Destination: Freedom

The newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative

Vol. 1 No. 16 ©2000, NCI, Inc. August 1, 2000

James P. RePass, President Leo King, Editor


A weekly Monday passenger railroad update


Those broken bolt blues... Acela bolts may be human error this time

Amtrak said last week that the latest discovery of broken bolts under the Acela trains may be attributed to people this time.

Amtrak's vice president for Northeast Corridor high-speed rail, Richard Sarles, said the current problem appears to be human error. Lock washers that help hold the anti-sway bar to the car body were not properly installed, he said.

Gilles Paget, a spokesman for Bombardier and Alstom, the Canadian and French consortium that is building the new trains, said the problem was not expected to affect the overall test schedule. Testing began again on Monday, and by late Friday afternoon, the 2001-2003 set that had experienced the latest round of bolt problems was back in Boston, ready to resume testing. The earlier broken bolt problem, discovered in mid-June, revealed the connections between engine car bodies and trucks were failing, but was remedied by installing longer bolts.

Sarles said the problem was discovered Thursday night as the train was being put through tests in excess of 150 mph [See last weekĂs D:F]. Test engineers heard noises under a coach and stopped NCI: Leo King the train for an inspection.

They discovered a loose bolt, and later inspections discovered other loose or broken bolts.

Bombardier and Alstom are building 20 trains for the electrified Northeast Corridor route from Washington to New York and Boston.

The latest startup date for the Acela Express service is now expected to be in September, according to Amtrak Board Bill OĂBrien chairman Gov. Tommy Thompson.

Renewed Worcester station reopens;

Amtrak is not there just yet

Commuter service has begun operating from the newly renovated Worcester railroad station. After decades of disuse, the station was brought back to life... and Amtrak should not be far behind.

The Worcester Telegram & Gazette reported on July 25 that "Trees no longer grow out of rubble at Union Station, and pigeons don't fly around in the majestic main hall of the artfully and expensively renovated landmark."

City manager Thomas R. Hoover observed, "The magnificent twin towers have returned, serving as beacons welcoming one and all to the city of Worcester."

The architectural sheen is back, but some things are still unfinished, including Amtrak moving in, but there was little sign of the various other modes, including taxis and buses. The Peter Pan and Greyhound lines remain in their old downtown station a few blocks away, and bike racks are not yet in place.

AmtrakĂs trains continue to stop at a small "Amshack" station a few hundred feet down the track. Parking, too, remains in the planning stage, but officials are hoping to get a 500-space garage next year.

Railroad historian John Reading told Destination: Freedom the station was built in 1909, and was the second in the city.

"The first Union Station dated to 1875; it stood about where the Amshack is now until it was removed in the 1950s to make room for what is now I-290."

He added that the station was built for the New York Central and Harlem River Railroad.

"The Boston & Albany was leased in 1900 by the New York Central & Hudson River. The "Hudson River" part of its name was not dropped until 1914, but retained a good deal of autonomy within the NYC System, owned its own property, mostly kept its name on its cars and engines (after a few years of friction right after the lease, the B&A name, having come off, was hastily restored), issued its own securities, etc., and was not formally bought up and merged until 1961."

He said that the Boston & Maine was also a user as was the New York, New Haven & Hartford. B&M passenger train service ended in September 1960 with the demise of the New York-Portland State of Maine, and New Haven service ended in 1971.

"The last B&A locals ended in October 1969, and the one commuter train to Boston ended in October 1975. Amtrak's Inland Route service began in July 1971 and ended in May 1975, but the Lake Shore came back in November 1975," which was about the time the temporary Amshack was installed.

Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority commuter trains began operating to the city several years ago.

Feds offer loans to freight railroads

The feds are going to start loaning up to $3.5 billion to railroads for safety, environmental protection and growing the U.S. economy.

DOT secretary Rodney E. Slater said on July 24 that a direct loan and loan guarantee program would include $1 billion for projects benefiting shortline and regional railroads, and up to $3.5 billion in loans.

The Federal Railroad Administration reported that the "Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing" program would provide funding for small railroads to accommodate 286,000-pound cars, for highway-rail grade crossing elimination projects and for other railroad infrastructure improvements.

The program will enable small railroads to make track improvements to help ensure their continued viability.

He said funding may be used to acquire, improve, or rehabilitate intermodal or rail equipment or facilities, including track, track components, bridges, yards, buildings and shops; to refinance outstanding debt incurred for those purposes; and to develop or establish new intermodal or railroad facilities.

Support grows for pending bill

Amtrak said last week that "support is growing for high-speed rail investment act," and they offered testimony at a Congressional hearing.

The hearing, on July 25 in the House Ways and Means Oversight subcommittee "demonstrated growing bipartisan support for legislation that would boost investment in the nationĂs high-speed rail infrastructure, said Amtrak spokesman Bill Schulz in Washington.

Amtrak Board chairman Tommy Thompson pointed to a growing list of backers in Congress, the states and localities, labor unions, environmental groups and business associations.

"The breadth of support being shown for this bill is really encouraging," said Thompson, who is also WisconsinĂs governor.

"Over the last few years, the Congress has approved significant new investments in our nationĂs highways, airports and transit systems. While passenger rail investments have been neglected, more passengers are riding today than at any point in nearly a decade as demonstrated by Amtrak's record-breaking June results. ItĂs time to meet the growing passenger demand and bring our rail service into the 21st century ¤ this bill will get us there."

The bill, H.R. 3700, is sponsored by Rep. Amo Houghton (R-NY), who chaired the hearing in the Oversight subcommittee, and Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN), Ranking Minority Member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee. The bill had 138 bipartisan co-sponsors as of last Monday. Its Senate counterpart, S. 1900, was introduced by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and had 49 bipartisan co-sponsors.

Amtrak has said repeatedly that "developing high-speed corridor services is a key element of AmtrakĂs strategic plan for business success and the effort to free itself from federal operating support by 2003," mandated by the Congress two years ago.

The passenger carrier reported that ridership has risen in each of the last three years, and revenues have set new records.

"Most recently, the company set an all-time record $102 million in ticket sales in June and attracted more than 2 million riders for the first time in nine years. In the third quarter (April to June) of the current fiscal year, sales were up 17 percent over the same period last year.

The legislation would enable Amtrak and other passenger rail companies to sell $10 billion in high-speed rail bonds over 10 years. The funds would be used to build new high-speed tracks, upgrade existing routes and purchase new locomotives and passenger coaches. The federal government would provide tax credits to bondholders in lieu of interest payments, in an innovative financing mechanism favored by many investors. The bill also would require state matching grants and partnership agreements to ensure state and regional support for the most vital improvements.

"These bonds represent a good, sound investment for the federal government," said Chairman Houghton.

Corridor lines...

Amtrak opens new Virginia Auto Train facility

Amtrak hosted a Hollywood-style premier opening on July 18 for its new state-of-the-art $25 million Auto Train facility in Lorton, Va. The Auto Train, which operates daily between Lorton (22 miles south of Washington, D.C.) and Sanford, Fla., (near Orlando) is the only train in the United States that enables passengers to travel with their vehicles.

ItĂs an 855-mile trip.

"I could not be more proud or excited about this new railroad complex and all that it offers to Amtrak, our guests, our employees and the community," said Linwood Holton, former Virginia governor and a member of the Amtrak board.

Construction of the 31,000-square foot complex began in July 1998, and was completed in June 2000. The project included building a new passenger station, support facilities and track improvements, and was built using Amtrak employees and outside contractors.

"Amtrak Maintenance of Way employees performed the track work here and our Bridge and Building workers did the platform work," said Edward V. Walker, President of the Amtrak Intercity business unit.

Funding came from Amtrak, the Virginia Railway Express and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

The 14,000-square foot passenger station building has about 450 seats, large restrooms and enlarged and upgraded retail and food service.

It also features six, six-car length ramp tracks with loading ramps at each track to expedite loading and unloading operations, and the new 1,500-foot platform is long enough to accept the entire train without having to split the train as was previously done. It shortens vehicle delivery time by about 20 minutes.

Turbotrain is back on trac

The first rebuilt Turbotrain was moved from Super Steel's Scotia, N.Y. plant to Amtrak's Maintenance Facility at Rensselaer, N.Y. under its own power on July 25. After waiting for Adirondack No. 69 to clear the single track at CP 156, the engineer opened the throttle and proceeded east on CSXT's Chicago Line, arriving at 12:10 p.m. The five-car train consists of power cars 155-158, coaches 170-172 and food service car 183.

Midwest plan gathers momentum

Linking Chicago and St. Louis with high-speed rail would reduce accidents at grade crossings, according to a recently completed study.

The study reaffirmed that the only viable route between Dwight, Ill., and St. Louis is the existing corridor used by Amtrak, but the report passed no judgment on three possible rail routes between Chicago and Dwight. Those alternatives vary in cost, from $289.4 million to $369.9 million, and tap different downtown train stations. One alternative travels through Peotone, where Illinois DOT wants a third major airport built, while the others pass through Joliet, with one using Amtrak's current route.

Using faster Amtrak trains along the 280-mile corridor also would pull hundreds of thousands of drivers off highways, but the new service would not necessarily reduce air traffic at Chicago airports, according to a draft environmental impact statement put together by the Illinois DOT and federal agencies.

Public hearings are being held this summer, and before the end of the year, a final recommendation on the exact route that should be used within the corridor should be proposed. By late 2002, at least part of the route should have trains traveling 110 mph. They now travel at 79 mph.

"This report bears out what weĂve been saying for five years: that high-speed rail makes good environmental, business and transportation sense for Illinois," said Kevin Brubaker, high-speed rail manager at the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center.

"That's on the substantive side. On the process side, this is an important milestone in the effort to bring high-speed rail to Illinois," he said.

The study calls for building a bridge along a busy stretch of Romeoville Road in the far south suburbs if the Illinois Central-Union Pacific alignment, Amtrak's current route, is tapped for high-speed rail, said IDOT's chief of the bureau of railroads, Merrill Travis. That could require demolishing 11 homes and a church, he said. High-speed trains would cut the lengthy journey to about three-and-a-half hours, or about two hours less than it now takes.

Service would increase from three to eight daily round trips, the study stated. A ticket would cost under $65.

The study estimated ridership would grow from 271,000 annual trips to almost 1.3 million, but because freight and Metra trains share some of the tracks Amtrak might use, schedules may have to be adjusted.

An end note...

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, weĂd like to hear from you. Please email the crew at

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