NCI: Leo KingLUGGAGE ABOARD - Will luggage searches soon be required on all Amtrak trains? How about commuter operations? Here, No. 133 leaves Boston's South Station enroute to New York and Washington last spring.
Fighting terrorism on the rails:
New high-speed bill gets a hearing
By Wes Vernon
There's no way railroads can impose luggage security checks the way the airlines do. The question has come back to the front burner after the September 11 terrorist air attacks. Airlines are tightening their formerly loose luggage security now; but for railroads, you can forget it.
Amtrak President George Warrington says there are ways of detecting explosives on a train, and Amtrak is working on devices that will do just that. For obvious security reasons, he refused to elaborate in public during a hearing Tuesday before the Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine. The point is, it's coming, even though no votes will be taken until after the Columbus Day holiday.
Run the security checks at train stations the way they do at airports? Picture this, he says:
New York City's Penn Station handles about 30,000 passengers a day, and that's just for starters. Some 300,000 passengers a day go through the station on the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) and New Jersey Transit (NJT). Add to that the many more thousands who come through on transfers from two major lines of the New York City subways.
Now, visualize this: Hundreds of thousands of passengers, including commuters with brief cases, going through an electronic security check. Get the picture?
Penn Station is not that unique, Warrington told the senators. Transportation policy has encouraged an open, intermodal environment "in virtually every train station every day."
Europe and Japan have had far more experience with terrorism than we have, and you see the same thing there - open, intermodal passenger rail systems. Look, the shock of the terrorist attacks on our shores has rightly made us more security conscious, but, Warrington told the senators, there are practical and then impractical ways of guarding against getting killed.
Subcommittee Chairman John Breaux (D-La.) wondered how Amtrak could stop a terrorist who simply bought his ticket through an automatic machine, boarded a train with a suitcase loaded with explosives, set it down near the engine, had it timed to go off about a half hour out on the road, and then quietly got off the train before its departure. You don't even have to be a suicide crazy to pull that off. The answer Warrington gave was the new explosive-detecting device.
Amtrak has proposed $3.15 billion dollars to help it upgrade its security and meet the increased demands imposed on it by the fear of flying that air terrorist attacks have caused.
This brought an indignant response from Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), up until now a strong supporter of Amtrak. Her complaint was that all but 7 percent of what Amtrak wanted in the package, beyond strictly security measures such as bomb-sniffing dogs and more security personnel, was aimed at the Northeast Corridor (NEC).
"I am deeply disappointed that Amtrak has chosen to forsake its mission to provide transportation alternatives throughout the nation," the senator told Warrington during the hearing, "the proposed package would provide some security features, but mainly, it would go toward making repairs and improvements in the one section of the country that already enjoys the full benefits of Amtrak service. It is time to expand this narrow mindset."
The Texas solon questioned Warrington's "sincerity" in saying Amtrak aims for a truly national system, and warned that "You are about to lose one of the two or three strongest supporters of Amtrak in the Senate" unless the focus becomes more national in scope.
Warrington, for his part, responded that parts of his request included repairs of old tunnels in New York (built 1911-1933) and Baltimore (1866, Civil War era). He said these were matters of life-saving precautions and asked the Texas senator to bear with him on it. He noted that at least half of the repairs requested were for equipment outside the Northeast.
Hutchison's complaint sent shock waves through the passenger rail community. A legislative response to her demands was not long in coming. The next day, National Assn. Of Railroad Passengers (NARP) sent out a bulletin to its members saying Sens. Joe Biden (D-Del.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) were trying to get the $3.15 billion dollar Amtrak package tagged on to the airline security bill. The proposal had been "modified" to direct a greater proportion of the money outside the NEC. The idea of tagging the measure onto the airline security bill was a major sticking point in legislative skirmishing late in the week.
Edward R. Hamberger, President of the Association of American Railroads (AAR), told the Tuesday Senate hearing that the freight railroad industry "is taking an in-depth look at security in light of the new globalist threat while keeping America's vital transportation link up and running smoothly."
Among the actions taken by the AAR, Hamberger explained, is the creation of five "critical action teams." He said those teams included information technology and communications, which means cyber security, control systems, etc.; physical infrastructure, and security for bridges, buildings, dispatch centers, tunnels, storage facilities, and other structures. It includes cross-border and "gateway" physical security issues.
Other teams would concentrate on operational security, and would minimize exposure to unplanned occurrences while trains are in operation, trying to anticipate the unexpected as well dealing with the issue of fuel supply. Yet another team would deal with hazardous materials. Hazmat is a potential terrorist-related problem that has been the subject of wide media discussion since September 11. AAR's team is working with the chemical industry and tank car manufacturers to examine the transport of hazardous materials by rail, including surveillance, routing, remanufacturing, and packaging, with an emphasis on materials that pose the greatest security risk.
The fifth team would involve itself as a military liaison outfit, upgrading "the already existing close working relationship between railroads" and the nation's military to determine ongoing defense requirements in the new kind of war the nation faces.
Hamberger noted that the recently passed $15 billion package for the airlines included insurance and liability protection. Since September 11, the railroads have already been warned of future rate increases and possible cancellation of coverage AAR is asking for the same consideration to the Class I freight carriers.
Railroaders at the hearing said it would be very difficult for a terrorist to commandeer a train, as happened with the jetliners that crashed into the Pentagon and World Trade Center. Trains can be stopped from remote control facilities.
Meanwhile, on the same day the senators were pondering railroad security, a high-speed rail hearing was in session on the House side of the Capitol. This panel focused on H.R. 2550, the RIDE-21 bill sponsored mainly by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
In his statement, Young said the events of September 11 "demonstrated even more the need for transportation alternatives." Increases in the time it now takes to clear airport security has added to the time it takes to travel by air, he said. That wipes out some of the time advantage air travel enjoys, "making high-speed rail a competitive alternative in some regional markets."
Young also announced that his $71 billion dollar high-speed rail package was picking up support from organized labor. RIDE-21 had been endorsed by the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO. Well over 90 percent of the work accomplished under the bill would require that "competitive wages" be paid.
NARP, the rail passenger advocacy group, told its members on September 28 that RIDE-21 "is a far larger program than we have seen before." However, there are some differences besides the total figure.
For example, of the $71 billion in RIDE-21, $35 billion involves loans and loan guarantees, with the loan principal (capital) to be paid over time from revenues, "a tall order," says NARP. The money would also go toward freight and commuter services.
Readers who have followed our coverage of this effort know that we have said many times that nothing is going anywhere without the partnership of the freight railroads. Either they get something out of it, or there will be no "partnership" and nothing happens. The benefits that inure to commuter train operations can serve as a magnet for their cooperation, as well. Everyone needs to be on board.
Frankly, as one who has spent over 30 years covering Amtrak, I am convinced we must "think big" if we're going to get this done. As we noted before, the Young bill expects much more of the states in terms of their contributions for high-speed rail than was expected of them in the 90/10 formula for the low-speed Interstate Highway program.
The remaining $36 billion in the bill is for high-speed rail bonds, issued by the states, with interest that is exempt from federal taxes.
Because of the tax exemption, the feds will end up paying only $6 billion, whereas the smaller HSRIA would cost the federal taxpayer $7.4 billion. Either way, the taxpayer pays. Young apparently believes if you're going to accomplish something, cutting off the metaphorical dog's tail all at once is more efficient and less painful than separately cutting off a dozen little parts of it over time.
Another consideration is that RIDE-21 requires the bonds be used only for cruising speeds of 125 mph or more and would eliminate all grade crossings. That raises the question: Are we serious about "high-speed" not? Corridors have made "great strides" at lower speeds, as NARP correctly points out. The question is: At what point do we "go for it?" How many years do we have to crawl before we can walk? Reasonable people can disagree on that.
The states are going to have to pay, and that will require some lobbying work. Some of them have already told Congress they want the rail upgrades, but don't want to pay any more out of their own treasuries than already provided under the more modest HSRIA. Bargain hunting is a good old-fashioned American tradition, but in several parts of the country, states have already shown their willingness to get serious about high-speed rail and have already put their money where their mouths are. This may "separate the men from the boys."
This is not to say changes cannot be made in the bill before it gets through the Congressional mill but RIDE-21 is a good start - and it has powerful Congressional backing.
Meanwhile, the more modest House version of HSRIA had 184 so-sponsors as of September 28, far short of the 218 required to pass the House. Perhaps some lawmakers are holding back precisely because they do not regard it as adequate. RIDE-21 is a serious bill.
It may be time to fish or cut bait.
Meanwhile, Paul Weyrich, Vice-Chairman of the Amtrak Reform Council (ARC) says Amtrak is lobbying to have the ARC abolished. The Congress created the Reform Council in the 1997 Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act. It was instructed to "think out of the box" and come up with new ideas on how to advance rail passenger service.
Thinking out of the box is almost taboo in Washington where so many have so much invested in the status quo. Before ARC even met, organized labor set about lobbying to have the infant agency strangled in its crib. This was coupled with a campaign to feed anti-ARC publicity to media people who did not understand what was going on, but who were willing to jump at a good headline. All of this Machiavellian maneuvering was detailed in May 2000 in what has to be the all-time longest article in D:F's history.
Through several bloody budget battles, the agency has survived to propose some interesting ideas. One of them, to encourage Amtrak to either divest itself of the physical plant of the Northeast Corridor or make it a separate entity within Amtrak, has caused considerable discussion. The idea would be to allow Amtrak to concentrate on its core business of running passenger trains as well as its mail and express service.
Whatever one thinks of the merits of this particular proposal, it does confront the bottom line problem with rail service in general and rail passenger service in particular; i.e., the rail mode will not achieve its obvious role in the transportation picture until and unless its infrastructure is funded on the same principle accorded the air and highway conveyances. We have been over this ground repeatedly, and will continue to pound away at it until the mainstream media wakes up and understands it.
ARC has 11 members. They are Democrats and Republicans. The overwhelming majority of them are ardent supporters of rail passenger service in the United States.
Only one of them, Wendell Cox, can arguably be considered anti-passenger train, and even he has tried to offer constructive ideas on how Amtrak can improve. Far from being abolished, says Weyrich in a commentary through his Free Congress Foundation, "this is the Reform Council's finest hour."
We have found no record that such anti-ARC lobbying effort is being carried on openly by Amtrak. However, very good sources tell us Amtrak supporters are telling lawmakers that the new emergency situation in which the nation finds itself has made the 1997 Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act irrelevant. That measure set a late 2002 deadline for Amtrak to achieve operational self-sufficiency. It also created the Amtrak Reform Council - ergo, Weyrich's logical conclusion that Amtrak is targeting ARC.
Amtrak adds 'advanced' extras;
on-board tickets harder to get
Passenger business has increased so much on Amtrak since September 11 that the railroad has begun running "advanced" trains, at least on Fridays. They usually operate only around heavy travel days, like Thanksgiving.
The carrier added two trains last Friday from Boston - numbers Advance 173 and Advance 177.
Advance 173 left Boston at 11:50 a.m., and the regular train, No. 173, left at noon. All the seven-car trains were drawn by electric AEM-7 or HHP-8 locomotives.
In the late afternoon, Advance 177 departed the Hub at 5:25 while No. 177 left ten minutes later.
A supervisor noted, "A single AEM-7 electric locomotive cannot supply enough head-end power for a single 14-car train."
He added, "None of this was planned, but heavy rail travel demanded we do something."
Meanwhile, the railroad issued instructions to its conductors that effective today, "all passengers traveling on the Washington-Philadelphia-New York-New Haven-Providence-Boston route in the Northeast Corridor will be required to have a ticket before boarding the train. Conductors will not sell any tickets on board along this route."
The trainmen's message added that the new rule applied on the corridor "spine" at every station between Washington and Boston - WAS to BOS, and would "include all stations on this route, including unstaffed stations."
The Northeast Corridor south of Washington was excluded between Alexandria and Newport News. Three other lines were also exempted from the new rules - the Springfield line from New Haven, Conn., to Springfield, Worcester and Framingham, Mass. The Harrisburg line was excluded between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, as was the Empire Corridor from New York City to Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Saratoga Springs, Montreal and Toronto, and lines to Rutland, Vt.
Passengers on other routes, the carrier stated, "may still pay fares on the train to the conductor. They will be asked for photo identification when doing so (same ID as required at ticket offices)."
The carrier noted, "At staffed stations, passengers attempting to board trains without tickets will be sent back to the ticket office or to Quik-trak machines to obtain tickets before boarding. Trains will not be held for such passengers if they show up at the gate at the last minute."
If there is no Quik-trak machine available, "or if it is not accessible when the station is closed, or if the customer does not have a debit or credit card, and if the customer is unable to obtain a ticket some other way before boarding the train, the passenger may not travel."
The instruction added, "If he or she does board the train without a ticket, he or she will be set out at the next station where it is safe to do so. The same thing will be done if the passenger has no identification. Conductors will use common sense in not setting out a passenger at an unsafe stop."
No explanation of what is meant by a "safe stop."
Employees with Amtrak photo IDs and passes may continue to use them, and a valid pass will be considered equivalent to having a ticket, but the rule "does not apply to dependents who do not yet have their own photo passes. They must have tickets before boarding."
Elsewhere in New England, The Association of American Railroads' (AAR) test train has completed its work examining the new track between Portland and Plaistow, N.H.
Guilford engine 306, with an AAR research car (a passenger car), AAR test car No. 110, and what appeared to be an LPG tanker with AAR reporting marks, crept west from Portland through Durham, N.H. at 5 mph on September 27.
The data gathered has been sent to the AAR's test facility at Pueblo, Colo., where the results should be known in a few days, but it may take a few weeks. The testing was carried out under a Surface Transportation Board mandate before it gives final approval for Amtrak passenger trains to operate up to 79 mph on Guilford rails.
In other Amtrak news, Maricopa, Ariz., becomes a stop for the Sunset Eagle on October 28. The train's eastbound departure time is 6:57 a.m., and its westbound time is 10:50 p.m.
Elsewhere, on September 29, Amtrak took over staffing train and engine service personnel on the Cardinal (Trains 50 and 51) between Cincinnati and Washington.
Twenty-one Amtrak positions were offered to CSX employees who were entitled to the jobs, of which 19 were filled.
Also effective that Saturday, CSX no longer needed lodging facilities in Washington, D.C.'s Holiday Inn on the Hill, Clifton Forge and Hinton for the train crews. At Huntington (Southpoint), the room requirement was reduced by two. The facilities that had guaranteed rooms were notified that the rooms were no longer needed, and the guarantees discontinued.
September on-time performance report is poor;
one train, Eagle, was never on time
Looking at the railroad's on-time performance numbers on its intercity routes is not good. The numbers for September show that arrivals at endpoints and for departures from initial terminals. Recovery time in most schedules means that a train can be somewhat (in some cases, a few hours) late enroute, but on time at the end point.
For example, in August, one train, the Texas Eagle, was unable to arrive "on time" even once all month. The Eagle had been plagued by Union Pacific slow orders and by a detour necessitated by signal work in Illinois.
BNSF trackwork caused delays to the Heartland Flyer. The California Zephyr, Southwest Chief and Sunset Limited continued their weak performance, while the Pennsylvanian and Empire Builder surpassed all of the Chicago Hub corridors except the Hiawathas.
The Intercity grand total 59.1 percent on-time.
Here is the statistical breakdown:
|CSX derails Augusta, Amtrak event|
CSX will not let Augusta, Ga., use its rails for an Amtrak demonstration train.
While working out details for the event, Augusta Mayor Bob Young found out last week that CSX said they would not allow an Amtrak train onto the line "because of increased security concerns," said railroad spokeswoman Susan Keegan.
"We don't want any special passenger trains operating on non-Amtrak routes, and currently that is not an Amtrak route."
Young had planned to bring the train through town during the weekend of Nov. 9 so that officials and residents could examine a passenger service train, and was intended to increase local support for Augusta's ongoing campaign to secure passenger rail service.
Bus service between Augusta and Amtrak's terminal in Columbia is expected to begin in a few weeks, once Amtrak has finalized contract negotiations with Southeastern Stages Inc., Young said.
"This was as much a surprise to Amtrak as it was to us," Young added, "but since September 11, there's been a lot of surprises."
MBTA receives Bay State AG's ire
Massachusetts' Attorney General Tom Reilly requested a Suffolk County Superior Court judge appoint a "special master" to examine the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's organization and direct the cleanup of dangerous levels of arsenic and lead that allegedly have put the Hyde Park and Dedham neighbors of the 37-acre Readville Yard at risk. A lawsuit filed October 3 alleges the T "systematic failed" to clean up environmental hazards at the eight-track, stub-end yard, used to store commuter trains during the day. The yard remains empty overnight.
Reilly stopped one step short of recommending the MBTA be placed in receivership.
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, who lives in Readville, has been at odds with the MBTA for three years, ever since the state-owned railroad built the new yard some three years ago.
Reilly said, "To ignore the serious public health problem, given the nature of the poisons... and the absolute disregard for the health of their neighbors, the children and their own employees, that's the most egregious part."
An MBTA spokesman said "the T has struggled with logistical and legal issues on some level," but he added, there is no need for court action or a "special master."
T spokesman Joe Pesaturo said, "The T believes the attorney general will have a very difficult time demonstrating the need for such forceful action."
Reilly said the T not only has repeatedly refused to adequately fence the entire contaminated Readville property to prevent children from playing there, but its daily dumping operations have kicked up poisonous dust and put entire neighborhoods at risk.
Long-term oral exposure to arsenic increases the risk of cancer in the liver, bladder, kidneys, prostate and lungs. Inhalation of the poison can interfere with fetal development and increase the risk of lung cancer, according to the suit.
The MBTA restructured its environmental unit last week, and hired a consulting firm. It also created a new job, assistant general manager for environmental affairs. It also plans to hire a manager of regulatory process for new projects, and a manager to navigate outstanding environmental compliance issues.
AlstomPRIMATM - We told you last week the SociČté Nationale des Chemins de fer FranÁais (SNCF), or French National Railways, ordered 300 new "Primatm" electric freight engines from Alstom with an option for 80 more They are similar to this locomotive, from the first batch order for 180 locomotives. The engines are being built in Belfort, France, and the first are expected to be off the assembly line late next year. SNCF is spending 737 million Euros on the new order.
|Baltimore gets check from CSX|
CSX has paid the city of Baltimore $373,573 to cover some of the costs of last July's train derailment and subsequent fire. The train was carrying hazardous materials, and temporarily closed the city's downtown area, postponed three Orioles games and held up rail traffic across the East for days, The Associated Press reported last week.
The payment covered the cost of overtime for police, firefighters, and public works departments. It does not cover the cleanup of chemicals spilled, the investigation of the accident, replacement of a ruptured water main or road repairs.
CSX owns the train, tracks and tunnel. Mayor Martin O'Malley said the payment was not an admission of liability.
"This is about CSX realizing there was a big emergency here that caused the city a big headache," O'Malley said.
CSX spokesman Rob Gould the company was simply exercising its "corporate responsibility."
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the derailment, but a report is not expected for about six months.
|Investors' group buys B&A|
Financially troubled Bangor & Aroostook Railroad System has been sold to a rail management and investment corporation for $62 million, the railroad's president announced late Thursday.
Rail World Inc., The Wheeling Corp., and other investors are purchasing all operating assets of the B&A. There was concern among legislators that the railroad's assets would be divided and sold separately, but that is not happening, the Bangor Daily News reported last week.
"That's going to please the state of Maine," said Frederic W. Yocum Jr., B&A president. Rail World and Wheeling officials were not available for comment on their plans for the railroad system.
"They plan to run it, serve the shippers and make money," Yocum said.
The Surface Transportation Board still needs to review the transaction and decide whether to approve it. Yocum said regulatory review is expected to take about 60 days to complete. He hopes to complete the deal by Dec. 31.
In February, B&A said it had assets of $92.8 million and debts of about $50.4 million, according to documents filed in Maine District Court in Bangor. Most of B&A's creditors had agreed to wait until the railroad was sold before pursuing payment.
The Bangor Daily News is online at http://www.bangordailynews.com
|UP buys locomotive tracking computers|
Union pacific has ordered web-enabled software, wireless communications equipment and data center services for 2,870 locomotives from the Nexterna Co. of Omaha, a UP subsidiary.
The contract should allow railroad managers to improve locomotive utilization with real-time location tracking, work order status, and two-way data communications.
Nexterna will mount Pentium-based, Windows-compatible computers with universal platforms and connectors onto each locomotive.
Nexterna is part of Fenix, a technology holding company owned by Union Pacific Corp.
Hahs is new BLE president
Don Hahs has been elected the new Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE) president. Delegates elected Hahs at the BLE convention in Miami Beach on September 28.
In a run-off election that began on September 26, Hahs received a 417-211 majority of the votes. An incumbent member of the BLE's Advisory Board, he was first elected to the office of International Vice-President five years ago.
The union did not state who his opponent was in its press release.
In his acceptance speech, Hahs discussed his union's relationship with the United Transportation Union. Both unions have been mulling over an on-again, off-again merger for several years.
"We must demonstrate that we can serve the collective memberships of both organizations better by working together," he said. "We have to find a common ground and stop wasting the memberships' money.
"On the other side of the coin, we'll do whatever we can, with whomever we can to protect our right to exist. If we have to fight, I will personally be on the Kansas City Southern with every other ID officer and we will fight to win."
|STB reaffirms Hollidaysburg decision|
The Surface Transportation Board has denied Pennsylvania and rail labor interests' bid that would have required Norfolk Southern's Hollidaysburg, Pa. shops to remain open.
A fortnight ago, the body approved NS's plan to close the shops.
Lawyers for the state and railroad employees argued that the board's September 19 decision not requiring the car shops to remain open was "standardless" and would not likely withstand judicial review, but in its most recent decision last week, denying a stay, the STB "pointed out that the only issue before the board was the question of whether NS violated the board's 'representation' condition."
STB's chair Linda Morgan, said, "While NS indeed made general commitments to the car shops' employees and the Altoona-Hollidaysburg area, the board "found no indication in the record of the Conrail proceeding, or elsewhere, that NS had represented that it would continue to operate the shops irrespective of changing business conditions."
She pointed out that, "Worsening economic circumstances led NS to implement a series of significant, system-wide operational, personnel, and financial adjustments.
October 14, 15
Southwest Assn. Of Rail Shippers semi-annual meeting
DoubleTree La Posada Resort
October 16, 17
Passenger trains on freight railroads
Guest speakers to include White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card (and former USDOT secretary).
October 17, 18
FRA Technical Symposium -
Nation Center for Atmospheric Research
November 1 RPI annual meeting, banquet
Washington Hilton and Towers
Call 703 836 2322 or fax 703 5498 0058
NCI: Leo KingX2000 - Where were you in 1993 when the Swedish-built X-2000 came to visit America? If you were in Providence, R.I. during January of that year, you could have seen the train being pushed or pulled between Boston and New Haven. Amtrak was thinking about what kinds of electric trains it wanted to run, so it imported a complete train for testing. West of New Haven, it ran under its own power to Washington, but in the rest of the country, it visited various locations with a pair of spiffy reengineered Turboliner locomotives supplying the motive power.
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