Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 4 No. 44, November 10, 2003
Copyright © 2003, NCI, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - Jim RePass
Editor - Leo King

A weekly North American rail and transit update

 

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


Amtrak at Philly

Amtrak: Gary Pancavage

An Amtrak intercity train strolls by Philadelphia. Amtrak’s new board of directors members seem to have passed muster during their Senate confirmation hearings last week.

 

Crandall says feds must back
Amtrak, but no profits in sight

By Wes Vernon
Chief, Washington Bureau

President Bush’s nominees to the Amtrak Board of Directors Thursday appeared to pass muster with the Amtrak supporters on the Senate Commerce Committee.

All three supported a national rail passenger system. Further, they laid out on the table up front their belief that such a system would not be profitable. However, they called on Congress and the Administration to come to some consensus as to Amtrak’s mission, and then provide the money to pay for it. The job of the board, they said, is to see that the money is used in an efficient manner.

One of the nominees, former American Airlines CEO Robert L. Crandall told the senators, “Trains and planes are more complimentary than competitive,” a position National Corridors Initiative and other Amtrak backers have argued for years.

“If New York-Washington trains ran consistently at 125 mph or more,” he said, “The required investment would produce other benefits. You wouldn’t have to further develop LaGuardia and Reagan National Airports. You’ll save some money on airports and allow planes to be used more efficiently.”

“Unhappily,” for whatever reason, he added, “our country doesn’t seem to engage in that kind of transportation planning.”

Reuters writer John Crawley reported that while Crandall neither embraced nor dismissed a Bush administration plan to restructure Amtrak, he did tell Senate lawmakers at his confirmation hearing that a clear federal mandate, government oversight and a steady source of funding were essential to its long-term survival.

“We (board members) have the responsibility to make sure those funds are spent in a businesslike way. They should be spent efficiently. Every dollar should be accounted for and we should tell you the truth,” Crandall said.

“In that sense, it is a business, but in terms of whether it is profitable – passenger rail is not, and will not, and cannot be profitable,” he said.

Amtrak could receive more than $1 billion in subsidies for a second year when a House-Senate conference committee meets in the days ahead to iron out differences between a House bill, which proposed a $900 million shut-down level, or the Senate’s proposed $1.34 billion.

The Bush administration has proposed to dismantle Amtrak over time and give states a stake in underwriting and providing service. The federal government would still oversee the system, which may or may not encompass the entire country, and could involve private firms operating some routes.

The push for Amtrak reform has also included an overhaul of the railroad’s board. Replacing appointees made up largely of state and local government officials, the White House has selected members with extensive managerial and big business experience.

This reporter recalls interviewing incoming Transportation Secretary Brock Adams in late 1976. He spent a half-hour outlining a grand plan to connect the dots between trains, planes, and automobiles. Once Adams assumed office, the Carter Administration, in which he served, had other ideas, and his proposal was relegated to the dustbin.

Crandall, a veteran of the airline industry who appears ready to deal with the “big picture” in transportation from the railroad angle, is now speaking of the kind of transportation coordination best known in other parts of the world, but not here.

Crandall said rail between some cities could be an important alternative to airlines where he rose to prominence as a bare-knuckles chief executive who in the 1980s and 1990s oversaw American’s transformation from a mainly regional carrier to a global powerhouse.

He said a more reliable high-speed train service between Washington and New York could be good for rail as well as aviation. For instance, concentrating on necessary improvements for tracks, tunnels and wiring to enable Amtrak’s high-speed Acela to run consistently faster could ease pressure on airports like LaGuardia to expand, allowing airlines to concentrate on lucrative long-distance flights.

“Let’s spend some money to fix the tracks and save some money on airports and allow the airlines to use their planes in more productive ways,” Crandall said. “The net benefits might be very favorable.”

Another nominee, Louis S. Thompson, a former railways advisor at the World Bank and onetime FRA official, told the senators the exact meaning of “reform” would have to await a clear decision on what Amtrak’s mission is.

He said privatizing Amtrak would not make the passenger system “stronger and more effective,” then added, “Could you involve the private sector more effectively? I believe so.”

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), a strong Amtrak supporter, expressed concern that the company might end up with a $900 million “shutdown budget” (to use Amtrak CEO David Gunn’s description) okayed by the House, as opposed to the “getting by” $1.3-plus billion in the Senate-passed bill.

Thompson agreed, saying it was a case of “pay me now or pay me later.”

“Amtrak might be able to scrape by at $1.0 billion,” he said, “but this would defer essential investments and just create a bigger problem later.”

Crandall and the third nominee, former K-Mart “turnaround” specialist Floyd Hall, said they did not yet know enough to comment on Amtrak’s money needs.

Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), a tiny minority (sometimes a minority of one) of Amtrak enemies on the panel, went through his standard litany of criticisms of Amtrak’s long-distance trains and previous Amtrak management (Even he acknowledges Gunn is doing a good job).

That drew a rejoinder from Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.), that though Amtrak had received $26 billion over 32 years, the airlines have been on the receiving end of $30 billion in taxpayer largesse. “The defense rests,” he said.

Hutchison was pleased that “every one of you has said you want to make Amtrak work. My motto has been ‘national or nothing,’” a not-so-subtle reminder that the Texas lawmaker will not sit idly by and allow any policy-maker to cause the passenger train system to retreat back to two or three densely populated corridors, and let the rest of the country fend for itself in a limited “fly-drive” choice.

In an interview with D:F, Ross Capon, the Executive Director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP), said he was “optimistic that [the nominees] will be board members.”

Given some comments made in the past by Crandall, is NARP concerned?

“I don’t think you can expect the president and CEO of American Airlines [to say when it comes to transportation planning] that mode specific trust funds are not the way to go,” not while he heads a major airline in an industry whose infrastructure, unlike the railroads, is paid for by a trust fund, “but he’s not doing that anymore,” the NARP executive added.

Yes, Crandall applauded then Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Kelleher’s crusade against a Texas high-speed rail plan years ago, and said trains are for densely populated corridors. But again, the man is wearing a different hat now, Capon noted.

Besides which, that was a high-speed rail plan where “nobody thought it was going to happen soon, no matter where Bob Crandall was sitting.”

Capon more or less compared that to a plan currently proposed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry combining plans for high-speed rail and highways.

Rail labor also came in for some discussion at the Senate hearing.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), asked Crandall if he expects to clash with Amtrak’s unions.

Not “unless they choose one,” the nominee shot back. He went on to note that he created 60,000 new jobs at American Airlines. “Most of those were union jobs,” he added.

Just ask American’s union leaders “if I was successful at American. They would say yes.”

Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), a long time Amtrak supporter, said his dad had been a pipefitter, so having grown up in a union household, he believes “union concerns should be taken seriously.”

However, the Mississippi lawmaker said when unions threaten to strike so as to pressure Congress into giving Amtrak more money, “that’s the kind of conduct that ruins their reputation.”

A court hearing on Amtrak’s injunction against just such a one-day walkout by some (though by no means all) of its unions is to be heard Nov. 14.

That high-speed Texas plan seems to have merit.

Gov. Rick Perry (R) envisions a series of 1,000-foot wide interconnected corridors that would have six lanes of highways (three lanes in each direction and a possible combination of toll and non-toll roads), six rail lines (three in each direction, including lines for high-speed freight and high-speed passenger trains, as well as lines for regional commuter trains), and enough right-of-way to include water, natural gas and petroleum pipelines as well as telecommunications cables.

Perry, who was former Gov. George W. Bush’s lieutenant governor before the latter moved on to the White House, said when completed, the corridors would cover more than 4,000 miles in total and serve every area of the state.

Some growth-hating environmental groups are highly critical of the plan and NARP’s Capon opines that it is not likely to gain “much traction,” but, on a state level, it surely goes way beyond anything Brock Adams envisioned in 1976. Nonetheless, it surely does qualify as “transportation planning.”

More to the point, Perry’s high-profile predecessor, with a ranch residence in Crawford, Texas, is undoubtedly aware of this controversy in the state. Whether that in any way affects his own administration’s ultimate national approach to Amtrak or passenger trains in general in the future is, at this point, an unknown.


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Amtrak wants UP billing records

Union Pacific Co. overbilled Amtrak more than $1 million for the use of its tracks, Amtrak charged in a court petition filed Friday.

Amtrak claimed in the petition that it does not know how much money it is owed because UP hid the billing records. The petition asks the U.S. District Court in Nebraska to force UP to turn over the records.

A UP spokesman said the company already has turned over “a considerable number” of records to Amtrak, the Omaha World-Herald reported on Friday.

“We thought we’d given them the information they wanted, but apparently not,” said spokesman John Bromley in Omaha.

He said that if Amtrak wanted more information, a telephone request to UP would have been a better tool than legal action.

Amtrak said in the petition that it repeatedly had asked UP for the records, but the company blocked it in numerous ways, including demanding more than $250,000 for photocopying records, sending documents that weren’t requested and cutting off contact with Amtrak.

“Absent the remaining UP records, Amtrak cannot fully confirm the existence of fraud, waste or abuse on the part of UP, nor the financial magnitude of possible over-billings,” the petition said.


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Richmond Station opens in December

December 5 will mark the public reopening of the 102-year-old Richmond, Va., Main Street Station, according to city officials. The station’s reopening will be in conjunction with “Celebrate Illuminate,” Richmond’s annual holiday light festival throughout the River District.

Main Street Station’s $48.2 million renovations will include serving Amtrak, Greyhound and other buses, airport shuttles, taxis and tour buses at one centralized location, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported on November 7.

In addition, the station will become Greater Richmond’s Travel and Welcome Center. Since the station closed in the 1970s, the building has been used for restaurants and a shopping center.

The re-opened station will begin train service on December 17 with a ceremony that will include Gov. Mark Warner, Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine, Mayor Rudolph McCollum, City Manager Calvin Jamison and other city and state dignitaries as well as representatives from Amtrak and CSX.


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Quinn applauds Florida rail project

By Leo King
Editor

A New York Republican U.S. House member has heaped praise upon Florida’s high-speed rail project, but he made no reference to Republican Gov. Jeb Bush’s attempts to derail the Southern state’s plans.

Rep. Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.), the Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, applauded the recent decision of the Florida High-Speed Rail Authority to select Fluor and Bombardier to build a high-speed railway from Tampa to Orlando.

Quinn also called for a greater federal investment by Congress in high-speed rail projects across the country on October 30.

In 2000, Florida voters approved the development of the Tampa-Orlando Corridor by amending the state’s constitution. The Florida High-Speed Rail Authority’s decision to select the $2.1 billion proposal from the Fluor-Bombardier consortium is being heralded by high-speed rail proponents as a major breakthrough in the effort to build the corridor.

“I am encouraged by the recent developments in Florida,” Quinn said. He noted, “The Tampa-Orlando Corridor project is exactly the kind of partnership that we need to make high-speed rail accessible to more Americans.”

He also saw it as a means to transport people at considerably cheaper costs than laying more concrete for highways.

“This innovative project will minimize the costs to taxpayers, while providing an exciting new transportation alternative in a vital region of the state. While there is still work to be done, Florida’s decision to hire Fluor and Bombardier to build the Tampa-Orlando Corridor is an important step forward.”

In their winning proposal, Fluor and Bombardier agreed to return 100 percent of revenue above a certain level to ensure that Florida’s net costs of building the corridor do not exceed $46 million a year. To provide some context, $46 million is the cost of a single highway interchange and a small fraction of the $4 billion Florida currently spends on transportation each year.

“As the chairman of the House Railroads Subcommittee, I am optimistic that the Tampa-Orlando Corridor will ultimately be built. I am committed to educating my colleagues about the benefits of high-speed rail in hopes of securing federal funding for this and similar projects across the United States,” said Quinn.

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, the ranking Democrat on the House Railroads Subcommittee, shared Quinn’s optimism about the Tampa-Orlando Corridor project.

“High-Speed Rail needs to be a cooperative effort between federal, state, and private partners. I’m proud that my home state of Florida is at the forefront of creating a working high-speed rail system. With an ever growing population, high-speed rail is the only way we can move people in a timely and efficient manner.”

Quinn continued, “As we’ve seen in the Northeast Corridor, where Acela trains now transport 250,000 passengers every month, there is a strong marketplace for fast, reliable train service in the U.S. Now it’s incumbent on members of Congress and the Administration to make a serious and long-term commitment to high-speed rail.”


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Amtrak’s new timetable combines lines

Amtrak’s newest system timetable combines national and Northeast Corridor schedules for the first time in more than ten years. It was back in 1992 when they last appeared together in a single volume and – for the first time in 20 years – lists sample fares for many popular services. The new train and bus schedules began on October 27.

The new timetable contains other significant changes, spokesman Dan Stessel noted. The new format uses three-color printing to emphasize features and guide readers through the schedules. Previous editions were printed in only two ink shades. Also, the foldout system route map is now placed at the front of the publication rather than the back.

A new feature that should help customers use the publication is the “how-to” section, which provides a step-by-step guide to planning and booking Amtrak travel anywhere in the system. These and many other changes were made on the recommendations of Amtrak passengers who participated in market research focus groups around the country earlier this year.

Amtrak is online at http://www.amtrak.com.


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Alaska Railroad mulls Delta link

Calling the proposal one of personal interest, Alaska Railroad President Pat Gamble said November 4 the company is considering the possibility of rail access to Delta Junction.

“We’re proposing this as a concept,” Gamble said, adding the access would require about 80 miles of new track and two bridges, and would provide a first step toward linking the rail to Canada, the Fairbanks, Alaska, Daily News-Miner reported.

Gamble discussed the possibility of the new passenger service, which could include a contract with the military for commuting workers, along with future plans for hauling the Army’s Stryker vehicles and potential long-term Interior rail realignment at a Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

The retired four-star general and one-time fighter pilot became president of the state-owned railroad in 2001.

He said the company expects 5 percent growth in 2004, but the railroad disagrees with state lawmakers who’d like to see some of that money go into Alaska’s budget rather than invested back into railroad maintenance and projects.

For every $9 the railroad spends on projects, the federal government pitches in $91, he said, asking if the state could improve on that investment.

The Rail 2100 Task Force, a group created by the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly, recently finished a series of public meetings on different ways to realign the railroad in the Interior. Among the goals of the realignments would be fewer track crossings with roads, better service to the military and planning for Fairbanks’ growth.

The task force voted in favor of a path, called the “Foothills Route,” that departs the current route near Clear Air Force Station and moves east along the north flank of the Alaska Range.

The railroad originally proposed a realignment called the “Parks Route” that would take the rail down the median of the Parks Highway after jumping off the current alignment just west of the intersection of Sheep Creek Road near the Univ. of Alaska, Fairbanks.

It would cross the Chena River and Airport Way, tying into the Tanana River levee.

The path is unpopular with some residents living near the area, but Gamble said the railroad considered the Parks a traditional transportation corridor.

“To us it looked like a natural to put the railroad right there, where the highway was,” he said, but also noted the Foothills Route has piqued the company’s interest.

Asked if the railroad is favoring any of the routes under consideration, Gamble said it hasn’t selected one yet, but will look closely at the task force’s eventual recommendation.

The Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce board also is reserving judgment, as it decided Tuesday to further study the routes before voting to support one.

With Fort Wainwright undergoing a transformation with a Stryker Brigade, the railroad also is anticipating the need to transport the 19-ton vehicles to Anchorage for quick deployment by sea to hot spots around the globe.

“The railroad is going to have to partner with the Army if we’re going to be a part of that,” Gamble said.

Maj. Dan Hunter, Stryker brigade transformation spokesman, said it’s too soon to say what, specifically, the Army might need from the railroad in order to move the vehicles.

“We’re still very early in the planning processes,” he said.

As for the reaction in Delta to a possible rail link, City Administrator Pete Hallgren described the community as long supportive of railroad access.

Many in Delta view it as a move toward connecting to the Lower 48 through Canada.

“Not knowing the exact layout of where the line would go, it makes it hard to just come out and say, ‘This is the greatest thing in the world,’” he said, but added the rail could create jobs and eventually get local goods to market, such as timber or farm products.


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Gunn gets a ride managers usually don’t see

We learned last week, through the pages of the Seattle Times, that Amtrak President David Gunn had his own version of the trip from hell last Wednesday, on a train journey from Florida to Washington.

First, the Miami to New York Silver Meteor was delayed by congestion at a Georgia construction site. Then a passenger car developed a mechanical problem and had to be pulled out. Then the locomotive had problems.

Then the train was stopped by a broken rail, slowly clumping over the small gap as maintenance personnel watched warily. Finally, the engine just shut down, and a rescue locomotive was sent from Rocky Mount, N.C.

Then, approaching Richmond, the train was forced to stop because the crew had outlawed – they reached the maximum of 12 hours on duty. Another crew was brought in.

The trip normally takes about 20 hours. Gunn’s train was seven and one-half hours late.


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

MBTA Commuter trains at Boston

NCI: Leo King

Whether Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority trains will someday depart from Boston’s South Station on their way to Fall River and New Bedford remains to be seen. Meanwhile, fares are going up. The stories are below.

 

Nation’s mayors push for transit

By Wes Vernon
Washington Bureau Chief

The mayors and business leaders of cities and towns across America on Thursday made a major pitch in Washington for the proposal of Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) to invest $375 billion in transit and highways over six years.

Joining them with full support was the bipartisan leadership of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee which Young heads.

The mayors and business coalition cited the growing congestion, highway safety, and economic problems.

The idea in this case is to get the word out to commuters doing a slow burn on parking lots that are called highways or roads, so that they will somehow realize that there are dots to be connected between their ordeal and what policy-makers are doing (or not doing) on Capitol Hill.

A number of rail transit projects hang in the balance for this bill, though it has sparked opposition from those who argued that its permanently-indexed hike in the gas tax will be burdensome for many, including lower income Americans who must drive in order to hold down their jobs.

Representing the transit side of the coalition was Gerald Roper, President and CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.

“Without effective public transportation,” he argued, “congestion will grow on our metropolitan highway systems and create dysfunction in delivering employees to work and goods and services to businesses and their customers.”

Business groups from across the country “view public transportation as a vital part of our nation’s transportation system,” Roper said.

The Chicagoland Chamber released a new report detailing important contributions public transportation makes to the economy. These include providing essential access for the nation’s economic health and prosperity, helping to maintain the vitality of our major cities’ central business districts, and connecting workers to jobs in suburban and rural areas.

Other provisions include relieving traffic congestion and improving business productivity, stimulating economic development around railroad stations, reducing energy consumption and achieving clean air standards, and generating jobs and a significant return on investment.

More than half of all trips taken on public transit end at the workplace. Thus, investing in transit “clearly promotes greater prosperity and grows our economy,” added American Public Transportation Assn. (APTA) President William W. Millar.

APTA and the business-mayors coalition point to “unmet needs in excess of $43 billion a year, and recommend doubling an annual transit funding program to $14.3 billion by 2009.

Right now, the federal transit program is currently operating on a short-term extension to landmark legislation – TEA-21, which expires on February 29, 2004.


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Rail foes to try to block MBTA route

A Massachusetts state senator said last week he is filing a bill aimed at killing the proposed commuter-rail extension from Stoughton to Fall River and New Bedford by transferring the railroad right-of-way through the Hockomock Swamp from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to a state environmental agency.

Sen. Brian Joyce (D) said he would file the legislation this month. Joyce represents Easton and Stoughton, two towns along the proposed rail route, The Brockton Enterprise reported on October 30.

Kyla Bennett, New England director of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an Easton, Mass.-based group opposed to the Stoughton rail extension, said she is drafting the legislation, which Joyce has agreed to file on her behalf.

The bill would transfer ownership of the railroad right-of-way through the environmentally sensitive Hockomock Swamp in Easton from the MBTA to the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. Bennett said she believes that transfer would end consideration of that route for commuter trains.

The $700 million commuter-rail extension – opposed by many in Stoughton, Easton and Raynham but long supported by city leaders in New Bedford and Fall River – is currently on the back burner. In September, Gov. Mitt Romney (R), citing budget woes, said the state does not have the money to pay for it.

Joyce, who has opposed the Stoughton rail extension, said the escalating price tag is beyond what the state can afford to pay. “It’s $700 million, and construction hasn’t even begun,” he said.

“The practical reality is that the Fall River-New Bedford line is not going to be built in the foreseeable future because the money is not there,” he said.

Joyce said he is supporting Bennett’s bill because he believes that if and when the state does decide to revisit the train plan, the transfer would ensure heightened scrutiny of the environmental impact on the swamp area.

The bill has about a 50-50 chance of eventual passage, he predicted.

Jason Whittet, spokesman for state Sen. Mark C. Montigny (D), said Montigny expects to see the rail plan move forward once the state economy improves.

“It’s his highest priority project,” Whittet said.

“Transferring the right-of-way would be a bad idea,” Whittet said. “With the rail plan still on the table, it would be premature to take the right-of-way away.”

Whittet said he could not predict how much support the bill might garner in the Legislature but noted, “Some bills languish in committee for years.”

The so-called “Stoughton Alternative” rail route would extend from the existing line that connects Stoughton to Boston and head south through Easton, Raynham, part of Taunton and then split in Berkley, with two lines forking off to Fall River and New Bedford.

Trains leaving South Station would still travel on the Northeast Corridor main line 15 miles to Canton Junction, make a left turn to travel the four miles to Stoughton (as trains currently do), then continue on to the southeast coastal cities. New Bedford is 41 track miles from Canton Junction, and Fall River is 38 track miles.

Its path through the Hockomock Swamp has been the focal point of controversy as environmentalists say a restored rail line would endanger protected species. To address these concerns, the MBTA proposed building a $50 million trestle over sensitive swamp areas.

Eliminating the right-of-way would reunite the swamp’s two separated ecosystems, Bennett said, but the main impact would be to prevent the MBTA from ever using the route for commuter rail.

“These projects have a habit of rising from the ashes like a phoenix,” Bennett said.

In settling on the Stoughton route, the MBTA rejected two other proposed rail lines, saying they could not handle additional train traffic or would not attract as much ridership. One would have gone from an existing line in Attleboro through Taunton to the Berkley split and then south. The second proposal would have extended the existing Old Colony rail line from Middleboro to the points south.

MBTA studies concluded the Stoughton extension is the only feasible route for the service, saying the Bennett’s group has charged the MBTA study, due to political pressure, was rigged to eliminate the Attleboro alternative.

Another environmental group, the Sierra Club, has supported the Fall River-New Bedford rail extension and its Massachusetts director, James McCaffrey, opposed the right-of-way transfer.

“It’s really shortsighted. We need to keep all our options open,” he said.

Supporters of the rail extension say it would ease traffic congestion on Route 24,reduce motor-vehicle exhaust pollution, better link Fall River and New Bedford to Boston and spur economic development in that region.

McCaffrey said widening highways to handle more traffic would do far more environmental damage overall than using the existing right-of-way through the Hockomock Swamp to provide rail service.

A report released this week by the Sierra Club said the state is spending an insufficient amount of money on public transportation to reduce congestion and improve air quality in Massachusetts. As a result, public transportation projects have suffered, traffic has become increasingly worse and air pollution has reached new levels, the group said.


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MBTA fare increases scaled down

While most mass transit fares are expected to be hiked dramatically today, Worcester- and Fitchburg-area residents who ride commuter trains to Boston will see a small increase of only 50 cents a day.

State transportation officials also pledged yesterday to inaugurate a new rush-hour express train on the Fitchburg line and to proceed with a $500,000 study that could lead to up to 10 more daily round trips on the Worcester line, according to the November 6 Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

Central Massachusetts commuter rail users have coped for years with frequent delays and breakdowns, slow trips and limited schedules with few midday trains.

Commuters and lawmakers from the region had mounted intense opposition to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s proposed fare hikes, which will take effect Jan. 1 if approved by the MBTA board today.

“We have heard from people in Worcester that as long as there is limited service they’re getting, we ought to look at them for a smaller increase in fares,” Secretary of Transportation Daniel A. Grabauskas said in an interview. “And on the Fitchburg line, we’ve made a commitment to upgrade the rail to move trains along faster.”

Grabauskas said upgrading commuter rail to Central Massachusetts meshes with Gov. Mitt Romney’s approach of improving existing transportation facilities before building new roads and train lines.

Reaction in the region to the developments was overwhelmingly positive, even though MBTA Zones 1 through 7, which include stations in Westboro and Southboro, will still see substantial fare increases.

The MBTA had originally proposed ticket price hikes of about 25 percent systemwide, including on Boston subway system trains and buses.

After commuters complained at a series of public hearings this fall, the authority scaled back the original proposal.

Under the revised plan, the most expensive sections of the rail network, located in zone 9 - which includes Worcester, Fitchburg and Attleboro – will become part of zone 8. Zone 9 will be eliminated.

That move will result in fare increases of 25 cents each way for former zone 9 passengers traveling to Boston, raising the cost of an $11.50 round trip to $12, instead of $14 as first proposed.

“It’s great news,” said state Sen. Robert A. Antonioni (D), co-chairman of the Central Massachusetts Legislative Caucus.

At a Statehouse meeting in June, MBTA officials and Grabauskas told members of the caucus that they planned to move ahead with the Worcester and Fitchburg corridor improvements if fare increases were approved.

“It’s a fulfillment of a promise made to Central Massachusetts caucus members when they indicated Fitchburg would get express service,” Antonioni said. “It really makes sense. The quickest trip to Boston now is an hour and 40 minutes.”

Antonioni added, “With the extra time to park and get home from the station, to go 44 line miles and take two hours is unacceptable,” he said. “It’s a long ride.”

Grabauskas said he’s asked MBTA officials to begin express train service to Fitchburg as soon as possible in 1994.

The MBTA will also begin laying 10 miles of new track to replace old, worn rails on the line, some of which date to the 19th century and are the oldest in the MBTA system, the secretary said.

Several consulting firms have been selected as finalists for the project, which will analyze whether the MBTA can add trains without disrupting freight traffic on CSX Corp.’s Framingham-Worcester main line. That route is the main between Boston and Albany.

CSX officials maintain that anything above the 10 weekday round trips between Worcester and Boston now offered by the MBTA is impossible without installing an entirely new third track.

The cost of such work has been estimated at $30 million, and area lawmakers have talked about inserting the funding in future transportation bond bills.

In the meantime, the $500,000 contract, to be awarded next month, will look both at the short-term possibility of adding several more daily trips as well as how much it would cost to do a major reconstruction of the line, Grabauskas said.

“Ten trains to the city of Worcester is insufficient; we agree with that,” Grabauskas said.


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Environmentalists, PC, CR settle

The Environmental Protection Agency, two former railroads and the city of New Bedford have reached an $800,000 settlement for environmental work done at a freight depot site, according to the New Bedford Standard-Times.

In the late 1990s, the EPA spent $1.2 million assessing pollution on the 25-acre site and installing a fence around the property, and the agency then sued the current and former owners of the property for the costs.

Extensive soil testing revealed the site is contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, the same contaminant that polluted New Bedford Harbor. The PCBs were shipped by rail to electronics companies such as Aerovox, Inc. and Cornell Dubilier.

The EPA theorized that the PCBs found their way into the ground at the railroad depot site because “numerous spills occurred while transferring the PCBs from tank cars to 55-gallon drums.”

Along with the city, the EPA sued American Premier Underwriters, which is the corporate entity that merged with Penn Central Transportation Corp. (PC), and the Consolidated Rail Corp. (CR).

CSX, of Jacksonville, Fla., now owns former Conrail property in the Bay State.

New Bedford’s share of the settlement is $200,000, according to City Solicitor Matthew Jr. Thomas, but that did not represent tax dollars, he said. The EPA had paid $200,000 to the city as rent for its space at Sawyer Street along the Acushnet River. The city put that $200,000 into an escrow account, Thomas said, and then used it to pay off its share of the depot settlement.

The site is a key component of the city’s plan for a transportation hub. A commuter rail station, freight yard and rail spur to the North Terminal waterfront will all be on the site.


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‘Quiet car’ pilot is a success, says VRE

By Leo King
Editor

Virginia Railway Express trains now all have a quiet car, says railroad spokeswoman April Magidad.

She said quiet became the rule on November 5.

“Quiet cars will be in place on all of our trains. The quiet car is the car located closest to the locomotive, normally, the southernmost car on the train,” she said.

Quiet Car logo
VRE
Passengers seated in quiet cars “will be asked to refrain from cell phone use, and to keep pagers, cell phones, laptop and PDA sounds off, and speak only in whispers. Seating in the quiet car will be on a first-come, first-served basis.”

She also noted, “Quiet cars will be designated with signs like the one pictured on our website at http://www.vre.org/service/quiet-cars.htm. These signs will be posted on the window of the door leading to the car and several windows on all levels of the car.”

She also noted “quiet cars” started as an Amtrak idea.

She said VRE picked the car behind the engine because “We needed to choose an easily identifiable car. After some conversation with passengers, we decided that it either had to be the cab car or the car behind the engine. It was decided that the cab car is generally louder, so the car behind the locomotive was chosen. Because of the bathroom, we also encourage our school groups to sit there.”

Magidad said train crews would not enforce the quiet car settings.

“Before anyone asks to have a ‘talker’ arrested, our crews are not prepared to be the quiet enforcers. We expect, as other organizations have found, that the cars will naturally police themselves. Even now we have unofficial ‘loud’ cars and ‘quiet’ cars. Should there be a serious problem, then VRE Security staff will be contacted – but we certainly hope it never comes to this.”


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Tri-Rail searches for DMUs to test

Florida Tri-Rail’s commuter trains may soon be leaving the stations with self-propelled equipment.

The South Florida Regional Transportation Authority plans to test diesel multiple units, or “DMUs,” because they get better fuel mileage than locomotive-drawn trains and are about half as noisy. They also produce fewer emissions, writes the South Florida Sun-Sentinel of November 3.

The tests will begin within the next year, once the transportation authority chooses a company to supply the cars. So far, Colorado Railcar is the only one to manufacture a car to meet federal standards and might be the only viable candidate.

The Florida DOT received a $3.97 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration to buy the cars, and the FDOT is providing matching funds to run the tests.

In September, Regional Transportation Authority officials tested the self-propelled train car from Colorado Railcar. The car pulled two of Tri-Rail’s bilevel coaches. The train stopped at every station to simulate a typical Tri-Rail trip between Mangonia Park in Palm Beach County and Miami.

Brad Barkman, the Regional Transportation Authority operations director, said the initial results were promising, but he said a longer test in real-life conditions is necessary to determine whether the car lives up to its money-saving claims.

The self-propelled car used 128 gallons of fuel for the 144-mile round trip, compared with Tri-Rail locomotives that use about 325 gallons to make the same trip.

The car can carry 92 passengers in a single-deck configuration and pull two to three coaches. It uses “push-pull” technology, which enables the train to reverse direction quickly and is key on commuter rail lines such as Tri-Rail.

The big advantage of the self-propelled car is the cost. The car goes for $2.9 million, which is comparable to the cost of a locomotive. But a car also serves as a coach, which can save transit agencies the cost of buying both a locomotive and a $2 million passenger car.

The car passed federal safety tests this year indicating it can survive a collision with a locomotive, allowing it to run on a freight line. For passengers, that means they’ll be safer in a crash.

Tom Rader, president of the Fort Lupton, Colo.-based Colorado Railcar, said the cars have 1,200 horsepower compared to a locomotive’s 3,500 horsepower. But he said the smaller unit is still sufficient to pull two coach cars up to 79 mph.

“We’re not dragging 245,000 pounds of dead weight,” Rader said. “It doesn’t have that pounding feeling like when a locomotive goes by.”

Some European railroads use self-propelled cars, and Dallas Area Rapid Transit uses a much older version – Budd RDCs.

Rader said about two dozen transit agencies in the U.S. and Canada have expressed interest in the self-propelled cars.

Central Florida was in line to buy the commuter-rail cars, but they became unavailable when Orange County voters crushed a sales tax plan that would have helped build commuter rail service to relieve congestion on Interstate 4.


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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.


 

Southern California Transit Agencies Serve During Wildfire Emergency

The November 3 issue of Passenger Transport includes an overview of public transportation efforts in southern California in the midst of wildfires affecting the San Diego and San Bernardino regions. As Passenger Transport went to press, the situation was still fluid as transit systems were responding to rapidly changing conditions.


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Senate Approves $7.305 Billion in Transit Funding;
Higher Level than House Version

The U.S. Senate approved October 23 its fiscal year 2004 Transportation, Treasury, and General Government Appropriations bill that would fund the federal transit program at $7.305 billion. This level is $74 million higher than the amount passed by the House, and an increase of $126 million over actual transit funding during FY 2003.

The Senate’s action opens the way for a House-Senate Conference Committee to work out differences in the respective bills. It is not clear whether the transportation funding bill will be considered as a stand-alone bill or be included, along with other unfinished appropriations bills, in an omnibus appropriations package.


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FTA Approves $500 Million Grant for Sound Transit’s Central Link Light Rail

On October 24, the Federal Transit Administration approved a $500 million Full Funding Grant Agreement for Sound Transit’s Central Link light rail system. U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) joined Sound Transit board members for the announcement in Seattle.

Federal Transit Administrator Jennifer L. Dorn took action on the FFGA after the Sound Transit board unanimously passed a resolution responding to conditions on approval stated by U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.), chairman of the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury, and Independent Agencies, in an Oct. 23 letter to the FTA.

According to published reports, Istook released his conditions to Sound Transit following a meeting with Karl Rove, senior advisor to President Bush. U.S. Reps. Jennifer Dunn (R-Wash.) and George Nethercutt (R-Wash.) joined Istook at the White House meeting.

The Sound Transit board answered Istook’s conditions by reconfirming the system’s ongoing commitment to sub-area equity, under which tax revenues from each of five geographic sub-areas are used solely for the benefit of that sub-area. The board also committed the agency to neither seek nor accept more than the current $500 million in federal grants from the FTA to construct the initial segment of Central Link light rail.


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LexTran Board Signs with Professional Transit Management; Adams Is Named General Manager

The Transit Authority of Lexington in Lexington, Ky., recently hired Professional Transit Management Ltd. as its management company.

The LexTran board also accepted the recommendation of its search committee to approve Jim Adams, deputy executive director of operations with the Capital District Transportation Authority in Albany, N.Y., as its new general manager, effective Nov. 3.

Adams is a 31-year transit professional with extensive experience in operations, fleet maintenance, purchasing, and scheduling, as well as labor-management relations. He succeeds Stephen D. Rowland, who stepped down in June after 10 years of service, and Rick Loghry, who served as LexTran director on an interim basis after Rowland’s departure.


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McAleese Is New President and CEO of Bendix

Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems LLC, a member of the Knorr-Bremse group, announces the appointment of Joseph J. McAleese as its president and chief executive officer.

McAleese, who was promoted to president in March 2002, will immediately assume the CEO position previously held by Robert S. Oswald. Oswald will continue to serve as chairman at Bendix.

McAleese has spent his entire 20-year career with AlliedSignal, Honeywell, and now Knorr-Bremse. Prior to his promotion to president, he served since 2001 as vice president and general manager of the company.


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Westfall Dies in St. Louis; Supporter of MetroLink

George R. (Buzz) Westfall, county executive of St. Louis County, Mo., and a longtime supporter of Metro in St. Louis, died October 27 at the age of 59.

In a statement, Metro called Westfall a strong supporter of public transportation who worked with the transit agency on many occasions to help ensure the quality of its service to the region at large. He also was recognized for his efforts to help change the face of transit in the region by supporting Metro’s key initiatives over his years in public office.

Westfall had a 25-year career in county government, including 12 years as county prosecutor and 13 years as county executive. He was elected to his fourth term in 2002.


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

CSX engine

NCI: Leo King

CSX and two other American railroads – Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern – got good news last week from a leading world investment bank: they got “buy” ratings. A CSX coal train passes, above, near Jacksonville, Fla. last summer.

 

UBS upgrades UP, NS, CSX

Zurich-based UBS investment bank last week recommended railroad stocks.

UBS analyst Rick Paterson got positive on the railroad sector last week, saying a stronger economy could prompt a revaluation. Paterson cited low downside risk and good defensive characteristics in his assessment, CBS.MarketWatch.com reported on November 3.

Paterson said railroads have under-performed the market and every industrial cyclical group in the S&P 500 year-to-date, translating into low downside risk and a favorable risk/reward scenario.

“It also means the group would likely outperform on any pullback by the market,” he said.

Paterson said railroads have ignored the growth in gross domestic product because of high fuel prices, weak volumes and poor operating performance. The elimination of those negative catalysts should bring the group back in line with the market, he said.

Fuel prices have remained high all year, but are expected to moderate in 2004, Paterson said, and railroad companies are adopting fuels surcharges on new contract rollovers, as trucking and airfreight companies do, so should soon be able to pass those higher prices along, Paterson added.

Addressing volume weakness, Paterson said there has been a disconnect between GDP and industrial production, which is the primary driver of rail volumes and revenues, but he noted that industrial production growth has returned to positive territory, and the core growth rate of rail car loadings is accelerating.

Paterson also said good operations are “lacking across most of the sector,” though things are improving. He noted a “recovery in key performing metrics.”

Against that backdrop, Paterson upgraded Union Pacific (UNP), CSX Corp. (CSX) and Norfolk Southern (NSC) to “buy” from “neutral.”

He maintained his “neutral rating” on Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNI) due to concerns about a deteriorating business mix, related capital spending issues and a weak track record on pricing.


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NS, BLE reach agreement;
carrier to test ‘green’ engines

Norfolk Southern Ry. Co. and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE) have reached a new agreement, with terms through 2009, that continues to link engineers' compensation to Norfolk Southern's corporate performance.

NS stated on Friday “The agreement provides engineers with an annual bonus opportunity based on the same financial performance criteria that determines management bonuses.

NS said the BLE has participated in NS’s bonus program since 1996.

Other highlights of the agreement include wage increases in 2005 and 2007, enhancements to the BLE's 401k plan and incentive pay for weekend and holiday work.
BLE General Chairman R.C. Wallace said, "We want to take the lead in helping NS become more customer-focused and more successful. We expect to show results that will trigger even higher bonus payments."

NS Senior Vice-President Administration Jim Hixon said, "This agreement continues our cooperative and mutually beneficial partnership. By resolving the contract issues now, we will be able to focus our combined energies on improving operating efficiency and customer service on the railroad."

BLE General Chairman L.W. Sykes added, "Engineers have a dramatic impact on the success of NS' operations. This agreement allows our members to prosper by helping NS to prosper."

BLE General Chairman W.E. Knight said, "The bonus program has proven financially beneficial to our members. We all need to work hard to ensure the success of the program continues."

NS operates 21,500 route miles in 22 states, Washington, D.C., and Ontario.

In other Norfolk Southern developments a week’s end, the carrier noted, “Already the most environmentally friendly way to move freight, railroads could grow even greener if a pilot program being tested on Norfolk Southern Railway pans out.”

During an 18-month pilot, NS will test the Locomotive Engineer Assist Display and Event Recorder (LEADER). LEADER(R) is a computer system that helps engineers determine the best train handling for fuel efficiency, scheduling and safety. The NS pilot project is a partnership with New York Air Brake Corp., General Electric Transportation Systems and the Federal Railroad Administration research office, which provided a $615,000 grant.

The patented LEADER system, which was developed by New York Air Brake Corp., will be installed on 15 GE Dash 9 locomotives owned by NS and equipped with General Electric's LocoComm(R) technology. The locomotives will be assigned to trains operating over the 104-mile Winston-Salem line, which runs from Roanoke, Va., to Belews Creek, N.C.

LEADER works by continuously logging the operating state of the train in its memory. Over a number of trips the software accounts for all energy used in moving the train and creates a statistical profile of the operation. That data is then used to develop the highest energy-efficient trip – called a "Golden Run" – and help engineers repeat it on subsequent trips by prompting them in real-time to adjust locomotive throttle and brakes for optimal performance.

"LEADER has the potential to be the next major advance in train handling," said John Samuels, NS senior vice-president operations, planning and support.

"Not only is there the opportunity to achieve significant fuel savings – a real benefit to the environment and potentially to our bottom line – but also to improve safety."

"We are confident the LEADER pilot program will demonstrate its ability to yield significant fuel savings as well as improve train handling methods, contributing to a safer environment," said Marshall Beck, senior vice president of marketing and sales for New York Air Brake.

"We are delighted that Norfolk Southern will be field testing LEADER and appreciate the FRA’s funding support. The partnership with GE Transportation Systems also represents an important step in realizing the technology's potential."


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NS reviewing STB Duke Energy ruling

Norfolk Southern Corp. stated on Friday in a press release it is reviewing an STB decision in Duke Energy Corp. v. Norfolk Southern Ry. Co. upholding as reasonable its common carrier rates on coal shipments to several of Duke Energy’s facilities.

NS said it “will comment further after it has had an opportunity to review the decision, including the invitation the board extended to Duke Energy to invoke, if Duke Energy so chooses, the phase-in constraints of the Constrained Market Pricing Guidelines.”

The Surface Transportation Board issued its decision on November 6, and posted the decision on its web site, at www.stb.dot.gov in the “Decisions & Notices” section.


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Reflective paint

FRA wants reflective stripes on cars

FRA boss Allan Rutter says the agency is considering a proposed rule to enhance safety by putting reflective material on freight cars.

“The large size of rail freight cars can cover a motorist’s entire field of view, making them difficult to detect,” Rutter said on Friday.

“Limited visibility at night, dusk, dawn, and during adverse weather conditions also can make it difficult for motorist to see dark-colored railroad cars. As a result, a motorist’s ordinary expectation may be dangerously altered,” he added.

FRA research indicates that safety may be improved by placing reflective material on the train itself, since it can aid drivers in better judging a train’s distance and relative state of motion.

“About one quarter of all highway-rail crossing collisions involve a motor vehicle striking a train. We have learned that in many cases, motorists do not see trains moving or stopped, blocking highway-rail crossings,” Rutter said.

He noted, “In proposing this action, we have taken into account numerous considerations raised by the railroad industry and others, and believe real safety benefits can be achieved while minimizing the cost to railroads and the nation’s private car owners.”

In 1982, the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center conducted a study to determine if reflective materials would substantially increase the visibility of rail freight cars to motor vehicle drivers. That study concluded that even though reflectors improved visibility, contemporary reflective material would not withstand harsh railroad operating environments.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the brightness, durability, and adhesive properties of reflective material significantly improved. In 1999, the Volpe Center published another report on freight car reflectorization. Results from this research indicated that new micro prismatic retro-reflective materials provided adequate luminance intensity levels that could last for up to ten years.


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Freight traffic rises in October

U.S. rail carload traffic rose 1.6 percent (26,523 carloads) while intermodal traffic – which is not included in carload figures – rose 18.1 percent (161,011 trailers and containers) in October 2003 compared to October 2002, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported on Thursday.

In October 2003, 13 of the 19 major commodity categories tracked by the AAR saw carload gains on U.S. railroads. Coke (up 46.6 percent, or 8,853 carloads), crushed stone and gravel (up 7.8 percent, or 8,028 carloads), chemicals (up 4.8 percent, or 6,834 carloads), and grain (up 5.1 percent, or 5,942 carloads) were responsible for much of the upturn.

Commodities showing carload declines in October included metallic ores (down 15.3 percent, or 12,411 carloads), coal (down 0.7 percent, or 4,500 carloads), and motor vehicles and equipment (down 1.3 percent, or 1,704 carloads). Excluding coal, U.S. rail carloadings were up 3.0 percent (31,023 carloads) in October 2003.

For the first ten months of 2003, U.S. rail carloadings totaled 14,356,078 cars, down 0.1 percent (10,336 carloads). During this period, carloads of coke were up 37.4 percent (57,780 carloads), carloads of waste and scrap were up 5.6 percent (22,208 carloads), and carloads of chemicals were up 1.5 percent (18,251 carloads).

On the down side, coal declined 1.5 percent (86,318 carloads), motor vehicles and equipment were down 3.3 percent (34,796 carloads), and metallic ores were down 4.4 percent (26,794 carloads). Excluding coal, U.S. rail carloadings were up 0.9 percent (75,982 carloads) in 2003 through October.

U.S. intermodal traffic totaled 8,403,755 trailers or containers, up 6.5 percent (514,657 units) in 2003 through October and is almost certain to set an annual record. Total rail volume for the 10 months was estimated at 1.27 trillion ton-miles, 1.2 percent ahead of last year.

“Although year-over-year intermodal traffic comparisons were significantly influenced by the 10-day West Coast port shutdown in October 2002, October 2003 was, in fact, by far the top month in history for U.S. intermodal rail traffic – five of the top six weekly totals in history occurred in October 2003,” noted AAR Vice President Craig F. Rockey.

Rockey added, “October also marked the first month since April 2003, and only the third month so far this year, in which U.S. rail carload volumes were up compared with last year. October’s rail traffic volumes provide optimism that the North American economy may be starting to shake loose from the doldrums.”

Canadian rail carload traffic was up 6.5 percent (21,054 carloads) in October 2003. Commodities that saw rail carload gains included coal (up 20.3 percent, or 7,120 carloads), chemicals (up 7.9 percent, or 5,242 carloads), and grain (up 10.4 percent, or 4,179 carloads). Commodities seeing declines in Canadian rail carloads in October include motor vehicles and equipment (down 3.2 percent, or 1,348 carloads) and grain mill products (down 6.2 percent, or 515 carloads).

All told, carload gains were registered in 12 of the 19 major commodity categories for Canadian carriers in October. Canadian intermodal traffic was up 2.4 percent (5,281 units) in October 2003 compared with October 2002.

For the first ten months of 2003, Canadian carload traffic totaled 2,740,695 cars, down 0.3 percent (7,608 carloads), while Canadian intermodal traffic totaled 1,836,489 trailers or containers, up 6.7 percent (115,062 units).

Carloads originated on Transportación Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM), a major Mexican railroad, were down 8.0 percent (3,707 carloads) in October, while intermodal originations were down 9.3 percent (1,761 trailers and containers). For the first ten months of 2003, TFM carloadings were down 2.0 percent (7,421 carloads), while intermodal traffic rose 14.7 percent (19,582 units).

For just the week ended November 1, the AAR reported the following totals for U.S. railroads: 348,241 carloads, up 4.1 percent from the corresponding week in 2002, with loadings up 5.4 percent in the East and up 3.0 percent in the West; intermodal volume of 209,782 trailers and containers, up 3.3 percent; and total volume of an estimated 31.4 billion ton-miles, up 5.7 percent from the equivalent week last year.

For Canadian railroads during the week ended November 1, the AAR reported volume of 72,570 carloads, up 12.4 percent from last year; and 43,975 trailers and containers, up 3.0 percent from the corresponding week in 2002.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 44 weeks of 2003 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 17,096,773 carloads, down 0.1 percent (17,944 carloads) from last year, and 10,240,244 trailers and containers, up 6.6 percent (629,719 units) from 2002's first 44 weeks.

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


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: CBSMarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)29.2028.94
Canadian National(CNI)60.7160.20
Canadian Pacific(CP)29.0627.99
CSX(CSX)33.8031.82
Florida East Coast(FLA)29.9829.72
Genessee & Wyoming(GWR)26.6024.31
Kansas City Southern(KSU)14.0813.23
Norfolk Southern(NSC)21.4920.15
Union Pacific(UNP)64.7062.60


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ACROSS THE POND...  Across the pond...

Iranian railway to be honored

An unconfirmed report last week said Iran’s Tehran-North railroad and related facilities – from Pol-e-Sefid to Gadouk – will be registered as a national heritage, according to Soheila Rajaee Alavi, Office of Cultural Heritage director for Iran’s northern province Mazandaran.

She said the plan was to “appreciate the unnamed workers and officials who endeavored to establish the Tehran-North railroad and to further safeguard this national asset,” IranMania.com reported on November 4.

Alavi explained, “In view of its particular geographical and natural features, the Tehran-North railroad is still considered as a masterpiece which links the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf and has been in operation for seven decades.”

The railroad began in 1936 by Iran’s Reza Shah when the first train arrived from the Caspian Banadar Turkman port to the city of Tehran.

The railroad is 309 miles long, has 31 stations and more than 55 tunnels – the most famous of which is the 1,794 foot Gadouk Tunnel. The most well known bridge out of the line’s 20 bridges is the Veresk Bridge. The railroad buildings, stations, tunnels and bridges are a mixture of Iranian and European 1930s architecture.


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Joint Russian-Finnish railroad ahead?

The October Railway and Finnish Railways (VR-Group Ltd.) may create a joint Russian-Finnish company to offer international passenger service, according to Pravda, Russia’s official news agency, of November 5.

Planners expect fast passenger train ridership could double, but the report did not state how many people now ride conventional trains between both nations.

According to the public relations center of October, Henry Kuitunen, VR-Group Ltd.’s general director, suggested high-speed rail service idea during a meeting in St. Petersburg. October noted private companies might become part of Russian-Finnish communications.

Changes in passenger service are part of the reform of the Russian railroad industry, according to Pravda. State railroads will continue to operate suburban lines, but private companies will handle long-distance passenger travel.

Three trains currently travel between Russia and Finland – Nos. 33 and 34, Repin; Nos. 35-36, Sibelius; and Nos. 32-31, Leo Tolstoi.

To shorten travel time, Russian and Finnish railroads have undertaken several projects, including straightening track between Helsinki and Vainikkala. Also, a direct track is being built to connect Kerava and Laxti stations, and major improvements are being made to the line connecting the Laxti and Luumaki stations, Pravda stated.


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Charity begins railroad rehab

A religious organization says it’s going to fix up a 310-mile railway in Nairobi.

Christian charity Food for the Hungry International said November 5 it has begun rehabilitating 310 miles of railroad between the provinces of Maniema and Katanga in southeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

“This project will provide a strategic connection between the northern and southern areas of eastern DRC,” a charity press release stated.

It said that a U.S. $1 million grant from the Agency for International Development’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance would help fund the project. It is estimated that some nearly 4 million people would benefit from using the repaired railway.

The charity said the repaired rails would run between Kindu, the main town in Maniema, and Ngwena, 30 miles south of Kabalo in Katanga. This includes 304 miles of track and one railroad bridge at Zofu, about 7 miles southwest of Kabalo.

It said it was undertaking the railroad repair following security improvements in Katanga and Maniema as well as progress made in the country’s peace process, which had resulted in the opening up of areas previously inaccessible because of the civil strife that started in August 1998.

The press release did not state if they railway is currently operating, has any rolling stock, nor the track gauge.


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OFF THE MAIN LINE...  Off the main line...

Polar Express rolling into Steamtown

If your Christmas or Chanukah holiday plans include a visit to Northeastern Pennsylvania this winter, you may find that the North Pole is a bit closer than you had imagined.

At Steamtown National Historic Site, in downtown Scranton, Penna., Chris Van Allsburg’s festive and heartwarming Christmas tale, The Polar Express, comes to life.

Huffing and puffing through the cool winter nights, the sights and sounds of steam-powered locomotives – with vintage rail cars in tow – set the stage for a nostalgic trip along the rails.

Boarding The Polar Express at the Steamtown Visitor Center, passengers will embark upon an exciting journey to meet the jolly old elf, himself; and amid the clanging of bells and the distant howl of train whistles, children will feast on freshly baked cookies and hot cocoa while hearing the classic yarn, as narrated by Santa’s helpers.

Each night, as the train chugs its way nearer its destination, passengers watch through frosted windows to catch glimpses of the twinkling lights that decorate Santa’s workshop and line the eaves and rooftops of Steamtown’s holiday village.

Children singing carols cheer when they hear the blast of the train whistle, signaling their arrival at the North Pole. Then, Santa and all of his helpers climb on board to greet each child with a very special memento of this delightful evening visit to the icy north.

Adding to the holiday excitement, the Electric City Trolley Station and Museum – located adjacent to Steamtown National Historic Site – will once again host the “Festival of Trees”.

This annual program, which supports the United States Marine Corps Toys for Tots Campaign, features a collection of festively decorated holiday exhibits and Christmas Trees, and offers visitors a unique opportunity to stroll through a winter wonderland of holidays past and present.

The Polar Express trips are now in their sixth year. Due to high demand and limited seating, says Steamtown’s Ralph Coury, early reservations are strongly recommended.

He said credit card payments may be made in person or by telephone between 9:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., daily. All mail order reservations must be paid by check or money order and must be received before November 17 to ensure adequate time to deliver tickets. He said there will be no exchanges or refunds except if the program is cancelled due to weather.

Tickets are $10 per person.

The Polar Express Holiday Program Schedule:

November 30-December 1 at 5:00 p.m., 6:30 p.m., 8:00 p.m.

December 4-8 at 5:00 p.m., 6:30 p.m., 8:00 p.m.

December 11-13 5:00 p.m., 6:30 p.m., 8:00 p.m.

Steamtown is online at http://www.nps.gov/stea. Their phone numbers are (570) 340-5200 and toll free (888) 693-9391.


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WE GET LETTERS...  We get letters...

Dear Editor:

I am neither the director nor even an employee of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA). I am an employee of the Georgia Rail Passenger Authority; my title is “Rail Manager.” While I am the senior member of the staff, our director is our chairman, Carl Rhodenizer, not me. I do appreciate the promotion, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves!

Doug Alexander
Rail Manager, Georgia Rail Passenger Authority
Atlanta


In the November 3 issue, you stated that Doug Alexander is “the fellow in charge of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority.” Not so. Doug is the fellow in charge of the Georgia Rail Passenger Authority, which reports directly to the Georgia DOT. GRTA is a separate regional transit planning organization created to be a “mother hen” to all of Metro Atlanta’s various transit agencies and hopes to bring them all together under one banner.

Rick Shivik
GRPA Associate Member
Georgia Assn. of Railroad Passengers

My apologies for getting it wrong. – Ed.


German Steam

Robert Rynerson

Robert Rynerson was in Hamburg in 1971 where the station is located in a central city district. The locomotive, he writes, “is a heavily-modernized Deutsche Reichsbahn Pazifik ready to take the anonymous evening Interzone train to Berlin-Stadtbahn.”

 

Dear Editor:

I read the discussion about “Ffm-Hbf” with great interest and amusement (D:F October 27). Things were relatively unpleasant around the station when I first stayed in the neighborhood in May 1969. See the account in my website, which may interest some of your readers:

http://home.att.net/~rw.rynerson/ticket.htm.

This was the worst locale among the big West German Hauptbahnhofs. Some others had fine central districts around them.

In February 1970 when I stayed at a hotel near the Hauptbahnhof, the clerk was sure that I was an undercover cop, and not a GI, because I dressed like a businessman. He actually argued with me as to who I was and whether my ID was real or not. Subsequently, I concluded that an undercover cop was what they needed most there.

Robert Rynerson
Denver


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THE WAY WE WERE...  The way we were...

The old soldiers - engines

NCI: Leo King

 

For a time, the Massachusetts Transit Authority operated PAs

By Leo King

Do you remember the Delaware & Hudson Railroad? Canadian Pacific owns its routes now. It was a mostly New York state layout with a route to Montreal, and a mostly freight operation, but they had some spiffy passenger trains, like the Laurentian. For a time, Alco-built PA-1s powered some passenger trains with four engines bought from the Santa Fe in 1968.

Nos. 16, 17, 18 and 19 were all “A” units – and the engines generally followed ATSF’s paint scheme outline, except they were blue and silver instead of red and yellow.

Later, the engines wound up in commuter service in the Massachusetts Transit Authority. That was before the Kingston Trio drove management crazy with poor Charlie getting lost in the MTA tunnels “underneath the streets of Boston,” and the powers that be reorganized as the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

Those D&H engines plied the Penn Central (New Haven Railroad in disguise) between South Station, Boston, and Union Station, Providence. For example, shortly after the 1978 blizzard, this trainset passed near Orms Street in Providence, less that a mile from the station, on their way to Boston.

Shortly thereafter, the engines went to Mexico where they were run into the ground – but some have come home to the U.S. and are being restored.

Morrison-Knudsen rebuilt them in 1974 to PA-4 specifications, with the newer Alco 12-cylinder Model 251 prime mover replacing their older 16-cylinder model. Along with normal freight duty, they operated in public relations ventures and railfan trips.

All four units were shipped to Mexico on a long-term lease in 1978. No. 17 was in working order with the Ferrocarilles del Pacifico and numbered DH-17. All were later sold to the National Railway of Mexico.

Eventually D&H Nos. 17 and 19 were sent to Mexican museums. Although they are in operational condition, it is unlikely they will run again. Number 16 and 18, however still existed as wrecked hulks. Both of those units finally returned to the U.S. in 2000.

No. 18 is being rebuilt and used for excursion service as Nickel Plate No. 190, while No. 16 will cosmetically be restored in ATSF’s warbonnet scheme and displayed at the Smithsonian.


AN EXTRA‘THE WAY WE WERE...  An extra - The way we were...

Daddy is the engineer-postcard

Once in a while, old pictures come in handy. Consider this drawing by renowned industrial designer Otto Kuhler who drew this portrait, “for daddy is the engineer” for the Baltimore & Ohio’s B&O magazine in the early 1950s. It appears again, in slightly modified form, as the lead graphic in the December 2003 Trains magazine (Kalmbach: Waukesha, Wis.) accompanying an article by Christopher Livesay, “He was the engineer,” on pp 36 and 37. The image came from the D:F editor’s collection – and is at least 50 years old.


End Notes...

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

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

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

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

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


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