In this edition...
Editor Leo King got married on Saturday, so this is an abbreviated edition.
The state of New York has agreed to pay Super Steel Schenectady, Inc. $5.5 million to kill a project to rebuild seven Turboliner trains that were to serve on a high-speed rail corridor between New York City and Albany.
The Albany Times-Union reported on May 28 that in April, the New York DOT agreed to pay Super Steel, of Schenectady, to end the project. The money would cover any remaining costs and move four unfinished trains into storage.
The state has already spent $64.8 million on Super Steels work on rebuilding the 1970s-era Turboliners. Three completed trains Amtrak claims are not suitable for service have been put in storage.
The full settlement payment is contingent on an independent audit of the project, DOT officials said.
State Comptroller Alan Hevesi approved the settlement, saying it would cost millions more to complete a project that wouldnt even deliver what the state wanted.
In 1998, Gov. George Pataki unveiled a $185 million plan to create a high-speed rail corridor. The rebuilt Turboliner trains were to shave 20 minutes off the travel time between Albany and New York City.
Ultimately, though, the project went bust due to a series of missed deadlines, engineering problems and disagreements about who should pay the extra costs.
Last year Amtrak sidelined the only two reconditioned trains to be put into service, citing air conditioning and other problems. The state DOT is now seeking a legal judgment against Amtrak for some $477.3 million. In February, a state audit found nearly $1.4 million in payments from the state should be denied to Super Steel because the costs werent substantiated.
Auditors found some of the requested payments were based on projected costs rather than actual costs and some were double billed because items were included at two locations. Other problems had to do with inventory shortcomings and data entry mistakes.
Amtraks Empire Builder passenger railroad may cut its stops in Montana if the state does not agree to pay an unknown amount of money to support the service under a Bush administration plan that U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta promoted again last week.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer called the idea a cockamamie scheme, and all three of Montanas Congressional delegation oppose it, reported the Helena Independent Record.
Mineta called the telephone press conference June 1, the day before Schweitzer embarked on a whistle stop tour from Havre to Whitefish on the Empire Builder to promote leaving Amtraks service in Montana unchanged.
Mineta said the current system, in which the only Amtrak service in the state cuts across Montanas sparsely populated Hi-Line, not only cant turn a profit, but also doesnt really meet the states needs.
The 12 Montana cities with stops on the Empire Builder represent just three and a half percent of Montanas population, Mineta said. The train bypasses the entire southern part of the state, including residents living in Billings, Great Falls and Missoula.
Mineta and the Bush administration plan would enter into agreements with the states to run the rail service. Under that plan, the states could decide where the train routes should run, but theyd also have to pay for a larger share of the service in a 50-50 state and federal partnership.
States would also have to pay to subsidize the service, said Brian Turmail, a USDOT spokesman, but the plan envisions subsidies no longer being necessary once rail lines are improved and train service is competitive.
Turmail said Montana could use the 50-50 federal grants to improve the freight lines (BNSF) the Empire Builder currently uses. Those lines dont allow Amtrak to travel as fast as the train is capable of. He said that if nothing were done, Amtrak service would cease because the heavily subsidized system doesnt work.
States that opt out of the plan would lose their Amtrak stops, Mineta said.
Asked how much Montana would have to pay to enter into one of the agreements and keep Amtrak stops, Mineta said he wasnt really sure right off hand.
Mineta said the plan, should it pass Congressional muster, would allow Montana to transfer the Empire Builder to the southern part of the state where it would benefit more people. Montana could also accept bids from rail lines other than Amtrak for rail service, potentially reducing the cost.
The plan has received a chilly reception in Montana.
This is no plan, Schweitzer said. When asked about dollars and cents of the plan, he said, I dont know.
He also said its disingenuous for Mineta and others to complain about Amtrak subsidies when almost all modes of transportation in the U.S. are subsidized.
The airlines weve bailed out many times before, and were bailing out one of their pension programs right now, Schweitzer said. We build the highways, we maintain the river system for barges, but when it comes to passenger rail traffic across Montana, thats where we draw the line?
The governor said no one in the federal government has told him how much the state would have to pay to keep Amtrak, adding that theres no money in the state budget to do so, anyway.
Sen. Max Baucus, who is joining Schweitzer on his whistle stop tour, said in a statement that he could not support any program that would shift the burden of funding Amtrak onto the backs of Montanans. Thats exactly what this plan would do.
Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., said in a statement that while he wants to fix Amtraks financial problems, hes concerned about the financial impact on the states of the Bush administration plan.
Amtrak, and specifically, the Empire Builder, is a national rail service, Burns said. It should be handled from that perspective.
Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg agreed. His spokesman, Brad Keena, said maintaining rail service for rural Americans is a federal responsibility.
Thats one of the reasons we send our federal tax dollars to Washington, Keena said.
Amtrak has quietly changed its discount policy. For example, some riders on the railroads Milwaukee-Chicago Hiawatha line were surprised recently when they tried to buy discounted tickets and were told they were three days too late.
Since April 1, four longstanding fare discounts have been limited to passengers who reserve seats at least three days in advance, said Marc Magliari, an Amtrak spokesman in Chicago. That applies to all trains, including the Hiawatha, for which passengers otherwise wouldnt need reservations, the Milwaukee Journal reported.
The new policy affects the 10 percent discounts for members of the American Automobile Assn. and the National Association of Railroad Passengers, and the 15 percent discounts for members of the Student Advantage and Veterans Advantage programs.
Magliari said Amtrak is just following the lead of other travel providers, particularly the airlines, in denying discounts to passengers who show up at the last minute but reservations are required on most Amtrak trains, including the long-distance Empire Builder, which stops in Milwaukee on its way between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest. The Hiawatha, offering seven round trips daily, is one of several lines for which no reservations are normally needed.
Magliari said it would have been too confusing to apply the new discount rules to some trains and not others. He noted that passengers can reserve seats on the Hiawatha without paying for them in advance, and that Amtrak doesnt levy change fees for passengers who switch reservations on short notice.
Amtrak will monitor how the policy works out, Magliari said.
The advance-purchase requirement doesnt apply to regular discounts for passengers who are under 16 or over 61, Magliari said. Nor does it apply to the Kids Ride Free promotion that started last week. Up to two children, ages 2 through 15, can ride the Hiawatha free with an adult paying full fare on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through the end of August.
Union Pacific Railroads growing freight traffic demands over the Sierra summit have derailed a California Capitol Corridor plan to extend passenger service eastward to Reno, the Auburn Journal reported May 30.
With UP unwilling and unlikely in the future to move forward on a study that would show how an Oakland-Reno commuter rail link would fit into freight traffic flows, Capitol Corridor Managing Director Eugene Skoropowski said the decision has been made to halt any more work.
While Skoropowski describes the shift away from more work on the Reno rail bid as temporary and an issue that could be revisited in two or three years, UP spokesman John Bromley said May 29 that the issue is essentially a dead one from the corporations standpoint.
Weve told him repeatedly that were not going to entertain the idea of passenger service to Reno, Bromley said. We dont have any room for passenger rail.
Bromley said that future growth projections for freight traffic make the possibility of UP ever putting passenger service on the track between Auburn and Reno extraordinarily unlikely. That railroad owns the right-of-way for most of the Capitol Corridor line, and the entire railroad between Reno and Sparks, Nevada.
The development signals a shift away from work that started in late 2002 to provide a rail link over the Sierra. Proponents considered it a possible alternative for motorists traveling to Reno gambling centers and Tahoe recreation areas.
Supervisor Jim Holmes, Placer Countys representation on the Placer County Transportation Planning Agency board, said the decision would allow more time to address congestion problems at the Roseville freight yard.
In Roseville, there can be as many as 100 engines in the yard, Holmes said.
With every department, every agency, it all comes down to the lack of money. We have to concentrate our resources to where in does the most good, he said.
While Capitol Corridor ridership between the Bay Area and Auburn has been increasing, Reno rail service would be a challenge to push forward when UP has its own set of issues, Holmes said.
A working group of area transportation agencies developed cost estimates for the Reno rail service. Forecasts ranged from a minimum of $30.6 million to $127 million. The higher figure would include major improvements to the track and new rolling stock, with UP as a major partner.
Skoropowskis decision halts work on a brochure intended to help attract funding for environmental studies tied into UP track-use studies.
Unless carried to Union Pacific at the highest political leadership levels in California and Nevada, we feel that any actions now to restore the railroads participation in this effort would consume time and resources that simply will not change its current situation and position, Skoropowski said.
A conceptual plan developed by the working group estimated that the travel time between Reno and Sacramento via Capitol Corridor would have been four hours, 15 minutes. Linda Aeschliman, Transportation Planning Agency planner, said the route would be slower than normal flows along I-80 but would match times during peak winter travel times.
The nations major freight railroads are joining with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a partnership aimed at reducing locomotive fuel consumption and emissions
Jeffrey R. Holmstead, assistant administrator of EPAs Office of Air and Radiation said, The rail companies joining the SmartWay Partnership are helping to clean the air, improve our nations energy security, and continue to ensure the strength of the U.S. economy, Holmstead said.
AAR President and CEO Edward R. Hamberger said, This agreement is a sign of our commitment to build on that strong foundation so that we become even greener.
SmartWay is a voluntary partnership that establishes incentives for fuel efficiency improvements and greenhouse gas emissions. By 2012, this initiative aims to reduce annual fuel consumption by as much as 150 million barrels of oil and emissions by as much as 66 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and 200,000 tons of nitrogen oxide.
There are three elements to the program: partnerships between EPA, freight transportation companies and shippers to improve the environmental performance of freight operations; reduction of engine idling at such locations as truck stops, ports, rail yards and distribution hubs; and increased efficiency and use of rail and intermodal operations.
The Class I railroads who have agreed to be part of SmartWay include BNSF Ry.; Canadian Pacific Ry.; Canadian National Ry.; charter member CSX Transportation; Kansas City Southern Ry.; Norfolk Southern Ry.; and Union Pacific Railroad.
UP, CP and BNSF all are operating or have ordered Green Goat locomotives, a hybrid locomotive that reduces fuel consumption and atmospheric emissions by 60 percent and emits 80 to 90 percent fewer pollutants than conventional locomotives. BNSF also operates four environmentally friendly liquid natural gas locomotives that reduce emissions and fuel consumption.
CSX, BNSF, CN, NS, KCS and UP are all investing idle reduction technology that can reduce non-productive fuel consumption and emissions by as much as 80 percent, and several other technologies, including on-board computers, distributed power, and low friction bearings to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions.
This is just the beginning, said Hamberger. We will further improve fuel efficiency and make further reductions in atmospheric emissions. That is our commitment to the nation.
A Union Pacific employee from North Little Rock, Ark. has been named winner of the railroad industrys top environmental award.
Tom Franklin, who managed UPs locomotive facility in North Little Rock, Ark., received the John H. Chafee Award for Environmental Excellence.
He was presented the award by Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.), the son of the man for whom the Award was named. John Chafee represented Rhode Island in the Senate for 24 years, and was a noted environmentalist and supporter of the railroad industry.
AARs CEO, Edward R. Hamberger, praised Franklins work.
When Tom Franklin was named manager in North Little Rock, he quickly resolved a number of environmental issues by replacing worn and leaky locomotive fueling equipment. He also developed regulators that prevent fuel spills from automatic shut off equipment.
Mitsubishi gets $3.4 billion project
Mitsubishi Corp., Japans biggest trading company, won a $3.4 billion contract to build a light-rail network in Dubai, the first urban commuter metro in the Persian Gulf sheikhdoms where record oil revenue is spurring growth.
According to Bloomberg Business News, Tokyo-based Mitsubishi will lead a group of companies that includes Japans Obayashi Corp. and Kajima Corp. to build the project, digging a six-mile-long tunnel, laying almost 45 miles of rail line through the city and supplying 44 electric trains, the Dubai Municipality said May 29.
This is one of the largest contracts Mitsubishi has ever won, Susumu Uchida, a member of the board of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, said in Dubai. This is a milestone for us as this is the biggest single light rail project in the world today, he said.
Dubai, the second-largest of the United Arab Emirates seven Sheikhdoms, is in the middle of a construction boom as it invests billions of dollars to improve its infrastructure to keep pace with the countrys near 10 percent growth over the last two years, according to the emirates government.
Mitsubishi beat off competition for the contract from other groups including Alstom SA, the worlds second biggest train maker, Bilfinger Berger AG, Germanys No.2 construction company, and Siemens AG.
The metro, built in less than 5 years, will consist of two lines, linking Dubai International Airport with the Middle Easts largest container shipping port at Jebel Ali via the citys major business and residential districts that branch off its main traffic congested thoroughfare, known as Sheikh Zayed Road.
Mitsubishi Corp. was added to the recommended stock list of Goldman Sachs, which said on May 18 that the price was relatively cheap. Goldman set a price estimate of 1,650 yen. The company and its partners, known as Dubai Rapid Link, bid $1.6 billion less than its nearest competitor for the contract, Dubai Municipality said.
The metro will rely on ticket sales from the 760,000 people that are expected to use it on a daily basis to commute, and rental from leasing 43 stations along its route, said Qassim, without giving specific figures on forecasted earnings.
Bombardier Transportation said May 31 that it and its joint venture partners have received an additional order from the Ministry of Railways of China to build and deliver 20 eight-car high-speed trainsets.
That follows an initial order of 20 trainsets in October 2004 and brings the total value of train orders from the ministry to $700 million. Bombardier said its share of the total order is $382 million.
Deliveries will begin in July 2006 and be complete in December 2007, Montreal-based Bombardier said. The Bombardier Sifang Power (Qingdao) Transportation Ltd. joint venture also includes Power Corp. of Canada and China South Locomotive and Rolling Stock Industry (Group) Corp.
Bombardier also said it received an additional order for 78 double-deck coaches and nine locomotives from Landesnahverkehrsgesellschaft Niedersachsen, also known as LVNG, in Germany worth about $172 million. The contract follows an order from the same company in 2001.
Georgia commuter line stirs politicos
A proposed Atlanta to Macon commuter rail line is creating a stir in cities along its path. With both friends and foes from the capital to middle Georgia, the project has been praised as an economic blessing and castigated as a wrong-headed waste of tax dollars.
The proposed 103-mile rail line would start in Atlanta, The AP reported last week, with stops at several south metro Atlanta stations and in Griffin, Barnesville, Forsyth and Bolingbroke before eventually ending in Macon.
Forsyth Mayor Jimmy Pace says the rail would be a boon to the area.
Its a way of life in the Northeast, and its coming here, especially with the population explosion weve had in Georgia, Pace said. As the price of gas goes up, theres more enthusiasm for a commuter rail line.
Just up I-75, state Rep. Steve Davis said the millions that will be spent on the rail project could be better used on widening the interstate. He said the state shouldnt try to change peoples habits by forcing rail on them.
We love our cars, he said. We dont want to ride trains.
Service from Atlanta to Lovejoy, in south Clayton County, is scheduled to start in September 2006, although some transportation officials say that start could be delayed to early 2007. The completed rail to Macon is projected for three or four years after the initial line is completed.
The route would use existing Norfolk Southern Ry. tracks, which would have to be upgraded to allow for speeds up to 59 mph. The rail lines now handle freight trains exclusively and track speed is 30 mph.
The entire cost of the Atlanta-Macon line has been estimated at $299 million. The first phase, from Atlanta to Lovejoy, is $106 million, $87 million of which is coming from federal funds. Money for the second and third phases of the project would come from federal transportation funds, according to the state DOT. Those funds have not yet been allocated.
Heather Hedrick, spokeswoman for Gov. Sonny Perdue, said last week that Perdue is waiting for a finished proposal before voicing his opinion on the rail plan.
CSX reports poor on-time performance
CSX Corp. continues to have trouble running its trains on time, even though it reported record-setting operating income for its rail business in the first quarter, The Business Journal of Jacksonville reported on May 29.
The companys operational performance metrics such as on-time percentage and average train speed declined in the recent quarter after two quarters of modest improvement and despite implementation of its ONE Plan, which is intended to streamline railcar handling and overall efficiency.
The ONE Plan uses computer modeling to determine the most efficient routing of trains to minimize wasted miles and intermediate handling of railcars in terminals, which adds to delays, said CSX spokesman Gary Sease. He said customers have complained and the company needs to get better.
Although unprecedented demand for rail and traffic levels have made implementing and executing the ONE Plan more difficult, he said CSX believes the plan is part of the solution.
We remain committed to the ONE Plan. Its a good document, and its the right plan for this company, he said.
We are not consistently delivering the levels of service that our customers expect, he said.
The company needs to provide more reliable service or risk losing business to other railroads or other modes of transportation, those who track the rail industry say. CSX remains convinced that strict adherence to its new operating plan with an adjustment to its corporate culture will achieve that end.
The decline in service not only reverses a slight upward trend, but it also comes less than a year after CEO Michael Ward told STB Chairman Roger Nober that the railroads goals for gradual improvement in on-time originations were to reach 55 percent by August 2004 and ramp up to 70 percent by December 2004.
The company did not hit those marks and has slipped in 2005 in every customer service parameter, in some cases dipping to or below five-year lows.
On-time arrival percentage fell to 37.7 percent last quarter after rising to 40.6 percent in the third quarter of 2004 and 41.2 percent in the fourth quarter. Those levels followed a five-year low of 34.1 percent in the second quarter of 2004, the same quarter Nober scolded the industry because of rampant dissatisfaction among shippers and required all Class I railroads to state in writing how they planned to improve for the peak holiday shipping season.
On-time originations 49.9 percent last quarter followed the same trend. Thats a drop from 52.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2004 and 50.9 percent in the third quarter. The second quarter of 2004 was 39.3 percent, the lowest since 36.8 percent in the first quarter of 2000.
CSXs best quarter for on-time performance was the fourth quarter of 2001, when trains arrived on time 81 percent of the time. Back then, unlike the trend of the last 11 quarters, CSXs on-time arrival percentage was higher than its on-time origination percentage, 77.9 percent, indicating that trains were able to make up lost time en route.
Overall train speed between terminals fell to 19.5 mph for the first quarter of 2005, matching the low mark set in the second quarter of 2004, which had been the lowest since the second quarter of 2000. Average speeds had increased to 20.1 mph and 20.5 mph in the third and fourth quarters of 2004, respectively. The slide has continued into the current quarter. Sease said the speed for the week ending May 20 was 18.2 mph.
Dwell time, the time between a cars arrival and departure from a yard, was 30 hours in the first quarter of 2005. Higher dwell times indicate inefficiency, and the previous high of 29.4 hours occurred in the fourth quarter of 2000. After reaching a low of 22.6 hours in the second and third quarters of 2002, CSXs dwell time gradually rose to 29.3 hours in the second quarter of 2004. Dwell time fell the next quarter to 28.8 hours but then started rising again.
Despite the negative trends, CSXs financial performance for the first quarter of this year was stronger than ever, with its core surface transportation business posting an operating income of $351 million $200 million more than the same quarter in 2004. The company had a fifth consecutive quarter with year-over-year growth in core earnings. Railroaders caution that the high demand for rail wont always insulate CSX or any railroad from losing customers due to continued tardiness.
There are a lot of things that put some limits on what you can charge, said AAR spokesman Tom White in Washington.
There are certainly limits to your customers patience. The most important thing to them is reliability. Am I getting my shipment when they said and within the parameters of when I can use it? he explained.
CSXs Ward said last August that customers begin to see the value in a railroads service when its on-time arrival percentage is consistently in the 60s, a level CSX hasnt achieved for an entire quarter since the first quarter in 2003.
|Burlington Northern & Santa Fe||(BNI)||50.21||49.65|
|Florida East Coast||(FLA)||42.15||42.10|
|Genessee & Wyoming||(GWR)||28.34||27.71|
|Kansas City Southern||(KSU)||20.20||19.97|
|Providence & Worcester||(PWX)||14.15||13.03|
Switzerlands fast trains tie up in Geneva, and so do Frances TGVs from Paris.
A postcard from Geneva
Many trains call on international city
|Photos by the author|
Geneva, May 30 This Switzerland city is a busy railroad town passenger and freight trains operate frequently and in several directions.
I had occasion to visit this international city one week ago today while my new brother-in-law, Daniel Blainevain, had to travel there for a meeting. He is my wifes sisters husband, but I always get bogged down in those kinds of familial things, so its simpler just to say he became my brother-law on Saturday.
He and his wife, Dominique; my wife, Christianne; and I drove from La Ciotat, France to Geneva in more than five hours, leaving the sun and warmth of the south of France for the coolness and rain of the north, and on to Switzerland and the Alps. No border guards were present in either direction this day.
Main entrance to Geneva station
Entrance to the Geneva, Switzerland station.
To say Rail City is a busy railroad station is an understatement. A large sign over the station entrance leaves no doubt where you are.
As I said, the trains frequently come and go.
A few locals in each direction came and went, some French TGVs arrived from Paris on tracks 7 and 8 as did what appeared to be a local SNCF train from France. A Swiss TGV made a brief station stop as well. I suspect this is also a crew change point for some trains.
A train from Geneva to Bern takes just under two hours. For example, the 5:36 a.m. departure arrives at Bern at 7:26, and at its end point, Aarau, at 8:12. Other trains go to Lucerne, Zurich, and several other communities, on main lines and branches.
Many United Nations agencies as well as many international organizations are housed in this clean metropolis, including the International Monetary Fund. About 397,000 people live here, and some 7 million in the country. About 40 percent of its population are foreigners.
It is the home of 24 intergovernmental organizations, 165 diplomatic missions, and headquarters for 125 multinational companies.
English is read, written and spoken by one-fourth of the population, but German is the primary language, followed by French, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, Japanese, Chinese and others.
I saw no photographic restrictions in the station. I was free to go anywhere I cared to, but I didnt try to cross the tracks from one platform to another. Even though I had my passport with me, I did not care to get into a possible hassle over that.
There is an old rule in railroading especially if tracks are signaled in both directions: a train can come at any time and in either direction. So, be safe, and use the passenger tunnels under the tracks.
An intercity train arrives in Geneva on a dreary, dark rainy day which is usually the case in this international Swiss city. Many United Nations agencies as well as many international organizations are housed in this clean metropolis.
After Dan dropped us off, both women frequented the many shops in the station while I went trackside. I found an internet cafe there, too, but I didnt have time to check it out. I estimated of some 20 or so computers, most were in use.
It was a good thing to find.
Back in La Ciotat, where I have been living for two months, I was forced to start using an internet cafe after our service provider, Neuf, (Nine), failed two weeks earlier. They still have not fixed the problem whatever it is. So, D:F has come to you for a fortnight from the raw material being gathered at the cafe, I write whatever original material I can, it is edited on a home computer then sent to our webmaster from the cafe, and webmaster Dennis Kirkpatrick adds material as required before we post it. France is six hours ahead on the U.S., so thats another fly in our ointment.
A cut of some 30 tank cars, mostly Tamoil, strolls through Geneva. Tamoil is a Swiss refining company
All the photos I shot today were during a 45-minute span. Im so glad digital photography came along. All the frames you see here were essentially shot within 25 feet of a single location, except the entrance photos.
The ladies and I met up around 4:40 p.m., ate a fine lunch in a brasserie, and waited for a cell phone call from Dan saying he was on his way to get us. He was less than one mile away, maybe a kilometer.
We were home by 11:30 p.m.
A Swiss train, left, is ready to continue west while an eastward departure clears the terminal interlocking.
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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, governors offices, and transportation professionals as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists.
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