TRANSPLAN 21 conference and rally for rail
June 14, 15 on Capitol Hill Washington, D.C.

Vol. 6 No. 20
May 16, 2005

Copyright © 2005
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

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

A weekly North American rail and transit update

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

* Now in our Sixth Year *

This page is best viewed at 800 X 600 screen resolution


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

  News items… 
Bridge fire interrupts Northeast Corridor
Amtrak approaches bankrupcy
Acela’s brake cracks appeared even earlier
Amtrak needs locomotive engineers
California board endorses ‘Laney Plan’
Solons travel to Chicago to help restore ‘Amfunds’
Durbin defends Amtrak dollars
Heartland Flyer appears safe – for now
New benefit helps Amtrak employees
  Commuter lines… 
Nevada wants a maglev
M-N picks Klauder for M-8s
Georgia solon won’t pay for rail info
Second Sounder rolls in June
Light rail route gets cleanup funds
Former MBTA cash counter charged with tax evasion
  APTA Highlights… 
Ben Franklin Transit to Expand Service Area
ABA, UMA Members Vote to Approve Unification
Palm Tran Appoints Cohen Executive Director
Savannah System Hires Palmer as Executive Director
  Builders lines… 
GE enters hybrid locomotive market
Greenbrier gets TTX order
  Freight lines… 
Carriers, unions to restart negotiations
Short lines get more traffic
  Wall Street lines… 
AAR weekly report: Rail freight traffic continues to gain
  Selected Friday closing quotes… 
  Across the pond… 
24-hour strike set for today in France
Safety woes hurt Japanese traveling
Hong Kong maze has many trains
Aussies may reopen freight line
A Postcard from Italy: A train is still a train –
  no matter where you are on Planet Earth
  We get letters… 
  End notes… 

New Jersey Bridge Fire

The AP via Newsday

Commuting between New Jersey and New York City was a nightmare Friday morning after a fire raged beneath Amtrak’s double-track Portal drawbridge. Firefighters spray water on the burning pilings as the span over the Hackensack River between Secaucus and Kearny, N.J. burns Thursday night. A fast-moving fire engulfed the bridge, disrupting New Jersey Transit and Amtrak service on the Northeast Corridor.


Bridge fire interrupts
Northeast Corridor

By Leo King

Commuting by rail between New Jersey and New York City was a nightmare Friday morning for some travelers after a fire raged beneath Amtrak’s Portal drawbridge Thursday evening.

Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black told D:F Friday morning there were “No injuries to anyone in this disruption,” including the bridge operator at Portal, a movable bridge.

“We’re back in operation this morning with only six cancellations and minimal delays, Black said.

He added, “New Jersey Transit Midtown Direct was diverted to Hoboken, but there were no NJT stops at Secaucus transfer station.”

Amtrak cancellations were five New York to Washington trains, and one from Washington to New York, Black said.

He added, “NJT Midtown Direct is suspended and diverted to Hoboken. No NJT stops at Secaucus. Reason: stop and proceed signals on both sides of Portal Bridge until signal cable damage can be repaired.”

During the blaze, Amtrak trains from Washington, Baltimore and other cities south of New York were terminated in Philadelphia, but trains from Boston were able to continue to New York. Gotham-bound New Jersey Transit trains stopped in Newark.

Amtrak stated late Thursday evening passengers using Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains between Newark and New York Penn Station were diverted to Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) transit service.

PATH honored Amtrak tickets and ticket stubs for travel between Manhattan and Newark Penn Station.

The fire appeared to have begun on Portal’s protect pilings, at milepost 6, under the west end of the bridge. They act as bumpers for marine traffic. It burned fiercely for more than two hours, The AP reported, engulfing a bridge support pier, as fire crews battled the flames from both tracks above and from boats in the water. The catenary was also down. Milepost 0.0 is at Penn Station, New York. Overnight service was terminated.

Fire departments in Secaucus and Jersey City sent firefighters to help, and New York City sent a fireboat, said Michael Kaywork, a Kearny firefighter. He said he did not know what had caused the fire or how much damage it had done, wrote The New York Times Friday.

Amtrak stated in a press release on its web site, “At about 8:00 p.m. a fire was reported on Amtrak’s Portal drawbridge over the Hackensack River in the New Jersey Meadows east of Newark. The fire on the steel drawbridge involved the wooden timbers and track ties. There were no injuries reported as a result of the fire, but the busy Washington-New York Northeast Corridor was temporarily taken out of service between Newark and New York.”

As of 9:30 p.m., the fire on the bridge ties had been extinguished, Amtrak stated, but structural engineers would have to assess damage and make repairs before trains would again be able to roll over the span.

About 42,500 people use NJ Transit trains to travel to and from Manhattan during rush hour each weekday.

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Amtrak approaches bankrupcy

Amtrak executives predicted on Thursday that the railroad could go bankrupt within months, forcing serious service cuts and other drastic measures, unless it receives a significant budget boost from Congress.

“I think we will probably limp into next year, but by ‘limp’ I mean we’ll have like $20 million in the bank,” said David L. Gunn, Amtrak’s president and CEO, according to Friday’s Baltimore Sun.

“At this point, we do not have a lot of options left to conserve cash,” he added.

At a hearing before the Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees the railroad’s budget, Gunn and David M. Laney, the chairman of the railroad’s board, said they need $1.82 billion in fiscal year 2006 to hang on – an increase of more than half over this year’s $1.2 billion budget.

Kenneth M. Mead, the USDOT inspector general, supported their dire warning. He said Amtrak needs $1.4 or 1.5 billion in the next year just to stay alive.

“As time goes by, the limp-along system of today comes closer to a major failure,” he said, noting “Amtrak is, quite literally, coming to the end of its rope.”

Lawmakers offered little hope that the beleaguered rail service would get such a cash infusion.

Senators said they're sympathetic to the railroad's plight, but in a difficult budget year, they said, it will be nearly impossible to give Amtrak everything it says it needs.

“Our subcommittee finds itself in the posture of having to cut and cannibalize other programs – as we have never done before – only to see if we can scrape together enough funding from other programs to extend Amtrak for another 12 months,” said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the top Democrat on the panel and an Amtrak supporter.

”Finding even $1.2 billion will be extraordinarily difficult. Finding $1.4 or $1.5 billion will be a monumental and painful challenge.”

The railroad was on budget until March, Gunn said, but Amtrak’s always precarious situation has been worsened by the discovery of problems with the brakes on its high-speed Acelas.

Several senators harshly criticized the Bush administration's decision to eliminate funding for Amtrak in its budget request – an attempt to prod Congress toward sweeping railroad reforms. The White House, they complained, has given no indication how much money it would support for Amtrak if Congress goes along with an administration plan to shift much of the financial burden to states served by the railroad.

A bankrupt Amtrak doesn’t solve anything, said Sen. Christopher S. Bond, the Missouri Republican who heads the panel.

“I think it's irresponsible to propose bankrupting Amtrak without having any significant plans for reforming it,” Bond said.

He quipped, “We can't keep Amtrak on inadequate life support without a light at the end of the tunnel. At this point, the light appears to be an oncoming freight train.”

West Virginia Sen. Robert C. Byrd, a diehard supporter of Amtrak, said the administration’s plan would eliminate many long-distance routes, many of which run through rural areas that have no access to airplanes or even bus service. The White House proposal, he said, is “a recipe for a dead railroad.”

Jeffrey A. Rosen, the USDOT’s general counsel and the Administration’s representative at the hearing, said flatly that the reforms must come before any discussion of how the federal government will fund railroads in the future. That prompted Sen. Robert F. Bennett of Utah, who said he supports changing the way Amtrak works, to offer Rosen a bit of advice.

“Having used the stick, I think a little bit clearer carrot might be a good idea”

Gunn and Mead also questioned whether parts of the administration's plan are even workable. For example, the White House wants Amtrak to turn over its Northeast Corridor routes to a partnership between the federal government and the states, something the railroad’s Bush-appointed board is resisting.

When Murray asked what she said is a crucial question – whether changing Amtrak will save money in the short term – Mead said a long history of putting off critical improvements cannot be erased overnight.

“You're going to need some money to put this system in a reasonable state of good repair and efficiency,” he said.

“In my opinion, it's a myth to think you’re going to save your way out of this.”

Murray noted, “Amtrak’s detractors smell blood.”

When the new fiscal year begins October 1, Gunn said, Amtrak could be in bankruptcy in a number of weeks, if it lasts that long. How that might affect Amtrak's passengers – it carried a record 25 million people last year – is unclear, he said, because saving money would require cutting a lot of trains.

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Acela Trainset on the move next to NJT

For NCI: D. N. Sommer

A House hearing last week heard testimony from a sub-contracting manufacturer that the Bombardier’s Acela Express trainset’s cracked parts were discovered up to three years ago, but Amtrak was never informed. On January 24, express train 2133 whipped up the snow while passing through New Rochelle, N.Y. and overtaking Metro-North train 1357 at 1:06 p.m.


Acela’s brake cracks
appeared even earlier

In Washington last week, brake cracks on Amtrak’s high-speed Acela Express trains may have appeared up to three years ago, but there is no evidence the railroad was ever informed, Amtrak’s inspector general told Congress on May 11.

In other testimony before the House Railroad and infrastructure subcommittee, Reuters reported, Bombardier Transportation, the lead firm in the Canadian and French consortium that made the Acela trainsets, said the problem that has idled the service since last month may be more widespread than previously thought.

Amtrak officials said the cash-poor passenger railroad estimates it could lose $1 million each week Acela is out of service, and could run out of cash by the end of September.

Fred Weiderhold, Amtrak’s inspector general, said information uncovered since mid-April revealed that cracks may have been found by a vendor between one and three years ago but the railroad was never notified.

Weiderhold has issued subpoenas to find out who knew about the cracks and when, and why Amtrak was not told while others apparently were notified. He said some vendors have not been cooperative.

Acela maintenance is outsourced to a subsidiary of the manufacturing consortium.

Acela trainset vandalized

For NCI: Bill O’Brien

Several Amtrak Acela Express trainsets are being stored in a maintenance-of-way base in Providence, R.I. Graffiti artists have already found at least one to practice their vandalism upon.
Amtrak’s IG, Fred E. Weiderhold, Jr., told the subcommittee that the one of the vendors may have known about the brake cracks one to two years ago.

“We want to know why the cracks were not identified sooner, and what inspection processes failed or were not in place,” Weiderhold said.

“Toward that end, we have interviewed FRA inspectors, Northeast Corridor Maintenance Service Corp. personnel, Amtrak maintenance staff, and staff from ORX, the wheelset maintainer and refurbisher.

“We have thus far uncovered information from one of the vendors that some cracks in the spokes may have been found and reported as long as 12 to 24 months ago.”

He added they were trying to “confirm and determine the existence of these reports, who may have received those reports, and what action was taken.”

There are 1,440 steel disc brake rotors on Amtrak’s 20 Acela Express trains. FRA rail inspectors detected hairline cracks on disc spokes on April 14 during a routine inspection. Amtrak said within days that 300 cracks were found on 250 rotors under coaches. Locomotives were not affected.

William Spurr, president of Bombardier Transportation-North America, said analysis in recent weeks has detected anomalies invisible to the eye and not previously discovered.

“We estimate that a large percentage of discs have some level of hairline fissures, indicating that the issue may be more prevalent than originally believed,” he said.

Initial tests show the cracks appear to be related to fatigue, rather than a defect or heat. No brakes failed as a result of cracks, Amtrak and Bombardier said.

The railroad has virtually no spare discs and only a few are available worldwide because they are custom-made.

Acela trains were customized five years ago for Amtrak’s northeast corridor between Washington, New York and Boston. To run safely on the antiquated rail line, the trains are heavier and take a greater pounding than high-speed systems elsewhere in the world.

One day earlier, UPI reported, experts investigating the trains concluded metal fatigue caused cracks in the brake spokes – however, experts had not decided whether poor design or failure to meet specifications led to the cracks that halted Acela service last month.

Munich-based Knorr-Bremse AG found the brakes were not sturdy enough to withstand the curves the trains took in the Northeastern U.S.

The German company supplied the brakes to the consortium of Bombardier Inc. of Montreal and Alstom SA of France, which Amtrak President David Gunn criticized for failing to keep an adequate supply of parts.

Bombardier said it could not anticipate the brakes would last for just half of their expected life.

At the hearing, subcommittee chairman Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio) said, “The decision to remove the Acela trainsets from service, though dramatic, was the right thing to do”

He added, “Amtrak put safety of its passengers, commuter operators on the Northeast Corridor and the traveling public at large, ahead of revenue. They put safety first, and for that they are to be commended.”

LaTourette also commended Amtrak for being able to “recall equipment from around the country to build complete Metroliner consists and place them into the Acela Express time slots between New York and Washington with very little disruption to its customer base. This Herculean task was planned with little notice and executed with discipline and precision. If this had been any other operator, I question whether the results would be the same.”

The chairman noted, “We need to get to the root cause of the current problems with Acela, but more than that, we need to know how the lessons learned can help us improve rail safety in the future.”

JayEtta Z. Hecker of the Government Accountability Office said one possible cause of the problem was the abbreviated testing before placing the Acelas into service.

“A fuller testing of the trainsets may have better identified the range of potential problems and defects that could be experienced prior to placing the trainsets in service,” Hecker said.

“The maximum testing any one Acela trainset received was about 35,000 miles of testing – 20,000 miles at the Transportation Test Center in Pueblo, Colorado, and 15,000 miles on the Northeast Corridor between 1999 and 2000, she said.

Hecker said an FRA official “believed testing of the trainsets was rushed and that additional testing at the center should have been conducted.”

She added that an FRA official “also acknowledged that there were no minimum federal testing requirements for new high-speed trainsets, like Acela; only that such equipment comply with existing safety regulations.

She said the official believed Amtrak was under both financial and time pressures to place the trainsets in service, in part because of delays in trainset production.

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Amtrak needs locomotive engineers

Amtrak is recruiting locomotive engineers to work in Miami, Jacksonville, Florence, S.C. and Raleigh, N.C., reports the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.

“Duties include the safe operation of Amtrak locomotives, complying with train orders, wayside signals, railroad operating rules, special instructions, federal, state and local regulations to transport passengers and equipment safely and efficiently,” states part of the job description.

“Locomotive engineers must perform air brake tests as required and must frequently make timely and critical decisions under stressful conditions,” BLET added.

Candidates must have a current federal Class I Engineer Certificate and must “currently be working as a locomotive engineer with one year of service.”

Candidates will automatically be disqualified if their driving record indicates a conviction on an alcohol or substance violation, or a refusal to submit to testing in connection with a moving violation with the past 36 months. Candidates must have no decertifications (rule violations CFR240.117) within the last thee years. Candidates will be required to pass the Hogan Personality Inventory Test.

Candidates may fax their resumes to Sarah Ray, BLET, Cleveland, (202) 906-3349.

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California board endorses ‘ Laney Plan ’

California’s Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA) last week endorsed the so-called “ Laney Plan ” submitted to Congress on April 21. The California regional agency manages the Capitol Corridor intercity train service.

The Capitol Corridor route spans 170 miles linking three of northern California metropolitan areas – San Jose, Oakland-San Francisco, and Sacramento. The trains are operated under contract by Amtrak with funded support from the state, and are the third busiest Amtrak passenger rail corridor in the nation, according to the authority.

David Laney, Amtrak’s board chairman, submitted a funding plan to Congress in April – three months late –in response to USDOT Secretary Norman Mineta’s plan which proposed zero funding for the Amtrak system for fiscal year 2006. It includes a $1.82 billion grant request to Congress, much of it earmarked for capital renewal and debt service.

The plan “embraces most of the ‘reforms’ Mineta called for, but distances itself from the components contained in the USDOT plan that would be extremely difficult to implement,” said CCJPA Board Chair and Sacramento County Supervisor Roger Dickinson.

Some aspects of Laney’s plan that are of significance to California, said Dickinson, include retaining Amtrak’s right-of-access to the private freight railroads.

“Train operation by any other rail operating entity on the same terms and conditions as Amtrak currently enjoys can occur only after Congressional changes to current law, and only after the owning freight railroad approves any train operator other than Amtrak,” he said.

Dickinson added, “Amtrak would continue to provide liability coverage, as it does now, for all services that it operates, and contracting states or agencies would continue to pay a share of the insurance costs as part of the operating expenses. This is important for California as it contracts with Amtrak for train operations.”

He noted, “The ‘ Laney Plan ’ also protects California’s four national long-distance routes – the California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, Southwest Chief, and Sunset Limited – and clearly defines these routes as a federal responsibility for operation and funding.”

He said in that regard, as opposed to the Mineta plan, Laney’s notions call for establishing standard performance criteria for those routes, as well as for possible new long-distance routes that may be established.

“Perhaps most importantly for California,” Dickinson pointed out, Laney’s plan “echoes one component also included in the USDOT plan by calling for establishing a federal matching program for capital investments, on terms similar to the federal highway program.”

He explained, “Laney proposed a matching program on an 80-20 basis (80 percent federal, 20 percent state and local funds), as opposed to a 50-50 matching program endorsed in the USDOT plan. Still unknown is the amount of annual funding that would be available under a federal capital matching program, and if states, like California, whose investments in passenger rail systems have come entirely from state dollars, will be allowed to use the amounts already invested to apply for the new federal capital matching funds.”

Concurrently, bi-partisan bills have been introduced by Congress that would dramatically improve the nation’s passenger rail system. HR 1630 would authorize annual funding of $2 billion over the next three years to finance Amtrak’s operating and capital expenses and HR 1631 would provide $60 billion for high-speed rail and related infrastructure projects.

Dickinson credited the state legislature with Congresses’ renewed efforts to revamp and support the Amtrak system.

“I have to believe that the introduction of the bi-partisan joint resolution in the California legislature, AJR-18, has had the desired positive impact in Washington already, even though the resolution has not yet been adopted by the full legislature,” noted Dickinson.

“Without this joint bipartisan resolution being introduced, our message would not have been heard in the right places in Washington,” he added.

He said, “CCJPA will be working for Congressional adoption of the ‘ Laney Plan ’ for Amtrak and the funding bills which will make implementation possible,” and, he added, “We will be doing this as part of a nationwide effort of local, regional, and state transportation officials and business leaders. California has built a successful intercity passenger rail system, especially the Capitol Corridor, operated by Amtrak. The Amtrak partnership works for California, and can continue to work for us if it is properly funded.”

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Solons travel to Chicago
to help restore ‘Amfunds’

With every stop of the Zephyr line Wednesday morning, more downstate Illinois community leaders boarded an Amtrak train to travel to Union Station in Chicago to voice their objections to President George W. Bush’s proposal to cut funding for this transportation service.

The event was planned to coincide with the annual “Downstate Days,” which presents an opportunity for rural convention and visitors bureaus to provide travelers with information about downstate destinations.

Tom Radz, assistant news editor at The Macomb Journal, reported booths representing Macomb, Bloomington-Normal and Carbondale were just a few of the communities that sent members of their CVBs. Community leaders from those cities and Quincy showed up at Union Station, deboarded from their respective Amtrak trains and launched their protests against the President’s proposal.

“We need to preserve the (Amtrak rail) system for future generations, so that they don’t pollute the environment and have access to transportation to major urban areas,” said Western Illinois Univ. President Dr. Al Goldfarb, who noted the reduced emission of toxic chemicals into the Earth’s atmosphere as just one of the advantages of utilizing the rail system.

Eliminating federal funding for Amtrak is an issue that Goldfarb has encountered ever since his initial interview for the position of president at the university. While Goldfarb was introduced to the possibility of Macomb losing its rail service three years ago, the concept seems to be a recurring nightmare for lifetime Macomb resident and current mayor Mick Wisslead.

“It seems like every three or four years we have to do this and it’s a shame,” Wisslead said. “Amtrak is vital to us, as you can see, with the kids from Lincoln school on there.”

Other people are using it to do business, and others are using it to go to O’Hare International Airport.

Although the benefits of having the Amtrak rail service for downstate residents traveling to Chicago took center stage on Wednesday, others highlighted the need for this mode of transportation for the economic development of areas outside of Chicago.

“We see the results of having (Amtrak in) having a good infrastructure,” said Roxanne Nava, Assistant Director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

“Recently we had Pella Windows, who will be opening a new manufacturing center in Macomb and that brings 500 new jobs, she added.

“That is critical as we talk about transportation being a vital engine for supporting the business community, the education community, and the local community– but at the end of the day, it means jobs.”

While the entire purpose of the day was to alert federal legislators of the need for nationwide rail service, one downstate community leader proved to be ahead of the game. The newly elected mayor of Quincy, John Spring, had spent the previous two days in Washington D.C. lobbying to federal lawmakers on Amtraks behalf. Spring’s visit presented the audience with the most recent update on Congress’ stance on the issue.

After positive meetings with Sen. Dick Durbin, Rep. Lane Evans and a phone conversation with Sen. Barack Obama, who all claim to support the funding, it was perhaps a conversation with Rep. Ray LaHood that could prove to be the most telltale indication of the future of Amtrak.

“Obviously (LaHood) is on the right side of the aisle in terms of the issue of the people drafting the budget, but he feels very confident that the funding will be restored,” Spring said.

“He wasn’t ready to tell me how much of that funding will be restored, but he realizes, as a U.S. Congressman, the importance of providing such a vital link to all parts of our state.”

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Durbin defends Amtrak dollars

Several of the biggest issues facing the nation also are big issues for the Quincy, Ill., region, said Sen. Dick Durbin on May 10. Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, said Amtrak funding is the top priority for him, according to the Quincy Herald-Whig.

“It’s extremely critical for our state. We’ve got 3 million riders every year on Amtrak, and there are 2,000 employees in the state,” Durbin said.

Quincy Mayor John Spring, who did some joint news interviews with Durbin last Monday, also considers Amtrak funding the most pressing issue for the region. At a rally in Chicago Wednesday to spotlight support for train service, Spring told listeners how important the Illinois Zephyr route is between Quincy and Chicago.

“Thirty-seven percent of ridership is for Western Illinois Univ. at Macomb and lots of other schools, like Quincy Univ., put lots of riders on that route as well,” Spring said.

Durbin said he’s not certain whether Democrats in Congress can overcome the numeric advantage of Republicans who oppose all Amtrak funding, but he pledged to keep trying.

Members of Congress also reached another apparent impasse Monday as they worked on the federal transportation bill. The old funding plan was to expire October 1, 2003, but extensions have kept the old level of money rolling in for states that get back part of the fuel tax dollars collected on gasoline and diesel.

Durbin said the latest battle involves a difference of $10 billion between Senate and House negotiators. The House wants to see $284 billion over six years. The Senate wants $295 billion. President Bush’s staff says he would veto the higher funding level.

“When you consider we had a supplemental appropriations bill for over $80 million that came scooting through here (for other parts of the federal budget), this $11 billion should be hardly enough to stop the federal transportation plan,” Durbin said.

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Heartland Flyer appears safe – for now

Evan Stair, executive director of the PassengerRailOk organization, said last week as the 2005 Oklahoma legislative session nears an end,” all are breathing a sigh of relief. The Heartland Flyer will likely continue to run at least to September 30, 2006.”

Stair said, “I have been assured by every state senator and representative I have contacted that funding is secure. Yet, there is a bit of uneasiness for those who have followed this story since 1999. Strange things happen in the legislature.” He said Senate Bill 213 made it to the General Conference Committee on Appropriations.

“I was told yesterday that Heartland Flyer funding is still included. Unfortunately, It is only $1.8 or $1.9 million for fiscal 2006 – a drop in the bucket as far as state finances go. Fortunately, 2006 is an election year and you can bet we will need to use this to our advantage.”

Stair pointed out, “This is not an ongoing appropriation, and, for the seventh session, expansion has not been a seriously considered topic. The lack of vision regarding this train is becoming very frustrating.”

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New benefit helps Amtrak employees

Amtrak is now offering a new health care benefit to employees that helps eligible participants better manage certain chronic conditions.

The carrier stated its new program, named “SmartCare,” is an “optional benefit offered at no cost to agreement-covered employees and eligible family members who suffer from diabetes, asthma, coronary artery disease, or congestive heart failure” and who participate in the carrier’s comprehensive or network medical plans administered through United Health Care.

The carrier did not state how much the railroad is paying for the service, nor if there will be a co-payment for union members.

Matria Healthcare administers the “totally voluntary program.” SmartCare will not replace a participant’s doctors or other health care providers, Amtrak stated. The program supports and works with the treatments prescribed by the participant’s doctor.

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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

Nevada wants a maglev

A partnership of government and industry in southern Nevada plans to spend $1.3 billion to build the nation’s first super-fast train – a maglev.

Where do they want to put it after more than two decades of effort? From Las Vegas to Primm, a three-hotel sideshow on the Nevada-California border, reported the Los Angeles Times on May 9.

Primm is best known for an outlet mall, the giant Desperado roller coaster and a bullet-riddled 1934 Ford that carried the infamous Bonnie and Clyde to their deaths.

Critics say the proposal is a train to nowhere. Supporters see a low-cost right-of-way through the desert that will lead to a revolution in ground transportation: the first commercially successful maglev passenger service.

The vision belongs to a Nevada state commission that has clung to the idea of building a 270-mile high-tech system from Las Vegas to Anaheim. The cost of the entire line is estimated to be more than $12 billion.

After almost 25 years of study and frustration, the project is now competing with Maryland and Pennsylvania for $950 million in federal funds earmarked for maglev development.

The technology uses magnetic force to propel trains on a cushion of air down a guideway at speeds of more than 300 mph. Power comes from an electrical charge in the guideway that attracts magnets in the train, pulling it forward. Only one, in China, is in commercial operation.

“This is going to be an E-ticket ride,” said Bruce Aguilera, chairman of the California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission. “It is the modern equivalent of the iron horse.”

Just four years ago, the Nevada proposal wasn’t even in the running for federal money. The only finalists were a 39-mile line between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and a 54-mile system between the Pittsburgh suburbs and the airport. Their estimated costs were about $5 billion and $4 billion, respectively – but with the help of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Nevada might get its dream shot, perhaps as early as this month. The maglev is part of the massive transportation bill that has passed the House and is now pending in the Senate. Congress will decide which of the three maglev projects will be funded, and more than one may get the go-ahead.

The Las Vegas-to-Primm train would be part tourist attraction, part transit operation. If it is built, proponents in the Silver State hope it will encourage California to extend the line from Primm to Anaheim by 2015. Trains would stop in Barstow, Victorville and Ontario before arriving in Anaheim, which is planning a regional transportation center to accommodate trains and transit buses.

Financing is expected to come from government funds, profits from fares and bond sales. Such a system, supporters say, would benefit tourism in Nevada and California, provide a competitive alternative to regional airlines and allow travelers quick access to Ontario, Calif., International Airport.

Backers also predict that the new train would ease traffic on I-15, a heavily traveled corridor from San Diego that leads to Las Vegas.

Maglev is expected to make the trip to Anaheim in 87 and one half minutes. It would take just 12 minutes for the 40-mile hop to Primm, where a park-and-ride facility for motorists is planned.

The project would be built under a franchise granted to a consortium of companies, including General Atomics, Parsons Transportation Group, Hirschfeld Steel Co. and Transrapid International-USA Inc.

Transrapid, which is owned by Siemens AG and ThyssenKrupp AG in Germany, has designed the technology. The firm helped build China’s maglev system between Shanghai and the city’s airport, 19 miles away. It attracts about 8,000 riders a day.

The consortium predicts that 13 million people will ride the Las Vegas-to-Primm line the first year of operation, providing a $50-million annual profit.

The complete system is projected to attract 39 million riders in 2015, generating more than $500 million in profit.

The complete story is online at

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M-N picks Klauder for M-8s

Metro-North Railroad has hired a Philadelphia firm to design 342 new coaches for the New Haven Line, but the legislation that will pay the $1 billion price tag for rail improvements has not been scheduled for a vote in the Connecticut legislature.

Dan Brucker, a Metro-North spokesman, told the Connecticut Post on May 10 that L.T. Klauder & Associates of Philadelphia was selected to design the new M-8 railcars for the line, which connects New Haven with Grand Central Terminal in New York City. Brucker said Klauder designed the M-7 cars that are running on the Long Island Rail Road and began service on the Hudson and Harlem lines in New York this year.

According to Brucker, the M-7s performed well during this past winter, providing consistent service – a feat that has proved elusive on the New Haven Line, operating 30-year-old rolling stock.

In a statement last week, Gov. M. Jodi Rell said, “Commuters on the New Haven Line have experienced delays and crowded conditions during the past two years when weather, combined with aging train cars and insufficient maintenance facilities, have reduced the number of cars in service.”

Rell hailed the selection of Klauder as a step forward for her plan to improve the state’s transportation system, which was incorporated into Senate Bill 1057. That bill calls for more than $1.3 billion in transportation projects, including railcar purchase and new maintenance facilities.

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Georgia solon won’t pay for rail info

A state representative’s request for information on the proposed commuter rail from Atlanta to Lovejoy could cost him big bucks, says the Georgia DOT.

A request by state Rep. Steve Davis (R), filed with the DOT seeking information on the negotiations between the department and Norfolk Southern Corp. to use their tracks and upgrades for commuter passenger trains could cost him up to $1,500, depending on how much he actually wanted, an attorney for the DOT said, The Henry Herald of Henry County, Ga. reported last week.

“Typically charges are based on what is actually copied and administrative time,” said Sandra Burgess, the department’s director of legal services.

”Because his request is so broad, it’s on the high side,” she said.

Davis, a vocal critic of the rail proposal, which could come before the DOT board next week for a decision, has questioned the department’s ridership and cost estimates, and called the project a “boondoggle.”

“It’s unprecedented that they would ever charge an elected official for information pertaining to his job in the House of Representatives and as a member of the (House) transportation committee,” Davis said.

“They have a responsibility to provide me with information so I can make policy decisions,” he added.

The DOT said some portions of negotiations with NS contain information that falls under the category of trade secrets, which are protected by a confidentiality agreement with the agency.

The DOT attorney said that if Davis’ request for information were more narrow, the cost may not be nearly as high.

“We would certainly, as with any other citizen or representative or newspaper, we would work with you to get the information you requested,” Burgess said.

Davis thinks the department may be withholding information that the project could cost more than initially expected, and that some of the increase would be born by local taxpayers.

“It’s an unfunded mandate back to the local governments and the local governments are going to have to raise property taxes to pay for it,” Davis said.

Earlier last week, a DOT board member said the agreement, expected to be taken up this week at the board’s May meeting, will likely be only a preliminary proposal, subject to future negotiations.

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Second Sounder rolls in June

Sound Transit’s Sounder commuter rail service between Seattle and Everett is adding a second peak-hour round-trip train beginning June 6 – three months ahead of schedule. The original target date for the second train was the September 2005 service change, but an agreement between BNSF Ry. and Sound Transit allowed the earlier start.

Sound Transit reported Thursday “Environmental impacts were reduced and the necessary permits were obtained without any delay.”

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Light rail route gets cleanup funds

The U.S. EPA awarded $3 million for environmental assessment, cleanup and job training activities, including Lakewood, Colo.

The EPA said 44 states will share more than $75 million in EPA Brownfields grants to help revitalize former industrial and commercial sites, transforming them from eyesores into community assets.

Lakewood got $400,000 two Brownfields assessment grants which will allow the community to assess and develop cleanup plans for sites along the West Colfax Avenue corridor in preparation for “Fastracks” transit stations.

The funds also will help the city address deteriorating industrial and commercial districts along the once prominent mile-wide transit corridor. The city plans to update the aging freight rail corridor with light rail, enabling redevelopment to occur at the same time the metro Denver region undertakes a major transportation upgrade.

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Former MBTA cash counter charged with tax evasion

By a staff reporter

The former Superintendent of Revenue Collection for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority was indicted Thursday in federal court on tax evasion charges.

U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan said Mary Lempitski, 46, of Jamaica Plain was charged in an indictment with three counts of tax evasion.

The indictment alleges that from 2000 through 2002, Lempitski spent more than $267,000.

Most of the cash allegedly bought designer jewelry, clothing, shoes and cosmetics for her personal use. The indictment states that in 2002, Lempitski’s cash expenditures “at Nieman Marcus alone were at least $87,984.”

The U.S. attorney also alleged that her cash withdrawals and other documented and declared sources of cash in calendar between 2000 and 2002 “do not account for her cash expenditures in those years.”

Lempitski was the manager and superintendent of revenue collections for the MBTA, Sullivan said.

“In that capacity, Lempitski oversaw the operations of a facility known as the MBTA ‘Money Room,’ which is the central cash repository for revenues collected by the MBTA daily,” said Sullivan.

If she is convicted, she faces up to five years’ imprisonment, to be followed by three years of supervised release, and a $100,000 fine on each count, according to Sullivan.

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APTA HIGHLIGHTS...  APTA Highlights...

Here are some other transit headlines, from the pages of Passenger Transport, the weekly newspaper of the public transportation industry published by the non-profit American Public Transportation Assn. For more news from Passenger Transport and subscription information, visit the APTA web site at

Ben Franklin Transit to Expand Service Area

Ben Franklin Transit in Richland, Wash., has announced its plans to expand its service area to include Finley, a rural area of Benton County, beginning July 5. The system currently serves the cities of Pasco in Franklin County and Kennewick, Richland, West Richland, Benton City, and Prosser in Benton County.

BFT made the decision to expand service following an April 26 election where the voters of Finley approved the annexation into the agency’s service agency with a 64 percent vote in favor. The vote included approval of a sales tax increase of six-tenths of 1 percent.

The system explained that Finley is a rural area with very low population densities, and no public transit trip generators except the middle and high schools. Initial service demands do not appear to justify fixed route, scheduled service; a better fit of demand and capacity would be a general-public demand-response service similar to that used by BFT in the public transportation benefit area.

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ABA, UMA Members Vote to Approve Unification

Members of the American Bus Assn. and the United Motorcoach Assn. have voted overwhelmingly to approve consolidation of both organizations. In balloting that began at the end of March and concluded May 2, UMA members voted 207 to 30, or by 93 percent, in favor of consolidation, while ABA members voted 237 to 16, or 87 percent, for unification.

This action comes after more than a year of meetings and negotiations by members of a joint ABA-UMA Unification Task Force. Both organizations’ votes far exceeded a District of Columbia law requiring two-thirds of those members voting to ratify consolidation with another association.

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Palm Tran Appoints Cohen Executive Director

Palm Tran in Palm Beach County, Fla., announces the appointment of Chuck Cohen as its executive director. Cohen joined Palm Tran as assistant executive director in April 2004, and had been serving as interim executive director since Perry J. Maull stepped down at the end of 2004.

Before coming to Palm Tran, Cohen was director of program development at the Capital District Transportation Authority in Albany, N.Y. During the course of his 25-year transit career, he also served as director of transportation for CDTA.

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Savannah System Hires Palmer as Executive Director

Chatham Area Transit in Savannah, Ga., has named Carl L. Palmer, director of development for the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority in Cincinnati, as its new executive director. He is scheduled to arrive in Savannah in mid-June.

Palmer succeeds Scott Lansing, who left CAT to serve as general manager of the University of Texas shuttle service in Austin. Both men are employees of First Transit, which has provided executive personnel under contract to CAT since 1986.

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BUILDERS LINES...  Builders lines...

GE enters hybrid locomotive market

How do you make a 4,400 horsepower locomotive more environmentally conscious?

With pure “ecomagination,” says General Electric.

GE engineers are designing a hybrid diesel-electric locomotive that will “capture the energy dissipated during braking and store it in a series of sophisticated batteries. That stored energy can be used by the crew on demand – reducing fuel consumption by as much as 15 percent and emissions by as much as 50 percent compared to most of the freight locomotives in use today,” according to the locomotive builder’s website.

“In addition to environmental advantages, a hybrid will operate more efficiently in higher altitudes and up steep inclines.”

GE joins Green Goat hybrid locomotive builder RailPower Technologies Corp. that combines long-life batteries with a small diesel generator.

GE engineers are developing their hybrid locomotive “with the goal of creating the cleanest, most fuel-efficient high-horsepower diesel locomotive ever built.”

The energy dissipated in braking a 207-ton locomotive during the course of one year is enough to power 160 households for that year, says GE.

“The hybrid locomotive will capture that dynamic energy and use it to produce more horsepower and reduce emissions and fuel use.”

GE’s hybrid locomotive’s lead-free rechargeable batteries will be able to allow operators to draw an additional 2,000 hp when needed.

Compared to a locomotive manufactured in 2004 that meets EPA’s Tier 1 emission requirements for railroad locomotives, The Schenectady builder’s new engines are being designed “to reduce carbon dioxide emissions over its lifetime as much as taking 2,600 cars off the road for a year.” They are expected to “emit half as much nitrogen oxide as locomotives built 20 years ago.”

The company put it this way: “If every locomotive in North America could operate as efficiently as GE’s hybrid locomotive is being designed to operate, railroads could achieve a fuel-cost savings of $425 million dollars each year.”

GE’s hybrid pages are online at

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Greenbrier gets TTX order

Greenbrier Companies, of Lake Oswego, Ore., said last week it received an order from TTX Co. for 1,950 intermodal wells, to be delivered in 2006. The value and terms, which are subject to final TTX board approval, was not disclosed.

The carbuilder reported its current new railcar backlog in North America and Europe is approximately 13,000 units valued at $750 million, compared with 12,300 units valued at $720 million at February 28. Over 70 percent of total backlog is for delivery of double-stack intermodal wells. TTX is jointly owned by several North American railroads.

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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

Carriers, unions to restart negotiations

The National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC) said on May 10 that it and rail labor will restart contract negotiations on May 18-20 in Washington.

The NCCC said that it had “voluntarily withdrawn its applications for mediation with seven unions that comprise the Teamsters-led rail labor coalition, opening the way for negotiations to resume” this week.

The NCCC, the bargaining agent for the nation’s freight railroads, had filed the applications with the National Mediation Board in March “after the seven unions belonging to the Rail Labor Bargaining Coalition (RLBC) refused to bargain pending agreement on various procedural issues,” the NCCC claimed.

The NCCC, headquartered in Washington, is the national bargaining agent for 32 railroads, including all of the nation’s major freight carriers involved in the current round of bargaining with 13 major rail unions.

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Short lines get more traffic

RMI, Inc. reported last week its RailConnect Index Quarterly Analysis of Traffic Statistics for the First Quarter 2005 short line carload traffic increased by 11.5 percent in the 12 weeks ending March 26.

The RailConnect Index, according to RMI, is the rail industry’s “only source of short line traffic statistics,” and includes traffic summaries of 13 commodity groups from approximately 200 short line, regional and terminal switching railroads in North America.

A spokesman noted, “Local traffic is considered the most profitable of all short line traffic. At 12.2 percent of all traffic, it is a meaningful segment of short line business, and that growth added significantly to the badly needed capital earned by short lines.”

Excluding bulk commodities and intermodal traffic, short line carload growth was 11.9 percent, while Class I carload growth equaled 2.3 percent. 63 percent of all short line growth in the first quarter was accounted for by carload traffic, with intermodal accounting for 31 percent.

Stone, clay and aggregates at 32.5 percent grew faster than all other commodities on short lines quarter-over-quarter. Short line intermodal traffic took second place at 31.1 percent.

Five commodities reported double digit growth in the first quarter of 2005 including stone, clay and aggregates; petroleum and coke; waste and scrap materials; metals and metal products and intermodal. Grain and ‘all other’ were the only commodities to decline.

On Class I railroads, only intermodal at 10.0 percent reached double digit growth by the end of the first quarter.

In looking at traffic volumes, short lines remain consistent quarter over quarter in the types of traffic handled, RMI noted.

Originating traffic accounted for 36.5 percent of all short line traffic in 2005 verses 35.6 percent in 2004, terminating traffic accounted for 41.6 percent in 2005 verses 42.2 percent in 2004, bridge traffic accounted for 9.7 percent in 2005 verses 9.5 percent in 2004, and local traffic accounted for 12.2 percent in 2005 percent verses 12.7 percent in 2004.

In 2004, local traffic grew 6.84 percent during the first quarter and 14.4 percent for all of last year. Bridge traffic, the most vulnerable type of traffic for short lines accounted for 9.7 percent of 2004 traffic and grew at 14.4 percent for the year. So called “handling lines” are included in the RailConnect index.

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WALL STREET LINES...  Wall Street lines...


With success built on safety, service and “the finest, most talented team in the business,” Norfolk Southern “has showed its ability to move the freight profitably for our investors and efficiently for our shippers,” David R. Goode, chairman and CEO, told the company’s shareholders at their 23rd annual meeting, in Norfolk.

Tracing the beginning of its service to a predecessor railroad in 1830, Goode said, “NS marks its 175th anniversary as a company that has stood the test of time. We are running strong, and we are handling growing volumes of business and have a strong and expanding base in the transportation business.”

Stockholders last week re-elected four directors – Gerald L. Baliles, a partner in the law firm of Hunton & Williams and former governor of Virginia; Gene R. Carter, executive director and CEO of the Assn. for Supervision and Curriculum Development; Charles W. Moorman, president of Norfolk Southern Corp.; and J. Paul Reason, president and CEO of Metro Machine Corp.

Stockholders also approved amendments to the company’s long-term incentive plan and executive management incentive plan. They also okayed KPMG LLP as auditors.

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Providence and Worcester Railroad Co. (PWX) Friday reported its results for the first quarter of 2005. The railroad had a net loss for the quarter of $255,000, compared to a net loss of $462,000 in 2004. The loss per common share was 6 cents for the quarter, compared to 10 cents in 2004.

Operating revenues for the first quarter of 2005 were $5.6 million, an increase of $573,000, or 11.3 percent, from $5.1 million in the first quarter of 2004.

“These higher revenues are attributable to increases in both conventional and container freight,” a spokesperson stated in a press release.

While the volume of carloadings of conventional freight hauled was virtually unchanged between quarters, “the average revenue received per conventional carloading increased due to a shift in the mix of commodities hauled towards higher-rated commodities and due to certain rate increases, including diesel fuel surcharges,” she added.

Container freight revenues increased because of a higher volume of containers handled and contractual rate increases.

Operating expenses for the quarter increased by $330,000, or 5.6 percent.

“The most significant items were a $100,000 increase in diesel fuel costs resulting from higher prices for petroleum products and a $142,000 increase in car hire expense, which was substantially offset by increased revenue from demurrage charges,” she said.

Historically, the company has experienced its lowest levels of operating revenues and income during the first quarter of each year, and “We believe that the company will generate profits from its operations during the remainder of the year.”

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AAR weekly report

Rail freight traffic continues to gain

All three measures of rail freight traffic were up during the week ended May 7 in comparison with the corresponding week last year, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported Thursday.

Intermodal volume totaled 222,674 trailers or containers, up 5.6 percent from last year, with containers up 7.0 percent and trailers up 1.6 percent.

Carload freight, which does not include the intermodal data, totaled 350,678 cars, up 3.7 percent from last year, with volume up 4.9 percent in the West and 2.3 percent in the East.

Total volume was estimated at 32.7 billion ton-miles, up 4.1 percent from last year.

Thirteen of 19 carload commodities were up from last year, with farm products other than grain up 23.6 percent; coke up 11.2 percent; grain mill products up 10.6 percent and coal up 6.7 percent. Waste and scrap materials were down 6.8 percent while motor vehicles and equipment were off 3.4 percent.

Cumulative volume for the first 18 weeks of 2005 totaled 6,150,267 carloads, up 2.6 percent from 2004; 3,889,213 trailers or containers, up 7.2 percent; and total volume of an estimated 572.3 billion ton-miles, up 3.5 percent from last year.

On Canadian railroads during the week ended May 7, carload traffic totaled 70,464 cars, down 3.8 percent from last year while intermodal volume totaled 43,394 trailers or containers, down 2.8 percent from last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 18 weeks of 2005 on the Canadian railroads totaled 1,264,062 carloads, up 0.5 percent from last year, and 757,050 trailers and containers, up 3.6 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 18 weeks of 2005 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 7,414,329 carloads, up 2.2 percent from last year and 4,646,263 trailers and containers, up 6.6 percent from last year.

The AAR also reported that originated carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended May 7 totaled 8,628 cars, down 1.5 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 4,039 originated trailers or containers, up 9.9 percent from the18th week of 2004. For the first 18 weeks of 2005, TFM reported cumulative originated volume of 155,906 cars, up 3.2 percent from last year, and 68,579 trailers or containers, up 9.8 percent.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 88 percent of U.S. carload freight and 95 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 95 percent and 100 percent. The Canadian railroads reporting to the AAR account for 90 percent of Canadian rail traffic. Railroads provide more than 40 percent of U.S. intercity freight transportation, more than any other mode, and rail traffic figures are regarded as an important economic indicator.

The AAR is online at

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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...


  Friday One Week
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)48.2151.42
Canadian National (CNI)57.1859.75
Canadian Pacific (CP) 34.3136.20
CSX (CSX)39.8941.35
Florida East Coast (FLA)41.6942.40
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)23.2624.12
Kansas City Southern (KSU)18.6119.44
Norfolk Southern (NSC)30.2132.04
Providence & Worcester (PWX)13.2013.55
Union Pacific (UNP)61.2264.00

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ACROSS THE POND...  Across the pond...

24-hour strike set for today in France

Look for SNCF and other governmental agency workers, including teachers, to be on strike for one day today. Workers lost Pentacost as a holiday and are protesting that loss.

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Safety woes hurt Japanese traveling

Japan is still recovering from its worst train wreck in decades, and its biggest airline has been so humiliated by daily safety lapses that the chairman is resigning.

Travel has never been easy or cheap in densely populated Japan, but a string of accidents, near misses and safety mishaps has illustrated how the system can also be dangerous, The AP reported last week from Tokyo.

The developments are raising fears among one of most mass-transit dependent populations in the world, and prompting calls for wide-ranging changes in regulation, training and equipment.

“There have been safety troubles one after another, and we have a sense of crisis,” said Masanori Hashimoto, an official with the Transport Ministry’s aviation technology division.

Railroads are under pressure to install new automatic braking systems in the wake of the April 25 accident that killed 107 people. The government is looking at strengthening its investigative powers and imposing new requirements for locomotive engineers.

Rail security has been under especially close scrutiny in the weeks since a crowded commuter express jumped the rails and hurtled into an apartment house in Amagasaki. The crash has been blamed on excessive speed. A report in the Yomiuri newspaper on May 9 said investigators estimate the train was going 78 mph when the engineer hit the emergency brake.

Heavy criticism has been leveled at the operator, West Japan Rys., amid reports that company officials went bowling the night of the crash and a group of conductors and drivers held a karaoke party at a resort.

The Transport Ministry is looking at making it mandatory for train companies to install a safety system that automatically slows trains ahead of curves, said Shigehiko Imada, a ministry official in charge of train technology.

“It may take some time to look into where such a system needs to be installed, perhaps one month or two,” Imada said.

The proposals go beyond equipment. Transport Minister Kazuo Kitagawa is floating the idea of strengthening the ministry’s 10-member aircraft and railway accidents investigation commission. He also wants to get regulators more involved in the training and licensing of rail drivers.

One week ago, the country’s biggest air carrier, Japan Airlines, announced Chairman Isao Kaneko would step down at the end of May following a string of embarrassing safety mishaps at the airline.

The announcement came just a day after a JAL flight from New York to Tokyo with 355 passengers aboard made an emergency landing in northern Japan after a sudden drop in air pressure inside the cabin.

The carrier has come under mounting pressure since January, when a JAL pilot attempted to take off in northern Japan without approval from air traffic controllers.

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Ready to depart Hung Hom station

Two photos: Dave Beale

Overnight train to Shanghai with a diesel-electric locomotive is ready to depart Hung Hom station in central Hong Kong for Shanghai.


Hong Kong maze has many trains

By Dave Beale
D:F Foreign Correspondent

Welcome to Hong Kong, home of the world’s (allegedly) only profit making mass transit system. Actually the mass transit system in Hong Kong takes five different forms – underground subway trains, buses (single- and double-deckers), street cars and trolleys (double-deckers), high-speed ferries (various kinds, sizes and types, including hydrofoils) and a commuter rail network, which is hard to distinguish from the MTR subway system, except the trains run mostly on the surface.

Otherwise, the trains on the KCRC (commuter trains) and, as well as the stations, operate like classic urban rail transit with trains stopping at every station and waiting time between trains at any given station usually 10 minutes or less.

The trains are configured for maximum passenger capacity, i.e. very few seats, lots of hand-holds for standing passengers and four sliding double-doors on each side of each coach.

A KCRC commuter train

A KCRC commuter train outbound from Hong Kong pulls into Tai Wai station.

The Hong Kong-Shanghai overnight train departs Hong Kong’s main rail station in mid-afternoon. The train appeared to be well-occupied for a weekday that was not a holiday. The trip takes nearly 24 hours. Its engine is similar in design to Russian TE3 and German V300 diesel-electric locomotives.

Other intercity trains include electric high-speed trains out of Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Zhauqing. KCRC uses X-2000 trains from Sweden as well as electric locomotive-hauled double-decker coaches from Kawasaki, similar in design to what Boston’s Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority operates.

Unfortunately, with a dead digital camera on this trip, I was reduced to using a Kodak disposable camera.

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Aussies may reopen freight line

Two of Australia’s biggest rail companies are behind a proposal to reopen the Tumut to Cootamundra rail line for freight. Three companies say they will inject $55 million into the $90 million project, reports the Australian Broadcasting Corp. in Riverina, NSW.

Infrastructure provider Barclay-Mowlem worked on the Adelaide to Darwin rail link, while grain hauler Silverton Rail is the nation’s oldest private rail operator. Completing the trio is Sydney company TMG International, which would provide strategic advice and management.

The push to reopen the rail line between Tumut and Cootamundra is being coordinated by the Australasian Railway Assn.

CEO Brian Nye says the outcome now depends on whether the remaining money will be provided by the federal government in AusLink funding.

“This is something that you’ve got to continually put pressure on people to keep pushing it up the pecking order,” he said.

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Crossing the Raya River in Roverino

Sunday service in northwestern Italy saw a commuter train cross the Raya River in Roverino, not far from the end of its run in Ventimiglia – and close to the French “frontier.”


A Postcard from Italy

A train is still a train – no matter
where you are on Planet Earth

By Leo King

Photos by the author

VENTIMIGLIA, Italy – May 7 and 8 was a fine weekend for me. My fiancé and I went to San Remo, Italy where I was able to do a little work for D:F by getting new train photos – and this time in another country.

We drove some 120 kilometers (about 75 miles) from La Ciotat, France to San Remo, Italy mostly via route A8, which compares to our interstate highway system, in Chris Hohessanian’s little green Rover. She drove.

We passed Cannes, where the annual 10-day film festival began last Wednesday, and Monaco. We passed though many Maritime Alps mountains, never far from the Mediterranean Sea, and many, many tunnels. I lost count of how many, but I think it must have been at least a dozen.

We crossed the Alps, and about eight kilometers from the “frontier,” as the French call all their borders with other countries, we landed in San Remo. There are no more customs inspections going from country to country in most of Europe.

After we exited the last tunnel, we got off the highway and onto a local road where we came to a little community named Roverino. There, around 3:00 p.m., we stopped for lunch – and I had my first truly Italian dinner: lasagna. It was all fresh ingredients, and our hostess, Ada, a youthful woman of about 35, I guessed, who owns the place with her husband (who’s name I’ve forgotten) kept the place open for more than another hour because we were visitors.

Before we went into the restaurant, I was taking pictures of the area when I heard a distinctive single loud note. It could only be one thing. I saw a Tren Italiano crossing a concrete bridge over the Raya River.

That made my day.

The train was enroute to Ventimiglia (vent-uh-me-lee-uh), less than two miles distant, and the end of the line for many trains from Germany, France, and Italy, Chris said.

After lunch, we headed to San Remo, where we spent the rest of the day sightseeing on foot after we acquired a decent hotel. In San Remo, the tracks are now about four miles away from downtown, but the old station is still in place, even though the tracks and catenary are long gone.

The next day, Sunday, we hopped in the car to do a little train chasing. Chris is not a railroad buff, but she is beginning to understand why I chase trains.

We found a passenger car yard in Ventimiglia where a couple of coach strings were stored, and across the main tracks to our left, more yard tracks, where two complete trains were waiting to go back to work, probably on Monday.

Chris Hohessanian gazes across the road

Chris Hohessanian gazes across the road in Ventimiglia paralleling the main line and yard tracks. In the distance toward the left are two parked trains, and the coach tracks on the right.

Eventually we found the multi-tracked passenger station in Ventimiglia where some Tren Italiano and SNCF Trains Express Regionaux were located. A southbound Italian train left town, leaving SNCF train No. 142 for Nice – Nizza in Italian – on the platform nearest the station. A train board near the platform stated, “Trenitaliano.”

We arrived about 20 minutes before the 12-car train was scheduled to leave. It was awaiting power, and Chris figured out which end the engine would tie on to. She was right.

SNCF engine 22323 is tied on to train 142, which will leave in a few minutes for Nice. Three Trenitaliano strings wait in the station for their next calls to service.

Destination sign for Nizza The orange and gray Alsthom electric engine arrived and tied on about 10 minutes before departure time. The engineer lowered and raised the pan, the crew performed their air brake test, and they were nearly ready to go. No clue where the engine came from.

The conductor, at the rear of the train, blew his mouth-whistle, gave the engineer the “okay-to-go” wave of his hand.

A dispatcher in some remote location, gave the engineer a high green signal, and the route was also marked with a lighted sign to the left of the signal. It looked like a numeral “1,” and indicated the train was lined for the main.

A minute or two later, the train left exactly on time, at 11:25 a.m. Fifty minutes later, it would arrive in Nice.

SNCF train No. 142 is ready

SNCF train No. 142 is ready for its 50-minute journey from Ventimiglia, Italy to Nice, France. Ciao, au revoir, customs.

The SNCF line from Ventimiglia passes through Monaco and Nice as well as other stations, then continues on to Cannes and more places until it reaches the west end of the route at a place named Mandelieu La-Napoule, according to the Trains Express Regionaux timetable – “ter,” in France, or Regional Express Trains. The trains connect to other regional and TGV trains in Nice for connections to the rest of the country, including Paris and Marseille.

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WE GET LETTERS...  We get letters...

Dear Editor:

Some people have observed that rail passenger service will be unable to succeed without a local transit connection at each end. This is critically true. Moreover, the local transit connection must be one that is usable, and at least comes as close as possible to filling the roles that have been filled by the automobile. The filling of those roles by rail or transit is the key subject that has to be carefully approached.

The national rail passenger routes need to follow a grid putting each route no more than 600 miles apart or a six-hour bus ride (or, potential future local rail connection) away from everywhere. Likewise, local bus or metrorail routes need to be within one mile of each other or a half-mile walk from anywhere.

Handicapped service will probably always have to be a special service much like taxi service.

These connections must be seamless and ubiquitous. In effect, one should only have to walk a total of one mile to reach anywhere in the U.S.

This and the half-hourly frequency for local and twice daily frequency for long-distance rail are possible with current equipment and personnel.

Realignment of routes and even allocation of resources are the only requirements to achieving our espoused goals of converting to a rail and transit culture.

A Reader

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End Notes...

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

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

Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images that appear in Destination:Freedom may do so at a nominal fee of $10.00 per image. “True color” Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG or JPG) images average 1.7MB each. Print publishers can order images in process color (CMYK) or tagged image file format (.tif), and are nearly 6mb each. They will be snail-mailed to your address, or uploaded via file transfer protocol (FTP) to your site. All are 300 dots-per-inch.

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

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

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