Destination: Freedom

The newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative
Rail is RealVol. 1 No. 9 ©2000, NCI, Inc. June 2, 2000
James P. RePass, President Leo King, Editor
A weekly passenger railroad update



NCI: Leo King
Not a pretty picture, but No. 133 is the first scheduled trainto go under catenary

'Regional' train make a little history

By Leo King

D:F Editor

BOSTON § Amtrak's Acela Regional train made a little history Thursday afternoon. No. 133 became the first scheduled electric train to shove out of Southampton Street yard under its own electric power for South Station.

Conductor Mike Shaw and engineer Barry Bennett took the train from yard track 9 to the "fifteen switch," after getting clearance from South Bay tower to go via Dorchester branch track No. 2. The train director had to insure they had a copy of a Movement Permit Form D (A603), which directed in "Other instructions/information that they may raise pantographs on all tracks described in Supplemental Bulletin Order No. 5-57B," which spelled out, in brief, that all the catenary wires were energized between the yard and South Station.

AEM-7 engines 948 and 931 were on the point with eight cars. The crew made their brake check complete at 4:23 p.m., and got the okay to go at 4:25 p.m. The train left Boston on time, at 5:00 p.m.

Engine 655 visits Boston; scrubs on loop, goes home

BOSTON § It was a quick trip on

June 12, 2000, but Amtrak's newest engine, a high-horsepower (8,000HP) engine made the trek from Philadelphia to Boston and return.  An F-40PH (245) tugged the three-car train from South Station in Boston, where it ventured around the "loop" track and through the car wash, then returned to the station for its return journey. Amtrak's man in Boston, Russ Hall, said the train "was in the area for esting and was sent back to Philadelphia for downloading."  There was a crew change in New Haven.  He also said "None [of those engines]  have been formally accepted yet."

Night electrical crews began energizing all the catenary in South Station two days later, and it took three days to complete the job among the remaining eight tracks in the station, both loop tracks, the mile of double track between the station and Southampton Street yard on the Dorchester branch, and the yard itself, along with a running track.  24 separate segments were fired up, and each required 42 checks before being deemed safe and serviceable.  Work continued Thursday night (June 15) energizing the yard and peripheral tracks. By week's end, that part of the job should be completed.  Rain and other factors prevented

Getting the job done a week earlier.

NCI: Leo King 8,000 horsepower engine 655 is tugged

around the "loop track" in Boston.

Moneypenny gets nod to reform council

(WASHINGTON) § President Clinton said on Wednesday he intends to appoint Charles F. Moneypenny as a member of the Amtrak Reform Council (ARC).

Moneypenny, of South Boston, Mass., is currently the international and legislative representative of the 120,000 member Transport Workers Union of America (TWU), AFL-CIO, with primary responsibility in the union's collective bargaining and government affairs operation.

He also was a leader in getting the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to renew its maintenance contract with Amtrak following a struggle with a contractor which had virtually no employees.

Before his appointment in 1995, was an international union representative, and he was president of TWU Local 2054 in Boston where he organized and managed an active membership dedicated to preserving good jobs and maintaining a safe and efficient national Amtrak network. Moneypenny was first elected local union president in 1985 and served four three-year terms in that capacity.

ARC members look over the shoulders of Amtrak's board of directors regarding performance, and make cost containment, productivity improvements and financial reforms recommendations. The ARC sends a report card annually to the Congress.

The other (less splashy) half

of eastern seaboard high speed rail

By Wes Vernon

Washington Correspondent

There are no promised debut timetables. No advertisements with pictures of sleek European-style trainsets, no Madison Avenue contests on naming the new 21st Century wonder-train.

None of tható but plans for a connecting southern counterpart to the long-awaited Acela trains of the Northeast are quietly and methodically moving along.

Under the banner of "Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor" (SEHSR), the states of Virginia and North Carolina have been holding workshops this spring and summer all up and down the projected "high speed" corridor between Washington, D.C. and Charlotte, N.C. These meetings are part of an environmental study. Another series of meetings will be held in the coming fall and winter. Beyond that, 2001 will see a series of formal hearings "for the circulation of the Southeast High Speed Rail draft Tier 1 Environmental Statement."

This is only the beginning.

South Carolina and Georgia are ultimately committed to implementing SEHSR, which promises to "generate immense benefits in travel convenience and reliability, as well as create economic development and employment for the Southeast region."

This effort stems from a 1997 report for the USDOT which identified the Southeast Corridor as "the most economically viable proposed high-speed rail corridor in the country, in no small part due to its connectivity to the Northeast Corridor. And this confirms ridership, revenue and cost-benefit studies undertaken by NCDOT." Other corridors considered viable are in Florida, the Midwest, the Northwest and California.

2010 is the target date for completing the process of implementing high-speed rail from Washington to Charlotte, but that will come in increments, involving upgraded track and expanded capacity with an ultimate goal of 110 mph, along with "accelerated hazard elimination programs to improve highway grade crossing safety."

That speed, 110 mph, may not sound like much when compared to the long-awaited 150-mph Acela Express on the electrified track north of Washington on the NEC, but compared to the present speed cap of 79 mph (actually just 70 MPH between the District of Columbia and Richmond), thoughtful planners believe that the additional speed will be enough to lure some travelers currently using aircraft which, on paper, is much faster until you consider that travelers using airports between New York and Charlotte are projected to experience more than 20,000 hours of delays annually by 2003. Also worth noting is that when this project is completed, rail travel time between Southeast Communities can be reduced by more than 45 percent.

The plan is not pie in the sky, but is well thought out, realistic, and incremental, coordinated at the highest levels of the Virginia and North Carolina governments, and complete with bipartisan support. Add to that the fact that the freight railroads are more receptive than previously to the idea of federal funding for extra trackage to allow for expanded passenger and freight service.

Federal and state backers of the plan are putting their money where their mouths are. The FRA will spend $750,000 in to upgrade the safety of 21 highway-rail grade crossings. The Virginia Assembly, with the solid backing of Gov. Jim Gilmore, has provided more than $65 million in state resources to make improvements and purchase new equipment to shorten the trip times between Richmond and Washington.

The project also seeks to minimize costs to the taxpayers. The system will require no operating subsidy because operations will be expected to turn a profit.

Capital funding, however, is another matter.

Airlines don't build airports or pay the air traffic controllers, any more than truckers contract out for highway building or traffic enforcement. In other words, we're slowly but surely coming to realize that no transportation system can remain indefinitely viable if the private sector must pay both capital and operating costs. In that sense, we are beginning to tip-toe ever so gently into the regimen of treating railroading the same way we treat all other modes of transportation.

Again, even the freight railroads are receptive to public sector money for additional tracks, which will lead to greater capacity.

At one time, Class I carriers were dead set against this lest it mean a government "foot in the door."

The Southeast High Speed Rail plan also maximizes existing rail corridors to achieve low construction costs.

I dropped in on a recent SEHSR workshop session in Alexandria and was briefed by David Keever and his fellow consultants, along with some state officials involved in the Virginia and North Carolina planning. He said his effort is "a complement to the whole range of programs that are being developed" by both states.

The idea, he said, is to plan for trips of up to 500 miles that are "time competitive with air or auto" on a "door to door" basis or "downtown to downtown," counting the time involved in getting to and from airports normally miles away from the center city. That could dramatically increase business travel on the Southeast Corridor. Someday, the corridor may ultimately stretch all the way to Atlanta and then later to Jacksonville, but for now, they are concentrating on D.C. to Richmond, Raleigh and Charlotte.

"Slowly and gradually over a five- to ten-year period, we're seeingó increases and improvements," assured Keever, but there will be some noticeable improvements much sooner than that.

Right now, the average speed between Charlotte and Raleigh is about 46 miles an hour. There are improvements being made in that sector that may move it up "to additional benchmarksó(with) incremental improvements along the way.

"We're not going to wait another eight to ten years until boom! All of a sudden you see a dramatic increase." The Washington to Richmond segment is leading the way with track and safety improvementsósetting the groundwork for high-speed rail, ultimately to the 110 miles an hour."

It has been shown that quite often, that approach is politically most effective.

In Florida, Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed the ambitious Fox high-speed project and now has held discussions with Amtrak for the more incremental method. Similarly, the Virginia-North Carolina Project is incremental from Day 1.

Will trainsets look like the Northeast Corridor's new Acela, only dieselized?

"That is certainly one approach, because we want the trains to operate into the Northeast Corridor." Equipping some trains with both electric and diesel power "is one of the things we've been talking about."

It cannot include the 20 sets now coming on-line for the NEC's Acela Express. Those trainsets do not have the capability to accommodate boarding on low level platforms, the only kind of platform available south of Washington. But the technology and type of trainsets are matters to be dealt with "several years down the road." Meanwhile, it would appear then that we're talking about the more flexible refurbished "Amcans," the trusty Amfleet that will work on both sides of the national capital.

No final decision has been made yet on which of two routes the passenger trains will follow from Raleigh to Charlotte. One includes Greensboro, the other would call at Winston-Salem. One is more populated, the other would be a shorter distance and thus, facilitate a faster schedule. A decision on which route to choose will likely come "in about 12 to 18 months."

Does this replace anything already available in the way of long distance Amtrak service?

"We're not going to take anything away," Keever said. This would complement current Amtrak service south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Is there any question as to what entity will actually run the trains? "Amtrak comes to the table with such strong credentials" for operating the service. "They're the only ones that can get liability insurance, and the only ones that have access to freight railroad property."

Obviously, you can't leave the freight railroads out when you're making all these plans. They claim that their increased load is coming from the same populous centers that are driving the demand for more passenger service § and it is their property.

There is already a plan for a third mainline track between Washington and Virginia, one big item in that $65 million okayed by the Virginia General Assembly.

"What we do is we sit down with the (freight) railroads and consider them to be partners, more or lessóWe then do the same thing with Amtrak and commuter operators, see where the conflicts are and where additional capacity will have to be added." In the last two or three years there has been more of a willingness on the part of NS, CSX, BNSF, and UP "to accept federal money for capacity expansion."

Later that evening, I reported my discussions at the Alexandria workshop to a rail savvy group. There was a mixture of enthusiasm and skepticism.

Having fought for 30 years for a station on the Washington Metrorail system near my own neighborhood that finally opened twenty years after its original schedule, I can appreciate the cynicism, but I also learned the value of patience and persistence. You can also mark this down as dead certain: If enough people insist on bad-mouthing this project by throwing up their hands and saying, "It will never happen," it won't.

Keystone line gets another train

A ninth round-trip train is being added on the Keystone Line between Harrisburg and Philadelphia.

The added round-trip service will start July 9, and the new westbound train, No. 605, will leave Philadelphia weekdays at 7:25 a.m. with stops in Ardmore, Paoli, Exton, Downingtown, Lancaster and Elizabethtown, and arrive in Harrisburg at 9:20 a.m.

The eastbound train, No. 618, will leave Harrisburg at 7:45 p.m., and make all stops to Philadelphia with arrival at 30th Street Station at 9:43 p.m.

The state is subsidizing the new service.

'Rail Days,' 'Op-Sail' bring 'Amsale'

Amtrak is offering half-price fares during the 6th annual "Rail Days" on the Keystone Line between Harrisburg, Lancaster and Philadelphia, Pa.

This year's Rail Days is being held on Saturday and Sunday, June 24 and 25, and will also feature discounted or free attractions in Philadelphia, Lancaster, Harrisburg and Middletown, including transportation and free admission to "Operation Sail 2000" in Philadelphia.

Op-Sail 2000 is a seven port celebration from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Portland, Maine. Each port will play host to a flotilla of historic sailing vessels from more than 50 countries.

There are several more goodies and gifts available.
 
 

Corridor lines...

Vermonter to Boston?

Franklin County in Vermont may be getting train service again after decades of being deprived. A published report on June 8 quoted Maureen Mullaney, transportation program manager for the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, who said that Amtrak is considering changing the route of its Vermonter train, which now connects Montreal with New York City, and have it go instead to Boston.

If the change is made, the Millers Falls section of Montague, which now is just a pass-through point for the train, would become the elbow in the redirection to Boston, the Union-News reported.

The Vermonter stops in Brattleboro to the north and in Amherst to the south. If the decision is made to head east, the south leg would be dropped, ending service to Amherst, said Mullaney.

The quest for rail passenger service to the county is among the initiatives listed in a draft update of the county's regional transportation plan that was given a hearing a day earlier. The draft represents the third update of the plan that was established in 1993.

Wisconsin train makes new stop

Amtrak's Lake Country Limited began stopping at Lake Geneva resort communities on June 15. The train operates between Janesville, Wis., and Chicago. The station stop is in the unincorporated town of Zenda, Wis., a few miles from most of Lake Geneva's resorts and the lake's main business district.

Train control improvement headed for Illinois

USDOT Secretary Rodney Slater and FRA administrator Jolene Molitoris are scheduled to announce the award of a $34 million contract from the North American Joint Positive Train Control (NAJPTC) program to develop and install a positive train control (PTC) system on a 120-mile segment of the Chicago to St. Louis high speed passenger rail corridor. The event will occur at Chicago Union Station from 1:45 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, June 21, 2000.

A grant of $6.5 million will be awarded to Illinois DOT. The NAJPTC program is now funded through commitments totaling $60 million: $28 million from USDOT, $12 million from Illinois DOT, and $20 million from the Association of American Railroads.
 
 


We try to be accurate in the stories we write, but even seasoned pros err occasionally. If you read something you know to be amiss, or if you have a question about a topic, we'd like to hear from you. Please email the crew at train1812@home.com.


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