Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 3 No. 36, September 3, 2002
Copyright © 2002, NCI, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - James Furlong
Editor - Leo King

A weekly North American rail and transit update


Acela at South Bay Yards,Boston Mass.

NCI: Leo King

Several Acela Express trainsets will remain stored in Ivy City Yard, Washington; Sunnyside Yard, Queens; and Southampton Street Yard, Boston until they are repaired.
Many Acelas remain in yards
during Labor Day weekend
Despite round-the-clock repair work, Amtrak entered the long Labor Day weekend with more than half its high-speed Acela Express fleet still out of service. It is traditionally one of its busiest periods, bested only by Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Seven of the trains will be available to carry passengers in Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor over the holiday weekend, compared to 15 on a normal day, Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black said Thursday. The passenger railroad will continue to press additional conventional trains into duty, wrote the AP’s Laurence Arnold in Washington.

On Saturday, the Washington Post reported Amtrak will restore six more high-speed train runs September 3 between Boston and Washington to handle an expected 20 percent increase in business travel after the Labor Day holiday. With the additions, Amtrak will have 29 departures, or 58 percent of the regular schedule of 50 daily trips, as more cracked locomotive shock absorbers are fixed, Black said.

Amtrak began last week with five of the high-speed trains in service and added two on Wednesday. The seven trains made a total of 23 departures from Boston, New York and Washington on Thursday, compared to 50 on a typical weekday.

The rest are stored out of service for repairs. The railroad apparently is hard-pressed to find room to store them while they are being fixed. For example, D:F has learned two are being stored on the “dry loop” track at Southampton Street yard in Boston. That track is normally used to turn trains as is the adjacent “wet loop” track, where the Boston carwash is located.

Temporary repairs continue on cracks discovered on car bodies where yaw dampers are attached, as well as the yaw damper mounting plates.

The dampers prevent trucks from hunting, especially at the trains’ higher speeds – 150 mph.

The cause of the cracking, and a permanent fix for the trains, remain the subject of talks among Amtrak, federal railroad officials, and the companies that built the trains, Montreal-based Bombardier Transportation of North America and Alstom Ltd. of France.

For now, the trains that have returned to service are undergoing an intensified inspection and repair program.

“We are seeing new cracking on some pieces of equipment, and what we do then is simply repair them,” Black said.

Ultimately, Amtrak will need to rotate the trains back out of service for permanent repairs. If certain assemblies broke loose, they could damage or derail a moving train.

Acela Express is Amtrak’s premier service, and an important moneymaker for Amtrak.

If there was a silver lining for Amtrak, it was that the Acela Express problem was discovered in August, a slow time for business travel, but now the repair work is stretching through a busy travel weekend and into September. Its busiest travel periods are Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Last year, Amtrak carried about 170,000 passengers on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday of Labor Day weekend, including more than 77,000 riders in the Northeast Corridor.

Another potentially important upcoming day for Amtrak service is September 11, the anniversary of the terrorist attacks. Several major airlines say they are cutting back their flights based on weak bookings that day.

Amtrak owns 18 Acela Express trains, which consist of six passenger cars and two locomotives. Amtrak typically holds three trains in reserve, but there have been no typical days since August 12, when a periodic inspection in Boston revealed cracks in an assembly on one train. Amtrak immediately slowed all Acela Express trains to 80 mph while ordering inspections of all the locomotives.

More cracks were found, and Amtrak canceled the high-speed service August 13. It put two of the 18 trains back in duty the following day, but then pulled them again after additional cracks were found.

Last week, the discovery of still more cracks these on the steel frames of the trains where the assemblies are attached complicated Amtrak’s efforts to get the trains back in service. Those cracks, described as tiny, were discovered when inspectors painted the metal assemblies with a chemical that makes flaws more obvious.

Elsewhere, D:F has learned Gil Mallery, former president of the Amtrak West Strategic Business Unit, has been named the permanent vice-president for planning and business development. The Amtrak board recently took the action. The board made the move on Amtrak president David Gunn’s recommendation. Gunn said the job is one of the most important in spearheading his efforts to reorganize Amtrak.

In other news, Gunn was interviewed on PBS’s Nightly Business Report on Thursday.

He said, “My immediate goal is to cut costs in the overhead area and the nonproductive area and shift it into heavy maintenance. So the bottom line may well stay pretty much the same, but you’ll get a lot more work done that should be done for the same money.”

He added, “Running it as a business relates to how you budget and how you manage and how you organize and what you’ve set as internal goals and objectives. You can run it as a business, in a business like fashion even though you lose money.”

Amtrak reported last Friday ticket sales were off by $7,722,987 from where they were one year earlier. That is down 7.12 percent. Ticket sales totaled $100,796,787.


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Moynihan, Molinari to help turn Farley post office into new ‘NYP’
Calling ex-U.S. Sen. Patrick Moynihan the creative force behind New York City’s sweeping plans to recreate the famous old Pennsylvania Station, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg last Tuesday named the retired Democratic senator to the agency board that will oversee the project.

Bloomberg, a Republican, on Tuesday also named former U.S. Rep. Susan Molinari, another Republican, to the board of the Pennsylvania Station Redevelopment Corp.

The original Pennsylvania Station was “mindlessly” destroyed in 1963, Moynihan said at a City Hall news conference, though the building, erected from 1905 to 1910, was seen by architects as a jewel from the gilded age, Reuters news agency reported on August 27.

The station that replaced the old Pennsylvania Station – “NYP,” to railroaders – whose main marble-sheathed waiting room was 150 feet high, has long been derided as a cramped and ugly terminal that the city outgrew many years ago.

Noting 600,000 people each day travel through the current Pennsylvania Station, located in Manhattan’s west midtown, the mayor told reporters, “Judging by the constant crowds that go through there, it’s clear Pennsylvania Station just can’t handle the volume any more, not to mention the fact that it’s a dreary, subterranean failure.” The recreated Pennsylvania Station will be able to handle 30 percent more people, according to the mayor.

New York City will not be the only beneficiary, he said, explaining the Northeast relies heavily on Amtrak’s rail service between Boston and Washington, as was borne out when its traffic rose dramatically when planes were grounded after September 11.

The city’s plan calls for moving the current Pennsylvania Station across 8th Avenue between 31st and 33rd Streets to the James A. Farley Post Office Building, a sprawling structure built in 1911 and extended in the 1930s.

Both Moynihan and Bloomberg said the city had the federal funds to go ahead with the ambitious plan. The cost of the overhaul has been estimated at $500 million to nearly $800 million. Some 7,600 people will have to be hired to carry out the renovation, and 1,600 permanent jobs will be created, Bloomberg said.

One stumbling block has been negotiations with the U.S. Post Office, which faced budget constraints and had to find new locations for some of its staff and operations.

Charles Gargano, who chairs the Empire State Development Corp., said he was confident his agency’s talks with the Post Office would be resolved in the early future, saying progress had been made.

Diane Todd, a spokeswoman for the Postal Service, said that the service planned to put most of the workers in the Morgan processing and distribution center on Ninth Avenue, and at its 90 Church Street office, which was damaged on September 11 and is being renovated, wrote The New York Times.

Bloomberg said several times that bolstering railroad service is a matter of national security because the nation will need transportation alternatives should air traffic be halted again as it was on September 11. He said he was not concerned that Amtrak’s troubles would hinder the plans.

The Pennsylvania Station Redevelopment Corp., whose board Moynihan and Molinari will serve on, is part of the Empire State Development Corp.

Diane Todd, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Post Office, said “We’re moving in the negotiations and things are going well.” The Post Office’s so-called lobby or services for the public will stay in the Farley building, but a number of administrative and other functions will be relocated to other areas in Manhattan.

Moynihan, who also helped Washington, D.C. renovate its Union Station, also a marble architectural masterwork, said, “Pennsylvania Station was one of the great buildings of the United States, of the World.”

Several stations were named “Pennsylvania” after the railroad that built them.

“That it was torn down in 1963, mindlessly, has been with the city for a long while, how could we do that? We now have an opportunity to recreate the building.”

Clifford Black, an Amtrak spokesman, said that the railroad was not participating in financing the construction of the new station, so its recent difficulties should not affect the plan.

“We are focused right now on our financial challenges and our operational challenges, but at the same time we’re still carrying tens of thousands of passengers between cities in the Northeast and plan to continue to do so,” he said.


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Amtrak expected to move into new station;
rebuilt Turbo makes maiden run
There were some bumps along the road in upstate New York, but Amtrak is expected to move into the new Rensselaer station within two or three weeks – and pay about $50,000 annually in leased space.

Capital District Transportation Authority chairman David Stackrow said on August 23 the agreement had been sent to Amtrak officials for their expected approval, the Albany Times-Union reported. The operating agreement includes lease terms.

Stackrow indicated Amtrak officials said they would sign the document and “overnighted” back the following week.

The eight members of the CDTA board, which is one person short with the resignation of Robert Roche of Albany County, was required to meet to approve it also.

“Our plan is when we have the board meeting, we will announce the opening date,” he said. “I would expect it (the opening) would be within two weeks. In all likelihood, it would be the week after Labor Day.”

Both Amtrak and CDTA have declined to disclose any terms of a broad agreement reached on August 16, except to say it included $50,000 a year in rental payments for Amtrak’s use of 17,000 square feet of space.

Construction of the $53.1 million station was not finished for its most recent target opening date in June, and the station stands empty awaiting the agreement with Amtrak. The station is about two years late and more than $19 million over its original budget.

Meanwhile, the state’s first rebuilt Turboliner, operated by Amtrak crews, is finally running. It is the first of a new line of state-owned high-speed trains being built in Schenectady, and made its maiden test run to New York City and passed muster on all systems being tested, according to the New York DOT.

“It went very successfully,” DOT spokeswoman Melissa Carlson said August 28. She said the test run took place the evening before from the Albany-Rensselaer station to Penn Station, New York. Everything was working, she said.

The test, which focused primarily on computer and electro-magnetic systems, was an important first operational hurdle because if all goes well with additional testing, the first train could be providing Amtrak passenger service between New York City and Rensselaer within the next few weeks, Carlson noted.

That train operated again last Thursday for electronics tests, including the cab radio.

The $74.2 million project, which originally called for having a line of new trains up and running by early 2001, has been plagued by delays stemming from unexpected costs and engineering snags.

Seven trains are being reconditioned by Super Steel Schenectady under the contract with the state.

The top speed reached during Tuesday’s test run was not immediately available, but officials said they were not trying to obtain the 125 mph maximum the Turboliners are being designed to achieve because full high-speed operation awaits track improvements by CSX, which owns the tracks. The current track speed between Rensselaer and New York City is 110 mph.

The high-speed trains are being put in service with the goal of trimming 30 minutes from the trip between Albany and New York City, which is now two hours on most of Amtrak’s scheduled runs.

According to Carlson, Tuesday’s test-run focused on a number of functions including the gas-fueled train’s ability to make the transition to third-rail electrical power for the last leg of the trip into New York City south of Poughkeepsie, computerized control systems, clearance of bridges and other objects near the tracks, and making sure there is no interference between electro-magnetic systems within the train and wayside signals.

Early next month, there will be “dynamic” acceleration testing, transmission shifting, brake operations and stopping distances, wheel stability, traction and anti-lock brakes, the heat, ventilation and air conditioning system and passenger accommodations such as restroom doors.

Before many design and equipment changes were made in the last 18 months, the first train set had one secret test run, which was conducted in the middle of the night in February 2001.


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DC firm reportedly gets air rights
The John Akridge Companies has been chosen to develop about 15 acres over Amtrak’s rail tracks at Union Station, according to a Washington Business News report on August 2.

The General Services Administration awarded Washington Bell, an Akridge affiliate, air rights on July 12 after it submitted the highest offer of $10 million. Akridge beat out Louis Dreyfus Property Group, which also submitted a bid in May.

The site stretches from the north side of Union Station to K Street NE, not including the H Street bridge. It is the last infill development site abutting Union Station.

John Akridge Cos. would not confirm that GSA selected it.

“We are in discussions but nothing has been finalized,” says Shannon Small, a spokeswoman for Akridge. The GSA expects to close on the sale in early to mid-September, meeting a September 30 deadline set by Congress.

The federal government obtained the site from Amtrak after one of its bailouts of the railroad. In 1997, Congress asked that GSA sell the property at fair market value, depositing the proceeds in the general fund by the end of fiscal 2002.

Washington-based Akridge has handled other large developments in the national capital, including the National Park Service, with projects such as Gallery Place in Chinatown and the 270,000-square-foot speculative office building at 1201 Eye St. NW.

Nearby, two federal agency headquarters are under construction on either side of H Street: the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to the north, and the Securities and Exchange Commission to the south.

It is estimated that a 1.1 million- to 3 million-square-foot building could fit on the site. Although it’s a prime location, development is quite complex and the expense will be great.

Development must start at least 40 feet above the tracks, and there must not be any interruption in Amtrak’s train movements – its business. Price estimates for site preparation alone have been steep, ranging from $70 million to $100 million.

In the mid-1990s, the Amtrak air-rights site was considered for the new Washington Convention Center, now under construction seven blocks to the west.


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Transport workers may get federal ID
The US Transportation Security Administration is developing a mandatory identification card for every trucker, dockworker, airport employee, and mass transit operator in the nation with access to secure corners of the country’s transportation network.

No date has been set to launch the Transportation Worker Identification Credential project, according to the Boston Globe of August 24, but it is the result of a Congressional mandate given to the agency created after September 11 to protect vulnerable ports, tunnels, pipelines, and roadways.

If the idea is implemented, it would be the first broad national identity-card system, and could involve hundreds of thousands of people. The identification card would be required of transportation workers, in the private and public sectors, with access “to secure areas of the transportation system,” according to the agency. This could encompass a cross section of employees, everyone from port stevedores to subway-tunnel maintenance workers to the operators of airport catering trucks.

“This is our top issue, and we are going to be making serious progress on it soon,” said Elaine Charney, branch chief of transportation infrastructure for the agency’s maritime and land security division. “We just have to iron out some details,” but “we are certain it’s coming.”

Contentious proposals floated after the September 11 terrorist attacks had called for creating a national identification card for all Americans or a national driver’s license, but just the number of truckers potentially required to get the transportation worker ID card would easily rise to the “hundreds of thousands,” said Dave Osiecki, vice president for safety and operations for the American Trucking Association. There are about 3.1 million truckers in the country, according to federal statistics.

Charney said that while few “definites” have emerged as the ID system is developed, it would appear at this point that only “higher-risk transportation workers” would be required to get the cards at first. Those workers, she said, would probably be those in security zones at airports, as well as any transportation employee who handles dangerous cargo.

Federal officials also appear committed to a form of biometric identification on the cards, such as that gleaned from the eyes, voice, palms, or fingerprints, Charney said. No technology has been chosen, she added.

The project faces a number of problems, such as how such a massive identification system would be funded, how privacy concerns of cardholders would best be addressed, and how transportation workers would verify their identities prior to receiving the identification.

Steve Keppler, director of policies and programs for the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, an international group of law enforcement, regulatory, and industry organizations involved with trucking, said a primary concern is the documentation used to obtain the identification.

”A lot of what we learned on September 11 was that terrorists can have legitimate identification, but that they get it under false pretenses,” Keppler said, “so you’ve got to look at where the authoritative source is. Frankly, we don’t have an opinion, but biometrics could help deal with that problem.”

Barry Steinhardt, director of the Technology and Liberty program at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the ACLU opposed the national ID and the national driver’s license proposals because of the large populations they would involve. They would “create a black market in cards and not solve the terrorism problem,” Steinhardt said.

The idea of requiring an identification card for transportation workers, he said, would probably make sense, depending on the reliability of the biometric-verification device used. If the agency settles on a proven technology, the card would create “a positive good with few, if any, civil liberties downsides,” Steinhardt said.

Both private and public employers of transportation workers have expressed some concerns that the agency, once it has developed the ID system, would make them pay for criminal background tests, drug tests, and creating the card. No such decisions have been made, agency officials said yesterday.


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Rail gets a ‘go’ in Atlanta as highway project gets shelved
Proposed commuter rail lines to Athens and Macon, Ga., got a big boost last week.

The Atlanta Regional Commission has put plans for Atlanta’s “Northern Arc” highway project on hold, and approved a three-year spending program for metro transportation improvements on Wednesday.

Charles “Chick” Krautler, the commission’s executive director, said omission of funding for the Northern Arc, a proposed $2.2 billion, 59-mile toll road across north metro Atlanta, “certainly made the approval process much easier.” The $5.3 billion plan included new high-occupancy vehicle lanes, transit lines and better roads in some of the metro area’s most gridlocked corridors, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Opposition to the road and revelations about board members with potential conflicts of interest have buffeted the commission for more than six months.

Removing Northern Arc funding, as Gov. Roy Barnes requested in July, made the commission’s decision to approve the more popular projects in the spending plan far easier, Krautler said. Despite last week’s court ruling requiring a higher air quality standard, the plan passed muster.

Half the projects come from Barnes’ five-year, $8.6 billion transportation plan, announced last year. They include commuter rail lines to Athens and Macon, a new transit line from Midtown to the Cumberland Mall area and new lanes for many feeder roads throughout the region.

“I hope nothing will interrupt the [Georgia DOT’s] ability to get these projects going,” Krautler said.

Just such an obstacle looms in a court challenge to the $822 million in bonds Barnes was counting on to pay for many of the improvements. Northern Arc Task Force members have asked a state court to prevent the bonds’ issuance because they contend the method for repaying them violates the state constitution.

The case will be argued Wednesday in Fulton County Superior Court.


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Boy who derailed train faces victims
A 15-year-old boy faced victims of a Stewiacke, Nova Scotia train wreck in a restorative justice forum last Thursday in Halifax.

Three boys were arrested soon after the 13-car train left the tracks and smashed through a feed store adjacent to the rails. The boy was the only one charged in the derailment, reported the Truro, Nova Scotia Daily News.

The boy, who could not be identified because he is a young offender, discussed the derailment with some of the passengers of the VIA Rail Canada passenger train Ocean that left the tracks on April 12, 2001.

He pleaded guilty last April to mischief endangering life in connection with the derailment in which 24 of the 123 people on board were injured.

The Crown dropped a charge of criminal negligence causing bodily harm.

The forum, was not open to the public, but brought forward recommendations for the court’s consideration when the boy is sentenced on October 2 in Shubenacadie. The boy could face up to three years incarceration and another two under supervision.

Passenger Paul Poirier was joined by Susan Henderson of the Truro Restorative Justice Resource Centre, provincial restorative justice coordinator Pat Gorham and forum facilitator David Dyck discussing the process and some of the views expressed in the forum.

The exact recommendation from the restorative justice forum cannot be revealed until the sentencing date.


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Commuter lines...

Ashland ‘T’ station opens; state EPA writes letters over Stoughton line

A brand-new commuter-rail station opened August 24 in Ashland, Mass., on a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority commuter rail line. The new stop is the final stage in a $14.2 million expansion of train service in MetroWest.

The first train to stop there was scheduled at 10:02 a.m. Ashland is in MBTA Zone 6, so one-way fares to Boston will cost $4.25. A monthly pass for unlimited usage costs $145. There will be 10 trains in each direction on weekdays. The first Boston-bound train will leave Ashland at 6:38 a.m., arriving at South Station at 7:21 a.m.

“We’re always excited when we have the opportunity to expand our service,” said MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo, who said Ashland’s 670-space parking lot is the biggest among the three newest stations.

Across from the Pleasant Street station, a VFW post is renting reserved parking for about 65 riders at $4 per day, four times the rate charged by the MBTA. Commuters who park at the VFW will get their own numbered space, said manager Bob Wallace.

The last passenger train stopped more than 50 years ago at what is now the office of internist Rohit Jangi on Homer Avenue (formerly Railroad Street).

The weekend opening enabled T officials to iron out last-minute kinks on a day when ridership is typically light, said Pesaturo. A formal opening ceremony with state and local officials took place three days later, on August 27.

The MBTA used a similar weekend opening in June to launch service at new stations in Southborough and Westborough.

The two open stations have already eased a parking crunch in downtown Framingham by diverting commuter-rail passengers to the other MetroWest stations. Pesaturo thinks some of those commuters will come to Ashland.

The town is expected to draw hundreds of passengers into downtown to use the station. Passengers will be able to buy tickets on the train or at South Station. They can also order monthly passes on-line.

Elsewhere in the Bay State, separate strongly worded letters from two agencies that will eventually have to grant the MBTA permits elated foes of the proposed commuter rail expansion through Stoughton, Easton and Raynham, Mass. to Fall River and New Bedford.

The MBTA proposes extending commuter rail service to Fall River and New Bedford by using an abandoned railroad right-of-way that runs from the existing station in Stoughton, through Easton and Raynham to Taunton, but the route is controversial because it runs through the Hockomock Swamp in Easton and Raynham, according to The Brockton Enterprise of August 28.

The swamp is a state-designated “Area of Critical Environmental Concern” because it is the habitat for several rare animal and plant species.

The 19-page federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) letter questioned the MBTA’s selection of the Stoughton route over an alternative that goes through Attleboro and many aspects of its analysis of the environmental impact.

The EPA letter said the “MBTA’s analysis of alternatives is deficient.” It also stated the MBTA inflexibly applied its standards of service to reject less damaging alternatives and raised doubts over whether the project could satisfy federal permit rules.

“It’s a very, very good letter,” said Kyla Bennett, an opponent of the rail project and director of New England Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, of the EPA’s August 22 letter from its Region 1 office. Bennett had organized a delegation of officials from Easton, Raynham and Stoughton to the Boston EPA office to lobby against the MBTA plan.

The EPA is one of the agencies that will eventually have to issue a permit for the project.

Another permitting agency weighing in with critical comments about the proposed route was the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, which is part of the Division of Fisheries, Wildlife and Environmental Law Enforcement.

The MBTA will have to apply to the Natural Heritage program for a permit for the project under the state’s Endangered Species Act.

Natural Heritage also questioned the MBTA plan’s analysis of the environmental impact

The federal environmental impact report (FEIR) “does not adequately substantiate the claim that there are no impacts to rare species from the preferred at-grade alternatives or trestle option,” the letter said.

Natural Heritage said the evidence presented would not show “negligible impacts” to rare species, so the MBTA would have to meet the higher standard of showing there was no viable alternative route.

Bennett said the state agencies that have permitting authority over the project, including the Natural Heritage program and the Department of Environmental Protection, are under “tremendous political pressure to let this project go.”

Foes of the project had been relying on federal agencies such as the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to be less susceptible to the political pressure.

“It was good to see Natural Heritage be willing to do the right thing,” Bennett said.

Doug Pizzi, press secretary for Durand, said Durand will issue a decision on the FEIR after the holiday.


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Here are some other transit headlines, from the pages of Passenger Transport, the weekly newspaper of the public transportation industry published by the non-profit American Public Transportation Assn. For more news from Passenger Transport and subscription information, visit the APTA web site at http://www.apta.com/news/pt.

Canadian transport minister okays federal transit investment

Canada appears closer to making a federal investment in public transit, now that Canadian Minister of Transport David Collenette has endorsed dedicating a portion of the federal gasoline tax or federal sales tax to fund public transit infrastructure projects and other urban needs in Canada.

Collenette made the remarks August 11 at the Couchiching Conference on Cities and Globalization, and again later that day at a meeting with five mayors from the greater Toronto Area.

The minister suggested the need to study different options to alleviate a funding crisis faced by Canadian cities, according to the minister’s spokesman, Anthony Polci. Specifically, the minister recommended dedicating a portion of the gasoline tax or a 0.1 to 1 percentage point portion of the federal sales tax, known as the Goods and Services Tax, to urban transit projects and other urban initiatives such as affordable housing, Polci said.

The Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA) praised the minister’s remarks. CUTA president and CEO Michael Roschlau said it was not a surprise to him.

“Urban issues are an increasing concern in Canada,” he said, “because of the growing understanding that most Canadians today live in cities, and that cities are unable to raise enough capital to cover major needs, such as public transit, as well as cover unfunded mandates.”

Roschlau added, “The transport minister’s recommendations are consistent with CUTA’s proposals for a long-term, sustainable funding source for transit that may be linked to existing federal gas taxes.” He said CUTA also supports a tax exemption for employer-provided transit benefits, such as the commuter benefits program in the U.S.


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Lansing voters pass tax increase

Voters in Lansing, Mich., voted 58 percent in favor on August 6 to implement an additional property tax millage of .82 to support the Capital Area Transportation Authority. The new millage will be added to the previously existing tax level of 1.4 mills. Had the measure not passed, the system would have had to implement significant service cuts in November.

The Lansing transit system is celebrating its thirtieth anniversary this year. Executive Director Sandy Draggoo reported that demand for the system’s service has doubled in the past few years, and its miles of service have grown by 1,400 percent since CATA’s launch in 1972. For a point of comparison, she noted that the population of Ingham County has grown by just 9 in the past 30 years, while CATA ridership has increased by 980 percent.

In preparation for the vote, CATA’s marketing department spread the word about the system’s dependable service, strong demand, and community support through a general awareness campaign, which included an outdoor ad campaign; a brief report mailed to 77,000 households and posted on the CATA web site; print and radio advertising; web banner ads, radio remotes; and news releases.


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Bland takes top spot in Albany

Stephen G. Bland is The Capital District Transportation Authority’s new executive director in Albany, N.Y. He succeeds Dennis Fitzgerald, who is retiring after 31 years of service to the system, 22 of them as executive director. Bland has served for the past eight years as executive director of the York County Transportation Authority in York, Pa.


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APTA, others, search for ways to help needy in transportation requirements, new legislation

In preparation for reauthorization of welfare reform legislation, APTA recently joined with the Community Transportation Association of America, state DOTs, state health and human service agencies, the Federal Transit Administration, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration of Children and Families to review the “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families” (TANF) program in relation to transportation issues.

A list of recommendations was developed, with an overall focus on improving coordination between transportation and human services and allowing more flexibility in using TANF funding for transportation services.

The TANF program, which expires September 30, provides many opportunities to expand transportation options for welfare recipients. Although many states have taken advantage of this opportunity by developing innovative and expanded transportation services, others have chosen not to prioritize transportation services.

APTA has found that, based on the experiences of the public transportation industry, the variations in the manner in which each state addresses public transportation, as well as the diverse relationships between public transportation and health and human service agencies, have had an adverse impact on the implementation of coordinated transportation. In areas of the country where public transportation and health and human service agencies choose not to coordinate, there are no existing federal processes or incentives that support mutual participation.


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‘Transit vote’ effort scheduled throughout fall

Throughout the fall, volunteers will register public transportation riders to vote at transit sites in select cities nationwide as part of “Transit Vote,” an effort to enhance the voting power of public transportation riders. September 18 has been designated as National Transit Vote Day.

APTA, using funds from the Public Transportation Partnership for Tomorrow (PT)2 initiative, is joining with other pro-transit organizations in this nonpartisan effort to increase the number of transit voters in November elections. The purpose of “Transit Vote” is to offer a convenient voter registration process – parallel to the “motor-voter” effort that allows many Americans to register to vote during the driver’s license renewal process – for the 39 percent of riders who do not own a car.


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NTSB examines Chicago accidents

The National Transportation Safety Board will hold a public board meeting on September 4 in Washington looking into two separate Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) collisions.

A special investigation report will discuss why within two months in 2001, the CTA experienced two similar rear-end collisions involving rapid transit trains. The first accident occurred on June 17, when a train en route from downtown Chicago to O’Hare Airport, collided with a standing train near Addison Street Station. Injuries were minor, and damages were estimated at $30,000. The second accident occurred on August 3 when a rush hour Brown Line train collided with a standing Purple Line train on elevated tracks near Hill Street. More than 100 people were treated for minor injuries, but estimated damages were about $130,000.

The meeting will begin at 9:30 a.m., at the NTSB’s Board Room and Conference Center, at 426 L’Enfant Plaza, SW, Washington, D.C.


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Freight lines...
CSX Local in Fl.

NCI: Leo King

AAR says freight trains keep trucks off the highways. A CSX local leaving Baldwin, Fla. on August 24 helps out.
Freight rail makes drive
for rush-hour business

By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

If you’re fed up with fighting traffic out on the road, the freight railroads say you can do something about it.

To the average motorist, the issues of tax incentives for intermodal investments and tax exemptions for bridge, tunnel, and track infrastructure work needed to improve the performance of freight trains may seem rather esoteric, but if you want to cut down on the time you spend out on the road staring at the bumper sticker in front of you, the esoteric suddenly becomes a hot button issue.

Here’s why:

In a study, Gridlock Relief: Freight Rail’s Role in Reducing Gridlock, prepared under a grant from the Association of American Railroads (AAR), Transportation Consultant Wendell Cox shows that “freight rail is a significant part of the solution to our gridlock problems.”

For example, shifting up to 25 percent of the freight from highways to rail by the year 2020 would save commuters up to 73 hours of additional personal and family time in a given year. It would also reduce Chicago’s annual fuel consumption by up to 189 gallons per capita and lower air pollutant emissions by as much as 93,000 each year.

Other cities with similar potential are Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo, Nashville, New Orleans, St. Louis, and Washington. In fact, the study includes a chart with facts and figures showing big savings in 50 major cities.

U.S. Census and Federal Highway Administration (FHA) projections suggest traffic will double in the next 20 years. At that rate, push definitely will come to shove.

The public is not completely unaware of freight railroad potential for dealing with it. Freight trains have been taken for granted as the almost invisible giant that affects the everyday lives of every man, woman, and child in the U.S. That public awareness problem is currently being dealt with in AAR’s “Arriving by Train” advertising campaign. Moreover, a survey by a Washington polling firm shows, in fact, that 63 percent of Americans favor shifting freight traffic to the train.

“It is no surprise the public continues to prefer railroads for long-distance freight transportation, ”says AAR President Edward R. Hamberger.

“By providing our customers with quality service and by capitalizing on key public policy initiatives, we can move even more freight off the highways. This study and poll results prove that freight rail is the right option for America.”

Politicians need to know this is not an industry “inside baseball” matter. Only the voters can convince them this is relevant to their own lives. So you may be asking, what can I tell them?

A prime example, often cited by the industry as a destructive factor in its efforts to upgrade service, is the 4.3-cent diesel fuel tax. An article in the August 6 Washington Times by Competitive Enterprise Institute President Fred Smith examines this issue.

In all the discussion about rescuing Amtrak and “re-regulating the nations’ reasonably healthy freight rail system,” Smith wrote, “one policy move has received too little attention: the repeal of the unfair diesel fuel tax now paid by both passenger and freight rail.”

Originally enacted as “deficit reduction,” all modes were compelled to pay into the fund. However, in the late 1990s, the money paid by highway and air modes was “re-allocated” to the Airways and Highway Trust Funds. That means, for all intents and purposes, that they are off the hook – but the railroads have no such trust fund. So the feds, in effect, said, “No trust fund? Oh, so sorry! Well, I guess we’ll just have to keep the money then.”

The railroads see this a punishment for self-reliance.

They are one of the few transportation entities in the world that maintain and pay both for their operations and infrastructure. That arguably had led to several inequities, but the Class I carriers see an element of independence as a trade-off. Above all, they resent being penalized for it.

As Smith puts it, “The current system simply saddles rail with an inequitable tax burden. That higher tax burden, of course, makes it harder for rail to maintain the railroad infrastructure – tracks, stations, and rail yards.”

That’s where the frustrated traffic-stalled motorist comes in. He can write his congressman and senators demanding, in the name of saving time for his family and wear and tear on his car, a vote in Congress to repeal this diesel fuel tax on railroads.

The burden is not negligible, Smith noted. Amtrak has been paying some $3 million annually on those taxes.

Chump change, you say?

Not for a railroad that has been hanging on to dear life by a fiscal thread. The freight railroad industry, with responsibility for a much larger share of the nation’s track mileage, has been paying $170 million. Over the past ten years, said Smith, the industry has paid $2 billion in these taxes.

“Had that money been available to the rail industry,” he wrote, “the nation’s rail infrastructure would have greatly benefited,” which is precisely the point the AAR has been making.

Right now, as your congressman and senators are returning from the August recess – and many of them campaigning for re-election – is the time they’re looking for feedback. They would be interested to know, for example, if you have an opinion on House-passed legislation relieving the railroads of this burden. The measure is now tied up in a House-Senate conference committee as part of the energy bill.

Frustrated motorists can be heard on the issue right now.

“Equity demands it,” the Competitive Enterprise Institute said.


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BC execs make quick exit
Two senior British Columbia Ry. executives, president Mark Mudie and vice-president Debbie MacLagan, abruptly left the Crown corporation last week.

BC Rail representative Alan Dever confirmed the two executives left the organization on August 26, but offered no explanation for their sudden departure, according to the Vancouver Sun.

“These are personal and confidential [issues] and we are not going to make any other comments,” he said. “They have left. It’s a private and personal matter between them and the company.”

Mudie’s position at BC Rail will be filled temporarily by BCR Group chief executive officer Bob Phillips, while MacLagan’s position will be filled temporarily by Ian McIver, BC Rail’s sales and marketing director.

Mudie, who became president and chief operating officer at BC Rail in May 2001, joined the company in 1999. He appointed MacLagan as vice-president, marketing and sales, earlier this year.

She had been with BC Rail for 11 years and her previous positions included assistant vice-president of information technologies and operating systems, general manager of transportation, director of customer service design and asset utilization, and director of fleet management and service design.

BC Rail is planning to discontinue scheduled passenger service in October.

BC Rail is Canada’s third-largest railway, as measured by revenue, and operates 2,315 kilometers of mainland track throughout the province. The parent BCR Group of Companies decided earlier this year to sell off its marine division and is currently looking to cut costs and sell some BC Rail assets to the private sector.

The BCR Group reported a loss of $106.9 million last year, compared with a $6.7 million loss in 2000.

Mudie met with northern B.C. mayors this year to try to secure property tax breaks that would make the sale of BC Rail’s 400-kilometre line from Fort St. John to Fort Nelson more attractive to a private operator.

In the company’s latest annual report, Mudie said BC Rail must focus on its core operations and concentrate on what it does best – being a streamlined regional freight railway.

“Our ongoing challenge is that BC Rail is a regional railway that faces the same cost structures as larger North American railways, yet lacks their economies of scale,” he said in the report. “…The year 2002 will be one year of challenge and change.”

Rocky Mountaineer Railtours executive vice-president James Terry said he always found Mudie to be a very honest, hard working “straight shooter” in business dealings.

“He has always been a good straight-up guy and when he said he’d get back to us on something, he’d get back to us right away and our dealings were always very professional,” he said.


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Engineer wins harassment suit
Locomotive engineer Melanie Austin called them the “Good Old Boys Network.”

They were her male co-workers at Conrail and Norfolk Southern, including her former lover and fellow engineer, Dennis Wagner, with whom she said she had a “twisted, volatile relationship.”

After it ended in August 1998, the sexual harassment she said she had endured for years from railroad men escalated, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette of August 24.

The rough railroaders wrote sexual graffiti about her on the walls of locomotives, called her “psycho bitch” on the train radio and once, she said, even hung a pair of her underwear on a stick and waved them from a train.

After lodging various complaints with management, Austin ultimately filed a federal lawsuit against the railroads, and this week a jury awarded her $450,000 after a three-day trial before U.S. District Judge Robert Cindrich.

”It was a nice verdict considering that what the railroad offered [as a settlement] was laughable,” said Austin’s lawyer, Zan Ivan Hodzic. “It was really miniscule, less than $10,000.”

Reached at her home in Brownsville last week by a Post Gazette reporter, Austin, 38, directed questions to Norfolk Southern, for whom she still works out of the rail yard in Waynesburg, Penna.

“I don’t have anything to say,” she said.

Attorney Thomas May, who represented the railroads at the trial, refused comment and also referred questions to Norfolk Southern.

“We take our Equal Employment Opportunity responsibilities seriously,” said Frank Brown, a Norfolk Southern spokesman at company headquarters in Norfolk, Va. “We are disappointed in the verdict and we are currently evaluating what our next steps will be.”

He said the railroad hasn’t decided if it will appeal the decision.

The jury awarded Austin $100,000 in compensatory damages from Conrail, where she previously worked, and another $100,000 in compensatory damages from Norfolk Southern. In addition, the jury awarded her $250,000 in punitive damages from Norfolk Southern.

Austin’s original 1999 lawsuit contained many complaints of harassment dating to the early 1990s, when she worked as a clerk for a small railroad later acquired by Conrail, but the jury didn’t hear about those, nor did it hear about the underwear episode.

Before the trial, Cindrich ruled that testimony would focus only on incidents that occurred from 1998 on, when Austin was a Conrail engineer working out of the Shire Oaks yard in Washington, Pa. A year later, Norfolk Southern acquired part of Conrail and became her employer.

Testimony and court documents showed that male engineers wrote sexually offensive graffiti, some of it using Austin’s name, in the toilet rooms of locomotives or on railroad property in Conway and Shire Oaks.

Hodzic said the harassment began in September 1998, after Austin and Wagner broke up, and continued until March 2000. Hodzic said he wasn’t “pointing fingers” at Wagner, but court records indicate Austin blamed him as an instigator.

After she complained, Hodzic said, the railroad not only refused to take any action to correct the situation but retaliated by filing its own sexual harassment claim against her.

In the summer of 1999, Norfolk Southern suspended her for 30 days after a complaint that she called someone a “pervert” on the train radio. That suspension was later overturned, however, when the man who heard the word said he couldn’t be sure it was directed at him.

In addition to Austin’s claims of harassment, her suit also said the railroads were negligent in training their employees about sexual harassment.

”They knew it was going on,” said Hodzic.

“They were aware of it but took no effective steps to end it. In March of 1999, after the harassment had been going on for five months, the vice president of the entire railroad issued a memo to all managers talking about a disturbing increase of offensive graffiti.”

Some of that increase, Hodzic said, was graffiti targeting Austin.


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CN dispatchers ink new pact
Canadian National and its dispatchers ratified a new three-year labor agreement on August 28. CN and members of the Rail Canada Traffic Controllers (RCTC) union agreed to increased wages and benefits retroactive to January 1, 2001, for 250 RCTC members who dispatch trains across CN’s Canadian network. Terms were not disclosed. With RCTC ratification, CN has now completed national labor negotiations with its unionized employees in Canada.


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FEC pays 2.5 cents dividend
Florida East Coast Industries, Inc. (FECI, FLA), board of directors declared a quarterly dividend of $.025 (2 _ cents) per share on all issued and outstanding common stock, payable on September 27 to all shareholders of record as of September 13, 2002.


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Intermodal traffic continues high numbers
Intermodal traffic on U.S. railroads reached its highest level in almost two years during the week ended August 24, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported Thursday.

Intermodal volume of 197,938 trailers and containers was 7.4 percent above the total reported in the comparable week last year and was the highest since the week ended October 28, 2000.

Even though 14 of 19 commodity groups showed increases from last year, the total volume of carload freight was off by 0.2 percent. Carload volume, which doesn’t include the intermodal data, totaled 346,323 cars, with loadings up 2.9 percent in the East but down 2.6 percent in the West. Total volume for the week was estimated at 29.7 billion ton-miles, down 0.3 percent from the comparable week last year.

The decline in carload volume was attributed to a 16.5 percent drop in loadings of primary forest products and a 5.2 percent decline in coal volume. Sharp increases were reported in loadings of metallic ores up 22.5 percent, and both waste and scrap materials and pulp, paper and allied products gaining 8.2 percent.

The AAR also reported the following cumulative totals for U.S. railroads during the first 34 weeks of 2002: 11,120,466 carloads, down 1.2 percent from last year; intermodal volume of 6,051,240 trailers and containers, up 5.0 percent; and total volume of an estimated 953.1 billion ton-miles, down 0.4 percent from last year’s first 34 weeks.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 90 percent of U.S. carload freight and 97 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 96 percent and 99 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 traffic were up on Canadian railroads during the week ended August 24. Intermodal traffic totaled 42,173 trailers and containers, up 19.2 percent from last year. Carload volume of 61,614 cars was up 3.3 percent from the comparable week last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 34 weeks of 2002 on the Canadian railroads totaled 2,021,514 carloads, down 3.0 percent from last year, and 1,281,510 trailers and containers, up 8.9 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 34 weeks of 2002 on 16 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 13,141,980 carloads, down 1.5 percent from last year and 7,332,750 trailers and containers, up 5.7 percent from last year.

The AAR also reported that carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended August 24 totaled 11,064 cars originated or received from connecting lines, up 10.9 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 3,777 trailers or containers, down 21.7 percent from the 34th week of 2001. For the first 34 weeks of 2002, TFM reported cumulative volume of 352,549 cars, down 1.0 percent from last year, and 124,240 trailers or containers, up 6.2 percent.


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  Legal Lines

BNSF wins before STB

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Ry. Co. won a case last week before the Surface Transportation Board (STB). The federal agency ruled BNSF’s rates charged for coal shipped to a utility in Montana, PPL Montana, LLC, had not been shown to be unreasonably high.

STB Chairman Linda J. Morgan said the Board found that a hypothetical railroad designed by the shipper would, in fact, depend upon an improper cross-subsidy. In that case, the challenged rate applies to coal shipments from mines in the Powder River Basin to a power plant in Billings, Mont.

The hypothetical railroad that PPL Montana designed would consist of two distinct parts, a high-density “north-south” part and a lower-density “western” part (on which PPL’s plant would be located). BNSF argued that the hypothetical railroad could not charge PPL Montana a lower rate without a subsidy from traffic moving only over the north-south part of the system.

The board found that PPL Montana had not shown that BNSF’s rate is unreasonable.

The board also conditionally granted an exemption from regulation for San Jacinto Rail Limited, a BNSF subsidiary and four chemical shippers, to construct a 12.8-mile railroad line near Houston, and for BNSF to provide service over the line.

The proposal is subject to ongoing environmental review to address significant concerns raised in the case. The board stressed that “no construction could begin until that environmental process is complete and the agency issues a further decision assessing the potential environmental impacts of the proposal and making the exemption effective at that time, if appropriate, subject to any necessary mitigation conditions.”


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Across the pond...

Engineers strike for two days in UK

Locomotive engineers – called “train drivers” in the United Kingdom – in northwestern England began a 48-hour walkout August 27 in a dispute over pay, prompting the cancellation of dozens of services across the region.

The engineers, who work for train operator First North Western, have rejected a 19 percent pay raise because of conditions attached to the offer, according to The AP.

The drivers’ union, ASLEF, said “new and unacceptable” conditions included making drivers responsible for picking up litter at stations. The company said the union had reneged on an agreement.

The strike is the second in a trio of planned walkouts. The third is scheduled for September 10 and 11.

First North Western travels to and from northwestern cities including Manchester, Liverpool and Blackpool.

Over the last year, Britain’s privatized rail system has been hit by a series of short, localized strikes over pay and safety.


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Freight train derails in Ukraine
after thieves try to steal rails
A locomotive and three freight cars derailed in southern Ukraine after thieves tried to dismantle a railway junction, emergency officials said on August 28. No one was injured.

The accident occurred in the Mykolayiv region Tuesday as metal thieves were trying to remove in interlocking switch at junction. Upon reaching the junction, the engine and three freight cars derailed at a speed of about 15 mph, The AP reported last week.

The freight cars and tracks sustained several hundred thousand dollars worth of damage, according to the Interfax news agency.

Two suspects who tried to flee the scene of the accident were detained and criminal charges have been filed against them, officials said. No further details were available.

A similar accident happened Friday in Odessa causing a passenger train to derail, according to Interfax. No one was injured in that accident.


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Business lines...

Bombardier reports revenues up,
profits decline; Acela not a factor

Bombardier, Inc. of Montreal reported last week its revenues rose 16 percent to $5.7 billion for the three months ended July 31, but profits were down, and it reported a consolidated net income of $101.4 million.

The firm blamed a “downturn in business aircraft market which is affected by persistent weakness of U.S. economy, and one-time charges mainly related to used aircraft.”

New orders for Bombardier Transportation totaled $5.6 billion since July 1, with an overall order backlog of $45.7 billion.

Bombardier Inc. said its consolidated revenues of $5.7 billion for the three months ended July 31 increased 16 percent over revenues of $4.9 billion for the second quarter of fiscal year 2001-02. For the six months ended July 31 consolidated revenues totaled $11.2 billion, for a 26 percent increase over revenues of $8.9 billion for the same period last year. These increases mainly relate to the consolidation of the results of Adtranz.

The firm stated, “Net income for the three-month period was $101.4 million, after the effect of one-time charges of $136.0 million (or $0.10 per share), compared to net income of $287.9 million for the same period the preceding year.”

A press release stated earnings per share amounted to $0.07, against $0.21 the previous year. Net income for the first six months was $320.6 million, compared to an income of $528.9 million the previous year. Earnings per share for the six-month period amounted to $0.22 from $0.38 for the same period the previous year.

For the three months ended July 31, 2002, Bombardier Transportation had revenues of $2.4 billion, compared to $1.6 billion for the same quarter the previous year. For the period, income before income taxes was $108.5 million, compared to $67.1 million for the same period the previous year.

These increases are mainly attributable to the consolidation of the results of Adtranz for the full periods of the current fiscal year, compared to two months for the previous year, as well as a higher level of activities on major contracts.

Bombardier Transportation’s earnings before tax, expressed as a percentage of revenues, reached 4.5 percent for the second quarter, compared to 4.2 percent for the same period the previous year. For the first six months of the year, the profit margin was 4.2 percent of revenues, compared to 3.8 percent for the six months ended July 31, 2001.

Following troubles regarding Amtrak’s Acela trains, which Bombardier and Alstom of Paris built, Amtrak and Bombardier Transportation “are working closely together to apply immediate repairs to bring the trains back into full service as soon as possible, and to implement a permanent solution. Bombardier is committed to ensuring the successful operation of the trains. Amtrak’s president has commented positively on the efforts and resources Bombardier has gathered to address the problem.”

Robert E. Brown, Bombardier’s CEO, said that Acela’s performance had “raised concerns well beyond the magnitude of the problem” and that Bombardier was working with Amtrak on a long-term solution. Acela made up “a small fraction” of Bombardier’s railroad business, he said, “but it has high visibility.”

Brown told analysts that there was an air of uncertainty in the business-aircraft market “that will not vanish overnight.” The company delivered 49 corporate jets in the six months ended July 31, down from 87 a year earlier. Brown said orders for four Challengers and four Learjets were canceled earlier this month.


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Metro North to get M-7s from Bombardier
Metro-North Commuter Railroad in New York awarded Bombardier Transportation of Montreal an order to build 180 electrical multiple unit (EMU) commuter cars to replace its M-1 commuter car fleet.

Valued at $320 million ($500 million Cdn), the order calls for designing and building 858 new M-7 commuter cars.

William Spurr, President of Bombardier Transportation, North America, said “With the completion of this order, Bombardier will have provided all Metropolitan Transportation Agencies (MTA) with top quality passenger rail equipment.”

The M-7 contract also calls for 666 option cars. If all future options are exercised, the entire contract would total 1,266 M-7s.

The M-7 fleet will go to both MTA commuter rail agencies, the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad. Should all options be exercised, the total contract would be valued at $1.85 billion ($2.89 billion Cdn).

The M-7 stainless steel car bodies will be built at Bombardier’s La Pocatiere, Quebec plant with final manufacturing and assembly at the Plattsburgh, N.Y. plant. Manufacturing will begin early next year and deliveries to Metro-North are scheduled for early 2004.


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Off the main line...

Cat needs nine lives along third rail

The search for the Fulton Street subway cat started the other day with a hopeful heart and a healthy dose of skepticism.

For years, there have been clear signs at the station pointing to the existence of a full-time feline resident there – the suspicious absence of mice, for one, but more tellingly, the tiny cans of cat food that seem to materialize behind a steel column on the downtown platform of the J and M lines.

New York Times reporter Randy Kennedy thought it was worth looking in to.

A morning token clerk swore that the cat was real and so did a Brooklyn psychologist, who reported having seen it on her way home from work. But the consensus among conductors was that the cat was just a figment of the imaginations of weary subway riders, particularly of the nice woman who exits the train around dawn every weekday and carefully sets out cans of food for it.

“I think she might be... you know?” said one conductor, making the swirly-finger sign for insanity. Another conductor said, “I’ve seen food there for years. I’ve never seen no cat.”

A third said, “I kind of worry that maybe that woman is feeding a rat and she just thinks it’s a cat. You never know around here.”

With that pleasant thought in mind, a visit was paid to the station and the investigation was formally launched. In short order, it revealed the aforesaid cat food at the edge of the platform – a can of Nine Lives “Salmon Supreme Entrie,” another of generic-brand chicken and rice, and some dried food, accompanied by a dish of water, but it also revealed evidence of a kind of consumption that had cat, not rat, written all over it: the salmon was missing but the generic chicken and the dry food were untouched, apparently disdained.

Carmen Figueroa and her boyfriend, Agosto Astorga, sitting on a bench nearby, continued to be dubious. “I never heard of a cat living in a subway station,” Astorga said – but just then, at around 11:15 a.m. he looked over the shoulder of his questioner and his eyes grew wide. “Oh, dude,” he said.

“Oh, my God!” Figueroa exclaimed, pointing.

“Look.”

Up and down the platform, heads turned, and behind the column where the food sat, another head also turned, a small one belonging to a distinguished, slender gray cat with dark gray stripes and a neatly washed white face, poised over the salmon. It stared intently at all the people staring in its direction, quickly took another bite and then hopped down onto the tracks, where it perched languorously atop a running rail and began to lick its paws.

It was probably not as momentous as tracking down Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster, but for the station’s regulars it was a memorable event nonetheless: the Fulton Street cat had been found.

A makeshift committee gathered near it on the platform and began to debate why it was there.

”Maybe there’s a litter of little kittens under there somewhere,” Astorga surmised.

Israel Nieves sized up the cat and concluded otherwise.

“He is a hunter. He likes to stay here for the hunt.”

Later, Joey Calvanico, a glazier from Brooklyn, seemed to confirm this theory.

“He’s got a mouse!” he yelled, kneeling on the platform to give the play-by-play.

“He’s got it under his paw!”

Efrain Ortiz, for his part, wished that those skills could be exported to the side of the station where the No. 4 train stops.

“A rat ran right into our train once,” he said, grimacing.

“We need a cat like this over there.”

In the end, no one could quite figure out why a cat would choose to live under the platform of a working subway station and spend its days lounging on the tracks, where it must rouse itself every 10 minutes or so to leap out of the way of speeding trains.

”The only two things I know,” said Lawrence Jackson Jr., a station cleaner, “is that somehow or another, he knows not to go anywhere near the third rail; and he’s clean. He never does his business up here on the platform.”

“Other than that, who knows about that crazy cat?” he added. “He’s a loner.”

The only person who might have known more was the mysterious woman with the cat food, and with the help of a diligent photographer, she was finally spotted the other morning spreading out the sustenance for the day… but even Muriel Sterbenz of Ridgewood, Queens, the primary benefactor of the Fulton Street cat for the last five years, said she could provide little information about it, other than a fairly good idea of the sex, female, and a name, which she has bestowed herself: Schatzie, from the German word Schatz, or sweetheart.

“I can’t figure out why Schatzie wants to stay in that subway station either,” Sterbenz conceded, a soft-spoken office worker for the state insurance department, “but I know one thing,” she added.

“She sure wants to stay there. People have been trying to catch her for years. She’s too fast for the subway, and she’s too fast for them, too.”


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The way we were...
Alaska RR Birthday Celebration

Four photos: NCI: Leo King

The Alaska Railroad’s 400 guests got off the extra to listen to speeches at North Nenana.
Alaska celebrated a birthday in 1973

By Leo King
Editor

Back in July 1973, the Alaska Railroad ran a passenger extra from Fairbanks to north Nenana and return. The occasion was the railroad’s fiftieth anniversary.

Back on July 15 1923, President Warren G. Harding drove the original seven-inch gold spike completing the 500-mile route from Seward to Fairbanks via Anchorage.

John Ingram, then 44, was there in 1973. He was the FRA administrator of the day, and formerly was chief exec at the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific, as was Walker Johnston, the Alaska line’s G.M. So was Sam Chiamis, a 79-year old retired track gang section foreman who had stood near that spot in 1923 to watch Harding drive the spike.

On this day, in 1973, he placed the spike in the tie plate just above a hole previously drilled into the dark brown Douglas fir.

He remarked he could almost push it in with his fingers.

After Ingram finished his speech, he picked up a steel spike maul and drove the new gold spike home – on the first try.

It was also a special day for me. I was a part-time copy editor at the now defunct Anchorage Daily Times. Bill Tobin, the managing editor at the time, knew I had an interest in trains, so he assigned me to do the story. My full-time job was editor of the Sourdough Sentinel at Elmendorf Air Force Base at Anchorage. I wore a blue suit in those days.

Chiamis places the gold spike

The gold spike


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Ingram drives the gold spike home on the first try as Chiamis checks his technique.


Meetings...

September 22-25

American Public Transportation Assn. annual meeting and expo

Las Vegas, Nev.
Las Vegas Hilton Hotel and Las Vegas Convention Center
Contact pboswell@apta.com


September 22-25

AREMA conference and exposition

Washington Hilton & Towers, Washington, D.C.

Contact Shane Boyle, AREMA Director of Marketing, sboyle@arema.org;
(301) 459-3200 ext. 705; Fax. (301) 459-8077;website www.arema.org


September 22-25

RSA Global Railway Tech 2002

Convention and Coordinated Mechanical Associations Technical Conference

Hilton Chicago & Towers Hotel, Chicago

Contact Howard Tonn, (630) 393-0106 or fax (630) 393-0108.


October 6-22

European railway technology and infrastructure study trip

Co-sponsored by AREMA. This study trip leads up to EurailSpeed 2002 in Madrid. Trip itinerary will include visits to the UK, Germany, Switzerland, France, and Spain. For information, visit www.arema.org or contact Desiree Knight at (301) 459-3200, ext. 703. sboyle@arema.org


October 15, 16

Ninth Annual Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads Conference

Washington Marriott Hotel
Washington, D.C.

Passenger train operations on freight railroads, including high-speed, offer excellent opportunities to develop new commuter and intercity rail services, but while they offer attractive sources of revenue to freight carriers, they also pose perplexing problems-compensation, liability, grade crossing safety, signaling and train control requirements, right-of-way capacity constraints, and maintaining freight service integrity. The conference will offer a thorough, candid airing of these topics, and an in-depth look at some of the important projects being undertaken in this area. This two-day event will feature recognized experts from both the passenger and freight sides of railroading.

Register On-Line at http://www.railwayage.com/conference/register.html


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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.

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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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