'Netminder' goes dark;
new service starts
A reader informed us recently that the "Netminder" link on our home page was not working. After some investigation, we discovered that this page change notification service had ceased operations.
Those readers who may have been participating in this service to get a special e-mail notice when we updated the home page will have to re-join the new service that we have engaged.
Our new service at www.changedetection.com is now active on the NCI home page. All you need to do is enter your e-mail address and click on the sign-up button and follow the next few screens.ð Each time we update the NCI home page, typically when we add an edition of Destination: Freedom or add a conference announcement, you will get an e-mail notifying you of the update.
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NCI: Leo KingNo. 93 enters a tunnel in New York City as Amtrak engineer John Springer takes the passenger train over the road between New Haven, Conn., and New York with an AEM-7 on December 5, 2001.
|Penn station tunnels to be repaired|
The tunnels in and out of New York's Penn Station will no longer be firetraps. This is the result of negotiations and discussions following an expose by D:F in March 2000 (and revisited in this space several times thereafter) that was picked up by the New York and national media the following December.
Just as so many were vacating Washington for the Independence Day holiday, Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta announced an award of $76,748,000 to Amtrak to fund improvements to its tunnels - two from the north via the Hudson River, and four from the opposite end under the East River.
As Mineta put it, "Securing critical transportation infrastructure is one of President Bush's highest priorities," and the money will "provide travelers in the New York area a significantly enhanced level of safety and security."
New York Gov. George Pataki added that although the tunnels are owned by Amtrak and accommodate its heavy Northeast corridor traffic, more than 300,000 New York and New Jersey commuters also use them each day. He noted New York had already been making improvements to the East River tunnels, and said this would augment that effort.
The funds will cover costs of fire and life safety improvements, including structural rehabilitation, installation of modernized tunnel ventilation and communication systems, and improvements for emergency access and egress (involving 233 ladders in all six tunnels), and equipment to reduce or eliminate entirely the possibility of fire. This will reimburse Amtrak for actual costs incurred in making the improvements.
FRA spokesman Warren Flateau told D:F this money has nothing to do with the DOT bailout of Amtrak announced at about the same time. This money is in no way related to that, he said.
"This grant came out of 9/11," he said, "They're getting about three quarters of the money (of the $100 million total) this year because that's all basically they can spend. In other words, there's only so much work." He counted "about twenty-two projects" involved in the repair. All of them come under the heading of making it far less likely that there will be some horrendous cataclysmic accident in those tunnels, a possibility spotlighted by D:F during the past two years.
Once that money is spent, "they (Amtrak) will draw down on the other money when they continue on these improvements." That will be in the next fiscal year.
There had been reports of a NIMBY issue with some of the neighbors - mostly businesses located in points of tunnel egress on the Manhattan side of the North Tunnels - about the construction and disruptions to their operations in setting up the infrastructure. Flateau assumed "that's probably a local issue," and likely dealt with by the state of New York in negotiations with those involved.
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Get the books in order
DOT's demands are quite demanding
Neither DOT nor Amtrak have publicly released what the specific conditions are that they agreed to, nor numbers involved, other than the amount of the loan, but an informed source told D:F last week the amount of the loan will be "Up to $100 million, dependent on total qualifying capital expenditure projects." The repayment date will be November 15, 2002. The interest rate though is not fixed, but will be "The comparable Treasury securities rate, as determined by FRA prior to execution (as of June 27, it was 1.81 percent)."
The transaction is a direct FRA loan to Amtrak under the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program.
Amtrak's "credit risk premium [is] zero, subject to recalculation prior to execution."
The FRA required some conditions and available "collateral" for the $100 million loan.
Amtrak management is required to significantly improve financial controls and accounting transparency, including all revenue and expenses associated with rail operations by route, and budgeted/actual expenditures for all capital investments.
The carrier "must provide its monthly performance report to the board of directors, DOT and Congress," and the same details and reports on financial performance that it makes available to Amtrak management at the same time as it provides these details and reports on financial performance that it makes available to Amtrak management, for the remainder of fiscal 2002.
The railroad can spend Amtrak funds only on existing plant and services - no expansions. Except where written permission from DOT is obtained, Amtrak will suspend use of any of its funds for actual expansion or planning of expansion of rail service, including high-speed Rail, through fiscal 2003.
All management salaries are frozen, and it must suspend any annual bonus for calendar year 2002. The board of directors is allowed to make exceptions where necessary to comply with existing agreements. Raises are suspended for people who make $75,000 annually or more.
The carrier must "Seek cooperation of all its employees in achieving substantial operating cost reductions..."
Within ten days, Amtrak must provide DOT with all of the work projects of Amtrak's third-party consultants, and Amtrak and DOT will jointly retain a third party consultant to report on a range of management efficiencies and cost reduction options. The DOT Inspector General is to comment on the draft consultant report and provide assessment of such to DOT and Congress.
Within 30 days, provide a report containing an inventory and existing valuation of all Amtrak assets and the extent to which they are encumbered, and a proposal, timeline and estimated cost for obtaining an ongoing and updated valuation of all assets.
The DOT IG will comment on such reports and provide an assessment of such to DOT and Congress.
Amtrak must provide to the board of directors and DOT by August 1 a detailed report on the operating relationships with commuter rail systems, to explain the effect of an Amtrak shutdown on those commuter agencies. DOT Inspector General is required to comment on such reports and provide assessment of such to DOT and Congress.
Amtrak will provide the directors with a prioritized list of expense reduction options for implementation in fiscal 2003, to identify potential operating reductions of $100 million from currently forecast fiscal 2002 expenses.
Amtrak must agree, along with the Administration, to secure funding to cover the remaining need for up to $170 million for fiscal 2002. The Administration will not request amendments or added conditions, to these currently mutually agreed conditions. The Administration's support is dependent on Amtrak's timely compliance with all other conditions set forth.
Amtrak is also required to provide the "operational information, including origin and destination data by class of service, route, numbers of passengers, revenue, passenger-miles; transportation (rail fare) revenues separated from accommodations revenues; and in one-way city pairs where possible."
The carrier is also required to compile an "on-time performance, one-time report, then monthly and by fiscal year, by route and sub-route where applicable, by direction. NO adjustment for DOT standards. On Time is ON THE SCHEDULED TIME."
The capitalization was in the original text.
Amtrak is also required to "provide whatever is necessary to calculate average minutes late arrival for all trains" at destinations, standard deviations, measurement of how late 95 percent of the trains arrive, percentage of late trains at destination, percentage of late trains at origin, average initial terminal delay, and percentage of trains completing their run to the scheduled destination.
Amtrak provided a preliminary list of "available collateral, currently unencumbered. Values were reported to be net book value and "current escalated value." The values include all encumbrances, but for these assets there are no encumbrances. Figures are in millions of dollars.
The total estimate is $180 million to $286 million.
This may not be all of the available collateral Amtrak has. The original document simply labels it "List Of Collateral" as of June 28.
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|Amtrak uses web sales for deep discounts to get riders aboard|
July 3 (Reuters) - Six dollars might not fill up your car's gasoline tank, but it can get you from Chicago to Detroit on Amtrak.
Amtrak is increasingly relying on Internet clearance sales, according to a report via Reuters on July 3, with discounts as high as 88 percent, to fill empty seats.
A passenger going from St. Louis to Kansas City could try a special online fare of $5.30 on the 283-mile trip, an 80 percent discount, and a weekend jaunt from Seattle to Portland can be found for $7.20, about 69 percent off the normal fare.
Before the June 28 government deal, Amtrak's crisis shook train travelers with threats of a shutdown to begin after July 4.
The discounts may seem counter to Amtrak's cash-raising goal, but its rationale is simple: the trains are running anyway, so a ticket that brings in even a few dollars is better than leaving the seat empty.
"To haul an empty seat and to have no revenue, it's better to sell it for a nickel," said Gilbert Carmichael, chairman of the Amtrak Reform Council.
Still, do not expect discounts on the some of the more popular trips, such as the Boston-to-Washington line.
On a recent day, Amtrak sold 381 clearance tickets, which can be found on Amtrak's website under the "Rail Sale" promotion, said Amtrak spokesman Clifford Black. That's more than 10 times as many as it sold daily last year, Black said.
The clearance sales have created some extraordinary discounts. The trip between Grand Rapids, Mich., and Chicago, which winds along 176 miles of track and normally costs $35.00, can be bought for $4.30.
The reason? On a recent day, Amtrak carried only 84 passengers on the journey, leaving around 150 seats empty.
Black said Amtrak managers place blocks of seats on clearance depending on capacity. Clearance seats are limited in number, and carry heavy restrictions.
Amtrak's deep discounts also may lure customers into considering rail travel as an alternative to cars and planes, said John Spychalski, a transportation expert at Pennsylvania State University, particularly those travelers still fearing plane travel after last September's attacks on America.
"In some cases, it does work and will bring them back even though the fare the next time might be higher," he said.
However, the fate of Amtrak is in the hands of the federal government, which agreed in last week's deal to supply a $100 million loan to keep it going through summer.
To be sure, rail fare sales will play only a small part in boosting Amtrak's revenue. Of the 65,000 tickets sold on an average day, Black said, fewer than 400 tickets are sold at internet-only clearance prices. Another 6,400 are sold on the Web at regular fares.
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|Downeaster to make another new stop|
Amtrak's Downeaster will add Old Orchard Beach, Maine to its schedule of stops on July 12. Just last week it added Woburn, Mass. to its list of places to pick up and drop off people.
The decision ends months of speculation over when the seaside community would get train service on the Downeaster's Portland-to-Boston run.
Nathan Moulton, deputy director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, confirmed the start of service in a letter to town officials, reports The AP.
He said he is comfortable with the start date after reviewing the progress of the construction of Old Orchard's train platform.
The platform is not expected to be completely finished until the start of August, but a 100-foot section should be ready this Wednesday or Thursday, along with lights and a temporary handicapped access lift.
Old Orchard Beach is a seasonal station where trains will stop through Columbus Day and possibly into November, depending on ridership, Moulton said.
He said the town has already been added to Amtrak's reservation system and new schedules were being printed Monday.
Southbound trains are scheduled to depart Old Orchard Beach at 6:21 a.m., 9:01 a.m., 2:16 p.m. and 4:16 p.m. Northbound trains will be at 12:01 p.m., 2:23 p.m., 8:38 p.m. and 1:22 a.m.
Moulton said the train's schedule will not change with a new stop in Old Orchard, but it will become tighter.
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|Commission likes huge Texas plan|
The Texas Transportation Commission endorsed Gov. Rick Perry's futuristic highway and rail plan, a 50-year proposal that will cost up to $183 billion. The commission took a its vote on June 27.
Private companies are expected to come up with much of the construction money, in partnership with some state money. Motorists paying tolls may end up footing a big chunk of the bill. Bonds and other financing tools also could be used in the "Trans Texas Corridor" plan, a proposal Perry unveiled in January, according to The AP.
Rail corridors would crisscross the state as well as utility lines within the wide highway's boundaries.
Perry, a Republican who has made transportation improvement a cornerstone of his run for governor against Democrat Tony Sanchez, does not consider his corridor plan a political issue, said Ric Williamson, a Perry appointee to the three-member commission.
"The governor truly does not wish this to be part of politics. He moved quickly because he realized something had to be done and he didn't want it to be part of a campaign," Williamson said.
The commission unanimously voted to approve an "action plan" for the project. Perry praised that vote and said the corridor plan will provide for safer, more efficient roads for families and truckers as the state's population grows.
Sanchez said he has questions about the details of Perry's plan, which he called "a massive, massive suggestion."
"Upon election what I'm going to do is ask our people to go over there and take charge of this and make sure that we're headed down the right road," he said in Austin. He said he would put forth his own transportation plan in the coming weeks when he holds a transportation summit.
State transportation officials described Perry's plan as the biggest move in Texas transportation since the development of the interstate highway system after World War II.
"The Trans Texas Corridor plan sounds futuristic, and it is," said Steve Simmons, deputy executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation.
"Yet the proposed interstate highway system seemed ahead of its time years ago and now it's hard to imagine life without these roadways," Simmons said.
The right-of-way needed for the new corridors could be up to 1,200 feet wide, compared with the average 400-foot right-of-way for an interstate highway, Williamson said.
The commissioners sought to assure private property owners they would have input and be treated fairly.
"None of us want to be accused, fairly accused, rightfully accused, of separating people's land," Williamson said.
In some cases, property owners may receive a "royalty interest" in the corridor in lieu of contributing land, he said.
Property owners who have large ranches and are concerned about moving cattle from one portion of land to another that may be divided by the highway corridor should not worry, Williamson said.
"We'd build a tunnel under it or a bridge above it. We'll do whatever it takes," he said, adding there could also be other options to consider.
The cost of the full project is estimated between $145.2 billion and $183.5 billion.
It would take up to 50 years to complete, though commissioners say an emphasis will be placed on completing certain portions in 10 years. Four conceptual routes have been designated as high-priority segments.
Those routes are from Denison to the Rio Grande Valley paralleling Interstate 35, I-37 and the proposed I-69; from Texarkana to Houston to Laredo paralleling the proposed I-69; from Dallas-Fort Worth to Houston paralleling I-45; and from El Paso to Orange paralleling I-10.
Nearly 4 million people live within 10 miles of these corridors.
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De Leon gets AAR's attention over a fuel excise tax;
wants Amtrak to get it
"Sylvia de Leon sets a dangerous precedent for American businesses by suggesting that the excise tax on diesel fuel paid by freight railroads be turned over to Amtrak," said AAR Ed Hamberger last week in a letter to the Washington Post.
He was responding to a suggestion by Amtrak board member Sylvia de Leon, who had written an opinion article on June 24 suggesting that the federal government do exactly that - give the proceeds from the tax to Amtrak.
"Trucking companies are not required to subsidize bus lines; freight railroads should not be required to subsidize passenger railroads," Hamberger continued, and added, "North America's privately owned freight railroads pay the entire cost of maintaining and improving our nation's rail infrastructure and rights of way. They also pay property taxes. No other mode of transportation bears this burden."
A similar tax was removed from truckers some time ago, but freight railroads have been burdened with the tax anyway.
"It makes sense to eliminate the diesel fuel tax so that freight railroads can compete on a more level playing field and increase investment in the infrastructure and equipment that has made our nation's freight rail system the best in the world," Hamberger wrote.
He said "Amtrak was created more than 30 years ago because unprofitable rail passenger service was placing a devastating burden on freight railroads. I hope we don't have to relearn that history lesson. Privately owned and operated freight rail carriers cannot and should not be expected to subsidize passenger rail."
De Leon, an attorney by profession, wrote in her article, "The game of chicken between the administration and Congress over Amtrak's survival finally has brought our nation's only passenger rail system to the brink of derailment. The highly polarized policy and political debate, once again, is not about long-term solutions, but about another short-term fix. This time the Bush administration must decide whether to provide Amtrak with a loan guarantee, and Congress must decide whether to pass a supplemental appropriation so that the rail service can survive to the end of the fiscal year."
She was on the money, so to speak, when she stated, "Just about everybody is in the game: The Office of Management and Budget, the Federal Railroad Administration, several congressional committees, a consortium of banks that extend Amtrak credit, the rating agencies and a crew of auditors. The only constituency without a voice seems to be the hundreds of thousands of passengers in the Northeast Corridor, California, Chicago and elsewhere who will lose their mode of transportation if action to save the rail system is not taken immediately."
So, how to make ends meet, she pondered.
"The challenge of how to provide adequate capital to sustain the system without the need for continuing government financial infusions shows no sign of being addressed. This is the fundamental Amtrak problem regardless of whether the system is reorganized, restructured, privatized, left to the states or left in limbo.
"Amtrak has been sidetracked for five years by an impossible legal requirement to become subsidy-free. The Clinton administration, in trying to balance its budget, established a glide path for reductions in operating subsidies. In turn, Amtrak was to receive steady capital investment. Congress authorized the funds, but then put up only half the money. Then, adding insult to deepening injury, it adopted the operating subsidy goal into law."
She correctly pointed out that "no passenger rail system in the world runs without some form of government investment," nor is there any system of domestic transportation that does not rely on direct or indirect subsidy. Yet Amtrak is expected to pay for everything itself, from tunnel repairs and track improvement to signal systems - the kind of infrastructure that is provided for the airlines and shipping industry.
The board member noted that "under a starvation diet of subsidies, Amtrak still has produced the nation's first high-speed rail system, and has kept a federally mandated unprofitable national route structure in business. To balance this high-wire act, it has deferred maintenance and leveraged assets within its control. Passenger revenue has grown 44 percent in the past five years; expenses have kept pace with revenue until this year."
To the heart of the matter, though. She wrote, "Highway users rely upon a highway trust fund generating more than $30 billion a year. Since September 11, the aviation industry has seen a $17 billion loan-guarantee program added to an already significant government investment. Yet Amtrak, requiring a bare minimum of $1.2 billion a year, is budgeted to receive $521 million. Go figure."
She pointed out she is chair of Amtrak's Corporate Affairs Committee, and she convened a group of subsidy-averse business leaders last year "to see whether there was a way to get out of Amtrak's financial quagmire without substantial reliance on the federal government. The result was an overwhelming consensus that without steady government funding of infrastructure, the rate of return makes any private investment in passenger rail unattractive, if not downright stupid. Sure, investors will line up to run an unregulated system for profit, but the government still would need to put in at least $1 billion a year - long-distance service or not.
She had several fiscal ideas.
"What about a penny of the gasoline tax for Amtrak? Half a cent? What about the excise tax on diesel [fuel] used by trains? What about bonding authority to fund high-speed rail initiatives with the states? What about giving states more flexibility to use their allocated federal funds for intercity passenger rail?
"Amtrak also must bring more to the table. The board has hired a new CEO to tighten the organization. It has imposed upon him a temporary freeze on discretionary capital expenditures and insisted upon stronger financial controls. Workforce inefficiencies also must be addressed. Labor costs, which represent more than half of Amtrak's expense, cannot be sustained."
That remark will not site well with labor leaders, nor rank-and-file, "but until the basic problem of capital investment can be solved, no meaningful sustainability can be achieved - regardless of how the system is structured."
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|Engineers write new 'cat' standards|
The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) Standards Assn. has begun work on five new standards for overhead direct-current contact systems - catenary - used in heavy rail, light rail, and trolley bus systems. The new standards address insulation, grounding, maintenance, current collectors and support structures.
Among the five is IEEE P1626, "Standard for DC Overhead Contact System Insulation Requirements for Transit Systems," which will provide minimum insulation standards to control hazards and improve life cycle costs in direct current overhead contact systems.
IEEE P1627, "Standard for Grounding Practices for DC Electrification Overhead Contact Systems, Including Application of Lightning Arrestors for Transit Systems," will define the first set of uniform practices for grounding overhead contact systems and the proper use of lightning arrestors in heavy and light rail and trolley buses. It aims to protect passengers, personnel, and equipment, reduce maintenance and initial costs, and improve performance.
IEEE P1628, "Recommended Practice for Maintenance for DC Overhead Contact Systems for Transit Systems," will offer industry-wide guidelines for inspection, testing, and other maintenance practices.
IEEE P1629, "Standard for Performance of DC Overhead Current Collectors for Transit Vehicles," will provide minimum acceptable performance requirements for overhead current collectors to control hazards, improve performance and reliability, and reduce life cycle cost. The standard will address such areas as collector oscillation, arcing, electrical transients, all-weather operation, the wire/collector interface, and dewirement and entanglement hazards.
IEEE P1630, "Standard for Supporting Structures for DC Overhead Contact Systems for Transit Systems," will set minimum structural requirements for overhead contact system supports. It will cover such topics as loading, safety factors, and deflection.
Railway Age, June 2002
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Metrolink looks for new deal
Metrolink is trying to work out a deal to transfer its workforce of contracted Amtrak operators to a freight rail company, a move designed to make sure the commuter trains keep running if Amtrak shuts down later this year, reports The Associated Press.
Metrolink officials sent proposals to two short-haul freight railroads last week asking them to bid on hiring the nearly 145 Amtrak workers who run the commuter line's 416-mile, six-county network.
"It's still tough to tell what is going to happen with Amtrak," Metrolink chief executive David Solow said. "Obviously, that's scary for us. We're looking for a backstop to make sure we aren't affected by what happens with them."
The Metrolink request was sent to Anacostia & Pacific, a Chicago-based company that operates out of the San Pedro area, and RailAmerica, a Florida-based company that runs trains in San Diego and Oxnard. Metrolink contracts with Amtrak, paying about $18 million per year for operators, conductors and dispatchers.
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|New Yorkers may pay higher subway fares|
New York's still-new mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg said yesterday what some transportation experts and ratings agencies had been saying for some time: the Metropolitan Transportation Authority may need to raise fares next year.
"I don't think there's any question, the M.T.A., their finances are public, and they're strapped, and the unions that represent their workers are asking for a lot more money," the mayor said last week in response to a reporter's question. "I think in the fall they're going to have to make some tough decisions. Do they raise fees or not?"
Gov. George E. Pataki, who is running for re-election, made holding the subway and bus fares steady at $1.50 a priority in this year's budget. A spokesman for the governor, Michael McKeon, said it was "premature" to discuss a fare increase. Tom Kelly, an M.T.A. spokesman, said, "There are no discussions at this point of a fare increase," but transportation experts and fiscal monitors have long said that a fare increase may be difficult to avoid, if not impossible.
A report last month by Moody's Investors Service projected the M.T.A. would face a $633.3 million gap, or 12.8 percent of its revenue, in 2003.
The fare was last raised in November 1995 to the current $1.50 per token from $1.25.
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|Californians to see speedier Caltrain|
If all goes according to plan, "baby bullet" trains will be whisking its riders between San Francisco and Silicon Valley in 45 minutes in about one year, instead of the current one-and-one-half hours. Maybe, planners hope, the trains will persuade up to 30,000 drivers to ride the rails rather than sit on congested highways.
Politicians, including California Gov. Gray Davis and state Sen. Jackie Speier, joined transportation planners to herald the new Caltrain locomotives and cars, which won't open to the public until late 2003. Upgrades to accommodate the new trains are the largest rail improvement project in Caltrain's 139-year history.
"We're trying to get you to work faster and get you home quicker," Davis said.
Speier, a San Mateo Democrat who championed the project in the Legislature, said new transportation options are crucial as California's population grows.
Caltrain has drawn as many as 10 million passengers annually. The 77-mile system runs through Santa Clara, San Francisco and San Mateo counties.
The express trains will cost $55 million; it will cost an additional $110 million for new and upgraded track, new signals, a new station and other improvements, according to Caltrain estimates.
The state's Traffic Congestion Relief Program chipped in $127 million, said Jayme Maltbie, a spokeswoman for the rail system. Additional funding came from federal grants, passenger fares and money from government agencies along the route.
The express trains will be able to dodge some stations along the way and pass slower trains on new tracks. Though they can reach 95 mph, the speed limit along the corridor is 79 mph, and the new trains typically will go around 70 mph. Current trains must stop too frequently to go 70 mph for an extended stretch.
The first phase of the improvement project will be completed by a joint venture partnership between Herzog Contracting Corp. and Stacy & Witbeck, Inc. Part of that will be a centralized traffic control system to let train dispatchers switch trains between tracks remotely, rather than trainmen racing out of stopped engines and performing the task manually.
Caltrain is online at http://www.Caltrain.com.
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|Chicago hits transit jackpot|
Chicago's Metra Commuter Rail and the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) hit the federal jackpot June 2 when they were told they were in line to get $56.9 million.
The grant is coming from the Federal Transit Administration.
Federal Transit Administrator Jennifer L. Dorn said the Administration has proposed $7.2 billion for the Federal Transit Program as part of the fiscal 2003 budget.
Metra will use $54.5 million to fund improvements to its Union Pacific West, South West Corridor and North Central lines. CTA will receive $2.5 million to purchase up to five articulated buses.
The Union Pacific West Line will receive $16,390,400 to extend service further west to Elburn, IL, and for right-of-way improvements, two new stations, commuter parking and building a commuter train storage yard at Elburn.
The South West Line will receive $20.6 million to extend service to Manhattan, Ill., and for right-of-way improvements, two new stations, commuter parking and new rail cars.
The North Central Line will receive $17.4 million for improvements, such as the addition of a second track, on portions of the Wisconsin Central Ltd.; and track, signal and station upgrades on the Milwaukee-West Line, five new stations, additional parking at existing stations and rail yard expansion.
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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 .
Walton focuses on safety, security
Safety, security, and the development of partnerships are the primary issues being examined by Dr. C. Michael Walton during his year as chairman of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS), according to his remarks during a June 21 briefing at the National Press Club in Washington.
To introduce his emphasis on safety, Walton cited ITS America's goal of reducing annual transportation-related fatalities by 15 percent overall by 2011, part of the organization's program plan for the next 10 years. He called safety "a compelling aspect of the ITS program," which is being addressed by U.S. DOT's Intelligent Vehicle Initiative and through partnerships with both the government and the private sector.
He also listed possible advanced technologies with safety applications, such as a sensor that would notify emergency medical services immediately after an accident, or monitors that would report what may be going on in a vehicle in real time.
Walton spoke about the integration of all modes of transportation, including public transportation, in an architectural security system. New security technologies are being superimposed on an existing transit structure, he said, but now architecture is needed to integrate the new and existing technologies while meeting all rules and regulations.
According to the ITS America 10-year plan, the organization's security goal is for "a transportation system that is well-protected against attacks and responds effectively to natural and man-made threats and disasters, enabling the continued movement of people and goods even in times of crisis."
House panel mulls transit ideas
Public transportation officials, representatives of federal and state governments, and manufacturers testified June 20 at a hearing on Federal Transit Administration grant programs for capital investment and clean fuels before the Highways and Transit Subcommittee of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
The TEA 21 capital investment grants programs include new starts, rail modernization, and bus and bus facilities.
The hearing was the eighth in a series being held in preparation for next year's reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century.
U.S. Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.), chairman of the subcommittee, noted that under TEA 21, the guaranteed funding level for the "new starts" program has grown from $760 million in fiscal 1998 to $1.2 billion in fiscal 2003. "However, even if the same growth pattern is assumed for reauthorization, the funding level for this program would not begin to meet the demand for new systems and extensions to existing systems," he added.
Worst city to drive in: Los Angeles
In its 19th annual Urban Mobility Report, the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) lists three signs of increasing urban congestion: more congested streets and freeways; a greater time penalty for traveling during rush hour; and a longer period of time that travelers are likely to encounter traffic congestion.
The TTI study states that roadway congestion cost $67.5 billion in 2000, or the value of 3.6 billion hours of delays and 5.7 billion gallons of excess fuel consumed in the 75 urban areas studied. To reduce this cost, authors Tim Lomax and David Schrank suggested several strategies and investments that will be needed, including more public transportation.
According to TTI, the 10 cities with the worst rush-hour congestion are, in order, Los Angeles; San Francisco-Oakland; Washington, D.C., and surrounding suburbs; San Jose, Calif.; Atlanta; San Diego; Chicago and northwestern Indiana; Boston; Miami-Hialeah, Fla.; and Phoenix.
"If public transportation were available throughout the country, more people would have better choices than simply sitting in traffic," said American Public Transportation Association (APTA) president William W. Millar.
"Despite only one in four American households having access to satisfactory public transportation services, ridership has grown by over 22 percent in the last six years."
Millar noted that the study deals only with roadway congestion, and encouraged TTI to expand its study in the future to measure a more complete picture of mobility in urban areas across America. He called for the incorporation of data measuring the impact of public transportation, bicycle, and pedestrian usage in future studies, thus leading to a broader understanding of how people travel rather than just looking at motor vehicle congestion. This would give communities better information when they make local transportation decisions, Millar explained.
FTA continues emergency preparedness forums
The Federal Transit Administration has announced that its series of "Connecting Communities: Emergency Preparedness and Security Forums" is continuing in 15 more U.S. cities through January 2003.
The first forums in the series were held in Orlando, Fla., in May and in Philadelphia in June. Upcoming forums are scheduled for July 24-25 in Seattle; Aug. 12-13 in San Jose, Calif.; Aug. 14-15 in San Francisco; Aug. 20-21 in Washington; Aug. 27-28 in Chicago; Sept. 17-18 in St. Louis; Oct. 16-17 in Detroit; Oct. 30-31 in Denver; and Dec. 5-6 in Charlotte, N.C.
Dates are yet to be determined in Dallas; Hartford, Conn.; Houston; Los Angeles; New York City; and San Diego.
The FTA partnered with the American Public Transportation Association and the Federal Railroad Administration to create the free two-day forums, which allow transit agencies to assess their vulnerabilities and fortify partnerships in their communities so they can respond effectively to emergency situations through coordination, communication, planning, and practice of safety and security measures.
More information on the forums is available online at http://www.transit-sfety.volpe.dot.gov.
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|Hearings slated for Dulles Corridor|
The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority are looking for ideas and comments from the public for alternatives for the Dulles Corridor Rapid Transit Project. The hearings will begin in late July in the northern Virginia towns of McClean, Reston, and Ashburn. Comments on a draft environmental impact statement will also be invited. Three of the five alternatives under consideration involve an extension of WMATA's Metrorail system. A bus rapid transit option and a "no-build" alternative are also on the list.
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Lawyer sues BNSF, Metrolink
A California lawyer is suing Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Metrolink.
Ten surviving victims of a head-on collision between a BNSF freight train and a Metrolink commuter train on April 23rd in Placentia, Calif., filed a class action lawsuit against both railroad companies last week alleging that the crash "could have been avoided if BNSF and Metrolink had invested in advanced technology and made sure that their employees had adequate time off to rest."
Los Angeles attorney R. Edward Pfiester, Jr., of The Pfiester Law Corp., said "The lawsuit comes on the heels of a $2.125 million jury award for a single plaintiff against BNSF last month in San Francisco and only a few days after National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) chair Marion Blakey told the U.S. House Railroad Subcommittee that an automatic railroad braking system would have prevented the deadly wreck. Blakey testified that automatic braking has been on the NTSB's "Most Wanted List" since 1990 and that without the systems, preventable collision accidents will continue to occur and will continue to place railroad employees and the traveling public at risk.
U.S. Rep. Bob Filner (D-San Diego) is co-sponsoring legislation introduced in Congress in May that would limit the work hours of train crews and signal workers and mandate that train workers have clean, quiet sleeping quarters when they are off duty.
Filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Harbauer, et al vs BNSF, et al, alleges that both BNSF and Metrolink bear responsibility for the crash because they failed to take adequate steps to protect employees and passengers. The suit seeks compensation for the victims' personal injuries, past and future wage loss, medical expenses, and punitive damages.
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|NS, CPR streamline operations|
Norfolk Southern Corp. and Canadian Pacific Railway reported on July 2 that CPR has granted NS trackage rights between Sunbury, Penn. and Mechanicville, N.Y.
Both carriers say they are trying to "improve freight service to upstate New York, northern Pennsylvania and New England."
CPR marketing and sales senior vice-president Fred Green said, "This agreement is part of our mission to build strong strategic partnerships with North American railways that deliver value to customers and shareholders alike."
He said the agreement "is in line with CPR's strategy to maximize the value of its network in the Northeastern U.S. by creating additional traffic density on our Delaware & Hudson (D&H) lines, which will aid in improving the financial performance of the D&H substantially."
Meanwhile, NS senior vice-president for strategic planning, Jim McClellan, said "This agreement further improves our competitive routes between New England and the Midwest and Southeast." He added, "We also gain a new, direct and efficient route between central New York state and points south."
CPR will be building a new passing siding on the "D&H line at Clarks Summit, Pa. CPR, NS and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will jointly fund the $2 million project," according to a joint press release.
The deal also modifies existing trackage and haulage agreements, the carriers stated, but neither spelled out what the changes were.
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|'Uncle Pete' turned 140 on July 1|
On July 1, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law the Pacific Railway Act, which created the Union Pacific Railroad Co. and chartered the company and the Central Pacific Railroad Co. to link the country together from Omaha to Sacramento. One hundred and forty years later, UP - sometimes called "Uncle Pete" by some folks - has become one of the most recognized corporations in America and continues to build on its rich history.
Dick Davidson, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Union Pacific Corp, said the 140th anniversary is a time to remember the monumental work of the first employees of UP, who, in four years, built the nation's greatest transportation system - one mile at a time.
"Union Pacific began building west from Omaha with 250 workers and a goal of laying two miles of track a day," said Davidson. "Working seven days a week, 12 to 16 hours a day, the workforce grew to 10,000 and encountered every obstacle possible, from blizzards and drought to mountains and canyons," said Davidson.
On May 10, 1869, UP linked with the CP at Promontory Summit in Utah to complete the journey and when the golden spike was driven, "government officials in Washington received a telegraph message that simply said 'Done.' In reality, our work was just beginning," said Davidson.
Current facts about Union Pacific include:
33,586 route miles of track
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'Mum' owns UK railways - again
Britain handed its insolvent railways to a state-backed firm on Thursday, ending a disastrous six-year privatization blighted by crashes and cash crises. In short, it's a Crown Corporation again.
In a deal aimed at rebuilding passenger and investor confidence, Railtrack Group Plc is giving up the railways for about $11 billion in debt and equity.
Reuters reported last week the government hopes new owner Network Rail will revive the fortunes of a business long starved of investment. It is the third owner of the world's oldest railway in a decade.
"The railways are of critical importance to the social and economic fabric of this country. There is now an urgent need to give the rail system stability," Transport Secretary Alistair Darling told parliament.
Railtrack estimates shareholders will receive from 245 to 255 pence per share under the takeover and a side deal to sell its stake in high-speed Channel Tunnel rail link to a private consortium, London & Continental Railways.
But investors will have to wait until the end of January before they receive the first installment of 160-180 pence.
Railtrack Group Chairman Geoffrey Howe said it was a matter of time before Railtrack, one of the UK's least-loved companies, disappeared. Rail passengers shed no tears for its passing, but also wondered whether its successor would do any better.
"Things will probably get worse," said Michael Doak, a retired engineer, waiting for a train to Aberdeen, Scotland from London's Kings Cross station. He has been making the trip every few weeks for two years and has only arrived on time once.
Railtrack was created in 1996 after the then Conservative government privatized British Rail, handing 40,000 kilometers of track and 2,500 stations to Railtrack and splitting up the train operators to create more than 20 private train franchises.
The firm ran up massive losses, funded by taxpayers, even as it handed millions of pounds in dividends to investors.
One rail worker with 40 years experience had fond memories of British Rail. Speaking at Kings Cross he said today's firms were managed by "wonderboy graduates full of ideas. They don't understand the railways are different. You need experience."
Railtrack shares, suspended at 280 pence last October, resumed trading on Thursday and tumbled as low as 215 pence.
The government forced the firm out of business last October after a series of crashes shattered public confidence and an emergency track repair program sent costs soaring. The decision caused uproar among investors. The architect of Railtrack's demise, Stephen Byers, quit last month.
A group representing 25,000 small shareholders of Railtrack, including thousands of the firm's employees, said it would vote against the offer, which it viewed as unfair, and pursue its battle with the government through the courts.
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|'Gropers' off limits on some cars|
To protect women riders from early-bird gropers, a Japanese rail company has begun running "Women Only" cars during morning rush hours. West Japan Railway will operate the cars - off limits to men - weekdays between 5:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. in the western metropolis of Osaka.
The AP reported July 2 that West Japan is the third railway to introduce such cars in recent years, as female passengers increasingly speak out against the groping that often occurs on Japan's jam-packed trains, but the Osaka trains, which began service Monday, are the first operating during morning rush hour. Nearly 70 percent of West Japan's groping complaints take place on the way to work, company spokesman Yoshihiro Hirade said.
Station attendants will make sure men don't slip onboard, Hirade said.
Hirade had no figures on the total number of complaints, because police do not track groping complaints separately from other sexual assaults reports.
Keio Electric Railway and East Japan Railway, both operating in Tokyo, run similar trains for women around midnight when drunken office workers trying to catch the last train home often overrun trains.
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Editorial sampling shows
widespread support for Amtrak
Editorialists and columnists watched closely as Amtrak approached shutdown and then struck a deal to avert it. Following is a random sampling of media opinion published during and after the crisis. It portrays rail as a topic generating plenty of public thought and passion and demonstrates that Amtrak has widespread, though not unanimous, backing.
(The tentative agreement to save the railroad was struck the evening of June 26. It was finalized late June 28. - Ed.)
New York Times (June 26): "For too long, Congress and the railroad's previous management perpetuated the fantasy that Amtrak could be self-sufficient. No other transportation system is. The danger is that the administration may be about to trade in one fantasy for another. The new fantasy is that Amtrak can be killed off because there are private train operators eagerly awaiting their chance to compete and states with surplus funds to devote to rail." (www.nytimes.com)
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Reality vs. oversimplifying
Sleek trains overseas vs. 'clunkers' here
The rail gap between North America and Europe/Japan has spawned its own folklore - and its own myths.
Last month The Japan Times ran the headline, "Maglev Test Train Gives Quick Thrill to Select Few." The article focused on the super-speed, ultra-high speed train that floats on magnetic levitation above the tracks, eliminating wheel friction at high speeds of around 300 mph.
During that same month, back in the USA, where the fastest train in the nation hits its highest speed of 150 mph during a mere 18 miles of its entire run between Washington and Boston, Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (D.-S.C.), who is sometimes caricatured as a Senator Klaghorn out of Central Casting, was berating the U.S. Secretary of Transportation for failing to come to grips with a strategy to keep rail passenger service running at all, including long distance trains which often run hours behind schedule, failing in many cases to come anywhere near their 79 mph maximum, and running on timetables that are slower than those of their predecessors of 50 and 60 years ago.
Get the picture?
Japan is venturing off into the third generation of railroading, and we in the U.S. are struggling just to keep our old first generation technology trains limping along regressively, while we showcase an East Coast second generation (high speed, steel wheels on steel rails) Acela Express that fails to reach its full speed potential because of inadequate infrastructure on the highly vaunted Northeast Corridor (NEC).
The Amtrak crisis of this year has spawned a debate that should have taken place 31 years ago when Amtrak was created, or better yet right after World War II. The debate that we are hopefully witnessing (however belated) will be helpful if we dispel myths, half-truths, and simplistic assumptions.
Simplistic Cliché No. 1 - If Europe can Japan can have superfast trains, why can't we?
Of course, we can.
In this space (See The New York Times gets it wrong again; D:F, June 24), we outlined the history behind the post-World War II decisions to pour money into airlines and highways while railroads did nothing but pay taxes for the privilege of existing. A lot of mistakes were made then, as we have said a number of times.
We need to understand a few things about Europe and Japan, how they got their trains, and that their population densities had much to do with their emphasis on rail transport, as opposed to the wide open spaces in the United States where business travelers long ago abandoned most train travel, except in a few dense corridors like the NEC. Even if we had 150 mph trains criss-crossing the country, it would require an intense selling job to persuade a large minority of time-sensitive business travelers to use them to go from all the way from New York to Los Angeles. That is why the plans on the high-speed drawing boards (the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, for example) emphasize short or medium distance travel between city-pairs where there is, in fact, tremendous potential for business travel.
That is not to say that long distance or "hotel trains" are outmoded. Indeed, in my perfect world, every current long distance route would be serviced by two trains - not one, as in most cases outside the Florida schedules. They would operate on 12-hour headways so no one needs to get up in the middle of the night to catch a train. No one needs to do that to catch a plane. Why should rail travelers have to do so?
Furthermore, the freight railroads would be fairly compensated for the passenger use of their property. That would involve a debate over what constitutes "fair," but as long as we are facing up to what kind of passenger service America wants, we might as well confront this issue, as well. Where feasible, to accommodate frequent passenger schedules, perhaps passenger entities - Amtrak or whoever - could reach an agreement with the Class I carriers to buy parts of their rights-of-way to add trackage. Cooperative arrangements could be negotiated so as to upgrade in such a way as to improve freight as well as passenger traffic.
It is well to bear in mind that the freight railroads are not charities. Their importance to the economy is demonstrated by the fact that nearly every politician in the country goes into a panic every time a rail strike threatens to last more than one or two days. These corporations do have a fiduciary and a moral obligation to their shareholders, but they also understand the political reality that passenger trains are here to stay. They would naturally expect that any agreement would work out to the mutual benefit of both parties.
Simplistic Cliché No 2 - We need to force people out of their cars and onto the trains.
"Force?" I'm sorry, this is America. We don't "force" people into lifestyles dictated by the state. The argument that "Europe does it, therefore so should we" invites the observation that Europe is the place where Nazism, Fascism, Communism, two world wars and a cold war originated. Some of those countries have histories of police states - and, by the way, Europe's post-war rail system was built by Marshall Plan money, courtesy of the America taxpayer. It's an excellent system, as those of us who have experienced it will agree; but our money built it, while we foolishly allowed our own railroads to deteriorate.
We can persuade people to use the trains by offering them a first-class rail passenger system. That is the American way, as opposed to European land use plans that seek to encourage a density of development that discourages the single-family home, the car in the garage, a picket fence, a nice lawn, and the dog named Spot. Try to take that away from the American people and you'll have a fight on your hands that transcends trying to revive passenger trains.
We need a first-class passenger train service, but we need one that works specifically for the United States.
Simplistic Cliché No. 3 - Let's have maglev and go at least 300 mph.
As we have noted before, there are reasons why even Europe has been extremely reluctant to make the leap into maglev and why Japan, as indicated in the article quoted above, is tiptoeing up to it in gingerly fashion. Most of these concerns are related to the huge costs involved. The tab for construction for the line mentioned in the Japan Times is pegged at 8 trillion yen.
The U.S., which is much more reluctant than our overseas friends to pour public money into this kind of venture, is just now being asked to seriously consider adequately funding conventional and (hopefully) high-speed rail. Slap a huge maglev bill under the noses of the lawmakers, and I guarantee they'll have heart attacks.
Former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) tried to make a case for taking the leap from conventional rail to maglev, but dropped the crusade when he became convinced the country was simply not yet ready for it. One step at a time.
Simplistic Cliché No. 4 - The crackup of rail service in Britain is all Maggie Thatcher's fault.
Normally, this is an internal matter with the British, but since it has figured so heavily in the current U.S. debate, a review of history, both recent and more distant past, is in order.
The privatized British plan that has fallen into such disrepute was implemented in the very last months of the regime of Prime Minister John Major six to seven years after he succeeded Margaret Thatcher.
Moreover, the plan was so convoluted that it ended up as the metaphorical camel - i.e. "a horse put together by a committee." It would have been laughed out of any serious board room. It was put together by government bureaucrats in such a way as to make it almost impossible to untangle it. The late Winston Churchill once despaired of doing the equivalent of trying to unscramble an egg. The recent Brit passenger train plan attempted to create "a scrambled egg."
At the end of World War II, the Brits dumped Churchill after he had led them through a war, and replaced him with Clement Attlee, who plunged the nation into the super welfare state. He sought to nationalize everything in sight. It was easily the most ideological British regime in the 20th Century. When Churchill came back to power later, he used the "unscramble an egg" analogy to describe any attempt to undo much of the damage.
By the time, Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979, the British economy was in the tank, thanks in part to the heavy weight of the welfare state on the economy. She tried to do what she could to let market forces bring Britain back to her old self. Though the old British Empire had been dismantled, the U.K. was still a proud nation with a glorious history.
Though the economy rebounded, some of the Thatcher remedies worked better than others. But her leadership in domestic and world affairs has made her one of the great figures of 20th Century history.
The state-run British Rail presented a special problem. It had been operating on a lot of deferred maintenance for years under both Labour and the Tories. No one wanted to face up to the costs (monetary and political) of keeping it in shape.
Thatcher started the ball rolling on a plan to see if her privatization theories could succeed in passenger rail,. The end result was the British plan, but its crucial details were worked out years after she was gone.
So stop making Maggie the scapegoat.
Simplistic Cliché No. 5 - Amtrak needs to be turned over to a private business and run on market forces.
Not this old saw again! To briefly summarize, it's not in the cards because:
1 - The historic uneven standards applied to infrastructure funding for rail as compared to highways and airlines.
2 - The Amtrak Reform Council plan, while well-intended is DOA. The freight railroads will scream bloody murder before they have to negotiate with 8 or 10 entities just to get perishable freight across the country. Forget it. The idea has merit in theory, but it's a non-starter. Let's not waste time going there. I have to believe the AAR is explaining some of this to the Bush administration.
Finally, We have serious work to do to get a first class passenger train network but we need to be realistic, shed some of the old simple slogans, stop looking for scapegoats, and work on solutions that work for the unique circumstances of the United States.
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State public transit partnerships
Contact APTA's Meetings Group at email@example.com, or phone (202) 496-4800.
American Public Transportation Assn. annual meeting and expo
Las Vegas, Nev.
AREMA conference and exposition
European railway technology and infrastructure study trip
Co-sponsored by AREMA. This study trip leads up to EurailSpeed 2002 in Madrid. Trip itinerary will include visits to the UK, Germany, Switzerland, France, and Spain. For information, visit www.arema.org or contact Desiree Knight at (301) 459-3200, ext. 703. firstname.lastname@example.org
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The article on the new Downeaster stop at Anderson Regional Transportation Center is worded so as to give the strong impression that this is a new stop for the MBTA Lowell commuter rail line as well. This is not the case; Lowell Line trains have been stopping there for at least a year.
Also, I fail to see how the Anderson/RTC stop is "an important step in the beginning of the North-South Rail Link project." The stop merely makes the Downeaster more convenient for passengers traveling between New Hampshire, Maine and the northern suburbs of Boston; it does not "immediately provide greater access to intercity rail at South Station or Back Bay Station." The problem of getting between North and South Stations is the same no matter where the Downeaster stops.
I find Destination: Freedom quite useful and have very few additions to make.
In the July 1 edition:
"...like this 'F' (for freight) unit. We can't tell from this nose view if it was an FT, F-7 or F-9..."
I don't know about FTs, which were freight engines, but for many other early EMDs, the initial letter was the initial of the horsepower in hundreds, for example, E = Eighteen; F = Fifteen; N = Nine; and S = Six
The sometimes-present second letter sometimes meant something:
L = [e]Lectric (the New Haven FL-9s); P = Passenger (built longer for a steam heating boiler); W = Welded (frame); and C = Cast (frame); however, GP = General Purpose, and SD = Special Duty
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Two photos - NCI: Leo KingNo. 1309 appears to be ready to go
A C&O H-6 rests in Baltimore
Baldwin's last domestic steam locomotive, Chesapeake & Ohio Railway No. 1309, a 2-6-6-2 Class H-6 on the C&O, completed at the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1949, now calls the Baltimore & Ohio Museum in Baltimore "home." A tablet explaining some details about the steam engine notes, it is "an ironic milestone" because it is an odd throwback to a design of 39 years earlier. It is also one of the last surviving Mallet compounds, a two-in-one design widely used in heavy hauling over the first half of the 20th Century. "It used its steam twice - first in the rear set of high-pressure cylinders, then again in the low-pressure front pair. Plodding but powerful, the engines were most at home slogging over mountain grades with long coal drags strung out behind them."
C&O first used this design in 1910 and found it so well suited that the 2-6-6-2s worked in the coal regions for almost 50 years. When it needed some replacements after World War II, the railroad merely ordered an improved version of the original design.
The engine weighs 216 tons, its 12 drivers are 56 inches, rear cylinders are 22-by-32 inches and the front pair is 35-by-32. Its tractive effort was 77.900 pounds compound, or 98,000 simple.
Those 56-inch drivers slogged through West Virginia and Ohio coalfields.
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In an effort to expand the on-line experience at the National Corridors Initiative web site, we have added a page featuring links to other rail travel sites. We hope to provide links to those cities or states that are working on rail transportation initiatives - state DOTs, legislators, governor's offices, and transportation professionals - as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists.
If you have a favorite rail link, please send the uniform resource locator address (URL) to the webmaster in care of this web site. An e-mail link appears at the bottom of the NCI web site pages to get in touch with D. M. Kirkpatrick, NCI's webmaster in Boston.
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