Vol. 6 No. 37
September 12, 2005

Copyright © 2005
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

The E-Zine of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - Jim RePass      Editor - Molly McKay
Webmaster - Dennis Kirkpatrick

A weekly North American rail and transit update

For railroad professionals
Political leaders at all levels of government
Journalists from all media

* Now in our Sixth Year *

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IN THIS EDITION...  In this edition...

  News Items... 
Senate Committee Introduces Amtrak Legislation
Amtrak helps out
Amtrak multi-ticket discount fares going up;
   Acela service gradually coming back on line
Millionth Rail 2 Rail Passenger Marks Milestone;
   Program Earns National Recognition
  Commuter lines 
Commuter rail link with Providence gets new look
Classic trolleys return to philly, but one neighborhood
   just wants the parking
In Boston, The MBTA revives the Susan B. Anthony Dollar
  Freight lines 
Freight Railroads at “The Inflection Point”?
   A Successful Rail Operator Thinks It Might Be So
  Friday closing quotes 
Green Cities and the End of the Age of Oil
How the government promotes sprawl
Parkway May Bring More Sprawl
From The Publisher: The attitude is the problem
Photo by Doug Alexander: Photo submissions welcome

For NCI: Doug Alexander

Amtrak’s Crescent has been laying over and turning in Atlanta since the railroad bugged out of New Orleans ahead of Katrina. The trains arrive from the north at about 9:00 a.m. each morning and then turns on the wye track at Howell Junction to the south of Peachtree Station. It is then parked on an old industrial lead that used to serve Atlantic Steel. The steel plant is gone and is being replaced with a huge mixed-use development called Atlantic Station. Amtrak anticipates resuming service on the corridor as far south as Meridian, MS on Tuesday, September 13th. Resumption of service to New Orleans will take a while longer.


Senate Committee Introduces Amtrak Legislation

Source: Amtrak Ink

Legislation to provide Amtrak an average of $1.89 billion per year from 2006-2011 was approved by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation just prior to the August congressional recess.

Calling on their colleagues to make Amtrak reform and improving passenger rail a priority this year, Senators Trent Lott (R-MS), Ted Stevens (R-AK), Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) said the legislation - The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2005 - is based on three themes: reform and accountability, cost cutting, and funding options for states.

“While it marks the start of a potentially long process, this authorization bill represents a bipartisan approach to improving national passenger rail that will for the first time give shape to intercity passenger rail policy for the next decade,” noted Amtrak Government Affairs Vice President Joe McHugh.

An authorization bill provides direction for a federal or federally-funded program over multiple years. The bill is different in a significant way from the annual appropriations bill that provides Amtrak its federal grant. It states the level at which Congress believes Amtrak should be funded, but it does not provide the money to Amtrak; the money to subsidize operations and fund capital projects comes in the annual appropriations bill.

Both bills are important, as the authorizing legislation essentially states what Amtrak should do and the appropriations legislation provides the money to do it.

In response to the introduction of the Senate bill, Amtrak President David Gunn said, “Amtrak has made considerable progress in the past three years to operate more efficiently and, with increased federal support, invest in maintenance and capital projects too long deferred. However, neither this progress nor the reforms we announced earlier this year can substitute for the clear direction of federal policy and resources to match it, and, as such, we commend the bipartisan introduction of this legislation.”

The Numbers

With a focus on addressing the plant and equipment needs of the railroad, the bill dedicates an average $556 million per year for operating costs, starting with $580 in FY ’06 and $455 million in FY ’11, while the capital funds would increase from $813 million in FY ’06 to $1.2 billion in FY ’11. This would give Amtrak the resources with which to achieve a state of good repair and to implement accountability and cost-cutting measures.

An average of $287.5 million would also be made available each year for the repayment of debt during the same period. However, a provision in the legislation enables the secretary of the Treasury to restructure Amtrak’s debt within one year. If this takes place, the amount appropriated for debt service would be reduced.

To put the figures in perspective, in FY ’05 Amtrak will spend approximately $570 million for operating costs not covered by revenues, invest $516 million in capital projects, and spend $273 million on debt service.

Some of the measures included in the multifaceted Senate bill formalize the steps Amtrak has taken, or plans to take, to improve cost accounting and operations, as outlined in the Strategic Reform Initiatives unveiled in April.

Next Steps

The bill must next be considered by the full Senate, which could happen this fall or early next year. The House also needs to act on its own bill, such as the one (H.R. 1630) introduced in the spring, which essentially extends Amtrak’s authorization, and funds Amtrak at $2 billion for each of the fiscal years 2006 through 2008.

Other highlights of the bill include:

Management Improvements and Financial Accountability

The Amtrak Board of Directors is expanded from seven to nine members and the Amtrak CEO is made a full voting member of the board.

The bill calls for implementation of a financial accounting system enabling Amtrak to assign revenues and expenses to each of its business lines and major activities. Amtrak is required to separate the costs of infrastructure and rail operations and provide this data for review to the Secretary of Transportation. Amtrak has already begun to do this.

Amtrak is mandated to develop a five-year plan that outlines projected revenues, expenditures, ridership, capital funding needs and other factors, much like the detailed five-year strategic plan that Amtrak has provided Congress and the FRA on an annual basis since 2003.

Performance Metrics

A range of measures in the bill is aimed at standardizing and establishing metrics for performance and decisions about service. Working with the Surface Transportation Board, the FRA and freight partners, Amtrak will jointly develop standards for measuring performance and service quality, such as cost recovery, and on-board and station services. Compiling this information, the FRA will publish a quarterly report on train performance and service quality.

An independent auditor hired by the FRA will make objective recommendations on the methods for route and service decisions. Cost recovery, on-time performance of existing routes, the transportation needs of communities and other factors are to be taken into account. It would be left up to the Amtrak Board to adopt any of these recommendations.

To improve on-time performance of passenger trains, the Surface Transportation Board is empowered to investigate train delays where on-time performance falls below 80 percent over two consecutive quarters. If the source of the delay is the failure of a freight railroad to give passenger rail preference over freight trains, the STB may impose and collect financial penalties.

Long-distance Service

Using the performance and service quality standards described above, Amtrak will evaluate and rank the performance of each of its long-distance routes on an annual basis.

This analysis will then be used to improve the trains’ performance, which may include making changes to the route, improving on-board service, changing sleeper car and food service options, and modifying the frequency of service. Monitoring this process, the FRA will have the authority to withhold funds for those routes that do not show progress.

Starting in 2007, the FRA will administer a bid program allowing another railroad over whose tracks Amtrak operates to compete to replace Amtrak as the passenger rail service provider on that route.

Rail Security

The bill also incorporates rail security and safety provisions proposed in previous legislation. For purposes of advancing security improvements, the legislation authorizes the appropriation of $123 million over the course of fiscal years 2006 though 2008. In addition, the bill authorizes funding for Fire and Life Safety tunnel improvements in New York, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

The Northeast Corridor

Within six months of enactment of the legislation, Amtrak will present the secretary of Transportation a detailed capital plan. The plan must be updated annually, and return the Northeast Corridor to a state of good repair by 2011.

The secretary of Transportation is required to form an Infrastructure and Operations Advisory Commission. The commission will construct a standardized formula for determining costs and compensation paid by commuter authorities for the use of Amtrak facilities or infrastructure.

The States

The legislation creates a federal funding mechanism for state corridor development, a concept included in Amtrak’s FY 2005-2009 strategic plan.

The legislation sets up a capital grant program for a state or a group of states to pay for capital costs of facilities and equipment for new or improved passenger rail.

The grant program will take the form of an 80/20 federal/state match, which would be based on criteria such as economic feasibility and anticipated ridership, and awarded at the discretion of the secretary of Transportation. This is similar to the match programs currently in effect for other modes of transportation such as transit and highways.

The legislation requires Amtrak to work with the states and FRA to establish a standardized cost accounting and compensation methodology for states to fund operating losses and capital costs of all short distance routes. States’ capital expenditures would be eligible for federal matching funds.

Another provision in the bill will make it possible for states and Amtrak to issue bonds for capital projects.

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Amtrak helps out

By D:F staff

The Federal Government may have been asleep at the switch for Katrina but the railroad it loves to hate, or fund, Amtrak, was more than prepared to pitch in, and did, in getting people out of New Orleans on Friday September 2.

It was able to do this because it had the wisdom to get all its operable cars and seven locomotives out of New Orleans to high ground before the storm hit, getting them to McComb, MS, before the storm hit, according to the employee advisory Amtrak’s CEO David Gunn sent out this past week.

Even more impressive, Amtrak then and then got it back into the city to pick up evacuees – nearly 100 – and take them to Lafayette, the capital of Cajun country, west of New Orleans. New Orleans is still accessible from the West, through Avondale and over the Huey P. Long Bridge which crosses the Mississippi upriver from New Orleans, in Jefferson Parish.

They were positioned on Saturday with two trainsets of equipment in Lafayette, and capable of taking out 600 people at a time, but Federal officials told them to stand by when Houston officials stopped taking evacuees.

Here is David Gunn in his own words:

“Last Tuesday, we faced the following conditions, as all the railroads were hit hard by Katrina: The CSX east of New Orleans was out for months, at least. The CN was closed south of Hammond and wasn’t going to reopen for days. The NS suffered extensive damage over Lake Pontchartrain, and was to be closed for several weeks. The first line to be opened was the BNSF from Avondale at the east end of the Huey Long Bridge in New Orleans to Lafayette. This could happen once the railroad repaired the Bayou Boeuf Bridge, which had been hit by a runaway barge.

“When we knew that the BNSF would be the first line to open, we got in touch with the federal authorities to let them know that we could move a trainset from McComb on the CN through Hammond, then across to the UP to Baton Rouge and on to Avondale in New Orleans (via freight tracks). Knowing this, the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA asked that we prepare a service shuttling evacuees out of New Orleans.

“Working quickly with the freights, we made up the train and had it depart Baton Rouge late Friday night for New Orleans. Saturday morning our train evacuated 97 passengers to Lafayette, where they then transferred to buses for Texas.

“During this time, we worked with Houston Metro Transit to arrange bus transportation to various Texas destinations and prepared to make twice-a-day departures from New Orleans to Lafayette, with each train carrying up to 600 passengers. However, Saturday afternoon we were asked by the federal authorities to suspend the operation because Texas was no longer accepting evacuees. Since then, we have told FEMA and the FRA that we have two trainsets now positioned in Lafayette – one of Horizon equipment (moved east from Los Angeles) and the other Superliner (from McComb). This equipment could be used for evacuees, law enforcement, military, clean-up workers or anyone else as may be needed. We are standing ready to assist as necessary.”

Gunn went on to report that rail service while out for now to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, was already on its way back to near-in communities: “We are going to make every effort to restore regular passenger service to New Orleans as soon as possible. Right now, the Crescent is turning at Atlanta. That will be extended to Meridian in less than a week [that is happening now – editor’s note]. The City of New Orleans is running to Memphis and will be extended to Jackson and Hammond. The Sunset Limited is turning at San Antonio. We’ll make an assessment of how soon it can go to New Orleans, but it will be a very long time before it goes east of there, given the damage to the rail line through Biloxi and Gulfport,” he stated.

The consensus is that Amtrak rose to the occasion, was wise in its shepherding of equipment to higher ground, and then made itself ready and able to help when called upon, making it one of the few government entities that have actually had a plan, and implemented it successfully, in a crisis. Many of its people have been working literally nonstop for more than a week, and the forthcoming rebuilding effort will be making great demands on them and all transportation. Amtrak, it would seem, is ready for it.

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Amtrak multi-ticket discount fares going up;
Acela service gradually coming back on line

By D:F staff

Amtrak is acting to raise its deeply discounted, commuter-oriented, multi-ticket fares, Amtrak has announced. The result will be increased prices for many Northeast Corridor users.

Amtrak had been discounting up to 70% off face ticket prices for multi-ticket rides, noted Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black. The discount will still be nearly 50% in most cases.

While Amtrak has been under pressure to reduce its reliance on government funding (despite, statistically, being the least subsidized of any transportation mode in the United States), the fare increase was taken as a business rationalization step, rather than as a reaction to that pressure, stated Amtrak’s Cliff Black.

Also, Amtrak has added a second Acela high-speed train from Boston to New York, making for three weekday trains and two weekend runs on that route. New York-DC service gets three more Acela runs, up to 12, and nearly back to the pre-brake problem 15-trains schedule.

Amtrak pulled all Acela service in April when cracks were detected in the steel spokes that connect disk brake rotors (three per axle) to the axles. No actual failures were ever recorded, but the assemblies are being replaced with beefed-up versions of the part. The Acela train is still under manufacturer’s warranty, notes Amtrak. It was built by a Canadian company, Bombardier, as head of a multi-company consortium following an Alstom-based design similar to the French TGV, but made far heavier than the French version by American (Federal Railroad Administration) safety standards.

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Millionth Rail 2 Rail Passenger Marks Milestone;
Program Earns National Recognition

Source: Amtrak Ink

Rail 2 Rail Millionth passenger

Amtrak Ink

Balloons, confetti, cameras and microphones met Darayus Mistry, Amtrak’s millionth Rail 2 Rail passenger as he stepped off a Metrolink train pulling into Los Angeles Union Station on Aug. 3.

Officials from Amtrak, Caltrans and Metrolink, the sponsors of the Rail 2 Rail program, were also on hand to greet Mistry. A 10-year commuter from Irvine, Mistry was given a giant-sized Metrolink annual pass, a California Rail Pass, and a Pacific Surfliner Business class ticket for two.

Rail 2 Rail, first initiated in 2002, integrates schedules, fares and marketing between Amtrak and Metrolink. Through the program, Metrolink monthly pass-holders may ride any Pacific Surfliner train within the trip limits of their Metrolink monthly pass at no additional charge. This flexibility provides Metrolink passengers with 39 additional weekday and 41 weekend departures. In turn, Amtrak ticket holders may choose from an additional 60 Metrolink trains at no extra charge.

Odyssey Award Winner

In recognition of its success, Rail 2 Rail was awarded the prestigious 2005 Odyssey Award from the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) in the cate-gory of Travel Facilitation, crediting Amtrak, Caltrans and Metrolink for “jointly implementing a program that demonstrates a clear objec-tive to ease travel.” The Odyssey award will be formally presented on Oct. 27 in Seattle,WA. With the goal of getting more Southern Californians onto trains, Amtrak, Caltrans and Metrolink jointly offer passengers a range of options from one train line to the other.

The Rail 2 Rail program exceeded expectations and increased overall ridership for both Amtrak and Metrolink. The Pacific Surfliner has enjoyed record ridership for nine of 12 months in 2004. In 2004, more than 343,000 customers took advantage of this ticket reciprocity program. On average each month in 2004, 28,000 Metrolink passengers rode on Amtrak trains and 3,400 Amtrak riders rode Metrolink.

At left - Rail 2 Rail millionth passenger Darayus Mistry is flanked by Amtrak conductors Victor D’Agostino, Jr. (left) and Dennis DeVille (right) as he boards an Amtrak train to continue his daily commute to Van Nuys, CA.

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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

Commuter rail link with Providence gets new look

By Gloria Russell - Westerly Sun

The Westerly (RI) Sun’s Gloria Russell reports that long sought commuter rail service through the 43.8 miles of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor between Providence and Westerly is getting closer.

Long been a goal of state Department of Transportation officials, and RI political leaders, the commuter rail service is seen as a means of slowing the sprawl induced by I-95 traffic.

According to the Sun, “Now, officials are examining the feasibility of a link known as the South County Commuter Rail Service in a move that could bring such service closer to South County - and into Westerly. State Sen. Dennis L. Algiere, R-Westerly, prime mover behind improvements to Westerly’s 93-year-old local railroad station said. Department of Transportation officials are looking at Phase I of a Rhode Island commuter rail service.

“That’s the extension of commuter rail from Providence to Wickford Junction,” Algiere said. Algiere, who chaired the state’s Commuter Rail Commission in the 1990s, said the Wickford Junction construction, which is expected to begin next year, could be completed around 2008. Phase II of the project would bring the extension of service to the Westerly area about two years later, he said.

“I’d rather see us look at alternative modes of transportation such as commuter rail rather than building new roads,” Algiere said. “As we continue to grow each year, you see projected numbers of the increase in automobile traffic. One way - not only to reduce traffic but also to reduce congestion and alleviate pollution - is to look at affordable and flexible commuter rail.”

State officials throughout Rhode Island are looking at ways to address transportation amid some communities’ growth, the Sun reported.

For the complete text see: http://www.thewesterlysun.com/articles/2005/09/07/news/news5.txt

In Connecticut, the National Corridors Initiative and Stop Stealth Highways, along with the Sierra Club, are seeking to extend Metro North commuter rail service from New Haven to Providence, as well. Part of NCI’s TransPlan 21 program, the project would take advantage of the $2.7 billion tax-payer funded electrified high speed line running from New Haven to Boston that, so far, Metro North has never sought to use.

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Classic Trolleys Return to Philly
But One Neighborhood Just Wants Its Parking

Source: www.philly.com

Philadelphia --- Philadelphia’s transit agency SEPTA has restored to service 18 completely rebuilt “PCC” trolleys, spending about half per car what brand new cars would cost.

So, are people applauding? Well, not all of them. One neighborhood is upset that the return of trolley service reduces its on-street parking. And they plan to keep on double-parking, despite postings going up to end that practice.

Larry King, reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, (Larry King at 215-345-0446 or lking@phillynews.com. ) reports that only the obstinacy of former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, now governor of the state, made it happen, but the West Philadelphia neighborhood is resisting, despite the start of service after a one-year delay they caused.

“Route 15 an 8.2-mile east-west stretch from Port Richmond to Haddington, was among three routes axed because of a 1992 SEPTA budget crunch. With it went the old-style PCC cars, named for the Presidents’ Conference Committee, a Depression-era group of railway bosses who came up with the classic, standardized design,” reported King

“SEPTA had pledged to restore the old trolley routes with modern, light-rail cars by 1996. By 1997, having done nothing, it collided head-on with one Ed Rendell, a mayor who didn’t forget,” adding that Rendell held SEPTA’s budget “hostage” until they got on with the long delayed work.

For the full story see: www.philly.com/mld/philly/news/12554092.htm You will have to register to sign in.

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In Boston,

The MBTA revives the Susan B. Anthony Dollar

Boston’s transit system, the MBTA, is getting rid of tokens in favor of its new electronic “Charlie Tickets”, but not all coins are going away: the Susan B. Anthony dollar, in its new Sacajawea incarnation, will be given in change by machines that can not dispense dollar bills, reports The Boston Herald’s Casey Ross.

For the full story see: //news.bostonherald.com/localRegional/view.bg?articleid=100965

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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

Freight Railroads at “The Inflection Point”?
A Successful Rail Operator Thinks It Might Be So

Norwalk, CT ---Mortimer Fuller is a fourth generation railroader, and got heavily into rail entrepreneurship and growth at a time when many had written off rail as an obsolete technology.

Starting with a family-owned 14.5 mile company, the Genesee & Wyoming “short line”, Fuller has run GWR since 1978 and beginning in 1986 via acquisition assembled a worldwide freight rail operation of 9000 miles and 3,500 employees, with 2004 sales of $303 million.

The Norwalk (CT) Advocate’s (Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc ) special correspondent Neil S. Mehta interviewed Fuller recently. Some key observations by Fuller: smaller short-line freight railroads have been brought to “an inflection point” – a turning point --- by several factors. Deregulation in 1980 freed up freight railroads from stultifying Federal rate-setting; the increasingly high cost of fuel is driving customers away from trucking (trains can move 115 freight cars with just two people; many more trucks would be needed to equal that load), there is a shortage of qualified truck drivers, and the roads are simply far more congested than they were, slowing down trucks and reducing their competitive advantage.

Working against the renaissance of rail: "Major railroads are notorious for bad service, not getting goods on time to the customer, every time," according to Fuller. GWR’s strong customer-service orientation might be the solution to that, however.

Emphasizing service and high-tech management operations has served GWR well, and presents a model for the industry.

For the full story see: www.norwalkadvocate.com/business/scn-sa-trainssep04,0,4740564.story?coll=nor-business-headlines

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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: MarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)54.94 53.34
Canadian National (CNI)66.53 66.22
Canadian Pacific (CP) 38.97 37.92
CSX (CSX)45.15 44.02
Florida East Coast (FLA)43.15 43.31
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)29.95 29.52
Kansas City Southern (KSU)20.00 19.86
Norfolk Southern (NSC)36.05 36.06
Providence & Worcester (PWX)13.60 13.45
Union Pacific (UNP)67.85 68.48

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OPINION...  Opinion...

Green Cities and the End of the Age of Oil

by Richard Register

[ The following thought-provoking article appeared in the online publication Common Ground (www.commongroundmag.com); D:F is arranging to publish articles from CG that we hope will open up our readership to the ideas and issues shaping the debate on America’s environmental – and economic – future. Some will find this article entirely too “visionary”. Others will love it. Let us know what you think. – the Publisher ]

Over the past century, our cities have been shaped — literally — for the benefit of the automobile and oil industries. Today, with global oil reserves headed toward irreversible decline, we need to face the challenges of the imminent post-oil reality. Seizing foreign oil fields (then “spinning” the story to make a prophet of Orwell) will not solve our environmental problems. Building Green Cities for people, not cars, will.

In their controversial essay, “The Death of Environmentalism,” Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus claim that the environmental movement has worked its way into historical irrelevance. These writers suggest that “the greatest tragedy of the 1990s is that, in the end, the environmental community had still not come up with an inspiring vision, much less a legislative proposal, that the majority of Americans could get excited about.”

I disagree, not only with these two green movement morticians but also with some of their critics. Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, has rightly scolded Shellenberger and Nordhaus for “failing to offer their own ideas,” a lapse that “rendered their report nihilistic – able to destroy but not create.” But what does Pope offer? The environmental movement, he says, “needs deeper, more robust, more sustained collaborations” and “a new economic order.” His action plan is focused on renewable energy. Does he see any alternative to tacking solar panels onto the past century’s exoskeleton of freeways, automobiles and sprawl? Not in his response. “As early as the Carter Administration,” Pope writes, “the Sierra Club sought an alliance with the United Auto Workers… to preserve and enhance the U.S. auto industry.” In their desire to deliver “what Mainstream America wants,” environmentalists discovered that people wanted cars. So the Sierra Club’s response has been to try and convince the auto industry that the environmental situation could be improved if Detroit simply built a “better” automobile. This won’t work and here’s why.

The ‘Green Car’ Myth

Consider the energy required to move a 130-pound human body by foot as compared to moving that same body the same distance seated behind the wheel of a 4,000-pound SUV. The average human can hit about 5 miles-per-hour in a brisk walk while the typical car averages 40 mph (city and freeway). While it is true that you can move eight times faster inside a two-ton vehicle, accomplishing this feat requires burning around 1,900 times as much energy (and that’s not factoring in friction, which increases with speed). This should tell you something about the fundamental insanity of depending on gas-fueled cars in an oil-starved future.

And, it’s not just the oil. Even if powered by biodiesel, hydrogen or sunbeams, the private automobile is still part of an unsustainable urban system that requires massive networks of streets, freeways, and parking structures to serve congested cities and far-flung suburbs. Driving a Prius hybrid simply makes it easier for people to live farther from the rest of their lives (while seducing them into thinking that they are “doing something for the environment”). We don’t want to face this truth because it implies too much change. Autoworkers want to keep their jobs and Sierra Clubers want to be free to drive 40 miles to experience nature whenever they feel like it.

Raised in a car-worshiping culture, we tend to assume that everyone lives in a world of breezy trips through city streets and top-down forays deep into the country. It’s hard to believe there are worlds without cars. But the startling fact is that, far from being a majority, only one of thirteen people on Earth actually owns a car. Consider this: 92 percent of the world’s people do not own cars — and the 8 percent who do are directly responsible for climate change and the alarming collapse of biodiversity on planet Earth.

If the auto industry is to have any future in a post-oil world, it may have to retrain its workers to build the efficient mass-transit systems that will serve the new ecologically healthy Green Cities, towns and villages of the 21st century. Environmentalists and autoworkers should begin thinking hard about how to rebuild low-energy, car-free cities. Autoworkers should be studying renewable energy systems and lobbying for massive federal investments in those technologies. We need to rebuild our entire civilization (towns and villages, too) on this basis. A proper accounting of the auto-urban paradigm would include the energy needed to draw the oil, cook the asphalt, erect the freeways, mine and mill the steel used to manufacture the cars and, of course, deploy the troops and weaponry to secure America’s access to foreign oil. Add it all up and you begin to get a sense of the enormity of the problem.

Of course, it’s a hard assignment. How could solving a problem as large as preventing the collapse of planetary biodiversity and inventing a new civilization in balance with nature be an easy task?

How Cars Shape Cities

The oil-burning, fume-spewing private automobile is only part of a larger environmentally damaging system — the energy-intensive sprawling infrastructure of our cities. When small buildings are scattered over large areas, more energy is required for heating and cooling as well as for transportation. Pedestrian-friendly Green Cities — built for people, bicycles, mass transit and renewable energy — would not only cut air pollution, they also would promote the rebuilding of essential soil and water resources while increasing plant and animal biodiversity.

Knowledgeable environmentalists extol the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards for buildings, but they seldom apply similar standards to cities. Last summer, I was a speaker at a Sustainable Communities Conference in Vermont. The organizers took two busloads of participants to admire a beautiful new LEED platinum-rated factory that produces towers for wind electric generators. Hard to get greener that that.

But there was a problem: it took us 20 minutes on the highway to get there. And, when we arrived, there was no other building in sight on the rolling landscape of broad agricultural fields.

“Wouldn’t it be more fun,” I asked the company tour guide, “if instead of driving way out to this splendid isolation and back every day, you could just walk out the factory door and bike over to a class or back to your residence?” Here was a beautifully designed solar building with state-of-the-art natural lighting and insulation, constructed so the residents would consume almost no energy — except for the hundreds of gallons of gasoline they burned in their cars every day to get there!

The Eco-City Vision

“No wonder the public doesn’t want to hear the truth about global warming,” former Sierra Club President Adam Werbach laments, “Nobody’s offering them a vision for the future that matches the magnitude of the problem.”

Excuse me? Dozens of environmental thinkers have been offering such a vision for 30 years. I’ve co-produced five international Eco-City conferences on five continents, written three books and been invited to speak on every continent.

Like Pope, Werbach calls for renewable energy. Good idea, but not enough. The renewable energy regime needs a physical infrastructure in which to operate — i.e., a city to match. If you install a fleet of clean, solar-powered buses in a typical sprawling low-density city, those “eco-buses” are still going to run practically empty. Rebuilding cities for pedestrians will reverse sprawl by bringing departure points and destinations closer together. City planners call this “mixed use” and “balanced development.” Freeways could slowly be torn down as pedestrian-friendly cities are efficiently — and affordably — connected by train. That’s a vision worth adopting. But, in order for this to happen, environmentalists and developers need to work together.

How to Build Eco-Cities

The first step toward turning today’s Gridlocked Cities into Green Cities is to identify the major commercial and neighborhood centers and map them for higher density. Re-zoning to facilitate higher-density pedestrian transit centers will promote “access by proximity — instead of transportation.” As these centralized pedestrian/transit centers grow in density and diversity, outlying areas would be replaced by natural areas, open spaces, and small farms.

Metropolitan areas now spread over (hundreds of) thousands of acres need to break up into discrete communities — forming archipelagos of smaller, compact Green Cities around what are today’s downtowns. Ecovillages would arise where today’s neighborhood centers now exist. In his classic book, Ecotopia, Berkeley author Ernest Callenbach envisioned the Bay Area metropolis (which includes Oakland, San Jose, Berkeley, Palo Alto and Richmond) transforming into a necklace of separate towns linked by high-speed public transportation — each with its own particular economy, products and character (and all surrounded by resurgent green and edged by the shimmering waters of San Francisco Bay).

A Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) offers one promising tool for facilitating the transitions required by ecological city design. A developer can use a TDR to purchase and remove a building whose crumbling foundation sits atop a buried creek. In return, the developer wins the privilege of erecting a larger building in a pedestrian/transit center. The developer gets a “density bonus” and the city gains new open space for a community garden, public park, or sports field and more housing in transit/pedestrian centers.

But won’t it be oppressive to live in more densely settled core cities? Not if you build them with lots of sun pouring into the interiors, heating and refreshing the air without the use of fossil fuels or nuclear fission. Build rooftop gardens, cafes, promenades, mini-parks, entertainment enclaves and recreation outposts high in the buildings to provide spectacular views overlooking the city’s reviving bioregion. Solar collectors and windmills would glint in the sun. The ecological Green City would be alive with bicycles, solar greenhouses, creeks, plants, animals, and people.

Builders of the new housing units in these evolving Green Cities would recruit renters and condo owners who wished to free themselves from cars. Contrary to legend, there are many such people out there. Businesses would grant hiring preference to people living nearby. Given sufficient diversity, you don’t need to travel far for life’s basics: shelter, job, school, food. Green City buildings could be interlinked by high bridges so that clusters of structures become easily available to pedestrians on many levels. Terraces with communal gardens would provide fresh produce and rooftop parks would provide recreation — all accessible by glass elevators gliding over the outsides of buildings offering stunning views of the new vertical Green City environment.

Facilities needing little natural light (theaters, photolabs, warehouses) would be located in the lower stories, lifting other downtown activities higher into the sun. Covered streets would have the grandeur of cathedrals (, with beams of light falling into quiet interiors bustling with pedestrians). Downtown buildings would provide workplaces for residents. The hundreds of thousands who once poured into the city over miles of freeways, would now quietly zip to work on foot or bicycle leaving a minority of outside workers to arrive by bus and rail.

First we’d create car-free streets, then larger, car-free zones. As any tourist returning from a European vacation can testify, car-free streets and plazas are extremely pleasant community enclaves that bristle with life and are economically self-sustaining.

Eco Cities would promote the restoration of ancient creeks buried under pavement and concrete. Living streams, shorefronts, wetlands, and ridgelines would once again become signature landmarks for Green City residents. Restored urban creeks and wooded groves would provide natural habitat for birds and animals and become beautiful and educational local resources for Green City children who would no longer need to climb into a car and drive 40 miles to “experience nature.” With sufficient care, restored creeks magically reawaken with populations of dragonflies, butterflies, hummingbirds, fish, and crawdads. In California, native salmon and large wading birds like egrets and herons have already returned to some of these reborn watersheds.

Rebuilding our cities to serve people, not cars, will take decades, but the transformation offers lasting solutions for most of our most pressing environmental problems. These solutions will start to appear immediately. They will multiply rapidly as the transformation proceeds.

Richard Register is President of Ecocity Builders in Oakland, California. He is author of Ecocities: Building Cities in Balance with Nature and Ecocity Berkeley. Ecocity Builders hosted the Green Cities Conference in Oakland on May 31 as part of the World Environment Day activities hosted by San Francisco. www.ecocitybuilders.org.

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How the government promotes sprawl

By Steve Dunham

“Twentieth-Century Sprawl: Highways and the Reshaping of the American Landscape,” by Owen D. Gutfreund is reviewed by activist Steve Dunham in the Fredericksburg (VA) Free-Lance Star (http://fredericksburg.com/News/FLS/2005/092005/09042005/125536), and it “shows how federal transportation subsidies favored rural highway building over any kind of urban transit or even urban road improvements…[and the] neglect of urban transportation and how the 90 percent subsidies for interstate highway construction prompted sprawl and swallowed states' transportation budgets.”

“From early in the 20th century, popular demand for paved roads--at first especially for bicycles, later for automobiles--prompted government spending on improved roads. However, federal highway grants to the states were marked by a restriction that has steered development away from the cities. Grants were given almost exclusively for rural roads, and the few that were awarded for urban construction often ended up being spent outside major cities because any town of 5,000 or more qualified as urban,” notes Dunham

“The funding mechanism, moreover, took money out of the cities and spent it in the countryside. Although organizations such as the American Automobile Association and the National Coalition of Highway Users (companies profiting from the highway industry, not a group of ordinary drivers) opposed requiring motorists to pay any of the costs of road improvements, a significant portion of highway construction was funded by gasoline taxes. However, it taxed urban and rural drivers at equal rates while directing the money primarily to construction outside the cities.”

STEVE DUNHAM of Spotsylvania County commutes on Virginia Railway Express to Arlington. He chairs the board of directors of the Virginia Association of Railway Patrons. Write him c/o Commuter Crossroads, The Free Lance-Star, 616 Amelia St., Fredericksburg, Va. 22401, or e-mail literalman@aol.com.

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Parkway May Bring More Sprawl

CHASSAHOWITZKA (FL) - A story in the Tampa Tribune by reporter Jim Tunstall (jtunstall@tampatrib.com) reports that the new Suncoast Parkway, a limited access toll road that runs North out of Tampa, is bringing sprawl to an already sprawling area.

“Most expected the Suncoast Parkway to deliver growth to the counties north of Tampa Bay,” writes Tunstall. “But four years after the toll road's first phase was completed, the numbers may surprise some of the same people. Current and proposed developments on Hernando County's west side include plans for more than 9,000 new homes. Seville, a 3,500-lot subdivision on U.S. 19 south of U.S. 98 and five miles west of the Suncoast, is at the top of the list. Approved years ago, the bulk of the work is expected to begin soon. World Woods could come on its heels. If it's approved by the state Department of Community Affairs, the project would add 1,680 single-family homes, cottages and hotel rooms to a 1,190-acre site that already has two championship golf courses, a nine-hole par 29 and a three-hole practice course. It's a mile east of the parkway on U.S. 98.”

The full story can be found at: http://news.tbo.com/news/MGBOG9H58DE.html

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EDITORIAL...  Editorial...

From The Publisher

The attitude is the problem

The problem with ideology is just when you think you’ve got the system (whatever system you choose) down pat, it fails you.

Leninism sold itself as a democratic improvement over Tsarist rule in Russia --- and then became a Stalinist dictatorship of central planning, mass murder, cold war, and economic stagnation.

Thatcherism was a tonic for the defeatist socialism of post-World War II England --- until it became rigid and thoughtless, and began wrecking things that actually worked, like the British passenger rail system, via ideologically-driven privatization of government assets.

Reaganomics was the elixir that cut taxes and slashed government (except for defense) leading to the tremendous innovation- and investment-driven prosperity of America’s 1990’s, and creating an economy so strong that it survived the crash of both the late 90’s stock-market Internet bubble, and then, 9/11.

Reaganomics survived the market bubble and 9/11, but it will not survive Katrina.

The Bush I and II administrations were, and have been with one exception (the Bush I tax hike), diligent acolytes of Reaganomics. The central thesis of Reaganomics is that the Federal government should be shrunk, especially programs that: 1) interfere with business in any way; 2) consume tax dollars for social programs; and 3) are supported by traditional Democrats.

There are contextual factors as well, like the rise of just-in-time management philosophy in Japan and then the West, which encourages managers to pare down staff and inventory to the thinnest possible membrane of fabric, and then time work and deliveries to the split-second (Japan) or minute (United States) to maximize efficiency.

The problem is that, when that system fails in a factory, the production line shuts down. When it fails in a national emergency, people die. And that is what happened in New Orleans, as the Federal government’s inability to mobilize and act through the Department of Homeland Security and its sub-agency, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) demonstrates. DHS is clearly a structure that is incapable of acting quickly – exactly the charge leveled at it when it was created in response to 9/11, by the way.

It is already apparent to Americans of all political stripes that the Federal response to the Katrina catastrophe was an abysmal failure. Blaming state and local leaders in Louisiana begs the question, because no city, no state, can shoulder the responsibility for a great national disaster like Katrina, or be expected to make region-wide decisions in the absence of Federal guidance. The inevitable investigation will last for years, and will rival the Warren Commission inquest of the Kennedy assassination in its importance and complexity. While the sad details will take months or years to unearth, even as New Orleans rebuilds, one thing is clear: laissez-faire Reaganomic anti-government capitalism can not extend to all levels of government, all of the time. Otherwise, you get completely unqualified people in jobs they can not handle, combined with a lack of resources. It is a deadly combination.

It takes more than ideology to guide and inspire a nation. It takes leadership. And no number of photo-ops will dispel the notion that leadership has been badly absent here. The problem runs far deeper than speaking compassionately after the fact. No, this catastrophe will cause not just an examination of FEMA. It will, and should, concern itself with the direction of the country, including a re-assessment of our attitude towards basic government services. Like emergency management. Or transportation infrastructure, like levees, or highways, or rail --- and where they stand in relation to the need for them to function, not just in an emergency, but as the fundamental building blocks of our civilization.

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From the webmaster...

Photo sumbissions wanted

We would like to invite our many photo contributors to continue sending us their images for inclusion in D:F. Of interest will be images of positive “people moving”, rail, transit, and other photos that convey the positive message of high-speed regional rail or local transit.

We have established a special e-mail address, photo@nationalcorridors.org, which will come directly to me for consideration. For images too large to attach to an e-mail contact me directly for public FTP instructions or for addresses to middle-man file transfer services. I look forward to hearing from you all!

Dennis Kirkpatrick - webmaster@nationalcorridors.org

For NCI: Doug Alexander

Service with a smile - a crew empties the holding tanks on a sleeper car between runs on an Amtrak consist.

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End Notes...

We try to be accurate in the stories we write, but even seasoned pros err occasionally. If you read something you know to be amiss, or if you have a question about a topic, we’d like to hear from you. Please e-mail the editor at editor@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 by Leo King that have appeared in Destination:Freedom may do so at a nominal fee. “True color” Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG or JPG) images average 1.7MB each. Print publishers can order images in process color (CMYK) or tagged image file format (.tif), and are nearly 6mb each. They will be snail-mailed to your address, or uploaded via file transfer protocol (FTP) to your site. All are 300 dots-per-inch. Please contact Leo King.

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 transportation initiative 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 link, please send the uniform resource locator address (URL) to D. M. Kirkpatrick, NCI’s webmaster at webmaster@nationalcorridors.org.

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