trailers are reloaded at distribution centers near ports and actually contain imports destined for multiple destinations.
Containers, on the other hand, predominantly represent import-export traffic, but increasingly are being used by domestic shippers.
While coal, up 9.2 percent, and agricultural products, up 3.2 pwercent, posted gains, all other carload commodities registered declines for the four-weeks ending April 28. The coal increase of 48,857 carloadings was enough to bring the total volume to a 3,295 carload gain.
Intermodal data is reported separately from carload information.
If there was any good news in the April figures, it was that the declines were less than for the first four months of 2001, suggesting that the bottom may have been reached. Chemicals, for example, which were down 4.8 percent for the first four months, were down just 4.1 percent in April. Forest products, including paper, pulp and lumber, were down 8.2 percent for the year to date, but just 6.6 percent in the latest month.
The key category of motor vehicles and equipment provided similar positive signs, improving from a year-to-date drop of 13.2 percent to an April decline of 6.4 percent.
Bombardier to stay in Montreal;
Berlin will host Euro headquarters
Bombardier's president and CEO, Robert E. Brown, speaking at a press conference in Berlin last week, said "With the addition of Adtranz, we are clearly positioning Bombardier Transportation globally as the leading integrated rail transportation equipment manufacturer. With the support of its 37,000 employees, I am confident that we will live up to the high expectations of our customers in terms of delivery, quality, service and price.
Brown added, "Rail transportation equipment is a core business now accounting for nearly 40 percent of our revenues and we will continue to carry this business forward worldwide under the banner of Bombardier Transportation," stated President and Chief Executive Officer of Bombardier Inc.,
Pierre Lortie, Bombardier's president and COO, said the organizational structure and the leaders of the new organization would change.
"The new Bombardier Transportation will be structured into seven distinct divisions, each with a clear geographical or product mandate. Three rolling stock divisions will have a geographical focus: The Americas, Asia-Pacific, and Europe. The other four divisions will have a clear product or services focus with a global mandate propulsion and controls, transit systems, services and signaling." He said, Bombardier Transportation's headquarters will remain in Montreal, while its European headquarters will be located in Berlin.
|Metroplex might be a high-speed rail hub|
Fort Worth and the Metroplex, hub for the Texas Eagle, can become a key center for Amtrak's future network of high-speed rail lines if additional federal funds can be secured, officials say.
"The Texas Eagle continued its growth with an 18 percent increase in ridership and a 20 percent increase in ticket revenue in the first half of this fiscal year," Amtrak spokesman Kevin Johnson said, "and the state of Texas would be a key state for high- speed rail," according to a report in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram last week.
Running commuter trains at 90 mph or faster in Texas would mean more efficient service for the Lone Star State, officials said.
In October, the Texas Eagle line, from San Antonio via Fort Worth to Little Rock, Ark., was designated a high-speed rail corridor, making the route eligible for federal funds for projects to increase safety and efficiency. The Metroplex would be the hub of the South Central Corridor, which continues north to St. Louis and Chicago. Increasing ridership on the Texas Eagle is considered crucial because the line is an alternative to driving an automobile on Interstate 35 between the Metroplex and San Antonio.
But with Amtrak still in the red, the purse strings, and therefore the viability of high-speed rail, are still in the hands of Congress.
"With increasing aviation delays and traffic snarls, high-speed rail can be a reliable and efficient alternative to both driving and air travel," said Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, chairwoman of the aviation subcommittee of the Commerce Committee and a longtime Texas Eagle supporter.
"Investment in high-speed rail will ease overcrowding and delays in our transportation system," she said. "Of the 20 airports with the most flight delays in 1999, 18 were located on existing high-speed rail corridors. Rail needs to be an equal partner in our country's transportation system."
|Call for photos|
Last week's lead photo of the Florida East Coast freight train came to us from Jon Halloran, an FEC engineer. We had met Jon several years ago on-line, and when we asked him if he could help us out with an FEC photo, he was more than happy to help. The story, of course, was FEC and Amtrak preparing to run passenger trains along Florida's eastern coast, perhaps one year from now at the earliest. We recently found Jon again at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/serails/, a railfan group which takes an interest in things railroad in the Southeastern U.S.
Jon told us he does not "have all that many pictures of the FEC because I don't like to carry my camera in the cab with me; it gets too dirty and all that."
The oncoming train he photographed in January was "No. 335, the southbound (empty) Rinker unit train returning to Hialeah Yard in Miami from Cocoa, passing local 965 in the clear in the Ft. Lauderdale pig ramp. It was unusual for this train to be running in the daylight. Rinker must have had problems with their equipment while unloading it. It runs six or seven days a week from the rock pits located west of Miami to the Rinker distribution facility in City Point, near Cocoa on Florida's East Coast. Typical consist is three 400 class GP-40s and 110 hoppers."
In our Amtrak 30th anniversary issue, we had put out a call to a couple of railfan sites looking for photos of early Amtrak trains. The lists we queried, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/all_aboard/, and the other, firstname.lastname@example.org each garnered one response - but enough so that our needs were adequately met.
As a reader pointed out recently, Most of the photos we publish deal with the Northeast Corridor. Until now, we have not asked for input from "out there," but it looks like the time has come to do so.
We need photos that are significant railroad activities; stories that have news value. We are not a railfan site, although railfans are certainly welcome to read our pages. Our primary focus has always been on professional railroaders at all levels ‚ from management to the guy with a pick and shovel. Other readers we are primarily intended for are political leaders at all levels, governmental institutions that are transportation related, and supply-side folks.
We cannot pay for any photos (our budget is tiny), but we can offer by-lines and credit lines. We would like to see .jpg images, and the higher the resolution, the better. Color is preferred, but not required, digital images are preferred, but not required, and if contributors have a high-speed modem (like a cable company's), that will take the least amount of time to send a photo, cutline, story or message.
We can scan prints here, but doing so will delay getting important news onto our pages, so we recommend you scan (from whatever source) where you are, and e-mail the results to email@example.com, and let us know what the subject is, what's going on. You don't have to be a writer. If you can provide the basic information, we'll do the rest. Please be sure to include your e-mail address so we can contact you, if we need to. Do include your name, too.
Bridge repair seminar at Black & Veatch Corp., Overland Kansas. Contact http://arema.org.
High-Speed Ground Transportation Assn. at Milwaukee Hilton Center, Milwaukee, Wis. Contact http://hgst.org
Assn. of American Railroads' annual safety meeting. "Safety for the new millennium: Something for Everyone," St. Augustine, Fla., Contact Jeff Moller, 202 639 2375; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
League of Railway Industry Women
Spring summer conference and seminar at Drury Inn and Suites, Kansas City Airport, Kansas City, Mo. Contact Connie Sumara, (847) 318 8000.
2001 Union Pacific steam trips
Union Pacific reports two steam excursion scheduled so far this year. Challenger steam engine No. 3985 on June 10, 2001 from Council Bluffs to Sargeant Bluff, Iowa and return.
Contact The Camerail Club
Challenger steam engine No. 3985 on June 19, 2001, from St. Louis to Gorham, Ill., and return. St. Louis Chapter, NRHS is also hosting the 2001 annual NRHS convention, June 19-23.
Contact St. Louis Chapter, National Railway Historical Society
Eugene Van Dusen; Leo King collectionThe eastbound Pere Marquette, at Grand Rapids, Mich., on April 3, 1948, which was a postcard from a friend in 1999 who was in Minneapolis. The postcard, a little worse for wear, was published by Lyman E. Cox's "Vanishing Vistas" series in Sacramento Calif. in 1973
The brilliant blue-maize-silver paint scheme applied to Pere Marquette's diesel-electric motive power was more than just the whim of an industrial designer or something concocted by the railroad's officials. In reality, it indicated the close corporate relationship between the Pere Marquette and Chesapeake & Ohio railroads, an association which dated back to 1929, when the ICC granted the C&O permission to acquire immediate financial control of the PM. At that time, the Erie, C&O, PM, and New York, Chicago & St. Louis railroads were closely allied, their affiliation having been evident in the design and appearance of their steam locomotives. Over a period of nearly two decades the C&O strengthened its ties with the PM, and in mid-1947 it absorbed the smaller company.
Although the C&O itself had resisted the purchase of any internal combustion powered locomotives, the merger of the PM brought the coal-hauling railroad twentyfive of them, eight units for passenger service, the remainder having been BB switchers. Prior to the end of World War II the PM had purchased only switchers, the first one having arrived in 1939. After the conflict, the PM decided to improve its passenger service on the 152-mile stretch of mainline between Detroit and Grand Rapids, Michigan. Named The Pere Marquette, two new trains were provided with entirely new equipment. Steam motive power, 462 Pacifics erected in 1914 and 1920, were completely unsuitable; so, the PM ordered a pair of GM EMD E-7 diesel-electric units for the consists. They arrived in mid-1946, and after a month of experimentation, went into revenue service.
Each locomotive made three trips daily. One of them departed Grand Rapids at 7:40 a.m., and arrived in Detroit at 10:25 a.m., retracing its route at 12:10 p.m. After arriving in Grand Rapids at 4:00 p.m., it left at 5:30 p.m. and concluded its day's work at 8:15 p.m. in Detroit. The opposing consist left Detroit at 8:20 a.m., arrived in Grand Rapids at 11:05 a.m., and was gone by 12:45 p.m. It arrived in Detroit at 4:00 p.m., and set out for Grand Rapids at 6:10 p.m., where it arrived at 8:55 p.m. In addition to luxurious coaches and parlor car accommodations, each train was provided with a tavern-lounge-dining car staffed by women.
Twin observation coaches, designed with flat ends for midtrain use, were located at each end to allow operation between terminals without turning; the exception being the locomotive and head-end cars, which were turned.
The improved schedules and equipage were so successful that the PM expanded it to the ChicagoGrand Rapids line just before the merger took place. Six more E-7s were procured, and they were used in back-to-back pairs to handle the longer formations.
Text by Robert A. Le Massena.
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