Vol. 7 No. 46
Copyright © 2006
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Political leaders at all levels of government
In this edition...
Riders on inaugural run note
comfort, not just high speed
HARRISBURG---Riders on the inaugural trip last week of Amtraks new 110-mph Harrisburg-Philadelphia-New York Keystone Service noticed something missing: the bumps in the track that used to be there.
Harrisburg Patriot-News reporter Frank Cozzoli caught the mood of the trip: Its not like jumping in a fast car, hitting the gas pedal and holding it at 110 mph until youre in downtown Philadelphia. Railroads, like highways, have reduced-speed zones. But Amtrak trains did hit 110 mph at times yesterday as high-speed rail made its debut in the 104-mile Keystone Corridor.
But Cozzoli also noted the riders pleasant surprise at what wasnt there: bumpy track that used to be speeds well below 110 mph:
It was pleasant, Anthony Merritt of Lancaster told Cozzoli as he arrived in Harrisburg yesterday morning. The comfort and the speed, it was a good combination. Larry Joyce of Summerdale, whos been riding trains since he was 4, agreed. You can feel the difference, Joyce said to the Patriot-News: This was really a bumpy section coming out of Middletown to Elizabethtown.
Amtrak and the state of Pennsylvania combined to completely rehabilitate the 104-mile line between Harrisburg and Philadelphia --- one of Pennsylvanias busiest travel corridors --- in a project that took only a few years to negotiate, plan, fund, and build, at a cost of $145 million, once serious political muscle Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who joined in with long-time rail advocate State Rep. Rick Geist (R-Altoona) --- got behind the project. Before Rendell stepped in, the line had been quietly deteriorating for more than half a century, even to the point that diesels had to be used on the ostensibly electrified line. That problem has now been fixed.
By replacing ancient jointed rail with CWR, or Continuously Welded Rail, the line now offers service that is not only much faster, but far more comfortable. Because of parsimonious Federal capital funding over the past 35 years, Amtrak has been largely unable to rehabilitate its century-old infrastructure on the Northeast Corridor, which it owns from Washington, DC to New York City and then from New Haven to Massachusetts, with operating control over the last segment of the line into Boston. The New York-New Haven stretch is owned by the Connecticut Department of Transportation and is the worst segment on the corridor, largely responsible for all-too-frequent delays to Amtraks high speed Boston-New York service.
Amtraks work Harrisburg-Philadelphia follows a pattern being experienced all over America, as state officials step in to fill the funding gaps caused by lack of Federal funding, and invest in new commuter/intercity rail lines. While riders expect the quicker trip times --- Harrisburg-Philadelphia expresses are now 90 minutes instead of two hours, for example, and 10 out of 14 trains continue on to New York City --- what surprises them is the comfort level of the new service, when track has been upgraded as it was on that line.
The new Keystone Service encompasses a number of infrastructure improvements that will result in increased top speeds from a previous top speed of 90 mph to a maximum of 110 mph, the fastest outside the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak reported.
In order to accommodate the higher speeds and faster travel times, signal and electrification systems, including more than two dozen signal instrument houses, were upgraded for the first time in 70 years. New fiber optic cable will provide reliable communications and greater signal control, and electrification has been restored over the entire route.
Amtrak also installed approximately 120 miles of continuous-welded rail which provides for a much smoother ride. Other infrastructure improvements include the installation of 185,000 concrete ties, nearly 80,000 wooden ties, and 53 new switches. A new freight bypass will improve safety and reliability. Bridge structures and culverts have been replaced and drainage improved.
Also improving travel times are ten cab-control cars that have been newly-rebuilt in the Amtrak shops. These cars allow engineers to operate the train from either end, eliminating the need to turn the train around thus saving time and allowing trains and train crews to complete more trips.
Popularity of the Keystone Corridor
The Keystone Corridor is one of Amtraks most popular with 823,097 Amtrak passengers traveling the route in FY2006, a 13% increase from 730,360 in FY2005. In addition, Philadelphia rose to second place on Amtraks list of the Top 50 Stations in 2005, bypassing Washington, D.C. In 2005, Philadelphias 30th Street Station served more than 3.74 million passengers up from 3.69 million passengers in 2004. During the same period, the station in Harrisburg rose from 28th to 27th place on the top 50 list serving 340,000 passengers in 2005, up from 317,000 in 2004.
PennDOT manages the state highway and bridge network, encompassing nearly 40,000 miles of highway and 25,000 bridges, and oversees the distribution of grants for passenger and rail freight, public transit and aviation.
Amtrak provides intercity passenger rail service to more than 500 destinations in 46 states on a 21,000-mile route system. For schedules, fares and information, passengers may call 800-USA-RAIL or visit Amtrak.com.
SIOUX CITY, IA--- A mystery manufacturer is looking to locate a giant manufacturing facility in Iowa, reports the Sioux City Journal in a story by staff writer Michele Linck, and other states are also on the list.
The site involves at least 1,500 acres along the Missouri River between Elk Point and Burbank, S.D., according to property owners who have been approached by company agents wanting to buy options on their farmland in that area, reports the Journal
Dawn Glover, executive director of the Elk Point Economic Development Board, said the companys requirements include proximity to the river and an interstate highway. She said she has signed a confidentiality statement and could not give any more information than that. Property owners also mention that proximity to a railroad line is also key and note that a Burlington Northern Santa Fe line runs nearby, the Journal reports.
The Union County site is just one of several sites under review in the Midwest in various states, according to a statement released by Iowa Gov. Mike Rounds spokesman, Mark Johnston, reports the Journal. The governors office feels that we have a good chance of being the state of choice. There is much hard work yet to be done.
RENSSELAER -- Food service is planned on the new express train between the Capital Region and New York City, according to an official at the state Senate High-Speed Rail Task Force, reports Albany Times-Union deputy business editor Eric Anderson.
The Albany-New York City run was plagued with worker-management unrest and poor food service management for several years before Amtrak cut back the service in 2005. At the time Amtrak claimed to be losing $1 million annually on the food service alone.
The Times-Union reports that the task force wants to start operating the express train as soon as possible, according to Carla Chiaro, its administrative director. While it likely wont begin operating this week, she said Monday that talks with Amtrak and the state Department of Transportation were progressing. Amtrak officials have equipment and crews that could provide the service, and food likely would be provided from the railroads commissary in New York City, the paper said.
The train already appears on Amtraks fall schedule, with a footnote that explains the start date hasnt been set. Its the first in a series of steps that would put in place new equipment, faster schedules and other improvements to passenger rail service upstate, reported the Times-Union.
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Cameras catch speeding Britons and lots of grief
KELVEDON HATCH, ENGLAND -- Speed cameras strategically placed throughout the country are having a positive effect in slowing down drivers and reducing highway fatalities, according to an article from the Kelvedon Hatch Journal sent to the New York Times.
There are 6,000 spots for speed cameras, in the country and in the city, on highways, urban arteries, suburban streets and rural lanes.
Its the governments main weapon against impatient drivers, and its paying off. The number of people speeding near the camera sites has been reduced by 31 percent, which in turn has reduced the number of people killed or seriously injured by 42 percent.
In public opinion surveys, government officials point out, a majority of Britons say they support having cameras on the roads. But people still drive fast; about two million drivers are caught by the speed cameras a year, generating more than $200 million in fines.
Many Britons hate the cameras and bristle at having their driving habits dictated by government. A vigilante group called Motorists Against Detection has devised numerous ways of vandalizing the cameras: digging them up; shooting, hammering and firebombing them; festooning them with burning tires; and filling their casings with self-expanding insulation foam that, when activated, blows them apart.
Speed cameras cant detect tailgating, bad driving, drink driving or drug driving, said a spokesman for the group, explaining his objections. An occasional contributor to British radio debates about traffic regulations, he uses the name Captain Gatso after the most common form of speed camera because, he says, he wants to avoid arrest.
In the little hamlet of Brentwood, a particularly reviled camera installed to catch people exceeding the 40 m.p.h. speed limit on a busy suburban road has been set on fire three times in the past year, and three times it has been repaired. But the camera is winning: repaired and rebuilt, swathed in protective fireproof housing, at a cost of about $66,000., it is back on the job again, new and improved.
Touch wood, we havent had any incidents since, said Rachel Whitelock, liaison for the Essex Safety Camera Partnership, which installs and maintains the countys camera sites: 96 stationary spots; 160 stretches of road policed by cameras whose locations change; and 26 traffic light cameras for red lights.
The cameras detect cars that exceed the speed limit, often with radar technology, and take flash photographs of the license plates so a ticket can be issued. A speeding offense adds three points to a drivers license. Because drivers who amass 12 points in three years face six-month driving bans, people go to enormous lengths to avoid detection. One young engineer from South Yorkshire, instead of just accepting that hed been caught speeding, got into trouble because he blew the camera apart.
Its incredibly difficult to get to people to come to terms with slowing down here, said Francis Ashton, the road safety manager for the city of Nottingham. In the States, you have much slower speed limits, and theres more of a culture of sticking to the speed limit.
[ EDITORS NOTE: An advocacy group in Connecticut, the Citizens Transportation Lobby, will urge the state department of transportation to take similar measures here, as a more effective measure in controlling speeding violations of large trucks. The group was formed several years ago after four Yale students were killed on I-95 when their SUV slammed into an overturned tractor-trailer. ]
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Off the main line...
Worth reading elsewhere
In The Dangerous Lives of Train-Hoppin Hobos writer Nina Shapiro of the Seattle Weekly has taken a good look at the myth of the hobo life and its modern resurgence --- and her story is a word of caution to those who seek the life of freedom always symbolized by the image of the hobo. You can find her story at the Seattle Weekly website, www.seattleweekly.com
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Selected Rail Stocks...
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Slugging it out in the fight for rail
Congratulations to Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and State Rep. Rick Geist, as well as Amtrak, for persevering in their years-long efforts to improve passenger and intercity rail in Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania/New Jersey/New York region. The new Keystone service --- or rather, the revived Keystone line --- covers the Pennsylvania state capital of Harrisburg, Central Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and New York with fast service that was once the hallmark of the Pennsylvania Railroad, but was allowed to become decrepit after decades of Federal neglect.
Lets hope that the Governors on the eastern side of New York, in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts whoever is elected November 8 --- notice the competitive advantage just carved out by Pennsylvania and New Jersey and follow suit by getting the New York- New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line into competitive shape and equipped with modern equipment, as well as extending fully electrified (its already in place) ShoreLine East service to Providence. The economic health of the region is dependent upon it, because we just can not pave our way out of the traffic congestion we have.
But in the meantime, hats off to Pennsylvanias Ed Rendell and Rick Geist, and the Amtrak team that made it happen, in the Keystone State. n
New NCI web feature
Starting with last weeks edition of Destination: Freedom, it became possible to click a single button to send a copy of the newsletter or a link to the newsletter to a friend via e-mail. Thanks to a resident script at our web host, Powweb.Com, we can now offer this feature. The button is conveniently located at the top of the page on the left side of the flag.
We will also soon add that same feature to a number of other pages at our web site for the convience of our readership.
Neither NCI or Powweb.com retain any information from the script that generates the courtesy e-mail message that sends the information.
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