NCI: Leo KingA mail train awaits its crew in Jacksonville, Fla. in May. If Amtrak doesn't get cash soon, the Northeast Corridor may come to a halt s well as all long-distance service - including Florida "Silver Service."
|Gunn shakes up Amtrak|
Only three weeks on the job, Amtrak President David Gunn found that his inevitable "baptism in fire" was not long in coming. Either he gets a $200 million loan or the system shuts down in July. Not just the long distance routes either. All of them.
"We're starting to take a look at what we do with these trains if Amtrak suddenly shuts down," a Class I freight rail executive told D:F on Wednesday.
"We have (a lot) of their (Amtrak) trains on our road," he said, "What if they suddenly shut down at 12:01 a.m? The trains are out there on our tracks. What do we do with them? We can't just leave them there. We need the space for our own traffic, and we don't have yard space to store them."
That chilling "right-between-the-eyes" conversation symbolically got to the bottom line: "Crunch time," anticipated for 31 years, was finally on the doorstep.
More optimism prevailed the following day.
In a Washington Post interview, Gunn expressed optimism that he would secure the $200 million loan.
"I'm optimistic that Amtrak will get a loan and the system will keep running," United Transportation Union Legislative Director James "Broken Rail" Brunkenhoefer told D:F while on Capitol Hill Thursday for a rail safety hearing.
"We're optimistic the money will be there," National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) Executive Director Ross Capon told us at the same meeting.
On what basis did such optimism prevail among Amtrak's friends?
Some cited election year considerations. What lawmaker wants flak from the voters in a town or city that lost its rail service? Who needs that as another campaign issue?
Later in the day, there was another indication of what may have prompted the confidence that, for the time being at least, Amtrak may yet again survive on its perennial fiscal trapeze.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Amtrak's number one critic on Capitol Hill, fired off a letter to Gunn, praising the new Amtrak CEO for his candor in an earlier letter to him. The senator disclosed that he had requested a hearing for the Senate Commerce Committee, of which he is the ranking member, to explore "what must be done to avoid a shut-down of the entire system in July."
"Clearly," the Arizonan added, "a shut-down of Amtrak's operations along the Northeast Corridor, in California and in certain other locations, could be highly disruptive."
In no way does this represent a radical change in McCain's overall view of Amtrak, as he made clear in writing, "I maintain my position that most of Amtrak's routes are not economically viable and serve only political purposes."
McCain also praised Gunn for his announcement in a letter to Amtrak employees that he was launching an organizational and policy shakeup within the company. They include reducing the number of vice-president titles from 84 to about 20, eliminating three business units - Northeast Corridor, Amtrak West, and Amtrak Intercity (i.e. everything else, mainly long distance trains), and concentrating management in Washington in a "traditional railroad structure."
The three unit offices, in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Oakland, Calif. respectively, "will remain open to handle local matters and operations, but they will no longer make final decisions on operations," according to the Washington Post. The "traditional railroad structure," Gunn told his coworkers, will involve "an operating department, a mechanical department, an engineering department."
[A separate story regarding Gunn's letter to the field follows. - Ed.]
He also said a new policy of total openness with Amtrak finances will start, with detailed monthly updates available to Congress and the public. That really rang McCain's chimes.
"One of the many criticisms leveled at Amtrak," the senator wrote Gunn, "has been its reluctance to release basic information about its financial condition and operating performance - even to Congress and the federal entities charged with overseeing Amtrak's performance. Amtrak has also been unwilling to distribute basic information - even reports prepared on a regular basis, without a specific request for the document each and every time the document is issued."
Sources tell D:F that the Bush administration has crafted a passenger train policy, but does not want to make it public now lest the announcement affect Amtrak at this delicate stage of its ongoing crisis.
(We have an opinion on the crisis and Gunn's handling of it, elsewhere in this issue.)
During a recess in the Capitol Hill rail safety hearings, Association of American Railroads (AAR) President Edward R. Hamberger told D:F he hoped Gunn would be successful in his quest for emergency cash.
Hamberger, whose AAR represents the freight carriers whose properties provide most of the tracks for Amtrak operations outside the Northeast Corridor, said that "Congress needs to understand, the administration needs to understand, and more importantly, the American taxpayer needs to understand that no intercity passenger rail service in the world pays for itself."
He added, "If you want a first class intercity passenger system, it has to be subsidized. It makes sense from a public policy standpoint because there are public policy benefits" such as energy conservation and alleviating traffic congestion, "but you have to acknowledge that, and then you have to design a system that you're willing to pay for."
The hearing itself, before the House Subcommittee on Railroads, was prompted by train accidents in April and May in Crescent City, Fla., Placentia, Calif., and in South Carolina. They resulted in a total of eight deaths and 250 injuries.
One approach to the problem is encompassed in H.R. 4761, sponsored by Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.). It includes amendments to the current Hours of Service Act and new requirements for vehicles used to conduct on-track safety inspections.
During the hearing, Oberstar, the committee's ranking member, expressed a concern that the question of worker fatigue often boils down to "a benefit/cost analysis" which "bogs down the safety issue."
A different approach was contained in the testimony of Dr. Martin Moore-Ede, M.D., PHD, and CEO of Circadian Technologies, Inc.
He noted that the far-flung "24-7"-railroad industry is conducive to leaving many freight train workers with unpredictable schedules, with unpredictable hours of work and rest, which make it difficult for the workers to plan their sleep. This is compounded, he said, by the fact that "the flow of trains across the system is impacted by weather, mechanical failure, track conditions, and the schedules of shippers and receivers of freight, so that most train crews do not know precisely when they will be called to work."
"Experience has taught us that excessive fatigue risk is manageable and preventable, but not by the traditional regulatory hours-of-service (HoS) approach," Moore-Ede told the lawmakers. He added that the hours-of-service laws fail to consider nighttime work posing a higher risk than daytime work, and the total number of consecutive hours of work, or total accumulated hours of work in a week, do not have a simple relationship with fatigue risk.
He said hours-of-service laws do little to address the problem of unpredictable work, and those regulations typically encourage operators to adopt work and rest schedules that are shorter than 24 hours.
Instead, Moore-Ede recommended that every operating railroad in the U.S. develop - with its unions - a detailed "fatigue management plan." Such a program should be risk-informed, with "systematic data collection and risk-modeling tools."
In his native Canada, the doctor said, in return for preserving more liberal outer limits on hours of work and rest than in the U.S., a commission studying the problem proposed that every railroad, along with its unions, prepare a fatigue management plan.
Although FRA statistics show that the fatigue risk has worsened since 1998, "regulations more restrictive clearly is not the best answer to fixing the problem," he testified. A risk-informed "performance-based fatigue management" approach is the best way to go, pending advances in "train control and new alertness monitoring technologies,' he concluded.
When the AAR's Hamberger finally got his turn to testify at the very end of the hearing, he proceeded to do what he obviously considered a process of cutting right to the chase.
With the benefit of a video presentation, Hamberger showed some chilling scenes of real grade crossing accidents where the engineer could not bring the train to a halt in time to avoid tragic accidents. The scenes, as photographed from the engine cabs, served as a "reality check" as the lawmakers saw the trains bearing down on motorists who had tried to beat the train.
Hamberger presented statistics showing that grade-crossing accidents constitute 96 percent of the rail safety problems.
Return to index
|Gunn sees continued hard times|
Amtrak's new president, David Gunn, told the railroad's employees in an advisory sent to all corners of the passenger carrier that there are more tough times ahead for Amtrak, and inferred Congress will make or break the corporation.
He said, "In order to operate through the remainder of the fiscal year ending September 30, 2002, Amtrak must borrow over $200 million, the cash shortfall between our revenue (including subsidies) and expenses. Whatever we borrow this fiscal year will be repaid out of next year's subsidy, assuming we get the $1.2 billion we requested for next year - $200 million will go to repay our loan for 2002. You should know that as of today [June 5] that $1.2 billion has the support of 150 House and 35 Senate members--so progress is being made."
He added, "The supplemental appropriation of $55 million, of which you may have heard, is not directly related to this problem. This money is primarily for the repair of wrecked and damaged cars."
He said the company still needs to take out another loan.
"Securing a bank loan before month's end for the remainder of fiscal year 2002 is a necessity. We are working on the problem. As of today, we have not arranged financing."
On another matter, he told the employees, "This week, we will begin the move back to a traditional railroad structure, which should be in place early in the next fiscal year. We will have an operating department, a mechanical department, an engineering department, etc.
"One last thought. Guests may be called passengers."
Gunn was not the only person writing letters last week. Jim Weinstein, an Amtrak vice-president, wrote a letter to his "colleagues at the NEC" to tell them he was leaving Amtrak.
"By now, you may have heard that I am resigning as Senior Vice-President of the Northeast Corridor, effective June 15. This was a difficult decision, as I consider the work we do important and I think it's a privilege to be part of this fine organization."
He wrote although he had not been with the railroad for long, he had met many people along the corridor, and was "impressed with the quality and caliber of the NEC staff and believe you serve the public with professionalism and dedication."
He did not appear to be bitter. He stated, "Amtrak is a great organization - due in large part to the commitment of its people.... I know these are challenging times for the Amtrak family, but I also know that you are capable of meeting these challenges and more as you do the work you do best."
He said that for the week or so he had left on the railroad, he would "work with Stan Bagley and our new President, David Gunn, to ensure an orderly transition," and he thanked the employees for their support, patience, professionalism "and your sense of pride as you educated me as to "how to run a railroad."
Amtrak has more than 80 vice-presidents.
Return to index
|Georgia: Just the tracks, please|
The recent approval of a bond package by the Georgia DOT has cheered supporters of passenger rail to Middle Georgia, The Macon Telegraph reported on June 2 - but until the state can reach an agreement with Norfolk Southern on using its rail lines, there's not much the state can do with the money.
Last month, the DOT's board approved the sale of $151 million in bonds. Of that, $130 million will be applied to the proposed commuter-rail link between Macon and Atlanta; however, there is only so much the state can do until it has locked in an agreement to ride NS's rails.
"Everything has to wait till we get an agreement with the railroad," said Doug Alexander, rail manager for the Georgia Rail Passenger Authority (and NCI board member), "but frankly, I think that's going to happen sooner rather than later."
Estimates for when rail service to Macon will begin range from 2007 to 2012.
Talks are ongoing between state officials and NS, said Susan Terpay, a spokeswoman for the Norfolk-based freight railroad, and Joselyn Baker, a spokeswoman for Gov. Roy Barnes. Neither would comment on the nature or the progress of the talks.
At issue is how much the state is willing to pay to either buy the rail lines outright from NS, or rent the lines. At one point, NS was seeking about $360 million to sell the lines to the state, while Barnes was willing to pay about half that amount, according to people familiar with the talks.
If and when an agreement is reached, Georgia transportation officials can start work on creating the passenger link: engineering and rehabilitating the rail line between Macon and Atlanta, purchasing rail cars and other equipment and acquiring rights-of-way.
The $151 million bond package will probably be sold in August, said Jim Croy, executive director of the State Road and Tollway Authority, which will oversee the bond sale. Once the bonds are sold, the money could be spent immediately on rail projects, Croy said.
Rail supporters had expected that money since last June, when Barnes announced an $8.3 billion plan to improve transportation across the state. The new bond package also includes $21 million for the passenger-train station in downtown Atlanta. The state plans to sell a total of $446 million in bonds to pay for the Macon-Atlanta rail link and the Atlanta train station.
Still up in the air is additional money from the state's general fund and from federal sources. Barnes, for the second-straight year, didn't include $12 million in the state's budget for the Macon-Atlanta rail.
Efforts by the state legislature to put that money in the fiscal 2003 budget failed, but had the $12 million been included, it would have triggered as much as $38 million in federal matching funds.
Sen. Robert Brown, D-Macon, said he'd try again in the 2003 legislative session to include the money in the budget. Not recommending the $12 million doesn't mean Barnes has withdrawn his support for Macon rail, Baker said.
"There has been no change in the governor's position," she said, and added, "Current transportation plans still include the line to Macon."
Still, Barnes said in February that the Macon-Atlanta rail link was no longer the state's top rail priority. A light-rail line between downtown Atlanta and Cobb County is now the top priority. Light rail can be built on existing roads and rights-of-way, making it an easier proposition than securing rail rights from a railroad company.
There are few alternatives to NS's route if Macon wants to get a rail link to the state capital.
A plan to build a new rail line on top of Interstate 75 was ruled out as too expensive, with initial cost estimates coming it at $2.5 billion, Alexander said. And while NS owns two rail lines between Atlanta and Macon, only one line is considered suitable for use by passenger trains. The "H" line hauls freight and is near capacity. That line also has several sheer curves that are unsuitable for use by passenger trains, which travel at much higher speeds than freight trains.
The "H" line is located east of Interstate 75 and goes through the towns of Locust Grove, Forest Park, Stockbridge, McDonough, Flovilla and Juliette.
State rail plans call for using the "S" line, which NS rarely uses for carrying freight. The "S" line runs in a straighter line - better for carrying people and toting 90-foot passenger coaches - and goes through Barnesville, Griffin and Morrow, cities that aren't within easy reach of I-75.
"Those are the people we're trying to serve," Alexander said.
Norfolk Southern's financial condition has improved recently, meaning it's not desperate for the cash infusion a sale of its lines would bring. The company's first-quarter profit rose 16 percent to $86 million from $74 million in the year-earlier quarter, helped by lower fuel costs.
Amtrak could be a stopgap solution to Macon's desire for commuter rail.
Macon Mayor Jack Ellis said he's been talking with Amtrak about adding Macon to the itinerary of its existing line between Washington and Jacksonville, Fla. For that to happen, Congress must approve a bill to give the struggling train service new subsidies worth about $4.6 billion a year for five years, but Amtrak would only make one or two stops a day in Macon, while a state-run commuter-rail link would make up to 25 trips daily between Atlanta and Macon.
Plans for a rail station in Macon recently got a boost.
The Macon City Council's Public Properties Committee on May 28 approved $2 million to buy Terminal Station from Southern Co.'s Georgia Power unit. The city would use Terminal Station for commuter-rail service, as well as for bus service, restaurants and office space.
Georgia's General Assembly this year approved $2.6 million for Atlanta's new train station. Along with a $20 million federal match, the state will begin acquiring land in downtown Atlanta between Philips Arena and MARTA's Five Points station for the rail station.
The Atlanta multimodal passenger terminal will serve as the northernmost stop on the Macon-Atlanta rail route, as well as the central station for rail and bus links to other parts of Georgia.
Return to index
|Irked Sunset passengers get to Houston|
More than 300 passengers aboard an Amtrak train that crashed into an 18-wheeler in Louisiana on May 31 pulled into Houston's station the next day (a Saturday). They were tired, hot, hungry and testy. Their moods didn't improve when they found only two soon-to-be overwhelmed Amtrak employees waiting for them at the Washington Avenue station near downtown.
The Houston Chronicle reported passenger Shirley Boon said, "You have no idea how frustrating this 'wonderful trip' has been for us." She was on her way from Orlando, Fla., to Fresno, Calif., when her train, the Sunset Limited, train No. 1, hit an 18-wheeler hauling metal pipes that stalled on tracks in Iberia Parish at about 4:30 p.m. Friday.
Louisiana State Police Lt. Darrel Gros said only one minor injury was reported at the scene, and he confirmed the train was delayed for several hours while law enforcement officers and environmental experts dealt with the wreckage and some diesel fuel that spilled from the locomotive and the truck.
That delay, according to several passengers who were waiting to see what kind of arrangements Amtrak was making to get them to their destinations, was not pleasant.
Most of the passengers, they said, were herded off the train and kept in a nearby yard. After fighting off some pretty big Cajun mosquitoes for a few hours, they were allowed to board again at about 11:30 p.m.; but, some said, there was no electricity, no air conditioning and the only food and water came from a local Red Cross chapter.
"We were literally cooking on that train," said Connie Bradshaw, who was traveling from Maryland to Las Vegas with a group of about 84 people.
Amtrak employees on the train tried to make the passengers comfortable, Boon and Bradshaw said, but they would not provide much information about what was happening nor when the train would get moving again.
Joyce Wood, a pregnant woman going from Florida to California with her fianc», said she even saw some employees with pizza and fast food that they refused to share with passengers.
All the passengers had were sandwiches, Wood said.
The train started moving again slowly at about 3 a.m., according to passengers and Louisiana state troopers. It only moved a few miles so it could be coupled to a new engine, and it didn't leave for Texas until later in the morning. It arrived in Houston after 3:00 o'clock in the afternoon. By then, the passengers said, they got a complimentary breakfast and were assured there would be plenty of help for them in Houston.
The help consisted of ticket clerk Dave Garland and one other employee.
Amtrak keeps only two workers in its Houston station, and in the past the company has reduced staff there as part of a nationwide effort to soften years of losses.
Many passengers said Garland and the other employee were doing the best they could as they alternated between pulling luggage off the train and trying to make travel arrangements for the passengers.
"Everyone is just a little shook up," said Gwendloyn Thomas, traveling from Washington, D.C., to Las Vegas, "but, everyone is okay and it will all be fine."
Not everyone was as understanding.
"It's sad. You can't even get a little bit of information," said Jake Rael, who was going from Florida to California. "I went up to talk to the employees when I got here and they were belligerent."
Boon said she and other passengers, who called the railroad on their cell phones during the delay, believe Amtrak dropped the ball by not having a better plan in place to take care of their needs.
"There was just no recovery plan in place at all," she said. "There could have been dead bodies on that train and there was nothing waiting for us here."
Garland could only respond that there are only two Amtrak employees at the station here. And, when asked why his employer didn't send them some help, he said: "Don't get me started."
Return to index
|Oregonians look for more trains|
Increasingly popular passenger trains rumble between Portland and Seattle four times a day as the upgraded Amtrak Cascades service continues to attract business travelers, sightseers and Mariners fans seeking an alternative to airports and Interstate 5, according the a June 2 report in the Portland Oregonian.
Ridership has risen sixfold in the past eight years, turning the 466-mile Eugene-to-Vancouver, B.C., corridor into one of Amtrak's fastest-growing services, according to the newspaper report, "and rider satisfaction surveys suggest the people piling into these modern, European-style trains love them."
The fanfare continues despite frequent delays as trains routinely get slowed by chronic track maintenance or stuck behind sluggish freight trains. The passenger trips are slow and infrequent enough to be inconvenient for most people on tight schedules, but that's what makes the trains' popularity so encouraging to regional rail advocates. In fact, the current service, and its 600,000 annual riders, is little more than a clumsy preview of the inter-city rail dream that has been bouncing around the Northwest for 20 years.
That dream calls for tripling the number of Portland-Seattle and Eugene-Portland trains during the next 10 to 15 years with trip times cut by a third as trains hurtle at up to 115 mph. British Columbia is part of the dream, too, with the Canadian province warming to the idea of improving its own tracks as a way to boost its bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
The Cascadia Project, a Seattle-based think tank, envisions a seamless, rail-united Northwest with an international draw: "Cascadia, the two-nation vacation."
The Cascadia Project is trying to help line up money and politicians to make the regional rail dream happen. Director Bruce Agnew sees the politics aligning as soon as next year. He points to Washington state's November ballot measure that asks voters for $170 million in rail improvements and a U.S. House subcommittee that advocates spending $59 billion to boost passenger rail nationwide.
"We need to develop a rail system that is a real alternative to Interstate 5 for everyone," Agnew said, suggesting passenger rail could ultimately become as essential to linking Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., as it is to connecting New York, Boston and Washington, D.C.
Many obstacles remain.
If Washington voters reject Referendum 51 in November, the state can't proceed with a long list of pricey projects that include laying more than 40 miles of new track and providing a quicker route through Vancouver's freight yard. The state also loses $800 million in potential federal matching money.
Although Congress, by some accounts, appears to exhibit unprecedented bipartisan support for a massive rail investment, the issue is mired in a complex debate over how much money to give Amtrak, which reports large annual losses despite ongoing federal and state subsidies.
Congressional members from Washington and Oregon say they are fighting to ensure that at least some rail improvement money is sent to the Northwest later this year. But they also admit it is too early to predict how much, if any, will make it.
Until federal money comes to the rescue, which now appears unlikely until at least next year, it will be difficult to increase train speed or relieve track problems south of Portland that continue to restrict and slow Amtrak's service.
There are at least two main tracks throughout Washington's I-5 corridor, with plans for a third track along some stretches, but most of Oregon's north-south corridor is a single, high-maintenance track belonging to Union Pacific. The result? Daily delays.
On a recent Portland-bound trip, the train fell behind a slow freight heading north from Eugene, slowing to 30 mph--the corridor speed limit is 79 mph--through stretches of track that needed work. By the time it left Portland for Seattle, it was about 40 minutes behind schedule.
One harried Portland passenger vented that the delay was forcing her to miss her flight out of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, but most travelers appeared unfazed.
Lynn Auch, a Portland marketing consultant who rides the Seattle train once a month to visit clients, says it's been late three of her last five trips. But she says the train is less stressful than driving or flying, and she enjoys the Puget Sound views where the train glides along the beach for 20 miles between Olympia and Tacoma.
Auch says she'd appreciate the Seattle train even more if it was faster and more frequent. The grand plan calls for 13 trips a day between Seattle and Portland, with trip times cut by an hour to 2-1/2 hours each way - faster than the distance can be legally driven.
"If they manage to do that, it'll be incredible," Auch said. "I mean, why drive?"
Some of the trains' popularity has to do with the Spanish-designed Talgo trainsets themselves, which Washington state and Amtrak bought three years ago. The trains are clean, modern and quiet enough for casual conversation. They offer large windows and roomier seats than most buses or commuter planes. There is a "bistro" and lounge on each train, credit-card activated telephones, movies in the coach cars and outlets for laptops.
A round-trip coach ticket from Portland to Seattle costs from $46 to $56, depending on when it's reserved. The nine-car trains carry as many as 288 people and are often sold out both ways on weekends or whenever there is an afternoon Mariners game.
Amtrak surveys show that riders consistently rank the Cascades trains in the low to mid-90s on a scale of 1 to 100, says Dennis Kuklis, business operations director for Oakland, Calif.-based Amtrak West.
Kuklis says the trains score as high as any of Amtrak's 40-plus rail services in the country, although the customer satisfaction numbers are considerably higher for comfort and cleanliness than for food and punctuality.
Kuklis says the Cascades corridor is the only one in the country with double-digit ridership increases for each of the past eight years.
"That's probably unprecedented," he said, but until federal money is released for track improvements, the growth may be stunted by its weakest link: the Eugene to Portland track, where passenger trains often roll along at 20 mph to 40 mph.
"We're stuck in place," said Claudia Howells, director of the rail office for the Oregon DOT. "People say, 'Lets' go 115 (mph),' and I'm just going day-to-day."
There was just one day in April and the first three weeks in May in which both Eugene-to-Portland trains arrived on time.
Howells says she had high hopes that Congress would finally send Oregon a big check for rail improvements this year, especially after September 11 triggered a campaign to revitalize the nation's passenger rail.
Oregon's wish list of about $80 million in rail projects includes creating an express route through the Eugene rail yard, lengthening sidings for slower freight travel and helping Union Pacific replace some of its deteriorating rails between Albany and Eugene.
The goal, Howells said, is not only to get the current trains on schedule, but also to build a system that is capable of tripling the number of daily trains between Eugene and Portland. However, for now, she says it will be hard enough to keep the two passenger trains rolling on tracks that were in better condition a century ago.
"What is remarkable is that we continue to have strong ridership," Howells said. "The riders we've lost are the regular business travelers. They tell us they would love to take the train, but they clearly need a higher level of reliability."
In Washington State, rail officials are pushing ahead with environmental analyses and other groundwork to launch upgrades.
"We are doing everything possible to put ourselves in a position such that if the federal money comes, we are able to deliver," said Stephen Anderson, director of Washington's rail program. "As we improve the product, people in Oregon and Washington are going to want it even more." Anderson winces at Oregon's track problems and the routine delays they create for Washington trains. He also is discouraged to hear how forecasts for federal money have soured.
Wally Fisher can't understand the holdup. He's so gung-ho about passenger trains that he volunteers at the Olympia station, one of the few stations in the country run entirely by volunteers.
"All aboard!" Fisher tells a southbound crowd, and then wonders aloud why Uncle Sam pours so much money into airlines and highways and is so stingy with the railroads.
"Everyone knows this is the best way to move people," he said, plus, trains are fun, especially when compared with getting stuck in traffic.
"It's such a joy to just get on a train, no matter how (behind schedule) it might be, to just sit down and you're going someplace. We see families come in here just to take a ride to Seattle or to Portland. You can get up and walk around and enjoy the scenery. It's just a laid-back atmosphere."
Return to index
|More engines for sale|
Last week we reported Amtrak was selling some FL-9s and other engines. Last Thursday, we learned there were more engines for sale, including more CF-7s. In all, the engines are in various states of (dis)repair.
At Wilmington, Del., Two CF-7s are available - 583 (oil out stack, no event recorder nor ditch lights) and 586 with the same problems but with "new power assemblies." Three GP-9s are for sale. No. 765, with unspecified block damage; 767 with two broken rods, crankshaft and counter-balance damage; and 769, with a broken counterbalance and a rod through its side.
A pair of GP-7s, 776 and 783, both sustained crankshaft and counterbalance damage.
Two SSB1200 are available. The 550 will run, but the 560 has a broken crankshaft.
If you need an E60MA, there are three available - 605, 606 and 607. No reports of damage for those three locomotives.
At Bear, Del., GP-9 771 is for sale, but with its counterbalance removed and the No. 8 rod through its side.
FL-9s 484, 487, 488 and 489 are still available, we are told, as well as 485 and 486 at Renssealer, N.Y.
The bid closing date is June 27, 2002. There were no minimum bids listed.
Return to index
|Shoreliner, Cardinal to get sleepers back|
Look for sleepers to return to Amtrak's Twilight Shoreliner later this month.
A reliable source said apparently the Superliner sleepers involved in the Auto Train accident in Florida had minor damage and needed only a new set flanges. They will be returning June 21. The ex-Cardinal Superliner sleepers on the Auto Train will also be returning.
Return to index
New Connecticut rail station opens
Connecticut Gov. John Rowland and Acting Transportation Commissioner James F. Byrnes, joined by New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, and emceed by Connecticut's legendary Director of Rails Harry Harris, dedicated the first new-site, full-scale train station in the state in many decades on Thursday, as New Haven's State Street Railroad Station opened for service.
Part of the growing Shore Line East rail route that now extends between Stamford and New London along Connecticut's Long Island coast, the new station, on State between Court and Chapel streets, is within a few blocks of the city's downtown, and within easy walking distance of Yale University and its museums, galleries, and theatres.
It will give New Haven commuters a more direct access to their places of work, noted Rowland, and help to relieve traffic congestion, which is expected to grow worse as New Haven's I-95 Pearl Harbor bridge is rebuilt over the next decade.
Currently, the service operates weekdays only, although rail activists are seeking the addition of weekend service. They are also suggesting that ConnDOT and Metro-North equipment be refurbished to permit 25 KV operation (required east of New Haven) to open up electrified service for Metro-North as far east as Providence, R.I.
Shore Line East service relies on diesels, and CDOT multiple-unit equipment can only run west (toward New York) from New Haven. There are no plans to rebuild the present MUs to 25 KV operation, even though it would enable, for low-cost, a massive increase in commuter rail service to Eastern Connecticut and all of Rhode Island.
Return to index
Bring back street cars?
Conservative icon, colleague, argue 'Yes'
Paul Weyrich, a leading conservative thinker in America and a frequent speaker at NCI conferences, and his co-author William Lind, will unveil today at a Baltimore conference a radical redefinition of what transit should and could be in America.
Bring Back The Streetcar - A Conservative Vision of Tomorrow's Urban Transportation will be revealed today at the Commuter Rail conference of the American Public Transportation Association in Baltimore.
Weyrich and Lind offer streetcars as a logical, low-cost form of rail transit that worked well earlier in the 20th century, and could work well again, especially in smaller cities and towns that need to address urban congestion, but cannot afford light rail or heavy rail systems, or that want to transition to those systems but want to start with a lower-cost alternative.
The authors note, in case studies documented in the report in cities like Kenosha, Wis., San Jose, Calif., and Portland, Ore. - and even larger cities like Dallas and New Orleans - that streetcars can be implemented for under $20 million per mile, and often for amounts far less than that, especially when put together and operated, at least in part, by volunteers.
The destruction of the streetcar system in America, lead by a conspiracy of oil, automotive and tire interests that bought up street car lines and immediately destroyed them, and who were convicted of that crime, is mentioned in passing; the authors believe that any fair assessment of transportation technologies will lead to a major streetcar revival because streetcar lines can be highly cost-effective - and because they can spur major economic development along their routes.
Included in the paper is an appendix that gives a "how-to" lesson for would-be streetcar activists. Coming from one of the most persuasive and powerful political leaders in the country, Paul Weyrich, and his highly capable and renowned co-author, Bill Lind, this is a study that could have a real impact on America's transportation future.
Copies of the study will be available from APTA (202-496-4800); NCI will have an expanded review of the study in its June 17 edition. - Ed.
Return to index
Two photos: NJTDesigner Cesar Vergara went to Germany to study the lines of this ALP-46 electric locomotive and produce this final paint scheme.
|World-class designer paints NJT|
A world-class, award-winning railroad and industrial designer has come up with another winner - in my humble opinion.
Cesar Vergara, who is New Jersey Transit's (NJT) chief designer and assistant executive director, began his new job one year ago after moving on from the Pacific Northwest. He now hangs his office hat in Newark, N.J., but he, his wife, Aideen, a nurse practitioner, and four kids live in Ridgefield, Conn.
He described his job as a means to "improve the look and feel of the corporation through quality design." Beside locomotives and passenger rolling stock, design efforts include stations, facilities, bridges, and buses.
Vergara went to Europe to see first-hand what NJT's new locomotives looked like, and to get a feel for their size and dimensions.
"The job of designing the paint and graphic scheme for the ALP-46 started in July 2001," he told D:F last week, "and was concluded in late August in a trip to the manufacturing facility in Kassel, Germany."
That facility "is quite historic," he noted, and it "has been there for about 150 years." Most pieces were built "under the Henschel name, and most recently Adtranz, until Bombardier bought the company" earlier this year
Rainbows of colors adorn NJT's new ALP-46 locomotives from the palette of award-winning industrial designer Cesar Vergara.
Instead of working with models, he used the real thing.
"I did not have models; rather drawings and illustrations, and then a 'mock up' in the way of a real engine in the factory in Kassel. It is important to note that the attractive body shape existed when I arrived. I am only responsible for the graphics on this particular engine."
What was done there was that with the help of a crew, "the location of the stripes was determined by applying white and yellow tape to the primed body." He also noted, "The paintmaster was always present to suggest ways to improve the scheme."
Vergara said NJT's executive director approved the final drawing, after which decals were manufactured by Reidler decal Corp. of St. Claire, Pa.
He explains, "In some cases, one does use models, such as we did in Amtrak for the Genesis engine. In that case, we 'vacumformed' several shells to be able to try schemes on them."
He said the new engine "is the most powerful in North America, and can run in all three catenary systems in the assigned territory," which means it can operate on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor.
"The chevron," he said, "is still 55 degrees and identical colors to the NJT traditional chevron. It's depicted in a pattern that makes it look dynamic. The rest of the colors work to enhance the shape and to give the unit a visual center of gravity. The front windshields and side window were clustered in a clean black shape to streamline the appearance of the engine."
Several years earlier, Vergara was director of vehicle design at Amtrak in Wilmington, Del., and Philadelphia from 1990 to 1999. In Wilmington, he managed and expanded the railroad's Rail Design Center.
"The Center received international attention for its role in developing and implementing design programs through innovative use of technology," he said.
The outfit also worked with vendors and government agencies throughout North America and Europe "in developing products, standards and services, but the emphasis was placed on safety, accessibility and maintainability of equipment."
His group also "envisioned and directed the Talgo Cascades program for Washington State DOT and Amtrak, and coordinated engineering, manufacturing and marketing teams in Spain and the United States." He was also responsible for design modifications to General Motors EMD F-59 locomotives, for Intercity and Cascade Corridor service.
He also directed the design program for new San Diegan double-decker intercity fleet.
Remember the U. S. Postal Service's Celebrate the Century Express? That bright, yellow P-42 with "stamps" plastered all over it was his work.
He also organized the first (1994) American Watford Conference and Brunel Awards for European Railroad Architects and Designers in Washington, D.C., hosted by USDOT, National Endowment for the Arts, and Amtrak. The event attracted hundreds of entries from 26 nations, he said.
Vergara also researched and aided in drafting American with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1991 passenger rail section, developed design specifications for the Northeast Corridor high-speed rail rolling stock, helped developed the RTL Turbo prototype to test concepts and materials for New York State's high-speed program, among many other design tasks.
He also designed the carbody, cab, and graphics for GE's Genesis AMD-103 diesel locomotives. It was, he pointed out, "the first diesel-electric to be designed from scratch for passenger service in the United States in 40 years."
Born in Mexico, he was chief designer for National Railways of Mexico (NdeM) in Mexico City from 1987 to 1990.
He earned a master's degree in Industrial Design at - of all places - Konstfack Univ. College of Art and Design in Stockholm, Sweden in 1980. That's also where he earned his Industrial Design degree in 1978.
Does he speak multiple languages? You bet. He's fluent in English, Spanish and Swedish and is competent in German, Danish, Norwegian, Italian, Portuguese and French.
He's has also won an award or two along the way, including, in 1998, the prestigious Brunel Award, for his work with EMD's F-59 locomotives for Amtrak. Two years earlier he had won another Brunel for his Viewliner sleeper for Amtrak, and in 1994, yet another Brunel for his work with the Genesis locomotives. Back in 1992, he earned a Brunel Commendation for his Amtrak Dash-8 GE diesels an engine railfans have nicknamed, "Pepsicans."
For a couple of years after leaving Amtrak in early 1999, he was senior director of rail transportation for Teague, Inc. in Redmond, Wash., where he developed a new rail division for the world-class design consulting firm. He was design and concept manager for the Alstom "Next Generation TGV" project for France and Spain, and also designed the graphic scheme for NJT's track inspection vehicle.
Does he dabble in paints away from the job?
He's "an avid watercolorist."
Return to index
|Warrington is on the NJT job|
NJ Transit's new executive director saw something that bothered him as he inspected the new concourse being built at New York Penn Station, reports the Newark Star-Ledger of June 3. Along with most folks on a recent tour, George Warrington was impressed with the domed ceiling and ornate archways, but the ticket sales windows gave him pause.
"Why are these enclosed?" he asked.
His staff explained that the enclosures were designed to shield employees who handled money from the public.
"From the customer's point of view, it's very cold, to be sealed off that way," Warrington said. "I don't like the psychological barrier it creates.
I need to understand whether the security issue is real or perceived. You guys might have a change order here."
Change is exactly what state officials had in mind when they put Warrington in charge of New Jersey's mass transit agency, where the status quo in recent years entailed overcrowded trains and buses, massive funding shortages and too many dissatisfied customers.
Warrington started his new job on May 6.
He formed five task forces to address what he sees as some of NJT's problems. He committed himself to spending "Fridays in the field," touring the agency's far-flung terminals, stations and garages. The system includes buses as well as trains.
He declared he would streamline the corporation's management so there would be less distance between him and "the troops."
Even people who are routinely critical of NJT management applauded Warrington's arrival.
"They couldn't have picked a better man for the job," said Daniel Bogen, head of the train conductors' union.
"He's a transportation man and he understands how things work," said Robert Daniels, a locomotive engineer.
Warrington, who had been president of Amtrak, did not come cheap to NJ Transit. His $275,000 salary is $82,000 more than what his predecessor, Jeffrey Warsh, earned. Also, the agency sweetened Warrington's benefits package.
The transit board of directors agreed to provide an extra 4_ times his salary in life insurance, pay for 30 days of temporary housing and transportation costs as he moved from Maryland to Morris County and reimburse him for expenses normally not covered in its relocation policy, including real estate fees and commissions for the sale of his old home and the purchase of his new one.
State transportation officials say Warrington will prove to be worth the price.
As Amtrak's president, Warrington spent much of the past couple of years answering to Congress, explaining why the agency would not be able to comply with a federal mandate that it run in the black.
"He was president of Amtrak during the most difficult time in its history," said Ross Capon, executive director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers.
The financial difficulties limited Warrington's effectiveness at Amtrak, rail experts said. For example, one watchdog group says breakdowns on Amtrak's trains to Albany were painfully commonplace.
"You can't imagine how many people were stranded along the Hudson River because of equipment failures," said Janine Bauer, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign watchdog group.
Still, Warrington tried to keep the focus on pleasing the railroad's riders. In particular, Capon pointed to Warrington's guarantee program, which offered passengers vouchers for free travel if they were dissatisfied with the service.
"It's fair to say there was a great deal of improvement in customer service (at Amtrak) during Warrington's tenure," Capon said.
Already, Warrington has been preaching the value of customer service during staff meetings at NJ Transit.
"Decision-making shouldn't be an agonizing process. The things that drive our decisions should be predictable - making money, saving money, customer service - that's what we've got to focus on," Warrington told the agency's top bus officials.
Return to index
|No light rail for Austin this year|
Light rail, which supporters pledged to resurrect as soon as possible after voters derailed the plan in 2000, will not appear on another Austin ballot for at least two years, reports the Austin American-Statesman.
Capital Metro's board of directors decided May 29 to hold off on having an election this year, concluding that the agency is not ready to wage another rail campaign in the six months before voters head to the polls.
"It's apparent that we miscalculated," said board member John Treviło Jr., who has advocated putting light rail on a second ballot quickly.
"We should have started earlier. We should have known it was going to take a lot longer."
Under an agreement brokered in the 2001 Legislature, Capital Metro cannot hold another election on light rail until November 2004 now that it will skip the November 5 date.
The decision to wait ends months of speculation about when the next light rail battle will be. The issue failed by less than 1 percent of the vote in a 2000 campaign that both sides said represented the most important local decision Austin voters would make.
Opponents already were signaling that a new campaign was en route, with the anti-rail group ROAD pitching new ideas for fixing Austin traffic, without rail.
"I've had my arm turned both ways," Capital Metro board Chairman Lee Walker said about calling a vote for November. "The community as near as I can tell is 50-50," and that means Capital Metro needs more time to convince more people, Walker said.
There had been signs that a second vote was not forthcoming. Board members decided just a month ago to keep giving a quarter-cent of its 1-cent sales tax to regional road projects, rather than saving the money for rail, as they had in the past.
The agency also is not finished with an updated plan that would determine the initial 20-mile route and included streets, and location of the first stations. Not being able to say exactly where trains would run was one of the most-cited reasons light rail lost in 2000.
"End result is we are not there yet," Capital Metro President and Chief Executive Fred Gilliam said. "We don't have a plan the community can fully review and come to consensus on."
The work under way, which should be ready in late summer, deals only with the initial segment of light rail and will give the public only about 10 percent to 15 percent of the information it needs, Gilliam said.
So he recommended, and the board agreed, to do a full environmental impact study on the entire proposed 52-mile rail network, which should offer more details about the intricacies of a rail system.
The expanded study should be finished in late 2003 or early 2004. Gilliam estimated the cost could be $10 million; other cities have spent $8 million to $15 million on such studies.
Another factor playing into Capital Metro's decision to postpone the election is that a new regional planning group is trying to craft a plan to handle Central Texas' growth, and the plan should include suggestions on light rail.
Return to index
|Chicago Metra rider numbers decline|
Ridership on public transportation in the Chicago area is down about 3 percent this year, Chicago's Daily Herald reported June 3. Ridership is down across the board on Metra trains, Pace buses, and the Chicago Transit Authority, officials said. That follows years of small but steady ridership increases since the early 1990s. RTA Finance Chief Joe Costello blamed the economic downturn, and said forecasts still call for a ridership increase by year's end.
Return to index
Four photos - NCI: Leo KingRunning backwards and paralleling Beaver Street in Jacksonville, Fla., CSX's local freight Y12021 returns from Baldwin, Fla.
|An icon from the past soldiers on|
Call it, "serendipity."
Everyone knows railroads don't use cabooses - buggies, hacks, vans - any more, right? After all, at one time, hacks were icons of freight trains - the period at then end of a sentence; more like an exclamation point, stating, "That all, folks!"
That was then, this is now.
Then what was this apparition on CSX's "S Line" along Beaver Street on May 21?
This is not a speedy train.
The conductor and brakeman call out signals to the engineer.
A local job with a "first-trick" crew, was on its way home. Engine 1163, not yet in sight, was pushing a string of 13 cars, and two fellows, who I took to be the conductor and brakeman, were on the rear porch of the transfer buggy watching the roads they crossed - like busy Edgewood Avenue where Cassat Avenue ends and crosses Beaver Street in Jacksonville. They blew the high-pitched, single-tone whistle in the traditional two longs, a short and another long toot. It was a quiet whistle, nowhere near the vigor of a locomotive whistle. They were also calling signals via their radios to the engineer.
Up ahead lay the end of the route they were on - which could have taken them to Tallahassee or Chattahoochie and beyond earlier in the day, if they had had a mind to go there.
Several days later, our friend Sue Keegan, from CSX's PR shop in Jacksonville, told us, "The train was Y12021," and its crew "went on duty at 7:00 a.m." They were off the job at 4:40 p.m. She said the job works Monday through Friday "out of Moncrief Yard, and serves industries on the S-Line between Jacksonville and Baldwin. Tough to find out what was on it that day because it was from a yard cut." Susan, by the way, began editing CSX's CSXToday magazine last week.
CSX's way freight Y12021 prepares to leave the "S Line" and operate the last mile into Moncrief Yard.
J'ville to Baldwin. That's about 20 miles on the Wildwood subdivision, depending on how far they traveled on the line. It's also 20 miles back, and if they backed up all the way... it was, indeed, a leisurely journey, at 20 or 30 mph tops. At least with the engine leading, the employee's timetable says they could travel up to 45 mph, depending on where they were. The tonnage rating, for single MP-15 and GP-15 switchers, is 3,300 tons on this piece of track going geographically west (but south on the railroad), and 5,000 tons coming east (north).
The transfer hack, CSX No. 16632, is an anachronism in modern railroading, yet it makes a great deal of sense to use one simply for safety reasons. When a crew is shoving a length of cars backwards, it's a far sturdier platform than hanging onto the side of a car, or standing on the tiny porch builders put on some cars.
I was sightseeing. I was being a tourist, no doubt about it. I had no clue I would run into this train again in about a half-hour. I hopped into my van, took a leisurely trip eastward on Beaver Street, and eventually came to a high, arching bridge with a sidewalk that allowed me (after I parked in a farmer's market lot) to walk up to the crest, where I found a grand view of The TTX yard, and tracks spreading virtually in all directions - and the beginning (or end, depending on which way you're going) of the "S Line." The name of the place is Grand Junction. What an appropriate name.
Well, well, well, look what's coming... it's that transfer hack again.
Engine 1163 pushes its train across the plant and into the yard.
On this warm, breezy spring day (mid-80s), the crew will tie up in Jacksonville terminal's Moncrief Yard. Engine 1163 may be serviced, or perhaps will go right out again on another switch job.
I had begun my journey two hours earlier, and set out in hopes of finding some "action" I could use with Destination: Freedom from time to time.
Finding this local job was serendipitous.
Return to index
|Kansas' rails help keep highways open|
Abandonment of Kansas' short-line railroads would add nearly $50 million annually in repairs to the state highway system, a Kansas State University report found. The price tag is based on the increased truck traffic that would be caused if 1,700 miles of short-line railroad track were abandoned in the western two-thirds of the state.
The study, completed this spring by Michael W. Babcock, professor of economics, and graduate student James L. Bunch, examined four short-lines - the Kansas and Oklahoma Railroad of Wichita; Kyle Railroad Co., of Phillipsburg; Cimarron Valley of Satanta; and the Nebraska Kansas and Colorado RailNet Inc., of Grant, Neb., according to the Topeka Capital Journal.
The Kansas and Oklahoma Railroad is a subsidiary of Watco Companies, of Pittsburg, Kans., one of the nation's largest privately owned short-line operators.
About 28 percent of all of the grain shipped from elevators located on the four short-lines in the study is shipped by rail. If abandoned, those grain shipments would be carried by truck. It takes four trucks to move what is in one rail hopper car. The researchers used engineering equations to calculate the amount of damage those additional trucks would cause the highways.
Babcock said trucks wear out roads much faster than cars because a loaded truck weighs 80,000 pounds, 30 times more than a car.
The report also found that the market share of grain shipped by truck from Kansas grain elevators has increased dramatically during the last decade, raising concerns about the profitability of short-lines in the future, Babcock said.
"If the structural changes in the Kansas grain transportation system continue, the long run viability of Kansas short-lines could be threatened."
Babcock said, "With the increased scale of operations, farmer ownership of semi-tractor trailer trucks has increased," he said. "With these trucks, farmers can bypass the local elevator and the short-line railroad serving it, and deliver grain directly to more distant markets, which will result in increased damage costs for county and state roads."
The study's authors have pointed out that state government has a stake in preserving short-line rail service, including an option of leasing super jumbo hopper cars to operators.
"Given periodic car shortages and railroad congestion, the (major) railroads cannot always supply short-line railroads with covered hopper cars in a timely manner," the report noted.
Return to index
Altoona museum runs low on steam
Banker Dean McKnight was just hunting something to keep himself busy in his impending retirement. So, nearly three months ago, the senior vice-president at M&T Bank signed on with the board of directors at the Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museum, a repository of artifacts and tales of the industry that fathered Altoona and made it the busiest rail center on the planet - and the Pennsylvania Railroad.
"I figured, 'What a nice thing to do after retirement,'" he said.
At least, if your idea of "nice" is discovering that, to everybody's astonishment, the institution is little more than spare change from insolvency, that the future - if there is one - means extreme belt-tightening and a major revenue hunt, writes Tom Gibb in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
"They have a heap of trouble," said David Atkinson, aide to state Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer, a local Republican who helped shepherd millions of state dollars to create the museum.
Despite a desperate rescue plan in the making, it's anything but certain that the place will come out of it alive. The museum, chronicling how almost all life in Altoona moved to the rhythm of the Pennsy, opened four years ago, featuring depth and polish purchased with $16 million in state and federal money.
Last year, the museum drew 45,000 visitors, at least 34,000 from beyond Blair County and its surrounding counties.
"It's a high-quality museum," said Richard Burkert, president of the Pennsylvania Federation of Museums and executive director of the nonprofit agency that operates the Flood Museum and the Heritage Discovery Center, 45 miles away in Johnstown.
No less than William Withun, transportation curator with the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of American History, deemed the Altoona museum "the standard by which all future [transit] museums... will be judged."
Then, a few weeks ago, came banker McKnight, telling museum officials after a hard look at the books that the operation had all but devoured its $250,000 line of credit, owed another $250,000 to vendors and was $60,000 in arrears on sales and payroll taxes. The museum, a nonprofit organization with a $1.5 million annual budget, needed $750,000 just to live out the short term, he said. The museum has not released its 2001 results, but museum officials were aware of losses totaling $320,000 for 1999 and 2000. Still, they seemed surprised by how dire the situation had grown.
"They said, 'Wow, I didn't know that,' " McKnight recounted. "I said, 'Technically, you can't afford to open the doors. You're bankrupt.'"
The PRR was a god to Altoona, and this museum, a showcase for the pre-World War II heyday, when the Pennsy employed 16,500 people in the community, is almost an Altoona shrine.
Then came McKnight, barely ushered in as treasurer before examining balance sheets that nobody perused closely enough and warning that the shrine could be shuttered. He envisioned the worst case, a liquidation of museum artifacts, from tools to one-of-a-kind photographs.
Everything must go!
He even sweated out the nightmare that a railroad jewel, the K4s 1361, last survivor of a vaunted line of locally built steam locomotives, could go to the highest bidder.
"It'd rip my heart out," McKnight said.
"You think, 'A lot of other museums are going to end up with interesting things in their pockets because we couldn't sustain our operation.'"
The museum's problems cast uncertainty over Horseshoe Curve, a rail landmark five miles west of Altoona where the museum oversees tourist facilities and draws an estimated 55,000 visitors a year. Rail author and historian Daniel Cupper of Harrisburg said that as passenger rail service and rail employment decreased, America's attachment to railroading has faded. That, in turn, left railfans to satisfy their railroad cravings at museums, but after an increase in the number of rail museums, "some observers of the scene believe there's going to be a shakeout," Cupper said.
The opening bell of the summer tourist season, though, was not the time for the Altoona museum to surrender, top officials decided. McKnight stayed, but the museum's 11 other directors - "the builders and dreamers," he called them, agreed to resign. They are being replaced by what McKnight portrays as fellow experts at budgets and balance sheets.
"If I didn't think we had a chance, I wouldn't be doing this," McKnight said.
"I'm an old man with a bad heart."
"I don't know how you crawl out from under that debt," Burkert said, "but the museum is an important asset."
The plan is basic: Make more and spend less.
"It's going to be a tight hand-to-mouth operation for now," McKnight said. The museum's paid work force, 34 when it opened in 1998, has been slashed to 16 and will be reduced further, McKnight said.
We'll cut to the bare minimum," museum Executive Director Cummins McNitt predicted. Around the remaining paid force, he expects to add more volunteers to the current corps of 45.
Then comes raising revenue, probably another $1 million every year, McKnight said. A decade ago, that was simpler. That was when the new museum was in the making, a muscled-up successor to a modest Railroaders Memorial Museum, opened 22 years ago in what is now a storage building.
U.S. Rep. Bud Shuster, the Bedford County Republican who chaired the House Transportation Committee, was in office, using his influence to send millions of dollars at a clip back to home-district projects such as the museum. He's retired now and replaced by son Bill Shuster, a freshman Congressman without leverage to earmark federal money at will.
Jubelirer remains in office, "but this isn't a good time to come knocking," said Atkinson, the Jubelirer aide. "The state is not awash in money." So, the museum's emergency fix-it squad is dealing with ordinary museum economics. A prime rule of the trade is to hunt benefactors and alternate ways to raise cash because you'll never turn a profit at the gate, said David Dunn, director of the state-owned Railway Museum of Pennsylvania at Strasburg, 10 miles southeast of Lancaster.
"There's this vast misconception that museums make money through admission fees," he said.
"There isn't a museum in this country making a profit through admission fees... They have to supplement it by renting their facilities, by conducting capital campaigns."
Burkert figures museums do well to cover 35 percent of costs with ticket revenues. But the Altoona museum used gate receipts, with its most expensive ticket going for $8.50, and the meager take at its gift shop to cover 55 percent of expenses, McNitt said. In the meantime, the museum did too little work at enlisting foundation help, local donations, corporate sponsors and regional tourism, McKnight said.
That will change. McKnight talks, for instance, of museum envoys packing off to cities such as Cleveland and Baltimore, peddling tour packages stuffed with stops ranging from the rail museum, to Johnstown's museums, to Altoona's showplace minor-league baseball stadium, home to the Pittsburgh Pirates' AA farm team, the Curve.
Still, the Altoona museum can't match the location offered by bigger railroad counterparts such as Strasburg and federally backed Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton. Strasburg is in the Lancaster County tourist mecca. Steamtown is near the junction of two interstate highways. Between them, the two museums outdrew their Altoona counterpart 6-1 last year, but, Cupper said, you celebrate history where it occurred." Gettysburg happened where Gettysburg happened," he said. "If the museum is going to mark the greatest railroad shop town in the world, it has to be in Altoona."
Return to index
President, The National Corridors Initiative
Readers will note the story from the Houston Chronicle this week, "Irked Sunset passengers get to Houston," about yet another grade crossing incident with a truck. This time there were no fatalities, but there were long delays and a lot of stress, all because, once again, a vehicle driver decided that he had more right to the grade crossing than an oncoming train.
Yes, I know, it stalled. I couldn't care less.
We need to end the practice of permitting vehicles to cross at grade in front of rail service, whether passenger or freight, and we need a national highway safety program to pay for it.
No one would permit a gas tanker to cut across a runway just as a 747 laden with passengers and fuel was taking off, yet all across America, every day, at hundreds of thousands of railroad grade crossings, that is what can happen to a train packed with people, or hauling caustic or explosive chemicals. That has always been foolish, but today it is also an invitation to terrorism, and is inexcusable.
It is time for Congress to demand action, and to put together a massive effort to get rid of, bridge over, or tunnel under every rail crossing in America. The existing program is so tiny as to be meaningless, except symbolically, and it could start by enacting legislation that would fine the owner-operator of any vehicle dumb enough to get caught in a grade crossing as a train approaches a minimum of $100,000, plus the cost of cleanup and dealing with passengers.
Let's not wait until the proverbial busload of nuns gets it again. Let's do it.
Return to index
Amtrak: Pain before the gain?
As David Gunn dealt with crises almost as soon as he entered the Amtrak executive suite, there was a lot of finger-pointing going on in Washington.
Across town at DOT, Tom Till, Executive Director of the Amtrak Reform Council was almost alone in an agency that is about to shut down, most of its former employees already having found employment elsewhere. Expect more reports from ARC before the agency sings its swan song.
There is a lot of unhappiness with ARC, in part because of its recommendations that operations and infrastructure of the Northeast corridor be separated.
But ARC served a highly useful purpose. For one thing, the agency, whose members included some of the most savvy railroad-oriented people in the business, forced Washington to face up to a lie that it has been living all these years: that Amtrak somehow was supposed to be the only major intercity passenger operation in the world that makes "a profit."
Paul Reistrup, when he was Amtrak president (1975-1978), told me on the then CBS Radio program, Crosstalk, that the profitability requirement in the original Amtrak bill, was inserted because that was the only way President Nixon could be persuaded to sign it.
Secondly, by spotlighting the very impossibility of achieving a "profit," ARC's insistence on asking the "what if" questions has helped to bring much of official Washington to focus on the fact that while railroads bear the burden of paying for their operations and infrastructure, air and highway transport worry only about operations, with their infrastructures covered by government subsidies.
This has led more in Congress and in the Bush administration to give serious study to the future of rail passenger service, an issue that for 31 years has operated just under the radar screen. Many of its supporters wanted it that way in the belief that facing up to the fundamentals of the problem would cause officialdom to throw up its hands and abandon the whole effort.
Enter David Gunn, not known for dodging issues or fencing when candor is required.
Even Sen. John McCain, always ready to pounce on the slightest Achilles heel displayed by Amtrak, has applauded Gunn for his candor. That this has not turned the Arizona lawmaker into an Amtrak supporter is demonstrated by his opposition to the $55 million in the supplemental appropriations bill. The money is earmarked for badly needed repair of equipment. The big supplemental measure, of which the $55 million was only a small part, passed the Senate late Friday, but it is loaded with so much pork in other areas that President Bush may yet veto it. One way or another, it should pass, even if attached to other legislation or introduced on its own.
Senator McCain's opposition to Amtrak's long distance trains has ignored the disparity between the funding mechanism for railroad transport and its air and highway competitors. Nor has the senator hauled operators of commuter planes before his committee to demand why they are not "self-sufficient." As D:F has documented, some of the biggest "money losers" among this "Essential Air Service" operate in the senator's own state. Somehow, that's not a "burden to the taxpayer," as the Arizonan sees it.
He and others get away with this "burden on the taxpayers" fiction, in part because many Amtrak supporters, for whatever reason, have shied away from pinpointing the basic disparity in the funding structure among the modes.
The end result is that ARC's proposal to split NEC infrastructure from operations appears all but dead on arrival. In theory, you can make the case that if this system works for air and highways, it should also work for passenger railroading. The problem, as ARC Vice Chairman Paul Weyrich has noted, is that Americans have been conditioned to accept the status quo. While this writer has no sympathy for arguments along the line of "Because That's the Way it's Always Been," upsetting a status quo usually requires an aroused public. And though that may come someday, it is not yet reality.
As a proponent of the free market, the ARC plan to franchise out some of the long distance routes to private operators also has a measure of appeal - on paper, and it reportedly has a favorable ring within the Bush administration.
The problem is the freight railroads oppose it because they fear any such plan could result in their losing control over their own property. This is a bad time to get the freight railroads ticked off. They are just now displaying a certain openness within their ranks to accepting subsidies in a partnership arrangement that would benefit both their own freight operations and passenger service.
The ARC plan thus falls short, not because it's bad in theory, but because it fails the test of political practicality at this moment. Perhaps it can be resurrected at a future time when the public is better educated about fundamentals in mode funding disparity - but that time is not now.
The imperative at this time is to support David Gunn in his effort to shake things up and get Amtrak into shape. That is going to be hard enough. He has the respect of the industry, and he is already off to a good start.
The changes that Gunn makes will no doubt prompt a certain amount of finger-pointing at his predecessor, George Warrington.
Let's remember that Warrington only did what Congress directed him to do: work toward reaching "operational self-sufficiency" by late 2002. One can argue about whether he should have insisted Amtrak was on a "glidepath" toward that goal. Some believe he could have made it if everything had gone right. Unfortunately, everything didn't. The late delivery of the Acela trainsets is a prime example.
The basic issue is whether Congress should have handed him such a dead-end goal in the first place. Looking back, the lawmakers must see the folly of pursuing something so elusive. Even if the goal had been reached, as former Amtrak Chairman Tommy Thompson noted at the time, then what would happen after that? One should not be surprised that Warrington, given the cards that were dealt him, engaged in a certain amount of tap-dancing.
Time for the finger-pointing to stop. Time for the "pretend" goals to be relegated to the ash can. There is much work to do.
ARC Vice Chairman Weyrich says, "Amtrak is not shutting down... Gunn knows it and everybody else knows it."
NCI President Jim RePass told me Friday he is very pleased with the corporate restructuring Gunn has announced (See news story this issue). He thinks that if Gunn forges ahead with the backing of Congress, his progress will be "like General Sherman marching through Georgia."
However, RePass jokingly added he would assure current Amtrak Chairman John Robert Smith that Gunn should stop the march before he gets to Meridian, Mississippi, where Smith presides as mayor.
Return to index
American Public Transportation Assn.
Commuter Rail/Rail Transit Conference
Renaissance Harborplace Hotel & Hyatt Regency
Featured speakers will be new Amtrak President David Gunn, FRA's Alan Rutter, USDOT's Emil Frankel, and other major players in intercity and commuter rail future. All rail transit system and commuter rail personnel, board members, policy makers, suppliers, consultants, and any other personnel involved with rail and fixed guideway design, construction, operations and maintenance should attend. Pre-registration ends June 4.
To learn more and to sign up go to www.apta.com/meetings/commuter/, or contact Heather Rachels online at http://apta.com or phone (202) 496-4838; David Phelps via e-mail at email@example.com; or phone 202 496 4885.
Return to index
NCI: Leo King
|Remember back in the mid-1970s when this grand steam engine traveled around the country as the American Freedom Train? In reality, it was originally the Reading Railroad's type T-1 - built in the railroad's own shops in 1945. It is out of service now, after a fire 23 years ago finished it for good. The 4-8-4 Northern calls the B&O museum in Baltimore as its permanent home these days. The plaque tells the rest of the story.|
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
This edition has been read by || || people since date of release.