In this edition...
BBC reports: British conservatives admit
BritRail privatization policy failed
LONDON ---The BBC is reporting that Britains Conservative Party, the ideological architect of the 1990s privatization of British Rail, was a failure, and had actually raised rail costs to English taxpayers.
According to the BBC, Conservatives have admitted their decision to divide the track and train components of the rail network in 1996 was a mistake which increased costs, as Shadow [opposition] transport secretary Chris Grayling told a meeting of rail industry figures.
There was a lack of clarity about who was in charge, Grayling said.
American transportation activists and professionals have long opposed the Bush program to divide operations from infrastructure management, then dismember Amtrak and sell it off to private sector bidders. David Gunn, regarded as Amtraks best President since the legendary Graham Claytor (1912-1994, who ran Amtrak 1982-1993), was fired in November 2005 after refusing to accede to Bush-appointed Board demands that he go along with their plans, saying it was like the failed British model and would be potentially dangerous to the traveling public.
Knowledgeable American transportation professionals have been arguing that position for a decade. This past weeks BBC news report marks the first time that the Conservative Party in Britain, which separated operations from infrastructure and forced privatization on BritRail, admits that it was wrong. Aside from ultimately raising costs, the action resulted almost immediately in a series of fatal accidents.
The BritRail privatization was accelerated when the Tory John Major regime then in power determined it would probably lose the next general election in Britain (it did), and raced to impose its ideological vision on British life before being removed by the voters. In the British parliamentary system, the leader of the party winning or controlling the most seats in the House of Commons becomes the Prime Minister, who then appoints cabinet heads.
The BBC continued: The Conservatives did not want a return to a British Rail structure but wanted more integration. Rail Minister Derek Twigg said they had not learnt from their old mistakes. Railtrack, the company which used to be in charge of the network of train tracks, was wound up [closed after heavy losses] in 2001. It was replaced by Network Rail.
We think that the separation of train and track has helped push up the cost of running the railways, says Chris Grayling, Shadow transport secretary. Mr Grayling says new thinking is needed because passenger numbers will increase by 40% in the next seven years. He told BBC Radio 4: There is no serious plan for additional capacity, for more trains in which those passengers can travel. The only people who are seriously talking about it are Network Rail who want an additional £7 billion [$13 Billion U.S] in taxpayers' money, on top of the huge amounts they are already receiving from government. I think we have to do things differently.
In his speech, Mr Grayling said the Tories did not intend to take Network Rail back into private ownership. Instead, the policy would mean integrated organizations working under shorter franchise deals rather than owning the track. The Conservatives are starting a review, which will result in a strategy paper next year. We think, with hindsight, that the complete separation of track and train into separate businesses at the time of privatization was not right for our railways, he said. We think that the separation has helped push up the cost of running the railways - and hence fares - and is now slowing decisions about capacity improvements. Too many people and organizations are now involved in getting things done. As a result, the industry lacks clarity about who is in charge and accountable for decisions.
British Rail Minister Derek Twigg dismissed the Conservative policy as incoherent said the BBC. The Tories have finally admitted that their rail privatization was a mistake but they have learned nothing from it, he said. Driven by dogma in the 1990s, John Major's Tories fragmented our railways and, driven by the same dogma in the 21st century, David Cameron's Tories appear to want to fragment them again.
The BBC said the Tory plans also came under fire from Liberal Democrat rail spokesman Alistair Carmichael.
The Tories don't seem to have learnt anything from their past mistakes, this is merely a re-privatization by the backdoor, he said. These proposals are muddled in thinking and would be muddled in implementation. Because in most areas several companies share the track, this policy would lead to more conflicts between operators.
BOSTON --- Ridership on Amtraks DownEaster from Portland to Boston, the railroads best intercity line, has surged 20% since the ceiling fell in at the Big Dig July 10 killing a Boston woman and injuring her husband.
The line, which was put into place after a decade of resistance by competing interests, has become Amtraks most popular line.
Gannett Web Editor Caitlin McLaughlin, reported: Ever since July 10th, when some ceiling tiles fell and killed a woman in the city's Ted Williams Tunnel, the train between Portland and Boston has seen quite an increase in ridership. According to Amtrak officials, mid-week ridership on the Downeaster is up an average of 200 passengers a day, that's an increase of about 20 percent.
Even before Big Dig troubles, The Downeaster has just come off a record ridership year, reported McLaughlin. Passenger numbers went up 32 percent between June of last year and last month. Passengers we spoke to say between high gas prices, and all that Boston traffic, the train is looking like a pretty good deal these days.
This past year, Amtraks Downeaster has had a bigger passenger increase than every other train in the country, Amtrak reported.
CHICAGO, JULY 21 The Chicago Tribune, in a story by Jon Hilkevitch, reported that Amtrak ridership increased by 11 percent overall during the fiscal year 2006 on routes serving Chicago that are partially funded by the state. A record 955,529 passengers rode Amtrak trains during this fiscal year, marking the second straight year of record ridership gains.
The Hiawatha trains operating between Chicagos Union Station and Milwaukee, the Illini trains between Chicago and Carbondale, the State House line between Chicago and St. Louis and the Illinois Zephyr, Chicago-Quincy, all showed significant increases with the Hiawatha trains leading the way at 13 percent. Hiawatha operations are supported by the Illinois and Wisconsin Departments of Transportation.
Illinois paid $12 million to Amtrak during the year and is doubling its support to $24 million to better match Wisconsins contribution to the Hiawatha service and to increase Amtrak schedules.
Starting this fall, the Quincy-Carbondale service will get one additional train a day and the St. Louis route, two more trains daily, pending contract negotiations with Amtrak.
New Jersey Transit initiates service
on new Newark light rail line
New Jersey Transit inaugurated service on the new Newark Light Rail line on Monday, July 17th, with a flurry of political speeches. The inaugural train, a single articulated light rail vehicle, left Newarks Penn Station at 10:10 a.m. and arrived at the Broad Street Station, one mile away, nine minutes later. An inaugural ceremony followed the arrival of the VIP Train and lasted for about forty minutes. All of the invited speakers were politicians.
Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker, who has held office only since July 1st, expressed the hope that the new line would improve the citys economy by making it easier for workers to reach their offices in the downtown area. Governor Jon S. Corzine, Senator Robert Menendez and the other speakers echoed the theme of the new line as part of the economic revival of Newarks downtown core. Congressman Donald M. Payne (D-10), a senior citizen and Newark native, reminisced about riding the once-extensive network of streetcars in and around Newark. The Newark City Subway, which connects with the new line at Penn Station, is the sole survivor of that network. NJT Executive Director George D. Warrington observed that the temperature (93 degrees at the time of the ceremony) may have had the effect of shortening the speakers remarks. Some of the politicians who gave their views rode the light rail line that day, while others did not.
Warrington, who acted as Master of Ceremonies, completed the program without acknowledging the contribution of the citizen advocacy organizations in the Garden State that had diligently supported the construction of the line, specifically the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP) and the Lackawanna Coalition.
NJ-ARP Director and Lackawanna Coalition Political Committee Chair Albert L. Papp spoke for the advocates, but not as part of the official program:
While we expected to hear from the elected leaders, we are especially disappointed that Executive Director Warrington failed to acknowledge the wide-ranging outreach efforts of NJ-ARP and the Lackawanna Coalition over an extended period of time toward making this line a reality said Papp. He continued: In the past, the Lackawanna Coalition and NJ-ARP were prominently mentioned for their support by previous Executive Directors. Shirley DeLibero pointedly did so in June, 1996, in conjunction with the opening ceremonies of NJTs now highly-successful M&E Midtown Direct service.
The new line marks the first expansion of rail transit in Newark since the Newark City Subway opened in 1935. The line connects at both ends with NJTs commuter rail services. Broad Street Station, the historic station built by the Lackawanna Railroad in 1903, is a stop for trains on the Morris & Essex and Montclair-Boonton Lines.
Penn Station, at the other end of the line, serves trains on NJTs North Jersey Coast, Northeast Corridor (Trenton) and Raritan Valley Lines, as well as PATH trains to lower Manhattan and Amtrak trains to points on the Northeast Corridor Line and as far away as Miami and New Orleans. Intermediate stops on the new line serve other destinations in Newark, such as the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and the stadium used by the Newark Bears, a minor-league baseball team.
Politicians, citizen advocates and NJT managers all hailed the new line, since it constitutes an expansion of rail transit in a city that had previously lost all but one line of its once-vast streetcar network. Still, some observers question the ultimate utility of the line, due to its short physical length and long headways between trains. Most people can walk from one station to the other in twenty to twenty-five minutes. Service on the line runs every ten minutes during peak hours and fifteen minutes for the rest of the day on weekdays. On weekends, service runs only every thirty minutes. Only one vehicle is needed to operate week-end service. Running time for the one-mile line is now scheduled for nine or ten minutes, although local rail advocates and NJT management hope to eventually reduce the time to seven minutes. Passengers can connect with the Newark City Subway at Penn Station, with an across-the-platform transfer. NJT does not contemplate through running in the foreseeable future.
The new line is scheduled independently of the commuter rail lines, and current schedules do not accommodate connections from the Morris & Essex Line at Broad Street Station to southbound trains on the lines diverging from Penn Station. NJT management has told the Lackawanna Coalition that they will accommodate the Coalitions request to reschedule the line for better commuter rail connections on weekends. This will start when a new schedule takes effect on Labor Day Week-end.
According to NJT planners, the new line is the first operable segment of a line that will eventually extend past Newark Airport, to Elizabeth. There has also been talk of extending the line west of Elizabeth to Cranford on the Raritan Valley Line, or even further west in Union County. Any extension of this sort could be delayed for decades, since the only capital project at the front of NJTs budget line is a new tunnel under the Hudson River, to terminate in a deep cavern under 34th Street in Manhattan. Rail advocates on both sides of the river oppose this plan, claiming that it is unduly expensive. They say that regional cooperation between New York and New Jersey, with a rail link between Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station (New York), will provide enough capacity to render the proposed deep cavern station unnecessary.
The fare on the new line is $1.25, the same as for a local bus. Transfers to local buses are available for an additional sixty cents, although holders of monthly or weekly rail commutation tickets can use light rail lines or local buses at no extra cost. So far, during the first week of operation, many of the riders on the new line are commuters who use the new Light Rail to complete their trip to and from the office. Off-peak patronage by revenue-generating single-trip customers has been light, thus far. While local advocates have speculated that the farebox recovery attributable to the new line will be meager, everyone agrees that it is always good to have a new line to ride.
Editors Note: David Peter Alan is Chair of the Lackawanna Coalition and a Board Member of the Rail Users Network (RUN). When not traveling or riding transit, he lives and practices law in South Orange, New Jersey.
JULY 21 -- New Jersey Transit and Amtrak got their signals crossed and a few of them crushed last month during a test run of one of the two-tiered trains that will debut this fall, writes Vincent Mallozzi in a story for the New York Times.
On June 8, the story continued, the first of New Jersey Transits planned fleet of 231 bi-level trains, which cost about $1.9 million each, slipped out on a midnight test run to New York.
Built taller and wider than traditional suburban commuter trains, the double-decker had difficulty passing through one of the two tunnels heading into Pennsylvania Station, tearing down two signals as it chugged past the west end of track 5.
Cliff Black, a spokesman for Amtrak, said that low-lying signals hanging in the station caused the problem. The train did do some damage, he said, but no passengers were on board at the time and the engineer and conductors were not injured.
Bombardier, the Canadian company that manufactures these trains, was absolved of blame in comments by their director of communications, Helene Gagnon: We run the cars on low speed to verify whether they clear all elements on the routes where they will eventually run, such as tunnels, tracks and signals, Ms. Gagnon said. It was determined by Amtrak that its signals department had installed signal lights that did not conform to the Amtrak clearance profile.
Amtrak will be expected to take appropriate action to make sure all signals are located properly with adequate clearance for the new taller trains.
By bus or by rail, transit
options gaining favor
SMYRNA, TN, JULY 20 -- In a fast growing region in middle Tennessee, between Murfreesboro and Nashville, residents are waking up to the potential advantages of transit. In a story for the Daily News Journal, Byram Hensley reported the publics reaction to transit proposals.
The areas Metropolitan Planning Organization hired the planning firm Parsons Brinckerhoff to develop long-range transportation plans. Tim Rosenberger, one of the planners, presented three transit options to local citizens in a meeting last Thursday, July 20, to get input from the public. He got an earful and it was all about the need for transit.
The three options presented were --- Bus rapid transit via I-24. Commuter rail along the CSX rail line. Bus rapid transit on Old Nashville Pike and Murfreesboro Road.
Hensleys article continues:
Whichever option ultimately comes about, it can't come soon enough in the opinion of Alfred Fann, a retired Town of Smyrna building official.
I've been watching this for the last 15 or 20 years, Fann said of progressively worsening traffic congestion between Smyrna and Nashville. It's getting to the point that something like this is going to have to happen.
None of the transit options are cheap, but neither is the cost of building additional roadways to accommodate the traffic.
Gerry Houser of Smyrna used to live in San Diego, which has a well-established rail transit system. He wouldn't mind seeing something like that here.
You can go almost anywhere, any time of the week, he said. It makes sense to Houser to have a transportation system spread out from Nashville around the region, he said.
But he believes bus rapid transit along Old Nashville Pike and Murfreesboro Road, makes the most sense. It seems to have the greatest reach, he said.
According to the MPO, the southeast corridor between Nashville and Murfreesboro is the fastest growing portion of the Middle Tennessee region.
The corridor is expected to add more than 110,000 residents and a large number of new jobs by 2030, growth that will strain the corridor's transportation network, already the most congested corridor in the Nashville region.
The corridor between Murfreesboro and Nashville contains 30 percent of the region's population, but only 10 percent of the land area, said Jim McAteer of the MPO.
It's one of the best corridors we have for running rapid transit. Congestion on I-24, even with widening, is expected to get worse. You can't widen roads to get out of congestion.
|Burlington Northern & Santa Fe||(BNI)||69.03||73.10|
|Florida East Coast||(FLA)||45.89||47.45|
|Genessee & Wyoming||(GWR)||26.27||29.23|
|Kansas City Southern||(KSU)||23.48||25.23|
|Providence & Worcester||(PWX)||18.49||18.76|
[ Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Trent Lott (R-MS) both serve on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and Senator Lott chairs the rail subcommittee. The following editorial by Frank Lautenberg and Trent Lott was posted on the Philadelphia Inquirer website on July 23. - Ed. ]
PHILADELPHIA -- Fifty years ago this summer, the leaders of our nation agreed to a visionary plan for a system of interstate highways. Its hard to imagine where we would be today without that system.
Now we need the same kind of vision to create a transportation system that will meet our needs in the 21st century - including high-speed passenger rail service across the nation. The first step is to shore up the only U.S. high-speed route already in operation - Amtraks Northeast corridor - and we have introduced a bipartisan plan to strengthen and reform Amtrak. We hope that bill will reach the Senate floor this month.
Our bill, providing $11.4 billion over six years, would enable Amtrak to make needed infrastructure improvements in the Northeast corridor and to begin to invest in other high-speed rail corridors across the nation.
The Federal Railroad Administration has designated 10 potential corridors, including the Keystone corridor from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. Cities and states are enthusiastic about this concept, but they cant fund the infrastructure by themselves.
Imagine what world-class rail service could mean to cities like Pittsburgh, Atlanta, St. Louis, Los Angeles, and all the smaller communities that would be linked to them by high-speed trains.
Intercity travelers would have an alternative to highway congestion and airport delays. Daily commuters would have a low-stress option to get to work. Fewer cars would mean less air pollution and less oil consumed.
We would also be less vulnerable to a disaster like the terrorist attacks of 9/11, which shut down our aviation system, or Hurricane Katrina, which stranded thousands of Gulf Coast residents who didnt own cars.
Those who are fortunate enough to live along the Northeast corridor already know the benefits of good rail service. Amtrak served a record 25.4 million passengers last year, and Philadelphias 30th Street Station is the second-busiest in the nation. Amtraks rail lines are also used by commuters on SEPTA, New Jersey Transit and other systems.
The Northeast corridor is a success story, but even there we have failed to maintain an infrastructure that is almost a century old in some places.
Since 1982 the federal government has invested $450 billion in highways and $200 billion in our aviation system - but only $20 billion on passenger rail. Its time to make a real investment in rail service by modernizing the Northeast corridor and replicating its success in other parts of the nation.
It takes vision to build the transportation infrastructure we will need in the future. We did it when we created the Interstate Highway system 50 years ago - and we can do it again with 21st-century rail lines.
The Big Botch
That Sinking Feeling
BOSTON---Most people get a little hitch when they realize they are entering a long underground passage. Some people even break out in hives. Others simply flee. Like interrogations or burns, claustrophobia comes in degrees.
But in Boston most people were getting used to their massive hole in the ground, the Central Artery Tunnel or Big Dig, which was completed (mostly) a few months ago. Essentially, the Big Dig took the old elevated central Boston expressway and shoved it underground, and added a new tunnel extending Interstate 90 to the airport. Cost: $14.6 billion.
That was until July 10, when at 11 p.m. a two-ton concrete ceiling panel crashed down upon a car driven by a Boston man, killing his wife and injuring him.
I would like to tell you that the subsequent response by officials has safeguarded the public and set in motion the repairs necessary to make the Big Dig tunnels useable again. But I cant say that, because it isnt happening. My advice is instead, Stay Out of the Tunnels until the project has addressed and solved the falling-concrete issue in full. At present, it is false-starts and half measures, poorly executed, and a proposed fix that may not be a fix at all.
Let me explain --- and this is especially for the journalists who read Destination:Freedom.
Bostons Big Botch is a difficult story, in its complexity somewhat like the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986, and most of you do not have the time to become instant experts. But once, on a very similar story 34 years ago, I did have to become a specialist in pulled bolts and falling beams, and while I am not a structural engineer, I do know what I am talking about. That is why I am very skeptical right now of any pronouncements by politicians, no matter how well-meaning, and so should you be.
In the Winter of 1972 a new shopping mall had recently been opened in Seminole, FL., a town about half-way between Clearwater and St. Petersburg. Today it has malls and sprawl, but in 1972 it was a tiny place, and the Seminole Mall was its Big Deal, such a point of pride that City Hall re-located to it. Early in the morning of February 8, 1972, a 4,000 square-foot portion of the new malls ceiling collapsed, hurting no one since the Mall was not yet opened. A reporter in the Clearwater Bureau of the St. Petersburg Times, I was assigned by my boss, Bureau Chief Tom Rawlins to get the story.
My investigation, which when completed took several weeks, lead to the manufacturer of the expansion bolts that had been used --- or rather misused --- to hold a U-shaped saddle joint to the mall concrete wall. It was these expansion bolts, whose bottom end spreads out as the bolt is tightened, to anchor it, which had pulled out. The saddle fell, and the end of the roof beam in it, and the ceiling section attached, came crashing down.
I say misused, because, as the bolt manufacturer told me, and as his product guidelines clearly stated, you cant use expansion bolts in a joint subject to movement or vibration, because the vibration slowly eats away at the concrete around the expanded anchor-end of the bolt as it moves with the vibration.
It turned out on investigation that the saddle joint at Seminole Mall had been cast in the wrong place when the wall was poured. To remove it the saddle was sliced free from the wall, leaving the prongs in place in the wall. Then, a new saddle was drilled out, and re-attached to the concrete in one of the few ways you can do that after cement has dried: with expansion bolts. The problem is that a U-saddle is designed for expansion joints, which move. Thats why you are supposed to cast it (it comes with welded on-prongs) into the wall when the concrete is poured. And in any event, the manufacturer had banned expansion bolts for that use.
As the manufacturer had foreseen, the expansion bolts moved back and forth in the holes that were drilled, and the U-saddle slowly worked away from the wall, until the concrete had been abraded away to the point where the bolts slid out. Then, of course, the ceiling fell.
When reports aired the day after the Big Dig ceiling collapse that bolts-plus-epoxy had been used to secure concrete panels weighting more than two tons, I was stunned. Those panels are subject to constant vibration, and an expansion bolt, let alone a straight bolt as had been used, would quickly work its way out, as they had in Florida many years ago --- unless epoxy technology had reached such heights that vibration was no longer an issue. If that were the case, then this would be an isolated problem of a few bolts whose epoxy had failed.
But that wasnt the case. The next day it was 20 bolts, then 60, now 1440, and suddenly the Ted Williams tunnel more bolts per unit of weight, a lighter panel, but the same design --- was found to have bolts at risk for failure. Now its ceiling has to be redone too.
No, the ceiling failure wasnt an anomaly. It was the result of a deliberate decision. But why?
Then, it got worse. A day or so later the Governor of Massachusetts was holding aloft an expansion bolt --- the very bolt design banned 34 years ago from work where vibration is an issue ---stating that it could be part of the cure.
I called a Boston reporter whom I respect, and warned him that the Governors putative cure could be just as dangerous as the problem, just pushed further into the future --- and stressing that I was not an engineer that he should start asking some pointed questions about vibration and its effects, whether these bolts would be used with epoxy, and especially whether the stress tests being done on the original bolt+epoxy fix proposals in 1999 had been static or dynamic, and whether the new tests would be dynamic as well All very technical, but pay attention, because it is literally a matter of life and death.
I also warned the reporter that the Ted Williams Tunnel that day still being cited as the safe part of the Big Dig was probably not, and that if inspections were ordered of its [similar, but more numerous] bolt pattern those bolts, too, would be found to be compromised. That day to his credit Governor Romney ordered that inspection, and found exactly what I had told the reporter would be found. Maybe we saved a life or two.
Sometimes it is depressing to cover the news, because you see things youd rather not see. The collapse problem I covered 34 years ago at the Seminole Mall in Florida is the same one they are discovering today, with different weights and materials, but the same kind of failure: you cant use bolts in concrete when dealing with heavy weights subject to vibration, unless the epoxy is perfect --- and even then, cross your fingers.
Time and the Attorney General, with the help of the best engineers we can hire, will tell. But in the meantime --- this is not a joke ---- stay the hell out of the Big Dig.
Mr. Attorney General, hire some qualified structural engineers, get out of the way, and let er rip.
[ In response to Nashville Commuter Rail moves toward opening day, DF July 10, 2006 - Ed. ]
The statement quoted that states, The project includes track rehab with 110-lb rail; is incorrect. The new rail being installed is 136RE.
The extent of the track upgrading does not really come out in the information you have obtained. This was the major effort and single biggest expense for this line. The coaches and locomotives were used and obtained as economically as possible.
This piece of railroad was in relatively poor condition. The Nashville and Eastern line is a remnant of the old Tennessee Central which went bankrupt in 1967 or 1968 and was divided among the Louisville and Nashville, Southern, and Illinois Central. This particular section is part of the L&N portion. According to the track charts available on the musiccitystar.org web site, this 32 miles of line had 14 different sections of rail in it, from about 6 miles of 80 lb/yd up to small bits of 115, 132 and 136. Even with the rehab under which something like 60% of the line is now in 136RE welded rail, there are still 8 different sections of rail, but all the less than 100 lb/yd stuff is gone. In addition to the major rail replacement, there has been a tie and surfacing job throughout, addition of a signal system, which this railroad never had before, installation of flashers and gates at a number of road crossings, and replacement of several timber bridges with concrete structures. Included in the railroad upgrades were two line relocations totally about 3.6 miles that eliminated several grade crossings, and improved some of the worst of the curves.
A local Engineering firm was used and in general it appears that everything that could reasonably be done to hold down costs was done.
Although I am now in Taipei,Taiwan I am originally a Tennessee native and graduated in Civil Engineering from Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, and have been in and through Nashville frequently, so I have been following this project ever since I heard that work was under way.
George H. Harris
Presently in Taiwan
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