Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
  NCI Logo Vol. 2 No. 33, August 20, 2001
Copyright © 2001, NCI, Inc.
James P. RePass, President
Leo King, Editor
 

A weekly North American Railroad update


MBTA Train 807

NCI: Leo King

ON TIME, THIS TIME - Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority trains, operated by Amtrak under contract for the MBTA, are coming under fire for frequently being late. In this photo, Train No. 807 is on time from Boston approaching "Tin Bridge," at milepost 190.7 over the Blackstone River, and is a scant seven minutes away from Providence, R.I. on August 15. It will arrive at 11:28 a.m.
MBTA mulls fining Amtrak
over late trains, maintenance
The metropolitan Boston area's commuter rail network has been so plagued with delays over the past six months that the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) is considering seeking fines against Amtrak, which operates and maintains the trouble-prone system.

Meanwhile, Amtrak Executive Vice President of Operations Stan Bagley, who was the former Northeast Corridor president, published a "Dear Amtrak Co-Worker" letter the same day urging employees to work harder to keep trains on time.

Top MBTA officials, who asked not to be identified, said on August 14 that Amtrak's understaffing leads to frequent equipment breakdowns and scheduling conflicts, reported the Boston Globe's Thomas C. Palmer Jr., the next day.

Amtrak officials declined to comment, but a spokesman for the "T" said its contract with the passenger rail network allows it to claim penalties if Amtrak's maintenance is inadequate.

In his letter, Bagley was more concerned about system-wide operations and did not specifically address the T's problems. He told Amtrak employees, "I hope you are aware that we are falling short of our on-time performance (OTP) goals this summer. As a reminder, OTP is the key driver of our guests satisfaction; as the train gets later, the steak gets tougher."

Bagley's remarks were not part of the Globe report.

Lightning strikes and a failed computer train dispatching system at South Station have also delayed trains since the MBTA inaugurated its "on-time guarantee" program, which will be six months old next week.

Under the T's "Customer Bill of Rights" plan, commuters who wait more than 30 minutes for an MBTA bus or train are entitled to a refund for that trip. Since February, commuter rail delays accounted for three-quarters of the 17,095 requested refunds, which totaled $125,411, according to the MBTA.

Anna Barry, director of railroad operations for the MBTA, said many of the commuter rail lines are on schedule 95 percent of the time - or close to it.

"Our goal is, of course, to run as many trains on time as we can," she said.

The Attleboro-Providence line, which daily carries 26,000 passengers and gets the heaviest use of any commuter rail branch, has the worst record, she said.

Barry acknowledged that commuter rail has the worst on-time record of any mode of transportation on the system, accounting for 92 percent of the refunds shelled out between February 22 and August 3.

"Yes, it's dominant," she said. "But it's much easier to measure our [commuter rail] performance against the 30-minute standard."

Buses and subways generally operate with much greater frequency than commuter rail trains, so it is less likely that they will be as much as 30 minutes late.

With commuter rail trains, a breakdown can cause a ripple of delays, Barry said. "Plus, we have an actual schedule which is printed, and people keep track of it."

Bagley acknowledged there are frequent equipment failures in Amtrak's own trains.

"In my new role, I have quickly become aware of the multitude of equipment issues and carrier-related issues that create adversity for you each day in trying to provide excellent service to our guests. These issues will not be resolved overnight. I am working to develop plans that will address the problems. It is going to take time to develop these plans, and hard work to fix the situation."

Also, commuter rail fares are higher than those on buses or subways, explaining why commuter rail accounts for such a large percentage of the refunds paid, even though only 10 percent of MBTA customers ride it, Barry said.

The MBTA does not yet keep track of the number of refunds by specific commuter rail line, an official said, but measured by trains more than five minutes late, Attleboro was first, Framingham-Worcester second, and Haverhill-Reading third.

On the Attleboro line recently, only 80-83 percent of trains have been on time, Barry said. "Framingham went to the low 80s for a while in July."

MBTA officials said work on the new Framingham Station in late June and July was responsible for many of those delays, which were not the fault of Amtrak staff.

The week of June 22 was the worst for refunds, with 2,039 requests received. The MBTA has averaged 750 applications for refunds a week and is now processing each one in two days, said Brian Pedro, an MBTA spokesman.

"We've only denied 314," Pedro said, mostly because MBTA records did not confirm a 30-minute delay.

Bagley exhorted, "Let's fix what we control. I believe OTP starts in the terminals. If we can't get the trains out of the initial terminals, we will never get them over the line of road."

The Boston Globe is online at http://boston.com.


Portland-Boston rail fares are set
Amtrak set its fares last week for the coming Portland, Maine-to-Boston rail service. No specific date is in sight yet for the startup, but speculation among knowledgeable people makes it sometime this fall.

A one-way ticket from Portland to Boston will cost $21, and same-day round-trip service will be $35. Slightly lower fares will be available from other Maine stops in Old Orchard Beach, Saco, and Wells.

One-way fares from Maine communities to Boston will see riders from Portland paying $21; people getting on at Old Orchard Beach, $20; riders boarding at Saco, $19; and passengers boarding at Wells, $17.

Rail officials say the prices are competitive with local buses and costs for driving by automobile. A trip to Boston by car, including gas, tolls and a day's parking, costs $30 to $40.

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority posted the fares last week at its web site, http://thedowneaster.com.

Text at the web site stated, "Ten trip passes and monthly passes are also available. Discounts for students, seniors, children and groups are available on one-way and round-trip fares."

A Portland-to-Boston 10-trip pass costs $170, and a monthly pass for that trip costs $336. The train will make four round trips per day.

Discounted same day round trip fares are available from all locations to Boston.

Bus fares range from $18 to $34, one-way, and, $24 to $31 round-trip. Bus trip times range from just over two hours to almost 2 _ hours, and rail officials expect the train trip to take two hours and 25 minutes.


Amtrak develops new method
to train new crew dispatchers
More computer-based instruction is on the horizon for new Amtrak dispatchers. Five "comprehensive computer-based training courses are being offered to new-hire dispatchers at the railroad's Central National Operations Center in Wilmington, Del.," according to the August Amtrak News, a system-wide employee print publication.

The publication stated, "The courses have been designed for the dual purpose of training new crew dispatchers, and as a refresher resource for experienced dispatchers."

Amtrak's Workforce Development department, Crew Management Services and a consulting firm, Alternative Learning Solutions produced the courses.

"This computer-based program will significantly reduce the costs and time associated with classroom training," said Mike Kates, general manager of Crew Management Services. He added, "Additional development is planned for next year to provide consistent interactive training for crew management assignment clerks."

Glen Stickler, senior manager of Human Resources Development, said, "Since computer-based training [shortened to CBT'] is more interactive than book or classroom instruction, it's more likely that dispatchers will retain the information because they are a participant in the instructional process."

Amtrak has produced CBT before but not to this magnitude or complexity. The new CBT includes full motion video, simulators, and advance technology that makes the instructional process more enjoyable for trainees.

"We are really excited about this project and the possibilities for technologically advanced training for our employees," said Boyd Crouse, project manager, CBT development. "Computer-based instruction is the way to go because it enables you to work at your own pace, and you get immediate feedback as you work through the exercises."

The project team developed the programs in-house, with the consultants providing programming support. It cost about $150,000.

The Delaware Economic Development Office provided a grant to develop the computer program.


Bay State acted hastily; AG drops case
In 1997, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts took George Bartholomew to court for allowing human waste to be dumped along the Cape Cod Railroad right-of-way that cross Barnstable and the Upper Cape. He was the owner of the now-defunct tourist railroad, but it is the commonwealth who will be paying, reports the Cape Cod Times.

The state agreed to pay Bartholomew $300,000 to settle his counterclaim that he was denied due process when transportation officials shut down his railroad in the wake of the allegations, without holding a hearing.

Under the terms of the settlement, neither the state nor Bartholomew admitted any wrongdoing. A spokesman for the Bay State Attorney General's Office said it would have been risky to take the case to trial, where Bartholomew could have won hundreds of thousands more if the state lost. The deal was reached in May through an out-of-court mediation process.

"I think it's a remarkable turn of events," said John Klimm, Barnstable town manager, who, as a state representative, pushed for an investigation of Bartholomew's railroad operations.

"That the operator of this railroad would be compensated by the state after having so irresponsibly operated the railroad, putting the health and safety of Cape residents in jeopardy, is a hell of a way to run a railroad."

Bartholomew, who lives in Arizona, "really feels vindicated," said his lawyer, Mark Lavoie of Boston. "He is delighted that he has been exonerated. He was never pleased that a nice business that he had was destroyed, he didn't think fairly, so he countersued," Lavoie said, speaking for his client.


Corridor lines...

Pennsylvanians prepare for faster trains

High-speed trains should be coming down Keystone Corridor tracks by this time next year. Pennsylvania DOT (PennDOT) and Amtrak are hammering out the details of a plan to bring four high-speed trains to the corridor, which runs from Harrisburg through Lancaster to Philadelphia. With speeds between 110 and 120 mph, the trains should cut commute times by about one-fourth.

"The benefits of high-speed trains are obvious," said state Sen. Gibson Armstrong (R). Easy to use, fast trains translate to less traffic and pollution, and more business and tourism, said Armstrong.

"We'll cut down on traffic as people get used to the train system. That will keep people off the highways and that means less traffic," he said.

High-speed trains will cut the Lancaster-to-Philadelphia trip to one half hour. The trip currently takes one hour, and the journey from Lancaster to Harrisburg, now one hour, will be about 45 minutes. The ride from Harrisburg to Philadelphia will be one hour - cut exactly in half.

PennDOT spokesman Kirk Wilson said more people today are using trains for their daily commute than in years past.

"A few years ago, we had 300,000 riders. We had one million riders last year and service is expanding to meet those needs. In fact, service all over the Northeast, from Boston to Virginia it is increasing. I think you'll find that more people are using trains and finding them to be the best way to commute," he said.

PennDOT and Amtrak have already agreed to foot half the $140 million bill for rail improvements and four refurbished trains. According to Armstrong, PennDOT wants assurances from Amtrak that if the railroad company fails to live up to its side of the contract, the state would not be stuck with the entire bill for the project.

Once the contract is in place, PennDOT will spend $35 million in the first year to complete the continuous welded rails necessary for high-speed travel. Lines between Harrisburg and Middletown have already been welded.

Lancaster's Amtrak Station will get a $7 million facelift to accommodate increasing commuter traffic and prepare for high-speed lines, but the project remains months from getting under way, said Chris Neumann, the Lancaster County Planning Commission's deputy director for transportation planning.

Amtrak has yet to commit funds toward the project. Once that happens, a consultant will be hired to prepare a final design. Neumann was hopeful that the consultant would be hired by year-end. If so, construction could start by spring 2003. He was unsure how long the project would take.

Thanks to Lancaster Online, at http://www.lancasteronline.com


No Rockford trains, at least for now
Rockford, Ill., officials hoping to learn when passenger rail service would resume in northern Illinois, received bad news last week.

Rockford Mayor Doug Scott asked Amtrak CEO George Warrington how Amtrak determines where to establish new service. He asked Warrington to comment about service between Chicago and Des Moines, Iowa, through Davis Junction.

"It doesn't come to mind," he replied.

Warrington said later that establishing the route, announced Feb.28, 2000, as part of a 21-state expansion, is not likely, according to the Rockford Register Star.

Warrington was participating in a roundtable discussion organized by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to discuss the future of passenger rail service in that state.

Warrington said the financially troubled company lacks the cash to invest in a fully completed route, such as Chicago-to-Des Moines, and such a route, if installed in increments, probably would not be profitable.

"The difficulty we have is that even if we start a new route, the economics of that service are not going to be very attractive," he said, and added, "We've never had sufficient capital to invest in that kind of equipment."

The discussion focused on improving routes and upgrading Chicago-to-St. Louis as a high-speed rail line. Few participants were interested in the Chicago-to-Des Moines route.

Legislation to create a bonding authority to finance that upgrade is pending in Congress; a fall vote is expected. Chicago also is the hub of an improved nine-state railroad network called the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative.


Davis to remain station stop until...
After an early morning meeting with all the top "officialdom" of the City of Davis, Calif., regarding Coast Starlight service to their city, Amtrak West CEO Gil Mallery rescinded the order and the train will continue to stop at Davis, at least, for now.

Mallery pledged a long-term commitment to the city. The community had been slated to be dropped from the next timetable.


Acela Express Train 2150

NCI: Leo King

LATE, THIS TIME - Behind those trees around the curve and behind Acela Express No. 2150 lies Tin Bridge, a landmark for engineers running trains between Boston and New Haven - and now, for the Acela crews, between New York and the Hub. The double-track, curved deck dates back to the turn of the last century, although it has been rehabilitated several times since it was built. The most recent rehab was three years ago when Amtrak was preparing for high-speed trains. In this view, the train is running about one-half hour late and is enroute to Boston. Power car 2030 is on the point, and the 2031 is pushing from the rear on August 15.
Freight lines...

UP derailment stalls Texas Eagles

A Union Pacific freight train derailed August 20 between Dallas and Fort Worth, blocking both main lines. Amtrak's No. 22, the eastbound Texas Eagle, had departed Fort Worth 12 minutes late, at 2:40 p.m. The train backed up to Fort Worth, and was later sent over the Trinity Rail Express' (TRE) route to Dallas. The Amtrak crew was required to wait for a TRE pilot.

TRE estimated a two-hour trip over 31 track miles, partially because of slow orders on track which is being readied for commuter service in October.

The Eagle's westward counterpart, No. 21, which for the second day had detoured via Gilmer due to another UP freight derailment between Texarkana and Marshall, was annulled at Dallas, with some 150 passengers who were bused to San Antonio.


VTR, granite quarry win restoration argument
The battle between Vermont Railways, Websterville, Vt. residents and Rock of Ages, a granite quarry, is just about over.

"We lost," Ricky Roberts said Thursday on behalf of the residents, whose homes lie within several feet of the old railroad tracks at the heart of the dispute.

A decision by the state Environmental Commission about possible Act 250 jurisdiction is the only thing that might hamper the railroad's plans to begin using the tracks again after more than a decade of disuse, reports the Times Argus.

In a last-ditch effort to address residents' concerns, state Sen. Henry Gray (D), met with John Gregory, president of Rock of Ages' quarry division, to negotiate on their behalf. It didn't work, with Rock of Ages asserting that work would continue toward revitalizing the Wells-Lamson Quarry tracks.

Residents have been arguing daily with Vermont Railways and Rock of Ages officials about true ownership of the land and rails and their rights as homeowners concerned about peace and safety in their back yards.

Gray stepped in to help but his efforts proved fruitless, largely for financial reasons, as Rock of Ages officials insisted that they are the owners and it is their investment.

In recent reports, Rock of Ages officials have denied any part of the Vermont Railways work on the track. In light of the meeting Thursday, however, they acknowledged ownership of the land and rails and the fact that at some point in time, they could benefit in business from using the tracks.

According to Gregory, Vermont Railways approached them about a year ago for permission to repair the tracks for use. Rock of Ages has no immediate plans for their own use, he said, but that may change and access to the quarry is valuable.

"They might not have an immediate interest in the track," Gray said, "but they could not get rid of a major investment such as the rail. Work is going to continue on the tracks."

Now that it's clear that the work is going to progress, the residents appear ready to accept the inevitable.

"If I can't beat the railroad, I might as well try to get along with them," Roberts said.

Railroad officials, meanwhile have consistently maintained that they wish to be good neighbors, and are willing to work with the residents toward a peaceful co-existence.

"Our crews are up there working and we expect the track to be operable in a few days," said Jerome Hebda, vice president of Washington County Railroads and Vermont Railways Inc.

"We try to accommodate the best we can. We'll make the residents as happy as we can."

The major concern at this time should be safety, Gray said, and added, because the track is privately owned, safety in the neighborhood must be addressed by all the parties involved, he said.


N.E. Central rebuilds ex-NYNH&H branch
Part of Enfield, Connecticut's busiest east-west thoroughfare was closed to traffic Sunday while workers improve a long-unused grade crossing in Hazardville. Crews from the Newington-based New England Central Railroad are clearing the paved-over tracks on Route 190, installing a rubberized surface crossing, and repaving roadway approaches on each side of the former New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad tracks.

NECR said last year that it would reopen the rail line through Hazardville to provide freight service to northern Enfield. During the past year, workers have been clearing brush and small trees that had overgrown the track bed in northern East Windsor and southern Enfield.

Thanks to Connecticut Now, online at http://www.ctnow.com.


It wasn't very bright, but no bad news for CSX
CSX Transportation broke no laws and should not be punished for a runaway train that traveled 66 miles across Ohio without an engineer last spring, the Federal Railroad Administration has concluded.

A report from The Associated Press said the federal agency placed much of the blame on the engineer for making several errors that allowed the 47-car train carrying hazardous cargo to leave a rail yard on its own, but plans no action against him.

The train rolled through Ohio farm country for two hours on May 15 at speeds up to 47 mph, until it slowed enough so another CSX employee was able to climb aboard and bring it to a safe stop.

The experienced engineer had gotten off the train in a freight yard near Toledo, the agency said. He thought he had set a braking system, but instead had accidentally turned up the throttle.


Rail accidents decline; 10-year low
Railroad accidents and incidents reached a 10-year low in April 2001, more than 6 percent below the number for April 2000. The numbers came from USDOT's Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) on August 6 in its monthly transportation indicators report.

Carbuilders Trinity, Thrall merge
Trinity Industries, Inc. and Thrall Car Manufacturing Co., a privately held company, reported on August 13 they will merge. Thrall will merge its operations with Trinity Industries' railcar manufacturing business in exchange for cash and Trinity stock.

Under the terms of the agreement, Trinity will pay approximately $165 million in cash and issue 7.15 million shares of its common stock to the Thrall shareholders. Trinity has also agreed to make additional payments, not to exceed $45 million over five years, based on a formula related to annual railcar industry production levels. The transaction is expected to close by the end of the year, subject to regulatory approvals.

Trinity is headquartered in Dallas, and Thrall in Chicago Heights, Ill.


Meetings...

Sept. 10-13

AREMA annual conference

Palmer Hilton Hotel, Chicago

Contact http://www.arema.org

301-459-3200, or fax 301-459-8077.


Sept. 15, 16

Representing Rail Passenger Interests Conference

Philadelphia, Pa., Hilton Garden Inn, 1100 Arch St., Philadelphia Center City.

Register at RRPI Conference, P. O. Box 9373, St. Louis, Mo. 63117.

Registration $85 by August 1, Make checks payable to RRPI Conference.

This conference is spearheaded by members of the Amtrak Customer Advisory Committee and commuter advisory boards, and will focus on passenger rail and transit advisory organizations and advocates.

The conference will explore how advisory and advocacy organizations throughout the U.S. and Canada can improve practices to better represent rail passengers in a coherent and effective manner. Contact Richard Rudolph, Ph.D., Chair, RRPI Conference Committee, at 207-642-5161 or Philip Copeland, plcope@eriecoast.com.

Amtrak has agreed to give a discount of ten percent off coach fares for persons attending the conference.


Sept. 20

Amtrak Reform Council

Business Meeting:
8:30 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.

Hearing:
9:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.

Wilshire Grand Hotel
930 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA

The hearing will invite states in the western region of the country to provide their views on the various issues and proposals in the Council's Second Annual Report published in March 2001


Oct. 16, 17

Passenger trains on freight railroads

Railway Age conference

Washington Marriott Hotel
Washington, D.C.

Guest speakers to include White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card (and former USDOT secretary).

Claytor award for distinguished service to HEW Secretary Tommy Thompson, former Amtrak board chairman.

Register at http://www.railwayage.com or call Jane Potereala at (212)-620-7209.


Off the main line...

Judge to settle right-of-way dispute;
Penn Central still makes news

Thousands of landowners will get adjacent property abandoned by the former Penn Central Railroad under a settlement approved by an Indiana judge. The settlement, approved August 15, gives as many as 12,000 people the land for free.

It resolves more than eight years of litigation in an ownership dispute that spans 53 counties and 733 miles of abandoned railroad right-of-way land.

Attorneys for U.S. Railroad Vest Corp. and American Premier Underwriters, formerly the Penn Central Corp., called the settlement fair, but they did not acknowledge any fault by the railroad.

The class action lawsuit stemmed from the railroad's practice of selling or attempting to sell abandoned right-of-way land to adjoining property owners. Attorneys for landowners argued that the railroad's control of most trackbeds ended when it abandoned the railway.

Circuit Judge Steven David had tentatively approved the settlement in February. Last week's final approval made minor revisions, giving landowners 60 days instead of 45 to respond to claim forms that will be mailed during the next four months.

"We would hope to have the whole process completed within a year," said Henry Price, an attorney for the landowners.

The agreement also guarantees $300 to $1,200 to property owners who did not pay the railroad. Those who did pay are to be repaid in full plus 8 percent interest per year.

The value of the settlement could be almost $40 million, Price said.


The way we were... X234W of the AT&SF

AT&SF: NCI: Leo King collection

X234W - We know it's an extra because of those white flags flying in the corners of the classic Santa Fe A-B-B-A set of F7s in the 1950s, and what we learned from the back of this Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe photo was that the winter scene was near Flagstaff, Ariz. All those reefers near the head-end were empties headed back to Southern California - to gather more oranges.
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 Site in Boston.


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