Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 4 No. 29, July 21, 2003
Copyright © 2003, NCI, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - James Furlong
Editor - Leo King

A weekly North American rail and transit update

 


Taking tickets in WI

For NCI: Thomas J. van Haag, Jr.

St. Cloud, Minn., assistant conductor R. Yotter lifts tickets at La Crosse, Wis. on train No. 7, the Empire Builder, on May 31, 2002. The train has traveled 418 miles so far on its journey from Chicago to Seattle – a total length of 2,210 miles. A Portland, Ore. Section cuts off at Spokane, Wash., and continues southward as No. 27. The coaches will have traveled 2,262 miles, all told.

 

Amtrak appropriations bill held up;
described as ‘a mess,’ needing help

By Wes Vernon
Washington Bureau Chief

The Amtrak appropriations bill which had been slated for mark up Monday night by the full House Committee on Appropriations has been pulled because of “problems” not only with the Amtrak part of the overall transportation bill, but with other agency appropriations as well.

“It’s a mess,” a well-placed source told D:F Friday.

Officially, the major sticking point is FEMA – the Federal Emergency Management Agency – but other problems abound, including the bill (See last week’s D:F) that slashed Amtrak appropriations to a shut-down level at $580 million. That “shut down” package was reported out by the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee headed by Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.)

Usually, when something like this happens, it is because someone does not “have his ducks in a row.” Unlike Istook, the chairman of the full Appropriations Committee, Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) is viewed as a friend of Amtrak. It is doubtful that he would approve of the legislative package handed him by Istook. For that matter, Amtrak has the support of a majority of the members of the House, who wrote a letter asking Istook grant the railroad’s $1.8 billion request. The Oklahoman slashed anyway. The belief is that Istook’s bill is not “real world,” and he appears to be out of step with his colleagues.

Amtrak also faces hurdles in the Senate. The chairman of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and the full Appropriations Committee chairman, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), also oppose Amtrak on many fronts. Their panels were to take up Amtrak appropriations following House action, but since that has been postponed (until later this week, we now hear), the Senate action is held in abeyance as well.

Reflecting a majority view in Congress, however, is the fact that the authorizing committees of both the House and Senate have approved multi-year annual Amtrak funding of $2 billion. So, there is a lot of support on Capitol Hill – support that would not have materialized a year ago, when lawmakers were getting what they believed to be bad information from “happy talk” of previous Amtrak management. However, it is in the appropriations committees where the actual “rubber hits the road,” where money is concerned.

Notwithstanding the majority Congressional support that stems largely from the credibility of Amtrak CEO David Gunn, influential pockets of opposition remain, and Istook’s action serves as a wake-up call to any Amtrak supporter who thinks the whole process is going to be some kind of cakewalk.


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Amtrak market share seen slipping

The stakes were high for Amtrak when the railroad decided in April to cut fares by 22 percent on the Boston-New York segment of its most lucrative route. The railroad had posted a record loss of $2.2 billion for the fiscal year ended September 30, 2002, and it was facing an uphill battle in Congress for funds.

In a salvo at the airlines, similarly struggling and heavily subsidized, it dropped fares on its flagship Acela Express trains from $127 each way to $99.

The move worked – sort of, wrote the Boston Globe’s Keith Reed on July 14, with material also from Bloomberg News.

Amtrak reported that ridership was up. The number of passengers taking Acelas between Boston and New York jumped 13 percent in the first five weeks under the new fare structure, compared with the five weeks immediately before the price cut, but a cloud overhangs the good news: Amtrak has been sliding backward in the larger fight for market share against the airlines, and there’s no clear sign the trend has been reversed.

Since wresting as much as 49 percent of New York-Boston passengers away from the airlines in the quarter immediately following the September 11, 2001 attacks, Amtrak’s share has been slipping. In its 2003 first quarter, which ended December 31, its share slipped 4 percentage points, to 33 percent, a post-September 11 low. The airlines had the other 67 percent.

Since Amtrak’s market share data are delayed by about six months, no clear data on share are available for the Acela promotion period.

Dan Stessel, a spokesman for the railroad, conceded that some passengers who had stayed off airplanes fearing terrorism, or because of empty wallets, have gone back.

“There’s been a return to air travel post-9/11,” Stessel said, adding, “When you look at what happened since then, we’ve still picked up at least 10 points.” – but, he added, “The airlines are picking up their people again.”

When Amtrak cut Acela fares, it did so knowing the airline industry was taking a beating. The war in Iraq had just begun, discouraging air travel while major airlines were already languishing financially.

While Amtrak was enjoying newfound competitiveness along its Boston-to-Washington Northeast Corridor after launching Acela Express in 2000, the airlines were suffering in the same area. Airlines carried 2.5 million passengers between the cities that year, a number that plunged 29 percent in 2001 to 1.8 million, and by 13 percent last year, to 1.6 million, according to BACK Aviation Solutions, a New Haven consulting firm that supplies data to both Amtrak and the airlines.

Feeling the squeeze, Delta Air Lines and US Airways trimmed their shuttle schedules last spring. US Airways halted three New York departures between 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. from Logan International Airport; Delta cut four. At the same time, American Airlines added four shuttle trips to its schedule.

Seeing opportunity, Amtrak lowered fares and launched its advertising campaign. The reasons were obvious: struggling Amtrak derives most of its ridership and political support from the Northeast.

The move succeeded in winning passengers like Laura Scanlon of Somerville, who took her first Acela trip to New York on the 12:33 p.m. train from South Station on July 10.

Scanlon said she checked Delta’s website for a flight, but opted for the cheaper train ticket instead.

“It was the price,” she said. “I knew people that have taken it in the past and they liked it, plus it’s really relaxing.”

“If they say that they’re stealing passengers from the airlines, they just might be doing that,” said John Weber, vice president of worldwide sales at BACK.

He said, “It’s 200 bucks round-trip, which certainly you would pay, or more, for a shuttle ticket. Plus the fact that with Amtrak, you can sit and work, which you cannot do on an airplane.”

Still, Amtrak faced its own uphill battles. The Acela, billed as a high-speed train service, reaches its top 150 mph speed only along two short stretches of track in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and frequently arrives at its destinations late. The carrier also sustained reliability issues last summer when mechanical problems briefly sidelined the Acelas over yaw damper problems.

With the war over, US Airways and Delta returned to hourly frequency of their shuttle flights last month, throwing gasoline on the competitive fire.

“Boston, New York, and D.C. are three very important business markets in the Northeast. We had always planned to make the return to hourly service as soon as possible,” said Amy Kudwa, a US Airways spokeswoman.

US Airways and Delta declined to disclose their own passenger tallies since reinstating hourly shuttles at Logan.

In the long run, specialists said, Amtrak’s focus on improving its own business is more important to its long-term survival than winning passengers away from airlines.

“I don’t know that the shuttles coming back is that big of a deal,” said Ross Capon, executive director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers.

Capon said, “I think that the main thing that’s going to determine how well they do in the market is how well they’re doing in terms of on-time performance.”

Summing up the fare promotion, Henry Harteveldt, a principal analyst at Forrester Research in San Francisco, said, “I would say it has not been a victory.”

He noted, “I think it’s encouraging that Amtrak has seen the 13 percent increase in ridership, but while I’d say it’s great, I don’t think they’ve done a good job by any means, and they’re not out of the woods.”

Harteveldt said he thinks the pricing strategy was misguided, producing a ridership increase too slight to justify the loss of revenue. Instead, the railroad should consider charging higher fares, and develop marketing that touts Acela’s strengths.

“It’s not like Amtrak has a dog product with Acela Express,” he said.


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BUSINESS LINES...  Business lines...
SD-70 MAC Engine

Alaska Railroad

Eight more copies of EMD’s SD-70 MACs will cost the Alaska Railroad almost $19 million.

 

Alaska Railroad buys eight locomotives

They will cost the Alaska Railroad nearly $19 million, but the state-owned corporation got the okay from its directors to buy eight more new EMD SD-70 MACs on July 14.

ARR’s president Pat Gamble said of the 4,300hp engines, “This is a substantial investment for a small railroad like us.”

The railroad expects to start taking delivery late next year.

The single-track railroad, with passing sidings, routes it trains from Seward 114 miles to Anchorage, and another 356 miles to Fairbanks, plus branches, including a deep-water port at Whittier. That ten-mile branch begins at Portage, some 65 miles south of Anchorage.

Over the next five years, 17 of the railroad’s locomotives will reach the end of their productive lives. For a locomotive, that means two million rail miles or 30 years.

AAR spokesman Patrick Flynn told D:F, “The locomotives approaching the conclusion of their service life are various GPs – 38s, 49s and 40s. Since the MAC purchase will simply allow us to maintain current levels of service, we may need to keep some of that fleet running to meet increased customer needs.”

Because of new federal diesel emission standards, this is the last call to get the SD-70 MAC, said Gamble. The manufacturer, General Motors’ Electro-Motive Division, is shutting down the assembly line for this particular model.

Some SD-70 specs

  • 4,000 THP locomotive
  • EMD 16-710G3C-T1 engine
  • EPA Tier-1 emissions certified
  • WhisperCab™ for lowest cab sound and vibration levels available
  • Tractive and braking effort capability 137,000 lbs continuous
  • Tractive Effort 175,500 lbs starting; TE 81,000 lbs braking effort
  • Train simulation results and actual field demonstrations indicate: three SD-70MAC’s can replace five SD40-2’s in high tractive effort operations
  • 92-day maintenance intervals
  • AC motors double traction motor life
  • No brushes, commutator, nor rotor insulation
  • No flashovers/ground relays
  • Significant wheel and rail wear reduction – six-year engine overhaul period
  • EM2000 microprocessor control increased speed and efficiency reduced parts and increased reliability
  • Improved diagnostic capability
  • Satisfies all FRA/AAR crashworthiness requirements
  • 1 million lb. collision posts for increased crew protection
  • Impact resistant fuel tank minimizes spills and leakage
  • 1 million lb. buff load capacity
Gamble said it could take 8 to 10 years of research and development before a new locomotive is in production and even then, the railroad does not want to be the first to try out the new equipment. (see story below on EMD new “green” SD-70s). With 17 locomotives on the way out, the corporation cannot wait.

“If we can handle this attrition in the next five years, we will be about 10 years ahead,” Gamble said.

One of the options available to the railroad is to buy rebuilt equipment, but rebuilds require more maintenance and offer less reliability than brand new equipment. The locomotives can only be rebuilt so much and eventually just become “tired old metal,” Gamble said.

“We don’t want to be a second-hand rebuilt railroad,” he said.

One of the downsides to purchasing the new locomotives is that it puts the corporation in debt. At nearly $2.5 million apiece, the total price tag for the acquisition is nearly $19 million. The railroad will pay about one-third of the total cost in cash from net earnings and will cover the other two-thirds by taking out a loan, Gamble said. All of the other locomotives owned by the railroad are paid for.

Another downside is that the purchase cuts into the capital improvement budget for 2004. Some of the projects that were to be completed next year will be put off until the following yea, Gamble said.

However, when weighing the disadvantages against the advantages, the scale tipped in favor of the purchase.

One of the biggest benefits is that the eight new locomotives will replace the 17 that are wearing out, plus seven locomotives that the railroad has leased this year. Essentially, eight new locomotives will be able to do the work of 24. Part of that is due to a higher horsepower and part is due to a higher availability rate – meaning the amount of time they are available to pull trains, compared to the time they are in the shop. The new model will have a 95 percent availability rate whereas the older models have about an 83 percent rate.

Another upside is it will standardize maintenance on the trains. The railroad took delivery on 16 new 4,000 hp SD70 MACs in 2000. Keeping with the same model of locomotives will streamline maintenance.

Factoring in reliability, availability and maintainability, it just made sense to make the purchase now, said Gamble.

The new locomotives are also expected to be more fuel-efficient than the older GP locomotives. The fuel efficiency is at its peak on long distances, making the new locomotives ideal for the long hauls to Fairbanks.

The new locomotives are needed to keep up with the current workload of the railroad and are not being purchased in anticipation of growth.

“When growth happens, we are going to have to address it,” Gamble said.

“This does not address growth, it addresses attrition.”

The SD-70s will help modernize the railroad. It comes equipped with a computer system needed for a collision-prevention warning system. Another modernized feature is that speed can be programmed into the SD-70, where older locomotives have manual speed control.

The railroad has ordered the locomotives with a few special features, including an environmental pack option for the cold climate and an 800-kilowatt generator option to power the passenger cars.

EMD is engineering and fabricating parts in LaGrange, Ill., but final assembly is carried out at EMD’s plant in London, Ontario. From there, the locomotives will be sent to Seattle where they will be barged to Whittier.


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SD-70ACe Engine

EMD

EMD’s newest product continues the alternating current line of power, and this version, the SD-70ACe, is “greener,” the builder states.

 

EMD’s ‘ACe’ enters the marketplace

EMD reported on June 20 it has launched a new diesel locomotive that the builder's “70 Series” locomotives.

The new model, designated SD-70ACe, “surpasses new emissions standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for 2005. These stringent EPA Tier 2 emissions standards have been satisfied with a variant of Electro-Motive’s 710 diesel engine, according to an EMD press release.

More than 5,000 of the 710 engines are in service worldwide.

According to Bill Happel, Vice-President of General Motors and General Manager of Electro-Motive, “In addition to our intense focus on delivering high reliability, we are setting new standards for locomotive maintainability. Customer feedback is already supporting the investment we have made in making the SD-70ACe locomotive much easier to diagnose and repair.”

In addition, the SD-70ACe model introduces advanced self-diagnostics as well as innovative predictive health capabilities. This is further enhanced with optional “IntelliTrain” services, which is EMD’s process to remotely monitor locomotives using wireless communications.

The SD-70ACe also includes a new cab design that was critiqued by customers in the process of becoming a state-of-the-art ergonomic design for both operators and maintainers.

The first four SD-70ACe locomotives have been built and are being used to verify that all performance and reliability requirements are satisfied, the builder stated. Additional SD-70ACe locomotives will be delivered and demonstrated to North American railroads in advance of the January 2005 effective date for Tier 2 emissions.

EMD designs, manufactures and markets and services freight and passenger diesel-electric locomotives and diesel marine and power generation products for use worldwide. The company has produced more than 58,000 diesel-electric locomotives for customers in 73 countries.

Electro-Motive is online at www.gmemd.com.


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

Budd RDC's roll on in the northwest

Oregon DOT

In the 1950s, a big seller for the Budd Co. was its “rail diesel car,” or RDC. Some machines survive today, including a trio from British Columbia now performing duties in the Pacific Northwest on the Lewis and Clark Explorer.

 

Budds soldier on in Pacific Northwest

Special to Destination:Freedom

ASTORIA, Ore. – A trio of 50-year-old Budd self-propelled rail passenger cars, playing peek-a-boo with inlets of the lower Columbia River, are helping to celebrate the explorers who ventured here 200 years ago.

The Lewis and Clark Explorer, a gamble by Oregon, has been making the trips only since late May, but extra rolling stock already is on the shopping list. The train operates over parts of the Portland & Western Railroad, a Genesee & Wyoming company.

Four days a week – Fridays through Mondays – the Budds, still in the blue and silver livery of BC Rail but with new logos, make the three-plus hour trip from Portland to Astoria, which calls itself the oldest American city west of the Rocky Mountains. Astoria, with one foot in the Columbia River and the other in the Pacific Ocean, has seen the heydays of Clipper ships hauling lumber, salmon, sardines and other goods. Skeletons of some of those golden eras remain, perched on spindly pilings that soon will surrender to gravity.

The train, on tracks that last saw passenger service in 1952, explores some areas miles from the closest highway. The route includes three mandatory bridge stops. One of the bridges has to be hand-cranked, and another is accessible to bridge tenders only by boat.

Those bridges aren’t the only stops. Numerous herds of deer and elk necessitate frequent stops, and keep the train trundling along at about 30 mph. As of July 4, the official count was 61 deer and seven elk stops, all without casualty.

Once in Astoria, a refurbished waterfront trolley runs through downtown. The cost is $1 per ride or $2 per day. The train also meets a shuttle bus headed to Fort Clatsop, a recreation of the wintering point for the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Claudia Howells, head of the rail division of the Oregon DOT, already needs more cars. The first three RDCs – rail diesel cars – were purchased for $130,000 apiece from BC Rail, which used them on runs to Whistler Mountain ski resort and on other excursions.

“The deal was for four cars, and we got three. I could use the fourth today.” Actually, she said, BC Rail has two more Budds, but they are in worse shape.

“They should be cheaper. I would like to get both, and use one for spare parts,” she said. She also is hoping to find volunteers to reupholster seats in one car.

The only problem with getting extra cars is that BC Rail now needs rail cars to handle the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Howells said the line, operated by the short line Willamette and Pacific on former Spokane, Portland & Seattle tracks, must run at 95 percent occupancy to break even. There’s no way that can happen this year because the ticketing, being handled by Amtrak, was messed up for the excursion’s first three weeks. Amtrak initially was going to run the trains, but that collapsed at the last minute because of an order not to start any new service.

Now it pays to make reservations early, Howells said, because some runs are full. The Oregon legislature has promised to run the train for three summers, but Howells, noting that townspeople are using the line to get to and from Portland, said continuing the line will have to be studied later.

Each of the cars – two with cabs and one full passenger coach – has a galley. One car has a large kitchen. The Silver Salmon Grille, one of Astoria’s up-scale restaurants, caters evening meals. The official season ends September 2, but the 166-seat train will be available for charter during the winter, she said.

Howells said the project has gotten lots of support. A grant was used to upgrade track; the Port of Portland produced a free trip journal that quotes from 200-year-old observations by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, explaining locations in terms of today’s communities; and the Astoria Chamber of Commerce meets every train with advice and goodies.

“I am still looking for sponsors from inside the Astoria business world,” Howells said – but in large part, Astoria was not ready for its new train.

“They had been begging for train service for years,” she said, “and then they couldn’t believe it when it happened.”

One businessman noted that the only firms not benefiting are those that still won’t open on Saturday or Sunday. Others quickly sold out their whole summer’s stock of craft items and have been having trouble restocking in an industry that orders well ahead.

Astoria also operates a Sunday Market, which fills about five city blocks with craft and produce stalls. One vendor said business “has really picked up since the train started. Those people (the passengers) come with money in their pockets.”


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Life continues for Boston link notion

Despite an $8 billion price tag and the dizzying prospect of digging under downtown Boston all over again, advocates for the North-South Rail Link last week renewed their longstanding campaign for a seamless rail connection between South Station and North Station, arguing that it would instantly enhance the existing commuter rail and subway system, take 55,000 cars off the road each day, and smooth the commute for one million people.

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s (R) administration has declared that the North-South Rail Link is basically dead, and instead wants to pursue projects such as the Urban Ring circumferential transit line and a Roxbury-South Station link for the Silver Line, the Boston Globe reported last week.

“It’s an interesting idea, but there are eight billion reasons not to go forward,” said Jon Carlisle, spokesman for the state Executive Office of Transportation and Construction.

“Unless realistic funding sources can be identified, this is a project we don’t see going anywhere for the time being. And as we know, multibillion tunnels under downtown Boston don’t really get the juices flowing in Washington.”

Advocates of the rail link are well known for being undeterred, however.

At a news conference led by the Sierra Club and former Gov. Michael Dukakis (D), they unveiled advertisements that have been placed on northbound trains that ask, “Why doesn’t this train go to South Station?” The one-mile tunnel, which would be dug beneath and beside the new Big Dig highway tunnel, could be built for much less using new technology, Dukakis said, while benefiting the region and the entire eastern seaboard, as trains zoom from New York to Maine.

The zeal of advocates, such as former state representative John Businger (D), touted the project with the same energy he had a decade ago , yet stood in stark contrast to present-day realities.

So, the rail link backers were asked, is this a case of refusing to let go in a fight that has already been lost?

“Not at all,” said Businger, talking to reporters in rapid-fire with a fresh stack of rail link bumper stickers in his hand.

“Look at the Urban Ring. They don’t even have a mode yet [bus or light rail]. They don’t have the right-of-way. We have one already. It’s all set to go. It doesn’t screw anybody up – and this is the true regional project [because] it enhances all other systems.”

People who live in Quincy would be able to zip right through downtown Boston and get to their jobs at a technology company in Waltham off Route 128, and the trip from the North Shore to Northeastern University would be a similar one-seat ride, said Businger, who founded the legislature’s North-South Rail Link caucus.

The trick, Businger said, is to get Romney’s transportation planners to see that the rail link solves a lot of problems and makes the transit network work better. Another key, he said, is to debunk some myths, starting with the cost.

The state Program for Mass Transportation report lists the cost of the rail link as $8.7 billion, for a four-track tunnel that would begin south of South Station, run hundreds of feet below the city with a new underground Central Station at the midpoint, and emerge across from the Museum of Science in Cambridge.

The estimate factors in inflation and includes a 30 percent increase in administrative costs, plus a 50 percent contingency fund, all required by federal guidelines.

The same state document lists the final phase of the Urban Ring, a fixed-rail system going through six communities surrounding and including Boston, as having a price tag of $2.8 billion, but that is without the contingency fund or any of the other cost estimate methods that have applied to the rail link.

“It’s a myth the Urban Ring costs less,” Businger said. It also serves fewer people because it runs in a relatively tight circle in metropolitan Boston, he said.

Still, the Romney administration strategy seems increasingly set.

The administration is also under pressure from South Shore business interests to reactivate the Greenbush line, at an estimated cost of $470 million, and to extend commuter rail to Fall River and New Bedford, which could cost $600 million. No new federal funding for such projects is expected this year, and state funds are similarly limited in the current fiscal crisis.

Dukakis said he has “nothing against” improving bus service in a circumferential corridor around Boston, and that commuter rail should be expanded to Fall River and New Bedford, and to the South Shore; but, he said, not having the North-South Rail Link was like having the four light rail routes, the Orange, Red, Blue, and Green lines, all come into downtown Boston and stopping, without connecting.

Asked where the money should come from, Dukakis said the Bay State’s Congressional delegation, with help from lawmakers in adjoining New England states who also support the link, would have to find sources of funding.

“Twenty years from now, when there’s complete gridlock, there’s going to be a lot of finger-pointing and people asking why we didn’t do this,” said Jeremy Marin, conservation officer for the Sierra Club, explaining why he organized the event. “We want an engineering study so we can at least preserve the option.”


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Subway line to LaGuardia on hold

Plans to extend a subway line to LaGuardia International Airport, a project supported by former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, have fallen off the radar screen.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s 2000-2004 capital plan set aside $645 million to design and begin building an extension of the “N” train or some other transit link to connect Manhattan with the airport, according to the New York Daily News of July 14.

Though $17 million in taxpayer money has been spent on planning, the MTA has not touched any of the $645 million – and, for now, those funds cannot be used for anything but the airport link.

“It hasn’t gone away, but it’s slid,” MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow said of the project.

The airport link has wound up last in a long line of major projects: bringing Long Island Rail Road trains into Grand Central Terminal, extending the No. 7 train to Manhattan’s far West Side and building the Second Avenue subway.

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, officials are working on building a major hub at Ground Zero that could extend commuter lines downtown and connect Kennedy Airport with lower Manhattan.

“That’s where all of our attention is focused,” Kalikow said, “those issues we think more important than LaGuardia access.”

Elliot Sander, director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management at New York University, agreed.

“LaGuardia is a good project, but you have to prioritize,” Sander said. “In terms of political support from City Hall, Albany and Washington, it’s moved back in the queue.”

The $645 million earmarked for the LaGuardia link can’t be used for any other project unless the MTA amends its capital-spending plan. Despite spending $17 million on planning, MTA and Port Authority officials are reassessing whether the LaGuardia link would be worth the money and years of construction.

Over the years, officials have looked at 20 possibilities for a LaGuardia connection, including running a No. 7 train extension from Shea Stadium to the airport.

By the time the $645 million was allocated in 2000, the MTA was down to four plans.

Three of the plans would extend the N line through Astoria. One would be underground, another would be elevated along 31st St. and 19th Ave. and the third calls for creation of an elevated spur along the Grand Central Parkway. The fourth plan would create a guided busway from the Queensboro Bridge.

None of those ideas please local people and merchants, who fear noise and a loss of business.


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Maryland PIRG study okays rails

A study of rail-based public transit systems in nine U.S. cities found that ridership surpassed expectations in nearly every case and that rail systems boosted redevelopment around transit stations.

The new report, Rail Transit Works: Light Rail Success Stories from Across the Country, conducted by the MaryPIRG Foundation, analyzed the popularity of transit systems in six states and Washington, D.C.

The study suggested that Baltimore could reap similar benefits from expanding its rail system.

Among the findings reported on July 8, ridership was 40 percent higher than projected after a recent light rail expansion in Denver. Also, ridership in the first year of rail service in St. Louis was 3.5 times higher than expected.

In Utah, Salt Lake City’s system is transporting 50 percent more riders than anticipated.

“Rail is clearly the way to go, judging from the experiences of cities that have gone before us,” said Brad Heavner, executive director of the foundation.

The report also found that people traveling via rail are not simply people who switched from buses when rail became available, according to surveys of rail passengers in three cities.

Nearly half of rail passengers in Los Angeles had a car available for the trip on which they were surveyed.

In Denver, three-fourths of passengers had access to a car but chose rail instead.

In Dallas, 59 percent of passengers that own cars would have driven alone if light rail were not available.

“This report shows what more and more people around the country are discovering-that high quality transit systems make for more transportation choices and more attractive communities,” said Baltimore Regional Partnership Executive Director Dan Pontious.

“It also shows why state Transportation Secretary Robert Flanagan’s decision not to explore heavy rail for Baltimore’s new Red Line is so short-sighted.”

Brent Flickinger, transportation director of the Citizens Planning and Housing Assn., said, “We should learn our lessons from the experiences of other cities. When the Metro opened on Sunday here, ridership was more than double the projections. Though the initial construction costs are higher than adding buses, in the long run, rail attracts more riders and is cheaper to operate, is faster and more reliable, and does not contribute to air pollution.”

The study found that property values are typically higher near transit stations, drawing redevelopment and an increased tax base. Property near the rail line in Dallas has risen 25 percent in value compared to more distant properties. Residential property close to rail stations in Washington, D.C. is worth $6 to $8 per square foot more than comparable properties farther away. Two billion dollars of construction has occurred along Portland’s Eastside rail line.

Baltimore holds great potential for transit-oriented development, according to the report. MTA forecasts an overall increase in property values around transit stations of as much as $1.2 billion from full realization of the Baltimore Regional Rail Plan.

“We have seen time and again that people prefer rail over buses,” Heavner added. “If we want to revitalize the areas around transit stations into vibrant communities, we have to build a transit system that is attractive to people.”

The MaryPIRG Foundation called on Maryland to facilitate development of an effective transit system expansion in Baltimore by prioritizing construction of a Baltimore rail system when seeking federal funding for transportation projects. It recommended the Maryland Transportation Administration be granted funding for an accelerated schedule for planning and construction of the Red and Green Lines of the proposed regional rail plan.

It also suggested studying both light and heavy rail along with increased bus service for the transit system expansion. Although rail is more expensive, it is likely to result in more redevelopment and thus a higher tax base for the city and greater financial returns in the long run, according to the group.

MaryPIRG also recommended providing opportunities for transportation planners to work side by side with land use planners. Transit-oriented development should be an integral part of the rail plan.


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Florida Tri-rail is now South Florida Regional Transportation Authority

NCI: Leo King

You may now call Florida Tri-rail “South Florida Regional Transportation Authority.” The commuter line got the new designation on June 20, APTA reports.

 

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.


 

Tri-Rail Is Now South Florida RTA

The Tri-County Commuter Rail District in Pompano Beach, Fla., became the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority on July 1, the result of a law passed by the Florida State Legislature and signed June 20 by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

According to Bonnie Arnold, marketing director with the authority, the primary impact of the legislation is that it will allow the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach area to seek federal funding as a single unit. The combined region constitutes the fifth largest urbanized area in the U.S., she said.

By addressing south Florida’s transportation projects from a regional perspective, the RTA expects to coordinate its activities with the Metropolitan Transportation Organizations in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties, local transit agencies, and regional planning councils. Local decision-making concerning operational issues would remain with the existing transit agencies rather than the RTA.


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RAPID Bus Service Begins in Phoenix

The city of Phoenix introduced its RAPID express bus service July 14 with two new routes, expanded numbers of trips, and upgraded and newly built park-and-rides.

The RAPID buses operate on two of the region’s busiest commuter corridors: I-10 from Ahwatukee, and State Route 51 beginning at Bell Road. Service will be expanded to include three other Phoenix travel corridors by the fall.

The RAPID routes are equipped with specially designed new downtown stops that offer a completely different look from the regular Valley Metro passenger shelter. The new stations feature 15-foot-tall structural steel center poles with translucent fiberglass canopies positioned to give passengers maximum shade during the summer. Each station features an artist-designed bench, a steel route map, a trash receptacle and, eventually, an electronic signboard to announce arrivals and departures. The RAPID stations are painted in colors to match those of the RAPID buses.


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Rowland Steps Down as GM in Lexington, Ky.

Stephen D. Rowland stepped down June 30 as general manager of the Lexington Transit Authority in Lexington, Ky., after 10 years of service. He resigned, according to LexTran, after the Lexington City Council defeated a request by the transit system’s board to place a referendum on the fall ballot to let the voters decide the fate of public transportation in Lexington.

Rick Loghry of Actions Speak, LLC, is serving as interim director of the Lexington system.


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Austin to Leave Foothill Transit; Barnes to Assume Job

Julie Austin, executive director of Foothill Transit in West Covina, Calif., for the past six and a half years, has announced that she is resigning effective Aug. 1 to go into business as a transportation consultant. She will be retained by ATC, Foothill’s contractor, on a consulting basis for at least 12 months.

Foothill Transit has announced that Doran Barnes, a former deputy executive director of the system, who has been chief executive officer and general manager of Tulsa Transit in Tulsa, Okla., since 2001, will succeed Austin.


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Kawasaki Rail Car Promotes Yamamoto to Chairman, Kanehana to President

Kawasaki Rail Car Inc. in Yonkers, N.Y., announces the promotion of Yuichi Yamamoto, formerly president, to the position of chairman, effective July 1. Yoshinori Kanehana succeeds Yamamoto as president of the company.

Yamamoto has extensive experience working in different divisions of Kawasaki Heavy Industries. Before becoming president of Kawasaki Rail Car Inc., he served in several senior executive positions in Europe, Africa, and Asia, developing markets for Kawasaki’s products.

Kanehana brings 25 years of engineering and management experience to his new position. He began his professional career in 1978 as an electrical and mechanical engineer at KHI Hygo Plant, and also served in London as a manager for KHI’s project with the London Underground. He has held several important positions with Kawasaki Rail Car Inc. and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, including projects with MTA New York City Transit.


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

BNSF at Hoffman Ave Interlocking

For NCI: Adam Auxier

A BNSF southbound manifest blasts through Hoffman Avenue interlocking in St. Paul, Minn. during the winter of 2001.

 

Close call for freight railroads:

More regulatory battles lie ahead

By Wes Vernon
Washington Bureau Chief

A major legislative reregulation bomb that the railroads feared might be dropped on them this past week did not materialize – but advocates vowed that they would fight the battle through another process. Also, rail management and labor differ on the quality of the rail safety bill.

It was widely expected that Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) would attempt to attach his controversial proposal to a measure reauthorizing the Surface Transportation Board (STB). The reauthorization itself was approved.

As it turned out, when the senator could not be certain he had the votes of a majority of the panel, he declined to add his Rail Competition Bill (S. 919) during a Thursday hearing by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. However, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) promised the Montanan that she would hold a hearing on his bill in the fall.

S. 919 – Burns calls it the Rail Customer bill – is viewed by the industry as perhaps the worst “reregulation” effort in Congress in many years. The Association of American Railroads (AAR) describes S. 919 as “destructive railroad regulation.”

Burns said his bill would “provide protection for the many commercial industries that utilize our nation’s railway systems.”

The AAR, in its own analysis of the bill, says it would “use a number of ill-advised approaches to force U.S. freight railroads to offer lower than market rates to certain rail shippers at the expense of other shippers, rail employees, rail investors, and the public at large.”

S. 919, said the industry’s Washington voice, “uses these approaches to transfer billions of dollars from the rail industry to the companies that promote this legislation.”

On the other hand, as Burns sees it, “It has become evident to me that there are some clear deficiencies within the way we manage commerce on our rails.”

Perhaps the bill’s main thorn in the side of the railroads is the section that stipulates that, again as the senator puts it, “In the case that a region’s rail service carries monopolistic traits, that region may be designated as an ‘Area of Inadequate Rail Competition.’ Such a designation would then push the Surface Transportation Board (STB) into remedial action.”

To the railroads, that is a euphemism for “shared access” or “forced access” as they call it, i.e., allowing competitors to use another railroad’s tracks to bring about the competition that is deemed to be lacking.

The AAR believes this would create an “artificial” competition that would ultimately reduce competition, not enhance it “because it would prevent railroads from covering their full costs, which is essential to their survival.” And they say you know that means the railroads would have to pass along the added costs to the very customers who supposedly stand to benefit from the legislation.

“Claiming that every market can sustain two railroads just because some markets can is like saying that every city can support two major league baseball teams just because New York can,” the industry argues.

The all-mode freight industry magazine, “Traffic World” reported in its July 14 edition that as of July 8, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) had received about 25 letters opposing the legislation. Though most of those letters were from shippers, the National Industrial Transportation League (NITL), a premiere shippers group, has voted to support S-919. The captive shipper organization Consumers United for Rail Equity (CURE) actually assisted in drafting the measure.

For its part, the AAR mounted an ad campaign, voiced on District of Columbia radio by the AAR’s director of editorial services, Tom White, arguing in effect (paraphrasing now) that S. 919 would take rail service in this country back to the bad old days when rail operations were hampered by outdated regulations which disadvantaged not only the railroads, but their customers as well.

The ad campaign was heard on local Washington news/talk radio, with print ads in Capitol Hill’s “hometown papers,” Roll Call and The Hill. White said the ads were confined to those “local and limited” outlets, which indicates they were aimed squarely at members of Congress.

The Burns bill would eliminate what the senator said are “paper barriers” in sales contracts with the shortlines, which, according to the smaller lines, hinders their ability to compete with the Class I carriers for business.

The bill, said Burns, would create “a streamlined process to resolve rate and service disputes.” It would also provide for a tri-annual study of the degree of competition that exists in the industry, as well as the effectiveness of the mechanisms to ensure it.”

S. 919 would demand that the railroads “quote rates to their customers for movement between any two points on their system, should they request it. It also calls for these rates to be subject to reasonableness challenges if they are unjustly expensive.” Again, those are the Montana lawmaker’s words.

The industry complains that S. 919 would give the government “unchecked regulatory power;” would – through overturning “bottleneck” decisions – interfere with a railroad’s right to determine for itself the form of its rates and the locations (if any) of its interchanges; would “inappropriately mandate final-arbiter-arbitration” on rate and service disputes; would impose so-called “paper barriers” without which, AAR argues, rail jobs and rail service in rural areas would otherwise have been lost post-1980 deregulation; and would impose “flawed” proposals on terminal trackage and reciprocal switching “even if anti-competitive conduct or abuse of market power by the owning railroad has not even been alleged, much less adjudicated and found to exist.”

AAR President Ed Hamberger hailed the committee action in reauthorizing the STB, which included streamlining the process for small shippers and codifying an agreement with rail labor.

The former is an amendment offered by Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) requiring the agency to do a rulemaking within 180 days of enactment providing procedural relief to small shippers and small rate cases. The latter codifies a labor and management agreement on “cramdown.” This involved a practice by a newly merged railroad of paying employees at the scale of the merge partner offering the lower wages of the two. That dispute was settled a few years ago. This just puts the settlement into law.

Hamberger praised the committee for moving legislation reauthorizing the Federal Rail Safety Act for five years. He said it would expand the authority of railway police to operate on property owned by other railroads, “and also includes incentives for closing unnecessary highway-rail grade crossings.”

Rail labor takes a different view of that bill‘s adequacy. Sonny Hall, President of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO complained the legislation “falls well short of the aggressive steps our government must take to better protect workers in one of America’s most dangerous industries.”

Hall was unhappy that the bill does not address “employee fatigue problems that plague the industry” because of regulations that, he said, “are riddled with loopholes.” He also charged the measure “fails to protect a rail employee’s right to blow the whistle on safety violations.”

The industry points to impressive reductions in the rail accident rate and its annual Harriman awards for safety-minded employees as evidence that it is conscientious about making safety its top priority. Not enough, apparently, to satisfy the TTD’s Hall, who wants tougher provisions written into the law.


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BNSF opens second main in Panhandle

The Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Ry. Co. says a second main track will open on the “transcon,” BNSF’s Chicago-Los Angeles line, to expand capacity and ensure continued service reliability on this principal route.

Between Codman and Lora, Texas, on the Panhandle Subdivision, the final portion of a 13.5-mile section double track was cut over July 16. Construction began in April and was completed on schedule.

“Everyone has been really cooperative and communicating with one another to get this work done,” said Tom Schmidt, director, Engineering Services, BNSF.

Currently 55 intermodal trains operate per day over this portion of the transcontinental line, and as many as 70 operate per day during peak season. Much of the increase over the line is a result of more international business, which has grown 35 percent year over year, at the end of the first quarter.

Double-tracking on the transcon will continue east of Lora to Coburn, Texas, with 32 miles scheduled to be cut over in mid-November. A third authorized phase is a 14-mile section between Curtis and Woodward, Okla. This segment is scheduled for an in-service date early in the second quarter of 2004. Engineering will continue working on additional segments in preparation of anticipated authorization.

Elsewhere, expansion is under way at the Clovis, N.Mex., yard, where $15 million of construction is going to give the facility six additional receiving and departure tracks, each with a capacity of more than 8,000 feet. Part of the work includes closing an at-grade street crossing. The three new tracks on the east end of the yard are expected to open by the end of July; the three west-end tracks in approximately six weeks.

These projects are part of a transcon capital spending program announced in April, an advanced spending plan to keep up with the explosion of intermodal business.

Elsewhere in Fort Worth, where BNSF is headquartered, Wal-Mart Stores recently recognized BNSF “as the recipient of the Wal-Mart’s annual Carrier of the Year award. BNSF has received this award for five consecutive years and to date is the only railroad that has received this honor.”

David Reiff, Wal-Mart’s Vice President for Logistics, said “BNSF has provided an outstanding service for Wal-Mart” and added, “It is our pleasure to recognize their associates for commitment to quality and customer service.”

Wal-Mart operates more than 2,870 discount stores, Supercenters and Neighborhood Markets, and more than 520 Sam’s Clubs in the U.S.


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UTU members ratify CN-IC pact

United Transportation Union (UTU) members from the former Illinois Central Railroad, now working for Canadian National Ry., ratified a new work agreement on July 15.

The railroaders are conductors and brakemen.

In contrast with traditional railroad mileage- and rule-based wage systems dating back to the steam era, this three-year agreement, effective August 1, is based on a concept of hourly wage, job guarantees and more flexible work rules for 600 current UTU members.

E. Hunter Harrison, CN president and CEO, said the pact “will allow management to operate the railroad in the most efficient, customer-focused way, and provide employees increased pay, job security and a better balance between work and home lives.”


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CSX cuts 143 supervisory jobs

CSX Transportation cut 143 management jobs last week, most of them operations department supervisors systemwide, and nearly half of them in Jacksonville, Fla.

CSX spokesman Adam Hollingsworth said the workers were notified July 15 and 16. The layoffs are being done to cut supervisory positions with the expectation that doing so will speed up the company’s decision-making process.

“The positions eliminated were in areas where we had redundancy or excess management layers that could be reduced without affecting rail operations of customer service,” Hollingsworth said.

All the laid-off workers are non-union employees, 65 of them are in Jacksonville, he said.

CSX is the nation’s third-largest railroad. The company stated earlier this year it plans to reduce its workforce by 900 through layoffs and attrition this year. In December, CSX cut 67 jobs and put a freeze on 135 open positions.

CSX has about 5,200 employees in the Jacksonville area, where the railroad’s headquarters are located.

Last month, the company said it planned to cut 200 customer-service jobs at its Southside facility starting in August. About 1,100 CSX employees who work in an office park are members of the Transportation-Communications International Union.

Hollingsworth said all the laid-off workers have been given severance packages and offered assistance in their job searches.


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Freight traffic declines; intermodal up

Total freight traffic on the nation’s railroads was down during the week ended July 12 in comparison with the corresponding week last year, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported on Thursday.

The total volume was estimated at 26.7 billion ton-miles, down 2.9 percent from last year. Carload freight totaled 303,925 units, down 4.7 percent from last year, with loadings down 4.3 percent in the East and 5.0 percent in the West. Intermodal volume, which is not included in the carload data, totaled 189,406 trailers or containers, up 2.9 percent from the comparable week last year.

Most of the decrease in carload traffic was attributed to an 11.9 percent drop in coal volume, as miners in some parts of the country took their annual break. Also down sharply were loadings of metallic ores, 23.4 percent, and farm products other than grain, 18.7 percent.

Twelve of nineteen commodities were up from the comparable week last year, with coke up 30.1 percent; crushed stone, gravel and sand rising 8.4 percent and motor vehicles and equipment gaining 7.6 percent.

The AAR also reported the following cumulative totals for U.S. railroads during the first 28 weeks of 2003: 8,965,126 carloads, up less than 0.1 percent from last year; intermodal volume of 5,183,306 trailers or containers, up 6.4 percent; and total volume of an estimated 790.9 billion ton-miles, up 0.7 percent from last year’s first 28 weeks.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 90 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. Railroads provide more than 40 percent of the nation’s intercity freight transportation, more than any other mode, and rail traffic figures are regarded as an important economic indicator.

Both intermodal and carload freight were up on Canadian railroads during the week ended July 12. Intermodal traffic totaled 43,079 trailers and containers, up 4.1 percent from last year. Carload volume of 57,294 cars, was up 3.9 percent from the comparable week last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 28 weeks of 2003 on the Canadian railroads totaled 1,717,717 carloads, down 1.3 percent from last year, and 1,148,989 trailers and containers, up 9.3 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 28 weeks of 2003 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 10,682,843 carloads, down 0.2 percent from last year and 6,332,295 trailers and containers, up 6.9 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 12 totaled 7,518 cars, down 10.9 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 3,033 originated trailers or containers, up 9.5 percent from the 28th week of 2002. For the first 28 weeks of 2003, TFM reported cumulative originated volume of 241,006 cars, up 1.8 percent from last year, and 99,255 trailers or containers, up 31.4 percent.

AAR is online at www.aar.org.


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QUARTERLY REPORTS...  Quarterly reports...

BNSF

Directors at Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. (NYSE:BNI) voted on July 17 to increase its next quarterly dividend to 15 cents per share on outstanding common stock. That represents a 25 percent increase from its previous quarterly dividend of 12 cents per share, or an annualized 60 cents per share dividend.

Dividends on common stock will be paid October 1 to shareholders of record September 10. Common shares outstanding on June 30 totaled approximately 373 million.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: Bloomberg.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)28.72028.610
Canadian National(CNI)48.26047.800
Canadian Pacific(CP)22.35023.030
CSX(CSX)31.52031.010
Florida East Coast(FLA)29.61027.770
Kansas City Southern(KSU)13.27012.930
Norfolk Southern(NSC)19.52019.530
Union Pacific(UNP)59.04058.720


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

Alaska RR at Seward

NCI: Leo King

Alaska Railroad F-7A 1508 is idling and at rest in Seward, Alaska, after taking Extra 1500 South and its day-trippers southward from Anchorage – at milepost 114.3 – nearly to milepost 0.0 in Seward. The occasion, on July 4, 1973, was the railroad’s annual Independence Day “Gateway tour.” The train was set up to accommodate 700 people, and the carrier’s business car, Aurora, carried the markers on the rear. A power car supplied steam for heating. The original MP 0.0 was wiped out in a devastating earthquake on March 28, 1964, and a great deal of the single-track railroad had to be rebuilt.

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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Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images that appear in Destination: Freedom may do so at a nominal fee of $10.00 per image. "True color" .jpg images average 1.7MB each, and are 300 dots-per-inch for print publishers.

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

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


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