Vol. 7 No. 41
September 25, 2006

Copyright © 2006
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

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

A weekly North American rail and transit update

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

* Now in our Seventh Year *

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

  News Items... 
German Mag-Lev train crash blamed on human error; 23 die
German Mag-Lev train demo ends in deadly collision
DOT nominee peters greeted warmly at DC confirmation
Illinois officials fear Amtrak state commitment might be
   weakened by Bush Administration
Amtrak approval gives lift to Pennsylvania’s capital’s train station
Vermont Amtrak temporarily shuts for track replacement near Putney
  Transit lines… 
NC County on brink of axing para-transit?
  Friday closing quotes… 
  Across the Pond… 
Large turnout at InnoTrans 2006 shows high interest
   in rail transportation
Chinese airlines lower fares to compete with new Tibet rail
  End notes… 

NEWS ITEMS...  News Items...


Photo: ARD TV, Germany     

Crane hoists wreckage off German Mag-Lev track after fatal collision Thursday


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German Mag-Lev train crash
blamed on human error; 23 die

From Wire Service Reports, German news media, and NCI Staff

Germany --- Human error that placed a maintenance vehicle squarely in the path of a speeding high-speed Mag-Lev (magnetically levitated) train killed nearly all of the 29 people on board September 22 in a town near Lathen, in northwestern Germany. Of those on board or on the service vehicle, 23 we either killed instantly or died on the way to hospital.

The Mag-Lev train, in which electromagnets both levitate and propel a train that straddles a single large rail, was going only 125 mph when it hit a cleaning vehicle that had inexplicably been left on the line. Later reports said that the Mag-Lev was on the wrong track, but there is only one track at that location, so those news reports are questionable.

The experimental train has a top speed of 270 mph, and was built by Transrapid International, a joint venture of Siemens and ThyssenKrupp. It is operated by a Munich-based rail operator, IABG.

The technology was invented in the United States in 1964 but only Germany and Japanese companies have attempted to commercialize the levitated train. After 40 years, only one commercial sale, a downtown-to-airport run for Shanghai, China, built by Transrapid, has been made. That train, in a sad coincidence, caught fire and partially burned last month when a battery overheated. No one was injured in that incident

Rudolf Schwarz, a spokesman for the company that oversees the test track, said there were no tourists aboard the train when it crashed about a half-mile from the station at the village of Melstrup while going about 125 mph, according to the Associated Press. Besides the passengers, who were believed to be employees and their friends and relatives, two workers on the elevated platform were missing and feared dead, the AP reported.

The National Corridors Initiative, which supports investment in rail technology, has been unsupportive of Mag-Lev. “We believe the technology to be unsuitable to people-carrying ground-based transportation,” NCI said in a statement, “although this accident seems to have been unrelated to technological issues.”


Here’s how German news media covered the story, courtesy of NCI Foreign Correspondent David Beale

German Mag-Lev Train Demo
Ends in Deadly Collision

From Germany’s NDR Radio and N-TV & David Beale

LATHEN-GERMANY --- As many as 23 people may have been killed when the Transrapid magnetically levitated train collided with a maintenance vehicle on a large test track near the town of Lathen in northwest Germany on this Friday morning. The test track is 31.5 km long in total. The collision happened at 9:40 AM local time.

The three-car train was on a demonstration run with 29 passengers, mostly engineers and other technical and management personnel from the German gas and electric utility company RWE as well as employees of the mag-lev test track company IABG..

A rolling scaffold-like structure use for maintenance of the track, all of which is elevated above the ground in a forested area outside of this town near the German border with Holland, was apparently left forgotten on the track when the demonstration run started. The Mag-Lev train collided with the maintenance vehicle at an estimated speed of 200 km/h (124 mph). The train is capable of reaching 400 km/h on this track.

The Mag-Lev track near Lathen in the Emsland region of the state of Lower Saxony was built nearly two decades ago as a demonstration project and real-life laboratory for development of Mag-Lev technology. Deutsche Bahn (German Railways), Siemens and Thyssen-Krupp were the main sponsors of the Transrapid test facility in Emsland. Development work carried out on this track was applied to the mag-lev train system in operation between Shanghai and Shanghai Pudong Airport on the east coast of China, and is in the final proposal stages for a similar mag-lev train planned for Munich Airport to the central train station in central Munich.

A waiter at a restaurant one kilometer away from the accident site stated that he heard a loud explosion which both he and others in the restaurant assumed was an airplane impacting the ground somewhere in the area. As there is a dense forest between the test track and the restaurant and other buildings and houses in the town, the crash site was not readily visible to nearby residents. The waiter and others in the area at the time said that nearly 20 minutes elapsed before alarms went out for emergency response to the accident, indicating that there was some confusion at the test track for a number of minutes after the collision about what had just taken place.


Photo: ARD TV, Germany   

Rescue crews at site of fatal German Mag-Lev Crash

German Chancellor Angela Merkel stepped out of an economic conference she was hosting in Berlin and flew to the accident scene via helicoptor Friday afternoon. Federal transport minister Wolfgang Tiefensee interupted his trip to China, where the only Transrapid mag-lev train in commercial operation currently exists, to meet personnaly with victims’ family members as well with investigators at the accident scene.

The district attorney’s office in Emsland County has seized log books from the test track as well as audio recordings of radio communications between various personnel operating the track, the mag-lev train and maintenance vehicle prior to and after the collision. As was the case in the June 1998 ICE-1 train derailment near Celle, a criminal investigation will be initiated and will run in parallel and in conjunction with the technical inquiry into the collision. This is standard practice in Germany, unlike in the USA, where criminal investigations in such accidents are rare and are only opened when there is clear indication that the accident was intentionally caused or was due to gross negligence or misconduct. In the ICE-1 derailment case, several Deutsche Bahn maintenance technicians, mechanical engineers and managers were put on trial for criminal negligence, but none were convicted.

Of four Transrapid projects proposed for Germany in the past decade, only one (Munich center - Munich Airport) remains on the table. The other projects were abandoned before construction even started, due mostly to problems in securing private investment and public funding. Environmental concerns also played a roll in killing the Berlin - Hamburg Transrapid project. A 230 km/h (143 mph) conventional high speed train has since started operating on the Berlin - Hamburg route, apparently eliminating any chances for a mag-lev train on this route for decades to come. Even the 38 km long project in Munich is threatened with cancellation due to funding issues, as the German federal govermnet and the Bavarian state government have so far failed to agree how to pay for the project’s &euro  1.8 billion Euros (US $2.3 billion) estimated price.

The primary advantage of mag-lev over conventional rail is speed. The technology in its current form support speeds of 450 km/h with the potential to go to 550 km/h (340 mph) or higher. Conventional steel wheel on rail technology appears to be limited to a top speed of 360 km/h in everyday service. Only Spain, France and Japan now have or will soon have conventional high speed trains capable of 360 km/h on a routine basis. The other advantage mag-lev has over convention rail technology is almost unlimited capability to accelerate and decelerate, as well to climb and to descend steep gradients, since there are no wheels involved, wheel slip is not a factor. The ability of mag-lev trains to accelerate and climb steep gradients is limited only by passenger safety and comfort issues.

The main disadvantage on mag-lev is the cost of the track. Estimates place the cost per kilometer of double track for a mag-lev train at 60 to 150 percent above the cost of a conventional steel rail electrified high speed double track line. However the cost difference may be lower when considering applications in areas where hilly terrain will result in more extensive use of bridges and tunnels for a conventional rail line in order to maintain gradients below 4%, which is not a limitation for mag-lev. The other disadvantage of mag-lev is its incompatibility with existing passenger and freight trains and stations, therefore restricting the use of the mag-lev corridors from use by freight and local passenger trains.

The Mag-Lev train collision is the deadliest train accident in Germany since the June 1998 ICE-1 derailment north of Hannover and Celle which killed 101 people and injured hundreds more. That accident occurred due to mechanical failure.


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DOT nominee peters greeted
warmly at DC confirmation

From the National Association of Railroad Passengers

WASHINGTON, DC---Mary Peters, President Bush’s nominee to be Secretary of Transportation, was warmly received at her confirmation hearing this Past week, NARP reports.

“Amtrak also figured prominently and favorably in the hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, chaired by Ted Stevens (R-AK). Peters seems assured of quick confirmation.

Peters, in her opening statement, said “intercity passenger rail is important.” Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) agreed. He told Peters to keep Amtrak on her radar screen, and said he would keep pushing the issue.

In answering questions from Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), Peters said, “I also agree we need a national rail passenger system. To your questions about moving people in time of hurricanes and other disasters, Amtrak is part of our plans that have been developed since Katrina.”

Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) urged Peters to put some people at the Department of Transportation who understand that Amtrak must be in the overall transportation mix. “They say no one rides the train. I say, ‘Just try getting a reservation on the Empire Builder.’”

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) called the Empire Builder “an important, popular service,” and said a majority of committee members do not want to eliminate long-distance trains.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) called Amtrak in Maine “very successful... so successful that we’re looking to extend the service further up the state [north of Portland].” She noted that Maine’s right to use Congestion Mitigation Air Quality funds to support the service expires in FY 2009.

Sen. Snowe wanted Peters’ views on letting Maine continue using those funds for passenger rail. Peters, who once headed Arizona DOT, responded that, “as a former state DOT official I encourage that. Having that kind of flexibility and state involvement will be critical in the future.”

Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR) noted the importance of investing in rail generally as one answer to congestion. He lamented that much of the value of the tax credits enacted for [short line] railroads a few years ago was nullified by the Alternative Minimum Tax, and said “the IRS is coming out with a ruling that will make tax credits still more onerous” to use, in conflict with Congressional intent.

Sens. Burns, Dorgan and John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV) all expressed frustration at the problem of freight railroads overcharging captive shippers.

Dorgan was highly critical of the Surface Transportation Board, saying “glaciers move more rapidly than the STB... We’d like an agency to stand up for consumers.” He said a North Dakota state commission estimated that shippers in his state were overcharged $100 million a year.

Rockefeller told Peters, “I’ve been at it [the rail freight rate problem] for 22 years and made absolutely no progress... it’s got to be solved and I think your transparency creates an atmosphere where it could be solved.”

Several senators noted the importance of the Essential Air Services program to rural America.

NARP President George Chilson’s statement applauding Peters’ nomination is at Sen. Snowe wanted Peters’ views on letting Maine continue using those funds for passenger rail. Peters, who once headed Arizona DOT, responded that, “as a former state DOT official I encourage that. Having that kind of flexibility and state involvement will be critical in the future.”

Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR) noted the importance of investing in rail generally as one answer to congestion. He lamented that much of the value of the tax credits enacted for [short line] railroads a few years ago was nullified by the Alternative Minimum Tax, and said “the IRS is coming out with a ruling that will make tax credits still more onerous” to use, in conflict with Congressional intent.

Sens. Burns, Dorgan and John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV) all expressed frustration at the problem of freight railroads overcharging captive shippers.

Dorgan was highly critical of the Surface Transportation Board, saying “glaciers move more rapidly than the STB... We’d like an agency to stand up for consumers.” He said a North Dakota state commission estimated that shippers in his state were overcharged $100 million a year.

Rockefeller told Peters, “I’ve been at it [the rail freight rate problem] for 22 years and made absolutely no progress...it’s got to be solved and I think your transparency creates an atmosphere where it could be solved.”

Several senators noted the importance of the Essential Air Services program to rural America.

NARP President George Chilson’s statement applauding Peters’ nomination is at http://www.narprail.org/cms/index.php/news_releases/more/nr06_14/


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Illinois officials fear Amtrak state commitment
might be weakened by Bush Administration

Source: Associated Press

WASHINGTON--- Illinois officials are concerned that their ambitious plans to expand Amtrak’s intrastate rail service could be stalled or prevented altogether while the Bush administration struggles with its plan for Amtrak’s future, the Associated Pres reported last week.

“Last spring, Illinois Senator Durbin, a member of the Senate subcommittee on transportation funding, secured commitments for three Amtrak trains to help provide an additional run on the Carbondale, Quincy and St. Louis lines each day,” the AP said.

The state also would like to see Rockford-to-Chicago service restored.

There is strong bi-partisan support in Congress for Amtrak to receive the funding it needs - at least $1.4 billion or even more (Democrats Durbin and Gov. Rod Blagojevich favor a no-cuts figure of $1.6 billion)- in contrast to Bush’s starvation budget of $900 million.

Senator Durbin, a longtime advocate for federally subsidized rail service, voiced concerns two weeks ago in a meeting with Alexander Kummant, the new Amtrak president and chief executive officer only a week into his new job.

Durbin and Kummant, in an interview with the Associated Press, both applauded Illinois’ efforts to aid Amtrak. Kummant, citing his newness to the job, deferred to Senator Urbin when it came to predicting Amtrak’s budget. The senator stated he hoped that $1.4 billion would suffice to enable Amtrak to expand its service in Illinois.

It is uncertain how and when Amtrak will get a new budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. Temporary resolutions could push it into next year.


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Amtrak approval gives lift to
Pennsylvania’s capital’s train station

Source: Patriot-News

HARRISBURG, PA ---Harrisburg International Airport (HIA) is going to get a train station.

Amtrak has approved agreements which give HIA clearance to seek more money to build a station, writes Dan Miller in a story for the Harrisburg Patriot-News.

Two years ago, the Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority approved and sent to Amtrak seven agreements needed for the station. Last Monday, authority board chairman John Ward told a state transportation panel that he expected to receive approval this week.

Amtrak spokeswoman Tracy Connell confirmed yesterday that Amtrak is ready to move forward.

The cost has gone up by $4 million since 2004 because of higher prices for steel and other construction materials, Ward said. The airport couldn’t pursue money until Amtrak committed to the project, he said.

The airport has funds for about half of the $16.5 million cost now estimated, Ward said. The money includes $2 million from HIA and $4.5 million to be transferred to the station from Corridor One, the region’s proposed commuter rail system. Ward also is the president of the Modern Transit Partnership, the organization created to promote the commuter rail project.

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation spokesman Rich Kirkpatrick said the state has earmarked $8.7 million for the station, including $2.2 million from the federal government.

Ward believes the new station will attract travelers who now fly out of Philadelphia or Baltimore/Washington. Many of them are business travelers, a market that presently makes up 70 percent of HIA passengers.

Ward said he hopes the station can be built by mid-2009, but that timetable is partly dependent on Amtrak.

European and Asian cities commonly have rail stations at major airports. America has been slow to follow suit.


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Vermont Amtrak temporarily shuts
for track replacement near Putney

Source: Burlington Free Press

BURLINGTON, VT----- Amtrak’s Vermonter service will be interrupted this week because of track repairs in southern Vermont.

The New England Central Railroad will install 7.2 miles of continuous welded rail between Putney and White River Junction, beginning Sunday and continuing through next Wednesday. During this time, Amtrak’s Vermonter -- which runs between St. Albans and Washington, D.C. -- will not be operating north of Springfield, Mass. Passengers will be transported by bus. Seating on bus is limited to 45 passengers.

Normal operations will resume with the northbound Vermonter on Sept. 27 and southbound on Sept. 28. Contact Amtrak for current information.


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TRANSIT LINES...  Transit lines...

NC County on brink of axing para-transit?

Source: The Business Journal of Tri-Cities, Tennessee Virginia

 

HAYWOOD COUNTY, NC --- Haywood County, North Carolina, isn’t getting enough subsidy to serve the public, and it’s people who need it most, such as those who need to get to a hospital or a doctor or can’t get to work, who suffer, according to a story by Jeff Schmerker for the Business Journal.

Haywood Public Transit in fiscal year 2005-2006 had to turn down 8,000 requests for trips — and about half of those requests were for medical-related journeys. On top of that, total ridership was down 12,200 over the previous year due to lack of funding.

Often, it’s the staff who use their own cars to pick up people in need of a ride -- whether it’s to the hospital or to do an errand.

“We have simply done all we can,” said Patsy Dowling, director of Mountain Projects, which oversees Haywood Public Transit, “while trying to work on a break-even budget.”

The chief problem is that the agency depends on outside funds and rider payments because Haywood County, unlike 96 other counties in North Carolina, does not subsidize the transportation agency.

 


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: MarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)68.7269.82
Canadian National (CNI)41.3041.02
Canadian Pacific (CP)47.3047.96
CSX (CSX)30.5731.61
Florida East Coast (FLA)55.8855.46
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)22.1123.55
Kansas City Southern (KSU)26.5527.49
Norfolk Southern (NSC)41.7743.05
Providence & Worcester (PWX)18.3218.21
Union Pacific (UNP)83.4283.80


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ACROSS THE POND...  Across the Pond...

Installments by David Beale
NCI Foreign Correspondent

Bombardier Traxx™ multisystem electric locomotive, InnoTrans 2006

Photo NCI: by David Beale

A Bombardier Traxx™ multisystem electric locomotive in the colors of European train lessor Angel Trains, a division of the Royal Bank of Scotland, on display at InnoTrans. This particular locomotive is equipped to operate with the traction power supplies and signaling train protection systems in Germany, Austria, Belgium and Holland. Bombardier is marketing Traxx™ locomotives in diesel, single system electric and multi-system electric versions. All versions have the same general appearance and layout, identical interfaces with hauled passenger or freight cars, and nearly identical cab design and locomotive driver controls. Of course they share many of the same parts and components, which potentially means savings to operators using two or more versions of this locomotive model.

 

InnoTrans Berlin

Large turnout at InnoTrans 2006
shows high interest in rail transportation

InnoTrans 2006 finished this week in Berlin at this city’s extensive convention center and fair ground.  Destination: Freedom correspondent David Beale was there.

By David Beale

BERLIN --- Complete attendance figures are not yet available, but preliminary figures show it may exceed the last InnoTrans in 2004 by 40%. InnoTrans claims to be the world’s largest trade fair and industry convention for the rail transport industry.

This year’s InnoTrans focused again on the potential and the challenges of integrating Europe’s patchwork of rail systems with each other and with rail networks in Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. Also continuing from the last event in 2004 was the focus on independent rail operators all across Europe, both in the intercity passenger, regional / commuter passenger and freight markets.

Two decades ago European rail was dominated by state owned and operated railroads. Today state run railroads are still a significant factor, but the rise of third party rail operators has been dramatic. InnoTrans provided a forum for numerous OEMs and rail industry suppliers to show their products and services to this rapidly growing sector of the rail transport industry.

Another theme of this year’s InnoTrans was tunnel construction, which is booming all over Europe and Asia as new high speed rail lines are extended into hilly terrain as well as numerous urban rail projects, such as Berlin’s recently completed Hauptbahnhof and still under-construction Leipzig city rail tunnel move from the drawing board to the construction phase. In Germany the next potential big tunneling project is a proposed plan to replace Stuttgart’s present surface level terminal train station with an underground through station.

As with the InnoTrans 2004 convention, North American presence and attendance at the event could be called light. Aside from Canada-based Bombardier (which had one of the largest pavilions and static displays) and USA based GE, there was relatively little presence of North American companies at InnoTrans compared to companies from all across Europe plus Russia, China, Korea, and Japan. USA based engine manufacturers Cummins and CAT were well represented, but mostly with personnel from their U.K. engineering and manufacturing facilities. Both companies are active in supplying diesel and alternative fueled engines for DMU rail cars and mid-sized locomotives in Europe and Asia.

As I attended InnoTrans in Berlin this week, back in my home town of Hannover the IAA convention and trade fair and convention was taking place. IAA is to the truck, bus and highway industry what InnoTrans is to railroading. IAA attendance figures were also not available as I wrote this, but attendance was reported as being “heavy”, thus serving as a reminder to InnoTrans exhibitors and attendees alike, that the truck and bus option is something to be seriously dealt with. Aside from several projects for building and expanding rail corridors from Europe to China and the rest of Asia, there are active plans to build limited access highways similar to American interstates across Eastern Europe and through central Asia in order to link Europe with all of Asia via a limited access expressway network. Trucks will be the mostly likely users. Look for a full report on InnoTrans in a future edition of Destination:Freedom coming very soon.


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A Voith 40CC diesel locomotive on display at InnoTrans 2006

Photo NCI: by David Beale

A Voith 40CC diesel locomotive on display at InnoTrans. This is a prototype unit which will be used to obtain operating certificates and regulatory approvals in Germany, it does not yet have any firm customer orders. It will be marketed to incumbent rail operator Deutsche Bahn AG as well as the many numerous independent rail companies operating on the German rail network. The Voith 40CC is a diesel hydraulic locomotive (i.e. hydromechanical drive and transmission similar to highway trucks and busses, instead of traction generator and electric motors in diesel electric locomotives), which has been a traditional favorite in Germany since the demise of steam four decades ago.

 

Chinese airlines lower fares to
compete with new Tibet rail

CHINA-- Chinese airlines have been forced to cut fares to Tibet by up to 55% following the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet railway, according to China Daily, as concern grows among carriers over the impact of rail expansion.

Reporter Geoffrey Thomas wrote that that nine flights operated by Air China, Sichuan Airlines and China Southern Airlines have been discounted 45%-55% since the 13th of September. The Qinghai-Tibet railway opened 1st of July and the train fare between Chengdu and Lhasa is 331 RMB ($41) with a sleeper fare of 712 RMB. Airlines now are offering fares on the route at 975 RMB.

Such price decreases in the face of rail competition may portend future fare wars between modes of transport in the world’s most populous nation. China has embarked upon an aggressive expansion of its railway network and also increased the speed of trains on the existing network. Last year, Siemens AG snared a contract for 60 600-passenger high-speed trains based on its ICE-3 design capable of 300 kph speeds, for introduction in 2008 connecting China’s major cities. This year many of the express trains had speeds lifted to 200 kph. Since 1997, the speeds of Chinese trains have been boosted four times to meet demand.

By 2020, China expects to build 10,000 km. of new railway track with 2,000 km. of high-speed track, which will include the $12 billion, 1,300-km. Beijing-Shanghai Express. The line will link some of China’s wealthiest and most industrialized cities and likely will impede airlines’ ability to raise fares on some high-density routes.


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End Notes...

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

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

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

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

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


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