Vol. 5 No. 38
September 27, 2004

Copyright © 2004
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 - Leo King
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 Fifth Year *

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


P&W 3906 at crossing

All photos, NCI: Leo King

The gates are down, the bells are ringing and the lights are flashing at State Street crossing, Amtrak milepost 122.8, in New London, Conn., as Providence & Worcester engine 3906 tugs a six-car passenger train to the city’s refurbished station. The train was part of NCI’s two-day conference. Political figures dominated the platform one day earlier, and the headliner was Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic Presidential nominee. He is also a former Bay State governor.

 

‘Join together,’ says Dukakis
at NCI September conference

If passenger rail ever had a friend in high places, it is Michael Dukakis, a former Massachusetts governor and the Democrat candidate for President of these United States in 1988. He’s also a former Amtrak chairman of the board.

In an interview with D:F on Saturday, he said, “I don’t understand why there ought to be conflict between the highway people and the rail people. This is a transportation issue. I-95 will never work unless you have a first-class rail system to go along with it. Those people who use the highways ought to be strongly for rail, and those of us who are strongly rail-oriented obviously want a good highway system – but unless we invest in rail, our highways are going to be in jeopardy forever, and it’s going to get worse and worse.”

Dukakis, who turns 72 on November 3, added, “I’d like to see us join together to begin investing in first-class, modern high-speed rail, commuter rail – the kinds of things we’ve been talking about at this conference. That will not only benefit Connecticut and New England, but it will benefit the people who use the highways as well.”

Dukakis was the keynote speaker at last week’s National Corridors Initiative.

Regarding Amtrak’s future, he said it is tied directly with the November election.

“It has everything to do with who is elected President of the United States. It’s as simple as that. The current Administration is not interested. They don’t understand the importance of a first-class national rail passenger system. In John Kerry, we have the best rail president we’ve ever had. He’s committed, he has been involved in this, he has been one of the leaders in the Congress, he understands the importance of it.

“That’s not the only reason I’m supporting my former lieutenant governor,” he chuckled, “but when it comes to rail and the future of transportation in the United States, there’s just a huge difference between these two candidates.”

The Amtrak board of directors is a kind of a mystery.

“Nobody is quite sure who the new Amtrak Board is,” he said.

“Those of us who were appointed by President Clinton – and have not been replaced – believe that we continue to be members of the board… All of this will be resolved in November.”

He added he was “very proud of the board I served with. It was bi-partisan, we had four Democrats and three Republicans – and they were three excellent Republicans, one of whom happened to be Tommy Thompson – now the Secretary of Health and Human Services – and was a terrific chairman and a colleague.”

“We all cared deeply about a national rail passenger system. It has nothing to do with partisanship – just plain, common sense. The Administration has taken a position – which I believe is just legally wrong – that all of us Republicans and Democrat alike no longer serve on the board, so we’re in a bit of a ‘No Man’s Land’ at this point. All of this obviously will be resolved when the new President is elected.”

Mayor of Worcester, MA., Tim Murray

Worcester Mayor Tim Murray espouses using P&W as a commuter line from Norwich to New London. Undetermined is who the operating authority would be – P&W, Connecticut DOT, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority or some other entity.

 

Worcester Mayor Tim Murray praised Dukakis for his work dealing with transportation issues over the years. Murray said “In 1987 the governor and the legislature commissioned a study to look at expanding commuter rail to the city of Worcester, the second largest city in Massachusetts and the third largest in New England.”

He noted watching Stamford, Conn., grow and benefit from Metro-North Railroad’s affect on the city.

“I had the opportunity to watch Stamford develop and benefit from that commuter rail back-and-forth to New York City” both as mayor and watching two younger brothers traveling to Fordham Univ.

“Not only its downtown core alive with market-rate housing but also its business core as well. I think there are a lot of parallels that I’ve been trying to make in our view of trying to bring transportation dollars to the City of Worcester, arguing that Worcester, like Stamford, can provide a safety valve for the city of Boston and the greater Boston area.

Worcester is about 45 miles west of Boston.

He said the Greater Boston area “has seen tremendous growth.”

Murray explained that “Routes 128 and I-495 are parking lots at various times of the day. We’ve seen the housing market become very unaffordable.”

He said a study from Mass., Inc., showed that people moved out of the region because of issues of affordable housing and the cost of living.

“The study talked about two different kinds of migrants – the New England migrant, leaving Massachusetts, generally middle-class families, to go to other New England states. Then there is the economic migrant, who oftentimes holds graduate degrees from some of the Boston schools and Worcester. We have 30,000 college students every year.”

The city’s population is 175,000, he said.

“Many of those people with the skills of the future are leaving the city, leaving the state to go to competitive states like New Jersey, Colorado and Minnesota because of affordability. [They have] competitive wages, but they can’t afford to live in some of the metropolitan areas.”

He said commuter rail is part of the solution, and that the “housing market has exploded” in Worcester.

“Commuter rail, at least in our city, is the argument we’re trying to make with state officials – many of whom are from the greater Boston area – through the wise expenditure of transportation dollars in expanding commuter rail to Worcester.” The city currently has 10 round-trips over the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (on CSX tracks).

He noted, “It’s the lowest performing line in terms of on-time departures and arrivals, but that being said, we’re over double the initial projected ridership of 1,200 people a day utilizing the train out of Worcester.”

He said it is about a 50-minute ride from his city to the Hub, and several new stations have also been added between both cities.

Murray said the Providence & Worcester Railroad and his “administration are now working to see if we can begin the slow steps to look at commuter rail and some type of passenger service to Providence - again, taking cars off the road and linking up along that Route 146 corridor.”

U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), said the nation has never experienced economic growth without first improving its infrastructure. The Norwich Bulletin noted he quoted Albert Einstein, who said insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

Dodd said the nation keeps expanding road lanes with the hope of addressing traffic congestion but that this approach is not working.

Dodd proposed building a National Center for Transportation in Connecticut to address transportation problems much in the same way the National Institutes of Health addresses health issues.

He offered no details about his idea, but said this generation is on the verge of being the first one in the nation's history to leave the country in a worse condition for its children.

Dodd said the state has adequate rights-of-way to property across Connecticut that would allow for an expansion of rail service.

The Day of New London took note of NCI President and CEO Jim RePass’ thinking. “In particular we would like to reopen the Providence & Worcester line from New London to Worcester for passenger traffic and improve its freight clearance,” he said.

“That would allow a major improvement in access in Connecticut for goods shipped from all over the world, and also leaving from here.” The cost wouldn’t be much.

As to the question of whether people would take the train if it were available, State Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr. (D) answered with an unequivocal yes.

Williams described experimental excursions he had helped sponsor on the Providence & Worcester line in which he said he found "a big demand for it."

Another example, Williams said, is to be found in Fairfield County.

“At the rail stations in Fairfield country the parking lots have waiting lists for parking spaces,” he said. “They understand the importance of mass transit there.”

Furthermore, he said, “We also need innovative ways to move freight off our highways and onto rail and deep water ports like New London. On an average day in just the little corridor of I-95 between New Haven and New York City, at any time there are about 17,000 tractor trailer trucks.”

The state Department of Economic and Community Development needs to coordinate its efforts with those of the DOT, he argued. A Lowe’s or Wal-Mart distribution center, for example, will bring some 900 trucks a day to local roads, he said.

If the state is providing $40 in incentives and tax breaks to a such a business, “why can’t we require the use of rail to get that truck traffic off the roads?”

U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons

U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons says he “joined the Transportation Committee in Hartford as a state representative and served as ranking member for six years because I was concerned about ‘the gathering threat’… that our highway system is becoming increasingly congested, increasingly dangerous, increasingly environmentally hazardous and wasteful of fuel, and that we had to do something about it.” He now is in the U.S. House.

 

U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.) quoted NCI founder and President Jim RePass, describing the passage as “an important one. ‘Highways are the center of our transportation system. They knitted America together in the 20th Century the way the transcontinental railroad welded together the 19th Century – but this is the 21st Century. We had better get our system into balance, or it will strangle our economy and us.’

“Highways are a great thing, but they can’t be the only thing. I think that is an excellent theme for this conference and for what you are gathering here to discuss.”

He said his experience with rail transportation began “quite a few years ago” with current NCI board member Molly McKay, who is also the Connecticut Chapter of the Sierra Club transportation chair.

He said they were working on rails and trails, “and we were trying to figure out how we, at a local and a state level, could enhance funding and services for rail.”

He asked the audience how many people came to the conference by rail, a combination of air and rail, and by car and rail, and how many by car alone. A few hands went up for the first three, but many, many for the third.

He asked a few other questions, including “How many of you work for a corporation, a company or an entity that receives freight rail deliveries, or delivers by freight rail as an important part of the transportation system to business?”

A few hands went up.

Next he asked, “How many work for a company or corporation that relies almost solely on 18 wheelers…?

Again, a few hands went up, and it was “about even.”

He explained what the responses meant.

“This is the nature of the problems we face.

“I joined the Transportation Committee in Hartford as a state representative and served as ranking member for six years because I was concerned about ‘the gathering threat’… that our highway system is becoming increasingly congested, increasingly dangerous, increasingly environmentally hazardous and wasteful of fuel, and that we had to do something about it.”

Simmons said as ranking member, one of his ideas was “Why can’t we extend this Metro-North, Shore Line East all the way to New London?”

He pointed out that at the time, Shore Line East operated by the Connecticut DOT (ConnDOT) was already going as far east as New London – some 51 miles from New Haven – and “was a major feeder line for the major Metro-North,” a commuter railroad that has several branch lines extending from New York City.

Service to New London began in 1994. It did not appear any New London city government officials were present.

“Not a lot of service, and not very good service,” he added, “but I think there were four trains in the morning and four in the afternoon.

“Imagine my surprise when in early 1995 the newly elected governor announced his economic plan” and said with “no forewarning that one of the economy measures that he was going to introduce was eliminating Shore Line East.

“Holy cow!

“You know, I’m sitting in the hall of the House of Representatives listening to this speech, and the crown jewel of my efforts to enhance rail transportation here… had its head cut off the first month of the new session.”

He spent the next two years “working to reverse that decision.”

He prevailed, yet again found it on the “cut” list.

“The problem we face is the politics of transportation issues.”

He repeated the sentence.

“Because the federal government has a transportation fund that derives its revenues from the gas tax, because the state of Connecticut and other states have transportation funds that derive their revenues from gas taxes, the majority of the bulk of the dollars must go into road transit and not into rail, or in air. That is a fundamental problem that we have to face.”

He said other projects being considered include commuter rail from New Haven to Springfield. Amtrak currently operates service between the two cities at 60 mph over some 60 route miles.

“There’s been talk of extending Shore Line East to Westerly, R. I., and even having Rhode Island try to connect down to Westerly with some of their own” commuter equipment.

Several years ago Rhode Island bought a few trainsets for Providence-Boston service, but the equipment is painted in MBTA purple and gray colors and is maintained by Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad, the successors to Amtrak which gave up its operating and servicing contracts last year.

“I think that’s a worthwhile idea and it’s worth pursuing,” Simmons added. He recalled the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad’s Clamdigger, which operated from New London through Stonington, Conn., Westerly, R.I. and on to Providence and Boston making local stops. It was a Budd RDC trainset of two, sometimes three cars.

He said adequate parking is also a relevant issue in the contemporary scene.

“When I was faced with a situation during the Republican National Convention in New York City,” which was held in Madison Square Garden literally above the station, he parked his car in New Haven, “I could not be there for five days, so I had to go back and forth. I made six trips.”

One woman spoke up and said she “can’t afford to take Amtrak.”

He responded, “Take Metro-North.”

M-N’s fare structure is considerably lower than Amtrak’s.

“How did I go? I went by rail. It was on time, it was safe, it was relatively inexpensive, cost less than the cabs I use riding around the city – and it worked out very well.”

He said a couple of times parking in New Haven has been considerably improved.

Simmons said New London “is a classic case of where we can develop a multi-modal transportation system where it’s all part of one package, and yet you can’t do it if you don’t have the political support of the local municipality, the state and the federal government. That train station is a resource, and yet Todd [Todd O’Donnell and Barbara Timken restored the station] and I have been working for the last six or eight weeks to get Amtrak to pay the bill.

“They’re a tenant.”

Amtrak is several months in arrears on their bill.

“That station has been totally renovated. It has been improved. It has been upgraded, and we think Amtrak ought to ink a lease for the next three to five years.”

He said they were in touch with Amtrak, and noted New London Day reporter Cathy Cooke reported how Amtrak is going to “put a new bridge, over the Thames River, a lift bridge, not a bascule. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go high enough so the [U.S. Coast Guard three-masted frigate] Eagle can go under. There’s a disconnect between the local governments, the state and federal government, and we’ve got to work together better on these types of issues.”

Todd O’Donnell, who along with Barbara Timken restored New London’s Union Station, said, “The real winner in this thing is – and where my epiphany was, which everybody else already knew about – the real winner in this thing is everything north of Norwich.”

He explained, “North of Norwich is the fastest growing section of Connecticut in terms of residential because they’re trying to get to work at the casino.”

North of Norwich is Willimantic, Sen. Christopher Dodd’s (R-Conn.) birthplace, where Eastern Connecticut State Univ., and Storrs are located. It’s a farming community.

“In the last 15 years, that little farm town has turned into one of the most – if not the fourth – largest city in New England.”

“The time is now and the place is here for mass transportation to go up the eastern border of Connecticut.”

He used the term “urban revitalization,” disdaining the phrase “urban renewal.”

“Most mass transportation is centered in urban centers, and for whatever reason, urban centers have had a tough, tough time over the last 40 years, especially second-tier urban centers, which is New London.

“People are always going to go to Atlanta, they’re always going to go to New York, but New London… they’ll just keep going by.

He asked “How do we get them in here to use, to participate in the multiple mass transportation centers? I include not just rail. I include buses; all this stuff.”

There were other speakers on the Saturday agenda, all of which had worthwhile things to say. Among them were Connecticut State Senate President Donald Williams, Georgia state rail director and NCI board member Doug Alexander, Democratic House candidate Jim Sullivan, GOP Senate candidate Jack Orchull, NCI vice chair John Businger, industrial designer Cesar Vergara, and several others.

P&W conductor Bob Gibbons

’Board! P&W conductor Bob Gibbons herds his passenger aboard the NCI Special at New London, Conn. The train will move right to left in a few minutes for about a mile, cross Thames River Bridge to Groton, then move 45 miles northward up the P&W’s Norwich Branch to Putnam. The idea is to bring commuter rail to the region. The total distance from New London to Worcester is about 73 track miles.

 

Providence & Worcester’s Clarke Brown, who is in charge of passenger operations for the P&W, said the P&W probably won’t want to raise its track speeds much more that 40 mph for freight and 50 mph for passenger trains. He told D:F aboard Sunday’s passenger extra they don’t know yet where commuter trains would operate from or to, but he guessed it would be between Worcester and New London. Brown is also the railroad’s purchasing agent.

On Sunday morning, at about 10:15 after leaving Worcester much earlier, the extra made its way southward with General Electric B-39-8 engine 3206 leading and entered Union Station in New London.

Amtrak had assigned the train its own train number for all its moves. It was No. 847 when it entered Shore Line dispatcher territory on the Northeast Corridor – a rare move for P&W passenger equipment – and No. 840 when it went northward to Groton – one mile east – with passengers aboard.

Norwich stop - Marines dog gets a break

At Norwich, the P&W extra made a scheduled station stop and picked up five passengers. It also gave the Marines a chance to give their German Shepherds a break. The gyrenes, from the U.S. Navy Submarine Base at New London, were aboard the train when it arrived at New London Station (NLC) and stayed with the train all day. They searched the train after each stop.

 

Around 10:30, with some 75 people aboard, it departed northward with the 3909 leading followed by the 3006 (a cabless “B” unit) and a power car, which provided 480-volt hotel power for the six-car train.

The four principal cars are ex-Northern Pacific North Coast Limited equipment, which the P&W bought several years ago and eventually repainted in their spiffy orange and brown paint scheme. The round-end observation car is named New Englander, and another car is a diner. The other two cars are ex-Amtrak coaches.

Train speeds ranged from 5 mph on some track that had just been ballasted and resurfaced but was still awaiting finishing touches to 47 mph, over particularly good track.

Conductor Bob Gibbons took care of directing train moves while engineer Steve Carlson ran the train. Jay Austin and a couple of other trainmen helped out.

Steve Carlson, Train Engineer

Steve Carlson ran the train in both directions. Here, he’s checking his speed on the southbound return trip. No stops enroute this time. Everyone was going to New London. A rock thrown by a vandal creased his chest on the ride back to New London. He was not seriously injured.

Rocks hurt

Slow moving trains are often the targets of punks who love to throw rocks at trains. Saturday’s P&W inspection train was no exception. As the southbound engine passed near MP 31, a kid in a red shirt hurled a piece of granite, a rock from the ballast, through the engineer’s window and hit engineer Steve Carlson squarely in his chest.

He writhed in agony for a moment, but was able to recover his composure and was not seriously hurt. He reported the incident to his dispatcher, who notified local police.

The train got the okay from the Amtrak Shore Line dispatcher to reverse direction , crossed the lengthy 90-year-old Thames River bascule bridge, made a left turn on the west leg of the wye at Groton tower, and was on P&W territory at milepost 0.0 (MP). They already had permission from their own dispatcher to occupy their own track.

Some places they passed included the U.S. Sub base, “the submarine capital of the world,” as the Navy calls it. No pictures are allowed. While on the military reservation. America’s first nuclear submarine, the U.S.S. Nautilus, is displayed there.

Some casinos lie near the right-of-way as well, possibly a big tourist draw.

They made a scheduled station stop at Norwich, at MP 12 and picked up five passengers. Some U.S. Marines, who were also aboard, let their German shepherds carry out personal missions and stretch their legs.

The train continued northward passing through Taft Tunnel at MP 15.1, Jewett City (MP 21.7), Plainfield and its yard (MP 28), Central Village (MP 31.1), Danielson (MP 37, Dayville (MP 40) and ended the journey in Putnam (MP 45). Worcester lay some 25 miles ahead.

There is an elderly station at Putnam, but it wasn’t clear who owns it. Businesses occupy the structure, which is being renovated. A small band greeted the train riders, and ceremonies and short speeches marked the occasion at a community park.

The return trip was simple – no stops – until it got to Groton, while it was held out for 45 minutes waiting for Amtrak trains to clear – an Acela Express and an eastbound “liner,” Nos. 2257 and No. 154, both of which were a little tardy.

Conductor Richard Peiffer

Richard Peiffer was an unofficial conductor on the extra, and was helpful in several ways – including being the video graphics person at the Saturday conference in the Radisson Hotel, a short walk from the station. A Navy man, he’s slated for a discharge in about three months. He’s not sure where he’ll go, but he’s thinking about going home to western Pennsylvania.


At Putnam CT station

Putnam, Conn., still has its former New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad station, but the space has been leased to some businesses and turned into office space. Part of Putnam, near the station, is an artistic center, with copper statuary and other art for sale.

P&W’s NCI Special took the Amtrak main as No. 857, deposited its riders at New London station, then scooted back north as Amtrak train No. 856. The crew tied up in Plainville.

The former riders on the extra scattered to the four winds – some took trains home, others drove, yet others took trains to get to planes at major airports.


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Changes coming to NCI website

Over the next two weeks or so, NCI will be making some behind-the-scenes changes and improvements to its web site. The changes will be generally transparent to readers as we acquire additional bandwidth and storage space due to the increasing demands on our site, and Destination:Freedom in particular.

During the transition, there may be an occasional “hiccup” that may persist for a day or two, but for the most part, things will run smoothly thanks to our hosts at 1Host.com systems.

Should anyone run into a problem please contact me at webmaster@nationalcorridors.org.

Dennis Kirkpatrick
NCI Webmaster


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New York wants trains back;
accused Amtrak of stealing

New York State Transportation Commissioner Joseph Boardman accused Amtrak last week of hijacking three high-speed trains that are at the center of a legal battle between the state and the rail service – and by Thursday, Amtrak argued in federal court a $185 million high-speed rail contract between Amtrak and the state should be declared legally dead.

“Somebody stole my trains, and I want them back,” fumed Boardman. “These are our trains. We paid for them, we have title.”

Boardman went a step further, suggesting it was time to start looking at other options for providing passenger rail service within New York. He even put in a call to Amtrak CEO David Gunn on Wednesday to vent.

“We own these trains. We want them back,” Boardman said. “David Gunn can’t steal them and put them in mothballs.”

Albany Times-Union staff writer Cathy Woodruff reported on September 23 Boardman’s railing failed to get a rise out of Amtrak officials. Instead, a spokesman pointed to a letter the railroad sent to the DOT on September 13 assuring that “since these train sets are not in operation and pending the resolution of our disputes regarding operation of the Turboliner train sets, Amtrak will continue to maintain the safe keeping of the Turboliner train sets in its possession.”

Amtrak towed the three trains out of Rensselaer late Tuesday for storage in Delaware, setting off the latest skirmish between the NYDOT and Amtrak over an ambitious plan that was to shave 20 minutes or more off the trip between Rensselaer and New York City, putting it close to two hours.

The trains, 1970s-era Turboliners that were rebuilt as part of a $185 million high-speed rail agreement, are among the few tangible remnants of the now-foundering program announced with much fanfare by Gov. George Pataki six years ago.

Track improvements that were supposed to enable the trains to operate at their top cruising speeds of 125 mph have not been made, and only three of the seven Turboliners originally tapped for the project have been completed and delivered to Amtrak.

Amtrak stopped using the Turbos, even on limited runs, in June because of faulty air conditioning. Last month, NYDOT filed a federal lawsuit seeking to force Amtrak to deliver on its part of the rail agreement or pay the state $477 million in damages.

Ownership of the Turboliners is one issue in dispute.

Purchased by Amtrak about 30 years ago after they were manufactured in California, the trains were sidelined for years before New York officials tapped them for the high-speed rail project.

New York taxpayers have paid for much of the rebuilding of the trains at Super Steel Schenectady, and the locomotives bear the state seal. However, in an unusual twist, the rail contract called for the state to take ownership of the trains only when Amtrak fully accepted them as satisfactory for regular service.

Boardman said he will ask the state attorney general to take legal action to force the Turboliners’ return to the region.

Meanwhile, Boardman said Amtrak’s days of shuttling passengers around the state may be numbered.

“I don’t think this is fair treatment,” he said. “I think we need to have a whole different intercity passenger rail service in New York State. We’re not being served by Amtrak.”

The commissioner said he is not ready to say precisely who should operate passenger trains within the state, but he said state leaders “from Maryland to Maine” are interested in an alternative to Amtrak.

He did not rule out the possibility of New York using the Turboliners as the core of a new state-run fleet.

“We run the Long Island Rail Road, we run Metro-North Railroad,” he said, pointing to two operations of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “We know how to run railroads. There are other options… I think we need something new. I don’t know what that something new is, yet.”

On Friday, the newspaper reported Amtrak’s response to a lawsuit filed last month by NYDOT is the strongest statement yet that Amtrak doesn’t believe it is possible to salvage any portion of the ambitious plan that was to cut the trip from Rensselaer to New York City by 20 minutes, to 2 hours. Amtrak officials said in December that they were “unable to participate in the high-speed rail agreement as originally conceived,” and had been warning the DOT of their doubts for more than a year.

Amtrak officials declined to comment Thursday beyond their legal response to the state DOT’s suit.


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IRS loses:

Amtrak wins a tax fight

Big News Network.com of Australia September 23

A federal judge in Washington on Wednesday ruled the Internal Revenue Service could not unilaterally impose a tax on toll-free phone calls to Amtrak.

Amtrak paid more than $82,000 to the IRS for the first quarter of 2002 on the toll-free calls to the train service, which customers can make from anywhere in the U.S. and its territories.

So far, the IRS has not responded to Amtrak’s request for a refund.

A 1965 section of the U.S. Code imposes a 3 percent excise tax on communications services, including telephone service, but the code exempts toll-free telephone service.

The IRS pointed to the legislative history behind the section’s passage as possibly allowing the Amtrak tax, since the toll-free service is a relatively new development – but the judge disagreed. Finding that Congress meant what it plainly said in 1965, the judge ruled, the court concludes that only Congress, and not the IRS on its own, may update the statutory text.


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Amtrak helps injured workers recover

It is not often that employers are proud to boast of successful job placements outside their company, but for Amtrak, such placements are becoming standard practice as part of its innovative “Right Care... Day One” program that keeps injured workers active while recovering from an occupational injury or illness.

By placing recovering employees in volunteer positions with nonprofit organizations, Amtrak is providing much needed help to cash-strapped groups while helping its own employees get back on track to regular duty faster, according to Managed Care Advisors, Inc. (MCA), consultants on the program. The company reported its findings in a September 22 press release.

The initiative helps Amtrak and other like-minded companies get a handle on the runaway train that is workers’ compensation costs. According to the National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI), $49.4 billion were paid out in workers’ compensation benefits in 2001 alone. Since bringing this program on board, Amtrak reports it has reduced its lost time days – the amount of time an injured employee is unable to work – by 51 percent.

In 1999, Amtrak was seeking ways to manage its on-duty injury program. The company retained MCA, a woman-owned consulting firm that specializes in public programs, workers’ compensation and employee health benefits, to help develop and manage the initiative.

“Amtrak has consistently maintained an impressive return-on-investment through the program,” said MCA President Lisa Firestone.

“It has helped the company control costs, accelerate employee recovery time and improve morale.”

Piloted by Amtrak, Right Care... Day One is now a nationwide model for a successful return-to-work program.

If an employee sustains an on-duty injury or illness, he or she receives the best care possible, from first report of injury to a successful return to work. When a return to a position within Amtrak is not feasible in the short-term, a placement with a nonprofit agency helps an injured employee stay connected, keep a routine, and maintain a sense of self-worth and productivity. During work with nonprofits, Amtrak pays employees their regular earnings.

Incentives for an expedited return to work are many. A Florida Partnership for Safety and Health (FPSH) study shows that the longer employees are out of work, the less likely they are to return to work.

Of employees off work longer than six months, only half return to their jobs. That figure drops to 10 percent for those off work more than a year. According to an article entitled “Workers’ Compensation: Avoiding Work-Related Disability” in The Orthopaedic Forum, patients with extended disability suffer depression, are less motivated, and have less favorable medical outcomes than those of employees who participate in early-return-to-work programs. The American Occupational Medical Assn.’s Committee on Practice contends that early return to work enhances both psychological and physical recovery, according to a FPSH Return to Work manual.

The partnership is a boon for nonprofit agencies, with one director of volunteers noting, “What an outstanding and forward thing for a company to do, encouraging public service. Long term care and rehabilitation facilities are extremely taxed with nursing shortages and reductions in federal reimbursement.”

Another agency liaison noted, “The enthusiasm and efficient manner of our volunteer was exemplary, exceeding that of some of our regular employees.” The response from employees has been equally positive. Once bitten by the public service bug, many employees have continued to volunteer with the agencies after returning to their regular duties at Amtrak.”


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California writes bold plan
to create fast train lines

A California state agency has started considering routes for a multibillion dollar, high-speed rail network that would link the Golden State’s major cities, including an option that would initially exclude Los Angeles International Airport.

The 700-mile system, with 200 mph-plus trains, would cost $33 billion to $37 billion and carry as many as 68 million passengers a year by 2020, according to the draft environmental impact report released in January.

The California High Speed Rail Authority board, meeting in Los Angeles last week, heard arguments over what routes would best serve the state’s transit needs, The AP reported on September 23.

The network should not initially include direct service to Los Angeles International Airport and should consider Altamont Pass as a route between San Francisco Bay and the Central Valley, rail authority staff recommended to board members.

The system should also go through the high desert city of Palmdale as it runs between the Central Valley and the Los Angeles basin.

The board informally endorsed those recommendations. A final vote is expected November 10 in Sacramento after review of extensive public comments.

The sharpest debate over the project has centered on how to get the trains through coastal mountains to the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas. Planners initially favored a southerly San Francisco Bay route out of San Jose instead of following Interstate 580 through Altamont Pass to Merced in the Central Valley.

The authority, in the first of two board meetings in which it will present recommendations on station stops and alignment, deferred recommending a route through the contentious area. It suggested, however, that the next version of the environmental impact review of that segment consider routing options between the Pacheco Pass Corridor to the south and the Altamont Pass to the north.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) signed legislation September 21 that includes $2.5 million for the High Speed Rail Authority and the San Francisco Bay area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission to study the best way for high-speed trains to move between that region and the Central Valley.

Ezra Rapport, an aide to state Sen. Don Perata (D) said the MTC was included in the study to make sure that Altamont Pass was given “equal footing to other alternatives.“

The northern mountain crossing involves getting around – or through – the Diablo Range mountains separating the Central Valley from San Francisco Bay.

“This is one of the most difficult geographic features encountered by the proposed system and is an area of controversy,“ rail staff said in their report.

Other staff recommendations included following the Amtrak Surf Line corridor from Los Angeles’ Union Station to Irvine in Orange County. Another recommendation was to not consider a Los Banos station because of low intercity ridership projections for the site, limited accessibility and potential impacts to water resources and threatened and endangered species.

Other ideas included not considering rail options cutting through Henry Coe State Park, which includes the Orestimba State Wilderness Preserve, and routing through the Soledad Canyon Corridor in Antelope Valley with a station at Palmdale for crossing from the Central Valley into Southern California, instead of aligning the tracks with Interstate 5. The report states the Antelope Valley option would have fewer potential environmental impacts and would not go through major parks.

Funding for the rail project is uncertain. The 2,000-page environmental report is under review and significant changes are expected. Staff estimated, however, that service would not begin before 2013 at the earliest.

On November 3 the rail authority staff is scheduled to present recommendations on the segments from Sacramento to Bakersfield, San Francisco to San Jose, Oakland to San Jose and Los Angeles to San Diego.


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Georgia rail picks up steam

After years of trying to get workers shuttled by trains instead of cars, Georgia rail advocates are beginning to see their efforts roll forward.

State officials hope to have commuter service running south of Atlanta by fall of 2006, and if that foray into passenger rail gets on track, another route to Athens could be next, reports the Florida Times-Union of September 13.

Despite long-term plans to crisscross the state with passenger cars, connecting Savannah to Macon and Augusta to Atlanta, the state’s rail program has yet to see tangible progress, but negotiations began this year with Norfolk Southern Corp. to use the company’s freight railroads for passenger trains along a 26-mile route from Atlanta to Lovejoy in Clayton County. The $106 million project already has its funding in place from state and federal sources.

Besides an eventual extension of the Lovejoy line to Macon, the program’s next stop could be daily runs on 72 route miles between Athens and Atlanta.

A capacity study will start this year on the Athens path so officials can better understand how passenger trains would fit on CSX Corp.’s freight lines along the route, said Hal Wilson, administrator of the Georgia DOT’s intermodal programs.

The route is estimated to cost $388 million but would carry enough passengers on its six daily runs to equal the capacity of adding an extra lane in both directions of Interstate 85, according to the Georgia DOT. Actually adding the lanes the whole way would cost about $3 billion, according to some rough estimates.

About $115 million in federal transportation money has been earmarked for the project, along with $2 million in state taxpayer money.

Wilson said the connection from downtown Atlanta, where a terminal station is being proposed, to points including Emory Univ., Lawrenceville, Bogart and Athens, is considered high on the priority list because of studies that looked at numbers of likely riders and the ability to ease road congestion.

Some rail proponents are wary after years of observing weak state support for paying for the rail network’s construction and operating needs.

“We’ve been talking about these things well over 10 years,” said Steve Vogel, president of the Georgia Association of Railroad Passengers.

“I think it’s very important for that [Lovejoy] line to be successful so that the other lines, the Athens one in particular, can get more attention.”

He said support from most state legislators outside the traffic-heavy Atlanta area and from recent governors has been lukewarm at best for the Georgia rail passenger program, which outlines plans to build seven commuter rail lines in a web extending from Atlanta – and seven intercity routes on Amtrak lines to tie together the rest of the state. It touts a number of the benefits passenger rail service would provide the state, such as removing 750,000 vehicles a day from Atlanta roads by 2015 and saving those who continue to drive an estimated $625 million a year in time not wasted in traffic congestion.

The program also estimates that it will cost $2.1 billion in construction costs for the Atlanta station and the commuter lines, which would be eligible for partial federal funding. The intercity routes would cost $1.3 billion, borne entirely by state and local taxpayers.

“The problem is money,” said state Rep. Paul Smith (D), who is chairman of the House Transportation Committee. “I don’t see a lot of money available for rails anytime soon unless we were to change our tax structure that would bring in more money and allow rails and rapid transit to be included in the transportation budget to a larger degree.”

State funding cuts are affecting several agencies, from the university system to Medicaid services, so legislators are unwilling to call for massive investment now in the rail program.

“We’ve got to do some alternative things, I think, in the future to relieve congestion,” said state Sen. Brian Kemp (R). “How we pay for them is going to be another matter that we have to look at in the state. The funding part is what’s so tough.”


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

SEPTA in budget crunch – again

Citing scant time this year to overhaul transit funding, Pennsylvania legislators probing a takeover of SEPTA and the Philadelphia International Airport said yesterday that a short-term fix likely would avert deep transit cuts on January 1.

“We have to do something so SEPTA can operate, but it will likely be stop-gap funding,” state Rep. Robert Donatucci (D) said in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer after a public hearing by the state House panel at SEPTA headquarters. “No way is there going to be a shutdown,” he said.

SEPTA leadership repeated its dramatic threat to downsize at the beginning of the year. Without state action, weekend transit service will end, fares will rise 25 percent and up to 600 SEPTA workers will lose their jobs to alleviate a $62 million budget gap, transit agency board Chairman Pasquale “Pat” Deon said.

“It will be catastrophic. This is a real issue and this will happen in January,” Deon said.

The legislature will not take up a long-term funding solution, Donatucci said, until lawmakers return to Harrisburg in January after the holidays.

After the November 2 general election, Gov. Ed Rendell and state legislators will have until the November 30 holiday recess to come up with a short-term fix to forestall deep cuts at SEPTA, Pittsburgh’s Port Authority, and dozens of other transit agencies across the commonwealth.

Two bills in the legislature would shift more sales-tax revenue to transit agencies and stabilize transit-agency budgets. If approved before November 30, that legislation would end SEPTA’s decades-long cycle of annual fiscal crises, Deon said.

“This is a fix for us. This gives us seven to 10 years,” Deon said, adding that rising health-care costs make it difficult to forecast SEPTA’s costs beyond then.


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M-N slips in a service rating

Metro-North riders on the New Haven line are increasingly dissatisfied with train service compared with their fellow commuters on the railroad’s Hudson and Harlem lines, according to a recent M-N poll, and reported by The Stamford Advocate on September 16.

Most peak and off-peak riders – 87 percent – on the New Haven line said they were satisfied with overall train service, compared with 95 percent of customers on the Harlem line and 93 percent on the Hudson line, according to a semi-annual customer satisfaction survey conducted in May.

Average customer satisfaction on all three lines combined, however, has dropped slightly from 93 percent to 91 percent, according to the survey.

Satisfaction on the New Haven line is down three points from the October 2003 report.

The poll sought customer feedback in seven categories, including boarding station, on-time performance, train schedules, train conditions, courtesy and responsiveness of employees, communication and Grand Central Terminal.

Numbers were down in five of the seven categories. Satisfaction with conditions on the train was particularly targeted by the commuters, receiving a satisfaction level of 81 percent compared with 89 percent last October. About 21 percent of commuters thought the railroad had gotten worse in the past year compared with 13 percent in October who said the railroad had deteriorated.

Among New Haven line riders, 77 percent were satisfied with train conditions.

The declines in satisfaction were caused by the effects of the miserable winter that knocked out a significant portion of Metro-North’s fleet and disrupted service, the report said. Because of frazzled electrical components, many trains were late, canceled and overcrowded during that period.

Metro-North tried to see the positive in the report.

“Overall, we’re pleased that 90 percent are satisfied, but we can understand where the customers on the New Haven line are unhappy,” said Metro-North spokesman Dan Brucker.

Until the state replaces the New Haven line’s aging fleet with newer, better-designed cars, those numbers will continue to slide, said Jim Cameron, vice chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council. The current railcars are 30 years old, 10 years past their life expectancy.

“It’s all about the perception of the trains. They were worn out five years ago,” Cameron said. “There is a lingering anger for what happened last winter. We will never let them forget that.”

While New York State has put into service new M7 cars on the Hudson and Harlem lines, Connecticut’s DOT predicted it would not be able to import any new cars until at least 2010.

In the meantime, the state is working on acquiring 33 used cars from the Virginia Railway Express, which will enable it to transfer 10-year-old cars from the Shoreline East line to the New Haven line, and is spending $150 million to rehabilitate older cars in the existing fleet.

“We’re addressing these problems, but it takes time,” said Harry Harris, chief of the DOT’s Bureau of Public Transportation. “We’re doing things to improve the trains and hopefully that should improve customer perspective,” but mistakes by past state administrations have left a bitter impression, Cameron said.

“It was the state that decided not to replace the cars 10 years ago,” he said. “I always tell commuters it’s not the conductor, it’s not the ticket seller, it’s not even the Metro-North president. It’s the state.”


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Consultants to look at Schaumburg ideas

Schaumburg, Ill., officials learned on September 21 that all four consultants hired by Metra to help build a new STAR line rail service are aboard.

Transportation director June Johnson said the consultants will spend the next 12 to 18 months focusing on one of four different tasks, which are creating an environmental analysis, ridership analysis, project management plan and finance plan. The consultants will work on various Metra projects and not just the STAR line, the Schaumburg Daily Herald reported on September 22.

Johnson gave the village board the update. Metra also hired Res Publica Group of Chicago to coordinate communication and marketing efforts, Johnson said.

The STAR line, or Suburban Transit Access Route, would cost $1.2 billion to build and run 55 miles. It’s estimated to take about 10 years to build and would carry passengers along the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Ry. from Joliet to Hoffman Estates. The line would continue east to O’Hare International Airport along a segment built along the median of the Northwest Tollway.

The next meeting with Metra and affected towns will be held in downtown Chicago on October 28, and municipal officials will be able to meet the consultants and ask questions about the project.

“I’d like to get an idea of what their schedule is, their timeline,” Johnson said. Another unknown is exactly where a Schaumburg station would be located. Johnson said Schaumburg and Rolling Meadows would share a stop somewhere near the soon-to-be-built convention center.


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APTA HIGHLIGHTS...  APTA Highlights...

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


Everett, Wash., Voters Approve Sales Tax Increase

Voters in Everett, Wash., supported a sales tax increase that will double Everett Transit’s share of the local sales tax, from 0.3 percent to 0.6 percent. Unofficial totals from the September 14 vote show 56 percent (5,400 votes) in favor of the measure, and 44 percent (4,175 votes) opposed.

With this tax increase, the total sales tax in Everett will increase from the current 8.3 percent to 8.6 percent.

The increase is Everett Transit’s first since 1978, when voters approved the original 0.3 percent sales tax. The transit system had warned before the election that it would have to cut service by 9 percent from its current level if voters rejected the tax referendum. Everett Transit cut service by 14 percent last year.


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Kujawa Retiring from Milwaukee County Transit System

Thomas P. Kujawa, long-time managing director of the Milwaukee County Transit System in Milwaukee has announced his retirement, effective November 1.

On November 2, Kenneth J. Warren, currently MCTS deputy managing director and vice president of Milwaukee Transport Services Inc., will assume the responsibilities for the administration and management of the transit system.

Kujawa, who has led MCTS since 1985, also serves as president of MTS Inc., a private, not-for-profit management company that operates MCTS under contract to Milwaukee County.

Kujawa joined MCTS in 1981 as executive assistant and was promoted to vice president of public and employee relations in 1983. Prior to joining MCTS, he served as a member of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors from 1976 to 1981, where he was chairman of the Finance and Mass Transit committees.


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Barnes Leaves COTA for Miami-Dade; Lhota Joins COTA

Ronald L. Barnes, president and chief executive officer of the Central Ohio Transit Authority in Columbus, stepped down from that post effective September 6. He has joined Miami-Dade Transit, effective September 20, as deputy director of operations, with responsibility for Metrobus and Metrorail operations and maintenance, customer service, field engineering, and systems maintenance.

COTA has named William J. Lhota, who retired from American Electric Power in 2001 as president of energy delivery, as its new president and CEO. The COTA board approved a 15-month contract with Lhota, with an option to renew for two years.

Barnes currently serves as APTA vice chair-bus and paratransit operations. He is on the slate of officers as first vice chair for election at the 2004 Annual Meeting in Atlanta. He joined COTA in 1997, after serving the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority since 1989 as deputy general manager.


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Balcones Heights, Texas, Votes to Retain VIA Service

By a preliminary margin of 226 votes in favor and 49 opposed, residents of Balcones Heights, Texas, voted September 11 to remain in the VIA Metropolitan Transit service area. The city in the San Antonio suburbs covers one square mile. According to published reports, the VIA vote brought out a larger turnout than the city’s mayoral election in May.

Balcones Heights funds VIA with a half-cent sales tax that raises about $500,000 annually. The city straddles VIA’s busiest bus corridor, and sits next to the busiest highway junction in the region.


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

UP installs locomotive cameras

Union Pacific reported on September 20 it is installing digital cameras and microphones on its locomotives to record every trip for accident investigation purposes in the event of incidents.

UP will install “Track Image Recorders” (TIR) “to verify train crew and motorist-pedestrian actions in accidents,” the company stated in a press release.

The TIR “will be linked to the locomotive’s existing event recorder so each trip can be duplicated in detail with the sound of the locomotive’s air horn and crossing bell and pictures of the track ahead of the locomotives,” UP spokesman John Bromley explained.

“Depending on the model, event recorders record speeds, throttle and brake settings, electrical power levels and horn use. The TIR image file and the event recorder data will be time synchronized,” according to Bromley.

The small cameras will be mounted inside the locomotive cab at the top of the engineer’s windshield, looking down the track in front of the locomotive. A microphone will be mounted outside to record the locomotive’s air horn. The video image disk, which can record up to five days, will be retained onboard each locomotive in a lockbox, accessible only to authorized personnel for review.

The railroad anticipates that the first phase of retrofitting locomotives will be completed by the end of next year. Emphasis will be on “over-the-road” locomotives that pull trains between cities, Bromley said.


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UP again named a top firm for working moms

Union Pacific stated on September 21 that it has again been named one of the nation’s 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers. Working Mother magazine, which released its 19th annual list of the “100 Best Companies for Working Mothers,” has included North America’s largest railroad for the third time in four years.

“We are thrilled Working Mother has again named us to its prestigious list,” said Barb Schaefer, senior vice president of Human Resources for Union Pacific. “The honor comes at a very important time for us. We are in the midst of a very aggressive hiring campaign, and this recognition supports our work to offer benefits that help us recruit and retain the best employees.”

Union Pacific plans to hire more than 6,500 employees by the end of 2004 and is making every effort to create an environment that will attract and keep women. Compensation, advancement, flexibility, childcare, parental leave and work/life balance are all high priorities.

Union Pacific is a 24/7 operation, moving materials essential to the nation’s well being. To keep material moving, the railroad takes special steps to take care of its employees.


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Timken field-tests new bearings

Timken said last week it is supplying its “Timken Guardian” bearing and a generator bearing in a field-testing demonstration project for the FRA.

Its “intelligent wireless sensor technology” and a generator bearing is the “next generation of rail bearing products,” said Mathew W. Happach, Timken’s president for rail, on September 20.

He added, “It offers significant safety and productivity advantages to the railroad industry, and will allow for continuous inspection of the railways by monitoring wheel impacts due to wheel or track irregularities.”

The firm’s new bearing “can detect temperature, vibration and wheel rotational speed, all critical factors to the success of railroad bearings and wheels. The Timken generator bearing contains an integrated electrical power generator that will provide a charge for the battery system on-board the train,” the company stated in a press release.

Timken’s chief rail engineer, David G. Toth, said, “The sensing system located inside the intelligent wireless bearing sends radio frequency transmissions of data to a receiver on the car. The receiver can be powered by the generator bearing, and can either store data or network with on-board or off-site computers for future analysis.”


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Rail intermodal sets another record

Intermodal traffic on U.S. railroads set a record during the week ended September 18, breaking a record that had been set just three weeks earlier, the AAR reported Thursday.

Intermodal volume totaled 229,039 trailers and containers, up 13.1 percent from the corresponding week last year and 1.3 percent more than the 226,074 moved during the week ended August 28 when the previous record was set. The 16 busiest weeks in history for rail intermodal traffic have all occurred over the past 21 weeks.

Carload freight, which doesn’t include the intermodal data, totaled 346,007 units, up 0.9 percent from last year. Carload volume was up 4.0 percent in the West but down 3.1 percent in the East. Total volume was estimated at 31.3 billion ton-miles, up 1.3 percent from last year.

Loadings of nine out of 19 carload commodities were up from last year, with metallic ores up 16.1 percent; metals up 14.7 percent; and coke up 6.2 percent. Among commodities registering declines were primary forest products down 16.9 percent; farm products other than grain down 16.9 percent; and non-metallic minerals down 14.0 percent.

The AAR also reported the following cumulative totals for U.S. railroads during the first 37 weeks of 2004: 12,398,702 carloads, up 3.2 percent from last year; intermodal volume of 7,685,763 trailers or containers, up 9.5 percent; and total volume of an estimated 1.120 trillion ton-miles, up 4.3 percent from last year’s first 37 weeks.

On Canadian railroads, during the week ended September 18 carload traffic totaled 68,708 cars, up 3.5 percent from last year while intermodal volume totaled 43,905 trailers or containers, up 7.1 percent from last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 37 weeks of 2004 on the Canadian railroads totaled 2,463,801 carloads, up 8.4 percent from last year, and 1,536,503 trailers and containers, up 0.1 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 37 weeks of 2004 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 14,862,503 carloads, up 4.0 percent from last year and 9,222,266 trailers and containers, up 7.8 percent from last year.

The AAR also reported that originated carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended September 18 totaled 8,795 cars, up 17.2 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 3,027 originated trailers or containers, up 8.5 percent from the 37th week of 2003. For the first 37 weeks of 2004, TFM reported cumulative originated volume of 318,208 cars, up 1.6 percent from last year, and 134,934 trailers or containers, up 3.8 percent.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 88 percent of U.S. carload freight and 95 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 95 percent and 100 percent. The Canadian railroads reporting to the AAR account for 90 percent of Canadian rail traffic. Railroads provide more than 40 percent of U.S. intercity freight transportation, more than any other mode, and rail traffic figures are regarded as an important economic indicator.

The AAR is online at www.aar.org.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: CBSMarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)37.9437.59
Canadian National (CNI)47.7447.35
Canadian Pacific (CP) 25.2825.00
CSX (CSX)34.1033.68
Florida East Coast (FLA)37.7538.85
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)24.8323.07
Kansas City Southern (KSU)14.4915.00
Norfolk Southern (NSC)29.3929.44
Providence & Worcester (PWX)10.7210.61
Union Pacific (UNP)59.2059.26


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WE GET LETTERS...  We get letters...

Dear Editor:

I’m responding to Mr. Kovaleski’s letter to the editor in your September 13 edition, where he discusses being upset over Amtrak’s fight for survival, and not having seen raises in the previous five years.

I can relate to this. Tens of thousands of workers in the airline industry have been working under similar conditions. Combined with work rule changes, reduced health and retirement benefits and reductions in work force, airline employees have seen their income reduced since 2001.

Non-pilots have seen pay cuts ranging from 5 percent to 18 percent, and usually without adjustments for cost of living increases. Pilots have seen cuts of 25 percent and higher.

Unfortunately, many of our existing union work rules and pay expectations date back to a highly regulated environment, when prices were fixed and profits guaranteed. That’s not the case any longer. It hasn’t been for over 20 years.

If Amtrak is going to compete effectively, they have no choice but to reduce costs, including labor, and to increase revenue. It will never be successful unless both of these occur.

Airline employee
Fort Worth, Texas


Dear Editor:

In the North Carolina story you should not have reprinted the Fayetteville Observer’s headline about “commuter rail.” What NCDOT is planning here is not commuter service. It’s a 145-mile intercity corridor which will have only one or two round trips per day – too few for a commuter operation.

Depending on the schedule, some Fayettevillians might be able to use it for a rail commute to a job in Raleigh, but not many. This corridor is really designed for the end points – Raleigh and Wilmington. I find that small-town papers frequently mistake intercity rail for commuter rail—probably because intercity trains are so rare they think the only kind of passenger trains left are commuter trains. “Commuter” and “passenger” are synonymous.

Fritz Plous
Chicago


Dear Editor:

My letter is about getting Amtrak to make the Coast Starlate” (Starlight) to stop in Van Nuys, Cal. This station is one of Amtrak’s busiest stations in the Southern California Area. It is also one of a few fully staffed stations that Amtrak has in California on a daily basis.

All of Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner trains and buses along with the San Joaquin’s Thruway Bus Service also stop here – but not the Coast Starlight.

One reason is because, an Amtrak person said, “We already stop in Los Angeles. We don’t need to stop at Van Nuys,” which is about 20-plus miles from Downtown LA.

The only other stops in the Southern California area are Glendale and Simi Valley. Both stations are unstaffed, and are somewhat out of the way for people living in and around the San Fernando Valley Region.

Neither station, in my opinion, has the best location to get to within 20 minutes from any part of the Valley. It is about 25 or so minutes from Univ. of California at Los Angeles and the Getty Center Museum.

The station is also on a busy, major street in the Valley, and is one mile from a major freeway, but Amtrak is missing out on this, because the San Fernando Valley is a big gold mine just waiting to be tapped.

We need to get Amtrak to see this. Can anyone here help me out on this? I would love to see this happen.

Jerry Martin-Kosis
Van Nuys


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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 crew at leoking@nationalcorridors.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write.

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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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