NCI: Leo KingAmtraks no-name No. 190 flies eastward down track 2 in Westerly R.I. last October 16. AEM-7 925 is leading the eight-car train from Washington to Boston.
Amtrak says again:
Trains do cost money
Amtrak, the inter-city passenger portion of the only mode of transportation in America whose infrastructure is not underwritten by hidden government subsidies, told Congress this past week that it will lose $1 billion for the second year in a row.
Amtrak CEO David Gunn said the companys losses in Fiscal Year 2002 (which ends September 30) will be similar to the $1.1 billion loss it experienced in fiscal 2001.
During his testimony before a Senate subcommittee Wednesday, Gunn was blindsided by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a longtime Amtrak critic, who said that Gunns predecessor, George Warrington had spent $11 million to the McKinsey & Co. consultants, only to shelve their report recommending concentration on high-density corridors and operating long distance trains only in those states that want them.
McCain, who was on the losing end of a recent Senate Commerce Committee 20-3 vote on a measure providing significant long-term assistance to the passenger railroad, further stated the report recommended that Amtrak become a private company and prepare for competition.
They may have recommended what you just said. That I dont know, replied Gunn whose baptism of fire, in less than two months on the job, had included round-the-clock negotiations to avoid Amtraks bankruptcy.
One of the first things Gunn did when he entered the executive suite was to fire McKinsey and Co., but not because of the quality of their work, he said. It was just that he did not believe in consultants running around and doing my job.
He promised to find the report and share it with Congress, assuming there are no confidentiality agreements preventing him from doing so.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post on Friday gave some insight to the thinking behind the scenes at the White House regarding any possible Amtrak restructuring.
It concerned the idea of encouraging the states to participate in financing Amtrak long distance trains operating through their territories.
President Bush, a former governor, had told his transportation secretary, Norman Mineta, that states are having a hard time financially, and you want them to participate in this?
The remainder of the Post report quoted Mineta, a former mayor, and Assistant DOT Secretary Michael Jackson as emphasizing that the administrations proposal for Amtraks future is not something that could be accomplished overnight, and that several years would be required for a phase-in.
Highlights of the plan would involve splitting off the Northeast Corridor physical plant to another entity, leaving Amtrak to concentrate on running the trains, and franchising out long distance routes to private operators, hopefully enabling them to run the trains at lower cost and make a profit through efficiencies.
Many lawmakers fear thats just another way of saying abandon the long distance trains, but Jackson and Mineta told the Post that is not necessarily the case. They want at least a demonstration project of a private enterprise operation, and if states are willing to help, the run will continue after the demonstration projects time frame has expired.
So what happens if a long distance train that traverses several states gets an agreement from some of the states, but one refuses to go along and come up with the money?
Just dont open the doors, Mineta said just run a sealed train through that state with no passenger stops. As a practical matter, can that be done? Politically, probably not. But Mineta and Jackson believe it would never come to that.
Theyre going to pony up to the bar, says the secretary, I think theyll see the benefit and will want to be part of the system.
Eleven states already kick in with money to pay for passenger service beyond what Amtrak is able to provide on its own budget. There are some real successes with state operations in California, Illinois, Washington State, and elsewhere, but those states actively sought to get ahead of the Amtrak curve on service.
What about less densely populated states such as Utah, where Sen. Robert Bennett (R) says he no longer sees a need for that states one and only train, the California Zephyr (the most scenic route on the entire Amtrak system), or Montana, where the legislature there has refused to provide money for Amtrak service, even though the Empire Builder provides the only connection to the outside world for communities without air or decent highway facilities?
Once federal law starts requiring those states to pony up to the bar, the oft-heard complaint that the Northeast Corridor gets a free ride at the expense of the rest of America comes into focus.
Senate Transportation Appropriations Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.), whose state has contributed lots of money for additional Amtrak service, has publicly expressed a resentment that states on the NEC get the best service in America without having to part with anything from their state treasuries. The powerful lawmaker says she does not intend to tolerate that any longer.
The Bush Administration said it wants some movement toward reform in the fiscal 2003 budget and a more comprehensive plan in time for a five-year re-authorization, probably next year.
When that debate starts, the long simmering dispute over which states pay for what and how much is likely to be thrashed out. If not regional warfare, most observers see at least some sort of legislative fireworks in the offing.
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|Tunnel repairs begin August 3|
Amtrak has its $100 million in the bank, and starting August 3, it will begin a major rehabilitation project of the north river tunnels on weekends. They are the holes under the Hudson River between Newark and New York City.
Amtrak told employees and travel agents last week, One tunnel will be out of service entirely, and the other will handle Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains in both directions.
The carrier, in a message to Northeast Corridor employees, stated Each hour, the tunnel will be open westbound for 25 minutes, closed for five minutes to clear traffic, open eastbound for 25 minutes, and closed again for five minutes. This will take place on weekends for at least a year.
Amtrak stated In order to avoid trains (and their passengers) waiting excessive amounts of time out in the Meadowlands or in Penn station for the right direction to open, we are rescheduling most trains that use these tunnels so that, if on time, they arrive at the tunnel opening when their direction of traffic is in effect.
Specific details for any given train will be reflected in Arrow availability and its displays by July 12.
Arrow is Amtrak computerized reservation system.
The statement noted, Many trains and times have been affected, and in some cases trains are departing stations earlier.
The carrier also stated weekend Acela Express service is not affected, but two new trains will operate on Sundays, departing Washington for New York at 2:00 p.m., and the other, New York to Washington, leaving at 4:00 p.m.
Conventional trains (drawn by AEM-7 or HHP-8 engines) will leave Washington at 20 or 25 minutes past the hour, approximately 15 minutes later than current schedules.
Meanwhile, A new train, No. 158, will leave the national capital at 6:20 p.m. for the Big Apple for local passengers (on weekends, No.80 becomes discharge-only Washington and north).
Southbound regional trains will leave Metropolis close to their current departure times.
Conventional trains operating between New York and Boston or Springfield, Mass., will generally leave New York for Boston on the even hour, about one-half hour later than current schedules.
Connecting New Haven, Conn., to Springfield shuttle trains are also retimed, and an additional New Haven-Springfield train will be added.
Amtrak said, Southbound regional trains from Boston and Springfield to New York are unchanged, but No. 142, currently departing at 3:30 p.m. from New York to Boston via Springfield, will be re-numbered as weekend train 140 and operate one hour later on the same route.
On the Harrisburg line, trains 662 and 643 will be restored to a through operation between Harrisburg and New York. No. 644 will depart at 710 a.m., one hour later. Other Keystone trains are being retimed to fit into new New York-Washington schedules.
Florida, New Orleans and Chicago trains that use the north river tunnels will also be affected, but details had not yet been worked out by last Wednesday.
In other scheduling news, the southbound Auto Train will be an hour late arriving in Sanford Fla., starting July 23.
Amtrak stated, CSX will be performing overnight tie replacement work in Florida this summer, and the work is expected to affect all Amtrak service within the state to some degree, however No. 53 will be the most severely impacted.
The train will arrive an hour later on Wednesdays through Saturdays between July 23 and August 30. Northbound No. 52 is unaffected.
Elsewhere, Trains 79 and 80, the Carolinian, will be delayed for three weeks beginning on August 12 while CSX performs trackwork between Wilson, N.C. and Fayetteville.
Amtrak trains will operate through the affected area, but on August 14, No. 79 will terminate in Richmond, Va. and No. 80 in Raleigh.
That same day, Amtrak will operate a stub train 79 between Raleigh and Charlotte.
Train 80 will originate in Richmond and operate to Penn Station, New York, but Amtrak will also operate another stub train 80 between Charlotte and Raleigh.
In other Amtrak news, a name we have not heard in quite some time since he was shuffled to another job is former ace Amtrak spokesman, Clifford Black. We saw his name pop up in recent days in some wire service reports, and we were curious if he had his old job back.
I was called in on a temporary, emergency basis to help handle calls on the imminent demise of Amtrak (financial crisis). I have now returned to being farmed out to the Northeast Corridor for behind-the-scenes work, Black told us at midweek.
The railroads vice-presidential status is changing, he said, albeit slowly. Responding to a query from D:F, he said, The VP attrition has only recently begun. There are no longer presidents of the strategic business units, and the title shrinkage continues from there.
He said it will probably be around the end of the fiscal year (September 30) before we see substantial changes and specific numbers. The groundwork for the changes is in place, and new organization charts are being drafted right now, however, the actual changes have not yet occurred, for the most part. They certainly will occur, however.
Regarding Florida start-up service on the Florida East Coast Railway between Jacksonville and Miami, he said that is now on hold.
The USDOTs conditions have an impact on start-up of FEC service, since capital investments from Amtrak are part of the formula for creating the service. This would indicate at least 15 months unless funds were forthcoming from some other source, such as Florida, said Black.
Elsewhere, Gil Mallery, who served as president of the Amtrak West Strategic Business Unit almost from its inception, has a new job at Amtrak. He has been appointed Acting Vice-President of Planning and Business Development, reporting directly to President and CEO David Gunn.
Mallerys authority will include state partnerships, contract commuter operations, capital planning, development of new and expanded corridor services, and business and financial analysis of existing services.
Gunn is said to have noted Mallerys experience in working with California, Washington and Oregon on state-supported intercity services; and with transit districts in the Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Portland and Seattle areas, in making this appointment.
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|Amtrak contracts endangered|
Commuter railroads in Washington, Boston, and Los Angeles are exploring the possibility of severing their contracts with Amtrak, the current operator of their trains, and it is all traceable to Amtraks trapeze hand-to-mouth existence, with the threat of shutdown ever present.
Bostons MBTA has by far the largest ridership on service that is under contract to Amtrak. Two years ago, an independent group tried to edge Amtrak out of the running. That developed into a nasty fight, led primarily by the unions. With a help of a little federal muscle, Amtrak won largely on the argument that the rival operator was unqualified.
Now, according to the Washington Times, the MBTA is searching for another operator, fearing that Amtraks precarious financial situation has thrown its future viability into question. MBTA does not want to suffer because of Amtraks problems.
Similarly, Southern Californias Metrolink commuter agency served notice it would accept bids from short-line railroads to operate its trains.
In Washington, the Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) system and Virginia Railway Express (VRE) are actively seeking new contracts from others. Both end their routes at Amtraks Union Station.
It is not that these agencies are dissatisfied with the job that Amtrak has been doing for them. It is simply that if worse comes to worst, they dont want to be left high and dry.
Amtrak spokesman Bill Schulz refused to lay the blame for the uncertain future the national passenger train system faces in dealing with its commuter clients, but it is self-evident that this is one of the dominoes falling as a result of Congressional orders for Amtrak to be operationally self-sufficient by 2002, which led to budgetary corner cutting (including skipping routine maintenance) to meet that elusive goal, which ultimately led Amtraks current financial crisis. Commuter agencies fear that Amtrak will become a Typhoid Mary of passenger railroading.
Blame? Public debates involve finger-pointing back and forth. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), in a letter to the Washington Post, says Amtrak itself is partly to blame for the failure of Congress to come up with all the capital investment that was promised.
Since the 1997 Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act was passed, Young said, Congress has granted all the appropriations that Presidents Clinton and Bush requested for Amtrak. Until last fall, the House Transportation Committee chairman added, Amtrak accepted those amounts without even asking for the full appropriation.
That is true, but neither did either President. President Bush came upon the scene very late in the laws time frame.
Congressmen then on the House Railroads Subcommittee told this reporter in 1998 that President Clinton had pledged to key lawmakers when the legislation was being crafted that he would actively push for the full amount of promised annual appropriations. Some lawmakers grumbled that Clinton paid lip service to Amtrak and high-speed rail, while proposing Amtrak budgets that were roughly half of what was understood to be in the cards in the 1997 law. All the while, his own FRA administrator was playing an active role on both the Amtrak Board and the Amtrak Reform Council.
D:Fs efforts to find out why there was so little concern on the part of passenger train supporters for pushing for the money promised elicited a shrug of the shoulders and a response that well, this is the way it often works and you dont always get every penny you want from the appropriations committee.
To complete the circle, Amtrak took what its new president, David Gunn, said were foolish moves to meet the deadline. Gunns predecessor George Warrington, said many of the dominoes began to topple when the Amtrak Reform Council (ARC) insisted last November that Amtrak be held to the late 2002 deadline. ARC, for its part, says it was simply following the law.
All of this has given birth to a serious debate on the role of passenger trains in Americas overall transportation mix. Meanwhile, there is a feeling if some stability doesnt manifest itself soon, Amtrak may well be minus the millions of badly needed dollars collected each year from its commuter business partners.
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|Ohio joins Midwest rail consortium|
With the stroke of his pen, Gov. Bob Taft took the final action needed for Ohio to join the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact in planning and pursuing high-speed rail projects. His signature made Senate Bill 212 law, which will take effect in 90 days.
Ohios House of Representatives voted 85-6 on June 19 in favor of the bill, sponsored by State Sen. Jeffry Armbruster (R), who succeeded earlier this year in getting the bill passed (33-0) by the Ohio Senate. He joined with Rep. Rex Damschroder (R) in marshaling the bill through the Ohio House, according to a report from the Ohio Association of Railroad Passengers (Ohio ARP), which advocated the legislation.
The compact will enable member states to go to the federal government as a powerful group and seek funding for rail improvements. The compact also will be key in the planning process, as most high-speed corridors cross state lines and will require coordination. Ohio has joined five other Midwest states Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, South Dakota and Nebraska. The Ohio Rail Development Commission (ORDC) will commit just under $20,000 per year in dues to the compact.
This move by Ohio and other states adds urgency to the need for the Bush Administration and Congress to fully fund Amtrak at $1.2 billion for the coming year, an OARP spokesman said.
It also underscores the need to work to establish a long-term funding commitment for passenger rail development as we see in every other industrialized nation in the world, he added.
Several diverse interests, including Buckeye Steel Castings Corp., the Midwest High Speed Rail Coalition, Ohio Sierra Club, Talgo, and others, supported SB 212.
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California high-speed rail gains momentum;
some obstacles ahead
A bond measure that would allow major construction to start on a proposed high-speed rail line for California is one step closer to the ballot, after winding through the Assembly Transportation Committee.
The bill authorizing the $9 billion bond, sponsored by Fresno Sen. Jim Costa (D), would pay for the first long stretch of the new rail line, between San Francisco and Los Angeles, on a route through the heart of the San Joaquin Valley, reported the Modesto Bee on July 8.
The bill must be approved by two-thirds of each house in the state legislature and be signed by Gov. Grey Davis before it can be placed on the November ballot for the voters approval. That is a task made more difficult by opposition to the measure from most legislature Republicans. They argue that such sums are better spent improving the states highways and airports.
The attitude of Assemblyman Rod Pacheco (R), is typical of those opponents. He said, Im still having trouble with why we need a high-speed train in California. Im missing why the taxpayers would pay billions upon billions upon billions for a train that goes faster than the other trains we have.
One high-speed advocate said, It is distressing and frustrating to hear such comments. They betray an absence of the clear vision that Costa, state Treasurer Phil Angelides and many thousands of other Californians have about the future of transportation in this state.
He argued, September 11 demonstrated how dangerous it is to have all our long-distance transportation eggs in the air travel basket. No one expects high-speed rail to put the airlines out of business except perhaps the airlines, who are already organizing to destroy this vision.
Construction of the high-speed line means a generations worth of well-paying jobs. Maintenance of the system and construction of the rolling stock it will need offer further economic opportunities.
When travel time to and from airports is factored in, plus increased time spent going through security procedures, airline travel wont be any fasterand may be slower than the high-speed trains, once they begin to roll, he said.
Fresno Sen. Chuck Poochigian (R), voted for the bond measure in committee and on the Senate floor. He is described as a fiscal conservative, whose credentials are unchallengeable.
He has sponsored a bill requiring that at least two members of the High-Speed Rail Authority, the board that governs development of the rail system, be residents of the San Joaquin Valley. The Assembly Transportation Committee approved that in late June.
Costas bond measure moves next to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
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|Florida eyes five possible routes|
Proposed routes for an Orlando-to-Miami bullet train varied widely as the Florida High-Speed Rail Authority (FHSRA) heard proposals last Thursday.
In Central Florida, two potential alignments parallel Floridas Turnpike while another runs east from Orlando to Brevard County, then turns south and follows Interstate 95 down the coast.
A fourth would start in Polk County, heading southeast on rails currently used by freight carrier CSX until reaching West Palm Beach, The AP reported Friday.
Routes in South Florida could run along I-95, Floridas Turnpike, the Sawgrass Expressway or established rail lines, according to a presentation from HNTB Corp., the authoritys Orlando-based general consulting firm.
Florida must begin building a high-speed rail network, with trains exceeding 120 mph, by November 2003. Two years ago, the states voters passed a constitutional amendment requiring such a system to be built.
HNTBs presentation Thursday led off a busy day of developments for a proposed bullet-train network spanning Florida.
Most of the authoritys time was spent discussing the first draft of the document that it will send to private companies interested in designing, building, operating and maintaining the states bullet train system.
The Authority also toured possible sites for stations in Lakeland, and learned that motorist surveys began Wednesday for an investment-grade ridership study of a Tampa-to-Orlando line.
The first leg will run from Tampa to Orlando along Interstate 4, with intermediate stops near Lakeland, Disney World and the Orange County Convention Center.
A Tampa-to-St. Petersburg extension will then be built, with construction starting around 2005. Capital costs for the St. Petersburg-Orlando line are estimated at $1.8 billion to $7.2 billion, depending on the technology used. Annual operating and maintenance costs range from $26.2 million to $45.4 million.
The networks second phase is Orlando to Miami.
HNTB came up with its proposed Orlando-Miami routes after reviewing files from the states last attempt at building fast trains Florida Overland Express (FOX), but Gov. Jeb Bush ended FOX within days after taking office in 1999.
Over the next months, HNTB will prepare capital cost and travel time estimates for the potential routes using four types of train technologies. The consulting firm said its planning-level ridership study is about 15 percent complete.
Intermediate stations for the Orlando-Miami route were not proposed, but it was the authoritys consensus that trains also should stop in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale.
Of HNTBs two proposed alignments using Floridas Turnpike, one would parallel the toll road starting just west of Orlando International Airport. The other would follow the Beeline Expressway east from the airport before turning south and meeting the turnpike near Yeehaw Junction in southeast Osceola County.
The third proposal would continue the tracks along the Beeline to near Port St. John, then turning south along I-95.
The fourth possibility, using CSX tracks, was authority member William Dunns idea to study. That would require trains heading for Miami to backtrack west along I-4 and join the freight carriers tracks near Haines City.
HNTB said it was going to look at alignments in South Florida that would use rights-of-way along the interstate and toll roads, but the authority requested the consultants also to study the viability of running along CSX or Florida East Coast tracks.
The final request for a proposal will be issued October 1, with companies having a January 10 deadline to respond.
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|New Albany station may soon open|
It may not open until the end of July, but Amtrak is getting a new station at its Albany-Rensselaer stop. Some 28 trains call on the location, including such notable trains as the Lake Shore Limited, Maple Leaf, Adirondack and Ethan Allen Express. Its one of the few routes that still has named trains.
The Capital District Transportation Authority (CDTA) is close to finishing a grand new station a few hundred yards away from the old, the Albany Times-Union reported last week.
The new $53.1 million station, slated to open in June, may welcome passengers later this month, but the authority has refused to publicly state an opening date. One source close to the moving plans said late July has been mentioned recently as the new target.
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|A tip of the engineers cap|
Most of us read stories from time-to-time about how bad Amtrak service is, what an awful crew that was on train such-and such but here's some good news.
Boston conductor Brian Radovich tells us, via the internet at an e-mail list named All_Aboard, his friend and fellow conductor, Joe Hall, had a special guest on his train July 10.
It was an eight-year-old, train-loving boy from Boston who suffers from leukemia. The Make A Wish Foundation provided this boy and his family with a train trip to Disneyworld, Brian said.
He added, They rode No. 173 to New York and then transferred to No. 97, the Silver Meteor, to Orlando.
Hall said the family boarded in Boston without any fanfare. It was almost by accident that he learned about the boy's illness and their reason for their trip.
The crew on No. 173, Radovich continued, including lead service attendant Eddie Conley, immediately adopted the kid. To make it very special, Joe had the kid make some announcements, collect some tickets, yell All aboard! give the engineer the highball and finally brought the kid up to the locomotive, where, as Joe put it, The kids eyes almost popped out of his head.
It was an AEM-7.
At New Haven, Amtrak police gave him another personal escort up to the head-end to meet the New Haven engineer, who would haul the train to New York City.
The childs parents, wrote Radovich, were so overwhelmed by the whole thing that they told Joe the crew on No. 173 already made it a very special trip for them all, especially for their son.
Radovich, never one to shy away from making a strong statement, added, So, even though we all know Amtrak has its fair share (albeit small percentage) of useless, good-for-nothings, we should all be thankful for the good people and the good deeds like those of Joe Hall, Eddie Conley and the rest of the crew of No. 173.
Radovich added, Joe is no stranger to adversity. His daughter is a breast cancer survivor.
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Talgo diesel sets speed record
It is now official: the Talgo XXI experimental diesel set has just set a new world record on the Spanish Zaragoza-Lerida high-speed line. Its top speed was 158 mph (254 kph).
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Four photos: TransCore
Utah Transits trolleys sometimes run a tad tardy, so the transit authority bought the first automated system that advises bus drivers when to wait for a connection.
Utah gets some high-tech gear
The Utah Transit Authority has begun using some high-tech gear that not only lets passengers know a train will be arriving late, but also does a dispatching to function to tell bus drivers to wait for a late train.
TransCore said last week its intelligent transportation systems (ITS) unit teamed with the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) to design and develop the first automated connection protection system that reduces the number of passengers who miss their transfer from TRAX trains, the citys light rail system, to the city bus. Acceptance testing is now complete and UTA has taken delivery and is operating the system.
Neither TransCore nor UTA would state how many tax dollars were spent on the system.
A major issue with making transfers in any public transportation system is the degree of uncertainty involved. Customers can now have peace-of-mind knowing if their train is running late, theyre not going to miss their connecting bus or face a long wait, said Richard Hodges, Intelligent Transportation Systems Project Manager for UTA.
By providing this service, we expect to increase customer satisfaction and utilization of the transit system as well as offset pressure on the UTAs other transportation resources, Hodges said.
The UTA began operating the connection protection system at six TRAX stations last January, in time for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games as well as the Paralympic Games. The initial deployment covered 17 bus routes that carry nearly 8,000 passengers on an average weekday about 10 percent of UTAs bus ridership. UTA estimated more than 1,000 of these passengers use both the bus and rail system each day.
The system is now installed at all 20 TRAX stations and is used for routes selected by UTA. Initial results show that on average eight buses are held each day, with a minor deferment in departure. Departures are delayed from three to 15 minutes depending of the class of service and the time of day.
Using GPS and radio technology, rail arrival and departure information is automatically relayed to the connection protection system. The system correlates the expected time of train arrivals with connection departures. Then the connection protection system determines when to hold a bus and how long a bus can wait.
The automated system captures and relays information between trains, buses and the transit authority through a simple and efficient architectural design. Mobile data terminals (MDTs) are mounted on both trains and buses. The MDT on trains contains a GPS receiver that provides location information via a 900 MHz radio.
When a train is going to arrive late, this information is relayed to the connection protection system, which automatically calculates which buses will be impacted. Within seconds, the connection protection system determines when to hold a bus and how long a specific bus can wait for a train without serious impact to the schedule.
An automated message is then sent to the bus driver instructing him to wait until a specific time for the arriving train.
Hodges explained that while many transit authorities put arrival and departure signs in their stations or track vehicles, only UTAs system has the tools to interpret data and dynamically adjust schedules in a way that provides valuable information to customers as well as bus and train operators.
Based on customer feedback, additional routes will be added as needed.
A UTA dispatcher, at left, keeps his eyes on the new electronic gear as well as where his trains are.
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|Chicago transit ridership declines|
For the first time in six years, each of the Chicagos three public transit agencies is seeing across-the-board decreases in number of riders aboard buses and trains, a development officials are blaming on a slumping economy.
The ridership dip comes at a time when Pace is facing a budget crisis so severe that the suburban bus service sued the Regional Transportation Authority for more money, officials said. Meanwhile, the Chicago Transit Authority says its fiscal situation is so precarious that officials have warned a cut in state funding could cause them to raise fares, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The drop during the first three months of the year marks the first time since 1996 that Pace, Metra and the CTA all have shown a decline in ridership. Transit officials fear it could be a harbinger of difficult times for months to come.
All three agencies say the decline between January and March reduced revenue by $5.7 million compared with the same period a year ago.
The CTA, the largest of the three, has been the hardest hit as three million fewer people took trains and buses between January and March than during the same period last year. Metras ridership declined by 700,000 and Paces by one million.
Weve seen a renaissance in the city in the past decade and public transportation has been a part of that, said RTA Chief Financial Officer Joseph Costello. Now, were seeing a dip, and were dealing with that.
Costello and other transit experts blame the drop on the nations slowing economy, saying that as unemployment increases, ridership decreases.
We have fewer people in Chicago going to work, he said, adding that fewer people are coming into the city to shop.
Unemployment in the Chicago area jumped this year. In March, for example, 6.4 percent of Chicago-area residents, or 272,000 people, were unemployed, compared with 5.1 percent, or 215,000 people, in March 2001, said Peter Glassman, an economist for Chicago-based Bank One Corp.
Figures for January and February showed similar comparisons.
CTA officials acknowledge the dip in ridership and also point to the slowing economy.
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|NJT sees tough fiscal times|
New Jersey Transit (NJT) adopted a $1.22 billion operating budget and a $1.19 billion capital budget for the new fiscal year on July 10, but officials warned that the plans were balanced at the expense of long-term investment in system improvements.
In presenting the budgets to the agency's board for approval, its executive director, George D. Warrington, pointed out that the money needed for day-to-day expenses was increasingly being drawn from the pool of state and federal funds intended for investments in the state's transportation infrastructure according to The New York Times.
Warrington is the former Amtrak president and CEO.
In spite of an average fare increase of about 10 percent that went into effect in April, which was the first increase in a decade for the agencys bus and commuter rail operations, NJT had to draw even more of the long-term money into its operating budget this year, Warrington said. That was necessary largely because the state subsidy to the agency did not increase to meet service demands when farebox revenue rose.
While N.J. Transit has done much to increase its non-farebox revenue, the reality is that the operating budget is being balanced on the back of the capital program, he said. While we will manage to get by this year and I need to stress just manage to get by in the long term, this capital program and this operating budget won't work.
It was the bluntest language used in years by an official of the agency in outlining its dilemma and the need for increased state subsidies. It echoed a report issued last November by the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University that deplored a decade-long practice of raiding the capital budget because of the state's repeated annual under-funding of the operating budget.
Warrington said that the parallels between the Rutgers Centers report and his comments were intended. He said that he had read the report before taking over as head of NJT in May and it was like a laser which opened light on a serious set of policy questions.
At the same time, he noted that the state subsidy to the agency in Gov. James E. McGreevey's budget, which was adopted last week, had not increased but remained the same as last year's subsidy. Warrington said that he envisioned the agency entering a transition period when it would gradually move to a more appropriate level of funding from the state and away from using capital funds for operating expenses.
I am not suggesting we can do it this year, Mr. Warrington said. Considering the extraordinary difficulties in this years budget, it is a positive sign that transit was held harmless. The substance and symbol of that is important and an indication that the governor is committed to finding a solution.
The new operating budget is $83.5 million larger than last years $1.138 billion budget; $55.8 million of the increase will come from the higher fares, while money transferred from the capital-funding pool increased by $20 million, to $260 million. The operating assistance approved in the state budget remained at $260 million, the same as it was in 2002.
Mr. Warrington said that much of the $1.19 billion capital budget will go for new rail cars and buses, continued work on light rail lines in Hudson and Bergen Counties, between Newark and Elizabeth and in southern New Jersey. It will also finance the completion of work on the Secaucus Transfer, and the east concourse of Pennsylvania Station in New York.
The board also rolled back restrictions on discounted off-peak round-trip tickets that had been part of the fare hike that went into effect in April. Noting widespread complaints about the restrictions, the board added an hour to both the morning and evening periods during which the discounted tickets could be used. The board also removed all the recently adopted restrictions limiting the times during which discounted tickets for elderly people and disabled people were valid.
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|How not to run a railroad|
A self-described transportation enthusiast has admitted taking control of a monorail train at Newark International Airport last year and operating it with passengers on board.
Robert Mathews, 34, of Allendale, N.J. pleaded guilty July 9 to causing risk of widespread injury as part of a plea bargain with Essex County authorities, according to The AP. In return, prosecutors agreed to drop charges of burglary, criminal restraint, reckless endangerment, and criminal mischief.
Superior Court Judge Betty J. Lester ordered Mathews to serve three years probation, perform 50 hours of community service and undergo a mental-health evaluation.
Mathews also will be allowed to enter a pre-trial intervention program, and his record will be expunged if he successfully completes it.
Mathews, who could not be reached for comment, has said he piloted the train for a portion of its journey between the airports Parking Lot E and the Rail Link station on November 3. No passengers were injured.
Mathews said he boarded a train at the Rail Link station, then transferred to another going in the opposite direction at the Parking Lot E station. When he entered the monorails first car, he saw the lid of a small control box was open.
He pushed a button in the box and the train stopped between stations, but he then moved a joystick and the monorail moved about 15 feet. A maintenance technician standing on the catwalk that runs between the systems two rails then gestured to Mathews to stop the train and stay put. Several Port Authority police officers soon responded to the scene and took Mathews into custody.
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New York ponders garbage trains
New York City is looking into sending household garbage out of the state on freight trains from a long-established Staten Island container port that offers rail access to New Jersey, officials said July 8.
A Mayor Michael Bloomberg aide said that some use of the Howland Hook Marine and Truck Terminal, across the Arthur Kill from Elizabeth, N.J., could offer one way of coping long-term with the 2001 closing of the Fresh Kills landfill, according to Newsday.
The rail connection is two to three years away, and the transfer station doesnt exist yet.
Potential remedies, however, remain uncertain, with officials saying its unknown how much trash tonnage might pass through Howland Hook if the city used the facility.
The advantage of the plan is that Howland Hook not only has rail access to New Jersey but also could accommodate marine garbage barges.
The facility is currently handling cargo, amid a criminal case involving its prior operators. It is located miles north of Staten Islands Fresh Kills dump, which city officials have vowed to keep closed.
The citys shutdown of the landfill has forced up disposal costs by hundreds of millions of dollars a year and has forced all residential trash to be trucked out of the city for burial or burning.
A new citywide solid waste plan, which was first slated to be unveiled later in a week or so, might be delayed, officials said.
Any plan that sends refuse through Staten Island, even tangentially, is expected to provoke opposition from some of the boroughs politicians. Such reaction will be gauged by City Hall in the coming days and weeks.
The prospect of using Howland Hook, which has been bandied about before, drew new attention Monday after it was floated in published reports in New Jersey. Private operators of a proposed Linden, N.J., barge-unloading facility, which has also been part of the citys long-term plans, are seeking to keep their project alive as the city explores alternatives.
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|Heavin named KCS VP|
Kansas City Southern promoted Jerry W. Heavin to Senior Vice President, Operations on July 10. He replaces Ab Rees, who has accepted an offer from an outside company affiliated with the railroad industry. Heavins appointment is effective immediately, though Mr. Rees will remain at KCS through July to assure an orderly transition.
Jerry Heavin began his professional railroad career in 1970 as a civil engineer for the Missouri Pacific Railroad, eventually becoming chief engineer for facilities in 1986.
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All public transportation is subsidized
Helena, Montana Ive listened and kept quiet about this while the anti-Amtrak folks had their rant, but Ive got to respond.
All public transportation is subsidized. Come on the government even paves sidewalks, and the airlines are among the worst offenders for amount of subsidies they get. I remember a big handout to the airlines of something like 11 gazillion dollars after September 11.
Because they were going to lose so much money and they might go under and Ohmygosh, we cant have that.
Then these same people complain that Amtrak needs a fraction of that to keep running. At least with Amtrak, I can see what Im getting for the money, and it runs when nothing else does.
Up here on the Front Range of the northern Rockies we get a little bad weather. I guess thats what youd call 200 below zero with a stiff west wind. It shuts down airports quicker that you can say Jack ****.
It takes them days to get back to running. Commercial pilots will pass on landing at the local airport here with only a little ice and a gentle wind.
Highways get shut down too. Blowing snow advisories or black ice conditions can make it so treacherous that only well seasoned locals will risk going anywhere. But the railroads still run. Northern Montana had a snowstorm in the middle of June that put down three feet of snow along the Front Range and shut down everything. Fire trucks were even getting stuck on bulldozed roads but Amtrak kept right on running, in some cases providing the only way for people to get home or anywhere else.
After September 11, we saw the same thing.
The airlines just went into meltdown. The only way to get anywhere was to drive or take the train.
Amtrak pulled out everything they had that would roll and did their damndest to keep America moving. Yet the airlines got the handout. Somethings wrong here. Could it be that the airlines have a lot of political muscle in Congress, whereas Amtrak, because its public, doesnt have lobbyists?
Can you spell B-O-E-I-N-G? Does anyone else smell something funny, or am I just a voice in the wilderness?
I thought that America started to understand why we need a balanced transportation plan after September 11, but its coming back to the same lame arguments.
I dont use Amtrak, so it doesnt matter.
I just want my shiny jets and dont care about those who may not be able to desire or afford air travel.
These are the same people who dont mind metal detectors and shoe examinations and strip searches? What has America come to?
As someone else on one of the [railfan e-mail] lists I belong to has so astutely pointed out (and I apologize for forgetting his name), if you made air travel pay its own way, it would all be shut down in a month.
Amtrak suffers from a lot of things. Meddling and micromanagement by Congress, for one. The Empire Builder travels through the least populated part of Montana. People on these lists [all-railroads, RailroadWriters and NPTellTale] especially recognize this, but its where Congress has mandated that it should run. So the majority of people in the state have to drive instead. If Amtrak were a private company, theyd go where the business is - but the purse strings say they cant.
Another problem is having to play poor relative to the freight railroads that charge it to travel on their tracks. My experience is that Burlington Northern Santa Fe takes care of Amtrak reasonably well, but what I saw on Union Pacific trackage is far from desirable.
Ive also heard or read somewhere that Amtraks got a lot of passenger cars that are sitting idle because they need repairs from wreck damage. Im thinking it might be Trains magazine. My leaky memory wants to say the number was over 60 cars [89 in May]. Thats millions of dollars worth of valuable equipment sitting idle when theres a shortage of equipment.
Because the purse strings dont allow enough money for repair of that equipment. A private corporation would never do that to itself, but Amtrak has to, because its crippled by Congress, and yet this same Congress tells them to go be self-sufficient. Thats like breaking a mans leg and then telling him to go find a job.
Lest some out there cast stones because they think I dont personally support Amtrak, well, I do. I just got back from a round-trip to Portland and Sacramento from Shelby. Shelbys in Montana for those who might not be sure.
Not a big station, but they sure seem to load a lot more people than the town would provide. Not big businessmen in suits, but common, ordinary folks, people who work for a living and pay the taxes that help keep the trains running, and just need to have the train there to go on vacation or to go to school or to get to the medical specialists. Yes, I saw em all there.
Of course, theres no airline that serves Shelby. The nearest airport is 90 miles away across the plains in Great Falls which is not served terribly well by air service either, because the government cut back the subsidies airlines got for serving rural America. So much for privatization.
So when someone asks why we need rail passenger service, dont just look to the big cities and commuter lines. Look also to Americas heartland. Thats the part of America that just keeps on working and surviving without getting the publicity.
Thats where I live.
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Engineers write new cat standards in the July 8 2002 issue of Destination:Freedom ...overhead direct-current contact systems catenary used in heavy rail, light rail, and trolley bus systems.
I think I have seen this error more than once in Destination:Freedom.
The generic term is trolley wire, not catenary.
Catenary is derived from the mathematical curve assumed by a wire (or the like that is suspended from its two ends. Thus, the top wire of true catenary almost assumes that shape, although it is distorted by the vertical wires that drop down to the contact wire (or an intermediate horizontal wire). The word catenary is thus applied only to a complex overhead contact wire system that provides the absolute stability required for reliable current collection at high speed. Catenary also allows a much longer distance (300 feet?) between support structures.
Conversely, a single wire suspended only from cross spans or bracket arms should NEVER be called CATENARY, in spite of the fact that even that wire necessarily hangs in the catenary shape between cross spans or bracket arms. Such single wire systems commonly used for city trolley lines and other low-speed operations are instead described as simple trolley wire.
Note also that such trolley wire must be supported by poles every 100 feet or so.
Kenyon F. Karl
That is detail I, for one, had not known before. See? Old dogs can learn new things. Woof. Ed.
Regarding the article about the C&O H-6 that now resides in Baltimore, how long has this unit been in Baltimore and where did it come from? I recall seeing a similar unit in a park at Huntington, West Virginia a number of years ago.
We have an e-mail query out to the B&O Museum in Baltimore, but, so far, no response. Ed.
I just noticed your web page and found the two pictures regarding the 40 and 8 being shipped from Istres Air Base in France to Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.
I was the individual who acquired that boxcar for the American Ex-POWs and who orchestrated its renovation and transfer.
One clarification although American veterans call these boxcars 40-and-eights, they were designed for 40 men or eight men. The floor area in circa 1941 cars was about 214 square feet. They are crowded enough with 40 men without horses.
Also, you might be interested in my web page, still under construction, at http://www.40and8.com
Thanks for the clarification. Ed.
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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
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NCI: Leo King collection; LIRRThe Long Island Rail Road has been a distinctive feature of the American landscape for a long, long time. Consider its Class MP-41 coaches, first used on electrified lines in 1905. Today, if you ride from Penn Station in the Big Apple to the farthest-most place, Montauk Pont, it will include stops at Flatbush Avenue and Jamaica, and youll arrive at Montauk about three hours and 12 minutes later. Youll also have to change trains at Jamaica (but some trains require a change at Babylon).
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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.
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