NCI: Leo KingPlaistow, N.H. is where Amtrak trains are expected to soon begin operating at 79 mph over Guilford Transportation (Boston & Maine) iron en route from Boston to Portland, Maine. Here, in February 2001, the track has been rehabilitated with new 115-pound rail, new ties, and fresh ballast. The story is below.
Mineta is amid another Amtrak flap;
McCain, Gramm ask to read a letter
Amtrak has until Fiscal Year 2003 - which begins October 1, 2002 - to realize operational self-sufficiency. But two United States senators are echoing the familiar refrain of the kid in the back seat who demands to know, "Are we there yet?"
The senators are upset over the news that Amtrak has "executed a mortgage on Pennsylvania Station in New York in order to secure a loan for $300 million."
Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) stated reason for a letter he sent to Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta - a letter co-signed by Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.) - is that Amtrak's financial condition "is so severe that without an infusion of cash provided by this deal, it would face immediate bankruptcy, which could in turn result in an unanticipated transportation disruption for many commuters in the North East."
Senator McCain's concern for "the many commuters in the North East" caused some raised eyebrows in Washington, considering that he has wondered aloud why the taxpayers of Arizona should pay for "commuters" riding Amtrak from Wilmington to Philadelphia. A Delaware lawmaker replied, "Same reason our folks pay so your mother-in-law can have water in Arizona."
The letter states an understanding that Mineta was provided an opportunity to review this plan in advance of its becoming final "and were able to force Amtrak to make some positive modifications."
It is the senators' complaint that they have not been able to persuade Amtrak to furnish them with a copy of the agreement on the grounds that it was "a private matter," so they want Mineta to supply them with a copy of the mortgage contract between Amtrak and its lenders because this "should be a matter of public record."
The McCain letter also demands to know Mineta's plans for Amtrak given "the recent disclosure of Amtrak's true financial situation."
One knowledgeable business executive who has no connection with Amtrak was so incredulous over the McCain letter that he wondered if it was a hoax. Some of the "na‘ve statements in it show zero business knowledge." Revealing the terms, he said, "will tell the next guy just what Amtrak is willing to pay. Not good business strategy."
However, D:F asked Senator McCain's office to fax us a copy of the letter, and there it was, on Senate stationary in black and white, over the senators' signatures. It's for real, a "na‘ve business strategy" complete with the imprimatur of the same Arizona senator who chaired the Commerce Committee for years and stated publicly that Amtrak did not serve his state when the passenger trains had been routed through Arizona for years, and who claimed his "Patients Bill of Rights" legislation was backed by all the doctors and nurses organizations, apparently unaware that the high-profile Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, based in his own state, opposed it. This is the same U.S. senator who spoke the other day as if he were unaware of key provisions in the very Patients Bill of Rights legislation, which he has co-sponsored.
As one Capitol Hill watcher noted, "He's not very good on details."
As of this writing, there was no answer yet from the secretary, but it appears that McCain is not alone on what might be called "the gaffe syndrome."
It was Secretary Mineta who spilled the beans on the Penn Station mortgage deal before negotiations were completed, thereby encouraging lenders to raise the price of the loan after hearing of Mineta's pessimistic outlook on Amtrak's finances.
This was the same discussion where the secretary caused an uproar by musing aloud that perhaps Amtrak might shrink back to the NEC, Midwest, and West Coast corridors.
Fresh from that brouhaha, the secretary told a reporter he had some doubts about a planned airline merger. Analysts wondered if the secretary shared the blame for the fact that the stock prices for both airlines subsequently plummeted.
Some days, no matter where you step, nothing seems to go right.
|House gets high-speed rail bill|
More than 120 members of the House of Representatives have introduced The High speed Rail Investment Act. The leading sponsors of the bipartisan coalition are Reps. Amo Houghton (R-N.Y.) and James Oberstar (D-Minn.).
Amtrak, in a press release, noted the measure seeks to "provide an alternative to congested airports and highways, create jobs and economic opportunities, and respond to the demand from 38 states, dozens of local governments, civic organizations and businesses for increased investment in high speed rail."
The measure provide $12 billion in bonding authority over ten years to upgrade existing rails, build new high-speed lines, purchase high-speed trains, and eliminate or improve grade crossings. States would be required to match 20 percent of the project costs in order to obtain funding in their regions.
States now must provide financing on a 50-50 basis, or in some cases, are forced to pick up the entire cost because of the absence of federal funding. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the estimated cost of the program would be $4.3 billion over ten years.
For people who think the Northeast gets more than its fair share at the expense of the rest of the country, more than two-thirds of the money would go outside the NEC for other high-density corridors. That would include California, the Pacific Northwest, the Chicago-hubbed Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, Southeast Florida, the Gulf Coast, and Texas. Some of these corridors are "raring to go" and have been trying to implement passenger schedules that could form the core for future high-speed operations.
In a sense, this is an historic "put up or shut up" bill. This is the legislation that challenges those who pay lip service to "relieving highway and airway congestion" to do something about it.
Amtrak President George Warrington said, "This is not about Amtrak, nor about competing with resources with other modes of transportation, but about developing the third leg of an intermodal transportation stool."
The House sponsors are trying to play catch-up here. The Senate version of the legislation was unveiled January 31, and there are enough sponsors there to assure easy Senate passage. The House, on the other hand, had to postpone introduction of its bill at least once, seeking to shore up its support. And while 120 sponsors is an impressive number, you need 218 members to sign on in order to reach a majority in the House chamber. So there is work to do.
The complete list of sponsors, according to NARP, should be available in a day or two at the Library of Congress website, http://thomas.loc.gov/.
Warrington said he would discuss the plan with USDOT Secretary Norman Mineta. In view of the secretary's mixed signals on passenger rail, you would probably like to be a "fly on the wall" in the room when that conversation takes place.
Amtrak wins argument:
The Surface Transportation Board has given Amtrak the go-ahead to operate its trains between Portland, Maine and Boston at 79 miles an hour. Guilford Transportation Industries had argued, unsuccessfully, that 115-pound rail was not efficient enough to sustain trains speeds up to 79, and had insisted that 132-pound rail was required.
The Federal Railroad Administration a fortnight ago agreed that 79 mph was okay for 115-pound rail, and the STB issued its final decision on Friday.
Guilford must now "allow Amtrak access to the line as necessary to conduct testing and to comply with the findings," the STB ordered, and "Guilford must allow Amtrak access to the line so that the conditions set forth in this and our prior decision may be fulfilled." The federal body also declared, "TrainRiders Northeast is granted leave to intervene and to participate in this proceeding."
TrainRiders Northeast was the primary generating force in getting rail service restored to Northern New England. Its chairman, Wayne E. Davis, who was in Bangor, Maine, on his way to Prince Edward Island in Canada to visit relatives, learned of the decision when he called his Portland office to see if he had any messages. Press queries were awaiting him.
He told D:F, "It's a ruling we expected. It would have been a surprise if it had been otherwise." He reported station construction was going well. "We're getting the little things done."
Davis noted his organization is co-chairing the inaugural steering committee, and is preparing to provide volunteers for the VIP inaugural run to ride in each of six coaches. That inaugural date has not yet been established. Davis is also an NCI founding board member.
Friday's ruling clarified and affirmed the STB's initial decision of Oct. 22, 1999.
"This proceeding is discontinued," The STB stated. Its decision was effective on its service date, June 30.
When D:F called Amtrak spokesman Rick Remington in Philadelphia on Friday morning, about an hour after the STB issued its ruling, he said, "We'll have to read it really closely first" before anyone could issue a statement, including the company's lawyers, particularly William Epstein, who was Amtrak's lead attorney, and Richard Slattery.
Later on Friday, Amtrak and the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA) said they welcomed the STB decision.
Epstein told D:F, "Amtrak intends to use a Track Loading Vehicle (TLV) owned by the Transportation Technology Center, Inc., a subsidiary of the Association of American Railroads, to conduct its testing," and added, "The TLV is expected to arrive in Maine from Colorado later this summer."
A Guilford Transportation officer and D:F were unable to make telephone contact on Friday, and an e-mail query went unanswered.
An Amtrak test train operated through Plaistow, N.H. on June 24, a Sunday, for the first time, with "light" P-40 engine 827 and cab-baggage car 90214, a retired and converted F-40PH locomotive (214). The next day, a trainman, who had been on the crew, said they traveled to Maine, and it was "good-looking track." (See June 25 D:F for engine photos).
Speaking for the entire board, STB chair Linda Morgan said, "We found that Amtrak could safely operate its Boston-Portland trains at speeds of up to 79 mph using 115-pound rail (rather than the 132-pound rail that Guilford argued would be necessary), so long as the track is upgraded according to certain engineering criteria and maintained according to Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) safety standards. A dispute arose, however, over whether and how Amtrak could enter Guilford's system to test the track to see if it meets the board's engineering criteria.
She said, "After reviewing the parties' arguments and information provided by FRA, which has substantial expertise relative to issues such as these, the STB found that a test using a device known as the "Track Loading Vehicle" (TLV) would be reasonable and practical and should provide sufficient data to evaluate the track."
The TLV, developed by the Transportation Technology Center, Inc., an AAR subsidiary, would run over the line at very slow speeds for two days checking for locations where additional track support may be needed, and then, on a third and final day, measure these locations to ensure that the track meets the criteria set in the board's 1999 decision.
The board also found that, as long as the "line is rehabilitated to the appropriate standard, and maintained at FRA-prescribed levels, a single engineering test, followed by regular inspections, should ensure that it will be safe for 79-mph speeds."
Guilford criticized the testing methodology and argued that repeated testing should be required, but the STB relied on FRA's conclusion that "...based on Amtrak's representation that the line would be maintained to FRA Class 4 standards, that it would be subject to routine FRA-mandated track safety inspections, and that it would be periodically inspected by Amtrak's track geometry car, FRA has been unable to identify any safety regulatory concern with the use of 115-pound rail on the upgraded Plaistow-Portland Line."
Guilford also argued that the proposed testing would be "unreasonably burdensome and disruptive," but the board disagreed.
"Noting that Amtrak has agreed to compensate Guilford for all costs incurred in relation to Amtrak's testing, the board ordered Guilford to allow Amtrak access to the line so that tests may begin and the Board's prior decisions can be put into effect."
Morgan noted, "Freight railroads must allow Amtrak to operate over their lines for a fee, but when parties cannot agree on the terms and conditions of Amtrak's access, they may bring disputes to the board for resolution."
She pointed out that the dispute resolve at week's end "involves Amtrak's request for access to Guilford track that was substantially upgraded, through public funding, to facilitate the reintroduction of passenger service between Boston and Portland."
She also observed that Amtrak and Guilford had had "several prior disputes concerning Amtrak's efforts to initiate its new Boston-Portland operations."
Meanwhile, about 45 tracklayers who had been upgrading the route between Portland and Haverhill, Mass., are losing their jobs. Their work is done, the Portland Press Herald reported on June 29. South of Haverhill, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority operates and dispatches the track.
Guilford Transportation's executive vice president, David Fink, said that the track preparation for the Amtrak service has been substantially finished, helping to clear the way for the long-delayed trains to start running late this summer or in the fall.
Fink said the trackwork is expected to be completed by mid-July. The track crew, which numbers about 80, will be reduced to about 35. Fink added, he expected many of the people losing their jobs will be offered other positions in the company in Maine, New Hampshire or Massachusetts.
Mike Murray, NNEPRA executive director, said he recently recommended that Guilford reduce the size of the crew. Taxpayers have spent about $70 million rebuilding the main line between Portland and Boston.
"I don't want to put these people out of work," Murray said, "but I have a fiscal responsibility" to make sure the public's money is spent efficiently on the project. Authority chairman Jonathan Carter said, "The project is winding down. They have one more section of rail to do."
Stuart Hurlburt, general chairman of the Northeastern System Federation, Brotherhood of Maintenance Way Employees, withheld immediate comment while he looked into news of the layoffs.
Meanwhile, work will begin soon on the platforms where the train will stop, in Portland, Saco and Wells. Operating agreements outlining who will run the stations are being finalized, Murray said.
Elsewhere in Portland, Ray Penfold, who once lobbied state legislators for the return of passenger train service to that city, is not as supportive anymore. According to the latest plan, the tracks would run through his bus company.
Penfold and his daughter, Lana Sawyer, fear that a proposal to run passenger train tracks through the Bayside area would put them out of business. VIP Tour and Charter Bus Co. has been in operation on Fox Street for 21 years.
They want to put it right through my garage," he said. "I supported this whole thing, but not to go out of business."
Penfold said he is thrilled that the Bayside Neighborhood Association's steering committee voted last week to write to the City Council opposing the plan to run tracks through Bayside.
Maine DOT introduced the plan in June. Amtrak trains initially will stop at a temporary station off outer Congress Street in Portland.
The Portland, Me., Press Herald is online at http://www.pressherald.com (Maine today).
|Mineta to join Amtrak board|
President Bush said on Friday he would appoint Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta to Amtrak's board of directors.
Mineta has been pessimistic about Amtrak being able to wean itself from federal operating subsidies, and recently suggested keeping only routes that make money and abandoning a nationwide passenger rail system, which Wes Vernon reports elsewhere in this issue. Mineta was NCI's featured speaker at its spring conference in Washington.
The 1997 law that restructured Amtrak's governing board dictates that a member of the president's Cabinet may fill only one of its seven seats.
Mineta succeeds Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, who reluctantly resigned in May. He attended his last meeting on May 23. His fellow board members selected him each year since 1998 to serve as chairman.
The board has not chosen a new chairman yet, but board member and Meridian Miss., mayor John Robert Smith is seen as a leading candidate. Smith is also NCI's chairman.
|Maglev dream returns to Capitol Hill|
The Maglev lobby will not give up.
Currently, high-speed rail backers are up to their ears trying to get a bill through Congress for $12 billion in bonding authority for Amtrak to begin a serious effort at providing the infrastructure so that fast trains (in some case "faster" trains of up to 90 mph) can operate in corridors around the country - and Amtrak supporters are trying to re-invent the wheel with a transportation secretary who thinks maybe passenger trains ought to be confined to corridors in the Northeast, Midwest and the West Coast.
Amid this finger-in-the-dike effort, project planners (testifying June 21 before a House committee) leapt a generation or two beyond the current real world by stating their case for magnetic levitation, or "maglev." This would lift the trains slightly above the tracks so they could zoom down the pike at some 300 mph.
There have been many maglev hearings on Capitol Hill over the years. After one of them a couple of years ago, one liberal U.S. Senator told me, "The trouble with this thing is it costs so much money!"
Committee Chairman Rep. Don Mica (R-Fla.) said the hearing was of particular interest to him because "one of the options that Florida is considering as it develops its high-speed rail program is the use of maglev technology."
Rep. Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.) added, "Maglev will help relieve congestion at our airports and our roadways and rail lines, while being safe for the environment."
A competitive project initiated by the USDOT has set up competition between several communities for a demonstration project to cut the ice and get a super speed train out there, hopefully to convince the rest of the nation that this is the way to go.
The finalists in this competition were on hand for the hearing, including Project Manager Suhair Alkhatib, who argued that since the Baltimore-Washington area is projected to grow by 90 percent by 2040, the obvious public interest would be served by supporting a superfast maglev that would whoosh from downtown Baltimore to Baltimore-Washington International Airport to Washington's Union Station. The price tag is pegged at $3.5 to $4 billion, and service could begin by 2010.
Dr. Fred Gurney, President and CEO of Maglev, Inc., urged the lawmakers to consider the 47-mile proposal to have the futuristic conveyances zipping from Pittsburgh International Airport to downtown Pittsburgh and its eastern suburbs. And what does the $40 million per mile project have to offer that the others supposedly don't?
"Our initial phase system will operate at speeds in excess of 260 mph over terrain where such speed was previously assumed unattainable by any transportation mode."
American Magline Group President Neil Cummings put in a pitch for a Las Vegas to Anaheim, Calif. route. Gamblers and pleasure-seekers from the huge Southern California metropolitan areas would flock to this fast service to Vegas, he argued.
Past high-speed rail proposals on this route have floundered for the simple reason that, while Las Vegas saw it as a grand idea for its tourist business, Southern California saw it as a drain, with all the money flowing out of California and into Nevada.
But Cummings, whose route did not have a price tag that was quoted in the House panel's press release, said maglev "is not meant to be, nor designed to serve, the short-hop commuter market," an obvious swipe at his rivals.
No one who cares about "balanced transportation" can fail to give these committee witnesses high marks for being well-meaning. This country has built its post-World War II transportation system on the fly-drive ethic which has spawned chickens now coming home to roost in delayed flights, jammed freeways and city boulevards, longer commutes, and higher energy demand leading to higher gas prices.
But the old saying that "you have to crawl before you can walk and walk before you can run" still applies, in the view of transportation planners with long memories.
An entire generation grew up while our railroads went to seed. We're facing a bill for $12 billion to upgrade a 75-year old electrified corridor from Washington to New York, now hosting a new high speed "steel wheels on steel rail" train that saves a mere 15 minutes for the run. And no one has yet approached the question of who's going to pay for that. Meanwhile, efforts are underway to get high-speed rail up and running elsewhere. But first, we must confront the question of who's going to provide the infrastructure that will be needed. The class I freight carriers, which have had to operate one-track systems on their trunk lines for 30 years because they don't have the money to double-track as they used to, have made it clear they have problems with running 120 mph trains mingled with freights operating at 20 to 30 mph.
Does anyone really doubt that we have enough on our plate before we can even think of trying to sell a Maglev system?
|More Acela Express trains ply corridor|
Amtrak reports it is doubling the number of Acela Express trains between New York and Washington next Monday (on July 9), and is adding another daily roundtrip between Boston and New York.
Six trains will operate in each direction between our nation's capital and the Big Apple. Express departures from Washington will be at 5:00 a.m., 7:00 a.m. (replacing Metroliner No. 102), 7:25 a.m., 2:00 p.m. (replacing Metroliner No. 116), 3:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.
From New York, Acela Express departures for Washington will leave at 7:30 a.m., 10:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m. (replacing Metroliner No. 111), 3:50 p.m., 7:00 p.m. (replacing Metroliner No. 127) and 9:00 p.m.
A non-stop weekday train (No. 2180) will begin stopping at all Acela Express stations "to extend this premium service to additional guests in more cities," Amtrak stated in a press release.
Ultimately, after all 20 high-speed trainsets have been delivered from the Bombardier-Alstom consortium, the express schedule will operate 19 high-speed roundtrips between New York and Washington and 10 round trips between New York and Boston each weekday. One trainset will be held in reserve.
Another Boston-New York roundtrip is being added next week. Five Acelas will run in each direction. Train departures from Boston's South Station will be at 6:12 a.m., 7:12 a.m., 3:12 p.m., 5:12 p.m. and 6:42 p.m.
From New York, Acela Express departures for Boston will be at 7:03 a.m., 8:03 a.m., 10:03 a.m., 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.
On weekends, Amtrak is adding another roundtrip between Boston and New York each Saturday and Sunday. Three trains will operate in each direction.
Amtrak is online at http://amtrak.com.
Midwest moves closer toward high-speed rail
Amtrak reports it is rerouting its northbound Texas Eagle on weekdays. The change began on May 30, and will last all summer as track rebuilding begins on Union Pacific iron.
The result will be faster trains and shorter trip times over the Chicago-St. Louis line.
The Texas Eagle operates between San Antonio and Chicago. The northbound Eagle will be rerouted between Springfield and Joliet, Ill., weekdays, with the train operating on its normal schedule on Saturday and Sunday.
The train will turn-northeastward at Springfield toward Clinton and Gilman, where it will then continue its journey to Chicago over track owned and operated by the Canadian National-Illinois Central Railroad. The reroute will add 90 minutes to two hours to the trip.
The train cannot make its regular station stops between Springfield and Chicago. Other passenger trains on the corridor may also experience 30-minute delays.
High-speed tracks will allow for future passenger train speeds of up to 110 mph on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor, and significantly reducing travel times.
Rail infrastructure improvements in Illinois are part of an effort underway across the nation to plan and implement enhancements to existing passenger rail corridors to provide improved and faster access to our nation's urban business centers, including projects in 38 states. Long-term federal funding is critical to the successful implementation of intercity passenger rail corridor improvement programs.
The High Speed Rail Investment Act of 2001, currently before Congress, would allow $12 billion in bonds to be financed by non-federal rail authorities over a 10 years, and "will provide critical capital investment funds for high-speed passenger rail service by leveraging private and state funding through the issuance of bonds," Amtrak stated.
|Georgia moves on transportation bill|
Commuter rail was included in the mix last week as Georgia's governor signed an omnibus transportation measure that helps all modes of travel.
Gov. Roy Barnes' accelerated transportation plan, which includes $8.3 billion in new money for road and transit projects during the next five years, has seemingly satisfied most of his critics, at least for now, according to the Atlanta Journal and Constitution.
The Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) plans to move forward on commuter rail.
"We are going to commence intense communications with Norfolk Southern to initiate passenger service between Atlanta and Macon," GRTA director Catherine Ross said. Norfolk Southern owns the rail lines on which the passenger trains would operate. GRTA and the Georgia DOT said they expect to have the commuter rail service in place, at least from Atlanta to Griffin, by 2006 (See D:F of last week). Rail consultants say the one-hour trip from Griffin to Atlanta could cost about $6.75.
Regional commuter rail between Macon and Atlanta would include building a new passenger terminal in Atlanta, which would cost about $446 million.
A light rail system is also on the pages, connecting Cobb, Cumberland Mall, and Midtown Atlanta, at $2.8 billion
The balance of the cash would be expended on regional express bus service as well as building high-occupancy vehicle lanes, and other projects.
Atlanta's newspapers are online at http://www.accessatlanta.com.
|Carbody order goes to Florida firm|
AAR Corp. said last week its composites manufacturing division, AAR Composites, was awarded a contract with Bombardier Transportation to design, engineer and manufacture carbodies for the new monorail system in Las Vegas, Nev. The monorail is scheduled to enter service in February 2004, and is expected to provide transportation for 19 million passengers in its first year of operation.
The Clearwater, Fla., firm said it would "craft each car body and nose unit from advanced composite materials." The company reported it had developed several designs to integrate electrical and mechanical components and subsystems into carbody walls, saving significant manufacturing costs and weight.
The four-mile Las Vegas elevated guideway monorail will have seven stations, including two existing stations at the MGM-Grand Bally resort hotel. The project is similar to the firm's line that designed and built frame bodies for the Walt Disney World monorail system in Orlando.
AAR Composites is online at http://www.aarcorp.com
Solons, rail execs, regulators spar
"This hearing may very well be the Senate's only chance to direct the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to reconsider its new rail merger guidelines before it's too late."
William L. Gebo, manager of Rail Services for the Dow Chemical Co., issued that "the hour is late" plea at a Senate hearing. He called on the senators to pass the Rockefeller-Burns-Dorgan bill to impose severe restrictions on rail mergers. That legislation, which has been kicking around on Capitol Hill for several years, is the nightmare of the Class I Carriers.
Gebo, in effect, spoke for what he called "captive shippers" during his testimony Thursday before a Senate sub-committee chaired by Sen. John Breaux (D-La.)
The freight railroads, of course, take the opposite view. They repeatedly bring out charts and statistics to show that their earnings are not what they should be in order for them to invest in their infrastructure to meet the demands of a growing population. Many of them have been single-tracking major portions of their trunk lines for about 30 years because they don't have the cash to "invest for growth."
The hearing room spectators included such interested observers as Edward Hamberger, President of the Association of American Railroads; Diane Duff of the shipper-oriented Alliance for Rail Competition; and James "Broken Rail" Brunkenhoefer, Legislative Director of the United Transportation Union.
On the firing line, taking questions from the senators, including at least two advocates of turning rail mergers over to the Justice Department, were the CEOs of CSX, Canadian National, and Kansas City Southern.
Its chairman, Linda J. Morgan, represented the "Surf Board" itself. She told the lawmakers the STB's new rules, unveiled June 11, "reflect significant change in the way the board will apply the statutory public interest test to any rail merger application."
Competition could be enhanced, she said, by such actions as reciprocal switching agreements, trackage rights, and eliminating restrictions on interchanges by shortline railroads.
Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) were skeptical. They do not believe the STB went far enough in protecting the public interest.
However, the STB calls for a "Service Assurance Plan" for future mergers, Morgan argued. It would have to be submitted in advance, spelling out how the merging partners would deal with the unintended consequences, so as not to leave the shippers high and dry to suffer the economic consequences of the railroad's transition problems. That "high and dry" scenario is exactly what happened in the early months of the Union Pacific-Southern Pacific and the Conrail carve-ups.
But, how will you enforce that, Rockefeller and Dorgan wanted to know.
By consistent monitoring to make sure the plan's provisions are carried out as promised, replied the STB chairman.
Morgan got into an open debate with her fellow commissioners, Wayne Burkes and Vice Chairman William Clyburn, Jr. who had outvoted her on the issue of exempting Kansas City Southern from the new rules.
"I do not believe that KCS adequately demonstrated why it should have been given special treatment,' the chairman said, "Also, I am concerned that, given KCS's strategic position, any merger involving KCS and another large railroad will likely trigger the final round of consolidations leading to only two systems of large North American railroads."
Michael R. Haverty, president and CEO of KCS, told the senators that KCS's "limited market reach simply cannot support the types of concern over service and competitive issues which will dominate future mergers of Class I carriers."
After all, he noted, KCS is by far the smallest of the Class Is.
The "grandfathering," said Hagerty, could be challenged by a concerned party "if they desired to do so."
KCS, Hagerty noted, is closer in size to Wisconsin Central, which includes a Class II line in its properties.
"Why should railroads be exempt under the (Justice Department's enforcement of) anti-trust laws?" Rockefeller wanted to know.
John Snow of CSX argued that at the present time, there is a "de facto moratorium on rail mergers, and said he did not expect to see another one for three, five or seven years."
Very well, then, Rockefeller shot back, why not make the moratorium official?
Snow and Canadian National president Paul Tellier said it was necessary to keep "an open mind."
Snow and Tellier boasted about marketing arrangements each of their respective lines had signed with other rail carriers to provide "single line" service without the necessity of a merger.
But Gebo of Dow Chemical expressed a fear that such arrangements may turn out to be "de facto mergers" without "any meaningful federal scrutiny."
Claudia Howells, Rail Division Manager for the Oregon DOT, urged the STB to give equal attention to merger trends among the shortline railroads. That, she said, would lead to further track abandonments. The result would be the public would take it on the chin, and that would create problems not unlike the Class I mergers.
Chairman Breaux told the railroads and the regulators who oversee them that Congress is concerned about the merger trends not only in railroads, but in airlines and phone companies as well.
The choice, as the Louisiana Democrat sees it, is between competition and heavier regulation. The latter would bring with it a stifling government second-guessing. Competition, he said, would be much better for the industry and the public.
|Last pellet train leaves Iron Range|
The last trainload of pellets pulled away from LTV Steel Mining Co. on June 22, bound for the North Shore, leaving behind a half century of Minnesota and Iron Range history.
Just as the first shipment of ore from the range in 1884 carried a tree as a symbol of beginning, the last rail car, No. 000, carried a broom to mark the end, the sweeping up. LTV Steel Mining Co. at Hoyt Lakes ceased operations in January, putting 1,400 people out of work, according to the Mesabi Daily News.
"There they go, riding into the sunset," Peter Ray, the LTV railroad manager, said quietly as he watched the train roll away.
The final shipment was another in a series of lasts for the taconite mine and plant that was the East Range's lifeblood. A year ago in May came the news it would close by summer 2001, but the closing came sooner, on Jan. 5, 2001. LTV corporate officials cited an aging facility and steel imports as reasons for the shutdown. The pellets shipped in late June had been stockpiled.
The mile-long string of 114 cars bearing nearly 10,000 tons of taconite would travel the three-hour journey through remote woods to Taconite Harbor on Lake Superior, just as the trains have done since the first shipment left Erie Mining in 1957. At the harbor, the ore would be loaded into the belly of the Lee Tregurtha, destined for Indiana Harbor on Lake Michigan.
Five mighty diesel locomotive engines, still bearing the name Erie Mining, did their work on on that last day, as they had done since the outset. The lead engine flew an American flag.
"This is the only active set of F-9s still hauling freight in North America," Ray said. The EMD-built engines, each developing 1,750-hp, had been with the mine since 1956. The engines once were blue and gold, and when Pickands Mather took over, the colors were changed to maroon and gold.
"That's a real tribute to our people that we could keep these 1950-vintage locomotives going," said Steve Zeitler, LTV public affairs official.
"That's a testimony to our skill," said Ray. The ore cars are the originals, too, he said.
Whistles and bells sounded as the train pulled to a stop for good-byes. Shiny steel wheels squeaked on the tracks, over railroad ties covered with reddish-gray pellets that sometimes trickled from the cars. Engineers Mark Lee and LeRoy Sausman climbed from the locomotive cab to pose for pictures.
Erie construction began in 1954 and the first pellets left the mine in 1957. By 1970 production had reached 100 million tons, and by 1981, 200 million tons. Erie became a subsidiary of LTV Steel in 1986, and the name was changed to LTV Steel Mining Co. in 1987. Production reached 300 million tons by 1997, and by the year 2000, a billion tons of ore had been crushed since the plant opened.
Buckeyes cite sites for railroad park
Officials in Fostoria, Ohio, are moving forward with plans to create a railroad park, or parks, where fans could take in the action on the CSX and Norfolk Southern main lines, which form an iron triangle through the city.
Mayor John Davoli is eyeing six brownfield locations as possible sites for the railroad parks, the Toledo Blade reported.
"I see no reason at all why we can't bring this thing together and find a site," Davoli said.
"Many brownfields are on rail lines, and the city wants to find a location and clean it up."
The mayor is working with local tourism officials to turn the plans into reality. More than 100 trains per day rumble through Fostoria on two CSX lines and a Norfolk Southern main.
|Mexico auctions passenger rail licenses|
The Mexican Communications and Transport ministry plans to auction a series of licenses to operate passenger-rail services, according to a report in Mexico City daily Reforma.
Licenses to operate passenger-rail services between the northern cities of Monterrey and Saltillo, and other for routes serving the central cities of Zacatecas and Guanajuato, likely will be on the block, Reforma business columnist Dario Celis Estrada reported. The ministry reportedly is encountering resistance to the plan from current freight-rail licensees Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM), which is a subsidiary of transport conglomerate Transportacion Maritima Mexicana and Ferromex.
The ministry's plans would require TFM and Ferromex to share rail lines with passenger-rail licensees.
Fight for a national passenger rail system
When Congress created Amtrak in 1970, it mandated that the new company provide national rail service. When Congress reformed Amtrak and created a new board and an oversight reform council, in 1997, it mandated that the company free itself of federal operating subsidies.
This past week Congressmen Oberstar (D-MN) and Houghton (R-NY) introduced as H.R.2329, the House version of S. 250, the High Speed Rail Investment Act of 2001. This $12 billion bond bill, which gives Amtrak the right to bond for capital improvements with federal tax credits repaying the debt, will, along with Amtrak's $521 appropriation due by October 1, set the stage for the national debate on the existence of national passenger rail that will begin now.
The National Corridors Initiative believes it is essential for all Americans who care about fairness, justice, and a balanced transportation system to write their Representatives and Senators, their newspapers and broadcast media, in support of those bills, and to do so today!
It is urgently important as well that members of the rail advocacy community contact their friends and neighbors in other fields, especially local environmental advocacy and economic development groups, and ask them to help as well by writing and calling their elected representatives in Washington, and the White House. You can reach any senator at zip 20510, any representative at 20515, and the White House at 20500. Do it today. These letters get read!
You will be going up against a generation of carefully nurtured misinformation about passenger rail, so be prepared to fight. You will be told that Amtrak has squandered billions - when in fact the airlines and highway systems have received 100 times the subsidy of rail, and more. Is it bad that we subsidize air and auto travel? Not at all. We're not against that. But we are for a balanced transportation system, and 30 years of unbalanced investment has created the highway and air travel crisis we are now in.
You will hear that Europe has good trains because their cities are closer together.
America has literally hundreds of city pairs that are 100-500 miles apart that could be served by high speed rail if we choose to make the investment. Indeed, a decent rail system will obviate the need for more airports for a generation, because more than 30 per cent of air travel in this country is to destinations less than 500 miles apart. Even some of the airlines recognize this, and are beginning to team up with Amtrak on short-hop connections, as is often done in Europe.
Could Amtrak be better run? Surely. Fortunately, Amtrak's President George Warrington is a scrapper with a vision. Blaming Amtrak for spotty service is like blaming a blind man for tripping over a curb. Amtrak has been systematically starved of capital since it was formed, and yet has been told by Congress, "Now, go run trains - especially in my district."
Now it is being told, "Do so without an operating subsidy" - yet the capital grants needed to do that have been missing. The High Speed Rail Investment Act is the first step - just the first, but still an important step - to balancing the nation's transportation system and providing relief for gridlock and winglock. Along with the commuter rail and light rail systems that have been making such a comeback over this past decade, the intercity rail system holds the key to better freight and passenger service, and a lower cost of living - let alone a far more pleasant way to travel.
You can expect an organized campaign from the old highway lobby to defeat this legislation (the smart state DOT people are pro-rail because they realize the cheapest way to add capacity to an Interstate is to build a mile of rail). Even though 58 senators are sponsoring the bill, and more than 100 House members, the professionals who know how kill a bill are waiting for their chance.
This time, go after them first.
Write and call your Congressmen and contact your local newspaper and broadcast media. Demand fair treatment for rail - and don't take "no" for an answer.
American Assn. of Railroad Superintendents annual meeting
Doubletree Hotel, Missoula, Mont.
Contact Barbara Marlow, email@example.com or phone 219-922-1072
AREMA annual conference
Palmer Hilton Hotel, Chicago
301-459-3200, or fax 301-459-8077.
NCI: Leo KingAt one time, the diminutive GE-44-ton switchers were always doing light work on the New Haven Railroad, if not moving passenger coaches around, then shuffling a mail car deck somewhere. Consider 0811 in Providence, R.I., ca. 1952. The engine is east of Union Station at the former Post Office yard. The crew was digging out loaded mail cars to tack onto a westbound train from Boston, which would soon arrive and depart, bound for New York City. These little engines strained if they had to move more than a handful of loaded cars, and engineers swore at them frequently, but they got the job done. Today, the engines are gone, the yard is non-existent, and so is the crew.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write.
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In an effort to expand the on-line experience at the National Corridors Initiative web site, we have added a page featuring links to other rail travel sites. We hope to provide links to those cities or states that are working on rail transportation initiatives - state DOTs, legislators, governor's offices, and transportation professionals - as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists.
If you have a favorite rail link, please send the uniform resource locator address (URL) to the webmaster in care of this web site. An e-mail link appears at the bottom of the NCI web site pages to get in touch with D. M. Kirkpatrick, NCI's Site in Boston.
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