Vol. 7 No. 33 - July 31, 2006

Copyright © 2006
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

Destination:Freedom
The E-Zine of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - Jim RePass      Editor - Molly McKay
Webmaster - Dennis Kirkpatrick

A weekly North American rail and transit update

For railroad professionals
Political leaders at all levels of government
Journalists from all media

* Now in our Seventh Year *

This page is best viewed at 800 X 600 screen resolution

 

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

  News Items... 
Amtrak Pennsylvania Keystone Service ridership continues to grow
Amtrak Illinois-sponsored service sets record
Maine DOT to launch ports study
  Transit-Oriented Development... 
Cardinal Square gets under way
  Tourist lines… 
Amtrak restores “same-day” motorcoach service to Yosemite via Modesto
  Commuter lines… 
Contract awarded for new Metro North railcars
Transit tax closer to ballot
MBTA demanding Mass Bay Commuter Rail improve service
  Events… 
Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads - Railway Age Conference
  Friday closing quotes… 
  Freight lines… 
Derailment in California slows local Amtrak service
  Opinion… 
Rail link puts economy on track
Commuter-killer clause is making fares unfair
German TV: British privatization costs English taxpayers $780 million
  End notes… 

NEWS ITEMS...  News items...

Amtrak Pennsylvania Keystone Service ridership continues to grow

Capital improvement project continues

From the Internet

WASHINGTON – Significant capital improvements by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania along the Keystone Corridor is reaping benefits for both the state, Amtrak and the traveling public. Ridership in June 2006 was 20% higher than during the same month in 2005. And from the beginning of the fiscal year, October 1 2005, to the end of June 2006, there was a 13% increase overall.

Amtrak and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will complete a jointly-funded $145 million capital improvement project this fall on the Keystone corridor leading the way to faster trains, more frequent service and a smoother, more enjoyable ride between Philadelphia, Lancaster and Harrisburg.

“The Keystone service trains are continuing to deliver reliable service for our passengers every day, and the growth in ridership is testament to their popularity,” said Amtrak Acting President and CEO David Hughes, “We are looking forward to serving even more passengers with faster and more frequent service later this year.”

“Our partnership with Amtrak produced a significant system improvement that is nearing completion,” said Pennsylvania Transportation Secretary Allen D. Biehler, P.E. “The Keystone Corridor is important to Governor Edward G. Rendell’s strategy of offering transportation options that can help us conserve energy. Faster and improved service on the line will help attract new riders, as Amtrak’s numbers already demonstrate.”


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Amtrak Illinois-sponsored
service sets record

By Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, IL July 28 -- Ridership on Amtrak in Illinois, which is heavily subsidized by the state, has reached record highs, according to an Associated Press article last Friday.

“More than 955,000 people took Amtrak lines from Chicago to Carbondale, Quincy, St. Louis and Milwaukee in fiscal 2006,” the article continues. “That’s up 12.5 percent from a year earlier and 40.8 percent from 2003.”

“This is further proof that passenger rail is a vital part of our transportation system, and one of the reasons Governor Blagojevich and lawmakers voted to increase Amtrak service, starting later this year,” IDOT Secretary Timothy Martin said.

Illinois’ subsidy in fiscal 2006 was $12.1 million, but in the coming year it will jump to $24 million as Amtrak adds more runs to downstate cities.

The highest ridership, 569,460 passengers, was in the corridor between Milwaukee and Chicago.

Reports from other corridors: Chicago and Carbondale 134,000 riders; Chicago – St. Louis – 133,000 riders; the Quincy line had more than 118,000 passengers.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the state’s contribution covers about 60 percent of the direct cost of the downstate service.

User comments on this story:

Note: All views and opinions expressed in user comments are solely those of the individual submitting the comment, and not those of The Pantagraph or its staff.

Mark Killough wrote on July 22, 2006 12:46 PM: “I just want to make a comment and suggestion. I wish Amtrak well now that the citizens of Illinois have stated through their pocketbook that they want and will ride Amtrak. The real problem is that Amtrak needs to serve more communities, at least by having an east - west train across Illinois, or adding a route that could follow Rt. 51, to pick up cities like Clinton, Decatur, Pana, Taylorville, Litchfield, Staunton, and finally into St. Louis, and one train following the same route to Chicago. I am telling you that you are missing so many communities that miss not having a passenger service in their community. I live in Clinton, and would love the convenience of getting on the train here, because I ride the train a lot. Please consider putting in a line that will serve some more cities than what you already do. Thank-you so much for listening. Mark Killough Clinton, IL. 61727 e-mail: mkillough1@earthlink.net.


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Maine DOT to launch ports study

From Atlantic Northeast Rails & Ports

AUGUSTA, ME --- Maine’s Department of Transportation is choosing a consultant to create a strategic plan for that state’s three deepwater ports at Eastport, Searsport, and Portland, reports the July 16 edition of the Atlantic Northeast Rails & Ports e-bulletin (www.atlanticnortheast.com).

The newsletter covers Canadian and New England operating railroads and ports, intermodal facilities, and news of the related government environment.

Rob Elder, head of the Maine DOT Office of Freight, said the department hoped to decide on a consultant by the end of July.

According to the Request for Proposals for the study, the consultant’s work will include a review of current management, operations, and facilities at the state’s public deep water facilities in Eastport, Searsport, and Portland to “identify the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities facing each facility”; and offer recommendations for improvements to the management and operations at each facility and in general to the state’s overall system. “This should take into account the existing and potential interconnections with highway and rail systems, access and proximity to industry and natural resources, and in context with projections about the future of Maine’s industries,” reported the e-bulletin. Also included will be an assessment of the impacts these operations would have on local, state and regional economies; as well as impacts on air quality, congestion mitigation, and highway maintenance.

[ NCI note: Maine, like other New England states and eastern Canadian provinces, is seeking to position its ports to attract new business. However, there has been little coordination among the competing states, with the result that regional transportation experts are concerned that scarce resources will be poorly allocated. ]


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TRANSIT-ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT...  Transit oriented development...

Cardinal Square gets under way

From the Internet via the Chicago Tribune

GLENVIEW, IL JULY 20 -- Groundbreaking for construction of a luxury residential community called Cardinal Square Condominiums was scheduled for Friday, July 27, in the heart of Mundelein’s new transit-oriented downtown, reported Marline Hunt in the Chicago Tribune.

“Clearly this is the catalyst for the entire transit-oriented-development,” said Mayor Ken Kessler.

Cardinal Square will be part of a much larger redevelopment which will contain a broad mix of retail shops, grocery stores, restaurants and entertainment venues. A new Village Green is planned featuring a sculpture garden, reflection pool, grand lawn, amphitheater and event plaza.

Teng Development LLC, a fifty-year company, is the developer. There will be nine buildings in all with 84 condominium units in a seven-story building with two levels of indoor parking.

The story continues: “Mundelein’s downtown redevelopment was sparked by the village support of a transit-oriented design created by URS, a Chicago planning firm to complement the expanded commuter service along the North Central Metra line from Antioch to downtown Chicago.

“Ray Grinvalds, development manager for the project, points out that the urban style concept has been gaining rapid attraction throughout the United States as a means to place less reliance on the automobile and all its problems, including traffic congestion, pollution, suburban sprawl – ‘and today’s ever escalating gasoline prices.’”

“ ‘Mundelein’s downtown plan creates a walkable, pedestrian-friendly downtown urban environment where convenience and community are the primary theme,’” he said.”

“We are well over 50 percent sold in this first building and are extremely excited about the reception that Cardinal Square has received in the community,” said Mary Zappa, director of sales.

Tax increment financing (TIF)

This is a financial plan that would be “a catalyst to stimulate redevelopment activity in the downtown area around the Metra station,” said Mike Flynn, assistant village manager.

Cardinal Square is the first project in the 99-acre tax increment financing district created in 2005.

TIF is a mechanism to finance public improvements in the area. In a TIF, the assessed value of the property is essentially frozen at its current level for the purpose of distributing tax revenue to local governments in the area.

Any additional tax revenue generated by any increase in property value above the “frozen” assessment goes into a special fund to pay for improvements.

“A TIF district allows tax revenues to be deferred to pay for public improvements that stimulate private reinvestment,” explained Flynn.

The project when completed will contain up to 541 luxury residential condominium and townhouse units in nine buildings ranging from four to seven stories tall.


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TOURIST LINES...  Tourist lines...

Amtrak restores “same-day” motorcoach
service to Yosemite via Modesto

Amtrak Media Relations

OAKLAND, CA JULY 28 -- Amtrak has announced that, now through October, a daily Thruway motorcoach will operate from the Modesto Amtrak station direct to Yosemite National Park, restoring “same-day” travel to and from the popular destination. Since early May rockslides have closed highway 140, east of Mariposa, requiring a detour for Amtrak’s Merced-Yosemite Thruway motorcoach service and making same-day trips to Yosemite impossible via Merced. The new Thruway service via Modesto is in addition to the Merced-Yosemite service, which will continue to operate on its detour route.

Merced and Modesto are served by Amtrak’s San Joaquins, offering six daily round-trips between Oakland, Sacramento, Stockton, Fresno, Bakersfield and other points in the San Joaquin Valley, with motorcoach connections at Bakersfield for Los Angeles.

Low Amtrak transportation fares to Yosemite National Park include the park entrance fee. For an additional fee, passengers can purchase a two-hour “sightseer package” which gives them a guaranteed “open-air tram” ride departure time from the valley floor (this tour works well for a day trip schedule). Narration is provided by a Yosemite National Park Ranger throughout the trip. Stops are made at many scenic locations such as El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall and Half Dome.

After the tram returns to the Yosemite Lodge, passengers will have a short time for shopping before their return trip to Modesto or Merced. A sightseer package also includes a box lunch. Prices for the tour range from $38.75 for adults and $26.75 for children. This does not include the rail fare. It must be purchased separately. For more information, visit Amtrak.com or call 1-800-USA-RAIL (872-7245). For “sightseer package” bookings mention the word “agent” and ask for city code YSS.

About the California Department of Transportation

The California Department of Transportation partners with Amtrak to provide service on three intercity rail corridors in California. Through a $73 million-per-year annual state operating assistance program and the largest capital assistance program in the nation, the State’s Division of Rail supports service between the Bay Area and Sacramento on the Capitol Corridor, between San Francisco/Oakland and Bakersfield on the San Joaquins and in Southern California, between San Diego and San Luis Obispo via Los Angeles and Santa Barbara on the Pacific Surfliner. The California Corridors, operated under the partnership banner, Amtrak California, are the busiest in the nation behind the Washington - Boston Northeast corridor and the Empire corridor serving Albany - New York City.


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

Contract awarded for new
Metro North railcars

Source: Connecticut Post

In a story for the Connecticut Post, writer Rob Varnon reports: “Relief from the smelly bathrooms and hot summers without air conditioning is on its way for the state’s long-suffering train commuters” — Connecticut has awarded Kawasaki of Japan a $522 million contract to build 210 new railcars for the Metro-North Railroad’s New Haven Line with an option to purchase an additional 170 cars. The cars are expected to go into service in 2009.

The deal was announced on Saturday, July 22, by Governor M. Jodi Rell, who spoke about the importance of this purchase for Connecticut’s commuters. “The selection of a contractor to build our new rail fleet represents important progress for the state, our commuters and residents who ride the trains and for the state’s overall economy.”

Rell unveiled funding to replace the fleet in 2005, calling for 340 new cars.

Eugene Colonese, a Connecticut Department of Transportation rail administrator, explained that the contract guarantees the manufacturer a certain number of cars while granting the buyer an option for additional cars later on. This is a typical rail contract, he said, done this way in case there are problems or adjustments to be made to the specifications. He said the state intends to purchase at least the 340 new cars, and might buy 40 more.

Kawasaki’s bid was approximately $120 million to $180 million lower than rival bidder Bombardier of Canada.

The new railcars, called M-8s, will be built in Kawasaki Rail Cars Inc.’s Yonkers, N.Y., plant. “We’re delighted,” said Marjorie Anders, a Metro-North spokeswoman. “This is a long-awaited contract.”

Metro-North employees — who have kept the cars running though the majority have long since passed their expected life of usefulness — have borne the brunt of train commuters’ wrath over the condition of the New Haven Line fleet.

The majority of the New Haven Line cars were built by General Electric Company in the early1970s; the old cars carry more than 2 million passengers a month and were expected to last 25 years. As the condition of the cars deteriorated, commuters had to put up with smelly bathrooms, broken air conditioning and heating systems, dirty windows and occasional leaks. In the winter of 2003/2004, 100 cars were taken out of service in one week when cold weather caused damage to them. That event put even more pressure on the state to move forward in purchasing new cars.

The Connecticut Rail Commuter Council has been demanding new cars for close to a decade. Employees of Metro North have taken the brunt of commuters’ complaints for several years.

New York and Connecticut must both approve the contract, because both share ownership of the line. Connecticut will pay approximately 65 percent of the cost and New York will cover the rest.

Metro-North’s New York-based parent organization, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, is expected to vote on the Kawasaki contract Wednesday.

[ Rob Varnon, who covers business for the Connecticut Post, can be reached at 203-330-6216; http://www.connpost.com ]


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Transit tax closer to ballot

Source: Seattle Times

SEATTLE, JULY 27 -- Seattle voters will have a choice at the polls in November to decide if they are willing to accept a one-tenth-of-a-percent increase in the sales tax to upgrade Metro Transit bus service. Last week the Metropolitan King County Council’s transportation committee voted to put this proposal on the ballot.

The story, by Keith Ervin, staff reporter for the Seattle Times, continues: The increase will cost citizens about $25 a year. It will put about 200 more buses on the streets and create “bus rapid transit” service on five heavily used routes in Seattle, the Eastside and South King County. It could help attract up to 60,000 new transit riders a day.

“The time is right for us to let the people of King County consider improving their bus service,” said Committee Chairwoman Julia Patterson, D-SeaTac.

Some officials are worried that a transit tax now could hurt the chances of a regional highway and transit package winning approval next year.

Patterson said she will work in the coming weeks to address the concerns of suburban city officials about details of the Transit Now plan.

County Executive Ron Sims said he didn’t think this plan would hurt the multibillion-dollar tax proposal that Sound Transit and the Regional Transportation Improvement District plan to put before voters in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties next year.

But County Councilman Reagan Dunn, R-Bellevue, voted against the tax Wednesday because, he said, it could jeopardize next year’s regional tax measure, which he called “the most important transportation package this region will see in a long time.”

The transit tax was supported by nearly all the speakers at a public hearing Wednesday. “Labor is 100 percent behind this proposal,” said King County Labor Council Executive Secretary David Freiboth.


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MBTA demanding Mass Bay
Commuter Rail improve service

By DF Staff and From The Internet

BOSTON--- The Boston Globe reported last week that the MBTA summoned operators of the privatized Massachusetts Bay Commuter Rail (MBCR) service for a face-to-face over failing service.

Reporter Mac Daniel wrote in July 27 editions: “While subways, ferries, and buses are handling a surge in passengers since the fatal collapse July 10 of a Big Dig tunnel ceiling and subsequent road closings, commuter rail service is worsening,” Daniel A. Grabauskas, the T’s general manager, said yesterday. “The 13 commuter rail lines serve about 140,000 passengers on an average weekday, but that number has increased since the Big Dig [tunnel] closings.”

Passengers wait at Boston's North Station

Photo: Evan Richman/ Globe Staff

Paul and Donna Healey awaited a late North Station train with grandchildren Christopher Dominque and Kennedy McCarthy.

 

MBCR is being paid significantly more than Amtrak, which formerly ran the T’s commuter rail lines under contract; yet, service is widely reported as worse.

MBCR was awarded the contract last year after Amtrak refused to bid, citing unreasonable liability provisions in the T’s proposed contract.

“On-time performance for commuter rail dropped from 91.8 percent in May to 89.4 percent in June, the first time below the 90 percent required in the contract since November 2005. So far in July, 84 percent of trains have been on time out of North Station, and 88 percent on time out of South Station,” the Globe reported.

“I have no explanation which satisfies me why performance has been on a steep decline for the last several months,” the Globe reported Grabauskas as saying. “I’m very disappointed that it’s not just the maintenance of the equipment, but also the conduct of MBCR personnel to go above and beyond and meet our customers’ expectations,” he said. “I score their performance very low in this crisis.”

MBCR is a consortium of Veolia Transportation, Bombardier, and Alternate Concepts Inc. It runs and maintains the tracks and trains, while the T owns them.

A spokesman for the commuter railroad consortium, which has acknowledged the drop in service, declined to comment on today’s closed-door meeting.

Part of the problem is due to equipment shortages and older equipment that MBCR is forced to use because MBTA procurements have fallen behind needed replacement schedules.

The Globe reported: “Equipment shortages appear to be a key problem for the commuter railroad, which on Monday had 24 of 80 locomotives in the shop for service or maintenance, above the maximum of 20 that the contract with the MBTA allows. On Tuesday, Grabauskas said the consortium had 90 coaches out of service, more than double the 41 the contract permits.”

“When it took over commuter rail from Amtrak, the consortium had 536 mechanics. But on July 17, MBCR had just 473 mechanics,” the Globe reported Grabauskas as saying.

Customer complaints have risen as on-time service has declined, with 533 complaints in May, 654 in June, and 900 so far in July, the Globe reported.


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EVENTS...  Events...

Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads

Railway Age annual conference

October 16-17, 2006
Washington Marriott Hotel, Washington, D.C.

 

Dear Reader:

Railway Age is pleased to present the thirteenth annual Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads conference. This year’s event will be held October 16-17 at the Washington Marriott Hotel in Washington, D.C. As in the past twelve years, we have a strong lineup of presenters for this conference, beginning with our keynote speaker, Amtrak Board Chairman David Laney.

This year’s W. Graham Claytor Jr. Award for Distinguished Service to Passenger Transportation goes to APTA President Bill Millar.

Renowned journalist Rush Loving, author of “The Men Who Loved Trains,” is our luncheon guest speaker on October 16. For further details, see the attached brochure and registration form.

With the explosive growth in intercity, regional and commuter rail services, and with Amtrak’s future still uncertain, the issues this conference addresses--capacity, scheduling, compensation, liability, infrastructure requirements, legislation, funding, maintaining the integrity of freight service, public/private partnerships--continue to grow in importance. Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads is the only industry conference dedicated to a thorough, candid airing of these issues.

The past twelve conferences have been sellouts, attracting a cross-section of railroad industry delegates: passenger and freight operators, consultants, suppliers, and government officials. Early registration will assure you a seat-and a voice-at Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads 2006.

Regards,

William C. Vantuono
Editor
Railway Age
345 Hudson Street - New York, NY 10014
Tel.: 212.620.7209 - Fax: 212.633.1165
E-mail:
conferences@sbpub.com


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: MarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)68.8869.03
Canadian National (CNI)40.5540.29
Canadian Pacific (CP)48.4445.31
CSX (CSX)60.4461.94
Florida East Coast (FLA)46.9445.89
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)26.6226.27
Kansas City Southern (KSU)24.3023.48
Norfolk Southern (NSC)43.7646.37
Providence & Worcester (PWX)18.7318.49
Union Pacific (UNP)85.2283.04


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FREIGHTLINES...  Freight lines...

Derailment in California slows
local Amtrak service

From the Internet

GLAMIS, CA, JULY 27 -- Rail officials said a Union Pacific freight train derailed in the desert town of Glamis near the California-Arizona border, disrupting Amtrak service that affected about 1,000 passengers as far away as Orlando.

An Imperial County sheriff’s dispatcher said no injuries were reported. Details of Wednesday’s derailment weren’t immediately available.

Amtrak officials said the derailment forced it to cancel portions of its daily Texas Eagle line, which travels between Los Angeles and Chicago. Service on the line will be canceled west of San Antonio.

Services on the tri-weekly Sunset Limited line, which travels between Los Angeles and Orlando, were canceled along the entire route. The railroad was expected to reopen Friday.

Glamis is 150 miles east of San Diego.


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OPINION...  Opinion...

Rail link puts economy on track

By James P. RePass

Today we stand in the center of a great debate, conducted largely behind closed doors, on the kind of future Boston is going to have. On one side are the hundreds of people from all walks of life and professions in Boston who have worked for 20 years and more on the North South Rail Link Project. On the other are scores of people, mostly minor highway planning bureaucrats, who want to build what is called the Urban Ring, a road which will circle through the inner suburbs.

The Rail Link was supposed to have been part of the Big Dig, but got pulled out for “later construction” to save money. The Urban Ring was also proposed many years ago as a subway, but was changed to a road with a few tunnels to save money in its early phase, with the tunnels (maybe) to come later.

There is a bill currently in the Massachusetts House, that preserves the underground right of way for the Rail Link. It should be brought up, and passed, but it is being held in committee, to be killed in such a way that no one will take responsibility for it.

The basic sneakiness of it all is the kind of thing that leaves ordinary people disgusted with politics and politicians. But far more important is the great damage that abandoning this project would do to the future not only of Boston, but the entire region from Connecticut through Rhode Island and on up to New Hampshire and Maine.

That is because the Rail Link will create, in essence, a dozen through-rail commuter lines that for the first time will make it possible to live in Providence and work in Lynn, or live in Chelsea and work in Franklin, or live in Braintree and work in Worcester. Right now, auto trip times for those kinds of commutes are bad and getting worse. The Rail Link would open up the region to employers, and create the largest pool of available employees in the Northeast outside of New York City/ New Jersey, accessible to employers because the transportation system would work.

If only they have the brains to build it.

For if not, if the highway lobby kills this right-of-way preservation bill, within three to five years I predict Boston will face even more stop-and-go traffic. Massachusetts bureaucrats may not be bright enough to understand the damage they will be doing, but I can guarantee you that corporate CEOs will notice.

That is when the exodus from Massachusetts will really begin. The vote will happen this week. Few will notice. But maybe some will, and mark the passing of Boston as a great city. Because that vote is where Boston’s slow decline of the last decade will be confirmed.

[ James P. RePass is president and CEO of The National Corridors Initiative. ]


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Commuter-killer clause is
making fares unfair

A US law is worded so that if Amtrak doesn’t keep tickets high,
it will lose subsidies. The law may also kill Amtrak.

By Rick Booth
(Op Ed, to The Philadelphia Inquirer)

JULY 18 -- Last fall, after hearing a rumor that my station in Bensalem was about to lose its New York commuter train service, I took on Amtrak - and won. But did I?

My station at Cornwells Heights still operates today, but I see fewer than half the 35 commuters who rode the train to work in New York City. The same loss of riders is happening in central Philadelphia and Wilmington. It’s not that commuters want to spend hours driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic. It’s the high cost of the monthly train passes. And therein lies a sordid tale of government and railroad chicanery - and a glimmer of hope for the future.

Over an eight-month period last year, Amtrak hiked my monthly ticket price from $499 to $882. This made the yearly cost of my commute jump from $5,988 to $10,584 - a $4,596 increase! Why did Amtrak increase the fare by 77 percent without so much as a single public hearing on the matter? In a Sept. 9 news release, Amtrak blamed it on the high cost of diesel fuel. Funny thing, though, but all the trains commuters ride on are electric, and those prices hadn’t changed.

I smelled a rat, and a few months after the hike, I found the rat. Someone in Washington actually wrote the commuter-fare hike into Amtrak’s $1.4 billion subsidy law in such a way that if Amtrak didn’t maintain those high commuting fares, it would lose its subsidy money this year. Amtrak was given the legal backing of Congress to exploit its most loyal, dependent, and vulnerable riders: the daily job commuters. They are just a few thousand of Amtrak’s two million riders each month, and most are East Coast residents.

With assistance from Sen. Arlen Specter’s office, I was able to meet with representatives of both Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration, the agency that enforces that law. I was told that the commuter-killer clause was placed in the funding law by a Senate Appropriations Committee staff member who has since left his position.

Written in as the last, cryptically worded sentence of the funding law, it never even showed up in Capitol Hill print until a few hours before it came to a vote. Nobody in Congress apparently even knew that it was there.

On a transportation Web site I set up, dozens of area commuters have shared their fare-hike horror stories with me. Some have abandoned Amtrak and are using cars - traveling up to 25,000 miles a year to get to New Jersey, where NJ Transit runs affordable trains to New York from Trenton for $320 a month. Others have moved out of state or quit their jobs in New York altogether.

Why would Amtrak try to intentionally get rid of the people who ride its trains every day? Because Amtrak has its back to a financial wall and is being threatened with a shutdown if it doesn’t stop losing so much money.

My research has led me to believe that Amtrak privately decided that since it is already running short on railcars and can’t afford to buy new ones, it would reduce the number of seats on trains servicing markets such as Philadelphia and try to fill the remaining seats with business travelers, those able to afford a $74 one-way ride once in a while. We commuters were just a nuisance. (The thought of social responsibility and fairness rarely crosses the collective mind of Amtrak anymore.)

Unfortunately, the law written to kill off commuters was so badly written that it now threatens to kill off Amtrak itself. Its wording stated only that Amtrak would lose funding if it sold any tickets after March 1 for less than half of “normal, peak fare.”

Happily, Amtrak did, in fact, sell such tickets to me - at up to 90 percent off - under its small-group fare discount system on March 31. I bought 30 of them so that I could invite every U.S. senator on the Northeast Corridor to ride Amtrak with my family and me on our summer vacation in late August (total cost: $74.60). We plan to ride through a state a day, from Boston to Washington.

Discounted prices ranged from a low of $1.10 for Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.) to ride his leg of the trip to a high of $3.40 for Sen. Hillary Clinton (D., N.Y.) (wouldn’t you know!).

I’ll be asking the senators to either enforce the law that they themselves passed and shut down Amtrak, or else fix the bad law and tell Amtrak that if it wants its next $1.4 billion subsidy, it has to put the people who trusted it with their careers back on the trains at non-gouging prices. (I’m hoping my son will start first grade in the fall with one of the best summer social-studies stories ever.)

Treachery aside, I happen to like Amtrak’s service very much and believe it worthy of further public support, albeit amid reform (including ethics training). Democracy being both at its worst and at its best in a midterm election year such as this, I think we commuters still have a fighting chance.

[ Rick Booth of Bensalem represents Bucks County passengers on the SEPTA Citizen Advisory Committee. ]


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German TV:

British privatization model costs English
taxpayers $780 million/year for just one
route in national system

By David Beale
NCI European Correspondent

According to Bahn TV [Germany], the British Rail system privatization undertaken by the Conservative Government of John Major a decade ago cost the British taxpayers three times as much public funding during the seven years after full privatization as the preceding seven years with the government-owned, fully-integrated British Rail corporation.

Bahn TV stated that a group of long distance routes formerly operated by BR Intercity and which is today operated by Virgin Trains (http://www.virgintrains.co.uk/) requires an annual operating subsidy from the British government of £400 million (US$ 780 million). A decade ago, according to Bahn TV, those same routes generated a small operating profit for British Rail.

Bahn TV added, that a similar plan to the British concept of complete separation of the track/infrastructure from operations here in Germany has been recently taken off the table and will not be pursued. Deutsche Bahn as well as several rail labor unions have been against this proposal for years.

Bahn TV’s news anchor, Monika Jones, wound up the story regarding the now-shelved plan to remove track / infrastructure from operations within Germany, as executed in Britain, as similar to dividing a restaurant from its kitchen into separate business units with separate management and “expecting the restaurant to still function”.


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End Notes...

We try to be accurate in the stories we write, but even seasoned pros err occasionally. If you read something you know to be amiss, or if you have a question about a topic, we’d like to hear from you. Please e-mail the editor at editor@nationalcorridors.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write. For technical issues contact D. M. Kirkpatrick, NCI’s webmaster at webmaster@nationalcorridors.org.

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Photo submissions are welcome. NCI is always interested in images that demonstrate the positive aspects of rail, transit, and intermodalism, as well as of current newsworthy events associated with our mission. Please contact the webmaster in advance of sending images so we can recommend attachment by e-mail or grant direct file transfer protocols (FTP) access depending on size and number. Descriptive text which includes location, train name, and something about the content of the image is encouraged. We will credit the photographer and offer a return link to your e-mail address or web site.

Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images by Leo King and other photo journalists should contact our webmaster@nationalcorridors.org for additional information.

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 transportation initiative 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 link, please send the uniform resource locator address (URL) our webmaster@nationalcorridors.org.


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