Destination: Freedom

The newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative

Vol. 1 No. 10 ©2000, NCI, Inc. June 9, 2000

   A weekly passenger railroad update

NCI: Leo King

Amtrak's No. 84 passes over Mystic River bridge under catenary installed by the

contractors, Balfour Beatty Construction, Inc. and Mass. Electric Construction Co.

Contractors suspected of overcharging;

FBI raids companies' Old Saybrook offices

The two companies that installed the catenary between Boston and New Haven are now accused of overcharging Amtrak up to $100 million through cost overruns. A contract worth $321 million that Amtrak awarded both firms in 1995 grew to more than $500 million, according to sources close to the investigation. Forty investigators from the FBI and Amtrak's inspector general raided the Old Saybrook offices of Balfour Beatty Construction Inc. and Massachusetts Electric Construction Co. as employees arrived for work at 7 a.m., on June 7, the Hartford Courant reported.

Balfour Beatty is the apparent target of the probe, although neither Amtrak nor the FBI would confirm that. Many of the documents investigators seized were printed on letterhead with both company's names, a source said. Amtrak officials said little about the probe, but only that the quality of the catenary was not compromised by the suspected financial irregularities. They also said no trains would be affected.

Amtrak awarded the contract to Balfour Beatty and Massachusetts Electric Construction Co. after the original construction firm hired to do the job ran into financial trouble. That firm, Morrison-Knudsen Corp. of Boise, Idaho, completed the initial design work for Amtrak's electrification in the mid-1990s, but, over time, Balfour-Beatty said it needed to redo much of that design work at increased cost to Amtrak.

Very little work is left to do. Track 1 is finished between Boston and New Haven, and the catenary was powered up throughout South Stations 13 tracks and Southampton Street Yard's 16 tracks late on the same day the raid occurred. Just a week earlier, a lengthy section of track 2 was completed between View Interlocking, one mile east of Old Saybrook, to Shaw's Cove in New London. The only remaining "hole" is a 15?mile gap on track 2 between Mansfield, Mass. and "The Transfer," an interlocking near Readville, Mass.

Neither Balfour and Mass. Electric nor their New Haven law firm would comment. The U.S. Attorney's Office in New Haven is handling the case, and officials there were also silent. Investigators used three rental trucks to haul file cabinets and boxes containing documents and computer files to an undisclosed location throughout the day. The raid came after a lengthy investigation, a source said. Amtrak referred all questions regarding the raid to the FBI's New Haven office, which also declined comment.

Harry Harris, chief of the public transportation bureau for the Connecticut DOT, said independent inspectors have not found any problems with the electrification system. He said, "I'm fairly certain that, no matter what it costs, it's safe."

London-based Balfour Beatty serves international markets for rail, road and power systems. In Connecticut, the company is reinstalling electrical wires at the Stamford train station. The firm was fined in 1994 after the collapse of three tunnels during the construction of the Heathrow Express railway link at London's Heathrow Airport. Also in 1994, the company was fined by Pennsylvania transportation officials amid disagreements about a stalled highway project.

Corridor lines—

Preparations have begun for passenger rail service beyond Portland, Maine.

State officials are designing the route that the tracks will take through Maine's largest city, and looking into the possibility of building three bridges.

"The option is open whether those will be at-grade or above-grade crossings," said state transportation commissioner John Melrose, "but we're talking about three bridges, so that's a major expense."

The start of Amtrak's long-awaited Boston-to-Portland service was delayed yet again to April 13, 2001 because of the "Big Dig" highway project in Boston, this time. (See last week's Destination: Freedom).

A temporary Portland station is being built beside a bus terminal, but city and state officials hope to build a permanent Amtrak station on Marginal Way, in the city's Bayside neighborhood. Last month, the state legislature approved a plan to spend $10.5 million to route trains through Bayside as part of a larger plan to improve rail service north of Portland.

Tri-Rail gets double-track funds

South Florida's Tri-County Commuter Rail Authority (Tri-Rail) will be getting federal dollars to make improvements to the Tri-County commuter rail system

USDOT Secretary Rodney Slater said the feds and the state rail agency entered into a full funding transit grant agreement.

The project is expected to nearly double the number of current riders by 2015 and improve mobility for over 10,000 low income households located near system stations. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) will provide $110.5 million for the $327 million project.

Tri-Rail currently operates a 72-mile regional system connecting Palm Beach, Broward and Dade counties.

Tri-Rail will double track the route, owned by CSX of Jacksonville. Other plans call for making station and signaling improvements.

Fond du Lac's 'Red eye' service

Extended service is mostly for express deliveries

Passengers on Amtrak's extended service linking Fond du Lac, Wis., to Milwaukee and Chicago will be riding the red eye both ways.

An Amtrak timetable indicates the lone train scheduled to travel between Fond du Lac and Chicago on a daily basis will leave Fond du Lac at 5:50 am.

and return at 11:40 p.m., the Post-Crescent reported.

 "It's even worse than we thought," said Fond du Lac Community Development Director Wayne Rollin.

"Amtrak has not told us a lot, although we know this will primarily be a freight service for Amtrak," he said.

Rollin said city officials knew Fond du Lac was looking at very limited passenger service and very early and late hours, "but we are extremely disappointed with the timetable."

Amtrak spokesman Kevin Johnson in Chicago said the times are correct, but declined to say just when passenger service may resume to Fond du Lac.

Johnson said negotiations with unspecified companies still need to be completed before any service to Fond du Lac begins.

"We will not be making any official announcements on the service until everything is set," Johnson said.

Sources said the Fond du Lac service, originally set to start on May 21, will begin in mid-August.

Rollin said the Fond du Lac route will be primarily a revenue maker for Amtrak through freight and express mail service.

Amtrak changes Hiawatha schedules

Amtrak reported last week that because of "extensive construction on track owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway and Metra (the Chicago commuter rail system) north of Chicago, Amtrak will be adjusting the schedule of its Hiawatha Service trains, which operate between Chicago and Milwaukee" The changes were effective May 30 "and will last approximately six weeks or until the work is completed."

Trains operating from Milwaukee to Chicago will have 15 minutes added to the schedule between Glenview and Chicago with the exception of the train departing Milwaukee at 6:20 a.m., which will only have 10 minutes added between Glenview and Chicago.

On the reverse route, trains will have 15 minutes added to the schedule between Sturtevant, Wis., and Milwaukee, with the exception of the train leaving Chicago at 5:08 p.m., which will have 10 minutes added between the two communities.

An end note...

We try to be accurate in the stories we write, but even seasoned pros err occasionally. If you read something you know to be amiss, or if you have a question about a topic, we'd like to hear from you. Please email the crew at

The correct URL for Sen. Lautenberg's Web site is <>. No. "WWW" is needed. The error appeared in Vol. 1 No. 7 for May 19, 2000.

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