Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 4 No. 20, May 19, 2003
Copyright © 2002, NCI, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - James Furlong
Editor - Leo King

A weekly North American rail and transit update

 


Amtrak P-32 engine

For NCI: Adam Auxier

Amtrak P-32 No. 507 tugs train No. 392 past farms while going northward toward Chicago after a brief stop at Du Quoin, Ill. The train operates daily 310 miles for five-and-a-half hours between Carbondale and the Windy City.

 

Revolt brews in House
over Bush transport plans

By Wes Vernon
Washington Bureau Chief

The Bush administration has weighed in with its own plan for a six-year extension of the omnibus highway and mass transit programs, dubbed the Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2003 (SAFETEA).

The plan has already taken some hits from APTA (American Public Transportation Assn.), the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP), the American Association of Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the American Highway Users Alliance, and the high-powered leadership of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee – all of whom consider it inadequate.

If one operates on the assumption that making so many competing interests “equally mad” indicates an objective path, then the administration may take a “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” approach to lobbying for its bill on Capitol Hill.

Moreover, the White House can take some comfort in enthusiastic backing from the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and a very determined and growing Capitol Hill revolt against the House Transportation Committee’s plan to raise the gas tax, which SAFETEA avoids.

The administration package bears a $247 billion price tag (about $201 billion for highways, $46 billion for transit), as opposed to the House committee’s $375 billion version.

Freight railroads are not neglected in the White House plan. It would advance the recent movement toward helping the private Class I carriers through federal legislation. Federal dollars and tax-exempt bonds would be available for freight rail projects.

It would allocate federal funds for moving freight, and for the first time the freight railroads would be eligible for loans through the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, and 2 percent of money from the National Highway System would be required for intermodal freight facilities. This could take trucks off the highways without injuring the trucking industry.

D:F was among the very first news outlets to spot the evolutionary change in attitude among the freight railroads when it comes to accepting federal dollars. They have been wary of possible government inroads into decisions by private corporations.

No such hesitancy was evident in the AAR’s reaction.

The President’s plan “provides an innovative, forward thinking approach to the many transportation challenges facing our nation,” opined AAR President and CEO Ed Hamberger.

“The administration’s proposal recognizes that freight transportation – not just passenger transport – is vitally important to our nation’s economy and ability to compete in international markets,” he added.

Requiring states to integrate freight transportation into their transportation planning processes is a winner as far as the AAR is concerned, because it “provides financing opportunities for public and private freight rail projects.”

Hamberger cites the White House plan’s focus on intermodal transportation – where trucks are moved by train – which, he said, is important “particularly for the many states facing massive highway congestion problems.”

Less complimentary was the analysis from the passenger side of railroading.

While commending the administration for “maintaining the general framework of TEA-21” and for reserving “certain highway funds for highway connections to intermodal freight facilities,” NARP faults the plan for its failure to deal with “the need for finding alternatives to driving.”

As expected, NARP Executive Director Ross B. Capon is “disappointed the bill [again] would not allow states to spend Highway Trust Fund money on intercity passenger rail projects if they so desire, and that even for mass transit, the bill falls seriously short on several counts.” The 50 percent cap on the federal share for new rail starts “sends an unfortunate message,” as Capon sees it.

Speaking for mass transit interests, APTA agrees the proposal “does not adequately address substantial and growing infrastructure investment needs for both transit and highways.”

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) chimed in with the comment that “the administration’s funding levels are inadequate to meet America’s growing surface transportation needs.”

On Thursday, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta was on the hot seat before Chairman Young’s committee. The Alaska lawmaker said the administration bill actually decreases highway spending.

“If the highway funding levels for both bills are adjusted to constant 2003 dollars, the administration’s proposal provides less funding than TEA-21 did,” the Alaskan said.

As is often the case, this kind of conclusion depends on the methodology of whoever is doing the math.

At the rail industry’s annual E.H. Harriman and Harold F. Hammond Memorial Safety Awards Friday, Federal Railroad Administrator (FRA) Allan Rutter said the administration plan would provide “historic levels of investment in the nation’s infrastructure.”

More on the Harriman awards in a future D:F. Ed.

Before Young’s committee, Secretary Mineta testified the Bush plan would improve “the quality of our lives and [enhance] the productivity of our economy” and “seeks to place a central focus on transportation safety.” Young commended the White House for the emphasis on safety.

Young and the ranking Democrat on his committee, Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) are promoting a more expensive alternative $375 billion proposal which, unlike the Bush administration package, would raise the gas tax and index the gas tax to inflation. Given the history of inflation, this is likely to mean a gas tax hike for motorists every year.

Therein lies a sub-plot to this story:

Young and Oberstar are running into a buzz saw of open revolt on the part of some members of the House who believe that socking the motorist with a gas tax increase will work a hardship on families trying to make ends meet.

This anti-gas tax movement was started by junior members, some of whom are being told to “sit down and shut up,“ according to D:F sources. However, they are now getting the backing of some senior lawmakers, as well.

House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) signed on against the tax on Thursday, following an endorsement by such veteran legislators as Reps. Dan Burton (R-Ind), Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) and J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.)

D:F previously reported on the early stirrings of this revolt, which is now gathering steam. The instigator is freshman Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.) She and more than two-dozen colleagues have fired off a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert making several points, including the current gas tax is 18.4 cents per gallon, and state taxes on gasoline average just over 22 cents, which represents an annual tax burden of $660 for the average family.

They also argue every penny increase in the gas tax increases the family’s annual tax bill by $25, so if a 5.4 cent increase in the gas tax is enacted, each family would see its yearly tax burden increase by $135, and the total gas tax incurred by each family annually would be almost $800.

For those who define this as “chump change,” the anti-taxers say that perspective comes from being swept up in the rarified atmosphere in Washington: the tendency on the part of some to “lose touch” if they stay here too long.

In the letter to Hastert, Musgrave wrote that it is counter-productive for the House GOP majority to work hard to enact President Bush’s tax cuts through the front door, only to turn around and raise the gas taxes through the back door.

This sets the stage for the proverbial battle royal.

Young’s committee sits on huge projects (called “pork” by their detractors), which are scattered throughout Congressional districts all over the map. Hill watchers have observed that in this kind of situation, blatant threats are unnecessary. Everyone knows where the power lies.

Next week we will have an in-depth analysis. – Ed.


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P-59 owned by NC

NCDOT

North Carolina owns its own P-59s and uses them within the state.

 

North Carolina runs its own trains,
and more will be coming down the line

North Carolina is running trains.

Not just Amtrak contract trains, but North Carolina trains with North Carolina locomotives.

Pat Simmons – NCDOT’s Rail Division director, headquartered in Raleigh, told D:F “The locomotive are ours, and they power the Piedmont. Both the Piedmont and Carolinian are operated by Amtrak under contract” to the state.

Simmons said, “We are prohibited by state law from directly operating our own trains, but contracting for service is fine.”

He also explained that “The state is the sole shareholder of common stock in the North Carolina Railroad,” but it does not function as a railroad.

“Freight rights are leased to Norfolk Southern, and they have the existing capacity, save our current operations plus an additional roundtrip. Our construction program will add capacity for still yet more trains, and NS is contractually obligated to on-time performance and enhanced reliability.”

At the NCI conference in Washington in April, Simmons said “14 chambers of commerce from across the southeast over six states, including four NC chambers, are interested in high-speed rail development. They have developed a business case for high-speed rail in the Southeast.”

He added, “Their business case is different from the model that we have today. They ‘re not rejecting the long-distance train service that we have today – in fact, they think that ought to continue, but they want to see high-capacity, high-frequency services that link those city centers of 300 miles or so that links the business communities.”

He expects federal legislation to be written later this year for the region.

“I can’t tell you how great it is to have a message to deliver , and when the president of Bank of America delivers the business case for high-speed rail development, that’s very impressive – and the members of Congress pay attention, they listen.”

Pat Simmons at podium, and Rick Harnish.

NCI: Leo King

Pat Simmons at podium, and Rick Harnish.
North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley (D) announced recently North Carolina is moving ahead, said Simmons, with a $700 million program, of which about 10 percent would go into transit and rail development.

“We believe having the business community involved with selling the program to the General Assembly is going to be critical to getting that program approved.” He added, “That program is on the fast-track” and should be enacted over the next two years.

The state has begun a station improvement program in which 13 historic stations are being renovated, and five new multimodal centers are being developed. Interim stations are also going up, all of which are “considerably better than “Amshacks.”

Trackwork and signal improvements in 2002 saw the line between Raleigh and Selma knock 10 minutes off the schedule. The Raleigh–Greensboro segment shaved 14 minutes from the timetable, and this year, the time between Raleigh and High Point will be cut by about 20 minutes, Simmons said.

Next year, the tracks between Charlotte and Greensboro will see the NS track forces at work.

It all comes down to ridership.

The state service will carry 418,000 riders this year, Simmons said, and the state DOT expects “1,790,000 in 2025.” The agency expects to see, after full Southeast High-Speed Rail service is implemented, four daily trains between North Carolina, Virginia and Washington, D.C. In addition there will be eight daily trains between Raleigh and Charlotte.

Meanwhile, the NCRR Improvement Program will spend up to $45 million between Charlotte and Raleigh, and will result in higher safety, higher capacity and better reliability.

Perhaps most significant, Simmons said, “It will bring auto-competitive travel times” on double-track as well as passing sidings, following signal and curve work.

Construction began last year.

Rail ridership trends show that in 1990, The Carolinian demonstration project carried 350,000 people, which is also 1995’s Piedmont results. The trains were carrying a half-million people annually by 1998.

Simmons recommended four web sites that offer detailed information concerning rail projects in the region:

www.bytrain.org

www.sehsr.org

www.s4prc.org

www.southeastalliance.com


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NCI: Leo King

An Acela Express, the bullet-nosed train, is designed to travel at 150 mph. Amtrak’s new HHP-8s and older AEM-7s can make 125 mph with a train. Is America is inching, ever so snail-like, to a national plan?

 

RSI’s Pracht outlines high-speed funding plan to Senate, NCI

Mike Pracht not only talks to NCI members, he also speaks to Congressional people at hearings. In April, he said he sees the nation approaching transportation gridlock.

Pracht is chairman of the Passenger Transportation Committee of the Railway Supply Institute (RSI). He told NCI members – and a Senate hearing in Washington last month – “I serve with passion at RSI because I believe that this country is on the verge of a national transportation crisis. Gridlock and winglock are both at epidemic proportions that will only worsen if left to historical trends. The solution to this problem lies in our collective ability to develop an ‘integrated and balanced’ national transportation network that includes air, road and rail, in cooperation rather than in competition. Such a balanced transportation system will leverage the strengths of each mode to improve overall mobility and provide better economic results in a more environmentally friendly fashion.”

Pracht pointed out, “We have ignored, or perhaps failed to recognize, the importance of rail in this intermodal mix. Think of the proverbial three-legged stool and the obvious instability created by legs of different sizes.”

He said, “RSI believes the [Senate] committee should consider in developing a balanced transportation policy to support higher-speed passenger rail development in the U.S.”

The hearing was the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation chaired by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)

Pracht has been railroading for a long time. He counts more than 25 years of private-sector experience in the rail transportation business, in senior management positions, at Siemens (from Germany), Ansaldo (from Italy), and Union Switch & Signal (a former George Westinghouse company) from Pennsylvania.

RSI is the successor of two historically significant trade associations, the Railway Progress Institute (RPI) and the Railway Supply Association (RSA).

“Our new consolidated association represents over 400 companies from around this nation; large and small, public and private, with approximately 150,000 employees who generate in excess of $20 billion dollars in annual revenue,” so the trade organization has a significant stake in what happens not only to Amtrak, but all passenger rail.

He explained the RSI member firms “manufacture and lay the rail; build the locomotives, tank, freight and passenger cars; design and install the signal and telecommunications systems; and provide financing, and after-sales service and maintenance to the entire North American mainline market.”

Pracht declared, “This nation must stop fueling the long-standing, unnecessary and counterproductive competition that has developed between air, road and rail. We must recognize that ‘real’ intermodal cooperation offers the benefit of more competitive alternatives for passengers and shippers; much needed strain relief for an already overly stressed system; and better economic and environmental return on capital investment.”

The executive said expected future growth “highlights the challenge,” including between 2000 to 2025 the “U.S. population will grow 23 percent to 346 million people,” U.S. commercial emplanements are expected to double to 1.2 billion per year by 2025, and total road miles traveled will grow 70 percent between now and 2025 to 4.6 trillion annually.”

He added that last figure “compares with just 1.3 trillion vehicle miles annually on essentially the same Interstate Highway system back in 1975.”

Pracht declared that “Current plans to increase both air and ground capacity only simply cannot keep pace. Federal investment in rail infrastructure, together with state and private sector partnerships, must be part of the solution.”

He explained that using higher-speed rail to connect city pairs of between 100 to 400 miles “would benefit the traveling public by providing greater reliability and safety to motorists and a less costly and more productive alternative for fliers. Residual benefits would result from increased capacity at airports and interstates paying much-needed dividends to both in the process.”

He added some details to the notion.

“Specifically, the airline industry could take advantage of more suitable ‘best-mode’ feeder connections that would carry greater numbers of people more efficiently. More optimized use of gates, runways, and airspace would reduce delay, increase capacity and safety and improve cost-to-revenue ratios. The airlines would benefit from better returns on seat revenue; the airports from better returns on gate revenue; the Federal Aviation Administration from fewer blips on the radar screen; and the traveling public from a more user friendly system.

“On the highways, investment in rail will produce additional capacity, and reduce congestion (and road rage). Rail will enable more productive alternatives for interstate commuters and shorten rush hours, reduce lost time and help improve demographic balance and sprawl.”

He said just as federal leadership “paved the way” for the national interstate highway network – and fostered our comprehensive aviation system – “Higher-speed passenger rail requires the same commitment. Results will not come from the private sector or the states alone.”

He explained that the fundamental reason why it needs to be done is because “Rail transportation systems consist of two basic parts: a cash-intensive operating organization, and a capital-intensive infrastructure.”

He noted “Both components represent very different return-on investment models and present very different investment scenarios. When put together, there is simply not enough ridership, real estate, or other potential sources of revenue to produce a viable private-sector business case to cover both the up-front capital needs and long-term cash and ridership risks.”

Detailing the idea further, he said, “It is reasonable to expect the private sector to invest on the operating side because predicted financial models are consistent with traditional risk-tolerance levels and expectations. This is unfortunately not the case on the infrastructure side where a longer-term investment and risk-tolerance philosophy is necessary. Such a longer-term business case, however, is also where the federal government has historically invested in partnership with the states resulting in impressive and quantifiable economic returns on initial capital investment.”

He pointed to Europe as an example.

“Experience in high-speed rail investment in Europe and here in municipal transit markets have translated into significant increases in both business and tax revenues. Each dollar invested in transit capital programs yields $3 in private-sector sales and profits. This creates both short and long-term jobs along the right-of-way, benefits residential and commercial construction, and stimulates regional retail and service economies. Return revenues to all levels of government increase through permit fees, sales and income taxes, and a more generally robust economy.”

He sees the solution in “net new investment coming from both public and private sectors. If the federal government, supported by the states, is willing to invest in the infrastructure, the private sector will invest in the operation. Other industrialized nations have learned that public investment in ground transportation is simply good business that makes sense for stakeholders and beneficiaries alike.”

Regarding Amtrak, he said that carrier’s future must be addressed separately.

“It is counterproductive to continue to combine the historically politically charged debate over Amtrak with a meaningful discussion of intercity passenger rail. One has little to do with the other, and linkage is detrimental to both.”

In his view, “We must first determine what benefit higher-speed rail will provide to our overall transportation network and how its integration with existing modes will be best achieved,” and then identify state and regional stakeholders “with the most pressing needs and ability to implement projects that produce the most favorable returns.”

He said those things need to be done before “new corridors could be operated.”

For new operations, he said, “Amtrak should be considered a competitor among equals. Amtrak will bring advantages, including its current access to the freight rail system and long expertise with intercity passenger operations. Other prospective entrants, particularly where dedicated rights-of-way are envisioned, might offer different approaches that could be considered.”

He added, “RSI is a strong supporter of both Amtrak and public investment in rail. Our member companies are suppliers to Amtrak and vested stakeholders in Amtrak’s future. We are encouraged by David Gunn’s straight talking style and cost-cutting results. We applaud the steps he has taken to instill discipline, financial credibility, and private-sector performance measurements.

He suggested a way to develop higher-speed intercity rail for Congress to establish a dedicated source of federal funding for rail.

“RSI’s concept builds upon previous legislative efforts to authorize tax-credit bonds for higher-speed rail, such as the High-Speed Rail Investment Act, considered in the last Congress.”

He said the organization’s proposal “broadens this idea by enabling these tax-credit bonds to be issued through a private, non-profit, federally chartered corporation,” named the Rail Finance and Development Corp. (RFDC) “for capital investment in rail-related infrastructure not generally eligible for surface transportation trust fund expenditures under TEA-21.

He explained that the RFDC would provide “financial support for capital projects that develop higher speed intercity rail corridor passenger services, including infrastructure and equipment, provide efficient rail access to ports, and would provide efficient rail access to intermodal terminals.”

It would also provide “high frequency rail access to airport terminals, and increased capacity on the nation’s rail freight network designed to enhance security, reduce congestion and to improve air quality and efficiency.”

Beyond that, the plan would support the “capital needs of short line and regional railroads” for infrastructure improvements to serve rural and smaller communities and accommodate 286,000-pound freight cars, and support “relocation or consolidation of rail lines and facilities in urban areas.”

“By embracing all forms of rail investment through this initiative – not just higher-speed rail – RSI believes that our national goal of a balanced intermodal transportation system can be realized.”


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Amtrak’s carbodies get rebuilt in Indiana

In Beech Grove, Ind., lie the charred and twisted remains of Amtrak’s City of New Orleans, a 14-car train that smashed into a truck near Bourbonnais, Ill., four years ago, killing 11 passengers.

On another track sit the crumpled double-decker coaches of Amtrak’s Capitol Limited – its windows boarded with plywood and the interior stripped – that left Chicago and derailed in Kensington, Md., last year.

Amtrak wrecks from around the country are hauled on “hospital trains” to the railroad’s 100-year-old Beech Grove maintenance facility for repair. Yet over much of the last decade, reflecting Amtrak’s moribund financial condition, the rail yard became a train graveyard.

Now Amtrak, a perennial victim of mismanagement and underfunding, is attempting to recover Chicago Tribune reporter Jon Hilkevitch wrote on May 11.

See our editorial photo feature in this issue of D:F. – Ed.

The renewed activity at Beech Grove is a tangible example of Amtrak’s strategy, which was detailed in a five-year plan released at the end of April to return more trains to service and lure travelers back to the rails.

For the first time in years, refurbished cars, shiny and mechanically sound on the outside, nicely appointed with new furniture, air-conditioning and other amenities on the inside, are starting to roll out of the massive train sheds at Beech Grove, near Indianapolis.

It will take time. Fourteen wrecks are scheduled for repair by September, with about 90 other cars and locomotives waiting for their turn.

“When you walk into a car, the lighting, carpets, drapes, seat cushions and bathrooms will look like the 21st century instead of 1970,” said Lew Wood, general manager of the facility. “All the safety equipment is being completely rebuilt and overhauled to brand-new condition.”

The previous Amtrak leadership furloughed hundreds of mechanics, welders and other craftsmen at Beech Grove during the 1990s and halted repairs of wrecked locomotives and cars to save money.

The move was part of a flawed strategy, imposed by Congress, that the railroad would wean itself off federal subsidies by 2003. Former Amtrak CEO George Warrington made regular trips to Capitol Hill to report Amtrak was on a “glide slope to self-sufficiency.”

That was not the case. Warrington’s focus on stemming the red ink only cost Amtrak more customers and got it deeper into financial trouble because shutdown costs exceeded the savings, according to many industry experts. Excuses were offered in place of customer service.

“Congress told him Amtrak must turn a profit and Warrington said, ‘OK, we’ll make a profit,’ even though he knew it was impossible,” said one passenger rail industry expert, still angry over Warrington’s purported progress reports to the government.

Amtrak officials acknowledge that the inventory of junked trains at Beech Grove and at Amtrak’s repair shops in Bear, Del., was partially responsible for Amtrak’s ridership remaining flat after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

Many passengers, too afraid to fly, attempted to purchase Amtrak sleeping berths, at prices similar to or greater than airline seats, and to endure 18 hours on the train from Chicago to Washington and other routes – but Amtrak could not provide enough equipment.

Amtrak will be out of money again in October. The patience of the government and the traveling public has reached its thinnest point since Amtrak’s creation 30 years ago, after the freight railroads abandoned passenger service because they could not make money at it.

David Gunn, a transit turnaround artist who completed his first year as president and CEO of Amtrak on May 15, acknowledged there are no guarantees his beleaguered operation will even exist a year from now.

Under Gunn’s direction, Amtrak is trying to show critics in the White House, Congress and governors’ mansions that long-distance train service is a viable and vital component of the national transportation network – and that Amtrak is the right choice to get the job done.

“You cannot leave this operation in its current state, financially and physically, and have five more years’ debate of people figuring out how they want to reform Amtrak. You just can’t. Amtrak will croak. It will come completely apart.”

Gunn was a railroader before he became a transit director, and he’s been at it for 40 years. He started out working on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad from 1964 to 1967, then moved on to the New York Central System from 1967 to 1968, and onward from there.

Although he does not think Amtrak can survive without some kind of subsidy, Gunn is confident he can make the operation leaner and more efficient. He points out that both highway and air travel are heavily subsidized by the government.

His team is producing financial reports and income statements that government watchdog groups say represent major improvements over the fudged budget documents of the past. Runaway costs are being controlled and productivity has risen.

The crews that repair train air brakes at Beech Grove are completing 1,400 a month, up from 520 brakes monthly, after the production facility and work rules were recently revamped, Wood said.

“They say we got a lot more work coming in. I hope it’s true because this is a very stressful company to work for. You don’t know how long you’ll have a job,” said Mike Lucas, 54, a car welder who has been laid off twice since 1990.

Despite the uncertainties, Lucas called Beech Grove “a fun place filled with a great group of people. Experience, knowledge, talent. It’s all here.”


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Acela’s springs cause new headaches

As Amtrak prepares to repair major structural flaws on its high-speed Acela Express trainsets, a nagging new maintenance problem is bedeviling the snub-nosed bullet trains.

Over the last 10 months, the main springs in the Acela’s trucks have begun to break, requiring replacements to be installed much earlier than predicted by Bombardier and Alstom, the train’s manufacturer.

This is on state-of-the-art trains that have, at most, 30,000 miles on them, the Boston Herald reported on Friday.

“Thirty thousand (miles) isn’t bad, but it’s a far cry from what they committed to,” Amtrak President David Gunn said.

“I’m not prepared to say it’s premature or otherwise. The point is, they built the maintenance schedules around 250,000 miles, which means they have some constraints (in fixing them now).”

Bombardier and Alstom, the joint venture that built the trains, is responsible for their maintenance. According to Gunn, the difficulty with the spring failures, which have happened on “16 or 17” trucks, is that the broken trains have to be hauled out to Alstom’s maintenance facility in Hornel, N.Y., to be repaired.

“What is happening is they’re having to ship stuff all over the place (to be repaired)… why do you ship the whole… truck to Hornel to change the springs?” said Gunn.

“They can do a better job. We’re beating them up all the time to do a better job,” added the Melrose, Mass. native.

Amtrak said it has the equipment to do the repair work, and is hoping to come up with some arrangement with Bombardier to do so.

The manufacturer doesn’t deny there have been problems with the springs, but believes they’re likely a product of the Northeast Corridor’s state of disrepair.

“That Acela equipment is slugging it out in that environment every day, at high speeds. They’re taking a beating,” said David Slack, a Bombardier spokesman.

“We’re starting to see some of the wear and tear… (but) it’s not a safety issue and it’s not impacting service,” he said.


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Operation Lifesaver gets grant
Gerri Hall

NCI: Jim RePass


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Operation Lifesaver, Inc., received a $1 million grant last week from the FRA. The Alexandria, Va.-based nonprofit organization is the nation’s premier railroad safety education organization. FRA’s Alan Rutter presented OLI’s president Gerri Hall with a ceremonial check during the organization’s Annual Operation Lifesaver Day event, held Wednesday evening at Union Station in Washington, D.C.

Oregon considers cutting Cascades

Amtrak’s Gil Mallery is warning Oregon lawmakers that cutting off funding for two daily trains between Eugene and Portland will affect 120,000 riders and undermine plans in three cities to renovate or improve train stations.

Businesses also are counting on improved rail service to speed their products to market, Mallery said. He is vice president of regional planning and development for Amtrak.

Oregon lawmakers are considering a proposal to cut the twice-a-day Amtrak Cascades runs to save $9.3 million for the state budget, according to The AP.

“It’s not an easy matter to turn off the funding and then turn it back on,” Mallery told lawmakers Friday.

Rep. Randy Miller, a Republican and co-chairman of the budget-writing Joint Ways and Means Committee, said Mallery made a strong argument for continuing the two Cascades runs, but he added that education and services to elderly and disabled Oregonians have to come before train services, especially since passengers can find alternatives if the Amtrak Cascades service is reduced.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s budget includes money to maintain the train service.

If both trains are eliminated, only the once-a-day Coast Starlight would serve Eugene. A $4.5 million project to renovate Eugene’s station is due to go out to bid for construction work within the next 30 days, Mallery said.

In addition, Albany, Ore., is about to upgrade its depot, and Oregon City is planning to improve its platform so Amtrak trains can stop for passengers there. In addition, the state has worked out an agreement with Union Pacific, which owns the tracks Amtrak uses, for $15 million.

In 1993, when only Amtrak’s once-a-day Coast Starlight served the Pacific Northwest’s north-south corridor, ridership was at about 93,000 a year. Today, it is about 600,000 a year, thanks to the four daily trains that also serve western Washington State, Mallery said. The Cascades carries about 120,000 people from Eugene to Portland annually.


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Western ARP fights ignorance, misinformation

The Montana and Wyoming joint Association of Railroad Passengers (MWARP) has plenty to do these days.

Amtrak, frequently an easy target for critics, is now taking heat from the White House. The Bush administration wants to change Amtrak into two for-profit companies that leave it up to states to fund unprofitable lines if they want them; some politicians and editorial writers claim the railroad is the only form of transportation that is subsidized by the federal government.

The passenger association’s efforts to establish Amtrak service between Spokane and Denver – via cities such as Missoula and Billings, Mont., and Casper, Wyo., is on hold, because of Congressionally imposed two-year moratorium on new Amtrak passenger routes. But MWARP president James C. Green of Billings notes that his group’s mission is not just to expand service, but also to maintain it.

The Missoulian, of Missoula, Mont., reported that was why Green was in Missoula on May 13, a week after a Missoulian editorial stated, Americans “don’t rely on the federal government for other modes of transportation, and we shouldn’t for rail service, either.”

Government subsidizes all kinds of transportation, from the barge industry to airlines, Green said, and spends billions more on them than it does Amtrak. It builds highways for cars, trucks and buses, and airports for airlines.

“They don’t call them subsidies, but a rose is a rose is a rose,” Green said.

“Air traffic controllers are paid by the federal government. Amtrak pays Amtrak dispatchers. We don’t think people understand that all public transportation is subsidized in some way,” Green continued.

He added, “Whether we’re upgrading highways or airports or runways, we spent $15 billion on the (Federal Aviation Administration), $33 billion on highways, we gave the airlines a $12 billion bailout after 9-11.”

Amtrak critics point out that money translates into tiny fractions of a penny spent on each passenger mile traveled by airline customers and automobile drivers. Amtrak’s $1 billion spends nearly 25 cents for every passenger mile traveled, according to government figures.

The Bush administration wants to end this by turning rail passenger service over to private companies which would take over potentially profitable lines and demanding individual states fund unprofitable lines they wanted to keep, but no one in the private sector took over.

What would happen to lines like the Empire Builder, which runs from Seattle to Minneapolis and crosses Montana’s “Hi-Line,” Green wondered. What if Montana wanted to fund the service but one of the other states the Empire Builder crosses didn’t?

Public Citizen, a national nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded by Ralph Nader, predicts the Bush plan will turn the federal funds over to private contractors who are major contributors to the Republican party, who will then “cherry pick the most profitable routes,” primarily in the Eastern corridors.

“Rail passenger service is just that – a service. It should be run efficiently and safely for the good of the communities it serves,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program.

“It should not be held to a naked standard of profitability and then, for failing to attain an unrealistic goal, be thrown to corporate cannibals hungry for public subsidies and willing to put profits before people. Amtrak needs to be protected and strengthened, not gutted,” said Hauter.

Michael Ackley of Missoula, vice president of the Montana-Wyoming association, noted that June 29, 2004 will mark the 75th anniversary of the Empire Builder, and said there is lots of support on the Hi-Line to keep it running.

“Amtrak has spent 30 years concentrating on the Northeast Corridor,” Green said.

“They’ve put no money into maintenance, but there’s a $3.9 billion bill in Congress to beef up Amtrak’s infrastructure and make it run right. Amtrak has a new CEO (David Gunn) who’s cut their number of vice-presidents from 84 down to 20. There’s a whole change of attitude in the upper echelons of Amtrak.”

The question remains: Will Amtrak survive to see MWARP restart its attempts to open the old “southern route,” a Spokane-to-Denver line? Another group is pushing an Edmonton-to-Billings line, and still another a Denver-Dallas run that would connect Canada to Mexico for railroad passengers, Green said.

“Too many people are giving up on the project,” Green said, adding, “We’ve got to keep working. It took them six years to get through the aviation act back in the 1950s; this isn’t going to happen overnight.”

Green said his group, which gathered 14,000 signatures supporting a southern line and had 120 people join the organization, is down to 20 members.

“It’s going to happen,” Green said. “Amtrak is going to survive. But the rural West has got to be united, or we won’t get anything.”


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Irked Pennsylvania community tires
of waiting for Amtrak at the station

Elizabethtown Borough in Pennsylvania is tired of waiting at the tracks.

Amtrak, which recently backed away from a promise to provide $464,500 in aid for renovations and other improvements to the Elizabethtown rail platform and station, is hindering borough efforts to complete its part of the project.

“I don’t think our citizens believe us anymore,” borough manager Peter Whipple told the borough council last week, wrote the Lancaster, Penna., New Era/Intelligencer Journal/Sunday News..

So, the borough, which is mired in its efforts to advance the project through usual channels, may try to shame the railway giant into moving forward.

Councilman Meade Bierly suggested erecting a large billboard in the parking lot outside the station. The sign would explain the reasons for the delay and list the names and addresses of officials to contact on the matter.

“We need to do something splashy enough that it gets our name in the newspapers,” Bierly said. “It has to be offensive enough that it calls Amtrak officials and they see how ludicrous the situation is. It’s time to embarrass them.”

Whipple said the council also should make its plans for the dilapidated site more accessible to people using the station.

“We should get a copy of the plans, put them under glass and show them that we’re ready to go,” he said.

Whipple, responding to a question from councilman David Stephenson, said the borough couldn’t lose its lease on the property over the stunt. However, he added later, “We will want to let Amtrak know we’re going to put it up.”

He anticipated a sign would be erected within a few weeks.

“We’ve tried for three years,” Bierly said. “Try the embarrassment. I like the idea.”

The project, which includes a variety of transportation and commercial services, was to be completed in stages, with Amtrak overseeing all work in the platform area.

“We could throw in the towel to a certain part of the project,” Whipple said.

“We have the money in place to do the lower portion of the project,” he explained. “We could beg off the handicapped ramps, the canopies and the tunnel. Since Amtrak isn’t cooperating with us, we could walk away from it... and the responsibility would be theirs.”

The parking lot in particular needs work, Whipple said.

Borough officials agreed to seek funding elsewhere after learning of Amtrak’s decision to pull funding in March. However, Amtrak retains approval rights over the project.

Renovation of the station, abandoned more than 20 years ago, will cost an estimated $2.2 million. All funds had been secured until Amtrak announced a change of plans.

Amtrak officials, in a letter dated March 6, cited a “funding shortfall” as its reason for deleting the Elizabethtown project from its budget.

The borough, in exchange for releasing Amtrak from its commitment, asked that it expedite the review and approval of the improvement plan.

That hasn’t happened, and Elizabethtown officials, even with the aid of local representatives, haven’t had much luck getting Amtrak engineers to cooperate.

“Clearly, this is something that will need to be dealt with at higher levels,” Whipple said.

“PennDOT very much is in our court,” he said. “Lancaster County is in our court. They are all very much in favor of it.”

Council members voiced disbelief in Amtrak’s tactics.

“We’re trying to do something... and we’re getting stonewalled,” complained council president Doug Pfautz.

“They’re running TV ads to encourage ridership,” Bierly said. “Here we are with money in hand to spend and help them attract ridership.... It’s depressing to stand on those platforms.”

The council stated the Amtrak project is its No. 1 priority. Officials hope to get work under way by autumn.

There are “more and more passengers” using the station, Pfautz said. At last count, close to 38,000 people are traveling to and from the Elizabethtown platform each year.

The borough has received commitments for more than $1.1 million through three successive TEA-21 grants, which are federal grants administered by the state, and nearly $200,000 from successive LATS grants, which are state grants disbursed through Lancaster County.

An additional $15,000 came from the Great American Station Foundation. Elizabethtown Borough has already committed $400,000 from its own budget, over several years, to get the job done.


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MapQuest, Amtrak couple up

MapQuest and Amtrak have coupled up so train riders can see where they’re going. It’s on Amtrak’s website, http://www.amtrak.com.

A few mouse clicks will give Amtrak passengers and others the location of – or directions to – any of more than 500 railroad stations across the country.

Under this new agreement, the MapQuest technology will enable Amtrak to expand the mapping and routing functionality on amtrak.com and to improve the overall satisfaction of website users.

Amtrak’s website has recorded nearly one-fourth of all Amtrak ticket sales, representing an increase of more than 52 percent over last year. The percentage of total ticket revenue booked online – 26.8 percent in March – is significantly higher than many other travel Web sites, and it continues to grow, according to Amtrak. The company’s Internet sales have averaged more than 100 percent growth per year over the past five years and are expected to exceed 2.4 million online bookings and $330 million in online sales this year.

Neither the railroad nor MapQuest released details about their agreement – who is paying whom, nor how much.


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New MARC engines collect dust

The state of Maryland spent $36 million on six new locomotives that haven’t gone into service, most for more than a year.

A Baltimore TV station reported that weeds and rust grow faster than some brand-new locomotives travel. The locomotives are sitting idle instead of pulling passengers up and down the Maryland Rail Commuter’s (MARC) Penn line. The state ordered six brand-new engines and most of them are collecting dust at a Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) train yard in Essex, Md., Collins reported.

MTA spokeswoman Suzanne Bond the state bought a half-dozen engines.

“We have an order right now of six locomotives, and they cost $6 million each.”

$36 million, and paid in full according to WBAL Baltimore on May 13.

The locomotives are state-of-the-art, top-of-the-line engines designed to give customers a faster ride, the station reported. State officials thought they could get the locomotives in service faster if they piggybacked onto an Amtrak order, but it hasn’t worked out.

At least one of the locomotives has been idle for 18 months and four others have been quiet for more than a year. The last engine arrived seven months ago, and all had problems.

Bond described the required repair, which sounded a lot like the yaw damper problems found on the Acela Express trainsets a year ago. She said, “We found out they had some issues with left-to-right movement on the train, a swaying movement by the locomotive that required a modification.”

In other words, the engines aren’t safe, Collins said. According to Amtrak, there are cracks in a bracket that holds the engines’ shock absorber. MTA officials said if it breaks it, it could cause a derailment.

According to MTA officials, manufacturing company Bombardier – which also built the Acela Expresses – agreed to fix the problem but worked on Amtrak’s locomotives first, which caused a delay in service.

Bombardier declined to comment, and even though most of the locomotives have been out of service for more than a year, state officials said that’s not unusual.

“This is the type of process that goes on behind the scenes that people don’t often know about, the accepting testing process, the evaluation process, making sure things work well,” Bond said.

While Maryland officials find this delay acceptable, other transit authorities do not. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) in Philadelphia claims it takes them a week to get a locomotive in service after delivery. In Dallas, Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) officials said it takes them only a week or two to get their locomotives in service.

Joanne Li, an assistant professor of finance at Loyola College in Baltimore, calculated the interest the state could have earned if it left the $36 million in its stock portfolio using a formula provided by the state to be perhaps “$680,000 in terms of rate of return.”

Amtrak officials said its only obligation was to inspect the engines.

Now the state is faced with another expense – paying Bombardier $111,000 to teach 50 people to how to operate and maintain the locomotives.

Attorney Troy Powers, who specializes in contract law, said the state negotiated a bad deal, and he finds it incredible that the state has not already taken legal action.

“The taxpayer is sitting with the burden of reparations,” Powers said. “It certainly appears that there are flaws in the contract and perhaps somebody either didn’t consider those problems may arise, or considered them but was willing to waive them.”

A state official said all six locomotives would be in service in July. Amtrak is suing Bombardier, and Maryland state officials said the possibility of a lawsuit is something that needs to be discussed, but only after the locomotives are in service.


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Lewis and Clark Explorer train stops

Oregon rail officials are scrambling to salvage the Lewis and Clark Explorer Train after Amtrak decided to “pull the plug” on the planned excursion service scheduled to begin May 23.

Claudia Howells, Oregon DOT’s rail division administrator, said the decision is not final and that it stems from a miscommunication, according to the May 13 Daily Astorian of Astoria, Ore.

“Amtrak, back in D.C., without talking to any of us here, decided to pull the plug on the whole thing, based on, we believe, inaccurate or erroneous information,” Howells said.

She added, “There are a lot of people working on getting that straightened out.”

Howells said the news “came out of nowhere” on Friday.

She said it appears there was a “miscommunication” between local Amtrak officials and officials in Washington, D.C., specifically pertaining to inspections to ensure the safety of the track between Portland and Astoria and the three self-powered diesel cars the state acquired to make the run. Howells said the state “probably went to extremes” to make sure the equipment is safe.

Right now, the state rail division is responding to inquiries and information requests from Amtrak. Also, Oregon’s congressional delegates are working to rescue the service, she said.

“We are trying to get this fixed,” she said. “It will get fixed. I am pretty confident of that.”


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

Texas transportation bill is halfway home

What was touted as “the biggest transportation bill in the history of Texas” received preliminary approval by the Lone Star State’s House of Representatives on May 9. The legislation would change the way the state pays for highways and other transportation projects – including rail.

The flagship part of the measure, House Bill 3588, establishes guidelines for the 4,000-mile, $175 billion Trans Texas Corridor Plan, Gov. Rick Perry’s vision for creating a separate network of corridors that would largely parallel existing interstate highways.

The bill was approved on a voice vote after seven hours of discussion.

The bill is now awaiting Senate consideration, according to the Star Telegram of May 10.

The legislation gives the Texas Transportation Commission and Texas DOT broad powers in financing Perry’s corridor plan.

The plan is designed to allow long-haul traffic to avoid congested metropolitan areas. It has been described as the most ambitious surface-transportation proposal ever in Texas and the most sweeping in the nation since the Eisenhower-era creation of the interstate highway system.

Under the bill, the transportation commission could appropriate up to 20 percent of the state’s highway reimbursements from Washington, levy tolls and other user fees, accept donations and private investments, collect money from motorists who get excessive tickets, tap the Texas Mobility Fund and issue debt secured by fees.

The act is one of two sources of revenue in the 148-page legislation. The other source is a $30 increase in fines for speeding tickets.


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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
http://www.apta.com/news/pt.


 

Transportation Leaders Urge Higher Infrastructure Investment at Washington Rally

Transportation leaders participated in an April 30 rally near the U.S. Capitol to urge Congress to provide adequate funding for transportation infrastructure construction projects in this year’s transit, highway, and aviation reauthorization bills. The event was sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Americans for Transportation Mobility coalition.

Speakers, including APTA President William W. Millar, signed a pledge in support of higher investment in transportation infrastructure at the completion of their remarks.

U.S. Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Thomas J. Donohue, who moderated the event, said a high level of transportation infrastructure investment in the reauthorization bills would sustain and create jobs, and would fuel economic development. “It’s required for economic growth,” he said.

ATM represents more than 400 members--including businesses, trade associations, unions, transportation users, and providers--working to improve the nation's transportation infrastructure, and ensuring that it can handle current and future demands. The coalition, launched in 2001, believes that the lost time and money and the environmental degradation resulting from a clogged transportation system represents a tax on economic vitality, and a burden to quality of life.


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TSA Contracts with Maximus for Testing Transit Workers ID Technologies

As part of an effort to create a common, universally recognized Transportation Workers Identification Credential, the federal Transportation Security Administration has awarded a $3.8 million contract to Maximus to lead technology evaluation and testing toward design of the credential.

The TWIC program, when fully implemented, will establish common credentials for the more than 12 million transportation workers who require unescorted access to secure areas of transportation facilities. The purpose of the effort is to facilitate background checks for transportation workers who will be required to have the credential.

TWIC will present biometric standards for the clear identification of employees who require unescorted access to secure locations or non-public areas within a transportation facility; will eliminate the need for multiple forms of identification, allowing transportation personnel to invest more of their time moving people and cargo; and will protect the privacy of transportation workers by keeping only limited information on the card and central databases.


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Tight Surety Bond Market Continues to Challenge Transit Industry

Contractors, as well as transit agencies, are struggling with a tight surety bond market that is translating into higher project costs and lower competition for major transit capital projects.

During the past year, some transit agencies have begun loosening their surety bond requirements on infrastructure investments to adjust to this increasingly tough and more expensive market for bonds. Despite these signs of change, contractors and transit agencies continue to grapple with what remains a difficult situation. Some industry leaders believe that more realistic bonding practices will need to be adopted.

Transit agencies typically require surety bonds from contractors involved in construction, vehicle manufacturing, and technology projects. Although agencies can require three types of bonds—to secure a contract’s bid price, to cover contractor performance, and to guarantee payments to subcontractors—it is the performance bond that often places the heaviest burden on a contractor. A performance bond, with its price tied to the contract’s value, is established to secure that the contractor fulfills its obligations.


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Dudley Is New GM in Greenville, S.C.

Judy Dudley, assistant general manager with the Athens Transit System in Athens, Ga., has joined the Greenville Transit Authority in Greenville, S.C., as its new general manager.

The GTA board contracted with McDonald Transit Associates in October 2002 to provide a resident manager for the authority. Tim Lett, McDonald vice president, technical support, served as interim manager until a permanent manager was hired. Lett had worked with Dudley when he was general manager in Athens from 1989 to 1994.


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Polivka Retires as Head of Laketran; Jurkowski Is New GM

Frank J. Polivka, the first employee to join Laketran in Grand River, Ohio, in 1979 and the system’s first and only general manager, retired April 30.

The Laketran board announced Polivka’s successor, Raymond Jurkowki, on April 26. Jurkowski has served for more than five years as assistant general manager with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority in Philadelphia, earlier working in St. Louis and Westchester County, N.Y. He took charge of the system on May 1.

When Polivka was hired by Laketran 24 years ago, he was given the opportunity to create a transit system for Lake County, hiring drivers and overseeing the rollout of the first bus. He worked to provide transportation for the elderly and persons with disabilities, and built community support until Laketran’s funding levies passed with nearly 70 percent voter approval.


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Transit Veteran Dyer Dies; Headed L.A., Miami Systems

Dr. John A. Dyer, a veteran transit expert who headed systems in Los Angeles and Miami during a career that spanned three decades, died May 3 at his home in Glendale, Calif. He was 66 years old.

He is also credited for the planning, management, and operations of the highly successful Olympics Transportation System, for the 17-day period of the Olympic Games held in Los Angeles in 1984.

Dyer’s most current position was principal in charge of transit planning for Parsons Brinckerhoff Consult. At the time of his death, Dyer was involved in designing and managing transportation systems for the Orange County (Calif.) Transportation Authority and the cities of Nashville and Austin. Also with PB, Dyer previously worked on the SkyTrain Rail System in Vancouver, B.C.


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Weisskopf Heads RECARO

RECARO North America announces the appointment of Kai T. Weisskopf as its president, based at the company’s headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich.

Weisskopf joined RECARO GmbH in Kirchheim, Germany, in 1995. He is now responsible for overseeing all operations pertaining to the company’s OEM and aftermarket seating business, including manufacturing, engineering, and business development in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and South America.


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Converse, Texas, Residents Vote to Maintain VIA Service

Voters in Converse, Texas, approved a ballot initiative May 3 to maintain bus services provided by VIA Metropolitan Transit of San Antonio.

The measure passed 343-223, according to unofficial election results from the special election.

In the third such vote in six years, residents of Converse, located northeast of San Antonio, decided between maintaining bus service or shifting VIA’s portion of sales tax proceeds to street repairs. In its last session, the Texas legislature approved a measure allowing local governments to raise sales taxes for street repairs as long as the total sales tax collected did not exceed 8.25 percent, which is Converse’s current sales tax rate.


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

NS Exhibit Car-Exterior

Norfolk Southern

Norfolk Southern’s specially outfitted former passenger car, which includes a locomotive simulator, is traveling around the nation this summer. The story is below.

 

Not to mention highway dangers

New law threatens July 4th fireworks

By Wes Vernon
Washington Bureau Chief

A new law goes on the books on May 24 that has tied the government in knots in one phase of its war on terrorism. Further, it threatens that most American of celebrations – fireworks displays on the Fourth of July.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) is interpreting the regulations in the Safe Explosives Act in such a way as to force railroads to throw up their hands and forego the business they derive from transporting fireworks. The result is the fireworks manufacturers are planning to shift their shipments to trucks where hijacking or damage are just as easy, probably more so.

The bottom line is that there is a fear out there that this legislation, aimed at keeping explosives out of the hands of terrorists, could in fact increase that danger.

The measure was sponsored by Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) and signed into law last November by President Bush.

Edward R. Hamberger, President of the Association of American Railroads (AAR) wrote a letter January 23 to Attorney General John Ashcroft, pointing out the pitfalls and consequences of the way the legislation was being interpreted. As of mid-May, he had received no response. Copies of the letter went out to Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, Deputy DOT Secretary Jeffrey Shane, FRA Administrator Allan Rutter, Secretary of State Colin Powell, BATF Director Bradley Buckles, and Ellen G. Englemen of the Administration of Research and Special Programs.

As of press time, the concerns of the industry apparently had not been addressed. Hamberger, by the way, was acting on the concerns of his members. It is the individual railroads that have made the decision not to transport the explosives.

In his letter, Hamberger complains that railroads – whose infrastructure and industrial plant is spread out all over the landscape for thousands and thousands of miles – would be responsible for seeing to it that no single person or company could handle the explosives if he/she/it has been convicted under a felony indictment, dishonorably discharged from the armed services, or is an alien (with some exceptions).

Let’s start with the last point first:

Hamberger’s letter points out that more than “10 percent of explosives transported by rail in the U.S. is imported by Canada” by Canadian railroads that use Canadian train crews (aliens).

Hamberger cites other problems, too.

“There are railroads that have been convicted of felonies at some point in their past,” he wrote. In answer to a D:F inquiry, AAR spokesman Tom White said such convictions “could be from any time in the past and don’t have to have security or safety relevance.”

Obviously complicating this point is the fact that in the 175-year history of this industry, there is hardly a major railroad in existence today that is not at least descended from railroads that were brought up on charges throughout the latter 19th Century dealing with issues of the so-called “robber barons” of that era.

Not only must the railroads be responsible for the past record of every one of their employees over and beyond the background checks that the companies already make before they hire anyone, but now they must also be responsible for the background of every customer in the transport of explosives and every employee of that customer who is involved with the shipments in question.

Without coming out and saying so, Hamberger implies that the railroad industry would have to set up its own private FBI to probe into the background of everyone, inside and outside of the industry itself, who has anything to do with the shipment of explosives. All of this, he says, would be “problematic.”

The Washington Times of May 10 stated the shift of fireworks shipments from rail to truck costs as much as $8,000 per container, which is beyond the reach of small fireworks-display companies.

Fred Grucci of the family-owned Fireworks by Grucci firm says this “could make the difference between small communities either having a fireworks display or having to pass on it this year.”

As containers of pyrotechnic-display fireworks sit at West Coast ports while the feds try to extricate themselves from the knots of this complex legal snarl, the serious issues raised by the railroad industry remain unanswered by those who wrote and passed the law or by those who are interpreting the regulations the law has imposed.

That most American of celebrations– Independence Day fireworks – could hang in the balance in many communities.


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NS Exhibit Car-Interior

Norfolk Southern

Norfolk Southern’s Exhibit Car will travel the Eastern half of the nation through December.

 

Norfolk Southern’s ‘Exhibit Car’ starts tour

Norfolk Southern’s “Exhibit Car” is scheduled to visit 17 locations on the company’s rail system this year.

The car is a rebuilt passenger car with displays depicting the history and modern operation of the Norfolk Southern transportation system. A locomotive simulator, the car’s most popular display, puts guests in the engineer’s seat in control of throttle, brake and horn. Some 1.5 million people in more than 340 cities have viewed the traveling showcase since 1971.

The car began its 33rd year of service on May 9 at the landmark Chattanooga Choo-Choo for a regional convention of the National Model Railroad Assn.

Other 2003 Exhibit Car scheduled appearances are:

May 17, Crewe Historical Railroad Museum, Crewe, Va., and May 24, Aurora, N.C.

Next it will travel, on June 7, to Manassas, Va.; June 14, Roanoke, Va.; June 18, on a special Operation Lifesaver train between Pittsburgh and Altoona, Pa.; June 24-29, Gettysburg, Pa.

July 10-21, Southeastern Railway Museum, Duluth, Ga.

August 12-14, Columbus, Ohio; August 16, Delaware, Ohio; August 30 though September 1, Bulls Gap, Tenn.

September 13-21, Strasburg Railroad, Strasburg, Pa.; September 26-28, Danville, Va.

October 3-4, Williamson, W.Va.; October 11, Flat Rock, N.C.; October 24-26, Wellsboro, Pa.

December 5-7, Strasburg Railroad, Strasburg, Pa.

Norfolk Southern provides the Exhibit Car at no cost for community events throughout its rail transportation network. Requests for the car for 2004 can be made through the Norfolk Southern Web site at www.nscorp.com. Click on “about Norfolk Southern,” then “Exhibit Car” under the “Miscellaneous” column.


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RailAmerica railroads earn top safety awards

RailAmerica has earned several top safety awards from the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Assn.

The industry organization recognized 15 RailAmerica railroads with 17 awards for their outstanding safety records during 2002. In addition, RailAmerica’s Toledo, Peoria & Western (TPW) railroad was honored for its marketing excellence.

RailAmerica’s Missouri & Northern Arkansas and San Joaquin Valley railroads were awarded the Gold and Silver safety awards, respectively, in the 50,001 to 250,000 man-hours worked category. Furthermore, 15 RailAmerica lines were selected for “Jake with Distinction” awards, which are given to railroads that did not have a reportable injury in all of 2002. Those railroads include the Arizona & California; Central Railroad Co. of Indianapolis; Chesapeake & Albemarle; Grand Rapids Eastern; Michigan Shore; Mid-Michigan; Missouri & Northern Arkansas; Indiana Southern; North Carolina & Virginia; Otter Tail Valley; San Diego & Imperial Valley; San Joaquin Valley; San Pedro & Southwestern; Ventura County; and Virginia Southern.

The Toledo, Peoria & Western Railway was honored by the ASLRRA for its innovative intermodal solution to transport contaminated soil from Barrie Park in Oak Park, Ill.

The TPW, in conjunction with its Class I connection, safely transported the contaminated soil a distance of 152 miles to Peoria Disposal Co., a qualified Illinois landfill, according to RailAmerica.

The complete logistics package included the inbound rail movement with a backhaul of “replacement” soil, intermodal operations and round trip truck moves.

“In addition to generating new business from Barrie Park, this project has shown TPW’s potential to several partners that will contribute to our long-term success,” said Mike Klass, Regional Director of Marketing & Sales. “TPW’s work with PDC has resulted in a cost effective solution for the customer that has allowed them to push this complicated project forward.”

Now in its fourth year, the ASLRRA Safety Awards program has become the standard by which all short line and regional railroads are measured.

RailAmerica, Inc. operates 49 railroads over some 12,900 miles in the United States, Canada, Australia and Chile.


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NYRR, CR ink Greenville pact

New York Regional Rail Corp. (NYRR) and Conrail Shared Asset Corp. have agreed to a new long-term lease with for its Greenville Yard in Jersey City, N.J. and “settlement of all disputes.”

The Greenville Yard, a one-mile long, 22.27-acre parcel, is NYRR’s New Jersey base of operations, according to railroad officials. The facility allows direct access to New York Harbor and the New York City consumer market. It connects by rail to the National Rail Freight Network through Oak Island freight yard in Newark.

Wayne A. Eastman, NYRR’s president, said, “As our business has grown, client companies have begun to invest substantial capital in our strategically vital New Jersey facility. The new long-term lease which runs until 2023 with a 10 year option to renew avails clients, governmental agencies, as well as NYRR, the very important ability to justify capital improvements at our facility.”

Some other property was included in the deal, he aid.

“Also key is that we have been granted an option to lease an additional 4.67-acre parcel at Greenville Yard, for further expansion. We believe this agreement will usher in a new era of cooperation mutually beneficial to Conrail, its parent companies, CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern, as well as the New York City company’s subsidiary, the New York Cross Harbor Railroad. This is the cornerstone for growth and the viability of our Company as we go forward.”

NYRR director Ronald Bridges said, “Because larger rail clients often have customized needs, a unique feature of the rail industry is that it is customary for those clients to directly invest in the rail facility. Thus it is very difficult to attract larger clients without a long-term lease that affords suitable amortization. This agreement was a critically important step to ensuring the long-term development of our company.”


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QUARTERLY REPORTS...  Quarterly reports...

P&W

Providence and Worcester Railroad Co. (AMEX: PWX) reported its results on May 12 for the first quarter of 2003.

The company had a net loss for the quarter of $506,000 compared with a net loss of $313,000 in 2002. The loss per common share for the quarter was $.11 in 2003 and $.07 in 2002.

Operating revenues for the first quarter of 2003 were $4.9 million, a decrease of $97,000, or 2.0 percent, from $5.0 million in the first quarter of 2002. This decrease is due to a decline in conventional traffic volume largely attributable to severe winter weather conditions.

Operating expenses for the first quarter of 2003 were virtually unchanged from 2002. Decreases in various expense categories were offset by increased track usage fees resulting from the Amtrak arbitration decision that was rendered in June 2002.

Historically, the company reported, it has experienced its lowest levels of operating revenues and profits 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,” a press release stated.


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RRA

RailAmerica, Inc. (NYSE:RRA) reported on May 12 its carloads (including intermodal units) for April 2003. As compared to the same period in 2002, April 2003 North American “same railroad” carloads increased 3.1 percent and Chilean carloads were up 9.8 percent, while Australian carloads decreased 35.4 percent due to the impact of the previously announced drought. “Same railroad” totals exclude carloads associated with railroads, or portions of railroads, sold by the Company after December 31, 2001.

Consolidated carloads for April 2003 decreased 3.0 percent to 119,454, from 123,119 in April 2002. On a “same railroad” basis, April 2003 carloads were down 2.5 percent to 119,454, from 122,537 in 2002.

Year-to-date through April 30, 2003, total carloads were 471,540, down 2.2 percent from 482,051 in 2002. On a “same railroad” basis, year-to-date carloads decreased 1.4 percent to 471,540, from 478,394 in 2002.

Positive year-to-date carloads at North America and Chile were more than offset by drought impacted Australian carloads, which were down 21,226 cars versus 2002.

Total North American carloads for April 2003 were 95,193, up 2.4 percent from 92,923 in April 2002. On a “same railroad” basis, April 2003 carloads increased 3.1 percent to 95,193, from 92,341 in 2002. For the month, strong coal, petroleum, metals and other carloads were partially offset by lower auto, agricultural and intermodal carloads. Year-to-date through April 30, 2003, total carloads were 372,330, up 0.6 percent from 369,934 in 2002. On a “same railroad” basis, year-to-date carloads increased 1.7 percent to 372,330, from 366,277 in 2002.

For April 2003, international carloads were 24,261, down 19.7 percent from 30,196 in April 2002. For the month, traffic in Chile was up 9.8 percent due to increased chemicals and metallic ores carloads, while Australia traffic was down 35.4 percent due to the severe drought affecting grain shipments. Australia’s April 2003 agricultural shipments were 2,757 carloads, 68.9 percent lower than the 8,866 in April 2002. Year-to-date through April 30, 2003, total carloads were 99,210, down 11.5 percent from 112,117 in 2002.


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Intermodal freight records gains while carloads decline

Intermodal freight was up but carload volume was down on U.S. railroads, during the week ended May 10 in comparison with the corresponding week last year, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported on Thursday.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 19 weeks of 2003 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 7,255,279 carloads, up 0.3 percent from last year and 4,259,174 trailers and containers, up 8.0 percent from last year.

Intermodal traffic totaled 196,125 trailers and containers, up 6.3 percent from the comparable week last year. Carload freight, which doesn’t include the intermodal data, totaled 325,566 cars, down 0.8 percent from last year, with volume down 1.5 percent in the East and 0.2 percent in the West. Total volume was estimated at 28.2 billion ton-miles, down 0.7 percent from last year’s nineteenth week.

Eight of 19 commodities registered gains from last year, with coke up 93.0 percent; metallic ores gaining 22.3 percent; and pulp, paper and allied products rising 4.9 percent. Farm products other than grain were down16.7 percent; metals and products were off 10.1 percent; and loadings of motor vehicles and equipment declined by 7.7 percent.

The AAR also reported the following cumulative totals for U.S. railroads during the first 19 weeks of 2003: 6,078,334 carloads, up 0.7 percent from last year; intermodal volume of 3,491,145 trailers and containers, up 7.5 percent; and total volume of an estimated 538.2 billion ton-miles, up 0.8 percent from last year’s first 19 weeks.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 90 percent of U.S. carload freight and 96 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 96 percent and 100 percent. Railroads provide more than 40 percent of the nation’s intercity freight transportation, more than any other mode, and rail traffic figures are regarded as an important economic indicator.

Canadian railroads reported gains in intermodal traffic but a decline in carload freight during the week ended May 10. Intermodal traffic totaled 44,519 trailers and containers, up 10.0 percent from last year. Carload volume was 63,037 cars, down 4.5 percent from the comparable week last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 19 weeks of 2003 on the Canadian railroads totaled 1,176,945 carloads, down 1.4 percent from last year, and 768,029 trailers and containers, up 10.5 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 19 weeks of 2003 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 7,255,279 carloads, up 0.3 percent from last year and 4,259,174 trailers and containers, up 8.0 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 10 totaled 8,461 cars, down 0.4 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 4,027 originated trailers or containers, up 52.6 percent from the 19th week of 2002. For the first 19 weeks of 2003, TFM reported cumulative volume of 164,245 cars, up 3.4 percent from last year, and 66,742 trailers or containers, up 40.0 percent.

The AAR is online at www.aar.org.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: Bloomberg.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)28.62028.290
Canadian National(CNI)50.58049.830
Canadian Pacific(CP)23.74023.260
CSX(CSX)32.54032.210
Florida East Coast(FLA)27.00027.150
Kansas City Southern(KSU)11.50011.750
Norfolk Southern(NSC)21.68021.420
Union Pacific(UNP)59.97060.380


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OFF THE MAIN LINE...  Off the main line...

Along the ‘Necklace,’ he walks the walk

There, at the edge of the grassy field, it glints in the morning sun, beckoning the well-dressed man with the furry eyebrows. It mars his way to work. To him, it’s an egregious sight in an otherwise pristine part of the park.

At 69, he doesn’t move as fast as he used to, but he won’t let this one get away, no matter what the muddy grounds may do to his penny loafers. With a canvas Amtrak bag in one hand and a fistful of garbage in the other, the son of Greek immigrants darts toward the purple candy wrapper, chasing after it as a sudden breeze lifts it just beyond his reach.

“I mean, look at this crap!” he growls, finally snaring the offensive refuse. “It’s appalling, disgraceful. There’s just no excuse for it.”

Boston Globe reporter David Abel was also an early riser that day, so he could tell his readers on April 11 that it might strike some as laughable that a man who once ran for president and held the highest office in Massachusetts now spends his morning commute indignantly collecting other people’s trash and cursing a decade’s worth of politicians and bureaucrats.

For former Gov. Michael Dukakis nothing has changed: When you leave office, he says, you don’t stop caring.

He’s in his fifth year on the Amtrak board of directors. He’s its vice-chairman.

There are many issues the former governor gets passionate about – teaching, high-speed rail – but this morning, it’s all about litter.

“It’s enough to drive you out of your mind,” he says. “You see it all over the place and you have to ask: Why isn’t anyone dealing with this?”

The governor has met with his successors about it. He has harangued officials at the Metropolitan District Commission, which preserves parks in the Boston area, as well as local park administrators.

Frustrated with government excuses about budget cuts and bureaucratic delays, Dukakis tries to lead by example – every weekday he’s around when it’s not raining or snowing.

At 7:30, two hours after rising, ripping through two newspapers and devouring slices of his own homemade bread, he sets off from his Brookline home for Northeastern University, where he has been teaching government for a decade. If he doesn’t take a bag with him, he either finds one along the way or just collects what he can hold until finding a trashcan.

On a recent morning, dressed in a jacket and tie for a conference featuring the current governor, it takes only a few paces past his driveway for him to bare-hand an old, soggy newspaper, a used tissue, and a leaky styrofoam cup. The stench doesn’t faze him.

“This is nothing,” he says.

Down a stairwell and trotting the banks of the Muddy River, he points to reeds and junk waiting to be dredged. “I left a plan for [former Governor William] Weld 13 years ago to do this, and only now are we getting to it,” he fumes.

As people pass, some smile but many don’t seem to recognize him. If they’re younger than 25 years old, he says, it’s likely he’s a nobody to them.

Seeing the governor gather trash, Dukakis says one man recently told him, “We had higher aspirations for you once.”

Picking up trash is what it’s all about – doing what you can, he says. Of course, that doesn’t mean he can’t complain. Upon seeing graffiti scrawled on a mailbox, he carps, “Who is this idiot? What is this? What kind of gratification do they get from this kind of thing?”

Then there are the leftover encampments from people who have burrowed homes in wooded areas along the way. Seeing all the mangy blankets, old clothes, and cracked bottles in dense piles riles the governor.

He would clean it up, he says, but sometimes there’s too much stuff for one person. It would take a truck, he says, adding that the Metropolitan District Commission is not doing its job. Then he points to a bag sitting next to a bench in the Fenway. Filled with sludge he gathered two weeks ago, he says it hasn’t moved since.

More proof: a collection of bottles and cans in one swampy section of the Muddy River. It’s where Dukakis draws the line. “I don’t go into the water,” he says. “Someone else has to do that.”

Closer to Northeastern in Clemente Park, he sees a sign of hope: a man raking. As if still campaigning, he walks toward the worker and in his signature baritone says, “Mike Dukakis, how are ya?”

Gerard Recupero smiles and identifies himself. “Sure I recognize you,” he says. “Good to see you, Mr. Dukakis.”

The two chat about litter for a minute, but Dukakis has to go. There’s more trash to pick up, and he’s running late.

An hour after he started, the two-mile journey ends at Northeastern’s Meserve Hall. He finds a receptacle and drops in his last pile of trash – a stuffed plastic bag. All done without a smudge on his navy blazer. His perfectly combed hair hasn’t budged during the commute.

Before taking off for his morning class, he parries questions about whether he’s depressed by the way things have turned out. Politically, he says, “This is the worst national administration I’ve lived under.” A conservative Republican also now holds his old job. Recently, in the course of a week, he lost his mother and father-in-law.

Yet with teaching going well, calls each day from people interested in hearing him speak, and four grandchildren, he insists, “I feel like a million bucks.”

For the city’s necklace of parks, however, he says things are coming apart.

“There’s just too much neglect,” he says. “Things are worse than when I was governor.”

So these days, in the evening, if the weather’s right, he may be back out there, picking trash on his way home.

This story ran on page 1 of the Boston Globe’s City Weekly section on May 11. – Ed.


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EDITORIAL...  Editorial...

Amtrak No. 9, a P42 class Loco

NCI – two photos: Jim RePass

No. 9 isn’t broken any more. Overhauled Amtrak General Electric P-42 diesel locomotive, which travels intercity routes, is part of CEO David Gunn’s program to improve capacity and motive power availability on the railroad.

 

Beech Grove pride with a ‘Bear’ hug

By Jim RePass
NCI CEO

The other day, Amtrak put on display in Washington the first fruits of Amtrak President Dave Gunn’s decision to repair, in-house, some of the 120 wrecked and damaged passenger cars that had accumulated over a period of literally years. They cost Amtrak millions lost in revenues. They had remained unrepaired because Amtrak either lacked the money to do the job, or spent what little they had on other priorities. Gunn, who is at core a railroader, has changed all that.

The Beech Grove shops structurally repaired Superliners (both a “I” and a “II”) and one unrebuilt (“before,” so to speak) Superliner I double-decker passenger cars. In this case, sleepers 39044, 32019, and 32007, respectively, were on display. They are used in long-distance trains originating or terminating in the Midwest and West, and parts of the South.

Dennis Watson Butch Vick

Beech Grove general foreman Dennis Watson and welder Butch Vick, inside Superliner 32019, repaired by the Beech Grove team under CEO David Gunn’s new in-house program. Amtrak displayed some repaired cars at Washington’s Union Station May 15.

Also on display were unrebuilt single-level Amfleet café car 20007 and a Bear Car Shops rebuilt Amfleet all-table dinette (28351, formerly 20044) completely remodeled, which will become standard for use on the Northeast Corridor Metroliners. Those shops are located in Bear, Del.

Equally displayed at Washington Union Station last week was something not often seen at Amtrak in recent years – pride.

Along with the equipment, Amtrak’s Gunn, who observed his one-year anniversary on May 15, made sure that some of the people who actually did the work were on hand, to explain to the electronic media and print press what had been done, and to share in the credit for the program. Gunn is famous for hating puffery and hype, but is a big fan of substance and real achievement – and it showed.

General foreman and estimator Dennis Watson, estimator Mike Milburn, electrician Paul French, and welders Jeff Bocock and Butch Vick, all of the Beech Grove shops in Indiana, made it clear that craftsmanship and skill, along with cost-effectiveness, are alive and well in America, and they put in a 12-hour day on May 15 to prove it. They also made it clear how they felt about their new (one-year) boss.

“Thank God for David Gunn,” one man said, slowly and directly, while another nodded. “Thank God.”

Gunn is bringing Bear and Beech Grove shop crews back to work, after years of layoffs and delays. The repair program and Amtrak’s ability to fund it stems from Gunn’s tough decision-making and his willingness to tell Congress like it is.

The men and women of Amtrak, who for so long have taken the brunt of the underfunding that has been Amtrak’s plight all its life, are the iron and steel who stand behind Gunn, and he knows it.

Congratulations to Dave Gunn on his one-year anniversary in what has to be one of the toughest jobs in America – and congratulations to the men and women, the craftsmen and craftswomen of Amtrak, like those we met last week, who are bound and determined to prove that they are back, and here to stay. I believe that they would say, as did Winston Churchill in WWII, “Give us the tools and we will finish the job.”


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A continuing plea for photos

As we said last week, we have nearly depleted our stock of Amtrak and freight railroad photos. We need your help.

Some folks were kind enough to step up to the plate, but we need more depth, as a baseball analyst might say.

We’re looking primarily for digital images from around the country, in any season, at any place. Second choice would be slides or sharp prints scanned into a digital format.

We can’t pay anyone – no budget for that – but we can certainly give photographers a credit line.

Technical specs see .jpg (Joint Photographers Group) as the ideal format, and at least 90kb. We would prefer 800 pixels wide. The reason why we ask for this as minimum numbers is so we will have enough to work with. The final image most likely will be considerably smaller, but that is a good place to start.

It doesn’t matter if the image is horizontal or vertical, nor color or black-and-white. Quality in composition and reproduction is what counts.

Textual requirements include who, what, when where, why, and sometimes, how. A photo may tell a story, but that’s only part of it. Why were you there? What was the occasion? Was it hot? Cold? Snow in the forecast?

If you were in a desert, was it hot? Were snakes or other critters a danger?

What kind of locomotive was leading the train? Which train was it? Where was it going ?(preferably by milepost. Where was the train coming from? Was it on time? How late?

If you can help, e-mail your photos as an attachment to photos@nationalcorridors.org. Please be sure to explain in your text that it is a photo that is attached. We dislike opening mail with attachments because there are some unkind souls out there who relish spreading viruses and computer destruction. A sad fact, indeed.

Albest,

Leo King
Editor


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THE WAY WE WERE...  The way we were...

An Alco S-2

NCI: Leo King

“Gently, boys. After all, we don’t want to disturb Mr. Young.” That looks like a New Haven trainmaster helping the switcher crew grab the New York Central car, an occasional visitor to Providence, R.I. in the early 1950s. That Alco S-2 switcher must have just come out of the Readville, Mass., shops – it’s clean, shiny, and painted orange and green, the New Haven’s bright color scheme… until the colors faded.

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 leoking@nationalcorridors.org. 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" .jpg images average 1.7MB each, and are 300 dots-per-inch for print publishers.

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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