In this edition...
|Editor Leo King will return to our pages starting next week. Staff writers will once again grace these pages with an abbreviated edition in his absence. Welcome home, and congratulations on your wedding from us all, Leo. - DMK Webmaster|
House Doubles Amtrak Funding
The U.S. House of Representatives has rejected deep cuts in Amtraks operating budget for the fiscal year that begins October. 1, and it has boosted total subsidies to the national passenger rail system to more than $1.17 billion. The funding is substantially close to this years budget.
Via a voice vote, the House approved an amendment by Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio), adding $626 million to Amtraks budget, more than double the $550 million approved by the House Appropriations Committee, which also sought to eliminate 18 long distance routes.
The move by the House is a blow to the Bush administrations efforts to force major changes by shifting from direct subsidies to providing grants for rail service to states, not unlike the way the federal government underwrites aviation and highways. To push the changes along, the administration proposed no money for Amtrak in the fiscal 2006 budget, as compared to the $1.2 billion it is currently receiving.
Under the administrations plan, the federal government would have also taken possession of the Northeast Corridor routes, and in a six-year transition period would improve the track infrastructure before turning the routes over to states control. The administration contended that eliminating operating subsidies would leave the passenger rail system with stronger routes and lure subsidies from local governments, but Amtrak runs trains through nearly every state, giving it great support in Congress.
However, the House was not prepared for such drastic measures even though many in the Republican-controlled Appropriations Committee supported the reduction in funding so that Amtrak would have to face change or collapse.
Under a spending measure drafted by Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.), Amtrak would have been barred from using federal funds on routes that receive subsidies greater than $30 per passenger.
Knollenberg was quoted as saying, Congress will no longer sanction the use of taxpayer dollars on such extremely unpopular routes. Amtrak needs to get back on track, and it does not need Congress to continue to throw money at its problems.
Amtrak House supporters rallied that the cuts would have driven passenger rail service out of business.
Rep. Steven C. LaTourette (R-Ohio) stated, To slash Amtraks operating budget and effectively strand millions of passengers is irresponsible. Calling the House Appropriations proposal an extremely blunt instrument, Rep. John W. Olver (Mass.), the ranking Democrat on Knollenbergs transportation subcommittee, warned that if the $550 million figure stood, it should be no surprise there is no passenger rail service this time next year.
The cuts would have terminated many popular services, including two of Amtraks longest lines - the Sunset Limited, which runs across the South from Los Angeles to Orlando, and the Empire Builder, which runs from Seattle and Portland to Chicago. Routes to be cut under original House spending bill crossed about two dozen states and was, represented by a lot of members of the House, as Olver put it, and by about half of the Senate. That group did not include Amtraks fiercest supporters, the many lawmakers representing the Northeast Corridor which would have remained unharmed.
The move will help assure Amtrak funding will be restored to this years level - if not by the House, then by the Senate, which is already prepared to insist on a higher number. The Senate is inclined to give [Amtrak] the money that it needs, said Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), an Amtrak advocate who is also working on legislation to improve the service.
Since 2003, the Bush administration has sought the restructuring or Amtrak while encouraging the advancement of more profitable lines, such as Northeast Corridor routes running from Washington and New York, or the the Cascade service in the Pacific Northwest, or the service that connects Dallas and Oklahoma City.
Amtraks chief executive, David L. Gunn, cautioned House last April: Do not be misled by those who quote huge per-passenger losses on certain routes. He cited the Sunset Limited in his examples. Most would conclude that by simply cutting this train, you would save tens of millions of dollars, he said. Gunn noted the actual savings would be less than $15 million. Cutting every long-distance train would not result in short-term savings because of locked-in costs associated with various expenses such as labor.
Photo: Jamie-Andrea Yanak - APRep. Steven C. LaTourette (R-Ohio) called the effort to slash Amtraks operating budget irresponsible.
Investigations by Amtrak, the U.S. government and companies that helped manufacture the Acela train sets have found that the supplier of the cracked brakes that shut down Amtraks high-speed changed the design of the parts while the trains were being built to include longer, thinner spokes that might have been weaker than the original design.
However, there is yet to be a certain link between the revised brake design and cracks discovered last April in hundreds of the 1,440 brake discs used to stop the trains.
For the present scrutiny has fallen on the changes, and operations are now concentrating on getting the trains rolling again, possibly as soon as next month using brakes manufactured to the original design specifications.
The brake failures have raised new questions about Amtraks handling of the Acela project, which has been plagued by various problems but also suggests that sorting out responsibility for passenger revenues lost during the Acela shutdown and costs related to replacing the brakes, is likely to be contentious.
The new brake design has spokes that appear to be significantly stronger than those which developed the cracks, said Glenn Brandimarte, president of ORX Railway Corp., the company that is replacing the flawed brake discs with the earlier design.
According to Knorr-Bremse AG, the brakes supplier, it changed the design partly to help satisfy ' Buy America requirements established by Amtrak. However, it didnt clarify how the design change put it in compliance with those requirement. Knorr apparently considered its original brake design as being merely a preliminary design concept, deciding later to use a lighter version supplied by a European subcontractor.
After winning the $850-million (U.S.) contract to build the Acela trainsets and associated maintenance facilities, Bombardier and Alstom SA hired Knorr to supply the brakes. The brake-design switch was made approximately three years before Acela trains started running in 2000, and was approved by Amtrak and Bombardier Inc., the Montreal firm that leads the consortium that built and maintains the trainsets.
Helene Gagnon, a Bombardier spokeswoman, said the company had no indication to believe the second generation of brakes would not perform, noting that it qualified as any other part for the Acela.
Replacement brake discs now under test must be approved by Amtrak and the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration before the Acela service can be restored. It is likely the fall season will be underway before all 20 trainsets are operational once again.
MBTA picks Developer
for North Station area
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has announced the preliminary designation of Trinity Financial and Hines Raymond LLP as the developers of two parcels of land in an area known as the Bulfinch Triangle, adjacent to North Station in Boston. If the designation is given final approval by the MBTA Board of Directors, the development will generate nearly $28 million in non-fare revenue for the Authority. The MBTAs two parcels are being developed in coordination with five parcels being offered by the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority (MTA). Located along Causeway, Canal, and Traverse Streets, the two parcels are 85,000 square feet and are situated above the Green and Orange Line subways at North Station.
The blocks in play compose about a third of an original, triangle-shaped neighborhood laid out by famed architect Charles Bulfinch, which was later redeveloped in the 1950s when the elevated Central Artery highway was erected.
Trinity Financial, Inc. and Hines Raymond LLP submitted the highest responsible bids in accordance with the MBTAs statutory requirements for the disposition of surplus property. Trinity submitted a bid of $385.00 per square foot of land for Parcel 1A. Hines Raymond submitted a bid of $222.51 per square foot for Parcel 2B. The parcels were declared surplus following the demolition of the elevated Green Line tracks as part of the North Station Superstation improvements.
Trinity Financial Inc., will construct a nine-story building with 200 condominiums, while Hines Raymond will build 11 floors, with seven floors of condominiums above a new large neighborhood supermarket.
Id like to say its great news were having a supermarket, said Lia Tota, chairman of a resident group from Bostons nearby North End, West End, and Beacon Hill areas. But, she said, Im very disappointed. They [MBTA] kind of did this behind everybodys back. It didnt go through the community.
I sincerely hope the supermarket-siting decision proves to be a correct one, because the consequences of an incorrect one could be significant in the long term, said Robert B. OBrien, of the Downtown North Association, representing 125 commercial and residential groups.
In an plethora of letters and statements issued, community residents and groups wanted a market of about 30,000 square feet, on nearby Canal Street. Some said they wanted a smaller store because it would draw more customers from close-by North Station, where the Green, Orange, and commuter rail lines meet.
City of Boston officials, who had consulted with residents on development guidelines, ended up agreeing with the MBTA that the North Washington Street location was preferable because a supermarket could be larger there.
Weve come a long way since opening an underground SuperStation for Green and Orange Line trains, and removing the rusty, elevated tracks that darkened the streets around North Station. Todays announcement of a designated developer marks another critical milestone in the path toward revitalization of Bulfinch Triangle, said MBTA General Manager Daniel Grabauskas. In what is certain to be a model for other Transit Oriented Developments, the projects planned for these parcels will provide housing units and a supermarket, create jobs, and stimulate economic growth.
Area redevelopment was a multi-year process involving representatives of the Bulfinch Triangle Development Advisory Committee (BTDAC), the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), the MTA, and the MBTA. All proposals will be subject to the BRAs permit review process, which includes public hearings to solicit comments from nearby neighborhoods.
Were thrilled to see a new, full service, urban supermarket come another step closer to reality for residents in and around the Bulfinch Triangle, said BRA Director Mark Maloney. We have worked hard with the community to craft development guidelines that will ensure we create a vibrant, mixed-use district that meets the communitys long-standing vision.
A supermarket chain has not as yet been chosen for the site.
Suit blames Union Pacific
for 1999 Juab County fire
The federal government has filed suit alleging that the Union Pacific Railroads failed to properly maintain its tracks and trains which resulted in a blaze in Juab County that burned more than 60,000 acres and cost into the millions of dollars in firefighting and rehabilitation costs.
The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, seeks more than $4 million in damaged and interest.
The Union Pacific is denying it has any responsibility for the fire, which started as two separate blazes that eventually merged.
The suit says the fire began July 2, 1999, and spread from the Union Pacific right-of-way to nearby private and federal lands. It alleges that a train cast off sparks or other hot materials that can ignite a fire.
The railroad could have avoided starting the fire by, among other actions, using state-of-the-art technology for engine and wheel operations, and self-contained prevention, the suit claims.
In 2003, a Union Pacific contractor, Harsco Corp. of Camp Hill, Penn., agreed to pay $79,684 for starting an 804-acre fire in Juab County with sparks from a railroad grinder. John Bromley, a spokesman for the Omaha-based railroad, said there is no evidence that Union Pacific started the other fire.
The combined fire caused the evacuation of Mammoth and part of Eureka, two small communities in eastern Juab County.
Union Pacific bans smoking
on company property
Union Pacific, the Omaha-based rail giant, has completely banned smoking on company property.
People can go off the property and smoke, said UP. spokesman John Bromley. There is no employee testing, but we want to provide a healthy environment.
We estimate that 25 percent of our employees smoke, he said.
A previous policy had allowed smoking at mechanical facilities, such as at the companys enormous North Plate rail yard, provided that federal, state and local regulations were followed.
Last year, Union Pacific began rejecting smokers job applications. A total company ban took effect last week.
Union Pacific states that its HealthTrack health and wellness program offers smoking cessation help.
The rail company believes that it will save as mush as $922 annually for each position it fills with a nonsmoker over one who does.
Looking at our safety records, (we know that) people who smoke seem to have higher accident rates than nonsmokers, Bromley said. Its no secret that people who smoke have more health issues than nonsmokers.
BNSF adding second track
so trains wont wait
Jane Moorman-News-Bulletin photoA BNSF TRAIN comes through Abo Canyon
Trains have gone through the Scholle, New Mexico area along Abo Canyon in the Manzanos on a single track since 1905. Trains have also had to wait for as much as three hours while trains with a higher priority passed through the area.
BNSF, formerly Burlington Northern Santa Fe, is planning to lay double tracks in Abo Canyon as well as in Oklahoma so as to eliminate some of the delays along the route.
Louis Ruder, manager of engineering for the BNSFs Albuquerque office, said a $50 million project to lay a second track will begin once the company receives final permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Land Management.
The first section to be addressed hopes begin in mid-July on 4.5 miles of track that will run west of the U.S. 60 bridge in Scholle, and 25 miles south of Belen. The project hopes to be completed by the fall of 2006.
This is one of three sections of track in New Mexico that is not double. The other two sections are in Vaughn and Fort Sumner, Ruder said.
All off the companys 2,190 miles of track from Los Angeles, Ca., to Chicago, Ill., is double except for about 110 miles.
Fifty to sixty BNSF employees will be on the work site laying track and installing signaling after blasting and rock clearing is completed by other crews. Ruder says the track work will be done in late summer 2006.
On an average day, some 80 trains pass through the canyon area along one of the main rail routes. On busier days, as many as 100 trains can travel the same route. Trains will continue to run through the area while the construction is being done.
BNSF has had a 7 to 10 percent growth overall. This new track will relieve congestion that has been experienced in this area. It will improve our efficiency on this stretch of track, Ruder said.
The current tracks were built between 1905 and 1907. With continual maintenance and inspection, the railway, originally the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe (and now BNSF), has been able to continue to use the tracks and 1905-vintage steel bridges along the route.
CSX Corp., plans to lease off two of its Michigan lines.
One links Grand Rapids, Ludington and Manistee. The other one connects West Olive and Fremont.
Separate deals are under consideration for both lines, although nothing has been completed, The Grand Rapids Press reported Tuesday.
The lines in question are called subs, which is the rail equivalent of interstate connecting highways. The two connectors make up 175 miles of track in over 800 that CSX operates in Michigan.
Under one proposed offer, Marquette Rail Corporation would obtain the 127 miles of track that goes north from Grand Rapids to Manistee. Marquette is a partnership of Progressive Rail Corp., Lake States Railway, Farm Rail Systems and TranSolutions Inc. The plan would see them own the tracks but lease the land from CSX.
Another proposal would have Michigan Shore Railroad leasing both the tracks and the land making up the 48-mile rail line between West Olive in western Ottawa County and Fremont in southwestern Newaygo County.
CSX is shedding the lines as part of an ongoing program to redistribute its resources, said Kim Skorniak, a CSX spokeswoman. CSX employs 1,149 people in Michigan and ships 186,000 carloads on its tracks every year.
Our jobs are being outsourced, said Steve Kauffman, chairman of United Transportation Union Local 1765. They may not be outsourced overseas, but theyre at least being outsourced to another company.
Kauffman sent an informational letter to affected CSX workers. He said the employees wont lose their jobs but will have to follow the work.
They might be able to find CSX jobs as close as Grand Rapids, or have to move out of state.
|Burlington Northern & Santa Fe||(BNI)||47.99||46.68|
|Florida East Coast||(FLA)||43.99||43.25|
|Genessee & Wyoming||(GWR)||27.38||27.35|
|Kansas City Southern||(KSU)||20.46||19.90|
|Providence & Worcester||(PWX)||14.30||13.75|
Bipartisanship does indeed matter
Despite the best efforts of the ideologues who have infested the Bush Administration, bipartisanship and common sense triumphed this past week in restoring Amtrak funds to a basic level, from the shutdown-appropriation first passed by the Appropriations subcommittee.
There are many challenges lying ahead, and those of us who believe that this is one country, not just a disparate group of competing regions, need to remain vigilant in the face of the small men who have lately been so strident in the halls of government, opposing any and every thing that might work for the common good -- such as a national railroad system.
America has survived worse, and America will survive this, too, if we can live up to what Walt Whitman wrote about his fellow countrymen in 1855, in Leaves of Grass:
the genius of the United States is not best or most in its executives or legislatures, nor in its ambassadors or authors or colleges or churches or parlors, nor even in its newspapers or inventors . . . but always most in the common people. Their manners, speech, dress, friendships, the freshness and candor of their physiognomy, the picturesque looseness of their carriage . . . their deathless attachment to freedom, their aversion to anything indecorous or soft or mean, the practical acknowledgment of the citizens of one state by the citizens of all other states, the fierceness of their roused resentment, their curiosity and welcome of novelty, their self-esteem and wonderful sympathy, their susceptibility to a slight, the air they have of persons who never knew how it felt to stand in the presence of superiors
A Happy Fourth to all
- Jim RePass
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