Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 3 No. 45, November 4, 2002
Copyright © 2002, NCI, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - James Furlong
Editor - Leo King

A weekly North American rail and transit update


 

Tuesday is Election Day. We urge you to vote.

 


It’s referendum time

Transit questions await voter ballots

By Jim RePass and Wes Vernon

Despite frantic efforts by anti-transit forces, ballot questions on new and expanded transit systems are on ballots across the nation on Tuesday, and given a fighting chance of success. Elected bodies are likewise taking direct votes to advance transit funding.

Voters in Arkansas (Little Rock), California (various), Colorado (Aspen), Florida (Miami), Nevada (Las Vegas), North Carolina (Charlotte), Ohio (Cincinnati and Hamilton County; Columbus and Delaware County), South Carolina (Charleston), Virginia (Northern), and Washington State will all be asked yea or nay on various transit initiatives.

Minnesota’s legislature considered but did not pass a ballot question to provide permanent funding for the new Minneapolis-St. Paul light rail system. St. Louis, Missouri and Arlington, Texas are working on ambitious rail transit plans, but no general vote is planned this year.

Many of the initiatives are given a good chance at success as public transit continues to gain support across America, most recently in Tampa where trolley service has returned for the first time since 1946 (see feature story next week in D:F).

The short take on pending transit initiatives for which information was available, comes from various sources (see especially the Center for Transportation Excellence, online at http://www.cfte.org/) and the Amalgamated Transit Union online at http://www.atu.org/.

No one is expecting a sweep, and transit projects typically have to withstand voter scrutiny while highway projects generally do not, but most transit advocates are beginning to see successes, after many years of defeat, as congestion begins to be an issue that earns bi-partisan attention.


Return to index
Moody’s rates Amtrak ‘A3’

By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

Amtrak – which only a few months ago was looking at bankruptcy and possibly missing a payroll –is now on its way to restored health.

For one thing, Moody’s Investors Service has confirmed the passenger railroad’s A3 ratings. Moody’s cites the FRA $100 million loan and the Congressional $205 appropriation.

“In Moody’s opinion, these two measures demonstrate continued federal support for Amtrak given the strategically vital role it plays as the national passenger railroad,” said the ratings firm.

Moody’s Investors Service is a global credit rating, research and risk analysis firm, with more than 800 analysts worldwide.

The service also noted, “While there is greater scrutiny and the expectation of greater accountability, it is clear that the Bush Administration would like to avoid Amtrak shutdown or service interruptions.”

Also cited were new senior management’s focus on streamlining and getting back to Amtrak’s core business, the importance of Acela services, and a steady growth in ridership.

The only warning sign at the present time, said Moody’s, is the risk that the House’s lower version of Amtrak appropriations might result in pressure to pull the company’s funding to a level that could in turn “place downward pressure on the rating,” which is related to “the reliability of services provided, given badly needed capital investment.”

Amtrak President David Gunn, meanwhile, is proceeding with the “streamlining” of the “core business” that Moody’s notes. The company now has 500 fewer employees than it did when he took office in May. Of those laid off, 200 were managers.

His decisions, he told The AP last week, are based on the assumption that the higher Senate appropriations figure of $1.2 billion will be upheld, as opposed to $762 million on the House side. The lower figure, he said, would have “enormous repercussions.” The Amtrak board has approved a $3.4 billion budget that assumes the $1.2 billion support.

Gunn says there will be $76 million in the till at year’s end, and in reference to his predecessor’s mortgaging New York’s Penn Station just to meet ongoing expenses, he added, “We’re not selling my desk, and we’re not assuming any bank loans.”

The budget includes $11 million to repair 21 Superliner cars at Beech Grove, and Amtrak is rehiring 48 furloughed workers at Bear to fix damaged NEC cars.

In his interview with D:F last summer (See August 5 issue), Gunn said he would lean on the states to get them to help pay for rail services they receive. Judging by his comments to the wire service, the CEO has yet to make the sale on that one. The states are facing economic squeezes of their own right now, and are not in the mood to take on new costs.

He also reiterated that the long-distance trains are not the problem or fiscal drain on the budget that come lawmakers assume.

On a recent train trip to the West coast, Gunn found morale among Amtrak workers “amazingly good for what they go through and what they’ve been put through.”

Moody’s report also stated the firm “believes that Amtrak’s fiscal 2003 budget is a realistic one that assumes flat ridership, and no significant growth in revenues other than a 5 percent increase in ticket sales due to growth in premium products, namely Acela. The budget also assumes no cash-flow borrowing and forecasts an ending balance of $76 million.”

Moody’s opined that “apart from the risk that a lower amount is appropriated than the $1.2 billion requested, the most significant risks facing Amtrak in the coming year that could place downward pressure on the rating relate to the reliability of the services provided, given badly needed investment capital investment. Other significant risks are much the same as those faced by the transportation industry as a whole: the price of fuel, the threat of terrorism, a possible war on Iraq, and the disruption that these events would cause.”

Moody’s Investor Service is online at http://moodys.com.


Return to index
Amtrak accounting: is it clear yet?

By Leo King
Editor

The beans are still being counted at Amtrak, but now in a different way, says the company’s newest press officer in Washington.

We queried Bill Schulz, the carrier’s chief of corporate communications on October 8. He said he would look into the matter, which he did; and Dan Stessel, the new guy in town at the railroad’s headquarters, who responded on Friday (November 1). Stessel is a manager of media relations. There is one other, Karina van Veen, and director Cliff Black, who, by the way, returned to his old job on November 1 after being farmed out to various sites in different capacities. The Philadelphia office is closed. Other media offices are still located in Chicago and Oakland.

D:F’s query to Amtrak came about partly because Dan Chazin of Teaneck, N.J., a treasurer by day and an observer of the passing railroad scene at other times, especially online, had some questions and observations about the carrier’s fiscal reporting practices.

Schulz pointed out, “‘Generally accepted accounting principles’ and ‘Route Profitability System’ (GAAP and RPS) have little or nothing to do with one another. GAAP is a series of rules developed by certified public accountants (CPAs). RPS is a complex formula allocating costs to individual trains developed by Amtrak. Formulas by their nature are changeable – imagine how many different ways there may be to allocate baggage handling costs; now pick the right one.”

Deno Bokas replaced Arlene Friner as Amtrak’s chief financial officer over the summer.

I made it clear to Schulz I am not an economist, nor an accountant; not even a bookkeeper.

We asked how accounting practices have changed in the last few months, especially after Mr. Gunn came aboard?

Stessel replied on Friday, “Regarding changes in accounting practices implemented by Mr. Gunn, one of his first priorities was to make clear, public disclosure of Amtrak’s financial results. He began the practice of providing Amtrak’s Monthly Performance Report to the USDOT and the Congressional Appropriations Committee members each month. This report contains the same detailed financial data that is sent to Amtrak’s Executive Committee as well as the Board of Directors.”

He added, “In regard to your question concerning changes in accounting practices, Amtrak’s financial statements have and continue to be prepared on the basis of generally accepted accounting practices and are audited on an annual basis by outside, independent auditors. Audited financial statements are complete through Fiscal Year 2001.”

He noted Gunn “has completely reorganized Amtrak to reflect a more traditional railroad structure – Operations, Mechanical, Engineering, Marketing, etc. Each area is held responsible for their results by requiring signed monthly reports evaluating their performance. This allows for a clear line of responsibility and accountability.”

D:F remarked, “No matter what Amtrak ever does, the GAO never seems to be satisfied. How large is their influence on Amtrak fiscal matters? What could make them happy, short of Amtrak going away?”

Stessel said, “The GAO provides a service of checks and balances. They are often asked to provide insight into Amtrak’s actions and this provides an opportunity to review the decision-making process and outcome.”

We were struck by the logic Chazin displayed in his letter.

Chazin noted in his epistle to the online All_Aboard e-mail railroad list (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/all_aboard), “I can’t say that I fully understand Amtrak’s accounting practices, but I understand enough about them to realize that figures claiming that they lose $200 per passenger on a particular train are nonsensical.”

He added, “The problem that an organization such as Amtrak is faced with is how to allocate charges that relate to the organization as a whole to individual trains. Thus, for example, to what do you allocate the salary of the President? What about the cost of maintaining the reservations system?”

In Chazin’s view, “There are some costs that Amtrak would incur regardless of how many trains it operates – or even if it doesn’t operate any trains at all. One very large item (I think that it amounts to about $200 million a year) is the payment of Railroad Retirement Benefits to former employees of other railroads (or something like that).

“For convenience sake, Congress required Amtrak to make these payments, but they have nothing to do with the operation of any trains today.”

Stessel explained, “The data from Amtrak’s financial systems is the source of Amtrak’s audited financial statements. The portion of this data, which is related to trains, is interfaced with the Route Profitability System in order to assign revenues and costs to routes. The system attributes revenues and certain on board train costs directly to trains within routes; however, a material portion of costs is allocated rather than a directly assigned.”

You can see now why it takes a financial guru to understand these ins-and-outs for these kinds of finances. It is not like balancing the ol’ checkbook at home.

Stessel added, “The massive infrastructure needed to run a railroad – reservations, stations, train crews, maintenance-of-way, engineering, dispatching, to name but a few – is not necessarily directly assignable to a specific route and therefore must be allocated based on a driver that best matches the expense to the route, say call volume for reservations.”

He also noted, “It is also correct that eliminating a route or service does not result in a pro-rata reduction in overhead or indirect expenses.”

“The writer’s statement that some of the trains that lose $200 per passenger actually make money on a cash basis is not accurate. A route may make a contribution towards costs; it does not cover all costs necessary to provide the service.”

Chazin told his readers, “As I’ve learned from having served as treasurer of a relatively large non-profit organization (annual budget of about $500,000), accounting is not a precise science. When you hear that Company X earned $2.00 per share last year, that figure assumes a number of arbitrary allocations of revenue and expenses.

The writer attributed the allocation methodology of Amtrak’s overhead costs to ridership. In fact, the majority of Amtrak’s overhead costs (such as legal, accounting, human resources, etc.) are allocated based on total train expense. The driver is based on the belief that the more money a route costs, the more assets or management time the route consumes.”

Chazin noted that in his view, “‘Generally accepted accounting principles’ require that these allocations be done in a standard manner, but any good accountant would be the first to admit that the stated profit per share – even if arrived at in good faith and in full compliance with standard accounting principles – may not give a full and fair financial picture of the company.”

Chazin opined Amtrak’s books are serpentine.

“In the case of Amtrak, matters are particularly complicated. I have seen figures that indicate that on a cash basis, some of the trains, which allegedly lose $200 per passenger, actually make money.

“The Southwest Chief is the example that comes to mind. If you look only at the direct costs that Amtrak incurs by operating that train, it seems that operating revenues fully cover the direct costs of operations (such as the payments to the BNSF Railroad over whose tracks the train operates, the salaries paid to the crew members who run the train, the cost of diesel fuel needed to run the train, the cost of maintaining the equipment used, etc. It’s only when you add a share of Amtrak’s overhead that the train seems to lose an outrageous amount of money.”

Chazin viewed it this way: “Amtrak’s method of accounting appears to use a particularly bizarre method of allocating overhead. It seems the number of passengers who ride a particular train allocates that overhead, at least in part.

“So, the more successful the train is, the more overhead gets allocated to it. That’s why the Southwest Chief appears as such a big loser according to Amtrak’s accounting. In fact, if you’re trying to determine how much money a particular train loses, the only fair way to do it is to estimate how much money would be saved by discontinuing that train.”

He added, however, in the next paragraph, “Everyone who is knowledgeable about Amtrak recognizes that if the Southwest Chief were discontinued, the savings that Amtrak would realize would not approach anything near the $200 per passenger loss that Amtrak now claims to incur. In fact, due to the pivotal importance of that train in our national system, it is very likely that Amtrak would actually lose more money on a cash basis if it discontinued that one train. All of Amtrak’s general overhead would remain, and it would just have to be allocated over fewer trains, which means that those trains would now appear to lose more money.”

Stessel responded, “Regarding the discussion on route performance, the writer has many good points, but is incorrect in some observations.”


Return to index
Amtrak reports ridership declines

Amtrak reported last week that as of October 24, ticket sales totaled $90,922,261. In sales for the month vs. last year it was $14,586,504, down 13.82 percent. It also awarded 5,374 “transportation certificates” – free tickets for unhappy riders – valued at $377,655.


Return to index
Amtrak, Bombardier still wrangling

Amtrak and Montreal-based Bombardier Transportation, Inc. have put up a cooperative front to fix cracks that have sidelined part of the high-speed Acela Express fleet for two months, but in court, the passenger railroad and the train manufacturer remain locked in a legal battle over who is responsible for the delays and glitches that have plagued America’s first attempt at high-speed rail. At stake, in addition to the companies’ reputations, is up to $450 million in damages and penalties.

Bombardier, a world leader in building railroad equipment and small jet aircraft, contends Amtrak held up production through shifting demands and bad decisions, according to an AP report last week. It even suggested Amtrak intentionally delayed the work because its tracks were not yet ready for high-speed trains – a charge Amtrak called baseless.

Amtrak blames Bombardier and says that by filing its lawsuit, the company violated a contract provision requiring attempts at out-of-court resolutions. The judge last month turned down Amtrak’s request to dismiss the case, but the railroad is appealing.

Meanwhile, Bombardier-hired mechanics and Amtrak officials continue to work together to repair cracks on and near yaw dampers that keep the Acela Express locomotive trucks from hunting.

Amtrak restored full Acela Express service October 25 between New York and Boston, but only partial service continues between New York and Washington.

“It is a complex piece of machinery, and all sorts of different systems, and we disagree totally on who is at fault for each one,” Bombardier lawyer Phil Douglas said in a July 9 hearing in U.S. District Court.

Amtrak lawyer Les Fagen told the judge, “We think we’re owed the money, and the reason is we think Bombardier messed up this contract something fierce.”

Bombardier Corp., the U.S. subsidiary of Bombardier Inc., is seeking at least $200 million in damages. That would be enough cash to cover Amtrak’s operations for nearly three months.

Amtrak has not filed a counter-suit but argues that, under its contract, it reserves the right to seek more than $250 million in penalties for delays, failure to meet contract specifications and inadequate maintenance.

The problems with Acela Express trains, which can reach 150 mph, have hurt the images of both companies. Amtrak, which has relied on government subsidies since its creation in 1971, is struggling to convince lawmakers it should remain in charge of intercity passenger train service.

Bombardier’s lawsuit culminated years of disputes. In hindsight, some critics say Amtrak asked for trouble by trying to introduce high-speed service using a new, untested train design while under financial and political pressure to get it done fast.

“I presume they wanted to be able to sit in front of Congress and say, ‘We designed this little choo-choo. Look how proud we are of ourselves,” said Joseph Vranich. “Well, look what happened.”

When Vranich was president of a rail advocacy group in the 1990s, he urged the railroad to buy high-speed trains already in use in Europe.

Bombardier teamed with Alstom Ltd. of France to win the Acela Express contract in 1996. In addition to building the trains, Bombardier is under contract to maintain and repair the trains for 10 years.

The FRA required the carbuilders to meet FRA crash safety standards, which are much more stringent than European designs.

Alstom did not join in the complaint Bombardier filed in November 2000.

Bombardier alleges Amtrak did not sufficiently upgrade tracks in the Northeast to prepare for the new trains, provided inaccurate information about tunnels and tracks and imposed “costly and time-consuming new design requirements” that, among other things, made the trains too heavy for high-speed service.

Bombardier said the paper trail of Amtrak’s meddling consists of more than 19,900 letters, 9,000 engineering change notices and 4,700 retrofit notices.

Bombardier has not directly linked design disputes to the cracks that sidelined the entire Acela Express fleet in August, but one dispute involved wheel assemblies under train cars and locomotives.

Aside from the cracking issue, Amtrak says the first 18 high-speed trains it received from Bombardier needed numerous repairs and modifications. Amtrak recently took possession of a 19th, and a final one is expected soon.

The case has twice been reassigned, most recently to U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon. To reach trial, thousands of pages of Bombardier documents will have to be translated from French. Douglas, the lawyer for Bombardier, told Leon at the July 9 hearing that the case could be ready for trial in two years, at the soonest.

Amtrak President David Gunn said recently that a settlement would be welcome, but he was not optimistic.

“One of the things that happens in those cases is you end up spending a bloody fortune, both sides,” Gunn said. “If they came to us and said they wanted to talk, would we talk? Of course. But whether we can settle it, I don’t know.”


Return to index
Amtrak makes Thanksgiving plans

Plans are beginning for this year’s Thanksgiving holiday rush at the national passenger railroad.

Many trains that are usually unreserved will offer reserved service from Tuesday, November 26 through Monday, December 2.

The carrier stated, “In the Northeast, like last year, all trains running between Boston and Washington, and between Springfield and New Haven, will be reserved. Exceptions will be the Clocker and Keystone trains between Philadelphia or Harrisburg and New York City, which will remain unreserved.”

On the West Coast, the Pacific Surfliner service from San Luis Obispo through Los Angeles to San Diego will employ reserved seating for the first time this year.


Return to index
‘Extra’ races through Illinois

An Amtrak “extra” train roared through a sliver of southern Illinois last Friday at 109.6 mph. It was part of a first-of-its-kind test of satellite technology crucial to the introduction of high-speed passenger operations in Illinois, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

The journey marked the first time in recent history a local train moved so quickly, but the focus was more on how well the technology worked rather than the speed itself.

“We see it as the first step toward our goal of reducing the travel times from St. Louis to Chicago to just a shade over 3_ hours,” John Schwalbach, chief of the Illinois DOT’s bureau of railroads said.

The technology is part of the positive train control system. Using satellites, it pinpoints a train’s location, helping trigger crossing gates, avoid collisions and adhere to posted speeds.

The test occurred on Amtrak’s Chicago-to-St. Louis corridor from Normal to Lexington on Union Pacific tracks, where the current top speed is 79 mph.

The train had a normal Amtrak diesel locomotive on each end, and two café cars and a coach in the middle. They cruised at nearly 110 mph for one-third of the 15-mile stretch. The cars carried political leaders and the press.

Still unclear is when high-speed service might actually begin.

Planning progresses on this and other Chicago-based corridors, but long-range funding is elusive.

Amtrak CEO David Gunn, believes states wanting high-speed rail should pick up more of the financial burden. At least for now, he told the Chicago Sun-Times, they also should abandon thoughts of pricey new high-speed trains, like those on the East Coast, and look to the existing fleet or something less expensive.


Return to index
Rutland station sees fewer people

It was built with great expectations. But three years after the Rutland, Vermont train station opened, officials said the facility has yet to reach its potential, reports the Rutland Herald of October 26.

The 2,100-square-foot station nestled behind the parking deck and Wal-Mart at the Rutland Plaza has most of the amenities you would expect from a small station. Opened with great fanfare in March 1999, thanks to $700,000 in federal funds, the brick station offers travelers restrooms, telephones, air-conditioned comfort, wall-to-wall brochures, skylights and a front-window view of downtown Rutland.

What it doesn’t have is the sort of volume and staffing that its architects hoped.

Amtrak spokesman Dan Stessel in Washington said 17,114 people stepped on and off passenger trains at the station during the fiscal year that ended last month. That number is lower than last year, when 19,420 passengers walked through the station, and a significant drop from 2000, when 22,500 people used it.

Given Amtrak’s current financial condition and reduced services, the ridership numbers will be difficult to boost.

The passenger rail service closed all of its ticket offices in Vermont last month to keep its costs below the state’s $2 million subsidy. The cuts changed the Rutland station’s hours from 10 hours a day to only a few hours a day.

Amtrak is paying a custodian to open the station a half-hour before the train arrives and close it a half-hour after it leaves, Stessel said. Amtrak plans to install automated ticket machines to replace the human tellers.

The rail service also had to remove a baggage car, which local officials had envisioned as an essential amenity for skiers and bikers to stow their gear.

It’s unclear when, or if, those services would be restored, Stessel said.

“Any discussion about the future is premature,” he said. “I think no one here has an answer to questions about specific stations or lines until our financial future is resolved.”

While rail funding and ridership is dropping, the train station’s cost to the city remains the same.

City Treasurer Ron Graves said the city pays about $15,000 a year to heat, clean, light and plow the parking lot in front of the station. Those expenses exceed the $9,378 the city collects annually in lease payments from Amtrak.

A $10,000 donation from local businessman Al Wakefield paid for a metal walkway when the station’s passenger platform was built too far away from the tracks.

Still, officials who fought to bring the train to Rutland said the station still has promise, and could pay dividends over time.

“Beyond any doubt, it was a good investment,” said Jeffrey Wennberg, the former Rutland mayor who lobbied to bring passenger rail back to the city. “People won’t let the rail service die.”

While the trains run to Rutland, Wennberg said, the station would leave travelers with a good first impression of the city.

It might be the only impression for people who walk off the train and on to buses bound for Killington during the winter season, but Rutland was never intended to be the final destination for most travelers, said Thomas Donahue, executive director of the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce.

“Combining the train with a connection to the mountain was the key to the success of this thing,” he said.

He estimated that thousands of people have used the train to get to Killington, but probably not as many as he would like.

“I would have had high expectations when the station opened. I’m one who is obviously disappointed when the numbers go down,” he said of the ridership figures thus far.

“It’s discouraging, but at the same time, it’s not something to give up on,” Donahue added.


Return to index
New York funds station improvements

The State of New York will be spending more than $9 million to upgrade its Beacon Station, and another $4 Million to improve Poughkeepsie Station where Amtrak calls.

Gov. George E. Pataki said last week the funding would expand access to the Metro-North Railroad’s station in Beacon. The cash is part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) comprehensive 2000-2004 Capital Program.

“By providing additional parking, expanded access and improved facilities for the growing ridership utilizing our Metro-North stations in Beacon and Poughkeepsie, we will help further the economic and cultural revitalization taking place in the Hudson Valley,” Pataki said.

“These investments will make the stations even more attractive and inviting destinations for commuters, and for visitors who can enjoy all that our Hudson Valley cities have to offer.”

The funding for the Beacon station will help complete construction of a walkway to connect the Beacon train station, the waterfront and the new Dia Museum. The quarter-mile walkway will use the existing Red Flynn Drive Bridge, but will extend southward on the east side of the tracks to the old Nabisco factory. The factory is currently being reconstructed as a museum to house Dia’s internationally acclaimed collection of modern art. The museum is expected to open next spring.

The Poughkeepsie improvements include rehabilitation of the overpass and platform canopies, as well as lengthening the canopy to cover the entire platform. It also includes replacing two staircases, one from the platform to the overpass and the other from the platform to Main Street. These will complement the recent restoration of the historic covered walkway and intermodal facility, as well as a new three-level parking garage.


Return to index
Collenette supports Canadian rail upgrades

A vastly expanded rail sector solves many of the Canadian government’s most vexing problems, but only if done in conjunction with improvements to other transport infrastructure, Transport Minister David Collenette acknowledges.

As Transport Canada officials put the final touches on their latest transportation blueprint, which is expected to be delivered to cabinet in the coming weeks, The Ottawa Citizen reported last week, there is growing acknowledgement in the federal government that improving Canada’s freight and passenger rail systems would be among the most cost-effective ways for the government to keep its promises on Kyoto, infrastructure, security and regional development.

With 28 per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions coming from the transportation sector, mostly from trucks and cars, Collenette said improving the capacity of Canada’s rail system offers a logical solution to reduce pollution.

Modernizing VIA Rail’s passenger service also gives the government a made-in-Canada competitor to Air Canada in Central Canada, as well as between Calgary and Edmonton.

“Rail would provide competition to air in basically the area from Quebec to Windsor,” he said, running through the major transportation issues of each region. “That’s where you have the heavy population base. Potentially, another high-speed-rail-type project is Calgary to Edmonton.”

Collenette said he and VIA Rail chairman Jean Pelletier, formerly chief of staff to Prime Minister Jean Chretien, make a formidable one-two punch in pushing for more and better trains.

“We’ve thought about all of these issues for many, many years and we’re now in a position to work as partners to try to get some of this through,” Mr. Collenette said in a recent interview.

Among the infrastructure targets, Collenette said, are speedier freight services and improved containerized inter-modal truck-train combinations. He said the latter target is an integral part of infrastructure plans to reduce traffic jams that cut into Canada’s competitiveness and productivity.

Meanwhile, Canadian National Railway continues to pull up track on an 84-mile stretch between Buffalo and Detroit, a virtual flatland line that has been dormant for several years. Named the Canadian Southern, the line is jointly owned by CN and Canadian Pacific Ry., but the Canadian government has remained silent in spite of pleas from rail advocates in Toronto and elsewhere.

Ross Snetsinger, chairman of The Rail Ways to the Future Committee (a task force of Transport 2000 Ontario), said on October 28 “Due to its superior more direct alignment (strait and level), the CASO,” as the line is nicknamed, “is 50 miles shorter than either CN or CPR between Windsor, Detroit and Chicago and all points west and Fort Erie/New York and the eastern seaboard.”

He has received virtually no responses from Ottawa, including transport minister Collenette.

“Additionally, the CASO is 160 miles more direct than the CSX Railroad and 300 miles more direct than the Norfolk Southern Ry., both of which operate south of Lake Erie.”

He argues, “In transportation matters, distance is time and time equals big money, therefore, the CASO should, could be a big winner.”

Snetsinger explained to D:F, “When the CASO was owned by the New York Central System, it served as a high-speed short cut through Ontario for name streamliners such as Empire State Express and other time sensitive traffic between New York, Boston and Chicago. We suggest that the CASO will figure prominently in rail transportation in the near future.”

Collenette said “Obviously, enhancing rail in the Quebec-Windsor corridor is good for competitiveness, productivity and for dealing with congestion and delays and also meeting our Kyoto targets.”

Collenette reiterated that better rail is just part of the solution

“We also have to get some capacity onto the (St. Lawrence) Seaway as well. There is no reason why we can’t be more imaginative on the Great Lakes and have fast cargo ships crossing from Canada to the U.S., roll-on-roll-off ferries for cargo, as well as cars.

“Perhaps barge-type service like you see in the Danube and the Rhine. So there are all sorts of possibilities.”


Return to index

Gunn fans flames on MBTA labor costs

Fanning the flames of an already testy feud, Amtrak’s controversial president is privately blasting the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority for putting out to bid a new commuter-rail contract that makes “a mockery of the competitive process.”

In a memo to Amtrak’s board of directors on October 24, David Gunn said the labor provisions included in the new contract have given away the store to workers, who rank among the lowest paid unionized railroad workers in the nation who are angling for hefty raises.

“Clearly, the MBTA has put labor in an incredibly powerful bargaining position and made a mockery of the competitive process,” Gunn wrote in his memo, obtained by the Boston Herald.

“The winning bidder will be the one paying the highest salaries. Labor will determine the successful bidder,” he noted.

While Amtrak bowed out of the bidding for the five-year commuter contract early, citing cost concerns, three companies have submitted proposals. MBTA officials, who hope to make a recommendation to the agency’s board of directors in December, are reviewing those.

The contract requires that Amtrak’s replacement retain the current work force and keep existing workplace rules in place.

The purpose of the memo was unclear, and Amtrak officials were unavailable for comment, but MBTA general manager Mike Mulhern said Gunn’s assessment of the new contract was off base.

“The conclusions he has drawn are inaccurate,” said Mulhern. “I’m not sure if he’s even read the (contract). Having said that, though, I want to emphasize that the MBTA is very pleased at the way Mr. Gunn has handled the (contract) procurement and we wish the very best to Amtrak in their future struggles on a national level.”

The memo follows months of bickering and finger-pointing between Gunn and Mulhern, who have butted heads since Gunn threatened to send commuter rail workers home this summer because of Amtrak’s latest funding crisis.

The T’s commuter rail is the nation’s fourth largest, but union officials are quick to say that workers are ranked dead last in wages among the 19 largest systems nationwide.

“David Gunn is trying to blow up the bidding process,” said Charlie Moneypenny of the Commuter Rail Labor Coalition, which represents about 1,300 of the 1,600 T workers.

“That’s what Amtrak’s strategy has been from the beginning… so the MBTA will have to come crawling back.”

T officials are strident that that will never happen.

Meanwhile, Gunn tried to assure Amtrak’s board that he made the right call in not submitting a bid.

“I would also suggest that Amtrak was wise to have nothing to do with the MBTA (bidding) process,” he wrote. “We must maintain a business-like relationship with labor if we hope to survive.”


Return to index
Delaware gets peek at monorail route

A 15-mile monorail route between the northern Delaware communities of Blue Ball and Glasgow is the top pick for a proposed regional rail system that would be the first in the state.

The proposed route, which begins at the Blue Ball properties in Brandywine Hundred off U.S. Route 202, would include stops along Delaware 141 at the New Castle County Airport complex, Christiana Mall and the Fox Run Shopping Center, according to The AP via The Wilmington News Journal of October 1.

The route was chosen by members of a steering committee, made up of Wilmington Area Planning Council staff, residents and politicians, that worked to figure out how many people would use a regional rail service and the best route for it.

Heather Dunigan, senior planner for the council, said the group chose the route from among about a dozen other options, which included one from Newark to Fairplay train station in Stanton and another from Blue Ball to Brandywine Town Center, a shopping plaza on Concord Pike.

She said the Glasgow route was the best because it would serve people commuting to work in downtown Wilmington as well as the suburbs. It would also ease congestion on heavily traveled roads and cut down on the number of cars contributing to air pollution.

“We know that this route needs work, but it was the best option to do preliminary studies [on],” Dunigan said.

The Wilmington Area Planning Council, which operates on state and federal tax dollars, is responsible for coordinating New Castle County and Cecil County, Md., transportation plans.

Wilmington resident Roy Podorson, who supports a rail system, said at a workshop last week he is happy that the council is studying a monorail system.

“This route doesn’t look fast enough, but it’s a start,” said Podorson, who has used public rail systems in other areas.

“If Delaware doesn’t consider something like this soon, in 10 years, we are going to be in trouble.”

The council’s commitment to studying a monorail system is due in large part to the crowded roads and Delaware’s urgent need to meet federal clean air laws, said state Rep. David H. Ennis ®. Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency found New Castle County among the areas nationwide with high toxic air pollution-related cancer risks, based on 1996 conditions and data. Many of the pollutants come largely from vehicle exhaust, the EPA reported.

“We can either do it now and get ahead of the curve, or do it later and play catch-up,” Ennis said of efforts to improve the state’s air quality.

Critics, however, have said monorails are too expensive.

The Monorail Society’s Web site, which Wilmington-area planners have used as a reference in their studies, cites cost figures for monorails in other areas ranging from $6.5 million per mile to $68 million per mile.

In Seattle, Wash., voters will decided tomorrow whether to accept a proposal to build a downtown monorail system for $1.2 billion.


Return to index
Here are some other transit headlines, from the pages of Passenger Transport, the weekly newspaper of the public transportation industry published by the non-profit American Public Transportation Assn. For more news from Passenger Transport and subscription information, visit the APTA web site at

http://www.apta.com/news/pt.


Congressional candidates call
for greater transportation investment

Ninety-six percent of responding Congressional candidates view public transportation as an essential part of a balanced transportation program, according to an APTA survey released October 28.

The survey, conducted under the Public Transportation Partnership for Tomorrow (PT)2 initiative, suggests that the vast majority of 2002 Congressional candidates are strong public transportation supporters and likely to push for increased investment for transit and highway projects nationwide.

There are 114 candidates for U.S. House and Senate seats in 37 states who responded to the survey. Broken down along party lines, 66 of the respondents were Democrats, and 48 were Republicans.

Responses were received from all parts of the U.S., with the largest numbers of responses coming from California, 11; New York, nine; Texas, eight; and Florida and Michigan, seven each.

The survey, conducted for the Center for Transportation Excellence, revealed that more than 90 percent of survey respondents support additional federal investment as well as funding guarantees for public transportation and highway projects.

Candidates in the survey said the leading reasons they support public transportation are to promote economic growth (82 percent), to reduce congestion (81 percent), to reduce pollution (74 percent), and to save energy (72 percent).


Return to index
Midland, Odessa prepare for buses

The Texas cities of Midland and Odessa have established the Midland-Odessa Urban Transit District in preparation for future fixed route and Americans with Disabilities Act paratransit service. The region including the two cities has a total population of nearly 200,000.

When it enters service, the transit system will operate 19 buses on 11 routes throughout the two cities.

In 2001, Texas awarded $500,000 to the transit district for instituting the transit service. The state funds, combined with local funds, also have been used as a match for federal funding, of which $1.78 million has been allocated for Fiscal Year 2003. According to Alfredo Gonzales, public transportation coordinator for the Odessa District of Texas DOT, the federal funding level is likely to increase by 7 percent per year, based on previous levels of funding.

The cities, acting through the transit district, recently entered into a five-year contract with McDonald Transit Associates Inc. to implement and manage the new transit and paratransit services within the region. The contract period will begin in the fall of 2003.


Return to index
Transit funded under stopgap bill

President Bush signed a five-week stopgap-spending bill on October 18 to keep the federal government in operation until after the upcoming elections. The continuing resolution (H.J. Res. 123) provides interim funding through November 22 for federal programs, including the federal public transportation program, that have not yet been funded under regular annual appropriations bills. Funding for the federal transit program will continue at the Fiscal Year 2002 level.

Without enactment of either a temporary funding bill or the regular annual appropriations act, federal programs cannot be operated or funded in the new federal fiscal year, which began October 1.

Congress is on break for the November 5 elections, and will return for a lame duck session. Absent passage of a regular appropriations bill, the Federal Transit Administration cannot distribute funding under the new starts, bus and bus facilities program, or job access and reverse commute programs that have been earmarked by Congressional appropriations committees. It is unlikely that FTA will apportion formula funds if there is a chance that Congress will complete the regular appropriations process in November.


Return to index
Report shows transit is succeeding

Public transportation is showing ridership increases and support by local governments despite market distortions that still give priority to the automobile, according to Against the Odds: The Renaissance of Public Transit in America, a report recently released by the Amalgamated Transit Union and the New Starts Working Group.

The report by Donald H. Camph, president of Aldaron Inc., notes that business and community leaders are coming to understand the importance of public transportation by looking at its impact on both mobility and efficiency. “America’s transit systems are giving taxpayers more than their money’s worth,” the report states.

“By making the overall transportation system work better, the return on investment in public transportation accrues not only to riders but also to motorists, businesses, and society in general,” he added.

The growing ridership has occurred for three main reasons, Camph said, including increased levels of investment through the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act and the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, matched by state, regional, and local funds; the introduction of more efficient business models and operating strategies by transit operators; and declining appeal of the private automobile because of high levels of traffic congestion.


Return to index
Policymakers call for TEA-21 major environmental enhancements

The Surface Transportation Policy Project (STPP) has released a reauthorization position paper that calls on Congress to preserve the program framework of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century and enhance the environmental, health, air quality, equity, and historic preservation protections.

In the statement released October 10, STPP calls for the defense of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act and TEA 21 program frameworks, along with new guarantees to make the funding programs more accountable, transparent, and tied to performance.

The statement issues a strong message that environmental, health, air quality, equity, and historic preservation protections must be preserved and strengthened as part of TEA 21 renewal.

Meanwhile, The Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations recently released a detailed legislative agenda for reauthorizing TEA-21, which was approved by AMPO directors in September.

Primary goals of the AMPO agenda are keeping funding guarantees, flexibility in the transfer of funds among programs, and streamlined project delivery. Specifically, AMPO called for a concentration of funding where the needs are, relying more on state and local decision-making and priority setting, and provision for new and existing transportation system efficiency.


Return to index

Freight lines...

Old Erie Main Comes Back

WNYP: Steve Timko

Western New York & Pennsylvania’s Olean turn passing through Kennedy, N.Y. on June 26, 2001.
Old Erie main comes back

New York helps shortline in major rehab

By Leo King
Editor

The Western New York & Pennsylvania Railroad’s track department sweated and grunted doing the work they’ve done so far, now they have 66 more miles to get back into running condition in southwestern New York, between Olean and Hornell. The line used to be Erie’s main stem – before Conrail, before Penn Central, before Erie-Lackawanna.

The line in Cattaraugus and Steuben Counties will cost $2 million for additional track work, which will include tie replacement. The state has already invested $4.1 million for initial track and grade crossing improvements for a total investment of $6.1 million.

On October 24, New York Gov. George Pataki said, “Today, we celebrate the rebirth of rail in the Southern Tier. This newly re-established rail link will increase the movement of freight through the area by linking Southern Tier businesses with major existing rail lines, spurring economic activity, new investment and job creation.”

The restored line, part of what is known as the Southern Tier Extension, re-establishes a local service link and connections between major railroads in Hornell and Northeastern Pennsylvania for the first time in 11 years. Total state, federal and private investments made along the entire route of the Southern Tier Extension totals over $12 million.

No one is currently running on the line because of its poor condition, “but the plan is to be operational on January 1, 2003,” Michael Griffin, the state’s regional public affairs officer told D:F last week.

The tracks “pass through Hornell, Alfred, Andsover, Wellsville and Olean, in New York,” he said, “to Corry Pennsylvania,” he said.

WNY&P spokesman Vince Millikan – who wears a variety of hats on the short line– told D:F We have some continuous welded rail on wooden ties, but we’re inserting wood ties” in the new section.

“Rail weights vary from 110 pounds-per yard to 136,” he said.

Conrail shut down the rail line 1991 due to a variety of economic factors, and it forced shippers and receivers to end their loads onto awkward routes to ship goods to and through the Southern Tier.

“Olean to Corry, Penn., is operational, but Olean to Hornell is being worked on currently” Griffin said. He added, the work involves “Scouring washouts and tie replacement.” The work is beginning in “Hornell and ending in Corry.”

He also explained “It is the original Erie Line which became the Erie Lackawanna.”

The Southern Tier West Railroad Authority, comprised of representatives from Chautauqua, Allegany, Steuben and Cattaraugus counties, negotiated an agreement with current track owner, Norfolk Southern, and a new operator, the Western New York and Pennsylvania Railroad, to re-open the stretch, which has leased the line from NS for 30 years.

The restored 66-mile stretch of line fills a gap in what is known as the Southern Tier Extension, the rail line that runs from Hornell to Meadville, Penn. Other work on portions of the extension between Olean and Meadville was completed independently.

Full restoration of the extension serves as an important economic development tool. Shippers on the line will have competitive access to a number of additional large rail carriers, including CP Rail at Hornell, The Buffalo and Pittsburgh Railroad at Salamanca, and the New York and Lake Erie Railroad at Waterboro, providing a more direct route of access to cities and businesses throughout the Northeast and reducing shipping costs.

Rehabilitation of the line will help improve rail access to businesses such as Alstom in Wellsville, makers of industrial pre-heaters and Monofrax, Inc. in Jamestown, makers of industrial composites.

State Transportation Commissioner Joseph H. Boardman said, “We are yet again restoring an important piece of the state’s rail infrastructure. This restoration will greatly enhance the speed and efficiency of freight rail service in the Southern Tier and help improve competitiveness of regional businesses.”

The return of service to the line is seen as a significant achievement since most rail lines that have remained dormant for more than a few years rarely escape abandonment.

WNY&PRR Route Map

WNY&PRR

Today’s WNY&PRR stretches from Meadville to Olean, and soon will extend to Hornell.

 

The charter for the New York & Erie Railroad “was approved by the New York State legislature on April 24, 1832 and specified that the western end of the line must be on the shore of Lake Erie in Chautauqua County,” writes rail historian Norman P. Carlson in “The Advent of the Railroad in Western New York, and in the Jamestown Post-Journal, Jamestown, N.Y., 1992

By 1939, the Erie branched off its double-track main at Hornell to go northward on a secondary main track to Buffalo. The main eventually went to Chicago.

Western New York & Pennsylvania’s (WNYP) timetable for restoring service is in three steps, the first of which has already been done – opened for service between Wellsville and Olean by last September 30.

The next major task is to open the line between Meadville and Hornell at 25 mph or better by December 31, and the final task, at least for now, is to continue rehabilitating the railroad during 2003, and aimed at raising all main track speeds to 40 mph.

WNYP operated a work train from Olean to Wellsville last September 30, marking the first time a train used the former Erie line to Wellsville since 1994, when Conrail operated one train for an Air Preheater Corp. shipment. The last regular freight train service ended in 1991.

WNYP president William D. Burt, who was on the train, noted that many of the children who lined the tracks along the route had never seen a train in their home town. Its appearance in Wellsville was made possible by repair of a 360-foot long, 17-foot high washout along the Genesee River near Belmont, N.Y. John Anderson Construction of Warren, Penn., repaired the washout.

 

WNYP

It took a little while to raise the old track (left), lay in a new foundation and bank along the Genesee River, realign the iron and put down fresh ballast, but Anderson Construction got the job done for WNYP. They started in June and were finished by September.
The Belmont was “The first step of a large-scale rehabilitation of the railroad that is being funded by a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration grant and a $2 million grant from the New York State DOT, as well as capital investments by WNYP,” the carrier states on its web site. WNYP employees performed other repairs making the line passable to Wellsville over several weeks.

Erie 

D:F featured Erie passing through Corning, N.Y. ca. 1955 in the October 21 edition.


Return to index

The first train, in September, distributed crossties and ballast.

With the split of Conrail in 1998, the former Erie main line between Hornell, N.Y. and Corry, Penn., became part of the Norfolk Southern Ry.

In February 2001, NS entered into a ten-year sale/leaseback agreement with the Southern Tier Extension Rail Authority, which had been formed by Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Allegany, and Steuben Counties to ease the railway tax burden, and to get grant funding to re-establish the rail line as an essential part of the region’s economic development infrastructure. In April 2001, NS subleased the Hornell-Corry line to WNYP for 30 years.

Subsequently, WNYP reopened the long-closed segment between Jamestown and Corry, and acquired a connecting 42-mile segment between Corry and Meadville, Pa., with the objective of re-establishing a continuous route between connections with NS at Meadville and Hornell.

The Western New York & Pennsylvania Railroad is online at http://www.wnyprr.com/


BNSF VP Schultz to retire

Charles L. Schultz, Executive Vice-President and Chief Marketing Officer of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. said last week he intends to retire in mid-2003. Schultz has been executive vice president and chief marketing officer since June 1999 and has been with the company for more than 32 years.


Return to index
NS, Operation Lifesaver ask journalists
not to use photos of people on tracks

From the pages of Norfolk Southern’s November issue of NS Newsbreak, we learned last week that Operation Lifesaver is appealing to media the to stop using photos of people on tracks.

Alarmed by a 23.6 percent increase in pedestrian rail trespass deaths in the first four months of 2002 compared to 2001, the nonprofit highway-rail safety group “is urging news media to refrain from using photos of people walking, sitting or playing on railroad tracks.”

A four-color poster with samples of news photos, magazine covers and fashion spreads showing children and adults on the tracks is being sent to thousands of editors at newspapers and magazines nationwide.

Under the headline, “Losing Readers?” the eye-catching poster states, “More than 500 Americans died as pedestrians on the rails last year, believing they weren’t in any danger. Many people – even news photographers, writers and editors – confuse the area along the tracks with a public park. News photos and ads reinforce this notion.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” the Operation Lifesaver piece continues. “Tracks are private property, and these pictures show illegal, potentially deadly behavior. If you’re on the tracks, the odds of meeting a train are increasing.”

Operation Lifesaver President Gerri Hall explained the reason for the mailing.

“We are constantly seeing – and writing letters to editors about – photos or stories that glamorize dangerous behavior around tracks and trains. Kids tend to imitate what they see in the media. With trespass deaths up sharply this year compared to last, we decided to appeal directly to the news media to let them know that railroad tracks are for trains, not people.”

The group suggests that editors consider instead running a story about Operation Lifesaver’s grassroots safety education program. The nationwide program certifies speakers who give safety presentations to community groups, schools, truck drivers, emergency response personnel and others.


Return to index
Intermodal loadings continue to rebound

Rail intermodal volume continued to recover from the effects of the West Coast port shutdown during the week ended October 26, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) said Thursday.

Intermodal volume totaled 199,700 trailers and containers, up 7.1 percent from the comparable week last year. Container volume was up 10.6 percent from last year, while trailer loadings declined by 1.9 percent.

Carload freight, which doesn’t include the intermodal data, was off by 0.6 percent from last year, totaling 345,743 cars. Carload volume was down 0.1 percent in the East and 1.1 percent in the West. Total volume was estimated at 29.8 billion ton-miles, down 0.7 percent from the 43rd week of 2001.

Seven of 19 commodity groups registered gains, with metallic ores up 27.3 percent, waste and scrap materials gaining 9.6 percent and motor vehicles and equipment rising 8.6 percent.

Among the commodities registering declines were nonmetallic minerals, down 17.2 percent; primary forest products, off 9.2 percent; and coal, down 3.3 percent.

The AAR also reported the following cumulative totals for U.S. railroads during the first 43 weeks of 2002: 14,215,117 carloads, down 0.9 percent from last year; intermodal volume of 7,716,758 trailers and containers, up 4.0 percent; and total volume of an estimated 1.233 trillion ton-miles, up 0.9 percent from last year’s first 43 weeks.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 90 percent of U.S. carload freight and 97 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 96 percent and 99 percent. Railroads provide more than 40 percent of the nation’s intercity freight transportation, more than any other mode, and rail traffic figures are regarded as an important economic indicator.

Canadian railroads reported gains in both intermodal and carload freight during the week ended October 26. Intermodal traffic totaled 44,547 trailers and containers, up 14.1 percent from last year. Carload volume of 65,175 cars was up 1.7 percent from the comparable week last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 43 weeks of 2002 on the Canadian railroads totaled 2,568,812 carloads, down 2.6 percent from last year, and 1,660,028 trailers and containers, up 10.2 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 43 weeks of 2002 on 16 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 16,783,929 carloads, down 1.2 percent from last year and 9,376,786 trailers and containers, up 5.0 percent from last year.

The AAR also reported that carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended October 26 totaled 11,700 cars originated or received from connecting lines, up 17.3 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 4,055 trailers or containers, down 5.5 percent from the 43rd week of 2001. For the first 43 weeks of 2002, TFM reported cumulative volume of 453,896 cars, up 2.6 percent from last year, and 159,385 trailers or containers, up 7.7 percent.

The AAR is online at http://www.aar.org


Return to index
KCS reports jump in net income

Kansas City Southern reported net income of $10.6 million (17 cents per diluted share) for the third quarter of 2002, a 17 percent increase from net income of $9.0 million (15 cents per diluted share) reported for the third quarter of 2001.

This increase resulted from a $5.6 million increase in other income, a $2.3 million increase in equity in earnings from Grupo Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana, S.A. de C.V. (“Grupo TFM”), a $1.9 million reduction in the income tax provision and a $1.7 million decline in interest expense.

These factors were partially offset by a $9.8 million decrease in consolidated operating income in the third quarter of 2002 compared to the same period in 2001.

As previously announced, in July 2002, KCS initiated a switch-over from its legacy system operating platform to a state-of-the-art Management Control System (“MCS”). Although the issues with the implementation of MCS have been largely resolved, the initial difficulties experienced by office and field personnel in transitioning to this new platform led to congestion issues and operating inefficiencies during the third quarter of 2002, which contributed to this decline in consolidated operating income.


Return to index
P&W pays 4 cents per share

Providence & Worcester Railroad Co. directors declared a dividend of $.04 per share on the outstanding Common Stock of the Company, payable November 21, 2002 to shareholders of record on November 7, 2002. The vote came at its regular quarterly meeting on October 30.


Return to index
Legal Lines...  Legal Lines...

CSX wins wrongful death suit

An Atlanta firm has successfully defended CSX Transportation Inc. in a $12 million wrongful-death claim that stemmed from a triple fatality at a Vienna, Ga., railroad crossing.

The litigation relied, in part, on data stored by a “black box” that General Motors, Inc. began installing in some of its vehicles in 1990. It was the first railroad crossing accident case in the United States to go to trial using GM’s black box data as evidence, said Matthew D. Williams, a partner at Atlanta’s Casey Gilson Leibel, who defended CSX.

Black box data was not available to anyone outside GM and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration until two years ago when Cobb County, Ga., attorney Matthew C. Flournoy forced the automaker, as part of a wrongful-death suit, to release and interpret recorded data from the device, also known as a sensing and diagnostic module. The device is similar to those in airliners that record and preserve flight data moments before a crash, according to the Fulton County Daily Report via Law.com on October 31.

Williams said he, partner James E. Gilson and co-counsel Carr G. Dodson of Jones, Cork & Miller in Macon, Ga., won the case after floating a settlement offer that would have paid the 15-year-old plaintiff, who was the only survivor of the car’s four occupants, about $4 million over the course of her life. Her lawyers rejected the offer.

The Macon jury, Williams said, “decided the railroad played no part” in causing the accident, which killed the teen-ager’s brother, father and stepmother.

The jury deliberated a day at the end of a two-week trial before delivering its verdict. (Wright v. CSX Transportation, 5:01-cv-324-4 (M.D. Ga. Oct. 1, 2002).

“We established that the railroad was zero percent at fault,” Williams continued. “It did absolutely nothing that contributed to the accident.”

The teen’s attorneys included former Georgia Supreme Court Justice Hardy Gregory Jr. of Gregory Christy & Manikal in Cordele, Ga.

Gary C. Christy, through his assistant, referred all questions to Gregory. Gregory was out of town for three weeks and could not be reached for comment.

Williams said the car’s driver, Kevin Wright Sr., his wife and his son died in the late-night crash. The family was returning from a deposition in Albany, Ga., where the two children had testified in a civil action springing from the death of their mother, who had died in an accident caused by a drunken driver.

Wright was driving across a set of three tracks at the crossing, despite the flashing signal that indicated a train was approaching, Williams said.

The train crew testified that they sounded the horn as their train, its headlights lit, approached the intersection. Georgia law bars drivers from crossing railroad tracks when faced with flashing lights until they can do so safely, but the plaintiff’s attorneys argued that Wright’s view of the track on which the fast-moving train was traveling was obscured by a small building between two sets of tracks and by tank cars parked there, Williams said.

In addition, the plaintiff’s lawyers argued, the railroad crossing where the crash occurred had a history of false signal activations.

Williams said the railroad offered to settle as part of court-ordered mediation, but “the mediation broke down fairly quickly” when the plaintiff’s lawyers refused anything less than $11.5 million. When the railroad’s attorneys offered a $4 million annuity payable over the teen’s lifetime, the plaintiff’s lawyers countered with a $4 million lump-sum payment, which the railroad rejected.

The “cutting-edge technology” of the black box in the rental Cadillac that Wright was driving helped the railroad make its case, Williams said. The box captures data in the five seconds prior to the deployment of a car’s air bags, including the vehicle’s speed, brake application, engine rpm and throttle position.

The information obtained from the black box indicated that the car was going 11 mph as Wright crossed the triple set of tracks and then stopped immediately prior to impact, according to Williams. It also indicated, based on calculations by a Georgia state trooper who downloaded the data, that Wright coasted past the flashing signal without stopping, the lawyer said. Williams said the train crew saw Wright’s wife look up at the train, point at it and then turn back toward her husband in the seconds before the crash.

“We think she might have said the train was coming, and his initial response was to stop. If he had never slowed, but maintained that 11 mph, he wouldn’t have been hit... All he had to do was go another 12 feet and he was clear,” Williams said.

“This black box is what helps us understand how all this unfolded. I do not know of a jury trial where the data has been used. I know there has not been one in this country where it was used in a grade-crossing accident.”

Williams said obtaining black box data from GM was not an issue in the CSX litigation. Since Flournoy’s suit two years ago, GM has granted a license to a private firm to sell software that will download and read black box data, he said. “There was no need to get involved with GM.”


Return to index
Lines across the pond...

Winter salt halts Eurostar

An unseasonal sprinkling of salt caused by October 26 and 27 weekend storms ground to a halt one of Europe’s showpiece transport systems.

Salt whipped from stormy seas onto railway lines paralyzed Eurostar train traffic through the Channel Tunnel between France and Britain, stranding about 7,000 passengers.

A spokeswoman for France’s State Railways SNCF in Paris said all trains were suspended until further notice, and passengers were advised to cancel their trips.

Short-circuits on key power lines at the French entrance to the undersea tunnel on the northern French coastal town of Calais has halted trains between London and Paris, as well as London and Brussels, which all pass through Calais.

“It’s an exceptional situation due to the storms on Sunday,” said Christian Bre, a spokesman at the SNCF railway company’s northern division at Lille, near Calais.

Stormy weather and winds of up to 183 kph (114 mph) struck much of northern Europe on Sunday, killing at least 33 people.

Salt crystallized on key rail lines and equipment, cutting the electricity, Bre said, adding that four of the six trains were sent back to the stations they departed from in Lille, London and the Belgian capital, Brussels.

The spokeswoman said between 300 and 400 passengers were put up in hotels overnight, but many were forced to sleep on the trains, as it was impossible to accommodate all at such short notice. However, no passengers were stuck in the tunnel, Eurostar said.

Eurostar traffic through Calais was halted from about 6.30 p.m. (1730 GMT) on Monday.

Engineers failed to restore power to the line on Tuesday morning, leaving thousands more customers looking for other ways to travel.

“When they tried to switch the power on at 6:00 a.m. (in London), it kept short-circuiting. Eurostar remains suspended until further notice,” Eurostar spokesman Roger Harrison told the UK Press Assn. on Tuesday morning

According to a normal timetable, Eurostar trains run about once an hour between Paris and London, and back, stopping for the night, and less frequently to Brussels.

Railways of France and Britain and a British consortium including British Airways and bus company National Express Group operate Eurostar passenger trains.


Return to index
ICE-3s separate; no injuries

A double consist of ICE-3s en route from Munich to Hamburg uncoupled while traveling in the vicinity of Goettingen’s main rail freight depot shortly after noon on October 25. The brakes in both train sets automatically operated as soon as the two trainset halves separated, and both train sets came to a safe stop.

Approximately 200 passengers were on board at the time, but no injuries were reported. The consist was traveling at about 50 km/h at the time and was operating as ICE train No. 882, Das Riemenschneider.

The apparent cause of the uncoupling was a metal fracture and through-crack in the coupler of the second train section. The leading section of the train was cleared about an hour later to continue its journey to Hamburg, while the second ICE-3 trainset was removed from service for investigation.

The Deutsche Bahn (DB) and the Eisenbahn Bundes Amt, (EBA) the equivalent of the U.S. FRA, are investigating the incident. DB spokesman Hans-Jürgen Frohns said the incident was highly unusual. He could not state whether or not if similar incidents had occurred in the past.


Return to index
Editorial...

Fight back on transit!

(Note to our journalist readers: Please feel free to use this as a guest editorial or Op Ed piece, with proper credit to NCI).

By James P. RePass
President & Chief Executive Officer
The National Corridors Initiative

It is not enough that the highway lobby has for 50 years arrogated to itself virtually all of the transportation dollars we spend in America.

It’s not enough that transit has been forced, like intercity rail, to fight for crumbs for most of that time.

No, on top of the greed and stupidity, we also get every few years, around this time, a highly organized media campaign to discredit whatever transit projects there are on the ballot (and this year there are many)1, by spouting statistics that are good examples of why the statesman said, “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics…”

The latest statistical tool against transit that anti-transit forces have discovered is “market share.”

“Lo,” they shrill, “don’t you see that over the last 40 years transit’s market share has declined? Why spend more money on that? People love their cars!”

Using the classical demagogic tool of reversing the cause and the effect, they note that the automobile has become by far the dominant choice for “trips,” whether to and from work, or to the grocery store for milk and bread. Therefore, transit (and rail) is in decline and should not seek your hard-earned tax-dollars.

Their argument conveniently leaves out the fact that over those same 40 or 50 years the money spent on highways has been in orders of magnitude more than what has been spent on transit or rail (or air travel, for that matter). In the year 2000 alone we spent about $30 billion in federal dollars on highways, but only a fraction of that – about $7 billion – on transit.

State and local spending adds around $100 billion to the highway total, and a few more dollars to transit – but that is only since 1991 when ISTEA2 was passed. Between the 1960s and 1980s, we spent next to nothing on transit, even as we built interstates and expressways everywhere.

The anti-transit shills would like you to believe that transit is a costly failure, but despite the very uneven and unfair playing field, the truth is exactly the opposite.

In downtown St. Louis a decade ago, you could have rolled a bowling ball down the main streets after 8 p.m. and hit no one. When I spoke in St. Louis recently, I saw the new light rail line. I rode it from the airport and it took me to a vibrant and exciting downtown where nightlife has returned, and people are out walking and enjoying the city again after dark.

In Denver, the light rail system has completely revived a troubled downtown and made access easy and fun – and people are moving back in.

In Dallas, the light rail system has been so successful that voters have already approved a $2.9 billion expansion of the original system.

In New Orleans, which kept the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar Line open in spite of highway lobby pressure, they have built a new streetcar line on the riverfront, and are restoring the famed Canal Streetcar Line torn up in 1964. (By the way, the most desirable address in the city is St. Charles Avenue, a few feet from the trolley line.

Just this past week in Tampa, the city opened the first phase of a multi-phase downtown trolley system that links the convention and dockside area to historic Ybor City, and they are already starting work on a phase II expansion because of public demand – and because Tampa has a Mayor, Dick Greco, who is committed to rebuilding his city.

Light rail’s opponents want you to think that transit is declining. How, then, can there be so many successes (and I have listed only a handful that I have recently seen first hand)?

In the Chicago metro area, for example, the population 1980-1990 grew only slightly, yet land usage rose 50 percent. That’s called “sprawl,” and it forces people into their cars whether they want to do so or not. Guess what happens to transportation patterns when the same numbers of people disperse over 50 percent more land.

Other cities – Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Northern Virginia – have seen similar land-use sprawl.

What is amazing is that the total market share for transit has stayed so strong, despite land use patterns that force people into cars. After all, you can’t ride a transit system that isn’t there, and we have been building almost nothing but highways in this country since 1956 (when the Interstates began).

Focusing on ridership alone is also deceptive, because it is only part of the story.

The real story of transit and light rail’s success is in the revival of America’s downtowns.

For nearly two generations, Americans invested almost exclusively in highway building and creating a pattern of suburban living. As we built those highways, we made it easy for the middle and upper income people to leave the cities and live many miles from their downtown workplaces – and they left in droves, especially as crime and the perception of danger increased. It was no surprise that the cities then began to decline, because all politics is local, and people care most about where they live.

As many of you know, the revival of America’s downtowns began, very slowly at first, but with increasing speed and intensity as people rediscovered the attractions of urban life.

One of the elements that drove this process was the rediscovery of street railways as a means of travel.

Portland, Oregon discovered this fact and began to plan its development around a downtown trolley, and has become the poster child for light rail’s revival; but add to Portland the examples above, and literally dozens of others, and you can begin to understand how they have helped drive the most dramatic urban renaissance since the growth of America’s great cities in the 19th century.

Because they are so highly visible, light rail systems and other forms of public transit drive investment back into the city, and encourage and make possible downtown economic growth, often in neighborhoods that have not seen growth for decades – and that growth can be dramatic.

When cities die, civilization dies, and so do suburbs, as freestanding as they may appear to be.

Investment in transit is a cost-effective because investment around the trolley or streetcar lines can be massive, bringing people back down town to live as well as work. Highways are great things, but they are not the only things.

It is time for us to recognize that, and support transit investment wherever we can.

Jim RePass founded the National Corridors Initiative in 1989 as a business-oriented rail and transit advocacy group.


1 Arkansas (Little Rock),
California (Statewide and various local measures),
Colorado (Aspen),
Florida (Miami),
Nevada (Las Vegas),
North Carolina (Charlotte),
Ohio (Cincinnati - Hamilton County),
Ohio (Columbus – Delaware County),
South Carolina (Charleston),
Virginia (Northern),
Texas (Denton County),
Washington State (statewide)

2 Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991


Return to index
Letters... PW150 Engine

Pratt & Whitney

Pratt & Whitney’s 150 engine is a turbo-prop power plant adapted for surface use.
Dear Editor:

Nice group of articles on Bombardier’s JetTrain in D:F (October 21). I hate to nitpick, but I have to jump all over this one.

“Design parameters included the power plant be capable of 5,000hp in a self-propelled locomotive that would permit high-speed rail passenger service without requiring catenary. The locomotive was expected to have a gas-turbine power plant, but along the way, that notion was dropped in favor of a jet engine. The locomotive was also required to develop advanced electrical propulsion technology. It was required to weigh about 100 tons – about half the weight of some current diesel freight locomotives.”

The PW150 turbine engine in this locomotive is – by definition – a gas-turbine power plant. Period.

Jet engines don't spin large electric generators; they expel huge quantities of (hot) air at high velocity in order to produce a forward force a la Sir Isaac Newton’s theory of action and reaction.

If this locomotive were in reality powered by a jet engine, then there would be a huge exhaust nozzle pointed backwards out of the rear end of the locomotive so that its “jet engine” could propel it forward just like the jet motor in an F-16, B-747, Concorde SST, or as seen in Batman’s Batmobile.

I do not really understand why the FRA and Bombardier think this is so revolutionary. I know of gas-turbine powered rail locomotives in both the U.S. and Europe, which have been used off and on since the mid-1960s, maybe earlier. As far as I know, all of them involved using a gas turbine engine adopted from some sort of aviation application for land-based use to drive an electric generator, which in turn powers traction motors.

There are a number of “Turbo Trains” still in operation on French National Railroads (SNCF) that are gas-turbine powered

I understand they have been in operation on the SNCF since the early 1970s. They are similar to and predecessors of Amtrak’s Turbo-Liners built by Rohr (now B.F. Goodrich Aerospace) and used in New York State in the 1970s and 1980s.

The makers of the ICE [InterCity Express] trains here in Germany (which includes Bombardier) have already developed and tested a non-electric version of the electrically powered ICE-3 train. It is powered by high-output, low-emissions Cummins turbocharged diesel engines (mounted under the floor of each car) that drive generators to power the traction motors – yet another alternative to electrifying rail lines.

The photo is Pratt & Whitney’s turbo-prop PW150 engine. It is used on the Bombardier (former DeHavilland Canada) Q-400 turbo-prop regional aircraft. The propeller gearbox and governor assembly are seen mounted on the front end at the left side of the photo.

The turboshaft version used for the JetTrain locomotive will obviously have a different reduction gearbox and different external accessories for non-aircraft installations such as marine propulsion or locomotives.

In the aviation maintenance business, we call gas turbine engines, which are derived from aircraft engines for marine, rail or stationary power generation use “ground pounders.”

The PW150 is a member of the PW100 series of three-spool turboprop engines made by Pratt & Whitney Canada used on a variety of twin-engine regional airliners such as the ATR72, Fokker F50 and DeHavilland Canada (Bombardier Aerospace) Dash 8.

The PW100 series turbo-props have maximum take-off power ratings in the 1,900 to 2,800hp (1,400-2,100 kw) range.

The PW150 is a growth version of that engine series with power in the 5,000hp range. I have no idea what a large diesel engine costs to maintain, but I do know what gas turbine engines cost to maintain (not including fuel and oil) – and this engine is probably in the 50 Euro or U.S. dollar-per-hour range, i.e. not cheap; but the PW100 series of turbo-props has a pretty good reputation in the aviation business as far as I have seen in my job. With nearly double the power of the original motor, that engine will be working its little heart out.

My impression is that gas turbines in smaller sizes, i.e. anything under about 10,000hp, are relatively expensive compared to diesel, because of both the higher fuel consumption and the rather expensive replacement parts used during overhaul, but they are small and lightweight. That PW150 turboshaft engine can fit in the bed of your average pick-up truck with room to spare. Try that with a diesel engine capable of 5,000hp.

Maybe the cost of the overhead electrical power lines and other infrastructure is even more, not sure. It certainly looks like all that over-the-tracks wire and all those pylons, hangers, supports, sub-stations, etc. they have on the Deutsche Bundesbahn cost a ton of money to install and maintain.

The pictures of the system they installed on the Amtrak corridor from Connecticut to Boston looks like it is even more expensive hardware and construction than what they used here. I understand that the DB’s electrical system is not even on the same frequency (literally, no pun intended) as the commercial power frequency of 50 Hz in Europe. DB uses 16 2/3 Hz AC power for their trains; I do not know the technical reason for that.

I suppose that all means all the transformers and circuit breakers are unique design, not to mention the frequency converters 50 Hz – 16 2/3 Hz.

Gas turbines do seem more simple solution than all of that stuff.

David Beale
Haste, Germany

Thanks to David Beale for his enlightening observations on use of gas turbine engines in trains. We need to point out, however, that neither Bombardier nor D:F said that the JetTrain runs on jet propulsion. Rather, a jet aircraft-type (gas turbine) engine is used to generate electricity, which powers motors that turn the locomotive's wheels.


Dear Editor:

In your October 28 opinion piece entitled “High Speed Rail: The cart before the horse?” the following sentence caught my attention:

“The high-speed rail movement in this country, with all the plans and conferences and the cheerleading for almost two decades, has exactly 18 miles to show for it: a 150 mph stretch of New England trackage on the Acela Express.”

What makes 150 mph such a magic number? What about the additional miles of 135 mph running on the Northeast Corridor? Or the 125 mph Turboliners on New York’s Empire Corridor? Even the modest upgrades currently underway in Michigan and Illinois for 110 mph operation are a step in the right direction.

One could argue that the introduction of Talgos in the Pacific Northwest is also a sign of progress, despite their 79 mph top speed. The 90 mph Surfliners in southern California are also a nice improvement over the worn out equipment they replaced.

Sure, progress has been slow, but I don’t think that those 18 miles of track are the only recent positive developments in high-speed rail.

Matthew L. Johnson
Hawley, Penn.

We're fully in favor of incremental improvements to our rail system. It is trip time that counts, and that means higher speeds. -- Ed.


Dear Editor:

I read where Pittsburgh is preparing to submit its final proposal for the DOT’s Maglev pilot project. Given that a maglev line is expected to cost $100 million per mile, i.e. $3 billion to $4 billion for 30 to 40 miles, wouldn’t sinking that same money into Amtrak give taxpayers a better return on their investment? Can the money be accessed now or would Congress have to enact new legislation?

It’s a guns or butter issue. We can’t afford both, and it would be shameful to waste the money on this unproven technology when our basic system is so underfunded. What do you think?

Ellis Simon
New York


Return to index
Meetings...

November 2002

Boston to Montreal High Speed Rail Meetings

Public meetings to hear the findings of the Boston-Montreal high-speed rail study have been scheduled at the following locations: All meetings will begin at 6:30 p.m.

New Hampshire: November 12, New Hampshire DOT John O. Morton Building on Hazen Drive, Concord.
Massachusetts: November 13, Greater Lowell Transit District Headquarters, Hale Street, Lowell.
Vermont: November 14, Pavilion Auditorium, State Street, Montpelier.
An additional meeting will be held in Montreal, Quebec on November 25. Details to follow.

The second round of meetings will provide a review of the draft results and study recommendations.

Source: http://www.bostonmontrealhsr.org/meetings.htm


November 14

Railway Progress Institute 94th Annual Meet

Hyatt Regency, Chicago

Contact RPI website at http://www.rpi.org., or Tom Simpson, (703) 836-2332.


November 17-20

Surface Transportation and Sprawl:
A Free Four-day Seminar for Journalists in the Center of Washington, D.C.

This seminar is designed to help reporters and editors get beyond the clichés and enrich that work, even as Congress begins to debate the next big highway bill.

Topics will include “Building a highway with asphalt and influence,” “Are cities designed for humans any more?” Also, “transportation and the environment; the politics of transportation; the ups and downs of passenger rail; the social costs of a commuting life.”

The 15 expenses-paid fellowships are available to qualified journalists. Fellowships include airfare, hotel and most meals.

There is no application form. You can apply by mail, e-mail or fax. To apply, send a letter making your case for attending, a letter of support from your supervisor, a brief bio, and a clip (not a web site reference) or VHS or audio tape (if you’re an editor send a sample of work you’ve edited). Applications will not be returned. Applications must be received by 5 p.m., October 11. Send applications to National Press Foundation, Transportation 2002, 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 310, Washington, D.C. 20036. E-mail is npf@nationalpress.org. Fax is 202-530-2855. Call for information at 202-663-7280, ext. 106. Check out http://www.nationalpress.org for more information.

Underwritten by the Kiplinger Foundation, with support from the NPF Program Fund (Times Mirror Foundation, ABC Inc., and others).

The National Press Foundation is a non-profit educational foundation.


November 17-20

Intermodal Assn. Of North America
International Intermodal Expo

Anaheim Convention Center, Calif.

Contact via website at http://www.intermodal.org., or Tom Malloy, (301) 982-3400, ext. 28; fax (301) 982 –4815.


Return to index
The way we were...

NCI: Leo King collection – Lehigh and New England

Lehigh and New England. There’s a coal-hauling name that has been mostly forgotten, but old timers remember it ran from various points in Pennsylvania to Maybrook, N.Y. where it connected with the Erie, the New York, Ontario & Western, and the New York, New Haven & Hartford. The road had a lot in common with the New Haven – lots of Alco FAs and RS-3s. Each unit, of either type, contained 12 cylinders in a 1,500hp turbo-supercharged power plant that turned four GE type 752 motors on each axle. Starting tractive effort for the FAs was 119,000 pounds, but only 62,300 for the RS-3s. LNE order No. S-3064 produced FAs 703 and 704 in 1948, and one year later, order S-3118 gave LNE engine 652.

End Notes...

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

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

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

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

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


|| Home Page || Destination: Freedom Past Editions || Contact Us || Article Index || Top of Page

This edition has been read by || || people since date of release.

Copyright © 2002, National Corridors Initiative, Inc. & Leo King.