Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 4 No. 27, July 7, 2003
Copyright © 2003, NCI, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - James Furlong
Editor - Leo King

A weekly North American rail and transit update

 


BULLETIN...  B-U-L-L-E-T-I-N

Jackson leaving USDOT by August 1

WASHINGTON, July 7 – Michael Jackson, Deputy Secretary of Transportation will resign August 1, sources tell NCI.

Jackson has effectively run USDOT because of the illness of USDOT Norman Y. Mineta, who is recovering from back problems.

“We are very sorry to see Michael go,” said NCI president and CEO James P. RePass.

“Mike Jackson has been a rock-solid manager who brought both technical and managerial skill to his office. People who understand transportation know this very well. All of us who care about and are concerned about the security and viability of the national’s transportation system, including the national passenger railroad system, are very sorry to see him go.”

“Jackson’s departure makes it even more important that the President reappoint John Robert Smith to the Amtrak board of directors. It is essential that we have continuity as we struggle with the task of determining the role and functionality of the national passenger rail system.”

Posted/Added 8-July-03 at 12:37 AM EDT


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Acela at Iselin, NJ

For NCI: Andy Pratt

Acela Express power car No. 2012, brings up the rear of Amtrak train No 2168, the scheduled 4:18 pm departure from Metropark (Iselin), N.J., on March 21. The train left Washington, D.C. at 2:00 p.m. on a dreary afternoon, and will crawl into New York City just as the evening rush hits full stride.

 

Will they be renominated?

Smith, Dukakis Amtrak terms near end

By Leo King
Editor

The five-year terms of Amtrak board chairman John Robert Smith and vice-chairman Michael Dukakis have expired. President Bush has not yet renominated either to their posts.

Sources pointed out that the Amtrak charter allows board members to retain their positions until the President relieves them of their duties.

Meanwhile, board member Sylvia de Leon, a lawyer in private practice, has asked the carrier’s legal department for an interpretation of District of Columbia laws where Amtrak is incorporated.

A source close to the developments said over the weekend, “There is a question that nobody answered about whether or not under District of Columbia law they remain on the board until replaced – and the debate is going on now."

The source added, D.C. law has been explained, “by some close to the debate, that seems to indicate that board members of a corporation whose terms expire continue to sit on that board until such time as they have been replaced or reappointed to a new term.”

In a letter to employees on June 30, Amtrak CEO David Gunn stated, “Our board members are appointed to five-year terms by the President and are confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The terms of two of our board members, Chairman Mayor John Robert Smith and Vice-Chairman Gov. Michael Dukakis, came to an end on June 26.”

Gunn, who is also the railroad’s president, added, “I have served for many boards of directors, and I can tell you that this has been one of the most supportive and committed I have ever known. The progress we’ve seen over the last year is directly tied to the leadership of Mayor Smith and Governor Dukakis – I will miss them and thank them both for their guidance and devotion to Amtrak.”

Gunn did not state who any new appointees would be, nor if the incumbents would be reappointed.

“Soon, we expect the Administration will make its recommendations to the U.S. Senate for candidates to fill the open positions on the board. I’ll keep you posted about what I learn on this front.”


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Northeastern states cool to Amtrak plan

Northeastern states and freight railroads are resisting a Bush Administration proposal to dismantle Amtrak, worried the change would strain finances and make city-to-city passenger rail less efficient.

Administration officials have been pressed about the impact of a plan to give states authority over routes and the final say on who would run trains. Amtrak’s flagship Northeast Corridor service runs between Washington and Boston.

Under the rail initiative expected to be submitted to Congress, Amtrak would become an operating company that would compete for business. Its responsibility for maintaining tracks and other infrastructure would be transferred over time to a federal-state compact under which states would pay half of all capital costs.

While states elsewhere are trying to develop rail and might welcome a 50-50 split, governments in the congested Northeast say they have their hands full. Most states in the region pay little or nothing for popular Amtrak service, but several oversee or run commuter rail lines that invest in construction projects that benefit Amtrak.

“It certainly can’t be run more efficiently by the states. That’s just nonsense,” Delaware Transportation Secretary Nathan Hayward said in an interview with Reuters News Service.

“We’re not in a position to accept any new responsibility, but even if we were, that would be the last model I would look to,” Hayward said.

“I think anytime you’re going to change from something known to unknown that is going to cause a great deal of anxiety,” Rutter said.

“I think once we have a bill we can show people and show how the system is going to work and how things are going to be managed some of that anxiety will dissipate.”

While Northeast states worry about added responsibility and costs, commuter and freight rail fear the change will interfere with operations, hurt rail safety and diminish efficiency.

“One of Amtrak’s fundamental purposes was to amalgamate several hundred disjointed passenger trains operated by more than 20 individual carriers into a coherent intercity passenger rail system,” Ed Hamberger, Association of American Railroads president recently told Congress.

“It was envisioned that a single carrier would yield greater efficiency and innovation. This approach remains just as sensible today.”

Freight railroads, which maintain virtually all of the infrastructure used by Amtrak outside the Northeast, also worry about the health of companies that would want to run passenger service as well as the shaky fiscal standing of the states.

Some private companies contract with states for commuter operations but Amtrak, which also runs commuter lines, is the only provider of city-to-city and long-distance service. On a typical weekday, it runs more than 250 trains.

Commuter line New Jersey Transit runs some of its trains each day over tracks owned by Amtrak and spends $100 million per year in programs that benefit the national rail system.

“I will say that the acid test for any proposal will be the plan for a multiyear federal capital investment that brings the Northeast Corridor into a state of good repair,” said Lynn Bowersox, a spokeswoman for New Jersey Transit, and a former Amtrak public affairs contact.

Most groups representing states and their transportation interests in the Northeast share this sentiment. They essentially want the federal government and Amtrak to upgrade the corridor before considering any Amtrak transformation. Some powerful lawmakers in Congress feel the same way. Legislation approved by key committees a fortnight ago would give Amtrak between $6 billion and $12 billion over the several years for operations and capital investment.


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Amtrak keeps two Michigan trains

Amtrak will continue running its two Michigan-funded trains through December 31 – with the understanding that Michigan DOT will pay $7.1 million for the service next year, officials said July 1. The passenger railroad lifted its July 1 deadline for a new contract deal and agreed to operate its Chicago-to-Toronto line, which runs through East Lansing, and its Chicago-to-Grand Rapids line, according to the Lansing State Journal.

“We will make sure the train service continues through the end of the year,” Amtrak spokeswoman Karina Van Veen said.

Ridership on the Chicago-Toronto route fell nearly 13 percent in a year, from 105,114 riders in 2001 to 91,714 in 2002, Van Veen said. The East Lansing station served 26,719 customers in 2001, the latest year numbers were available. That’s about 5 percent of Amtrak’s Michigan travelers, railway officials said.

Amtrak had threatened to end its services unless the state paid it $7.1 million this fiscal year. Amtrak officials say they need the extra money to offset the higher cost of services, but a $5.7 million cap on Amtrak’s funding from the state prevents the Michigan DOT from paying the railway more money.

The legislature created the cap in 2001 after granting Amtrak $5.7 million, an increase from the $2 million the rail service received in 2000. In May, the state Senate passed its transportation budget bill, which included language to lift the cap for Amtrak and pay the railway $7.1 million. That bill is now in the House Appropriations Committee. No timetable has been set yet for the full House to vote on it.


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Oregon mayors try to save Amtrak lines

Several Oregon mayors traveled to the state’s capital on June 30 to try to derail a legislative proposal to eliminate funding for two daily Amtrak trains between Eugene and Portland.

The elected officials said in Salem about 120,000 people ride the train between Eugene and Portland each year, and that cutting off funding would unravel years of work to promote passenger train services in the state, The AP reported.

Other people argued that ending the train subsidy would hurt efforts to promote tourism in the area and create hardships for businesses that are counting on improved rail connections to ship their products.

A key lawmaker, Rep. Randy Miller (R), who is co-chairman of the legislature’s budget-writing committee, said that in view of the state’s budget crunch, the state might not be able to afford the $10 million subsidy required to keep the trains running. Miller said that people rank education, social services and public safety higher than rail transportation.

The Portland Statesman Journal pointed out the state provides a $10 million subsidy to support the Cascades service. More than 120,000 commuters, tourists, seniors and others used the service as an alternative to cars or planes last year.

“I’m concerned that because of tough budget conditions… this year we may make a decision that will come back to haunt us in years to come,” Eugene Mayor Jim Torrey said.

The Cascades service provides two round-trip runs from Eugene to Portland daily, with stops in Albany and Salem.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski included funding for the service in his balanced budget proposal, but members of the legislature’s budget-writing committee have since removed it.

If funding is not included in the final budget, Amtrak will discontinue the route immediately, the newspaper reported.


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Illinois expects to see fast train soon

By next summer, passenger trains could zip through a 120-mile stretch of central Illinois at more than 100 mph, shaving nearly an hour off of the 5-hour trip from Chicago to St. Louis.

Depending on federal and state funding, Illinois DOT hopes to have 110 mph trains through the rest of the 280-mile Chicago-to-St. Louis corridor by 2010, cutting the current 5 -hour trip by about two hours.

The AP reported on June 29 High-speed rail supporters contend the faster trains alone won’t be enough to help trains carve out a bigger niche among travelers who prefer the convenience of cars and the speed of airplanes.

The supporters have begun lobbying the cash-strapped state to add two more daily Amtrak round trips between Chicago and St. Louis, arguing that ridership will improve only if the faster trains run when people want them.

“Higher speed and increased frequency are two sides of the same coin. It doesn’t make sense to improve the speed of trains if you don’t also give people more options and flexibility,” said Rob Nash, director of government relations for the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.

Transportation officials expect trains to begin running at 110 mph within a year along a stretch from Springfield to Dwight, marking the debut of high-speed rail in Illinois. Currently the trains run at 79 mph.

Also within a year, daily Amtrak runs along that corridor would increase from four to six under the proposal being pushed by a coalition of civic, business, transportation and environmental groups.

Costs have not been pinned down, but expanding to six daily runs could add $2 million to $3 million to the state’s current $12.1 million Amtrak subsidy, said Ray Lang, director of government affairs for the rail service.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the Illinois DOT haven’t taken a position on the plan proposed for the state budget year that begins July 1, 2004.

“Just because we don’t have a position doesn’t mean we aren’t interested. It’s just pretty early in the process,” said Illinois DOT spokesman Matt Vanover.

Rep. Joseph Lyons (D), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, likes the idea, but wonders whether money will be available and if higher speeds downstate can offset the slowdown north of Joliet that’s caused by heavy train traffic.

“I would love to see something like this happen, to see people get out of the must-drive mentality,” Lyons said.

On the heels of this spring’s $5 billion state budget gap and with the Bush administration asking states to take on a bigger financial stake in Amtrak, Nash acknowledged that finding the money could prove difficult.

He argued that adding service is the best way to capitalize on the more than $100 million that already has been invested in track improvements and a first-of-its-kind satellite system to ensure safety of high-speed trains.

“It would be penny wise and pound foolish to strand that investment,” Nash said.

Business travelers, in particular, could be lured by the mix of faster trains and expanded travel times, said Rick Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Coalition.

Unlike airports, Harnish said, trains run through downtowns, the destination of most business travelers – and, unlike cars, trains also allow business people to work during the trip, he said.

Those advantages would be more attractive with train schedules that better fit the business day, coupled with speeds that will reduce the commute time by 45 minutes between Chicago and Springfield, Harnish said.

Adding faster, more convenient rail service also could enhance economic development along the Chicago-to-St. Louis corridor, Harnish said.

“Communities that provide different options will be more attractive places to locate and that’s the real reason for doing this. This makes a place like Bloomington-Normal more attractive for living and doing business because if you want to get to Chicago, you can drive, you can fly up or you can take the train,” Harnish said.

New tracks to allow faster trains have been installed from Springfield to Dwight and new four-armed gates are being installed at nearly 70 crossings along the 120-mile stretch, according to IDOT.

By fall, Illinois DOT expects to complete testing of a satellite tracking system that can control a train’s speed, activate crossing gates or even stop trains if needed.

Once those tests are completed, the FRA will begin a detailed safety check required before passenger service can begin. Illinois DOT said that review could take six months, and high-speed service could begin in mid-2004.


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Ridership rises on Springfield line

Amtrak reported on June 25 a 38 percent jump in ridership on the 64-mile New Haven, Conn.-Springfield, Mass. line.

The carrier credited reduced fares and five added trains to the weekday schedule for the gains.

Amtrak did not report how much money the trains earned or lost.

The new fares, which took effect April 15, are an average of 40 percent lower than they were previously. The additional trains, which began running April 28, bring Amtrak’s total to 16 weekday departures on the Springfield line, up from 11 trains on the previous schedule.

Average weekly ridership on the line between Springfield, Mass. and New Haven, Conn. increased from 5,759 in the six weeks prior to the fare reduction (ending April 13) to an average of 7,962 in the seven weeks that followed (ending June 1).


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Amtrak ridership up in national count

Ridership increased during Amtrak’s fiscal year through May 30, but the railroad operated at a deficit.

The carrier reported its total operating revenue was $1,355,524,000. It had expected to earn $1,465,673,000.

Ridership grew modestly to 15,569,283 people. It had expected 15,361,203.

The carrier’s total expenses were down. It spent $2,126,834,000, while budgeting $2,234,893,000.


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LEGAL LINES...  Legal lines...

AAPRCO seek air brake waiver

The American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners, Inc. (AAPRCO) is asking the FRA for a petition for waiver of compliance for some safety standards. They want to be able to run up to two privately owned passenger cars in direct release mode (in the air brake line) anywhere within a passenger train consist that is set up in gradual release mode.

In particular, AAPRCO is seeking relief from Section 238.231(m)(2), (Docket Number FRA-2003-15340), which specifies that “up to two cars may be operated in direct release mode when the rest of the cars in the train are operated in graduated release mode, provided that the cars operated in direct release mode are hauled at the rear of the train consist.”

AAPRCO Docket Number FRA-2003-15340, is online at http://dms.dot.gov/search/document.cfm?documentid=247190&docketid=15340.

The private passenger car association says that would eliminate the placement restrictions of the direct release cars to the rear of the train.

Approximately 50 private cars are equipped with an ABD type brake that can only operate in direct release mode. AAPRCO states that these types of cars have operated in Amtrak service for at least ten years without incident. Until recently, these cars have been placed anywhere in the Amtrak trains, although Amtrak has not allowed placement of two such cars adjacent to one another. They are usually separated by at least one car operating in graduated release brake mode.

The petition states, “The requirement of the placement of all such cars at the rear of the train has resulted in Amtrak’s refusal to handle such cars on all graduated release mode trains where extra switching is required. This has reduced revenue to Amtrak and the inability of private cars to operate to certain locations.

The organization also noted, “AAPRCO knows of no technical reason why the direct release mode car has to be placed at the rear of a graduated release mode train.”

They also pointed out, “The Talgo train, which supports the only gateway between Seattle and Vancouver, has to have the private car next to the locomotive.”

The association added, “Otherwise, AAPRCO contends that Amtrak does not support the need to place such cars in any particular location in the train. AAPRCO states that if this waiver is granted, it would allow flexibility in the make-up of the train, thereby making more trains and locations available for use by the private cars.”

The FRA is inviting interested parties to submit written views, data, or comments, and the federal agency “does not anticipate scheduling a public hearing in connection with these proceedings since the facts do not appear to warrant a hearing.” The agency will consider communications received within 45 days of the date of the notice before final action is taken.


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BUSINESS LINES...  Business lines...

GE Evolution Series Engine

GE

General Electric reports three 4,400hp Evolution Series locomotives have traveled 75,000 miles in active service for Union Pacific, and 30 new “green” engines are slated to begin testing on BNSF.

 

GE engines continue testing on UP;
BNSF to get 30 in further testing

General Electric Corp. (GE) says its “Evolution series™) locomotives continue to perform extremely well as the initial three units surpassed 75,000 miles of active revenue service over the past ten weeks for Union Pacific Railroad.”

Two more new copies of the “green” engines were delivered to the railroad on June 5, and are currently in northern California undergoing a series of high-altitude emissions, fuel and tunnel tests, according to GE.

In the fourth quarter of 2003, Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Ry. will begin working with GE Transportation Systems to test 30 pre-production environmentally friendly locomotives on their trains. If they perform to BNSF’s satisfaction, the railroad has indicated that they would be interested in buying some.

“The first thirteen weeks of active service have been very encouraging, and we have learned a great deal about how GE Evolution Series locomotives perform in a demanding environment,” said Steve Gray, the firm’s transportation systems engineering general manager in Erie, Penna. On July 1.

“We will continue to aggressively test pre-production units throughout 2003 and 2004, focusing on accumulating operating hours in the toughest North American terrains with the goal of introducing the most reliable product at launch.”

In addition to the 75,000 miles surpassed, the first three locomotives have logged “more than 350 hours of full-throttle – notch 8 operation – while working on manifest trains out of Hinkle, Ore., and have performed well on their initial high-speed capability tests that were completed on several intermodal runs between Chicago and Northern California,” according to Gray.

After the second pair of locomotives completes high altitude testing, they will join the other three pre-production units in active revenue service.

The locomotive, stated GE in a press release, “is currently the only freight locomotive in active revenue service that complies with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s emissions standards that take effect in 2005. It incorporates the new GEVO-12, a 12-cylinder diesel engine, which produces the same horsepower as current 16-cylinder, 4,400 horsepower locomotives, cuts polluting gases and particulate matter by more than 40 percent and reduces fuel consumption by about 3 percent.”

The platform was introduced two years before EPA’s “Tier 2” emission standards take effect.

The engines operate on either AC or DC., and “have been designed to meet EPA regulations beyond 2005.”

General Electric Transportation Systems is online at https://www.getransportation.com/general/apps/freight_rail/evolution/index.html.


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Alstom’s U.S. unit hits financial snag

Alstom, the French power and transportation equipment company, reported on June 30 that it had discovered accounting irregularities at its American subsidiary that had “significantly understated” losses on a rail car contract.

The company said it would take a charge of € 51 million euros ($58.3 million U.S.) as a result, according to The New York Times reporting from its Paris bureau.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the FBI have begun inquiries into the unit, Alstom Transportation, Inc., which is based in Hornell, N.Y., about 50 miles south of Rochester, the company said.

Alstom, one of the world’s largest makers of trains, builds high-speed TGV trains in France and rail cars for Amtrak.

Alstom said the irregularities were discovered after the company received letters from unidentified employees of the American unit last month, alleging improprieties in the handling of a railcar contract in 1999, said Jean-Georges Micol, a spokesman for the company in Paris.

The company said that the American subsidiary had understated costs on the contract in anticipation of shifting them to other contracts, artificially inflating margins.

No statement posted

At its annual shareholders meeting on July 2 in Paris, chaired by Patrick Kron, Chairman and CEO, the firm reported “All the proposed resolutions were approved by shareholders.” The firm had not posted its profit and loss statement on its website by July 3.

Nothing was reported publicly about its North American problems, but Kron said, “As a result of the losses registered during the fiscal year 2002-2003, no dividend will be paid to shareholders for this fiscal year.”

Shareholders adopted a second resolution “related to the approval of the modified consolidated accounts, the 12th resolution related to the reduction of the nominal value of the shares from € 6 to € 1.25, the 13th resolution authorizing the board of directors to increase the share capital of the company by the issue of shares, with maintenance of preferential subscription rights.”

Kron said, “The capital increase, which our shareholders have just approved, is an important step in our program to strengthen the balance sheet of the company. It will be implemented when we have adequate visibility on the disposal of our Transmission and Distribution Sector and on the refinancing of the part of our debt due to mature in the course of next year.”

The disclosure comes at a difficult time for Alstom, which reported a loss of € 1.38 billion ($1.58 billion) for 2002, mainly incurred by charges for faulty gas turbines.

The company has been trying to cut its debt of more than $5 billion, and it will face shareholders at a meeting on Wednesday.

The news also follows disclosures in recent years by such other European companies as Royal Ahold and Allied Irish Banks about problems at their American subsidiaries.

“As far as trust in the company is concerned, this is not good at all,” said Franck Hennin, an analyst with Richelieu Finance in Paris.

“No one really knows where Alstom is headed. It would be dangerous to find another one of these accounting irregularities, because even if it’s nothing when you look at Alstom’s overall results, but when you look at its income, it’s enormous.”

Shares of Alstom, which have tumbled 90 percent in the last two years, fell 4.46 percent last week to € 3, in trading on the Paris stock exchange. Alstom said it had suspended two executives at the Alstom Transportation subsidiary – Stephan Rambaud-Meassonand, senior vice president; and Joe Janoveck, vice president for finance, pending further investigation.

“What is at stake is not the accounting practices of the company, it is the behavior of two individuals who have been suspended,” Micol said.

“We have quite a tight control system, and an active whistle-blowing policy even if we are not pleased with what we hear.”

Some analysts said they were not completely surprised by the company’s announcement.

“It’s a group that’s just messy,” said Hennin.

“It’s a group which was never able to properly manage its units. They couldn’t properly manage the story with the turbines, their trains, their boats – so it doesn’t surprise anyone that mistakes could have happened.”


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

New Jersey makes new tunnel plans

In a move that may affect generations of commuters, New Jersey transportation officials voted to focus on getting a new train tunnel built to New York Penn Station. They also set aside plans to extend a proposed new Hudson River rail tunnel to Grand Central Terminal on Manhattan’s East Side, according to the Newark Star-Ledger of June 30.

The undertaking is estimated to cost as much as $5 billion, a project New Jersey Transit say is essential for the state to prevent its already strained rail system from becoming overwhelmed by the growing numbers of commuters to Midtown Manhattan.

Rail advocates and watchdog groups expressed disappointment that a $4.9 million environmental impact study authorized by NJ Transit earlier this month will not explore the link to Grand Central Terminal.

“What was originally promised is now being put on the back burner,” said Al Papp, a director with the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers. He added, “Our expectations have been dashed.”

NJT officials said they opted to take a more pragmatic approach, otherwise they said they might jeopardize the progress on the tunnel by making the project too ambitious.

Connecting the tracks from the new tunnel to Grand Central would have increased the price by billions of dollars, drastically complicated the construction work and prolonged the job by years, officials said.

Moreover, New York transportation agencies have resisted NJT’s attempts to build a link to Grand Central, particularly because the agency wants to build a new link that would bring Long Island Rail Road trains to that station, officials said.

“Our main objective is to increase tunnel capacity under the river,” said NJT’s chief planner, Richard Roberts.

“All this talk about where we go on the other side is irrelevant unless we get the access across the river. We should not get caught up in a big study for a project we can’t build within the time-frame and we can’t afford to build,” Roberts said.

Even without the Grand Central Terminal connection, the new tunnel will not be completed until 2015 at the earliest, a schedule that depends upon New Jersey prevailing in the highly competitive battle for federal funding and on the massive construction work going smoothly.

The existing tunnels from New Jersey to Midtown Manhattan, which are used by Amtrak and NJT, were built in 1910. They carry about 19 trains per hour each way during rush hour - and that number will increase to 25 by the end of this year.

Sometime in the next decade that tunnel will not have enough capacity to handle the demand for commuter trains between New Jersey and Midtown, officials said. In the mid-1990s, NJT, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Metropolitan Transit Authority got together to study ways to resolve the capacity crunch.

The project, called “Access to the Region’s Core,” originally looked at 137 possibilities, then narrowed the field to about 15 and eventually to three options that included building a new tunnel, next to the current hole.

All three options remained under consideration until this year. “Alternative P” would end at Penn Station at a new lower level, “Alternative S” would go to the south side of Penn Station and then through to Sunnyside Yard in Queens. “Alternative G” would go through Penn Station and end at Grand Central Terminal, but the environmental study commissioned earlier this month does not call for an analysis of Alternative G.

For New Jersey commuters headed to jobs on Manhattan’s East Side, Alternative G could eliminate overcrowded subway cars or a long walk.

“I used to make that commute,” Papp said.

“I ended up walking because I was tired of being shoved and bumped and having people step on my shoes on the subway,” he remarked.

NJT officials said they do not have updated data on how many of their customers are headed to jobs on the East Side.

Roberts, the agency’s planner, said the connection to the East Side may become less critical in coming decades because New York City has made redeveloping its West Side, from 31st Street to 41st Street, its main priority.

Papp said research done about a decade ago showed a higher percentage of New Jersey commuters worked within walking distance of Grand Central Terminal than from New York Penn Station.

“It would be nice if they could do Alternative G,” said Janine Bauer, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a watchdog group, “but this is a less than ideal world. The tunnel itself is still important to the majority of the riders.”

“It’s still a great project, it’s just that the optimal result is going to elude us,” said Martin Robins, executive director of Rutgers University’s Transportation Policy Institute.


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California planners think third commuter
track will do the job, help freight lines, too

Facing a potential doubling of passengers and freight by 2025, California’s Caltrans and Metrolink plan to build a third track along a busy rail corridor through northern Orange County that serves as a gateway for the nation’s largest harbor complex.

Metrolink, the region’s commuter rail service, is seeking federal support for a $160-million project to add a third track along 30 miles of the corridor from Anaheim Canyon to Riverside, according to the Los Angeles Times of June 30.

Orange County is south of and adjacent to Los Angeles County.

Meanwhile, Caltrans’s rail division of is proceeding with similar plans to add 15 miles of a third track between Commerce and Fullerton. The proposal is expected to cost $85 million.

“Three things are in play: passengers, domestic trade and international trade,” said Wally Baker, a senior vice president for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp., which has studied the regional transportation system.

“If we don’t fix this, more trucks and cars will fill the freeways. Cargo has to get out of here someway,” he said.

The 64-mile route is one of two main corridors that connect the fast-growing ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to markets in the Midwest, Gulf states, and the East Coast. Metrolink and the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway primarily travel it.

From Los Angeles, the line heads through Buena Park, Fullerton, Placentia, Yorba Linda and Riverside before ending at a major rail junction in Colton. The line is mostly doubled tracked with areas with three tracks.

The other gateway — the Union Pacific Railroad right of way — starts in downtown Los Angeles and runs east through central Los Angeles County before reaching Colton.

Both lines are tied to the Alameda Corridor, a 20-mile toll road for freight trains between rail yards near downtown Los Angeles and the bustling harbor, where cargo from Pacific Rim trade is growing at 6 percent or more a year.

Data from the Economic Development Corp. shows that 46 passenger trains and 50 freight trains now use the western half of the northern Orange County corridor a day.

The route’s eastern leg, from Fullerton to Riverside, handles 17 passenger trains and 57 freight trains.

Projections indicate that the number of passenger and freight trains will more than double along the Orange County corridor by 2025. About 220 passenger and freight trains a day will travel the western portion, while 183 trains will use the eastern half.

Because passengers and freight now share some tracks, rail officials say, there are potential safety risks and delays for cargo, commuters and train crews.

“We will not be able to handle the growth as currently tracked,” said Anne Louise Rice, a government affairs manager for Metrolink. “The route has always been identified as an area for expansion, but the plans have become more important in the last three to five years.”

Metrolink is taking the first steps toward obtaining $79 million in federal funds for the project, Rice said. The rest of the money will come from a 50 percent match by the commuter line. If federal funds are secured, the project could be completed by 2007.

Work on the western leg of the route is scheduled to begin this summer, Caltrans officials say. The state has set aside about $22 million for the project. Another $60 million in funding, however, is threatened because of the state’s enormous projected budget shortfall.

“This will allow slower-moving freight trains to move to the side, allowing Amtrak or Metrolink trains to pass,” said Lena Kent, a spokeswoman for Burlington Northern and Santa Fe. “Hopefully, trains will get through the area quicker and grade crossing will not be blocked as long for motorists.”

The track additions are part of a broader effort to improve safety and travel times along the route. Also underway is a separate $400-million project to build 12 underpasses and overpasses in Anaheim, Fullerton, Placentia, Yorba Linda and on unincorporated county land.

The project’s centerpiece is a 5-mile, 40-foot-deep trench in Placentia to lower the railway below street level, allowing motorists to cross the corridor unimpeded. Drivers now wait up to 10 minutes at rail crossings while freight trains stretching a mile or more slowly make their way along the route.

A government agency called the Orange North-American Trade Rail Access Authority is making the improvements. Officials say the first three crossings will be completed in the next four years at an estimated cost of $40 million.

Construction of the first project, an underpass at Melrose Street in Placentia, began last fall. A second underpass at nearby Placentia Avenue has received environmental clearances.

Transit authority officials were in Washington, D.C., last week lobbying for $200 million in federal funds and speaking to a House railroad subcommittee.

They urged representatives to set high priorities for “mega” transportation projects with significant economic impacts or involve the movement of freight.


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Houston plods onward

Track is installed, trolley is not

The last piece of rail went into place on the Main Street bridge over Buffalo Bayou on June 29, and made Houston’s first light rail track stretch 7-miles from downtown past Reliant Stadium.

Much else remains to be completed, however, before the rail line will be in shape to serve commuters headed downtown or football fans going to a game, the Houston Chronicle reported last week.

Noticeably absent along the line are rail stations, signs and landscaping. Even more important, Metro has received only one of 18 cars that will travel the route, and trolley lines have been installed above only one-third of the track.

Despite all the work that remains, Metro officials insist they will meet their deadline and launch the light rail system Jan. 1, in time to work out the kinks before the spotlight is turned on Houston for Super Bowl week, less than a month later.

“We have lots of work yet to complete, but that is as scheduled,” said John Sedlak, the Metro vice-president overseeing construction.

“We are going to accomplish that. It hasn’t been easy, but we will get the project up and running,” he said.

The stakes are high. With about 130,000 Super Bowl visitors expected on game week, it would be a public-relations debacle if the tracks were dormant, say members of the Houston Super Bowl XXXVIII Host Committee, which is organizing events that week.

The original timetable had rail opening in October 2004. That deadline was moved up to have the line in place for the Super Bowl, to be played February 1.

Though trolley lines still need to be installed over two-thirds of the route, Metro president and CEO Shirley DeLibero says that is relatively quick work.

The trains themselves, of course, make up the other critical component. The first of 18 cars arrived two months ago and has been undergoing testing at Metro’s yard and test track near Six Flags Astroworld. Another car is scheduled to arrive next month from the Siemens plant in Sacramento. Cars are then supposed to begin arriving at the rate of one a week, starting in August.

Obtaining the cars remains a concern, however. Siemens’ ability to deliver them “in a fast-track mode remains challenging and requires close monitoring,” Metro reported on June 18.

A good deal of construction remains. At some intersections, traffic signals and crossing gates are still needed. Most have been put up on the line’s south half, and signals just now are starting to go up in Midtown and downtown.

Rail stations must be finished, light rail signs erected and trees and shrubbery planted. Transit centers have yet to be built in the Texas Medical Center and the south side of downtown.

A block-long fountain, which will be part of a new plaza called Main Street Square, remains under construction at Main and McKinney. In a number of downtown areas, Metro still has to finish repaving sections of streets and put in sidewalks.

“We’re on target to operate this system, though there will be last-minute things being done right up to the last day,” Sedlak said.

If there are unforeseen delays, he said, the system still could begin operating so long as the trains are certified, the track and power system are finished and signals work. Finishing touches such as landscaping can be completed after January 1 if necessary.

The $324 million project has proceeded at a remarkable pace, said project director Anthony Venturato, who has overseen construction of rail systems in other cities. Light rail was approved four years ago, and construction began just over two years ago.


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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.


FTA Issues Streamlined, More Flexible Procurement Guidelines

The Federal Transit Administration issued streamlined procurement rules on June 20 that provide added flexibility and discretionary authority to help public transportation agencies improve their procurement processes.

The FTA worked closely with APTA’s Procurement Task Force in updating its 1996 policy circular, “Third Party Contracting Requirements.” The task force was crucial in helping identify areas where procurement reform was needed, and to make transit industry business practices easier to understand and more responsive to the business climate.

The new 20-page document provides public transportation agencies and the business community with a single, consolidated document that incorporates all procurement and contracting guidance issued by the FTA during the last seven years.

FTA Administrator Jennifer L. Dorn said her agency was committed to a common-sense approach that uses plain English. “The changes are wide-ranging and should enable procurement staffs to exercise the flexibility and discretion that FTA has been working so hard to infuse into all of its policies,” she said.

More information about the new guidelines can be found in the June 30 issue of Passenger Transport.


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ATU President Jim La Sala Retires; Led Transit Union Since 1985

Jim La Sala, international president of the Amalgamated Transit Union since 1985, retired from the post on June 30.

La Sala is the second longest serving international president in the union’s history. He earlier served ATU as international executive vice president from 1981 to 1985; international vice president from 1969 to 1981; and international representative from 1968 to 1969.

Warren S. George, currently ATU international executive vice president, will succeed La Sala as international president of the union. Current International Vice President Mike Siano will move up to George’s former post.

La Sala entered the transportation field in 1946, as a bus operator for Public Service Coordinated Transport of New Jersey (now New Jersey Transit Corporation).


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Senate Panel Considers BRT Issues: Definition, Funding, and Appeal

Federal Transit Administrator Jennifer L. Dorn joined other transportation officials and specialists testifying at a June 24 hearing before the U.S. Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee on key issues related to Bus Rapid Transit, including its definition, funding sources, and increased appeal nationwide.

The committee’s chair, U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), presided at the hearing, titled “Bus Rapid Transit and Other Bus Service Innovations.”

In his comments at the hearing, Shelby noted that approximately 50 communities in 22 states have asked his committee to include specific BRT or enhanced bus projects, worth a total of $5 billion, in the coming reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century. Shelby emphasized that his committee is and will remain mode neutral, adding that he believes communities should decide locally what type of high-capacity transit system, such as BRT or light rail, would best meet their needs.

Dorn testified on behalf of the Bush Administration’s decision to make non-fixed-guideway projects eligible for New Starts funding in its TEA 21 reauthorization proposal—a decision that would allow some forms of BRT to qualify for the funds. Dorn explained that the proposed change in the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2003 gives more funding flexibility to local decision makers; she said the Administration is mode neutral, and is not trying “to get every community to chose BRT.”


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LACMTA Sets Gold Line Opening Date for July 26

Pending final approval from the California Public Utilities Commission, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority will initiate service on the Los Angeles to Pasadena Metro Gold Line on Saturday, July 26. The new 13.7-mile light rail line, with 13 stations, will connect Union Station in downtown Los Angeles with Sierra Madre Villa in East Pasadena via Chinatown, Highland Park, South Pasadena, and Pasadena.

The opening of the Metro Gold Line will extend Metro Rail to 73.1 miles. The Metro Gold Line will join two existing light rail lines, the Metro Blue and Green Lines, and the Metro Red Line subway.


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St. Louis MetroLink Extends Service to Shiloh-Scott Station

Representatives from the St. Clair County (Ill.) Transit District, Metro in St. Louis, and Scott Air Force Base joined dignitaries from the surrounding community June 21 to celebrate completion of the newest segment of MetroLink light rail, the 3.5-mile extension to the Shiloh-Scott Station. The first light rail vehicle pulled into the Shiloh-Scott Station at 9:40 a.m. that day.

The extension opened just over two years after the opening of the 17.4-mile St. Clair County extension of MetroLink. Regular revenue service to the Shiloh-Scott MetroLink Station began on June 23.

The celebration began when a MetroLink train carrying elected officials, dignitaries, St. Clair County Transit District staff, the Metro Board of Commissioners, Metro staff, and Scott Air Force Base officials arrived at the Shiloh-Scott Station, cutting through a ribbon stretched across the tracks as it pulled into the station. Attendees were treated to a C-9 flyover and performances by the U.S. Air Force Band of Mid-America.


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House Passes Homeland Security Funding Bill

On June 24, the U.S. House passed by a vote of 425 to 2 the Homeland Security appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2004 that funds the 22 agencies that were merged into DHS on March 1, 2003, including the Transportation Security Administration.

Details of the approved bill were not yet available as Passenger Transport went to press. The measure that was sent to the House by the Appropriations Committee contained $30.4 billion; however, a number of amendments were offered during debate on the House floor. The committee-approved bill is $535.7 million, or 1.8 percent, higher than the FY 2003 enacted levels. It also is $1 billion, or 3.7 percent, above the Administration’s request for FY 2004.


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

Norfolk-Southern at grade near Brosnan Yard, Ga.

NCI: Leo King

A Norfolk Southern train crosses a road near Brosnan Yard in Macon, Ga., in September 2002. Railroads fear the Administration may cut out funding for grade crossing protection.

 

Grade crossings aid may be lost

The White House’s proposed federal transportation spending plan could spell the end of the line for a program aimed at preventing accidents at the nation’s railroad crossings.

Under the plan, the Administration would no longer require states to spend $155 million a year of their federal transportation aid on rail highway crossings. Missouri’s share of the federal money is about $4 million annually, while Illinois receives about $8 million.

Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services reported on June 23 the crossing money, distributed until now under the federal government’s Section 130 program, would go to the states in a form that would give them greater latitude in how it is used to improve transportation safety.

Not long after USDOT Secretary Norman Mineta unveiled the transportation spending proposal last month, a railroad trade association voiced concern about elimination of the Section 130 program.

While not a significant line item in any state highway budget, industry officials say the rail-highway crossing program has helped in significantly reducing the carnage at the nation’s crossings over the past three decades.

Between 1975 and 2002, the number of collisions at highway rail grade crossings plunged from 12,126 to 3,066. The number of crossing deaths was cut by more than half over that span, too, from 917 to 355.

Rail safety experts also credit the Operation Lifesaver education program, tougher law enforcement efforts and various engineering improvements for the safety gains.

“We think that (program) is a very large part of the reason that grade crossing accidents and fatalities have both been cut sharply over the last 20 years,” said Tom White, a spokesman for the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

Edward Hamberger, AAR’s president, said in a May letter that the group was “strongly opposed” to eliminating the railroad crossing program and urged state highway officials to continue their support for it.

“Now is not the time to do away with a tried and true highway safety program,” Hamberger wrote to the state highway group.

The American Association of State and Highway Transportation Officials wants to keep the rail crossing program alive and to even increase the funding that flows to its member states, said Leo Penne, the organization’s program director for intermodal and industry activities.

The current $155 million-a-year level has not kept pace with inflation since the mid-1980s.

The Bush Administration believes that its proposal – and that is all it is at this point – would bolster transportation safety by giving the states more flexibility in spending their money, said Warren Flatau, an FRA spokesman.

There will be no net loss of safety funds as a result of the proposal, federal transportation officials say.

“For our part, the FRA will continue to work in close cooperation with the state departments of transportation in providing technical guidance, assistance and recommendations in addressing grade crossing safety concerns,” Flatau said.

Railroad safety advocates fear that rail crossing safety will lose what little money it gets if the projects are forced to compete with other needs.

“I would hate to see them bring it in and not earmark it toward railroad safety because chances are that they would forget about it,” said Denny Moore, a trustee for the nonprofit Angels on Track Foundation.

“They would use it somewhere else,” he feared.

Moore’s teenage son Ryan was killed at a crossing in 1995. The nonprofit foundation promotes railroad grade crossing safety in Ohio.

Meanwhile, efforts to draft a new six-year, $247 billion transportation spending blueprint are moving forward in Congress.

Whether states will be required to continue spending prescribed amounts on rail crossings is still a topic for debate, although several sources believe Section 130 will survive. Rep. Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.) has introduced a bill that not only would preserve the program but also increase national spending to at least $300 million.

In Missouri, the state tackles its problem crossings using its share of the federal money, stuck at about $3.998 million a year since 1991, and another $1 million generated by a special tax on vehicle licensing.

The state and railroads review grade crossings to compile a list of the most dangerous. The projects are ranked in order of priority, and about 25 to 35 are funded each year.

The state, for instance, helped improve the Rock Hill Road crossing over the Union Pacific Railroad tracks in Webster Groves, once listed in a federal analysis as one of the 10 most dangerous in the state.

The crossing has a full set of lights and gates. But for some reason, when no trains were coming, southbound motorists occasionally were confused and made left turns from Rock Hill onto the tracks instead of nearby Lockwood Avenue.

“There was uniform recognition by the railroad, by the state and by us that that was a problem,” said Webster Groves Public Works Director Dennis Wells.

Nothing - signs, striping, lighting - prevented the occasional wrong turns.

Eighty percent of the $443,143 cost to realign a section of Rock Hill near the tracks was covered using federal money from the federal program. The city and Union Pacific also chipped in for the project, which was largely completed last summer.


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BNSF to offer buyouts in Topeka

Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Ry. will offer early retirement packages to 600 of its 1,100 employees in Topeka, Kans., a railroad spokesman said June 27.

The employees can choose a $90,000 lump-sum payment with benefits stopped or an annuity that pays $2,500 each month for up to 36 months and continued health and welfare benefits, according to a report from The AP. Employees were to receive the offer by e-mail on July 1 and must respond by July 15. The company will decide by July 30 which responses they want to accept.

BNSF spokesman Steve Forsberg said management expects 100 to 150 employees to accept the buyouts.

“This is a purely a voluntary offer,” Forsberg said.

“There is no work being transferred. There is no shutdown.”

He said the buyouts are a result of technological advancements reducing the number of employees needed in certain departments.

The buyout offers were sent to about 250 workers in crew calling, 150 in accounting, 100 in timekeeping and 50 in the shops.

BNSF has about 1,100 employees in Topeka, down from 2,100 in fall 1999.

The subsidiary of Fort Worth-based Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. last year considered closing a shop in either Burlington, Iowa, or Topeka, but instead cut 248 employees in both shops.

Forsberg said no decision has been made on a possible consolidation of the two shops.


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Déjà vu for UP; no one hurt in Nebraska

Union Pacific Railroad, already facing criticism after a runaway train in California derailed and injured 13 people, is investigating how 70 freight cars rolled away from a Nebraska yard days later.

The cars rolled five miles out of the North Platte switching yard uncoupled to an engine June 22, Union Pacific spokesman John Bromley told The AP.

No one was hurt, and none of the freight cars were damaged. A locomotive was sent to the area and hauled the cars back to the yard, said another company spokesman, Mark Davis.

“The big question we’re trying to answer is how and why this happened,” Davis said.

“Union Pacific came under fierce criticism after 28 runaway rail cars loaded with lumber reached speeds of 86 mph before derailing in Commerce, Calif., a Los Angeles suburb, injuring 13 and demolishing two houses on June 27.”

Meanwhile, UP officials told 300 residents July 5 that they would directly handle all claims for losses from the accident.

“Union Pacific apologizes and takes full responsibility for what happened last Friday,” said Jeff Verhaal, the railroad’s Western regional vice president. “We’re committed to helping every person recover and get back to the same life they had before.”

Officials said the railroad would pay all of the city’s costs related to the accident and would set up an office to receive damage claims from residents. UP is setting up accounts at banks to distribute emergency cash advances to residents, railroad claims representative Gil Torres said.

Rail officials also stood by their decision to route the runaway train through the Commerce neighborhood, saying that all other options could have resulted in a tragedy.

Asked why residents and police weren’t warned of the impending derailment, railroad operations chief Ted Lewis gave a response that drew gasps.

“We thought we had a system to notify in case we had an emergency, but we didn’t,” he said. “It’s clear based on what happened in this case.”

Councilman Ray Cisneros said he was troubled by that answer. “The fact that there was no advance warning seems to me a blatant disregard for the people of Commerce,” he said. The city, he said to applause, “was made a sacrificial lamb.”

The meeting, held at the Commerce Civic Center, was the first between residents and rail officials.

Residents listened in silence as officials outlined the events of that day.

“I’m here to see what they have to say and to see how they can play with human life like this,” said Pedro Zambrano, 41, who hasn’t been allowed to return to his apartment since the crash.

“Ever since that day, I’ve been feeling nervous.”

According to federal investigators, the accident was caused by a series of errors and miscommunications, which led to a string of 31 cars rolling free from a Union Pacific yard in Montclair.


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Rail freight traffic up in June

U.S. rail intermodal traffic rose 2.9 percent (22,419 trailers and containers) and U.S. carload traffic fell 1.8 percent (24,083 carloads) in June 2003 compared to June 2002, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported July 3 from Washington, D.C.

On the positive side, carloads of coke and coal were up 40.6 percent (5,715 carloads) and 0.8 percent (4,356 carloads), respectively. Carloads of food products (up 4.0 percent, or 1,347 carloads) and pulp and paper (up 2.7 percent, or 897 carloads) also rose in June. On the negative side, carloads of metallic ores were down 18.0 percent (12,321 carloads), carloads of primary metal products were down 10.6 percent (5,665 carloads), grain carloads were down 6.9 percent (5,524 carloads), and carloads of motor vehicles and parts were down 5.2 percent (5,516 carloads). All told, 12 of the 19 major commodity categories tracked by the AAR saw carload declines in June 2003 compared with June 2002.

For the second quarter of 2003, total U.S. rail carloadings were down 0.2 percent (8,887 carloads). During this period, carloads of coal were up 1.5 percent (25,518 carloads), carloads of coke were up 43.5 percent (19,070 carloads), and carloads of waste and scrap materials were up 5.2 percent (6,201 carloads). Commodities showing year-over-year carload declines in the second quarter included motor vehicles and parts (down 4.9 percent, or 16,797 carloads), metallic ores (down 5.9 percent, or 11,607 carloads), and chemicals (down 2.6 percent, or 9,938 carloads).

For the first six months of 2003, U.S. rail carload traffic totaled 8,381,123 cars, up 0.2 percent (14,695 carloads), as gains in metallic ores, coke, waste and scrap, and pulp and paper (among other commodities) offset declines in coal, grain, and motor vehicles and parts (among other commodities).

U.S. intermodal rail traffic – which consists of trailers and containers on flat cars, is not included in carload figures, and is comprised of a huge variety of products – totaled 4,829,897 trailers or containers, up 4.3 percent (102,314 trailers and containers) in the second quarter of 2003 compared with the second quarter of 2002, and was up 6.4 percent (290,029 units) for the first six months of the year.

Total volume for the first 26 weeks of 2003 was estimated at 739.7 billion ton-miles, 0.8 percent ahead of last year’s first 26 weeks.

“The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis recently reported that U.S. GDP growth was 1.4 percent in both the first quarter of 2003 and the fourth quarter of 2002. Relatively lackluster recent rail traffic data seem to support the view that economic growth for the current period might not be appreciably higher,” noted AAR Vice President Craig F. Rockey.

“Still, we’re happy that intermodal volumes continue to rise and we look forward to future increases in carload traffic as well as rail customers take advantage of the tremendous advantages railroads provide,” Rockey added.

Canadian intermodal traffic was up 5.6 percent (9,115 units) in June 2003 compared with June 2002, up 7.2 percent (37,504 units) for the second quarter of 2003, and up 9.5 percent (92,611 units) for the first six months of 2003. Intermodal volume totaled 1,067,701 trailers or containers for the 26-week period.

Canadian carload traffic was down 1.7 percent (4,364 carloads) in June 2003, paced by a decline in carloads of metallic ores (down 58.0 percent, or 5,666 carloads) and coal (down 9.8 percent, or 3,452 carloads). On the positive side, Canadian carloads of chemicals were up 3.6 percent (1,739 carloads) in June 2003, while carloads of lumber and wood were up 9.8 percent (1,320 carloads).

For the second quarter of 2003, Canadian carload traffic was down 2.6 percent (21,800 carloads), as declines in grain (down 11.9 percent, or 11,760 carloads), motor vehicles and parts (down 5.9 percent, or 6,263 carloads), and coal (down 4.4 percent, or 5,033 carloads) offset increases in coke (up 50.0 percent, or 2,108 carloads) and petroleum products (up 29.3 percent, or 1,978 carloads), among other categories. Total year-to-date carloadings for Canadian railroads totaled 1,608,333 cars, down 1.7 percent (27,900 carloads).

Carloads originated on Transportación Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM), a major Mexican railroad, were down 4.2 percent (1,500 carloads) in June, down 5.1 percent (5,955 carloads) in the second quarter, and up 2.2 percent (4,806 carloads) for the year to date. Intermodal originations on TFM were up 18.4 percent (2,337 units) in June, up 20.8 percent (8,140 units) in the second quarter, and up 33.6 percent (23,444 units) for the year to date.

For just the week ended June 28, the AAR reported the following totals for U.S. railroads: 334,947 carloads, down 1.7 percent from the corresponding week in 2002, with loadings down 2.2 percent in the East and down 1.4 percent in the West; intermodal volume of 196,736 trailers and containers, up 1.9 percent; and total volume of an estimated 29.3 billion ton-miles, up 0.3 percent from the equivalent week last year.

For Canadian railroads during the week ended June 28, the AAR reported volume of 62,739 carloads, up 1.1 percent from last year; and 41,400 trailers and containers, up fractionally (0.03 percent) from the corresponding week in 2002.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 26 weeks of 2003 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 9,989,456 carloads, down 0.1 percent (13,205 carloads) from last year; and 5,897,598 trailers and containers, up 6.9 percent (382,640 trailers and containers) from 2002’s first 26 weeks.

The AAR is online at www.aar.org.


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ACROSS THE POND...  Across the pond...

Connex loses commuter route

One of Britain’s worst performing train operators, Connex, was stripped of its south-eastern commuter franchise on June 27 after a confidential report by auditors raised concern about serious deficiencies in its finances.

The French-owned company will hand over management of its busy Kent and Sussex trains to the strategic rail authority by the end of the year, according to London’s The Guardian.

Connex is also one of the partners that are now operating the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. The firm took over all Bay State commuter lines from Amtrak on July 1.

It will be the first operator since privatization in 1996 to be thrown off the network in the middle of a franchise.

SRA chairman Richard Bowker said he had lost confidence in Connex’s ability to manage its day-to-day cash flow, budgets and forecasts.

“I am not prepared to put any more taxpayers’ money into a company in which we have lost confidence,” he said.

He blamed “botched management,” and added, “I was worried that they did not understand enough to be able to predict and manage for the future with the kind of competence we had every right to expect.”

Industry sources said the decision followed a devastating report by the accountancy firm Price-Waterhouse-Coopers, which the SRA commissioned after giving Connex an extra £58 million subsidy at the end of last year.

The report, said to be “unemotional but damning” and as long as a phone directory, concluded that Connex had an inadequate grasp of basic financial modeling and cash flow management.

One SRA source said: “If they can’t manage their own pocketbook, how are they going to get to grips with action to improve their performance?”

Connex South Eastern is among the busiest rail networks in Britain. It carries 132 million passengers a year, running 1,800 services a day – but one in five trains runs late, and trains are typically 103 percent full during the morning peak.

Connex executives, including the chairman, John O’Brien, who was only appointed that morning, were summoned to a meeting with Bowker to hear the news on June 26.

They were given 40 minutes to decide whether to cooperate by continuing to manage the franchise until the end of the year.

In an unprecedented move, the SRA had secretly formed its own company, South Eastern Trains, to take over instantly if Connex refused to comply.

South Eastern Trains is led by John Nelson, a former head of British Rail’s Network South-East region, and Terry Worrall, a former head of Thames Trains, who was criticized for its role in the 1999 Ladbroke Grove crash.

Under an agreement made on Thursday (June 26) evening, South Eastern Trains will take on the franchise at the end of the year and hand over to a new private operator by the end of 2004.

Anthony Smith, chairman of the Rail Passengers’ Council, said: “What passengers do not want to see is any meltdown in performance while the transition to holding arrangements are put in place.”

In 2001 Connex gave up the neighboring South Central franchise early, after failing to secure its renewal. Its successor, Govia, complained of inheriting “a bit of a dog.”

Mick Rix, general secretary of the drivers’ union ASLEF, criticized the SRA cash injection last year, saying: “What’s the point in handing £58 million to Connex and then snatching the franchise away a few months later, only to hand it to another group of fat cats?”

Connex came bottom in a recent poll of rail passengers, 65 percent saying they were satisfied with their journeys and 19 percent happy with the way it dealt with delays.


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South Korea railroaders strike briefly

South Korea detained about 1,400 striking rail workers June 28 as President Roh Moo-hyun began to get tough on labor unrest after criticism his left-of-center government has been too lenient on unions.

By Wednesday, rail workers ended their strike.

Incessant labor action has cast a cloud over Asia’s fourth-largest economy, reflected in government data released June 28 that showed industrial output fell for a second month in a row in May due to a strike by truck drivers, Reuters reported.

Several thousand railway workers went on a nationwide strike early Saturday morning (June 28), demanding the government scrap plans to restructure the state-owned railway network.

“The strike is clearly illegal in every aspect and cannot be justified,” Construction and Transportation Minister Choi Jong-chan told a news conference.

The 1,400 union members were detained after riot police armed with shields stormed a university campus in the capital to break up a rally involving around 3,000, a construction ministry official said.

Authorities also said around 2,000 other members of the rail union held demonstrations in other cities.


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Germany scraps Ruhr-region maglev project

German officials on Friday scrapped a $3.8 billion plan to build a high-speed magnetic-levitation train link across the industrial Ruhr region, citing concerns over financing for the ambitious project.

The TransRapid train, developed by a joint-venture owned by steel maker ThyssenKrupp AG and engineering giant Siemens AG, made its commercial debut December 31 in Shanghai, China, but cost concerns have long dogged two proposed projects in Germany, including the proposed 49-mile link between the western cities of Duesseldorf and Dortmund, wrote The AP on June 27.

“Given the fact that the national government is only prepared to assume very limited financial risks of its own, and this state isn’t prepared to assume any, we have come to the conclusion that we must draw the line between what we would like to do and what is feasible,” Peer Steinbrueck, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state, told reporters. He also cited concerns over the link’s profitability.

A similar project, a 23-mile link between downtown Munich and the southern city’s airport, is still being pursued.

The two projects in Germany, dubbed Metrorapid, were slated to receive considerable federal funding – $1.99 billion for North Rhine-Westphalia and $628 million for Munich – but both have grumbled it wasn’t enough.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: Bloomberg.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)28.52028.410
Canadian National(CNI)48.60047.610
Canadian Pacific(CP)22.77022.250
CSX(CSX)30.45029.990
Florida East Coast(FLA)26.80025.400
Kansas City Southern(KSU)12.01012.060
Norfolk Southern(NSC)19.42019.310
Union Pacific(UNP)57.80057.950


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

Passing at Pawtucket, RI

NCI: Leo King

Judging by the shadows in the heavy brush, it was early to mid-morning on the Amtrak right-of-way in Pawtucket, R.I. in August 1979. The train is most likely either an extra (it's only a two-car train) passing Lawn tower and interlocking, or No. 190, a daily train, due by at 11:14 a.m. One thing is quite clear - E-8A 497 is leading the train. By October 1983, Amtrak only owned five E-8As, and they were numbered 495-499. A Conrail local freight job is in the far distance at the top right and is tying up at “Six Bridges,” the former NYNH&H classification yard. That is the yard job that appeared in this space last week.

End Notes...

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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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