Vol. 7 No. 36
August 21, 2006

Copyright © 2006
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

Destination:Freedom
The E-Zine of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - Jim RePass      Editor - Molly McKay
Webmaster - Dennis Kirkpatrick

A weekly North American rail and transit update

For railroad professionals
Political leaders at all levels of government
Journalists from all media

* Now in our Seventh Year *

This page is best viewed at 800 X 600 screen resolution

 

IN THIS EDITION...  In this edition...

  News Items... 
Subway fire forces 4,000 to evacuate
Plan for new rail station appears stalled once again
  Off the Main Line… 
Salmon run? No, salmon commute
  Commuter lines… 
Florida councilman hopes for local passenger rail service
Towns push Worcester-Providence rail link
New Metra stop highlights 2006 Elburn Days
High-Tech MBTA buses unveiled
  Friday closing quotes… 
  Across the Pond… 
InterCity Express at 15 years Germany looks to the future
Investigators closing in on German train terror suspects
Update on train bombing investigation
British airport chaos results in increased passenger volume
   on EuroStar trains
  Environmental lines… 
Passenger Power: Turnstiles become generators
  Opinion… 
Sweeten pot and commuter rail goes down easy
  End notes… 

NEWS ITEMS...  News Items...

Subway fire forces 4,000 to evacuate

Newsday and wnbc.com

BROOKLYN, AUGUST 17 – A subway fire during rush hour in Brooklyn, near the Manhattan Bridge, forced the evacuation of about 4,000 passengers.

The Newsday report, written by Jennifer Smith and Andrew Strickler, stated that the three-alarm fire started near a homeless encampment in a subway tunnel and appeared to be accidental. Service was disrupted on four subway lines, affecting thousands of commuters.

Subway fire

Over 20 passengers were treated for smoke inhalation at the scene and at local hospitals and three firefighters suffered and were treated for heat exhaustion.

The fire halted the two 10-car trains on the lower level of the Manhattan Bridge, which spans the East River between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Three cars on one of the Brooklyn-bound trains were inside the tunnel, which leads to the borough’s DeKalb Avenue subway station, while the other train was stopped behind the first.

“Everyone pretty much stayed calm,” said passenger Christine LaRubio, 31. “I called my husband to tell him what happened and he said, ‘I’m on the train, too!’ He was about five cars behind me.”

Train traffic on the bridge was restored by about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, said New York City Transit, which runs the subway system. Service during the Thursday morning rush hour was not expected to be affected.

More than 100 firefighters and rescue workers responded to the fire, which was reported by a train operator around 6 p.m. The blaze was declared under control about 8 p.m.

On one train, passengers had to wait almost an hour to be evacuated. Packed with rush hour commuters, the heat was exacerbated by the crowded conditions and passengers had to strain to hear instructions on the loud speakers.

“If there’s one lesson to be learned form this, it’s that the MTA needs a new PA system,” said Christina Liviakis, 28, of Marine Park.

Subway rider Danielo Ignacio said the heat in his subway car was almost unbearable and he had to calm an asthmatic woman who was having trouble breathing. “It was almost like being in a sardine can but it’s being cooked while you’re on it,” Ignacio said.

Formally opened in 1909, the Manhattan Bridge carries trains and cars, as well as bicyclists and pedestrians on separate paths.

Putting out the fire and evacuating the packed trains took nearly two hours, said Assistant Fire Chief James Esposito said. “It was a very difficult and slow operation.”

Scores of evacuated passengers, the report continued, - some exasperated, others relieved - continued to stream down Flatbush Avenue after 8 p.m. in search of alternate trains or buses home. Service was restored on all affected trains by 11:00 pm.

An investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing.


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Plan for new rail station
appears stalled once again

New York Times

NEW YORK CITY, AUGUST 18 -- The $900 million plan to transform the city’s former general post office building on Eighth Avenue into a dramatic new transit hub connected to Pennsylvania Station appears to be delayed again, reports the New York Times in a story by Charles Bagli.

State and city officials had hoped construction could start this fall. Had the Public Authorities Control Board approved the long-awaited project at its meeting in Albany on Friday, that could have happened. But now it is unlikely that this grand gateway to New York City, which will be called Moynihan Station, will get off the ground that soon.

Sheldon Silver, the Assembly Speaker, who controls the State Board together with Gov. George E. Pataki and Joseph L. Bruno, the State Senate Majority leader, said yesterday that there are still too many unresolved questions.

In addition, he said, there is also a new, more comprehensive proposal to modernize and expand Penn Station on both sides of Eighth Avenue, between 31st and 33rd Streets, by moving Madison Square Garden a block west to the back of the post office building that was to be converted into Moynihan Station.

“There are a lot of questions about the financing and what the final project will look like,” Mr. Silver said in an interview last Thursday.

Mr. Silver’s decision was supported by Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who is running for governor. He expressed concern that the plan had been rushed before the state board.

“Unfortunately, this is part of a pattern of irresponsible actions by the outgoing Pataki administration,” said a spokeswoman for Mr. Spitzer, Christine Anderson, who added that the State Board “should not approve this project until these unanswered questions are resolved.”

State officials bristled at Mr. Spitzer’s criticism. Charles Gargano, the state’s top economic-development official, said, “We should move forward with what this Moynihan Station was all about from the beginning, expanding Penn Station to meet the needs of transit riders today and in the future.” He said that going forward with Moynihan Station now would not preclude doing the larger proposal, which, he added, would take a minimum of 18 months to put into place.

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who died in 2003, championed the conversion of the James A. Farley post office building into a great train station for more than a decade. Much of the financing was put in place in 2001. Last year, the state selected two developers — Steven Roth, chairman of Vornado Realty, and Stephen M. Ross, chairman of the Related Companies.

Aside from the political sparring, the nub of the issue today is that the developers subsequently put together what some are calling Plan B: the complete renovation of Penn Station, which sits below Madison Square Garden, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. The current Garden would be demolished to make way for office towers, a soaring glass canopy and a commercial complex. Across Eighth Avenue, the post office would be converted to an adjunct train station.

The nascent proposal has sparked widespread interest.

“This larger project has so much more economic benefit that it’s really important to focus on getting the entire project, including Madison Square Garden, locked down,” said Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, who supports the delay.

But city officials and some civic groups said that work on Moynihan Station should begin now. “We’d like to see something move forward now,” said Deputy Mayor Daniel L. Doctoroff. “There’s no downside to going ahead with the current plan. It will not compromise our ability to work out the larger plan.”


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OFF THE MAIN LINE...  Off the main line...

Brass sockeye sculpture

Photo: Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times  

At right is Chuck Laney, a carpenter, and at left is Wayne Rengen, foreman, on Tuesday morning.
Salmon run? No, salmon commute

 

SEATTLE, AUGUST 18 -- Public art is celebrating salmon (chinook, sockeye and coho) in Seattle. An article in the Seattle Times reports that work crews have started installing 32 large bronze salmon at Sound Transit’s Eastgate HOV access ramps to Interstate 90 in Bellevue.

The installation is part of Sound Transit’s Start Program, which sets aside 1 percent of the agency’s capital construction budget for public art. The budget for the salmon was just under $200,000.

“Return of the Salmon” is dedicated to the preservation of this Pacific Northwest treasure. Each bronze salmon is 6 feet long and weighs approximately 300 pounds. The salmon are hollow with a 1/4-inch-thick shell. All the salmon have a patina (chemical coloring) to give them a lifelike feel.

The artist is Alex Young, an architect whose works are displayed at the University of Washington Medical Center, Seattle Public Library, U.S. Marine Corps Historical Museum, Pemco Financial Center, city of Yashiro in Japan, Washington state Department of Transportation and many others.

Because of the concrete strike, the ramp may not be opened on schedule this September.


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

Florida councilman hopes for
local passenger rail service

From the Internet via NBC2 News

LEE COUNTY, FL AUGUST 17 – City officials in Bonita Springs would like to see passenger rail come back on the tracks between Arcadia and Bonita Springs. Presently, only freight rail uses those tracks and that is only occasional.

Instead of putting up with traffic congestion in Southwest Florida, picture a leisurely ride to work, or a vacation to anywhere on the east coast, or even less expensive living conditions. There are some people who say opening the railway could do all of those things.

“ ‘Bring passenger rail service back to Southwest Florida,’ said Bonita Springs City Councilman Alexander Grantt.

The article continued: “Wednesday, the Bonita City Council announced they will petition the state for money from Florida’s passenger rail service trust fund - a fund [residents] have been paying into for years through taxes.”

Grantt said to the reporter, “Time we get our fair share.”

The reporter questioned whether the state would admit they owe that money to the region.

If the state did not pay, the money would have to come from the people and some residents don’t want their taxes used for passenger rail. Ken Pasvek, owner of the local grocery store, would rather they fix the roads first.

“But Grantt says the rail system could be very beneficial to Southwest Floridians. For one, Grantt says, it would allow people to live in one place and work in another. That idea is something Pasvek says he can get on board with.

‘We have no affordable housing for anybody. They build all these businesses and want people to work in them. Nobody can afford to live near there,’ said Pasvek.

“Grantt says the rail system would also help take cars off of the road. Lastly, Grantt says, opening Bonita’s tracks would connect Southwest Florida to rail systems all the way up to Boston which would pump up tourism and provide transportation during a hurricane evacuation. The tracks would be used to ship in supplies after a hurricane as well.”

Officials in Bonita will have to make a decision by November of this year because that is when the track’s 20-year lease is up. If they don’t make the decision by then, the city might have to wait another 20 years.


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Towns push Worcester-Providence rail link

Source: Telegram & Gazette over the Internet

AUGUST 10 --- Blackstone Valley selectmen are interested in restoring commuter rail service between Providence and Worcester, Massachusetts, and are making their wishes known to elected state officials.

The discussion first began informally among selectmen from Douglas, Northbridge, Sutton and Uxbridge in February, reports Donna Boynton in the Telegram & Gazette, during what have become frequent meetings known as the Route 146 Four-Town Group. The group was created to discuss common development issues.

The idea has now been grabbed by other selectmen in the Valley. Millbury Selectman Michael O. Moore recently took the matter one step further and suggested a Blackstone Valley Commuter Rail Commission be formed to bring representatives from all Blackstone Valley towns in Massachusetts to work together on the commuter rail initiative.

“There has been so much growth along Route 146, and great improvements have been made in transportation, but we are trying to look at other forms of transportation in the Blackstone Valley towns,” Douglas Selectman Paula Brouillette said Tuesday.

“This would be a great ‘green initiative,’ reducing the amount of traffic and cars,” Mr. Moore said, adding that Millbury, as the gateway to the Blackstone Valley, bears the brunt of traffic along Route 146, Route 20 and the Massachusetts Turnpike.

A feasibility study would look at potential ridership, potential stops and the cost of acquiring commuter trains.

A $500,000 feasibility study for commuter rail service between Worcester and Providence was authorized by the Legislature in 2000, but it was vetoed by the governor, and the House was not in session to take up the veto.

The study was to have examined the cost of purchasing equipment, operational costs, and costs to build stations; projected ridership levels; and available state and federal subsidies for the project.

State Senator Richard Moore, (D) Uxbridge, said yesterday he will resubmit the language once he finds a bill to which he can attach it.

The senator added that rail service could benefit the regional airports, noting that MBTA plans to fund the construction of a rail line to T.F. Green Airport in Providence. A similar connection to Worcester could benefit the Worcester Regional Airport.

“It’s important that we have a vision for the future,” the senator said, noting that commuter rail service is still a long way off. “This is not something that will be in place next week, or even next year.”


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New Metra stop highlights
2006 Elburn Days

ELBURN, Illinois – The coming of a new Metra Train Station was the basis for a joyful celebration recently in the town of Elburn.

In a story for the Chronicle, Kartikay Mehrotra wrote: “Although other municipalities might be landing major developments and retail projects, Elburn hit the jackpot when Metra extended Union Pacific’s West Line into town this year.

In celebration, the village and residents are building their annual Elburn Days festival around the theme “Linking the past, present and future, Elburn to Chicago ... All Aboard!”

In a related story for the Krier, Mayor Jim Willey announced that the station building will be built in the spring of 2007 and will open by summer.

“The big thing is that it gives us another form of transportation,” said Willey. “ By having the train [station] here it’s an intermodal hub. Where you can change between a car and a train. This makes it easier and faster to get downtown.”

“It’s going to have quality, we’ve never been interested in quantity. Elburn is trying to be one of the nicest towns, not biggest,” he said.

A senior in high school, Kelsey Flanagan, said, “Having the train station in town will make things a lot easier, and a lot more convenient. It will be [convenient] if I go to school in Chicago, so it’s a possibility.”

Senior Cooper Andrews said that if he stays around here that it would be helpful going to and from college and the city. Andrews acknowledged that by having a train station so close to the surrounding communities that it will be helpful and easier because people won’t have to drive to Geneva or Aurora to get to a train station.

Some residents expect the station will be the catalyst for economic growth in the downtown -- more shops, restaurants, dry cleaners, etc. and also homes.

Some are worried that the growth will change the town from a rural community to a suburban one and it will lose its appeal as a farming community.

But most people are pleased to have a train stopping in their town, giving them more transportation choices.


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High-Tech MBTA buses unveiled

From the Internet via BostonChannel.com

BOSTON, AUGUST 17 – Buses that “kneel” and are equipped with surveillance cameras are coming to Boston. The first one was unveiled almost two weeks ago by the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority.

NewsCenter 5’s David Boeri reported that the bus has many new features, including its capacity to kneel, adjusting itself to the height of the curb.

“Now, the whole side of the bus kneels to accommodate someone in a wheelchair or someone with a child in a stroller,” MBTA Secretary of Transportation Dan Grabauskas said.

Ten of the 155 new buses will be equipped with a set of surveillance cameras and microphones where they will be evaluated.

MBTA Secretary of Transportation Dan Grabauskas said that, behind the driver, a hard drive records video for 17 hours.

This will help prevent incidents and crimes and should a crime occur, we will be able to identify the culprits sooner, such as in a recent stabbing incident, Grabauskas said.

There will also be greater accessibility for disabled riders. The MBTA said that they will get aboard 10 times faster than they do now. Speakers, stop buttons and electronic signs will make riding much easier for the seeing and hearing impaired.

“It makes it easier for everybody -- the driver, the passenger -- it makes it so that disabled people want to use public transportation,” National Transit spokesman Michael Winter said.

Officials said the 155 buses will be arriving before next spring.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: MarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)68.4564.84
Canadian National (CNI)42.0140.14
Canadian Pacific (CP)48.8847.01
CSX (CSX)30.9158.93
Florida East Coast (FLA)53.7350.67
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)25.4223.63
Kansas City Southern (KSU)26.6725.05
Norfolk Southern (NSC)44.2940.93
Providence & Worcester (PWX)17.9516.80
Union Pacific (UNP)83.7479.21


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ACROSS THE POND...  Across the Pond...

Installments By David Beale
NCI Foreign Correspondent

InterCity Express at 15 years
Germany looks to the future

 

ICE to Paris will challenge low cost airlines

Nürnburg - With the 2006 World Cup Football championship just a memory, Germany quietly celebrates 15 years of operation of its high speed trains known better as ICE. In a feature story on the front page of the business and commerce section of the Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper on the 14th August, Deutsche Bahn - German Railways - board member Karl-Friedrich Rausch says that the company’s ICE trains, which have been in service since their June 1991 debut on the new Hannover - Würzburg high speed corridor, are the key element of the rail company’s future. Germany entered the high speed train business well over a decade after neighboring France started operating its TGV trains and more than two decades after Japan and the USA respectively started operating Shinkasen (bullet train) and Metroliner trains.

The initial 60 sets of the ICE-1 series have been joined over the years by the similar but half-length ICE-2 model and the high-tech but somewhat problematic ICE-3 EMU train sets and ICE-3 based derivatives. Today 236 ICE train sets in various versions rack up thousands of miles of operation everyday within Germany and into neighboring countries such as Austria, Belgium, Holland and Switzerland. ICE ridership currently averages 180,000 persons per day and more than 100 cities are served by the red on white colored trains, sometimes referred to as “white worms” by some German train fans.

Ice-3 at Duesseldorf International Airport

Photto: Deutsche Bahn AG

An ICE-3 electric multiple unit (EMU) train set enters the train station at Duesseldorf International Airport in November 2003

Due to the newly opened high-speed corridor between Munich and Nürnburg, travel times between those two cities has dropped by 40 minutes to just one hour. With the December 2006 system schedule change, ICE trains will depart every 30 minutes between the two southern German cities. Other newly built or upgraded ICE corridors have dramatically reduced travel times: Frankfurt - Köln (Cologne) in 72 minutes, Berlin - Hamburg in 90 minutes (verses 3 hours a few years ago), and Hannover - Munich in four hours, which is 30 minutes shorter than last year.

High speed has, however, a price. The new 171 km (106 mi.) Munich - Nürnburg corridor cost EUR 3.6 billion (US $4.5 billion) to complete, including the all new 89 km long Ingolstadt - Nürnburg section built along an existing freeway alignment, but with numerous bridges and tunnels in order to provide a relatively straight and low gradient rail line which now supports 300 km/h (186 mph) ICE train operations. Approximately 80% of the cost was supported by the federal and state governments. Rail advocates point out that most airports and nearly all freeways and expressways in Germany were built using 100% funding from federal, state and local governments, although recently many German airports have become profit making private companies. A new ICE-3 EMU train set can cost upwards of EUR 20 million (US $25 million), still a bargain compared to an Airbus A320 or Boeing 737, which cost more than twice that price new, but the ICE-3 is almost double the price to acquire on a per seat basis than the conventional locomotive hauled intercity and regional trains Deutsche Bahn acquired in the past.

Despite the high price tag, Germany continues to invest in the ICE network, a new high speed corridor currently in the final stages of construction in eastern France is due to enter service in June 2007 with both multi-system TGV and ICE-3 trains, which reduce the travel times from Paris to Frankfurt or Stuttgart to under four hours. Rausch hopes to give the current flock of low cost airlines a headache. Deutsche Bahn is continuing with a multi-million dollar retrofit and upgrade program with its 59 remaining sets of ICE-1 trains, and after the last ICE-1 train set is completed, a similar program will commence with the ICE-2 fleet. Germany is also considering a proposal to upgrade an existing rail line between Stuttgart and Ulm to 250 or 300 km/h high speed capability along with a possible conversion of the existing surface level Stuttgart train terminal into an underground through rail station, which in itself would be a multi-billion euro and decade-long construction project on the scale of the recently opened new Berlin Hauptbahnhof and new north-south rail connector in the German capital city.


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Investigators closing in on
German train terror suspects

Dortmund - NDR Info radio network reports that German prosecutors and anti-terror specialists have acquired a significant amount of evidence, including surveillance video and eye-witness statements, which will likely lead to identification and arrest of at least two men who planted two separate suitcase bombs on regional trains in the western German state of Nordrhein Westfallen on the 31st of July. Germany’s BKA (equivalent of the U.S. FBI) stated that the bombs were armed and programmed to explode at the same time and were quite capable of causing destruction and injuries on the scale of the bombs used in the 3/11 Madrid train terror attacks. In the aftermath of the bomb plot discovery many members of Germany’s parliament, especially of the conservative CDU and CSU parties are insisting on new laws to expand video surveillance of public areas, especially of all train and public transit stations, as well as parking garages, shopping centers, schools and airport entrance and exit doors.

The central train station in Hannover is already equipped with a large array of video cameras and most suburban train stations in the Hannover region likewise have been equipped with video surveillance systems. Additionally, nearly all of Hannover’s 1970’s vintage TW6000 light rail trains have been retrofitted with on-board video surveillance systems, the newer (1998-2000 delivered) TW2000 light rail vehicles are due to be fitted with similar video surveillance systems. Although suburban and regional trains in the Hannover - Bielefeld - Braunschweig - Uelzen - Göttingen - Bad Pyrmont region have not yet been outfitted with on-board video surveillance, Deutsche Bahn and the state government significantly increased last year uniformed transit security and police patrols on board these trains, especially during evenings and weekends to prevent violent activity and acts of vandalism to the trains.


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Saturday, August 19!

Update on train bombing investigation

According to the headline page one story in last Saturday’s Hannover newspaper, the German BKA was searching for two men they had observed on video footage from surveillance cameras in train stations and in that newspaper they released the photos obtained by those cameras. According to the federal police, the men are apparently connected to a radical Islamic group with ties to Lebanon and presumably Hesbollah. Police were not providing details of the connection to Islamic fundamentalists in Lebanon, other than simply saying they were pursuing a connection in that direction. The bombs failed to explode simultaneously at 2:30 PM on 31st July , as the regional trains they were placed on were underway. The failure was due to a minor error the bomber or bombers made while assembling the devices, according to investigators. Police investigators added, that both suitcase bombs had more than enough propane and gasoline to cause significant loss of life from the initial explosions and to derail and burn-out the trains.

On Saturday afternoon, German police arrested a 21 year-old Lebanese man at the Kiel railway station as one of the main terror suspects. Kiel is on the Baltic Sea and near the German-Danish border. The other prime suspect remains at large. There is a Europe-wide man hunt in progress with orders to police across Europe and the U.K. to detain him for questioning if they see him. A &euro  50,000 (US$ 63,000) reward for information leading to the arrest of the two suspects had been announced along with the release of the surveillance photos to the public from the night before this arrest.

The terror suspect arrested at the main train station in Kiel was apparently planning to flee from Germany, probably due to the publication in the news media less than 24 hours earlier of surveillance photos of him and an accomplice at the central train station in Köln (Cologne) taken on the 31st of July. Police did not release his full name, but said he is a Lebanese student studying in Germany since 2004. The police also arrested another foreign student traveling with the terror suspect on concealed weapons charges, but said that he is not part of the terror investigation at this time. Witnesses said both men were ordered to the ground on the train station platform by heavily armed German border patrol officers and were hauled away in hand and foot cuffs.


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British airport chaos results in increased
passenger volume on EuroStar trains

London - BBC World and Deutsche Press Agency report that passenger traffic on the London - Paris and London - Brussels EuroStar trains has increased between 25% and 30% compared to the same time a year ago, most likely due in part to the ongoing delays in London area airports caused by an ongoing investigation of a terror plot to blow-up USA bound airliners. Due to the expanded and lengthy security procedures placed into effect a week ago at all U.K. airports, many flights are delayed for hours, or are cancelled altogether. Especially hard hit are U.K. - Europe flights, where 30 - 50 percent of scheduled flights have been cancelled on some days. Some frequent trans-atlantic travelers interviewed by BBC said that they were able to save several hours in travel time by taking the train from London to Paris and then boarding a USA-bound flight in Paris, rather than trying to take a flight from London Heathrow or Gatwick to the USA directly. Since start of operations 12 years ago EuroStar passengers have been subjected to 100% airport style security screening and passport control prior to boarding, although perhaps not as stringent as those now in place at British airports.


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ENVIRONMENTAL LINES...  Environmental lines...

Passenger Power:

Turnstiles become generators

Blog from Adam Frucci who writes a column called “Shift” about the latest gadget buzz.

Turnstyles at Japanese station

Movement of turnstyles operates small electrical generation motors built within.

 

JAPAN, AUGUST 1 --- Public transportation is already a great way to be environmentally friendly by keeping another car off the road, but the East Japan Railway Company is looking to make it even more beneficial. A new system under development would generate electricity as people pass through ticket gates, providing a supplemental energy source in stations around Japan. Not only would it generate energy, but it would also be able to measure the traffic flow going through the stations, adding an extra benefit for the railway company.

It’s a brilliant idea, as I walk through and push a turnstile multiple times daily getting on and off the subway here in New York City, one has to think that the millions of people doing that daily have to be generating a serious amount of energy. The system is currently being tested in the Company’s offices, but should be implemented in stations by next year. I’d love to see more things like this set up here in the states, and lord knows the New York MTA could benefit by saving money in any way possible. — Adam Frucci


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OPINION...  Opinion...

Sweeten pot and commuter
rail goes down easy

This commentary was written by George Diaz for the Orlando Sentinel.
Permission to reprint given by author.

AUGUST 18 -- The slick brochure draws me in quickly: Each Orlando driver lost $510 in time and gasoline while creeping along in rush-hour traffic in 2003, up from $490 just a year earlier.

Then: Rush-hour delays per vehicle have increased by 3.2 hours since 1982.

No need to elaborate further.

Sign me up for commuter rail.

I’ll have my thumb out, wanting to hitch a ride at the proposed Longwood station by the time the trains get moving in 2009.

Unless you are one of those proverbial anti-tax rabble-rousers who think a few more buses will solve our transportation issues, the slow crawl of Interstate 4 drives us to the brink of road rage every morning.

We can no longer keep jamming cars -- many of them the size of armored tanks -- onto the highway and expect the downtown commute to be anything but unbearable.

The commuter cost, expected to range from $2.50 to $5.50 per ride depending on the length of the trip, is well worth it when leveraged against the stress factors of driving.

Having pledged my allegiance to commuter rail, a few cautionary words for the folks marketing the deal between the Florida Department of Transportation and CSX Transportation Inc:

It will take much more than slick brochures and a “Quality Time” button to get people to hop out of their SUVs and into the splendor of double-decker cars with reclining seats and wireless Internet connectivity.

A recent trial run beginning at State Road 434 at the I-4 intersection, where I would make a right to go west on the interstate, tested my patience for plodding through traffic.

Thanks to the guy whose beat-up car stalled at the left-turn lane of Ronald Reagan Boulevard, the 3.6-mile jaunt into downtown Longwood took 13 minutes. Factor in another 10 minutes for lead time and parking.

I could be downtown quicker on a jam-free day on I-4. Implausible, but there are those moments of perfect synergy.

Somebody needs to twist my arm -- gently, perhaps -- to get me on board.

Discounted tickets for multiusers; perhaps an initial “check us out for free” coupon. Building appealing infrastructure at the stations -- restaurants, shops, etc. -- to draw in skeptics.

But perhaps the most important issue here is something that isn’t tangible: Central Florida needs to drink the commuter-rail Kool-Aid, and consider it an acquired taste.

Commuter rail is good medicine. It may go down uneasy, but the consequence of avoidance is an unsightly mass of metal madness along I-4. Studies show that Central Florida’s population is expected to more than double between 2000 and 2050, going from 3.05 million to 7.22 million.

Central Florida congestion has been ranked ninth-worst in the nation.

You can’t cram all the extra cars and bodies onto I-4.

We need to reprogram ourselves before 2009. We can make some sacrifices for the greater good, or we can choose to be selfish and get stuck in our obstinate habits.

Something to think about the next time you’re driving along I-4 and your world comes to a halt long before the downtown skyline comes into view.

George Diaz can be reached at 407-420-5533 or gdiaz@orlandosentinel.com.


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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 editor at editor@nationalcorridors.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write. For technical issues contact D. M. Kirkpatrick, NCI’s webmaster at webmaster@nationalcorridors.org.

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Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images by Leo King and other photo journalists should contact our webmaster@nationalcorridors.org for additional information.

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 transportation initiative 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 link, please send the uniform resource locator address (URL) our webmaster@nationalcorridors.org.


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