Vol. 5 No. 25
June 21, 2004

Copyright © 2004
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
* Now in our Fifth Year *

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


4-8-4 steam locomotive

For NCI: Phillip Burnside

Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (ATSF) 4-8-4 steam locomotive tears past Hellman Avenue and Rancho Cucamunga in California running at 60 mph on its way to the June 12 depot opening in San Bernardino. Amtrak’s Southwest Chief (train Nos. 3 and 4) once called on the community twice a day, once in each direction between L.A. and Chicagoland. BNSF sold the tracks to Metrolink about 12 years ago, so only Metrolink commuter services operate though here these days, plus a few BNSF local switchers. Nos. 3 and 4 now operate via the BNSF line through Fullerton.

 

Amtrak tunnels, freight lines
would benefit from House bill

By Leo King
Editor

New legislation intended to expand and improve anti-terrorist security programs for passenger railroad and freight rail systems was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday.

The new legislation, H.R. 4604, is titled The Protecting Railroads against Enemy Efforts through Modernization, Planning and Technology Act – and nicknamed “PREEMPT.”

The bill was jointly introduced by GOP Reps. Don Young (R-Alaska), who is the chairman of the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee; Jack Quinn of New York and chairman on the Subcommittee on Railroads; and Jon Porter of Nevada, vice-chairman for the Railroads Subcommittee.

The legislation “will provide the resources both to harden our nation’s rail system against the possibility of terrorist attack and to improve our ability to recover from such an incident,” Young said.

He added, “It will direct the preparation of comprehensive security plans, including contingency plans, for preventing and, if necessary, recovering from any terrorist incident.”

Provisions in the proposed legislation “Ranges from simple to high-tech, including expanding of the authority of our nation’s existing railroad police force and developing new counter-terror technologies to protect all aspects of the nation’s rail network,” Young said.

The legislation will provide “more than $1 billion in new money, including more than $600 million to improve the safety of critical rail tunnels used by Amtrak and commuter railroads,” according to Young.

At a press conference announcing the legislation, Quinn, Porter and Nancy Wilson, Assistant Vice President of Safety and Security for the Association of American Railroads, outlined the importance of increased rail security programs included in the bill.

“On May 5th, my subcommittee held a lengthy hearing on railroad security,” Quinn said.

“This hearing was the culmination of an extensive behind-the-scenes effort to improve the security of our nation’s rail system. The Rail Subcommittee members and staff have been working on this important issue for years, but -given the sensitive nature of the subject matter-most of these discussions have been conducted in private,” Quinn said.

“Much has already been accomplished since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The freight railroads have spent millions of their own dollars to tighten security and protect the nation’s rail system. Similarly, Amtrak and our major commuter rail carriers have implemented a number of new measures to ensure the safety and security of the traveling public.”

Most of that had been done with zero federal dollars, he added, noting that was why he joined with Young and Porter.

“First and foremost, PREEMPT authorizes $570 million to improve the safety and security of the Northeast corridor rail tunnels in New York City. These tunnels, which are used by tens of thousands of passengers each day, were built in 1910 and lack the security and life safety features found in modern passenger rail facilities. PREEMPT will provide the resources to bring these old, but heavily used tunnels into the 21st century.”

Quinn said the measure will also “authorize money for upgrades to the tunnels in Baltimore and in Washington, D.C.

“Another issue of concern is our ability to keep the rail system operating in the event of a disaster. Our bill will provide funding for redundant power, communications, and train control systems to ensure continued operation in the event of a catastrophe,” he explained.

“We are also providing funding for new technologies, such as automated freight car inspection, right-of-way security monitoring, and emergency bridge repair systems.”

The act would provide grants for station security, improved public awareness programs, additional canine patrols and other measures to ensure public and employee safety.

“In all, this bill authorizes over $1.1 billion to improve the safety and security of our rail infrastructure, communications and operational systems and dedicated railroad employees. Introduction of this legislation re-affirms our commitment to providing our homeland security personnel the tools and resources necessary to provide the most secure rail transportation network possible,” Quinn said.

“Even before the Madrid attacks, we knew that our rail lines were terrorist targets,” said Porter.

“Unlike other infrastructure, every inch of track and every signal is a vital part of the system and a critical vulnerability.”

The Nevada solon said, “In my fight against plans to ship nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain, I have been reminding members of Congress and the public of the terrible vulnerability of the tracks that carry hazardous material. My fight against Yucca Mountain continues, but the need to safeguard passenger and freight rail remains.

“There are more than 100,000 miles of track in the U.S. alone that need to be kept safe and secure. Advanced technologies and new resources are necessary to make this feasible.

Interagency cooperation between USDOT and Homeland Security is also a vital element to the bill, Porter said, “to provide clear agency responsibility; providing the funding to fix key passenger rail chokepoints now; providing more flexibility in the use of rail police; ensuring research on rail safety, monitoring, and response technologies.”

He added, “This bill also prepares for the future, by making sure commuter rail and maglev, both planned for Southern Nevada in the future, are eligible for security funding and assistance,” Porter said.

Some specific provisions in the bill require a comprehensive DOT-DHS rail transportation security plan, including contingency plans for keeping the rail network operational after a terrorist incident, and consultation with and input from rail transportation stakeholders. Another point requires within six months a DOT-DHS memorandum of understanding establishing respective rail security responsibilities.

The proposed law would authorize DOT grants to railroads, shippers, and others for a variety of security-related technologies and improvements, including, automated security inspection [$5 million annually for Fiscal Years 2005 and 2006], communication-based train control systems [$20 million], emergency bridge repair and replacement technology [$5 million annually for FY 2005 through 2008, track, structure and right-of-way integrity monitoring [$3 million for fiscal 2005].

Other points would reduce tank car vulnerability [$3 million for fiscal 2005], bridge and tunnel inspection [$20 million], unified national railroad emergency operations center [$10 million], and signal system integrity at interlockings [$1.5 million annually for fiscal years 2005 and 2006.

Several other significant points are listed in the bill.

The Transportation & Infrastructure Committee is online at www.house.gov/transportation.


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Gunn on rear deck

For NCI: Stanley S. Brandt

It's a classic pose – the boss out on the porch of the railroad's business car. In this case, the company is Amtrak, and the boss is David Gunn, the passenger carrier's president and CEO. The car, No. 10001, Beech Grove, was tacked onto the rear end of the 75th anniversary Empire Builder. The train will leave Chicago Union Station at milepost 0.0 precisely on time, at 2:10 p.m. The story appears in Page 2.

 

View from Dallas

Laney sees a place for Amtrak

Dallas Union Station is barely visible from David Laney’s law office high atop a downtown Dallas skyscraper. Time it right, crane your neck and you can just see the Texas Eagle pulling in twice a day.

Todd J. Gillman, a writer for the Dallas Morning News, told his readers on June 15 Laney rarely boards the Eagle, one of the trains that Amtrak’s many critics love to hate, but after nearly a year as chairman of the board of the passenger rail system, he has come to believe that these routes have a future – as building blocks linking high-speed rail corridors such as the one between Washington and Boston.

“It’s hard for some people to envision Northeast Corridor-like operations elsewhere in this country. I do. I do envision those,” Laney said.

“How you translate that into political support, I don’t know.”

That vision puts him at odds with key lawmakers and even President Bush, whose budgets have reflected a desire to curtail rather than expand Amtrak operations – but it’s music to the ears of rail buffs and rural lawmakers who weren’t sure what to expect when Bush installed him at Amtrak.

“Bush is our enemy, far as that goes,” said Dan Monaghan, a rail enthusiast and expert from Garland who has served on the Dallas Area Rapid Transit board.

“I think Laney is smart enough that he sees the big picture in transportation.”

Laney chaired the Texas Highway Commission for five years during Bush’s tenure as governor, but he rarely boarded a train and had scarcely thought about Amtrak before the President named him to the board.

“Paid no attention to it,” he said. “I was overwhelmed with highways.”

He came to the job with no preconceptions and no marching orders, he said.

Bush “knows that I am fiscally very conservative,” said the 55-year-old Laney.

“He also knows that I step into Amtrak from the passenger’s standpoint, and I’m not prejudiced by nostalgia. I come at it as coldly as I would any business.”

Not everyone can square a strict fiscal outlook with support for long-distance routes.

The Texas Eagle, for instance, loses $258 per passenger on its way from Chicago to San Antonio via East Texas and Dallas. The delay-plagued Sunset Limited loses $400 per passenger on each trip from Los Angeles to Orlando, Fla.

Peter Sepp, a vice-president at the conservative National Taxpayers Union who has criticized Amtrak, called it the “wrong direction” to protect money-losing long-distance routes.

“Amtrak is having to do too many things at once,” Laney said, “and yet the trains ease highway congestion and provide mobility to rural areas and to people who can’t or won’t fly.

“We’re in 46 of the 48 contiguous states,” he noted. He added, “It is pretty close to essential transportation for a lot of people.... That may not be enough to keep them going, but there’s a real love for rail travel – by an element of the population. It’s not ‘I gotta get to a business meeting by 10 o’clock in Dallas,’ though.”

Laney contends that if such routes are abandoned, there will be no chance of building a true national passenger rail network.

“Once lost, it will not be recovered,” he said.

A graduate of St. Mark’s School of Texas in Dallas, Laney attended Stanford University and Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law. He’s a partner at Jackson Walker LLP.

In 2002, he became one of the campaign “Pioneers” for Bush, raising $100,000, and he put his law training to use as a recount volunteer in Florida.

Although Laney’s name had surfaced as a potential transportation secretary, the job went to Democrat Norman Mineta, a former Representative from California, and who was Clinton’s commerce secretary.

Laney got a lower-profile slot on the Amtrak board and steeped himself in balance sheets and strategic plans developed by president and CEO David Gunn.

The men speak highly of each other.

“He’s incredibly good,” said Laney of the man widely credited with chipping away at deferred maintenance, cutting costs and boosting revenue in the two years he’s worked for Amtrak.

Gunn calls Laney “a very intelligent guy, obviously.”

“He’s very thoughtful. He’s very logical in his approach,” said Mr. Gunn from his office atop Washington’s Union Station – a place where the U.S. Capitol dominates the view and the chairs rattle with each passing train.

Laney became chairman last July after a year on Amtrak’s seven-member board, but he’s facing the prospect this summer of five vacant seats on the board as the final Clinton appointee’s five-year term expires. Three nominations are stalled in the Senate, including that of former American Airlines chief Robert Crandall, victims of partisan bickering over judgeships.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis (D), who lost the 1988 Presidential race to Bush’s father, said the Administration wrongly declared his and the other seats vacant. He argued that the law allows board members to serve until replacements are confirmed.

“Can you imagine, in this era of corporate responsibility – no audit committee, no board committees, no nothing. The whole thing’s absurd,” he said.

His complaint is not aimed at Laney.

“He’s a decent guy, but he’s an appointee of the current Administration,” Dukakis said.

“This is just not an Administration that understands that this country desperately needs a first-class, modern, high-speed rail system everywhere, including Texas.” Such a system could be built for 8 percent of the national annual outlay on highways and airports, he contends.

To be sure, ridership is up on short- and long-haul routes, and high gasoline prices could lure even more people from cars and planes; but the terrorist attack on a Madrid train a few months ago prompted a fresh look at security, a costly challenge on a system with 500 stations and 22,000 miles of track.

Coupled with that, Amtrak struggled to wrest $1.3 billion from Congress this year. That was just a fraction of what the federal government spent on highways, airline bailouts and the air traffic control system, and $500 million less than Gunn and the board wanted.

“It is truly peanuts,” Laney said, “a negligible piece of the fiscal puzzle.”

The Bush budgets for this year and 2005 included $900 million for Amtrak, a “shutdown” number, Gunn has said on many occasions. He has been the public face of the budget fights.

Ross Capon, executive director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, gives Laney credit for bucking the White House on funding, too.

“When you look at what’s been accomplished, it’s fairly impressive in spite of the overwhelming opposition that Amtrak confronts at every turn,” he said.

Amtrak has teetered for years, caught in a stalemate between lawmakers who would just as soon shut down the system or strip it to its most successful core, the 600-mile Northeast Corridor, and the defenders who see long-distance service as vital to ease highway congestion and provide a rural lifeline.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), has even proposed massive investment for repair and expansion, arguing that Amtrak has never gotten the chance to succeed.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., notes that despite $27 billion in subsidies over 34 years, Amtrak loses $1 billion a year, owes $5 billion, and “in most areas of the country neither meets a market demand nor provides needed public transportation.”

In April, he introduced a bill to divide Amtrak into two agencies. One would operate trains while the other would own the Northeast Corridor but would probably lease it to a private consortium. States with short-haul routes would lose them if they didn’t help cover losses. It’s close to what the White House wants, but it has gained little support in Congress.

Laney is optimistic that as Amtrak’s finances and service improve, criticism will dissipate.

“Most of the opponents, most of the arch antagonists of Amtrak,” he said, “are driven by fiscal philosophy. They say, ‘I’m opposed to subsidies, and therefore I’m opposed to Amtrak.’”

He considers it futile to try to sell or restructure the Northeast Corridor, given its disrepair.

“Nobody in their right mind would take it,” he said – but he does see the corridor as a role model.

Federal agencies have designated 11 high-speed corridors around the country, most of which exist only on paper: from Miami to Tampa, Fla., Seattle to Portland, Chicago to St. Louis, in California and even from San Antonio to Tulsa, Okla.

When Laney goes east for monthly Amtrak board meetings in Washington, he usually catches a high-speed luxury Acela Express or business-class Metroliner to visit a daughter in New York.

The service is so great, he said, it should be available elsewhere. Congress won’t spend the billions of dollars needed anytime soon, and states are strapped for cash, but for Laney, that just makes it a question of patience.

“I don’t think you get from where we are now to a 200-mile-an-hour train in one fell swoop,” he said.


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Montreal route is in jeopardy

The Adirondack passenger train to Montreal could shut down before the end of the year if New York state doesn’t pay the $4.4 million Amtrak said its is owed in back payments.

NYDOT officials and Amtrak have had “considerable correspondence on ... the possible discontinuance” of the daily train to Montreal, Amtrak spokesman Clifford Black told the Schenectady Gazette on June 18.

“The state of New York owes Amtrak $4.4 million in back payments for the operation of the Adirondack,” Black added.

“Amtrak does not have a signed contract to operate the train. We’ve continued to operate it without payments since early 2003,” Black said.

When the Adirondack began operating in the mid-1970s, it was with state assistance, something the state has continued since then.

While the train has been popular with passengers and was the subject of a PBS documentary on the world’s most scenic train routes, ticket revenues haven’t covered costs, a point Amtrak said it has made with state officials.

“We’ve given the state everything they’ve asked for in terms of financial information,” Black said. “If they wish for more information, we’ll give it to them – but we need to be paid. If we don’t receive full payment by June 30, Amtrak will begin the process to discontinue the train.”

State DOT officials weren’t immediately able to comment, but, the state has been negotiating on a number of issues with Amtrak, including adding a second track between Albany and Schenectady to reduce delays there, and using newly rebuilt Turbotrains along the Empire Corridor running from New York City to Albany and Buffalo, a project paid for by the state.

The train is one of two that serve the newly rebuilt Saratoga Springs train station. Discontinuing the Adirondack would leave Saratoga with one daily train in each direction, the Ethan Allen to Rutland, Vt., which Vermont subsidizes.


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Amtrak to Florida:

Traffic disruption extended to July

Construction delays will prolong the absence of Amtrak’s Silver Meteor train service from New York City to Miami until July 7. The train, which was one of three trains though North Carolina, normally stops in Fayetteville and Rocky Mount, N.C.

Service on Amtrak‘s Silver Star, which also travels the New York-Miami route, has been expanded to accommodate passengers displaced by the change.

The Charlotte News & Observer reported on June 17 maintenance work by CSX on crossties between Savannah and Jacksonville was expected to be completed by June 23, but has been extended.

“This doesn‘t affect most North Carolina passengers,“ said Julia Hegele, NCDOT spokeswoman.

“If you are headed south to Florida, some of the connections could be less smooth. It is a little bit of an inconvenience but not a super disruption,” she said.


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Train strikes machine; worker dies

A 47-year-old highway bridge construction worker was killed June 16 when a piece of construction equipment he was on was hit by a Connecticut DOT test train, Amtrak said last week.

The accident occurred about 3:45 a.m. about three miles east of Union Station in New Haven, Conn., an Amtrak spokeswoman said, which would place it in or very near Shore Line Jct. interlocking.

The ConnDOT train, drawn by engine 6695 and an unknown number of cars, struck what was described by state officials as a “man lift” used to raise workers to elevated worksites.

The train, The AP reported, had an Amtrak conductor and engineer aboard. The victim was identified as Gregory Roberts of Woodbridge, Conn.

The hydraulically operated boom has a basket on the end. The boom wound up wrapped around a concrete bridge support pillar after the collision. Four workers were in the basket at the time; three managed to escape; the lone person remaining in the basket was killed. They were involved in a repair project on the overhead I-95 overpass. The accident delayed trains for several hours, but they reopened around 9:00 a.m.


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Hagen appointed to Amtrak ops post

Ralph von dem Hagen has been appointed Amtrak’s new chief operations planning officer. He will lead, manage, and supervise day-to-day and long-term strategic train operation planning for the railroad. He will also plan strategic positions for Amtrak’s current service on a route-by-route basis.

He was formerly Amtrak’s service planning senior director. He has been with Amtrak since 2000, but started his railroad career with Conrail in 1984.


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Pipe bomb found on Amtrak track

An Amtrak worker stumbled onto a plastic pipe bomb filled with gunpowder near a set of tracks in Norwood, Delaware County, police said on June 11.

The device was quickly removed by Delaware County law enforcement officials and destroyed, authorities told the Philadelphia Enquirer.

“It was functional,” said Cpl. Chris Kennedy of the Norwood police, but “it wasn’t big enough to do any damage.” He described the bomb as a four-inch plastic casing containing gunpowder.

Amtrak spokesperson Vernae Graham said the device was not immediately linked to any terrorist activity, but a source close to Amtrak said a similar device was found last week next to Amtrak tracks in Torresdale.

Amtrak police are looking to see if a copycat to the “suburban bomber” is behind the latest devices, the source said.

During 2000 and 2001, about 20 devices were found in Montgomery and Chester counties. The culprit behind the planted bombs was never found.

Graham said the Norwood tracks where the bomb was found is used frequently by the SEPTA regional rail line, but the commuter carrier reported no delays related to the find, officials said.


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

NJT lays new ties, nears job’s end

A rather odd-looking train worked its way northward up the Pascack Valley Line June 16, made even odder by the fact that it took a day-and-a-half to get from Pearl River, N.Y. to just south of Nanuet – but it’s not that easy to make good time when you’re pulling up old railroad ties and putting in new ones as you go.

By this week, New Jersey Transit workers expect to finish a two-month project to replace more than 18,000 railroad ties on the Pascack Valley line between Secaucus Transfer Jct. and Spring Valley, wrote the Journal News of White Plains, N.Y. The Pearl River community is just over the state line from New Jersey.

“We’ll be out of here by June 23,” project supervisor Bill Tidd said.

“Barring natural disasters, we should make it. If we don’t, my boss won’t be happy.”

The $3.7 million construction job is part of routine maintenance the railroad does throughout its network every few years.

After the 50 crew members finish the 21-mile stretch that ends in Rockland, they will head to Princeton, N.J., and then to Otisville, N.Y.

The crew and the machines have been at work since April and are nearing the end of this run.

While they’ve been working, they’ve drawn quite a crowd, as they usually do.

With more than a dozen machines, each self-propelled and with specific tasks, the vehicles resemble an outdoor factory assembly line more than a train.

A spike-pulling machine moves ahead of the rest, finding pre-marked ties to loosen and staying far away from the rest of the group so it doesn’t slow progress.

Next comes the biggest machine, which pulls out railroad ties and sets them on the side of the track’s right-of-way, ahead of the rest of the machines that follow closely behind.

At a rate of 600 to 700 ties a day, traveling about one-eighth of one mph, the assembly line removes the wood pieces, digs new holes and replaces the ties without affecting the steel rails that carry the line’s commuter trains.

The track work is being done between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., to allow regular commuter schedules to be maintained. Rail officials said there were about 3,200 ties to a mile, though not all have to be replaced.

In the afternoon, the crews move the machines off the main tracks and park south of Pearl River station, leaving the 3:57 out of Hoboken unaffected.


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Taunton monorail study is on again

Six months after he asked the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority to include state Route 24 in its study of monorails into Boston, state Rep. David L. Flynn has found a possible funding source for his idea.

Flynn has succeeded in amending the omnibus 2005 state transportation bond bill to include authorization to study the feasibility of a monorail link to Fall River and New Bedford writes the Taunton Gazette in its June 9 edition.

The monorail might be “a better, more modern” alternative to a planned $770 million commuter rail extension from Stoughton to the Southcoast, the Bridgewater Democrat said.

If rail proponents remain inflexible on the proposed route through the Hockomock Swamp, Flynn said of a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority plan to extend commuter train through Easton and Raynham, “then a monorail might offer a more environmentally friendly and safer alternative.”

The projected cost of the commuter rail extension has soared since it was estimated at $225 million in the mid-1990s. It could tip the $1 billion mark if and when funding is approved, he said.

“We don’t want a fiscal replay of the Big Dig,” he said.

The $2 billion state transit bond plan includes $425 million for the Stoughton rail extension, but Flynn calls that “Monopoly money.”

“The funds simply aren’t there and they won’t be for years. State mass transit priorities are aimed at other directions,” he said.

Flynn’s amendment states that before beginning any rail service to the Southcoast, the MBTA will conduct an engineering and economic feasibility study on constructing a monorail line from Stoughton through Easton, Raynham and Taunton and submit a recommendation by December 31.

Flynn first floated the monorail idea last year to mixed reaction.

State Sen. Marc Pacheco (D), from Taunton, recalled a similar monorail concept in the early 1990s was considered economically unfeasible because of problems with bridge layouts. Raynham Selectman Donald McKinnon was concerned a monorail study could divert attention from long-awaited funding to widen Route 24, south of I-495.


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They gave a party, but few came

Sacramento light rail stations open

The cars in the vast parking lot at the new Sunrise light-rail station measured in the dozens, not hundreds, on Friday morning. That was on June 11, the Sacramento Bee reported the next day.

Sacramento Regional Transit had expected that all 487 spaces would be filled up on opening day, but former President Reagan’s funeral was also conducted on June 11. The station’s grand opening ceremonies were canceled. Because Friday was declared a federal and state holiday, many people stayed home from work.

After months of planning, the three new light-rail stations in Rancho Cordova at Sunrise Boulevard, Olson Drive and Zinfandel Drive, opened Friday with few riders and little fanfare.

The estimated cost of the 2.8-mile extension from Mather Field to Sunrise is $89 million. Next year, the line will be extended another 7.8 miles to Historic Folsom, with stops at Hazel Avenue, Iron Point Drive, and Glenn Drive.

The entire route from downtown Sacramento to Folsom is expected to attract more than 6,000 new riders by the end of 2005, said RT spokesman Bill Draper.


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So long, for a while, Green Line

It’s an old story – you gain one, you lose another. At least this time the loss is temporary.

In Boston, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s Green Line will begin operating on the new underground North Station “Super Station.” The new station will offer Orange and Green Line Inbound service on the same platform, making it easier for commuters to connect between the Orange Line and the Green Line.

MBTA spokeswoman Lydia Rivera told D:F the next milestone of the project would require replacing Green line service at Lechmere and Science Park with shuttle buses for one year. That began Saturday. Green Line service will operate as far north as the new North Station “Super Station.”

In summer 2005 normal light rail service will resume to Lechmere and Science Park Stations, she said.


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New bus terminal awaits buses, trains, riders

A new city bus station and its boarding bays behind the train depot are ready for operations in Lafayette, La. A ribbon cutting is set for 11:00 a.m. on June 24 (Thursday), with the move to the new terminal also expected to take place that afternoon, said Mike Hollier, city planning manager. Construction is complete on the new $2.5 million terminal. The terminal adjoins the renovated Amtrak train station, which will continue to serve as a train depot, and already houses city transit offices.

– The Lafayette Daily Advertiser


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

National Steel Car rebounds
as market grows; hires 500

National Steel of Hamilton, Ont., is building many freight cars these days, and the firm is hiring many car builders, too – 500, in fact.

COO Dan Elliott said National Steel Car’s market share has been rising, so the company reported on June 17 it will hire the new workers during the next three months as it struggles to keep up with a roaring North American demand for new railway freight cars.

The Hamilton Spectator reported last week Elliott said “We went into a slump along with the general economy in 2000, but now the railway industry and our market share are improving rapidly. Our order books are filling up. We’re booking orders for the second quarter of 2005 already.”

At the top of the company’s shopping list are more than 300 welders, plus crane and machine operators and paint shop technicians. Recruiting started quietly last month with about 75 people hired.

The new hiring will bring the company’s force of welders to 900 and total employment to about 1,900.

“We need all the skills involved as we ramp up manufacturing,” Elliott said.

Steel Car manufactures all types of cars except tank cars and hoppers.

The surge in demand is driving sales across all its products, leading it to retool some production lines while adding shifts to others.

It supplies most of North America’s leading railways and leasing companies, including BNSF, CSX, Canadian National, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, CIT, First Union and TTX.

The United Steelworkers of America cheered the hiring burst.

“I’m quite pleased with this process. It’s just fantastic to see our membership grow and to have someone to build our cars for,” said Local 7135 president Gary Pedron.

He added, “This is just fantastic news. It’s going to be good for the employer, the union and the community, especially after all the turmoil Hamilton has gone through lately.”

Always a cyclical business, the freight car industry was strong through the 1990s, but went into a steep slump along with the rest of North America’s economy in 2000.

The decline only got worse after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

At its worst, Steel Car’s employment fell to 500 in 2002 from 2,600 in 1998. By August 2003, it had climbed back to 1,400. During that same period worldwide, demand for new cars fell to about 20,000 from more than 75,000.

While its employment rolls shrank, however, Steel Car’s private owner invested “several million dollars” in upgrading the plant and equipment to make the operation more efficient. Those upgrades included the installation of two new blast-and-paint shops.

North America’s rail freight car industry consists of five major manufacturers, with Steel Car ranked second based on volume and its Hamilton manufacturing facility the largest single site.

Elliott said the North American market usually sees about 20,000 freight cars scrapped every year, “so anything beyond that represents growth in the industry.” Last year, 35,000 cars were sold across the continent. Steel Car’s sales range between 5,000 and 8,000 cars a year. Its current backlog of $500 million in orders is a 15 per cent increase from last year.

A boxcar, Elliott said, sells for anywhere from $60,000 to $100,000 depending on its features. The Hamilton plant can produce one in a single day.

While he wouldn’t talk about specific numbers, Elliott said Steel Car’s market share has been growing at the same time as the overall market expands. Credit for the expanded market share, he said, belongs to the workforce.

“The people here have done a terrific job in every aspect of the business,” he said. “They understand the challenge we’re facing and they’ve really stepped up to it.”

Roger Cameron, director of public affairs for the Railway Assn. of Canada, said traffic across North America’s skeleton of rail lines has been growing “at double digits” during the past two years as customers search for cheaper, more reliable transportation. “National Steel Car builds for all of North America. They’re known for having a modern and efficient plant, so what’s happening there isn’t just a reflection of something local,” he said.

“Rail traffic in Canada has increased 37 per cent over the last decade.” That increase in traffic has called for a steady replacement of older freight cars. At the same time, he added, the demand is growing for cars specifically suited to the type of cargo they will carry.

For National Steel Car, that has translated into a demand for more design work and a 15 per cent increase in the number of engineers the company employs.

National Steel Car isn’t the only manufacturer reporting an improved market. In a separate press release on Thursday, Oregon-based Greenbrier Companies reported it has received orders for nearly 7,000 cars valued at $400 million U.S. and is carrying a backlog of orders for 14,600 units valued at $860 million U.S. A year ago, the backlog was 9,700 units valued at $600 million U.S. Since the start of its current fiscal year in September, Greenbrier has received orders for 11,500 cars worth $800 million U.S. in North America and Europe.

Steel Car’s employees are in the second year of a three-year contract that will take their average wage to about $21 an hour. Founded in 1912, National Steel Car Limited is the only ISO certified new rail car manufacturer in North America.


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Most sectors are up from last week

Freight traffic on U.S. railroads was up sharply during the week ended June 12, the AAR reported Thursday.

Intermodal volume of 218,456 trailers or containers was up 11.2 percent from the comparable week last year. Trailer traffic was up 14.7 percent while container volume showed a 10.1 increase.

Carload freight, which doesn’t include intermodal data, totaled 345,744 cars, up 3.3 percent from last year. The total volume rose 31.4 billion-ton miles, up 4.0 percent from last year.

Among the 19 carload commodity groups showing increases compared with last year, coke was up 17.2 percent from last year, non-metallic minerals were up 6.3 percent, lumber and wood rose 10.8 percent, and pulp, paper and allied products as well as chemicals were up 2.7 percent.

Petroleum products were up 5.4 percent; stone, clay and glass products rose 7.0 percent; metal and other products increased 15.4 percent; while waste and scrap materials rose 11.6 percent.

Five commodities were down from last year, with farm products, down 11.1 percent, crushed stone and gravel down 1.2 percent, food and kindred products down 4.8 percent, primary forest products, down 5.9 percent and motor vehicles down 3.1 percent.

The AAR also reported cumulative totals for U.S. railroads during the 23 weeks of 2004: 7,701,063 carloads up 3.4 percent from last year; intermodal volume 4,678,964 trailers or containers up 8.6 percent; and total volume of an estimated 694.8 billion ton miles, up 4.7 percent from last year’s first 23 weeks.

On Canadian railroads, during the week ended June 12, carload traffic totaled 66,498 cars, up 9.8 percent from last year, while intermodal volume totaled 43,247 trailers or containers, down 1.4 percent.

Cumulative originations for the first 23 weeks of 2004 on the Canadian railroads totaled 1,544,881 carloads, up 8.4 percent from last year, and 950,622 trailers and containers virtually the same last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 23 weeks of 2004 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads were 9,255,944 carloads, up 4.2 from last year and 5,629,061 trailers and containers, up 7.0 percent from last year.

The AAR also reported that originated carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended June 12 totaled 11,250 up 27.6 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 2,669 originated trailers or containers, down 26.5 percent from the 23 week of 2003. For the first 23 weeks of 2004, TFM reported cumulative originated volume of 200,896 cars up 1.5 percent from last year, and 69,946 trailers and containers down 16.3 percent.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 9.8 percent of U.S. carload freight.

The AAR is online at www.aar.org.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: CBSMarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)34.1334.09
Canadian National(CNI)41.2441.02
Canadian Pacific(CP)23.1123.20
CSX(CSX)31.6132.03
Florida East Coast(FLA)39.6837.39
Genessee & Wyoming(GWR)23.4923.62
Kansas City Southern(KSU)14.3914.02
Norfolk Southern(NSC)25.0024.99
Union Pacific(UNP)57.6158.20


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

Britain’s railways, 2004

British rails improve over a year’s passage

By Guy Senior
Special to Destination:Freedom

The writer keeps us Yanks apprised of what’s going on across the pond. – Ed.

LONDON, June 15 – When I last wrote for D:F, I divided my article into a list of good and bad points about Britain’s railways post privatisation. The picture is not perhaps so clear now, but change continues undiminished.

Perhaps the most important change has been the ‘not for profit’ company Network Rail taking over the ownership of tracks and larger stations from the privatised company Railtrack. The idea was that this company would somehow be more accountable and plough back all its surpluses into track repair.

In fact, it does not seem accountable to anyone, except various regulators.

Crucially, it has now announced that the cost of maintaining the railway will now be much more than previously planned or expected. Why is not entirely clear and is very controversial, but it appears to be a combination of a fall-off in maintenance in the run up to privatization, and in the first few years of privatisation and much increased safety standards, exacerbated by the running of many more and heavier trains. Network Rail estimates that the track will not be back to the necessary standards until 2009.

Some of the extra costs can be recovered from government grant, but much is recovered through charging the extra costs to the Train Operating Companies (TOCs) for their use of the track. Some are unable to afford this and most have been compensated by extra subsidy. This means that state support for the railways is now greater than pre-privatisation. The intercity routes, comparable to Amtrak and carrying around 85 million passengers a year, should now be receiving no overall subsidy at all, but are now likely to remain subsidised for the next few years.

TOC franchises are being gradually re-awarded, as the shorter franchises have begun to run out. In many cases, franchise areas have been combined to produce fewer, bigger areas, which should lead to economies of scale and less confusion. In particular, it is intended only to have one TOC run out of each of the main London terminals. This may make good sense, but there is also a tendency to award much shorter franchises, sometimes of less than five years.

This gives the regulators more control, but I am not sure it is right, as it gives the TOCs less opportunity and incentive to invest.

For example, South West Trains (which is the largest TOC and runs commuter trains to the southwest of London) was granted a 20-year franchise and had promised capital investment of over $1.5 billion in return. It has now been given a shorter franchise of only a few years, will not be putting in the $1.5 billion, and it is unclear where such money will now come from.

New trains continue to come into service, with the result that the rolling stock fleet will soon be at its youngest (about 15 years on average) since records began and amongst the youngest in Europe.

The cost of new trains has fallen by about 45 percent since privatisation. I don’t think this is because leasing is a cheaper option as such, but it is more a result of competition between the leasing companies (there are now over 30 organisations leasing locomotives) and between the builders – British Rail used to buy both from its own works and from private companies, but I suspect that competition was less than cut-throat.

Reliability continues to be a real problem, with the repeated failures of its new trains being one of the reasons that Alstom is cutting back its UK operations. There have also been some design problems (such as a lack of luggage space) on some new designs.

All of the new trains ordered so far are either diesel or electrical multiple units (DMUs/EMUs), with motors under the floor of most carriages. These both accelerate and brake quicker than locomotive-hauled stock and are therefore better suited to ‘stopping’ routes. However, they can be noisier and have a rougher ride, so are not ideal for long distance services. Work is therefore beginning to start on a new generation of fast, diesel loco-hauled passenger trains to replace the highly successful 125 mph high-speed train fleet, which is now approaching 25 years old.

Rather embarrassingly, the lines south of London require a major upgrade to electricity supply before many of the new trains in that area can run. This has slowed their introduction and left many new trains in storage.

Perhaps the most dramatic change has been the launch, by Virgin Cross-Country, of an entirely new cross-country intercity service (i.e. all long-distance routes not going to or from London). This has twice the level of service and an entire fleet of new trains. Track improvements and faster trains together have led to journeys at least 20 percent quicker, with more improvements to come. It has also meant more than 40 percent more passengers, which was more than the service could stand, leading to overcrowded trains and truncated routes.

The increase in maintenance and other costs has also meant that many of the grander schemes for railway expansion and modernisation have been shelved. The much over budget London/Glasgow rebuilding has been scaled back for now to 125mph running, instead of 140 mph, but by the autumn will deliver at least a 20 percent cut in journey times and more trains. New stations continue to open at a slow rate, but quite a lot of single-track has been doubled.

Open access train operators are beginning to emerge. These are companies that run new services, falling outside established, subsidised, services. This was a key aim of privatisation, so that new operators, using different routes, could challenge and compete with existing operators.

The first, Hull Trains, runs services to the East Coast city of Hull, which had not previously been served by direct services to London. This has been very successful and the company is trying – subject to ‘pathway’ availability – to run further services to other destinations in the vicinity.

About to launch is Grand Central Trains (GCT), which aims to provide fast links between key northern cities on slightly different routes from those to be used by a new franchisee, Trans Pennine Express (TPE). CGT is using refurbished older stock, whilst TPE has ordered an entirely new fleet. It will be interesting to see who succeeds – or if there is room for both.

The first leg of the high-speed link from London to the Channel Tunnel has now opened, to time and to (a very large) budget. A UK record speed of 205 mph has been set on it and I have traveled on it at the standard speed of 186 mph – most impressive. The next and final stage should open in 2007, which will mean London-Brussels in 2 hours and London-Paris in 2 hours 20 minutes. However, passenger numbers are still well under the (grossly inflated) original estimates and likely to remain so. When complete, the line will also be used for a high-speed commuter service, with another new fleet of trains.

Safety remains a huge public concern. The privatised railway is actually much safer than the nationalised one was and there has not been a passenger fatality for well over a year. However, to judge from the press and campaigners, you would think that hundreds of people were being all but murdered on the rails every year. Public perception simply does not match reality. All trains and track now have the Train Protection Warning System fitted, which stops any train going through a red signal and slows any approaching a red signal too fast.

Development of light rail continues apace, with a new system in Nottingham just opened and the Docklands Light Ry. in London is almost constantly being extended. Passenger numbers on many schemes are ahead of expectation but others are well below and are experiencing financial problems. This seems to be partially because of the way in which such schemes are funded, which is by a mixture of government grant and payments from a consortium, which both builds and then operates a system. If schemes run over budget, it has been difficult to recover the outlay from the farebox. There have also been problems with strange route selections – in Sheffield the system was built to serve some housing estates that have now been demolished, whilst in Birmingham it only reaches the edge of the city centre. A number of new schemes are now in doubt because of escalating costs.

London Underground has also been partly privatised, with the infrastructure maintenance and operation (not the running of the trains) handed over to two private consortia. I am not sure this is a good idea, as it is very complex and I am not certain that the consortia have enough incentive to improve matters – as it is, many lines are at full capacity.

Freight continues to grow and has now increased by over 50 percent since privatisation, despite the recent withdrawal of postal services. All four freight companies are now profitable, in stark contrast to British Rail, when freight tended to lose a lot of money. Ironically, one of the four freight companies, Direct Rail Services, remains state-owned. It is part of British Nuclear Fuels and a big part of its business is transporting nuclear waste. In the UK market, speed is the key to compete with roads, and there is now talk of converting surplus passenger carriages into 125 mph freight carriers.

Above all, more and more people are using the railways.

2003 saw over a billion passenger journeys, the most for 40 years and the highest passenger mileage since the 1950s. On current trends, all-time records will soon be sent, despite the fact that there are far fewer railways than before. The London Underground adds over 900 million to this total every year.

Lessons for the USA?

Firstly, deferring maintenance will come back to hit you hard later. Secondly, people will ride trains in large numbers, if the service is there and if it is fast and frequent.

DMU or EMU trains are almost certainly a better option for commuter and shorter distance rail. The Colorado Railcar DMU is probably the first of a number of designs.


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Tibet gets its first-ever locomotive

Though the Qinghai-Tibet Ry. is still under construction, the first locomotive in Tibet started running on the “roof of the world” last Tuesday.

It was launched at the Amdo County section of the railway, and will be used to transport construction materials for the giant railway project, said Li Yang, a senior engineer with the China Railway Construction Corp.

Xinhuanet berichtet news agency reported the story on March 23.

Weighing 86 tons, the locomotive was first dismantled and then assembled in Amdo County after transported into Tibet in four trucks, Li said.

The railway construction site in Amdo County, about 4,704 meters altitude (about 15,433 feet), is known as one of the highest sections in the railway under construction.

According to historical records, Tibet imported the first two cars from India in 1928 for the Dalai Lama. They were first dismantled and then carried into Tibet by mule. This is also the first successful transport of a large-sized machine into Tibet, Li said.

The new railway originates in Xining, capital of northwest China’s Qinghai Province, and ends at Lhasa, capital of Tibet, 1,956 km (1,216 miles) long. Once completed, it will be the longest plateau railway with the highest elevation in the world.

Railway construction began on June 29, 2001, and the entire project should be completed in six years.


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COMMENTARY...  Commentary...

Cutting transit is a dead end

The writer is chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation. – Ed.

By Paul M. Weyrich

Washington, June 9 – The Bush Administration has had some very legitimate reasons for spending money. They include the build-up in defense after more than a decade of wind-down following the end of the Cold War; the war in Iraq (even though many of us had reservations about getting involved there); the expansion of Medicare (I was very much opposed to the particular version which passed the Congress but the President had promised this in the 2000 campaign so he felt honor-bound to follow through); homeland security (hopefully we will remain secure as the result of this new focus of government); and the war on terror (the Administration contends that Iraq is a part of that but there are other aspects including Afghanistan).

The Bush Administration also had lots of reasons not to spend money: it expanded government as if it were the Great Society Administration; no thought was given to eliminating agencies; hardly any department or agency had to do with less; and limited government was almost a forgotten concept.

Conservatives began to talk about this. The Heritage Foundation and the CATO Institute did many impressive studies. Members of the Republican Study Committee (the caucus of House conservatives) worked to raise that issue in the Congress. A dozen or more conservative columnists ranging from George Will to Cal Thomas to Paul Craig Roberts to Wes Pruden wrote about the spending issue. Longtime activist Donald Devine convened meetings of conservatives who still cared about limited government to see what might be done. He couldn’t accommodate all who wanted to attend.

The net result is that the one group of conservatives and Republicans the President is losing are those focused on economics, especially the libertarians. The Administration has now suddenly become very concerned about spending.

Not concerned enough to veto a bill yet, mind you, but in their replies to media inquiries and in their private discussions with Members of Congress, suddenly the Administration, which is the only one in modern times to have come this far without vetoing a single piece of legislation, is talking the fiscally conservative line.

That is fine, and if they really mean it, it will be good for the country. The problem is that now in their zeal for fiscal conservatism they are prepared to scuttle one of the most successful government programs of all time.

“TEA-21” was a six-year extension to the original ISTEA (aka ice tea), which was the highway/mass transit authorization bill. When ISTEA was passed it was controversial. There was transit money from the highway trust fund.

That raised the hackles of some in Congress – but that program worked so well that when TEA-21 came along it sailed through the Congress with strong bipartisan support.

Now it is time for a renewal of that program. The Administration is trying to lowball the Congress and seems to be serious about a veto if the Senate and House Conferees can’t agree on something close to the White House number. If they can’t, then Speaker Dennis Hastert has said he will not bring the measure to the floor.

If that happens, the bill is dead for this Congress.

That will mean that TEA 21 will be extended for a few months more but both Congress and the Administration will not be able to initiate major long-term highway or transit projects.

I agree with one of the true heroes of the conservative cause in this country, Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, when he contends that the only two items authorized in our beloved Constitution as being appropriate to the federal government are defense and infrastructure. Everything else, if you honestly believe in what the founding fathers had in mind, should be handled at the state or local level.

We no longer have post roads as mentioned in the Constitution, but their successors are the excellent highway system we have in America.

While mass transit was unknown at the time the Constitution was ratified, an excellent case can be made for the proposition that mass transit is an excellent substitute for roads, carrying people to and from destinations for which they otherwise would have to use their automobiles.

Here in Washington, our 103-mile Metrorail (or subway) system carries 700,000 passengers per day, and that number often goes up another 100,000 during the peak tourist season. Our two commuter railroads, MARC (Maryland Area Rail Commuter) and VRE (Virginia Railway Express) together carry upwards of 40,000 people in and out of Washington each day. That is equivalent to the population of a small city.

What Metrorail carries equals one of our larger cities in the USA. The Metro bus system carries another half-million people, although many of them transfer to the subway. There are six regional bus systems that also feed Metrorail as well as carrying local passengers.

Washington streets and highways are at the saturation point as it is. Imagine if all of these transit riders were dumped on the highways.

It would take days to get home.

The Administration has picked the wrong measure with which to be fiscally responsible. As Senator Inhofe has reminded us, this bill does not add to the deficit. In fact, it can be considered a jobs bill. I understand that public works jobs, funded by government, are not the same as private sector jobs. Certainly the latter is preferable.

Still, with unemployment higher than desirable, it would not hurt if some of these highway and transit projects could at last get underway.

The ratio is 80 percent highways to 20 percent for transit.

Highway projects are funded with 80-90 percent federal funds. Transit projects, especially rail projects, are lucky to get 50 percent. The Bush folks are not pro-transit.

Another problem, which should perhaps be discussed in greater detail in a subsequent commentary, is that the Bush Administration is the most anti-rail Administration in the history of federal involvement in mass transit, which goes back to 1963. They openly push so-called bus rapid transit on cities that would rather have rail.

Bus rapid transit is a fraud. First, the public doesn’t care to ride buses, no matter how plush they are. Second, each bus must have a driver – whereas light rail trains can easily handle four articulated cars with a single motorman.

That means that one operator does the work of seven to eight bus drivers. Labor is the major part of the cost of any transit system, so the idea that so-called bus rapid transit will cut costs in the long run, is absurd.

Now fuel costs are rising. Continental Airlines testified before Congress that the increase in fuel costs means a difference of over $700 million to Continental for this fiscal year. It is the difference between solvency and continued bankruptcy for that airline.

Buses use fuel as well, whereas most rail cars are powered by electricity. Nuclear, natural gas or coal-driven power plants provide the electricity. It is far less expensive than diesel fuel.

What the Administration is doing by foisting this fraud on local communities is shameful.

Some locations, which have spent millions planning for light rail, such as Louisville, have dropped the project, saying that they can’t get through the approval process set up by the Administration.

Only five fixed guideway projects made it through the Administration approval process this year. One of projects to be funded is the extension of the Las Vegas monorail. The monorail should have begun service in January. First, a motor fell off one of the cars and came crashing down to the street. By the grace of God no one was hurt. Now the software controlling the unmanned cars appears to have problems, so testing continues day and night.

No one knows when service will begin on the original part of the line, so funding the extension seems premature.

The only light rail project to win approval is a six-mile east side extension of the Gold Line, the Los Angeles light rail line from Union Station to Pasadena.

Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK), no fan of light rail, nearly killed the project. His useful questions got it modified so that it is almost certain to be built now... but for a few days the project was nearly dead.

Some critics contend that when Istook takes such a dogmatic stand against light rail (he won’t even consider funding a line in his own district of Oklahoma City) he is doing the bidding of the Administration. Others insist that he just wants to see the taxpayer’s dollar spent well.

Either way, what the Administration doesn’t manage to kill by its unusual method of calculating potential passengers, Istook is eager to take on. Istook is also a bus rapid transit advocate, which is why his connection to the Administration is suspect.

Fortunately, Congress has a say in which projects are funded. While the bills passed by both Houses of Congress had far too many earmarks, some of those earmarks are useful in overriding the anti-rail prejudice of the Administration.

One Senator from a large industrial state told me he asked White House Chief of Staff Andy Card why the Administration had picked, of all things, the highway/transit bill to threaten a veto. Card replied that the Administration feared what the Heritage Foundation and the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal would say if they let a bill, with a larger authorized amount, through.

The senator, a loyal Republican, replied, “What? The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal people are going to vote for Kerry?” They are not, but as Eric Licht, the President of Coalitions for America, suggested, it is likely that their polling shows them in trouble with economic conservatives, and that is driving the decision to lowball the Congress.

If the extension of TEA-21 has to wait until the next Congress to finish, it will be most unfortunate for the nation, and ironically, for the Administration. There could be a lot of ribbon cutting for highway and transit projects between now and November 3 if the bill could get passed near-term. Lots of people will be put to work. I know the jobs picture is looking up, but as Bill Clinton proved, it helps to have very low unemployment.

I give Senator Inhofe much credit for moving ahead. It was he who took the initiative to name conferees in the Senate. If the Senate and House conferees can only agree on moving this forward, even if a two-year program has to be passed and then the remainder worked on in the next Congress to make up for the other four years, it would be worth the fight.

If the Administration, for the past three-and-a-half years, didn’t ever meet a spending program it didn’t embrace, then I’d be right there with them on the highway/transit bill. If everyone was going to be asked to sacrifice, perhaps because of the war, then projects Senator Inhofe and I think are worthwhile should be among those to be cut – but every big spending program, regardless of merit, was signed on the dotted line.

In that case, I stand with Senator Inhofe. His position (and mine) is that Congress should pass the higher number, and if the President should veto it, Congress should attempt to override the veto. That makes sense to me, but Speaker Hastert said he is not going to give the media a chance to drive a wedge between the Administration and majority House Republicans, who would then be accused of being profligate spenders.

Who knows? Perhaps at the last moment sanity will prevail. Perhaps we will get a bill we all can live with. Oops! I almost forgot. This is an election year.


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WE GET LETTERS...  We get letters...

Dear Editor:

Re D:F, June 14, “Connecticut buys 38 coaches; pays $60 million for ex-VRE cars.”

Sloppy reporting. Don’t believe what you read on chat lists or newspaper articles.

ConnDOT only paid $15 million out of a $60 million fund for the 38 VRE cars, and has $5 million set aside for upgrades and repairs before putting these cars in service.

Here is quote from the Connecticut Commuter Council site:

“FLEET REPLACEMENT

“Ray Cox went on to say that DOT had managed to negotiate a very favorable purchase of 38 used electric cars from the State of Virginia. (10 of the 38 cars have cabs for a train operator.) The plan is that these cars will be used for Shore Line East, freeing up the present Shore Line East cars for use on the main line. The ability to buy 38 relatively new cars for such a good price leaves the DOT with $40 million that can be used to purchase 10 locomotives for the main and branch lines…”

Here is another verifier for price, from the VRE operations board meeting for April:

http://www.vre.org/about/minutes/minutes-april2004.htm#8B

“Authorization to Execute the Sale of 38 Mafersa Railcars and Authorization to Issue an RFP for the Procurement of Bi-Level Cars - 8B.

“Mr. Zehner reported that the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) has expressed an interest in purchasing all of the Mafersa railcars, including cab cars for $15.2 million. VRE would continue to keep seven cab cars for a two-year period at a lease-back cost of $1 per car through June 30, 2006. By selling these cars, VRE would need to purchase 11 bi-level cab cars. He recommends including an option in the procurement for 50 additional bi-level railcars, which would create the opportunity to purchase bi-level railcars for delivery starting in the 2008 timeframe.

“Exercising this option is contingent on legal approval as well as the development of a viable financing plan.

“Mr. Zehner also reported that the Commonwealth of Virginia has indicated an interest in purchasing five trailers. The final sales agreement with ConnDOT would be drafted with the option for five Mafersa trailers to be sold to the Commonwealth if payment is provided by October 1, 2004. If this option is not exercised, the cars would be released to ConnDOT for purchase.

“Resolution #8B-04-2004 would recommend that the Commissions authorize the execution of the agreement with ConnDOT and to authorize a RFP for the procurement of 11 bi-level cab cars with an option for an additional 50 railcars.

“Mr. Gibbons stated he is torn between knowing VRE could really use the $15 million from the sale of the railcars but also knowing that the Bristow-Charlottesville area wants to start commuter rail service and VRE has available railcars. He asked if Connecticut only needs them for a short period of time, is there a way that the Commonwealth could get them back at a reasonable price. Ms. Rae suggested adding a “right of first refusal” clause when Connecticut no longer needs them.

“Chairman Jenkins stated that the Finance Committee looked at this proposal very closely and the committee was concerned that the Commonwealth be in agreement with VRE’s action.”

Jacob “Jaap” van Dorp
Brewster, N.Y.

Mr. Van Dorp’s evidence is overwhelming. We stand corrected.


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THE WAY WE WERE...  The way we were...

Empire Builder

Great Northern Ry.

The Great Northern’s PR department in St. Paul described this scene, ca. 1954, as “Rolling along the Southwestern border of Glacier National Park in Montana is the Empire Builder, Great Northern Railway streamliner. The locomotive is a three-unit diesel-electric of 4,500 horsepower.”

 

75 years later

Amtrak’s Builder gets rapt attention

A special feature to Destination: Freedom. Click above title to view.

 


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.

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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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