Vol. 6 No. 24
June 13, 2005

Copyright © 2005
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 - Leo King
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 Sixth Year *

This page is best viewed at 800 X 600 screen resolution

 

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

  News Items… 
NCI Conference starts tomorrow!
Acelas back on rails again – maybe
Boardman starts FRA job
FRA to offer safety grants
Hiawatha line may not get aid
Rock slide stops Alaska trains
Beech Grove future uncertain
  Commuter lines… 
Metro has big problems, Post reports
SEPTA wins APTA award
Metro-North reports best-ever times
MBTA upgrades inner-city stations; looks at
  interstate commuter needs
‘Charlie Card’ means new passes for seniors, TAP riders
  Labor lines… 
BLET readies for possible ‘battle’
  Builders lines… 
Wabtec to overhaul Helm locomotives
Bombardier gets Italian deal
  Freight lines… 
CP rebuilds itself, adds tracks
FEC, UTU settle
BNSF employee wins rail hazmat award
  Selected Friday closing quotes… 
  Editorial 
Miracle Workers
  Across the pond… 
Faster-moving European freight
A glimpse from china: Trains run fast and frequently
  End notes… 

Editor Leo King got married on last week.
Our congradulations are with him and his bride.
Best wishes from all of us and the readership!

 

Starting Tomorrow!
Bipartisanship Matters A National Conference for Rail
And “TransPlan 21

Tuesday June 14 at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill
Wednesday June 15, 2005 on the Hill
Washington, DC

You are invited to attend the National Corridors Initiative’s June 14-15 conference “Bi-Partisanship Matters” to introduce TransPlan 21, NCI’s proposal (a set of ideas for debate), to change the way America funds and builds infrastructure, including both freight and passenger rail.

Our planned agenda and registration materials are now available in various downloadable formats at http://nationalcorridors.org/conf/conf0605.shtml. You can also register by credit card directly online at that same page via our secure server option.

Join us in tackling this long-standing problem which must be solved if we are to regain our economic competitiveness.


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Acelas back on rails again – maybe

Some of Amtrak’s sidelined Acela Express trains might be ready for service again before the end of this month, according to with Bombardier Transportation’s president.

Andre Navarri told a group of reporters in Montreal last week that at least some of the 20 Acela trains, all of which were pulled from service in April after cracks were found in their brake discs, should be fixed in the next several weeks, the Boston Globe reported June 7.

Bombardier is trying to decide whether replacing the damaged discs or installing redesigned discs is the quickest and best way to get the trains running again. The company got a shipment of redesigned discs on May 27, and plans to test them on Acela trains, Bombardier spokesman David Slack said June 6.

After performing test runs and determining which discs to use, the only remaining hurdles to resuming some Acela service would be Amtrak and FRA approval – but while Acela’s manufacturer is confident that Amtrak’s flagship service in the Northeast will be back on track sooner rather than later, officials with the railroad said they still have no firm timeline for when the service might be ready.

“We have not been told any time frame” by Bombardier, said Tracy Connell, an Amtrak spokeswoman. “We are still hopeful that we’ll return them throughout the summer.”

Acela Express, a high-speed train Amtrak started running between Washington and Boston in 2000, has been out of service since inspectors found tiny cracks in one of the trains’ brake discs after speed tests in New Jersey.

In all, about 300 of the 1,440 brake discs on the Acela trains were found to have similar cracks.

In testimony before Congress last month, Amtrak inspector general Fred E. Weiderhold Jr. said that some of the cracks had been detected by inspectors as early as two years ago but were never reported to Amtrak.


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Boardman starts FRA job

Joseph H. Boardman began his new duties as the Administrator for the Federal Railroad Administration on June 1.

Boardman was nominated by President Bush to be the FRA Administrator on March 17 and he received Senate confirmation on April 28.

“Joe Boardman is a talented and highly qualified individual who will lead an aggressive effort to improve the safety and vitality of the nation’s rail system,” said USDOT Secretary Norman Mineta.

“The safety of both freight and passenger rail operations in this country is my utmost concern,” Boardman said.

“I am also eager to start working with Secretary Mineta in the creation of an intercity passenger rail system that makes economic sense and meets the travel needs of its riders.”

Since 1997, Boardman was Commissioner of the New York State DOT.


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FRA to offer safety grants

A $1 million safety grant will be used for public education and outreach programs to reduce fatalities resulting from highway-rail grade crossing collisions, pedestrian accidents and railroad trespassing, which together account for 96 percent of all rail-related deaths, the FRA said last week.

The grants will fund various activities of Operation Lifesaver, Inc, (OLI) a non-profit organization that provides educational and awareness programs to inform motorists about how to safely approach highway-rail grade crossings, and to prevent individuals from trespassing on railroad property.

Specifically, the funds will be used for programs in more than 40 states, training for nearly 5,000 volunteer presenters and expand OLI’s ongoing national public service announcement campaign.

“In far too many cases trespass and grade crossings accidents are preventable tragedies,” said former acting FRA Administrator Robert D. Jamison.

“To achieve additional safety improvements, it is critically important that motorists and other individuals be aware of what to do and not do when they are around grade crossings and other railroad property.”

Also, the OLI grant supports a major goal of the USDOT’s new National Rail Safety Action Plan to improve the awareness of the role motorists, railroads, States, and local communities each have in achieving grade crossing safety.

Since 1995, the number of highway-rail grade crossing collisions declined from 6.92 to 3.95 per million train miles operated; and the number of fatalities has decreased by 36 percent, to 368 in 2004. During the same time period, the trespass casualty rate declined from 1.43 to 1.14 per million train miles operated, although the number of trespass fatalities has remained fairly constant at about 500 annually.


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Hiawatha line may not get aid

Amtrak’s Milwaukee-to-Chicago line is breaking ridership records. It’s leading the nation in on-time performance. It’s drawing thousands of passengers to its new Mitchell International Airport station - and it is caught in a three-way funding squeeze that could lead to service cuts or fare increases, supporters warn.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported on June 5. The legislature’s Joint Finance Committee is expected to recommend soon how much Wisconsin should contribute to the line, which is jointly funded by Wisconsin, Illinois and the federal government.

The Hiawatha runs seven round trips daily, with six on Sundays. In addition to downtown Milwaukee and its airport, it also stops in downtown Chicago, Sturtevant and Glenview, Ill.

Under a contract with the states, Amtrak has used its federal funding and fare revenue to cover the line’s fixed costs, such as interest, depreciation and overhead, while the two states have divided the variable costs. The pact calls for Wisconsin to pick up 75 percent of the state share, reflecting its residents’ higher use of the line, and for Illinois to pay 25 percent.

In the state fiscal year that ends June 30, Illinois froze its payment at $1.4 million, even though rising Hiawatha costs would bring that state’s share to $1.8 million, according to Wisconsin’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau. Wisconsin plans to make up the difference by kicking in an extra $415,369, boosting its contribution to $5.7 million and bringing its share to 81 percent of variable costs, said Ron Adams, rail chief for the Wisconsin DOT.

Wisconsin transportation officials predict that the two states’ combined share will rise 20 percent, as Amtrak pushes them to start paying part of the fixed costs as well as all of the variable costs, the fiscal bureau said in an analysis prepared for the budget panel.

Marc Magliari, an Amtrak spokesman in Chicago, declined to comment on negotiations for the next one-year contract. A fortnight ago, however, the Illinois legislature approved a 2005-’06 state budget with no funding increases for the four Amtrak lines that state helps to support, said Mike Claffey, a spokesman for the Illinois DOT.

“Illinois is in a major budget crunch, so we’re not in a position to increase funding for Amtrak at this time,” Claffey said.

Once again, Gov. Jim Doyle is proposing that Wisconsin make up the difference. His 2005-’07 budget would increase the state’s payments by 32 percent, or $1.8 million, in 2005-’06, and another 20 percent, or $1.5 million, in 2006-’07, bringing the Wisconsin share to 88 percent, the fiscal bureau said.


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Rock slide stops Alaska trains

A tall piece of equipment rammed the ceiling of a railroad tunnel near Denali National Park on June 5 setting the stage for a rockslide June 7 morning that disrupted train service between Anchorage and Fairbanks.

No one was injured when about 150 cubic yards – 15 dump trucks’ worth – of rock and dirt cascaded onto the tracks inside Moody Tunnel, about five miles north of the park, said Wendy Lindskoog, a railroad spokeswoman.

The Anchorage Daily News reported The closure forced hundreds of Alaska Railroad and tour group passengers onto buses, and it stranded freight trains carrying jet fuel from North Pole to Anchorage. The tunnel was not expected to reopen until early Thursday, Lindskoog said.

The incident started Sunday when a southbound work train drove into the tunnel with a forklift on one of its flatcars. The forklift’s mast had not been fully lowered, and a short distance into the 262-foot-long tunnel it struck a timber crosspiece used to shore up the 20-foot ceiling.

Moody Tunnel goes through relatively soft rock, said Alaska Railroad chief engineer Tom Brooks, “not like the Whittier tunnel, which is hard rock and well-behaved. In tunnels by Denali Park, the rock is softer, so it tries to fall on you all the time.”

To keep the rock in place, Brooks said, the tunnel was built with heavy timber frames every six feet. Wooden planks over the timber crosspieces prevent loose dirt and rock from falling, he said.

After Sunday’s accident, a crew made temporary repairs to the timber frame that was hit, Brooks said. A crew returned Tuesday to make permanent repairs, but they first had to carefully remove the damaged frame.

“When we did that, all that loose material above the timber came down,” Brooks said.

About 20 people and several pieces of large equipment worked Tuesday to repair the damage and remove the fallen rock and dirt. Plans call for replacing the old wooden structure with steel pieces that had to be built and hauled to the site, Lindskoog said.

Until the tunnel reopened, the six trains that run daily between Anchorage and Fairbanks had to juggle their schedules – not just for the railroad, but also for large tour operators such as Princess Cruises and Holland America.

Passengers southbound from Fairbanks on Tuesday had to get off in Healy. Tour buses were standing by to take 124 Alaska Railroad travelers to Denali, Talkeetna or Anchorage, Lindskoog said.

Holland America had more than 250 people in the same situation, said company spokesman John Shively. Princess Tours and Royal Celebrity Tours could not be reached for comment, but both companies had several cars on Tuesday’s southbound train and also had to bus their passengers, Lindskoog said.

Northbound travelers could still ride to Denali, but those continuing past the park had to take a short bus ride to Healy, where they caught the train to Fairbanks.

A train pulling fuel cars from the Flint Hills refinery in North Pole was stuck north of the slide, while a load of empty tank cars was stuck on the south side, Lindskoog said. It was unclear whether the traffic jam would affect refinery operations, she said.

Avalanches and rockslides occasionally stop Alaska Railroad traffic, Lindskoog said, but the tracks can often be cleared before passengers or freight trains are affected.

One of the worst places is around Denali, particularly in the steep Healy Canyon, she said, though a slide 30 miles north of Seward closed the tracks briefly last week.


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Beech Grove future uncertain

Compiled from press reports

At a meeting of the Beech Grove City Council on June 6, Mayor Joe Wright announced that Amtrak’s Beech Grove maintenance facility could be in for a move to Michigan, according to a report by the by the Southside Times newspaper. Wright cited a lack of federal funding, and lobbying efforts in Michigan.

While speaking before several Amtrak employees, Wright noted, “We don’t want to see it go away but it’s not in our control. There are levels of the federal government that control this situation,”

This past April, the mayor met with Ray Lang, Amtrak’s Director of Governmental Affairs and Beech Grove facility superintendent Lew Wood to discuss the shop’s future.

“I asked [Lang] about the possibility of Amtrak once again paying (property) taxes to the city of Beech Grove,” Wright said. “His response was “that won’t happen again.”

Lang mentioned that Amtrak is considering relocating the Beech Grove facility to Michigan. The area boasts automotive manufacturing facilities and an employee base ready to support a facility of Beech Grove’s nature. Apparently Michigan had been actively recruiting them for some time, according to Wright.

The Beech Grove shops were built in 1905 and became part of Amtrak in 1973.

In 1997, the rail repair facility obtained an exemption by Congress from paying property taxes to the city resulting in a loss of an estimated $1 million in revenues.

Then in 1998, the site was designated as a redevelopment area, allowing for the eventual clean up of its 240 acres for reuse by non-industrial businesses.

The current development designation for the Beech Grove site would make it appropriate for manufacturing, distribution or other high end uses, the Mayor said.

Mayor Wright concluded, “What we need to do is be prepared, since we don’t control the outcome and because there’s a substantial amount of land and jobs involved, we don’t want to be blind-sided by a foreclosing,”.

The site has the potential of generating as many as 2,000 jobs as well as increase the total assessed valuation of the city by as much as 50 percent.


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COMMUTERLINES...  Commuter lines...

Metro has big problems, Post reports

In the first of four articles in the Washington Post, starting on June 7, The nation’s capital’s world-class subway system – which for three decades has shaped the metropolitan region and delivered thousands of commuters to work on time – has fallen into a decline – and mismanagement has been a key factor, records show.

Trains break down 64 percent more often than they did three years ago, and the number of daily delays has nearly doubled since 2000. Although the vast majority of trains are on time, more than 14,400 subway riders a day are inconvenienced by a delay or a mechanical problem that forces them off broken trains.

Metro officials have spent nearly $1 billion in recent years to turn around the nation‘s second busiest subway system, but internal records show that the projects have created new problems.

To ease chronic crowding, Metro purchased 192 rail cars at a cost of $383 million – but the agency tried to rush the cars through production and often missed mistakes made on the assembly line. On average, the new cars need major repairs almost as often as the oldest ones in the fleet.

Metro is spending an additional $382 million to rebuild coaches bought in the 1980s. Officials failed to closely monitor the repair work, didn’t catch mistakes and ignored warnings from auditors about the lack of supervision. The refurbished cars are now breaking down far more often than those that haven’t been overhauled.

A $93 million project to renovate 178 escalators has managed to make many of them worse. More than a third have been breaking down more often than they did before, a Post analysis of Metro statistics shows. The project follows an earlier failed attempt, also costing millions, to improve the aging machinery.

The performance of Metro carries extraordinarily high stakes, both for the system and the metropolitan area. The public invested more than $10 billion to build the subway. As its lines have spread across Washington and its suburbs, the system has fueled population growth, revitalized neighborhoods and stitched together a diverse region. Businesses select locations and families buy homes based on proximity to a Metro station. The subway is critical to the federal workforce. People increasingly depend on it; since 2000, ridership is up 18 percent to nearly 660,000 passengers daily.

In a region with some of the worst traffic in the country, access to reliable mass transit could determine whether the area continues to attract businesses and residents.

CEO Richard A. White, who has been running Metro for nearly nine years, traces many of the problems to record numbers of riders, aging equipment and a railroad design undersized for the job. If Metro had more money, he said, he could fix much of what ails the transit system and restore its luster.

At the moment, Metro is seeking $1.5 billion from Congress. That would come in addition to $1.8 billion recently approved by local and state governments as part of an emergency plan to maintain the system and avoid what White terms a “death spiral“ of deteriorating service. Metro is also campaigning intensely for a long-term source of funding, such as a regional sales tax, to buy rail cars and buses and expand stations to accommodate growth.

All four stories can be found at www.washingtonpost.com.


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SEPTA wins APTA award

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) won the Rail Transit Achievement Award at the 13th Annual Rail Rodeo, held in conjunction with the American Public Transportation Assn. Rail Transit Conference in Pittsburgh.

Eighteen North American rail transit systems with 31 operators and 38 maintainers participated. The competition was held June 4 at South Hills Village Rail Center.

SEPTA’s winners were Gerald Holland (Operator), Adrian Mapp (Operator), James Pham (Maintainer), Jason Rickert (Maintainer), and Charles Schoen (Maintainer).

This top honor recognizes the men and women who keep North America’s rail transit systems operating safely and efficiently. It is given to the operator and maintainer team that has the highest score of all competing rail transit systems.

The Operators Competition measures professional skills including train operation; knowledge of safety regulations; train equipment; and track right-of-way rules and procedures.

First place in the Operators Competition went to Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority whose winning operators were Bbupinder “Larry” Bajwa and Gary Marquardt. SEPTA earned a second place finish. Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority won third place.

The Maintainers Competition judges the ability to troubleshoot maintenance problems, and Maryland Transit Authority earned first place. The winning maintainers were Frank Fritzinger, Brian Heck and Elmer Nickens. Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority earned second place. Third place went to the MTA New York City Transit.


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Metro-North reports best-ever times

Metro-North’s boss says the commuter railroad is doing better.

Peter Cannito, President of Metro North Railroad, said at the board’s May 18 meeting that Metro North was currently experiencing its best on-time performance in history. He said that on-time performance to date in May was 98.7 percent, and that the performance was good across all three Metro North lines. He said that the biggest current problem was the eastern end of the New Haven line where, because of catenary work, performance was not as good as on the rest of the system.

He said that ridership on the New Haven line was increasing at the rate of more than 4 percent annually despite a recent fare increase.

With respect to new cars for the New Haven line, he said that there was still a question of funding both in New York and in Connecticut. He said that Metro North has $100 million in its budget proposal to New York State for the first half of New York’s share of new car costs. He added he thought a funding issue would be settled in both New York and Connecticut by this summer.

Cannito said M-N has hired an engineering firm to draw up specifications for a new M-8 car. The same firm wrote specifications for the new M-7 car presently being used on the Harlem and Hudson lines. He said that the firm was being given six months to develop specifications, and he said no decision had yet been made whether to use M-7 cars on the New Haven line.

Cannito said that at the same time that specifications are being developed, Metro North will advertise for rail car builders, so they can be pre-qualified. He hopes to be able to go out with the specifications to qualified car builders in September, and hopes to be able to award a contract for new cars in the first quarter of 2006.

He said that he expected that the first cars would be delivered 2-3 years after a contract was awarded. Cannito said that the first new cars would be used for fleet expansion, and that the CSR program (rehabilitation of M-2 cars) would continue. He said that the program for replacement of the M-2 cars goes on to 2014, and thereafter would probably continue with replacement of the M-4s.

He said that new cars for the New Haven line would be able to operate on all three catenary systems in Connecticut and New York as well as on third rail.

Cannito said that Connecticut DOT has just leased eight locomotives from Amtrak to use with the more than 30 ex-Virginia Railway Express cars.

Cannito said that he believed that operations in winter 2005 were better than in 2004. He said that there was as much snow in 2005 as in 2004. He said that a lot of work had been done on equipment to weatherproof it. He said that the rehabilitated M-2 cars had performed well in 2005. He said that the new M-7’s on the Hudson and Harlem lines had also worked well, so that diesels could be released for use on the New Haven line during winter storms. He also said that the railroad was lucky that the major storm in 2005 was on a weekend.


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MBTA upgrades inner-city stations;
looks at interstate commuter needs

by Dennis Kirkpatrick
NCI Webmaster

Boston’s MBTA has awarded a $35.2 million contract to Barletta Heavy Division, Inc. for the complete rebuild of the Red Line subway’s Ashmont Station in Dorchester. Barletta is already rebuilding other stations along that branch of the service.

When completed Ashmont Station will be a multi-modal hub for bus, trolley, and walk-in passengers. Now over 75 years old, the station is in dire need of a complete overhaul. After demolition of the existing structure the new glass and steel building will boast:

MBTA Ashmont concept image

© Cambridge Seven Associates & MBTA

Artist rendering of the new look for Ashmont Station as seen from Peabody Sq.
  • New train platforms.
  • a new viaduct for the Mattapan trolly branch extension.
  • New lobbies with access at both ends of the station.
  • A bus way that is level with the new lobbies.
  • Public access over the subway tunnel to the street.
  • New elevators and escalators.
  • Security cameras and improved lighting.
  • Automated fare vending machines.
“The reconstruction of Ashmont Station is truly a neighborhood project, and we received input and recommendations from many area residents and officials as the design unfolded,” stated Transportation Secretary John Cogliano. “The result will be a state-of-the-art station that will combine clean and efficient Red Line service with tremendous residential and commercial opportunities.”

Former State Transportation Secretary and recently transplanted MBTA General Manager Daniel Grabauskas added, “This is a modernization project that is long overdue. The new Ashmont Station will serve as a catalyst for economic growth and development in the neighborhood.”

While the renovation and upgrade of the system’s inner city stations are at the forefront, a broader interstate picture is taking shape for the MBTA’s commuter rail service.

‘Charlie Card’ means new passes
for seniors and ‘TAP’ riders

With the implementation of the new ‘ Charlie Card’ fare collection equipment, the MBTA will begin replacing all valid existing MBTA Senior Citizen ID’s and Transportation Access Passes (T.A.P.) for persons with disabilities.

The new magnetic strip fare card is named after the popular Kingston Trio song “Charlie on the MTA (MBTA)” Person’s using the MBTA as their daily commuter transportation option are referred to locally as “Charlies”.

MBTA staff will visit various towns throughout the summer to take photos and replace ID’s at no charge. Persons 65 or older wishing to obtain an ID for the first time may also sign up for a 50 cent fee.

The MBTA’s Transportation Access Department will be visiting numerous communities north of Boston first because of the recent phase-in of the Charlie Card on the Blue line subway which extends north from Boston. Seniors may also visit the main pass office at Back Bay station or a temporary facility being set up at the Downtown Crossing station on the concourse.

Additional information can be obtained by calling the MBTA’s Transportation Access Department at 617-222-5526.

The MBTA and the Rhode Island Department of Transportation say an increase in rail service from Providence to Boston is planned by the end of this year. The larger question is whether it can keep up with a growing population in ‘ bedroom communities’ south of Boston.

“I think people recognize that we are a suburb of Boston in many ways,” said Thomas E. Deller, director of planning and development for the city of Providence, RI.

Residential development in downtown Providence offers all the perks of metropolitan living at a fraction of the cost, as well as easy access to the Amtrak / MBTA station there and for the MBTA only in South Attleboro just over the state line to the north. The surrounding area is also of substantial interest to business and industry.

RIDOT’s chief of intermodal planning, Stephen A. Devine, said that plans are underway to increase rail service from Providence to Boston in December, when a layover yard in Pawtucket for MBTA trains is slated to become available.

Lydia Rivera, a spokeswoman for MBTA, noted RIDOT entered into a contract with them in 1988 called the ‘ Pilgrim Partnership’, which seeks to enhance commuter rail services to Rhode Island, though funding has relied heavily on federal transit grants. For the interim, the MBTA has added extra rail cars to trains or included double-decker cars in their consists.

The MBTA has agreed to provide Providence with as many commuter train departures as the South Attleboro station - which now gets more than its neighbor to the south.

A transportation department survey learned in 2002 that Rhode Islanders accounted for the higher percentage of those boarding trains in South Attleboro, Ma. which is right on the state line and immediately off an exit ramp of Interstate Rt 95.

“With better service to Providence, Warwick and Wickford coming on line,” Devine noted, “it’s only going to help the overcrowding situation in South Attleboro and Attleboro. Physically, the capacity is really starting to get stretched.”

Also on the drawing board at the RIDOT is an intermodal station at T.F. Green Airport and another rail terminal at Wickford Junction, off Route 4 in North Kingstown. If all were to go as planned, they could open by early 2008.

To the north of Boston, an extension of the commuter rail service from Lowell to Nashua is also getting serious consideration.

The State of New Hampshire has agreed to offer in $150,000 for a feasibility study. The federal government has contributed an additional $600,000.

Proposals associated with the project will become part of an environmental impact report to determine if it makes sense to extend the MBTA’s Boston-to-Lowell commuter train service roughly 20 additional miles to Nashua, NH.

Ideally, construction could begin in 2007 with actual commuter service starting approximately a year later, with as many as 11 round trips daily on weekdays, or 22 trips in both directions.

Public meetings will be held in July or August in Nashua, NH and either Chelmsford or Tyngsboro, MA. Dates and locations have not been announced as yet.

If Lowell-to-Nashua gets the go-ahead, numerous parties must engage in complex negotiations.

Along with the MBTA, these include the Federal Railroad Administration, the states of New Hampshire and Massachusetts, two planning agencies and Guilford Rail System, the freight railroad that owns the tracks in New Hampshire.

As with its neighboring states to the south, border communities in New Hampshire serve as ’bedroom communities’ to Boston and vicinity making rail expansion in that direction a sensible transportation plan.


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LABOR LINES...  Labor lines...

BLET readies for possible ‘battle’

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen are preparing for another possible “battle” with the United Transportation Union. A BLET spokesman said on June 7, “While the BLET does not expect the National Mediation Board to rule in favor of the United Transportation Union’s request for a single-craft representation election, the brotherhood is still prepared for an all-out campaign to protect its membership and the historical operating crafts at the Union Pacific Railroad.”

BLET National President Don Hahs said that one of the reasons the BLET merged with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters nearly two years ago was the inevitability of another UTU attack upon the BLE’s membership.

“At last count, the Teamsters’ Strike and Defense Fund stood at $48 million,” Hahs said. He added, “The Fund will be used for the purpose of defending ourselves from attacks by the UTU and for aggressive organizing campaigns.”

Hahs said the UTU has unsuccessfully searched for a merger partner in recent months. Leaders of the former BLE ended merger talks with the UTU several years ago after questions regarding the UTU’s finances were presented.

Currently, the BLET is responding to demands from UTU members to take over the trainmen’s contract at Norfolk Southern, he said.

“We have committed to the trainmen that any changes to their contract will be voted on by the crafts affected by those changes.”

The UTU’s 1996 national agreement, which was rejected by UTU membership, “was still put into effect when the UTU’s president overruled the vote and agreed to binding arbitration. So, even though they had rejected it, the contract was forced on the membership by arbitration. That would not be possible under the BLET,” according to Hahs.

Hahs also explained that the BLET’s organizing drive at NS is “vastly different from the UTU’s raid at UP.”

“While the BLET’s NS campaign merely seeks to alter union representation, the UTU’s single-craft campaign recklessly seeks to alter the basic structure of the operating crafts. “The UTU is taking a dangerous gamble that is not worth taking,” Hahs said.

“The UTU is seeking to combine existing operating crafts to form a new operating craft - and there are no contract agreements in place for that new craft. Do you trust the carriers to simply abide by the current contracts for the new craft? I, for one, do not,” said Hahs.


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BUILDERS LINES...  Builders lines...

Wabtec to overhaul Helm locomotives

Wabtec Corp. reported on June 7 that its MotivePower subsidiary has signed a $12 million contract to overhaul 70 locomotives for Helm Financial Corp., a lessor of freight cars and locomotives. The locomotives are currently in service for the Union Pacific Railroad and will be delivered to the railroad as the overhauls are completed. The work will be performed at MotivePower’s Boise, Idaho facility, with deliveries beginning in the third quarter of 2005 and ending in late 2006. Neither firm disclosed contract costs.


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Bombardier gets Italian deal

Bombardier Transportation said on June 8 it received a $43 million order from the Italian railway company Trenitalia an upgrade order for electric powerheads. The modification will enable the powerheads, which are currently adapted to operate solely on high-speed lines, to operate on a conventional network.


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

CP rebuilds itself, adds tracks

Canadian Pacific Ry. has completed the first of 25 projects under a $160-million program to increase train capacity on the railway’s network between the Prairies and the Port of Vancouver. An 8,500-foot-long track has been built at CPR’s Coquitlam yard near Vancouver for trains of Canadian bulk commodities destined for ocean-going ships calling at Vancouver.

The new track enables CPR to stage trains close to the port until the designated ship arrives. Previously, trains awaiting ship arrival would be staged in sidings, which are valuable passing lanes build alongside the mainline. The new staging track will leave sidings open for moving trains, improve locomotive utilization, enhance overall fluidity in this area and improve service to the Port of Vancouver.

The staging track took five weeks to construct and required 285 tons of steel rail, 4,250 crossties and 5,640 tons of rock ballast.

Almost all of the 25 capacity expansion projects are now under way.

CPR is expanding its capacity to move more bulk commodities and resources to the Port of Vancouver for Asian markets that are hungry for Canada’s raw materials. CPR is also moving increasing volumes of finished goods, shipped in containers arriving from Asia, to consumers in the U.S. and Canada. When the 25 projects are complete in the fourth quarter of 2005, CPR will be able to run an additional four trains daily – or more than 400 freight cars a day – between the Prairies and the Port of Vancouver, a 12-per-cent increase in capacity.

The expansion involves building and extending sidings, laying sections of double-track, improving signal systems and installing staging tracks and track-to-track crossovers.


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FEC, UTU settle

Arbitrator Robert Peterson reached his decision on May 24 to settle wage and work agreements for Florida East Coast employees in a dispute between the carrier and the UTU. FEC and UTU representatives mutually accepted arbitration Board No. 584.

The contract extends over four years, 2005-2008, and calls for a lump sum payment of $1,000 to all FEC covered employees who worked during 2004 and a wage increase of 2.75 percent for 2005 retroactive to January 1, other wage increases of 3.50 percent for 2006, 3.25 percent for 2007, and 3.00 percent for 2008.

Health and welfare benefits remain the same, so no additional premiums are expected from employees.

Peterson ordered the FEC a closed union shop, meaning that covered employees must join the union.

A stipulation is that any employees who hired out before December 29, 1993, need not join unless by personal choice.

After December 1993, the UTU was voted in as the representative for covered employees, so any employees hired after that date must belong to the union.

The new contract ends December 31, 2008.


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BNSF employee wins rail hazmat award

Mark Stehly, assistant vice president of environment and research and development for BNSF Ry. Headquartered in Fort Worth, has been named winner of the Holden Proferock Award.

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) Hazardous Materials Committee for career achievement gives the Award periodically in hazardous materials excellence.

Stehly has more than 29 years of railroad industry experience in the areas of energy, environment, hazardous materials and risk analysis.

Stehly was cited June 7 for his leadership on the AAR’s Risk Management Working Committee. His work there led to new safety standards for tank cars carrying hazardous materials weighing over 263,000 pounds. Those requirements include head shields, additional shell thickness and top fittings protection.

Stehly sponsored development of three dimensional plume modeling that became an industry standard. He has also been involved in the AAR’s research program at the Univ. of Illinois and has supported a corporate intern program that has helped bring new people into the


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STOCKS...  Friday closing quotes...

Source: MarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)48.0550.21
Canadian National (CNI)58.6560.50
Canadian Pacific (CP) 34.7536.75
CSX (CSX)41.4842.07
Florida East Coast (FLA)41.7842.15
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)28.1828.34
Kansas City Southern (KSU)19.6420.20
Norfolk Southern (NSC)31.3932.09
Providence & Worcester (PWX)14.5014.15
Union Pacific (UNP)65.2566.63


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EDITORIAL...  Editorial...

Miracle Workers

By James P. RePass
President & CEO
The National Corridors Initiative

Last week’s hearings on Amtrak produced the usual headlines and coverage, with the predictable slant: the‘ subsidized’ U.S. passenger rail system has found yet another way to lose money: food service.

Give me a break. No, give Amtrak a break. Can you imagine any restaurant making money that is open only for a few hours a day, every day? Which is operated by highly trained staff that also has to live on the train (in many cases) for days at a stretch? Which has to service its tiny number of trains (one a day in each direction, in most cases, for the long distance service) from commissaries or food service vendors scattered all over the map?

As Amtrak Vice President Bill Crosbie [correctly] pointed out in his testimony, you can’t NOT provide food service to train riders spending many hours on the train; what else are they to do? Pack a sandwich?

No, the real story is the one that the media has missed entirely. A few weeks ago the entire 20-train Acela fleet was sidelined by design problems that evinced themselves in premature brake hub structural defects. That’s more than 6000 seats that suddenly vanished from Amtrak’s roster on the most heavily traveled corridor in America.

Yet within days people like Bill Crosbie and his boss David Gunn had managed to pull together replacement seats for most of that service, on a schedule nearly as fast as the Acela’s.

Any other company would have cratered. And Amtrak, chronically underfunded by a Congress that for the most part simply does not understand transportation, is in tough shape financially. But these guys not only didn’t crater, they rose to the occasion.

No, food service won’t be profitable, nor will train service over all. Neither will airlines, nor highways, make money, because big chunks of their costs must be provided by the taxpayer. It’s just the way infrastructure, with its huge capital costs, works. So let’s stop pot-shotting Amtrak, and give them credit for performing nothing short of a miracle these past few weeks. Nice going, Amtrak.

Its subsidized Amtrak’s latest equipment crisis has brought out the predictable round of ‘ end of the line’ headlines and blame-Amtrak columns and quotes from the usual suspects, as well as a torrent of telephone calls and emails from journalists around the country to NCI.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Amtrak is struggling to present a coherent solution to the long-running saga of not-so-benign neglect that has characterized its existence, all the while trying to fend off the malicious, elitist ideologues in the Bush Administration who simply don’t believe in government, but who hide behind the veneer of ‘ marketplace’ surface validity to cover their partisan hatred for anything that might serve the shrinking American middle class, as Amtrak does.

The Acela trainsets brake rotor defects are not the problem, and the wildly popular Acela Express service is not the problem either. Both are merely symptoms of what happens when a society chooses to systematically disinvest in one type of transportation, as we have done in America, and over-invest in another.

The problem has been and is the funding mechanism for Amtrak, which provides almost no capital, but mandates trains that operate where politicians want them. It is a formula for failure, and what is worse, it does nothing to address the crying need for transportation mobility in freight and passenger --- that is raising the cost of doing business in America, especially combined with the growing congestion on the nation’s highway system.

By utterly neglecting rail for over 60 years, while building tens of thousands of miles of taxpayer financed highways that compete for both freight and human transport, the government has created a slow-moving but deepening crisis that wiped out the American passenger rail industry, so that when we finally do make a purchase, for the newly electrified Northeast Corridor --- Acela Express was the first purchase of its kind in 35 years --- we have to use European designed but heavily modified technology, and then try to operate on American tracks under American operating conditions. What you get is what we’ve got: a brilliant train whose basic suspension components are getting their prototyping in the field, with highly predictable results. If you don’t have a rail car industry, or enough money to re-invent one, you do what Amtrak did, or else you get nothing, ever, in the way of new equipment. Could things have been done better? Sure. Would the outcome have been different? No, not with the resources at hand.

Out of all of this moveable famine, there is at least one and possibly more bright news item: the proposal by the Senate’s Trent Lott (R-MS) to create a national bonding authority for infrastructure to issue low-interest, government-backed bonds to build rail infrastructure. “If we’re going to have a national system, we’ve got to figure out a way to pay for it,” Lott said. Sen. Lott has been a transportation advocate for many years, and was the principal force behind the National Forum For Passenger Rail a decade ago, which called for similar action. It is time to move on those ideas, and stop pretending that we can have a national rail system on the cheap.


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ACROSS THE POND...  Across the pond...

Two-Car arrival

Two-Car arrival

Two photos: NCI: Leo King

A two-car local arrives in the Geneva, Switzerland station at mid-afternoon on June 1 and stops on track 5, a short stub track. About 20 minutes later, maybe a half-hour, it will leave, stuffed with commuters on their way home from work.

 

Faster-moving European freight

The giant freight yards of Woippy, near Metz in eastern France, and Mannheim in Germany, are linked by a 223-kilometer railroad, an umbilical cord between continental Europe’s core economies, the International Herald Tribune reported last week.

Until recently, it took trains six hours to run the 138-mile track, requiring three locomotives and as many locomotive engineers to navigate incompatible technical systems along the cross-border route, but since August, a service of 60 trains a day has been introduced on the line, using just one locomotive and one engineer for each train, and cutting the journey time in half, said Tatjana Luther-Engelmann, deputy spokeswoman at Deutsche Bahn’s rail freight company, Railion.

To reach that point, on just one line, required more than two years of negotiations, beginning in February 2002, when Deutsche Bahn and the French rail company SNCF signed a cross-border rail freight pact.

Economic growth and integration have sent freight traffic soaring in the European Union, but railroads have failed to keep pace.

In the past 30 years, the railroads’ share of all freight transport in the EU has dropped to less than 8 percent from 21 percent - compared with 40 percent of all freight in the U.S. - EU transportation officials say.

Still, that trend may be starting to reverse. Europe’s roads are increasingly saturated and environmental concerns are putting pressure on road haulage. EU transport ministers intend to review the road haulage market amid calls for a more level playing field among different forms of transportation.

Rail freight, measured in metric ton-kilometers, rose 2 percent EU-wide in 2004, with the most solid growth in Germany and the Netherlands - but it continued to fall in France, where a three-year restructuring plan, started in 2003, is shedding marginal clients in a bid to cut losses, which had reached 15 percent of turnover.

“We see some encouraging signs, but there is still a lot of work to do,” said Stefaan De Rynck, the European Commission transport spokesman.

High-speed trains have revived passenger services, and over the next decade will connect more major cities in Europe, with the opening of new lines. High-speed track and rolling stock is also high cost, and for freight traffic, it is something of a distraction.

Delays are the major deterrent. According to EU data, in 2001 less than 48 percent of trains ran on time. That rose to 65 percent in 2004, but 7 percent were delayed for as long as 24 hours.

“When you compare this to the 95 percent-98 percent punctuality record of road transport, there is a lot of catching up to do,” said an EU transportation official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of his involvement in delicate cross-border negotiations.

Stephen Perkins, an administrator with the European Conference of Ministers of Transport, an intergovernmental advisory agency, said speed was less important for freight operators than on-time delivery. Reliability is key.


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China Railways “Semi-Fast” Train

All photos: Dave Beale

China Railways “Semi-Fast” Train Running on the KCR East Line in Hong Kong Territory

 

A glimpse from china:

Trains run fast and frequently

By David Beale
D:F World Correspondent

Welcome to Guangzhou (formerly called Canton in the Western World), third largest Chinese metropolis after Shanghai and Beijing and birthplace of Tien Yow Jeme, father of the Chinese railroad network.

The Yale Univ. graduate earned a degree in civil engineering in the U.S. and studied in the 1880s under railroad engineering pioneers employed with the New Haven, Pennsylvania and New York Central railroads during an era when all three companies were expanding their networks and investigating new developments such as main line electrification and remotely operated signaling and track switching controls.

Today’s Chinese rail network stretches thousands of miles from the densely populated boom cities on its eastern coast to the remote Gobi Desert in the northwestern part of the country, southwest to the Himalayan foothills in Tibet to the desolate plains on the northern and western borders of the country shared with Mongolia, Russia and central Asian countries such as Kazakhstan.

Most of the network is of the same 1,435-millimeter track gauge used in most of western and central Europe, North America and India. There are a number of narrow gage lines around the country, most notably the meter-gauge line leading south from Kunming to the border with Vietnam, which connects China to Southeast Asia’s narrow-gauge rail network, which extends all the way to Singapore.

In booming southeast China, the Pearl River Delta region, where the mega-cities of Guangzhou, Shen Zhen, Hong Kong, and Maccau lie, the rail network is astonishingly sparse.

Intercity passenger services are arranged on a single corridor that begins in Guangzhou where three separate main lines from Zhaoquing, Beijing and Shanghai merge. The corridor then continues southeast for about 120 km (75 miles) as three- or four-track electrified main line to the border of Hong Kong.

At the Hong Kong border, trains continue along Kowloon Central Railway’s (KCR) East Line to the center of Hong Kong, a distance of about 30 kilometers. When one sees the tremendous number of newly built expressways, highways, city streets and gleaming new airports built in this part of China, it becomes obvious that in the past two decades of development in this region intercity railroads were given low priority.

I had an opportunity to ride from Guangzhou to Hong Kong using the train, after the end of a business trip in Guangzhou and a day before my return flight from Hong Kong to Germany. The train is really the best alternative for traveling between these two Asian mega cities, as they are too close for economical airline connections and impractical for a visitor to drive with an automobile, despite the existence of very modern toll expressway which links the two cities.

Passenger trains along this route are offered in three different forms: a “semi-fast” train consisting of standard Chinese passenger coaches hauled by a Chinese DF-11 series diesel locomotive; the “Xinshisu,” which are electric X-2000 high speed trains imported from Sweden; and KTT, which consists of double-decker passenger coaches based on a North American design hauled with electric locomotives based on the Swiss Re 460 class. KTT trains are owned and operated by the KCR, the Chinese State Rail Co operates the other two services.

Departures are generally one per hour in each direction during most of the day, and travel times range from about 70 minutes to 95 minutes.

Trains to Hong Kong depart from East Station in Guangzhou, via an international departure and arrival section of this station. Hong Kong still maintains a separate country status from mainland China with its own passports, border control procedures and customs regulations, although it reverted back to mainland Chinese territory and rule in 1997. Unlike Europe, where international train passport, immigration and customs inspections are preformed by border police on board while the train is underway across an international border, in China these procedures are handled at the station in an identical manner as in international airports.

Consequently, the train stations in Guangzhou and Hong Kong appear and function on the inside similar to international airports. The waiting lounge in Guangzhou East Station looked like most airline terminals: clean and modern and equipped with airport style duty free shops, book stores and a coffee/snack bar, but sparse and devoid of any character. Access to the train platform was restricted only to when the train was ready for boarding and photography was not allowed.

Semi-Fast Train interior

Inside the “Semi-Fast” train – clean and comfortable – with a 1960s look.

I rode on the all-Chinese stock “semi-fast” train from Guangzhou to Hong Kong on a simple one-way ticket costing 220 yuan – about U.S. $27.

The train was clean, well maintained and air-conditioned, but the interior design was not exactly modern. Boarding was completed within 10 minutes and the train pulled out of Guangzhou East Station right on-time with a nearly full load of passengers on-board.

It quickly accelerated to its 160 km/h (100 mph) cruising speed, which says something about the power of the Chinese DF11 series diesel-electric locomotive on the front with nine heavy steel passenger coaches in tow. I am not sure why a diesel locomotive is used to haul this train, because the entire route is electrified.

The ride was smooth and quiet, as good as any conventional intercity train in Germany. Although about a tenth of the passengers on board were westerners such as myself, PA announcements on board were almost always only in Mandarin.

The on board train staff served tea, coffee, soft drinks and snacks for a nominal price. They walked up and down the aisles during the entire trip.

Diesel Switcher at Entrance of Dongguan Freight Yard

Diesel Switcher at Entrance of Dongguan Freight Yard

Our train passed through several rail freight yards and about five passenger train stations, stopping only at Dongguan and Shen Zhen before reaching the end station at Hong Kong’s Hung Hom station. Freight trains along this line appeared similar to what I saw in several months earlier in central and northeastern China, predominately used for hauling large bulk quantities of raw materials such as coal, gravel, cement, grain, iron ore, etc. Although one does see some flatcars with freight containers, they are far less common to see than in Europe or North America.

Boxcars appear likewise less frequently than in Europe and North America. Although the Guangzhou – Hong Kong rail corridor passes next to countless factory complexes and industrial parks, very few actually had rail spurs connecting with this rail line, indicating that China moves its impressive volume of finished goods primarily on trucks, barges and ships.

Dongguan Passenger Station

Dongguan Passenger Station is clean, modern, and nearly empty as a Xinshinsu (Swedish X2000) train awaits its departure time to Guangzhou.

The “semi-fast” train maintained its 160 km/h speed most of the time before reaching Hong Kong’s border. Our train paused for a few minutes there, waiting for its slot to travel down the KCR East Line, which is perhaps the busiest two-track mainline I have ever seen. It resembles more a subway or metro line than a commuter rail line, with local trains running at three- to 8-minute intervals in each direction. There are passing sidings for through trains in perhaps just 3 of the approximately 10 KCR commuter stations between the border and Hung Hom terminal. Consequently our semi-fast train slowed its pace considerably to about 80 km/h in order to blend in with the commuter trains which stop at each station along this busy rail line.

Chinese DF-4 diesel-electric freight locomotive

Chinese DF-4 diesel-electric freight locomotive couples to a freight train near Zhangrughou

Upon arrival in Hung Hom Station, train staff and police encouraged passengers to quickly disembark and proceed from the underground train platform area to the awaiting immigration and customs officials upstairs in the station building. After clearing passport and customs checkpoints I walked back down into the other side Hung Hom to catch a commuter train to another part of the city where my hotel was located.

I waited for a couple of minutes on a platform just a few meters away from the platform where my “semi-fast” train from Guangzhou awaited to be turned for its return trip, but I had an obstructed view of the train due to a heavy chain-link fence installed between the domestic and international tracks inside Hung Hom.


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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 crew at leoking@nationalcorridors.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write.

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

Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images that appear in Destination:Freedom may do so at a nominal fee of $10.00 per image. “True color” Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG or JPG) images average 1.7MB each. Print publishers can order images in process color (CMYK) or tagged image file format (.tif), and are nearly 6mb each. They will be snail-mailed to your address, or uploaded via file transfer protocol (FTP) to your site. All are 300 dots-per-inch.

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

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


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