In this edition...
For NCI: Chris FussellEmpire Builder, No. 28, departs Union Station in Portland, Ore., at 4:45 p.m. after a re-launch celebration of enhanced service, including rebuilt Superliners. The Seattle section, No. 8, left for Chicago at the same time. Theyll join up in Spokane. Their westbound counterpart, No. 7, departed Chicago at 2:15 p.m., and southward No. 27 will leave Spokane at 2:45 a.m. to arrive at 10:10 a.m. The Seattle section arrives 10 minutes later, at 10:20 a.m. The story is below.
Katrina disrupts Amtrak, CSX, FEC,
People who wanted to ride Amtrak and Tri-Rail had hoped they would be able get out of South Florida or at least commute back home, in Tri-Rails case on Thursday, but it wasnt meant to be. Friday was even worse no trains from Miami.
Hurricane Katrina wrecked their plans, and CSX and Florida East Coast had to stop their trains as well. Katrina made landfall between Miami and Fort Lauderdale at about 6:30 p.m. on Thursday. The category 1 storm recorded sustained winds around 90 mph. After it moved west, winds approached 100 mph.
Amtrak stopped southward train No. 91, the Silver Star, and No. 97, the Silver Meteor in Orlando instead of Miami. Both had left the Big Apple a day earlier. The passenger railroad provided alternate transportation for passengers bound for destinations south of Orlando but passengers aboard southbound trains 91 and 97 that arrived on Friday were out of luck. Their trains tied up in Orlando, but there was no alternate transportation.
Northbound trains No. 92 (Silver Star) and No. 98 (Silver Meteor) originally scheduled to originate in Miami on Friday instead originated in Orlando and no alternate transportation was provided from Miami to Orlando.
Some 8,000 Tri-Rail commuter riders had to find another way to travel Thursday because the threat of Hurricane Katrina shut down the system, dispatched by CSX from Jacksonville.
Tri-Rail quit running after southbound train P655 departed the Mangonia Park Station at 2:40 p.m. and northbound train P656 departed the Miami Airport Station at 3:19 p.m. No trains ran on Friday.
Trains could not run because The nearly 80-mile route had to be inspected for any damage, trees fouling tracks, and workers would have to remove gates at more than 70 grade crossings between Mangonia Park and Miami.
On the Florida East Coast Ry., freight trains tied up in sidings on the road.
FEC spokesman Husein Cumber said, Trains are stopped until damage is assessed. Patrols started at daylight Friday. He added, Several cars were turned over in Hialeah Yard, including an empty auto rack, a doublestack container car, etc., he said.
About 30 crossings are out of service so far, but we are still counting, he added, and Four ends of sidings are without power. Communications and Signals employees were still checking out the signal system at mid-morning on Friday. Florida Power & Light was working to restore power.
Unofficial sources said No. 101 tied up at White City, No. 105 tied up at Fort Pierce, both on the same mainline siding, one behind the other.
CSX stopped its trains in South Florida, and was preparing for a double-whammy.
In a service bulletin issued on Friday, the freight carrier noted when Katrina made landfall, it left extensive flooding, commercial power outages and downed trees in its wake.
The storm moved westward into the Gulf of Mexico overnight and continued a westward path.
Freight and passenger service continues to be suspended on CSX lines between Hollywood and West Palm Beach, the bulletin stated.
The notice added CSXs Engineering and Signals teams are inspecting tracks and signals along its lines from Sebring and Okeechobee, Fla., south. They will be clearing fallen trees and debris and replacing highway-rail crossing gates as needed. Generators will be positioned at crossings to activate gates in areas without commercial power in advance of restored rail service.
CSX added it is monitoring Katrinas path and will activate its hurricane preparedness plan accordingly for the Gulf Coast.
Regarding Amtrak, the freight carrier said, Amtrak trains will continue to turn at Orlando, and noted Tri-Rail service was suspended for Friday.
Service would be restored incrementally as subdivisions are inspected and deemed safe for operations, the carrier wrote, adding, All precautions will be taken to ensure the safety of our employees, customers, and the public with minimum delay to shipments as we continue to monitor the progress of the storm.
Amtrak relaunched its Empire Builder service between Chicago and Portland and Seattle last week with a fresh new look for the train with completely rebuilt coaches and other passenger cars.
The Empire Builder is the first train among the railroads 15 long-distance train services being upgraded, and launched a major initiative at Amtrak to improve passengers long-distance travel experience and improve the trains financial performance.
Events over the routes on August 21 and 22 at Portland and Seattle stations and in Chicago were also celebrated in Whitefish, Mont., Minot, N.D., and St. Paul.
Passengers will appreciate the newly refurbished train equipment and the improvements weve made to our on-board service on the Empire Builder, said Amtrak President and CEO, David L. Gunn.
The Empire Builder is already one of Amtraks most popular trains, said Gunn, serving nearly half-a-million passengers annually.
This will mean even stronger demand for the train and a better financial performance, he said.
Last year, the Empire Builder carried more than 437,000 passengers, with ridership up 5.1 percent over the previous fiscal year.
The La Crosse, Wis., Tribune noted passenger numbers are increasing on the train.
Gunn, who boarded Empire Builder No. 8 in Seattle on the 21st, briefly visited with La Crosse officials Tuesday during its stop at the Amtrak depot in that Wisconsin community.
In an interview on the train as it continued east to Tomah, Wis., Gunn also said Amtrak needs more than the $1.2 billion subsidy the U.S. House of Representatives recently approved for the fiscal year that begins October 1. The Senate Appropriations Committee also voted to increase Amtraks federal funding to $1.45 billion next fiscal year. The Bush administration proposed zero dollars for Amtrak, and this spring U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta proposed pushing 50 percent of Amtraks costs onto states.
A record 25 million people rode Amtrak trains in the fiscal year that ended last Sept. 30, up 4 percent from 24 million the year before. Gunn said the figure for the current fiscal year is expected to be up slightly from the previous year.
Last fiscal year, the Empire Builder served more than 437,000 passengers, up 5 percent from the previous fiscal year. There are six sets of trains on the Empire Builder route, with five traveling at any given time.
This month, Amtrak introduced what it calls the Empire Builders fresh look, and said the changes are the start of a major initiative at Amtrak to improve passengers experience on long-distance trains and improve the trains financial performance.
The new look includes refurbished rail cars, new on-board services and improved passenger amenities. For example, the interiors of sleeping cars were extensively renovated, and the bedrooms have modern-looking toilet and shower units. The interiors of the coach and dining cars also have been refurbished. In the lounge car, an upstairs snack bar has been added in the peak seasons to serve light food and beverages.
The most important thing was to rebuild the equipment, Gunn said of the improvements.
In another brief, en-route interview, Gunn said he supports St. Pauls plan to move passenger train service back to Union Depot after receiving a fleeting, firsthand glimpse of the shuttered downtown station.
St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly joined Gunn for breakfast, riding from St. Paul to Red Wing and briefing the Amtrak chief on the $86 million plan to revive the depot as a transportation hub, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
The once-bustling depot opened in 1923 and was closed in 1970. Since then, the U.S. Postal Service has owned the rear concourse, and mainly restaurants have used the large waiting room.
I really share his enthusiasm to restore the old terminal, Gunn said, as Kelly pointed out the old concourse from a vintage lounge car. It really makes sense, and it gives vitality to the center cities.
With $51.7 million of federal transportation money recently earmarked for the depot, Kelly said St. Paul will have to work with Ramsey County and state lawmakers to come up with another $35 million to return passenger trains to the depot. Amtrak now uses a station in St. Pauls Midway area.
The trainsets travel 2,257 miles between Portland and Chicago, and 2,206 miles between Seattle and Chicago.
Amtrak said typical high-season train consist is two 4,200 horsepower diesel-electric locomotives, three sleepers, one sleeping car-crew dorm, one café-lounge car, one diner, five coaches and a baggage car.
The interiors of the sleeping cars have received extensive renovations featuring a new blue and white color scheme and Blossom Cherry wood grain laminates. Blue hues also adorn cushions, carpets and drapery.
The bedrooms have newly designed and modern-looking toilet and shower units. These units match the interior color scheme and the sink vanity has a solid surface countertop. The same color scheme provides brighter room in the new public area toilets on the lower level of the cars.
The public shower for sleeping car passengers has been redesigned. The new shower has a larger changing area that includes a large seat and vanity with mirror and a seat in the shower area.
In the lounge car, one end has been changed to create improved seat groupings. These small seat groups have new small drink tables positioned between them. Dining tables and booths have been added to the other end. The interiors of the coach and dining cars have also been refurbished.
Seattle or Portland to Chicago coach class fares range from $125-$275 each way, depending on advance purchase as well as date of travel. Seattle or Portland to Chicago first class surcharges range from $181-$1,233 each way, depending on the size of the accommodation , advance purchase and travel dates.
For NCI: Dave SommerIn better days, Amtraks Acela Expresses transited New Rochelle, N.Y., as eastward No. 2158 did on February 11. That's Metro-North 1355 at the left, heading for Grand Central at 12:12 p.m. By Friday, Amtrak was still putting its catenary back up after a CSX yard move at Oak Point in the South Bronx knocked it down
CSX derailment disrupts some travel
After three days of extensive delays and cancellations caused by a CSX freight train derailment, Amtrak said on Friday it anticipated normal train operation between New York City and Boston over the weekend. Service on the Acela Express and Metroliner trains also resumed. Regular service between the cities restarted on Friday, but Amtrak warned that riders could expect 10- to 15-minute delays between Penn Station and New Haven.
A freight train derailment on August 23 in the South Bronx caused big problems for Amtrak.
Repairs were still underway early Friday to Amtraks catenary after it was severely damaged during a CSX freight train derailment Tuesday morning. Diesel-hauled trains operated on a limited basis between New Haven, Conn., and New York City.
WNBC-TVEmpty hopper cars foul Amtraks main in the South Bronx after derailing in CSXs Oak Point Yard.
Amtrak said the CSX freight car string derailed at 7:15 Tuesday morning in CSXs Oak Point Yard. The derailment also ripped down Amtraks catenary in the area and fouled some tracks.
No Amtrak trains could operate between Penn Station and New Haven until diesel locomotives capped the trains. Meanwhile, Metro-North Railroad honored Amtrak tickets for travelers between New Yorks Grand Central Terminal and New Haven.
CSX spokeswoman Misty J. Skipper in Jacksonville told D:F on Thursday, A crew was building a train at the edge of Oak Point Yard when four cars derailed. Three were empty, the fourth contained plywood. The cars were rerailed by approximately 6:00 p.m. on the 23rd and the CSX rail lines were reopened at about 12:30 a.m. on August 24.
She said no one was injured in the derailment.
Almost three weeks ago, all Amtrak trains traveling between New York City and Philadelphia were canceled because of a power failure in Pennsylvania. Catenary was knocked down between Levittown and Grundy, Pa. A commuter train on the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority line apparently knocked down the wires, officials said.
While repairs were made to the catenary, diesel engines hauled some Amtrak trains through the affected area.
Amtrak said all Amtrak regional trains (nine northbound and nine southbound) between Boston and New York would operate on their regular schedules with delays of approximately 30-45 minutes while traveling between New York Penn Station and New Haven.
An Amtrak conductor noted on the internet, Me and my crew were in the middle of it all on Tuesday.
Dave Bowe wrote, Acela 2171 was canceled and all were accommodated on my train, Regional 175, from Boston as far as New Haven, where all had to change to a Metro-North train to Grand Central.
He wrote, A shuttle bus was on hand carry them to Penn Station where they could finish their trip on either Amtrak or New Jersey Transit.
He noted, 175s arrival at New Haven was a few minutes late, but with enough time for everyone to catch the 5:56 p.m. train to Grand Central. It wasnt a cross-platform change, but the stations Red Cap was there to assist if anyone needed help with their bags to the Metro-North train.
Bowe and his crew returned to Boston on No. 178.
As for our return trip, we were delayed departing New Haven two hours in order to wait for three Metro-North trains to deliver everyone who wanted to go to Boston. 178s equipment had arrived earlier in the station as No. 177. All the seats would be backwards home to Boston, but since it was dark outside, no one really noticed. Instead of an on-time 9:08 p.m. departure, we had to wait until 11:00 p.m. Once underway, there were no further delays and arrival in Boston was at 1:30 a.m.
He added that he learned from New Haven trainmasters that diesels would be running later in the day.
What trains Amtrak will be running through to or from Penn Station on Wednesday will utilize two diesels back-to-back starting with Regional No. 141, from Springfield, Mass to New Haven.
It will leave New Haven with an electric engine in tow behind the diesels, then proceed westbound on the Hell Gate branch through the affected area, uncouple at Gate Interlocking just east of Harold (Sunnyside Yard) where No. 141 will proceed to Penn station under electric traction. The diesels will then move east at Gate, cap the eastbound and tow it to Pelham, a movable bridge interlocking station.
The diesels would then uncouple and start another eastbound tow.
Amtrak is facing a federal probe of legal fees it paid as part of a $1.2 billion project to provide high-speed train service between Boston and New Haven, Conn. USDOTs inspector generals office wrote a letter on August 16 to Amtrak CEO David Gunn seeking information about Amtraks processes for the procurement of outside legal services and disbursement of funds related to those services. Theodore Alves, Principal Assistant Inspector General for Auditing and Evaluation, signed the letter.
In 2000, Amtrak completed installing catenary between Boston and New Haven to speed service on the route, attract more customers and cut losses.
Acela Express trains that now run as fast as 150 mph reduced travel time between Boston and New York by about one hour when service began. U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., requested the probe said David Barnes, a spokesman for the inspector general.
Alves stated in his letter, The review will involve the top ten recipients of outside legal fees from Amtrak for the last three years, regardless of the subject matter of the legal services. The initial phase of the review will focus on, among other areas, Amtraks processes for the procurement of outside legal services, its disbursement of funds related to those services, and the use of its in-house legal resources. In addition, the review will address Amtraks legal costs and expenditures on the Northeast High-Speed Rail Improvement Project.
Alves asked Amtrak to immediately preserve all documents and information concerning Amtraks legal costs and expenditures and make available to our staff and the Amtrak OIG all staff familiar with the payment of legal services fees and the processes used for acquiring outside legal services and assigning in-house legal resources. In this regard, to avoid any issues of privilege, we request that you prepare and execute an authorization form granting us access to Amtrak related legal documentation which, if necessary, we will submit to outside law firms.
Amtrak CEO David Gunn told a St. Louis audience Thursday that the passenger railroad is not in a crisis, then blasted the USDOT for a mind-set he says could destroy Amtrak.
If Amtrak fails, intercity passenger rail will be gone in this country, Gunn said at a breakfast at a hotel.
If we cant make it at Amtrak, were all in trouble, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted.
When Gunn joined Amtrak in 2002, the national passenger railroad was in a financial crisis and weeks away from missing its payroll. Were not a company in crisis today, Gunn said.
While Amtrak carries some 25 million passengers a year, the White House is not a big supporter. In February, the Bush administration introduced a fiscal 2006 budget with zero funding for Amtrak. Gunn said the Transportation Department also is a detractor.
The goal is to destroy Amtrak, he said. I think (the Transportation Department) is viewing it as a budget-cutting exercise.
Gunn blames Washingtons Beltway mentality and the absence of a comprehensive transportation funding policy, or one that doesnt have the various modes competing against each other for money.
Numbers crunchers dont see Amtrak as that vital, because its passenger levels pale in comparison with the airline industry. U.S. airlines carried 630 million domestic passengers in 2004, or 25 times more passengers than Amtrak carried, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
Gunn sees passenger rail as a key alternative as fuel prices soar and the airline industry plays round robin in bankruptcy court. Cutthroat airline pricing is punishing network carriers, such as Delta Air Lines, but those cheap fares also prevent Amtrak from raising ticket prices.
Rural towns, such as Cut Bank, Mont., and Rugby, N.D., see Amtrak as vital, because theyre not near a major airport hub. Gunn said he recently passed through Rugby late at night, but he didnt go to sleep in his sleeping car because he knew the mayor of Rugby would be waiting for him on the platform.
If he found out I was sleeping, hed call the local newspaper, Gunn said. Thats what he did to my predecessor.
In Illinois and Missouri, Amtrak carried 3.1 million and 422,063 passengers, respectively, in fiscal 2004.
State Sen. Mike Gibbons, R-Kirkwood and president pro tem of the Senate, said hes been in a pitched battle to keep Amtrak in Missouris budget for more than a decade.
Our fingernails are getting pretty thin, Gibbons said.
The National Transportation Safety Board wrote a letter to Amtrak last week saying the carrier needs to improve its train crews emergency response training.
The NTSB issued a directive following the boards investigation of the April 6, 2004, derailment of Amtrak train No. 58, the City of New Orleans on Canadian National Ry. track near Flora, Miss., and is consistent with the evidence we found and the analysis we performed.
The safety board issued four safety recommendations, one of which was addressed to Amtrak, which is now required to report to the board within 90 days a schedule for training its employees who have not received emergency preparedness training as required by law.
At about 6:33 p.m. on April 6, the northbound No. 58 derailed near Flora, Miss. The entire train, consisting of one locomotive, one baggage car and eight passenger cars, derailed near milepost 196.5 while traveling at about 78 mph.
The train carried 61 passengers and 12 Amtrak employees. The derailment resulted in one death, three serious injuries, and 43 minor injuries. The equipment costs associated with the accident totaled about $7 million, according to the NTSB.
The board determined that the probable cause was the failure of CN to properly maintain and inspect its track, resulting in a rail shift and the subsequent derailment of the train, and the Federal Railroad Administrations (FRAs) ineffective oversight to ensure the proper maintenance of the track by the railroad.
The letter, addressed to CEO David Gunn, stated that during emergency situations, particularly those involving passenger evacuations, the train crew and on-board service personnel are responsible for managing and directing the safe evacuation of passengers.
The investigators added, Passengers rely on the training, experience, and leadership of the on-board service personnel. Required periodic emergency situation training should prepare the train crewmembers to perform their duties confidently when emergency situations occur. This periodic training is important because policies and procedures change over time, both skills and memory erode unless exercised and emergencies are rare, and the training is required by Federal regulation. They cited Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 239.
The safety board said it has long been concerned with the emergency preparedness training of Amtrak crewmembers, and cited a list of six previously made recommendations to Amtrak regarding the issue.
Amtrak had difficulty locating accurate training records for four of the 12 crewmembers after the Mississippi accident because the database had not been updated.
The board found that one Amtrak employee had not had training as required by federal regulation.
Amtraks continued failure to provide passenger emergency training to its crews has the potential to put the traveling public at risk should an emergency occur on an Amtrak train, the board members stated.
Although it was not a factor in this accident, the board concluded that Amtrak was not assuring that all of its crewmembers received emergency preparedness training.
The NTSB also issued safety recommendations to CN and the FRA.
It faulted CN for its continuous welded rail maintenance and inspection procedures and standards.
Establish an audit program to verify that employees follow the current written track maintenance and inspection procedures, including rail anchoring requirements and specifically maintaining the preferred rail laying temperature, the four board members demanded.
The board cited the FRA for lack of oversight of continuous welded rail maintenance programs, as well as Amtraks emergency response training of its employees. The board instructed the FRA to Emphasize to your track inspectors the importance of enforcing a railroads continuous welded rail program as a part of the Federal Track Safety Standards, and verify that inspectors are documenting noncompliance with the railroads program.
The long-delayed plan to remodel the downtown Milwaukee Amtrak station moved forward August 18, with the city Redevelopment Authority helping finance a new design for what some critics consider one of Milwaukees uglier buildings.
The authority voted to provide $50,000 to create renderings of the new design and refine cost estimates for the project, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The proposed design will be presented at a future authority meeting, possibly in September, said Joel Brennan, the agencys assistant executive director.
Brennan called the proposed train station redevelopment the first element in a whole rebirth of that part of downtown.
Wisconsin DOTs original plans to redevelop the 40-year-old station, on West St. Paul Avenue, were delayed when Mayor Tom Barrett, Alderman Robert Bauman and other city officials raised concerns earlier this year.
Bauman, whose district includes downtown, questioned whether the remodeled facility would be large enough to handle both train and bus passengers.
Greyhound Bus Lines has expressed interest in moving from its current depot, on North James Lovell Street, to the remodeled station.
Bauman and other city officials also said they wanted the redesigned building to be an attractive gateway to the city.
The current Amtrak station, with its plastic seats and dim lighting, has few fans. To help improve the station, city officials are preparing to offer around $4 million to $5 million in financing for its redevelopment. That money would be repaid to the city through property tax revenue generated by new development, which would include privately owned retail space. The city money would be added to $4 million already available in federal, state and private funds.
Though cheap plane tickets and superhighways may have curbed its popularity, the Brookwood, Ga. Amtrak station still bustles with travelers twice a day as the Crescent stops in Atlanta.
The fate of the last long-distance passenger rail service serving Atlanta could depend on the outcome of a funding fight that will resume when Congress returns from its summer recess next month, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution told its readers on August 24.
Amtrak officials have said they need $1.8 billion in subsidies next year to keep operating, more than the amount voted on by either the Senate Appropriations Committee or the House. President Bush, meanwhile, has been pushing to cut all federal operating subsidies for Amtrak.
For NCI: Eric DalyAmtraks southbound Crescent, running several hours late, passes Duluth, Ga. on its way to Atlanta on January 23. The passenger train is traveling over Norfolk Southerns Piedmont Division, Greenville District, at Duluth, about 20 miles northeast of Atlanta. It began its journey in New York City and traveled 1,377 miles to arrive in New Orleans at7:20 p.m. if it had been on time.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a longtime Amtrak critic, is among those who believe the subsidy should be eliminated. He has said that since the bulk of Amtraks service is concentrated in the busy Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston, it is unfair for taxpayers in other parts of the country to keep paying for it. Ending the subsidy would leave it up to the states to either fund Amtraks longer routes, such as the New York-New Orleans Crescent or let the service die.
Before the break, the Senate Commerce Committee approved a bill introduced by Sens. Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., that would keep Amtrak going, at least in the short term, by increasing the amount the federal government provides the rail service to maintain current operations and upgrade equipment but it would cut subsidies by 40 percent and require the company to restructure its debts and provide periodic performance reports.
Though fewer Amtrak lines cross the Southeast than run through the Northeast corridor, there is still a high demand for them in the region, said Cliff Black, Amtraks director for media relations in Washington.
Americans want and need passenger train service, Black said. Theyve demonstrated that by riding our trains wherever we operate them in large numbers. It is a myth that no one is interested in riding long-distance passenger trains.
In Atlanta, originally established as Terminus in 1836 because it was the southeastern end point for the Western and Atlantic railroad, the decline in railroad passenger traffic has been precipitous.
When the Brookwood Amtrak Station opened in 1979, it served 14 arriving trains and seven departing trains a day. Now the only survivor is the Crescent, which stops twice a day, along its northbound and southbound routes.
Last year, about 86,000 people departed or arrived on Amtrak at the Brookwood station, according to an Amtrak Governmental Affairs report. That is about 236 passengers per day, or 118 passengers on each train that passes through Atlanta.
Critics say Amtrak service is too infrequent in Atlanta for it to be an effective transportation system.
Atlanta is a city of 4.7 million, and we have two trains a day that come through, very slow trains, said Terry Chastain, executive director of the Southeastern Economic Alliance.
They come in at 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m., and theyre really in no shape or form competitive with airplanes and roads.
Much of the popularity of train travel in Atlanta diminished once it became convenient and affordable to fly out of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
Hal Wilson, administrator of Intermodal Programs at the Georgia DOT, pointed out that while Chicago has two airports, one of them nearly as busy as Hartsfield-Jackson, eight Amtrak lines run through Chicagos station, and it gets more than 25 times the rail traffic of Atlanta.
They seem to be our competition in air transportation, so we ought to try to emulate them a little bit in rail service, Wilson said.
It seems unlikely, however, that Southeastern states will fund the Crescent if federal subsidies are cut or eliminated, said Steve Polzin, deputy director of the Univ. of South Floridas Center for Urban Transportation Research.
It will certainly be challenging to establish stable long-term multi-state commitments to funding for services, as each state has its own priorities and budget and political challenges, he said.
U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said rather than increasing funding for Amtrak, it would be beneficial to bring a high-speed rail system to Georgia. Amtraks most financially successful routes in the Northeast corridor include its Acela Express trains, which can reach speeds of 150 mph.
Its time that we got rail to stand on its own two feet whenever possible, and high-speed is the way to make it the transportation of choice, Isakson said.
Transportation isnt any good if it doesnt solve a commuters problem, he added.
The state DOT has plans for a multimodal passenger terminal that would put the Amtrak station next to the Five Points MARTA station downtown. It would also eventually include the high-speed rail system, a multibillion-dollar effort for which there is as yet no construction funding.
The current location of the Amtrak station reflects that it isnt part of the citys mainstream transportation system. While Hartsfield-Jackson is directly connected to the MARTA line, the Brookwood station is more than a half-mile from the nearest MARTA station and though it overlooks I-85, its connection to the highway can be confusing for those who arent familiar with the areas streets.
One of the problems weve seen over the years that Amtrak has had is that Brookwood is a good station, but it is not located where all the travelers could go. Its not very accessible, Wilson said. So weve always been supportive of locating that to a more central-city location.
Though Amtrak is not the primary way people visit Atlanta, it does have an impact on the citys tourism.
The large majority of our visitors travel to the state by automobile or airplane, said Dan Rowe, deputy commissioner of tourism for the Georgia Department of Economic Development. However, we are concerned about any possible changes in the public transportation system that might affect the ability of visitors to travel to or through Georgia.
Some also see long-distance trains as a potential tourist attraction themselves.
Regional travel has been really popular not only among domestic travelers, but [among] European travelers, Kenworthy said, adding, Thats true particularly of the South. Amtrak makes them feel like theyve experienced all of our region, not just a city or two.
Ross Capon, executive director of the National Association for Railroad Passengers, said Amtrak still needs more funding to develop its potential.
Amtrak is really the foundation for rail passenger development, for practical purposes, so the first priority has been to get Amtrak adequately funded so that there is a good foundation for further development, he said.
He acknowledged that Amtrak has its enemies. Questions about its continued funding come up every few years in Congress.
Obviously, we have some people who think Amtrak should go the way of the stagecoach, or we wouldnt have these kinds of cliffhanger votes, Capon said.
Amtrak also has its fans. At Brookwood station on a recent weekday, they included Gloria Smith, a retired preschool teacher from New York who hopes it continues to have adequate funding.
You can get up, walk around, she said. Its like a hotel, and the conveniences are much more than on airplanes or buses. You can take a shower, you can change your clothes.
Auburn Univ. student Josh Lafayette used an Amtrak vacation package to plan a two-week trip to New York, Boston and Washington.
It was the Explore America path, which was just totally awesome. It was the cheapest, too, he said.
Angela Tate, whose whole family takes the Crescent line when they visit from New Orleans, likes relaxing and talking to other passengers on the journey.
The train is more convenient, and it is such a long ride, she said. On the bus, its dark and gloomy. On the train, its well-lit and somehow makes you feel more safe.
Wisconsin crossing deaths spur action
Two young daughters dead. Two anguished, grieving mothers on opposite sides of Wisconsin vow to give those deaths meaning. Two railroad crossings made safer.
The deaths of Mandy Hermans, 17, near Suamico in 2002 and Jennifer Marks, 25, near Camp Douglas in 2000 are testimonials to how quickly something can be done at a dangerous railroad crossing.
The Associated Press writer Robert Imrie reported on August 22 at the crossing where Hermans was killed, a high-tech gate with flashing lights replaced a stop sign and railroad cross-bucks. The gate comes down about 30 seconds before a train roars past.
The rural crossing where Marks and a teaching colleague died when an Amtrak train hit their car is now closed.
It is unbelievable how many railroad crossings we have in this state that have absolutely no protection, no lights, absolutely no safety issues at all, Marks mother, Mary, said.
According to the state Office of the Commissioner of Railroads, Wisconsin has nearly 4,200 railroad crossings on public roads and highways, but not even half of them have gates or flashing lights. That doesnt even count the number of crossings on private property that the state has no control over.
Railroad Commissioner Rodney Kreunen said the state spends about $5 million a year of mostly federal funds on safety at railroad crossings on public roads, and the state is far from having the system as safe as it could be.
That task would require at least another $50 million and a lot of public cooperation, he said.
Some crossings that have been known to be dangerous have taken nearly four years to close because of opposition from folks living nearby who dont want to be inconvenienced by farther drives, Kreunen said.
We have closed more crossings and signalized more crossings than in the prior 35 years, Kreunen said about his tenure as railroad commissioner since 1996.
Sometimes, we didnt even use prior accidents as a factor because we are into prevention. I can tell you, when we are out here for a while, we can smell where there are going to be accidents, he said.
Connie Hermans said her daughters death mobilized teens, village leaders and others to make the crossing on Harbor Lights Road safer.
She knows lives have been saved with the new gates because traffic has increased so much in that area.
I worried about all my kids on this road. I worried about myself on this road. You know you look and you go. Until something like this hits you, you dont pay as much attention, she said.
Hermans moved her family from the neighborhood after the crash. There were just too many reminders.
You could hear the train every night, said her daughter, Casey. The house was not exactly a happy place to be anymore.
Mary Marks said her daughter was raised to respect railroad safety because she lived in a neighborhood in Fall Creek where there were railroad crossings with gates.
She was unfamiliar with the rural crossing on Keichinger Road. She apparently stopped, but never saw the Amtrak train.
Her mother, also a teacher, immediately went to work to get the crossing closed, especially after learning that a school bus routinely used the road, the mother said.
If you have taught school for years, you are always looking at safety issues; you never quit looking. We felt very, very compelled to just honor our daughter. People had come to us and said there was a concern there, she said.
Marks is convinced there should be gates at every crossing that Amtrak travels, or at the very least, a sign warning that Amtrak uses the tracks and motorists should use extra caution.
Everything is about costs. Why can the government subsidize Amtrak but safety is never an issue? she asked.
Her daughters death has changed behaviors, the mother said.
Everyone I teach with goes, Every time I come to a railroad crossing, I think of your daughter. Its like, Oh my God and everyone has all slowed down to the max. Everyone tells us that, she said.
Speaking from the downtown Wilmington Amtrak station on August 22, Rep. Mike Castle said he will introduce a bill next month that will require the federal government to create a national rail security strategy.
Castle, a co-chair of the Passenger Rail Caucus created in May, said too much anti-terror money is spent on air security and not nearly enough is used to protect the nations railways. The amount of money should be spread out evenly, The Wilmington News Journal reported.
Our overall national security strategy is only as strong as our weakest link, Castle said.
The bill would coincide with the release of a General Accounting Office report analyzing the security of U.S. rail systems. Castle said he had seen a draft of the report, but would not discuss its contents. Castle and Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, requested the report.
He said the bill will call for the Transportation Security Administration to develop a rail security strategy. The administration is part of the Department of Homeland Security.
Castles proposal will ask for more security personnel, cameras on trains and at train stations, training for transit workers to detect suspicious conditions and a publicity campaign to encourage riders to alert authorities when they see something that doesnt look right.
Castle said the Transportation Security Administration officials have skirted their responsibility for protecting passenger rail.
Administration spokeswoman Ann Davis said the agency is working on everything Castle said he wants in a comprehensive rail strategy.
Weve done all that, she said. We are devoting a substantial amount of time and money to rail security.
Castle said the federal government spends only $1 for rail security for every $70 it spends on air security, even though 11 million people travel by rail each weekdayfive times as many as the numbers who fly.
Castle wrote Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff a letter earlier this month asking for an update on the departments work on rail security. He said he had not gotten a response.
Castle said beefing up air security made sense after September 11, 2001. It was easy to get money for because of the magnitude of the attacks, he said, but many areas around the country dont rely on rail travel, which makes it hard to get money for rail service and security from Congress.
The money is particularly important now, after the train bombings in London last month, Castle said.
Delaware Sens. Joe Biden and Tom Carper have said that terrorism on rail lines is a growing threat.
Its true that you are never going to protect every inch of the tracks, but there are really simple and basic things, such as additional security officers and cameras, that we could add immediately that could save peoples lives, Biden spokeswoman Margaret Aitken said.
The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) last week named Lockheed Martin as the prime contractor for a comprehensive upgrade of MTAs electronic security operations infrastructure. The Authority oversees the New York City Transit system, Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North Railroad, and MTA bridges and tunnels.
The firm said on August 23 it will design, develop and deploy an infrastructure protection system that integrates the command, communications and control capabilities across MTA facilities.
Work under the initial three-year contract, valued at $212 million, will start immediately. The contract includes maintenance options that could extend the program through September 2013.
Monterrey buys 14 LRVs
Bombardier Transportation has been awarded a contract from Monterreys Mass Transport Authority, Metrorrey, to design and build 14 high-floor light rail vehicles (LRVs). The total contract is valued at approximately $244 million in U.S. dollars, while Bombardiers share is valued at approximately $43 million. Its consortium partners, Siemens and Grupo Garza Ponce, S.A. de C.V., a local civil works firm, are partners.
Manufacturing, testing and commissioning of the 14 high-floor LRVs will take place at Bombardiers facility in Sahagún, Mexico. Deliveries should be made in the second half of 2007.
The new vehicles will be used to expand Line 2 of Monterreys Mass Transport Authority. The opening of the new extension is scheduled for the second half of 2007, shortly before the celebration of the Second Universal Forum of Cultures in Monterrey, Nuevo León.
Metrorrey, the second largest mass transit transportation system in Mexico, currently has 23 kilometers of rails and operates with 70 high-floor trains, transporting a total of 50 million passengers each year. Bombardier has supplied close to 70 percent of Metrorreys total rolling stock currently in operation. This turnkey project will expand Line 2 towards the San Nicolas de los Garza and Escobedo counties, in the State of Nuevo León, on an 8.7 km alignment, of which 1.5 km will run underground.
Will Clockers return? Maybe, but
Schedulers at New Jersey Transit and Amtrak havent decided whether Clocker express trains that were pulled from service during the spring will return.
The trains were halted in April when Amtrak discovered a dangerous problem with its Acela Express trains, but Amtrak had to scramble for equipment as it added Metroliners and Northeast Direct trains to fill the gaps. Acelas gradually started to re-enter service in July, and are now back to a full schedule. That means Amtrak may have rolling stock to spare for the Clockers again, but NJT was due to use its own trains to replace all the Clockers starting July 1, 2006.
The New York Times reported last week NJT added trains to replace two of the four Clockers that Amtrak stopped running and juggled service to close the other gaps, in some cases adding stops but some gaps were left unfilled. For example, Clocker No. 628 formerly stopped in New Brunswick, N.J. at 8:10 a.m., but since April, there has been a gap in service from 7:50 and 8:20 a.m., and no train from Mercer County has stops there between 7:33 and 8:20 a.m.
Thats a problem for people who commute from New Brunswick and an even bigger problem for commuters to the Middlesex County seat. The city is an employment hub with Rutgers Univ., two pharmaceutical companies and one of the states largest hospitals.
NJT said it is evaluating its service and will be discussing schedule revisions with Amtrak, aid an NJT spokesman. The next scheduled timetable changes will be on October 30.
A plan to connect San Franciscos Peninsula and East Bay using commuter train service at the Dumbarton Bridge is moving forward after it secured 100 percent of the required funds.
The San Francisco Examiner reported on Friday with all $300 million accounted for and the first phase of the environmental review nearly complete, officials say the project is on its way to becoming reality, barring any unforeseen surprises.
I think the Dumbarton is going to be an exciting project, SamTrans spokeswoman Christine Dunn said. SamTrans is one of the agencies funding the project, along with transit agencies in Alameda and Santa Clara counties.
The project will connect Union City to the Peninsula with six morning trains, half of which will go toward San Jose and the other half will head north. The trains will return to the East Bay during the evening commute.
The 20.5-mile project will include new or upgraded stations at Union City, Fremont-Centerville, Newark and Menlo Park. The centerpiece will be a new swing bridge across the Bay just south of the vehicle bridge. It will replace the existing Dumbarton freight rail bridge, which hasnt been used in 20 years, officials said.
It is meant to connect people in the East Bay who want to go to places on the Peninsula, said Brian Stanke, a Bay Rail Alliance board member and proponent of the project. For someone who doesnt want to get stuck in traffic and deal with the hassle, this provides a connection.
The Dumbarton project will connect the Altamont Commuter Express, Capitol Corridor and Caltrain, as well as local buses, officials said. About 15 minutes could be trimmed off a one-way trip from Union City to South San Francisco compared to driving, officials said. Riders will pay an average of about $2.07 for a one-way trip, when the service opens in 2010, records show.
About 4,800 weekday commuters are forecast to use the train in its first year of operation, increasing to 6,900 in 2025. If extended to the Livermore Valley, those numbers are estimated to increase by about 40 percent.
A group pushing to build a high-speed commuter rail line from Wyoming to New Mexico hopes to ask voters for their approval in November 2008, the groups president said August 24.
With population in the West booming, the time is right to focus on ways to relieve congestion, supporters said.
We need to have an alternative transportation system, and rail is it, said former state Rep. Bob Briggs, president of the nonprofit group Front Range Commuter Rail that is shepherding the project, The AP reported.
Briggs also is a former board member of the Denver-area Regional Transportation District, whose leaders asked him to help head the project after he lost re-election to the Statehouse.
Organizers envision the Ranger Express traveling about 110 mph and connecting Cheyenne, Denver, Albuquerque and cities in between.
The plan will need cooperation not only from voters but also members of Congress and freight railroads.
Front Range Commuter Rail is trying to capitalize on rail support from Denver-area voters, who in November supported the FasTracks project to expand rail in the metro area, and proposals in the works to move commercial freight traffic off Front Range rail lines that could then be used for a 602-mile high-speed line.
Briggs said Sen. Ken Salazar and Rep. Mark Udall, both Colorado Democrats, and Rep. Bob Beauprez, a Colorado Republican, all have voiced support for the line.
Randy Bruns, CEO for Cheyennes economic-development arm Cheyenne LEADS, voiced Wyomings support for the project the same day.
Front Range Commuter Rail is counting on the congressional delegation to help Front Range rail lines gain designation as a high-speed rail corridor eligible for federal funds. Those funds could be used to conduct a feasibility study. The goal is to finish the study in 2007.
Briggs has said the proposal could go to voters as early as next year, but he said the goal was to present the plan to voters in 2008.
Any rail project would be costly. Remodeling railbeds for high-speed trains could cost $3 million to $4 million per mile, and state transportation officials have estimated that relocating freight lines to the Eastern Plains could cost $1 billion, Briggs said.
The grand plan is to have a line offering one trip per hour, 18 hours a day, carrying 3.5 million to 4 million people a year, Briggs said.
Ideally, the rail would debut along with FasTracks in about 11 years, he said.
Trying to capitalize on skyrocketing gas prices and responding to perennial complaints from passengers, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is sprucing up numerous commuter rail stations in hopes of luring more riders this fall.
The price of gasoline was at a record high last week the Boston Globe reported on August 24, with an average of $2.61 per gallon for regular unleaded in Massachusetts, according to the Oil Price Information Service and commuters are about to get hit with the back-to-school surge in traffic.
So, MBTA chief Daniel A. Grabauskas is touting a $300,000 project to tidy commuter rail stops, hoping that frustrated motorists will hop aboard when they see a nicer, cleaner transit system.
There is an opportunity here, Grabauskas said last week.
People are paying attention to the cost of gas, and were offering them an alternative, he said.
Initial improvements include power-washing 64 stations to remove debris and stains, installing new benches at 14 stops, adding electronic message boards at 12 stations, replacing worn-out trash cans and adding extra ones where needed at all 127 commuter stations, and removing outdated signs across the system.
One of the things that drives me crazy is signage up there that doesnt convey accurate information; thats just plain aggravating, said Grabauskas, who since becoming the MBTAs general manager in May has strived to improve customer service and reverse the drop in overall transit ridership. The passenger count on commuter trains has gone up slightly since 2000, to about 136,000 boardings per weekday this year.
A second phase of station enhancements, starting next month, will include additional seating at North Station, upgraded electronic message boards at major stations, and more signs posted on roads to guide drivers to the stops.
The T is also about to embark on an 18-month, $23 million project to rehabilitate 162 commuter coaches used on North Shore routes. These older cars will have their mechanics overhauled and will get new heating and air-conditioning systems, bathrooms, and windows. The board approved the contract in July; work is expected to start in early fall.
Increasing parking at commuter rail stations is also a priority. This year, the T is adding 1,800 spots, including a 198-space expansion at the Westborough station, where construction is about to start and is expected to be finished by early winter.
MN gets an independent go
The Modoc Northern, a historic name that never was officially used, will be the name of a shortline railroad that soon will run between Alturas, Calif. and Klamath Falls, Ore.
Union Pacific owns the 107-mile shortline, reports the Klamath Falls Herald and News. Its management is to transfer November 1 to the Modoc Northern, a subsidiary of Utah Central Ry., another short-haul railroad that feeds Union Pacific trains in Ogden, a major rail center.
In Oregon, rail officials plan to haul agricultural, lumber and mining products from Lake, Modoc and Siskiyou counties to Klamath Falls for distribution to larger railroads and delivery to receivers.
Don Blansett, Utah Centrals general superintendent, and Steve Richards, the marketing and sales director, said their railroad has been studying the possibility of taking over the rail line since 2003. They predict the Modoc Northern will expand rail shipping and develop economic development opportunities.
Our success directly relates to the viability of the communities we serve, Blansett said. We will bring inbound raw and manufactured materials to the communities, and ship out products from the Klamath Basin.
The railroad expects to begin with 10 employees and two engines. The MNs operating, traffic and maintenance employees will be based in Tulelake with an engineer based in Alturas.
Trains will run between Tulelake and Klamath Falls on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and between Alturas and Klamath Falls on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Saturdays as needed, Blansett said.
Ray Simms, who oversees the Lake County-owned railroad, said The Modoc Northern will be able to move freight several days faster than its been going. We hope to see a significant increase in the number of carloads per month. We think it means good things for the Lake County business community.
Its certainly a business opportunity, Blansett said, noting he has met with city councils, county supervisors and others over recent months.
He said their Utah Central railroad has bolstered industrial growth in the Ogden region, which has benefited the communities and their railroad.
Were a real asset as to economic development, Richards said.
Were easy to work with. We operate on the theory that one customer can affect our level of profitability. Every customer and every carload of freight is important to us.
He said increasing fuel costs are an advantage for trains, as manufacturing shippers shift from trucks.
Richards also emphasized that MN is a long-term commitment. During meetings in Modoc County, many people feared the railroad wanted only to tear out and sell the rail line. In the past few years, about 85 miles of rail line between Alturas and Susanville has been removed and sold.
Were here to stay, Richards said. Were buying equipment and putting in a heck of an investment. Were hoping the Modoc Northern will be here another 150 years.
Blansett said that reviving the name, Modoc Northern, reflects the regions history and matches the railroads personality.
The Modoc Northern was incorporated in 1908, and ownership transferred to the Central Pacific in 1912. It was another 16 years before construction actually started, according to Jack Bowden, a Klamath Falls railroad historian and co-author of The Modoc: Southern Pacifics Backdoor to Oregon.
Newspapers and the general public continued to refer to the line as the Modoc Northern for many years, Bowden said. The newspapers all referred to it as the Modoc Northern, and everybody knew it as that name.
Its taken a while, but the railroad that never officially was hopes to become a reality later this year.
Taking a major step to improve air quality, the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles and Pacific Harbor Line (PHL) have tentatively agreed to launch a $23 million program to replace their fleet of 18 harbor locomotives with clean diesel and alternative-fuel locomotives that will significantly reduce air emissions, but they havent said who they will buy the engines from.
The replacement program is part of a new 10-year extension of an agreement between the ports and Pacific Harbor Line, a private company that has provided railroad switching services to customers in the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles since 1998. PHL also dispatches all BNSF and Union Pacific trains within the ports.
The tentative pact, which goes to the Long Beach and Los Angeles Harbor Commissions this week for a vote, calls for PHL to replace its existing fleet of diesel-electric locomotives, some of which are more than 50 years old.
PHL spokesman Don Norton told D:F We don't have a delivery contract yet, from a manufacturer, and wont, either, until after the commissioners vote. He said they are leaning toward Motive Power in Boise, and added, it will be the first of its type.
PHL would acquire 16 locomotives equipped with new diesel engines that exceed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Tier 2 standards for reduction of air pollutants. In addition, PHL would acquire two alternative-fuel locomotives, one using liquefied natural gas and the other incorporating hybrid diesel-battery technology.
The use of these replacement locomotives equates to removal of an estimated 163 tons of nitrous oxide (NOx) and three tons of particulate matter each year.
Switching out these older locomotives with newer ones will result in a 53 percent reduction in NOx emissions and a 45 percent reduction in particulate matter emissions per locomotive, said Port of Los Angeles Interim Executive Director Bruce E. Seaton.
Under the tentative accord, the ports will each pay as much as $5 million toward the estimated $23 million cost to replace the PHL locomotive fleet, with the balance coming from PHL and a $3.2 million AQMD Carl Moyer grant. The agreement also includes a broad package of air quality improvement measures.
The accord provides incentives for PHL to not block street crossings for more than 10 minutes. The locomotives will be equipped with automatic shut-down devices if the engines idle for more than 15 minutes.
PHL will use cleaner-burning emulsified diesel fuel in its new diesel locomotives. In addition, the existing fleet of older locomotives also will use emulsified diesel fuel during the transition period, thus yielding immediate air quality benefits.
PHL will also be testing diesel oxidation catalysts (exhaust cleanup devices) on the locomotives. If they prove effective, PHL will use them on all locomotives.
Fairbanks rail shift brings questions
Fairbanks, Alaska area businessmen Richard Schok and Bernie Karl expressed concern during a public meeting July 6 that a proposed 19-mile Alaska Railroad track realignment project could leave their industrial businesses without rail freight service, reports the Alaska Journal of Commerce.
Are you saying that if we dont have enough use, we wont get served? asked Schok, whose family owns and operates Flowline Alaska, a pipe insulating and coating business currently located on railroad land in the existing central Fairbanks industrial area.
Schok is considering a future business move to property the company purchased near the Richardson Highway, roughly halfway between Fairbanks and North Pole, and currently served by the state-owned railroad.
A proposed rail realignment would move the main train track away from that out-of-town industrial area, raising concerns from local property owners who want to ensure access to rail freight service continues.
I want a certified letter saying that the (rail) spurs will be kept open and you are going to give us service, said Karl, of K&K Recycling, also located along the Richardson Highway, with existing rail access.
Rather than agreeing to a letter, Alaska Railroad (ARR) staff told the businessmen to enter their comments into the written record of the public meeting, part of work to complete an environmental assessment of the Eielson Branch Realignment Project. As currently proposed, the project would move 16 miles of track and improve three miles of track, beginning on the east side of Fairbanks near Fort Wainwright and concluding several miles southeast of North Pole, tying into existing rail line near the Chena River floodway.
Rail line to and on Eielson Air Force Base, where the Alaska Railroad track currently ends, would not be included in the project.
The construction project is designed to eliminate 20 to 30 at-grade crossings, which will enhance the safety of the railroad, Clark Hoepp, the realignment project manager for the railroad, said during the Fairbanks public meeting. Wed like to eliminate as many as possible.
Additionally, the proposed project would eliminate several sections of track, primarily on Fort Wainwright, that have sharp curves, which cause current trains to move slowly through post and increase maintenance costs for that section, Hoepp said.
With fewer crossings, whistle noise will be reduced, he said. The new rails are much quieter than traditional steel rail, Hoepp said, also reducing noise impacts to neighbors.
Finally, a faster route between Fairbanks and North Pole would allow the railroad to offer mass transit passenger service commuter rail between the two communities. We think there is a need there, he said.
Estimated costs for the rail realignment range from $50 million to $70 million, according to information from the railroad. That includes crossings of the Chena River within Fort Wainwright, a second track at the Fairbanks depot, route improvements in Fairbanks and on the Army post, construction of a new track on or adjacent to the Tanana River flood control levee, possible reconstruction of a trail adjacent to the levee, and public access points across the track and levee.
The environmental assessment process and preliminary engineering is estimated to cost $1 million, with FRA funding to cover the assessment process, according to the railroad.
The Alaska Railroad and its contractor hired to assist in the environmental assessment process, URS Corp., held scoping meetings to gather public comments about the project in Fairbanks and North Pole in early July. Agencies and landowners along the proposed new route also met with the railroad and URS earlier this summer.
An environmental assessment is scheduled to be released for public comment this winter, the railroad stated. After that, regulatory agencies will either issue a finding of no significant impacts that allows construction to start, or will determine that a more extensive environmental impact statement must be prepared before granting regulatory approval.
A heavy snowstorm blanketed Wyomings coal-rich Powder River Basin on May 11 just as the white-capped Big Horn Mountains to the west had begun to thaw. Icy water and coal dust merged into a thick, dirty slurry and oozed across large swaths of a 100-mile section of railroad freight track that is shared by the Union Pacific and BNSF railroads.
It is the worlds most-heavily traveled track, writes USA Today of August 24. Ten giant coalmines in Wyoming produce nearly 40 percent of the U.S. supply and coal powers more than half of U.S. electricity generation.
The streaming sludge undercut bridges and switches, pushed steel rails out of gauge and destroyed concrete ties. Fifteen coal cars of a BNSF train derailed May 14. A few hours later, 28 cars of a UP train derailed.
Today, the economic pileup stretches from federally leased mines in remote northeastern Wyoming to population centers throughout the East, Midwest and South, revealing how dependent the U.S. has become on its newly emerging Western coal belt.
Spot-market prices for the basins coal are up nearly 70 percent year to date. That has contributed to the feverish run-up in energy prices, which threaten to sap the U.S. economy.
During a summer heat wave that has sent electrical demand soaring to records over the past month, the interruption in coal supplies recently turned critical. If hot weather persists into September, brownouts are possible, energy analysts say.
Paul Lang, 44, president of Arch Western Resources, a subsidiary of Arch Coal, and, until recently, the chief of its Wyoming operations, says the rail disruption created a classic economic panic as hysteria-driven demand overwhelmed the already burdened supply chain.
Major electric utilities hoarded their dwindling caches of coal, which are nearing historic lows. The big mine operators squabbled with the rail companies over how to resolve the transportation bottleneck and the rail companies, while starting major repairs, bickered over who might be taking advantage of the situation.
Pat Hemlepp, a spokesman for American Electric Power, which serves 5 million customers in 11 states and is the USAs biggest coal consumer burning 75 million tons a year said the utility expects to receive only 80 percent to 85 percent of its contracted deliveries from the basin this year. AEP intends to pass about 70 percent of the higher costs to its customers while the other 30 percent will hit our bottom line, Hemlepp said. So far, consumer electricity prices have risen 6 percent nationally after climbing just 1.5 percent last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The U.S.s largest coal company, Peabody Energy, recently reported a triple-digit increase in second-quarter profit citing the dramatically higher coal prices but both it and the No. 2 producer, Arch Coal, acknowledged being unable to ship 7.3 million tons of basin coal between them in the quarter. They are grappling with a rail backup that could persist until next spring.
On the high plains, amid herds of wild antelope, mule deer and elk, the Powder River Basin is estimated to possess a 100-year supply of coal at the nations consumption rate of 1 billion tons a year. It is the USAs greatest fossil energy resource. Its reserves stand in powerful contrast to the dwindling supplies extracted from 1,500 mostly small, rapidly depleting mines in the rest of the country from Appalachia to Washington state.
The rest of the lengthy article can be found in its entirety at http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/manufacturing/2005-08-24-coal-usat_x.htm.
Food service marketer and distributor SYSCO Corp., reported on August 16 it is buying 300 acres in Alachua, Fla., where it will construct its second redistribution center (RDC), about 60 miles southwest of Jacksonville. Construction will begin after the firms lawyers finish their prepatory work.
The redistribution facility in Alachua will have a CSX spur that enters a rail dock, just like our Front Royal, Va., redistribution center, Michael King, Syscos manager of investor and media relations told D:F.
The redistribution center is the second of as many as nine planned facilities that eventually will encompass similar SYSCO warehouses throughout the U.S. as part of SYSCOs Supply Chain Initiative project.
The first redistribution center, located in Front Royal, began shipping products on February 14, and by the end of this year will service 14 broadline distribution companies located in SYSCOs northeast region, said Kenneth J. Spitler, executive vice-president of SYSCO and president of SYSCOs North American Foodservice Operations.
The Alachua site was selected for a variety of reasons, including an available employee workforce, the quality of life the community affords to potential employees and the sites logistical accessibility to Interstate 75 and railroad networks.
Union Switch & Signal (US&S) said last week UP is buying its real time Optimizing Traffic Planner and Next Generation Computer Aided Dispatch System throughout the railroads more than 33,000-mile North American rail network. The traffic planner is a software technology-based system for planning and optimizing the movement of traffic across a rail network. Terms were not disclosed.
RMI reported on August 23 carload traffic increased by 9.2 percent in the second quarter ending June 30 from its Atlanta offices.
Its analysis provides railroads and rail shippers with short line growth and trends.
Its RailConnect Index is the rail industrys only source of short line traffic statistics, and includes traffic summaries of 14 commodity groups from nearly 220 short line, regional and terminal switching railroads in North America.
Trends in commodity groups made up nearly 80 percent of carload growth in the first half of 2005 including Intermodal, up 25.6 percent, metals and products up 24.5 percent, stone, clay and aggregates up 24.8 percent, and chemicals up 12.81 percent).
Several commodities declined in carloads, including motor vehicles, down 2.64 percent, coal off by 2.70 percent, grain down 16 percent and others off by 10.39 percent.
These commodities made only a slight impact on short lines aggregate numbers in the first half of 2005 by a total of less than 1 percent of all carloads, according to RMI.
Overall, short line traffic grew at a double-digit rate in the first half of 2005 with intermodal; stone, clay and aggregates; metals and products; petroleum and coke; and farm and food, excluding grain, as the list of the top five performers in the first half of 2005.
RMI stated it expects that the second half of 2005 to be promising for both Class I and short line carriers. Housing market and intermodal shipments are expected to continue to grow at a robust pace. Additionally, grain comps are not as difficult in the second half of the year indicating that some growth will be forthcoming from an area which did not perform well in the first half. It is expected that if Powder River Basin service problems and maintenance issues are resolved, coal comparisons may improve.
Railroads set weekly record
U.S. railroads originated more intermodal containers during the week ended August 13 than in any previous week on record, the AAR reported Thursday.
Container volume of 179,472 broke a record established just three weeks earlier when volume totaled 177,110 containers.
Total intermodal volume (which includes trailers as well as containers) of 236,785 trailers or containers, was up 9.0 percent from the comparable week last year and was the second highest week on record. Trailer volume for the week was up 1.7 percent from last year, and container volume was up 11.6 percent.
Carload traffic, which doesnt include the intermodal data, totaled 339,225, up 2.0 percent from last year, with carload traffic up 2.5 percent in the East and 1.5 percent in the West.
Total volume was estimated at 33.5 billion ton-miles, up 2.8 percent from last year.
Among the 19 carload commodities, eleven showed increases from last year, with coke up 21.0 percent; nonmetallic minerals up 41.3 percent; crushed stone, sand and gravel up 14.5 percent; and farmer products other than grain up 19.8 percent. On the downside, loadings of metals were off 5.6 percent and motor vehicles and equipment were down 3.6 percent.
Cumulative volume for the first 33 weeks of 2005 totaled 10,966,821 carloads, up 1.5 percent from 2004; 7,247,033 trailers or containers, up 6.2 percent; and total volume of an estimated 1.05 trillion ton-miles, up 2.3 percent from last year.
On Canadian railroads, during the week ended August 13 carload traffic totaled 75,696 cars, down 4.6 percent from last year while intermodal volume totaled 44,290 trailers or containers, up 4.7 percent from last year.
Cumulative originations for the first 33 weeks of 2005 on the Canadian railroads totaled 2,496,081 carloads, down 0.5 percent from last year, and 1,396,301 trailers and containers, up 2.4 percent from last year.
Combined cumulative volume for the first 33 weeks of 2005 on U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 13,462,902 carloads, up 1.1 percent from last year and 8,643,334 trailers and containers, up 5.6 percent from last year.
The AAR also reported that originated carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended August 13 totaled 8,135 cars, down 13.8 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 3,844 originated trailers or containers, down 4.1 percent from the 33rd week of 2004. For the first 33 weeks of 2005, TFM reported cumulative originated volume of 280,540 cars, down 0.6 percent from last year, and 125,880 trailers or containers, up 5.7 percent.
Railroads reporting to AAR account for 87 percent of U.S. carload freight and 96 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 96 percent and 100 percent. The Canadian railroads reporting to the AAR account for 91 percent of Canadian rail traffic. Railroads provide more than 40 percent of U.S. intercity freight transportation, more than any other mode, and rail traffic figures are regarded as an important economic indicator.
The AAR is online at www.aar.org.
Florida East Coast Industries, Inc. (FLA)(FECI), said on Thursday it will pay 6 cents a share in its quarterly dividend on all issued and outstanding common stock, payable on September 22, 2005 to all shareholders of record as of September 8, 2005.
Home to larger-than-life companies like the Pullman Palace Car Co., Thrall Car and American Car Co., Chicago was the hub of railroad car manufacturing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Now those plants are gone, save for the Union Tank Car Co. facility in East Chicago.
The industry registered a slight recovery here when booming rail car manufacturer FreightCar America Inc. went public and moved its corporate headquarters from Pennsylvania to Chicago, Medill News Service reported on Friday.
Nasdaq-traded FreightCar saw its stock skyrocket 23 percent on July 27, closing at $28.88 after announcing quarterly earnings that were three times Wall Streets estimate. Since its initial public offering of 8.5 million shares at $19 on April 6, the stock doubled, hitting a new high of $38.41 August 22 before falling back to $36.70 on August 24.
Riding the crest of growing railroad shipments, FreightCar is enjoying a stunning reversal in its fortunes. For the six months ended June 30, FreightCar saw net income reach $10.7 million, or $1.11 per diluted share, compared with a loss of $8.5 million or $1.24 per share in the same period last year. Revenues zoomed to $397 million from $184 million in the first half of 2004.
FreightCar President and CEO John E. Carroll Jr., who took home $540,000 in salary and bonuses in 2004, and who is FreightCars sixth-largest shareholder, said in an interview he hasnt any idea how long the stock will continue to rise.
In a statement, Carroll, who is a former executive at Thrall Car in Chicago Heights, said FreightCars orders for all types of new rail cars in the second quarter totaled 5,104 a 60 percent increase from last years period. He added that the total backlog of unfilled orders reached 15,867 in the second quarter, or double that of a year ago.
Only three securities analysts cover FreightCar, from the three securities firms that managed FreightCars IPO. All three rate the stock a buy and have improved their outlook for the rest of the companys fiscal year.
Results in the quarter were exceptionally strong and reflect continued strong demand for coal rail cars, wrote Robert LaGaipa, of CIBC World Markets in New York, in a report.
The company is likely also enjoying the benefits of its variable pricing as fixed price contracts have largely been eliminated from its backlog in recent months, he said.
FreightCars current upward swing is representative of the busy railroad industry. The AAR said carload freight rose 1.5 percent in the first five months of 2005. Coal transport jumped 2.5 percent, good news for FreightCar, which bills itself as the worlds leader in manufacturing hopper cars.
Increased imports from Asia and Mexico account for some of the increase in freight traffic, said AAR spokesman Tom White.
The same conditions are occurring as have been occurring for the past year-and-a-half with the economy gaining in strength, White said.
As more and more trade focuses on imports and goods from the Pacific Coast, which need to move east, theres a need for railroads to move these goods a long distance, White added.
With about 1,100 employees and revenue of $230.7 million in the second quarter, up from $94.9 million one year ago, FreightCar is the smallest rail car manufacturer among the nations elite. Greenbrier Cos. Inc. of Lake Oswego, Ore., builds and leases freight cars, bringing in revenue of $286 million for a profit of $10.7 million in its third quarter. Rail car maker and barge operator Trinity Industries Inc. of Dallas took in revenue of $647 million for a profit of $6 million in its first quarter, the most recently reported. Competitor ACF Industries LLC is privately held, as is Union Tank Car.
Union Tank Car makes and leases tank cars and covered hopper cars for plastics. The tank cars are manufactured at the companys union-represented facilities in East Chicago and in Sheldon, Texas.
The company is building a new facility in Alexandria, La., which it says will meet the heavy demand for its rail cars that cant be met at its current locations. The plant will be in operation in mid 2006.
The market is very strong right now, said Bruce Winslow, spokesman for the company, a subsidiary of The Marmon Group.
Members of the union representing the work force in East Chicago Local 524, International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers are concerned their plant will be closed when the new plant opens with a non-union work force. The company has denied that will happen.
The AAR reports that 40 percent of all U.S. freight is shipped by rail, more than any other single mode of transport but, White warns, the numbers rely heavily on the strength of the domestic economy.
Its a cyclical industry because it depends on the economy, White said. If the economy doesnt produce, we dont move. We grow when the economy grows.
|Burlington Northern & Santa Fe||(BNI)||54.30||54.28|
|Florida East Coast||(FLA)||42.56||41.00|
|Genessee & Wyoming||(GWR)||28.11||29.10|
|Kansas City Southern||(KSU)||20.16||20.64|
|Providence & Worcester||(PWX)||14.03||14.02|
NCI: Leo KingGovernment-owned SNCF remains Frances primary rail freight hauler.
Ahh, le French railroad
The International Herald Tribune reports that European railroad systems, particularly the French, are finally coming to grips with a European Union order allowing private companies and other national railroad systems to operate freight trains over their tracks.
France, long one of Europes holdouts in using only state-run trains, reports long-time railroad writer Don Phillips, has finally allowed a private train to operate between Germany and France but the impact of that single daily train may pale compared with the big plans of the English, Welsh & Scottish Ry., which has been operating freight trains in Britain since the British Ry. privatization of 1995-96.
Keith Heller, CEO of English, Welsh & Scottish, is the Canadian connection.
Canadian National Ry. gained effective control of EWS in 2001 when it bought the U.S. regional railroad Wisconsin Central, which owned 41 percent of EWS.
Seeing that the EWS had lost its way, becoming a lethargic and inefficient freight operator, CN decided to send in the energetic Heller and his enthusiastic take-no-prisoners style of competition in 2004. Things have not been the same since. Now the railroad has only three or so cancellations among the roughly 1,000 daily scheduled train runs, down from 20 percent or more, and its on-time rate, while still not great, is much improved.
EWSs share of freight is also going up. The latest figures show 20 billion ton-kilometers per year, compared with 13 billion in 1995.
Now, Heller has signaled he is ready to take on the toughest nut to crack in Europe the French.
The Canadian has let it be known that he is training locomotive engineers to operate on six routes of the French railroads. On May 31, he filed the proper safety documents with the French railroads. Next comes permission to operate huge Class 66 freight diesel locomotives in France, locomotives that are already certified to operate in almost every country in Europe except France.
One problem is that the big Class 66 locomotives will not fit in the Channel Tunnel, so they must be operated in Continental Europe only, with smaller locomotives hauling freight through the tunnel.
Heller can run throughout Europe fairly quickly after he gets French permission because he now has a surplus of locomotives. Even though his railroad is hauling more freight in Britain, more efficient operation has led to a surplus.
Those locomotives are now ready to begin hauling trains across Europe, if EWS can work through all the issues with France. That will not be easy, and Heller talks only of starting service sometime late this year or next year. An EWS senior manager is said to have remarked years ago: You know the biggest problem with the Channel Tunnel? It comes up in France. He added, If it had surfaced in Belgium, through-freight around Europe would have happened years ago.
The issues are not simply obstacles erected by politicians. Engineers must speak French, the trains must be approved for use with French signal systems, the locomotives must not be too heavy for all the lines they will use, and the trains must fit into operating plans on lines that are near capacity with other freight trains and the dominant users of the rails, passenger trains.
Nigel Harris, a British rail author, said in a magazine essay that Heller might have arrived at the right time, as his plans have a compelling logic.
Roads are becoming more congested, he wrote. Road pricing is coming. Theres a shortage of drivers. Habits are changing, and drivers do not like very long hauls. Rail is becoming more efficient, and the gap between the two is narrowing. Road haulers are looking, again, at what rail has to offer in terms of not just product but reliability and punctuality. Harris cautioned that previous plans by big truckers to move to rail had failed over issues of reliability and punctuality. Weve been here before, havent we? he said.
Don Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ill still contribute to D:F from time-to-time, but otherwise, my feet are up, although I may pop up in print magazines occasionally.
As my friend Pete Thomas up in Rhode Island used to say, See you on the trail.
Leo King, Editor Emeritus
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