Vol. 5 No. 43
November 8, 2004

Copyright © 2004
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

Destination:Freedom
The E-Zine of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - Jim RePass      Editor - Leo King
Webmaster - Dennis Kirkpatrick

A weekly North American rail and transit update

For railroad professionals
Political leaders at all levels of government
Journalists from all media

* Now in our Fifth Year *

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IN THIS EDITION...  In this edition...


Bush win viewed as poor for Amtrak; highways will do fine

President Bush’s victory in last week’s election is shaping up as a potential bonanza for Wall Street, where firms are salivating about the possibility that he will follow through on his pledge to allow private investment of Social Security funds.

In an all-encompassing story from The Associated Press, the wire service reported a second term for the Republican president wants to keep funding for highways and Amtrak relatively limited, and both he and the Republican majority in Congress seem unwilling to offer any more financial assistance to the ailing airline industry.

Bush wants to spend $256 billion on highways over the next six years, about $60 million less than Kerry said he would seek. Bush has proposed spending $900 million on Amtrak, about 30 percent less than Kerry, and privatizing parts of the perennially financially struggling railroad. He would also like to eliminate the railroad’s unprofitable long-distance lines.

As for the airline industry, the Bush administration supported $10 billion in loan guarantees and $5 billion in emergency funding after the September 2001 terrorist attacks, though no further bailout is expected.

Executives from major airlines, including Continental Airlines Inc.’s Gordon Bethune, have complained about having to pay too much for airline security as well as jet fuel, whose price they contend has been inflated by the Bush administration’s policy of continuing to fill the government’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

The Bush administration has supported easing the industry’s pension burden. Last spring, new legislation allowed for a two-year interest-rate adjustment that would let businesses pay less into their workers’ retirement plans. In addition, airlines were given a two-year reprieve that let them only pay 20 percent of what they are currently required to contribute.

Airline employees say Bush has been bad for them by cutting funding for the federal air marshal program and diluting security training for flight attendants.


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Florida voters derail fast trains – maybe

A proposed high-speed train network to be built by a consortium led by Canada’s Bombardier Transportation, Inc. was knocked off track Tuesday after Florida voters turned against the multibillion-dollar project– but C.C. “Doc” Dockery told D:F on Thursday, “Maybe something will come from our [High-Speed Rail] Authority meeting this week. Florida statutes still require that a high-speed rail system be built. This is independent of any Constitutional amendment.”

Dockery spent upwards of $3 million of his own money to get the high-speed rail project off the ground some four-plus years ago.

The authority will meet on Wednesday (November 10) at 10:00 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, 4th floor, adjacent to the Orlando International Airport.

The top item on the agenda will discussion over the repeal of the high-speed rail Constitutional Amendment. Global Rail Consortium and Fluor Bombardier may make presentations.

In early returns, the constitutional amendment to repeal the train passed with 3,306,848 votes, or 63 per cent, as opposed to 1,902,730 votes, or 37 per cent, to save it. That was with 5,776, or 80 per cent, of Florida’s 7,241 precincts reporting, the Toronto Globe and Mail reported.

Construction has not started, but the first leg connecting Orlando and Tampa has been laid out and a contractor was selected. The cost of that first leg was estimated at some $2.3 billion.

The route may yet connect the two areas with Miami and the rest of the state’s population centers.

The vote was a setback for Montreal-based Bombardier, which is trying to win public approval for high-speed rail service in some 13 potential corridors in the U.S. and Canada. The Florida project was the most advanced.

Bombardier and its partners Fluor Corp., a California-based engineering company, and Virgin Group PLC of Britain, were selected last year to build the railway after Floridians voted to approve the concept four years ago.

Bombardier Transportation spokeswoman Helene Gagnon said on November 1 that Bombardier’s share of the project – to provide the trains and maintain them for 30 years – would be 30 per cent of that total, about $1.3 billion.

A project supporter said there was a chance the bullet train project can be salvaged despite Tuesday’s setback.

Keith Lee Rupp, president of the pro-train Florida Transportation Assn., said passage of Amendment 6 will eliminate the Constitutional requirement, passed in 2000, for a high-speed train to be built; but he said that doesn’t mean the project can’t go ahead if it can rally support in the Florida legislature. He argued that a growing population and increased tourism make the project economically feasible.

“Those factors are still with us,” Rupp said.

The anti-rail amendment was backed by Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, brother of the President, and the state’s chief financial officer, Tom Gallagher, who shepherded Amendment 6 through the petition process and to the ballot.

Gallagher said the vote “shows that Florida citizens know fiscal responsibility is very important.”

Hundreds of citizens donated to the anti-train drive, but the vast majority of the money came from a road builders’ political action committee, two theme parks upset the line would stop on Disney property and not theirs and a deep-pocketed booster of Jeb Bush and the Republican Party.

Bullet trains are being studied in many other regions, such as California and the Midwest, but Florida’s project was the furthest along. With Floridians perhaps killing the project, it could free federal money for the other regions.

Ken Walton, executive director of the pro-train The Rail Truth, said Tuesday he believed it might be necessary to wait until the President finishes his second term.

“Maybe in two years we’ll have a more visionary governor who can look toward a 21st-century transportation system, and possible include high speed rail as a viable alternative,” Walton said.


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Gunn sees Amtrak as doing much better

David Gunn has spent his 40-year career turning around troubled transit systems throughout North America, including those in New York, Toronto and Washington, D.C. – but his present role as Amtrak president and CEO, may be his biggest challenge yet.

When Gunn came aboard Amtrak in May 2002, the company was on the brink of insolvency and its trains were hobbling along. Today, the leaner and more efficient railroad is approaching black ink with record ridership levels and badly needed maintenance projects under way.

Every day, on average, 65,000 passengers ride on Amtrak’s 265 daily trains, with names like Empire Builder and City of New Orleans, to 500 communities in 46 states – not to mention the Silver Star and Silver Meteor that travel the length of Florida from Miami to New York City via Jacksonville.

Many challenges still remain for the national intercity passenger train service, formally named the National Railroad Passenger Corp. There’s the annual fight, currently under way with Congress, for enough funding just to get all its cars in service. Then there’s the delicate balancing act that Amtrak needs to maintain with the nation’s big freight railroads, including Jacksonville’s CSX Transportation, which provide the track that Amtrak runs its trains on throughout much of the country.

On November 1, the 67-year-old Gunn was in Jacksonville, headquarters of Amtrak’s Southern Division, to give service and achievement awards to company employees. Decked out in a tie decorated with images of locomotives, box cars and crossing signals, the plainspoken executive sat down with the Florida Times-Union to discuss passenger railroading in America – and yes, he took the train to Jacksonville.

He said, “The fact that people like cheap oil and have built their whole lifestyle around it” is the reason residents of, say, Northeast Florida – who drive everywhere – wouldn’t even think of taking a train.

“I’m not arguing with that. All I’m saying is you’d better start thinking about what you’d do if that lifestyle is put in jeopardy, and I think it is. One solution – and not the only solution – is to make use of the railroad rights-of-way that exist and to make use of the capacity that you can build into that relatively cheaply, cheaper than you can build more interstates. I would submit it’s getting to the point where you can’t even build more interstates.”

Gunn added, “The NIMBY [not in my back yard] factor comes into play.... If you’re planning your future by looking in the rear-view mirror as to what we’ve done, I think it’s a bad mistake.”

There is an old adage among politicians that all politics are local. He reflected that (on the day before Election Day) responding to the question, “Should Florida build a bullet train, and should it be done by a Constitutional amendment?”

“I’m not an expert on Florida, but my sense is you probably have areas where this would work; but whether it’s an amendment – that’s local politics. I would not touch that with a 10-foot pole.”

He has tried to have good relationships with the major freight railroads over which Amtrak travels. He said the relationship between Amtrak and CSX has been pretty good, despite some bumps along the way.

“I’ve tried very hard to have pretty decent relationships with the six big railroads. CSX is – they’ve been trying. The problem CSX has [is that] their infrastructure is really congested.... They’ve also had some maintenance issues over the last few years. We’re all in the same boat together. They’re suffering, I think, in many respects from the same thing that affected intercity passenger rail, lack of investment.”

In November, The New York Times reported that the agreement between Amtrak and the freight railroads left Amtrak paying the bill for Amtrak accidents, even when the freight carriers were at fault because of poorly maintained tracks. The article said this arrangement has cost Amtrak more than $186 million since 1984.

Gunn’s questioner asked if that system should this be changed.

“You cannot pick out one piece of the relationship with the freight railroads and focus on that. The relationship between Amtrak and the freight railroads was established by law back when Amtrak was set up. If you’re going to start picking away at one piece that benefits us, then the freight railroads have the right to pick at some other pieces, which benefit them. You’re opening Pandora’s Box so to speak if you pick on just one issue.”


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Amtrak numbers are off a tad

Amtrak reported on Thursday it earned $1.9 billion in its fiscal year-to-date through September 30, which is also the end of its fiscal year.

The carrier spent $3.1 billion while it ridership was a tad over 25 million passengers.

The exact numbers show:

Total Operating Revenue:

Budget: $1,901,420,000
Actual: $1,897,249,000

Total Operating Expenses:

Budget: $3,133,344,000
Actual: $3,097,149,000

Ridership:

Budget: 25,160,241
Actual: 25,053,564


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Richmond city manager:

Virginia needs to join other states
to get top-notch rail network

A chorus of railroad supporters sang in tune on November 3, urging a statewide Virginia study group to work toward a first-class rail network.

“It is time for Virginia to join North Carolina, Maryland and other states on the East Coast,” said Richmond City Manager Calvin D. Jamison.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported Main Street Station, the 103-year-old train station reopened last year, “is important to the vitality of the city of Richmond,” according to Jamison.

While ridership has slowly increased, Jamison said the station “is limited by the number of trains” – four – that stop daily.

Main Street Station’s fate was just one of many questions raised at a public hearing of the Governor’s Commission on Rail Enhancement for the 21st Century. The panel plans to make recommendations to Gov. Mark R. Warner by December 1 on ways to improve passenger and freight rail service.

The toughest issue appears to be finding a politically palatable funding mechanism.

“The need for a dedicated source of funding is an absolute given,” said John Thompson, vice president and general counsel of the Virginians for High Speed Rail.

The 2,900-member group, which represents business, environmental and civic interests, is seeking ways to “level the playing field” for railroads that must compete with the trucking industry, Thompson said. Trucking companies benefit from state and federal highway funding that’s not available to railroad corporations.

“The government has to recognize it’s been part of the problem in its own policy,” Thompson said.


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After Amtrak bomb threats:

Man gets nearly four years in Wisconsin

A man who pleaded guilty to making calls saying there was a bomb on a Seattle-Chicago Amtrak train has been sentenced to nearly four years in prison.

“I apologize for the actions that I did and I’m sorry,” said Michael Conwill of Anchorage, Alaska, told U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb before she sentenced him on November 2, The AP reported.

Conwill said in August he made the threats on July 6 because he was angry at being served food that contained hot peppers on the train. He said they caused an allergic reaction that caused him to be hospitalized briefly.

The judge sentenced Conwill to three years and 10 months in prison and ordered him to pay Amtrak $28,552 in restitution for what she called a “stupid, stupid decision.”

Conwill was arrested in Chicago for making five calls from his cellular telephone as the train rolled through Sauk and Juneau counties.

The train was stopped in Portage and passengers were taken to a school for several hours while the rail cars were searched. No bomb was found.

Conwill was arrested when the train arrived in Chicago after the FBI traced the calls to his cell phone, authorities said.

The judge ordered that he undergo a mental health evaluation in prison and that he participate in outpatient mental health counseling during a three-year period of supervised release after his prison term.

Defense lawyer Joseph Sommers had proposed a sentence at the lower end of federal guidelines, which range from 37 to 46 months.

“It’s a heck of a lot to pay for a crime that was only a threat,” he said.


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...


Metro-North At Stamford, Conn.

For NCI: David Sommer

A New Haven, Conn., bound Metro-North commuter train passes through Stamford Station at 4:13 p.m. on October 25. M-N officials say they are prepared for this winter after not so good service last winter. The story is below.

 

Austin, others okay transit projects

By Leo King and press reports
Editor

Last Tuesday was, on balance, a good day for public transportation around the country. The biggest loser was Florida when voters rejected a high-speed rail plan – yet even there, all may not be lost [A related story appears above. – Ed.]

American Public Transportation Assn. president William W. Millar said after last week’s elections and ballot questions were voted up or down, “Across the country, voters resoundingly approved a record number of ballot initiatives supporting public transportation. The message is loud and clear – people want more public transportation.”

Millar added, “From suburban to urban to rural communities, the success of these initiatives proves that people are willing to invest in quality transit services that will pay dividends for years to come. Voters clearly said that they deserve a better quality of life that available public transportation brings, namely, less congestion, cleaner air and access to jobs.”

He added, “Tuesday’s pro-transit referendum tallies clearly point to a public mandate for more public transportation.”

Seventeen states had questions on their ballots, and several states had multiple questions for several communities, especially California and Michigan. The states were Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.

Among the winners was Austin, Texas, where voters approved Capital Metro’s commuter rail plan with 63 percent of the vote. The $60 million plan calls for a rail system from downtown Austin to Leander, News 8 Austin reported.

Four years ago, Capital Metro was unable to get a light rail proposal past voters, but this time, commuter rail passed by an almost 2-1 margin.

“It really does send a signal that this community wants something other than a roads-only future. They want to have a multi-motile approach to population growth and figure out how to give folks transportation options,” Austin Mayor Will Wynn said.

The project includes a new network of bicycle lanes, expanded bus routes and road improvements. Supporters say it’s a cost-effective answer to Austin’s traffic troubles because the trains would run on existing rail.

Extension of a half-cent transportation sales tax in Arizona cruised to easy victory at the polls Tuesday, giving life to an ambitious freeway and mass-transit plan whose popularity with voters was in question to the end of an acrimonious campaign.

Jubilant mayors called Proposition 400’s strong showing a sign of positive public sentiment about public transit and a good omen for future regional cooperation on other issues, like water conservation and air quality, wrote the Arizona Republic.

“The fact that we were successful gives us all confidence that we can succeed elsewhere,” Scottsdale Mayor Mary Manross said.

Opponents, meanwhile, vowed to get onboard with the plan in the wake of the convincing defeat.

“Obviously, the voters decided what they want to do and we’ll support it,” said Gilbert millionaire businessman Dave Thompson, who financed the $1 million-plus opposition campaign.

Voters agreed to extend Maricopa County’s half-cent sales tax for another 20 years, helping fund a $15.8 billion regional transportation plan that includes new and expanded freeways, expansion of bus and light-rail systems, and improvements to major streets. State and federal transportation funds also will contribute to its cost.

Farther east, Indiana communities will pay to study South Shore commuter rail expansion.

The Chicago, South Shore and South Bend Railroad may be putting down tracks-and that has the backing of several communities in Lake and Porter Counties in Indiana.

Efforts to expand the railroad that runs some 90 miles from South Bend to downtown Chicago have taken another step toward creating two new lines, known as the West Lake Project, reports the Chicago Tribune.

More than a dozen governmental entities – towns and counties in Northwest Indiana – have agreed to help pay for the studies needed before the Federal Transit Administration will consider an expansion plan, which would see the line that has run since 1908 and serves some 12,000 riders a day extended to Lowell and Valparaiso.

“This expansion is vital for the city and the region. Chicago is a huge economic engine,” said Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas. “The more connected we are to it, the better off we are.”

Valparaiso will pay two installments of $29,289 toward the environmental and engineering studies-one for each portion of the expansion plan-estimated to cost $1.2 million to $1.7 million.

“What’s amazing to me is that you get a municipality like Valparaiso willing to pay for our first study this year,” said John Parsons, spokesman for the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, which has operated the railroad since 1977. “That’s a study that is only focusing on the extension from Chicago to Munster, and that extension won’t help Valparaiso at all. Yet still, Valparaiso was one of the first municipalities on board.”

For a complete listing of all transportation ballot questions, go to http://www.cfte.org/success/2004BallotMeasures.asp.


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After rough winter, Metro-North is ready

Metro-North Railroad officials admit last winter wasn’t pleasant for commuters, writes Connecticut’s Stamford Advocate of November 1.

Staff writer Mark Ginocchio told his readers snow and frigid weather decimated trains, bringing long delays and cancellations on the New Haven line. So the railroad spent the past six months preparing for the worst.

“We went to school this year after what happened,” Eugene Colonese, deputy director of operations for Metro-North, said at a recent meeting of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council. “We want to make sure that those repeated failures don’t happen again.”

It will be difficult to work miracles on a fleet as old as Connecticut’s, rail officials said.

“What we’re doing does not reinvent or re-create antiquated train equipment, which by its very design is endemic to winter problems,” Metro-North spokesman Dan Brucker said, “but hopefully these improvements will give us a better margin for error.”

The railroad has replaced the seals on the “coffin boxes” – containers under the rail car that house electrical equipment – to keep snow out, Brucker said, and it fixed some of the pumps connected to the train’s heating system.

One of the keys to last winter’s breakdown was damage to the electric traction motors, Brucker said. As a precaution, the motors have been cleaned and repaired, and filters have been cleared out. The goal is to keep moisture out of the system so valves won’t freeze.

Protecting sensitive parts of the train will help, Brucker said.

“Snow bags” will be placed over the couplers, and special casing will surround fuse boxes. Metro-North will take measures to protect the horns, which jammed a few times last year, knocking cars out of the fleet for safety reasons.

“We’re pleased to hear that they are doing some very specific things,” said Jim Cameron, vice chairman of the Commuter Rail Council. “Each winter the problems are becoming progressively worse, so I’m cautiously optimistic.”

The Connecticut DOT (ConnDOT) must replace the ancient fleet, commuter advocates have said. Many New Haven Line railcars are more than 30 years old, 10 years past their life expectancy.

While New York’s DOT has obtained state-of-the-art rail cars for the Metro-North Harlem and Hudson lines, Connecticut officials say they may not get new cars until 2010. That plan would cost about $1.3 billion.

In the interim, the state has obtained railcars from Virginia Railway Express that will be placed on the Shore Line East Railroad. The Shore Line East cars will be transferred to Metro-North. Critics say the move is a stopgap measure, but DOT officials say it will add about 1,600 seats to the fleet, which will come in handy this winter.

“Every train car we lose means 100 of our customers don’t have a seat,” Brucker said.

Cameron said he is concerned that if trains start breaking down again, there won’t be enough space for all the repair work. Last winter, there were 18 service bays for 343 cars, and that hasn’t improved, Brucker said.

“If it happens again, we’ll have to do the only thing we can do, which is have our people on their backs under the trains on the rails,” Brucker said.


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A new-old idea gets a close review

A new Connecticut-proposed commuter rail service would provide increased peak-hour service from New Haven to Hartford and to Springfield, Mass., under a plan discussed Wednesday as community members from greater New Haven debated proposed changes in area train service.

A public open house at a North Haven recreational center hosted by the Connecticut DOT would see the proposed plan finally get started.

Carmine Trotta, ConnDOT assistant director, said such a plan was suggested 15 or 20 years ago but eventually fizzled out due to lack of interest, Yale Univ. campus newspaper, the Yale Daily News, reported on November 4.

“In the past year, however, there has been sufficient interest in the state legislature to give the plan momentum,” Trotta said.

“There has been a lot of interest in the towns. People have been very forthright in supporting a commuter-type service,” he noted.

Fran Ariola, a representative from the United Transportation Union, said he approved of the plan.

“Wherever you can fill a need of a service, it should be filled,” he said.

He said if Amtrak is as successful with the new line as it is with the current Shore Line East, the proposed service will be “very, very effective.”

Contributing reporter Lindsay Starck reported other area community members said they supported the proposed plan because it would help the environment and reduce congestion.

Engineering corporation Wilbur Smith Associates is performing a study of the potential service, focusing on ridership, projected costs and community impact. Kari Watkins, a representative of Wilbur Smith, said plan progress will depend on funding.

“We have definitely had a favorable public response,” she said. “The biggest issue now, before we can start focusing on the environmental process and design, is funding. That’s really the next step.”

Community members who attended the meeting, however, were not unanimously decided in favor of the proposed service. Several people said they were concerned about a possible financial burden on North Haven residents, as the source of the funding is still unknown.

Some members said the projected plan, which will only provide service at peak times Monday through Friday, will not be sufficient in order to fill the current demand for off-peak hours and weekends.

New Canaan resident Richard Stowe said he supported the project in general but thought the train should run from Massachusetts to New York City, in order to include more of Connecticut.

“The plan as it stands now doesn’t provide seamless transit,” he said. “The service should integrate all of Connecticut instead of just this one portion.”

He said some residents of southwest Connecticut, including New Canaan, oppose the original proposal because it does not adequately address the transportation “crisis” in the New Haven line corridor. He said New Haven community members should see beyond the transportation needs of their immediate area.

“The whole state would be a lot better off if we introduced this service statewide,” Stowe said.


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Nashua aldermen debate commuter rail

It won’t be a free ride, but Nashua, N.H. and regional planners say they may finally have found a way to pay for a long-awaited commuter rail extension from Massachusetts to South Nashua.

The board of aldermen debated a proposal last week that would use private tax dollars from future businesses and homes in the area to make up the $14 million in local matching funds needed to get the project off the ground, according to the Nashua Union Leader.

The funds have been a major impediment to the project, which would extend the Boston-based Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority line from Lowell, Mass., to Nashua.

“This represents an opportunity,” said R. Gordon Leedy Jr., managing director of land development for Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc., which has studied the plan.

He said, “We think it provides a mechanism by which the city could fund a local match for the rail project.”

In all, the station is expected to cost $70.1 million. The vast majority of that is expected to come from the U.S. government, but Leedy warned the city has to act fast because the federal funds will not be available for long.

Stephen Williams, the executive director of the Nashua Regional Planning Commission, said the plan in question would put the state DOT in charge of the project. Nashua would get to approve the station’s design.

Once the station is completed, the city would join together with NHDOT and the planning commission to create a state transit authority, which would be responsible for expanding, operating and maintaining commuter rail in New Hampshire.

Nashua hopes to build the station on the former Hampshire Chemical site on Spit Brook Road. The $70.1 million price tag includes money for parking, track improvements, a train set and operating costs for the first few years. Nashua has about $24 million available to it for the project, Williams said.

Williams described a vibrant commercial center around the station, with private investment that would contribute to a tax increment finance district. Leedy said the site would allow for about 70,000 square feet of retail space, as well as 100,000 square feet of office space and about 200 residential units.

“On the same site, we might see a mix of retail uses, office services and even residential uses,” Williams said. “It’s designed for the pedestrian. It’s all designed to be within easy walking distance of each other.”

The MBTA has said it will not support any project that adds to its own bottom line, Williams said. This proposal, however, would cut the MBTA’s expenses, he said, because the site also leaves room for a layover rail station.

Currently, all trains on the Boston-to-Lowell line must start and end their day near Boston’s North Station.


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NS, Norfolk discuss rail sale

Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) and Norfolk Southern Corp. are negotiating again to find a way for the transit agency to secure a railroad corridor for light rail from Norfolk to Virginia Beach, reports The Virginian-Pilot of November 4 from Norfolk, Va.

More than two months ago, Norfolk Southern ended talks for the purchase of a now-unused freight line, saying the agency’s offer was too low to be taken seriously.

The rail line is critical to HRT’s proposed $195 million “starter” light rail line in Norfolk because more than half of the route follows the Norfolk Southern freight line.

Railroad officials said they would resume discussions only if HRT came back with a substantially different offer. “There is some room for some creative thinking here,” Norfolk Southern spokesman Robert C. Fort said at the time.

HRT and Norfolk Southern representatives met last week for the first time since negotiations ended. Both sides characterized the meeting as “cordial and constructive” and agreed to continue talking.

Neither side would discuss details, but W. Randy Wright, a Norfolk city councilman and HRT commissioner said, “The important thing is we’re back at the table and we’re negotiating with good intent on both sides. I think there will be a fruitful ending to this.”

HRT, on behalf of Norfolk and Virginia Beach, offered $2.7 million for a narrow 15-mile freight corridor, which was appraised at $48.4 million .

Norfolk Southern demanded “a fair price,” while HRT maintained its offer was consistent with “the real value” of the land.

The proposed 7.5-mile light-rail line includes 4.8 miles of Norfolk Southern track in Norfolk. “We need to have the right-of-way to pursue the project,” said Michael S. Townes, HRT’s president and CEO.

HRT is seeking the rest of the line on behalf of Virginia Beach to be preserved for a future transportation corridor.

Meanwhile, HRT is awaiting word from the Federal Transit Administration on its updated proposal for Norfolk light rail, which would run from Newtown Road through Norfolk State Univ., Harbor Park, downtown and Atlantic City, ending at Eastern Virginia Medical Center.

Federal approval is critical for receiving federal funding.


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APTA HIGHLIGHTS...  APTA Highlights...

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.


Little Rock Launches River Rail Electric Streetcars

The Central Arkansas Transit Authority (CATA) in Little Rock celebrated the debut of the 2.1-mile River Rail Electric Streetcar system November 1, with free rides for the first week, through November 7.

The service entered operation with three new trolleys based on the design of double-truck Birnie cars that operated in the area until 1947. CATA reported that, despite the vintage design, the new trolleys are air-conditioned and equipped with on-board wheelchair lifts.

The grand opening, with the theme “Ridin’ in the Rocks,” began with dedication ceremonies at the Alltel Streetcar Stop, located in front of the North Little Rock City Services building.

North Little Rock dignitaries rode the streetcar across the Arkansas River, over the Main Street Bridge to the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, where Mayor Jim Dailey and Chamber officials conducted another brief dedication ceremony.


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Survey Shows Support for Pedestrian-Oriented Communities Near Transit

A survey released October 10 by the National Association of Realtors and Smart Growth America reported that 55 percent of survey participants who potentially could buy homes in the next three years would prefer to live in a “smart growth community” consisting of mixed housing types, sidewalks, public transportation, and commutes of less than 45 minutes than a “sprawl” community.

“Americans place a high value on limiting their commute times, and they are likely to see improved public transportation and changing patterns of housing development as the solutions to longer commutes than increasing road capacities,” according to the NAR-SGA survey.

The survey also shows support for living close to a city: 33 percent of respondents said they would like to live in a close-in suburb and 13 percent in a city, compared with 35 percent who would prefer a rural community, and 18 percent who preferred a more remote suburb.


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Report Shows Rail Transit Provides Variety of Benefits

Rail transit systems provide economic, social, and environmental benefits to their communities, and these benefits only increase as a system expands and matures.

That is the conclusion Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute in Victoria, B.C., reached after examining seven U.S. cities with large rail systems, comparing them to 16 cities with small rail systems, and then to 107 cities with only bus systems. The report containing Litman’s findings, Rail Transit in America: A Comprehensive Evaluation of Benefits, was released October 8 during the 2004 APTA Annual Meeting in Atlanta.

The genesis of the report is to provide material to help transit professionals respond to critics. Litman is adding updates to the report, so the public is invited to check APTA’s web site for the latest information.


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Ontario Gas Tax for Transit a First in Canada

Effective October 1, the Canadian province of Ontario instituted a dedicated gasoline tax of 1 cent per liter to support public transportation in the province. The tax level will increase to 1.5 cents per liter in 2005, and 2 cents in 2006.

According to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, the tax will provide $680 million (Cdn.) over the next three years for 78 transit systems in 105 municipalities in the province. Over the next five years, the government will invest more than $1 billion (Cdn.) of gas tax funding in transit.

Michael Roschlau, president and CEO of the Canadian Urban Transit Assn., called the announcement “a landmark commitment, as Ontario has become the first Canadian jurisdiction to implement a universal dedicated tax for public transit.”

Roschlau noted that Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty had proposed the gas tax in a campaign promise last year, following years of lobbying from the transit sector.


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Bill Affecting Transit Leasing Signed into Law

President Bush signed into law October 22 the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004, a $138 billion tax bill that, among other things, prohibits tax-advantaged leasing transactions that have been useful sources of revenue for many transit agencies.

The bill, however, permits the Federal Transit Administration to approve such lease transactions submitted between June 30, 2003, and March 13, 2004. The FTA would have to approve such transactions by Jan. 1, 2006.

The bill prohibits all similar leasing transactions applied for after March 13, 2004. At press time, it was unknown whether any form of tax-advantaged leasing would be permissible under this new legislation.


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

AAR, ASLRRA holding joint safety confab

For the first time ever, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Assn. (ASLRRA) will hold a joint safety conference November 16-19 in St. Louis.

The event combines what previously were separate meetings of the AAR’s Annual Safety Conference and the ASLRRA’s Operating and Maintenance Session. The new meeting is called the Rail Industry Safety Conference, and will be presented in the Renaissance Grand Hotel.

“By combining the two, we were able to develop a more comprehensive program than otherwise would have been possible. It features a wide variety of safety topics that will be useful to representatives both of Class I railroads and short line and regional railroads,” said Rich Timmons, president of the ASLRRA.

“Railroads have made tremendous strides in safety over the past 25 years,” said AAR President and CEO Edward R. Hamberger.

“To keep that momentum going, we need to continually look at ways we can operate more safely and new technology. The Rail Industry Safety Conference will help everyone in the industry do that,” Hamberger added.

Railroads are the safest form of ground transportation, with a train accident rate that has declined by 65 percent since 1980. The industry has also made extraordinary gains in worker safety; its employees have injury rates less than that of people employed in retail, manufacturing or any other transportation mode.

Conference speakers will include Jo Strang, the Federal Railroad Administration’s deputy associate administrator for research and development; Henry Posner III, chairman of the Railroad Development Corp.; and Gerri Hall, president of Operation Lifesaver, Inc.

There will be presentations on training, highway-rail grade crossing safety, security, remote control locomotives, fire safety, and roadway worker protection.

There will also be an exhibit area featuring displays from companies offering a variety of products including communications and signals; computer software; engineering and design; insurance; remote control technology; safety products; and vegetation control.


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CP writes grain car idea

Canadian Pacific Ry. said last week it presented the Canadian government on November 1 with a blueprint that preserves and brings stability to Canada’s grain handling and transportation system.

CPR representatives attending a one-day meeting in Winnipeg to discuss the future of the federal government hopper car fleet shared key elements of the proposal.

“Canadian Pacific Railway is interested in ensuring that Transport Canada is aware of all viable options that will ensure the continuing integrity of the grain handling and transportation system,” said Marcella Szel, A CP vice-president.

CPR’s plan recommends Transport Canada to maintain ownership of the hopper car fleet as part of a new long-term operating agreement in which the cars would continue to be leased to the railways. Also, the railways would ensure future capacity for regulated grain, and would manage and operate the cars as part of a larger fleet.

The railways would continue to maintain the cars to industry standards and at the same time begin a major quality enhancement program.

“The ‘win-win’ for all stakeholders is that there would be assured car fleet capacity for shippers, no impact on freight rates, and taxpayers’ investment would be protected; it would eliminate the never-ending debate on disposal price and would stimulate investment by railways in car quality and future replacement,” said Szel.

CPR also said that if the Canadian feds decides to dispose of its hopper car fleet, the railway is ready to participate in a competitive-bid process to acquire the grain cars.

“If the federal government elects to dispose of the hopper-car fleet, we will put in an offer to purchase the grain cars,” Szel stated.


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T&P starts running trains

Tazewell & Peoria Railroad, Inc. (T&P), under the Genesee & Wyoming, Inc. banner, began running trains on November 1.

Many railroaders will remember the “T&P” flag as the former Texas & Pacific, but that’s not the case in Illinois.

It’s a newly formed G&W subsidiary, operating under a 20-year lease agreement with the Peoria and Pekin Union Ry. Co. The T&P operates over approximately 20 miles of track in Tazewell and Peoria counties.

GWI is a shortline and regional freight railroad operator in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia and Bolivia.


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QUARTERLY REPORTS...  Quarterly reports...

FEC

Florida East Coast Industries reports its third quarter was profitable despite four hurricanes spreading across the state.

Its railway segment revenues were up 3 percent to $46.3 million in the third quarter, buoyed by a strong economy and new business despite the hurricane impact.

Intermodal revenues rose 15 percent despite hurricanes, recording five consecutive quarters of improvement.

FEC CEO Robert W. Anestis, who is also its chairman and president said “Our businesses continued to benefit from strong economic trends during the third quarter, and we anticipate that this will continue through the balance of the year and into 2005.

He added, “Although the railway third quarter results were impacted by an unprecedented four hurricanes, I am pleased to note that the railway quickly resumed operations in plenty of time to service its customers during our peak season and to accommodate increased activity associated with Florida’s reconstruction effort.”

He spelled out some details. The railway results for the first eight months, prior to the hurricanes, were very strong with revenues up 11 percent.

“We expect this momentum to continue into the fourth quarter with double-digit percentage increases in railway segment revenues and operating profit compared to the fourth quarter 2003.”

For the third quarter 2004, FECI, including all segments of its businesses, reported consolidated revenues of $76.8 million, compared to $86.8 million for the third quarter 2003.

Income from continuing operations was $10.4 million, or 31 cents per diluted share, for the third quarter 2004 (which includes $6.4 million of after-tax profit from land sales), compared to a loss of $0.2 million, or a penny per diluted share for the third quarter 2003 (which includes $5.6 million of after-tax profit from land sales and $10.1 million of after-tax charge for the estimated cost of ending a long-term ground lease). FECI reported consolidated third quarter 2004 net income of $10.5 million, or $0.31 per diluted share, compared to $1.0 million, or 3 cents per diluted share, for the prior year quarter. Included in net income is income (loss) from discontinued operations related to the 2003 sale of an office building, and the 50 percent interests previously held in partnerships with Duke Realty, as well as the 2004 sale of an office building and an industrial building.

FEC reported its current outlook for the 2004 full year railway segment revenue and operating profit growth is mid-to-upper single digit percentage improvement over 2003.

Capital expenditures for the railway, before the purchase of any strategic land parcels to be used by future railway customers, are expected to range between $30 and $33 million.

Railway operations alone during the third quarter saw the Florida coast hit by four hurricanes, and the company and employees were impacted by three, with two causing major disruptions to the railway’s operations.

Railroad officials estimated the hurricanes “reduced FECR’s third quarter revenues by approximately $4.0 to $4.5 million.”

Also, FECR estimates it incurred approximately $2.0 million of incremental operating expenses related to clean-up costs, property damage, grade crossing operations and support and additional train crew costs as a result of trains operating at reduced speeds. The total net impact to the carrier’s third quarter operating profit because of the hurricanes was estimated to be approximately $3.5 to $4.0 million.

Total carload revenues were lower by 5.8 percent due to lost revenue during days of suspended or limited train service as a result of the hurricanes. Aggregate revenues were down 8.1 percent as a result of the hurricanes. Despite the impact from the hurricanes, intermodal revenues (which include drayage) increased 15.3 percent compared to the prior year period, reflecting new customers, increased revenue from the international business segment, continued success with the “Hurricane Train” and improved pricing, which were partially offset by lower revenues from a connecting carrier.

The railway segment’s operating profit decreased to $7.8 million in the third quarter 2004 versus $10.8 million in the third quarter of 2003 due to the impact from the hurricanes, and a July 2004 derailment that cost $800,000 thousand. As a result, the railway’s operating ratio was 83.1 percent compared to 75.9 percent in the prior year quarter.

FEC manages changes in fuel prices by purchasing a percentage of the estimated fuel consumption (up to 13 months in advance) and by passing on fuel price increases to its customers through a surcharge. During the third quarter, customer fuel surcharges – together with the forward purchases – substantially offset the increase in fuel expense compared to the third quarter 2003.


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G&W

Genesee & Wyoming Inc. reported last week net income in the third quarter of 2004 increased 33.2 percent to $10.1 million, compared to net income of $7.6 million in the third quarter of 2003.

GWI’s diluted earnings per share in the third quarter of 2004 increased 37.0 percent to 37 cents with 27.5 million shares outstanding, compared to diluted earnings per share of 27 cents with 26.8 million shares outstanding in the third quarter of 2003.

Prior to GWI’s adoption of Emerging Issues Task Force Bulletin Issue No. 03-06 under FASB Statement No. 128 which became effective June 30, 2004, GWI’s diluted EPS for the third quarter of 2003 were 29 cents.

In the third quarter of 2004, GWI’s North American revenue increased 25.6 percent to $77.2 million, compared to $61.5 million in the third quarter of 2003. Of this $15.7 million increase in revenue, $9.4 million was same-railroad growth and $6.3 million was from the acquisition of rail lines from Georgia-Pacific Corp. The 15.4 percent growth in same-railroad revenue was balanced across multiple commodity groups, with particular strength in coal shipments which increased by $2.2 million, or 24.1 percent.

GWI’s North American operating income in the third quarter of 2004 increased 43.4 percent to $13.2 million, compared with $9.2 million in the third quarter of 2003. The North American operating ratio improved by 2.1 percent to 82.9 percent in the third quarter of 2004, compared with an operating ratio of 85.0 percent in the third quarter of 2003. Operating costs in the third quarter of 2004 were adversely affected by track washouts and flood damage in GWI’s New York-Pennsylvania Region caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ivan as well as a 37 percent increase in the average price per gallon of diesel fuel compared to the same period last year.

In Australia, revenue at GWI’s 50 percent-owned subsidiary, Australian Railroad Group increased 35.6 percent to US$83.7 million in the third quarter of 2004, compared with US$61.7 million in the third quarter of 2003.


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Trinity

Trinity Industries, Inc., citing the increased cost of steel, reported net income on November 2 of $900,000, or break-even results per share, compared with $1.8 million, or 2 cents per share in the third quarter of 2003. The average analyst estimate from Thomson First Call was for earnings of 8 cents per share on revenue of $564.5 million. Dallas-based Trinity’s revenue rose to $567.2 million from $363.4 million a year ago. The railroad car, barge and construction company’s shares were up 88 cents, to $31.14.


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Grain, autos slip

Rail traffic is up in October

U.S. railroads originated 1,406,933 carloads of freight in October 2004, up 1.9 percent (26,466 carloads) over October 2003, and an additional 929,197 trailers and containers, up 10.8 percent (90,505 units) over October 2003, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported Thursday.

Metallic ores, used in steelmaking, coal (destined mainly for power plants and export), and crushed stone and gravel (used in construction and elsewhere) paced U.S. rail carload gains. U.S. railroads originated 64,641 carloads of metallic ores in October 2004, up 17.1 percent (9,432 carloads) over October 2003; coal totaled 543,598 carloads in October 2004, up 1.5 percent (8,171 carloads) over last year; and carloads of crushed stone and gravel totaled 95,232, up 7.4 percent (6,595 carloads) over October 2003.

On the down side, carloads of grain totaled 93,107 in October 2004, down 6.4 percent (6,404 carloads) from 2003, while carloads of motor vehicles and equipment totaled 98,309, down 5.5 percent (5,736 carloads) compared with last year. Of the 19 major commodity categories tracked by the AAR, 13 saw carload gains in October 2004 compared with 2003.

For the first ten months of 2004, total U.S. rail carloadings of 14,491,501 units were up 2.9 percent (410,887 carloads) over last year. Coal accounted for 39 percent of U.S. rail carloads during this period; coal’s 5,699,881 carloads were up 2.9 percent (160,129 carloads) over the same period in 2003. Carloads of chemicals totaled 1,299,137 in 2004 through October, up 4.8 percent (59,863 carloads) over last year, while carloads of grain totaled 933,888 through October, up 4.8 percent (42,775 carloads). Carloads of primary metal products (predominantly steel) rose 9.0 percent (49,068 carloads) to 593,744 carloads in 2004 through October.

Commodities showing year-to-date carload declines through October include motor vehicles and equipment (down 3.2 percent, or 32,505 carloads, to 995,966 carloads) and food products (down 3.6 percent, or 13,308 carloads, to 354,568 carloads).

U.S. intermodal traffic in 2004 through October totaled 9,074,137 trailers and containers, up 9.6 percent (798,218 units) over 2003. Four of the top five highest-volume intermodal weeks in history for U.S. railroads, including the top three, occurred in October 2004.

Total volume after 43 weeks was estimated at 1.314 trillion ton-miles, up 3.9 percent from last year.

“Two weeks ago the government announced that GDP growth was 3.7 percent in the third quarter of 2004, marking the 12th straight quarter of positive economic growth and the sixth straight quarter in which growth has been at least 3.3 percent,” noted AAR Vice President Craig F. Rockey. “That kind of growth could not occur without our freight railroads. This month’s rail traffic figures support the contention that the economy remains in solid growth mode.”

Canadian rail carload traffic (which includes the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads) was up 3.1 percent (8,370 carloads) in October 2004 to 282,335 units, thanks largely to surges in carloads of chemicals (59,441 carloads, up 4.8 percent, or 2,712 carloads, over October 2003) and farm products excluding grain (13,075 carloads, up 15.8 percent, or 1,788 carloads, over October 2003). In October 2004, 14 of the 19 major commodity categories tracked by the AAR saw increases in Canadian carloadings compared with October 2003. Canadian intermodal traffic totaled 178,789 trailers and containers in October 2004, up 1.7 percent (3,035 units) over October 2003.

For the first ten months of 2004, Canadian carload traffic totaled 2,886,900 units, up 7.6 percent (202,765 carloads), while Canadian intermodal traffic was up 0.3 percent (5,602 units) to 1,805,875 trailers and containers.

Carloads originated on Transportación Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM), a major Mexican railroad, were up 11.8 percent (3,958 carloads) in October 2004 to 37,532 carloads, while intermodal originations of 17,850 units were up 30.8 percent (4,205 trailers and containers). For the first ten months of 2004, TFM carloadings of 374,470 units were up 3.2 percent (11,472 carloads), while intermodal traffic rose 7.0 percent (10,550 units) to 161,361 trailers and containers.

For just the week ended October 30, the AAR reported the following totals for U.S. railroads: 353,924 carloads, up 1.8 percent from the corresponding week in 2003, with loadings up 0.8 percent in the East and up 2.6 percent in the West; intermodal volume of 235,876 trailers and containers (the highest weekly total ever, breaking the record set one week earlier), up 12.4 percent; and total volume of an estimated 33.1 billion ton-miles, which was up 2.2 percent from the equivalent week last year and tied the record set two weeks earlier for most freight moved in a single week.

For Canadian railroads during the week ended October 30, the AAR reported volume of 70,578 carloads, up 0.2 percent from last year; and 45,371 trailers and containers, up 3.5 percent from the corresponding week in 2003.

Combined cumulative rail volume for the first 43 weeks of 2004 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 17,378,401 carloads, up 3.7 percent (613,652 carloads) from last year, and 10,880,012 trailers and containers, up 8.0 percent (803,820 units) from 2003’s first 43 weeks.

The AAR is online at www.aar.org.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: CBSMarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)43.9041.81
Canadian National (CNI)55.6854.05
Canadian Pacific (CP) 28.9728.25
CSX (CSX)36.8736.50
Florida East Coast (FLA)39.8937.86
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)26.9625.32
Kansas City Southern (KSU)16.5716.95
Norfolk Southern (NSC)34.8333.95
Providence & Worcester (PWX)12.2411.80
Union Pacific (UNP)64.9562.97


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WE GET LETTERS...  We get letters...

Dear Editor:

Regarding the story about BNSF lowering its car charges for small grain shippers (D:F, October 25), Farmrail Grain comes from various areas on the Farmrail’s Oklahoma system with Altus, Lone Wolf, Hobart, Roosevelt, Snyder, Manitou, and Frederick as the main wheat grain loading silos.

Hence, Farmrail interchanges with BNSF at Altus and Snyder on the BNSF Chickasha Sub and heads to Quanah, Texas to be routed on the Red River Valley Sub to the Ports.

Symbols that have been used during wheat grain harvest season here in June and July have been “SNYPTR” and “LTSPTR,” along with a few other last-three-lettered port symbols as well. From what I have been told, most the wheat that has been loaded and shipped from the Farmrail system are for export grain shipments.

Some trains run more than 100 cars from the Snyder and Altus pickups. BNSF services the Olustee and El Dorado, Okla., grain silos between Altus and Quanah Yard. Around the southwest Oklahoma area, most reports of 30-38 bushels per acre of wheat has been harvested this past year, far above averages reported in recent years. Wheat around this time of year is slow. January and February are slow shipping periods, so are called by demand.

Ron Roman
Altus, Okla.


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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.

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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.


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