Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 2 No. 41, October 15, 2001
Copyright © 2001, NCI, Inc.
James P. RePass, President
Leo King, Editor

A weekly North American Railroad update

Amtrak out in the cold

NCI: Leo King

The Senate okayed $3.2 billion for airport security, but passenger rail again was left out in the cold.
Airlines get security blanket;
Amtrak left out in the cold
By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

The Senate unanimously passed a bill Thursday to boost the security of airlines and airports, while security for railroads remained the subject of competing approaches.

The airlines measure authorizes the presence of more air marshals on flights, directs that work go forward on plans to make cockpit doors secure, increases anti-hijacking training for flight crews, and imposes a $2.50 passenger fee per flight leg to pay for the changes.

Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) had tried to attach a railroad security bill to the airlines measure. The Biden proposal is essentially the $3.2 billion legislation supported by Amtrak in its Senate testimony the previous week (See D:F, Oct. 8). By week's end, it was but one of several serious legislative proposals that had been introduced to bolster rail freight and passenger service, securitywise and in infrastructure building.

Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (D-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, made a major splash at midweek by announcing what he titled the Railroad Advancement and Infrastructure Law of the 21st Century, or Rail-21. It deals extensively with freight, Amtrak, high-speed passenger, commuter, and shortline rail services. It is grounded in the assumption that America needs a strong railroad infrastructure, right along with a healthy airline industry and highway system.

First out of the gate, Hollings would eliminate the legal requirement that Amtrak achieve operational self-sufficiency by late 2002. Amtrak President George Warrington has called the goal achievable but shortsighted. Since September 11, he has labeled the Congressional 1997 mandate "impractical and irrational." Though the watchdog Amtrak Reform Council was created to help Amtrak achieve just this goal, the senator's office released an outline of the new bill that says nothing about the fate of that agency.

Senator Hollings folds the basic thrust of the Biden bill into his own more comprehensive package. In fact, Biden's name is on the Hollings legislation, as well as his own stand-alone security and enhancement measure.

Chairman Hollings would guarantee Amtrak's existence through 2003 and authorize $35 billion in loans and loan guarantees for freight and passenger rail, as well as security enhancement projects.

Andy Davis, a spokesman for the chairman, told the Associated Press the nation's rail requirements have been enhanced by the "radically changed environment" since the September 11 terrorist attacks on America. "There are new demands placed on Amtrak, both in terms of short-term security and long-term capacity and stability of rail," he added.

Part of that "radically changed environment" is attributable to the fact that Amtrak's ridership has increased substantially since September 11. Warrington has said, for example, that the company is 27 sleeping cars short of what would be needed to meet its advance bookings. There is a crying need for additional equipment through repairs and new purchases, he told the Senate on October 2.

As for high-speed rail, the bill authorizes $50 million in matching grants annually from fiscal year 2002 through fiscal 2004. This is for corridor planning and acquisition of rolling stock, with preference given to previously designated high-speed corridors. These are the hubs or corridors in California, Chicago, Empire State, Florida, Gulf Coast, Keystone, the Northeast, New England (North of Boston), Pacific Northwest, South Central (Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas), and the Southeast.

Senator Hollings also remains a co-sponsor of a $12 billion 10-year program to start beefing up the infrastructure for high-speed rail development (HSRIA).

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has sponsored RIDE-21, a $71 billion package which, unlike the Hollings approach, would put the states in charge of high-speed rail.

Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn), the ranking Democrat on Young's committee, is the chief sponsor of the House version of HSRIA, which would put Amtrak in charge. Though Young's bill (RIDE-21) has the backing of Republican and Democrat lawmakers, Oberstar has criticized it, saying what is needed is "a national program, not a state-by-state approach."

Some congressmen are co-sponsors of both bills, figuring no doubt, that once Congress is through with whatever bills come down the pike, modifications will be made to appeal to as many interests as possible. That is the way the Capitol Hill meat grinder works.

Earlier this month, President Edward R. Hamberger of the Association of American Railroads (AAR) issued what appeared to be a qualified endorsement of the Young bill. He told House committee lawmakers that many parts of the proposal are in accordance with the general freight railroad criteria in cooperating as partners in the advancement of high-speed passenger service, including rail transportation offering Americans significant economic, environmental, and safety benefits, and, in many instances, is a potential solution to the increasing highway and airport congestion.

He also said that in general, high-speed passenger railroads cannot safely operate on freight railroad rights of way, and require separate dedicated rights of way.

Hamburger said the full costs of changes in freight rail operations to accommodate passenger operations must be borne by the entity sponsoring the passenger service through privately negotiated contracts, and that freight railroads must be indemnified and insured against any financial liability arising from accidents affecting passenger services.

H.R. 2950 (RIDE-21) includes high-speed rail tax-exempt bond provisions which, according Hamberger, "quite properly recognize that high-speed passenger trains should travel on the railroad equivalent of the Interstate Highway System." That, of course, means "the necessity of dedicated, separate corridors for high-speed passenger train operations" and the "closure or elimination of grade crossings on those corridors."

The idea of separate tracks for freight and high-speed passenger rail is something the Class I carriers have emphasized for years.

Yes, these are "exceedingly expensive undertakings," the freight railroads' voice in Washington acknowledges, but they will require "firm, continued commitments" if high-speed rail is to succeed.

However, Hamberger said, the AAR wanted some clarification in the Young bill as to the need for contractual insurance and indemnification provisions.

There has been a gradual merger of freight and passenger interests, and Hamberger's testimony clearly indicates that this years-long effort is making progress.

On Thursday, Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) introduced yet another rail security bill. This one is co-sponsored by the Senate Commerce Committee's ranking Republican, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). In reading between the lines, you can see that it bears the Arizona senator's imprint.

The measure carries a $1.5 billion price tag "for Amtrak to improve the safety of rail passengers while assuring accountability and oversight of the use of these funds." Since it is assumed that every expenditure of taxpayer dollars for whatever purpose should be "accountable," one can take the specific mention of that in the bill to be McCain code language for allowing no more equipment to actually accommodate passengers.

McCain has been consistent. He has steadfastly berated Amtrak for failure to boost its ridership any more than it has in the past, while simultaneously denouncing every attempt to provide more trains to make advances in ridership possible. Amtrak supporters long ago concluded that the senator from Arizona refuses to allow himself to be pleased, no matter what.

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and FRA Administrator Allen Rutter rode from Washington to Philadelphia on the Acela Express October 1 to attend the annual meeting of the American Transportation Association (APTA).

The secretary was quoted as telling reporters that "a cookie cutter (security) approach to all modes of transportation" was not necessary and that security on passenger trains presented a different problem than security on airlines, though metal detectors would be on the table when DOT reviews Amtrak's requests for security funding.

Speaking of which: Effective October 8, Amtrak eliminated on-board ticket sales on the NEC. All passengers will need a ticket before they board. This is but one of the security measures being implemented by Amtrak.

Another is closing some checked baggage locations. Six jobs were eliminated, at least on paper, yesterday for baggage and mail handlers in Providence, R. I., but negotiations with the Transportation-Communications Union representatives were expected to be ongoing Friday as our deadline passed.

Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) had offered an amendment that would have provided $471,000,000 for systemwide security upgrades, including hiring and training additional police officers, canine-assisted security units, and surveillance equipment.

Another $998,000,000 would have been used to complete New York tunnel life safety projects and rehabilitate tunnels in Washington and Baltimore. Yet $949,000,000 would have gone for bridges, track, power, and station improvements to increase capacity and improve reliability of rail passenger transportation in the Northeast Corridor, and another $656,000,000 for equipment, including overhauling and returning 45 passenger cars and five locomotives to service, upgrading and overhauling 231 passenger cars and 33 other locomotives, and purchasing 10 new trainsets, of which at least one fourth would be used for operations outside the Northeast Corridor (unless the USDOT secretary determined that demand for such operations outside the Northeast Corridor is less than 25 percent).

Biden's amendment would have provided $77,000,000 for incremental operating costs, including reservation centers, overtime compensation, and mechanical terminals (net of incremental revenues).

The final tally was $4.1 billion. It was not clear later Friday of Biden would introduce his amendment as a separate bill in the days ahead.


Twilight Shoreliner hits boulder;
security tightens systemwide
An Amtrak train traveling up to 90 miles an hour almost derailed early October 6 when it struck a boulder and wire fencing that had been placed on the tracks in North Kingstown, R.I., town police said.

Amtrak officials told the police that eastbound No. 66, the Twilight Shoreliner, struck the rock and fencing shortly around 5:15 a.m. on Saturday. No one was injured, but the engine was damaged as was a section of track, police said. The power was presumed to have been an AEM-7 electric engine. The train was enroute from Newport News, Va., to Boston, with intermediate stops in Washington, New York and Providence, among other locations.

"The rock was large enough that it would have taken at least two persons, or more, to move it," according to the police report.

The Providence Journal reported on October 12, "The rock was shattered upon impact. Some of the pieces left over were the size of a basketball."

Police said the engineer was shaken by the incident, and that smaller rocks, debris from the single large boulder, "were scattered over a 200-yard radius."

Amtrak police told North Kingstown police that similar incidents have occurred recently, and that they had made arrests in the Hunt River area, less than one mile east of the tracks in East Greenwich.

According to Amtrak police, a train passed along the adjacent track shortly before 1:00 a.m. and encountered no obstacles.

Meanwhile, Amtrak reported late last week it had established several security measures that will affect all employees and its passengers.

Management and rank-and-file are now required to wear their company photo identification card at all times while on Amtrak property.

Elsewhere, ticket agents will ask passengers 18 years and older for photo identification when selling tickets, checking baggage or sending packages. Anyone boarding at any station between Washington and Boston is required to have a ticket before boarding the train. Conductors will ticket no passengers aboard any train between Washington and Boston. In the rest of the system, passengers making on-board ticket purchases must provide the conductor with an acceptable photo ID, and people checking baggage or sending packages will be asked security questions similar to those asked by airline boarding agents.

The carrier is also producing a bomb threat card, which is being distributed to all employees to keep near their work phones.

Amtrak police has more uniformed officers aboard trains and in stations, and they are conducting inspections and sweeps of stations, facilities and aboard trains, as necessary.


Bill would repeal profitability law
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) says that Congress should repeal the law that requires Amtrak to become profitable by 2003 or face dissolution.

"I would suggest strongly that investment in Amtrak and high-speed rail makes more sense now than before this horrible tragedy... It was never a good idea, and in a time of crisis like this, it's a stupid idea," he said. According to a report by the Associated Press, "Even some critics of Amtrak say the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks highlighted the need to develop high-speed train service."

Paul Dempsey, director of the National Center for Intermodal Transportation at the University of Denver, noted, "The events of September 11 show us that we cannot rely solely upon one mode of transportation." The report stated Dempsey predicted that Amtrak will see "significant, long-term improvement in ridership."

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), a member of the House Transportation Committee, said he still favors dissolving Amtrak and turning passenger rail over to private companies.


Mineta proposes hazardous materials law
U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta last week sent to Congress proposed legislation that would strengthen security and safety in the transportation of the nation's hazardous materials.

"We are proposing tough actions to address the serious problem of undeclared or hidden shipments of hazardous materials," Mineta said. "We are also asking for more authority to stop and inspect shipments, important to both security and safety."

The DOT's proposed legislation would, he said, "Strengthen DOT inspectors' authority to inspect packages in transportation, provide those inspectors with authority to stop seriously unsafe transportation, and increase the maximum civil penalty for hazardous materials violations from $27,500 to $100,000."

He said it would also expand requirements for training persons involved in transporting hazardous materials, "strengthen the enforcement authority of DOT's state enforcement partners, and provide the U.S. Postal Service with civil penalty authority to effectively enforce its regulations on mail shipments of hazardous materials."

The proposed law would, he said, "address the current overlap of hazardous materials transportation regulations between DOT and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, except in certain areas, and specifically allow participation by states in a coordinated program of hazardous material carrier registrations and permits."

Ellen Engleman, administrator of DOT's Research and Special Programs said there are more than 800,000 shipments of hazardous material daily in the U.S.


Maine service inches yet closer
More than ten years after the first proposal surfaced to run passenger trains again between Portland, Maine and Boston, it looks like the plan will finally become reality.

Maine Gov. Angus King's office alerted the news media to a press conference on Thursday, but later scrubbed the meeting citing "difficulties in coordinating the attendance of all parties critical to the advancement of the project to the point a start-up date could be announced."

(Read: In short, not all the media could attend.)

Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority spokeswoman Patricia Douglas said she anticipated the conference to be rescheduled this week.

The four Amtrak trains, to be named Downeasters, will operate over 114 miles of track - 37 miles of MBTA rails between Boston's North Station and Haverhill, Mass., then on 77 miles of Guilford Transportation Industries iron to Sewall Street Station in Portland. The trains will be stopping in Haverhill as well as Dover, Durham and Exeter, N.H.; and Wells, Saco and Old Orchard Beach, Maine and the end points.

A third "cabbage car," 90220, arrived at Southampton Street Yard in Boston last week. It joined the 90213 and 90214, which have been plying the rails as Amtrak trains its crews. A cabbage car is a former F-40PH locomotive that has been de-engined, but keeps its train control apparatus. The former engine compartment has been transformed into a baggage storage area.

The last passenger service between Portland and Boston ended in 1965, and was operated by the Boston & Maine Railroad.


Penn Station gets a reprieve
First, the Postal Service said "Okay" to make part of the James A Farley General Post Office into a new Penn Station, then last week, citing damage on September 11 to other New York City post offices, the postal service said, "Stop," but last Thursday, the Postal Service did an about-face, renewing its commitment to the project.

"The Postal Service recognizes that this may be a unique opportunity to advance the project," said Postal's vice president, Rudy Umscheid, in a letter to Kevin Corbett of the Empire State Development Corp., according to the New York Daily News on Friday.

"We are prepared to negotiate in good faith," Umscheid wrote.

The flip-flop followed high-level lobbying by Gov. George Pataki, who raised the matter at a White House meeting on Thursday with "senior administration officials," according to Pataki spokesman Michael McKeon.

Former Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan wrote the plan to build the new Penn Station at the Farley site, which stretches along Eighth Avenue between West 31st and 33rd Streets. Madison Square Garden stands across the street, where the current Penn Station lies beneath.

The $788 million project earned the support of federal, state and city officials. Last March, the Pennsylvania Station Redevelopment Corp. announced the selection of a builder and architect, David Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in New York.

The design calls for a structure to be built atop the Farley building, and the Postal Service would keep two-thirds of the 1.4 million-square-foot facility for its own use, while the rest would be used as a station and for retail.

In a September 21 letter, Umscheid declared the project dead, citing the September 11 damage to the Church Street post office downtown, across the street from the World Trade Center. The Postal Service moved the Church Street operations to the Farley building and said it could not afford to give up the space.

The Postal Service also balked at terms of the deal, that called for it to sell the building for $140 million and remain rent-free for 15 years, but with no guarantee of a place to go after that.

Charles Gargano, head of the Empire State Development agency and Penn Station Redevelopment, complained that foot-dragging by the Postal Service had "been going on for months." He said, "We offered to buy the building at a rate much higher than its appraised value. We came up with a lot of schemes where they could afford to do it."

Pataki and Gargano spent yesterday in Washington, meeting with legislators and plugging the project along with relief for New York.

"At our meeting at the White House, one of the things that the governor raised specifically was the resistance at the Post Office that we were getting on Penn Station," McKeon said. "A couple hours later, we got a fax from the Post Office saying that they're prepared to sit down."

"I'm encouraged by the letter we received today. It hopefully means that they want to restart negotiations," Gargano said.

By October 9, Pataki had called out the National Guard to patrol Pennsylvania Station as well as Grand Central Terminal and a number of bridges and tunnels in New York City.


Freight lines...

Rails start moving hazardous cargo again;
remain on alert

"After restricting the movement of sensitive types of cargo for a limited time in order to assess the specific level of threat following military strikes in Afghanistan, the nation's freight railroads will resume accepting all shipments under continued heightened security."

So said Association of American Railroads' spokesperson Peggy Wilhide on Thursday in Washington. She added, "The voluntary restrictions were made in consultation with the USDOT and intelligence agencies in the interest of national security."

She noted the railroads "will continue to work closely with the nation's top transportation and security agencies to constantly monitor developments in surface transportation security," and reported "Attorney General John Ashcroft has asked the nation's law enforcement agencies, public utilities, airlines, railroads and other businesses to maintain the highest possible degree of vigilance, while continuing operations."

John Bromley, spokesman for Union Pacific Corp., said his railroad "had to assess the potential problems and whether there was any credible threat to the railroads as a result of the bombings of Afghanistan."

Bromley said, "This was a special event, and we wanted to make sure we were equipped to handle these special commodities," according to an Associated Press report.

The industry stopped transporting 46 kinds of "dangerous military goods and chemicals" when the attacks began, according to the National Industrial Transportation League, a shippers' trade group.

League spokesman Ed Rastatter said banned cargo included chlorine, certain pesticides and fuming sulfuric acid.

AAR's Tom White, also a spokesman for the trade organization, said many of the materials are essential to the economy.

"They have to move, and the railroad is the best way to move them," White said. "But we had to make sure we had the proper security measures in place first."

The AAR said it would continue to operate a 24-hour command center linked to federal national security personnel and the railroads' 24-hour operations centers. Meanwhile, railroad police everywhere are stepping up their surveillance, and the industry will continue to restrict access to its online systems.

Meanwhile the freight railroad industry is closely examining security in light of the new global terrorism threat, while keeping its transportation link operating smoothly, according to a new AAR report.

Testifying before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, AAR president and CEO Ed Hamberger told lawmakers that the industry reacted "swiftly to the events of September 11, in full cooperation with government authorities.

"In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, railroads tightened security, restricted access to important facilities, and intensified inspections across their systems," said Hamberger. At the same time, railroads also realized they had a responsibility to keep our nation's vital rail-transportation link open, and they have done so. Even in the hard-hit area of New York City, freight trains are again doing what they do every single day of the year - moving raw materials and products that sustain our nation's economy. The entire rail industry - passenger and freight, front line employees and management, customer and carrier reacted with courage and resolution."

He said Surface Transportation Board chairman Linda Morgan noted the efforts of the freight rail industry in recent weeks, highlighting the extensive operational planning undertaken by the railroads, including planning for military preparedness, various steps taken to enhance the security of rail facilities and the well-being of rail employees, the significant efforts by individual railroads to reach out proactively to their customers and communities through which they operate, and the various cooperative initiatives undertaken among the railroads to ensure that surface transportation and other needs are met.

In his testimony, Hamberger outlined the steps the rail industry is taking to determine how to best deal with the new threat of global terrorism

He said the AAR has hired experts in the areas of foreign intelligence and DoD operations to help assess operational and informational security. The industry has established a focused effort in five different areas.

Five teams will look at physical assets such as bridges, tunnels, control centers and dispatching centers, military operations to make sure critical lines used for defense purposes have the appropriate capacity and security, information technology and communications, operational security, and hazardous materials.

He added, "The industry is working with the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC), which provides an early warning and information sharing system for computer crimes and infrastructure protection," and serves as the nation's focal point for gathering information on threats to our infrastructure.

He said, "The AAR is in the process of establishing a similar system geared specifically to the rail industry, which is heavily dependent on advanced information systems and technology. ISAC (Information Sharing and Analysis Center) also will allow the railroad industry to share information on cyber threats and cyber terrorism, and coordinate responses.

"Each critical action team is assessing the short term and long term vulnerabilities in the areas of people, process, and technology and developing an array of countermeasures. These will be deployed to prevent, detect, and mitigate any terrorist attack," said Hamberger.

"Not withstanding all of our efforts, experts will tell you there is no 100 percent guarantee against terrorist assaults. Railroads already have in place practiced programs and procedures to protect the communities we serve and our employees, and to sustain the flow of freight."

Some of those include emergency response plans for hazardous materials incidents and natural disasters, operational administration redundancy, and the training of rail employees and public emergency response personnel.


Turtle won't stop Mojave Desert trains
The National Park Service will recommend that a high-speed Amtrak rail project be allowed to cross the Mojave National Preserve, despite concerns over the effect it could have on the habitat of the threatened desert tortoise. The federal agency is preparing a formal announcement of its environmental assessment of the proposal, indicating its "preferred alternative" is to allow the project to go forward, according to a report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal of October 6.

Under the proposal, the Union Pacific would double-track 22-miles along its 340-mile single-track route between Los Angeles and Las Vegas - in essence, a very long passing siding. The parallel track would be built about 35 miles west of the Nevada-California border in the Cima Hill section of the Mojave National Preserve.

If the project were approved, it would open the door for Amtrak to begin offering passenger rail service between Los Angeles and Las Vegas for the first time since 1997.

Environmentalists who have closely monitored the proposal said they were withholding judgment until they see details of the park's plan to mitigate the effects of the project on the desert tortoise and other indigenous species.

Amtrak first announced plans to offer the service in December 1999. Though sparse ridership had forced Amtrak to discontinue its Los Angeles-Las Vegas service in 1997, officials believed they could succeed where they had previously failed by cutting about two hours off the trip. The trip would take a little over five hours, compared with seven.

Nevada's congressional delegation had secured $5 million in federal funding for the new route and Amtrak had committed $28 million for the train system.

Amtrak also purchased 14 Spanish-made Talgo rail cars capable of speeds up to 125 mph. The railroad planned to start offering service in September 2000, until environmental issues delayed the project.

When the park service releases its assessment, environmentalists will be looking for the creation of additional tortoise habitat to replace that destroyed by the track and, perhaps, fencing to keep the reptiles from crawling onto the track, said desert ecologist Daniel Patterson of the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Ariz.

The park service will allow 30 days for the public to comment on the proposal. Then, based on the public response and a report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the park service will make its final decision.

Amtrak and UP officials said they are ready to begin the project as soon as the project is approved.


Lines across the pond...
Railtrack in the UK

NCI: Leo King

The tracks under the trains have fallen into desperate disrepair, and Railtrack, the privatized company charged with keeping the tracks in good repair, has been taken over by the UK government, and is one step away from again being nationalized. This train is at rest in Paddington Station, London, in July 2000.
Railtrack fails; crown seizes assets
Great Britain's scheme to make its railway infrastructure company a profit-making venture failed last week after the firm was placed into receivership.

Railtrack, the company that controls Britain's rail infrastructure, was put into an administrative hold by the British government. The government asked the British High Court to take the action after it refused to put any more money into the struggling company, the BBC reported on October 6.

Here in the U.S., the Amtrak Reform Council has recommended Amtrak be separated from its infrastructure by creating a separate entity that would be similar to the British model, a notion based on a highway model.

"Our action today will see the end of Railtrack. In my judgment, time had come to take back the track and put the interests of the traveling public first," said Stephen Byers, Secretary of State for Transport

The order means Railtrack is now under the control of government-appointed administrators, who will continue to run the railways.

Railtrack's publicly traded shares have been suspended, with the company's hundreds of thousands shareholders expected to get little, or possibly none, of their money back.

No job losses are expected at Railtrack, and rail services will be unaffected.

The court was told that the company needed £700 million in funds by December, rising to £1.7 billion by next March. Byers said he had turned down Railtrack's pleas for more money.

"For Railtrack, there will be no bail-out, no last-minute rescue deal paid for by the taxpayer," he said.

"Our action today will see the end of Railtrack. In my judgment, time had come to take back the track and put the interests of the traveling public first."

It is expected that Railtrack will be restructured into a non-profit making trust, where profits are reinvested rather than given to shareholders.

Railtrack's chairman John Robinson is expected to chair the new company, with the remaining directors chosen by the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA).

Byers hinted that reform in the rail industry could spread beyond Railtrack. "This is only one part of a fundamental restructuring of the rail industry. I intend to rationalize the present system of regulation to provide a more united approach, with stronger strategic direction while stopping the day-to-day interference in the industry."

Railtrack said it had no option but to accept Byers' action.

"The directors regret that the government felt compelled to take this action and to withdraw its support which has been fundamental to the financial viability of the group since privatisation," the company said.

Losing out are thousands of small private investors.

The company has about a quarter of a million shareholders, and the vast majority of them, some 254,000, hold less than 5,000 shares, controlling about 17 percent of the company.

Railtrack was a successful company in its first years of operating, but things started to go wrong in late 1999.

First came the Ladbroke Grove rail crash, which led to recommendations that billions of pounds be invested in safety systems. This was followed in October last year by the Hatfield crash, which was caused by a broken rail. That threw the UK rail network into chaos for months as tracks were repaired up and down the country, and led to the collapse of the company's share price.

Meanwhile, the cost of modernizing the West Coast mainline between London and Glasgow has rocketed, with the bill now standing at £6 billion.

Experts say Railtrack had "no hope" of raising the money needed to pay for the planned expansion of the railways. It means the government's target of carrying 50 percent more passengers in 10 years time cannot be achieved unless drastic action is taken.

Rise and fall of Railtrack

  • 1996: Privatized. Shares cost £3.80
  • Sep 1997: Southall crash kills seven
  • Oct 1998: Shares hit highs of £17
  • Oct 1999: Ladbroke Grove crash kills 31
  • Nov 1999: £1 million a day profits
  • Oct 2000: Hatfield crash kills four
  • May 2001: Posts first loss - £534 million
  • June 2001: Accused of "lamentable failure" in Ladbroke Grove report
  • June 2001: Boss Gerald Corbett resigns
  • July 2001: New boss John Robinson apologizes for "appalling" year
  • October 2001: Placed into receivership

Meanwhile, the government is facing an angry backlash from shareholders in Railtrack who appear to have been left with worthless paper after the government put the rail network operator into administration.

Investments totaling billions of pounds by major city institutions, big U.S. investment funds and 250,000 private investors, have been wiped out after the decision by the Treasury and by Transport Secretary Stephen Byers to call back £750 million of promised funding due to go into Railtrack's bank account last week and to end all future pledged funding.

Railtrack said on Thursday it 'reluctantly' accepted there was no credible alternative to being placed in administration. Management was said to be angry and shocked at the decision to end funding and instead turn the publicly traded company into a not-for-profit entity owned by the major stakeholders in the rail industry.

In restructuring the company, the government will underwrite Railtrack's £3.3 billion of debt owed to lending banks and bondholders, but there will be nothing for the equity holders.

Railtrack insiders said they believed the government acted "dishonorably" and that investors - Fidelity of the U.S. and Standard Life among its largest - were likely to have a strong case for compensation.

Railtrack's Robinson pledged to act on shareholders' behalf. He said the government's decision to ignore shareholders' claims was "inadvisable and I have told them so," adding, "I would not be surprised if shareholders are angry."


Talgo gets a 'T' contract
Talgo reported last Wednesday in Madrid that it and Siemens Transportation Systems have agreed to jointly take on a $172 million contract to make light rail trains for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), according to wire service reports.

The partners will supply 94 subway coaches with spare parts, and have the option to repair another 24 existing cars. The MBTA has also an option to buy up to another 94 cars. The contract is worth around $100 million for Talgo's U.S. unit in the Pacific Northwest, and will mean the company takes on another 100 workers, Talgo said.


Off the main line...

Fast trains start appearing in ads

This ad for Hitachi computer products has begun appearing in U.S. magazines and on TV. We can't recall when a non-railroad advertiser used an image of a train - a real train - in a pitch, which appeared in Newsweek magazine in its September 24 issue. The single-paragraph text states in part, "Speed and reliability. Two things we all want, and two things Hitachi delivers over and over. They're what give the Bullet train its legendary performance and safety, even at speeds up to 177 mph. They're also built into our semiconductors such as the high-performance microprocessor, SuperH. So you can process and store your valuable and irreplaceable data at the highest speeds with total confidence. Whether we're transporting you or your data, you can always count on Hitachi for speed and reliability."


Turning the tables on time
For the first time in more than 50 years, a turntable designed for a steam engine will be installed in the Deep South in Summerville, a small city in northwest Georgia.

The Chattanooga & Chickamauga Railroad, of nearby Chattanooga, and Summerville town fathers broke ground a fortnight ago on a 90-ton, 100-foot-long railroad turntable in the city's Dowdy Park. The community and the railroad are sharing the cost of the turntable, which should be operating by late spring. The project has been in the works for nearly three years, and its total cost will exceed $250,000.

A steam engine tugs an excursion train to Trion, with only one trip each year to Summerville, but once it reaches Summerville, the train has to get pulled by a diesel engine all 55 miles back to Chattanooga.

"A steam engine is a forward-going machine and doesn't like to go backwards," said Bob Soule, president of the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum in Chattanooga.

The locomotive engineer will run the engine onto the turntable, in reality, a movable bridge. Then, other workers will start the turntable's pair of 25-horsepower motors to spin the locomotive 180 degrees.

"The last batch of turntables was manufactured in 1916," Soule said.

"The one Summerville is getting was manufactured for the Louisville & Nashville, and has been in Birmingham for the past few decades. The turntable became obsolete after the early 1950s. The one in Summerville is in excellent condition."


Meetings...

October 16, 17

Passenger trains on freight railroads

Railway Age conference
Washington Marriott Hotel
Washington, D.C.

Guest speakers to include White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card (and former USDOT secretary).

Claytor award for distinguished service to HEW Secretary Tommy Thompson, former Amtrak board chairman.

Register at http://www.railwayage.com or call Jane Potereala at (212)-620-7209.


October 17, 18

FRA Technical Symposium -
Enhanced weather information
for improved railroad safety and productivity

Nation Center for Atmospheric Research
Boulder, Col.
Contact Barbara Middlebrook at
bmiddle@ucar.edu or call 303- 497-2810


November 1

RPI annual meeting, banquet

Washington Hilton and Towers
Washington D.C.
Call 703 836 2322 or fax 703 5498 0058


Letters...

Dear Editor:

When referring to the "Readville" yards (as in the article appearing in D:F on October 8, some additional description may be helpful to readers.

There are, at least in the minds of abutters in that neighborhood, three such yards or divisions in that part of Boston.

One is the original "Readville Shops" yard, which was operated over a generation ago for train servicing, and which is still used mostly for storage of rail construction materials, and to loop freight consists.

The car barns burned down decades ago and it remains mostly an open yard. This yard parallels the Franklin branch.

A second yard is actually partly in Readville and in Dedham close to the Stop & Shop Supermarket chain warehouse and parallels the eastbound side of the main line just west (south) of Readville.

The third, which the article refers to, is operated by the MBTA as a service, repair, and construction facility, which parallels the Readville line [Dorchester Branch] into Boston.

What I found interesting about the article is that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is holding the MBTA responsible for pollution issues. Certainly, there may be some substance to the complaint, however, Grant Construction, which still maintains some property adjacent to the MBTA shops, formerly operated the land the shops sit on. Grant is a regional heavy construction, demolition, and scrap metal service.

The Grant company used the land, which is now occupied by the MBTA, for decades, as a part of their heavy demolition services. It was a scrap metal yard, and more than likely containing all forms of chemicals dating back to a time when there were few, if any, pollution laws, let alone standards for testing. Most troubling is that this yard sits on a watershed for the Neponset River.

The MBTA is a relatively new occupant of that land which raises the question of whether all pollution found there is actually their fault or that of the prior landowner. An interesting situation.

Dennis Kirkpatrick
Boston, MA.

Mr. Kirkpatrick is NCI's webmaster and Destination: Freedom's layout designer. - Ed.


The way we were...

South Station tracks, platforms change over the years;
fewer trains today vs. one century ago

South Station under construction

NCI photos by Leo King

In the early to mid 1990s, Amtrak sold it air rights over South Station's tracks in Boston. Seventeen tracks were removed to make room for 12 high-platformed tracks, but a bus station that went up permanently obscured the open view from the platforms. Little by little, the trackside view disappeared.

The Boston Terminal Co., a consortium of the Boston & Albany Railroad (eventually to become part of the New York Central), the New York, New Haven & Hartford, the Old Colony (leased two years earlier by the New Haven), New England Railroad Co., and the Boston & Providence, completed plans in April 1897 for a new terminal on Boston's south side which would consolidate passenger train operations from four different stations. A bronze tablet in South Station's concourse attests to the railroads involved.

South Station under construction

The spiffy new station opened on Summer Street some 25 tracks wide, and even included a loop track, which eventually was doomed to failure, running under the station.

The steam engine-drawn commuter trains ran to and fro, from Boston to Framingham over the B&A; the NYC's New England States operated to Chicago. Southward, OC trains ran to Fall River and Newport, and a myriad of other branch lines serving commuters.

South Station under construction

The NYNH&H ran fast hourly service to New York's Grand Central Station along the Shore Line. Some even went over the branch at New Rochelle to the Pennsylvania Railroad's Penn Station, and continued on to Washington. Consider Pennsy's The Senator, a premium train with all the amenities.

That was before cars and buses came along.

By the 1950s, hardly anyone was riding trains. Land was sold off. Where the Post Office is now, adjacent to South Station, and the Gillette Razor Co., was all railroad property once upon a time.

South Station under construction

Wonder of wonders - trains began to make a comeback in the 1990s, especially commuter trains. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts put big money into its trains and tracks, created the Massachusetts Transit Authority, which later became the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority - a state-operated system that extended into it's poor neighbor, Rhode Island. The trains were back.

- Leo King


End Notes...

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

Destination: Freedom is partially funded by the Surdna Foundation, and other contributors.

Journalists and others who wish to receive high quality NCI-originated images that appear in Destination: Freedom may do so at a nominal fee of $10.00 per image. "True color" .jpg images average 1.7MB each, and are 300 dots-per-inch for print publishers.

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

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


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