Vol. 7 No. 43
October 9, 2006

Copyright © 2006
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

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A weekly North American rail and transit update

The E-Zine of the National Corridors Initiative Inc.

Publisher - James P. RePass
Editor - Molly McKayWebmaster - Dennis Kirkpatrick
European Correspondent - David Beale

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

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

  News of the week…
Japanese MagLev project gets boost from JR Central
Alexander Kummant appointed President and CEO of Amtrak
Amtrak welcomes new board members
Key New England group’s CEO urges candidates
   to co-operate, build rail throughout the region
Fast Track 2017 - Part 2
  Selected rail stocks …
  Commuter lines …
Illinois agencies enlist help for more transit funds
Light rail station under construction at airport
MBTA: Searches to resume. Fares to go up.
  Off the Main line …
Amtrak 2007 calendar photo contest winners announced
Ceremony unveils new Sturtevant station
  End notes…

NEWS OF THE WEEK... News of the week...

Japanese MagLev project gets
boost from JR Central

JR Central Decides on the Capital Investment Plan for Renewal and Extension of the Yamanashi Maglev Test Line New services on the Tokaido Shinkansen

(Maglev trains — short for magnetic levitation — use powerful magnets that allow the train to skim along its guideway without touching it, reducing friction and increasing speeds.)

By DF Staff

YAMANASHI PREFECTURE, JAPAN, SEPT 25 --- Less than one week after a fatal MagLev train accident in Germany, the Central Japan Railway Company’s Board of Directors has voted to greatly expand the length and increase the speeds of Japan’s own experimental MagLev train.

 JR Central's Board of Directors today officially approved an investment plan for the renewal and extension of the Yamanashi Maglev Test Line. To implement this project the company, together with the Railway Technical Research Institute and the Japan Railway Construction, Transport and Technology Agency, intends to apply to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (MLIT) for the approval of alterations to the Master Plan for Technological Development for the Yamanashi Maglev Test Line and the Construction Plan for the Yamanashi Maglev Test Line originally approved by the Minister of Transport in June 1990.

1. Reason for the capital investment plan for renewal and extension of the Yamanashi Maglev Test Line

2. Main Features of Facility and Costs of the Project.

(1) Name and Location

(2) Main Features of Facility and Details of New Experiments

(3) Project Costs (Including Consumption Tax)

3. Project Schedule

4. Forecast for FY 2007.3

FY 2007.3 is the fiscal year ending March 31, 2007. The “train radio units” presently used for communication between train crew and control staff and for information transmission such as onboard public telephones and ticker news service, etc. will be changed from analog to digital.

With this change an onboard environment that allows connection to the Internet during high-speed operation of the Tokaido Shinkansen (between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka) will be realized and an information transmission network that links train crew (onboard), control staff and station personnel (ground) will be improved.

As a result, along with providing an even more “optimal onboard environment” that responds to the various needs of our customers we are endeavoring provide even more “safe and stable transport.”

1. With the Series N700 an “Internet Service” that provides a stable connection environment even in sections where connection was difficult during high-speed operation will be offered. Wireless LAN access points installed onboard. These access points will be connected to construct an onboard wireless LAN network.

Information will be transmitted from trains via LCX cable using the digitized onboard train radio units and an ISP (Internet service provider) will be connected to via Internet connection devices newly installed on the ground.

2. Information communication functionality will be expanded and information will be conveyed to the customer even faster PHS antennas installed onboard (on all Series 300, Series 700 and Series N700 trainsets)

3. Information transmission functionality between train crew and control staff will be expanded and even safer and more stable transport realized by using digitized train radio units. Information is transmitted from control staff to train crew verbally and a function that enables transmission of images relating to control information and operation status to the display device (monitor) in the train crew room will be added.

Information related to the status of train equipment and train vibration is transmitted from an operating train to control staff, and this status information will be even more accurately ascertained through the addition/enhancement of information.

4. Approximate Cost: Approximately 35 billion JPY

5. Launch period: Spring, 2009 (tentative)


References used in this article:

Main article: JR-Maglev

Japan has a test track in Yamanashi prefecture where test trains JR-Maglev MLX01 have reached 581 km/h (361 mph), faster than wheeled trains. These trains use superconducting magnets which allow for a larger gap, and repulsive-type “Electro-Dynamic Suspension” (EDS). In comparison, Transrapid uses conventional electromagnets and attractive-type “Electro-Magnetic Suspension” (EMS). These “Superconducting Maglev Shinkansen,” developed by the Central Japan Railway Co. (“JR Central”) and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, are currently the fastest trains in the world, achieving a record speed of 581 km/h on December 2, 2003.[edit]Linimo (Tobu Kyuryo Line)

A related story by The Associated Press out of Tokyo reported that Japan Railway’s plans for testing the maglev train won't be affected by the accident in Germany that killed 23 people. In fact, the day after the accident, Japan went forward with a maglev test run west of Tokyo with 100 passengers on board. Additional plans include a special event on Nov. 22-24, when 1,800 people will be invited to ride the train at its test center, according to railway official Katsushi Kawaguchi.

The Japanese government “is closely watching what German investigators conclude about the cause of the crash,” said Transport Ministry official Michio Igarashi.

Initial indications have been that human error, not the sophisticated technology, was to blame for the accident in Germany, in which a maglev train smashed into a maintenance car.

Japan has experimented with the high-speed maglev line for years, but commercial use has yet to be approved.

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Alexander Kummant appointed
President and CEO of Amtrak
Alexander Kummant and Daryl Pesce

Photo: Amtrak ink  

Alex Kummant (L.) prepares to roll up his sleeves and take the reins as Amtrak President and CEO effective Sept. 12. Touring Washington Union Station in August, Kummant discusses customer service issues with Mid-Atlantic Division General Superintendent Daryl Pesce

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Veteran railroad and industrial executive Alexander Kummant was appointed President and CEO by the Amtrak Board of Directors at a board meeting on Aug. 29 and is scheduled to assume duties Sept. 12.

Kummant, 46, previously served as regional vice president of the Union Pacific Railroad where he directed 6,000 employees working in transportation, engineering, construction, mechanical and other positions. He also served as vice president and general manager of the UP’s Industrial Products division, a $2 billion revenue business.

In these positions, Kummant was responsible for substantially improved customer service, ontime delivery of client products and significant gains in financial and operational performance. Additionally, while at the UP, Kummant held the role of vice president of Premium Operations, which was responsible for intermodal and automotive network performance.

Most recently, Kummant served in executive positions at Chicagobased Invensys Corp. and at Komatsu America Corporation, a division of the second largest supplier of construction equipment worldwide.

Kummant fills the position that had been held by David J. Hughes on an interim basis since November 2005. Formerly chief engineer of Amtrak, Hughes will continue with Amtrak in a yet-to-be-specified capacity.

“For the past nine months, David Hughes has stepped in and performed exceptionally in leading our strategic reforms and operational improvements,” said Chairman David M. Laney.“On behalf of the Amtrak Board of Directors, he has our deepest admiration and respect, and we are delighted that he will continue to play an important role in Amtrak’s future.”

Kummant wasted little time in getting down to business before his first official day on the job. On Wednesday,Aug. 30, he was introduced to the executive staff at a one-hour meeting in Washington by acting President and CEO Hughes.The following day, Kummant met with numerous front-line employees while touring Washington’s Ivy City conventional and high-speed operations and Union Station’s ticketing, crew base and baggage facilities. Friday afternoon, he wrapped up the week in Chicago, meeting ticketing and customer service employees at Union Station, as well as employees at the car and locomotive shops. He also held a brief getacquainted session with senior Central Division staffers at the Congress Center Building.

Kummant’s first job working on a railroad came 28 years ago.When as a teenager in Lorain, Ohio, he worked on Lake Terminal Railroad track crew at the U.S. Steel Lorain Works. From there, he went on to earn a B.S. degree in mechanical engineering from Case Western Reserve University, a Master’s degree in manufacturing engineering from Carnegie Mellon University and an M.B.A. from Stanford University. “Alex Kummant has the outstanding credentials and experience to lead a changing Amtrak that is more customer-focused and fiscally responsible,” said Laney on Aug. 29. “His appointment fulfills the board’s commitment to select an extraordinarily strong and capable leader for Amtrak’s future, building on the growing national desire for more and improved passenger rail service.”

Amtrak welcomes new board members

Two Photos: Amtrak Ink  

Donna McLean (above) and Biden were confirmed by the Senate in July to serve five-year terms.
Source: Amtrak Ink

Amtrak’s newest members of the board of directors, Donna McLean and R. Hunter Biden, were confirmed by the Senate on July 26. McLean participated in the July 27 board meeting and both have had a series of private sessions with senior managers in recent weeks to be briefed on key corporate issues.

Biden is a founding partner of Oldaker, Biden & Belair, a Washington,D.C.-based law and government relations firm that specializes in financial services, international business and information technology, consumer privacy and telecommunications work. Biden is of course a familiar name among T&E and OBS crews in the NEC. Both he and his father, Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden, are regular passengers in the New York-Washington corridor.

Also based in Washington,D.C., McLean is owner of Donna McLean Associates, LLC, a transportation policy consulting firm. McLean has held a variety of senior federal government positions, including assistant secretary for Budget and Programs and most recently as Chief Financial Officer at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Both McLean and Biden were confirmed by the U.S. Senate in July to serve five-year terms on the Amtrak board. In her statement for the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation confirmation hearing, McLean said, “I look forward to helping Amtrak better position itself to play an improved role in our transportation network.”

R. Hunter Biden (Right), who recently joined Amtrak’s Board of Directors, is briefed on issues by Senior Vice President of Operations Bill Crosbie

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Key New England group’s CEO urges candidates to
co-operate, build rail throughout the region

By DF Staff

BOSTON --- The President of New England’s oldest and most influential business group is urging candidates of all parties to work together to rebuild New England’s “underutilized rail system,” as a way of reinvigorating the region’s lagging economy.

The New England Council this past week issued “Economic Development in New England: A Guide for Candidates and Policymakers,” one of the most direct-to-the-point reports issued by the Council in recent years, observers noted. (It is available on line, in full, in Adobe pdf format at: www.newenglandcouncil.com/pdf/rep_webReports/rep_2006.09.15_candidatesGuide.pdf.

In his opening comments to a report that pulled no punches in its assessment of the region’s need to get competitive again, New England Council CEO Jim Brett wrote:

“The end of 2006 and early 2007 present a unique opportunity for discussion regarding economic development in New England. With Governor's races in all six states, U.S. Senate races in five states and the bi-annual congressional races, debates will be taking place throughout New England about how the region can best prosper. The region's public sector leaders for the rest of the decade will be chosen based in part on who can best articulate a vision for economic development in the region. These public sector leaders will then begin their new terms in 2007 hoping to make major public policy gains.”

While noting that “New England has many economic strengths,” notably a well educated work force and bountiful natural beauty, he added that “…New England faces economic challenges. Because of our high cost of living and energy costs that are the highest in the nation, many businesses choose to expand elsewhere. Recent census reports indicate that two states are losing population (Massachusetts and Rhode Island), three states are growing much below the national average (Connecticut, Maine and Vermont) and one state is growing just below the national average (New Hampshire). Our demographics may begin to endanger our ability to grow economically.”

“The Council, a bipartisan alliance of businesses, academic and health institutions, and public and private organizations throughout New England formed to promote economic growth and a high quality of life in the six-state region, has prepared this ‘Guide to Economic Development in New England’ for all candidates and public sector leaders in New England to identify how the New England states can collectively work together to achieve prosperity. During the 2006 campaign season and as elected officials’ terms begin in 2007, we hope that candidates and elected,” wrote Brett.

While the report highlights and discusses policy objectives in Energy, Healthcare, Transportation, “The Innovation Economy,” and Workforce Development, it is especially strong on the need to get the region’s long neglected rail network renewed and operating once again as the economic engine it could be:

“New England’s current transportation system is highly road-dependent and requires long commutes. Limited availability of rail service restricts commuting options. Without investment in a transportation infrastructure to facilitate workforce mobility and business activities, the region will continue to have difficulty competing economically with other parts of the country and the world,” it states.

“The Council’s study “Sustainable Prosperity” (see Section I of the report) concluded that the New England region should undertake a collaborative effort to target investment in infrastructure and connect lower housing cost communities to major business hubs. A strong, diversified transportation system that supports passenger rail is essential to ensure economic development and a high quality of life in the region. It provides a critical competitive advantage for attracting and retaining businesses and connecting them to financial and regulatory centers. Additionally, passenger rail facilitates daily commuting and intercity transit for our region’s urban and rural workforce. [emphasis added]

There have been some positive transportation developments recently, The Council notes:

The report continues, “Undoubtedly, New England’s future is linked to an efficient passenger rail service. We encourage policymakers to continue support for regional rail. In addition, Amtrak must remain a priority of the region’s policymakers and the Council encourages them to support adequate funding for Amtrak’s operations as well as for vital repair work on the Northeast Corridor infrastructure. As one of the most heavily traveled rail corridors in the nation, more than 14 million people rode Amtrak trains in the Northeast last year. Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, the high-speed line that connects Boston to other central economic hubs like New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, serves to attract employees and businesses which in turn bring investment and growth to the region.”

“Yet,” the Council report continues, “the system has been consistently plagued with structural deficiencies and underfunding. Some of the most significant infrastructure needs are in New England where Amtrak has targeted three bridges in Connecticut for replacement or major repair. Without repairs, they could sever a vital link of business and leisure passenger service between New York and Boston.”

“While the Council supports additional funding for Amtrak,” it states, “we also support proposals including legislation passed by the Senate last year to reauthorize and reform Amtrak. The legislation includes provisions aimed at improving the intercity rail operator’s long-term viability, finances and operations. Our region’s future economy depends on Amtrak’s ability to operate and maintain the Northeast Corridor service efficiently and effectively. The Council remains committed to efforts to develop a national rail policy that would bring the Northeast Corridor to a state of good repair and ensure that reliable high-speed intercity rail service continues to serve our region.”

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Fast Track 2017

[ Part 2 of a 2-part presentation. Part 1 appeared in last week’d Destination: Freedom – Ed. ]

With more than 130 miles of rail lines slated to open in the next decade, Denver RTD is setting the stage for future development in the Mile High City

By Angela Cotey, Associate Editor
Progressive Railroading
Reprinted with Permission

Rail’s evolution

But it wasn’t so long ago that making such a hefty investment in a rail system would have been unthinkable. RTD officials battled for years to prove to nay-sayers that rail could be a viable transit option in a car-loving town.

In 1994, the agency opened its first light-rail line — the five-mile Central Corridor that operates in a loop through the heart of downtown Denver. That same year, the Denver Regional Council of Governments approved RTD’s plan to build the 8.7-mile, five-station Southwest Corridor between the Central Corridor terminus at I-25 and Broadway, and Littleton, Colo. RTD’s plan to build its first suburban light-rail line was “highly questionable in terms of whether or not they’d get the ridership,” says Clark.

Critics’ argument? Denver is not New York City, Philadelphia or Boston — dense cities predisposed to transit rail. Residents love their cars and wouldn’t give them up to take the train.

But that theory was proven wrong when the Southwest Corridor opened in April 2000. More than 12,000 people began riding the system that originally was projected to carry 8,400 passengers daily. Today, it serves 18,000 people each day.

“The public said, ‘This myth that people won’t ride transit is nothing more than a myth,’” says Clark. “Pretty soon, it was like the neighbor next door who has the new riding lawnmower. You want your own lawnmower.”

It was a good thing, then, that RTD officials already had plans in the works to bring light-rail service to other suburbs.

In the mid-1990s, RTD completed a major investment study to review transit options along the I-25 corridor. When the agency determined light rail would be the best fit, then-Gov. Roy Romer said, “‘We’ll give you the right of way along the highway and you guys go ahead and build it,’” says Marsella.

But when Republican Gov. Bill Owens took office in 1999, the plan changed. Owens wanted to expand the highway, even though RTD had public support for the light-rail project.

So, Marsella approached the CDOT executive director about developing a multi-modal project under which CDOT could improve and expand the interstate while RTD built its light-rail system. Environmentally conscious residents along the corridor would be more likely to support the highway project if it included a transit portion.

“I told him, ‘You aren’t going to build any highway without us, and we’re not going to build any rail without you. Why don’t we think about a multi-modal project and do both at one time?’” says Marsella.

The result: The T-REX project.

“When we reconstruct our highways, we all ought to think about rebuilding them with transit components, whether it’s bus rapid transit, light rail, commuter rail, whatever — come up with the combination that best serves the people traveling in those corridors,” says Marsella.

For RTD and CDOT, that winning combination includes building a 19-mile light-rail system from the existing Broadway Station to Aurora, Colo.; and adding one to two highway lanes in each direction along portions of Interstates 25 and 225. Today, the $1.67 billion T-REX project is nearing completion and RTD will launch light-rail service on Nov. 17.

While southeastern Denver residents and businesses prepare for the opening of their new light-rail line, others in the metro area are waiting for rail to arrive on their side of town.

Coming Soon

They won’t have to wait long — not in large-magnitude rail project terms, anyway. RTD is gearing up to begin construction on the $4.7 billion, 119-mile FasTracks project, which includes building three new light-rail lines and three commuter-rail lines, and expanding the Southeast, Southwest and Central corridors. The lines are in various stages of studies and design, and will open one at a time between 2013 and 2017.

“Once we see these transit improvements, it will have a real impact on travel patterns,” says Boulder County Commissioner Will Toor. “Congestion is increasing and we will continue to see significant increases in the price of gas. By the time these corridors get built out, there will be substantial economic factors that will push people to look for alternatives to driving.”

Traffic congestion isn’t only affecting commuters. Area businesses see it as a major roadblock to attracting workers and customers.

“If you have an urbanized area where it’s really difficult to get around, it’s not a very attractive business climate,” says Marsella. “So, companies that are here may relocate and new companies may not consider coming here. But when you build this infrastructure, they think, ‘I have access to the entire regional labor market, and I always know that my customers and employees will have an effective way to get back and forth.’”

It’s that mentality that has led to the one of today’s hottest real estate trends: transit oriented development (TOD). The concept? Build housing units, retail shops and office space near transit stations, creating an easily accessible, walkable community. With 13 Southeast Corridor stations about to open and 57 more planned for the FasTracks project, RTD is offering developers plenty of opportunities.

“There are a lot more people in the development community that are engaged in TOD,” says Bill Sirois, RTD’s manager of transit-oriented development.

When RTD began work on the T-REX project seven years ago, TOD wasn’t as popular a concept as it is today, says Sirois. The economic downturn in the early 2000s also didn’t help the T-REX TOD cause. But during the past few years, developers have made up for lost time.

Moving to the mainstream

For example, in 2001, Cherokee Investments purchased 50 acres of the former Gates Rubber Co. manufacturing site — right next to the Southwest and Southeast junction at the I-25/Broadway Station — and are planning to build about 4,000 housing units and a couple million square feet of commercial space, says Sirois.

“For T-REX, TOD started slow, but it’s really picked up,” he says. “Now, TOD has become much more mainstream, so with FasTracks, there’s a lot more awareness.”

Even though it’ll still be about 10 years before the FasTracks project is completely finished, Denver’s suburbs already have station-area plans in the works.

“There’s already been a real impact on development patterns, with communities throughout the metro area looking at the coming of FasTracks as a way of redirecting development towards rail and bus rapid transit stations,” says Boulder County’s Toor. “The planning efforts we’re seeing regionally are suggesting a fairly high percentage of new population and employment will be in transit-oriented developments around rail stations.”

Within Toor’s jurisdiction alone, several TOD projects are on the drawing board. In Boulder, city officials are in the process of rezoning the Boulder Transit Village — fittingly, the site of a former car lot — for high-density, mixed-use zoning so residential and office space can be built there.

In the city of Louisville, officials soon will adopt an urban renewal plan for an old cement plant site next to the to-be-built rail station, which will be located just a block from the city’s downtown.

And in Longmont, city officials plan to turn an old flour mill — also the proposed site of the U.S. 36 FasTracks corridor’s terminus — into a mix of residential and retail space.

“Everything is gravitating to our rail lines and station sites,” says Marsella. “We’ve made the infrastructure investment; now, the marketplace will take over.”

Denver’s suburbs won’t be the only beneficiaries of the T-REX and FasTracks projects. The city proper stands to gain some significant benefits of its own.

“Another thing these projects will do is maintain the viability of the center city,” says Marsella. “If you have a thriving inner city, you have a thriving region. You see so many cities where at five o’clock, everything closes up and everybody runs away. We don’t have that at all.”

And once RTD’s rail expansions are complete, it will be that much easier for residents in Denver’s outlying areas to make it into the city’s downtown, which is home to all of Denver’s major sporting, entertainment and cultural venues.

Restoring a landmark

But the venue that will play the most integral role in Denver’s rail expansion plans sits at 1701 Wynkoop Street. Just around the corner from RTD’s headquarters, the historic Denver Union Station stands tall at the end of 17th Street, with a prominent orange sign atop the building encouraging passers-by to follow what RTD execs believe is an appropriate motto: “Travel by Train.”

However, Union Station currently doesn’t offer many options for train travel. Originally opened in 1881, the station burned down and was rebuilt in the late 1800s. At its peak in the 1920s and 1930s, Denver Union Station accommodated 80 trains a day. That number since has dwindled to just a few. One Amtrak California Zephyr train rolls into the station daily, and the facility also serves as the terminus for RTD’s Central Platte Valley Line, a 1.8-mile spur off the downtown Central Corridor. Opened in 2002, the line serves all the major sporting venues, as well as Six Flags Elitch Gardens and a college campus.

But in the next decade, there will be a whole lot more activity at Union Station. In 2001, RTD purchased the facility and 19.5 acres surrounding it for $50 million under an intergovernmental agreement with the city and county of Denver, CDOT and the Denver Region Council of Governments.

“The station was in private hands and there were some rumblings about developing it into a shopping center,” Marsella said during a short walk from RTD’s 16th and Blake offices to Union Station. “I didn’t want to lose the city’s transportation centerpiece, so I convinced the board that we should buy it.”

But with limited rail service coming into the station and no concrete plans for additional service, some observers questioned his decision.

“Personally, I was taking a beating, but when the FasTracks initiative was approved in 2004, it sure made us look smart,” says Marsella.

That’s because FasTracks calls for spending $200 million to bring almost all of the FasTracks corridors into Union Station and turn it into an intermodal hub. RTD also will renovate the historic station.

At 3 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon in late July, the station is empty save for rows of old high-back benches. The schedule board’s lone item reads “California Zephyr” and florescent lights hang from what used to be chandeliers. But as Marsella stands in the terminal and explains his vision for the station, it’s clear he sees what it can become.

“I want to restore those chandeliers, renovate things back to their historic look, move these benches to the side and maybe rent out the room,” he says.

The 19.5 acres of barren land behind Union Station will get a new look, too. In late July, two developers submitted plans to take on the $1 billion redevelopment project. One sticks to RTD’s idea of building rail lines and bus routes into Union Station below grade and dividing the land behind the station into 12 parcels that would be sold off and developed as hotels, and residential, retail and commercial space.

The other plan calls for keeping rail lines aboveground but rerouting the bus lines around Union Station underground, and developing the land to include a grocery store, public market, retail shops and a range of housing options.

The master developer will be chosen in early October.

An integral role

In the meantime, RTD officials will continue to prep for the opening of the Southeast Corridor and conduct pre-construction work on the FasTracks corridors. It’s a long way to 2017, and RTD officials will be busy every minute of it. It takes a lot of work to try and change the travel and development patterns of an entire region.

“These rail lines are going to become such an integral part of this community that people will wonder how we ever lived without them,” says Marsella. “People won’t even think, ‘How am I going to get to the game?’ You go by train. You don’t drive it — that’s a thing of the past.”

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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: www.MarketWatch.com

Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)75.8073.44
Canadian National (CNI)42.2141.94
Canadian Pacific (CP)50.5649.74
CSX (CSX)33.7132.83
Florida East Coast (FLA)59.2557.08
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)23.9523.22
Kansas City Southern (KSU)27.8127.31
Norfolk Southern (NSC)45.7044.05
Providence & Worcester (PWX)21.2720.10
Union Pacific (UNP)88.8688.00

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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

Illinois agencies enlist help
for more transit funds

Agency hopes allies will help send message to state legislators

Source: Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO, OCT 6 ---- The Regional Transportation Authority is reaching out for broad support from town and state officials and grassroots organizations to help solve the area’s dire congestion problems. Despite state investment in rail that exceeds what many other states do, northeastern Illinois has the third worst traffic congestion in the nation, auto travel is increasing and demand for transit is not being met.

The RTA has recruited more than 280 municipalities, civic organizations and agencies so far to lobby Illinois legislators for increased public transportation funding for 2007.

The list includes dozens of local governments, from Waukegan to Will County, and school districts.

Other organizations include labor unions, chambers of commerce, and civic and environmental groups.

“This is the most comprehensive outreach effort that the RTA has ever conducted,” Executive Director Steve Schlickman said. “In order to convey the message to the legislature, we have to show them we have the support for what we're trying to do. We have to show them that, yes, everyone wants that world-class transit system that the region deserves.”

The RTA, the Chicago Transit Authority, Pace and Metra--face a “critical crossroads” in 2007, at which time additional investment and improvement of the $27-billion transit network must take place, said RTA officials, who presented a progress report on the strategic plan, known as “Moving Beyond Congestion.”

Without the increase, transit service will shrink: fewer trains, higher fares, declining reliability

The interim report is intended to describe the current status of the RTA system and lay the groundwork for upcoming reports, including a financial analysis of the transit systems. All will be ammunition in the battle for more transportation funding.

The RTA system provides the region with more than $12 billion annually in economic impact and congestion relief, as well as substantial non-monetary environmental, mobility and qualify of life benefits, the report states.

Yet, the traffic congestion is getting worse, costing the region more than $4 billion in travel delays and excess fuel consumed.

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Ramps to close

Light rail station under
construction at airport.

Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer

SEATTLE, OCT 6 ---Light-rail service to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is slated to begin by 2010 and the light-rail station, under construction now, will take the space being consumed by highway ramps. Traffic is being diverted starting this week and detours set up, which will be used until new ramps are completed about a year from now.

Signs, including electronic ones with changeable messages, will be posted near the airport to alert drivers to the change, which is among several expected this month as the airport rebuilds its road access system to accommodate the new rail station.

Flight passengers are being advised to arrive at least two hours before departure during the construction, said airport spokesman Bob Parker.

Changes in the airport's traffic system can be checked on the web at http://www.portseattle.org/seatac/

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Commuter bag search to resume

From Internet sources: Earthtimes.org

OCT 6 ---Last Friday Massachusetts Governor Romney announced that random checks on passengers using the public transit system would be conducted by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). The Globe ran the story.

The governor, also a candidate for the 2008 presidential race, denied that there was any immediate terrorist threat, saying that the measure was merely a “different tactic” for a “very different threat”. “We are now fighting a war against people who have as their objective mass murder and mayhem,” Romney said.

The inspections will be conducted using hi-tech, computer equipment that uses a chemically treated piece of cloth to 'swab' the zippers, bottom, or handles of carry-ons and detect explosive residue. The technology does not require that the bags be opened but a request to do so would have to be obeyed.

The area transit agency had once before conducted a random search on subway and commuter trains in 2004 at the Democratic National Convention.

Civil liberty groups objected to the searches, based on the provisions of the Fourth Amendment. But a federal appeals court in News York ruled that such searches do not violate an individual’s constitutional rights.

After terrorism attacks on subways in Madrid, London, and Mumbai in 2004 killed more that 400 commuters, concern about the constitutionality of the searches died down.

Romney assured the public that officials would take all possible measures to ensure that the search does not cause unwanted delays and should take only a minute per passenger. In addition to these random searches, 'impact teams' trained in anti-terrorism and behavior recognition techniques would be deployed to dissuade any possible attackers. Increased police patrol is also on the cards he said.

Passengers who are to be searched will be picked by seat placement -- every third or fifth or eighth rider -- to avoid the appearances of racial and ethnic profiling

These preventive security measures are expected to cover the entire MBTA system including subways, buses, boats and commuter rails, which stretch all the way to Rhode Island.

Fare hikes ahead

By DF Staff and Internet sources

Despite wide-ranging opposition from its ridership, the MBTA plans to go ahead with most of its proposed fare increases starting January of 2007. The last fare increase was in 2004.

Subway fares will rise from $1.25 to $1.70 per trip. Commuter rail riders will still see an increase in the vicinity of 25 percent. Bus fares currently priced from 90 cents to $1.55 would be set at a one-size-fits-all price of $1.25.

“We’re not raising fares out of anything but necessity,” said MBTA General Manager Daniel Grabauskas in a statement issued last week. “We have a budget shortfall and we have a legal requirement to balance our budget. The “T” is facing a $35 million budget deficit.

Not all of the MBTA increases will be as high as first proposed, including the system’s “LinkPass,” which allows unlimited bus and subway rides.

The 7-day LinkPass will be priced at $15 instead of $18 as originally proposed. The monthly LinkPass will cost $59 instead of $62. The LinkPass replaces the current Combo pass, which now costs $16.50 per week or $71 per month, and the Combo-Plus pass, which runs $18.50 per week or $79 per month.

Somewhat controversial to some critics, the changes also include a surcharge for riders who do not use the new automated fare cards dubbed the “Charlie Ticket”, named for the famed character in the song made popular by the Kingston Trio, “Charlie on the M(B)TA”. The surcharge would be 25 cents on buses and 30 cents on subways and trolleys though this is a 15-cent reduction across the board from the original proposal. Automated ticket vending machines which will accept cash, or credit and debits cards, are being installed at all subway stations with installation slated to be completed sometime in the upcoming months.

The revised fare structure also calls for children age 11 and under, while traveling with an adult, ride for free. Currently, the free child fare cuts off at age 5.

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OFF THE MAIN LINE...  Off the main line...

2007 Amtrak Calendar Photo Contest Winner

This photograph of a Pacific Surliner train arriving at San Diego station will appear on Amtrak’s 2007 wall calendar. The contestwinning photograph was taken by Amtrak ticket agent Jared Forcier.

Amtrak 2007 calendar photo
contest winners announced

Source: Amtrak Ink

For the first time since the “Picture Our Train”Wall Calendar contest was launched in 2003, Amtrak will be featuring a photograph taken by one of its own employees when it releases the 2007 wall calendar later this fall.

Ticket Agent Jared Forcier’s shot of the Pacific Surfliner was chosen as the grand prize winner of the 2007 “Picture Our Train”Wall Calendar contest and will be featured photograph on the popular wall calendar. A native of San Diego, Forcier is a ticket agent and baggage clerk at the San Diego, Solana Beach and Oceanside stations.

Just a week after purchasing a new camera, Forcier was taking pictures of a rainstorm that had hit the San Diego station while passengers were awaiting the Surfliner’s arrival from Los Angeles. The winning photograph, one of three he took that day, “quite literally knocked the socks off everyone who saw it,” he said. He submitted his photographs to the wall calendar contest at the urging of co-workers and family.

Congratulations to the second through fifth prize winners:

Second Place: Joe Osciak of Hammonton, N.J.

Third Place: Jim Thompson of Santa Fe, N.M.

Fourth Place: Amtrak Engineer Phil Gosney of Castro Valley, Calif.

Fifth Place: Amtrak Director of Station Programs Joe Rago of Yardley, Pa.

This year’s contest launched on April 3 and ended on June 9 and received a record 151 entries. The grand-prize winner receives photo credit on the calendar and a $1,000 travel voucher; the second through fifth place winners received travel vouchers.

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Photo: T. J. Van Haag  

A new Sturtevant station draws local and state officials, community residents and Amtrak employees for a dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony on Aug. 12.

Ceremony unveils new Sturtevant station

The new structure, built with funding from Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the village of Sturtevant, includes a pedestrian bridge that runs across the two main tracks. Through July of this fiscal year, 48,000 passengers (10 percent more than the same period last year) visited the Sturtevant station at its previous location. [ Source: Amtrak Ink ]

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NEWS ITEMS...  End notes...

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