Vol. 7 No. 42
October 2, 2006

Copyright © 2006
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

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Destination:Freedom
A weekly North American rail and transit update

The E-Zine of the National Corridors Initiative Inc.

Publisher - James P. RePass
Editor - Molly McKayWebmaster - Dennis Kirkpatrick
European Correspondent - David Beale

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

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

  News of the week…
OIG to investigate Amtrak Board’s performance, expenses
Maine candidate wants train-based casinos
Fast Track 2017
Illinois governor announces free real-time traffic alerts
  Commuter lines…
Amtrak adds fifth trip to Maine-Boston route
MBTA officials on lookout for courteous riders
Public transportation ridership continues to climb in 2006
  Selected Rail Stocks …
  Freight lines …
BNSF railway honored with 2006 Employer Guard and Reserve award
  Editorials …
Good start, Mr. Kummant
Better than a poke in the eye…
How misleading statements propagate across the news media spectrum
  We get letters …
  End notes…


NEWS OF THE WEEK... News of the week...

OIG to investigate Amtrak Board’s
performance, expenses

 

By DF Staff

 

WASHINGTON --- The U.S. DOT’s Office of the Inspector General has launched a formal probe of the performance of Amtrak’s Board of Directors, including board members expenses, dating back to the 2001-2002 fiscal year.

Amtrak Board members serve without pay, but can be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses, or paid a per-diem to partially compensate for lost wages.

The probe was launched last week in response to requests in 2005 by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and by the bi-partisan Amtrak Congressional Amtrak Caucus, which was formed to work for greater Congressional support for Amtrak.

In a letter dated September 26 to Amtrak Chair David Laney, DOT Assistant Inspector General for Competition and Economic Analysis David Tornquist wrote that the probe was being launched in response to Congressional inquiries into questions regarding the Board performance from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Amtrak Working Group, in particular a March 2006 report with Majority and Minority versions, culminating in a formal request in April 2006 by the Democratic Members of the Working Group to undertake the investigation: “They cited concerns that Amtrak’s Board of Directors has not exercised sufficient oversight of the corporation or held management accountable for results and whether the Amtrak Board’s expenses are appropriate,” wrote Tornquist.

The OIG will review, said Tornquist, “…how Amtrak’s Board of Directors carries out its responsibilities. In addition, we plan to review the Board’s expenses from Fiscal Year 2002 to the present…to determine (1) the rules, procedures and authorities under which the Board operates, (2) whether the Board has followed established processes and procedures, (3) whether the Board has set long-term goals and performance objectives for Amtrak, (4) whether the processes and procedures that the Board follows are sufficient for ensuring oversight of, and requiring accountability from, Amtrak management, and (5) whether the Board members’ expenses comply with corporate guidelines and whether those guidelines are sufficient to ensure prudent use of corporate resources.”

Tornquist said that the Program Director for the investigation is Mitchell Behm, with Debra Mayer the Project Manager.

Amtrak is funded by ticket revenues and an annual appropriation by Congress. Other modes, such as highways, receive automatic grants from a gas tax Trust Fund, spelled out in an omnibus highway bill passed every six years, or via direct taxpayer subsidies, such as those which support the Federal Aviation Administration.

 


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Amtrak Chair David Laney

Photo: DF Staff  

Amtrak Board Chair David Laney testifies before Congress in November 2005 following the firing of Former Amtrak CEO David Gunn.

Maine candidate wants train-based casinos

Roll the dice while you’re rolling?

From Chop Hardenbergh, editor
Atlantic Northeast Rails & Ports
www.atlanticnortheast.com

 

ROCKLAND, ME –“Today I am calling for launching the Maine to Montréal High Roller.”

So stated Maine state representative and independent candidate for governor Barbara Merrill in pushing for daily train service between Portland and Montreal.

“Instead of being at the end of the line, Maine will be the connection between New York and Boston in the Northeast and Montréal and Toronto in Canada. This project will also connect Portland to Brunswick, so the completed passenger rail system will put the coast of Maine and inland Maine within easy reach of rail travelers from all over Canada and the eastern United States,” said the candidate.

While the independent candidacy of Barbara Merrill has so far been single digits in the polls, her “High Roller” proposal has gained considerable interest and coverage.

“I am not the first Maine leader to propose this; Congressman Mike Michaud called for a Canadian rail connection four years ago. It has not advanced because Maine has had no real plan and because it has not been clear how it would be financed....,” she noted.

“I propose we get it done and finance it with state transportation funds, help from the federal government, and, just like The CAT (Maine’s high-speed ferry), the High Roller will get part of its revenue from an onboard casino. Specifically, I propose selling the right to operate casino cars on the train between Portland and Montréal as it passes through Maine. I would use the revenue to help [offset] the cost of upgrading the rails and paying the rail line owners. These casino cars would be in addition to traditional passenger dining cars, seating and sleeper cars.”

“This project is not the silver bullet for Maine’s economy. But, with this one bold step, we will be saying “you can get there from here” and here is on the way to where you want to go. Maine will have taken an important step to becoming the Atlantic doorway to the North American Free Trade Agreement zone.”

No gambling threat to region, but a benefit

“[T]he train will not threaten a neighborhood or even a region by depreciating residential property values or causing traffic congestion....“We have 611 miles of border with Canada compared to a 184-mile border with New Hampshire. Our land border with Canada is greater than any other state except Alaska... The High Roller will accommodate commuters, rail buffs, vacationers, skiers and gamblers, but most importantly it will accommodate the men and women doing business between Canada and the US,” said Merrill.

Possible routes

Merrill listed as possible routes first the St. Lawrence & Atlantic RR (SLR). Second, she noted the Springfield Terminal Railway(ST) to Northern Maine Junction to Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA) to Montreal. The latter route ‘is longer’ but ‘would serve a very large part of the state.’ Finally, Merrill listed the Mountain Division route (admitting the problem of track condition), and a route through Van Buren to Canadian National Railway (CN) (admitting the problem of distance).

“Whichever route is used, part of the project will be to connect Portland to Brunswick so that travelers from New York or Montréal would be able to access and enjoy the beauty of western and coastal Maine by rail.”


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Fast Track 2017

With more than 130 miles of rail lines slated to open in the next decade, Denver RTD
is setting the stage for future development in the Mile High City

By Angela Cotey, Associate Editor
© Progressive Railroading 2006
Reprinted by Permission

[ Part I; To be published in two parts in the October 2 and October 9 Destination: Freedom – Ed.]

Cal Marsella’s third-floor office is filled with photos capturing key moments in the Regional Transportation District of Denver’s (RTD) history and rows of file cabinets brimming with agency documents. But his most prized possession is propped up against a wall near the conference table: a blown-up, poster-board-sized map of what the RTD system will look like after it’s expanded. For the 30-year transit veteran who’s spent the past 11 years as RTD’s general manager, the map is more than the reference he uses to point out the various lines and stations that make up the agency’s service expansion plans. It shows the magnitude of what Marsella & Co. are trying to accomplish.

“When I get the luxury to step back and look at the forest through the trees, we’re building an entire rapid-transit system in the metro region,” says Marsella with a big grin. “That’s enormous.”

The impact the rail expansion will have on the entire metropolitan area is pretty enormous, too. It doesn’t take more than a rush-hour cruise — or rather, crawl — along one of Denver’s jam-packed four-lane interstates to see that the Mile High City is plagued by the same bumper-to-bumper traffic all large cities suffer from during peak commute periods. The mountainous terrain and sprawling metropolitan area make the region one of the country’s most automobile dependent — and, now, one of the most congested.

That’s a big problem for Denver and surrounding community officials, who have spent the better part of two decades working to not only recover from an economic low, but make a name for Denver as a premiere place to live, work and play.

Once home to many oil and gas company headquarters, Denver sank into a severe recession in the 1980s when crude oil prices plummeted. For awhile, the city had the highest office vacancy rate in the nation. Residents left the region in search of greener pastures.

Alive and well

Denver since has transformed itself into one of the country’s top business, cultural and sports centers. During the past 15 years, the city has opened a new convention center; the country’s largest airport (in terms of square miles and capacity for growth); the Colorado Rockies’ Coors Field; basketball, hockey, arena football, lacrosse and entertainment venue the Pepsi Center; and the Denver Broncos’ Invesco Field. And in nearby Aurora, the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and University of Colorado Hospital are in the midst of a multi-billion-dollar project to redevelop the former Fitzsimmons Army Medical Center into the country’s largest medical and biotech research center.

“All of this is part of our effort to become a world-class city,” says Tom Clark, executive vice president of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp.

So far, the efforts have paid off. Population lost in the 1980s is back in a big way — 2.5 million people call the Denver metropolitan region home. In addition to the oil and gas businesses still in the area, Denver’s economic make-up now is more diverse. Telecommunications, financial and educational institutions dot the city’s landscape. The region also has one of the country’s highest concentrations of tech workers, scientists and engineers. The Mile High City has a thriving metropolitan region, too, with suburbs such as Aurora and Lakewood that are large cities in their own right.

And 1 million more residents are expected to filter into the region during the next 20 years. That’s a good thing, growth-wise, but with traffic congestion already a major issue, city officials are well aware something needs to be done to address the transportation problem.

“It became painfully obvious to us that we couldn’t meet the [transportation] needs of a city that was aspiring to be world class,” says Clark.

But during the next decade, that will all change. RTD, which operates about 170 bus routes and 14 miles of light-rail lines, is about to take its operation to a whole new level by introducing rail service to the entire metropolitan area.

From 14 miles to 152

In November, RTD will open the 19-mile Southeast Corridor, which is being built as part of the Transportation Expansion Project (T-REX) in conjunction with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT).

And that’s just a small sample of the service additions to come. RTD currently is in the pre-construction phases of the FasTracks plan: a $4.7 billion project that includes 119 miles of light- and commuter-rail lines, and 57 stations. Had the agency chosen to carry out its plans line-by-line, it could have taken up to 70 years to complete. Building the lines all at once puts the projects on the fast track for completion to ensure that as traffic congestion worsens, RTD will be able to respond.

In the simplest terms, the service expansions will get people out of their cars and onto trains, and reduce rush-hour automobile traffic by up to 25 percent, RTD officials say. But for Denver metropolitan area officials — and RTD execs, for that matter — the expansion plans carry a whole lot more meaning.

Less traffic congestion and more commuting options will improve the region’s quality of life and make Denver that much more attractive to current and potential businesses and residents. Those stations RTD is building on the new lines? They have been and will continue to be magnets for development. And it sure can’t hurt ticket sales for the downtown entertainment centers if people can just catch a train into the city and avoid the hassle of dealing with traffic and parking. Translation: RTD’s rail system will be a vital link in keeping the Denver area’s economy healthy — now and in the future.

“If we expect to grow intelligently, we know we have to make the right investments, and that’s what really motivated this program,” says Marsella. “This is a business investment this community is making to position ourselves for the future so people can get to work, get to school, get to events. We’re not going to be hostage to a car-only, forever-gridlocked community.”

[ Look for Part II in the October 9 edition of D:F.]


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Congestion mitigation proposals

Illinois governor announces
free real-time traffic alerts

From Internet Sources

ROCKFORD, IL --- Illinois commuters can now sign up for free, real-time traffic alerts from the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT).

Governor Rod Blagojevich announced the new system, which is available at www.iltrafficalert, on Tuesday, September 26. People can register for customized e-mail traffic reports providing travel times, vehicle speeds, construction work, congestion and incident information about 72 route segments on Chicago area expressways and suburban Tollways via e-mail, cell phone text messaging, or other mobile devices. Additional segments will be added pending completion of construction projects and other factors. The system is being launched in the Chicago area as part of IDOT’s ongoing congestion mitigation efforts.

When people register, they must:

The new system was developed in conjunction with the University of Illinois at Chicago Department of Computer Science and its sub-contractor Delcan Corp. It can register up to 1,000 new users every 15 minutes, so IDOT officials caution that if demand for the new service is high, users may have to wait several hours if they encounter problems signing up for the system.

In another congestion-relief effort, IDOT is teaming up with the Regional Transportation Authority, Chicago Transit Authority, Tollway, Pace, Metra and Chicago Area Transportation Study (CATS) on a marketing campaign dubbed: “Drive less. Live more.” designed to encourage use of mass transit and car pooling. The campaign is funded through a federal congestion mitigation grant of $1 million secured by IDOT.

At the same time, the governor has a $5.3 billion Congestion-Relief Program on Illinois’ toll roads, called Open Roads for a Faster Future. The state will rebuild and restore 90 percent of the system, widening and adding lanes to many miles of existing roads, converting 20 mainline toll plazas to barrier-free Open Road Tolling, and extending I-355 south to I-80 in Will County. Open Road Tolling lanes are now available at 17 plazas.

[ See related editorial below. – Ed. ]


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

Downeaster continues success

Amtrak adds fifth trip to Maine-Boston route

Source: Associated Press

PORTLAND, Maine -- Amtrak’s Downeaster will use buses for an additional daily round trip between Portland and Boston while it awaits completion of $6 million in track upgrades that will allow the train to make the extra run next year, officials said Thursday.

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority has partnered with two bus operators to allow the Downeaster to press forward with a fifth round trip beginning on Oct. 30. Under the arrangement, the last run of the night will be operated by a bus, not a train, until the track upgrades are completed.

Eventually, all five round trips would utilize Amtrak’s Downeaster once the track work is completed, which is expected by next fall, said Patricia Douglas, the rail authority’s executive director.

The fast-growing Downeaster wrapped up the fiscal year with 329,265 passengers -- an increase of 31 percent over the previous year. Revenues grew to $4.35 million, surpassing the $3.3 million during the previous fiscal year.

“Although we’ve been extremely successful this year, we know that the existing four round-trip schedule limits the number of riders we can attract. The goal is to operate more trains during the times when most people travel,” she said.

Under the arrangement, all Downeaster trains will leave Portland earlier, with morning departures of 5:50 a.m. and 8 a.m. instead of 6 a.m. and 8:50 a.m. on week days. This will help to get commuters to Boston earlier, Douglas said.

The track work that’s currently under way involves new sidings to allow freight and passenger trains to move around each other, Douglas said. “To increase frequency, you need more places for trains to pass each other,” she said.

The work is being done by the railroad’s owner, Pan Am Railways, formerly known as Guilford, which owns the rail between Portland and Plaistow, N.H. It’s being funded by federal money allocated by Maine and New Hampshire, Douglas said.

New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch said $1.6 million of the money is from its federal air quality improvement money.

Meanwhile, the rail authority and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority worked together to obtain federal funds to complete a signal project in Lawrence, Mass., that’ll ultimately provide better access to Boston’s North Station.

The Downeaster went into operation on Dec. 15, 2001, with four daily trips in each direction between Portland and Boston’s North Station.

Stops include Old Orchard Beach, Saco and Wells in Maine; Dover, Durham and Exeter in New Hampshire; and Haverhill and Woburn [Anderson RTC] in Massachusetts.


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MBTA officials on lookout
for courteous riders

From the Internet (Eyewitness News)

BOSTON, SEPT 26 -- The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is running a “Courtesy Counts” campaign in an effort to bring attention to riders who are particularly nice to others.

Twenty five T employees were assigned to ride buses and trains last Tuesday looking for passengers who commit random acts of kindness.

The polite will be given a ‘thank you’ in the form of a two-dollar gift certificate for Dunkin’ Donuts.

State Transportation Secretary John Cogliano says while the majority of MBTA riders and employees are well-mannered, the campaign is aimed at heightening awareness about courtesy.

The Boston transit system has developed some reputation for gruffness over the years. A 1959 song by the Kingston Trio tells the story of “Charlie,” a man who was doomed to ride forever on the subway because he didn’t have exact change.


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Public transportation ridership
continues to climb in 2006

Nearly 5 billion trips taken on public transit in the first six months -- a 3.2% increase

From APTA
By Virginia Miller

WASHINGTON --- The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) today announced that public transportation ridership has increased by 3.2% in the first six months of 2006, as Americans took nearly 5 billion trips on public transit.

“In the first six months of this year, more and more people rode public transportation and transit ridership grew by 3.2%,” said APTA President William W. Millar. “This continued growth in transit ridership shows how important public transportation is to millions of Americans across the country.”

In the first six months of 2006, light rail (modern light rail, streetcars, trolleys, and heritage trolleys) had the highest percentage of ridership growth among all modes of transportation, with a 9.4% increase. Some of the areas reporting the highest increases in light rail ridership opened new services over the past year. The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority of San Jose, CA showed the largest increase at 33%. The light rail systems in the following areas showed double digit increases from January through June 2006: Minneapolis, MN (23.4%); the state of New Jersey (15.1%); Boston, MA (13.4%); Buffalo, NY (12.2%); Los Angeles, CA (11.9%); Philadelphia, PA (11.9%); and San Diego, CA (11.9%).

Commuter rail grew by 3.4% and three areas showed ridership increases in double digits during this six month period: Chesterton, IN (13%); Dallas, TX (12%); and, Harrisburg, PA (11.6%).

Heavy rail (subways) ridership grew nationally by 2.6% during the first six months of 2006. Two areas showed double digit increases in ridership: Los Angeles, CA (15.9%) and New York Area - PATH (10.3%).

Bus ridership in small, medium, and large communities also showed increases. Nationally, bus ridership increased by 3.2%. The largest bus agencies showing double digit increases for the first six months of 2006 were located in the following cities: Detroit, MI (14.2%); San Antonio, TX (13.2%); Dallas, TX (12.7%); and Seattle, WA (11.4%).

Demand response (paratransit) ridership increased by 3.8%. Trolleybus ridership increased by 0.5% and all other types of public transportation increased by 0.6% from January through June 2006.

To see the complete report, go to http://www.apta.com/research/stats/ridership/.APTA is a nonprofit international association of 1,600 member organizations including public transportation systems; planning, design, construction and finance firms; product and service providers; academic institutions; and state associations and departments of transportation. APTA members serve the public interest by providing safe, efficient and economical public transportation services and products. APTA members serve more than 90 percent of persons using public transportation in the United States and Canada. Used By Permission


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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: www.MarketWatch.com

   This
Week
Previous
Week
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)73.4468.72
Canadian National (CNI)41.9441.30
Canadian Pacific (CP)49.7447.30
CSX (CSX)32.8330.57
Florida East Coast (FLA)57.0855.88
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)23.2222.11
Kansas City Southern (KSU)27.3126.55
Norfolk Southern (NSC)44.0541.77
Providence & Worcester (PWX)20.1018.32
Union Pacific (UNP)88.0083.42


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

BNSF railway honored with 2006
Employer Guard and Reserve award

 

FORT WORTH, TX, SEPT 25 --- Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway (BNSF) announced that it was honored last week by the national committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) as the recipient of the 2006 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award.

BNSF joins an elite group of 15 companies

from more than 5,000 nominations, honored for their exceptional support of the National Guard and Reserves.

“We value our employees who choose to serve and are honored that our personnel policies have been recognized for that support,” said John Lanigan, BNSF Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, who accepted the honor during the awards ceremony Sept. 21, 2006 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC.

“BNSF recognizes the commitment and talent associated with U.S. military service and recognizes the values and sacrifices by those employees called to active duty,” said Lanigan, who retired in 1997 from the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve with over 20 years of active duty and reserve service.

He commanded six units during his career, including a port security unit that deployed to Operation Desert Storm.

ESGR is a Department of Defense agency established in 1972.

The mission of ESGR is to gain and maintain active support from all public and private employers for the men and women of the National Guard and Reserve.

ESGR volunteers provide free education, consultation, and if necessary mediation for employers of Guard and Reserve employees.

The organization presently has more the 1.2 million members.

A subsidiary of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation (NYSE:BNI) , BNSF Railway operates one of the largest railroad networks in North America, with about 32,000 route miles in 28 states and two Canadian provinces.

The railway is among the world’s top transporters of intermodal traffic, moves more grain than any other American railroad, transports the components of many of the products we depend on daily, and hauls enough low-sulphur coal to generate about ten percent of the electricity produced in the United States.


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EDITORIALS...  Editorials...

Good start, Mr. Kummant

Alexander Kummant, Amtrak’s new president, got himself off to a strong start last week with testimony before Congress that was direct and honest.

We applaud his support for passenger rail, and wish him the best in making his vision into a reality.

One thing we’d like to call to his attention is an asset he already does have – and Amtrak, let’s face it, needs assets.

That asset is its employees, many of whom have given dedicated service under terrible working conditions, often working with equipment that is perennially over-aged, under-maintained, or both, because of the penurious treatment Amtrak has received at the hands of Congress for 35 years.

Those employees have done the impossible, and then some, over and over, for decades. Go and meet them, Mr. Kummant. Ask them to help you, and you will find that there is nothing you both can not achieve.


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Better than a poke in the eye…

Illinois Governor Blagojevich is making news these days for doubling the state’s contribution to Amtrak to expand their service in his state and for developing an innovative marketing campaign to encourage the public to use mass transit. It’s a good thing, and Illinois commuters will benefit. But if you follow the money, once again the funding for rail and transit is so paltry alongside the billions for roads that you have to wonder, what are we thinking?

While the annual state support to Amtrak goes to $24 million, a jump from the present $12.1 allotment, $5.3 BILLION is being sought for road expansion as part of the governor’s Congestion-Relief Program. How much “congestion relief” can you expect when you spend 212 times as much money on highways as transit!? The interest alone on $5.3 billion would cover much of the operating cost of Amtrak in perpetuity. Where in this picture is the public being provided with adequate choices to function in today’s society without a car? And how do you “cure” congestion when you ADD to the problem? Do we “cure” obesity by eating more and then buying a larger belt??

And Illinois is better than most states in its support for rail.

We have a “sickness” in this country: a broken transportation system that is being propped up by pouring more and more money into the very cause of the problem – a grossly lopsided system where investments in one mode - highways - have so far outpaced all others that the public has been left with no choice, in most cases, other than to buckle up and slip into the traffic. Jam.


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News wire services write about Amtrak wrong

How misleading statements propagate
across the news media spectrum

The world of journalism is not a happy one, right now. Public opinion polls regularly rank journalists below even lawyers in the public’s estimation; newsroom cuts in staff have become so egregious that even company-paid officers, such as the Los Angeles’ Times publisher, are in open rebellion against their corporate parents about the next round of reductions ordered to protect the bottom line. Many independently-owned and family newspapers have been scarffed up by chains, and then gutted of staff, creating what looks like a newspaper but what is really just an advertising flyer surrounding a few stories. The Internet, with Craigslist, eBay, Monster.com, and other venues for on-line advertising, has pretty much wiped out the best and most lucrative source of newspaper revenue, the want ads, which were once upon a time, by themselves, almost enough to support a newspaper’s costs. Gone.

So, given the environment, we hesitate to criticize. But we’re going to have to do it.

For many years, America’s newspapers have been served by what are anachronistically called “wire” services, which were delivered to local papers by the radical use of privately-owned telegraph networks --- notably United Press International and the Associated Press in America, and Reuters “overseas.” Those in the news business for more than a few decades will remember the wire room, with its clacking teletype machine, and the system of alarm bells that “ding-ed out” the relative importance of each story as it came ponderously across the wire, line by line by line. The wire services themselves were spawned by a brand new technology – the telegraph --- in 1846, when the New York Sun opened up access to its telegraph dispatches of the Mexican war to other New York city newspapers, for a fee (see the Associated Press Archives, www.ap.org/pages/about/whatsnew/wn_013106a.html)

The problem faced by wire services is similar to that faced by newspapers themselves, but for different reasons: although its customers, the newspapers and broadcasters, pay a fee, and are as noted under economic pressure from the Internet, the problem for the wire services is time-related: the old “news cycle” has been compressed, from weeks, to days, to hours, to seconds.

As a consequence, a typical wire story (emergencies excluded) that years ago would have been updated three or four times at most in a day must now be updated almost by the minute, putting tremendous pressure on wire service reporters to write fast and furiously to keep up with the insatiable demand for “new” news.

When that happens, reporters resort to catch phrases and stock verbiage, to provide enough bulk to a story to justify its re-broadcast.

In the case of the AP’s coverage of Amtrak, unfortunately, that pressure has lead to the incessant repetition of factoids about Amtrak that re-enforce the [false] impression that Amtrak is an especially egregious Washington “subsidy-hound”.

That repetition took the following form this week, in a story by Washington AP writer Donna de la Cruz. Covering the testimony of New Amtrak President, Alexander Kummant, de la Cruz reported some of his remarks, but then dropped in a paragraph that appears in virtually all her Amtrak stories and, therefore, time and again in virtually all the newspapers in America --- and there are hundreds – that use the AP wire service:

“Amtrak has debt of more than $3.5 billion and its operating loss for 2005 topped $550 million. It has never made a profit in its 35 years of operation.”

All perfectly true. And completely misleading.

The fact is that Amtrak 1) has a debt; 2) gets a subsidy; and, 3) has never made a profit. And taken together, time after time, week after week, story after story, those facts paint and then re-enforces a sad picture of a woebegone, mismanaged mess of a company, always looking for public handouts, and always coming up short. Indeed, that’s the way the right-wing pundits talk about Amtrak. The AP’s coverage just gives them a fig leaf to hide behind. Perhaps that’s what the AP reporter believes, too. It would certainly seem to be the case.

The right way to write about Amtrak, we believe, is to tell the whole truth, not half of it. If in every Amtrak story you summarize its existence the way the AP’s Donna de la Cruz does, then put the facts in context. We’ve put them in italics:

Amtrak is in debt $3.5 billion, a result of a more than $6 billion shortfall in capital appropriations by Congress since 1970, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Amtrak, like every transportation system in existence, makes no profit. However, while every year, it must go to Congress to ask for a subsidy, other modes of transportation get their [far larger] subsidies automatically, or in ways that are hidden from the public.

Highways get $30 billion a year in Federal tax subsidies, from a highway bill written by Congress every six years, and spent by state DOT’s whose professional staffs consist almost 100 per cent of highway engineers. Highways also get more than $100 billion a year in state and local tax-subsidized funding. Amtrak gets perhaps 1% of that amount every year, yet is expected to operate trains over a 25,000-mile national system.

Airlines are heavily subsidized by tax-payer funded agencies. The Federal Aviation Administration supports airline operations as does Congress, with frequent Congressional bailouts. And of course billions of dollars in airplane R&D are spent every year by the Defense Department, since new technologies almost always appear first on warcraft. Inland canals systems and levees are built by the US Army Corps of Engineers and their subcontractors, and are almost 100% taxpayer subsidized. While Amtrak is indeed subsidized, it gets the smallest subsidy, by far, of any national transportation system, and compared to Europe and Asia, is the least costly rail system of any major country in the world.

Do we make our point? Please, Associated Press, if you want to report Amtrak’s need for subsidies every time you write about Amtrak, then cover the rest of the story, too. Otherwise, you are slanting your coverage in a way that feeds the ignoramuses and the highway shills who would dismantle Amtrak, at a time when, more then ever, we need an alternative to highways that is strong and affordable, and that all can use.


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WE GET LETTERS...  We get letters...

Dear Editor -

I am a Danish subscriber of your fine newsletter.

I have noticed that you have the wrong conception, that only the Shanghai Airport line and the German experimental Maglev line is in commercial operation. Since EXPO 2005 in Aichi, Nagoya, Japan, opened in March 2005, there has been another Maglev line.

It is working as a metro-line. Most of the time elevated high above the ground, but connecting a private metro-line leading to Nagoya underground.

It is called Linimo, and is operated completely privately. I have not looked deep into details. But you can do yourself.

Take a look at http://kattler.dk/uk/Linimo_Maglev.html.

I have been travelling a lot with Amtrak, and have written a succesful article to the Danisk Railway Societys magazine a year ago on this subject.

Poul Kattler
www.kattler.dk


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NEWS ITEMS...  End notes...

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

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

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

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

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

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