Vol. 5 No. 39
October 4, 2004

Copyright © 2004
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

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

A weekly North American rail and transit update

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

* Now in our Fifth Year *

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


NCI Special Train

All Photos-NCI: Leo King

The NCI Special on the Providence & Worcester Railroad’s Norwich Branch is stopped in front of Putnam station in “the Quiet Corner,” as the area is sometimes referred to, and just south of Putnam Yard. Some 25 miles ahead is Worcester.

 

NCI Conference:

Political figures see the need
for railroad service everywhere

By Leo King
Editor

Connecticut Rep. Andrea Stillman (D), a 12-year House Transportation Committee member, said “I have an opportunity – I’m sorry to say – to drive to Keene, N.H.” where her children are.

She was speaking to the gathering in New London, Conn., on September 18 at the National Corridors Initiative conference.

“I drive through Worcester and pass the [newly renovated] station frequently, so if we could get a rail line to Keene, I’d be happy to take the train.”

She was speaking directly to Worcester Mayor Timothy Murray, who had spoken earlier in the morning session to the conferees about potential commuter traffic between Worcester and Groton. (D:F September 27).

The state committees are bi-partisan. Stillman is a representative sitting on the Transportation Committee, but she is running for the Senate this year after serving at least 10 years in the House.

“If she wins, she is going to request to continue being on that committee,” said NCI’s Molly McKay of nearby Mystic, Conn.

Stillman continued, “Next time I go to Worcester, I will go into the station and take a look around, because it’s certainly beautiful from the outside.”

She said she was looking forward to working with Sen. Donald Williams (D) and other members of the legislature, “to make change” in her state “in terms of transportation. It is vital that we do that. Many of us, including Rep. Steven Mikutel (D) who serves on the Transportation Committee, have been talking about having to move the [state] DOT off from being so highway-centered, and that we need to look at other intermodal forms of transportation.”

She said using their ports was just as important as rail connections.

“We’ve been talking about the need to move commercial traffic off I-95.”

She was enthusiastic about Bridgeport using its port to move truck traffic off highways. In a pilot program, ferries will haul commercial traffic between New York and Bridgeport.

She said she “advocated for New London, but I don’t chair the Transportation Committee; Rep. Jacqueline M. Cocco (D) of Bridgeport does. So, Bridgeport got the opportunity. It’s my hope New London will really be the focus of that particular project.”

She added, “I’m delighted we’re all of like minds, and together we can make some changes in Connecticut and in the Northeast, because we have to start thinking more regionally. Economic development is really is in everybody’s best future, and New England certainly needs that.”

NCI CEO Jim Repass

NCI’s Jim RePass watches passengers climb aboard the NCI Special, which, while on Amtrak territory between New London and Groton, carried Amtrak train numbers. The train carried about 75 riders plus a five-man crew over the Providence & Worcester from New London to Putnam, Conn.

NCI’s McKay is also Transportation Chair of the Connecticut Chapter of the Sierra Club. She told her audience about “an egregious example of a rail study” conducted by the state’s DOT.

The legislature had passed a bill to study the “P&W and New England Central. Worcester is a major hub of the Providence & Worcester, but the DOT did not extend the study beyond the state line. They didn’t take into account ridership that would be coming from Worcester because it’s not in Connecticut, so their ridership figures were obviously greatly flawed.”

She added, “That’s why we need New England planning, a New England Transit Authority.”

P&W Special

Round-end observation coach The New Englander nearly brought up the rear of the train – except for a B39-8 tied onto the rear. Four orange and brown coaches, including a diner, came from the former Northern Pacific Ry. and its North Coast Limited. Two ex-Amtrak coaches filled out the consist.

George Raymond of MIT reminded us “Passenger service was revived between New London and Worcester once before. According to The Rail Lines of Southern New England: A Handbook of Railroad History by Roland Dale Karr (1995; Branch Line Press, Pepperell, Mass.) “Passenger service returned... on June 9, 1952, using a new rail diesel car between Worcester and New London, and making local stops at towns that had not seen passenger service for nearly twenty-five years. This continued until May 1971 when Amtrak took over most intercity passenger trains; the Worcester-New London train had not been included in the Amtrak network.”

Raymond also pointed out, “The New Haven Railroad employee timetable effective May 12, 1968, shows two round trips daily.”

They were southbound Shoreliner trains 579 and 573 weekdays, and northward trains 570, daily except Sunday; 572, Sundays only; and daily no. 580. The scheduled running time over the 71.82 miles was two hours, eight minutes.

Inside the end Lounge car

Inside P&W’s lounge car, The New Englander, it remains much as it appeared when the car toiled for the Northern Pacific.

Doug Alexander, rail director of the Georgia Rail Authority, told his audience he has written a proposal for a “Track-pac,” as he termed it. In brief, it would create a political action committee for railroad matters, a “a fund for national rail development.”

He explained, “We obviously know that the main thing we’ve got to do – as they said in the movie, The Right Stuff, ‘You know what makes your rockets go up?

‘ Funding.

“Funding makes your rockets go up,’ and funding makes trains work,” and funding makes anything work with transportation – but we have been ignored, and I think one of the reasons we’ve been ignored is because whenever a member of Congress votes for a road project there’s usually a little sweetener in their campaign account a little later on that helps them to stay in office.”

Alexander is also an NCI vice-chairman.

The one-time Atlanta city council member knows first-hand how important funding is to an election or reelection campaign. He recently unsuccessfully ran for the city council president’s seat.

Politicians “want help with their campaign accounts. Whenever they vote for rail projects they get a thank-you note – maybe.

“We need to change that.”

The idea of a political action committee “is to support people, to get people elected to Congress who will support rail with federal funds.”

He added, “We’ve tried to get a rail title in ICE-TEA,” the first national transit funding legislation. “We tried to get a rail title in TEA-21,” the current law, and “we tried to get a rail title in ‘Third TEA,’ whatever its name ends up being. We damn well have to have a rail title in Fourth TEA, and that’s what this is going to be about.”

In Georgia rail matters, Alexander explained that about 18 months ago, “We tallied up how much money we had that we had earmarked in TEA-21 plus how much we had in state funds to match it, plus how much our DOT was willing to flex. That number came to $106 million.” He said at “$108” at the conference, but in a follow-up phone call he stated the correct number.

They then asked their consultants how far they could get with that sum for a commuter train line out of Atlanta.

“We have a plan for seven of them, covering 400 miles and ultimately carrying 40,000 people a day. What we’re going to get is the first-third of one, 26 miles serving seven communities.”

They would use used but rehabilitated Budd double-deck cars to be acquired from Chicago that were built in the 1950s for METRA. Alexander said, “We’re not sure what locomotives we’ll use to pull them.”

“The commissioner of Transportation [Harold Linnenkohl] sent a letter to the governor [Sonny Perdue (R)] outlining this whole project. The governor never responded to that. At the same time, the commissioner sent a letter to Norfolk Southern Ry., which owns the old right-of-way; it’s the old Central of Georgia line.

“Since 1971, when the Nancy Hanks was discontinued, it has gone down to a 10 mph railroad. Recently, we did some tie work and brought it back up to 35 mph.

Alexander is also in new digs. He and the Georgia Rail Authority literally moved into new offices at Georgia DOT’s intermodal division at 276 Memorial Drive, SW, Atlanta 30303. D:F had the pleasure of being his first caller at his new number on Friday.

The letter that came back from NS’s No. 2 person said, ‘We’re not sure these numbers work, but, we want them to, and we want this to happen.’

“Anyone who has been following Class Is knows that’s quite a seed change in the way NS operates.”

Alexander said they are now in negotiations with NS.

“We expect to have an agreement with them within three months. We hope to, because we want to be able to go to the legislature in January when they reconvene and say, ‘Looky what we’re gonna do. Here’s the project.”

P&W Engineer, Steve Carlson

Providence & Worcester engineer Steve Carlson keeps his eyes on the track ahead. There are neither dispatcher-controlled signals nor switches on the Norwich line. Switches are hand-operated, and trains operate via Form D, which is written authority to occupy a length of track.

He said the main issue for any governor, for any legislature, is how do you pay for the subsidy? We’re always providing aid to highways and aid to aviation, but we’re subsidizing rail. So, how do we pay for the operations? We’re going to have CMAQ (the acronym is pronounced “see-mac”) funds to pay for the first three years.”

That’s money from Congestion Mitigation of Air Quality, part of the former TEA-21 and current ICE-TEA law.

“What do we do for the seven ‘out’ years? The feds want to know what your 10-year plan is. How are you going to keep things running? How is our investment going to make sense? When you run out of the federal dollars, how do you keep it going?”

Alexander said Atlanta “is going to pick up the $5 million a year in ‘operating support,’ as we prefer to call it… or ‘aid.’ That has stopped a lot of the nattering nabobs of negativism at the upper levels of our government. When you have an actual grass roots… when the grass roots actually grow and come up and say, ‘We want this,’ as opposed to pretending it’s grass roots like they’re doing in Florida in trying to trickle down, they really can’t ignore it.”

Georgia’s governor, in Alexander’s view, is waiting until he sees an agreement with NS “before he’ll pass judgment” on the project.

“He will see cities and a county that pledge to support it with real dollars. One of the things they’re considering is a corridor investment where the tax income that increases along that corridor would be used to help support train operations.”

They’ll start with three trains a day, he said, “but it’s going to be a start. Once folks can see it, feel it, touch it, and understand it, from that, then they get empirical evidence; the floodgates are going to burst.

“There’s so much support out there among the cities and towns of Georgia that want not only commuter rail, but the ones that live farther outside the metro corridor want intercity rail. They want three to five trains a day so they cannot have to use their cars.”

That has the highway lobby fretting, he added.

In Run position atthe throttle

P&W engineer Carlson practices his profession by moving the throttle past notch 3 and keeping the train moving around 40 mph.

Democratic Congressional candidate Jim Sullivan came down solidly on the side of passenger rail. He said, “Rail service is part of the solution to our nation’s transportation crisis, and clearly must be a part of the solution that we need right here in Eastern Connecticut.”

He credited the 1991 Congress for enacting the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) – known to most people as “Ice-tea.”

“That word, ‘intermodal,’ really changed the way that we think. No longer ‘highway’ only, but a balanced approach to transportation policy that acknowledges the benefits of rail.”

He said better rail service would help ease highway congestion, and would “encourage development that is environmentally and culturally beneficial.”

He observed many people in Eastern Connecticut “have been saying, ‘Our time has come, from an economic development standpoint, in the New London, Norwich and Putnam corridor.’ Those of us who grew up here still refer to it as the ‘Route 52 corridor’. It’s where most of the significant development will occur… in the next 50 years.

“Not ‘might occur” – will occur. This might soon be the fastest-growing part of Connecticut. We need to responsibly manage this growth, and rail service is such a critical tool in managing growth intelligently and efficiently in a truly balanced way.”

He added that if the region has good commuter rail, “between New London, Groton, Norwich and Willimantic stores, we will create a link between the largest population centers and the largest employers – a link that truly makes sense.”

Sullivan declared, “Rail service holds the promise of encouraging tourism throughout this region – and especially in opening up the “Quiet Corner,” which many conferees traveled to the next day via a Providence & Worcester passenger extra.

“It will be the type of tourism our region wants,” he added, “ecologically, friendly tourism. We need to bring back the weekend getaway for millions of people in New York and Boston who know better than to try and tackle I-95 on their way to a period of rest.”

He said other transportation options also need to be explored.

“We need to bring Shore Line East all he way to the Rhode Island border. We need to upgrade Amtrak. Acela is great, but I still do not know why every country in the world, it seems, has high-speed rail, except the U.S.”

He said their “tourism trade along the shore is hurting when I-95 is impassible, and all of us should be concerned when we read headlines in the newspapers ‘Traffic choking tourism,’” which readers read in recent days.

If we can achieve balance in our transportation systems, he said, “The benefits will be great for our environment, our development and even for our culture.”

NCI Special rolls southward

The NCI Extra rolls southward shortly after leaving Putnam.

NCI vice-chair and former Bay State representative John Businger told the gathering why Boston’s north-south rail tunnel project would be a good thing not only for Boston, but also for all of New England.

“The North-South rail link would be the connection of the 1.1-mile gap that exists between North Station and South Station in Boston.”

The Downeaster trains currently operate from North Station to Portland, Maine, and all Boston-bound Northeast Corridor trains tie up in South Station.

“That simple” four-track “connection links the entire Northeast Corridor – which now could be set to extend to Portland.”

Businger said its cost “would probably be somewhere between $2 and $4 billion – but you’ll see $7 billion in the paper because they are assuming it’s going to be built in 2010, and you can then make the costs higher.”

He said another problem with cost is “You don’t compare apples to oranges. Some people say, ‘Here’s this project…’ Let’s pick a project in Boston; I won’t mention any names – there are several – will cost $2 billion. A $2 billion project in a locality comparing it to $4 billion for a project that serves an entire East Coast of the U.S… How do you compare the two?”

He added, “Cost has to be viewed in context.”

He said the one-mile gap was real, not theoretical, because of that new Portland service. He also noted the southern endpoint for most trains is Washington, D.C., but many of those trains are now continuing on to Richmond, Va., and a few to Newport News, Va. All the southward long-distance train en route to Florida and the Carolinas also pass through Richmond.

“The important thing about the rail link is not only does it connect the Northeast Corridor for Amtrak, but it also connects our entire commuter rail system,” the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

“We have a system called ‘North Side’ and ‘South Side.’ North side is any train that runs to North Station – which means it could be from Rockport or Fitchburg [among other places], and ‘South Side’ means any train that runs to its terminus at South Station, which would mean the Old Colony line which run south of Boston, but it also means trains that run west to Worcester.” South Side trains also go to Providence, R.I. and other places.

Businger said by connecting them all, “You would produce ‘line pairs.’ You could get to Fitchburg, for example, from Brockton, or Lowell to Worcester.”

The tunnel would begin (or end) to the right of the current station tracks as a viewer faces the station from trackside, pass under and between existing Red Line subway tunnels and the new I-93 “Big Dig” hole in the ground, and resurface on the left side at North Station, as a viewer faces the station from trackside.

“The various combinations would then link up all the subway lines – seamless connections, ” he explained.

So by making what would be a truly regional rail network it forms a system that has tremendous economic, environmental and transportation benefits.”

He added that in transportation benefits, their modelers said the project would take more cars off the road than any other plan they had seen, which is a major environmental concern, and is why the Sierra Club makes it such a priority.

“You’re taking a tremendous amount of people out of the core cities but you’re also taking them out of the interstate highways, like I-495 and 128.” Route 128 is a multi-lane ring road around the Hub.

“Imagine if you can go from Worcester to Lowell without using 495,” he speculated, or go from Marshfield to Fitchburg without using Route 128, so there are tremendous transportation benefits there.”

He said there would be “tremendous environmental benefits” as well as “tremendous economic benefits because the modern thinking is toward eliminating urban sprawl and concentrating development around rail so you don’t need as many highways.”

Crossing the Shetucket River

Just south of Taft’s Tunnel, the P&W crosses the Shetucket River (near MP 15.3). The NCI Special was southbound.

He spelled out some details.

“The economics of the situation, so people could develop businesses around the rail stations, is a tremendous opportunity, and for those of us in Massachusetts, because we have separate systems, you could combine maintenance systems and open up land for development.”

He suggested size does matter.

“Since New England is a small place, it doesn’t take a lot of genius to realize even our commuter rail system has regional benefits, because now people in Southern New Hampshire want to connect to our system in Massachusetts. Every other state is close enough to our commuter rail,” so by connecting to a regional rail system, “people can get around New England.”

Businger said he wanted to turn the NCI conference in an “action conference, because the whole idea is to get this done.”

Participation is important, as a previous speaker pointed out. Businger told his listeners he had been a founding member of a “progressive political organization called ‘Citizens for Participation in Politics’ – but we need more than participation. We need to build coalitions to work for solutions that work, and that means participation, it means organizational ability and intensity to form organizations, and it means goals, solutions that work ‘craftibly’ to achieve some of the ends that you want to meet.”

The former Bay State legislator said, “The beauty of transportation is that it is an opportunity for people who don’t often work together to achieve results – if they can work effectively together.”

Turning to a larger scale, Businger said he did not agree with current rail transportation policies emanating from Washington.

“It distresses me to have our transportation policy run, now, in the country based on ideology. To some extent, every philosophy is an ideology, but when we say ‘ideology,’ what we’re usually referring to is a force that drives a person’s position without any regard to the practicability of the solution, and the way the ideology becomes the driving force.

“Maybe that’s great, but let’s admit it if we’re doing that.”

Amtrak came to mind.

“I’ve listened to all these people who want to split up Amtrak. They’ve never told me to any satisfaction why they’re doing it, and, more importantly, what comes after. Is there a brave new world out there?”

A previous speaker, from U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd’s office said, according to Businger, – “Amtrak was formed because private interests were not able to run the rail system. It needs heavy public subsidies. To deny that and to try to pretend you’re interest in rail you’re going to offer two separate courses. You can only run an integrated system, a national corridor system, regional rail systems, if you have political leadership that is intent on creating an entity that can actually effectively run it, and to recognize that it needs governmental support – and not try to pretend that somehow, magically, people are going to be so interested in doing this that they would do without that support.”

He declared the corridors must be recognized as priorities.

“We’re never going to build a north south rail link or any regional corridor – Midwest or Southern corridors – unless we recognize rail extending and completing corridors and closing the gaps – like the North-South Rail Link is, unless we recognize them as national and regional priorities.”

Businger opined, “One passenger rail project was mentioned as being the best example of a project that would comply” with the law’s aims. It was the North-South Rail Link. The other was the Alameda Corridor in Los Angeles.

“It needs political support from all levels. It needs private support, it needs public support, it needs public interest group support, it needs business support – it needs recognition by all of us that we have a job to do together.”

Businger concluded with some impassioned remarks.

“Modern America must look to Japan, look to Europe, and realize we are way behind, and it’s about time we catch up.”

Acella 2257 at New London passes

Amtrak Acela Express 2257 passes through New London at the prescribed 25 mph after stopping briefly on September 19. The NCI Special on the P&W has exited the station and is well on its way to Plainfield, Conn., where it will tie up for the night.

 

After we went to press, Georgia Rail’s Doug Alexander informed us, “The city of Atlanta is not picking up the $5-to-7 million a year in operating costs for the out years. Rather, Clayton County and the cities of East Point, Forest Park, Morrow, Jonesboro and Lovejoy have all pledged by resolutions to cover the costs. Also, this first leg will serve six cites, including Atlanta, not seven.”


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What’s old is new again:

Renewed P&W line may be key
to regional tourism growth

By John LaPoint
Special to Destination:Freedom

As Greater Boston’s population continues to move from the east into the relatively less expensive areas of the Blackstone Valley, we may have to look at old assets to provide answers to new challenges. The valley is a population and industrial center spanning parts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

While the completion of a state road (in both states), Route 146 interchange with the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90) at Millbury, Mass. is one important piece to the transportation puzzle, a few influential voices are beginning to understand that the railroads are also a way to provide dependable transportation links to the east, north and south.

Some government officials are finally talking about the need for passenger rail service between the Blackstone River Corridor’s two hub cities, Providence and Worcester. That's something that hasn’t taken place for almost 40 years.

The story of the railroads is closely linked with the story of growth in the Blackstone Valley, and not just recently. Just as the Blackstone Canal is now being uncovered in many places and showcased for its historic, economic development and tourist possibilities, the railroads are historically linked with the canal story and the perceived economic need for improving transportation speed and efficiency some 20 to 30 years after the Blackstone Canal was built. Many historians telling the story of the early industrial revolution cite the railroad lines from Worcester, then and now a major inland city, to Providence and Boston as the primary reason for the early demise of that canal.

Fast-forward to the early years of the 21st century. Now we celebrate uncovering the canal in places up and down the 46-mile Blackstone Valley corridor. We have projects underway in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island to discover hidden but still basically intact parts of the Blackstone Canal, and we celebrate its historic value and finally recognize it as an important tourist-attracting asset.

All during that time freight carried to market up and down the Providence-to-Worcester rail corridor has ebbed and flowed – depending on the state of the national economy, world events, and the railroads themselves. This 43.1-mile railroad corridor, owned by the Providence & Worcester Railroad, many believe, has the possibility of being one of our most important future people moving assets.

Massachusetts state Sen. Richard Moore (of Uxbridge), a Heritage Corridor commissioner, is maybe the original voice in the Blackstone Valley calling for a resumption of passenger rail service between the two cities. This year, as once great railroads stations in Woonsocket, R.I. and Worcester have been beautifully refurbished and made into true intermodal transportation centers, Heritage Corridor Commissioner Michael Creasey, Worcester Mayor Tim Murray and Worcester City Councilor Dennis Irish have added their voices to push for the resumption of some scheduled rail service between Worcester, Woonsocket, and Providence.

A passenger rail link between Worcester and Providence seems but a distant memory, but many of our elders still remember the service provided by the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad. Although that service came to an abrupt end in the 1960s when the railroads in the Northeastern U.S. failed financially and Congress stepped in, there are still hidden vestiges of that 100-plus year rail passenger service that many believe died a slow and painful death with the advent of interstate highways and airports. Today there is only one main line track between the two cities instead of two tracks, and enterprising railroad history buffs are discovering and uncovering abandoned railroad stations reused as Chinese restaurants (Linwood) or simply sitting abandoned and overgrown in farm fields (Wilkinsonville), a stone’s throw away from the Blackstone River itself.

When the P&W won a successful legal battle and resumed freight operations over the former New Haven railroad line in 1972 – P&W reclaimed its line ownership because successor Penn Central did not live up to its agreements – few would have foreseen the need for passenger rail service ever again.

Even with its financial ups and downs, Amtrak, the National Railroad Passenger Corp. in the heavily populated Northeast Corridor from Boston to New York and Washington, D.C., has thrived, and has even seen measured growth since the events of September 11, 2001.

Passenger rail service along the Boston-Worcester corridor failed in the 1960s, and while a few Amtrak trains, most notably the Lake Shore Limited between Boston, Albany and Chicago, continued in service, it was not until a clear vision for the rebirth of Worcester’s Union Station was in place that regular passenger rail service, provided by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, was put back into place in September, 1994.

[In April 1955, the NYNH&H was still running a daily round-trip commuter train, some weekend service, and the through State of Maine on the 42-mile route. – Ed.]

Today, the cities of Providence and Worcester are thriving passenger rail centers in their own right, but neither is connected to the other by rail passenger service except, ironically, through South Station in Boston. Providence is an important hub in rail service by both the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and high-speed Amtrak Acela Express service between Boston and New York City. The MBTA service extends through South Attleboro, Mass., to Providence and soon on to a second modern intermodal transportation hub planned at Rhode Island’s T. F. Green International Airport.

What of resumption of rail passenger service between Worcester and Providence? Some economic development and tourist interests see Worcester and Providence not as competing cities, but as true transportation and hospitality lodging hubs serving the needs of the areas in between the hubs, and also connected to the airports serving those cities.

At several recent tourism seminars throughout the Blackstone Valley, Joe Veneto, of Opportunities Unlimited in Quincy, Mass., has emphasized that Worcester and Providence should not compete for tourists, but should be seen as major entry points for tourists coming into and accessing the surrounding historical, recreational and tourism assets, such as those found throughout the Blackstone Valley Heritage Corridor.

To many, passenger rail service between Worcester and Providence is the one service missing that creates a three-sided triangle, not unlike the thriving economic development triangle found in North Carolina (Raleigh-Greensboro areas) and in other states. The concept is not to fight over where tourists stay overnight – Worcester hotels versus Providence hotels – but that wherever tourists stay they are then “pulled into” the Blackstone Valley for at least one or two days to support the area’s attractions and businesses.

In 1990, the Massachusetts legislature included a Providence-Worcester passenger rail service feasibility study in that year’s version of the Transportation Bond Bill. Only with several studies underway for increasing passenger rail service between Boston and Worcester has this old study idea, authorized but never funded, come to light.

Now, Worcester area politicians and officials, familiar with the oversubscribed use of 10 round trip passenger trains to Boston each day, are beginning to ask questions about why this Worcester-Providence study wasn’t completed. They are even taking up the cause to study the potential of a light rail connection between Union Station and the Worcester Airport along the P&W’s Gardner branch, an idea attributed to Carolyn Crowley Simpson of the Polar Beverage family and Wachusett Mountain Ski Area, and Mike Sowyrda, a Worcester attorney and former Grafton Selectman keenly interested in regional transportation issues.

While there's much interest in renewing a Worcester to Providence rail link, it may already be too late, because there is also a plan to resume rail passenger service between Worcester and New London, Conn., with connections to Amtrak service at New London. This service would utilize the P&W corridor from Worcester through Putnam, Norwich and Groton to New London.

As D:F reported last week, on September 18 and 19, NCI held its 2004 National Conference, “TransPlan 21,” and included an inspection trip from New London to Putnam, and a return trip to New London.

This New London-Worcester line has been proposed for resuming passenger rail service by such groups as the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission (CMRPC), and is part of a New England Demonstration Project by NCI.

While no one is saying that restarting Worcester-New London passenger service will preclude the eventual restart of Providence-Worcester rail passenger service, it’s important that Blackstone Valley leaders on both sides of the state line recognize that passenger rail service is no longer a pipe dream. Those advocating for this connection are not just referring to the now busy schedule of excursion trains on the P&W.


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NCI: Leo King

In August 2001, Old Lyme Draw was hard to open, and even tougher to close, until some vital parts were replaced. Bridges and Buildings crews were forced to drive a Pettibone out onto the bascule deck to send the bridge “home” so it could close properly and the bridge operator could lock it up for rail traffic

 

Amtrak shows bridges need replacement

When engineers were building the Thames River Railroad Bridge in 1918, the Red Sox won the World Series. Since then, the 188-foot-long drawbridge in the middle of the river has groaned open to allow ships and submarines to pass.

The bridge lies above the river spanning the shores between New London and Groton.

It groans open, sometimes, The Day of New London, Conn. reported on September 29.

In July, four massive bolts — 1-and-7/8 inches thick and 4-feet long — broke. While Amtrak engineers say the bridge is still structurally sound, they say it is mechanically fickle. It can get stuck open or closed, stopping train and river traffic.

All this “gives the signal to us that the bridge is getting tired,” said Jim Richter, Amtrak’s deputy chief engineer for structures. “We basically tried to patch [the broken bolts] with a Band-Aid.”

Officials have drafted a five-year plan to fix the railroad’s ailing infrastructure, including the Thames River Bridge, the Niantic River Bridge and the Connecticut River Bridge. Officials are poised to kick off their five-year plan with one catch: money.

This year Amtrak asked for just under $1.8 billon from the federal government. That included $570 million in capital improvements to fix infrastructure, which would cover parts of the local bridge projects.

Mitch Warren, Amtrak’s senior director of national state relations, said Tuesday that the House’s current version of the federal budget in committee doesn’t allot any money for Amtrak. The Senate’s version sets aside $1.2 billion. President George W. Bush has proposed giving Amtrak $900 million, a figure officials said would shut down the railroad by the end of February.

To fight for the money, Amtrak gathered the signatures of 19 governors, including Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell, 200 U.S. Representatives and 51 U.S. Senators, including Connecticut Democrats Chris Dodd and Joe Lieberman.

Even with that support, there is a hold up. Warren said the chairmen of the appropriations committees in both houses oppose fully funding Amtrak.

To increase pressure, the railroad rounded up about 10 journalists and led them on a tour of three Connecticut bridges, hoping to rally public support with a “show and tell.” Engineers from Washington and beyond briefed reporters in an office car coupled to an Acela Express train, with one of the broken bolts from the Thames River Bridge plunked conspicuously in the middle of a conference table.

Amtrak distributed a video of local engineers complaining about problems with the bridges.

Donning hardhats and orange raincoats, officials led photographers and television cameramen up onto the Thames River Bridge to get an up-close look at what they say is wrong.

“It’s only going to get worse,” said David Hughes, Amtrak’s chief engineer. “You can only put things off for so long.”

The proposed two-year, $45-millon project to replace the moving section of the bridge would completely change the structure. It is a bascule bridge with a 4-million pound counterweight lowering to lift one end of the 188-foot span so boats and other river traffic can pass.

“Submarines can’t dive to get through the bridge,” Richter said, adding that 15 submarines a month move through the open bridge. Last year the bridge opened 2,100 times, officials said.

Officials have plans for a lift-suspension bridge with two towers that would reach higher than nearby Interstate 95’s Gold Star Memorial Bridge. The two towers would lug both sides of the movable span skyward, similar to the Cape Cod Canal Bridge in Massachusetts.

The Niantic Bridge, Amtrak’s busiest movable bridge – railroaders call it “Nan,” – is older than the Thames River Bridge. It was built in 1907 and opens 3,800 times a year with the help of what engineers described as a giant, antiquated bicycle chain. The rickety machinery delayed trains 2,000 minutes last year, officials said.

For $60 million, Amtrak wants to replace the entire bridge, including some sections of the track approaching the bridge. In winter 2001, the bridge jammed, and officials said it was stuck down for a week, trapping the boats on the upside of the Niantic River.

Officials plan to build another drawbridge next to the existing bridge, which would require moving an earthen retaining wall that supports the tracks. They hope to put the project out to bid in 2006, if they get the money.

The Connecticut River Bridge – “Conn” to railroaders and “Old Lyme Draw” to boaters – stretches from Old Lyme to Old Saybrook. It, too, was built in 1907. It flakes with rust and is overstressed, officials said. Amtrak wants to commission a $500,000 feasibility study to weigh replacement versus rehabilitation options.


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TEA-21 getting extended yet again

With no agreement in sight on a multi-year transportation bill, Congress was on the verge of approving a measure that would continue the highway and transit programs for eight months. The House passed the legislation on Friday (September 30) by a 409-8 vote and the Senate was expected to approve it later, the Engineering News-Record (McGraw-Hill) reported on Friday.

Transportation programs have been operating under a series of five extensions since September 30, 2003, when the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century expired. The new legislation would carry the programs through May 31. It provides $24.5 billion over that period for surface transportation programs, which is two-thirds of the 2005 amount provided under the six-year transport bill the House approved in April.

David Bauer, American Road & Transportation Builders Assn. vice-president for government relations, said an eight-month bill is “certainly better news for the overall marketplace than a series of one- or two-month extensions,” but, he added, “It’s still not as good as a multi-year bill.”

Bauer noted that the extension also indicated that work would continue on a multi-year successor to TEA-21.

“This is something that’s not going away. It’s going to require continued presence and activism on the part of industry to try and pursue our priorities,” he said.

In the Senate, Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) didn’t back a six-month extension recently proposed by Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Christopher Bond (R-Mo.), but Inhofe will support the eight-month bill, said committee spokesman Will Hart. Nevertheless, Hart added that Inhofe’s top priority is still “to get a six-year bill done this year. He expected bipartisan and bicameral talks to continue, and he hopes that “We’re able to come to an agreement and be able to pass a six-year bill when we come back in a lame-duck session.”


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Illinois retains Amtrak trains for $12 million

State-supported passenger trains will keep rolling on three Illinois rail corridors, under a $12.1 million deal between Amtrak and the Illinois DOT.

The State Journal Register reported on September 17 that the one-year contract, finalized the week of September 5, allows for Amtrak to maintain one daily round-trip train on each of the routes – Chicago to St. Louis, Chicago to Quincy and Chicago to Carbondale.

“There’s no change in service levels anywhere in Illinois,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said.

Amtrak also will continue operating seven daily round trips on the corridor linking Chicago with Milwaukee, although the state of Wisconsin is expected to pay a larger share of the cost. IDOT’s contribution for the service has dropped from 25 percent to 20 percent, agency spokesman Matt Vanover said.


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Amtrak is back on track to Florida

Amtrak said on Friday it would operate all four of its round-trip trains between the Northeast and Florida by Saturday (October 2.) In addition to service restored on Friday by the Auto Train, other trains began running again, including all the daily Florida trains on Saturday.

Only the Sunset Limited (Nos. 1 and 2) has not returned. The carrier stated in a press release the return of full service by the three-days-weekly Sunset “is delayed by a previously scheduled track improvement project between New Orleans and Jacksonville on trackage owned by CSX Transportation.”

CSX reported it reopened 200 miles of high-volume track in the Florida Panhandle that was closed two weeks ago when Hurricane Ivan washed out rail lines, knocked out power and felled trees. Traffic resumed Tuesday on the tracks between Pensacola and Tallahassee, which handle about 30 trains a day, said spokesman Gary Sease. The line is CSX’s only direct link between the rest of Florida and New Orleans.

Restoring Florida services comes after a series of hurricanes and tropical storms lashed the state and after a great amount of repairs carried out by Amtrak, CSX – which owns most of the track used by Amtrak in Florida – and others.


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Busy CSX line:

Millions for rail upgrades unspent

Virginia’s top public rail official said last week she was “disappointed and frustrated” with CSX Corp. for delaying a $65.7 million upgrade of the rail system between Richmond and Washington.

The improvements are a cornerstone of the state’s efforts to make Amtrak more reliable and faster between the capital cities, according to the Richmond, Va., Times-Dispatch of September 30. Reporter Chip Jones learned better service, in turn, is considered key to luring passengers back to Richmond’s reopened Main Street Station.

“Why isn’t the railroad spending the $65 million?” asked Karen J. Rae, director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation at a conference at Main Street Station.

The 2000 General Assembly allocation was meant to improve the rail system along the busy I-95 corridor. The goal is to give motorists an incentive to take an Amtrak train rather than add to traffic congestion.

Only about $2 million of the allocation has been spent to date, mostly for environmental studies. The bulk of the work has been awaiting the final go-ahead from CSX.

Rae delivered a frank assessment of the sometimes rocky relationship between Virginia transportation officials and CSX, which owns and operates the 100 miles of track from Richmond to Washington.

Rae said she is concerned about Virginia’s inability to get CSX, the nation’s third-largest railroad, to stay on track to do the improvements.

“We have some cooperation at CSX, but I’m not sure it’s through the whole corporate structure,” she said in an interview. CSX is headquartered in Jacksonville, Fla.

“I am most frustrated, as is my staff, the secretary of transportation and the governor that the money is not in the ground yet,” Rae said.

In mid-July, Rae and CSX officials announced an agreement that allowed six projects to move forward. Since then, she said, CSX has raised new issues such as insurance coverage that have delayed the start of construction.

“I’m disappointed and frustrated that we’re still not at the point to dig dirt on these projects,” Rae told more than 100 members of the Richmond Friends of Rail, a passenger rail-advocacy group.

Rae has requested a meeting with CSX’s chairman and CEO, Michael Ward, to discuss her concerns.

CSX spokesman Bob Sullivan, asked about Rae’s remarks, said his company remains committed to the work.

The railroad has sustained widespread damage from the recent hurricanes and tropical storms that have hit the Southeast – the core of CSX’s operations.

“Bonnie, Charley, Frances, Ivan every single one of them have had a tremendous impact on this railroad,” Sullivan said. “We’ve had power outages, we’ve had floods, we’ve had thousands and thousands of trees across our line.”

The railroad, though “very committed” to the Virginia projects, has been swamped by other concerns, he said.

The hurricanes have “taken a lot of the focus of virtually everybody on this railroad,” Sullivan said.

Gov. Mark R. Warner’s top transportation official said that he also wants to meet with CSX.

“CSX has a unique opportunity to capitalize on the use of this $65.7 million,” said Whitt Clement, secretary of transportation and Rae’s boss.

“I’ve made no secret of my willingness to consider a redirection of those funds,” he added.

Clement said he plans to recommend that future rail funding include a competitive component.

If railroads knew they could win state funding by putting up their own capital, he said, “that would bring competition, and possibly better partnership opportunities.”

The $65.7 million allocation has been “just dangling out there” for CSX, he said.

Clement praised the other major railroad operating in Virginia,, Norfolk Southern Corp., for “sending a clearer message than CSX” about its plans to work on joint projects geared toward taking trucks off the highway and restoring passenger rail service in western Virginia.


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Chicago project getting new developer

Frustrated by a lack of progress on a proposed mixed-use redevelopment of Chicago’s Union Station, cash-strapped Amtrak is beginning the search for a new developer, putting a formal end to a deal with Prime Group Realty Trust that fizzled shortly after it was announced more than two years ago.

The historic station, built in 1925, occupies the block bounded by Jackson Boulevard and Canal, Clinton and Adams Streets.

The Chicago Tribune told its readers on September 29 the national passenger railroad has hired a new adviser, WWII LLC, a consulting firm whose principals include Robert Wilmouth, the former president and CEO of the National Futures Assn., and Karen Wuertz, who is an association senior vice-president. Wilmouth was a key adviser to ABN Amro when it chose 550 W. Madison St. as the site for a 1.1 million-square-foot building that opened last year.

Next month, WWII is expected to submit a report on developers’ interest in the project, an Amtrak spokesman said.

“We need to maximize our real estate return to focus on our core business,” he said.

Shortly after Prime Group’s selection in February 2002, Chairman Michael Reschke and Chief Executive Richard Curto resigned amid a tumultuous time at the Chicago real estate investment trust, and the project lost steam.

The overly ambitious proposal, which included renovation and new construction, featured 480,000 square feet of office space, a 300-room hotel and 150 condominiums.


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Stokes gets two years

The truck driver involved in a deadly 1999 Amtrak derailment near Bourbonnais, Ill. was sentenced September 28 to two years in prison for violating driving time limits and logbook rules—the only criminal charges he faced, The AP reported last week.

The crash killed 11 people and injured 122 others aboard Amtrak’s City of New Orleans.

John R. Stokes, 63, was driving a truck loaded with steel the night of March 15, 1999, when the train hit it. The impact derailed the train, sending it smashing into freight cars loaded with steel on an adjacent track.

Stokes was found guilty last month by Kankakee County Judge Clark Erickson of a willful violation of the maximum time limit for commercial truckers and willfully violating laws requiring him to keep an accurate logbook.

In sentencing Stokes, Erickson said that while it couldn’t be proven a lack of rest led to the accident, Stokes might have been able to avoid it if he hadn’t been fatigued.

Stokes did not make any comment in court, and Erickson ordered him immediately taken into custody.

The defense had argued that Stokes suffered from a variety of medical problems including diabetes, and that he should not serve jail time because he is not a danger to society.

The National Transportation Safety Board ruled that Stokes’ failure to heed railroad crossing signals and gates had caused the accident. Federal investigators also said Stokes had had just three to five hours of sleep in the 38 hours before the accident; federal rules at the time required an eight-hour break after 10 hours of driving.


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

Nashville work begins within six weeks

After several months of delays and a higher price tag, major construction on the Music City Star commuter rail lines is set to begin within six weeks, reports the Nashville Tennesseean.

The Regional Transportation Authority, which is helping organize the project, said that a $7.6 million construction contract has been awarded to Queen City Railroad Construction, Inc., and that means major track upgrades can begin. The earliest work will be between the downtown Nashville riverfront and Mount. Juliet.

Passenger service on the 32-mile Nashville-to-Lebanon rail line is set to begin in late 2005. It is expected to help reduce growing interstate traffic congestion.

Construction had been delayed earlier this year because the Tennessee DOT, a financial partner in the project, had concerns about projected passenger numbers, as well as financial and other business details.

“I think the project is stronger because of it,” said Allyson Shumate, rail projects coordinator for the RTA.

Because of TDOT’s doubts, RTA officials spent several months developing a detailed business plan and won TDOT’s support. TDOT is focusing on a new, long-term project plan that emphasizes more public transportation, including rail service.

“Commuter rail may be one part of the solution that we will consider on a case-by-case basis as part of this plan,” TDOT Commissioner Gerald Nicely said.

The commuter-rail project is now budgeted for nearly $40 million – up $2.1 million from the most recent estimate, rail organizers said. The additional costs are to cover the rising cost of steel, as well as more “cushion” money, a contingency fund for unexpected costs.

“That was a big thing, working through and getting TDOT support,” Shumate said.

The Music City Star remains one of the cheapest new commuter-rail projects in the nation, in large part because it will use existing tracks on the Lebanon-Nashville leg. Eleven ex-METRA coaches from Chicago have been shipped to Nashville.

The fare is slated to range from $3 to $4 for each one-way trip, with discounts available for frequent riders.

Mark Hinesley is already looking forward to taking the train into Nashville several times a month for his work as president of the Mt. Juliet/West Wilson County Chamber of Commerce. “We are very, very excited,” Hinesley said.

He also hopes to ride the train in for downtown baseball, if Metro approves a proposed new AAA baseball park for the Nashville Sounds.

Hinesley said he hopes the rail might eventually draw new industry to Wilson County with a work force that could use the rail to travel from Davidson County.

“I think it opens up all kinds of opportunities for two-way traffic,” Hinesley said.

Some challenges still lie ahead.

The Nashville-Lebanon leg, known as the East Corridor, is still about $8 million short of its total budget, but most of the money is coming from federal government grants.

The RTA hopes to secure some or all of the money from the next federal budget, slated to be finalized sometime after the Presidential election.

The Music City Star is one of five proposed commuter-rail lines into Nashville.

Initial research has begun on a second leg, southeast to Rutherford County, but experts say it is probably a number of years in the future.


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Commuter rail ideas get mixed reactions

Austin, Texas voters will have a chance to vote on a proposed commuter rail system when they go to the polls next month. Cap Metro has been hosting public meetings on the plan, including on one recent Monday night. KXAN Austin reported last week there were only five attendees at the September 27 public meeting, which Cap Metro says is about average. Officials have received lots of input via email and letters, but some say voters still aren’t getting enough answers.

Meanwhile, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune noted Manatee County commissioners from Sarasota and Manatee are skeptical about a recently revived notion of a commuter rail system for the Tampa Bay area. They worry that it could drain money from their transportation coffers to benefit more urban areas.

Yet they informally decided Monday to keep open an invitation for them to participate in the reorganizing Tampa Bay Commuter Transit Authority.

“It costs you nothing to stay in it,” Sen. Jim Sebesta (R) told them. “You can bail out anytime you want.”

During this year’s legislative session, Sebesta, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, added Sarasota and Manatee to a 1990 statute that created the authority. The original members were Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando and Polk counties.

Pam Iorio, now Tampa’s mayor, chaired the fledgling authority, Sebesta said. “It just never got off the ground for some reason.”

Fourteen years later, the original member counties want to talk commuter rail again.

A contributing reason is the cross-state, high-speed rail system that Florida voters endorsed in a 2000 referendum, Sebesta said. He thinks high-speed rail will eventually become a reality. A commuter rail system could connect with the high-speed rail in Tampa and other locales.

At the urging of Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, Sebesta got the 1990 statute amended this year to include membership for Sarasota and Manatee.

When they found out about that, the Sarasota and Manatee county commissioners were alarmed. They worried that they were being drawn into a regional transit system in which their communities might have a financial obligation but no direct benefit.

The revived authority does not know enough yet to determine a commuter-rail system’s potential cost, route or construction schedule.

It’s likely to be “very large, very expensive” and to lose money, Sarasota County Commissioner Jon Thaxton told Sebesta. “We felt we (Sarasota-Manatee) would always be a stepchild,” getting little or no service compared with the Tampa-St. Petersburg area.

Yet Sebesta, who spoke to the commissioners during a meeting of the bi-county Metropolitan Planning Organization, assured them that the idea is long-range and, at this point, theoretical.

As long as Sarasota and Manatee are members, however, “you’ll have a seat and a voice at the table,” he said.

The statute allows only revenue bonds, which would be paid back with riders’ fares, as a source of money for the project, Sebesta said. Local taxes could not subsidize it.

Yet the county commissioners countered that the statute could be revised again to expand those funding choices.


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Beacon, N.Y. envisions spiffy station

The Beacon, N.Y. railroad station could get a glamorous makeover complete with a new transportation plaza, three-story garage and “gateway” building under a new long-term plan.

More than 60 spectators crowded into the city’s Rivers and Estuaries Center last week to view the new designs, which include elements from two plans unveiled in November 2002, wrote the Poughkeepsie Journal.

More than 1,800 people use the Beacon station daily, said Randall Fleischer, Metro-North’s director of business development and facilities.

While the plan isn’t funded, community support could lead to federal or private backing, Dutchess County Metro-North board member James Sedore said.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is working on a short-term, $10.5 million plan to add 365 parking spaces, a new entrance from Beekman Street, and lights, sidewalks and landscaping.

Under the long-term design, a new three-story garage would bring the parking total to about 1,800 spots. The garage would be tucked away in a natural hill to blend in the landscape, and the roof would have gardens.

Later, it would reclaim part of the existing parking lot and turn it into recreational land with access to the waterfront. The outdoor parking lot would be reconfigured to create a circular drop-off center for buses, taxis, bikes and other forms of transportation.

Far down the line a new “gateway” building over the tracks could have a ticket counter, waiting room, information kiosks and tourist office. A final phase would leave some open space outside the station for possible private development.


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APTA HIGHLIGHTS...  APTA Highlights...

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


Walker Is New Wilbur Smith President

Hollis A. Walker Jr., P.E., has joined Wilbur Smith Associates as president of the company, effective September 20.

Prior to joining WSA, he was the executive vice president for ARCADIS, responsible for a $100 million per year business unit. Previously, he served as senior vice president for transportation operations for Piedmont Olsen Hensley (currently ARCADIS), and was president of the Systems Division of Kimley Horn and Associates.


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Soon Steps Down as Director of Honolulu Transportation Department

Cheryl D. Soon, director of the Department of Transportation Services for the City and County of Honolulu since 1997, is leaving to accept a position in the private sector. She joined the city in January of 1995 as chief planning officer.

Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris named Soon’s deputy, George (Keoki) Miyamoto, as her successor as head of the Department of Transportation Services. Bob Fishman, who served as the city’s managing director from 1994 to 1998, has agreed to serve as deputy director until the end of Harris’ term.

Before she joined the city staff, Soon headed the Highway Division of Hawaii DOT. She earlier worked on planning, transportation, and urban development projects in Hawaii, New York, Massachusetts, and Puerto Rico.


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...


For NCI: Al Gorney

Providence & Worcester is buying another pair of B39-8s, but this time from the New York, Susquehanna & Western. Earlier copies came from Burlington Northern Santa Fe. P&W is mum on the sale price. The engines, 4006 and 4008, made their last trip to Susie-Q’s Utica shops on September 26 where they are being outfitted with automatic train controls for use on the Northeast Corridor.

 

CSX asks for rebids; 20 people affected

A CSX Transportation decision on whether to sell or lease 530 miles of track in WV has been delayed because the company rejected initial bids from nine short-line railroads and ask five to rebid.

Cindy Sanborn, a Baltimore division manager, held a “town meeting with about 20 employees yesterday at the Engineer’s Training School in South Cumberland, Md., WCHS-TV Cumberland reported last week.

About 260 employees will be affected by the operation changes on the east-west track that runs from New Martinsville, W. Va. to Cumberland, and 116 miles north-south between Grafton and Cowen.

Buck Hedrick is a CSX machinist and union local chairman. He said if employees are hired by a short line, their salaries would likely drop from an average of almost $20 an hour to about $10 an hour because those railroads aren’t union. They also would lose their retirement.

US Sen. Jay Rockefeller has appealed to CSX Transportation to reconsider because of the potential affect on worker’s pension and medical benefits.

Sanborn said the change in operation of the track is necessary to reduce costs and increase revenue.


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FEC restarts after latest hurricane

Florida East Coast Ry. said it resumed rail service on September 30 along its 351-mile line after all sections of track and all rail crossings were cleared and passed inspection.

The railway suspended service early on September 25 in anticipation of Hurricane Jeanne’s arrival. As with Hurricane Frances, power outages left many grade crossings along the railway inoperable “and, as a result, train speeds and the number of train starts was reduced until power could be fully restored,” aid the carrier in a press release.


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UP buying new EPA-compliant engines

Union Pacific says it has ordered 315 diesel-electric locomotives designed to significantly decrease air emissions. Delivery is scheduled in the first half of 2005.

“This decision follows a testing program that Union Pacific began over a year ago,” a company press release stated.

“The new low-emission locomotives will satisfy U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ‘railroad Tier 2’ emission regulations that become effective January 1, 2005,” the freight carrier said last week.

“Currently, about 35 percent of Union Pacific’s 7,861-unit locomotive fleet is certified under existing EPA Tier 0 and Tier 1 regulations which govern air emissions,” a spokesman said. “That gives Union Pacific the most environmentally friendly locomotive fleet in the nation.

The new 1ocomotives produce approximately the same horsepower as existing locomotives, but will reduce air emissions as much as 40 percent.


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RailAmerica elects Curtis; restates credit

RailAmerica, Inc. said on Friday it elected Harold R. Curtis to its board of directors effective October 1. Curtis will serve as an independent director until the annual shareholders meeting in 2006, and will serve as a member of the company’s Audit Committee.

Curtis, 66, is a former vice-president and CFO of The MARC Group, a publicly owned marketing services firm, and from which he retired in 2003.

Elsewhere at RailAmerica, the company said it has entered into an amended and restated $450 million senior credit facility.

UBS Securities LLC served as the sole lead arranger and bookrunner for the facility. A total of 85 banks and other financial institutions participated in the financing, which consists of a seven-year $350 million term loan and a six-year $100 million revolving credit facility. In addition to extending the term for two years, RailAmerica reduced the margin rate on the debt by 50 basis points.

RailAmerica also announced that it has accepted and repurchased today approximately $126 million of the $130 million outstanding principal amount of its 12-and-7/8 percent senior subordinated notes due August 15, 2010.

The railroad stated it used the proceeds from the sale of its Australian railroad, Freight Australia, and drawings from its revolving credit facility of $10 million, to fund the repurchase and make consent payments in connection with the amendment of the related indenture governing the Notes.


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NS elects Moorman president

Norfolk Southern Corp. elected Charles W. Moorman president on September 28. He began his new job on October 1, and was formerly a senior vice-president for corporate planning and services.

Moorman, a native of Hattiesburg, Miss., and a graduate of Georgia Tech and Harvard Business School, joined Norfolk Southern in 1970. He has served in senior positions in the corporation’s transportation, personnel, labor relations, information technology and strategic planning areas. He was named president of NS’ Thoroughbred Technology and Telecommunications subsidiary in 1999 and to his current position in 2003.


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Bear Stearns alters rail earnings targets

Bear Stearns raised its earnings targets for several railroads in the third quarter Tuesday, saying higher volume freight trends would lead to above-consensus results for Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Canadian National, Norfolk Southern and Genesee & Wyoming. Analyst Thomas Wadewitz said the effect of hurricanes, higher fuel prices and lower volume would lead to lower earnings for CSX, Union Pacific and Canadian Pacific.

– CBS.Marketwatch.com.


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KCS declares $5-plus dividend

Kansas City Southern declared a cash dividend of $5.3125 per share on its outstanding 4.25 percent redeemable cumulative convertible perpetual preferred stock. The directors voted the dividend on September 28. It will be payable on November 15 to stockholders of record at the close of business on November 1.


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Fitch lists NS ‘BBB’ unsecured

Fitch Ratings of Chicago reported on September 29 it has “initiated coverage of Norfolk Southern Corp. with a senior unsecured debt rating of ‘BBB’”.

The senior unsecured rating applies to approximately $6 billion in outstanding debt obligations. Fitch has also assigned a rating of ‘BBB’ to NSC’s $1.0 billion unsecured bank facility that expires in 2009 and a rating of ‘F-2’ to NSC’s short-term debt obligations. Fitch’s rating outlook for NSC is stable.

The stocks and bonds ratings firm said “The ratings reflect NSC’s strong operating performance and cash flow generation potential, offset against a relatively high debt load.”

It added, “While the improving U.S. economy has led to increasing railroad revenues and strong profitability over the past two years, leverage is relatively high for a company in this rating category. However, recently, NSC’s management has used the company’s strong operating cash flow to reduce its debt load.”

The firm continued, “This was evidenced by a $232 million net reduction in the company’s total debt in the first half of 2004. Considering NSC’s ability to generate significant free cash flow, Fitch expects the company to continue to reduce its leverage in 2005 and beyond.”


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Yet another record week for intermodal

For the second consecutive week, the nation’s railroads have set a record for intermodal volume, the AAR reported Thursday.

Intermodal volume of 231,025 trailers and containers during the week ended September 25 broke the record set the previous week by 1,986 units and was up 10.0 percent from the corresponding week last year. Container volume was up 11.6 percent from last year while trailer volume gained 5.4 percent.

Carload freight, which doesn’t include the intermodal data, was impacted by the effects of Hurricane Ivan in the East and totaled 341,584 units, down 0.2 percent from last year. Carload volume was up 2.7 percent in the West but down 3.7 percent in the East. Total volume was estimated at 30.9 billion ton-miles, the same as last year.

Eight of 19 carload commodities were up from last year, with metallic ores up 21.6 percent; nonmetallic minerals up 9.4 percent and metals up 7.9 percent. Among commodities registering declines were farm products other than grain, off 40.9 percent; primary forest products, down 14.8 percent; coke, off 11.0 percent.

The AAR also reported the following cumulative totals for U.S. railroads during the first 38 weeks of 2004: 12,740,286 carloads, up 3.1 percent from last year; intermodal volume of 7,916,788 trailers or containers, up 9.5 percent; and total volume of an estimated 1.151 trillion ton-miles, up 4.2 percent from last year’s first 38 weeks.

On Canadian railroads, during the week ended September 25 carload traffic totaled 66,820 cars, down 2.0 percent from last year while intermodal volume totaled 45,087 trailers or containers, up 0.8 percent from last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 38 weeks of 2004 on the Canadian railroads totaled 2,530,621 carloads, up 8.1 percent from last year, and 1,581,590 trailers and containers, up 0.1 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 38 weeks of 2004 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 15,270,907 carloads, up 3.9 percent from last year and 9,498,378 trailers and containers, up 7.9 percent from last year.

The AAR also reported that originated carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended September 25 totaled 8,821 cars, up 10.4 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 4,326 originated trailers or containers, up 21.1 percent from the 38th week of 2003. For the first 38 weeks of 2004, TFM reported cumulative originated volume of 327,029 cars, up 1.8 percent from last year, and 139,260 trailers or containers, up 4.3 percent.

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

The AAR is online at www.aar.org.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: CBSMarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)38.6637.94
Canadian National (CNI)49.1547.74
Canadian Pacific (CP) 25.9125.28
CSX (CSX)33.8034.10
Florida East Coast (FLA)38.8137.75
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)25.3924.83
Kansas City Southern (KSU)15.4514.49
Norfolk Southern (NSC)30.2729.39
Providence & Worcester (PWX)11.0210.72
Union Pacific (UNP)59.4959.20


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ACROSS THE POND...  Across the pond...

Siemans loco at InnoTrans

Two photos for NCI: Dave Beale

A Siemens four-system locomotive on display at InnoTrans. With four pantographs, multiple cab signaling systems and the ability to operate on 1,500 VDC, 3,000 VDC, 15 kV AC and 25 kV AC (the four most common power supplies used on European railroads), this locomotive can operate on electrified rail lines in nearly all European countries. Even the headlights are made of a matrix of high power LEDs, which can be varied in color and brightness to suit light display regulations of individual countries. This particular unit belongs to Siemens’ Dispolok leasing subsidiary.

 

Berlin hosts ‘InnoTrans’ rail transit
conference and exhibit; no Yanks

North American rail is conspicuous by its absence

By David Beale
Special to Destination:Freedom

BERLIN – This city hosted once again the biannual InnoTrans international rail transit conference and trade exhibition during 21-24 September.

I attended the exhibition on Friday on behalf of D:F and NCI, its last full day for industry and professional visitors, with the following weekend days scheduled for general public attendance.

This once-divided capital city makes sense for a rail transit industry fair due to its very extensive subway, light rail and heavy commuter rail networks, much of which has been only in the last five or six years reconnected east and west after the division of the rail network during the Cold War era. Berlin belongs to a select group of cities in the world, in which one can easily get around without the use of an automobile.

InnoTrans took place within part of Berlin’s sprawling convention and fair grounds complex called “Messe Berlin.” InnoTrans visitors can take a train to the convention via Berlin’s S-Bahn urban commuter rail system, which has a station located about a three-minute walk away from the entrance to InnoTrans.

More than 1,350 companies from 35 countries participated in InnoTrans 2004. The exhibition occupied more than 860,000 square feet of convention hall space. In addition nearly 6,600 feet of tracks on the exhibition grounds were used for static displays of various types of rolling stock, locomotives and railway maintenance vehicles.

German firms were well-represented at InnoTrans, but exhibitors from Great Britain, Italy, Czech Republic, Peoples Republic of China, Poland, Japan and Switzerland and France were also significantly represented.

The almost complete absence of North American firms with displays at InnoTrans seemed odd. With the exception of Quebec-based Bombardier, companies from NAFTA countries Canada, Mexico and the USA were hard to find within InnoTrans.

Even Bombardier was hardly representative of North America, its pavilion and representatives came primarily from its German, Belgian and U.K. based train engineering and manufacturing and operations. GE Transportation had a display stand at InnoTrans, but its products and services on display were primarily focused on GE’s communications, IT systems, automation and condition monitoring services the Florida-based division of GE Transportation offers to railroads.

GM’s Electro Motive Division also has a very low key presence at Innotrans with its only major display consisting of an outdoor static display of one of its Canadian manufactured “Class 66” diesel-electric locomotives, many of which are in service in Great Britain, a handful of which are in operation with independent railroad companies in Germany, Belgium, Holland and Denmark.

Approximately 45 percent of the exhibitors come from abroad. The conference organizers forecast an attendance figure of 42,000 attendees for InnoTrans 2004, which would represent a 35% increase of the attendance at InnoTrans 2002. On the day I visited, attendance appeared to me to be heavy, but a number of other InnoTrans attendees told me that attendance had been much higher during the first three days and that many people were leaving or had left for home on the Friday I visited the show.

Bpmbardier Traxx electric freight locomotive

A Bombardier Traxx electric freight locomotive, which can operate on different voltages with AC or DC power from overhead lines, and can be equipped with signaling and train protection systems for numerous countries and rail networks, similar to its competitor Siemens. The competing locomotive models even look similar. In the background, the cab section of another Bombardier locomotive – which was involved in a collision with another train – was displayed to show its crashworthiness features.

An overriding theme at InnoTrans 2004 appeared to be the drive in Europe towards simplifying cross border operations, despite the existing menagerie of differing standards for electrification, signaling, telecommunications, locomotive controls, lighting, and, in certain cases, track gauge from one European country to another.

Looming on the horizon for European railroads is the almost certain link-up of the European rail network within the next decade to railroads in central Asia, China, Korea and India, as several “Silk Road” rail corridor projects move forward to link Europe to Asia via Turkey, Russia, Kazakstan and possibly North Korea. A Siemens sales representative said that railroads in Europe still has a long way to go to reach the current North American standard whereby a locomotive in British Columbia can travel to Florida or perhaps deep into Mexico with little or no extra modifications – and a locomotive made by GM in service with CSX can operate in multiple with a BNSF or UP locomotive made by GE.

Fitting into this theme of expanded cross border operations there were a number of rolling stock and locomotives on static display from Bombardier, Siemens, Vosloh and other firms which are adaptable to differing standards from one country to the next. Both Siemens and Bombardier offer multi-voltage and multi-system locomotives which have a similar external appearance to one another, and are capable of operating from all four variations of overhead electrical power supply in use in continental Europe.

Siemens also displayed its latest diesel locomotive offering called Hercules.

The 2,500 hp class diesel-electric locomotives are already operating in Austria and in limited use in Germany, but so far has yet to be ordered in large quantities. Deutsche Bahn has been in the market to buy 450 plus diesel locomotives to replace aging fleets of West German-built diesel hydraulic and Soviet built diesel electric locomotives inherited from its West German and East German predecessors respectively. The firm has recently postponed a purchase decision, apparently because the prices it was quoted were apparently too high for the company’s tastes.

GM EMD and German locomotive manufacturer Vossloh also displayed their largest diesel locomotives designed for the European market. Vossloh (formerly MAK) also displayed a few examples of its line of 1000 – 2000 hp center cab road switcher locomotives commonly used for hauling shorter freight trains or hauling maintenance of way or construction trains. With new EU regulations in force to open up national rail networks to independent rail operators, cross border train operations will grow ever larger as a significant market segment for the rail vehicle industry.

Hundreds of smaller companies which offered products ranging from light bulbs and door locks to paint, cable assemblies, seating, traction motors, couplers, climate control systems and various electro-mechanical controls were well represented at InnoTrans. Service and consulting firms were also well represented, as were numerous computer and IT firms, showing the expanding importance of IT, mobile communications and internet based services in the rail industry.

The large scale presence of IT and telecom companies at InnoTrans highlighted the pressure in the rail industry to automate many functions in order to reduce operating costs. Rail companies across Europe are relying more on IT, wireless communications and the internet to sell passenger tickets, book and track freight shipments, monitor equipment and personnel location, publish schedules and customer information and manage security and safety. The central theme of Deutsche Bahn’s large indoor pavilion was information and telecommunications technology, with numerous cellular mobile phones, hand-held computers, laptop computers and other commonly available consumer electronics adapted and customized by DB’s IT specialists for railroad operations within Deutsche Bahn and offered for sale to other rail operators.

Missing at InnoTrans 2004 were any real-life displays of high-speed trains such as ICE, TGV or Shinkansen, although photos of and information about Japan’s Shinkansen bullet trains were a prominent feature of Kawasaki’s InnoTrans pavilion. The Bavarian state government has a pavilion showcasing the proposed maglev train from the city center of Munich to the airport, but the official launch of the project remains in doubt.

Instead of exotic high-speed trains, numerous examples of multiple-unit urban and regional rail vehicles from numerous manufacturers were parked outside on static display. This indicated the growing market in these sorts of vehicles as increasing numbers of European railroads and transit authorities phase out conventional locomotive hauled heavy rail passenger coaches used in commuter and regional transit and switch over to light weight diesel or electric multiple unit train sets for these operations.

This new generation of commuter rail vehicles is based on the design and construction methods developed in the past two decades for urban light rail vehicles including articulated chassis and permanently coupled car pairs with large automatic sliding doors and low floors for improved handicapped and wheel chair access. These latest offerings from Stadler, Bombardier, Siemens and Alsthom very much blur the boundary between light rail and conventional commuter trains. Diesel powered variants of these vehicles are even in operation in New Jersey near the Philadelphia area and will soon be in operation around San Diego, California.

An American writer, Beale lives in Haste, Germany. – Ed.


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OPINION...  Opinion...

Two lines at the same time?

The chances of two rail corridors, Worcester-New London and Worcester-Providence resuming at the same time are slim. The State of Connecticut has a leg up with its long, successful track record of working with commuter rail services in the Fairfield County area from New York City out to New Haven, and the state even owns a considerable amount of the passenger rolling stock on the Metro-North’s New Haven branch line.

Resuming passenger rail service from Worcester to New London could be a tremendous tourist asset to the “Quiet Corner” tourist area and to the Southeast Connecticut tourist attractions, as existing rail station platform facilities at Norwich and Putnam have shown in hosting P&W-equipped excursion train runs in recent years. The resumption of regular Amtrak passenger service between Boston and Portland, Maine on the Northeaster has clearly demonstrated that passenger rail service, economic development, and tourism interests can all work together.

Let’s hope Blackstone Valley political, government, tourism, and economic development leaders do not get “left on the station platform,” or worse, in traffic jams out on Route 146 while passenger rail service gets reestablished along the Worcester-New London corridor.

Just as the welcome freight train whistle blowing at the Pleasant Street grade crossing in South Grafton, Mass., echoes across Fisherville Pond and often wakes me at 3:00 a.m., let’s hope Blackstone Valley interests recognize the real importance of reestablishing rail passenger service, even on a limited schedule basis, and waking up to the fact that we could lose this opportunity to Connecticut before we even get the trains rolling again.

John LaPoint
Grafton, Mass.


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End Notes...

We try to be accurate in the stories we write, but even seasoned pros err occasionally. If you read something you know to be amiss, or if you have a question about a topic, we’d like to hear from you. Please e-mail the crew at leoking@nationalcorridors.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write.

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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 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 webmaster in Boston.


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