Destination:Freedom Newsletter
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 3 No. 31, July 29, 2002
Copyright © 2002, NCI, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - James Furlong
Editor - Leo King

A weekly North American rail and transit update

924 at South Bay

NCI: Leo King

Whether drawn by electric engines, diesels, or the trains are high-speed Acela Expresses, it looks like Amtrak's trains will still keep rolling through the summer, from the yards, out on the mains in revenue service, and back into the yards to be serviced and then start the cycle again. Will Congress step up to the plate this year -- finally?
Senate committee okays Amtrak funds
By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

The Senate is forging ahead with action to put Amtrak on something more solid than a hand-to-mouth existence.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has given the green light to $1.2 billion for Amtrak in Fiscal Year 2003. This full committee action last Thursday followed a Wednesday approval of the funding by the panel’s Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, headed by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a strong supporter of passenger trains.

That $1.2 billion figure, requested by Amtrak, is about twice what the White House was willing to back, though the administration has said its own figure of $521 million is really a “place-holder,” indicating a flexibility largely tied to some movement toward “reforms” that it has proposed.

“Amtrak would face almost immediate bankruptcy if it were funded at the administration’s level,” said Murray.

When Amtrak first proposed the $1.2 billion amount, the railroad made it clear this was what it would take just to keep the service from falling apart – that the requested appropriation was just enough to keep Amtrak pretty much as it is. It has little if anything to do with plans for new routes or high-speed rail corridors.

This appropriation by the committee sets up a knock-down, drag-out battle on the Senate floor as well as in the House (where action is yet to advance to the appropriations stage), and ultimately in a House-Senate conference committee where almost certain differences will be worked out. If the past is any indication, everything will come together as the lawmakers are rushing toward Christmas adjournment, with marathon late-night Congressional sessions on a wide variety of issues.

House leaders, for their part, have indicated a desire for conditions attached to any aid for Amtrak, and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the ranking member of Murray’s panel, says her bill “goes too far in throwing money at Amtrak.”

On a separate track, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee approved an amendment to the Homeland Security Bill that provides $1.21 billion authorization for rail security and safety measures.

The measure provides $375 million for grants to beef up security at stations, bridges, tunnels, tracks, yards and facilities nationwide. It also authorizes $778 million to fund grants for life safety improvements to six New York Amtrak tunnels built in 1910, a life-threatening danger first spotlighted by D:F in March, 2000; the Baltimore and Potomac Amtrak tunnel built in 1872; and the Washington, D.C. Union Station tunnels built in 1904 for the Pennsylvania Railroad under the Supreme Court and House and Senate office buildings. Amtrak now owns them.

Another $55 million would be set aside to repair and return to service Amtrak passenger cars and locomotives.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who sponsored the amendment, said it would “be nice to believe that our rail system will never be the target for terrorists, but this is naïve. To date, the federal government has failed to take the steps necessary to make it secure.”

The Delaware freshman senator pointed out these tunnels that accommodate hundreds of thousands of passengers (both Amtrak and commuter lines) daily “present serious safety and security concerns from poor ventilation and lighting to inadequate escape routes. Amtrak’s security personnel are stretched (so) thin (as) to require better resources to prevent a terrorist attack.”

The moves follow hot on the heels of House and Senate action (See D:F last week) that ensured Amtrak’s survival until October by approving an emergency supplemental appropriations bill that includes $205 million to keep Amtrak operational.

All of this sets the table for what could be a fundamental debate on the overall future of passenger rail in the nation’s transportation mix, but given Congress’s historical proclivity for thinking short-term, the betting on the Hill is that the real discussion will center on how much band-aid is needed to keep Amtrak going without causing electoral backfire.

Carper (whose term does not expire until 2006) is telling his colleagues, “We must continue to push for a long term solution.”

Speaking of the long-term picture, Chairman Ernest “Fritz” Hollings (D-S.C.) of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, is still urging his colleagues to climb aboard and sign on to his bill, S. 1991, the National Defense Rail Act. The legislation lays out an agenda for beefing up passenger trains in this country – not only conventional trains as most of the country knows them, but also for future high-speed rail corridors. The measure passed the senator’s committee in April on a 20-3 vote.

Hollings has attached to his letter two articles, which, each in its own way, makes the case for more trains.

The New York Times, which only a month earlier had run a piece in its Sunday magazine trashing the very idea of passenger rail in this country for anything other than a land cruise (See our June 24 D:F opinion piece “New York Times gets it wrong again”), ran a July 15 editorial making the strong case for high-speed rail corridors.

The argument in the editorial for short and medium distance passenger trains was so compelling that even NARP was not bothered by its dismissal of long distance rail travel. NARP said if there were a high-speed corridor system throughout the nation as envisioned by the Times, the long-distance trains would naturally follow as demand would necessitate connecting services from off-corridor trunk lines, especially in rural America.

“Given the long-term growth in air travel,” opined the Gray Lady, “it is nonsensical to have travelers taking up runway space flying from New York to Washington – or for that matter, from Miami to Orlando, or Chicago to Detroit. In France and Germany, the mass transfer of business travelers onto efficient trains on heavily traveled routes of up to 300 miles is already taking place. Travelers at major European airports often find that their connecting ‘flight’ is on a train.”

In another part of the NYT editorial, they wrote, “The legislated fiction that Amtrak could attain self-sufficiency is especially damaging. No other form of transportation in this country is expected to break even, nor any other passenger railroad in the world.”

Hollings also attached a July 16 story from the Wall Street Journal reporting that “China is now betting that new rail lines will spur its own economic rise.”

“Spending $42 billion in five years to 2005,” the Journal reported, “the government plans to add 4,400 miles of track to the country’s sprawling 43,000 mile rail network.”

There are those who will note, of course, that China, after all, is a Communist country where government is the repository of every facet of life, and that the New York Times editorial board swings left; but in some rightward circles, a column by conservative icon William F. Buckley, Jr. has gained attention. Buckley argued that for reasons having to do with history – mainly uneven infrastructure funding – passenger rail is a legitimate exception to the normal conservative belief that the passengers should “pay their own way.” He supports Amtrak.

Speaking of “paying their own way,” Amtrak Reform Council Vice Chairman Paul Weyrich, a former member of the Amtrak board, noted in a commentary for his Free Congress Foundation that U.S. Airways is in the process of securing a $900 million government loan in return for getting wage concessions from its employees, as well as turning over 24 percent of the company to the government. The government said that was not enough.

“Now the precedent having been set that if an airline needs a bailout, the government will end up owning part of the airline,” Weyrich writes, “take a look at the financial condition of most major carriers. Even United and American, the two flagship carriers in the United States could go bankrupt. That would be preferable to the government being in the airline business.”

Some have claimed that air passengers pay their way through the Airport Trust Fund. Amtrak has no such equivalent. Yet, more than one transportation observer has noted the irony that even with its infrastructure paid for, major airlines are having a tough time making it.

Famed Wall Street investor Warren Buffet has said that it would have been a good thing for investors if someone had shot the Wright brothers before they took their first flight. He says if the airlines had been measured by the same yardstick that applies to Amtrak, their profit beginning with the Wright brothers’ flight and extending to 1991 would be a flat zero.

Weyrich, who last year described President Bush’s appointment of Norman Mineta as Transportation Secretary as “an inspired choice,” now apparently has soured on the Clinton-holdover.

“He (Mineta) doesn’t understand the free enterprise system, and I’m not sure at this stage of his career he can learn,” Weyrich opined.

On July 24, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved H.R. 5157, The Transit Flexibility Act. The bill makes technical changes in the transit law to allow more growing mid-sized communities a measure of leeway in gaining federal assistance for operating transit systems. It is believed this could spur the light rail movement in cities around the nation to even more success stories.

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Amtrak lays off 88 ‘res’ clerks
Amtrak laid off 64 people at its West Coast reservation center in Riverside, Calif., on July 22, citing increased use of its automated booking system and efforts to reorganize the railroad. The carrier laid off 88 reservation system employees nationwide, according to the Riverside Press-Enterprise.

The layoffs came three days after Amtrak president and CEO David L. Gunn warned employees that further cutbacks will likely be made if the railroad is to survive.

“We were warned internally that this could happen,” said Amtrak spokeswoman Sarah Swain.

Swain said the layoffs became necessary as more customers bought tickets online and through automated telephone and electronic kiosk booking systems. She also said summer bookings were slower than Amtrak anticipated.

Amtrak employs 900 people at its reservation center in southeast Riverside.

William C. Vantuono, editor of Railway Age, a railroad industry magazine, said the layoffs were a matter of efficiencies.

“Job cuts are on the horizon, through layoffs and attrition, to control costs,” he said. “There are areas of inefficiencies that can be corrected.”

Amtrak officials would not say how many layoffs the company expects.

News of the layoffs did not surprise Kevin Palmer, Riverside economic development manager. “The travel industry as a whole has taken a beating since September 11,” he said. “We will do all we can to preserve jobs.”

Ross Capon, executive director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, said “The headlines in June of a potential shutdown of Amtrak were not exactly helpful for Amtrak’s ridership. If you were planning a trip you might choose another way to go.”

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‘Help wanted’ department...
Amtrak is looking for a vice-president for planning and business development. The job posting was effective on July 19. Gil Mallery is holding the position on an “acting” basis.

The job is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and the salary range is described only as “Executive committee.”

The railroad is looking at candidates who are outside the railroad as well as people who already work for the carrier.

Some of the duties include “developing strategies to improve Amtrak’s financial performance through performance measurement and analysis of corridor-type and long distance routes, freight railroad contract policy and administration, capital planning and reporting, effective costing and modeling methodologies, expansion of state partnerships to ensure equity in terms of capital and operating support, and improved commuter relationships.”

The job also “will ensure consistency in planning and business development initiatives throughout the corporation through development and administration of corporate as appropriate, new business opportunities to improve revenues.”

The veep is expected “to develop and implement performance measurement models to accurately assess the financial performance of existing service and capital projects to improve financial performance.” He or she will also “advise senior management of findings and analysis and makes recommendations for bottom line improvement.”

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NTSB wants truckers to call ahead
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said last week that the probable cause of a collision in Intercession City, Florida on November 17, 2000, involving Amtrak train 97(the Silver Meteor) and a tractor-combination vehicle was the failure of the Kissimmee Utility Authority, its construction contractors and subcontractors, and the motor carrier to provide for the safe passage of the load over the grade crossing.

The NTSB also concluded that had the Florida DOT included language on the permit explaining that low clearance, slow-moving vehicles are required to notify the railroad before crossing, the accident might have been avoided. The safety board investigated a similar accident at the same location on November 30, 1993.

“Grade crossing accidents like this one, and one we investigated at the same site in 1993, can be eliminated,” said Chairman Marion C. Blakey.

“Notification to the railroads of scheduled crossings of low-clearance, slow-moving and wide loads will help provide safe passage of these vehicles,” she added.

The three-member board made several safety recommendations, including advising the Federal Highway Administration and the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws & Ordinances to revise the Uniform Vehicle Code, Section 11-703, to define which vehicles, under what circumstances, need to notify the railroad before crossing a highway-rail grade crossing. They also advised the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to amend the Code of Federal Regulations 383.51(e), “Disqualification for railroad-highway grade crossing violation,” to include a violation for drivers of low-clearance or slow-moving vehicles who fail to notify and make arrangements with the railroad for safe passage, when required.

The board also urged the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials to encourage the states, once the Uniform Vehicle Code has been revised, to adopt the revised Uniform Vehicle Code, Section 11-703, and also to include vehicle ground clearance as part of the permitting process. They also urged truckers to be “permitted” for their slow-moving vehicles and those permitted vehicles that do not meet the ground-clearance provisions of the Uniform Vehicle Code to conduct route surveys.

The NTSB also advised all class I regional railroads to provide easily accessed contact and notification information for use by vehicle operators requiring railroad assistance to ensure safety at grade crossings.

The body specifically advised the Kissimmee Utility Authority to require them to notify CSX Transportation, Inc., in advance of accepting delivery by low-clearance or slow-moving vehicles.

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Virus strikes VIA Rail passengers
Health Canada officials are investigating after a wave of illness broke out among people aboard a Vancouver-bound VIA Rail train last week.

Although VIA Rail officials could not confirm the number of people affected, an American passenger hit by the illness said Sunday that dozens developed nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, according to the Vancouver Sun.

“It’s the sickest I’ve ever been,” said Antoinette Renshaw, 55, who boarded the VIA Rail Canadian train in Toronto on July 16.

She said in an interview Sunday that several hours after departure, rumors began to circulate that crewmembers were falling ill.

When the train reached Winnipeg on the afternoon of July 17, Renshaw said a crew of people wearing black smocks boarded the train.

“We called them the men in black,” she said. The workers walked around the train, spraying and wiping down surfaces.

“They said they were spraying places that people touched,” Renshaw said. Later that evening, she noticed a letter posted near her sleeper car.

“It said that a communicable disease was aboard the train, and it was also affecting airlines, buses, and other places where people congregate,” she said.

Renshaw began to worry. She spoke to other passengers, many of whom were beginning to feel gastrointestinal upsets, to see if they knew what was happening, but most hadn’t even seen the letter. Speaking to VIA employees, she said, was just as frustrating.

“I asked them for a copy of the letter, and they wouldn’t give me one,” she said. “They weren’t very helpful.”

About 24 hours after Renshaw got off the train in Jasper, where she was meeting a friend, she began to feel ill. Renshaw said she vomited for 12 hours, and was in intense pain.

Health Canada confirmed Sunday that it is looking at the rash of illness aboard the train.

“An investigation by occupational and environmental health officials is under way,” said Health Canada spokesman Blair Parkhurst.

VIA Rail spokeswoman Kelly Thomas said that as a result of the outbreak, two passenger cars were taken off the train, and cleaned thoroughly.

The symptoms experienced by passengers and crew aboard the train, she said, are consistent with those of Norwalk-like viruses. The symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, muscle aches, headaches, fatigue and fevers.

The viruses are spread when food that is not cooked is handled by infected people who did not wash their hands after using the washroom, by consuming water contaminated by sewage or by consuming ice made from contaminated water, and from shellfish harvested from sewage-contaminated water.

Asked why passengers weren’t given more information, she said she had been told the crew was briefed and should have been able to answer questions.

Because symptoms may not occur for up to 24 to 48 hours after exposure, VIA is asking anyone who experienced symptoms after boarding the train to phone 1-800-561-8630.

Meanwhile, Renshaw, who had planned to continue her train journey to Vancouver, then take the train home to where she lives near Tacoma, Wash., changed her mind. She flew home from Alberta instead.

“My rail pass home was paid for, but I’d rather pay a last-minute one-way fare home to avoid taking the train,” she said. “I’m not stepping on that damn train again.”

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Commuter lines...

House committee okays transit plan

The U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Wednesday approved several pieces of legislation, including a bill that will extend flexibility in the use of federal transit funds to some smaller urbanized areas across the nation.

The committee approved H.R. 5157, The Transit Operating Flexibility Act; introduced by Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska). It is now headed for the House floor.

All measures at the markup session passed with no amendments by voice votes.

Young said, “The Transit Operating Flexibility Act is a common sense bill that will allow communities that grew to more then 200,000 to keep their public transportation systems running while they transition to their new urbanized status under the 2000 Census.”

Fifty-two communities nationwide were impacted by the 2000 Census urbanized area designation process, crossing from below populations of 200,000 to above 200,000. Under federal transit law, Young explained, areas of more than 200,000 cannot use federal formula grant funds to pay for transit operating expenses.

For communities that were not anticipating such a change in designation, the loss of operating flexibility could be significant enough to cause some transit agencies to shut their doors, eliminating public transportation services in those areas.

“This bill will give these communities an opportunity to adjust to their new urbanized status – without interrupting transportation services for area residents – and plan how to handle their transit services in future years without utilizing federal funds for operations.”

H.R. 5157 amends section 5307 of Title 49 USC to allow transit systems in urbanized areas that grew to more than 200,000 in the 2000 census to retain their operating flexibility in the use of their federal transit formula grants, to the same extent they had it in the current fiscal year, for fiscal 2003 only. The measure does not change the amount of transit formula funding these communities (or any other community) will receive under TEA 21 in fiscal 2003, he said.

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After the ‘Big Dig,’ then what?
Financially ailing Amtrak plans to cut the jobs of 12 percent of the workers who run the MBTA’s commuter rail system, sparking fears that service for the region’s 70,000 daily passengers could deteriorate, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority officials said last week.

The proposed cutback of 150 jobs, to take place before summer’s end, will be accompanied by an immediate freeze in overtime for the 1,200 Amtrak employees who operate and maintain the commuter rail network in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Other observers note that Amtrak’s MBTA service is provided on a cost-plus basis, so that any reductions in staffing would result in lower costs to the T. The debate will be about whether the cuts to be made will impact the level of service. Amtrak officials assert it will not.

Meanwhile, the 11-year-old “Big Dig” project will be ending in 2005, according to the most recent estimates, taking with it 5,000 jobs and what might be the Hub’s biggest source of federal funds.

With the Central Artery’s expected completion just 30 months away, officials in political, planning, transportation, and construction circles already are pondering the next major transportation project, reports the Boston Globe, but because the Big Dig will have eaten $8.5 billion in federal money when it is finished, some people fret that Boston may never again win the kind of aid it takes to address the city’s remaining transportation problems.

“It’s a political burden,” said U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), who earlier this month won an appointment to the House Transportation Committee.

“Any time I open my mouth on a transportation issue, someone says, ‘Well, you got the Big Dig,’” he said.

Fighting for funding on the MBTA’s project agenda is the North-South Rail Link, connecting North and South stations. The T estimates it would cost between $2.6 to $3.8 billion, a number floated by the T when the most recent plan first generated exploratory engineering several years ago. Higher numbers have been floated as the result of a scheme, exposed two years ago by The Wall Street Journal, to make the Rail Link look more expensive than other, competing projects.

NCI’s CEO, James RePass, said that The Boston Globe erroneously reported a $7 billion price tag based on “invented numbers.”

The project would close a one-mile gap between the two all-important transportation hubs, creating not only through rail travel to New Hampshire and Maine and, ultimately, to Vermont and Canada, but also permitting for the first time through service between Boston’s outlying suburbs.

Nevertheless, the Globe reports adamant T opposition to the Rail Link.

“Of all the projects we talk about, that one is not going to be built by this authority,” said Jonathan Davis, chief financial officer of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, as quoted in the Globe.

“It’s just not in our financing parameters. If there were others that would like to build it, we encourage them to do so.”

RePass, in an interview yesterday, said, “The $7 billion figure cited comes from a discredited attempt to inflate the cost of the rail link using indexed future dollars for that project while comparing it with constant dollars for competing projects favored by some.”

RePass, who was obviously angered by inaccurate reporting, said, “The Wall Street Journal exposed the number as bogus in a report more than two years ago. The report caused Kevin Sullivan, then the transportation secretary, to order the number off the table and institute a reevaluation of the estimate using consistent and fair assumptions. That effort, managed by the North-South Rail Link citizens' advisory committee, is nearing completion.”

RePass said the original “working estimate for the project was $2.6 to $3.8 billion. If you inflate both the project and, for example, the proposed Silver Line connector cited in the [Boston Globe] article, you get almost identical costs, and, if that is the case, the rail link comes in far cheaper, since nearly half the capital costs can be recaptured through more efficient MBTA commuter rail operations, which would enable suburb-to-suburb commuting through a central Boston station, effectively doubling the employee pool for a given industry location and helping to make Massachusetts more business-friendly.”

Looking beyond just the rail line itself, he said, “Also, income from rents would derive from stations and concessions that could, if properly designed, help create an ‘underground Boston,’ similar to Montreal’s. That would make Boston a winter tourist and convention destination – with major revenue implications for the region's tourist and convention industry and a huge boost to the languishing convention center.”

Two large transportation projects last week received a boost from federal and state lawmakers – the $1 billion Silver Line downtown tunnel and the $100 million Massachusetts Turnpike “slingshot” ramps. This suggests that there’s no lack of ideas for expensive transportation projects to rid Boston of its traffic jams and transit shortages.

Hundreds of road, bridge, and transit projects region-wide have collected dust as state money found its way into the Big Dig’s coffers. While none of the jobs being contemplated rise to the scope and cost of the Central Artery project, which began in 1991 and will cost at least $14.6 billion, they total nearly $12 billion, according to a Globe analysis.

The vast majority of that money, about $11 billion, would go toward the MBTA’s wish list, which, if fulfilled, would alter the city’s map almost as much as the Big Dig itself.

Of all the T’s sought-after projects, the bus rapid transit tunnel that would connect the two legs of the Silver Line stands out as a special priority for business leaders and agency officials.

Estimated to cost just under $1 billion, the third phase of the Silver Line would entail constructing a one-mile tunnel from Tremont Street in Chinatown to South Station, thus providing a one-seat ride from Roxbury’s Dudley Square all the way to Logan Airport. Construction would begin in 2005, when the Big Dig ends, and wrap up in 2010.

Jubilant MBTA officials received word from the Federal Transit Administration that the “T” has the green light to design up to 30 percent of the project. Federal funds eventually could provide up to 60 percent of the money needed to build the tunnel.

Davis said the Silver Line tunnel has become the MBTA’s “number one priority.”

”It’s a huge burst of momentum for the project,” said Michael Mulhern, the MBTA’s general manager.

“We’ve had a full-court press on to get this recommendation, and now we’ve got it. It means we’ve placed this project on an irreversible path.”

Local business leaders have been extremely enthusiastic, mostly because the Silver Line also has stops in the yet-to-be-developed South Boston Waterfront. With good rapid transit connections from Boston’s neighborhoods, said Rick Dimino of the Artery Business Committee, the South Boston area would flourish.

The T also hopes to sink $670 million into a new commuter rail line from Boston to New Bedford and Fall River. Although significant questions remain about the damage the train line would do to the fragile Hockomock Swamp, MBTA planners hope to begin service on the lines by 2007.

NCI’s webmaster, Dennis Kirkpatrick, who lives in Boston, offered some insight on the Silver Line plan. He said, “The route has changed a few times over the years. There is an abandoned tunnel that runs from Boylston station on the Green line down Tremont Street, across Stuart and Kneeland, and dead-ending about two blocks short of the Mass Pike trench. The open but boarded-up end could be seen up through the early 1970s, but it was later covered over as a part of the redevelopment project in that area. Buses still had a stop there as a terminus up through the ’70s when I was in Don Bosco High School there, though the trolleys were long gone.”

He said that was the trolley service from Boylston Station to Dudley via a surface route. The service ended sometime in the late 1950s.

“I have a vague memory of seeing the trolleys when I was a youngster. At Boylston they joined the main line and could continue to Park Street and beyond. In 1973 or 1974, it was partially boarded and chained off at the time.

Anecdotally, he told us, “It was a bit of a toilet at one point. There were no rest facilities for the toll booth operators in those days and when their relief would stop by, they would simply go down the track and around a bend to let loose.”

Kirkpatrick observed, “The Silver Line could use this tunnel with a few modifications from Boylston Station down Tremont, then deal with new construction to South Station but at this point that may be quite an undertaking (no pun intended), as the construction of the Orange line to its present underground location, coupled with Big Dig construction, has already relocated numerous water, gas, sewer, and electrical lines, especially in the South Station area.

“I guess the plan is to connect with an old trolley tunnel at South Station. That trolley tunnel is situated just below the street and literally above the Red Line. That tunnel parallels the Red Line for a portion back to Broadway Station, and there you will find a capped portal near Broadway Bridge. The tunnel continues just above the Red Line all the way back to Andrew Station (at Andrew Square) in South Boston near Amtrak’s Southampton Street Yard.”

He pointed out the Silver Line has also been “highly controversial as the Roxbury community has always wanted a rail replacement service.

“After taking out the trolleys as a surface duplication of the then-elevated Orange Line (to some extent) the T then tore down the ‘el’ and moved it to the rail right-of-way, about one mile away. With the withdrawal of all rail service to sections of the city that had previously enjoyed it, the community press has been to return some kind of light rail vehicle service to the region.”

Kirkpatrick opined, “As it stands, the Silver Line is little more than a glorified bus service. Originally it was supposed to have a dedicated reservation on which to run, but that only exists in certain areas of the route; and, by replacing the No. 49 bus for the most part, the number of stops has changed. Where the No. 49 used to get people every couple of blocks, the Silver Line will have dedicated stops only at certain intersections.”

The webmaster, who spends a great deal of time on the web as well as keeping his wife, Mary, happy and rearing two kids, said, “According to reports on Usenet in ne.transportation, the bus reservation is already having its share of problems of autos and delivery vehicles accessing it, and people are standing in customary places waiting for their bus that won’t stop there anymore. Indeed, the opening of the bus line this past week has continued to be met with protesters.

“Now mind you,” he added, “The Silver Line spoken of here is a bus that runs from Dudley to Downtown Crossing. I believe that at some point its route will be modified to make a tunnel entrance to reach subway connections. At present, it’s pretty disjointed.”

Regarding the North-South connector between North Station and South Station, he noted, “Early plans for the Big Dig included an additional two-track tunnel that would have made the connection, but it was taken out of the plan prior to construction.”

Some people have suggested that the connection can still be made by going under the Big Dig with new high-tech tunneling machinery but that would be about four or five stories down.

“I shudder to consider how and where that would make a connection to the South Bay yards. One can only imagine the ratio of the down-up ramp portions. In fact, they might have to bypass South Station completely unless they were willing to consider a truly subterranean station link.”

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Glitches sideline subway cars
Some new subway cars are experiencing technical glitches nearly twice as often as they are supposed to, according to documents released last week.

From January through June, Bombardier-built subway cars had equipment problems after traveling an average 58,656 miles – far below the contractual goal of at least 100,000 miles, according to a report by a Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) consultant.

The report comes at a bad time for Canadian-based Bombardier, one of three companies vying for a lucrative contract to build as many as 1,700 more subway cars, reports the New York Daily News.

Bombardier’s track record will be one of several factors considered by officials determining who gets the multibillion-dollar payday, Transit Authority President Lawrence Reuter said.

“We think it [Bombardier] has been slow in getting the fixes done,” he said.

“It’s a concern they’re going to have to overcome with us... I wouldn’t say it’s a significant disadvantage, but it’s a concern.”

One main mechanical problem involves the cars’ propulsion systems, said Joe Hofmann, the TA’s senior vice president in charge of subways.

Because of software and hardware glitches, some cars are not getting power from the third rail, slowing trains and causing delays, he said.

Some car doors also have not been closing or opening, requiring conductors to walk through trains and manually lock the doors, Hofmann said.

Both problems have pulled trains out of service for temporary repairs, he said.

“These are not safety issues, but nuisance problems,” Hofmann said.

The problems were noted in separate reports by the Carter and Burgess engineering firm and by MTA staff that were released at an authority meeting last week.

The TA’s initial order of 680 cars from Bombardier – a deal struck in 1997 – called for all to be delivered by May 2001, but the last delivery is expected to be made next month. The MTA has about 590 Bombardier cars.

In contrast, hundreds of new cars built by Japan-based Kawasaki are traveling more than 100,000 miles without technical glitches, according to the reports.

Kawasaki and Alstom, of France, also are seeking the contract to build 1,700 cars.

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Freight lines...

45-mile CSX branch to become trail

CSX Transportation, Inc. and Southeast Local Development Corp. (SLDC) have agreed to make CSX’s 43.47-mile line of railroad between Etowah and Copperhill, in Polk and McMinn Counties, Tenn., a recreational trail and “rail banking.”

CSX had been seeking to abandon the line. It had sought Surface Transportation Board permission in 2001 to abandon the line known as the Etowah Old Line Subdivision.

At CSX’s request, the STB held the case to give CSX time to address environmental issues and to explore the potential for a sale to preserve the line for continued rail service or to use of the right-of-way as a recreational trail.

The STB okay CSX’s abandonment plan last April but the SLDC filed what is known as an “offer of financial assistance” under which a private party may seek to purchase, for continued rail service, a line approved for abandonment.

“The parties negotiated in good faith, but were unable to finalize an agreement about the terms and conditions for the purchase,” said STB chair Linda Morgan.

To accommodate their efforts to find alternative uses for the line, the STB extended the deadline several times for filing requests to establish terms and conditions, but, ultimately, on July 11, SLDC informed the board that the parties reached an agreement for SLDC to acquire the line outside the financial assistance process and to use it instead as a trail under the rails-to-trails process.

The STB issued its decision on July 19.

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KCS enjoys sharp gains for quarter
Kansas City Southern reported net income of $14.5 million (23 cents per diluted share) for the second quarter of 2002, more than triple the $4.7 million (8 cents per diluted share) reported for the second quarter of 2001.

The railroad reported, “This $9.8 million quarter-to-quarter increase resulted from a $6.9 million decline in consolidated operating expenses, a $4.0 million decrease in interest expense, a $3.3 million increase in other income and an $8.1 million increase in equity in earnings from Grupo Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana.

These factors, which led to an increase in net income, were reduced by a $5.3 million decline in consolidated revenue, a $1.6 million decrease in equity in earnings (losses) from other unconsolidated affiliates and a $2.9 million increase in the income tax provision. Net income for the second quarter of 2002 also includes extraordinary debt retirement costs of $2.7 million (after-tax) associated with the early retirement of term debt in June 2002.

For the six months ended June 30, net income was $26.2 million (42 cents per diluted share) compared to $10.6 million (17 cents per diluted share) for the six months ended June 30, 2001. This $15.6 million period-to-period increase was due to an $8.9 million increase in domestic operating income, a $1.8 million increase in equity in earnings from Grupo TFM, a $7.9 million decline in interest expense, a $6.7 million increase in other income and a $4.4 million gain realized on the sale of Mexrail, Inc. to KCS’s affiliate in Mexico, TFM, S.A. de C.V.

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CSX profits rise 24 percent
A strong performance from its railroad operations helped CSX Corp. post a 24 percent rise in profits in the second quarter.

The Richmond-based rail and shipping company said Thursday its second-quarter earnings reached $135 million, or 63 cents a share, compared with $108 million, or 51 cents a share, in the same quarter last year. Revenue for the quarter totaled $2.07 billion compared with $2.06 billion in the second quarter of 2001.

John W. Snow, chairman and CEO, said the company saw “some signs of economic recovery influencing demand for rail transportation.”

The company was also able to attract new business away from trucking companies and was successful in raising prices in some markets, Snow said.

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Stocks briefs
Norfolk Southern Corp. reported on July 23 an increase in the quarterly dividend to 7 cents per share on its common stock, payable on September 10 to stockholders of record on August 2...

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. directors voted on July 18 to pay a regular quarterly dividend of 12 cents per share on outstanding common stock on October 1 to shareholders of record September 10. Common shares outstanding on June 30, 2002, totaled approximately 381 million...

Canadian National’s directors declared a third-quarter 2002 dividend on July 22 on the company’s outstanding common shares. A quarterly dividend of 21.5 cents (Cdn $0.215) will be paid on September 27 to shareholders of record at the close of business on September 6.

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Intermodal continues to surge
Intermodal traffic on U.S. railroads registered its 15th consecutive weekly gain from year ago levels during the week ended July 20, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported Thursday.

Intermodal volume totaled 190,644 trailers and containers during the week, up 10.6 percent from the comparable 2001 week. Container volume was up 14.5 percent, while trailer loadings increased 0.5 percent.

Carload freight, which doesn’t include the intermodal data, totaled 326,121 cars, 0.2 percent higher than last year, with loadings up 1.2 percent in the West and down 1.0 percent in the East. Total volume was estimated at 28.2 billion ton-miles, up 0.4 percent.

Thirteen of 19 commodity groups registered increases from last year, with loadings of metallic ores up 35.8 percent; farm products other than grain gaining 27.3 percent; and nonmetallic miners increasing by 24.9 percent. On the down side, loadings of primary forest products were down 9.3 percent while coke was off 7.2 percent and coal volume declined by 6.4 percent.

The AAR also reported the following cumulative totals for U.S. railroads during the first 29 weeks of 2002: 9,397,542 carloads, down 1.8 percent from last year; intermodal volume of 5,081,689 trailers and containers, up 4.5 percent; and total volume of an estimated 805.1 billion ton-miles, down 1.0 percent from last year’s first 29 weeks.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 90 percent of U.S. carload freight and 97 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 96 percent and 99 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.

Intermodal traffic was up but carload volume was down on Canadian railroads during the week ended July 20. Intermodal traffic totaled 39,541 trailers and containers, up 15.0 percent from last year. Carload volume of 56,467 cars was down 3.3 percent from the comparable week last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 29 weeks of 2002 on the Canadian railroads totaled 1,731,866 carloads, down 3.3 percent from last year, 1,079,323 trailers and containers, up 7.8 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 29 weeks of 2002 on 16 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 11,129,408 carloads, down 2.1 percent from last year and 6,161,012 trailers and containers, up 5.8 percent from last year.

The AAR also reported that carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended July 20 totaled 9,916 cars originated or received from connecting lines, up 2.4 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 3,930 trailers or containers, up 15.7 percent from the 29th week of 2001. For the first 29 weeks of 2002, TFM reported cumulative volume of 301,429 cars, down 1.8 percent from last year, and 105,751 trailers or containers, up 6.7 percent.

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Off the main line...

This Budd’s for you

Remember the Budd Company? You know, the firm that made all those memorable stainless steel passenger cars a generation or two ago?

They’re still in business, but leaving Philadelphia... and these days, they make car parts.

Now a major automotive supplier, the firm last week disclosed plans to shut down its manufacturing operations at its Philadelphia plant, where some 600 workers make metal stampings and assemblies such as roofs, doors, fenders, tailgates, liftgates and body side panels for cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles.

They are moving to Detroit, where another plant is already located.

Edward G. Budd founded his company in 1912 with one press, located in a rented building at Tioga and Aramingo streets in Philadelphia. In 1915, the company moved to the Hunting Park location in North Philadelphia.

Over the years, the company diversified into other forms of transportation. It produced the first stainless-steel passenger railroad cars, as well as the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad’s Pioneer Zephyr of 1934, the world's first diesel-powered stainless steel streamliner train.

During World War II, the company focused on military production, but it retooled immediately after the war to help meet the country's hunger for new cars. At that time, it also converted a plant at One Red Lion Road in Northeast Philadelphia and Lower Moreland Township to railcar production. However, Budd exited the railcar business in the 1980s and the Red Lion site is now a lush, 18-hole public golf course.

In meetings with plant management and the United Auto Workers (UAW), company officials outlined the process for the plant's closure. A schedule is being developed, but no specific timetable was released.

Some equipment such as tooling and presses will be dismantled and moved to Budd's Detroit Plant. The Philadelphia Plant, at 2450 Hunting Park Avenue, houses 10 press lines and eight assembly lines.

Budd, like most other companies in the auto industry, is facing increasing pressure from customers to cut prices. The company, which has excess manufacturing capacity at its Detroit and Philadelphia plants, will consolidate the work in Detroit, which is closer to most of Budd’s customers. About 10 percent of the products manufactured at Philadelphia are delivered to customers in the Northeast, but most of the plant's stampings and assemblies are shipped to the Midwest. A spokesman said the ultimate consolidation of work in Detroit will greatly reduce Budd’s shipping and transportation costs.

“We deeply regret the need to close the Philadelphia plant,” said Plant Manager Eric Reiff.

“Budd was founded in Philadelphia in 1912 and has had a plant at the Hunting Park site since 1915. Over the years, we have had an excellent relationship with the city and with many generations of Philadelphians. Unfortunately, competitive pressures within the industry make it necessary to close the plant.”

Closing the Philadelphia Plant is part of Budd's overall cost-saving restructuring. Divisional and corporate offices also are being consolidated at the company's Troy, Michigan, location.

Many employees being displaced in Philadelphia are long-time employees who are eligible for retirement. The company said it intends to work closely with UAW Locals 813 and 757 to address the needs of all employees and make the transition as smooth as possible.

"We appreciate the loyalty of the Philadelphia workforce and their dedication to building quality products," Reiff said.

“We realize this is a disappointment to them and to the community as a whole.” He said Budd has “always been an active corporate citizen of the region and will continue to honor its civic commitments.”

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Lines across the pond...

Railtrack to pay Virgin

Railtrack, the collapsed rail infrastructure company, will pay train operator Virgin $157 million (100 million pounds) in compensation for failing to upgrade one of Britain’s busiest lines, officials said one week ago today.

Virgin Trains had threatened Railtrack, reported The AP, which had responsibility for tracks, signaling and stations, with court action, saying it had been unable to use its new high-speed trains because of the state of the line.

Taxpayers will fund the payout because Railtrack is currently in receivership. The Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) brokered the payment. It is a government-appointed body responsible for developing the rail network for passengers and freight.

The authority said last Monday that Virgin had business difficulties because of the state of the line.

Virgin is “faced with some short-term difficulties in their businesses, largely because they can’t see what the future looks like, when the upgrade will come, when they can actually exploit the new trains,” authority spokesman Nick Newton told the British Broadcasting Corp. “Therefore we have stepped in to stabilize the businesses whilst these major issues are resolved.”

The SRA will provide funds of between $360 million (£230 million) and $730 million (£465 million) to finance Virgin’s franchises on the west coast line and a major cross-country route.

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Il Pendolino can’t tilt... yet
Five year in development, Sir Richard Branson’s Pendolino leaning trains are finally taking passengers. But the journey is still far from smooth. Pendolino - in Italian roughly translated as “she that leans” – is sadly and quite literally “she that won’t be leaning any time soon” here in the United Kingdom, thanks to Railtrack, reports BBC News Online.

The inability of the now-defunct rail infrastructure company to upgrade the track means that Sir Richard Branson’s shiny 140 mph toy would not break any speed records on its first public run on July 24.

Ever the optimist, Branson said he was “reasonably confident” that Railtrack’s successor, Network Rail, would have his fleet of Pendolinos leaning eventually.

“The problems with Railtrack we could have done without, but we’re looking forward, not back.”

It was not just the track that conspired against the launch last Tuesday. The Pendolino would no doubt look more breathtaking under an azure Italian sky than pulling into Birmingham International in drizzle.

In a year, people will say the best thing Virgin did was sort out Britain’s trains, Branson said. Not even the waiting railfans seemed too impressed by the arrival of the million-dollar electric locomotive.

The British Pendolino, the first of 53 ordered by Virgin, is part of the embattled company’s bid to put things back on the right track.

Branson said, “I don’t regret getting into trains.” His other business ventures have generally won public approval, but has seen his brand somewhat tarnished by the poor performance of Virgin trains.

“I don’t regret getting into trains, although some mornings I wake up thinking ‘what the hell have I done,’” he said.

His entry into the sector was motivated by the belief that “We could transform the absolute mess the railways were in after 30 years of under-investment.”

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Germany opens high-speed line
July 25, 2002

Germany’s national railroad inaugurated a new high-speed connection between Cologne and Frankfurt last Thursday, which cuts about an hour off the existing journey and will whiz travelers between the two cities in 76 minutes.

Deutsche Bahn chief Hartmut Mehdorn described the six-year construction of the 110-mile line, which includes 30 tunnels and 18 bridges, as the German railroad’s largest building project since World War II. The project cost some 5.5 billion euros ($5.47 billion). The line opened to the public on July 25.

The line will be used by the most advanced model of Germany’s InterCityExpress (ICE) train, which travels up to 186 miles per hour.

The older route, which runs along the Rhine River between the cities of Koblenz and Mainz, remains open.

A one-way ticket in second class between Frankfurt and Cologne will cost 53.60 euros ($53.34), including an obligatory reservation fee.

Trains will initially run every two hours in each direction, and Deutsche Bahn will begin running an hourly train in September.

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Dear Cousin George...

I know the folks in the Office of Manpower and Budget will want you to make some kind of ideological stand in regard to the Senate Transportation Subcommittee’s passage of $1.2 billion for Fiscal Year 2003 for Amtrak, rather than the shutdown number of $521 million that OMB imposed upon the DOT budget request. They will use phrases like “subsidy hog” and “throwing money at Amtrak.”

If I may presume, please decline their politically tin-eared suggestion to commit political hara-kiri. Your dad was and is a great guy, but you don’t need to follow in your father’s footsteps on this issue, unless you want to follow in his footsteps at election time as well.

Amtrak’s $1.2 billion budget request, as everyone seems to have forgotten, is about what was authorized for Amtrak each year (five years ago, through 2003), which it has never received. It’s time to stop blaming Amtrak for its poverty, and start correcting 30 years of underfunding, first with $1.2 billion for this coming fiscal year, and then with a comprehensive funding source for infrastructure.

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We get letters...
Dear Editor:

The question is certainly valid about whether Amtrak Express is “doomed,” but the numbers are a little off [D:F, July 22, “Is Amtrak express service doomed?”]

While it’s correct that there have been as many as 100 loads in Los Angeles awaiting shipment, that’s actually 100 trailer loads, not Express-car loads. Amtrak can handle three trailers in each Express car, so the carrier actually has been as high as 34 carloads behind.

Also, we moved nine Express cars in Union Pacific freight service from Oakland to Los Angeles. The approximate cost was $7,700.00, not $85,000; it wasn’t even 10 percent of what was reported. The amount comes from the standard UP freight charge of close to $1.30 per mile for approximately 475 miles, plus a switching charge at Oakland of $250 per car. The reason Amtrak was forced to use a UP freight was the repeated failure of Amtrak switch crews in Oakland, over about a week-long period, to add empty Express cars to train No. 6 [the eastward California Zephyr], which departed Oakland almost daily with less than its allowed 19-car limit.

We are getting ready to make another UP freight move, with probably about 15 cars, from Oakland to Los Angeles. This time, the issue is compounded by the contractor, who hasn’t worked weekends up until this point, and Oakland received a barrage of cars at the end of last week.

Finally, there is no 20-car limit on train lengths anywhere in the system, and Mr. Gunn has imposed no limits. We have various limits in various locations, but none have changed since Mr. Gunn became president.

We operate 36 cars on trains 3 and 4 [the Southwest Chief ] between Kansas City and Albuquerque on a regular basis, and we operate into and out of Los Angeles and Chicago with 31 or 32 cars regularly. Trains 40/41, 43/44 and 48/49 operate with up to 30 cars regularly.

On another matter, my understanding of the headrest covers is Amtrak saved $400,000 per year by stopping the purchase of headrest covers.

Name withheld by request.

Dear Editor:

I read all your papers about Amtrak (great job), but nowhere do I read that Amtrak employees are the lowest paid in the nation, and some of us have been without a contract for more than three years.

I work on the Northeast Corridor, but I feel it is a double-edged sword. We feel that the corridor can never go away , unlike some long distance routes, but on the other hand, that may be the first thing sold off to a private contractor , and thus our jobs eliminated.

What do you hear behind closed doors as to what is the future of the NEC? I work in Maintenance on the Metropolitan Division.

Keith Kovaleski
Monroe, New Jersey

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September 22-25

American Public Transportation Assn. annual meeting and expo
Las Vegas, Nev.
Las Vegas Hilton Hotel and Las Vegas Convention Center


September 22-25

AREMA conference and exposition

Washington Hilton & Towers, Washington, D.C.
Contact Shane Boyle, AREMA Director of Marketing,;
(301) 459-3200 ext. 705; Fax. (301) 459-8077;

September 22-25

RSA Global Railway Tech 2002
Convention and Coordinated Mechanical Associations Technical Conference

Hilton Chicago & Towers Hotel, Chicago
Contact Howard Tonn, (630) 393-0106 or fax (630) 393-0108.

October 6-22

European railway technology and infrastructure study trip

Co-sponsored by AREMA. This study trip leads up to EurailSpeed 2002 in Madrid. Trip itinerary will include visits to the UK, Germany, Switzerland, France, and Spain. For information, visit or contact Desiree Knight at (301) 459-3200, ext. 703.

October 15,16

Ninth Annual Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads Conference

Washington Marriott Hotel
Washington, D.C.

Passenger train operations on freight railroads, including high-speed, offer excellent opportunities to develop new commuter and intercity rail services, but while they offer attractive sources of revenue to freight carriers, they also pose perplexing problems-compensation, liability, grade crossing safety, signaling and train control requirements, right-of-way capacity constraints, and maintaining freight service integrity. The conference will offer a thorough, candid airing of these topics, and an in-depth look at some of the important projects being undertaken in this area. This two-day event will feature recognized experts from both the passenger and freight sides of railroading.

Register On-Line at

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The way we were...

The Golden Spike

Association of American Railroads

One of the milestones of American railroading is often forgotten – driving the golden spike and the wood-burning 4-4-0 locomotives nose-to-nose when the Union Pacific and Central Pacific joined up at Promontory point, Utah to creating the first transcontinental rail link. The UP built westward from Omaha, Nebraska and the other, the CP (later the Southern Pacific), built eastward from Sacramento, California. President Lincoln had given the go-ahead during the Civil War to help promote national unity. The lines were joined on May 10, 1869, completing the first rail connection across the continent. What the picture does not show is the sweat of immigrant labor that carried all the ties, the rails, and drove the spikes, nor the engineers who laid out the track plan, nor the investors whose cash went into the new technology.

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 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" .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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