Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
  NCI Logo Vol. 2 No. 34, August 27, 2001
Copyright © 2001, NCI, Inc.
James P. RePass, President
Leo King, Editor
 

A weekly North American Railroad update


Portland cabbage consist

NCI: Leo King

For a few days in August, Amtrak sent both New England-based cabbage cars on the property at Southampton Street Yard northward on the same train to qualify crews between North Station and Portland, Maine. "Cabbage" is a combination of "cab" and "baggage." The 90213, 90214, a café and P-40 locomotive 810 return home at Boston's Southampton Street Yard after a day's work. Five trainsets will be going to Portland when service begins, along with five cabbages. Four will be for Downeaster service. The fifth will be held in reserve as a "protect." A related story is below.
New York lawmakers rap Amtrak
for Penn Station tunnel mess
By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

The chickens are coming home to roost on the dangerous conditions in the railroad tunnels of Penn Station in New York City. The hazardous conditions in the six tunnels leading into Amtrak's busiest facility were first spotlighted in March 2000 by D:F.

A New York state Senate committee has issued a report accusing Amtrak of neglecting costly improvements to the 15 miles of potentially dangerous tunnels that serve the station.

The State Senate Standing Committee on Transportation suggested Amtrak has put its priorities on the new high-speed Acela Express trains and the redevelopment of the James A. Farley Post Office Building, which is being refurbished to accommodate a new Penn Station across the street from the Penn Station that has operated for more than 35 years in the basement of Madison Square Garden.

Furthermore, the committee says some of the fire and safety problems in the tunnels were identified as early as 1978. The panel called on Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton (both D-N.Y.) to help get more money to correct the problems, estimated at a cost of $898 million over the next ten years.

While the state senators say they don't doubt that Amtrak is sincerely committed to safety, "it is clear that Amtrak has sacrificed accelerated tunnel infrastructure improvements for these service expansion and economic development projects."

Blaming Amtrak for the situation is a bum rap, Amtrak spokesman Rick Remington told The New York Times.

In the first place, he said, Congress assigned the $810 million Farley passenger station redevelopment project, and the Acela Express did not compete with the Penn Station tunnels for money or attention.

"It wasn't a case of either-or," Remington said, adding both were progressing at the same time.

The committee's report is based on a hearing last spring, which included testimony from fire officials and other experts. The committee said there was no imminent threat to commuters and Amtrak passengers because the tunnels are structurally sound and kept in good repair, but emergency facilities "are woefully inadequate to deal with a major fire, accident, terrorist act or other emergency situation."

The tunnels were built 90 years ago and lack basic ventilation, adequate escape routes and essential water pipes for fighting fires. The four tunnels under the East River and two under the Hudson River serve about 300,000 passengers a day on Amtrak, the Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit.

The Times quoted New York's Deputy Fire Commissioner Francis X. Gribbon as saying Amtrak recently agreed to speed up standpipe installation in the tunnels, which would help with firefighting, and also to provide hand-powered railroad carts. This would make it easier to enable firefighters and hoses to get into the tunnels without having to depend on the 90-year-old staircases.

Amtrak's argument all along has been that money, not neglect, was the problem. The urgency of the situation has prompted state officials to consider asking federal officials to back an effort to relieve Amtrak of control of the tunnels and turn them over to the state. Amtrak has resisted that move.


Northeast Corridor changes Labor Day timetable
Over the Labor Day weekend and Labor Day itself, Amtrak is adjusting its holiday schedule, and several Acela Express trains will not run.

No. 139 will run on September 2, the day before Labor Day, but No. 226 will not run on that day. No. 145 will operate on Labor Day.

Acela Express 2201 will run on September 2. Train 2203 will not run on September 2, but will on Labor Day, and No. 2256 will operate on Labor Day. Acela Expresses 2114, 2172, 2151, and 2159 will not run on September 3.


Trees disrupt main line power
By Dennis Kirkpatrick
NCI Webmaster

It was 12:05 a.m. as I was laying out the NCI weekly Destination: Freedom when the unmistakable "hum" of a nearby power line arcing was heard - and felt. The hum and associated vibration were unmistakable to a fellow who has worked in the electronics industry all his life.

My initial reaction was to quickly shut down the computer, then went outside to check power lines around the house to make sure all was well. Since my power didn't go out, at the first hum, I was quite puzzled.

While I was outside, the second arc happened and it was clear that the nearby high voltage power lines on the Boston-New York main line were in trouble. By then, the wails of fire and police sirens were getting louder, and the neighborhood was coming alive.

An eastbound Acela Regional train [No. 178] passed by, untouched and apparently running quite fine.

With curiosity piqued, I jumped into my car and drove to a nearby overpass at Blakemore Street, which is located about one mile south of Forest Hills Station, where the excitement was taking place.

I initially met with Boston Fire Department Engine 48 and Ladder 28 from the Hyde Park fire station, which happened to be covering for the local firehouse units, which were out on another fire. The police complement came from Boston's Area E-18 station. They were both unsure what was arcing at the time but were staying a respectable distance away. They were summoned to Brown Avenue at Palfrey Street on the westbound side of the tracks, but soon moved to the eastward side at Hyde Park Avenue's 500 block.

As I followed them on foot, I stopped on the top of Blakemore Street bridge to ask locals what they saw, and was immediately treated to a first hand look at the next two arcs which clearly showed several tree branches making contact with the catenary, just 150 feet from the bridge. Apparently, the summer growth had overgrown onto the wires and were now making contact. As each arc lit up the neighborhood, the branches became more carbonized, making them a better conductor for the next one. After about a half-dozen arcs it stopped, suggesting that Amtrak, which had been notified of the problem early in the process, had de-energized the line.

As we put the NCI newsletter to bed and wrote this small piece it was uncertain what impact this event would have on Sunday train traffic, or for the upcoming week's beginning.


As Portland passenger service nears,
rail safety becomes larger concern
Amtrak and the Northern New England Passenger Rail Assn. say they are moving as fast as possible with a rail safety campaign in school classrooms and with emergency personnel, but apparently not as quickly with local police departments.

Some of the towns to be served by a new rail passenger service between Portland, Maine, and Boston are worried about safety. Rollinsford, N.H. Police Chief Robert Ducharme said his department has received no safety training. Service is only two months away, he said.

An unconfirmed report said Amtrak will begin its Downeaster service in October, according to The Associated Press in a report of August 23. All public crossings along the 114-mile route have been upgraded to include gates, lights and bells, according to the rail authority. The authority, established by the Maine Legislature, has included private crossings in its evaluation, including many farms in Maine and New Hampshire that the track crosses.

"Each private crossing has been paved, gated and locked," said Nate Moulton, the rail authority's deputy director. The farms' owners and right-of-way owner Guilford Rail hold the only keys, he said.

Signs soon will make it clear that crossing the tracks for any non-farm purpose is dangerous, he said. About four of the "private" crossings border housing developments. In those cases, the crossings were fitted with signals and bells, Moulton said.

In Rollinsford, the fire department has received some classroom training, but police were not informed in time to attend, Ducharme said.

Rollinsford has had some large freight mishaps through the years.

"We've had our share of major derailments," Ducharme said. "It would be nice to get some training."

In addition to training, the police chief sees the immediate need to beef up the towns emergency response plan.

"We need to look at our contingency plans, both for passenger and for freight," he said.

Selectmen Chairman Ed Jansen also is concerned.

"You can cross anywhere you want," he said, referring to one main intersection where children still can walk around the gates. "We need to make sure people are duly warned."

Letters were sent to school last week, said Lyman Cousens, New Hampshire's head of Operation Lifesaver, a national group dedicated to educating the public about railroad safety.

"We targeted 80 schools in New Hampshire within a five-mile radius. Training was done in 30 schools. We've got a ways to go," he said.

The train also will pass through Dover, Exeter and Durham, where 12,000 University of New Hampshire students soon will be starting school.

For the most part, track crossing is a university problem, except at one spot. Children tend to cross the tracks in the summer to access swimming areas in the Lamprey River, according to Durham Police Chief David Kurz.

For years, students have crossed the tracks illegally to travel from one side of campus to another. Determined students already have torn several holes in supposedly beefed-up fencing at and around Durham's future railroad station at the Dairy Bar, near the Whittemore Center. Kurz noted the student population always is changing, so is more difficult to educate.


Rumors, false reports plague Amtrak
By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

Adding to the negative publicity Amtrak has been receiving lately, informing the public of real problems, the rail passenger corporation has also had to fight a rear-guard action against false alarms about non-existent "problems."

At 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, August 21, on one of those one-minute "news capsules," Washington's public was informed by one of its leading radio stations that because of a lack of ridership, Amtrak was eliminating Acela Express service between Washington and New York.

Wow! That would be cataclysmic! To think that Amtrak's showcase high-speed breakthrough had been a flop!

"A non-story," Amtrak spokeswoman Cecelia Cummings told D:F when we checked.

She knew exactly where the story originated. It seems that a wire service reporter found himself behind the curve on a spate of major newspaper articles that had featured a look at the Acela Express after its first six months.

Well, the wire service reporter was not going to allow himself to be scooped. He had to come up with something to "advance" the story. He had to say something that had not appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, and others.

So, what to do?

The wire reporter picked out the fact that Amtrak had discontinued a non-stop Washington-New York round trip run of the new high-speed train that had operated from March 5 to April 29.

"That was intended only as an experimental train," Cummings told D:F, "It was merely placed on that timetable to accommodate people who wanted to ride the new high-speed train and could not fit it in their schedule to ride either of the only other two Acela Express runs that were operating at that time."

Beyond that, the train in question continued to run after April 29, albeit a little later and with one stop (Philadelphia) added. Further, no non-stops would be scheduled until all the Acela trainsets were operating on a full schedule.

In a classic case of mangling a message that went through too many editors, the wire service story had as its lead the fact that this one train has been discontinued. The radio station, which had to cram four or five headline stories within one minute, chopped it up even more to save time.

The trick in radio broadcasting, of course, is to cut the story down to the bone without sacrificing accuracy. In this case, that did not happen.

A few months back, there was a rumor going around that Amtrak was about to file for bankruptcy. That, too, turned out to be a false alarm, badly mangled by too many handlers.

Amtrak does in fact have problems. One may think the problems are caused by Amtrak critics, are of Amtrak's own making, or are institutional. Regardless, the interests of rail passengers - the public, the very reason for Amtrak's existence - are best served by not distorting in the interests of a catchy headline.


Managers take new jobs
Destination: Freedomhas learned that Amtrak Northeast Corridor president Earl S. "Stan" Bagley has assumed his new position of executive vice president for operations early - well in advance of the originally announced October 1 date.

Lynn Bowersox, Amtrak's vice-president for communications, has become acting president of the Northeast Corridor strategic business unit. She is the first woman to be in a business unit's top spot.

Ed Walker has left his post as president of Intercity to be in charge of corporate restructuring, and Don Saunders has become acting president of the Intercity business unit.


Vermont prepares for more commuter trains
A Vermont commuter train linking St. Albans and Essex Junction could be rolling by November.

Negotiations are underway among the state, New England Central Railroad, and others who are interested in establishing an intercity rail link to cities east and north of Burlington, the Rutland Herald and Times Argus reported on August 18.

The Vermont Transportation Authority now operates the Champlain Flyer, a commuter train that operates between Charlotte and Burlington. Gov. Howard Dean has been a major advocate of boosting passenger rail service, which includes the St. Albans-Essex Jct. plan.

Even one of the strongest critics of the Charlotte-Burlington train said he could support the northern proposal because it is planned as a trial run.

"I think a 90-day trial is a heck of a lot more responsible way to approach something like that," said state Rep. George Schiavone (R), a member of the House Transportation Committee.

Thousands of commuters travel daily to jobs in Chittenden County, particularly at an IBM plant and to Burlington. The proposed train would have stops in St. Albans, Milton, downtown Essex Jct. and at the IBM "campus."

"I think this could be a tremendous help to communities that have all this traffic coming through and to the region in general," said Charlie Miller, head of the transportation agency's Rail Division. The plan is to establish the route for a 90-day trial period to determine how much interest there might be.

Fitzgerald already is convinced that there would be plenty of riders for the line, especially among Franklin County residents who work at IBM. Some 1,800 people work at the computer chip manufacturing plant.

State Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Richard Mazza (D) said the legislature provided $21 million to rail in this year's budget and had discussed a St. Albans-Essex Junction line.

"IBM was very interested in pursuing that if we did anything," Mazza said. "They thought it was a great idea because they have so many employees from St. Albans, and [lawmakers] thought it was a great idea."

It's not clear how much the St. Albans-Essex Junction line would cost for a 90-day trial because issues such as leasing the track rights from New England Central Railroad and building temporary stations have not been determined.


Bombardier cuts 150 jobs at Barre plant
Bombardier Transportation will lay off about 150 people from its Barre rail car factory by the end of August, slashing the workforce by 25 percent, company officials said August 19.

"We are a cyclical business that is based entirely on train contracts," said Gilles Page, Bombardier Transportation's director of public affairs. "It is unfortunate this is happening when it is, but this is not related to the economy."

Its Barre factory employed 540 people before the cuts were announced. About 150 of the rail assemblers were notified July 6 that they would be laid off in groups of 50 throughout August, with the last group to leave by the end of the month. About 20 people have already left for other jobs, Page said.

The layoffs come as the company ends two significant rail contracts for Los Angeles and Seattle clients. Page said business is tight right now, and "we are always fighting for contracts."

It's a very different picture from last November, when the Barre plant boasted about 700 employees and was too busy to stop work to celebrate the completion of some of the 20 Acela trains it was contracted to assemble.

"We did a spring layoff in our Plattsburgh, N.Y. location, but then we got some contracts, and now the employees are back," he said. "We are doing everything we can to help the employees."

Bombardier Transportation claims to be the world's largest producer of railway equipment, and makes locomotives, passenger cars and other products, including airplanes.


Corridor lines...

Charlotte's station gets a facelift

Work started on August 20 to double the seating in the waiting room at the Charlotte, N.C. Amtrak station, and add a second ticket window.

The expansion of the small North Tryon Street station will buy time until a much larger replacement is built on West Trade Street, said Patrick Simmons, state transportation rail director, reports the Charlotte Observer.

The $20,000 remodeling, which will bring seating to 125, should be done before Thanksgiving. During construction, passengers will have to use the current waiting room, which is often standing-room-only.

The station's restrooms also will be made handicapped-accessible. The parking lot will not be enlarged.

The new space comes from adjoining offices that had been used by Norfolk Southern, which recently transferred several jobs to Atlanta, Simmons said.

Amtrak and North Carolina taxpayers will share the cost. Six passenger trains serve Charlotte daily, and annual ridership in and out of the city has more than tripled since 1990, from 36,000 to 120,000.

Passengers have used the Tryon station since 1964, but they could be meeting their trains in uptown by the end of the decade. Construction of Charlotte's new station may begin in 2005 where the Greyhound bus station is now located - if state and federal money is approved. The state has spent $10 million so far to buy land around West Trade. The legislature has set aside $15 million more for land in the current proposed budget, but the new station's cost has not been determined. The state, federal government, Charlotte Area Transit System and private developers are expected to share its cost. It would serve Amtrak and Greyhound passengers, as well as commuter trains from southern Iredell and north Mecklenburg.

Preliminary plans for the West Trade Street station will be released next month, Simmons said.

In other train improvements, engineers also are working on designs for track work that will shave 30 minutes off the run from Charlotte to Raleigh, which now averages three hours, 45 minutes. That construction, costing $45 million, will start next year.


A second track at Clemente?
Amtrak wants to add a second set of tracks and faster trains along the Southern California coast, including the possible construction of elevated tracks in San Clemente - but some residents fear it would ruin the beach's tranquil atmosphere. In San Clemente, the trains run between the sand and the coastal business district.

Several other coastal cities, including Del Mar and Encinitas, are raising concerns about the $4.2-billion "double-tracking" proposal, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Amtrak officials acknowledged August 20 that their biggest challenge lies in San Clemente, where the existing tracks barely fit between a narrow beach and fragile coastal bluffs. Amtrak said it needs to complete the second set along its Los Angeles-to-San-Diego route to reduce delays and provide faster service at a time when more people are using the train to beat freeway congestion. Planning is in the early stages, and Amtrak hopes Congress will allocate funds this year.

San Clemente officials are already uncomfortable with the current situation, and said the addition of fast trains, zooming by at 90 mph in an area traversed by beachgoers, and would only worsen an already dangerous situation. In the last decade, seven pedestrians have been killed by trains passing through the city.

"It's such a ridiculous plan. Most people weren't sure whether to laugh or be outraged," said Bill Hart, a longtime resident and chairman of the city's Coastal Advisory Commission.

To deal with the physical limitations of San Clemente, Amtrak has suggested elevating tracks onto a platform and perhaps cutting into some of the coastal cliffs, but city officials said that would mar the area's beauty and cause erosion.

The double-tracking proposal is part of a $10.1-billion, 20-year Amtrak improvement program for the entire state that would expand service, increase capacity and shorten trips. Projects include curve realignments, traffic control upgrades, underpasses and overpasses, parking, and connections with buses and other mass transit.

Ridership on the Pacific Surfliner corridor, between San Luis Obispo and San Diego, surpassed 1.5 million people in 1999 and keeps growing, Amtrak officials say. This year, through July, almost 1.4 million riders have taken the train.

The Los Angeles-San Diego corridor is Amtrak's second busiest route after the Northeast Corridor between Washington, D.C. and Boston.

Amtrak envisions hourly service carrying nearly six million passengers annually along the Southland coast at speeds up to 110 mph. That would cut the trip to 25 or 30 minutes.

Amtrak shares its right of way with commuter and freight trains, but because it doesn't own the tracks, dispatchers usually hold out Amtrak's trains, causing delays of up 30 minutes per trip. Double tracking the line would fix that problem.

The statewide project is still in the early planning stages. Funding depends on Congress passing S. 250, a bill that would raise $12 billion in bonds for rail projects nationwide.

Amtrak officials said they are not sure how they will deal with some of the physical and political challenges of the double-tracking project, but they emphasized that the public will have a voice.

"What we said is we need to double-track those sections," said Darrell Johnson, a director of Amtrak's business and strategic planning. "How we do that we haven't defined yet." The project would include new inland tracks, but much of the controversy, so far, has arisen where the tracks hug the coastline.

In Del Mar, the trains run atop a bluff that is eroding. Officials fear the bluff would give way under more tracks.

"Amtrak needs to get that train off the bluffs," said Dave Druker, a Del Mar city councilman and North County Transit District representative. The city wants Amtrak to remove the tracks from the bluff and build a tunnel.


Black ink is best, though

Can 'red ink' be good news? Perhaps

Amtrak's red ink could be good news for California, where the state has spent millions of dollars on expanded commuter service on the Capitol Corridor between Sacramento and San Jose, the San Joaquin trains from Oakland to Bakersfield and the Pacific Surfliners that run from San Diego through Los Angeles and on to San Luis Obispo.

Amtrak doesn't lose money operating the trains for the state, and if it makes service cuts elsewhere, it might have more equipment to use on California routes, according to the San Francisco Chronicle of July 26.

The cuts could be bad news for such money-losing long-distance trains as the Coast Starlight, which runs from Los Angeles to Seattle, or the California Zephyr, which carries passengers between Oakland and Chicago. Amtrak's losses in the first eight months of the fiscal year that started Oct. 1 were $405 million, $17 million worse than in the previous year, Kenneth Mead, inspector general of the U.S. Transportation Department, told members of a House Transportation subcommittee.


Hutchison sees high-speed rail act
as top priority on her agenda
Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) said last week "it is imperative that Texas focus on improving and expanding its transportation infrastructure to ensure goods and services move smoothly in and through the state." Her remarks dealt mostly with highway considerations, but with all forms of transportation, including rail.

"Texas highways bear the brunt of 70 percent of NAFTA truck traffic," Hutchison said.

"Bottlenecks in our transportation system mean people are losing time and money, and can cost us jobs."

She made her remarks at the fourth annual Texas Transportation Summit in Irving, Tex., on August 17 at a meeting of transportation leaders from across the nation who gathered to exchange ideas, and hear legislative updates from members of Congress and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta.

The senator is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee's transportation subcommittee. Her transportation priorities for the year include high-speed rail and commuter lines.

High-speed rail plans include the already introduced S. 250, the High Speed Rail Investment Act with Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.). The Biden-Hutchison bill, "which has 56 cosponsors," she said, "helps Amtrak make capital investment to begin building high-speed rail corridors across America, helping to construct a truly national passenger rail system."

For commuter rail, Hutchison called commuter rail a real success in the Metroplex, a local term for the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

"Dallas Area Rapid Transit will stretch as far as Plano in 2003 and the Trinity Rail Express is improving access to the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport and providing mobility throughout the region," she said.


Amtrak drops Iowa plans
Noting a congressional mandate to cut costs, Amtrak has dropped plans for Des Moines-Chicago passenger rail service through Iowa City, according to a wire service report.

"In our current financial situation, we have other, more pressing projects to pursue," said Kevin Johnson, spokesman in Chicago for Amtrak Intercity.

Amtrak Chief Executive Officer George Warrington told Illinois legislators last week that expansion of the railroad's Iowa service was unlikely.

When plans for the service were announced in January 1999, Amtrak officials said the new train could be running by early 2000. As late as June, the president of the Iowa Association of Railroad Passengers called the Des Moines run "one of the top two or three routes in the country" under exploration by the national passenger railroad.

Customers never developed for the mail and express service that would have formed the trains' financial foundation, and Amtrak, facing congressional orders to be self-sufficient by 2003, is cutting costs wherever it can.

"From the outset, that (plan) didn't make a lot of sense because the routing was going to be difficult," said Tom Jackson, rail specialist with the Iowa DOT.

The derailed plan doesn't affect Iowa's participation with other Midwest states seeking to develop a higher-speed rail-passenger network. Funding for that long-term project is tied to pending federal legislation giving Amtrak bonding authority to upgrade and expand service.

Iowa will continue to have two Amtrak routes - the California Zephyr and the Southwest Chief, each with one daily passenger train each way. The California Zephyr serves the Burlington Northern Santa Fe line through Burlington, Mount Pleasant and Ottumwa, and the Southwest Chief's Burlington Northern route clips the state's southeast corner at Fort Madison.


'Lower level' seats being added
Lower level seats ("L buckets") have been added to Amtrak SuperLiner coaches on trains 3 and 4, the Southwest Chief, trains 5 and 6, the California Zephyr, and trains 7, 8, 27, and 28, the Empire Builder.

Lower-level seats are the 10 seats in the lower level of a 74-seat handicapped-accessible SuperLiner coach. Those coaches have 62 seats upstairs, 10 lower-level seats, a pair of "transfer" seats and 2 wheelchair spaces. The total number of actual seats is 74.

All other SuperLiners have 62 seats upstairs, and a smoking or baggage area downstairs.


Freight lines...

City to bill UP for fighting wildfire

A wire service reports that the Portland Fire Bureau will bill the Union Pacific Railroad for the cost of fighting an urban wildfire that threatened a north Portland neighborhood August 8.

The fire bureau's final investigation report was expected to conclude that a UP train with mechanical problems started the brush fire that quickly climbed a bluff near the University of Portland, said Neil Heesacker, bureau spokesman.

Investigators have been unable to determine what created the sparks that several witnesses saw coming from under the passing train's cars, he said.

"All 40 of the cars have split up and gone to who knows where across the country," Heesacker said, and investigators haven't been able to look at them.

The fire threatened as many as 100 homes and took 170 firefighters, plus helicopters, fireboats and every fire truck in the city to battle.

Heesacker said the bureau was a few weeks from figuring out the cost, but he added that Chief Ed Wilson plans to bill the railroad for the fire under the state fire marshal's billing formula. That likely would mean $90 an hour for each firefighting apparatus used and $20 an hour per firefighter.

UP is still investigating, said Mike Furtney, a railroad spokesman. The railroad has not accepted responsibility for the fire. The blaze was one of the worst wildfires in Portland's history, but the bureau estimated property loss along the blackened bluff on the Willamette River's east bank at only about $20,000. That amount was for lost property, ranging from a greenhouse to a solarium to four wooden decks.


BNSF plans competing Texas link
Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. and a group of chemicals and plastics producers plan to build a 13-mile railroad line southeast of Houston to penetrate a big freight-shipping stronghold of Union Pacific Corp. reports The Wall Street Journal.

The proposed railroad link, which would be built by a newly formed limited partnership, San Jacinto Rail Ltd., would cost about $80 million and be ready for operation at the end of the second quarter of 2004. If approved by the federal Surface Transportation Board and other federal, state, county and city agencies, the project would represent one of the most ambitious attempts to boost competition in the rail-freight industry.

UP, the nation's largest railroad, has extensive rail operations throughout Houston's massive petrochemicals complex and commands a majority of the rail-freight market there. The proposed track would connect BNSF's existing track in the Houston area with facilities of its partners in the Bayport Industrial District southeast of Houston.

The line may also serve a number of facilities of other companies in the area. Those facilities currently rely on UP for their rail service.

A BNSF spokesman said the majority of the freight loadings would be plastic pellets, which are used in a wide variety of industrial and consumer products, as well as raw materials to make the plastic pellets. He declined to specify ownership percentages in the partnership.

Steve Pocsik, Bayport plant manager for Atofina Petrochemicals, said the company seeks "to get rail competition, so we can get our transportation costs down. That's our mission."

UP's John Bromley, a spokesman for the railroad, said the Houston market is "important to us, and our intent is to compete vigorously with BNSF."


CSX issues Labor Day plans
CSX plans to cut back as much service as it can on Labor Day (September 3). The company stated, in a service bulletin to its customers, that "CSX will discontinue originating merchandise trains after 4 p.m., Sunday, September 2, unless the crew is going to its home terminal." Merchandise train operations will resume at 11 p.m. Monday, September 3, which is Labor Day.

Train crews will resume "deadheading" at 6 p.m. September 3 to position train crews for startup.

All bulk trains, including coal, grain, steel, rock, etc., "will stop running after 4 p.m. on September 2, unless the crew is going to its home terminal." Those operations "will resume at 11 p.m. on September 3, consistent with crew availability." Merchandise trains will receive operating priority upon startup.

The freight carrier added, "All major terminals will be closed from 7 a.m. September 3 until 7 a.m. September 4, except for terminals at major interchange points such as New Orleans, Memphis, St. Louis, and Chicago, which will continue operations to maintain fluidity and ensure a smooth return to normal operations."


Redondo Junction is transformed
The Coalition for America's Gateways and Trade Corridors applauded the completion of the Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority's Redondo Junction Project in California on August 21.

"This is precisely the type of project which facilitates intermodal trade and economic growth while improving individual mobility and community livability," said Stephen D. Hayes, Executive Director of the Coalition for America's Gateways and Trade Corridors.

"With these kinds of improvements, both rail and trucking freight movements will be facilitated," added Hayes.

A local observer of the passing rail scene had a somewhat different take on the goings-on.

"Assorted government officials attended the flyover dedication at Redondo, which replaces the interlocking and Redondo Tower. Attendees were treated to an over-and-under photo op at about 2:00 p.m. when an Amtrak consist headed east on the flyover while a Metrolink trainset came west, passing each other high above the Union Pacific mainline, where a stack train rolled west behind clean UP SD-70 4418 and BNSF 5319. The trains didn't stop, and the timing was less than ideal for photos, but still a cool event."

Redondo Junction is now a series of five separate bridges spanning the length of eight football fields. The bridges, up to five stories tall, separate freight and passenger trains from street traffic by elevating Amtrak and Metrolink commuter tracks over the Alameda Corridor mainlines, the Los Angeles River, Washington Boulevard and Soto Street in Los Angeles. The new junction is intended to eliminate delays for freight trains and reduces passenger rail commuting times into and out of Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.

"Freight movements in the U.S. will double in the next 20 years," said Hayes, "and as a nation, we had better be ready to handle the load. This is the type of forward-looking project that is needed elsewhere in the country."


Detective's car crossing tracks hit by train
Suffolk, Va., detective H.J. "Jackie" Wright pulled his unmarked car around a lowered crossing gate in this small Virginia city on August 18 while he was trying to determine whether a train was coming. Several crossing gates were reported working improperly following a thunderstorm.

He found out when a slow-moving Norfolk Southern freight train ran into his car on South Saratoga Street at about 9:30 p.m., reports The Virginian-Pilot of August 21.

Wright was nearly across the first of three sets of tracks when a Norfolk Southern engine struck his 1995 Ford Crown Victoria on the right rear, causing it to spin around, according to a police report. The car ended up parked on the second set of tracks, parallel to the train.

Wright, 57, notified the police dispatcher via his radio that he was involved in an accident. "No injuries," said the nearly 30-year veteran; just property damage.

The train crew was switching cars in an industrial area on the south edge of downtown.

Wright was headed north and he apparently could not see the westbound train to his right as he drove uphill toward the tracks. A thunderstorm earlier in the evening had apparently caused several crossing gates to malfunction, police said. The Saratoga Street crossing gate was working before the accident but had been lowered for some time, the police report said.

Damage was estimated at $1,500 to the police car and $500 to the locomotive. An internal accident review board will review the accident, police said.


International lines...

North Korea plans to build rail links
To Europe, back to South Korea

North Korea said on August 20 that a project to build a railroad linking the divided Korean peninsula with Europe made progress at a recent summit with Russia.

The project to create an "iron silk road" was a key topic at a meeting between the North's leader, Kim Jong Il, and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Aug. 4.

The project is unlikely to move forward until North and South Korea revive stalled dialogue and resume work on reconnecting a rail line across their heavily armed border. Inter-Korean talks have been interrupted since March because of tensions between Washington and Pyongyang, the Associated Press reported last week.

In a lengthy report summing up Kim's just-concluded 24-day train trip to Russia, the North's news agency, KCNA, said the two leaders discussed "stepping up in full" the rail project.

The KCNA hailed Kim's Russia trip, saying that the North Korean leader and Putin "reached a consensus of views on all the matters discussed."

An "iron silk road" connecting the trans-Korean railway with the Trans-Siberian Railway was first broached at the first-ever summit of the leaders of the two Korean states, Kim Jong Il and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, last year.

Work began to reconnect a severed portion of a rail line that once stretched the full length of Korea, but the work was suspended this year amid U.S.-North Korea tension.

South Korean experts say a rail link between the Koreas and Europe would have a huge economic impact, cutting by half the cost of exporting goods to Europe, now sent mostly by ship.


Meetings...

Sept. 10-13 AREMA annual conference

Palmer Hilton Hotel, Chicago
Contact http://www.arema.org
301-459-3200, or fax 301-459-8077.


Sept. 15, 16 Representing Rail Passenger Interests Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sept. 20 Amtrak Reform Council

Business Meeting:
8:30 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.
Hearing: 9:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.

Wilshire Grand Hotel
930 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA

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


Oct. 16, 17 Passenger trains on freight railroads

Railway Age conference
Washington Marriott Hotel
Washington, D.C.

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

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

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


Bessemer Loco

NCI: Leo King collection

If they had steam generators inside them, they were called "FP-7s," because they were ready for freight or passenger trains, but if an EMD locomotive like this was delivered without a steam generator, it was simply an F-7. In any event, these bright orange and black Bessemer & Lake Erie engines hauled freight for years. No. 725 was on the point in this photo. Each unit developed 1,500 HP, so this was a 6,000 HP set. The photo, an Ektachrome by Paul M. Penney, was featured on a post card in the 1950s published by Wonday Film Service of Wilkensburg, Pa., and printed by the Dexter Press of West Nyack, N.Y.
End Notes...

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

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

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

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

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


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