Destination:Freedom Newsletter
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
  NCI Logo Vol. 2 No. 20, May 21, 2001
Copyright © 2001, NCI, Inc.
James P. RePass, President
Leo King, Editor

A weekly North American Railroad update

Amtrak hearing slated for Tuesday

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will conduct a hearing on Tuesday "to examine issues surrounding Amtrak."

It will begin May 22 at 9:30 a.m. in room 253, Russell Senate Office Building.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) will preside. Members will hear testimony on a wide range of issues concerning Amtrak, including the Amtrak Reform Council's Second Annual Report issued March 2001; Amtrak's progress toward meeting the statutory requirement to be free of operating subsidies by December 2002; and the findings of the General Accounting Office on pending legislation to authorize Amtrak to issue bonds to generate up to $12 billion dollars for high-speed rail infrastructure investment.

A 'cockamamie' future for Amtrak?
By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

The problem, as Amtrak Reform Council (ARC) Vice Chairman Paul Weyrich sees it, is not Amtrak management, not Amtrak employees, not the Amtrak board (arguably the best in its history, he says).

No, the problem is that Amtrak was handed a structure that was flawed from Day One.

As one possible remedy, the ARC has proposed what Amtrak Vice chairman Michael Dukakis has labeled a "cockamamie idea," although the former Massachusetts governor modified that description somewhat when he and ARC Executive Director Tom Till appeared jointly on a later panel discussion at the NCI conference in Washington on May 9 and 10.

As described elsewhere, that "meeting of the minds" came about when it was clear to Dukakis that the ARC idea did not preclude making a proposed infrastructure division of the Northeast Corridor an entity under Amtrak control.

The idea of forcing the rail industry to compete for public support with one hand tied behind its back, while air and highway transport enjoy unlimited infrastructure support from Washington, has long been regarded by many transportation observers as something of a "cockamamie idea" in and of itself.

Toward the goal of rectifying that, the ARC proposed splitting off the operations of the NEC (i.e., running trains, mail and express) from an entity controlling the infrastructure (i.e. tracks, tunnels, stations, signals and tower operations, etc.)

Without using the word, Weyrich told the NCI at its Thursday morning session on May 10 that if indeed that is, in fact, a "cockamamie idea," then let's hear your constructive alternative. Bottom line, he said, is the current structure is not working well.

"The current realities of Amtrak," he declared, "are sobering."

Amtrak today, he told the attendees, is not meeting its potential. Ridership outside the Northeast Corridor has declined, he said, its debt has tripled, and it lacks a "real-time computerized reservation system. Often a potential customer calls Amtrak to book reservations and is told the train is booked when, in fact, it is nearly empty."

The beautiful new Acela Express trains cannot reach their potential because of unmet huge capital outlays, which are required to improve the New York-to-Washington end of the corridor. For all the ballyhoo about the Acela Express, the sleek machines save a grand total of ten to fifteen minutes on that segment.

Amtrak, since its inception three decades ago, "has been subjected to constant political interference," which means "politics, not market opportunities, often dictates important decisions about the corporation's service," which has led to another problem. Amtrak, until recently, has been unable to devise a strategic marketing plan. How can you have anything like an overall "strategic" plan when you have 535 micromanagers on Capitol Hill? After all, they hold the purse strings.

Weyrich was on the Amtrak board in the Graham Claytor years when that crusty CEO had his hands full and simply did not want to hear any bad news about internal operations.

Basically, the ARC vice-chairman envisions three different entities to handle the twelve businesses that Amtrak is involved in today, everything from operations to real estate.

A single company would focus on operating trains. This would be a customer-oriented commercial enterprise, shielded from political interference. The organization would be able to modify routes, schedules and prices to improve financial performance. It would also have responsibility for operating income, ridership, and on-time performance.

Trains would operate at a profit unless (and this is key) compensated for losses on a service contract with the federal government or the affected states. So, nobody's talking about leaving trains in the lurch, without support. However, with infrastructure costs off the Amtrak books, most rail economists see train profitability potential being about as different from the current burden as night is from day.

Another entity would own and manage the infrastructure of the Northeast Corridor "and other Amtrak-owned infrastructure assets." It would be an Amtrak subsidiary (the option later agreeable to both Till and Dukakis) or a government corporation or agency.

This agency or corporation would be funded by federal and state subsidies, trackage fees for use of the facilities, real estate development revenues from utilities and communications easements and the like, as well as other potential revenue sources.

Ownership of the Northeast Corridor is costing Amtrak about $600 million a year and would require investments of about 20 billion dollars in capital expenditures for the next 20 years.

"As Amtrak is currently organized and funded," declared Weyrich to the conferees, "it is absolutely incapable of meeting these huge investments."

Here is what the ARC plan is not, according to Weyrich:

Separating out operations from infrastructure would not be a privatization along the lines of the British system.

"Amtrak or another government entity would continue to own it," and it would not be a first step toward a national takeover of rail rights-of-way.

The third structure of a reorganized Amtrak would be a small entity, responsible to the Amtrak board, the Federal Railroad Administration or the U.S. Department of Transportation. This third division could "identify funding needs for the intercity rail passenger system and recommend sources of money to support them." Further, it could supervise the federal government's role in the development of the new regional high-speed corridors. It would develop public policy on rail passenger issues, and "insulate train operations from political interference."

The operating company and the Northeast Corridor infrastructure entities would be held responsible for meeting standards of financial and operating performance, including the standard of service the train operating company provides the rail passenger.

Weyrich sees this as a winner for the rail customer and the taxpayer concerned about getting his money's worth.

"Today's conditions institutionalize inefficiency," he believes.

And let's not kid ourselves about the cost of bringing America the first-class passenger train service that this country so badly needs.

"To create a network of high-speed corridors, fund the capital needs of the Northeast Corridor, and pay for improvements for Amtrak's national system will require, over the next 20 to 25 years, an estimated $80 to $100 billion in capital funding."

Basically, as the ARC official sees it, it comes down to whether or not we are serious about building America a passenger train network that does justice to a nation that has been a leader in so many other endeavors.

Mail, express, and other profit centers within Amtrak can make modest contributions, as would a bonding authority; but significant appropriations would be required from the federal, state and local governments.

What about a "trust fund" for passenger trains, similar to that enjoyed by air and highway traffic? Perhaps a penny a gallon tax on gasoline, matched by a penny from the states.

As Dukakis said when I asked him about badly needed funding for the New York to Washington leg of the NEC, it's a matter of "political will."

But make no mistake. That very question has yet to be confronted and tested.

In returning to the NCI conference on Friday, I ran into a very strong passenger train advocate who was leaving just as I was arriving.

"Congress will never buy into all that," he told me.

Granted, I said, it would be a hard sell. Nobody says you can do all this overnight. But after spending all that money on the Acela Express, wouldn't it be nice to have a Northeast corridor where a trip from Washington to New York can be fast enough so that people won't be writing letters to The New York Times complaining about saving only a measly 10 or 15 minutes for the additional fares they're paying?

"Of course," he agreed, "but we're still picking up ridership on those new trains, and we're getting better. It would be nice to make the trip in two hours, but... " he trailed off.

We can go on just the way we have been. Amtrak is not going to go away, no matter what happens and despite all the threatening rhetoric from the likes of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and others.

We can go on satisfying ourselves in the role of perennial step-child, a role we've been playing so long that it is no wonder that many Amtrak supporters are not sure they want to venture out into real expansion and fight the political battles that would surely ensue.

But as America loses time and treasure with more delayed and canceled flights and clogged highways, some serious people are starting to rouse themselves from the 1971 shoestring mentality.

As one who has been in Washington for 33 years, I sense that what may be happening here is what happens so often in this town on other issues - a lot of talking and brouhaha, but very hesitant or timid progress, or no action at all.

Coston says being 'brutally realistic'
is required to keep Amtrak afloat

By Leo King
James Coston

James Coston

It is clear that James Coston is an outspoken man, someone who is not timid about speaking his mind. From the get-go, it was clear the Chicago

lawyer had something to say about Amtrak, the reform council, his role, and some ideas that might improve the railroad's bottom line. He sees America as not yet having the kinds of tracks it needs for fast trains, and opines the Congress did not create Amtrak in 1970 to build railroads, but simply as a short-range means to allow the railroads of the period to get rid of them and the deficits they brought.

"I'm glad that the council is working to help build a better Amtrak rather than to snuff out its life, as was originally assumed." He said he concurred with the its recent second annual report, but made it clear he was speaking on this day, "for myself, based on 32 years of experience as a passenger-train advocate, seven years as an Amtrak employee and union member, a dozen years in the rail-tour and special-train business, and 21 years practicing commercial law and equipment lease-finance."

He recalled that when he spoke at an NCI conference two years ago, the theme he chose was "Realism: What works and what doesn't in rail passenger advocacy," and he asked that people "in the passenger-rail advocacy movement discard some of our less persuasive arguments and refocus on those with a real potential for moving public opinion and persuading government to fund a modern passenger-rail system."

He returned to that theme on May 11, "but with a difference. Instead of asking you to be realistic about advocacy work, I'm now going to ask you to be brutally realistic. I use that kind of language because the scale of the challenges we face has grown alarmingly in the two years since I last appeared here, but the response to the challenge has not kept pace."

Now beginning his second year on the Amtrak Reform Council, Coston declared, "This nation is on the brink of its second major summer travel crisis, with three-dollar-a-gallon gasoline and airline sclerosis again about to make a mockery of our American ideals of personal mobility. I travel about 60,000 miles per year on United Airlines, and for the last year or so, United has shown me what it must have been like to ride the Pennsylvania Railroad around 1966."

He explained that "Even with the kids still in school and peak summer travel demand still a month ahead of us, the nation's day-to-day mobility status is at risk. A spring thunderstorm line approaching O'Hare from the northwest - or a lake-effect snow squall moving in from the northeast - can shut down the nation's most critical airline hub and keep 300-passenger jumbo jets grounded as far away as Hong Kong."

He said a survey of airline passenger satisfaction fell 1.43 points since the last poll in 1998, "for an overall score of 16.06 points out of a possible 30. Tim Zagat said, 'Travelers feel they're being treated like commodities being transferred from one place to another.'" Zagat publishes the Zagat Report.

Coston reiterated what several speakers referred to over the two-day Washington conference, that backups on urban and suburban expressways continue, and added, "The Texas Transportation Institute's 2001 Urban Mobility Study last week showed the average annual delay for drivers stuck in traffic has risen from 11 hours in 1982 to 36 hours in 1999. The Texas study also pointed out something all of us in this room understand: We can't pave our way out of that congestion. There's not enough space left for new lanes or new roads."

He told his fellow rail advocates what he guessed they already knew.

"The answer is a federal program to build a series of modern, high-speed passenger train corridors networking with an updated, well managed, adequately financed system of conventional long-distance trains... I can't open my Chicago Tribune in the morning without seeing letters to the editor and guest editorials with well written, well argued, responsible pleas for high-speed trains. These pieces now appear at the rate of two or three a week, and, unlike a few years ago, they don't necessarily appear as a comment on some article that appeared in an earlier edition. They run all the time, whether the paper is covering transportation issues or not."

He also noted, "It's interesting to me that most of these letters are from people whose names I do not recognize from the rail advocacy movement or the railfan community. Until three or four years ago, if a letter or guest editorial advocating high-speed trains appeared in the local paper, it was a sure thing that I would recognize the signature. It was somebody I knew personally from my days at Amtrak or when I was president of the Twentieth Century Railroad Club, but today, the circle of rail supporters has spread far beyond the 'usual suspects.' People I never heard of and people you never heard of want trains. I know this is going on in your community too. Well-informed citizens, very often from the business or professional community, are bearing the good news that high-speed passenger trains are not just a solution, but the only practical and affordable solution, to the nation's mobility problem."

Coston added, "What particularly impresses me is that these people really know what they're talking about. They recognize not only the virtues of high-speed trains, but also the political and economic background that has made rail travel so difficult in this country. More and more of these grass-roots commentators openly discuss the federal government's trillion-dollar sponsorship of modern highways and airways and its virtually total neglect of rail infrastructure. The federal government's 80 years of failure to address the rail-infrastructure issue has been 'outed.'" Government's failure to address the issue has been exposed.

"The brutally realistic part," he said, is that "As I read these well informed letters, I notice one glaring omission: These wonderful citizens rightly call for additional federal investment in passenger rail, but they neglect to state what kind of a blueprint and mechanism should be used to raise and spend these funds, and the reason these important grass-roots advocates are not able to articulate a template or a strategy for funding the new high-speed corridor system is that we haven't given them one. We've been very good at talking up the virtues of high-speed rail, and we've done a good job of getting the numbers out to the public - the reductions in travel time, the reductions in fuel consumption and pollution, the all-weather reliability, the personal space and comfort, the tremendous safety record in terms of passenger-miles traveled without a fatal injury - that sort of thing. We're putting good numbers out there, and because of that, high-speed trains now have credibility."

He reiterated, "Because we haven't yet articulated a planning-and-funding mechanism, high-speed rail still is not getting funded. Our grass-roots friends and our media allies can't help us unless we provide them with more. Neither can our growing numbers of friends in Congress."

He asked, "How can we help them?" then answered his own question.

"I'm going to be brutally realistic. We have to start telling our friends that simply advocating bigger budgets for Amtrak is not enough," and he explained why - America does not yet have what it needs.

"We all know that the fundamental reason why passenger trains don't run fast enough, often enough, or full enough in America is that we don't have a real passenger-train infrastructure. We don't have high-speed tracks. We don't have global-positioning systems nor positive train separation. We don't even have the right grade-crossing engineering to keep passenger trains from hitting automobiles and getting stuck by two-mile-long coal trains at key interlockings. Many towns no longer have a station."

Infrastructure, Coston said, "is not a problem that Amtrak was established to solve. Congress created Amtrak not as a mechanism to build railroads, but primarily as a short-range, perhaps even temporary, expedient to relieve the private railroad industry of its passenger deficit."

Coston, who is a lifelong Chicago resident who received a BA in political science 1977 from Northwestern Univ., and three years later his law degree from DePaul, delivered a short history lesson.

"Lots of insiders will even tell you that Amtrak was not expected to survive; that it was created to give the American passenger train one final chance, followed by a decent burial after its final rejection by the traveling public. Amtrak was provided only with the bare resources of a carrier, and none of the resources or responsibility of an infrastructure owner, manager or builder. It simply collected these functions as a ship picks up barnacles.

"When Amtrak finally became the accidental owner of some 400 miles of infrastructure" following the federal government's creation of Conrail in 1976 following the Penn Central debacle, "its identity and mission only became more confused - part carrier, part infrastructure owner - but always lacking the funding and support to do either of those jobs well."

He said Amtrak continues to churn in those roles.

"Amtrak's effort to play these demanding and often conflicting roles has left it financially and organizationally exhausted, with its very future seemingly always in question. If anyone here or elsewhere believes that Amtrak's historic role and organizational structure are entitled to remain an unchanging constant in the solar system, that person has become the victim of a political dogma that cannot withstand the assault of reality.

"We gave Amtrak 30 years to give us its best shot. It has maxed out its abilities and its resources, and I don't mean just its budget. I mean something even more critical in the life of an organization with a lofty goal: I mean its morale. I mean its sense of mission.

"Here again, let me be brutally realistic: Amtrak was designed not to build something, but to save something. And it has accomplished that mission. Amtrak saved the American passenger train, kept the trains running, and kept itself alive for 30 years despite the indifference of six presidents and fifteen congresses. That defiant act of survival is a tremendous feat.

"Don't get me wrong - I'm not in any way suggesting that Amtrak be given a gold watch, a hearty handshake and the thanks of a grateful nation. But in a time when we desperately need to move from survivor mode to build mode, Amtrak's magnificent survival skills have also turned into its greatest liability. Amtrak is so good at survival it hardly knows how to do anything else."

He does not wax enthusiastically about present-day Midwest service. Chicago is, as it has been for more than a century, the hub of all railroads in America. It remains the primary east-west rail gateway between both coasts, and still sees some 45 Amtrak passenger trains daily from all four quadrants - Michigan Missouri, Wisconsin and beyond.

"If we look at the state of the trains Amtrak runs where I come from - the Midwest corridor trains, which are not much to write home about - and some of the service cutbacks and layoffs reported, Amtrak may not even be able to do that any more.

"Like a wolverine chewing off its paw to escape a trap, Amtrak has repeatedly been forced to forfeit much of its resources just to survive. Yes, the doors are still open, at least as we speak, but Amtrak is not running trains well. The ridership statistics, the on-time performance numbers and, worst of all, the bottom line, increasingly suggest that Amtrak has too much on its plate and not enough resources to face the simultaneous challenge of running good trains, running them well, carrying mail and express, operating a real-estate empire and building new infrastructure. In today's increasingly pure-play, deconglomerated business world, separate players typically perform such disparate functions. Amtrak may be the nation's last horizontally integrated corporation, and it is not a successful one."

Coston, who sits on the Chicago Bar Association's Commercial Finance Law Committee, the Illinois state Bar Assn., and several other professional organizations, said his views "pretty much parallel those of the ARC," which include the notion that Amtrak "ought to focus on being the best possible rail carrier while letting the infrastructure development and funding responsibilities pass to a more appropriate entity." He said it is time for the Congress "to establish a separate agency within the Department of Transportation with the sole responsibility for planning, developing and funding intercity rail infrastructure, both new lines where justified, and upgrades of existing lines where possible."

He said, "This 'separation of powers' is essential to getting the funding we need to build the tracks, the signaling, the stations, and the grade-crossing eliminations that are essential if there's going to be a next generation of passenger trains in America. The carrier function and the infrastructure-development function are so different from each other - and each is so demanding - that separate organizations are required to do each job properly."

He asked his audience another question, and then answered it.

"Why does America have such a good highway system?

"Because starting back at the turn of the last century, the federal government created a special department with the sole role of developing that sort of infrastructure. First it was called the Bureau of Highway Inquiry, then the Bureau of Public Roads, then the Federal Highway Administration. But whatever it was called, it always had the same mission: Get the nation paved and out of the mud. Those of us who believe in rail transportation may question the value of what that program created, but you have to admit: It got the job done.

More questions.

"Why does America have such a great network of airports and such an effective network of air-traffic-control centers, and why did it have these things long before most other countries did?

"Because the federal government created the Civil Aeronautics Board, which became the Federal Aviation Administration, for the express purpose of making that infrastructure happen.

"Why does the U.S. have such a superbly developed and busy system of waterways?

"Because during the transportation crisis of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson nationalized the few remaining barge lines and ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to develop a long-term program of locks, dams and dredged and marked channels for towboats and barges."

Coston said the lesson was clear, at least to him.

"Each mode of transportation in this country struggled for success, sometimes pathetically, for long periods, until it got its own federal agency tasked with the sole responsibility of building an appropriate infrastructure for that industry. Notice I said each 'successful' mode. We cannot yet call passenger rail a success. Now we know why. Rail doesn't yet have its equivalent of the FAA, the FHWA and the Army Engineers."

The lawyer and rail advocate wanted to a see a new future.

"The next time I open my Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, the Washington Post or USA Today, I don't just want to see a nice letter saying, 'It's time for this country to start running modern passenger trains like the ones I just rode in Europe.' That's nice, but it doesn't do the job. What I want to see is the next logical progression of that thought: a sentence that says, 'It's time for Congress to create a separate agency for planning, funding and building passenger-rail infrastructure the way the Federal Highway Administration does with highways, the way the FAA does with airports and air-traffic-control technology, and the way the Army Engineers do with the waterways.'"

He argued, "If we, in this movement, can supply those thousands of grass-roots activists and newspaper editorial writers with that one little argument, they will go out and do the work that the few hundred of us in this room today cannot do by ourselves. Once Congress creates a familiar mechanism to fund rail, it will begin voting the funds. As long as it has only an inappropriate mechanism - Amtrak - it will continue to balk.

"And what of Amtrak? What will its role be when the job of developing infrastructure is assigned to an appropriate federal agency?

"Why, Amtrak will be free at last to become itself - a rail carrier, a commercial organization that does nothing but acquire, market and operate a network of modern, high-speed, high-frequency corridor trains and a connecting network of modern long-distance trains, all offering the highest standards of passenger service derived from the best of the American tradition of quality travel for all.

He also pointed out that such transitions are not easy, and that "just creating a new federal agency to develop rail infrastructure will not alone transform Amtrak into the commercial carrier it needs to become. Thirty years of struggle and survival have left their mark."

Coston also said he reached a mid-life crisis.

"While Amtrak is going through its mid-life transformation, I'm going to go through one of my own. Let me affirm to you publicly that I have attended my last save-the-train rally.

"That's right. I'm swearing off. Kicking the habit. I started in 1970, at the age of 15, when I testified before the Interstate Commerce Commission to help save Penn Central's trains west of Harrisburg and Albany. Remember the winter of 1994-95, when Amtrak announced it was going to eliminate all seven daily Hiawatha round trips between Chicago and Milwaukee as part of a Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest scheme where the bad trains would die so the good ones would live?

"Remember that?

"Seven Hiawathas were going to die so the Cardinal could be saved.

"I'll never forget it.

"Mayor John Norquist of Milwaukee and his wife, Susan, led 200 angry Wisconsin people on a protest ride from Milwaukee to Chicago, and I met their train on a cold Sunday afternoon at Chicago Union Station with a small army of newspaper reporters and TV camera crews, and with the help of the media and the governors of the two states, we got six of those seven trains saved.

"But you know what? "I'm never going to do that again.

"I enjoy seeing my picture in the newspaper, but I'm tired of being portrayed as a 'rail buff,' and I don't enjoy the inference that I'm into historical preservation when I'm really trying to shape a sound transportation policy for the future. Actually, I am into historic preservation - I'm vice president of the Historic Pullman Foundation - but that activity so totally satisfies my preservationist impulses that I have no need to mingle them with my rail-advocacy work. I'm saying good-bye to the 'Save Our Trains' movement so I can join the 'Build Our Tracks' movement.

"So even if my good friend, John Norquist, with whom I'm honored to serve on the Amtrak Reform Council, calls up and asks for help in saving Milwaukee's trains - which also are Chicago's trains, and now Boeing's - this time I would have to turn him down. I have the highest professional esteem as well as tremendous personal affection for John Norquist, but if he called me up today and asked, 'Jim, will you help me save trains?' you know what I would say?

"My answer would be brutally realistic. I would say, 'John, the time for saving is over. We had 30 years to do that. Amtrak has been saved to death. Now it's time to be builders. Will you help me build railroad tracks? Will you help me get Congress to create a Federal Railroad Infrastructure Administration?"

Not likely, says lawmaker

Congress' coordinated transportation system?

By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

If "multimodalism" is to work, the transportation industry, states, cities and advocates are going to have to take the initiative. They are not likely to get much help from Congress, despite all the efforts involved in ISTEA, Tea-21, and whatever follows them.

Despite all the federal transportation programs.

Despite all the Senate and House hearings on every transportation problem you can possibly name.

Despite all that huffing and puffing, you should not expect Congress to come up with a smoothly coordinated transportation system.

That is the word from a key member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. John Cooksey (R-La.)

The very fact that NCI was able to get transportation experts to sit down in the same room and seriously discuss interlocking the transportation network in America so that you can go from train to bus to plane or truck to roadrailers is in itself progress. Our own transportation system, especially after World War II, just grew like the proverbial Topsy with nary a thought by any one mode as to how to link with others. That way, the benefit would go to the consumer who seems to have been forgotten in the battle of each conveyance to protect its turf.

In the Q&A following Cooksey's closing keynote address, I told him that 25 years ago, I had interviewed then incoming Transportation Secretary Brock Adams. His entire thrust as he entered the Carter cabinet was coordinating the transit system and ending the fragmentation, which had cost America in time and treasure.

For many reasons, the Adams vision never came to fruition, nor has it done so to this day. Would the House Transportation Committee, with its finger in so many transportation pies, be able to forge a coordination program so that in another 25 years, we would have a well-knit network for moving freight and passengers "from here to there" in such a way as to make some sense?

"I would hope so, but I don't know that we will," the Congressman replied, "Someone has to be the impetus for doing long range visionary planning, but... we have these transportation meetings, and people come in with their own projects. There's a lot of pressure to get one project done or something that seems to be satisfying or needed in a certain area."

The upshot: "Unfortunately, I think we get bogged down in too many parochial issues. Now that's not the answer that I'd like to be giving you, but I think that's the truth."

The disinclination to "look at the big picture" in transportation is a perennial Washington problem.

That may be why plans have been drawn up on the state and local level, such as the Midwest regional higher-speed rail initiative, or in the minds of influential visionaries such as Amtrak Reform Council Chairman Gil Carmichael, with his "Interstate 2" program to build a network of high-speed trains criss-crossing the nation on short to medium distance schedules.

Even on the local level, it's tough to get people to think it terms outside the habitual "pigeon hole."

Amtrak Vice Chairman Michael S. Dukakis, in his pre-luncheon speech to the NCI conference on Friday, shook his head in wonderment at "35 or 40" people he saw in the rush hour at Logan Airport in Boston, waiting for a short-distance shuttle, when the high-speed Acela Express left Boston for New York at 6:12 a.m. and 7:12 a.m.

"I wanted to walk up to them and say, 'What the hell are you doing here?'" The former Massachusetts governor told the NCI conferees, "Haven't you heard our overcrowded airports need the slots for the big, long distance flights? The train takes you straight downtown into Penn Station.'

"Why would those people want to give up downtown-to-downtown just to fight their way from LaGuardia into downtown Manhattan?" he asked.

"Just wait till we get 18 high-speed trains a day on the corridor. (Short distance) shuttles will be gone (or diminished)" Dukakis added.

But first the "oldthink" of creatures of habit focused on one mode will have to be replaced by viewing all options available, and again, there will have to be better co-ordination of the modes.

However, marketing for the rail mode will have to improve, said Cooksey. The lawmaker cited people he knows who will fly from Washington to New York because, "in order to look like an important lobbyist, they think they have to jump on a plane."

Money? Both Cooksey and Dukakis cited the figures for public spending on highways and air travel support which, they noted, makes the public spending on inter-city rail look like a mere pittance.

Think you'd like to travel to Alaska by train? It's not a new idea. E. Rowland Harriman proposed it in the mid-19th Century. And today, Alaska Sen. Frank Murkowski wants a north-south route from Alaska, through Canada into the mainland U.S.

The senator's rail expert, William Woolf, spoke about it at the Friday NCI session. A commission has been appointed to work out the details, thanks to the senator's legislation.

Harriman's plans were big-time. He wanted to run a train from New York to Alaska, through Siberia and on to London.

Woolf says Murkowski believes a Lower 48-to-Alaska route "should be part of the western corridor."

He envisions "luxury cars" (Woolf's description) going through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. He did not slam the door on a Russian connection, as envisioned by Harriman.

Murkowski has long taken a strong interest in Amtrak, even though his state is one of the few not served by it. At one time, the senator persuaded Amtrak to maintain old historic names for Northeast Corridor trains, but the Acela era has made that impractical. It is a safe bet, however, that Amtrak took the time to explain this to the senator before going to a system of more standardized train names.

Mainland to Alaska...

Murkowski wants you to think about it.

Move over, Golden Spike.

The days of frontier railroading may not be over yet.

Mineta tells Senate panel his goals
USDOT Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, addressing the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation on May 8, outlined President Bush's proposed $59.5 billion fiscal 2002 budget for the DOT and the challenges that face the nation's transportation system.

The budget includes $521 million for Amtrak capital programs, but the bulk, by far, goes to highway and aviation interests. Funding for rail safety programs would increase 9 percent to $154 million.

"Reducing congestion is one of President Bush's top transportation priorities," Mineta said.

"We face enormous transportation challenges, but our biggest challenge is to get everyone working together in a spirit of partnership to solve these problems. As Secretary, I intend to devote the bulk of my energies to working across party lines, reaching across divides, and building consensus to achieve solutions."

The budget represents a 6 percent increase over fiscal 2001 when last year's one-time projects, which total over $2.8 billion, are subtracted.

Mineta said safety is the department's top priority, and that the budget includes over $7 billion for safety programs, including a total of $400 million to reduce motor carrier fatalities.

The budget also includes full funding for highway and transit guarantees under the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), with highway funding increased by 6 percent and transit up by nearly 8 percent. Funding for programs under the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR-21) would receive a 6 percent increase.

'No,' says Amtrak, over air rights
Capital Properties, Inc. of East Providence, R.I., reported on May 7 Amtrak has refused to award "air rights" in Providence near the Rhode Island capital city's rail station.

Capital Properties' president, Ronald P. Chrzanowski, said that "on May 4," he "received notice from Amtrak" of the railroad's "permanent condemnation of the air rights over the railroad right-of-way extending north from Amtrak's Providence station to the Smith Street bridge in Providence" as well as "the adjacent property between the railroad right-of-way and Gaspee Street," which his firm owns.

He said, "Amtrak has deposited in the Registry of the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island $923,500 representing Amtrak's estimate of the fair market value of the land condemned."

Chrzanowski added, "We believe that the amount paid by Amtrak does not truly reflect the fair market value of the property being taken and the impact on nearby land owned by Capital Properties, Inc., which will result from the condemnation of the air rights and the adjacent parcel."

He said, in a press release, he wanted the air right so he could build a new parking garage. An existing parking garage adjacent to the station is frequently full daily.

"It has been our long-term intention to develop the condemned property for public parking that is critically needed in order to further the development in the Capital Center," a new downtown upscale, yuppie mall.

"We intend to pursue aggressively a fair valuation in district court where the prior temporary condemnation by Amtrak of the same property is now pending," he said.

An NCI query to Amtrak was not answered.

Vandals damage two Amtrak Expresses
Two of Amtrak's Acela Expresses were vandalized last week in Connecticut. One was a scheduled train.

Someone trespassed onto a construction site next to the rails on May 10, stretched a rope across the tracks and tied one end to a portable toilet. When the high-speed Acela struck the rope, it pulled the toilet into the side of the train's lead locomotive, denting an air vent.

"It was a pretty good dent, but there was no serious damage and the train is still in service," Amtrak spokesperson Karen Dunn said.

Over the weekend, another Acela trainset (each Acela has six passenger cars and two engines, one at either end) was heavily graffitied as it was being returned to the Bombardier manufacturing plant in Barre for service. Vandals spray-painted the sides of three of the Acela passenger cars in the set and appeared to have tried to get into one of cars through one of the maintenance hatches along the bottom edge, Dunn said.

She added, the train was the third set delivered to Amtrak by Bombardier and it had been used as part of the test program that preceded the opening of Acela service between Boston and Washington, D.C., in December.

"Trainset No. 3 is a work and test train and it is being returned to Vermont for an overhaul," Dunn said.

"It was clean when it left Philadelphia, so the graffiti must have happened after it left."

The multi-million-dollar trains are kept in facilities that are manned 24 hours a day when they are stored in Philadelphia, but they are vulnerable along their routes on the busy Northeast corridor.

The vandals who spray painted the train left a big hint right on the side of one of the cars that the damage might have occurred in Vermont. The graffiti had a nickname for the "crew" that did the spray painting, like a signature on a painting, and then the notation "VT 2001." Dunn said the paint would be removed during the overhaul process.

P-40 Number 820

NCI: Leo King

GE P-40 820 faces a sister it will displace, F-40 207.
'P-40' engine arrives in Boston - to stay
GE P-40s and P-42s have begun appearing in Boston - and will stay in the Hub.

Sources said Thursday that engine 820, a P-40, arrived May 16 on No. 448, the Lake Shore Ltd. It will be used first as an instructional tool for engineers and other T&E people at Southampton Street yard in Boston, but soon would join the coming fleet operating primarily between Boston and New Haven, Conn., on Nos. 66 and 67, the Twilight Shoreliner, and the "Inland Route" trains between Boston and Springfield, Mass.

A dozen F-40s eventually will be released back to the Chicago pool.

Meanwhile, Amtrak train No. 174, which ran with F-40s for less than two weeks after the last timetable change, now operates daily with AEM-7s. The train was notable because it ran the last ten miles of its journey from Washington down the Dorchester branch, permitting westward Acela Express No. 2175 to have a clear track. Schedule adjustments - and the faster-accelerating electric engines - permitted the change.

Elsewhere in the region, southbound New England Central freight train No. 324, derailed May 10 while entering a siding at Hartland, Vt., to meet Amtrak's No. 56, the Vermonter. The Amtrak train was annulled at Windsor, Vt., and "alternate transportation" - buses or taxies - were provided for 37 passengers. After the freight railroad got an engine to the scene, the cars still on the rails were pulled clear, and the Vermonter's equipment deadheaded to St. Albans, Vt.

In Maine news, "Cabbage car" 90214 arrived in Boston on May 18 from train No. 142. The former locomotive, which has been converted to a control cab car and baggage car, is expected to move northward to Boston Engine Terminal within a few days, and most likely be stored in the Portland, Maine area until passenger train service begins between Portland and North Station, Boston.

Thanks also to Gene Poon

No trains for one year through Jersey bore
A double-track New Jersey rail tunnel built in 1877 is getting much-needed repairs.

One of the two elderly tunnels leading to New Jersey Transit's Hoboken station will be shut down on June 24 for 15 months of major renovations, forcing thousands of passengers to adjust their weekday commute, according to The New York Times.

New Jersey Transit officials said the closure will affect about 170 of the 280 trains that carry some 48,000 commuters from the waterfront terminal and back each weekday. Of the 170, seven weekday trains will be canceled and four will start or end their runs in Newark. The timetables of 24 trains will be altered by 5 to 18 minutes; the other 135 will have changes of under five minutes.

Years of leaks in the 4,400-foot- long tunnel left its ceiling and walls in a state of "rather radical decomposition," New Jersey Transit's executive director, Jeffrey A. Warsh, said during a news conference at the station on May 10. He said the dripping water sometimes caused short circuits in the catenary, disrupting service. In winter, icicles sometimes break away from the ceiling and walls, falling onto the tracks and, on occasion, a train.

The reconstruction will cost $64 million and include installation of a waterproof lining and a new concrete facade on the walls and ceiling, as well as new exits, signals, lighting and ventilation. In addition, the tracks will be lowered to provide clearance for 200 new double-decker trains Warsh said the agency hopes to start using in 2004. The work will take place around the clock on weekdays, and is expected to be completed in the fall of 2002, he said.

Until then, all trains entering and leaving the Hoboken station will use the two tracks of an adjacent tunnel, built in 1908. That tunnel is also to be renovated, but a date has not been set, officials said.

Corridor Lines...

Midwesterners look ahead to fast trains

High-speed rail experts tried to boost support for fast trains at the High Speed Ground Transportation Association's national conference last week in Milwaukee. They also "imported" Amtrak's rebuilt Turboliner from New York for a static display to show what a potential passenger rail future could be.

They also looked at recommendations to turn Milwaukee's Amtrak station into a modern multimodal transportation hub serving trains and buses, the Milwaukee Journal reported last week.

Echoing themes also heard at the recent NCI conference, Wisconsin DOT secretary and conference chairman Terry Mulcahy said that as highway and airport congestion increases, "the need to look very seriously, nationally, regionally, at passenger rail has risen."

In an effort to boost public interest, "RTL III," the Rohr TurboLiner III, a high-speed train built by Milwaukee-based Super Steel Products Corp. was open to the public Thursday at the Amtrak station.

Wisconsin also is working with Illinois, Michigan and Amtrak to buy 13 high-speed trains that could run statewide and from Chicago to St. Louis and Detroit, said Randy Wade, passenger rail implementation manager for the Midwest initiative. As D:F reported last week, Bombardier, Siemens and Talgo are bidding on the train construction jobs.

A state advisory committee also presented its recommendations on $26 million in renovations to the station so it could serve high-speed trains, regular-speed intercity trains and local and intercity buses, said Mike Maierle, a state transportation planner. The renovated station also could accommodate proposed commuter rail and light rail lines.

Nationwide, plans to expand high-speed rail beyond Amtrak's 150-mph Washington-New York-Boston Acela line depend on whether Congress approves $12 billion in borrowing for such projects. Among the plans awaiting funding is the $4.1 billion Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, which would run fast, frequent trains across a nine-state area. Planners in Wisconsin are aiming to start 110-mph Milwaukee-to-Madison service in late 2003, as the first leg of a line that eventually would connect Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and the Twin Cities, with a branch from Milwaukee to Green Bay.

Hearings on the Milwaukee-to-Madison route will be held June 26 in Milwaukee, June 27 in Madison and June 28 in Watertown.

Former Gov. Tommy Thompson, who is also Amtrak's recently resigned board chairman, recommended using $50 million in state borrowing power to help fund the line. President Bush tapped Thompson to be his Health and Human Services secretary.

Freight lines...

DM&E future looks bright

Surface Transportation Board (STB) chair Linda Morgan said last week that the federal agency's Section of Environmental Analysis (SEA) has completed its initial review of comments submitted on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS) for the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad's (DM&E) proposed Powder River Basin Expansion Project, and has begun preparation of a Final Environmental Impact Statement.

The Powder River Basin Expansion Project is DM&E's proposal to construct approximately 280 miles of new rail line in South Dakota and Wyoming, and to upgrade approximately 600 miles of existing rail line in South Dakota and Minnesota. The project would allow DM&E to extend its existing system westward to access coal mines in Wyoming's Powder River Basin.

She said the STB received more than 8,500 submissions during the comment period, most of which were concerns about environmental harm, such as which mitigation measures should be required, and who should be responsible for implementing mitigation measures. Other concerns included adverse safety impacts, such as potential delays in emergency vehicle response times because of blocked rail-highway crossings and the safety of such crossings, and route alternatives, particularly those associated with proposals to bypass certain concerned communities in Minnesota and South Dakota.

She said the final environmental statement should be published by this fall, and added, "While the board has yet to make a final decision concerning the proposed DM&E project, pending completion of the environmental review process, it has already found that the Powder River Basin Project meets the transportation merits criteria of the ICC Termination Act."

In other STB actions, the board is directing BNSF and UP to establish common carrier rates to haul coal from mines in the Powder River Basin to the Apache plant, a coal-fired electrical generating plant near Cochise, Ariz., owned by Arizona Electric Power Cooperative, Inc.

The utility company filed a rate complaint with the STB alleging that new rates were unreasonable. It had formerly received the bulk of its coal from mines in New Mexico. The STB ruling came on May 8.

The board last week also accepted for consideration a railroad control application filed on April 9 by "WC Merger Sub, Inc.," CN, Grand Trunk, Wisconsin Central, Fox Valley & Western Ltd., Sault Ste. Marie Bridge Company, and Wisconsin Chicago Link Ltd. It's the paperwork to merge CN and WC.

Chairman Linda Morgan said the board issued a procedural schedule in which the STB must render its final decision by September 7, 2001, or five months following the April 9 filing.

Freight rail chiefs demur reregulation
Chief executives of major U.S. freight railroads urged Congress on May 9 to reject any attempt to re-regulate the industry, and to embrace calls for public funding to help build rail infrastructure as the industry faces an uncertain future, according to published reports.

"The financial picture for railroads has not improved enough, and now we are seeing signs that it is slipping," Matthew Rose, president and chief executive of BNSF said in testimony at a Senate hearing.

"Weak earnings recently reported by the railroads, combined with the soft economic outlook for the quarters ahead, make it unlikely that (capital) investment levels will increase in the short term," he said.

The company said that industry investment levels peaked at $7.4 billion in 1998 and are expected to decline to about $5 billion this year.

"This trend bears watching closely," Rose said.

James Valentine, a managing director at Wall Street firm Morgan Stanley, said in his testimony that freight railroads are "not on their last leg" but said structural changes are necessary.

"In my opinion, equity markets are slowly losing patience with railroads as an investment as they continue to wait for the promised land of adequate returns, and may eventually turn their backs on the industry, leaving the government to bail it out similar to what we saw with the creation of Amtrak in 1970," Valentine said.

Valentine said freight railroads have spent more than $50 billion in capital expenses over the last 10 years and generated only $30 billion of net operating income.

Richard Davidson, chairman and chief executive of UP, said the industry plows 20 percent of revenues back into the system.

"The closest industry to us in that regard is the paper industry, and they only reinvest 5.5 percent of their revenue," he said. Davidson acknowledged the freight rail industry "cannot continue to operate" with a negative return rate, but warned lawmakers that the biggest threat was the specter of reregulation.

He said "Powerful shippers" want to regulate freight rail by "forcing us to give our competitors access to our facilities." He also said they want price controls to limit what rail companies can charge for that access.

Davidson said those price controls, if imposed, would "trigger a 40 percent loss in operating income that would virtually wipe out profits. We strongly urge you to reject their attempts at regulation."

Rose said deregulation in 1980 "breathed new life" into the industry which is not recommending the government take over "our rights of way," but he said access to capital for infrastructure is emerging as one of the biggest challenges." He said the amount of public money spent on projects like new grade crossings and big track relocation that have clear public benefits is minuscule, and added, "We need to see many more such projects, with more community, state and federal funding support." He cited examples of "excellent private and public partnerships" that could be a model for future financing.

"I urge you to find ways to increase the amount of funding available for rail projects that have associated public benefits," Rose said.

Valentine suggested subsidies could help put railroads on a level playing field with the long-haul trucking and barge industries, which he said receive substantial federal help. He also said the government could create incentives for railroads to expand in places where highways are too congested.

Nobody was aboard

47-car freight train strolls 66 miles

Americans were fascinated last week by a railroad episode that usually only plays out in movies - a runaway train; but this time, it was real, and with tank cars loaded with hazardous chemicals.

An unmanned 47-car CSX freight train hauled by a single six-axle, 3,000 HP SD-40-2 locomotive injured no one, nor did it derail. Two of the train's tank cars contained thousands of gallons of a hazardous material, molten phenol acid, a toxic ingredient used in paints and dyes. The chemical is harmful when it is inhaled, ingested or comes into contact with the skin.

There were heroics, a veteran engineer is most likely out of service, and the reason for the incident, at least, according to CSX, was simple: human error.

CSX said last week, after the train drew national media attention, it traveled 66 miles from Toledo, Ohio, to near Kenton, Ohio on May 15.

It so happened an Ohio railfan was out that day in the vicinity, and was able to post a first-person report on-line. He did not state his name.

He wrote he was "up north chasing the CSX Operation Lifesaver Special," which operated on the former Conrail Toledo Branch between Columbus and Toledo.

While he was driving back north on I-75 to Trombley to await the return southbound Operation Lifesaver train, "I heard some very unusual radio chatter, culminating in, 'Well, where is the engineer?"

"'Right here in the crew room!'"

The poster described what happened.

"A train had somehow gotten out of Stanley Yard in Toledo and was running southbound with no one aboard.

"I saw the train at North Trombley running at about 30 mph. It was a solo SD-40-2, No. 8888 (an ex-Conrail unit) with about 47 cars. It tripped the detector at North Trombley with dragging equipment, but none of the others further south."

He wrote he heard the CSX "IE" dispatcher "call the maintainers along the road that the train had run through the switches at CP-14 and were likely damaged. The pursuit by CSX employees, police, and myself began at this point."

He noted that because of the Operation Lifesaver Special, "there was a very high police presence along the railroad, which was crucial.

"Almost every grade crossing was protected when the train passed. Keep in mind, nobody was aboard to sound the horn and bell. The headlights were not on either. I caught up with the train again at Mortimer (North Findlay).

"Here, a CSX maintainer had placed a derail on the track to derail the train. Everyone was out of the way, expecting a horrific wreck. Amazingly, the train ran through the derail, kicking it out of the way. Now, the city of Findlay lay ahead.

"By this time, all police and emergency personnel along the line had been alerted. NS and other CSX dispatchers had been alerted to prevent any intersecting lines from passing traffic through railroad crossings at grade at Galatea, Mortimer, and Findlay. They were going to attempt to put the train in the siding at Whirlpool, just north of Findlay, but the fear of the hazardous material cars on the train nixed that move.

"It was then decided to put the train in the siding at Blanchard, south of Dunkirk. However, another idea arose. There was a northbound Q636 waiting at Dunkirk in the siding. Dunkirk has probably never seen so much excitement since a big wreck of some years ago.

"There was Q636 in the siding and an eastbound local on the PRR, waiting at the diamond with a clear signal. Thankfully, the word had gotten out.

"The train accelerated going down the hill from the U.S. 68 crossing to the diamond at Dunkirk. When the train passed, the great locomotive chase began.

The crew of Q636, in the siding at Dunkirk, had taken their lone SD-40-2 off their train, and through arrangement with the IE train dispatcher, prepared to pull out of the north end of the siding after the runaway had passed and begin a pursuit.

"The train got by at about 45 mph; the dispatcher immediately threw the switch, and 636's power got out on the main. After a few tense seconds, the switch was lined and the chase began.

"The crew on 636 was incredible.

"Gung ho, they wanted to catch that train by the sounds of their voices on the radio.

"They caught up with the runaway just south of Blanchard. The city of Kenton, with its sharp curves lay ahead. The lone SD-40-2, now coupled to the runaway, kicked the dynamic brakes on full and got immediate results, bringing the train down to a curve-safe 20 mph or less. The dispatcher then arranged for the Kenton local, with a single GP-38 and a covered hopper, to get in front of the runaway, if necessary, to pace, couple up, and buffer the train to a stop.

"The Q636's crew and Kenton local were placed in direct contact.

"Q636's engineer gave the train speed every few seconds, and the Kenton local got in a tangent where they could get a jump and engage the runaway as safely as possible under the circumstances.

"Finally, the runaway slowed to 12 mph. At State Route 31, a CSX trainmaster heroically swung aboard and shut the throttle off on the errant locomotive and train. The Kenton local was just ahead and did not have to couple to the runaway. The situation in the cab reported by the trainmaster was that 'the throttle was in run 8, 20 pounds reduction on the automatic [air], and full application on the independent.'"The railfan wrote he was "there for almost the entire pursuit, never being more than six miles away and always in radio range. No one lost his cool and everyone was on the same page. There was some great crisis railroading being performed by the men out there today!"

The Ohio eyewitness added that because the derail at Mortimer did not work, a hazardous materials disaster was averted. It would have likely occurred in a semi-populated area, next to I-75. The cities of Findlay and Kenton have some significant track curves.

Later in the day and on into Wednesday, CSX reported the company "conducted an extensive investigation in conjunction with the Federal Railroad Administration that included interviews with all employees involved; an analysis of the data from the locomotive's event recorder, analogous to the "black box" in the aviation industry; and a re-creation of the events at the company's rail yard in Toledo.

CSX reported, "All mechanical equipment was found to be working as intended, but added, "The engineer on the train," whose name was not released, "told investigators that he had made an error in controlling the train. Before dismounting the locomotive to line a switch, he intended to engage the three types of brakes on the locomotive. He applied two brakes, but then inadvertently grabbed the throttle lever instead of the third braking lever. By the time he realized the error, he was already off the locomotive, and it was moving too quickly for him to climb aboard to stop the movement."

A spokesman explained, "The effect would be similar to pressing down on the brake and accelerator simultaneously in an automobile, but under much more complex circumstances," said Alan F. Crown, executive vice president for transportation.

Crown said the engineer "is a good employee, with 35 years of service and clean record. He acknowledged that he made a serious error in judgment, and he will be held accountable."

Crown said that despite the fact that CSX has never experienced a similar incident over literally millions of locomotive moves, the company plans to inform all operating employees of the circumstances surrounding the incident, as well as alerting others in the rail industry to heighten awareness.

Crown congratulated trainmaster Jon Hosfeld, engineer Jesse Knowlton and conductor Terry Forson, whose actions slowed and ultimately stopped the train. Hosfeld is a 31-year CSX veteran from Kenton, Ohio; Knowlton is a locomotive engineer with 28 years' experience; and Forson is a "newbie" conductor, with one year's service.

"I can't praise these employees more highly," said Michael J. Ward, CSXT president. Knowlton and Forson said later they coupled their locomotives to the rear of the runaway train "at about 25 mph, and applied braking pressure to slow the 47-car train set." Hosfeld boarded the locomotive, then traveling at about 10 mph, and turned off its power plant.Hosfeld works out of CSX's Toledo yard facility; Knowlton and Forson are from the Columbus area.The three railroaders described their actions to CNN."We caught up with the train and tried to judge it as best as we could to tie on and... first hit, we tied on," said locomotive engineer Jesse Knowlton, who was piloting the rescue engine. "All I know is what I had to do. I was instructed - or asked - to catch that train, and that's what I did."

After the train had slowed to about 10 mph, it was trainmaster Jon Hosfeld's job to jump aboard it at a railroad crossing in Kenton, Ohio.

"I had one try," Hosfeld said.

"It was my only attempt to do it. We had gone through - I think about three or four other crossings - and the speed was too great; I knew that no way humanly possible could I mount the equipment, so I had to wait until it was down to a speed to where I had the comfort zone ... that I could get on and isolate the power." "The public was never really in jeopardy, other than we had a train that was sort of out of control for about two hours," Hosfeld said.

Forson, who managed to couple the second engine to the runaway, had been a conductor for just about a year when faced with catching the runaway train.

"They never said nothing about this during training," Forson said. "It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It was just a weird feeling to see that thing go by with nobody on it and then have to come out and chase it down. It was an intense moment."

Railroaders around the country were wondering how accurate CSX's explanation was of what happened.

Despite CSX's statement explaining the human error cause of Tuesday's runaway incident in Ohio - understandably expressed in simple terms that the media and public could understand - railroaders today questioned how a veteran engineer could have made such a mistake.According to a published report, a reporter spoke to engineers who had intimate knowledge of how an SD-40-2 operates."The engineer set the automatic and independent brakes, then notched out the throttle but failed to set the dynamic brakes. On the control stand on the (former Conrail) engine, one lever controls the independent brake, and one that controls the automatic brake. The dynamic brake lever sits above the throttle. The dynamics are engaged by pushing the lever forward. The throttle is engaged by pulling it toward the back of the cab."

An engineer explained, "If you wanted to use full dynamics, you'd want the throttle in Run 8, but you'd also want the dynamic lever all the way forward, as well."It remains unclear why the engineer would want to use the automatic brake, however, since the train's air was not cut in.

"I don't even see why he'd use dynamics in that situation,'" said one CSX engineer. It still confounds me the way that would happen."CSX's chief mechanical officer was skeptical, too, spokesman Dan Murphy said. "But he said you have to understand the circumstances," Murphy explained.

Some railroaders wondered how the engineer could mistake the sound of the locomotive revving up for the telltale whine of dynamic brakes.

"The whole thing just doesn't add up," said one railroader familiar with Conrail motive power. "An SD-40 at Run 8 will blow your eardrums out.""If he jerked the throttle back on his way out the door, I would think he'd notice the engine revving up," another CSX engineer said. "They rev up pretty quick, and it would be wound up by the time he reached the steps. I would've known if I had done that."Power loads faster than the dynamics, so the engineer said it's conceivable that the 8888's engineer could have made his way down the steps still believing his locomotive was in full dynamics. It can take 15 seconds or so for the dynamics to kick in, which would be ample time for the engineer to make his way out of the cab and hustle down the steps, yet notching out the throttle also would likely produce noticeable slack action that would have indicated the train was under full power, not full dynamics, the CSX engineer said.

"There was no debate about why the 8888's alerter didn't stop the train. The 'alerter won't take action when the independent brake is in use," the motive power official said. The 8888's independent brakes were on, and its brake shoes were virtually burned off by the end of its 66-mile run along the former Conrail Toledo Branch.

Still, veteran railroaders expressed amazement at the runaway.

"The independent brake alone wouldn't stop the train. But still, to reach 50" mph running upgrade, one CSX engineer said, shaking his head. He wasn't surprised, however, that an attempt to stop the train using derails failed.

"Those portable derails aren't meant to derail a train at 50," he said.

Among the more bizarre incidents in the two-hour attempt to stop the train was the effort by police to activate the 8888's fuel cut-off switch by shooting it. CSX officials acknowledged today that they were aware of police attempts to disable the locomotive by firing upon it. Instead of hitting the red fuel cutoff switch, however, three shots hit the locomotive's fuel cap, which is also red, CSX said.

May 15-18

High-Speed Ground Transportation Assn. at Milwaukee Hilton Center, Milwaukee, Wis.

June 3-6

Assn. of American Railroads' annual safety meeting.

"Safety for the new millennium: Something for Everyone,"
St. Augustine, Fla., Contact Jeff Moller, 202 639 2375;

June 6-8

League of Railway Industry Women

Spring summer conference and seminar at Drury Inn and Suites, Kansas City Airport, Kansas City, Mo.
Contact Connie Sumara, (847) 318 8000.

2001 Union Pacific steam trips

June 10

Union Pacific reports two steam excursion scheduled so far this year. Challenger steam engine No. 3985 on June 10, 2001 from Council Bluffs to Sargeant Bluff, Iowa and return.

Contact The Camerail Club
Sioux City & Pacific Excursion
6307 Seward St.
Omaha, NE 68104-4761

June 19

Challenger steam engine No. 3985 on June 19, 2001, from St. Louis to Gorham, Ill., and return. St. Louis Chapter, NRHS is also hosting the 2001 annual NRHS convention, June 19-23.

Contact St. Louis Chapter, National Railway Historical Society
2129 Barrett Station Rd., PMB 271
St. Louis, MO 63131-1638
(314) 839-2356
E-mail via

June 22

How to plan, execute and win
a major transportation and land-use reform campaign

From 9:15 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Environmental Law & Policy Center
35 East Wacker Drive, Suite 1300
Chicago, Ill.

Thirty experienced Midwest environmental activists will share what they have learned over the past decade about developing and implementing comprehensive strategic advocacy campaigns against sprawl-inducing and environmentally destructive transportation projects.

Attorneys, policy analysts and communications specialists from ELPC and other Midwest organizations will present the strategic and practical "how-to" ideas on using key legal tools, successfully evaluating environmental impact statements, developing and promoting better, faster and cheaper positive alternatives, effective organizing and communications tactics, and raising the necessary funds in order to win.

The way we were...

Gil Amery via NERail

It may have been South Station, but the people were definitely at the turn of the last century with that elderly tea kettle, a Boston & Albany 4-4-0 Atlantic.
End Notes...

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

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

Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images that appear in Destination: Freedom may do so at a nominal fee of $10.00 per image. "True color" .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 Site in Boston.

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