Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 3 No. 37, September 9, 2002
Copyright © 2002, NCI, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - James Furlong
Editor - Leo King

A weekly North American rail and transit update


Hellgate Bridge, NYC

NCI: Leo King

The events of September 11, 2001 are still fresh in the minds of all Americans as eastward no-name train No. 86 climbs the western approach to Hell Gate Bridge in the Big Apple on December 4, 2001. In this view from the cab, both World Trade Center towers lay in ruins behind the train, the cleanup having barely begun. Underneath all the rubble, a Manhattan subway line to New Jersey was severed. We still do not know how many people died on this day – and we may never know the final count. All flights across the nation were grounded on that day one year ago, and, for a time, all trains came to a stop, including Amtrak, commuter and freight.
One year later

The world trade center in New York City lay in ruins, the Pentagon stood with a deep wound in its side, planes were grounded, trains stopped.

Far from Washington, a writer looks at America’s heartland out on the rails; changes on Amtrak.

By Wes Vernon
Traveling Correspondent
One year after Amtrak was pressed into additional service to rescue stranded air passengers in the days immediately following September 11 – at just the time that push was coming to shove on Amtrak’s “self-sufficiency” deadline – the strain is now showing in lots of little ways, and in some big ways.

The most widely publicized problem, of course, is the Acela Express reliability fiasco which Amtrak CEO David Gunn first made public in an exclusive interview with D:F on July 31, a transcript of which appeared in our August 4 issue.

That has tended to exacerbate Amtrak’s precarious financial crisis wherein Gunn, before having a chance to get his feet wet in the executive suite, had to go out and lean on Congress and the White House for some money to avoid bankruptcy just to keep the trains running.

No sooner had Gunn put out that fire, which left the trains safe at least until October when the new fiscal year begins, than the Acela trainsets had to be hauled back into the shops for safety-related repairs; but it is on the long distance trains, out across “the fruited plain,” that one can see the strains that were inflicted on America’s passenger rail system in order to give priority to the Acela.

A number of stories came back to this writer as we (my wife, Alida and I) rode round trip, Washington, D.C. to Salt Lake City in late August, on the Capitol Limited and the California Zephyr.

Last Year's Front Page Image
Old Glory

NCI: Leo King

After September 11, American flags began blossoming across the Amtrak landscape
For the most part, we found personnel efficient and customer friendly, doing their best to repress the low morale that comes with the uncertainty of whether they would have jobs in a few weeks and, if worse came to worse, where to look for new careers enabling them to support their families.

Perhaps the most obvious mishap on our trip can be attributed to a combination of a fluke, the plain literal meaning of the Hours of Service law, and perhaps Amtrak’s band-aid struggle to survive.

On the return trip, we left a hotel wake-up call at 2:45 a.m. to catch No. 6, the California Zephyr, due out of Salt Lake City at 3:55 a.m. Over the years, I have become accustomed to getting up in the middle of the night to catch a train. I get around that inconvenience by grinning and bearing it – i.e., sleep the first half of the night in the hotel and the second half on the train, or vice versa.

That scenario did not play itself out this time. Prior to turning in for the night, I called the Amtrak 800 number (1-800-USA-RAIL) to reach the company’s sleek automated system, “Julie,” for tracking a train’s status. The report came back that it was 34 minutes late, with a warning that any train could make up or lose more time.

We ended up sleeping half the night at the hotel, but spent what should have been the second-half of our sleep time instead sitting around for nearly four hours in a makeshift “Amshack,” not at all conducive to sleep.

After an employee told us about the train being stalled, he promised to keep us “up to date,” walked out the door, and wasn’t seen again. When someone asked if there was a place to eat, he described a Denny’s a few blocks away. No one actually ventured out in the somewhat forbidding warehouse neighborhood where the Amshack is located.

Here’s why this happened.

It seems that as the train approached “Garfield smelter,” (so described to me by an employee), a crucial switch malfunctioned, operated by remote control from Union Pacific headquarters in Omaha. For whatever reason, the dispatcher could not complete the required operation.

That made it necessary for the engineer to back up the train to the failed switch, and wait while the Omaha dispatcher tried and tried to complete the job. When it became obvious this was simply not doable, the train’s operating crew had to get out and route the switch by hand. Not long after this had been accomplished, the engineer’s twelve hours, under the federal Hours of Service law, had expired. By law, he had to stop that train 20 minutes short of Salt Lake City.

The law is very specific about this, so 11 hours-59 minutes-and 59 seconds is legal, but 12 hours-plus 1 second is illegal. That’s the law. When the 12-hour rule kicks in, the train stops wherever it is and the railroad must send an engineer to replace him.

Somewhere around 4:30 or 5:00 a.m., Amtrak hired a taxicab to take the engineer who had been waiting at the Salt Lake station to replace the now legally off-duty engineer, and drive him to the train where he could take the throttle so No. 6 could legally start rolling again. The train, which was stopped near the Great Salt Lake, apparently was not easy to find. According to reports coming back to Salt Lake City, it took awhile for the taxi to get to the CZ.

Finally, after sunrise, the train came rumbling in at about 7:00 a.m. An Amtrak employee acknowledged that yes, if I had only known all this would happen, I could have slept in until 6:00 a.m., completed my night’s rest and still caught the train.

“They’re (Amtrak) so G– damned disorganized,” this person told me, and went on to opine that recently departed Amtrak President George Warrington was a disaster, that his predecessor Tom Downs was even worse, and that as far as this particular employee was concerned, the jury was still out on David Gunn.

Once aboard the train, attempts to retrieve the lost sleep were fruitless. The biological clock wouldn’t allow it. It was light outside, the dining car had opened for breakfast and after four hours of being up and about, I had grown hungry.

The incident raises some questions and observations.

The Hours of Service law is on the books for a reason. It is unsafe to keep an operating engineer working round-the-clock on indefinite shifts. On the other hand, the question arises as to whether there should be some sort of common sense wiggle room in the statute.

Beyond that, is it Amtrak’s responsibility to schedule shifts that do a better job of factoring in the unforeseen delays that can grind its trains to a halt? Surely, it is not in UP’s interest for a passenger train to be stalled, thus possibly interfering with its freight operations.

More to the point – is it Amtrak’s hand-to-mouth existence, mandated by Congress, that causes the passenger train company to stretch the engineer shifts close to the time wire, out of a fear that to do otherwise would require more personnel and bust the budget?

Back on May 20, 1998, then Rep. Bob Franks (R-N.J.), who was Chairman of the House Railroads Subcommittee, told this reporter in an interview for (the now defunct) RailNews magazine that “If one looks at what is literally possible under the restrictions of the Hours of Service Act, fatigue would have to be an inevitable result of anyone working the kinds of hours permitted under the Hours of Service Act.” Franks, it might be noted, enjoyed more support from organized labor than many of his fellow Republicans.

On the other hand, a position paper issued by the Association of American Railroads (AAR), the voice of the Class I carriers, argued that “A one-size-fits-all regulatory approach to railroad fatigue management is likely to be counter-productive,” and “Scientific research to date suggests that flexibility to tailor fatigue management efforts to address local circumstances is key to the success of these programs.” (We explore this and related issues in a separate opinion piece elsewhere in this issue.)

On the morning of August 21, during our stay in Salt Lake City, it was over coffee and muffins that I came upon a news article in that day’s Wall Street Journal headlined “Amtrak Recalls Cracked Trains On Acela Line.” The WSJ reported, “Hairline cracks on the locomotive frames appear to be stress related.”

On that same paper’s op-ed page was an article by John O. Norquist, a Clinton appointee on the Amtrak Reform Council (ARC) which last November had declared, based on simple evidence, that Amtrak would not meet its statutory late 2002 deadline for operating self sufficiency.

Norquist, Mayor of Milwaukee and author of the book, The Wealth of Cities, told WSJ readers that having sat on the ARC during its four-year study of Amtrak, he was “not surprised” by the Acela breakdown.

“For years,” he wrote, “Amtrak maintained the fiction that it was on a smooth glide path to self-sufficiency. Hardly.”

This has been a sore point with Gunn who thinks his predecessor Warrington left him with a real can of worms by maintaining that very “fiction.” While there are those who question whether Warrington had been candid with the Amtrak board, Norquist didn’t let the board off the hook either.

“The railroad’s board of directors and former CEO,” he declared, “pandered to those in Congress who felt that Amtrak, like no other form of (passenger?) transportation, should sink or swim on its own. Rather than confront the myth of Amtrak’s role in the marketplace, the board propped it up by deferring maintenance, overestimating revenues and tooting its whistle about an Acela project beset with delay.”

Norquist added that David Gunn “is Amtrak’s best and maybe last chance to recover enough strength so that there’s anything left to argue over.”

Indeed, out on the road, we did not find any Amtrak employee with an unkind word for Gunn. The one Amtrak worker who did not heap praise on the CEO was the person who simply made a neutral judgment that “the jury is still out” on the new boss.

On our trip, we learned that Gunn had sent an on-board employee a registered letter praising his efforts to make a trip thoroughly enjoyable for a group of passengers who had written to the Amtrak president reporting their satisfaction.

Gunn, we learned, “rides with the people.” While he will also check out service in first class, he is often seen riding coach, both short and long distance.

At one point, the CEO was riding coach where there was no attendant, and he wanted to know why. Apparently, on some lines, one attendant covers more than one car. He expressed concern that in case of derailment, there would be no one there to assist or direct passengers.

Deferred maintenance in hot pursuit of the ever-elusive goal of “self-sufficiency” shows up in many ways, some of them occurring during our trip.

On the westbound No. 5 California Zephyr that departed from Chicago August 14, the toilets in one sleeping car were inoperative, forcing the passengers there to traipse into the adjoining car to use the facilities downstairs. The riders in the affected car were promised financial settlement of some sort would come after the train arrived in Emeryville.

We learned plates in the under-truck mechanism of one car obviously had not been oiled for some time. When the train moved at a slow speed, they would rub together and make a racket quite disruptive to sound sleep. The stopper to at least one washbasin was missing, meaning you couldn’t close it. The pillows in a sleeper had a musty smell, as if they had been neither used nor cleaned for some time.

Of less practical importance, but symbolic nevertheless, the paint job on some of the Superliner equipment was wearing through, making for a dilapidated “Toonerville Trolley” appearance.

Of course, since Gunn told D:F that as of July 31, 105 cars were sitting idle in the Beech Grove, Ind. major repair yard awaiting repair, perhaps there was room to be “thankful for small favors” that the shopworn (in some areas rusting) equipment was running at all.

“They let maintenance go to hell on the long distance trains, and put all their eggs in the Acela basket,” complained one employee – and for what?

By Labor Day, this “showcase” equipment was still under repair in the shops less than two years after first showing up on the NEC timetables.

There are some complaints that Amtrak has been stuck in the rut of “Because that’s-the-way-we’ve-always-done-it.”

Norquist observed in his article, for example, that on the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor, business travelers for a decade repeatedly requested food cart service.

“They were told that union and management rules prohibited food carts,” Norquist wrote, “but finally, after years of excuses, Amtrak began to sell drinks and snacks from a cart moving up and down the train aisle. As I understand it, Amtrak actually makes money from this cart, and a union employee operates it.”

Our own car attendants were “Larry,” (both directions Capitol Limited Nos. 29 and 30), “J.C.” (No.5 westbound California Zephyr), and “Mike” (No. 6 eastbound Zephyr). All three of them offered outstanding, courteous and efficient service.

Mike took the trouble to seek us out when No. 6 finally arrived four hours late in Salt Lake. He came to the Amshack and helped us aboard with our luggage in that facility which is bereft of red cap service. That is the only time any red cap went out of his way to offer us that badly needed assistance.

Larry was a super-efficient organizer, especially when it came to unloading luggage and passengers at the end of the line.

J.C. was very good about keeping track of lost or gained time so that he could awaken us exactly a half hour before No. 5 arrived in Salt Lake.

In fact, with one or two caveats, all employees with whom we dealt were good at their jobs and customer friendly.

On the eastbound California Zephyr that had (finally) departed Salt Lake City on August 25, two women in a row requested seats facing forward in the diner. It is a fact that some people actually do get sick or dizzy riding backwards. Two in a row with this request (surely, by the law of averages, the exception rather than the rule) apparently was a bit much for the woman who was the stewardess on this run.

“We can’t have you all riding forward,” she complained, “Someone has to ride backwards.”

There were also at least three instances of the “disorganization” about which an employee had complained. Because the CZ No. 6 was so late into Chicago, it was touch-and-go as to whether we would make our connection to the Cap No. 30. The redcap got our luggage and us onto a golf-style cart along with two people in another party. As we wheeled past the gate where No. 30 awaited, he asked the employee at the gate to hold the train a bit longer, while he deposited the folks in the other party at their destination inside the terminal. Then, he got us back to our train. I tipped him generously out of sheer gratitude that we did not end up in a Chicago hotel overnight.

Later, when the conductor lifted our tickets, he informed us that if we had been much later, the train would have had to leave without us.

“This new man at the top (Gunn) wants us to leave the (starting point) station on time,” he said.

Bottom line: Apparently no one had conveyed this policy edict to the redcap. Had he taken us directly to the train, it would have left about 5 to 7 minutes sooner. The other party’s train wasn’t due out for another 45 minutes. As it was, we were 10 minutes late leaving the station.

On the CZ, my effort to cash two travelers checks resulted in the head waiter and the steward (the same one who had been thrown off guard by two requests to ride forward) getting into an argument over whether I could cash the checks in the dining car at a time when I was not actually in there for a meal. He said yes. She said no. So the headwaiter, realizing the steward outranked him, simply advised me to go to the lounge car. Over the intercom, he told the lounge car attendant that “a fellow in a red shirt” is on his way there, and “please take care of him,” which he did.

Sometimes on these trips, you find things that are a little unusual, but which may or may not have a logical explanation. The dining car steward had her own deluxe bedroom. Perhaps there was no room in the dormitory car, and it’s true that on-board service personnel get precious little sleep on overnight runs, but two things strike the curious: Was she occupying space otherwise available for paying customers? In this case, possibly not because unlike No. 5 the previous week, No. 6 was not filled to capacity, due in part to school having just started and also probably due to publicity in June about a possible Amtrak bankruptcy by late August.

Also, unlike the rooms of paying customers, this steward had a padlock to her room. Those rooms don’t come with mechanisms that accommodate padlocks. What effort in personnel and dollars might have been required to provide one for this employee, and why? We don’t know the answer to that. We’re just asking.

On No. 30, the Cap, the crowd in our car headed for chow upon hearing an announcement that the dining car was open for dinner, only to be shooed away by the dining car crew when we arrived, saying they were not yet ready. On a hunch, we checked back about three minutes later, and sure enough, people were being seated.

For the sake of organization and cutting costs, the Amtrak dining car menus are uniform throughout most if not all of the system (A “self-sufficiency” move?). Your entree choices for dinner, for example, are a New York strip steak, orange roast chicken, a seafood special, a pork chop, and a vegetarian dish.

The food is usually good. Basic, but good.

Little “self-sufficiency” goals (other than the uniformity of the menu) show up here and there. For example, no longer can you get brown sugar with your oatmeal for breakfast. That is something that has disappeared within the last year or so.

Amtrak’s longtime signature dinner desert, “Turtle Pie,” consisting of ice cream caramel with cream and nuts and cookie dough, has been discontinued. It had been wildly popular and was the one dining car item for which Amtrak was gaining a measure of fame.

Gone.

“Couldn’t provide adequate refrigeration,” was the explanation we got. In its place is a chocolate truffle. It’s okay, but doesn’t measure up to its predecessor.

As former Amtrak CEO Paul Reistrup pointed out last May, toast has been eliminated from the dining car breakfast menu. In its place, there is a choice of biscuits or croissants.

The general conscientious attitude of most Amtrak employees is one of offering the best service they can to their customers, even though they were well aware there may be their own jobs may soon reach “the end of the line.” At the same time, good reports on their performance are to Amtrak’s (and their own) benefit.

So here we are, back in Washington, ready for a front row seat on legislation that may determine Amtrak’s future – indeed the future of passenger trains in the leading industrial nation of the world.

September 11 may have convinced decision-makers once and for all that rail passenger service is still a necessity for this country. We may soon find out whether any lessons have been learned.

We learned on September 4 Amtrak had “re-bulletined” all the coach train attendant jobs on the California Zephyr, going from two attendants for three coaches west of Denver to just one attendant for all three coaches. In the meantime, all jobs are being filled off the extra board. – Ed.


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Listen for whistles on Wednesday

On September 11, Amtrak will observe a “moment of remembrance,” and is a protocol to be followed nationwide, Cliff Black tells us. He’s an Amtrak spokesman in our national capital.

All engineers will sound their locomotive horns a moment before 8.46 a.m. EDT. This coincides with the moment of silence being observed in New York City.

Where practicable, employees would cease their normal activities at 8:46 a.m. EDT to observe one minute of silence. This could include, for example, ticket collections and food service activities aboard trains and ticket sales activity at stations.

Conductors on board passenger trains, and a designated station employee at all staffed stations, will announce over the PA system just prior to 8:46 a.m. EDT, that everyone is invited to join in one minute of silence in remembrance of those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001.

He said memorials in major stations will also occur, beginning Monday, September 9, when memorial wreaths will be placed in major stations for the duration of the week. The stations are in New York City, Washington, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles.


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In the Pacific Northwest, more riders climb aboard
Special to Destination: Freedom

One noticeable result of September 11 has been a major increase in business travelers on Northwest Corridor trains, especially midweek, said Scott Hurd, an Amtrak station agent in Portland, Oregon’s Union Station.

“We have had a good season, and we see a number of cruise ships in Seattle now using The Cascades trains to get their passengers to and from Portland.”

Hurd added, “I don’t have any paperwork to prove it, but I sense a major increase in sleeper reservations since September 11.”

Those would be on the Portland-Chicago Empire Builder and the Seattle-Los Angeles Coast Starlight.

Another bright spot for this fall, Hurd said, will be serving Seattle Seahawks football games. The Seahawks have moved into their new stadium, which is just a few steps from Seattle’s King Street Station.

“You could tell the day the season ticket holders got their Seahawks schedules because the immediately reserved seats on the Talgo trains.”

Hurd said that neither September 11 nor a somewhat shakier season has hurt the volume of Seattle Mariner baseball fans using the trains. The Mariners’ Safeco Field is a block south of the new football stadium. In fact, Amtrak trains, loud horns blaring, call beneath the baseball field’s movable roof when it’s open.

As with most airlines, business dropped off drastically in Portland after September 11, especially on the Portland-Seattle shuttle. Hurd thinks Amtrak picked up a lot of the slack. Now, Horizon Airlines, which operates a shuttle about every 15 minutes, offers bonuses for any delays of more than five minutes clearing security, and they just started offering free parking for business commuters.

On the Talgo trains, a quiet area has been establish, complete with computer plug-ins.


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Solons travel Amtrak extra to New York
A special Amtrak train operated from Washington to New York last Friday (September 6), carrying about 240 members of Congress for only the second joint session of Congress ever to be held outside of Washington.

Vice President Dick Cheney presided over the meeting in Federal Hall National Memorial, which was built on the site of the original New York City Hall, where Congress once met before they felt they would rather be in Philadelphia – for 10 years while the swamp on the Maryland-Virginia border became the District of Columbia.

No official business was transacted at the ceremonial gathering; it was mostly speeches observing the terrorist attack anniversary.

Reports said it looked like a Clocker, made up of Amfleet equipment. Several Metroliner coaches were transferred back to Washington from Maine’s Downeaster a fortnight ago to equip a “special operation.”

Thanks to Gene Poon.

 

At 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2002, engineers on all Amtrak trains will sound their whistles. Conductors then will call for a moment of silence.

 

The American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) Donna Aggazio tells us that organization “is highlighting significant activities and events in the public transportation industry during September,” particularly events commemorating September 11.

Public transportation systems are making plans to commemorate that fateful day in numerous ways, she said, including:

The Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corp., which will participate in the official New York City commemoration ceremony.

The New Jersey Transit Corp. will provide between eight and 10 buses to transport families of victims who died in the World Trade Center attacks to the ceremony.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority will display flags on all of its buses and trains, while employees will recognize the heroes of the Pentagon by wearing lapel buttons in the shape of the Pentagon.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in Boston will mark the date by stopping all vehicles, including buses, subway trains, and streetcars, for a moment of remembrance and reflection.

Bus destination signs will display a message of remembrance in Atlanta, Pittsburgh and St. Louis.

Flags or flag decals will also adorn buses and trains in Atlanta, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Houston.

Transit vehicles will operate with headlights on throughout the day in Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Houston; Lake County, Ohio; Louisville; Reading, Pa.; San Mateo, Cal.; and Spokane.

Transit operators in Lake County, Ohio; and Louisville will observe a moment of silence.

Transit employees will wear special ribbons in Charlotte; Cincinnati; Corpus Christi Tex.; and Spokane.

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority in Buffalo created special signs of remembrance to display in its facilities and on all its vehicles.

Chicago’s Metra commuter rail system is commemorating the heroes of September 11 with special designs for its monthly passes and special weekend tickets.


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Acela Express

NCI: Leo King

Instead of zipping along at track speed, passenger trains came to a stop, including the premier Acela Expresses between Boston and Washington.
All of America stopped for a time on
September 11, including planes, trains
By Leo King
Editor

Today is September 9, 2002. In two more days, Americans will observe the first anniversary of a date that “will live in infamy.”

On December 8, 1941, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt uttered that memorable phrase to a joint session of Congress, as the United States declared war on Japan the day after their sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. On that single day, 2,403 Americans died.

Following the terrorist attacks last September on the mainland, America found itself embroiled in a battle against Al Qaeda, an Islamic militant group of terrorists, and their leader, Osama bin Laden. We are still on the ground in Afghanistan, joined by other nations, both Arabic and European, which also despise cowardly terrorist attacks. The Taliban have been driven out of Afghanistan, but their way of thinking remains.

One year ago, that Tuesday began like so many other late summer days in the Northeastern U.S. – a tad on the warm side, and sunny skies over much of the nation – but how things would change for America.

A unique angle to this story is not only the horror, but also that a single event affected every form of transportation in America.

In an act of war, both World Trade Center towers in New York City were targets of terrorists in jumbo jet aircraft highjacked after departure from Logan International Airport in Boston on September 11. Three days later, President Bush termed it as “The first war of the Twenty-first Century.” Within an hour of being struck, both 110-story buildings in New York collapsed. Later, building No. 7 in the trade center collapsed following a fire, and other structures remained perilous.

PATH riders saved

New York’s subways survived.

Terry Pristin of The New York Times told his readers firefighters discovered an empty train inside a PATH station (that’s Port Authority of New York) several days after the disaster, and the platform was equally abandoned. The tunnel lay directly beneath the rubble of the World Trade Center, but the tunnel was intact.

Construction crews who had moved tons of debris that blocked the tunnel’s emergency exit had cleared the way into the hole. The firefighters walked down five stories to the tracks.

It was pitch black except where their lights hit the wall. They hit water up to their waists, a captain said, but they waded deeper into the tunnel until they found a train parked in the PATH station beneath the buildings. It was deserted, damaged by debris, but still standing. The platform was standing, too. Its ceiling had not collapsed.

They found an escalator up to the next level where they found a concourse wide enough to hold hundreds of people, but absolutely empty. Everyone appeared to have escaped before the towers fell.

Earlier in the week, the Times reported thousands of New Jersey commuters might have been among those missing in the disaster if PATH officials had not diverted some trains and evacuated others that were bound for the financial center.

About 15 minutes after the first plane pierced one of the towers, passengers on two trains – one from Hoboken, one from Newark – were evacuated out of the trade center station and through the concourse, said Mike DePallo, PATH’s director and general manager. Another train from Hoboken that already had left New Jersey at the time of the crash, entered the trade center station, but passengers were kept inside the train, which looped around and returned to Jersey City, PATH spokesman Steve Coleman said. PATH prevented other trains in New Jersey from heading toward the doomed towers, DePallo said.

The PATH control center in Journal Square in Jersey City received three reports of the first explosion at the trade center. Dispatchers radioed trains on the New Jersey side that had not reached the Hudson River tunnels and stopped them or sent them back to their previous stops. They also contacted conductors on two other trains, a seven-car set from Hoboken and an eight-car train from Newark, pulling into the trade center platform. They told them to evacuate the passengers, both on the trains and on the platforms. Crews and terminal supervisors led them out of the station, up escalators and stairs to the trade center concourse.

As many as 3,000 passengers were on the two trains and on the platforms. A third train from Hoboken approached the station sometime before 9:20 a.m., but the train’s crew did not open the doors. Instead, they circled around to take the train back to the Exchange Place stop in Jersey City.

Parts of two subway lines, the 1 and the 9, collapsed from the north end of the complex, where columns and beams from 7 World Trade Center punctured the street and entered the subway, according to David Cacoilo, a Meuser-Rutledge civil engineer who explored the tunnels on the following Sunday.

At about the same time, another commercial jumbo jet was highjacked after departure from Dulles International Airport and was deliberately crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. A fourth jumbo jet was highjacked after departure from Newark, N.J. airport, but some men aboard were able to overcome the terrorists. The airplane crashed about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, injuring no one on the ground.

The Federal Aviation Administration took an unprecedented action by grounding all domestic flights, whether commercial or not, shutting down all airports within U.S. borders, and international flights inbound to the U.S. were diverted to Canada. The U.S. transportation system ground to a halt – airlines nationwide, including airfreight operators and charter aircraft, as well as railroads, particularly in the eastern half of the nation. U.S. DOT Secretary Norman Y. Mineta would not permit the air traffic control system nor airports to reopen until 11:00 a.m. Thursday, and even then, on a limited basis and with much greater security. General Aviation aircraft were not permitted to fly again until Saturday, and all pilots were required to file flight plans.

Greyhound Bus Lines of Dallas, the largest U.S. bus line, was also directly affected by the tragedy. It suspended operations in large parts of the country on that fateful Tuesday as a safety measure after the attacks, the company said. Reuters news agency reported Greyhound said it had ceased operations indefinitely in the Northeast, as well as in nearly 30 locations nationwide where its terminals are within a mile of federal buildings, from Washington to Billings, Mont. The shutdown probably affected thousands of passengers, a Greyhound spokeswoman said. The bus line was trying to reroute some passengers and find alternate transportation for others.

“We are a major nationwide transportation company, and we decided to take this step for the safety of our employees and passengers,” Greyhound spokeswoman Kristin Parsley said. Parsley said Greyhound’s largest terminal was located in New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal, which she described as being near the World Trade Center twin towers in Manhattan.

New York mayor Rudy Giuliani said at least 350 firefighters and police officers died. His estimate was close to accurate. Pentagon officials said its death toll was about 190 soldiers and civilians, including the civilians on the airplane.

Major league baseball games were cancelled or postponed until the following Monday, September 17. The National Football League canceled all of Sunday’s games, to be made up at a later date. The Boston Red Sox rode Amtrak, three buses and several taxies in a 29-hour journey home from Tampa to Boston. The stock market and Wall Street remained closed until September 17.

The four highjacked aircraft were domestic flights.

American Airlines Flight No. 11, a Boeing 767, Boston to Los Angeles with 92 people on board, departed Logan International Airport on time, at 7:59 a.m. It crashed into the World Trade Center’s North Tower in New York City.

United Airlines Flight No. 175, another Boeing 767, was enroute from Boston to Los Angeles with 65 persons aboard. It departed Logan on time, at 8:15 a.m. That plane crashed into the World Trade Center’s South Tower.

American Airlines Flight No. 77, a Boeing 757 from Washington Dulles International Airport to Los Angeles, carried 58 people, and crashed into the Pentagon’s south side after its terrorist pilot was apparently unable to find the White House or Capitol.

Finally, United Airlines Flight No. 93, also a Boeing 757 bound from Newark, N.J. to San Francisco with 45 souls on board, crashed into the Pennsylvania countryside after passengers overcame terrorists and diverted the plane from its intended target – which remains unknown.

Amtrak was affected by the events, and all service on the Northeast Corridor was suspended for about six hours. Service around the nation was also affected, with slowdowns and inspections, as were freight railroads, with service slowdowns and some service stops, particularly in the eastern U.S.

Amtrak conductor Dave Bowe of Boston was online shortly after the first airplane slammed into the World Trade Center. He wrote, “My Amtrak information pager stopped working about 9:30 a.m. EDT, so I imagine the Motorola Skytel transmitter was on top of the World Trade Center. The last message I received was that Acela Express lost overhead power on Hell Gate Bridge about 9:15 a.m.”

The message continued saying the train regained power and continued into Penn Station. “This is going to be a long week,” wrote Bowe.

Worldwide, nations pledged their support to help the United States find the terrorists responsible for the attacks. Aiding the resolve was the notion that at least 100 British citizens, 75 Australians, numerous Japanese, Koreans and people of other nationalities died in the World Trade Center disaster, as did some Muslims. Some 265 floors in the three buildings collapsed. Virtually all nations had some of its citizens there.

For the first time in its 30-year history, Amtrak operated its entire system under national emergency conditions – a step away from wartime operations. Top railroad management in Washington sent a message around the system that stated, “On Sep 11, 2001, a series of terrorist activities began affecting the New York and Washington, D.C. metropolitan areas at about 8:48 a.m., resulting in significant loss of life and property damage.”

Amtrak ordered a system-wide stoppage of trains “at 10:30 a.m. (EDT) in conjunction with contracting railroads, like BNSF, but following inspections, trains operated at 60 mph, and the speed restriction was lifted at 5:00 pm CDT.

On the Union Pacific, following inspections, trains operated at 50 mph to the next crew base, where they were held while tracks were further inspected. The hold was canceled at 5:30 p.m. CDT.

CSX ran its passenger operations at 30 mph “unless preceded over the route by other traffic.” Restrictions were lifted Tuesday afternoon (September 11) south of Richmond, Va.

CSX stated the transportation giant, including its railroad people, “extend their heartfelt sympathies to the victims of these terrible tragedies today. Our hearts and prayers are with their families.” The freight carrier added, “We are in close contact with the authorities and other railroads and will provide service updates as more information becomes available.” CSXT said it was “being vigilant in protecting our people and system. We will fully cooperate with all national, state and local agencies and officials, including the Departments of Transportation in our service area to ensure the safety of our people and the communities where we operate. We are working with all commuter agencies and Amtrak regarding passenger operations.”

CSX stopped all Northeast traffic for a time. “All traffic in and out of greater New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C., has been suspended,” and added, “The Virginia Avenue tunnel in Washington, D.C. is closed to traffic.”

Hazardous materials were barred through the Howard Street tunnel in Baltimore and the ‘Underground tunnel’ in Atlanta. The Howard Street tunnel was the site of a freight train derailment and fire about a month earlier. The carrier added that 17 TransFlo terminals were closed, including terminals in Boston, Elizabeth, N.J., Philadelphia, Wilmington, Del., and Baltimore.

Kansas City Southern Railroad told its customers via its web site, “Despite our nation’s tragedy today, Kansas City Southern is continuing to serve its customers. System-wide, train speeds have been reduced to 30 miles per hour. KCS is inspecting its track and infrastructure in front of trains, and will update customers tomorrow morning regarding any developments.”

Union Pacific Railroad posted on its website, “Only UP employees are to be allowed in any UP facility until further notice.”

Norfolk Southern sent out a service alert system-wide following the air strikes. The freight line stated, “Operations are suspended or limited in Northeast” on September 11. A terse noted stated simply, “In cooperation with local and federal authorities and agencies, Norfolk Southern has temporarily suspended operations in the North Jersey shared asset area. Operations are also suspended or very limited along most of the northeastern corridor, including Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Newark and the Delmarva Peninsula. Customers with traffic moving from, to, or through these areas should expect delays.”

NS began moving its trains again the following day.

Amtrak’s Boston Line, Hudson Line, Chicago Line and RF&P remained restricted to 50 mph until track inspections were completed the following day.

Meanwhile, Canadian National and its newly acquired Illinois Central carried no restrictions.

Amtrak alerted travel agents that “Extra equipment, one coach unless otherwise noted, was added to trains departing on September 11: Train Nos. 4, 30, 40, 48 (two coaches); 305, 41, 48, 49, 89 (one coach and one sleeper); 90, (one coach, one sleeper); 14, 703, 712, 714, 716.”

SEPTA and NJT operations on Amtrak property “resumed at 2:30 p.m. Northeast Corridor resumed Amtrak service at hourly intervals, on conventional (neither Metroliner nor Acela Express) schedules, at 3:00 p.m.,” Amtrak said.

Steve Kerch of CBS Radio’s Market Watch told railroaders and the general public alike that travelers were “flocking to Amtrak as disruptions to the nation’s airline system remained suspended.”

Amtrak’s operations vice-president Stan Bagley said, “Amtrak ridership to New York City and Washington D.C. had been building throughout the day. In addition to Amtrak’s regular weekday service, the railroad is prepared to add capacity to trains to meet the needs of guests as may be necessary.”

Bagley said, “Two additional trains, one northbound and one southbound, will be operating out of New York this afternoon at times to be determined.”

D:F learned later Amtrak also issued instructions to its conductors that military or emergency personnel en route to New York City were to be transported free, even if the train was sold out. The number of passengers departing Washington D.C. to New York at midday Wednesday was more than twice that of an average weekday. A train traveling between Richmond, Va., and Boston earlier that day ran with 200 more passengers than normal for weekday service. A midday Boston to Washington train was sold out, which was unusual for that time of day, Amtrak said. It was an extra train added to the schedule for that Wednesday.

Bagley noted, “Other trains across the country are experiencing significant increases in ridership as well. The rail service is responding to increased demand by displaced airline passengers for long-distance trains to cities across the nation as some intercity trains are reaching capacity.”

The passenger rail carrier said, “Precautions are being taken to maintain the country’s rail passenger system as a safe and secure mode of public transportation.” It did not spell out those procedures, but Amtrak spelled it out for its employees, from its emergency headquarters in Delaware.

“Today, September 11, 2001, suspected terrorist attacks occurred at several locations throughout the United States. In light of these events, Amtrak operating departments, the Amtrak Police department, and Safety personnel increased vigilance at all Amtrak facilities and train operating areas.

“It is important for us all to be attentive to security and personal safety measures for co-workers, Amtrak guests, and ourselves. If you believe you are dealing with a suspicious package or item, do not touch the item, move yourself and anyone nearby to an area that is not in direct line of sight of the item, more than 300 feet away from a small item (hand luggage, and so on).” They also advised staying away from glass and parked cars.

Meanwhile, 40 senators traveled to New York from Washington on September 14 to view the ruins at the WTC. They rode on special movements. Traveling to New York, it was known as Amtrak Special 948. It arrived in New York three minutes early at 10:27 a.m.

In Providence, R. I., an apparently Hindu man, wearing a green turban and sporting a long beard, was removed from westbound Amtrak train No. 173, enroute from Boston to New York and Washington. After questioning, Providence police and others determined he was not a suspect either, but held him on a weapons charge for having an illegally long knife. The man said it was used as part of his religious practices.

The train was delayed about two hours. Providence Mayor Vincent Cianci (who was convicted nine months later in June 2002 of a single federal racketeering conspiracy charge, which is a felony), said state police bomb sniffing dogs went through the train. He said police were responding to a request from Amtrak. Other arrests followed in other cities around the country over the following days, but none resulted in finding terrorists. All were eventually released.

Another Boston Amtrak conductor, Brian Radovich, was having a difficult day. He wrote online, “As some of you know, my girlfriend Nanette is an American Airlines Boston-based flight attendant. Thankfully, she was not working today, but, unfortunately, a good friend of hers, who lives in her town, was a crewmember on LA-bound AA flight 11. This woman has two daughters who attend school with my girlfriend’s daughter. This has been an awful day.”

Rail-related organizations were taking precautions. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers reported it had “temporarily taken its website offline as a precautionary measure in light of terrorist attacks upon the United States.” BLE official John Bentley said the website had not been hacked.

“It was taken down as a precautionary measure in case cyber-terrorist attacks should begin on the nation’s Internet.” A BLE press release stated the site would be back online “once the threat has passed. Members will be notified when the website is back online.” Its address is http://www.ble.org.

Later on the day of the tragedy, National Corridors Initiative CEO Jim RePass noted, “This terrible day in history is, I know, affecting us all, and the aftermath will affect us for the time to come.” NCI’s webmaster and internet guru Dennis Kirkpatrick warned, “The ’net is operational but according to traces I have run from here [Boston], routes through New York City are limited at present. As I try to get to NCI’s system, it makes one hop to an outer limit system labeled for NYC then it jumps to Chicago, which is not normal; however, we remain functional and on the air.”

Kirkpatrick also noted, “Boston’s subway system and commuter rail continued to run, and extra service was added and fares waived as the city went into shutdown for the most part, and to accommodate the wave of people leaving the city.” He also wrote he canceled a dentist appointment. He told us, “Roads in and out of the city were essentially gridlocked.”

In Washington, D.C., it was turning into a commuter nightmare. Authorities “shut down all bridges and tunnels which effectively shut down all train service north and south,” reported the Virginia Railway Express.

“At this time, we are unable to run train service, and all buses are in emergency mode. We advise our passengers if they have an option to get home to take it. We have been advised by Metro that VRE passengers may use Metro service with their VRE tickets. Metro is advising us that they are having trouble talking to all their station attendants, so not all may be informed.”

VRE added, it “procured buses that operated to Fredericksburg on a load-and-go service from Alexandria station. A Manassas train was on the tracks, which would stop at Alexandria and load until full, then run to Manassas Stations. Heavy internet traffic began clogging Amtrak’s site, and commuter rail line sites virtually everywhere.

The rest of the country was not faring much better in transportation matters.

Crain’s Chicago Business News reported on the 11th “Local transportation systems were immediately affected” by the morning’s events. The Chicago Transit Authority continued to operate under rush-hour conditions late in the morning, a spokeswoman said. Morning train and bus drivers, who normally would be taken off duty after the traditional morning commute, were asked to stay on the job, and the full fleet would continue to run until further notice, the spokeswoman said. Metra, the commuter rail agency, began running unscheduled outbound service during the morning rush hour to help commuters return home early.

“The unscheduled service is effective immediately as needed, on a load-and-go basis,” a Metra spokeswoman said. Extra police officers were sent to patrol Amtrak’s Union Station, and unauthorized cars parked in the garage beneath the station were being towed, an Amtrak spokesman said. Police had also closed and blocked all taxi stands next to the station.

A Metra locomotive engineer told Chicagoans how the events affected him.

“I brought 333 into Milwaukee at 12:01 p.m. Metra was running all sorts of PXs [passenger extras]. In fact, the BN (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) had the operator in the GB office take a warrant issued to a regular scheduled Metra and change it “To All PXs” and initialed it. CUS [Chicago Union Station] was organized chaos. Metra was running ‘Load-and-go all stops’ service when we left. Let’s take a moment to say a prayer for everyone involved, particularly for all FDNY Fire Fighters and the NYPD officers trapped, injured and killed near the World Trade Center.”

Boston Conductor Bowe wrote some two hours after his first message, “My Amtrak beeper came back to life at 11:40 a.m. EDT.

‘Effective immediately, all Amtrak service systemwide is suspended until further notice.’”

Two PATH lines in Manhattan, using two different tunnels, pass under the World Trade Center. One train was reported missing on Wednesday. One line terminates under the WTC and has no other stations east of the Hudson; the other runs along Christopher Street and up Sixth Avenue to 33rd Street, one long block east of Penn Station, with four intermediate stops in New York. In normal weekday operation, there are four routes. The other two are WTC to Hoboken and Newark, and 33rd Street to Hoboken and Journal Square in Jersey City. Midway along the line, it continues to Newark.

On Friday, the Congress gave its consent to military action. It provided $40 billion to help cover the cost of retaliation and rebuilding.

Partisanship fell by the wayside.

The Senate approved a resolution supporting President Bush in military action against those found responsible for the attacks, 100-0. The House vote was 420-1. The body approved the use-of-force resolution night before. They also passed a joint resolution 12 expressing their collective outrage of the sneak attack from within a day earlier on America.

Amtrak reported on September 12, in a press release, that it was seeing ridership increases on routes between New York and Washington and in other regions of the country. The rail passenger carrier said it would honor airline tickets for travel to the cities it serves during the disruption. The enormous increase in ridership would continue through the weekend.

By September 12, the nation was still reeling from the attack, and police, FBI and other security people were at a heightened state of alert. An armed raid on Boston’s Westin Copley hotel resulted in three men being “detained” and then released after it was determined they were not the suspects they were searching for.

All bridges and tunnels leading to and from the city were closed for at least two days halting bus truck commerce as well as ordinary auto traffic. By Friday, investigators were still trying to discover exactly who was behind the atrocities.

Norfolk Southern reported the next morning its “North Jersey Shared Asset Area operations remain suspended. There is congestion in the areas approaching the North Jersey and South Jersey Shared Asset Areas, resulting from suspended operations yesterday. Customers with traffic moving from, to, or through these areas may encounter delays,” but, said the freight carrier, “Operations have been restored along most of the Northeast Corridor.”

The death toll in New York City was still unknown in by our deadline on Friday afternoon, September 14, but unofficial estimates placed the count up to some 5,300 people, and perhaps more. Eventually we learned the number was significantly fewer, around 3,000.

The September 17 issue of Destination: Freedom was the first issue we published with the waving flag in our masthead.


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Old Glory under construction

NCI: Leo King

Consider the crew that was training aboard the Downeaster. One week earlier, all “extras” were annulled.
Raising the flag
On September, 11, I was scheduled to take a ride for a story on the upcoming Maine service, between Boston’s North Station and Portland, Maine. After the morning’s devastation, all extra Amtrak moves were cancelled.

Vic Salemme, Amtrak’s man in Boston and Portland for the upcoming Maine service, made arrangements for me to ride the training train a week later, on September 18.

After September 11, American flags began blossoming across the Amtrak landscape. Consider the crew that was training aboard the Downeaster before it began scheduled service in December 2001.

Arthur Timpson, Erik Young and Joe MacKinnon fine-tuned the aluminum mast and the flag – but left it off “cabbage car” 90214 while they operated under catenary at South station in Boston, en route to North Station via “Grand Junction,” a circuitous route.

Now, one year later, we still don’t have an exact count of how many people died one year ago. The rubble has been cleared, many bodies and body parts have been found, but the awful truth is that the incredible fire incinerated many people.

New York City transit officials hope to reopen both subway lines under the site sometime within the next two years.


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At Jacksonville

NCI: Leo King

Silver Service trains stopped for a time, as in Jacksonville, Fla.
Editorial...

The first anniversary is upon us

By James P. RePass
President & CEO
The National Corridors Initiative

And so the first anniversary is upon us. Every media outlet will feel compelled to comment, but that is as it should be.

It is much too soon to place in perspective, let alone understand, the meaning of September 11. Even now the basic facts – aside from the despicable act of terrorism that killed 3,000 of our fellow citizens and citizens of other lands – are still murky, and the bulk of the terrorist network is still at large.

If we do look to history, we can perhaps find some parallels, and seek some guidance.

On September 1, 1939, Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich attacked helpless Poland. England and France, bound by treaty, immediately declared war on Germany, but from those declarations until May 1940, there was virtually no fighting between the principal belligerents. This was the time of “The Phony War,” as it came to be called, when all the world knew that a terrible, worldwide conflagration was coming, but major hostilities had not yet begun.

I believe we are at a similar time and place today, but in a completely new era of human existence. The first blow has been struck, by the terrorist disciples of Osama bin Laden and his network of allies, in the first stateless war. This war is driven not by territorial ambition as in most prior wars, but by sheer cultural hatred. Indeed, one has to go back the Crusades of the Middle Ages to find a similar motive for war, a motive our enemy has publicly claimed as his own rationale.

There have been many references to “getting back to normal.” That is a dangerous mistake. Because of the enemy’s ability to use our own technology against us, to use our free society as a sieve for poison and murder, and because we have as yet found no way to counter that threat, because of a weak and debilitated intelligence capabilities, we can and should expect further, more terrible blows than the one we received a year ago.

Does that mean life stops?

No. On the contrary, it means we must go on living and breathing in defiance of this threat – but we should not allow ourselves to be lulled into passivity because a year has gone by without a second blow. It is not so much what we do that will carry us through these next awful years, but how we carry ourselves. I believe we must approach life with a toughness of mind and spirit that we must nurture in order to defeat our brutal, fanatical foe.

That toughness of mind must carry forward to the development and implementation of a foreign policy that not only tolerates nation-building, but also puts it at the center of our efforts. With our allies, or without them, those regimes already engaged in the planning of murder and mayhem against us need to be halted and removed from power, and their countries occupied and administered by us and the other democracies until such time as they are new lands with new cultures, as was done in Japan after the end of the Second World War. Until the countries that now spawn terrorism can learn to tolerate diversity, there will be no hope of peace.

The first of these new freedoms to be imposed by us should be the absolute right of women to be treated as complete human beings, unlike their present status as wordless, rightless, chattel in Africa, much of the Middle East and some parts of Asia. Next should be freedom of religion, and then, perhaps after a decade or so of Western style civics, the right to vote and choose local representation; but make no mistake about it: this process may take decades. We had better prepare for it.

Some people will howl and say that this is cultural imperialism.

Let them howl.

I believe it is time we stop apologizing about Western values, and start defending them. We have already seen the other side’s version of cultural imperialism, and it yielded 3,000 coffins. We are not perfect, but we are a damn sight further along the human cultural chain than those bigots madly trying to assemble A-bombs and bio weapons in order to slaughter more of us. Make no mistake about it, if given the opportunity they will. The only reason the World Trade Center was not nuked was that bin Laden’s people didn’t have the bomb – yet. If they had, they would have used it. Next time, they will, if we allow it to happen.

What about transportation?

We must, first and foremost, make a real national commitment to conservation, and to a sharp reduction in our dependence on foreign oil. Money talks, and money is fungible, so we need to stop handing it to our enemies.

Second, we must accelerate the construction, now in the planning stages, of a system of high-speed rail networks, and of major improvements in freight rail infrastructure, including the elimination of all at-grade crossings.

Third, we must change the way we fund transportation. Unless and until we develop the means to fund transportation as a system – rail, highway, air, river, and coastal – we will continue to promote mode-specific fiefdoms in Congress and in the federal bureaucracy, and therefore continue to perpetuate the utterly one-sided structure we now have, and which is failing us. To improve national security, we need a robust transportation system, and to achieve that, we need both redundancy, and hardened facilities.

Fourth, and last but far from least, we need leadership, from both major parties and from new emerging voices such as the Green Party, to demand and implement the reforms that will make a systems approach possible.


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Opinion...

Amtrak: the lying must stop

By Wes Vernon

Some people will say the term “political honesty” is an oxymoron... and maybe it is, but my own experience with Amtrak out on the road and on the ground shows a dire need for all parties in the debate over rail passenger service to snap out of their state of denial.

Last year, September 11 provided more evidence of what Amtrak can do in an emergency, and showed that a national passenger train network is something this country can ill afford to lose.

As the fall debate on Capitol Hill moves forward, it is time to cut through all of the lies that have dominated the entire debate from Day 1.

Let’s go down the list.

The biggest lie of all was the “Let’s pretend” game of “Amtrak must make a profit.” When I saw and heard Transportation Secretary John Volpe make that pronouncement on Amtrak’s inaugural run way back on May 1, 1971, most of us knew the idea was something akin to a deed to the Brooklyn Bridge. What’s more, he knew it, and he knew that most of us knew that he knew it.

That lie has plagued Amtrak all during its 31-year history, and its critics have held it over Amtrak’s head, notwithstanding that Amtrak’s second CEO, Paul Reistrup, who told me publicly on a radio broadcast back in the 1970s that the “profitability” goal was inserted into the original Amtrak law “so that President Nixon would sign it.”

A related lie is the disingenuous pretense that Amtrak can and should make a profit even today. Arizona Sen. John McCain (R) persists in perpetrating this mythology, ignoring the fact that the profitability clause was removed from the Amtrak law years ago for good and sufficient reason.

The senator appears to be not the least bit bothered about the taxpayer subsidized half-empty airplanes that serve his state. He has never hauled their operators before any Senate committee demanding to know why they are not “self-sufficient.”

There are reports that McCain has been contemplating retirement when his term is up in 2004. Perhaps transportation realists and supporters of free speech (who resent his anti-first amendment approach to so-called “campaign finance reform” might want to write the good senator suggesting that it is time for him to take a rest.

“Self-sufficiency,” as written into the 1997 Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act, was a lie. It was a lie built on top of the original “profitability” lie. There were some lawmakers who sincerely believed the lie in the 1997 law, but they were obviously wrong. Honest intentions do not erase the fact that it was a lie.

Many passenger train supporters bitterly criticized the Amtrak Reform Council (ARC) last November for voting 6 to 5 that in its judgment Amtrak would not meet the goal of self-sufficiency by late 2002. Much of the criticism was not based on a belief that Amtrak actually would reach that goal. No, the arguments, shorn of all the intellectualizing, were that ARC should have turned a blind eye to reality and perpetrate the lie of probable self-sufficiency. In the final analysis, all that the Reform Council majority was doing was following an honest reading of the law and making an intellectually honest judgment. For ARC to officially state that Amtrak would be profitable by now would have conjured up images of that deed to the Brooklyn Bridge.

As Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist said in the August 21 Wall Street Journal, “For years, Amtrak maintained the fiction that it was on a smooth glide path to self-sufficiency. Hardly.” Norquist, a Clinton appointee to ARC, voted with the majority. For the council to have voted the other way would have been to breathe new life into the “fiction.” It is time for the pretend games to stop.

One can argue, as many have, that “the law is an ass;” but the fault lies with those who wrote the law and, as Amtrak president David Gunn has argued, with “the previous management” that insisted the goal was achievable.

Some of the lying has been foisted on the public by those who were simply trying to dodge political bullets from whatever regime happened to be in the White House. Not one single administration of either party during all of Amtrak’s existence has given rail passenger service the serious attention it deserves. Not one. The attitudes have ranged from outright hostility to benign neglect.

Bill Clinton said he would support the full appropriation called for in the Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act, but he failed to do so, even though it was part of the deal.

George W. Bush, preoccupied with the nation’s security and the economy, has given the green light (after reportedly heated debate within the White House) to a program built on the assumption that somehow passenger rail service can be successfully privatized.

If that were so, why did the Class I carriers bail out of the passenger business? Can anybody reconcile that?

Now the White House plan proposes a fractured plan, whereby different entities would operate different pieces of the system in different parts of the country. The Class I railroads quite understandably object that this could put them in the position of begging for clearance to operate time-sensitive freight service on their own tracks.

The only way this plan could have worked would have been for the Class Is themselves to get back into the passenger business, with assurances of profitability. That still would have meant subsidies, but no matter how you slice it, read my lips: Passenger trains do not make money, nor does any other passenger entity, when both operations and infrastructure are considered. It is not for nothing that Warren Buffet has said that the best thing that could have happened to investors in the 20th Century would have been if someone had shot the Wright brothers before they made their first flight.

As for another part of the administration plan, splitting off the NEC infrastructure from operations so Amtrak can “concentrate on running the trains,” I am agnostic. Maybe it can work. Maybe it can’t. As always, “the devil is in the details.” After repeating over and over again that splitting infrastructure from operations is the very reason that highways and airways proliferated while railroads starved, I am hardly is a position to agree with David Gunn’s judgment that the idea is “loony,” but the details of such a plan would have to go beyond merely passing the laugh test.

It is also time also to rid ourselves of the “denial” mentality that the rigid wording of the Hours of Service law is the only way to avoid fatigue on the part of railroad engineers.

It has been 133 years since the Irish workers on the Union Pacific and their Chinese counterparts on the Central Pacific sacrificed blood, sweat and tears (many lives were lost) to finally create a transcontinental railroad that changed America forever. The conditions they endured were, to say the least, primitive.

Fast-forward from the mid-19th to the early 21st Century. Just a few miles south of the famous meeting at Utah’s Promontory Point, an Amtrak train comes to a dead halt out in the middle of nowhere (See our trip report elsewhere in this issue) because the exact wording says another 20 minutes into Salt lake City would make the engineer a risk for fatigue. It makes one wonder how much progress has been made from the primitive conditions that prevailed when the last spike was driven in the 1869 meet-up of the UP and CP.

This writer, having witnessed the work that rail personnel have performed in short-staffed circumstances, is not about to play-the-blame-game with rail labor, but if rigid union rules are responsible for delays that cause undue inconvenience to freight shippers and passengers, there can be no excuse for it.

On the other hand, perhaps management can do a better job of factoring in possible delays and schedule adequate personnel to avoid stopping out in the middle of a cornfield or wherever.

That is no way to treat customers.

That Amtrak apparently did not do this may be the result of having to nickel-and-dime its way toward “self-sufficiency.” That again gets us back to the lie of “profitability.”

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) has suggested a plan to avoid the “cookie-cutter” mentality toward avoidance of fatigue. The plan deserves serious consideration by those who write the labor laws.

Chairman Ernest “Fritz” Hollings (D-S.C.), who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, reportedly has told the Bush administration that none of its urgently needed legislation that must be routed through his committee will see the light of day until his own bill to bolster both freight and passenger rail service in this country moves forward. It was reported out of his committee on a 20-3 vote. Those who argue the Hollings bill is too expensive have an obligation to show how rail service can be rehabilitated without skinflint provisions that compromise decent service to customers.

When Congress revs up the fall debate on Amtrak, the lying must stop.


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Our Meetings listings and the feature section, The way we were..., will resume next week.


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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