Destination:Freedom Newsletter
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
  NCI Logo Vol. 1 No. 25, October 9, 2000
Copyright © 2000, NCI, Inc.
James P. RePass, President
Leo King, Editor

A weekly North American Railroad update

NCI: Leo King

On a warm August 2000 afternoon, Acela Regional No. 133 is under the Boston bus terminal, which straddles all the tracks at South Station. The 11-car regional train is not quite back to the bumper. Its crew is preparing for a 5:00 p.m. on-time departure.

Rail bill's future is uncertain;
Reform Council mulls plan
By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

The bill to provide high speed rail bonding authority to the tune of $10 billion over ten years is taking an uncertain path on Capitol Hill, seemingly subject to the whims of a Congress anxious to roll a lot of legislative items into a few big "catch-all" bills so the lawmakers can hurry up and get out of town to hit the campaign trail for the November elections.

Last week, Senate Finance Chairman William Roth (R-Del.) introduced S.3152, the Community Renewal and New Markets Act, similar to legislation discharged from the committee last week. The new legislation includes the High-Speed Rail Investment Act (HSRIA), which contains the rail bonding to get high-speed rail off the drawing boards and on the way to reality throughout America. Six Senators were added to the list last week.

As of press time, late on Friday, 62 members of the Senate had signed on as co-sponsors. That is not only a majority, but is just five votes short of what is needed to break any filibuster.

Meanwhile, both houses of Congress will remain in session at least until October 14. The legislators agreed to do so on Friday, but will take the Columbus Day holiday and return to work tomorrow (Tuesday).

The situation in the House continues to be less hopeful. The measure never got out of House Ways and Means, and the 162 co-sponsors in the House fell short of a majority, but House Speaker Dennis Hastert is a strong supporter of the "New Markets" concept. So too is President Clinton. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater appeared to favor the rail bonding bill (according to NARP), though his fellow cabinet member, Treasury's Lawrence Summers, seemed opposed. The views of the president himself on this are unknown.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's position on the legislation is not being touted, though he has strong ties to Amtrak board member John Robert Smith, Mayor of Meridian, Mississippi [and NCI chairman], in Lott's home state.

This is the famous annual "rush to adjournment," a phrase used so often in the final days of congresses for so many years that it has become trite. And when Congress is trying to hurry to leave town, deals abound in the back rooms and we just don't know what will happen.

The lawmakers have landed on a $521 million appropriation figure for Amtrak in the year ahead. Once again, as noted by Amtrak chairman Tommy Thompson, that is a little more than half of what was authorized in the Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act of 1997.

Meanwhile, the Amtrak Reform Council (ARC) was in the dark as to what Congress will ultimately do about its funding. Since the House slashed its budget from the proposed $980 thousand to $450 thousand, the Senate could do no better than to offer $495 thousand. The political maneuvering that has made this low-profile agency so controversial in some quarters has been explored in-depth by D:F in past reports.

Staff people at the ARC were busy during the summer. They produced a "working paper" dealing with the question of whether Amtrak's operations on the Northeast corridor (NEC) should be separated from the entity responsible for the infrastructure, a separation that exists in the air and highway modes and allows the operators (airlines, truckers, bus lines) to claim a "profit," having shed the heavy capital investment required for the physical plant. Rail enjoys no such advantage, and thus Amtrak shows a "loss" each year.

Last spring, D:F explored the dangerous and threatening problem of the deteriorating tunnels in New York City's Penn Station complex and the budget constraints which prevent Amtrak from dealing with it in anything but a piecemeal manner. The situation was spotlighted September 19 in a wake-up call when a tunnel fire caused heavy smoke at Penn Station.

The ARC staff has explored possible options of dealing with this funding dilemma. The urgency and scale of capital improvements to the NEC require far beyond what Amtrak is able to give it and still meet its statutory requirement to show operational profitability by fiscal year 2003.

In line with ARC's recommendation that Amtrak develop a separate profit-and-loss statement for the infrastructure of the Northeast Corridor, a proposal rejected by the Amtrak board, the ARC staff has explored options to deal with the problems in a working paper circulated to key members of Congress, and interested state and local officials.

It cannot be emphasized strongly enough that this is merely a staff paper and as such, is not an official position of the Amtrak Reform Council itself, which has not voted on it. Putting it in the vernacular, this is akin to "running it up the flagpole to see if anyone salutes."

Not only are staffers exploring the feasibility of separating the operating and infrastructure departments of the NEC, but some have even wondered aloud what would happen if a separate government company [agency] were to control the infrastructure or even the NEC itself.

Again, this is "working paper" staff work. It is not the ARC's view until and unless the council votes for it. It has also undergone several revisions.

At press time, a spokeswoman for Amtrak told me the passenger rail company was taking no position on the paper, that it was being reviewed and that it would be "inappropriate" to comment on it at this time, however, one well-placed source says Amtrak "went ballistic" over the document.

But if the Republicans retain control of the Senate next year, Senate Commerce Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) wants hearings on the subject, with ARC Chairman Gil Carmichael as the "star witness."

That could be interesting. Carmichael for years has been talking to anyone who will listen about his "Interstate 2" proposal for 20,000 miles of high speed rail lines around the country, whereby operations and infrastructure would be separated. Now finally, someone in authority may be listening.

Acela Express trains await FRA nod;
schedules delayed yet again
By Leo King D:F Editor

We have learned from a reliable source within Amtrak that the FRA is prepared to certify the Acela Express trainsets.

Destination Freedom learned from one source inside Amtrak and another at the FRA that the final letter certifying the trains for commercial, passenger-carrying use lay on FRA administrator Jolene Molitoris's desk on Thursday, awaiting her signature, but until that happens, the trains are not certified.

Officially, the FRA would only say the task is nearly complete. Yvette Lester, the new Public Affairs director for the federal agency, told Destination: Freedom, "We're pleased with the certification efforts of Amtrak and the consortia. The progress is progressing and is nearing completion." The consortia are Bombardier and Alstom.

Look for the official inaugural run to be scheduled for November 9, but Amtrak may operate the trains unannounced earlier than that.

One source said, "The truth is that Amtrak has received qualification from the FRA to operate the trainsets in accordance with the track safety standards at 150 mph at seven inches cant deficiency on the north end, and 150 mph at six inches cant deficiency on the south end. The maximum speed through curves is 130 mph." The letter was dated around September 19.

The source added, "The passenger car safety standards still has some requirements, and the trainset office is working through a number of issues that the FRA still has questions about before we start revenue service."

In other events last week, Amtrak Regional train No. 132 became the first train to haul down some catenary. The 11-car train was enroute to Boston on September 30 and was by Shore Line Jct. in Connecticut when both AEM-7 pantographs snagged the catenary, and pulled some of it down.

Sources said one pan was ripped off, and the cat was dangling. Rescue engines (a protect crew) were dispatched from New London. The train, which was due to arrive in Boston's South Station at 8:54 p.m., arrived in Southampton Street Yard in Boston around 1:30 a.m. Queries to Amtrak's PR office in Philadelphia went unanswered.

Just three days later, some wires came down in South Station, from track 9 to track 13, near the end of the rush period. No one was injured on Tuesday, but it raised havoc with commuter service. An Old Colony train, No. 021 to Middleborough, Mass., due out of the station at 6:45 p.m., was trapped on track 9. Some catenary wires became so hot they began to melt, and afterwards sagged.

The source said some brass fittings that hold resistors in place cannot take the heat generated by the 25,000 volts carried in the wire. The metal melts and breaks, and the counterweights pull down the rest of the wire. The brass fittings are being replaced with aluminum counterparts, and lagged in grease. Without the grease, the metal would fuse.

Old Colony line commuters were taken to MBTA Red Line trains to Braintree, where commuter rail trains were turned from their eastbound runs. The Dorchester Branch was blocked for a time as well, and some trains from Readville could not enter the station, so were forced to go back to Readville, then back to the station via the main line.

The only intercity train affected was No. 67, the Twilight Shoreliner, which was delayed from entering the station.

Execs urge rail competition
Nearly 270 executives of U.S. companies and trade associations sent a letter to Senators John McCain and Ernest F. Hollings last week asking them to give rail competition top priority in the next Congress. The execs declared the railroad industry is one of the last corporate monopolies, and they want regulators to get tougher by discarding easy-going attitudes toward rail mergers.

"While major railroads in North America appear poised to begin another round of consolidations in the near future, the STB continues to adhere to policies that hamper rail competition," the group wrote to McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Hollings (D-S.C.), the ranking minority member. Letter Signers included E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., Dow Chemical Co., Consolidated Edison, Inc., Monsanto Co. and various trade groups, such as the American Chemistry Council, the American Forest & Paper Association, and the American Public Power Association.

Amtrak mail, express consolidate
Amtrak reported last week it is consolidating its mail and express businesses as a separate business unit. A new executive, a veteran marketing executive from the freight industry, will be in charge.

Lee H. Sargrad is the new president of the mail and express unit. Sargrad, 46, was most recently vice president of sales and marketing for Triple Crown Services, based in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Meanwhile, vice president Ed Ellis has been named vice president, sales and marketing, for mail and express.

Sargrad will conduct a 90-day review of business operations and freight rail relations, update the unit's strategic plan, and consolidate its business elements.

Robert Blanchette dies at 68

Former FRA administrator, attorney and judge Robert W. Blanchette, 68, died of cancer Sept. 25 at Georgetown Hospital in Washington. He headed the federal agency from 1981 to 1983.

During that time, he oversaw passage of legislation to reduce the federal government's role in railroading, principally by laying out the groundwork for the privatization of Conrail.

He also backed budget cuts for Amtrak while leading efforts to restructure the management of the federally subsidized rail passenger service so that it operated more like a private business.

Blanchette was at the center of the Penn Central bankruptcy, and in 1970, was the federal judge presiding over what was then the largest corporate bankruptcy reorganization case in U.S. history appointed him counsel to Penn Central trustees.

His legal work in the case involved negotiations over massive assistance programs from Congress and the USDOT while developing a plan to repay some of Penn Central's $3.57 billion in claimed debts to creditors, which included the U.S., state and local governments.

Blanchette was a native of New Haven, Conn. He graduated from the University of Connecticut and attended the University of Grenoble in France as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow and Fulbright Scholar. He graduated from Yale Law School, where he was editor in chief of the Yale Law Journal. After law school he served as a judge advocate with the Air Force in France.

He began his railroad career as general counsel to the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad.

After his tenure with the Federal Railroad Administration, he went into private law practice. His principal client was TGV, manufacturer of the French high-speed train.

- Washington Post

Midwest initiative, Amtrak pursue trainsets

The Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, an alliance of nine states and Amtrak, has invited bids by Nov. 1 for a tender offer to build and maintain a fleet of 13 tilting trainsets and construct three maintenance facilities, reported Railway Age in its on-line edition for September 26.

It marked the first stage of a $3.5 billion, 10-year plan to expand intercity passenger services radiating from Chicago. Amtrak will eventually require another 60 to 70 trains.

The 125 mile-an-hour trainsets can be powered by diesel-electric or gas turbine engines, and must accommodate between 300 and 400 passengers in two classes.

There will also be a buffet car, plus two cars to carry express packages.

FRA and Bombardier have been developing a hybrid gas turbine engine, but that engine is not yet directly related to the Midwest program. Meanwhile, Talgo America, Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of Patentes Talgo, Spain, will offer an FRA-compliant version of its new Talgo XXI tilting train.

Amtrak wants to introduce the new trains in 2003 on three routes from Chicago to Detroit, another to St Louis, and to Madison, Wis., via Milwaukee.

The new trains will allow Amtrak to triple train frequency on the Detroit and St Louis routes to nine per day, to run 17 trains a day to Milwaukee instead of seven, and to run 10 to Madison, which will be a new destination for Amtrak.

Apples, pears to travel by rail
Washington State's DOT got the okay in mid-September from its Transportation Commission to lease 50 refrigerator cars so apple and pear farmers can ship their fruit to the East Coast.

The cars, costing about $180,000 each, will be attached starting next summer to such Amtrak passenger trains as the Empire Builder, which makes daily trips from Seattle to Chicago, the Wall Street Journal reported last week.

Trinity Industries Inc., of Dallas got the construction order. The state legislature earlier this year authorized the DOT to investigate the notion of shipping apples via rail, after shippers complained that a shortage of truck drivers was hurting their delivery schedules.

Trucking companies contend they are short 80,000 drivers now, and if Congress passes legislation limiting driver-hours, the number could grow to 100,000.

Today, more than 95 percent of Washington's $1.2 billion annual apple crop leaves the state by truck.

The DOT will sub-lease the refrigerator cars to Amtrak, which will bear most of the cost, and be able to use them anywhere in the U.S. to ship produce, as long as Washington farmers get first priority. Washington's share of capital costs will be $500,000 over five-years, officials said.

FRA awards grant to Cracow University
The U.S FRA has awarded a $100,000 grant to Cracow University of Technology in Cracow, Poland for research related to metal fatigue in both railroad rails and train wheels.

Administrator Jolene M. Molitoris said, "Such research has the potential to increase rail safety here in the U.S. and elsewhere."

Railroad rails and wheels, manufactured from steel, are subjected to severe service conditions which can result in metal fatigue. In addition to increased railroad traffic and train axle loads, which increase the rate of wear and fatigue, railroad components also are subject to residual stresses. Those residual stresses "are those that remain permanently inside wheels or rails after removal of all service loads, and are a major contributing factor to the failure of these railroad components, she said.

The stresses result from permanent internal deformations in the wheel or rail metal due to their manufacturing process, and rain operational movements.

DOT, AAR form infrastructure partnership
USDOT and the Association of American Railroads pledged last week to work closely together to identify vulnerabilities, share threat information, and develop a joint plan to protect the nation's transportation system from intentional disruption.

DOT secretary Rodney E. Slater and AAR president and CEO Edward R. Hamberger signed the agreement last week.

Slater said, "Our nation's transportation system is the world's finest, providing the critical transportation services that support the nation's unprecedented economic growth and prosperity, and we must take the steps necessary to assure that this infrastructure remains safe and secure."

He added, "Our work with AAR is an example of the government working with private industry not as a regulator, but as a partner to help ensure we continue to protect and deliver those vital services." "Few other industries are as computerized as railroads," said Hamberger.

Over the next few months, DOT and AAR will sponsor industry workshops that will help raise awareness of threats and vulnerabilities to the nation's rail industry and their intermodal partners, and begin to develop strategies to address those threats. With the growth of intermodal and electronic interconnectivity of the nation's transportation system, cooperation among all modes of transportation will become vital, the DOT stated in a press release, both to the nation's security and its economic well-being.

Washington, D.C.
October 9-12 - Transportation ministers from more than 80 countries will participate in the DOT's international transportation symposium, "Moving to the 21st Century - Best Practices of Today and Lessons for Tomorrow," the first global transportation planning meeting of its kind. U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater will also attend the three-day conference. Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, 2660 Woodley Road.

Nothing Like It In the World:

The Men Who Built The
Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869

By Stephen E. Ambrose
(Simon & Schuster: New York, August 2000 431 pp., indexed)

By Jim RePass

There are a number of remarkable things about this remarkable book, Stephen Ambrose's Nothing Like It In The World.

It is remarkable because Stephen Ambrose tackles a story that had been told scores of times before, yet he makes it fresh, and gripping, writing with a clarity and ease that belies the craftsmanship which always goes into such a seemingly effortless work.

It is remarkable because there was no special reason to write this book, yet it got written. The Transcontinental Railroad was built from 1863-1869, so no particularly significant anniversary date looms nigh that might call for such a book.

It is remarkable for its attention to detail, and use of contemporaneous historical resources that bring to life not just the story, but the context of the story. Such hard slogging in the research department - and hats go off to Dr. Ambrose's adult children here, because he hired them to do the research - produces highly felicitous results, such as the detailed description of the tunneling processes the Central Pacific used in the Sierra Nevadas and the Union Pacific in the Rockies, a daunting task in an era before machine tools.

The most remarkable thing about Nothing Like It In The World isn't actually found within the book itself.

The most remarkable thing about Nothing Like It In The World is that, at the dawn of the 21st century, more than 130 years since the event itself, its compelling story sits atop The New York Times' "Best Seller" List, as a $28 hardcover book.

For more then a decade I have been saying that the time was ripe for a return to major investment in the nation's rail transportation infrastructure: that highway construction had reached its peak (and beyond), and that alternatives to air travel would have to be found as the hub-and-spoke system pioneered by Federal Express for packages, and then adopted by passenger airlines as well, lead to increasingly dense landing-and-take off (LTO) cycles at increasingly overburdened airports.

And sure enough, the interest in rail as a modern, rapid conveyance - not a nostalgia trip or a railfan tour - has been steadily growing, as evidenced by the local and state legislative support being given to rail investment in the Pacific Northwest, California, the Midwest, the Carolinas, Virginia, and, of course, the federally financed Northeast Corridor and its coming high-speed rail debut, and elsewhere; but not even our organization, the National Corridors Initiative, which has actively promoted and supported rail development through speeches, conferences, editorials, op-ed pieces, and radio and television appearances, would have believed that even a well-written history of America's most important rail-based accomplishment to date would be so sought-after that it would trump for a moment our media-driven era of celebrity memoirs and 15 minutes of fame.

Nothing Like It In The World tells the tale of the men who built, used - or resisted - the railroad: the politicians, financiers and stock cheats, the surveyors and engineers, the laborers and the camp followers, the Native Americans and the settlers - all laid out in a highly accessible prose style organized in chapters from West to East, and then East to West, until the two lines meet at Promontory Summit, Utah; actually, they had already passed each other as to the grading of the line, as each railroad was being paid by the mile, and neither wanted to stop. But a deal was struck allowing the CP to buy track put down by the UP from Ogden to Promontory Summit, and on May 10,1869, as most Americans know, a Golden Spike was driven that, for the first time, physically united the United States from sea to sea.

Why today's astounding interest in a history book about "a 19th century technology?" In part it is Stephen Ambrose's name, earned as a historian of compelling mastery in his previous books Undaunted Courage, about the Lewis and Clark expedition, or Comrades, or any of the dozen others he has authored. Perhaps it is the gripping nature of the gigantic story itself, continent-building achieved in an era of hand tools, yet which era's principal invention, the railroad itself, enabled man for the first time in his life on the planet to travel faster than a galloping horse.

But in part it is also a thirst for revisiting a neglected mode of transportation, one of whose saving graces is that it is not the automobile, and it is not the airplane. There is in America an aching hunger for relief from the gridlock and winglock we have created, and have come to endure. Despite the general news media's persistence, with precious few exceptions, in ignoring the revival of rail in America that is happening right now, in region after region upon region, sifting into the American consciousness is the realization that we can have an alternative to the concrete and asphalt ribbons that have so defined America for the last half of the 20th Century. Here is our recommendation for Nothing Like It In The World: buy it, and read it. Then read it aloud to your kids, or your grandchildren, or your nieces and nephews. Then buy a few more copies and give them as gifts to your friends. Last, but not least, buy a copy and send it to the newspaper reporter you know best, or the editor of your local paper. If you don't know their names, go find out. Include a note, and this review, and the address of this website, .

Here's a sample from Nothing Like It In The World's first chapter, entitled, "Picking the Route:"

"August 13, 1859, was a hot day in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The settlement was on the western boundary of the state, just across the Missouri River from the Nebraska village of Omaha. A politician from the neighboring state of Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, went to Concert Hall to make a speech. It attracted a big crowd because of Lincoln's prominence after the previous year's Lincoln-Douglas debates and the keen interest in the following year's presidential election. Lincoln was a full-time politician and a candidate for the Republican nomination for president. The local editor called Lincoln's speech - never recorded - one that "set forth the true principles of the Republican party.'

"In the audience was Grenville Mellen Dodge, a twenty-eight-year-old railroad engineer. The next day he joined a group of citizens who had gathered on the porch of the Pacific House, a hotel, to hear Lincoln answer questions. When Lincoln had finished and the crowd dispersed, W.H.M. Pusey, with who the speaker was staying, recognized young Dodge. He pointed out Dodge to Lincoln and said that the young engineer knew more about railroads than any other "two men in the country.'

"That snapped Lincoln's head around. He studied Dodge intently for a moment, and then said "Let's go meet.' He and Pusey strolled across the porch to a bench where Dodge was sitting. Pusey introduced them. Lincoln sat down beside Dodge, crossed his long legs, swung his foot for a moment, put his big hand on Dodge's forearm, and went straight to the point: "Dodge, what's the best route for a Pacific railroad to the West?'"

Dodge instantly replied, "From this town out the Platte Valley."

Tell your friends in journalism that they should read this book for its history. But tell them, also, to watch closely the news coming out of Boston, Massachusetts. In a few weeks they are going to hear about, or perhaps see, an event that in 100 years will be seen to have been as important to us in the 21st Century as the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad was to the Americans of the 19th. That event will be the start of the first true American high-speed rail line, from Boston to New York to Washington, that will begin to put the lie to the long-standing myth that Euro-style rail service can not work in America, and to whet the appetites of other Americans in other regions to redouble their own efforts to create an American rail system worthy of the name. Some time in November, like that spring day so long ago, we will see another day filled with speeches, pomp and ceremony, and a sense of history. It will be here, and then it will be gone forever. Tell them not to miss it. And don't you miss it either.

Jim RePass is president & CEO of the National Corridors Initiative.

Have bookmarked your site. Really enjoyed the article on the Port Morris ferry.

[D:F, Oct. 2, "A proposal for an intermodal passenger terminal in the Bronx," - Ed.]

Reggie Atwell
Via all-aboard@railspot

NCI: Leo King

If anybody knew how to run commuter trains, it was the New York Central. The NYC had sixteen 1,200 horsepower Lima-Hamilton, NYC class DRSP-5a engines, numbered 6200 thru 6215 (ex-NYC 5800-5815), and were built in 1950 for passenger service on the Boston & Albany. Most were retired between 1965-1966, but two were rebuilt to survive into the Penn Central era, 6202 and 6203. All were used in commuter service, as were these two in South Station, Boston, ready for their afternoon runs to Framingham and Worcester. They were steam generator equipped, but those were later removed.

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.

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 are planning a page where we will feature 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 Site Webmaster in Boston.

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