Destination: Freedom

The newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative

Vol. 1 No. 13 ©2000, NCI, Inc. July 7, 2000

James P. RePass, President Leo King, Editor

A weekly passenger railroad update Acela Express resumes testing

Amtrak has resumed Acela Express testing on the Northeast Corridor following modifications to the locomotive trucks.

Amtrak's Rick Remington said last week, "New, longer bolts were installed in the truck assemblies after some of the original bolts were discovered broken or missing during earlier tests. The use of longer bolts was proposed by the manufacturers, and FRA safety engineers approved the resumption of testing."

Bombardier and Alstom are building 20 high-speed electric trainsets for the passenger railroad.

The trains resumed testing between Newark and Washington last week. Other test territories will include Metro-North tracks between New Haven, Conn., and New Rochelle, N.Y.

So long, bottleneck

CSX eliminates tough spot

Riders of Virginia Railway Express, the Washington, D.C., area commuter railroad operated by Amtrak, should get a faster, more reliable commute next year when work is completed on removing a major bottleneck in Alexandria, Va. reports Trains magazine's on-line edition (

The $10 million project, which gets under way this month, will expand two tracks to five at an important, 1.7-mile long interlocking used by about 80 trains each day from VRE, CSX, NS, and Amtrak. Federal funds cover 70 percent of the project's cost; VRE is picking up the rest.

Capacity on the route will effectively be doubled, and VRE anticipates adding two express trains a day to Washington, one on the Fredericksburg line and the other on the Manassas line, the Washington Post reported.

The improved interlocking is also the first step toward creating high-speed rail service between Washington and Richmond via CSX's main line, VDOT Secretary Shirley J. Ybarra said. The state has approved an initial $67 million toward the $380 million cost of building a third track for high-speed rail service between the two cities.

Some notes from the NCI conference

Denny Sullivan, Amtrak's former chief operating officer and now a vice president with Plasser USA, told the some 100 National Corridors Initiative members at its June Washington meeting that it was time for the freight railroads to start looking at public funding for their rights-of-way, especially if more trains are going to operate on the same tracks.

"Why is it we cannot participate in funding?" he asked. He observed that the Northeast Corridor at Penn Station, New York City, handled some 500 trains daily when he was with Amtrak.

Sullivan is also the passenger committee chairman for the Railway Progress Institute.

"The Long Island Rail Road invested $100 million for yards" and reverse-track signaling. "There was too much inflow on four tracks."

He also noted that "long-term costs in maintenance is more important than initial costs."

Former Massachusetts governor and current Amtrak board vice chairman Michael Dukakis remarked that "A first-class high-speed rail system is not an alternative -- it is an essential. We see rail as absolutely critical," and he said, "This is a full-court press," regarding regional corridors.

Mike Dysart, president of the High Speed Ground Transportation Assn., said, "We need to form a coalition between the Railway Progress Institute, NCI, HSGT and others."

Environmentalist Michael Replogle, transportation director at Environmental Defense, noted that in his view, corridor development and passenger train expansion, is a sustainable development, and the economy and environment, can be equal.

"As we develop high-speed rail, we have to be accountable to their equality." He said people have the right to know about the effects of their actions before decisions are made.

"Environmental justice," he said, includes "participation by all groups evaluating distribution of benefits..." and "remediating disparate impacts."

Replogle pointed out that "the decisions of forty years ago left toxins and noise pollution. Highways are the principal culprits, but rail can be, too. Taking sulphur out of diesel fuel will affect the railroad industry, but that is vital to making the catalysts work efficiently."

Done poorly, he added, "high-speed rail could exacerbate problems."

Jean-Pierre Ruiz, Talgo's man in the Pacific Northwest, observed that 20,000 passenger trains ran daily in the U.S. at one time, but only 400 today.

"The most efficient travel is within 350 miles," he added, "rail is cheap for government to subsidize." Ruiz is Renfe Talgo's president and chief operating officer.

Regarding his firm's trains, he said Talgos enjoyed a 95.9 percent reliability rate, and 100 percent availabilty rate.

Burlington Northern-Santa Fe, he said, "has its eyes on the future," indicating the freight carrier may be willing to strike a deal for more passenger trains, althugh Ruis was not speaking for BNSF.

He also said Talgo, Inc., had built a 135 mph non-electric engine, capable of sustaining 3 megajoules (MJ) in a head-on collision on the engine's nose, and 3 MJs at each coach end. He said they were tested at the FRA-AAR tracks in Pueblo, Colo., last fall.

Alstom's Frank Murphy, the firm's North American vice president, said "America is the emerging high-speed rail market of the world."

Virtually everyone present, whether politican or railroader, urged passage of Senate Bill 1900 and House Resolution 3700. Both are of great benefit to all railroads by giving states the right to spend their transportation dollars as they see fit, and to create a fund specifically for high-speed rail.

More commuter trains for Rhode Island

A bill signed into law by Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucci will expand MBTA service from Boston to Providence from five to eight daily runs. The added service was expected to begin as July 10.

The bill the Bay State governor signed into law was a $225-million transportation bond bill that includes a provision to expand commuter train service between Boston and Providence - and eventually to T.F. Green International Airport, according to the Providence Journal.

Three MBTA trains that formerly ended their trips in Attleboro will continue on to Providence, expanding the number of 43-mile daily trips from five to eight.

Later, the airport trips will begin once RIDOT completes its $30-million train station there. In exchange for the expanded service, a sometimes-noisy train layover facility will move across the state line from East Junction-Hebronville in South Attleboro into a Pawtucket, R.I. industrial zone near where Amtrak already has a maintenance-of-way base. That transfer must take place within 30 months.

U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee said, "It will be a tremendous factor in the continuing growth of the Rhode Island economy. It ties in the intermodal plans at T.F. Green Airport with a major metropolitan center."

Corridor lines...

Juries Award $1.3 million to Sunset survivors; more trials in August

Three Amtrak passengers were awarded a combined $1.3 million in lawsuits filed over the deadly 1993 derailment of the Sunset Limited in a bayou near Mobile.

Forty-seven passengers and crewmembers died after a towboat, lost in fog and darkness, rammed the railroad bridge over the bayou moments before the train began to cross. Several of the Amtrak cars derailed and fell into the bayou's murky water and mud.

More than 100 lawsuits were filed as a result of the tragedy, the worst in Amtrak's history, though most were settled.

The verdicts were unsealed on July 5. Amtrak was not a defendant, but defendants were CSX Transportation Inc., which owned the tracks over the bayou bridge; Warrior & Gulf Navigation Co., which owned the towboat; and Willie Odom of rural Mobile County, the towboat pilot.

One jury awarded $556,696 to Elizabeth Watts and husband Robert Watts of Placerville, Calif., and another jury awarded $750,000 to Houston teacher Michelle Dotting. All three were passengers in the same coach that plunged into the bayou.

Broox Holmes, an attorney for the defendants, declined to comment on the verdicts.

Four cases involving the Sunset Limited disaster remain unresolved. The next trial is scheduled to begin in August.

FRA gets new associate administrator

Mark E. Yachmetz is the FRA's new associate administrator for railroad development.

Administrator Jolene M. Molitoris said his role is "to successfully implement programs that have a historic opportunity to positively impact this nation's transportation system for the 21st Century."

Yachmetz's tasks include overseeing federal rail investment and technology development programs, and is the liaison with Amtrak management as the USDOT representative on both the Amtrak board of directors and the Amtrak Reform Council.

Molitoris said other duties include "oversight of the Northeast Corridor Improvement Program which is bringing high-speed passenger service in the Washington-New York City-Boston corridor, providing financial assistance to the freight rail industry including a $3.5 billion Railroad Rehabilitation and Infrastructure Financing Program; FRA's research and development program; and the "Next Generation High-Speed Rail Program" of high-speed passenger train technology development, including maglev.

Yachmetz formerly was director of FRA's Office of Passenger Programs. He was a civil engineering graduate from the Univ. of Maryland, and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, as well as the Transportation Research Board Committee on Guided Ground Transportation.

An end note...

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 email the crew at

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