Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 4 No. 34, September 2
Copyright © 2003, NCI, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - James Furlong
Editor - Leo King

A weekly North American rail and transit update

 


The Cardinal

For NCI: Chris Starnes

Amtrak No. 51, the northbound combined Cardinal and former Kentucky Cardinal rolls through Rensselaer, Ind., over CSX and the former Monon Railroad.

 

Congress returns to Amtrak fight

By Wes Vernon
Washington Bureau Chief

Representatives and senators returning from their August recess are set to plunge head-on into the huge gulf that separates those who want to expand passenger service in this country from those who want to take action that would amount to shutting down the Amtrak system.

The National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) has urged its members to use the summer break to contact their senators and urge support for Amtrak’s request for $1.812 billion in Fiscal Year 2004. The Senate could take up a transportation funding bill as early the week or even the very day the gavel comes down for the opening of the fall session September 3.

Authorizing committees in both the Senate and House have approved of giving Amtrak $2 billion each year for the next three to six years to follow Amtrak CEO David Gunn’s admonition that it is crucial to bring the railroad back to a good state of repair – but it is in the appropriations committees that the moment of truth surfaces in any money policy, and that is where Amtrak has encountered rougher sledding.

“The importance of getting to that ‘state of good repair’ cannot be overstated,” NARP warned last week. At stake is more reliable service in 2004, but also avoiding a cash-shutdown crisis encountered by Gunn within days of his taking office last year.

NARP’s Ross Capon ruefully noted that the House might vote as early as September 4 on H.R. 2989, the Administration’s transportation funding bill. That measure provides only $900 million for the passenger railroad, a “shut down” figure, Amtrak supporters say.

We may learn right out of the chute, more or less, where this Congress is going with Amtrak.

A rival bill introduced by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and three other GOP senators just before the recess would build up Amtrak into a truly national system. Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings (D-S.C.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, sponsors another pro-Amtrak bill.

Although an accident of history left many of the states outside the crowded corridors in the Northeast, Midwest, and West Coast with relatively skeletal service (See our opinion piece in last week’s D:F), lawmakers from those states have pitched for an upgrade of rail schedules for their constituents.

For example, the Montana Department of Agriculture and Transportation last month released a report saying Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle Empire Builder contributes to the economy of Big Sky Country to the annual tune of $14 million. What’s more, that state’s Gov. Judy Martz is taking the lead among her fellow western governors to continue support for long distance trains.

These trains, each traveling through five, six, or seven states would be threatened by the Bush administration proposal. To anyone who knows anything about railroading, the idea that these operations could survive a splintered funding system through multi-state compacts does not pass the laugh test.

Martz is working hand-in-hand with her fellow Montana Republican, Sen. Conrad Burns, a cosponsor of Hutchison’s long-range Amtrak legislation.


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Gunn disdains Bush Amtrak plan

Amtrak CEO David Gunn says he agrees with a couple of things in the Bush White House proposal for Amtrak, but the rest is just bush league thinking.

Bush’s plan would give Amtrak executives and the carrier’s board six months to divide Amtrak into three separate entities: a private rail operations company, a private infrastructure maintenance operation, and a federal oversight entity (See D:F, August 4).

In an interview with Argus Urban Transport Solutions of Washington, D.C., he said he agreed, “There should be a new state-federal partnership for intercity rail projects similar to the transit model where the feds provide capital and the states provide a match. I also think that for new intercity projects, the states should agree to pick up the incremental operating deficit.”

He added, however, “The bill is totally impractical. I can’t imagine anyone seriously proposing what they have proposed. They are basically taking Amtrak and dividing it. ‘If you don’t like one Amtrak, we are going to give you three.’”

Gunn also noted that “If you know anything about the real world, that is a totally impractical proposal. You would end up having to duplicate overhead functions in all three new companies. You would end up with a top-heavy bureaucracy with three different personnel departments, three legal departments, three presidents.”

He took a dim view of trying to get several states to all agree with anything.

“The next thing they did was try to arrange for this compact between the states. I’ve been around a long time, and trying to get the eight or nine entities [of the Northeast Corridor], including the District of Columbia…to agree to anything in a year, is pushing the limits of probability – and the [federal government] is trying to get them to take on responsibility for the Northeast Corridor. To talk about doing that in any short time period is, I think, fanciful.”

Gunn was also cool to the Administration’s notion of fixing things.

“The issue of deferred maintenance, which is horrendous around here, is addressed in Year 3. They are not even talking about putting money into the equipment until Year 3. There’s no money in the bill. It’s a very strange proposal.”

Long distance trains are on Gunn’s mind as well as the White House’s.

“There are a lot of provisions in there dealing with long-distance trains, liquidating real estate and exclusive operating rights, and there are a lot of problems dealing with each of those; but, if you can’t even get to first base, which is organizing the three corporations and getting them set up in a year, then that’s all irrelevant.”

Gunn explained they copied the failed United Kingdom model.

“What they have done is copy the British model, which has failed enormously and is now being undone, but the British model took years to… privatize and separate the infrastructure from the operation. It took billions of pounds, or dollars, in government funding.”

If the Bush ideas become law as-is, which seems unlikely to most observers of the railroad scene, and Amtrak in particular, the administration will be giving Amtrak “one year to do what took years elsewhere, and they’ve given them no money – none, zero – when it took millions of dollars elsewhere. The whole thing is sort of sad.”

Gunn also said it is folly to believe passenger rail can be a profitable venture. He said it cannot be a commercially viable operation with commercially viable corporations.

“No one can sit down and show you on a piece of paper or show you a pro forma income statement or a balance sheet that shows that [this] will work. I guess you have to attribute good motives to people, so I guess they are trying to solve a problem, but it’s not obvious to me that whoever wrote this legislation has ever run anything in their lives. They certainly haven’t been around railroads much. Other than that, it’s great.”

The in-depth interview also discussed integrating commuter rail with regional rail, and several other topics.

Argus Urban Transport Solutions is online at www.energyargus.com


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

Colorado Railcar DMU demo unit

Trinity Railway Express

Colorado Railcar’s demonstrator unit will be in Fort Worth today (September 2) for Trinity Railway Express. The self-propelled passenger railcar will be available for viewing from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the former Texas & Pacific Railroad station. TRE will also dedicate its newest Bombardier-built cab car that day. The commuter rail line runs between Fort Worth and Dallas.

 

Illinois AG tells CTA to drop pension plan

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) board violated the law when, in a closed meeting without public notice, it agreed on a plan to sweeten the pensions of top agency executives and at least four board members, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan concluded late Thursday.

Stepping into a growing controversy over steps taken by the CTA board at its August 6 meeting, Madigan effectively ordered the board to reverse its action or face “enforcement actions,” according to an August 28 report in Crain’s Chicago Business News.

In a statement released by her press spokeswoman, Madigan said she had received several calls asking her to look into the matter, and after a probe by Chief Deputy Atty. Gen. Barry Gross, she reached a firm conclusion.

“We have told the CTA in no uncertain terms that we believe it violated the Open Meetings Act,” which generally requires public bodies to conduct their business in public, the statement said. “We have asked the CTA to remedy the situation. We expect to hear back from the CTA and are hopeful” it will comply.

If not, the statement continued, “We will move forward with enforcement actions.” One action would be to seek a court order directing the agency to reverse its action.


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Illinois journalists call for CTA probe

A second journalists group has asked Cook County State’s Attorney Richard Devine to probe possible violations of an Illinois meeting act by the Chicago Transit Authority (D:F August 25). A broadcast organization has also filed a complaint.

Crain’s Chicago Business News reported that in a letter sent August 25, the Chicago Headline Club, a professional group which represents staffers at area publications and electronic outlets, said the CTA board apparently failed to give proper public notice when it met privately on August 6, and signed off on a plan to sweeten the pensions of CTA President Frank Kruesi and about 200 other agency executives.

The board then convened in open session and formally approved the plan without discussion.

The letter from club vice-president Phil Kadner asked Devine “to launch an immediate investigation into possible violations of the law.” It refers to a downstate legal case in which the 4th District Illinois Appellate Court held that public agencies must give notice that a subject will be discussed in executive session – even if the discussion itself is closed to the public and press.

“Under the state’s laws, you are the chief enforcement officer of the Open Meetings Act in Cook County,” the letter stated, and added, “The Chicago Headline Club urges you to make sure the provisions of the law are being followed.”

A spokesman for Devine said that the letter has been referred to the office’s civil unit for review, and declined other comment.

The Illinois News Broadcasters Assn. sent a similar letter a fortnight earlier.

Crain’s disclosed the pension matter in its August 18 edition. Since then, the chair of the CTA board, Valerie Jarrett, has announced her intention to resign August 31 and complained that the board violated “at least the spirit” of the law. Jarrett was unable to attend the August 6 meeting, and alleged that she was misled by staff about the full impact of the pension plan.

In addition, civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson has called on Kruesi to step down for allegedly taking care of his own financial needs while CTA bus drivers have gone years without a new contract.

Kruesi, through a spokeswoman, has denied any impropriety. He said earlier the pension plan was designed to encourage senior executives to retire early as the agency ponders a possible $100 million budget deficit and a 50-cent fare hike.


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Redlands-‘San Berdoo’ passenger line?

By Alan Kandel
Special to Destination:Freedom

Mike Blair, San Bernardino Associated Governments – nicknamed “Sanbag,” rail and transit programs director, apparently has reservations about building a 12-mile rail line from scratch between two neighboring southern California communities, Redlands and San Bernardino (Locals sometimes call it “San Berdoo.”) He cited three reasons why a busway might be more feasible.

First, Blair said, “The times between trains during off-peak hours would be too long,” but also “We’re still several years off and it will take a year or better to get the Federal Transit Administration up to speed [on this], then we jump into competition for federal money with everyone from across the nation.”

In an August 14, 2003 San Bernardino County Sun news story, Redlands Councilwoman and Sanbag board member Pat Gilbreath, who supports the train measure, stated emphatically, “I’ve made up my mind. I’m very encouraged. We’re closer than I thought.”

Moreover, Tom Jenkins, vice-president of Parsons, Brinckerhoff, Quade & Douglas (PBQD) Inc., the consulting firm that conducted a four-year area-transportation study, said “rail seems to perform the best and is the most cost effective, even if it costs more in capital expenditures.” The train would help remedy a “transportation headache” on Interstate 10 that is expected to only grow worse.

The study noted a bus project would cost $115 million while a rail design would cost around $144 million. Daily ridership projections for the year 2025 would average 3,300 people on buses while 11,000 people would be riding trains.

Additional estimated agency costs per new rider would be $12.15 for a bus line but $5.46 for rail.

Three alternatives remain – Increase bus service, pave the Sanbag-owned right-of-way and run a bus between the two cities, and lay tracks for a separate rail line that would take commuters between the Univ. of Redlands and the San Bernardino Metrolink stop.”

Jenkins said with lower fares to riders, the chances are better that funding from the Federal Transportation Administration could be secured. Jenkins said the rapid bus transit has not been widely used or studied.

Sanbag directors will hear the presentation tomorrow (September 3).


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T-storms hit Maryland line

The Maryland Transit Authority reports signal problems continue on its Brunswick Line following recent thunderstorms.

CSX maintainers continued to work on repairing signal components damaged by lightning during Thursday night storms. Delays of approximately 15 minutes were expected on all trains between Washington and Silver Spring through the weekend.

Meanwhile, the storms knocked out public address systems at many Brunswick Line stations.

The major storms that passed through the area earlier this week “continue to affect” the PA system.

“The intense electrical storm damaged so many electronic components that all public address systems can not be repaired due to a shortage of replacement components which are coming from the manufacturer,” the commuter rail system stated.

The state agency added, “It is unlikely that these public address systems will be operable by Tuesday morning,” but added passengers needing updates on train status can call staffed stations at Martinsburg, Brunswick, Germantown, and Gaithersburg.

Their telephone numbers are listed in the riders’ guide or at www.mtamaryland.com.


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Tacoma Link starts operations

Sound Transit launched its $80.4 million, 1.6-mile streetcar system in Tacoma last week as the agency’s first segment of light rail. It also marked the first streetcar to run in Tacoma since 1938.

“We really are going back to the future,” said Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma.

About 1,000 people swarmed 25th Street East, between Freighthouse Square and the Tacoma Dome Station, to participate in daylong festivities, wrote the Tacoma News Tribune on August 23.

Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg, a vice chairman of the Sound Transit Board, announced the Puyallup Tribe of Indians will spend up to $50,000 to study a possible one-quarter-mile extension of the streetcar line. The tribe wants to connect its planned casino complex off Interstate 5 to Tacoma Link.

Voters in Pierce, King and Snohomish counties approved the $4 billion initiative to create Sound Transit in 1996. The plan envisioned a regional system with light rail, commuter trains and express buses.

The bulk of funding comes from local taxes, including a 0.4 percent sales tax and a 0.3 percent vehicle license tax.


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Greenbush line work expected to restart

Work on the Massacusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s Greenbush, Mass., commuter rail line could start within the next few weeks, Susan Phippen told Scituate, Mass., selectmen August 26.

Phippen, who has been working closely with project officials as Scituate’s liaison, said she believes the project will happen, and that an announcement by the MBTA is imminent (See D:F August 25).

‘‘The distinct impression I get is that it’s not far off,” she told the board, reported The Patriot Ledger the next day.

The MBTA suspended work on the line in February in an attempt to nail down a final cost of the project and to resolve issues involving permits and land use.

The Romney administration was reviewing the project as part of its plan to set priorities for state construction projects.

MBTA said recently it had pegged the final price tag at $479 million. General Manager Michael Mulhern is expected to give MBTA’s board of directors a project update at its September 10 meeting.

After the meeting, Phippen said she based her conclusions on the amount of engineering plans the town has been receiving lately, and on personal conversations and observations that she would not divulge.

‘‘I’ve just put two and two together,” she said.

Phippen also sounded an alarm that if the project does start this fall, it could wreak havoc with a town sewer construction project.

The rail project probably would start with tearing down Stockbridge Road bridge, which is being used to detour cars off the Driftway as sewer lines are placed in the street.

The bridge, which is next to the future site of the rail line’s layover station, would be replaced with a wider one in order to fit multiple tracks below.

Phippen said Greenbush construction probably would start on the bridge because it is one of few parts of the project that has all the necessary permits. She also said the project contractors, Cashman/Balfour Beatty, could have crews working on different points along the 17.7-mile rail line.

Phippen told the selectmen that the Army Corps of Engineers will hold hearings within the next couple of months to discuss unresolved issues, including whether to use quadrant gates at rail crossings.

She said the project would proceed despite there being no plans for the rotary at Routes 3A and 123, just outside the Greenbush station. The state Highway Department and the MBTA are at odds over the rotary’s design, including the number of lanes feeding into it, signage and the overall shape.

Selectman Paul Reidy wondered aloud how the MBTA could place a final price tag on the project without finished plans for a major rotary.

Phippen said she believes the MBTA has built cushions into the price tag to cover undesigned portions.


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Some Waterbury trains may be cut

Waterbury, Connecticut train service is once again in jeopardy, and this time Connecticut DOT (ConnDOT) is using a tricky method to do the job.

Waterbury trains running from Bridgeport will be cut in mid-September for 45 days for construction, with trains replaced by buses – but after construction is finished, in early November, train service will only resume during morning and afternoon-rush hours. Midday train service will be indefinitely discontinued in favor of buses.

The Connecticut Rail Commuter Council is fighting the cut.

“The real blame doesn’t lie with Metro-North or the DOT, but with Hartford lawmakers who, for years, have refused to adequately fund rail operations in the state,” according to a council press release.

“With insufficient funds, ConnDOT is left to decide where to cut… and Waterbury trains became an easy target.”

Harry Harris, the head of ConnDOT’s Bureau of Public Transportation, told the New Haven Register his agency is only trying to give commuters more frequent service and save money.

In 1997, Gov. John Rowland proposed eliminating the Waterbury and Danbury Metro-North Railroad commuter rail lines and ConnDOT’s Shore Line East commuter rail lines. He said rail service should be replaced with buses, in part to pay for his 5-cent state gas tax reduction. Transit and environmental advocates, elected officials and riders were successful in thwarting Rowland’s attempt at the time

Metro-North records indicate about 500 people ride the Waterbury line each day.


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Californians get ‘unwired’ on trains

The “Wi-Fi” train has reached the station, and commuters in and out of Silicon Valley will be the first in the U.S. to experience wireless internet access while riding the rails.

A three-month trial begins this month for riders of Altamont Commuter Express (ACE Rail). It’s free during the trial; fees for later have yet to be determined, according to The AP.

The rail line carries about 1,300 passengers daily on round trips between Stockton and San Jose. Most of them are aboard the train for at least one hour, and many are laptop-toting high-tech or business employees.

Wi-Fi, a short-range technology that stands for wireless fidelity, is showing up in a growing number of public spaces, including cafes, McDonald’s restaurants, parks and airports. ACE Rail’s Wi-Fi networks will get their Internet connections via satellite.

PointShot Wireless, a Canadian company that is providing ACE with Wi-Fi equipment, said another California commuter rail line from the Sacramento suburbs to Oakland and San Jose plans a similar trial.

PointShot has already set up a system for train riders between Montreal and Toronto. Virgin Trains also expects to announce Wi-Fi service plans for its London-area commuters later this year.

“It’s a tremendously ripe market,” said Keith Waryas, an industry analyst with IDC. “It makes a lot of sense to have this network in motion.”


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

Got it!  Now how to bury it!

Jean Daly

“Ike” goes to work in a Fresno, Calif., freight yard looking for bad guys.

 

BNSF partners in crime-fighting

By Alan Kandel
Special to Destination:Freedom

Peace Officer A. J. “Jean” Daly isn’t your typical law enforcer. Neither is her trusty companion “Ike.”

For the duo, each day brings something different to their line of work.

Working for the Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Ry. and based in Fresno, Calif., Daly and Ike are part of an elite crime-fighting operation that in the U.S., as of 1996, numbered 3,250 strong.

Jean’s Santa Fe Ry. career dates back to 1980, having served previously on police departments in both Palm Springs and Oceanside. Before transferring to Fresno, though, Daly did a 13-year stint as a railroad peace officer in San Diego, followed by a one-year term in Barstow.

Opting for a career in law enforcement was an obvious choice.

She explains, “I felt there was a genuine lack of respect for police in general, and by becoming a peace officer, I wanted to be one more person making a difference in fighting crime.”

Furthermore, her participation in Operation Lifesaver, a rail safety initiative launched by the railroads aimed at educating the public on the inherent dangers in crossing railroad tracks – on foot, riding a bike, or driving a vehicle – is entirely optional.

Awards received

Jane Barbier

One plaque is first place in “Obedience” and the other is second place overall in the August 2003 canine trials competition in Missouri.
She confronts on an almost daily basis kids throwing rocks at trains, placing coins and other objects (projectiles) on the rails, and just loitering around railroad tracks and equipment.  She enjoys telling the children stories about how dangerous an activity playing around trains can be and watches their faces register with enlightenment as they realize the potential harm they may have been causing.

As such, Daly confides, “You are convinced you have gotten through to them and maybe, just maybe you have even saved a young life.”

As for her companion, 5-year-old Ike, a Belgian Malinois, is among a select breed of police dogs initially trained in Germany and then brought to the U.S. where they are placed with their new handlers.

After receiving extensive training, which can last anywhere from four to five weeks (depending on the particulars) dog and handler receive certification which must be updated twice annually.

Besides responding to trouble calls, then seeking out, apprehending and arresting criminal offenders day in and day out specifically targeting the railroad, taking time out to get involved in adjunct activities such as national police dog and handler competitions, is not only important to Daly, but definitely has its rewards – especially when they win.

Along with four other represented railroads and a host of law enforcement agencies, Daly and Ike representing BNSF during the week of August 10, 2003, participated in canine trials in Independence, Mo. Daly said, “I did real well. We won first place in obedience and we won second place overall. It was pretty exciting!”

Three events were held – manwork, which involves a tactical event called “Bark and Hold” or “Guard and Bark.” Another is obedience; and the third is narcotics search, a tactical event in which Daly and Ike did not participate. Even so, this dynamic duo managed to take second place in the competition overall.

Given that 90 percent of crimes committed against the railroad are in-transit, on-train burglaries, having an attack-trained pedigree, although not essential, is extremely advantageous in keeping the perpetrators at bay. Ike can locate criminals and do so faster and more efficiently than using several trained police officers.

Daly is quick to point out these dogs can search a train in a fraction of the time taken by two officers, making the pooches extremely productive for this line of work. They are also beneficial in searching large areas of terrain for suspects or hidden merchandise.

Daly stressed that her assistant in apprehending criminals has done his duty unfailingly and without even having to inflict a single bite wound, a fact of which Daly is extremely proud. In fact, the level of service provided by her canine counterpart is in her words “unsurpassed.”

To protect life and property, prevent and suppress crime, investigate criminal acts committed on or against the railroad, its patrons or its employees, arresting criminal offenders, recovering property (damaged, stolen or otherwise) and regulate conduct on railroad property is all part of a day’s work.

Protecting the railroad, its employees, and its customers, trying to ensure that all [San Joaquin] Valley BNSF rail-borne freight travels undisturbed, Daly firmly believes that if it were not for railroad police, pilferage would be rampant.

As a peace officer sworn to enforce law and order on the BNSF all the way from Merced to Corcoran, Special Agent Daly definitely has her work cut out for her.

However, with the help of her trusty companion, Daly and Ike – especially Ike – are always a “leg up” on those would-be scofflaws trying to do the railroad wrong.

Thanks to Jane Barbier – Jean’s mom – for the photo.


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Hudson Bay Ry. fights flames

Hudson Bay Ry. battled numerous wildfires north of Gillam, Manitoba during August on the route to Churchill between mileposts 376 and 400 during a good part of August.

Highways in the Gillam area were closed for days at a stretch, but HBR trains continued to run, the company reported August 25. The 510-mile layout is the former Algoma Central.

Three wooden trestle bridges, located in the “hot zone” at MP 396, MP 387.6 and MP 377.5, were in jeopardy at one point or another, and “only through the efforts of HBR’s associates have they been kept intact. In the past week, the hot weather, lack of rain, and lightning have caused numerous fires in northern Manitoba” according to Darcy Brede, regional vice-president and general manager.

“A maintenance crew stationed at Herchmer first reported a fire near a bridge at MP 396 on August 16,” he said, “but the Manitoba conservation crew for the northeast region was unable to land in the area because of heavy smoke, so the maintenance crew, lead by Henry Ouskan, was left to fight the fire on its own with little equipment.”

The Herchmer crew was instructed to save the bridge.

They kept the fire from spreading to the bridge, “even though it came within six feet,” Brede said.

The crew “managed to do this with only a small house pump and fighting the flames for more than five hours,” he added.

Brede noted the “Manitoba Conservation was finally able to airlift fire fighting equipment into the area, but the closest they could get was 15 miles away.”

With winds changing direction almost daily, all three bridges in the fire zone “are under constant surveillance. The associates working this zone are faced with extreme heat conditions, long work days on the track and fire fighting duty to ensure the line remains open during the peak season, he said.


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Bullfrog Jct. will soon function

The federal government last week handed over the final money needed to straighten a sharp curve in tracks in Tacoma, Washington’s Tideflats where freight trains are forced to negotiate the tightest turn between Tacoma and Chicago. The total cost will be more than $28 million.

Trains have had to skirt the bend at East D and Dock streets near Freighthouse Square at just 10 miles per hour, but after the track is relaid, they’ll be moving at 30 mph, reports the Tacoma News Tribune.

The freight trains’ slow speeds impede Sound Transit and Amtrak trains as well because all three cross paths at the same intersection – Bullfrog Junction on the east side of the Puyallup River.

The slowdown has caused traffic delays, held back freight and prevented more Sounder and Amtrak trains from transporting commuters.

By stretching out the curve, engineers say trains will be able to triple their speed, and building a concrete overpass so traffic can drive over the trains will unclog a nearby intersection, said Craig Sivley, Tacoma’s city engineer.

All of Tacoma’s containers and 40 percent of the Port of Seattle’s containers must make their way through the curve. By widening the tracks’ path and speeding up their trips, Sivley said, the port will be in a better position to compete with other ports that serve as a gateway for goods moving between Asia and Chicago.

Construction on the $28.2 million project is scheduled to begin next March and be completed in 2005. Local, state and federal governments and Burlington Northern & Santa Fe have contributed $26 million, and the U.S. Commerce Department added the last $4 million city planners said they needed to start the project.

Planners estimate it will cost $18 million to build the overpass and $10 million to realign the tracks, said Allison Smith, an intermodal transportation specialist with the Port of Tacoma.

About 80 trains daily navigate the curve. By easing the curve and adding a mile of new, second track around the Thea Foss Waterway, more trains will run at a faster speed, said Dennis Dean, superintendent of Tacoma Rail.

The city of Tacoma has been trying to cobble the money together for the past five years when the tight turn was identified as one of the region’s slow spots, Sivley said.

When a mile-long freight train passes through at a mere 10 miles per hour, the entire day’s sequence of crossings is slowed, Sivley said. Passenger and freight trains have to wait for one another to cross the junction, and federal law requires passenger trains to tack on additional time when a freight train passes.

The delay means Sound Transit trains can make three trips through the intersection to the main line just three times a day, Smith said. Once the curve is widened, Sound Transit will be able to add six more trips a day, she said.

Local, state and federal politicians turned out at the site of the sharp bend Wednesday morning (August 27) to celebrate the federal Economic Development Administration’s announcement of the grant. Once completed, they said the new tracks and overpass could drive 400 new jobs to the area.

“Let’s take the check and start building,” said state Sen. Jim Kastama (D.)

Plans for the tracks and the overpass, which will tower 35 feet above the street, were just finished. Once the city acquires the adjacent land, it will advertise for bids proposals and begin searching for a construction company.

Two BNSF freight houses will be torn down to lay the new track, but freight trains will continue traveling through the Tideflats even while the tracks are under construction, Sivley said. A shoofly will do the job.


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Grupo TMM board quits KCS deal

Mexico’s Grupo TMM told Kansas City Southern Ry. on August 25 that it isn’t for sale any more. TMM’s directors voted to terminate the proposed sale.

The action was a result of the unanimous vote by its shareholders at the company’s General Ordinary Shareholders’ Meeting on August 18 to not approve the sale of TMM’s interests in Grupo Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana, S.A. de C.V. (Grupo TFM) to KCS.

TMM also told the Mexican Foreign Investment Commission of their actions.


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KCS, TMM enter Tex-Mex snarl

Financial things between Mexican rail and Kansas City Southern are getting more and more convoluted. Grupo TMM wants its Mexrail back.

KCS acknowledged on Friday it had received a letter from Jose Serrano Segovia, of Grupo’s chairman of the joint venture between KCS and TMM. Segovia demanded KCS sell back its shares in Mexrail, Inc. sold to KCS in May 2003.

KCS was non-committal.

Warren Erdman, KCS Vice-President for Corporate Affairs, said KCS is “reviewing the notice and will respond appropriately within the time frame provided by the agreement under which the repurchase option was granted.”

Erdman added, "We have received the notice and our legal team is reviewing it. Kansas City Southern is a company that honors its contractual obligations. We will respond to this notice within the required time frame, but this does not change our position that we have a valid agreement in place to acquire TFM. As previously announced, we plan to assert our legal rights to enforce that agreement."

As part of the transactions agreed to by both KCS and TMM and publicly announced by both parties last April 21, TFM sold to KCS Mexrail shares representing an aggregate 51 percent ownership of Mexrail for $32,680,000 (U.S.) in May 2003.

Mexrail, Inc. wholly owns the Texas-Mexican Ry., Inc. (Tex-Mex).

KCS stated “These shares were placed in trust pending regulatory approval in the U.S. of KCS' common control of Tex-Mex by the STB. Repurchase of Mexrail, Inc. by TFM would return 100 percent ownership of Mexrail to KCS' joint-venture subsidiary, TFM. If it occurs, the repurchase would be at the price KCS paid TFM in May. “

KCS also acknowledged receiving a notice to terminate a 1995 joint-venture agreement from TMM.

"We have had problems in the past with TMM's compliance with this agreement. We will deal with these issues at the appropriate time as part of our effort to compel TMM to honor its contractual obligations," Erdman said.


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Environmentalists briefly block train

About 20 Greenpeace-sponsored Mexicans protested genetically modified U.S. grain on August 19 by briefly blocking tracks linking Laredo, Texas and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.

They stretched a banner across the tracks on a railway bridge and blocked a U.S. train thought to be carrying genetically modified grain for about 20 minutes. Federal police were called to the scene, the AP reported.

Nuevo Laredo Mayor Jose Manuel Suarez Lopez went to the bridge and promised to discuss the protesters’ demands, if they lifted the blockade. The protest ended peacefully and a train was allowed to pass.


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Railroad freight traffic reported ‘flat’

Freight traffic on U.S. railroads was relatively flat during the week ended August 23 in comparison with the corresponding week last year, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported on Thursday.

Carload volume totaled 337,089 units, down 0.8 percent from last year, with loadings up 3.1 percent in the West but down 5.3 percent in the East. Intermodal volume, which is not included in the carload data, totaled 198,254 trailers or containers, up 0.5 percent from the comparable week last year. Total volume was estimated at 29.7 billion ton-miles, up 1.0 percent from last year.

Among the 11 commodity groups reporting gains in carload traffic compared to last year were coke, up 39.1 percent; nonmetallic minerals, up 8.1 percent; and grain, up 6.9 percent. Eight commodities showed, with metals and products down 16.7 percent; motor vehicles and equipment off 14.4 percent; and metallic ores down 9.8 percent.

The AAR also reported the following cumulative totals for U.S. railroads during the first 34 weeks of 2003: 10,947,465 carloads, down 0.3 percent from last year; intermodal volume of 6,360,326 trailers or containers, up 5.5 percent; and total volume of an estimated 965.0 billion ton-miles, up 0.6 percent from last year’s first 34 weeks.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 88 percent of U.S. carload freight and 95 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 95 percent and 100 percent. Railroads provide more than 40 percent of the nation’s intercity freight transportation, more than any other mode, and rail traffic figures are regarded as an important economic indicator.

Both intermodal and carload volume were down during the week ended August 23 on Canadian railroads. Intermodal traffic totaled 32,337 trailers and containers, down 0.6 percent from last year. Carload volume of 63,038 cars was off 4.4 percent from the comparable week last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 34 weeks of 2003 on the Canadian railroads totaled 2,072,033 carloads, down 1.5 percent from last year, and 1,403,912 trailers and containers, up 8.4 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 34 weeks of 2003 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 13,019,498 carloads, down 0.5 percent from last year and 7,764,238 trailers and containers, up 6.0 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 23 totaled 7,889 cars, down 13.2 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 3,175 originated trailers or containers, down 10.8 percent from the 34th week of 2002. For the first 34 weeks of 2003, TFM reported cumulative originated volume of 288,390 cars, up 1.0 percent from last year, and 119,051 trailers or containers, up 23.5 percent.

The AAR is online at www.aar.org.


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DIVIDENDS...  Dividends...

FECI makes $1.50-a-share special
payout, stock repurchase plan

Florida East Coast Industries, Inc. (NYSE: FLA) announced a special $1.50-a-share dividend and said it has authorized spending up to $75 million on a stock repurchase program.

The company said the special dividend is payable September 25 to holders of record September 11 of Class A and Class B common stock. FECI also will pay a quarterly dividend of $0.04 a share. The same dates apply for both dividends.

The special dividend on 36.6 million shares will cost the company just under $55 million, bringing the total potential cost of both special payout and stock repurchase to about $130 million.

The $0.04 quarterly dividend is unchanged from the payout June 25.

The share repurchase of Class A and Class B stock will be done both through the open market and private negotiations. The special dividend and share repurchase are expected to be financed primarily from available cash, FECI said.

Chairman and CEO Robert W. Anestis said the special payout and stock repurchase “reflect our confidence in the company’s future, our desire to deliver value to shareholders, and our ability to reduce the company’s ongoing cost of capital which will benefit all continuing shareholders.”

The moves were announced around 5 p.m. Eastern time Thursday. On Friday, FECI opened on the New York Stock Exchange at $31.30, up 48 cents from the preceding close.

On July 24, FECI had announced consolidated net income of $9,252,000, or $0.25 a diluted share, in the quarter ended June 30, up from $1,967,000, or $0.05 a share, in the year-earlier quarter. For the full year 2002, FECI reported a net loss of $107.8 million, or $2.94 a diluted share, against a net loss of $61.4 million, or $1.68 a diluted share, in 2001. The company had large losses in both years due to discontinued operations.

On August 5, the company said its senior executives had tendered 35,272 Class A shares to the company to repay in full all company executive stock purchase loans.

FECI, headquartered in St. Augustine, Florida, operates through two wholly owned units, Florida East Coast Ry., L.L.C., and Flagler Development Co.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: Bloomberg.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)28.35026.760
Canadian National(CNI)53.73052.400
Canadian Pacific(CP)24.37023.940
CSX(CSX)32.28031.100
Florida East Coast(FLA)30.90030.500
Genessee & Wyoming(GWI)24.22023.580
Kansas City Southern(KSU)12.15012.020
Norfolk Southern(NSC)19.04018.310
Union Pacific(UNP)60.94059.510


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RUNNING EXTRA...  Running extra...

Silver Meteor

NCI: All photos: Leo King

Southbound Amtrak No. 97, the Silver Meteor, runs ten minutes late on Sunday, July 12, 1998, and passes over the Ortega River bridge (MP657) at 45 mph, about eight miles south of downtown Jacksonville en route to Miami. Most of the track speed is 65-70 mph along the entire route. The P-42 and the rest of the train will enter the fire-ravaged area in less than 20 minutes. Even though the day was cloudy, the region was not drenched with much-needed rain until the next day.

 

Nature, CSX, FEC rebound

Five years ago, wildfires choked Florida

By Leo King Editor

While we were reading about wildfires in Manitoba (see “Freight lines”) and how the Hudson Bay Ry. is battling blazes to save some of its bridges, we were reminded of large fires five years ago that set a great deal of Florida ablaze.

Florida fauna is healthy these days. It’s wet, and isn’t unduly thirsty any more. Life renewed along the railroad lines and the rest of the state after those devastating wildfires.

Some of May, all of June and the early part of July 1998 was like Hell for a great part of Florida: it burned - and with the foliage fires came destruction to people’s homes, wildlife, and damage to some railroad properties, notably CSX’s and FEC’s tracks.

Both railroads operate through Duval County, which contains Jacksonville. CSX operates through Clay County on the west side of St. John’s River, and FEC traverses the counties east of the river – St. John’s, particularly hard-hit Flagler County, and Volusia Counties.

By July 10, some half-million acres had burned, and new fires were still breaking out, especially along CSX.

Amtrak’s spokesman Marc Magliari, in Chicago, said at the time that “The only outright cancellations were trains 52 and 53” of July 3. Those were the AutoTrains. They travel CSX’s “A” Line from Jacksonville to Sanford, a few miles north of Orlando.

Magliari said, “Everything else ran, using the Wildwood Subdivision sometimes as a detour route. The only other serious disruption was truncated trains 1 and 2 earlier in the week at Jacksonville instead of service through to Orlando.” Those are the westward and eastward Sunset Limited trains, to and from Orlando to Los Angeles. In all, Amtrak trains 52, 98, 92, 97 and 53 that originated on July 2 detoured via CSX’s Wildwood Sub. The “90” series trains are the Silver Service trains operating between Miami and New York City.

CSX and FEC were hit by the firestorms that were extinguished by firefighters from all over the country pitching in, and, finally, a week later, a healthy dose of rain from Mother Nature. CSX helped out big-time by operating a couple of “pig extras” loaded with fire trucks and their crews.

CSX’s Kathy Burns, the railroad’s spokesperson at the time, in Jacksonville, said, “Our track was not significantly affected. We had one small segment - about two-and-one-half miles long - south of Green Cove Springs (in Clay County), that experienced some burned ties” during the last week of June. She added, “We rerouted a few trains last week, including Amtrak trains from the Sanford Subdivision to the Wildwood Subdivision.” Green Cove Springs is about 30 miles south of downtown Jacksonville.

The “A Line,” a mostly southerly route, usually carries Amtrak’s trains via Orlando and Auburndale to Miami, but the Wildwood sub took the passenger trains over the “S Line” 20 miles west to Baldwin, then southward to Starke, and turned eastward again at Lakeland to join up with the “A Line” MP 839.7 at Auburndale, and continued to Miami from there. In all, five stations were missed between Jacksonville and Winter Haven.

In a special report CSX issued to its employees, they learned that Floridians, “including CSX employees,” were “facing the specter of a July Fourth weekend filled with flames, smoke and evacuations instead of the usual backyard cookouts. Raging wildfires continued to wreak havoc on Florida and its resources.”

Fireworks were banned statewide. I-95 was “closed for 125 miles, from just outside Jacksonville south through Daytona and Cape Canaveral and west through Orlando.”

For that matter, the Pepsi 400 stock car race at Daytona was postponed until October, and the speedway became home to temporary shelters for fire and rescue personnel. Nearly 40,000 residents were evacuated.

“CSX’s Jacksonville Service Lane has been plagued by the fires since early June, when brush fires sprang up along the rail routes in the Florida Panhandle. The drought has persisted, and the fires have spread east - at one point approaching the Operations Center’s back yard in West Jacksonville,” stated CSX.

“CSX donated rail service to move 13 brush firefighting trucks and one mini-pumper from its intermodal ramp in Charlotte, N.C. to Jacksonville. The equipment was used to help local, state and federal firefighting forces battle the new fires springing up each day.” During that week, efforts “accelerated as the fire intensity has spread east and south, fanned by high winds from the west that forced CSX to reroute freight and Amtrak passenger traffic away from northeast and central Florida.”

The message also reported, “On July 1, Clay County Fire Chief Doug Davidson requested help to move fire trucks into areas where roads were blocked and the fires were on or about the tracks.”

Jacksonville Service Lane General Manager David Orr dispatched a locomotive and an 89-foot flat car to shuttle a fire truck and a 7,000-gallon water tank between the fire and a hydrant near a crossing in Green Cove Springs.

Working maintenance

Track patrols were frequent following the fires that burned ties.

 

“Locomotive engineer Gary Cassels volunteered to take each of its three runs… from July 1 to July 3. Volunteer conductors M.W. Richard and C.T. Freddie rounded out the crews,” said Burns.

CSX maintenance-of-way crews “were in the fire areas for days under the guidance of several roadmasters, including Art Hall, Bill Bell, and Jerry Cartwright.” They were cleared brush and helped firefighters where they could with bulldozers and other heavy equipment moves.

By Independence Day, more assistance came “from Charleston, S.C., where a 70,000-gallon weed spray train, its tanks now filled with water,” had been dispatched to the fire areas, and on the next day, Sunday, another CSX train left Richmond, Va., for Florida “with 10 fire trucks and four tank trucks. At the same time, a train left Charlotte, N.C. with 10 fire trucks.”

CSX said it was “donating the transportation services” - no charge for hauling the fire-fighting equipment.

Weather forecasters were expecting continued sunny, hot, dry conditions over the weekend with no relief in sight, and that was close to what Northern and Central Floridians got. From the Gulf Coast to the Northeast Florida, some scattered thundershowers helped douse some flames.

By July 9, with temperatures pushing 98 degrees, I went out to observe the passing railroad scene. It was apparent that fires had swept along the CSX track on the main “A Line” between Jacksonville and Green Cove Springs in Clay County. Few trains were running.

At MP 681, literally behind the National Tractor Trailer Driving School and its driver test track near where the southward single track gives way to a 10,000-foot passing siding named West Tocoi (MP 682.2), just south of Green Cove Springs, the smell of burned wood still wafted through the air, and charred tree trunks were in abundance.

Life goes on after fire

Even amid the holocaust of burned ties and scrub, life can survive. Consider the young weed growing between the ties at CSX’s nondescript interlocking at MP 682.2, West Tocoi Siding.

What was odd was how some trees and scrub had burned, yet their leaves in the upper branches remained green long after the fires were out. Everywhere it was obvious Florida was in a deep drought. The lower leaves of palm trees were brown and had been dry for a long time; the upper leaves appeared to be parched. The truck drivers’ school property was unblemished by fire.

New wooden ties obviously had been inserted in recent days, replacing burned ties; yet, even here, many ties escaped undamaged under the 132-pound rail.

More than 5,000 firefighters of various stripes were assigned to battle the blazes, including federal, state, local, and volunteers. The crews and their fire engines “came from 47 states and included 180 20-person fire crews, 385 engines, 63 helicopters, 18 large air tankers, and three single-engine planes.”

One fire crew of some ten firefighters from Wenatchie, Wash., was resting in the shade near a dry gulch, which CSX had bridged. They said they had not been into a live fire zone yet, but all the fire crews were dispersed so they would be handy if a blaze sprouted up. Meanwhile, new fires were reported in the Florida Panhandle, where it all began two months earlier.

President Clinton was in Daytona that day praising all the firefighters. By late afternoon, scattered thundershowers passed over some areas, dispensing some badly needed rain.

White House press officers said that “Since May 25, about 2,000 fires consumed more than 481,719 acres” over 67 counties. Numerous towns and districts were forced to evacuate, and “at the height of the evacuations, approximately 112,000 people were affected.”

Residents in Flagler and Volusia counties were allowed to return to their homes on July 6, after officials determined it was safe.

Meanwhile, Bob Auman of Norfolk Southern in Norfolk, Va., advised that NS had “not been affected by the fires in Florida.” He pointed out “no Amtrak trains operate on our line in Florida. NS terminates in Jacksonville at Simpson Yard from Valdosta, Ga.

Jonathan Hollahan, an internet savvy FEC locomotive engineer in Miami, told us (via e-mail) that “The fires have been affecting our mainline between Jacksonville from MP 7,” the south end of Bowden Yard, the railroad’s main classification yard “and Cocoa (MP 173) for several weeks, but only minimally until last week. Starting July 2, trains were stopped by the fire crews on the mainline at various locations between New Smyrna Beach (MPs 124-125) and Jacksonville.”

He said northbound crews “from trains 224 and 226 were taken to motels in New Smyrna to await clearance, and trains 101, 103, 107, 117 were stopped southbound at various points around St. Augustine.” That city, where FEC is headquartered, is at MP 35. Delays ranged from 9 to12 hours.

Remnants of burned ties

Burned ties on CSX were replaced shortly after the fires were out, but remnants remained.

“Although intermittent delays were caused by brush fires in North Florida on the FEC for several weeks, Wednesday night and Thursday morning saw a complete shutdown of the mainline in several spots between Cocoa and Jacksonville. The first train of the nightly southbound parade, 105, made it through, and then all others were stopped. Delays of 9 to 12 hours were reported for each train.

“By Thursday,” Hollahan said, “The crews were so scrambled around in terms of hours of service and where they were actually located that trains were being run when a rested crew was available, without regard to which crew should be on board, or even which terminal they were out of. Because things were so out of kilter, I don’t know which trains were actually annulled and which were delayed, but delays again reached 9 to 12 hours.

“Thursday and Friday (July 2 and 3), “Some locals in Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach were annulled due to the lateness of southbound trains.”

A CSX local

A CSX local, with engine 6934, two empty boxcars and four empty hopper cars, pours on the power after waiting nearly 25 minutes for a track department crew to complete its patrol and take the siding at MP 681. The short train is passing burned trees and scrub that flashed into some of the ties during the firestorm the previous week.

He didn’t work on the Fourth of July, but by “Sunday, things seemed to be pretty much back to normal across the railway, as some rain on Saturday was helping fire crews to gain ground. One of our crew callers lost his home near St. Augustine to the fire Thursday.”

He noted, “No FEC trains have been detoured over CSX, or vice-versa. I understand that CSX has had similar problems on their line, which runs more towards the center of the state.”

Those northbound crews were stopped at New Smyrna Beach and taken to a hotel while southbound crews were taken off their trains and driven to Miami. Trains 204 and 208 were combined at New Smyrna Beach. “‘Dog-catch’ crews were taken from locals or driven from Miami or Jacksonville, and rail traffic resumed moving around 8:00 a.m. on Thursday, but there were threats that the mainline would be closed again Thursday night.

As an aside, Hollahan remarked, “While it wasn’t a fire, the Lauderdale Switcher (that’s me) was prevented from switching Port Everglades today due to a loaded gasoline tanker rolled on its side in a ditch next to the main lead. With over 20 million gallons of gasoline stored in the area, we are very fortunate there was no fire.”

No word on how the tanker got that way.

Sporadic fires broke out in various Florida locations over the next few days, most caused by lightning, but by the July 11-12 weekend, many communities were getting rain at night, and by Monday, it rained fairly steadily and sometimes heavily all day. Tuesday was also a rainy day - and the good news, for the firefighters, was that the federal and state emergency management people were beginning to release the firefighters, all of whom had volunteered for this extra duty, to go home. The crisis was over.

By the weekend of July 11 and 12, thunderstorms were dumping much-needed rain at night over northern and central Florida, and both days were cloudy throughout. At MP 657, a northbound 100-car coal empty passes over the short, single-track movable deck at Ortega River on July 12, 1998, around 11:30 a.m.


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OPINION...  Opinion...

Will very-high-speed rail ever fly?

By Alan Kandel
The author is a freelance writer in California – Ed.

High Speed Railroading is considered an anomaly in this country, right now with service limited to Amtrak’s 457-mile electrified Northeast Corridor. That’s the extent of it. (The NEC, as it is affectionately known, bridges the city made famous by Paul Revere with the nation’s Capital, with the Pennsylvania Railroad’s portion tying the latter to New York City.

Although it may not be considered high-speed in the true sense of the word, during America’s passenger rail heydays, it was not uncommon for crack – and even not-so-crack – passenger trains to reach speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour for portions of their runs.

That was then.

The maximum allowable speeds for our present passenger trains are 125 mph in electrified territory such as on the NEC (150 mph on two short stretches in Rhode Island and Massachusetts), 110 mph running on the Empire corridor in New York State, and 79 to 90 in other corridors.

High-speed, or should I say, “very-high-speed,” realistically means transcending the limits of our present 125-150 mph running on the NEC to something on the order of 200 mph or faster.

In 1964, Japan revolutionized and set a precedent for very-high-speed rail travel when it introduced its 186-mph Shinkansen, or “bullet trains” to the rest of the world, which to my knowledge, has never had a derailment in its almost 40-year history. France followed suit with its TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) and Germany with its Intercity Express (ICE) trains.

From all indications, there is interest in high-speed in the U.S.

Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Texas either are or have contemplated the idea. As well, there is a proposal floating to build a 289-mile magnetic levitation line between Anaheim, Calif., and Las Vegas, which even has FRA support.

D:F quoted Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Keith Leftwich in its July 28 issue, “Oklahoma eyes high-speed trains.” He said, “If we don’t begin addressing these critical transportation needs now, we will be facing serious gridlock on our main roadways that will impede economic development and work productivity.”

Moreover, conducting a study on a possible high-speed rail system from Tulsa to Oklahoma City, Univ. of Oklahoma professor Richard S. Marshment, said, “A 150 mph system could attract about 1,000 people a day, depending on whether the train goes from downtown to downtown or airport to airport.”

The study also revealed that an estimated daily high of 4,500 passengers would be using the high-speed train if it were built and running by 2010. The professor stated that all other states considering similar systems are further along than Oklahoma in developing such a system – which is true.

California and Florida have gone a step further.

They’re both poised to begin high-speed operation, if their proposed systems can garner the necessary votes and funding can be secured. In California, an environmental impact review and statement is underway for a VHSR linking San Francisco and Sacramento with Los Angeles and San Diego. This EIR/EIS is supposed to be finished by this fall.

Florida is looking for a definitive right of way, but its governor, Jeb Bush (R) has taken on the role of obstructionist claiming the state can’t afford it. The fact is Florida’s voters approved the notion by state Constitutional amendment, so the state is obligated to fulfill its constituents’ wishes.

Even some who favor high-speed train travel say constructing new dedicated rights-of-way for VHSR operations is cost-prohibitive, which, in their view, is the main reason these systems haven’t materialized here. With this in mind, the other option would be to share tracks with freight trains, which is not looked too favorably upon by the freight railroads. Even so, at times they participate with passenger rail consortia, addressing key issues like headway, rail wear and grade crossing collision concerns – all of which are real. Theoretically, though, these “bugs” can be ironed out. Practically, it may take a while.

A flaw in that plan though dispatchers would have a difficult time juggling 125 mph or faster passenger trains with 60 or 70 mph freight trains. Also, add to that mix commuter rail operations with frequent stops, even though the trains may be able to operate up to, say, 90 mph.

That being said, just remember this: if Europe and Japan are custodians of successful VHSR operations, then why not the U.S.? Until we’re ready to make that commitment though, the incremental approach (if you want to call it that) that has been taken thus far, while not exactly speedy itself, is far better than no approach at all.

Leo King contributed to this opinion article.


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ACROSS THE POND...  Across the pond...

London trains return after power loss

Britain’s beleaguered transport system creaked back into action on Friday after a massive power failure paralyzed London and left 500,000 commuters stranded.

Reuters reported on August 29 that Thursday’s half-hour blackout at the height of the evening rush hour echoed the chaos that gripped New York earlier this month and provoked the fury of London Mayor Ken Livingstone who called the National Grid power cut “an absolute disgrace.”

By Friday morning, trains were up and running again.

A spokesman for Network Rail, which carries 400,000 commuters into London every morning from southern England, said: “Everything is back to normal. Things are running very well.”

A spokesman for The London Underground, which runs over 500 trains at peak hours and carries three million passengers a day, said: “All lines started up following the power failure. There are delays on a few lines but those are for reasons unrelated to yesterday’s power cuts.”

Passengers were trapped on underground trains, railway stations were closed and thousands of frustrated travelers took to the rain-soaked streets in a dismal trudge home – much as New Yorkers and others did in the U.S. two weeks earlier.

National Grid Transco, the privatized company that runs Britain’s main power lines, said the blackout was caused by two faults happening in quick succession.

COO Mark Fairbairn said the blackout was a freak event and not due to a failure to invest in the system.


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British rails use new countinghouse method

Britain’s passenger train operators and SchlumbergerSema reported on August 27 they have found a new way – through computers – to tally each day’s financial receipts, and in a fraction of time it used to take.

Schlumberger Ltd.’s information technology division stated it has completed development and implementation of the settlement system for UK rail industry.

Code named “Lennon,” an acronym from its formal name, “Latest Earnings Networked Nationally Over Night,” it is one of the world’s largest ever transport settlement systems capable of handling and allocating more than £3.5 billion in annual passenger revenue to Britain’s passenger train operators, Schlumberger stated in a press release.

Managed by the Rail Settlement Plan on behalf of the train operators, the system processes information from all UK train ticket sales whether purchased on a train, via the Web or at station ticket offices. It then allocates daily revenues to each of the 27 train operating companies within 24 hours of the ticket being purchased. It replaces the Capri system, which took up to six weeks to process and deliver the same information.

“The launch of Lennon is a significant milestone for the rail industry demonstrating how technology is improving efficiency and customer service,” said Antony Lain, Rail Settlement Plan chief executive.

Lennon also provides marketing and customer-related data on 300 million annual ticket sales and usage patterns, enabling train operating companies to better plan rail services to maintain high levels of customer service. The information can be used to develop more targeted and timely marketing and retail programs to increase sales.

“Working closely with the rail industry, Schlumberger has delivered a business critical solution that ensures that rail operators will now be able to take a daily view of how the commercial side of their business is performing and be able to embrace and exploit new opportunities as ticket selling is modernized,” said Dominic Arcari, director for transport, SchlumbergerSema.

In April 2002, the Association of Train Operating Companies awarded a 17-year contract, worth £80 million, to Schlumberger to design, build and operate Lennon. It was and still is the largest information technology contract ever awarded by Britain’s rail industry.

Some 300 million train tickets are sold each year via more than 8,000 ticket machines in stations, on trains and over the web. Annual ticket sales total more than £3.5 billion. Each ticket sale transaction (there are more than 700,000 daily) is polled, validated and apportioned to the relevant train operating company within 24 hours. Lennon manages the process. It consists of 15 million lines of code, 15 terabytes of disc space, 40 gigabytes of memory and 28-by-900 megahertz processors.


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THE WAY WE WERE...  The way we were...

Turbo Train at Providence

NCI: Leo King

Thirty or more years ago, Rohr’s TurboTrain roared up and down the main line between Boston and New York. It carried Amtrak colors after Penn Central went away. I had a pretty good view of the tracks out of our upstairs rear window at 132 Benefit St. in Providence, R.I. I recall specifically waiting for the train one spring day – before the leaves sprouted on that tree obscuring my view.

End Notes...

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

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

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

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

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


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