The newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative

Vol. 1 No. 7 ©2000, NCI, Inc. May 19, 2000

A weekly passenger railroad update


Maine service stuck yet again; Boston's 'big dig' to blame

Passenger trains are being given a red signal yet again, and this time it is because Boston's third harbor tunnel project is disrupting work at North Station in Boston.

Michael Murray, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, said the startup date has been pushed back to April 13, 2001, which is, he added, a short delay. The proposal for Portalnd Amtrak service began in 1988, but has bee beset by delays on the 114-mile route.

Massachusetts transportation officials reported that construction constraints posed an undue obstacle for the trains now using North Station.

Meanwhile, the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority board of directors met May 12 at the request of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority to review the start-up date. Murray said that to make the original January start-up date, the turnpike authority would have to change its construction methods at a cost of about $2 million.

Its formal name is the Central Artery/Tunnel Project, and is intended to fix the cityĂs congested highway system. An elevated six-lane highway will be replaced with an underground eight-to-10 lane expressway. Passenger train service will return to the Boston-Portland corridor for the first time since 1965.

The total cost of the rail project is about $60 million, $38 million of which is federal funding. Guilford Rail Systems owns the tracks, which are used now by freight trains. Amtrak is expected to make four daily round trips, and each train will have three passenger cars, capable of carrying 240 passengers per train, and a café car.

An observer of the North station scene noted that "There are currently twelve tracks with high level platforms. Tracks 11 and 12 extend a short distance and have never been connected to the main throat tracks. Tracks 1 and 10 are currently dug up, and have been for many months. A road is being built under and perpendicular to the tracks. This has reduced the available tracks to eight, and during the past 18 months as many as three tracks have been out of service at once due to the construction."

Lautenberg launches high-speed rail web site

   U.S. Sen. Robert Lautenberg (D-NJ) has launched a website devoted entirely to high-speed rail issues. The World-wide web address is Topics include High Speed Rail Investment Act, Benefits of High Speed Rail, High Speed Rail Corridors, a Photo Gallery, High Speed Rail Links, Support High Speed Rail, and High Speed Rail Around the World.

Lautenberg discusses the High-Speed Rail Investment Act, which he introduced, and "is a bipartisan proposal to meet the transportation challenges of the 21st Century."

He writes that "Gridlock on our highways and delays on our runways cost our nation tens of billions of dollars each year in lost productivity and wasted fuel, not to mention unnecessary stress and frustration.

                                               ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• And this congestion will only continue to get worse over the next decade."

He declares that the act "leverages a federal investment of $782 million over five years to secure $10 billion in private sector investment for the development of high-speed rail corridors across the nation. This would allow Amtrak (or another provider) to bring faster, better, more frequent service to high-speed rail corridors located in the Midwest, Northeast, Southeast, Gulf Coast, California, and the Pacific Northwest."

Some details of the proposal would a Authorizes Amtrak to sell $10 billion in high-speed rail bonds between fiscal

Acela• Amtrak: Gary Sancavage year 2001 and FY 2010. The money could be invested in designated high-speed rail corridors to upgrade •existing routes to high-speed rail, construct new, dedicated high-speed rail tracks, and to buy high-speed rail equipment. Lautenberg added that "Up to ten percent of the funds would be available to improve non-high-speed rail service nationwide." The website goes into great detail.

Electric engine snags catenary;

Corridor trains stop for a time

An Amtrak Metroliner AEM-7 engine snagged its catenary in Maryland, bringing down some wire and severely disrupting Northeast Corridor operations for a time on May 8. The incident occurred at 10:50 a.m., nine miles north of Baltimore, Trains magazine's on-line newswire reported.

Speculation from local observers was that a possible combination of heat sag in the overhead wire, a rough spot in the track, and perhaps wave harmonics in the wire, resulting from both pantographs being up caused the lead "pan" to rise above the contact wire as Metroliner 108 with engine 902 leading sped north at more than 90 mph.

Some two miles of catenary was reported to have brought down on track 2, and power lost on all tracks over a 12-mile stretch between River Interlocking and Gunpow, Md., causing delay to or cancellation of 52 Northeast Corridor trains between Washington and Philadelphia for the rest of the day.

Both pantographs were raised because 922's rear device had dropped several times during the trip from Washington, causing intermittent power and head-end-power problems on the 90-degree day.

Diesel-powered train 20, the Crescent, operating from New Orleans to Philadelphia, was in position to pick up passengers from the disabled Metroliner. On an adjacent track that had been unaffected.

Following the incident, another northbound en route Metroliner was towed past the outage, but all other electric trains were terminated at Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore as wire train crews began to isolate and repair the damage.

Power to Track A was restored by 3:48 p.m., and Track 1 was cleared for diesel operation at 5:22 p.m. Service was back to normal by 6 o'clock the next morning when tracks 1 and 3 were restored to full electric operation. Track 2 repairs continued into Wednesday.

Corridor lines—

Florida and AARP

"Amtrak Celebrates America" was the theme the railroad shared with attendees of the American Association of Retired Persons Celebrates 2000 event, May 15-18 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. Amtrak said it was a primary sponsor of the associationĂs biennial event,and was "focusing on building a stronger relationship with AARP members."

Barbara Richardson, executive vice president of Amtrak said that ¦With 20 million members nationwide, AARP represents some of AmtrakĂs most loyal customers and as we see our highways and skyways becoming even more congested, we want travelers of all ages to see Amtrak as an affordable and convenient alternative.˛ Amtrak hosted a booth in the eventĂs exhibit hall with information for rail travelers of all ages.

More riders

Amtrak reported this week that "Just over 21 million customers traveled on board Amtrak last year, for a record third consecutive year of ridership growth. Of that total, 1.7 million took advantage of AmtrakĂs discount for seniors, representing 13 percent of total ridership. Since the beginning of fiscal year 2000 (Oct. 1, 1999), Amtrak has enjoyed a 2.2 percent increase in ridership for a total of 12,540,000 customers."

The carrier said "ridership has now increased for 13 consecutive quarters."

MAGLEV projects funding increased

USDOT added $14.8 million to seven states and transportation authorities in April to continue pre-construction planning for magnetic levitation (maglev) high-speed ground transportation, the DOT reported.

DOT Secretary Rodney Slater said "We are committed to offering flexible choices in shaping our transportation system for the new century and the new millennium." Last year, the Federal Railroad Administration (a subset of DOT) began a competition to select the best maglev project to "demonstrate the use of maglev technology to the American public," according to a DOT press release.

Six projects each will receive nearly $2 million and the Port Authority of Allegheny County will receive $3 million.

·                         Port Authority of Allegheny County: A 45-mile project linking Pittsburgh Airport to Pittsburgh and its eastern suburbs.

·                         Maryland DOT: A 40-mile project linking Camden Yard in Baltimore and Baltimore-Washington International Airport to  Union Station in Washington, D.C.

·                         California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission: A 42-mile project linking Las Vegas to Primm, Nev.

·                         Florida DOT: A 20-mile project linking Port Canaveral to the Space Center and the Titusville Regional Airport.

·                         Greater New Orleans Expressway Commission: A 48-mile project linking New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal to the airport and across Lake Ponchartrain to the fast-growing northern suburbs.

·                         Georgia/Atlanta Regional Commission: First 32 miles of 110-mile project linking Atlanta Hartsfield Airport to Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tenn.

·                         California: A 70- to 75-mile system connecting Los Angeles International Airport to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles to Ontario Airport and further east into Riverside County.

"Maglev technology is very exciting to all of us who are working to develop high-speed ground transportation systems across America," said Jolene Molitoris, FRA administrator. She added that "Because of its high speed and modest right-of-way requirements, maglev offers competitive trip-time savings to auto and aviation modes in the 40- to 600-mile travel markets ? an important transportation option for the 21st century."

DOT noted, "Maglev is an important part of the departmentĂs vision for the future of AmericaĂs transportation system ? a system that is international in reach, intermodal in form, intelligent in character, inclusive in service and innovative in scope. To achieve this vision, Secretary Slater called for the development of a climate of transportation innovation in America."

DOT's press release stated that "Each of the grants will provide the selected projects with sufficient federal funds to pay up to two-thirds of the cost of the preliminary engineering, market studies, environmental assessments, and financial planning needed to determine the feasibility of deploying a maglev project. Finalists will be chosen in September 2000, and a single project will be selected in 2001."

Maglev is an advanced technology in which magnetic forces lift, propel, and guide a vehicle over a guideway. Using state-of-the-art electric power and control systems, the configuration minimizes friction and permits cruising speeds of up to 300 mph.

Daily Texas eagle service begins Sunday

Daily service on the Amtrak Texas Eagle is scheduled to begin May 21.

Amtrak said "The expansion of service on this route from four days per week to daily between Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas-Ft. Worth and San Antonio is part of AmtrakĂs 'network growth strategy' which will expand or improve passenger service in 21 states."

Amtrak Intercity president Edward V. Walker said, ¦Amtrak is increasing its service on a route that has shown considerable ridership and revenue growth with each new addition of service made over the past three years, and the Texas Eagle is leading our long distance trains in terms of percentage ridership gains so far this fiscal year.˛ He also noted that the Texas Eagle posted a 91 percent on-time performance for the month of March.

The train will operate on two routes in east Texas. Beginning Sunday, the southbound Eagle will operate on an alternate route between Texarkana and Mineola, Texas. The re-routed southbound train will stop at a bus transfer location on the new route near Longview. Southbound passengers will then continue their journeys by bus to the Texas cities of Longview and Marshall as well as to Houston, Shreveport, La., and other connecting points.

The route of the northbound train will not be affected and the northbound Texas Eagle will continue to make stops at both Longview and Marshall.

The train will also continue to operate through to Los Angeles once a week and to connect with the Sunset Limited at San Antonio providing service to Los Angeles three days a week.

Amtrak's John Wolf reported growing strength in key performance measurements ? revenue and ridership ? from January through April 2000.

During that time, "total revenue reached $638 million, representing an 8 percent improvement compared to the same period last year. Ridership is also up 3.4 percent to more than seven million customers, aided by a particularly strong April when ridership increased 7 percent compared to that month in 1999."

Wolf pointed out that among the financial highlights, AmtrakĂs "mail and express business achieved revenues of more than $40 million through April, an increase of 35 percent from same period last year."

Amtrak defines "Express" as "The shipment of time-sensitive packages formerly transported by trucks."

Long-distance train ridership was up, including Three Rivers (New York-Chicago), up 10 percent; the City of New Orleans (Chicago-New Orleans), up 8 percent; and the Texas Eagle (Chicago- San Antonio-Los Angeles), up 11 percent.

California corridor trains posted gains as well.  The Capitols (Sacramento-San Jose-Oakland),  were up 38 percent, and Cascades (Eugene-Portland-Seattle-Vancouver), were up 18 percent.

On the Northeast Corridor, Metroliners (New York-Washington), gained 4 percent, and in the Midwest, on the St. Louis-Kansas City corridor, ridership was up 6 percent.

Talgo demonstrates in Arizona

Amtrak took a rolling sales pitch to Arizona on May 5 for a demonstration to tout the potential of returning service between Phoenix and Tucson.

They brought a Talgo trainset.

Service resumption between Arizona's two largest cities is a question of "when, not if," Amtrak said Amtrak West President Gil Mallery. He told the Arizona Republic aboard the train (which was headed by F-59PHI diesel engine No. 463), "Why would I think Tucson and Phoenix are the only areas in the West where it wouldn't happen?" Mallery asked.

The Sunset Limited quit serving Phoenix in May 1996 when Amtrak would have had to assume maintenance on a 135-mile former Southern Pacific secondary line west of town that SP wanted to abandon, Trains Online reported. Phoenix is north of Union Pacific's former SP main freight route through Arizona.

After absorbing SP, Union Pacific ultimately decided to retain the secondary line from Phoenix west, but the Sunset Limited continued to skip Phoenix in favor of the former SP main freight line dozens of miles south of the city.

Now, though, said Amtrak, with vehicular traffic increasing on Interstate 10, state transportation officials say they need options other than adding more concrete ? and That's where Amtrak service fits in.

Before service could resume, however, $24 million was needed to upgrade the track west of Phoenix for passenger service, and additional funding would be needed to upgrade the line east of Phoenix to Picacho, the junction of the Phoenix line with the main line, about halfway from the capital to Tucson.

If attendance aboard the train was any indication, that support may be lacking. Only three lawmakers were among the 215 passengers.

An end note—

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, weĂd like to hear from you. Please email the crew at

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