Vol. 1 No. 24, October 2, 2000
Copyright © 2000, NCI, Inc.
James P. RePass, President
Leo King, Editor
Editor's note - In an effort to expand the on-line experience at the National Corridors Initiative web site, we are planning a page where we will feature links to other rail travel sites.
We hope to provide links to those cities or states that are working on rail transportation initiatives - state DOTs, legislators, governor's offices, and transportation professionals - as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists.
If you have a favorite rail link, please send the uniform resource locator address (URL) to the webmaster in care of this web site. An e-mail link appears at the bottom of the NCI web site pages to get in touch with D. M. Kirkpatrick, NCI's Site Webmaster in Boston.
NCI: Leo KingAcela Express trainsets are still awaiting FRA certification
Wins an award
Richard Remington, Amtrak's spokesman in Philadelphia for the Northeast Corridor, told Destination: Freedom on Wednesday, "We are in the final stages of gaining FRA approval and of deciding a launch date. Until Bombardier delivers a trainset, we will not announce a date."
The trains remain testing in New England and the rest of the Northeast corridor, and railroaders themselves, in the field, are paying close attention to what is going on. For example, Amtrak Conductor-Flagman Brian Radovitch described what it's like to see the Acela Express in action.
He wrote, on a mid-September day, "Today had to be one of the most exciting days I've ever had on the railroad. This afternoon, the Amtrak Midland Dispatcher started notifying work crews along the line that the Acela test train was leaving eastbound from Providence for Boston.
"I was flagging for a J.F. White crew of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers linemen doing finishing work on the catenary foundations. We were working between Mansfield and East Foxboro, around milepost 207 or so.
"The Boston Chief [dispatcher] then got on line and made another announcement or two to people working along the right of way that the "Acela test extra was by South Attleboro and flying."
"You could feel the sense of anticipation and excitement around the railroad. Then the Midland Dispatcher got on the radio and told the test train they had and 'an absolute block' on track 2 from Boro Interlocking (Attleboro) to Cove (Back Bay). He was basically telling the crew that it was their very own railroad, right into town, like one big bowling alley!
"Just moments later we heard the train blowing for Mansfield Station and the crew I was with really got excited. Many of them had been on this construction project since the beginning, and they were now going to see the fruits of their labor.
"The train flew around the curve just west of us at East Foxboro, horns blasting and lights a-flashing, and then it was gone. I must say, I have never seen anything so big move so fast in my life. The guys I was working with just stood there with their jaws dropped. One lineman simply remarked, 'Mother of God.'
"It was a very proud moment for me, and I had been looking forward to it for some time. Too bad Senator McCain or Mr. Vranich couldn't have joined us. It was amazing, indeed.
"When the train passed, the entire catenary system on both tracks shook violently for a good 20 to 30 seconds. That made me a bit nervous because we do not see that when the AEM-7-led trains pass, even at 90 or 100 mph."
Despite gripes about Amtrak and high-speed rail [see Wes Vernon's story, which follows - Ed.], Amtrak, as a corporation, is beginning to win praise from its civil engineering peers.
The Northeast Corridor high-speed rail project recently won the American rail industry's top engineering award for excellence.
Presented by the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association (AREMA) in Dallas, the Hay Award for Excellence recognizes outstanding achievements in railway engineering that promote innovation, safety, performance and reliability. The award was presented at AREMA's annual technical conference.
Amtrak was presented the award for its Northeast Corridor infrastructure improvement work, including the reconstruction and electrification of the line between New Haven and Boston. The reconstruction work included 140 miles of continuous welded rail installed atop 330,000 concrete ties, a new signal system, 57 new bridges and five high-speed crossovers. The electrification project required drilling 14,000 foundations, installing 12,500 catenary poles, and stringing more than five million feet of wire along the 156-mile route.
Amtrak's Philadelphia spokesman, Rick Remington, said, "The construction and electrification work had to be staged to minimize disruption to Amtrak service and commuter service operated by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), and Shoreline East commuter rail line in Connecticut. As many as four work zones along the New Haven to Boston route were out of service at any one time."
Remington also pointed out that "At 62 locations, bridges were raised, tracks were lowered or bridges were removed entirely to create the necessary clearance for the electrification system. Another 57 open deck bridges were converted to ballasted deck bridges to enable trains to cross at 90 mph speeds or higher. Several pedestrian overpasses were constructed as a safety measure."
The carrier's chief engineer, Alison Conway-Smith, said, "Transforming a railroad that originated in the 1830s into a high-speed corridor capable of supporting 150 mph train service was truly a monumental feat. This project tested every discipline of Amtrak's engineering forces and each proved up the challenge. We are gratified with the recognition bestowed by the Hay Award."
|High-speed rail measure survives hits|
The bill to provide bonding authority to build high-speed rail networks around the country survived a double-barreled attack on two Senate fronts last week: one from inside the Finance Committee where efforts were made to kill it, and from the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee who accused sponsors of the bill, S.1900, of trying to undermine his committee's authority in Amtrak-related matters.
In the Senate Finance Committee, Chairman Bill Roth (R-Del.) and ranking committee Member Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) have discharged a "chairman's mark" version of the bill from the committee without a vote.
The measure, attached to the Community Renewal and New Markets Act, was discharged from the committee for two reasons. One was a flood of amendments that threatened to bog down the committee's work. Only one of those amendments dealt with the rail bond issue, and that was Texas Sen. Phil Gramm's proposal to strip the legislation of its pro-rail bond language. Kill it, in other words. A red-hot debate is expected in the Senate when it hits the floor, perhaps this week.
As of press time, Chairman Roth was seeking help from the Senate leadership to find a bill to which the bonding measure could be attached.
Supporters of the legislation had to accept an amendment by Sen. Max Baucus (D.-Mont.) stipulating that if Amtrak uses any other unauthorized funds from the Highway Trust Fund, its bonding privileges would be suspended for that year. NARP had warned its members that it might be necessary to accept this provision in the spirit of "compromise."
At last count, the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) claimed 56 sponsors of the bill in the Senate (a majority, but not enough to block a filibuster if one were mounted) and 162 in the house (impressive, but not a majority).
Earlier in the week, the Senate Commerce Committee attacked the bill at a hearing on Amtrak.
That panel's chairman, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) opened the session by questioning whether the 1997 Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act would be relevant if the "$10 billion funding scheme being pushed forward by the Senate Finance Committee" were to become law. McCain has referred to the High-Speed Rail bill as "another blank check for Amtrak."
"As Chairman of the authorizing committee," growled McCain, "I will not sit idly by for another committee to effectively nullify the 1997 reform legislation."
It was the 1997 bill that set the Sept. 30, 2002 target for Amtrak to become free of operating subsidies.
The legislation is silent on whether Amtrak can continue to expect capital or infrastructure subsidies after 2003, something enjoyed by the air and highway modes.
The committee chairman's opening statement left one with the impression this would be another hatchet job on Amtrak. But before it was all over, he seemed to admit, however gingerly or tentatively, that yes, we do need to do something to take the pressure off air and highway gridlock. This inspired NARP to tell its members the hearing "was actually more upbeat than the Associated Press indicated." Actually the AP report was so negative that Gloomy Gus himself would have been more "upbeat."
Though the hearing included constructive testimony by Amtrak chairman Tommy Thompson, Amtrak Reform Council Chairman Gilbert Carmichael, and Richmond, Va., Mayor Timothy Kaine, some key media outlets chose to emphasize the negatives (many of them stale and outdated) by McCain, GAO Analyst Phyllis Scheinberg, DOT Inspector General Kenneth Mead (to a lesser extent), and perennial Amtrak nemesis Joseph Vranich.
Thompson, whose day job is governor of Wisconsin, extended a cordial greeting to McCain, ignoring the latter's revisiting some of the "golden oldies" in his anti-Amtrak hall of fame.
Thompson said, "As a Republican, and as chairman of the Amtrak Board, I'd like to say how proud I am that two of our nation's most prominent Republicans ‚ yourself, Mr. Chairman, and Gov. George W. Bush of Texas ‚ were our guests this summer aboard Amtrak trains. We feel privileged to have hosted you..."
Among the golden oldies reiterated by the senator, McCain alluded to the original "profitability" target that was eliminated from the law way back in 1976. McCain harped on the original "promise" (AP's term) of Amtrak's becoming profitable in two years after its creation in 1971. Most legislative architects of the original Amtrak law regard this as "water over the dam," which is why it was stricken from the law. Congress came to regard the target as unrealistic; at least when you expect Amtrak to shoulder capital and operating costs, too.
As the ARC's Carmichael was to testify, air and highway modes, unlike rail, "are not entangled with huge infrastructure funding burdens." Such "infrastructure burdens" are publicly funded for roads and airways, whereas with rail, "neither local nor state governments nor the federal government have determined an institutional and financial solution for adding track and equipment capacity to provide an expanded system of intercity rail passenger service."
Thompson emphasized the point by taking issue with McCain's description of the bonding authority bill as "a bailout" for Amtrak.
"We do not need a bail-out, Mr. Chairman," said Thompson, "and that is why we are supporting the bill. What we do need is capital."
Noting that the measure provides capital funds for rail through "an innovative financing mechanism," Thompson said the mechanism requires state participation "through a match, just like the highway."
Thompson rejected charges by Vranich and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) that Amtrak's recently announced plan to expand train routes was calculated for maximum political effect.
"Truth be told," said the governor, "we are doing it to make money, pure and simple." Amtrak President George Warrington added that cuts in trains during his predecessor's regime [Thomas N. Downs] lost Amtrak more money than it saved.
As for statements by the GAO's Scheinberg and DOT-OIG Mead that Amtrak was losing more than expected, Thompson reminded the senators that under the 1997 act, "we were authorized about $925 million a year. We have been receiving about $521 million, a little over half of what the authorizers said we should have in order to be self-sufficient."
The history behind this is that the Clinton administration, while claiming to be friendly to Amtrak, reneged on its promise to push for the larger figure.
As to the outlook, Thompson, flatly declared, "I can assure you we will be on self-sufficiency (in operating funding) by the year 2003, fiscal year 2003."
He told DOT's Mead, who had questioned Amtrak's ability to do that, that Amtrak's new business plan will deal with suggestions made by the inspector general in his own testimony. The governor said the $737 million of expenses that Mead said should be cut could not be done without "radical reorganization... and coming back to Congress with two different requests for funds, one for the infrastructure and one for the operating company."
Amtrak Reform Council Chairman Gil Carmichael said nine of the eleven members of his ARC favor the bonding authority bill for high-speed rail. Labor's ARC representative Charley Moneypenny favored taking no stand. And the Clinton administration, formally represented by DOT Secretary Rodney Slater, but usually represented at ARC meetings by FRA Administrator Jolene Molitoris, had not yet worked out any position on the bill.
Carmichael said the ARC favors certain changes in the legislation.
Mead said the goals of the bonding bill could not be met without at least doubling the $10 billion to $20 billion. Phyllis Scheinberg of GAO called that "a low number."
Carmichael estimated his proposed "Interstate 2" system, consisting of about 20,000 miles of high-speed rail lines around the country, could cost "several hundred billions of dollars." When Mc Cain said he would need something more specific than that, Carmichael agreed, adding, "It is as big as the interstate (highway) system."
McCain said he wasn't sure the 1997 law would have been passed if the latest testimony before his committee had been given then, including hundreds of billions for Carmichael's Interstate 2, and 500 to 700 million for capital and infrastructure for X numbers of years.
The senator acknowledged Carmichael had made a good case for high-speed rail corridors to relieve congestion, adding that "anybody who has been on an airplane lately or has been stuck in (auto) traffic (recognizes) we need to have some kind of finite, definitive answer" to the problem.
Joe Vranich, who issued a press release describing him as "a high speed train advocate," said he was "embarrassed that I helped create Amtrak." He also asked rhetorical questions:
Senator Wyden's peevishness with Amtrak was prompted by the 1997 cancellation of "The Pioneer." Noting that Oregon was told by Amtrak to try to help out with state money, the Oregon lawmaker declared, "My constituents in Oregon pay a lot of dollars for a national rail system, and you folks are saying if they want rail service in Eastern Oregon, they ought to go out and have a bunch of bake sales and see if they can put it together."
Amtrak President and CEO George Warrington said if Amtrak can work with the states of Idaho and Oregon, "we have committed to look at all variations on a restored Pioneer."
Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) noted the irony that Japan, who the U.S. had defeated in World War II, now has a world-class railroad system, whereas the United States, the victor in that conflict, has allowed its railroad system to deteriorate.
McCain implied there is no Amtrak service in his state of Arizona. According to the current Amtrak timetable, Amtrak has three trains in Arizona - the Sunset Limited, the Southwest Chief, and the Texas Eagle. Arizona stops include Winslow, Flagstaff, Williams Junction (gateway to the Grand Canyon), Kingman, Yuma, Maricopa (near Phoenix), Tucson (with bus connections to Phoenix), and Benson.
In other legislative news, the Chicago Sun-Times reported Chicagoland rail commuters could get new stations, safer tracks and expanded service faster because House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) muscled through an astonishing $832 million deal last week.
Congress is completing plans to assure a federal funding stream for Metra and Chicago Transit Authority projects.
If the money bill becomes law, Metra would add more locomotives cars and to increase runs from 10 to 22 daily; North Central Service would expand by 55 miles from Union Station to Antioch; five new stations would be added at Grayslake, Rosemont, Schiller Park, Franklin Park, plus a transfer platform at Des Plaines; a second track would be added along much of route; and an updated signal system would be installed, all for $223 million.
Elsewhere, the Union Pacific West Line would run 35.5 miles from Northwestern Ogilvie Station to Geneva, track would be extended seven miles to Elburn, and a third track would be added. It would cost $127.9 million.
SouthWest Service runs 29 miles from Union Station to 179th Street in Orlando Park and would be extended 11 miles to Manhattan, runs would increase runs to 30 daily from 18, at a cost of $202 million.
The Metra environmental assessment studies are complete, the Sun-Times reported, but no finished design or engineering work is yet done. The target completion date is 2005.
The CTA would see its Blue Line (Douglas Branch) expanded to run 6.6 miles from downtown to Cermak, and reconstruct crumbling structures, for $550 million. The Brown Line (Ravenswood), which runs 9.3 miles from downtown to Kimball and Lawrence, would get platform extensions to handle eight-car trains. Design work is 60 percent complete, and it would cost $300 million.
|Senate Finance okays '60/30'|
The Senate Finance Committee has approved, and is sending to the full Senate, major legislation boosting benefits for railroad retirees. The senators accepted the House version (H.4844 - The Railroad Retirement and Improvement Act) in full, thus avoiding the necessity of sending the legislation back to the House for another vote. The House approval was an overwhelming 391-25.
If the measure becomes law, it would reduce retirement taxes for rail employees by allowing Railroad Retirement Trust Fund balances to be invested in a wide range of holdings. Currently, these trust funds can be invested only in U.S. government securities, providing a lower rate of return.
At the heart of the legislation is a so-called "60/30" provision allowing early retirement at age 60, with 30 years of service. Current law requires an employee to be age 62 before retiring.
The measure, which is backed by rail management and a sizeable majority of rail labor, would enable a surviving spouse to inherit a retiree&apost;s full pension. Current law allows a surviving spouse to inherit no more than 50 percent of the retiree&apost;s annuity.
On a vote of 7 to 5, the Senate committee beat back an amendment by Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) to yank the earlier retirement provision.
The Texas lawmaker argued that there was something unfair about lowering the retirement age for railroad workers at a time when Congress is raising the retirement age to 67, a few years down the road, for other retirees who rely on Social Security. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) responded that Gramm was "comparing apples to oranges," that the Railroad Retirement program involved "a different rate of return" than Social Security, and that there was a different set of "demographics" between the two. Moreover, Baucus and other senators noted that railroading was arduous and dangerous work.
The railroad industry would have greater responsibility for financing the cost of Railroad Retirement, as well as (quoting the Association of American Railroads) "the opportunity to increase its efficiency through improved investment earnings on Railroad Retirement assets."
It was this latter provision that caused a small dissident group in rail labor to oppose the bill. Despite the generous benefits to labor, the dissidents could not stomach the thought of any pension funds being used by the industry.
The United Transportation Union (UTU), which led the legislative effort on the labor side, told the dissidents, in effect, to get over the idea that anything that is good for management cannot possibly also be good for labor.
Railroad Retirement has two components - Tier 1, which is largely equivalent to Social Security, and tier 2, which provides additional benefits similar to those of a private pension. Benefits for both Tiers 1 and 2 are more generous than those provided by Social Security, and are funded primarily by Tier 2 taxes on employers and employees.
An AAR "position paper" describes the bill as a win/win because it "provides for improving benefits for rail employees, their families and their survivors, while lowering payroll taxes for both rail employers and employees".
Bombardier to build Las Vegas monorail
Bombardier Transportation reported last week it has signed a $200 million (U.S.) contract with the Las Vegas Monorail Co. to design and build a driverless, urban monorail transportation system east of Las Vegas Boulevard in the heart of the resort corridor.
Bombardier said, in a press release, it "will be responsible for the electrical and mechanical systems of the fully automated monorail line, including 36 'M-VI' monorail cars."
Bombardier will operate the system "for the first five years with an option for an additional ten years."
A five-year operations and maintenance contract also assigned to Bombardier will cost $56 million.
The total capital cost of the project is valued at $354 million.
Bombardier stated, "The design, build, and equip contract calls for Bombardier and consortium partner Granite Construction Co. to be responsible for the turnkey design, construction, and system-wide elements of the complete monorail system. Granite Construction will assume responsibility for civil works."
The monorail will link seven stations over four miles of elevated dual-monorail guideway, integrating the two existing stations and re-equipping the approximate mile of guideway of the MGM-Grand Bally's former monorail line. The 36-car monorail fleet, to be operated in nine 4-cars trains, will provide direct service to eight major resort properties and the Las Vegas convention center.
The line is expected to carry 19 million passengers the first year. Bombardier built a similar system for Walt Disney World in Orlando.
Riders should be aboard the Las Vegas line in 2004.
|Fall River line extension gets hearings|
Residents from Easton, Mass., and other communities traveled to Fall River last week to speak about the proposed Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) commuter rail extension to Fall River and New Bedford from Boston, and vowed to fight the proposal for "a long, long time," the Fall River The Herald News reported.
The proposed commuter rail line, which would provide Fall River, New Bedford and other area residents with train service to Boston through Stoughton, has many detractors north of Fall River; but those who regularly commute by bus or car say they have seen their share of traffic jams and they have had enough.
The rail line would give local residents a one-hour and 18-minute ride to the Bay State capital, but an environmentally sensitive area would have to be disturbed in the process, and opponents of the Stoughton rail route say the other options, through Attleboro, and via the Middleboro line, should be explored further.
Andrew D. Brennan, director of environmental affairs for the MBTA, said the Stoughton route is the primary option at this time because it would have greater ridership and be more cost effective. However, in the process it would affect six rare or threatened species and destroy nearly three acres of "high grade" wetlands.
All the testimony from each of eight hearings will be forwarded to state Secretary of Environmental Affairs Robert Durand, whose office will determine if all of the environmental impacts of the proposed Stoughton line have been addressed adequately in an environmental impact report by the MBTA.
There is an Oct. 23 public comment period deadline, and three more public hearings were scheduled, including two last week. One remains.
Oct. 2 - MBTA extension to Fall River from Boston. Public meeting in Stoughton Town Hall. Oct. 23 is public comment period deadline.
October 11 - "High-Speed Rail in the Midwest," 10:00 a.m.-11:30 a.m., Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, One IBM Plaza, 330 North Wabash, Suite 2800. Guest speaker is Amtrak's David J. Carol, vice-president for High-Speed Rail Corridor Development.
Can high-speed rail reduce traffic congestion, improve the environment, and act as a catalyst for economic development in the Midwest. For questions, contact Donovan Pepper, Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, (312) 494-6787; Mary DeBacker, Metropolitan Planning Council, (312) 922-5616 ext. 144; or Theresa Mintle, Chicago Metropolis 2020, (312) 332-8130.
For Destination: Freedom
Editor's note - Arnold G. Reinhold, now a Massachusetts resident, grew up in New York City. "I follow what is happening on the transit scene there. (I'm one of the few people who thinks the JFK Airtrain is a good idea)."
Here is an idea for a new stop on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor: an intermodal passenger terminal in the Southeast Bronx (SEBIPT). This terminal would be located in the Port Morris area around East 140th Street between the Northeast Corridor and the East River waterfront. It would include:
Additional options might include:
Port Morris is the closest point on the Northeast Corridor to LaGuardia Airport. It is approximately 2.1 statute miles (1.85 nautical miles or 3.4 km) by boat from Port Morris to the LGA Marine Air Terminal. The course runs roughly straight, passing west of South Brother Island and through Riker's Island Channel. The only overhead obstruction is the Riker's Island Bridge, which has a 52-foot vertical clearance.
NOAA Chart 12339_1, available on the Internet at http://mfproducts.nos.noaa.gov/images/Charts/12339_1.gif , shows the islands and watercourse.
Port Morris was once used for ferry service to Riker's Island. New York Waterway currently operates a ferry between Wall Street and LaGuardia Marine Air Terminal with stops at East 34th Street and 62nd Street. The scheduled time from 62nd Street to LGA, about four statute miles, is 10 minutes. This suggests a Port Morris to LaGuardia ferry, covering half the distance, should take only 5 or 6 minutes.
LaGuardia airport carried 22.8 million passengers in 1998, growing 5.7 percent over 1997. That was an average of 62,000 passengers per day. LaGuardia is the only one of the three major airports serving New York City that does not have a plan in place for mass transit access.
A parking garage would serve both commuters and travelers to LaGuardia. There are several other stations on the Northeast Corridor that feature large parking facilities just outside the urban center: New Carrollton, Md., Metropark, N.J., and Route 128, in Dedham, Mass. They are very popular with commuters and generally fill up each weekday morning. [Another is under construction in Warwick, R.I., and is collocated with an airport - Ed.]
The Route 128 railroad station was recently rebuilt with a new 4,000-car parking garage aimed at Acela passengers as well as commuters. Construction was funded by using bonds guaranteed by parking receipts and did not require MBTA funds. It might be possible to fund SEBIPT in a similar way. Most of the parking lots at LaGuardia charge $24 per day. One lot (Lot 3) charges $10 per day after $24 for the first day, but that lot is often full. Five thousand cars parked at the SEBIPT garage with a 70/30 mix of commuters at $5 per day, and airport parking at $15 per day, could be expected to generate $12.5 million per year in parking receipts.
The SEBIPT would serve the following transportation markets:
Residents of the Bronx, Westchester and Connecticut traveling to and from LaGuardia. Some of these passengers would arrive at SEBIPT via the proposed Hell Gate Line commuter service or the Pelham Bay (No. 6) subway line. Others would drive via the Bruckner Expressway (I-278) or the Major Deegan (I-87). The parking facility would provide long-term parking. The LaGuardia ferry service would remove many car trips from the arterial roads leading to LaGuardia on Long Island.
Project benefits could include:
SEBIT would be a new node in the Greater New York transportation system, connecting three important traffic sources: the Northeast Corridor, LaGuardia Airport, and the Interstate Highway system north of New York City. Of course, a more detailed study is required to evaluate the cost and benefits of this proposal. My purpose in making this proposal is to at least place SEBIPT on the transportation agenda.
Arnold G. Reinhold
NCI: Leo KingCirca 1952, the Boston & Maine Railroad ran fan trips out of North Station in Boston for those strange people who like trains. We all thought those E-7A EMD engines were spiffy, especially flying those white flags marking it as an extra, unscheduled train. As I recall, we traveled through New Hampshire and Crawford Notch, eventually into Vermont, where we stopped for a photo shoot at White River Junction. The 3815's steam generator must have been working overtime, judging by all that vapor escaping. EMD built the 2,000 HP engines between 1945 and 1949, when the 2,250 E-8 model replaced it, states Mike Schafer in Vintage Diesel Locomotives (Motorbooks International: Osceola, Wis., 1998).
An end note...
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 email the crew at email@example.com.
This edition has been read by || || people since date of release.