Vol. 6 No. 29
July 18, 2005

Copyright © 2005
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

Destination:Freedom
The E-Zine of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - Jim RePass      Editor - Leo King
Webmaster - Dennis Kirkpatrick

A weekly North American rail and transit update

For railroad professionals
Political leaders at all levels of government
Journalists from all media

* Now in our Sixth Year *

This page is best viewed at 800 X 600 screen resolution

 

IN THIS EDITION...  In this edition...

  News Items… 
More Acela Express trains return today
Tunnel work is nearly done
Florida services to see big time changes
Bombings may spur transit security bills
Acela competition JetBlue buys new planes
Two N.C. train routes get nod
  Commuter lines… 
Nevada bank and monorail join up
Is Seattle monorail doomed?
Gotham gets $899 million
New York okays MTA deal
VRE adds a coach to some trains
Virginia wants public comment
Work to begin on Utah commuter rail
Bay State towns balk over paying for commuter rail line
CSX takes heat for Tri-Rail delays
Nashville finds climbing costs
FRA says pushing is as safe as pulling
‘Orange’ commissioners warm to commuter rail
Many Arkansans support commuter rail
  APTA Highlights… 
Report: Transit for Persons with Disabilities Improving;
   More is Needed
STPP Report: Households Feel the Pinch as Transportation Costs Continue to Rise
Meyer is New CEO at Spokane Transit
Lichtanski Dies; Longtime GM in Monterey, Calif.
Torrance, Calif., Transit Manager Whittle Dies
  Freight lines… 
CSX to ‘harden’ D.C. corridor
How fast do freight trains really go?
Investigators search CN wreckage
Carmichael weighs in on accidents
Canadian dispatchers ratify deal
Tex-Mex gets a $50 million loan
Stacktrain gets a security okay
Intermodal is up, carload freight down
  Wall Street lines… 
Morgan likes CSX, but not UP
  Friday closing quotes… 
  Across the pond… 
Engineer is blamed: 133 die in Pakistan crash
162 dead in Soweto wreck
  We get letters… 
  Endnotes… 

Acela Express at Gunpowder Bridge, MD

For NCI: Wade H. Massie

A southbound Amtrak Acela Express soars across Gunpowder Falls Bridge in Harewood, Md. On January 10 on its way to Baltimore and ultimately Washington, D.C. before the brake problems were found on the trainsets.

 

More Acela Express trains return today

Amtrak is returning more Acela Express trainsets to service today between New York and Washington. Weekend service restarted on Saturday.

All 20 trainsets were removed from service in April after cracks were discovered in the brake systems.

The passenger railroad stated in a press release “These trains mark the continuing gradual return of the Acela fleet to service on the Northeast Corridor,” and added, “Amtrak will double its weekday Acela Express service, operating four Acela roundtrips between New York and Washington.”

This increases the service that returned on July 11 with additional morning and afternoon departures from both New York and Washington.

To maintain schedule hour-of-departure predictability during the transition period, the trainsets will gradually replace the Metroliners currently in service, according to Amtrak.

Metroliner train numbers to become Acelas are 2106, 2109, 2121, and 2122. Existing Acela trains are 2102, 2107, 2120, 2123.

On Saturdays, trains 2207, 2216, 2220 will operate with Acela equipment, and on Sundays, trains 2213, 2222, 2225. Sunday Metroliner 2220 was renumbered to 2230 to avoid confusion with Saturday’s Acela Express 2220.


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Tunnel work is nearly done

After three years of painstaking underground work, a nearly half-billion-dollar project aimed at making the two-mile ride through the Hudson and East River tunnels safer in an emergency is substantially complete, transportation officials say.

The changes, financed with federal funds in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, are meant to provide better evacuation, ventilation, firefighting and communications during a tunnel catastrophe, reports the Newark Star-Ledger of July 12.

Train riders on Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Rail Road will be able to walk shorter distances to safety during evacuation while breathing cleaner air, according to transit officials.

The improvements hold renewed importance for the region‘s travelers following the Thursday bombings in London‘s subway system, which killed dozens and briefly shut down the city‘s transit system.

Before the rehabilitation, NJT riders using the century-old tubes below the Hudson River would have had to trek to one of the tunnel’s entrances and could have been overcome by smoke inhalation if there were a fire. That is because antiquated, narrow spiral staircases to the streets were primarily designed for rescuers to descend, and old fans could not adequately clear smoke.

Now new, widened staircases with landings allow entry and exit, while powerful fans can clear smoke in either direction.

“They are critical in a catastrophic situation,“ Steve Alleman, Amtrak’s director of the $480 million project, known as the Fire and Life Safety Program, said of the improvements. “They will save lives and expedite the responders‘ ability to mitigate the situation“ in the event of an emergency.

The long-awaited improvements – funded in part by a $100 million grant from the Federal Railroad Administration, with the rest coming from the three transportation agencies addressed emergency response deficiencies in the tunnels that have been cited in reports by both the USDOT and the New York state legislature.

In a March 2001 report, Mark R. Dayton, deputy assistant inspector general for the USDOT, warned that the age and condition of the tunnels created “the potential for a serious and consequential accident.” Destination:Freedom broke that story shortly thereafter.

Chris Kozub, associate director of the National Transit Institute at Rutgers Univ., praised Amtrak and NJT’s initiative to upgrade outdated facilities built a century ago.

“What they‘re doing to their procedures and their tunnels is something that’s long overdue and is being addressed,“ said Kozub, noting that adequate funding only became available after September 11. “Sometimes, unfortunately, it does take a national or global event to free up the money.”

Work on the Hudson River tunnels, which serve 300,000 rail passengers a day, began in 2002 and progressed in non-peak hours during the week and during weekend closures of one of the tubes.

In addition to the new staircases and ventilation system, the improvements include enhanced security features and radio communication capability and a standpipe system to fight fires. Similar work on the four tunnels under the East River is in various stages of completion.

“Anything that expedites evacuation and also gets rid of smoke is a very positive thing, ” said Edith Flynn, a counter-terrorism expert and professor emeritus at Northeastern Univ. in Boston.

While Flynn said the improvements likely would not help those at the impact point of an explosion, she expects those “at some distance... will be able to survive and get out” now in the case of an emergency.

Flynn said, “it’s encouraging they did focus and improve rail transportation, ” given that so much of homeland security money has been devoted to aviation security – but she said Americans must realize there is no guarantee against another attack.

“It does show somebody is thinking, but don‘t go to bed confident you’re now safe, ” added Flynn.

Amtrak, which owns all six tunnels, also is adding a subway-style electrified third rail to the Hudson tunnels to provide an alternative means of powering a disabled train in the event the overhead power lines are disabled.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the PATH rail line, also has upgraded the ventilation systems in its two Hudson River train tunnels over the past five years. The PATH tunnels lead from New Jersey to the former World Trade Center site and the Christopher Street station in Manhattan, tubes that run approximately one and two miles under the river, respectively.

“The safety and security of our PATH customers, as well as those who use our airports, tunnels, bridges and bus terminals, has always been a very high priority for us, ” said Steve Coleman, a Port Authority spokesman.

“Our PATH tunnel ventilation system is state of the art and will provide passengers with the ability to safely evacuate the system if an incident occurs. We believe this will provide our 200,000 daily customers with a level of comfort when they ride our system. ”

The stairs of the new evacuation shafts for the Hudson River tunnels are wide enough for both rescuers and evacuees to use at the same time and have wide landings for resting about every 12 to 14 steps.

Dan Stessel, an NJT spokesman, said that asking passengers to trek through the tunnel to reach the evacuation stairway would be a last resort in an emergency situation.

“The best response is to pull the train out, ” he said.

“That is the most efficient way to move large numbers of people out of the tunnel... Only as a last resort would the stairways be used. It‘s a long climb. You have to account for the fact that not everyone can make that climb.”

A less drastic measure if an evacuation is necessary would be to let passengers access the adjacent section of the tunnel through cross passageways if conditions allow.

The Life and Fire Safety project also fixed the so-called “benchwalls,” which are the mini-sidewalks on the side of the tunnel that would save passengers from a drop of 6 feet or so from the train door to the track in case of an evacuation.

The tunnels’ new ventilation system consists of four very large fans with the ability to both remove smoke from the tunnels and pump fresh air into them in the event of fire or other emergency.

From the ground in Weehawken, Amtrak‘s ventilation structure is about 40 to 50 feet tall and is adjacent to the helix of the Lincoln Tunnel.


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Florida services to see big time changes

Amtrak says its Capitol Limited, train No. 29, Washington to Chicago, will once again connect with the Silver Star, No. 92, in Washington, D.C. The connection will occur with Florida service schedule changes on August 1.

Amtrak stated running times are being lengthened as a result of a riding study of the route last winter.

The Sanford, (SFD) Fla., stop is being discontinued for all trains because the station sustained “significant hurricane damage last year which would have been extremely costly to repair.”

Sanford was unstaffed – in fact, passengers couldn't even use the station – they had to wait outside on the platform. The adjacent AutoTrain (Nos. 52, 53) station in Sanford (SFA) is not affected by this action.

Passengers on affected trains may board and detrain at Winter Park, 16 miles south, or Deland, 16 miles north. Both are staffed stations with full ticketing, baggage, and Passenger assistance services. (Winter Park is not open for No. 2, the Sunset Limited).

Northbound train No. 98, the Silver Meteor, will depart Miami at 6:50 a.m., 3 hours and 45 minutes earlier, and will arrive in Washington at 6:07 a.m., 3 hours and 8 minutes earlier, then arrive in New York City (NYP) at 10:20 a.m., 2 hours, 58 minutes earlier. Its connection is restored to train 49 at Penn Station, New York.

Train 98 of July 31 will be renumbered 1098 to avoid a two-trains-with-the-same-number-on-the-same-calendar-day problem on August 1 at Kingstree, Florence and Fayetteville.

Silver Star No. 92 will depart Miami at 8:50 a.m., 3 hr 25 min earlier, arrive in Washington 2 hours, 57 minutes earlier – and connect to No. 29 there – and at New York at 3:40p.m., 3 hr 22 minutes earlier.

No. 92 of July 31 is also being renumbered for the day. It will be 1092 on August 1 at Savannah and Denmark.

Southbound trains will see similar changes, except they will be departing Penn Station later rather than earlier.

Silver Star No. 91 will depart New York at 1101 a.m., 1 hour later, depart Washington at 3:05 p.m., 1 hour later, and arrive in Miami at 5:59 p.m., 1 hour, 29 minutes later. Its connection from train No. 30 in Washington is restored. Stops at Camden and Columbia move from before midnight to after midnight; therefore, on August 1, you will see no train 91. Ticket agents will have to enter August 2 in availability to see the train that originated on August 1.

No. 97, the Silver Meteor, departs New York at 3:15 p.m., without and time change, but it will depart Washington at 7:30 p.m., 5 minutes later, and arrive in Miami at 6:55 p.m., 40 minutes later. Its connection from western New York State remains train 284, Monday-Friday only.


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Bombings may spur transit security bills

Congressional efforts to strengthen security on public transportation this year could get nudged forward in the wake of the July 7 mass transit bombings in London.

CongressDaily reported last week “Until today it didn’t look that good,” House Homeland Security Emergency Preparedness, Science and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Peter King, R-N.Y., said of efforts to pass transportation security legislation this year. “Today might be a wake-up call.”

King will introduce a bill this year that would authorize grants to Amtrak and other mass transit systems based on threat levels.

“We can’t be fooling people and tell them that we can protect every train at every time,” he said. “We can’t protect everywhere all the time. We have to accept that.”

By directing funding to high terrorist targets, including the boosting of bomb detection equipment and surveillance systems on subways, he said, “We can give layers of protection and hope for the best.”

A Senate fiscal 2006 Homeland Security spending bill set for floor debate next week provides $100 million for rail and transit security, a $50 million cut from current spending. In a letter sent Thursday to Senate Appropriations Committee leaders, American Public Transportation Association President William Millar argued, “This reduction would make it more difficult to adequately protect millions of Americans who ride public transportation each day.”

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said he would offer floor amendments to the spending bill that would add $100 million more for rail and transit security and $10 million more for bus security. The House voted in May to maintain spending at $150 million.

President Bush’s fiscal 2006 budget included a $600 million request to provide states with funding to protect mass transit systems as well as ports, bridges and other critical infrastructure. Lawmakers criticized the President for lumping all the grant programs into one initiative, arguing it would set up competition for limited funding. House and Senate appropriators rejected the Bush proposal.

A spokeswoman for Senate Banking Chairman Shelby said he is looking for a way to move legislation similar to a bipartisan bill approved by the committee last year that would authorize $5.2 billion over three years to upgrade public transportation security


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Acela competition

JetBlue buys new planes

JetBlue Airways, which rocked its competitors by offering cut-rate flights out of New York City, is gearing up to introduce a jet that may again shake up the airline industry – and compete with Amtrak.

Flights linking New York and Boston are a possibility, especially with the recent brake problems experienced by Amtrak’s high-speed Acela train, said JetBlue founder and CEO David Neeleman.

The 100-seat Embraer 190 regional jet will begin commercial flights in November, allowing JetBlue to expand into new, mid-sized markets from its New York hub and pair comfort with low ticket prices, analysts say.

JetBlue will have seven of the Brazilian-made Embraers in service by the end of the year, and 43 by the end of 2007, giving the No. 2 U.S. airline by market value a second equipment type alongside its larger Airbus 320 jets, reported USA Today on July 12.

Neeleman said the airline may serve destinations like Raleigh and Greensboro in North Carolina and Richmond, Virginia – cities now serviced by less comfortable 50-seat regional jets with walk-up fares of up to $700, he said.

“The 100-seater allows you economics where you can get some low fares out there, ” told Reuters in an interview last week. “They‘re going to be everywhere. ”

Neeleman said JetBlue would offer fares about one third of that price.

“You’ve got to be pretty excited about that,” he said.


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Two N.C. train routes get nod

North Carolina’s DOT says it wants to connect Raleigh and Wilmington, N.C. by rail using two routes – one through Fayetteville and another through Goldsboro, but it lacks money to establish either route.

The state has been studying possible routes for the passenger rail line for about five years, according to the Fayetteville Observer of July 12. A recommendation on the route was expected last year, but it never came.

Rick Heicksen, a senior planner for the Fayetteville Metropolitan Planning Organization, said people went to a meeting with transportation officials Monday expecting a decision on one of the routes. Instead, they were told that construction of both routes is feasible and should be pursued.

“We did not win, but we did not lose,” Heicksen said.

The meeting was between local officials and representatives of the state North Carolina DOT’s rail services division.

City Councilman D.J. Haire, the city’s Transportation Committee chairman, said he did not expect both routes to be selected, but he said he would rather have both lines than have Fayetteville left out.

Don Stewart is vice chairman of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce Transportation Committee. He said he was pleased to learn that both routes had merit, but the objective now is to find funding for the projects.

The cost of the Fayetteville route has been estimated at $125 million; the cost of the Goldsboro route has been estimated at $184 million. The Goldsboro route is shorter, but the Fayetteville route would require less track construction. Both routes would use existing rail lines.

The estimated cost of the project could change depending on the freight service response to market conditions.

Addressing the existing constraints on lines between Pembroke and Selma and implementing a right of way at Goldsboro, Selma and


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

Nevada Monorail

BankWest of Nevada

BankWest of Nevada will unveil its own train tomorrow in Las Vegas, and kick off a substantial promotion for the monorail line as well as the bank.

 

Nevada bank and monorail join up

BankWest of Nevada is signing a million dollar, three-year deal with the Las Vegas Monorail Co. tomorrow to install Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) at every monorail station, and to be the first Las Vegas company to purchase the rights to all of the available advertising space on one of the monorail’s nine trains.

To support its investment and help induce monorail ridership, BankWest will unveil its custom-imaged monorail train and system-wide ATM network in Las Vegas style with a spectacular VIP unveiling event introducing an ATM system that enables users to win cash, unveiling a city-wide billboard advertising campaign featuring the new BankWest of Nevada monorail train, and a bank-wide consumer sweepstakes campaign to win free lifetime monorail passes. It will also begin an internal employee “Name-the-Train” contest, and a brand promise slogan that promotes the future direction of the monorail itself.

“BankWest of Nevada and the Las Vegas Monorail share a similar goal in making Las Vegas and all of Southern Nevada a better place to live, work and visit,” said Larry Woodrum, BankWest of Nevada president and CEO.

“When the monorail ATM network and advertising opportunity was presented to us, we did everything possible to make it happen quickly because we realized it was an ideal way to contribute to the community and further enhance awareness and growth of the bank.”


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Is Seattle monorail doomed?

When it first whooshed through the sky above crowds at the 1962 World’s Fair, the gleaming metallic car of Seattle’s monorail was lauded as the future of mass public transit. More than 40 years later, the one-mile run is still the only train in town, and a series of management shake-ups and money problems have even some supporters wondering how an expanded monorail will get off the ground in this traffic-plagued city. If the project sputters, it would be an ignoble end for an idea that Seattle voters have supported four times in the past decade.

“There’s always been a lot of questions about this project and basically all of the questions have come home to roost,” said City Councilman Richard Conlin, a self-described monorail skeptic. “A lot of people are saying, ‘Forget it altogether.’”

The monorail, The AP reported July 14, has long been part of environmentally conscious Seattle’s shared dream for a new transit system. Many point to the World’s Fair, which also gave Seattle its trademark Space Needle, as the source of public desire for a slick, futuristic electric train that would clear cars from the street below.

“Somehow, you’d be able to go wherever you want, whenever you want, and it would be cheap and easy and that sort of thing. It’s a vision,” Conlin said.

The city’s tree-fringed waterside vistas and looming snowcapped mountains also make an elevated train an attractive option, said Peter Sherwin, a monorail activist. “Seattle is a fabulously beautiful place,” he said.

“The ride on this monorail... the awesome views that you would get at sunset or sunrise or any other time of day, for that matter, would be beautiful.”

The project’s cloudy future springs from a dire financial picture and a highly criticized borrowing plan that prompted the resignations of the city monorail board’s chairman and executive director days after fellow board members rejected it. The plan was released late last month after negotiations with the Cascadia Monorail Co., a consortium of 29 companies that would design, build, operate and maintain the line. It would have paid more than $9 billion in interest on low-grade bonds, more than four times the project’s estimated cost.

Critics said discussions between the monorail board and Cascadia – the only bidder – were too secretive, and some are now calling for the project to face a new round of bids. Cascadia’s current offer lapses in mid-December. If it can’t develop a satisfactory alternative, the board will need to cut costs or raise more money, which could require another citywide vote.


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Gotham gets $899 million

The Bush Administration awarded nearly one billion dollars to the states of New York and New Jersey to be used for transit projects in and around the World Trade Center site. The $899 million total marks the second installment to help pay for work to rebuild the transit system destroyed by the September 11, 2001 attacks in Lower Manhattan, according to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey received $478 million to construct a security center for the southern World Trade Center site. The security center will screen all vehicles for security threats and will be a vital component to the World Trade Center Master Plan. A second grant for $221 million has also awarded for the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) terminal.

The New York State DOT will use an additional $200 million grant to rebuild the World Trade Center segment of Route 9A/West Street from West Thames Street to Chambers Street.

“These funds are critical to keep projects moving,” Mineta said.

“A world-class transportation system is vital to the rebirth of Lower Manhattan,” said FTA Administrator Jennifer L. Dorn.

“We are working with Governor Pataki, Mayor Bloomberg and our other partners in the redevelopment effort to restore Lower Manhattan as an inviting gateway to the World Trade Center and a first class 24-hour live-and-work community.”

To date, the Federal Transit Administration has awarded over $3.86 billion for Lower Manhattan recovery projects out of the $4.55 billion appropriated by Congress. That amount includes $2.95 billion, awarded for initial projects identified by the State of New York. Those projects included the permanent PATH terminal, Fulton Street Transit Center, South Ferry terminal station, as well as first phase of the Route 9A/West Street project.


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New York okays MTA deal

New York State political leaders signed off on the largest capital program in New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority history, putting much-needed transit repairs and expansion projects like the Second Avenue subway back on track.

The $21.1 billion plan, approved by the four-member Capital Program Review Board and reported by the New York Post, also includes $2.5 billion set aside for East Side Access, which would bring Long Island Rail Road trains into Grand Central Terminal, and create a rail link between Kennedy Airport and lower Manhattan.

The five-year plan includes $14.9 billion for transit repairs, including the purchase of new buses and subway cars, and another $495 million to beef-up security on the rails.

“The MTA will now be able to continue the progress it has made in revitalizing the region’s transportation network,” said the agency’s chairman, Peter Kalikow.

The plan calls for the city to shell out $2 billion to extend the No. 7 line to the far West Side.

Another $1.45 billion earmarked in the plan hinges on passage of a $2.9 billion transportation bond act that will go before voters in November.

The capital program had been stalled for weeks over negotiations to require contractors using non-union workers on public-works projects to pay prevailing union wages.


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VRE adds a coach to some trains

July 11 was a big day for some Virginia Railway Express passengers when the commuter rail service added some longer trains to its roster in an effort to get more people into seats on the most crowded trains.

Eight-car trains include three on the Fredericksburg line and two on the Manassas line, with a goal of adding an additional 1,100 seats, according to WJLA of Arlington, Va.

VRE is using refurbished, double-decker cars purchased from Chicago’s Metra system. A VRE spokesman says it’s the easiest way to add seats without adding more trains. VRE’s website states there are now one eight-car train on each line.

Additional storage capacity now being leased at Amtrak’s Ivy City yard in Washington is also a major component. The space has become available because Amtrak has stopped delivering mail for the U.S. postal service.

VRE will eventually have 64 cars in service and will have one eight car set on each line.

Gannett Fleming Inc. of Charlotte, N.C. was selected as a consultant to provide environmental impact studies for a $212 million Southeast Corridor Light Rail project in Charlotte for the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS).


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Virginia wants public comment

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation is seeking public comment on draft goals for its new Rail Enhancement Fund – the first dedicated source for rail funding in Virginia.

The 2005 General Assembly okayed the plan, and will provide $23 million in annual, dedicated funding for passenger or freight rail improvements in Virginia.

The draft goals document under review will help to define the focus that will drive decisions and help prioritize projects. A copy of the draft Rail Enhancement Fund Goals and the comment form can be found at www.virginiadot.org/ projects. Online comments will be accepted until July 22.


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Work to begin on Utah commuter rail

They won’t be laying rail just yet, but preliminary construction work will begin this month on the first phase of commuter rail in Utah.

The Utah Transit Authority said July 12 it received federal approval, called a “letter of no prejudice,” the Deseret Morning News reported last week.

The approval authorizes UTA to begin all aspects of construction on the project. Initial work will include site preparation, utility work, and buying commuter rail cars and materials, like steel.

UTA officials said they received notice of the approval a fortnight ago.

“This is a big step,” said John Inglish, UTA general manager. “This is a milestone event, because we can begin real work. This is meeting our commitment to taxpayers.”

By fall, UTA anticipates receiving a final federal approval on the first phase of commuter rail, a high-speed train system that will stretch 44 miles from Salt Lake City to Pleasant View in Weber County. The final approval, called a full-funding grant agreement, is a guarantee that the federal government will reimburse a percentage of construction costs. The remainder will be subsidized through local taxes.

“We have final approval to go to construction,” said UTA spokesman Justin Jones.

“This letter of no prejudice allows us to negotiate with the Federal Transit Administration to determine how much they pay and how much we pay.”

Steve Meyer, UTA manager of commuter rail construction, said he will begin meeting with officials from cities along the commuter rail corridor to inform them of work schedules. Details will be given about when work will begin at grade crossings, or the points where road and rail intersect. Automobile traffic could be impacted.

Within a month, UTA anticipates hosting an official groundbreaking for the $582 million first phase of commuter rail. At that time, the official name of the project (like TRAX for light rail) could be released, along with the design scheme for commuter rail cars.

By receiving the letter of no prejudice, UTA was able to secure a bid for 12 new train cabs. About one year ago, 30 old cabs and passenger cars were obtained at no cost from the Chicago Metra commuter rail system.

In early 2008, Davis and Weber county residents should be riding those cars, said Inglish.

“I’m excited that we’re seeing a lot of things happening,” he said. “Commuter rail) is one more element of the state’s overall regional transportation system.”


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Bay State towns balk over
paying for commuter rail line

Cities and towns in southeastern Massachusetts differ on whether a commuter rail extension to New Bedford and Fall River is a good idea, but they all agree on one point: Nobody wants to pay for it.

The state has outraged area communities by suggesting in its latest transportation plan that local cities and towns may be expected to contribute financially to the $677 million project, the Brockton Enterprise reported last week.

“It is very clear that they do want some local participation in the financing of state transportation projects. What they want us to pay for is not clear,” said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District in Taunton.

Smith said the state might expect an outright financial contribution from the communities, or ask for a share in property tax revenue that would be generated from the additional development the rail line is expected to generate.

While no one is yet certain of the state’s exact intent, communities are crying foul because the state never has required financial contributions from cities and towns to pay for construction of any rail or highway projects in the past, Smith said.

Even the staunchest proponents of the commuter rail extension, the cities of Fall River and New Bedford, have made it clear they do not want to pay for it, Smith said.

A discussion about the subject at last month’s meeting of the Southeastern Massachusetts Commuter Rail Task Force prompted Easton Town Administrator Martha L. White to bring the matter to the attention of the Easton selectmen.

Easton does not support the rail line in the first place. Selectman Chairman Colleen A. Corona outlined the town’s opposition to paying for it in a letter to Douglas I. Foy, director of the Office of Commonwealth Development.

“As each affected community has weighed its position regarding the proposed commuter rail extension, certainly none has considered the possibility of having to financially contribute to its construction or to contribute to the commonwealth the incremental property taxes resulting from transit-oriented development, yet these proposals seemingly are under consideration by the administration,” Corona wrote.

Corona called the suggestion that communities pay for the rail project “unprecedented” and “outrageous.” Cities and towns are facing the worst financial times in recent memory, Corona said, and Easton has lost teachers, firefighters, police officers, senior citizen outreach workers, recreation staff and other positions without being able to improve its roads and buildings.

“Our community does not support the commuter rail extension and would certainly fight any efforts to implement a financing mechanism that requires participation by local communities,” Corona said.

Smith said Fall River Mayor Edward Lambert has also been outspoken in his opposition to paying for construction of the rail project, though he strongly favors the rail extension.

The suggestion that communities might have to pay to get the trains running was contained in the state’s latest 20-year transportation plan, released in draft form in March, Smith said.

All cities and towns in the MBTA service area are now required to pay an annual fee for rail, Smith noted. The service area includes every town with a train station and every town that abuts a town with a train station.


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CSX takes heat for Tri-Rail delays

It was another frustrating week for Tri-Rail commuters in Florida between Palm Beach and Miami. Hour-long delays during the morning and evening rush have caused hundreds of passengers to be late for work, prompting them to pepper the agency with profanity-laced complaints.

As they did three weeks ago, Tri-Rail officials are putting most of the blame on CSX Transportation, the Jacksonville-based freight carrier responsible for dispatching trains on the 71-mile rail corridor, noted the Palm Beach Post.

On July 6 evening, six slow-moving CSX freight trains went out during the time that is reserved for commuter service. Two more freight trains disrupted the Thursday morning schedule.

In a rare move, CSX issued an apology Thursday to Tri-Rail riders.

“CSXT sincerely regrets the most recent delays to Florida Tri-Rail passengers,” said John Gibson, vice-president of operations research and planning. “Clearly we are not satisfied with our current performance.”

The apology was distributed on the trains along with a letter from Joe Giulietti, executive director of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, which operates Tri-Rail.

“While I know many of you are becoming numb to these letters of apology, I am appreciative of the responsibility taken by CSX Transportation in explaining the circumstances behind the recent delays and the actions taken to rectify the situation,” Giulietti wrote.

Only a third of Tri-Rail trains have run on time this month. About 15 percent of the late-running trains were caused by CSX freight trains or its Jacksonville dispatch center.


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Nashville finds climbing costs

Sudden and unforeseen cost increases associated with the operation of the Music City Star commuter rail service in Tennessee are expected to fuel new discussion regarding the annual operating costs associated with the Nashville to Lebanon commuter rail line.

The Lebanon Democrat reported on July 13 under an agreement between all government entities involved, annual operating costs are to be shouldered by federal, state and local governments. Costs during the rail line’s first year are anticipated to weigh in at roughly $3 million.

Regional Transportation Authority Marketing Representative Hanne Flippen said revenues will fund 30 percent of the cost; the federal government will cover 25 percent; state government will pick up 15 percent and the remaining 30 percent will be split between Lebanon, Mt. Juliet, Wilson County and Metro Nashville.

However, under legislation approved by each of the Wilson County governmental entities, none plan to spend a total of more than $100,000 total during the first five years of rail service – leaving Wilson County’s local governments short on their share of operational costs.

“It’s going to cost $3 million to run the trains,” Mt. Juliet City Manager Robert Shearer said.

“Fare box revenue is going to be about $900,000. (Tennessee DOT) assistance is going to be about $430,000. We have some demonstration funding for the first three years… that’s about $750,000. That leaves, in the first year, $884,000.”

Sixty percent of the $884,000 would be the responsibility of Metro Nashville, leaving the three local governments responsible for a combined total of approximately $350,000 in first-year operational costs.

The updated costs estimates were made available to members of the Eastern Corridor Oversight Committee a fortnight ago, Shearer added. Since then, Shearer said Lebanon and Mt. Juliet governments have been notified of the new numbers.

“We’re wrestling with how we work through these numbers,” he said. “I’m actually going to be asking the ECOC to review the whole operating budget just to make sure that we are adequately providing for everything but not over-(providing).”

He noted there are three factors behind the increase, and chief among them is the projected cost of liability insurance for the commuter rail line – a line item that will consume roughly 20 percent of the line’s annual operating budget.

“We had originally thought we could do this for perhaps $150,000 a year as a premium. The estimates we’re getting right now are $600,000 a year. I’m not sure what we can do about it, but it will in fact be the second most expensive item in our budget,” Shearer said.

The second factor is the “tremendous” increase in fuel costs. Shearer said rail officials had initially envisioned spending around $150,000 on fuel each year. Now, that estimate has eclipsed the $300,000 mark.

Finally, he concluded, the federal government’s decision against providing an additional $6.2 million for rail construction means the commuter rail operation will have to borrow those funds and cover the interest.

“Because we have not been able to secure federal funding for the remaining $6.2 million, we anticipate at this point having to go borrow that money to complete all of the construction projects,” Shearer said. “To pay that money back, the interest is probably going to be approximately $300,000 a year.”

As projected costs have risen and forecasted revenues have remained the same, Shearer said rail officials will have to take another look at some aspects of the commuter rail line.

“Now, all of a sudden, the budget has changed. Your revenue hasn’t changed any,” he said. “We’ve got to re-examine the whole fare structure. Obviously, the cost of the commute – the cost of parking, the cost of operation of the vehicle into Nashville has changed – I think we need to re-examine the fare structure. I don’t know that that’s the answer, but I think it is one of the things that should be looked at.”


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FRA says pushing is as safe as pulling

A new federal study triggered by January’s deadly Metrolink crash in Glendale, Calif. shows there is little difference in safety between commuter trains pulled by locomotives and those pushed by engines.

The interim Federal Railroad Administration report states that push operations have slightly higher rates of derailment and fatalities, but the researchers say the differences are so narrow that they don’t justify expensive safety measures or eliminating push operations, a widespread practice in commuter rail.

“There are quite a few chances and very few derailments” in both cases, said Grady Cothen, a high-ranking safety administrator at the agency. Nevertheless, “we are continually working to improve safety and to reduce risk in the operating environment,” the Los Angeles Times reported on Friday.

However, the study does state that when a crash occurs at a crossing or with another train, passengers in trains pushed by locomotives may be more vulnerable than people riding in cars behind an engine.

In push mode, a train is controlled from a cab car, a passenger coach at the front of the train with an engineer’s cab. The practice has come under intense scrutiny since the Glendale crash, which killed 11 people and injured 180 others January 26.


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‘Orange’ commissioners warm to commuter rail

A Central Florida commuter rail plan gained momentum July 12 as Orange County commissioners showed interest in some of the side benefits of the plan, setting the stage for a decisive vote next month.

If the system gets developed, a train could start carrying commuters between DeBary in southern Volusia County and Orlando by 2009, and between Orlando and Poinciana in Osceola County by 2011. There would be up to 15 stations, the Orlando Sentinel reported last week..

Orange commissioners have never been sold on the idea that Orange County residents would ride the train enough to make it worth the $44 million the state wants from the county, and last month several criticized the idea, but on Tuesday they focused on other benefits of the proposal, including the prospect that freight trains would have to be routed around greater Orlando to make room for commuter trains.

No vote was taken Tuesday, and none was planned until August.

After receiving assurances about the freight trains from George Gilhooley, District 5 secretary for the Florida DOT, Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty said he was encouraged the county may sign on.

“I’m optimistic that we’re moving in the right direction,” Crotty said.

Gilhooley said the state needs all four counties to commit this summer or it cannot start developing the system. Volusia County committed two weeks ago, and state officials are expecting support from Seminole and Osceola counties in the next couple of weeks.

Under the plan, federal and state governments would pick up 75 percent of the estimated $473 million cost. The state needs the four counties to pay the rest, as well as to split the operating deficits that could run $5 million a year.

Gilhooley said the state intends to bear the full cost of gaining control of the CSX tracks through Central Florida from 5:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. each day. With that control, the state could route most or all freight trains to either go through Ocala or to travel at night.

“The people in my district are a bit skeptical until you mention we’re going to move freight,” said Commissioner Bill Segal, who represents northeast Orange County, “and then they perk up.”


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Many Arkansans support commuter rail

Two public meetings in as many days indicate commuter rail is the darling in Fayetteville, Ark., while residents of Benton County favor a slab of asphalt to the west to ease traffic woes.

Between 2008 and 2030, Northwest Arkansas will have an estimated $326 million in state and federal sources for transportation improvements, reports The Morning News of Springdale Ark.

How that money should be split is a question the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission staff is putting to residents. About 50 people showed up for a Monday meeting in Bentonville. More than 100 turned out for Tuesday’s meeting in Fayetteville.

Those who participated were each given 10 gold-colored coins to split up among 10 projects and concepts now on the drawing boards for Northwest Arkansas’ transportation future. In Bentonville, the No. 1 priority, according to people who participated, was a western bypass that would loop away from Interstate 540 near Greenland, pass near the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport and link with a planned Bella Vista bypass.

Fayetteville participants see things differently.

“I think we have too many highways,” said Fran Free, a resident of Fayetteville.

She, like many others at the Fayetteville meeting, wants more attention paid to bike lanes, improved transit and rail. Those projects got the bulk of her gold coins Tuesday.

“I would like to ride my bike to run my errands,” Free said. “I’d like to see more bike lanes. I’d like to see wider outside lanes.”

Transit buses might get more riders if they were equipped with bike racks, she said.

And rail, even though it is an expensive proposition, is a no-brainer for her.

“You sit. You drink your coffee. You read your paper,” Free said.

Rail appeared to get the most gold coins Tuesday. A 40-mile run of track stretching from Greenland to Bentonville and looping to the regional airport would cost between $550 million and $1.24 billion.

The remaining list of transportation wants and needs in Northwest Arkansas is long, all highway-related.


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APTA HIGHLIGHTS...  APTA Highlights...

Here are some other transit headlines, from the pages of Passenger Transport, the weekly newspaper of the public transportation industry published by the non-profit American Public Transportation Assn. For more news from Passenger Transport and subscription information, visit the APTA web site at http://www.apta.com/news/pt.


Report:
Transit for Persons with Disabilities Improving; More is Needed

U.S. public transportation systems have made great inroads in the services they provide to persons with disabilities, especially since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, but a chronic lack of funding means that much more remains to be done.

That was a major finding of The Current State of Transportation for People with Disabilities in the United States, a report released by the National Council on Disability at a June 13 Capitol Hill event hosted by the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. NCD is an independent federal agency that makes recommendations to the President and Congress to enhance the quality of life for all Americans with disabilities and their families.

The report cites a 2002 U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics report stating that, because of funding shortages, six million Americans with disabilities have difficulties getting the transportation they need.

“The continued underfunding of public transportation…directly limits the mobility of large sections of the disability community who are unable to use a car,” the report states, “and this problem will not be fully addressed without a fundamental shift in funding priorities to support a comprehensive, accessible public transportation system.”


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STPP Report:
Households Feel the Pinch as Transportation Costs Continue to Rise

Transportation costs are responsible for 19.1 percent – almost one-fifth – of expenses in middle-income households, more than health care and food combined, according to a report released June 14 by the Surface Transportation Policy Project and the Center for Neighborhood Technology.

The 2005 edition of Driven to Spend: Pumping Dollars Out of Our Households and Communities is the third annual version of the report, but the first to explore the effect of transportation costs on family budgets. It examines transportation costs in 28 U.S. cities, and directly correlates transportation expenses to the overall cost of living, using data from a 2003 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey.

The statistics show that middle-income households spent substantially less in regions where at least 10 percent of employees use public transit or otherwise avoid commuting in single-occupancy vehicles. The survey defines middle-income households as those that earn about $40,000 per year.

Of the 28 metropolitan areas covered in the STPP report, Baltimore had the lowest per-household level of transportation costs, 14 percent of annual income, and Houston had the highest, 20.9 percent. The report explains that Baltimore households saved $2 billion in 2003 on transportation compared with the national average, while Houston households spent $1.2 billion more than the national average.


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Meyer is New CEO at Spokane Transit

E. Susan Meyer, a businesswoman in the Spokane, Wash., area, began her new job June 9 as chief executive officer of the Spokane Transit Authority.

Meyer has 20 years of experience in management positions in local business and non-profit organizations. Most recently, she operated her own firm, Meyer Consulting, providing business planning, human resources, and communications consulting services.

She succeeds Kim Zentz, who left the system earlier this year to serve as interim executive director of the Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute.


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Lichtanski Dies; Longtime GM in Monterey, Calif.

Frank J. Lichtanski, 54, longtime general manager and CEO of Monterey-Salinas Transit in Monterey, Calif., died June 9 following a struggle with cancer.

When Lichtanski began his career in public transit at MST in 1974, the system was a small local transit operator with nine buses, 20 employees, and a budget of less than $1 million. Under his leadership, MST has become a public transit operator providing service to all jurisdictions within Monterey County, as well as destinations in Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties, and carrying 4.8 million passengers each year.

He was a speaker at industry conferences throughout the U.S. and Canada, and served as chair of the California Transit Association Small Operators Committee and founding member and chair of the California Transit Insurance Pool. For APTA, he was vice chair of the Small Operations Steering Committee and a member of the APTA Board of Directors as a regional director for Region VI; the Alternative Fuels Committee; and the Clean Propulsion and Support Technology Committee.


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Torrance, Calif., Transit Manager Whittle Dies

Thomas Whittle, 65, transit director for the Torrance Transit System in Torrance, Calif., for the past six years, died May 14 of complications following surgery for an aortic aneurysm.

System representatives said Whittle had spent his career as a transportation planner and director, and was known as an expert in the field and a member of the APTA Small Operations Committee. His colleagues would joke that he had forgotten more about transportation than they had ever learned.

Whittle came to Torrance in 1996 as transportation administrator, then served as director of fleet services before becoming transit director. In recent years, he had managed to reorganize city transit as a stand-alone department.


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

CSX near James River, VA

For NCI: R. Lynn Franz

CSX switches along the James River in Lynchburg, Va. on May 11. The Blue Ridge Mountains are in the background.

 

CSX to ‘harden’ D.C. corridor

By a staff writer

Duos Technologies, Inc. of Jacksonville, Fla., has been awarded a contract to design, manufacture, and install a security system to harden a seven-mile stretch of CSX tracks between Reagan National Airport and CSX’s Benning Rail Yard in Washington D.C., commonly called the “D.C. Corridor.”

The total contract is valued at $9.8 million.

JP Morgan raised its CSX Corp. rating to “overweight” on Friday. CSX directors okayed regular quarterly dividends on the company’s common stock on July 13. The 10 cents per share dividend is payable September 15 to shareholders of record on August 25.
Duos stated in a press release on July 11 it will “execute this project with its teaming partner, Epsilon Systems Solutions, Inc., the project prime contractor and program manager for the client, the federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS).”

The rail security corridor project is the result of vulnerability studies, Duos stated, conducted over several months by the DHS, the FRA, Capitol Police and the CSX Public Safety officials. The project includes integrating several surveillance technologies, including intelligent video and radio frequency identification (RFID).

During the past two years, Duos developed and deployed several tunnel and bridge security systems for CSX, one of the nation’s largest rail transportation systems. Duos and Epsilon created security-hardening solutions for other critical DHS infrastructure protection projects as well, including buffer zone surveillance systems at chemical plants throughout the country.

“Duos and Epsilon will provide a seamless security curtain around the tracks crossing our nation’s capital. This project is considered a pilot of what will most likely become a guideline to protect our citizens and especially vulnerable critical assets of our transportation infrastructure,” said Gianni B. Arcaini, Duos’ CEO.

He added, “The system will include artificial intelligence to detect anomalies along the DCRSC and will simultaneously alert various security teams if our security buffer is compromised. This project will benefit from the participation of a very broad spectrum of security experts including the DHS, law enforcement, the rail industry and our respective teams.”


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How fast do freight trains really go?

By Leo King
Editor

There’s a dark hallway, or so it seems, in AAR’s headquarters where people with green eyeshades collect numbers. They crunch them, and find some esoteric figures... like the average speeds of freight trains. Not the speeds when they are running on the high iron out in a desert in the Southwest, but the speeds the freight trains accumulate over a long journey – and short journeys, too.

The AAR’s Tom White tells us anyone can go to http://www.railroadpm.org/ and find out answer to questions like how many box cars are on a particular railroad, and which railroads report.

“Railroads started posting these performance measures in 1999 in response to shipper requests that arose during a series of meetings conducted with shippers in 1998. They are updated on a weekly basis,” White told D:F last week.

“AAR hosts the site,” he said, “but the data is inputted directly by the railroads.”

The reporting roads are BNSF, CN, CP, CSX, KCS, NS and UP. Canadian National currently holds the best average speed, at 26.7 mph. Last week they reported 26.3 mph.

CSX is the worst, at 19.9 mph – but the carrier improved over last week, which was 19.1 mph.

Shippers receivers and others – like stockholders – can take a look at the numbers and see how many total cars are on the line they are interested in.

What’s the average terminal dwell time? How about a bill of lading timeliness? As we said, esoteric numbers, but they also indicate how well a railroad is performing.

The website, which AAR maintains for the railroads, urges readers to “refer to both the general definitions and the railroad-specific definitions to gain a complete understanding of the measures being reported by each railroad.”

It the writers add, “The reports are most meaningful when used to monitor current trends in each railroad’s performance. Major differences in the railroads’ physical networks, traffic patterns, service territories, operating strategies, and even local weather conditions limit the insight that can be gained from road-to-road comparisons.”

Freigvht Traffic Graph

Railroad performance measures are published each Wednesday at 2:00 Eastern Time.

The average train speed, according to the site is stated in miles per hour, and “is calculated by dividing train-miles by total hours operated.” System-wide average train speeds are given for intermodal, coal unit trains, manifest, grain unit trains, multilevel and auto, and the average of all trains.

The average terminal dwell time “is the average time a car is at the specified terminal location expressed in hours.”

The measurement begins with a customer release, received interchange, or train arrival event and “ends with a customer placement (actual or constructive), delivered interchange, or train departure event. Stored, heavy bad ordered, and maintenance of way cars are generally excluded from the calculation.”

Oh, and what’s “Bill of Lading Timeliness?”

It represents “The number of shipments released by customers to the railroads without shipping instructions. It is a system-wide measure that is calculated by dividing the number of cars released without a bill of lading by the total number of cars released.”

See?

Details about freight trains you always wanted to know.


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Investigators search CN wreckage

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board are trying to determine why two Canadian National Ry. freight trains collided July 10 north of Bentonia in Yazoo County, killing four railroad employees.

A view from the air showed six burned locomotives, 17 derailed cars and 500 feet of missing track. Crews worked on Monday to complete removing the wreckage and derailed cars, according to WAPT Jackson, Miss.

The NTSB said one week ago that it had recovered three of the six “black boxes” located in the locomotives in Sunday’s wreck. The boxes contain computerized information that includes the speed of the two trains and if they attempted to brake. Investigators said both trains were dispatched out of a station in Homewood, Ill.

“We are looking at the dispatch records which may give us some indication of who had authority to operate on which track, who was given guidance, or what the signals were telling the crews about the track conditions,” said Debbie Hersman, an NTSB spokeswoman.

Hersman said the NTSB was also investigating possible fatigue among the crews. Of the 150 head-on freight train collisions each year, the NTSB said that 80 to 90 percent are caused by human error.

The railroad company was not releasing the names of the dead crewmembers, but said they were Mississippi residents.

Sunday’s head-on crash between freight trains was the second in the Jackson area in as many weeks. On June 28, five crewmembers were injured in a fiery head-on collision on a west Jackson railroad track. That accident remains under investigation, NTSB officials said.


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Carmichael weighs in on accidents

Heavy equipment and materials are stored Monday near the scene of the head-on train collision in Yazoo County, Miss. Two freight trains collided at 4:00 a.m. Sunday. The cause of the wreck is under investigation.

Half the nation’s head-on train collisions this year have taken place in Mississippi – all in the past two weeks.

“It’s a rare event, but there may be more coming,” former railroad administrator Gil Carmichael told The Clarion-Ledger on July 11.

That’s because the once-dying rail business is booming. Last year, railroads shipped 11 million units – nearly three times as many units as in 1970.

In the 1970s, railroads were in desperate financial shape, said Tom White, a spokesman for the Association of American Railroads. “More than 20 percent of the railroads were in bankruptcy.”

Deregulation followed in the 1980s, and “railroads thought all they’d be carrying was rock and stone,” Carmichael said. “They began to downsize. They went from double-tracks down to single. The Illinois Central that used to run from New Orleans to Chicago was double-track the whole way.”

Carmichael said removing the second set of tracks “set the stage for these kind of accidents.”

Where Sunday’s accident took place, there are “between 20 and 30 trains that pass over this particular stretch of track each day,” Carmichael said.

On Sunday, two freight-train locomotives collided head-on in the Anding community in Yazoo County. Three have been confirmed dead, and a fourth is feared dead.

On June 28, five crewmembers were injured, two critically, in a fiery head-on collision on a west Jackson railroad track involving two freight trains.

Carmichael believes each resulted from human error. “The dispatching of trains is still done by human beings,” he said. “There were dispatching errors, which led to them facing each other at the same time.”

Human error is the No. 1 reason for rail accidents, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

NTSB officials say for the past decade they’ve suggested a solution to such accidents a “fail-safe” system called Positive Train Control, which automatically slows the train in case of a pending accident. Amtrak already uses the system between Boston and Washington, D.C. – but White said that there’s no such thing as a “fail-safe” system.

He said of the two Mississippi accidents: “We don’t know if it’s human error, but the system that’s in place works very well, and it’s very unusual when accidents happen.”

Although rail traffic has increased in recent years, railroads “have held the line on the number of train accidents,” said Warren Flatau, an FRA spokesman.

“In the first four months, there’s been a 5 percent decrease.”

Head-on collisions fell last year to 11 from 13 in 2003. There have been four so far this year, including both Mississippi accidents.

Rail is an integral part of a growing business called intermodal transportation, which also utilizes ships and trucks.

Many of the world’s goods are now being made in the Pacific Rim region, and they’re being shipped to the U.S. in containers up to 53 feet long. These containers contain everything from Wal-Mart items to “Dollar General khaki pants,” Carmichael said. “I got a pair of ’em on.”

Once the ships arrive in the U.S., containers are sent first by rail and then by truck to their final destinations. This increase “snuck up on the railroads,” Carmichael said.

One railroad, BNSF, is now “double-tracking all the way to the West Coast,” he said. Another, Union Pacific, “is literally having to turn down container business,” he said.

Carmichael hopes Congress will move to upgrade the rail system, which will help reduce freeway congestion.

“Right now they’re having to rebuild highways every seven or eight years,” he said.


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Canadian dispatchers ratify deal

Canadian National Ry. said last week that members of the Canada-based train dispatchers union have ratified a two-year contract extension. CN’s three-year agreement with the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference/Rail Canada Traffic Controllers is now a five-year contract set to expire on Dec. 31, 2008. The pact will provide members with improved wages and benefits starting on Jan. 1, 2007, said CN.


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Tex-Mex gets a $50 million loan

The Tex-Mex Railroad, a short line connecting the U.S. to Mexico, has gotten approval of a $50 million loan it will use for major safety and infrastructure projects in the wake of growing cross-border trade.

Tex-Mex is a part of the Kansas City Southern Ry. network, and serves mainly as a bridge railroad to move traffic and make connections between KCS, Union Pacific, BNSF Ry. and Mexico’s Transportacion Ferrovaiaria Mexicana.

The FRA loan will increase efficiency by allowing Tex-Mex to operate at higher track speeds, and increase capacity to accommodate growing freight rail traffic along its busy NAFTA corridor. It will also improve track safety along the railroad’s line between Laredo and Corpus Christi, Texas.

The cash will help upgrade 146 miles of track, rehabilitate 26 bridges, construct two new sidings and lengthen one, and replace 75,000 crossties. Two rail yards, at Laredo and Corpus Christi, also will be upgraded. In addition, a portion of the loan will be used to refinance prior debt incurred for previous capital investment projects.

“When you improve the safety of your rails, you end up increasing capacity,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta. “Safety equals more business,” he said.

The loan is being made under the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) program administered by the FRA. This program assists short line and regional railroads to acquire, improve, or rehabilitate rail equipment and infrastructure. Direct loans can pay up to 100 percent of an approved rail project with repayment schedules of 25 years at interest rates equal to the cost of borrowing by the federal government.


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Stacktrain gets a security okay
Pacer StackTrain

Pacer Stacktrain     

Pacer Stacktrain has received formal certification under the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT). program. The company markets double-stacked container transportation in North America.
Pacer Stacktrain last week received formal certification under the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT). The program is aimed at enhancing the security of the nation’s international supply chain, is administered by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security.

Pacer Stacktrain said it expects that one of the benefits for the company and its customers will be fewer cargo examinations and reduced border delays at its border crossings between the U.S. and both Mexico and Canada, said Tom Shurstad, division president.

Pacer Stacktrain markets and manages one of North America’s largest double-stack container networks for the distribution of both domestic and international containerized freight. Its parent company, Pacer International, is a non-asset-based North America third-party logistics and freight transportation provider.

“Pacer Stacktrain, as the only non-railroad, dedicated wholesale operator of a double-stack freight distribution system in the marketplace, is helping to expand the C-TPAT program within the intermodal sector,” according to Shurstad. He noted that each of North America’s seven class I railroads is certified.

Most C-TPAT members are importers and the importers’ direct transportation providers, such as ocean carriers and truckers, while Pacer Stacktrain markets its services to third-party intermediaries such as intermodal marketers and ocean carriers.

J.R. Thornton, Pacer Stacktrain’s vice president for planning and administration, said certification means that Pacer Stacktrain’s operating and security procedures and its terminals and other facilities have been audited for compliance with C-TPAT security guidelines, and that the company has also committed to continue improving security. The security guidelines encompass such areas as procedural security, physical security, personnel security, and others.

“The C-TPAT process allows us to review and reinforce our security policies throughout our organization,” Thornton added. “Procedures addressing issues such as background checks, data protection and terminal security reduce the extent to which shipments, equipment or data could become accessible to unauthorized persons.”

Thornton noted that Pacer Stacktrain was assisted throughout the C-TPAT evaluation and application process by Strategic Solutions Partners, LLC, an Orinda, California-based consulting firm.

“Expert guidance and support such as theirs can make it possible for many firms engaged in supply-chain activities to enjoy the benefits of C-TPAT and to contribute to a more secure and efficient overall infrastructure,” he said.

Pacer Corp. is online at www.pacer-international.com and www.pacerstack.com.


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Intermodal is up, carload freight down

WASHINGTON, July 14, 2005 — Intermodal traffic was up but carload freight was off slightly during the week ended July 9 in comparison with the corresponding week last year, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported today. This year’s week and last year’s comparison week both included the July 4th holiday.

Carload freight for the week totaled 281,984 cars, down 1.3 percent from last year. Carload traffic was up 0.9 percent in the West but down 4.5 percent in the East.

Intermodal volume, which is not included in the carload data, totaled 186,669 trailers or containers, up 4.3 percent from last year, with containers up 6.2 percent and trailers down 1.4 percent.

Total volume was estimated at 27.9 billion ton-miles, up 0.4 percent from last year.

Among the seven commodities registering gains from last year were farm products other than grain, up 12.5 percent; crushed stone, sand and gravel, up 8.4 percent; and coal, up 1.4 percent. Twelve carload commodities were down for the week, with coke off 18.3 percent; metals down 16.1 percent; and nonmetallic minerals, off 14.5 percent.

Cumulative volume for the first 27 weeks of 2005 totaled 8,969,427 carloads, up 1.6 percent from 2004; 5,852,726 trailers or containers, up 6.1 percent; and total volume of an estimated 853.3 billion ton-miles, up 2.4 percent from last year.

On Canadian railroads, during the week ended July 9 carload traffic totaled 70,168 cars, down 5.0 percent from last year while intermodal volume totaled 40,643 trailers or containers, down 3.4 percent from last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 27 weeks of 2005 on the Canadian railroads totaled 2,058,817 carloads, down 0.3 percent from last year, and 1,137,383 trailers and containers, up 2.3 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 27 weeks of 2005 on U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 11,028,244 carloads, up 1.2 percent from last year and 6,990,109 trailers and containers, up 5.5 percent from last year.

The AAR also reported that originated carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended July 9 totaled 8,178 cars, up 4.4 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 3,060 originated trailers or containers, down 2.7 percent from the 27th week of 2004. For the first 27 weeks of 2005, TFM reported cumulative originated volume of 232,721 cars, up 0.8 percent from last year, and 103,676 trailers or containers, up 6.8 percent.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 87 percent of U.S. carload freight and 96 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 96 percent and 100 percent. The Canadian railroads reporting to the AAR account for 91 percent of Canadian rail traffic.

Railroads provide more than 40 percent of U.S. intercity freight transportation, more than any other mode, and rail traffic figures are regarded as an important economic indicator.

The AAR is online at www.aar.org.


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WALL STREET LINES...  Wall Street lines...

Morgan likes CSX, but not UP

Growth trends in freight and coal shipments make railroads stocks attractive, J.P. Morgan analysts said Friday, but choosing which company to favor depends on whose rail network is ready to handle the increasing loads.

MarketWatch reported on Friday J.P. Morgan upgraded CSX Corp. and Norfolk Southern Corp. to overweight from neutral and downgraded Union Pacific Corp. to underweight from neutral. The other major railroads, BNSF, Canadian National Ry. Co. and Canadian Pacific Ry. were all rated neutral.

“In our view, CSX has entered the sweet spot of operating margin improvement and EPS performance,” wrote analyst Thomas Wadewitz in a note to clients. As utilities work to rebuild their coal supplies, CSX stands to benefit from the high-margin loads, he said.

“We believe that the best time to own railroad stocks is when operating margin and EPS growth are building, and we believe it’s still early for CSX.”

J.P. Morgan lifted CSX’s 2005 earnings estimate to $3.25 a share from $2.91 a share.

Like CSX, Norfolk Southern should also see pricing gains, and follow a path of “high single-digit to low double-digit revenue growth through 2005 and 2006.”

Coal needs and demand for intermodal freight shipping, goods that travel partly by rail and partly by truck or ship, will fuel gains at Norfolk, Wadewitz wrote. “We expect NS in particular to benefit over the next few quarters (as it did in 2004), because CSX may not refocus on intermodal growth for several more quarters, after which it may take time for them to regain traction.”

But at Union Pacific, the story is of “unrealized potential,” J.P. Morgan said.

“While we believe that Union Pacific is on a long-term path of meaningful improvement in operational and financial performance, we suspect that there is likely to be little evidence of progress on this path over the next few quarters.”

The analysts noted that UP is spending money to fix bottlenecks and other issues, but it remains the only railroad without any fuel hedges in place to dampen the rising price of crude and in turn, the soaring cost of diesel.

Weather-related problems with its jointly operated line with BNSF out of the Powder River Basin will also cut third-quarter coal volumes compared with last year.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: MarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)48.6449.33
Canadian National (CNI)59.7658.69
Canadian Pacific (CP) 34.8834.84
CSX (CSX)44.8543.99
Florida East Coast (FLA)44.6744.95
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)28.7128.72
Kansas City Southern (KSU)21.5621.41
Norfolk Southern (NSC)33.1732.15
Providence & Worcester (PWX)14.2514.50
Union Pacific (UNP)65.1065.35


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

Engineer is blamed:

133 die in Pakistan crash

Officials blamed driver error for a three-train crash in southern Pakistan that killed at least 133 people and injured hundreds more on July 13. The accident is believed to have happened after the engineer of the Karachi express misread a stop signal and crashed into the rear of the Quetta express.

Three trains collided in southern Pakistan on July 13, killing 133 people and injuring 800 more, police and railway officials said.

At least 17 coaches were destroyed in the accident that occurred at 3:40 a.m. local time at Ghotki railway station.

The Chairman of Pakistan Railways, Shakil Durani, told CNN there were about 3,000 passengers on the three trains.

One train rammed into the back of another after missing a signal, Durani said. That caused several cars to derail, which in turn were struck by another train. The trains involved were the Karachi Express, which rammed into the stationary Quetta Express.

The derailed carriages were then hit almost simultaneously by a third train, the Tezgam Express, which was taking passengers from Karachi north to Rawalpindi, near the capital of Islamabad.

The Karachi Express is a night-coach passenger train that brings people from the city of Lahore to the southern port city of Karachi. Ghotki is about 370 miles northeast of Karachi, in remote Sindh province.

The railway authorities ruled out sabotage or technical error. They blamed the driver of the northbound Karachi express, who died in the crash.

“He either ignored the red signal or he was snoozing,” Abdul Wahab, the general manager of Pakistan Railways, said.

President Musharraf confirmed the suspicion of human error. During a tour of the accident site, he said: “It’s clear that it was not sabotage – rather, in my view, it might be carelessness.”

He ordered an inquiry into the crash and said that anyone found guilty of negligence would be prosecuted. Pakistan’s railways are antiquated, and dozens of people have been killed in train accidents in recent years. On March 5, five people were killed and 25 injured when a passenger train derailed in eastern Punjab province. On September 20, 2003, a train plowed into a packed bus in central Pakistan, killing at least 27 people and injuring six others.


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162 dead in Soweto wreck

Two South African commuter trains collided at a station in Soweto outside Johannesburg, injuring 162 people, officials told Reuters on Thursday.

Metrorail spokeswoman Thandi Mlangeni said the collision occurred on Wednesday evening (July 13) at Soweto’s Merafe station, where one train had apparently stalled at the platform during a local power outage.

“A second train collided with the stationary one... we had 162 people injured and we transferred them to hospital, four with serious injuries,” Mlangeni said. She said the cause of the accident was under investigation.

“There was a power failure but we cannot say that was the cause at this point.”

South Africa’s main locomotive engineer union said the crash showed the country’s dilapidated and underfunded commuter trains were endangering the lives of staff and passengers.

“Most of these trains are 30 years old and very few have been refurbished,” said Louis Brockett, deputy general secretary of United Transport and Allied Trade Union.

Commuter rail forms a major transport link between Johannesburg and the suburbs of Soweto, townships that were set up under white rule to house black laborers away from the city center.


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WE GET LETTERS...  We get letters...

Dear Editor:

The SEPTA maintenance facility being used for Acela Express is at “Frazer” (west of Paoli on the Harrisburg line), not “Frazier.”

Matt Mitchell
Delaware Valley Assn. of Rail Passengers


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End Notes...

We try to be accurate in the stories we write, but even seasoned pros err occasionally. If you read something you know to be amiss, or if you have a question about a topic, we’d like to hear from you. Please e-mail the crew at leoking@nationalcorridors.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write.

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