Vol. 5 No. 29
July 19, 2004

Copyright © 2004
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 Fifth Year *

This page is best viewed at 800 X 600 screen resolution

 

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


Acela at Boston South Bay Yard

NCI: Leo King

Financial wars are starting again between Amtrak, the House, the Senate, and the White House. Notwithstanding an ongoing deal in a conference committee debating a highway bill – which also includes a flat $2 billion annually over the next six years in the Senate version – the Bush Administration offers $900 million, Amtrak’s CEO David Gunn wants $1.8 billion. A House subcommittee settled on the President’s figure. At risk: Acela Expresses, long-distance trains, regional service. Our story is below.

 

NCI’s conference is in New London
in September; P&W train ride, too

The National Corridors Initiative’s conference is going to New London, Conn., this year, and will include a passenger train trip on the Providence & Worcester Railroad for a rail inspection trip.

CEO Jim RePass said on Friday “TransPlan 21: A New Transportation Future for America,” will be held in New London, Conn. on September 18 and 19. Other recent conferences were held inside the beltway in Washington, D.C. Our first conference was in Newport, R.I.

RePass said, “The inspection trip will run from coastal to inland Connecticut on the 19th (the next day) from New London to Putnam and Return.”

Keynote speakers on Saturday will include former Presidential nominee and Amtrak Chairman Gov. Michael S. Dukakis; Sen. Chris Dodd (invited), and newly appointed Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell (invited).

Leaders of the American transportation industry will also be present.

“Come see the unveiling of TransPlan21, NCI’s program to reform the funding of transportation infrastructure for America,” RePass urged, “and then, on a Providence & Worcester Railroad inspection train, tour inland Connecticut via the New London-Worcester branch of the P&W – at present an all-freight line proposed by business and government leaders for re-opening of passenger rail.”

He added, “You will enjoy our famously intensive annual conference for rail industry executives, the media, leaders, labor unions, economic development professionals, city and town planners, designers, preservationists, environmental activists, transportation builders, operators & advocates, government leaders, and financiers – and find out why NCI’s conferences are unique.”

Admission to the conference only is U.S. $450 (corporate); U.S. $195 (government); U.S. $145 (non-profit, citizen). Some scholarships are available.

Register online at www.nationalcorridors.org using American Express, Master Card or VISA, or download registration forms and send checks made payable to NCI to:

NCI Inc., 35 Terminal Road, Suite 210, Providence, RI., 02905

Inspection Train Tickets are $45 (Must register separately).

For further information email conference chair Molly McKay at molly.mckay@snet.net


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House bill would slash Amtrak funding

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and Treasury proposed on Thursday to slash subsidies for Amtrak next year, but approved a 3 percent increase in highway spending, to $34.6 billion. The vote came on a voice vote.

Subcommittee members approved $900 million in funding for the railroad, Reuters reported – the same amount recommended by the Bush administration for the next federal fiscal year beginning October 1.

The measure the T&T committee reported on deals with transportation appropriations, which is separate from two bills the Senate and House are discussing in a conference committee. Those two bills are the highway and transit authorization measures.

Amtrak, which received just over $1.2 billion this year, has said the $900 million figure would force a shutdown. The House has consistently taken a harder line with Amtrak than the Senate, which has yet to act on its version of the funding bill, Reuters reported.

Amtrak is seeking $1.8 billion in subsidies to help meet operating and capital costs.

The railroad is in the midst of a major overhaul on its flagship Northeast Corridor line, replacing track and making badly needed repairs to bridges and tunnels. It is also repairing wreck-damaged coaches and other rolling stock at its heavy repair shop at Beech Grove, Ind.

The $34.6 billion for highways is $1 billion above the amount requested by the Bush administration. The bill that would fund the Transportation and Treasury departments at $90 billion would also provide $14 billion for Federal Aviation Administration programs and $7 billion for mass transit as well as $11 billion for Treasury Department programs, and $10.3 billion for the Internal Revenue Service.

The full House Appropriations Committee will consider the funding measure on July 23.


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Amtrak Poster

Amtrak

Amtrak’s new ads for its Acela Express trains are paying off in ways the railroad never expected – by selling themselves, the passenger carrier says. “Customer response to the campaign has been so strong that Amtrak has taken the unusual step of selling posters of the award-winning advertising at its online store (www.amtrak.com/store), says Barbara Richardson, Amtrak’s marketing and sales vice-president. “You know you’re doing something right when your advertising can generate revenue,” she said. The Acela campaign began in September 2003. Graphic artist Michael Schwab is best known for his work for Apple, Coke, and Nike.

 

LaHood dismisses Illinois
Amtrak high-speed service

U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood (R) said on July 15 he does not favor high-speed rail for Illinois.

“I think it’s a bad idea, mainly because we don’t have the money to fund the routes that currently serve Illinois,” LaHood said at the Statehouse.

Amtrak President David Gunn said earlier this week in Chicago that upgrading the Chicago-St. Louis corridor for faster passenger trains is a top priority for Amtrak. Planners want trains to be able to go 110 mph in the corridor, while the current top speed is 79 mph – but it would take nearly $200 million for the next phase of track and equipment upgrades.

LaHood said he considers Amtrak “the lifeblood transportation for small communities,” and he knows many college students from Chicago’s suburbs use trains to travel to school, Copley News Service reported via The Lincoln Courier.

“On the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak is fabulous,” LaHood added, “and after 9-11, it became the transportation of choice for a lot of people because they felt it was safer than flying.

“I think if we’re going to have a pot of money where we subsidize airlines and we subsidize the funding of highways, that we certainly ought to continue to subsidize Amtrak,” LaHood said.

He said, “I don’t think we can afford at this point, with the kind of deficits we’re running,” to be talking about high-speed rail.

While funding is his main concern, he said, “People in rural Illinois are not for high-speed rail... They do not want a train traveling 120, 125, 150 miles per hour through the rural areas, and I support them on that.”


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‘Nan’ to be replaced soon, says Amtrak

Amtrak is planning to rebuild the 100-year-old bridge at one end of Niantic Bay beach in Connecticut, and reroute Amtrak along that section of the Niantic Bay, according to Amtrak spokesman Dan Stessel.

The East Lyme movable bridge – nicknamed “Nan” by railroaders – “is in danger of failing, and that could temporarily sever the Northeast Corridor,” he said. “It makes our engineers very nervous. It’s very high on our list,” he told the New London Day for its July 11 edition.

Often accompanied by loud creaks and groans, the aging structure is opened and closed about 4,000 times annually to enable passage of sailboats, charter fishing boats and other vessels between the bay and Niantic River. Amtrak civil engineers are currently designing a new bridge and hope to begin construction in 2007 or 2008, provided funds become available, Stessel said.

He was unsure whether plans would include restoring portions of a walkway that would have to be torn up during construction of the new bridge, and relocation of the double-tracked main line between Boston and New York City.


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S&P raises Amtrak debt ratings: ‘BBB’

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services said on July 14 in New York it raised the ratings of National Railroad Passenger Corp. (Amtrak) with a “stable outlook citing its improved financial position.” S&P raised its corporate credit rating and senior secured debt rating to “BBB” from “BBB-minus,” affecting about $3.9 billion of lease-adjusted debt.

“The Washington, D.C.-based passenger railroad’s outlook is stable,” S&P said.


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Five injured in crane accident

A brakeless crane left five non-railroad workers injured last week in New York City, and one of them in critical condition.

The men, performing standpipe installation work, were working near a pair of high-rail cars (trucks outfitted with on-track wheels). An Amtrak work crane inside Tunnel No. 1 about one-quarter mile away lost its brakes near Skillman Avenue and 49th Avenue in Hunters Point, near Sunnyside Yard. The crane rolled freely downhill, and collided with “two highway rail cars working at the Long Island City portal of Line 1,” Amtrak spokesman Dan Stessel told D:F on Thursday.

Amtrak police and the New York Fire Department responded to the mishap. An earlier broadcast report stating the crane collided with a train was erroneous, according to Stessel.

One man was rushed to Bellevue Hospital and was reported to be in critical condition. Three others were taken to Elmhurst General Hospital with non life-threatening injuries. A fifth man only received minor injuries and refused treatment on the scene.

“Of the five injuries, none were on the crane,” Stessel said.

He added, “All but one of the injured were STV employees, the contractor working on the standpipes, and were on the HRCs. The one injured Amtrak employee was the pilot assigned to the STV gang. The crane operator was not seriously injured when he bailed out one-quarter mile from his starting point.”

Stessel explained, “The HRCs were there for standpipe work as part of our ongoing fire and life safety improvements.”


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UP delays more passenger trains

Amtrak passenger trains serving Albany, Ore., have been late most of the time, according to the Albany Democrat-Herald of July 14, and as noted on the United Transportation Union website.

Sunset delayed

After saying that they would operate the Sunset Limited, Train No. 1 of July 11 to the bitter endpoint of Los Angeles, despite bridge outages, freight delays, hell, high water and Union Pacific, Amtrak has given up. On arrival at El Paso, the passengers and onboard services crew detrained and were provided other transportation.

The equipment was to deadhead to Los Angeles, hopefully to arrive last Friday, to turn to train No. 2 for July 16

As of 1:15 a.m. on July 15, the train was 34 hours and 5 minutes late.

The empty train arrived in L.A. 49 hours, 25 minutes late.

In June, the four daily trains in the Cascades service between Portland and Eugene were on time only 25 percent of the time, according to the Rail Division of the Oregon DOT, which contracts with Amtrak to provide the trains.

The long-distance Coast Starlight had an on-time record in June of 8.3 percent, said Jonathan Hutchison, the passenger rail coordinator at ODOT.

Amtrak trains operate on tracks owned by other railroads, in this case the Union Pacific, and the passenger trains have been severely hampered by what Hutchison called “four primary challenges“ faced by the UP.

He listed them as an increase in freight business, being short-staffed because of an unanticipated number of retirements, a shortage of locomotives, and a track structure in Oregon that‘s not well equipped to handle the number of trains.

Oregon is spending $15 million to make track improvements this year and next.

Despite the poor on-time record, the four Cascades trains serving Albany had a 6.7 percent increase in ridership in May, compared to the same month last year, Hutchison reported.

Another official in the Rail Division, Robert Melbo of Albany, said earlier that UP was working to deal with its problems.

“Things do appear to be better now in the Willamette Valley than they were earlier this year, and timeliness of the state-supported Eugene-Portland passenger trains is likewise improving,“ Melbo wrote in an e-mail on June 28.


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Amtrak looks for a new police chief

Amtrak recently dismissed its police chief amid security problems for the national railroad system, Amtrak officials said recently.

Railroad spokesman Dan Stessel declined to comment on the replacement of Earnest Frazier, the Amtrak police chief, citing privacy concerns, but Stessel confirmed that Amtrak is seeking a new police chief, according to the Washington Times of July 9.

One Amtrak official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Amtrak’s security is poor because it has only 325 security officials for the entire nationwide rail network.

“We have all this infrastructure and only have 325 police officers, most of them in management,” the official said.

A fortnight ago, Amtrak appointed Alfred J. Broadbent as its new vice-president of corporate security.


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Three fewer Amtrak trains allow smoking

As of November 1, smoking will be banned on all Amtrak trains, the carrier stated last week in a message to employees.

The last three regular trains that currently allow smoking will become non-smoking trains – trains 19 and 20, the Crescent; and Florida service trains 91 and 92, (the Silver Star) and 97-98 (Silver Meteor).

“Only the AutoTrain will still allow smoking,” according to Amtrak.

“The smoking room will be on the lower level of the 33100-series lounge cars.” That train will still allow smoking “because this train makes no intermediate stops where passengers can detrain to smoke on the station platform.”

All stations and all thruway services are also non-smoking.


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Florida bullet train inches along

A road builders’ lobbying organization gave $330,000 of the $1.3-million collected for a petition drive aimed at derailing Florida’s bullet train project, according to a campaign finance report filed July 12.

The Associated Press reported from Orlando “Moving Florida,” a political action committee established by the Florida Transportation Builders Assn., was the largest contributor to “DErail the Bullet Train (DEBT)” during the year’s second quarter.

“We’re the same people that would probably build the bullet train if it were built,” said FTBA president Bob Burleson.

“Believe it or not,” he added, “sometimes we try to think of the greater good. If there were a way to pay for high-speed rail, we’d be all for it. I just don’t think, currently, we can afford to build it; I think we have much more pressing needs.”’

Two major Central Florida theme parks, bypassed on a planned route that instead connects with Walt Disney World, were also major contributors to the kill-the-rail project.

The first leg of the proposed rail network, from Orlando to Tampa, is estimated to cost $2.6-billion, although opponents believe the true price is $6.4-billion.

DEBT spent $1.1-million during the quarter, almost all on its petition drive that would have voters decide whether to repeal the state Constitutional amendment requiring the state to build the rail line.

Floridians approved the amendment four years ago.

The petition needs close to 489,000 valid signatures for the repeal to reach the November 2 ballot. DEBT officials said they have collected more than 600,000 signatures.

“Grass-roots support for the bullet train’s repeal has been tremendous,” Slater Bayliss, DEBT’s executive director, said in a statement. “Voters throughout the state are supporting our grass-roots campaign because they want the opportunity to repeal the bullet train boondoggle and cancel this wasteful mandate.”

The Villages, a massive retirement community in Central Florida, gave $300,000. Developer Gary Morse is a major fundraiser for the GOP, and Republican Gov. Jeb Bush has ardently opposed bullet trains.

The SeaWorld Orlando theme park, upset it wouldn’t benefit from a station nearby, gave $250,000. When the route was selected, SeaWorld and Universal Orlando lost out to rival Disney for a stop. The Florida High Speed Rail Authority was swayed by studies showing Disney could offer more riders than the attractions in the International Drive tourist district.

Universal contributed more than $220,000 to DEBT in March.

Contributing a total of $100,000 were three railroad companies: CSX Transportation ($50,000), Florida East Coast Industries ($25,000) and Rail Management Corp. ($25,000).

Also on Monday, a Tallahassee judge held a hearing in a lawsuit against the petition drive.

The lawsuit was filed by C.C. “Doc” Dockery, the Lakeland businessman who got the train on the ballot in 2000, and alleges that the signatures aren’t invalid because they don’t have the names and addresses of the people paid to collect them.

Circuit Judge P. Kevin Davey refused earlier this month to issue a preliminary injunction sought by Dockery, saying he could find no provision in state law that requires such signatures be thrown out.

After listening to attorneys Monday, Davey refused to dismiss the lawsuit, giving Dockery’s lawyers the go-ahead to seek documents from the campaign in an effort to prove their allegations.


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Alexander is Atlanta City Council candidate

’Tis the political season, and NCI board member Doug Alexander is a candidate for the Atlanta City Council president’s post. He told D:F recently, “The campaign continues!” A special election will be conducted tomorrow (July 20).

He is one of four candidates seeking the position vacated by Cathy Woolard, who resigned to run for Congress. Tomorrow’s winner would complete Woolard’s term, which runs through 2005. Alexander is a former two-term city council member.

In his day job, Alexander is rail manager for Georgia Rail Passenger Authority.


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RUNNING EXTRA...  Running extra...

‘Lobster,’ Amtrak travel to new stations

Patricia Douglas, who heads marketing for the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, said that Amtrak will use its Downeaster equipment (idled because of the Democratic convention) to operate a train from Portland to Brunswick, Maine on July 24. The demostration train will carry legislators and town officials to illustrate the long-term vision. Maine Central will run a train from Rockland that same day – and the trains will meet nose-to-nose in Brunswick.

Meanwhile, Maine Eastern Railroad will operate the Lobster Festival Train – the first step toward restoring passenger service along the Rockland Branch in Maine. Commissioner David Cole said the train will run August 5-8 between Brunswick and Rockland, and will stop in Bath.

A morning train will go north, and an afternoon train will go south. ME’s Geoff Fuller said he hoped to continue weekend service between Brunswick and Rockland through mid-October, and to add holiday events like a Santa Train in the winter, according to a report in the weekly Atlantic Northeast Rails & Ports.

When the concept of a “lobster” train was announced, Guilford had offered to have it operate over the GRS freight main and Brunswick branch from Portland to Brunswick. However, insurance costs were too high for that plan.

Douglas said Guilford requested a fairly standard liability insurance policy of $75 million – but get a reasonable rate over that line would cost more than $200,000 for four days.

ME’s existing $20 million insurance policy covers the Brunswick-Rockland run. Douglas said the state, as the owner of the track, is not asking for a higher coverage.

Douglas said, “This situation is no one’s fault – it’s just a sign of the times we live in. All partners have been cooperative and we have all been working together to make this pilot program successful. Remember, this is only the beginning and we’ve really accomplished a lot in a very short time. We hope that this service will be well received and serve as a building block for the years to come.”

Meanwhile, as construction crews prepared a Cedar Street site in Brunswick for the arrival of excursion trains raised dust with their equipment, a neighbor raised concerns about the scope of the project and the failure of state or town officials to notify residents about the work.

The construction, undertaken by the Maine DOT, according to the Times-Record, is to create parking and a temporary platform for excursion train riders enroute to the lobster festival.

According to Ron Roy, director of passenger transportation for the state DOT, the state is paying approximately $60,000 for trackwork to support future operations at a wye where Union and Cedar streets meet, and where the Lewiston railroad line and the line to Rockland meet. Between $30,000 to $35,000 in brush clearing work is being spent, Roy said, and gravel will be trucked in to create 50 to 100 parking spaces, and a paved area for a temporary passenger loading platform.

“The railroad plans to offer weekend excursions - it will be used on weekends, probably through October” – through foliage season, said Roy.

The town acquired approximately four acres for the Maine Street Station after a development project on the site went bankrupt in the 1980s. The property is contaminated by coal ash deposited by decades of rail traffic.

Brunswick recently received a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that will be used to analyze the site.

As the ground is set for the installation of temporary platforms on Cedar Street, at least one neighbor is flabbergasted that he wasn’t notified about the project, and says he’s not alone in his confusion or with his concerns.

“I have tons of concerns; it’s ridiculous that they started all this construction and I had no idea that they were going to do any of this,” said Douglas DeCamilla of Cedar Street, who said preliminary work for the construction has been going on for a week.

DeCamilla said a cart was placed within 20 feet of his driveway to make room for the construction when it first began. When he inquired about it, construction workers told him that they were doing some construction work on Union Street.

The location of the construction had not been touched for years, DeCamilla said, “It was a beautiful field, and within a matter of a day, it was all completely clear-cut.”

As an abutter, DeCamilla believes that he should have been notified before work began.

“I’m not trying to be mean about this at all,” he said, noting that he understands that the town may not be responsible for the construction and that he knows the state does not need a building permit to complete such a project.

“If the state wasn’t going to say something, the town should have.”


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

Las Vegas monorail opens

Bombardier

The four-mile Las Vegas monorail opened for business on July 14. The dual-lane guideway links seven stations, and services the entire east side of the Las Vegas strip. The $650 million monorail runs from the MGM Grand, passes the Las Vegas Convention Center, and ends at the Sahara Hotel. Builder Bombardier said last week it built 36 driverless monorail vehicles, designed power distribution, automatic train control, and other requirements. The contract provides up to 15 years of operations and maintenance. It costs $3 for a one-way ticket, $5.50 for a round trip and $25 for a three-day pass.
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Miami explores trolley notion

Miami leaders are accelerating plans for a sleek streetcar system that would bolster a development boom in neighborhoods north of downtown, running along some of the very same routes where clanging trolleys prospered 80 years ago. Transit planners are hoping to create a quick, safe, clean option for the tens of thousands of new residents who will be moving into high-rise condos between the Performing Arts Center and the Design District, writes the Miami Herald of July 9.

“The only issue with this is timing. I think the timing is yesterday and not tomorrow,” said Commissioner Johnny Winton, whose district would benefit from the rail system.

“This city is exploding in high-density development. We will not grow if we continue to rely on things with rubber tires that roam around the streets of the city.”

Unlike the elevated Metromover, the electrified, air-conditioned streetcars would operate at street level. Most stops would be on the right side of the street.

The preliminary route is designed to augment the downtown Metromover and connect with Metrorail at Government Center.

Streetcars and trolleys, which disappeared with the rise of post-World War II car and bus culture, are enjoying a renaissance in dozens of U.S. cities.

Charles Hales is a former Portland, Ore., city council member who pushed for the popular streetcar system that opened there in 2001. He said Miami is among the last of the fast-growth Sunbelt communities to turn to streetcars to spark interest in redeveloping urban areas and to relieve gridlock.

“If you look at Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Charlotte and now Miami, they’re all looking to streetcar systems to help get people out of their cars and give them a safe, clean, quiet, efficient way to move around the city center,” said Hales, now a consultant on the Miami project.

The Miami streetcar is far from a done deal. Consultants and city planners will provide commissioners with a detailed financing plan in October. The city is considering using its $10 million annual share of the half-penny transit sales tax, local-option gas taxes, a special-tax district and other options to raise between $120 million and $130 million for the first phase.

Commissioners Angel Gonzalez and Arthur E. Teele Jr., who reviewed the proposal on Thursday, said they generally support it, but not if its construction is at the expense of maintaining, repairing and upgrading streets in poorer neighborhoods. Gonzalez and Teele represent some of Miami’s poorest neighborhoods.


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NJT borrows $600,000 less

Year after year, New Jersey Transit increased the amount of borrowed money it was using to pay for its operating expenses – but the maneuver started to draw more attention, and became controversial as it used up money in the state’s transportation trust fund – and helped spur consideration of a gas tax increase.

Now, for the first time in more than a decade, NJT is reducing the amount of bonded money it will use to pay for routine expenses as part of the agency’s 2005 budget, which was approved Thursday.

The Newark Star-Ledger termed it as “a modest reduction.” In last year’s budget, NJT used $356.6 million from the trust fund for operating expenses. This year, it’s using $356 million.

“This is a gradual transition,” said NJ Transit Executive Director George Warrington, and Jon Orcutt, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign watchdog group, termed it as “a modest start. There’s a major day of reckoning ahead for transit.”

The budget approved last week included $1.34 billion for operating expenses and $1.19 billion for capital projects.

For the 13th time in 14 years, fares on trains, buses and light rail systems remain the same. In fact, transit officials opted not to impose an inflationary fare hike that is allowed under the resolution that increased fares in 2002.


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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/passenger_transport/.


Historic Trolley Returns to Service in Charlotte

The Charlotte Area Transit System in Charlotte, N.C., recently returned trolley service to the tracks for the first time in more than 65 years. The service covers about 2.1 miles with 10 stations, running from Historic South End to Center City Charlotte.

More than 8,300 riders hopped aboard the trolley during its first week of operation after Charlotte Mayor Patrick McCrory joined representatives of CATS, Charlotte Trolley Inc., Charlotte Center City Partners, and Historic South End to throw the official switch restoring service.

CATS is operating the initial trolley service with Car 85 – the only remaining electric trolley car from Charlotte’s former service, which operated until 1938. Three replicas of the historic car design will arrive this summer to provide expanded and more frequent service along the trolley line.


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Janlyn Nesbett-Tucker Is New GM in Topeka

Janlyn Nesbett-Tucker has joined the Topeka Metropolitan Transit Authority in Topeka, Kan., as its new general manager, effective July 6. She succeeds Ron Butts, who has been named the executive director of the Kansas Public Transportation Assn.

Nesbett-Tucker has more than 20 years of public transportation experience, most recently serving as director of marketing and transportation management at Community Transit in Snohomish County, Wash. Earlier, she worked at Houston’s Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County as operations project specialist and communication liaison. She is a graduate of the 2000 class of Leadership APTA, and is a former member of the APTA Marketing Committee.


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Patrick Róna Steps Down as President of NABI

NABI Bus Industries Rt., parent company of North American Bus Industries Inc., announces the departure of Patrick Róna as president, CEO, and board member of NABI Inc., effective immediately.

J. Daniel Garrett has been named interim president and CEO of NABI Inc., effective immediately. He currently serves as executive vice-president and CFO for NABI Inc., and the group CFO for the NABI Group.

Róna is the son of Peter Róna, founding chairman of NABI Bus Industries Rt., who announced his retirement from that post, and from the NABI Inc. Board of Directors, following the April 21 completion of a debt restructuring agreement with NABI’s financiers.


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

Baltimore sues CSX for 2001 fire

The city of Baltimore is suing CSX Corp.

On Friday, the city charged that the freight transportation company is responsible for a train derailment and tunnel chemical fire that paralyzed parts of the downtown business district for several days in 2001.

The city is seeking $10 million to cover the cost of fighting the fire, repairing a broken water main and other costs, The AP reported on Friday.

“It was one of the largest city emergencies the city had seen in a long time,” Mayor Martin O’Malley said Friday. O’Malley said CSX had only reimbursed the city $350,000 toward those costs.

Misty Skipper, a spokeswoman for CSX said the Jacksonville, Fla. company will review the complaint and defend itself vigorously.

Wall Street had little reaction to the lawsuit. In afternoon trading Friday, CSX shares were up 4 cents at $31.34 on the New York Stock Exchange.

On July 18, 2001, 11 cars of a 60-car train, including tankers containing toxic acids, derailed inside a tunnel that runs under the city’s central business district.

A tanker carrying tripropylene was punctured and the chemical caught fire. Around that same time, a 40-inch water main directly above the tunnel ruptured, sending water into the tunnel, collapsing several city streets and flooding nearby buildings.

The damage shut down the city for days, postponing baseball games, causing millions of dollars in damages to businesses, and forcing the city to pay overtime for emergency crews and cleanup.

CSX says water and debris from the poorly maintained water main caused the accident. The city says the accident caused the water main to break.

The National Transportation Safety Board isn’t expected to complete its investigation for months, but some experts have questioned whether a cause will ever be determined, given the magnitude of the fire.

The city lawsuit is the latest related to the disaster.

The Connecticut-based insurer for the Baltimore Orioles – The Hartford Casualty Insurance Co. – is attempting to recover more than $1 million in damages from CSX and the city for the loss of revenue from ticket and concession sales.

The insurer for the Maryland Institute College of Art, which sits at the north end of the 1.7-mile tunnel, has sued CSX to recover more than $100,000 in damages because of the accident.


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Newspaper reports some railroads are lax
in grade crossing protection; callousness

The New York Times last week caught the attention of the freight railroads when it accused some of them to be covering up and withholding evidence in fatal grade crossing accidents. Even the FRA is “indicted” in the article, nor is the NTSB held blameless.

In a multi-part series that stretched over two days, reporter Walt Bogdanich wrote on July 11 “At 5:45 p.m., with the autumn sun dipping toward the horizon, Blas Lopez, a father of four young children, drove his truck loaded with potatoes bound for market onto a railroad crossing in south-central Washington State. In an instant, a 4,700-ton Union Pacific train rammed Mr. Lopez’s truck with the force of an explosion, ripping apart his body.”

The Times story continued with Union Pacific responding “as most railroads do after fatal crossing accidents: It blamed the victim, Mr. Lopez, not itself,” and then added, “What Union Pacific did not say was that the warning signal at the crossing contained parts that the manufacturer had said, 12 years earlier, should be replaced “as soon as possible” because they might be defective. After a witness to the accident said the signal appeared to have malfunctioned, a lawyer for Mr. Lopez’s family arranged with Union Pacific in October 2001 to inspect the signal.

“But a railroad manager beat the lawyer there by several hours. In the predawn darkness, the manager secretly swapped the suspect parts for newer ones. The cover-up was not discovered until weeks later, when the Lopezes’ lawyer noticed that the serial numbers on the parts did not match the railroad’s records.”

The newspaper indicted UP stating its “conduct is a stark example of how some railroads, even as they blame motorists, repeatedly sidestep their own responsibility in grade-crossing fatalities. Their actions range from destroying, mishandling or simply losing evidence to not reporting the crashes properly in the first place, a seven-month investigation by The New York Times has found.”

Later on the same day the Times’ story appeared, UP issued a press release online and stated, “Union Pacific’s policy is clear: We do not destroy information or evidence needed for legal proceedings. In the rare instances when an individual employee intentionally destroyed or altered evidence, the employee was fired. The company also has in place an Ethics Committee to review allegations of misbehavior.”

The Times reporter added, “Union Pacific stands out. In one recent 18-month period, seven federal and state courts imposed sanctions on Union Pacific, the nation’s biggest railroad, for destroying or failing to preserve evidence in crossing accidents, and an eighth court ordered a case retried. One sanction has since been overturned on appeal.”

UP, obviously upset over the story, added in its lengthy response that “In October 2002, we instituted major changes to our processes to ensure that all conceivably useful materials are kept after every serious grade-crossing accident. The company has decided to install forward-facing video cameras in the cabs of our over-the-road locomotives to further document evidence during crossing incidents.”

The Times article charged that “Over the last eight years, railroads have also broken federal rules by failing to promptly report hundreds of fatal accidents, 71 of them last year, denying the federal authorities the chance to investigate when evidence is fresh and still available, according to a computer analysis of federal data by The Times. Enforcement of these rules is so lax that federal officials said they were not even aware of the reporting problems.

“In fact, one Union Pacific official said that federal regulators told the railroad in late 1999 ‘to stop calling’ after fatal accidents. Federal officials denied doing so, but the following year, The Times’ analysis shows the number of accidents not reported promptly by Union Pacific quadrupled.”

UP countered, “During the course of the reporter’s investigation, we learned that some of our reporting and compliance processes were not as thorough as we expect. When we learned of these breakdowns in our processes, we took immediate corrective actions. Union Pacific’s policy is to be 100 percent compliant with all of the many regulations that apply to railroads.”

The carrier added, “We have immediately changed our procedures to ensure that proper notification is made in the future. We initiated a further, comprehensive audit of all reporting requirements to identify and correct any other shortcomings.”

The Times story stated trains, like airplanes, have black-box event recorders, but records show that railroads have a spotty history of keeping them in working order and have sometimes lost or erased their information after crashes. The information from recorders can be so inconclusive that after one 17-year-old girl was killed in Tennessee, the railroad produced five different versions of the accident from the same black box.

On average, one person a day dies at a crossing in the U.S. Since 2000, more than twice as many people have been killed at grade crossings as have died in commercial plane crashes, but these deaths draw little national attention because they usually come one or two at a time, often where tracks slice through small towns and rural expanses across the country.

“It’s a systemic failure,” said James E. Hall, a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. “It has been something that has just not grabbed the attention, unfortunately, of the public.”

Burlington Northern Santa Fe, CSX, and Kansas City Southern came under the newspaper’s scrutiny as well as both federal agencies.

The entire article and subsequent stories begin in the July 11 New York Times, at http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/11/national/11RAILS.html.

The complete Union Pacific response is online at http://www.uprr.com/newsinfo/media_response.shtml.


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Snow mum on critical NYT article

Treasury Secretary John Snow declined to comment on July 12 on his safety record as the head of the railroad giant CSX after The New York Times article said a railroad accident that killed a teenager should have been prevented following a similar accident four years earlier.

“Let’s talk about Afghanistan,” Snow said when asked about the article in a brief press availability with reporters outside his office after a meeting with Afghanistan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, Investors Business Daily reported.

The Times reported on the second day of its lengthy report CSX failed to report a 1993 accident that killed two teenage boys in Tennessee to the federal authorities and therefore avoided the government-mandated expense of putting up a crossing gate at the same intersection where 17-ear-old Hilary Feaster was killed in 1997.

Snow was CSX’s CEO from 1991 to 2002.

Snow stepped down from his post as chairman and CEO of CSX when President Bush tapped the 20-year veteran of the railroad giant to be his top economic advisor in early 2003.


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Bill would affect all freight railroads

U.S. Rep. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) has filed a bill that would force U.S. freight railroads to report the contents of hazardous cargo to a national electronic database that is instantly accessible to local authorities.

Introduced July 12, Meehan’s legislation, dubbed the Responsible Railroads Act of 2004 (HR 4802 IH), relies upon software developed by the Operation Respond Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit organization, according to the Lowell Sun.

The program, known as OREIS, is an encrypted database listing railcars’ hazardous contents and offering guidance for specific chemical spills that can be viewed by local emergency response officials in real time.

All major U.S. and Canadian railroads, as well as several regional railroads, already participate in the program voluntarily, Meehan said

His bill would require all rail carriers to do so.

“The Police and Fire departments in Lowell and Chelmsford and Billerica deserve to have the same information provided to them that 90 percent of the railroad companies in America provide to other communities,” Meehan said. “All you have to do is look around. After the Madrid bombings in March, we have to assume that terrorist cells are testing the security of our rail lines, too.”

A prime target of the bill is the Guilford Rail System Co., which is based in North Billerica. Guilford officials have resisted Meehan’s previous request to take part in OREIS.

In a May letter to Meehan, Guilford President Thomas F. Steiniger said his firm is “performing additional research to determine whether this system would be appropriate” for its operations.

A Guilford spokesman declined comment on yesterday’s bill, saying he had yet to review it.

Guilford has long drawn the ire of South Lowell residents, who say the company regularly parks its trains for extended periods in their densely settled neighborhood.

In May 2002, an unattended, 29,000-gallon Guilford tank car sprang a leak while parked over the Concord River in South Lowell, spilling 200 gallons of hydrochloric acid into the water below. Another release, involving a Guilford subsidiary and gaseous hydrochloric acid, occurred in April in Charlestown’s Sullivan Square.

There were no injuries in either incident, but Meehan said they have “crystallized” his desire for the bill.

Existing law in Chapter 51, title 49 USC would be amended in section 5111 by inserting new language under “Air Brake Equipment,” and by adding at the end the following new subsection, “Information for First Responders.

The text reads, “Prohibition- No rail tank car containing hazardous materials may be transported or stored on rail tracks that are part of or connected to the general system of railroad transportation unless information identifying the tank car, the hazardous materials within such tank car, and response guidance is immediately available to local first responders in each location where the tank car may be located. Such information shall be provided through the Operation Respond Institute's technology or similar technology. Each day in which a tank car is transported or stored in violation of this paragraph shall constitute a separate violation.”

The bill is posted online at http://thomas.loc.gov/


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MS prepares to upgrade Mississippi track

Wayne County, Miss., officials will apply for a $2.2 million grant later this year to fund repairs of a 55-mile stretch of track that services an industrial park in east Mississippi, reports The AP.

Meridian Southern Ry., LLC, said in May that it was preparing a plan to revitalize the track. Application for the $2.2 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration is part of it.

“This allows the project to get the appropriate level of federal administration agency attention,” said Art Miller, an Alabaster, Ala., consultant hired by the Wayne County Economic Development District, in Waynesboro, to work on the project.

“The focus of this $14.5 million program is to provide a strategic fix for this railroad and when we do that we will secure the roughly 1,800 to 2,000 jobs plus we’ll make Wayne, Clarke and parts of Lauderdale County open for a whole variety of industrial development opportunities,” he said.

Meridian Southern Railway’s plan includes extensive work to the rail line, which currently has a 10 mph speed limit and 71 bridges in need of repair. The railway has committed $250,000 toward the work.

The railway stretches from Meridian to Waynesboro and once went all the way to Mobile. Once known as the Gulf Mobile and Ohio line, the New York state-based Meridian Southern Railways LLC is its sixth owner since 1972.

Some of the track is believed to be nearly a century old and few repairs have been made over the past three decades.

Located along the track is Waynesboro’s Marshall-Durbin grain storage and blending plant, a rail-dependent chicken hatchery business at industrial park. The plant employs about 1,200 people from Mississippi and Alabama. The Marshall Durbin plant trucks the chickens to a Hattiesburg processing plant, said Steve Bradley, company spokesman.

James Walker, president of the Wayne County Economic Development District, said as the economy has rebounded in recent months, interest in the county’s industrial park has peaked. Walker said the railroad’s improvement is crucial to helping land any prospective industries.

Miller said the railway meets minimal federal regulations, but it just isn’t very efficient.

If approved, the federal money would be used to finance $1.6 million of work at the Wayne County Industrial Park and $600,000 for rail facilities owned or leased in nearby Clark County.

Other funds would come from other grants and federal money.


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Boise irked at UP for parking freight cars

Boise says it may sue the Union Pacific Railroad for leaving 300 freight cars on city-owned tracks for the past three years.

The city filed a complaint in federal court last month seeking $400,000, according to an AP story of July 13. The lawsuit claims that UP trespassed by leaving the cars on the track when it would have cost money to store them somewhere else.

Assistant City Attorney Kevin Borger says the two sides are negotiating.

The city bought 3.5 miles of the track from the railroad in 2000 for $2,000,000. The railroad donated another 14.7 miles of track. At the time, city officials were considering using the track to develop a commuter rail system, but the idea never took off.


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Enola’s ‘Low-Grade Line’ may be trail-bound

Norfolk Southern and six southern Lancaster County, Penn., townships say they will appeal the county commissioners’ seizure last month of the 23-mile Enola Low-Grade Line property.

“We plan to file preliminary objections to the condemnation filed by the county,” Norfolk Southern spokeswoman Susan Terpay told the Lancaster New Era on July 13. She said the railroad would file court papers before the July 16 deadline for an appeal to the eminent domain action.

Another NS spokesman had said last month that the railroad recognized the right of Lancaster County to take land, but questioned whether it was entitled to $1.4 million the railroad had planned on giving the townships for bridge removal and maintenance.

Meanwhile, supervisors in Eden, Martic, Sadsbury, Providence, Conestoga and Bart townships all have agreed to appeal the county taking 930-acres from NS to build a rail-trail. Township officials have asked a Harrisburg attorney to represent them in the appeal in Lancaster County Court.


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CN closes BC Rail transaction

Canadian National Ry. completed its $1 billion BC Rail transaction with the British Columbia government on July 14, the railroad reported. CN will now commence the systematic integration of BC Rail into its North American system. CN, received regulatory clearance to complete the transaction on July 2, 2004, is acquiring BC Rail Ltd. and the BC Rail Partnership, and the right to operate over BC Rail’s roadbed under a long-term lease.

The carrier also noted last week it has inked a new pact with the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes who work on former Wisconsin Central lines. The carrier stated the agreement covers 470 track department workers for three and one half years. No details were offered.


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Rail freight traffic down during holiday week

Largely due to the timing of the Independence Day holiday, freight traffic on U.S. railroads was down during the week ended July 10 in comparison with the corresponding week last year, the AAR reported on Thursday. The 2004 week included the holiday while the comparison week from last year did not.

Intermodal volume during the holiday week totaled 179,046 trailers and containers, and was down 5.5 percent from the non-holiday week a year earlier.

Carload freight, which doesn't include the intermodal data, totaled 291,526 units, down 4.3 percent from last year. Carload volume was up 0.3 percent in the East but down 10.4 percent in the West. Total volume was estimated at 26.2 billion ton-miles, down 3.7 percent from the corresponding week last year.

The AAR also reported the following cumulative totals for U.S. railroads during the first 27 weeks of 2004: 9,013,131 carloads, up 3.7 percent from last year; intermodal volume of 5,514,125 trailers or containers, up 9.1 percent; and total volume of an estimated 813.7 billion ton-miles, up 5.0 percent from last year’s first 26 weeks.

On Canadian railroads, during the week ended July 10 carload traffic totaled 63,974 cars, up 11.6 percent from last year while intermodal volume totaled 42,195 trailers or containers, down 1.4 percent from last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 27 weeks of 2004 on the Canadian railroads totaled 1,816,170 carloads, up 8.9 percent from last year, and 1,116,778 trailers and containers, up 0.1 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 27 weeks of 2004 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 10,829,301 carloads, up 4.5 percent from last year and 6,630,903 trailers and containers, up 7.5 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 10 totaled 7,832 cars, up 5.7 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 3,146 originated trailers or containers, up 3.5 percent from the 27th week of 2003. For the first 27 weeks of 2004, TFM reported a revised cumulative originated volume of 230,809 cars, down 1.2 percent from last year, and 97,039 trailers or containers, down 0.4 percent.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 88 percent of U.S. carload freight and 95 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 95 percent and 100 percent. The Canadian railroads reporting to the AAR account for 90 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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DIVIDENDS...  Dividends...

AutoTrax

NCI: Leo King

CSX Corp. directors have okayed a plan to pay stockholders a dime per share for the parent corporation’s quarterly dividend. It will be payable on September 15 to shareholders of record on August 25. CSX is based in Jacksonville, Fla., and owns the largest rail network in the eastern U.S. Here, a southbound train of about 50 auto racks prepares to enter one of its home city’s yards on June 30, the end of the quarter, about a mile south of Amtrak’s station.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: CBSMarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)34.6034.87
Canadian National(CNI)42.4442.48
Canadian Pacific(CP)25.5024.57
CSX(CSX)30.8131.37
Florida East Coast(FLA)36.7236.69
Genessee & Wyoming(GWR)22.6622.63
Kansas City Southern(KSU)14.6014.88
Norfolk Southern(NSC)25.9225.74
Union Pacific(UNP)57.8857.89


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OFFTHEMAINLINE...  Off the main line...

‘RailCamp’ starts at Steamtown

Steamtown, in Scranton, Penn., and the National Railway Historical Society (NRHS), are welcoming a new generation of railroaders to their “Basic RailCamp 2004” at Steamtown’s National Historic Site.

Ralph J. Coury, Steamtown’s public affairs officer, said on Friday students selected to participate “will be introduced to the principles of historic preservation, gain first-hand experience in railroad operations and explore a variety of transportation career opportunities.”

He explained that “RailCamp is now in its seventh year, and was first offered in 1998.”

The week-long program is available to students in the 9th through 12th grades who share interests in railroading and rail preservation.

Coury has been there for a while.

“Each year, young people originating from various points across the U.S. attend RailCamp to share ideas and insights with peers and professionals and to broaden their knowledge and understanding of the fascinating world of American railroading.”

Counselors are recruited from the ranks of the NRHS – an organization founded in 1935 and consisting of more than 17,000 members in 174 chapters throughout the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. All will join National Park Service Rangers and volunteers to make RailCamp a fulfilling and rewarding experience.


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OPINION...  Opinion...

Next step:

Arrest anyone snapping a picture of…

By David Beale
Special to Destination:Freedom

Next step: arrest anyone snapping a picture of the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, St. Louis Arch/Gateway to the West or Chicago skyline. Madness.

I have seen that in a number of train stations in both France and Great Britain. One is not allowed access to the train platforms without a valid passenger ticket. It’s not always consistent. Many of the smaller train stations out in the country don’t have that restriction because they are typical not staffed, just have automated ticket vending machines. But that system in France and Great Britain has been in-place for many, many years, since the first time I visited France and the U.K. in the early 1980s and probably before then. They don’t have that policy in Germany – yet, but maybe in the future.

Meanwhile over here [in Germany], there has been at least one other incident of someone (or persons) bolting steel plates to railroad tracks in the northwestern part of Germany. In the latest incident, on June 17, a DMU commuter train derailed after hitting a sabotaged section of the track happened near the town of Castrop-Rauxel. A few months ago one of DB’s flagship trains, an ICE-3 underway on the new high-speed line between Frankfurt and Cologne, was damaged to the tune of nearly $100,000 when it hit a similar sabotage device bolted to the tracks.

No photography bans here, at least not yet, but after what happened in Madrid on March 11, there is a mad rush on to equip German railroad stations and passenger trains (especially commuter trains) with more and video surveillance cameras. In the Hannover central train station video cameras are aimed up and down every stairway and on every elevator that lead to the train platforms, so they are video recording everyone who boards or de-boards a train in that station. It's pretty much the same in all the other major train stations as well. Video cameras are increasingly showing up at railway-street grade crossings around the region too, but, so far, not yet at any of the three grade crossings here in my town.

I have seen video footage and newspaper reports out of Spain, where people are now being screened with metal detectors and x-ray machines for baggage airport/airline style – before they can go out to the platforms to board intercity trains including the AVE high speed intercity trains.

The only other train systems I know of in the world that has airline/airport style security screening are the Eurostar trains to and from Great Britain via the Chunnel. Eurostar had that sort of security check/screening back in 1995 when I rode it from Paris to London for my first time. Maybe the bullet trains in Japan have it as well, I am not sure.


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LETTERS...  We get letters...

Dear Editor:

Mr. Dabros’ comments on intercity rail service within Florida are quite rational [D:F, July 12, referencing article in July 6 edition, “Who needs commuter trains, anyway?”]

Ironically, in the late 1990s the Florida DOT commissioned Amtrak to develop such a proposal for an intrastate rail passenger system.

Unveiled in 1999 or 2000 and posted on the FDOT website, the “Vision 2000” plan laid out a rational 20-year program that would have first developed routes using existing rail corridors, then would have increased speeds on those routes, and then expanded with new routes using existing and new rights of way. The first phase was for a 79 mph system known as “6-4-2” for the number of round trips (6 Tampa-Orlando, 4 Miami-Orlando and 2 Tampa-Miami). Including equipment (designed for 130 mph, but optimized for 110), a repair base, and improvements to track capacity and in some cases speed, the first phase was to cost around $800 million. Estimates then indicated that revenues would cover operating costs.

Later phases would have added cab-signal systems and track improvements to facilitate 80-110 mph service, and then envisioned separate rights of way, higher speeds, and new routes: Tampa-Naples, Orlando-Daytona, and realignment into Orlando to serve tourist spots.

In a further twist of irony, if acted upon in 2000 or 2001, this service would have started operation about now. It would have served (and could still) as a rational plan to develop intrastate rail service, one piece and one level at a time. Instead, various parties continue to bicker over an expensive “plunge” straight into true high-speed rail that will only serve one small segment of the state and if completed, will likely fall short of everyone’s expectations.

Of note, the one segment of the “Vision 2000” 6-2-4 Phase 1 that did not cover its operating costs was Tampa-Orlando.

Jim Langston
Transportation Professional
Clearwater, Fla.


Dear Editor:

Your July 12 issue lists on time performance statistics (D:F, 12, “No Amtrak trains on time all the time.” One of the column headings is wrong. The first column is number of trains operated. The second column is number of trains late NOT the percent. The third column is the percent of trains operating on time. Something must have gone off track between Amtrak and your web page.

Michael Ditkoff
Washington, D.C.

Indeed. Putting it a simpler way, remove “Percent” from the column named “Percent late,” and it will be right. Even better, name it “Trains late.” Thanks for pointing out the error. – Ed.


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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.

Destination: Freedom is partially funded by the Surdna Foundation, and other contributors.

Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images that appear in Destination:Freedom may do so at a nominal fee of $10.00 per image. “True color” Joint Photographers Group (.jpg) images average 1.7MB each. Print publishers can order images in process color (CMYK) or tagged image file format (.tif), and are nearly 6mb each. They will be snail-mailed to your address, or uploaded via file transfer protocol (FTP) to your site. All are 300 dots-per-inch.

In an effort to expand the on-line experience at the National Corridors Initiative web site, we have added a page featuring links to other rail travel sites. We hope to provide links to those cities or states that are working on rail transportation initiatives – state DOTs, legislators, governor’s offices, and transportation professionals – as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists.

If you have a favorite rail link, please send the uniform resource locator address (URL) to the webmaster in care of this web site. An e-mail link appears at the bottom of the NCI web site pages to get in touch with D. M. Kirkpatrick, NCI’s webmaster in Boston.


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