Destination: Freedom

The newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative
Vol. 1 No. 12 ©2000, NCI, Inc. June 30, 2000
James P. RePass, President Leo King, Editor
A weekly passenger railroad update
  This week's special edition was written and produced by
Leo King Wes Vernon
Editor Washington Correspondent


NCI 'Rail is real' conference

An incredible array of speakers and an equally impressive list of topics marked this year's NCI conference in Washington, D.C.

Amtrak board chairman Tommy Thompson disclosed that the Acela Express will not be ready until September, that he and the board are quite angry with the Bombardier-Alstom consortium which is building the trainsets, and the railroad is in close talks with both suppliers to get some money back because the consortium did not deliver on time. He would not offer any details.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican from Texas, received the Claiborne Pell award for outstanding service to passenger rail. As president James P. RePass pointed out, the award is not given annually, but only when someone has achieved outstanding work.

The stories follow in these pages.

- Editor
NCI: Leo King
Amtrak chairman Thompson listens as Senator Hutchison explains her views.

Acela Expressdelayed until September;

Senator Hutchison wins Pell trophy

Amtrak's Board Chairman Tommy Thompson urged passenger train advocates to adopt "a bold strategy' in pursuit of high speed rail service in the U.S.

At a closing news briefing at the NCI Conference June 27, the GOP governor of Wisconsin said the patience of the Amtrak board "has run out" on the repeated delays in the launch of the Northeast Corridor's 150 MPH Acela Express, and that he is "damn mad" that the fast trains, originally slated to start running late last year, now won't be ready to go "until September." The Amtrak chairman placed the blame squarely on the contractors while, at the same time, accorded a ringing endorsement to Amtrak President George Warrington, calling him, "the best thing that ever happened to this (rail passenger) industry." The public was thus assured that through all these troubles, Warrington, who has expressed his own frustrations at the delays, retains the full confidence of the board.

Thompson added it would have been "even more of an embarrassment" to put a highly touted product out on the road only to see it break down.

Noting that negotiations are underway on penalty or "delinquency" payments to Amtrak by the contractor consortium, Thompson declined to elaborate, saying only, "It's very touchy right now."

In retrospect, would it have been better to use "off the shelf" technology for the Acela rather than something brand new and not previously tested? No, that would be the worst thing Amtrak could have done, said the governor.

"I want something new that's going to capture the imagination of the American public," he firmly declared, "something that's going to be the synergism that's going to create—a ground-level passion for railroad passenger service all over America," as opposed to recycling "something old and saying these are high speed trains." Rather, "we need something spectacular" that is "better than anything else out there right now, any place in the world."

Following the news conference, Thompson presented NCI's coveted Claiborne Pell award to Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) for her role in having "done more" to help "turn around" Amtrak "than any other senator or congressman there is." The senator was credited with saving the Texas Eagle and for her role as chairwoman of the Senate panel that "played an instrumental role in designing the Amtrak Reform Act."

In accepting the honor, Hutchison, of Dallas, reiterated her longstanding determination to see that all sections of the country share in the benefits of rail passenger travel.

"A Northeast Corridor system is wonderful," said the senator, "but we're not going to continue to have the support in Congress if we don't have a national system." She envisioned future improvements in connectivity among Amtrak trains and other modes, calling for coalitions that include the states with their high-speed corridors, the freight railroads and rail labor. The senator made a point of saying that in all her dealings with the unions, "they have been so positive and so enthusiastic—who really believe in passenger rail." This employee enthusiasm, she declared, "is going to be a key component down the road for the success of Amtrak."

Noting that the Claiborne Pell award was named after the longtime senator from Rhode Island, Hutchison touched on the political realities of passenger rail by recounting a story of how the New England lawmaker had sold then President Lyndon Johnson on the concept of a national passenger rail system. All he needed to do was add up the electoral votes in the affected states, whereupon President Johnson replied, "Sold!"

During the news conference, the senator vowed to push hard for the $10 billion bonding legislation for Amtrak's capital needs and the move to allow the states the flexibility to use highway dollars for intercity passenger rail. In answer to a reporter's question, she said it was essential to "show progress in the next two years."

In his conference windup speech, Thompson said the bonding legislation would have to move before this congress adjourns because its chief sponsor, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) is retiring at the end of the year and it was important to move the bill while he was still here to add the extra energy of his effort to make it the capstone of his career. Besides, Thompson noted, Amtrak would be running out of the special $2.3 billion, one-time-only capital account awarded it in the pivotal 1997 legislation. The bonding bill is widely-regarded as a first step in a putting rail on a level playing field with other modes when it comes to public capital support.

"We don't have the luxury of waiting for the next congress," the Amtrak chairman said.

NCI: Leo King

Thompson, RePass, Hutchison

In introducing Thompson for the conference's closing keynote address, NCI President Jim RePass cited his accomplishments as governor of Wisconsin, not just for rail, but also in tough controversial areas such as welfare reform and education.

The governor, whose memories of railroading go back to his days growing up in rural Wisconsin when his father took him to see President Harry Truman during his famous "whistle stop tour" of 1948, spoke with an evangelistic fervor that served him well in his political career in which Wisconsin voters rewarded him with four consecutive terms, a rarity in gubernatorial politics.

He noted that Japan has spent $100 billion on passenger rail in the last ten years, Germany $70 billion just to upgrade its high-speed trainsets, and Europe is planning to spend $100 billion for high-speed trains connecting 3,000 miles.

Congress is ladling out this year $32 billion for highways, $14 billion for airports, mass transit $6 billion, "And we (Amtrak) beg - and I mean we really beg - to get $521 million—That's with an 'M.' We're in the 'M' section. We're up in the nosebleed section." The governor pointed to the "stepchild" disparity by adding, "We don't want to take money from them. All we want is a little extra money to buy some new equipment."

"We want to grow!" declared the chairman 'We want to be able to serve all states in America, the continental United States, "And we can do that—and be profitable at the same time!" vowed the Midwestern chief executive, who added that "all across America there's a new love affair for passenger rail service. You know that? I can see some of you nodding. We didn't have that ten years ago. You know, right now you go out on the rails, and people are waving at you—They're out there because they believe in us—and that what we're doing is right!"

Governor Thompson regaled his audience with a roll call of nations around the world who are building on passenger train systems, including China, France, Taiwan, Japan, and Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, and Italy. His rhetorical question: "Why not America? What is wrong with us? Why can't we have an up to date modern rail passenger service for Americans? I don't understand it." Americans, he intoned, "should not settle for being last."

During Thompson's tenure as Amtrak Board Chairman, he and Warrington have held talks with freight railroads, reflecting on an attitude that said, "Why don't we sit down with the freight railroads and find out what t-h-e-i-r problems are?"

"So we sat down and had dinner with them. After a couple of drinks, they weren't as bad as we thought. You know, some of them even liked us after the third drink," he joked. But this has led to a meeting of the minds on a number of issues, including how the freight carriers potentially "can make money" on Amtrak through mutual help. He promised "some wonderful (profit-sharing) agreements coming down the pike in the next several months," freight, mail and express agreements that can make money for the Class I carriers and make money for Amtrak.

Employee morale is up at Amtrak. Thompson said the second thing the "new Amtrak" did was to go to the workers who keep this railroad operating and say to them, "You know, you've got a stake in this. Everybody's betting that we're not going to make it. Why don't you smile a little bit more? When somebody asks you a question, be nice." Employees are buying in, with a lot of in-service training. George Warrington is "always out there talking to employees, preaching safety, preaching courtesy."

Formerly, Amtrak was rated worst in reservation service. "So we set up a new reservation service." And now, the travel magazines rate us number one," surpassing freights, airports, taxis, buses." Going from last to first is "quite an achievement for Amtrak," which "has never been first in anything."

California will have 20 million more people by 2020. "Do you think that state can handle 20 million more people with the existing highway system?" Again, high-speed trains are the only answer.

When the Acela is finally up and running, it will be "a thing of beauty," promised the Amtrak chairman, who projects a 2-_ hour ride, Washington to New York, maybe even as fast as 2 hours and 17 minutes; and New York to Boston in three hours. "We should beat the pants of commuter airlines."

Anticipating something not unlike the excitement of a kid with a new toy on Christmas morning, Thompson announced expansively that he had "invited 7,000 people to ride with me on that inaugural Acela run.

"I want everybody to be excited about it like I am. I don't know where I'm going to put you, but show up." He wants senators from California, Illinois, Mississippi or wherever to say, "Wow! That was fun! If they can have it in New York, why can't I have it in (fill in the blank)?"


Of course.

Flexibility and capital are the answers, and Congress will be asked to address the number one question it had been avoiding for thirty years: putting railroads on the same financial footing as enjoyed by other transportation modes, but beyond that, connectivity between modes, including major renovation of "fine old railroad stations" around the country.

Just$1 billion a year to build "a high-speed corridor system all over America, with the states putting in 20 percent, Thompson said, is "a pretty good deal."

Some other speakers at Tuesday's NCI conference, while not rejecting Thompson's vision, did stipulate some caveats. Former Deputy FRA Administrator Don Itzkoff suggested the states should consider thinking in terms of matching the feds with 50 percent, rather than 20. And Bill Withun, Senior Curator of Transport for the Smithsonian Institution, warned planners of new corridors not to forget the business traveler which he said, "would be key."

Withun, whose business is history, reminded the gathering that contrary to some mythology, it is not true that Class I railroads did not try to revive their pre-Amtrak passenger service after World War II. They ordered much new equipment. I reminded Withun that the railroads in that era were competing with one hand tied behind their backs as tax dollars, financed in part by the railroads themselves, were poured into air and highway travel, while the railroads put money into the same pot from which competing modes were feasting. He acknowledged the railroads had drawn "the short end of the political stick."

If any one speaker could have been tagged as the "warm-up" for Governor-Chairman Thompson, it would have to be Gene Skoropowski, managing director of California's Capitol Corridor. The Capitols, as they are called, operate between San Jose, Oakland and Sacramento with some trains going on to Roseville and Auburn, and bus connections as far east as Reno and Carson City, Nevada.

Skoporowski has big plans for the Capitols, now the number four corridor in the nation. He intends to make it Number 2, just behind the Northeast. He didn't come out and say so, but when you see his plans, you have to believe that Skoporawski has taken on a role similar to that of a symphony conductor who oversees every performer in the orchestra doing his part for a perfect mix.

The structure of his Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority is as follows.

Eight counties with six transportation agencies.

Management responsibility belongs to BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit)

Daily operations are Amtrak's job

Dispatching is Union Pacific Railroad's responsibility

Capital improvements are also anion Pacific task, except for stations, which are each local community's responsibility

Operating funds come from State of California

Capital funds are also state sunds, but funneled through California's Transportation Commission

With 17 percent more service added between November 1999 and February 2000, the Capitols have experienced a ridership growth of 34.5 percent in the past 12 months, averaging a leap of 30 percent in the last eight months, with a phenomenal 46 percent boost in May alone. Ridership actually doubled in two years. Revenues are up too, much more in proportion to a slower growth in state costs. And all of this, mind you, from a corridor that started less than ten years ago, in 1991, and not at all bad for a corridor that was going to be discontinued in 1995 for lack of use.

Nine round trips a day are run with four sets of equipment, the new Surfliners or sometimes called, "California cars." They start running at 5:30 a.m. and continue until 10 p.m.

"It does not stop. It's a seven-day a week service," and to paraphrase some old rock disc jockeys, "The growth just keeps on coming." Stoporowski's goal is to run hourly service seven days a week, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Capital needs include eight sets in service to do that, plus 1 spare. Obviously, "the game plan is to double track as much as we can."

When Skoporowski spoke, it was with an enthusiasm that gave the NCI attendees a preview of what was to come later with Governor Thompson. The California man spoke of partnerships, including Union Pacific which is listed as a "stakeholder," not as a stodgy behemoth freight carrier dragged in kicking and screaming under political pressure, but as a real money-making partner in the Capitol Corridor.

That relationship did not just happen overnight. When the service was transferred from the state to the local level, the first two things on the board agenda when Skoropowski arrived were to end all service east of Roseville and take the Union pacific to the federal Surface Transportation Board or to court. As he prepared to change the perception of the Capitols as a service imposed on the localities by the state to something the local communities could think of as "their service," the new manager wanted time to "work this out" before the board charged in with a chopping block and legal guns blazing. The "local" management also gave a sense of proprietary interest by local officials who lobbied their state legislature heavily for adequate support for the trains, an effort that had been absent before.

Ultimately the agreement with UP spelled out "where we get the most bang for our buck, and secondly, what we are buying when we make those capitol improvements, in terms of our track usage and the number of trains we can run on the line."

"We're open with them," said the corridor manager.

"We said we want to work with you, and we are willing to provide additional funding to you for it." At the first meeting, Skoporawski said he just let the Union Pacific folks talk for 45 minutes before he said a word as to what he wanted. Whereupon he told them, "I want the Union Pacific to make money because if they don't make money, there's no reason for them to pay any attention to me."

Skoropowski, who spent half his career in the private and half in the public sector, said the trouble with too many in the public sector is they approach the private railroads with the attitude of "Profit is bad. You're taking us to the cleaners."

"Every time we met with the UP, (yes, they did let me know it was their railroad) we reinforced the fact that we weren't trying to usurp their capacity" that the corridor service was "trying to bring something to the table as a business partner," including capital investing for the corridor, an increase in maintenance-of-way payments to the railroad over and above what Amtrak paid for its access and other charges to the railroad. No sending checks to UP headquarters in Omaha so they can say, "Okay, we'll take UP dollars away from that corridor and substitute Capitol Corridor dollars. "I want to be certain that the piece of railroad that I run on is the best maintained and most reliable railroad, at least in the western part of the UP."

Additionally, the board has an outreach program that goes to the communities and increases the awareness "of the benefits to the community that the rail service brings."

NCI: Leo King

APTA's Millar, left, listens closely

APTA changes name, sees bright future

Topics ranged from high-speed rail to passenger trains operating on freight railroads at the NCI meeting ¤ and at least one freight Class I carrier, Norfolk Southern, is willing to start talking to Amtrak on how and where to run more and faster passenger trains.

The bottom line is the bottom line. Amtrak can help the freight railroads make money through its express service as well as turn a profit for itself in that business line, several speakers stated.

One of the key speakers, William W. Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Assn., said on Monday, while he was "looking ahead to America's Transportation Future," "APTA's name change signified a broader role beyond what is called public transit." The organization was formerly named the "American Public Transit Assn."

Millar told the gathering of some 100 railroaders, suppliers and elected officials that "As APTA president, I am here to tell you that we are in the midst of a rail transit renaissance."

He pointed out that "Commuter rail ridership went up nearly 4 percent in 1999," and that "ridership increased across all modes for rail transit," which was a higher growth rate that highway travel for the first time in decades.

He said "Public transportation served more than nine billion trips" last year.

Millar added, however, that he needed to put those record ridership numbers into context.

"This is the highest level of ridership in nearly 40 years," and he pointed out that "Ridership has grown twice as fast as the U.S. population while only a 2 percent increase for vehicle miles was recorded, and only a 3 percent increase in domestic airline travel.

Millar, an enthusiastic and boisterous speaker, said that "more than 50 new or extended rail systems have been added since the 1980s."

Several mayors from around the country attended the two-day meet in Washington's posh Marriott hotel on 22nd Street, NW., including Amtrak board member and NCI chairman John Robert Smith, mayor of Meridian, Miss., and Audrey D. Kariel, mayor of Marshall, Tex., and newly installed chairman of Amtrak's National Mayors' Advisory Council, Tom Carper, of Macomb, Ill.

"A recent survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors," Millar continued, "found that all but three of the nation's top 50 metropolitan economies either have or are planning some type of rail investment. He said currently under construction are "94 miles of light rail, 104 miles of commuter Rail, and 35 miles of heavy rail."

He noted, "Two new commuter rail systems are to open this fall ¤ Seattle in September, and Vermont this November."

A ground-breaking ceremony successfully began on June 28 in Alexandria for high-speed rail between Washington, D.C. and Richmond, Va.

The Intermodal Transportation Act, which was updated by the Congress two years ago and became "TEA 21," is providing funds for 200 additional projects, he said.

Millar opined that "Increased rail capacity" would be a result, and that "These rail projects would benefit from shared use of existing rights-of-way with freight railroads. More capacity is a common interest between commuter and intercity rail and freight." Millar also observed that of the 200 new rail projects funded by TEA 21, one-half use existing rail corridors and a remaining question is how to fund more capacity.

He suggested that operators should start thinking intermodally about funding and not rely on TEA 21, and noted that a symposium on July 13 and 14 in Washington would explore that topic.

"It will be an opportunity to hear from European experts who have implemented successful mixes of rail operations."

He also suggested that partnerships are something railroaders need to start looking at closely.

"In the rail business, we need to think in terms of partnerships and not live in isolation. Virtually all commuter rail operations have freight partnerships. Intercity rail attracts public transit customers and vice-versa. For effective rail projects, riders need connections on the local transit side to their final destination."

Millar explained that many Amtrak passengers begin or end their trips on bus, subway or commuter rail, and offered some examples. From New York's Penn Station, 45 percent of Amtrak's riders do so; Boston's South Station, 39 Percent; and Washington's Union Station, 34 Percent.

"Another ingredient for success is to garner local support for new projects, but the best case is to seek more than minimum local matches."

He recommended "becoming engaged at the state and local levels early." He also advised that a proposal should have a multi-modal coalition to seek funds for any rail infrastructure.

The APTA chief said that the "need for more capacity is 'real,' the need to share corridors with freight is 'real,' and the need to partner is 'real.'" He advised creating more partnerships "to create a bigger pie beyond TEA 21 funding," but managers needed to continue to work hard to get as much additional funding as possible.

"Balanced and smart investments lead to 'real' choices for us all," he said, and added, "Finally, in 50 years, people will ask, 'Who had the foresight to build? Rail was cheaper."

NCI: Leo King
Amtrak is a big nibbler, but collectively, so are the commuter lines on NS routes

NS, Amtrak tip-toe toward each other

Bill Schafer was afraid of "being nibbled to death by baby ducks."

Well, not exactly; but enough ducks could take a big chunk.

He is Norfolk Southern's director of corporate affairs and is headquartered in Philadelphia. He said both NS and CSX "have franchises to die for," following the Conrail breakup and corporate division, and he offered Amtrak an apology for delaying so many of its trains in the intervening months after the acquisition.

"We have an ongoing need for train and engine crews," he said because early retirements and furloughs" were having an impact. "We're focusing now on growing the business."

Schafer said NS is currently negotiating with Amtrak for operating rights over the Northeast Corridor because they want access to New York City.

"We can't afford to be frozen out of the NEC." He added, "We'll let Amtrak run more passenger trains over our tracks if they'll let us operate more freight trains over their tracks."

He said there are inherent problems in running freight trains and high-speed passenger trains on the same tracks. "Eventually we're going to have to get separate lanes ¤ 110 mph passenger trains vs. 60 mph freight trains."

He also noted that high-level platforms are ADA-compliant (Americans with Disabilities Act) close to the track and fine for passengers, but they are far too close to the track for freight trains.

"Apparently there was no consideration on the issue," he said.

Optimism over breakthroughs in high-speed rail efforts reigned supreme at the opening of the NCI conference June 26, Although the conferees representing industry, government (federal, state, and local), activists, and consultants were acutely aware that there was a long road ahead to victory, but the feeling that "things were beginning to fall into place" dominated much of the atmosphere.

Amtrak Reform Council Chairman Gil Carmichael may have softened the heretofore solid labor opposition to his panel, as he outlined four goals of the ARC, including helping Amtrak meet operational self-sufficiency by Oct. 1, 2002, encouraging Amtrak to aggressively expand passenger service without compromising its current operations.

Carmichael also urged supporting Amtrak's efforts to boost its mail and express business. He observed that in the 1950s, mail and express represented 40 percent of passenger train revenues.

He also urged implement planning and monitoring the performance of all of Amtrak's divisions to see which ones were carrying their share of the load as "profit centers" and which ones were in need of help.

Carmichael's comments elicited a reaction of pleasant surprise from one rail labor leader participating in the same panel discussion.

W. Dan Picket, President of the Brotherhood of Railway Signalmen, said Carmichael's comments encouraged him. Up until now, rail labor had been uniformly negative toward ARC. Picket reiterated his comments to D:F, saying he is pleased with the ARC's goals, as outlined by its chairman.

In the afternoon session, the conference heard from ARC Vice Chairman Paul M. Weyrich, who expressed a belief that the anti-ARC hostility was caused by the fact that rail labor and some of its allies were confusing conservatism (which he and some of his fellow ARC panel members espouse) with libertarianism.

"Libertarianism," he explained, "is a view that everything must be done in a way that it makes a profit." Not that he was against profits ("Far from it,") and Weyrich is "not certainly very pro-government, given the records that our governments have had in screwing things up."

"The idea of the community is at the heart of the conservative message," Weyrich went on. He defined conservatism as "a way of life, not an ideology. And ideologies want to fit all reality into their context." And when reality doesn't accommodate that goal, the libertarians begin to, "as the communists did, for example, skew the facts." But many advocates of rail transit "have taken the libertarian view and made the assumption that all conservatives subscribe to this point of view, and therefore have written off the conservative part of the political spectrum," thus slamming the door on conservative participation in a coalition "that can be successful in the public policy arena."

Noting that self-identified conservatives make up about 40 percent of the population, as opposed to less than 4 percent who call themselves libertarians, the president of the conservative Free Congress Foundation said libertarians have made noise and attracted attention all out of proportion to their strength with the electorate. Some of their views, Weyrich declared, "are bizarre."

For example, a professor from Oregon had said light rail was dangerous "that if you get hit by a light rail vehicle, you surely are dead, but if you get hit by a bus, you just bounce off the side and are not seriously injured." This sort of fellow, Weyrich opined, "was doing such a marvelous job of discrediting his point of view."

The same groups that oppose rail transit are also using "fallacious" arguments "against rail passenger service in corridors." He quoted a libertarian as having told him that "we just throw these facts up and we see which ones stick to the ceiling."

Weyrich told the NCI gathering that the Amtrak Reform Council consists of a "solid pragmatic majority that is absolutely committed to rail passenger service in this country," notwithstanding "a couple of dissenters," and "if we have our way, there will be a lot more (passenger train) service in a lot more places, and the employment will be much greater than is currently the case."

Weyrich said the labor unions made the assumption that he was against rail passenger service, "even though I have written for 35 years on the subject."

In fact, a leading congressional ARC opponent, Rep. Robert "Rob" Andrews, expressed surprise when D:F mentioned to him in a separate interview a few days earlier that Weyrich supports Amtrak service.

The ARC, says Weyrich, performs a useful service because, "in Amtrak, as in any other institution that size, you have very little—critiquing— that comes from the outside rather than the inside. And only people who are looking at a broader point of view can see certain things that need to be done."

Citing the problems the ARC is having on Capitol Hill (See D/F-June 23, 2000), Weyrich urged the assembled passenger train supporters to lobby for the panel's continuance because "at the end, I think you will be pleased at the general thrust of what we intend to do."

The first day of the conference heard a labor lawyer unburden himself of many anti-management resentments that apparently have built up during his 13 years of representing rail labor unions.

Speaking of the Class Is, Richard Edelman said he was frustrated by what he said were inefficiencies of rail management and its failure to recognize that "unions represent people." Rail management, Edelman charged, just "doesn't get it." He listed steady reductions in employment, contracting out, and "cram down" - the hated (by many employees) practice of newly merged railroads transferring workers or changing wages in violation of pre-merger contracts. Bargaining with the major trunk lines, according to Edelman, "was (often) not just slow, it was glacial." He lashed out at CSX and NS for laying off track workers "despite the (healthy) housing market."

Edelman also tore into the efforts of Boston's MBTA to terminate its contract with Amtrak and switch to a competing firm to run its commuter operations. Edelman said the transit agency refused to sit down and discuss the matter with him as the representative of the Transport Workers Union (TWU). MBTA, which had awarded the contract to a lower bidder, relented and re-awarded the contract to Amtrak after the Clinton administration brought pressure to bear. The transit officials claimed they would have saved taxpayers $116 million had they been allowed to deal with the other company. To that, Edelman exclaimed "Bull----!" Twice.

Neither MBTA nor the competing contractor nor the Class I lines were on hand to answer Edelman's charges. And one questioner, Christopher K. Coles, Regional Manager of Kleinfelder, a northern California construction firm, reminded the labor lawyer that if a Class I representative were present, he no doubt would have responded in an equally passionate manner.

There had been news reports of vandalism on MBTA property during the dispute, for which the union denied any responsibility.

Conference discussions kept coming back to the perennial problem of infrastructure funding and how railroads are treated differently in that regard from other transportation modes.

Alice Saylor, Vice President of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, said the issue must be addressed because "a corridor is a terrible thing to waste." She called for public-private partnerships, and pointed to another long-standing complaint by railroads - the 4-point-3 percent fuel tax, a burden that has been lifted from other conveyances.

Macomb, Ill., Mayor Tom Carper (not to be confused with the Delaware governor of the same name) said the 22-member Amtrak Mayors Advisory Council, of which he is the newly elected chairman, is bringing the drive for more train service to the grass roots. The AMAC, he said, is "getting the mayors fired up," and represents big and medium sized cities, as well as small towns, and is diverse in political affiliation.

Other speakers included author and historian Alfred Runte and artist and lecturer J. Craig Thorpe. Their emphasis was on the cultural and aesthetic values of including rail in the transportation mix, as compared to what they see as a decline in those advantages in the post World War II era, as railroads declined.

Jack Martin, a board member of the Georgia Rail Passenger Authority, told the NCI gathering that his 20 years as President of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP), resulted in experiences with the Class I carriers that were less upbeat than Skoropowski relations with UP. Perhaps this can be attributed to the fact the Martin's dealings with the railroads go back before their more recent willingness to discuss how they can do business with passenger rail authorities.

Martin says many in the freight rail industry seem to be running a "Woe-is-me" factory, taking them from dominance to virtual irrelevance in the public mind. He defined it as "retrenchment in slow motion."

"A plague on the house of those railroads that have driven business to the truckers," the NARP president declared.

He feared they were "politically insensitive and service insensitive," abdicating huge shares of the market, such as UPS business. Now, Martin said, the main trunk lines are coming to the taxpayer and saying, in effect, "we need you to bail us out on our terms."

When Martin said the public does not see the railroads as a factor in their lives, D:F reminded him that there was a reason Congress never lets a national railroad strike last more than one or two days. He agreed that if a rail stoppage were to go on for anything like ten days, much of the nation would lose power and petrochemical operations would be stopped. Yes, and then, the public would indeed see the railroads as "a factor in their lives," but he thinks the railroads could gain by connecting better in the public mind as to why they are important and, as would be expected from a NARP president, why they should be more hospitable to passenger operations.

The two-day NCI conference was a showcase of the progress, the victories, the disappointments and most of all the challenges that lie ahead as America enters a new century, hopefully with a solid future of high-speed rail.

A few more stories will appear in next week's issue of Destination: Freedom.


Corridor lines...
Carper, Morial lead mayors council

Mayor Thomas Carper of Macomb, Ill., was appointed chairman of Amtrak's national Mayors' Advisory Council at the U.S. Conference of Mayors Summer Meeting during the week of June 18 in Seattle. 

At the same time, Mayor Marc H. Morial of New Orleans was appointed Vice-Chair.

For the past year, Carper served as the Council's Vice-Chair. 

The Council was formed by the Amtrak Board of Directors to bolster local support for intercity passenger rail, raise awareness of its important transportation role, and support Amtrak's Strategic Business Plan through closer partnerships between Amtrak and cities and towns. The 22-member mayoral body is balanced for geography, city/town population, and party affiliation. 

"I am honored to be chosen as the Chair of the Amtrak Mayors' Advisory Council, and I look forward to strengthening Amtrak's state and local partnerships which will help improve our economy and Amtrak's bottom-line," said Mayor Carper. "As the mayor of a city that depends on Amtrak, I know that these partnerships will enable Amtrak to deliver better intercity passenger rail service to meet the growing transportation needs of our citizens." 

"There has been a clamoring for more and better rail service throughout the U.S., and the Amtrak Mayors' Advisory Council is now providing a platform for the mayors to collectively raise their voices to support a stronger Amtrak for their communities," said Mayor John Robert Smith, Amtrak Board member and mayor of Meridian, Mississippi. "I know that Mayor Carper's leadership as Chair of the Council will help achieve an economically stronger Macomb and Amtrak."

As Vice-Chair, Mayor Carper represented the Council at the High-Speed Ground Transportation Association Annual Conference in Philadelphia and at the Amtrak Customer Advisory Council in Milwaukee. He was a speaker at this week's NCI conference

Carper has also been a strong advocate for a long-term, dedicated source of capital funding for intercity passenger rail service with the Illinois Congressional delegation. 



Morial was appointed to the council when it was formed in May 1999. In April of this year, he organized a luncheon at Washington Union Station for New Orleans business leaders to learn more about Amtrak's High-Speed Rail Program and the role of rail transportation in urban redevelopment. He has also been a strong advocate for a long-term dedicated source of capital funding for intercity passenger rail service with the Louisiana Congressional delegation.

Slater tours U.S. intermodally

USDOT Secretary Rodney E. Slater said he would work toward achieving the Administration's vision for improving the safety, efficiency and performance of America's 21st century transportation system in a coast-to-coast intermodal tour between June 19-24.

The tour, which began at the Merchant Marine Academy commencement at Kings Point, New York, was to include stops in Washington, D.C.; Wilmington, Del.; Philadelphia; Boston; Chicago; Sacramento; San Diego; North Hollywood; Oakland; San Francisco; and Berkeley, Cal.

Slater was to review a variety of intermodal programs and projects that apply new transportation technology and concepts, as well as those that contribute to future innovation by building a knowledge-based workforce and contribute to a climate that fosters innovation.

He was also expected to continue a series of 2025 Visioning Sessions with stakeholder groups across the country. These sessions are designed to lay the groundwork for improving the quality of transportation choices and performance by clarifying a vision of transportation's future over the next 25 years.

Rail-related stops were to include touring the Acela Training Center and the High Speed Simulator for locomotive engineers at Wilmington, Delaware June 20.

The next day, he was scheduled to be in Chicago for a positive train control grant announcement at Union Station.

On June 22, he was scheduled to be in San Diego for a ceremonial check signing and presentation announcing a full-funding transit grant to extend San Diego's Light Rail Trolley system, followed by a trip to North Hollywood the next day to participate in opening ceremonies for the North Hollywood Metro Rail.

On June 24, Slater was expected to join San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown in a tour of the Embarcadero and the Third Street Light Rail project, which is under construction. Location: San Francisco waterfront.

An end note...

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