NCI: Leo KingAmericas freight began moving again on Wednesday, October 9 after President Bush invoked the Taft-Hartley Act.
|Railroads adapt in dock stoppage; now on the move|
Weve got equipment staged in the hub centers, and weve got it staged in a way that were going to be able, we think, to resume the operation smoothly, Steve Forsburg, General Director of Public Affairs for Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) told D:F Wednesday after a judge had granted President Bushs request to end a 10-day old lockout that had stopped work at 29 west coast ports and stranded billions of dollars of goods.
As far as tying the system up in knots, uh-uh, no, no way, not, period! the BNSF spokesman assured us.
What the railroad was doing, Forsburg said, was establishing a system for allocating eastbound maritime containers at the west coast hubs. All of this in the interest of chaos-free orderliness.
If you get extra equipment to one place, you run the risk of having it out of position where you need it.
However, Forsburg said, BNSF had chosen not to describe the situation in terms of number of trains backed up. We try to maintain a focus on what customers need and what their needs are. The railroad had staged shipments headed for west coast ports so as to be able to get them moving again as soon as normal port operations resume and capacity permits.
Like BNSF, Union Pacific (UP) was not releasing numbers on how many trains had backed up.
We have staged extra locomotives and cars on the West Coast to handle the backlog, UP Public Affairs Director John Bromley told D:F.
The previous Sunday, October 6, (and of course, prior to the court action) the online Fosters Sunday Citizen had reported that Union Pacific, the nations largest railroad, had 55 trains parked across the Western United States,[and was] unable to move cargo. Grain shipments bound for export sat in warehouses, and growers of perishable goods such as apples and citrus worried that their harvests would not reach lucrative Asian markets.
However, after the court order, UPs Bromley assured D:F that the railroad had put into place a metering system to control the flow of goods to and from ports to prevent congestion on the railroad. We have no estimate at this time how long it will take to clear the backlog.
On Thursday, the PR Newswire for Journalists reported that BNSF ran its first intermodal train from the West coast at 5:30 that morning. It originated at Port Angeles. Another train was expected to move later that morning, and more than a dozen expected to move by 6:00 p.m., including about a half-dozen each from Pacific Northwest and California origins.
The 10 days of inactivity at the West Coast ports had a ripple effect all across America.
New Hampshire and Maine officials, for example, believe the dispute could mean higher prices, more layoffs and a decline in consumer confidence just as the nation was heading into the holiday shopping season.
David Fink Jr., Vice President of Guilford Transportation Industries whose rail properties are new England-oriented, told the Sunday Citizen that his business was adversely affected. His railroad hauls company merchandise as far as New York before two other railroads normally transport it out west.
The Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported that the West Coast work stoppage caused a drop in intermodal traffic on U.S. railroads by more than 50,000 units during the week of October 5. Intermodal volume was down by 29 percent from the comparable week last year. Container volume dropped 39.6 percent, while trailer loadings declined by 2.9 percent.
Carload freight was off slightly, just under 2 percent. Carload volume was down 2 percent in the west and 1.8 percent in the east. Total volume, according to the AAR, was estimated to be down 1.3 percent from the 40th week of 2001.
Meanwhile, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), whose workers draw down an average annual salary of about $106,000 with overtime, said its members will work safely as they complied with the court order. No indication as of late Friday whether safely was a euphemism for simply resuming the slowdown that allegedly led the members of the Pacific Maritime Association (the employer group) to begin the lockout.
We are slightly below normal production levels, but overall we are okay, PMA spokesman John Pachtner told the Wall Street Journal.
The whole dispute is rooted in a fear that new technologies will make an inroad on job security. This could be roughly equated with the years-long flap over retaining firemen when railroads switched from steam to diesel power.
Beyond all this is a national security issue that has been generally overlooked.
In an ad in Fridays Washington Times, the United States Business and Industry Council (USBIC) argued that the very fact that the lockout disrupted industrial production across the United States illustrated Americas massive and still growing dependence on foreign manufacturers.
Americas security, according to USBIC, is undermined by U.S. defense contractors alarming dependence on foreign-made components. In fact, [it is] one reason President Bush cited for halting the lockout was national security. The ad specifically recalled the Presidents statement.
These ports also receive parts and materials used by our defense contractors to complete projects and maintain military equipment.
To the USBIC, that spotlights the problem whereby the high-tech weapons America needs to prevail against enemies armed with weapons of mass destruction are relying on imports.
If a simple dock lockout can disrupt the U.S. economy, the ad asked, what could the concerted efforts of foreign enemies and hostile trading partners do?
The USBIC is one business group that parts company with those manufacturers who see dollar signs in wide-open trade. The organization maintains there is a difference between free trade and fair trade.
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|Amtrak is safe for the time being|
Judging by the figures that have just been released, the new Gunn era at Amtrak, consisting of tight budgets and putting first things first, has paid off short-term gains in both funding and credibility.
Amtrak now has $160 million in the bank left over from the fiscal appropriation of Fiscal Year 2002, and is operating on a Congressional continuing resolution providing funding at the rate of $1 billion per year.
Yet a continuing resolution usually implies funding at the approved rate of the previous year, and that approved rate was $521 million, which would be a shutdown budget, according to Amtrak. Where does Amtrak get its current funding?
In an interview with D:F, Amtrak spokeswoman Karina Van Veen broke it down like this:
In addition to the presidents budget figure, we received an additional appropriation last month. So the continuing resolution was based on our $521 million 2001 appropriation, plus the $205 million appropriation we got at the end of the summer to help us get through the fiscal year, plus 60 percent of the Fiscal Year 2001 that we got in 2002. So 60 percent of the FY 2001 appropriation that we actually received in 2002 was $313 million. When you add those three numbers up, it comes to 1-point-03 billion. Thats the number that Congress is basing the continuing the resolution on.
With our cash in the bank, that will work for the time being, Amtrak CEO David Gunn said in a memo issued to all employees of the railroad, but he added, Whether Congress and the President will reach agreement right after the elections or early next year is unclear, but Ill let you know as developments occur.
Furthermore, there will be no letup in Gunns lean-and-mean approach to budgeting. The new fiscal year will still be a tight one, he warns, and he is counting on everyone to carefully control their budgets.
Among his new priorities:
Seeking greater state support for train services (with a two year timetable to accomplish this).
Phasing out the (money-losing) express part of the mail and express service, and redirecting the money to wreck repairs.
Fitting everything in a budget.
In fact, were going to have to still do more work to fit everything into a budget that figures on $3.4 million in cost, offset by $2.2 billion in revenue, and a needed $1.2 billion from the federal government, about evenly divided between capital and operating investments.
Whether the last item is a euphemism for more layoffs is not clear, but all of those items were either spelled out or heavily indicated in Gunns interview July 31 (August 5 issue) with D:F.
The still relatively new Amtrak boss tells his employees not to believe everything they hear on the Amtrak rumor mill or everything you read about us out of Washington.
He said, Stay focused on your work. Stay safe out there, and deliver the best possible service for our passengers, is Gunns bottom line message.
He also noted the board of directors passed the FY 2003 budget.
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|Farley Building inches closer for rail|
New York State is prepared to buy New York Citys main post office building from the federal government for $230 million and convert the national historic landmark into a new glass-covered Pennsylvania Station.
The agencies came to terms last week, The AP reported. The agreement would be a major step forward for the nearly 10-year-old, $788 million project.
Gov. George Pataki and the U.S. Postal Service have arranged a deal that would transform the James A. Farley Building, opposite Madison Square Garden, into a major transportation terminal, serving riders of Amtrak, the Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit and the subway system.
Ownership of the building is expected to be transferred to the Pennsylvania Station Redevelopment Corp., a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corp., within a year, the Postal Service said in a statement.
The state is expected to buy the 1.4-million-square-foot Farley building for about $230 million, a person familiar with the agreement said.
The neoclassical building sits across from the existing Penn Station. The Postal Service would occupy about 200,000 square feet in the Farley building under the terms of the agreement, but would mainly operate out of the Morgan Station and annex on Ninth Avenue.
The project could take about five years to complete, officials said.
William Mitchell Kendall of the firm McKim, Mead & White was the architect who designed both the Farley building and the original 1911 Pennsylvania Station, which was demolished in 1965 and replaced with the existing one.
The original front half of the Farley Post Office was built in 1912 and opened for business in 1914. The building was doubled in size in 1934, when it backed up against Ninth Avenue.
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|Satisfaction guarantee program ending|
There wont be any more free rides on Amtrak for people who may have had a bad experience.
On November 1, The unconditional service guarantee program will be discontinued, Amtrak told travel agents around the world, and customer service reps.
Nonetheless, customer satisfaction will remain an absolute priority at Amtrak, and all of the remaining elements of the service success initiative, including standard service recovery practices, will remain in effect, the carrier stated.
Transportation certificates and refunds will still be issued to passengers on a case-by-case basis, in the event of serious service failures.
The unconditional service guarantee is still in effect until October 31, but all active promotion of it has ended.
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|New track is up to Amtrak|
Legislation eliminating a major obstacle to faster rail travel between Albany and Schenectady is expected to be state law by the end of 2002, but Amtrak isnt ready to move ahead with the project.
New York state officials want Amtrak to spend $28.7 million to install 18 miles of track paralleling the existing single-track line between the two cities, said Melissa Carlson, spokeswoman for the New York DOT, reports the Albany Business Review of October 4. CSX, however, owns the right-of-way, and the firm, which at one time saw no benefit for its freight operations, changed its mind after oppressive tax laws were changed in New York State.
Amtrak officials dont currently have a plan in place to make that happen, said Amtrak media relations manager Karina Van Veen in Washington.
What weve been told is that due to Amtraks funding crisis they have not yet determined if they will be allocating any capital money in 2003 for their share of that project, said Bruce Becker, president of the Empire State Passenger Assn., a passenger rail advocacy group.
Its still possible they will fund it, but that decision has not been made.
The existing track creates a bottleneck that slows passenger trains heading west or east, and freight trains enroute to or from Selkirk Yard. Trains must stop and wait for other passenger and freight trains to clear the route, Carlson explained. Installing a second track would eliminate the delay and shorten runs from New York City to Buffalo by a half hour, she said.
Since 1993, state officials have wanted to see a second line built to break through this bottleneck.
Under a deal reached between the state and Amtrak, New York agreed to spend $98.5 million to buy seven high-speed trains for the Niagara-to-New York City Empire Service corridor, while Amtrak is to spend a like amount on upgrading the routes track, including the Schenectady to Albany stretch, Carlson said.
The state has paid for the trains, being built at Super Steel in Schenectady, and test runs along the right-of-way west of Schenectady and south of Rensselaer have been completed, she said.
Until this year, the main obstruction to the second track plan originated at the Jacksonville, Fla., headquarters of CSX Transportation, the railroad which took over Conrails New York routes in 1999.
The company owns the Schenectady-Albany right-of-way and didnt want to play host to the second track. The company objected because it would be taxed for the second track, which wasnt essential to CSXs freight operations, explained John Casellini, CSXs resident vice-president in New York.
The entire line stretches from Boston to Chicago.
A second rail line was viewed as a quadruple negative for CSX: The company would pay higher taxes because of the second line, the company would have to pick up some of the maintenance and operating costs of the 18 miles of track, and competing railroads would be using it as well, Casellini said.
Its like somebody saying, Were going to put a pool in your backyard, and you have to take care of it, and pay taxes on it, and all the neighborhood kids can use it anytime, Casellini said, but CSX used the states desire for faster passenger service between Schenectady and Albany to leverage passage of legislation aimed at changing the way New Yorks localities tax railroad property, lowering the companys New York taxes by about 45 percent. In return for passing the bill, Casellini said, CSX agreed to drop objections to the second line.
The bill was approved by the Assembly and state Senate in June, and is expected to be approved by the governor before the end of the year.
Now it looks like the issue of when, or if, the Albany-Schenectady second track gets built is up to Amtrak, Casellini said. Many people had assumed that passage of the railroad infrastructure bill would remove all the roadblocks.
What they really need to do is work through the engineering, Casellini said. Its not as simple as going out there and putting down track panels and having a new line out there.
The right-of-way will have to be physically modified to accommodate a second track, and signal work will have to be done. Building a 110-mph track is not simple, he cautioned. The margins for error are not great there, Casellini said.
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AmtrakAmtraks new boundaries show its seven new divisions Pacific, Southwest, Central, Southern, Mid-Atlantic, New York and New England.
|Amtrak unveils new operating structure|
Amtraks operating department has been restructured into a more traditional railroad configuration to promote accountability and streamline decision-making, the carrier said last week. It follows closely the outline CEO David Gunn explained shortly after taking over the job in May.
The new structure puts individuals in positions where they can use their specialized knowledge and skills to be effective managers and provide the highest quality leadership, Gunn said. The ideas were approved by Amtraks directors earlier this summer, and become effective October 1.
Gunn explained the new organizational structure will clearly assign authority and responsibility for various aspects of our business. We are currently moving from a Product Line structure to a regional and divisional organization.
The reorganization required realigning territories, job functions, personnel and the scope of authorities affecting thousands of employees. The three former Strategic Business Units were consolidated into the Western and Eastern Regions.
The Western Region is composed of three divisions the Pacific, Southwest, and Central Divisions. The Eastern Region is composed of four divisions the Southern, Mid-Atlantic, New York, and New England Divisions.
The intent of all of these changes is to ensure consistent train operations and financial accountability, Gunn said.
The restructured corporation consists of four major departments operations, mechanical, engineering and system security and safety.
Vice President Ed Walker, who replaced Stan Bagley, will supervise operations and be responsible for train movements, on-board services, terminal service, mail, and express.
Chief Mechanical Officer Jonathan Klein is responsible for locomotive and car fleets, equipment engineering, standards and compliance, as well as backshops and the high-speed rail equipment maintenance contract.
Chief Engineer David Hughes is responsible for right-of-way and signal system maintenance, as well as capital projects involving bridges and structures, electric traction, track and signals.
System Security & Safety Chief Ron Frazier, provides police protection and the safety of the railroad, employees and travelers.
Gunn said the senior staff will also direct four major program areas, environmental, operations planning, business management and budget, and business improvements.
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|Amtrak starts Tropicana Express|
Boston will get a different new train starting October 27.
The Tropicana Hotel in Atlantic City will test the Tropicana Express two-day fall getaway on Sunday with Amtrak cars leaving South Station, Route 128 and Providence. After its Rhode Island stop, the special will run non-stop to Atlantic City.
The departure time will be 8:30 a.m. on Sunday from Boston, arriving at Atlantic City at 3 p.m. The return trip leaves New Jersey at 11:25 a.m. on Tuesday, according to the October Boston South Station Journal.
The Tropicana has been running private trains north from Virginia Beach for several years.
The package price is $249 per person.
People at the two major nearby Connecticut casinos will be watching the Tropicana closely. From a competitive standpoint, the Providence & Worcesters track is nestled along the banks along the Thames River from New London to the Mohegan Sun Hotel. The other casino has no potential direct rail service.
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|Joliet looks for speedier trains|
High-speed trains may be coming to Joliet, Ill., on the Canadian National (former Illinois Central) line between Chicago and St. Louis. For now, there is a great deal of discussion among residents, both for and against.
Using multimillion-dollar high-tech passenger cars that can move at speeds up to 110 mph, the trains would make the trip from Chicago to Joliets Union Station a 30-minute ride. Another two hours and the railroad cars would be in St. Louis.
The assurance of rapid and reliable service accounts for much of the ideas appeal, proponents like Lockports Bill Molony say. Presently there are three daily trains going from Chicago to St. Louis and back, at five-and-a-half hours per one-way trip. A high-speed rail would bring the number of trains passing through Joliet to about 16 to 18.
Along with the expanded travel opportunity would come are rejuvenation of the blighted neighborhood surrounding the majestic rail station in downtown Joliet, backers of the plan say, Suburban Chicago News (Sun newspapers) reported last week
To some, its a boon to regional transit, a conduit from Chicago to St. Louis that could open the corridor to daily commuting traffic and alleviate the burden on area roads and skies not to mention revitalizing downtown Joliet. To others, its a nuisance, a hazard, a menace to fragile old buildings and a threat to domestic tranquility.
There used to be hotels around this place, Molony said, gesturing toward the massive windows of the station, where the Midwest High-Speed Rail Coalition, a group trying to coordinate funding to make the rail a reality, held its fall conference last month. People used to come here. We could have that again.
During the 1920s, four tracks were running through the city and 120 trains a day passed over them, Molony said. Today there is one track, and it supports eight daily train runs.
Despite the expected benefits to the city and business travelers looking for alternatives to flying and driving, the rail line has its opponents. Some municipal officials are strongly supportive, but others have concerns about the plans. The prospect of the trains hasnt been discussed publicly in Lockport City Council meetings recently, but Mayor Frank Mitchell hasnt changed his opinion on the matter.
I think the citys position has always been that we are supportive of the high-speed rail concept, but we certainly dont want it on the lines going right through the downtown area of the city, Mitchell said.
City officials have asked the Illinois DOT to investigate the possibility of running the line along the Union Pacific or Burlington Northern Santa Fe rails now used by freight trains, which are west of the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Relocating the route there would be better, they say, than having it travel over the CN tracks that Metra commuter trains use through Lockport and Lemont.
Coalition Executive Director Rick Harnish has doubts about the feasibility of funding a reroute, which would require construction of a third track.
Its all about money, and if you want it to be moved youve got to come up with the money, Harnish said.
He and other high-speed rail supporters, who said IDOT ruled the change of tracks unfeasible, contend much of the concern over the rails impact on communities is unfounded. Owners of some historic buildings near the railroad tracks object to the vibration caused by rail traffic, but high-speed train supporters say the new trains wouldnt worsen the problem.
Years ago it was clank and bang over the old-style rail joints. Now its all welded rail, Molony said. A freight train at 45 mph has a lot more vibration than a passenger train at 75 mph.
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Hi! Im Julie
Julie meets and greets potential riders
Potential passengers calling Amtraks 1-800-USA-RAIL reservation line are voicing their approval for the passenger rails perky, electronic customer service agent named Julie.
Julie, a computer-generated persona, debuted one year ago as the voice of Amtraks new automated speech recognition system, providing callers with immediate access to train status information in response to spoken requests.
Today, she also provides schedules, fares and reservation information to callers nationwide.
Amtrak says its speech strategy is a component of its overall goal to contain costs and still deliver premium services to customers through self-service distribution channels like the Internet, kiosks and the phone.
In 2001, Amtrak launched the first phase of its speech strategy with SpeechWorks International, Inc. and Intervoice.
This phase replaced the touch-tone systems and introduced a speech-enabled train status application allowing callers to obtain arrival and departure times for trains. Prior to the implementation of speech recognition, the touch-tone systems handled approximately 40 percent of the train status calls. The speech system is now handling 70 percent of train status calls without the help of an Amtrak agent, representing a 75 percent improvement in automation.
Speech recognition has proven to be a powerful and friendly way to assist our callers, said Bob Hackman, Sr., director for distribution systems at Amtrak.
It allowed us to expand the number of self-service offerings available over the phone including various discount types, complex itineraries, a variety of classes of service and reservations for our frequent traveler program members.
An Amtrak press release stated it worked with SpeechWorks User Interface Design team to develop a dialog that would flow naturally between Julie and the caller. The system delivers detailed schedule and fare information and facilitates bookings in the Amtrak reservations system.
In 2002, the application was gradually introduced throughout the country and was continually tuned and monitored to understand caller behavior, vocabulary and pronunciation, and to ensure that it could perform during peak hours and manage spikes in call volume during severe weather conditions and holiday travel.
Julie is now receiving 70,000 calls per day for schedules, fares and reservations. A survey indicates that 90 percent of callers that completed their reservations via speech plan to use the speech system again. In addition, ticket sales processed by the system have increased by more than 90 percent since the introduction of the reservations capabilities. Amtrak is working on new enhancements including credit card payments, special discounts and promotions.
Were pleased that Amtrak has achieved these impressive customer satisfaction levels and reduced its operating costs, said Steve Chambers, chief marketing officer at SpeechWorks.
He said, Amtrak has taken a very focused and deliberate approach to implementing its speech strategy, and as a result has met all of its goals. The companys speech efforts have resulted in increased loyalty of Amtrak customers and the admiration of millions of callers who rely on Julie to handle their travel needs.
SpeechWorks and Amtrak worked together to design the personality of Julie. Rather than follow its traditional approach of interacting with callers in a formal dialogue, Amtrak adopted a more casual and conversational approach for its speech system, putting the caller at ease.
When callers dial 800-USA-RAIL they are greeted by the following: Hi, this is Amtrak. Im Julie... Julie provides reassurance as callers navigate through the application and callers always have the option to speak to a real person at any point during the call.
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|Shooter carried gun on Amtrak train|
An Illinois postal worker accused of shooting a gun at the U.N. building on October 7 brought his weapon with him on an Amtrak train from Chicago, investigators have found.
The discovery gave more ammunition to officials at the railroad who have been asking for funding to increase security and allow screening of passengers and baggage on its trains, the New York Post reported.
Steve Kim, 57, was arrested the same day after he fired seven shots from a handgun at the Secretariat Building on the East River, and then tossed into the air a handful of flyers criticizing the Communist regime in North Korea.
Investigators found Kim left Chicago on an Amtrak train Tuesday, and held a round-trip ticket with a return booked for the day after the shooting.
He was able to carry a .357 revolver with him because there are no metal detectors or other types of screening on Amtrak trains, officials said.
No one was hurt in Kims bizarre shooting spree.
One shot hit the 18th floor and another hit the 20th floor of the 39-floor Secretariat, and police said both those shots narrowly missed U.N. employees inside.
In his leaflets, he blamed Greatest General Kim Jung II for the woes of North Koreans, and asked of South Korea and the United Nations, Why dont you take any actions to relieve these pitiful people?
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MBTA gets four bids for service
Three rail carriers, two with foreign ties and none of them being Amtrak, made their pitch on Friday (October 11) to run the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority commuter rail operation, the fourth largest commuter rail network in the nation, the Boston Globe reported on Sunday. The winning firm will be disclosed in December after a thorough review of the proposals, MBTA officials said.
Amtrak CEO David Gunn said flatly more than a month ago Amtrak would not rebid because its terms are too financially risky. The carrier has run the lines under contract with the T since 1986.
The T contract paid $180 million annually for Amtrak to operate the line. Although T officials said they cannot reveal the current bids, Mulhern estimated the new deal has the potential to bring in $1 billion over the five-year contract.
Battling for the right to move Boston commuters are some of the giants of the rail industry:
British rail giant Stagecoach Group has joined with Herzog Transit Services of St. Joseph, Mo., to form Bay State Transit Services Inc.
Stagecoach runs Britains largest rail system, South West Trains, encompassing 1,690 trains daily that serve 217 stations and employ 4,500 people, Stagecoach said. The line is based out of Londons Waterloo station. Since taking over the service in 1996, the Scotland group boasts that it has added more than 12,000 seats and increased train runs.
Herzog Transit Services has been here before, and many are surprised its back.
In an attempt to slash what was called a bloated Amtrak maintenance payroll, Massachusetts transportation officials in 1999 bid out the commuter rails maintenance contract to Herzog and its partner at the time, Boise Locomotive.
The joint venture underbid Amtrak by some $116 million. Soon thereafter, Herzog officials asked that all Amtrak maintenance employees reapply for their jobs, which were to be cut from 550 to 400. A furious political battle followed. Unions called on local politicians, including the late Rep. J. Joseph Moakley (D), to intervene. The politicians then cited federal labor-protection regulations to keep Amtrak workers from being fired.
Eventually, after federal agencies threatened to withhold $200 million in grants to the T unless it accepted Amtraks bid, the T did, extending Amtraks contract for three years. Herzog lost. The firm later filed a federal antitrust suit in Washington, D.C., against both Amtrak and the unions. That suit is still active.
Frances CGEA Connex, the parent company of Connex North America Inc., is the largest private passenger transportation company in Europe. It operates 25 passenger rail systems worldwide, 10 of them being commuter rail systems.
Connex is the major shareholder in the new partnership. It is owned by Paris-based Vivendi International, which is in turn owned by Vivendi Universal, the multinational powerhouse that owns Universal Pictures and other entertainment businesses.
In 2000, Connex lost its contract to run a segment of British rail after just four years of a seven-year contract. The British rail authority accused the firm of poor on-time reliability and of using old trains on the southern England line.
In one case, a train was canceled after an infestation of fleas attacked the engineer, according to a report by the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Connex, which was Britains first rail company to be stripped of its franchise, is partnered with Canadas Bombardier of North America, the firm responsible for building Amtraks high-speed Acela Express trains.
The third partner in the group is Alternative Concepts Inc., a Boston-based transportation and management consulting firm whose principal is James F. OLeary, the former T general manager who, it so happens, engineered the transfer of the commuter rail contract from the former Boston & Maine Railroad (now Guilford, another bidder) to Amtrak in 1987.
Jane F. Daly and Richard M. Brown are the other ACI principals with MBTA ties. Daly served as deputy general manager from 1981 to 1989, the same time Brown served as treasurer. Jack Leary, another former T executive, was serving as managing director.
The firm is already attempting to make inroads with local labor, having hired Kevin Lydon, the former head of Amtraks commuter rail operations in Boston who was fired by Amtrak for refusing to make job cuts. Lydon is well liked by local rail unions.
Although Leary said the firm was formed exclusively to serve the MBTA contract, its members are aware that a good job here could position the firm for rapid expansion.
But in all honesty, I think thats down the road, Leary said. But yes, if youre successful here, so goes Boston, so goes the rest of the country.
Guilford Rail Systems of North Billerica has been down this path before, having given up the MBTA commuter rail in 1986 after severe labor disputes and complaints by state transportation officials of poor service.
Guilford, a privately held corporation, is the only pure American company bidding on the contract. It operates freight lines in every New England state except Rhode Island, and bought the former Boston & Maine Railroad in 1983. It is owned by Portsmouth, N.H.-based Guilford Transportation Industries. Its main stockholder is Timothy Mellon, of Pittsburghs Mellon banking family.
Guilford made news in 1997 when it offered to buy or lease Amtraks Northeast Corridor service for an undisclosed price. At the time, an Amtrak spokesman said, they were not taking the offer seriously.
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|Colorado Railcars entry visits D.C.|
Colorado Railcars experimental and demonstration train idled on Track 11 at Union Station last week, and it stood out from Amtraks Metroliners and MARCs commuter trains not because of its gleaming maroon-and-gold body or glass dome windows. What set it apart was what it lacked: a locomotive.
Actually, the lead car, the power car, is the locomotive with a pair of 600hp Detroit Diesels, somewhat like Budds RDCs of a generation ago, but looking altogether unlike those.
The $2.9 million train is a new type of commuter train but it is a cross between a bus and a commuter rail car, wrote the Washington Post. A top District of Columbia official said it holds great promise for improving transportation in the city.
Were looking for simple, inexpensive solutions like this one, that we can use to jump-start new service, said Dan Tangherlini, the Districts acting director of transportation, who inspected the train as part of a recent four-day Rail~volution conference that drew hundreds of transit officials and planners to Washington.
The self-propelled train looks like a luxurious Metro car. The engineer sits in the cab, and the rest of the vehicle is filled with seats on either side of a center aisle.
The system, known as diesel multiple units, or DMU in Colorado Railcar shorthand, is the first of its kind to be built in the United States and approved by the Federal Railroad Administration.
The train is less expensive than traditional commuter rail, which consists of a locomotive that costs an average of $4 million and rail cars that cost about $1 million each. The Colorado units can run on existing track, unlike a light rail system, which requires construction of electrified track, and it can run on the same track used by freight railroads, a flexibility that is becoming increasingly important as commuter railroads seek to use freight track.
In the District, Tangherlini said the self-propelled train would be a perfect way to launch the Anacostia Starter Line, a 7.2-mile transit line that would begin in the Districts poorest neighborhoods in Southeast, cross the Anacostia River and connect with the burgeoning jobs and residences along the Southwest waterfront.
District officials envision the Starter Line using light rail, the modern equivalent of streetcars.
Until the $310 million Anacostia light rail system is built, the District could run self-propelled trains as an interim step, operating them on an existing freight railroad between the Minnesota Avenue and Anacostia Metro stations, Tangherlini said.
This would jump-start the Starter Line by tapping into the existing infrastructure, he said.
The builder can provide the District with the diesel units in 18 months a fast turnaround, Tangherlini said. Each coach has 90 seats and can carry a maximum load of 254, including standing passengers.
DMUs can be found in Europe but arent operating commercially in the United States because they had not passed federal safety tests until recently. Colorado Railcar is the first manufacturer to produce a unit that meets federal standards.
Thomas Janaky, vice president for sales at Colorado Railcar, said the company is targeting emerging commuter rail systems that share track with freight trains. He said the diesel-fueled trains are significantly cheaper to operate than a standard locomotive and passenger cars because they burn less fuel.
Each train has two 600-horsepower engines, compared with the 4,000-horsepower engine of a typical locomotive.
Commuter rail systems in California, Oregon and North Carolina have indicated they plan to purchase the diesel units.
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Long Island Rail Road name
may disappear in MN merger
The Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) will merge with Metro-North Railroad (MN) as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) reorganizes itself. It could mean the end of a name that has graced Long Island trains for 168 years.
MTA officials announced on October 9, reported Newsday, a corporate-style reorganization to create five companies, each with a single transportation mission, including a merged company over both commuter rail services called MTA Rail Road.
The new-look MTA includes companies for rail, subways, buses, bridges and tunnels and a new company that will oversee all major building projects.
MTA officials predict the mergers will save hundreds of millions of dollars without affecting service.
The stabilization and expansion of the regions economy requires a regional approach to the provision of commuter rail services and the new MTA Rail Road will provide that focus well into the 21st Century, said MTA chairman Peter S. Kalikow.
Plans also call for merging all MTA-run bus operations into one, MTA Bus, including Long Island Bus in Nassau County.
The mergers are expected to be complete by 2004. Kalikow would not confirm if the LIRR name will change, and MTA press secretary Tom Kelly said a decision had not been made.
The MTAs executive director, Katie Lapp, and the MTA staff devised the consolidation after Gov. George Pataki issued a directive last year telling state agencies and authorities to look for ways to save money by making their operations more effective and efficient, according to Pataki press secretary Joseph Conway.
In addition to a merged commuter rail system, a new company called MTA Capital will handle all major building and expansion programs, including the LIRRs plans for East Side access into Grand Central Terminal scheduled for 2011.
We didnt quite have a place to put a project like that, and this capital company would solve that problem, Kalikow said. Projects could also include Metro-Norths entry into Penn Station.
Kalikow said most rank-and-file transit workers will be unaffected as current collective bargaining agreements will remain in place. Kalikow said he did not know how many management jobs would be affected.
We would hope we could do this on a very painless basis, and we think we can, he said, with riders noticing only cosmetic changes, Kalikow added.
Union officials said yesterday that they were taking a wait-and-see approach.
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|Not so fast, a trainman says|
A full 83 percent of Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority commuter trains left stations without the required number of conductors for at least 32 weeks last year, causing major problems with fare collections and contributing to nine consecutive months of declining fare revenues for the T, according to reports produced by Amtrak, which runs the MBTAs commuter rail operation.
The Boston Globe reported on October 8 these unfilled or blanked jobs are so pervasive that for 14 of those 32 weeks last year, excluding holidays, nearly all MBTA commuter train runs were understaffed, according to the reports by Amtrak, which operates the local commuter lines under a $150 million contract that expires next summer.
In addition, the T said last week, from late May to late June 2000 and during nearly all of July that year 71 percent of T commuter trains ran at least one conductor short.
When T officials found that out about a year later, the transit agency withheld $45,820 from Amtrak, the reports said. Authorities dont know the amounts of fares that went uncollected during that time.
The problem has been documented for the past three years, according to the MBTA. In April 2001, T director of rail operations Anna M. Barry told Amtrak she was concerned that a total of 912 jobs on trains had gone unstaffed from July 2000 to January 2001.
Amtrak officials never said a word and continued to bill the T for the empty jobs, which the T paid.
After discovering that Amtrak had not filled the jobs, Barry ordered the T to withhold $312,816 from its next payment to Amtrak, one of the largest penalties it has issued. Amtrak officials said they had no explanation for the problem.
It is pretty well known that a level of staffing for the contract had been established, but why these positions were unfilled is a question, said Amtrak spokesman Bill Schulz in Washington.
Inadequate train staffing resulting in uncollected fares is unacceptable. In the end, its Amtraks money, too.
The blank job figures raised troubling questions about the Ts commuter rail service, which has recently come under fire for lax fare collection and a series of operational lapses, including a passenger who had a heart attack on a train that did not stop for the emergency. He later died.
The fare collection problem has led T officials to station spies on commuter trains to see if conductors were collecting all tickets and fares.
MBTA officials were expected to receive bids last week from at least three private competitors who want to take over the commuter rail operations contract from Amtrak when the contract expires. New provisions in the contract include financial incentives to collect full fares and a penalty of $500 for each position not adequately staffed. The new contract also calls for a crew-to-passenger ratio of 1 to 300, said T spokesman Joe Pesaturo.
Should T officials find that a trip is not adequately staffed, it can penalize the new carrier $10,000.
Amtrak CEO David Gunn has said the national rail carrier, which has run the MBTA commuter line - one of its most lucrative operations - since it began, wont bid on the new contract. Gunn said the MBTAs new terms would place too many restrictions on the debt-ridden national rail carrier.
Officials say trains end up understaffed for a variety of reasons sick calls, classes, or hours-of-service rules. Amtrak officials are finding it cheaper to let the trains run understaffed than pay overtime to staff them, T officials said.
During peak runs, MBTA commuter trains are supposed to operate with a conductor and two assistant conductors to handle ticketing and direct the loading and unloading of passengers. On the popular Attleboro line, which operates from Boston to Providence on the Northeast Corridor, the trains typically run with a conductor and three assistants.
Off-peak runs usually use one conductor and one assistant conductor, said Steve Jones, the Ts commuter rail director.
Passengers have complained for years about buying expensive monthly passes only to have no one check them on the train. At the same time, other passengers have gotten free rides by squeezing out as many as 20 round trips from a cheaper, 12-ride ticket, courtesy of inattentive conductors.
A Boston-based conductor, not in commuter service, noted that it is not all so black-and-white. The conductor told D:F, I have been in the Commuter Rail (Amtrak) trainmasters office and see the stack of Uncollected Fare Reports sitting on the desk waiting to be delivered to the MBTA Commuter Rail Management at 10 Park Square in Boston. These are reports that each member of the train crew fills out when they dont meet each other collecting fares between stations.
He explained, The report shows the estimated number of uncollected fares between each station stop. Those geniuses at the MBTA then decide if it is practical to add another assistant conductor to the train or just let the fare evasion continue. The T has known all along that there are never enough assistant conductors on their trains to collect all the fares.
Commuters are not getting a good deal, either, he observed.
There arent enough cars to carry the commuters. It is literally sardines the closer you get to Boston each weekday morning especially when you have 3-and-2 seating and a skinny aisle in which to walk (stand in, or squeeze around. A narrow center aisle has rows of three seats on the left, and two on the right. He said the double-decker cars have similar problems.
Same thing, just twice as full with the same single trainman between stops.
It is the MBTA management who decides to start up a new assistant conductor class, not Amtrak, so if the T doesnt want to staff the trains with more employees, they have no one to blame but themselves.
I predict you will see more fireworks about this issue from Mr. Gunns office in the next week or so.
He again faulted MBTA management.
MBTA management will always try to get the cheapest way out. Several years ago they tried an experiment on the Framingham and Lowell lines charge double the fare inbound in the morning, and no charge on the outbound trains in the evening using just a conductor and his assistant who make sure the traps are closed and doors are shut before leaving the station.
Not a good idea, he said.
Yeah, that sounds logical when sitting behind a desk at 10 Park Square. Once the public found out how to beat the system, some started to park their cars at the rail station parking lot in the morning, then carpool in to Boston. In the evening, they would take the train any train home in the evening for free, thus creating unsafe overcrowding conditions on the outbound trains. The T management thought they could use less trainmen at night because no fare would have to be collected.
The experiment was canceled after three weeks. When there is a way for New Englanders to beat the system, they will.
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MBTA spends $20M taking property
for restored Bay State Greenbush line
The MBTA has spent about $20 million this year buying up more than 20 pieces of South Shore land to rebuild the Greenbush rail line.
MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said 21 parcels have been taken so far through eminent domain, which is the governments right to acquire private property for public use.
But Pesaturo said the MBTA must acquire more, according to The Patriot Ledger of October 5..
We just dont know how many more, he said. Certainly some more taking will be necessary.
Pesaturo said that because the successful bidder is designing as well as building the line, the MBTA would have a better idea of what needs to be taken as the construction and design get under way.
Construction on the rail line is scheduled to begin in the spring, he said. The team of Cashman Construction and a British construction firm, Balfour Beatty, will build it. A Quincy native, Jay Cashman, heads Cashman Construction, the managing partner.
Pesaturo could not say when these additional properties will be taken. All properties have been taken in 2002 and the most recent were in Scituate and Cohasset on Sept. 4.
Pesaturo said the $20 million has been spent on acquisition and relocation costs.
Spokeswoman Lydia Rivera said the MBTA is in the second phase of the Greenbush project. Now it will have to acquire more land for roadway improvements, wetland mitigation, sliver parcels and grade-crossing closures, which are improvements at the point where a road crosses train tracks.
The MBTA is now negotiating and contacting landowners about these acquisitions.
Nothing is set in stone, Rivera said. Things like this take a while.
Pesaturo said 95 percent of the acquisitions so far are related to the future construction of the station parking lots and station locations, including the platforms.
The MBTA took land in Hingham, Scituate, Weymouth and Cohasset.
The pieces taken were as small as 3,400 square feet and as large as 375,000 square feet, said Pesaturo.
Rivera said the MBTA has not calculated the total amount of land taken, but that 30 acres were private property.
The land taken includes three residential properties and some town-owned land, but most was private commercial or industrial property, Rivera said.
The rail line begins at the existing Old Colony line in Braintree and extends 18 miles southeast to the Greenbush section of Scituate. Seven stations will be built along the line.
Owners of the land that was taken were notified of the MBTAs intent in June 2001, said Rivera.
Joe Bean, chief executive officer of the Hingham Federal Credit Union, said the MBTA acquired a half-acre of the companys land on Fort Hill Street in Hingham on March 11.
Bean said the credit union was told years ago that the land was the proposed site for the West Hingham rail station, and he felt neutral on its taking.
We had hoped to eventually put our future office there but those plans were derailed, Bean said. We were somewhat disappointed we werent going to get to use the property.
Bean said the half-acre was undeveloped and was more suitable for the credit unions needs because it would have allowed it to have its own building. The credit union is housed in an office building.
Francis Litchfield of Scituate said the MBTA gave him a fair price for his 2 acres according to the eminent domain laws, but that it wasnt enough for what he has to give up.
Litchfield owned a vacant lot and the Old Driftway Industrial Park land. But he said the MBTA also took land from his sister, Mabel Smith, who owned the property where their family home stood for 150 years on the Old Driftway.
I was born and brought up there in the same house my father grew up in and that my grandfather built after the Civil War, and thats going, too, he said.
This property was taken from Smith on Sept. 4.
Bean and Litchfield did not want to discuss what the MBTA paid them for their land.
Pesaturo, the MBTA spokesman, said he does not know where the first construction points will be, but that they will happen throughout the Greenbush corridor.
The land taken was chosen for its location along the Greenbush corridor and all of it was absolutely necessary to restore passenger rail service to the South Shore, said Pesaturo.
Passenger service ended on the old Greenbush line in 1959.
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|Tri-Rail wants to buy FEC track|
As plans to create a regional transportation authority gather steam, Florida Tri-Rail has its eye on buying the Florida East Coast Ry. tracks from Jupiter to Miami and running commuter trains through downtowns along the Gold Coast.
The commuter railroad plans to build a case by December for why passenger service makes sense on the 80-mile-long, 100-foot wide railroad right of way that closely follows U.S. 1 and Dixie Highway in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, according to the October 5 .
It also would detail how the FEC service would complement the commuter trains Tri-Rail already provides on the CSX tracks, which run mostly west of Interstate 95, as part of a regional mass transit system.
The FEC tracks arent for sale, but Tri-Rail plans to work with St. Augustine-based Florida East Coast Industries through next summer to come up with an appraisal of the rail line and iron out how the purchase or lease could be financed. Some estimates put the value at $500 million.
In the meantime, Tri-Rail would include the FEC in its mass transit funding proposal for Congress, which begins hearings early next year on the new federal transportation spending bill.
We are open to looking at proposals, a regional proposal. We will evaluate that proposal, FEC spokesman Husein Cumber said Friday in Boca Raton to a gathering of supporters pushing for passenger service on the FEC. However, we run a freight business. Freight is our number one priority. We will not jeopardize our freight business for passenger service.
Tri-Rail planning director Dennis Newjahr said putting commuter trains on the FEC tracks could take up to 10 years.
Hollywood Mayor Mara Giulianti said returning passenger service to the FEC would be a boon to downtowns along the corridor.
We can do this, she said. I think no one from Tri-Rail should be concerned. One little spine in one location does not work. Youre never going to see passenger growth in the Tri-Rail corridor if you dont have the FEC as a component.
Urban planner Claire Vickery and other citizens have been drumming up political support for transit on the FEC for several years. On Friday, Vickery asked local governments in the three counties to approve a resolution backing the idea. Local officials once considered the FEC tracks when Tri-Rail was being developed in the 1980s, but the FEC bosses refused to consider selling the tracks or using them for anything other than freight. Thus, the Tri-Rail system wound up on CSX tracks that parallel I-95 in much of the three counties.
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New Jersey seeks $500 million for transit
New Jersey lawmakers will seek more than $500 million in federal funding for transportation projects and improvements needed in the wake of last years terrorist attacks.
U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine said the states Congressional delegation formally made the request in a letter to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director Joe Allbaugh. The funding would come from the $4.55 billion that the government has set aside for such improvements in the New York metropolitan area.
The state wants at least $250 million for double-decker passenger trains for New Jersey Transit, $200 million for engineering studies for a new Midtown rail tunnel, $50 million for park-and-ride facilities and a portion of the $125 million needed to upgrade a Hoboken ferry terminal.
We have to be ever vigilant that the $4.55 billion doesnt only go to New York projects, Corzine told The Star-Ledger of Newark, adding that those who will decide where the money goes dont really reflect New Jerseys interests.
FEMA officials have said the $4.55 billion does not have to be used solely to rebuild destroyed transportation facilities, such as the PATH station beneath the former World Trade Center, but could also be used for infrastructure improvements in Lower Manhattan.
Meanwhile, New York Sen. Charles Schumer has questioned whether it was appropriate to finance some projects, including the Hoboken ferry terminal, with FEMA money.
A FEMA spokesman declined to comment at length on the New Jersey request, saying only that Allbaugh will review the letter and then respond directly to Corzine.
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|Texas rail district effort gets second look|
With funding lined up to build Texas 130 from San Antonio to Austin, officials say its now time to resurrect an effort to create a rail district between the cities as another way to tackle increasing traffic congestion on Interstate 35, reports the San Antonio Express-News.
Officials from both cities as well as Bexar and Travis counties said on October 7 that a board of up to 16 members will be appointed soon and might start meeting by the end of the year.
I cant think of a more important transportation initiative in this area thats facing us, said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff.
Id love to see the day when the cities would have a connecting commuter rail.
For now, the first priority will be looking at ways to increase railroad freight capacity by building tracks in the Texas 130 corridor, officials said.
That would keep some large trucks off Interstate 35, which carries two-thirds of Mexicos fast-expanding trade with the United States and Canada. A 1999 study recommended that half the truck freight from Laredo to Dallas should instead be transported by rail.
Also, if Union Pacific Railroad shifts its through freight to the Texas 130 corridor, then room for one more set of tracks next to its I-35 line could be used for passenger rail.
You sort of have to help Union Pacific solve a capacity problem on their line before we can plan for commuter rail, said Will Wynn, an Austin councilman and chairman of the Austin-San Antonio Corridor Council.
Jeff Judson, president of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a San Antonio-based think-tank, said its a good idea to consider hauling more freight by rail as a way to address traffic congestion. But he is skeptical about commuter rail.
Theyre all jumping on the commuter-rail bandwagon, but no comparison has been done on all of the options that are available, Judson said. We need to look at what expenditure will reduce traffic the most.
Thats the intent of the rail district, said Ross Milloy, president of the Corridor Council.
However, adding freeway lanes has more limitations than adding trains once tracks are laid, Milloy said. Federal officials estimate that I-35 will need 18 lanes to handle traffic anticipated by 2025.
Its really not a matter of whether were going to need rail service, he said. The question is when.
Another recent study says it would cost $475 million in 1998 dollars to start commuter rail, an amount that could buy two new lanes on I-35. Trains could run from every 30 to 90 minutes. Rides from San Antonio to Austin might last an hour and 45 minutes and cost $9.
A rail districts formation would release $5.2 million in federal funds for initial studies. Participating entities must put up $400,000 in matching funds.
The district could issue bonds, share sales and use taxes on its future property and be awarded federal, state and local money.
Bexar and Travis counties are expected to pass resolutions this week to create the district, and San Antonios council might take up the matter later this month. The Austin City Council approved the measure in 1998.
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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
FTA testifies transit investment improves
infrastructure, increases capacity
Record levels of investment in transit by federal, state, and local governments have improved transit conditions and increased transit capacity and utilization in America, Federal Transit Administration Deputy Administrator Robert Jamison told the U.S. House Highways and Transit Subcommittee of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Jamison joined Federal Highway Administrator Mary Peters in outlining findings of USDOTs upcoming report on the physical conditions and operational performance of the nations public transit and highway systems at the subcommittees Sept. 26 hearing.
The report, titled The Status of the Nations Highways, Bridges, and Transit: Conditions and Performance and commonly known as the Conditions and Performance Report, is submitted to Congress every two years, but was not available in time for the hearing. Peters estimated the report would be delivered to Congress later this fall.
Utah gets 175 Miles of UP corridors
On September 20, the Utah Transit Authority closed on a $185 million transaction with Union Pacific Railroad and took ownership of 175 miles of rail corridors and other properties. Considered one of the largest geographical land acquisitions ever undertaken by a transit agency in the United States, the purchase preserves valuable rail rights-of-way for public transportation projects in the Salt Lake Valley and the greater Wasatch Front region.
UTA General Manager John M. Inglish called the scope of the purchase nothing short of phenomenal, adding, The public has asked UTA to deliver the 20-year Long Range Transportation Plan. This purchase preserves rail corridors not only for those 20 years, but also preserves them well into the next century.
UTA owns real estate parallel to the Union Pacific mainline corridor extending 120 miles along the Wasatch Front. UTA also owns rail lines extending to the west and east of the main corridor in two counties. Additionally, the purchase includes three rail facilities totaling 140 acres, as well as 28 parcels adjacent to the main corridor.
House panel okays $7.2 billion for transit
The U.S. House Appropriations Committee approved a Fiscal Year 2003 USDOT appropriations bill on October 1 that funds the federal transit program at $7.226 billion, the guaranteed amount under the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century.
The Senate version, approved in July by the Senate Appropriations Committee, provides $100 million above the guaranteed level, with that additional funding directed to the new starts program. The House bill could go to the full House for consideration prior to adjournment, but it is unlikely the two chambers will conclude their respective versions and complete a conference agreement before they break for the elections.
Regional buses start up in Piedmont Triad
The Piedmont Triad Regional Bus Services, a new regional bus system in central North Carolina, entered service on September 30. The Piedmont Authority is providing the service, connecting the Piedmont Triad cities of High Point, Greensboro, and Winston-Salem and the Piedmont Triad International Airport, for Regional Transportation, a five-year-old regional transportation authority created by the North Carolina legislature.
The 10-bus system, called PART Express, provides express buses that take passengers from their hometowns to a regional hub center, where they can transfer to shuttle routes served by small buses, according to PART Director Brent McKinney. The hub center is scheduled to open in late November.
The bus service will be funded through a 5 percent tax on short-term car rentals, which already has been approved by two out of the six PART participating counties, and with state funds. In addition to the PART Express, the new transit agency operates 76 small vans used for vanpool services, and coordinates carpools and the regions paratransit services.
Treasury clarifies tax-free transit benefits rules
Transit agency commuter benefit programs received a boost in September from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, which stated that, for employers to get transit-related tax benefits, they must distribute transit passes and vouchers directly to employees and cannot simply pay cash to those who say they use transit.
Federal law allows employers to provide up to $1,200 a year in transit passes tax-free to employees who ride public transit.
The clarification takes aim at companies that give employees tax-free cash instead of a transit pass. According to the Treasury, the exclusion under 132(f) is available only if the employer distributes vouchers or transit passes to employees, the employer may not use a cash reimbursement system.
The letter clarified that employers will still be able to use cash reimbursement methods, but only if there are fees or other significant restrictions imposed by transit agencies.
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|Virginia maglev experiment hits snags|
Technical and financial glitches have again delayed the much-anticipated debut of the nations first magnetic levitation train at Old Dominion University, pushing the likely launch date into next year.
The opening, originally set for early September, had been postponed twice before first to the end of that month and then to November 15.
Officials are not committing to a new date, according to The Virginian-Pilot of October 10.
Were disappointed but these are not fatal issues, said Tony Morris, president of American Maglev Technology Inc. in Marietta, Ga.
We have a really great team and an overwhelming desire to get it right. American Maglev and its partners, Lockheed Martin and Dominion Virginia Power, have done what skeptics didnt think was possible. They built an elevated guideway at ODU and developed a working maglev vehicle in just 18 months. Officials say the project is 90 percent complete. The bullet-nosed vehicle levitates, hovering about a half-inch above the rail using magnets, and moves down the track.
The ride is bumpy, and engineers need more time and money to fix the problem.
We believe we have a way to smooth out the deviations, said Thomas V. Radovich, who coordinates the project for Lockheed Martin in Orlando, Fla.
He said the train is reacting differently to the elevated guideway at ODU than it did on the ground at American Maglevs Florida test track. Lockheed Martin engineers are working to tweak the trains control system to adapt to the ODU guideway.
At worst, Radovich said, the guideway would need to be stiffened.
Because the projects limited resources are focused on making the train run smoothly, construction has been suspended on the three platform stations along the route that stretches two-thirds of a mile through the center of campus. The safety certification process, which includes 160 separate tests, is also on hold.
This isnt our first setback and probably wont be the last, Morris said. Its the nature of birthing new technology.
Because no one has built a full-scale maglev system in this country before, American Maglev has encountered a few surprises along the way. Theres been some interesting little twists, and some of us are hurting a little bit now, Morris said.
Because of the setbacks, the project is nearly out of money. A $7 million loan from the state and $7 million in private investment are mostly spent. Lockheed Martin has committed to investing more money, however, and ODU and American Maglev are optimistic theyll get a federal appropriation of up to $2 million. The Senates proposed budget allocates $2 million to the project, while the House version does not list specific projects. The two chambers must still meet and work out their differences on the entire transportation spending bill, which is already late.
Morris said additional private investors are also being sought. Until the money issues are resolved, the train is pretty much stalled.
At this point, were keeping everything at a minimum at ODU while we watch what goes on in Washington, Morris said. Were staying focused on our technology and our efforts in D.C.
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NS deals with moving many containers
Editors note: After Wes Vernon filed this weeks lead story dealing with the West Coast docks work stoppage, we received an intermodal update from Norfolk Southern.
It looks so simple you start running trains, get them to various docks and ports, then they unload whatever containers or trailers theyve brought with them, pick up fresh loads just off the ships, then go away, out along the far-flung parts of the country where hotshot container trains fly.
If only it were that simple.
Norfolk Southern stated in a press release late last Friday afternoon West Coast port and rail operations have resumed and they were eager to resume our full services however, until such time as the interchange restrictions issued by BNSF and UP are modified, NS will not accept any marine containers destined to California, Washington or Oregon at our terminals.
In its intermodal shippers bulletin, the freight railroad added, All other container and trailer traffic will be accepted and moved as scheduled.
They expected the interchange operating restrictions to be lifted in the next few days, perhaps by the time you read this.
The railroad spelled out details.
Maintaining fluid operations will require will require tight coordination of eastbound and westbound car movements, terminal capacity, and chassis supply with our connecting railroads and you, our customers.
NS said it would be taking specific steps including running extra trains in high volume corridors as volumes warrant. Decisions to run extra trains will be made on a daily basis.
The freight railroad also established a 24-hour control center in Norfolk, the railroads home offices, that will coordinate NSs eastbound and westbound interchanges with UP and BNSF.
They spelled out more details:
NS will implement restrictions on all marine container traffic (loaded and empty) for movement at the following terminals:
Was that all?
Not in the least. It got complicated.
NS told its shippers, A gate allocation system for the in-gate of marine containers at these NS terminals will be established. A customers daily allocation will be based upon historical volume averages and available car supply. This system will allow us to balance car supply and keep terminals free from idle equipment.
Some details to help keep things running as smoothly as they could included having a sufficient supply of chassis available to meet inbound loads, expediting the pick up of inbound loads, and using the allocation system.
NS would be coordinating closely with both UP and BNSF on interchange traffic.
Given the levels of volume we are expecting over the next several weeks, units could experience delays. However, the implementation of the allocation system along with customer cooperation in regards to chassis supply and expedited pick up of inbound loads, should keep these disruptions to a minimum.
As of October 11, all marine container traffic, for all customers, moving locally on NS was exempt from any allocations. Beyond that, Free time and storage rules for shipments made to NS local terminals will be strictly enforced, and units billed as local to gateway locations (Chicago, Kansas City, Memphis, St. Louis, New Orleans) will not be re-billed as an interchange move once it has left origin.
The carrier said Each customers allocation for each terminal will remain fixed each day of the week. NS reserves the right to change an allocation. We will attempt to communicate such changes by 3:00 p.m. (1500 on NSs clocks) each day. The adjusted allocation will be effective the following day and until the customer is advised otherwise.
The railroad stated it would not put up with any monkey business.
Any individual shippers units in excess of the allocated rail capacity will be turned away at the gate.
Shipper may not mix n match, either.
Allocations for one terminal cannot be applied to another terminal. Allocations cannot be shared with other shippers. Unused allocations cannot be carried forward to another day.
Tough rules for tough businesses following a tough situation.
Who ever said running a railroad was easy?
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|C&G track rehab completed|
The Columbus and Greenville Ry. (C&G), has completed $2.4 million in track improvements that enable it to handle loaded railcars weighing up to 286,000 pounds between Greenwood and Indianola. Canadian National Ry. (CN) provided financing for the improvement project in return for shipper commitments to route inbound grain via CN.
Railcars with a maximum gross weight of 286,000 pounds have become standard in the railroad industry, improving efficiencies but posing a problem for smaller railroads such as the Columbus & Greenville, whose infrastructure was designed to handle lighter loads. Cars with a 286,000-pound capacity can carry 400 more bushels of grain than cars operating at the previous weight limit of 263,000 pounds, a more that 10 percent gain in carrying capacity.
Our improvements will allow us to provide Mississippi Delta shippers and receivers the efficiencies and economies of 286,000-pound rail service and enable us to increase train speeds, said C&G president Roger Bell.
CNs support for the C & G was critical, not only to our becoming a better railroad, but to the very continuation of our service to the Mississippi Delta.
CNs CEO Paul Tellier said, The financial support we provided to the C&G demonstrates our commitment to Mississippi and to the Delta region in particular.
We consider the Columbus & Greenville one of our key partners in providing competitive, customer-focused rail service in Mississippi. The better service we can provide shippers, the better for the regions economy overall. As Mississippi grows, we grow.
Crews installed 23,000 new crossties and 75,000 tons of ballast on a 40-mile stretch of C&G track between Greenwood, where the freight line meets CNs mainline (the former Illinois Central), and a point just west of Indianola.
C&G rebuilt 11 bridges and upgraded two other bridges on that segment, upgrading a total of 5,000 linear feet of bridge structures. The company also upgraded 54 rail-highway crossings and installed two miles of heavier continuous welded rail (CWR). The work over two years complemented C&Gs earlier replacement of 38 miles of lightweight, jointed rail with heavier CWR, which improves safety and efficiency while reducing maintenance costs for both track and equipment.
Its trains can now operate between Greenwood and Indianola at 25 mph instead of the former 10 mph.
The improvements will also allow shippers to send or receive efficiency trains, grain trains of 75 or 100 cars that cycle between origin and destination points. Efficiency trains operate with incentives for the shipper, the railroad and receiver to load, move and unload grain within time limits in order to maximize equipment utilization.
C&Gs handling of efficiency trains will mark the first time CN has entrusted the demanding and time-sensitive movement to a carrier with whom it interchanges traffic.
The opportunity to receive CN efficiency trains on the C&G in combination with the increase to 286,000-pound capability has already spurred Delta Western, a major receiver on line, to begin constructing an additional 1.5 million bushels of grain storage capacity at its catfish feed plant near Indianola, said Bell.
Delta Western, the worlds largest producer of catfish feed, will gain efficiencies and be better able to keep pace with the growing demand for its product.
Bell said Next year, we will upgrade five additional bridges on 18 miles of track between Indianola and Greenville to the west.
C&G has 45 employees. It traces its historical roots to the Greenville, Columbus & Birmingham Railroad of 1878. It began operations with its current corporate structure on October 30, 1975.
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|BNSF to guarantee on-time carload service|
The Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Ry. Co. began offering the industrys first full-money-back guarantee for carload rail service on October 7.
Shippers will have the option to purchase, for a premium, a guarantee for on-time carload rail service in select lanes, the carrier stated in a press release.
With the guarantee, BNSF will offer a 100-percent refund for each load that arrives after the agreed-upon transit time at the customers location. BNSF measures on-time performance from the time a customer releases the car to the time it is spotted at the customers dock, the carrier stated.
BNSF plans to offer guaranteed carload rail service linking key production and consumption markets including the Pacific Northwest, Northern and Southern California, the Midwest, and Texas.
Initially, the on-time guarantee will be available for all commodities moving in carload equipment from the Pacific Northwest to the Midwest and Texas ,but in December, BNSF plans to expand the guarantee to include service from the Pacific Northwest to Northern California, Southern California and Arizona.
The freight railroad is also working to develop on-time guaranteed carload rail services that include short-line and interline partners throughout North America.
Our efforts to redesign the carload network have resulted in our improved ability to provide customers with a more consistent and reliable service product, says Dave Garin, group vice president, BNSF Industrial Products Marketing.
BNSFs on-time intermodal guarantee has given new customers the confidence to try rail intermodal shipping. Given this success, and the fact that weve continued to meet goals for system-wide on-time performance, we simply felt it was time to offer customers a risk-free transportation alternative for carload rail service.
BNSF was the first freight railroad to launch a full-money-back guarantee for intermodal rail service in May 2000, which has continued to run 98-percent on time. BNSF also offers the industrys only guaranteed equipment program, which allows customers to secure the supply and placement of different railcar types, including centerbeam flat cars, bulkhead flatcars, flatcars, boxcars, refrigerated boxcars and gondolas.
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|Adios, BAR; Hello, MM&A|
Its time to say So long to the Bangor & Aroostook Ry. and its elderly reporting marks, BAR. The New England freight line has been sold, and the new owners have a new name.
Canadian Pacific Ry. (CPR) and Rail World, Inc., a Chicago-based railway investment and management company, said last week that Rail Worlds subsidiary, Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Ry. (MM&A) had concluded an agreement under which MM&A will acquire Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) lines between the U.S.-Canadian border at Richford, Vermont, through Brookport to St. Jean, Quebec and the north-south line from St. Rosalie through Farnham to Stanbridge that were previously leased to Quebec Southern Ry. (QSR).
In July, MM&A signed an agreement with the bankruptcy Trustees of the Bangor & Aroostook system (BAR) and QSR to purchase substantially all of their rail assets, which connect with CPR trackage at Richford and at Brookport, Quebec, which is subject to confirmation by BARs bankruptcy court in Portland, Maine.
Edward A. Burkhardt, MM&A president and founder of Wisconsin Central, said, Concluding these negotiations with Canadian Pacific is a major step toward completing our purchase of the majority of BARs rail assets. CPR will be our main interchange connection, and we look forward to close cooperation in marketing joint MM&A-CPR service through the Montreal gateway.
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|Court upholds STB ruling|
The Surface Transportation Board reported last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the Boards decision reaffirming an earlier decision not to consider product and geographic competition in the boards market dominance analysis in railroad rate complaint proceedings.
Under the law, the Board may not review the reasonableness of a challenged rail rate unless it first finds that the railroad has market dominance.
Market dominance refers to an absence of effective competition from other railroads or modes of transportation for the transportation to which a rate applies.
The court found that the board had appropriately addressed statutory language. The court also noted that the STBs action advanced statutory directives to move rate cases forward expeditiously, to formulate appropriate measures for avoiding delay in the discovery and evidentiary phases of rate cases, and to allow shippers that lack competitive alternatives practical access to the rate complaint process.
The court concluded that the boards attempt to strike a balance between the various statutory objectives [was] reasonable, and the court denied the railroads petition for judicial review.
The court is online at http://www.cadc.uscourts.gov.
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|Cross Harbor gets rice order|
New York Cross Harbor Railroad said on October 8 that it has won a long-term transportation agreement by a major food producer to ship rice. Projected is expected to be between $200,000 and $300,000 annually. The railroad did not name the shipper.
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DB grouses about unfair taxes
The Deutsche Bahn (DB) Railroad wants to air its demand for equal tax treatment with commercial airlines in court. Should the European Union (EU) Commission stay with its current policy of tax-free fuel for airlines, DB will take its case to the EUs courts, the German rail company stated on October 7.
The EU Commission had refused shortly before to consider DBs complaint, which alleges the disadvantage DB has from competition with no-frills airlines.
German railroad chief Hartmut Mehdorn appealed to EU Commission vice-president Loyola de Palacio to investigate the market-distorting effect of tax-free fuel the no-frills airlines currently enjoy. Many no-frills airlines exist, in Mehdorns view, only because airlines, unlike the railroads, pay no fuel nor oil taxes.
Elsewhere in Germany, from the October 7 Hannover Allgemeine Zeitung, it was reported cracks were detected on the trucks of 31 locomotives of the Deutsche Bahns 101 series electric locomotives. A DB spokeswoman stated on June 10 that the cracks are not a safety issue. The affected locomotives are being routed to a DB workshop in Dessau for repair.
Other locomotives were pressed into service to replace the affected locomotives on their normal passenger train services. So far, four locomotives have been repaired and returned to service.
The 101 series locomotives are high-speed electric locomotives for conventional long-distance locomotive-hauled passenger trains, and were built by Adtranz (former AEG, now part of Bombardier) and began regular revenue service in Germany in late 1994.
Danke to David Beale in Germany
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All aboard? Not really
From The Toledo Blade of October 8, 2002. Republished with permission. Ed.
As a reward for Toledos strong support of its services, Amtrak is imposing even more oppressive train schedules on passengers who board here.
The agency that is struggling to stay afloat because of diminishing patronage and escalating costs isnt doing itself any favors by antagonizing loyal customers with punitive schedule changes.
Even birds dont get up as early as Toledos Amtrak passengers will have to, beginning October 27, to board some Chicago-bound trains. At the end of the month the westbound Lake Shore Limited will depart Toledo in the wee hours of the morning at 3:10. Another will leave at 4:30 a.m., and the night owl special will depart at 10:25 p.m.
Its doubtful there will be long lines of riders queuing up to hop a train to the Windy City in the middle of the night. The old time, though not terrific, was a little more civilized: 6:55 a.m. Bill Gill, northwest regional coordinator of the Ohio Association of Railroad Passengers, calls the revised Toledo schedule ridiculous.
Mr. Gill says Amtraks fiscal crisis is clearly the driving force behind its move to concentrate train schedules even more closely than before, with smaller crew rosters and limited station staffing. A local schedule change in April for an eastbound Pennsylvania train, shifting its departure time from 11:15 a.m. to 5:50 a.m., allowed the Toledo station to close as a 24-hour facility. That meant it could operate on just two shifts.
This is what passes for clear thinking in passenger rail travel these days. Service is poor, business is bad, and funds are low, so lets cut service some more so things can get worse.
The new schedule changes in Toledo will confine all train service to between 10:15 p.m. and 7 a.m., a cost-cutting move sure to inconvenience ticket holders and contribute to declining Amtrak ridership.
To add insult to injury is a threatened end to Toledos bustling express freight service on Amtrak trains. It is one of the busiest freight terminals on the system, but overall the service hasnt been as profitable as Amtrak expected, and the shipments could be scrapped in Amtraks next fiscal budget.
Amtraks crisis, according to James Hartung, president of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, is almost creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of business derailment. To cut expenses, the company has inflicted even greater inconvenience on its most supportive consumer base and thereby provided less, not more, fiscal stability to an already shaky base.
NCI CEO Jim RePass reply:
Re: All Aboard? Not Really editorial
The wonder is not that Amtrak is imposing even more oppressive train service on Toledo. The real wonder is that Toledo has any train service at all.
Since it was created in 1970 Amtrak has received vastly less federal support than any other transportation mode, and since 1997 it has gotten just one-half of its authorized amount from Congress. At the same time, Congress in its wisdom ordered Amtrak to break even.
The justifiable frustration expressed by your editorial is understandable, since Toledo in fact has been a great supporter of Amtrak; but the Congress of the United States has for 30 years chosen to maintain Congress as an under-funded whipping boy, instead of providing serious, adult money.
An example: in 2000, the taxpayers at all levels (federal, state and local) spent $130 billion on highways. That same year, Congress provided $521 million to Amtrak. Let me tell you, if you spend 260 times as much money on one mode of transportation as on another, you are going to get things like ridiculous travel schedules and inadequate service, which is what youve got in Toledo.
Toledo should have not one train a day at odd hours, but at least three trains a day (in each direction) at convenient hours. The Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, involving nine states (including Ohio, if the legislature gets on board) will help kick-start this process. In the meantime, Congress is debating Amtraks fate. If you want to aim at the right target, aim an editorial at the people who have caused the problem, not the victim.
James P. RePass
Amtrak deserves to get continued federal support
Reprinted with permission of The Pantagraph Illinois. It appeared in its October 5 edition. Ed.
Expecting Amtrak to wean itself of all federal subsidies is neither realistic nor fair when one considers the subsidies provided to other forms of transportation, particularly air travel.
Expecting states which have financial problems of their own to relieve the federal burden by providing more financial support to the national passenger rail service also is unfair when it applies to long-distance travel beyond the states borders.
However, expecting Amtrak to cut its bureaucracy and, in general, become more efficient is not only reasonable, it is imperative. But the changes should be handled in a well-thought-out manner.
Threats to cut off federal subsidies and liquidate Amtrak are becoming tiresome and contribute to a crisis mentality. Average daily ridership is 65,000. In Illinois, the annual ridership is 2.8 million. Of those, 76,000 use the Normal station, which is third busiest in the state, behind Chicago and Springfield.
For many of those passengers, there is not a readily available alternative.
For most, the alternative would be a car further crowding the nations highways. Long-distance travelers might turn to airlines, but they do not serve many of the 500 communities along Amtrak routes. And air travel generally is costlier.
The U.S. Senate has approved a $1.2 billion subsidy, but the Bush administration is calling for less than half of that $521 million and a bill pending in the House would provide only $762 million.
That has led to renewed talk of eliminating some long-distance routes and suggestions that states would have to ante up to save them. But Illinois already contributes more than $10 million annually to Amtrak.
Governors should not be bullied into subsidizing Amtrak. One state might not have the clout to prompt changes. However, by uniting their voices, governors and state lawmakers can be heard.
High-speed rail could make train travel more attractive, but it is not the sole answer to Amtraks troubles. Without more reliable on-time performance and greater attention to customer service, Amtrak will never fill the niche it is seeking. Without adequate financing, it will never get the chance to try.
Response from Jim RePass:
Letter to the editor
Praise for the Pantagraphs October 5 editorial, Amtrak Continues to Deserve Federal Support, one of the most thoughtful and well-informed editorials I have read in the past 14 years while heading the National Corridors Initiative, a business and environmental group that favors balanced national transportation (www.nationalcorridors.org).
It is especially true, as you state, that the federal government needs to support intercity trains, not only because that is the only transportation choice for many Americans of modest income, but because the rail system is one place we can invest aggressively in improvements to reduce the crowding on our highways and at and around our airports. Indeed, in Illinois the successful re-introduction of reliable, fast service as part of the nine-state Midwest Regional Rail Initiative would relieve pressure to expand airports or build new ones in Illinois and elsewhere.
Sincerely, and with high regard,
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October 15, 16
Ninth Annual Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads Conference
Washington Marriott Hotel
Passenger train operations on freight railroads, including high-speed, offer excellent opportunities to develop new commuter and intercity rail services, but while they offer attractive sources of revenue to freight carriers, they also pose perplexing problems-compensation, liability, grade crossing safety, signaling and train control requirements, right-of-way capacity constraints, and maintaining freight service integrity. The conference will offer a thorough, candid airing of these topics, and an in-depth look at some of the important projects being undertaken in this area. This two-day event will feature recognized experts from both the passenger and freight sides of railroading.
Register On-Line at http://www.railwayage.com/conference/register.html
Surface Transportation and Sprawl:
This seminar is designed to help reporters and editors get beyond the clichés and enrich that work, even as Congress begins to debate the next big highway bill.
Topics will include Building a highway with asphalt and influence, Are cities designed for humans any more? Also, transportation and the environment; the politics of transportation; the ups and downs of passenger rail; the social costs of a commuting life.
The 15 expenses-paid fellowships are available to qualified journalists. Fellowships include airfare, hotel and most meals.
There is no application form. You can apply by mail, e-mail or fax. To apply, send a letter making your case for attending, a letter of support from your supervisor, a brief bio, and a clip (not a web site reference) or VHS or audio tape (if youre an editor send a sample of work youve edited). Applications will not be returned. Applications must be received by 5 p.m., October 11. Send applications to National Press Foundation, Transportation 2002, 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 310, Washington, D.C. 20036. E-mail is email@example.com. Fax is 202-530-2855. Call for information at 202-663-7280, ext. 106. Check out http://www.nationalpress.org for more information.
Underwritten by the Kiplinger Foundation, with support from the NPF Program Fund (Times Mirror Foundation, ABC Inc., and others).
The National Press Foundation is a non-profit educational foundation.
This edition has been read by || || people since date of release.
Copyright © 2002, National Corridors Initiative, Inc. & Leo King.