Vol. 6 No. 34
August 22, 2005

Copyright © 2005
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 - Leo King
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 Sixth Year *

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

  News Items… 
Photo: 231 gets a makeover
Fresno may sue Amtrak over depot
Illinois saves dollars for Amtrak fund
Man removed from Amtrak train had several IDs
  Builders’ lines… 
UP buys 10 ‘Green Goats’
  Safety lines… 
Crossing deaths lead to actions as Louisiana gets aggressive
Tupelo plans to move tracks
  Commuter lines… 
Moynihan Station project gets recrewed
Sprinter gets $80 million
Commuter rail stirs in Jacksonville
New Hampshire inches toward commuter
   rail; funding is okay
Georgia delays rail decision
Central Link gets its first rails
  APTA Highlights… 
President Bush Signs ‘SAFETEA-LU’ bill near Chicago
Hudson Institute Report Stresses Unified
   Transportation System
  Freight lines… 
Court approves Graniteville settlement
Wisconsin paper shippers unhappy with rail
CN to run longer container trains
Yellowstone leases two BNSF lines
Railroad employment continues up
Forest, petroleum products are off: Carloads gain
   in rail freight traffic
  Wall Street lines… 
Ratings posted by CSFB
  Friday closing quotes… 
  Opinion… 
Changing Amtrak’s culture
Rail-Thin Security
  Endnotes… 

Old 231 gets a coat of paint

For NCI: Two photos: Chris Fussell

Ex-Amtrak F-40PH No. 231 is getting a fresh coat of paint up front.

Remember Chris Fussell from about a year ago? He managed to salvage retired EMD F40PH 231 from scrappers, then sent it home to Oregon.

Now, the engine resides in Brooklyn Yard roundhouse in Portland, Ore. and is getting a new coat of paint. Fussell rescued the engine from scrappers by buying it from Amtrak – still in operating condition. On August 14, the work-in-progress showed all paint stripped around the nose from cab door to cab door, ready for a fresh coat this week. Gone is the “Operation Lifesaver” decal.

Inside its cab, the control stand was freshly painted as of July 27. Fussell noted, “Here’s the finished product – and it’s dusty already.”

231 cab stand and controls

The 231’s control stand got fresh paint in July.


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Vermonter at diamond crossing

For NCI: Ryan Parent

Amtrak’s Vermonter, on CSX iron, crosses the New England Central diamond at Palmer, Mass. On April 5. Train No. 55 started this day in St. Albans, Vt., and will continue to Springfield, then turn southward to New Haven, Conn., then on to New York City and Washington, D.C.

 

Fresno may sue Amtrak over depot

Last week the Fresno City Council began discussing filing a lawsuit against Amtrak. Six months after a grand dedication ceremony, a newly refurbished former Santa Fe depot remains empty.

The depot’s opening has been derailed by a financial dispute between Amtrak and the city of Fresno, which claims it is owed 600-thousand dollars. Councilwoman Cynthia Sterling said on August 15 the city is now considering a lawsuit against Amtrak.

“If you don’t give me an explanation of why we’re not opening, other than the fact they haven’t paid, which I understand is significant and is the whole point… but the point is what can we do in the meantime to utilize this wonderful facility.”

Rep. Jim Costa hopes the city council holds off on any litigation. Costa said a proposal funded through the California DOT should allow the station to open by November.

An Amtrak spokesman said they have identified the necessary dollars to physically move the computers and phone lines and other equipment, according to Costa.

In the meantime, Amtrak continues to conduct business from a former freight office. Amtrak stated the issue is under internal review.

Costa has been involved with the project since the beginning in 1992, and he said he hopes the DOT plan can end months of frustration.


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Illinois saves dollars for Amtrak fund

Illinois government will begin saving $50 each time a state employee saves cash by using Amtrak to travel between Chicago and Springfield for business.

Under legislation Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed last week, the state will deposit money into a new Intercity Passenger Rail Fund based on the number of discounted tickets Amtrak sells to public employees during the July-June fiscal year, Copley News Service reported.

Proponents of Senate Bill 635 estimate the rail fund could generate at least $300,000 in its first year, based on recent sales figures. In fiscal year 2004, Amtrak stated it sold 6,000 tickets in connection with state business in Chicago or Springfield.

It’s unclear how the money from the new fund will be used.

Rick Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High-Speed Rail Assn., helped push for the legislation and said the revenue should be earmarked to improve rail service. To him, that ultimately means adding more passenger trains on existing Amtrak rail corridors, including the Chicago-St. Louis line that includes stops in Normal, Lincoln and Springfield.

“That would be my hope and, I believe, that was the intent of the legislation,” agreed Rep. Don Moffitt, R, who has encouraged state agencies to use Amtrak more often.

The legislation says the Illinois DOT “may” use the new fund to pay for the operation of passenger trains. IDOT currently pays Amtrak $12.1 million a year to run trains linking Chicago with downstate regions, and agency spokesman Matt Vanover said he wasn’t sure whether the fund can be used to offset that expense or whether it is strictly reserved for additional service.

“The legislation does not address that,” he said.

Currently, state government gets a break from Amtrak only on business trips between Springfield and Chicago. The government pays $17 for a one-way ticket, compared with a regular coach fare that can be as much as $48, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said.


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Man removed from Amtrak train had several IDs

Police in Elyria, Ohio confiscated thousands of dollars in cash and gold along with identification from the U.S., Mexico and Canada from a man police removed from an Amtrak train, The AP reported Friday. Authorities said the man had exposed himself and rummaged through other passengers’ luggage.

Conductors on No. 49, the Lake Shore Limited, from New York to Chicago, notified police, who took the man into custody around 5 a.m. Wednesday at a station in this city about 25 miles southwest of Cleveland.

The man refused to give his real name, wouldn’t answer questions and requested a lawyer, according to police reports. Police found in his bags two Canadian passports, birth certificates and Social Security cards with different names, a Mexican identification card and medical records with different identities.

Once on a train, Amtrak passengers must produce identification that matches their ticket, said Marc Magliari, an Amtrak spokesman in Chicago.

Police also confiscated $1,900 in U.S. dollars, $5,900 in Canadian currency and a 5 ounce gold bar.

Police conducted a fingerprint check with Canadian authorities and are awaiting a positive identification, said Sgt. Mike Behney.

The man will be held until federal authorities complete an investigation, Behney said.


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BUILDERS LINES...  Builders’ lines...

UP buys 10 ‘Green Goats’

Union Pacific Railroad said last week it has ordered 10 low-emission, hybrid locomotives for use in its Southern California rail yard operations.

Costing $8.2 million, it is UP’s largest purchase of the hybrid-technology locomotives called “Green Goats.”

They are designed to cut air emissions by 80 to 90 percent and reduce diesel fuel use by 40 to 60 percent compared to conventional diesel-powered locomotives used in switching service.

“These hybrid locomotives are part of the company’s commitment to air quality in California,” said Bob Grimaila, vice president-environment and safety.

He added, “Union Pacific is taking significant steps to improve and protect the environment, including our recent agreement with the California Air Resources Board (CARB).”

In addition to the emissions reductions that will be achieved by the Green Goats, a memorandum of understanding among CARB, UP and BNSF Ry. will reduce diesel emissions in and around the state’s freight yards. The important new agreement calls for reductions that will be greater and quicker than any that could have resulted from regulatory or state processes.

CARB estimates particulate emission reductions will be around 20 percent at yards by June 2008 when all the program’s elements are phased in. UP said it expects to spend $20 million on the program.

Delivery of the hybrid locomotives is expected to begin late this year and continue into early 2006. UP based its first Green Goat in Fresno earlier this year under a cooperative plan with state and local environmental agencies.


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SAFETY LINES...  Safety lines...

Crossing deaths lead to actions
as Louisiana gets aggressive

After nine people died in two collisions with Amtrak trains, former Ponchatoula, La. Mayor Julian Dufreche decided to do something about train-auto accidents in his city.

He started working with the state four years ago to shut down three railroad crossings and make the rest safer, The Advocate of Baton Rouge reported on Friday.

All five remaining crossings in Ponchatoula have flashing lights and gates, and no one has to drive more than two blocks out of his way, Dufreche said Thursday.

“Here, things are so compact (that) it didn’t make that much difference” to drivers, said Dufreche, now the Tangipahoa Parish clerk of court.

It won’t be that easy in some other areas, but the state is committed to shutting down more dangerous railroad crossings, Gov. Kathleen Blanco said.

Blanco and other officials showed off Ponchatoula on Thursday as a model for how the state and local governments, along with federal and railroad officials, can work together to reduce train-auto collisions.

A rash of auto-train crashes earlier this year prompted a new law that effectively allows the state to close crossings it considers too dangerous for motorists and too expensive to improve.

Fourteen people died in auto-train crashes in Louisiana so far this year, including six in Tangipahoa Parish. Authorities generally blame inattentive or impatient drivers and ungated crossings for the deaths.

Last year alone, Louisiana had 23 train-vehicle fatalities, fifth highest in the country and more than populous states such as Florida and Ohio.

“It’s a heartbreak that touched my family through the years,” said Blanco, who lost a grandfather in an auto-train crash about 30 years ago.

“We can’t reach out to stop a car from running into a train’s path,” she said at a news conference, “and we can’t afford to erect gates everywhere,” she said. Installing gates and lights cost about $150,000 per crossing.

The state can block the worst crossings, improve some others and urge and punish people into driving more safely, the governor said.

The new law, Act 207 by Sen. Art Lentini, R, allows the state to force local governments to either shut down crossings the state considers too dangerous or use their state transportation aid to improve those crossings.

State Transportation Secretary Johnny Bradberry said the goal of the law is to get all parties to cooperate, and that is happening.

Ponchatoula Mayor Bob Zabbia agreed, telling the crowd Thursday that the new law “will save countless lives.”

Louisiana has nearly 3,000 railroad crossings. Fewer than half have lights and gates, and more than two-thirds are under the jurisdiction of local governments, not the state.

Blanco noted that railroads have agreed to help with some of the expense even when not required by law.

Railroads’ trains also are supposed to follow speed limits, blow whistles, keep the crossing surface reasonably smooth and keep the area free of trees and brush that can block a driver’s view of an oncoming train.

Railroads are “absolutely” following the rules and cooperating with authorities on the safety drive, said Carolyn E. Cook, a regional FRA manager.

She said, for instance, that shutting down a crossing typically costs about $15,000, and railroads typically pay half the cost.

Carmack Blackmon, a lobbyist for railroads that run through Louisiana, said in one recent case a railroad donated 20 percent of the cost of improving a crossing.

State Police Supt. Henry Whitehorn said his agency has stepped up enforcement of train-related traffic laws, such as the ban on driving around a barrier to try to beat a train. One recent stakeout produced 12 tickets in three hours, Whitehorn said.

“Three of those tickets were written to school buses – and two of them had children on board,” he said.


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Tupelo plans to move tracks

The solution to Tupelo, Mississippi’s increasingly busy railroad traffic took its first step last Wednesday with the launch of an environmental impact study. City and state transportation officials started the study at Tupelo’s City Hall with a news conference that culminated years of talking about how to deal with BNSF and Kansas City Southern tracks. Those tracks intersect some of the city’s most congested streets – and carry 26 trains through the city daily.

The study will last about three years, the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported Thursday, and will explore options for relocating the tracks. Options include moving them to the outskirts of the city or building raised rails along the same route. Engineers could also consider moving KCS’s tracks.

Tupelo-based Cook Coggin Engineers will perform some of the preliminary inventory and utility work in the study headed by Omaha-based HDR Engineering.

Once the FRA approves the completed study, officials will seek funds to start relocating the tracks. The public will be involved at key steps along the way.

Tupelo is the only Mississippi city recently to get this kind of aid for a rail relocation project, although other areas are plagued by heavy rail traffic, said Northern District Transportation Commission Bill Minor.

The Gulf Coast, Hattiesburg and Columbus have similar problems. Last year, the coast’s Harrison County ranked third in the nation for number of accidents at rail crossings, said Wayne Parrish, MDOT planning manager for the rail study project.

Those problems will continue to rise along with the number of trains, and BNSF expects to send 15 more of them through Tupelo within the next few years.

“Increased train traffic is due to an accumulation of things but primarily our demand for goods,” Parrish said, “and rail traffic is increasing to meet that need.”

He added, “Over the next 25 years, freight will double again. It’s becoming more difficult to add freight to the highway systems, so increasingly it’s moving to rail. Now rail is reaching capacity.”


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

Metro North FL-9 2014 elephant style

For NCI: Joe Calabrese

It looks like a view from the distant past, early diesel days on the New Haven, but it’s really Metro North FL-9 2014 elephant style with F-10 413 on August 7 in Danbury, Conn. That 2014 was originally a New York, New Haven & Hartford engine, ca. 1955.

 

Moynihan Station project gets recrewed

The long-awaited Moynihan Station project in New York City has a new development team, new architects and a new design.

The Moynihan project expands Penn Station, the nation‘s busiest, by carving out 385,000 square feet of new space in the James A. Farley Post Office building, Bloomberg News reported on August 16. It occupies two city blocks above the train platforms, just across Eighth Avenue from Penn. To make way for the relocated station, the U.S. Postal Service is moving out most of its facilities.

David Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill devised the original design in 1999. A great tent of glass rose out of the sober walls of the Farley, a monumental civic temple built in 1913 to the designs of McKim Mead & White, which was intended to become Amtrak’s icon.

The new design by James Carpenter and HOK is richer and subtler, as some people view it. It flows better for passengers, especially now that the project will primarily serve commuters rather than Amtrak patrons, and is a fitting tribute to the project‘s longtime champion, the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

The development team, related companies and Vornado Realty Trust, married Carpenter, a designer best known for glass art and innovative building-glass systems, with HOK, a very large and usually inspiration-free architectural firm.

“We used light as the primary method of opening up the building,” Carpenter said after the unveiling. Glass bathes passengers in daylight throughout the station. The strategic use of light also helps people find their way – in contrast to the dingy, confusing warren of passages in the old station.

Out of the sober granite of Farley‘s facades, which will be preserved, sleek glass canopies and glowing glass floors will welcome passengers. The design‘s centerpiece is an enormous light- filled courtyard roofed by a network of undulating glass- paneled domes supported on tall tubular columns.

It still is not a done deal. Participation by the commuter railroads is still not definite after months of negotiations. The capital costs have largely been covered by local and federal grants, but the railroads will still have to pay to operate a great deal of new space.

The expansion is critical to the enormous construction projected for the surrounding neighborhood: development of the West Side Yards, site of the doomed Jets Stadium proposal; a planned 560,000 square-foot addition to the Javits Convention Center and millions of square feet of commercial and residential development city planners hope will rise in a neighborhood now strangled by Lincoln Tunnel traffic.

Barriers to the station project have always been bureaucratic. Though conceived by Moynihan, President Bill Clinton ultimately had to broker turf battles among Amtrak, the Postal Service, commuter railroads Metro-North, Long Island and New Jersey Transit – based in two states and the city of New York.


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Sprinter gets $80 million

The Sprinter commuter rail system being built between Oceanside and Escondido, Calif., received a big boost Thursday when the state allocated $80 million for the project. The San Diego Union Tribune reported Friday the California Transportation Commission, which funds transportation projects, released the long-promised funds at its meeting in Sacramento.

“It is the very best news we’ve had in a very long time,” said Karen King, executive director of the North County Transit District, after announcing the news at the close of the transit board meeting.

The state had pledged the $80 million for the 22-mile line in 2000 but former Gov. Gray Davis, D, withheld money for transportation projects during the 2002 budget crisis.

When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, R, took office in 2003, he also withheld money for transportation projects until the state financial picture improved. He restored the $80 million in this year’s budget, and the transportation commission allocated that amount yesterday.

The district had issued $105 million in bonds during the state budget crisis to ensure it would have money to pay its construction bills while the project was under way.

The $80 million allocation means that bond will never be tapped, King said. “It will allow us to pay off the debt and will allow us to move the construction forward on schedule,” she said.

Approving the money means all the pieces of the Sprinter’s funding puzzle are in place. Last year the Federal Transit Administration withheld a $48 million installment on $152.1 million it had approved for the project, saying it had experienced delays and had gone over budget. The budget had increased to $375.5 million from $351.5 million.

The federal agency last month released the $48 million after accepting NCTD’s new project budget of $365.6 million.

The Sprinter project is converting an existing freight line into a combined freight and passenger line. When completed at the end of 2007, passenger trains will serve 15 stations between Oceanside and Escondido.


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Commuter rail stirs in Jacksonville

By Leo King
Editor

Northeast Florida is getting a regional commuter rail study in the spring. The First Coast Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) included the funding in its 2005-2006 annual budget, formally named its Unified Planning Work Program. The MPO board adopted the 109-page document on May 12, but details only recently became available. The Jacksonville Transportation Authority, a state agency, “is the lead organization, but the MPO will work closely with them in drafting the scope of work which has not been started,” said MPO spokeswoman Marci Larson.

The report summarizing the data, evaluations and findings is expected to be completed within 12 months, and is due by June 2007.

The study “will evaluate the possibilities for commuter rail services in the First Coast Metropolitan Region as defined by the First Coast MPO boundaries.” That means Duval County, where Jacksonville is located, as well as St. John’s, Clay and Nassau Counties.

“Significant and fast paced growth has occurred in the four counties requiring a more comprehensive study of implementing commuter rail services on the existing Florida East Coast (FEC) railroad to the south and the CSX railroad to the southwest,” according to the tasks page from the MPO’s annual budget document, named the Unified Planning Work Program.

The new study will update all the data, including any available technologies and reevaluate previous studies.

A commuter rail alternative was evaluated in two transit studies several years ago, but were set aside early “due to the low travel demand and the relatively high cost of adapting the freight trackage segments to passenger rail. However, these evaluations were on the basis of transit parameters and the commuter rail evaluation should be done on the basis of intercity services.”

Using First Coast MPO new travel demand data and census updates, new estimated commuter rail ridership figures will be derived.

“Meetings will be held with CSX and FEC representatives to gain a clear understanding of their operational and safety needs to determine the operational, physical and liability parameters associated with applying commuter rail service with active freight services,” the document states.

The study requires “Preliminary alignment and station locations will be located along both tracks,” and communications, operational and safety measures will be developed.

Capital and operating costs will be estimated, and revenue estimates will be made. “Operational consequences will be measured,” it states, and “ an evaluation process will be developed, approved by the JTA and used to determine the feasibility of commuter rail services” in the multiyear task.


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New Hampshire inches toward
commuter rail; funding is okay

New Hampshire’s hopes for commuter rail got a boost in the nation’s $286 billion transportation bill, but it didn’t come in the form of new funding for establishing service to Nashua. Instead, Congress simply kept the project going.

New Hampshire Public Radio reported on Thursday just a single line tucked deep inside the massive Transportation bill authorizes bringing rail service from Lowell, Mass. to Nashua.

Proponents of the project say those few words are necessary for the project to move forward.

Steven Williams, executive director of the Nashua Regional Planning Commission, said the “Project has to be given permission to move into each step, so getting the project identified for final design in the bill will smooth the way for us to move into that next step of the project development process. It really just makes it easier, and quicker, we hope.”

The $80 million Nashua rail project has lurched forward in fits and starts over the past several years.

A big delay hit the project last year, when the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled the state constitution prohibited the use of gas tax money for rail projects – but the city and regional planning commission cobbled together a real estate development project to pair with station construction to keep commuter rail alive.

U.S. Rep. Charles Bass introduced legislation in Congress to keep the project going, and has already brought in $24 million in federal money.

“we do have enough money to begin the construction phase, and hopefully, over the next few years, we’ll get enough money to provide it all so we can complete the project. Now, that only gets us to the south end of Nashua. i see that as a start,” he said.

The new transportation bill also authorizes commuter rail to reach as far as Manchester.

Bass said he thinks this additional authorization will bring service deeper into the state.

“I really want to see this line go to the north end of Nashua, then to Merrimack and, of course, to the Manchester airport and then finally, downtown Manchester. I think it would be a fantastic improvement to the economy and transportation system we have in New Hampshire.”

While no state funds are forthcoming for commuter rail in Nashua or Manchester, state officials say they still have a role to play.

Kit Morgan is the head of Rail and Transit for the state DOT.

He said the state will need to get more involved once station construction nears completion.

“A couple of the things that we’re looking at with the city and the regional planning commission in moving ahead are establishing a regional authority to actually be responsible for running the system, or contracting with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to run the trains, and that will need legislative approval.”

Nashua officials say they hope to break ground for their station in 2007, and they think trains could begin running to Boston in 2009.


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Georgia delays rail decision

Georgia transportation officials on Thursday again postponed their decision on commuter rail at least until after they hear all the pros and cons for the $106 million investment.

The Clayton County News Daily reported rail advocates criticized the delay, calling it a stalling tactic meant to give opposition to the project more time to gather steam. At the same time, critics of the funding plan for the rail praised the move because they said it would allow time to further illuminate how much the rail’s operation will actually cost and who would be paying for it.

Commuter rail, heralded by its advocates as a solution to traffic and a catalyst for economic development, has become a divisive issue fueled by a growing faction of resistance that denounces the project for lack of public involvement and a funding plan its members say is unfair to local taxpayers.

At the meeting, Dana Lemon, who represents Henry and Clayton counties on the state transportation board, unsuccessfully pushed for an up or down vote on the project, which has been officially planned for nearly 10 years and discussed for more than 15.

“We are not being responsible when we stall decisions we have to make,” she said.

Garland Pinholster of Ball Ground, Ga., the state board’s Intermodal Committee chairman, insisted on having no vote until after a public forum scheduled for the middle of September. He said the hearing will feature “academic” points of view from seven representatives of each side of the issue.

“I have not heard academic presentations for and against,” he said. “I would like to hear those.”

Pinholster also said he was not interested in emotional arguments from either side.

“I’m interested in empirical data,” he said.

The meeting’s adjournment underscored the division on the Intermodal Committee, only passing 3 to 2. The committee is charged with making a recommendation to the entire 13-member board on whether the project should proceed.

Also left open at the meeting is what will become of an agreement between the state and Clayton County that commits local tax dollars to funding the difference between the train’s operating costs and the fare box. Clayton County, which also plans to use contributions from its municipalities, wouldn’t have to fork out the money until three years after the Lovejoy-Atlanta line begins service, tentatively scheduled for fall 2006. County officials expect their estimated $4 million per year contribution to decrease as the line expands toward Macon and more governments become involved.

Just a few days earlier, Clayton County approved a proposed contract that would obligate the county to fund shortfalls in the operation of a commuter rail for 50 years, and if Henry County wants a commuter rail station, it must have widespread support from local leaders, said a county Congressional representative.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on August 15, Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell signed the draft contract, to be made with the state DOT and the Georgia Rail Passenger Authority. DOT still is considering the project, which would begin in downtown Atlanta and travel through Clayton County and eventually to Macon.

“It’s just a draft,” said DOT Commissioner Harold Linnenkoh, adding, “I have not read it, and our position right now is we do not have a contract.”

The state and federal government would pay $106 million for the first three years of capital costs, but Clayton County and its cities with commuter train stops would need to fund operating and maintenance costs not covered by passenger fares. The DOT previously estimated the price tag to be about $4 million annually.

The contract came to light after an open records request from state Rep. Steve Davis, R, who is opposed to the commuter rail line, shook loose several drafts of contracts in the negotiations for the rail line. Davis said he had trouble getting documents from the Georgia DOT, but Attorney General Thurbert Baker advised the department earlier this month that the draft contracts were subject to the state Open Records Act.

Drafts of potential contracts with other parties that would have to help set up the line, the city of Atlanta and Norfolk Southern Ry. Co., were not yet signed by any party and were generated by state lawyers representing the DOT earlier this summer, according to the attorney general’s offices.

In the most recent draft of a proposed lease with Norfolk Southern, which owns the tracks, DOT would pay the railway company up to 12 percent of the fare revenues depending on the timeliness of the rail service. It also would pay the railway $360,000 per year for access to the tracks, a fee that could rise, and a track and right of way maintenance fee of $347,313 per year.

Service apparently would be limited to 5:20 a.m. to 8 p.m., and would close from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The lease would run for 25 years.

Linnenkohl said he would not sign any contract until the state Transportation Board had a chance to review the terms. The head of the board’s intermodal committee, which deals with the line, said he would prefer a public forum on the issue before putting it up for a vote.

“I want to hear both sides,” said that board member, Garland Pinholster.

Regarding Henry County and a possible commuter station, U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland said the county must have widespread support from local leaders.

“If you can’t get local folks excited, it’s not going to work,” told the Henry County Chamber of Commerce’s transportation committee a fortnight ago.

The chamber, the Henry Council for Quality Growth and all four of Henry’s mayors have signed documents offering support for the project, saying it will bring more jobs to Henry and get more motorists off the roads.

State Rep. Steve Davis, Henry County Commissioner Elizabeth “B.J.” Mathis and others think state funds would be better spent on road improvements.

Most Clayton County officials support the rail plan, but not all.

They argue that few people will ride the train. The Hampton City Council recently voted 3-2 against spending city funds to help operate a station.

Clayton Commissioner Wole Ralph and state Sen. Valencia Seay, who represents parts of Clayton and Fayette, support commuter rail, but both reiterated that taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay the estimated $4.5 million annual debt on the rail system.

“I will not support a rail system that will pile deficit upon deficit each and every year,” Ralph said.

Ralph, Seay and Davis said there should be a referendum for voters to decide if they are willing to pay the annual rail debt.

The lack of local support could harm efforts to get federal funds to build rail stops in Hampton and Griffin, the two cities eyed for a second phase of any commuter rail line. State officials estimate $29.6 million in federal funds would be needed for the extension, with $7.4 million in matching funds.

Westmoreland was noncommittal about the line, saying he hasn’t thoroughly studied the matter. Westmoreland, whose Coweta County home, Sharpsburg, could never be confused with places like New York in terms of traffic, said he’s not a “commuter rail guy” but agreed it’s going to go somewhere.


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Greg Nickels

Sound Transit

Sound Transit’s vice-chairman – who is also Seattle’s Mayor – Greg Nickels joins Mountain Pacific Rail workers inserting the first piece of track into place on a section of the Central Link line in Seattle.

 

Central Link gets its first rails

Crews installed the first rails for the Central Link light rail system on August 17, and it was a major milestone as light rail construction continues forward rapidly, on schedule and under budget.

The first rail to be installed, running through Seattle’s “SODO” area between Holgate Street South and South Lander Street, included four 1,200-foot-long ribbons weighing approximately 23 tons each. Mountain Pacific Rail is installing the rail as a subcontractor to Kiewit Pacific Co., the general contractor for the SODO portion of the Central Link system.

“These ribbons of steel will carry thousands of people a day for many generations into the future,” said Sound Transit board chairman and Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg.

Construction bids for the Central Link project came in 6 percent below estimates, and Sound Transit said it remains on schedule to begin carrying passengers starting in mid-2009. Intensive construction is currently underway all the way from downtown Seattle to Tukwila.

The airport light rail connection, named Airport Link, is scheduled to be completed by December 2009, several months after the opening of the initial segment between downtown Seattle and Tukwila. By 2020 the 16-mile system is projected to carry more than 45,000 riders daily.

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels noted, “The voters of this region made an investment in light rail, and Sound Transit is making it happen.” He is also Sound Transit’s board of directors vice-chairman.

Sound Transit’s covers three Washington counties – King, Pierce and Snohomish.


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Days gone by at Rockport, Ma

For NCI: David S. Hutchinson

One morning in Rockport, Mass., on March 10, 1987, to be exact, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority GP-9 902 arrives with train No. 117 from Boston. That F-10, to the right, is rebuilt EMD FP-7A 1113, waiting in the clear with a passenger extra to Boston. White flags used to tell a story, but they aren’t required in today’s railroading. EMD built the 902 in 1957 for Grand Trunk Western, and Illinois Central Gulf later rebuilt it. South Eastern Michigan Transportation Authority (SEMTA) then bought it (along with sisters 901-905) which the MTA later picked up. SEMTA was Detroit’s old interurban railway system. In more recent history, the engine is frequently used as the “Readville Switcher” on the T’s south side. The 905 was ex-New Haven. Only the 902 and 904 are left.

 

 

APTA HIGHLIGHTS...  APTA Highlights...

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


President Bush Signs ‘SAFETEA-LU’ bill near Chicago

The long-awaited transportation authorization bill received the President’s signature on August 10, when President Bush signed the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, or SAFETEA-LU, in ceremonies at the Caterpillar-Aurora plant at Montgomery, Ill. Leaders of Congress and the Administration and members of the transportation community attended the program.

“Our economy depends on us having the most efficient, reliable transportation system in the world,” the President said at the signing ceremony.

“We've got to bring up this transportation system into the 21st century….[The legislation] provides more than $286 billion over six years to upgrade our nation’s network of roads and bridges and mass transit systems,” he added.

Bush said, “This law makes our highways and mass transit systems safer and better, and it will help more people find work, and it accomplishes goals in a fiscally responsible way. We are not raising gasoline taxes in order to pay for this bill.”

Passage and enactment of SAFETEA-LU comes almost two years after the expiration of the previous legislation, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, on Sept. 30, 2003. Congress enacted 12 short-term extensions of TEA 21 after it expired, the latest on July 29 to keep transportation programs operating until the President signed the new bill. Both the U.S. House and Senate approved the legislation by overwhelming margins that same day.


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Hudson Institute Report Stresses Unified Transportation System

The U.S. must establish a transportation system where all modes operate as one in a mobility management environment, and must fund its transportation investments from a comprehensive set of sustainable revenue sources that reflect consumer choice.

These are among the findings of 2010 and Beyond: A Vision of America’s Transportation Future, a book-length report released at an August 3 event at Washington’s National Press Club by the Hudson Institute, a prominent conservative think tank. APTA President William W. Millar joined Hudson Institute President Herb London; John Horsley, executive director of the American Assn. of State Highway and Transportation Officials; and Harry Voccola, senior vice president, industry relations, of NAVTEQ, a provider of digital map information.

The report, released days after Congress passed SAFETEA-LU, calls for revolutionary changes in the financing, technology, and management of the nation’s surface transportation system. Among the policy recommendations, which span from immediate changes to those still decades away, the study group calls for a transition to a Vehicle Miles Traveled-based revenue system to be implemented by the year 2015, and an immediate increase in the existing federal motor fuel tax.


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

Westbound Guilford train EDMO near Bardwell, Mass

For NCI: Thomas Mik

CP Rail SD40-2s lead westbound Guilford train EDMO near Bardwell, Mass. on January 17, 2004. EDMO is westbound on Guilford’s Freight Main Line at milepost 392.28 and crossing South River. It is running between East Deerfield and Mohawk yard in New York.

 

Court approves Graniteville settlement

During a fairness hearing on August 17 in federal district court, U.S. District Judge Margaret Seymour approved a class action settlement agreement that provides restitution for minor personal injury, property damage, business and wage loss, expenses and inconvenience associated with Norfolk Southern Ry.’s January 6 derailment at Graniteville, S.C.

Seymour granted formal approval of the settlement, according to an NS press release, reached by NS and lawyers representing many residents of Graniteville and others, “finding the class settlement to be fair, adequate, and reasonable.”

Bob Wells, the railroad’s general manager for casualty claims, said, “This settlement will resolve the majority of claims resulting from the derailment without the delay and expense of lengthy litigation. In fact, Norfolk Southern is processing the first payments of claims submitted through the proof of claim process preliminarily approved by Judge Seymour in May and finally approved at today’s hearing.”


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Wisconsin paper shippers unhappy with rail

Officials at Coating Excellence International of Wrightstown, Wis. would like to move more materials by rail, but dissatisfaction with the service prevented it. “Railroads are miserable to deal with,” said CEI president Mike Nowak.

“You can’t even get them to call back for a quote,” he told the Appleton, Wis. Post-Crescent on August 17.

Nowak, who says his company relies mainly on trucks to ship goods in and out, is far from alone in his disdain for railroad service, whose antitrust status is the target of pending legislation from U.S. Rep. Mark Green, R.

Green’s bill is aimed at leveling the playing field between how railroads charge for their service compared to other shipping modes. The legislation seeks to repeal antitrust exemptions that date to the 1920s when railroads were much more heavily regulated.

Patrick Schillinger, president of the Neenah-based Wisconsin Paper Council, said railroads have too long enjoyed near-monopoly status, and their frequent price increases coupled with major service decreases hits the state’s paper industry especially hard.

“The paper industry in Wisconsin is being crippled by double and in some cases triple percentage rate increases by railroads,” he said.

In many cases, the alternative to rail service – transportation by truck – is not economically viable for many companies, Schillinger said.

State Railroad Commissioner Rodney Kreunen declined extensive comment on Green’s proposal, saying he was unfamiliar with the bill, which is pending in a House committee. He did say big Class I railroads like Canadian National –and unlike Wisconsin Central which it purchased in October 2001 – “are not geared to handle smaller, fewer loads short distances.”

Recent rail changes have also hit Kaukauna-based Thilmany hard. An irregular pattern of shipments frequently leads to “bunching” of rail cars into company yards instead of a few at a time, said Bill Sotka, logistics manager for Thilmany’s Wisconsin operations.

Canadian National, which supplies the company’s wood pulp products, is proposing a major policy shift in 2006 – to give the company only one day to unload freight cars onsite carrying pulp material instead of the current two days to unload and release the rail cars back to CN, Sotka said.

That change could cost Thilmany a potentially extra $1 million in “demurrage” charges, a form of penalty imposed if the task is not performed on time, he said.

CN, the only major or Class I railroad to serve eastern Wisconsin, has instituted changes in the business model since assuming the Wisconsin Central territory fours years ago, said Mark Hallman, Toronto, CN’s system director of media relations.

Hallman conceded that those changes may be difficult for some to accept, but he said they stem from railroad attempts to deal with customers in a responsible manner.

“We don’t have as much service as we used to. In some cases it’s three days instead of five. That’s dictated by the volume of the business,” he said.

When customers are asked to unload more quickly, it demonstrates the higher degree of discipline the CN brings to business, he said.

“When you’re turning your cars more quickly you’re increasing the car supply.”

Manufacturers aren’t the only ones who have seen costs rise due to rail changes, said Luke Punzenberger, who is a press aide to Green. He said the utility and agriculture sectors are concerned about higher costs for grain, coal and chemical shipments.

John Wilkinson, president and CEO of Neenah-based WPG Shippers Assn., is working with a consortium to put together a supply chain analysis of the rail industry.

An erosion of rail service, higher costs, discontinuation of some service lanes, less frequency and lower quality service all have become factors with which shippers must deal, he said.

“It could have a very serious impact on the economy in Wisconsin,” Wilkinson said. “If the public doesn’t start supporting laws such as what Mark Green is doing we’re going to be in a world of hurt.”


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CN to run longer container trains

Canadian National said last week it will be adding “a substantial increase in intermodal train capacity” across its transcontinental Canadian network.

It didn’t spell out how it would do it, but industry observers suggested they would add more power to trains so they can haul more cars.

CN said on Thursday it is increasing train capacity for overseas containers moving between the Port of Vancouver and Montreal and Toronto by more than 20 per cent, while boosting capacity for domestic container moves between Toronto and Montreal and major Western Canada centers by more than 10 percent.

In all, the new service plan, effective today, will allow CN to accommodate an additional 125,000 intermodal units per year across Canada, an increase of 15 per cent.

James Foote, CN’s executive vice-president for sales and marketing, said IMX, CN’s intermodal service “has delivered significant service improvements, including the fastest intermodal transit times in the transcontinental Canadian corridor, as well as important improvements in the utilization of our intermodal cars and terminals.

CN promises fourth morning service between Toronto and Vancouver, third morning service to Edmonton and Calgary from Toronto, and second morning service between Toronto and Winnipeg.


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Yellowstone leases two BNSF lines

Yellowstone Valley Railroad (YSVR) has leased two line segments in Montana from BNSF, the AAR reports. One segment covers 72 miles from Glendive to Snowden while the other covers 99 miles from Bainville to Scobey. YSVR took over operations of the lines on August 15.

Terms were not disclosed.

Commodities on the line are primarily agriculture products, bulk foods and petroleum. BNSF’s Glendive yard will not be impacted, the railroad stated. Also, BNSF will continue to serve existing customers at Bainville.

YSVR, an affiliate of Watco Companies, Inc., will also get trackage and interchange rights to access Glendive yard. Snowden is the primary interchange point and Glendive is secondary.

“Shortline operators can provide valuable and efficient service that can support our growth plans by feeding us traffic through service offerings closely tailored to their shippers’ needs,” says Pete Rickershauser, BNSF Network Development VP.

Watco is based in Pittsburg, Kans., and operates 15 other short line railroads in 15 states.


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Railroad employment continues up

Railroad industry employment continued to grow during the first six months of 2005, according to data from the Railroad Retirement Board.

Employment at the end of June stood at 234,000, up from 227,000 at the end of June 2004 and up from 228,000 at the end of December 2004. At the end of 2003, employment had stood at 223,000, the AAR reported.

The June 2005 figure is the highest railroad industry employment has been since the end of 2001.

Railroads began a major employee recruitment effort more than a year ago. It was spurred by two factors, traffic growth and higher-than expected retirements following enactment of Railroad Retirement reform in 2001. That legislation reduced the age at which employees were eligible to retire with full benefits after 30 years of service from 62 to 60.


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Forest, petroleum products are off

Carloads gain in rail freight traffic

All three measures of rail freight traffic – carloads, intermodal and ton-miles – were up during the week ended August 13 in comparison with the corresponding week last year, the AAR reported Thursday.

Carload freight for the week totaled 339,019 cars, up 1.1 percent from last year. Carload traffic was up 3.3 percent in the East but down 0.8 percent in the West.

Intermodal volume, which is not included in the carload data, totaled 234,558 trailers or containers, up 7.0 percent from last year, with containers up 8.4 percent and trailers up 3.0 percent. It was the highest volume for any week this year, and the fourth highest week ever for intermodal.

Total volume was estimated at 33.5 billion ton-miles, up 1.8 percent from last year. This was the second busiest week ever for total rail freight volume.

Twelve of 19 carload commodity groups were up from last year. Double-digit increases were reported in loadings of farm products other than grain, up 50.5 percent; nonmetallic minerals, up 19.2 percent; and grain mill products, up 12.0 percent. Among seven commodity groups registering declines from last year were primary forest products, down 7.2 percent, and petroleum products, off 5.6 percent.

Cumulative volume for the first 32 weeks of 2005 totaled 10,627,596 carloads, up 1.4 percent from 2004; 7,010,248 trailers or containers, up 6.1 percent; and total volume of an estimated 1.02 trillion ton-miles, up 2.3 percent from last year.

On Canadian railroads, during the week ended August 13 carload traffic totaled 74,647 cars, off 0.7 percent from last year, while intermodal volume totaled 45,587 trailers or containers, up 8.1 percent from last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 32 weeks of 2005 on the Canadian railroads totaled 2,420,385 carloads, down 0.4 percent from last year, and 1,352,011 trailers and containers, up 2.3 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 32 weeks of 2005 on U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 13,047,981 carloads, up 1.1 percent from last year and 8,362,259 trailers and containers, up 5.5 percent from last year.

The AAR also reported that originated carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended August 13 totaled 7,919 cars, down 9.8 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 3,880 originated trailers or containers, down 10.1 percent from the 32nd week of 2004. For the first 32 weeks of 2005, TFM reported cumulative originated volume of 272,405 cars, down 0.1 percent from last year, and 122,036 trailers or containers, up 6.0 percent.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 87 percent of U.S. carload freight and 96 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 96 percent and 100 percent. The Canadian railroads reporting to the AAR account for 91 percent of Canadian rail traffic.

The AAR is online at www.aar.org.


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WALL STREET LINES...  Wall Street lines...

Ratings posted by CSFB

CSFB began covering railroads on August 17, and initiated BNSF, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific at “outperform.” The brokerage rated CSX and Genesee & Wyoming at “neutral.”


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: MarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)54.2855.20
Canadian National (CNI)66.0767.75
Canadian Pacific (CP) 38.5739.18
CSX (CSX)44.9044.69
Florida East Coast (FLA)41.0043.05
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)29.1029.43
Kansas City Southern (KSU)20.6421.40
Norfolk Southern (NSC)36.6337.05
Providence & Worcester (PWX)14.0214.00
Union Pacific (UNP)68.8669.19


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OPINION...  Opinion...

Changing Amtrak’s culture

The following article originally appeared in Mississippi’s Meridian Star on August 13. – Ed.

By Sen. Trent Lott

Traditionally I’ve supported Amtrak, though, at times, I’ve questioned my own reasoning for doing so.

My misgivings always prompt me to ask questions like: How many more highway lanes can we widen? How many airport runways can we construct?

When you think long term, it’s clear that to sustain our quality of life and economic growth, America needs a complete package of transportation options – roads, ports, runways and full-service rails, too. That’s why I’ve introduced a sweeping Amtrak reform bill aimed not just at keeping Amtrak trains running another year but at improving rail passenger service and fundamentally changing Amtrak’s culture.

After talks with management, labor, interested members of Congress and virtually every group associated with Amtrak, the Senate Surface Transportation Committee, which I chair, introduced a bipartisan reform bill.

The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act has three themes. First, it will reform Amtrak, making it more accountable. Second, it will cut Amtrak’s operating costs. Third, it will enable states to establish their own passenger rail service, if needed. In fact, this legislation aims to cut Amtrak’s federal taxpayer subsidy by a whopping 40 percent so that Amtrak doesn’t have to live from Congressional appropriation to Congressional appropriation – paycheck to paycheck.

Under current Amtrak Chairman David Gunn, Amtrak has improved dramatically, making major improvements to its management system, but Amtrak has yet to make the significant cultural change needed to operate less like a government bureaucracy and more like a business. My bill requires Amtrak to develop better financial systems and evaluate its operations objectively, requiring a five-year financial plan monitored by the Department of Transportation inspector general.

The act sets new standards for cost recovery, on-time performance, ridership per mile and route connectivity, as well as on-board and in-station services. In fact, the Federal Railroad Administration will publish a quarterly report on train performance and service quality.

The bill also promotes a greater role for the private sector, allowing private companies to bid on Amtrak routes. This allows states to become more involved in passenger rail, especially in areas that need more commuter service options.

To reduce Amtrak’s federal subsidy by almost half, Amtrak must also restructure its routes and reform its food service. In addition, my bill will require Amtrak to eliminate subsidies for users of Amtrak facilities. That means taxpayers in Mississippi will not be required to pay for heavily used Amtrak commuter routes in the Northeast Corridor.

As I said earlier, this bill will empower states that have major commuter rail needs to get involved and help fulfill those needs.

Regarding Amtrak’s rural long-distance routes, my bill does not call for the elimination of any routes, but it does establish a mechanism for evaluating those routes’ feasibility - and for the Department of Transportation to act accordingly if routes are not competitive The bill doesn’t require states to take over Amtrak’s job. It simply creates a new rail capital grant program that states can use to start new intercity passenger service. That puts commuter rail on a similar footing with highways and airports, which have federal assistance programs for infrastructure, support Amtrak has never enjoyed.

This will provide a more stable and predictable funding source for passenger rail. Bonding is a very important aspect of my reform proposal, and I’ve filed an amendment to the bill that contains new provisions for Amtrak bonding authority.

I don’t expect Amtrak to operate identically to a private business, but it must operate more like one. No nation has passenger train systems that return a big profit. Making money isn’t the goal here, but saving money by changing Amtrak’s basic culture is. If we change that culture, we’ll ensure that American rail passenger service not only survives but thrives.


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Rail-Thin Security

This article originally appeared in Friday’s CSO Online, at http://www.csoonline.com/read/080105/wonk_wonk.html.

Congress has declared that it’s time to focus on securing the nation’s railroads. Exactly how to do that is still up for debate.

A group of U.S. lawmakers are pushing bills this year to improve rail security, saying the nation’s railroads have taken a backseat to other antiterrorism funding, but rail-related trade groups are lukewarm to these initiatives because, they say, their provisions will increase costs for industry and consumers.

There are six rail security bills making their way through the House and Senate. Taken as a group, they call for the following rail security enhancements:

Six rail security bills, sharing many of the same provisions, have been introduced in Congress, but none has moved out of committee yet. Five of the six call for a rail-vulnerability assessment to be conducted by the Department of Homeland Security. DHS is tasked with making recommendations such as improving the security of tunnels and bridges and deploying surveillance equipment and weapons detection technology. The calls for more transportation security came before DHS raised the threat level to high for the nation’s mass transit systems after the July 7 terrorist bombs hit London subways and a public transit bus.

The primary sponsors of five of the six bills are Democrats. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, introduced the sixth bill, which covers both railroad and other transportation security provisions, in May.

The sponsors of these bills argue that rail traffic has been nearly ignored in recent efforts to improve transportation security. “Five times as many passengers travel by rail as by airplane, and yet we’ve spent 100 times more on aviation security than rail security since 9/11,” says Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, D-Mass., sponsor of the Rail Transit Security and Safety Act. Lynch’s proposed rail safety bill authorizes $4.5 billion over five years to improve rail security nationwide.

The U.S. government spent $4.4 billion on aviation security in 2004, compared with $115 million on rail and transit security, says Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn.

In its fiscal year 2006 budget, Amtrak requested $100 million in security upgrades for personnel and critical facilities and $600 million for fire and safety improvements in tunnels in the Northeast. President Bush’s fiscal 2006 budget, however, includes only $32 million for surface transportation security, Oberstar said in May while introducing his Rail Security Act.

“Securing Amtrak and other rail facilities is a formidable task, but Congress must get it done,” Oberstar asserted. “That requires federal leadership and federal resources – both are long overdue.”

Yet two rail-related trade groups haven’t offered support for any of these bills. Both the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and the American Public Transportation Assn. (APTA) say they have concerns about some provisions.

APTA has questioned whether money for rail inspectors – which is included as part of some of the bills – is needed, with no security standards for rail inspections currently in place.


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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 crew at leoking@nationalcorridors.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write.

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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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