Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 4 No. 23, June 9, 2003
Copyright © 2003, NCI, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - James Furlong
Editor - Leo King

A weekly North American rail and transit update

 


Coast Starlight

For NCI: Matthew Melzer

Southbound Pacific Surfliner train 794 arrives in Santa Barbara, Cal., on May 11, 2002. This train, which originated just 10 miles north in Goleta, would carry hundreds of passengers as far south as San Diego before the night was over. EMD F-59PHI No. 451 was the second unit delivered to Amtrak for Pacific Surfliner service.

 

Passenger rail:

Its future – and how to pay for it

By Wes Vernon
Washington Bureau Chief

The issue of what passenger rail service in the U.S. should be – as opposed to what it is – took center stage at a Senate hearing Thursday.

On Wednesday, a plan had been unveiled outlining the ideal system, but the hearing, in a reality check, got back to square one, i.e., where is the money to be found to pay for it? That single question involved a four-way discussion between the administration, the freight railroads, a Washington think tank, and rail labor.

The think tank declared in a study that strengthening Amtrak is crucial to the economy, environment and homeland security.

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) made its case for increasing, not decreasing public investment in intercity passenger rail transportation.

In a study entitled Amtrak Privatization: The Route to Failure, Elliott D. Sclar, a transportation expert from Columbia Univ., argued that making state-of-the-art passenger trains a key part of the nation’s 21st Century transportation strategy would generate great public benefits.

Appearing before the Senate Surface Transportation Subcommittee, Association of American Railroads (AAR) President Edward R. Hamberger agreed that the benefits of passenger trains are indeed very real; however, requiring the privately-owned freight railroads to pay for it, he added, is counterproductive to the public interest in terms of such considerations as hindering the railroads’ ability to deliver America’s freight as efficiently as possible, and the prospect of diverting rail freight to trucks which would add to pollution and highway congestion.

To buttress his point, Hamberger, the freight rail industry’s voice in Washington, urged the senators to bear in mind that “while passenger railroading is important to our country, it pales in comparison to the importance of freight railroading” since the freight railroads “are responsible for 42 percent of the nation’s intercity freight transportation service (measured by ton-miles).”

In fact, he told the senators that in 2001, America’s Class I carriers had subsidized Amtrak to the tune of $240 million. That is the amount of money by which Amtrak payments to the freight railroads fell short of “the variable costs” to the private rail corporations for hosting Amtrak service on their tracks.

Even that figure understates Amtrak’s full cost responsibility, Hamberger added, when one considers such factors as scheduling difficulties, railroads’ fixed costs, and the higher level of liability inherent in passenger operations, i.e. the cost of insuring human beings, as opposed to freight merchandise.

Investments for the public benefits of rail passenger service should come from the public sector, not from the shareholder owned Class 1 railroads which cannot afford it, he said.

The EPI study said the issues are modernization, not privatization, and the need for figuring out “how to build the modern rail system that will best serve our people, our cities, and our nation.”

FRA Administrator Allan Rutter was on a distinctly different wavelength on the privatization issue. He expressed the administration’s belief that “the private sector may be interested in pursuing commercial applications along the Northeast Corridor.” Yet, he said, freight railroads and commuter agencies that use the NEC, as well as the states involved, “cautioned us against private ownership and control of the Corridor,” a view the FRA was taking under consideration.

Rutter also reiterated the administration proposal to deal with “interstate consortia of states that want passenger rail” and FRA support for contracting “with third-party operators to provide long distance and corridor trains.”

That runs counter to Hamberger’s insistence that “safety requirements and the integrated nature of railroading necessitates that intercity passenger rail be provided by one entity – Amtrak. Further, Amtrak’s right of access, preferential access rates, and operating priority should not be transferred nor franchised.”

Last January, when asked what response he had received form the White House on that view, Hamberger told D:F, “None that I can report.” This latest conflicting testimony between the administration and the industry indicates there is still no meeting of the minds on the issue. The freight railroads remain opposed to having to deal with the red tape of a potential plethora of companies or authorities to schedule its own freight shipments, some of which are time-sensitive.

Reaching a consensus on “figuring out” how to pay for passenger trains is a puzzle that has befuddled some of the best brains in the transportation industry. The effort continues.

As D:F has reported, there are bonding proposals on the table – one specifically for railroads, another for all modes of transport. These plans are seen as efforts to get around the firewall restrictions of mode-specific “trust funds.”

The FRA’s Rutter takes a dim view of that, as well.

“The administration does not think dedicated debt instruments are suitable for [funding inter-city passenger service],” he told the subcommittee. He added, in effect, the Treasury would end up holding the bag.

Moreover, he noted that Amtrak’s accumulated debt burden already grew from $1.7 billion in 1997 to $4.8 billion in 2002. This, he said, “is a significant burden weighing down future passenger rail development.”

The EPI study cited figures showing that passenger trains are far more energy efficient than airplanes, private cars, or buses, but receives just over 1 percent of all federal transportation dollars. Trains would be especially efficient for the 80 percent of all intercity trips of 500 miles or less, EPI argued. Nonetheless highways, aviation, and even public transit receive many, many times the federal funding that rail receives.

A recent breakthrough in Europe, if transplanted to this country, would put Washington just three hours by train from Boston and only four hours from Chicago to Atlanta.

All well and good says AAR’s Hamberger, provided that any future high-speed passenger rail corridors are separate, dedicated, and “sealed” (elimination of grade crossings, either through closure or construction of highway underpasses or overpasses).

The ideal high-speed systems in Europe and Japan, he pointed out, have received the “massive amounts of [government] funding” that are required. They are willing to pay for it.

Declares the EPI study: “It is puzzling that, in a nation built on innovation, we would even consider turning our backs on new technology that could transform our transportation system.”

Hamberger indicates that one answer to the “puzzle” can be found in “the huge expense involved” and the question as to whether government is prepared to face up to the “formidable challenges” involved in “the expansion of high-speed rail service throughout the United States.”

EPI seems to believe that can be accomplished by bringing into a better balance the ratio of highway and aviation funding vs. funding for rail – and that, as D:F has reported many times, presents a formidable political challenge in and of itself.

The think-tank despairs that Amtrak’s highly touted Acela Express “high-speed” trains “are unable to travel at the speeds they were built for” (except for two 150 mph stretches in New England totaling 18 miles) “because of the poor condition of the rail beds.”

Amtrak CEO David Gunn’s five-year plan aims to speed up the trip times on the NEC through incremental improvements, with some participation from the states that are served, but the idea of high-speed trains criss-crossing the entire nation, Gunn has repeatedly stated, won’t happen “in your lifetime or mine” because “the money is not there.”

For its part, rail labor urged the senators to make a long-term investment in Amtrak “rather than dismantle it through ‘bureaucratic shell games’ and flawed privatization schemes.”

Sonny Hall, president of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department, backed Gunn’s request for $1.8 billion in federal funding for Fiscal year 2004.

However, he also said, improvements to Amtrak should not come on the backs of its employees. Amtrak workers, Hall noted, receive wages that “have fallen approximately 20 percent below those in freight and commuter rail. He said the labor movement would oppose any Amtrak financing legislation that “turns its back on Amtrak workers.”


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Three new mayors join advisory council

Three new U.S. mayors have been named to Amtrak’s Mayors’ Advisory Council.

The trio is R. Michael Kasperzak of Mountain View, Cal.; Beverly O’Neill of Long Beach, Cal.; and Charles W. Scholz of Quincy, Ill.

The railroad stated in a press release it was formed in 1999, and “The council encourages strong partnerships with the nation’s mayors to promote intercity passenger rail service.”. Mayor John Robert Smith of Meridian, Miss., is also Amtrak’s board chairman (as well as NCI’s).

Kasperzak said, “This appointment represents the commitment I have to address the transportation dilemma that is facing so many of our nation’s cities.”

He said, “Mountain View is strongly committed to transit-oriented development and expanded passenger rail service, and through my work on the Mayors’ Advisory Council, I will work with other mayors to develop transportation solutions that include passenger rail.”

Amtrak’s Smith applauded the addition of all three to the council. “Mayor Kasperzak’s expertise in the transportation industry as a lawyer and life-long train and transit rider will greatly enhance the council’s make-up,” said Smith.

O’Neill said, “Because transportation alternatives are always a priority for Californians and especially for the citizens of Long Beach, I am eager to work with the other mayors on the council to develop our nation’s passenger rail service.”

Smith said O’Neill’s “dedication to pragmatic transportation solutions” will also help a great deal.

Scholz said, “The state of Illinois has a long history as a rail transportation center, and I am eager to continue my support of passenger rail through membership on this council and added, “The citizens of Quincy have embraced passenger rail as a travel option, and I am committed to furthering that by working closely with my fellow council members to strengthen our country’s passenger rail service.”

Smith repeated himself – Scholz’s “long-time dedication to passenger rail development in Illinois will greatly enhance the make-up of the Mayors’ Advisory Council.”

The U.S. Conference of Mayors’ President and fellow Amtrak Mayors’ Advisory Council member Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston also expressed support for all three mayors’ appointments.

Menino said they are “enthusiastic, as is the U.S. Conference of Mayors, about the potential of passenger rail in our nation’s cities. We want to see a greater investment in passenger rail in this country, and I know these mayors will continue to be a strong proponent for this cause.”

Amtrak formed the council to advance intercity passenger rail service in the U.S. Its goals include strengthening and building public and private partnerships in support of passenger rail service, raising national and local levels of awareness regarding the importance of passenger rail as a tool for economic development, mobility and congestion relief, informing mayors of local initiatives that benefit Amtrak, and serving as an advisory board on passenger rail issues.

The council meets twice a year during the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ annual meeting in various cities around the country and its Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C. The next meeting will be held next Monday (June 9) from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. in Denver, Colo. at the Adam’s Mark Hotel.


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Coast Starlight from the inside.

For NCI: Matt Melzer

The conductor on Amtrak train No. 14, the northbound Coast Starlight, strolls through the rebuilt, former ATSF hi-level Pacific parlor car. The train is near Ellwood, Cal., on February 3, 2002.

 

Oregon may lose some Amtrak service

Amtrak’s commuter bus and rail service from Eugene to Portland, Ore., may be in danger of losing its state funding in the next biennium.

The loss of funding and elimination of service could result from state budget shortfalls and subsequent cuts to transportation services from the budget, which funds two trains and a network of buses in the Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor, according to the Association of Oregon Rail and Transit Advocates (AORTA).

The Amtrak Cascades trains and several buses would be halted from serving Eugene residents along the corridor, leaving only the Coast Starlight rail service, which runs from Portland to Seattle, the Daily Emerald reported on June 2.

Oregon Rep. Floyd Prozanski (D), said the state Ways and Means committee co-chairmen’s proposed budget, spearheaded by Sen. Kurt Schrader (D) and Rep. Randy Miller (R) cuts the “important links” between Eugene and Portland as a result of state shortfalls.

Prozanski said that since the proposal was released, a “train caucus” composed of state legislators and other state workers has formed to confront the problem and look for additional revenue to close the gap.

“We are definitely going to do everything we can to make sure we don’t lose any of that service,” he said.

AORTA director Dan McFarlang said the Cascades rail service and bus lines are vital both for Oregon’s economy and for providing a solid transportation system. He said the services create 40 family-wage jobs and contribute to tourism.

“The bottom line is this is a project that brings in not only tourist dollars but also provides transportation,” he said. “Obviously we think (cutting the program) is a step in the wrong direction.”

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s budget does not include cuts to the service, spokeswoman Marian Hammond said.

Transportation officials around the state are worried about the impact the loss of Amtrak service may have and are hoping for a legislative solution.

Claudia Howells, a rail division administrator for the Oregon DOT, said the state needs a reliable source of funds in order to keep a multi-modal transportation system in place, a goal she said the state DOT has a statutory directive to fulfill.

“(Oregon) must have a viable transportation system,” she said. “I think it’s a matter of whether you believe rail is important enough in these tough budget times.”

Howells said the Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor service is made available through a contract with Oregon DOT and Amtrak, and is paid for using state funds. Without that state funding, she said, Amtrak would no longer be able to provide the transportation.

Howells added that without the rail service, Amtrak would also have little incentive anymore to contribute to the Eugene Station Project, an effort currently underway at the city level to improve the station site in Eugene.

Despite the possible lack of state funding for Eugene rail services, help may yet come from the federal government. State officials said the Bush administration’s proposal for transportation financing at the federal level includes matching funds for states that are trying to improve their transportation systems.


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Colorado Railcar to demo in California

Colorado Railcar’s Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) is expected to demonstrate in Santa Cruz, Cal., on Father’s Day – June 15. Rides on a short portion of Union Pacific track along the boardwalk in Santa Cruz will be available to the public.

Santa Cruz is a beachfront resort town. Its boardwalk currently sees scheduled tourist passenger service by the Santa Cruz, Big Trees and Pacific Ry., and which once saw multiple sections of Southern Pacific passenger trains, bringing throngs of weekenders during the early 1900s.

Final details involve movement and operation of the DMU over 19.3 miles of the Santa Cruz Subdivision which are FRA Excepted track, on which operation of passenger trains is not allowed.

Thanks to Gene Poon.


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Two lines buy retired Amtrak F-40s

Southern California’s Metrolink commuter agency is buying Amtrak F-40s stored at Beech Grove, Ind.

Following negotiations and inspections in Indianapolis, four F-40s arrived on Metrolink property earlier this year in various states of condition. The 396 was reported to be in running condition but 256, 300, and 338 were fixer-uppers, according to Trains magazine. A sale price was not disclosed.

Metrolink was powered solely by F-59s, but the engines aren’t in EMD’s catalog anymore.

Metrolink has repainted the 396 and renumbered it to 800; after test runs coupled and MUed with an F59. One of the other units is to be used as a substitute cab car.

Metrolink expects to insert new 710 engines and Caterpillar head-end power equipment.

Arizona’s Grand Canyon Ry. is also trying F-40s, the magazines reported.

“We tried to find complete engines that weren’t stripped,” said Grand Canyon Chief Mechanical Officer Robert Franzen. “That meant complete cabs, thick wheels, air box inspection, turbo inspection, and rolling the engine over.” Franzen and his crew bought units 237, 239, and 295.

“We bought enough spare parts that we have a good supply on hand, plus everything is available from EMD,” he continued.

He said the F-40s would not replace Alco FP “A” units the railway operates.

“They’re in tip-top shape, but our trains are getting so big and our power demands so large, our power cars and under-car generators are getting maxed out.” He said the F-40s and their 800-kW HEP generator are the answer.

“They’re workhorse engines,” he said, but adding, “Not as fuel-efficient as the Alcos, but reliable locomotives, with 3,000 turbocharged hp. Because we’re at 7,000 feet, we need a turbocharged engine to get fuel efficiency. The F-40 is a perfect fit for what we do at the Grand Canyon.”


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All Amtrak Florida trains gain riders

Achieving strong increases for the month of April against one year ago, Amtrak’s Silver Service routes (Miami to New York) enjoyed their greatest ridership increases so far this fiscal year, according to the carrier. Nationally, Amtrak’s long-distance routes have seen marked increases. Amtrak’s fiscal years begin on October 1.

For the month of April, ridership on the Silver Star was 23,319, an increase of 15 percent over April of 2002. April’s ridership on the Palmetto was 18,247, an increase of 4.8 percent over last year. Seeing the largest increase – 27 percent over last year – was the Silver Meteor with ridership of 26,348. This marks the fourth consecutive month of ridership growth for the Silver Meteor. Amtrak reported the numbers last week.

Ridership in sleeping accommodations on board the Silver Star was especially strong in April. A total of 3,599 passengers traveled in sleeping cars on board the Silver Star in April, up 19.8 percent from April 2002. A four-month upward trend began in January. March was also particularly strong with sleeping car ridership on the Silver Star reaching 4,227, an increase of 25.4 percent compared to March of 2002.

System-wide, Amtrak saw an increase of 4.1 percent in the number of passengers choosing sleeping accommodations in April, the first increase in a year. Nationally, total Amtrak ridership in April was 2,098,901, against 2,048,398 for April 2002.


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Amtrak’s website writes $23 million in sales

Amtrak reported on June 3 its internet-only fares have generated record number of hits – and ticket sales. Since the promotion began in May, 2.2 million potential customers visited Amtrak.com and 208,000 travelers booked reservations online, generating more than $23 million in revenue. The website has handled 26 percent of Amtrak’s total bookings since launching the sale, up from 24.2 percent in April. The campaign, called the Great American Canvas, continues through June 15.


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Former Amtrak spokeswoman wins award

Former Amtrak spokeswoman Sue Martin left the railroad some eight years ago to pursue other interests.

Did she ever.

Before moving to Salt Lake City in 1995, she spent 23 years in corporate communications at Amtrak’s Washington, D.C., headquarters. She served as the company’s senior director of public affairs.

The Deseret News reported last week Martin heads her own company, Communication Strategies, and on June 10 she’ll receive the National Association of Women Business Owners – Salt Lake Chapter’s “Woman Business Owner of the Year” award.


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LEGAL LINES...  Legal lines...

DOT changes drug testing rules

The USDOT has issued an interim final rule to prevent employees in transportation industries who may naturally produce highly dilute urine specimens from being unfairly found to have violated the Department’s regulations, according to a DOT press release.

“The rule,” DOT stated on June 2, “expands the definition of “dilute tests” and changes the amount of a chemical called creatinine in a urine specimen that triggers a finding that the individual has refused to take a drug test. The new rule takes effect immediately.”

Ken Edgell, acting director of the department’s Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy Compliance, aid, “Based on the our drug testing experience and recent scientific and medical information, we have concluded that we should change the way we treat highly dilute specimens.”

He added, “We want to take every precaution to ensure that a transportation employee cannot be charged unfairly with having substituted some other substance for his or her urine specimen.”

Under current USDOT rules, which are directly taken from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) program documents, a urine specimen with five milligrams of creatinine per deciliter of urine or less is regarded as “substituted.” This criterion is based on a review by HHS of scientific literature suggesting that people cannot naturally produce urine with lesser amounts of creatinine. A “substituted” test is considered a refusal to take a drug test, a violation of USDOT rules – and is “equivalent to failing a drug test.”

USDOT reported it has encountered “a small number of cases in which individuals may have legitimate medical or physiological explanations for producing specimens with lower levels of creatinine. In addition, medical and scientific experts now believe that some highly dilute specimens should not necessarily trigger a violation of the rules.”

DOT said the expanded category of dilute specimens “includes those containing two to 20 milligrams of creatinine per deciliter.”

HHS is considering whether to change the creatinine levels for which laboratories test, DOT stated, but is “taking this interim step to protect employees. When a laboratory reports a specimen as substituted, that is, five milligrams of creatinine per deciliter or less, the medical review officer will consider the specimen to be ‘dilute’ if the creatinine concentration is two milligrams per deciliter of urine or higher.”

The ruling now is that “Dilute specimens will not cause the employee to be regarded as violating the regulation. However, employees who provide dilute specimens in the two- to five-milligram-per-deciliter range will have to undergo an unannounced immediate re-collection under direct observation, as a safeguard for the integrity of the testing program.”

USDOT issued the ruling on May 28, and is requesting public comments by Aug. 26, 2003.

Comments should refer to Docket Number (OST-2003-15245), and should be sent to the Docket Management System, USDOT, Room PL-401, 400 Seventh Street, S.W., Washington, DC 20590-0001 or e-mailed via http://dms.dot.gov/.


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NTSB blames cell phone for fatal crash

In a report adopted June 3, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded “The engineer of a Burlington Northern & Santa Fe (BNSF) coal train was distracted by a cell phone call when he was supposed to be stopping his train, and caused a head-on collision with a BNSF intermodal train.”

The engineer of the intermodal train was killed in the collision in Clarendon, Texas. Damages to the trains and track exceeded $8 million.

The safety board cited the probable cause in its report on a May 28, 2002 collision of an eastbound BNSF coal train and the westbound intermodal near Clarendon, Texas. Also noted in the probable cause was the “train conductor’s failure to ensure that the engineer complied with track warrant restrictions.”

Both trains were operating in track warrant territory where dispatchers control train movements by issuing track warrants authorizing a train to occupy a certain section of track. The track warrant issued to the eastbound coal train was an after-arrival warrant requiring the train to stop at a specified point and wait for the westbound intermodal train to clear the track ahead.

Through its investigation, the NTSB determined that “The coal train engineer was talking on his cell phone when his train passed the stopping point indicated in the track warrant.” The board concluded that the engineer’s cell phone use likely distracted him and he did not take proper note of the after-arrival stipulation and therefore did not stop his train.

The federal agency did not state if the engineer was conducting company business or was making a personal call.

The board issued a recommendation to the FRA to amend regulations to control the use of cell phones and other personal wireless devices by railroad operators while on duty.

“Safety is the primary responsibility of any vehicle operator and this responsibility demands the full and undivided attention of the person at the controls,” said Chair Ellen Engleman, when reading the board’s recommendation, “Issuing these recommendations is not enough – implementation is the key.”

The board added that after-arrival warrants issued to moving trains create an unacceptable risk of a head-on collision, so the NTSB recommended that the FRA, in areas where there is no positive train control system, restrict the issuance of after-arrival track warrants to trains only after they have stopped at the specified location to allow safe passage of the oncoming train.

A synopsis of the Clarendon, Texas accident investigation report, including the findings, probable cause, and safety recommendations, can be found on the publications page of the Board’s web site, www.ntsb.gov. The complete report will be available in about six weeks.


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

HHP-8 at Boston

NCI: Leo King

MARC’s six engines are similar to Amtrak’s electric HHP-8s

 

Bombardier refutes MARC
locomotive safety issues

By Leo King
Editor

Bombardier is refuting charges from MARC published last month (D:F, May 19, “New MARC engines collect dust”) that stated MARC’s half-dozen high-speed electric HHP-8 electric locomotives were out of service and unsafe because of yaw damper problems, similar to the problems found with Amtrak Acela Express trainsets nearly one year ago.

He said the locomotives are safe, and there was no reason MARC, through its parent, Maryland Transit Authority, had to withhold them from service. The engines have been idle for up to 18 months. They cost $6 million a copy, and were built by the Bombardier-Alstom consortium, as were Amtrak’s similarly styled 8,000 hp electric locomotives.

David Slack, Bombardier’s North American public relations manager in Vermont, told D:F on Friday “The story, which originated with WBAL-TV,” in Baltimore, “contains inaccurate information that requires clarification.” He said there are “four points of primary concern.”

Slack said, “The story asserts that issues with the yaw damper brackets on these locomotives make them unsafe to operate. This is unfounded as evidenced by the track record of sister locomotives in service for some time now with Amtrak.”

Slack said, “We do not have an issue with the customer on this, nor do we believe they were an active participant in the tone of the story. Our sole interest is to address inaccuracies in the piece that was aired and some of the interpretations the reporter made, particularly relating to the safety issue. If we could approach things in that spirit, I would appreciate it.”

Slack lives in Burlington Vt., and splits time “between an office there and one in St. Bruno, Quebec. I have been in this position for about three months, coming from another division.”

He said the MARC locomotives “utilize the same yaw damper bracket assembly as the high-speed locomotives operated by Amtrak on its Acela Express service between Boston and Washington, D.C.”

He added, “Standard equipment inspections on the Acela trainsets in August 2002 revealed hairline cracking in some of these brackets. The consortium worked with Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to conduct a complete assessment of the issue that same month, instituting a comprehensive inspection, repair and replacement program to ensure continuity of operation with the highest level of equipment safety and integrity.”

He declared the “interim program was approved by the FRA, and the Acela Express trainsets have been running safely under the program for more than six months now – again, with the same yaw damper bracket equipment as that originally deployed on the MARC locomotives. The yaw damper bracket issue was not a deterrent to safe operation of the MARC locomotives and claims to the contrary are without merit.”

He said it was untrue that if the MARC locomotives were placed in service with the existing yaw damper bracket assembly, there was a threat of derailment.

He explained, “Some of the Acela Express equipment experienced hairline cracks in elements of the yaw damper bracket assemblies (which developed gradually due to stress and fatigue after months in service), but the brackets did not break, nor was there ever any realistic threat of breakage. The cracks were discovered early via standard inspection procedures and addressed aggressively to avoid any possible safety issues. Even in the remote possibility that a clean break had occurred, multiple other components would have had to fail simultaneously to create the slightest possibility of derailment. This would have been the case for the MARC locomotives as well had the customer chosen to put them in service during that timeframe.”

He also took issue with the story because it “gave the impression that the MARC locomotives have experienced severe delays to service introduction because of the yaw damper bracket issue, and because ‘Bombardier (the consortium) agreed to fix the problem but worked on Amtrak locomotives first, which caused delays in service.’ It also implied that the issue is responsible for a 12-18 month delay in service introduction. These claims are in error.”

The yaw damper bracket issue “came to light in August 2002 – less than one year ago – and cannot logically be responsible for service delays originating prior to that date,” he said.

Since then, he added, “The consortium has been prepared to inspect, repair or replace the parts in question on a schedule of MTA’s choosing to support service introduction in line with the MTA’s needs. If the MTA had chosen to put these locomotives in service, an interim inspection and repair program was available along the lines of the one that was instituted with the Acela Express equipment.” He averred had they done that, “This would have addressed any issues related to the yaw damper bracket assemblies in the unlikely event that fatigue issues arose before a permanent modification was available.”

Slack said the consortium “offered to modify the six MARC locomotives with a permanent solution before proceeding with work on the Acela Express equipment,” but MARC did not pursue that option.

“In fact, a permanent modification, in the form of a redesigned bracket, has been available since December 2002. The consortium ultimately received authorization from the MTA to begin deploying the permanent modification in March 2003,” which were completed last May.

“The consortium has also offered to supply start-up support to help prepare the locomotives for service following an extended storage period,” he added.


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Chicago commuters get new rail route

The Illinois Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) on June 5 approved Metra’s plan to build a commuter rail line that would connect an existing rail station at O’Hare International Airport to Joliet and other suburbs northwest of Chicago.

The proposed Suburban Transit Access Route, or STAR Line, would stretch through the middle of the Northwest Tollway from the airport to Hoffman Estates and then head south on a freight railroad right-of-way to Joliet, reports Crain’s Chicago Business News.

The 55-mile route would be within five miles of some of the region’s biggest employers, including Sears Roebuck and Co.’s headquarters, and the Motorola Corp.

RTA said it signed off on the plan, which was unanimously selected by mayors of northwest suburbs as the “preferred transit alternative for the area.” Municipalities favored the STAR Line over other suburban transit proposals by the Chicago Transit Authority and Pace.

“Municipalities in the corridor noted the STAR Line’s regional scope and large service area, its high ridership potential, a low cost per mile for implementation and Metra’s experience implementing major capital projects as reasons for their decision,” RTA said.

The estimated $1 billion project could take 10 to 12 years to complete. Metra officials hope to begin receiving funding for the work from a multi-year transportation funding bill being drafted in Congress. Metra will need to complete more detailed engineering and environmental impact studies to qualify for the federal funding, RTA officials said.


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About that tunnel…

Boston still chats about rail
connector between stations

In the late 1800s, the rivalry between railroad barons led to the construction of two separate train stations a mile apart in downtown Boston, one to serve the northern routes and the other to points south.

At the dawn of the next century, according to legend, it was the early taxicab lobby – thriving on ferrying passengers between the two depots – that thwarted the first proposal to build an underground rail line connecting the two.

Now, nearly a century later, wrote The AP on May 31, the completion of the one missing link in the Northeast Corridor’s rail line faces an even more daunting obstacle in a city just beginning to emerge from the havoc wreaked by the over-budget, behind-schedule, traffic-disrupting Big Dig.

“We have to be realistic that the federal government is not about to sink billions of dollars into another tunnel through downtown Boston,” said state Rep. William Straus (D).

The so-called North-South rail link, which, depending on who you ask, would cost anywhere from $3 billion to $9 billion and would send trains under the city through a new passageway burrowed beneath the recently opened Big Dig tunnels.

In the planning stages for nearly three decades, the project is championed by a group of fervent and untiring advocates, including former Gov. Mike Dukakis, who argues that the one-mile tunnel would ease transportation throughout New England and the northeast corridor.

“We have two rail systems that serve hundreds of thousands of people and connect to a million jobs, but they’re separated by one mile,” said Jeremy Marin of the Sierra Club. “If we could connect that gap, it could do wonderful things for our economy all up and down the eastern seaboard.”

Opponents, whose growing numbers include the new Romney administration, argue that closing this admittedly cumbersome one-mile gap is not the ideal use of scarce taxpayer dollars.

“Would it be better to have them linked? Sure,” said Dan Grabauskas, transportation secretary under Gov. Mitt Romney, “but to remedy today what was poor planning a hundred years ago, just cannot be or shouldn’t be something that would put other projects on the shelf.”

The administration is focusing on upgrading the existing system, establishing an “urban ring” bus system around the outskirts of the city, and making a new rail connection to Logan International Airport – and doesn’t want to spend any more money on the project until other states agree to help cover its cost.

There is also the conundrum of the $14.6 billion Big Dig, the most expensive highway project in national history. It sucked money out of road projects across the Bay State and may have strained the goodwill of the other congressional delegations from around the country.

“Folks from other states, having seen the tremendous amount of federal dollars that have gone into this project, are somewhat skeptical about new megaprojects, particularly projects that would benefit Boston and Massachusetts,” said Paul Guzzi, president of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

Besides its location and its potential, multibillion-dollar price tag, however, supporters argue, the north-south link has nothing in common with the infamous Big Dig.

While the Central Artery project gained a reputation as an engineering marvel, due to the unique problems it posed and solved, the new rail tunnel would be built with time-tested, straightforward technology.

“This one’s easy,” said Dukakis, the former Democratic presidential nominee and current Amtrak vice-chairman.

Burying the Central Artery beneath Boston benefits only the metropolitan region, but the link would ease transportation through all of Massachusetts and the entire northeast corridor by joining together the lines of the former Boston & Maine, and New Haven Railroads as well as the local commuter and freight lines.

“It’s time to do some things for the people of this state who don’t happen to live in Boston,” said Dukakis.

While space was saved for the creation of the link as part of the Big Dig, project officials ultimately abandoned any thought of adding its multibillion-dollar cost onto the ever-growing price tag of the Central Artery project.

Studies have continued, but support seems to be waning, especially as the state grapples with an estimated $3 billion budget gap.

The MBTA general manager notified the Federal Transit Administration recently that the project, which he estimated at $8.7 billion, was unrealistic given the state’s shaky financial situation. The Sierra Club and other supporters put the estimate closer to $3.6 billion, arguing that the higher total includes unnecessary contingencies and calculates the price tag in 2010 dollars rather than the current-day cost.

When the concept of the Big Dig was posed to him decades ago, Dukakis said, it was the prospect of the link that sold him on the project – that, and the elimination of the unsightly scar of the green highway structure through the center of the city.

“They told me that we could get rid of this damn wall, we could put a rail line down the middle of it, and do it all with highway money,” Dukakis said. “As soon as they said you could get the north-south link with this thing, then I said, ‘You got me.”’


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A Pawtucket idea glows again

Some 50 years ago, there wasn’t a train stop from Boston to New Haven that saw more traffic than the Pawtucket-Central Falls, R.I. station on Broad Street, where more than 70 trains per weekday stopped on three tracks. The station is about three miles from the current Amtrak station in the capital city, Providence.

While trains have never stopped using those tracks, one has not stopped for passengers there in 33 years, writes the Pawtucket Times.

Some government officials believe that might change, perhaps as soon as 2005, adding that much groundwork has been completed toward reaching that goal.

“This is a long time in the making, and will help ease the increasing congestion on the highways,” said U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee.

“There are so many winners with this idea – I’m a big advocate. A beginning date of early 2005 is realistic, and the sooner the better.”

Several elements need to fall into place for a 2005 opening date to be met, said Pawtucket Foundation Executive Director Rich Davis, who came up with the idea of reopening the stop almost two years ago and has led its development since.

The plan includes both current tracks running north and south for commuter rail trains on the Attleboro line from Providence to Boston. A third track belongs to the Providence & Worcester Railroad, which operates through the station between Valley Falls and Davisville via Providence.

”We’re right on the cusp of this now, and if the cities, the state and federal governments can work together, yes, it could be opened by 2005,” Davis said.

“We’re the most optimistic we’ve ever been. The last month or so has been very encouraging and we have the people on board that we need.”

Several aspects of the project are in the works, including buying the almost 40,000-square-foot depot, which is privately owned by Jean Vitali. Her late husband Albert purchased the depot and property from the Penn Central Transportation Co. in early 1974 with the intention of building high-rise developments. While several developers have looked at the property and the depot, the offers have reportedly not been within Vitali’s asking price. However, the family has stated they’re open to all ideas, including leasing the depot or sharing the mortgage.

All prospective buyers are interested in the train station proposal, but would use the majority of the depot for commercial or restaurant development.

The city of Pawtucket has appraisers evaluating the property, which by some estimates is worth $750,000.”That’s the next step, getting the appraisals, and while I would not classify this as a done deal, that’s the mindset and direction we’re heading in,” said Pawtucket Mayor James Doyle.

“This would be a transportation center for buses and trains and it would revitalize the Barton Street neighborhood, which might be the city’s most run-down section. It would help education, allowing people to travel to Boston and Providence for college, and the job market would increase for many people. It would help Central Falls and us an awful lot.”

Another plus for the project is that plans to develop train stops in New Bedford and Fall River by 2008 were recently halted because of overspending on the Big Dig.

“If (the Fall River and New Bedford) projects went through, it wouldn’t have hurt us, since Massachusetts isn’t involved financially with this, but that news helps us now since we’re next up and it will help the expansion of the MBTA and commuter rail,” Davis said.

“This line, the Attleboro line, is its fastest-growing in terms of riders, too.”

The route is also Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor line between Boston, New York City and Washington.

Davis has not yet talked to officials at Amtrak, which owns the right-of-way on Rhode Island’s tracks, regarding plans for the depot. Saying that he intends to contact them soon, Davis anticipates that those discussions will go smoothly.

Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority officials – a publicly funded corporation that operates many bus lines throughout the state – have been contacted, he said, and talks were positive.

Most of the funds for the project would reportedly come from grants, both private and public, and from the USDOT. Architectural plans, developed by Boston’s Goody, Clancy & Associates, show entrances to the depot on both Barton and Montgomery streets, with the station platforms remaining on a lower level.

The plan’s most obvious problem is parking.

“This will not look like the South Attleboro stop, with acres of parking,” Davis said. “We do not have that access. “It’ll be a kiss-and-ride, drop-them-off and pick-them-up stop, with those areas designated and with buses stopping there as well. We can coordinate the schedules so people have a way home.

“Also, Central Falls is one-point-two square miles,” he said. “That’s a 15-minute walk or less for anyone living there. It’s a problem we need to work on, but it’s not unworkable.”

The original Pawtucket-Central Falls station was built in 1915, a two-level, state-of-the-art facility that was used by about 70,000 people per month in the late 1940s. While no one predicts a similar amount of foot traffic soon, the station’s reopening would be a huge step toward rebuilding the surrounding neighborhood and increasing property values, most officials agreed.

“It’s one of those ideas that makes sense to everyone, one that can help all involved, one of those rare ideas where politicians even seem to be on the same page,” Central Falls Mayor Lee Matthews said. “It’s a win-win situation. Hopefully we can all get together now and finish this for 2005.”


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APTA HIGHLIGHTS...  APTA Highlights...

Here are some other transit headlines, from the pages of Passenger Transport, the weekly newspaper of the public transportation industry published by the non-profit American Public Transportation Assn. For more news from Passenger Transport and subscription information, visit the APTA web site at
http://www.apta.com/news/pt.


 

Administration’s SAFETEA Proposal Draws Criticism

The Administration’s release of its $247 billion surface transportation reauthorization proposal triggered critical and swift responses from transportation interests and key Congressional leaders who are crafting their own proposals at expected higher funding levels.

Criticism of the Administration’s six-year plan – The Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2003 – centered on its overall funding levels and proposals to restructure the transit program.

Of the $247 billion in proposed SAFETEA funding, $45.7 billion would be authorized for transit, $192.5 billion for highways, with the balance for highway safety. Annual transit funding starts at $7.2 billion in Fiscal Year 2004 and increases to $8.1 billion in fiscal 2009, an average annual increase of 1.9 percent.

While SAFETEA would continue the guaranteed funding mechanism begun under the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, the guarantees would not cover the General Fund component of the transit program. Of the $45.7 billion proposed for transit, the guarantees would cover only $37.6 billion over the six-year life of the bill.

Also drawing widespread concern is the Administration’s plan to reduce the maximum federal share of New Starts project funding from the current 80 percent to 50 percent.


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Senate Leaders Fight ‘Bonding Scheme’

A proposal that would move almost all gasoline tax funding away from the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund is facing opposition both by key U.S. Senate leaders in reauthorization and by transportation advocacy organizations including APTA.

The proposal being drafted by Senate Finance Committee leaders Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman, and Max Baucus (D-Mont.), ranking member, would eliminate all but one-half cent of the 2.86 cents per gallon of gasoline tax that currently goes into the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund; eliminate transit funding from the general fund; and cover transit spending costs with a new kind of federal tax credit bond. The Finance Committee has not yet produced the proposal, but committee staff has suggested some of its elements.

Currently, 2.86 cents of the 18.3-cent-per-gallon federal fuel tax is deposited into the Mass Transit Account. Under the proposal, transit would receive funding from an as yet undeveloped tax credit bonding source.


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Boston’s MBTA Joins Red Cross, Federal Agencies in Transit Safety Partnership

Boston became the second U.S. metropolitan area, after Washington, to participate in the “Together We Prepare” public transportation partnership on May 15, when Federal Transit Administrator Jennifer L. Dorn joined representatives of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, the American Red Cross of Massachusetts Bay, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security at ceremonies during National Transportation Week.

The new program emphasizes the importance of emergency preparedness on transit systems.

The MBTA highlighted public safety during this year’s National Transportation Week observance, as part of its mission to provide a safe environment for its riders as well as its employees. The “Together We Prepare” campaign is designed to help public transportation riders plan responses to different kinds of emergencies that could affect their daily commute.


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Miami-Dade Transit Opens Palmetto Metrorail Station

The Miami-Dade Transit Agency celebrated the opening of the Palmetto Metrorail Station the morning of May 30, officially marking the completion of the Palmetto Extension Project.

Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas joined other dignitaries at the dedication ceremony, followed by the inaugural Metrorail trip from the new station. The station opened for regular passenger service in the afternoon; parking and rail service originating at the Palmetto Station will be free from opening day through June 29, with regular Metrorail fares for boarding passengers to begin on June 30.

The Miami-Dade Office of Public Transportation Management called the completion of the Palmetto Extension Project a transportation milestone for the county. The Palmetto Station, located in the town of Medley, is the twenty-second in the Metrorail system, and the first new station to open since 1989.

The 1.4-mile Palmetto Metrorail Extension is the system’s first project linking the rapid transportation system to a major state roadway. It consists of 0.7 miles of elevated guideways, 0.7 miles of on-grade track, one passenger station, and a parking lot designed to accommodate 710 cars. Florida DOT has projected weekday ridership at 2,000 daily boardings.


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First Las Vegas Monorail Train to Arrive June 24

The first train of the new Las Vegas Monorail is due to arrive in Las Vegas on June 24, following a cross-country trip that begins with a June 13 unveiling ceremony in New York City. The privately funded monorail system is the result of a decade-long effort by entrepreneurs, business leaders, and politicians, which ultimately raised $650 million through the sale of farebox-supported revenue bonds.

Another funding source for the Las Vegas Monorail will be revenue generated by the sale of experiential advertising, or “corporate-imaged environments,” on the monorail’s trains and stations. The first monorail train will look like a giant can of Monster Energy™, an energy drink from Monster Beverage Co.

When it is completed in early 2004, the Las Vegas Monorail will connect the casino resorts of the Las Vegas Strip to the Las Vegas Convention Center. Monorail stations are located at the MGM Grand Hotel, Paris/Bally’s hotels, the Flamingo Hotel, the Imperial Palace/Harrah’s hotels, the Las Vegas Convention Center, the Las Vegas Hilton, and the Sahara Hotel, with plans for extensions of the system to the Fremont Street Experience in downtown Las Vegas and McCarran International Airport.


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Highway Minimum Allocation Bills Introduced in Congress

Bills were introduced May 21 in the U.S. House and Senate to raise the minimum allocation of the highway portion of the surface transportation authorization act.

Known as the Highway Funding Equity Act of 2003, the bills were co-authored by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Baron Hill (D-Ind.) in the House, and Sens. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) in the Senate.

The measures, which have 18 co-sponsors in the Senate and more than 120 co-sponsors in the House, would increase the minimum guaranteed funding level to states of a state’s contribution to the Highway Account of the Highway Trust Fund from 90.5 percent to 95 percent of that contribution.

The legislation seeks to improve the rate of return of “donor” states’ gasoline user fee contributions to the Highway Trust Fund to ensure greater equity, said Levin. He explained that historically about 20 states, including his state of Michigan, known as “donor” states, have sent more gas tax dollars to the Highway Trust Fund than were returned in transportation infrastructure spending. The remaining 30 states, known as “donee” states, have received more transportation funding than they paid into the Highway Trust Fund.


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SORTA Dedicates New Riverfront Transit Center in Cincinnati

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority in Cincinnati held ceremonies May 19 to dedicate its new Riverside Transit Center, located in a cavernous tunnel almost three-quarters of a mile in length, spanning the entire riverfront and serving two major league sports stadiums and other local attractions. SORTA designed the center as a safe, fast, and attractive way to accommodate the large number of public transit, charter, and school buses serving riverfront venues and activities.

The transit center is now fully operational, and will be completed when the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center opens on the riverfront in 2004.

The transit center has an innovative design that comes from coordinating the project with the larger Fort Washington Way highway reconstruction effort; according to SORTA, the coordination of the projects allowed creation of a new transit facility at a fraction of the cost of a similar project after the riverfront was completed. The transit structure sits underneath the new Second Street that was reconstructed as part of the Fort Washington Way project.


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NLC: Cities Face Lower Revenues, More Demands

While city government revenues continue to decline and spending pressures rapidly rise, city officials are responding by hiking user fees for services and laying off city staff, according to a National League of Cities survey released May 27.

The survey of financial officers from 330 cities, conducted in February, shows that city officials are adopting the same kind of painful measures that are facing transit agencies. In addition to raising user fees for services (61 percent) and laying off staff (17 percent), city officials are also drawing down reserves (56 percent) that they built up during economic growth periods from 1993 to 2001, and dramatically cutting investment in infrastructure and maintenance.

Actual capital spending for the municipal sector was 40 percent lower than budgeted spending in 2001 and 2002, resulting in $5.6 billion in reduced infrastructure investment, according to survey results.


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Downs Is New Head of Eno Transportation Foundation

Thomas M. Downs, a nationally recognized leader in transportation policy, is joining the Eno Transportation Foundation as its president and chief executive officer. He succeeds the retiring Damian J. Kulash, who has served as president and CEO of the foundation since 1995.

Downs is currently director of the National Center for Smart Growth at the University of Maryland. His 25-year career also includes serving as chairman and chief executive officer of Amtrak; New Jersey state commissioner of transportation and chairman of the board of New Jersey Transit Corporation; president of the Triboro Bridge and Tunnel Authority; and city administrator and director of transportation in Washington, D.C. At the federal level, he has served as executive director of the Federal Transit Administration and associate administrator of the Federal Highway Administration.


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

Illinois Central southbound intermodal IO-3

For NCI: Adam Auxier

Illinois Central southbound intermodal IO-3 hustles through Du Quoin Ill., on its way to New Orleans in spring 2001. IC SD-70 No. 1013 leads.

 

Feds back away from explosives ruling

The feds apparently are backing away from their ruling about fireworks and other explosives being transported on freight trains.

Julie Heckman, a spokesperson for the American Pyrotechnics Assn. in Bethesda, Md., reported on Wednesday USDOT, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Transportation Security Administration “issued a special notice stating that the transportation of explosives via rail not pose a sufficient security risk warranting further regulation at this time.”

She said, “The railroads will resume immediate transportation of commercial explosives and fireworks,” and the notice was to be officially published in the Federal Register on June 5.

She said it was “A significant victory for the fireworks industry – especially since it goes far beyond addressing our immediate need to resume railroad service to fulfill July 4 contracts. The agencies agree that rail transport and railroad employees do not pose a security risk that needs to be addressed under the Safe Explosives Act.”

She added, though, “The APA will continue to push for a statutory amendment so that the field of transportation does not become threatened by ATF and the Justice department in the future. This amendment is necessary to preserve the jurisdictional lines between ATF and DOT.”


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New York freight tunnel gains support

A proposal to reduce truck traffic in New York City and the region by building a rail freight tunnel under New York Harbor got new support on June 3 when a broad group of business, labor, environmental and civic leaders announced that they had formed a coalition to lobby for federal money for the project.

The coalition, wrote The New York Times, which includes representatives of groups ranging from the Sierra Club and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce to the state AFL-CIO. and the Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, wants Congress to help pay for the project out of a transportation spending bill currently up for reauthorization.

The group, called “MoveNY,” says the tunnel would divert nearly a million truck trips a year from the George Washington Bridge, reduce pollution in city neighborhoods with high asthma rates, cut traffic delays in the region, generate tens of thousands of jobs, save highway maintenance costs and limit the risks of terrorism presented by unscreened trucks.

“It’s clearly technically feasible to do this tunnel,” said Francis X. McArdle, managing director of the General Contractors Assn. of New York and a member of the coalition.

“We believe that it is an economic advantage to this region to make this investment. Not only will it help us to continually grow, but it gives us some opportunities for economic development that we would not otherwise have.”

Rep. Jerrold L. Nadler (D) has been interested in the project for the last 20 years. Skeptics who considered the idea in its earlier incarnations have argued that the reduction in truck traffic would be smaller than proponents contend because most freight would still move by truck within the city. They have also said the city was no longer a competitive location for the kind of high-volume, mass-production industries that rely heavily on rail.

“It’s a 19th-century project that’s two centuries too late,” said Mitchell L. Moss, director of the Taub Urban Research Center at New York Univ. and a co-author of a 1998 analysis of the tunnel idea.

“This project represents a threat to much more important priorities to the city and the region,” he added.

The idea of a rail freight connection by tunnel between New Jersey and the area across New York Harbor has been tossed around since the 1920s, McArdle and others said. For many years, rail freight was barged across the harbor, but even that ended after the merger of the Pennsylvania and New York Central Railroads in 1968 and the subsequent creation of Conrail in 1976.

Now, less than 2 percent of all freight coming in and out of the region is transported by rail, compared with 40 percent in cities nationally, Nadler said. The nearest railroad crossing over the Hudson is 140 miles north of the city in Selkirk, just south of Albany, where CSX crosses.

“We’ve got a real crisis now in goods movement, and it’s only going to get worse,” said Robert D. Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Assn., and a member of the coalition.

“The volumes of freight moving into and through the region are increasing at about 3 percent a year. Over a decade, that’s by a third – and you think about what congestion is like on the George Washington Bridge and the Tappan Zee now. There’s just no place to put it.”

The 19 coalition members range from labor union leaders including Dennis Rivera, president of Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union; and environmentalists like James T. B. Tripp, general counsel for Environmental Defense, formerly the Environmental Defense Fund; to business leaders like Kenneth Adams, president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce; and civic activists like Dr. Rafael A. Lantigua, chairman of the board of directors of Alianza Dominicana, the largest Dominican social service agency in the city.

Lantigua, an internist and professor of clinical medicine at Columbia Univ., said he joined the coalition because he has lived in Washington Heights his entire life and works there. He has “no doubt that the amount of bronchial asthma that we see in this area is linked to the pollution of the traffic across the George Washington Bridge.”

The tunnel would create a Hudson River crossing connecting freight railroads in New Jersey to unused railroads in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Nadler said the most recent estimate of the cost of the tunnel alone was $1.8 billion; the cost of the entire project, including rail improvements, has been put at $7 billion.

Members of the coalition said they wanted to persuade Congress to pay for the design and perhaps the next steps of the project out of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, a pending bill that is intended to pay for major transportation projects for the next six years.


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CSX, NS, Conrail ask STB
to transfer NYC, PRR

CSX Corp., Norfolk Southern Corp., and Consolidated Rail Corp. (Conrail) last week announced the joint filing of a petition with the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to establish direct ownership and control by CSX and NS of two Conrail subsidiaries – New York Central Lines LLC (NYC) and Pennsylvania Lines LLC (PRR).

CSXT and NSR are currently managing and operating NYC and PRR, under operating agreements approved by the STB in 1998. CSX and NS jointly acquired Conrail in 1997.

The proposed transaction would replace the existing operating agreements and allow CSX and NSR to operate NYC and PRR, respectively, via direct ownership.

Officers from all three railroads stated in a press release, “The petition, if approved, would make the financial, operational and administrative management of Conrail, NYC and PRR more efficient in an increasingly competitive transportation environment and facilitate CSX and NS capital investment in those properties.”

The document added, “After the consummation of the proposed transaction, CSXT and NSR, as direct owners of NYC and PRR, respectively, would no longer be dependent upon the consent of the other for many decisions relating to their management of the underlying assets of NYC and PRR.”

The railroaders declared, “The proposed transaction would not affect rail operations, service or competition, and would have no adverse effect on customers or the employees of CSX and NS. Furthermore, the proposed transaction does not involve those assets of Conrail referred to in the petition as the ‘Shared Assets Areas’ (separately designated as North Jersey, South Jersey-Philadelphia, and Detroit), and would have no effect on the competitive rail service provided in those Shared Assets Areas. Conrail would continue to own, manage and operate the Shared Assets Areas as previously approved by the STB.”

As stated in the petition, the proposed transaction would offer a number of important benefits and eliminate financial complexities that have increased due to changing conditions since June 1, 1999, when CSXT and NSR began operating the NYC and PRR assets.

If approved, the proposed transaction would improve the transparency of the financial reporting of CSX and NS by consolidating the financial results of NYC and PRR into those of CSX and NS, respectively. In addition, the proposed transaction would permit CSX and NS to achieve increased independence over the management of the assets of NYC and PRR as a result of CSX and NSR becoming direct owners of NYC and PRR, respectively.

The proposed transaction is subject to a number of conditions, including STB approval and an Internal Revenue Service ruling qualifying it as a non-taxable disposition.

If these and other conditions are satisfied, Conrail intends to undertake a restructuring of its existing unsecured and secured public indebtedness.

There are currently two series of unsecured public debentures with an outstanding principal amount of $800 million and 13 series of secured debt with an outstanding principal amount of approximately $400 million. It is currently contemplated that guaranteed debt securities of two newly formed corporate subsidiaries of CSX and NSR would be offered in a 42 percent/58 percent ratio in exchange for Conrail’s unsecured debentures.

The debt securities to be issued by CSX’s new subsidiary would be fully and unconditionally guaranteed by CSX and the debt securities to be issued by NS’s new subsidiary would be fully and unconditionally guaranteed by NSR. Upon completion of the proposed transaction, the new debt securities would become direct unsecured obligations of CSXT and NSR, respectively, and would rank equally with all existing and future senior unsecured debt obligations, if any, of CSXT and NSR.

The entire press release and other data may be found at http://csxt.com or http://nscorp.com.


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RailAmerica buys BNSF Alabama line

RailAmerica, Inc. and the Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Ry. Co. reported last week that BNSF has sold and leased 288 miles of contiguous rail line in and around Mobile, Ala., to RailAmerica’s wholly owned subsidiary, Alabama & Gulf Coast Ry. (AGR), for approximately $15 million in cash. AGR began service on the line on June 1.

The 288 miles of rail line includes owned, leased and trackage rights segments running from Amory, Miss., to Mobile, connecting directly with AGR at Kimbrough, Ala.

RailAmerica stated it “expects to realize significant synergies and cost savings, as AGR now provides direct access to the Port of Mobile for large paper product manufacturers and other customers in the region.”

The firm “anticipates hauling approximately 23,000 additional carloads and generating approximately $12 million in new operating revenue on this line in its first full year of operation. Major shippers on the line include Gulf States Paper Corp., EKA Chemicals, Kerr-McGee Chemical, Weyerhaeuser and the Port of Mobile.

Including this acquisition, AGR now operates 429 miles of rail line and expects to move approximately 58,000 carloads annually. Principal commodities include paper, pulp and paper products, chemicals and grain.

AGR interchanges with five Class I carriers at various locations, including BNSF at Amory and Columbus, Miss.

AGR also gains new interchanges with fellow short line operators Meridian & Bigbee Railroad, Golden Triangle Railroad, Columbus & Greenville Railroad, Luxapalilla Valley Railroad and Terminal Alabama State Docks Railroad. RailAmerica acquired AGR in January 2002 when it acquired StatesRail.


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CN quits talks to acquire ONRail

Canadian National reported on June 2 it has quit negotiations to acquire ONRail “because of the Ontario government’s demands for public sector-like job guarantees for employees of the provincially owned railway.”

Claude Mongeau, CN’s executive vice-president and chief financial officer, said: “It’s unfortunate that CN’s plans for ONRail – plans to improve service and productivity, secure employment and invest more than $30 million in railway improvements – have ended over a job guarantee issue.”

He added, “We believe this failed privatization is a missed opportunity for rail freight shippers and passengers of Northeastern Ontario, and for Ontario taxpayers who heavily subsidize ONRail operations. The vast majority of shippers in the region backed CN’s acquisition plan.”

CN entered exclusive negotiations to acquire ONRail in October 2002 after Jim Wilson, Ontario minister of northern development and mines, announced that the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission’s directors had concluded CN’s plan for ONRail best met the commission’s objectives of job protection, economic development and improved freight and passenger services.


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AAR: Rail Traffic Mixed in May

U.S. rail carload traffic fell 0.3 percent (3,588 carloads) while intermodal traffic rose 4.9 percent (35,077 units) in May 2003 compared to May 2002, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported on June 5.

Commodities showing carload gains in May included coal (up 1.3 percent, or 6,730 carloads), coke (up 49.8 percent, or 6,466 carloads), crushed stone and gravel (up 3.1 percent, or 2,643 carloads), and pulp and paper (up 6.5 percent, or 2,128 carloads).

Commodities showing carload declines in May included motor vehicles and equipment (down 5.6 percent, or 5,928 carloads), chemicals (down 4.4 percent, or 5,032 carloads), and metallic ores (down 7.5 percent, or 4,697 carloads). Excluding coal, U.S. rail carloadings were down 1.3 percent (10,318 carloads) in May 2003.

For the first five months of 2003, U.S. rail carloadings totaled 7,053,266 cars, up 0.6 percent (38,778 carloads), paced by year-to-date increases in metallic ores (up 17.2 percent, or 41,292 carloads), coke (up 30.8 percent, or 22,770 carloads), and metals and metal products (up 5.5 percent, or 14,694 carloads). During this period, carloads of coal were down 1.7 percent (47,919 carloads) and carloads of grain were down 2.8 percent (12,842 carloads).

U.S. intermodal traffic totaled 4,046,784 trailers or containers, up 7.1 percent (267,610 units) in 2003 through May. Total volume was estimated at 623.7 billion ton-miles, up 0.9 percent from last year.

“During these uncertain economic times, there is clear optimism for economic improvement. A survey a couple of weeks ago of 35 top economists by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia predicted a significant improvement in the overall economic growth rate for the second half of this year compared with recent periods,” noted AAR Vice President Craig F. Rockey.

He said, “More robust growth would certainly help rail carloadings. In the meantime, railroads are continuing their efforts to gain efficiencies, improve their reliability, and otherwise improve their ability to meet the freight transportation needs of our nation.”

Canadian rail carload traffic was down 4.0 percent (10,322 carloads) in May 2003. Commodities that saw rail carload gains in May included primary forest products (up 17.6 percent, or 1,294 carloads) and coke (up 66.0 percent, or 854 carloads). Commodities seeing declines in Canadian rail carloads in May include grain (down 23.1 percent, or 7,155 carloads), motor vehicles and equipment (down 7.1 percent, or 2,316 carloads), and coal (down 3.8 percent, or 1,361 carloads). Canadian intermodal traffic was up 9.5 percent (14,844 units) in May 2003 compared with May 2002.

For the first five months of 2003, Canadian carload traffic totaled 1,361,714 cars, down 1.7 percent (23,536 carloads), while Canadian intermodal traffic of 894,738 trailers or containers was up 10.3 percent (83,496 units).

Carloads originated on Transportación Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM), a major Mexican railroad, were up 13.1 percent (4,436 carloads) in May, while intermodal originations were up 37.4 percent (4,539 trailers and containers). For the first five months of 2003, TFM carloadings were up 5.3 percent (9,838 carloads), while intermodal traffic rose 38.9 percent (22,234 units).

For just the week ended May 31, the AAR reported the following totals for U.S. railroads: 313,716 carloads, up 0.8 percent from the corresponding week in 2002, with loadings up 2.8 percent in the East and down 0.8 percent in the West; intermodal volume of 170,032 trailers and containers, up 4.1 percent; and total volume of an estimated 27.5 billion ton-miles, up 3.4 percent from the equivalent week last year. Both the May 31 week and the comparison week from last year included the Memorial Day holiday.

For Canadian railroads during the week ended May 31, the AAR reported volume of 61,567 carloads, down 2.4 percent from last year; and 42,493 trailers and containers, up 15.2 percent from the corresponding week in 2002.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 22 weeks of 2003 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 8,414,980 carloads, up 0.2 percent (15,242 carloads) from last year; and 4,941,520 trailers and containers, up 7.6 percent (351,106 units) from 2002’s first 22 weeks.

The AAR is online at www.aar.org.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: Bloomberg.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)29.27029.510
Canadian National(CNI)51.30050.460
Canadian Pacific(CP)23.63023.760
CSX(CSX)31.73032.750
Florida East Coast(FLA)29.07028.680
Kansas City Southern(KSU)12.27011.930
Norfolk Southern(NSC)21.75021.920
Union Pacific(UNP)60.97060.990


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TECHNICA LLINES...  Technical lines...

New magnetic drive tests in Germany

By Uli Hertel
Special to Destination:Freedom

The latest in drive technology is tested in Germany: permanent magnet synchronous drive motors.

The application will be gearless, that is, the motor will be mounted directly on the driven axle. The motors have a high number of poles and, up to now, 500 kW (671 hp).

Advantages against the now conventional asynchronous drives include 3 percent higher efficiency, 25 percent lower mass, 7 percent shorter construction length, allows gearless drives, lighter with lower volume, lower maintenance, no gears with oil (leaks creating a fire danger), no energy losses in the gear, no gear maintenance, and no gear noise.

The best-known application of gearless drives in the past are the test trains of Marienfelde-Zossen of 1903 (running at 125 mph) and the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific “bipolars” of the 1920s.


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IN THE DERSERT...  Accross the pond...

Württembergische Eisenbahn single-car diesel multiple unit

For NCI: David Beale

This single-car diesel multiple unit belongs to the Württembergische Eisenbahn group, one of many Connex rail companies operating in various parts of Germany. This train, from Neuffen, terminated in Nürtingen. The local trains provide intermodal service from outlying areas to main line Deutsche Bahn trains.

 

Germans make good use of branches

By David Beale
NCI European Correspondent

I took a trip during the last week in May to visit some friends in Nürtingen (near Stuttgart) for the German traditional Father’s Day hike on Thursday. It was a very warm and sunny Saturday morning in Nürtingen as I waited for my train to Stuttgart (and train connection from there to Hannover).

The train is a single-car diesel multiple unit (DMU) which belongs to the Württembergische Eisenbahn group, one of many Connex rail companies operating in various parts of Germany. This train (from Neuffen) terminated in Nürtingen, and most of the passengers walked across the platform to board a Deutsche Bahn (DB) Regional Express train departing a few minutes later heading for Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof.

Connex and a couple of other independent rail companies have been able to successfully operate passenger rail service on a number of German branch lines such as the Neuffen-Nürtingen line, which DB had earlier abandoned.

Stuttgart has an extensive rail transit network, which includes some branch line operations, conventional electrified heavy regional rail and S-Bahn lines, and a large light rail network.

Due to the hill-and-valley geography around Stuttgart, rail lines run through many miles of tunnels and over numerous bridges all around the Stuttgart region. Some of the light rail or tramlines have perhaps the steepest gradients of any non-cog or non-cable railway I have ever seen, maybe 10 percent in some locations.

In addition, much of the light rail network track has three rails to support operation of both conventional gauge (1,435 mm) light rail vehicles and meter gauge trams on the same rights-of-ways and stations.

Stuttgart has an extensive network of highways and large streets as well, but it is famous within Germany for its nightmarish commuter rush hours on the roads and highways, so the mass transit system is a welcome alternative for many thousands of commuters.

Many hundreds if not thousands of Americans use the rail network in and around Stuttgart everyday. Stuttgart is the European headquarters for the U.S. military’s central command, with perhaps 40,000 or more American military and civilian personnel working out of several American facilities and bases in and around the Stuttgart region.

Although the number of Americans stationed by the U.S. in Germany is today a small fraction of what it was during the height of the Cold War, Stuttgart provides an everyday example for many in the U.S. Armed Forces of the benefits of rail transit.


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British mail trains to be scrapped

The Royal Mail is to stop transporting post by rail – in a move which will cut costs but end 170 years of history.

The company said its 49 mail trains will begin to be cancelled from next month and stopped altogether from next March, the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) reported last week.

Royal Mail said the rail network had simply proved too expensive and unreliable, and in the future, all posts would be distributed by road and air.

The Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union said the move threatened 500 jobs, including posts at dedicated rail terminals across England, Wales and Scotland.

It also said the move could be an environmental disaster, and called on the government to intervene.

The decision follows the failure of two years of negotiations between the Royal Mail and freight carrier English Welsh & Scottish Railways (EWS).

“We were shocked, we were amazed, we were not expecting Royal Mail to make this announcement,” Allen Johnson chief operating officer of EWS told BBC Radio 4’s Today program.

“We’ve reduced the cost of mail on rail by 20 percent in the last two years and we’ve also made significant reductions in the many offers we’ve made to Royal Mail.

“We’ve got to keep talking to them.”

Paul Bateson, Royal Mail’s managing director of logistics, said there was no point continuing to negotiate.

“Quite simply the price on the table was too high.

“They are too expensive and we can get the same quality from the road and air.”

EWS said the change would add 160,000 lorry journeys a year to the UK’s roads, but Royal Mail argued that because it would change its distribution network and cut out lorries that currently run half empty, there would not be extra journeys.

RMT union 09 Royal Mail also forecast annual savings of £390 million pounds, partly through the opening of a new £340 million distribution center in the Midlands later this year.

Notice has already been given to end four mail train services by the end of July – to and from London and Swansea, Warrington, Norwich and Doncaster.

Royal Mail said last year it planned to stop using rail for the distribution of first class letters because of poor reliability, but it said it would continue using it for second class and other less time-critical items.

About 14 percent of the country’s daily postbag of 82 million items is transported by rail – a total of more than 10 million items.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT, said Royal Mail’s decision was a “scandal.”

“This move threatens 500 jobs, it threatens the environment, it threatens the whole idea of next-day postal deliveries and it threatens to cost the taxpayer a fortune. This is a cost-cutting step too far, and if the government has any self-respect left, they will step in to stop it.”

BBC transport correspondent Tom Symonds remarked, “This decision will be a major dent in the government’s policy to increase rail freight by 80 percent this decade.”


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Spanish trains collide; 19 dead

Rescuers and forensic experts searched through the twisted, smoking wreckage June 3 of a head-on train collision in central Spain that left at least 19 people dead and others missing.

Both locomotive crews died, The AP reported, when the trains collided three miles from Chinchilla and nine miles from Albacete underneath high-tension wires that fell on the wreck and caused a fierce blaze. Other victims included a mechanic, said a spokesman of Spain’s state railway company, Renfe.

After the accident, police warned people in Chinchilla to stay indoors and close their windows, believing the freight train was carrying sulphuric acid, but hours later Renfe confirmed the tank cars were empty at the time of the crash.

The crash occurred Tuesday evening when the passenger train carrying about 90 people and an empty freight train collided near Chinchilla in Albacete province, 155 miles southeast of Madrid.

Development Minister Francisco Alvarez Cascos said the cause of the crash may have been a railway worker who gave a wrong signal. Normally, one of the trains would have been diverted onto a siding while the other continued on the main line.

The locomotive and first few cars of the Talgo passenger train caught fire after the crash and TV footage showed flaming cars piled on the tracks.

Three large cranes were on either side of the railway line the next day where smoke was still rising from the charred cars. TV footage showed rescue workers and forensic investigators searching amid the blackened wreckage.

In January an intercity train derailed on the same line from Madrid to Cartagena, also near Albacete, killing two people.


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IN THE DESERT...  In the desert...

Rail plays big role in Iraqi future

Rail is a key ingredient in Iraq’s future, said a foreign relations expert in Senate testimony last week.

Alan P. Larson, Under Secretary for Economic, Business, and Agricultural Affairs, testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington on June 4.

He said, “Critical to Iraq’s reconstruction will be the transportation sector, which faces numerous challenges.”

He pointed out that “On May 23, the port of Umm Qasr became the first reconstruction project transferred from military to civilian administration. The basic infrastructure is sound, but has not received proper maintenance for years.”

Mostly British forces got the line in service again between Umm Qasr and Baghdad about two weeks ago.

Larson added, “Rehabilitation priorities include the port administration buildings… grain elevators, port dredging so that larger bulk grain vessels can offload near the grain elevators. The adjoining railroad system is also under review for repair to help move the large amount of cargo projected to arrive through the port. Major roadways have also sustained conflict-related damage and will need work.”

On the same day, an enterprising reporter and a photographer from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer took a ride on an Iraqi passenger train from Baghdad, Iraq’s capital, almost to Samayah.

Larry Johnson, Seattle P-I’s foreign desk editor, wrote rail service is up and coming in this down and dirty city of 5 million people.

Thair Al-Asad, a 24-year-old laborer, was glad to be on the green and yellow train when it pulled out of the crowded station at 9:00 a.m., about a half-hour late.

Despite the sand that coated the seats, the broken windows and the smothering heat, Al-Asad had a smile for everyone, and a frilly sundress for his 3-year-old daughter. He was riding the rails south to his home in Nasiriyah, just two hours north of the train’s final stop in Basra.

“I have been gone from home since March 2, looking for a job, any kind of job,” Al-Asad said, his smile at odds with his plight. “There is no hope; everyone is looking for jobs.”

Trains have been running again only for the past two weeks, but already the Iraqi Railroad company has begun daily service from Baghdad to Basra, Mosul and the Syrian border. It used to be Iraqi State Railways, but now no one is sure what its name is.

A passenger ticket for the 10- to 12-hour trip to Basra costs 1,000 dinars (about 75 cents), a first-class sleeper seat is 2,000 dinars and a bus ticket is 5,000 dinars.

“This was the first company back in operation since the war,” said locomotive engineer Jamal Abdalah, from his air-conditioned diesel engine.

It’s the only air conditioning on the train. In the oven-hot passenger cars the only relief came from a window, which railroad workers removed as the train pulled out of the station, but the sand that poured in as the train barreled down the track made the air circulation a mixed blessing.

Though it’s been reported that the U.S. Army is helping to get the railroads running again, Abdalah gave all the credit to his co-workers. The railway workers decided to get the trains rolling again on their own, Abdalah said, using fuel that was already in storage, although there is a shortage of engine oil.

They are even getting salaries from the company. Engineers get about 200,000 dinars per month, about $150.

Abdalah, who has worked for the railroad for 30 years, said the important thing was to start returning Iraq to some sort of normalcy.

“We will work without money if we have to,” he said.

Security was his number one concern. Workers had hooked up air conditioning units to the passenger cars for yesterday’s trip to Basra, but overnight Ali Babas, as thieves are called here, sneaked into the Baghdad train yard and ripped out all the equipment.

“Nothing is safe now,” said Abdalah.

Police are supposed to be riding the train, but none was in sight on the trip toward Basra.

There were only five cars on the Basra train, all of them undergoing extensive repairs as the train rolled along. The passengers were like passengers anywhere: young and old, single men and families. The distinguishing trait for them all however was their friendliness and their poverty.

As the train rumbled along the tracks past flat plains that quickly gave way to date palms and even fields of grain, the passengers became increasingly vocal, as if getting closer to their homes in the south gave them inspiration, or at least comfort.

One young man picked up an Arabic language newspaper and studied a photo of President Bush.

“I love Bush,” he said in Arabic, to no one in particular.

When asked why, he said, “I love him because he got rid of Saddam Hussein.”

What about the U.S. soldiers in Iraq?

“I love them all,” he said. “I am happy to have them in this country.”

As boys passed down the aisle, selling bananas, ice cream and colas, another man spoke openly of his anger at Saddam. He blamed Saddam for bringing the Americans and British into Iraq.

“Oh Saddam, what have you done to us?” he asked. “All the troops must leave.”

Mohamed Durani, a former Iraqi soldier, wanted to know when the new government in Baghdad would reactivate the Iraqi army. No one knew, but it was mentioned that news reports stated that the army would remain disbanded, and only a national police force would remain.

Durani produced a faded military ID card and a crinkled photo of himself in an army uniform. There are thousands of Iraqis like him across the country, disbanded soldiers, out of work and with few prospects in a nation of 25 million people without jobs.

About four hours into the trip to Basra, at the completely looted railway station outside the small town of Samayah, the journey came to an end for some of the passengers.

A train heading north to Baghdad was blocking the rails. The railroad workers waited about two hours and then advised those who were in a hurry, and could afford it, to seek other transportation.

A few people caught a ride into Samayah to make their way to Nasiriyah and on to Basra via rented vans. Most of the passengers remained behind, sweltering in the heat.

Abdalah, the engineer, was not happy. He said it could be only a matter of hours, or it could be all night. Without any way of communicating with the other train or another train station, everyone was on his own.


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

Prov and Worcester RR

NCI: Leo King

It is August 14, 1979, and it’s a busy day on the ex-New Haven Railroad branch between Valley Falls, R.I. and Red Bridge in East Providence. Providence & Worcester’s PR-2 is taking the siding on the single track line along the George R. Bennett Memorial Highway (Also known as the Pawtucket Industrial Highway) so PR-3 can pass and return to the Valley Falls yard. The railroad’s relatively new M-420s were built in Montreal. The 2001, at left, and the 2002 were eventually sold, as were the road’s four other M-420s. P&W 2001 was built in February 1974, and was sold to Iowa Interstate Railroad in February 1994 where it remains in service to this day as No. 800. P&W’s 2003 and 2005 also went to Iowa and are in service. We have no information on what happened to 2002, 2004 nor 2006. P&W replaced the engines with U-18Bs.

End Notes...

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

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

Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images that appear in Destination: Freedom may do so at a nominal fee of $10.00 per image. "True color" .jpg images average 1.7MB each, and are 300 dots-per-inch for print publishers.

In an effort to expand the on-line experience at the National Corridors Initiative web site, we have added a page featuring links to other rail travel sites. We hope to provide links to those cities or states that are working on rail transportation initiatives - state DOTs, legislators, governor's offices, and transportation professionals - as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists.

If you have a favorite rail link, please send the uniform resource locator address (URL) to the webmaster in care of this web site. An e-mail link appears at the bottom of the NCI web site pages to get in touch with D. M. Kirkpatrick, NCI's webmaster in Boston.


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