Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
  NCI Logo Vol. 2 No. 36, September 10, 2001
Copyright © 2001, NCI, Inc.
James P. RePass, President
Leo King, Editor
 

A weekly North American Railroad update


More Trains

NCI: Leo King

MORE TRAINS - Amtrak is adding several more Acela Express round-trips between Boston and New York on September 30, including weekends. Meanwhile, a new passenger train entity may be rising from within the Congress.
A GOP plan:

Let's build a high-speed
railroad for the country

By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

By 2021 at the latest, the United States may join its industrial counterparts in Europe and Asia with a major system of high-speed trains criss-crossing our country in the rail equivalent of the interstate highway program.

As D:F has reported over the last two years, there is a serious effort to upgrade freight and passenger service in this country. Finally, that story has burst into the mainstream media with a Washington Post report last Friday under the headline, "GOP Plans $71 Billion Rail Bill." Sources close to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee confirmed to D:F at Friday's deadline (5:00 p.m.) that the bill was in the process of being drafted.

"This bond program that we're talking about for upgrading the nation's rail system ideally needs to be done in the next ten years; more than likely we'll get it done in the next twenty years," Amtrak Reform Council Chairman Gil Carmichael told D:F on Friday.

As we have reported in the past, Carmichael envisions what he calls an Interstate II program, the follow-up to Interstate I. The latter he defines as "a slow-speed (highway) program." The former he sees as "a high speed (rail) system."

The former Federal Railroad Administrator (in the first Bush administration) has been talking with top federal, state, and local government officials, including congressional leaders, freight railroad executives, and rail advocates all around the country.

The Post reported that the GOP majority on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee "plans to introduce a $71 billion bill next week that would allow states to build high-speed passenger rail lines and upgrade freight and passenger lines in congested areas," according to "congressional, state, and labor sources." The lead sponsor is to be the committee chairman, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska).

"It's not as big as it ought to be, but it's good," Carmichael told D:F. He thinks $100 billion would be a better figure.

He had proposed the $100 billion figure late July in a House committee hearing, only to be told by the committee's ranking minority member, Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), a longtime friend of Amtrak, that $100 billion "would be laughed out of the House." But now, the committee chairman is about to introduce $71 billion, which is much closer to $100 billion than current bills in the House. When a committee chairman says, "Let's do it," the laughing usually stops.

On major construction projects like this, "you have to plan properly," says Carmichael, a self-described veteran of the highway lobby.

Whereas, the freight railroads, to varying degrees, have been reluctant to get too involved in passenger planning for fear that it would infringe on their operations, now they are being brought into the process as full-fledged partners.

"The freight boys are going to be one of the beneficiaries maybe the biggest beneficiary of this thing," Carmichael told us, "because they need this source of funding to upgrade the system across the country, and the increased speeds of the intermodal trains. By upgrading tracks to accommodate high-speed passenger trains, freight trains would also benefit from better track and additional tracks, as needed. By the time Congress gets through with it, Carmichael hopes "it will have the potential of being a hundred billion dollars." At first blush, it sounds large, but it really is not, he adds.

While the much more modest $12 billion bond legislation pending on Capitol Hill has the backing of a veto-proof majority in the Senate, it has yet to attain similar support in the House.

That, Carmichael believes, is because lawmakers in the House do not think that $12 billion will do the job and would merely be (at best) "a step in the right direction." He anticipates getting more support for a "serious" effort. In other words, "the solution" as opposed to a first step. The Young bill is viewed as showing "how to fund it, how to build it, and how to do it right."

The Northeast Corridor needs $20 billion, as the ARC chairman sees it, and "they need it in the next ten years." And he's talking about the entire line from Boston to Washington.

On the south end, between Washington and New York, he sees a need for the upgrading New York's Penn Station area (a safety problem first highlighted by D:F), as well as the catenary and the electrical system, a 70-year old infrastructure that has prevented the new Acela Express trains from operating at their intended 150 mph.

Two hours between Washington and New York, of course, "would be nice," but increasing capacity is even more important for "that vital toll road" between the nation's political and financial capitols.

As for the north end, New York to Boston, "you've got bridges, catenary, extra track, flyovers" that are required to do what's needed "early on in this century," but it needs to be done quickly, in Carmichael's view, because the Penn Station tunnels are just "kind of the epitome of the (safety) problem."

The Post story said corridor development would be decided by the states, not Amtrak. That fits right in with the ARC view that Amtrak should concentrate its focus on running the trains and serving the customers, and leave the infrastructure problems to others, another point that D:F was first to spotlight. There are indications Amtrak may be moving in that direction.

In fact, once you get outside the NEC, where Amtrak owns most of its own right of way, and consider the 11 remaining corridors, the Young bill would declare the states are to build the corridors in a partnership with the freight railroads which own most of the rights of way beyond the NEC.

The measure would be funded through loans or loan guarantees at $35 billion and state tax-exempt bonds at $36 billion. The feds would pay no more than $18 billion over 30 years, which is close to what is anticipated in the Amtrak bill.

The $51 billion, once you subtract the NEC's $20 billion, would be "a running start on the key corridors across the country that have already been identified that have the passenger potential and freight need." Actually, Carmichael envisions $20 billion for the NEC and $80 billion for the rest of the country.

One CSX chief executive has said the idea of 125 mph passenger trains mixing with 30 mph freights simply is not in the cards, however, at least one other freight CEO has said if 125 mph passenger trains were to operate, say between two major cities, he could run 90 mph intermodal trains. That is exactly the kind of feedback Carmichael has been getting in his efforts to get freight and passenger interests together for their mutual benefit to serve their totally different customers.

The freight railroads have the problem that they can't go to the investment market and get money for necessary upgrading. David Goode of Norfolk Southern, for example, has told the ARC chairman that he needs federal funds to upgrade his corridors.

What about Rob Krebs of BNSF? He covers a lot of territory outside the 12 corridors. Carmichael is unable to quote him directly, but says it has been "passed on" to him that BNSF is interested in "doing a partnership of some sort to upgrade the corridors."

United Parcel Service (UPS) and other firms would like to use rail more often, as opposed to trucks. An upgrade in trackage to enable faster passenger trains also increases the capacity of the track for intermodal freight service.

Mike Haverty of Kansas City Southern is one of the other Class I executives who has concluded that this is the route to achieving an upgrade so as to be "a major player" (Carmichael's words).

How would all of this affect long-distance trains?

Amtrak President George Warrington and his staff met with top UPS officials at its headquarters in Atlanta. According to Carmichael, they were told, "We want to use the scheduled Amtrak trains." For example, they said they would put two or three UPS cars on the transcontinental Sunset Limited daily at Orlando for Los Angeles, and get a back-haul, too. Currently that train operates only three round-trips each week.

The freight operators thought they were destined "to be a slow, dumb train" back in the eighties, which is why they single-tracked most of their trunk lines across the U.S. Since then, intermodal trains, UPS trains and others have added to the traffic, and the single-tracked lines do not allow for adequate expansion. The newer freight operations need speed.

D:F has confirmed that the Bush administration is working to bring forth a national rail passenger policy. The Post says it will be announced next year. There is a chance it may come before then. During that period, probably leading up to January or February, when the first next budget is announced, there will be a major debate in this country, the very kind of debate long anticipated on this website.

The bonds would be aimed at high-speed corridors. Funding for the complete national system, including long distance service, is yet to be proposed. Amtrak is working on that. The ARC and others will be offering lots of advice.

Regarding that, Carmichael believes that as state DOTs begin to see that rail is part of the solution, "Congress is beginning to think how to fund it, states are beginning to think how to build it."

The Young bill reportedly was designed in such a way as to pacify such Amtrak critics as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and alleviate the concerns of the administration and the General Accounting office.

Amtrak was quoted as saying, through its spokesman Bill Schultz, that it anticipates taking a thorough look at the bill when it's introduced this week and that Amtrak welcomes "efforts of those who would improve existing passenger rail infrastructure and high speed rail."

Finally, this evolving transition from "old-think" to "thinking out of the box" is beginning to bear fruit and is attracting more public attention. Putting rail (both freight and passenger) on a level playing field with its competitors in the air and on the highway is what this story is all about.

Remember, you read it here first when the whole effort was in its infancy.


Unfinished Business

NCI: Leo King

UNFINISHED BUSINESS - Both trainsets used for training crews left Southampton Street yard in Boston on September 5 as a double-draft for Portland. One set will remain in the Maine city while the other is out and returns to Boston for servicing.
Portland service nears;
awaits final start date
By Leo King
Editor

We have learned from an impeccable source there will be four daily round trips per day from North Station in Boston to Portland, Maine, seven days each week. There will be eight crews, of which five will be regular, with three "must-fills" belonging to the spare board. Each train's consist will be three Metroliner coaches including a dinette, P-40 locomotives and a "cabbage car," also called a "Cab-bag." In Amtrak nomenclature, it is a Non-powered Control Unit on the other end.

"The third set will be the spare set that will stay at Southampton yard until required. The spare set will fill in when maintenance and inspections are required - at 60, 90, and 120-day intervals for engines and cars," he said.

Meanwhile, push-pull training sets have changed their consists somewhat, and one set now remains overnight in Portland; the consists will change on alternate days. That change began last week.

Some dinettes and coaches are still being converted to push-pull mode as they are refurbished at the Bear, Del., shops. In addition to the outlets being installed inside the car for laptop computers and other electronic devices, cables are also added underneath each car to allow push-pull operations.

Both training and testing trainsets left Boston for Portland on September 5. In the lead was "cabbage" 90214 followed by dinette 48150, F-40PH 144, cabbage 90213, dinette 48240, and P-40 810. Later, on this day, the 244 set returned to Boston. All four Portland trains are expected to be hauled by 4,000 HP P-40s.


Rail retirement legislation
may make national headlines
By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

During the last two years that the railroad retirement bill has been kicking around on Capitol Hill, it has been "under the radar screen" as far as the public is concerned.

That may soon change.

Though the House-passed measure has (at last count) a veto-proof 77 cosponsors in the Senate, the rules of debate in "the world's most deliberative body" allow for far more foot-dragging than is permitted in the House.

Three senators Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), Don Nickles (R-Okla.), and Pete Dominici (R-N.M.) are prepared to tie up the Senate if that's what it takes to defeat the measure and prevent it from getting to President Bush's desk. If that happens, you can bet the ranch that this once-obscure bill will suddenly be "top news."

Gramm disclosed last week he would not seek another senatorial term.

What sparked the attention of many opponents who otherwise would not have paid attention to the measure was a Bob Novak column July 30, the day the measure was set for the House vote.

That caused some lawmakers to ask questions, which in turn delayed the vote overnight. Next day it passed 384-33.

On Labor Day, Novak weighed in again, and shedding light on details as to what happened.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert was stuck with the phantom "lockbox" for Social Security that both parties have used for political purposes. How could he allow a lavish retirement program for rail workers and their survivors when the rhetoric that had filled the air for months emphasized the sanctity of the lockbox on everyone else's retirement?

Further, the White House had rejected the idea of the government directly investing Social Security money in the stock market. That would be the road to government ownership of the private market, it was feared. That's why President Bush instead came up with his idea of Social Security savings accounts whereby workers themselves could decide how to invest a small part of their Social Security money in a stock portfolio.

So Hastert and White House lobbyist Mitch Daniels worked out a "compromise" whereby the bill would be "scored" in such a way that no revenue loss would be reflected. They also agreed on some minor "tweaks" in the bill to meet administration objections.

Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) rejected the deal. He had more than enough votes to pass it, so, he figured, why should he compromise? Young did insist, however, that the $15 billion estimated net loss to the Treasury be counted as "not spending." The bill raises the workers' retirement benefits and increases their benefits, while allowing the railroads to invest in the private sector, the very thing that President Bush has refused to do for Social Security.

The railroads and their unions call this a "win-win" situation whereby labor and management both come out ahead, but the White House sees it as a "no-win" for the President. They fear a political train wreck. If Bush were to sign the bill, they say, he would be caught in a public relations situation where he would be perceived as favoring one standard for a certain sector of the workforce and another standard for everyone else.

Another irony: Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) has been making a lot of noise about the sanctity of the Social Security "lockbox, and how other government spending must be limited to accommodate that. Yet Conrad is a co-sponsor of the rail retirement bill, which opponents say would shove about $15 billion out the door, whether the lawmakers call it "spending" or not.

During House debate, Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) and Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) argued that for this reason, the bill set a bad precedent for Social Security reform.

Bob Bartley, in his final days leading up to retirement as top editor for the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal, got into the act August 2 with an editorial that proclaimed, "This bill may seem narrowly focused and benign, but its impact will be big and powerful as a speeding freight train. Now it goes to the Senate; we hope they stop it in its tracks."


Amtrak makes an 'Express' offer
Amtrak is sweetening the pot for its "guest rewards" members by offering a special "Buy Two, Get One Free" offer on Acela Express trains.

The promotion began September 4 and will continue through November 9. Guest rewards members are eligible for a free Acela Express roundtrip, in the same class of service, to any Acela Express destination between Boston and New York when they buy two roundtrips (or four one-way tickets).


Corridor lines...

MARC line set for heavy trackwork

CSX is performing heavy track work on its Camden and Brunswick lines between now and November.

Maryland commuter rail (MARC) operates over the lines

CSX stated the track repairs are essential to providing a safe railroad for MARC commuter and freight trains. CSX will be installing thousands of new ties and many miles of rail. While much of the work will be done on weekends and during midday, MARC service will still be affected.

While one track is removed from service, freight trains that would normally operate outside the commuter period may back up into the rush hour. In addition, temporary speed restrictions may slow all trains over certain sections of track until work is completed. Because the trackwork will be constantly moving from one site to another, the amount of delays will vary from day-to-day.

Camden Line repairs began last week, and Washington to Brunswick repairs will be conducted from September 17 to 29.

During the October 1 week, Brunswick to Martinsburg rail work will be completed, and between October 1 and November 10 Camden Line tie work will be completed.

Rail installation on the Alexandria branch (which connects to the Camden Line at Riverdale) and the Old Main Line (from Point of Rocks to St. Denis) may indirectly affect MARC trains if freight traffic backs up onto the Brunswick and Camden Lines.


Texans think about a new train
Lubbock officials are backing a proposed Fort Worth-to-Denver Amtrak train, which would stop in their city, and now supporters of passenger service are trying to get Amarillo on board with the idea.

The proposed Caprock Chief passenger train would stop in Amarillo, Tim Geeslin of the Texas Association of Rail Passengers said Thursday, meeting with Center City of Amarillo and chamber of commerce officials, and with aides to state representatives, reports the Amarillo Globe-News.

The new train would start in Dallas or Fort Worth, and run through Weatherford, Eastland, Abilene, Sweetwater, Lubbock, Plainview, Amarillo, Boise City, Okla., La Junta, Colo., Pueblo, Colo., Colorado Springs, Littleton, Colo., and Denver. Some of the existing tracks would have to be upgraded.

Passenger train service ended in Amarillo in 1971.


Freight lines...

UP raises Utah city's mayor's ire

Salt lake City's mayor and some of its citizens are outraged about Union Pacific operating trains again on the line that has not seen freight traffic in three years. On September 3, The Salt Lake Tribune reported the city's mayor, Rocky Anderson, declared war against UP's plans to run eight to ten 150-car freight trains daily through residential neighborhoods and school zones on the city's west side.

"We're going to fight this thing with every ounce of energy we have because we're in the right," Anderson told about 60 sign-wielding protesters gathered in front of Union Pacific's corporate headquarters just northwest of the Delta Center in downtown Salt Lake City.

"This is all about Union Pacific's determination to destroy our neighborhood to enhance their profit margin," he said.

Anderson sent a letter Aug. 3 to UP declaring he had terminated the railroad's franchise agreement for the line with the city. Under the 1989 agreement, which expires June 30, 2003, Salt Lake City granted UP the right to cross city streets but the contract allows the city to revoke the right if any part of the line is not used for nine consecutive months. Union Pacific has not run a train on the line in question for more than three years.

Railroad officials claim the revocation clause is invalid because it was forced to remove tracks along a street to accommodate Interstate 15 construction. The carrier has taken the case to Surface Transportation Board.

The city filed a motion in U.S. District Court for Utah last week, asking for a direct order preventing UP from restarting freight service along 950 South.

The proposed route would run through the residential Glendale and Poplar Grove neighborhoods. The trains would pass within 50 feet of some homes, and the tracks are adjacent to a new elementary school.

"Kids will be coming to and from school from both sides of the tracks," said Jeanette Gonzales, whose property line lies just 35 feet from the tracks. "With eight to 10 trains running past there each day," it will be extremely dangerous.

Gonzales and her husband, Phil, purchased the home through Neighborhood Housing Services in the late 1980s as part of a renovation plan to upgrade the neighborhood. At the time, Union Pacific was running just three-car trains only once or twice a day. "Then they stopped altogether and we were led to believe there would be no more trains along those lines." They built an in-ground swimming pool two years ago, which they believe would crack from the vibrations of heavy freight trains.


DM&E idea may earn millions, if...
There's gold in them thar coalfields - or potentially, anyway, as the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad's officials see its expansion plans. It's a $1.5 billion challenge awaiting the DM&E, in spite of possible blocks or objections from the Surface Transportation Board, and if it successfully defends against anticipated lawsuits.

The STB could decide by year's end whether the railroad can proceed, but the railroaders will also have to convince investors it's worth the risk. Opinions vary on whether that's the case, the Associated Press reported from Mankato, Minn. last week.

Kevin Schieffer, DM&E president, has insisted the project will have no difficulty attracting investors willing to provide $1.5 billion in financing. That's the railroad' s estimate of the cost of upgrading tracks and extending the railroad 260 miles into Wyoming's coalfields.

If the construction costs, which don' t include the money needed for locomotives and freight cars, are high, so is the potential return. The project could generate more than three quarters of a billion dollars in annual gross revenue to the DM&E as it supplies fuel to power plants that feed America' s growing thirst for electric power.

"In my mind, it looks like a good investment, " said Chuck Linderman, director of energy supply policy for the Edison Electric Institute, an organization representing power companies. " The need is there."

Environmentalists say investors will be facing tremendous risk as they gamble their dollars on coal, a fuel that could be the target of future federal regulations aimed at reducing air pollution as America deals with its role in global climate change.

"I think this is a project that dies of its own weight and its own shortcomings, " said Michael Noble, executive director of Minnesotans for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a coalition of environmental groups. It's a 19th century strategy that' s really out of sync with tomorrow's world."

More than one energy analyst has predicted that Wyoming coal will be in big demand by Midwestern and Southern utilities in the years ahead, and there's no doubt that the DM&E's essentially straight-shot route from the Powder River Basin coal mines to the Mississippi River offers a potential competitive advantage in transporting the coal. The other two railroads hauling Wyoming coal take a more circular route to Midwestern utilities. The Union Pacific route follows a southern detour through Nebraska, and Burlington Northern Santa Fe trains end up in northern Minnesota before coming back to the south.

Access to the Mississippi River also means access to the Ohio River. Both meet at Cairo, Ill., which would allow DM&E coal to reach markets as far away as Pittsburgh, Louisville, and Cincinnati.

DM&E officials also list reliability as a major advantage it will offer to utilities. The railroad' s entire route would be new or rebuilt rail with computerized dispatching methods aimed at allowing trains to travel in uninterrupted trips from Wyoming to the end of the DM&E line.

Everything the DM&E project has to offer investors, however, will be offset by one enormous risk, according to environmentalists. The largest railroad expansion project in a century is entirely dependent on rapidly growing demand for Wyoming coal, but coal can' t be burned without releasing carbon dioxide, one of the major contributors to global climate change.


Across the pond...

Germany to spend billions
upgrading passenger stations

Germany's national railroad system said last week it will spend $4.6 billion (10 billion marks) over the next 10 years to upgrade its stations.

German railway company Deutsche Bahn said that since 1994, it had already undertaken significant renovation work on about two-thirds of its approximately 6,000 stations, according to the Chinese news agency, Xinhua. The report came from Berlin on August 29.

The biggest single project in Deutsche Bahn's station renovation project involves Frankfurt's main train station.

The railroad also plans to put some $550 million (1.2 billion marks) into upgrading its various stations at airports around Germany. Airport authorities are also investing in these projects, railway officials said.


Meetings...

Sept. 10-13

AREMA annual conference

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


Sept. 15, 16

Representing Rail Passenger Interests Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sept. 20

Amtrak Reform Council

Business Meeting: 8:30 a.m. 9:30 a.m.
Hearing: 9:30 a.m. 5:30 p.m.

Wilshire Grand Hotel
930 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA

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


Oct. 16, 17

Passenger trains on freight railroads

Railway Age conference
Washington Marriott Hotel
Washington, D.C.

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

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

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


The way we were...

The train's the thing...

Rock Island Lines: Leo King collection

THE TRAIN'S THE THING - "Rocky Mountain Rocket operating daily between Chicago, Denver and Colorado Springs. Pike's Peak appears in the background," states a hand-written note on the back of the Rock's eight-by-ten-inch photo from Kaufmann & amp;Fabry Co., in the Windy City. They were the Rock's commercial photogs in the 1950s.
End Notes...

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

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

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

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

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


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