Mini-summit in September
Amtrak: 'fish or cut bait' time?
Amtrak is heading for a "fork in the road" as to its destiny. Everyone agreed on that point at a congressional hearing July 25. House Railroads Subcommittee Chairman Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.) called for a "mini-summit," probably in September, to tackle the future of Amtrak and high-speed rail.
Everyone agreed Amtrak could not and should not continue its hand-to-mouth existence of the past 30 years. In fact, Amtrak CEO George Warrington said the current setup for Amtrak is "wacky."
The freight railroads may be on the verge of helping to build a high-speed rail system in this country. What they get in return, explained Amtrak Reform Council (ARC) Chairman Gilbert Carmichael in his testimony, would be a beefed up infrastructure, double-tracking some of their busiest trunk lines, and enabling them to expand their freight business for the future.
Under the plan devised by the ARC staff, the states would put up 20 percent of the money for the bonds to build high-speed rail corridors, and the Class I carriers would kick in 15 percent.
ARC's Carmichael has been talking to "the freight boys" and finds they like the prospect of being able to upgrade their physical plant at only 15 percent. Their investment bankers "will jump through the roof," according to Carmichael.
The Association of American Railroads (AAR) has appointed a task force to study the entire issue and the trade-offs of collaborating with passenger entities in this endeavor. One of the questions they're trying to work out is how 120-150 mph high-speed passenger service can be integrated with 25-30 mph 100-car freights.
Amtrak President and CEO George Warrington told the lawmakers the current system of funding Amtrak is "wacky" and "irrational." The hand-to-mouth existence, he said, is frustrating to customers and employees alike.
Delta Airlines is losing money and Lucent Technologies has losses in the billions, with a "B" but they keep going. Why? Because they have "working capital."
"We, on the other hand, are given a budget, told to be operationally self-sufficient by a certain date, and by the time we get to the end of the fiscal year, we're down to zero. Zero! That's no way to run a railroad or any other business," the Amtrak boss told lawmakers.
"We're told to run Amtrak like business, but don't you cut any trains from the system," he added.
Also, those who want a national system but still worry about "money-losing trains" should get over it. In a national system, according to the testimony of Amtrak's top executive, there will always be some money-losers. Amtrak has to cross-subsidize them from profitable segments of the business. Congress should decide whether to live with that. It is Warrington's personal opinion that the long distance trains that are scheduled through "underserved" parts of the country should be retained.
Amtrak is behind in its business plan, but can still make the congressional mandate for "operational self-sufficiency" by late next year, the Amtrak CEO insisted.
Some considerable doubt on that likelihood was expressed by DOT Inspector General Kenneth Mead and GAO (General Accounting Office) auditor Jay Etta Hecker.
However, Mead indicated that Draconian cuts to reach that goal could backfire and create a cure that is worse than the disease.
Hecker said that in no way was she suggesting that Amtrak is "fat," albeit that some of Amtrak's estimates of benefits for investment levels have been overestimated, as she sees it.
Mead said that while Acela high-speed service had helped increase overall ridership between Washington and New York, the same could not be said of the New York to Boston leg. However, he warned against extrapolating from that on future customer volume. After all, Acela Express service had been added to the timetable since the study, and more of the fast trains are set to hit the rails by the end of the year.
Opinions of the congressmen on the panel were all over the lot, on both Amtrak's future and how to implement high-speed rail service. The latter drew support even from lawmakers who thought it was time for Amtrak to fold.
A prime example of that train of thought was embodied in the remarks of Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) who said Amtrak's future was "dismal at best" and that coast-to-coast service should be offered to tour operators. Nonetheless, Mica called for high-speed rail and even super-speed and super-expensive maglev trains in corridors.
Committee chairman Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.) said he "can't envision a country without a national rail passenger service." He, along with a majority on the parent Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee, is a co-sponsor of H.R. 2329. That is the House version of the High-Speed Rail Investment Act that would provide $12 billion in bonding authority to begin building a high-speed rail system for the nation.
One question that arises in the debate over that bill is which corridor gets the money first. Only $4 billion of it would be available to the Northeast Corridor, which Warrington said could enable the Acela Express to speed up to a two-hour-and-ten - (or fifteen) minute schedule between Washington and New York.
They currently make it in two hours and 40 or 45 minutes. Rep. Gerald Nadler (D-N.Y.) said if that schedule could be speeded up to two and a half hours, the air shuttles might well be out of business. 2:20 or 2:15 would be just enough of a difference to revolutionize travel patterns between the nation's political capitol and its financial capitol.
Beyond the NEC, who gets the money first in the rest of the country? The assumption is that it would have to be spread around.
"I would like to see just one new high-speed rail system built and make sure it works," declared Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), the ranking Democrat on the full T&I Committee. "Once you do that, the example will be set. The others will want to step up their timetables."
The problem, others acknowledged, is that every projected high-speed corridor interest in the country thinks it will be the one to start up. Therein lies a reality called politics.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said the operational self-sufficiency target in the 1997 Amtrak law was a "goofy bargain." If you're thinking of self-sufficiency, he said, get a bicycle.
The oft-heard criticism that U.S. passenger service is much like what one would expect to find in a third world country is "a disrespect to the Thai rail system," the Oregon lawmaker half-jokingly declared.
Rep. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) bemoaned the "crumbs" he said were offered instead of what is needed for a national rail passenger network.
Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), a firm supporter of expanded passenger service, urged his colleagues not to "walk away from it." He also advocated getting rid of rail crossings.
"You don't put a grade crossing at an airport runway" he said, "Trains and automobiles don't mix."
Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), Chairman of the full T&I Committee, submitted a written statement that he is "a big fan of high-speed rail," but that HSRIA (H.R. 2329) is the wrong way to bring it about because the legislation would surrender much of the committee's jurisdiction and would give Amtrak a monopoly over rail passenger infrastructure projects.
David King of North Carolina DOT, testified on behalf of States for Passenger Rail that "the states are ready to go," and backed HSRIA.
Ross Capon of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) told the lawmakers, "Given decent service, people are riding in impressive numbers." He rolled out facts and figures to back his point.
Chairman Quinn and Ranking Democrat Bob Clement (D-Tenn.) closed the hearing by calling it one of the most informative they have ever seen.
Next stop: That "mini-summit." That could be American passenger rail's "fork in the road."
House leadership pulls rail retirement bill,
then reinstates it for vote today or tomorrow
Labor leader James M. Brunkenhoefer said Friday morning that he had been advised by House Majority Leader Rep. Dick Armey (R-Tex.) "We should be back on the calendar for Monday or Tuesday," following a topsy-turvy week that saw railroad retirement reform legislation on the House calendar for a vote, then off, then on again.
Brunkenhoefer said, "Rules required that bills on the calendar, such as H.R. 1140, the Railroad Retirement and Survivors' Improvement Act of 2001, require a two-thirds vote or a minimum of 295 votes, in order to achieve passage."
He added, "It is standard that the Administration issue a document known as 'statement of administration policy (SAP).' Do not confuse this with a veto threat this is not a veto threat (although the Administration always has that option)."
Brunkenhoefer said, "We are expecting that the statement will not be helpful, although last year's SAP was not exactly warm. This will bring pressure on a number of Republicans to abandon their support of the legislation. Last year, we achieved 391 votes for this legislation. In order to show our momentum is as strong this year as it was last year, it will be necessary to keep the pressure on so that we get more than 391 votes."
He urged rail union rank-and-file to continue calling the "House Leadership, as well as your individual Member of Congress, and ask them to vote in favor of the measure."
In an unusual bonding of rail unions and management, all sides agree the legislative upgrading is required for the industry.
"The reason we were pulled off of the schedule," Brunkenhoefer explained, "was because of concerns expressed by House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Jim Nussle (R-Iowa)." He did not explain what Nussle's concerns were.
The Transportation-Communications International Union reported last week that the roller-coaster effort to enact railroad retirement improvements was set back on July 25. Within 24 hours of being scheduled for a vote on the House floor today or tomorrow, Majority Leader Armey informed coalition leaders that because of opposition from Nussle, the bill was pulled from this week's schedule.
The House Ways and Means Committee earlier approved and released the legislation nearly two months after the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's May 16 approval, according to American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA).
H.R. 1140 gained 369 House co-sponsors as of July 2. Congress' summer district work-period recess begins on August 4 and will continue until September 4.
The rail retirement act proposes full retirement annuity at age 60 (instead of 62) after 30 years of service, the elimination of artificial caps on benefits, vesting of new employees in the Railroad Retirement System after five years (instead of 10), and raising a widow's Tier II annuities to equal those annuities paid by Social Security (current law sets a widow's Tier II annuity at 50 percent of a retiree's Tier II annuity).
Meanwhile, Senate sister bill S. 697, which, by July 2, garnered 71 co-sponsors, remains on the agenda of the Senate Committee on Finance, where the bill was referred after its April 4 introduction.
Last year, the House passed similar legislation by an overwhelming margin, but the measure remained stalled in the Senate while Congress adjourned in the fall.
Amtrak's Warrington makes plans
to restructure, offer buyouts
Amtrak president and CEO George Warrington stated last Friday some 2,900 people will be offered buyouts as the troubled railroad tries to find ways to cut expenses.
In its weekly Employee Advisory, published on Fridays, Warrington told employees around the country, "As restructuring means consolidation of some operations, a number of management jobs will be eliminated in the next several months. To assist this restructuring effort and those affected by it, voluntary separation and early retirement incentives will be offered to 2,900 eligible employees beginning almost immediately."
He said details of the plan would be disclosed this week.
Warrington explained, "The framework of a restructuring plan has been developed that will better position our company for future growth, as we strive to serve a national passenger rail network and work toward operational self-sufficiency by 2003."
Warrington added the railroad is not meeting its financial goals.
"We are not hitting the financial targets established for the company...
The restructuring program is needed to better organize ourselves, increase efficiency and reduce costs. While these changes are necessary for business reasons, we also realize they will also affect employees as people - so we will do everything reasonable to limit any adverse impacts and handle changes with candor and sensitivity."
Warrington said a first step in the carrier's restructuring effort will be consolidating several functions under a newly created position, executive vice-president of operations. He appointed Northeast Corridor president Stan Bagley to fill the post, effective Oct. 1, but "he will informally begin this responsibility immediately."
Meanwhile, Ed Walker is in charge of reorganizing the company.
Warrington said, "Senior management will intensify a review of all operations. Any other measures that may be taken will depend, in part, on how well we do with our cost management and revenue generation initiatives, and the effect of the slowing economy on our business. This will become clearer this fall."
There was considerable fallout after Warrington stated on July 13 in a weekly newsletter faxed to employees around the country that management changes were coming to the railroad, and the Washington Post reported perhaps up to 15 percent would be let go.
In an unusual mid-week Employee Advisory on July 18, Warrington told employees around the nation, "In Friday's Employee Advisory," (of July 13), "I wrote a message to employees about the planning going into preparing a budget for the coming fiscal year." He added, "our business is based on growth, and I was and continue to be proud of the four straight years of passenger and ticket revenue growth," as well as last year's record of serving 22.5 million passengers."
In the July 13 advisory, he reiterated that "The slowdown in the service economy is having an adverse impact on all segments of the travel industry, including Amtrak, and despite our successes, we are not meeting the forecasts set before the downturn. That's meant we've had to redouble our efforts to reduce expenses in this fiscal year, and secondly, begin with a lower base when projecting our revenue and expenses for next year's budget."
Warrington repeated he is hopeful about the economy's improvement, "but we need to assume that the economy will continue to under-perform. The in-depth review of next year's budget, which actually starts October 1, is analyzing every part of our business."
Warrington referred to Post reporter Don Phillips' story regarding Amtrak's future, although not by name.
"Today, many of you have heard or seen news stories reporting that decisions have been made about management staffing levels for next year, and that other actions are being considered. As I said on Friday, many ideas for cost-cutting are being reviewed. Some will be adopted for next year, while others will be held as options or discarded outright. "
"Despite today's news stories, I will tell you that no final decisions have been made at this time about the budget for next year and the actions within that budget. When decisions are made and plans are adopted that affect employees, we will make it known to everyone in this company. I said it on Friday, and will say it again here: I have always put a premium on being candid and straight on these issues."
By Friday, July 20, in the regular weekly Employee Advisory, Warrington restated his ideas about Amtrak's future, and added, "When decisions are made and plans are adopted that affect employees, they will quickly be known to everyone in this company. As this process goes on, the continuing commitment each of us brings to work everyday to provide our guests with high quality service remains our most important obligation."
|BLE-UTU leaders agree to merge|
Two of the largest and most influential unions in railroading have agreed - finally - to merge. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, representing engineers on most railroads, and the United Transportation Union, representing conductors and brakemen on most railroads, came to the agreement on July 22. Amtrak's engineers and dispatchers are BLE members, and its conductors and assistant conductors are UTU members.
The agreement now goes to the membership of both labor organization for ratification.
In announcing the proposed merger, UTU International President Byron A. Boyd, Jr., and BLE International President Edward Dubroski issued a joint statement. They said, "After 3_ years of on-again, off-again discussions, it's time for the members of both unions to decide on the question of merger. We are asking our members to approve the creation of the largest combined rail, bus and air union in North America."
They stated, "The merged union would produce substantial financial savings by ending hostilities that have distracted both of us from doing what we are paid to do - represent our members' interests with railroads and other transportation companies - and by providing for streamlined operations. Most importantly, the new union would vastly enhance our power and influence at the bargaining table, in state legislatures and provincial parliaments, and in the halls of national legislatures in Washington and Ottawa."
The merged union would be named the United Transportation Union - Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (UTU-BLE), and the logos of both unions would be retained.
If the rank-and-file approve, the merger would be effective on January 1. The combined union would have approximately 185,000 members, and would be the bargaining representative for all unionized rail operating employees in the U.S. and Canada, yardmasters, Canadian rail traffic controllers (dispatchers) and thousands of other railroad, bus, air and mass transit workers in both countries.
Rails view tentative Downeaster schedule
A tentative schedule for the Downeaster is making the rounds. That's the name of the Amtrak service between Boston's North Station and Portland, Maine, that may finally begin this fall after years of delays.
As advertised, intermediate stops are: Haverhill, Exeter, Durham (on weekends), Dover, Wells, Saco (Biddeford), and Old Orchard Beach (a summer seasonal stop).
Thanks to George Chiasson Jr.
|Florida looks for more rail funding|
Passenger rail service along Florida's East Coast ‚ both geographically and a railroad's name - may still be revived by fall 2002, despite a recent denial of an additional $6.5 million Florida DOT grant, Amtrak and DOT officials said Thursday.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported Amtrak, Florida East Coast Railway and several coastal cities, including Daytona Beach, want to run two trains a day on FEC tracks between Jacksonville and Miami.
The FEC has earmarked $3 million for project start-up costs, and the DOT has already set aside $15.5 million, but early last week, project backers asked the DOT for an additional $6.5 million to help launch the project, but the state agency said, "No."
"We don't have that money available at this time," said Nazih Haddad, who manages passenger rail for the transportation department, "but," he suggested, "The rail project could be awarded another state grant that could reach $45 million."
FEC Railway spokeswoman Heidi Eddins said Thursday that denial of the $6.5 million funding request was "an irrelevant issue." Passengers could still be riding the new train routes by the end of next year.
"There's certainly a chance that could happen," Eddins said.
Haddad, too, agreed it is possible rail service could start by the end of 2002.
Building stations, improving track, and installing equipment for passenger trains could cost an estimated $65 million.
Besides the state's earlier promise of $15.5 million and FEC's $3 million pledge, that leaves a $46 million hole.
The grant, under the state Transportation Outreach Program, would cover all or most of the hole, and would be dispersed over two years, Haddad said. A grant application will be made later this year and is expected to be reviewed by the state Legislature in early 2002.
|Trains bump in Chicago; minor injuries|
Two Amtrak passenger trains were involved in what Amtrak called a "hard coupling move" and what witnesses called a collision of two trains at Union Station in Chicago on the evening of July 2.
Three children and 11 adults were taken by ambulances to various Chicago hospitals with what Chicago Fire Department called "code yellow" injuries - whiplash, bumps and bruises.
Passengers detraining other Amtrak trains stated there were people crying and screaming, but police would not say what had happened.
Thanks to RAILNews1.com
Baltimore, CSX back to normal
The fire blazed for nearly six days inside Baltimore's Howard Street tunnel, but it finally was extinguished one week ago today, after the last boxcar of a 60-car freight train was tugged out, with smoldering paper still inside it. Chemical spills from tank cars had added to Baltimoreans' woes. Street traffic overhead was disrupted for several days, and a broken water main above the tunnel didn't help.
The final service disruption order came from a CSX train dispatcher last Monday morning (July 23) - the "last burning boxcar was removed at approximately 6:30 a.m. Fire under control at 7:42. Total incident duration 111 hours, 42 minutes." The nightmare began on July 18.
By Tuesday morning, CSX was attempting to run its first train through the Howard Street Tunnel in order to test out new track laid after the last cars were pulled out.
As the Baltimore Sun told its readers last week, "A whiff of smoke penetrated the sealed cab of the diesel engine as Paul Rahn eased a mostly empty 29-car freight train through the fire-scorched Howard Street Tunnel. The creeping 12-minute ride, with Rahn at the throttle of the 400-ton, 4,000-horsepower CSX locomotive, marked the resumption of semi-regular freight traffic through the tunnel after an uneventful early morning trial run." Rahn is a CSX division road foreman as well as a qualified engineer.
The train crept along the single-track line at 8.3 mph on the tunnel approach, and 10 mph though the hole - instead of the normal track speed of 25 mph.
Inside the tunnel, the engineer said, "See the white part?" he asked, pointing to where freshly laid track atop clean ballast suddenly brightened.
"There is new stone. You're getting to the derailment site."
Rahn and his conductor, Danny Ferguson, knew what he was talking about. He had entered the tunnel several times during the fire to help retrieve rail cars, and at one point gave firefighters a hurried lesson on how to run a train in case he passed out.
The Sun reported, "The century-old tunnel seemed like a giant brick oven. The smell of smoke wafted through the train cab's sealed windows, and in places, the tunnel walls were coated in black soot, darker than Rahn remembered from his roughly 5,000 passages before the fire. Yet, in other spots, the bricks on the ceiling almost glowed orange, though not from heat.
Rahn said he thought the fire burned off soot that accumulated from years of diesel exhaust - not to mention steam engine was under that.
"Whatever the reason, the burst of color gave the tunnel an oddly cheery feel," a reporter wrote.
With freight service rolling through the 1.7-mile tunnel again, trains no longer had to go on long detours. Some trains en route to upstate New York had been rerouted as far west as Cleveland. Others, including the regular Tropicana orange juice trains from Florida, hung a left near Washington and were diverted through Hagerstown and Harrisburg, Pa., on their way to a New Jersey distribution facility. Companies such as United Parcel Service could not tolerate 18-hour delays, so they resorted to trucks temporarily.
Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board subpoenaed the city water department records to look at the maintenance records of the 40-inch main that cracked. The question investigators are asking is did the water main burst first and release the water that caused the derailment, or did the derailment cause the main to break?
As emergency crews pulled out the last smoldering car, CSX Transportation Inc. and government officials faced another difficult task - figuring out who will pay for the damage.
Officials said it was too early to put a price tag on damage from the six-day blaze, but the cost of repairing the track, cleaning up hazardous material that may have leaked from tank cars, paying overtime to hundreds of firefighters and compensating local businesses for lost revenues could be enormous.
CSX agreed last Wednesday to pay overtime costs for fire, police, and some public work crews who responded to the derailment.
CSX spokesman Rob Gould stressed that the payment was "in no way an acknowledgment of fault" for the accident.
CSX also is reviewing claims from 25 businesses in the area that may be compensated for losses, Gould said.
Federal investigators were examining a century-old cast-iron pipe to determine if a burst water main caused the derailment.
City officials have insisted that the train wreck caused the water main to break. Their data shows a surge in water movement at a nearby reservoir after the derailment, which officials said suggested the water main break followed the accident.
If the main is found to have been the cause, liability for the derailment and the cost of repair and cleanup could rest with the city. It was unclear whether the city would have to repay CSX if the water main was at fault, a city official said.
Gov. Parris Glendening called the emergency "a very expensive operation" and appointed a task force to come up with short-term solutions for similar events in the future.
Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley said the city and CSX had not yet discussed any specifics about liability, but would meet later in the week.
"A soon as we're done being a happy family, we'll all start suing each other," the mayor said.
CSX spokesman Robert Gould said the company planned to be a "good corporate citizen" when it came to working out who would pay for what.
"We're concerned about returning Baltimore City to normalcy," he said. "Obviously, we're going to be incurring a large amount of cost."
A cracked and blackened acid-laden tank car, the last of the toxic cars that derailed, was gingerly dragged out of the Howard Street tunnel on Sunday. The freight car was laden with hydrochloric acid, but some 8,000 to 10,000 gallons had leaked out through a broken welding seam
|BAR may have a Midwestern buyer|
Rail World, Inc., is looking to buy the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad System in Northern New England.
Rail World's President and CEO, Edward A. Burkhardt, formerly of Wisconsin Central, said his company is in a rail investment and management consortium, which also includes the Wheeling Corp. and others.
The Bangor & Aroostook Railroad System includes the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad, the Canadian American Railroad, the Quebec Southern Railroad, the Northern Vermont Railroad, and Logistics Management Systems.
BAR president and CEO, Frederic W. Yocum, Jr. indicated that talks with the consortium were aimed at addressing cash flow problems and the heavy debt load that has plagued the railroad in recent years.
Wheeling Corp. owns a 680-mile regional railroad based in Brewster, Ohio serving Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
|Judge takes BNSF to task|
After years of enduring trains blocking downtown intersections in Eagle Pass and other annoyances, Eagle Pass, Tex., officials took heart Wednesday when a federal judge sounded off against two railroad companies.
"The most exciting thing was when he told the railroads they needed a yard in Eagle Pass and that he would not allow them to paralyze a town," Eagle Pass Mayor Pepe Aranda said, according to a report in the San Antonio Express-News.
The hearing in Austin before U.S. Judge Sam Sparks came after two railroad companies sued to overturn a new Eagle Pass ordinance that provides stiff penalties for blocked intersections, idling engines, chemical spills and other problems.
In their suit, Union Pacific Railroad and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway claimed the city ordinance was pre-empted by federal and state law, and put undue hardships on them.
The city counter-sued, claiming the railroads are subjecting Eagle Pass citizens to far greater hardships and dangers.
After hearing evidence about intersections being blocked by freight trains six to 10 times a day, sometimes for an hour or more, Sparks apparently agreed with the city.
Elizabeth Burkhardt, a lawyer who represented Eagle Pass, said the judge said, 'You have totally oppressive practices. I won't allow you to do this.'"
Austin lawyer Robert Burns, who represented the railroads in the Wednesday hearing, could not be reached for comment afterward.
Sparks set the issues for trial Aug. 22, after the city agreed to suspend enforcement of its ordinance for 60 days.
|CSX fortunes rise for quarter|
Led by strong gains in railroad earnings, CSX Corporation Friday reported net income of $108 million, or 51 cents per share, for the second quarter ended June 29, 2001, up from $48 million or 23 cents per share a year ago.
Chairman and CEO John Snow said the results indicate the railroad has turned the corner "and is starting to regain sustainable earnings momentum."
Railroad and intermodal operating income for the quarter totaled $242 million compared to $158 million last year and $182 million in the first quarter of 2001.
South of the border...
Panamanian trains roll again
Tod Robberson, a reporter for the Dallas Morning News, got a train ride recently he probably will not forget for a long time.
He told his readers the new Panama Canal Railway Co. opened for business July 2 - but he rode an ex-Amtrak F-40PH to get his story. He was aboard The City of Panama, which the ex-Amtrak engine had been named, and commercial train service returned to the route where the America's first coast-to-coast rail link was established 146 years ago.
The new Panama Canal Railway Co. opened for business after workers spent 18 months clearing away jungle and laying new track on a long-disused rail route that first joined the Pacific and Atlantic coasts in 1855.
The new U.S.-owned railroad partnership hopes to lure tourists, business passengers and cargo shippers back to the historic route carved out of jungle by the old Panama Railroad Co. to serve miners bound for the California Gold Rush.
"It's excellent, wonderful, and all the other adjectives I can think of," said Surse Pierpoint, a Panamanian businessman who is using the railroad to commute from his home in Panama City to his office in the Caribbean port of ColÛn.
Before the railroad's rebirth, the only other routes between the two cities were by car on Panama's dangerous and garbage-lined Trans-Isthmian Highway, or by twin-propeller airplane, which many passengers deride as an equally hazardous undertaking.
"For me, it's mainly an issue of safety. Now, I'm only 10 feet off the ground as opposed to 15,000," Pierpoint said. "On top of all that, this is a much more comfortable ride."
The bright red-and-yellow City of Panama locomotive, and thee sister engines, already are attracting a large following of gawkers, not only among Panamanians who live and work along the route but also spider monkeys, alligator-like caimans, osprey and other wildlife whose habitats make up a large part of the train's jungle adventure.
Long accustomed to watching massive cargo ships, military vessels and cruise liners ply the Panama Canal on a daily basis, Panamanians react to the train like a kid with a new toy. On soccer fields near the railroad, players stop in mid-kick to watch and point at the train zooming by. Golfers halt on fairways to wave at railroad passengers. Panamanian motorists, usually loath to stop for anything, pause to catch a glimpse of the towering, sleek six-car liner.
"For most Panamanians, this is something totally new. People aren't used to hearing all these horns and noises," said George Augustine, a Panamanian tour guide who traveled twice as a child on the old Panama Railroad before it ceased operations in the early 1990s.
Originally constructed from 1850 to 1855, the old Panama Railroad cost $8 million and took the lives of an estimated 6,000 construction workers who slogged through marsh and mosquito-infested jungle to lay down the 47.5 miles of track. Historians say this engineering feat was a crucial step toward establishing the route used for building the Panama Canal a half-century later.
The old railroad was fabulously profitable as well, taking advantage of miners flush with cash from gold prospecting in California. Each one-way trip on the railroad cost $25 in gold. Today, Mr. Pierpoint travels the same route, round-trip, for $25 a day.
Back then, however, the train ride was far too expensive for native residents of the isthmus, sparking what historians described as feelings of resentment between Panamanians and Americans that continue today. Panamanians already are complaining that the new railroad's non-commuter tourist fares, $35 to $45, are too steep for an average person getting by on a monthly salary of around $300. Signs inside the train and at passenger stations also are in English, as if to add to the railroad's air of exclusivity.
By the late 1800s, the high fares made the old Panama Railroad one of the most successful business operations in the world. At one point shortly after it opened, the railroad enjoyed the highest-priced stock on the New York Stock Exchange, reaching $295 per share.
In 1904, the U.S. government took control of the railroad and right-of-way to begin construction of the Panama Canal. Panama received the railroad in 1979 as one of the first assets transferred under the treaties that allowed it to take control of the canal itself at the end of 1999.
After Panama took over the railroad, however, it fell into such disrepair that a U.S. inspector declared it unsafe for travel. All U.S. military personnel and canal employees were banned from using it after 1986, said Robert Emerick, director of planning and development of the new railroad.
Derailments were occurring so often, more than once a week, that Panama's government ultimately ceased the old railroad's operation by the early 1990s.
Martin Garden dedicated in Atlanta
Amtrak honored an old friend when it dedicated the Jack Martin Memorial Garden at Peachtree Station in Atlanta on July 23.
Martin was an Atlanta resident, and was the National Association of Railroad Passengers' president at the time of his death on Sept. 1, 2000 (See D:F, Vol. 1, No. 21).
Bill Delmar of Atlanta said he counted about 65 people who attended the memorial service.
"Following the ceremonies", Delmar said, "each person was given a vial of wildflower seeds to mark the occasion. A brass plaque will be placed on the station wall describing Jack's achievements; a panel with the design and text was unveiled. Also a small granite marker was unveiled, it reads 'I simply love trains,' John R Martin, 1936-2000."
Speakers included Al Edelston, Amtrak vice-president for its Intercity business unit; Alan Yorker, National Association of Railroad Passengers president; Cheryle Jackson, an Amtrak vice-president for government relations and public affairs; Martin's widow, Faye Martin, and daughter Meredith Martin Addy.
Martin was a lawyer by trade.
The program's text was simple.
"I just love trains"
It has been said that for a brief period in his boyhood Jack Martin was shy, but once he found his voice he never stopped talking, and Jack lent that voice to one of the great passions of his life, the railroads.
During his long career, which included leadership roles with the National Association of Railroad Passengers and the Georgia Rail Passenger Authority, he helped make things happen.
Always with a keen analytical eye on the bottom line, Jack was instrumental in increasing ridership on the Crescent and Silver Palm trains.
Jack Martin was a familiar name throughout the entire Amtrak system, befriending everyone from ticket agents to senior managers.
During his funeral service last year, one Amtrak manager said, 'Jack had a true love for the railroad and his family should know that the railroad loved Jack in return.'
"Jack will be missed by an entire industry. With this garden, we hope to preserve his memory for generations to come."
I enjoy reading you newsletter, but the absence of datelines meant I am constantly guessing when the articles were published. Is the most recent article at the top? When was it published? What do you mean "in a fortnight" ‚ start counting from what date? Please add dates to your pieces to help the reader know what is going on.
We publish on Mondays, so if we refer to a "fortnight ago," it would have been on (or about) two weeks before the publication date. For example, this issue is dated July 30, so that's the base date for this issue. We try to keep the date of the event in the story, but don't always succeed. What you read is seldom simply copied from elsewhere and merely pasted in. There is some rewriting involved, as well. ‚ Ed.
I'd like to offer our company's URL to your proposed list of rail travel web resources. It's www.irtsociety.com. I'm not sure whether you're allowed to feature commercial web sites, but, if so, I'd like to spread the word that we exist.
Also, I was interested in the short news report regarding the Trans-Siberian Railroad, as I just returned from a visit to Russia. I rode - with 50 customers - something called the Trans-Siberian Express, a private train (former private cars used by Communist Party officials) leased by a British company. We traveled from Vladivostok to Lake Baikal, St. Petersburg, and Moscow. A wonderful trip.
I must admit I just stumbled on your web site - and am glad I did. You do a terrific job!
Sorry, Owen, but we cannot list commercial sites because we are a federally recognized 501(C)(3) non-profit corporation. To do so could jeopardize our non-profit statuss. - Ed.
The Ohio Association of Railroad Passengers will hold its summer meeting on August 4, 2001 in Cincinnati. For details and registration information click on http://www.oarprail.org/Summer%202001.htm
Florida High Speed Rail Authority Public Meeting
10:00 a.m. to conclusion
For details, contact Nazih Haddad, (850) 414-4500. Anyone who requires special accommodations to participate in these meetings are asked to advise the authority at least 48 hours before the meeting by contacting Betty Sizemore, (850) 414-5244.
AREMA annual conference
Palmer Hilton Hotel, Chicago
September 15, 16
Representing Rail Passenger Interests Conference
Philadelphia, Pa., Hilton Garden Inn, 1100 Arch St., Philadelphia Center City.
This conference is spearheaded by members of the Amtrak Customer Advisory Committee and commuter advisory boards, and will focus on passenger rail and transit advisory organizations and advocates.
The conference will explore how advisory and advocacy organizations throughout the U.S. and Canada can improve practices to better represent rail passengers in a coherent and effective manner. Contact Richard Rudolph, Ph.D., Chair, RRPI Conference Committee, at 207-642-5161 or Philip Copeland, email@example.com.
Amtrak has agreed to give a discount of ten percent off coach fares for persons attending the conference.
Amtrak Reform Council
Los Angeles, CA.
The hearing will invite states in the western region of the country to provide their views on the various issues and proposals in the Council's Second Annual Report published in March 2001
October 16, 17
Passenger trains on freight railroads
Washington Marriott Hotel
Guest speakers to include White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card (and former USDOT secretary).
Claytor award for distinguished service to HEW Secretary Tommy Thompson, former Amtrak board chairman.
Register at http://www.railwayage.com or call Jane Potereala at (212)-620-7209.
In the earliest days of railroading in New England, a tiny line ran between Nashua, N.H. and Lowell, Mass. Today, the route is part of Guilford Transportation's Boston & Maine and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority line. Today, the route begins in Boston and continues northward to Concord, N.H., and beyond. This engine was built in 1844 and was the 22nd locomotive built by Hinkley & Drury of Boston. Its overall weight was 10 tons and was primarily a freight engine. A locomotive engineer of the period earned between $420 and $720 annually.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write.
Destination: Freedom is partially funded by the Surdna Foundation, and other contributors.
Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images that appear in Destination: Freedom may do so at a nominal fee of $10.00 per image. "True color" .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 Site in Boston.
This edition has been read by || || people since date of release.