NCI: Leo KingThe Portland Extra begins its three-mile journey down CSX's 2.42-mile Grand Junction line. Just around the curve lies the Charles River. A full feature follows below in this first, exclusive look at coming Maine service.
America, rising: war update
Amtrak traffic rises;
At week's end, rescuers at the World trade Center disaster in New York City estimated at least 6,300 people lost their lives after terrorist-flown jumbo jets were intentionally flown into the center's twin towers.
A result has been a stock market sell-off, airlines cutting back at least 20 percent on all flights, laying off employees, many fewer people flying, and Amtrak getting windfall traffic.
As the railroad prepared for increased business and scrambled to replace four badly damaged engines from the East Texas and Utah derailments a fortnight ago, Beech Grove shops released the six F-40PH locomotives and a P-42DC last week, for service out of Chicago. The F-40s were 270, 294, 302, 345, 364, 391, and P-42 No. 42. The carrier also reported it had added 3,900 daily seats across the system (See Wes Vernon's story, below).
New York's subways apparently survived.
Terry Pristin of The New York Times told his readers firefighters discovered an empty train inside a PATH station, and the platform was equally abandoned. The tunnel lay directly beneath the rubble of the World Trade Center, but the tunnel was intact.
Construction crews who had moved tons of debris that blocked the tunnel's emergency exit had cleared the way into the hole. The firefighters walked down five stories to the tracks.
It was pitch black except where their lights hit the wall. They hit water up to their waists, a captain said, but they waded deeper into the tunnel until they found a train parked in the PATH station beneath the buildings. It was deserted, damaged by debris, but still standing. The platform was standing, too. Its ceiling had not collapsed.
They found an escalator up to the next level where they found a concourse wide enough to hold hundreds of people, but absolutely empty. Everyone appeared to have escaped before the towers fell.
Earlier in the week, the Times reported thousands of New Jersey commuters might have been among those missing in the disaster if PATH officials had not diverted some trains and evacuated others that were bound for the financial center.
About 15 minutes after the first plane pierced one of the towers, passengers on two trains - one from Hoboken, one from Newark - were evacuated out of the trade center station and through the concourse, said Mike DePallo, PATH's director and general manager. Another train from Hoboken that already had left New Jersey at the time of the crash, entered the trade center station, but passengers were kept inside the train, which looped around and returned to Jersey City, PATH spokesman Steve Coleman said. PATH prevented other trains in New Jersey from heading toward the doomed towers, DePallo said.
The PATH control center in Journal Square in Jersey City received three reports of the first explosion at the trade center. Dispatchers radioed trains on the New Jersey side that had not reached the Hudson River tunnels and stopped them or sent them back to their previous stops. They also contacted conductors on two trains, a seven-car train from Hoboken and an eight-car train from Newark, pulling into the trade center platform. They told them to evacuate the passengers, both on the trains and on the platforms. Crews and terminal supervisors led them out of the station, up escalators and stairs to the trade center concourse.
As many as 3,000 passengers were on the two trains and on the platforms. A third train from Hoboken approached the station sometime before 9:20 a.m., but the train's crew did not open the doors. Instead, they circled around to take the train back to the Exchange Place stop in Jersey City.
Parts of two subway lines, the 1 and the 9, collapsed from the north end of the complex, where columns and beams from 7 World Trade Center punctured the street and entered the subway, according to David Cacoilo, a Meuser-Rutledge civil engineer who explored the tunnels on Sunday.
Meanwhile, 40 senators traveled to New York from Washington on Thursday to view the ruins at the WTC. They rode on special movements. Traveling to New York, it was known as Amtrak Special 948. It arrived in New York 3 minutes early at 10:27 a.m.
Returning to Washington, Amtrak Special 949 departed NYP on time at 3:20 p.m. but arrived in Washington five minutes late, at 7:20 p.m.
Besides the humanitarian concerns, it also gave Amtrak a little time to get the solons' ears.
Amtrak is seeking $3 billion for security and service improvements to make rail travel a stronger alternative to the nation's suddenly troubled aviation system.
Amtrak prepared the proposal at the request of lawmakers, spokesman Bill Schulz said Thursday. Congress is considering requests from airlines for up to $24 billion in aid to help them survive the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist hijackings.
Sixteen senators signed a letter last week urging USDOT Secretary Norman Y. Mineta to include Amtrak in any emergency spending package. Of the $3 billion requested by Amtrak, about half would go toward service improvements and half to safety and security upgrades.
Much of the money would be used to address long-standing safety concerns in the Boston-New York-Washington corridor, which is Amtrak's busiest. Improvements to six underwater tunnels leading to New York's Penn Station are projected to cost $1 billion.
Meanwhile, The post office is shipping letters on commercial airlines again, instead of on Amtrak trains. The Federal Aviation Administration approved the plan last Monday, restoring a method of transport that normally moves 20 percent or more of the mail. Some mail returned to the air Thursday on Federal Express, which has a contract to fly about 3 million pounds daily.
During the airline stoppage, the post office added more space on Amtrak trains, contracted for additional space with 7,000 trucking companies and used its own fleet of trucks to move mail, but still experienced delays.
|'Include rail,' RePass urges|
In the wake of the World Trade Center tragedy, National corridors Initiative president James P. RePass urged the Congress to include rail entities in any plans to financially assist struggling airlines.
He said there is a "need to put Amtrak at the table for any air industry bailout."
On Wednesday, RePass said, "The National Corridors Initiative today called for Amtrak, bus interests, and the transit industry be given a seat at the table of any negotiations involving federal help for transportation made urgent by the terrorist incidents" of September 11.
"It is imperative that the ground transportation network be included in the creation of a unified national response to the crisis in transportation that these terrible incidents have caused," he said.
He added, "I hope that USDOT Secretary Mineta, the White House, and the Congressional leadership understand that this country must begin to fund and build transportation as a system, not merely as a collection of competing modes."
RePass said, "While this will take real leadership, I have no doubt that we can all rise to the occasion, as President Bush in Washington, Mayor Giuliani in New York, and especially the firemen, police, and rescue workers have shown through their resoluteness and selfless bravery."
RePass noted, "While the size of the airline bill has yet to be determined, there is no doubt that serious help must be provided to that industry. In the same fashion, we need to pass the $12 billion High-Speed Ground Transportation Act (S. 250) to enable Amtrak to immediately bond for and begin much-delayed capital improvements for safety and speed, and to introduce and pass Rep. Don Young's (R-Alaska) $71 billion high speed rail bill, which gives the states $36 billion in bonding authority, and provides another $35 million in loan guarantees."
RePass observed that "Demand for rail capacity and frequency is escalating sharply against an already strained system, and must be met. This could be done as an omnibus transportation bill, much as the Interstate Highway bill created America's vast highway system in the 1950s, which were and are great economic engines."
The events of September 11, he said, "have made urgent what was already a crisis in transportation in this country. We have to ensure now more than ever that the only functioning national passenger rail system, Amtrak, which has been grossly under-funded for 30 years, is made whole, and that new regional intercity ground transportation networks, such as is envisioned by Chairman Young's important new bill, can be created by the states with federal help."
While NCI has been arguing "for more than a decade that America's 50-year emphasis on highway building and air travel to the exclusion of viable ground-based transportation, even for short hops, was a formula for gridlock and winglock, it is a terrible thing to have terrorists' acts trigger the crisis," said RePass, "because now we are going to have to make decisions under duress that should have been made years ago with the leisure of careful planning. Nevertheless, we must begin, because the alternative will be economic catastrophe."
How about rail?
Bailout for airlines draws near
In racing toward deadline, Congress was up to its ears in a flurry of activity aimed at assisting the airlines, as the nation tries to get back to "normal" after the terrorist attacks.
The airline industry wanted $24 billion. Congress was working on legislation giving them $15 billion, including help for the families of the victims of the September 11 tragedy.
Amtrak was asking for $3 billion to enable it to add capacity and upgrade security. Its trains are bulging with patronage that includes those who would otherwise be air passengers.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said he would not vote for the airline bailout unless assistance for Amtrak was included.
News reports continued to show that many Americans with a new sense of concern about air travel were taking to the rails. The normally busy Union Station in Washington, for example, saw considerably more activity than usual.
Amtrak said during September 12-17 (not including all the airline tickets that were honored) nationwide ridership shot up 17 percent. Ridership on long-distance trains was up by about 35 percent. On the Northeast Corridor (NEC), patronage grew by 9 percent. This came despite the near-shutdown of businesses and schools in the days immediately following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, and the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah that followed.
Amtrak reports it added 1,600 daily seats to long-distance trains, 300 more to trains on the West Coast, and 2,000 to the unreserved NEC runs.
In light of this, sixteen senators have fired off a letter to Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta pointing out the need for assistance to Amtrak, as well as the airlines.
The lawmakers indicated they have asked Amtrak to come up with a plan to "accelerate investments in safety, security, and capacity throughout its passenger system," precisely the factors involved in Amtrak's request for $3 billion.
What follows is the pivotal point in the senators' letter:
"For the past week, Amtrak has proven what we have long believed: that it is an essential component of our national transportation system."
Here is the bipartisan roll call of the 16 senators who spoke up for rail passenger service's role in the united national mobilization to meet an emergency, the likes of which we have never before experienced.
Hutchison (R-Tex.); Hollings (D-S.C.) Mikulski and Sarbanes (both D-Md.); Biden and Carper (both D-Del.); Kennedy and Kerry (both D-Mass.); Corzine and Torricelli (both D-N.J.); Schumer and Clinton (both D-N.Y.); Specter (R-Pa.); Chafee (R-R.I.); Reid (D-Nev.); and Jeffords (I-Vt.).
Among the specific needs that rail passengers require right now (and which are likely included in what Amtrak is requesting to meet its increased demand), National Assn. of Railroad Passengers suggests repair of out-of-service equipment, which could increase capacity quickly. At least 50 cars are stored unrepaired at Beech Grove, Ind., following derailment damage.
Beyond that, there is a perceived need for new equipment on both long and short distance trains. Then there are "life safety" issues such as the New York tunnels into Penn Station, a situation first reported by D:F. The loss of lives due to terrorism is tragic. We do not need to add to that by risking a tragedy waiting to happen simply because we've skimped on upgrading those tunnels.
NARP asked its members to strike while the iron is hot on the High-Speed Rail Investment Act (HSRIA). Legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate, but a bill with an entirely different approach is awaiting introduction by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
As we reported earlier this month, that measure was set for unveiling the week of Sept. 10. It was put on hold when terrorism struck, and all attention was focused on that. A staffer with the committee told D:F Friday that it would be introduced in the middle of (this) week or next.
If Amtrak is to take on people who are used to traveling by air, it might be deemed wise to enable passenger trains to speed up their schedules.
The present speed of Amtrak trains on most short-to-medium distance corridors "are a national disgrace," complained NARP. "Perhaps a high-speed rail bill could be a part of the stimulus package now under discussion."
The Consumers Union has written to Capitol Hill saying that as Congress deals with immediate problems threatening air service, it should "consider allocating funding to assist alternative travel industries such as rail and bus. Use of alternative transportation, such as rail and bus for shorter trips, will undoubtedly grow in the near future."
That is the challenge that may change the framework for the entire debate over transportation in this country.
NCI: Leo KingHARD STUDIES - Conductor Joe MacKinnon and engineer Erik Young make notes in their hand-drawn maps as they travel the route between Boston and Portland, Maine.
NCI takes a ride
Maine service draws near;
Danielle Joyce turned the brake wheel on the café car counterclockwise to release the car from its tied-down mode. Meanwhile, locomotive engineer Mike Demers, up on the head-end of P-40 engine 818, was running though his checks preparing the train for departure from Southampton Street yard in Boston for a journey - one of many - while other engineers and conductors learn the details of the Guilford Rail System line between Boston and Portland, Maine.
LOOKING BACK - Conductor Danielle Joyce, keeping an eye to the rear of the short train, communicates with her engineer, Mike Demers.
The service has been a long time coming. TrainRiders Northeast, and principally its chairman, Wayne Davis as well as Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA) executive director Michael Murray, a professional engineer and 35-year veteran of the Maine DOT, generated the idea some 11 years ago. It took formal shape on July 14, 1991 when Maine's legislature enacted the Passenger Rail Service Act directing the Maine DOT "to take all actions necessary to establish regularly scheduled passenger rail service within and outside the State of Maine."
The law directed funds to be spent first to restore passenger rail service between Portland, Maine and Boston, Mass. NNEPRA was created in 1995. Nearly $46 million in the rail, signal, and bridge improvements within the 114-mile rail corridor is required to allow the service to operate at speeds up to 79 mph.
Guilford didn't like the idea of Amtrak being on its iron in the first place, and even less the notion that some outfit could come in and rebuild its privately owned right-of-way. Freight trains speeds of 40 mph were fine, it appeared, but through protracted legal battles through the federal Surface Transportation Board, the STB, in concurrence with the Federal Railroad Administration, agreed 79 mph was fine, as long as the rail was replaced with 112-pound rail. GRS then argued it must be 132-pound rail to be safe. It based its argument on a report from its engineering consultant.
Conductor Joyce offered up, as railroaders say, to South Bay tower.
"South Bay, Portland Extra ready for town off track one."
On another day, Cabbage 90214 rests awaiting its first assignment.
Train director Bob Moyer responded from the 20-year-old trailer that serves as a tower. He told her it was okay "to go to the Fifteen Switch." That's the route leading directly from the yard to both Dorchester branch main tracks. Demers released the air and brought up the throttle two or three notches in the P-42. The air line showed 132 ppsi in the main reservoir.
They got a "slow clear" at the Fifteen Switch's signal (a green light on a low home signal - a dwarf), and a "slow approach" (red over yellow) at the next signal. They were now on the main and passed through Loop and Broad interlockings, passed over the three-track temporary Fort Point Channel bridge, passed through Tower One Interlocking (the tower itself was removed several years ago), and landed on station track 1.
This extra passenger train, with one engine, one café car, and one "cabbage car," was operating on September 18. They, and a Portland-based crew, make the journey daily except on Thursdays and Fridays, which are their days off, while these training sessions continue.
"Cabbage" is a nickname for former F-40PH locomotives than have been de-engined, the engine compartment turned into a baggage storage space, but remains a control cab for moves in the opposite direction.
Joyce got off the train and went into the station to call the CSX dispatcher in Albany to get required paperwork and any instructions or advisories. Meanwhile engineer Demers left the 818 after setting it up for a reverse move, strolled past café 48410 and up to cabbage car 90214 and made ready to go west to CSX's CP-3, a controlled point a mere three miles away on the Albany line. The Lake Shore Limited takes that route when it leaves the Hub for Albany and Chicago. This was a good time, I was told, to go into the station to get any food. Most likely, there would nowhere else today to make a "station stop."
Good advice, as it turned out. I visited a Mickey D place, and got a Big Mac with cheese and a diet Coke. It would be several hours before I would eat it, though.
Joyce returned to the train about 20 minutes later. Seven people were aboard, and ready to go, including me.
90214 led the train from the station, and traveled west to CP-3, then made a reverse move within Beacon Park yard limits.
One of the student conductors, Joe MacKinnon - who is already a fully qualified conductor - with the yardmaster's permission, opened up the Grand Junction lead switch to head eastward again, but this time down a 2.42-mile stretch of track called "Grand Junction." MacKinnon and the other students were learning the new route, not how to conduct or operate a locomotive.
FLYING COLORS - It was one week after the terrorist attack in New York City, and the crew was being patriotic as they flew the colors aboard the 90214. Arthur Timpson, Erik Young and Joe MacKinnon fine-tune the flag and its aluminum mast. The flag was removed from the engine while they were under catenary.
A CSX yardmaster was kind enough to dig though his employee timetables a few days later and discovered that exact mileage from a 1952 New York Central (Boston & Albany) timetable. MBTA Readville Switcher conductor Leo McDonald was kind enough to ask the question for me.
That Grand Junction track, owned by CSX, is not in good condition. The track has a 10 mph speed limit, only sees Amtrak's test trains, the daily Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Readville, Mass. switcher, and a rare freight train, but it remains the only rail connection between South and North stations.
Shortly after taking the switch and lining it back to its normal position, the train made a hard left turn leading to an elderly span over the Charles River.
"Brush along either side of the right-of-way scratches coach windows," Demers observed. Passengers will not be riding the trains on this line.
Amtrak's general manager for Maine service, Vic Salemme, noted, "The Grand Junction branch needs work, but we don't intend on using it once the facility is completed in Maine." That could be a couple of years off, but in the meantime, the trainsets will return to Southampton Street yard for servicing when they finish their runs each day. Salemme was not on the trip; we interviewed him separately.
When the train reached the end of the Grand Junction line at Swift interlocking, it crossed over several diamonds and a maze of track work near the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's Boston Engine Terminal and Mystic River movable bridges. They can then either go into North Station, which the trains will do in regular service, or, during these training days, head northward some 32 miles on MBTA's tracks as far as Haverhill, Mass., then continue on on Guilford Transportation Systems iron. Then, they are traveling east on Guilford tracks. It is a 33-mile journey from North Station to Haverhill, and 114 miles from North Station to Portland.
Salemme, said, "Service will begin late fall. We are waiting for the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority to make an announcement, which is coming shortly."
Once the trains start running, with three coaches and a café, they will be named Downeasters, and will make station stops at Haverhill; Exeter, Durham and Dover, N.H., and Wells, Saco, Old Orchard Beach (in the summer), and Portland. Eventually, planners hope to extend service some 20 miles northward to Freeport and Brunswick.
Salemme said, "Complete trainsets will start arriving mid-October." Former Keystone Service cars are being shipped northward, and four café cars are being outshopped at Bear, Del. Push-pull cabling is being installed, along with other improvements.
Joyce, our conductor, qualified on the Portland route in April, and like all the other people on the train this day, will be running Portland service trains. She was the first conductor to qualify.
"I worked the Lake Shore Limited before I came over here," she said. Several of the people training this day also worked that train, No. 449 between Boston and Albany-Rensselaer, N.Y. where it connects to No. 49. Several other railroaders came from MBTA commuter rail. All have a common denominator besides working for Amtrak: they live north of Boston.
The regular engineer-instructor, Pat Comeau, was on vacation for a couple of weeks, so Mike Demers was the engineer of record this day.
"I'm off the spare board," he said.
Guilford's Chris Gorac and Amtrak Road Foreman Chuck Trotta trained them for Portland Service. Springfield Terminal Ry. Co., a holding company for Guilford Transportation Systems, over whose track the passenger trains will be operating, are associate members of the Northeast Operating Rules Advisory Committee (NORAC), which has all its members operating under the same general rules. Each carrier's special instructions may add particular operating detail to that carrier's methods of doing things.
Erik Young, a locomotive engineer, is a transplanted Idahoan via California.
"I'm from Idaho, but I started working for Amtrak in California. My wife is from New Hampshire, and we wanted to be near her parents," so, they packed up with two kids and came east last August.
For now, the train only moves at 40 mph top speed on the "Western Route" main line, although they are all expected to be traveling up to 79 mph over Guilford when service begins, and up to 60 between North Station and Plaistow, N.H., just north of the Bay State border. The slower speed is better for the crews while they are training, because they can see landmarks - ranging from mileposts and signal numbers to large, distinctive rocks and buildings along the right-of-way - so they know exactly where they are, by name. It is knowing intimately the physical characteristics from North Station to Portland that makes a trainman qualified.
WHAT'S NEXT? - Mike Demers keeps his eyes on the track ahead while offering details about the right of way to his students, and asking them questions like, "What's next?"
Salemme noted, "79 mph is something that will have to be decided after the testing." The exact start-up date still isn't know yet, but it now appears to be in November.
The testing he referred to is a Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) requirement. Before the service can begin at the higher speed, the FRA ruled last June that a Track Loading Vehicle "should provide sufficient data to evaluate the track. The TLV was developed by the Transportation Technology Center, Inc., a subsidiary of the Association of American Railroads, at their testing facility in Pueblo, Colo. The machine is working its way east.
Salemme, said, "The TTCI vehicle will arrive September 23, test on the 24th and 25th, and possibly the 26th."
According to the FRA, the machine will "run over the line at very slow speeds for two days checking for locations where additional track support may be needed, and then, on a third and final day, measure these locations to ensure that the track meets the criteria set in the Board's 1999 decision."
While we were enroute, Guilford's Valley dispatcher issued Movement Permit Form D A402, which the conductor copied and read back to him.
"Form D A 402, dated September 18.
"To C&E Extra engine A-818 at FX," (a controlled point).
"Circle line 12 - Protect Salem Street Crossing at milepost 16-point-9."
The dispatcher was Cashman, and it was made effective at 2:34 p.m.
As it turned out, Communications and Signals repaired the crossing gates before we got there, so it was cancelled enroute, even though the dispatcher asked Joyce if we wanted to cancel it or fulfill it. She chose to cancel it.
NEW STATION - Dover, New Hampshire is getting a new station.
MacKinnon was preparing to qualify on this trip. Joe, a track department foreman in an earlier "life," came over to the trains several years ago. He and Young spent most of their time on this train in the head-end, mapping out the route, taking notes from Demers, and looking out the front windows.
Arthur Timpson and Michael Comella were also student conductors on this trip. All have been on the railroad for several years. It was Timpson's idea to display an American flag on the journey, It moved from engine-to-engine depending on which way the train was traveling, and came down occasionally as he and some other crewmembers tried to fix it so it would be more secure, and to protect it from brush and tree branches grazing the short train.
It was a leisurely journey. We passed over grade crossings sometimes blowing our melodious whistle, and sometimes not, depending on local ordinances, but always ringing the bell as we approached. This ex-Boston & Maine line has been here since the 1880s, so folks are used to it, but they are not used to nearly 80-mile-an-hour trains, so that will take some education to get them ready for that.
Even Guilford is now expected to raise its freight train speeds.
We passed Haverhill at MP 33, rolled by Plaistow just over the border into New Hampshire, passed the new Dover station being built on the single-track layout, with two-mile-long passing sidings sprinkled here and there.
A document in the cabbage car showed the former engine, 214, had been out of service from Feb. 23, 2000 until May 17, 2001. In August 2001 it was assigned to New Haven, Conn., and on August 24, reassigned to Boston.
Stations came and went; some were abandoned. We passed Saco, Maine, mostly to our right. We passed Old Orchard beach, which led to a causeway. The track has kinks here, and track speed is permanently 10 mph, apparently because a clay foundation under the ballast is unstable. The causeway lies across a wetland, with the ocean and a plain to the right, and wildlife habitat to the left. Passage is safe, however, at the slow speed.
We almostä but not quiteä made it to the end point destination, Portland, a mere five miles away, but now the concern was whether we would "outlaw' or not.
The FRA has strict hours of service laws. No trainman may operate in service for more than 12 hours within a 24-hour period. If he does, the railroad pays an FRA fine.
When we left Boston, it was sunny, but those clear skies had given way to dark low clouds that threatened to drench us.
The test train arrived at the west end of Rigby Yard, at the very end where it begins to widen into a passing track, at 6:10 p.m. We were five miles short of our goal, the Sewell Street station in Portland, but it had taken some five hours to get there, and it would take at least that long to get back to Boston.
POED AWAITS - Springfield Terminal GP-40 engine 327 leads POED. The crew is waiting for the Amtrak Portland Extra to clear the main track. This is five miles south of Portland, and is the lead to Rigby Yard.
Our conductor determined we better start heading back west now; so, after we cleared the lead track leading from Rigby, westbound general merchandise freight POED departed. Geographically, the train was going south, but on the railroad, it was west.
The Amtrak crew changed ends, made a brake test, got permission from the Guilford dispatcher to travel west at 6:24 p.m., and followed POED running from Portland to East Deerfield, Mass. We caught signals one-third the distance to Boston. At Dover, we passed the freight - only to be behind the Dover sand train, DOBO, from Dover, N.H. to Boston delivering the grains to the "Big Dig" project in the Hub. The dispatchers ran a couple of commuter trains around us, too, after we returned to "T" territory.
The Portland Extra tied up in Southampton Street yard in Boston at 11:25 p.m. It was beginning to sprinkle.
Railpace - used with permission
FIRST VIEW - Connecticut DOT P32ACDM locomotive 228, painted in New Haven Railroad "McGinnis colors," is nearing its time for delivery from GE Transportation Systems' Erie, Penn. plant. Before delivery the unit will receive final detailing. We came by the photo via Railpace Online, a division of the print publication. Reader Howie Dash forwarded the photo to the magazine. General Electric is building 13 of the 3,200 hp locomotives for Metro-North and Connecticut DOT.
|ConnDOT plans quicker 'cat' repair|
Connecticut DOT transit chief Harry Harris has directed ConnDOT engineers to research how to substantially speed up replacement of the more than 90-year-old catenary that runs over almost 50 miles of the New Haven Line between New York State and New Haven, the Stamford Advocate reported recently.
Harris said he was concerned about the 2006 or later completion date for the project and was willing to consider concepts that would allow for quicker work.
He expected a report on options during September, but it was unclear if and when it would be made public.
"Tens of thousands of Metro-North customers have been inconvenienced by catenary problems, both in Connecticut and New York, so we're taking a new look at the schedule to see if there is any way to speed this up." Harris said. Amtrak trains have also been frequently delayed, especially the new high-speed Acela Express trains.
Catenary replacement work is currently split into four sections, with construction already underway between Greenwich and Stamford, and is beginning between New Haven and Bridgeport.
In 1999, 29 trains were stalled because of failed catenary. So far this year 134 trains have come to a stop because of catenary conditions.
The Wall Street Journal recently detailed the myriad reasons why Amtrak's Acela Express rarely achieves its potential speed of 150 mph. It listed the "old overhead power system" on the New Haven line.
Elderly Rhode Island man
dies after Express hits him
A 71-year-old Warwick, R.I. man became the first person to die after being struck by an Acela Express train.
Frank A. Eklof's nephew said his preoccupied uncle didn't hear the warning whistle of the oncoming train. He was walking across tracks near his house.
Eklof, a retired real estate agent, was struck by No. 2290 carrying 135 passengers. The train was en route from New York to Boston. The accident caused only minor delays in the Amtrak schedule, a railroad spokesman said. The passengers were transferred to a second train at the site, he said.
|Rail museum opens in active station|
It took 20 years, but White River Junction, Vt. finally has a railroad museum - and it's inside the junction's Amtrak station. The town took its name from a junction on the Boston & Maine Railroad.
The three-room museum is located between the station's waiting room and the Vermont State Welcome Center that opened at the northern end of the building last fall. The museum space used to be occupied by a health club, according to the Rutland Herald.
The museum features exhibits and memorabilia from such places of the region's transportation past as the Woodstock Railroad and small steam vessels that plied the Connecticut River.
Restoration began two decades ago on an old B&M steam locomotive (No. 494), the symbol of the town of Hartford next to the square in downtown White River Junction. Since then, plans began to start a rail museum.
Organizers hope this new museum, which was open during last weekend's Ninth Annual Glory Days of the Railroad Festival, will be the first portion of a larger New England Transportation Institute and Museum that will span both sides of the Connecticut River. Eventually the institute will house a transportation library and be open for seminars and evening programs, organizers hope.
The museum will tell the story of the region's extensive railroading past, which includes up to more than 100 trains a day that passed through White River Jct. a century ago, but the focus will also be on the transportation history of the 400-some miles of the Connecticut River, the nearby interstate highway system and other modern transportation concerns in the region.
Searchers have begun looking for two steam locomotives that collided head on and plunged into the water back in 1890. Divers are looking in the river's Wilder section.
A future plan may allow linking the Amtrak station and other historic railroad buildings in White River Junction, including the freight house off South Main Street and the roundhouse by the interstate Long Bridges over the White River. The elderly roundhouse is just across the river in West Lebanon, N.H.
"We would like to create a bi-state museum and institution to honor and celebrate the great history of the Connecticut River and railroads," Dartmouth Professor Joe Massey said. "Imagine going into our roundhouse to watch steam engines being restored by experts and journeymen being trained."
Massey and others noted that to be successful in the long term a transportation institute would need to attract both history buffs and tourists.
A principal component that could attract tourists to the area would be an excursion train that would travel from White River up the Berlin branch along the Connecticut River as far perhaps as Wells River. Massey said the museum group is looking at several options to make such a train a reality in the long term.
|Firm gets Penn Station signage job|
|Budget hotels Network said last week it had signed a licensing agreement with Amtrak to install and service information boards in New York's Pennsylvania Station. Wall mounted or freestanding information boards with a courtesy telephone will allow customers to access various travelers needs, such as accommodations, restaurants, and car rentals.|
California fast track is on slow track
USDOT secretary Norman Y. Mineta said last week that an ambitious plan to create a high-speed rail connection between San Francisco and Los Angeles is on the slow track.
"There's no question that high-speed rail is a very important transportation mode that has to be considered," Mineta said, but, he added, before the idea gains momentum, "Americans have to change their mind-set about rail travel."
The aftermath of the World Trade Center debacle may change some minds.
Speaking to a meeting sponsored by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce Mineta said federal, state and local officials have to be convinced that the costly high-speed rail projects can pay for themselves, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Boosters of the proposed route, which would stretch from Sacramento to San Diego, envision trains traveling 200 mph, whisking passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in two-and one-one-half hours, and provide an alternative for air travelers.
The California project is estimated to cost $25 billion, but has been hampered by budget problems. The state's High-Speed Rail Authority has been forced to scale back plans, and there is barely enough money now to finance the necessary environmental studies.
|No train for Fond du Lac|
|Amtrak won't be running a train to Fond du Lac, Wis. The carrier reported it did not find enough financial support for a daily trip from Milwaukee. It has dropped plans for the route, an Amtrak spokesman said. The round-trip train route would have run once a day, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune of September 11.|
New bridges going up in N.C.
Some new railroad bridges will be going up along the North Carolina Railroad.
Its directors okayed funding to design replacement railroad bridges for the Neuse River Bridge near Kinston and the Highway 54 Bridge in Research Triangle Park, and related track improvements. HNTB Engineering will design the bridges, at a total cost of approximately $600,000, paid for by the NCRR.
The directors also approved a $2.7 million agreement with the NCDOT Rail Division and Norfolk Southern to upgrade the NCRR corridor between Selma and Raleigh to allow faster passenger travel.
"We have a 100-year old bridge in the Kinston area that desperately needs replacing," said Sam Hunt, NCRR's chairman.
"It has a cracked foundation that we believe was damaged by Hurricane Floyd. Trains slow to 10 mph to cross it and it cannot carry the heavier rail cars developed in the last century. If we don't make repairs now, Norfolk Southern could decide not to use the NCRR line and its key access to the state port at Morehead City."
The Highway 54 Bridge in Research Triangle Park will replace an existing single-track, substandard clearance railway bridge with a double track bridge and adjacent siding to allow for both freight and future local transit use. The improvement is crucial to alleviate a frustrating bottleneck and allow Highway 54 to be expanded to five lanes, an NCRR spokesman said. He added, "Unless this change is made, the road will remain an obstacle to growth and development in RTP. A new bridge will eliminate the substandard clearance, allowing safer, easier access to Miami Blvd."
The Raleigh to Selma upgrade "will save up to 10 minutes of travel time by increasing the top train speed to 59 mph."
Amtrak operates four daily passenger trains on the Selma line. Both freight and passenger trains use that corridor. NCRR, Norfolk Southern and NCDOT are working together to bring these improvements about in the most cost efficient manner.
NCRR manages the 317-mile rail corridor that runs from Morehead City to Charlotte.
Elsewhere in North Carolina, a plan to connect the "Triangle area" to Charlotte and Washington with high-speed passenger trains has reached a crossroads. North Carolina and Virginia officials started gathering public comment Tuesday about which of nine possible combinations they support. The hearing was in Raleigh.
The proposed system would cost $2 billion to $3 billion, a cost shared by the two states and the federal government, and could be built by 2010. The trains would carry people from Raleigh to Charlotte in two hours, and from Raleigh to Washington in as little as four, according to The Associated Press.
The Washington-Charlotte route would be the first leg in a Southeastern high-speed network that would reach Atlanta, Birmingham, Ala.; Columbia, S.C.; Savannah, Ga.; and Jacksonville, Fla. The trains with an average speed of about 90 mph would be an addition to the existing Amtrak service in North Carolina. Their primary aim would be to move people between large cities, making fewer stops than Amtrak does now.
Because of the speeds, the state would try to limit grade crossings by closing some and replacing others with bridges or tunnels.
The plan calls for increasing speeds slowly as new equipment and tracks allow, and the state DOT is already installing new signals between Raleigh and Greensboro that will allow the top speed of existing trains to increase from 59 to 79 mph, and eventually will allow trains to exceed 100 mph.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has informed state and federal railroad planners that a proposed high-speed rail line going through Joliet, Ill., would threaten the Hine's emerald dragonfly unless train speeds along a nearby nature preserve are reduced to 15 mph from May 20 to Aug. 31 every year.
Crain's Chicago Business News wrote on September 9 that while other remedies, such as a barrier, may be possible, the environmental hitch promises to delay a decision among three routes proposed for track improvements to provide high-speed rail service into Chicago.
Amtrak and Metra currently use the same route, called the Heritage Corridor, so commuters and rail passengers could be affected even if another high-speed rail route is chosen.
|Smith for Mississippi governor?|
A Mississippi journalist is speculating NCI board chairman John Robert Smith may be Mississippi's next governor.
Writing a column in The Meridian Star, editor Buddy Bynum wrote on September 9, "About eight weeks into his third term as mayor of Meridian, is John Robert Smith looking at a possible candidacy for governor of Mississippi? Some of his friends say he would make a good candidate for Mississippi's top elected job and his political opponents, well, they take a different view."
Bynum added, "The next gubernatorial election comes in 2003 and with the current holder of the office showing strong signs of political weakness, who knows?"
No word from hizzoner - yet.
Smith is also an Amtrak board member.
Falling catenary stops Eurostar
All passenger train service from Britain to France and Belgium was suspended September 14 after power lines fell onto tracks near the entrance to the Channel Tunnel on the British side at Dollands Moor in Folkestone, Kent, disrupting travel for 10,000 people.
Eurostar service was disrupted for more than 24 hours.
Two trains were in the tunnel, one bound for Britain and the other for Paris, when the catenary came down. The trains eventually were turned back, and all other services were canceled.
Eurostar sustained delays of three to four hours as services returned after more than one day of disruption. Restrictions remained in place until Sunday.
The American Shortline and Regional Railroad Association reports it has cancelled its annual meeting and show planned for September 28 thru October 2 has been as a result of recent terrorist attacks. Participants are being offered the opportunity to donate their registration fees ($325 and up) to the American Red Cross relief effort. For more information visit the ASLRRA website at www.aslrra.org.
Oct. 16, 17
Passenger trains on freight railroads
Railway Age conference
Guest speakers to include White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card (and former USDOT secretary).
Claytor award for distinguished service to HEW Secretary Tommy Thompson, former Amtrak board chairman.
Register at http://www.railwayage.com or call Jane Potereala at (212)-620-7209.
NCI: Leo KingAn afternoon 'T' train arrives in Attleboro (top) while the "Crow," below, checks the time. The 88 levers, below, controlled the switches, switch locks and signals within the plant.
Way back in the dark ages (1992 or so), Amtrak still had towers open on the New England Division (the Boston Division, in those days), and train directors and tower operators like Jim Crowley moved the trains to and fro on the main line. Jim worked second trick at Attleboro tower for several years before the tower closed in 1993. He and the other ops - Joe McCabe on the first trick, Gerry Guiguere on the third - moved the liners on track 1 and 2 with "clear" signals) high green), and they zipped by at 100 mph.
The slower MBTA commuter trains were a tad slower, only making 80 tops, and frequently made a left turn at Attleboro to cross over from westward track 1 across 2 to No. 4 track, where they would terminate their runs at the station, about one-half mile west, or come back out at the west end to go to Providence, R.I.
Sometimes, too, they pick up a Movement Permit Form D (they had recently replaced Form 19 train orders) to operate west on track 4 and tie up at the T's East Jct. Facility, where the trains were serviced and cleaned by the night owls.
The red levers were for the signals, the gray levers were the switch locks, and the black levers were the switches. All you had to do was put the signals to stop indication, unlock the switches you wanted, bend the iron, lock them up again, and clear the signals. It got complicated when you had multiple trains. The yellow levers were slip-on blocking devices to protect people who were working out on the tracks between trains.
Jim and Joe are now retired, and Gerry, nearing the end of his run, is at Mystic River Bridge in Connecticut.
- Leo King
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