Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 4 No. 33, August 18, 2003
Copyright © 2003, NCI, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - James Furlong
Editor - Leo King

A weekly North American rail and transit update

 


AN Acela Express departing Washington DC

NCI: Leo King

An Acela Express slips northward from Washington’s Union Station in April. They, along with many other Northeast Corridor trains, were stranded Thursday as the U.S. Northeast went dark. The trains face another problem though - airline competition is back in full swing. The stories are below.

 

Northeast goes dark;
trains stop for a day

By Leo King, with press reports

Thursday afternoon became a nightmare for millions of people between Connecticut and Michigan and into Canada as an incredible power grid failure cascaded cross 26 power supply entities and some 9,300 square miles.

Electric-engine drawn Amtrak trains north of Newark, N.J. came to a stop, and its diesel-hauled trains on its Empire Service and Keystone lines were affected, as well as Michigan service. VIA Rail Canada was no better off for much of its traffic between Ontario and Toronto. Pennsylvania was briefly affected in the northwestern part of the state, as was Massachusetts. Erie got the juice turned back on early Friday, and Amtrak said its trains to Penn Station, New York were running from Lancaster, Harrisburg and Philadelphia. Metro-North Railroad lost switch, signal and station power between New York City and New Haven, Conn.

By Friday morning, very little had improved. Amtrak posted a notice on its web site stating, “Due to the power outage that affected the Northeast yesterday afternoon, Amtrak service this morning between New York and Boston has been suspended.”

Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black, in Washington, told D:F, “As of 8:00 a.m., No service New York-Boston because of continued power outage problems on Metro-North.”

He added there would be “limited service New York to points south (roughly hourly). Similarly, limited service New York to points in Upstate New York, but trains to and from Montreal and Toronto are running.”

He added Norfolk Southern and CSX were “having sporadic power problems in the north. No. 30 [Capitol Limited] of last night still hasn’t made Cleveland, for example. Many cancellations in Michigan, but the Pere Marquette (Nos. 370 and 371) and International (Nos. 364, 365) are okay, but most service east of Dearborn is not running, and some Chicago-Detroit trains are canceled outright.”

He said CSX was “still having some signal problems in the Empire Corridor.”

Black added the “Springfield line,” in Massachusetts, was “running limited shuttle service from New Haven to Springfield.” Those are diesel-hauled trains.

He said the railroad would also be turning No. 55, the Vermonter, (of August 14) at Springfield for No. 56 (on Friday), “but no connection provided from New York to New Haven; at least not currently planned.”

“Service between New York Penn Station and Albany will operate on a reduced schedule,” the online note stated, and Amtrak encouraged passengers “to delay travel plans to New York Penn Station until power is fully restored.”

It also suggested customers call 1-800-USA-RAIL for specific route details.

There was no New York City subway service for the for the morning rush, and the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North commuter lines warned suburban train riders of similar woes. The LIRR still had not repowered its system by 8:00 a.m. Friday.

Once the power returns, it will take six to eight hours for the commuter rail lines and subway system to resume service, their spokesmen said, as signals, switches and other elements of the system needed to be checked. That would be true of all affected railroads. Dispatchers no longer had control of their switches and signals.

By Friday afternoon, trains were running between Washington and New York, but no service between New York and Boston yet, and by the weekend, officials were still trying to figure out what happened.

Around the Web

Newspaper web sites were also affected by the power losses. The Cleveland Plain Dealer site was down, but they were able to splash an AP story on the blackout onto their site address. The Toronto Star was dark. So was the Ontario Sun Times. The London, Ont., Free Press was online.

Detroit Free Press editors and reporters dug candles out of desks, changed into jogging shorts and T-shirts, and crowded near windows for the last bits of light Thursday night as they worked to print a newspaper in a metropolitan area darkened by the nation’s largest-ever power outage.

The New York Times remained online as did Newsday.

Outages were reported in every corner of New York State. Early estimates had 80 percent of the state without power at the height of the blackout. In New York City, power was lost from the top of the 102-story Empire State Building to the 214 miles of subway tunnels, and everywhere in between. Passengers at Penn Station had a hard time finding ground transportation or making connections to other transit systems.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned that the power would return slowly across the five boroughs and its suburbs.

Friday morning trains 240, 246, 251, and 255 were cancelled between Albany and New York City.

New Jersey Transit trains operated on a juggled schedule Friday morning.

During the morning rush, trains operated on a reduced Saturday schedule for the North Jersey coastline, Northeast Corridor, Raritan Valley, Morristown and Gladstone branches. Overcrowding was extensive, as were delays. NJT cross-honored rail and bus tickets.

The light rail system operated on a regular weekday schedule, but there was no service for the Montclair and Boonton main line, nor for Bergen, Pascack Valley, and Port Jervis lines. Commuters were directed to use the Meadowlands or Vince Lombardi park-and-rides.

Port Authority subway trains regained full service Friday morning between Newark and New York, Newark to Journal Square then to 33rd Street via Hoboken.

Elsewhere, New York City transit subways service remained suspended system-wide, but extra bus service was being provided, and all rides were free for the day.

The Staten Island ferry was running once an hour each way.

The New Jersey Turnpike, Garden State Parkway suspended their tolls until further notice.

The MTA web site was down Friday morning. That site also includes the Metro-North Railroad and Long Island Rail Road web pages. Amtrak’s site, located in Washington, remained online.

The beginning

The power blackout began shortly after 4:00 p.m. Thursday.

Hundreds of subway and commuter trains were paralyzed, some in tunnels, including a Long Island Rail Road train that was trapped beneath the East River with no air-conditioning for almost two hours.

Amtrak service rolled to a halt along almost the entire Northeast corridor, stranding as many as 18,000 travelers, according to Amtrak’s Black, who said that trains from Washington and other parts south could go no farther north than Newark.

“You get off at Newark,” Black said, “and you’re on your own.”

Some trains east of New Haven returned to Boston, and those trains experienced heavy loads.

Service was also suspended between New York City and Albany.

Electrical engineer Uli Hertel, an occasional D:F contributor observed, “Although I do not know how far the Washington-New York section was affected, I think that it should only have been marginally affected, being an independent power network. It should have been fed in cantilever from the south with the static converter in the Sunnyside yard acting as voltage support. These converters do that automatically in case the utilities’ supply power fails, as it did. Here we have an Achilles heel of the 60 Hz system.”

The region’s three airports remained partly open throughout the power failure, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, but many departing flights were canceled, leading to huge, hot, angry crowds in the terminals.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari in Chicago said on Thursday Amtrak operations were shut down in Michigan between Detroit, Dearborn and Pontiac.

The signal system south and north of Penn Station in New York City was down, he explained. It runs on commercial power, and this is affecting commuter lines. Amtrak’s New York City dispatch center was also dark, Magliari said, making it impossible to run trains north of Trenton to New Rochelle, N.Y., where Amtrak trains run on Metro-North tracks eastward to New Haven, Conn.

Michigan trains hit

Michigan Services were hard-hit. Here are some specific results:

  • Train 355 of August 14 was held 3 hours, 18 minutes at Milwaukee Jct., 9 miles south of Royal Oak waiting for a signal maintainer to hand-line the route into Detroit. Train then operated at restricted speed to Battle Creek and terminated there.

  • Train 354(14AUG) terminated at Battle Creek. Equipment of Trains 354 and 355 were held overnight, combined and operated back to Chicago as train 351 on August 15.

  • Train 352 of the 14th was delayed enroute 5 hours, 30 minutes account signals out and running at restricted speed; terminated at Dearborn. The consist was turned at Dearborn overnight to train 353 on Friday

  • Train 350 for Friday was cancelled.

  • Train 352 for Friday operated Chicago-Dearborn only.

  • Train 355 for Friday was cancelled.

  • Train 30 (on Thursday) was delayed 90 minutes account signals out, operated to Toledo and held 4 hours, 30 minutes for signal restoration and for freight congestion to clear.

  • Train 48 of Thursday held at Hammond/Whiting 90 minutes account signals out.

  • Train 50 of Thursday delayed 1 hour 6 minutes out on its route east of Chicago by signal outages.

  • Train 40 of Thursday was held 40 minutes at Chicago Union Station.

–from AMTRAK sources

At 3:45 Thursday afternoon, the Chicago-bound Amtrak passenger train No. 355, the Twilight Limited, left Pontiac on time. At 5:45, Amtrak stations in Detroit and Dearborn had no idea where it was. It was due to arrive in Detroit at 4:21.

At 5:55 an Amtrak employee burst into the Detroit terminal, shouting, “They’re two miles away. They’re manually resetting the signals for two miles, and they’ll be on the move.”

One block from Grand Central Terminal in New York, commuters lay on sidewalks with their heads on briefcases. A man walking by said, “Everybody is homeless tonight. Now you get a taste of what homelessness is like.”

CSX reported its lines were also affected by the commercial power outage in sections of the Northeast and eastern Canada. In a service bulletin, the freight carrier stated, “Train operations between New York City, Detroit and Toledo are significantly limited. That includes service to and from Albany, Buffalo, and Cleveland as sporadic outages interfere with signals and train communications. Service in and out of New York and New Jersey are seriously affected. All could possibly impede train operations to and from the Chicago exchange points.”

Norfolk Southern’s service alert was also gloomy:

“Norfolk Southern’s operations have been adversely affected as a result of the power outage in Michigan, Ohio and the northeastern U.S. Customers with traffic moving through these areas should expect delays. We are working to restore service to normal levels as soon as possible.”

The freight carrier added “Force majeure was invoked effective 4:00 p.m., August 14, 2003 on all traffic originating or moving through the above noted area.”

The power failure also put the brakes on VIA Rail Canada passenger trains, leaving several travelers stranded at the station and Londoners In Canada) waiting in vain for relatives.

“Nothing’s working, the trains are stopped. It’s chaos,” said a sweating VIA employee as he fielded questions and complaints from customers around 6:30 p.m.

As the station grew hotter and stickier, travelers began sprawling across chairs in the waiting area.

Among them were Kitchener-bound Jill and Steve Prudnikowicz, who had taken their two young boys to Storybook Gardens for a family vacation and hoped to head back home by train last night.

They were among hundreds of tourists still enjoying the park when the power went out, Jill Prudnikowicz said.

“All of a sudden, people were yelling that the power was out all over the world.”

So, instead, the family took the bus to the train station three hours early. As the boys frolicked there, oblivious to the heat, Steve Prudnikowicz was on the phone with his father in Kitchener, who planned to pick them up.

Londoner Rosemary Ingram’s face fell when she learned her daughter’s train was likely still in Toronto.

“It took me a half an hour to drive down Wellington from Commissioners to York Street,” said Ingram.

By 3:28 a.m. on Friday, all three major airports in the New York City area were accepting arrivals and allowing departures to go. All had power, but JFK was running with a power generator.

Flights at six airports – Kennedy, LaGuardia, Newark, Cleveland, Toronto and Ottawa – were grounded, according to the USDOT.

“They actually told us to go home, but you can’t get home,” said Leah Bramson, who is six months pregnant and was supposed to be on a flight to Italy. Instead, she sat on a suitcase at Kennedy International Airport, being spritzed with cool water by a relative.

Terri King, D:F’s editor’s daughter, was stranded at Kennedy after returning from a two-week stay in London, England. She said she got off the Virgin Atlantic plane and everything was dark. It had been a sweltering day in the city, with temperatures around 91 degrees outdoors. Inside the terminal, with no air conditioning, she said it was unbearable. She camped out overnight under a canopy at the airport. Her dad lives in Florida.

She said she considered taking a taxi to the Port Authority bus terminal, but the taxi drivers were price gouging. One was charging $55 a head to go to Manhattan. She declined.

Early Friday morning she was able to hitch a ride with an MIT student and his girl friend. They had dropped a friend off at JFK who was taking a flight overseas. King saw the Massachusetts plates and asked if they were going anywhere near Rhode Island. The good Samaritans were going back to Boston, and took her to her front door in Providence.

By 8:00 p.m. Thursday, Amtrak managed to get a few trains in and out of Pennsylvania Station from the south and west using power from the New Jersey power grid, although service to New Haven and Boston remained shut down, as did all the New York commuter railroads.

Airports and air traffic control facilities have backup generators so they can continue to operate during power outages, but numerous airports, including those serving New York, lacked enough power to operate X-ray and metal-detection equipment for passenger security screening.

The FAA blocked takeoffs across the country of flights destined for New York’s La Guardia and John F. Kennedy International and Newark’s Liberty International airports, as well as for Cleveland, Detroit, Ottawa and Toronto.

Major airlines canceled, delayed or diverted flights across the country Thursday, and the ripple effect spilled into the weekend.

Airports that lost power included Albany and Rochester, N.Y.; Erie, Pa.; Lansing, Mich.; Cleveland; Detroit; Ottawa; and Toronto, as well as the three serving New York City.

New York’s airports began resuming flights by 8:00 p.m., as some security checkpoints regained limited power on generators, and, in other cases, as security screeners manually searched carry-on luggage and used handheld metal detectors.

Authorities concentrated on evacuating thousands of commuters from subways and electrically operated commuter trains.

Iraqis offer blackout tips

BAGHDAD, Iraq, August 15 – Iraqis who have suffered for months with little electricity gloated Friday over a blackout in the northeastern U.S. and southern Canada and offered some tips to help Americans beat the heat.

From frequent showers to rooftop slumber parties, Iraqis have developed advanced techniques to adapt to life without electricity, wrote Associated Press correspondent-at-large Niko Price.

Daily highs have soared above 120 degrees recently as Iraq’s U.S. administrators have been unable to get power back to prewar levels. Some said it was poetic justice that some Americans should suffer the same fate, if only briefly.

“Let them taste what we have tasted,” said Ali Abdul Hussein, selling “Keep Cold” brand ice chests on a sidewalk.

“Let them sit outside drinking tea and smoking cigarettes waiting for the power to come back, just like the Iraqis,” he said.

Here are some tips from the streets of Baghdad:

  • SLEEP ON THE ROOF. Without power – and hence without air conditioning – Iraqis have taken to climbing up stairs in the hot nights. Some install metal bed frames on rooftops, while others simply stretch out on thin mattresses. “It’s cooler there,” said Hadia Zeydan Khalaf.

  • SIT IN THE SHADE. Many Iraqis head outside when the power’s off. “We sit in the shade,” said George Ruweid, 27, playing cards with friends on the sidewalk. Of the U.S. blackout, he said: “I hope it lasts for 20 years. Let them feel our suffering.”

  • HEAD FOR THE WATER. “We go to the river, just like in the old days,” said Saleh Moayet.

  • SHOWER FREQUENTLY. “I take showers all day,” said Raed Ali.

  • BUY BLOCKS OF ICE. Mohammed Abdul Zahara sells about 20 a day from a roadside table.

  • GET A GENERATOR. Abbas Abdul al-Amir has one of a long row of shops selling generators in Baghdad’s Karadah shopping street. When the power goes out, sales go up, he said.

  • CALL IN THE IRAQIS. Some suggested the Americans ask the Iraqis how to get the power going again. “Let them take experts from Iraq,” said Alaa Hussein, waiting in a long line for gas because there was no electricity for the pumps. “Our experts have a lot of experience in these matters.”
A group of transit workers outside the 59th Street-Columbus Circle station said that a train stopped 500 feet from the station when the power went out and 1,000 people were stuck for two hours with no light. Workers eventually brought passengers out of the front door of the train and out the tunnel. At least two elderly women were too scared to walk down the tracks, so police officers came to calm them down.

Power was available for Amtrak trains between Boston and a point near New Haven, Conn., but Amtrak canceled service nonetheless because trains could not get into New Haven.

Three trains were stranded – one train just short of the New Haven station and an Acela Express train at the Old Saybrook, Conn., station. Another train was trapped in the Bronx between the East River tunnels and New Rochelle, N.Y.

Metro North, New Jersey Transit and Long Island Rail Road canceled the remainder of Thursday service. Most of their trains are run by third-rail systems or catenary, but even diesel-powered trains could not run because signal systems were out, and dispatchers had no control of switches nor signals. Diesels were used mainly to move trains slowly to stations where passengers could at least get off.

Long Island Rail Road spokesman Brian Dolan said 35 commuter trains were stranded, two of them in tunnels. The 4:04 p.m. train from Penn Station to Babylon, with about 1,000 people aboard, was stranded in the East River tunnel, but Dolan said police dispatched to the scene reported that everyone seemed to be taking things in stride. The train was eventually towed back to Penn Station.

Also stranded in a Brooklyn tunnel was the 3:57 p.m. train from Flatbush to Far Rockaway. That train also was towed out of the tunnel, with the passengers evacuating to a nearby White Castle restaurant.

Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta had been hop-scotching the Southeast on Thursday, awarding airport-improvement grants in Georgia, Florida and North Carolina, and flew back to Washington in the early evening to oversee the crisis center, Alcivar said.

“It’s not as easy as flipping a switch,” said Paul Fleuranges, a spokesman for New York City Transit. He said that it could take six to eight hours after full city power was restored before the subway returned to regular service.

The biggest obstacle was the signal system that governs train movement. As many as 12,000 signals – just on his railroad – had to be checked, he said, many of them by hand.

Despite the heat and confusion that continued into the night, officials reported very few cases of heat exhaustion or other injuries suffered by people stranded in trains or cars.

More than 70 children traveling home to the Bronx on the No. 4 train from a roller-skating trip in Brooklyn were trapped in Midtown, causing three to faint from heat exhaustion, said counselors for the camp, New Settlement, in the Bronx.

The Long Island Rail Road reported no injuries among the 1,000 passengers trapped in the 4:04 to Babylon, which left the station just minutes before the power failed. Brian Dolan, a spokesman for the railroad, said the train was stalled under the East River with no cool air until 6:00 p.m., when a diesel engine was able to tow it back into Penn Station.

Donna Romano, a passenger, said it felt like a sauna. “We couldn’t open the windows,” she said, “because it was worse outside than it was inside.”

Perhaps the only good thing about the failure was that it occurred before the evening rush had begun in earnest. In Times Square, a few minutes after the power went out, subway platforms were only sparsely filled. At first, emergency electricity kept many banks of fluorescent lights on, blinking eerily, but then all power went out.

Many stations were enveloped in complete darkness, pierced only occasionally by transit workers’ flashlights.

“It’s still daylight outside, thank God,” said Edward Rivera, a conductor, who joined a train operator, James Woodruff, and helped lead hundreds of passengers toward the stairs to the street.

Transit officials said they estimated that 350,000 people were on the subway when the power went out, stranding 8 trains on bridges and 19 in under-river tubes. The entire subway system was evacuated by 6:30 p.m., the officials said, with thousands of people being led along darkened tracks into stations and out of escape hatches into the streets.

The Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges were packed for hours with pedestrians streaming away from the island. Ferry lines grew to a third of a mile in Lower Manhattan, and though boats were running, many would-be passengers waited in line for more than two hours.

At La Guardia, at least one passenger demanded an explanation. Clutching a stuffed Minnie Mouse, Alia Rosario, age 11, explained that her plans for a trip to Walt Disney World had been spoiled and she was not happy.

“Somebody is going to pay us back for this,” she said.


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Acelas slip in airline race

Airlines have regained key East Coast business lost to Amtrak after the 2001 hijack attacks, putting additional pressure on the railroad as its future grows more uncertain, Reuters reported on August 10.

The modest turnaround for the airlines is particularly important to US Airways, which emerged from bankruptcy in March and trails Delta Air Lines for supremacy on Washington-New York-Boston shuttle routes. American Eagle, a unit of AMR Corp., has also picked up market share since launching shuttle service a year ago.

Amtrak’s high-speed Acela Express trains are partly marketed to business travelers as an alternative to air travel.

Amtrak setbacks are magnified now as Congress weighs the future of the rail line. The Bush administration recommended in recent weeks that Amtrak be dismantled over time and its healthier routes opened to competition.

Amtrak dominates travel throughout the Northeast with a daily mix of premium and coach service, but airlines have regained the edge in the lucrative New York-Washington corridor, Amtrak’s most crucial market.

Figures provided by the railroad show the airlines have climbed out of the hole they fell into immediately after the attacks when Amtrak commanded two-thirds of the air-rail market between New York and Washington for a short period.

The shutdown of air service after the attacks and the staggered resumption of flights days later created unprecedented demand for rail. Airport delays caused by upgraded security procedures and a traveling public nervous about flying also weakened air travel demand.

Amtrak’s advantage gradually eroded during late 2001 and through 2002. By January of this year, airlines had overtaken the railroad on the New York-Washington corridor. While rail figures for the remainder of the fiscal year are not yet available, all signs indicate the airlines held that ground going into the summer.

Air travel on that route – still off its 1999 and 2000 highs – has recorded modest growth since the attacks while rail travel has been uneven.

Shuttle business between New York and Washington was up 9 percent between January and April compared to the same period in 2002, according to figures from consultants BACK Aviation of New Haven, Conn.

Both US Airways and Delta have restored their full schedule of shuttle flights after reducing them earlier this year. American Eagle has about 9 percent of the market. Delta has nearly half the Washington-New York business and US Airways just over 40 percent.

For April through June 2003, ridership on Amtrak’s high-speed Acela and Metroliner trains was off a combined 17 percent along the New York-Washington corridor, and 80 percent of trips on the Acelas are for business, Amtrak said.


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Midwest high-speed rail advocates
wary of any possible Amtrak cuts

A Bush administration proposal to remake Amtrak risks millions of dollars already invested in a high-speed rail line between Chicago and St. Louis, advocates for the project contend.

“Given everything we know now, it’d be difficult to justify massive new expenditures for high-speed rail until we know the status of Amtrak,” Illinois Transportation Secretary Tim Martin said.

Amtrak’s future is unclear because President Bush proposed last month that the federal government should largely withdraw from the passenger rail business.

Federal, state and private sources have spent more than $129 million to develop high-speed rail in Illinois, The AP reported last week. The state, responsible for $81 million of that total, also spent $24 million in 1990-92 to install continuously welded rail from Chicago to St. Louis in preparation for the project.

“Illinois and the federal government have invested a ton of money. The investment was a good investment,” Martin said, “but based on what we’re seeing right now, they are essentially writing off the investment.”

Completing Illinois’ high-speed rail line would cost about $200 million, plus as much as $150 million more for train engines and cars, according to the Chicago-based Midwest High Speed Rail Coalition, whose members include some Illinois cities and transit agencies.

Illinois’ current budget has reserved $20 million to buy some older locomotives and coaches, but there is no clear source for the remainder of the necessary funds.

Rick Harnish, the coalition’s executive director, said his group has lobbied Congress to provide $200 million to finish work between Joliet and St. Louis. But the Illinois DOT has not submitted a formal request to the state’s Congressional delegation.

“There are only so many balancing acts we can ask our delegation to do.” Martin said.

“What good does it do to get $200 million for high-speed rail if there’s no Amtrak service?” he asked.

Bush argues that states, not the federal government, should operate passenger trains. Under his proposal, the federal government would pay nothing toward the cost of running the service but would fund up to half of its infrastructure.

“It’s our intention that a state like Illinois, with a project like they have, could make an application,” said Allan Rutter, FRA administrator. He noted, “This is the kind of project this bill would be benefiting.”

Harnish said Bush’s plan would weaken the nation’s network of passenger rail service and make it harder for a Chicago-to-St. Louis high-speed rail to run economically. The high-speed rail could not count on rail passengers coming from other destinations, like New Orleans, Dallas, or Los Angeles, to help to keep its per-passenger costs down.

“Illinois is going to bear a disproportionate share of the cost. We’re the center of the network,” Harnish said. “Illinois would have to spend a lot more money to make the Chicago-St. Louis corridor work.”

Illinois already contributes a $12 million subsidy for Amtrak routes, up $2 million from last year.

Rutter countered that he has seen no evidence Illinois’ high-speed rail project would need customers from other states to be successful.

Rutter also said the Bush proposal calls for a gradual diminution of federal operational support for passenger rail service over six years, and the Administration is willing to talk with Congress and the states about the pace of change.

“It is not our intention to do anything that precipitously affects passenger rail,” he said.


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California, Amtrak get along well

Briefcase-toting executives, commuters and tourists riding the three Amtrak California trains – a cooperative effort between Caltrans and Amtrak – are enjoying a surge in ridership this year.

Even as Congress debates the future of Amtrak, and California ponders whether it should pour tens of billions into high-speed rail, the Capitol Corridor, San Joaquin and Pacific Surfliner have become among the national passenger railroad’s best-ridden trains.

They’ve become models for the future of financially and politically struggling Amtrak, which is eyeing shorter-distance corridor routes and state cost-sharing as keys to preserving and expanding passenger rail service, wrote the San Francisco Chronicle on August 10.

“It’s one of the best-kept secrets in the country, how California has supported passenger

rail,” Amtrak President David Gunn said in a visit to Oakland last fall. He told Californians, “You’re doing it right. It’s an example that should be followed by the rest of the country.”

President Bush’s proposal would take California’s model of subsidizing in-state Amtrak service to other states and eventually withdraw federal funding.

Rail still plays a relatively minor role in California; it hasn’t noticeably reduced the number of cars on Interstates 5 or 80 or cut into Southwest Airlines’ business, but growth in Amtrak California’s ridership has made the trains among the nation’s most popular outside the Northeast corridor.

The Pacific Surfliner, which runs between San Luis Obispo and San Diego, was the most-ridden train in the nation outside the Northeast in the 2002 budget year, with the San Jose-to-Auburn Capitol Corridor second. In fourth were the San Joaquin trains that run from Bakersfield to Sacramento and Bakersfield to Oakland.

Each of the three trains keeps setting ridership records.

“California is rockin’,” said Gene Skoropowski, managing director of the Capitol Corridor trains. “Record after record is being achieved.”

In June, 188,120 passengers rode the Surfliner, an increase of 30 percent over the same month last year. On the Capitol Corridor, 94,702 passengers, a 6.1 percent increase, climbed aboard, and the San Joaquin carried 71,210 riders, which was 2.3 percent more than one year earlier.

Transportation officials and rail advocates credit a variety of factors with driving more Californians to ride the rails: fear of flying, worsening traffic congestion, more frequent trains, improved marketing and word-of-mouth.

“Each train has its own reasons (for rising ridership), and then there are common reasons,” said Richard Silver, executive director of the Rail Passenger Assn. of California.

“Gas prices have had an effect; so has the decline in air travel,” he said.

Jeff Morales, head of the California DOT, credits the success to additional trips on the routes, coupled with capital improvements. Since 1998, the state has spent $600 million on everything from railcars to additional tracks and sidings.

Under California’s deal with Amtrak, the state covers the full cost of operating the Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin service, and two-thirds of the Pacific Surfliner’s costs. Last year, the state spent $73 million to support the three Amtrak lines, the same amount budgeted for this year.

“There’s a very strong relationship between investment and ridership increases,” Morales said. “When the governor chose to put a large amount of money into rail, it was a good investment. It’s working.”

While the three train routes are all state-subsidized, they traverse distinctly different terrain and have their own character.

The Capitol Corridor trains have more of an urban feel, with much of their journey passing through industrial tracts and the edges of subdivisions of the East Bay. Most of the trains end in Sacramento within walking distance of Old Town, downtown and the Capitol.

With 12 round-trip trains each weekday and the relatively short run, Amtrak engineers refer to the Capitol Corridor as “the commuter,” but it’s also popular with families on day trips and travelers to the Sierra, a destination that can be reached by connecting buses.

“I took it just for the experience of it,” said first-time rider Michael Plimmer, an executive assistant from Los Angeles, who was in Sacramento visiting a friend and took the train to see a friend in San Francisco.

“I’ve been all over Europe on trains, and this ranks right up there,” he enthused.

Would he take the train again?

“Absolutely.”

The San Joaquin, as the name implies, spends most of its run speeding along through the fields and farm towns of the San Joaquin Valley, with stops in towns whose names appear on produce labels: Turlock, Madera, Hanford, Wasco.

Many passengers are residents of valley towns, where catching an airplane means a long drive or a steep price and a bumpy connecting flight on a puddle-jumper. For them, the train is an affordable alternative.

“It’s a good way to travel,” said Jarone Torrence, a computer technician who rides the San Joaquin often from his Bakersfield home to visit family in Antioch.

“It’s pretty reliable, and you don’t have to worry about it falling out of the sky,” he observed.

California’s biggest success on the rails is, surprisingly, in Southern California, where the car is still king but traffic congestion is driving more people to try the train. Each weekday, the Surfliner makes 10 round-trips between Los Angeles and San Diego with three extending north to Santa Barbara and one to San Luis Obispo. The train’s riders are a mix of commuters, business travelers, sightseers and tourists.

Robert Flores, a philosophy professor at Santa Monica College, commutes twice a week on the train from his home in San Luis Obispo, a long ride but one he enjoys.

“For me, it’s a five-hour block to read and relax,” he said. “I don’t have any problem with driving or with cars. I like to drive, but the train is really a better way to go. It’s just more healthy all the way around.”

Riding the state-supported trains is not without its problems. For many travelers, the trains are simply too slow, especially compared with driving.

The biggest problem is delays. Like other Amtrak lines, the state trains are often late. For the third quarter of the last fiscal year (the most recent quarterly report available) the Pacific Surfliner was on time 85 percent of the time, the Capitol Corridor 83 percent and the San Joaquin 76 percent.

The delays are such a persistent problem that even fans of the train caution the impatient.

“It’s an adventure,” said San Joaquin passenger Lorine Snively, “and if you’re not willing to go with the flow, you probably shouldn’t take the train.”

Critics, including many Amtrak employees, blame the chronic delays on the private freight railroads that own and control almost all of the tracks. Too often, they say, the railroads give preference to their freight trains, though federal law and deals with the state say passenger trains should get priority.

“Amtrak is seen as something that gets in the way,” said Mark Jones, an Amtrak locomotive engineer, on a day when a dispute with Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railroad delayed one San Joaquin train more than two hours.

“We’re moving the most precious cargo there is – people – and we’re treated like a second-class railroad.”

Officials with Amtrak, the state and the railroads say they’re working together to reduce delays and improve on-time performance. The state is also helping pay for improvements, such as an added track across the Yolo Causeway between Davis and Sacramento, that will increase capacity and speed trains.

They’re hopeful the work will keep the state-supported trains on a growth track.

“Public support for rail is very good, as the ridership numbers show,” Skoropowski said. “If on-time performance can be improved, we can knock the socks off of it.”


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Mica compares Amtrak to Communism

Supporters say Amtrak is an important form of transportation for all of America, but one of its harshest critics says the passenger rail service operates like a relic of Cold War Communism.

Those are harsh words in the eyes of Amtrak’s believers, but the criticism is an indication of the uphill battle that they face as they try to convince Congress that Amtrak is a relevant part of the nation’s transportation system and should continue to receive federal money, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported on August 15.

“Amtrak is basically a Soviet-style train system that will never work when the government is in charge,” U.S. Rep. John Mica said last week during the sixth annual Texas Transportation Summit in Irving.

Mica, a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and a key ally of Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska), opposes Amtrak’s request for $1.8 billion in federal funding for 2004 and its five-year plan to gain control of its debts and improve maintenance. A smaller portion of its operating costs are paid by passenger fares.

Mica says he supports the Bush administration’s plan to break Amtrak into regional components and require states to take control of under-performing long-distance routes.

Such a plan could force Amtrak to close its three Texas routes. About 224,000 riders rode Amtrak trains in Texas last year, including more than 61,000 riders at Fort Worth’s Intermodal Transportation Center. Fort Worth is served daily by the Texas Eagle, which runs from Chicago to San Antonio, and by the Heartland Flyer, which runs from Fort Worth to Oklahoma City.

A third route, the Sunset Limited, cuts across South Texas en route from Florida to California.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), says such sharp criticism of Amtrak is not warranted and that Congress has consistently provided Amtrak with enough money to survive, but never enough to improve. Meanwhile, highways are subsidized by the federal government to the tune of $30 billion a year, and aviation gets $20 billion a year, she said.

Hutchison recently proposed that Amtrak receive $12 billion in federal funds to operate for the next six years. She also wants $48 billion in government bond funds, to be used to buy equipment and to fix the clogged freight rails that Amtrak rents from other railroad companies on most of its routes.

“We have never given Amtrak the kind support we’ve given our other forms of transportation,” Hutchison said during the summit.

“After 9-11 ... the airlines have cut back 25 percent of their flights. I want the aviation industry to come back up, but I think there’s room for Amtrak to become a healthy alternative without taking away from aviation or highways.”

The debate is sure to be littered with stinging criticisms from opponents such as Mica.

“Congress gave Amtrak the power to do everything, and they do nothing well,” Mica said. “With the Northeast Corridor, we gave them billions of dollars to get the high-speed rail corridor developed. They couldn’t do it. The finances at Enron were a lot better than at Amtrak.”

Amtrak officials think there is enough support in Congress to keep the system running for another year, said Tyrone Bland, Amtrak director of government affairs for the western U.S. More than 220 members of Congress have signed a letter saying they support giving Amtrak CEO David Gunn the funding he has requested for 2004.

Amtrak officials hope to educate Congress and the traveling public about Gunn’s five-year plan to make Amtrak financially healthy.

“We’re not where we need to be, but there is growing support,” Bland said.


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Add seatbelts, bring ladders, survivors say

As D:F reported last week, the National Transportation Safety Board said most of the blame for last year’s AutoTrain derailment in Crescent City, Fla. where four people died was because of poor track maintenance by CSX, but some survivors are miffed because the NTSB ignored their safety recommendations.

The St. Augustine Record reported on August 11 passengers and others want to see seat belts and ladders added to Amtrak train equipment.

During the derailment, all four passengers who died were ejected from a sleeper car.

This is the first or second time this has occurred in documented NTSB investigations, according to investigator Rick Downs.

“Those numbers are very, very low,” he said.

However, seat belts remain an issue.

“Seat belt issues have come up numerous times in previous investigations,” Downs said August 5, when the NTSB ruled that ineffective track maintenance caused the track to buckle and the train to derail.

“The issue rests with the FRA,” he said.

Downs said the NTSB is participating in a working group with the FRA to determine if seat belts are appropriate for railroads.

“The seat belt has been raised periodically over many years,” Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black said from Washington.

He said studies have shown that seat belts don’t materially assist in safety on passenger trains.

“It’s a very big expense with questionable benefit,” Black said.

There are no federal mandates requiring seat belts on trains, and they’re not required on buses or subways. However, he said, the issue continues to surface.

“It’s certainly worth consideration,” Black said – but forcing passengers to wear seat belts is another issue.

“Who would wear one?” asked John Loftis, incident commander at the derailment.

The train experience includes walking around the train, and many passengers were doing just that. The train derailed at 5:08 p.m., so many passengers were walking to dinner.

“They don’t do seat belts on buses for the same reason. I don’t see seat belts as being a practical recommendation,” Loftis said.

Yet 32 of 87 passengers responding to an NTSB questionnaire suggested Amtrak install seat belts.

“It’s probably not a bad idea,” Putnam County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Rick Ryan said, “but then again we don’t put seat belts in buses.”

With any moving vehicle, a jolt will affect the people inside.

“I personally know that seat belts prevent injuries and save people from dying,” Ryan said.

Seat belts would have helped to some degree, Crescent City Fire Chief Allen Peacock said, “and it shouldn’t have to affect the train experience. It should be habit by now.”

Peacock added, “They’re used to them in vehicles and airlines. I would look like it would be a habit.”

County Commissioner Nancy Harris saw many of the injured at the high school, which was set up as a type of triage.

Of 122 injured passengers responding to an NTSB questionnaire, 81 said they got hurt from being thrown about, 15 from being ejected from their seat and 17 from hitting a table, floor or other passenger.

“If seat belts are proven to help, let’s have seat belts,” Harris said.

The NTSB didn’t discuss seat belts at its recent press conference, but some emergency responders are also saying, let’s have ladders.

Loftis was in Palatka when he got the call and arrived at the derailment within 20 minutes.

“We were not getting any reports yet on the numbers of the patients, and we were not seeing a lot patients,” Loftis said in a NTSB interview. “It didn’t dawn on me until after I had started requesting ladders, the passengers were still stuck in the train,” so he put out the call to emergency responders for ladders.

“We literally stripped all the trucks of all their ladders,” Loftis said.

“Ladders were a big necessity,” Ryan said.

As the law enforcement officer in charge, Ryan would pass out assignments to other officers.

“I recall sending some deputies from St. John’s County to Crescent City to find ladders,” he said.

Some cars uncoupled when they overturned, and passengers could get out, but other passengers had to climb out the windows of the cars whose sides were not their ceilings.

“Ladders were a critical part of the initial rescue,” Sheriff Taylor Douglas said.

For every overturned car, responders needed two ladders – one on the inside to climb to the top, and one on the outside to climb to the ground.

“More ladders would have definitely been a big help,” Ryan said.

The situation could have been more critical if the train derailed in a more remote site that rescue vehicles couldn’t easily reach, Douglas said.

“It would have helped to have them on site,” he said.

They could certainly look at some sort of folding ladder, Loftis said.

“That would not be a bad thing,” he said.

Of 87 passengers responding to an NTSB questionnaire, five recommended Amtrak install ladders in the passenger cars. Two crewmembers, including the conductor who had helped lift passengers out windows of overturned cars, suggested the same.

Amtrak’s official word left the responsibility to emergency responders.

“The rescue squads are able to get ladders,” Black said.

Footnote: Of the 152 passengers responding to the NTSB questionnaire, 97 said they did not read the emergency instruction pamphlet.

The St. Augustine Record is online at http://www.staugustine.com.


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Refinery release strands Amtrak passengers

About a dozen passengers detrained and some were stranded inside the locked Richmond, Calif., Amtrak station for about an hour Saturday night (August 9) after West County residents were warned to stay indoors because of a noxious refinery release.

Two Amtrak trains stopped to unload passengers, apparently unaware that the area was experiencing a potentially hazardous condition, according to the Contra Costa Times of August 12.

County health and Richmond public safety officials each said the other should have notified Amtrak. Rail service officials were checking to see if they were indeed told.

The incident left Amtrak passenger Margery Woodard, who was stuck in the station for nearly an hour, worried about health risks had the refinery emissions been more dangerous.

Shortly after 10:00 p.m., Woodard, a 74-year-old North Richmond resident, returning from a day trip to Sacramento, exited Amtrak train No. 751 at the darkened platform.

The stairs to the station lobby were barricaded. Woodard pressed the elevator button. Nothing. From the parking lot, a man shouted that the station was closed. Woodard noticed a faint smell of rotten eggs.

Earlier that evening, a release of hydrogen sulfide gas from the Chevron Richmond refinery had sent a rotten-egg-like odor wafting downwind. Sirens sounded about 9:15 p.m. across San Pablo, North Richmond and parts of Richmond, warning residents to stay indoors, shut windows and turn off air conditioners. The alert ended around 11:00 p.m.

Contra Costa County hazardous materials specialist Paul Andrews said Chevron Texaco reported at 7:30 p.m. “a little plant upset” that led to the venting of some hydrogen sulfide gas. Although the venting had stopped about 9:00 p.m., Andrews said, Richmond fire and police dispatchers were still receiving many calls complaining of the smell.

“The levels of (hydrogen sulfide) were not life-threatening, nor did they have any long-term adverse health effects,” Andrews said. He added, “We sounded the sirens, even though we knew the refinery was stable, to get the people inside, where they could hear some news.”

Meanwhile, about a dozen train riders, among them Woodard and her nephew Johnny White, stood on the Richmond Amtrak station platform wondering what was going on.

Several men came up from the parking lot and said there was a “shelter-in-place” order. The men helped some passengers climb a wall and fence. Several others left the station by taking a long walk along the tracks to the end of the fence. Woodard, who has what she describes as “a slight heart condition,” decided to wait.

Using another passenger’s cell phone, White asked a 911 dispatcher to contact BART, which shares the station with Amtrak.

About then, another southbound Amtrak train arrived.

“We notified the conductor there was a ‘shelter-in-place,’” Woodard said. “He said, ‘I can let you off at Emeryville. Go and get on. We’re in a hurry.’”

Four or five remaining passengers got on. Woodard, White and another woman waited for BART police. About an hour after she got off the train, Woodard estimates, officers arrived and escorted the three from the station.

By this time, Woodard said, “I thought I may be having a heart attack. Pounding in the chest. Numbness in my arm.

“After I got home, I took a nitroglycerine pill and I was fine.”

Bay Area Rapid Transit police Lt. Pamela Cherry said the alert prompted her agency to shut down the Richmond, El Cerrito Del Norte and El Cerrito Plaza stations.

“Maybe Amtrak didn’t get the notification,” Cherry said. “I wonder why they’re not in the loop.”

Andrews, the county hazmat specialist, said it was up to Richmond dispatchers to inform Amtrak – but Richmond police Sgt. Mike Pon said it was up to the county health department to notify other agencies, as well as the community, when there is an alert.

Amtrak officials said they were studying the incident and could not say if they had been alerted.

“Thank God we finally got out of there and it wasn’t as bad as we thought it was,” Woodard said. “The idea – if it had really been a disaster. Children, disabled, older people.

“I was lying there, thinking about that all night.”


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May sell line:

HB to end some passenger service Canada's Hudson Bay Ry. (HBR) said last week passenger service from Lynn Lake to Pukatawagan is ending effective today.

“Unfortunate economic circumstances will not allow us to continue operating this passenger service,” said Darcy Brede, Hudson Bay’s general manager. The line is entirely within Manitoba Province.

“The Leaf Rapids mine closure created a substantial decline in freight traffic and revenues, which dramatically increased the cost of subsidizing passenger service from Lynn Lake to Pukatawagan. Simply stated, we cannot operate the service at a loss. We have, however, taken steps to ensure that the there will be no effect on the Band’s fishery.”

HBR, an OmniTRAX subsidiary, is negotiating with local First Nation’s Bands to purchase that part of the rail line. The firm stated in a press release, “A decision is expected within the next few months whether the sale will move forward.”

Passenger service will now run on Monday and Thursday from The Pas to Pukatawagan and on Tuesday and Friday from Pukatawagan to The Pas.


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Amtrak endpoint on-time performance for July

Acela Express continued to slip, down more than 7 per cent from June and continued to be substantially below the average for the whole company. The California Zephyr, the worst performer of all, made only one trip on time during the entire month, and the Sunset Limited made two.

Capitol Corridor recovered after a poor showing in June, when it slipped badly due to Union Pacific trackwork and dispatching, Amtrak stated.

Train
Service
Number of
operations
Late
trains
On-time
percentage
Goal
percentage
Acela Express63424261.892.0
Regional1,56942373.090.0
Auto Train622658.170.0
California Zephyr62611.660.0
Capitol Ltd.622559.770.0
Capitols69713580.680.0
Cardinal261830.860.0
Carolinian624724.273.0
Cascades3419671.880.0
City of New Orleans623346.878.0
Clocker, Keystone6178386.592.0
Coast Starlight62569.770.0
Crescent 622658.183.0
Downeaster2483685.590.0
Empire71224665.490.0
Empire Builder1244067.780.0
Heartland Flyer622166.175.0
Hiawatha4261197.495.0
Illinois, Missouri31013456.870.0
Kentucky Cardinal1402830.085.0
Lake Shore Ltd1246448.460.0
Metroliner3065582.094.0
Michigan 31013456.865.0
Pacific Surfliner71310185.885.0
Pennsylvanian621477.475.0
Piedmont601870.073.0
San Joaquins37222340.176.0
Silver Service18610841.960.0
Southwest Chief 622953.260.0
Sunset Ltd26247.765.0
Texas Eagle623543.560.0
Three Rivers623641.990.0
ALL TRAINS8,5852,62869.480.0

1Kentucky Cardinal refers to trains 850 and 851, which ceased operations to Kentucky in early July, and now running only Chicago to Indianapolis.

– Compiled from Amtrak sources.


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Pennsylvanian ridership surges 98 percent

Ridership on Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian increased an average of 98 percent in the five months following a schedule adjustment that took effect February 10.

March to July ridership for the train was 64,230 in 2003, compared to 32,446 during the same period in 2002, making it the highest percentage increase of all Amtrak routes.

Before February 10, Amtrak ran the Pennsylvanian on a slower schedule between Philadelphia and Chicago to support the company’s mail and express operation, a failed program intended to generate additional revenue.

The trains hauled freight cars. Amtrak president David L. Gunn announced last year that Amtrak would discontinue its express operations to improve on-time performance and to end the program’s financial losses.

On February 10, without boxcars, Amtrak restored the Pennsylvanian to a daylight schedule between Pittsburgh and New York. At the time, Gunn said, “By returning the Pennsylvanian to its original, successful roots, we hope to better meet the needs of travelers in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. This train will run faster and in a better time slot.”


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Amtrak posts strong July ridership gains;
15 routes show double-digit increases

Amtrak last week reported carrying 2,223,358 passengers in July, making it the best month for ridership in the railroad’s 32-year history.

The record-setting month comes on the heels of Amtrak’s strongest April, May and June ridership totals ever. The railroad carried 2,098,901 passengers in April, 2,104,916 passengers in May, and 2,129,697 passengers in June.

“Slowly but surely we are making improvements, and we are beginning to see results,” said Amtrak president David Gunn.

The CEO added, “With public support to bring our infrastructure, trains and stations to a state of good repair, Amtrak will continue to build on this success.”

15 Amtrak routes posted double-digit ridership gains in July versus the same month last year. Long-distance routes with significant increases include the Texas Eagle (up 49.8 percent), the Sunset Limited (up 39.2 percent), the Silver Meteor (up 30.5 percent), the City of New Orleans (up 21 percent), the AutoTrain (up 19.3 percent), and the Empire Builder (up 13.8 percent).

Corridor trains with noteworthy increases include the Pacific Surfliners in southern California (up 32.4 percent), Hiawatha service between Chicago and Milwaukee (up 13.4 percent), and regional trains in the Northeast (up 9.9 percent).


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Amtrak’s bottom lines for July

Amtrak numbers showed the carrier’s total operating revenue $1,734,808,000, but had expected $1,837,477,000 for the fiscal year year-to-date through July 31.

Total operating expenses were budgeted at $2.78 billion, but spent less – $2,66 billion.

The railroad expected 19,565,947 riders, but instead got 19,922,338

Source: Amtrak


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LABOR LINES...  Labor lines...

TWU contends Amtrak ignores worker
asbestos exposure information requests

Six weeks after workers at Amtrak’s Beech Grove, Ind., facility were exposed to asbestos, the railroad still refuses to share information with the union about the incident, complains Transport Workers Union of America.

The union said – in a press release – employees “were fixing an Amtrak dining car. It is not known how many Amtrak cars still contain the dangerous substance. This incident comes despite Amtrak’s pledge to remove all equipment containing asbestos by September 2001.”

In response to the July 3 incident, Amtrak officials ignored their own emergency evacuation plan, TWU’s Charles Moneypenny said.

Amtrak did not respond to a query from D:F on Friday.

“It took facility management over 90 minutes to evacuate the exposed workers. When it finally evacuated them, Amtrak officials brought the workers into an area where other employees were eating lunch. Amtrak officials never even called the local fire department. Only a call from the union, the TWU, alerted them to the life-threatening situation,” declared union Railroad Division director Moneypenny.

Since the incident, Amtrak President David Gunn and his staff, according to Moneypenny, have ignored the union’s requests for information on the exposure.

“Amtrak’s refusal to answer basic questions about this dangerous situation is reckless,” Moneypenny said.

“They are playing Russian roulette with the health of riders and workers. It is time for Amtrak to be accountable and truthful.”

According to the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, inhaling asbestos fibers can cause serious lung diseases and other organs that may not appear until years after the exposure has occurred. For instance, asbestosis can cause a buildup of scar-like tissue in the lungs and result in loss of lung function that often progresses to disability and death.

TWU was founded in 1934 as an industrial union, and represents more than 100,000 workers in the mass transportation, railroad, airline, and other industries.


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

Trinity Railway Express 570

For NCI: Eric Oleson

Trinity Railway Express 570 has just unloaded at Richland Hills with rush hour commuters from Dallas, and is now heading to its final destination in Fort Worth.

 

Texas considers closing station

At a time when the Trinity Railway Express is looking like a success story for commuter rail, they’re now looking at closing a station.

The newest dart being thrown by the Fort Worth Transportation Authority is threatening to close down the Richland Hills station. Ironically, the station is closer to at least 25 one-fourth of Fort Worth than the two stations in downtown. It also has better parking and freeway access than any other station in the TRE network, including stations in Dallas County and downtown Fort Worth.

The cost of stopping at the station is minimal.

There are some expenses that might disappear, and perhaps some scheduling benefits, but the biggest operating costs remain regardless if the station stays open or not – rolling stock, track maintenance, wages, benefits, and fuel. The revenue lost will exceed whatever cost savings they may achieve by closing the station.

The Dallas-Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported TRE might close its Richland Hills Station next year if voters in that city decide to stop dedicating a half-cent sales tax for public transportation.

“I don’t want to close it. I hope it doesn’t come to that,” said Dick Ruddell, executive director of the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, also known as the “T.”

Closing the commuter rail station – one of only five in Tarrant County – is a strong possibility if Richland Hills voters opt out of the T in a February 7 election.

The uncertain fate of the station came as area transportation leaders gathered in Irving last week for the sixth annual Texas Transportation Summit. Experts from across the country discussed topics including toll roads, highway funding, airport security and border issues.

A key theme of the summit was how to create an elaborate web of passenger trains linking dozens of communities in Tarrant, Denton, Dallas and Collin counties. The model for the system is the Trinity Railway Express, a 34-mile line that connects Fort Worth to Dallas via Northeast Tarrant County and Irving.

The situation in Richland Hills illustrates how difficult it will be to persuade officials across the “Metroplex” to agree on a regional rail system, said Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

Metroplex is a local term referring to the greater Dallas-Forth Worth area.

A key question is how to come up with an equitable way for all communities to contribute financially. Hundreds of local elected leaders were expected to wrestle with that problem Friday afternoon.

Because of its T membership, Richland Hills, population 8,250, pays far more for the TRE than its Northeast Tarrant County neighbors.

Richland Hills voters agreed to join the T in 1992, and the city’s half-cent sales tax generates $630,000 a year.

Nine larger cities along the TRE route don’t belong to the T, including Arlington, North Richland Hills and Bedford, and only pay a combined $775,000 a year to receive TRE service.

Richland Hills residents who favor leaving the T want to keep their city’s train station open, but for less money.

Richland Hills Mayor Nelda Stroder said closing the station, which opened in 2000, would be a “short-sighted and vindictive” punishment of commuters.

“If you go to that station and look up the registration of those cars, probably 95 percent do not belong to Richland Hills residents,” Stroder said.

She also pointed out that the T’s former director, John Bartosiewicz, whom Ruddell replaced about six months ago, assured Richland Hills residents in 2002 that their station would remain open regardless of whether the city withdrew from the T.

About 460 people board the TRE at the Richland Hills Station on a typical weekday, about 5 percent of the rail line’s total load, TRE figures show.

If the Richland Hills Station were closed, the TRE would continue to serve all the other stations, but simply roll past the Richland Hills platform without stopping, Ruddell said. The Richland Hills Station is the middle of five Tarrant County stations. The closest stations to it are the Hurst-Bell Station and the Fort Worth Intermodal Transportation Center.

Officials from Dallas Area Rapid Transit, which co-manages the TRE with the T, said any decision about the Richland Hills Station would be left to the T.

DART manages the rail line in Dallas County, and the T manages the line in Tarrant County, DART spokesman Morgan Lyons said.


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$11 million could upgrade M-N stations

It could cost more than $11 million to upgrade rail stations along the Metro-North Railroad’s New Haven line, according to a preliminary study released August 12. Much of the expense would be for parking-area improvements, like paving lots and better lighting. Some platforms and stations also need to be upgraded, according to the Connecticut Rail Station Governance Study. The consultants will probably hold public meetings on the first phase of the study in September or October, reports The AP. The Hartford Courant reported almost $9 million of that total would be needed for parking lot repairs, not including extra money to add spaces in overcrowded lots at several stops.

The information is part of a consultant’s ongoing study of how Connecticut’s commuter rail service is governed. The purpose is to determine how the Connecticut DOT (ConnDOT) can work with municipalities, Metro-North, regional planning agencies and other groups to improve the service.

The study was presented August 12 to the state’s Transportation Strategy Board, and also found that commuters face a patchwork of policies at the various stations.

Parking fees, security and other amenities vary greatly, depending on the whims of the municipality in which each station is located and what agreements they have negotiated with the DOT.

“The loser in all of this is the commuter,” said James Cameron, vice-chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council. “I think there’s an expectation that commuters shouldn’t face different rules and different fees depending on the station they use.”

For example, in some towns, parking fees are used for station improvements such as increased security; in others, they are not. The fees themselves vary greatly, as do the methods for allocating the much-coveted yearly parking passes.

The $900,000 federally funded study looked at M-N’s New Haven, Danbury, New Canaan and Waterbury lines. The stations used by Shore Line East were not included because Amtrak, not the state, controls them.

The Transportation Strategy Board has no money to help pay the $11 million that would be needed to return the stations to good repair, but hopes to be able to “provide some guidance [to the DOT] as a neutral third party,” board Chairman R. Nelson “Oz” Griebel said.


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South Floridians renew old idea

Commuters may one day be able to travel from Jupiter, Fla., to downtown Miami on one train as transportation officials consider the Florida East Coast Ry. tracks for new service.

The new Regional Transportation Authority – formerly know as Florida Tri-Rail – has hired a consultant to study the feasibility of adding a commuter line to the FEC tracks, which run parallel to US 1 through Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, said James A. Cummings of the board.

“It doesn’t take a scientist to look at a map and see how the population goes and that the FEC railway is a terrific corridor,” said Allen Harper, a member of both the RTA and the FEC board.

A source who is familiar with FEC and CSX told D:F a new connector would have to be built, and most likely at West Palm Beach in order to connect to Jupiter.

Both railroads parallel each other between Miami and West Palm Beach, no more than one-quarter mile apart, but CSX diverges westward for Tampa and Orlando there.

The source, who asked not to be named, pointed out though that if the commuter trains leave CSX entirely, they would operate from downtown centers to downtown centers along the entire route.

Right now, Tri-Rail ends at West Palm Beach.

“If you look out the windows from an FEC train, you'll see you pass through the downtowns of all the communities along the way. If you look out a CSX window, all you see is I-95,” he quipped.

Jupiter is MP 283 on the FEC, and West Palm Beach is MP 298. Milepost 0.0 is the beginning of the St. John’s River movable bridge in Jacksonville.

It is about 81 miles from Jupiter to Miami on the FEC. Final mileage will depend on where the regional transit agency and FEC agree to put a new commuter rail station in Miami.

Also, at the south end, Tri-Rail terminates at Miami International Airport and travelers need to go to a light rail line or take a bus to get downtown.

Outspoken writer and FEC historian Seth Bramson took a dim view of the notion.

He told D:F, “Allowing Tri-Rail, with their proven record of complete and total ineptitude and mediocrity, not to mention their complete lack of understanding of what it takes to “reach” the south Florida market as well as their total lack of credibility, would be a grievous mistake.”

Bramson is author of Speedway to Sunshine, Revised, published earlier this year.

There has been a seed change in thinking with the new management in St. Augustine. Now, they are willing to discuss commuter rail operations.

Board member Cummings said, “I’ve heard there are as many as 18 different groups that want to do something on the FEC corridor from light rail to heavy rail to Metrorail.” He added, “It is a transportation corridor that needs to be preserved and coordinated through the RTA or it will be a nightmare to go from one region to another,” according to Miami Today, which broke the story.

The authority could buy or lease the Southeast Florida portion of the tracks and Bonnie Arnold of the RTA said Tri-Rail could run on the FEC tracks in addition to current routes.

The FEC tracks run through downtown Miami along Second Avenue to the Port of Miami. Because they run near Miami Beach causeways, the tracks could be connected to a potential rail link east.

To get to downtown Miami from outside the county, train riders must now transfer from the existing Tri-Rail to Metrorail. Tri-Rail shares state-owned tracks with Amtrak, which runs along Interstate 95, west through Hialeah, and ending at Miami International Airport.

The FEC is open to having commuter trains on its tracks if it doesn’t interfere with its freight trains, spokesman Hussein Cumber said. Twenty-six freight trains travel from Miami to Jacksonville each day on the FEC line with an active link between Miami International Airport, Hialeah and the Port of Miami.

Expanding Tri-Rail along the FEC is also contingent on federal funds, Cummings said. Federal lawmakers may vote on a transportation bill next month, but many say money won’t be considered until next year.

Still, since the new line could run on existing FEC tracks, Harper said, it would not require the multiple years of environmental and community impact studies.

When Tri-Rail was created, planners considered the FEC, but ultimately worried it would add to west-to-east traffic and not ease I-95 congestion at a time the highway was undergoing major construction, Harper said. In 1988, the Florida DOT bought 81 miles of those tracks from the CSX Corp. for $264 million.

Now, the RTA, created in June, is reconsidering the FEC option. The nine-member body has authority over all modes of transit in the tri-county area and the ability to issue bonds and eminent domain over Tri-Rail.

“Having an RTA to face these types of issues is one of the greatest steps that has ever happened in this area,” Mr. Harper, “and it is going to lead to not only rail improvements but also bus improvements and other forms of transportation.”


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Secaucus Transfer station

Michael Rosenthal: NJT

New Jersey Transit’s new Secaucus Transfer station features an atrium brightened by skylights

 

New station may help Jersey’s economy

After New Jersey Transit’s brand-new Secaucus Transfer commuter rail station goes into full operation by the end of the year, it could pump almost $1 billion into the New Jersey economy, according to a study of the effects of transit improvements by a transportation research center at the City College of New York (CCNY).

The $450 million center, which will connect all the active rail lines in the northern part of the state, is scheduled to open for weekend service in September and expected to be fully in operation by the end of the year, reports The New York Times.

It is intended to provide easier access to Manhattan for riders from both the northern and southern parts of the state and will also make it easier for New Yorkers without cars to go to places in New Jersey.

Because the station links rail lines that were formerly operated independently, it could have a greater effect than the Midtown Direct service that has reduced commuting time and provided a one-seat ride into the city on some lines since 1996. The connections could result in a “disproportionate jump in economic activity – more than would normally be expected from the reduction in travel times,” according to the report, which was issued in December.

The station will connect 11 of the state’s 12 passenger lines. The only one not included links Atlantic City with Philadelphia.

“These rail lines were built separately to compete for territory and markets,” said James P. Redeker, assistant executive director of New Jersey Transit. “Now, they are all being connected in a unified network. A person in Bergen County can connect with the North Jersey Coast Line and go to the beach. Someone living in Manhattan can get to anywhere in New Jersey served by rail.”

Noting earlier developments like Midtown Direct service, the report found that investments in commuter rail service bolster the regional economy and give people more choices of where to live. It found that for every $10 million invested in transportation, the economy grew by $21.5 million and 207 jobs were created.

Using this standard, it is not unreasonable to expect the Secaucus Transfer station to provide more than $965 million in benefits and result in more than 9,000 jobs over about a decade, said Robert E. Paaswell, a professor of civil engineering at City College and the leader of the study group.

The price of residential real estate near the lines served by Midtown Direct increased 20 percent in the first year of operation, the report found, and the expansion of financial and insurance companies in Hudson County was tied directly to rail and ferry connections with Manhattan.

Shortening commuting time is directly associated with job and income growth, the report found. On average, a 10 percent reduction in travel time within a county results in a 4.8 percent increase in the rate of job growth and a 15.7 percent increase in income growth.

“All these projects were designed as singular activities, but we found that collectively they have increased accessibility in northern New Jersey and that increased accessibility has produced a boost in employment,” Paaswell said. The report, which was sponsored by the New Jersey DOT, is titled New Jersey’s Links to the 21st Century: Maximizing the Impact of Infrastructure Investment.


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Brakie wants job

According to the San Jose Mercury’s list of all the candidates for California’s recall election, William S. “Bill” Chambers (R) of Auburn is a railroad switchman and brakeman.

“I want to win the trust, voice and election of the people, to be California's next governor,” he said.


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Metra may go to Milwaukee

A study committee has recommended moving forward with plans to extend Chicago’s Metra commuter rail line from Kenosha to Milwaukee despite a dispute over who would pay for the $152 million project.

Kenosha County Executive Allan Kehl is inviting the Milwaukee and Racine county executives and the Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha mayors to a summit meeting to figure out how to proceed, panel chairman Fred Patrie said.

The Chicago Sun Times reported on August 9 rail supporters say the commuter line would make it easier for people who live in Milwaukee’s southern suburbs to commute to jobs in downtown Milwaukee and for Milwaukee and Chicago residents to work in Racine and Kenosha.

Development around stations along the proposed extension could provide an economic boost to aging communities along the line, particularly Cudahy and Racine, said Patrie and Rosemary Potter, executive director of the Southeastern Wisconsin Coalition for Transit Now.

“This project offers so many economic development opportunities that we can’t lose right now,” Potter said.

The federal government will pay $3.2 million of the $4 million cost of preliminary engineering, and the state has appropriated $400,000, leaving local governments to pay the remaining $400,000.

The study panel recommended that the

Wisconsin DOT run the trains and pick up any costs not covered by federal aid and fares.

Patrie, Kenosha County’s public works chief, noted that is how Maryland handles commuter trains in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., areas.

Wisconsin Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi sent panel members a letter urging them to hand the responsibility of providing funding not covered by federal aid and fares to local officials.

Both state DOT representatives on the study panel abstained from the final recommendation over that issue.

Patrie said officials could work out the long-term financing and operation issues during preliminary engineering, which is likely to take two or three years.

If all sides agree, trains could be running two or three years after engineering concludes, perhaps by 2007 or 2008, he said.


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Jacobs, Bechtel get monorail job

Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. said on August 12 that a subsidiary company and its joint venture partner, Bechtel Infrastructure Corp., were selected by the Seattle Monorail Project (SMP) to provide facilities engineering for the new 14-mile monorail Green Line in Seattle, Wash.

Officials did not disclose the contract amount.

When fully operational, the Green Line will be the longest monorail operating in the U.S.

Jacobs will design a bridge spanning Seattle’s Salmon Bay, retrofitting the West Seattle Bridge for compatibility with monorail technology, and design management.

Bechtel will support finishing environmental impact statement, followed by design and engineering to facilitate design, build, operate, and maintain procurement.


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APTA HIGHLIGHTS...  APTA highlights...

Here are some other transit headlines, from the pages of Passenger Transport, the weekly newspaper of the public transportation industry published by the non-profit American Public Transportation Assn. For more news from Passenger Transport and subscription information, visit the APTA web site at http://www.apta.com/news/pt.


First Transit Acquires CoachUSA Transit Services

First Transit Inc. of Cincinnati, Ohio, has completed the acquisition of the American operations of CoachUSA Transit Services.

The $22.5 million transaction adds more than 1,300 vehicles and nearly 2,000 new employees at over 30 locations. With 59 new customers added to First Transit’s portfolio, the deal adds over $90 million in annual revenue.

First Transit’s operations will expand into Florida, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Puerto Rico, and it has significantly expanded operations in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, New York, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

Since a June 1999 merger, CoachUSA has been a subsidiary of Stagecoach Holdings PLC. CoachUSA Transit Services contracts with metropolitan transportation authorities, counties, cities, social service agencies, universities, medical centers, and corporate America to provide transportation services.


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MATA ‘Hasn’t Missed a Beat’ in Memphis Area Storm Response Efforts

In the aftermath of a storm early on July 22 that brought winds of up to 100 miles per hour to Memphis, Tenn.—the area’s most severe storm in more than a century—the Memphis Area Transit Authority “hasn’t missed a beat,” according to William Hudson, MATA president and general manager.

“We’ve had some buses run late because of downed trees and heavy traffic, but each of our 42 routes has been in full operation since the windstorm,” Hudson continued, “and every bus has left the garage on time.”


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Sandberg Sworn In as New FMCSA Administrator

Annette M. Sandberg was sworn in Aug. 5 as the second administrator of U.S. DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, following her nomination by President Bush in March and confirmation by the U.S. Senate on July 31.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta appointed Sandberg as FMCSA deputy administrator in November 2002, and she served as acting administrator since December.

With her swearing-in, Sandberg is now the nation’s top motor carrier and bus safety official. FMCSA was established on Jan. 1, 2000, to improve truck and bus safety.

Before joining the FMCSA, Sandberg was deputy administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Earlier, she was an attorney with the Maple Valley Law Group, representing employers in labor and employment issues. Before her law career, she held law enforcement, supervisory, and administrative posts with the Washington State Patrol, where she became the first woman in the country to lead a state police agency. She served as chief of the Washington State Patrol for six years.


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Gholikely Dies; APTA Hall of Famer, Former SamTrans Board Member

Miriam L. Gholikely, a nine-year member of the Board of Directors of the San Mateo County Transit District in San Carlos, Calif., died July 28 at her home in Daly City, Calif. She was 91 years old.

In 1994, she was inducted into APTA’s Hall of Fame in recognition of making an outstanding contribution to the public transit industry on a sustained basis.

Gholikely, who served on the SamTrans Board from 1982 to 1990, was the board’s chair in 1985. She was a prominent advocate for mobility-impaired transportation prior to the formation of the transit district in 1975. She was named a SamTrans director after several years of leadership with the countywide Paratransit Coordinating Council.

She was active in APTA, serving as vice president-human resources from 1987 through 1989, and was highly involved in the Women in Transit Committee. Accorded numerous regional honors for transit advocacy, Gholikely was a delegate to the White House Conference on Aging.

A native of Atlanta, she attended American Univ. in Washington, and worked for various federal agencies before her retirement. She is survived by her husband, Alexander, and a son and daughter.


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BUSINESS LINES...  Business lines...

SEC to probe Alstom US division

French engineering group Alstom said on August 11 the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission had opened a formal investigation into its U.S. train-making division, where it has uncovered $172 million in accounting irregularities.

The move is a further blow for Alstom, maker of TGV high-speed trains, cruise ships and power turbines, which was rescued from the brink of bankruptcy this month by a € 2.8 (Euros) billion government-backed bail-out, CBS MarketWatch reported.

The SEC and the FBI had already opened informal probes into Alstom Transportation Inc. after Alstom announced in June the discovery of “understated costs” on rail carriage contracts signed by its subsidiary, based in Hornell, N.Y. Alstom has since suspended the top two executives at ATI and completed a full review of all contracts signed by the division, forcing it to inflate the provision for accounting irregularities from its initial € 51 million estimate to € 151 million.

Analysts feared the initial provision was the tip of a much bigger problem at its US transport operations and were relieved by the “modest size” of the eventual charge.

“The hit at the US transport business could have been much worse,” said Andrew Carter, analyst at Deutsche Bank.

ATI was the surprise winner of a record € 1 billion-&euro: 2.5 billion contract to build trains for the New York subway system last year. Analysts seized upon the contract as evidence that ATI was forced to hide costs to win contracts against competitors such as Bombardier of Canada, the world’s largest train-maker.

The announcement about the SEC investigation came as a European Commission spokesman said Brussels was still “impatiently awaiting formal notification” from Paris of the state-backed bail-out package announced last week.


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

New NS colors

Norfolk Southern

A Dash 9 locomotive displays Norfolk Southern’s recently updated logo, which includes an outline of the Thoroughbred’s head as a key component. New and repainted NS locomotives will feature the “soaring” logo, along with a new paint scheme that includes a white number board and a reflective stripe circling the frame. NS has a fleet of some 3,400 locomotives. The Juniata Locomotive Shop in Altoona, Pa., will paint 200 this year with the new logo. The original NS signature – five slanted speed lines merging into the slanted NS initials – first appeared shortly after Norfolk Southern’s creation in 1982.

 

Pollution remains a top California topic

By Alan Kandel
Special to Destination: Freedom

Eight bills were recently introduced by California State Sen. Dean Florez (D) to help clean up the Golden State’s polluted air, which in the San Joaquin Valley is considered the second worst in the nation behind San Bernardino County.

These all-encompassing bills are aimed at reducing air pollution emanating from ground-level mobile and stationary sources; contributors to “bad” or “atmospheric-layer” ozone. Particulate matter, classified as “PM-10 and PM-2.5” by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (SJVAPCD), from all sources – agricultural, automotive, industrial and residential – contribute to this bad ozone.

Just how bad is it, and exactly how much of this ozone is coming from locomotives?

According to the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Resources Board (ARB), particulate matter emitted from the state’s 1.25-million diesel tractor, irrigation pump, semi-tractor-truck and locomotive engines combined, is “700 percent more likely to contribute to the potential cancer risk in California,” claims agricultural freelance writer Joli Spencier in the Nut Grower magazine article, “Reducing Diesel Risks Increases Costs.”

Moreover, and again based on state estimates as brought to bear in the August 7 Fresno Bee, idling locomotives, in combination with those traveling through the San Joaquin Valley, contribute in excess of 3 percent of such ozone-forming pollution or about 28 tons daily.

3 percent may not seem like much, yet that seemingly negligible amount has nevertheless caught the attention of U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Florez as well as locomotive manufacturing and railroad company officials who vowed to take (and are taking) positive steps to reduce bad ozone in the San Joaquin Valley and elsewhere.

According to the Bee, Florez’s interest was piqued when he learned that railroads in the South Coast Air Basin in 1998 agreed to purchase and operate locomotives that were less polluting than typical models. In use in the Southland are specially built Morrison-Knudsen switchers that spew out far fewer pollutants than typical yard engines that are outwardly similar in appearance.

However, officials from both Union Pacific and Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railways were quick to point out in an August 6 meeting with the senators, that as it relates to railroad demographics or topography, the Valley and South Coast are dissimilar.

“The South Coast is an origin-destination type of place,” said Mark Stehly, assistant vice president from BNSF. He added, “The San Joaquin [Valley] is a flow corridor. It has fewer stops and few places to switch. It’s just not the same situation.”

Nevertheless, Florez and others don’t believe it’s an unrealistic goal to reduce pollution levels in the San Joaquin Valley by 7 tons daily. This may be exactly where locomotive manufacturers such as General Electric and the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors can step up to the plate and hit home runs.

According to a June 20 press release from EMD, a new model “designated SD-70ACe, surpasses new emissions standards set by the federal EPA for 2005. These stringent EPA Tier 2 emissions standards have been satisfied with a variant of Electro-Motive’s 710 diesel engines,” a design in service around the world. More than 5,000 of the 710 engines are in service.

In competition with EMD is General Electric Transportation Systems (GETS), which, according to a February 7 press release, touts its “Evolution Series” as the most fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly diesel electric locomotive built to date.

“GETS invested more than $200 million and six years of research and development into its new locomotive development program,” said Charlene Begley, the firm’s president and CEO. The company claims that engine emissions are reduced 40 percent from those of locomotives currently in use.

“Six years ago, we pulled together a team of scientists, engineers and customers to explore how we could build the most fuel efficient and environmentally friendly diesel electric locomotive. We wanted to not only meet current environmental standards, but exceed them,” said Begley.

Both locomotive types are being extensively tested throughout the nation. GE’s first three units have, so far, accumulated more than 75,000 miles on the UP and all systems are still “go.” The next two, delivered to the UP after June 5, were undergoing high-altitude emissions, tunnel, and fuel efficiency tests in Northern California [D:F July 7].

Additionally, 30 pre-production GE “Evolution Series” locomotives are scheduled to begin testing on the BNSF starting in the fall. If they meet the railroad’s expectations, the company has expressed interest in purchasing some.


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‘Make the fine $200,’ lawmaker urges

Railroad conductors who routinely block traffic could face a $200 fine if state legislators don’t derail South Carolina Sen. John Kuhn’s idea.

Norfolk Southern owns a line crossing North Rhett Avenue, and CSX owns two other lines.

In response to mounting concern from Park Circle area residents, Kuhn, a Republican who represents portions of North Charleston, plans to propose an amendment later this year in the State House, upping the fine from $20 to $200, according to the Charleston Post and Courier of August 13.

Meanwhile, residents are planning a meeting of their own at 7:00 p.m. August 25 to address the issue, which has become a hot topic for several area neighborhoods, bounded on almost all sides by tracks. Residents say idling trains are making them late for everything, from work to church.

“At a very minimum, it should be first offense $200, second offense $500 and third offense $1,000, so the railroads recognize that there is an obligation to keep the tracks clear,” said Kuhn, who has met with residents in recent weeks. “It really is a safety hazard.”

At issue are three intersections around Park Circle where residents say trains routinely block traffic, not by traveling slow, but basically by parking for as long as 30 minutes at a time. The intersections causing the most grief are North Rhett Avenue near Interstate 526; Montague Avenue near Gaynor Avenue; and Braddock and Durant avenues near Pittman Street, where one train often blocks both streets.

An observer of the railroad scene noted “Those tracks have been there since around 1830 (South Carolina and Canal Railroad, early steam locomotive Best Friend of Charleston).”

Representatives from both freight railroads, along with U.S. Rep. Henry Brown (R-S.C.), and city and state leaders have been invited to attend the meeting, which will be held at the Park Circle Community Center.

“It’s terrible,” said John Pharis, president of the Olde North Charleston Neighborhood Council. “I think the people who have lived around it for so long know the side streets and the ways to get around the trains; but with all the new people moving in, they are getting upset about it.”

Under state law, police officers first have to notify a train conductor of the need to move, after which the conductor has five minutes to do so. Only if the conductor fails to move a train in that time can a citation be issued, which, in South Carolina, cannot exceed $20. Some say the “Mickey Mouse” fine, as Councilman Kurt Taylor described it, makes it prohibitive for police officers to enforce.

“I don’t think the railroad companies are fully aware of the problems,” said Kuhn, who thinks the community and companies can work together to solve the problem.


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AAR publishes equipment report

The 2003 edition of the Railroad Equipment Report is now available from the Association of American Railroads Policy and Economics Dept.

The publication features detailed freight car and locomotive information from the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Included is comprehensive information on the number of freight cars in the fleets of all three nations, breaking down the data by car type and ownership category. It also provides statistics on the average and aggregate capacity of the fleet by car type and ownership category.

Statistics on the locomotive fleet (size and horsepower) for Class I railroads in the U.S. and the major railroads in Canada and Mexico, as well as the number of installations of both new and rebuilt locomotives for Class I U.S. railroads are also included in the publication.

AAR members’ price is $30; $60, for everyone else.


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Week’s freight traffic declines in U.S.

Freight traffic on U.S. railroads was down during the week ended August 9 in comparison with the corresponding week last year, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported August 14.

Total volume was estimated at 28.7 billion ton-miles, down 0.7 percent from last year. Carload freight totaled 326,433 units, down 3.0 percent from last year, with loadings down 3.0 percent in the West and 3.1 percent in the East. Intermodal volume, which is not included in the carload data, totaled 193,951 trailers or containers, up 0.9 percent from the comparable week last year.

Fourteen out of 19 carload commodity groups reported declines in volume compared to last year, with metallic ores down 28.7 percent, nonmetallic minerals off 17.1 percent and motor vehicles and equipment dropping 11.8 percent among commodities showing increases from last year were coke, up 47.5 percent, and pulp, paper and allied products which rose 4.4 percent.

The AAR also reported the following cumulative totals for U.S. railroads during the first 32 weeks of 2003: 10,275,887 carloads, down 0.2 percent from last year; intermodal volume of 5,966,674 trailers or containers, up 5.9 percent; and total volume of an estimated 905.8 billion ton-miles, up 0.6 percent from last year’s first 32 weeks.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 88 percent of U.S. carload freight and 95 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 95 percent and 100 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 volume was up, but carload traffic was down slightly on Canadian railroads during the week ended August 9. Intermodal traffic totaled 41,775 trailers and containers, up 13.5 percent from last year. Carload volume of 54,680 cars, was off 6.4 percent from the comparable week last year. Included in the week was Canada’s Civic Holiday.

Cumulative originations for the first 32 weeks of 2003 on the Canadian railroads totaled 1,950,957 carloads, down 1.3 percent from last year, and 1,321,604 trailers and containers, up 9.3 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 32 weeks of 2003 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 12,226,844 carloads, down 0.2 percent from last year and 7,288,278 trailers and containers, up 6.5 percent from last year.

The AAR also reported that originated carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended August 9 totaled 7,756 cars, down 3.0 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 3,230 originated trailers or containers, up 0.7 percent from the 32nd week of 2002. For the first 32 weeks of 2003, TFM reported cumulative originated volume of 272,773 cars, up 1.6 percent from last year, and 112,450 trailers or containers, up 25.9 percent.

The AAR is online at www.aar.org.


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QUARTERLT RESULTS...  Quarterly results...

P&W

Providence and Worcester Railroad Company (AMEX: PWX) reported it turned a small profit for the second quarter of 2003 on August 13.

The company had net income of $389,000 for the quarter compared with a net loss of $318,000 in the second quarter of 2002.

Diluted income per common share for the quarter was $.09 compared with a loss of $.07 in 2002. The net loss in the second quarter of 2002 was attributable to the impact of the Amtrak rate arbitration decision, which was rendered in June 2002.

The loss per common share for the six months ended June 30 was $.03 on a net loss of $117,000 compared with a loss of $.14 per common share on a net loss of $631,000 in 2002. As with the quarter, the impact of the Amtrak arbitration decision in June 2002 was primarily responsible for these results.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: Bloomberg.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)27.37027.410
Canadian National(CNI)53.45052.410
Canadian Pacific(CP)23.96024.140
CSX(CSX)30.97030.860
Florida East Coast(FLA)30.75029.050
Genessee & Wyoming(GWI)21.75021.730
Kansas City Southern(KSU)12.85011.820
Norfolk Southern(NSC)18.73018.970
Union Pacific(UNP)60.60061.240


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THE WAY WE WERE...  The way we were...

Steamtown, Scranton still run steam
Five years ago, that covered platform between the two steam-drawn trains at Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, Penn., was expected to become the end of a commuter line from New York City to Hoboken, N.J. and Scranton, Penn. That hasn’t happened yet, but the steam engine museum is still located in that Pennsylvania city and is operated by the National Park Service.

An excursion extra will operate later this month with a Canadian Pacific steam engine.

Until The Erie Railroad merged with the former Delaware, Lackawanna and Western (DL&W), the line was the Lackawanna’s mainline. After they merged, the railroad was known as the Erie-Lackawanna.

Track speed was expected to be raised to 79 mph from 30 by 2002, and a missing 26-mile passenger train cutoff between the Delaware Water Gap and Mount Pocono – torn up after Conrail took over from ailing Penn Central – was to be restored with $120 million, which was included in the 1998 “Tea 21” law. The work was expected to take place over four years.

Those two steam trains, photographed in July 1998, are, at left, the Moscow excursion, drawn by ex-Canadian National (2-8-2 Mikado) S-1-b 3254, and the shop switcher (0-6-0) ex-Baldwin Locomotive Works No. 26.

The “Mike” was built in 1917 for the short-lived Canadian Government Rys., and carried number 2854. It soon became a CN engine. The Canadian Government consolidated five government owned railways on April 1, 1916.

The Steamtown Foundation traded CPR No. 1278 (a G-5 Pacific) plus cash to the Gettysburg Railroad for the CN 3254. The CN engine is currently shopped.

Baldwin Locomotive Works switcher No. 26 came from the Jackson Iron & Steel Co., where it was their No. 3. It remains the only typical steam switch engine in the Steamtown collection, equipped with the only sloped tender in the collection.

The engine rolled out of Baldwin Locomotive Works in Eddystone, Penna., shops in March 1929 – but instead of selling it to some railroad or industry, Baldwin kept the locomotive for switching duties at their massive Eddystone plant. The switcher, after serving many years for BLW, was sold to Jackson Iron & Steel of Jackson, Ohio, where it switched empty cars into the plant and loaded cars out to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton Railroad

Trains at Steamtown

NCI: Two photos: Leo King

Trains at Steamtown It arrived in Scranton in January 1990, after Steamtown became a National Park.

Steamtown and the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area combine forces sometimes to run trains, as they will on August 30, a Saturday.

Steamtown’s press officer, Ralph Coury, said “It looks like the CP 2317 with backup from two DL diesels – DL 3642 and DL 3643” will power the train.

“Barring any unforeseen circumstances, that should be it,” he added.

They will travel a historic route along a 64-mile stretch of the Pocono Mountains mainline, between Scranton and Point of Gap. Park Service rangers will join passengers aboard the vintage coaches to celebrate symbolically linking both parks.

Tracing the path of the former DL&W’s Lackawanna Limited, excursion passengers will be among the first to travel the route since 1973, when the Delaware & Hudson (D&H) Ry. ran a Hoboken, N.J. to Binghamton, N.Y. trip in celebration of that railroad’s 150th anniversary. Along this route, the excursion will pass by nine railroad stations – seven that have been restored or otherwise preserved and one recently constructed – cross the headwaters of the Lehigh River, and navigate Pocono Summit Lake by means of a land bridge, originally constructed by the DL&W to create a more direct route.

Steamtown Superintendent Kip Hagen said, “This is a landmark event. Passengers on board this inaugural excursion will experience the historic physical linkage of two of our nation’s national parks. This is most assuredly a rare opportunity for everyone concerned – educators, historians railroad enthusiasts, and general audiences as well.”

The train will leave the Steamtown Depot at 9:00 a.m. and return around 6:00 p.m. Adult tickets are $100, and lower-priced tickets for kids and senior are also available.

The effects of Hurricane Diane destroyed much of the DL&W Mainline in the Pocono Region in August 1955. However, passenger service was restored in just 29 days and continued to operate until 1970. Considered the most scenic location along the Hoboken to Buffalo route, The Delaware Water Gap was featured regularly on the DL&W timetables.

The railroad’s former Scranton headquarters is now the Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel.

Steamtown is online at http://www.nps.gov/stea/


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 leoking@nationalcorridors.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 webmaster in Boston.


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