Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 4 No. 36, September 15, 2003
Copyright © 2003, NCI, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - James Furlong
Editor - Leo King

A weekly North American rail and transit update

 


Cardinal passes by

For NCI: Chris Starnes

Perhaps the days will be much brighter ahead, what with three new board of directors to be nominated, and a House-Senate conference committee soon closing in on Amtrak’s fiscal future. Last April 13, the photographer was in Covington, Va. and caught the eastbound Cardinal, train No. 50, from Chicago passing under the elderly C&O signal bridge some 500 miles from our national capital.

 

Bush makes his picks for
three open Amtrak board seats

By Leo King
Editor

The White House confirmed to D:F late Friday President Bush had made his three selections for the Amtrak board of directors - which the White House referred to as the “Amtrak Reform Board.” Several queries to the White House office of media affairs over the weekend asking for a clarification on using that term proved fruitless.

The President also said he intended to nominate Read Van de Water, of Virginia, to be a member of the National Mediation Board, for the remainder of a three-year term expiring July 1, 2006. She previously served as Assistant Secretary for Aviation and International Affairs at USDOT.

All the Amtrak nominees are former top executives with large corporations.

Ashley Snee, at the White House press office, said the trio includes Louis S. Thompson, recently retired as the railways advisor at the World Bank, the bank’s senior rail position.

Another is Robert L. Crandall, former Chairman and CEO of AMR Corp. and American Airlines.

The third is Floyd Hall, who has a remarkable track record in turning companies around during hard times.

Michael Buckley, communications director at the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department in Washington reiterated to D:F what his organization’s executive director, Ed Wytkind, told other media outlets - “These choices appear to us to stack the deck against Amtrak, its workers and its riders. They obviously will be insiders wedded to advancing the administration's plan to dismantle Amtrak and make the states foot the bill.”

The most rail-savvy appointee is Thompson, who worked in all of the World Bank’s regions, with particular attention to Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, China, India, and other countries. Thompson led the “concessioning” of railways in Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Bolivia, and Brazil, and advised in the concessioning in Malawi, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Egypt, Poland, and Romania. He was engaged in rail private sector involvement in Estonia, Poland, and Romania, and also focused on railway reconstruction (with eventual private involvement) in China, Russia, and India.

He was involved in getting both freight concessions (based on maximum payment to government for the operation of a freight network) and passenger concessions (competition for minimum subsidy from government). He has also spoken and published extensively on U.S. and international freight and passenger issues.

Thompson worked at the Federal Railroad Administration for eight years, from 1978 to 1986. He was director of the Northeast Corridor Improvement Project where he reconstructed and ran the NECIP, a $2.5 billion, multi-year project upgrading rail service between Boston, New York City, and Washington.

He was also associate administrator for Intercity Services where he managed the review of the Amtrak budget and supervised high-speed rail studies, as well as continuing to manage NECIP. While in this position, he also served as the USDOT secretary’s designate on the Amtrak Board; associate administrator of the Passenger and Freight Services for which he supervised the NECIP, Amtrak budget, and all FRA assistance programs to freight railways, and several other tasks.

Thompson was graduated from MIT in 1963 and received his Masters in Business Administration from Harvard University in 1965.

The Wall Street Journal has called Crandall “the man who changed the way the world flies.” During his 25-year tenure at American Airlines, Crandall introduced several changes that revolutionized the travel industry.

In 1973, Crandall sponsored a project to modernize America’s SABRE computer reservations system, thus laying the groundwork for what eventually became The SABRE Group, now a leading provider of computing and communications services for airlines throughout the world.

In 1975, Crandall created Super Saver fares, which introduced the concept of deep discounts for advance-purchase tickets. Subsequently, he led the development of the industry’s first frequent flyer program, and in 1983, launched an expansion program which more than tripled American’s size and transformed it from a medium-sized domestic carrier to one of the world’s leading international airlines with revenues of more than $20 billion.

He departed the firm before September 11, 2001. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of Anixter International Inc., Celestica Inc., the Halliburton Co., i2 Technologies Inc., and serves on the Advisory Council for the American International Group.

Hall began his career with Montgomery Ward in August 1956, where he held various positions of responsibility throughout his 14-year tenure. In 1968, at 30 years of age, he became the youngest National Sales Manager in Ward’s history due to his accomplishments.

In May 1970, helped to turn around the Singer Co. In Dallas, he served as a regional vice-president with responsibility for 250 stores and 530 dealerships.

His dramatic improvement in all aspects of the business, particularly productivity and earnings, led to his recruitment by the Dayton Hudson Corp., based in Minneapolis In September 1973, he became their executive vice-president for stores and merchandising for B. Dalton Booksellers division, and was promoted to CEO in November 1974. During his tenure, B. Dalton grew from 42 stores to more than 500 and became the largest profitable bookstore chain in the country. His extraordinary performance led to his appointment as Chairman and CEO of Target Stores in January 1981. During the next three years, the company doubled its store base and tripled its sales and earnings volume.

His reputation in both turnaround and growth companies attracted the attention of Sir James Goldsmith who, in 1984, recruited Hall as a minority partner and CEO to turnaround the ailing Grand Union grocery store chain. Under Hall, the 400 stores, 35,000 employees, $3 billion annual sales volume company rapidly reversed its fortunes, turning from massive losses to industry-leading profitability.

With the turnaround complete, Hall led a friendly management buyout of Grand Union from its French owners while simultaneously increasing his personal equity in the company. Approached by an investment group in 1998, he sold the company and at the age of 50, and retired from the corporate world – but not for long.

In 1995, Kmart Corp. directors recruited him to orchestrate the biggest turnaround in retail history. Kmart, the 9th largest company in the U.S. with $36 billion in annual sales and 275,000 employees, was literally on the brink of bankruptcy.

Turning his existing businesses over to his son, Larry, Mr. Hall joined Kmart as Chairman of the Board, President, and CEO with an agreement he would “retire” again in five years or less.

Hall dramatically improved Kmart’s health company though a financial restructuring of the balance sheet, expense reductions, and pared away $5 billion of non-core assets. The company reversed its huge losses and attained profitability in less than one year, and grew annual earnings at a 35 percent compounded rate. During his tenure, aggregate net income from continuing operations totaled almost $2 billion.

With more than $1 billion dollars of debt retired early and the company in good financial condition, he “retired” on June 1, 2001, to manage his personal interests.

All four nominees now face Senate confirmation hearings.

They replace former chairman John Robert Smith, former vice-chair Michael Dukakis, whose terms recently expired. The carrier’s board must have at least four members to conduct official business, a requirement mandated by Congress in a 1997 overhaul.

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


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House okays Amtrak’s $900 million

By Leo King
Editor

The House of Representatives passed an $89 billion spending package on September 9 that left intact a $900 million for Amtrak.

The final vote was 381-39, with 15 House members not voting for the Transportation, Treasury, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Act, 2004.

A floor amendment introduced by Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) of Dallas that would have cut some long-distance routes was defeated. Another, from Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) was discarded on a point of order. It would have required Amtrak to follow specific accounting principals.

In Sessions’ plan, it would have prohibited funds appropriated in the bill from being used to operate any Amtrak route that fails to generate at least 50 cents in revenue for every one dollar in cost.

“There is – and should be – a reasonable limit to taxpayer generosity in all programs. Amtrak is no exception,” said Sessions. “Without this amendment, Congress provides neither guidance nor limitation for Amtrak, which is already in arrears to the U.S. taxpayer.”

According to Sessions, the amendment would have limited funding for individual Amtrak routes that fail to recoup 50 cents in revenue for each dollar spent in operating expenses. Sessions said a February 7, 2002, report from the Amtrak Reform Council entitled An Action Plan for the Restructuring and Rationalization of the National Intercity Rail Passenger System identified routes that failed to meet that standard as those with an operating ratio (expenses divided by revenues) greater than 2.0.

Sessions, 48, cited Amtrak’s Texas Eagle as one of 16 Amtrak routes that do not meet his amendment’s cost requirements. He said the Eagle, which runs between Dallas and Chicago, has an operating ratio of 2.72, meaning that it brings in less than 37 cents in revenue for each dollar of its operating cost on its 53-hour journey.

In 2001, said the third-term solon, the Texas Eagle and the other 15 routes that regularly do not recoup 50 cents in revenue for each dollar in operating expenses cost Amtrak and, by extension, taxpayers $456.6 million.

Sessions said, “Six of the 19 long-distance trains will receive FY ’04 federal funding under my amendment. Those that can’t show at least one dollar for ever two dollars in cost will not.”

Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. Ernest J. Istook, Jr. (R-Okla.) supported the amendment, but Rep. John Olver (D-Mass.) successfully argued against it.

“This amendment would eliminate from the present list of roughly 40 routes that Amtrak operates,” Olver said.

The Amherst, Mass., native added “Sixteen of these routes, including such routes as Chicago to St. Louis, and Chicago to Pontiac – which are two of the key routes within the Chicago hub system… are part of a hub system that has been much touted for, in the long-term, high-speed rail development.”

Amtrak made no long-distance route changes this year “because the elimination of individual long-distance routes wouldn’t result in any significant savings, and no savings at all in the first several years,” he said.

Olver said, “In the interim, severance costs would be very costly expenses, estimated up to $1 billion for the first year for taxpayers if one were to eliminate the long-distance routes.”

Olver also pointed out the Sessions amendment would have prevented states from subsidizing those routes.

“I don’t know if we should be in the business of telling states how to spend their own money.”

The measure was defeated on a roll-call vote, 282-130, with 22 Representatives not voting.

Mica’s amendment would have required Amtrak to submit “all quarterly and annual reports required by law in accordance with the standards applicable to reports under Public Law 107-(2)(4).”

Olver raised a point of order, which was later sustained by the chairman at the Speaker’s desk.

Mica, a member of the Rail Subcommittee of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, explained the law he cited is corporate reporting legislation “that was passed after the Congress and the American people realized the extent of the problems of the Enron scandal.”

He argued, “Almost every year four of five years they’ve lost $1 billion, and much of this is subsidized by taxpayers. Not a whimper has been heard about the lost money or unaccounted for money in Amtrak.…”

He cited a 2002 GAO report that stated, “Amtrak did not know its route-by-route costs of its mail and express program because it never separately identified these costs.”

Amtrak president and CEO David Gunn said several months ago Amtrak is getting out of the express business.

Olver’s point of order was that Mica’s proposal attempted to change existing law “and constitutes legislating changing an appropriation bill and violates House Rule 21.”

Mica responded it was not new law, but the chairman, Rep Lee Terry (R-Neb.), ruled, with the Parliamentarian’s help, “It’s the opinion of the chair that the gentleman from Florida has been unable to carry his burden of proving that the standards and the relevant statute are already applicable to reports by the corporation. Barring that proof, the chair is constrained to find that the amendment would make these standards applicable by making standards apply that are not otherwise applicable. The amendment changes law in violation of clause 2 of Rule 21. The amendment is ruled out of order.”

That was the same ruling that applied September 4 when two Democratic proposed amendments to add funding to Amtrak were denied.

Rep. Michael M. Honda (D-Calif.) proposed an amendment that would subtract $1 million from the San Francisco Muni Third Street light rail project and gave the sum to the Silicon Valley Rapid Transit Corridor project.

He said it would connect the Bay Area Rapid Transit system to Santa Clara County destinations. No one spoke in opposition, and the amendment was agreed to on a voice vote.

A House-Senate appropriations conference committee may be named sometime this week, but as of Friday, no details had been worked out, and the Senate has not yet passed its version of the bill, which would authorize $1.8 billion, still short of what Amtrak has requested.

Earlier last week, on Monday, Amtrak’s Gunn warned there would be trouble ahead, similar to last year’s near-shutdown, if the railroad does not get the cash it needs.

In a letter to employees, he reiterated Wednesday’s events, then explained what the results mean to the carrier.

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) “intended to fund Amtrak at only $900 million, which is the amount President Bush requested for Amtrak.” (D:F September 8), but Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) “interceded on our behalf and were able to increase the amount in the bill from $900 million to $1.346 billion.”

Gunn added it would not provide the railroad with the cash it needs.

“It still falls about $350 million short of what we requested. The next step in the Senate process will be to bring the bill to the floor so it could be amended and agreed to by the entire Senate. Obviously, we will be looking for any and all opportunities to increase the level of funding.”

Regarding the House appropriations measure, he stated, “It is notable that a significant number of Republican and Democrat Representatives spoke up on behalf of Amtrak. In fact, of the eight hours that the House spent debating the bill, nearly half of it was consumed by discussion about Amtrak.”

Gunn explained, “The process is still ongoing and probably will not be completed for a number of weeks. Where we end up is anyone’s guess.”

If Amtrak receives less than $1.8 billion, the CEO declared, “We have been able to bring some stability to Amtrak. However, our infrastructure and equipment is in such dire need of repair and investment that on any given day something could fail – as it already has – and large parts of the system could be shut down or the necessary consists for trains could not be met.”

He also pointed out what railroaders have said for years among themselves.

“We cannot go on like this. We cannot be forced to limp along each year hoping just to make it to the end. We have got to fix the railroad and bring it up to a state of good repair so that we do not have to worry each and every day if we are to do what is expected of us. The capital plan does that.”

The “Gunner,” as Amtrak employees sometimes refer him to, spelled out more details.

“If fully funded, at the end of five years, our railroad will be at a state of good repair. In other words, whatever the difference is between our request and what Congress finally appropriates to Amtrak will determine what does or does not get done next year. Or, if we’re funded at the House Appropriations level, whether or not we continue to operate. I have made a commitment to you and to the Board of Directors to advance our plan, and I fully intend to do it.”

Gunn noted, “This past week, I traveled to Chicago and rode to our Beech Grove [Indiana] maintenance facility. Beech Grove is a key component of the Amtrak system, and it is producing rebuilt cars for the first time in many years. The production lines at Bear and Wilmington, in terms of wreck repair, are ahead of schedule and below budget. By the end of September, the track-laying machine will have rebuilt nearly 40 miles of brand new high-speed rail. I am not going to stop the progress we are making while policy makers continue to dither about Amtrak. So, while these ‘grand policy debates’ about reforming Amtrak go on in Washington, do not get distracted because the real reform, the most meaningful reform at Amtrak, is what each and every one of us is doing to bring it back to a state of good repair.”

He added that in his view, the employees at Beech Grove “understand what is at stake and understand how important their role is in bringing this railroad back to a state of good repair. I congratulate Lew Wood, his management team, and the employees at Beech Grove on the progress they have made so far. Also, if you think our track is in bad shape, you should take a ride on the old Monon from Chicago to Indianapolis as I did to Beech Grove. That is one rock-and-roll of a ride, and I believe that railroad, if I am not mistaken, is owned by the private sector.”

It is: CSX.


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Portland Trolly

Portland TriMet

Transportation balance in action in Portland, Oregon on its 2.4-mile downtown loop.

 

Blumenauer streetcar bill gets ‘quality’ support

By Jim Furlong
Publisher

A bill introduced by U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) to make $625 million available to U.S. communities to start or revitalize streetcar systems has miles to travel, but appears to be moving at reasonable speed.

The bill, with 23 co-sponsors who’ve signed on since introduction March 18, has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Highways, Transit and Pipelines. There, proponents plan to weave it into the big TEA-21 reauthorization bill. The existing TEA-21 is scheduled to expire September 30, but reauthorization probably won’t be achieved for six months to a year, necessitating a continuing resolution as stopgap.

Blumenauer told D:F, “As Congress prepares this year to reauthorize the Surface Transportation Act, TEA-21, we will need to continue to craft innovative solutions to help the hundreds of communities nationwide that are working to address transportation needs and options. Portland, Oregon’s success in creating its new streetcar service to connect and revitalize its neighborhoods is a model being sought by dozens of other communities.”

The Congressman describes himself as “fairly optimistic” that his bill will be incorporated into the $375 billion TEA-21 reauthorization.

The Blumenauer measure, called the Community Streetcar Development and Revitalization Act (H.R. 1315), envisions pilot grants of up to $15 million per year from the Highway Trust Fund to assist communities with capital and startup costs in street railway operations. The five-year program would make available $75 million in fiscal year 2004, $100 million in fiscal 2005, and $150 million each in fiscal years 2006, 2007 and 2008.

The money theoretically could help more than 40 communities, assuming each gets $15 million. The intent of the bill is that this figure would be matched, in some percentage, by local money, public or private. Funds could be used either to enhance existing systems or build new ones.

Key criteria for eligibility for grants would include that the project be ready for construction, have strong local and private-sector financial participation, including participation by commercial property owners along the line, and have potential to foster redevelopment adjacent to the streetcar line by making important connections among new or redeveloping neighborhoods or by connecting such neighborhoods, or even developed areas, to the central city.

Among key co-sponsors are James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.), the No. 1 ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and an ex-officio member of the Highways, Transit and Pipeline subcommittee, the bill’s current location. Another influential backer is William O. Lipinski, (D-Ill.), No. 1 ranking Democrat on the same subcommittee. Blumenauer himself is a member of Transportation and Infrastructure, as well as the Highways, Transit and Pipelines Subcommittee.

Five Republicans are co-sponsoring – Vernon J. Ehlers (Michigan), John J. Duncan Jr. (Tennessee), Christopher H. Smith (New Jersey), Rob Simmons (Connecticut) and John Sullivan (Oklahoma).

Among Democratic co-sponsors are John Conyers (Michigan), second most senior member of the House, and Martin Frost (Texas), ranking Democrat on the Rules Committee.

The other co-sponsors, all Democrats, are Neil Abercrombie (Hawaii), Shelly Berkley (Nevada), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Elijah Cummings (Maryland), Peter A. DeFazio (Oregon), Rosa L. DeLauro (Connecticut), Raul M. Grijalva (Arizona), Darlene Hooley (Oregon), Jay Inslee (Washington), Sheila Jackson-Lee (Texas), Jim McDermott (Washington), Martin T. Meehan (Massachusetts), Martin Olav Sabo (Minnesota) and David Wu (Oregon).

A legislative source familiar with the bill said the list of co-sponsors represents good backing in terms of “quality.” Whether the full $625 million sought by Blumenauer will be included in the TEA-21 reauthorization depends in significant measure on whether the current gasoline tax can be indexed for inflation—applied either going forward or retroactively--to generate enough funds for the whole bill, the source said.

The once nearly ubiquitous streetcars and their trolley wires were found from Los Angeles to New York City and places in between – big and small – like Salt Lake City; Kalamazoo; Evanston, Ill.; and Pelham Manor, N.Y. (the last said to be the inspiration for the “Toonerville Trolley” cartoons).

At the streetcar’s peak before World War I, streetcar tracks in the U.S. extended 45,000 miles – more than 18 times the air distance between New York and Los Angeles. Journeys of hundreds of miles were possible for passengers willing to transfer repeatedly from one municipality’s system to the next, according to several accounts.

However, the streetcar had come to near extinction in the 1950s, displaced by gasoline powered buses and cars.

System Map

TransportationPlanet.com

The Green line traces the continuous loop of the downtown Portland trolley system.
Now the streetcar is making a comeback as an affordable, non-polluting, short-haul passenger transit mode that generates and channels economic development. An informal list compiled by Blumenauer’s office shows 75 U.S. municipalities in 37 states (plus the District of Columbia) have a streetcar system, have one under construction, or are interested in getting one. The ratio between the “haves/under construction” and “interesteds” is about 1 to 4-1/2.

Some of the best-known systems operate in Portland, Oregon; New Orleans; Detroit, Kenosha; Memphis; and San Francisco.

“Streetcar” is defined by the bill as “a rail transit vehicle, including modern, antique, or reproduction vehicle, that is designed to fit the scale and traffic patterns of neighborhoods through which it travels, is powered by electricity, and operates at lower speeds, generally in existing rights-of-way through mixed traffic, with frequent stops.”

This definition sets streetcars apart from other somewhat similar forms of transport such as light rail, which runs at relatively high-speed on dedicated rights of way over longer distances, trolley buses on rubber tires, powered by overhead wires, bus rapid transit, and buses, powered by liquefied gas, that are designed as streetcar look-alikes, such as are popular in Providence, R.I.

In a paper published last year, two conservatives, Paul M. Weyrich and William S. Lind, attributed the resurgence of streetcars to the recovery and restoration of city centers and to reawakened interest in traditional towns (as opposed to centerless acres of suburban residential and commercial sprawl) that is evidenced by the Traditional Neighborhood Design movement led by architect Andres Duany.

Weyrich and Lind wrote, “All over the country, from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon, ‘downtowns’ are making a comeback. Why? Because even when people live in suburbs, they want a physical ‘center’ to their lives that offers more than a shopping center can. They want a place not too far from where they live that offers noble, historic buildings, real architecture, instead of mere construction.” They want the major entertainment, sports stadiums, concert halls, museums, theaters, independent restaurants and specialty stores that only cities can support, Weyrich and Lind said.

Weyrich, a former vice-chairman of the now-defunct Amtrak Reform Council, is chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation (FCF), a conservative Washington think tank. Lind, a former legislative aide to two U.S. senators, is director of FCF’s Center for Cultural Conservatism.

They said Duany’s new towns like Kentland, Maryland, patterned on 18th and 19th Century models and designed for people rather than autos, help “provide context for bringing back the streetcars.”

The chief purposes served by the streetcar in cities or towns are, they said, mobility without cars in crowded centers, attraction of tourists, linkage to other forms of mass transit, and the stimulation of development, coupled with the channeling of that development to areas where it is wanted.

Regarding the last point, the legislative source said, “When you build a streetcar system, you know something good is coming down the tracks.” The source said that rail is a more powerful magnet for development than bus because rail stays put while bus routes can change.

Portland's city-owned streetcar system, which Blumenauer cited as a model sought by dozens of other communities, is a downtown loop of 2.4 miles, requiring 4.8 miles of track. It was built for $57 million, including tracks, trolley wires, seven new cars and a carbarn. The price, amounting to just under $12 million a mile, is below the average of $13 million and about half the average cost of light rail, the source said.

Costs can be kept considerably lower with rehabbed “vintage” (old) cars. Portland paid just under $2 million each for its new 67-foot-long, 8-foot-wide, off-the-shelf cars made by Skoda-Inekon, of the Czech Republic. In contrast, the McKinney Avenue Transit Authority in Dallas, working with volunteer labor, restored a double-truck car for about $185,000, according to a source quoted by Weyrich and Lind.

Boosters of the Portland system, which went into operation in the summer of 2001, say it has generated $1.3 billion in economic development, including 2 million square feet of office and retail space and 3,600 housing units built along the line. Trains have an extensive schedule:

Depending on the time of day, the trains run either every 14 minutes or every 20-25 minutes. The route connects Good Samaritan Hospital with Portland State Univ. and points in between.

Weyrich and Lind acknowledge that streetcars can’t do the job of long-distance commuter rail or light rail. They don’t substitute for subways and they only complement buses.

The authors said that in addition to performing what might be called “downtown” functions, streetcars “help rail transit make a start. They can give people something to see, ride, understand and like, so that when it does come time for commuter rail or Light Rail, rail transit is no longer an unknown quality. People can relate to it, in their own town or city, because they have ridden it or at least enjoyed the sight of it passing by; and, knowing what transit is, they feel comfortable voting for more.”

Related links:

H.R. 1315 http://thomas.loc.gov

Weyrich-Lind paper: http://www.heritagetrolley.org/articleBringBackStreetcars.htm

Portland Streetcar website:http://www.portlandstreetcar.org/projdesc/index.html


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FL Rail Map

Florida HSRA

The potential completed Florida high-speed rail system – in 20 to 30 years. The High-Speed Rail Authority’s long-term “vision plan” calls for a statewide system to reduce traffic congestion and provide travel alternatives. It would close parallel existing highways and connect the state's five major regions and its population centers.

 

Florida’s fast trains are getting closer,
but slowly as governmental wheels turn

By Leo King
Editor

It seems sometimes that progress in getting a totally new rail system from scratch moves at a snail’s pace – even more so when it’s a high-speed railroad.

Florida’s high-speed plans continue to plod onward, even if it is at a snail’s pace; yet environmental concerns are among the biggest potential obstacles to overcome.

The project’s first phase will go between Tampa and Orlando, and the next phase will go between Orlando and Miami.

“The Florida High Speed Rail Authority continues to plow forward with its work to implement the Constitutionally mandated high speed rail system in Florida,” Nazih K. Haddad told D:F on Friday.

The professional engineer, in Tallahassee, is the Florida High Speed Rail Authority executive director.

“We have recently issued the draft environmental impact statement for the Orlando-Tampa project,” he said, and added, “We plan to have the final EIS completed by December 31, and expect the federal ‘record of decision’ on this project by spring 2004.”

According to Florida’s Constitutional Amendment, construction was supposed to begin this year, but delays in Tallahassee prevented that from happening. It will be constructed in phases.

Amendment text

The text of Florida’s amendment to its constitution, which is the enabling legislation for the state’s high-speed rail system, is simple in its language.

Amendment to the Florida Constitution

Article X, Section 19, High Speed Ground Transportation System

“To reduce traffic congestion and provide alternatives to the traveling public, it is hereby declared to be in the public interest that a high speed ground transportation system consisting of a monorail, fixed guideway or magnetic levitation system, capable of speeds in excess of 120 miles per hour, be developed and operated in the State of Florida to provide high speed ground transportation by innovative, efficient and effective technologies consisting of dedicated rails or guideways separated from motor vehicular traffic that will link the five largest urban areas of the State as determined by the Legislature and provide for access to existing air and ground transportation facilities and services. The Legislature, the Cabinet and the Governor are hereby directed to proceed with the development of such a system by the State and/or by a private entity pursuant to state approval and authorization, including the acquisition of right-of-way, the financing of design and construction of the system, and the operation of the system, as provided by specific appropriation and by law, with construction to begin on or before November 1, 2003.”

– November 2000

Haddad said the authority received four bids from private sector consortia to design, build, operate, maintain and finance the Orlando-Tampa project, but two were “eliminated from further consideration.”

Global Rail Consortium and Fluor-Bombardier are the two remaining contenders, “and the authority is expected to select one… at its scheduled October 27 board meeting in Orlando,” he pointed out.

Haddad explained, “Global Rail is proposing a TGV train. Fluor Bombardier is proposing their newly developed Jet Train,” powered a diesel-turbine jet engine. The TGV would most likely run under catenary.

C.C. Dockery, of Lakeland was the prime mover in getting the high-speed rail question ballot in the first place. He put his money where his mouth was by contributing some $1.5 million of his own cash

He told D:F on Friday, “The governor has not changed his views. He is still opposed to high-speed rail.”

Neither he nor Haddad knew if costs were the sole reason why Bush was opposed to the project.

In July, Paul Strickland, an executive assistant to the governor, wrote in a letter to D:F’s editor, “Governor Bush’s proposed budget only included funding for environmental studies that are required to secure federal permits to initiate the project. Since the governor’s budget was released, proposals for phase 1 have been submitted and are currently being reviewed by the authority.”

He added, “The authority is not expected to make its recommendations on these proposals until fall 2003. The governor is very concerned about current and future costs to the public on this project. All the proposals have requested significant funding commitments from the state.”

He had responded to a communication from the editor written as a private citizen suggesting the governor needed to follow the terms of the Constitutional amendment.

Dockery told D:F, “Our consultant told us that one of the bidders have proposed building the Orlando to Tampa segment for $2.1 billion, and that they project that they will return $2.4 billion to the state during the 30-year contract.”

Strickland put it this way:

“Review of the proposals will take time to fully understand their scope, details and state commitment; however, initial review indicates that the capital costs for the first phase - 90 miles from Orlando to Tampa – range from approximately $404 million to $2.7 billion, or an average infrastructure cost estimate of up to $29 million per mile.”

Dockery said the only specific station location to be named, so far, “is Orlando International Airport. There will be a station somewhere in Lakeland and Tampa and probably a station connecting Disney or International Drive.”

Dockery pointed out, “Bids were advertised about 15 months ago, and received in February of this year. Earlier this summer, two bidders were judged by the High Speed Rail Authority to be responsive – Fluor-Bombardier and Global Rail, Inc.”

Strickland said in July, “In reviewing the proposals, we must develop confidence in the technology proposed (at least two of them include untried technology). In addition, we must weigh the balance of public-private investment and risk. We must also consider the state and private sector exposure in relying on the ridership estimates, as this mode of transportation is new to the U.S. traveling public.”

Dockery said the high-speed rail authority has spent three meetings evaluating the bids, and the most recent on September 8. He, too, said “The Authority expects to select a preferred vendor on October 27 at its meeting in Orlando, and we expect to have a Record of Decision from the Federal Railroad Administration next March.” Haddad said, “The route will more than likely utilize the Interstate 4 median between Tampa and Disney, with two options from Disney to airport,” Tampa International.

“One option would follow the Beeline expressway providing service to I-Drive, convention center and Universal Studios while the other utilizes the Greeneway Expressway with a direct link between Disney and the airport,” he said, and added, “Disney prefers this route and has indicated publicly that unless this route is chosen, they will not participate in this project.”

Florida’s Gov. Jeb Bush (R) “is still opposed to the project, however efforts undertaken in the Florida legislature to repeal the Constitutional amendment this past session failed miserably,” he said.

The contract to design, build, operate, maintain and finance – frequently expressed in shorthand as DBOM&F – with the winning bidder “is not expected to be executed until late spring 2004,” Haddad said.

“This will definitely depend on successful approval in Congress of the Ride 21 legislation proving tax-credit bond financing for high-speed rail projects in the U.S. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young is committed to passage of this legislation this year,” Haddad said.

Florida’s High-Speed Rail Authority is online at http://floridahighspeedrail.org.


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10 states get grade crossing dollars

The FRA is spending $5.22 million in grants to 10 states to improve highway-grade crossings along federally designated high-speed rail corridors.

In the Pacific Northwest, Washington State will receive $993,500; Minnesota $248,375; Wisconsin, $447,075; Illinois, $198,700.

In the Gulf Coast Corridor, Louisiana, $141,077; Mississippi, $1,266,712; Alabama, $380,511 while the Southeast Corridor will see South Carolina receiving $496,750 and Virginia, $198,700.

The Empire Corridor in New York State will get $844,475.


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Western routes show healthy gains

Revenue and ridership are up again on Amtrak’s western trains, with the Pacific Surfliner recording the biggest gains.

Eugene K. Skoropowski, Managing Director of the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority in Oakland, said Pacific Surfliner trains carried 221,941 passengers, up 18.7 percent compared to one year ago.

The carrier noted, “Due to a processing error the 24,741 ‘Rail-2-Rail’ passengers are not included. Amtrak earned $ 3,936,670 in ticket revenues, gaining 16.4 percent vs Fiscal 2002.

The carrier reports Capitol Corridor trains carried 94,528 passengers, up 1.0 percent over one year ago, a record for the month. Ticket sales totaled $1,055,950, and increase of 2.1 percent above the year earlier numbers. This is the 12th consecutive month of record high ridership on the Capitol Corridor, and ticket revenue was the highest ever for the service.

The San Joaquins carried 74,321 passengers, up 5.8 percent vs August 2002. Ticket revenues totaled $1,841,834, up 1.7 percent. San Joaquin ticket revenue was the second highest monthly total ever for the service.

Including the Rail-2-Rail passengers, total Pacific Surfliner ridership was 246,682, far surpassing the highest monthly ridership total for the service, which was 227,431 in August 1997.


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Hiawatha gets best on-time rating

Amtrak endpoint on-time percentages from August 3 ranged from 95 percent for the Hiawatha trains to a dismal 3.7 percent for the Sunset Limited.

 Fiscal Year
ServiceOn-TimeTo DateGoal
     <--Percentages-->    
Acela Express64.671.092.0
Regional72.678.490.0
AutoTrain61.357.770.0
California Zephyr9.735.760.0
Capitol Ltd.48.447.570.0
Capitols81.578.080.0
Cardinal33.331.660.0
Carolinian38.738.673.0
Cascades69.772.680.0
City of New Orleans58.143.478.0
Clocker and Keystone88.588.692.0
Coast Starlight22.634.370.0
Crescent64.565.483.0
Downeaster87.090.590.0
Empire65.773.290.0
Empire Builder79.885.380.0
Heartland Flyer75.879.375.0
Hiawatha95.895.195.0
Illinois, Missouri65.259.570.0
Indiana Cardinal22.959.685.0
Lake Shore Ltd.43.949.060.0
Metroliner81.985.194.0
Michigan55.655.465.0
Pacific Surfliner83.887.485.0
Pennsylvanian67.772.475.0
Piedmont80.663.873.0
San Joaquin36.062.876.0
Silver Service33.345.860.0
Southwest Chief50.075.760.0
Sunset Ltd3.727.565.0
Texas Eagle43.537.660.0
Three Rivers30.654.990.0
System totals:69.774.080.0


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

Colorado rail Car

For NCI: Eric Oleson

Colorado Railcar’s Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) returned from a two-week stint in Alaska last month, and then spent some time in Texas where Eric Oleson found the unit in Grapevine, Texas coupled to a pair of Budd cars from an earlier generation on September 3. The DMU will be on display briefly at the Rail-Volution Conference in Atlanta on September 13.

 

Colorado’s unit continues journeys

Colorado Railcar’s diesel multiple unit is continuing its hopscotching tour around the U.S.

After a jaunt to Atlanta – after being forced to go around a Union Pacific derailment – the unit will head next to Florida where Tri-Rail, in Fort Lauderdale, will conduct running tests and put the DMU on public display September 19-21.

From September 26-28, the DMU will perform running demonstrations and be on display in Orlando, supporting Rep. John Mica's (R-Fla.) proposed commuter rail program.

The DMU returns to Texas for a transit agency display in San Antonio on October 1, then travels to Austin for a running demonstration on October 3 and 4 for Capitol Metro and a public running demonstration on October 4 and 5.

The firm expects to conduct a demonstration in Las Vegas in mid-October.


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Cash allocated for Pocono rail service

A commuter line from Scranton, Pa. to Hoboken, N.J. has been talked about for years. Even some of the track has been upgraded to accommodate passenger trains beyond the Steamtown excursion.

The project has been stalled in recent years by funding setbacks, forcing many commuters to New York City to drive or take a bus, but backers hope a $3.15 million state grant and a possible $5 million federal appropriation, both reported a fortnight ago, will boost prospects for the commuter rail line, according to a report from Northeast Pennsylvania News (NEPA News) on September 5.

“There’s no doubt in my mind it’s going to happen. It has to happen, because every year the congestion on I-80 gets worse,” said Frank Reilly, executive director of the Morris County, N.J., DOT and chairman of the bi-state agency leading the rail project.

About 17,000 people travel from the Pocono Mountain region to jobs in the New York metropolitan area each day, contributing to severe traffic congestion on Interstate 80. On Friday evenings, when commuters and tourists alike are heading to the Poconos from New Jersey, backups on I-80 can approach three or four miles.

Passenger trains could carry 684,000 riders annually along the 84-mile spur, easing congestion and wear and tear on I-80 and its toll bridge over the Delaware River. Eventually, officials say, freight trains could also use the tracks to take cargo from the Port of New York and New Jersey to Scranton.

New Jersey State Rep. Kelly Lewis (R) said he thinks that would save the trucking industry “a small fortune.”

“The trucking companies could pick up their products in Scranton and go to the Midwest instead of having to drive into New Jersey, go through all kinds of congestion and having to drive back out to deliver the goods,” Lewis said.

For now, though, planners are focused on restoring passenger rail service to the Poconos for the first time since the early 1970s.

In late August, their efforts got a boost when the state of Pennsylvania awarded more than $3 million to the Monroe County Railroad Authority to complete the purchase of a critical 28-mile right-of-way called the Lackawanna Cutoff. A developer removed the existing railroad tracks to get access to the fill material underneath owned the area, which includes the Slateford Rail Bridge.

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee also approved $5 million for engineering work on the rail line.

“There are certainly many steps left to go, but this is the most significant one from a federal perspective. This is the full amount we asked for and this will allow us to finish the engineering we have to do,” said Larry Mask, a consultant with the Monroe County Railroad Authority.

The plan calls for commuter trains to be operated by New Jersey Transit, with stops in Scranton, Mount Pocono, Analomink, East Stroudsburg, and Delaware Water Gap in Pennsylvania and Blairstown Township and Andover in New Jersey. Travelers heading to New York City would get off at Dover, N.J., and take a connecting train to Penn Station.

Several stumbling blocks remain. Both Pennsylvania and New Jersey have to come up with $40 million to qualify for federal matching funds – a tall order in a tough economy – and they have yet to determine how much each should pay to operate the rail service.

Lewis is pushing a plan to get the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission, a bi-state agency that operates seven toll bridges and 13 free bridges between Pennsylvania and New Jersey, to put up the matching money and pay the $12 million annual operating cost. The commission has yet to receive a proposal.

In the meantime, Reilly’s committee expects to submit the project to the Federal Transit Administration by next May or June. The FTA will then rate the application as “highly recommended,” “recommended,” or “not recommended,” a critical step that will help guide congressional decision-making and ultimately determine whether the trains will ever start rolling.

If it gets the go-ahead, Reilly said passenger service could begin by late 2006 or 2007 at the earliest.


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Monterey may see commuter rail by 2009

Monterey, Calif., may see passenger trains again in the days ahead.

The closest Amtrak’s Coast Starlight comes to Monterey is Castroville, but no train, passenger or freight, has gone south on the Monterey Branch line from Castroville to the Peninsula since 1994.

Soon, however, unless municipal objections or large-scale money shortages derail a long-running plan to revive passenger rail service to the Peninsula, they may return, reports the Monterey County Coast Weekly.

The Transportation Agency of Monterey County (TAMC) recently won approval from the California Transportation Committee to spend $9.4 million on the existing but unused tracks between Castroville and Seaside. That funding and millions more could reestablish a passenger rail link to San Francisco that was once known as the Del Monte Express.

The Monterey Branch line is 12.6 miles of track that links the southern half of Monterey Bay with the main line, which now runs from Gilroy up through San Jose to San Francisco.

Passenger service from Gilroy to San Francisco is currently available via Caltrain; TAMC plans to extend that service south from Gilroy to Salinas.

TAMC is negotiating the details of purchasing the Monterey Branch line with the current owners, Union Pacific. Although some last-minute hitches have arisen, the deal is expected to get a green light.

Union Pacific has filed papers with the STB to abandon the line; approval is pending, but when it comes, the acquisition could go through in weeks.

“We want to make sure we purchase this on terms that work for us,” says TAMC’s deputy executive director, Debbie Hale.

TAMC says the Monterey Branch needs some repairs but not total replacement. The Salinas River Bridge, for one, needs a seismic retrofit and some small bridges also need repairs.

Still, $9.4 million does not buy a train. On top of the rail line’s purchase price, $38 million will be needed to upgrade the line and build a station at Fort Ord, both of which will be needed before rail service could begin.

By way of comparison, a plan to build an eight-mile bypass around Prunedale for Highway 101 by 2010 is now estimated to cost $640 million for both right-of-way purchase and road construction.

An optimistic timetable puts Amtrak rail service to the Peninsula in place by 2009. As now planned, the train would make two round trips a day during the week and three on weekends and holidays, and would take less than three hours.

The trains would share the Caltrain mainline track, but it would not make all the stops available on that line. After Monterey, it would stop in Castroville, San Jose, Milbrae and San Francisco. Times would be coordinated with existing commuter train schedules, and a one-way ticket should cost between $19 and $28. TAMC pegs the yearly operating cost of this new service at $5.7 million, although some of that would be made back through fares as well as through state and federal funding. Amtrak would be the train operator, running equipment leased by TAMC.

Besides federal help, TAMC will decide this spring whether or not to put a county measure on the November 2004 ballot that would create a half-cent sales tax. Five percent of that tax would go to train service, generating $22 million for rail over 20 years, Hale said.


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San Joaquin County explores rails

San Joaquin County rail officials will know in about six months whether it’s feasible to build a new commuter rail system that connects Modesto and Sacramento via Lathrop.

Local politicians who sit on the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission said September 4 that they were interested in finding out how much a rail system would cost and whether it would be successful in connecting local workers to new job markets.

The upcoming study comes on the heels of a similar rail study released in August by the Stanislaus County Public Works Department, according to the Stockton Record of September 5.

That study estimated that an extension of the Altamont Commuter Express (ACE) into Stanislaus County would require an initial investment of about $44.7 million.

ACE’s executive director, Stacey Mortensen, said the new study would determine whether a new north-south rail line connecting Modesto and Sacramento could be built for nearly the same cost.

“We won’t know for sure until we have real discussions with (track owner Union Pacific Railroad), but it’s possible we could get more bang for our buck with a (line to) Sacramento,” she said.

The rail commission, she explained, might be able to work out a deal with Union Pacific that would make it cheaper to run a long north-south line than an extension that would connect with the train-congested Bay Area, Mortensen said.

“We could open up commuters to new job markets for the same money, possibly,” Mortensen said.

Rail commissioners lamented that the new Stanislaus County study didn’t examine how many people would ride the proposed ACE extension. It also didn’t look at how Stanislaus County government would raise the $44.7 million.

“I want to feel good about this report, but I don’t,” said Brent Ives, a Tracy councilman and rail commission board member.

“We gave them some money to do this report, but it has some bad assumptions and a lack of integration with other parties involved. Unfortunately, it already seems like an us-and-them relationship,” he said.

San Joaquin County rail commissioners said they learned important lessons with the startup of the ACE train. The commission originally paid $48 million to start ACE in 1998.

Transportation agencies in Alameda and Santa Clara counties were supposed to eventually invest the same amount but decided earlier this year that budget constraints made that nearly impossible. The San Joaquin rail commission agreed to take ownership of the trains and essentially forgive the debt of the other counties.

That won’t happen again, rail commissioners agreed.

“We don’t want people in this county paying for an extension of ACE into Stanislaus County,” said Commissioner Gary Podesto, Stockton’s mayor.

It’s unclear how Stanislaus County could pay for an ACE extension.

While San Joaquin County has a half-cent sales tax that pays for local transportation projects, Stanislaus County voters haven’t passed such a measure.

The San Joaquin Council of Governments, the agency that administers the half-cent sales-tax revenues, is working on a plan to spend the sales tax for the next 30 years if voters agree in November 2004 to renew the tax. A new rail line could be included in that spending plan if the upcoming study indicates it’s feasible, officials said.


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Georgia chases Atlanta-Macon rails

Commuter rail from Atlanta to Macon got more money last week, another sign that the long-dormant project will be revived.

Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) said he would spend an additional $4 million on a commuter rail line planned from Atlanta to Macon by way of Griffin. The money will allow the state to capture more than $20 million in available federal funds that has remained unclaimed – until now.

Georgia has agreed to put up about $4 million to trigger a federal matching grant of $21 million, said Perdue spokesman Derrick Dickey, reports the Macon Telegraph. The money will be earmarked for the commuter-rail line planned between Atlanta and Macon via Griffin.

The money is in addition to a $10 million combination of federal and state dollars that was obtained last month. Those funds are being used to improve the 159 grade crossings between Atlanta and Macon, and to purchase real estate for stations. Initial plans call for closing five of 14 crossings in Bibb County and 14 of 33 in Monroe County during the next three years.

The new $25 million federal-state package won’t be used immediately, said Vicki Gavalas, a spokeswoman for the Georgia DOT. That’s partly because there’s only so much work that can be done until the state reaches an agreement with Norfolk Southern Corp. to either buy or lease the Macon-Atlanta line.

“A glacier is frozen, but even it moves slowly,” Gavalas said. “I don’t know that anybody should get excited. (Rail service) is still way off in the future.”

The state’s $4 million portion of the new money will be financed through the sale of bonds backed by motor-fuel tax proceeds. The $4 million rail money is part of a larger package of $64 million in statewide transportation improvement projects.

The projected total cost of building the Macon-Atlanta rail line could reach about $600 million, which includes buying engines, coaches and other equipment, as well as either leasing or purchasing the line.

Once completed, Atlanta and Macon would be the two linkpins of a statewide rail network. Atlanta’s downtown terminal would be the center for bus and rail service throughout metro Atlanta and north Georgia.

Macon’s Terminal Station is projected as the gateway to Middle and South Georgia, with the rail line fanning out from Macon to Columbus, Savannah and other cities.


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Jersey’s ‘Secaucus Transfer’ finally opens

It took a while, but weekend service began moving through Secaucus transfer in New Jersey on September 6, linking 10 of New Jersey Transit’s 11 regional lines.

Daily service is scheduled to begin in December, after PATH rail service is restored to lower Manhattan, according to The AP.

The building was dedicated as the Frank R. Lautenberg Rail Station. State officials say the U.S. senator from New Jersey played a vital role in securing the federal funds needed for the station’s construction.

“This station, once fully operational, will shorten travel times to and from midtown Manhattan by 15 to 20 minutes, saving a total of 13,500 days in annual travel time,” said Lautenberg (D), who attended the opening.

“For each individual commuter, this adds up to an extra week of time over the course of a year – time I hope commuters will be able to spend with their families,” he said.

Gov. James E. McGreevey said the station “promises to be the economic engine that will drive smart growth development in the Meadowlands and the rest of the region,” while improving the quality of life for many New Jerseyans by providing access to jobs, education and entertainment.

The 312,000-square-foot station links the Main, Bergen County, Pascack Valley, Port Jervis, Montclair-Boonton, Morristown, Gladstone, Northeast Corridor, North Jersey Coast and Raritan Valley lines.


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BC Rail sells diners; mum to whom

BC Rail has sold 10 mothballed luxury dining cars to an unnamed American firm.

B.C. Rail spokesman Alan Dever told D:F on Friday, “The sale process was completed a week ago, but there is a 90-day period in which to close the agreement.”

Earlier, he told the Canadian Press, “We got the best deal we could,” and added, “I don't believe there are any discussions under way to run it on BC Rail lines.”

The company won't reveal the sale price of the Pacific Starlight dinner train, which numbers 10 luxurious railcars, including a power car.

He said BC Rail bought the train for about $2 million in the mid-1990s.

“It's been up for sale since service discontinued last October,” Dever said.

He added, “We didn’t pay huge amounts of dollars to buy it to begin with.”

The train included three dome cars, and ran from 1997 until last October between North Vancouver and Porteau Cove. They bought the equipment from the Spirit Of Washington dinner train company, which still operates out of Renton, Wash. Doug Bacon, general manager of the Washington company, said his firm was not the mystery buyer.

When B.C. Rail announced it was shutting down the service last September, Bob Phillips, president and CEO, said the train lost approximately $420,000 annually.

Quitting the service was one of three to hit British Columbia last year. B.C. Rail shut down the high-end Whistler Northwind, which lost $2.3 million in 2001, and the Cariboo Prospector, which linked Vancouver with Prince George.


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APTA HIGHLIGHTS...  APTA Highlights...

Here are some other transit headlines, from the pages of Passenger Transport, the weekly newspaper of the public transportation industry published by the non-profit American Public Transportation Assn. For more news from Passenger Transport and subscription information, visit the APTA web site at http://www.apta.com/news/pt.


 

TriMet Extends Airport MAX Red Line to Beaverton, Ore.

The Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon in Portland extended Airport MAX Red Line light rail service along eight miles to the Beaverton Transit Center on Aug. 31. The new segment of the Red Line, which includes six stations, follows the existing route of the Blue Line, but will allow travelers from the Westside to the Portland International Airport to make the trip without changing trains in downtown Portland. In addition to the change in service, TriMet has added four new trains an hour between downtown and Beaverton.

In the two years since Airport MAX entered service between downtown Portland and the airport, TriMet reported a daily average of 2,500 riders boarding and alighting at the airport terminal. A 2002 Airport MAX survey showed that 12 percent of travelers to the airport were going to or coming from a destination west of downtown.


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Intermodal Facility Opens in Canton, Ohio

The Stark Area Regional Transit Authority in Canton, Ohio, marked the opening of its new Cornerstone Transit Center with ceremonies Aug. 6. Approximately 200 guests attended the grand opening and ribbon-cutting program for the intermodal facility, located in downtown Canton..

The new transit center includes both an indoor customer service center and an outdoor bus-boarding plaza that accommodates 16 SARTA buses per hour. The 3,163-square-foot facility also provides interior and exterior amenities for Greyhound through an occupancy agreement with SARTA.


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Neal Holmes Dies; Longtime Board Chairman in Pittsburgh

Neal H. Holmes, chairman since 1992 of the Port Authority of Allegheny County Board of Directors in Pittsburgh, died of cancer Aug. 26, at the age of 72. He joined the Port Authority board in 1984, and served on the APTA Board of Directors since 1992.

During Holmes’ tenure on the Port Authority board, he helped advance more than $1 billion in capital construction projects for the system, including the Stage I and II Light Rail Transit Reconstruction Projects, the West Busway, Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway Extension, and the North Shore Connector.


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

CSX freight

For D:F: Mile Woodruff

CSX local 0704 strolls past TN tower in Tampa on July 7. It’s crossing the “A-Line” and heading for Brooksville with a tank car and 51 empty cement hoppers. It'll be a slow trip, because 5938’s lack of ditch lights limits them to 20 mph.

 

Crown leaves CSX under fire

Alan F. Crown has retired as CSX Corp.’s chief operating officer after increased train delays and a system-wide service shutdown.

CEO Michael J. Ward will take control of day-to-day operations for the 55-year-old Crown, the Jacksonville-based railroad said in a statement on Thursday. Crown has worked at CSX, the third-largest U.S. railroad, for 37 years.

Three weeks ago, a computer virus halted all 1,600 daily trains for several hours. CSX, Amtrak and Virginia Rail Express trains were slowed earlier this year by a February blizzard, spring floods and the Northeast blackout. CSX said recently that the average speed of its trains in the week ended August 30 was the slowest in any seven-day period this year, according to the Baltimore Sun.


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Rail terrorism is threat, study reports

“The threat of terrorism is real on strategic rail corridors with passenger and freight rail service, and we believe that Al Qaeda’s apparent interest in rail attacks should be a call to action,” said counter-terrorism expert Elsa Lee last week.

She contributed to a new Homeland Security report released September 11 in Los Angeles. Its lengthy title is OnTrac Trade Impact Study: National Economic Significance of Rail Capacity and Homeland Security on the Alameda Corridor East.

The study was commissioned and published by the Orange North-American Trade Rail Access Corridor (OnTrac), Joint Powers Authority and the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. (LAEDC). The study was completed as part of the environmental review process for the Alameda Corridor East strategic rail system that goes through Placentia, Calif.

“The disruption cost of shutting down the Alameda Corridor East represents a $414 million disruption value each day that it is shut down,” said LAEDC public policy director, Greg Freeman.

“A 10-day disruption due to a terrorist attack would cost $4.1 billion, and 30-days duration would cost $12.4 billion,” he said.

“Southern California has become the nation’s primary gateway for two-way international trade,” said OnTrac’s Executive Director, Christopher Becker.

“The Alameda Corridor East rail lines moved about $116 billion in goods based on the manufacturer’s value in 2000. The street value was much higher for these products. The street values of rail cargo traveling on the Alameda Corridor East in 2000 were $166 billion.”

Becker’s testified at House and Senate Railroad Committees hearings that Washington should provide more flexible funding for environmentally beneficial rail projects, and significantly more funding for mega projects and grade crossing programs like Alameda Corridor East.

Increasing capacity of rail moves more consumer and military goods faster, but at the same time added capacity also increases the wait times for truck drivers at street level rail crossings, noted LAEDC senior vice-president Wally Baker.


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DM&E gets okay to lay 39 miles of
new track in Wyoming, S. Dakota

The U.S. Forest Service has approved expansion of the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad across 39 miles of protected grassland in Wyoming and South Dakota, officials said September 5.

Some 280 miles of new track to Wyoming’s coal-rich Powder River Basin will be built under the $2 billion project. Another 600 miles of existing track will be improved, The AP reported.

Project managers needed a construction permit from the Forest Service to build track across 33 miles of the Thunder Basin National Grassland in northeastern Wyoming and six miles of South Dakota’s Buffalo Gap National Grassland.

Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Rick Cables approved a five-year permit and operation easement Thursday.

“The Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern project presented a combination of considerations not often experienced by the Forest Service,” he said. “The project addresses the National Energy Policy by providing a valuable service to the public interest and eliminating the bottlenecks in coal transportation.”

According to Cables, up to 100 million tons of Powder River Basin coal will be transported on the railroad each year to the Eastern U.S.

The Forest Service was one of five federal agencies that analyzed environmental impacts of the project with the STB. Decisions by other affected agencies are expected soon.

The project is in a 5-year-old battle, and several groups are now asking a three-judge appeals court to overturn the project’s approval.

Several communities, environmental groups, landowners and the Mayo Clinic filed a legal challenge soon after the federal STB approved the project in January 2002.

They say the board didn’t sufficiently assess concerns such as noise, pollution and traffic.

They are asking the judges to send the environmental impact statement back to the board for more consideration of an alternative route.

They want a bypass around the city, but the board rejected it because some of the land that would be involved is environmentally sensitive.


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Corman wants 100 Kentucky miles

R.J. Corman Equipment Co. (RJCE) has petitioned the STB to acquire about 100 miles of Kentucky trackage from CSX, including a main and a couple of branches.

The proposed agreement between RJCE and CSX will allow Corman to acquire the line, known as the “Old Road,” extending between approximately milepost 12.49 at HK Tower in Anchorage, Ky., near Louisville, and approximately milepost 113.81 in Winchester, a distance of approximately 91.48 miles.

Corman will also acquire associated branch lines – the Bloomfield Branch, extending from a connection with the Old Road main line at milepost 30.64 to milepost 33.71, a distance of approximately 3.07 miles, in Shelbyville, and the Chilesburg Branch, extending from a connection with the Old Road main line at milepost 643.90 in Lexington (milepost 97.74 on the Old Road main line), to milepost 638.41 near Cadentown, 5.49 miles.

Corman will also buy industrial, spur and yard tracks in Lexington and Frankfort. The firm said it would buy track and materials from CSXT and will lease the underlying real estate from CSXT for 15 years.

CSXT will retain restricted overhead trackage rights on the portion of the Old Road between Winchester and Lexington to operate unit coal trains.

Based on projected annual revenues for the line, RJCE stated that it expects to remain a Class III rail carrier after consummation of the proposed transaction. It certifies that its projected annual revenues do not exceed those that would qualify it as a Class III rail carrier.

RJCE told the STB on July 31 that a 60-day notice of the transaction (required by 49 CFR 1150.42(e)), “was posted at the workplace of the employees on the Old Road line and was served on the national offices of the labor unions with employees on the Old Road.”

Corman said it intends to complete the deal on September 30, which is 60 days after its certification to the board.


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CSX rebuilds Atlanta tracks at Fulton

CSX Transportation says it is renovating some Atlanta tracks.

Specifically, the freight carrier says it began a “strategic development initiative to the Fulton Industrial Business District that will ultimately make the area a foremost industrial transportation hub for the Southeast.

CSX said it will spend nearly $1 million over eight weeks to insert 7,000 new crossties, 1,700 new switch ties, and several new track panels and switches.

Yard will allow for increased capacity and improved operating maneuverability.

“This is just another example of not only CSX’s commitment to Atlanta and its logistics community, but to the entire Southeast,” said Chip Davis, CSXT Southeast regional sales director. “Our investment is an important step in helping Atlanta achieve its goal of becoming a leading transportation hub.”

The project is a first step toward developing the Fulton Business District into a high growth rail-centric transportation center.

Fulton Industrial is home to more than 40 existing customers that move everything from food products and metals to paper and packaging products from five regions of the country.

Shippers from the West Coast, Pacific Northwest, Canada, Ohio Valley and Southeast move more than 8,000 cars, or the equivalent of 30,000 trucks, annually through warehouses and light manufacturing facilities in the Business District to end users in Atlanta and the surrounding areas.

The next phase of improvements, slated for the first half of 2004, will include more frequent and custom-designed switching services, along with joint commercial and development efforts between CSX and its customers in the area.


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Columbus gets $2 million to fix tracks

The Ohio Rail Development Commission (ORDC) on Friday approved a loan of up to $2.1 million to the Columbiana County Port Authority to rehabilitate 29.8 miles of track between Youngstown and the Pennsylvania state line.

The former Youngstown & Southern Railroad had used the segment of track until it was taken out of service in November 1996. The Central Columbiana & Pennsylvania Railway has operated on the line since March 2001 under a contract with the port authority.

James E. Seney, executive director of the ORDC, said the track improvements are needed to handle the increase in carloads the Central Columbiana & Pennsylvania has experienced.

“We have run into a problem that most short lines in the state would like to have. The car loadings along the line have developed faster than the railroad could make track repairs,” Seney said.

“A line that handled 300 or 400 carloads a year when it was prematurely shut down in 1996 will soon have 7,000 carloads a year. ORDC’s loan will get the track in shape to handle the increased traffic.”

Seney said the Central Columbiana & Pennsylvania hauls about 2,750 carloads a year from nine customers, with the majority of traffic coming from construction and demolition landfills.

“Although the new construction and demolition traffic will make the line viable, ORDC’s real interest is in what the line will mean for present and future economic development,” Seney said.

“We see rail as a tool to help business along the line keep their transportation costs down so they can better compete. The availability of rail transportation is a major factor in determining where businesses grow and prosper so that they can provide well-paying jobs for the area,” he said.

The railroad’s customers include Allied Erecting, Banner Supply, Western Supply, Boardman Block and Concrete, 84 Lumber, Donahue Rail Car and Darlington Brick. There are also several vacant factory buildings and industrial development sites along the line.

The ORDC earlier provided the port authority with $2 million to replace 8,000 ties and to improve grade crossing warning signals and roadway surfaces. Seney said the loan would be repaid by the railroad from its profits.


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CSX car cleaner wins $2 million lawsuit

A CSX Transportation employee was awarded $2.74 million last Thursday by a jury that found the railroad negligent in exposing him to toxic solvents that led to brain damage.

Troy Moody and his attorney argued that CSX exposed Moody and other employees to toxic solvents that they knew could cause brain damage, according to WXIX, Cincinnati.

Moody worked in what was the Louisville & Nashville Railroad’s south Louisville shops, where locomotives were cleaned with solvents. Court records show he was there for about four years beginning in 1978.

CSX attorney Edward Stopher said Moody’s brain damage wasn’t caused by exposure to the solvents and denied CSX failed to protect workers from any known hazard. He cited testimony in which a coworker said Moody began acting forgetful around the time he filed suit.

The Jefferson County Circuit Court jury voted 9-3 yesterday that negligence by CSX was a cause of the brain damage. The jury awarded Moody $200,000 for future medical expenses, $540,000 for future lost wages and $2 million for past and future pain and suffering.

No word on how much the lawyer received in compensation.


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Intermodal up again while carloads fall

Intermodal traffic was up but carload freight was down on U.S. railroads during the week ended September 6 in comparison with the corresponding week last year, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported Thursday.

Intermodal traffic totaled 172,347 trailers or containers, up 1.6 percent from last year. Carload freight, which doesn’t include the intermodal data, totaled 311,601 cars, down 1.2 percent, with volume down 2.1 percent in the West and even with last year in the East. Total volume was estimated at 27.6 billion ton-miles, up 1.5 percent from last year. Both this year’s week and the comparison week from last year included the Labor Day holiday.

Eleven of 19 carload commodity groups were up from last year, with grain traffic up 17.5 percent; coke up 91.0 percent; and stone, clay and glass products gaining 10.3 percent. On the downside, loadings of metallic ores were off 29.2 percent and farm products other than grain declined by 19.2 percent.

The AAR also reported the following cumulative totals for U.S. railroads during the first 36 weeks of 2003:

11,606,107 carloads, down 0.3 percent from last year; intermodal volume of 6,735,697 trailers or containers, up 5.3 percent; and total volume of an estimated 1.02 trillion ton-miles, up 0.8 percent from last year’s first 36 weeks.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 88 percent of U.S. carload freight and 95 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 95 percent and 100 percent. Railroads provide more than 40 percent of the nation’s intercity freight transportation, more than any other mode, and rail traffic figures are regarded as an important economic indicator.

Both intermodal and carload volume were up during the week ended September 6 on Canadian railroads. Intermodal traffic totaled 38,966 trailers and containers, up 1.3 percent from last year. Carload volume of 58,167 cars was up 2.8 percent from the comparable week last year. Canada’s Labour Day holiday was included in both this year’s week and the comparison week from last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 36 weeks of 2003 on the Canadian railroads totaled 2,192,841 carloads, down 1.4 percent from last year, and 1,486,758 trailers and containers, up 8.1 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 36 weeks of 2003 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 13,798,948 carloads, down 0.5 percent from last year and 8,222,455 trailers and containers, up 5.8 percent from last year.

The AAR also reported that originated carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended September 6 totaled 8,495 cars, down 10.0 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 3,541 originated trailers or containers, up 1.6 percent from the 36th week of 2002. For the first 36 weeks of 2003, TFM reported cumulative originated volume of 305,431 cars, virtually the same as last year, and 125,891 trailers or containers, up 21.9 percent.

The AAR is online at www.aar.org.


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ACROSS THE POND...  Across the pond...

California officials study Shikansen

It’s not really as fast as a bullet, but you have to step lively to catch one, wrote San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Charles Burress last week.

The doors on Japan’s bullet trains, or Shinkansen, as it is named there, open and shut in less than a minute at many stops, and you can set your watch by the departures.

Born in Japan four decades ago, superfast trains with tight schedules have spread to Europe and other parts of Asia. Now they’re finally exciting serious interest in the U.S., and especially California – where Japan’s experience is receiving close scrutiny.

The most likely place to see America’s first bullet train is a 400-mile stretch between San Francisco and Los Angeles, said Rod Diridon, executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute in San Jose.

“It’s highly probable,” Diridon said of California’s prospects, a subject he studied as the past chairman of the agency in charge of state plans for a bullet train, the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

“I really strongly believe it’s a matter of ‘when,’ not ‘if,’” Diridon said.

Imagine jumping on a train in San Francisco after breakfast, zipping to L.A. for a Giants-Dodgers game and hurtling home in time for dinner – all for half the cost of an airplane ticket, at least by rail authority estimates.

Or, “you could get on a train in San Diego and be in Santa Barbara in minutes,” the state’s transportation chief, Maria Contreras-Sweet, said at a recent San Francisco Commonwealth Club speech on high-speed rail.

Dreams of such an enormous undertaking – comparable to building the first transcontinental railroad – have been around for years, and the state’s High- Speed Rail Authority opened for business nearly six years ago – but only recently has the idea begun to gather a serious head of steam.

A major push came last September when the state legislature voted to place a $9.95 billion high-speed rail bond before the voters in November 2004. A draft blueprint in the form of an environmental impact report is due out this month.

“The project is the largest in the country,” said Mehdi Morshed, executive director of the High-Speed Rail Authority. “It’s similar in terms of scope and impact on the state to the California water program in the ’60s, or when the state introduced the freeway system or the university system.”

If approved, the rapid electric train would make frequent runs on its own tracks throughout the day, with express service from downtown San Francisco to downtown Los Angeles in 2-_ hours—the time it takes the bullet-train express to travel from Tokyo to Osaka.

And like the Tokyo-Osaka run, the San Francisco-Los Angeles line would be the backbone of an expanded system. The plan in California is eventually to link Sacramento, San Diego and other major cities. The system would cost an estimated $25 billion and take 15 years to build.

California is studying high-speed systems in Japan, France, Germany and Spain, but hasn’t determined if any particular one will serve as a primary model, Morshed said.

Japan’s is the pioneer and, with continual upgrades, offers important lessons for California, Diridon said.

“The Japanese have been running what they call bullet trains for 39 years,” he said. “They’ve carried hundreds of millions of people. We’re learning a lot from them. They have technical teams offering us advice.”

Japan has the largest bullet-train ridership in the world—around 280 million a year, compared with 42 million projected by the state rail authority for a California system in 20 years.

Of special importance to California is the seismic engineering that earthquake-prone Japan has developed over the years, said one of the Japanese advisers to California, Naoki Hariyama.

“We have the know-how to protect train systems from earthquakes,” said Hariyama, manager of the Washington, D.C., office of the Central Japan Ry. Co., which operates the Tokyo-Osaka bullet train.

Also attractive to U.S. rail supporters is Japan’s vast network and integration of superfast trains with other mass transit.

“If the heavens opened up and a duplicate of the Japanese system were dropped on California, I’d accept it lock, stock and barrel,” said Richard Silver, executive director of the Rail Passenger Assn. of California, an advocacy group.

A traveler staying in Tokyo’s Ebisu district can walk in two minutes to a station on the city’s main Yamanote loop line, buy a $1.62 ticket and hop aboard the commuter train for a 22-minute ride to the bullet-train platform at Tokyo station.

Most bullet-train riders in Japan are on business trips, Hariyama said, though many passengers can be found in holiday attire enjoying a beer and snacks and, on the Tokyo-Osaka run, a view of Mount Fuji when the air is clear.

“I think a bullet train is a good idea for California,” said Takuya Toda, a Tokyo office worker. “It is easier to read, eat, drink and chat in the train than any other transportation, and door-to-door travel time is less than air travel.”

The 168 mph Tokyo-Osaka train is slower than a plane, but the train stations, unlike airports, are more centrally located and do not require early check-in.

Glen Fukushima, a former U.S. trade negotiator who now oversees Cadence Design Systems’ operations in Japan, rides the superfast train about 10 times a year. A U.S. bullet train, he said, has “the potential of reducing traffic congestion and accidents, conserving fuel, reducing pollution and providing employment.”

Its economic feasibility depends on the choice of routes, financing and ability to compete with other forms of transportation, Fukushima said.

In California, the working plan for a high-speed rail line has trains running from San Francisco through the Central Valley before going on to Los Angeles and the southern coast.

Profitability calculations vary according to how construction debt and maintenance costs are accounted for, but bullet trains in Japan and elsewhere are profitable when properly managed, Diridon said. “One advantage of high-speed rail is that you make money,” he said.

Existing bullet-train systems also offer a range of public and private combinations of ownership and operation. Japan’s has undergone gradual privatization and now shows a healthy profit, Hariyama said.

Who would own and operate California’s system hasn’t been determined.

Bullet trains can be profitable as long as taxpayers pay at least some of the costs of construction and maintenance, similar to government spending on highways and airports, said Michael Rivera, general counsel for the lobbying consortium High Speed Ground Transportation Assn.

The U.S. already has a relatively fast train. Amtrak’s Acela Express service between Boston and Washington, D.C., boasts a top speed of 150 mph, but it typically runs much slower because much of the elderly catenary between Washington and New York City cannot handle the stresses, nor does the 400-mile line have a sealed track without crossings at grade. Numerous curves, especially in Connecticut, also cut down the train’s speeds.

A line free of grade crossings, the type of dedicated line used by the Bay Area Rapid Transit, for example, gives bullet trains a remarkable safety record.

“It’s safer than walking on the sidewalk,” Diridon said.

One other state, Florida, has plans for true high-speed rail, but they are stymied because “the legislature is lukewarm at best and the governor is opposed,” said Silver, of the Rail Passenger Assn. of California.

“We’re much further along than anybody else.”

A cloud hangs over voter approval of the California bond next year, particularly with the possibility of a replay of this year’s huge deficit, Silver acknowledged.

Univ. of California Berkeley civil engineering Professor Adib Kanafani said high-speed rail makes more sense in Japan and Europe, with their greater population densities and mass transit networks feeding the bullet-train stations. He said his studies from several years ago showed that high-speed rail would require more taxpayer subsidies than airlines and highways.

“If you ask me, this is not the place to put our money,” Kanafani said. If California is going to borrow such a huge sum, it should spend it on more pressing problems such as education, job creation and the environment, he said.

Diridon said bond indebtedness would be spread over 30 years and that the investment would bring returns for a century, so putting high-speed rail on hold because of the state’s current woes would be a mistake. “This is a 100-year system,” he said.

Besides, Silver said, America hasn’t even caught up with the present yet: “The United States has a 19th century railroad system in the 21st century.”


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BUSINESS LINES...  Business lines...

FECI

The IRS has given Florida East Coast Industries, Inc. (NYSE: FLA, FLA.b) (FECI) FECI some good news.

FECI stated on Thursday that it and The St. Joe Co. (NYSE: JOE) had received a favorable ruling from the IRS regarding FECI’s reclassification of its Class A and Class B common stock into a single class of common stock. The letter ruling confirms that the proposed reclassification will not have an adverse affect on the tax-free status of the October 2000 spin-off of St. Joe’s equity interest in FECI to St. Joe’s shareholders.

In May 2003, FECI’s Class A and Class B shareholders, voting as separate classes, had approved amendments to FECI’s articles of incorporation to allow the reclassification of the two classes of common stock into a single class of common stock.

Subject to required approvals of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), FECI said it intends to file an amendment to its articles of incorporation with the Secretary of State of Florida in order to effect the reclassification on September 22, 2003.

FECI anticipates that the Class B Stock will be delisted from the NYSE prior to trading on September 22. The single class of common stock will continue to trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “FLA.”

FECI Chairman, President and CEO Robert W. Anestis added, “We believe the elimination of the dual share class structure will enhance liquidity and trading volume in the stock, broaden appeal to a larger investor base, eliminate investor confusion and simplify the company’s capital structure.”


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Trinity Industries

Trinity Industries, Inc. (TRN) declared a quarterly dividend of 6 cents a share on its $1 par value common stock on September 11. The quarterly cash dividend, Trinity's 158th consecutive, is payable October 31 to stockholders of record October 15. Headquartered in Dallas, the firm leases freight cars to shippers.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: Bloomberg.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)28.71028.780
Canadian National(CNI)52.61054.050
Canadian Pacific(CP)24.66024.880
CSX(CSX)31.78031.650
Florida East Coast(FLA)29.94031.340
Genessee & Wyoming(GWI)24.00024.140
Kansas City Southern(KSU)11.81012.010
Norfolk Southern(NSC)19.43019.380
Union Pacific(UNP)60.90060.800


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OPINION...  Opinion...

It’s not even ‘Round 1’ at Amtrak

By Wes Vernon
Washington Bureau Chief

The lopsided 282-130 votes in the House last week against killing all but six long distance passenger trains, while causing Amtrak supporters to heave a sigh of relief, can be viewed from two perspectives:

A minor skirmish in what will be a long-term epic battle, and secondly, interesting when one considers the lawmakers representing districts in small town Heartland America who voted to take away their constituents’ passenger trains.

Let’s take the first point. If you understand the major legislation introduced in late July by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and three of her fellow Republicans, one can see that they are digging in for the long haul. The fact that 130 House members actually voted to cut off funding for all but six long distance passenger trains represented old-think.

Perhaps because many of them have committee assignments elsewhere and are not focused on the latest efforts to bring about a fully meaningful national passenger train network, they instinctively vote against anything that they believe smells of big government.

No pun intended, but on transportation issues, that train left the station decades ago. Note this comment by Hutchison:

“In the 1950s, President Eisenhower convinced the nation to pay for the construction of the National Highway System. Fiscal realities have changed since then, and we must find a way to creatively finance the rail infrastructure needs of the nation without draining resources from alternative modes of transportation and other federal priorities. Municipal bonding and private investment are necessary components of any plan to restore ad improve rail infrastructure.”

Get it? Today, the appropriations committees of the House and Senate dicker over whether to kill Amtrak or allow it to limp along. Okay, that’s more band-aid for now, but Hutchison envisions a new day. That new era, as she sees it, is wrapped up in the credibility of CEO David Gunn, a realization on the part of the public that traffic woes are costing time and money, and that legislation such as hers that would provide $12 billion over several years to upgrade the n-a-t-i-o-n-a-l system. Not just Washington-New York-Boston, but all of America.

You don’t ram that kind of “big picture” legislation through the Congressional mill overnight. The perennial joke on Capitol Hill, as Bob Dole used to say, is that watching the legislative process work its will is “like watching the grass grow.” The fiscal year begins October 1, and all you can do for now is get the stopgap funding in place, for the moment. Keep the trains running – however precariously – and dig in for the long tortuous battle for building the rail equivalent of what Ike proposed for highways back in the fifties.

“Outside the NEC, freight and passenger trains must run on time and service is abysmal,” said Hutchison.

“Lateness is often measured in days, not hours. Several years ago, when the airlines on-time rate fell below 75 percent, it was considered a national emergency. At Amtrak, on-time records under 50 percent are business as usual. Rail critics point to low ridership as the reason why we starve the national system. I contend that starvation is the reason for low ridership.” Translation: The chicken really does come before the egg.

Worthy of note: Among the 282 lawmakers who voted against discontinuing all but six long-distance trains was none other than Rep. Don Young, the Alaska Republican who heads the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, a co-sponsor of what is roughly the House counterpart to Hutchison’s bill in the Senate, aimed at bolstering Amtrak nationwide.

At some point, soon, D:F will add to the analysis of that House vote, and of course, periodic updates on the Senate and House bills to build a “rail interstate,” throughout America.

Regarding Hutchison’s complaint about lateness being measured in days, not hours, outside the NEC, news late in the week that the chief operating officer of CSX had retired. In reporting the story, the Washington Post noted that CSX “has been plagued by delays and service shutdowns.” CSX hosts many Amtrak long distance trains. Alan Crown is the COO who is leaving after holding that position for just seven months.

The story does not say flatly that CSX’s on-time performance has anything to do with the fact that Crown’s boss, CEO Mike Ward, will now take control of the railroad’s day-to-say operations.

If there is a connection, it would be the second time in recent years that a COO at CSX has been shown the door over reliability issues. In the late 1990s, Ward’s predecessor, John Snow, who is now Treasury Secretary fired a COO over unsafe track conditions and then proceeded to take day-to-day control of the railroad himself.


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LETTERS...  We get letters...

Dear Editor:

The Hudson Bay Ry. operates over what used to be Canadian National trackage(D:F, September 2). The Algoma Central operates north out of Sault Ste. Marie, in Ontario. Algoma Central tracks go nowhere near Manitoba.

Jon Calon
Calgary, Alberta


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

Boston South Bay Yard-Way Back When

For NCI: Henry Frick

It was mid November 1969 at around 2:00 to 3:00 p.m., writes the photographer, who was in Boston snapping photos from a bridge overlooking either Southampton Street Yard in Boston or First Street yard in South Boston. “BL-1’s crew, from Boston to Lowell, Mass., was doubling over getting their train together for a round-trip,” Henry wrote. The Alco “FA was the regular assignment,” and in this case, a four-unit lashup at 1,500 hp each.

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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