Vol. 7 No. 40
September 18, 2006

Copyright © 2006
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

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

A weekly North American rail and transit update

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

* Now in our Seventh Year *

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

  News Items... 
Misleading headline muddies Amtrak’s waters
Amtrak’s David Hughes to move on
Senator Linc Chafee beats back challenger
It’s ‘Back to the Future’ for Philly-Harrisburg service
Amtrak providing service for Seattle Seahawk games
  Commuter lines… 
SF’s BART to hire terror “czar”
New York Transit riders – More for work, fewer for fun
  Friday closing quotes… 
  Business lines… 
Sound Transit gets $2M federal grant
  Safety lines… 
New York terminal operations over one year injury-free
  Editorials… 
Way to go, Lincoln… The good guys win one
Maine’s Senators put country before party
Guest Editorial: State’s promotion of rail is on the right track
  End notes… 

NEWS ITEMS...  News Items...

Acela Trainsets at rest in Boston

Photo: Jim RePass, NCI   

Acela trainsets rest at Boston’s South Station. NJT won’t be taking over their tracks anytime soon.

 

Amtrak wins new six-year operating contract, but…

Misleading headline muddies Amtrak’s waters
Re “takeover” of railroad’s New Jersey tracks

By DF Staff

TRENTON --- News headlines on top of a Bloomberg wire service story roiled the Amtrak world this past week when the answer to a reporter’s question to New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine created the impression that a take-over of Amtrak’s Garden State assets by New Jersey might be in the works.

The headline “New Jersey May Take Over Train Corridor, Corzine Says” ran atop a Bloomberg news service story widely carried following this past week’s board meeting of New Jersey Transit at Trenton. A reporter’s questioning of Gov. Corzine on whether state takeover of the New Jersey portion of the Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor was indeed an option elicited the Corzine response that the idea was “worthy of deep exploration”.

Corzine’s broad response immediately translated into an attention-grabbing headline, because the notion of parceling out Amtrak into bits and pieces has been a long-term Bush Administration project, pushed by anti-Amtrak and anti-rail service ideologues within the Administration.

Calls by NCI to Amtrak, to New Jersey Transit, and to Gov. Corzine’s office elicited a unanimous response that Gov. Corzine, who has long been and advocate for improved intercity and commuter rail transit, was not planning to push for any such action by New Jersey, but had merely agreed with a Bloomberg reporter that all transportation options need “deep exploration”.

The confusion effectively obscured the real story from the September 13 New Jersey Transit Board Meeting, which was the reaching of a six-year agreement to allow New Jersey commuter trains to continue to operate on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.

The Bloomberg story, by reporter Chris Dolmetsch, reported: “New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine said the state may consider taking over a 55-mile section of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor that runs between New York and Trenton, New Jersey, to reduce delays.”

The takeover story was prompted by numerous delays along the Northeast Corridor this past year due to equipment and infrastructure failure, often stranding commuters for hours. The Amtrak system from New York to Washington that passes through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Baltimore on its way to Washington, DC dates from the nineteenth century, and the overhead wires that supply the electricity, commonly called the “catenary”, were put up in the 1930’s. They are of an antiquated design highly prone to weather-related failure: the wires sag in the summer and snag the pantographs on top of the electric locomotives. The pantograph then pulls down the wire and stops the train. In cold weather the wires freeze and snap off.

The rest of the world uses constant-tension catenary which avoids those problem and permits higher speeds, but Congress has never appropriated funds, promised in 1970, to replace the catenary system. Only the Northeast Corridor (NEC) stretch from New Haven to Boston, electrified and modernized between 1991 and 1999, has world-class technology.

The New Haven-New York City segment of the Corridor, owned by the State of Connecticut rather than Amtrak, is in the worst shape of all, having been installed in 1906-1912. It is slowly being replaced, but work will continue for another decade, according to Connecticut officials, who say that they do not have enough money to do the job faster. Advocates for state take-over of Amtrak lines, one expert noted, “…should examine what has actually happened where Amtrak’s route is already owned and maintained by a state. It hasn’t been an improvement. Just the opposite.”

The condition of Amtrak’s infrastructure and equipment has deteriorated over most of Amtrak’s life. Amtrak was created in 1970 by the Congress to bail out the privately-owned freight railroads which by law (at that time) were required as “common carriers” to provide passenger train service. Virtually all of the freight railroads were in or facing bankruptcy due to a combination of poor management and over-regulation.

As a part of the creation of Amtrak, the commuter rail lines in the various states, such as New Jersey Transit, Metro-North (New York/Connecticut), SEPTA (Philadelphia) and MARC (Maryland) were given permission to operate over Amtrak’s lines, in return for paying the marginal cost of wear and tear incurred by their train operations. However, those payments do not come close to covering Amtrak’s capital infrastructure replacement costs, which Congress was supposed to appropriate starting in 1970. Except for occasional emergency appropriations, some equipment purchases, and the New Haven-Boston electrification project, that has never happened.

As a consequence, Amtrak has been in effect subsidizing the commuter rail operations of the Northeast states for 35 years, providing the infrastructure upon which those trains run while collecting a fraction of the costs required to provide that infrastructure and maintain it in a good state of repair. In the meantime intercity service has also fallen into poor condition, as freight railroads – paid by Amtrak on the same wear-and-tear, beggar-they-neighbor basis that commuter rail services pay Amtrak --- are facing unprecedented demand for capacity they also can not afford to build, and shunt Amtrak trains aside for far more profitable freight trains.

The failure of either the Bush or the Clinton Administrations to develop a coherent national transportation policy is seen by transportation experts as the cause of the current worsening crisis in the American transportation system, which is effectively in collapse, but whose causes and remedies are poorly understood outside of the industry, and completely baffling to Congress, which has modal experts aplenty but few people who understand the problem.


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This just in…

Amtrak interim CEO to Leave

By DF Staff and Internet reports

Amtrak has announced that David Hughes, who has served as its acting president and chief executive since the departure of David Gunn, is leaving the company.

Hughes has served as CEO of the passenger railroad since November 2005.

In a message to employees Friday, Amtrak’s newly hired president, Alexander Kummant, acknowledged Mr. Hughes’s departure and his role while chief engineer prior to that.

Additional details on Hughes’ plans were not available at our press deadline.


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Former NCI Director Senator Linc Chafee
beats back right wing challenger in RI

By DF Staff

RI Sen. Lincoln Chaffee

Senator Lincoln Chaffee
PROVIDENCE --- Former National Corridors Initiative Executive Director Lincoln Chafee fought off a well-financed challenge from right-wing Republicans Tuesday to win the GOP nomination for United States Senate in Rhode Island.

Chafee, who succeeded his father Sen. John Chafee upon the latter’s death in 1999 and was then re-elected in his own right in 2000, has been a moderate Republican who often opposed the policies of the Bush Administration, including the war in Iraq, and the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alioto.

Chafee beat Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey by a 54.2 percent to 45.8 percent margin, with 100% of the votes in.

The turnout of 63,459 smashed the record turnout for a Rhode Island GOP primary, the Providence Journal reported. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” the Journal reported Chafee said to a boisterous crowd of supporters at the Providence Biltmore hotel. “When I ran for the Senate in 2000, I promised you that I would always be honest, that I would always have the guts to take the hard votes and that I would strive to work constructively with everyone in Washington," Chafee said. "I believe I have kept those promises.”

Chafee even refused to vote for the current President in 2004, but was nevertheless supported against his challenger at the end by the national GOP, which fears a loss of Senate control if the Democrats gain too many seats in the fall election. Power in the Senate, as in the House, is determined by simple majority control, and even the loss of a moderate Republican like Chafee would put that control into jeopardy in an election year when incumbents of both parties are seen as vulnerable. The GOP holds 55 Senate seats, one shy of the record 56 it held just before the Crash of 1929.

Chafee, who served as NCI’s first Executive Director in 1989-1991 and as a director for several years thereafter, is a Republican in a heavily Democratic state. Many observers, including the national Senatorial leadership of the GOP, believed that his loss in the primary would shepherd in a win Democratic Senatorial nominee former RI Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse. Chafee’s GOP challenger was seen as a sure loser in any state-wide race in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 10:1, and with 340,000 registered but left-leaning independents. Chafee, on the other hand, is popular with independents, as well as with many Democratic and union leaders.

In a statement on the election, NCI President Jim RePass said: “I am delighted that my friend and former colleague Linc Chafee has won the nomination for Senate from Rhode Island. Particularly in these highly partisan times we need the occasional voice of moderation, which Lincoln clearly is. He is also a very decent and courageous man, whose straightforwardness is badly needed in a world of spin and twist.”


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It’s ‘Back to the Future’ for Philadelphia-
Harrisburg passenger rail service

By DF Staff and from Internet Sources

PHILADELPHIA-HARRISBURG --- Rail lines once electrified and then allowed to go fossil will once again enter at least the 20th century next month between Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania state capitol of Harrisburg, as high speed rail of the American variety (110 mph) returns.

The 104-mile route, heavily traveled for generations, was allowed to fall into disrepair over the past several decades as Amtrak’s budget was repeatedly cut by Congress. Former Amtrak President David Gunn fought for and got the funds to replace the track and catenary on the route. He was fired last fall by the Amtrak Board.

The service improvements will turn what had been a two-hour+ ride on poor track into a 90-minute commute for non-stop trains; locals will take only 15 minutes more, Amtrak said.

The $145 million project took two years to complete, and included upgrades to roadbed, track, signals, and operating equipment. Current Amtrak Chair David Laney called the new service a “significant improvement” over current service, reports stated.

The 67 round trips between Philadelphia and Harrisburg each week will increase to 84 when the news service starts October 30, Amtrak reports, and Harrisburg-New York City service will also increase from 51 to 64.

[ D:F has covered some of the rebuilding of the Keystone corridor in recent weeks. See some of our back issues by using our internet search tool on keywords “ketstone corridor” – Ed. ]


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Amtrak providing service
for Seattle Seahawk games

From Amtrak

SEATTLE — With the historic Seattle King Street Station just across the street from Qwest Field, riding Amtrak Cascades service is “…the best way for Seahawks fans to get to the game without the traffic hassle,” Amtrak announced this week re the 2006-2007 Seattle pro football season

Fans wishing to purchase a game package for the games (marked with an asterisk on table below) including round-trip rail transportation and Seahawks Field Level game tickets are encouraged to call SportsWorld Tours at (503) 241-4701, 1-800-634-2555 or visit their website at www.sportsworldtours.com. Purchase tickets early to obtain lowest fares. Reservations are required. Visit www.AmtrakCascades.com, or call 800-USA-RAIL for reservations and information.

Sunday, September 17 @ 1:00 pm *Arizona
Sunday, September 24 @ 1:00 pm *New York
Sunday, October 22 @ 1:00 pm *Minnesota
Monday, November 6 @ 5:30 pmOakland
Sunday, November 12 @ 1:00 pm *St. Louis
Monday, November 27 @ 5:30 pmGreen Bay
Thursday, December 14 @ 1:00 pmSan Francisco
Sunday, December 24 @ 1:00 pm *San Diego

In July, Amtrak and the Washington Department of Transportation added a fourth roundtrip to the Amtrak Cascades schedule between Seattle and Portland. This mid-day service provides passengers with a greater array of transportation options.

The Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor extends 466 miles from Eugene, Ore., to Vancouver, BC. Intercity service is provided in partnership with the states of Washington and Oregon.


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

SF’s BART to hire terror “czar”

From The San Francisco Chronicle

SAN FRANCISCO – San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) plans to hire a terror “czar” reports Demian Bulwa of the San Francisco Chronicle, “…to coordinate its strategy for heading off attacks and to secure state and federal grants for the efforts,” quoting BART officials.

“The (BART) police department is doing a great job, but the threat is so real that you need someone to just concentrate on terror,’” the Chronicle quoted BART director James Fang as saying during a press briefing at the Civic Center Station in San Francisco.

“The terrorism czar’s job description and salary have not been finalized, and no one has been interviewed for the post. But officials said whoever gets it will coordinate the system’s effort to prevent acts of terror and, in the event of an attack, its response and continued service for 323,000 daily passengers,” the Chronicle reported. “The terrorism czar would develop relationships with agencies involved in counter-terrorism like the FBI and head BART’s application for grant money, including from the federal Department of Homeland Security.”

“Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last month released $2.9 million in homeland security funds for security improvements to the Transbay Tube. But BART officials believe they have not received a fair share of such grants overall, given that terrorists have targeted mass transit and the rail system is vital to the Bay Area,” the Chronicle reported.

“The position’s creation is a sign of the institutionalization of anti-terrorism and emergency preparedness,” wrote Bulwa. “The topic is starting to appear in university curricula. And agencies like BART are finding that terror prevention carries enormous financial, political and public-relations responsibilities that are sometimes spread among too many staff members.”


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New York Transit riders –

More for work, fewer for fun

From the Gotham Gazette

New York City---“New York City’s transit system received some good news recently when data from the United States Census Bureau showed an up tick in the number of people commuting by bus and subway,” reporter Brice Schaller writes in the Gotham Gazette of September 12. “There were 91,000 more New Yorkers taking buses and subways to work each day in 2005 than there were the year before.”

“This reverses a long-term trend. The number of commuters who take public transportation had fallen from 65 percent in 1960 to 53 percent in 1990. It is now back up to almost 55 percent,” reported the Gazette.

“It is interesting to note that riders actually returned in droves after 1990, but the growth was in trips to shop, or for entertainment, or to socialize – everything except going to work. A number of factors contributed to the increases, as I detailed in a report: the sharp drop in crime, two decades capital work to rebuild the transit system, MetroCard fare incentives, immigration, population growth and increased shopping opportunities near subway stations. Now more people are taking transit to work, but traveling for non-work purposes has leveled off,” reported Schaller.

For the complete version of this excellent report see www.gothamgazette.com.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: MarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)69.8265.93
Canadian National (CNI)41.0241.27
Canadian Pacific (CP)47.9647.68
CSX (CSX)31.6130.30
Florida East Coast (FLA)55.4653.56
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)23.5522.86
Kansas City Southern (KSU)27.4926.15
Norfolk Southern (NSC)43.0541.31
Providence & Worcester (PWX)18.2119.86
Union Pacific (UNP)83.8080.10


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BUSINESSLINES...  Business lines...

Sound Transit gets $2M federal grant

From the Puget Sound Business Journal (Seattle)

SEATTLE--- Sound Transit has received a $1.98 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration to install a system that will help visually impaired and other handicapped people travel around the area, reports the Puget Sound Business Journal (www.bizjournals.com/seattle/)

Sound Transit officials say it’s the first such grant in the country, reports the Journal.

‘Seattle will be the host city for the Remote Infrared Audible Signage (RIAS) Model Accessibility Project (MAP). The "Talking Signs" technology uses an infrared wireless communications system that provides human voice messages to people with hand-held receivers,” reports the Journal


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SAFETYLINES...  Safety lines...
Sunnyside Yard Crew 53A, secure a switch engine

Photo: Amtrak Ink

Engineer Jed Curtis, Conductor Brian Krilloff and Assistant Conductor Jerry Popp (clockwise from top), members of Sunnyside Yard Crew 53A, secure a switch engine.

 

New York terminal operations over one year injury-free

Source: Amtrak Ink

New York Division’s Terminal Operations covering New York’s Penn Station and Sunnyside Yard have worked since June 2005 without an FRA-reportable injury.

“This is a remarkable accomplishment by a group of employees that includes yardmasters, engineers, conductors and assistant conductors who are responsible for the daily movement of Amtrak and NJ TRANSIT train equipment between Sunnyside Yard and New York Penn Station,” said New York Division General Superintendent Lenore Slimbock.

Their work, performed at Amtrak’s busiest facility, includes climbing on the equipment, pulling high-voltage electrical cables, coupling hoses, adjusting knuckles, applying and removing chocks, and throwing hand switches.The employees perform their work surrounded by other moving equipment, third rail and high-voltage catenary wires.

How did they do it? Assistant Superintendent of Terminal Operations Tom Connolly and his team have raised safety awareness by educating employees on how to safely perform yard operations, including training on FRA’s five Switching Operations Fatality Analysis (SOFA) Lifesavers, three-point protection, radio rules and shoving procedures.

Additionally, the division hands out safety alerts that are discussed at daily job briefings, and they also conduct internal audits to assure adherence to policies and procedures. Employees who have had multiple injuries in their careers were brought in for formal safety reviews during which each incident was carefully examined to see how it could have been avoided.


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EDITORIALS...  Editorials...

Way to go, Lincoln…

The good guys win one

Rhode Island voters have spoken in the heaviest primary turnout in years to re-nominate United States Senator Lincoln Chafee for a second full term, despite the hard-core right’s best efforts to unseat him.

Linc Chafee, who as noted elsewhere was NCI’s first executive director, is very definitely his own man, which is a challenge for the lock-step national Republicans who have been trending sharply rightward for about twenty years now --- even as the Democrats have themselves become more ideological.

From time to time, it might be a good idea to elect more people from both parties like Linc Chafee, who refuse to become ideologues, and who bring a real sense of public purpose to politics, as well as civility to the public forum.

But right now, we’re just proud, and happy that from time to time, the good guys can still win.


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Kudos to Sen. Collins of Maine

Maine’s Sen. Collins joins Sens. Shelby, Sarbanes
in putting country before party on transit security

 

Despite the opposition of the President, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), chair of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, this past week accepted an amendment to authorize funding for a new transit security program as part of the Port Security measure.

In rejecting her President’s position to limit the bill to ports, Sen. Collins said, “The horrific terrorist attacks in London and Madrid demonstrate that terrorists are willing and able to attack transit systems. Our systems in the United States remain vulnerable.” The Senator went on to say: “I am pleased to join my colleagues in support of the amendment.”

The amendment, offered by Chairman Shelby and ranking Democratic Senator Sarbanes of the Banking Committee, adds a new title to the bill authorizing $3.5 billion for transit security funding over the next three years. The Senate is also expected to consider an amendment that would provide $1.2 billion for rail security before it completes action on the bill this week. The House has already passed a port security bill that provides no funding for public transportation security. House and Senate leaders hope to complete the conference on the two versions of the bill and send it to the President by the time Congress leaves Washington at the beginning of October for the congressional elections.

Collins action recognizes that we must treat transportation as a system, not as a collection of separate modes. In doing so, she recognizes an important fact: we need to start looking at America’s transportation system --- and fund it as a system – if we are going to compete in a world where other nation’s are designing more intelligent, more integrated transportation systems to move goods and people. And when it comes to terrorism, we can’t have gaps in the way we protect against it. Those gaps would become chinks in our armor, which terrorists are all too willing to exploit.

Nice job, Senator Collins.


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Guest Editorial:

State’s promotion of rail is on the right track

Copyright © 2006 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.
Used by permission
Portland (Maine) Press Herald September 7 2006

The high price of gasoline has brought a welcome revival of interest in alternatives to the automobile.

Our car culture has given Americans almost unlimited freedom to travel. But it’s also a major contributor to land-gobbling suburban sprawl, our expanding waistlines and the pollution that causes climate change.

During the last year, gasoline and diesel prices spiked as tight global oil supplies and high demand were exacerbated by instability in the Middle East and a temporary shortage in refining capacity due to Hurricane Katrina.

One of the few winners in this high-price energy landscape has been the Downeaster. The Portland-to-Boston Amtrak line has been setting ridership records every month. Nearly 330,000 passengers boarded the train during the year ending in June. That’s a 31 percent jump over 2005 and the biggest increase recorded anywhere on the Amtrak system.

So it’s only appropriate that Gov. Baldacci issued an executive order last week directing the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority to work with the state on extending rail service to Brunswick and Lewiston-Auburn, with the potential for seasonal links to other Maine destinations.

The order also calls for investments along the Downeaster’s existing route, which runs through Old Orchard Beach, Saco and Wells.

Less welcome is the balloon floated this week by independent gubernatorial candidate Barbara Merrill. Merrill has called for Portland-to-Montreal rail service to be supported, in part, by the proceeds of a rail-car casino.

Promoting such an unambiguous social benefit as mass transit by linking it to such an equally unambiguous social ill like gambling is a Faustian gambit that could hardly be less helpful. Half-baked ideas like these are better left unoffered.

Americans’ interest in mass transit has waxed and waned before. Prior to the state investing big money in a series of rail-dependent strategies, it ought to conduct a series of sober studies to determine the costs and the benefits of expanded rail service with an eye to the long-term.

The slight easing of gas prices and the discovery of new oil reserves in the Gulf of Mexico should not be an excuse for the return of irrational apathy about our economy’s vulnerability to energy shocks.

If indeed energy prices were to stabilize at lower levels, it would most certainly be fleeting reprieve from the inevitable day of accounting.

We’d be wise to consider this opportunity to resurrect a viable alternative to the automobile.


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End Notes...

We try to be accurate in the stories we write, but even seasoned pros err occasionally. If you read something you know to be amiss, or if you have a question about a topic, we’d like to hear from you. Please e-mail the editor at editor@nationalcorridors.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write. For technical issues contact D. M. Kirkpatrick, NCI’s webmaster at webmaster@nationalcorridors.org.

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

Photo submissions are welcome. NCI is always interested in images that demonstrate the positive aspects of rail, transit, and intermodalism, as well as of current newsworthy events associated with our mission. Please contact the webmaster in advance of sending images so we can recommend attachment by e-mail or grant direct file transfer protocols (FTP) access depending on size and number. Descriptive text which includes location, train name, and something about the content of the image is encouraged. We will credit the photographer and offer a return link to your e-mail address or web site.

Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images by Leo King and other photo journalists should contact our webmaster@nationalcorridors.org for additional information.

In an effort to expand the on-line experience at the National Corridors Initiative web site, we have added a page featuring links to other transportation initiative sites. We hope to provide links to those cities or states that are working on rail transportation initiatives – state DOTs, legislators, governor’s offices, and transportation professionals – as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists. If you have a favorite link, please send the uniform resource locator address (URL) our webmaster@nationalcorridors.org.


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