Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
  NCI Logo Vol. 2 No. 35, September 4, 2001
Copyright © 2001, NCI, Inc.
James P. RePass, President
Leo King, Editor
 

A weekly North American Railroad update


Metro Engine at South Bay

NCI: Leo King

Will Northeast Direct and Metroliner trains operate on Amtrak-owned property?
'Cockamamie' no more?

Amtrak begins to divide itself

By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

Like a one-cell creature, Amtrak appears to have begun dividing itself, splitting its operations from its infrastructure. Both will be under the Amtrak umbrella, according to an announcement from the railroad late last week. The assumption is they are splitting into separate entities, as recommended last fall by the Amtrak Reform Council (ARC).

The operations department will manage actually running the trains and providing the passenger service, or the "above-the-tracks" part of Amtrak's business. It includes the operations of the Northeast, Intercity, West Coast, and Mail and Express units. Basically, this unit will do what its counterparts in the airline and bus industries do: provide the service to the customers, and leave the infrastructure headaches to others.

The new capital programs department will handle infrastructure planning, design, and procurement of construction and equipment, according to Amtrak spokesman Rick Remington. This essentially could be doing for the passenger train system what the airport authorities and the FAA do for the airlines and what the highway authorities do for buses.

Amtrak has acknowledged that it is behind in its business plan to reach operational solvency by late next year. A prime factor in causing the passenger rail service to slip back in its timetable is the fact that delivery of mechanically acceptable trainsets for the high-speed rail Acela Express service has slipped way behind the promised delivery date. Former Amtrak Chairman (now Health and Human Services secretary) Tommy Thompson once described himself as "damn mad" at the supplier consortium of Alstom-Bombardier for their failure to deliver on the promised schedule.

An informed source said Amtrak has only itself to blame because of design changes that were made.

This division of operations and infrastructure appears at first blush to be a complete turnaround in Amtrak's attitude toward the idea. After the ARC proposed it, Amtrak officials opposed the idea, saying it was impractical for a variety of reasons, all reported on this website. The ARC suggested any one of several scenarios, including keeping the infrastructure department within Amtrak itself. Some of its other alternatives included putting the new entity outside Amtrak. Amtrak Vice-Chairman Michael S. Dukakis once called the ARC plan "a cockamamie idea."

However, since falling behind in its highly touted business plan, Amtrak has announced reorganization and said it was bringing in consultants to assist the company in advancing toward its goals. In its announcement, Amtrak noted the split "is consistent with the direction recommended by the Amtrak Reform Council. We appreciate the ARC's support of this reorganization that is well underway."

However, without a plan that reporters can read, we don't really know if it is "consistent" with what the ARC had in mind. The very existence of ARC's proposal to split operations from infrastructure was first publicly divulged last November by D:F . At the time, we noted that regardless of problems with any fine-tuning that would have to be done, such an organizational structure would at least allow rail passenger service the same advantages enjoyed by its airline and bus company counterparts. If they had to pay all their infrastructure costs, they would be "losing money" too.

ARC Chairman Gilbert Carmichael told D:F Friday he is pleased that Amtrak is taking this "step in the right direction," adding "Amtrak's job is running trains," and that Congress needs to "make an informed judgment as to what is required to carry out that prime responsibility," but Carmichael added, he was anxious to see the "paperwork" that the consultants had worked out on the plan, with all the ċIs' dotted and 'Ts' crossed.

D:F sought to secure a copy of this "paperwork" before deadline. We were told by Amtrak spokeswoman Linda Price that no such document exists. Not in detailed form, we assume. There would have to be some outline somewhere. Apparently, it's just not yet ready for public presentation. We await the fine print.

Pending release of these details, and if we assume this plan is what the news reports are saying it is, rail passenger service could finally find a place at the table of the transportation fraternity.


Au revoir, Heritage sleepers
An era on Amtrak has ended.

Amtrak reports its roomette-bedroom "10 and 6" Heritage fleet sleepers will operate in revenue service for the last time in early October. These cars served Amtrak and its predecessor railroads for more than fifty years. The last westbound train and date on which they will operate are expected to be Three Rivers No. 41 between New York City and Chicago, on Monday, October 1. The last eastward trip is expected to be Three Rivers train No. 40 from Chicago to New York on Tuesday, October 2. After then, all single-level eastern trains will operate with Viewliner sleepers

- Thanks to Gene Poon


Rail transit is wave of the future
(if you can get past the myths)
By Wes Vernon
Washington correspondent

The "light rail" craze that has been sweeping the country in recent years demonstrates that Americans on jam-packed freeways are rediscovering the old "trolley car" was discarded without much thought during the post-World War II era, but those who are stuck in the "old-think" of freeways for more and more automobile traffic are in denial. They still insist on the metaphoric equivalent of curing a drowning man by pouring more water over him.

You have to believe that when people are suggesting with a straight face that the solution to crowded highways is to double-deck America's freeways, there is some disconnect with reality here. Americans will tolerate boring, as in, "If-you've-seen-one-Interstate-freeway, you've-seen-them-all."

Americans would recoil at just plain ugly, as in double-decking freeways.

Thus it is that Paul M. Weyrich and William S. Lind of the Free Congress Foundation have co-authored a report, Twelve Anti-Transit Myths: A Conservative Critique.

Weyrich and Lind confront the anti-transit critics head-on. Calling them the wandering anti-transit minstrels, the new study notes how the "minstrels" perform and act everywhere. They ride into town just before a transit referendum, make the same false charges against transit, and then "get out of town again before the truth can catch up with them."

Here are the "Dirty Dozen" transit "myths" as Weyrich and Lind see it:

Light rail has been a failure everywhere. The estimated costs always prove too low, and the ridership projections are always too high.

Transit is a declining industry.

Commuting by rail is slower than commuting by car or bus.

Transit does not relieve congestion

Where transit is needed, buses are better than rail. Buses cost less and provide the same or better service.

Rail transit does not spur economic development.

Rail transit can only serve city centers, but most new jobs are in the suburbs.

Transit brings crime into a community.

Most light rail riders are former bus riders.

Free market competition and privately operated transit is better.

On average, most of the seats on a bus or train are empty.

It would be cheaper to lease or buy a new car for every rider than to build a new light rail system.

All of the above are "myths," say the authors. That's a nice way of putting it. They could just as easily be categorized as plain lies.

As it is, this monograph is 69 pages. Weyrich and Lind had to condense it to keep the piece from becoming book-length. For our even more website-length constraints, we'll explore these myths and lies in several pieces, of which this is the first. Others will be offered sporadically over a long time.

Now as to the myth-lie that light rail has been "a failure everywhere," with ridership projections "always" too high:

In the early 1980s, some projections for light rail were way off, but that was because there was no previous experience to gauge projections. Light rail had been ignored since before World War II.

Transit critic Don Pickrell, in a report published by the USDOT, made much of these early errors, failing to note that some of the systems had criticized and improved their estimates before the DOT report (funded your tax dollars and mine) was written.

The Portland light rail system did, in fact, meet its amended projections in its first year, and exceeded them in the seventh year. Nonetheless, the Pickrell report is still cited by the wandering minstrels.

The Salt Lake City TRAX system is a real success story. Its projected weekday ridership was 14,000. The actual count on weekday ridership skyrocketed in just the first four months of 2000 to 19,039.

Similar story in Denver where the light rail system there exceeded projections by 30 percent, and in varying degrees, it's the same situation in Dallas and St. Louis.

Not every system has been off to an auspicious start. The New Jersey light rail line, operating across the Hudson River from Manhattan's concrete canyons, fell short of projections, but the reason for that was that "the initial line wasn't really a line at all. It was only the center portion of the actual first line, going from Jersey City to nowhere. When the two ends are opened, Hudson-Bergen will connect real destinations. Ridership may then come to equal the original estimations."

That's one case, more than offset by the other examples. The wandering minstrels insist the ridership projections are "always too high" and that rail transit is "a failure everywhere." Remember?

Time to pack your bags and get out of town, guys.


Maglev commercial experiment abuilds
The nation's first commercial levitating passenger train may be operational in one year at Virginia's Old Dominion University.

Officials broke ground on the maglev system on August 29, although a great deal of a 13-foot high concrete guideway was already in place. The train floats a fraction of an inch above the guideway on a magnetic cushion. Engineers in Germany and Japan designed the technology in the 1960s. Those trains have exceeded 340 mph.

The track at Old Dominion is just under one a mile long, and its trains will only move at 40 mph. A single, 45-foot vehicle will gather up to 100 passengers every seven minutes.

The entire trip, including three station stops, is expected to last all of two minutes, three seconds. While handy for students, the system's main purpose is proving the technology's feasibility.

American Maglev Technology Inc. president Tony Morris said, ODU's project "is all about is proving that it can be built in a way that's affordable." His firm, based in Edgewater, Fla., is developing the project.

Morris said his company's design costs about $15 million per mile, compared with up to $100 million per mile for the German system. He said lighter cars that carry the train's computers cut costs on the guideway, the system's most expensive part. Advocates say maglev produces no air or noise pollution and requires minimal land, but its price has been prohibitive. Germany scrapped plans for a super-fast levitating train between Berlin and Hamburg.


Tri-Rail to finish doubling tracks
Florida Tri-Rail's directors awarded a double-tracking contract to Tri-County Rail Constructors of Pompano Beach on August 24, reports the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. The $231 million contract will add the final section of twin tracks on Tri-Rail's 71-mile rail corridor between Miami and West Palm Beach over the next three years. Tri-County's bid was about 20 percent above the project's estimated cost.

A consortium of Herzog Transit, which has operated Tri-Rail's trains for the past seven years; Granite Construction, a national builder, and the Washington Group, a construction management company, and Tri-County Construction will get the job done.

Granite is also building a $343 million monorail linking casinos to a convention center in Las Vegas and other large projects.

The second track will enable rush-hour trains to run every 20 minutes upon completion in April 2005. Trains currently move at 40-minute intervals. Tri-Rail wants to run commuter trains every 30 minutes in as little as two years.

Tri-Rail began double-tracking the rail corridor between Miami and Magnolia Park more than five years ago. The last phase includes 44 miles of track, mostly in Palm Beach County, and two small segments south of Interstate 595 in Broward and Miami and Dade counties. The entire double-tracking project will cost about $500 million, which includes renovating nine stations to accommodate the second track and building two new stations, one at a park-and-ride lot at Glades Road and Congress Avenue, the other in Boca Raton.

More than 70 grade crossings will be improved with new four-quadrant gates that keep cars from driving onto the tracks when a train is approaching.

Most of the money for the $327 million double-tracking project is coming from the Federal Transit Administration and the Florida DOT with the rest coming from other federal, state and local sources.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is online at
http://www.sun-sentinel.com/


Frieght lines...

Appeals court agrees with STB

A federal appeals court has agreed with most of the Surface Transportation Board over a dispute with an Arkansas shortline railroad.

STB Chairman Linda J. Morgan said last week Eighth Circuit Court "has substantially upheld the board's decision resolving several disputed issues relating to a short railroad line in Arkansas, the Arkansas Midland Railroad Co. It had been temporarily embargoed because of storm damage for four months in 1993 and 1994. The STB's decision had been challenged in court by both sides to the proceeding before the agency.

Arkansas Midland's Norman Branch, a 52-mile route owned by AMR, was damaged by storm-related flooding in late 1993, so AMR embargoed parts of it. Several of the shippers on the line wanted AMR to fix the damage and resume service, but after considering its options, AMR ultimately decided instead to abandon the portion of the line on which these shippers were located.

"At that point, a new railroad affiliated with the shippers - the Caddo Antoine & Little Missouri Railroad Co. (CALM)," Morgan said.

CALM asked the board's predecessor, the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), to force AMR to sell the Norman Branch to it under the "feeder line" provisions. CALM also asked the ICC to permit it to begin immediate operations over the line (a request that the ICC immediately granted). Finally, the shippers filed a complaint seeking damages from AMR, alleging that AMR had failed to provide service on reasonable request in violation of existing law.

After much litigation at the agency and in the courts over the terms of the line sale and the level of the damages due, if any, the Board issued a decision in May 2000 in which the STB set a purchase price for the forced sale of the Norman Branch to the shippers, and it awarded compensation to AMR for operations conducted by CALM over a portion of the Norman Branch that AMR had retained. The Board also awarded the shippers approximately $200,000 in damages for losses suffered while the line was improperly embargoed, but denied the shippers' request for substantially higher damages.

AMR then sued the STB arguing the price the Board prescribed when it required AMR to sell the Norman Branch was too low.

CALM and its affiliated shippers sued the board on the ground that the "trackage rights" fees that CALM had to pay AMR for operating over some of AMR's tracks were too high. The shippers sued the board on the ground that the damages it awarded were too low.

"The appeals court affirmed the STB in nearly all respects," Morgan said.

The only point on which the court concluded that the board erred was by failing to award one of the shippers lost profits (claimed to be about $241,000) for an alleged fixed price contract to ship granules to Houston.

"Although the court recognized that damages in the form of lost profits are difficult to establish, it found that the shipper had shown with enough certainty that it had been sufficiently hurt by AMR's service lapse to warrant damages," the court said.

The court sent the issue back to the STB for resolution.


NS runs on Labor Day
Norfolk Southern reported it would continue operations on Labor Day "in order to protect service commitments, local customer requirements and specific customer production needs." The carrier stated because of train consolidations or reduction of local and yard operations, in line with lighter than normal traffic volumes expected due to the holiday, customers may experience some delays. The National Customer Service Center provided coverage.

Dear Editor:

Two things: the article about safety has no credits. It appears as though it's from your shop rather than from Foster's Daily Democrat. The article is, word-for-word, like the one that just appeared in Foster's.

There's a long history of hostility from that paper toward the Portland-Boston service.

Emergency response programs have been taking place for over a year now - not just Operation Lifesaver, but actual training for police and fire departments up and down the line.

If the chief in Rollinsford, N.H. "... didn't get enough notice and couldn't make the training sessions... " then he must be comatose - hundreds and hundreds of officials have been attending the sessions and thousands and thousands of children have been involved in the program as well. If one wanted to do an article about the safety preparations for the coming of the new train, a check with our Council of Governments (hired by the [Northern New England] Rail Authority to create the emergency response program in the first place, and who have done an excellent job) would have produced some remarkable statistics - positive statistics - instead of giving credence to an article such as that from Foster's.

Also, the opening of the newsletter - we don't have five trainsets, or five cabbage cars either... doesn't anyone check figures any more?

It's getting so I don't believe anything I read in the papers... or on the internet. TrainRiders/Northeast's newsletter - now that's factual.

Wayne Davis
Portland, Maine


Dear Editor:

Are you sure that you can still count correctly?

Every other analysis of the schedule suggests that there are two trainsets, each of which will make two round trips per day. A third trainset will be substituted in rotation so that each trip can make the round about trip to Southampton Yard for maintenance purposes and the like.

Kenyon F. Karl
Webmaster@new-england-public-transit.org

Any reporter is only as good as his sources. An online poster had added that message about the Rollinsford, N.H. police chief. I mistook it for his work. A trusted source said there would be five trainsets, but I have since been unable to confirm that figure.

Wayne Davis, who is chairman of TrainRiders Northeast in Portland, Maine, is also an NCI director. - Ed.


Sept. 10-13

AREMA annual conference

Palmer Hilton Hotel, Chicago
Contact http://www.arema.org
301-459-3200, or fax 301-459-8077.


Sept. 15, 16

Representing Rail Passenger Interests Conference

Philadelphia, Pa., Hilton Garden Inn, 1100 Arch St., Philadelphia Center City.

Register at RRPI Conference, P. O. Box 9373, St. Louis, Mo. 63117.

Registration $85 by August 1, Make checks payable to RRPI Conference.

This conference is spearheaded by members of the Amtrak Customer Advisory Committee and commuter advisory boards, and will focus on passenger rail and transit advisory organizations and advocates.

The conference will explore how advisory and advocacy organizations throughout the U.S. and Canada can improve practices to better represent rail passengers in a coherent and effective manner. Contact Richard Rudolph, Ph.D., Chair, RRPI Conference Committee, at 207-642-5161 or Philip Copeland, plcope@eriecoast.com.

Amtrak has agreed to give a discount of ten percent off coach fares for persons attending the conference.


Sept. 20

Amtrak Reform Council

Business Meeting:
8:30 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.

Hearing:
9:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.

Wilshire Grand Hotel
930 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA

The hearing will invite states in the western region of the country to provide their views on the various issues and proposals in the Council's Second Annual Report published in March 2001


Oct. 16, 17

Passenger trains on freight railroads

Railway Age conference

Washington Marriott Hotel

Washington, D.C.

Guest speakers to include White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card (and former USDOT secretary).

Claytor award for distinguished service to HEW Secretary Tommy Thompson, former Amtrak board chairman.

Register at http://www.railwayage.com or call Jane Potereala at (212)-620-7209.


Olympian Hiawatha

CMStP&P: Leo King Collection

The Olympian Hiawatha was the premier train of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad. The Milwaukee Road's train operated from Chicago through the Cascades Range of Washington, and "spans the continent to the Pacific north Coast," an MILW post card proclaimed in the 1950s. The Milwaukee Road eventually went bankrupt. West of South Dakota it was mostly abandoned, our friend David P. Carleton tells us. The rest became part of the Soo Line, a Canadian Pacific company. By 1970, the Hill railroads were merged to become the Burlington Northern. By 1970, the James J. Hill railroads, Great Northern and Northern Pacific, merged to become Burlington Northern. Hill also owned the former Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, and the Spokane, Portland & Seattle lines. BN merged with Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe within the last two years. The "Micro-color card was printed by W.A. Kreuger of Milwaukee in the 1950s.
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 Site in Boston.


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