Vol. 7 No. 47
November 13, 2006

Copyright © 2006
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

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A weekly North American rail and transit update

The E-Zine of the National Corridors Initiative Inc.

Publisher - James P. RePass
Editor - Molly McKayWebmaster - Dennis Kirkpatrick
European Correspondent - David Beale

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

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

  News of the week…
Transportation referenda score big in midterm elections
Additional ballot wins for transit
Amtrak Cascades prepares for busy Thanksgiving travel week
  Commuter lines…
MBTA adopts new fare structure
  Selected rail stocks…
  Across the pond…
An outside view of Schaumburg, Illinois
  Off the main line…
Linking trails may soon be reality
  Political lines…
Transit projects in Florida hang on political uncertainty
Democratic tide sweeps into Washington; Governors also go
   into Dem column. What it means for transportation
  We get letters…
  End notes…

NEWS OF THE WEEK... News of the week...

Transportation referenda score big
in midterm elections

From The American Public Transportation Association

WASHINGTON--- More than two-thirds of the transit-related ballot initiatives on offer November 7 won voter approval, reports American Public Transportation Association’s President Bill Millar.

“Transportation scored high at the ballot box on Tuesday, winning 21 of 30 measures (3 still pending) totaling $40 billion in urban, suburban, and rural communities across the nation, representing a 70 percent approval rating,” wrote President Millar in this week’s letter to members. “Among the winners were state-wide initiatives that included, in California, a bond initiative that provides $19.9 billion for transportation projects, including more than $4 billion for transit projects.

In New Jersey, an amendment dedicating $78 million to the current $468 million existing motor fuels tax will help fund the state transportation system.

In Rhode Island, $2.3 million in General Obligation (GO) bonds will provide the local share of federal capital funding for the development of a new bus storage/maintenance/administrative facility,” said Millar.

“In Minnesota, a dedicated car and truck sales tax for transportation is expected to generate approximately $300 million annually. 40% of this revenue must be spent on transit. This required an amendment to the state constitution.

In Salt Lake County, Utah a sales tax could raise about $50 million a year to fund commuter rail, TRAX light rail, and other projects allowing for a completion date of 2015 rather than 2030,” he wrote.

“With this year’s results, voters have approved more than $100 billion for transportation investment since 2000, clearly showing that Americans recognize the need for improved mobility and are willing to pay for it,” wrote Millar.

Additional information can be obtained through APTA’s Center for Transportation Excellence at www.cfte.org.

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Additional ballot wins for transit

Source:   The National Association
of Railroad Passengers (NARP)

  • Kansas City: In what was perhaps the biggest and most unexpected victory of the day, voters approved a sales tax increase to fund a 27 mile light rail line, despite the opposition of many local elected officials.  This was the seventh attempt at this ballot initiative.

  • California: In addition to the public works bonds mentioned above, voters also approved a proposition that makes it harder to divert gasoline sales tax from transportation projects. Several local initiatives also passed (namely San Joaquin and Orange Counties).

  • Seattle: Voters approved a property tax increase (Proposition 1) and sales tax increase (Proposition 2), both of which will fund transportation infrastructure improvement and transit construction.

  • Fort Worth (Grapevine): Voters approved a one-half percent sales tax to fund commuter rail projects, including a link to Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.

  • Honolulu: While not a ballot initiative, the City Council approved (on November 3) light rail as the mode of choice for a line between the city and Oahu.

Amtrak Cascades prepares for busy
Thanksgiving travel week

Extra trains to be added during holiday week

Source: Amtrak Media Relations

Anticipating the busiest travel week of the year, Amtrak Cascades is planning ahead for Thanksgiving by adding more cars to its trains and encouraging passengers traveling throughout the Pacific Northwest to make their reservations now.

The week of Thanksgiving is typically Amtrak Cascades busiest travel period of the year. Last year, nearly 600,000 passengers took Amtrak trains during Thanksgiving week. To accommodate more passengers traveling during this holiday week, ten trains will be added to the Cascades route between Portland and Seattle.

Regular one-way adult fares between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia start as low as $28, or between Portland and Seattle start as low as $26. One-way fares between Bellingham and Portland start as low as $29; Seattle and Tacoma, $11; Olympia and Seattle, $14; and between Everett and Tacoma, $11. An upgrade to Business Class costs only a few dollars more each way and provides wider seats, more legroom and priority boarding. All Amtrak Cascades require reservations, and passengers are encouraged to purchase tickets now to obtain lowest fares and ensure space on the train of their choice. Visit www.AmtrakCascades.com, or call 800-USA-RAIL for reservations and information.

The Amtrak Cascades route extends 466 miles from Eugene, Ore., to Vancouver, British Columbia. The service is provided in partnership with the states of Washington and Oregon. Nationally, Amtrak anticipates about 125,000 passengers on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, a spike in ridership of about 80 percent over an average Wednesday. Over the span of the holiday week, Amtrak will carry approximately 30 percent more passengers than an average week.

About Amtrak

Amtrak provides intercity passenger rail services to more than 500 destinations in 46 states on a 22,000-mile route system.  For schedules, fares and information, passengers may call 800-USA-RAIL or visit Amtrak.com.

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Travel Tips

Amtrak offers the following tips for holiday passengers:

  • Avoid the Rush: Busiest travel days are Wednesday before and Sunday after Thanksgiving. Purchase tickets early using Amtrak.com, QuikTraksm ticket vending machines or ticket windows at staffed stations or calling 800-USA-RAIL. Allow plenty of time at stations prior to departure – at least 45 minutes before if tickets need to be picked up.
  • Know the Limits: Note the limit of two carry-on bags per person (excluding laptops, purses, briefcases), and be sure all luggage is tagged with name and address.
  • Carry photo ID: Passengers are required to show valid photo identification when purchasing tickets. Make sure to carry valid photo ID at all times, as it may be requested aboard trains.

COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

MBTA adopts new fare structure

Source: MBTA

Starting in January 2007, MBTA customers will be able to transfer from the subway system to buses at no extra charge. At present a combined subway and bus trip costs $2.15, but when the fare system is restructured will be priced at only $1.70 for CharlieCard users. While there will be an overall increase in fares across the board, the transfer benefit is among several changes to be implemented.

Responding to comments and suggestions received during an intensive public outreach process characterized by dozens of meetings in communities that it serves, the MBTA Board of Directors also voted to scale back some of the fare pricing proposals originally presented to the public. For instance, surcharges for cash fare users of subway and busses were lowered from 55 cents and 40 cents to 30 cents and 25 cents, respectively. Of course, surcharges will be avoided altogether by CharlieCard users. The CharlieCard is part of the system’s new fare card and paper ticket system that has eliminated coin tokens and now seeks to limit the use of cash and coin where possible. Card users will pay just the flat rate of $1.25 for a bus ride or a $1.70 for subway service (again, with free transfers to buses). A monthly pass for unlimited travel on buses will cost only $40.

On the Commuter Rail network, where the monthly pass fares will increase between 23% and 28%, the exact rates vary depending on the distance being traveled.

“Despite the increase, the MBTA will continue to offer its customers the most affordable fares in the country among major transit agencies,” said MBTA General Manager Daniel A. Grabauskas. “Moreover, the ‘T’ has been able to avoid what many of ours peers have not, “cuts in basic services.”

“Major beneficiaries of the new fare structure are monthly pass holders whose daily commute involves a combination of bus and subway travel,” said Grabauskas. Currently paying $71 and $79 for monthly “Combo” and “Combo-Plus” passes, these customers will now be able to purchase the new LinkPass for just $59 a month ($3 less than initially proposed).

Also available in 7-day increments, the LinkPass provides holders with unlimited travel on the MBTA’s five rapid transit lines and more than 150 bus routes. Another fare that will cost less in January than it does today, the price of a weekly pass will drop from $16.50 to just $15 ($3 less than originally proposed).

In a concerted effort to develop a fare structure that is fair and equitable to all users of public transportation services, the MBTA Board of Directors also voted to rectify decades-old anomalies in the existing system by eliminating exit fares and higher fares at outlying subway stations and free fares at surface stops along the four branches of the Green Line. “Taking advantage of the newly-installed and more efficient automated fare collection system, we have simplified the fare structure,” said Grabauskas. “It’ll no longer matter where a customer enters the system. Braintree or Boston, Newton or Cambridge, inbound or outbound…everyone will be asked to pay the same fare.”

“With the stagnation of the growth in sales tax revenues, the MBTA’s principal source of revenue, this fare restructuring and fare increase are absolutely necessary if the ‘T’ is to avoid crippling service cuts and have a balanced budget,” said Paul Regan, Executive Director of the MBTA Advisory Board, which has ultimate authority over the transit agency’s annual budgets.

Other changes made to the original fare structure proposal include the merging of Commuter Rail Zone 1B into Zone 1A. A direct result of comments received from advocates for Boston’s most transit dependent residents, the merger means that Fairmount Line users who board at a proposed new station in Mattapan will pay no more than rail customers in other city neighborhoods. Also today, the Board eliminated cash fares for all children under the age of twelve, traveling with an adult. “If we can boost ridership by making the ‘T’ more family-friendly, and entice the next generation to use public transit, then we’re setting the course for a bright future for the T,” said Grabauskas.

Revenue generated by the fare increase will allow the MBTA to maintain existing levels of service and continue to make system-wide improvements like station modernization projects and the introduction of automated fare collection equipment that enhances customer service and convenience. In less than a month, the MBTA will begin distributing hundreds of thousands of plastic CharlieCards to any and all. “Whether you use the T daily or twice a month, you’ll save money by using the Charlie Card,” said Grabauskas.

Similar to a debit card, the CharlieCard can be “recharged” at most subway stations and major bus terminals and at some point recharging machines are planned to be available along major bus routes inside area businesses that partner with the T. The machines can accept credit cards, ATM-debit cards, and cash, and can be programmed with either monthly or weekly pass options or for the less-frequent rider a specific cash value. When cards are “swiped” through a subway entrance gate or bus fare collection box, they are debited accordingly.

To learn more about the CharlieCard system, and the specifics of the MBTA’s newly adopted fare structure, please visit www.mbta.com.

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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: www.MarketWatch.com

Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)77.1976.31
Canadian National (CNI)47.8747.61
Canadian Pacific (CP)56.0556.23
CSX (CSX)36.7935.73
Florida East Coast (FLA)58.4357.48
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)27.0526.08
Kansas City Southern (KSU)28.6127.52
Norfolk Southern (NSC)52.6151.83
Providence & Worcester (PWX)19.2019.34
Union Pacific (UNP)91.1490.19

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

An outside view of Schaumburg, Illinois

By David Beale
NCI Foreign Correspondent

When I was a small child in the mid-late 1960s my family lived about twenty miles south of Schaumburg, Illinois, which was founded over a century earlier by a few hundred German immigrants on open farming land a dozen miles west of what is now Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. My recollection of my days in the Chicago suburbs is faint, my family moved out of state when I finished kindergarten. However, my mother was born and raised in that area and even now I have several relatives there. Today I live with my own family in a region called Schaumburg, in northern Germany, the same Schaumburg from which the booming suburban town west of Chicago got its name by 19th  century settlers who originated from this part of Germany. More precisely I live in a village, which lies in a township which lies in the County of Schaumburg (in German: Landkreis Schaumburg).

Because of the historical link between Schaumburg County in Germany and the Village of Schaumburg in Illinois, there are numerous exchanges and partnership meetings between the two locations, which include, but are not limited to, high school students, elected officials, police officers, chambers of commerce officials and other civic groups. These exchanges and meetings are regularly reported on in a semi-weekly newspaper published here in Schaumburg, Germany, called “Schaumburger Wochenblatt.” My personal impression has been that actual visits and trips tend to be one-way, i.e. many more visitors from Schaumburg, IL have been coming to this region west of Hannover and north of Hamelin (of Pied Piper fame) than residents of Landkreis Schaumburg have visited the sprawling suburb west of the Windy City. A full page article appeared in the October 11, 2006, edition of the “Schaumburger Wochnblatt,” written by a German visitor about his first impression of the Chicago area suburb with the same name. The following is a translation into English from the original article.

The German visitor can forget about
his normal walk around town

Travel tips, impressions and recommendations for visiting
the partner town of Schaumburg in Illinois

The stone friendship placket in Schaumburg Illinois is conspicuously highlighted in order to remind one of the placket’s origin, from a bridge in Obernkirchen, and the various sponsors who participated in making and engraving the placket, such as the Sparkasse (local bank) and the county government (in Schaumburg Germany). In the past, we have reported what the delegation of the Schaumburg German-American Association has organized during their visit. But what sort of impression does a visitor get, when he or she visits the Partner Town for the first time?

When you leave Chicago O’Hare – the busiest airport in the world – waiting for you is the suburb Mannheim. The entire State of Illinois was preferred by German immigrants for settlement, many names serve as reminders, but the visual impression is quite different. Buildings, huge streets, forests of utility poles and advertising signs, and overall the wide space are American.

Up to Schaumburg, 20 km northwest via numerous expressway interchanges, the view changes randomly from groupings of trees, clusters of houses, groves, shopping centers, gas stations, bits of forest, motels and housing developments under immense trees - overdeveloped without space between adjoining towns. Then appears “Village of Schaumburg,” a broad proudly displayed concrete greeting sign on the village limits.

One can drive 12 km (8 miles) in any direction through town, on circumferential expressways and multi-lane highways. The network of main roads is approximately grid-like, in between are numerous straight, curving or cul-de-sac streets with thousands of single family homes and wide garages. Most houses are wood frame construction, some have wood siding, others with brick facades, tree lined front yards with grass and without fences.

At times, between the houses, green valleys come into view, in which a small pond or lake shimmers. “Although the first farmers maintained ponds” is mentioned, “many are man-made and new.” One sees many swans, and, in addition, thousands of aggressive Canadian geese, which have become a kind of plague.

One would expect that a town of the size of Minden (small city in the German state of Nord-Rhein West Falen - just west of Landkreis Schaumburg) would have a central downtown area. That has never been the case in Schaumburg, Illinois, which was once a rural area with a few dozen scattered farms. You will not find a typical 19th  century American cobblestone main street here. Everything is built big, expensively and openly – in between however are reminders: churches and schools from the original settlers, or preserved groves of Heritage Farms, where one lived and farmed in 1890.

Many parts of the town today are covered with shopping malls and high rise office parks set back from the main streets. Motorola, the largest company in town, takes up an expansive forested area from which only the administration building visibly stands out. In other areas stand international consumer staples, such as Ikea.

The town has created an artificial center: a futuristic town hall with a business plaza and fairgrounds, everything between forest, lakes and manicured lawns along with a hulking library building. One does not see any people, especially anyone walking, unless it’s peak shopping time in the malls. Also, no lines of automobile traffic, since the traffic in the town flows freely along the super wide arteries, relatively leisurely and without worries about parking.

Everyone gets around town with the car, a public transit system appears to be not a requirement. The railroad station to Chicago is an inconspicuous structure on Springinsguth Road. To get there one drives on Rodenburg Road towards the large city airfield, at which several hundred Schaumburg residents keep their own airplane.

A German visitor will give up quickly on trying to go to businesses in this town by foot. Sidewalks are often missing, intersections are difficult to cross, distances are large. But one can go jogging in the many green areas. Or perhaps bicycling – Schaumburg created bike lanes and paths for sport activity, not in order to commute to work.

So is the first impression of the largest and richest partner cities (of Landkreis Schaumburg), a privileged suburb of the Chicago metropolitan area. The American friends drive visitors all around the area and are overwhelmingly hospitable. So what things do they show? Of course, the shopping centers and restaurants, the historical monuments, the street names given by the original (German) settlers, the large public buildings for administration, culture and sports, elegant clubs, leading schools, fabulous homes in green settings and on the water, and also how one adapts in his or her later years. There are also surprises: a wine cellar on the town limits (yes, wine is made in southern Illinois). And an excursion to Chicago should not be missed. Altogether a visitor here will be busy for nearly a week.

Author’s / NCI note about Schaumburg County
(Landkreis Schaumburg) in Germany:

Today the similarities between Schaumburg, Illinois, and Schaumburg, Germany, pretty much end with the name. The Village of Schaumburg, Illinois is a modern Chicago suburb as described in this newspaper article by a German visitor from Landkreis Schaumburg. Landkreis Schaumburg is mostly a rural area on rolling and sometimes very hilly countryside dotted with farms, forests, numerous small towns and villages, light industrial parks and a few small cities, such as Bad Nenndorf, Bückeburg, Rinteln, and the county seat of Stadthagen. Most of the cities and towns date back 500 years or more, and the region is filled with thousands of buildings which are older than the United States. Although there are many small shopping centers and plazas located in the numerous towns around the region, there are no indoor shopping malls, and the population has remained relatively stable since the end of World War II, perhaps an annual population growth of 1% during the last 50 years. There is just one limited access expressway (Autobahn), the busy A2 which cuts through Schaumburg east to west on its path from Berlin and Hannover to the Benelux Region west of Germany. Two lane country roads and narrow village streets are the rule in Schaumburg, as in most of Germany. Schaumburg does have a few three and four lane highways, but they are the exception in this mostly rural part of northern Germany.

Two rail lines cross through the Schaumburg region east to west, one is the double-track electrified main line which connects Hannover to several large cities to the west such as Cologne, Düsseldorf, Amsterdam and Brussels. The other is a mostly single track non-electrified rail line which cuts through the southern half of the region on its alignment between Hildesheim and Löhne. Both rail lines serve a number Schaumburg towns with regional passenger trains, but no high-speed intercity trains make scheduled stops in the region. As recently as the early 1980s these two rail lines were interconnected by several north-south branch rail lines running through the region, but line closures and abandonments over the past three decades have erased almost all traces of the earlier branch rail lines, leaving behind just these two mostly east-west rail corridors slicing through the northern and southern parts of the Schaumburg region. In addition to these two rail lines, Schaumburg is served by a fairly substantial public bus system - many of the bus routes now connect towns without rail stations to other towns with rail stations. Even the smallest and most remote villages have at least one bus line, which operates during weekday commuter travel times.

- David Beale

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OFFTHEMAINLINE...  Off the main line...

Linking trails may soon be reality

Source: Seattle Times and DF Staff

Across America, with gas prices rising and growing awareness of the global warming threat from auto-induced carbon dioxide, people are searching for ways to get around and get together without driving. When Americans can bike and walk safely, they do it, and these modes become a popular, non-polluting alternative for getting to school, work, and play.

“It’s our job to make sure that more and more trails are developed in places where people live and that they connect to places where people need to go,” says Marianne Fowel, senior vice president of policy of the Rails to Trails Conservancy. “We’re trying to make it easier for people to make the choice to shift from automobiles to bicycling and walking.”

In Snohomish County, Washington, trail advocates’ dreams of connecting trail networks in three counties are getting closer to reality. The Centennial Trail, which runs for 17.5 miles in Snohomish County, could expand to almost fifty miles, linking networks in Skagit, Snohomish and King Counties, if proponents, state officials and the railroad can come to an agreement.

For decades, Snohomish County trail leaders have been eyeing the 14-mile section in of BNSF freight line in their county, which runs through a spectacular wildlife area, the Robert Heirman Wildlife Park, and crosses the Sammamish River Trail, which to the west becomes the Burke-Gilman Trail and to the east connects with the East Lake Sammamish Trail. It’s easy to understand why trail enthusiasts, and indeed anyone living in that area, would want to connect this web of trails through such beautiful areas.

Trail Guide

The Centennial Trail, which now runs 17.5 miles between Snohomish and Arlington, someday will connect with trails in King and Skagit counties. Snohomish County had planned to extend the trail south through Monroe to Duvall, and has purchased about 7 miles of land along that route. Now a BNSF rail corridor south of Snohomish has emerged as a potentiual corridor to connect the Centennial with King County trails

Map courtesy of Seattle Times  

They now could seize the opportunity:

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad is considering abandonment of a 47-mile section of their corridor that runs south of the Centennial Trail in Snohomish County and connects with 33 miles of track in King County. The railroad has a redundant section of rail through Seattle so doesn’t need this stretch in question, but many people in both counties want to see not just the corridor but also the tracks preserved for future transit use. There is plenty of width to have trail and rail in that corridor, which in places is one hundred feet wide.

Snohomish County, where 14 miles of the rail corridor run, has no plans to tear up the tracks, but King County is considering pulling up 33 miles of it on their side.

Recently King County and the Port of Seattle announced a major, complex deal among numerous players, including the state and Burlington Northern Santa Fe. As part of the background deal, the Port of Seattle has offered to pay $35 million to $100 million to construct King County’s portion of the trail, and King County has offered to obtain grants for the Snohomish portion. Part of the deal would allow King County to own the entire 47 miles.

Conflicting interests complicate the project:

  • Snohomish County wants ownership of their portion of the trail.
  • Many people don’t want any tracks pulled up but instead to have the corridor preserved for future use as a transit link with the trail along side.
  • Snohomish County plans to build the trail alongside existing track in their section
  • Burlington Northern Santa Fe might break up the property and sell it off in sections.

Most people involved feel that this last option would be the worst possible outcome,

“The important thing is to make sure that Burlington Northern [BNSF] doesn’t sell it off or break it up,” said Snohomish County Councilman Dave Somers. “If King County can preserve the corridor and keep it whole, then that’s fantastic. But it would make sense eventually to get Snohomish County ownership.”

Chip Nevins of the Cascade Land Conservancy is a biker and wants to see the trail extended but also agrees the right of way has potential as a transit corridor.

Right now the main issue for trail proponents and county officials is to secure the corridor and not let it be broken up.

Former state Rep. John Wynne, who helped conceive the Centennial Trail 35 years ago, sees the new corridor as a natural extension. Last year, he sent a letter to King and Snohomish county leaders exhorting them to take care with the project.

“It’s probably the most important section of the Centennial Trail, to bring tourism into Snohomish County from King County” and vice versa, he said.

Gene Duvernoy, president of Cascade Land Conservancy, is enthusiastic about the new trail corridor. Last summer, he biked the Centennial with his 16-year-old son.

“Everyone who uses it is just beaming,” he said. “And we spent the night in Snohomish, we had dinner. [The trail] is a great economic asset.”

He’s not worried about the immediate lack of trail funding.

“At least it’s being saved,” Duvernoy said. “If we’re going to preserve the quality of life in this region that we all like, while we continue to grow, these are the types of bold actions that we need to take today.”

At right:   Part of the proposed land swap under discussion by King County and the Port of Seattle includes this area north of Kenwanda Golf Course and south of Snohomish.

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POLITICAL LINES...  Political lines...

Transit projects in Florida
hang on political uncertainty

Palm Beach Post and DF staff

WEST PALM BEACH, NOVEMBER 8 -- In a story by Chuck McGinness from the Palm Beach Post, representatives of public transit agencies expressed their concern at the annual conference of the Florida Public Transportation Association for the dire need of public transportation in Florida. Two days of talks last Tuesday focused on fuel-efficient buses, security programs and strategies for building new stations and transfer centers.

Wes Watson, Executive Director of the Association, spoke of his disappointment that Republican Charlie Crist opposes new taxes to pay for transit improvements. No way can Florida count on federal money to meet their transit needs. There has to be a local match.

“Nowhere is the issue more important than South Florida,” the article continues.

“With projections that the number of people living in Florida will more than double in the next 50 years, from 18 million to 45 million, finding the money to keep up with growth will not be easy.

“Without a local source of money to secure matching federal and state grants, plans to expand bus and commuter rail service are at a standstill.”

In their 2006 session, state legislators passed a measure to impose a $2-a-day fee on rental cars which would have raised about $45 million a year for transit in South Florida. Governor Jeb Bush vetoed the measure.

Now Republican Charlie Crist (*) has been elected the new governor and transit leaders fear he will not be as supportive of raising state funds for the local match as his opponent Jim Davis would have been.

Earlier this year, state lawmakers approved a $2-a-day fee on rental cars that would have raised about $45 million a year for transit in South Florida. But Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed the measure.

Transit leaders will work on the new governor, especially to support the most ambitious transit project ever proposed for South Florida - commuter service on the Florida East Coast Railway – which will not happen without local money. The state will be requesting money from the Federal Transit Administration for this important project in 2009, but at best, the agency will cover only 50 percent of the costs.

Transit systems throughout the state are seeing a demand for increased service. Ridership is up 12 percent on Palm Tran and more than 30 percent on Tri-Rail.

“Transportation is going to have a very important role to play,” said Ed Coven, the Florida Department of Transportation’s transit manager.

*[ Editor’s note: The new governor of Florida, Charles Crist (Christodoulou) is of Cypriot origin. Crist becomes the 44th governor of Florida, having become the first Republican Attorney-general of the state in 2002. Crist triumphed over Democratic challenger Jim Davis with a comfortable margin, gaining 52 per cent of the vote.He becomes the first person of Cypriot origin to have gained such a high profile position in US government and the second person of Hellenic origin after Michael Dukakis in Massachusetts. ]

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EDITORIAL...  Editorial...

Democratic tide sweeps into Washington;
Governors also go into Dem column:
What it means for transportation

By Jim RePass

WASHINGTON --- The polls turned out to be right, this time.

Riding on a sustained wave of anti-Bush sentiment generated by troubled Administration policies in Iraq and a host of more domestic problems, including old-fashioned political scandals and voter revulsion against the Karl Rove Doctrine of Smear, Smear, and Smear, American voters went to the polls last week and threw the GOP out of power in both the United States House of Representatives, which was expected by most pundits, and the United States Senate, which was not.

What does that mean for transportation?

First, it writes “fini” to the already-moribund “Kill Amtrak” policy of the past six years, which culminated in the firing of the brilliant Amtrak CEO David Gunn in a move that brought instant shame to the Bush White House. While the kill-Amtrak policy was never a personal priority of George W. Bush – when Governor of Texas, Bush cooperated with a local mayor-driven effort to fund and enhance Amtrak service in that state --- his passivity did allow it to move forward, and that hurt him.

Centered in the Office of Management and Budget, and part of an ideologically-driven mission to cut back on any and all spending on items that might benefit working and middle class people (read: “Democrats”), the anti-Amtrak policy backfired when moderate Republicans as well as Democratic Congressmen and Senators voted to ignore OMB budget proposals and fund Amtrak at the bare-bones but survivable level of $1.3 billion, as opposed to zero (2005), $360 million (budget estimate, 2006), and other equally ludicrous numbers over the past six years. It should be noted that the Bush Administration has consistently proposed a funding level for the 22,000-mile Amtrak national passenger rail system that is, for example, less than the cost of the single I-95 interchange under construction (for the past decade and more) at the Capital Beltway.

Secondly, the new Democratic committee chairs in Congress, while more favorably inclined toward rail and public investment therein, will be joined by new Republican ranking members (the former Republican majority committee chairmen) who are far less ideologically skewed than the White House from which they got their [increasingly dysfunctional] marching orders. In other words, in addition to the nice words about bi-partisanship being uttered this past week by the victorious Democrats, the good working bi-partisan relationship created by many, although not all, of the House and Senate GOP [former] chairmen bodes well for actual progress on the issue of settling, once and for all, how we are to create, fund, and build an American ground-based transportation system that is not entirely highway-dependent --- and that no longer has to take an embarrassed back seat to the systems in Europe and Asia.

Thirdly, George W. Bush will be President for the next two years. And, lest the Democrats think they can begin measuring for the now-proverbial drapes in the Oval Office for 2009, the results of Tuesday last were not an endorsement of hard-core Democratic dreams, but a weariness with the same kind [if polar opposite] extremism found in the hard-right core of the GOP base. Bush himself is not an ideologue – now there’s an interesting statement --- but rather very much the MBA he is (and no, despite the media’s portrayal of his image, he is not stupid. Just a little goofy when he lets his hair down).

Bush will work with the circumstances he’s been given. He’s done that all his political life, and has had considerable success in doing so – remember, he has been elected President twice, a feat accomplished by only 14 of the 43 men elected President of the United States since 1789. So to write him off would be not only short-sighted, but damaging to the cause.

And what is that cause?

Since 1989 NCI has stood for balanced transportation investment for America. This election, although not without pain – our esteemed first Executive Director, Senator Republican Lincoln Chafee, went down to defeat in the Democratic Tsunami of November 7 --- signals the rebirth of a political philosophy that says --- instead of the GOP’s “devil-take-the-hindmost” --- that we are all in this together. It will be messy – Democratic party-led Congresses are never, ever, neat, at least in the modern era --- but it will produce some new ideas, and maybe even a solution to the nearly 40-year-old question, “Can America find some way, other than asphalt, to get Americans to work, and their goods to market.”

We think so. We’ll work for it.

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WE GET LETTERS...  We get letters...

News Tip for NCI from a Reader

The Oregon Department of Transportation also has offered grants to rail related projects this year.  I am not totally familiar with the program but it can be seen on the Oregon DOT website.  “connect Oregon?” If you need a link or something please let me know.


William Kaufman

Dear Editor,

I need to take exception to a couple of comments in your article about the improved Keystone service.  Your writer says, in part, “Because of parsimonious Federal capital funding over the past 35 years, Amtrak has been largely unable to rehabilitate its century-old infrastructure...”

In the Northeast Corridor, this is simply not correct.  Between 1977 and 1982, the Federal government made $1.75 billion available for the Northeast Corridor Improvement Program (NECIP), which gave the NEC the 125-MPH speeds that have been operated ever since.

In the 1990s, nearly $1 billion in additional funding was used to electrify the railroad from New Haven to Boston and rebuild the tracks for 150 MPH operation in a few locations.  We can argue about whether even more money should have been spent, but in fact generous funding made possible major improvements. Second, you refer to the New York -- New Haven segment as the “worst stretch” on the NEC.  This segment has been owned by the states of NY and CT since 1971.  CT is right in the middle of a major capital investment program that involves catenary, track, and bridge replacement.  This has necessarily had some impact on schedule performance, but by 2010 this will be a thoroughly modern piece of railroad.

Randolph Resor
Merchantville, NJ


Editor’s response:

Thank you for your comments.  We welcome letters from our readers.

You are correct in saying that Amtrak received over $2 billion for the Northeast Corridor Improvement Project.     However, over the lifetime of Amtrak, since it was created by Congress in 1970, the railroad has received just enough funding to fail slowly – about $500 million a year, until fairly recently, when former CEO David Gunn demanded and got $1.3-4 billion commitment from Congress to begin to make long-overdue capital improvements.

As you know, even that amount is never guaranteed. Every year Amtrak must go to Congress to beg for it.     Meanwhile, hundreds of billions of dollars from the Highway Trust Fund have been invested in highways, and billions more have kept the airlines alive, an industry whose profit has never been above zero since the first plane carried passengers.   In the year 2000, according to an AASHTO report, $130 billion of federal, state, and local funds was spent on highways while Amtrak received $500 million.  After 9/11, the airlines were bailed out by a $15 billion federal gift. Amtrak received nothing extra even though it was the only functioning transportation system in the days immediately after 9/11.

The Northeast Corridor electrification project 1991-1999 was the first major capital investment by the federal government in our national passenger rail system in nearly two decades.   The funding was authorized under the Carter administration in 1979 but not appropriated until 1991 when NCI persuaded the Bush (I) White House to release the funds.

Regarding the Connecticut/NY segment, it’s true that the state DOT is in the process of replacing the catenary.  But the money for this project is being dribbled out so slowly that the work will take another decade to complete.

Dear Editor,

I’m very disappointed to see your attribution for the article “Cameras catch speeding Britons and lots of grief,” republished in your November 6th edition of Destination:Freedom. This article was originally published on Friday, October 27, 2006 in the New York Times. You credited the article with a lazy “From the Internet,” and you added nothing to its content; in fact, you cut off fifty percent of the original article’s text. You republished the graphics that accompanied the article - again, without credit.

I recalled reading the article prior to seeing it on your site. I thought it was probably in the Times, so I Googled the headline, and sure enough, the first result returned was a link to the original Times article. You should have done the same and properly attributed the article to its real source.

I read your publication because I learn about things I wouldn’t normally hear about otherwise. Basically, I use D:F as a news aggregating service, and you do that well, but you need to tighten up your source attribution process.

Jim McCormack


Editor’s response:

You are largely right. We mistakenly attributed the article to an English newspaper, when in fact it did not originate there. We do give credit to outside sources when our material comes from elsewhere; this time we erred.

Also, we summarized the piece because we do not print an article verbatim without permission.

Dear Editor,

I’m missing something, here. What exactly do speed cameras in England have to do with promoting rail travel in the US, again?

Philip Nasadowski

Editor’s response:

Destination Freedom is a transportation newsletter, and although we focus principally on improving and expanding rail and transit, we also cover a broad range of transportation stories. We believe all modes of transportation should be planned and funded as regional and national systems, not separate silos.


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NEWS ITEMS...  End notes...

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