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Destination:Freedom Newsletter
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
  NCI Logo Vol. 1 No. 29, November 6, 2000
Copyright © 2000, NCI, Inc.
James P. RePass, President
Leo King, Editor

A weekly North American Railroad update

Surfliner derails; man dies
A Southern California Amtrak grade crossing train derailment on Saturday left a truck driver dead and at least 30 other people injured, none seriously.

Safety officials said three of five coaches on northbound Pacific Surfliner train no. 773 overturned at Moorpark, about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles. The train carried 88 people, and was traveling at 69 mph at the time of the derailment, according to the train's conductor. The truck belonged to the Asplundh Tree Expert Co. Another tree trimmer was taken to a local hospital with severe head injuries.

P-42 Image at South Bay Yards

NCI: Leo King

Amtrak is replacing elderly F-40PHs with 85 more P-42s.

Amtrak buys 85 more P-42s
Amtrak took delivery on Thursday of the first of 85 new P-42 Genesis locomotives from General Electric.

The railroad is retiring its F40s, and plans to soon expand its mail and express lines as well as passenger routes, thus the need for more power, a spokesman said.

The engines will join the fleet of 120 P-42s it already has. They also are the first to feature Amtrak's new corporate brand identity, replacing the pointless arrow that had represented the company for 29 years.

Amtrak Logo

In a ceremony at Amtrak's Windy City maintenance facility, GE Transportation Systems President John Krenicki turned over the "key," a reverser to a brand new P-42, to Amtrak CEO George Warrington.

Amtrak will be receiving 84 more units from GE over the next 12 months in an order worth approximately $200 million, or about $2.4 million a copy.

Each 16-cylinder engine is equipped with electronic fuel injection for greater fuel economy. The units also feature cab signals, segmented fuel tanks, and automatic parking brakes for improved passenger and crew safety.

"This acquisition means Amtrak's passengers will enjoy reliable, high-quality service backed up by our one-of-a-kind guest satisfaction guarantee," said Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, who is also Amtrak's directors board chairman.

"The new locomotives are the first of our long-distance equipment to feature Amtrak's new look - a look that represents the new Amtrak - vibrant, forward thinking and poised for enormous commercial success, Thompson said.

The carrier introduced its new corporate identity nationwide several months ago. The new locomotives feature a new logo, "whose shape, convergent lines, and suggestion of movement capture the excitement of the travel experience," a spokesman intoned.

Rail bill is 'on hold' until after the election
By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

Legislation aimed at getting plans for high-speed rail corridors on their way to reality is in limbo as we go to press Sunday morning. And we won't know the outcome until after the election.

The Senate went home last week for the election, to return on November 14. That became inevitable when President Clinton vetoed a bill funding the Treasury Department and the legislative branch. This was done in retaliation for the House leadership's rejection of a compromise on education that had been negotiated between the White House and House Appropriations Chairman C.R. Young (R-Fla.). When the Treasury bill was vetoed, Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) said, "Everything is off the table" until and unless the veto is overridden, an unlikely scenario in a politically charged atmosphere. At that point, all bets were off and the Senate went home.

The House was about to do likewise on Wednesday. But then Republican leaders got wind of plans whereby the House Democrats would vote in lockstep against a 14 day stop-gap continuing resolution to keep the government open, knowing they would be outvoted by the GOP majority. Then, after the GOP members have gone home, the Democratic lawmakers would troop down to the White House and hold a news conference with the President to denounce the GOP for leaving town before the people's work is done.

It was at that point that the Republicans said if that's the way they want it, the leadership will keep the House in session, right through Election Day if necessary. So if you've been wondering why late last week you saw, on C-Span, the House in session with the Senate out of town, and Mr. Clinton out campaigning for fellow Democrats, that's what it was all about. However, after three days of little more than pro forma sessions, House Republicans and Democrats agreed to a truce and to join their Senate counterparts on the campaign trail. They finally passed their own Continuing Resolution through November 14 and went home.

But the High-speed Rail Investment Act (HSRIA) is a hapless victim of this "game of chicken," quoting a staffer close to a powerful congressman. The tax bill, to which the HSRIA was attached, is being held in abeyance over issues having nothing to do with high-speed rail, and everything to do with election year politics. Satisfied that they had foiled Clinton's attempts to force them to cave in and buy their way out of town, the Republicans dug in their heels.

The "game of chicken" has left high-speed rail advocates more or less hanging by their thumbs, knowing full well that HRSIA, which seemed so close to final passage just a few days ago, now faces the uncertain card-shuffling that will doubtless occur in a lame duck session.

With the election behind them, it could be a whole new ball game. Let's just say, for example, that Senate Finance Chairman Bill Roth (R-Del.), a strong Amtrak supporter, fails in his tough fight for re-election, a possibility since it is a close race in Delaware. In that event, no senator has to worry about Roth's retaining that powerful chairmanship next year. And let's just say that some of his colleagues were willing to give his bill smooth sailing as a means of currying favor with the veteran Delaware senator. Will those fair weather friends still be supporting the HSRIA?

I don't know. Nobody does. And that's why a key NARP official refused to say, even off the record, whether he was optimistic as to the outlook. All NARP can do at this point, and about all it is doing, is urging HSRIA supporters to keep those e-mails, phone calls, and letters going to their own lawmakers.

  • We might add that while your congressman or senator is back home soliciting your vote or "touching bases", that would be a good time to let it be known that this measure is very important to you.

No seats left on first Acela train
If all the informally invited guests were to show up for the inaugural run of the Acela Express, it would be a "Get your foot out of may face" experience. But that won't happen. It would be mathematically impossible. The guest list on the formal invitation has been whittled down.

Getting space on the train is exceptionally difficult. Top government officials, including governors, members of Congress, regulators, business and labor interests are having a tough time getting on board. One official closely identified with Amtrak is said it had invited thousands.

There is just one problem. The super-fast Acela Express trainset will seat only 304 passengers.

High officials trying to get on the train have been told, in effect, "Stop calling. The train is full."

The train will be operating out of Washington non-stop to New York, and then again non-stop from New York to Boston. The tentative schedule, according to invitees, has the train leaving Union Station at 9:55 a.m. and arriving in New York City at 12:20 p.m.

Destination: Freedom's president, Jim RePass, is one of the few to be invited to on the trip.

Amtrak operated a test run of one of the trainsets from Washington to New York for some news media on November 1, and then continued the trip eastward to Boston for more media people, some of whom were from Boston.

An extra, given a train number of 936, left Washington Wednesday morning, and traveled up to 150 mph between Westerly and Cranston, R.I.

When the train enters regular service on December 11, the Boston to New York leg will cost $120 one-way for business class, $187 first class. Travel time, after a few dispatching bugs are worked out, will be a bit more than three hours. The train itself now appears to be bug-free.

Maine gears up for more trains
Maine's DOT has awarded a $22.6 million contract to Atlas Railroad Construction of Pennsylvania to begin rehabilitating 56 miles of state-owned rail line between Brunswick and Rockland. Work is expected to begin next spring. The line is also expected to eventually open to passenger trains, state officials said.

Atlas was, the lowest of seven bidders. MDOT said the highest bid, for $44.6 million, came from Guilford Rail Systems.

The Atlas bid was about $3 million below what engineers had estimated. The firm was involved in a state project in Auburn about five years ago, the AP reported.

MDOT project manager Bruce Jameson said he expects Atlas to line up materials over the winter and start construction in the spring. The project should be completed by Oct. 30, 2002, he said. The tracks between Brunswick and Rockland were installed in the early 1900s.

Atlas will perform a complete makeover on the line, replacing ballast, ties and rails, and upgrade other components, including repairing drains, and clearing away logs, brush and beaver dams obstructing culverts.

Over past few months, MDOT workers trimmed trees and shrubs along the line in anticipation of the project.

The Brunswick-to-Rockland project is part of a larger effort to improve transportation in northern New England. The MDOT hopes to eventually connect the line to the tracks between Portland and Boston, which are expected to open to passenger and freight service in April.

The project could include commuter rail service for Bath Iron Works' employees. The department also wants to build a shoreline terminal in Rockland for high-speed ferries between Portland, Rockland and Bar Harbor.

Corridor Lines Section

Alexander takes post with Georgia Rail

NCI board member Doug Alexander became the Georgia Rail Passenger Authority's Rail Program Manager as of November 1. He said, "Pending a ruling from the state attorney general's office, I expect to also finish out my term on the Atlanta City Council, which will conclude on January 7, 2002."

Alexander said he would "pass on my new contact information as soon as I know it, but I will still be able to be reached at this e-mail address [DCATransit@aol.com], as well as at City Hall."

Florida trains are on ballot question
Florida is unique among the states this election season because they have chosen to make building passenger transportation a state constitutional issue.

In a single, lengthy paragraph, the proposed amendment states, "To reduce traffic congestion and provide alternatives to the traveling public, it is hereby declared to be in the public interest that a high-speed ground transportation system consisting of a monorail, fixed guideway or magnetic levitation system, capable of speeds in excess of 120 miles per hour, be developed and operated in the State of Florida to provide high-speed ground transportation by innovative, efficient and effective technologies consisting of dedicated rails or guideways separated from motor vehicular traffic that will link the five largest urban areas of the State as determined by the Legislature and provide for access to existing air and ground transportation facilities and services. The Legislature, the Cabinet and the Governor are hereby directed to proceed with the development of such a system by the State and/or by a private entity pursuant to state approval and authorization, including the acquisition of right-of-way, the financing of design and construction of the system, and the operation of the system, as provided by specific appropriation and by law, with construction to begin on or before November 1, 2003."

Floridians should know by tomorrow evening if the amendment passed or failed.

From top job to conductors
Amtrak needs a few good people...

Just like the Marine Corps, Amtrak is looking for a few good people to operate its southern lines. Last week it was looking for someone, either already in the company or outside, to be its Atlantic Coast High-Speed Rail planning and construction director in its High-Speed Rail Corridors Development department.

The candidates should have a bachelor's degree in either arts or science, "or equivalent work experience." That includes ten years in transportation management planning, operations or other experience.

The director would manage "planning, integration and implementation of high-speed rail upgrades included in the Atlantic Coast corridors" from Washington, D.C. to Atlanta and Texas, and south to Florida. Amtrak did not know yet where the director would be headquartered.

Meanwhile, the carrier was also looking for 17 assistant conductors - 12 to be based in Jacksonville, and the other five in Sanford, Fla. The job description stated the candidates, after they are qualified, must be able "to read train orders, timetable schedules, and other written instructions received from train dispatchers and conductors." The assistants are "responsible for the safe movement of trains and passengers," protecting trains, lining routes at hand-operated switches, coupling and uncoupling cars and engines, displaying proper train signals, help passengers getting on and off trains, collecting fares, tickets and passes, announcing station stops, writing paperwork, including reporting problems with equipment, incidents on board, ticket revenue information, accidents, injuries and deaths."

A high school diploma is required.

Freight Lines Section

Train derails; man dies

Five three-unit container cars of a westbound BNSF freight train derailed 10 miles east of Thoreau, New Mexico on Oct. 29. A trainman died. A second BNSF train was in a siding and was struck by the derailing cars. The second train's crew scrambled to safety, but one man was injured when he fell while running for his life.

BNSF opened one line by Sunday night, and the other Monday night. Major congestion on its east-west main line forced a 50 mph speed limit on all trains, and Amtrak's westbound Southwest Chief, train No. 3, was delayed. It was held almost five hours at Albuquerque, and lost another six hours to Gallup. It finally arrived Los Angeles at 10:08 p.m. on October 30, 13 hours, 28 minutes late.

Sunday's eastbound Chief, train No. 4, lost about 4 1/2 hours, and Monday's train was more than five hours late out of Gallup. It arrived in Albuquerque six hours late.

For sale: Wisconsin Central
Wisconsin Central may be for sale.

The Midwest freight railroad was expected to disclose on Friday its board has retained Goldman, Sachs Group, Inc. to explore a range of strategic alternatives, including a possible sale. The company has a market capitalization of $670 million, but it could fetch as much as $1 billion in a sale, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The Rosemont, Ill., company has been under pressure to boost shareholder value. Edward Burkhardt, who was Wisconsin Central's president and CEO until last July when he says he was ousted, has accumulated a 7.2 percent stake in his former company.

He has been trying to take control of the board. Earlier this week, Southeastern Asset Management said it would vote its 14.4 percent stake in favor of Burkhardt's plan to replace the management and the board.

STB to try helping rail consumers
The Surface Transportation Board (STB) said Friday that it has begun a new program to "enhance its capability to assist rail consumers informally with disputes or problems that they are unable to resolve satisfactorily with railroads."

Chairman Linda Morgan said the board's new Rail Consumer Assistance Program includes a toll-free telephone number (866) 254-1792, an e-mail address railconsumer@stb.dot.gov, and a Rail Consumer page on the Board's Website http://www.stb.dot.gov.

Morgan said "Individual rail customers and other interested parties may provide information to the Board on rail-related issues."

She said, "affected parties should always attempt first to resolve their issues with the railroads, [but] the board's program is intended to strengthen" board's capability "to informally address those issues that cannot be satisfactorily resolved through private-sector discussions."

The STB said the program "is not intended to serve those with case-specific environmental concerns. The board's Section of Environmental Analysis has instituted separate mechanisms to deal with environmental matters related to transactions subject to the board's jurisdiction.

Letters Section
Just reading your "Operation Lifesaver" article, which I find interesting and agree with the things mentioned in it. Living in the Philadelphia area, I know that there are places along the Northeast Corridor where SEPTA commuter trains stop where people and teenagers cross the tracks in spite of the fast trains that travel the line.

Teenagers constantly cross the tracks at Bridesburg station. A teen was killed there by an Amtrak train there earlier this year. A local TV station went there to report about it and sure enough, two teenagers were crossing the tracks. They said that a lot of people do that because it considered a "short cut." People cross the tracks at or near the three commuter stations in Chester (again, along the Northeast Corridor). I was on a local from Marcus Hook and the conductor allowed a family to cross the tracks to board the train to go back to Philadelphia. This was at the Highland station in Chester.

OLI should also educate railroad personnel as well as the public on safety along active and busy rail lines.

Howard Bender Havertown, Pa.

The Way We Were...

Alaska Steam Train Image

NCI: ARR, Collection of Leo King

It's a long way from the Northeast Corridor, but Moose Pass in Alaska was a remarkable place in 1948, and it still is today. The Alaska Railroad was a federal entity then, and only 24 years old. They ran lots of steam engines with their passenger trains, like this 2-8-2 Mikado, No. 701.
An End Note...

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.

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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News & Photo Editor - Leo King: leoking@nationalcorridors.org
Pres. - James P. RePass: jprepass@nationalcorridors.org