Railroaders to strike Amtrak
for one day in funding protest
Six Amtrak unions say they will stop work on October 3, shutting the railroad for the day, to protest Congresss failure to pass a $1.8 billion appropriation for the railroad for the fiscal year beginning October 1. The labor organizations made their joint statement on September 16.
If carried out, it would be the first time Amtrak workers have walked off the job to protest Congressional policy. In the past, workers have struck over wages or other workplace issues, according to the New York Times.
Amtrak officials said Wednesday that they would seek a court injunction blocking the threatened one-day strike.
CEO David Gunn said in a statement, Amtrak has a legal and public service obligation to provide intercity passenger rail service each and every day. We anticipate that all of our employees will abide by existing contracts and the law.
Amtrak spokesman Dan Stessel said the company would seek an injunction in federal court in the next few days to prevent the walkout.
Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott called a threatened strike by Amtrak workers, ill-advised.
Im an advocate of more funds for Amtrak, Lott said, but this is a very dumb thing for the Amtrak unions to consider. If they do that it could very well kill Amtrak because it could drive off a supporter like me - and if they dont have bipartisan support for Amtrak, it is probably going to die.
Union officials said they believed that they were justified under the law and cited a 1982 Supreme Court ruling involving longshoremen who protested the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan by refusing to load fertilizer on ships going to the Soviet Union.
Charles F. Moneypenny, the director of the Railroad Division of the Transport Workers Union, which represents 2,000 Amtrak car cleaners and on-board service personnel, said the object was to demonstrate Amtraks importance.
Moneypenny, who was also a member of the Amtrak Reform Council, a group created by Congress to look for long-term solutions for the beleaguered railroad, said, If Amtrak seeks to enjoin us from walking, and if there are other public figures who criticize such a move, what theyre saying is, Amtrak must be pretty important because we cant let these guys shut the system down.
Moneypenny said such a complaint would prove the unions point.
Amtrak is important, he said. Fund it to the level at least that the president of Amtrak says he needs to operate.
Amtraks president, David L. Gunn, asked Congress for $1.8 billion for the next fiscal year. The House passed an appropriations bill including exactly half that sum for Amtrak. The full Senate has not acted, but the Senate Appropriations Committee approved $1.346 billion.
Meanwhile, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees (BMWE) said its members would withdraw their services from Amtrak nationwide on October 3 to protest Congress and the White Houses failure to appropriate sufficient funds to maintain Amtrak services.
BMWE Acting President Freddie N. Simpson noted that Amtraks President, David Gunn, said Amtrak needs $1.8 billion for fiscal year 2004 to maintain its operations.
Simpson said, Without that level of funding, Gunn said he will seek to shut down Amtrak nationwide. Nevertheless, President Bush proposed only $900 million for Amtrak, a death sentence for rail passenger service in the U.S.
The House recently agreed to the $900 million figure.
Even though a majority of the House members signed a letter pledging to vote for $1.8 billion for Amtrak, the Republican leadership used procedural gimmicks to prevent a vote on that figure, Simpson said.
The Senate appears likely to provide $1.35 billion to Amtrak, which is better but still inadequate, Simpson added.
General Chairman Jed Dodd of the Pennsylvania Federation, which has jurisdiction over the BMWE track maintenance, building, bridge and electric catenary system workers on Amtraks Northeast Corridor, said, Amtrak is a vital national resource that is being starved to death by politicians who have a variety of different agendas, and none of these agendas have a goal of providing efficient, high-speed rail service for the American people. We hope that this action on October 3 will serve as a wakeup call that rail service is vital to the economy of the nation.
Dodd echoed Simpson:
The government must make the proper investments into Amtrak to ensure that this resource is protected for the American people. The funding levels being proposed mean that the railroad cannot be safely maintained. The lives of the traveling public are being gambled with as the politicians continue to play their games with Amtrak.
Amtrak provided a script on Friday for its reservations service center employees to read with official approved language, as to what to say if asked about the possibility of a maintenance of way union strike in early October:
If you are asked about this, here is the approved language for the response you should give.:
At this time we have every reason to believe that trains will operate normally. In the unlikely event that there is a service disruption, we will call you. May I verify the contact information in your reservation?
If pressed further on the matter by a caller, the reservation agents were instructed to say We anticipate that our employees will abide by existing contracts and the law, which could include, if necessary, use of court injunctions to keep train service operating.
Hurricane Isabel slammed into North Carolina on Thursday, disrupting travel plans for thousands of Americans, and greatly changed Amtraks eastern schedules. By Friday, it had passed over Washington, D.C. and was downgraded to a tropical storm and headed toward Canada, but left behind a great number of downed tree limbs on tracks. Nearly five million business and residences were without electricity while 17 people died.
Amtrak and other carriers braced for the effects of the category 2 hurricane, which closed in on North Carolinas Outer Banks with heavy rains and winds up to 110 mph.
The passenger rail carrier canceled Florida service trains for September 17-19, although some limited service operated. Acela Express trains to and from the national capital were also affected along with other lines as far away as Chicago. By Friday, Keystone service was completely shut down for the day after high winds left tree limbs strewn on tracks.
The USDOT reported at midweek FRA inspectors had begun monitoring bridges and low areas for indications of high water, washouts, or track debris that could affect service. The agency also reported railroads were pre-positioning work crews and materials to make emergency repairs, and FRA headquarters was in direct contact with Amtrak management. On Friday, considerable FRA changes rewrote Amtraks plans.
By Thursday morning, airlines had begun canceling flights in and out of the DC area, and all were making plans to fly their aircraft elsewhere overnight. By Friday, more than 2,000 commercial flights between South Carolina and New Jersey were canceled.
Officials at several air carriers, including American Airlines, US Airways and JetBlue, said they relaxed their reservation policies to allow passengers to change the time or date of travel at no extra charge or penalty.
Amtrak said Wednesday it did the same for affected train passengers.
The carrier also stated in an online message, Effectively, all Amtrak service south of Washington, D.C., has been canceled on Thursday, September 18.
It reported train Nos. 92, the Silver Star and 97, the Silver Meteor, originating on September 17, were cancelled. Train 90, the Palmetto, would operate from Miami to Jacksonville only.
AutoTrain service, trains 52 and 53, were to operate on September 17, but will be cancelled on September 18.
Its North Carolina services, trains 73 and 74 (Piedmont) and 79 and 80 (Carolinian) would operate as scheduled on September 17. Meanwhile, regional trains 85 and 93 were to operate to Richmond as scheduled, but train 95 terminated in Washington instead of Richmond.
Later Wednesday, the schedule was again modified so that the Crescent (trains 19, 20), and Piedmont (trains 73, 74) were also canceled.
The Carolinian (trains 79-80) operated only between New York and Washington, and all regional service was suspended between Newport News, Richmond and Washington. AutoTrain service was also canceled on Friday, September 19.
Amtrak operated Florida intrastate service on Thursday, representing trains 90 and 97, between Miami and Jacksonville only. The Orlando-Los Angeles Sunset Limited, train Nos. 1 and 2, operated as scheduled.
On Thursday, September 18, regional trains 84 and 86 originated in Washington instead of Richmond, and trains 76, 77 and 94 were cancelled between Newport News and Washington.
Also on September 17, train 30, the Capitol Limited, was cancelled between Chicago and Washington, and train 48, Lake Shore Limited, from Chicago to New York City, terminated in Albany instead of New York.
Amtrak operated most trains on the Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston Thursday on a normal schedule except Acela Expresses 2173 and 2175 terminated in New York instead of Washington, and Nos. 2114 and 2118 were cancelled from Washington to New York. Regional train 84 was cancelled from Richmond, Va. to New York, and Metroliner 125 was cancelled New York to Washington.
The southbound Vermonter (train No. 55) from St. Albans, Vt. terminated in New York instead of Washington.
The Lake Shore Limited (Nos. 48-49-448-449) trains between Chicago, Boston and New York, were canceled outright on Thursday, as was Capitol Limited service between Chicago and Washington (trains 29/30), Pennsylvanian service between Pittsburgh and New York City (trains 43/44), and Three Rivers service between Chicago and New York City (trains 40/41).
In addition, the eastbound Cardinal (train 50) was canceled Thursday between Chicago and Washington and, on Friday, the westbound Cardinal (train 51) operated between Indianapolis and Chicago only.
By Friday, Amtrak modified its operating plan for the morning hours because of many downed trees along the Northeast Corridor between Baltimore and Philadelphia, but Clockers between Philadelphia and New York were unaffected.
Northbound departures from Washington at 5:35 a.m., 7:00 a.m., 7:30 a.m., 7:30 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. were cancelled Friday to enable work crews to clear the railroad and address necessary track and electrical repairs. The first northbound departure from Washington was at 8:35 a.m. with No. 84. Southbound trains scheduled to operate from New York to Washington have also been adjusted.
All service on the Harrisburg line between Harrisburg and Philadelphia was suspended Friday because of downed trees.
In commuter rail operations, Virginia Railway Express (VRE) and Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) canceled all rail service for Thursday and Friday.
VRE told its riders via the internet, We have been working with both railroads [CSX and Norfolk Southern] that have taken extraordinary measures, provided us with candid advice, and given us all the tools we need to run our trains on Thursday. They have told us that we can run and that they will support any schedule we put forward, but VRE took the safer course.
Both railroads have informed us that the final decision on VRE service rests with us. VRE feels strongly that if we run service in the morning and get you into work, we must get you home in the afternoon. Given all that we have heard, our concern is: can we get you home safely? The forecast of high winds starting in the afternoon is of greatest concern. We will not put our passengers, our crews, and, potentially, CSX and Norfolk Southern employees in danger. Ultimately, we feel that this is an unacceptable risk.
The carrier explained their decision in some detail.
If the rain causes flood warnings, we will automatically be on restricted speeds of 15 mph, which will result in a multi-hour trip home. If trees fall on the tracks, crews must be dispatched to remove them. In addition, the potential for winds of 30 to 40 mph tomorrow afternoon makes conditions unsafe. If the train gets stranded for any reason, we would need buses to get you home. There is no realistic belief that this could be done quickly or that it is even possible.
MARC told its riders high winds would continue through the early morning hours on Friday which could cause downed trees and power outages.
The carrier said, Both Amtrak and CSX have been very cooperative and committed to assisting MARC in operating, however since there is not a comfort level that MARC can operate service reliably and safely, the prudent action is to suspend service for the day.
MARC, Amtrak and CSX worked over the weekend to prepare for Monday service but MARC was still concerned that Hurricane Isabel may cause serious flooding along the Potomac River over the weekend.
MARC said it moved all its equipment normally stored at Brunswick to Frederick. If there is serious flooding Brunswick Line service may be impacted for Monday.
WMATAs Commuter trains and buses stopped running after the morning rush hour Thursday and some 350,000 non-essential federal employees were told to stay home for the day.
Freight lines were making plans, too.
Norfolk Southern began making precautionary measures in advance of Hurricane Isabel. The carrier noted a hurricane watch had been posted from Chincoteague, Va., to Little River Inlet, S.C., and for portions of the Chesapeake Bay. Equipment is being moved from coastal areas in this region and low lying areas prone to flooding.
NS stated, Additional precautionary measures were being taken at Norfolk and at other locations which may be impacted.
Service curtailments began in some areas on Wednesday, depending on the path of the storm, to provide for the safety of NS employees and to enable employees in the affected area to take care of families and homes.
On Thursday, CSX suspended all train operations on its main line between Fayetteville, N.C., and Richmond, Va. All traffic moving east from areas between Richmond and Florence, S.C., was also suspended until Hurricane Isabel abates.
The freight railroad said it would cease all operations and remove locomotives from all CSXT routes east of the Richmond-Jacksonville main line in North Carolina and Virginia by 8:00 p.m. Thursday.
CSX operated through Thursday morning on the Richmond-Jacksonville main line.
The carrier noted crews had inspected culverts, ditches and bridges to minimize water damage from flooding, and they were staging portable generators and post-storm cleanup equipment at strategic points for use as needed. Ballast trains have also been positioned in areas expected to take the brunt of the storm.
Like NS, they also communicated closely with commuter and passenger rail services in Washington, D.C., and surrounding areas. We will cooperate with their operating plans as they are made, and added, All precautions to ensure the safety of our employees, our customers and the public with minimum delay to shipments will be taken.
At mid-Friday afternoon, FRA reported that Amtraks Acela and Metroliner service on the Northeast Corridor was curtailed. Amtrak service south of Washington was suspended due to safety concerns of debris and lack of electrical power in stations.
All freight throughout the region was operational, but with some delays expected. No impact was anticipated on food, medical and critical chemical deliveries.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) reports that Richmond, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Hampton Roads metro systems were closed pending damage assessments.
The Association of American Railroads and American Public Transportation Assn. staffs were unable to file their weekly reports to D:F last week Isabel kept them from getting to work.
Will changes be forthcoming
with the new Amtrak board?
Big changes could be coming to Amtrak if one assumes that President Bushs three nominees to the Amtrak board are confirmed, and assuming at least two of them follow the philosophical patterns of the paper trails they have left over the years.
The nomination of the prospective board members was made late Friday, September 12. White House spokesman Allen Abney advised D:F as of the following mid-week, the names had not yet been sent to the Senate.
Among the nominees, the biggest question mark is Floyd Hall, retired chairman of K-Mart. Supporters of Amtrak, on and off Capitol Hill, are still doing some digging for information on him.
On the other hand, former American Airlines CEO Robert Crandall and former World Bank official Louis Thompson have staked out some interesting positions on transportation. Their views are encouraging to some, although troubling in other precincts.
All three have raised concern among Amtrak supporters as much for what is not known about the nominees as for what actually is known. That is why even the strongest Amtrak supporters are cautious about the appearance of rushing to judgment.
A very positive reaction comes from Paul Weyrich, himself a member of the Amtrak board for six years in the 1980s and more recently vice-chairman of the now defunct Amtrak Reform Council. His point is that Amtrak now may be getting people on the board that have some experience either in transportation or in industry. Amtrak, after all, is, in fact, a business, even though over the years it may have appeared to be a government agency subject to the bickering befitting a Washington political football.
In a word, the chairman of the Free Congress Foundation rates the nominees as outstanding.
The three are unlike any who have served on the board before, longtime Washington insider Weyrich told D:F.
The administration is finally following the law respecting who should be appointed. Amtrak management has never had board members such as these [with long histories of business experience], he said.
Although Edward Wytkind, executive director of the AFL-CIOs Transportation Trades Department (TTD), told the Washington Post the trio appeared to be a stacked deck against Amtrak, its workers and riders, TTD spokesman Michael Buckley told D:F a few days later that organized transportation labor had not made a decision as to whether to mount a full-blown battle on Capitol Hill against confirming any or all of the Presidents choices.
The union chiefs left no doubt they are unhappy with the three nominees. In a statement last Wednesday, the TTD took dead aim at the White House plan to nominate several individuals to the Amtrak Board of Directors who do not support a strong federal investment, and who want to use their position to test-out privatization theories at the expense of workers and passengers.
While they were at it, the labor leaders criticized the Bush administration Amtrak plan which the TTD leaders said would slash service, pass costs to already financially strapped states and launch risky privatization of the railroad.
The administration plan for Amtrak would get the private sector or state governments more heavily involved in running or paying for the passenger trains, both on the Northeast Corridor and elsewhere in the system. That idea has run into a buzz saw of criticism not only from Amtrak and rail labor, but also from the privately owned freight railroads that host Amtrak operations outside the NEC. They fear that with multiple operators and fragmented responsibility for the passenger trains, the Class I railroads could effectively lose control of their own property
Meanwhile, The New York Times last week published a story saying six unions were planning to walk out on Amtrak for a day October 3 just to prove how important the rail service is and as a means of delivering the message that Amtrak needs to be fully funded.
Amtrak headquarters indicated it would seek an injunction to prevent that from happening. The ringleaders of the intended walkout appear to be the Brotherhood of Maintenance Way Employees (BMWE) and the Transport Workers Union (TWU).
TWU official and former Amtrak Reform Council member Charlie Moneypenny anticipated complaints that the move on a getaway Friday may not win sympathy from some folks who are inconvenienced, but that any critical comments from Capitol Hill, would have made the workers point that Amtrak needs to be funded at the $1.8 billion CEO David Gunn says is required to restore the system to a state of good repair.
As to the prospective Amtrak board members, some friends of Amtrak see Thompson as a privatization fanatic.
Thompson, in some quarters viewed as a think-tank guy, is said to be highly skeptical of long distance passenger trains. If research proves that is the case, it could sound alarm bells in Congress where long distance trains enjoy considerable support from lawmakers whose constituents in small towns between the coasts often depend on one train a day in each direction.
Louis S. Thompson offers a number of reasons for separating rail infrastructure from operations, reads a summary from the World Bank Group.
The stated reasons are: to reduce unit costs, to create intrarail competition, to better focus on the services provided, to clarify public policy, and to strike a better balance between the roles of the public and private sectors.
The reported challenges to separating operations from infrastructure, according to the World Banks summation of Thompsons view, are capacity management and pricing policies. While it is true that infrastructure separation is messy and expensive, it will be a small price to pay if fragmentation offers a better fit for consumers.
For his part, Amtrak CEO David Gunn has described the administration proposal to separate operations from infrastructure on the Northeast Corridor as loony.
The rationale for such separation, as D:F has noted over the years, is that highways and airways have separate entities controlling infrastructure (public sector) and operations (private sector). In fact, that is cited as the core reason why these modes have grown over the years, while railroading bereft of a trust fund such as those enjoyed by their competitors has downsized on the freight side and barely limped along in intercity passenger service. Therefore, why not apply the same separation formula to railroads?
The proposal to do just that on the NEC, as Gunns statement indicates, is controversial. Outside the NEC, the idea gets more complicated because the freight railroads are responsible for both their operations and their infrastructure and they dont want a trust fund or anything that would mess with that arrangement. To paraphrase their argument would be to say, If it aint broke, dont fix it.
Thompson has had extensive railroad experience, including as a leading staffer at the FRA where he was instrumental in creating NECIP, the Northeast Corridor Improvement Program that resulted in Amtraks acquiring the corridor property that had been owned by bankrupt railroads and then by Conrail whose main mission was to restore solvent freight rail service to the eastern states. Thompson also played a role in the late 1960s and early 1970s in creating Amtrak in the first place.
Some who have tracked the turns and twists of Amtrak over the years believe it is possible to overstate Thompsons role with NECIP. That position, they note, was that of a banker and was his job as an employee of the FRA, starting in the Carter years and on into the early Reagan era. He is a Democrat.
Thompson is believed to have what some who have known him will define as the deepest reservations about the viability of Amtrak and whether Amtrak should be permitted to exist.
Organized labor is casting a wary eye on nominee Robert Crandall, the former American Airlines boss who took two major strikes in the 1990s the flight attendants during Thanksgiving 1993, and the pilots in 1997.
Specifically, with regard to Crandall, the TTD is talking with some of the airline unions that had worked with him, Buckley told D:F. He also noted that Floyd Halls K-Mart is almost completely non-union.
However, the union spokesman agreed that when Gunn came on board at Amtrak over a year ago, labor then had some questions about his reputation for being a tough negotiator with unions in his previous railroad jobs. Now, labor and Gunn are allies on the issue of restoring Amtrak.
Direct relations with unions are only one part of the picture.
Some of the materials in Crandalls background show him to be a shrewd businessman. A 1998 broadcast on PBSs News Hour recalled that he had first opposed deregulation of the airlines, but that once it became a reality, he made the best of it and American Airlines grew its volume of business by leaps and bounds.
Always worried about the tendency of airlines to price cut themselves to ruination in the early 1980s, according to the report, Americans outspoken boss was tape recorded some would say set up by the CEO of the now defunct Braniff Airlines, who got Crandall to say that if both airlines raised their prices, both would benefit. He was censured by the Justice Department for seeming to broach price fixing.
In the1998 interview, reporter Paul Solman threw the purported quote back at Crandall who supposedly had said to Braniff boss Paul Putnam, Raise your GD fares 20 percent, and Ill raise mine. The next morning, youll make money and I will too.
Crandall later acknowledged that was one of the more embarrassing things that I did, and Ive said that it was a foolish thing to do.
Though Crandall does not have thick political file in his background, he did issue a statement supporting President Clintons highly controversial economic plan, widely criticize by opponents for its tax hikes and increased spending in 1993.
One pro-Amtrak insider apparently has a grudging respect for Crandall, saying he is a proven leader of a major airline transportation company who someday might even take over for Mr. Gunn whenever the latter decides to call it quits.
Which raises a question: Would Crandall and Gunn make for an explosive mix? Neither man suffers fools gladly, and neither is known to take guff from anyone.
Would a headstrong Crandall, perhaps along with a Thompson whose known views are directly opposite of what Gunn says is needed, be just enough to push the Amtrak CEO into throwing up his hands and leaving? Gunns supporters believe that some Amtrak critics are unfairly holding him responsible for the missteps of his predecessors missteps which they say he has been correcting.
There are concerns to that effect, but there are also those who doubt that scenario. First, because both men have respected track records in the transportation industry, and their headstrong personalities might develop into a relationship of mutual respect.
Besides, it is noted in some quarters, Gunn is totally dedicated to making a success of Amtrak. It would take something really huge to push him over the edge. A key part of the success stories of both Gunn and Crandall is their ability to deal with other tough personalities.
There are those who caution against reaching any premature judgments on the nominees. It is pointed out that David Laney, the new chairman of the Amtrak Board of Directors, who was also appointed by the Bush White House, is getting along well with Amtrak management. From all reports, the people who work with him have a favorable opinion of the onetime Texas DOT official.
This drama has yet to play itself out, and while there is ample room for speculation, many are withholding judgment for now.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) is likely to move on a five-month extension of transportation spending laws, although a final decision on the bills duration will not be made until two Senate panels complete their own measures, a committee source said September 15. Young may move the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century extension bill early this week, depending on Hurricane Isabel and pending action by the Senate Finance and Environment and Public Works committees, reports Congress Daily.
Sources said both chambers were expected to pass the TEA-21 extension quickly, before it expires September 30. Young had been pushing for a six-month extension of TEA-21, which would have meant the law would expire in amid next years budget fight, so Senate transportation leaders and House GOP officials reportedly prefer the five-month option.
A Florida lawmaker filed a measure September 16 seeking to repeal a voter-ordered Constitutional amendment in 2000 for a statewide high-speed rail network.
Rep. Bob Allen ® filed a measure in Tallahassee (HJR 3) that would put the question back on the ballot, essentially asking voters if they were sure they wanted the state to build the multibillion-dollar system connecting five major Florida cities.
Allen filed a similar bill last year, but it died.
For the legislature to get an amendment before voters, a three-fifths majority in each chamber instead of the usual simple majority must approve the bill; then it could be placed on the ballot.
(See related story in last weeks D:F Ed.).
Oregon Citys new Amtrak station is behind schedule, and it will cost another $100,000 to complete the project.
The communitys urban renewal commission last week approved spending the extra money to replace railroad ties at the station. City officials arent happy about the unexpected expense, which pushed the projects cost to $1.55 million and may delay the opening by a few weeks.
On top of that, reported Oregon Live, a dispute between the state and Union Pacific Railroad threatens to reduce passenger service to Oregon City. The city expected Amtraks Cascades trains, which make two daily round trips between Portland and Eugene, to stop at the new Washington Street station.
Heres the problem:
Union Pacific owns the tracks. The state, which now spends $4.4 million a year to subsidize Amtraks Cascades route, agreed in 2000 to come up with $15 million for track improvements in return for permission to add the second train but the legislature didnt budget the track improvement money in 2001 or 2003.
UP notified the state several months ago that if the 2003 legislature didnt set aside $15 million, the second train would stop running 30 days after lawmakers adjourned, said John Bromley, the railroads public affairs director.
Were not willing to overlook this forever, Bromley said.
Pat Egan, the governors legislative director, said the state has a backup plan a $10 million funding package using lottery bonds, highway funds and economic development cash.
Well have something very concrete we can put in front of (Union Pacific... by the middle of next week, Egan said. We fully intend to do a list of projects that are beneficial to them and us.
Egan said Gov. Ted Kulongoski is a big rail supporter and fully aware of the new station in Oregon City.
The city hopes the station, near the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, will be a boon for tourism and draw regional and international visitors. The Cascades route connects with Vancouver, B.C.
We believe this is an economic engine for us, Oregon City Mayor Alice Norris said.
Amtraks Downeaster continued to post strong ridership numbers throughout the summer, partly making up for a dismal winter and early spring. The train operates between Bostons North Station and Portland, Maine.
Overall ridership numbers for the year to date are down 5 percent and revenues are down 10 percent below the trains inaugural year, said John Englert, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority.
That represents a major improvement compared to winter numbers that showed ridership down by 25 to 30 percent, Englert said.
For its part, Concord Trailways has seen ridership gains of 3 to 5 percent so far this year between Portland and Boston, said Ken Hunter, vice president of Concord Trailways in Concord, N.H.
The bus company, which shares its Portland terminal with Amtrak, has benefited from the attention the train service has brought as well as slow growth in the number of people traveling in general, Hunter said.
Meanwhile, Amtrak and Concord Trailways have joined forces to offer a six-day-a-week ride. Starting next month, a $99 Flexpass ticket between Boston and Portland will be good on either carrier, good for six one-way trips between Portland and Boston on either carrier.
Pay phones will soon be removed from the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North trains because they arent used much anymore, reported The AP on September 16. The Metropolitan Transit Authority said, Everyone has a cell phone. The agency is expected to approve removing the pay phones later this month.
When the phones were first introduced in 1993, calls cost $1.75 per minute, which is a lot, more than a cell phone call. Jim McGovern of the Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council said at first he worried that a person without a cell phone would not be able to call home in an emergency, but then he figured that the person could borrow one.
UTU bosses charged with racketeering
United Transportation Unions president and immediate past president have been charged with racketeering, according to U.S. Attorney Michael Shelby in Houston. Two other union leaders were also named.
Indictments are formal accusations of criminal conduct, not evidence.
Shelby said a grand jury returned an indictment on September 12 charging Byron Alford Boyd, Jr., 57, of Seattle; Charles Leonard Little, 69, of Leander, Texas; John Russell Rookard, 57, Olalla, Wash., and Ralph John Dennis, 51, Boone, Iowa, with racketeering conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, and commercial bribery.
The four are charged with conspiring to violate federal mail fraud and wire fraud statutes, and commercial state bribery statutes, by using their positions of authority as officers and employees of the United Transportation Union to solicit and collect cash payments and other things of value from attorneys doing business with the union over a period of 7 years beginning in 1995, Shelby said.
The indictment also charges two separate counts of mail fraud.
Every union member has the right to expect that his or her elected leaders will conduct themselves honestly, and with the best interests of the union membership at heart. We cannot and will not tolerate union officials who abuse their positions of trust for personal gain, said Shelby.
Little, Boyd and Rookard were to make an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Marcia Crone September 15 while Dennis was scheduled for September 16.
The UTU is based in Cleveland with more than 125,000 members consisting of railroad, bus, airline, and mass transit employees and retirees. The UTU represents its members in collective bargaining with common carriers by railroads throughout the U.S. and Canada with respect to wages and other terms and conditions of employment.
Boyd is currently UTUs international president and has held the post since former International President Charles Little resigned in February 2001.
Boyd was elected by the union membership at the UTU convention in August. Little was first elected as union president in 1995 with Boyd serving as Assistant President. Little was re-elected president in 1999.
Dennis was Director of Insurance for the UTU Insurance Assn. until he resigned from the union in July. Rookard is currently employed by the UTU as Special Assistant to Boyd.
The indictment alleges that the defendants devised and executed a scheme to defraud and to deprive the membership of the UTU of their honest services by soliciting and receiving over $477,000 in cash from various attorneys, in Houston and around the U.S., performing services for the union membership as designated legal counsel. The Designated Legal Counsel (DLC) program for the UTU consists of approximately 50 attorneys throughout different regions of the U.S. who specialize in representing union rail employees whose injuries on the job result in claims against their employers.
Attorneys appointed by the union president as DLC became dues-paying members of the UTU and were recommended to the union membership as the best suited attorneys to handle claims brought by injured rail employees under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA).
Congress enacted FELA into law in 1908 to specifically address the dangers faced by rail employees and their need to seek compensation for injuries. Unlike state workers compensation programs, FELA places no restrictions on the types of damages that may be recovered by rail employees and no monetary limits upon the size of recoveries.
Consequently, attorneys associated with FELA practices competed for the highly coveted DLC positions.
Little and Boyd had unilateral control over the appointment of attorneys as DLC and could remove attorneys from the DLC list for any reason.
The indictment charges that the defendants engaged in acts of fraud, bribery, and interstate travel in aid of racketeering relating to the conduct of the unions DLC program. Specifically, by demanding thousands of dollars in secret cash contributions for Littles and Boyds presidential campaigns, by soliciting and collecting cash from attorneys in exchange for those attorneys being made DLC of the UTU, by soliciting and collecting cash from DLC attorneys in order for those attorneys to remain as DLC, and by using the United States mail to communicate with the DLC and other union members setting forth rules of conduct governing the DLC, including a prohibition against involvement in union politics and elections.
If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years imprisonment and $250,000 fine for the racketeering conspiracy and ten years imprisonment and $250,000 fine for each mail fraud charge. The indictment also seeks forfeiture of $477 as proceeds obtained by the defendants from their racketeering activity.
The FBI, U.S. Department of Labor, and Office of Inspector General initiated the investigation of former and current officers of the UTU in 1999. The investigation continues.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Edward Gallagher and Richard Magness; Houston Organized Crime Strike Force, and Trial Attorney Vincent Falvo, U.S. Department of Justice, Organized Crime and Racketeering Section, Labor Unit will prosecute the case.
For NCI: Greg GuimondWho would have thought two years ago that a GE AMD 103 Genesis unit would show up on Metro-North in McGinnis-era paint from the former New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad? Yet here is No. 228 at the Danbury, Conn., layover yard. Metro-Norths Danbury line ends right next to the Danbury Railroad Museum. Connecticut DOT owns four similar units.
MBTA cant afford big projects: Foy
The MBTA, operating under a new system that forces the agency to live under a fixed budget, cannot afford to build a long list of capital projects, including several required to offset the environmental impacts of the Big Dig, chief of Commonwealth Development Douglas Foy said September 16.
There is not enough money in the Ts budget to fund those projects. Period, Foy said at a meeting of the Central Artery Environmental Oversight Committee. So we will need a different strategy if were going to pull that off, wrote the Boston Globe.
Projects include a $58 million-$95 million Green Line Arborway trolley restoration project in Jamaica Plain, a Red Line-Blue Line connector in downtown Boston, and a Green Line extension to Medford Hillside.
The T has already programmed money for the $479 million Greenbush commuter rail project on the South Shore.
It was the first time that a senior member in the Romney administration had spoken against forward funding, a 3_-year-old system that puts the T on a set budget of 1 percent of projected state sales tax, fare revenue and non-fare revenue. Previously, the agency had spent what it deemed necessary each year and submitted a bill to the legislature.
Is forward funding sufficient to sustain the T both on operating, state of good repair, and future capital needs? No. The answer is unequivocally no, Foy said.
Foy said when forward funding took effect in 1999, the T was left with $4 billion of historic debt. It remains one of the highest debt loads for any US transit authority. He noted the Romney administration has only recently begun examining alternative funding ideas for the T, including whether the state can tap developers who build along new transit corridors to pay for transit services.
For some time theres been an unwillingness to admit that the emperor has no clothes and that there are limits to the Ts ability to build these projects, Foy said.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authoritys recent $3.9 million purchase of 1.5 miles of track in East Braintree, Mass., from CSX Corp. is a key development concerning the forthcoming rebuilt Greenbush Line. Thats a $479 million commuter rail project, which would extend 17.5 miles of track through Braintree, Weymouth, Hingham, Cohasset, and Scituate.
This is a section of track that the T needed to acquire for the Greenbush project, MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo told The Braintree Forum in a September 12 interview.
With this purchase, the T now owns the right of way for the entire Greenbush corridor. Its the final piece of the puzzle, if you will.
The land acquisition took place during an executive session of the August 7 meeting of the MBTA Board of Directors, Pesaturo recalled.
CSX can still use it, but they no longer own it, he said.
Pesaturo explained why the purchase was considered to be critical to the Greenbush project.
Its important that the T owns the entire right-of-way, he said. The alternative would have been a costly long term lease with CSX without a fixed cost. Now that the T owns the property, it will make it much easier to go forward with Greenbush if thats the final decision thats made.
In various planning stages since 1984, construction started last year on the controversial Greenbush train line, only to be halted in February when Gov. Mitt Romney chose to review the cost feasibility of all transportation initiatives.
Pesaturo emphasized that land acquisition was not part of this moratorium.
The moratorium was placed on construction, which meant that a shovel wouldnt be put in the ground, but it was made clear that work on design issues, land acquisition, permits, and mitigation would go on, he said.
Boston-Montreal train study stalls
Lack of federal and state funds is delaying the second phase of a study on the viability of a high-speed train route from Boston to Montreal, with stops in New Hampshire. A $400,000 first phase of the study found that the 329-mile route could be economically viable if the trains traveled fast enough to attract passengers, reported The AP on September 14 from Manchester, N.H.
State officials applied for $1 million in federal money to finish the second stage of the study, which would examine the nuts and bolts of what is required to establish the line. That study was supposed to start in July but Congress earmarked just $250,000 for the study.
The money must be matched with $67,000 each from Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire. While Vermont has allocated the money, the other two states have not.
Last years ridership survey found that nearly 700,000 passengers a year would use the line rather than drive, as long as the service was fast and frequent and the fares reasonable. The study estimated the line would generate about $35 million annually.
The route would run through Nashua, Manchester, Concord and Franklin, then turn west to cross into Vermont near Lebanon.
A preliminary study found that the trains could operate at up to 110 mph on straight track. Higher speeds would require many costly grade separations and sophisticated warnings and barriers.
Examining the alternatives more closely is being delayed by the lack of funding from Massachusetts and New Hampshire, said Scott Bascom, who is project manager for the study and planning coordinator at the Vermont Transportation Agency.
Right now were sort of in an administrative hold, Bascom said.
Last week, Bascom wrote to officials in Massachusetts and New Hampshire asking about the status of their funding and underscoring the urgency of getting back to work on the study before winter. He said a key part of the next phase of the study is videotaping and mapping the rail corridor, something that is best done in the fall, when leaves are off the trees.
The New Hampshire DOT has yet to ask the governor and Executive Council to approve paying the states share, said Christopher Morgan, the state administrator for railroads and public transportation.
Bascom said Massachusetts officials seem more upbeat than in the past about paying the Bay States share.
But I dont begin to understand what their concerns and their current politics are, Bascom said.
The inability to come up with $67,000 for the study reveals transportation officials lack of interest in rail, said Peter Griffin, president of the New Hampshire Railroad Revitalization Association, a group that advocates for rail travel.
Spending $500 million on widening Interstate 93, thats for the public good and theres never a question that we have to do it, Griffin said.
Yet turn around and say, We want to spend a certain amount of money to re-establish a rail corridor, and they balk at it. The fiscal caution lights come on. They say, I dont support something that requires a subsidy.
New York Citys Metropolitan Transit Administration has awarded a contract to Union Switch & Signal (US&S) for a microprocessor- based signal system at the New Jamaica Interlocking on the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR).
Neither US&S nor MTA said how much the system would cost.
The contract includes designing of US&Ss MicroLok II system, a microprocessor that controls the complex Jay, Hall and Dunton interlockings. Also included is a PC-based centralized supervisory control system for these interlockings. More than 400 trains pass through these interlockings daily, transporting commuters from Long Island to Manhattan.
The switch and signal manufacturer will also furnish engineering and other services to replace LIRRs existing Model 14 interlocking machines at these interlockings. The new solid-state interlocking system is needed to replace 70-year old equipment.
Ken Burk, US&S CEO, said, A key benefit of this modernization program is the expanded event recording and diagnostic capabilities of the combined interlocking system. Test and troubleshooting tasks are simplified in a system having fewer piece-parts and common communications networks.
Burk noted, Other benefits include reduced parts count, floor space and concentration of the control networks in a single location.
The centralized traffic control (CTC) subsystem for the New Jamaica Interlocking will enable independent (local) control from the individual interlocking huts, and it provides the supervisory control functions from a designated central control location dispatchers.
The project is scheduled to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2005.
San Diego received $23 million in grants last week to continue building Sprinter, the new Oceanside-Escondido rail line in San Diego, and safety and security at Lindbergh Field
A $13.4 million Federal Transit Administration grant will permit continued Sprinter construction, a new commuter rail line. Sprinter will provide short, time-efficient service to the cities of Oceanside, Vista, and San Marcos through North County San Diego to the city of Escondido.
The 22-mile line will be anchored by the Oceanside and Escondido transit centers and feature 13 additional stations in between. The system is scheduled to open December 2005 and will provide half-hour service seven days per week from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.
The total project cost under the full funding grant agreement is $351,520,000, with a federal share of $152,100,000. This grant provides the second increment of federal funding under the FFGA.
An $8.6 million grant will be used to install an arresting system at the end of a runway.
The FTA also granted $1.2 million for a new reverse commute bus service to the Poway Business Park.
Sounder Commuter Rail service rolled into its new Tacoma Dome Station alongside Freighthouse Square September 15. The commuter rail station puts the final piece in place at the most complete multi-modal facility in the region.
It all comes together here, said Sound Transit Board Chair (and King County Executive) Ron Sims. Nowhere in the region is the future of transportation more visible than at Tacoma Dome Station, where Sounder commuter rail, Tacoma Link light rail and ST Express regional buses connect people with local Pierce Transit bus service, Greyhound and nearby Amtrak.
The new Sounder platform is just across the street from a 2,400 stall free parking garage and features a wheelchair access ramp and canopies to protect passengers in bad weather.
The completion of the complex at Tacoma Dome Station is symbolic for the entire region, said Sound Transit Vice Chair/Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg. It shows what the agency is capable of doing as we prepare to build Central Link light rail in King County, extend Sounder service to Lakewood and Everett and complete more than $800 million in capital projects to support the ST Express regional bus network.
In addition to the new station, Sound Transit also completed $12 million in track and signal improvements between The Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Ry.s mainline and the Tacoma Rail tracks at Freighthouse Square. This upgrade is a significant added benefit of the project.
For the past three years Sounder commuters have used a temporary platform at the nearby Amtrak Station.
Elsewhere in Washington State, Sound Transits brand new Tacoma Link light rail service is proving to be far more popular than anyone predicted.
We originally projected an average of 2,000 riders per weekday by the year 2010, said Sims.
Weve already exceed 2,000 riders on eight of the first 13 weekdays, including Monday through Wednesday of this week. This clearly shows that people are ready to park their cars and take advantage of convenient and reliable transit options, he added.
Between the first day of service on August 22, when 4,400 people jumped on board, and Wednesday September 10, Tacoma Link has carried more than 39,000 riders between Tacoma Dome Station and the Theater District. Besides opening day, the highest weekday ridership was 3,230 on Thursday August 28.
Investors looking over EMD
A U.S. investment group with $1 billion in its pocket is in serious discussions to buy the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors Corp.
The possible sale of the locomotive builder to an investment group, and not a manufacturer, has sparked worry among the divisions 580 workers in London, Ont., 80 miles east of Detroit.
Berkshire Partners of Boston and Greenbrier Equity Group are the two companies involved in negotiations, the London Free Press reported September 16.
There are serious discussions under way, a spokesperson for the investors said.
Berkshire and Greenbrier have more than $1 billion available to invest in transportation-related companies, according to Berkshires Web site.
Greenbriers partners include Jerry Greenwald, former chairman and chief executive officer of UAL Corp., parent company of United Airlines, and former chief financial officer of Chrysler Corp.
The investors spokesperson said no decision was imminent and union leaders would be involved in any final details.
There is a carefully managed process under way. The unions view of the outcome is an important factor in any decision.
Canadian Auto Workers union leaders said theyre worried about the possibility of an investment group buying the London plant.
An investment group buying it isnt very good news, said Terry Mason, Local 27 plant chairperson. They are interested in making money rather than locomotives. They may want to turn it over for a profit or split it up and sell off parts for a profit.
The Detroit News Auto Insider and London Free Press via Canadian Press.
An improving business climate has led officials at GE Transportation Inc.s locomotive plant in Erie, Penn., to call back some of the workers who have been laid off for months.
In a slowdown announced in January 2002, GE officials said that as many as 900 jobs might be cut, but that massive layoff never happened. After negotiations with the union representing plant workers, only about 130 jobs were cut last year, Northeast Pennsylvania News (NEPA) reported September 13.
The United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers Local 506 had 124 members out of work not long ago, but as of the 13th, fewer than 50 members were still unemployed, and more were to be called back.
GE officials said that locomotive orders are up and business should be booming next year.
Things are looking great for 2004, said Erie County Executive Rick Schenker. They are going to exhaust their callback list, and they are going to probably go beyond that.
County officials are excited about the news because the GE jobs are among the best-paying industrial jobs in Erie, and because the countys jobless rate, which is already dropping, figures to continue falling this fall.
The county unemployment rate fell from 7.3 percent in June to 6.9 percent in July.
I think the hiring back of people is going to start hitting us a lot starting in September and October, Schenker said.
KCS, Grupo TMM start talks
Kansas City Southern reported September 15 it has started talks with Grupo TMM over TMMs decision to pull out of a deal to sell Grupo Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana to Kansas City Southern.
Representatives of both companies met on September 11 in confidential talks, KCS said. Both railroads had announced a $412 million deal in April, but TMM called off the sale in August.
The agreement between the companies calls for a 60-day negotiating period that started August 29, KCS said. If disputes are not resolved, KCS intends to seek binding arbitration, the company said.
KCS said it was reacting to a report in the September 12 El Economista, a Mexican business newspaper, and confirmed that negotiations with Grupo TMM had begun under the dispute resolution process contained in the Acquisition Agreement between KCS and TMM for TMMs interest in Grupo Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana, S.A. de C.V. (GTFM).
Representatives of both companies met for the first of what we expect to be numerous meetings, said Warren Erdman, KCS vice-president of corporate affairs. However, under the terms of the acquisition agreement, all negotiations to resolve the disputes between the parties must remain confidential.
Rushing to enact a tax package, the Nevada legislature inadvertently exempted Union Pacific Railroad from a new payroll levy, a railroad lobbyist said last week.
Because the railroad pays into a federal unemployment fund, not the state fund, the law doesnt require it to pay the 0.7 percent tax on gross payroll, Joseph Guild Jr. told the state Tax Commission.
I feel embarrassment, Guild said at a hearing Friday in Carson City as tax officials worked on rules to put the new taxes into effect October 1, according to The AP.
Guild said it looks like the railroad will get a free ride on the payroll tax until the law can be fixed by the 2005 Legislature, and also will get a break when the new levy goes into effect October 1 and the existing $100-per-year per employee tax is repealed.
UP, which has been paying the old tax, has fewer than 200 employees in Nevada.
Barbara Campbell, chairwoman of the Tax Commission, said staff lawyers will check to see if Guilds analysis is correct.
The railroads have paid into a federal program to cover unemployment benefits instead of separate state ones since 1939.
We stand willing to pay a corrected tax if the 2005 Legislature enacts one, Guild said, but as a public corporation, Guild said the railroad has a fiduciary duty to its stockholders and isnt going to pay anything its not required to pay.
New high-speed Channel link opens
The first train has traveled on the high-speed Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) through Kent. The £1.9 billion, 46-mile first half of the line opened on September 16 with a ceremony at Waterloo station.
Prime Minister Tony Blair said the completion of first part of the CTRL should give the UK some optimism and some spur for similar projects in the future.
The new section runs from the tunnel near Folkestone, to Fawkham Junction in north Kent.
The new section of line will cut journey times from London to Paris and Brussels by 20 minutes. Trains will operate from London to Paris in 2 hours, 35 minutes. The first passenger to operate over the line will run on September 28.
The gentle curves and gradients and computerized signaling mean Eurostar trains on the line will finally be able to reach their full operating speeds 186mph.
The European Union has ordered France to halt its $3.8 billion bailout of the engineering and manufacturing conglomerate, Alstom. It will also investigate the French aid package to the troubled company.
With this news, trading in stock in the Alstom group ceased on the worldwide stock exchanges. Alstom stock on the New York Stock Exchange has fallen from near 40, two years ago, to 3.38 on September 25. It had sunk to about 1.30 just prior to the announcement of the French government assistance package.
France says it will defy the European Union, and that it would be going ahead with the bailout. A $330 million loan has already been made to Alstom, and another $670 million was planned to be paid to Alstom by the French government yesterday (September 28). It is widely agreed that without the French bailout package, Alstom is unlikely to survive.
The European Union contends that the bailout, and the assumption of nearly 1/3 ownership in Alstom by the French government, is illegal under EU rules.
Alstom builds passenger rail equipment at a leased facility in Hornell, NY. It was the prime contractor in Frances TGV and co-member of the consortium that built the Acela Express trains with Bombardier for Amtrak. Bombardier has suffered its own financial problems lately.
SRC: Chris KilroyThe photo is quintessential rural Tennessee, but a passenger from Yonkers, N.Y. said he was reminded very much of rural New York on an earlier New York Central charter trip in Tennessee over the former Tennessee Central.
E-8s to power Tennessee train
Farewell to the Es.
Thats what Marvin Clemons of Southern Rail Charters is calling the last train in Tennessee to run behind former New York Central E-8 3,000hp locomotives built by EMD in the 1950s.
The charter will operate over the Nashville & Eastern, Clemons told D:F. The extra will run November 14 and 15. It will depart from Nashville and terminate in Baxter, Tenn.
Clemons said the trip would be behind the only E-units in the country operating in regular excursion service over a common carrier railroad. Highlights of the weekend event include a night photo session and an all-day photo trip behind three former New York Central E-8s, plus multiple photo run-bys and cab rides.
This will the last opportunity to ride behind these graceful engines on a private charter before theyre removed from regular service at the end of this season.
It was formerly the Tennessee Central Ry. between their East Nashville yard and either Baxter or Carthage Jct., depending on operating conditions, power, and consist.
Besides those spiffy engines, the passenger excursion will operate over all former Tennessee Central track, he added.
Their passenger excursions are restricted to 30 mph over this Class II line. To the best of my knowledge, the line is nearly all jointed rail with wooden ties, Clemons explained, so its a leisurely journey.
Nashville to Baxter is 82 miles. Our engines will run around the train and return via the same route, he said.
The charter company has also added a steam-drawn ride Steam in Autumn, on October 26, he said. It will feature former Baltimore & Ohio Office Car No. 98, Eden Isle, and heavyweight Pullman Clover Colony from Chattanooga through the foothills of North Georgia, and behind steam all the way. Occupancy is limited to 27 passengers for this exclusive charter, Clemons said, but a few seats are still available on our November 1 trip.
Tennessee Central Station List
|9.9||Stone River||OLD HICKORY BRANCH 0.0
Stone River 4.0
8.0 Old Hickory
|60.9||Carthage Jct||CARTHAGE BRANCH 0.0
Carthage Junction 1.1
Southern Rail Charters is online at www.southernrailcharters.com.
|Burlington Northern & Santa Fe||(BNI)||29.400||28.710|
|Florida East Coast||(FLA)||30.900||29.940|
|Genessee & Wyoming||(GWI)||24.150||24.000|
|Kansas City Southern||(KSU)||11.430||11.810|
NCI: Leo KingBefore there was catenary, before AEM-7s roamed the tracks between Boston and New Haven, F-40PHs ruled the high iron in any season. Consider in 1993 in the dead of winter at Attleboro tower as a Boston-Washington express blasts by at 100 mph the best speed Amtrak ever got out of those engines.
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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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