Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
  NCI Logo Vol. 1 No. 28, October 30, 2000
Copyright © 2000, NCI, Inc.
James P. RePass, President
Leo King, Editor
 

A weekly North American Railroad update



NCI: Leo King

F-40PHs are still the primary power between Boston and New Haven, Conn., whether they travel along the Shore Line, or the "Inland Route" via Springfield. Either way, they still wind up in New Haven, and are exchanged for electric AEM-7s, and sometimes the new HHP-8s. In the months ahead, look for more electric engines to haul the trains.
'Poison pill' threatened, dropped

Rail bond bill still awaits action

By Wes Vernon
Washington correspondent

The seemingly endless soap opera of the High Speed Rail Investment Act continued as we went to press Saturday morning.

As we approached the weekend, President Clinton had threatened to veto the tax bill to which the bond bill was attached. But Friday night, NARP was telling its members that the final vote on the tax measure had been put off until Monday in hopes that weekend negotiations would iron out some differences and thus avoid the veto.

As a backup strategy, NARP was urging its members to tell their lawmakers to make sure that in those negotiations, the HSRIA does not get bumped. The issues dividing the White House and the GOP lawmakers are unrelated to HSRIA. But until the whole package is signed on the dotted line, high-speed rail cannot be assumed to be safe.

Meanwhile, in the House, as a sub-plot to this drama, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) tried to attach a "poison pill" caveat to the Labor-HHS Appropriations bill that said if the bonding bill is implemented, Amtrak could not accept any appropriations for its regular budget. Wolf, who has made a career of blowing hot and cold on Amtrak over the years, said that with the rail bond bill added, Amtrak was "double-dipping."

For all intents and purposes, the Wolf measure would have left Amtrak with two choices - issue no bonds next year, or bring Amtrak operations to a virtual halt.

Best guess here is that someone reminded Wolf, who chairs the House Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, that some of the bond money in HSRIA was destined for the Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor which is very much in the planning stages, with the strongest impetus coming from his own state of Virginia, along with North Carolina, and that the Southeast Corridor is a project near and dear to the heart of his fellow Virginia Republican, Gov. Jim Gilmore.

Whatever the reason, NARP was able to report Friday night that Wolf had withdrawn the amendment. So we were right back to the focus on the HSRIA itself.

The question mark, as of this writing, is what happens in the negotiations? Will HSRIA be one of the sacrificial lambs, dropped as part of a "compromise" between the president and congressional leaders? NARP advised keeping the e-mails and phone calls coming to your congressmen and senators.


Leadership kills rail retirement bill
By Wes Vernon
Washington correspondent

Three senators have killed the so-called "60-30" railroad retirement bill.

That means no additional retirement benefits for rail labor. It would have allowed retirement for those rail employees at age 60 who had worked on the railroad for 30 years. Rejection of the measure means no $400 million in annual savings (by Association of American Railroads estimate) for the carriers, which would have had "the opportunity to increase efficiency through improved investment earnings on Railroad Retirement assets."

The three leaders of the opposition were Senators Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), Don Nickles (R-Okla.), and Pete Dominici (R-N.M.). They persuaded Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott not to bring the bill up for a vote on the floor prior to adjournment. Reportedly, part of the rationale for this was to "leave the money on the table" for tax cuts.

There is no doubt that if the bill had hit the floor, it would have passed by a crushing margin. It had the backing of nearly 40 Republican senators and near unanimous support among Democrats. Moreover, it had the strong support of Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bill Roth (R-Del.), who is facing a tough re-election battle at home, and has succeeded in persuading the Senate leadership to back most of his other projects.

But not this time.

Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) also pleaded with the leadership to back the retirement bill, but in the end, to no avail.

Two weeks ago in the Senate Finance Committee, Gramm had argued there was something unfair about lowering the railroad retirement age for railroad workers when Congress is raising the retirement age for other employees receiving Social Security.

Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.) responded that this was an "apples and oranges" comparison, given the different "demographics" involved.

The AAR expressed disappointment in the failure of the bill, but also let it be known the industry would be pushing for its re-introduction and enactment in the next Congress that convenes in January.

Labor union reaction tended to be more blunt. The United Transportation Union (UTU) accused the Senate leadership of not "standing with the more than 50,000 widows and widowers who need additional benefits and the many thousands of railroaders who are looking forward to a well-deserved early retirement."

The bill would have cut retirement taxes for rail employees and would have allowed a surviving spouse to inherit a retiree's full pension, as opposed to 50 percent of the pension under current rules.

However, the railroads may be getting something out of the tax bill.

Lott attached to the major tax bill a provision repealing the 4.3 percent diesel fuel tax. This is a goal the class 1 carriers have pursued for years. They argue it puts them in a competitive bind with other modes, which are not burdened by this tax.

The retirement bill passed the House, 391 to 25, and had 83 co-sponsors in the Senate. Thus, it was yanked out from under the noses of an overwhelming 83 percent majority in the Senate and an even more overwhelming 90 percent-plus majority in the House. Odds like that would normally be considered prohibitive for any opposition. But an election year end-of-the session rush on Capitol Hill is anything but normal.


'Major surgery' for Northeast timetable
Amtrak's Northeast Corridor underwent major surgery yesterday, which included making slots "created for all future Acela Express trains, and Northeast Direct and Acela Regional schedules." The carrier said even commuter rail outfits have "adjusted service to avoid conflicts" with the new Acela patterns. Railroad officials said "It is the most far-reaching timetable change since the introduction of Metroliner service."

Among the major changes is Acela Regional trains losing the "130" number series. The numbers will be phased out and the regional trains will renumbered.

Other train numbers are changing as well. For example, Train No. 159 in the new schedule refers to a 5:10 p.m. weekend train from New York City to Washington. In the old timetable, that train number referred to a weekday Philadelphia to Washington train. No. 12, formerly The Fast Mail, is off the Shore Line to Boston and now terminates in Springfield, Mass., at 10:10 a.m.

Elsewhere, "160" series trains are weekends-only trains.

A slot has been reserved to introduce one high-speed train on weekdays from Washington to Boston and return. Amtrak had not set a startup date nor specific times in the timetable by our Friday deadline.

A new Acela Regional train, No. 190, will leave New York at 5:30 a.m. and arrive in Boston at 9:45 a.m. The train will make stops in New Rochelle, N.Y., Stamford, Bridgeport, New Haven, Old Saybrook, and New London, Conn., as well as other places.

Meanwhile, The former No. 178, which had been diverted a couple of years ago to run via in the Springfield line to Boston arriving at 3:30 a.m., will be replaced by a train leaving Penn Station at 7:30 p.m. and arrive in Boston shortly after midnight - and its trip time will be even further reduced, Amtrak said, "when new electric locomotives are available."

Train 177 will become an Acela Regional train, and will leave Boston at 3:20 p.m. and make limited stops. Trip time will be three hours and 55 minutes.

An 8:00 p.m. Washington-New York City Metroliner is being restored to the schedule, and when the equipment is available, it will become an Acela Express.


Commuter rail in Southland stalled

After years of mulling new mass-transit options for Atlanta, the state of Georgia is ready to put commuter trains on the fast track. The only problem is that it may be a long while before the region's largest freight railroads - CSX Corp. and Norfolk Southern Corp. - climb aboard.

Georgia would like to run passenger trains on existing rail owned by the freight carriers, reported The Wall Street Journal, which dominate rail transportation in the Southeast with nearly 15,000 miles of track. The state wants the trains running in three years and needs the railroads" permission, but the railroads say that while they are trying to be responsive, they are too busy worrying about their core business to concentrate on governments' commuter-rail wish lists.

Both railroads are struggling mightily with complications related to their joint, $10-billion takeover and carve-up last year of another railroad, Conrail, Inc. Freight tie-ups and service failures, although improving lately, have led to lower earnings and plummeting stock prices.

Elsewhere in the Southeast, communities such as Orlando and Nashville are also expected to encounter holdups as they try to clear freight tracks for passenger trains.


Britain's embattled rail chiefs announced plans on Thursday to improve safety on a national network thrown into chaos by the fallout from a fatal high-speed train crash a fortnight ago when an express train derailed at Hatfield just north of London, and four people died. British authorities said a broken rail was to blame.

Rail leaders pledged to put into place within two weeks measures to fix faulty tracks around the country amid warnings of more delays and growing lack of public confidence in the rail industry, according to a report from Reuters.

One of the main rail routes through Scotland was closed on Wednesday and drastic speed limits were imposed on dozens of stretches of track around Britain over safety concerns.

Meanwhile, another derailment last Thursday at Virgina Water, southwest of London, left four coaches on the ground, but there were no serious injuries.

Tracks are now being reported as faulty in many other locations.

"It has been a difficult 10 days for everyone. What happened at Hatfield was truly ghastly," said Gerald Corbett, who heads Railtrack, Britain's rail infrastructure company.

After talks with Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott on Thursday, rail industry executives admitted passengers would face more delays as the biggest ever inspection of the network is carried out.

London's Clapham Junction, one of Europe's busiest railway interchanges, was partially closed over the weekend to allow track inspectors to examine the interlocking. Railtrack has identified 1,850 sites across the rail network with damaged track, and has said speed restrictions may be imposed on up to 300 of them. Trains have already been limited to speeds as low as 14 mph on some of the worst affected stretches of track, causing severe delays for commuters.

The weight of high-speed trains on the track causes what industry experts call "microcracks," which are invisible to the naked eye but thought to be responsible for train derailments.


VIA is buying new EMD engines
VIA is purchasing seven high-speed General Motors (EMD) locomotives to complement its current locomotive fleet, an investment of up to $25 million. The new GM F59PHI locomotives will replace seven LRC locomotives currently in use, and maintain VIA's capacity to operate high-speed trains.

The new locomotives will operate up to 100 mph, and are expected to maintain or improve VIA's current trip times, the Canadian carrier said.

The locomotives comply with current Canadian EPA engine emissions standards, and to CN track force requirements.

The purchase marks the beginning of VIA's locomotive replacement program, which is up to 21 new locomotives for the Quebec City to Windsor corridor.


Burkhardt starts WC proxy war

The former CEO of Wisconsin Central Transportation Corp. said last week he is launching a campaign to oust the company's current board of directors and replace them with a new set of people who will "improve company performance and maximize share value," according to Crain's Chicago Daily Business News.

Edward A. Burkhardt, who stepped down from the company last summer after last year's defeat of management's proposal to adopt an anti-takeover measure, said in a statement that the current board has not tried to stop the earnings slide that began shortly after he left. Burkhardt still owns a 7 percent stake in the company.

Burkhardt said he and a group of other shareholders seek shareholder consent to dump the current board. The group also wants to explore the possibility of selling the company and discontinue efforts to invest in "highly risky and low return" international rail privatizations.

"It is clear that the present board has no effective strategy in place to reverse this decline and to unlock the inherent value of Wisconsin Central for the benefit of its owners," Burkhardt said. "We are tired of experiencing the continuous flow of earnings warnings and downgrades by analysts."

While declining to discuss details, a spokeswoman for Wisconsin Central said the company is planning to oppose a board overhaul.

"We intend to oppose the solicitation of the Burkhardt group and will be filing an official opposition with the (Securities and Exchange Commission) within a few days," she said.

Burkhardt was the driving force in the company successful North American railroad strategy. He was also the architect of Wisconsin Central's investments in railroads overseas, but a strategy that, so far, has not lived up to expectations.


BNSF allows UP to run on some tracks
BNSF has agreed to let UP to operate over 235 miles of its tracks between Bakersfield and Stockton, Calif., and specifically between milepost 885.2 and 1120.54.

The STB gave its okay on October 20.

BNSF gave UP the green light to operate over their rails when UP's trackage is out of service for scheduled maintenance.

Employees are protected by the conditions imposed in a Norfolk and Western Ry. Co. ruling from the former ICC in 1980, which remains in effect.


NCI: Leo King

Some railroads, like Massachusetts' MBTA, promote Operation Lifesaver on their rolling stock, as evidenced by engine 1034 (an F40PH).
'OLI' works to save lives across U.S.
By Leo King
D:F Editor

Faster trains are coming to Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, and getting across the tracks safely is going to become a bigger issue than it already is.

Pamela Hartle, Maryland Operation Lifesaver state coordinator, said, "We do not seek to close any crossings at grade - only get people across at specified, safe and protected locations."

There are 49 OLI state coordinators, one for each state, she said, and the organization provides educational materials and expertise.

"Each state is set up differently," she said. "Some are incorporated non-profits, like Maryland. We are a 501(c)(3), so we solicit our own funding."

Hartle said, "We are not affiliated with the railroads, but as partners in safety. We provide information to the public in many forms promoting grade crossing safety. That is, crossing tracks safely whether it be in an auto on foot. We are amazed at how many parents think it is acceptable to let their children put pennies on the rails, and play on the tracks or on railroad property because they did it as children. Children have been killed or blinded when the coin shoots off. One child was hit in the heart and killed instantly. They are kids, and often end up playing chicken with a train."

She also pointed out that "Trains have evolved technologically, and they often are silent when they approach, as opposed to the old clickety-clack of the wheels in previous years, catching many people unaware."

She opines that the media, "unfortunately, has portrayed trains as an exciting force to be challenged by showing vehicles speeding beside them, then trying to beat them across the crossing, or soaring over them at crossings.

"Trestles are falsely romanticized by pictures showing dad and the kids walking across them with their fishing rods or hunting rifles. When the train comes, there is no place for them to escape from that trestle except into the ravine, perhaps hundreds of feet below, or most often under the wheels of the train."

She added, "We know they love these children; we just need to get out there and help them understand the hazards of being on railroad property, not to mention that it is illegal and trespassing to be on railroad property. They can be fined, or imprisoned, or both."

The Maryland OLI coordinator noted, "Many people erroneously think trains can swerve or stop quickly. It takes more than one mile for the average freight train to stop, and that's from the time the engineer sees the obstruction until the train finally stops."

Maryland has a team of "dedicated volunteers," she said, "and around the country - who go into the schools and communities to give informative and interesting presentations to students, teachers, law enforcement, bus, and other professional drivers." She said their educational materials are excellent and are constantly being revised and updated.

"We are very age-specific" for school children. "We have everything from 'Sly Fox and Birdie' videos and coloring books for younger children to materials that will appeal to teenagers or adults. We work hard to try to make them aware of the potential danger, and to be careful when driving across tracks, and not to take a group of friends on the tracks to sit and party."

Hartle said they also work with "first responders" and other professional drivers. Those are mostly police, fire, and rescue people.

"In Maryland, we are currently beginning a program which will address our truck drivers, as we're finding that our automobiles are struck almost at the same rate, which is a sobering thought when that truck driver is carrying hundreds of gallons of gasoline. We have a specific education program just for them, as well as other professional drivers, just as we have specific presentation programs for police and fire departments. A list of the educational materials is available on our OLI web page (at http://www.oli.org).

"We are not involved with the crossing closing issues, only with our mission to educate the public and create safer rails for us all."


Follow Lincoln's Example, Mr. President

by Jim RePass
President, The National Corridors Initiative

The National Corridors Initiative respectfully asks you, Mr. President, to sign the omnibus tax bill you and the Congress have worked out over the past few weeks, because of the harm you will do if you refrain.

We and many other Americans understand that election-year Presidential politics may make it tempting to claim Congressional intransigence has lead to a bad bill, and threaten a veto to embarrass them into further concessions. Most Americans will not understand the legislative arcana at the core of this dispute.

But the record shows that you and both political parties in Congress have publicly supported almost every provision of that bill as its various components were passed by the Congress over the past year, often in the shape of separate bills now concatenated in into one.

Why do we care?

Because in that omnibus tax bill now threatened with your veto is the most important piece of infrastructure legislation - the High-Speed Rail Investment Act of 2000 - since the passage of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which funded the Interstate Highway system. From the perspective of history, it is one of the most important pieces of ground transportation legislation since Abraham Lincoln signed the bill authorizing the building of the Transcontinental Railroad on July 1, 1862.

The HSRIA was put together in a mighty work by Senators Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York and Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, and carried forward with truly Herculean effort by Sen. William Roth of Delaware. It is completely bipartisan and authorizes the first substantial, systemic investment in the American rail system in a generation. These funds will be used to rebuild and reinvigorate a freight and passenger system that must be revitalized if we are to end highway gridlock and airport winglock. What is more, a vital, high-capacity rail system will lower the cost of shipping, and enable many Americans of modest means to visit distant families. In sum, you will help to unite America by signing this bill.

Senators Moynihan and Lautenberg, two giants from a mold that we need to re-tool and from which we must hope to someday re-cast, are retiring. The odds of putting together a new bipartisan coalition next year are daunting.

Indeed, it has taken eight years to get this far.

If Abraham Lincoln could sign a bill to create a Transcontinental Railroad in the midst of a bloody and terrible Civil War then surely, sir, the partisan depredations of a mere election campaign should not stay your hand. The politics of the moment may naturally draw your attention, and make a veto tempting.

Please, Mr. President, look back across a century and a third to the example of Abraham Lincoln, let the politics pass, and sign the bill.

-- Jim RePass.



NCI: Leo King

Dover Street Yard in Boston was "Nirvana" for a 16-year-old boy in 1954. This was where the afternoon lineup started, with such great machines as an Alco DL-109, No. 0744, a Budd car, some RS-3s, FAs and PAs. All these engines were set to get their trains and scatter over the New Haven's system - some commuter trains, some "liners," and some freight jobs.

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.

In last week's lead story we said Acela Express trainset No. 2 went to Pueblo, Colo., as a test train. We have since learned it was actually trainset No. 1. No. 2 has been testing on the Northeast Corridor.

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

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

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."

In an effort to expand the on-line experience at the National Corridors Initiative web site, we are planning a page where we will feature 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 Site Webmaster in Boston.


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