Vol. 5 No. 41
October 18, 2004

Copyright © 2004
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

Destination:Freedom
The E-Zine of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - Jim RePass      Editor - Leo King
Webmaster - Dennis Kirkpatrick

A weekly North American rail and transit update

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

* Now in our Fifth Year *

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

 

Winning Image

Scott Hartley: Amtrak Ink

Scott Hartley won this year’s Amtrak photo contest with a photo of an Empire Service train along the Hudson River.

 

Hartley wins Amtrak photo contest

Trains magazine correspondent and frequent contributor Scott Harley of Connecticut is the winner of this year’s Amtrak photo contest. His winning photo will appear on the passenger railroad’s 2005 wall calendar, which will showcase an Empire Service train as it travels along the Hudson River in New York. The first-prize winning photograph is of a southbound train as it passes Bannerman’s Castle on Pollepel Island, about 55 miles north of midtown Manhattan.

Amtrak Ink says the railroad’s “Picture Our Train” 2005 Wall Calendar Contest drew more entries than last year and ended with five prize-winners, including second-place winner Michael McFadden; third-place winner Phil Gosney; fourth-place winner Mark Meyer; and fifth-place winner Michael Rapchak, Jr.


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The New York Times:

Amtrak pays millions for others’ fatal errors

In a continuing major series of articles dealing with “Death on the tracks,” The New York Times reported on Friday it is no mystery why, one spring day two years ago, an Amtrak passenger train jumped the tracks near Crescent City, Fla., and skidded to a stop on its side, killing 4 people and injuring 142.

Investigators concluded that the track, owned by the big freight railroad CSX, had not been properly stabilized and that management’s oversight of maintenance had been lax – but when millions of dollars in damage claims arose from the crash, it was not CSX, a multibillion-dollar corporation, that paid them. It was Amtrak, the perennial money loser that survives only with regular infusions of cash from American taxpayers.

The Times reporter Walt Bogdanich recalled that three months later, it happened again. Poor track maintenance by CSX caused an Amtrak train to derail in Maryland, investigators said, injuring nearly 100 people. Again, Amtrak covered claims against CSX.

In accident after accident, in derailments and grade-crossing collisions, CSX and other major freight railroads have used Amtrak to shield themselves from tens of millions of dollars in liability, an examination by The New York Times has found.

For three decades, Amtrak has been paying these liability claims, regardless of fault, as a condition for using the freight lines’ tracks. Not only do these payments shift the burden of paying for negligence from profitable corporations to taxpayers, they remove an incentive for railroads to keep their tracks safe.

There has never been a full accounting of these payments. Even Amtrak officials could not say how much the arrangement, known as indemnification, has cost the railroad, which needed $1.2 billion in government subsidies this year to stay afloat.

An analysis by The Times of records obtained through the federal Freedom of Information Act found that Amtrak has paid more than $186 million since 1984 for accidents blamed entirely or mostly on others. In each instance, freight railroads were accused of playing the major or a contributing role in causing those accidents, which killed 53 people and injured nearly 1,300, according to court records, government investigators and lawyers for crash victims.

Most of those accidents were not covered by Amtrak’s insurance, an Amtrak spokesman said, and the $186 million reflects only part of Amtrak’s costs stemming from accidents. The figure does not include payments made before 1984, outstanding claims from recent accidents, settlements of less than $100,000, the cost of repairing damaged Amtrak equipment and legal bills for defending the freight railroads in court.

These indemnity agreements represent another way in which some of the nation’s freight railroads side-step responsibility in accidents. In July, The Times reported that railroads had destroyed, mishandled or simply lost evidence in grade-crossing accidents and had also failed to properly report hundreds of accidents to federal authorities.

Freight railroads have long had the political muscle to insist that Amtrak, which is beholden to Congress for its survival, indemnify them for accident claims. In 1997, after a federal judge questioned the legality of granting railroads blanket immunity, Congress rose to the defense of the freight railroads, passing a bill that, among other things, reaffirmed Amtrak’s legal right to indemnify the freight lines.

Two years later, Amtrak officials said they had no choice but to cover $63.8 million in punitive damages, including interest, after CSX was found to have caused a fatal Amtrak crash in Lugoff, S.C. A judge called CSX’s negligence “borderline criminal.”

“It’s a bitter pill to swallow,” said an Amtrak spokesman, Cliff Black. “It hurts our bottom line. It hurts our treasury.”

Amtrak says it has received about $8 billion in government support over the last decade, and last year alone paid about $100 million to use their tracks.

The freight railroads say indemnification merely protects them from risks they would not face if Congress had not insisted that Amtrak, which owns little track of its own, use their rails. Congress, CSX said in a statement, “balanced that demand on private property by calling upon passenger railroads to bear the costs of insuring against potential liabilities.”

The entire lengthy article appears in Friday’s NYT, and can be found online at http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/15/national/15rail.html?hp&ex=1097899200&en=b1694b3d228bad11&ei=5094&partner=homepage. – Ed.


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Towers collapse; suspect sabotage

A pair of electrical worker’s gloves with the initials “B.G.” and a metal punch have been found near where two electrical towers fell near Milwaukee on October 2.

UPI reported on Thursday investigators found the gloves about 75 feet away from the transmission towers and believe they are related to what authorities suspect was a case of sabotage that blacked out 17,000 homes and businesses, including Milwaukee’s Mitchell International Airport, for part of the weekend.

Police have not ruled out terrorism in the incident that dropped electrical wires on railroad tracks used by Amtrak and Canadian Pacific trains.

“We believe they are related to the case, an FBI special agent told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Pewaukee-based American Transmission Co. is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to conviction of the vandal. Replacing the two 80-foot electric transmission towers in Oak Creek will cost the company about $300,000.

On October 12, the Belleville News-Democrat reported both high-voltage transmission towers that toppled over disrupted Amtrak service between Milwaukee and Chicago.

“It definitely looks like they were tampered with,” said Oak Creek Police Chief Thomas Bauer. The Joint Terrorism Task Force and the FBI have joined the investigation.

American Transmission’s Maripat Blankenheim said, “This is extremely crucial information. This type of activity cannot be allowed to continue.”

Bauer said bolts were removed from a plate that connects the legs at the base of the 80-foot towers. He said the bolts were standard, two-inch bolts that could be removed with a common wrench. He declined to say how many were removed.

“It does look like it‘s for the purpose of weakening the structure so it would fall,“ Bauer said.

FBI Special Agent Jeffrey Troy said his agency has issued a general warning to other municipalities to be on the lookout for tampering with infrastructure. He said FBI offices nationwide were alerted.

One transmission tower fell on another one Saturday, which took out some distribution lines, officials said.

Blankenheim said the towers were last inspected by air in the spring and were fine then.

Downed wires lay across railroad tracks throughout much of the day Sunday, putting passenger and freight trains from Amtrak and Canadian Pacific Ry. on hold for 26 hours, Bauer said. The trains resumed Sunday night after authorities cut the wires.

All 10 Amtrak trains traveling between Milwaukee and Chicago were canceled Sunday, said spokeswoman Marcie Golgoski in Washington.

About 17,000 “We Energies” customers, including the General Mitchell International Airport, were without power for about four hours Saturday night. The outage shut down screening equipment at the airport and flights were delayed as passengers and luggage were hand screened, said Pat Rowe, airport spokeswoman.


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Menendez wants $5.2 billion
for national rail, bus security

New Jersey Transit and the nation’s other rail and bus agencies would be eligible for billions of dollars in new federal funding to help cover increased security costs, under legislation proposed by Rep. Robert Menendez (D-NJ). Menendez said the legislation, after the Madrid train bombings earlier this year that killed 200 people, is necessary because rail and bus security has been woefully under funded since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Under Menendez’s proposal, $5.2 billion would be available for transit agencies to beef up security over the next five years with another $800 million available each year for security operating expenses, according to the Newark Star-Ledger and The AP of October 13.

Eligible operating costs would include salaries and overtime for law enforcement officers, helicopter patrols and K-9 patrols.

New Jersey would get $75 million a year under the Menendez bill, NJT Executive Director George Warrington said.

“There is no way we can afford the risk,” said Menendez, emphasizing the potential vulnerability of rail tunnels in the New York, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., areas.

“We just don’t have the wherewithal to deal with – God forbid – an emergency there,” he added.

The legislation, which will not be addressed before the November 2 election, would include $670 million for safety upgrades to those tunnels.

Menendez, a member of the House Transportation Committee, said trains and buses have far more daily riders, some 30 million, compared to roughly 1.8 million air travelers per day.

“It’s not even a Band Aid,” Menendez said of current transit security funding levels, which he estimated at only $115 million since 9/11. “We’re going to get a rail security bill out.”

Federal spending per capita to protect air travelers is nearly a thousand times greater than comparable spending to protect trains, subways, buses and ferries, or $9 per air traveler versus less than 1 cent per bus or train passenger, Menendez said.

There have been 309 transportation-related terror attacks, with 655 fatalities, since September 11, the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism in Oklahoma City reported yesterday. During the same period, according to the institute, airports and airlines were attacked 39 times, with a total of 30 fatalities.

Chip Ellis, the institute’s research and program director, said the figures do not include the August 24 downing of two Russian airliners, which killed 90 people.


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Rx express’ takes seniors to Canada;
man gripes about Amtrak requirements

David Mathis came to the Orlando, Fla., Amtrak station on October 12 with two suitcases, six written prescriptions and his doctors’ blessings.

The 77-year-old Ocoee, Fla., man boarded the so-called Rx Express for Canada, wrote the Orlando Sentinel’s Robyn Shelton, where he hoped to buy his medications for less than he pays in Florida. A consumer group that is pushing for lower drug prices in the U.S organized the trip.

In Toronto store

The group of U.S. patients frustrated with the cost of drug therapy at home descended on a downtown Toronto pharmacy Thursday to send a message to American political leaders – and fill their prescriptions at the same time. Canadian Press reported on Friday more than two-dozen patients headed to the nearest Shoppers Drug Mart for drugs costing up to 60 per cent less than what they pay at home.

“This is a political statement,” said Jerry Flanagan, a U.S. consumer advocate who helped organize the so-called Rx Express, which collected patients from a number of U.S. states on its way to Canada’s most populous city.

“It’s a rolling protest, the Rx Express, to send a message to our political leaders that we shouldn’t have to travel 3,000 miles.”

The group chose Shoppers, one of Canada’s most familiar storefronts, to help counter suggestions in the U.S. that Canadian drugs are unsafe, Flanagan said.

“We wanted to come to a pharmacy where we could demonstrate to the American people that it’s just like any pharmacy you would see back in the United States.”

The U.S. government currently prohibits the re-importation of drugs from Canada, arguing there are safety concerns. Nevertheless, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said Americans can travel to Canada to buy a three-month supply of drugs with a valid prescription verified by a Canadian doctor.

They argue that Canadian prescription drugs are 30 to 60 per cent cheaper because Ottawa buys drugs in bulk from pharmaceutical companies which lowers retail costs for consumers, and they want the U.S. government to do the same.

“It’s as much as saying, ‘Yeah, we know you have a problem, but you’ll have to deal with it on your own,”’ said Mildred Fruhling, an Edison, N.J., resident who joined the excursion to show her support and lend her voice to the protest.

She said, “Wal-Mart reduces prices through bulk buying, Costco does it, the Veteran’s Administration in the United States does it, but Medicare enrollees are not entitled to it? There’s something wrong.”

They’ll all fly back home on various airlines.

“My doctors have been very supportive,“ said Mathis, who estimates that he spends about $300 a month on medications for a heart condition and other ailments. He hopes to save as much as 50 percent.

“My 97-year-old mother passed away just last year and her drug costs were about $500 a month,“ Mathis said. “So I‘m well aware of how high drug costs can break a budget.”

By the time the train reached New York State, though, attitudes had changed.

The AP reported its organizers were claiming Amtrak made them, “The Little Engine That Couldn’t Talk to the Press.”

The whistle-stop tour began Monday in Miami on Amtrak train No. 98, the Silver Meteor, with two private cars coupled on. Members of the group got out at stops to talk to local press about their desire to get cheaper prescription drugs, a charged issue in the presidential campaign.

Group organizer Jerry Flanagan claimed that once they reached upstate New York, Amtrak officials began barring press from speaking to them on the platform, and wouldn’t let them off the train when they stopped in Rochester.

“They have locked the door that connects us and they’re not letting us off. We’re literally prisoners on board the train,” said Flanagan.

He said his group resorted to tossing leaflets out of windows at reporters.

Amtrak, a government-funded company, denied the charges.

“He is completely, flat-out lying,” responded spokeswoman Marcie Golgoski.

Golgoski said they have not denied the group any rights allowed to other passengers, just tried to enforce their own security rules and keep the trains running on time.

“He has been breaking every policy that Amtrak set forth,” she said.

The group of about 20 elderly people were traveling to Toronto to buy drugs at cheaper Canadian prices. The U.S. government does not allow re-importation of such drugs from Canada, arguing there are safety concerns.

Some Democrats and northern lawmakers argue the Bush administration should remove the bar on ordering drugs from north of the border. To answer concerns about rising prices, the administration has offered a new drug discount card for purchases in the U.S.

Currently, many U.S. citizens who live near Canada cross the border regularly to fill three-month prescriptions.

“The point of this trip is to make sure we don’t have to have a trip to Canada in the future,“ said Flanagan.

Under pressure from the pharmaceutical industry, President Bush opposed bulk purchasing in the 2003 Medicare prescription drug law which banned the Medicare program from negotiating discounts with pharmaceutical companies, organizers said.

While Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and the Democratic Presidential candidate has supported changes to the Medicare drug law to allow bulk discounting, neither he nor President Bush has supported a program that would allow every American to participate regardless of age. Bush’s campaign has received $871,824 from pharmaceutical companies since 2000, while Kerry has received $349,312.

The Rx Express reached Toronto on October 13, after picking up patients and making stops in dozens of cities throughout Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, D.C., Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. On Thursday, riders will meet with a Canadian physician and then go to a pharmacy to purchase their medications.

In New York City, the cars were transferred to train No. 63, the Maple Leaf, for Toronto.


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Canadian reporter rides ‘granny train’

Aboard the Silver Meteor – At the age of 78, when she thought she’d be living carefree under California‘s palm trees, Carole Jaquez’s life has taken an unexpected twist: She has turned into a drug smuggler.

In a couple of days this frail grandmother from Apple Valley, Calif., will be in Toronto, stuffing prescription drugs into her handbag and crossing back into the U.S., hoping the border guard won‘t suspect a wispy-haired senior of being loaded with contraband.

Toronto Star reporter Miro Cernetig told his readers on October 12 she wasn’t alone on her prescription drug run.

Shortly after sunrise yesterday [Saturday – Ed.], Amtrak’s Silver Meteor train left Miami, picking up dozens of other retired and ailing Americans along the East Coast for a three-day, 2,175-mile trek to Canada. They are representatives of the U.S.’s latest underclass – the drug-needy.

On Thursday morning they will descend upon a still-unnamed Toronto pharmacy, with their doctors’ prescriptions in hand, to load up on a three-month supply of meds.

Then they will smuggle their small stash of pills and vials back to the U.S. They will be violating a U.S. law that bans Americans from bringing in prescription drugs from outside the country.

“I never dreamed I’d be in this position,“ said Jaquez, a former college counselor, who has no insurance for the more than $400 (U.S.) in prescription drugs she takes each month for high blood pressure, asthma and other ailments that come with aging.

“I‘ve been stopped at the border and made to feel like a drug smuggler, but the costs of drugs in America are just out of control. By buying in Canada, I can save maybe $200 a month. It’s a lot of money when you‘re retired.”

Welcome to America’s other war on drugs.

Faced with drug prices that have soared almost 200 per cent in the past dozen years, America’s sick and retired are increasingly revolting against the $180-billion pharmaceutical industry, which often charges Americans 30 to 60 per cent more than the price of the same drugs in Canada.

Leading the revolt is The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a nonpartisan pressure group that invited Jaquez and two-dozen other Americans on the trip.

Their aim is to pressure both Republican and Democratic leaders in Washington to adopt a Canadian-style system of buying drugs, that is, buying in bulk to negotiate better prices for U.S. citizens.

“We want to put this issue on the political agenda,“ said Jerry Flanagan, the spokesman for the group, which is paying the passengers’ expenses.

“People shouldn’t have to go to Canada for cheap drugs. Canada is proof there is a better way.”


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Train Dispatch

Amtrak Ink: Sharon Slaton

At Chicago’s 14th Street Operations Center, Train Director Diane D’Andrea monitors the Michigan Line console control that allows her to view the position of trains, and via remote control, initiate switch and signal changes that direct train movements.

 

Project reaches midpoint:

Amtrak takes control of Michigan line;
Chicago train directors control moves

Amtrak’s Central Division Transportation and Engineering forces have reached the midpoint of a long-term plan to consolidate the Chicago Operations Center’s six dispatching locations into a new 24-hour modern facility located within Chicago’s 14th Street Mechanical and Transportation facility at the Chicago Yards.

In February 2004, Amtrak began dispatching eight Michigan service trains and one local freight train that operate over the Michigan Line – 100 miles of Amtrak-owned track from Porter, Ind., to Kalamazoo, Mich., writes Amtrak Ink in its October issue, a monthly news magazine for employees.

Previously dispatched by Norfolk Southern Ry. from Amtrak’s Trail Creek Drawbridge Tower in Michigan City, Ind., this territory is now in the hands of Amtrak train directors.

Closing the tower and relocating the dispatching duties to the new center in Chicago enables Amtrak to control movement of all trains traveling over its own track outside of the Northeast Corridor and brings the Operations Center one step closer to centralizing the operation.

“We’re controlling our own destiny by eliminating the middleman,” said Trainmaster Tom Pape. In the past, an NS operator at the tower received directions from his or her dispatcher in Dearborn, Mich. who, in turn, notified Amtrak. Now, train directors in Chicago make all of the decisions regarding trains movements across that territory.

“It’s easier for us. If there’s a problem, our train directors can address it immediately,” Pape continued.

The new facility is equipped with the latest technology that includes dedicated communication lines between the dispatching center and the Michigan Line, and a Train Control System that enables train directors to remotely control bridge operations as well as train movements. A digital subscriber line (DSL) and five cameras were also installed at Trail Creek to enable train directors to monitor the marine traffic in the creek via the computer system at the Chicago Operations Center.

“The infrastructure, built with the capacity to support all six dispatching centers, is insulated from all commercial power outages,” said Division Engineer Dave Klouda. The facility is constructed with back-up generators to provide continuous power supply and its own separate heating and air-conditioning systems. “If the whole city of Chicago goes dark due to a power outage,” added Klouda, “we can still dispatch trains.”

In preparation for controlling the Michigan Line operation, between March and July, five train director trainees and four transportation managers completed five weeks of intense training on Northeast Operating Rules Advisory Committee (NORAC) operating rules, the program that governs railroad operations – the directions on how to safely run a railroad.

While different sections of the NORAC rulebook apply to various users including train directors, conductors, engineers and maintenance-of-way employees, train directors are required to be versed in all areas.

In addition to the five-week program conducted by the System Rules department in Chicago, the trainees also underwent three weeks of schooling at the Wilmington Training Center. To better understand the territory and the operation, train directors also spent a week with the NS operator at the drawbridge tower.

Diane D’Andrea qualified as a train director in July and described the training, and the job, as very demanding.

“We were tested every day,” said D’Andrea.

“After working 33 years in functions like the ticket office and crew assignment, I worked hard to understand railroad procedures and terms that were totally unfamiliar to me. But, in the end, it was worth it. I love the job and I’m glad I found the tenacity to succeed.”

The transportation managers, who had previously gone through NORAC training, operated the Michigan Line dispatching center until all the trainees became qualified in July. They were also responsible for drafting the Amtrak Michigan Line Train Director’s Manual, a reference guide for the incoming train directors, and the Michigan Line Timetable that outlines the schedules of operation.

To relocate the dispatching center, Deputy Division Engineer Bob Olson and his signal team moved the computer systems from the Drawbridge Tower to the 14th Street Operations Center. The signal crew also instructed the train directors how to use the newly installed computer system to apply and remove temporary speed orders (sometimes called temporary speed restrictions). These orders are applied in a variety of situations, such as when maintenance-of-way work requires a reduction in train speed, or when there is a change or defect in track conditions.

Drawbridge Tower is the third of six interlocking towers to be closed as part of the centralization project, which began six years ago when Amtrak’s Lumber and Harrison Street towers closed. The block operators controlled Amtrak’s five-mile stretch of track at the Chicago Terminal. After shutting down these locations, the dispatching functions were shifted to Amtrak train directors at the existing Lake Street Tower.

Last year, the New Orleans Tower that controlled the tracks at New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal closed, and dispatching over that section of track was done by remote control at Chicago’s 24-hour 21st Street Tower, which also handles train movement for a mile-long section of track near the tower.

In 2005, the 21st Street operation will be relocated to the 14th Street Yard, and plans are in place to consolidate the Lake Street location to the Chicago Operations Center by the summer of 2006.

“We’re halfway there – once all the train directors are in one location, we will be able to support a 24-hour operation, provide improved supervision and oversight while taking advantage of increased efficiency and the newest technology,” said operations superintendent Travis Hinton.

Published with permission from Amtrak. – Ed.


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25 million: new Amtrak record

Amtrak said last week it set a new ridership record – 25 million people riding the rails.

In a press release on Thursday, the carrier stated it again showed “strong demand for passenger trains in 46 states…25,053,564 passengers rode Amtrak trains between October 2003 through September 2004.”

That figure is an increase of 4.3 percent “and exceeds by more than one million passengers the previous record of 24,028,119 set in the last fiscal year.

“We are very happy with our ridership numbers. The increases have been across all our services – corridor trains as well as long-distance trains,” said David L. Gunn, Amtrak President and CEO.

Gunn said, “The numbers show that people like their trains, and our challenge over the near term is to keep our costs under control while improving the service for our passengers.”

He observed, “The ridership increases are especially noteworthy because they came during efforts to restore the fleet, bring Amtrak facilities back to a state of good repair and while several major service disruptions occurred.”

The series of tropical storms and hurricanes across Florida and the southeast in August and September led to canceling 147 trains, with another 178 trains truncated or operated short of their normal destinations. The four daily round-trips to Florida by the Silver Star, Silver Meteor, Auto Train and Palmetto represent more than a third of Amtrak’s long-distance business.

In addition, the Silver Meteor was unable to operate in parts of April, May and June because CSX Transportation took part of the route it uses out of service for scheduled track work.

A portion of the Los Angeles-Seattle Coast Starlight route – owned by Union Pacific Railroad – was out of service for nearly two weeks because of a tunnel fire. During that time, 19 trains were truncated. Also on the West Coast, San Joaquin service between Oakland and Bakersfield was disrupted for Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Ry. track work scheduled in January and for unscheduled repairs in June.

Political conventions in Boston and New York also resulted in reduced ridership. Trips through New York City declined 27 percent during the days of the Republican National Convention.

Despite those issues and significant delays operating over many congested sections of freight railroads outside the Amtrak-owned Northeast Corridor, ridership rose by 4.4 percent on short distance services and increased by 3.3 percent on long distance trains.

The premium Boston-New York-Washington Acela Express showed a ridership gain of 8.7 percent, with more than 2.5 million passengers on America’s newest and fastest trains. On the same corridor, with Boston-New York-Washington regional service trains also serving Springfield, Mass., and Richmond and Newport News, Va., ridership exceeded 6.4 million passengers, an increase of 9.5 percent.

Elsewhere, all three routes in Michigan showed increases in double digits, including the new state-supported Port Huron-East Lansing-Chicago Blue Water, which replaced the International train on that route.

Other state-supported trains showing double-digit increases are the Oklahoma City-Fort Worth Heartland Flyer (up 16.8 percent) and the Raleigh-Charlotte Piedmont in North Carolina (up 14.5 percent) and the Chicago-Carbondale Illini in Illinois (up 10.3 percent).

In the California Corridors, the San Diego-Santa Barbara Pacific Surfliner service carried more than 2.3 million passengers, an increase of 7.6 percent. The Oakland-San Jose Capitol Corridor service had more than 1.1 million passengers, a gain of 2.3 percent.

A change for the Cardinal to extend its eastern terminus to New York from Washington helped improve ridership by 23.1 percent for the three-days-weekly train that originates in Chicago.

Other overnight trains with large gains in ridership include the New York-Orlando-Miami Silver Star (up 19.7 percent) and New York-Tampa-Miami Palmetto (up 19 percent), both due in part to the temporary suspension of Silver Meteor service. The Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited was up 17.4 percent for the fiscal year.

The Chicago-Seattle-Portland Empire Builder had the highest ridership of all Amtrak long-distance services, with 437,191 passengers in the fiscal year, a 5.2 percent increase.

 
Service
 
Operations
Trains
Late
Percent
Late
Fiscal Yr.
On Time
Goal
On Time
Acela Express73616877.274.394.0
Auto Train342526.545.870.0
Cal Zephyr605213.325.870.0
Capitol Ltd604131.733.370.0
Capitols6667089.585.685.0
Cardinal26.676.943.870.0
Carolinian603050.031.985.0
Cascades3306680.062.385.0
City of New Orleans60.493.367.570.0
Clocker/Keystone59215573.875.590.0
Coast Starlight604131.722.470.0
Crescent542455.663.970.0
Downeaster2401494.291.785.0
Empire Service68528258.866.685.0
Empire Builder1201587.563.570.0
Heartland Flyer58.591.476.385.0
Hiawatha4123890.893.085.0
Hoosier State341361.853.085.0
Illinois/Mo.3009668.058.785.0
Lake Shore Ltd.1189916.125.270.0
Metroliner1232579.774.794.0
Michigan29916245.854.985.0
Pacific Surfliner69411084.186.985.0
Pennsylvanian584031.042.185.0
Piedmont601476.772.685.0
Regional1,59232579.676.790.0
San Joaquins35913363.056.185.0
Silver Service1199817.629.970.0
Southwest Chief601771.756.470.0
Sunset Ltd.26253.84.370.0
Texas Eagle.601771.762.770.0
Three Rivers582753.449.370.0






ALL8,2132,23772.870.785.0

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Florida ‘bullet train’ faces
high-powered business foes

Business interests including The Villages, Moving Florida, Universal City Development Partners and Anheuser-Busch Cos., Inc. have joined forces for a common cause: defeat high-speed rail in Florida.

The businesses – now a powerful consortium – all are major contributors to two political action committees, and both created in the last two years for the express purpose of rolling back a 2000 ballot initiative that created a Constitutional amendment authorizing Florida to build a $25 billion high-speed rail project.

Noelle C. Haner, reporting from Tallahassee for the Orlando Business Journal, wrote last week with the indirect and direct lobbying clout of Gov. John E. “Jeb” Bush and Tom Gallagher, the state’s chief financial officer, businesses and individuals have poured more than $3.3 million into DeRail the Bullet Train and Floridians for Responsible Spending, according to records from the Florida Department of State’s elections division.

Next month, Floridians will head to the polls in yet another vote on high-speed rail. In essence, Amendment 6 asks state residents to repeal their 2000 votes.

With a total of $900,000 in PAC contributions to date, The Villages, a 45-year-old sprawling 40,000-resident retirement community that straddles Lake, Sumter and Marion counties, by far tops the list.

After The Villages, the biggest contributors have been a group of companies specializing in road construction – Moving Florida – with $755,000 to both PACs. Universal has contributed $520,639, and Anheuser-Busch, the owner of SeaWorld, has given $400,000.

Sarah Bascom, a spokeswoman with Voters for Responsible Spending, insists the groups’ contributors go far beyond party and business lines.

“We have received support from numerous Republicans and Democrats,” she says.

While it is not immediately clear why The Villages has invested so much money in an attempt to defeat high-speed rail, state campaign contribution records may tell at least part of the story.

Gary Morse, CEO of The Villages, is a major Republican supporter and an even bigger Bush family backer. In fact, since 2000, Morse has given $103,500 to Republican candidates for national office and $2,100 for those running for state offices, including Florida’s governor.

Morse also lent his private jet to the governor’s 2002 campaign on a couple of occasions for a nominal fee. Repeated phone calls seeking comment from Morse and officials at The Villages were not returned.

Some political figures believe The Villages’ PAC contributions are suspect.

“It has to be just raw politics,” says Dick Batchelor, president of Dick Batchelor Management Group and a former state legislator. “There is no logical explanation as to why The Villages would be interested in this issue.

For the last 30 years, high-speed rail has been a bitterly divisive issue in Florida. Since 1976, legislative mandates have created feasibility studies and high-speed rail commissions. In 1996, the Florida DOT provided a funding source for a statewide high-speed rail system, setting the amount at $70 million a year for 30 years with a 4 percent escalation clause – but when Bush was elected governor in 1998, he made it clear he did not like the idea of high-speed rail, and a year later, he redirected the state funding for the project.

Enter Doc Dockery, the Lakeland businessman who bankrolled an effort to get an amendment on the ballot in 2000 to constitutionally mandate high-speed rail.

Florida voters – by a 52.7 percent majority – approved the measure, and although Bush has reluctantly and minimally enforced the amendment, he and Gallagher also have been busy orchestrating an effort to overturn it. In fact, both have been heavily involved in the two PACs – DeRail the Bullet Train and Floridians for Responsible Spending.

Gallagher serves as chairman of DeRail the Bullet Train, and in May, Bush launched his own personal e-mail campaign, urging recipients to sign an attached petition from DeRail the Bullet Train and distribute it to their friends and family.

“He (Gallagher) specifically asked the state’s legal counsel if he could do this,” says Tami Torres, a spokeswoman for the state’s CFO.

While their participation in the PACs is not illegal, it has raised concerns from state politicians, high-speed rail proponents and public policy analysts.

“There are a number of things we can talk about that Governor Bush has done a great job on, but this is simply an issue where we disagree. We don’t understand his disagreement with high-speed rail,” explains Ken Walton, executive director of The Rail Truth, a new PAC supporting Florida high-speed rail.

Political experts are perplexed by the governor’s stance.

“It is interesting,” says Aron Pilhofer, a campaign contribution expert with The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan Washington, D.C.-based group. “You’re talking about the governor of the state. He has the biggest bully pulpit of all.”

Among the hefty contributors has been a wide range of real estate developers, railroads, airlines and rental car companies – and Republican fat cats.


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Oakland S&I formally opens

Think of Jiffy Lube for trains and you’ll get a sense for why Amtrak’s big guns got excited Tuesday about formally opening a $71 million maintenance facility in West Oakland (D:F, October 11).

The operative word here is jiffy, and that’s good news to Amtrak’s California Zephyr tourists and routine riders on the inter-city Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin lines, the Oakland Tribune reported last week.

Some of the 150 mechanics will be able to replace a wheel set in an hour. A few hundred yards down the tracks, they can wash an entire train in three minutes. Inside a huge hangar-like building just off Third Street, crews can scour a locomotive from top to bottom, replenishing the diesel engine with mechanical fluids while co-workers repair the undercarriages.

The entire 22-acre facility, visible just from the main line between Oakland’s Jack London Square and Emeryville stations, replaces a 100-year-old shed in the heart – and in the way – of Union Pacific’s freight yard.

Also visible from passing passenger trains is Amtrak’s newest environmental containment system. Metal shavings from the wheel truing trenches, oils from plastic drip pads and grime from the train washing shed all get filtered through a series of pipes and chemical tanks. The end product is recycled water that can go on lawns and sludge cakes that will be shipped to landfills.

It’s good news for the East Bay, too. Amtrak is hiring an unspecified number of mechanics to work at the new maintenance yard.

When the Amtrak Kirkham Maintenance Facility goes into full operation next month, Amtrak will service all of 20 locomotives and 78 rail cars on the Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin lines. Previously, trains had to take a three-day detour to be serviced in Los Angeles. It means more reliable service and cleaner trains on Amtrak’s third and fifth busiest intercity rail lines.

That’s one of the reasons the Caltrans Rail Division, which pays for that Oakland-based service, poured $38 million into the new maintenance yard.

“I never thought today was going to happen. The road to this facility was 20 years in the making,” said Caltrans rail chief Warren Webber.

“It opens within budget and significantly ahead of schedule,” he said.

Amtrak President David Gunn was equally pleased.

“I’ve been in the business 40 years, and I’ve seen more railroad facilities close than open,” he said, calling Caltrans’ rail system a model for the nation.

“The key is incremental improvements. It’s results in our lifetime, not waiting for something 20 years from now. Now we will be able to focus on improving our service,” said Gunn, who has fought Congress just to get the money to keep the deteriorating national passenger rail system intact.


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Just what does the new Oakland facility represent?

Amtrak will service all of 20 locomotives and 78 rail cars on the Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin lines. Previously, trains had to take a three-day detour to be serviced in Los Angeles. It means more reliable service and cleaner trains on Amtrak’s third- and fifth-busiest intercity rail lines.

“That’s one of the reasons the Caltrans Rail Division, which pays for that Oakland-based service, poured $38 million into the new maintenance yard,” Gene Poon, a California observer of Western rails noted. He is not an Amtrak employee.

“If the state decides to use another operator, Amtrak cannot take its toys home as it did with the Turboliners” in New York, “because the Capitol and San Joaquin equipment is not owned by Amtrak at all – but now it has ownership of this nice maintenance facility which was mostly paid for by the state. Amtrak owns the garage where the trains are parked and repaired. It’s a strong incentive to keep contracting with Amtrak.”

Oakland isn’t the originally planned site of the facility, either.

“Originally an even bigger maintenance base was to be built at the location of the former Southern Pacific Santa Clara yard, to handle not only Amtrak, but also Caltrain. Now, Caltrain is building its own maintenance base there, without Amtrak assistance or participation. Like Metrolink, Caltrain doesn’t want Amtrak owning either the toys or the garage.”


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Amtrak enforces baggage rules

Amtrak will begin “strictly enforcing” its two carry-on, three-item checked baggage limit beginning November 1, the carrier stated in an October 12 press release.

“The guidelines are designed to ensure a safe and enjoyable ride for passengers, prevent overcrowding of baggage areas and reduce employees’ on-the-job injuries,” according to the carrier.

“Each passenger may bring aboard two pieces of carry-on luggage. Not included in this limit are briefcases, purses, laptops, and items needed for infants such as strollers, car seats and diaper bags,” Amtrak stated, and added, “Each carry-on must weigh no more than 50 pounds. and may not exceed 28 inches by 22 inches by 14.” All items, including checked baggage, “must be tagged with the name and address of the passenger.”

Regarding checked baggage, Amtrak stated “Each passenger may check up to three pieces of luggage at no charge. Additional pieces may be checked upon payment of $10.00 per piece.”

Checked baggage is also at a 50-pound limit, “and must be packed in luggage or containers able to withstand normal handling.”

The complete Baggage Policy is published at Amtrak stations, and can be found with reservation agents and on the Amtrak website, www.amtrak.com under the “Traveling with Amtrak” tab.

“Passengers will be denied boarding if not in compliance with the policy,” Amtrak said.

“Amtrak’s baggage policy is an important part of the railroad’s effort to maintain a safe and enjoyable environment on board trains,” said William Crosbie, Amtrak’s senior operations vice-president.

“Enforcement of Amtrak’s baggage policy is for the benefit of all passengers and we are asking for our customers’ full cooperation in this effort,” added Crosbie.

Amtrak also reissued its list of items prohibited from both carry-on and checked baggage, which includes any type of gun, firearm, ammunition, explosive or weapon, and incendiaries including flammable gases, liquids and fuels.

 

Sleeping Car 32012 back in service

Amtrak Ink: Mike Milburn

Released on September 10 and back in service, Superliner I sleeping car 32012 is one of the three sleepers to be remanufactured at the Beech Grove Car Shop this year.

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LABOR LINES...  Labor lines...

 

Wabtec, Radio union extend deal

Wabtec Corp. said on October 13 it has agreed to a two-year extension of its existing labor contract with Local 610, International Union of Radio Electrical and Machine Workers, which represents union employees at its two Pittsburgh-area plants.

The current agreement, originally scheduled to expire on April 30, 2007, is now extended until April 30, 2009. This agreement represents about 180 workers employed at Wabtec’s Locomotive Products and Rubber Products divisions in Wilmerding, Pa. and Greensburg, Pa.

Wabtec manufactures a range of products for locomotives, freight cars and passenger transit vehicles. The company also builds new switcher and commuter locomotives, and provides aftermarket services, including locomotive and freight car fleet maintenance.


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

APTA publishes rail transit standards

The American Public Transportation Assn. disclosed more than 90 rail transit voluntary standards to guide operations and maintenance in the U.S.

Implementing industry standards is expected to benefit rail transit systems and ultimately its riders by improving safety, reducing costs and enhancing service reliability, APTA stated. 1,500 member organizations comprise APTA.

“Successful standards processes are expected to bring positive results for transit systems, their suppliers and state and federal regulatory agencies,” said APTA President William W. Millar.

“With the help of standards, transit systems can improve the quality and performance of their services and encourage more innovation in the transit industry, while also controlling costs,” he added.

“The use of standards makes good business sense,” said APTA’s Millar. “With the release of today’s rail transit standards, we expect the public transportation industry to come together and broaden the overall acceptance and scope of the program.”

Two basic types of standards exist, APTA noted. Prescriptive standards define exactly how to do something, similar to a recipe. Performance standards define an end result, but allow flexibility on how that result is achieved. Both types of standards define specific ways to measure success. Examples of approved standards include those that prescribe vehicle crashworthiness, operating practices, grade crossings and vehicle inspections.

Currently, APTA has five separate active standards programs underway in commuter rail, transit bus, intelligent transportation systems, fare collection systems, and rail transit. More than 800 transit industry professionals participate in more than 30 committees to develop standards.

Millar spoke at APTA’s annual meeting in Atlanta.


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William Millar

APTA

William Millar

South Jersey light rail ridership tapers off

Ridership on the South Jersey light rail line linking Trenton and Camden peaked in July but has tapered off since, according to new figures released by New Jersey Transit.

The 34-mile River Line light rail service recorded 145,860 trips in September, the lowest monthly total since May, when the line had 126,814 fares, The AP reported on October 12, via the Camden Courier-Post.

The line logged 170,699 trips in July, a spike NJT officials attribute to the July 4 holiday and the vacation period that followed.

Closing the state aquarium in Camden and reopening schools were key factors in the ridership decline for September, officials said.

“The seasonality of ridership is not surprising,” said NJT spokesman Dan Stessel.

Weekday ridership on the River Line has grown significantly since its debut in March, from 3,290 trips to 5,229 trips, the agency said. A study done last year predicted the line would reach 5,900 trips per day in its first year of operation.


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Snags delay ‘new’ Connecticut coaches

First there was a delay in sending Connecticut DOT’s (ConnDOT) “new” coaches to the Amtrak maintenance facility in New Haven – now Amtrak says they won’t fix them at all.

Connecticut’s newest commuter coaches, used ones purchased from Virginia (D:F, October 11) have been sitting in Cedar Hill Yard in New Haven for about two weeks ready for upgrades – but that’s not going to happen now until ConnDOT can find a new repairer, the Connecticut Post reported on Friday. Amtrak said on Thursday it won’t do the job.

Cliff Black, an Amtrak spokesman in Washington, said on Thursday the railroad’s repair shop in New Haven does not have enough workers to make the necessary electrical upgrades to 26 used Virginia rail cars the state recently purchased.

State officials offered no immediate answers for the oft-delayed program and no estimate on when the new-old cars would actually roll into state service.

On Tuesday, the DOT said it was negotiating with Amtrak to do the work, but Amtrak said Thursday it’s not possible.

“It cannot be done with the wink of an eye and snap of the fingers,” Black said.

He said the scope of the needed upgrades to the coaches’ electrical systems that the DOT handed Amtrak engineers indicated that it would take a week of work to finish a single coach. After upgrading connectors and control systems for the coaches, they would have to be examined by the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration, he said.

Black said Amtrak’s contract is to maintain Shore Line East’s rolling stock, not to upgrade new vehicles.

Christopher Cooper, a ConnDOT spokesman, remained optimistic that the work will proceed and some of the cars will be in service by the end of this month.

“We are continuing to work for a resolution to this issue,” Cooper said Thursday – but he could not say who the agency was approaching to tackle the job.

Metro-North, which also has a repair shop in New Haven, didn’t sound very enthusiastic about prospects for its workers doing the job, but a spokesman didn’t rule it out.

“Of course we would take it under consideration,” said Dan Brucker, a Metro-North spokesman; but, he said, his railroad’s shop is busy preparing for winter and work for another line would not supercede the job of keeping Metro-North cars rolling.

James Fox, an engineer with the ConnDOT, said two weeks ago the Virginia cars should start to rotate into the Amtrak shop for inspections and equipment adjustments within the next two weeks, but the state was unable to get the proper authorizations.

The delay might jeopardize plans to get the new cars operating on Shore Line East by the end of this month. In September, Gov. M. Jodi M. Rell said the state would begin putting the newer cars on Connecticut tracks in October.

The 15 cars that arrived October 6 are part of a larger $14 million acquisition of 33 cars. Eleven more cars should arrive this month, according to ConnDOT, with seven more to be delivered in 2006.

Fox said couplers have to be adjusted to conform to Connecticut’s existing equipment, but this should be a relatively quick fix, and the cars could start service by the end of the month. At the latest, they will start carrying passengers in early November, he said.

The cars have quickly become symbols of progress and of problems confronting ConnDOT as it tries to maintain rail service in the Nutmeg State.

Rail advocates accepted the arrival of the Virginia cars more than four months ahead of schedule as a step forward for a system badly in need of newer cars – but the inability to get the cars up and running because of limited repair space is an ongoing concern. Advocates also are concerned that the state is getting cars that are about 10 years old, when it really needs new ones.

Fox said the Virginia cars, which will be hauled by diesel engines, cannot be used on the Metro-North line because the doors must be opened manually by conductors, which would cause delays in loading and unloading passengers. The engineers on electric Metro-North trains open all the car doors at the same time with the touch of a button, he said.

Jim Cameron, vice chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, said he gives Rell credit for getting the trains here so quickly, but the railroads are still in trouble. He said photos of Rell aboard the new cars may make the public think that the problem is close to being solved.

“Governor Rell walking through three used cars from Virginia does not mean a solution this winter,” Cameron said.

Metro-North’s fleet was plagued with problems last winter when snow fouled the electric motors of many of the aging cars. This resulted in shorter trains, inconveniencing passengers.

Cameron said the situation confronting Metro-North is virtually unchanged by this acquisition.

Rell pledged to have some of the Virginia coaches in service by the end of this month after she told the department that its initial plan to put them in service next year was unacceptable.

Amtrak would have to hire and train new workers to get the coaches ready for service, according to Black. He also cast doubt about how quickly the coaches can be upgraded.

The DOT has plans to expand shop space, and Rell expects to ask the legislature to take up the $1 billion plan to replace the Metro-North fleet in the next legislative session. If approved, it will take at least four years before the state starts receiving new cars, according to the DOT.


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Durham close to ordering coaches

The Triangle Transit Authority’s trustees will consider awarding a contract worth up to $90.1 million to United Transit Systems later this month.

The contract is for up to 32 diesel multiple-unit coaches for North Carolina’s Regional Rail Transit System, and is contingent upon a federal “letter of no prejudice,” which would allow TTA to use local and state funds to pay for the railroad cars.

The $631 million project would serve a 12-station, 28-mile regional rail system stretching from Durham to Research Triangle Park, Cary and Raleigh. It is scheduled to begin operation in 2008.

“TTA was impressed by United Transit Systems’ experience and expertise in designing, engineering and producing rail cars for major cities throughout the world,” TTA General Manager John Claflin told the TTA Operations and Finance Committee in recommending the contract award.

United Transit Systems is a consortium of Sojitz Corp. of America, based in Tokyo; and Rotem Co., based in Seoul. UTS plans to make the body shells for the rail cars at Rotem’s plants in Korea, with final assembly at its plant in Philadelphia.

American suppliers also will be part of the contract with UTS, ensuring that the vehicle meets the Federal Transit Administration’s 60 percent “Buy America” requirement. Colorado Railcar will provide the propulsion system.

DMUs were selected for the regional rail system because they can operate in existing rail corridors next to freight service and Amtrak passenger service, are self-propelled and can be coupled together quickly to build trains of varying lengths.

The TTA board will consider the recommendation at a 1:00 p.m. meeting on October 27 in the TTA boardroom, 68 T.W. Alexander Drive in Research Triangle Park. TTA Chairman Carter Worthy said she hoped the board would approve the contract.

Artist's rendering

Artist’s rendering

Worthy said, “We are excited that we will be the first transit system in the country to use this new rail technology. Our extensive evaluation of all the proposals received convinced TTA that UTS will provide our riders a safe, comfortable, reliable vehicle at a reasonable cost.”


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Arizona battles heats up:

Phoenix may get light rail line

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano warned Thursday of serious economic consequences if voters reject Proposition 400, while the transportation measure’s opponents turned up the heat by announcing voter initiatives to derail light-rail projects already under way in Phoenix and Tempe.

If the initiatives attract enough signatures to get on next year’s ballot, they likely will land in court, where work on a 20-mile core light-rail system could be tied up for months, costing hundreds of millions of dollars. That work, already approved in Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa, would be extended to other parts of the Valley by Proposition 400.

The Arizona Republic reported on October 8 Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, a Proposition 400 proponent, called the foes’ announcement “a smoke screen” to distract voters from the benefits of the measure.

“Their position is failing, and they’re just trying to stir things up,” Gordon said.

The time to have opposed the first light-rail segment would have been four years ago, he added, “when the voters of Phoenix approved it.”

Napolitano, a light-rail supporter, said light-rail expenses constitute only 15 percent of the $15.8 billion in spending on regional transportation that would be funded by Proposition 400. The rest of the money would help build 78 miles of new freeways, widen existing freeways, expand regional bus service and improve dozens of arterial streets.

“We need more freeways, we need more transit, and, yes, we need light-rail extensions,” Napolitano said.

Voters will be asked on Election Day, November 2, to extend Maricopa County’s half-cent transportation tax for 20 years to help finance the plan.

Former U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon, Napolitano’s one-time gubernatorial rival, joined her in endorsing Proposition 400, saying it was time to “put the partisanship behind us.”

Salmon, a conservative Republican, said the measure would feed the Valley’s economic vitality and sustain growth. Without that, he said, Arizona will continue “sending our most valuable commodity, our children, out of state” to find work.

Napolitano said 10,000 jobs and millions of dollars in economic activity are tied directly to projects in the 20-year plan. In addition, she said, a multifaceted transportation plan for the Valley is “a very, very persuasive element” in the constant negotiations that state and local officials have with employers deciding whether to relocate here.

But Gilbert businessman Dave Thompson, who is leading the opposition, has targeted the light-rail component, arguing that it is too expensive and inefficient and siphons funding that could be used to build more freeways.

“When the voters understand the financial black hole that light rail represents, they will vote to terminate it,” he said.

Initiatives in Phoenix and Tempe will be launched to “terminate the light-rail projects currently under way in those municipalities,” Thompson said Thursday.

The $1.3 billion rail system, scheduled to open in December 2008, is a joint effort of Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa, funded using both municipal and federal money. It forms the core of what is envisioned as a 57.7-mile light-rail system, with 27.7 miles of extensions up for approval by voters in Proposition 400. An additional five miles in north Phoenix is under study, and Glendale voters have OK’d a five-mile extension.

Thompson has made opposition to the extensions of light rail the basis for his overall opposition to the ballot measure.

The anti-light-rail initiative in Phoenix would need 15,000 signatures to get on the ballot. The Tempe initiative would need 12,000, Thompson said. Both seek the halt of current light-rail construction and a prohibition of future light rail.

Gordon said he received legal advice Thursday suggesting the initiatives would not be allowed because Phoenix has made expenditures and entered contractual obligations.

“Not only have the voters approved it, (but) money has been expended, equipment has been bought, equipment has been ordered, jobs and companies have moved here,” the mayor said.

Former Tempe Mayor Neil Giuliano, a leading proponent, said such initiatives would be doomed to failure even if they came to a vote.

“The voters have spoken very loudly that they want alternative means of transportation,” Giuliano said. “I doubt very seriously that our voters want to reverse course and go back in time.”

Eric Anderson, transportation director for the Maricopa Assn. of Governments, said a one-year delay in the program would cost at least $300 million.

Legal experts say it would likely fall to the courts to sort out whether a project already under way could be halted. Work has begun to relocate utilities in central Phoenix, and a $57 million maintenance and storage facility is being built in east-central Phoenix.


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Horns now must blow after fatality

A Massachusetts agency has ordered Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority commuter trains to begin blowing horns when approaching an intersection in Beverly, Mass., where a 14-year-old boy died October 13. The order came after state officials could find no documentation authorizing a longstanding ban on train whistles or horns at the grade crossing.

In a letter sent the following day to the MBTA, Brian Cristy, director of the transportation division of the state Department of Telecommunications and Energy, said trains should begin blowing their whistles at the intersection of Hale and West streets “immediately, and until further notice,” the Boston Globe reported Friday.

Cristy cited a law that allows the department, which oversees transportation safety in the state, to issue the directive and said the request was made in response to the accident. While the action is not unprecedented, the department rarely steps in to lift a ban at a single crossing.

Officials of the MBTA said they would immediately comply, and said they told locomotive engineers to begin blowing their horns during the Thursday evening commute.

Tim Shevlin, executive director of the Telecommunications and Energy Department, said communities apply when they want to ban train whistles at road crossings. The bans are issued either by an order from the department or though an act of the legislature.

The Federal Railroad Administration has also been reviewing local whistle bans nationwide, because laws governing the use of whistles at road intersections will switch from state to federal control on December 18.

To provide information to the federal agency, the MBTA asked the Department of Telecommunications and Energy more than a year ago to search for documentation authorizing whistle bans at 107 road crossings in the MBTA service area, some of which date back more than 60 years, Shevlin said.

“We couldn’t find any documentation or some act of the legislature for 80 grade crossings,” he said. “We only found documentation on 27 of them.”

The railroad crossing at the Hale and West street intersection in Beverly was among those for which no documentation could be found, Shevlin said, and the FRA is reviewing whistle bans at the 80 crossings that lack documentation to see if they should remain in place.

“I think that this incident sort of raises the issue as to whether there is a public safety issue at this intersection,” he said, “and it would be imprudent for us to just stand on the sidelines and do nothing.”

Communities will have to reapply to the federal agency to keep their whistle bans, but federal officials say the bans will probably remain in place unless there has been a significant increase in accidents at any crossing.

At crossings where there is no ban, locomotive engineers are required to sound a train’s whistle or horn 15 to 20 seconds before arriving, and no more than a quarter-mile away. Even where there is a ban, federal rules permit engineers to sound their horns in case of emergency.

David Siljeholm, an eighth-grader from Manchester-by-the-Sea, was biking to school with his mother and younger sister Wednesday when he went around the gates at the Beverly intersection and was struck by the train, authorities said.

The accident and the state action yesterday rekindled debate in Beverly over the value of the whistle ban. Mayor William J. Scanlon, Jr. said Siljeholm’s death caused him to “pause and think,” but did not change his mind.

“As tragic as this is, I’d be for horn blowing if I thought this would help us,” Scanlon said, “but I don’t think it would help us, and I think we have to develop rules that are based on the horn really meaning something.”

He said that lifting the whistle ban would result in an average of two horns blowing every minute of every day in Beverly, which has 17 crossings, the most of any community in the state. The whistles would become so commonplace that motorists and pedestrians would ignore them, Scanlon said.


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Developer to buy Atlanta rail corridor

Wayne Mason, one of Gwinnett County’s most influential developers, plans to buy a big piece of the Atlanta property known as the “Belt Line,” an arc of railroad tracks that city planners want to convert into an in-town transit system.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on October 10 Mason is under contract to pay $25 million for a 67-acre, 4.6-mile rail corridor running from DeKalb Avenue to Piedmont Park to I-85. Norfolk Southern Corp., the Norfolk, Va., based railroad, has owned the property for decades.

Mason, the former chairman of the Gwinnett County Commission, wants the transit idea to go forward, but he’s putting a plan together to develop some of the 200 feet of adjacent land running along the tracks.

Mason, who plans to turn Buckhead’s infamous Gold Club into a condo tower, sees potential in high-end residential development inside I-285, he said.

“A lot of serious suburban developers are looking favorably on downtown,” Mason said, adding, “It’s unusual to find 67 acres of downtown land that’s contiguous.”

A former Georgia Tech student came up with the idea of converting 22 miles of dormant city railroad tracks into a transit system, and Atlanta officials, including former City Council President Cathy Woolard, soon jumped on the plan’s potential.

City planners have called the Belt Line a priority and the Atlanta Regional Commission has put the project in the region’s 25-year transportation plan.

Atlanta lawmakers also are considering declaring the track property a special zone that would give developers tax breaks. The city set aside similar zones, called tax allocation districts, to give tax incentives to the Atlantic Station development and projects around Centennial Olympic Park.


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New York gets $73.8 million grant
while Pittsburgh gets $46.7 million

New York City got a $73.8 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) nearly a fortnight ago to extend the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Station Terminal in New York City. The East Side Access Project extension is expected to reduce commuting times by nearly 30 minutes each day.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh got $46.7 million on the same day to the Port Authority of Allegheny County for its light rail project that brought an old system back to life in a big way.

USDOT Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said on October 8, “The Bush Administration is committed to public transportation as an economic catalyst, connecting workers to jobs and customers to businesses.”

He added, “This regional rail project will help facilitate commuter access to Manhattan’s East Side, one of the largest employment centers in the nation.”

The grant brings total federal funding to $155.3 million, and will be used by the Metropolitan Transit Authority to support final design activities, engineering, and project management.

More than 100,000 commuters ride the LIRR daily to New York’s Penn Station, half of whom travel to destinations on Manhattan’s East Side. The East Side Access project will give Long Island commuters direct rail access to eastern Manhattan for the first time. It will connect LIRR’s main line and the Port Washington line in Queens to a new terminal beneath Grand Central Station. In addition, the project calls for a new passenger station in Sunnyside Queens, to provide rail access to the growing Long Island City business district.

The project is estimated to result in a total saving of 139,600 hours in travel-time each week by 2025. It will also relieve overcrowded conditions in Penn Station, one of the busiest railroad stations in the country.

USDOT also granted $46.7 million to the Port Authority of Allegheny County for its Stage II Light Rail Project, a $386 million initiative to re-establish light rail service from downtown Pittsburgh to its South Hill suburbs. Some 13,000 new weekday riders use the trains, so far.

The port authority will use the grant to reimburse construction expenses accrued when the Overbrook and Library lines were rebuilt, and to buy new light rail vehicles and communications equipment.

“Expanding and upgrading the “T” offers Pittsburgh residents more options and better connects people to jobs, shoppers to stores and visitors to entertainment centers,” said US

In April 2000, the port authority broke ground on the project along the Overbrook Line, and in June 2004 the new rail line opened its doors to the public.

Featuring eight new ADA-accessible stations, the new line brings faster travel times. The light rail project transformed Pittsburgh’s deteriorating trolley network, which quit operations in 1993, into a modern 25-mile light rail system. The project includes rebuilding the Overbrook, Library and Drake Trolley lines, building 2,200 parking spaces and buying 28 new light rail vehicles.


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‘Metro’ upgrade to add rail cars

District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland local governments have agreed to fund a $1.5 billion capital plan for the Washington Metro that will buy rail cars and buses, and pay for enough maintenance to “keep the system afloat” over the next six years, transit officials said on Thursday.

The plan, expected to be ratified within a week by the District and counties served by Metro, is a “basic, bare-bones agreement,” Metro CEO Richard A. White said. “It is the absolute minimum we must do to keep this system afloat,” the Washington Post reported on Friday.

Gerald E. Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax County board, says the federal government must pay, too.

Known as Metro Matters, the plan calls for the purchase of 120 rail cars and an upgrade of power and signal systems that will enable Metro to operate eight-car trains. An eight-car train can carry 200 more people than a six-car train, which is the longest Metro now operates.

It also allows for buying 185 buses to relieve crowding, constructing a bus garage in Virginia, upgraded bus stops and better information for bus passengers, such as the sort of real-time arrival information that subway riders have enjoyed for years.

Metro Matters also includes building a backup control center for rail operations, so the subway can continue operating if anything disastrous happens to the main control center in the basement of Metro’s downtown headquarters.

Transit officials said they were relieved that taxpayers will fund the plan, but they cautioned that it will take years before daily riders notice improvements because of the time it takes to manufacture rail cars and buses. If rail cars are ordered this year, it will be 2008 before all of them are carrying passengers.

“In the meantime, we have to keep the system alive, and that’s going to be a struggle,” White told Metro directors yesterday. Metro’s rail cars are breaking down nearly twice as often as they did three years ago, creating increasing delays across all lines when ridership is surging. Statistics for Metrobus also show more and more buses sidelined with mechanical problems.

At $336 million, DC will pay the largest share of the plan.


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BUILDERS LINES...  Builders’ lines...

Kawasaki double-decker coach-example

File photo

New Mexico should see double-deck commuter coaches similar to these from Kawasaki Transportation on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

 

Bombardier gets $22 million contract

Bombardier Transportation said on Thursday that it received a firm order from the Mid-Region Council of Governments and the New Mexico DOT to supply 10 bi-level commuter rail vehicles, six cab cars and four single-level coaches. Valued at approximately $22 million (in U.S. dollars), the contract calls for designing, building and delivery of the new commuter cars. They will be in service between Belen and Bernalillo, N. Mex.

“The bi-level vehicle developed in North America has become one of our flagship products because of its undisputed economical performance and shortest delivery schedule in the industry,” said William Spurr, President of Bombardier Transportation, North America.

“This vehicle is a popular choice for today’s commuter rail industry because it is one of the largest-capacity cars in the world designed for maximum commuter passenger comfort”, added Spurr.

The first Bombardier bi-level coach, which Bombardier trade names as “BiLevel,” went into service in 1978. Since then, Bombardier has produced more than 740 of them which are currently operated by 10 different public transit authorities in North America, enhancing its features over time.

The vehicles will be built at Bombardier’s Thunder Bay, Ont., plant. Production dates we not stated, but first deliveries are expected in summer 2005.


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MEDIA LINES...  Media lines...

Several changes at Trains magazine

Colleagues over at Trains magazine in Waukesha, Wis., have been undergoing significant changes in the last few weeks.

Kathi Kube, who joined the magazine two years ago after a stint with Progressive Railroading magazine, is Trains’ new managing editor. Meanwhile, Angela Pusztai-Pasternak is its new editorial associate.

Newspaperman and railroad journalist Jim Wrinn has been named its new editor, Kalmbach Publishing reported last week, and also named Jason Gallinger as associate editor.

Wrinn worked at the Charlotte Observer for 18 years. He is replacing Mark W. Hemphill, who served as editor since September 2000. Hemphill is now a monthly columnist and feature contributor.


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

BNSF, others, finally get their long-sought-after fuel tax break

Texas accountants have started tallying the wins and losses for companies around the state last week under a newly passed tax bill awaiting the President’s signature. Many businesses - including railroads - stand to save millions of dollars under the $137 billion tax bill approved by the U.S. Senate on October 11. The House passed the bill one week earlier, and President Bush is expected to sign it.

AAR CEO Edward Hamberger said on October 11, “We’re pleased that both the House and Senate have passed the JOBS bill, which includes repeal of the unfair 4.3 cents per gallon fuel tax paid by railroads. Railroads and barges are currently the only modes of transportation that pay a fuel tax into the general fund. Fuel taxes paid by other modes go to support their right-of-way while fuel-efficient, environmentally-friendly railroads pay virtually all of the costs to maintain and improve their infrastructure.”

He urged President Bush to sign it into law, and noted, “Efficient freight transportation - including additional rail capacity - is necessary to foster the growth of jobs and the economy.”

A few Texas businesses that export most of their products could end up paying slightly more in taxes because the bill phases out a subsidy that had been declared illegal by the World Trade Organization, the Dallas Morning News noted on October 12.

Congress cut the tax rate on domestic manufacturing by 3 percentage points to 32 percent to offset that tax hit. Legislators then extended the cut to other industries by classifying electricity generation, oil and gas production, construction and a number of other activities as manufacturing.

Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Corp. will benefit from a provision that repeals a 4.3-cent-per-gallon tax on fuel used to power locomotives and barges. The Fort Worth-based railroad used 660 million gallons in fuel for the first six months of the year. The tax on that would have totaled $28.4 million.

The company deferred comment to the Association of American Railroads, and the trade group, in Washington, defended the repeal by saying railroads’ and barge operators’ fuel taxes go to the government’s general fund, whereas other transportation companies’ levies pay for infrastructure improvements.


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Supreme Court rejects UP appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court last week refused to consider Union Pacific Railroad’s appeal of a $30 million damage award to a man partially paralyzed in a railroad crossing collision.

Without comment, justices declined on October 12 to consider whether the $25 million punitive portion of the award to Christopher Barber was excessive, The AP reported.

In February, the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision that the railroad company did not adequately clear brush near the eastern Arkansas railroad crossing despite being told several times the overgrowth obstructed motorists’ view of the tracks.

On Jan. 19, 1998, Barber, then 30, was partially paralyzed when a train collided with the garbage truck in which he was riding through the crossing. Charles Rolfe, 40, died in the accident.

The damage award in the case was believed to be the largest ever upheld by the Arkansas Supreme Court. When the railroad appealed to the high court, pro-business groups urged justices to consider it.

Barber’s lawyer, Robert L. Pottroff, said Tuesday’s decision was a victory both for his client and the people of Arkansas, a state he said is the most dangerous in the country for motorists negotiating railroad crossings.


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Mayor unblocks a grade crossing

Riviera Beach, Fla. Mayor Michael Brown had a clear message for the Florida East Coast Railway recently: ‘Tear down this barricade!’

When the freight line didn’t listen, he did it himself.

FEC, unable to run trains to South Florida after Hurricane Jeanne knocked out power at many of its crossings, began running again September 29, but it required that 40 smaller streets throughout Palm Beach County be closed to expedite loads that included lumber, water treatment chemicals and construction materials.

The Palm Beach Post reported on October 2 FEC’s plan was to close “smaller streets” and have police officers or FEC workers direct traffic at critical crossings such as at Blue Heron Boulevard in Riviera Beach.

Brown said nobody warned him of FEC’s decision and he was shocked to see half-mile long traffic jams the next day because of the blockade at his city’s 13th Street crossing.

For Riviera Beach, a city of 35,000 in which many residents live between the railroad and Lake Worth Lagoon, that barricade wouldn’t wash, at least in Brown’s eyes.

“When it comes to the city of Riviera Beach, they do what they want to do and don’t deal with us.”

Brown said he talked to a railroad police official September 30 and told him, “If you don’t remove these barricades, we’ll remove them.

“He said a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, and said, ‘If you remove them, you’ll be liable.’ I said, ‘The tracks and the crossings, those are your responsibility.’”

The city used a front-end loader and removed the barricades about 6:15 p.m. that day. The barricades were placed next to the crossing. The grade crossing gates were not yet restored to service.

Brown questioned the railroad’s claim that it was delivering hurricane supplies.

“It’s not really about relief supplies, it’s about FEC getting back to business as usual, and doing it before crossing gates are repaired.

“I didn’t see any tarps or ice, but they may have been hidden.”

An FEC spokesman said closing the crossing was inevitable and, yes, the trains carried much-needed supplies after the hurricane.

“What moves on these trains are the needed goods and products for reconstruction and recovery efforts,” FEC spokesman Husein Cumber said.

It’s not for the Federal Emergency Management Agency – “It’s stuff you find on the shelf at your supermarkets, stuff you find at your local Home Depot store, those kinds of goods and products. After a hurricane, they are in more demand.” Cumber acknowledged the inconvenience, but said, “The alternative is having trains that are stopping at every crossing and causing additional congestion.”

Because some FEC trains were carrying more freight cars than normal (some were two miles long), motorists had to deal with lengthy backups at crossings.


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Railroader shot in holdup

A Union Pacific carman is recovering from a gunshot wound to the leg after he was shot during an attempted aggravated robbery October 12.

The 36-year-old railroad employee, whose name was not released, was checking the brakes on a freight car at about 5:30 a.m. in Texarkana, Ark., when a man with a gun demanded money from him, said Cpl. Bart Veal, spokesman for Texarkana police.

“He told the man that he did not have any money and heard a gunshot. He soon realized that he had been shot in the left leg,” Veal told the Texarkana Gazette.

The victim, who told police he did not know where the suspect went after the shooting, began to crawl to his truck where other employees found him.

He was taken to a local hospital where he was reported to be in good condition.

UP and local police will be investigating the crime, said Mark Davis, a spokesman for the railroad.

“Railroad police can investigate and make arrests if needed. Because we are federally mandated to transport goods, some cases, depending on the circumstances, could be a federal offense,” he said.


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Pennsy shortlines, regionals get help

Pennsylvania officials have awarded $7.8 million in capital budget funds for eight projects to help preserve rail-freight service and stimulate economic development across the state.

The eight projects are expected to create nearly 980 jobs. “The efficient operation of our railroads contributes to economic development, job creation and safer highways,” said state DOT Secretary Allen D. Biehler, P.E.

“These grants provide the capital necessary to maintain and expand essential rail-freight operations in Pennsylvania,” he added.

Biehler said transportation is an important ingredient in the economic-development mix. “Keeping short-line and regional railroads in good operating condition means we’re keeping the freight moving, supporting employers, jobs and families.”

Allegheny County – Pittsburgh & Ohio Railroad Co., of McKees Rocks, $630,000, to rehabilitate five miles of existing rail track line on the Neville Island branch to Duff’s Junction. Completion will improve rail safety and create 10 new jobs.

United States Steel Corp. of Clairton, $953,506, to rehabilitate and replace the company’s deteriorating mainline, yard and switch ties. Increased production at U.S. Steel has led to stress on the aging rail infrastructure. Project completion should result in five new jobs.

Centre and Clinton Counties – SEDA-COG Joint Rail Authority, of Lewisburg, $1,642,000, to complete the upgrade to welded rail and related improvements of a remaining 10.3-mile section of the Nittany mainline. The authority estimates that 600 jobs will be created upon completion of the project.

Clarion and Jefferson Counties – RFI Energy, Inc., of Indiana, $1,601,250, to rehabilitate portions of the Pittsburg & Shawmut Railroad rail line between Sligo and Driftwood, to include rehabilitation of coal loading tracks and switches, installation of cross ties, repair signalization, repair two rail road crossings and tunnels and to raise, line, gauge and surface track. The work will take place on 48 miles of rail line.

Clearfield County – River Hill Coal Co., Inc., of Kylertown, $1,250,900, to rebuild track using welded rail, rebuild a switch, construct three grade crossings, install two sets of flashing lights and build a coal-loading facility on a three-mile siding between LaJose and Thompsontown that connects to the RJ Corman Railroad. The project will create 40 new jobs.

Cumberland County: Norfolk Southern Corporation, of Philadelphia, $500,000, for engineering of a connecting track from the Lurgan Branch at Lemoyne to the Port Road Secondary Branch to improve access to the Enola Yard. The project will reduce congestion and delay. The project will create 20 new jobs.

Susquehanna, Lackawanna, Luzerne and Columbia Counties – Delaware and Hudson Ry. Co., Inc., of Clifton Park, N.Y., $1 million, to rehabilitate portions of 127 miles of the railroad’s mainline through Susquehanna, Lackawanna, Luzerne and Columbia counties. The project will create five new jobs.

Westmoreland County – Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corp., Greensburg, $283,780, to construct a loading and unloading siding for a new factory at the Monessen Riverfront Industrial Park in Monessen. The new manufacturing facility is expected to create 300 jobs.


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BNSF is building logistics center

The Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Ry. Co. (BNSF) says it will build Logistics Center-Fontana at the Kaiser Commerce Center, about 13 miles west of San Bernardino, Cal. Construction of the facility will begin in late 2004 and it is scheduled to open third quarter 2005.

This facility will provide transload services for all types of commodities including dimensional commodities such as lumber and steel, commodities that require warehousing such as consumer goods; and bulk commodities, which are loaded directly from rail to truck or truck to rail.

“BNSF’s Logistics Center-Fontana is in the center of a rapidly growing market,” says Fritz Draper, BNSF vice president, Business Development. “By locating this rail-served transload facility near existing intermodal facilities and distribution and warehousing centers, BNSF can offer shippers more modal choices and greater service options.”

The logistics center will have a 38-acre dimensional and bulk transload operation. In addition, ProLogis, a leading provider of global distribution facilities and services, will develop an 849,000-square-foot rail-served warehouse adjacent to the center.

The new facility will be located near other existing rail-served facilities, and on a dedicated spur with direct access to the BNSF main rail line.

When completed, the combined facilities will bring approximately 300 jobs to the area.


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UP installs new crossbucks;
adds ‘Stop’ and ‘Yield’ signs

Union Pacific said last week it is investing $14 million in a major safety initiative to upgrade signs at its railroad crossings without active warning devices. The initiative includes installing new high reflectivity crossbuck warning signs, emergency notification signs and private crossing signs at more than 17,500 crossings throughout the railroad’s 23-state system. The safety initiative is on track to be substantially complete by the end of the year.

“The crossbuck railroad crossing sign is probably one of the most familiar signs in America,” said UP’s Richard Reynolds, director of transportation and public safety.

“Many people don’t know what action they should take when they see the sign. Our upgrades will help them,” he explained.

Stop and yield signs, as well as active warning signals, are traffic control devices, so UP cannot install them without permission and cooperation of the state or local road authority.

In Wisconsin and Illinois, the freight railroad “obtained permission to install stop or yield signs at all public crossings without crossing signals. In those two states, more than 600 crossings are receiving stop or yield signs in addition to the new crossbuck warning and emergency notification signs,” said Reynolds.

He added UP is actively working with local, state and federal officials in other states to receive permission to install stop or yield signs.

“In cooperation with local and state government, we’re posting stop and yield signs in some areas of Arkansas and are working to develop a broader program in that state,” said Reynolds

In addition to the signage upgrades,” he said, “UP is actively closing unnecessary and redundant crossings throughout the system. Since 2001, more than 1,400 active at-grade crossings have been closed on UP lines.”


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BUSINESS LINES...  Business lines...

NS redeems N&W debentures

Norfolk Southern Corp. (NSC) stated on October 11 that on November 15, Norfolk Southern Ry. Co. will call all outstanding 4.85 percent Subordinated Income Debentures due November 15, 2015, issued by Norfolk & Western and guaranteed by Norfolk Southern Ry. Co. (ticker NFK15; CUSIP No. 655694PF8). The debentures will be redeemed at 100.125 percent of face value. The full six months of accrued interest through November 15, 2004, will be paid in the normal manner. No additional interest will accrue after November 15, the firm stated. The redemption agent will be J.P. Morgan Chase Bank.


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UBS downgrades UP, KCS

Union Pacific Corp. (UNP) and Kansas City Southern (KSU) were both downgraded to “neutral” from “buy” on October 13 by UBS for valuation concerns, as the stock’s have approached Analyst Rick Paterson’s price targets.

CBS Marketwatch reported UP was down 1 percent at $60.88 and Kansas City was off 3.9 percent at $15.63, vs. Paterson’s respective price targets of $68 and $17.50. He said he thought UP’s hedging strategy leaves the company’s earnings “extremely vulnerable” to oil price changes. For KCS, he expected positive news flow to continue, but he thinks it is already priced into the stock.

This week’s Friday closing numbers appear below.


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Second busiest week ever for rail intermodal

Intermodal volume on U.S. railroads was at its second highest weekly level ever during the week ended October 9, the AAR reported Thursday.

Intermodal volume of 230,237 trailers or containers trailed only the week ended September 25 when railroads moved 231,025 trailers or containers. Container volume was up 11.4 percent from last year while trailer volume gained 9.3 percent.

Carload freight, which doesn't include the intermodal data, totaled 349,092 units, up 1.7 percent from last year. Carload volume was up 3.5 percent in the West but down 0.5 percent in the East. Total volume was estimated at 32.7 billion ton-miles, up 1.9 percent from last year.

Twelve of 19 carload commodities were up from last year, with metallic ores up 16.7 percent; petroleum products up 10.5 percent and metals up 10.4 percent. Among commodities registering declines were grain, off 6.7 percent, and primary forest products, down 6.4 percent.

The AAR also reported the following cumulative totals for U.S. railroads during the first 40 weeks of 2004: 13,433,660 carloads, up 3.0 percent from last year; intermodal volume of 8,375,177 trailers or containers, up 9.6 percent; and total volume of an estimated 1.215 trillion ton-miles, up 4.0 percent from last year’s first 40 weeks.

On Canadian railroads, during the week ended October 9 carload traffic totaled 73,048 cars, up 7.7 percent from last year while intermodal volume totaled 44,609 trailers or containers, down 0.9 percent from last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 40 weeks of 2004 on the Canadian railroads totaled 2,677,613 carloads, up 8.1 percent from last year, and 1,671,695 trailers and containers, up 0.1 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 40 weeks of 2004 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 16,111,273 carloads, up 3.8 percent from last year and 10,046,872 trailers and containers, up 7.9 percent from last year.

The AAR also reported that originated carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended October 9 totaled 9,535 cars, up 12.1 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 4,400 originated trailers or containers, up 30.6 percent from the 40th week of 2003. For the first 40 weeks of 2004, TFM reported cumulative originated volume of 346,473 cars, up 2.5 percent from last year, and 147,911 trailers or containers, up 5.2 percent.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 88 percent of U.S. carload freight and 95 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 95 percent and 100 percent. The Canadian railroads reporting to the AAR account for 90 percent of Canadian rail traffic. Railroads provide more than 40 percent of U.S. intercity freight transportation, more than any other mode, and rail traffic figures are regarded as an important economic indicator.

The AAR is online at www.aar.org.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: CBSMarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)39.7240.03
Canadian National (CNI)49.6949.82
Canadian Pacific (CP) 27.2226.40
CSX (CSX)34.7435.31
Florida East Coast (FLA)38.4238.21
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)24.6125.12
Kansas City Southern (KSU)15.8516.14
Norfolk Southern (NSC)31.2730.70
Providence & Worcester (PWX)10.8511.02
Union Pacific (UNP)60.4961.81


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RUNNING EXTRA...  Running extra...

Metro-North to run farewell trip

Metro-North is running a “Farewell to the ACMU” trip. It will depart New York City’s Grand Central Terminal at 9:30 a.m.

MN’s soon to be retired, former New York Central 1100-series multiple unit (MU) cars will run on all three M-N divisions out of Grand Central, including a rare mileage trip to Mount Vernon East on the New Haven Line.

After operating on the New Haven and Harlem Lines (to North White Plains), the train will return to GCT for lunch, then depart for the Hudson Line to Croton-Harmon.

The trip will includes photo opportunities at Mount Vernon East, Ardsley and Philipse Manor, a run-by at Bronxville on the Harlem Line, and will also operate thru Metro-North’s new Highbridge Car Appearance Facility on the Hudson Line.

Fare includes a commemorative ticket and an official souvenir brochure. Tickets are by reservation only and the fares are $50 for adults, and children under 12 are $25. For tickets, contact Metro-North Group Travel by e-mail at GroupSales@Metro-North.org. Their telephone number is 212-499-4398, or go to 420 Lexington Ave., 9th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10017.


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

Iraqi railroad reconstruction continues

BAGHDAD, October 9 – Railroads in Iraq were a multinational construction effort long before the current restoration effort began. Railroad construction in Iraq was started in the late 1800s by imperialist Germany. After the British invasion in the early 1900s, they proceeded to engineer and begin construction of a railroad patterned after their narrow-gauge system.

When Iraq became independent, it enlisted construction help from Russia, Korea, Brazil and others. This diversity of construction created a mix of railroad standards on tracks running from Turkey to Basrah. In some cases, to get a shipment from one point in Iraq to another you would have to unload and reload a shipment because the freight cars traveled on different gauge tracks.

Ross Adkins, writing for the American Forces Press Service, reported the Ministry of Transportation considers standardizing, reviving and modernizing the railroad a vital recovery link for Iraq. Rails now run from Mosul in the north to Basra in the south, a nearly 1,263-mile lifeline.

Restoration by the Transportation ministry and multinational agencies is now underway, starting with the three main railroad stations at Mosul, Baghdad and Basra. Restoration efforts at another 28 of nearly 130 small stations in cities across Iraq will begin in the next two weeks.

An anti-aircraft gun on the roof of the Baghdad station made the depot a target during the 2003 ousting of the former regime. A complete modernization of the main terminal is underway and is expected to take about six months to complete.

Rehabbing the stations will cost more than $55 million, said Safa Shubat, an engineer familiar with both U.S. and Iraqi railroads. The ministry and other agencies are upgrading the track for safety, as well as rolling stock, he said. Shubat grew up in Iraq and studies in the U.S. for engineering degrees.

Back in the system’s glory days, the state-run railway employed around 9,000 people, including 500 at the Baghdad station. More than 500 of those have returned, and more are expected as the restoration continues, according to a recent Baghdad newspaper account.

“Many more local workers have been employed to perform the upgrades and basic repairs, including fixing windows and leaks in the roof,” Shubat said.

The first post-Saddam Hussein train in Iraq ran between the southern seaport of Um Qasr and Basra. It was not long before the railroad workers got other trains moving throughout the country – but bridges are still out and roadbeds need repairs before rail traffic can make the complete north-to-south run.

Today, officials estimate the railroad is running at about 10 percent of its former capacity. Schedules are still flexible and are expected to remain so for up to a year or more, according to Iraqi transportation officials.

“Much of the work we are doing is to upgrade the electrical wiring, air conditioning system, painting and they are thinking of installing fiber optics as a part of the communication system needed to operate a modern day rail way system,” Shubat said. “After all, a modern communications system is necessary to conduct safe operations.”

Ross Adkins is assigned to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Gulf Region Division.


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EDITORIAL...  Editorial...

Now that’s more like it

Connecticut’s new Governor, Jodi Rell, has just demonstrated the truth of that old saying, where there’s a will, there’s a way – or at least a good start.

Last week, when informed that the Connecticut DOT was going to take six months or more to repaint and prepare for service 33 desperately needed commuter rail cars just purchased from Virginia to alleviate some of the crowding on Connecticut’s overburdened commuter rail lines, Rell did an amazing thing. She said, “No, they won’t.” And guess what? 15 of the cars, it turned out, could be immediately delivered, and they are going into service before this winter – if ConnDOT can move fast enough to find a contractor willing to get them prepared. Amtrak, which ConnDOT had selected, says it has insufficient staff at New Haven to do the work.

Nice going, Governor Rell. That’s the first time in memory anyone has made ConnDOT respond to commuter rail needs as if they were as urgent as the next paving project. Of course, the latest snafu will require watching. And we will be.

Connecticut commuters ought to put pen to paper, or e-mail, as we have, and thank the governor for fighting for them. It’s a first step, but it shouldn’t be the last, in making commuter rail a priority for Connecticut. She can be reached at:

Governor M. Jodi Rell
Executive Office of the Governor
State Capitol
210 Capitol Avenue
Hartford, Connecticut 06106
Fax: 860-524-7395
email:
Governor.Rell@po.state.ct.us


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End Notes...

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

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

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

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


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