Destination:Freedom Newsletter
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 3 No. 41, October 7, 2002
Copyright © 2002, NCI, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - James Furlong
Editor - Leo King

A weekly North American rail and transit update

Jacksonville freight on the move

NCI: Leo King

While all West Coast intermodal ports are closed because of a management lockout following labor’s work slowdown while contract negotiations were underway, the effect has begun to have a ripple effect across the country. Major railroads, like Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe are neither shipping nor receiving ship-bound trailers or containers to or from ports – they have nowhere to put them. Ships are riding at anchor, unable to drop their loads from the Orient, nor pick up loads bound for Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong or other Far Eastern ports. Meanwhile, Hurricane Lili, a pretty name for a nasty storm, blew onto the Louisiana mainland on Thursday between Houston and New Orleans as a Force 2 storm – with sustained winds averaging 100 mph. Some barometers in the area showed 29.00 inches of mercury. Meanwhile, Major railroads abandoned the Gulf Coast for a time, including Amtrak. The stories are below.
West Coast ship-bound
container traffic stops
By Leo King

The West Coast dockworkers stoppage became so serious the Association of American Railroads (AAR) began embargoing freight traffic on September 30, and the next day “issued an embargo on all marine container traffic to California, Oregon and Washington port terminals,” due to the dispute between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Assn. (PMA).

The embargo “includes Union Pacific, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, and Tacoma Municipal Belt Line,” the AAR stated in a press release.

“The AAR is taking this action to minimize the congestion and disruption in service that would be caused if traffic continued to flow to the West Coast with no outlet,” said Edward R. Hamberger, AAR’s president and CEO.

“Already, dozens of trains loaded with cargo cannot be unloaded at the West Coast ports. Putting more trains in the queue would only cause congestion in the West and a shortage of equipment in the East.”

Hamburger added, “While this step will help us ensure that the entire network remains fluid, we hope this dispute can be resolved soon and the nation’s railroads can resume service to West Coast ports and the international markets they reach.”

In what was viewed as a step toward reopening West Coast ports, the dockworkers union on October 2 agreed to let federal mediators help resolve a critical contract dispute over the use of labor-saving technology at cargo terminals, the Los Angeles Times reported – but the ports remained shuttered, and did not open by Friday (October 4).

At week’s end, negotiations with a federal mediator had begun in a San Francisco hotel. President Bush had made no moves to end the six-day-old work stoppage through the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported on Friday pressure was increasing on the Bush administration to end the stalemate by invoking the law for the first time in a quarter of a century, by using the act to order an 80-day cooling-off period.

Administration officials, speaking anonymously, acknowledged that wielding what is commonly viewed as an anti-labor weapon could rile unions a month before a pivotal mid-term Congressional election. Nonetheless, analysts said the political benefits to the White House of decisive action to open the ports may outweigh whatever opposition comes from unions.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer refused to say whether Bush would intervene.

“The President thinks it is vitally important for management and labor to come together to resolve this,” he said, adding, “He believes they have the ability to do so.”

The PMA said it was not ready to lift the lockout it imposed Sunday (September 29), stranding ships from San Diego to Seattle, unless the union guaranteed that it would not engage in work slowdowns. The association represents corporations and businesses that operate the docks.

Without those assurances – which could be accomplished by the ILWU agreeing to extend its expired contract – the shipping lines and terminal operators said they could be forced to close the ports yet again.

“If we went back up again and then shut it down again, we would look like a bunch of idiots,” said Joseph Miniace, the maritime group’s president.

Union spokesman Steve Stallone said the ILWU would not agree to any conditions as it entered mediation, which began Thursday at an undisclosed hotel in San Francisco.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) called for President Bush to invoke the Taft-Hartley Act, which would force the ports to reopen during an 80-day cooling-off period, if the standoff was not resolved by the end of the week.

“With our nation in the economic doldrums and at the brink of war, we cannot afford to have this dispute cause further damage to our economy,” Feinstein said in a statement.

Railroads were directly impacted by the work stoppage. Primarily, BNSF and UP were unable to deliver loads bound for the Orient as well as sending empty containers back, nor could they unload loaded trailers or containers bound for virtually every state in the U.S.

BNSF stated, “The embargo issued by the AAR remains in effect. This embargo on all maritime container traffic destined to California, Oregon and Washington port terminals was issued in an effort to minimize the congestion that would result if traffic continued to flow toward West Coast ports with no outlet.”

Railroad officials added, “Non-embargoed traffic tendered to the BNSF continues to move normally, and has not been adversely affected by this action. Although some train consolidation and resymboling may occur as a result of reduced westbound volume, non-embargoed shipments are expected to see minimal delay. “

A spokesman stated the carrier “continues to monitor this situation closely and will rescind its restrictions after the AAR lifts its embargo and marine terminal and railroad operations return to normal.”

BNSF discontinued accepting loaded and empty international export freight containers destined to the U.S. West Coast at noon CDT on September 29.

On Thursday, BNSF extended the restriction to domestic traffic moving in international marine containers destined to the West Coast, but it stated, “BNSF is receiving other domestic container and trailer shipments normally and is working to manage the flow of domestic shipments to minimize any delay. Domestic business is continuing to flow through BNSF’s West Coast hub centers.” In short, if it isn’t headed to a ship, they’ll handle it.

Union Pacific’s spokesman, John Bromley, told D:F on Thursday (October 3), “We have stopped accepting marine containers destined for West Coast ports at all of our intermodal facilities. Trains enroute with containers for export have been parked to avoid clogging ports with equipment. Domestic container traffic, east and west, is moving normally. The remainder of our freight business is running normally.”

East Coast railroads, like Norfolk Southern and CSX were similarly affected.

Businesses across the country, from toy manufacturers to automakers, continued to suffer from the shutdown of the 29 West Coast ports.

In Fremont, Calif., an auto assembly factory that makes Toyotas and Pontiacs was forced to close for lack of parts. If ships continue to pile up at West Coast ports, many of the nation’s retailers say they are looking at quickly deteriorating profits and thinly stocked shelves this holiday season.

Overall, 125 vessels carrying a half-million containers were reported to be waiting to dock on the western seaboard.

Orient Overseas Container Line, owned by the family of Hong Kong’s government leader, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, has container vessels stranded at Long Beach, Los Angeles and Oakland, Calif., according to a report listed on its website.

Singapore officials reported no noticeable impact. Malaysian authorities said they had not yet noted problems.

Many of the biggest container vessels are too wide to go through the Panama Canal, so they cannot use that option to reach ports on the East Coast. Shipping by air is too costly for much of the relatively low-valued merchandise shipped through Hong Kong and Chinese ports, an importer-exporter said.

Each day, an average 4,300 containers leave Hong Kong bound for West Coast ports. About 60 percent of the goods shipped to the United States by container come via Hong Kong or mainland Chinese ports.

Return to index

GAO’s (old) report raises questions
on Amtrak’s money problems
By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON – Amtrak supporters this past week initially pushed the panic button when a government report came out, focusing on the “what if” scenario of Amtrak liquidation.

Then cooler heads noted that this was a Government Accounting Office (GAO) report and that such studies, while thorough, are usually behind the curve and are often overtaken by more recent events.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) had ordered the GAO study after Amtrak last year secured a waiver from Congress on a provision in the 1997 Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act. That section of the law required Amtrak to draw up a hypothetical liquidation plan in the event that the Amtrak Reform Council (ARC) determined that Amtrak would not meet its mandated “self-sufficiency” goal by December 2002.

ARC made that determination last November. It is now eleven months later and, as they say, a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then.

The AP led its story on the GAO findings with a report that liquidation of Amtrak would mean that its lenders and employees would be paid a small fraction of the $8.3 billion the railroad owes them if it were to be liquidated.

As of December 2001, Amtrak’s secured liabilities included $3.8 billion in debt to private lenders for equipment and property, said the GAO’s auditors, a Congressional “watchdog” agency. Amtrak has another $4.4 billion in unsecured liabilities, including severance pay and debts to vendors. It owes the federal government $14.2 billion on a 970-year promissory note that has a principal balance of $3.8 billion.

ARC Chairman Gil Carmichael said much of that debt could be paid off by selling the Northeast Corridor that operates from Washington to Boston. Amtrak actually owns most of the tracks on that heavily used line, except between New Rochelle, N.Y. and New Haven, Conn., and from the Rhode Island-Massachusetts line to South Station, Boston. Metro North and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts own those tracks, respectively. Elsewhere, the freight railroads host Amtrak operations.

Beneath all the doom and gloom verbiage (“grim prospects,” “bankruptcy,” et al) in the report itself and in some of the news accounts of it is the fact that, at the end of the day, it is old news.

“I don’t think there’s much there that we didn’t already know,” National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) Executive Director Ross Capon told D:F.

With Amtrak President David Gunn having had to beg Congress and the administration for money within three weeks of his entering the executive suite at Amtrak, and with Penn Station having been mortgaged several months ago just to pay Amtrak’s current bills, a report that Amtrak is teetering in fiscally precarious shape hardly rates as startling information.

Capon, whose NARP is the most vigorous pro-passenger train effort in Washington, said if anything, the report shows that Amtrak and lawmakers need to focus on what’s realistic and (paraphrasing now) stop chasing rainbows such as mandating “self-sufficiency” on a shoestring.

“How many times do we have to go through this stuff before we understand Amtrak cannot do its job based on things that are unrealistic?” he asked.

Capon pointed to comments by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and by David M. Laney – President Bush’s nominee to the Amtrak board – as examples of how David Gunn’s businesslike “real world” approach to management has increased the respect accorded Amtrak under Gunn’s new regime.

McCain, though not changing his overall view that Amtrak, outside of a few urban corridors, is not needed, nonetheless has praised Gunn for his honesty and efficiency in dealing with the railroad’s problems.

Laney, during his confirmation hearing last month before the Senate Commerce Committee, called Gunn’s appointment “a very positive step by the board” which has significantly improved the passenger train corporation’s credibility. In answer to a question from the Senate panel, Laney indicated he would feel perfectly free to disagree with the Bush administration on issues of Amtrak funding.

“I view this as an independent position, and I think” the administration does, as well. “If I disagree, I’m sure they [the administration] will hear me. Oftentimes, I can be quite persuasive,” he told the senators.

Lany is chairman of Jenkens & Gilchrist law offices in Dallas, and served as a gubernatorial appointee in Texas over 12 years, first on the Texas Finance Commission and later on the Texas Transportation Commission.

Meanwhile, leaders of 35 AFL-CIO transportation unions this past week criticized the House Appropriations Committee’s cuts in both highway and Amtrak funding (See D:F last week).

“It is disturbing that lawmakers on the appropriations committee fail to understand the seriousness of these cuts and the deteriorating finances of Amtrak,” the policy resolution states, “and we are especially troubled that apparent supporters of Amtrak voted against Rep. Martin Sabo’s attempt to give the passenger carrier a chance to succeed.”

That vote by some Amtrak supporters on the House committee was grounded in some political realities that in no way reflect the strength of anti-Amtrak strength in Congress. (See our report on that vote in last week’s D:F) Several lawmakers who support Amtrak told D:F that the best hope lies in the Senate and later in the Senate-House conference committee.

The labor chieftains urged adoption of the Senate level of $1.2 billion.

Return to index

Mayors urge Amtrak funding
The U. S. Conference of Mayors, meeting in Washington on Friday (October 4), urged the Congress to fully fund Amtrak.

Fort Worth Mayor Kenneth Barr, Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory as well as U.S Reps. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) were among the political leaders who urged both houses of Congress to fully fund the national passenger railroad.

They met in a Washington hotel.

Barr is this year’s chair for the U.S. Conference of Mayors Transportation Committee. The conference made a similar plea last year.

Oberstar is the ranking minority member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and Blumenauer is a member of that committee.

The mayors warned that Amtrak funding below $1.2 billion would jeopardize passenger and commuter rail service across the country.

“An adequately funded national passenger rail system is essential for the economy and security of our cities and the nation,” said Fort Worth’s Mayor Barr, during a press conference at the annual “Rail~Volution” Conference.

The mayors released a letter, signed by Boston Mayor and Conference President Thomas Menino and Barr, that was sent to members of the Senate and House leadership and Appropriations Committees, expressing concern that if a Congressional conference committee fails to approve full funding for Amtrak, there could be massive cuts in rail service.

According to Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, “Mayors from both political parties strongly support Amtrak’s funding request and will continue to work with Congress and the Administration to build a strong national passenger rail system.”

Amtrak needs $1.2 billion in funding for Fiscal Year 2003 – which began October 1 – to operate without service cuts, a figure supported by the Senate Appropriations Committee. The House has only approved $762 million, which would assure a mid-year cash crunch for the nation’s passenger rail system. The Administration proposed $521 million for Amtrak, which would keep Amtrak operating for only weeks in the new fiscal year. No comparable national passenger rail system in the world has succeeded without operating subsidies.

Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson said, “Europe has shown the success and importance of regional and national rail systems. Until the U.S. commits to sufficient funding for rail, our transportation system will continue to be out of balance with an over-reliance on highways.”

According to a recent Washington Post poll, a large majority of Americans favor continuing federal subsidies to Amtrak, and a substantial percentage would increase federal funding so the passenger railroad can increase service.

Virtually all polls taken by other organizations showed similar results.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors is a nonpartisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more. There are 1,139 such cities in the country today, and each city is represented in the conference by its chief elected official, the mayor.

The conference says its primary role “is to promote the development of effective national urban and suburban policy; strengthen federal-city relationships; ensure that federal policy meets urban needs; provide mayors with leadership and management tools; and create a forum in which mayors can share ideas and information.”

Return to index

‘Lili’ blows ashore, halts Gulf Coast rail traffic
By Leo King

“The floodgates will close at New Orleans at 4 p.m., on Wednesday, October 2.”

That’s how CSX told its customers that if their business lay between Houston and New Orleans, they would see no deliveries in the next couple of days. Amtrak, BNSF, CN, NS and UP made similar plans.

Hurricane Lili, a pretty name for an ugly storm, blew ashore off the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday afternoon, October 3, bringing with it torrential rains and 100 mph winds in a Force 2 big blow that eventually became just a tropical storm. The eye passed over Vermillion Bay, La. where the barometric pressure was down to 29.00 inches of mercury. The hurricane was moving northwest at 18 mph when it hit. A 10-foot storm surge preceded the storm.

Amtrak made some traffic adjustments at New Orleans.

After the northbound City Of New Orleans left Wednesday afternoon, sources said, Amtrak moved all of its locomotives and cars at New Orleans to Hammond, La. for safe storage on the former Illinois Central (now Canadian National).

The northbound Crescent left as usual Wednesday morning, but the southbound Crescent terminated at Meridian, Miss., and Thursday’s northbound train originated there.

The westbound Sunset Limited arrived from Florida and was terminated in New Orleans. A westbound train could not leave Florida on October 4 (Friday) – there was nothing there to send from Sanford.

The last eastbound Sunset Limited terminated at San Antonio on Thursday night (October 3). Amtrak originated an eastbound train there on Sunday.

The southbound City Of New Orleans was terminated at Jackson, Miss., but the northbound “CNO” left from New Orleans on its schedule.

Friday’s northbound City Of New Orleans originated at Jackson, Miss.

Sources in New Orleans said one of the reasons the Sunset Limited did not go west of New Orleans on Thursday was because BNSF removed the arms from the grade crossing gates. That has become normal procedure on several railroads when a hurricane threatens, because high winds can snap the arms. Once the arms are removed, trains have to flag across each of these crossings or operate at restricted speed. The Crescent was unable to enter the city because flood gates were closed across NS tracks.

Canadian National, which operates the former Illinois Central between Chicago and New Orleans, told its customers in a service alert, “Hurricane Lili was downgraded from Level 2 to Level 1 on Thursday afternoon. Levees in New Orleans reopened at 3:00 p.m. Thursday Central Time.”

The company added, “After a series of inspections, local rail service” resumed around 5:00 p.m. Main line service restarted around 7:00 p.m.

The CN-IC railroaders said “Service in the Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas” would operate normally as of 5:00 p.m. “However Geismar and South Geismar, La., have had difficulties with power outages and storm damage.”

CN-IC trains that had been held at McComb, south of Jackson, Miss., resumed operations at about 7:00 p.m. on Thursday. The New Orleans Intermodal terminal reopened at 7:00 a.m. on Friday.

The Lower Yard portion of CN’s facilities in Mobile, Ala. had been shut down due to concerns over potential flooding.

Local service in the Jackson area remained “at near-normal levels.”

So it went, for much of the railroading in the area, but most of the other railroads in the region did not restart until Friday.

New Orleans, and much of the coastal area, lies only a few feet above sea level, but much of it is also below sea level. Trees were knocked down, roofs blown off some structures, and railroads found a great deal of their tracks under water on Friday morning.

Just a few hours earlier, Lili had been a major Force 4 storm with 165 mph winds, but it diminished rapidly as it approached the shore. Meteorologists figured out that Tropical Storm Isadore, which had passed over those same waters a week earlier, had cooled the water so much that Lili couldn’t gather the energy it required to remain a major storm. Hurricanes need warm water to sustain strength.

BNSF told its customers “All traffic between Beaumont, Texas and New Orleans has been stopped and secured. Traffic moving to these areas will be staged West of Beaumont until safe operating conditions can resume. At this time,” Thursday afternoon (October 3) customers can expect 48 hours delay to all traffic.” The freight carrier also noted, “As a precaution, all traffic moving into Galveston, Texas has been stopped until a clear storm path can be determined. Plans are in place to clear the island of all cars if conditions require.

CSX told its shippers and receivers, “The storm will cut off all CSXT rail access to the western carriers and local traffic in New Orleans until Hurricane Lili passes and the city reopens the gates. CSX Transportation will suspend all operations in New Orleans by midnight tonight (Wednesday, Oct. 2).”

The carrier said, “We have implemented contingency plans to reroute limited merchandise and intermodal traffic over other western gateways. We will stage traffic at various points on CSXT to expedite movement after the gates reopen.”

Union Pacific’s spokesman John Bromley in Omaha told D:F his railroad was similarly affected.

“Our lines in Louisiana are out of service until the storm passes. We have trains staged at numerous locations with rock ballast and crews ready to go to make any necessary repairs. Locomotives and cars have been moved out of the storm track area. Traffic is being diverted via Memphis and St. Louis.”

Frank Brown of Norfolk Southern, in Norfolk, Va., told D:F his railroad “moved all equipment out of its New Orleans terminal and suspended operations in the area Wednesday. As a precautionary measure, all equipment was moved out of the Mobile terminal late Wednesday due to risk of flooding from the storm surge. Norfolk Southern continues to closely monitor the impact of the storm and will post updates as conditions change.”

He added, “Traffic normally moving through New Orleans will be rerouted through Memphis and St. Louis.”

NS “moved all equipment out of its New Orleans terminal to higher ground; interchanges and most operations in the New Orleans area are suspended allowing employees to take care of families and homes. To the extent possible, traffic will be detoured over other western gateways, however customers should expect delays on traffic normally moving through New Orleans.”

Return to index

Labor chides House Appropriations Committee
Leaders of 35 AFL-CIO transportation unions criticized House Appropriations Committee cuts in Amtrak and highway spending on October 1, saying they would cost over 150,000 workers their jobs and jeopardize long-overdue improvements in passenger rail and critically important highway projects.

At its fall meeting, the Executive Committee of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department (TTD) unanimously adopted a statement calling upon the full House to reject these “misguided cuts and instead adopt the Senate Appropriations Committee’s funding levels for Amtrak and highway programs.”

According to TTD, “The partisan September 26 vote in the House panel provided Amtrak only 63 percent of the minimum it needs” to keep the trains running.

“It is disturbing that lawmakers on the appropriations committee fail to understand the seriousness of these cuts and the deteriorating finances of Amtrak,” the policy resolution stated.

“We are especially troubled that apparent supporters of Amtrak and its employees voted against Rep. Martin Sabo’s attempt to give the passenger carrier a chance to succeed.”

The transportation labor leaders supported the spending bill adopted this summer by the Senate Appropriations Committee, which fully funds Amtrak at $1.2 billion and restores the $8.6 billion cut in the Bush highway budget.

“We urge the House appropriators to reverse course and adopt the Senate spending levels. Failing to do so runs the risk of slashing Amtrak trains in communities across America, delaying much needed highway projects and idling thousands of transportation and construction workers who stand to lose their jobs in the wake of these cuts,” the labor leaders declared as the appropriations committee was expected to consider an amendment to restore the highway cuts this afternoon.

The TTD statement noted that the Amtrak situation is further complicated by the fact that the Fiscal Year 2003 transportation spending bill is unlikely to be completed before Congress adjourns. While a stop-gap measure, a continuing resolution providing short-term funding would likely be adopted under that scenario, Amtrak must receive short-term funding that meets its cash needs and thus avoids a shutdown of service, TTD said.

Return to index

Utah town wants Amtrak to pay up
Amtrak’s poverty plea sounds like a poor excuse to Wendover, Utah officials, who want the passenger rail company to pay for services rendered during a fiery train wreck nearly 13 months ago.

The Sept. 13, 2001 crash, caused when a westbound Amtrak train smacked into an eastbound Union Pacific freight train, resulted in a huge fire and stranded 263 passengers east of Wendover in Utah’s west desert, reports The Salt Lake Tribune.

Acting on behalf of 11 agencies that responded to the collision, Wendover leaders billed Amtrak $52,123 one year ago. Glenn Wadsworth, administrator of the small Utah city that borders Nevada, said Amtrak’s legal officers in Washington, D.C., responded by letter in December.

“They essentially told us that they realized our plight. However, because of the financial straits the company was in, they said they could not afford to pay the bill,” Wadsworth said last week.

If Wendover officials do not hear from them soon, City Attorney Mark Bell says the city might sue to collect the overdue bill.

“We are reviewing things and will likely file a claim or suit against them,” Bell said. “That [$52,000] is too much money and there are too much agencies involved.”

Police and fire agencies from both sides of the state line battled the blaze and cleaned up a diesel spill from the collision. Crews from the Nevada Division of Forestry and Morton Salt pitched in. So did Tooele City, which sent a fire truck and six firefighters racing about 100 miles west to the crash site. Also, with the Tooele County School District’s approval, school buses were commandeered to carry stranded Amtrak passengers to the Wendover community center and a nearby LDS church, where they were treated for injuries and fed.

Casinos in Nevada’s West Wendover donated food and hotel rooms. Beehive Telephone in Utah’s Wendover let victims make free phone calls to family and friends. Other area businesses gave blankets, soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, among other items. Jurisdictions were ignored as Nevada ambulance crews rolled across the state line to help out.

“Not only did we respond out there,” said West Wendover Fire Chief Jeff Knudtson, “but we also had our public works department. They worked late into the night hauling luggage off the train.”

There were no fatalities and only a few minor injuries.

Union Pacific spokesman John Bromley said the investigation showed the crash was caused when Amtrak’s California Zephyr ran a stop signal and collided with the 84-car freight train. Under its contract with Union Pacific, he added, Amtrak is liable for injuries to crew and passengers.

“As for any emergency response by Wendover, that would be Amtrak’s nickel,” he said. Before suing, Wendover officials plan to get input from other agencies owed money by Amtrak.

Return to index

California injects $88 million
into passenger rail service
The train that carried Amtrak President David Gunn to Oakland’s Jack London Square station on September 28 was right on time, a good omen for a service he called the nation’s model.

Amid continuing news of Amtrak’s shaky future, Gunn stepped off No. 537 from Sacramento and told an assembly of state and local rail officials that he’s optimistic about turning Amtrak around.

“It’s one of the best kept secrets in the country, how much California has supported passenger rail. You’re doing it right. It’s an example that should be followed by the rest of the country,” Gunn said.

The nation’s rail chief of four months was referring to the Capitol Corridor service, which Amtrak, Caltrans and BART jointly run between Auburn, Oakland and San Jose.

On Friday, Capitol Corridor General Manager Eugene Skoropowski announced an $88 million investment to improve tracks, stations and service between Oakland and San Jose.

“We know the way to San Jose and it’s definitely on a train. We’ve got the plan. We’ve got the funds,” he said.

The funds come from a 2000 Alameda County sales tax measure and from a state transportation account.

The plan, over the next 14 months, will bring the number of daily trains from four to seven – and maybe 11. BART connections will be added with new Capitol Corridor stations at the Coliseum and Union City BART stations. A new station will be built in Fremont, and tracks will be improved and added. Skoropowski said the improvements will double the number of passengers, adding one million a year. By 2008, passengers along the corridor could take the train to a direct monorail connector to Oakland International Airport. TEXT

Return to index

Sacramento to get UP station
The city of Sacramento, Calif. plans to acquire the historic I Street rail depot and 10 surrounding acres from Union Pacific.

The value of the depot and land still is being determined, and terms of the deal had yet to be negotiated by September 28, reports the Sacramento Bee, but city and railroad officials said last week they have a conceptual agreement and are committed to making the deal.

The deal is part of a package of commitments between the two that, taken together, should launch the city on the road toward constructing a major rail transportation hub downtown within the next several years.

The agreements, based on several months of talks, also should put UP on a fast track for city permits and approvals to build offices, stores and housing on the southern end of its 240-acre yard.

City officials say the depot would serve as a locus for an expanded transportation hub for Amtrak passenger trains, regional commuter rail lines, a light-rail line from downtown to the airport and bus services.

“Our goal would be to have an intermodal station in operation within the next three years,” said Deputy City Manager Tom Lee, who has been negotiating with UP in recent months.

Although Lee predicted an intermodal station could be built in three years, Mayor Heather Fargo, a longtime advocate for such a facility, said she thinks three years is overly optimistic but that she is pleased with the move forward.

UP and Amtrak want to move the tracks a few hundred feet north of the depot and build a new station there, which would be connected to the historic depot by a concourse.

Historic preservationists argue the depot should continue as the main station and the tracks should not be moved, or moved only enough to make room for depot expansion.

Preservationist leader Kay Knepprath said she is pleased the city will take the lead on the intermodal station, but said “10 acres is not enough land to do it right.”

“They are not being courageous enough, not imaginative enough,” she said. “This needs to be a true regional center.”

She said the 10 acres appear to be just enough room for UP to have its way, pushing the tracks north away from the station, with room for a new facility at the north end.

UP official Casey said that is exactly what he wants to see happen. He noted that city officials have agreed that would be considered the “preferred alignment” during an upcoming environmental review of the project. A compromise agreement negotiated last year by Fargo also said the review process will analyze track alignments preferred by people who want the old depot to continue to be the central station.

Casey said UP is close to choosing a development partner to build on several dozen acres around the planned transportation hub. He said his company is selling the former Railway Express Agency building, a historic brick structure in disrepair next to the old depot. The buyers are architect Lynn Pomeroy and developer Johan Otto.

City staff is set to propose that the council approve subsidizing rehabilitation of the REA building, up to $2.6 million. The building probably would house shops, restaurants and offices, which would complement the intermodal station, Lee said.

Return to index

Alaska RR

NCI: Leo King

Whittier is the first stop north of Anchorage. Thirty years ago, the Alaska Railroad operated F-7As.
Alaska Railroad may end flag stops
John Strasenburgh’s cabin is a seven-hour hike through the Alaska wilderness from the nearest road. The closest railroad track, though, is only an hour’s walk, in Talkeetna.

“The train is absolutely essential to me,” said the 56-year-old retired bank auditor, wrote The AP last week.

Strasenburgh and his neighbors stand to lose much of a train service that stops for people who wave it down along a remote 55-mile stretch of rail – the last regular flag stop run in the nation.

Officials with Alaska Railroad Corp. say the run, while popular with residents and outdoor enthusiasts, is a money loser. They say proposed reductions are necessary following the loss of a multimillion-dollar coal-hauling contract.

“We don’t want to get rid of the flag stop service entirely. We recognize it is unique,” said railroad spokesman Patrick Flynn. “But we have to balance what people want and what we can afford.”

The trains, which provide service between Talkeetna and Hurricane, 130 miles north of Anchorage, consist of a single car that combines diesel power and passenger seating in one self-contained unit. According to the railroad’s Web site, passengers are instructed to “stand 25 feet outside the nearest rail with your gear. Wave a large piece of white cloth over your head until the Engineer acknowledges you by sounding the train whistle.”

The railroad board met October 3 in Fairbanks to discuss several staff recommendations affecting the service.

The seven-member panel will consider cutting summer runs from four days a week to weekends only and raising the fare by 9 percent. The board also is considering eliminating the limited winter service. Weekend flag stop service would be available on a locomotive between Anchorage and Fairbanks all winter.

Johne Binkley, board chairman, said he is waiting to hear from the public before deciding on his vote, adding that service cutbacks are not a given.

Still, outraged locals have formed a grass-roots effort opposing the changes. They’ve flooded the state-owned railroad with letters urging the board to maintain the current service.

“The changes would mean a drastic lifestyle change for many people,” said Mark Butler, 48, a cabin owner who leads the Friends of the Flag Stop campaign. He said service cuts would lead to scores of locals trespassing on the railroad right of way to get to their cabins.

Butler’s cabin is among some 175 structures – mostly recreational homes – within 10 miles of the route, according to Matanuska-Susitna Borough assessment records. The area is predominantly spruce and birch forest, marked by lakes and streams offering closely guarded fishing spots.

Patsy and Clyde Krompacky, who own a cabin in Chulitna, 50 miles north of Talkeetna, are among the few permanent residents on the route. The nearest road is seven miles to the west.

Patsy Krompacky, 51, said weekend runs would allow just one day for errands in Talkeetna. If she missed the ride back, she’d have to spend a week in town.

“What if you need to see a doctor? Most doctors don’t work on Saturdays,” Krompacky said. “We need to keep the train service the way it is.”

Railroad officials say they have little choice.

“If the railroad was a purely private company, that service would have been killed eons ago,” Flynn said.

Operating the flag stop cost $200,000 in 2001, yet the railroad made only $64,000 from ticket sales, which was a $136,000 loss, officials said. Proposed cuts would halve the cost and bring in an estimated $48,000 in revenue, easing the loss to $52,000.

Absorbing the greater losses is no longer feasible for the railroad, which last year took in $107.3 million in revenue and earned $6.6 million in profits. Revenues will be slashed by some $4 million a year with the terminated deal to haul coal from the Usibelli coal mine.

Opponents say instead of cutting service, the railroad should do a better job of promoting it.

“The railroad has taken millions of dollars in federal funds to maintain infrastructure, haul freight and fuel for corporations, to carry huge amounts of tourists,” said one rider.

“So what about Alaskans? It seems patently unfair to cut us out.”

Wendy Lindskoog, the railroad’s director of external affairs, said federal funds could be used only for capital costs such as building depots and straightening ties, not to subsidize operating expenses.

“People see millions of federal dollars and think it’s actual revenue that can be used for anything, but that’s not true,” Lindskoog said. “So any savings you make cannot be considered a pittance.”

The Alaska Railroad is online at

Return to index

Commuter lines...

Metra to double service on two lines

In three years, about twice as many passenger trains will be rumbling along the rails of two Metra lines that are slated for major improvements, Chicago officials said September 26. That should mean more rush-hour trains on the North Central Service and SouthWest Service lines, plus the eventual introduction of express and weekend trains, officials said.

The North Central route stretches between downtown Chicago and Antioch, operating 10 trains each weekday largely on a single track, according to a report in the Chicago Sun-Times.

As part of a $225.5 million project being substantially funded by the federal government, a second and third track will be installed in some spots, in addition to the construction of four new stations and the renovation of more.

With the purchase of new locomotives and cars, 22 weekday runs will begin by December 2005, Metra Executive Director Phil Pagano said.

That’s also the target date to increase the number of weekday trains on the SouthWest route from 16 to 29, he said.

That line, which stretches from the Loop to Orland Park, is being extended south to Manhattan in Will County as part of a nearly $200 million project.

Construction began earlier this year on both lines.

A third Metra route targeted for major work is the Union Pacific West Line from Chicago to Geneva, Ill. Groundbreaking will occur next April on a $135 million effort to extend the route west to Elburn in Kane County.

By moving a coach yard to the new end of the line and adding track, the line should be able to handle an additional train run or two once the work is done, Pagano said.

No schedules have been worked out yet.

Return to index

Atlantans prepare for commuter trains
Metro Atlanta is about to see its first attempt to build a new commuter train line since MARTA trains began rolling in 1979. The Atlanta Regional Commission has earmarked more than $281 million to build a downtown Atlanta train and bus hub and a rail line that would run to Griffin, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The money is in ARC’s proposed Transportation Improvement Program, a three-year plan that guides transportation construction in metro Atlanta. The plan is up for final approval next month.

If things go well, trains could leave the station by 2006, said Clayton County Commissioner Carl Rhodenizer, who serves on both state agencies responsible for getting commuting and comprehensive passenger rail running in Georgia.

New commuter lines have been planned in Atlanta for more than a decade. Before Georgia can spend the money, however, it must settle a couple of troublesome issues.

It must survive a legal challenge to Gov. Roy Barnes’ methods of paying for transit projects with state bond money. Also, it doesn’t own the tracks it wants to run commuter rail on, and negotiations to buy the tracks have run into problems.

The money would provide $70.5 million for the Atlanta transit hub and $210.8 million for the rail line. The line could be extended to Macon.

Walter “Sonny” Deriso Jr., a Columbus banker and the chairman of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, is negotiating with Norfolk Southern for the possible sale of one of its tracks to Macon. The two sides failed to reach an agreement on the price last year, but Deriso said the negotiations are continuing.

Sharon Gay, GRTA’s vice-chairman, said, “That is the critical piece that has to get put in place. But my expectation is that we will move ahead with a master plan and design” of Atlanta’s new downtown rail station and commuter terminal.

State planning agencies are gearing up to move ahead with studies and preliminary engineering.

The terminal will be built in an area known as the Gulch, now occupied by rail lines and parking lots between Philips Arena and Marta’s Five Points station. It will be Atlanta’s major transit crossroads, connecting commuter and passenger trains to MARTA and express bus services to the suburbs.

Return to index

Freight lines...

CSX Kentucky car shop lays off 193

CSX reported recently it is laying off 193 workers at its Raceland, Ky. car repair facility. The layoffs began October 4.

“An unanticipated decline in coal loading and unexpected weakness in the overall economy are forcing CSX to implement a temporary work force reduction,” the carrier stated in a press release.

“Reducing a work force that consistently performs at high levels in safety, quality and productivity has been an extremely difficult decision,” said Raceland plant manager Bill James.

“There just isn’t enough work available to keep us running at full strength.”

Raceland is the largest car repair facility operated by CSXT and employs about 290 people. Employees build and repair different types of cars, including coal hoppers, gondolas and coil steel cars.

“Coal loadings are far lower than expected and, in fact, trail last year’s numbers,” James said, “and overall economic demand is running below our expectations.”

CSXT said it would “continue its efforts to solicit new work from outside businesses and within the company,” James said, and added, “We want to bring our employees back to work as quickly as possible.”

Return to index

BNSF schedules on-line meeting
Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. will host its annual meeting for financial analysts and investors from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. (EDT) on October 8.

A live Webcast will be available on BNSF’s Web site at

BNSF suggested that people who plan to access the meeting through the internet go to the BNSF site by 3:45 p.m. EDT October 8 to download the presentation and install any software required to run the presentation. TEXT

Return to index

KCS needs a few good people
Kansas City Southern (KCS) is looking for a few good people to help run the company on its board of directors.

The carrier stated on September 25 that its directors had “formed a nominating committee” that will “have the responsibility of identifying and nominating potential new directors” to fill board vacancies.

The board members also adopted other measures intended to bring KCS into compliance with “proposed corporate governance rules.”

The nominating committee, the railroad stated in a press release, “is composed exclusively of independent directors. KCS does not currently have any vacant positions on its Board.”

Michael R. Haverty, KCS’s chairman, president and CEO, said “The board took this action to strengthen our governance position in accordance with proposed new governance guidelines developed by the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).” He said KCS “supports the NYSE’s initiatives, which are designed to promote transparency and accountability.”

KCS is a transportation holding company with railroad investments in the United States, Mexico, and Panama. Its primary holding is Kansas City Southern Ry. and is headquartered in Kansas City, Mo.

Return to index

NS to hold analyst meeting
Norfolk Southern will hold its third-quarter analyst meeting at 9 a.m. EST on October 23 at Chase World Headquarters, 270 Park Ave., New York City (3rd Floor Auditorium). A live broadcast of the meeting (listen-only) will be available through the railroad’s World Wide Web site ( in the “Investing in the Thoroughbred” section.

Prepared remarks and slides of the presenters and dates of future analyst meetings are posted in the section as well. An audio replay of the broadcast will be available on our site following the meeting.

Norfolk Southern Corp. is online at

Return to index

Rail freight traffic continues upward
U.S. rail intermodal traffic rose 7.0 percent (50,974 trailers and containers) in September and 7.7 percent (176,909 units) in the third quarter of 2002 compared to 2001, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported on October 3. Meanwhile, U.S. rail carload traffic rose 1.2 percent (16,801 carloads) in September and 1.8 percent (76,992 carloads) in the third quarter, the AAR reported.

“Intermodal combines the door-to-door convenience of trucks with the long-haul economy of rail. It has been the fastest growing segment of U.S. rail traffic over the past ten years,” noted AAR Vice President Craig F. Rockey.

“A recent study predicts that intermodal will soon overtake coal as the top revenue source for U.S. railroads. Intermodal has grown so quickly, and is doing so well now, because railroads offer reliable, timely service that saves fuel, reduces highway congestion, and saves shippers substantial amounts of money as well.”

The numbers do not yet reflect the hits the railroads will take following the West Coast dock workers stoppage, reported elsewhere in this edition of D:F.

On the carload side in September 2002 compared with September 2001, metallic ores were up 16.6 percent (10,494 carloads) to top all other commodity categories. Other commodities showing year-over-year rail traffic gains in September 2002 included motor vehicles and equipment (up 7.6 percent, or 7,236 carloads), primary metal products (up 8.3 percent, or 4,187 carloads), and nonmetallic minerals (up 10.3 percent, or 2,859 carloads). In September, carloads of grain were down 8.1 percent (6,725 carloads), carloads of primary forest products were down 16.3 percent (3,151 carloads), and carloads of coal were down 0.6 percent (3,054 carloads).

For the third quarter of 2002, rail carloads of metallic ores were up 22.4 percent (44,088 carloads), motor vehicles and equipment were up 4.9 percent (13,581 carloads), primary metal products were up 7.0 percent (11,607 carloads), and nonmetallic minerals were up 10.8 percent (9,619 carloads). Carloads of grain were down 3.1 percent (8,252 carloads), while carloads of coal were down 0.4 percent (7,364 carloads) in the third quarter. Both in September and in the third quarter of 2002 compared with 2001, 12 of the 19 major commodity categories tracked by the AAR saw carload gains.

For 2002 through September, U.S. rail intermodal traffic (7,029,342 trailers or containers) is up 5.3 percent (356,845 units) and U.S. rail carload traffic (12,834,502 cars) is down 1.0 percent (124,034 units).

“During the third week of September 2002, U.S. freight railroads moved more intermodal freight than during any other week on record, and U.S. intermodal traffic this year is on pace to set an annual record,” Rockey noted.

Total volume for the first 39 weeks of 2002 was estimated 1.114 trillion ton-miles, up 1.0 percent from a year ago.

Canadian intermodal traffic was up 14.8 percent (21,400 units) in September 2002 compared with September 2001, up 15.1 percent (68,594 units) for the third quarter of 2002, and up 9.7 percent (131,648 units) for the first nine months of 2002. Cumulative intermodal volume through 39 weeks totaled 1,488,526 trailers and containers.

Canadian carload traffic was down 1.0 percent (2,350 carloads) in September 2002, paced by declines in carloads of grain (down 23.3 percent, or 8,639 carloads) due largely to the effects of severe drought in Western Canada. Carloads of coal were down 7.4 percent (2,555 carloads). On the positive side, Canadian carloads of chemicals were up 11.6 percent (5,665 carloads) in September 2002, while carloads of motor vehicles and equipment were up 7.5 percent (2,222 carloads).

For the third quarter of 2002, Canadian carload traffic was down 2.5 percent (19,115 carloads), as declines in grain (down 21.6 percent, or 26,035 carloads), coal (down 8.1 percent, or 8,894 carloads), and farm products excluding grain (down 19.3 percent, or 4,026 carloads) offset increases in chemicals (up 9.7 percent, or 14,515 carloads) and motor vehicles and equipment (up 7.4 percent, or 6,326 carloads). Total year-to-date carloadings for Canadian railroads of 2,321,316 cars were down 2.8 percent (67,916 carloads).

Carloads originated on Transportación Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM), a major Mexican railroad, were up 54.5 percent (12,719 carloads) in September, up 21.3 percent (19,728 carloads) in the second quarter, and up 8.2 percent (22,601 carloads) for the year to date. Intermodal originations on TFM were up 48.8 percent (4,683 units) in September, up 28.0 percent (9,666 units) in the second quarter, and up 19.8 percent (18,697 units) for the year to date.

For just the week ended September 28, the AAR reported the following totals for U.S. railroads: 350,946 carloads, down 0.8 percent from the corresponding week in 2001, with loadings down 1.3 percent in the East and down 0.3 percent in the West; intermodal volume of 197,478 trailers and containers, up 1.2 percent; and total volume of an estimated 30.2 billion ton-miles, down 0.3 percent from the equivalent week last year.

For Canadian railroads during the week ended September 28, the AAR reported volume of 63,179 carloads, down 0.9 percent from last year; and 43,482 trailers and containers, up 9.3 percent from the corresponding week in 2001.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 39 weeks of 2002 on 16 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 15,155,818 carloads, down 1.3 percent (191,950 carloads) from last year; and 8,517,868 trailers and containers, up 6.1 percent (488,493 trailers and containers) from 2001’s first 39 weeks.

The AAR is online at

Return to index

Business lines...

Bombardier cuts aerospace jobs

Faced with an “unpredictable economic environment,” transportation giant Bombardier Inc. said September 28 it will slash its aerospace work force by 6 per cent and cut assets under management at its financing arm by $5 billion.

The changes are aimed at reducing Bombardier’s debt and increasing its “financial flexibility” in the face of what it called continuing economic uncertainties, according to the Toronto Globe & Mail of September 27.

“We are taking action to make sure we control our destiny,” Bombardier president and chief executive officer Robert Brown said during a conference call with analysts and reporters.

The job cuts — which come after an earlier round of cuts last year sparked by industry turmoil and Sept. 11 fallout — will mean the reduction of 1,980 positions across all levels of employees. It will affect all Bombardier Aerospace production sites in Canada, the United States and Britain. About 20 per cent of the jobs lost will be at the management level. In Canada, 915 jobs will be lost in Montreal and another 365 in Toronto.

Outside Canada, 260 jobs will be cut at Bombardier facilities in Tucson, Ariz. and Wichita, Kan. while 240 will be cut in Belfast and another 200 will be eliminated in other locations. The job cuts are slated to begin during October. Bombardier expects the cuts to cost $45 million, but to save it $200 million annually.

Bombardier stock, which fell below $4 for the first time in seven years last week, responded positively to the news. The company’s class B shares were up 31 cents or 6.7 per cent to $4.95 in Toronto on September 28.

Last September, Bombardier – along with global aerospace industry – announced plans to cut 3,800 jobs worldwide amid fallout from the September 11 terrorist attacks. More recently, the company has been hammered in the markets, hampered by continued uncertainty in the aerospace industry and interrupted service this summer on Amtrak’s Acela high-speed trains. Bombardier and Alstom built those trains.

Last week, Standard & Poor’s revised its outlook on Bombardier Inc. and subsidiaries Bombardier Capital Inc. and Bombardier Capital Ltd., to “negative” from “stable.”

Return to index

BNSF forecasts lower earnings
Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. said last week it will decrease its long-term return on assets assumption to 8.5 percent from 9.5 percent based on the long-term market outlook.

“This change will result in a non-cash increase in pre-tax pension expense of $11 million in the third quarter and $4 million in the fourth quarter,” the firm reported.

Additionally in the third quarter, BNSF “incurred one-time employee-related transition costs of $4 million (pre-tax) as part of the previously announced outsourcing agreement with IBM. Under this agreement, IBM assumed responsibility for a large portion of BNSF’s computing infrastructure.”

Including these increases in operating expense and revenue losses in the third quarter due to the current work stoppage at West Coast ports and weak grain exports, the company expects third quarter diluted earnings per share to be in the range of 50 to 52 cents.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. owns The Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Ry. Co., which operates one of the largest rail networks in the United States covering 33,000 route miles in 28 states and two Canadian provinces.

Return to index

Look for ‘Flagler Center’
Flagler Development Co. a wholly-owned commercial real estate development subsidiary of Florida East Coast Industries, Inc. unveiled a new idea to provide South Jacksonville’s growing population with a premier corporate center of commerce: Flagler Center.

Flagler said on September 26 that the image and direction of the light industrial/office development formerly known as “Gran Park at Jacksonville” is being transformed “into the area’s finest Class-A corporate park and will be named ‘Flagler Center.’”

The corporation owns and operates the Florida East Coast Ry., among other ventures. TEXT

Return to index

Newsweek compares Amtrak, airlines
Amtrak supporters around the nation were heartened to read an essay in a major U.S. news magazine that, for once, supported the notion that America needs Amtrak.

Writing in Newsweek, Allan Sloan wrote an article titled, “Planes, Trains and Politicians.”

He told his readers, “Okay, it’s time for a pop quiz. The subject is transportation. Ready? Here goes. What two things do Amtrak and the airline industry have in common? The first one’s easy: Both of them are running around Washington looking for federal money.

“What's the second one? Give up? Okay, it's that neither one makes money. One key difference, though, is that airlines, unlike Amtrak, are designed to be profitable.”

Sloan noted, “It all makes for quite a show. We have Amtrak running around trying to beat a few hundred million extra dollars out of Uncle Sam. Meanwhile, the airlines – those folks who scarfed up $5 billion of taxpayer aid after 9/11 -- are back asking for yet another handout. The airlines say that security costs have put them on the brink of the financial abyss, and a war with Iraq will shove them into it – unless Uncle Sam comes across with major money.”

Sloan was concerned about the treatment Amtrak got vs. how the airline industry is

“Look at the different ways these unprofitable outfits are treated. Amtrak is rebuked for not breaking even, while the airlines, which were in big trouble even before 9/11, get treated mostly with respect.

“Why the disconnect? Largely, I think, because few people outside the airline industry realize what dreary financial performers airlines have been. “

He had numbers to back him up, as well.

“Believe it or not, U.S. passenger airlines, those folks who charge $2,000 for a coast-to-coast trip in a seat suitable only for contortionists (and another 80 bucks if your suitcase is a freckle over the size limit) have barely broken even over their entire existence. By the end of this year, according to Air Transport Association statistics, the industry’s total profit since 1938 is likely to be down to a mere $3 billion or so.…

He declared “the airline industry… is a public works project for airline employees and airplane builders,” and noted the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S. “hurt air traffic, but it hurt a lot of non-airline businesses, too, and they didn’t get federal handouts.”

He added, “Airlines are important, but so are other things, including train service.

“It's not that Amtrak doesn't deserve scrutiny. It’s clear even to a train fan like me – I live in Amtrak's core Northeast market, and I prefer taking the train to flying or driving – that Congress has been quite right to press Amtrak to show better financial results. Without outside pressure, Amtrak would still be the total mess that the government inherited from bankrupt rail lines. Now it's only a partial mess. But why is Amtrak expected to break even and cover its own capital expenses and serve financially hopeless routes, such as Orlando-Los Angeles? Why doesn’t the airline industry, heavily subsidized by general tax revenue and ticket-tax money, get laughed out of town when it begs for money without cleaning up its financial act?

“Call me a cynic, but I suspect it has something to do with more politicians flying home from Washington than taking the train.”

These are excerpts from David Sloan’s article. For the complete essay, go to - Ed.

Return to index


To the [Newsweek] Editor:

Kudos to Allan Sloan [”Planes, Trains, and Politicians”, October 7] for being the first opinion columnist in a major newsweekly to get it right about Amtrak.

The taxpayer-funded largesse doled out to airlines [and highways] before September 11 is just mind-boggling, while Amtrak, one of the most cost-efficient railroads in the world (80 percent cost recovery from revenues) gets bashed because it doesn’t break even.

The fact is, no transportation systems “break even” because they have enormous capital costs. That’s why governments have to build them! But because highways and airlines have trust funds, while Amtrak has to go begging every year for crumbs, Amtrak gets the headlines while airlines and highways get the money. Even Amtrak’s long distance trains, which are vital to the small towns and cities of the South and West, lose much less money than exaggerated costs-per-customer numbers would indicate, because they include apportioned capital and overhead costs from the Northeast Corridor in the total. The Northeast Corridor, which Amtrak owns, consumes huge amounts of capital. The long-distance trains, which operate over the freight railroads and pay only the marginal cost of track maintenance to do so, do not. Yet they are assessed capital and overhead as if they did. Arcane stuff, but then the American people need to know that fact, lest their Congressmen try to “save tax money” by curtailing what is, in fact, a vital and inexpensive service.

In 2000 taxpayers spent a total of $130 billion on roads, while the Feds dribbled out $521 million for Amtrak. In Boston, we’re spending $16 billion to stick a few miles of road into a hole in the ground (“The Big Dig”). The interest alone on that one local project’s cost would operate the national Amtrak system until the end of time.

Thanks, Allan Sloan, and Newsweek. Please – send a copy to Congress so that they can understand what Allan Sloan and now Newsweek’s readers do: that Amtrak is the good guy.

James P. RePass
President & CEO, NCI

Return to index

Dear Editor:

I really enjoy the informative material that you all put forth on your web site. Your efforts are of the highest quality and are to be commended by all who truly care about transportation in this country – not what most media would term “train fans.” It would seem without money and power nobody truly listens.

I read your newsletter each week, and though impressed by the information, I have never been more disheartened in the future for intercity rail (Amtrak) in the 41 years of my life. I am saddened that those calling themselves “public servants” fail to want to see the public’s view or the true expense of other transportation modes and lack of funding equity regarding rail, preferring to lie to themselves regarding the profitability of other modes rather than face the reality. If one has to resort to such self-deception to engender belief in a system, what possible good can the system really be?

I have written hundreds of letters and sent hundreds of e-mails. Rarely do you get anyone who will respond, let alone come to see your point. I am sorry to say I feel this effort might be falling on deaf ears. It pains me as a lover and user of rail travel engendered in me since my childhood by a father-fan of the streamliner era. I am weary, tired of only bad news. The latest action in the U.S. House only underscores my dismay.

I hope, and wish myself wrong, but will support Amtrak to the last, even though I feel my pleas are falling on deaf ears and viewed as of no account by those who represent me.

Don Shaw
Bloomfield, Conn.

Thank you for your letter, Don. I should point out that NCI is comprised of professional railroaders, most of whom work at a managerial level within the industry, and political leaders at all levels of government. – Ed.

Return to index

October 15, 16

Ninth Annual Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads Conference

Washington Marriott Hotel
Washington, D.C.

Passenger train operations on freight railroads, including high-speed, offer excellent opportunities to develop new commuter and intercity rail services, but while they offer attractive sources of revenue to freight carriers, they also pose perplexing problems-compensation, liability, grade crossing safety, signaling and train control requirements, right-of-way capacity constraints, and maintaining freight service integrity. The conference will offer a thorough, candid airing of these topics, and an in-depth look at some of the important projects being undertaken in this area. This two-day event will feature recognized experts from both the passenger and freight sides of railroading.

Register On-Line at

November 17-20

Surface Transportation and Sprawl:
A Free Four-day Seminar for Journalists in the Center of Washington, D.C.

This Seminar is designed to help reporters and editors get beyond the clichés and enrich that work, even as Congress begins to debate the next big highway bill.

Topics will include “Building a highway with asphalt and influence,” “Are cities designed for humans any more?” Also, “transportation and the environment; the politics of transportation; the ups and downs of passenger rail; the social costs of a commuting life.”

The 15 expenses-paid fellowships are available to qualified journalists. Fellowships include airfare, hotel and most meals.

There is no application form. You can apply by mail, e-mail or fax. To apply, send a letter making your case for attending, a letter of support from your supervisor, a brief bio, and a clip (not a web site reference) or VHS or audio tape (if you’re an editor send a sample of work you’ve edited). Applications will not be returned. Applications must be received by 5 p.m., October 11. Send applications to National Press Foundation, Transportation 2002, 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 310, Washington, D.C. 20036. E-mail is Fax is 202-530-2855. Call for information at 202-663-7280, ext. 106. Check out for more information.

Underwritten by the Kiplinger Foundation, with support from the NPF Program Fund (Times Mirror Foundation, ABC Inc., and others).

The National Press Foundation is a non-profit educational foundation.

Return to index

The way we were...

The C&O on the move

NCI: Leo King collection – C&O

C&O – the mighty Chesapeake & Ohio – hauled King Coal from West Virginia, Ohio and other mines to Tidewater at Newport News, Va. There, the black diamonds were loaded onto ships bound for places around the world. The heavy steam double-headers were quite a show in the 1950s.

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 Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write.

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

Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images that appear in Destination: Freedom may do so at a nominal fee of $10.00 per image. "True color" .jpg images average 1.7MB each, and are 300 dots-per-inch for print publishers.

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.

|| Home Page || Destination: Freedom Past Editions || Contact Us || Article Index || Top of Page

This edition has been read by || || people since date of release.

Copyright © 2002, National Corridors Initiative, Inc. & Leo King.