Vol. 7 No. 25
June 5, 2006

Copyright © 2006
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

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

A weekly North American rail and transit update

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

* Now in our Seventh Year *

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

  News Items... 
Russia to get Siemens Valero-class high speed train sets
New York Senator Demands Amtrak outage probe
Big ships, a deeper channel: Massport examines dredging project
National ‘Dump the pump’ Day - June 8
  Commuter lines… 
Commuter rail service in Connecticut gets a boost from state bonding
Regional Transportation Planning in Three Washington State Counties
DeLand train station getting long-sought renovation
Rep. says MBTA fare hike will increase efficiency
  Friday Closing Quotes… 
  Freight lines… 
BDW finds spot among big boys
Boom in ethanol increases demand for rail service
  Across the pond… 
Germany Celebrates New Berlin Hauptbahnhof
Working on the Railroad
Railroading Amtrak
  We get letters… 
  End notes… 

Russia to get Siemens
Valero-class high speed train sets

By DF staff

SOCHI, RUSSIA --- Russia has inked a €  600-million ($764M US) agreement to buy eight Siemens Valero-class trainsets for The St. Petersburg Moscow run, Siemens Hans M. Schabert, President of the Transportation Systems Group of Siemens, announced this week at signing ceremonies in Russia.

Siemens Test Train Set on display

Photo: Siemens

Siemens Valero trainset on display

The trains are updated versions of the existing ICE 3 train sets built by Siemens and throughout Germany and in Switzerland, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands.

The train will operate at 250 kph (about 155 mph, the same as the Acela Express) but unlike the Acela will have a much higher average speed. This is because most of America’s Northeast Corridor is 80-100 years old, and cannot support continuous high speeds, while Russia and the old Soviet Union, despite relatively low GDP compared to the United States, invested in high speed rail infrastructure.

Concept drawing of the new train sets

Congress has been asked repeatedly to make major rail infrastructure investments in the United States, but has failed to do so. As a consequence, American competitiveness has been allowed to decline in that sector of the economy, which is becoming increasingly critical as the country’s highway- based “cheap petroleum” economy is threatened by escalating prices.

Siemens’ Transportation Systems Group (TS) is to supply eight Velaro type high-speed trains to Russian Railways (RZD) and also assume responsibility for their maintenance for a period of 30 years, said Siemens. “This order will give Russia the most modern high-speed trains in the world. At the same time, this contract provides an excellent basis for a long-term partnership between Siemens and RZD in all sectors of rail industry,” said Hans M. Schabert, President of the Transportation Systems Group of Siemens, at the contract signing ceremony. The last train set is to be delivered in 2010.

Designed to travel at 250 km/h, these new trains are to be used initially on the Moscow-St. Petersburg route and, later on, operate between Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod. Some of the trains will be equipped to run on DC and AC electrified lines. With ten cars and a total length of 250 meters, they will be able to accommodate more than 600 passengers. The trains will be built for the Russian broad gauge network and, consequently, be approximately 33 cm wider than Germany’s high-speed ICE 3 trains. The contract signed today for the delivery of the trains was preceded by a €  40 million development contract that had been concluded in April 2005. The design and planning work for the Russian high-speed train will be done at Siemens’ two German locations, Erlangen and KrefeldUerdingen. Train production will likewise take place in Germany.

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New York Senator Demands Amtrak outage probe

By DF Staff

NEW YORK --- U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, a long-time Amtrak supporter, is demanding establishment of a special Senate panel to investigate the May 24 power failure along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor from Baltimore to New York City that stranded thousands of rail commuters, some in tunnels.

Amtrak’s infrastructure on much of this route is more than 80 years old, not having been rebuilt since the Pennsylvania Railroad electrified the line in the 1930’s. Its Penn Station-to-Connecticut catenary (overhead wires that power the trains) has been renewed, but the 55-mile stateline-to-New Haven stretch is still largely 100 years old. Only the New Haven-Boston run is new, built 1991-1999 after the funding, embargoed by the Reagan and Bush (I) administrations, was pried free by the National Corridors Initiative, an infrastructure advocacy group.

Amtrak is still trying to determine what caused the outage, which began Thursday morning at the height of rush hour and lasted two hours. Regular service was not restored until that evening.

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Big ships, a deeper channel

Massport examines dredging project

From the internet

MAY 29 -- According to a story for The Globe by Beth Daley, the Massachusetts Port Authority wants to deepen the 11-mile shipping channel into Boston Harbor in order to accommodate larger ships.

A $4 million study evaluating the economic feasibility of doing this project is almost finished. It is estimated to cost $100 million, half of which would be paid by the federal government.

The study is examining deepening the harbor’s entrance channel, which is 1,500 feet wide; the main shipping lane, which is 1,200 feet wide; and the Chelsea River.

“Our 40-foot channel puts us at a competitive disadvantage,” said Mike Leone, Boston’s port director.

“The next generation [of cargo ships] is coming in deeper.” Massport has said it should be 5 or 10 feet deeper. But Leone admitted it was a challenge to get funding from Congress for ports.

Photo: Boston Globe - Dave Ryan (2005)

The ocean liner Queen Mary 2 (black hull), which according to Massport needs a maximum depth of 32 feet, 10 inches, was docked among other ships at Black Falcon terminal last fall. As cargo ships and cruise ships are made ever larger, port officials worry about safety and retaining shipping business.

Worldwide port trade is expected to double by 2020, and cargo ships are being built larger to transport more goods and take advantage of the economies of scale. Cruise ships are also getting bigger. As a result, more than 25 ports in the United States are either expanding their channels or considering such projects, according to the American Association of Port Authorities. Both New York and Los Angeles are going to 50 feet deep. Congress has already appropriated money for some of these projects.

Massive tunneling in Boston Harbor has been done before, one for Deer Island’s sewage pipe and another for the Big Dig’s Ted Williams Tunnel. But this one, according to the Army Corps of Engineers, would be the biggest single dredging operation in the harbor since the 1940’s. It would involve dredging about 10 million cubic yards of clay and mud -- enough to cover an area the size of Boston Common, 12-feet deep. By contrast, the entire Big Dig dredged or excavated about 17.6 million cubic yards of material.

The material to be dredged appears to contain few contaminants. Army Corps of Engineers tests indicate that the Boston blue clay under the channel floor that will be dug up has been untouched by hundreds of years of industrial pollution. That means it can be safely dumped in Massachusetts Bay at a federally designated disposal site about 23 miles offshore.

But environmentalists and fishermen are concerned about the project’s impact, particularly on fish migration

“We want them to avoid our gear. . . . We want them to let fishermen know where they are going to be,” said Bill Adler, executive director of the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association.

Traps are not supposed to be set in the shipping channel, but lobstermen place them around its perimeter.

The Port of Boston has undergone a transformation since the mid-1990s, when it was facing major financial problems from falling cargo volumes.

Since then, Massport has invested $50 million to upgrade facilities and is currently building a $25 million expansion to South Boston’s Conley Terminal.

It has attracted more Chinese shipping lines to come here directly from Asia and has attracted more cruise ships to the Black Falcon terminal.

From May 2005 until last month, the Conley Terminal had a 9 percent increase, and the number of cruise ship passengers has increased by 18 percent.

Officials fear that if Boston’s shipping channel does not get deeper, the bigger ships will go to ports, such as Halifax, Nova Scotia which are naturally deeper or to cities that have already invested in deepening projects

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ANNOUNCEMENT...  Announcement...

National Dump the pump day – June 8

People Encouraged to “Dump the Pump” and Ride Public Transportation

In light of high gas prices, National Dump the Pump Day will be held across the country on June 8.  From coast to coast, U.S. transit agencies will be urging people to “dump the pump,” park their cars, and ride public transit.  Public transportation is the quickest way to beat high gas prices.

Sponsored by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), the Surface Transportation Policy Project, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, and the Center for Transportation Excellence, this national day highlights the importance of public transportation as an alternative to driving.

The list of participating cities grows each day, including San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Tulsa, Fort Worth, Austin, and Knoxville.

WHAT:   National Dump the Pump Day
WHEN:   Thursday, June 8, 2006
WHERE:   Cities and towns nationwide
WHY:   To give everyone a chance to make a statement about
beating high gas prices by riding public transit.

For more information, please visit: http://www.publictransportation.org.

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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

Commuter rail service in Connecticut
gets a boost from state bonding

From the internet

JUNE 1 – The Amtrak station in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, slated to be torn down back in the 1970’s but saved by preservationists, will be restored and expanded as part of a $2.3 billion investment in the state’s transportation system approved by the legislature and Governor Rell in May.

A story by Keith Phaneuf of the Journal Inquirer reports that the Main Street train station is one of five local projects on the list for funding when the Bond Commission is expected to release nearly $1.7 million next week. Other north-central Connecticut projects targeted to receive funding through the Small Town Economic Assistance Program include sidewalk replacement in Stafford, construction of a new ambulance facility in Suffield, and water and sewer line work in Bolton and Willington.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who chairs the Bond Commission and whose budget office sets its agenda, announced the projects Wednesday.

The Windsor Locks funding involves $225,000 to pay for initial planning, design work, and environmental studies for the restoration and expansion of the train station. This project is part of the restoration of commuter rail service between Springfield and New Haven, which also includes new bus service to link the Windsor Locks station with Bradley International Airport, also in Windsor Locks.

The Bond Commission is scheduled to meet at 11 a.m., June 9, in the Legislative Office Building.

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Regional Transportation Planning in
Three Washington State Counties

Across the wires from Tacoma Daily Index1

TACOMA, WA, JUNE 01, Regional leaders representing Sound Transit and the Regional Transportation Investment District (RTID) held a news conference last Thursday, June first, to kick off a cooperative process that will result in the region’s first-ever comprehensive transportation plan including transit and road projects.

The news conference preceded a historic meeting, the first joint session with board members from Sound Transit and RTID where they outlined the schedule and milestones for finalizing the Joint Regional Transportation Plan.

The RTID is a joint effort of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties to identify and fund specific road, transit and possibly light rail improvement projects of regional significance in the three counties.

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DeLand train station getting
long-sought renovation

Across the wires via News-Journal.com

DELAND, VOLUSIA COUNTY, FL, MAY 20 – Locals enjoy watching the Silver Meteor headed for Miami burst into view at Deland’s train station, describes Kari Cobham in a story for the News Journal.

One avid train watcher said, “It’s just a great spot to spend some time in the warm afternoon especially after the (household) chores are done”.

But these days, the view down the platform is changing.

Busy workmen in fluorescent orange vests and hard hats toil on the platform’s southern end under a decaying wooden canopy. Work has begun to restore the 1918 train station, where freight trains heavy with cargo speed past and passenger trains send travelers onto faded red tiles.

Ken Fischer, former general manager at Votran, Volusia County’s public transit system, had led the effort to restore the historic station since 2001 until his departure last December.

It was not an easy task getting Amtrak, the station owner, and CSX, the land owner, to reach common ground. But on May 8, an agreement was reached, and with a $424,481 Florida transportation grant, the Old New York Avenue station is receiving a much-needed facelift.

“To actually see work being done is exciting,” said Fischer.

Renovations include a new roof, platform canopy and handicapped accessible platform as well as aesthetic improvements to the restrooms and the building’s exterior, said Lois Bollenback, general manager at Votran since January.

“There’s a great deal of importance for communities to protect some of their historical buildings,” Bollenback said. “This is just another project that would help preserve the heritage of Volusia.”

Across the ticket office walls is painted an intimate mural of that history -- of now ancient trains and tiny embedded seashells personalized by travelers who ventured through the depot.

The active station will remain open while undergoing renovation, said Amtrak ticket clerk David Anderson. Several hundred passengers still come through every year, and over the past several months, passenger traffic has increased.

“This is something the county really needs quite badly,” said one of the daily train watchers. “With the price of gasoline, we need a good rail system.”


Three British friends, waiting near the station’s gazebo for a cab chose rail travel because a month’s pass cost less than $300 each. . With their multi-city trek down the East Coast, it was the most economical choice. Next stop: Miami.

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Rep. says MBTA fare hike will increase efficiency

Source: Daily Item of Lynn

LYNN, JUNE 2 -- State Rep. Robert Fennell said a plan to hike bus and train fares will also make paying for public transportation easier and more efficient for riders, writes staff reporter Thor Jourgensen for the Daily Item.

On Wednesday, June 7, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority representatives plan to discuss the proposed fare hike with riders and officials at North Shore Community College, 6:30-8:30 p.m.

The proposed increase – transit one way would go from $1.25 to $1.70, buses from 90 cents to $1.25—would offset rising fuel and security costs and lower state subsidy caused by drop in sales tax revenue. Even with the increases, T officials claim fares will be lower than in other cities.

Fennell said the rate hike includes changes in the way riders pay fares. They will be able to use a pre-paid card throughout the MBTA rail and bus system that deducts fares.

“It means less money handling . I don’t like to see increases but they are trying to make it more efficient and easier for people to use,” Fennell said.

The additional revenue is needed for repairs on commuter garages, such as the one in Lynn, and for increased security between the garage and the train station.

The MBTA stepped up security and maintenance two years ago in advance of the Democratic National Convention, but handicapped commuters complained after the convention about broken platform elevators.

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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: MarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)78.5777.44
Canadian National (CNI)45.3944.93
Canadian Pacific (CP)52.4352.38
CSX (CSX)68.6067.33
Florida East Coast (FLA)56.39 55.54
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)30.37 29.50
Kansas City Southern (KSU)27.55 27.69
Norfolk Southern (NSC)53.60 52.94
Providence & Worcester (PWX)17.70 17.00
Union Pacific (UNP)94.0592.66

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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

BDW finds spot among big boys

Source: Associated Press

SHOSHONI – “The Bighorn Divide & Wyoming Railroad is like an ant in a land of giants. But it’s an industrious ant.”

That’s the opening line of a story by the Associated Press about the little railroad that could.

While Burlington Northern Santa Fe has 966 miles of railroad in Wyoming and Union Pacific 881, the BDW has about 40 miles of track, 23 of which is owned by BNSF.

In 2005, BNSF, with 39 coal trains snaking across the Wyoming prairie every day, hauled 207 million tons of coal, according to spokesman Gus Melonas.

BDW knows better than to try to compete with the big guys; instead, they have carved out their own niche in Wyoming’s transportation system.

The BDW has its origins in trucking, not railroading. They would haul soda ash from the Green River Basin to the railhead at Bonneville. Then they saw an opportunity to add rail to the business. They would take the soda ash from the trucks and load it on to rail. They would hook the cars into a unit and every four days or so, BNSF would add the unit to their trains and ship the load to the next destination.

Soon after, the opportunity arose to open a rail car repair shop in the industrial yard of Shoshone. Today, the trucking company, called BTI, the railroad and the repair shop are three distinct businesses headed by Riverton businessman Cliff Root.

Another service they provide is picking up a byproduct – molten sulfur – from the Lost Cabin gas plant near Lysite. BDW takes the cars to Bonneville, makes up a unit train which BNSF picks up and hauls to Galveston, Texas.

In the process, BDW workers pick up from BNSF rail cars that need repairs and take them to the shop facilities in Shoshoni.

Another commodity they handle is lime. They transfer the acid from the railroad to trucks at Shoshoni, which then carry the product to Riverton for processing.

The key to BDW’s success is “transloading” from truck to rail and vice versa. One doesn’t function without the other.

The other reason for success is Cliff Root’s ingenious strategy not to fight against the giants but to work with them. BDW is the only independent short line railroad in the state. It has three engines and 16 employees, including switchmen, conductors and engineers.

Root says, ... you take “a nonadversarial position with them [the railroad giants] and make cooperative deals.”

He sees another opportunity for his short line - go into the Wind River Indian Reservation which is rich in minerals but in an area that has no rail transportation.

Rail service is becoming increasingly important in Wyoming. Yet the state invests in highways and pipelines but not rail lines. It is against the Wyoming constitution for the state to support or aid the railroads in any way, with loans or subsidies or capital investment.

Root is not suggesting that the state should go into the railroad business, only that it become more actively engaged in developing an integrated railroad system.

“The state of Wyoming is trying to grow and diversify,” he said. “We have all these minerals, and we have no rail plan.”

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Boom in ethanol increases demand for rail service

Source: Sioux City Journal

DES MOINES, IOWA, JUNE 01-- The boom in the state’s ethanol industry is spurring an increase in demand for rail service to ship the fuel across the country.

The state is expected to produce 1.3 billion gallons of ethanol this year. Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe have seen shipments soar and they, along with other rail companies, are hustling to keep pace.

Jim Glawe, controller for the Corn LP ethanol plant in Goldfield, said fuel produced at the north-central Iowa plant is being shipped to gas stations across the country, from California to Virginia.

Glawe said shipping ethanol by rail is less expensive than by truck.

“You can ship some by truck, but the freight economics of it mean that St. Louis is about as far as you want to go,” he said.

It’s simply less expensive to transport ethanol over longer distances by railroad, Glawe said.

At Pine Lake Corn Processors, in Steamboat Rock, the lower cost of shipping ethanol by rail has allowed the company to create its own short-line railroad.

The line will connect to both the Canadian National Railway in Ackley and the Union Pacific in Marshalltown.

Pine Lake now transports its ethanol by track to Ackley, where it is transferred to railroad tank cars.

The state currently has 25 ethanol plants, making it the country’s largest ethanol producer.

The Iowa Department of Transportation has been providing financial assistance to help new ethanol plants build rail spurs to provide connections to railroad lines.

Five ethanol plants have received a total of $485,000 in state grants. Two others have received state loans totaling $650,000.

“Rail is a very integral part of the delivery of ethanol currently to the East and West coasts, and potentially down to Texas ...” said Larry Mesenbrink, IDOT rail development manager.

Officials with Union Pacific and BNSF said they are working to accommodate the ethanol industry.

Union Pacific is helping to speed the flow of ethanol by investing in track projects near several Midwest ethanol plants, said Mark Davis, a Union Pacific spokesman.

“I can tell you that ethanol is an ever-increasing commodity group for us,” said Mark Davis, a Union Pacific spokesman.

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

Germany Celebrates New Berlin Hauptbahnhof

by David Beale, NCI European correspondent


Knife Wielding Assailant Injures Dozens after Grand Opening Ceremony

Sources: Junge Welt news magazine, Deutsche Bahn press releases, Welt am Sonntag newspaper, N24 news television

Berlin – German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Deutsche Bahn – German Railways – Chairman Hartmut Mehdorn lead a long list of VIP’s, government officials, celebrities and thousands from the general public in the opening ceremonies of the new central train station in Berlin, officially named Berlin Hauptbahnhof. The grand opening of the largest train station in Germany and perhaps in Europe marks the completion of an 11 year-long multi-billion dollar construction project in the heart of Germany’s capital city, which was beset by numerous cost overruns and major construction challenges such as leaking rail tunnels under the Spree River and a major down-sizing of the entire project midway into the construction phase. Finishing construction work on several local train and subway stations as well as a number of city streets in Berlin affected by the mega project will continue through 2008.

Two Photos by N24 news television

Berlin Hauptbahnhof is lit-up for its grand opening.

Photo: Deutsche Bahn

Diagram of newly reconfigured rail corridors in Berlin. The new Berlin Hauptbahnhof is indicated with the abbreviation “Hbf”.
The ceremonies were marred by a security crisis caused when a teenage assailant stabbed and injured dozens of people randomly with a knife as they left the opening ceremonies. Police arrested as the prime suspect a youth from Berlin’s Neu Köln (New Cologne) neighborhood, an area with a very large immigrant population beset by crime and social problems. Mrs. Merkel and other dignitaries were never in any danger from the attacker, due to extraordinary security measures undertaken to ensure the safety of the VIPs in attendance from any sort of terror attacks.

The new Berlin Hauptbahnhof is a key part of the North-South Rail Connector project, also known as the “Mushroom Concept”, so named due to the approximate shape of the new rail corridors around Berlin would have looked like on a map, once the original project design had been completed. The key element of this project was relocating the existing north-south rail route in the central Berlin area from its old tortuous and slow surface level and elevated route along the “Berlin Stadtbahn” into a direct underground route with a interchange with the existing partially elevated east-west rail corridor at Berlin Hauptbahnhof. The underground rail corridor runs underneath a large city park known as “Tiergarten”, under the Spree River and two small canals and then under urban Berlin adjacent to the district which contains the German Parliament building, the official residence of the German Chancellor and other federal government institutions. The entire project includes, in addition to the new Berlin Hauptbahnhof, two new regional rail stations in southern part and northern part of the city respectively as well as expansions and renovations to several existing S-Bahn commuter rail stations in the central part of the city.

The latest estimates of the construction costs for the entire north-south rail connector not including construction of the new Berlin Hauptbahnhof span the €  10 – 11 billion range (US $12.3 – 13.5 billion). Deutsche Bahn, which is responsible for overall management of the construction project, has not provided completed nor transparent cost reporting for the project, according to numerous critics, which also state that the true cost of the project is yet to be made fully known to the general public. DB chief was quoted in a feature article in the German daily news magazine Junge Welt as saying that total project costs have passed the €  10 billion point so far.

Photo: Deutsche Bahn

Diagram of the newly opened high speed rail corridor from Nürnburg to Munich via Ingolstadt. The section from Nürnburg to Ingolstadt is all new construction, the section from Ingolstadt to Munich is an upgrade and expansion of an existing rail line.


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The new Berlin Hauptbahnhof was built for a cost of €  750 million (US $920 million) within as eight and one half year time frame. More than 1100 trains will stop at its boarding platforms located on two different levels, thus handling a passenger volume estimated to be in the 300,000 per day range. In keeping with other major train stations in Germany, the Berlin Hauptbahnhof will feature a large in-door shopping mall (also located on several levels), fast food court, cocktail bars, restaurants, office space available for rent and an on-site automobile-parking garage.

Berlin Hauptbahnhof was built on the site of the historic Lehrter Bahnhof, which had been a local stop on the Berlin S-Bahn commuter rail system since the end of World War 2, although the station was an important rail terminus for Berlin in the latter part of the 19th century and early 20th century. In 2005 Deutsche Bahn and the City of Berlin made a controversial decision to drop the name “Lehrter Bahnhof” from the official name of the new mega-station, citing possible confusion with a rail station and town of the same name located in the eastern suburbs of Hannover. In fact the Lehrter Bahnhof in Berlin acquired its name due to its status as the end terminus of the Lehrte - Berlin railway company of the mid 19th century. The western terminus of this railway was located in Lehrte, approximately 20 km (13 miles) east of downtown Hannover.

Berlin Hauptbahnhof and its new underground north-south rail tunnels will handle the majority of long distance and intercity trains which stop in Berlin, thus relieving the overloaded elevated east-west rail corridor known as “Berlin Stadtbahn”. Berlin’s famous “Zoo Station”, so named due to its location next to the Berlin animal zoo and gardens, will no longer be served by the large number of intercity trains as it has been for most of its post World War 2 history. Zoo Station and the Berlin Stadtbahn rail corridor will continue in operation to serve local and regional trains, which operate on east-west routings in the greater Berlin region.

The new Berlin Hauptbahnhof and the integral north-south rail connector marks the latest and largest of a series of high profile German rail infrastructure projects which date back to the Hannover-Würzburg high speed rail line built in the late 1980s, the Frankfurt – (Köln) Cologne high speed rail line opened in 2002, and a high speed rail connector built between Mannheim and Stuttgart in the early 1990s. Also opened for regular service this weekend was the latest addition to the German high speed rail network, the all-new Nürnburg-Ingolstadt high speed rail corridor, which is a part of a larger plan to build a high speed rail route from Berlin to Munich. Still under construction are a rail tunnel under the city of Leipzig, a new commuter rail station in the Hamburg airport terminal, an upgraded high-speed rail corridor in southwestern Germany, which will cut travel time to Switzerland and northern Italy, and an upgraded high speed rail corridor from Frankfurt to northern France including Metz, Nancy and Paris for use by German ICE trains and French TGV trains.

EDITORIALS...  Editorials...

Working on the Railroad

From The Baltimore Sun
Reprinted with permission

MAY 26 -- Commuters in the Washington-New York rail corridor had a rough morning May 25. Thousands were left stranded for more than two hours when Amtrak suffered a power outage that halted trains in their tracks between the two cities. In Maryland, that included about 5,000 MARC Penn Line riders whose trains are operated by Amtrak crews on the same north-south track.

It was an unusual event - Amtrak officials had no immediate explanation of what caused the power outage - but veteran rail riders were likely less than shocked. Riding Amtrak sometimes requires the patience of Job - and an extremely flexible schedule. Nationally, about 30 percent of all Amtrak trains run late. MARC is somewhat better, but unplanned delays aren’t exactly news there, either. In January, for instance, Maryland commuter trains had an 82 percent on-time performance record.

Between the delays, the fare increases, the shortage of parking at some stops, the crowded bus-like conditions of some of the more outdated cars, and the often surly attendants, you might assume that rail ridership was in a period of decline. And you’d be exactly wrong. Amtrak ridership is up, and so is MARC’s. Commuters may have plenty of reasons to complain, but they must also have a strong motivation to take the train: MARC ridership has hit a historic high after nine straight years of growth.

That’s why it’s so frustrating that Amtrak is treated so shabbily by the White House. Over the years, the system may have been mismanaged at times, but it’s also been half-starved. Amtrak badly needs to update its rail lines and other infrastructure. MARC needs an infusion of capital, too, but its situation has an added dimension. Any MARC expansion must pass muster with Amtrak and CSX, owners of MARC’s Brunswick and Camden lines.

Passenger rail has untapped potential, and rising fuel costs only underscore the ridiculousness of the nation’s failure to pursue it. Plenty of members of Congress understand this - so why can’t President Bush? In a country addicted to oil, kicking the habit requires a serviceable fuel-efficient alternative to driving a car.

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Railroading Amtrak

An editorial that appeared in the New York Times on May 28 is right on the money about the problems with Amtrak:

It starts:

“When the trains are speeding along and a blurred landscape is flickering past the windows, it is hard to imagine how quickly everything can go wrong. But about 50,000 commuters and Amtrak riders learned the hard way Thursday morning. When the electricity suddenly went out along Amtrak lines from New York City to Maryland, riders were stuck for hours, some stranded in steamy passenger cars, some stalled in “creepy” underwater tunnels. For most of these travelers, it was an infuriating and frustrating experience. But if their reaction is to shake a fist angrily at Amtrak, there is a far bigger culprit in the nation’s capital.”

Congress and the White House have so squeezed the dollar out of Amtrak’s budget, the editorial continues, that the railroad has had to charge higher ticket prices and in some places cut service. Although this burdens the public and limits ridership, the truly frightening effect of fiscal starvation is the unsafe condition of the railroad’s infrastructure.

“One inspector general for the Department of Transportation warned that the budget for basic maintenance and improvements was so low that Congress and the White House were playing “Russian roulette” with the welfare of millions of riders across the country.

“Amtrak would need at least $2 billion a year to bring the system to a state of good repair, according to the department’s analysts. For the Northeast Corridor, where some parts go back to the 1930’s, it would take a total of about $4 billion. So far, Congress and the White House have agreed to hand over a scant $600 million a year for all capital programs on passenger rails from coast to coast.”

Washington officials perpetually like to criticize Amtrak for being mismanaged, ignoring the real problem that the American transportation system is in dire need of a world class national rail system that is clean, well-maintained and affordable, the author explains. The point is NOT to require the railroad to make a profit – an impossible burden not imposed on the highway system, airlines or ports.

“Amtrak, which at one point was to have received zero federal funds after 2002, has been offered $900 million by the administration for next year. That amount is so low it should be an insult. But Amtrak officials have timidly stayed within the ballpark and asked for a modest $1.6 billion. Even that is just enough money to allow Amtrak to fail more slowly.

“If President Bush really wants transportation alternatives, it is time for a strategic look at how the railroads can serve as an even more important escape valve for the nation’s overloaded transportation system.”

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WE GET LETTERS...  We get letters...

Dear Editor:

I am sorry to see that once again DF has published claims that Britain’s privatized railway system is unsafe, indeed more unsafe than the nationalized system.  This is simply untrue.  Passenger safety has improved considerably since privatization.  Indeed, last year, not a single passenger died of the well over one billion passengers that now travel by rail (up over 40% since privatization).  Of course, there are arguments about the pros and cons of privatization, but the facts show that the privatized rail IS ACTUALLY SAFER.

Guy Senior
The Barclays Group, London

Editor replies - During England’s rail privatization, infrastructure maintenance was turned over to a private company named Railtrack [now defunct]. Railtrack was given a fixed price contract to maintain and repair the infrastructure. At the same time, private operating companies were encouraged to run trains on those tracks.

Because the biggest long-term cost of operating a railroad is actually in the infrastructure, making someone else responsible for maintenance relieved would-be operators of a great cost burden, and private companies flocked to provide service. Traffic soared.

Unfortunately, Railtrack’s contract was not only fixed, it was written to penalize the company the longer tracks were taken out of service for repairs. As a direct consequence, patches and fixes were used on rail that sometimes needed complete replacement, due to the increased wear-and-tear.

This short-cut privatized maintenance regime resulted soon thereafter in a large number of deaths due to infrastructure-caused accidents, ultimately causing the company to go into receivership. One such crash at Potters Bar in May 2002 killed seven. Here is the BBC report on the inquiry: Track at the time of the Potters Bar crash has been condemned as “appalling” by Transport Secretary Alistair Darling after the publication of a damning new report into the accident.

The second interim study into the disaster that killed seven people concluded up to 20% of nuts on nearby sets of points were not fully tightened at the time. Track sabotage has again been ruled out.

Mr. Darling said there must be a single point of responsibility for safety, instead of the current “blurred lines” between Railtrack, its contractors and subcontractors.

He told BBC News: “The approach that Railtrack took when the industry was privatized in the early 1990s, which was to contract out not only maintenance but key decisions about what should be maintained, does not work.”

“The state of the points at Potters Bar was clearly appalling.”

He said Network Rail - the body taking over from Railtrack - would make sure contractors carried out work properly.” End of BBC Report. Network Rail has also had problems, but enough on that for now. The point is that privatization in and of itself is neither good nor bad. But it can not work if the mistakes of the past are revisited upon the present. BritRail’s monopoly on rail service ended in the early 1990’s but its replacement was handled poorly, especially regarding maintenance issues. Many decades of underfunding by the British Government left BritRail broken by the time privatization was implemented, and it has taken billions of pounds of publicly-funded repairs POST privatization to make it safer. We don’t need to go through the same experience here.

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End Notes...

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