Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
  NCI Logo Vol. 1 No. 19, August 21, 2000
Copyright © 2000, NCI, Inc.
James P. RePass, President
Leo King, Editor
 

A weekly passenger railroad update


Amtrak draws support from both political parties

By Leo King, D:F Editor

Both major political parties have done an about-face regarding Amtrak and high-speed rail transportation.

Where the Democratic Party was mostly silent for years on its political platform regarding Amtrak, they, and Republicans who formerly were opposed to the national passenger train service, are now in full support.

The Dems adopted a plank at their national convention in Los Angeles stating, "Al Gore and the Democratic Party support the building of high-speed rail systems in major transportation corridors across the nation. High-speed rail reduces highway and airport congestion, improves air quality, stimulates the economy, and broadens the scope of personal choice for traveling between our communities. We support new grants to Amtrak and the states for improving and expanding passenger rail routes and corridors."

A week earlier, the Republican Party did virtually the same thing - in Philadelphia.

Their platform committee chairman was Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, who is also Amtrak's board chairman.

The GOP plank stated, "Republicans support a healthy intercity passenger rail system, and where economically viable, the development of a national high-speed passenger railroad system as an instrument of economic development, and enhanced mobility."

The Gore-Lieberman campaign also presented a $25 billion initiative to increase "transportation choices available to the American people... through investments in transportation alternatives such as light rail, high-speed rail, mag-lev and cleaner, safer buses."

In the past, GOP platforms have been mildly critical of Amtrak while the Democratic platforms have been mostly silent.

"It demonstrates that Amtrak, which is setting new records for revenue and ridership, is turning the corner in both popular and political support," said Amtrak spokesman Bill Schulz.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Al Gore's running mate on the Democratic side, has long supported Amtrak. He is currently one of the cosponsors for the Lautenberg-Jeffords High Speed Rail Investment Act (S. 1900).


Amtrak reports record revenue; no Corridor profits in sight yet
Amtrak's Northeast Corridor posted July revenues of $51 million - an increase of nearly 15 percent over the same period last year. The carrier reported, "Ridership increased nearly 6 percent over July 1999, surging to 1.03 million passengers, due to traveler disaffection with the airlines, increased travel between New York and Washington for the Republican National Convention, and a continuing strong economy."

In a press release, Karen Dunn stated, "Nationally, Amtrak set an all-time record ticket revenue of $107.2 million in July and saw a ten-year ridership high of more than 2 million passengers" during the month.

Stan Bagley, the Corridor business unit's president, said, "We are having a blockbuster summer because we are delivering world-class service with the only satisfaction guarantee of its kind in the industry."

The growth in the Corridor was spearheaded by Acela Regional service, which, Dunn said, " has seen a 39-percent increase in ridership over the trains it replaced."

Ticket revenue for the railroad nationally, year-to-date, is up 8.4 percent to over $903 million and is on track to break last year's record of just over $1 billion, according the Amtrak figures.

At press time on Friday, it was not clear if Amtrak was able to significantly reduce its losses on the Northeast Corridor, much less turn a profit.

Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black, in Washington, told Destination: Freedom, "That's really tricky territory, because it depends on how you account. Do you include heavy maintenance? I'm not an expert on this, but we put equipment overhauls on the capital side. Our critics says we shouldn't do that."

In Philadelphia, company spokesman Rick Remington said the railroad compiles quarterly and annual statistics, but not monthly.

"With two months left in its fiscal year," Amtrak estimates that "the record ticket revenue and ridership gains combined with operational and debt-servicing savings from the delayed start-up of Acela Express will have slashed, by more than half, the anticipated revenue shortfall from the changes in the Acela Express service launch," Dunn said.

Cash from liquidated damages "associated with the manufacturer's delay [Bombardier and Alstom] in the delivery of Acela Express trainsets are anticipated. There has been no agreement on the amount in damages, but Amtrak estimates that it will be in the tens of millions of dollars."

She also said that the Ethan Allen, Adirondack, Vermonter and Keystone Service were the top performers. All are also partly supported by state funding.

Vermont's Ethan Allen posted a 33 percent revenue gain over July 1999 and a nearly 14 percent increase in ridership. Vermonter trains have gained 5 percent ridership over July 1999, and a 13 percent revenue gain.

New York's Adirondack, recently named one of the top 10 train trips in the world by National Geographic Traveler, experienced a 14 percent revenue boost over the same month last year, and a ridership increase of more than 3 percent.

Keystone service, began an eighth train in July, which helped boost revenue by 10 percent over the same month last year.

Metroliner and Northeast Direct service, historically the Corridor's two strongest performers, experienced ridership increases of nearly 5 percent and 10 percent respectively.

Dunn said the passenger railroad "expects these trends to continue in August, noting the addition of 5,300 additional seats to accommodate travelers to and from the [Republican] Convention in Philadelphia earlier this month."

Amtrak unveiled an unconditional "satisfaction guaranteed" program one month ago.

The railroad also said it is "successfully continuing along the Congressionally-mandated glidepath to end federal operating assistance in fiscal year 2003. The funding budget reduced Amtrak's financial aid from $484 million in fiscal 1999 to $362 million in fiscal 2000.

"The company has successfully met these targets and fully expects to continue doing so through fiscal 2003."


Another Acela joins the test fleet
The newest Acela Express train was delivered by VRS at Whitehall, N.Y. on Friday. The consist included power car (engine) BBRX 2034, 6 coaches, and power car BBRX 2032. CPR (D&H) train departed at 10:15 p.m. with CP engine 6064. The train was made up with three idlers on each end. The set moved to Harrisburg enroute Washington, DC. The latest Acela set was picked up at Bellows Falls, Vt.

Meanwhile, a high-speed trainset was being outfitted at Ivy City yard in Washington for "ACSES." The Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System is a new, sophisticated cab signal system that uses transponder placed in the tracks. That train is expected to arrived in Boston sometime on Wednesday for more trials.


Corridor lines...

Landslide disrupts Western service

A California landslide on Union Pacific tracks between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo tore up about 300 feet of track on July 30. The earth movement harmed neither Amtrak trains nor passengers on Sunday night, the carrier said.

The landslide, near Highway 101, left the tracks with no supporting structure, making them impassable for trains. The UP's signals all went to red, stopping all rail traffic in the area.

Buses carried Amtrak's passengers until rail service began again, six days later on August 4 when trains began operating over a shoo-fly. That temporary track gave UP civil engineers time to thoroughly evaluate the extent of the permanent repair work needed, select a design, solicit contracting bids and make a final determination.

Coast Starlight and Pacific Surfliner services began operating on their regular schedules during track work to permanently repair damage some 26 miles west of Santa Barbara. Repairs, conducted by contractors hired by the UP, are expected to take between six to eight weeks, the UP said.

"Amtrak's main concern was for the safe and uninterrupted operation of our popular Coast Starlight and Pacific Surfliner services during our busiest season, preventing any further service disruptions for our guests," said Richard Phelps, Amtrak West's chief operating officer.

Amtrak said its passengers whose travel was disrupted by the slide were given the option of rescheduling their travel for a later date or receiving a refund. The carrier increased staffing levels at stations along the route to assist.

The Coast Starlight, operates daily between Los Angeles and Seattle, during a 36-hour, 1,389 mile route. More than 500,000 people traveled on the train last year.

The Pacific Surfliner operates over 347 miles from San Diego to San Luis Obispo.


New Mexico wants trains
Southern New Mexicans would be able to ride the rails between El Paso and Albuquerque - at least for a few days - if the state's Highway and Transportation Department (HTD) is successful. It has applied to the Federal Highway Administration for a $300,000 grant to demonstrate the feasibility of reopening a rail passenger service along the 226-mile Rio Grande corridor between Albuquerque to El Paso a state official said.

Las Cruces is one of the stops on the proposed service, which would allow residents an alternative to travel between El Paso and Albuquerque. The service also would make connection with two long-distance Amtrak lines, the Southwest Chief in Albuquerque and the Sunset Limited in El Paso, reported the Albuquerque Sun-News.

If acquired, the $300,000 would be used for a three-day rail passenger service demonstration between the two cities. The demonstration had been scheduled on June 12 to 14, but the government had not approved the funds. Meanwhile, the bureau still is prepared for the demonstration, pending funding. BNSF owns the tracks, but the demonstration would be conducted by Amtrak.

Thanks to Fred Dabney.


National briefs...

Tortoises delay Las Vegas service

The start of high-speed passenger trains Between Los Angeles and Las Vegas will be delayed at least a year while permits for track construction and trains are pending. Amtrak had planned to start service next month, with one train leaving Los Angeles for Las Vegas each morning and returning each evening, but construction of about 20 miles of tracks in the Mojave Desert, which would take about 10 months, needs approval from the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife agencies before work can begin. The agencies are concerned about the impact on desert tortoise habitat.

Also needing FRA approval is the planned use of 14 Talgo-designed trainsets. The Spanish firm's cars, used during the past four years in the Pacific Northwest by Amtrak, do not meet the specifications of new federal crash-safety standards adopted last year, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. Amtrak estimates the Los Angeles-Las Vegas route would carry 62,000 people in its first year and grow to 100,000 by the third year.

Canadian rail-car manufacturer Bombardier is pressuring U.S. transportation officials to take the Talgo passenger cars out of service. Amtrak operates them on its Cascades line, and cites the cars' failure to meet federal crash-safety standards revised last year. Removal of the cars would all but halt passenger-train service in Oregon and Washington, Northwest transportation officials said. Four Talgos operate on the line, and carried 570,000 people last year between Eugene, Ore., and Vancouver, B.C.


Texas Eagle might be much faster
Amtrak's Texas Eagle route from San Antonio to Fort Worth and Texarkana may become a "higher-speed rail corridor," making the line eligible for additional federal rail safety funds, if an application is granted, the Star-Telegram reports.

The application, which was submitted by the Texas DOT to the FRA, could pave the way for the state to receive $5 million to $15 million in additional money to improve railroad crossings.

The upgrades would streamline passenger rides and expedite freight travel on The Texas Corridor. The work also would improve safety for motorists at Railroad crossings.

The designation of the Texas Eagle route as the Texas Corridor would make it The most prominent passenger railroad route in the state. The Gulf Coast Line, which includes a Houston connection, is the only higher-speed rail Line that touches Texas.

Texas has 10,737 miles of railroad tracks and more than 18,000 railroad crossings. Many crossings are in rural areas, are poorly marked and are Minimally maintained. Train-vehicle collisions have generally increased in the past three decades, up 13 percent in 1999 after steadily decreasing since 1996.

The state spends $22.5 million annually for the upgrading of 150 rail crossings with lights and gates, said a state DOT spokeswoman.


'Trinity' gets a coach to go with its engine
Trinity Rail Express has received its first "Texas flag" Bombardier cars to go along with the F-59PH they received last week. The new double-decker car is painted red, white and blue. Both were received at Dallas Union Station.

TRE was slated to operate some Budd cars between Irving and Fort Worth over the weekend, on August 12. Three round trips were planned for crew territory familiarization.

Three new stations were slated to open on September 18, at Richland Hills, Hurst-Bell and Centreport-DFW Airport.

The Dallas Star-Telegram reported, "'Initially the train will be purely commuter. You've got to crawl before you walk and walk before you run,' said John Bartosiewicz, the Fort Worth Authority's general manager."


An end note...

We try to be accurate in the stories we write, but even seasoned pros err occasionally. If you read something you know to be amiss, or if you have a question about a topic, we'd like to hear from you. Please email the crew at train1812@home.com.


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