Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 4 No. 35, September 8, 2003
Copyright © 2003, NCI, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - James Furlong
Editor - Leo King

A weekly North American rail and transit update

 


Acelas at South Bay Boston

NCI: Leo King

The financial battle is joined between Amtrak, the Senate and the House. Once again, Amtrak enters its annual nightmare, not knowing if it will have enough cash to runs trains, or meet payroll, much less fix broken engines, like Acela Express, HHP-8 or AEM-7 electrics. The stories are below.

 

Amtrak’s rock-hard shutdown shutdown
(in the House) vs. scraping by (Senate)

By Wes Vernon
Washington Bureau Chief

The good news is the Senate won’t try to shut down Amtrak.

The bad news is the House still wants a budget that will do just that.

Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) emerged bloodied but unbowed from a meeting of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, which agreed to provide $1.34 billion to keep the trains running in Fiscal Year 2004. That figure held up in the full Appropriations Committee. As of Noon Friday, “no time frame” had been set as to when the bill goes to the full Senate floor.

Capitol Hill sources told D:F that these three “heroes” – to passenger train supporters – “stuck their necks out” and fended off repeated assaults on Amtrak in the committee.

“This is not what Amtrak wanted, but it will give it stability,” Murray said.

She had secured votes to make cuts elsewhere in the transportation budget so as to get Amtrak enough money to scrape by another year.

Sources tell D:F that Amtrak will have to “re-prioritize” Amtrak CEO David Gunn’s long-term plan, at least for another year.

A D:F check with Amtrak itself elicited a refusal to comment at this stage of the legislative process. Gunn has said $1.8 billion was the minimum he required to get the passenger train network to a state of “good repair.” The measure goes to the Senate floor – where some pro-Amtrak amendments are likely, but their fate is a question mark.

Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black told D:F the railroad would continue to present its plan for adequate funding. However, Murray said, “This is as good as we can do for Amtrak.”

Unlike the House-passed $900 million figure, the Senate version is not viewed as a “shutdown” number (See Leo King’ story which follows). After the full Senate acts, a joint Senate-House conference committee will have to work out the differences between the two bodies. Unless Amtrak runs into incredibly good luck as the process goes forward, the conferees will have to strike a compromise between a shutdown budget and a limping along budget.

Only a few short weeks ago, the House Transportation Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee had approved annual expenditures in the amount of $2 billion for the next few years. Since that would be an all-time record for Amtrak, there were hopes that maybe – just maybe – it would finally be possible, for the first time in its 32-year history, the passenger train system would be able to go beyond its traditional band-aid existence.

Alas, those were votes in the authorizing committees. It is in the appropriation committees that the lawmakers have to stop merely talking about providing money, and actually well, provide cold, hard cash.

The infrastructure on the Northeast Corridor is badly in need of upgrading just to keep it from deteriorating further. Reuters, in a dispatch last week, described the NEC as “crumbling.”

At the same time, there is the question of what, if anything, will be done to upgrade Amtrak service outside the high-density corridors of the Northeast, Midwest, and West Coast.

Senators Hutchison and Murray are emphatic about bringing some regional balance into Amtrak’s route map. If the NEC’s “high-speed” infrastructure is “crumbling” and in need of immediate attention just to remain viable, that encourages speculation that “Small Town America” outside the major urban corridors will have to “get by” with minimal service —for the 33rd year in a row.


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House okays $900 million for Amtrak

By Leo King
Editor

Amtrak’s allocation of $900 million remained intact on Thursday in the U.S. House, although two Congressmen offered separate amendments to the Transportation, Treasury, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Act, 2004 bill that each would have stripped more than $300 million from the railroad’s funding. Amtrak has requested $1.8 billion to remain serviceable – which may still happen.

The House is expected to take up the complete measure tomorrow (Tuesday) after 2:00 p.m. when they will begin legislative business for the day. No votes are expected until 6:30 p.m.

HR 2989, a $90 billion plan sponsored by Appropriations Committee member Rep. Ernest J. Istook Jr. (R-Okla.) got the brunt of debate in the omnibus spending bill.

So many former Transportation and Treasury department offices were transferred to the new Homeland Security department that numerous federal agencies were combined with other agencies for funding purposes. Among them are DOT, General Services Administration, Officer of Personnel Management, the Executive office of the President, Office of Manpower and Budget, Federal Aviation Administration, and several other dissimilar governmental functions.

Regarding Amtrak and highways, six-term representative Istook said, on the floor, “We were able to do more than the President anticipated for investing in the nation’s highways. The budget, due to downward movement in the Highway Trust Fund revenue, proposed an 8 percent reduction in funding for federal aid to highways.”

He was obviously happy he was able to increase that number.

“Thanks to the discipline we’ve exercised in other areas, this bill instead provides a 7 percent increase.”

It added $4.5 billion to the Bush request.

Istook, 53, who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury and Independent Agencies, averred, “Amtrak is not a federal agency. They are in a special status, a special, private situation. They can ask for whatever they want, but their request has not gone through the same vetting process as has been the case with the other agencies. Amtrak’s request did not go through the Office of Management and Budget. It was not balanced against other transportation priorities.”

He noted, “The Administration does not support the large request that came from Amtrak, and neither do I, ” and added, “Amtrak is not synonymous with the railroads of America… or rail passenger service.”

Amtrak reform legislation is pending in both houses of Congress, Istook said.

“Until that happens, I believe it would be folly to provide huge increases for this railroad that has not kept up its commitments, has not been honest with the American people.”

Seven-term Massachusetts Democratic Rep. John Olver, 67, of Amherst, the ranking minority member on the Appropriations subcommittee, countered, “The bill only provides $900 million for Amtrak, pushing them to the brink of a shut-down, despite the fact that 220 members of this body sent a letter to the Appropriations Committee supporting Amtrak’s request for $1.8 billion.”

Olver later introduced an amendment that would have added another $800 million, but it failed on a point of order from Istook.

Rep. Michael N. Castle (R-Del.) of Wilmington – the state’s lone representative – argued, “This is an extraordinarily important mode of transportation, and I think we need to sit down and recognize that and do all that we can. We need a good rail system in America. We cannot continue to underfund it so badly that we cannot make the capital improvements and the other things which are necessary to keep it up.”

Pro-Amtrak amendments are expected to surface again when the entire House meets this week to vote on the entire bill, and in conference committees with the Senate, whose Appropriations Committee passed a bill on Wednesday that approved $1.35 billion for Amtrak (See Wes Vernon’s story, above).

The strongest and most strident pro-Amtrak arguments came from five-term Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) of Jacksonville, who also serves on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Railroad Subcommittee.

“The Republican leadership and this Bush administration don’t care what we, the people, think, just like the reauthorization of TEA-21, which would improve our crumbling transportation infrastructure and put millions of people back to work.”

Brown said the Amtrak funding “brings up a fundamental question as to what this nation’s thing is on public transportation. We have an opportunity to improve a system that deserves our reserve, or need for passenger rail service – or we can let it fall apart, and leave this country’s travelers and business with absolutely no alternative forms of public transportation.”

Iraq also entered her argument.

“We could fund this nation’s entire passenger rail system for a year with the money we spend in just one week in Iraq – but I guess the House leadership and the Republican administration has decided that it’s more important to fund the needs of the Iraqi people than the citizens right here in America.”

Two amendments that would have lopped money from Amtrak failed. One was from Rep. Thomas Tancredo (R-Colo.), which would have taken $320 million and given it to highways. It failed, 322 to 90. The other, from Rep. Mark Kennedy (R-Minn.), would have cut Amtrak by $320 million (to $580 million) and given it to eight Homeland Security programs. That also failed, 325 to 89.

Another amendment, not Amtrak-related, found favor among the House members, 327-90. The addition, from Thomas E. Petri (R-Wis.), restored TEA-21’s policy of setting aside 10 percent of a state's federal transportation money for transportation enhancements program. Examples include bike trails, pedestrian overpasses, and redevelopment of historic train stations, like the Meridian, Miss., station which was recently made over with $10 million from TEA-21 funding. Petri serves on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Railroad subcommittee.

Rep. Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.) offered an amendment to increase Amtrak by $800 million (to $1.7 billion and defer last year’s DOT loan), but Istook raised a point of order and Quinn withdrew his amendment after some discussion on the merits of his proposal.

Olver’s amendment to increase Amtrak by $500 million (to $1.4 billion) and reduce part of the federal tax cut failed on another point of order from Istook, which the chairman at the dais upheld.


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Dukakis irked over Bush inaction

Former Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis and former Amtrak board vice-chairman, whose term expired in June, criticized the Bush administration last week for not acting to fill vacancies on the Amtrak board of directors. The lack of action is expected to leave the board with only three members, one less than the legally mandated quorum.

“From the standpoint of corporate governance, you don’t have a full board, you’re not doing the things that a board should do, and you don’t have the oversight that you should have,” said Dukakis on September 3.

The Boston Globe noted the term of former chairman John Robert Smith ended at the same time – and terms of two other directors will expire this month.

“The president hasn’t nominated anybody to succeed me or John Robert, let alone the two that are about to leave,” said Dukakis, who teaches at Northeastern Univ. “The question is: When you don’t have successors, what do you do?”

Appointees to the board of the struggling rail operation must be nominated by the President and approved by the Senate.

A White House spokeswoman would only say, “The White House is working to fill the vacancies.” The spokeswoman, who asked not to be named, declined to set a time frame for nominations.

The carrier’s board must have at least four members to conduct official business, a requirement mandated by Congress in a 1997 overhaul.

The five-year terms of two Amtrak directors, former Virginia Governor Linwood Holton and Amy M. Rosen, a veteran of the transportation and financial services industries, expire September 24, leaving three directors.

Regulations in the District of Columbia, where Amtrak is incorporated, allow sitting board members to designate an “executive committee” to handle oversight of the company in the event a legal quorum isn’t reached.

Amtrak’s board set up the committee before Dukakis and Smith left, naming chairman David M. Laney, vice chairwoman Sylvia de Leon, and Transportation Secretary Norman S. Mineta, the remaining directors as of Sept. 24, to the committee.

Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black said that will let oversight of the company, including the implementation of the $1.8 billion budget for fiscal year 2004, continue unimpeded.

“We’ve fulfilled the provisions of the law that will allow the board to operate,” he said. “We would anticipate that the Administration would nominate some people soon.”

That doesn’t satisfy Dukakis and others, who are concerned that Amtrak can ill afford to operate without a full board.

“It seems to me it’s very difficult that the management wouldn’t be able to work without a board that wasn’t functioning,” said Holton, who served as Virginia governor from 1970 to 1974.

Dukakis, a onetime Democratic Presidential nominee and current supporter of Sen. John F. Kerry’s Presidential campaign, used the Amtrak board impasse as a chance to level criticism at Bush.

“You can’t do what a board of directors is supposed to do with three people. You can rest assured that if we had a President who cared about rail, we wouldn’t have this problem,” he said.

Specialists said it is possible, though not usually desirable, to operate a major company without a full slate of directors.

“Can the three of them oversee the company? Sure. They just don’t have the diversity of background and skill that they would have had with seven people,” said Jay Lorsch, a professor at the Harvard Business School.

Jeff Rudman, chairman of the corporate and securities litigation group at the Boston law firm Hale and Dorr, was more skeptical, saying that three directors are too few for any corporate board to function effectively. Still, he acknowledged that a board like Amtrak’s might be judged by a different standard. “If this were the board of a publicly held company, one would be very skeptical,” he said.


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Cascades days may be numbered

One of the two Oregon-supported Amtrak Cascades trains that make a daily round trip between Eugene and Portland will stop running October 1 unless the state can come up with as much as $10 million to pay for improvements on the rail line the trains use.

The 2003 Oregon legislature allotted $8.8 million to keep both Cascades runs operating for the next two years, the Portland Tribune reported on Friday.

An additional $10 million in lottery funds meant to ease freight-passenger rail congestion on Union Pacific Railroad’s single north-south line, was eliminated from the state budget about two weeks before the session ended, and the funding was never restored.

When Oregon added the second Cascades train in 2000, it signed an agreement with Union Pacific promising that, in exchange for using UP’s rails, the state would secure the funds to do $15 million in capital improvements by September 15, 2001, Union Pacific spokesman John Bromley said.

In late May of this year, with the money for the work still not forthcoming, the railroad put the state on notice: If the 2003 Legislature didn’t approve the capital expenditure, it would have to cancel the 3-year-old Cascades run.

“The state’s two years overdue now,” Bromley said. “They’re apparently unwilling or unable to honor the commitment.”
Claudia Howells, head of the Oregon Department of Transportation’s rail program, said she worked hard but unsuccessfully to get the money restored to the state budget.

“UP doesn’t want a loan, they don’t want fancy financing. They just want to be paid for the use of their track,” she said. “They’ve been very patient.”

State Sen. Kurt Schrader, D-Canby, who is co-chairman of the joint Ways and Means Committee, said he also worked hard to get the full funding for passenger rail approved, but he handed the transportation department at least part of the blame for the $10 million omission.

The transportation agency “started fussing and raised the concern level by a lot of my Republican colleagues, who thought we were taking money from regional programs,” he said. “I think again ODOT was its own worst enemy.”

Schrader’s Senate district includes Oregon City, where the $1.2 million Metro South train station is scheduled to open in November. Plans call for both Cascades trains, but not the Coast Starlight, to stop there.

“Trains are important to my district, so we tried,” Schrader said.

The run that is in jeopardy leaves Eugene at 9:30 a.m., arrives in Portland at 12:05 p.m., and returns southbound at 5:30 p.m., getting to Eugene at 8:05 p.m.

In terms of ridership, it’s the more popular of the two Cascades trains. Oregon City Mayor Alice Norris said the new station, with ample parking, is aimed at expanding commuter possibilities for area residents. Riders include retired residents, students and travelers, but if one of the trains is canceled, “it’s a terrible schedule,” she said. “It’s very inconvenient. I believe the only way to grow passenger rail is to have it both accessible and convenient.”

Robert Krebs, head of passenger rail for the transportation department, said the state had identified several projects to improve the Cascades service while easing the conflict with UP’s freight trains, including the addition of an 8-mile stretch of double track north of Eugene.

Track and signaling upgrades would address other “choke points,” he said, and also allow the freights to move faster.

Cutting out one train will mean the annual loss of about 25,000 to 30,000 passengers, he said.

“We will be putting on a bus to replace the train if it comes off, but we’ll still have that loss in ridership,” he said.

Pat Egan, transportation policy adviser to Gov. Ted Kulongoski, said he’s not ready yet to call the second Cascades train a goner. Rail division staff members of the Transportation department already have talked to Union Pacific representatives, and, he said, “I would hope we might be able to work something out at least to keep it going a little longer.

“We’re trying to find sources of funds,” Egan said. “I’m sure we’ll be talking with them early next week, if not by the end of this week, but first we want to make sure we have something to offer.”


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Station opens; another to be fixed up

Amtrak is moving to a newly renovated station in downtown Jackson, Miss. and out of a temporary trailer in the middle of Mill Street. It had been there since 2000. After eight years, the new station is nearly completed, reports WLBT, Jackson.

Amtrak employees started moving out of their temporary trailer on Labor Day.

The Amtrak waiting room, on the north end of the new facility, has the benches from the old waiting room, but they were not refurbished. There is a new elevator and stairs rising to the tracks – where trains arrive and depart under a new shed.

Eventually, Greyhound and Jatran buses will also use the new facility.

Ruffin Wyatt, who heads the Amtrak operation in Jackson, said “Hopefully it will bring business back and be an uplift to this area of town,” Wyatt said.

The new Union Station cost $20 million.

In other station renovation news, Wisconsin’s DOT will enter into a public-private venture with Milwaukee Intermodal Partners to rehabilitate the current Amtrak Station at 433 West St. Paul Ave., in Milwaukee. A public information meeting on the project will be held tomorrow (September 9) from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. in the station. A brief presentation is scheduled for 5:15 p.m., reports the Milwaukee Business Journal.

The renovated station will have a new look and expanded services including a pedestrian-friendly walkway from the station to Wisconsin Avenue, intracity bus service, retail space, ticket offices and food vendors. The facility, expected to be finished in 2005, was built in 1965 and the DOT bought it in 2000.


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Amtrak makes special Missouri stops

Amtrak will be stopping on September 27 in Pacific, Mo., for the Railroad Day Festival and Community Public Safety Day. Four trains traveling to and from St. Louis will stop for the special event.

The trains also stopped on September 6 in New Haven for the Miller’s Landing Days Festival.

Ordinarily, the Saint Louis and Kansas City Mules (Trains 301 and 306) and the Ann Rutledge (Trains 303 and 304) pass through New Haven and Pacific without a scheduled stop on Union Pacific tracks.

“These Amtrak trains are operated in partnership with the Missouri DOT,” said Don Saunders, the railroad’s Central Division general superintendent in Chicago.

Pacific is about 35 miles west of St. Louis. The Railroad Day Festival and Public Safety Awareness Day includes a farmers market, live music, crafts, safety displays, and caboose tours. Originally named “Franklin,” the town took the name “Pacific” in 1859 in honor of the Pacific Railroad.

New Haven is about 50 miles west of St. Louis.


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Engine fire halts some Connecticut commuters

An engine fire atop an Amtrak locomotive hauling passengers from Washington to Boston forced canceling Shore Line East morning commuter service in Connecticut on August 29, leaving riders scrambling for alternate transportation.

Amtrak spokesman Dan Stessel in Washington said No. 66, the Federal (formerly the Night Owl and the Twilight Shoreliner) sustained engine failure around 5:42 a.m. when it pulled into the Madison, Conn., commuter station with 151 passengers aboard, reported New Haven Register.

Trainmen saw the fire atop the electric engine’s roof, which was “quickly extinguished by the crew,” Stessel said. No one was injured, but the fire forced closing the rail line, cutting off Shore Line East commuter trains for nearly three hours.

“It is rare, but it happens,” Stessel said.

Stessel said once the fire was extinguished, a Shore Line East train pushed the crippled Amtrak train into the Old Saybrook station and a rescue engine arrived from New Haven and “pulled the entire train into Boston.”

The train arrived in Boston 2 hours and 47 minutes late, he said.


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

Chicago Transit revokes pension plan

Under intense pressure, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) board signaled on September 2 it’s ready to shelve a plan to sweeten the pensions of top agency executives—at least for now.

According to the agenda for the September 4 board meeting, the board will vote on a measure to nullify a series of pension revisions that would benefit CTA President Frank Kruesi, about 200 agency executives and at least four board members, Crain’s Chicago Business News reported last week.

The CTA board last month quietly approved the pension revisions without advance notice or public discussion. The plan, first disclosed by Crain’s on August 18, created a political firestorm, with Illinois Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan threatening to sue the CTA if it did not relent on its own.

The CTA’s spokeswoman confirmed that the pension deal is being put on hold. “The entire thing is being pulled back,” she said.

However, revisions that would allow beneficiaries to retire five years earlier and accrue benefits one-third faster apparently are not dead.


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Public transit at risk; needs money

The nation’s public transportation infrastructure is declining due to inadequate funding, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

This year’s ASCE Progress Report, an update to the organization’s 2001 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, found that America’s transit systems will receive a failing grade if the current trend continues. The 2001 Report Card graded transit’s condition and performance as “C minus.”

Aging facilities and fleets, increased demand for services, and record-high levels of riders have created severe stress on America’s transit systems. While public transportation funding has increased over the past few years, financial support has not kept pace with transit’s increasing demand and popularity. According to the report, unless government spending at all levels increases by 362 percent – to reach $43.9 billion – physical conditions will continue to decline.

“Today’s report clearly demonstrates that America’s mobility is at tremendous risk,” said William W. Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Assn. (APTA), the national trade group representing transit systems.

“Without increased federal investment now, our transit systems will become less efficient, service will be reduced, and future repairs will be more costly. The consequences, which will affect every American, mean more traffic congestion and air pollution, lower productivity, and a drain on the nation’s economy.”

With transit ridership at a 40-year high and growing faster than any other mode of transportation, APTA recommends doubling the annual federal transit program to $14.3 billion by Fiscal Year 2009 when Congress reauthorizes the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21), the program responsible for America’s surface transportation infrastructure, including transit. TEA 21 expires in a little more than three weeks, on September 30.

In anticipation of that deadline, APTA has documented serious unmet needs in excess of $43 billion a year, including replacing aging buses and trains.

APTA also noted 43 percent of America’s passenger rail cars and locomotives exceed the federally recommended service life; 22 percent of the nation’s bus fleet is over the federal age limit; and an additional 47 percent of buses will become too old to meet these recommendations during the next federal funding program.

To improve the current physical condition and service performance, public transportation requires up to $43.9 billion in annual capital investment.

APTA is calling for increased funding and a stronger TEA 21 program to prevent a further decline in transit infrastructure and transportation options.

“We need to invest in public transportation at a level that ensures we can provide the mobility, economic, energy, and environmental benefits that improve the lives of all Americans,” said Millar.

APTA is online at www.apta.com.


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T wants to cut some Green Line stops

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority wants to close five stops on the Green Line “B” branch that carries riders on the slow and screeching journey from Boston College to downtown.

Although the T could change its mind before it implements the test program later this fall, Spokesman Joe Pesaturo named five stops slated to close until spring, if not longer – Greycliff Road, Chiswick Road, Mt. Hood Road, Summit Avenue, and Fordham Road, according to the Boston Globe of September 3.

The six-month pilot program, designed to speed up the 45-minute trip from Chestnut Hill to Government Center, would cut one-sixth of the stops along the branch, mostly in Allston and Brighton. The MBTA estimates the closings would save between three and four minutes per trip.

“If you looked at a Green Line map, you’d see how close these stations are to one another,” Pesaturo said. “This is something we frequently hear from riders on the B branch. They’ll ask us, ‘Why do you have so many stops on that line?’ “

Together, those stops account for about 2,500 daily riders, a fraction of the 30,000 people who use the B branch daily. The T selected those stops based on low ridership and proximity to other stations, Pesaturo said.

Some passengers greeted the news with cheers yesterday, saying they invite any change that could accelerate the slow crawl downtown. Others doubted the changes would make a difference.

In all, the B branch stops 22 times to cover less than 4 miles before it goes underground, a commute that takes so long that many residents rely on other ways to get downtown.

City Councilor Jerry McDermott, whose district includes most of the B branch, said he frequently takes the bus to City Hall downtown because the Green Line takes too long.

“I’ve agonized over how slow it is,” said McDermott, who supports the changes. “It’s notorious for stopping every two blocks. I just don’t see it as a major inconvenience to commuters if a few stops are taken out.”

Others disagree. Craig Bryant, a 22-year-old Boston Univ. student, carries his trombone and his heavy backpack to the Summit Avenue T stop several times each week. When the stop closes, he said, his 20-minute commute to school will become much more painful.

“It’s not worth it,” he said. “I’ve invested my money in a system that’s supposed to be easy and convenient to use, and it’s not.”

The Green Line closures are part of a larger MBTA effort to improve service on the route, which features sections along Commonwealth Avenue that date back to 1903. The T has recently implemented a system that allows riders with monthly passes to board at the back doors, which reduces the waiting time at each stop. The T has also added a third car on some trains to pack in more riders, especially at rush hour.

Before picking a date to close the stops, the MBTA plans to hold a public meeting and consult with elected officials. The MBTA will not decide whether to keep the stops closed permanently until next spring or summer.

The Mt. Hood Road stop, which serves about 280 people daily, is less than two-tenths of a mile from Washington Street, where about 1,300 riders embark. Some riders who live near the Mt. Hood stop said it would be easy for them to walk to another station, especially if it meant a faster ride.


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Entrance to 5-Yard at Dedham, Ma

NCI: Leo King

The entrance to “5 yard” was under the Sprague Street Bridge on the Readville-Dedham, Mass., line when the fence went up blocking the tracks in October 2001.

 

Two bidders for Dedham yard

The fate of the former Readville yard in Dedham is in the hands of Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority officials who say they will decide between two very different development bids within the next few weeks.

Known to railroaders as “Five Yard,” it is the site of the former New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad’s Readville Shops, where heavy steam locomotive repairs were made.

The high bid, $3.20 per square foot, came from First Highland Management Development Corp. of Hyde Park, Mass. The proposal is “a mixed use scenario weighted toward commercial but with some possible residential or open space,” said Mark Boyle, director of real estate for the MBTA.

Cambridge-based Keen Development Corp. bid $3.19 per square foot, the minimum allowed under the bid’s rules. The proposal is all residential, a possibility Dedham officials had hoped to avoid.

By law, the MBTA must accept the highest responsible bidder. Boyle said MBTA officials would evaluate the two bids to determine whether they fit the rules laid out in the bid proposal and will probably make a decision in September, wrote the Dedham Daily News Transcript on August 29.

The Readville Yard, a 42-acre parcel straddling the Boston-Dedham border, has been used as a rail yard since 1853. The MBTA bought the property in 1986 but declared the land surplus last year.

The MBTA is under a court order to clean up the property, which soil tests showed was an “imminent hazard” from lead and arsenic contamination. The first three steps on a five-phase process mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency are complete, according to T officials.

Under the bid request, the new property owner would be responsible for completing the cleanup.

The MBTA set a $5 million, or $3.19 per square foot, minimum bid and pledged $1 million to help with the clean up.

The property went out to bid on January 22, with an original due date of March 10, but the opening was delayed when Boston Mayor Thomas Menino requested a 120-day extension. Boston residents and some officials said at a public meeting in June they would like to see housing there.

In a letter to Menino, MBTA General Manager Michael Mulhern said he believes, “the site is a strong candidate for transit oriented development.”

The land is zoned for commercial purposes in Readville and for single-family homes in Dedham.

Dedham town officials say housing would strain the town’s resources.

“Services would be affected, without a doubt,” Town Administrator William Keegan said at a meeting in June.


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Murray gets dollars for Washington rail

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), last week secured $75 million for Central Link light rail in the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee’s proposed Fiscal Year 2004 spending plan.

“Sound Transit’s light rail will not only give the region its first mass transit; its construction will provide more than 4,000 critically needed family-wage jobs,” said Seattle City Council and Sound Transit Board member Richard McIver.

In July, the Federal Transit Administration announced that following a 60-day congressional review it intended to execute a multi-year full funding grant agreement for Central Link.

Sound Transit stated it plans to break ground soon after the agreement is executed, an action that will culminate more than two years of review by the Federal Transit Administration and USDOT’s inspector general.

A House-Senate conference committee is expected to determine the final funding amount before FY 2004 begins on Oct. 1.


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APTA HIGHLIGHTS...  Apta Highlights...

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


 

Brookings: TEA 21 Should Address Needs of Growing Senior Population

A recent Brookings Institution report proposes that reauthorization efforts for the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century address the diverse and often misunderstood needs of older Americans, who increasingly contribute to the nation’s major transportation problems.

The report, titled The Mobility Needs of Older Americans: Implications for Transportation Reauthorization, points to low transit ridership among older Americans over the past decade, which it attributes to scarce transit options that are both attractive and convenient to seniors. Consequently, the report emphasizes the need to provide elders with viable alternatives to driving: absent major policy changes, elders will be even more dependent on the car in the future.

The report was presented as written testimony to the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging at a July 21 hearing examining ways to improve transportation for seniors.


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Charleston, S.C., Faces Loss of Half-Cent Sales Tax for Transportation

The status of public transportation in Charleston, S.C., is uncertain following the state Supreme Court’s action August 25 to throw out the half-cent sales tax passed in November 2002 to fund the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority. The tax would have raised a total of $1.3 billion over its 25-year life, of which 18 percent would go to CARTA; 65 percent was earmarked for roads, and the remaining 17 percent for parks and green space preservation.

CARTA Executive Director Howard Chapman said the court’s action was a surprise, because it followed earlier rulings in favor of the referendum by both the Charleston County Election Commission and the state Election Commission.

Chapman noted that CARTA is currently in trouble because, without available local funding to serve as a match, the system is unable to draw down either state or federal funds. He also said CARTA will not be able to place another referendum until the next general election, in November of 2004.


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Honolulu Bus Employees on Strike

Employees of Oahu Transit Services (TheBus) in Honolulu, Hawaii represented by Teamsters Union Local 996 walked off the job just after midnight on August 26.

In a statement on the bus system’s web site, TheBus President and General Manager James E. Cowen stated, “The issue in these negotiations continues to be money. There is simply not enough money to continue the present level of bus service on Oahu, let alone provide transit workers with additional wages and benefits over what they currently enjoy.”

This strike is the first by Honolulu bus workers since 1971. It followed a collapse of talks between the two sides on August 25.


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Robert Broadbent Dies; Leader of Las Vegas Monorail Effort

Robert N. Broadbent, 77, CEO of the Las Vegas Monorail Company, and a former official of the U.S. Department of the Interior, died August 9 at Boulder City Hospital in Boulder City, Nev., from complications from cancer.

At the request of Clark County Commissioner Bruce Woodbury, the Board of Directors of the Las Vegas Monorail Company voted August 12 to rename the monorail after Broadbent. Woodbury said he requested the name because “...without Bob Broadbent, that monorail would not be a reality today. His efforts were tireless and were directed at improving traffic on the Las Vegas Strip. Bob Broadbent always saw further into the future than any of us and always had a way, through sheer commitment and dedication, of making impossible dreams come true. This is the only privately funded transit system in the nation. Once again, Bob Broadbent led the way.”


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

KCS, Grupo head toward courts

Kansas City Southern (NYSE:KSU) filed in Delaware Chancery Court September 2 a motion for a preliminary injunction to preserve the parties’ positions while KCS seeks to resolve its dispute over the attempt of Grupo TMM S.A. (TMM) of Mexico City to terminate an acquisition agreement.

KCS spokesman Warren K. Erdman said that, as previously announced, the acquisition agreement calls for TMM to sell its shares of Grupo Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana, S.A. de C.V. (GTFM), the corporate parent of the Mexican Ry. Co., TFM, S.A. de C.V. (TFM). KCS has asked for an expedited court hearing on its motion.

On August 29, KCS had delivered to TMM a formal notice of dispute pursuant to the acquisition pact, aiming to trigger arbitration in New York if the parties’ executives are unable to settle the matter through negotiations. The same day, KCS filed a complaint in the Delaware Chancery Court alleging that TMM had breached the acquisition agreement and seeking a final order requiring TMM not to sell GTFM or take other actions outside ordinary business, so as to preserve the assets and business of the Mexican railroad while the parties follow specified procedures for resolving disputes.

In Mexico City, Grupo TMM said it believes that KCS’s lawsuit is without merit and said it would defend the action vigorously through all available legal means. Grupo TMM said KCS's action seeks to impose restrictions on Grupo TMM pending the outcome of the arbitration or other dispute resolution process under the acquisition agreement, which Grupo TMM terminated following the vote of its stockholders against approval of the agreement.

Grupo TMM said it looks forward to presenting its case, that KCS is seeking to create uncertainty for Grupo TMM, and to impede its continued efforts to restructure its outstanding indebtedness.

Grupo TMM’s stockholders exercised their legal rights to vote against the approval of the acquisition agreement, and that is not a fact that KCS can change through this litigation, Grupo TMM said.

KCS has asserted that the acquisition agreement does not provide that a negative shareholder vote is a basis for termination, and that the agreement remains in effect until December 31, 2004, during which time the shareholders may vote differently.

KCS also contends that TMM breached its commitment to use commercially reasonable efforts to obtain the approval of its shareholders and its bondholders.


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Congress grapples with rail tax

From our Washington Bureau

The House and Senate differ on whether to relieve the nation’s railroads of a so-called “deficit-reduction” tax that they pay into government coffers, but which their major competitors on the highways and in the air are allowed to sink into their own infrastructures.

The House last April agreed to repeal it. The Senate has not agreed to that. House and Senate conferees began meeting Friday to work out the differences on a massive Energy bill, of which the 4.3 cents per gallon federal tax is but one part.

The members of the House-Senate conference committee that will try to resolve the differences were announced on Friday (See below). The conferees held the first in what is expected to be a long series of negotiating sessions on Friday afternoon.

This has been a persistent thorn in the side of the freight railroad industry. Its representative in Washington – the Association of American Railroads (AAR) – argues that the Class I carriers offer the most efficient and cost-effective freight rail system in the world, saving rail customers billions each year and giving the U.S. a huge competitive advantage in global markets.

The thanks they get for that accomplishment is to be saddled with a “discriminatory” tax – which, they argue, if invested in their own infrastructure, would restore more than $170 million per year for “projects and investments that would further enhance our nation’s international economic competitiveness and our energy security.”

The conferees are, for the Senate: Domenici (R-N. Mex.;) Nickles (R-Okla.;) Craig (R-Idaho.;) Campbell (R-Colo.;) Bingaman (D-N. Mex.;) Graham (D-Fla.;) Wyden (D-Ore.;) Johnson (D-S.D.;) and Baucus (D-Mont).

For the House: Tauzin (R-La.;) Barton (R-Texas;) Upton (R-Mich.;) Stearns (R-Fla.;) Gilmore (R-Ohio;) Dingell (D-Mich.;) Waxman (D-Calif.;), Markey (D-Mass.;) Boucher (D-Va.;) Rush (D-Ill.;) Shimkus (R-Ill.;) and Bilirakis (R-Fla.).


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Pacer Stacktrain expands service

Pacer Stacktrain says it has expanded its “PacerMex NonStop” intermodal freight service to serve the U.S. Northeastern region. The service includes moves to Kearny, N.J.; Baltimore, Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pa. Stack train intermodal service began in March for general merchandise moving between U.S. Midwestern points and Mexico. Service points there include Monterrey, San Luis Potosi, Queretaro, and Mexico City.


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Rail traffic mixed in August

U.S. rail carload traffic fell 1.7 percent (23,356 carloads) while intermodal traffic rose 0.7 percent (5,744 trailers and containers) in August 2003 compared to August 2002, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported Thursday.

Metallic ores (down 18.8 percent, or 12,831 carloads) and motor vehicles and equipment (down 11.9 percent, or 12,053 carloads) were responsible for most of the downturn in carloadings in August. Coal was down 1.2 percent (6,337 carloads). Commodities showing carload gains in August included coke (up 46.3 percent, or 6,688 carloads), grain (up 6.1 percent, or 4,897 carloads), and crushed stone and gravel (up 1.2 percent, or 1,097 carloads). Excluding coal (which accounted for 40 percent of total U.S. rail carloadings in August), U.S. carloadings were down 2.1 percent (17,019 carloads) in August 2003.

For the first eight months of 2003, U.S. rail carloadings totaled 11,294,249 cars, down 0.3 percent (34,347 carloads). During this period, carloads of coke were up 34.8 percent (41,926 carloads), carloads of waste and scrap material were up 4.8 percent (14,963 carloads), and carloads of pulp and paper were up 5.2 percent (14,789 carloads).

On the down side, coal dropped 1.5 percent (68,188 carloads), motor vehicles and equipment fell 3.9 percent (32,262 carloads), and grain was down 2.1 percent (15,123 carloads). Excluding coal, U.S. rail carloadings were up 0.5 percent (33,841 carloads) in 2003 through August.

U.S. intermodal traffic was up 5.4 percent (334,397 units) in 2003 through August, totaling 6,563,350 trailers or containers.

Total volume through the first 35 weeks of 2003 was estimated at 995.6 billion ton-miles, up 0.6 percent from last year.

“It is difficult to detect solid evidence from August’s rail carloadings to support or refute what appears to be growing sentiment that the economy, including the manufacturing sector, may finally be on the verge of an upswing,” noted AAR vice-president Craig F. Rockey.

“Significant declines in carloadings of metallic ores, motor vehicles, and coal depressed overall carloadings in August. On the other hand, 10 of the 19 commodity categories we track, including chemicals and grain, saw carload increases this month,” he said.

Canadian rail carload traffic was down 4.7 percent (11,729 carloads) in August. Commodities that saw rail carload gains in August included grain (up 20.2 percent, or 5,483 carloads) and farm products excluding grain (up 32.1 percent, or 1,314 carloads). Commodities seeing declines in Canadian rail carloads in August include motor vehicles and equipment (down 21.9 percent, or 7,402 carloads) and coal (down 21.9 percent, or 6,857 carloads).

Canadian intermodal traffic was up 2.0 percent (3,288 units) in August compared with August 2002.

For the first eight months of 2003, Canadian carload traffic totaled 2,134,674 cars, down 1.5 percent (33,059 carloads), while Canadian intermodal traffic was up 8.3 percent (110,667 units) at 1,447,792 trailers or containers.

Carloads originated on Transportación Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM), a major Mexican railroad, were down 10.3 percent (3,676 carloads) in August, while intermodal originations were down 4.0 percent (546 trailers and containers). For the first eight months of 2003, TFM carloadings were up 0.3 percent (819 carloads), while intermodal traffic was up 22.6 percent (22,591 units).

For just the week ended August 30, the AAR reported the following totals for U.S. railroads: 346,784 carloads, up 0.2 percent from the corresponding week in 2002, with loadings down 3.7 percent in the East and up 3.4 percent in the West; intermodal volume of 203,024 trailers and containers (the highest weekly total so far in 2003), up 0.6 percent; and total volume of an estimated 30.6 billion ton-miles, up 1.7 percent from the equivalent week last year.

For Canadian railroads during the week ended August 30, the AAR reported volume of 62,641 carloads, down 1.0 percent from last year; and 43,880 trailers and containers, up 5.7 percent from the corresponding week in 2002.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 35 weeks of 2003 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 13,428,923 carloads, down 0.5 percent (67,406 carloads) from last year, and 8,011,142 trailers and containers, up 5.9 percent (445,064 units) from 2002’s first 35 weeks.

The AAR is online at www.aar.org.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: Bloomberg.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)28.78028.350
Canadian National(CNI)54.05053.730
Canadian Pacific(CP)24.88024.370
CSX(CSX)31.65032.280
Florida East Coast(FLA)31.34030.900
Genessee & Wyoming(GWI)24.14024.220
Kansas City Southern(KSU)12.01012.150
Norfolk Southern(NSC)19.38019.040
Union Pacific(UNP)60.80060.940


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OFF THE MAIN LINE...  Off the main line...

Uphill climb on a flat-profile railroad

By Alan Kandel
Special to Destination:Freedom

With exponential increases in excursion train insurance premiums, that coupled with tourism woes, scenic railroads from coast-to-coast are struggling to stay afloat, much less turn a profit.

One, the California Western Railroad, a freight and tourist hauler, is saddled with $2.6 million in debt and inflated insurance costs, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on August 31. After a long, slow decline this year, the CWR went bankrupt.

Yet Bob Bloomer, a retired Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Ry. and predecessor ATSF Ry. locomotive engineer-turned-entrepreneur, even in the face of all this adversity, is not daunted, deterred nor discouraged.

Bloomer knows what he’s up against, but insists he can make a go of a dinner train operation running between downtown Fresno and Kerman, 15 miles to the west. He says the major sticking point isn’t tourism dollars or the initial investment capital it will take to commence; the hangup is insurance, or lack thereof.

In a September 2 Fresno Bee article, Bloomer said, “The problem is finding someone who will sell [insurance] to you, because the companies have all dropped out – and there’s only about one left.”

Still, Bloomer remains optimistic.

“I am not the kind of person who gets discouraged with a dream. I am pursuing this until it comes true.”

A website, www.americandinnertrains.com, lists 10 such dinner train operations in California, and 82 throughout the U.S., so Bloomer’s dream might not be as far-fetched as it might seem at first glance.

According to the Bee, Bloomer, working closely with the Central Valley Business Incubator, a non-profit organization that offers assistance to entrepreneurs, was able to put together a business plan. In addition, Bloomer said he has the backing of 25 investors along with letters of support from numerous local dignitaries and various political bodies, as well as encouragement from both the Union Pacific Railroad, which owns the track the proposed train would run on, and the San Joaquin Valley Railroad, which leases and operates the line.

Incorporated as West Coast Railcar Services, WCRS “intends to build a first class dinner train similar to the Napa Valley Wine Train located in Napa, California,” stated Bloomer in a prepared report to Council of Fresno County Governments’ Executive Director, Barbara Goodwin.

“It will be a cozy city-to-city dining and entertainment activity, unique to the Fresno area that would provide the county’s growing population with another recreational and entertainment alternative,” Bloomer enthused.

The trip, expected to last 3.5 hours, would be approximately 30 miles round-trip with a midpoint stop as a preparatory move to ready the train for the return run.

Anticipated benefits and revenues from the dinner train operation are expected to result in a profitable business venture for the San Joaquin Valley Railroad creating a new revenue source with no out-of-pocket money from the San Joaquin Valley, and would allow the shortline another way to use its freight rail line.

Operating across Fresno County’s flat terrain past vast farm acreage doesn’t appear to be an issue with Bloomer.

In fact, “’the first dinner train I ever rode was in Iowa, through cornfields, and that’s all you saw was cornfields,’ Bloomer said, ‘It was a very pleasant experience.’”

Will his long-held dream since 1980 ever come to pass? Right now it hinges on getting insurance and a contract from UP.

Bloomer did not say how much of an investment it would take to get the dinner train off the ground. Based on projections, estimates are that an average 100 guests per day will ride the Wednesday-Saturday lunch trains, Friday and Saturday dinner runs and a brunch special operated on Sundays. That’s not including any charters.

Meanwhile, the CWR curtailed its operations immediately following Labor Day, after the summer tourism crush ends.

Sources: “End of line for Skunk Train: Historic railroad that brings big tourist dollars to North Coast runs into serious money woes,” by Peter Fimrite, August 31, 2003 San Francisco Chronicle; “Food to Fuel a Dream: Retired railroad engineer keeps hopes of forming ‘dinner train,’” by Russell Clemings, September 2, 2003 The Fresno Bee.)


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LETTERS...  We get letters...

Dear Editor:

Regarding “Rohr’s TurboTrain roared up and down the main line between Boston and New York…” (D:F, September 2). Thanks for the nice picture, but it was the United Aircraft TurboTrain in your photo, and the Rohr Turboliner.

James F. Boylan


Dear Editor:

From the looks of that picture, that’s the United Aircraft set, not the Rohr Turboliner (which I rode regularly when I lived in Syracuse).

Matt Mitchell
Delaware Valley Assn. of Rail Passengers
Philadelphia


Dear Editor:

Regarding “The way we were” of September 2, the cutline states, “Rohr’s TurboTrain…” Make that United Aircraft.

Phillip Hom

Please forgive me for suffering a “senior moment.” – Ed.


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

1880 Railroaders

Paul Egan collection

We’re guessing this photo was made on a glass slide ca. 1880 – although it could have been a decade or so earlier or later. The men in the photo, though, were pioneers. They were early trackmen – gandy dancers, as they were once called. The railroaders, who tamped and spiked track by hand as required, were posing in front of the Conway Jct. station in New Hampshire, on the Boston & Maine’s Eastern Division. That detail appears on the speeder’s flywheel casing. We wonder when the next train was coming.

End Notes...

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

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

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

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

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


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