Vol. 7 No. 26
June 12, 2006

Copyright © 2006
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

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

A weekly North American rail and transit update

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

* Now in our Seventh Year *

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

  News Items... 
HSGTA merges into APTA Inter City Rail Committee
Amtrak unveils reservations system access
   by handheld device.
Introduction: Grow Rail to Grow America.
  Commuter lines… 
‘T’ fare hike now issue in Governor’s race.
  Freight lines… 
Providence & Worcester Railroad notes
   confidentiality agreement.
  Safety lines… 
Suspicious railroad package.
  Opinion… 
News media’s coverage of Amtrak leaves much to be desired.
Halt in Amtrak reflects need for more funding.
Increased rail service needed, but how much?
State finally gives rail service the attention it deserves.
All of New England should be unified by passenger service.
The New England Approach: Some of America’s smallest
   states are learning the value of a bigger picture.
   Transportation is a good example.
  Friday closing quotes… 
  End notes… 

NEWS ITEMS...  News items...
Bulletin

 

HSGTA merges into APTA Inter City Rail Committee

By DF Staff

NEW YORK CITY   (June 11) --- The High Speed Ground Transportation Association (HSGTA), founded in 1983 today was merged into the American Public Transportation Association’s Intercity Rail Committee.

In a unanimous vote Sunday afternoon at APTA’s annual Rail Conference at New York’s Hilton Hotel, by members of the APTA committee that included representatives of HSGTA, APTA, the National Corridors Initiative, and rail executives from around the country, HSGTA became a part of the broader rail advocacy movement.

“HSGTA was a leading voice for high speed rail for more than two decades,” stated National Corridors Initiative President Jim RePass, who attended Sunday’s New York meeting. “Its leadership worked unstintingly to advance the high speed rail agenda in America. With more and more political leaders, as well as grass roots advocates, recognizing that high speed rail is the only solution to the growing congestion on our highways and at our airports, it is fair to say that HSGTA’s influence has been enormous, and its work will continue through APTA’s committee, which because of long-time committee chairman Joseph Sillien’s leadership has been welded into a united, powerful voice, going forward, in this important debate.”

A new slate of committee officers was also picked Sunday. It is headed by Chairman Ray Lanman, VP Development of Herzog, Vice Chair Rod Diridon of the California High Speed Rail Authority, and Patricia Douglas, Executive Director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which operates the wildly successful Amtrak DownEaster train between Portland and Boston.


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Amtrak unveils reservations system
access by handheld device

By DF Staff from Internet Sources

WASHINGTON - Amtrak has launched “Amtrak Mobile”, a revolutionary new reservation service – “and a first in the transportation industry”, notes Amtrak --- that enables customers to log on to the Amtrak.com reservation system from any web-accessing mobile cell phone or Personal Digital Assistant (PDA).

Using their cell phone or PDA to connect to Amrak.com, “making a reservation or getting information on any Amtrak train is now as easy to do on a PDA or cell phone, as it is from a desktop PC, all without accessing a different URL or registering for the service. Customers simply need to log ontoAmtrak.com for access,” stated Amtrak.

With Amtrak Mobile, passengers may view up-to-date train status information and obtain wireless access to key functions available on Amtrak.com using the system’s mouse-less navigation feature. This interface for mobile devices is available to BlackBerry ®, Treo ™, and Pocket PC users as well as through most web-enabled cell phones, said Amtrak.

In addition, Amtrak Mobile provides users with access to wireless functions not offered by competitors, said Amtrak. Currently no airline wireless service offers all of the functions that Amtrak Mobile delivers: reservations, cancellations, travel status, schedules, “…and the best yet, no need to access a separate URL,” noted Amtrak.

Making the service even more convenient, customers do not need to register for Amtrak Mobile, and there are no special downloads needed to use the service, Amtrak said. “It may be accessed simply by logging onto Amtrak.com from a PDA or cell phone. The site will recognize that the customer is using a handheld device and automatically connect to the functions available through Amtrak Mobile. From there, a customer may check the status of any train in the Amtrak system, make or cancel a reservation, or sign into their personal profile.”

“Getting on-line with Amtrak used to mean being tied to a PC or Mac and for people on the move, it was not an option,” said Barbara Richardson, Amtrak’s vice president of Marketing and Sales. “What is revolutionary about Amtrak Mobile is that you can be in a cab or subway, go on-line and check schedules, see if a train is on time, or change a reservation - all without any special downloads or registering.”

Amtrak provides intercity passenger rail services to more than 500 destinations in 46 states on a 21,000-mile route system. For schedules, fares and information, passengers may call 800-USA-RAIL or visit Amtrak.com.


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Introduction: Grow Rail to Grow America

 

The following is the text of the testimony Of William W. Millar, President, American Public Transportation Association, before the Subcommittee On Railroads of the House Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure On The U.S. Rail Capacity Shortage, April 26 2006. NCI especially recommends it to new visitors to this site, and to its readers who are editors and journalists, because it is one of the best descriptions of the current transportation crisis in America --- and what to do about it --- that we have read. APTA President Bill Millar integrates the rail discussion into the total transportation debate, and that is how it should be. NCI strongly believes that America must learn to fund, design, and build transportation as a system, not as a collection of modes. – Ed.

 

Chairman LaTourette, Ranking Member Brown, and members of the House Railroads Subcommittee, on behalf of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), we thank you for this opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the U.S. Rail Capacity Crunch. We very much appreciate that the Subcommittee is taking a comprehensive view, considering both passenger and freight issues. While goods movement is critical, the emergence of America’s service economy has heightened the importance of on-time movement of people as well.

America long has enjoyed the most extensive and efficient transportation system in the world. Today, other countries are catching up. Policies that support the growth of railroads - passenger and freight - are critical to America’s mobility and our ability to compete in a global economy.

The critical capacity issues affecting railroads - passenger and freight - are a part of an overall crisis in transportation system capacity that also affects our airports, roadways, port facilities, and public transportation infrastructure. Such congestion is putting severe stress on America’s transportation and logistics network, which historically has given America its economic edge.

Positioning for a rail renaissance

The past twenty-five years has been a period of significant change for the American railroad industry. While the Staggers Act of 1980 is rightfully credited with helping the once threatened railroad industry become profitable again, it has also led to significant consolidation and downsizing of America’s railroad network. Rail freight traffic has grown in many places to the limits of capacity. What has been rational and profitable from a railroad shareholder viewpoint, has also resulted in a downscaling of America’s overall rail network.

Meanwhile, over this same 25 year period commuter railroads have blossomed, and have also been a major success story. Last year, passengers took 423 million trips on our commuter railroads, a nationwide ridership increase of 2.8 percent from the year 2004. Ridership increases are being experienced by every commuter railroad in America. The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act - A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), enacted in summer 2005, includes significant funding to expand rail systems and build new rail systems. This year, new commuter rail systems will open in Nashville and Albuquerque. New systems are in advanced stages of development in Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Portland, Charlotte, Raleigh, and Denver. Other communities are not far behind, among them Phoenix, Ann Arbor, Austin, Atlanta, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Orlando. These projects will help reduce congestion and provide mobility options, integrate regional economies, and provide one of the quickest ways for individuals and families to beat the high cost of gasoline.

Looking to the future, railroads - passenger and freight - are poised to play an even greater role in enabling commerce and economic growth. Earlier this year America surpassed the 300 million mark in population. In 30 more years we are projected to reach 400 million. Most of the population will be living in metropolitan areas, making our use of land and transportation corridors all the more important. A look at the Los Angeles region’s Metrolink commuter rail system provides a projection of demand anticipated for commuter rail services. Freight and passenger rail traffic in the L.A. / Orange County / Riverside corridor is expected to leap from 172 trains today to a total of 265 trains by 2010, and to a projected 390 trains per day in 2025.

While America needs a transportation policy balanced on the strengths and synergies of roads, ports and rails, overall there should be a higher reliance on rail modes, which are much more efficient in terms of land and energy. Indeed, adding rail capacity is imperative also for its positive impact on parallel freeways already clogged with traffic. These urban/suburban areas have roads that are not only hopelessly congested, but roads that have already been expanded to close to their maximum capacity. Adding highway capacity in these areas is enormously expensive. For a fraction of the cost of such road construction/expansion, existing railroad rights-of-way can be reactivated / expanded / improved to accommodate traffic and reduce highway congestion for both freight and passenger movements.

Tight capacity has affected commuter railroads and their riders

Overcrowded trains, stations and park-and-ride lots, not to mention queues of trains waiting to pull into stations, are visible signs that existing rail infrastructure is being overburdened. Facilities that were designed for a certain level of service are now seeing passenger volumes that exceed these limits. In addition, as more trains are added to the same amount of track, scheduling and on-time performance becomes a greater challenge. Longer freight trains - as long as 21/2 miles - also make sidings hard to utilize, and makes on-time performance and shared operations more difficult.

Commuter railroads have sought to maximize throughput by lengthening trains and converting fleets to double-deck cars. Systems such as CalTrain’s have also looked to creative scheduling to maximize the use of available capacity. Strategic scheduling of The Baby Bullet trains serving the San Francisco Bay Area have been a major success in this regard, increasing system ridership by over 20 percent and significantly increasing fare revenues.

Confronting system bottlenecks is another key. For example, during rush hour each day, several commuter trains per minute - carrying hundreds of thousands of passengers - pass through the Northeast Corridor tunnel linking New Jersey and New York. To accomplish such an operational feat each day is a minor miracle. Planning for future growth becomes another question.

On lines owned by freight railroads and shared with commuter lines, innovative ideas have been applied to enhance the compatibility of shared-track operations. A tighter scheduling of freight traffic, more compatible speeds, elevation of curves represent some of the operating practices that have been negotiated. In many places public funds have been used for capacity improvements in order to accommodate commuter rail operations. In Virginia, an agreement is in place providing for incremental increases in passenger train operating privileges as publicly financed capacity improvements are constructed to relieve bottlenecks. Other places have reported that funds invested in adding infrastructure capacity get eaten up by increased freight traffic.

It is possible that we can deal with rail freight bottlenecks at the same time we address the needs for high-speed rail. Proposed high-speed rail systems such as Midwest Regional Rail Initiative will benefit freight systems and will mitigate if not eliminate bottlenecks that occur in Chicago, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Toledo, St. Paul, and St. Louis. Conversely, inaction on the freight corridor capacity issue will prolong indefinitely the process of implementing new or improved corridor services. Examples include the lengthy discussion surrounding the initial commuter line proposed for Atlanta, the multi-year investments made in the Seattle-Portland route, and many other routes that are ripe for passenger service.

Strategic importance of rail corridors in built-up urban areas

Historically, America’s rail corridors have been used for both freight and passenger purposes. Many corridors go back to the time when federal land-grants were awarded as incentives for railroad companies to build in developing sections of America. For a long period of time both passenger and freight services were operated by the private sector under laws governing public utilities. As passenger operations were abandoned by private railroads, services were often taken over and/or supported financially by public entities.

Today, over 90 percent of commuter rail trips are on lines that are publicly owned. This includes large, long-established systems such as New York’s Long Island Rail Road and Metro North Rail Road, NJ Transit, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Newer systems such as Florida’s Tri-Rail, the Trinity Railway Express in Texas, and soon-to-open systems in Albuquerque and Salt Lake City have opted to acquire their own rights-of-way. Chicago’s Metra system and the Metrolink system in Los Angeles own some of their lines, while using other lines owned by freight railroads. Systems including the Virginia Railway Express, Seattle’s Sounder, the Altamont Commuter Express and Nashville’s Music City Star system operate entirely on tracks owned by freight railroads.

The cost and availability of suitable real estate in built-up urban environments means that growth of rail passenger service will be highly dependent on access to existing rights-of-way. It will often make sense to use existing railroad right-of-way for new commuter rail projects. As a matter of community design and good public policy, this is preferable to dislocating homeowners and businesses in the acquisition of new right-way-way. Ironically, many transit agencies typically are able to exercise eminent domain to acquire the property they need, except with railroads. When it comes to railroad right-of-way, there is no requirement for any process for taking into consideration the public interest.

In 2001 several bi-partisan bills were introduced that would have created a federal process to protect the public interest and resolve disputes that arise when parties cannot agree on terms and conditions for the use of railroad right-of-way. Freight railroads would benefit from such a process. Simply put, when investments are made in freight corridors, such investments in track, signals and infrastructure benefit everyone, and also bring revenue to the railway owner.

The questions should be: 1) How can the freight railroad get a fair deal for the use of its property, and 2) How can we deliver to the public critical rail passenger projects without prolonged delay or consternation?

Passenger and freight railroads should grow together!

How will commuter railroads be able to achieve the expected rate of growth? Certainly, it will require a partnership among communities, freight railroads and government partners. Collectively, we need to figure out ways to grow to the challenge.

The American economy depends on the efficient movement of people and goods. Rail freight systems operating at full capacity and providing maximum return to shareholders is good for some, but it is not where America’s interest should stop. In Tennessee, Virginia and many other states, a lack of rail freight capacity has resulted in more truck traffic on the interstate highways causing congestion at near-crisis proportions. America needs new policies that will enable economic growth rather than hinder it.

Certainly, infrastructure investment is a critical factor. While APTA and stakeholder groups have celebrated SAFETEA-LU as a landmark in federal transportation policy, it remains true that in the United States about 2 percent of GNP is invested in transportation infrastructure, down from historical levels of about 21/2 percent.

Many of the ideas that have been put on the table have merit. The States for Passenger Rail organization has been adamant and consistent in its call for a dedicated fund for high-speed rail projects, to be supported through tax-exempt and tax-credit bonds, as is proposed by this Committee’s Ride-21 legislation. APTA is supportive of this concept and concurs that such a fund needs to be separate and distinct from the federal Highway Trust Fund and Mass Transit Account. Continued funding and expansion of the Swift High Speed Rail Act is another important tool that can enable growth of high speed rail. The bottom line is that we need to create a favorable policy climate in which high speed rail systems can evolve and serve the mobility needs of Americans.

Freight railroads have promoted the concept of investment tax credits as a partial offset for amounts of private capital reinvested in private railroad infrastructure in instances where there is a public benefit. We believe that a key public benefit should be the accommodation of passenger trains. Difficulties in operating passenger service in a freight-owned right-of-way have caused some systems to acquire their own right-of-way. I contend, however, that the co-existence of freight and passenger rail services on common trackage / rights-of-way can and must be sustained to make fully effective use of these assets, and expanded federal investment in rail must be structured in a way that ensures reasonable access at a fair price. Some rail passenger systems are developing innovative ways to calculate the “public benefit” derived from freight railroads cooperation in rail passenger services, and what the freight railroad partner should be entitled to as a result. Perhaps this is something to build on! Passenger and freight railroads should grow together!

Certain rail bottlenecks in the national railroad system may require a national level effort. The CREATE and Alameda Corridor projects are examples. Consistent with earlier discussion, an additional Trans-Hudson rail tunnel would be another example of a project with critical national overtones. The Projects of National Significance program in SAFETEA-LU needs to become a place where multi-modal railroad megaprojects judged to have the most national merit can look to for appropriate funding. For this program to be effective, the timing of the review process must be in step with the strategic dealings of the project itself.

Other programs offer possible assistance for addressing capacity issues. The Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) program is a potential source of important capital funding for both freight and passenger rail projects. Only a limited number of loans have been released under this program since it was constituted in TEA 21, and APTA urges that any remaining administrative obstacles be cleared in order to put this innovative program to use.

Certainly, technology can offer solutions as well. APTA appreciates the ability of positive train control and similar technologies and its potential for enhancing safety while enabling railroad to operate at a higher level of service.

An overarching issue will be to get projects done sooner. Projects that sit on the drawing board an inordinate number of years do no good for the American economy. Project sponsors who have gotten bogged down in the federal funding process or in negotiations with freight railroads are beginning to consider whether the only way to get projects done in a reasonable timeframe is to forego these partnerships. The process should be better than that. A central theme of SAFETEA-LU was to expedite program delivery. China is one country where they cannot seem to build new rail capacity fast enough. Let’s do the same in America!

In regard to high-speed rail, while America watches, industrialized countries, and some not so advanced countries, are rapidly seizing on high-speed rail systems to complement their trans and intercontinental airlines and to interconnect and support their metro area transit systems. This includes the new 7,000 - 12,000 mile high-speed rail system now under construction in China. It is a plan to connect all provinces and the 30 largest cities in a national grid system that will share corridors with freight operations but have dedicated tracks for high-speed rail in dense corridors. Annual investment in Chinese high-speed passenger rail construction will be $16 to $20 billion. New signaling technology and centralized traffic control will also improve Chinese railroad capacity. High-speed rail is also making advances in Japan, France, Germany, Sweden, Italy, Spain, South Korea and Taiwan and is being adopted in Mexico and other emerging economies. On the business side, non-American firms are the primary beneficiaries of this expansion in high-speed rail capacity. German, Japanese, French and Canadian railway equipment and signaling technology suppliers are seizing on new business opportunities, while the U.S. continues to fall behind in what could be described as “The Great Railroad Building Race.”

As Congress and the Administration pursue the policy goal of energy independence, our transportation policy in many ways favors our petroleum-dependent modes and not our energy efficient systems. In contrast, Europe and Japan have used high-speed rail systems to replace short-hop airlines and a significant amount of inter-city auto travel in those areas. Short-hop airlines are more petroleum intensive and polluting than a person driving an SUV, on a seat-mile basis.

Finally, a key determinant in the growth of commuter and high speed rail relates to liability insurance requirements and conditions. Acts of terrorism against transit in Madrid in 2004 and in London in 2005 have raised the stakes on liability coverage. Some freight railroads are now requiring coverage of $500 million - at times as much as $700 million - a severe detriment for providing rail passenger service. One approach would be to build on the Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act of 1997, which caps passenger claims at $200 million. It would be an enormous boost to passenger rail operation if this cap could be clarified to apply to all claims.

Conclusion

In conclusion, America needs to grow its railroads. While some may see passenger and freight railroads as distinct and on different economic paths, I believe there are synergies that can be captured through policies that look at railroads in an inclusive way. We thank the Committee for advancing the dialogue on the future of our rail system with today’s hearing.

With only a limited number of transportation corridors, strategies must include freight and passenger rail interests working together. With the completion of the interstate highway system, some have suggested that the national purpose of the federal surface transportation program has been lost. As America competes in the global economy, it is our transportation, logistics and education systems that will give us the advantage. Energy independence and emergency response are among other strategic national goals supported by an increased emphasis on rail.

Congressionally created commissions will soon begin looking at these issues in depth. I look forward to working with these commissions, as well as with this Subcommittee. It is our transportation network that can make the difference for America’s position in the global economy.


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

‘T’ fare hike now issue
in Governor’s race

Source: CBS Broadcasting, Inc

BOSTON, JUNE 6 – At the first of a series of public hearings last Tuesday, the controversial fare hike was out on the table as an issue in the governor’s race.

“The bandwagon of opposition to the proposed bus, subway, and commuter rail fare hikes is leaving the station, and all three of the Democrats running for governor are on board,” continued the report.

Three candidates made comments that would no doubt please disgruntled commuters.

“No smart business raises their prices when sales are down and the economy’s in the tank, and that’s where we are right now,” said Deval Patrick.

“First thing I would look at is efficiencies,” Tom Reilly said. “My first instinct is not to raise fares.”

And Chris Gabrieli, “I think the T is a place that needs to have a top to bottom review, but I don’t believe the outcome should be balancing the books on the backs of commuters.”

Is this political spin to gain voters’ favor? Or do they really believe the fares are not necessary?

MBTA General Manager Dan Grabauskas was unequivocal: without the fare increase there will have to be service cuts.

“I can just tell you this, last week the MBTA advisory board, which is made up of the 175 communities in which we operate, approved our budget without change,” Grabauskas said.

The MBTA says it is facing a $70 million budget shortfall for 2007, and rising expenses.

The plan calls for subway fares to jump to $1.70, and bus fares to jump from $.90 to $1.25. The T last hiked fares in January 2004.

When asked if they were just pandering to the people, the candidates denied it.

“It’s not about pandering to the angry masses. It’s about trying to recognize the impact on working families today,” Patrick said.

There are a total of six public hearings on the fare hike proposal.


June 6, 4:30 p.m.:    Boston Public Library
June 6, 6:30 p.m.:    Framingham City Hall
June 7, 6:30 p.m.:    North Shore Community College in Lynn
June 12, 6:30 p.m.:   Attleboro City Hall
June 13, 6:30 p.m.:   Arlington Town Hall Auditorium
June 14, 6:00 p.m.:   Mildred Avenue Community Center Auditorium in Mattapan (Boston)


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

Providence & Worcester Railroad
notes confidentiality agreement

WORCESTER, JUNE 1 –Providence and Worcester Railroad Company said today that it has entered into a confidentiality agreement with RailAmerica, Inc. with respect to exploring possible business opportunities. The Company stressed that there is no agreement between the parties relating to any such business opportunities, reports Chop Hardenburgh’s Atlantic Northeast Rails and Ports e-Bulletin.

[Editor’s note: Laws governing publicly traded corporations require announcements of this kind, whether or not negotiations are advanced or causal, to prevent later issues involving insider trading. While the laws have been on the books for years, recent high-profile insider trading cases such as the Martha Stewart incident make public companies extra-cautious in disclosing contacts with other firms that might lead to investment relationships.]

RailAmerica, a short-line holding company, said it had no prior knowledge of the press release. Susan Wright Greenfield, RailAmerica spokesperson, said the announcement was done without the knowledge or participation of RailAmerica. “We talk with a number of entities about joint marketing and business development opportunities. They didn’t send us a copy of the press release. I would refer you to Providence and Worcester,” RailAmerica’s spokesman told Hardenburgh.

Railroaders at New England Central Railroad and P & W had no specific idea about the intent of such an announcement.

One analyst’s view: “I think there’s limited interest on RailAmerica’s side,” said Arthur W. Hatfield, a transportation analyst at Morgan Keegan in Memphis, Tennessee. “There’s no such agreement existing between the companies. They talked a little, but they did not go down the path toward doing anything,” saying further that he thought such a release was “premature.”

However, other observers noted the strictness of the disclosure law and others such as the Sarbanes law imposed in the wake of corporate governance issues: “Providence & Worcester Railroad is a well-run company with a dynamic management team,” stated NCI President Jim RePass. “Releases such as the one they made are a judgment call, and it is probably better to err on the side of caution, even if in previous years that might not have been the case.”


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SAFETY LINES...  Safety lines...

Suspicious railroad package

By Sandy D’elosua, WCJB TV20

Two suspicious packages were found on a North Central Florida railroad Friday. A bomb team hit the scene, putting some residents in a panic.

These packages were alarming to authorities because they were orange and black masses resembling the disney character, Tigger. They were purposefully placed on the railroad tracks making investigators cautious and keeping the public far from the scene.

Traffic was shut down on County Road 235 in Newberry while the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office bomb team went to work.

Investigators operated the 160,000 dollar robot by a remote and cable from a truck keeping a safe distance away.

“It’s a life saving device for a bomb technician,” Sgt. James Moran said. “It allows us to do it from a safe distance instead of going up on a package which could be a bomb.”

Better to be safe than sorry, but these packages were not holding a bomb. Investigators say the two wraps were identical containing ears of corn, seeds, pocket knives, meat, peppers, figurines, toy cars, money and a note.

The note stated wishes for certain people to find love, others to get over the past. All part of what some are saying is a little voodoo magic.

A CSX representative says this display is common among immigrants and often seen on railroad tracks in south Florida.

Crime scene investigators took pictures, collected the note and will meet with the CSX police to continue the investigation.

There were first and last names written in the note, so investigators will use this evidence to try to track down those responsible.

As far as any delays, a train was scheduled to leave from Baldwin on that track and there were no delays in its departure.


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OPINION...  Opinion...

Items reprinted with permission

 

News media’s coverage of Amtrak
leaves much to be desired

By Todd Burger
Special To Destination:Freedom

Information in recent weeks about Amtrak, ranging from a recent Associated Press (AP) story to National Public Radio coverage and an Office of the Inspector General (U.S. DOT) report tend to repeat statements of fact, that while not incorrect, could hardly be considered balanced or even useful information.

For example:

A recent AP story portrays Amtrak management as clueless, not knowing how many trains were delayed, why a particular service outage happened or how it could be prevented.  In point of fact, the management (and several management teams before it) knew that the power grid and controls that support what Amtrak refers to as its south end Northeast Corridor operations was horrifically  antiquated and badly in need of replacement.  Management knew this and has been telling this to its Board for over a decade, trying to get funding to replace this equipment.  Amtrak’s infrastructure needs went unmet --- as did the need to fix the levees in New Orleans, and representing a similar failure of government oversight. The result in both cases has been avoidable losses and displacements.

No, Amtrak does not make money as NPR, the OIG and conservative think tanks like the CATO Institute repeatedly point out.  Neither does the Interstate Highway System, or the Federal Aviation Administration, or the Army Corps of Engineers.

But that assertion, repeated endlessly whenever Amtrak stories appear, tends to legitimize the perception that Amtrak is somehow a failure simply because --- like every other capital-intensive transportation system --- it does not make a profit, and implies that there really is something wrong with Amtrak or its management.  However, no intercity rail system in the world is a profit-making entity.  Not one. U.S. Federal, state  and local governments and governments in most other nations typically design their taxation and transport policies to subsidize other modes, making it impossible to be profitable in intercity rail.  Not-for-profits don’t make money either.  Would an article about the Red Cross say that it has not turned a profit in 50 years?  The charade in Washington that suggests Amtrak should break even, while turning around and reinforcing subsidies to air and highway lobbies, is ludicrous.  We may expect that from our political leaders in 2006.  However, I expect more from NPR, the AP and the Boston Globe. Let us have an end to these formulaic, poorly researched, unbalanced and highly misleading articles that persist the myth that Amtrak is a failure, and other modes a success, because Amtrak “loses” money. Other modes consume as much if not more capital to provide transportation services, and have for decades.

The recent AP article also never explained its “smelly cars” reference.   The rail riders are smelly?  Tunnels are smelly?  Smelling of what, exactly?  The cars may have been smelly because of a poor design choice on toilet technologies that resulted in a failsafe power out mode that opens the toilet waste line valve allowing a pathway from the car air to the waste storage tank.  This design was considered years before the current management came into office.  Some of those cars may have been equipped with such toilets.  The current top management had nothing to do with equipment purchased over the last 40 or even 10 years --- and has no funding to rectify problems either.

David Hughes, Amtrak’s Acting President, is doing a phenomenal job, given the limited resources and lack of any long-term funding arrangement and irresponsible actions in Congress and elsewhere.  The United States has no long-term viable, sensible energy or transportation policies.  Intercity passenger rail ought to be a core element of any such policies.  It also ought to be recognized and incorporated into every emergency preparedness effort, given the capacity it can add to evacuation requirements. The OIG approach to trim what remains of Amtrak until it is no longer there, does not reflect any such thinking.  The lack of adequate policies is to blame here, not the managers suffering in their wake.

Holding together a team of Amtrak managers in the face of such obvious non-support is a miracle in itself.  If we treated our troops, who are the victims of poor International policies, the way this coverage treats Amtrak management, the White House would be up in arms.  Amtrak’s management deserves praise and respect for a job done as well as can be expected as long as we continue to underfund and under commit to Amtrak’s operations while over-subsidizing other modes.

(Todd O. Burger is a transportation professional with 30 years of experience. Formerly with Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, he has worked on railroad operational improvements across the U.S. as a consultant to the Federal Railroad Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, the U.S. DOT Transportation Safety Board, several transit authorities and the Dutch, Czech, British, Canadian railway authorities, as well as many freight railroad companies.)


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Halt in Amtrak reflects need for more funding

Letter to the editor of the Times Union, reprinted with permission

By Larry Roth

First published: Friday, June 2, 2006

The Bush administration scored a rare policy victory May 25; Amtrak trains came to a halt for three hours in part of the Northeast corridor. Since day one, the current White House has been trying to kill Amtrak, sell the profitable bits and trash the rest. Starvation budgets and years of deferred infrastructure maintenance may finally force the issue.

No one died this time, but Bush policy has put thousands at risk and weakened a system critical to our economy. Money isn’t the issue.

The cost of a few weeks of the Iraq war would fund Amtrak for years -- just the $9 billion of Iraq redevelopment money that “disappeared” would do nicely.

Paraphrasing Commodore Vanderbilt, the context is different but the sentiment is the same: “The public be damned!”


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Editor’s note: the following opinion pieces focus on New England. A struggle is going on in this region to revitalize the sluggish New England economy by working together as a region in improving transportation planning and infrastructure, as has been done in other parts of the country.

Increased rail service needed, but how much?

Reprinted courtesy of the Norwich Bulletin, Norwich, Conn.

JUNE 6 -- Given the traffic congestion and snarls that regularly plague interstate routes 95 and 91, it makes sense to consider I-395 and the likelihood of similar congestion.

The state Department of Transportation has been ordered by the legislature to study the need for freight and passenger rail service between New London and Worcester, Mass.

The DOT will hire a consultant by the end of the year to study the viability of such rail service.

While this effort is to be applauded, it should be expanded.

The consultant should examine the viability of train service connecting the region to Providence and Boston, as well as Worcester.

Expanded freight rail service would reduce the number of tractor-trailers -- and tandem tractor-trailers -- ferrying all manner of freight to and through the region.

Expanded passenger rail service would get commuters off the highway as it opened another mode of accessibility to the region.

Charlene Perkins Cutler, executive director of the Quinebaug-Shetucket Heritage Corridor, sees tourism advantages in the proposal, specifically day trips from Boston and Worcester. Perkins Cutler cites rail service to Farmington River communities and the $20 million in day trips generated annually.

Eastern Connecticut is the fastest growing region of Connecticut, and it has been discovered by folks from out of state. People are not reluctant to commute from Thompson, Putnam or Griswold to Boston, Worcester or Providence.

Commuters will only increase in number. And with the region heavily dependent on tourism, increased accessibility makes sense.

Some rail beds may need to be built, but others are in use -- and underused at that.

The need for passenger and freight service is already here. It remains for the DOT to determine to just what extent it should be expanded.


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State finally gives rail service
the attention it deserves

By Molly McKay
Published on 6/4/2006 in Editorial - Perspective Section
The Day, New London, Connecticut

Sometimes it’s hard to know what the impact will be of a public-policy decision. It may take years to find out. But that’s not the case with transportation legislation just passed by the Connecticut General Assembly.

Last month, the legislature approved a bill that shifts the state’s principal transportation focus from highways to rail. And, for the first time in modern memory, Eastern Connecticut, so often ignored when it comes to transportation needs, stands to gain.

The new law includes orders to the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) to renew its work on restoration of the New London-Worcester commuter rail line, long dormant except for freight. This route was the subject of a deeply flawed ridership study in 1999 managed by ConnDOT.

ConnDOT has undermined rail projects for years (Why doesn’t ShoreLine East run on weekends, since this is a heavily touristed area? Ask ConnDOT.). In the 1999 New London-Worcester rail study, the department arbitrarily excluded Worcester from the ridership count, effectively dooming the project. This time, state Senate President Pro Tem Don Williams, principal author of the new bill along with House Speaker Jim Amman, will be watching ConnDOT to make sure that the largest city on the route gets counted.

And it should be. New London, Norwich, Putnam, and Worcester will all benefit, as will the towns and villages in between, if we implement a commuter rail system serving the beautiful, and still largely unspoiled, Quinebaug and Shetucket river valleys. Described as “‘the last green valley’ in the Boston-to-Washington megalopolis” by the National Park Service, the Quinebaug and Shetucket River Valley region is exquisitely beautiful, yet threatened by encroaching highway sprawl as city dwellers, forced out by half-million-dollar condo prices, seek refuge. Others are fleeing the daily highway gridlock in Fairfield County.

Rail is also important to both the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casinos, whose auto traffic already overwhelms Interstate 95 on some weekends, and not only with their clientele. Thousands of casino workers will be able to arrive directly or by rail-station shuttle-bus at both casinos, because the New London-Worcester line will serve them both. And many prospective workers live in those cities, or New Haven or Providence, but cannot possibly afford to drive to the casinos due to current and growing high cost. And if Utopia is built, within earshot of the rail line, rail access will help make it both more successful and less objectionable from a traffic standpoint.

All this is important, and exciting. But there is something else even bigger, and it is the key to my earlier comment on the importance of decisions taken today having great future impact.

Fifty years ago university, business, and government officials in North Carolina joined together to create Research Triangle Park, located between Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. Anchored by its major universities (Duke, University of North Carolina, North Carolina State) and advanced by a determined business community, Research Triangle Park used the then-brand-new interstate highway system to create the single-most-successful business magnet in the United States, and made North Carolina the prosperous state that it is today.

Now it’s our turn, if we are smart enough to seize the opportunity. The Norwich-Worcester line is not being built in a vacuum. It is connected to the Northeast Corridor, which connects New London to Providence. And now, the Providence-Worcester line is being advanced as a new (restored) commuter rail line.

Another link is Harford. In 1992, ConnDOT studied the restoration of commuter rail from Willimantic to Hartford, which opens up another connection to New London on the New England Central Railroad, a line on the west side of the Thames presently used only for freight. In the 1992 study, Foxwoods was not counted because it was so new and the Mohegan Casino had not been built; nevertheless, ConnDOT’s conclusion was that ridership numbers came very close to justifying restoration of that service.

The opportunities multiply. Also in this new law, ConnDOT has been ordered to implement the long-studied New Haven-Hartford-Springfield commuter rail. The logical extension of that will include Brattleboro, Vt., and on to Montreal.

The National Corridors Initiative, a transportation advocacy group of which I am a director (www.nationalcorridors.org), is calling for coordinated transportation planning among the New England states, upper New York State and Eastern Canada. Four years ago, NCI specifically proposed the New London-Worcester rail line as the key to kick-starting Eastern Connecticut’s economy. I am proud to be a part of that group. Why not create and market our region as a New England-based version of the Research Triangle Park of North Carolina? Our universities produce some of the best research scientists, businessmen, and entrepreneurs in the world. Why not create a clean, affordable, and accessible home for them here, in New England, served by a transportation system that doesn’t spoil the land it serves?

The Connecticut legislature has passed a transportation bill that opens a window on smart economic growth that has not been seen in this neck of the woods for many decades. If we recognize its importance now and advance its progress, we can create a place to live that is served by rail instead of sprawl, by commuter trains instead of congested highways, and with clean air instead of smog. What are we waiting for? Get behind the New London-Worcester rail corridor, and encourage your friends and colleagues in Rhode Island and Massachusetts to link up. It’s the first step to a safe, clean, and prosperous Eastern Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.

And it’s about time. And by the way, North Carolina has decided that its future economic growth needs something other than at-capacity highways. What are they building?

That’s right, the best in-state commuter rail system on the East Coast. It doesn’t have to be.

Molly McKay is transportation chairwoman for the Connecticut Sierra Club and a director of the National Corridors Initiative. She lives in Mystic, CT.


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All of New England should be
unified by passenger service

By Curtis Johnson, Neal Peirce
Published 6/4/2006 in Editorial - Perspective section of The Day

After steady decline across the 20th century, could passenger rail service in New England be ready for revival, a timely response to gridlocked highways and spiraling oil and gas prices?

A few hopeful straws are flying in the wind.

The Connecticut legislature has just approved a $2.3 billion transportation package, including funds to start up, by 2010 or 2011, commuter rail service all the way from New Haven, through Hartford, to the Massachusetts state line, with a bus link to the Bradley airport.

Originally, the service would have stopped at Hartford, but representatives of Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley Planning Commission convinced the Connecticut Transportation Department to look further north with the goal of connection to Springfield — and potentially beyond that, in future years, to Northampton, Greenfield and Brattleboro, Vt.

Ideally, said Tim Brennan, leader of the Pioneer Valley Group, the new rail service would serve Bradley directly, delivering passengers into the airport that ought to be, but in reality hasn’t proven to be, a sparkplug for economic advance up and down the Connecticut River Valley. But the costs were so great that the idea of a bus shuttle emerged.

Still unresolved: rail appropriations of $30 million by the Massachusetts legislature. Local legislators are hopeful, even though Beacon Hill often seems to neglect western Massachusetts.

The new Connecticut-Massachusetts cooperation, say backers, can be traced back to the 2000 founding of the Knowledge Corridor, an economic development strategy for the bi-state Hartford-Springfield-Northampton region.

In the meantime, rail ridership on the four-and-a-half-year-old Downeaster, with Boston-Portland service, rose to more than 293,000 passengers last year, up from 248,000 in 2004. Trains and Concord Trailways buses (also scoring strong ridership gains) share an attractive, small-airport-like terminal in Portland. The 750-car parking lot is filled to capacity most days.

Public transportation advocates admit all this is just a start at restoring the robust six-state network New England railroads had a century ago. Mainers would like to see the Downeaster service speeded up and extended to Brunswick and Rockland (with possible ferry service to Bar Harbor). Vermonters are anxious to get passenger rail service reconnected to Montreal. Nashua wants rail connection to Lowell, a first step toward full Boston-to-Montreal service that would include Concord, Montpelier and Burlington. And serious investment in eastern Massachusetts commuter rail service, say backers, would serve New Bedford, Fall River and other South Shore towns that not only need economic stimulus but can offer far more affordable housing than Boston or its close-in suburbs.

But can piecemeal efforts create the integrated air-highway-rail-water transportation system New England really needs to be competitive in this century? On some transportation issues — especially protecting the six states’ position when Congress debates funding formulas in major federal transportation bills — leadership by business leaders of the 80-year old New England Council has helped the region’s Washington representatives work in tandem, and effectively.

But where’s some timely, out-of-the-box thinking on such ideas as a regional rail network connecting all of New England’s leading airports? And as 14 nations around the world invest robustly in high-speed (up to 210-mile-per-hour) rail, why aren’t New England political leaders pushing for radical upgrading of Northeast Corridor service into New York (New England’s link to the literal economic capital of the world)?

New England, notes Connecticut resident and New York Regional Plan President Robert Yaro, “is presently experiencing all the disadvantages of the most congested, expensive population corridor in the western hemisphere with few of the advantages that should flow with easy access to New York as well as Boston.”

One possibility: a formalized New England-wide infrastructure authority to start making priority investments. James RePass, leader of the Providence-based National Corridors Initiative, favors that step. He’d include the long-missing rail tunnel between Boston’s North and South Stations.

Brennan says a better first step might be a “New England NATO” — a six-state alliance of governors, transportation directors, business, foundation and environmental leaders to look at the top strategic issues and create a compelling vision. What transportation steps are priority items if New England is to be a 21st-century competitor? How can highways, rail, airports, passenger and freight service, be interlinked? How can transportation moves dovetail with terror- or storm-driven disaster planning?

Don’t think the challenge is small. An example: railroad freight now carries less than 1 percent of goods shipments in New England, so it comes by trucks instead. Those big rigs will claim 60-100 percent more of the region’s crowded road space by 2020.

So some big thinking and acting is imperative. The six governors must step forward, acknowledge their states’ transportation futures are intertwined, and create a shared, professional organization to unravel the transportation puzzles.

A few restored rail links are great, but no substitute for a clear New England-wide strategy.

Neal Peirce and Curtis Johnson of the Citistates Group writer team have delved into New England’s challenges and hopes as part of a New England Futures Project, with findings at www.newenglandfutures.org.


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The New England Approach:

Some of America’s smallest states are learning the value
of a bigger picture. Transportation is a good example.

Editorial in The Day Published on 6/4/2006

It is starting to dawn on policymakers and planners in Connecticut and other New England states that they are part of a bigger picture, and that it would pay to consider that reality in planning for the future. For tourists traveling from outside the region, Mystic or Litchfield County might not yet be a clear destination for a week’s vacation, but New England is. So the New England states should cooperate in marketing rather than doing their own thing.

Added to the “brand name” of New England is the fact that the New England states are among the smallest in the country and more often than not, it makes no sense for them to wall each other off in formulating policy. A nearby example of this is the common interests that exist between southwestern Rhode Island and southeastern Connecticut in such matters as water issues, transportation policy and tourism.

The common challenges to the New England states have been the theme of a series of articles run in the Perspective section the past several months under the rubric of the New England Futures Project. The latest of these appears in this section today, and addresses the issue of rail transportation. The writers describe the importance rail could play in unifying the region. What they’re talking about isn’t pie in the sky, for they describe steps that states are taking to get people off the region’s already overstressed highways and onto trains and other mass transit.

One promising development is addressed in the latest transportation legislation to come out of the Connecticut General Assembly. The measure authorizes state investment in a commuter rail line between New Haven and the Massachusetts state line, with bus links to Bradley International Airport. The article points out that Connecticut’s original plan would have stopped short in Hartford, but a regional agency in Massachusetts persuaded ConnDOT to look further, with the goal of a rail connection to Springfield, Mass., and eventually Brattleboro, Vt. The Massachusetts legislature is deliberating on funds for its part of this plan.

This new focus has its origins in another evolving New England concept, “The Knowledge Corridor,” an economic development strategy tying together the Hartford, Springfield and Northampton area, home to more than 30 public and private colleges and universities. Connecting these dots could create a knowledge-based, economic powerhouse equivalent to the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., metropolitan region.

Connecticut has been scrambling to revamp its transportation policies to address the mounting highway congestion on its interstate and state roads, a situation a planning report warned could deprive the state of benefits from the global economy.

The same transportation problems cross state lines, and require regional attention. The sort of collaboration that is taking place between Massachusetts and Connecticut also is developing between Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Rhode Island is moving ahead with an ambitious transit plan that will connect Boston metropolitan area mass transit with new rail service to Providence and Green Airport west to North Kingston, not far from Westerly, which is right next door to Connecticut.

Shift in Connecticut’s emphasis: The entire topic is highly pertinent to this part of Connecticut, where planners are grappling with the potential impact of a burgeoning tourism and entertainment industry and billions of dollars in potential new development. While the focus in the past has been on road improvements (widening I-95, improving Route 2 and completing Route 11), a new emphasis is developing on mass transit. Molly McKay of Mystic, transportation chairwoman of the Connecticut Sierra Club, points out in another article in this section that the shift in emphasis in Connecticut to public transportation extends into Eastern Connecticut. The new transportation law calls for a study into reviving rail passenger service on the New London-to-Worcester line, an idea previously dismissed in a ConnDOT study. The transportation bill also raises the chances for expanding the Shoreline East rail commuter service to New Haven and New York. While they’re at it, planners should look at developing public transit links northeast toward Providence, Boston and Green Airport.

It won’t be long before the casinos and other players in the region’s tourism and entertainment industries will realize the drawbacks of relying on roads to get increasing volumes of people to their businesses and turn to mass-transportation solutions such as light rail and monorail. Such solutions would improve their competitive advantage over regions known for their highway congestion and reduce the damage of highway construction on the area’s countryside. Good businesses would be attracted to such an on-the-ball region.

One day it will be possible for a family from Iowa, planning a New England vacation, to fly to Providence, shuttle to Mystic, New London or Norwich by public transportation and move among the region’s attractions without having to rent a car.

The idea is no longer merely fanciful.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: MarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)72.2878.57
Canadian National (CNI)42.4245.39
Canadian Pacific (CP)50.1152.43
CSX (CSX)61.9068.60
Florida East Coast (FLA)50.5356.39
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)28.8030.37
Kansas City Southern (KSU)25.4027.55
Norfolk Southern (NSC)48.5453.60
Providence & Worcester (PWX)19.2917.70
Union Pacific (UNP)86.4694.05


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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 editor at editor@nationalcorridors.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write. For technical issues contact D. M. Kirkpatrick, NCI’s webmaster at webmaster@nationalcorridors.org.

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

Photo submissions are welcome. NCI is always interested in images that demonstrate the positive aspects of rail, transit, and intermodalism, as well as of current newsworthy events associated with our mission. Please contact the webmaster in advance of sending images so we can recommend attachment by e-mail or grant direct file transfer protocols (FTP) access depending on size and number. Descriptive text which includes location, train name, and something about the content of the image is encouraged. We will credit the photographer and offer a return link to your e-mail address or web site.

Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images by Leo King and other photo journalists should contact our webmaster@nationalcorridors.org for additional information.

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 transportation initiative 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 link, please send the uniform resource locator address (URL) our webmaster@nationalcorridors.org.


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