In this edition...
Waterford, CT --- Investigators are focusing their inquiry into September 28s fatal grade crossing accident on whether the driver of the vehicle, 62-year-old Patricia Metzermacher, had become unconscious or otherwise disabled as the train approached the gate-protected grade crossing.
Mrs. Metzermacher and her eight year-old grandson Zachary were killed instantly when her car crossed into the path of Wednesdays Acela Express 2153 at about 7:45 a.m. that morning. Badly injured was four-year-old Courtney Metzermacher, sister to Zachary, who rescue officials say may have survived because she was belted into a child safety seat. She was airlifted to a Hartford hospital from the scene.
Three photos, Jim RePass, NCILooking west across Miners Crossing; Train 2153 is on the left in the far distance
According to an eye-witness report from a town official who was waiting in his car behind the closed crossing gates on the north side of Miners Lane in Waterford, the Ford Taurus rolled under the closed gate on the south side of the crossing and directly into the path of the train, which was traveling 71 mph at the time according to Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black.
Witnesses said all four gates at the crossing, and all lights, were working, as well as the ringing bell which signals the approach of a train.
The Ford Taurus pushed under the gate, forcing it up, and then the rest of the car rolled onto the track, the witness, Waterford Town Planner Thomas Wagner reported.
Gates and lights operating in test after the accident, Miners Lane, Waterford, CT
Waterford fire and police rescue teams responded to the accident scene, which was almost immediately swarmed with television and print reporters and cameramen, as well as family members of the victims, who live nearby.
About three hours after the crash, Amtrak backed the train off of the wrecked automobile and then the train proceeded to return to New London, where passengers either disembarked or were transferred to other transportation. Train 2153 originated in Boston at 6:15 a.m. September 28 with engine 2009 in the lead, followed by cars 3409, 3546, 3305, 3543, 3541, 3207 and trailing engine 2020. Damage to engine 2009 appeared relatively slight (see photograph). The Taurus was completely destroyed.
Amtrak Train #2153 backs across Miners Lane grade crossing. Note damage to engine 2009.
There are only a handful of grade crossings left on the Northeast Corridor, Amtraks premier travel corridor in the United States. The gates employed drop down across the roadway but are not designed to stop a vehicle from moving, as this would prevent a vehicle trapped between the gates from escaping.
According to a spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration, Warren Flatau, there were 243,570 grade crossings in America as of the end of 2004. Of those, 147,000 are public crossings. 40 per cent of those are equipped with active warning devices such as gates or lights, and 50 per cent are equipped with passive devices such as crossbucks. The status of about 10 per cent of those crossings is not known or not reported, the FRA stated.
There are about 100,000 privately maintained grade crossings, the FRA said, 100 with active warning systems, 26,000 with passive, and some 70,000 with absolutely no protection noted. [See separate story - Ed.]
WASHINGTON - Amtrak today announced it has made modifications to its previously announced fare increases and will implement them in stages beginning Tuesday, October 4, 2005.
The fare plan is an important component of Amtraks FY06 budget. The challenge for Amtrak, as for any business, is to cover its increases in current and anticipated expenses across the board, including the cost of fuel which has risen 40% in the past year. Amtraks FY06 budget has been reviewed in detail and approved by the railroads board of directors and senior management. The fiscal year begins October 1, 2005.
Three changes will take place beginning next month: a general fare increase will be implemented on most trains; discounts on Northeast commuter tickets will be reduced and standardized in stages; and some trains in the Northeast will begin to be revenue managed, in part to provide passengers with reduced-fare options for off-peak travel.
The first change will take place on October 4, when a general fare increase averaging $3 to $4 will be implemented. As such, fares across the country will increase 5-7% on most trains, including Acela Express (7%), Regionals (5%), long-distance coach (7%) and long-distance sleeper (5%) charges.
The second change, which applies to commuter tickets, will begin on October 16. In response to suggestions and comments received over the last few weeks, Amtrak will reduce the discounts on the commuter tickets in two steps with the first half of the change on October 16 and the second half in February 2006. The changes are going into effect on October 16 to provide passengers with sufficient prior notification. Amtrak serves about 2,000 Smart Pass monthly passengers in the Northeast Corridor, most of whom commute between Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.
The current monthly fare is discounted at approximately 70% for commuters - the deepest discount in the industry. It will be adjusted to allow passengers to enjoy approximately a 60% discount starting October 16, reducing the previously announced fare increase in half. In February 2006, the monthly discount will be adjusted to 50%. At both a 50% and a 60% discount, the monthly Smart Pass fare will remain the largest offered to commuters by any railroad.
Smart Pass 10-trip tickets will be adjusted on October 16 to provide passengers with a 20% discount.
The third overall change will take place on October 4, when Amtrak will begin to revenue manage some trains in the Northeast Corridor to better match fares to demand periods. Those trains include Regionals, Empire Service, The Vermonter, The Adirondack, the Springfield/Hartford Shuttles, and Keystones between Philadelphia and New York. While the standard fares for these trains will increase 5% (as stated above), passengers with flexibility to travel at off-peak times will be able to take advantage of lower fares.
The fare hikes come at a time when President Bush has proposed eliminating the railroads subsidies.
Brad Cooper of the Kansas City Star writes that ridership figures for Amtrak between Kansas City and St. Louis is higher than it has been in three years. At a time when politicians want to cut funding for the railroad and it is not always reliable, its popularity among Missouri passengers is growing.
The train just seems kind of easy and laid-back. You get a nice view of the countryside, said Colin McGrath as he prepared to board an Amtrak train this week at Union Station. I can fall asleep and not worry about crashing.
In the year ending June 30, about 171,400 people boarded Amtraks four daily trains between Kansas City and St. Louis. That is a 5.5 percent increase from the previous year.
This increase reflects a nationwide trend. In Illinois, ridership on the service between Chicago and St. Louis increased by 13.5 percent during the first half of 2005.
People are getting more confident that funding will continue. Even though Bush recommended cutting Amtrak from the 2006 budget and Missouri Governor Matt Blunt proposed cutting Missouris subsidy (the state of Missouri covers the direct costs of service) lawmakers would not allow these cuts to happen.
Higher gas prices, improved marketing that informs passengers of rates and schedules, improved reliability and stepped-up maintenance all contribute to the increase in passengers.
Union Pacific Railroad, that runs 50 to 60 trains a day from St. Louis to Kansas City, is making an effort to help passenger trains stick to schedule, according to UP spokesman Mark Davis. The railroad would like to add tracks across both the Gasconade and Osage River in eastern Missouri but one of these projects is opposed by the Katy Trail enthusiasts who believe the future of their trail would be threatened.
Metro-North boosts late-night service
NEW YORK, September 22 Metro-North officials announced significant schedule changes for passengers looking to ride after midnight. This was great news for theatergoers and night owls who have been requesting for years that service be provided late into the night .
Two trains will leave Grand Central Terminal between 1 and 2 a.m. and an additional late-night train will run from New Haven to Grand Central. There will also be later connections to the New Canaan branch.
The changes take effect Oct. 2.
These are a major set of improvements, said Howard Permut, Metro-Norths vice president of planning and development. A majority of the people, and new people looking to ride the railroad, will experience significant benefits because of all the late-night changes.
The 12:43 a.m. Stamford local train now will depart 18 minutes earlier at 12:25 a.m. and a new local train leaving Grand Central at 1:15 a.m. will make all stops to Stamford. A new express train will leave Grand Central at 1:12 a.m., making all stops between Stamford and New Haven, and the last train, a local to New Haven that once departed Grand Central at 1:30 a.m. now will leave at 1:50 a.m.
New late-night service to New Canaan will connect with the 12:22 a.m. train from Grand Central, extending branch service by one hour seven days a week.
Besides the outbound service, a new express train will leave New Haven at 12:01 a.m. and arrive at Grand Central at 1:42 a.m. The 11:18 p.m. express from New Haven now will depart at 11:09 p.m. And a new 12:37 a.m. New Canaan train will connect with the 12:01 a.m. New Haven train in Stamford.
Rail advocates who fought for better late-night service for years were thrilled.
These are wonderful improvements, said Rodney Chabot, chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council. Now people can go to a play and still get back to New Canaan without having to take a taxi from Stamford.
The additional service Metro-North is adding to its three train lines, including New Haven, will cost about $2.4 million. The railroad expects the new service to generate about $1.3 million in revenue, with additional funding coming from its parent, the Metropolitan Transit Authority.
Highway-Rail grade crossing fatalities,
train accidents show significant decline
WASHINGTON - The safety performance of the nations railroads improved during the first half of 2005 as the overall number of rail-related accidents and incidents declined by 12 percent, according to preliminary data issued by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).
About 400 people are killed every year in grade crossing accidents, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, and 1200 injured, excluding railroad employee job-related accidents.
Statistics compiled over the first six months of 2005 show that, when compared to the first half of 2004, train accidents have declined by 10.1 percent, highway-rail grade crossing incidents are down 9.1 percent, and the number of people killed as a result of train-vehicle collisions at grade crossings has dropped by 11.7 percent, said the FRA. In addition, railroad employee injuries fell by 16.3 percent. However, the number of trespassers struck and killed by trains increased by 13 percent during the same six-month comparison period.
We are moving in the right direction, said FRA Administrator Joseph H. Boardman. The trend is positive and encouraging, but will require continued vigilance by railroads, motorists, pedestrians and government at every level to maintain this momentum the rest of the year, he said.
FRA is aggressively implementing the new National Rail Safety Action Plan to improve rail safety now and in the future, Boardman added. The Action Plan unveiled earlier this year targets the most frequent, highest-risk causes of accidents; increases the use of data to focus the agencys inspection and enforcement resources; and accelerates research and development activities that have the potential to mitigate the largest risks. Many items have already been acted upon and incorporated into FRAs safety program.
The Action Plan includes specific actions to address events caused by human factors and defective track that together comprise 70 percent of all accidents, the FRA said. It also addresses the safe transport of hazardous materials by rail and local emergency responder preparedness; and strengthens partnerships among federal, state and local officials, railroads, and rail safety organizations to further improve highway-rail grade crossing safety.
Extensive rail safety statistics and the National Rail Safety Action Plan can be found on the FRA web site at www.fra.dot.gov.
Nortech Systems expands relationship with GE;
receives order for LocoCAM ™ railroad camera system
September 28 .Nortech Systems (Nasdaq:NSYS), a provider of electronics manufacturing services (EMS), has received an order from GEs Rail business to supply components for the LocoCAM(TM) video camera system, designed to record audiovisual information about railroad accidents, including at vehicle crossings or involving pedestrians.
In addition to sourcing and integrating components for the LocoCAM system, Nortech says it is building custom printed circuit board assemblies, programming and testing software, and performing environmental stress screening to simulate difficult operating conditions experienced by locomotives in the field.
Were very pleased to expand our relationship with GE Rail, while also broadening our decade-long partnership with several GE divisions, says Mike Degen, President and Chief Executive Officer of Nortech Systems. This very significant project utilizes the best value-added capabilities we can offer, and involves multiple Nortech locations.
GE has started initial LocoCAM product deliveries to BNSF Railway Company and CSX Railroad. Deliveries to Canadian Pacific Railroad are scheduled to begin later this year.
The LocoCAM system is integrated with GEs primary on-board computer and communications management module -- LOCOCOMM ® -- which is also built by Nortech Systems. LOCOCOMM provides the operating platform for GE Rail applications, such as tracking geographic location and monitoring fuel consumption.
Nortech Systems history serving GE dates back more than 10 years, primarily with GE Healthcare Technologies.
Jack Quinn, Pat Simmons to keynote
at Virginia Rail Advocates
Former Rep. Jack Quinn
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Former Congressional Railroads Subcommittee Chair Jack Quinn, who now heads DCs Cassidy Associates, and North Carolinas innovative rails chief Patrick Simmons are the featured speakers at the Richmond Friends of Rail Annual Meeting October 7 at the Museum of Science.
Quinn, a Republican, gained widespread bipartisan support for Amtrak in his six terms of office. Simmons, Director of the Rail Division of the North Carolina Department of Transportation, has lead that unit for many years and is seen as one of the most innovative state rail transportation managers in the United States.
Events get underway at 10:45 a.m. this Friday at the atrium of the Science Museum of Virginia, 2500 West Broad Street, Richmond, VA.
How to Get Congress to Love Rail, will be Quinns topic. Quinn was recently named by Gov. Mark R. Warner to Virginias new Rail Advisory Board. Quinn worked and continues to work in support of Amtrak, and on behalf of national rail transportation infrastructure.
Simmons will discuss North Carolina rail operations. Unlike Virginia and most other states, transit and rail operate are separate departments in North Carolina. Under Simmons leadership, North Carolina has won national recognition for rail innovation. North Carolina owns and operates a railroad.
Richmond Friends of Rail, an organization of rail advocates, is headed by Dr. Walter R. T. Witschey. RFOR is an affiliate of Virginians for High Speed Rail. Executive Director Nancy Finch said reservations can still be made by calling 804-864-5193.
Forum on City Street Planning
New York City
Jan Gehls seminal work, Life Between Buildings (1987) has been translated into 11 languages. Jan Gehl is a hero to Londoners. A world renowned architect and urban designer, Gehls blueprint for remaking Londons streets, Towards A Fine City for People, has placed the aim of walkable and shopable public spaces at the top of Londons urban agenda.
In the words of Richard Rogers, the Mayor of Londons Chief Advisor on Architecture and Urbanism, Gehl is leading a citywide effort to: Create a better balance between traffic and pedestrians, improving conditions for walking and cycling around the city, improving the visual quality of Londons streetscape, and creating spaces that can be used simply to meet, sit and talk.
This forum concerns New York Citys need to undertake a similar initiative.
From November 14-18, 2005, at the invitation of Transportation Alternatives, Jan Gehl is coming to New York City. In a series of forums, Mr. Gehl will share his extensive knowledge and experience in successful street planning with business managers, the Mayor and many other city agencies.
If you are interested in attending these forums, or in scheduling a special consultation with your neighborhood or business improvement district, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with Gehl in the subject line.
Transportation Alternatives is a 5500-member NYC-area non-profit citizens group working for better bicycling, walking and public transit, and fewer cars. We work for safer, calmer neighborhood streets and car-free parks.
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|Burlington Northern & Santa Fe||(BNI)||59.80||57.88|
|Florida East Coast||(FLA)||45.29||43.22|
|Genessee & Wyoming||(GWR)||31.70||30.37|
|Kansas City Southern||(KSU)||23.31||22.36|
|Providence & Worcester||(PWX)||13.99||14.40|
Storm forces Union Pacific to close routes
OMAHA, Neb. September 27 Union Pacific Corp. avoided catastrophic damage in Hurricane Rita, but key routes in east Texas and western Louisiana remained closed Tuesday while workers clear debris and set up generators, according to wire reports.
About 2,500 miles of Union Pacific track was affected by the latest hurricane, the company announced Monday.
The affected routes, which represent about 7.5 percent of the companys 33,000 miles of track, connect Houston to New Orleans and Shreveport, La.
The company estimates that Rita could reduce the companys income by about $25 million, which would hurt future earnings.
Union Pacific is working to reroute traffic onto other lines in the area, spokeswoman Kathryn Blackwell said, but the company is having trouble contacting all of its employees because many of them were evacuated ahead of Rita.
Were trying to get people to come back to work, Blackwell said Tuesday.
The railroad will bring its employees gasoline and help arrange transportation back to work if needed, Blackwell said.
No employees were laid off because of the hurricane, Blackwell said, but eleven dispatchers from Spring, Texas, were temporarily relocated to Omaha to help direct traffic.
Before Rita, Union Pacific had been on pace for a strong third quarter income loss from hurricane damage and closures could see earning per share come in at the mid- to lower end of its guidance, the company said.
Don Phillips in Europe:
The International Herald Tribunes columnist
looks at American vs. European freight rail today
Don Phillips, International Herald Tribune columnist and formerly The Washington Posts long-time transportation reporter is now based in Europe, and is bringing his well-known eagle-eyed reporting to the continent.
In a major article September 21, Free Flow: Rail freight: Europes challenge, Don, for whom NCIs Phillips Journalism Award is named, notes that while Europe and North America face tough challenges in working out the use of rail lines for both passenger and freight service, the challenges are rooted in far different origins.
The railroads of North America and the railroads of Europe seem to have only one thing in common: They both run on rails, Phillips writes, Beyond that, there is little that would seem even similar.
Don reports that while North American railroads are basically freight railroads designed to haul long, heavy trains, in Europe the rail system was built primarily for passenger service. Passenger trains in North America are little more than an annoyance for private-enterprise freight railroads, something forced onto their tracks by government pressure, he states.
That is changing now, Phillips said, as American-style highway congestion has come to Europe because of increasing emphasis on highways as a transportation mode.
Among other things, Don notes, the European Union has forced railroads [largely state-owned, unlike Americas privately owned freight railroads] to make space on their tracks for competing private freight haulers. This must be done by the end of the year, although the French railroads, he states, have already moved in that direction.
In an interview with retired Norfolk Southern executive vice president James McLellan, Phillips quotes McLellan that to compete in freight, the European railroads should not wait for their governments to tell them what to do: Just do it says McLellan.
American freight rail sales are up sharply, Phillips notes (although from a low base) because they have responded to the demand for more freight to be shipped by rail.
There will always be up-and-down business cycles, but the underlying reason for this boom goes beyond the business cycle, writes Phillips. Trucking is getting more expensive at a far faster rate than railroads are. On top of that, add highway congestion and ongoing improvement in railroad service.
The International Herald Tribune is on the web at ww.iht.com.
ICE-3 photo courtesy of Deutsche Bahn AGAn ICE-3 train passes by.
Deutshce Bahn, Siemens square-off
A report in the daily business newspaper Handelsblatt on 27th Sept. indicates that Deutsche Bahn (German Railways) and Siemens, the principal contractor of the consortium which designed and produced the latest generation of German high speed trains, continue a tit-for-tat legal and public relations battle over the on-going difficulties with the ICE-3 high speed EMU train and several related derivative models. Deutsche Bahn (DBAG) is refusing to take delivery of 13 newly built (and partially paid-for) ICE-3 train sets and a further 28 train sets of ICE-T tilting trains. Siemens is delaying modifications on 7 existing ICE-3 trains sets for operation in France so that they may be used on a new high speed rail line currently in the final stages of construction between Paris and Frankfurt. The delay in the ICE-3 modification program for French operation may slide the introduction of high speed train services on this route back by one year to 2008 or later.
Unlike the ICE-1 and ICE-2 train sets, which are made of conventionally configured unpowered coaches hauled or pushed by locomotives on either end of the train set, the ICE-3 and related ICE-T and ICE-VT are multiple unit (MU) train sets without locomotives. The ICE-3 also comes in international versions which can operate not only from Germanys 15 kV 16.7 Hz electric power supply, but also from 25 kV 50 Hz, 3000 VDC and 1500 VDC power on rail systems in neighboring countries. Spain is just starting introduction of Siemens high speed trains which are nearly identical to the German ICE-3 model on the new Madrid-Barcelona high speed corridor.
Also unlike the ICE-1 and ICE-2 train sets, the ICE-3 and its derivative models have suffered from a surprising number of technical difficulties since introduction into service in 2000. The ICE-3 series has suffered problems with brakes, propulsion controls and various electrical systems. In addition, the tilt body ICE-T allegedly suffers from early wear-out of its wheels. The ICE-VT, a diesel-electric variant with tilting body capability, has experienced problems with cracks in wheel axles and suspension components. And all variants of the ICE-3 family have experience problems with windows, passenger toilets, and air conditioning. DB was so unsatisfied with the performance of the diesel variant, ICE-VT, that it removed all of the train sets from service and placed them up for sale. Ironically, the earlier designed VT 612 tilt body diesel MUs used as replacements for ICE-VT train sets on the Nürnburg - Dresden route also experienced axle cracking problems, causing Germanys federal rail authority to issue a rule that required deactivation of the tilting feature on the VT 612 trains, thereby reducing en-route speeds on this route.
Siemens refutes the charges coming from DBAG and states that all significant technical problems have solutions identified and in many cases already implemented. An ICE-3 costs approximately € 25 million (US$ 30 million) per train set, and is capable of 300 - 330 kmh (186 -205 mph) speeds in revenue service. An ICE-T tilting train set costs approximately EUR 15 million and can operate at speeds upto 230 kmh.
German railfan magazine Lok Report reports that the European Union Parliament has approved the third railway package. It is the thrid installment of a four-stage legislation action to liberalize the European rail network to more cross-border traffic. EU member states still must approve the legislation for the new rules to become effective.
This installment includes measures to enhance interoperability, such as an EU-wide license for locomitive and train drivers, more expansive consumer rights for passengers, and easier access for independent companies to state-owned rail networks. Paolo Costa, chairman of the European Parliaments committee on transport, said: This package represents a last chance for European railways to reverse their negative trend, as over the last years they have been losing passengers to road, air, and maritime transport. This package represents a step forward in this direction and makes way for more competitive and customer-friendly modes of transport for passengers and freight.
However, some national governments within the European Union are opposed to parts of the legislation, which is not expected to become law until 2010. The main source of the opposition is mostly rail labor unions which are fearful of loosing jobs to competing rail companies in a liberalized rail market. Apparently the more imminent and serious threat of job losses to over the road truckers does not trouble these rail labor unions nearly as much.
According to a report in the Financial Time Deutschland, British rail freight carrier English Welsh and Scottish Railway (EWS), one of the two main rail freight carriers in Great Britain, has announced its opposition to a planned east-west rail link in London. The planned rail link has been in the proposed in various forms for over decade, the rail link would provide a way for passenger trains from east and northern parts of Britain to cross through London to the south and west, and trains from south or east of London to continue west or north to other cities such as Birmingham or Manchester. Primarily the Crossrail link would add a second cross city link for suburban service trains to cross through London. The only current cross city for suburban trains is the so-called Thames Link, a north-south rail line which regional trains use to travel from Brighton on the countrys southern coast to Bedford, a large town north of London, which most experts consider as maxed out on capacity.
EWS states that the current proposal could cause it to loose as many as 200 weekly freight train movements in the London area, due to increased utilization of rail lines caused by a east-west link-up of commuter and regional rail lines. Although the company stated it is not opposed to expanded passenger rail transport in the greater London area, including a cross city rail link, it opposed to the current form of the Crossrail proposal due to the negative impact the current proposal will have on its daily operations in the greater London area. EWS plans to make its case against the current Crossrail proposal in the British Parliament.
Londons rail connections to the rest of the country are characterized by a number of rail lines ending in terminal train stations such as Victoria Station, Waterloo Station, Euston Station, Paddigton Station and several other rail terminals which are arranged around the city center in a ring. Only the rail line from Brighton (via London Gatwick Airport) is connected through the London city center to a rail line which runs north from London Kings Cross station to Bedford and beyond (via London Luton Airport) with Thames Link. A change in the power supply from 700 VDC third rail power to 25 kV 50 Hz AC overhead line in the Thames Link tunnel means only trains equipped to operate on both power systems can transit across Thames Link.
With Crossrail, transit planners hope to provide London with a single-mode urban/suburban train system, similar to the extensive RER train system in Paris, or S-Bahn train systems in Frankfurt, Zürich, Berlin, Munich, Vienna and other German speaking cities. In North America, Philadelphias SEPTA commuter rail system comes closest to resembling a S-Bahn or RER urban/suburban rail network.
Grade crossing madness
It is ironic that the Federal Railroad Administration should release its six-month report (see related story, FRA says Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Fatalities and Train Accidents Show Significant Decline During First Half of 2005), touting statistical improvements to grade crossing safety, just two days before Americas disgraceful lack of transportation policy planning took yet two more lives (see Amtrak Acela story).
The Administrations national passenger rail policy, which is to throw Amtrak into the hands of the states and walk away from it, is only slightly less irresponsible than the on-going failure to address grade crossing safety in the only way it can be addressed, which is to make plans --- NOW --- to bridge, tunnel, or close them all.
We know full well that it is impractical to do that in one fell swoop, or even over a decade. But we must get the process started, and to do that, Congress has to re-set Americas transportation priorities so that spending on rail infrastructure thats right, freight as well as passenger --- is brought to bear on curing the massive highway overspending that has lead to gridlock throughout America.
There are about a quarter of a million grade crossings in America. Only 60,000 have any protection at all other than a pair of crossbucks. With the 180,000 remaining --- you and your family are on their own! This state of affairs has been allowed to continue for decades because the rail constituency is poverty-stricken, weak, and fragmented. Even the best run freight railroad, BNSF, barely recovers its cost of capital in most years --- and that is with a pretty lean capital spending plan to begin with.
The reason, for those new to this subject, is that Federal and state laws have been carefully written to favor highway spending, and to actively discourage expenditures on intercity rail or transit. For example, 30 of the 50 states have constitutional amendments, passed in the 1930s and 1940s through the efforts of the Highway Lobby, that prohibit the spending of any state gas tax money on anything but highways --- a completely indefensible act that has made sure even Governors who want to use state gas taxes as matching funds to spring Federal money for rail cant do even that.
In Washington, Federal gas tax dollars go into a Highway Trust Fund, another anachronism that force feeds the nation a diet of asphalt and concrete when what it needs is a transportation system. We need to change the Highway fund to a Transportation Trust Fund, and reconfigure Congressional committees such as the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee so that it is divided by region instead of by type of transportation modes. Only then can we can begin regional, systems-based transportation planning.
All of those things are hard to accomplish, but so was going to the moon --- or building the transcontinental railroad. But for starters, Congress could begin NOW to require the US Department of Transportation to come up with a plan to close, tunnel, or bridge every at-grade highway crossing, and then fund that plan. No, it wouldnt require immediately spending 240,000 x $1 million (the average cost assumed to close, tunnel, or bridge each crossing). But we can begin by identifying all the grade crossings that intersect passenger train routes or Class I freight railroad, and then finding a way to fix those --- and then categorize the rest, and make plans to deal with them.
It seems like a tall order, and it is. But the situation should never have been allowed to deteriorate to this level: that each year, 400+ people die, and another 1200+ are injured, because they dont see the train, dont obey the sign, or go around the gates. As I have said before, no one in their right mind would propose that a loaded gasoline tanker truck be allowed to cut across the runway when a 747 is taking off --- and yet, 240,000 times a day in America, thats essentially what we allow. When it comes to rail grade crossings: bridge it, tunnel it, or close it. But dont keep ignoring the problem, because one day the accident will be with an ammonia or chlorine gas tanker in a populated area, and then, thousands will die. When it does, no one should say it was a surprise, because it wont be, at least to those who have thought seriously about it.
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