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Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 4 No. 40, October 13, 2003
Copyright © 2003, NCI, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - James Furlong
Editor - Leo King

A weekly North American rail and transit update

 


Amtrak Acelas under the DC Catenary

NCI: Leo King

Seventy-year old catenary and four-year-old trains are poor matches.

Tell us about timetables and such

By Wes Vernon
Washington Bureau Chief

EDITOR’S NOTE: In last week’s report on David Gunn’s National Press Club speech, a typographical error during the first 8 or 9 hours of its posting gave the incorrect figure for Class I railroad investment in infrastructure maintenance. The correct figure is $10 billion per year.

 

Back in the 1980s, Amtrak advertised the Express Metroliner New York-Washington schedule at “two hours and 49 civilized minutes.” The regular Metroliners took up to another ten minutes, making more stops.

Nearly 20 years and $800 million later, the new “high-speed” Acela Express will whisk the briefcase and laptop set between New York and Washington in – voila! – two hours and 47 minutes.

Amtrak announced that as of October 27, the Northeast Corridor schedule will more closely reflect the real world, given that the Acela Express is late an unacceptable 30 percent of the time anyway.

In order to attain even that, the extra-fare trains will skip some stops on the Boston-Washington corridor. After all, they are “express” trains, aren’t they?

Moreover, weekend service will be cut in half so as to allow more time for train maintenance. Equipment problems have been rampant on the NEC. If this change affects other Amtrak service as far north as Vermont and as far south as North Carolina, Amtrak says so be it. At least the official printed schedules will pass the laugh test.

This gives Acela “a little more room to breathe,” Amtrak’s chief scheduler Walt Peters told The AP. The high expectations when the sleek Acela Express equipment was rolled out for the public with great fanfare about four years ago were, in hindsight, “a little too optimistic,” he added.

Amtrak CEO David Gunn has said in no uncertain terms he is disappointed with the performance of this much-touted “train of the future.” He went public with that complaint more than a year ago in an interview with D:F. Since then, this “back to basics” passenger train executive has made in plain he would not have purchased the trains if he had been in charge at the time that decision was made, and also that he will not buy any more of them.

Gunn has his hands full trying to persuade Congress to appropriate enough money just to keep the railroad’s passenger service running for another year.

Rule No. 1 in that endeavor is you don’t run trains that are chronically late, lack convenience and comfort, fail to bring in a respectable level of revenue to the company (bearing in mind that all mainline passenger trains are, by the very nature of the beast, “money-losing.”)

Amtrak appears to have concluded the Acela, as currently scheduled, has come close to failure on its on-time performance, and that by implementing a new schedule that is a bit slower but far more reliable (i.e., 90 percent on-time performance instead of the current 70 percent), and also by emphasizing convenience and comfort – which resonates with its clientele – it can achieve success in earning more cash.

Peters is betting that customer satisfaction will boost Amtrak revenues by $1.3 billion, all the better to blend in with Gunn’s vow to see to it that Amtrak leaders are “wise stewards” of public money.

800 million bucks to save two minutes: Money ill spent?

You can make that argument, Amtrak spokesman Dan Stessel acknowledged in a D:F interview, however, you can also make the case “that there hasn’t been enough spent to date.”

Gunn told a Senate panel October 2, “As we look ahead, what is clear to me is the railroad is in desperate need of investment for both plant and equipment.”

This gets us back to the “chickens are coming home to roost” point that Amtrak has made for years. Amtrak has said all along that giving the railroad just enough “to get by” doesn’t cut it – not it if you really want equipment to operate like “the train of the future.” Until “train of the future” money materializes, Gunn intends to sink the company’s resources into returning the plant to “a state of good repair.”

“Many of the limitations of the Northeast Corridor are issues with infrastructure and capacity,” Stessel told D:F. The traffic in and around New York –probably the busiest railroad trackage on the continent – has much to do with extending or curtailing schedules.

Earlier this fall, the Secaucus Transfer station opened, about halfway between Newark and New York. It is roughly an updated and expanded version of the old Manhattan Transfer stop, for those readers who are rail historians, whereby New Jersey Transit trains will offer convenient connections.

In order to accommodate that kind of traffic, Amtrak had to “put in a high density signal system,” Stessel, in Washington, reminded us, making it possible “to move these trains at three minute intervals, which is subway spacing through two tubes under that [Hudson] River.”

Amtrak won’t stop there, according to Amtrak’s Cliff Black also in Washington.

It remains a big-time capacity issue. Add that to that the deteriorating 1930s infrastructure, and Stessel said, in so many words, yes, it’s the chickens coming home to roost.

“The Acela Express trains are not able to achieve their [advertised] high speeds [150 mph] on the south end of the corridor because we don’t have constant tension catenary,” Stessel told us.

The catenary between Boston and New Haven is constant tension wire.

“In fact, a lot of the catenary on the south end of the corridor dates back to when it was first installed” in the 1930s. Until that infrastructure is upgraded, the Acela will continue at its 135 mph top speed between Washington and New York, and 150 mph for a few miles under those recently installed New England wires.

For all this, the Acela trains are not a disappointment, Stessel insists.

“The amenities on board more than compensate,” he added. “Business travelers appreciate the fact that the trains have a 120-volt outlet for every seat on the train; 32 conference tables; draft beer on tap; the screens; the bright airy cabins; the adjustable foot rest and head rests; large windows; a quiet and smooth ride. All of that is appealing.”

Moreover, for all its problems, the Acela has in fact succeeded in boosting NEC ridership. Just between New York and Washington (not even including intermediate points), 53 percent of riders in the air-rail market have opted to take Amtrak.

Compare that to the schedule in 1999 pre-Acela levels, when the Amtrak share was a mere 36 percent.

New York-Boston? Prior to Acela, only 18 percent used rail. The latest figures show 36 percent using Amtrak – a doubling of the rail ridership on the north leg.

Is cutting back on the use of New Carrolton and BWI stops going to disadvantage Amtrak with its business travel market from the suburban District of Columbia area to New York?

No.

For every person boarding Acela Express at New Carrolton, there are 53 who board at Union Station. The latest figures for an entire year show 484,000 Acela boardings at Union Station vs. fewer than 10,000 at New Carrolton – and this is supposed to be an “express” train. Remember?

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), a key supporter of a strong national Amtrak system, has been circulating a petition among her GOP colleagues to support the Senate Appropriations Committee’s $1.3 billion-plus figure for Amtrak in fiscal year 2004. That, she said, is rock bottom for keeping the passenger trains on a path toward a state of good repair. Splitting the difference with the House version of $900 million – which Gunn has pronounced a “shutdown” figure – is folly, the Texas lawmaker warned. In this case, argued the senator, “compromise” won’t work.

Speaking of what “won’t work,” Gunn, in his October 2 testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee, again declared the Administration plan to “reform” Amtrak is unworkable. The proposal would turn over much operating responsibility and funding to states and the private sector, and fragment the system in several ways. (See last week’s D:F and Gunn’s speech to the National Press Club)

“I recognize that large organizations tend to be resistant to change,” the CEO told the senators, as if anticipating the standard response to his objections, “It is easy to be critical and sometimes it is human nature to resist change. I am not being critical for the sake of being contrary. But I believe the Administration plan is unworkable.”

However, Gunn found some common ground with the federal DOT:

“I will say that I do agree with the Administration’s proposal that states ought to pay operating support for services that they request and that there be matching funds for capital investments.”

The states are in financial straits right now, and for that reason Gunn has acknowledged that state capitols are not about to bring anything to the table train anytime soon.


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Gunn: Hiawatha line could get
DMUs; Amtrak won’t scrap lines

Compiled by Leo King
Editor

Amtrak CEO David Gunn is traveling by rail across the country for a couple of weeks. Last week, he stopped in Chicago.

Gunn told Chicagoans the Milwaukee-to-Chicago route could be one of the first in the nation to operate new diesel multiple unit trains.

Only one American manufacturer makes that kind of machine – Colorado Railcar of Fort Lupton. So does Bombardier in Montreal.

The new vehicles could improve the Hiawatha line’s comfort and reliability, and possibly lead to more frequent service, while cutting operating costs, said Gunn and Wisconsin state rail chief Ron Adams on October 8.

Gunn said he would like to see hourly service on the Hiawatha, a big jump from today’s seven daily round trips. However, Adams said that might not be practical, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on October 9.

Obtaining those vehicles depends largely on whether Congress approves Amtrak’s $1.8 billion budget request – something that is far from certain, Gunn conceded.

Amtrak carried a record 24 million passengers in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, railroad spokesman Marc Magliari said, but passenger fares have never covered the railroad’s operating costs, leading elected officials to debate Amtrak’s future.

Although a majority of senators and representatives have said they support spending the $1.8 billion that Gunn said Amtrak needs to survive, the House backed the White House recommendation to slash that figure to $900 million while a Senate committee has recommended $1.4 billion.

Amtrak unions have threatened a one-day strike October 20 over the funding dispute, despite Gunn’s objections.

Of the budget request, $800 million would go toward a $4 billion, five-year capital plan to upgrade Amtrak’s aging trains, tracks and other facilities. The only new vehicles would be 14 self-propelled cars, costing about $2 million each, Gunn told reporters at Chicago’s Union Station.

“This is a logical piece of equipment” for the Hiawatha and similar short-haul lines, Gunn said.

Some European railroads use DMUs, and the Dallas-Fort Worth commuter rail system uses a 50-year-old-plus version, the Budd RDCs, Gunn said later in an interview aboard Amtrak’s Empire Builder on his way to the West Coast.

The diesel multiple units would be part of a strategy of gradually improving Amtrak service, Gunn said.

Gunn said his strategy of gradual improvement would fit with the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, a $4.1 billion plan for 110-mph service in nine states, including Wisconsin, rather than pushing for the 150-mph service now offered in the Northeast, he said.

Some plans now under debate call for dismantling Amtrak, privatizing it or handing it over to the states. Those ideas made no sense without a comprehensive vision for how passenger rail fits with road and air travel, Gunn said. For example, European nations invest in trains, rather than airlines or highways, for shorter trips, he said.

“Amtrak’s not broken,” Gunn said. “What’s broken is the inconsistent policy.”

One supporter is Wisconsin Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi, formerly a skeptic. In a brief interview at Milwaukee’s Amtrak station, Busalacchi said he was encouraged by the financial success of Amtrak’s Cascades line in the Pacific Northwest and by the Hiawatha’s consistent on-time performance.

On the southbound Hiawatha from Milwaukee to Chicago, passengers also voiced strong support for Amtrak.

“This is the only way to go to Chicago,” said Tina Sanfilippo of Glendale, Ill.

“It’s the easiest, and it would cause a really big inconvenience if it did stop. The freeways to Chicago would be obnoxious.”

As for the funding, “I think they should shut down NASA and use that money to build a high-speed railway” across the nation, said Anton Acker, on his way home to Berkeley, Calif., after visiting relatives in Greenfield.

During a stop in Minot, N.D., on October 10, Gunn vowed to fight to keep the nation's passenger rail system intact. He rode Amtrak’s Empire Builder through North Dakota.

Gunn told The AP he could not support funding cuts that would hit all the Amtrak routes except the one from Boston to Florida.

He said it's time to “draw a line in the sand, and defend the national system.” Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) said Amtrak is a very important part of the nation’s transportation network.

Gunn repeated much of the same message when the train stopped in Great Falls, Mont.

The Great Falls Tribune reported Amtrak isn’t going to shut down long-distance routes, including the Empire Builder across Montana’s Hi-Line, to save money.

“No, no, no, we are not going to cut or reduce the service now in place,” said Gunn. “The goal is to improve what we already have now,” he said.

Amtrak can be better, but not to the extent that it will stand on its own without federal help, Gunn said, and it shouldn’t have to, he insisted.

“Keeping this system running, the nationwide passenger rail system, is the responsibility of federal government, just like providing a postal service or highways,” he said.

Gunn is on a 12-day, coast-to-coast train trip, handing out employee awards along the way. Thursday his itinerary took him westward through Montana, where Gov. Judy Martz (R) hopped aboard in Havre and rode to Shelby.

Gunn is critical of his predecessors’ practice of threatening to shut down routes to rally grass-root support and force Congress to authorize subsidy requests.

Although he’s in the midst of such a battle now, Gunn insisted he will not employ such tactics.

“I think they were dead wrong in making those threats and they would never have been carried through,” Gunn said. “We need local support, but in Montana we have it. Look at what they handed me in Shelby,” he said, pointing to a red, white and blue flier printed with the words “Amtrak Yes!”

The fliers were offered by Shelby Mayor Larry Bonderud who said passenger service is used by residents to get to medical appointments in Seattle and at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

Cut Bank and Browning, Mont., residents also travel to the Kalispell Medical Center. The center has a service agreement with the towns’ local hospitals.

“It’s a rite of passage in Shelby when you are a kindergartner, your class rides the train to Cut Bank,” Bonderud said.

Mildred Wollan, 89, of Shelby rides Amtrak regularly to visit her children across the country. Last week she was on her way to Whitefish to meet her son and attend a wedding.

“If they cut this service, I would be very angry,” she said. “I’m still mad that they closed the station in Culbertson, where I have business interests. Now I have to go to Williston, N.D., and my brother picks me up.”

The federal government should continue funding Amtrak, Wollan said.

“So many people rely on it, they are fearful of accidents on the highway, there are so many semitrucks on the road,” she said.

Glen and Kathie Lintner were on their way to Seattle for a wedding. On the train they met up with Glen’s sisters from Minnesota. It was Kathie’s first train trip.

“This is an adventure, you can fly anywhere, but this will be more relaxing,” she said.

Cut Bank residents Dan and Cindy Whetstone said Amtrak was their only way home from the Flathead area last winter after an avalanche closed Highway 2.

Martz, who rode with Gunn the whole way, said it’s time for Congress to quit viewing Amtrak differently than airports or highways, considered essential government services that get federal money.

“This line is essential service, it’s essential transportation service,” she said.

Gunn agreed.

“There are people here who pay taxes and their needs are just as important as people riding limos on public streets in New York,” Gunn said.

“The federal government provides 80 percent of the funding for the subway in New York. Well, you don’t have a subway, but you have this rail service and it’s a pretty good service,” he pointed out.

He noted that a Chicago repair facility that fixes cars that run on the Empire Builder route was reopened recently. Coaches are being fixed up. Menus for long-distance routes have been revamped to offer variety to passengers.

“The (menu) selection runs through four cycles, changing every day,” Gunn said. Before, passengers had just a few choices on the permanent menu. “And the food is actually very good,” he said.

Amtrak’s own plan is the only concrete plan for the rail’s future, Gunn said, adding, “This is a good, workable plan, we’ve done the numbers. Other plans are just vague ideas, not real plans.”

Included in those vague ideas are the Bush administration’s efforts to get individual states to pitch money for Amtrak, something both Martz and Gunn said is unworkable.

“How would you do if, say, Montana had no money to give, North Dakota had a little and Idaho, that has just a little of the line decided not to contribute any?” Martz said. “This has to be done by the federal government.”

Gunn said he likes the theory behind a piece of legislation co-sponsored by Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), that would provide $60 billion for the next five years to revamp government’s role in railroads and would include Amtrak funding. The plan calls for $12 billion from the federal general fund and $38 billion from bond sales.

“That’s a well-intended bill and it addresses much more than Amtrak, but I’m holding off on support until I see the final version as it comes through Congress,” Gunn said, explaining the original form probably will be altered by amendments.

Meanwhile, Gunn seems intent on polishing up Amtrak’s existing fleet and drumming up customer loyalty.

“Our goal is to have full trains,” Gunn said. “We are overhauling cars so we can add them to this line. We are improving service to fill those cars up.”

Meanwhile, the eastbound Empire Builder, Train 8 (of October 8), with P-42 engines 168 and 80, reported trailing unit 80 shut down following crankcase overpressure 20 miles east of Libby, Mont. The train operated with one unit to Whitefish, where BNSF freight engine 804 was added to run to St. Paul. The Amtrak train was delayed three and one-half hours to Minot, including time lost because the freight unit was unable to maintain scheduled speed. More delays were expected enroute.

Gunn was enroute to Seattle on Friday, is in Sacramento today (October 13), Los Angeles on Wednesday, Philadelphia on October 23, Jacksonville on October 28, back in Washington on November 12, New York City on November 13, and Boston on November 18.


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Bombardier Jet-Train

Bombardier

Bombardier’s JetTrain goes through testing during a Canadian winter.

 

Sales pitch in Florida

Bombardier JetTrain visits Miami

By Leo King
Editor

Florida’s High-speed Rail Authority (FHSRA) took an up-close look at Canadian carbuilder Bombardier Transportation’s JetTrain on October 7 in Miami. Bombardier moved its train to the Southland over the October 4,5 weekend. The authority is getting down to its final selection of who will build and operate Florida’s high-speed rail system, mandated by a state Constitutional amendment two years ago.

In a teleconference from Miami, Bombardier’s Lecia Stewart, told D:F the “JetTrain is ready to roll now.” She added, the “JetTrain is U.S. certified technology.” Stewart is vice-president, high-speed rail for Bombardier Transportation, North America.

Stewart pointed out “It is existing technology that will not be subcontracted out because Bombardier is building the train and manufacturing its parts.” The car builder is in a 50-50 partnership with Fluor Corp.

If the Bombardier-Fluor conglomerate is selected, the rail authority will buy six trainsets at $110 million to $120 million each, depending on final configuration. The total design and build package will cost about $2.1 billion, but the authority has planned to spend $2.6 billion to $3.3 billion for the train sets and infrastructure on a 375-mile corridor.

She said their system will permit one-hour travel between Orlando and Tampa, and 100 minutes between Tampa and Miami.

The locomotive is powered by a Pratt & Whitney 5,000 hp turbine engine using standard diesel fuel, and the train can sustain 150 mph. The PW150 turbine has recorded more than 274,000 miles in flight operation. The turbine engine turns a generator that powers traction motors on the axles.

The layout will start in Tampa, extend to Orlando, then on to Miami. Later, over at least 20 years, the system will extend northward to Jacksonville, then westward to Tallahassee. Fluor Corp. and Bombardier Transportation have provided the Florida High Speed Rail Authority (FHSRA) with a proposal to launch Phase I, Part 1 of a Florida high-speed passenger rail service between Tampa and Orlando.

The team’s bid has been evaluated by the FHSRA consultants as 36 per cent more economical than the competing proposal and offers $440 million in savings over the life of the project. The authority is expected to make its selection of the preferred bidder on October 27. The next phase of the Florida high-speed rail system, connecting Orlando and Miami, is expected to carry some 10 million passengers annually.

The JetTrain’s chief competitor for the rail system is an electric-powered train similar to France’s TGV offered by Global Rail Consortium. The Florida High Speed Rail Authority (FHSRA) will announce the winner October 27.

Bombardier’s JetTrain is unable to achieve the same speeds as European trains, the Miami Herald reported the next day, because it must be heavier in order to meet American safety regulations, said Daniel Hubert, the JetTrain’s chief engineer.

“Our train has to be able to take 2.1 million pounds of force, which is like a train hitting an 80-ton trailer at 68 miles per hour,” Hubert said.

No trailers, or anything else, will cross Florida’s high-speed tracks, which will be dedicated to high-speed use.

Global Rail Consortium is offering its KTXR train, a fourth-generation TGV electric train manufactured in Korea with a top speed of 285 mph.

“From Tampa to Orlando, it would go 165 miles per hour,” said Katherine Beck, a partner in the Global Rail. The JetTrain “will only go 120-125 miles per hour on that route” she said. The Tampa-Orlando route is curvy, which limits the top speed of the trains, “but from Orlando to Miami, the train would be able to run flat out at 286 mph, taking only one hour, fifteen minutes versus three hours for the JetTrain,” Beck said.

The rail authority has not yet selected a final route between Orlando and Tampa.

Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed $7 million that the legislature earmarked for the FHSRA in June, forcing it to use a dwindling supply of federal money to complete its evaluation of the two systems.

“Fortunately, it didn’t cause us to fire anybody, since I am the only staffer,” said Nazih Haddad, executive director of FHSRA.

Construction, according to the amendment, was supposed to start before November 1, but that now appears unlikely.

The JetTrain locomotive is the first fossil-fueled, high-speed rail solution designed specifically for the American market.

The U.S. Federal Railroad Administration contracted with Bombardier in 1998 to develop a 150 mph fossil fueled engine. Later, Bombardier dubbed the train, “JetTrain.”

Bombardier Transportation manufactures 20 different intercity and high-speed products, including seven different high-speed locomotives.

It has also helped develop several high-speed rail systems, including Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor Acela Express, four different TGVs, the ICE trains used in Germany and the Netherlands, Italy’s ETR 500, China’s Xinshisu, and Spain’s AVE 102.

Fluor Corp. of Aliso Viejo, Calif., is one of the world’s largest publicly owned engineering, procurement, construction, operations, maintenance and project management companies.

The firm specializes in the design-build-finance-development-maintenance of rail or transit systems as well as major highways and toll roads, airports and aviation systems, water treatment or port facilities around the world. It is part of team designing, building and maintaining the first high-speed rail system in the Netherlands.


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Bombardier cuts Canadian jobs;
European jobs may also be lost

All is not well at Bombardier.

The firm is cutting 300 jobs at its plant in Thunder Bay, Ont., for lack of orders at its coach-making facility. Spokeswoman Hélène Gagnon said about 100 workers will be let go by the end of November while the other 200 will go by the end of December, the Toronto Globe and Mail reported October 4.

That will leave about 500 workers at the plant, completing cars for Toronto-area commuter trains and refurbishing coaches for Via Rail. However, Gagnon said 100 will be recalled in February or March to work on a new contract building bodies for new commuter coaches for Montreal.

Meanwhile, the company may also move to close several railway equipment plants in Europe by the end of January, a spokeswoman for chief executive Paul Tellier said on October 7.

Dominique Dionne, vice-president of communications, told Reuters that Bombardier could close up to six plants by early next year.

Her comments came after Tellier told the Montreal daily La Presse that the company’s transport division, which makes rail and subway trains, had too many plants in Europe.

“It is true that Mr. Tellier said that we had too many plants in Europe, and that there was a possibility to close half a dozen of them,” Dionne said.

“Yes, we are talking about closures before the end of our fiscal year, or Jan. 31, 2004,” she added.

Bombardier is the world’s largest manufacturer of passenger rail equipment and has 50 plants worldwide.

“The goal is to rationalize the capacity of production in Europe, by possibly specializing some plants,” Dionne said, adding there would not necessarily be job cuts.

“No plant has been identified. We expect a report on that issue very, very soon,” she said.

Tellier told La Presse the integration of Adtranz, the rail division of DaimlerChrysler that was bought by Bombardier in 2001, has turned out to be more difficult than expected. Profit before taxes and amortization at Adtranz in 2002-2003 represented just 2.2 percent of revenues, he said.

“We will have to take more radical measures. We will have to be able to close a plant and deal with the consequences,” he told La Presse.


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Amtrak cutting seasonal fares

Amtrak, in a major marketing shift, is throttling down the aggressive seasonal fare promotions it has been using to raise demand for passenger trains, according to the Wall Street Journal of October 7.

The Journal report did not specify which fares were being cut.

Amtrak stated the discounts, which slashed coach fares as much as 50 percent on long-distance trains earlier in the year, succeeded in winning back customers to Amtrak. Passenger demand and revenue increased over year-ago levels during the peak summer season. Now, entering the fall, a slower season for Amtrak, “things are still looking strong for us” said Matt Hardison, chief of sales distribution and customer service at Amtrak.

In January, faced with weak passenger demand and declining revenue caused by the slow economy and travel market, Amtrak cut its basic long-distance train fares in many markets by an average of about 21 percent. In addition, Amtrak offered seasonal promotions that brought the total savings to as much as 50 percent.

Customers responded, and passenger demand increased above year-ago levels starting in March. Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black said Amtrak expects to have carried close to 24 million passengers in its fiscal year ended September 30, exceeding Amtrak’s previous record of 23.5 million passengers in fiscal 2001. Revenue was weak at the beginning of fiscal 2003 but started to outpace year-ago levels in July.

Its finances through August 31 showed the carrier had expected $2.02 billion but earned $1.9 billion. Its total operating expenses were $2.92 billion, although it had budgeted $3.05 billion.


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Cardinal to go to New York City

It has been a long while, but Amtrak will roll out direct service from Indianapolis to New York City on October 27 on the Cardinal. It originates in Chicago at 8:15 p.m. The eastward trains will depart Indianapolis three times each week on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, around 1:00 a.m. at Union Station.

About 20 hours later, at about 11:30 p.m., the train will arrive at New York’s Penn Station in mid-town Manhattan – without having to switch trains.

The Cardinal currently stops in Washington D.C. The Kentucky Cardinal, which connected Indianapolis and Louisville, was discontinued in July.

Mark Magliari, spokesman for Amtrak in Chicago, said extending the Cardinal is a good business decision.

“The route to the East Coast is one of the most scenic we have,” he said, “and the fares will not be much more than what it costs now to go to Washington.”

The return trip from New York will roll into Indianapolis on Thursdays, Saturdays and Mondays around 5:25 a.m., the Indianapolis Star reported.

“We believe this will build business for the Cardinal line, because we feel there is a rich market for New York in areas such as Kentucky and West Virginia,“ Magliari said. “This guarantees a direct train to Philadelphia or New York City without a connection.“

Fares were not available Tuesday for a Cincinnati-New York trip. A one-way coach ticket to Washington ranges from $50 to $98; a one-way sleeper ranges from $62 for a small to $270 for a large that fits 3 to 4 people. Sleeper fares are per room and not per passenger.

In fiscal year 2002, which ended September 30, the route carried 13,324 passengers who boarded or departed in Cincinnati. Fiscal 2003 figures weren’t available.

It will still be difficult to make the trip, both in terms of the length of the journey and when the train departs. The eastbound train leaves Cincinnati at 4:49 a.m.; it is scheduled to arrive in New York at 11:30 p.m. The return trip is no less unpleasant: The westbound train will leave New York at 9:25 a.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays, and 9:05 a.m. on Sundays. It won‘t arrive in Cincinnati until 3:08 a.m.


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Coaches may bring cost overruns;VIA refutes newspaper report

The Canadian government’s plan to revive Via Rail has run into trouble, with the cost of 139 new railway coaches allegedly having nearly doubled from $125 million to $235 million, Canada’s National Post reported last week.

VIA Rail responded that the report was completely wrong.

News of the alleged major cost overruns emerged as Transport Minister David Collenette prepared to ask his colleagues at a Cabinet committee on October 7 for a significant injection of additional subsidy money into Via Rail operations, Andrew McIntosh reported.

Among the reasons for the $110-million surge in costs on a so-called “Renaissance” rail car project is that workers had to move the location of the new cars’ washrooms, which were deemed unsafe after they were found to offer too little protection to passengers who were inside them during a crash.

VIA Canada, that nation’s Amtrak counterpart, stated flatly, “VIA rejects today’s headline story in the National Post as wholly inaccurate.”

Critics said a day earlier that the spiraling costs raised serious questions about Via Rail’s operations, and about Collenette’s ambitious plans for the passenger service, which include adding high-speed trains over the next two decades.

“This is the kind of stuff that drives taxpayers crazy. These sorts of stories should wake Mr. Collenette up or his Liberal cabinet colleagues should wake him up from his train fetish,” said James Moore, an opposition Canadian Alliance Member of Parliament and the party’s transport critic.

“His priorities are out of whack. He has gone from being Transport Minister to being rail minister, handing out non-stop corporate welfare for Via Rail and Bombardier, while refusing to eliminate the flawed air security tax,” Moore added.

Jim Gouk, another Canadian Alliance MP who monitors Via Rail spending and activities, said the cars purchased by Via Rail “were a joke.”

On Dec. 15, 2000, Via Rail announced that it had received government permission to buy 47 passenger coach cars, 20 service cars with a lounge and restaurant and 72 sleeper cars from European manufacturer Alstom.

The cars, which were built in the mid-1990s for the British government at a British Alstom plant but never went into service, were to be shipped to Canada and reassembled and refurbished at a Bombardier plant in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

The total cost for the acquisition and all modifications and upgrades was to be $125 million, Via Rail news releases stated at the time.

“It was too good a deal to refuse. We got an incredible deal for the Canadian taxpayer,” Collenette told reporters at Montreal’s Central Station.

Critics immediately questioned the deal, warning the new cars did not meet Canadian standards for collision protection or accessibility for disabled passengers.

In testimony before the Commons transport committee just before Parliament rose for the summer, Collenette told MPs only 106 of the 139 cars had been modified at the Bombardier facility in northern Ontario. That work has already cost $165 million.

The National Post reported Helena Borges, executive director of rail policy at Transport Canada, then testified Via Rail needed “about another $70-million” to refurbish the remaining 33 cars.

The Transport Minister blamed “cost overruns” on several factors, including “additional unforeseen costs” incurred to adapt the cars for those with disabilities.

Via Rail was also required to add more crash resistance to the cars. European rail cars are designed to withstand or resist only 250,000 pounds of thrust in a crash, while Canada uses U.S. standards of 800,000 pounds of thrust resistance.

“There had to be extra strengthening, and there was extra cost associated with that,” he said.

More safety upgrade work was required than originally thought, including the “adjustment of washroom zones at the ends of the new cars,” Collenette said.

He added, “We found that the placement of the washrooms in the crash zone at the ends of the cars did not afford enough protection for anyone who might be in the washroom when there was an accident. Therefore, we requested VIA adjust the location of the washrooms, so that was an additional cost.”

Finally, the Transport Minister said there “might have been other costs” associated with unspecified problems with the trucks underneath the cars.

Bev Desjarlais, an MP on the transport committee, wondered if the growing tab for the cars was another example of the problems Canada keeps encountering when buying other country’s castoffs, likening it to “yellow” or trouble-plagued submarines Canada bought from England a few years ago. She demanded Collenette give an “ultimate end price” for all the cars.

Collenette initially replied, “We can’t give you an ultimate end price.” He did, however, use the information from Borges to offer the $235 million figure.

Despite the series of safety and other problems and modifications required, Collenette insisted, “These cars, frankly, were a steal.” He said it would cost taxpayers $400-million to buy as many new rail cars.

Canadian Alliance’s Gouk said those figures are misleading. He said European cars have fewer seats than North American-made rail cars, making the minister’s statement a comparison of apples and oranges.

“Here are the facts,” said Malcolm Andrews, VIA’s public affairs officer.

“As part of its five-year business plan for the 2000-2004 period, VIA proposed the purchase of 100 cars, to be obtained second-hand and retrofitted, at a budget of $130 million,” and in the course of its “worldwide search for the 100 cars, VIA discovered a fleet of 139 completed and partially completed new cars built by Alstom in the UK, available immediately as a package deal. This brand-new equipment represented the latest in passenger car design and technology.

In September 2000, VIA’s directors “approved a capital expenditure of $145 million” to buy and transport to Canada all 139 cars, and to finish the 100 cars “needed by VIA according to its demand projections.”

Andrews said, “In early 2002, VIA identified the need for two new car types, a dining car and baggage car, to meet the needs of its customers in Atlantic Canada,” so VIA opted “to complete six of these new car types, at a cost of $10 million.”

He explained that other expense items that could not have been anticipated at the time of the project’s approval included “modifications to improve accessibility, acquiring missing parts, and a number of safety corrections on the cars, as the result of a reversal of a decision made by the Transport department.”

Those items totaled an additional $5 million, and the final project cost became $160 million, he added.

Andrews said the additional 33 unfinished car shells “are being kept in reserve in the event that demand for capacity increases.” He noted “No money has been budgeted for this purpose at this time.”

He said getting the cars was a boon for Canada.

“The acquisition of the new Renaissance cars represents extraordinary value for Canadian taxpayers. The current cost of similar new equipment would be at least $4.5 million per car, compared to the $1.5 million cost to complete the (106) cars required by VIA.”

He said bluntly the newspaper report was not fact.

“Today’s article in the National Post reports conjecture as fact, depriving their readers of the truth; that is, that with the exception of minor cost corrections that are perfectly normal, given the particular nature of this manufacturing process, the project is, in fact, on budget.”


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House votes to support Rail Hall of Fame

The House voted last week to support the National Railroad Hall of Fame being built in Galesburg, Ill. The resolution, introduced by Rep. Lane Evans (D-Ill.) passed in Washington on October 8 on a voice vote. Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) also supported Evans’ bill. Shimkus said Galesburg is perfect for the hall of fame, due to the city’s rich rail history and Carl Sandburg College’s status as one of the first to create a curriculum in railroading. Shimkus says the resolution Evans created recognizes the people who have worked on the railroads. The resolution carried no federal dollars with it because the hall of fame is being privately funded.


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LABOR LINES...  Labor lines...

UTU’s Dennis pleads guilty

One of four indicted officials in the nation’s largest railroad operating union pleaded guilty on October 2 to racketeering charges, and agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors.

Ralph John Dennis, 51, of Boone, Iowa, former director of insurance for the United Transportation Union (UTU), pleaded guilty in a Houston federal court in return for a government recommendation of a lighter sentence and the dropping of mail fraud, wire fraud and commercial bribery charges, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ed Gallagher said the government, which began its investigation of the 125,000-member union in Houston in 1999, had a strong case against the officials even without Dennis’ cooperation.

The government claims the officials solicited bribes from attorneys to be included on the union’s designated legal counsel list, which gave them easier access to injured union members in potentially lucrative damage suits.

Of the 56 designated legal counsels listed on the Cleveland, Ohio, union’s Web site, six are in Texas; five of those are in the Houston area. Texas has more than any other state except Illinois, which has seven.

Dennis, who still could get 20 years in prison and be fined $250,000 on the racketeering charge, agreed to forfeit $25,000 in illicit gains from a scheme to solicit bribes from attorneys who sought special access to union members.

In one case, a Los Angeles attorney flew to another state and gave Dennis $30,000 in cash, which Dennis put in the trunk of a car, Gallagher said.

Gallagher told U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt that prosecutors intend to issue a new indictment against the three remaining union officials in mid-November.

Also indicted in September were Byron Alfred Boyd Jr., 57, of Seattle, the union’s international president; retired union president Charles Leonard Little, 69, of Leander; and John Russell Rookard, 57, of Olalla, Wash., Boyd’s assistant. All four are free on $100,000 bond each.


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Railroads, engineers agree on pact

The nation's major freight railroads and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE) reached agreement October 8 on a tentative collective bargaining agreement. The parties are currently finalizing contract language.

BLE members did not release contract details pending a ratification vote.

With this agreement, the carriers have now reached agreements with unions covering almost 90 percent of their work force.


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POWER LINES...  Power lines...

FL-9 at Boston - Long since retired

NCI: Leo King

Metro-North is planning on retiring its few remaining FL-9s. The New Haven Railroad bought all of the engines new almost 50 years ago, and they were capable of drawing power from third rail as well as their own diesel power. Amtrak had a handful, like No. 486, which engineer David Luna was shuffling around Southampton Street Yard in Boston in August 2000. Fellow engineer Doug Kydd was helping in F-40PH No. 310. Amtrak sold their dozen FL-9s about two years ago.

 

Metro-North takes FL-9s off branches

Bleary-eyed morning commuters or weary evening riders on the Danbury rail line might not pay attention to the type of engine pulling their train to and from work.

Rail buffs, however, recognize those iron horses nearly 50-year-old Model FL-9s – as working history that is slowly disappearing, reports The Stamford Advocate in Connecticut.

“They’re one of the last so-called ‘living links’ to the Golden Age of railroading,” said Anthony Gruerio Jr., vice president of the Western Connecticut chapter of the National Railway Historical Society.

“Most people only care if it gets to their destination on time, but we pay attention to it. It’s like the way some people talk about different Mustangs, or a certain style of Corvette. We look at it in the same kind of detail.”

The engines were distinctive because they had two axles on the front truck and three on the rear.

They even draw overseas rail buffs such as Simon Bennet, a resident of the United Kingdom who was in the area earlier this year with friends to track down the Danbury line’s FL-9s and ride one of the trains.

“A particular peculiarity of U.K. railfanning is our wish to travel behind locomotives. The older the better as far as we are concerned and the FL-9s fall into this bracket,” Bennet said via e-mail.

“We mourn the passing of old ‘friends’ on the railway as classes of locomotive are retired to make way for the latest in state-of-the-art technology.”

Metro-North Railroad officials said the original fleet of 60 FL-9s is now down to six that serve the Danbury and Waterbury branches of the New Haven Line.

The engines, which date to 1957 and were produced by the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors, are slowly being phased out by the railroad. The FL-9s were some of the first engines that could operate on either diesel fuel or electricity. They also retain the streamlined design elements of the mid-20th century that appeared on many things from cars to household appliances.

“They were bought when the railroad was trying out new things,” said Norwalk-based rail historian Richard Carpenter, another rail historical society member.

“They could operate into Grand Central station where only electric was permitted, then convert to diesel in territory with no electric wire.” In short, no catenary needed.

The Danbury line was electrified in 1925 and de-electrified in 1961. The old rusty poles that held up the wires still line the track, and a federally funded study is under way to once again electrify the route.

The FL-9s were too far ahead of their time, Metro-North Railroad spokesman Dan Bruckner said.

“In its day, the FL-9 was really considered cutting edge and high-tech (but) their dual-mode ability was very unreliable. They didn’t have the technological sophistication necessary at that point… It forced us to continually run them on diesel operations in the tunnels of Grand Central, which is the last thing you want because it produces pollution, dust and smoke.”

The FL-9s, Bruckner said, will be phased out by 2008 in favor of newer, more automated General Electric P-42 Genesis models, which convert easily between diesel and electricity. They are also heavily reliant on computers.

The Genesis has an “electric brain” Bruckner said, which “can make a lot of decisions in terms of running (the train) where the FL-9 could not.”

Some of the FL-9s are headed for museums while the fate of others is likely to be the scrap heap.

“They’re still in one piece and run… but the amount of time operating and running them does not compensate for the time in for repair,” Bruckner said.

At least one engineer on the Danbury line, Jacob Van Dorp, is not sentimental about the eventual loss of the FL-9s.

“It’s over 40-year-old technology,” Van Dorp said recently on a southbound run from the Danbury train station. Pointing across the tracks to the neighboring Danbury Railway Museum, Van Dorp added. “It belongs over there.”

The rail museum has two FL-9s on display in its yard, according to its staff.

Van Dorp’s counterpart on the northbound run, engineer Thomas O’Boyle, Jr., is not as eager to see the FL-9s disappear.

“I come back to this when I get bored of (the Genesis),” O’Boyle said during his run to Danbury recently.

“The Genesis runs itself. With the FL-9s there’s a lot more to watch. You have to think ahead.”

O’Boyle, for example, said braking an FL-9 requires more skill than a Genesis because the former’s system is entirely manual, while the latter’s is computer-aided.

“There’s an art in applying them so you come to a smooth stop,” O’Boyle said.

With the Genesis, Van Dorp said, “You only concentrate on the road and pulling in and out of the stations.”

Bruckner has trouble describing the intelligence Genesis models.

“I’m trying to explain this in a few words because it’s so bright,” he said. “It has the ability to make decisions, to analyze situations, to choose best alternatives in terms of operating the engine.”

Bruckner said the Genesis’ computer “outthinks and outreasons an engineer” on issues such as controlling wheel slippage; ensuring the engine does not overheat; determining how much power to draw from the engine to ensure riders’ comfort.

What Genesis has in computerized brains, however, the FL-9s counter with beauty, Gruerio said.

He likens the Genesis engines to “rolling rectangles with a slope front” while the FL-9 engines have a high nose and wrap-around windshield, that he said became a universal symbol for trains.

“Drive around, look at the signs for stations and look at the train pictured,” Gruerio said. “It has the same face as the FL-9.”

Despite a passion for the FL-9s, Gruerio said that, from a practical standpoint, it makes sense for Metro-North to phase them out.

“It would be nice if they kept on,” Gruerio said, “but from a revenue point of view, it’s tough to justify it. It’s purely nostalgic.”

As long as the FL-9s stay in service, that nostalgia will draw rail admirers from near and far.

“I will be back at the end of April 2004, and hopefully there will still be FL-9s shuttling back and forth to Danbury and Waterbury,” Bennet wrote in his e-mail from the United Kingdom.

“If so, then I will take some time out to take a ride behind these magnificent engines. They are a lasting reminder of the imagination of our forefathers.”


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

32-mile Tennessee commuter line
construction begins in February

In spring 2005, commuters from the eastern Nashville suburbs of Donelson, Hermitage, Mount Juliet and Lebanon will be able to pay $3 to $4 to hop a morning train to Nashville.

The question is whether they will surrender their beloved cars and invest up to $8 and two hours each day to do it, reports the Nashville Tennessean of October 6.

After more than 15 years of talks, disagreements and compromise, construction on a 32-mile commuter rail line is set to begin by February 2004. It’s the first of five commuter routes planned for the suburbs into downtown Nashville.

Organizers here are expecting plenty of skepticism about the $37.6 million rail and are planning to market details on some of the most common concerns of safety, cleanliness and flexibility.

For example, regular rail riders will be able to sign up for free cab ride vouchers to get them home in case of emergency – easing a big concern of being stranded downtown.

“It’s always fear of the unknown,” said Allyson Shumate, rail projects coordinator for the Regional Transportation Authority, a key member group of the Midstate rail effort.

She said, “If you have never ridden public transportation, it’s hard to make that first step.”

The numbers speak for themselves, transportation experts say.

More than 412 million people rode commuter rails nationwide in 2000, according to figures from the RTA. Since the mid-1990s, commuter rail ridership has increased 20 percent, according to the American Public Transportation Assn. (APTA), a nonprofit international association of 1,500 members, including public transportation providers, designers and educators.

For some Nashville riders, the trains’ amenities might cause them to think twice.

Rail project organizers are still deciding whether the trains will include restrooms. The commuter rail is getting its trains secondhand, and the restrooms they have aren’t accessible to people with disabilities. Organizers are determining if they will remove them all or pay to remodel at least one on each train to meet federal standards.

Only one station, the downtown riverfront, will have toilets. Officials cited potential security problems for their decision.

Organizers have visited other commuter rail systems for ideas, history and challenges.

Diane Thorne, an adviser to Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell and part of the rail team, said her recent trip to San Diego to explore its Sounder rail system encouraged her about Nashville’s commuter rail future.

Thorne said the Sounder commuter rail “had all the naysayers, but it has been successful beyond anyone’s imagination.”

Thorne said it was clean, efficient and safe and it attracts plenty of riders.

Many commuter rail systems are seeing increases in ridership, such as the Shore Line East system from New Haven, Conn., to New London. With increases in service, the fight for parking, and rising parking costs, ridership is at an all-time high of 1,600 riders a day.

“If it’s quick, clean, convenient and relatively cheap, people will do it,” said Mike Donnarumma, supervising rail officer for the Connecticut DOT.

Phil Morrow of Mount Juliet is just the kind of guy rail organizers are targeting for Nashville’s new commuter service.

Morrow is a downtown government worker with a fairly regular schedule. He despises driving in rush-hour traffic and rides the bus because he loves the idea of more time to read, think or relax.

With commuter rail, Morrow could park at the Hermitage station, then ride one of three morning trains into Nashville. Each of the used Chicago METRA trains will include a locomotive, a coach for passengers and a cab car, for a total of 306 maximum riders.

In the afternoon, Morrow can ride one of three outbound trains coinciding with typical schedules of downtown workers. Scheduling details haven’t been finalized.

Included in his train ticket is Metro shuttle service to transport commuters from the riverfront station to their offices. The only thing Morrow is cautious about is the price, which is more expensive than his bus fares. From the Hermitage station, he’ll pay $3.25 a day each day, or as much as $32.50 a week. He also can choose a monthly pass and save 10 percent.

“I can take the bus for $1.45 per trip,” Morrow said.

Morrow’s co-worker, Mi Jones, isn’t sure the fare from her Hermitage home is worth giving up the freedom of her car.

“I would at least try it,” Jones said. “If it’s not convenient, if it’s not faster than driving, I wouldn’t do it.”

Most commuter rail supporters stress that mass transit is not the answer for everyone, it’s simply another piece of the transportation puzzle.

“It’s not intended to replace an interstate system,” said Val Kelley, RTA member and managing director of the Nashville & Eastern Railroad Authority.

Other legs are being planned from Nashville to Gallatin, Murfreesboro, Franklin and Kingston Springs. Talks are also under way for a leg to Clarksville.

“Any commuter traffic you take off I-40 benefits not just people on the train but the people in the cars on I-40,” said Rob Shearer, Mount Juliet city manager and rail team member, who added, “It ought to reduce commuter time for everybody.”

The U.S. has 21 commuter rail lines, according to Trains magazine, and several more are in the works.


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NTSB blames BNSF crew, tables
in 2002 California commuter crash

By Alan Kandel
Special to Destination:Freedom

The National Transportation Safety Board blamed a Burlington Northern & Santa Fe freight train crew for a disaster that resulted in two commuters killed and 162 needing hospitalization. They were aboard a Metrolink commuter train in Placentia, Calif.

The NTSB cited “The freight train crew's inattentiveness to the signal system and their failure to observe, recognize, and act on the approach signal.”

The safety agency also cited tables as contributing to both deaths.

Seated passengers rammed into work tables that are common on many U.S. commuter passenger cars. The tables are frequently mounted between facing seats, allowing commuters to use laptop computers, eat or read.

The NTSB stated a prime factor contributing to the April 23, 2002 accident was “the absence of a positive train control system that would have automatically stopped the freight train short of the stop signal.”

Moreover, had the BNSF conductor “been more actively involved in monitoring the signals, he may not have misidentified an approach signal as ‘a clear indication,’” the board found.

The train ran through a yellow caution signal that should have led the crew to slow down. Instead, the train approached the next signal, which was red – a stop indication – at too high a speed to stop. It then rammed into the Riverside-San Juan Capistrano commuter train, which was on the same track preparing to go through a switch at the junction and go south.

The NTSB said that a contributing cause was “the absence of a positive train control system“ that would have automatically stopped the freight short of the red signal. The railroad industry has traditionally shunned full installation of such systems because of their high cost and uncertainty about the reliability of some of the technology. The board has been pushing the industry and the railroad administration since 1990 to perfect and install positive train control systems.

“At some time, you have to stop talking and start doing,“ said NTSB Chairman Ellen G. Engleman, noting that the board will step up the pressure to move forward with the system,” according to The Washington Post.

During an interview conducted following the accident, both the conductor and the engineer said they approached Atwood, a few miles west of Placentia, thinking they were operating on a clear signal.

Just before the freight train reached Atwood, both crewmembers realized that the signal at MP 40.71 was showing stop and noticed the Metrolink train on the same track and headed toward them.

As a result of the accident, there were two fatalities, 22 serious injuries, and 162 persons taken to the hospital.

The Post pointed out the NTSB noted both deaths and many of the serious injuries were apparently caused when seated passengers rammed into work tables that are common on many U.S. commuter railroad cars.

The FRA said it is looking at whether action needs to be taken to lessen the risk of injury from the tables, which are usually mounted between facing seats, allowing commuters to use laptop computers, eat or read.

The safety board noted that the Metrolink commuter cars remained relatively intact in the crash, but that the two deaths and the most serious of the 141 injuries appeared to have been caused by abdominal traumas and internal bleeding caused by the tables.

According to longtime railroaders, such injuries sometimes caused the death of conductors and flagmen in the days when freight trains had cabooses. Slack between car couplers would sometimes allow the cars to run together violently and slam crewmembers hard against the tables or onto the floor in the caboose.

The railroad administration and the Volpe Transportation Center of Boston are now conducting passenger car impact tests at a test center near Pueblo, Colo., partly to determine how to mitigate the damage from the tables.

"The issue of tables has been identified for quite some time," said Grady Cothen, the FRA's deputy associate administrator for safety standards. "But the events at Placentia were quite surprising" because of the severity of the abdominal injuries.

Cothen said the agency is looking at a number of solutions, such as wider table edges and flexible mounts that would give way in a wreck. In general, he said, it is safer to have tables between facing seats so passengers do not slam into each other.

Engleman said, “The safety board has issued recommendations on ‘Positive Train Control’ (PTC) since 1969. The technologies these systems provide are the best approach to reducing human error collision.”

The board put PTC on its “most wanted list” in 1990.

Among the recommendations the board issued as a result of the collision was one to BNSF to revise their signal awareness form procedure to require recording of time, speed, and aspect name for all signals at the time they are encountered, and another to the Assn. of American Railroads to report to the board the milestones and activities needed for completion of the interoperability standards for positive train control systems and their priorities” to complete that effort. Interoperability is the capacity of a railroad’s PTC system to operate safely on other railroads.

The board also repeated a recommendation to the FRA to facilitate actions necessary to develop and implement positive train control systems that include collision avoidance, and require using positive train control systems on main line tracks, and establishing priority requirements for high-risk corridors such as those where commuter and intercity passenger railroads operate.

The NTSB is online at http://www.ntsb.gov.


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LIRR, M-N merger stalled

A year after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced a historic reorganization that included merging the Long Island Rail Road and the Metro-North Commuter Railroad, some local leaders and transit watchers are wondering where the plan has gone.

“The thing is we haven’t heard anything from the MTA in almost a year,” said Tom Dunham, an aide to Sen. Dean Skelos (R) who sits on the MTA Capital Review Board.

He said, “As far as we’re concerned, the proposal is either dead or it’s on its last vestiges of life support. Either way, it does not appear to be a high priority for the MTA at this time,” Long Island’s Newsday (in Melville), reported October 6.

The proposal called for one of the most significant changes in the history of the LIRR – consolidating it with Metro-North into one company called MTA Rail. It would create companies for subways, buses, bridges and tunnels and a new company to oversee all major building projects. Plans also called for merging all MTA-run bus operations into one, MTA Bus, which would include all bus service in New York City and Long Island. MTA officials said last year that the proposal would be in place by 2004.

Despite requests during the past year for details from the Long Island state delegation, the MTA has not spelled out the specifics of what a merged commuter rail system would look like. The LIRR, created in 1834 and part of the MTA since 1968, transports an average of 290,000 riders each weekday, more than any other commuter line in the nation. Metro-North, which stretches north of the city and into Connecticut, transports about 250,000 riders each weekday and joined the MTA in 1976.

Part of the plan was implemented this past year when the MTA Board created a company called MTA Capital to oversee all capital projects, including East Side Access, which would give LIRR riders direct access to Grand Central Station by 2011.

MTA spokesman Tom Kelly said, “The whole plan is still there. The status is we are still working on it.” Kelly said there is no timetable for the proposed merger of the railroads.

“I don’t think at this point they have it nailed down to each specific item,” he said when asked for details of the plan.

The MTA implemented some small policy changes to align the two railroads during the past year, such as eliminating the LIRR’s forgotten ticket policy where monthly ticket holders received a refund if they forgot their ticket and had to buy a daily fare. Metro-North had no such policy. The MTA also submitted a 200-plus-page bill that included other provisions for the merger, but the legislation failed to find a Senate sponsor. The bill included changes to the funding formula, essentially giving the MTA Board control over the distribution of funds, a move the Long Island Assn. Opposes. It is the region’s largest business group.


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6 PATH employees sue authority

Six Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PATH) workers who claim that their trains were not diverted from the World Trade Center station quickly enough on Sept. 11, 2001, are suing the authority.

“All these people have suffered emotional, post-traumatic stress and tremendous guilt, as some of the disembarked passengers perished,” their lawyer, Samuel J. Rosenthal, said October 9.

The lawsuits, which seek unspecified compensation, also claim the workers were physically injured because the transit agency failed to protect them from conditions including fire, smoke and fumes.

The Port Authority, which operates the light rail service between New Jersey and Manhattan, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Rosenthal said he could not immediately provide the times that the plaintiffs’ trains arrived at the trade center station on September 11.

A week after the attacks, Port Authority officials said service was stopped at 8:52 a.m., less than 10 minutes after the first plane struck.

They added that several trains arrived afterward, but left without discharging passengers, including a “rescue train” carrying only an engineer and conductor that arrived at 9:10 a.m. and transported a dozen PATH employees and a homeless person to Newark.

One of the plaintiffs, Ray E. Arenas, 39, said trains including his 8:48 a.m. from Hoboken should have been halted sooner.

“They had ample time not to even let these trains go to the trade center,” said Arenas, a conductor and 11-year PATH employee.

He said his train arrived at the smoky Manhattan platform at 8:58 – 12 minutes after the first plane struck – but kept passengers aboard and was cleared to return to New Jersey at 9:20 a.m.


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Half-penny surtax earns $14 million

The Citizens’ Independent Transportation Trust (CITT) of Miami and Dade County in Florida reported last week $14 million in surtax proceeds have been transferred to municipalities in Miami-Dade County.

“The $14 million in proceeds accounts for the 20 percent municipal share generated by the People’s Transportation Plan’s (PTP),” said CITT Chairman John Cosgrove.

The half-cent transit surtax was collected over six months, from January 1 to June 30.

The biggest contributor was Miami, at $4.6 million, followed by Hialeah at $2.9 million. Twenty-seven other communities contributed various amounts.

Cosgrove said, “A promise made is a promise kept. These transit improvement funds will help our citizens in municipalities receive better services and add to the goal of improving our transit services throughout the county. There is much to be done, but with this beginning we are surely moving in the right direction.”

The funds will be used to improve commuter rail and bus routes.


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MBTA looks at opening college station

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is commissioning a study to look at the costs, benefits and drawbacks of opening a commuter rail station and a garage near Framingham State College.

The MBTA will hire an engineering firm to conduct the study, which would look at a range of ways to improve service along the Worcester commuter rail line, the Milford Daily News reported.

Framingham State has offered to contribute $10,000 for the study.

MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said on October 9 the prospect of connecting the existing commuter rail line with the freight tracks near Framingham State poses "some significant challenges."

“You're talking about building a railroad off a railroad," he said. "It would involve some serious analysis about how that would impact the rest of the line.”

There is no timetable yet for the study.


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APTA HIGHLIGHTS...  APTA Highlights...

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


 

Sacramento RT Opens South Line Rail Extension

The Sacramento Regional Transit District instituted service Sept. 26 on the new South Line light rail extension, the culmination of more than 10 years of planning and construction. The kickoff ceremony at the Florin Road Station and the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Sacramento City College Station kicked off a weekend celebration, including free rides that day on the new line and free rides throughout the RT bus and light rail system on Sept. 27 and 28.

The $222 million South Line project extends light rail 6.3 miles south from downtown Sacramento to Meadowview Road, beginning at the St. Rose of Lima Park Station and ending at the new Meadowview Station. Other stations on the line include Broadway, Fourth Avenue/Wayne Hultgren, City College, Fruitridge, 47th Avenue, and Florin Road. The South Line is projected to add 8,100 passengers daily to the light rail system by 2005.


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Dionisio and Werner Tapped for New Roles

John M. Dionisio, P.E., formerly president and chief executive officer of DMJM+HARRIS, has been named executive vice president and chief operating officer of its parent company, AECOM Technology Corporation. Frederick W. Werner, P.E., has been named president of DMJM+HARRIS.

While at DMJM+HARRIS, Dionisio worked closely with Werner, then chief operating officer, on projects for AECOM including the redesign of John F. Kennedy International Airport, preliminary engineering for New York’s Second Avenue Subway, and heavy involvement in the rebuilding of lower Manhattan following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.


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Moscola Named Permanent RIPTA GM

The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority Board of Directors in Providence has named Alfred J. Moscola general manager of the system. Moscola has held the position on an interim basis for the past year, since Dr. Beverly A. Scott, the former general manager, left to head the Sacramento Regional Transit District.

Moscola came to RIPTA three years ago as deputy general manager. He has more than 30 years of public transportation transit experience, serving as the general manager of the Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Queens Borough Divisions of MTA New York City Transit and as chief maintenance officer for NYC Transit.


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Transit Leaders in Hurricane Isabel’s Path Praise Employees

An in-depth story by reporter Federico Cura in the September 29 issue of Passenger Transport examines the effect of Hurricane Isabel on public transportation systems in North Carolina, Virginia, the District of Columbia, and Maryland on Sept. 18. Transit agency officials along the storm’s northward path praised their employees’ dedication to providing transit service despite many obstacles, citing the agencies’ effective implementation of emergency preparedness plans.

These plans called for coordination with other transit agencies, state transportation officials, and local and federal emergency personnel, while also maintaining communication with transit operators in the field, the media, and the public.


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Charleston, S.C., Proposes Service Cuts, Fare Increases

The Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority in Charleston, S.C., is working to maintain partial service in the aftermath of a South Carolina Supreme Court decision invalidating a half-cent sales tax that would have supported the transit system.

The CARTA board voted unanimously to cut Saturday and Sunday bus service in half, discontinue service after 10 p.m., and eliminate service on holidays. CARTA also plans to consolidate two low-ridership routes with other routes, and to cut back service by 50 percent on many routes during off-peak hours. The service changes will go into effect on Oct. 5.

In addition, the board approved what it is calling a temporary fare increase, from $1 to $1.25 per ride, and will institute a 25-cent fee for formerly free transfers, effective Oct. 1. The CARTA board will re-evaluate the fare increase in six months.

CARTA Executive Director Howard Chapman said the system is working with South Carolina DOT to get waivers to receive state funding, and to consider the possibility of receiving additional funds. CARTA also is working with its Congressional delegation on issues related to the use of federal funds.


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UTA Opens Medical Center Line of TRAX

The Utah Transit Authority in Salt Lake City celebrated the grand opening of its new TRAX Medical Center line on Sept. 29. Public transportation professionals including APTA President William W. Millar joined Federal Transit Administrator Jennifer L. Dorn, Salt Lake City Mayor Ross (Rocky) Anderson, U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah), representatives of the University of Utah, and other dignitaries at the event, which was scheduled to coincide with the APTA 2003 Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City.

The 1.5-mile Medical Center project extends the TRAX University Line from its previous terminus, Stadium Station, to the university’s Health Sciences Center. The line includes three new stations: University South Campus, Fort Douglas, and University Medical Center.

The Medical Center Line completes the connection between two of Utah’s largest traffic generators: downtown Salt Lake City and the University of Utah.


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Transit Eligible for FY 2004 Homeland Security Funds

The President signed into law on Sept. 29 the fiscal year 2004 Homeland Security spending bill that makes transit authorities eligible to apply for nearly $3 billion in grants.

U.S. House and Senate conferees, who passed the conference report Sept. 24, agreed to language clarifying that transit authorities are eligible as local governments to apply for Office for Domestic Preparedness funding to the states. This funding for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 includes $1.7 billion for formula-based grants to states; $500 million for law enforcement terrorism prevention grants to states; and $725 million for the high-threat, high-density urban areas grants program.

Transit authorities will need to work with their states to apply for these monies for transit security.


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TTI Report: Transit Eases Traffic Congestion Burden on Economy

Public transportation services in the most congested U.S. urban areas saved drivers more than one billion hours in travel time in 2001, and has kept the nation’s economy from suffering even more from traffic congestion than it currently does, according to the annual traffic congestion and mobility report released Sept. 30 by the Texas Transportation Institute.

TTI has conducted its study annually since 1982, but the 2003 Annual Urban Mobility Report is the first to take into account the benefits of transit and operational improvements in reducing the burden of congestion. It covers 75 U.S. metropolitan areas of different sizes.

The institute released the report at the U.S. Capitol, with congressional leaders in attendance including U.S. Reps. Thomas Petri (R-Wis.), chairman of the Highways, Transit and Pipelines Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and James Oberstar (DFL-Minn.), ranking member of the full committee.


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Honolulu Employees Return to Work Sept. 29

Members of Teamsters Union Local 996 returned to work Sept. 29 after ratifying a five-year contract on Sept. 27, ending a 34-day strike against Oahu Transit Services (TheBus) in Honolulu, Hawaii, which began Aug. 26. It was the system’s longest strike since a 60-day walkout in 1971.

The contract includes a wage freeze for its first three years, with a 50-cent hourly raise in the fourth year and a 65-cent increase in the fifth year. It lengthens the wage progression for new employees from five years to six years, and also includes changes to the pension plan, early retirement, and layoff issues.


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

KCS won’t appeal STB ruling

Kansas City Southern stated on October 8 it accepted a Surface Transportation Board decision to suspend the procedural schedule involving KCS’ request to gain regulatory approval of the control of The Texas Mexican Ry. Co. (Tex Mex).

The STB stated that “The board will reinstate the procedural schedule at such time as KCS demonstrates that there is a reasonable likelihood that it will be able to acquire control of Tex Mex,” according to KCS.

Michael R. Haverty, KCS’s chairman, president and CEO, said’ “We accept the STB’s decision. It is a reasonable course for the STB to take given the circumstances. It is fair and equitable to KCS and all other interested parties. KCS looks forward to returning to the STB to complete the Tex Mex transaction at a future date.”

On May 9, KCS said it had purchased 51 percent of Mexrail from TFM, but on September 30 TFM exercised its right under the acquisition agreement to repurchase from KCS the 51 percent of Mexrail stock.

KCS still has indirect ownership of Mexrail through its 37 percent ownership of TFM.


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CSX terminates ‘poison pill’

CSX Corp.’s board of directors voted to eliminate the company’s “poison pill,” a device to prevent hostile takeovers. The board rescheduled to last Friday (October 10) the expiration of certain shareholder rights that originally were to end in 2008.

Dan Murphy, a CSX spokesman, told D:F the rights were designed to trigger a poison pill that would make any unwanted takeover more expensive to the acquiring company.

The anti-takeover device originally was adopted in 1988, Murphy said. He added that the board acted because CSX was the only U.S. railroad to have such a poison pill in effect at present and because the board believes it has adequate means without the measure to deal with any hostile acquisition attempts.

The board also declared a fourth quarter dividend of 10 cents a share, payable December 15 to shareholders of record November 25. The size of the payout is unchanged from the preceding quarter.


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Intermodal reaches 2nd highest weekly total

Intermodal traffic on the nation’s railroads reached its second highest weekly total ever during the week ended October 4, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported on Thursday.

The total of 209,757 trailers or containers was just 342 less than was carried the previous week when the current record was set. Intermodal volume was 57.1 percent ahead of the comparable week last year when container traffic from West Coast ports was halted by a labor dispute.

Carload freight registered a 1.2 percent gain over last year, totaling 341,960 cars, with volume up 3.6 percent in the East but down 0.7 percent in the West. Total volume was estimated at 30.9 billion ton-miles, up 3.7 percent from last year.

Thirteen of 19 carload commodity groups were up from last year, with coke registering a 36.0 percent gain; farm products other than grain up 20.0 percent; waste and scrap rising 11.2 percent; and primary forest products up 10.0 percent. Loadings of metallic ores were off 19.4 percent.

The AAR also reported the following cumulative totals for U.S. railroads during the first 40 weeks of 2003: 12,976,478 carloads, down 0.2 percent from last year; intermodal volume of 7,565,063 trailers or containers, up 6.0 percent; and total volume of an estimated 1.15 trillion ton-miles, up 0.9 percent from last year’s first 40 weeks.

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

Canadian railroads also reported gains in both carload and intermodal freight during the week ended October 4 in comparison with last year. Intermodal traffic totaled 45,149 trailers and containers, up 3.7 percent from last year. Carload volume of 68,702 cars was 6.1 percent above the comparable week last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 40 weeks of 2003 on the Canadian railroads totaled 2,462,836 carloads, down 1.0 percent from last year, and 1,660,327 trailers and containers, up 7.2 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 40 weeks of 2003 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 15,439,314 carloads, down 0.4 percent from last year and 9,225,390 trailers and containers, up 6.2 percent from last year.

The AAR also reported that originated carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended October 4 totaled 8,418 cars, down 5.5 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 3,633 originated trailers or containers, down 2.9 percent from the 40th week of 2002. For the first 40 weeks of 2003, TFM reported cumulative originated volume of 336,870 cars, down 1.2 percent from last year, and 139,012 trailers or containers, up 18.0 percent.

AAR is the world’s leading railroad policy, research and technology organization focusing on the safety and productivity of rail carriers.

The AAR is online at http://www.aar.org.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: Bloomberg.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)29.35029.500
Canadian National(CNI)54.52053.310
Canadian Pacific(CP)25.39024.710
CSX(CSX)29.70029.860
Florida East Coast(FLA)29.65030.390
Genessee & Wyoming(GWR)24.67025.450
Kansas City Southern(KSU)12.48011.280
Norfolk Southern(NSC)18.77018.950
Union Pacific(UNP)58.19059.240


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

French get new commuter trains

France got its first Autorail Grande Capacite (AGC) high-capacity regional express train on October 9.

Bombardier Transportation’s president and COO, Pierre Lortie, welcomed Daniel Percheron, President of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais Region, Louis Gallois, President of the French National Railways (SNCF), as well as representatives of the French regions, to Bombardier’s Crespin production site in France to introduce them to the train.

Percheron and Gallois each took the throttle for a time on the track at the Centre d’Essai Ferroviaire at Valenciennes.

279 trainsets will go to 18 French administrative regions starting in early 2004 and continuing through December 2007. The global contract signed with SNCF in December 2001 involves delivering 500 trainsets intended for regional services.

The AGC represents the new generation of regional trains designed to meet current needs regarding the development of urban and intercity rail transportation. Technologically innovative and powerful, it puts the client at the center of the design process.

The AGC is available in several versions. Seating capacity can range from 160 to 220 seats, depending on the number of cars. Modular interior designs are drawn in the “High Class” and “Intercity” versions.

The trains will travel at 100 mph, and can run on diesel fuel, electricity or a combination of the two.

Its articulated design sports wide carbodies and inter-circulation gangways, as well as a continuous low floor.

The AGC was designed and built by teams at the Crespin plant, in Nord-Pas-De-Calais, where Bombardier has developed a global center by integrating various railway trades and by making a significant investment to upgrade the industrial facility.


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Few delays reported during brief British strike

The express train link between central London and Heathrow airport suffered little disruption October 3 from a 24-hour strike on the issue of union recognition.

The Heathrow Express’ service of four trains an hour from London’s Paddington station ran more or less as normal despite industrial action on Friday by the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF), the United Kingdom’s locomotive engineers union, which started at midday. About 45 per cent of the 236 Heathrow Express on-train staff are ASLEF members. The union said the vast majority had gone on strike, The New York Times reported October 4.

Heathrow Express said many of its higher-grade staff was trained to be “drivers,” the British term for an engineer, so “non-striking workers were simply redeployed.” Managers had also been retrained to work in ticket offices for the day, it added. Two further walkouts are planned, for October 10 and 12.

ASLEF is seeking sole recognition rights for drivers on the rail service, owned by BAA, the airport operator. Heathrow Express, meanwhile, claims its employees want to be represented by a staff association as well as ASLEF.


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OFFTHEMAINLINE...  Off the main line...

Ex-B&O roundhouse collapses

Plans by the Midwest Railway Preservation Society to build a railroad museum in a historic roundhouse in Cleveland jumped the tracks last week when an interior wall and part of the roof collapsed after demolition work in the building.

CSX owns a portion of the one and one-half-acre former B&O Railroad roundhouse on West Third Street, built in 1905 and expanded in 1917. The railroad rented space to the society to restore vintage railroad engines and cars, but the rest of the building belongs to the Northern Ohio Lumber and Timber Co., reported the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Bill Brown, society president, said that after demolition on September 25 by a contractor that Northern Ohio hired to clear the way for construction of a sawmill, a load-bearing wall that was not intended to be part of the demolition and a portion of the roof collapsed.

An exterior wall fell two days later.

There were no injuries, and no damage to the society’s rolling stock in either incident. Brown said the city has since condemned the entire former roundhouse, one of only two left in the state, and the society has moved its 1919 Mikado steam locomotive outdoors to avoid damage from any further collapse. The engine once pulled passengers on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, and is being restored by the 82-volunteer Preservation Society.

Brown said an architect and structural engineer hired by the group reported that the cost just to stabilize the roundhouse could run upwards of $1 million.


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THE WAY WEWERE...  The way we were...

A UP Big Boy Steamer

NCI: Leo King

Union Pacific’s Big Boys moved the tonnage over the mountains.

 

Tonnage moved over the Wasatch behind Big Boys

Union Pacific was the only railroad that operated 4-8-8-4 articulated behemoths. They were nicknamed Big Boy. Eventually, every railroad faced the same problem: how to move heavy trains over mountains. UP, stretching from Kansas City to Omaha to Seattle and Los Angeles, preferred a single locomotive rather than tying several lighter engines together.

The railroad ordered larger, more powerful engines such as the 1.2 million pound, 6,200 hp Big Boy from the American Locomotive Co. (Alco) of Schenectady, N.Y. built to UP’s design specs.

The steam engines were made for power, but with power comes weight – larger cylinders, pistons, drive rods, boiler, automatic stoker and firebox. They had more than one mile of tubes and flues inside the boiler while their firebox grate measured 150 square feet. The Big Boys had 68-inch drivers, and each engine measured 132 feet, 9 inches. The tender held 24,000 gallons of water and 28 tons of coal, and the combined engine and tender weighed 1,189,500 pounds in working order.

They pulled long and fast 120-car, 3,800-ton freight trains at 40 mph over Utah and Wyoming mountains – the Wasatch Range in Utah and Sherman Hill in Wyoming. They served there until 1959 when first generation FT diesels took over – now relics themselves.

Alco delivered the first batch of 20 Big Boys, including the 4012, in 1941, and the remaining five in 1944. The 4012 is now in the Steamtown National Historical Society museum collection in Scranton, Penn.


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End Notes...

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

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In an effort to expand the on-line experience at the National Corridors Initiative web site, we have added a page featuring links to other rail travel sites. We hope to provide links to those cities or states that are working on rail transportation initiatives - state DOTs, legislators, governor's offices, and transportation professionals - as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists.

If you have a favorite rail link, please send the uniform resource locator address (URL) to the webmaster in care of this web site. An e-mail link appears at the bottom of the NCI web site pages to get in touch with D. M. Kirkpatrick, NCI's webmaster in Boston.


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