Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
  NCI Logo Vol. 1 No. 27, Oct 23, 2000
Copyright © 2000, NCI, Inc.
James P. RePass, President
Leo King, Editor
 

A weekly North American Railroad update


Set your clocks back one hour next Sunday. The nation returns to standard time... and Amtrak's fall-winter schedule begins.

What's the Amtrak Reform Council staff up to? Check out a 'working paper' in a D: F exclusive report from our man in D.C.

No votes until this week on rail bond bill

The rail bond bill won't be voted on until later this week, according to the office of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.). Federal government funding has now been extended until Midnight Wednesday, October 25, and there will be no more votes until tomorrow. So hopefully, the measure will be acted upon either Tuesday or Wednesday.

Fiscal year 2000 expired at midnight on September 30. Since then, the government has been operating on a series of continuing resolutions, which effectively keep the government open at last year's funding level.

There are two or three items on which President Clinton and the Congressional leadership are at loggerheads and are willing to "go to the mat," but there are no indications that the $10 billion High-Speed Rail Investment Act is among them.

- Wes Vernon

Acela at Boston Rail Yards

NCI: Leo King

The 2004-2005 trainset was the third high-speed train Amtrak received from Bombardier-Alstom consortium. Here, the train enters Southampton Street Yard, Boston. The 2020-2009 set was the first to be conditionally accepted.
Acela away!

Amtrak launches speedy trains

By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

The pomp and ceremony that greeted the Acela Express making its grand entrance into Washington's Union Station drew loud cheers and applause from the dignitaries on Platform 19. Accompanied by the theme from "Rocky," the sleek high-speed consist was about to escort American railroading out of the 20th century in style. (I refuse to go along with the popular pretense that the century ended January 1, 2000. It ends January 1, 2001. There never was a year 0. Look it up!)

When the train came to a halt, out of the cab stepped Sens. Bill Roth (R-Del.), Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).

This was the official arrival of the first of 20 trainsets for the Boston-New York-Washington run.

A special VIP inaugural is slated for November 16, running north from Washington to New York to Boston, with daylong ceremonial activities to mark the occasion along the way.

Acela in service shop

NCI: Leo King

The Acelas are not so pretty in "the barn," where technicians and others fix problems and work to prevent others.
The first revenue service, consisting of one round trip will start on December 11, with tickets going on sale November 29. That operation is scheduled to leave Washington at 5:00 a.m., arriving New York at 7:44 a.m., with stops at BWI Airport station, Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, Trenton, and Newark.

While that works for early birds on the south end of the corridor with 8 a.m. appointments in Manhattan, it's clear this run is aimed at the north end, where the train leaves New York's Penn Station at the civilized hour of 8:03 a.m., arriving Boston South Station at 11:31 a.m., with stops in New Haven, Providence, Dedham (Route 128), and Boston's Back Bay.

The return trip is out of Boston at 5:12 p.m., into New York at 8:40 p.m. and into Washington at 11:43 p.m. This also appears aimed at the Boston-New York traffic which will actually experience the top speed of 150 mph under brand new catenary between Boston and New Haven, as opposed to the New York-Washington segment where top speed will be 135 MPH because of antiquated catenary erected by the Pennsylvania Railroad back in the 'thirties.

Somewhere "from mid to late January" says Amtrak President George Warrington, two more round trips will be added, a nonstop train, Washington to New York City leaving D.C. at 6:50 a.m. and into New York at 9:18 a.m., then out of New York at 3:55 p.m. and back to Washington at 6:18 p.m.

The other January add-on trip will operate strictly between Boston and New York. It is out of Boston at 6:15 a.m., into New York at 9:42 a.m., stopping at Back Bay, Route 128, Providence, New Haven, and Stamford. This round trip, geared to the New England business clientele with the need for day trips to the Big Apple, will leave New York at 6:00 p.m. and arrive Beantown at 9:27 that evening.

Acela nose side view

NCI: Leo King

The Acelas have a distinctive nose and cannot be mistaken for anything else on American rails.
You will notice, of course, that these schedules fall short of Amtrak's originally hoped-for three-hour running time from Boston to New York. Warrington told D: F that will happen "in several increments."

"As a matter of fact, by the middle of December (it should be capable of making in) 3:20, several weeks after we actually launch the service, and then [rise], after the next 2 to 3 years, with selective investments on Metro North and on the Hellgate Bridge system between New York City and New Rochelle. Selective investments, which we've already got planned and programmed and in design, will get us to the point where the trip will be about 3 hours and 4 minutes or 3 hours and 5 minutes. And we'll do that incrementally over the next three years."

As for New York to Washington?

"Ultimately on the south end, we have an objective of getting close to 2 hours, or 2 hours and 15 minutes. It's all a matter of money, and you get what you pay for."

The Amtrak chief added the then-pending High-Speed Rail (Bonding) Investment Act (HSRIA) "has the beginnings of the opportunity for the kind of investment so that we can further chip away at the 2 hours and 28 minutes."

But you may get to ride the Acela equipment prior to its official revenue run.

"Between November 16 and December 11, when we formally install the trainset into a daily slot... we will be cycling that trainset on the various (non-Acela Express) trains, including the Thanksgiving holidays, to give the marketplace up and down the Northeast Corridor a taste of what terrific service and terrific opportunity this is."

Echoing what others at the ceremony said, Warrington emphasized that for the Northeast high-speed rail system to speed up and for the other designated high-speed corridors around the country to become reality, "we need a relatively insignificant amount of capital to be able to invest and grow. That's just the way it is."

I got my first tour of the inside of this new machine that is bringing America into an era long ago realized by Europe and Japan.

The seats in Business Class, which accommodates 65, are comfortable, with tray tables that seem larger than what you new get on Amfleet equipment. In First Class, which seats 44, the galley is at one end of the car, as opposed to its location in the center of the car on the Metroliner. Service will be at your seat, as in Metroliner First Class. The meals will be served on china with linen.

The biggest change is in the Business Class food service car, or "pub-style cafÈ car," as Amtrak calls it. Not every change is necessarily better than the Metroliner, depending on your point of view. But don't blame Amtrak for that. This change comes about, in large part, because some people simply have no class.

The Amfleet dinettes on the Metroliners had tables. And some people would spread out and hog the whole table, even when the train was sold out and passengers were lined up in the aisle waiting to be served, which is inconsiderate of fellow passengers.

So the new Acela Express pub car has a different seating arrangement with a limited number of counter seats, "semi-comfortable" as one writer accurately put it, thus encouraging you to take the food back to your seat.

However, those who have gathered in the Metroliner dinette to conduct rolling business conferences will still have the opportunity to do that on the Acela Express. There are 32 table arrangements throughout the train. They're just not in the dinette.

Each seat has electric outlets to plug in laptop computers, three channels of audio equipment, and adjustable headrests.

The pub car advertises "an upscale menu selection, video equipment, and beer on tap.

Throughout the train, you will find radiophones and large rest rooms with backlit mirrors.

The fares will exceed the Metroliner, but will be very competitive with the air shuttles.

Senator Roth said he hoped the days of Amtrak living on a "starvation" budget are over. His New Jersey colleague, Mr. Lautenberg, said, high-speed rail is the answer to gridlock and winglock. Senator Moynihan said the mid-'fifties decision to build the Interstate Highway system was an unintended "decision to kill passenger rail," and that hopefully this new era would signify the passenger train comeback.

FRA Administrator Jolene Molitoris said the train had been more thoroughly tested for safety than any other train in North America.


Acela nose close up

NCI: Leo King

Is this a nose only a mother could love?
Trains won't run at top speed, at first

By Leo King
D: F Editor

Acela Express trains will begin their journeys relatively slowly - relative to what they will be capable of when they are fully integrated into the Amtrak system, sufficient crews have been trained, and the folks in the cabs and the coaches fully understand how the trains operate.

Much of what happens in the months ahead will depend on what the Federal Railroad Administration does. They are in a watchdog role, particularly for safety considerations, at least for the next year.

In order for the Acela Express trains to operate in revenue service on the Northeast Corridor, they had to comply with numerous federal regulations. In mid-September, Amtrak received the first approval from the FRA to operate in revenue service at speeds up to 150 mph and seven in inches of cant deficiency between New Haven and Boston, 150 mph and six inches of cant deficiency between Washington and New York.

That "cant deficiency" refers to the amount of tilt the trains can shift, from a vertical angle. The engines, however, do not tilt. Bombardier stated at NCI's July meeting in Washington that part of it was budget constraint, but also because the design engineers felt it was not required for the engines.

This was the first such approval granted by the FRA since the implementation of new track safety standards in late 1998. For the time being, speeds on the Metro North-controlled portion of the Northeast Corridor will remain the same (maximum 90 mph).

Maximum speeds on Metro North are limited to the speeds permitted in the current timetable, which is 90 mph in some places, but the fast trains will be permitted to tilt up to 5 inches between New York City and New Haven. Amtrak is required to notify the FRA at least 30 days before it increases operating speed, and must have written concurrence from Metro North.

In order to qualify any new trains for speeds above 90 mph, the track safety standards required an extensive series of testing, which were conducted at the Transportation Technology Center in Pueblo, Colo., and along the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington. The Northeast Corridor test program lasted more than a year, and involved measuring wheel and rail forces, truck accelerations, and carbody accelerations at speeds up to 10 mph higher than the intended revenue speed profile. The wheel force measurements, which require specially-built instrumented wheels, ensure forces are kept safely away from the limits at which derailment modes such as wheel climb, rail roll over, track panel shift, or wheel unloading could occur.

The new trainsets are also the first trains to meet the new FRA "Tier II" passenger equipment safety standards. These standards became effective in September 1999, and apply to all rail passenger vehicles that run faster than 125 mph. A key element of the Tier II standards is a "crash-energy management system" that provides a controlled deformation of the unoccupied portions of the equipment, thus protecting the passengers and crew.

Though qualified to run at up to 150 mph, the Acela Express trainsets will not be able to run at faster than the current maximum operating speeds (110 mph on the north end of the NEC and 125 mph on the south end of the NEC until the Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System (ACSES) is implemented.

Attendees at the trainset acceptance ceremony at Union Station on October 18 heard that a portion of the ACSES system was due to go into service within a week in New England. That set the stage for 150 mph operations when inaugural runs begin next month.

"ACSES," an acronym from Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System, is a high-tech cab signaling system that includes placing passive transponders in the track so that locomotive engineers get a readout of track condition ahead. Sensors under the locomotives send and receive data to the transponders and to instrumentation in the cabs. The system will stop the train if an engineer is going too fast for the next signal he is approaching, or if he runs past a "red eye" - a stop indication.

Engineers will have to learn a few new tricks as well. For example, when it becomes necessary to reverse direction after stopping at an interlocking signal displaying "stop," he will have to press a "stop release button" before releasing the brakes, otherwise he'll get a penalty brake application... and lose more time.

The first section of ACSES, all in Rhode Island, went into effect on Saturday, and is operational in both directions on both tracks from milepost 139.3 (3.6 miles west of High Street interlocking) and MP 181.3 (eastern limits of Cranston Interlocking).

On "Day one," the fastest tracks for the Acela Expresses will be between mileposts 162 and 170, where the trains will be authorized to operate at 150 mph. That eight-mile stretch is between four miles east of Kingston and two miles west of Cranston.

The speedy trains will be permitted to operate between 130 and 135 mph between MP 155 (three miles west of Kingston) and MP 171.7 (three miles east of Davisville).

The FRA estimates the Acela Express trains will gross about 200,000 miles per year in revenue service operations, so it wants a report card every 50,000 miles at least for the first year. They will be looking at wheel wear rates, component failure rate and trend analyses for wheel profiles and defects, among other criteria. One set, referred to as the "No. 2 set," (2003-2001), is expected to rack up 250,000 miles at the end of the reporting period. That was the set that went to the Colorado test tracks.

A tip of the engineer's cap to P.T. McYard.


Reform council staff:

Time to split NEC fixed plant from operations?

By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

The staff of the Amtrak Reform Council (ARC), whose mission, loosely interpreted, is to ignore "sacred cows" and search for new ways to improve rail passenger service in America, has come up with a paper that fits that mission to a "T." The staff would split the infrastructure of the Northeast Corridor from Amtrak, place it in the hands of a different publicly funded entity or corporation, and let Amtrak concentrate on its primary mission: running the trains.

At the outset, we want to be absolutely certain that everyone who reads this knows and understands that the views expressed in the "working paper" (so labeled by the ARC staff) do not reflect the position of the Amtrak Reform Council itself; not until such time as the ARC votes on it. Since the staff paper is likely to stir considerable ARC debate, the council's approval is not a foregone conclusion.

The point here is to say that there is no excuse, none, for any public official, private interest, newspaper, magazine or broadcast journalist to say or imply that the staff report is an official position of the Amtrak Reform Council.

The document (a copy of which has been obtained by D: F) will be the subject of a council hearing, however, and you can be certain that, figuratively speaking, by the time the November 14 hearing ends, there will be some metaphoric "blood on the wall" of the hearing room.

Dated August 22, 2000, the working paper has been circulating among interested parties, including Amtrak itself, governors, mayors, relevant federal officials and key transportation lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

As reported in our October 2 issue, Amtrak's comment to me was that the paper was being "reviewed" and that it would be "inappropriate" to comment at that time.

Behind the scenes, however, there has been comment aplenty at Amtrak headquarters. Amtrak "went ballistic" was the way one source summed up the reaction.

The staff sees an advantage for Amtrak in separating "the financial and business operations of its national system of passenger, mail, and express services" away from the burden of "owning, operating, maintaining and improving the massive system of tracks, tunnels, and bridges, and electrification and control systems of the Northeast Corridor (NEC)."

As we have pointed out repeatedly in this space, the other intercity transportation modes - airways and highways - have split operations and infrastructure entities. Airlines don't own airports or the air traffic control system any more than bus companies or truckers own highways. The infrastructure is separately owned, enabling the operators to focus on actually running the transportation conveyances themselves. That is what they're in business for, after all.

That is a major - if not the major reason why, in the post World War II period, the nation's railroads, burdened with both infrastructure and operations, went "to Hell in a day coach" (to cite the title of a book on the subject) while there seemingly was no limit to the future of air and highway expansion.

In the Northeast, Amtrak owns both the fixed plant and the operation of the trains. Elsewhere, Amtrak operates its trains on trackage owned by the Class I freight carriers. The latter situation, which we have addressed in the past, is a subject for future articles. The ARC working paper deals exclusively with the NEC.

The current arrangement "puts Amtrak at a serious disadvantage compared to its competition, namely intercity bus and air travel, in the Northeast region of the country."

Furthermore, this "financial millstone around Amtrak's neck," said the ARC staff, "will require billions of dollars in deferred maintenance and delayed capital expenditures" to the tune of an estimated $5 to 7$ billion, a figure that went unchallenged in the ARC's first report last January.

Since then, Amtrak has issued its "South End Transportation Plan and Infrastructure Study" (the New York-Washington leg), which identified a need for $3.19 billion over the next five years and a cumulative total of $12 billion over the next 25 years.

Figures like this are kicked around all the time for highways and nobody blinks an eye. But suggest it for a passenger rail system, and you have a case of "heart attack city."

ARC staffers allege that "Amtrak's NEC serves as a de facto funding conduit from the federal government to the commuter authorities along the NEC." The report estimates that Amtrak subsidizes the riders of the commuter train systems between Boston and Washington at "perhaps $100 million annually." That comes straight out of the Amtrak budget. The affected commuter entities include Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC), Southeast Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA), New Jersey Transit (NJT), and Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA).

As one who periodically travels by train between Washington and Baltimore, I can tell you that the round trip MARC fare on that run is $10. If you miss the last MARC train or need to make the trip at another time when MARC trains are not available, you can expect to pay in the neighborhood of twice as much to ride between the same two cities on Amtrak.

Though the ARC staff doesn't refer to it, there may be a public service rationale for this kind of cross-subsidy. After all, the northeast is the most densely populated area of the country and has a more urgent need for commuter trains than, say, the desert country of southern Nevada.

The question that arises is whether such subsidies are fair when, as Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) lamented at a recent Senate hearing, the Pioneer was yanked from the Amtrak timetable, and Amtrak is effectively telling the senator's eastern Oregon taxpayers that if they want train service back they can hold "a bunch of bake sales" to raise the money.

"All Amtrak passengers, together with the states that pay subsidies to Amtrak for services in their states arguably bear part of the costs of operating, maintaining and upgrading the NEC," says the ARC staff. On the eve of what is (at last) the beginning of Acela Express service from Boston to Washington, the working paper warns that the Northeast Corridor Fixed Plant (NECFP) has "physical problems that present both barriers to Acela's effective operation and a risk of substantial tort liability." Specifically, "Amtrak's inability to fund more than $650 million in emergency fire and life safety improvements in New York City's Penn Station complex could expose Amtrak (as owner) to potentially extensive tort liability even though Amtrak's passengers are less than 15 percent of the passengers using the complex. New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Rail Road carry far more passengers in and out of Penn Station than does Amtrak. This does not count the two subway lines that serve Penn Station.

The council's staff paper argues that separating Amtrak train operations from the NECFP is essential if the proper capital resources are to be devoted to the fixed NEC plant.

In testimony last spring, Amtrak executives acknowledged that the requirements for overcoming the safety defects in a Penn Station area infrastructure that was built back in the early 'thirties by the old Pennsylvania Railroad would have to be done piecemeal over a period of years lasting anywhere from 2005 to 2014 because Amtrak does not have the budget to do it any other way. Added to that is the prospect of intolerable disruptions to regular service during repairs. (See D: F April 1, 2000. We promised you then we would revisit this issue in the future, and this seems as good a time as any to do it.)

Actually, the Penn Station disaster waiting to happen is only part of the story. An Amtrak conductor once told me, "If you think the Penn Station tunnels are bad, you ought to see the Baltimore tunnels. You don't want to know."

Indeed, a General Accounting Office (GAO) report for May 2000 actually displayed a photo of a cracked and displaced headwall at a bridge on the NEC in Maryland. The GAO auditors captioned the picture with the warning that "Defects such as this can occur from repeated freeze and thaw cycles and can lead to deviations in track surface alignment" or a failure of the structure itself which could result in "total loss of service on the line."

Well, then, who's to say that a separate fixed plant entity, either with a different profit-and-loss statement under Amtrak's roof or in a totally different corporation, won't also cost a lot of money? The ARC has a ready answer for that.

"Separating the NECFP from train operations will not reduce infrastructure costs, and it may be more costly because of additional administrative costs the separation will likely incur," stated the working paper, "But it should have two principal effects, both of which are important."

First, an accurate accounting of the costs of operating, renewing, and improving the corridor without having them filtered through the accounting practices of the a company trying to balance the capital and operating needs of the NECFP against the needs of the nationwide Amtrak operating system, including the trains operating on the NEC itself, but also putting Amtrak on a "level playing field" with airline and bus company competitors.

Congress needs to consider this separation as a means of creating "the effective institutional mechanism for supporting intercity rail service (that) it has never had."

(Note - for readers who have followed articles in this space in the past, I swear I have not discussed any of this with the authors of the ARC staff study. I don't even know who they are. But you know we've alluded to this very problem many times in D: F.)

The working paper notes that separating the NEC infrastructure from Amtrak "could allow Amtrak to focus on being the financially self-sufficient and effective operator the Congress wants it to be of an efficient and growing network of rail passenger, mail and express services throughout the country: in the NEC, over the national system of freight railroads, and on all 11 emerging high-speed rail corridors. At the same time, such structural changes will place the coming burden of future passenger rail infrastructure development costs (perhaps as much as $35 billion nationwide over the next 25 years regardless of the specific institutional arrangements that are chosen) on federal and state governments and on other beneficiaries of infrastructure development, which is where it belongs."

The ARC staff anticipated arguments against this proposal (perhaps as a result of Amtrak going "ballistic"?) and dealt with them: "Separating the NECFP from train operations is just the first step in the dismantling of Amtrak."

On the contrary, the council staff believes this action would "facilitate the unification of Amtrak as a national passenger, mail and express train operating company. Amtrak has been plagued from its inception with the widely-held-suspicion that it highly favors the Northeast corridor market while it neglects and under-funds the rest of the nation's passenger services" (Senator Wyden's "bunch of bake sales"). The separation would allow Amtrak "to focus on getting its national system of train operations in order.

"Amtrak also needs to keep its infrastructure and train operations integrated to hold the NEC together."

The ARC staff asks, in effect, if this is the same "holding together" that has financially burdened Amtrak to the point where conflicts in management priorities have allowed "approximately $5-7 billion in deferred maintenance and delayed capital expenditures to accumulate in the 24 years since Amtrak was given control of the (already deteriorating) NECFP."

"The proposed separation would disrupt Acela preparation."

The response: "The separation, by placing the responsibility for improvement in an adequately funded, single purpose agency should actually speed up the pace of improvements needed to permit Acela Express trains to achieve their full operating potential."

"The separation could complicate things for Amtrak on the NEC, resulting in lower quality customer service."

Amtrak's operating rights on the corridor would not be infringed, said the council staff, adding it would be important that the plant be maintained to support safe operation of up to 150 mph service.

"Separating Amtrak from the assets of the NEC fixed plant could weaken Amtrak's political base."

In a statement to the council, Amtrak argued, "unlike other modes of transportation which have a dedicated source of funds which allows them to plan their investments, Amtrak, by and large, has never had that.

Much of the work we do, therefore, is done based on the vicissitudes and vagaries of the annual appropriations process."

The response: "This is precisely the council staff's point. It should not be Amtrak's responsibility to carry this burden. More importantly, one of the most important elements of infrastructure in the Northeastern U.S. should not be subject to 'the vicissitudes and vagaries of the annual appropriations process.'"

But will the states adequately fund the NEC?

Amtrak has already said that of the estimated $12 billion to improve the NECFP over 25 years, the states would be expected to cough up $6 billion. The NECFP has not been adequately funded under present arrangements, as witness the existing fire and safety hazards at Penn Station, identified as long ago as 1991. Chronic problems such as the Penn Station situation "are a clear signal that this massive piece of infrastructure should be funded... on a... federal-state-user basis, as are highways, airports and air traffic control systems, and waterways."

The ARC staff points out the present system for funding the corridor is "haphazard, inequitable in various respects, and certainly inadequate."

That should give the witnesses at the November 14 hearing a lot of meat on which to chew.

What we are witnessing is the chickens coming home to roost. Amtrak started out on a shoestring, having inherited a lot of equipment that was dilapidated, operating in the east on railroads that had gone broke, in part precisely because they could not support passenger service while also maintaining the infrastructure. The Penn Station disaster-in-waiting is directly traced to that history, and cannot be blamed on Amtrak.

On top of that, there was a lot of pretending going on, as for example, that such an arrangement, under federally funded management, could become profitable in two years. Indeed, Senate Commerce chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) alludes to that old fantasy even today.

The result is that Amtrak has felt a political need to play a cat-and-mouse game for fear that laying out the true costs of a national rail passenger system would cause lawmakers to throw up their hands and junk the whole thing.

But now, guess what?

Air travelers are angry because their planes can't get out of the airports as scheduled, and complaining about auto traffic has become an American pastime, second only to baseball. And all of sudden, many are saying maybe we ought to think about high-speed rail.

But at the end of 2000, the only "high-speed" train is the expected Acela Express which is to operate on a deficient infrastructure that includes life-threatening safety hazards and whose antiquated catenary between New York and Washington will not allow it to operate at its advertised speed of 150-mph, which will be possible only on the newer catenary between New Haven and Boston.

States are planning for corridors elsewhere outside the northeast. But you don't do that overnight.

If any finger-pointing is in order, one could cite the lack of any substantive planning after World War II. Billions were thrown at the highway and air systems, but not the railroads, and if we are to get that third leg of the national transportation stool, it will cost money to "play catch-up" to the other two major passenger modes.

The ARC staff report, whether one agrees with all of its ideas, is urging passenger train advocates to just lay it all out on the table so the nation can face up to what is needed, and set about doing it.

Political hurdles abound. For example, politicians in the Northeast like the arrangement whereby their badly needed and popular commuter trains are cross-subsidized. But the ARC staff which, granted, does not have to face voters or fight determined opposition lobbies, is saying if you can't tackle this problem up front now, when?


NARP'S Capon denies using Amtrak lists
By Leo King
D: F Editor

National Association of Railroad Passengers executive director Ross Capon has denied that his organization is using lists of Amtrak employees to solicit memberships in NARP.

"We do not even have access to such lists. Please figure out a way to stop spreading this misinformation about our activities," he wrote via e-mail to NCI President James P. RePass on October 11.

Capon was responding to an article that appeared in D:F's September 11 issue under the headline, "NARP members seek to cut ties with Amtrak." Six prominent NARP members, Anthony Haswell, Adrian Herzog, William Lindley, Thomas Pulsifer, Edward Robert Sirovy and Paul A. Wilson stated in a press release, "NARP must maintain an arms-length posture towards Amtrak if it is to effectively represent the interests of the railroad passenger," and accused NARP of getting Amtrak employee lists to solicit contributions. They also argued that "regardless of how it is worded, [it] implies that NARP will not oppose labor's position in Amtrak labor-management disputes.... "

Capon told RePass, "I suppose you have every right to report on that letter to the NARP board. However, it galls me that your website thus is continuing to perpetuate false information. The letter, which you liberally quote, accuses NARP of doing something we do not do, and then gives an arrogant lecture on why we shouldn't do it. In the future, if you want to publish something like this, please ask me if it is factually accurate."

RePass stated he understood Capon's concern, and would make sure D: F corrected any errors, "which will always be our policy."

Capon told Destination: Freedom NARP will not cut its ties with Amtrak.

"We have no plans to change any of our policies."

Capon said he spoke with Haswell at a Senate Transportation Committee hearing a few weeks ago.

"I spoke with him about it at the McCain hearing. He certainly didn't have any evidence."

Haswell, a founder of NARP, has in recent years become a critic of both Amtrak and NARP.

NARP's Capon stated, "My fundamental point to Jim RePass in a follow-up message was, what is the point of an advocacy organization which may raise doubts about a fellow organization with similar goals?? I would hope you would leave the other stuff alone, just run the correction, and if you run the correction, you've got that on the record."

[Publisher's Note: One of the most difficult aspects of publishing an advocacy newsletter is keeping faith with the principals of honest journalism, while remembering that we are advocates for a cause. Advocacy also introduces questions of orthodoxy. Disputes about whose approach is right, and whose is wrong, are a common debate within the ranks of any advocacy group's leadership. But one thing we must do, and will do, is always make an effort to contact the principal subjects of a controversial story before it is written, so that whenever a dispute does arise, and words (or letters) are exchanged, we call and get all sides of the story before we publish any of it - and ensure that baseless charges never see the light of day. To the degree that we have not lived up to that standard in this case, we will go and sin no more. Ross Capon has a reputation for accuracy and precision that is unparalleled in the cause of rail advocacy, and from many years' experience I know his word is good. While we all have critics on matters of policy, and others may have their own agendas, no one is better regarded, especially on matters of fact and substance, than is Ross Capon.

- Jim RePass, NCI CEO]


Bay State environmental chief holds rail key
The future of commuter rail service to the Massachusetts' South Shore lies now in the hand of the Bay State's environmental chief, Robert Durand.

A proposed $600 million commuter rail restoration from Boston to Fall River and New Bedford is in his hands, reports the Boston Globe. He is expected to decide by Oct. 30 whether to give a green light to the trains, which would cut across southern suburbs on their way to the coastal cities.

The line would be rebuilt on an abandoned route that runs through Hockomock Swamp, a 6,000-acre conservation area in Raynham and Easton. The swamp, which is the state's largest freshwater wetlands, is home to 17 rare, threatened, and endangered species of plants and animals. The state has recognized it as an official "Area of Critical Environmental Concern," and it is home to deer, coyote, and many kinds of birds. Most of the rare and endangered species are obscure creatures. They include the blue-spotted salamander, the spotted turtle, Hessel's hairstreak butterfly, the ringed boghaunter dragonfly, and the Mystic Valley amphipod, a fresh water crustacean. Opponents of the railroad say it will disrupt migration patterns and affect reproduction of the endangered species.

An MBTA report argues that there are no feasible alternatives to the route, which would be an extension of the existing Stoughton commuter rail line. The trains would run from Stoughton southward to Easton, Raynham, and Taunton, and then split into two branches, one to Fall River and the other to New Bedford. The MBTA conducted eight public hearings on the project this summer and fall.

Durand rejected the T's initial analysis of the environmental effects of the project last November, but the agency has since then done additional studies, and issued an 800-page report that outlined numerous planned environmental safeguards.

In the suburbs, most of the hearings were packed with opponents of the trains. In Fall River and New Bedford, supporters filled the halls.


Fast trains in Florida?
Florida is not only asking its voters to build a fast track rail line in November, but its lawmakers have even gone so far to make it a constitutional question.

On Nov. 7, voters will be asked to approve an amendment to the state Constitution, which would force government to start building the high-speed rail network in 2003 to link Florida's five largest cities. The state legislature would decide which cities the train, which would zip along at 120 mph or faster, should link.

The amendment's first line may prove attractive to voters: "To reduce traffic congestion and provide alternatives to the traveling public," it states, and then goes on to direct government to build the high-speed routes.

Opponents raised no money to fight the proposal because they thought the state Supreme Court would knock the issue off the ballot. But after deliberating for four months, the court decided on October 3 to allow the issue to go before voters.

Thanks to Dave Bowe


Maine promotes Calais Branch revival
Maine's DOT is seeking "qualifications and proposals for the production of a video to promote development of the Calais Branch Rail Line."

The state's transportation agency advertised last week in state newspapers.

The DOT intends "to use this film to solicit interest from the recreational and tourism industries in partnering with the MDOT in the development of this rail line."

The ad stated, "The goals of this project are to increase utilization of transportation options, encourage visitors to travel in Maine without their cars, and to support economic development in Eastern Maine."

The state-owned Calais Branch runs 127 miles from Brewer to Calais.

"This corridor provides access to unique natural and cultural features that would support excursion rail, rail and sail tours, and ecotourism," which include national and state parks and wildlife areas; hiking and biking trails; lake, river, and ocean waterfront; historic sights; lighthouses, and unspoiled New England villages and towns."

The ad also stated, "The Calais Branch offers an uncommon opportunity for excursion rail service combined with ecotourism activities and cruise ship access in Bar Harbor and Eastport.

The ad did not state the condition of the track, nor whether it was even currently in service.

Filmmakers were encouraged to contact Tracy Perez at DOT's Passenger Transportation office, 16 State House Station, Augusta, Maine.

Her ZIP is 04333-0016, and telephone number (207) 287-3318. She can also be e-mailed at tracy.perez@state.me.us. Sealed proposals will be received until 2:00 p.m. on November 8.

Thanks to Brandon Kulik


'Bullet Train' in California's future?
The California dream of a bullet train shooting between the Bay Area and Los Angeles at more than 200 mph gained momentum on Wednesday when the California High Speed Rail Authority awarded contracts for engineering and environmental studies.

The authority, given new life by the state legislature and Gov. Gray Davis in this year's budget, entered the contracts with three firms that will examine how a statewide high-speed rail network could be built and its effects on the environment, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The studies are part of a $25 million, three-year undertaking that will recommend the route of the 700-mile train system, station locations and how the system would be constructed and operated.

John Barna, the authority's deputy director, said, "This is no longer a vision. California is in the high-speed rail business right now."

But while the trains may be speedy, taking about 2 hours to travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles' Union Station, the rail authority's plans are not. They call for the trains to be running in 13 to 16 years if the state legislature or California voters can come up with the $25 billion estimated cost of the railroad.

The authority chose to take the slow route late last year, opting not to go to voters this November and ask for the $25 billion. Instead, the authority wants to advance in small steps, beginning with the three years of environmental and engineering studies.

Some high-speed rail advocates have criticized the go-slow approach, saying it could kill the project. But Barna said the size, complexity and cost of the proposal require careful planning that involves everyone concerned.

"We need to move as fast as we can, but as deliberately as we can," he said. "We've learned that in California, you have to be deliberate about what you do, and (you) have to be inclusive." The speedy rail network would link Sacramento and the Bay Area with Los Angeles and San Diego.

According to the authority's business plan, the bullet train would be competitive with in-state air travel, offering significantly cheaper tickets and comparable travel times, if getting to and from increasingly crowded airports is taken into account. The authority estimates the bullet trains would carry more than 42 million riders a year and produce $900 million annually, with $300 million in profits.



Freight image

NCI: Leo King

Norfolk Southern's "clipper" crew has put another freight train together at Macon's Brosnan Yard in Georgia, as a southbound road job leaves, at left. Can state or federal funds help out in order to get high-speed corridors?
Subsidize freight, too!

Class I carriers say, 'Show us the money'

By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

Freight rail industry leaders are expressing a willingness to help develop high-speed corridors for passenger trains and accept subsidies for that purpose.

In return, not only would they expect government entities to put up the money to beef up the infrastructure to accomplish that, but they would also expect that any such undertaking would factor in the need for growth in freight rail traffic. That doesn't mean painting the freight trains into narrow "graveyard shift" windows of operation either. In fact, one class I rail executive made perhaps the strongest plea yet for subsidies for freight train carriers.

In short, if people want more passenger trains, money will have to be provided for more tracks, and where high-speed passenger rail is involved, upgraded signal systems, too.

At the annual two-day Washington conference on "Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads," sponsored by Railway Age magazine, the keynoter, Burlington-Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) CEO Robert D. "Rob" Krebs declared that, in return with further advances in passenger service on his company's rights-of-way, there would have to be (for starters) full compensation for costs, including extra safety measures. There would have to be no interference with service to freight customers (his first priority), projected freight growth would have to be considered, and BNSF would have to maintain full control of dispatching and maintenance facilities. For commuter operations, BNSF would accept no liability.

In answer to my question, Krebs said yes, he "would take" government funding to upgrade BNSF trackage for passenger and freight operations. Later, Donald Itzkoff, a passenger train consultant with the firm Hopkins and Sutter, said he would have preferred to hear Krebs say he would actively "go after" such funding and lobby for it.

Nonetheless, the Krebs statement, similar to a comment at the conference last year by his Norfolk Southern counterpart, David Goode, is symbolic of a new direction on the part of the Class 1 rail lines. Whereas they used to say, "We don't want your government money because that just gets government's foot in the door to tell us how to run our business," now the mantra is something on the order of, "Show us the color of your money and we'll help you build a passenger train network with the understanding that, just like Hansel and Gretel, freight and passenger railroading must grow together."

The most straightforward freight railroad plea for federal subsidies came from Wiley Mitchell, senior counsel for Norfolk Southern. He made a pitch for government dollars to build up a portion of NS that carries no passenger trains.

"No highway project should be undertaken without considering an investment in the freight railroad as a solution," he told the gathering.

Public investment in railroads, he said, makes sense from several public policy perspectives, including the environment, fuel efficiency, safety, cost, capacity and congestion.

Some of America's existing railroad infrastructure was built back in the 1890s, Mitchell noted, and the railroads do not have the capital resources to make them more competitive. Not even "if you exhausted all the capital capacity of all the railroads in North America."

Government policy makers should mandate an investment alternative, in whole or in part, of every highway venture.

As an example, the Norfolk Southern executive was miffed that the state of Virginia had decided to upgrade Interstate Highway 81 while giving no consideration of investing in Norfolk Southern's freight-only trackage that parallels the highway that begins in Harrisburg, Pa., and later heads south on the Shenandoah line in a southwest direction through Virginia and beyond.

Surely, he lamented, the states of Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia could give consideration to "a more environmentally friendly answer" to traffic congestion than to add more lanes to I-81.

"It is a fallacy to consider I-81 in a vacuum," said Mitchell, especially when the traffic count is one truck every 13 seconds in each direction. For one-third of the investment, Norfolk Southern could provide comparable capacity, he argued.

The NS lawyer called for a major shift in policy, adding that Norfolk Southern did not have the resources for this "public interest investment."

Several attendees at the conference viewed Mitchell's statement as the boldest private railroad pitch yet in modern times for government subsidies.

Later in the day, Mitchell's NS colleague Bill Schafer, the carrier's corporate affairs director, told the conferees that "not nearly enough money is being talked about to pay for what is needed" in high speed rail corridors."

Further, he emphasized, high-speed passenger trains (meaning over 90 mph) are not compatible with conventional freights. The privately owned freight carriers, he said, cannot compete with the public purse, a comment that was right in line with Mitchell's statements.

"Continued encroachment on freight (trackage)," Schafer warned, "could result in some markets losing conventional freight service."

He expressed "additional concern" over Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater's designation of new high-speed rail corridors.

Schafer, who is based at Norfolk Southern's Philadelphia offices where he oversees the freight carrier's dealings with Amtrak, on whose tracks NS operates, noted the passenger traffic in the Northeast is getting more and more crowded, with new projects about to begin or in advanced planning. These include the upcoming Amtrak high-speed Acela Express, Delaware DOT commuter, Southern New Jersey Light Rail Express, a new commuter line from Philadelphia to Reading on an NS right-of-way, and expansion of Maryland commuter service (MARC) in a way that could affect Norfolk Southern.

He also complained of hindrances to freight caused by high level platforms that were too close to the edge of the trains (good for passengers, but potentially difficult for freight) and catenaries that were too low. Passenger equipment on the Northeast Corridor, he said, was about the same size it had been since World War I. Freight equipment, on the other hand, "has grown in all its dimensions."

After the session, I told Schafer that taken together, his comments and those of Wiley Mitchell might be taken to mean that if the governors of Virginia and North Carolina forge ahead with their plans for a Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor on Norfolk Southern trackage that roughly parallels I-95, then public funding ought to go to support freight-only trackage near I-81. Schafer replied he could see how it might be interpreted that way, but he did not want to downgrade the need for freight traffic on the projected high-speed line as well. The implication, again, is finding the money for additional tracks.

This conference was very different from the first Railway Age gathering I attended two years ago. At that time, you heard more of the traditional locking of horns between freight and passenger interests. Now we are at the point where the Class 1 carriers are saying, "Very well, put your trains on our rights of way if you also bring public money to the table to protect freight growth as well - and think in terms of building extra tracks."

Mitchell, during his question and answer period, left the door open to the idea of freight railroads sharing profits derived from publicly funded freight operations with the public purse that provided the money.

One other rail executive later said that if it comes to that, ultimately someone may be taking a look at government taking over the railroad infrastructure, leaving the railroads free to run the trains.

"Maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea," remarked this railroad person, obviously preferring anonymity.

The private freight railroads have vigorously fought any thought of federal assumption of the infrastructure ownership. By and large, they are very wary of losing control of the railroads over which their trains operate. Moreover, they note, any sale of the trackage would run into the billions, possibly more than the taxpayers would be willing to bear.

But in the boardrooms of the railroads, one perceives what a rail operative described as "a sense of reality" that the public policy makers are determined to have more passenger trains.

Okay, say the freight carriers, in so many words, "Show us the money!"


BNSF-CN link bimodal trains
Canadian National Railway and BNSF said on Saturday the have made a service agreement "to create a seamless bimodal RoadRailer network linking Montreal, Toronto, Chicago and the United States Pacific Southwest (California and Arizona)." The partnership, they said, extends CN's Montreal-Toronto-Chicago RoadRailer service for general merchandise to the Pacific Southwest from Chicago over BNSF. It also expands BNSF's refrigerated Ice Cold Express service for Pacific Southwestern shippers of fruits and vegetables beyond Chicago to Toronto and Montreal over CN lines. The new service began Oct. 16.

Staggers Rail Act became law 20 years ago
"By stripping away needless and costly regulation in favor of marketplace forces wherever possible, this act will help assure a strong and healthy future for our nation's railroads and the men and women who work for them."

That's what President Jimmy Carter said, when he signed the Staggers Rail Act on October 14, 1980.

After ushering in two decades of improved rail efficiency, lower shipping rates and higher productivity, the Staggers Rail Act, which partially deregulated America's freight rail system, turned 20 years old on October 14.

The Association of American Railroads made a point of observing the day.

The law was named after Rep. Harland Orrin Staggers (1907-1991), a Democratic solon from West Virginia, who fought a bitter struggle championing a free marketplace, and less government intervention in railroad business. He hailed from Keyser, W.Va., and was elected for 16 consecutive terms from the state's 2nd District, between 1949 and 1981. His work led to the dismantling of the Interstate Commerce Commission, and the creation of the Surface Transportation Board.

"Without the Staggers Act, the freight railroad industry, in all probability, would not have survived as a privately owned, self-supporting, tax-paying enterprise," said Ed Hamberger, AAR's President and CEO.

"Staggers rescued the industry from oppressive regulations that dictated rail prices, earnings, and operating practices. Prior to Staggers, railroads were unable to earn enough to maintain their systems, let alone invest and grow their business." By the late 1970s, taxpayers were paying close to $1 billion a year to keep some railroads afloat.

"The Staggers Act allowed the marketplace, not federal regulators, to determine the day-to-day operation of the railroads. Because the law lets railroads price services based on demand, like other businesses, the industry is now able to shoulder the huge costs involved in running a national transportation system," said Hamberger. "Without Staggers, the government would have had to provide the capital needed to run the freight railroads. Staggers has clearly saved the taxpayers billions of dollars."

Customers and consumers have benefited from Staggers, as well, Hamberger stated.

"Rail rates have fallen by 57 percent on average, saving consumers some $10 billion a year."

According to the World Bank, U.S. railroads offer the lowest rates and most cost-effective service of any rail freight system in the world, the AAR stated in a press release.

Accident rates have declined by two-thirds while productivity has increased by 171 percent.

"The rail industry has made tremendous gains in productivity, safety and efficiency since deregulation. We celebrate the success of the Staggers Rail Act, which has taught us that the marketplace is best at determining business practices, not excessive federal regulations," said Hamberger.


Talgo rear at Providence><BR><BR>
<P ALIGN=Right><B><I>NYNH&H Railroad: Collection of Leo King</I></B></P>
<B><I>Remember that photo we showed you a couple of weeks ago of the ACF Talgo passing through Providence, Rhode Island? It was a head-end shot, but here's what the train looked like from the rear. A New Haven Railroad policeman is standing at the left, on hand, like the rest of us, gawking at this new-fangled choo-choo from those folks in Spain on its way to Boston on a summer day.<</I></B>
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We try to be accurate in the stories we write, but even seasoned pros err occasionally. If you read something you know to be amiss, or if you have a question about a topic, we'd like to hear from you. Please e-mail the crew at leoking@nationalcorridors.org. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write.

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Destination: Freedom'seditor, Leo King, also writes for "ThemeStream," a forum for writers and readers. King's articles are all rail-related, and chronicle events over the last ten years on the Northeast Corridor, particularly in New England. Look for his articles at http://www.themestream.com under the heading "Travel," and the sub-heading, "Riding the Rails."

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