In this edition...
Woman named new Metra chief
Metra, the Chicago areas commuter rail line, has a new leader.
The Metra board today unanimously voted to make Carole Doris of DuPage County its new chairman.
Ms. Doris, 58, a Downers Grove resident who was widely considered the front-runner for the job, was elected in a unanimous vote by seven-member board. It was the first vote on a Metra chairman in at least a decade.
She replaces long-time chairman Jeffrey Ladd, who stepped down from the board when his most recent term expired in June. Ladd had headed the Metra board since its inception in 1984 and had served without a limit on his term as chairman.
A lawyer by profession, Doris formerly served as chief deputy attorney general under former Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan.
Before that, she was as a DuPage County assistant states attorney and deputy chief of that offices civil division.
Doris graduated magna cum laude from Mundelein College in 1969 and obtained her law degree, cum laude, from DePaul University in 1976.
August 17, 2006 - About 4,000 passengers had to be evacuated from two subway trains after a track fire broke out during rush hour in Brooklyn, near the Manhattan Bridge, New York City fire officials said.
The three-alarm fire, which officials said appeared to have started near a homeless encampment in a subway tunnel, disrupted service on four subway lines, affecting thousands of commuters and temporarily snarling vehicle traffic near the bridge.
Photo: NewsdayFireman assists passenger over the steel embankment to safety.
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More than 25 people were treated on the scene and at local hospitals for smoke inhalation and other minor injuries, including three firefighters suffering from heat exhaustion, said Charles Wells, chief of the citys Emergency Medical Services operations division, at a news conference last night in Brooklyn.
Smoke was reported after 6 p.m. at the DeKalb Avenue stop on the B line, which runs between Brooklyn and the Bronx and passes through Manhattan. The fire, which investigators said appeared to be accidental, is thought to have started just beyond the platform on a track tie - a piece of wood that supports the rails - in a tunnel about 900 feet from the Manhattan Bridge.
A motorman on a Brooklyn-bound B train coming off the bridge saw the fire at about 6:19 p.m. and stopped the train after the first three cars had entered the tunnel, FDNY Asst. Cmdr. James Esposito said.
Passengers streaming down Flatbush Avenue two hours after the fire was first reported said that a second packed rush-hour train, this one on the Brooklyn-bound D line, also came to a halt shortly before exiting the Manhattan Bridge. As the power flickered on and off, the cars got hotter and riders strained to hear instructions on the trains loudspeaker system.
Passengers on the second train waited for about an hour before getting the go-ahead to evacuate; Esposito said the first concern was moving those in the first trains cars away from the source of the smoke.
It was rush hour, so there was a lot of human body heat, said Jason Cecil, 26, who was riding the D train home to Brooklyn from his Harlem job as a technical coordinator.
Putting out the fire and evacuating the packed trains took nearly two hours, Esposito said. It was a very difficult and slow operation.
An investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing.
Scores of evacuated passengers - some exasperated, others relieved - continued to stream down Flatbush Avenue after 8 p.m. in search of alternate trains or buses home. Service was disrupted on the B, D, Q, and V lines but restored by 11 p.m. last night.
If theres one lesson to be learned form this, its that the MTA needs a new PA system, said Christina Liviakis, 28, of Marine Park.
Denisa Superville contributed to this story, which was also supplemented with an Associated Press report.
Photo: Seth Wenig, Associated PressMTA employee stands next to a train stopped on the Manhattan Bridge while a fire truck directs traffic on the roadway above
New London - The owner of the New London building that houses the Amtrak train station and the Greyhound bus terminal is threatening to evict his tenants.
The New London Day reports that Union Station co-owner Todd ODonnell says he is considering a shut down of the train and bus service operations unless something is done to address his financial problems.
ODonnel, in speaking before a group this past week, said that unless his financial picture improves, hell give Amtrak and Greyhound, a 90-day notice on Labor Day that they are being evicted.
This station has been in operation for over 120 years. Hopefully it will stay as a train station, ODonnell said. But, he continued, we cannot continue to provide public services at private expense.
The two transportation tenants are presently operating on a month-to-month arrangement.
Station owners ODonnell and Barbara Timken bought the station in June of 2002 and made extensive renovations, hoping to fill up additional space in the station with office and retail tenants, but that has not happened. However, a shortage of parking at the station, plus the constant activity as buses and taxis pull up and depart, make the building unattractive to the office tenants they had hoped to attract.
ODonnell said he has been working with the state and local officials on a resolution to some issues, such as paying $40,000 a year to maintain public bathrooms. The station bustles with activity from train, bus and taxi services.
Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black said his company is hopeful it can remain in the landmark building. Amtrak serves about 150,000 passengers annually in New London and has been at the location since they started service in 1971.
We have no intention of ceasing service to the city, even if means we have to leave (as tenants). If it comes to the point we have to leave, we will seek an alternative, Black said.
Black said Amtrak owns property adjacent to the station.
New London Mayor Elizabeth Sabilia said she is confident Amtrak would never consider leaving New London. Theyve put in too much of an investment, she said.
Sabilia said she believes the region will rally should the transportation center be in jeopardy of interruption.
The New York State Public Transportation Safety Board will conduct a review of gaps between commuter trains and station platforms on the Long Island Railroad and Metro North Railroad after a tourist fell through one of the gaps and died two weeks ago.
An 11-inch gap at the Woodside station is among the largest. At Syosset, a 15-inch gap of open space exists between the train and platform. These gaps are found at other stations within the systems as well -- especially where there are curves in the trackage.
18-year-old Natalie Smead was killed this month after she slipped through a gap between a Long Island Rail Road car and the platform. Smead fell onto the tracks as she was getting off a westbound train at Woodside station on Aug. 5 while headed for a concert at Randalls Island. She managed to cross under the platform and was trying to climb up the other side when she was struck by an eastbound train.
In a similar fall two years ago, Shelly Rann, 67, who was a Radio City Rockette at age16 and danced in Broadway musicals, was returning home from a ballet class in October 2004 when she fell through a gap between the train and platform at the Forest Hills station. She is a quadriplegic because of the accident.
The Long Island Rail Road, a division of the state Metropolitan Transportation Authority, carries an average of 282,400 commuters each weekday on 728 trains, according to the MTAs Web site, which calls it North Americas busiest commuter railroad. Although most stations are on relatively straight stretches, some built nearly a century ago are situated on severe curves, which create gaps as wide as 15 inches between the angled platform and the straight cars.
Michael A. Harris, a wheelchair-bound founder of the Disabled Riders Coalition, said the railroad needs to comply with the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act, which calls for no more than a 3-inch gap at any station. I do a lot of traveling and in most cities the trains line up, he said. This is really an issue of the Long Island Rail Road choosing to take the cheaper and less reliable alternative rather than actually remedying the large gaps.
In response to Smeads death, LIRR President James Dermody said officials would install a $1.5 million closed-circuit television system that will allow the conductor to view both ends of the platform at one particularly curvy station - Syosset. The platform at Woodside, where Smead died, is relatively straight and it is still not clear how the young woman fell.
Railroad officials also plan to survey the entire system for possible improvements and said announcements warning passengers of potential gap hazards would be made.
Amtrak has confirmed that it is studying the elimination of one of two sets of daily trains linking Tidewater with Washington DC. The change could cut 14 train trips, or nearly half of the 30 trains that traverse the corridor each week.
Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black said eliminating the trains is a possibility that were looking at. But its not a done deal. The press secretary for Sen. John W. Warner, R-Va., said the senator would examine the issues raised by the rail group. Officials from Amtrakk will visit Richmond next week to discuss their plans with state transportation leaders, he said.
We have worked for four years to bring additional train service to the Williamsburg, Newport News, Jamestown area in time for the 2007 celebrations, said Thomas G. Tingle, a Williamsburg architect and former president of the rail advocacy group.
The potential loss of one of the only two daily Amtrak trains serving Newport News and Williamsburg sparked an outcry to members of Congress and raised concerns about fallout for the upcoming Jamestown 2007 celebration.
Rail advocates also said any reduction in passenger rail service could hurt the growth of Richmonds Main Street Station, which reopened in 2003 after a $51.6 million renovation. Amtrak confirmed that it was studying cutting one of two daily trains that connect Washington and Newport News.
They really hoped to have lot of people be able to come by rail, and now were eliminating one main source of travel, said Lois Walker, president of the Virginians for High Speed Rail, the states major passenger rail advocacy group. Its just devastating for the whole Williamsburg and Jamestown area.
Newport News Mayor Joe Frank called Amtraks service critically important for tourism and business travel. And to my knowledge, theyre pretty well used. Frank said he has jumped on board the fight to keep the trains.
Newport News reported more than 92,382 Amtrak passengers in fiscal 2005, about flat from 2004, while Williamsburg increased about 2,000 passengers to 37,450. Richmonds Main Street Station had 11,792 passengers, up from 8,693 in 2004.
In all, Amtrak operates 20 trains daily in Virginia. Students at the College of William and Mary frequent the trains, said Paul Freiling, a Williamsburg city councilman and member of the high-speed rail group.
The city spent $1.6 million to renovate the Williamsburg Transportation Center, which serves Amtrak, Greyhound, local buses, taxis and car rentals.
Eliminating Amtrak service would be a direct undercutting of a good-faith effort on the part of the city to promote public transportation, Freiling said.
WASHINGTON Amtrak is the best way to travel to this years Great New York State Fair. Beginning earlier this week on August 24, and continuing through September 4, Amtraks Empire and Maple Leaf services will make an additional stop in Syracuse for those attending this years fair. This special stop is just steps from the entrance to the New York State Fairgrounds.
For families traveling to the fair, Amtrak is offering a special New York State Fair Kids Ride Free promotion. With Kids Ride Free, up to two children, ages 2 through 15, may travel for free with the purchase of a qualifying adult ticket.
The Great New York State Fair is also offering $4 off the price of an adult admission to Amtrak passengers who have traveled to the fair on board the train. Just show an Amtrak ticket stub for the trip when purchasing a ticket at the fair box office.
Every fall thousands of New Yorkers travel to Syracuse for the fair. This year let the fun begin even before you arrive by taking Amtrak, said Barbara J. Richardson, Amtraks Vice President of Sales and Marketing. You can look forward to the exhibits, concerts and midway rides, without worrying about driving directions, parking or the high price of gas.
These trains will continue to make their regularly-scheduled stop at the Syracuse Amtrak station daily.
The New York State Fair Kids Ride Free promotion is only available on travel to and from the New York State Fair on those trains listed above. To obtain the discount, reference code H639 when making a reservation. It may not be combined with any other promotion. The Kids Ride Free promotion is available for sale August 14 through September 1 for travel August 24 through September 4. A three-day advance reservation is required and other restrictions may apply.
Amtrak provides intercity passenger rail service to more than 500 destinations in 46 states on a 21,000-mile route system. For schedules, fares and information, passengers may call 800-USA-RAIL or visit www.Amtrak.com.
Tulsa councilor pushing rail service
City Councilor Rick Westcott, shown standing on the downtown railroad tracks, would like to see Amtrak extend passenger rail service to Tulsa. Time is right to begin looking into it, he says
With plane travel becoming more of a hassle due to terrorism security measures, traffic congestion getting worse and gas prices still climbing, City Councilor Rick Westcott believes Tulsa should aggressively pursue passenger rail service.
Westcott plans to make a presentation to the council Tuesday in support of a resolution requesting the Oklahoma Legislature try to join Missouri in a federal Amtrak expansion study.
It will probably take years to get something done, but we need to kick start these discussions now, said the Republican, who represents District 2.
We need to see what the cost is, what the benefits would be and what the public wants to do. I think the timing is right to really go after this.
The Missouri Department of Transportation in June requested that Amtrak look at extending service from St. Louis to Springfield. Westcott wants the study to also explore extending the line on to Tulsa.
If we had a connection to St. Louis, we would be part of the national system and could go anywhere in the country, he said, adding that it would also bring visitors and work commuters from outlying communities to Tulsa.
Rail lines from Tulsa to Springfield to St. Louis were the focus of an Amtrak study more than a decade ago, but due to several factors -- chief among them the cost -- nothing ever came of it, said Joe Kyle, Oklahoma Department of Transportation rail programs division manager.
Other more recent studies have looked at trying to connect Tulsa to Oklahoma Citys Heartland Flyer line to Fort Worth that was established in 1999.
Bringing passenger rail service to Tulsa has always been a consideration, but the cost is a factor, he said, adding that nurturing the Heartland Flyer was the priority in its beginning years to ensure its success.
Ridership on the train has grown over the years to an all-time high of 68,303 in 2005.
Now that the Heartland Flyers future is secure, it is a good time to renew discussions about Tulsas possibilities, Kyle said.
If its economically feasible, wed certainly like to make it happen, he said, noting that Amtrak doesnt have enough federal funding for an extension.
A line to Tulsa -- east or west -- would have to be supported by the state, much like the Heartland Flyer, which receives about $3.9 million annually to operate, Kyle said.
Oklahoma Passenger Rail Association board member Matt Dowty said all methods of transportation, including highways, buses and airlines, receive financial help from the government.
That shouldnt be a hurdle, especially with the energy issues were facing, he said.
The fact is, Dowty said, Tulsa is the fifth-largest metropolitan area in the United States without passenger rail service, following Las Vegas; Nashville; Columbus, Ohio; and Louisville, Ky.
Now that we have the Heartland Flyer, we need to keep going, he said. Its going to take a lot of passion and leadership.
Council Chairman Bill Martinson asked the councilors to begin identifying their legislative priorities in advance of next years session at the state Capitol.
Westcott said he is ready to take up this cause and hopes the rest of the council will feel the same.
Ridership on Amtrak has increased each of the last nine years, up a total of 29 percent to 25.4 million annually.
In many areas of the country and around the world, taking the train is a way of life, he said. It could be here, too.
The organization formed long ago after passenger rail service was cut from Tulsa in 1971 and Oklahoma City in 1979 due to Amtraks reorganization. Their mission has simply been to bring rail back to the state.
Ive been a fan of passenger rail for a long, long time, he said.
Ive used Amtrak several times on the East Coast, and Ive taken it from Oklahoma City all the way to San Antonio and back. Its a wonderful way to travel.
Trains do take more time, Westcott said. But it should be viewed as another part of the travel experience.
A person has to change their mind-set when they take a train, he said. Its not about getting from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible.
Of course, itll never replace taking a trip by car or airplane, but it would be nice to one day have the option from Tulsa.
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Commuters in the Twin Cities northwestern suburbs are now just three years away from being able to park their cars at a station and take the train to work.
The metro areas first commuter rail service, the Northstar, between Minneapolis and Big Lake, was cleared by the Federal Transit Administration on Wednesday to move to final design.
While theres one final step remaining, this a sure sign that the $307.3 million project is a go, said project director Mark Fuhrmann.
The Northstar is now expected to clear the last hurdle, a final funding agreement with the federal government, in May 2007, Fuhrmann said. Service on the 40-mile line would begin in 2009.
Wednesdays decision was the latest in a series of key developments that have boosted the Northstar line in the past few months. In May, project officials reached a tentative agreement with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, on whose freight tracks the line will run. In June, Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed the state bonding bill that included $60 million for the Northstar project, to add to the $37.5 million approved by the state last year.
The project is expected to be an alternative for commuters.
Coming from Sherburne, Anoka and northern Hennepin counties, they now use the increasingly congested Hwy. 10.
Five trains will run to Minneapolis from Big Lake in the morning and five the reverse direction in the evening, with one round-trip reverse-commute trip a day. On weekends -- six trains -- three to Minneapolis and three back to Big Lake -- will be regularly scheduled, and other trips may be planned for special events in downtown Minneapolis, Fuhrmann said.
Project officials will finish design plans and take bids on the purchase of trains, stations and a maintenance base in Big Lake and on extending the Hiawatha light-rail line four blocks to connect with the commuter-rail line.
They will also finalize the purchase of time slots on the Burlington Northern Sante Fe freight line for 12 passenger trips a day on weekdays and six on weekends.
The commuter schedule will be part of a permanent agreement with the railroad.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty welcomed the news that the project will move into final design and said his administration would work aggressively to get the line up and running as soon as possible.
Northstar is an important piece of Minnesotas transportation future, he said. It will add more transportation capacity in one of the fastest-growing areas of the state and get commuters to work and home faster.
- Contact Laurie Blake 612-673-1711 email@example.com.
Las Vegas, Nev.- The Las Vegas Monorail and VEGAS.com, the worlds largest destination city site, announced that they have extended their partnership through 2007.
Building on the success of the initial agreement which was forged in March 2006, the two companies have agreed to continue their joint programs. VEGAS.com will continue to staff booths located at each of the seven Monorail stations to sell Monorail tickets and provide information, as well as at a booth being constructed at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
We are proud to continue our association with the Las Vegas Monorail Company and bring additional value to the Monorail and its partners, said Howard Lefkowitz, president of VEGAS.com. Were committed to enhancing the experience of visitors to Las Vegas and believe our relationship with the Las Vegas Monorail provides an excellent means for our customers to learn how efficient and easy it is to get up and down the Strip using the Las Vegas Monorail.
The Las Vegas Monorail Company has seen increases in year-over-year revenue and is currently in the process of implementing a number of marketing initiatives designed to increase awareness of the Monorail, including the extension of the partnership with VEGAS.com.
VEGAS.com will continue to promote the Las Vegas Monorail via its multimillion-dollar award-winning national advertising campaign, and the two companies are planning joint marketing and promotional ideas both in and out of the Las Vegas market. In addition, VEGAS.com will be selling monorail tickets at the more than 30 retail and concierge desk locations the company operates throughout Southern Nevada and Southern California.
VEGAS.com is a great partner with strong technology and marketing services, said Curtis Myles III, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Monorail Company. They have developed programs and utilized their technology to support our initiatives as well as those of a number of our partners. We look forward to continuing and growing our relationship with VEGAS.com through 2007.
Additional information can be found at www.VEGAS.com
SEPTA locomotive engineers
ratify new contract
WASHINGTON, -- Locomotive engineers working on the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authoritys (SEPTA) regional rail line ratified a new, five-year collective bargaining agreement.
This contract provides SEPTA engineers with annual wage increases of three percent, said Richard Dixon, General Chairman of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmens (BLET) SEPTA general committee of adjustment. In addition to wage increases, we won a significant change in the pay awarded to engineers for the their federally required certification. Instead of a $4 a day flat fee, they will now receive a 50 cent per hour increase for the certification.
The deal as initially proposed would increase the engineers top hourly rate, currently $26.74, to $30.10 in 2010. While that exceeds what other SEPTA operators make, it would still be the lowest hourly wage rate at any passenger commuter railroad in the country, Dixon said.
SEPTA engineers attain the top rate after 15 years of service.
Its a real fair deal; they did well, said Patrick Battel, SEPTAs chief labor negotiator.
The average engineer made $85,000 last year, and will probably make $95,000 by the end of the contract, Battel said. He added that those figures include large amounts of overtime pay: They work a lot of hours to get to that level.
Locomotive engineers on SEPTA also won a reduction in the amount they pay for health care coverage. They will now pay just one percent of 40 hours of their wages per week for health care coverage effective August of 2008. Until then, they will pay nothing towards health care coverage.
Locomotive engineers on SEPTAs regional transit system work very long hours, usually an average of 62 hours per week, Dixon said. Weve been working on getting a new contract since August of 2005 and our members deserve all of the improvements in this contract.
Dixon said other provisions in the contract would make up for that money, including $1,000 signing bonuses and improvements to on-duty death benefits, life insurance, retiree prescription coverage, parking allowances, bereavement leave, and certification allowances for maintaining their licenses.
The BLET represents more than 195 locomotive engineers on SEPTAs regional transit system. This system services Philadelphia and its outlying suburban communities.
The BLET is a division of the Teamsters Rail Conference that represents 70,000 men and women who work on freight and commuter railroads across the United States.
MBTA Commuter rail head
steps down under fire
Photo: MBTAPaul Lundberg, general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad (MBCR), was responsible for the management and operation of the commuter rail system and its 1,750 employees.
Paul Lundberg, head of the consortium that runs the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority commuter rail system has resigned after facing growing criticism about late trains and poor service, which some believe has worsened with Bostons Big Dig tunnel closings since more commuters are now turning to trains for access to the city.
He has been replaced by James F. OLeary, a former general manager of the MBTA, and the current president of Alternate Concepts Inc., one of the commuter rail consortiums partners.
Lundberg, who had led the consortium since it signed a five-year, $1.07 billion contract with the T in 2003, was under increasing pressure from both T and top consortium officials to improve service.
While the MBCR was generally credited with making improvements since taking over commuter rail operations from Amtrak, there had been periodic complaints and service breakdowns, especially during the summer and winter.
In recent weeks, the MBCR also had to deal with thousands of additional passengers after a fatal Big Dig ceiling collapse on July 10. It was a summer filled with canceled trips, coaches with faulty air conditioners, and, on many days, hundreds of angry passengers stranded on station platforms.
Last month, Daniel A. Grabauskas, now the Ts general manager, summoned Lundberg and other commuter rail officials to a meeting where they were given a scathing review and ordered to improve service immediately.
We made an agreement to part ways, said Olivier Brousse, chairman of the MBCR consortium partner Veolia Transportation North America, who flew to Boston from Paris for Wednesdays meeting. He said the consortium was also bringing in transportation specialists from its three companies to assist OLeary and his team with a host of problems, including equipment shortages and faulty air conditioning.
Joseph P. Pesaturo, an MBTA spokesman, acknowledged that trains have been later than usual for several months, but he said service has been improving significantly in the last few weeks.
Mr. Pesaturo said the Worcester-Boston line probably has the worst on-time record of any line on the system. He blamed the slowdowns on freight giant CSX, which owns much of the track west of Framingham. CSX imposes speed restrictions to reduce friction on the track in high heat and wet conditions.
The speed restrictions apply to both passenger and freight trains and are for safety purposes, said Robert Sullivan, a CSX spokesman. The company was forced to issue many of the heat orders during this abnormally hot and rainy summer, Mr. Sullivan said.
Worcester Mayor Timothy P. Murray, a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, has been pushing to expand the commuter lines service of 10 trains a day from Worcester to Boston and 10 a day from Boston to Worcester. He has proposed creating a high-level post of commuter rail commissioner.
He blamed the administration of Gov. Mitt Romney and the MBTAs general manager, Daniel A. Grabauskas, a Central Massachusetts native, for the problems. He said John Cogliano, the states secretary of transportation and newly appointed interim Big Dig chief, is too focused on Big Dig problems to pay attention to commuter trains.
Hopefully, we can at least get the limited service we have to run when its supposed to, Mr. Murray said. This administration only responds when theres a crisis. God forbid its going to take something really serious to happen.
This further underscores the need for a real commissioner, Mr. Murray added. To people who have to use the system, these problems have been readily apparent for a long time.
Charlotte -- A southeast Charlotte mass transit decision with decades worth of implications was put on hold for at least another month.
Charlotte area leaders said they need more time to weigh the three options that would change travel on Independence Boulevard for drivers and businesses.
If it means delaying this a little bit to go ahead and make that decision and give people that expectation that were giving people first class quality, then it makes sense, said Matthews Mayor Lee Myers.
The Metropolitan Transit Commission, or MTC, spent a week studying the roughly 14 miles from Center City through Independence Boulevard into Matthews. The three choices are a bus rapid transit line, a light rail line or a bus rapid transit line with passenger friendly lanes. The MTC staff concluded the bus line was the cheapest and most attractive to the most riders. However, residents at the meeting felt rail was the best option.
We have been relegated to whipping boy, we dont need that, said resident Chris Bakis. Bringing light rail is the best way to increase business along Independence Boulevard.
The idea might be bad 10 years out, said resident David Krausse. Lets not do that. Lets make a decision that is fundamentally sound.
Now that decision will wait another month, frustrating the MTCs only no vote, Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory.
One of the reasons South Line was picked initially was because there happened to be a rail line there and we had access to the rail line, McCrory said. And probably if that rail line had not been there, we would have done a bus way.
The MTC staff estimates the light rail project to cost about $585 million. The bus line would be more in the ballpark of $325 million. Once they pick one of the three options, theyll then apply for state and federal grants.
The commission will discuss the issue at their September meeting.
ANOKA, Minn., Aug. 24 /PRNewswire/ -- The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has notified Congress of its intent to grant the Northstar Commuter Rail project permission to enter final design, moving the project a major step closer to securing federal matching funds for construction.
"This is great news for the state's first commuter rail line!" said Duane Grandy, chair of the Northstar Corridor Development Authority. "Northstar's success in clearing this major hurdle is largely due to the broad bi-partisan support of our Members of Congress, the Governor and legislators who have guided the project through a highly competitive process. These leaders will continue to play a vital role in helping Northstar secure federal funding so we can begin construction next year."
Several pieces of the Northstar project have aligned over the summer to make the FTA's final design approval possible. In May, the NCDA, the State of Minnesota and BNSF Railway -- owner of the train tracks Northstar will use between Big Lake and Minneapolis -- reached an agreement in principle that outlines the key financial terms for Northstar construction and operation. In June, Governor Pawlenty signed legislation sponsored by Rep. Kathy Tingelstad (R-Andover) and Sen. Don Betzold (D-Fridley) that secured $60 million in state bonding for the project. The final state funding, combined with funding already provided by local governments in the Northstar Corridor, opens the door to receiving 50 percent federal matching funds.
"Securing new and smart transportation options for Minnesotans requires extensive cooperation among elected officials, as well as strong support from the business community and residents," Grandy said. "Northstar has enjoyed broad support because Minnesotans recognize that this is the smartest way to improve travel across one of the fastest growing areas of the state."
About the Northstar Commuter Rail Project
The Northstar proposal is for commuter rail service on the 40-mile segment of existing BNSF track along Highways 10 and 47 from Big Lake to Minneapolis. Stations are proposed for Big Lake, Elk River, Anoka, Coon Rapids, Fridley and Minneapolis. Northstar is planned to provide five trips to Minneapolis and one reverse trip during weekday mornings, five trips to Big Lake and one reverse trip during weekday evenings and three round trips on each weekend day. Event service may also be negotiated. Northstar will also offer a convenient connection to the Hiawatha LRT line in downtown Minneapolis.
The NCDA is a joint powers board of 30 counties, cities, townships and regional railroad authorities along the Northstar Corridor, which covers an area from downtown Minneapolis to Rice, north of St. Cloud. For more information about the Northstar Commuter Rail project, please visit http://www.mn-GetOnBoard.com .
Residents to get say in train, rapid-bus plans
Residents will have a chance to get in the act of planning the future of a mass transportation system that will run through the core of South Florida.
During a second round of public workshops on a study to return passenger service to the Florida East Coast Railway, people attending meetings in Palm Beach Gardens and Delray Beach will be able to participate in a discussion of two key issues routes and station locations.
The study, which began last year, will determine the most efficient ways of moving people and freight on an 85-mile long, 2-mile wide corridor centered on the FEC tracks. The corridor includes the CSX Transportation line where Tri-Rail runs and parallel highways and roads, such as Interstate 95.
Among the preliminary alternatives for the Palm Beach County segment are a light rail or Tri-Rail-like commuter rail on the FEC or rapid transit buses.
Planners have eliminated U.S. 1 as a possible alignment because of the cost to buy land to create dedicated transit lanes and projected ridership would be less than passenger rail service on the FEC. Also, rail service north of Jupiter is no longer an option because of the cost to build a high-level bridge over the Loxahatchee River.
Sixty sites are being considered for stations in the tri-county area, including parcels in Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Boynton Beach, Lake Worth, West Palm Beach, Palm Beach Gardens and Jupiter.
In making the final determination where to build stations, cities that encourage high-density development and other transit-friendly land uses in the corridor will have an advantage.
Boynton Beach resident Richard Shores, who has been closely following the study, said he worries what will happen if privately owned FEC ultimately rejects overtures to share its line with passenger trains.
"Remember this, the FEC is the same railroad that has rejected the original proposal for Tri-Rail and proposals from Amtrak," he said. "I believe that FEC management will never jeopardize their profitable freight service on the success or failure of this commuter project."
The workshops will be Thursday at the Palm Beach Gardens municipal complex, 10500 N. Military Trail, and Monday at the Delray Beach Community Center, 50 N.W. First Ave. Both meetings begin at 6 p.m.
Photo: Sounder Transit - Seattle Times
Sounder commuter rail facing growing pains
Each morning, Holly Westerfield a 22-year-old mathematician drives two miles to a Sounder station for the 5:57 a.m. train to King Street Station. From there, she catches a bus to her office at Safeco Insurance by 7:15. In gas and parking, she saves $20 to $25 a day, while her employer picks up the cost of her monthly transit pass.
Riders like Westerfield are suddenly filling up Sound Transit's four south-line trains between Tacoma and Seattle.
Passenger counts have increased by half since last summer, to an average 5,800 rides each weekday (or 2,900 round trips), plus hundreds of trips on weekends by Mariners fans in the summer and Seahawks fans in the fall.
After five years of service, Sounder is feeling its first growing pains.
Park-and-ride lots run out of spaces in the morning. On the afternoon trip home, some passengers have to stand. A dimly lit "quiet car," for people wanting to catch some sleep, has been discontinued so other riders can pour in.
Nonetheless, the line carries only half the riders that politicians predicted in 1996, when voters passed a regional ballot measure to fund rail, bus and park-and-ride facilities.
Nine trains were supposed to be ready by 2002 and reach all the way to Lakewood in south Pierce County but the line won't get that far until 2011.
Recent growth is brisk enough that Martin Young, Sounder operations manager, predicts the south line will meet its goal of 10,200 to 14,000 daily trips a few years after the $809 million corridor is finished, in the next decade.
It's in far better shape than the north line, serving Everett, Edmonds and Seattle, which handles an average 720 rides each weekday.
The south line is attracting riders, in part, because so many Seattle workers are living in communities along the south line, where housing is more affordable.
The easy ride on Sounder comes at a dear price to taxpayers.
Years ago, it sounded simple to launch a commuter-rail system. Just put some passenger trains on freight tracks that already exist.
Operating costs also exceeded predictions, so that the average one-way trip on Sounder last year required a $14 public subsidy, in addition to the average $2.39 passenger fare.
Jim MacIsaac, a Bellevue engineer who advises rail opponents, has calculated that if the costs of construction and trains are added in, the average subsidy through 2030 will be $45 for a trip on the south line and $68 on the north line assuming Sounder can achieve its ridership goals. Sound Transit replies it's unfair to count capital costs because the rail system will last for decades to come.
Operating costs per rider would be reduced, assuming trains are added and they're packed.
Sound Transit has delayed an additional southward extension to Lakewood, so as to seek state or federal money for a $40 million overpass at South Tacoma Way. A study last year found that a proposed 26 daily street crossings by Sounder and Amtrak would violate federal safety standards.
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TULSA, Okla. - The Tulsa City Council is asking for a study on bringing Amtrak service to the city.
The resolution asks the governor and the state Legislature to request Amtrak study the possibility of extending the passenger rail service to Tulsa.
The Missouri Department of Transportation is already asking Amtrak to consider extending service from St. Louis to Springfield. Tulsa City Councilor Rick Westcott wants to see that service extended on to Tulsa.
The only Amtrak service currently in Oklahoma is the Heartland Flyer that runs from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth, Texas.
Judge dismisses citys claim against railroad
Photo courtesy of AP GraphicsBank
DAVENPORT, Iowa A federal judge has rejected the city of Burlingtons claim that Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad breached a nearly 150-year-old agreement to maintain its principal repair shops in the city.
U-S District Judge Charles Wolle ruled this week that an agreement drafted in 1985 superseded the 1858 agreement.The earlier agreement allowed B-N-S-F to use the citys riverfront for its operations as long as it kept its principal repair shops open.The city filed a lawsuit in March 2004 claiming the railroad breached that agreement when it closed the shops and transferred or eliminated about 400 jobs in 2003.B-N-S-F filed a countersuit. It claimed that by filing the lawsuit the city had violated the 1985 agreement, which says the railroad could use the riverfront property indefinitely with no mention of the shops.The case went to trial in April in U-S District Court.
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Union Pacific Corp., which owns the nations largest railroad, is looking for a few good men or women -- 1,750 to be precise -- to operate its freight trains.
Many Portlanders surely were surprised by a postcard in the last week or so delivering that news.
Union Pacific, based in Omaha, Neb., last week mailed several hundred thousand of the postcards to people living in select ZIP codes in the Portland area, said James Barnes, a Union Pacific spokesman.
The railroad, with about 50,000 workers, is being hit by two simultaneous forces that have made hiring more workers a top priority.
First, Barnes said, the railroad faces unprecedented demand for its freight-hauling services, particularly for coal, food, consumer products and automobiles. Second, a wave of retirements is thinning the railroads ranks. The company expects a 40 percent turnover in the next few years, Barnes said, because union rules allow anyone who reaches age 60 with 30 years experience or more to retire with full benefits.
The company is hiring 148 people in Oregon: 73 in Portland, 45 in Hinkle, 24 in Eugene and six in Klamath Falls. The men and women hired for the train service positions will be involved in train operation and movement, switching operations and train and equipment operations. Pay will be as much as $40,000 the first year and as much as $75,000 in future years.
If you get one of the positions, will you be allowed to wear a locomotive engineers cap? Maybe.
You can wear anything from an engineers cap to a baseball cap, Barnes said. The important thing is it cant obstruct your sight or interfere with your ability to do your job.
For more information, visit www.unionpacific.jobs.
WASHINGTONBoth intermodal and carload freight increased during the week ended August 19 compared with the same week last year, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported today.
Intermodal volume of 248,890 trailers or containers was up 4.8 percent from the comparable week last year and container volume was up 7.0 percent, while trailer volume decreased 2.2 percent from the same week last year.
Carload freight totaled 342,328 carsup 1.0 percent from last yearwith loadings up 2.4 percent in the West, but off 0.7 percent in the East. Total volume was estimated at 34.5 billion ton-milesan increase of 2.7 percent from 2005.
In terms of individual carload commodities:
Overall, 11 of 19 commodity groups were down from a year ago.
On Canadian railroads, during the week ended August 19, carload traffic totaled 77,903 carsan increase of 3.2 percent from last yearwhile intermodal volume of 47,427 trailers or containers was up 7.3 percent from last year.
|Burlington Northern & Santa Fe||(BNI)||66.06||68.45|
|Florida East Coast||(FLA)||51.41||53.73|
|Genessee & Wyoming||(GWR)||23.35||25.42|
|Kansas City Southern||(KSU)||25.99||26.67|
|Providence & Worcester||(PWX)||19.01||17.95|
Florida East Coast Industries, Inc.
declares quarterly dividend
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- Florida East Coast Industries, Inc. (FECI) Board of Directors declared a quarterly dividend of $.07 per share on all issued and outstanding common stock, payable on September 22, 2006 to all shareholders of record as of September 8, 2006.
Florida East Coast Industries, Inc., (FECI) headquartered in St. Augustine, FL, conducts operations through Flagler Development Group (Flagler) and Florida East Coast Railway, L.L.C. (FECR). FECI conducts its real estate operations through Flagler. Flagler owns, develops, leases and holds in joint ventures approximately 8.8 million square feet of Class-A office and industrial space, as well as an additional 753,000 square feet under construction. Flagler space consists of Class-A office and industrial properties, primarily in Jacksonville, Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. In addition, Flagler provides construction, consulting, third party brokerage and property management (approximately 12 million square feet) services and owns 846 acres of entitled land in Florida, which is available for development of up to an additional 16 million square feet. Flagler also owns approximately 3,158 acres of other Florida properties. Florida East Coast Railway, L.L.C. (FECR), a subsidiary of FECI, is a regional freight railroad that operates 351 miles of mainline track from Jacksonville to Miami and provides intermodal drayage services at terminals located in Atlanta, Jacksonville, Ft. Pierce and Miami. For more information, visit the Companys website at http://www.feci.com/ .
Four suspects in custody in German train terror plot
Berlin - After the arrest of the first suspect in the attempted terror attack on two trains in northwestern Germany on the 31st of July, three more suspects have been identified and arrested, two of them in Lebanon. The first suspect was arrested in the northern city of Kiel last Saturday in the citys main train station. German law enforcement authorities later determined that both the prime suspect in Kiel and his accomplice fled Germany within a day of planting suitcases loaded with gasoline, propane gas, explosives and electric timers on regional trains in the northwestern German state of Nordrhein Westfalen. For unknown reasons the prime suspect returned to Germany some days later.
Photo by David BealeET 424 - Lebanese bombers placed a suitcase bomb on an ET 425 EMU train similar to this one during a stop in the Cologne central train station, which is nearly identical to this ET 424 EMU train set (photographed during stop in Haste in April 2005), as it was operating as a regional train to Koblenz.
The prime suspects main accomplice, also seen in surveillance video from the Köln (Cologne) main station on the day of the attempted attacks, turned himself in to local authorities in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, after an international arrest warrant was issued by German investigators earlier this week. He has agreed to be extradited to Germany for prosecution.
Prosecutors stated two more men have been arrested in the attempted bombing, a man in northern Lebanon was arrested on a warrant issued by German investigators along with a foreign student in the German city of Konstanz, which sits on Germanys border with Switzerland.
The German news media has released video of the two prime bombing suspects participating in a public demonstration last February in Kiel which protested against cartoon images of the Prophet Mohammed published first in several Danish newspapers and later re-published in magazines and newspapers in France, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Norway and elsewhere.
Hannover - A double consist of ICE-2 train sets made an emergency stop at Hannovers Bismarck Strasse station and was evacuated due to an anonymous bomb threat telephoned in to authorities last Wednesday (23rd August). ICE 682/683 from Munich was just a couple of minutes away from its scheduled stop in the central station in Hannover, where the two train sets would be decoupled into separated sections, one to Hamburg and the other to Bremen.
Photo by David BealeAn ICE-2 train set, similar to the ICE train stopped by police in Hannover on the 23rd August, races through Haste in May 2005.
After the ICE was stopped by law enforcement and DB management at the local / commuter station, which is about 4 km southeast of the main station in Hannover it was evacuated by waiting police and fire department officers. The train was searched by police with bomb sniffing dogs, however nothing unusual was discovered. About 800 passengers were transferred to busses and taken to the main station to continue their journeys.
An investigation is underway to identify and find the anonymous caller. If he is found and arrested, he faces not only criminal charges related to making terrorist threats, he also will be financially liable for the costs of the search as well as the costs of the train cancellation and replacement busses and trains organized by Deutsche Bahn to move the passengers to their final destinations.
Bad Oldesloe - Deutsche Bahn - German Railways - Chairman and CEO Hartmut Mehldorn lead ground breaking ceremonies for the electrification of the 85 km (53 mi.) long Hamburg -Lübeck -Travemünde rail corridor in this eastern Hamburg suburb on the 24th August. The entire line will be electrified with DBs 15 kVAC 16.7 Hz standard overhead electrification by the end of 2008. A number of S-Bahn commuter rail routes elsewhere in the Hamburg region are equipped with 1200 VDC third rail electrification. A number of bridges will require modification or reconstruction to provide adequate clearance along the right-of-way for the new overhead lines.
Photo by Deutsche BahnDB Netz workers install electrification on a rail line somewhere in Germany in 2002
During the ceremony, the transportation and commerce minister of the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, Dietrich Austermann, stated he was glad that his state would soon have only its third electrified rail main line. Although there are a number of busy rail lines running through the state, only two are currently electrified. The line is currently operated by diesel powered trains, primarily commuter and regional trains hauled with DBs aging 218 series (V160) diesel-hydraulic locomotives.
DB chief Mehdorn summarized the advantages of electrically powered trains during an interview with Bahn TV reporters at the ceremony. Beyond the obvious advantages that they generate zero air pollution at the local level and that they run on an energy supply which can come from a variety of sources including solar, wind, hydroelectric and nuclear power, the also need far less routine maintenance activity than diesel powered trains and electric locomotives can generate nearly three times the tractive effort and power than their diesel counterparts of equivalent size and weight are capable of.
Frankfurt - Deutsche Bahn started accepting tickets by mobile phone - as reported last week - but a week earlier than planned. In a press release read over Bahn TV on the 25th of August DB stated that 50,000 customers have already registered at its web site to use train ticket via mobile phone.
Madrid - Excessive speed was the apparent cause of a deadly train derailment in north central Spain near the town of Villada as the train was underway to the French border on the 21st of August. All six cars of the intercity train derailed, the first car of the train hit a bridge overpass, which ripped the roof and side of that car wide open.
Spanish state owned rail operator RENFE said that an investigation is underway to determine why the train was speeding. So far authorities have stated that 36 people were injured and six passengers died among the 466 passengers on board at the time.
Historic LIRR tower is demolished
One of three remaining historical wooden Long Island Rail Road signal towers was demolished last week in Patchogue after village officials determined that restoration would be too expensive.
The PD Tower, built in 1912, was seriously deteriorated and was no longer needed.
Two Photos by Fred Weber / David Morrison collection1947 photos of LIRRs PD Tower in Patchogue.
Preservationists were upset about the demolition, but conceded that there was probably no practical alternative. They used to refer to it as The Leaning Tower of Patchogue, rail historian David Morrison of Plainview said. It wouldve taken a lot of money to restore it.
LIRR spokeswoman Susan McGowan said a new, automated signal system was installed ... May 8th and the tower was no longer needed.
Patchogue officials had contacted the railroad about taking over and maintaining the tower, but were deterred by the cost. Mayor Paul Pontieri said contractors estimated the cost of stabilizing the tower at up to $30,000. New foundations would have had to have been put in ... and nobody was coming forth with money, he said.
In addition, Pontieri said, because it sat on railroad property, we wouldnt be able to use the building. And he said moving the tower to another location wasnt feasible either.
According to Morrison, Patchogue was the last location on Long Island where train orders were hooped up, when they put a train order on the end of a hoop and the tower operator holds it up and the engineer grabs the order. So its a quite significant chapter in railroad history that has closed.
Morrison said the remaining two towers were in Locust Valley and in Fresh Pond, Queens. The first was restored to serve as a police booth, and the second serves as a railroad office.
WASHINGTON When Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on New Orleans a year ago, Amtraks offers to help evacuate citizens went unheeded, as the last passenger train departed the city nearly empty.
Federal officials are trying to make sure that wont be repeated if there is a new emergency.
Under a $700,000 contract, Amtrak has refurbished 24 mothballed rail cars and brought them to the New Orleans train station, where they are now on standby for the current storm season, said Brian Turmail, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Transportation. The arrangements are part of an evacuation program financed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Turmail said that if a hurricane threatens, FEMA will provide buses to bring evacuees to the train station. The 24 restored cars plus 23 more cars now used for Amtraks regular passenger service in the region would be mobilized for the effort, he said. A single train can take as many as 1,600 passengers out of the danger zone.
In addition, the Transportation Department has a contract with Dallas-based Coach America for $33 million to keep 200 buses in the Gulf region pre-staged for immediate rescue services. The contract gives the government access to as many as 1,800 more buses if needed. Turmail said the bus costs are greater than the train contract because the buses have been taken out of regular service.
Asked whether residents would be allowed to take their pets - a major issue for many New Orleans residents who refused to leave their homes during Katrina - the Transportation Department spokesman said that decision will be made by local officials and FEMA.
Author Julia Malone is a Washington correspondent for Cox Newspapers.
Valley mans private railroad circumnavigates his property
Photo: Gordon Delaney / Valley BureauDavid Hankinson of Paradise, Annapolis County, Halifax, built this train with his cousin. It looks like a small steam locomotive but is powered by a Mercedes diesel
PARADISE For as long as he can remember, David Hankinson has been fascinated by trains.
Now he has one in his backyard. In fact, he has an entire railroad around his five-hectare property.
When I was growing up, we lived close to the railway, the 67-year-old semi-retired pharmacist said in an interview at Ellenhurst, a sprawling house and property built by the mayor of Hamilton, Bermuda, in 1889.
I miss the trains being here, he said about the former Dominion Atlantic Railway that once operated trains through the Annapolis Valley.
Those trains are gone now and so is the track that ran through the Valley. The rail lines are torn up and the corridor now used for trails for pedestrians and motorized vehicles.
But Mr. Hankinson has recreated a bygone era by building a diesel engine and laying almost a kilometre of track around the periphery of his property in Paradise, Annapolis County, a bucolic community nestled near the meandering Annapolis River.
With the help of Kerwin Davison, his cousin from Parrsboro, the two built the Vida D., a diesel train made to look like an early 19th-century steam locomotive.
The train is made from metal that was bought or scavenged. Its powered by a 38-horsepower four-cylinder Mercedes diesel engine the two men bought second-hand.
We tried to be as true to the (train) era as we could, Mr. Hankinson said. I thought it would be a small railroad when we started, but as we got into it, it became bigger.
He bought the steel rails from the former Prince coal mine in Cape Breton, along with the wheels and axles for the train and cars.
Each rail weighs more than 90 kilograms, so laying the tracks has been the work of a six-man team made up of interested people from the community who come by once a week to help Mr. Hankinson with his project.
The rails are nailed to railway ties and the tracks go through woods, up and down hills and around bends. They even cross a deep dry gulch on a bridge made from the metal framing of a tractor-trailer.
Mr. Hankinson has plans to build a caboose, a passenger car and even a train station that will be a replica of the old Dominion Atlantic Railway station in Paradise.
The railway is completely private. He has no plans to do rides or become a theme park. The insurance costs would be too great.
But he takes friends and neighbours, along with their kids, out for the occasional ride up the tracks.
The Vida D. is named after his wife Lindas mother, who was married to a railway crane operator in Halifax. The engine number 50080 was the number on Mrs. Hankinsons fathers Canadian National Railway crane.
I think its just the nostalgia for the trains, Mr. Hankinson explained when asked why he goes through all the trouble and expense. It was an era most of us grew up with and miss.
He added, There arent too many people building railroads these days.
Hill to Hughes
[ The following is a letter sent to Amtraks David Hughes from Michael A. Hill Assistant President Directing General Chairman District 19, IAMAW - Ed.]
August 15, 2006
Mr. David J. Hughes
Acting President and CEO
60 Massachusetts Avenue, N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002
Dear Mr. Hughes:
I had the opportunity to pick up the July edition of the Amtrak Ink. On page 4 of the Ink, I came across the story where Amtrak has hired 24 New Customer Service Managers. The story explains the primary goal of these managers will be to spend the majority of their time on the road aboard long-distance trains to improve the overall experience of the customer. The article explains these NEW management positions are a key component of Amtraks Strategic Initiative aimed at measuring and improving customer service.
Let me see if I understand this article correctly, Amtrak needs to add 24 New management positions for long distance service to improve the overall experience of the customer. Is this the same long distance service Amtrak has tried to eliminate over recent years due to the high coast and low ridership? Where passenger subsidy is in excess of $300 per passenger on long distance trains?
I believe I have an alternative. Perhaps the Amtrak customer would be better served if you filled the mounting craft vacancies within the Mechanical Department. By filling these vacancies you could address the inadequate heating and cooling systems, unclean restrooms, and inoperable amenities on many of the long distance trains. The recent transfer of work from New Orleans to Chicago is a prime example of inadequate planning. As of this date the Chicago location is in desperate need of manpower. Due to the red tape within Amtrak to hire, the current workers in Chicago are working a staggering amount of overtime to keep up with the added work load.
Youve boasted how you have eliminated positions within Amtrak; this statement is only partially true. While the number of agreement covered employees positions have decreased and continues to decrease at an alarming rate, the number of management positions continues to grow. The 24 New Customer Service Managers positions along with approximately eleven (11) Service Engineering positions added into the High Speed Rail Service is a good example of management taking care of its own. It appears the management ranks are prospering quite nicely under this current management structure. If you challenge my contention that management has prospered under the current management structure at Amtrak, I encourage you to review page 14 of the Amtrak Working Group Report (AWG) to the U. S. House of Representatives dated March 2006. In the AWG Report which was comprised of 5 Republicans and 3 Democrats from the U. S. House of Representatives they wrote; why are Amtrak executives paid bonuses even when the corporation is poorly managed and employees are asked to sacrifice for the good of the institution? Can you answer this question?
The elimination of Shop Crafts positions has left the Mechanical Department in a dangerous position; both from a numbers stand point as well as a safety concern. In several locations employees are being forced to work mandatory overtime to accommodate the work load while at the same time craft jobs are being cut which are placing employees in a dangerous work environment. This situation goes along with the hostile work environment employees face every day. The atmosphere within the shops is cantankerous and its only a matter of time before someone takes out their frustration. You along with Amtraks Board must be held accountable if any such action is taken.
Please do not respond to this correspondence. Its quite insulting to have Mr. Bress respond for your office with the usual company line about Labor Reform. I know youre aware the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee recently voted $1.4 billion for Amtrak without any draconian legislation tinkering with labors collective bargaining agreements. If the people that fund Amtrak recognize the labor contracts are not the problem, why cant Amtraks management and board reach the same conclusion?
The proof is evident on a daily basis on how the employees feel. If however you would like to respond personally, I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you personally to discuss the issues Ive raised in this correspondence. I will be on the following Amtrak properties on the dates listed if youd like to meet and exchange views.
In closing, please do not take anything Ive addressed as a personal attack. I understand you are only following the directive from the Bush appointed Board of Directors whose motives are obvious. It is however very frustrating to have the Acting President and CEO of Amtrak continue to push the Boards agenda, an agenda that is robbing a dedicated work force of its dignity.
Very truly yours,
Michael A. Hill
cc: R. Roach, Jr.
Certified Mail: 7006 0100 0006 3539 3067
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CT - New train cars just a first step
Commuters have been asking for them for years, and on Friday, the state approved a $459 million purchase of new railcars for its New Haven and Shore Line East lines. The long-outdated Metro-North cars will at last see improvement, bringing a sigh of relief for every rider who has ever looked longingly at shiny new Hudson Line cars across the tracks at Grand Central Terminal.
It makes good sense for the state. Any transportation plan for Connecticut to work its way out of chronic highway gridlock must start with trains. They are widely used, but a deteriorating system could push the less hardy onto the roads, where more rush-hour traffic is always unwelcome.
The approval of the train package by the State Bond Commission should be another step toward the long-range goal of streamlining all transit in the state, which will include improvements to highways as well as mass transit, and a continuing effort to move freight off the roads and onto Long Island Sound. Unwieldy as the barge feeder system may look, Interstate 95 cannot absorb ever-more truck traffic. Getting 25 miles from Stamford to Bridgeport on a Friday afternoon already takes almost two hours, and all the new housing starts in the region means it only stands to get worse in coming years.
There have been some complaints by area legislators about a higher rate of state subsidy for a proposed Hartford-to-New Haven line than for our local system. No one is happy to see someone else get more, but in this case, there is justification. Metro-North through lower Fairfield County is well traveled, while a train through the middle of the state is untested a higher subsidy will be necessary to get the line up and running. With a goal of statewide improvement, mass transit needs all the help it can get.
Construction is under way to allow electric trains to travel at 110 mph between the state capital and the urban corner of the state about 100 miles away. Express trains will make the trip in 90 minutes, counting intermediate stops.
Its happening in Pennsylvania, on the Keystone Corridor, where Amtrak is working with the state to upgrade the 104-mile line between Harrisburg and Philadelphia.
The route has some striking similarities to the 110-mile route between Richmond and Washington. At one end is the state capital, at the other a major city, where the route joins Amtraks Northeast Corridor. Stations in between serve small cities and colleges. One end of the line has commuter train service, and the urban stations have connections to rapid transit. Its served by long-distance trains as well as regional trains. Its a federally designated high-speed corridor.
In Pennsylvania, as in Virginia, rail passenger service in much of the state is sparse. Pittsburgh, like Newport News, has four trains a day. Erie, like Charlottesville, has two. Scranton, like Roanoke, has none.
There are some significant differences, too: Amtrak owns the rail between Harrisburg and Philadelphia, whereas a private railroad, CSX, owns the Richmond-Washington line. The apparatus for electrically powered trains is in place between Harrisburg and Philadelphia (although it dates to the 1930s, and had fallen into disuse on the western two-thirds of the line, outside commuter train territory). The route in Pennsylvania was built with four tracks, partly to separate freight and passenger trains, whereas the line in Virginia has only two tracks over most of its length.
Another big difference is the commuter train service. Between Paoli, Pa., and Philadelphia, commuter trains run all day long, seven days a week. On weekdays theres a train every half-hour, and in rush hour about every 10 minutes. Virginia Railway Express operates a handful of weekday rush-hour trains between Fredericksburg and Washington.
Yet even these differences may fade. On the Richmond-Washington line, the commonwealth of Virginia is adding tracks, and future scarcity of oil may well prompt the electrification of the CSX mainline. Public demand for transportation alternatives should lead to frequent commuter trains running on improved infrastructure between Fredericksburg and Washington.
But one big difference remains: Pennsylvania has a serious budget for public transportation and a determination to create better service. Virginia is not that serious about it.
That is why right now Virginia is improving the mainline between its capital and the nations capital by building a bridge over Quantico Creek (a few other small projects are done or funded).
Pennsylvania, in contrast, is improving the mainline between its capital and its largest city by restoring the electrical system for 70 miles, installing new concrete cross ties and welded rail on 80 miles of track, putting in a new signal system for 37 miles, installing 40 new switches, upgrading 16 bridges, eliminating three grade crossings, planning a station at the Harrisburg airport and improving three other stations.
Last month, I rode this line twice, and the trains lost only about 10 minutes as they threaded their way through the midst of this construction.
One states serious budget and determination are why next year you could board an electric train in Lancaster, Pa., and ride at 110 mph to Philadelphia and expect to arrive on time. Or, in Virginia you could board a train at Fredericksburg for a trip to Washington at a top speed of 70 mph, with a good chance that it will be delayed or break down.
If Virginia had a serious budget for public transportation and had the determination, things could be different.
STEVE DUNHAM of Spotsylvania County commutes on Virginia Railway Express to Arlington. He chairs the board of directors of the Virginia Association of Railway Patrons. Write him c/o Commuter Crossroads, The Free Lance-Star, 616 Amelia St., Fredericksburg, Va. 22401, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next week Destination: Freedom will publish one day later on Tuesday September 5, 2006 in honor of the Labor Day national holiday.
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