Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
  NCI Logo Vol. 1 No. 20, August 28, 2000
Copyright © 2000, NCI, Inc.
James P. RePass, President
Leo King, Editor
 

A weekly passenger railroad update


Acela Express in Boston's Southhampton Yard

NCI: Leo King

Conductor John H. Haigh Jr. has finished his last run with the Acela Express trainset 2004-2005 not only for the day, but for his career. Hague retired from Amtrak on August 25. The train, still in testing mode, has just entered Southampton Street Yard in Boston after spending the day running over the fast tracks near Kingston, R.I. The train will be serviced overnight in the brand new high-speed service and inspection building, and be made ready to begin another day of high speed testing.

Meteor derails; no deaths, 40 injured
Forty people were injured and taken to three Lake City and Florence, S.C. area hospitals, on August 21 after nine cars of Amtrak's Silver Meteor derailed downtown. The tracks were damaged by a street sweeper.

South Carolina Highway Patrol sergeant Jo Nell said, "Their injuries were little bumps and bruises" and none were serious. There were no deaths reported among the 218 passengers and 15 crew members aboard.

Red Cross spokeswoman Laura Jeffords said at least 185 uninjured people were taken to a shelter. Amtrak said it would arrange alternate transportation.

Train No. 97 was enroute from New York City to Miami, and went on the ground around 7:30 a.m. near the police station, located about two blocks north of the main business district. Lake City is a town of about 7,000 people, some 70 miles east of Columbia in the northeastern part of the state.

A resident near the site said that about 15 minutes earlier a street sweeper had jumped a curb and bent the tracks.

All of the cars remained upright, although several leaned into a gully along the tracks. Two sleeping cars, four coach cars, a dining car, a lounge and a crew dorm derailed, Amtrak said. Two others stayed on the rails.

Amtrak set up a hotline so relatives and friends could discover the fate of loved ones.

The railroad also credited the Lake City Fire Department and local emergency medical crews for their quick response the train, which was evacuated shortly after the accident. "Amtrak commends these local heroes for their quick response," a press release stated.

The railroad canceled both the northbound and southbound Auto Trains between Lorton, Va., and Sanford, Fla. For the day.

Northbound Silver Palm detoured around the site, resulting in a significant, Amtrak reported.

The cause of the accident was under investigation by the NTSB, FRA, Amtrak and CSX, which owns, maintains, and dispatches "A Line" trains, including Amtrak's "silver service" trains.


Office tower may rise over South Station
If a Texas developer has his way, a 46-story office tower will rise above Boston's South Station.

Amtrak is not too keen on the plan, nor is the Conservation Law Foundation, but that organization is considering taking a second look.

Texas developer Hines Interests LP recently won an exemption from commonwealth waterfront development rules for its proposed building, but the CLF said it may reverse course and consider throwing its support behind the controversial plan, according to a published report.

Amtrak is concerned that building the Hines tower could create a nightmare for commuters on MBTA trains, which Amtrak operates for the commonwealth, and for riders using Amtrak's new high-speed trains. Those trains are expected to start running in scheduled service in late September or in October.

Former Bay State Gov. Michael Dukakis, who is now an Amtrak board member, observed, "You are going to have three or four years of construction...as thousands of people are pouring in to take the three-hour train to New York."

The law foundation fought Hines for months over the Chapter 91 exemption, but said last week it is now ready to take another look at the project.

"At this point, Chapter 91 is water under the bridge and we will consider the project on its merits," said senior CLF lawyer Stephanie Pollack.

The CLF said the shift is a recognition that there are aspects of the South Station tower plan that are environmentally attractive, and not a change of heart. The plans for an office tower over a major commuter train terminal could boost rail use and reduce traffic congestion.

"If it is truly a transit-oriented project and Hines makes investments that improve South Station, then I think there would be support from CLF," Pollack said.

Hines hopes start construction in 2001, and said it is developing a plan to minimize any construction disruptions.


Crisis in the skies

Is passenger rail up to the task?

By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent
If you have been flying much lately, the chances are you are steamed. Members of my family in different parts of the country report some horror stories about flight delays and flight cancellations, complete with missed meetings and family reunions, etc.

This past week, Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater held a conference here in Washington (at Reagan National Airport) to determine what can be done about it.

Bottom line: The crisis of flight delays reflects a form of push coming to shove. The fact that much of the problem is weather-related does not alter that fact. Weather problems we will always have. And they should be factored in any transportation planning. The problem will not be solved until we put the rail mode on the same footing as the rail and highway conveyances. That means public funding for infrastructure. No matter how many problems we encounter in transportation, they usually lead us right back to this conclusion.

Of course, this gets us back to "square one," doesn't it? For years, high-speed rail advocates have warned that there would be a day of reckoning, and that the skies can't handle it alone.

By now, the litany of problems is familiar. The airports are crowded beyond belief. Plans for new airports are frustrated by the inability to find available land on which to build them. What follows is misery for travelers. To quote just some of them: "One day in Chicago. Another day in Detroit... Waiting for hours on end for the plane that didn't come... They told us to come back tomorrow."

The fact that high-speed rail enters the minds of very few of these airline consumers is not surprising. If a demonstrable alternative is not out there where it can be seen, of course, the traveler doesn't care about it. All he knows is that he can't get to wherever he needs to go in the here-and-now.

But we entrust the "thinking" on matters of this kind to public servants who are supposedly looking after the nation's transportation system.

Would it not be a good idea to follow up the airline conference with a conference to discuss a better coordination of America's transportation network?

Such a discussion would naturally include rail transport and the necessity to add high-speed ground transportation to the mix, thus freeing up the crowded airports to focus on the longer distance flights.

That this is a long slow deliberative process has been obvious for some time.

Already, some NIMBYs in Illinois are complaining about plans for higher speed trains through their towns in the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative. (More about this development in a future report.) NIMBYs are those folks who say, "Not In My Back Yard."

Much needs to be done to improve railroad transport before it can take up the slack caused by overcrowded airports. A recent report by the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) states that of 192 long-distance trains whose running times were examined in the week of August 4-11, 67 percent of them were more than 30 minutes late at their final destination. Based on information from Amtrak's website, the average end-point delay (both for those that were late and those that were on time) was two hours and fifteen minutes.

NARP advised that the worst performers (trains 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 30, 40, 48 and 50) averaged over three hours late.

Of course, as one retired New York gentleman told me last year while in the dining car of an hours-late California Zephyr (No. 5), "Just don't plan on anything. Make up your mind (when you travel coast to coast) that you've got all the time in the world."

This "cruise complex" may be acceptable for some current long distance train riders, but it would not be okay with business travelers who would use high speed rail in lieu of the airlines. However, that situation with today's long distance trains points up the huge amount of work that needs to be done to put the rails in shape to accommodate more traffic.

That is why, more and more, you are hearing rail industry talk, from the private as well as the public sector, of a willingness to consider public subsidies to allow for expansion of both freight and passenger rail travel.


Corridor lines...

Wisconsin prepares for fast trains

Wisconsin transportation officials and some environmentalists say they support a proposed high-speed rail line linking Milwaukee to Madison, but some people along the route are fuming, reports the Milwaukee Daily Herald.

Amtrak's proposed 110-mph Milwaukee-to-Madison route is one of several such high-speed rail proposals that are part of the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative.

The $4.1 billion, nine-state effort includes high-speed trains linking Milwaukee and Chicago, Madison and the Twin Cities, and regular-speed trains from Milwaukee to Green Bay.

Bipartisan support is building in Congress for a vote next month to borrow $10 billion for high-speed trains in Wisconsin and 27 other states.

Wisconsin transportation secretary Terry Mulcahy said the Milwaukee-to-Madison route and increased service on the Chicago-to-Milwaukee line will give new transportation choices to 750,000 passengers a year.

Andrea Broaddus of the New Transportation Alliance put together a coalition of environmental and rail groups supporting the initiative. But not everyone is pleased with the rail plan.

Waterloo, Wis. alderman Mike Kent has put together his own group, called "Stop The Trains Coalition," of about 100 Waterloo, Marshall and Sun Prairie residents who do not want high-speed trains barreling through their communities.

Kent said the trains will have "a heavy noise impact" and create "an extremely dangerous situation."

Broaddus and Mulcahy said the trains would be quieter and safer than residents think.

Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, chairman of Amtrak's board, has said high-speed rail is vital to meeting the railroad's financial goals because it would attract the passengers Amtrak needs to break even.

The Midwest rail system alone is expected to carry 9.6 million passengers a year by 2010.


Railroading: never a dull moment

By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent
The old advertising slogan, "An Adventure Around Every Corner" could very well apply to those who ride the rails.

At least in Oceanside, Calif., on August 12.

Amtrak's Washington headquarters confirms that the following story is true.

A Pacific Surfliner (ex-San Diegan) train 597 was delayed at Oceanside for an hour and 37 minutes due to drunk and disorderly passengers who took over the Cafe-Business Class car. It was not clear if the disorderly passengers were actually ticketed in Business Class. Amtrak's Cliff Black referred to them simply as "the racetrack crowd."

The conductor, deciding things were getting out of hand, radioed for help. The police were summoned, but once they arrived, refused to board and confront the revelers. The Oceanside station agent reported that 10 or 15 police officers were milling around outside his window laughing.

The Amtrak manager phoned police to ask why no help was being rendered. He was told everything was fine. The conductor, meanwhile, reported everything was not fine, and that officers were refusing to assist.

About half the other passengers detrained and boarded train No. 1599, the Racetrack Special, creating standing-room-only conditions that were so bad the conductor on that train could not get through the jam-packed cars to lift the tickets.

Finally the rowdy crowd left "without police activity" and No. 597 finally departed.

597's conductor, who had originally asked for help, advised that he was turning over his cell phone and radio to the assistant conductor, and that he would detrain at San Clemente to catch a southbound train to San Diego where he would resign from the company, saying he was retiring at the end of the month and that he "will not take this any more."

So, that's part of the story, but here's the other part of it, as explained to me by Amtrak's Black.

Yes, it's true the cops waited outside. But they did so on orders from a high-ranking Oceanside police officer. When that higher authority arrived on the scene, he boarded and patiently explained to the rowdy group that their behavior was disruptive and that he would have to ask them, in effect, to cease and desist, whereupon the 20 to 25 noisy ones dispersed. Some of them sat down in their seats. Others - probably the smaller band of ringleaders - were patiently and willingly escorted off the train. No arrests were made. No one was incarcerated, a fact that probably caused the conductor to say he wanted out.

Black told D:F that police authorities decided that a "judicious and diplomatic approach" was justified, but that other passengers were getting upset.

Black has no idea if the conductor thought better of the idea of resigning once he had time to reconsider. And at press time, we were unable to get an answer on that from his union, the United Transportation Union (UTU).

Has this prompted Amtrak or police authorities to map out a plan to deal with incidents like this in the future?

No, says Black, "Because no two incidents are exactly alike."


Kawasaki to build Nebraska plant

Kawasaki Motors reported last week it is going to build a $50 million plant in Lincoln, Neb., to manufacture rail and subway passenger cars.

The new plant will employ up to 320 people.

Workers are expected to produce 200 railroad cars annually in a 430,000-square-foot plant.

In a press release, Kawasaki said the "move takes place in a climate favoring re-evaluation of rail as a viable means of transportation, according to a report in the Omaha" World-Herald.

Kawasaki railroad cars sold in the U.S. market currently are built at the firm's plant in Kobe, Japan. After the interiors, wiring, and piping are fitted, the cars are sent to Kawasaki Rail Car Inc. in Yonkers, N.Y., for outfitting and testing.

The company said that in addition to growth in the U.S. railroad-car market, demand also is increasing for modern cars to replace old equipment.

Rich Grundman, manager of Kawasaki's existing Lincoln, Neb., plant, said the new operation will produce cars for the New York City Transit Authority, one of the company's largest existing customers, as well as for subway systems in Boston and Philadelphia.

Construction of the plant is expected to start next March, with production to begin in April 2002.


An end note...

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


Last week we reported some information gathered by The Wall Street Journal regarding Bombardier, Talgo and the FRA.

Since then, we have learned that Bombardier Inc. is not pressuring the FRA to take out of service the Talgo passenger cars used on the Cascades line in Amtrak's high-speed Northwest Corridor.

The Montreal-based rail-car manufacturer wants the FRA to require Amtrak to institute several mitigation measures to ensure the Talgos are safe, including limiting the maximum operating speed of Talgo trainsets and eliminate most hazardous grade crossings on the line. - L.K.


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