In this edition...
ST. LOUIS --- The Missouri Department of Transportation has proposed the start of Amtrak passenger rail service between St. Louis and Springfield, MO to lessen congestion on Interstate 44, the St. Louis Business Journal reported late last week.
The new service would also reach Branson, MO, one of the nations top tourist destinations.
Rail advocates noted that MoDOTs actions represent a major shift in MoDOTs position, which has been strongly anti-rail for much of the past 40 years. No rail service has appeared on that line since 1965.
It is gratifying to see the Missouri Department of Transportation advocating rail expansion in that state, which is part of the nascent Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, stated National Corridors Initiative Jim RePass. Its long overdue, but welcome. The nine-state MidWest Regional Rail Initiative is a plan to increase rail capacity and reduce travel time on a hub-based system centered on Chicago. It has received financial support from Illinois and Wisconsin, and other states are now starting to pony up funds needed to restore what once was a highly successful ground-based transportation system. Much of the system is owned by freight railroads, many of whom are now looking to passenger train projects to increase their own capabilities to haul freight.
Other states in other regions have shown similar renewed interest in rail as a way of reducing traffic congestion. Connecticuts legislature, lead by State Senate President Donald Williams, recently voted $2.3 billion for transit improvements in the state, including New Haven-Springfield [MA- Brattleboro VT], New London-Norwich-Worcester, which, like the St. Louis-Springfield run, has not had regular passenger service in a generation.
Image Courtesy of MoDOTExisting and proposed routes
MoDOT stated in a news release about proposed new Amtrak service:
Amtrak passenger rail service between Springfield and St. Louis could bring a new transportation option to a growing portion of Missouri, lessen congestion on Interstate 44 and help save motorists from rising fuel costs. The department, along with Amtrak, is exploring the possibility of one round trip daily between the two cities, with stops along the way in Lebanon, Rolla, Sullivan and Kirkwood. The train would run on existing privately owned rail lines [ as do virtually all of Amtraks trains outside the Northeast Corridor and a short stretch in Michigan editors note ].
This part of the state hasnt seen passenger rail in 40 years, said MoDOT Multimodal Operations Director Brian Weiler. The rail lines along this corridor are in good shape and arent too congested, so riders can expect a smooth ride and on-time service. From St. Louis, rail connections are available to the rest of the country, so this would be a great opportunity for travelers in southwest Missouri to see the country by rail.
MoDOT currently supports Amtrak service between St. Louis and Kansas City. National Amtrak routes run between Kansas City and northeast Missouri, as well as between St. Louis and Poplar Bluff.
Conditions may be right for an expansion in service, Weiler said. Population and travel is way up in the Springfield/Branson area, and Fort Leonard Wood is very busy as well. And with highways becoming more congested and fuel costs going up, more people than ever are looking for other ways to travel.
There are many details to be worked out, Weiler emphasized, including available funding, stations and crossings in the affected cities, and availability of Amtrak equipment. The possible expansion would be at least a year or two away, he said.
The department, along with Amtrak, is exploring the possibility of one round trip daily between the two cities, according to MoDOT. The rail line would head northeast from Springfield and make stops along the way in Lebanon, Rolla, Sullivan and Kirkwood, MO, before reaching St. Louis. The train would run on existing privately owned rail lines.
STONINGTON, CT A Pawcatuck woman was killed Wednesday morning (June 14) when she apparently walked into the side of Amtrak Train 171 as it headed southbound through the Pawcatuck section of Stonington. The womans car was found parked near the grade crossing gate.
Her body was discovered shortly after the train passed. The trains engineer had reported seeing a woman running beside the train as it went through the Palmer Street grade crossing, but had not seen her being hit. Palmer Street is one of only a handful of at-grade crossings left on the Northeast Corridor. The next northbound train, 190, which had left Mystic just moments before, came across the body when it was instructed by Amtrak officials to slow down when approaching the Palmer crossing area. Police were already on the scene.
Shortly before 9:30 a.m., The Day reported, Diane Caulfield, 51, of 2 Clark St., Pawcatuck, parked her car in the parking lot of the Whistle Stop Café, witnesses said. As a train approached, she moved her beige Hyundai in front of the crossing gate, got out and stepped onto the tracks, The Day cited witnesses as saying.
A northbound train struck her, hurling her onto the eastbound tracks, police said. Stonington police Sgt. Bruce Smith and Westerly medic Theresa Hersch rushed to carry Caulfield, who was still alive, off the tracks as another train approached, The Day reported.
Caulfield was taken to The Westerly Hospital, then flown by Life Star helicopter to Rhode Island Hospital where she died, police said, The Day said. Train traffic was stopped for about an hour. Police closed Palmer Street until about 1:30 p.m. to investigate.
Some 400 people are killed every year at highway-rail grade crossings. The gates at Palmer Street were working at the time and were apparently not a factor, as pedestrians routinely walk around them. It was the second fatal grade crossing accident in Connecticut this year.
In a statement after the earlier accident, at 5 Miners Lane in Waterford, Amtrak noted:
Due to the high-speed nature of Acela Express service, which uses the whole line, grade crossings are highly discouraged, and most have been eliminated. The remaining ones use preventative measures such as four-quadrant gates, except in New London, Connecticut, whose three crossings are very close to the station. The following 11 crossings remain, all in southeastern Connecticut:
New London, Connecticut
Casinos step up to plate for proposed rail
service from New York to Atlantic City
ATLANTIC CITY, JUNE 16 -- The idea to run trains from New York City to Atlantic City is not new; an attempt was made in the late 1980s but the service never got off the ground. Today, with offers from the casinos to guarantee operating costs and handle marketing, the project is alive again and New Jersey Transit is considering taking on the operations.
On Monday, NJ Transit will make the decision, reported staff writer Thomas Barlas. NJT spokeswoman Penny Bassett Hackett said a vote is expected, and, if the answer is yes, service would begin in the latter half of 2007.
NJ Transit Executive Director George Warrington said during a transportation conference in Atlantic City in April that NJ Transit was working out details with Amtrak for the use of a portion of Amtraks Northeast Corridor line between 30th Street Station in Philadelphia and Trenton.
NJ Transit already runs trains along the Northeast Corridor line between Trenton and Newark. It needs to use the portion of the Northeast Corridor line between 30th Street Station and Trenton so customers can ride one of its trains between Atlantic City and Newark without having to change trains in Philadelphia.
Atlantic Citys casinos are putting their weight behind the service now that they are faced with looming competition from Pennsylvania and New York.
The plan would essentially link the Atlantic City line which runs between Atlantic City and Philadelphia and the Northeast Corridor line.
NJ Transit said ridership on the Atlantic City line is growing faster than any of its other rail lines.
Transportation officials said one of the issues Warrington must deal with is whether NJ Transit would cut in profits for cash-strapped Amtrak.
Every engineer has a story:
A train is not forgiving at all
Coincidentally, this article, which appeared in the Chicago Sun Times on June 11, gives us an inside view on how devastating it is for train engineers and crewmen when a human is struck by a train.
When a commuter train slams into a vehicle, the sound amounts to little more than a fist pounding thick glass, writes reporter Monifa Thomas. A train can strike a human body without passengers on board feeling a thing.
But for train engineers and crewmen who have experienced it, the impact of a fatal collision cuts much deeper.
You try to put them out of your mind, but it doesnt really work out that way, Metra engineer Ed Lilla said.
It only takes Lilla, 58, a moment to recall how many people he has killed since he began operating trains 36 years ago, the story continues.
Three fatalities, he said. Ive hit nine cars, three trucks and a motorcycle.
Some engineers seek counseling. Others get back to work as quickly as possible. Lilla considers himself lucky that he has experienced only three accidents that ended in death. Some have had a dozen or more before retiring.
You can take any engineer who has been here for any length of time, and theyll tell you story after story, Lilla said.
Conductors are usually the first ones to survey the scene of an accident.
Conductor Tim Madole, who has witnessed seven fatal collisions all involving pedestrians, said, A train is not forgiving at all.
They dont hear or see the occurrence, but when they hear the hiss and screech of brakes and the whistle, they know. It just raises the hair on the back of your neck, said Madole.
Chicago centralizes train
With just a few clicks of a mouse, train directors at the Chicago Control Center (CHCC) can move a train through 13 switches and four signals a task that previously took 17 separate operations because the train director had to align each switch and signal and then check to make sure the path was correct.
This improvement is a result of a new Digital Traffic Control system manufactured by Digital Concepts, Inc. (DigiCon) and recently installed at the Chicago Control Center to more efficiently control the movement of trains.
The installation of the system is a key component of a long-term project completed in February to consolidate all Central Division train movement operation to the Chicago Control Center, established in 2004 and located within the 14th Street Mechanical and Transportation facility at the Chicago Yards.
Photo: Amtrak InkAt the Chicago Control Center, Train Directors Tim Armon (left) and Edward Stolzenbach control the movement of trains on the south end of Chicago Union Station. Working as a team, Armon operates the DigiCon system while Stolzenbach fields all communication.
As a result, the Chicago Control Center is responsible for train movements on all Amtrak-owned track outside of the Northeast Corridor, including approximately 115 miles of track between Porter, Ind., and Kalamazoo, Mich., almost 14 miles of track extending from the north and south ends of Chicago Union Station, and the tracks at New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal.
The consolidation process began eight years ago with the closing of Chicagos Lumber and Harrison Street Towers, followed by the 2003 closing of the New Orleans Tower. The process continued in 2004 with the closing of the Trail Creek Drawbridge Tower in Michigan City, Ind., and the 2005 shutting of Chicagos 21st Street Tower.
The DigiCon system, installed in conjunction with the transfer of operations to 14th Street, automatically sets all the switches and signals in the proper positions along the route and eliminates the potential for human error associated with manipulating each switch and signal manually.
The digital traffic control system is much better than the previous one because it allows me to preview the route that I lined up and make sure that it is acceptable before executing it, explained Train Director Cesaria Welch.
Additionally, the DigiCon system has complete archive and playback capability that allows past events to be reviewed through the use of two data servers that support the systems operation and record all activity on the system. If one server fails, the other immediately picks up with no loss of functionality, explained Trainmaster Harold Krewer.
The system keeps a record of all trains that enter Amtrak property and the time at which they pass every checkpoint along the route. We can fast-forward the video, play it slow, freeze a frame or print out the screen display. It allows us to analyze periods of congestion and refine the operation when necessary the replay capability is invaluable. If a switch malfunctions, I can find out which switch failed, what time it occurred and what tracks were affected by simply replaying the event, continued Krewer.
The efficiency of the centralized operations center is largely due to the Engineering departments reconstruction of the busy Lake Street Interlocking, a mile-long stretch of track at the Chicago Terminal that handles approximately 350 train movements on a typical weekday. The project, which is in its final stages, involves completely rebuilding the track, subgrade (the track foundation), drainage system and the power and signal systems.
To help ensure the seamless transition from the previous system to DigiCon, the Engineering team installed new signals, switches and programmable processors called Vital Harmon Logic Controllers at the Lake Street Interlocking. These processors communicate with the DigiCon system and control the operation of the switches and signals, explained Communications and Signal Engineer Troy Mason.
Communications lines that were used with the previous system were already in place, so the only item needed to connect the new traffic control system with the New Orleans terminal and the Michigan Line was new computers.
Remote cameras that display nine images of the South Branch Bridge in Chicago and the Trail Creek Bridge in Michigan City were also set up at the center to allow train directors to open and close these movable bridges for marine traffic.
While we have finally accomplished our goal to centralize, it doesnt mean the jobs done. We intend to continually improve the capabilities of our operation and the skill of our train directors, explained General Superintendent Don Saunders.
As an example, the DigiCon system is currently being upgraded to include a train schedule database that will enable train directors to identify late trains at a glance. The system is also being enhanced to automatically present the train director with a route to the trains scheduled arrival track.
To support the expanded operation, the Chicago Control Center is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A digital communication system equipped with a monitor and standup desk microphone replaced handheld radios and manages the numerous radio base stations and intercom lines the train directors use to communicate with the locomotive engineers and freight railroads, among others.
To insure uninterrupted operations, the office is equipped with a backup generator and heating and air conditioning systems that are separate from the rest of the building. Each computer terminal is supported by an uninterrupted power supply to protect against a power outage. And, if a fire or other emergency should require the building to be evacuated, there is a complete alternate office with duplicate computer equipment located in another area within the Chicago Terminal.
Gearing up for summer travel season
As the summer season approaches, departments throughout the railroad are implementing plans developed months ago in anticipation of the busy travel period. The increase in ridership, the effects of warmer weather and the rise in the number of track work projects will have a major impact on railroad operations over the next few months.
Before passengers walk through the station and step on board the train, often their first contact with Amtrak is through the Western and the Mid-Atlantic Reservation Sales Call Centers located in Riverside, Calif., and Philadelphia. Although the majority of bookings are made through automated channels such as Amtrak.com, Julie (Amtraks automated voice response system), and Quik-Trak machines, reservation sales agents handle approximately 45,000 calls a day during the summer months, compared with about 35,000 calls a day during off-peak seasons.
Three photos - Amtrak InkAt Los Angeles Union Station, Baggage/Express Handlers Ellen Barnett (left) and Joe Schamet remove a surfboard and other baggage from a Pacific Surfliner train.
To prepare for the increase in call volume and to minimize the amount of time that callers are on hold, forecasting is done nearly a year in advance, and then periodically throughout the year, to determine how many employees are needed to manage the phone lines. Our goal is to respond to every call within 51 seconds and during the summer we make staffing adjustments to help accomplish this. For example, out of the pool of 200 part-time employees, we are offering between 50 and 70 agents an opportunity to convert to full-time positions from the middle of June through mid-August, states Ed Madden, manager of Manpower, Planning and Controls department.
When speaking with customers, reservation agents advise passengers who arent ready to book a summer trip to call back as soon as they are prepared to do so, because space sells out quickly. Agents also recommend that passengers allow ample time at the station, particularly if they need to pick up their ticket before boarding. At major stations, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, passengers should arrive at least an hour before their trains scheduled departure.
Station Operations Heat Up
When passengers arrive at the stations, every effort is made to move them through the ticketing process as swiftly as possible. And, because the ticket office lines are longer during this time of the year, passengers are directed to use the Quik-Trak machines, where they are available. We see a sharp increase in ticket revenue during the summer months approximately 62 percent of the total ticket revenue generated at Penn Station comes from Quik-Trak, explains Assistant Superintendent Stations Mike Gallagher.
Purchasing tickets from Quik-Trak machines is a popular option for customers at the busy New York Penn Station.
Efforts are made at other stations as well to reduce the amount of time passengers wait in ticket lines. To move passengers through the lines as quickly as possible and to help prevent passengers running late from missing their trains, we often offer an express window for credit cards, checked-baggage-only windows and, when necessary, we dedicate certain ticket windows to passengers boarding trains that are departing soon, explains Central Division Passenger Services Superintendent Jeff Snowden about Chicago Union Stations ticket office.
At this busy time of the year, baggage is also an area of special focus. Because the amount of baggage increases dramatically, we get heavily into briefings on proper baggage handling to help eliminate the potential for injuries, describes Southwest Division Superintendent of Passenger Services Lynn Berberian. During briefings, managers discuss with employees proper lifting techniques and emphasize the importance of enforcing the checked and carry-on baggage policies. We make sure extra boxes are available in case passengers have to re-pack their belongings due to their luggage exceeding the 50 pound limit. We also order additional bike boxes to have on hand because biking is so popular in California during the summer months, adds Berberian.
At New York Penn Station, which sees over a half-a-million travelers and commuters most days, every effort is made to help ensure that all the station equipment, including its 25 elevators and 22 escalators are in good working condition by the start of the summer. We also scheduled station upgrade projects so theyre completed in time for our summer travelers, notes Gallagher. These improvements include installing new public address systems, purchasing new wheelchairs and hand trucks and repairing the yellow ADA-required tactile edge that lines the platforms.
Red Cap Neil McPhatter uses one of New York Penn Stations new hand trucks to carry luggage to the train.
More Passengers, More Equipment
Long before the train leaves the station, decisions are made about how many on-board employees are needed during this heavily traveled time. Crew Management Services works closely with System Operations, Customer Services and Crew Base supervisors, to help ensure the trains are sufficiently staffed.
A major consideration in determining how many employees are needed is the number of cars used on each train. To ascertain the equipment needs for each route, System Operations examines several important factors. Its a delicate balancing act where we must make decisions by carefully analyzing ridership, equipment availability and potential revenue, explained Senior Director, System Operations Chris Jagodzinski.
First, historical data is reviewed to determine when ridership is expected to be high enough to warrant additional equipment. But ridership data alone is not enough to justify adding cars to a route; revenue must also be considered. Therefore, System Operations works closely with Sales and Marketing to compare routes to figure out which will generate the most revenue from adding a car.
Additionally, System Operations must work with the Mechanical department to determine if the needed equipment will be available. To help make this decision we must take into considerations the number of trainsets used on each route. For instance, if we plan to add a car to the Empire Builder, which utilizes five train sets, well need five extra cars. So, if we dont have that many available, we may instead choose to add a car to the Capitol Limited, which uses only three trainsets, continued Jagodzinski.
Once the equipment counts are established, Crew Management Services can begin staffing the trains. And when ridership is at its peak, particularly among long-distance trains during the summer, adding another sleeping car to a train means adding another attendant to staff that car as well.
Train and Engine crews may also get an additional member, based on equipment levels. For instance, when a corridor train has more than six revenue cars, we may add another assistant conductor, explained Senior Director Crew Management Thom Chawluk, Sr.
The Customer Service team works with Crew Management to set the required staffing level in the dining car based on the number of meals expected to be served. When the anticipated meal count exceeds 96, an additional service attendant is usually added. Coach car attendant staffing is also predetermined, but in a different way if a train operates for more than four hours during daylight with more than 150 passengers, additional coach attendants may be added.
Mechanical Team Provides a Cool Ride
Temperature control during the heat of the summer season is key to providing passengers with a comfortable and relaxing ride. When cars come to the Beech Grove Maintenance Facility in Indiana for overhauls, remanufactures, or wreck repairs, mechanics perform season-specific work to ready the equipment for the summer. Air conditioning units are rebuilt and tested for hours in a heated room that simulates conditions in a passenger car. After air leaks in the car are sealed to ensure that the cool air stays inside the car, a test is performed to ensure that the interior temperature is maintained and the thermostats are calibrated.
Sometimes we have to replace individual room thermostats or equalize the air flow to eliminate hot spots. In some cases we may need to lower the thermostat temperatures to overcome the heat load. For example, the Sightseer Lounge car, where glass windows encase much of the car, creates a much greater heat load because of the constant sun exposure, explained Beech Grove
Assistant Superintendent Roger Riggen. Additionally, the duct work throughout the cars is thoroughly cleaned and all filters are replaced. Mechanics must also ensure the doors work properly and the seals are in place to prevent air and humidity from entering the car. The refrigeration units work harder in the summer than other times of the year, so we also test the refrigeration using electronic thermometers, record the stats and download the data on a computer that enables us to see when the freezers go into a defrost cycle and how long it takes to recover the required temperatures, added Riggen.
The Heat Effect
Amtraks Engineering department also plays an important role in providing safe working conditions for employees, a comfortable ride for passengers and a safe, reliable infrastructure for train operations. And during the summer months, the hot temperatures add an extra component to consider when accomplishing these goals.
In preparation for the summer, Engineering conducts spring training with employees to review practices and prepare for the work ahead. On hot summer days, working outdoors on the railroad can be tough and the safety of our employees is a key concern, said Engineering Production Superintendent Thomas Denio. When the temperatures rise, employees working under hot weather conditions are encouraged to drink plenty of water. During briefings, we talk to employees about recognizing the signs of heat exhaustion and fatigue, especially when we have several days in a row when temperatures rise above 90 degrees. The heat affects not only the track, but also the catenary, signals and structures. In the Northeast, the overhead catenary wires are affected by the heat and may sag due to expansion of the wire. While the New England Division installed new catenary wires that dont sag because theyre under constant tension, the heat can cause distress to other components of the system. To minimize the malfunction of the catenary and its components, the system is regularly monitored during hot weather conditions. When it is hot outside, the continuous welded rail can reach a temperature of up to 130 degrees, expanding the rail and generating high-compressive forces that must be restrained by ties, fasteners and ballast to prevent the track from buckling. These stresses make it critically important that the rail is adjusted properly to withstand the summer heat.
Under extreme temperatures above 95 degrees, speed restrictions are placed on the track and special inspections are made to monitor the conditions. Train operations can be severely affected by heat restrictions, therefore, Engineering works closely with Transportation to limit these restrictions whenever possible, explained Deputy Chief Engineer Track, Walter Heide.
Working on the Railroad
To the railroad industry, warmer weather also means better working conditions for the freight railroads Engineering forces. And, when summer arrives, their heavy track work season, which began in March, is well underway. Work being performed from coast to coast has a major impact on Amtrak service and results in service delays, alternate routing and motorcoach service when trains cant operate. While weve done as much as we can to prepare for these periods, once the summer starts, well continue to work to mitigate the delays, says Assistant Vice President of Transportation Tom Schmidt, who took on the top Transportation position in the Customer Service department last month.
In Missouri, a project being performed by Union Pacific Railroad has a major impact on service between St. Louis and Kansas City on the Ann Rutledge, St. Louis Mule and the Kansas City Mule through Oct. 1. During this period, UPs tie gangs are installing about 1,200 ties per work day. Consequently, Amtrak trains are required to operate through the work zones at slower speeds and delays may result from congestion on the tracks. Also while this work is underway, motor-coach service may be substituted for train service.
Initially, UP notified Amtrak that it would not permit any passenger service over this corridor for an extended period of time while it was conducting track maintenance. After Amtraks Law department intervened, a neutral arbitration panel determined that the UP could not bar Amtrak from operating if it planned on running its own freight trains over the railroad during the work period. The Law departments success before the panel paved the way to an agreement between Amtrak and the UP allowing continued service during the track work.
On the West Coast, service on the southbound Coast Starlight is affected through the end of the year due to UP track work along the route and a Metrolink tunnel upgrade project near Chatsworth, Calif. The combined effect of these two projects results in potentially significant delays along the route and motorcoach service being provided between Simi Valley and Santa Barbara.
Passengers traveling on the Lake Shore Limited, Maple Leaf and certain Empire Service trains may also experience delays this summer between Albany-Rensselaer and Niagara Falls, N.Y., due to track work being carried out by CSX Railroad.
While the freight railroads are conducting their improvement projects, likewise, Amtraks Engineering employees are also out in full force repairing, rebuilding and renewing Amtrak-owned track.
As part of the ongoing Keystone Corridor Improvement Project (KCIP), a 24-hour-a-day track laying machine project is underway between Philadelphia and Paoli on the Harrisburg Line, where Amtrak and SEPTA trains operate. Because of the track laying machines many functions and the complexity of the operation, the majority of the TLM work performed is done during daylight hours.
Whenever we work on the tracks, we affect train performance, and the KCIP is no exception, explained Denio. To minimize the delays on this line while keeping the safety of our gangs at the forefront, we have worked closely with the Transportation department to prepare a schedule to accommodate the train operations and the requirements of the track work project. During certain parts of this project, the gangs may work on Sundays or during very early morning hours when traffic is not as heavy. By making adjustments like this, the Engineering team is able to perform improvements on the line while helping to alleviate passenger inconvenience that results from late trains.
In spite of the inconvenience, in the long term, these improvements to the infrastructure will provide our passengers with a more reliable service and comfortable ride, added Schmidt.
The departments that contribute to making the summer season a good one are certainly not limited to those mentioned in this story. Meeting and exceeding passengers expectations during this busy season requires a collaborative effort from employees of all crafts and departments. It takes a tremendous amount of work to prepare for the millions of summer travelers who choose to ride Amtrak, said Vice President of Customer Service Emmett Fremaux. While every customer should feel like theyre the most important customer on any given day, the summer season is our time to shine and to show America professional, first-rate service and how special Amtrak travel is.
|Burlington Northern & Santa Fe||(BNI)||77.25||72.28|
|Florida East Coast||(FLA)||52.03||50.53|
|Genessee & Wyoming||(GWR)||30.25||28.80|
|Kansas City Southern||(KSU)||25.96||25.40|
|Providence & Worcester||(PWX)||16.68||19.29|
Ethanols rail jam
CHICAGO, JUNE 11 -- Ethanol is getting so popular as an alternative, cleaner-burning fuel that it is creating big demands on the freight railroads. Ethanol and railroads. writes news staffer Jason Sparapani, They may not seem the perfect match, but consider this: ethanol, a Midwest-grown, alternative fuel that cant travel in petroleum pipes because it picks up impurities, faces ever-climbing demand. And railroads are investing record amounts in infrastructure to better serve customers for other types of cargo and to bolster a booming business.
Trouble is: the freight railroads are already over-taxed with goods from China, a rising demand for coal, and pressure to move more goods so we can get the big rigs off the highways.
Railroads have seen a revitalization of demand for their product, said DePaul University professor Kenneth Thompson, pointing to the upturn in railroads shipments of coal and containerized freight over the past few years, in part from the surge of Asian electronics, clothing and other goods received in West Coast ports.
But demand is a two-edged sword. They cant handle a huge surge in volume, Thompson stated.
The railway hub that stands to reap huge gains from this alternative fuel trade is Chicago, since the big corn-producing states are Indiana and Illinois. But Chicago is already coping with horrendous congestion; one-third of the countrys rail cargo passes through that city which sometimes sees trains delayed for two days.
About one-third to one-half of the nations total ethanol production goes through Chicago to markets on the East Coast.
In terms of Chicago being a choke point, there will be a price to pay in terms of jobs and economic activity, said Jim LaBelle, deputy director of civic group Chicago Metropolis 2020, which is backing a massive rail improvement project estimated to cost a staggering $1.5 billion. It has yet to be fully funded, but officials say theyre seeking additional funding sources.
For years, freight railroads were in decline. Their infrastructure aged, little was done to improve it, and much of it was pulled up. So today, the problem of capacity is severe.
Yet, rail transport is at an all-time high, amounting to 1.9 billion tons last year, up 9 percent from 2000, according to the Association of American Railroads.
The industry moved 12 million containers last year, a 27 percent jump from 2000. And rail transport is still attractive because it is relatively cheap, 4 to 5 cents a gallon to move ethanol for short distances, 14 cents for longer trips such as Iowa to New York.
To keep up with demand, railroads are investing billions in capital projects. CSX Corporation is improving its Chicago-to-Florida line, adding sidings to relieve congestion; they are also hiring 3000 additional conductors and engineers.
Ethanol transports, although growing rapidly, are still relatively modest.
As more ethanol and bio-diesel fuel plants are built - eight more are being planned in Indiana which has only one right now - the freight industry is not yet preparing to handle a huge increase in volume because:
We get our investment capital from Wall Street, just like everybody else, he said.
Nevertheless, railroads are working with developers of ethanol plants to ensure that future facilities have easy access to rail lines.
Running Hoovers railroad
[ Below is about the best-written explanation weve seen of why Amtrak is the way it is, as published in The New York Times of June 15, 2006. Thanks to The Times for making clear what Congress should already know, but pretends not to---The Editors ]
Anybody who has lived in an old house with wiring from the Depression era knows something about Amtraks troubles. Plug in the iron and the TV and, zap, suddenly there is an eerie pre-industrial silence, signaling that the electricity has gone out.
Similarly, last months sudden blackout in the Northeast Corridor focused the attention of thousands of commuters on how decrepit some of the Amtrak rail system really is. While Amtrak has yet to determine the precise reason that thousands of commuters were stalled on May 25, with hundreds stuck for hours in tunnels, it has acknowledged that some of its infrastructure was new when Herbert Hoover was president.
Officials have promised that they will have emergency cars ready to rescue people from tunnels a little sooner in the future. Thats nice, but the passengers would prefer not to need rescuing in the first place. For a modern, reliable system, Transportation officials have estimated they need several billion dollars extra each year to upgrade the infrastructure alone.
At this point, Congress is just starting to figure out how much money to give Amtrak next year, and the news is not comforting. The House of Representatives approved a paltry $1.1 billion, just a shred over the lowball amount requested by the president. The Senate is expected to come in with a little more, just enough for Amtrak to squeak along for another year.
Amtrak officials seem to be working hard to patch up the older parts of the system. But recent delays serve as only the latest reminder that Amtraks problems are not bad management so much as stingy government. With gas prices up and airplanes overloaded, the nations leaders should be trying to figure out why this advanced nation does not have a more advanced passenger rail system.
The Congress for New Urbanism can become
a critical ally for the transit movement
The town hall meeting was emotional. Everyone there agreed that local road congestion was getting worse. But the room polarized as one group demanded more parking around the towns station while the other fought it in order to preserve the surrounding communitys tranquil, residential atmosphere. One side was seen as the big, bad, transit agency --- the other as NIMBYs.
Ironically, both saw increased rail use as the answer. But their disagreement stalled the adoption of a solution and road congestion grew worse. Then someone came up with a win-win solution and both sides got what they wanted. Now as you walk past the NJT station in Maplewood, NJ you see a beautiful town park on one side, a vibrant street shopping area on the other, all surrounded by beautiful homes hundreds of rail commuters cars discretely tucked away on several one-way side streets, new jitney buses waiting at the station door and the station platform filled with waiting commuters.
Increased transit use offers a solution to quite a few issues affecting America today. As such, it enjoys a growing constituency, but one that is varied and diverse. Such diversity allows transit to tap into a myriad of sources of support, but it also creates the need to focus all of this support into a concerted effort. Otherwise, these diverse groups could find themselves working at cross purposes, ironically nullifying each others actions.
Two weeks ago, I attended the annual conference of one such group, the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU), and walked away convinced that this is one group which the transit community must work with and pay attention to. This national organization of architects (like my wife), urban planners, engineers, developers, etc. stands for the restoration of existing urban centers and towns within coherent metropolitan regions, the reconfiguration of sprawling suburbs into communities of real neighborhoods and diverse districts, the conservation of natural environments, and the preservation of our built legacy. One pillar of this crusade is that transit, pedestrian, and bicycle systems should maximize access and mobility throughout the region while reducing dependence upon the automobile. Though increased transit use is not this groups primary focus, it is seen as a critical tool in the rebuilding of Americas urban areas.
CNU members are well integrated into the fabric of Americas urban planners. They are key movers of such projects as the Los Angeles Gold light-rail line, the Washington DC Metro, the reinstitution of commuter rail service north of San Francisco, and the development around major Northeast Corridor rail stations. However, their approach to these projects is different from that of pure transit advocates, and sometimes so markedly that it may counteract the efforts of the transit community.
For example, a key tenet of new urbanism is walkable communities. CNU accounts for the need for automobile access, but it strives to place the pedestrian in the spotlight. This means that in their standard, the station is surrounded by high density housing and commercial endeavors. Large parking lots are moved to distant locations and their number is minimized, while closer-in parking serves primarily residents. This concept clashes considerably with the popular park-and-ride stations being built in many locations.
An example familiar to readers of Destination Freedom may be the effort to revive and reopen the long abandoned Pawtucket, RI rail station. Transit advocates see this station as a gateway for bedroom communities surrounding Pawtucket and eastern Providence, and are proposing that a large automobile garage be built adjacent to the station. However, the station sits near the heart of one of Pawtuckets historical but decaying urban downtown centers which is gasping for human presence. A downtown devoid of a large residential population may resemble the adjacent city of Providence, which despite great strides still needs more life after business hours. However, high density housing and commercial enterprises, like those in nearby Boston, beget a vibrant community.
If the goal is to reopen the station and get people out of their cars, both plans will succeed. A parking lot will serve the suburban constituency and take these commuters off the highway. But it will serve the town of Pawtucket poorly. A high density residential district will serve the urban constituency by providing housing and transit in one package and obviating the need to get in the car in the first place. But it will serve suburbanites poorly.
Fortunately, there are many colorful solutions (such as in Maplewood) to this seeming dilemma. After all, CNU is composed of some of Americas brightest architects, engineers, planners and developers. However, their attention is very focused on urbanism. They do not fully appreciate the complexities of the big transit picture. And transit advocates do not fully understand the intricacies of urban design. But just think what could be achieved if the efforts of both groups were unified!
Lieutenant Colonel, US Army
Ft. Belvoir, VA
SEVEN million gallons. Thats how much gasoline Massachusetts drivers use every day. With the price of a gallon surging past $3 and continued instability in the Middle East, its time to take action locally to conserve fuel and reduce our future dependence on oil. By encouraging commuters to use public transportation instead of roadways, we can do both. A rail link connecting Bostons North Station with South Station would not only promote fuel conservation, it would significantly ease the burden on our roads, residents, and environment.
The North-South Rail Link would bridge the lone one-mile gap in the East Coast Rail Corridor that stretches from Maine to Miami. It would boost the economic vitality and sustained growth of Boston and New England, and would help to bring the state into compliance with the Clean Air Act. Given the pace of downtown development, if we do not move quickly to make the rail link a priority in the states long-range transportation plan, we risk losing the opportunity to ever complete this critical project.
Our highways are at or nearing capacity, and more cars continue to be added to them as a result of sprawl, translating into longer commute times. A study by the US Department of Transportation and the MBTA predicts that building the rail link would reduce the number of daily trips on our highways by 55,000. According to the states Program for Mass Transportation, no other project proposed for the next quarter century would have such a dramatic impact on Massachusetts traffic.
Furthermore, by enabling trains to travel under Boston and by connecting Northern New England to points south, we would increase rail efficiency and simplify complicated routes. Rather than transferring to multiple MBTA subway lines to complete a trip, a North Shore resident could take a single train from her home to her job on the South Shore. Currently, trains have to idle at North Station when they could be used to meet passenger demand south of Boston. Studies predict that within a few years, because of our divided rail network, ``trains will run late 25 percent of the time. With an interconnected rail system, trains would be directed to the busiest routes at peak times, thus improving efficiency and on-time performance.
In addition to reducing traffic and saving time, the rail link has public health and environmental advantages as well. Presently, Boston ranks among the worst cities in the nation for asthma rates and unhealthy air days. By removing tens of thousands of cars from the overcrowded highway system every day, we can significantly reduce pollution, including an estimated 583 tons of carbon dioxide emissions daily.
By reducing car use, the rail link would help drivers to save money by saving gasoline. Even conservative estimates show that the link could trim the states gasoline usage by at least 42,775 gallons daily -- more than 1,000 barrels of oil.
The link would be a significant job-creation engine as well. Construction industry specialists estimate that the project, which officials predict will cost about $5.7 billion, would create more than 13 million man-hours of construction work, in addition to supporting thousands more jobs in related industries.
State and federal agencies have conducted environmental impact and planning studies on the link, but the project has stalled because Governor Mitt Romneys most recent 20-year, $31 billion draft blueprint for the states transportation system fails even to mention the proposal. The governor went so far as to request that the Federal Transit Administration scrap its already completed taxpayer-funded study, which would have protected the right-of-way for the link and given planners and engineers the authority to begin work.
Boston and New England are expected to continue to grow, but an efficient rail system would guide that growth in a way that should sustain it. Philadelphia completed a similar project in 1984, the Center City Commuter Connection, which has increased use of public transportation, reduced traffic, and decreased pollution. Without the North-South Rail Link, we run the risk of having a transportation system that is forever at or over capacity, with no ability to absorb future growth. The Romney administration and the state Legislature should work with us to ensure that this historic opportunity is not lost forever. Our regions health and prosperity depend on it.
Stephen F. Lynch represents the Massachusetts Ninth Congressional District.
James McCaffrey is the director of the Massachusetts Sierra Club.
© Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
To halt regional decline -- northeast
needs infrastructure pact
THIS MONTH, the New England governors and Eastern Canadian premiers -- along with spouses, aides, commissioners and cabinet ministers -- retreated to Newport for several days of talks and dinners, and tours of the great houses of the robber barons that line the shore.
Also on the agenda, sotto voce, was talk of the decline of the North American Northeast, whose economy for decades has been drifting downward. Think textiles or shoes or Fleet Bank or Gillette, or that Massachusettss population is shrinking, and the picture begins to form.
The governors and premiers have dealt with this for years, usually amidst some kind of crisis (this time, it was high energy prices) that was driving people and business away from the region. And the downward trend continues. Some people blame the climate. Others talk about energy costs, or high taxes. Ask two experts, and youll get 10 reasons -- all of them plausible.
After a decade of work on this issue (including many hundreds of interviews), my organization, the National Corridors Initiative, has developed what it believes to be a solution. But implementing it will take attention at the highest level of governance, and a long-term coordinated effort.
The fundamental solution to reversing our economic decline is infrastructure. This may seem obvious, since poor infrastructure drives the cost of everything -- transportation, energy, goods -- skyward. Our regions infrastructure is the oldest and most congested in North America: the worst. It raises the cost of doing business, slows commuting times and discourages vacationers from coming here.
This wasnt always true. As North America was settled, from east to west, colonists took advantage of natural features, for both settlement and commerce: rivers, harbors, defensible islands. In the Northeast, such features were abundant, so settlement thrived. The advent of water-powered mills on the streams and commerce on the rivers and coastal passages advanced growth and attracted population to the cities, and to the new jobs in the mills. Manufacturers sought new markets for their products.
Then, in the early 19th Century, the Northeasts natural advantages and historical accident of first settlement gave way to built infrastructure: steam power, railroads, canals. Again, growth came first in the populous Northeast, and because of access to capital, railroads could be readily built.
What most people dont realize is that strong Northeastern growth continued even as relative population share shifted westward during the late 19th Century, spurred by the transcontinental railroad, completed in 1869.
Then -- in the last great infrastructure-building era favoring the Northeast -- both rail and highway building soared. Between 1900 and 1920, the number of rail miles in the United States, 200,000, jumped to 260,000. The 1920s saw the growth of the national highway system. By the start of World War II, America had put in place a transportation network, heavily concentrated in the Northeast, that was the best in the world. Up until 1960, living off those investments, the Northeast thrived.
That era ended with the building of the U.S. Interstate Highway System and Canadas National Highway System, which spread fast and free transportation throughout North America. (For more explanation of this, see www.nationalcorridors.org.)
In simple terms, thats when our regional dominance ended.
And though we have recognized our problems, and each year the regional governors and premiers meet, we have failed to adequately address it.
This is not a failure of leadership. Some of the most successful U.S. leaders of the past 100 years have come from New England, and some of Canadas have come from its Eastern provinces. The regions decline has been caused, rather, by a failure of structure: We dont work together in any meaningful way, because we are a dozen small states and provinces, without any permanent legal structure enabling cooperation and coordination, beyond the occasional conference.
It is time to create a New England/Northeastern Infrastructure Authority, not unlike the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. This could plan, build, fund and/or operate infrastructure projects too large and complex for the states and provinces to do on their own.
Among other things, we could revitalize our freight and commuter/intercity-passenger rail systems, by investing in modernization. We have hundreds of miles of underused track begging to be put back to work -- as Connecticut is doing, from New Haven to Springfield and, soon, New London to Worcester, and as we are planning to do, from Providence to Worcester.
I call upon our regions governors, premiers and legislative leaders to work with my organization, which has a track record as a successful bipartisan advocate of transportation. I call upon the leading foundations of New England and Canada, and individual large investors, to get behind this effort.
Next February, in New York and Boston, we will bring together as many of the decision makers in the Northeast as we can convince of the need, and begin the planning for a New England/Northeastern Infrastructure Authority. Governors and premiers: Consider yourselves invited. Rhode Island Governor Carcieri, chairman of this years New England Governors Conference, and Prince Edward Island Premier Pat Binns, next years chairman: Take the lead.
It is time for New England and Eastern Canada to do as Ben Franklin advised his colleagues at the signing of the Declaration of Independence: Gentlemen, we had better all hang together, or assuredly we will all hang separately.
We hope our governors and premiers will heed this call. A permanent entity on infrastructure would do more than just rebuild our infrastructure and economy. It would become a permanent body for dialogue and action for all of us who live in this beautiful region. Meeting once a year, even in as lovely a place as Newport, is simply not enough.
Jim RePass is president and chief executive of the National Corridors Initiative Inc.
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