Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 4 No. 26, June 28, 2003
Copyright © 2003, NCI, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - James Furlong
Editor - Leo King

A weekly North American rail and transit update

 


 

Today marks the end of the fiscal year for most freight railroads, and the end of the third quarter at Amtrak. Look for a blizzard of financial reports in July.


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S&P upgrades Amtrak rating

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services said on Friday it “affirmed its ‘BBB-’ issuer credit rating and ‘BBB-’ unsecured debt rating on the National Railroad Passenger Corp. (Amtrak) and removed them from ‘CreditWatch,’ where they were placed June 21, 2002. The outlook is positive.”

S&P analyst Betsy R Snyder, a certified financial analyst, said “Amtrak’s removal from CreditWatch reflects improved liquidity after the receipt of a fiscal (September 30) 2003 $1.05 billion appropriation, a record level, and recent signs of support from Congress regarding Amtrak’s funding needs.”

In the past, she noted, “The federal government has considered liquidation of Amtrak, but the Bush Administration has proposed a six-year transition to a system that would involve federal and state governments as well as private companies, indicating its commitment to funding some form of national passenger rail transportation in the U.S. The form and degree of this support should become more apparent as Congress considers various proposals over the next several months.”

S&P’s credit rating “reflects Amtrak’s important public service role, and continued assistance from the federal government, offset by a very weak financial profile and continuing uncertainty over its future form,” she said.

She also noted, “Amtrak is the only provider of long-distance passenger rail transportation in the U.S. and is an important contract operator of commuter and short-haul rail service in various markets.”

In her analysis, she explained, “Substantial evidence of political support is reflected in the current ratings; without such support, Amtrak could not cover its cash operating expenses from operating revenues. However, Administration and Congressional support may not extend to the full system or to the current structure.”

She also provided a brief history lesson.

“The federal government has historically been a primary source of operating and capital funds since Amtrak’s creation in 1971. Amtrak was created by Congress through the acquisition of various passenger railroads from the freight railroads and was intended to function as a corporation, not a department, agency, or instrument of the U.S. government. The company has needed annual federal appropriations to remain in operation and provide domestic passenger rail service.”

Snyder observed, “Amtrak’s passenger rail transportation business is capital intensive, subject to competition from other, more flexible and reliable transportation modes, and is not an essential service in many markets. U.S. appropriations for operating and capital subsidies, although significant, have been insufficient to operate, service, and maintain the equipment to standards found in other sovereign-dependent railroads.”

In short, the Congress has habitually short-changed Amtrak, unlike European or Far Eastern rail systems. She added, though, in her view, the states could help, at least to some degree.

“Standard & Poor’s believes some states could contribute incremental financial support, but such support is likely to be limited, particularly in the current environment in which many states are recording budget deficits. In the Northeast corridor, Amtrak serves major population centers with large Congressional delegations that have been major supporters, and these states could combine with other regions served to support elements of Amtrak.”

She said Amtrak could get even higher ratings “if Administration support is evidenced by ongoing sufficient levels of appropriations that will enable Amtrak to maintain its operations and invest in infrastructure.”


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Silver Meteor at Ortega

NCI: Leo King

Good news for Amtrak last week – two key Congressional committees see things David Gunn’s way, and its S&P’s rating improves. Running trains on time remains a bear, though, for the passenger carrier. No. 97, the Silver Meteor, with P-42 No. 47 leading, passes over the Ortega River Movable Bridge at CSX milepost 649 on the “A” line in Florida at the prescribed 45 mph. It is running two hours and 1 minute late on June 26. The train departed Jacksonville at 2:43 p.m. but is scheduled to leave at 12:42 p.m. Earlier in the day, No. 91, the Silver Star, ran two hours, 25 minutes late. The story is below.

 

Key House, Senate committees
okay Amtrak, high-speed bills

By Wes Vernon
Washington Bureau Chief

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has approved two major passenger rail bills which together cover both Amtrak and high-speed railroad operations. Similar actions have been okayed on the Senate side of the Capitol.

In the Amtrak bills, lawmakers in both houses are saying in so many words, “Okay, Mr. Gunn [Amtrak CEO], you’re on. Here’s the money you said you needed, now see what you can do with it.” The measure would authorize funding $2 billion for each of the next three years for both capital and operating expenses, as well as the Amtrak excess railroad retirement costs.

“Although serious disagreements still exist about Amtrak’s long-term management strategy and structure, there is a common understanding of the need for near-term funding,” House Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) declared.

He added, “This bill authorizes the first three years of Amtrak’s current five-year plan at its requested level of $2 billion per year.”

The chairman also expressed a hope that this funding “will allow a last-chance window of opportunity for an Amtrak turnaround.”

It is widely believed that such legislation would have had little chance of getting out of a major committee only a few months ago. The action is viewed as an unspoken commentary of the credibility of Amtrak President David Gunn, who assumed the top executive job for the rail passenger service on May 15, 2002. The five-year plan was his doing. He has staked the future of the system on that plan, outlined in detail by D:F last February.

In fact, Rep. Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.) – who chairs the House committee’s Railroads Subcommittee – indicated Gunn’s stewardship was a major reason the bill materialized with committee support.

“Years of deferred maintenance have left Amtrak with a deteriorated structure,” said Quinn, who comes from a family with a strong railroad background, “Under the leadership of David Gunn... this legislation will give a renewed sense of mission to Amtrak’s workforce.”

The official voice of that workforce seconded that statement. Sonny Hall, President of the Transportation Trades Dept. of the AFL-CIO, said the legislation, coupled with a high speed and infrastructure bill “marks a giant step forward for passenger rail in America and for the nations’ economy.”

On the same day, the Young committee also gave the green light to bipartisan legislation providing $60 billion for high-speed rail and rail infrastructure projects.

Young said this bill, named RIDE-21 “represents a two-year bipartisan effort by this committee to address the future of our national high-speed rail system” and also to the infrastructure “of our passenger and freight rail systems and the growing congestion problems that hinder our other transportation systems.”

Notwithstanding that Amtrak’s Gunn has ruled out high-speed rail as a reality “ in your lifetime or mine” because “the money is not there,” Young appears determined to aid a process by which the money can be “there.”

The plan does depend on state input (a factor that drew some criticism to a similar Young measure last year) but the chairman remains convinced that with interested parties contributing, “individual states and groups of states” would have “the ability to select and design their own corridors, choose whether to use the steel-wheel or Maglev trains, and also determine how and on what schedule they will finance and construct projects.”

The current bill appears to be less dependent on state treasuries than last year’s measure.

Quinn said the bill is “the first serious commitment to a national rail infrastructure program.”

Here are some of the major parts of the legislation:

The USDOT secretary may approve overall corridor design that has an agreement with the owning freight railroad if its rights-of-way are to be used, eliminates or avoids railroad grade crossings that impede high speed operations, applies “prevailing wage” rates to construction projects, and has an interstate compact in place for multi-state corridors.

The transportation secretary may give preference to projects that use a mix of tax credit and tax-exempt bonds, link rail service to other modes of transportation (possibly facilitating through-ticketing plane and train connections as is done in parts of Europe), are expected to have a significant impact on air traffic congestion, and are expected to improve commuter rail operations.

Environmental studies would have to be completed and the projects should have state or local support.

Under the Amtrak bill, the DOT secretary would be required to set aside a reserve to ensure that Amtrak meets all its contractual obligations related to commuter rail and state-supported services. Amtrak would be required to submit to the secretary comprehensive business plans and follow-up reports with a separate accounting for its various lines of business, and reports related to capital project expenditures.

Amtrak has said this money should be sufficient for the first three years of the five-year plan. That plan aims to restore the Amtrak system, including keeping the Northeast Corridor in good repair.

For long-distance trains, that is likely to mean more efficient operation as more repaired equipment comes on-line and deferred maintenance is finally done on unrepaired cars and locomotives. For the Northeast Corridor, it can mean upgrading speeds, including making the Acela Express high-speed service truly “high-speed,” as schedules are accelerated on an incremental basis.

Freight, passenger, supplier, and labor interests agreed that tackling the industry’s problems deserve priority attention.

Association of American Railroads (AAR) President Ed Hamberger noted DOT’s prediction that U.S. rail freight tonnage will rise 55 percent over the next 20 years.

“Class I investments have soared over the past decade and now approach or exceed $150,000 per mile annually,” he said.

Thomas Gillespie of the Railway Supply Institute said the U.S. has some catching up to do with the rest of the industrialized world which has “made significant investments in high-speed rail, leaving the United States far behind in the development and implementation of this technology.”

On Thursday, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation approved on a voice vote a $2 billion per year Amtrak authorization for the full six years of TEA-21. In the past, Amtrak has been largely left out of the omnibus TEA series of transportation bills. Its inclusion was approved on an amendment to the big bill.

Another Senate amendment would establish a Rail Infrastructure Finance Corp. to support rail transportation capital projects through the issuance of rail capital infrastructure bonds.

Hall of the AFL-CIO’s TTD said this flurry of legislation “recognize(s) the contributions of the men and women who operate, build, and maintain our nations’ railroads. The proposals will create good jobs in a struggling economy, and treat workers with the respect and dignity they have earned and deserve.”

While Hall said the legislation rejects the “myth that Amtrak can exist without a subsidy,” NARP, the National Association of Railroad Passengers, in effect warned against any premature popping of the champagne corks.

“The positive actions” are welcome, said NARP’s Ross Capon, “but the appropriations process will determine whether Amtrak gets the $1.8 billion it has requested for Fiscal 2004.”

Bottom line: We’re not there yet. Fierce battles remain. The appropriations committees are where full reality kicks in.


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What makes a train late?

By Leo King
Editor

How do Amtrak’s trains get to be so late sometimes?

Consider last week’s Nos. 91 and 97 on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Amtrak’s spokesman in Washington, Cliff Black, tells us the delays are not all CSX’s fault.

The trains operate over Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor between New York City, where they originate, until they pass south of the District of Columbia.

He specifically looked into No. 97’s delays. At the outset, No. 97 had problems.

It incurred “a 70-minute delay at departure from New York Penn Station when bad-order toilets on a sleeping car required the car to be shopped and another car substituted.”

Later, according to the train log, “22 CSX speed restrictions because of track conditions created a total of 75 minutes of delay on the run.”

Summertime is, as railroaders are quite aware, when major track upgrades and repairs are made.

“Five incidents of freight interference produced delays of 42 minutes,” he added, and noted, “There were other communications and signals (C&S) related delays that didn’t amount to much.”

Sometimes, though, Amtrak’s trains get in each other’s way, especially if it’s a single-track route with passing sidings, as much of CSX is.

“There were five incidents of passenger train interference en route (other Amtrak trains) causing 20 minutes delay to 97. Are these CSX problems? Perhaps, depending on dispatching and physical plant limitation. Hard to tell.”

A minute here, a minute there, and it all begins to add up.

Black said en-route delays “not attributable to CSX included eight minutes at Richmond ‘checking wheels;’ three minutes ‘heavy travel’ at Wilmington, Del.; eight minutes loading baggage at Charleston; and five minutes at Savannah to use a wheelchair lift. Double stops at several stations produced a total of about eight minutes delay.”

In all, that added up to about a half-hour. “Heavy travel” is a term railroaders use to describe many people getting on or off the train – and their luggage.

“All told, about two hours of the total delay was directly attributable to CSX,” he noted, “but approximately one hour and 42 minutes was attributable to Amtrak itself.”

No. 97 accumulated about four hours delay over all. It was clocked into Miami at 11:22 p.m., 1 hour and 36 minutes late. That means there is about two and one-half hours pad in the schedule, at least according to my unscientific review, he said.”


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Empire Builder passes

For NCI: Thomas J. Van Haag, Jr.

“America's Train,” No. 7, is the Empire Builder as it is sometimes called. On this day, it is passing Nashota East, Wis. on June 15. Nashota East is milepost 112.2 on the Canadian Pacific Watertown Subdivision, just west of Pewaukee and between the station stops of Milwaukee, and Columbus.

 

Montana evaluates Amtrak’s Empire Builder

Until Friday, consultants were accepting comments on how Amtrak’s Empire Builder affects the pocketbooks of Montanans and state government.

The Great Falls, Mon., Tribune reported on June 23 from Havre that three state departments hired the Washington, D.C.-based economic consultant group R.L. Banks and Associates to analyze the impact of the long-distance passenger train that crosses northern Montana on Burlington Northern & Santa Fe iron, said Tom Steyaert, of the state transportation department.

The state’s transportation, commerce and agriculture departments paid for the $50,000 study led by consultant Ken Withers. Such a study of Amtrak never has been done before – by the state or federal governments or by Amtrak, Steyaert said last week.

Empire Builder supporters stress that it is integral to the state’s tourism, transportation and economic development, particularly along the Hi-Line.

Empire Builder

If Amtrak’s Empire Builder is running on time, the westward version, No. 7, departs Chicago at 2:10 p.m. daily and travels 2,210 miles across the U.S. northern tier to arrive in Seattle three days later at 10:20 a.m. Its eastward counterpart, No. 8, leaves Seattle at 4:45 p.m. to arrive in Chicago at 3:45 p.m. three days later.

Both trains travel though Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho and Washington. The train makes 12 station stops in Montana, more than any other state.

The westward train splits at Spokane, Wash., with the Portland, Ore., section traveling a total of 2,262 miles as train 27, and arrives at 10:10 a.m. Its counterpart is No. 28 leaves Portland at 4:45 p.m. and joins No. 7 at Spokane.

They are lengthy trains – some dozen cars, at least.

Generally the consist for the “Empires” are two engines (P-42s, back-to-back), followed by baggage car, transition car, dorm sleeper (sometimes replaced by a regular sleeper), Seattle sleeper (and sometimes a second Seattle sleeper), the diner, two Seattle coaches (sometimes a smoking coach), a Lounge car, two Portland coaches, a Portland sleeper, and RoadRailers loaded with mail bringing up the rear.

An agreement the Hi-Line business has with Amtrak is critical to its economic survival, said Craig Anderson, who along with his wife Sandy, own Boxcars.

During Amtrak’s peak season, Boxcars’ employees prepare 250 to 260 meals a day, Anderson said.

Forty percent of the full- and part-time employees dedicate their time preparing the meals for Amtrak, he said.

“It’s very important to my business, and a lot of employees depend on it,” said Anderson, a longtime Montana businessman.

Losing Amtrak would create a serious ripple affect on the state’s economy, especially along the Hi-Line, he said.

“Hopefully they will not pull the plug,” Anderson said.

People from as far north as Canada, south to Billings and along the Hi-Line depend on the Empire Builder for business, medical needs and pleasure, Anderson said.

The train transports patients to medical treatment centers along the route that runs daily from Chicago, St. Paul, Minn., Seattle and Portland, Ore.

It allows Hi-Line residents an alternative to driving and flying and helps many businesses haul freight.

“It’s quite a swath across that northern tier that depends on Amtrak,” Anderson said.

Since 1992, 1.2 million passengers boarded the Empire Builder at Montana’s 12 stations, 113,282 of those were last year, according to Amtrak statistics.

The Empire Builder, which came to Montana in 1929 on the former Great Northern Railway, crosses 731 miles of Montana through eight counties and 26 towns, according to Montana DOT planning chief Dick Turner. Amtrak also employs 59 state residents and provides them with a $2.2 million payroll.

It’s unknown how much cash each state would have to contribute to keep the trains running, so it’s hoped that the study will provide a better handle of the impact, Steyaert said.

The federal government provided one-third of Amtrak’s $3.3 billion budget last year; Amtrak came up with the rest.

Federal funding varies year to year since Amtrak isn’t part of the general transportation bill unlike the aviation and highway sectors. Plus, he said, train service should be treated similar to highways and airlines, which heavily rely on government subsidies for survival.

Amtrak is the only long-distance passenger rail service in the world required to operate as a for-profit business, Anderson said.

“For some reason they want to stand hard on the Amtrak business,” Anderson said. “That’s ridiculous.”

None of the 23 states represented in a recent conference call with a national highway association committee said they could afford to bail Amtrak out if the federal government chooses to cut off funding.

The study wasn’t prompted by the state legislature, he added.

Consultants have contacted representatives of the sectors that are affected by the Empire Builder, including various railroad advocacy groups and businesses, officials said.

The informal survey does not allow consultants enough time to notify everybody in the state; and public meetings aren’t required, he said.

The consultant’s work will be submitted to the state by today, and a final analysis will be available in mid-July, officials said.


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California study favors high-speed rail

Preliminary findings of economic growth study show that a high-speed train system is more economically efficient at handling California’s projected population growth and consumes less land than expanding existing transportation modes.

The analysis, one of the largest and most comprehensive of its kind ever undertaken, was conducted by Cambridge Systematics, Inc., and presented to the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board during its June 24 monthly public meeting.

The study compares the economic impacts of three potential transportation scenarios for managing the expected 54 percent growth in California’s population between 2002 and 2035.

“Californians will ultimately have to decide if and how they want to plan for the state’s inevitable population growth,” said Rod Diridon, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board.

“This study will provide a comprehensive look at their options – do not build any additional transportation infrastructure than what’s already on the books, expand existing freeways and airports, or build a high-speed train system.”

The preliminary findings show that the high-speed train system creates more jobs, attracts more business and focuses growth creating less sprawl and uses less land than the other two alternatives. The high-speed train option provides the greatest opportunity for job growth by improving travel options and accessibility for Californians. According to the report, a high-speed train system will create 450,000 new jobs, more than twice the amount projected under the option of expanding freeways and airports. The greatest employment spike is projected for the Central Valley.

The study is one element of the environmental review process being undertaken to assess the technical feasibility of building the 700-mile “bullet train” system.

The draft environmental report is expected to be released in August. A $9.95 billion bond issue currently is scheduled for the November 2004 statewide ballot to finance, with matching funds, the first phase of construction of the high-speed train system.


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No route, no dollars in Florida

The Florida High Speed Rail Authority voted not to decide on a route last week, one day after the state’s governor vetoed funding for the Constitutionally mandated high-speed rail route.

A route that would have favored Disney World and bypass rival theme parks was left on the table. That route would have linked Walt Disney World directly to Orlando International Airport.

The route, which critics saw as Disney flexing its considerable economic clout, would have left its competitors SeaWorld and Universal Orlando, as well as the Orlando Convention Center on International Drive, without a high-speed rail connection.

A motion on June 25 to endorse the route failed, meaning that it and an alternate route linking International Drive venues to the airport will be debated anew in public hearings, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

The non-decision came despite pleas by some members of the Florida High Speed Rail Authority to decide on a route.

“We’ve spent two years studying this,” said James “Skip” Fowler, who favored the route urged by Disney operators. “It’s time to make some picks.”

Florida voters approved a state Constitutional amendment in 2000 forcing the state to start construction by this November 1 on a 120 mph train linking the state’s five largest urban areas. The first leg, running down the median of Interstate 4 between Tampa and Orlando, is scheduled to open about 2006 at an estimated cost of $1.3 billion.

Disney officials said a train route to International Drive would preclude any other transit system, such as light rail, from serving southwest Orange and Osceola counties.

A route linking Disney with the airport, they said, would provide a “captive market” of 2.2 million riders a year. Visitors now ride Disney buses as part of package tours.

Tom Lewis Jr., vice president of Walt Disney Co., said Disney would discontinue its bus service if the so-called “Greeneway” route were selected, and would also donate 50 acres for a rail station.

“I think in 20 years our residents will thank you if you pick the Greeneway route,” Lewis said, instead of a route that serves “private hotel interests along International Drive.”

Executives from Universal Orlando and other businesses on International Drive urged the panel not to bow to Disney’s will.

John McReynolds of Universal warned rail authority members to beware of Disney’s promise of a “captive market” of bullet train riders.

“It’s a false market unless you get a financial guarantee backing it up,” he said.

Although it didn’t pick a route, the rail authority did vote to ask Gov. Jeb Bush, a staunch opponent of high-speed rail, to restore $7.2 million in planning funds that he vetoed from the state budget last week.

The veto left the authority’s future in doubt.

It still has $2.1 million in federal funds, but the money can’t be spent on travel, rental of meeting rooms or environmental studies.

“I’m in delicate negotiations [with the governor’s staff] that will determine if this is our last meeting or not,” said rail authority Chairman Fred Dudley.

C.C. “Doc” Dockery, the Lakeland, Fla., businessman and rail authority member who spent more than $2 million of his money to make the train a Constitutional amendment, said it wasn’t likely Bush would change his mind.

“Why would he veto it if he was going to restore it?” he asked.

Florida’s governor vetoed $7.2 million for the state’s high-speed rail construction on Monday, threatening the future of the voter-approved railway that’s supposed to connect Orlando, Tampa and other major cities over 20 years.

The rail money was clearly the most prominent of a handful of vetoes by the Republican governor, who also signed into law a $53.5 billion state budget for the fiscal year that begins next week.

Bush, who has vetoed more than $1 billion in programs and projects since taking office in 1999, actually increased general-revenue spending by $22.3 million with his vetoes by adding back some money initially cut by lawmakers.

Despite Bush’s veto, about $4.9 million remains in the budget for building train stations that could be used for high-speed rail in Tampa and Orlando. Bush said that means the state is complying with the Constitutional amendment. 52 percent of Florida voters approved the amendment.

“The veto will not hinder our own plans to comply with the Constitutional mandate,” said Bush, who wants the high-speed rail provision placed back on the ballot to see whether voters still want the costly train.

Legal experts said Bush is probably on solid ground legally by assuring that the train-station money remained available.

“He appears to be complying with the letter of the law, if not the spirit,” said Drew Lanier, a constitutional law professor at the Univ. of Central Florida. “The governor has given himself some elbow room while he tries to get voters to repeal the amendment.”

Dockery would not comment on whether he would sue the state if the rail plan falters because of Bush’s perceived foot-dragging.

“I’ve been interested in this project for 19 years,” he said. “It’s not likely I’ll give up.”

The governor said the $7.2 million for high-speed-rail planning was doomed by a train-related tax exemption tucked into state law last year. At the time, Bush threatened to veto future train money if the tax break wasn’t removed this year by lawmakers. When the provision went untouched, “being a man of my word, I’m going to veto the funding,” Bush said.

State Sen. Paula Dockery (R), wife of the high-speed rail advocate, has said lawmakers tried to get the tax-exemption language added to a legislature special session on medical malpractice, but Bush showed no interest in taking action.

Because a sluggish economy has drained state tax receipts, the legislature kept the spending plan mostly free of local projects – budget “turkeys” that usually formed the bulk of Bush vetoes in past years.

Instead, Bush redirected some spending choices made by lawmakers.

Legislative leaders, accustomed to being stung by Bush’s vetoes, generally accepted this year’s share. It took lawmakers a two-month regular session, followed by a two-week special session in May, to finally approve a spending plan.

Neither action affects current Amtrak service in the state.


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N.C., Va., want faster trains

North Carolina officials begin answering questions last week about a project to rebuild a largely abandoned rail corridor north of Raleigh needed for interstate high-speed passenger rail service.

The rail corridor between Raleigh and Petersburg, Va., is essential to a $2.6 billion plan to make train travel from Charlotte to Washington, D.C., a viable alternative to driving or flying, according to an AP report of June 24.

Amtrak trains now take a roundabout route from Petersburg to Raleigh via Rocky Mount, Wilson and Selma at speeds of up to 79 mph. That’s because, 20 years ago, CSX ripped up tracks between Norlina, north of Henderson, and Petersburg and took out the signals.

North Carolina and Virginia officials expect that, within a few years, trains will again rumble through the small towns and backwoods of the Piedmont.

By sending trains along the old CSX rail line at up to 110 mph, the two states could trim the nine-hour-plus trip from Charlotte to Washington to six hours by 2010.

The Charlotte-Washington route is one of five the USDOT chose in 1992 for high-speed train service. The Southeast corridor would connect with existing high-speed service from Washington to Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston.

Federal regulators approved the general path last year for the Southeast line, including the more direct route from Petersburg to Raleigh through Norlina and Henderson.

State officials are drawing up engineering plans and studying possible impacts on communities, wetlands and historic properties along the 138-mile stretch.

Officials began hosting workshops last week to discuss the project.

Communities along the rail line have been supportive of the plan so far. Local officials say they believe passenger trains may spur some economic development if the project revives freight service through the area.

The two states must reach agreement to use the corridor with Jacksonville, Fla.-based CSX, which still owns the line. They are also lobbying the federal government for money.

Meanwhile, North Carolina is slowly improving speeds along the existing Amtrak route by lengthening passing sidings, straightening and redesigning curves and installing a computerized train-control system.

North Carolina has trimmed 15 minutes from the trip between Raleigh and Charlotte, which now takes 3 hours, 30 minutes.

Within a year, further improvements will trim an additional 20 minutes. Ridership will climb on the state-subsidized train as the minutes drop off the trip, said Pat Simmons, director of the NCDOT’s rail division.

“We think there’s magic in public response when we get below the three-hour mark,” he said.


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Amtrak reroutes some Chicago trains

Following a fire Monday that destroyed a Canadian National-Illinois Central railway trestle south of Chicago near Riverdale, Amtrak began temporarily rerouting four of its trains.

The detour is expected to last several weeks.

The City of New Orleans, trains 58 and 59, (Chicago to New Orleans) and the Illini, Trains 391 and 392, (Chicago to Carbondale, Ill.) both provide service with one northbound and one southbound train daily.

No other Amtrak service is affected.

Each train is being delayed from 60 to 90 minutes, but all still serve their regular station stops.


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Portland, Ore., gets $1 million for station

The city of Portland’s Bureau of General Services has been awarded a $1 million grant to make improvements at Union Station in downtown Portland.

The grant, from the Oregon DOT’s Transportation Enhancement Program, will pay for a project to stop water infiltration. The money will go to tasks such as roof repairs, exterior masonry repairs, repair and replacements of historic doors, and exterior repairs to awnings, metal and carpentry work, according to the Portland Business Journal.

Before the city of Portland bought it in 1987, the building was neglected for many years. In 2000, the city hired a team of architects and engineers to evaluate the building’s condition. The team identified approximately $20 million of needed upgrades.

Union Station has been in continuous service as a passenger rail terminal since its completion in 1896. It is the oldest major passenger terminal on the West Coast and the oldest of the grand “Union” stations west of St. Louis, and continues as Amtrak’s Northwest hub. The station is on the National Register of Historic Places and is considered one of the most important historic structures in Oregon.


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Michigan county contemplates fast trains

“Sit back. Close your eyes and let your mind take you into the future… That was how Monroe County, Mich., Commissioner David Scott described an imaginary journey on June 19 to launch a two-hour discussion and update session on a feasibility study that may one day link Monroe with Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Chicago and even Toronto via high-speed passenger rail.

He told the 70 or so people gathered at the county’s community college to imagine that they had a “high-profile” meeting scheduled in Monroe, the Monroe Evening News reported.

He added that they should imagine having another meeting in Cleveland and that their son’s wedding’s rehearsal dinner was in Cincinnati later that same day.

“Don’t stress – this is the future,” Scott said. He is also chairman of the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments (TMACOG).

In the future, he said, it may be possible to take a high-speed train – traveling as fast as 110 mph – from the Monroe meeting to Cleveland.

“There’d be no traffic,” Scott said, “No construction to deal with – and you’d get to Cleveland on time. Before you knew it, you’d be in Cincinnati giving your son a hug, and you never left the ground. Now open your eyes, lend an ear and let’s see how we can make this a reality.”

The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), the Ohio Rail Development Commission and a handful of other public and private organizations have gone a considerable way toward determining whether Scott’s imaginary scenario will ever be realized. A feasibility study into the matter began in January 2002, and is planned to be finished later this year.

The $500,000 study, which has been paid for mostly with public money, will be used to determine two main objectives: Can a high-speed rail system pay for itself, and what is the cost-to-benefit ratio?

Don Damron of the Ohio Rail Development Commission presented the current findings of the study and suggested that for $700 million, a series of 79 mph routes using Cleveland as a hub could reach as far as Detroit, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Toronto. That cost includes having two or three trains completing daily roundtrip circuits from Cleveland to each of the proposed destinations. He estimated it would take two to five years before such a system was operational.

Damron said for $3.5 billion, 110-mph trains could service the same routes and instead of two or three there could be as many as eight trains on each of the four routes making roundtrips. That plan would take as long as 10 years to implement, he said. He suggested that fares from Cleveland to Detroit could be around $39 one-way and would take about three hours. Each of his scenarios uses existing rails.

“The critical next step is getting a handle on the costs,” he said, adding that railroad officials say his estimates for rail maintenance and fees for use are much too low.

Norfolk Southern, Canadian National and CSX own existing rails in the region. NS rails aren’t being considered in the study because of the current volume of freight traffic on them, and of the estimated costs for using the other two, CSX is by far the most economical, Damron said. He presented charts that put CN lines costing almost $100 million more than CSX’s lines for regional routes.

There was some discussion about routes, but Damron suggested that it’s too early in the process to select routes. Instead, $2 million worth of preliminary environmental engineering should be undertaken, he said. Because this project will fall under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), studies must be conducted to see where routes can be without causing the most disturbances to existing conditions.

Other officials said they want to see more definite numbers on prospective users and possible stations or stops.

“Ridership is the key,” said Carmine Palombo of SEMCOG, adding, “The feasibility study does a good job because it identifies the potential benefits, but ridership needs to be looked at.”

Damron’s report suggested that as many as 4.12 million people would ride the trains each year and that as many as 1.76 million of them would ride the Cleveland to Detroit leg. SEMCOG’s Palombo said that might be too high an estimate.

Other officials questioned the need to go 110 mph. With high-speed rail, the faster the trains go the more expensive the infrastructure is to build and maintain. As speed goes up, so do the costs.

“The most important thing is not speed it’s the travel time,” said Robert Kuehne of the Michigan DOT.

He said if travel time on a train were less than that in a car, people would be diverted onto the trains.

“My perception is that travel time for automobiles is going to worsen,” he said. “We can’t keep adding lanes.”


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Oregon may cut some train service

Amtrak service between Eugene and Portland may soon come to a sudden halt, if the Oregon legislature decides to cut off a $10 million subsidy that keeps the trains running between the two cities.

The subsidy pays for the Oregon leg of Amtrak’s Cascade trains, which make two round trips a day between Eugene and Seattle, according to The Oregonian of June 23.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski included the $10 million subsidy in his proposed budget, but the co-chairs of the joint Ways and Means Committee cut it out of theirs.

About 120,000 people ride the train between Eugene and Portland each year, some for business, some for nostalgic reasons.

The subsidy the state of Oregon pays to keep these trains running reduces the fare most people pay by about half. Many supporters of the train say the subsidized fares keeps passengers riding the rails.

“We subsidize the cost of almost all transportation,” said state Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D).

“We’re just raising a $1.6 billion revenue package to help subsidize freight transportation through the state. We subsidize barge transportation, we subsidize planes, we subsidize auto travel,” he said, and suggested the state should tap lottery or tourism money to keep the trains running.

John Charles, who works at the Portland-based Cascade Policy Institute, a libertarian think-tank, said he is against the government being in the train business, and that the subsidized Amtrak trains are competing with the privately owned Greyhound Bus Lines.


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Arnold gets Amtrak advertising account

McLean, Va.-based Arnold Worldwide is Amtrak’s new ad agency, and will create most of the carrier’s mass-market advertising.

White & Baldacci, one of the Washington, D.C. area’s largest advertising agencies, said on June 24 that it laid off 10 of its 60 workers after losing its Amtrak account – and more than $20 million in annual billings to another Virginia agency. Amtrak was its top client, a spokesman said.

The Herndon-based agency laid off eight full-time employees and two contractors days after it learned that Amtrak chose White & Baldacci, which had the account for more than 20 years, will continue to do promotions work for the passenger rail operator, the Washington Post reported.


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LABOR LINES...  Labor lines...

Signalmen, carriers reach agreement

The nation’s major freight railroads and the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS) reached tentative agreement June 20 on a collective bargaining agreement covering more than 6,000 railroad workers.

Robert Allen, Chairman of the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC), the bargaining agent for the railroads, said, “This agreement marks another significant step toward concluding voluntary agreements with all the rail unions. The BRS agreement follows the pattern for the current round of bargaining and secures that pattern as we work to complete negotiations with the remaining rail unions.”

BRS did not release contract details pending a ratification vote by its members.

The carriers have reached agreements covering more than 70 percent of the employees covered in this bargaining round.

The National Carriers’ Conference Committee of the National Railway Labor Conference, headquartered in Washington, DC, is the bargaining agent for the 32 railroads, including the nation’s largest freight carriers, involved in the current round of bargaining with the 13 major rail unions.


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

Where’s the snow?

Capitol Corridor to run test extra

A Capitol Corridor passenger train will make a special test run through Auburn, Calif., this summer on a potential snow train route over the Sierra mountain range and on to Reno.

Eugene Skoropowski, Capitol Corridor intercity rail service managing director, told Placer County Transportation Planning Agency board members June 25 that the train trip will be used to gauge how fast and smooth the ride would be using the joint powers authority’s rolling stock.

Initial discussions revolve around two round trips daily to Reno by 2007, according to the Auburn, Calif., Journal of June 26.

With the curves on the Union Pacific track and notorious slowness of the route, Skoropowski said the trip, along with an exploratory ride next week with engineers from the railroad and Capitol Corridor, could result in the impetus to buy new equipment.

“We might want to consider rolling stock that takes the curves better and speeds up the trip,” Skoropowski said.

Speed is important because the main competition for a so-called snow train and rail service from the Bay Area to Reno is 65 mph Interstate 80, he said.

Skoropowski said that previous railroad owner Southern Pacific had ripped up large sections of what had been a double-track line through the Sierra. With environmental issues to deal with if double tracking were to be instituted again to facilitate passenger service over Donner Summit, he said the Reno rail plan has challenges ahead.

“None of this is easy,” he said.

Town of Loomis representative Miguel Ucovich said that a previous Saturday and Sunday snow train had worked well between Soda Springs and San Jose, with a 5:00 a.m. departure from San Jose and arrival at the ski resort four hours later. A return trip would leave from Soda Springs at 6:00 p.m. and arrive in San Jose around 11:00 p.m.

Kathy Lund, Rocklin’s representative on the board, said the train needs to be able to move as fast as possible, noting that a trip by rail that she took lasted three hours between Roseville and Truckee.

“I was pacing (onboard the train),” Lund said.

Skoropowski noted that he has seen tremendous growth in both the number of daily train trips and passengers over the past four years. Round-trip train trips have risen from eight to 24 and annual ridership has gone from 400,000 to 1.3 million. The Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority includes representatives from local governments from San Jose to Placer County. Auburn Mayor Kathy Sands is the current chair.

Auburn’s new rail platform and parking project now under construction should prove an impetus for more people to try the Auburn to Sacramento passenger rail service, Skoropowski said. The service leaves Auburn weekdays at 6:30 a.m., and returning by 6:40 p.m. from Sacramento. Departure time on weekends from Auburn is one hour later.

Celia McAdam, Transportation Planning Agency executive director, said that a committee that includes Caltrans, Truckee, the North Lake Tahoe Resort Assn. and resort developer East-West Partners is exploring with the Capitol Corridor rail service whether the Reno route has any “fatal flaws.”

If no insurmountable roadblocks crop up, and the route is determined to be feasible, a broad-brush strategic plan would be developed, she said. That plan could be drafted later this year or in early 2004, McAdam said.


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BART board approves extension

With the rapid transit extension to San Francisco International Airport finally up and running, the BART board got moving June 26 on the long-promised expansion to Warm Springs in Fremont.

The board voted 7-2, with directors Tom Radulovich and Roy Nakadegawa opposed, to instruct BART General Manager Tom Margro to start buying right-of- way, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Friday.

The 5.4-mile extension from the end-of-the-line Fremont station has been on the drawing board since 1979 and was adopted by BART as part of its expansion plans in 1992 but was never built because of a lack of money.

Now, with $193 million from Alameda County’s Measure B transportation sales tax, state money and a share of fares from the airport extension, BART has the $634 million needed to build the extension.

Plans call for the new line to take off from the Fremont station and head southeast beneath Fremont’s Central Park and Lake Elizabeth to the Union Pacific. It will parallel the railroad south to a new station to be built near the intersection of South Grimmer and Warm Springs boulevards.


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APTA HIGHLIGHTS...  APTA Highlights...

Here are some other transit headlines, from the pages of Passenger Transport, the weekly newspaper of the public transportation industry published by the non-profit American Public Transportation Assn. For more news from Passenger Transport and subscription information, visit the APTA web site at http://www.apta.com/news/pt.


 

Administration’s SAFETEA Draws Close Scrutiny, Criticism from Senate Panel

At a U.S. Senate hearing, the Administration’s proposal for reauthorizing the federal public transportation program came under close scrutiny as top U.S. DOT officials detailed the proposal, while senators and other witnesses voiced strong concerns with some key aspects of the plan.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta, accompanied by Federal Transit Administrator Jennifer L. Dorn, testified June 10 before the Senate’s Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs on the Administration’s proposal, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2003, that was officially unveiled in mid-May.

The committee, chaired by Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), has jurisdiction over reauthorization of the public transportation title of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, the current law set to expire on Sept. 30.

Shelby told the secretary that he opposes the proposal’s reduction of the federal match for transit new starts projects from 80 percent to 50 percent, while maintaining the 80 percent federal share for highway projects. Pointing to the imbalance that would be created between the two modes, Shelby said, “I think our goal should be to remain ‘mode neutral’ and allow communities to make decisions about what best suits their needs and maintain a level playing field.”

Another concern expressed by Shelby is the elimination of the bus program, which he said would be “detrimental to mid-sized communities that need lump sums to make bus purchases and build bus facilities.”

Another area hit hard by Shelby is the “overall inadequacy” of the Administration’s nearly $46 billion total funding level for the six years of the program. He reminded Mineta that the Senate, with the support of 79 senators, passed an amendment to the budget that would increase the overall funding number for transit to $56.5 billion, which reflects the growing demand and need for more resources.

Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.), ranking member of the committee, outlined three principles, while noting that the Administration’s plan falls short in all three: the need to grow the program, but the proposal does not do; the need to maintain funding guarantees, but the Administration eliminates the guarantees from the general fund portion of funding; and the need to preserve the balance between highways and transit, but the Administration lowers the new start match for transit.


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Pittsburgh East Busway Extension Opens

On June 15, the Port Authority of Allegheny County opened the 2.3-mile Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway Extension, bringing eastern communities closer to downtown Pittsburgh and Oakland.

This fixed guideway improvement will enhance mobility and save time for customers living near the extension, as well as those taking advantage of the 814 new park-and-ride spaces. The Port Authority expects the extension to eventually attract 10,000 new riders and help alleviate traffic congestion in eastern communities.

The extension of the buses-only roadway from its current terminus in the borough of Wilkinsburg through the boroughs of Edgewood and Swissvale to the Swissvale/Rankin border enables Port Authority to provide efficient bus rapid transit along 9.1 miles of exclusive East Busway right-of-way.


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Conference Finds Growing Role for Value Pricing in Transportation

Value pricing mechanisms will become increasingly popular as transportation funding tools, agreed several transportation planners, national experts, and public officials participating June 4 in a one-day conference in Washington.

Although the conference focused mainly on road-oriented pricing mechanisms, the measures in some way benefit public transit or include a public transit component. Some of the more widely described approaches include high-occupancy toll lanes, more commonly known as HOT lanes; parking cash-out mechanisms; and special charges for driving in highly congested areas that benefit transit improvements.

Speakers also addressed pricing mechanisms used in public transit and land use strategies, such as differential pricing for transit according to time of the day, distance traveled, and other variables, and also location-efficient mortgages.

The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board; the Federal Highway Administration; and the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia DOTs sponsored the conference.

Value pricing refers to mechanisms that use prices to raise revenue and, ultimately, change transportation user behavior and foster equitable use of transit and highways. Pricing tools, which often involve Intelligent Transportation Systems technologies, allow highway and transit users to selectively buy better transportation services, helping surface transportation agencies manage transportation facilities more efficiently.


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Collins Heads Transit in Gwinnett County, Ga.

Tim Collins joined Gwinnett County Transit in Lawrenceville, Ga., June 9 as its new transit division director.

He succeeds Gwinnett DOT Assistant Director Bill Powell, who held the director’s post on an interim basis for almost two years.

Collins has more than 20 years of administrative and managerial experience in transit, most recently serving as transit director in Green Bay, Wis. He earlier was transportation services manager at Duke University; and vice president/contract manager for ATE Management & Service, Inc., in Cincinnati.


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National Leaders: Highway, Transit Investment Will Fuel Economic Growth

Passenger Transport reporter Federico Cura reports on a recent two-day conference in Washington hosted by the National Chamber Foundation of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Key transportation leaders in Congress and the Administration discussed the need for adequate highway and transit infrastructure investment to generate economic growth and jobs at the program, “Transportation Policies and Priorities for Economic Growth,” which was sponsored by APTA; Associated General Contractors of America; Association of American Railroads; American Road and Transportation Builders Association; National Sand, Stone and Gravel Association; and ACS Inc.

Participants in the event included members of the U.S. Chamber’s board of directors and officials, and representatives of the Americans for Transportation Mobility coalition, a national group led by the chamber that represents more than 400 members including businesses, state and local chambers of commerce, unions, trade associations, and transportation users, providers, and builders. ATM, an organizer of the conference, works to improve the nation’s transportation infrastructure and reduce congestion, which the coalition sees as a tax on economic vitality and a burden to quality of life.

Reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, which expires Sept. 30, was the major topic of the conference. Many speakers illustrated that a strong investment in surface transportation can accelerate economic development, create jobs, and improve overall quality of life for Americans.


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Metra Transports Thousands of Golf Fans to U.S. Open

Metra commuter rail trains took thousands of spectators to the 103rd U.S. Open golf tournament held June 9 to 15 at the Olympia Fields Country Club in the Chicago suburbs. Many stayed in downtown Chicago hotels and took Metra Electric Line trains to and from Olympia Fields, Ill., while others combined car and train travel.

During the week of the tournament, Metra reported providing 82,000 rides to and from the Olympia Fields Station, which normally registers approximately 400 rides on a single weekday. Metra added 82 trains to its normal schedule to keep up with the high demand for services on the electric train line, the only non-diesel line operated by Metra.


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Bombardier Marks 1,000th R142 Rail Car for New York

In early June, Bombardier Transportation moved the one-thousandth R142 rapid transit vehicle off its production line for delivery to MTA New York City Transit.

Representatives from NYC Transit, local New York dignitaries, and more than 700 employees at Bombardier Transportation’s manufacturing facility in Plattsburgh, N.Y., participated in a commemorative event marking this major milestone in one of the largest rapid transit car manufacturing projects in North America.

Bombardier is building 1,030 R142 cars for MTA/NYC Transit based on orders and exercised options valued at $1.3 billion. The original order for design, manufacture, and deliver of 680 R142 cars was signed in July 1997. Upon completion of the full order, Bombardier will have provided a total of 1,855 cars to NYC Transit since 1982, or about a third of the city’s subway fleet.


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GRTA Moves on Atlanta Regional Express Bus System

On June 11, the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority Board of Directors in Atlanta approved the purchase of 48 clean-fuel buses for the first phase of its 11-county Regional Express Bus system. Cobb County and GRTA contractors will operate the buses. In addition, 10 compressed natural gas-powered buses, to be operated by Gwinnett County Transit in Lawrenceville, Ga., will be ordered in the near future.

Under the state-sponsored plan, the express bus service could enter operations within a year, simultaneously with the beginning of arterial road improvements to some of the region’s most congested routes. The 58 buses will be paid for with a combination of state, county, and federal funds, while the roadwork will use state funds.

Funding for the buses is expected to total $18.8 million in federal money and approximately $4.7 million of state bond funds. GRTA anticipates submitting the grant application as soon the bond funds are issued. If the state bond funds are not issued, other state funds must be found for the 20 percent state match.


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Hager Joins Escambia County Area Transit

Chris R.S. Hager has joined Escambia County Area Transit in Pensacola, Fla., as resident manager, responsible for the overall management of the system. In this position, he is the key member of the ATC-NEC team.

With more than 10 years of transit experience, Hager has held positions in operations, safety, and training. Most recently, he has served as assistant general manager with ATC-NEC Regional Public Transportation Authority in Phoenix, Ariz.,


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

CSX at Ortega River

NCI: Leo King

A Southbound CSX loaded coal train has just crossed the Ortega River movable bridge in Jacksonville, Fla., and is approaching Ortega Forest Road, MP 649.29 on CSX’s “A” Line. It’s around 10:00 a.m. on June 3. The train will terminate some 62 miles from this place, near MP 691 at the Seminole Electric Co. spur and yard. The AAR reports coke movements showed a 29.5 percent increase in traffic for the week ending June 21.

 

Unjamming Chicago rails:

Good for all freight, passengers

By Wes Vernon
Washington Bureau Chief

A huge project to ease congestion at the nation’s major railroad center – along with a rail-truck lobbying partnership in the halls of Congress – topped industry news last week.

The more than 1,300 trains that enter, leave or pass through Chicago daily would get easier with more efficient passage, thanks to a new historic public and private partnership. The pact was announced June 25 in the Washington offices of the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

The plan calls for creating five rail corridors – one of which would be primarily for passenger trains; 25 new grade separations to eliminate many passenger train delays; and the opening of a key corridor in downtown Chicago.

Chicago area rail map

AAR

Chicago tracks

 

The tab will be $1.5 billion. 60 percent of that would be federal money, with the remaining 40 percent consisting of state and local funding plus a private expenditure of $212 million. It is expected to take six years to build.

Pointing to the vastly improved service to shipper customers following the months of adjustment following mergers a few years ago, AAR President Ed Hamberger said this project would make the service even more efficient.

With state officials by his side (either in person or by conference call), Hamberger emphasized the national significance of the Chicago Regional Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) public works program.

This is no government boondoggle, he added. There is a huge public benefit here.

“Railroads will pay for the benefits they receive from the project and the government will pay for the public benefits that accrue from it,” declared the Class I railroads’ point man in Washington. He noted that the railroads have invested $1.2 billion in infrastructure improvements in and around the Chicago area just in the past five years.

This is also a big plus for commerce throughout the nation. Chicago is the hub of our nation’s transportation system and has been the crossroads for more than a century. It is by far the busiest rail freight gateway in the U.S., and it remains “home to a vibrant rail passenger system.”

Aside from the obvious economic rationale, there is a military and national defense underpinning for keeping Chicago's rail traffic congestion-free. AAR reminds us that the region’s rail network “is also critical to military readiness, because seven of the rail lines entering the Windy City are part of the Strategic Rail Corridor Network (StracNet) which is designated by the Military Traffic Management Command under the Railroads for National Defense Program.

About 500 freight trains pass through Chicago each day, with 37,500 freight cars daily. Hamberger says you can expect that number to leap to 67,000 cars a day in the next 20 years.

The agreement “will help both railroads and the city cope with this increase in freight volume while at the same time producing substantial improvements for motorists and rail passengers,” he told a June 25 news conference.

On the passenger side, Metra’s commuter trains coming from all directions, operate more than 770 trains in and out of the city each weekday, carrying 73 million passengers in 2002.

Amtrak’s daily 50 long-distance and regional runs served about two million inter-city passengers last year. Add all that to the freight traffic, and you have more than 1,300 trains converging on that one city – surely a recipe for congestion disaster unless something is done, the industry says. Hamberger adds that any future Midwest high-speed rail operations would also surely benefit from CREATE.

Here, in more detail, is what is to be done:

Grade separation of six railroad-railroad crossings (rail-rail “flyovers”) to eliminate train interference and associated delay, primarily between passenger and freight trains.

Grade separation of 25 highway-rail crossings to reduce motorist delay, improve safety, eliminate crossing accidents, decrease energy consumption, and reduce air pollution.

Additional rail connections, crossovers, trackage, and other improvements to expedite passenger and freight train movements in five rail corridors are in the plan.

Surface Transportation Board (STB) Chairman Roger Nober opined that “this municipal, state and private partnership” addresses “head-on” a current “freight bottleneck.”

Meanwhile, on the same day the Chicago plan was announced, the rail and trucking industries agreed to bury the hatchet in preparation for the coming Congressional action on reauthorization of the TEA-21 transportation bill.

In so doing, the truckers agreed not to seek federal permission to run longer and heavier trucks on the nation’s highways for the next six years – expected to be the life of the omnibus bill.

By calling a truce on the perennial public relations and lobbying battle over truck size, the AAR and the American Trucking Association (ATA) can focus on those legislative issues on which they agree.

It also means motorists will not have to worry about jostling out on the highway with double and triple trailer trucks in states where they are not allowed already.

Although railroads and truckers are competitors in many areas, ATA pointed out that the two transportation modes “are partners in the context of intermodal transportation which is vital to both domestic and international commerce.”


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NTSB continues wreck examination

The National Transportation Safety Board released some facts on June 25 following its ongoing investigation into the Union Pacific accident of June 20 in City of Commerce, Calif.

Investigators from the federal agency’s Gardena, Calif. regional office arrived on-scene on June 20, shortly after the accident occurred.

“In the subsequent days they have been examining the rail cars and equipment, the track and train route, documenting communications among Union Pacific staff, and reviewing established railroad procedures. Investigators also have been interviewing train crews and other railroad personnel involved in the accident,” the NTSB stated in a press release.

On June 20, at about 11:58 a.m. (PDT), 28 of 31 cars of a UP freight train derailed after running loose (without locomotives) for 28 miles.

“The cars became loose as they were being prepared for switching in the UP’s Montclair rail yard,” and the derailment occurred “as the runaway cars entered a siding in the City of Commerce.”

The NTSB wrote a narrative of the events.

“During the course of the derailment, some of the cars and their cargo impacted nearby residences destroying two houses and damaging several others. Thirteen people suffered minor injuries and were transported to local hospitals. There were no fatalities. There was no hazardous materials release and no fire. About 150 people were evacuated from the area because of broken gas and water lines.”

According to information from UP, the NTSB stated, “The two-man crew for the train, a mixed freight train 2,281 feet long and weighing 3,883 tons, came on duty 5:45 a.m.” that Friday.

“After a short job briefing, they boarded the train, which consisted of three locomotives and 69 cars, performed an initial air brake test and departed the UP yard in Los Angeles, heading east for the Montclair rail yard in Montclair, Calif.

“The engineer told investigators that the train handled fine en route and that he experienced no delays. The train entered the UP’s City of Industry rail yard where 38 cars were detached for switching in the nearby area. The train then departed the City of Industry yard and the crew reports that they did not experience any problems with train handling.

“When the train reached Montclair rail yard, a conductor for the yard switching crew instructed the inbound train to proceed to the east end of the yard, disconnect the locomotives and ‘hy-ball [sic] the brakes’ (railroad vernacular for leave the brakes alone, we’ll take care of them).

“Following those instructions,” the train crew uncoupled their locomotives “from the rest of the cars, causing the air brakes on the cars to be automatically applied. The conductor for the yard then began bleeding air off some of the brakes on the freight cars to release the air brakes to expedite the switching operation. As the brakeman from the yard approached the middle of the train, the conductor instructed him to start there (in the middle) and bleed air from the cars eastward.

“Meanwhile, the yard conductor returned to assist an engineer in bringing a locomotive to the siding to connect with the cars.

“The brakeman completed bleeding air from the cars and walked toward the train crew, who had placed one of their locomotives on a storage track and were returning to their remaining two locomotives. As he approached the two crewmen, they asked him if the detached cars were moving. When the yard brakeman looked back, he saw that they had begun to move and he started chasing after them. The yard conductor also noticed the cars moving and began running toward them, telling his engineer to call the dispatcher and advise that the cars were loose.

At 11:33 a.m., the freight cars, without locomotives, began moving downhill, “and within one minute” passed the Montclair yard west end switch.

“The distance from the switch at Montclair yard to the derailment site is approximately 28 miles. The authorized freight train speed limit on this track is 70 mph, and the authorized speed limit to switch tracks at the derailment site is 15 mph.

“At 11:44 am, Pomona Police called UP to report cars rolling westbound unattended. At 11:45 a.m., UP issued a warning to maintenance-of-way crews along the track to stand clear. At this time, the UP Corridor Manager, the chief dispatcher and the assistant dispatcher on duty reported that they were evaluating options and identifying trains on tracks ahead near Los Angeles.

“At 11:50 am, the chief dispatcher notified the Corridor Manager that there was no place to go but track 4, the track at the switch at City of Commerce where the derailment eventually occurred.

“At 11:54 a.m., four minutes before the derailment, wayside detection equipment indicated the runaway cars were traveling at 86 mph.

“At 11:56 a.m., a UP employee is reported to have told the chief dispatcher that there were homes at the east end of track 4, but the Corridor Manager and chief dispatcher said that they did not see any other option.

“The assistant dispatcher is reported to have told the Corridor Manager that he had to “decide right now” because the cars were approaching the switch. The decision was made to divert the cars at City of Commerce to track 4 and the derailment occurred at about 11:58 am.”

The NTSB reported “There was no notification from the UP to any local authorities before the derailment.”

The agency noted the investigation is ongoing, and that all its information “is preliminary and subject to change as the investigation proceeds.”

Investigators are examining UP procedures and contingency plans, and interviews with UP personnel and reviews of company records are continuing.

Additional work, the agency stated, will include examining UP’s handling of the emergency situation and the rail traffic in the path of the runaway cars. The investigation is expected to continue for several weeks, but detailed factual reports are not expected to be completed before three to six months have passed.

They will then be made available in a public docket, and an accident investigation report will then be prepared and submitted to Safety Board members to determine probable causes and consideration of possible recommendations to prevent similar accidents in the future.

Meanwhile, The AP reported people whose homes were deluged in tons of flying debris when the freight train struck cheered loudly at a meeting where City Council members challenged railroad officials to explain why they weren’t warned that the runaway cars were coming.

UP representatives apologized and promised a “very deep review” of their emergency procedures at the town hall meeting Thursday night. Several hundred residents also gave standing ovations to emergency crews who responded to the crash.

Council member Ray Cisneros called the company’s failure to give the city advance warning “blatant disregard for the citizens of Commerce.” He said, “It seems to me that Commerce was made a sacrificial lamb.” The derailment demolished two homes, heavily damaged six others and hurt 13 people.

UP Western regional vice president Jeff Verhaal told the crowd, “On behalf of Union Pacific and all of the employees, I’d like to apologize for the accident and take full responsibility for what happened.”

Verhaal said the company’s priority upon learning of the runaway cars was to find a safe place “where we could bring the train to a stop.” He promised to improve the company’s notification system.

The meeting came a day after the National Transportation Safety Board announced UP had no plans in place to deal with runaway rail cars.

Some residents said they were amazed at the lack of emergency plans. “Such a big company and you don’t have a rule for runaway trains?” asked Javier Vasquez. He criticized UP for its slow offer of counseling assistance to victims and delays in getting debris picked up.

Railroad officials told residents they had no choice but to sidetrack the cars in Commerce, adding that they hoped they would derail onto railroad property and not the residential neighborhood.

Company spokeswoman Kathryn Blackwell said dispatchers believed there were only 10 runaway cars and there was a chance they could stop the train on a siding without derailment, but she acknowledged that the dispatchers knew a derailment was likely.

“We have very deep review to do of our emergency response. We have begun to do that,” said Ted Lewis, general superintendent of operations for the Los Angeles area.


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Greenbrier deal averts industry ‘wreck’

Addressing a shortage of railroad truck castings, Lake Oswego, Ore., based Greenbrier Cos. has entered into a joint venture to take over an Illinois car foundry.

Ohio Castings Co., LLC, a joint venture between Greenbrier and ACF Industries Holding Corp. reached agreement with ASF-Keystone and Meridian Rail Products to take over the operation of Meridian’s Cicero, Ill. Foundry, according to the Business Journal of Portland.

“We realized that if Cicero shut down, the railcar building industry could grind to a halt,” said Jim Unger, vice chairman of ACF Industries. “Somebody had to step in to make sure that did not happen. We got together with Greenbrier because we both saw a train wreck coming if railcar builders and railroads did not do something about the problem.”

The Cicero foundry, originally scheduled for closure by Meridian at the end of June, is one of only three railcar foundries operating in North America.

The foundry will operate as Chicago Castings Co., LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Ohio Castings. It will manufacture side frames and bolsters for ASF-Keystone, which will in turn re-market them to the industry, including to ACF and Greenbrier.

Ohio Castings was originally formed by ACF and Greenbrier in February as an equally owned LLC to address critical supply issues in the railroad truck castings industry. Under the new arrangement for Cicero, ASF-Keystone will acquire a minority interest in Ohio Castings and will supply intellectual property, designs and other assistance.

“The castings industry was facing near collapse after two years of very weak demand for new railcars,” explained William Furman, Greenbrier CEO. “Financial stability and competitive choice is needed in this sector.”


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KCS says it has Mexico okay

Kansas City Southern has received formal written notice that Mexico’s Competition Commission has approved the proposed NAFTA Rail transaction.

After a detailed review of the proposal, “The Commission found that NAFTA Rail fully complies with Mexico’s competition guidelines, and would in no way impede open competition within the transportation sector. The Commission granted its approval without conditions,” according to a KCS June 25 press release.

Michael R. Haverty, KCS’s CEO, said, “NAFTA Rail will in fact enhance competition in Mexico and the U.S., as it will provide North American shippers with another viable shipping alternative.”

Under the proposed transaction announced on April 21st, TFM, S.A., de C.V. (TFM), The Kansas City Southern Ry. Co., and the Texas Mexican Ry. Co. (Tex-Mex) would be placed under the common control of a single transportation holding company, NAFTA Rail.

In addition to the Competition Commission, NAFTA Rail needs the regulatory approval of Mexico’s Foreign Investment Commission, a decision from which is expected by the end of July.

The common control of KCSR and Tex-Mex under NAFTA Rail will also require Surface Transportation Board approval in the U.S. The STB has announced that it will rule on the KCSR-Tex-Mex transaction by October 17, 2003.


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RailAmerica buys UP branch

RailAmerica, Inc. and Union Pacific reported on Friday that UP has sold a 154-mile branch line in Colorado to RailAmerica’s newly formed, wholly owned subsidiary, San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad Co. (SLRG).

Neither RailAmerica nor UP disclosed terms of the deal, but Wayne August, RailAmerica’s Vice-President for Investor Relations, told D:F, “We did not disclose the purchase price for the San Luis & Rio Grande transaction in the press release per the wishes of our Class I partner.”

UP spokesman John Bromley said, “Union Pacific does not disclose terms in a sale like this.”

August added, “The purchase price information will be disclosed, as required by the Securities and Exchange Commission in RailAmerica’s second quarter document which will be filed in early August.”

He also noted, “With revenue of $3.5 million, SLRG is only 1 percent of our North American revenue base and is obviously not a very large transaction in relative size.”

The SLRG began service yesterday (Sunday).

The acquisition brings the total number of railroads owned and operated by RailAmerica to 50.

The SLRG, headquartered in Alamosa, Colo., operates two segments of rail line in Colorado totaling 154 miles from Walsenburg to Derrick, and from Alamosa to Antonito.

The carrier expects to grow existing traffic levels by operating its newest acquisition along with the 692-mile Kyle Railroad that operates in Colorado and Kansas. It also expects to generate approximately $3.5 million in operating revenue on this line in its first full year of operation.

Major shippers on the line include Harborlite, Dicaperl and Coors Brewing. Principal commodities include minerals, potatoes and malt barley.

SLRG interchanges with UP near Walsenburg and the San Luis Central Railroad at Monte Vista.

The history of the rail line dates back to 1878 when track was laid across the Rocky Mountains at La Veta Pass, which reaches an elevation of 9,234 feet, making it one of the highest known operating freight railroads in the U.S.

RailAmerica also elected new officers at its annual shareholders meeting in Boca Raton, Fla., on June 19.

Shareholders re-elected Class II directors William G. Pagonis and John M. Sullivan for three-year terms on the board. Meanwhile, Vice-Chairman Emeritus John H. Marino announced his retirement from the board of directors. Marino was one of the short-line carrier’s founders along with his brother, Gary.


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Reps seek cash to close crossings

Some of Columbia, South Carolina’s most dreaded railroad crossings, and the long waits they create, could disappear soon under a plan gaining support in Washington. The project, which would remove track, lower a section of Assembly Street and build a bridge over the road, has gained priority status among South Carolina’s Congressional delegation.

The idea has been tossed around officially at least since the 1980s and longer still among frustrated drivers who have had to yield to passing trains, often at peak rush hours, writes The State of Columbia, S.C. on June 26.

This year, though, the proposal has made it onto the list of 11 transportation projects the South Carolina delegation considers most important.

Waiter Chris Brown, who has to cross tracks to get to his Main Street apartment and his Devine Street job at Ruby Tuesday, said he would welcome the disappearance of the crossings as would anyone who regularly finds himself waiting for a train to rumble across the roadway.

“The trains come all the time,” he said. “Sometimes they just stop. I try to turn around and go another way, but if the cars around you want to wait, you’re trapped.”

Columbia is a hub for two of the four major railroads – Norfolk Southern and CSX. Freight trains regularly cross Assembly Street at five places from Blossom Street to Rosewood Drive.

U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson (R), with the state’s five other House members, is asking the House Transportation Committee to include the Assembly Street project in a new highway bill. After six years, the legislation is due to expire September 30, and the new bill is a chance to fuel new projects with federal dollars.

Wilson has asked for $40 million for the Assembly Street rail and roadwork proposal, a sum that likely would cover much of the project.

He said he understands the annoyance factor, but he’s also seeking funds because fewer crossings make the roads safer to travel.

“It’s dangerous as trains come along. Even with cross arms, it’s still dangerous,” Wilson said.

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, the Democrat who represents those parts of Columbia that Wilson doesn’t, already has secured $600,000 for the project in this year’s transportation appropriations bill.

The Central Midlands Council of Governments supports the project. On the state level, it is a favorite of S.C. DOT commissioner John Hardee, who represents the Midlands on the commission.

The specifics of the project have yet to be designed, and while state transportation officials caution it is in the most preliminary of stages, they have sketched out how it could work.

It involves removing about a mile of track over which CSX travels, and diverting its trains to parallel tracks on which Norfolk Southern runs. That would eliminate three crossings – including one that creates some of the longest waits, at Rosewood Drive just off Assembly.

Two more crossings would disappear with the construction of a bridge, over Assembly Street north of Whaley Street.

Trains from both railroads would cross the bridge. Assembly Street would be lowered at that point so cars could travel under a bridge. The work also could eliminate several other less traveled crossings, south and west of Assembly Street.

If Congress authorizes the project in a new highway bill this year, it would not be the first time federal money has been used to tear up track in Columbia.

In 1986, at several major intersections east of Huger Street, popularly known as “The Ditch,” tracks were lowered beneath roadways at a cost of $28 million, with $7 million from the railroads.

CSX is generally supportive of the proposed project, company spokeswoman Misty Skipper said.

Susan Bland, spokeswoman for Norfolk Southern, said the company would be interested in any project that would improve safety.

Railroad companies are likely to proceed warily on any project that could limit the amount of freight they could move on their routes.

At the S.C. DOT, commissioner Hardee said much must happen before the project is more than an idea – but, he said, growing support would make it happen.

“It will benefit more people than probably any project we could do. It would be a victory for the railroad and a victory for the traveling public.”


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Freight traffic declines 1.4 percent

Freight traffic on the nation’s railroads was down during the week ended June 21 in comparison with the corresponding week last year, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported on June 26.

Total volume was estimated at 28.4 billion ton-miles for the week, down 1.4 percent from the comparable week last year. Intermodal volume rose 3.0 percent to 195,897 trailers or containers, but carload freight, which does not include the intermodal data, was off 2.5 percent to 325,101 cars. Carload volume was down 2.4 percent in the East and 2.5 percent in the West.

Eleven out of nineteen commodities were down from the comparable week last year, with grain down 12.2 percent and primary forest products off 12.1 percent. Loadings of coke showed a 29.5 percent increase while the volume of food and kindred products rose 5.9 percent.

The AAR also reported the following cumulative totals for U.S. railroads during the first 25 weeks of 2003: 8,046,176 carloads, up 0.3 percent from last year; intermodal volume of 4,633,161 trailers and containers, up 6.6 percent; and total volume of an estimated 710.4 billion ton-miles, up 0.8 percent from last year’s first 25 weeks.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 90 percent of U.S. carload freight and 96 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 96 percent and 100 percent. Railroads provide more than 40 percent of the nation’s intercity freight transportation, more than any other mode, and rail traffic figures are regarded as an important economic indicator.

Intermodal traffic was up from last year but carload freight was down on Canadian railroad during the week ended June 21. Intermodal traffic totaled 43,005 trailers and containers, up 8.4 percent from last year. Carload volume was 60,487 cars, down 4.9 percent from the comparable week last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 25 weeks of 2003 on the Canadian railroads totaled 1,545,594 carloads, down 1.8 percent from last year, and 1,026,301 trailers and containers, up 9.9 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 25 weeks of 2003 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 9,591,770 carloads, down 0.1 percent from last year and 5,659,462 trailers and containers, up 7.2 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 21 totaled 11,318 cars, up 25.2 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 4,428 originated trailers or containers, up 41.7 percent from the 25th week of 2002. For the first 25 weeks of 2003, TFM reported cumulative originated volume of 215,984 cars, up 2.4 percent from last year, and 89,612 trailers or containers, up 34.7 percent.

AAR is the world’s leading railroad policy, research and technology organization focusing on the safety and productivity of rail carriers.

The AAR is online at www.aar.org.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: Bloomberg.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)28.41029.070
Canadian National(CNI)47.61049.810
Canadian Pacific(CP)22.25022.840
CSX(CSX)29.99030.330
Florida East Coast(FLA)25.40025.850
Kansas City Southern(KSU)12.06012.310
Norfolk Southern(NSC)19.31020.210
Union Pacific(UNP)57.95058.760


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

Conrail at Providence

NCI: Leo King

It is a pleasant summer day in Pawtucket, R.I. A Conrail local is shuffling its cars in what remains of Northup Avenue Classification Yard. The yard’s east end is in Providence. The fourth track is still in place, and makes a good drill track. Nearby, behind the camera, Lawn Tower is still open in August 1979 (The NYNH&H named it “Woodlawn” Tower). Amtrak has no notion yet to build a maintenance-of-way base yet on the site. Next week: Amtrak passes by.

End Notes...

We try to be accurate in the stories we write, but even seasoned pros err occasionally. If you read something you know to be amiss, or if you have a question about a topic, we'd like to hear from you. Please e-mail the crew at leoking@nationalcorridors.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write.

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

Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images that appear in Destination: Freedom may do so at a nominal fee of $10.00 per image. "True color" .jpg images average 1.7MB each, and are 300 dots-per-inch for print publishers.

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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