Destination:Freedom Newsletter
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 3 No. 34, August 19, 2002
Copyright © 2002, NCI, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - James Furlong
Editor - Leo King

A weekly North American rail and transit update

Acela in the barn

Four photos – NCI: Leo King

Truck components are plaguing all 18 Acela Express trainsets – so much so they were all pulled out of service twice last week. In 2000, they were thoroughly inspected in Boston, New York and Washington while they were in trials before acceptance.
Acela woes recede
By Leo King

Last week was a nightmare for Amtrak and its Acela Express trains. All were out of service for a time, but two sets were back in revenue service on Saturday operating between Boston and Washington via New York City, and on Sunday, Amtrak said it would restore 30 Acela Expresses on Monday as federally-approved repairs have been completed on one-half of its fleet. The carrier said it ran 11 express trains over the weekend, “introduced without public notice to passengers who were expecting slower, regional trains. The trains incurred no problems on their runs.”

Amtrak stated in a rare Sunday press release the carrier “and federal rail safety officials accepted a temporary remedy of a yaw damper bracket problem presented by Bombardier and Alstom, manufacturers of the Acela Express trainsets. Installation of this remedy - a thicker version of the bracket in most cases, or the grinding out of superficial cracks in less serious cases - began Friday at Amtrak maintenance facilities in Washington, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston.”

The railroad has scheduled 17 departures between Washington and New York. It usually operates 32 departures between those city pairs. It will run 13 departures between New York and Boston instead of the regular 18.

All 30 departures “represent a 60 percent return to a full Acela Express schedule.”

The press release stated “Of the 15 Acela Express departures not running between and New York and Washington today, five will be covered with Metroliner equipment.”

The railroad ran express equipment on 11 scheduled regional trains over the weekend, so passengers got premium service while paying lower fares - but passengers purchasing tickets for Monday Acela Expresses will pay regular fares.

The carrier added, the express trains “will be used primarily in peak periods to accommodate the greatest number of passengers.” These include (partial schedule):

Southbound from Boston at 6:15 a.m., 8:15 a.m., 3:15 p.m., 4:15, 5:15 p.m.

Northbound from New York at 7:03 a.m., 8:03 a.m., 9:03 a.m., 10:03 a.m., 5:00 p.m. 6:00 p.m. 7:00 p.m.

Southbound from New York at 7:00 a.m., 8:00 a.m., 9:00 a.m., 10:00 a.m., 5:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m., 8:00 p.m., 9:00 p.m.

Northbound from Washington at 5:00 a.m., 6:00 a.m., 7:00 a.m., 2:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m., 4:00 p.m., 5:00 p.m., 6:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

Late Monday afternoon, one week ago today, Amtrak dispatchers on the Northeast Corridor were ordered to issue a blanket “Form D” to all Acela Express trains, limiting their speeds to 80 mph. A Form D is an operating instruction that requires strict compliance. Years ago, they were called train orders.

The movement permits were issued August 12 at 5:08 p.m. and were addressed to conductors and engineers of “All eastward and westward high-speed trainset consist trains at New York via Passenger Operator…do not exceed 80 mph between New York and destination.”

By the end of the week, all 18 Acela Express trainsets were out of service.

By 1:19 a.m., Tuesday, the reasons were beginning to become clear. An early report stated cracked truck frames were found on at least two trainsets. That turned out not to be quite accurate, but all Acela Expresses were cancelled for the day while mechanical forces from Amtrak and Bombardier investigated. The problem was clear: numerous cracks on all four yaw dampers, two on each locomotive truck.

HHP-8 at Boston

HHP-8 engines also shopped;
borrowed power runs trains

Similar problems were found on Amtrak’s 8,000-horsepower HHP-8 electric locomotives, also built by Bombardier and part of the 20 Acela Express trainset order. Those 15 engines were also parked in repair shops, leaving Amtrak short of enough electric engines (AEM-7s) of their own to operate all their trains.

Amtrak was forced to borrow some from New Jersey Transit (NJT) and the Maryland Rail Commuter system (MARC).

Amtrak still has 36 of the older AEM-7 electric locomotives available, although they own more, the Washington Post reported, which have the speed but not the hauling power of the HHP-8s, although some have been upgraded over the last year or two to 8,000 hp. The AEM-7s are still the backbone of Amtrak's electric fleet. A spokesman said five older and slower E-60 electric locomotives are available, making 41 electric locomotives on the active roster.

By Thursday afternoon, MARC agreed to loan Amtrak two of its four AEM-7s, and New Jersey Transit made available two of its fleet of new ALP-46 locomotives. Neither agency is expected to cut any service because of the loan.

Meanwhile, travel agents around the country were told all Metroliners were “closed for sale to protect displaced Acela Express passengers.” In short, no one could get a ticket to ride a Metroliner because all the ticket-holders for the express trains were being reseated on the Metroliners.

Later Tuesday morning, we learned Amtrak was continuing to accept reservations on Acela Expresses for travel beginning August 14 and beyond, “with the actual operating schedule pending an inspection of every single Acela Express train set. All Acela Express schedules for August 13 still have their inventory zeroed out.”

By Tuesday afternoon, the topic became such a hot item Amtrak PR people in Washington issued a press release stating, “Most Acela Express service will be cancelled today to accommodate inspections.…”

The carrier said, “During a periodic maintenance inspection yesterday of an Acela Express trainset, a crack in the yaw damper bracket of the power car, or locomotive, was observed by maintenance engineers. The yaw damper is a type of shock absorber that reduces lateral motion. There are four dampers on each power car.” There was more, however, s we discovered a little later from Amtrak president and CEO David Gunn.

The press statement explained the carrier “directed the trainset’s manufacturing consortium, Bombardier-Alstom and its subsidiary maintenance company to begin inspections of all brackets to ensure their structural integrity. These inspections resulted in the discovery of similar cracks in the brackets of two trainsets by 11:00 p.m. yesterday [Monday].”

At first, they thought they would be able to release two trains, but other abnormalities were discovered as the trains went through inspections.

Amtrak’s Gunn was taking a role in all of this. He told employees via an employee advisory, “This began when, during a 92-day check of a trainset Monday afternoon in Boston, our maintenance engineers discovered a fracture to one of the yaw damper brackets on one of the two locomotives. For those of you not in mechanical, this bracket attaches a kind of shock absorber to the frame and its purpose is to reduce truck hunting.”

Each express engine – one on each end of each train – has four yaw dampers that prevent locomotive wheel hunting at high speeds, which could accelerate wear and tear to rails and locomotive wheels. Wheel hunting is a condition that sometimes occurs on locomotives in which the wheels tend to climb the rails they are riding on. That seldom actually occurs, however.

By then, about half the fleet had been inspected, and two trainsets were going to return to service, but further examinations discovered other problems.

Gunn said, “After meeting [Tuesday] with their people, I got a reasonable assurance that they will propose a temporary fix today. If this satisfies us, and the safety people at the FRA, the trains may only be out for a few more days, but I don’t want to raise expectations here. The problem is serious and will require a permanent solution. We are not out of the woods by any measure.”

Amtrak spokesman Bill Schulz in Washington said, “We’re bringing as much equipment as we can into service to make up for the shortfall,” according The AP.

Amtrak pledged to credit passengers for the difference in ticket prices between Acela Express and the trains they take. About 40,000 people ride Amtrak in the Northeast Corridor on a typical weekday, and more than 10,000 ride the Acela Expresses.

The FRA decided Wednesday tentatively that Amtrak’s plan to get the trains moving was a prudent course of action. No Acela Expresses moved in revenue service on Wednesday.

By Thursday morning, Amtrak’s public affairs office posted a new press release on its website stating “an additional inspection to an Acela Express trainset had been conducted and found cracks not previously detected in the yaw damper bracket. It was decided not to return five trainsets to service as had been planned for today.”

The press release added, “This change reduces by 10 the number of departures between Washington and Boston announced late yesterday, but preserves more than 100 departures throughout the day as previously scheduled. All other services, such as Metroliners and regional trains, will continue to operate throughout the Northeast.”

On Thursday, Amtrak again withdrew its Acela Express trains from service and scrapped plans to have all of them back on the railroad by Friday after more-detailed tests discovered more cracks that had escaped earlier detection.

Amtrak had intended to run five Acela train sets on Thursday, but withdrew that plan and said it is uncertain when the trains can get back into service, according to the Washington Post.

Risky business on the phone to customers

San Francisco travel agent Gene Poon said a client was curious what Amtrak was telling its customers about Tuesday’s Acela Express cancellations. He said the client, who he did not name, made the phone call at about 4:00 a.m. (EDT.)

The client said, “I just called Amtrak. ‘Julie’ [Amtrak’s automated clerk] was of no help, so I spoke to a real agent. I asked for Acela Express availability between 8:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m., New York to Washington. I was informed there were no Acela Express or Metroliner high-speed trains today at all. The explanation given was due to heat index over 100 degrees. I was informed this is the likely scenario tomorrow.

“It’s an outright lie... I hope that by now, they have wised up and decided to tell the truth.”

Acela Yaw dampers...the problem

Acela Express locomotive yaw dampers are not holding up to hard use. Cracks have been found.

“At this point, I can’t even speculate,” said Chief Operating Officer Stan Bagley.

The manufacturer, Bombardier of North America, which produces the trains in a consortium with Alstom of Paris, discovered the new cracks when it applied a more-sophisticated test than it had been using. The new cracks were located at the point where the brackets were welded to the locomotive body – the same point at which workers in Boston discovered the first failure during an inspection Monday.

Bombardier had supplied to Amtrak a new bracket that is slightly thicker than the one found to be cracking, and Amtrak had intended to install those on one train today for tests, but Bagley said that installation will not take place until engineers, the FRA and Amtrak officials have a chance to decide a new course of action.

A source said the plan is to re-equip two complete trainsets with the thicker plates, run both sets in long-distance trials, get both trains in service, then go from there.

Under previous plans, Amtrak was to have all trains refitted with a new bracket by late Sunday night, but Amtrak president David. L Gunn said, “We don’t know when we’ll get the first train fixed.”

Bagley said that officials “must feel comfortable” that the train is safe and, “if there is the slightest doubt or concern, we will take the safe course.”

Amtrak spokesman Clifford Black explained to D:F on Friday morning, “The yaw damper assembly is a fairly large, triangular steel casting, perhaps two-and-a-half feet, to which is attached a large horizontal tubular shock absorber, which is itself attached to the truck frame. The assembly weighs more than 200 pounds. This assembly is attached to the locomotive frame with a pair of stainless steel plates, one outer and one inner. The plates constitute the yaw damper bracket.”

Black said, “The plates (brackets) are drilled for bolts (approximately eight of them) for attachment to the steel casting, and are welded to the locomotive sill (its frame) as an attachment to the locomotive.”

The plates are about “three-quarters-of-an-inch thick stainless steel, and are roughly rectangular with (my guess) dimensions of about 16 inches high and 20 inches wide. Take these dimension with plenty of salt. They're only guesses based on my observation two days ago.”

He noted, “The upper portion of the outer bracket (plate) is obscured by the lower edge of the locomotive’s carbody. In order to inspect and repair the weld area, a small portion of the stainless carbody skin (maybe 12 by 6 inches. must be cut away.”

Black said, “Temporary repairs will probably involve welding small cracks and replacing entire plates (brackets) for large cracks or fractures.”

He did not know how long it would take to replace one damper. He said the first trainset could be back in service “relatively soon, (a few days) assuming all goes well and the FRA approves methodology. As to when a bunch of them might be available, that's another question I wouldn’t attempt to guess.”

He had no notion how much the repairs would cost, but the trainsets are still under warranty, he said.

The Acela’s bracket trouble is the latest in a series of problems with the popular trains. All 18 trainsets Amtrak has accepted so far are scheduled for as many as 200 upgrades, including fixes in the braking systems and repairs to sticking restroom doors.

Last month, 35 Acela Express trains were canceled before leaving the station or terminated before reaching their destination. Most cancellations were due to equipment problems.

Acela at the inspection pit

An Acela Express trainset rests over the inspection pit in the high-speed barn in Boston last year

Amtrak reported earlier this month that all 18 of the high-speed trains needed repairs and modifications. The passenger railroad declined to accept delivery of a 19th train, citing modifications that were not made.

On a typical day, Amtrak sends 15 Acela Express trains over the road and keeps three in reserve.

Amtrak officials said mechanical problems aside, Acela Express has been a success in attracting riders. Amtrak trains now carry more passengers between Washington and New York each day than do the U.S. Airways and Delta shuttles combined.

Elsewhere, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC) News reported from Montreal “Shares of Bombardier hit a new 52-week low Tuesday after the U.S. passenger train service Amtrak said it would pull many of its Acela Express trains from service because of mechanical problems.”

Bombardier (T.BBD.B) shares fell as low as $8.56 in heavy trading before recovering somewhat to $9.00 by 3:30 p.m. down $1. By 10:15 a.m. Friday, it was trading in the $8.10-$8.14 range mid-morning on the Toronto Stock Exchange. It opened the day at 7.92, peaked at $8.23 and closed at $7.90.

Amtrak and Bombardier signed their $972-million (Canadian) contract in 1996, but Bombardier took Amtrak to court in 2001 for $200 million (U.S.), writes the Canadian Press. Oral arguments were heard last week in U.S. District Court in Washington on Bombardier’s $318-million lawsuit against Amtrak. It blames the national passenger system for design changes to the trains and poor tracks.

The Bombardier-Alstom trains reportedly have the worst on-time record of any Amtrak train in the Northeast corridor, with more than a quarter of them failing to reach their destination within 15 minutes of their scheduled arrival time, but some analysts have said Amtrak and Bombardier are both to blame.

Amtrak has captured 60 per cent of the combined air-train market between Washington and New York, compared with 38 to 40 percent some three years ago, said NCI president Jim RePass.

While there was a spike in rail travel after last September’s terrorist attacks, RePass and Amtrak attribute most of the increase to the appeal of Acela’s shorter traveling times and comfort.

The delays and legal dispute, however, could cool passion for train travel and make it more difficult for Amtrak to get public funds, on which it depends for track and rail equipment improvements.

RePass played down the setbacks, but he admitted they’re not helping the rail cause.

“The dispute is aggravating everyone,” said RePass.

“The trainsets, when they’re operating, are beautiful.

“This is a great big, gorgeous Ferrari with some teething problems. The public loves it, it’s selling out constantly, but they do have to be made reliable.”

Industry analyst Cameron Doerkson says there’s no doubt that the setbacks have hurt Bombardier’s share values, and will also hurt the bottom line.

“They’re getting lower margins on those trains they’re delivering that require rework or modifications. Those are all costs that are incurred by the company.”

Doerkson, with Dlouhy Merchant Group, added that the company will likely never reveal its cost to develop the new train, which may end up with a big loss if Amtrak refuses to buy any more.

Amtrak said the Acela trains have the worst on-time performance of its Northeast fleet, with only 74 per cent arriving on time, but spokeswoman Karen Dunn insists there is goodwill among travelers.

“I don’t think there’s been too much damage done just yet,” Dunn said. “The Acela Express continues to be wildly popular with our customers so far, despite the cancellations in the last couple of months due to equipment failure.”

Spokeswoman Carol Sharpe of Bombardier Transportation said the company remains confident in its new trains.

“It’s very normal for such technology to have to implement certain modifications,” she said.

Despite Gunn’s pledge not to buy any more Acela trains for Amtrak, analyst Doerkson said: “I can’t imagine that Bombardier would be shut out of any future high-speed rail in North America, given that there are only three major manufacturers.”

Bombardier, Alstom and Siemens of Germany are the three makers of high-speed trains.

Acela approaching the barn-South Bay, Boston

RePass: “This is a great big, gorgeous Ferrari with some teething problems.”

By day’s end on Friday, David Gunn had weighed in again on the issue, in a report from The New York Times.

He said that the decision to build Acela largely from scratch, instead of modifying an existing train with a proven record, was responsible for many of its problems. Gunn also said the government should consider modifying its safety standards to make it easier to import European designs.

“We'll get the Acela back in service,” he said, “but for the next generation of trains, you want to build on a product with some miles on it. You want to build off an existing prototype in Europe or Asia.”

He said Amtrak’s decision to buy the Acela instead of European trains it tested was also strongly influenced by the generous financing offered by Acela’s manufacturers to the perpetually capital-starved railroad.

Passengers as well as railroaders were surprised on Saturday when two Acela trainsets returned to service after undergoing the required repairs.

An observer of the passing railroad scene, and a veteran Washington watcher noted, “I don’t know about you, but like most, I was willing to give [former Amtrak president George] Warrington the benefit of the doubt when he left. With the pileup of problems that have happened since he walked out the door (of which this is a mere straw upon the camel’s back), I’m beginning to wonder if he saw all this coming and decided he’d better get out while the getting is good, and leave the whole mess to someone else. My own defense of him was that he was ‘just following the law,’ but now I can see Gunn’s point that he should have blown the whistle when he could see the law was impossible to follow.

“How candid was he with the board in outlining the problems? I can’t help wondering.”

Return to index

Amtrak’s numbers as of August 8
Ticket Sales: $32,471,406

Sales vs. last year are up, $1,139,169, pr 3.64 percent

Service Guarantee Certificates:

Value $140,073; count 2,376

Source: Amtrak

Return to index

Mallery forms new office
Gil Mallery, Amtrak’s acting vice-president for planning and business development, told Amtrak railroaders on August 7 a new department structure had been formed.

The new Planning & Business Development department “consolidates the corporation’s state, freight railroad and commuter rail planning and liaison functions,” he said.

“The objective is to provide a single point of contact for Amtrak’s important partners while improving our overall responsiveness and consistency.”

The new department “is charged with developing consistent policies, standards and programs aimed at strengthening financial performance and fostering business partnerships, while enhancing Amtrak’s reputation as an efficient, accountable organization,” he added.

He also pointed out primary areas of responsibility include route profitability and performance measurement, state liaison and 403(b) contracts, commuter rail planning, and freight railroad contract administration.

Also, strategic planning, corridors development, policy & capital planning, performance measurement & strategic planning, and business development.

The new department will formally become effective October 1, but he is beginning to fill jobs now. He said he anticipates the department will be “increasingly active as positions are filled.”

Mallery said the department is divided into three groups – freight railroad administration and route profitability; strategic planning, policy and performance; and planning and development. In all, including secretaries and clerks, there will be 43 people working in the shop.

He pointed out “The new department will include fewer positions than currently perform planning and development functions. Positions will be posted in the near term and employees are encouraged to apply for them.”

In an organizational chart, it shows Mallery at the top, with a senior executive assistant and three assistant vice-presidents, one for each of the three groups, reporting to Mallery.

Meanwhile, the system-wide restructuring of several departments and the job functions within those departments is continuing.

Human Resources (personnel) told its employees “It’s important that all employees know that jobs are being posted on a daily basis (instead of weekly on Wednesday), and that for internal candidates, a posting may be up for as little as seven days.”

Job postings are expected to end in early September so that jobs may be offered and accepted by the start of the new fiscal year in October.

Return to index

Station woes beleaguer communities
Three passenger stations around the country are finding tough going while another gets start funding for new construction.

The old station in Rennselaer, N.Y. was to have been closed by now, but after $53 million and three years of construction, its replacement remains dormant because Amtrak has never signed a lease and, struggling financially, considers the rent beyond its means.

The old station, which also serves Albany, the state capital, is a cramped, well-worn structure without air-conditioning or a snack bar. Next door, the air-conditioning breezed through a new four-story brick-and-glass station yet to serve a passenger, reported The New York Times last week.

“Amtrak never went to the state and said, ‘Please build us this station.’ This was something the state wanted to do,” said Cecilia Cummings, a spokeswoman for the railroad in Philadelphia.

“We’ll move in, but under terms that are not onerous to us.”

With Amtrak’s design input and with state and federal money, the Capital District Transportation Authority built a new railroad complex to serve the Albany area, believing in “good faith” that it had a deal, according to the authority’s executive director, Dennis J. Fitzgerald – but the deal was never put in writing.

“That is correct,” Fitzgerald said.

“Hindsight is 20-20, but we did understand they would occupy the space, how much space they’d use, and there would be a fair agreement in the end.”

The two sides are negotiating, but neither side will venture to guess when a settlement might be reached. They also will not discuss their original understanding.

For now, passengers continue to use the old station, which Amtrak owns, hauling their luggage from the platform up a few steps onto the trains. Next door, the unused platform is at the same level as the train doors. The transportation authority has stopped making announcements about a grand opening.

“It’s becoming a joke,” said Mark Pratt, mayor of this city of 8,000. “Everyone wants to know when it will open.”

The new complex, which includes a 67,000-square-foot station, a 550-space parking garage, a bridge to provide easier road access, and track upgrades, was financed largely with $26 million from Washington and $24 million from the state. With more than 600,000 passengers passing through it each year, the Rensselaer station ranks tenth nationally among Amtrak’s stops, and the goal of the new complex was to help Amtrak cater to one of its busiest corridors and spur the capital region’s economy. Instead, the result is equal parts embarrassment and awe over how so ample a public project could be built without such a fundamental contract.

”It’s in my district and it’s an embarrassment to everyone,” said State Sen. Joseph L. Bruno, the Republican majority leader, who helped secure the state money. “We want them to get their act together.”

U.S. Rep. Michael R. McNulty (D) said, “Amtrak’s been involved in this process, and I think it’s unconscionable that they’re still occupying that shack when there is a state-of-the-art building next door that many of us worked for years to provide the funding for.”

He said he was ready to fight to get Amtrak more money, which Amtrak says it needs to keep operating, but, he said, he and his colleagues might be more motivated if Amtrak would move into the nice new quarters in Rennselaer.

A call to Amtrak President David L. Gunn was redirected to a spokeswoman, but, citing Destination: Freedom, the Times quoted him from Wes Vernon’s interview of one week ago, when Gunn said, “They built this new station in Rensselaer and now they’re trying to fund it, which they should have thought of before they built it, and now they’re trying to put pressure on us to fund it.”

Elsewhere in New York State, before the Senate went on its summer holiday, the Senate Appropriations Committee included $1.5 million for an intermodal Amtrak station near the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Clinton, both Democrats, said the funds involve site purchase and various studies for the station near Whirlpool and Main streets.

They said the funding would be used to protect the nearby Customs House, which will be incorporated into the intermodal project. The funds for were included in a total of $9.1 million for various Western New York projects.

Out near the left-hand coast, in Everett, Wash., the Herald reports the sign outside Everett Station lists Amtrak right at the top, but the new ticket counter inside is empty, and passenger trains barrel right by the station without stopping.

Everett’s Amtrak station was supposed to move from its current spot in a small, old building near the waterfront to the big new transportation center near Interstate 5 at the beginning of this year, then it was put off until summer. Then a paper sign went up at the new ticket counter saying service would start in September.

Now the most optimistic estimate is October.

Asking “why” will only get you spun around in a circle of pointing fingers and wrapped up in reams of red tape whirling around the five entities, both governmental and private, involved in the project.

It didn’t take much for Greyhound, Everett Transit, Community Transit and Sound Transit to move their buses over to the city’s new transportation hub at the beginning of the year, and since the $44 million center was built right next to the railroad, you’d think it wouldn’t take much to get trains to stop there.

Rail passengers ask about the new station all the time, especially those who have come from the north and gotten a glimpse of the impressive new building as their train goes by, eventually stopping to let them off at the old one, said Everett ticket agent Les Stumm. Some have missed their train because they’ve gone to the wrong place.

Stumm can’t wait to move to his new ticket counter in the “nice shiny building” and to have more social interaction as well with the workers and riders from the various bus agencies already happily ensconced in their new digs. In between spurts of hectic activity as more than a hundred passengers a day get in and out at Amtrak’s Everett stop, Stumm said, “It gets pretty lonely here.”

His boss in Seattle shares his eagerness to move.

”It’s a beautiful building,” said Kurt Laird, Amtrak’s general manager for the Pacific Northwest. “We’d love to get started.”

The plan is to build a platform for Amtrak right next to the railroad’s main line, which is about 40 feet east of the station. Passenger trains would stop to let riders disembark; but problems began about a year ago when Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which owns the track and the land around it, denied right of entry to Sound Transit, which is planning to use the station for commuter rail service between Everett and Seattle.

A contractor had already started work on Sound Transit’s platform on the eastern side of the Everett Station building. The plans call for construction of a Sound Transit spur and a separate Amtrak platform between the building and the main railroad tracks. Amtrak riders would have to use a walkway across the Sound Transit tracks to get into the building.

Rather than hold up the center until negotiations were finalized between Sound Transit and Burlington Northern, Everett decided to postpone work on the rail portion, said Paul Kaftanski, who has been managing the project for the city of Everett for nine years.

BNSF officials wouldn’t disclose last week why the company refused to let Sound Transit build its track and platform, saying only that discussions are ongoing. The multi-county transit agency has had financial difficulties and permit delays, which have postponed the start of its commuter rail service north of Seattle.

Amtrak, which has worked with BNSF for years, had the company’s permission to build, but it didn’t want to build its platform only to make passengers walk through a construction zone once Sound Transit’s permission to build was granted.

While negotiations dragged on, Amtrak’s funding became a concern. The company’s overall financial problems weren’t what slowed the project down this year, Laird said, but they could hold it up in the future.

Amtrak’s fiscal year ends September 30, so if the set-aside money for the platform isn’t spent by then, Laird said, he risks losing it in next year’s budget as accountants scour for unspent funds. Amtrak has already given Everett $600,000 for the new station and is supposed to give it another $400,000 on moving day.

So Amtrak decided to step in and see how it could move things along. The company was able to get BNSF’s permission for the right of way, which it signed over to Everett. Now the city is working out the final details to start building the Amtrak platform, the section of the Sound Transit spur that would be directly in front of the center and the rest of the Sound Transit platform.

“Amtrak is actually doing much more than it ever thought it would with this project,” Kaftanski said. Sound Transit and BNSF can take as long as they need to finalize the commuter rail service plans, and can build the remaining track needed in the future without interrupting Amtrak passengers.

All the various parties, agreements, financial issues, plans and approvals have made it “a little complex as to who’s responsible for doing what,” Laird said.

If there’s no agreement within the next week or so, Laird said, Amtrak will have to go ahead and start building its platform without Sound Transit, rather than risk losing its funding. But everyone’s trying hard to get all the work done at the same time to hold costs down and avoid any adverse impact on Amtrak passengers.

The platform construction can start as soon as surface improvements are made to the railroad. BNSF engineers are planning to elevate the track in that area by eight inches so it matches the height of the track through a tunnel to the west and over the river to the east, Kaftanski said.

Once that work starts, it will be two to three months before Amtrak can move into the new station, officials said.

Meanwhile, in Guilford, Conn., an August ground-breaking for a new train station has been stopped in its tracks, according to the Guilford Courier.

The Guilford station was in a package of four stations to be built on the shoreline, at Madison, Clinton, and Branford. Construction at all four places was to begin this month, but the construction stopped when Madison could not resolve its issues revolving around site changes and parking. All four towns lie between New Haven and Old Saybrook.

“There’s no fault with Madison, which has valid concerns they must contend with,” said Guilford Selectman Carl Balestracci, Jr.

“What’s frustrating is that the state should honor its commitment to Guilford. Our site, design, and costs remain the same.”

Balestracci added, “We’re asking our state representatives to request the Connecticut DOT continue as planned with the remaining stations,” Balestracci said.

State Rep. Pat Widlitz contacted ConnDOT officials working on the project in an effort to expedite the schedules for the other stations.

“It’s unfortunate that all the sites were put into the same project. It was most likely for cost reasons. I have been told the repackaging of the sites without Madison will not require a new bid, but will involve a six-month delay,” said Widlitz, who also hoped that ConnDOT would not postpone construction schedules.

ConnDOT delivered the news that Balestracci, Widlitz, and project coordinators had feared.

“Essentially, the bid process has to be restarted,” Harris explained. “Madison is being removed from the bid, leaving the three remaining stations as a package. We have been working with the Attorney General’s office to accommodate an accelerated bid process.”

Harris added that, while the thought of having to go through another bid presentation might be difficult for the towns to accept, he understands their frustration and is committed to completing the process by December 6.

“After the new bid is accepted through this accelerated process, it will be a matter of months before we can start construction. Materials have to be ordered before we can begin, “ Harris concluded.

Guilford has the added issue of a proposed third track that would accommodate Amtrak high-speed traffic. Amtrak had proposed building a passing siding, but that too has been placed on hold.

“As I understand it, Amtrak can’t act on that part of the proposal right now because of its financial situation,” Harris said. “It’s been tied up with a $1.2 million request for federal funds that would aid their recovery. If they get the funds, the siding will be built.”

A possible result will be for Metro-North Service to be extended to New London when the high-level platforms are completed, thus making Shoreline East service redundant.

Ridership on Shore Line East express trains to Stamford has more than tripled since the introduction of the service last December, state statistics show.

“It’s the fastest commute on the coast, and it’s attracting people,” said Harry Harris, chief of public transportation for the state DOT.

The express service from Old Saybrook to Stamford began December 17 as part of a two-year $1.3 million pilot program to increase rail ridership and relieve traffic congestion along Interstate 95, according to The AP.

Before the express service, Shore Line East service went only as far as New Haven, requiring commuters to transfer to a Metro-North train to continue to Bridgeport and Stamford.

The new express trains make stops at Old Saybrook, Westbrook, Clinton, Madison, Guilford, Branford and New Haven, then run express to Stamford stopping only in Bridgeport.

Eighty-nine people rode the first morning express. The afternoon train departing Stamford carried 58 passengers.

June rider counts showed about 220 commuters were riding the morning and 214 were riding the afternoon express trains. The number grew to 296 morning and 308 afternoon riders after the DOT launched additional morning and afternoon express trains, DOT figures show.

The express trains provide faster, one-seat service for Shoreline commuters, Harris said.

”We’re allowing customers to use Metro-North tickets on these trains and have seen a significant number who have left the crowded Metro-North train in favor of these new express trains,” Harris said.

Ridership statistics show that more than half of the passengers who take the Shore Line Express are from New Haven and Bridgeport who are enjoying a faster ride since the express train doesn’t make as many stops as its Metro-North counterpart.

James Cameron, vice chairman of the watchdog Metro North-Shoreline East Rail Commuter Council, said he is happy the express service is helping to ease crowding on Metro-North trains, but Cameron added, the new trains are not attracting their target audience or getting that many people off I-95.

”The DOT will try to paint it as a tremendous success, but it has not really attracted as many through riders from Shore Line East territory into lower Fairfield County,” Cameron told The Advocate of Stamford.

“It is attracting riders in Bridgeport and New Haven who are using it as a roomy express… I don’t see it as the panacea and the solution DOT hoped it would be.” The future of the express trains is up in the air since the pilot program is funded through June of next year.

The Transportation Strategy Board, formed by the state legislature to help tackle the state’s transportation woes, is reviewing ridership figures and will issue a recommendation in December on whether to continue the service.

Some officials expect the number of riders will increase once the DOT starts construction of the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge on Interstate 95 in New Haven.

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Turbotrain is finally back
Super Steel Schenectady delivered the first of seven rebuilt Turbotrains to Amtrak Thursday. Amtrak will test the train, designed to travel at 125 mph, over the next few weeks before it accepts it for regular service, according to a spokeswoman for the New York DOT.

The Turbotrain, a five-car unit with engines at both ends, is being stored at Amtrak’s Rensselaer maintenance facility.

State transportation officials had hoped to put the rebuilt trains into service more than two years ago, but hazardous asbestos and lead paint had to be removed from the trains during the rebuilding, delaying deliveries and adding to the price tag, then Amtrak requested extensive changes, further delaying delivery. Automatic doors on restrooms were replaced with manual doors, and the engineer’s console was extensively redesigned, reports the Schenectady Gazette.

While state officials had hoped to rebuild the fleet for $65 million, the additional work added to the cost. The first two trains will cost a total of $34.5 million, with the remaining five to cost an additional $61 million, for a total of $95.5 million, said NYDOT spokeswoman Melissa Carlson.

Work on the trains is being done at Super Steel’s plant at the Scotia-Glenville Industrial Park.

The trains were built in the mid-1970s by California-based Rohr Industries from a French design, and went into service in the Empire Corridor between New York City and Buffalo. They were also used for a while on the Adirondack route to Montreal.

By the mid-1990s, breakdowns made them less reliable, and Amtrak discontinued using all but one trainset, which was updated with new turbine engines and given a fresh coat of paint. That train will be the last of the seven to be rebuilt.

Super Steel President Scott Mintier said a second trainset will be completed within two to three months, with remaining trainsets rolling out of the Glenville shops at three-month intervals. He expects all seven trains to be completed by the end of 2003.

The trains have new electrical systems, new interiors with updated food service cars, more powerful turbines, and power outlets for laptop computers and other electronic devices at each seat.

Mintier expects Amtrak’s tests, which will be conducted between Rensselaer and New York City with a potential run west to Buffalo, to take about 30 days. If tests are successful, the trains would then enter regular scheduled service.

Most of Super Steel’s 140 employees are working on the Turbotrains, Mintier said.

“This [delivery] is sooner than we thought, which is good news,” said Bruce Becker, president of the Empire State Passengers Association.

New York State plans track upgrades along the Empire Corridor to permit higher speeds for the Turbotrain. The current top speed limit is 110 mph, and along much of the route, trains are limited to 90 mph. TEXT

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E-8As get okay to roll on Amtrak
Amtrak has given its okay for Juniata Terminal Railroad to operate its former Conrail E-8A locomotives over Amtrak tracks. Engine 5711 is authorized to operate up to 90 mph with a train, otherwise, 50 mph. Engine 5809, also an E-8A, is restricted to 50 in all cases.

Also, Conrail D8-40CW locomotives (leased from LMSX), Nos. 700-712 and 728-759, and Norfolk Southern D8-40CWs 8453-8467 are okay to run at 70 mph with a train, 50 with multiple light engines, or 30 with a single light engine.

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Commuter Lines...

Tri-Rail to build second track

Florida Tri-Rail got $26.7 million in federal dollars last week to help pay for a $456 million double-tracking project.

The plan is to run commuter trains every 20 minutes at rush hour once a second track is built by 2005. The first payment of $25.6 million was made last year and another payment of $48 million is expected next year. In all, Tri-Rail has secured $110 million from the transit administration’s New Starts program, which funds new transit projects across the country, reports the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel.

Tri-Rail is forging ahead to fortify what will likely be the spine of the regional transit system, double-tracking its 72-mile corridor from West Palm Beach to Miami on CSX’s right-of-way. The agency also has its eye on expanding northward to Martin County and running trains along tracks that run parallel to the Dolphin Expressway in Miami-Dade.

About 44 miles are left to double-track, including almost all of the corridor in Palm Beach County and most of Broward County south of Interstate 95.

The system’s current hit-or-miss performance – trains run more or less hourly now – stems largely from Tri-Rail sharing a single track for more than 30 miles with CSX’s freight trains and Amtrak trains from Miami northward to Jacksonville and beyond.

As part of the double-tracking project, workers at the end of the month will shut the Camino Real crossing in Boca Raton to install four-quadrant gates and raised medians, the first of about 20 crossings between Boca Raton and West Palm Beach that will be closed for improvements.

Each crossing will be closed seven days for the gate work, and one crossing at a time will be affected. Palmetto Park Road in Boca Raton is next on the list. The schedule for the rest of the crossings is still up in the air.

The four-quadrant gates and taller medians are designed to keep drivers from skirting the arms and pulling into the path of an approaching train.

Tri-Rail spokeswoman Bonnie Arnold said once the gates are installed, the rail corridor will become “sealed,” meaning residents can petition the Federal Railroad Administration to ban trains from blowing their whistles at crossings.

Also in the coming weeks, Arnold said construction is set to begin at the Lake Worth station with a new platform and overpass to accommodate trains running on two tracks.

Eight other stations, including Mangonia Park, West Palm Beach, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Sheridan Street, Hollywood and Northwest 79th Street also will be improved. One new station will be built in Boca Raton at Congress Avenue to replace one at Yamato Road, which will be demolished.

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Rebuilt tracks inch closer to New Bedford
Massachusetts’ acting Gov. Jane M. Swift signed legislation with little fanfare on August 10 that swept away a potentially fatal obstacle to the $669 million proposal to link Boston with New Bedford and Fall River by rail.

The Bay State governor approved a change in a transportation bond bill that allows the state, rather than the cash-strapped Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, to pay the debt service on bonding for the rail project, according to the New Bedford, Mass., Standard Times.

The MBTA conceded it did not have the bonding capacity to afford the 47-mile extension of the Stoughton line, and it was doubtful the agency would have the money in the future.

The state began putting the MBTA on a strict budget last year, ending decades of year-end subsidies from the legislature.

The MBTA left the New Bedford-Fall River rail extension out of its 10-year capital plan earlier this year because it couldn’t afford it.

“The limited bonding capacity of the T, following the financial reform package that we did for them, would have put a project this size further behind,” said State Rep. William M. Straus (D).

State Sens. Mark C.W. Montigny and Joan M. Menard, D-Somerset, both Democrats, put language in the bond bill that allowed the state, rather than the MBTA, to pay the debt service. Without the change, rail service, projected to begin in 2008, could have been delayed indefinitely.

“We do welcome it,” said Jon Carlisle, a spokesman for the state DOT.

“We’ve let people know for some time that in order to move on Fall River and New Bedford, we have to look for funding sources outside of the MBTA capital plan.”

Sometime in the future, the legislature and the governor would have to approve the actual bonding for the rail extension. A dollar amount was not included in the current bond bill. The state has an annual bond cap of $1.2 billion, so it would have to compete with other projects.

Planning for the rail extension is already well under way. Work is being done on bridges in Fall River and New Bedford.

”This isn’t just lip service,” Carlisle said.

“There’s a capital outlay. That demonstrates the MBTA’s support of the project. This is something we think is a good idea and will have a significant economic impact. We think that a good case can be made to the governor and legislature to move this forward.”

The transportation bond section submitted by Sens. Montigny and Menard classifies the SouthCoast rail extension as a special project that benefits the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It also allows the MBTA to combine design and construction into one bid, rather than request separate bids from designers and builders.

Montigny said the change in the bid language would save the MBTA about $50 million.

An MBTA study estimated that the Fall River-New Bedford line would have 8,560 riders a day. About 70 percent of them would be new riders on the MBTA.

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Jersey commuter bid fails
A proposed $100 million project to restart a commuter rail line to serve four North Jersey counties has run into a dead end after two decades of planning and millions of dollars spent for studies.

The proposed 22-mile commuter line, running on the New York Susquehanna & Western Ry.’s freight track, would parallel Route 23 from Hardyston in Sussex County to points east and south in Morris and Passaic counties, and then run along Route 208 in Bergen County. It also would have had a link to Hoboken and a future direct connection to New York’s Penn Station, reports the Newark Star-Ledger of August 12.

Talks between NJ Transit and the Cooperstown, N.Y.-based Delaware-Otsego Co., owners of the NYS&W, have failed, with both sides financially far apart in working out a deal to purchase or lease a portion of the company’s 70-mile freight line, transportation officials said.

NJ Transit Executive Director George Warrington has said the financially strapped agency’s priority right now is making improvements to existing infrastructure, and is re-evaluating all new projects, such as NYS&W.

“A lot of these projects are viable, but there’s an issue of dollars,” said Ken Miller, an NJT spokesman.

“It’s not just capital dollars, but there’s also annual operating costs required to provide good, reliable service for riders once a project is implemented.”

Though the NYS&W plan has not been permanently scrapped, to jump-start it would require a major initiative on the local and county levels, sources said. The federal government has taken back $17 million of the $47 million it allocated for the project in the early 1990s, with the remainder in jeopardy, officials said.

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Here comes Big Apple transit – again
Public transit in lower Manhattan is about to come back, bigger and better than ever. The new hub being planned for downtown is expected to look like Penn Station, and be as busy as Grand Central station, and thanks to a huge infusion of federal money, the subway lines and path commuter trains could soon be merged like family, reports WABC in New York City.

Some are already referring the project as “Grand Central Station South,” a major transportation hub to help repair the damage done to lower Manhattan on September 11. Political leaders not only want the system rebuilt, they are looking for major improvements.

The details of a transit hub, similar to Penn and Grand Central, that would connect the subway system in lower Manhattan with New Jersey’s Path trains were be outlined last week.

The new transit station is expected to open the door to revitalization around ground zero. This as officials are still working out details of what will be built on the World Trade Center site.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, “If you build it, build good transportation, then they will come. All the businesses and residents will come.”

It is not yet clear how much the project will cost, but a large chunk of that price, $4.5 million, will come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Those funds are part of the overall $21 billion in the pipelines from Washington D.C. in the wake of September 11.

There is catch: FEMA’s strict guidelines call for disaster relief money to be used only to be used to rebuild what was destroyed, not to create something new.

New York Gov. Governor George Pataki and Schumer reportedly lobbied hard to change those strict FEMA rules.

Most commuters who have struggled to make their way downtown since September 11 welcome the idea of an overhaul. One commuter told the radio station, “It would save me a lot of time getting to lower Manhattan, from Penn Station, if it was direct service.”

The project will reportedly be huge, and there are concerns from some of the families of the terror victims that the rail hub will somehow undermine the memorial planned for the site.

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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

Transit embraces new ideas

An in-depth report by Passenger Transport reporter Federico Cura, in the August 12 issue, examines ways in which many public transportation agencies are addressing financial demands – such as increasing passenger service needs and tightening state and local budgets – by using creative finance methods to supplement their traditional capital project grants, and by stepping up private-sector participation.

“Leveraged leasing” and “grant anticipation” were cited as the most popular innovative finance mechanisms for transit operations. Leveraged leasing is an umbrella term for asset lease-leaseback and asset sale-leaseback financial transactions, under which a transit agency sells or leases transit infrastructure, such as rail cars, to one or more private-sector investors, who then lease the same assets back to the transit property.

Grant anticipation implies the issuance of tax-free bonds backed by future Federal Transit Administration formula grants and full funding grant agreements.

The report includes an overview and other stories focusing on ways in which smaller transit properties can take advantage of innovative financing; investor interest in these financing arrangements; and innovative financing as a component of reauthorization plans for the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century.

Detroit’s SMART wins millage vote; Missouri proposition fails

The Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART), serving parts of three suburban Detroit counties, will not have to shut down any of its operations thanks to a positive vote Aug. 6.

SMART reported that its service, including fixed routes and paratransit, would have been eliminated in counties that did not pass the 0.6-mill property tax measure.

SMART serves all of Macomb County and specific communities in Wayne and Oakland counties. Preliminary vote counts show 57 percent of voters in favor of the millage in Macomb County, 69 percent in Oakland County, and 54 percent in Wayne County.

The ballot proposal, for four years, included a renewal of the current 0.33-mill property tax, originally instituted in 1995, along with an additional 0.27 mills, for a total of 0.6 mills to support bus service. The tax increase is expected to generate $45 million annually.

Meanwhile, Missouri voters overwhelmingly voted against Proposition B, which would have financed statewide transportation projects by adding one-half cent to the state’s sales tax and four cents per gallon to the gasoline tax. Preliminary results showed that 72 percent of the state’s voters opposed the measure.

Public transportation projects would have been only a minor part of Proposition B; the effort was primarily targeted at repairs to roads and bridges throughout the state. The taxes would have generated about $500 million a year.

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Freight lines...
CN Engine

Kent Patterson

Canadian National was the first freight railroad doing business in the U.S. to publicly certify they were not cooking their books.
CN is first to certify its numbers
Canadian National Ry., which does business in the U.S. as well as Canada, said last Tuesday that Paul M. Tellier, its president and chief executive officer, and Claude Mongeau, its executive vice-president and chief financial officer, voluntarily certified CN’s recent financial reports in submissions to United States and Canadian securities regulators.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission had required CEOs of American businesses to certify they were not cooking their books by August 15.

CN, as of Friday, was the only railroad doing business in the U.S. to do so.

The certificate signed by the two officers relates to CN’s first- and second-quarter 2002 financial results, its 2001 audited financial statements and management discussion and analysis, and its 2001 annual information form.

The certificate is in substantially the same form as the one-time certificates required of the CEOs and CFOs of the 947 largest U.S. companies by a June 27, 2002, order of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). CN is not subject to the SEC order, but elected to comply with it voluntarily.

CN also said its future SEC filings will comply fully with the certification requirements of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, signed into law by U.S. President George Bush on July 30, 2002, where applicable to corporations such as CN.

CN trains operate over the former Illinois Central lines from Chicago to New Orleans as well as other subsidiary railroads, like Grand Trunk Western, doing business in the U.S.

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Jobs are waiting, says CP
The railroad industry, which shed some 50,000 jobs over the past decade, has a challenge on its hands.

Faced with a graying work force, it needs to convince job seekers that employment opportunities exist in what has widely been viewed as a chronically shrinking industry, and it needs to get ready to train the job seekers it’s able to attract.

“There are going to be great opportunities in the railroad industry, and they are starting right now,” said Cathryn Frankenberg, assistant vice president of labor relations and human resources for the U.S. unit of the Canadian Pacific Ry. (CPR), writes the Seattle Times.

The rail industry’s work force is older than the U.S. work force as a whole, and retirements are siphoning away skilled workers at a quick pace.

Six thousand rail workers retired from U.S. railroads during the first four months of this year, the same number that retired in all of 2001, said CP spokeswoman Laura Baenen.

A change in the federally operated railroad retirement program a year ago is a big reason for the retirement speed-up. It’s prompting railroad workers to take early retirement – at age 60 – if they have 30 years of working for railroads.

“One-fifth of our employees will need to be replaced in the next five years, and I don’t think the early retirement benefits have as great an impact on us as they do some other railroads,” Frankenberg said.

Rail companies such as CP, which operates the Soo Line in the Upper Midwest and the Delaware and Hudson in the eastern states, are gearing up their training programs to prepare replacement workers.

“It looks like there will be a rush of retirements in the next couple of years, then again in about five years, and again in about 10 years,” Baenen said.

CPR operates an engineer- and conductor-training center in Maplewood, Minn., complete with an engine-simulator machine similar to the flight simulators used in training airplane pilots.

Given the non-transferable skills needed by the railroad industry, the railroads have operated their own training programs, said Tony Schwaller, a professor of environmental and technological studies who directs the Transportation Academy at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minn.

As a result, educational institutions offer little to help the railroads as they prepare to recruit and train new workers.

“What we’re trying to do is get educators to look at the emerging opportunities in transportation, all modes, so that young people will realize there are careers to be had in intermodal transportation involving the railroads, trucks, marine shipping and air transport,” Schwaller said.

The high turnover in store for the railroads appears to be unique within the transportation industry, said Schwaller.

Airlines, for instance, have a surplus pool of skilled workers to draw from after economic and safety concerns slowed air travel in the past year. Water-transportation industries and trucking also seem to be influenced by the economy and have skilled workers available.

Frankenberg said the rails have to maintain training programs to keep employees current with new maintenance and communications technologies, and because locomotive engineers operating in the U.S., for instance, most be recertified under federal regulations every three years.

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Daley irked at CSX
Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and Alderwoman Ginger Rugai called Thursday for first-ever penalties against CSX after accusing the railroad of blocking at least five Southwest Side intersections for 43 minutes this week without warning the 911 center in advance.

By law, a railroad must notify the Office of Emergency Communications whenever one of its trains will be blocking a Chicago grade crossing for more than 10 minutes, reported the Chicago Sun-Times on August 9.

That way, the police and fire departments know ahead of time that emergency vehicles in the area will be impeded. They can alert dispatch to avoid delays.

According to Rugai, the law that calls for fines ranging from “$200 to $500 for each offense” was ignored Monday. A CSX train blocked at least five grade crossings between 104th and 119th Streets for 43 minutes, forcing midday traffic to back up for miles. Another train came along after the first one finally moved and blocked traffic for another 12 minutes, the alderman said.

Rugai said she knows of no medical, police or fire emergency during that time that did not get an adequate response because of the blocked crossings, but the city simply cannot take that chance.

CSX spokesman David Hall argued the railroad didn’t have to notify the 911 center because none of its trains stopped at any one crossing for more than 10 minutes.

The delay occurred after maintenance crews making improvements at the 119th Street grade crossing were forced to disable electronic warning devices at all seven crossings between 104th and 119th Streets, he said.

“We regret the fact that the work created any lengthy delays for motorists. The changes we’ve made should prevent any similar situation.”

The apology was not enough to satisfy Daley, who joined Rugai in the call to throw the book at CSX.

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UP At MP 34 on Cajon Subdiv

Union Pacific

Westbound COFC crosses through a truss bridge at MP 34 on Cajon Subdivision in California.
UP, NS run faster to Mexico
Norfolk Southern Ry. and Union Pacific Railroad last week announced a new service that trims up to three days from current transit times on intermodal shipments from eastern cities to Laredo, Texas, and to Mexico.

The new expedited UP-NS intermodal service offers a variety of transportation options with transit times and rates that are truck-competitive, say the rail carriers.

Service originates on Norfolk Southern in Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Jacksonville and Miami, Fla.; and Harrisburg, Pa., then hands them off to UP at Memphis.

UP also offers this service from its Marion, Ark., intermodal facility. Destinations include Laredo, Mexico City and other major markets in Mexico.

“By teaming up with NS, we are able to offer customers in the eastern and southeastern United States a real competitive alternative to moving their shipments by truck,” said Randy Blackburn, UP's vice-president of intermodal marketing.

“We’re offering the first dedicated train service to Mexico for shippers throughout the East,” said Mike McClellan, NS vice president intermodal marketing.

“Border shipments traditionally travel by truck, and our latest partnership provides a reliable, secure and economical alternative to long-haul trucking on congested highways.”

Three types of service are available for customers seeking the value of rail delivery.

Trans-Border Express service provides all-rail, seamless service to Mexico City with dock-to-dock internet shipment tracking. This single-price, single-bill service moves in-bond, clearing Mexico customs in the interior of Mexico, rather than at the Laredo border. UP interchanges with Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) at Laredo.

Norfolk Southern Intermodal is online at and Union Pacific at

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Railway Age names year’s railroads
Railway Age (RA) magazine has named Bridgeton, N.J.-based Winchester & Western Railroad as “Short Line Railroad of the Year,” and Port Clinton, Pa.-based Reading, Blue Mountain & Northern Railroad as “Regional Railroad of the Year.”

A connecting Class I railroad, Norfolk Southern, nominated both for the honor.

“This year’s awards are unusual in that they recognize a single marketing strategy that has benefited the short line, the regional, and the nominating Class I railroad,” said RA Publisher Robert P. DeMarco. “It has also benefited the public by diverting truck traffic from congested highways to rail.”

Paul Heymann, of NS’s marketing department in Roanoke, Va, submitted the winning entry.

It involves a two-way move of construction aggregates between southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey – stone in one direction, and sand in the other. The smaller railroads serve the origin and destination points. NS handles the line-haul portion. Also involved in the move is the Conrail Shared Asset Corp.

Heymann wrote, “The geology of the Philadelphia region consists of natural stone in southeastern Pennsylvania. A lack of natural stone but plenty of sand deposits characterize southern New Jersey. This provides for a healthy interstate flow of construction aggregates, but one that has become increasingly costly due to roadway congestion, raising the cost of shipping.

“Construction sand for concrete and hot-mix asphalt is shipped from Better Materials Co., of Newport, N.J., on the Winchester & Western in southern New Jersey to Berks Products, Leesport, Pa., on the Reading, Blue Mountain & Northern. The sand is unloaded and used by Berks to produce highway-quality concrete. The railcars are then reloaded at the same siding with crushed limestone, produced on-site by Berks’ Ontelaunee Quarry.

The loaded stone cars return to Bridgeton, N.J., on the W&W. At the Bridgeton stone depot, the cars are unloaded, and the stone is distributed by Better Materials to local asphalt and ready-mix plants. After unloading, the empty cars proceed to the sand plant at Newport, and the cycle begins again.”

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More strong U.S. intermodal gains
Intermodal traffic on U.S. railroads was above year-earlier levels for the 18th consecutive week during the week ended August 10, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) said Thursday.

Intermodal volume totaled 192,835 trailers and containers, up 8.1 percent from the comparable week last year. Carload freight, which doesn’t include the intermodal data, was up 2.9 percent from last year, totaling 341,599 cars, with loadings up 3.6 percent in the West and 2.0 percent in the East. Total volume for the week was estimated at 29.2 billion ton-miles, up 3.2 percent from the comparable week last year.

Twelve of 19 commodity groups registered increases from last year, with loadings of farm products other than grain up 25.7 percent, metallic ores increasing by 25.5 percent, metals gaining 16.6 percent and nonmetallic minerals up 10.7 percent. Loadings of primary forest products were off 11.2 percent, while coke volume declined by 8.7 percent.

The AAR also reported the following cumulative totals for U.S. railroads during the first 32 weeks of 2002: 10,423,363 carloads, down 1.4 percent from last year; intermodal volume of 5,658,755 trailers and containers, up 4.9 percent; and total volume of an estimated 893.2 billion ton_miles, down 0.6 percent from last year’s first 32 weeks.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 90 percent of U.S. carload freight and 97 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 96 percent and 99 percent. Railroads provide more than 40 percent of the nation’s intercity freight transportation, more than any other mode, and rail traffic figures are regarded as an important economic indicator.

Intermodal traffic was up but carload volume was down on Canadian railroads during the week ended August 10. Intermodal traffic totaled 36,196 trailers and containers, up 9.4 percent from last year. Carload volume of 55,079 cars was down 1.1 percent from the comparable week last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 32 weeks of 2002 on the Canadian railroads totaled 1,901,264 carloads, down 3.4 percent from last year, and, 1,196,044 trailers and containers, up 8.3 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 32 weeks of 2002 on 16 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 12,324,627 carloads, down 1.7 percent from last year and 6,854,799 trailers and containers, up 5.4 percent from last year.

The AAR also reported that carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended August 10 totaled 10,440 cars originated or received from connecting lines, up 1.8 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 3,313 trailers or containers, up 61.9 percent from the 32nd week of 2001. For the first 32 weeks of 2002, TFM reported cumulative volume of 331,689 cars, down 1.7 percent from last year, and 116,599 trailers or containers, up 7.8 percent.

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Off themain line...

Not a ‘fender bender’ after all

When a couple of San Francisco International Airport’s (SFO) new high-tech “people movers” bumped into each other during a test run of the $430 million system the other day, officials spun it off as a “no big deal” fender bender, wrote the San Francisco Chronicle on August 11.

That’s what the Chronicle staff thought, too – until reader Steve Hufford dropped them a line about how he was driving south on Highway 101, near Redwood City, around 6:00 p.m. one day last week when he passed a trailer truck carrying a nearly destroyed SFO AirTrain car.

Both the front and back ends were dented and several windows were smashed out, including the one in front. So a reporter called the airport back and found out that, in fact, the $1.3 million train car had been totaled – but that wasn’t all – two other cars were damaged, and so was a section of concrete along the tracks.

Airport officials say the August 4 accident happened when one of the driverless trains was pulling into a maintenance area and was struck from behind at about 20 mph by a second train.

The good news is that the trains are insured, and the airport hasn’t yet officially taken possession of the new system. The bad news is that engineers are still trying to figure out what went wrong.

No matter what the outcome, the accident means that the people mover system won’t be moving any people around the airport terminals and parking lots early next month, as had been expected. In fact, according to the airport’s Kandace Bender, no riders will be allowed to board the people movers until the trains can be run accident-free for a full 30 days.

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We get letters...

Dear Editor:

First of all, I must admit that I have loved your organization, web page and all, ever since I discovered it back in 1998 while studying History at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England.

I am now preparing for further study specifically on railways at the University of York, England, and I have been a member of the National Railway Historical Society (in the U.S.) since 1990, so needless to say trains are a large part of my life.

I am also a musician, and I like to follow bands and solo artists who could be considered “alternative,” especially when they’re sophisticated enough to appreciate the importance of a revived rail system in the United States.

Good (preferably popular) music makes great propaganda for a cause today just as it did back in the 1960s, especially with young people. I would highly recommend that NCI reach out to both alternative and popular musicians and entertainers to get them over to “our side.”

If you can’t get the popular musicians at first, try to get the alternative ones, as they may be the popular ones of tomorrow.

Many alternative artists already are on our side, especially Rage Against the Machine (and they’re already popular), and to my surprise, on discovering her new poem today, Ani Difranco. Difranco’s poem is so good that you might want to reprint portions of it on your site.

She owns the rights to her own material through her record label “Righteous Babe Records,” so hopefully she’ll be a staunch ally if you can bring yourselves to her attention.  I saved her Uniform Resource Link (URL) at

Check it out. It starts as a poem about September 11, then shows it’s direct connection to our dependence on foreign oil, unnecessary flights, and the automobile. It really surprised me, since I had no idea that she had any interest in trains and their role in any future that we hope to have. I hope that you use this and let me know how you do with her and anyone else you find.

Jonathan G. Searles
Norwich, U.K.

Your idea came as a total surprise, Jonathan. We’re mulling it over. Thanks. For what it’s worth, I read her poem, “self evident.” In many ways, Difranco’s work reminds me of Allen Ginsburg’s “Howl.” Several lines evoke railroad imagery:

i dream of touring like duke ellington
in my own railroad car

baby listen
hear the train?

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August 22

Northeast Texas, Northwest Louisiana
Passenger Rail Conference

Conference at the Holiday Inn, Bossier City, La. Running from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Speakers, including Bossier City Mayor George Dement, will talk about the possibilities and options for beginning passenger rail service from Fort Worth, Dallas, Garland, Greenville, Sulphur Springs, Pittsburg, Hughes Springs, Daingerfield, Jefferson and Shreveport-Bossier City.

and Hopkins County Judge Cletis Millsap as well as regional transportation leaders. Dement and Millsap Mayor are leading the charge to establish passenger rail service in the area.

Room reservations can be made at Holiday Inn, by calling (318) 742-9700. For more information and reservations, call Joe Littlejohn at (318) 227-5030.

September 22-25

American Public Transportation Assn. annual meeting and expo
Las Vegas, Nev.

Las Vegas Hilton Hotel and Las Vegas Convention Center

September 22-25

AREMA conference and exposition

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

September 22-25

RSA Global Railway Tech 2002

Convention and Coordinated Mechanical Associations Technical Conference

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

October 6-22

European railway technology and infrastructure study trip

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

October 15, 16

Ninth Annual Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads Conference

Washington Marriott Hotel
Washington, D.C.

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

Register On-Line at

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The way we were...

Denver & Rio Grande coal train

Leo King Collection: Denver & Rio Grande Western

Back in the 1950s, the Denver & Rio Grande’s press relations department was busy getting pictures for journalists who were writing articles about the Rio Grande. They were also filling pesky junior high school kids’ requests for photos, too. “4046,” says the caption that accompanies this photo, “A steady procession of ‘coal drags’ from Utah’s Great Carbon County region feeds the fires of industry.” That 4-8-8-4 is long gone, but does the line still haul coal today? If so, who owns it?

End Notes...

We try to be accurate in the stories we write, but even seasoned pros err occasionally. If you read something you know to be amiss, or if you have a question about a topic, we'd like to hear from you. Please e-mail the crew at Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write.

Destination: Freedom is partially funded by the Surdna Foundation, and other contributors.

Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images that appear in Destination: Freedom may do so at a nominal fee of $10.00 per image. "True color" .jpg images average 1.7MB each, and are 300 dots-per-inch for print publishers.

In an effort to expand the on-line experience at the National Corridors Initiative web site, we have added a page featuring links to other rail travel sites. We hope to provide links to those cities or states that are working on rail transportation initiatives - state DOTs, legislators, governor's offices, and transportation professionals - as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists.

If you have a favorite rail link, please send the uniform resource locator address (URL) to the webmaster in care of this web site. An e-mail link appears at the bottom of the NCI web site pages to get in touch with D. M. Kirkpatrick, NCI's webmaster in Boston.

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