Destination:Freedom Newsletter
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 3 No. 47, November 18, 2002
Copyright © 2002, NCI, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - James Furlong
Editor - Leo King

A weekly North American rail and transit update

Rail security falls by the wayside in Senate

By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

“Our failure to act to improve security of rail travel is an Achilles heel in our nation’s efforts to secure our transportation system.”

That flat warning from Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) pinpointed Congressional rejection of his amendment to the Homeland Security Bill.

The FBI warned in October that it had evidence al-Qaeda “has considered directly targeting U.S. passenger trains” and that “operatives may try a variety of attack strategies, such as destroying key rail bridges and sections of track to cause derailments or targeting hazardous material containers.”

In its rush to adjournment, the outgoing 107th Congress deleted Carper’s amendment to include $1.208 billion authorization for rail security and safety measures in the bill approved by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

The measure would have provided for the following:

$55,000,000 for the repair and returning to service of Amtrak passenger cars and locomotives to ensure adequate capacity in the case of a national emergency similar to the aviation shutdown that occurred on September 11, 2001.

However, as desirable as Senator Carper’s proposals may be to passenger train supporters, statements by Association of American Railroads (AAR) President Edward Hamberger and Amtrak President David Gunn have been aimed at assuring the public that the industry is not asleep at the switch on security alerts, even without the extra provisions advocated by Carper and others. “The nation’s rails are safe” is the message.

Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black noted to D:F on Friday (November 15) that the Carper amendment had the backing of Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Ernest “Fritz” Hollings (D-N.C.) who have widely divergent views on the long-term future of Amtrak.

Nonetheless, he reiterated, Amtrak is still implementing a variety of security measures such as requiring ID when purchasing a ticket, possible random ID checks, canine bomb-sniffing and hazmat-sniffing dogs, sweeps of baggage rooms and stations, surveillance of bridges and tunnels, employee alertness for anything unusual or suspicious, to name a few precautions.

No one is kidding himself that any security measure makes a complete airtight dragnet of the system possible, Black said, but there is a “heightened vigilance throughout the system.”

The main focus of the Homeland Security compromise actually had more to do with union rights of the thousands of employees of the new agency than with anything relevant to rail tracks and tunnels.

President Bush insisted he would not sign a bill that denies him the same flexibility in deploying Homeland Security Department employees as those in other security agencies. Failure to give him that room to maneuver, the president argued, would hobble his ability to protect Americans from terrorist attacks. When lives are at stake, according to this view, arguing over whether an employee should be forced to move to another city, for example, is a bit like arguing over the arrangement of “the deck chairs on the Titanic” or “fiddling while Rome burns.”

Longtime TV correspondent Sam Donaldson, who does a local radio talk show here in Washington, said the concession to the unions, allowing an appeals process, is a “fig leaf” for them. Government employee unions, of course, are angry, but the conventional wisdom on Capitol Hill is that a reading of the election returns convinced union allies on the Hill to allow the measure to come to the floor for a straight up or down vote.

While Carper’s rail-oriented security measures were rejected, both the House and Senate passed legislation to “enhance over-the-road bus security throughout the nation.” The bill will provide $99 million from the general fund (meaning all taxpayers, not the Highway Trust Fund) to pay for a bus security grant program to be administered by USDOT. There will also be a $15 million program for “bus security enhancements.”

The programs will cover such items as modifying bus garages to assure security, protecting and isolating the bus driver, and implementing passenger screening procedures and baggage inspection.

The House late Thursday night also approved Senate-passed legislation to upgrade anti-terrorism security at hundreds of ports and waterways and has backed a Senate-approved measure to improve safety and security of pipelines throughout the U.S.

The November 5 election has led to some speculation as to how rail will be affected by the new congressional line-up.

With a party change in committee control, McCain resumes the chairmanship of the Senate Commerce Committee, which deals with Amtrak issues. However, NARP points out in a bulletin to its members that Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), a leading Amtrak advocate, also sits on that panel.

The NARP Hotline also pointed out that Hutchison campaigned for the newly elected Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) Cornyn, by the way, replaces his fellow Republican, outgoing Sen. Phil Gramm, a longtime Amtrak critic. Cornyn, during his campaigning with Hutchison, made it plain he differs with Gramm on Amtrak. “Cornyn, Hutchison stump for Amtrak,” read a headline in the November 3 Longview (Texas) Journal.

However, concern about the committee lineups on Capitol Hill persists in the New York City region, the nation’s largest transit-oriented metropolitan area.

Mobilizing the Region, a newsletter from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, fears for the fate of top projects such as the Second Avenue subway and a second New Jersey-Manhattan rail tunnel.

It was hoped these projects would be included in reauthorization of the omnibus transportation bill, Tea-21 that expires at the end of September 2003. In that respect, according to Mobilizing the Region, New Yorkers may get a hard lesson in the value of seniority on Capitol Hill.

“When the Tea-21 law was crafted,” the newsletter pointed out, “the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, which crafts mass transit legislation for the Senate, was headed by New York’s Senator Al D’Amato,” whom New Yorkers defeated in his re-election bid in 1998.

On top of that, New York City faces a $1 billion deficit this year and a whopping $6.4 billion shortfall next year. Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s solution is to propose a gigantic 25 percent increase in property taxes and reinstatement of a commuter tax on non-residents who work in the city.

Not surprisingly, this has prompted howls of protest and determined opposition throughout the area. Critics say if the Bloomberg plan were implemented, the one blessing would be to alleviate traffic jams in the Big Apple because thousands of businesses and workers would simply vote with their feet and leave. It is projected that would stick the mayor with the worst of both worlds – politically unpopular tax hikes and fewer taxpayers, which would translate into a net loss of tax revenue. In turn, according to this scenario, less money in the till and lighter traffic jams would decrease political pressure for big-ticket mass transit projects.

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Beech, Bear workers return

By Leo King

Some 46 Beech Grove, Ind., carmen have been recalled to Amtrak’s heavy repair facility.

Sen. Evan Bayh said on Tuesday (November 12) in Washington that some laid-off Amtrak wreck repair workers at the facility “are being called back to work as a result of Congress’ approval of continued short-term funding for Amtrak.”

The next day, Amtrak CEO David L. Gunn, in a message to all employees, added details, including a similar number being recalled at Bear, Del.

Of the more than 200 Beech Grove workers laid-off, Bayh said, “Amtrak has indicated its plans to return 182 workers to active employment, and 46 of those workers immediately.” The rest will return to work “when total funding is approved, as early as the beginning of next year.”

“This is a major breakthrough for Hoosier workers whose livelihoods depend on the operation of the wreck repair facility,” Bayh said.

Amtrak had previously indicated that once funding is approved, wreck repair, which is done at the Indianapolis facility, is their top priority, and that a significant investment will go towards this effort. A large part of the resources allotted to Amtrak will be used for the Beech Grove facility. In all, about 600 Hoosiers are employed at the facility.

“Amtrak and the wreck repair facility are important to the economy of central Indiana, and Amtrak’s commitment to wreck repair services will bring much needed stability for Hoosier workers at the Beech Grove operation,” Bayh said.

In a message to employees, Gunn said, “In our Fiscal Year 2003 capital and operating plan, we are planning to repair about 26 pieces of wrecked and damaged equipment. The work is starting now at Bear and Beech Grove. We should get about 16 pieces of Superliner equipment back in service by the end of fiscal 2003.” That’s at the end of October next year.

Gunn said the cars “will create essentially two new long-distance trainsets.”

The CEO added, “At Bear, we will repair 10 damaged single-level cars needed on our corridor operations. We will also be making critical investments to our infrastructure, including construction of a new locomotive facility in Oakland, Calif. Groundbreaking is [this] week.”

He also spoke of dollars, and the lack of same.

“We are struggling to stay within a very tight budget. I wish I had another $200 million because I could move ahead faster on additional equipment repair and reinvestment in our plant. However, we will do the best with what we have and squeeze every penny out of each dollar.”

He explained, “We have called back almost 50 people to our Delaware car shop and will call back 46 at Beech Grove. We are working closely with the unions to try and get their cooperation on how the work will be managed, particularly at Beech Grove. If we achieve cooperation, we will be hiring back many more employees.

“It is very important that our production lines are efficient, and produce on schedule and on budget. We are being watched very closely by a number of organizations, some of whom expect us to fail; but if we can deliver what we promised through our budget, it will help us in Congress and with the Administration. So I cannot emphasize how important it is for you to continue to work safely and efficiently. I have confidence in you.”

He said several people have queried him on his views of the recent elections. He said, “My view is fairly simple. Regardless of who controls Congress, no one will support an inefficient operation, but they will support a businesslike, professional company. So while our friends change, our issues and challenges remain the same. I will be traveling around the system on a number of trains this week and next and maybe a couple of thruway buses. Let’s all keep working hard because, in the end, that’s what will make the real difference.”

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Tennessee ponders passenger rail

Cities such as Nashville are facing so much interstate congestion that state officials are considering the idea of more freight and passenger rail service to help.

Conditions appear so favorable that Amtrak-style service could run from Memphis to Nashville in the next five years – if state transportation supporters can garner support and money from government officials, according to the Nashville Tennesseean of November 14.

More than 70 people packed a local school to listen and respond to members of the Tennessee DOT and hear its consultants talk about their research on a 500-mile Memphis-Nashville-Knoxville-Bristol route, which could cost in the neighborhood of $842 million.

The state would take the lead in developing the service because Amtrak faces financial problems, a state consultant said.

Expanded rail service is still in the talking stages, with details of paying for it still in the works.

“The state’s railroad system might carry some of the freight rapidly depleting our interstate highway system capacity and do it in a very cost-effective way,” said Ben Smith, director of TDOT’s division of public transportation, rail and water division.

New passenger rail routes also would run on the same tracks as parts of Nashville’s less intensive proposed commuter rail to Lebanon.

TDOT is also involved in the proposed 32-mile Nashville-to-Lebanon commuter rail project, the first of five legs considered from main suburban cities into Nashville. That $36.5 million project is in final design, with construction scheduled to begin late next year. If operating cost issues are resolved, that first line could be operating by early 2005.

Diane Thorne, a key Metro member of the commuter rail-organizing group, liked the ideas of last night’s proposal.

“It seems like it would all complement one another,” Thorne said.

The Nashville Tennesseean is online at

Tennessee DOT is online at

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Boston-Montreal route gets good marks

With Maine just a trestle away from linking tracks at Portland that could carry passenger trains between Boston and Montreal, researchers reported last week that public interest in train travel justifies a thorough study of another Boston-Montreal rail corridor – once a vibrant route through central New Hampshire and Vermont.

No one is saying the resurrection of passenger rail is imminent, but a year-long preliminary study has found nothing to preclude the operation of high-speed trains through the Merrimack River Valley. More importantly, a ridership survey showed convincingly that the seats would be filled, if clean, fast, frequent train service provided an alternative to the automobile, reported the Sunday News for November 10.

The ridership survey was central to the $400,000 study, funded jointly by the Federal Railroad Administration, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont and done by the consulting firm of Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade and Douglas of Manchester. The survey combined computer-generated ridership estimating techniques with information gathered by questioning commuters at airports, bus stations and highway toll plazas.

The survey found “sufficient (potential) ridership to warrant additional study,” said Ronald D. O’Blenis, project manager for the consulting firm.

“We would expect to have as much success on this service as the Downeaster has enjoyed since it began service,” O’Blenis said of the passenger service between Boston and Portland.

In its first nine months, the Downeaster makes the 116-mile run in less than three hours, and carried 245,135 passengers. Ridership in the first year is expected to top 323,000, with the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority estimating revenue of $4.7 million, 44 percent more than it had originally projected.

Construction of a trestle bridge at Back Cove in Portland would take the train to the shopping mecca of Freeport, north to Brunswick and, eventually, further up the coast to Rockland. The $4.5 million has been appropriated.

Flipping a switch or two at a junction near Yarmouth would put it on the well-maintained St. Lawrence and Atlantic track that carries freight daily through Lewiston-Auburn to Montreal. A run along the Boston-Portland-Montreal route would cover about 411 miles.

The consulting team studying the 329.4-mile New Hampshire-Vermont corridor will be reporting its findings, and took comments at three public meetings in Concord, N.H., Lowell, Mass., and Montpelier, Vt. A public session has also been scheduled in Montreal on Nov. 25.

In addition to the question of whether commuters and travelers would ride a train through New Hampshire and Vermont, the consultants will report on other issues associated with resurrecting from scratch what was once a major mode of travel in the region.

O’Blenis said his team examined many things “in a cursory manner.” They weighed the potential for interminable border delays, station capacities in Boston and Montreal, conflicts with freight trains, possible competition from Amtrak passenger service through New York to Montreal and upstate Vermont. They looked at environmental issues and the need to upgrade 360 grade crossings, strengthen bridges, install new track in the abandoned 50-mile, state-owned corridor from Boscawen to Lebanon and improve existing track to accommodate speeds up to 110 mph.

Much would have to be done, O’Blenis said, “but there wasn’t any element that would preclude us from pursuing high-speed rail.”

After it listens to the public, O’Blenis expects the consulting team will recommend a “Phase Two” detailed study of what it would cost to construct, operate and maintain a high-speed passenger rail service on the New Hampshire-Vermont corridor, and the revenue such a service might generate.

He plans to deliver the team’s report to the three states and the FRA by December.

“If there is sentiment to support Phase Two, the states will need to evaluate that in their budgetary process,” O’Blenis said of the $400,000 or more it would cost to continue the study.

Meanwhile, Ronald L. Roy is in the midst of an environmental impact review for a $40 million project that will improve the track and allow the extension of passenger rail service north of Portland, to Freeport and Brunswick. The money to build the trestle at Portland’s Back Cove was included in that mix of federal and state funds.

The plan calls for moving a section of the old freight line to within sight of the interstate highway near Portland, where motorists in slow-moving, rush hour traffic could glimpse the Downeaster speeding by.

Surveys have indicated the riders are there to support the train. Construction could start as early as next year and, “We’re looking to have it start service in 2005,” said Roy, the director of passenger services at the Maine DOT.

At the wye near Yarmouth, Roy said, “If you take the right leg, you go to Freeport... If you take the left you would be on the St. Lawrence and Atlantic, which goes through Auburn and Bethel and up through Berlin, where it cuts across the corner of Vermont to Montreal. We’re working with Auburn in developing an intermodal facility at the airport that would connect the turnpike, the airport, buses and the rail line all at one location.”

Roy said the state’s priority is to extend passenger rail service north along the coast and to Auburn. Passenger service to Montreal would probably be limited to special summer excursion trains “for the foreseeable future,” Roy said.

He noted the track, which is perfectly adequate for freight trains, would have to be upgraded all the way into Montreal to make it a high-speed rail corridor. That would be expensive.

Unlike the New Hampshire-Vermont corridor, with its abandoned section north of Concord, the Maine advantage is that the St. Lawrence and Atlantic is an operational line.

“It’s always easier to fix something that is there,” Roy said.

That fact – that Maine has an operating rail link to Montreal – is worthy of note, said Wayne E. Davis, who as head of the Northeast TrainRiders organization worked for more than a decade to get the Downeaster on track.

“The St. Lawrence is a willing road and I can’t imagine that, once Amtrak gets squared away (financially), they would not be fascinated again with the prospect of running passenger trains through to Montreal,” Davis said.

“It stands to reason that, if there is connectability there, that people would be drawn to ride, as they have been with the Downeaster, and not just to go from end-to-end. Nobody thought people would be buying tickets to ride from Saco to Durham or be getting on in Haverhill and getting off to spend the day in Exeter. That’s only my opinion, but they won’t know until they try it,” Davis said.

State Rep. Charles D. Fisher, an admitted “railfan,” whose home in Brewer is rich with memorabilia, believes he will never see the restoration of passenger service between Portland and Montreal.

As Transportation Committee chairman in the Maine House of Representatives, Fisher sponsored the bill that cleared the way for construction of a trestle at Back Cove. Passenger service to Lewiston-Auburn, for example, could stimulate economic growth in that area, but the question is how much subsidization taxpayers will support.

If you live in northern or eastern Maine and the road that runs by your house is in need of repair, “would you support work in southern Maine to restore passenger service to Montreal? Knowing the attitude of my Downeast friends, I think they would be unfriendly toward it,” Fisher said.

Then there’s the addiction to the automobile.

“You see them driving round and round in the parking lot at the mall, waiting for a slot to open up right in front of the stores,” Fisher said. “We have train service now from Portland to Boston, but we still have 80 percent of the commuter traffic to Boston going by car.

“So, while my romantic side says we’ve got to have that rail service back, the reality is that people just don’t take the train.”

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Poor Chicago Bears season
leaves empty trains in ’burbs

It looked like a promising season for the Chicago Bears, but roughly halfway through the season, the chartered Amtrak service that makes stops en route to Bears games in Champaign began losing power.

The kink in the tracks?

The Bears, writes the Daily Southtown of Tinley Park, Ill, part of Chicago.

The NFL football team is playing so poorly it is keeping people away.

“The Bears record is starting to work against me,” said Larry Conrath, the Homer Township businessman who helped organize the service. “The enthusiasm has ebbed.”

Unless a rousing crowd turned out Sunday to watch the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, Conrath was considering putting the brakes on the train with three home games to go in the season. He cited declining interest.

To boost sales for the Patriots game, walk-up sales were permitted for the first time. If CHAMPtrain is still around for the November 24 game against the Detroit Lions, early ticket buyers will be rewarded with a $4 discount from the $46 face value.

Conrath said he is fighting a losing battle with every Bears miscue.

In a 2-7 season, there have been plenty.

“It is really putting a damper on things,” Conrath said. “One guy on the last train said to me, ‘They expect us to go all the way down there and cheer from them. They give us this.’”

The idea of chartering a train to Champaign was the brainchild of Homewood officials and erstwhile Bears fan Conrath.

The hope was teeming trains of parched, hungry football fans with loose wallets would prime the Homewood, Ill. economy.

At times, it almost worked.

Almost 300 riders went to watch the Philadelphia Eagles. A capacity load of 400 passengers rode to a Monday night game against the Green Bay Packers, but even the bigger games did not translate into a windfall for restaurants and taverns in downtown Homewood.

“It is not the shot we anticipated,” said Steve Nemitz, president of the Homewood Chamber of Commerce and owner of the Fifth Quarter and Pressroom Eatery.

“It is the product on the field. If the Bears were even .500, it would be a different story.”

The finger-pointing has started in the village.

Homewood Trustee Bill Frank criticized the efforts, saying they started too soon before the first game and lacked promotion. He added that because the train originates from Chicago’s Union Station, most passengers came from the city and had little reason to check out Homewood.

Frank, a travel agent, said Conrath could have used the help of someone in the travel business.

“He is not getting the help he could have had,” Frank said. “It is Marketing 101.”

Nemitz insisted that all is not lost.

“If I get one customer out of this whole deal, I would do it again,” he said. “I commend the village and this guy for trying.”

Nemitz talked about trying again next year. The train would use the Metra Electric Line tracks to get fans to the rebuilt Soldier Field.

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As one Alaska ski train ends,
another begins rolling north

When the last coal train ran between Healy and Seward in September, an Alaska outdoor tradition died.

The Alaska Railroad no longer has an economic reason to keep its southern track open all winter, and without a clear track, the Nordic ski club had to cancel its Grandview Valley ski train, reports the Anchorage Daily News of November 3.

The ski train will roll on, only this time heading north.

Instead of heading south to Grandview, the ski train will go to Curry, 20 miles north of Talkeetna.

The area doesn’t have the high peaks that surround Grandview, favored by backcountry snowboarders and skiers. But it does offer rolling hills, better beginner Nordic terrain and, when the weather is clear, views of Mount McKinley.

“It will be a totally different experience,” said Tim Stone, president of the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage. “For some people, it may be preferable.”

Tickets for the ski train to Curry cost $55 and are limited to members of the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage.

“Of course, I’m disappointed to lose Grandview,” said ski train aficionado Jim Renkert, who guesses he’s been on the train at least a dozen times. “But I’m quite excited about going to Curry. It could be real fun and interesting. It’s a new area to explore.”

Curry also holds a bit of Alaska history and ski lore. Though few structures still stand, Curry was a bustling resort town on the eastern bank of the Susitna River in the 1930s to the 1950s. It was also home to Alaska’s oldest ski tow, railroad officials say.

“It’s kind of like going back to our roots,” said Don Smith, the railroad’s director of labor relations and this year’s ski train director. “We’re returning to Alaska’s first ski area.”

Curry, at milepost 248.5 along the rail line, began as the Dead Horse camp when the railroad was being built. It was renamed Curry in 1922 to honor a California congressman, Charles Forest Curry of Sacramento. The following year, the railroad built the Curry Hotel. Because Curry was halfway between Seward and Fairbanks, it presented an ideal spot for travelers and rail workers to spend the night during the two-day steam train trip.

Canceling the Grandview trip ended a ski club tradition dating back to 1940s. It became a regular annual event in the 1970s. Every train went to Grandview.

That may happen again if clearing the tracks in winter becomes economically feasible, said Alaska Railroad spokesman Patrick Flynn.

Don’t expect it to happen soon. This winter, the railroad plans minimal maintenance on its southern track to allow an occasional train though and to make clearing easier come spring.

Stone said the ski club is excited to try a new area and hopes ski train enthusiasts will embrace the idea. To make the trip happen, the club must fill two trains, one on Feb. 23 and another on March 9. After departing from downtown Anchorage, they’ll stop in Wasilla to pick up Valley residents, just as the Grandview train picked up passengers in Portage.

Smith and Flynn said Curry is the only spot seriously considered. Because the railroad owns the land around Curry, the railroad and ski club did not need permission from other landowners to drop off hundreds of skiers in the area.

This summer, the Alaska Railroad cut several miles of trail through birch trees around Curry for the ski train. Typically, the area has ample snow. But if it’s a light snow year, the trail will help skiers climb above tree line to an open plateau, Smith said, and if the river is safely frozen, skiers will be able to ski along it too.

The 268-mile round trip to Curry is two hours longer than the trip to Grandview. The cost remains the same, but the party inside the train will roll on a little longer, Flynn said.

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Commuter lines...

Bombardier LIRR cars


Long Island Rail Road is running its new M-7 commuter cars
Long Island runs its new commuter cars

Bombardier Transportation recently delivered its first M-7 commuter cars to Long Island Rail Road in New York. The six-car train left Long Beach Station and ran smoothly throughout the journey.

These six cars underwent 15 months of tests in Canada and the United States and successfully completed a 4,000-mile test run within a record time of one month.

Long Island Rail Road officials conducted extensive training to ensure that its staff is well prepared to operate and welcome passengers aboard these sleek new trains. The contract signed in May 1999 was for the delivery of 192 commuter cars and included options for 1,074 additional cars. To date, LIRR has ordered 858 cars with 408 options still to exercise. Should all options be exercised, the total contract would be valued at $1.85 billion U.S.

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Ex-New Haven line is but a path

To find the beginning of the North Plymouth pedestrian and bike trail, you have to go back 10 years. That’s when the North Plymouth Steering Committee added the concept of a walking trail along an abandoned four-mile-long New York, New Haven & Hartford rail line to its master plan for the village. The trail still is not built, but its future now looks brighter, after the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority released the right-of-way to the unused line that runs along the waterfront from Nelson Street Park to Cordage Park.

A decade is a long time to wait for the legal wheels to turn, North Plymouth trail planners told the Boston Globe last week, but they also said they believe the path will be an important recreational resource for area residents. According to local architect Jeff Metcalfe, who helped devise the plans, the trail may be a step toward a network that would take pedestrians and cyclists from North Plymouth’s Cordage Park down to the waterfront, the town’s center, and to Morton Park, a mile inland from the harbor – a total of about four miles.

In October, after years of local pressure, the MBTA finally agreed to release the route. The decision was the result of “a level of encouragement by the legislative delegation,” said state Rep. Tom O’Brien, (D).

“We’ve been working on this for the last six years,” he said. O’Brien, Rep. Vincent deMacedo (R), and state Sen. Therese Murray (D) all represent Plymouth in the legislature.

The North Plymouth Master Plan, adopted by Town Meeting in 1992 as part of the town’s Village Centers Plan, states that “an access to the waterfront will help make North Plymouth a destination,” said Planning Director Jack Lenox. The plan advised the town to secure the right-of-way to a mile-long stretch of abandoned rail bed running from Nelson Street Park, a strip of sandy beach with a playground about a mile north of Plymouth Rock, to the Cordage Park railroad station, located amid the old brick buildings of the Plymouth Cordage Co. rope factory. The right-of-way could be improved for use by pedestrians, bicyclists, and a trolley shuttle, the plan stated, and connect walkers and other recreation seekers from Cordage Park to Jenney Pond Park in the town center.

The trolley shuttle concept has not survived, but design plans were nearly complete five years ago, Metcalfe said, when a policy change in Boston put the North Plymouth right-of-way on the list of real estate assets the administration of former Gov. William Weld was seeking to sell. The state initially offered to sell it to the town for $300,000, the same amount the town had been awarded through a federal recreation resource development grant to improve the rail bed for cycling, baby carriages, and pedestrians.

Today, a slim hard-surfaced ribbon parallels the beginning of the right-of-way at Nelson Park, but it comes to a stop a few hundred yards down the tracks. Beyond that, a narrow dirt footpath continues along the route, bordered by slim birches and scrub oak at the start and by tall grass and clover nearer to the shore. The trail crosses two roads, Robbins Road and Atlantic Street.

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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

Two Florida transit lines begin

Two transit systems recently entered operation in Florida. The Hialeah Transit System serves the city of Hialeah, in the Miami-Dade suburbs, and THE Bus provides service to Hernando County, north of Tampa.

Jorge de la Nuez is acting transit manager for the city of Hialeah, which began operating the four Hialeah Transit System circulator routes in October. Each route has a name – “Flamingo,” “Palm,” “Sun,” and “Dolphin” – and operates with new buses on lease from Coach USA. The system will have an option to buy the vehicles after Jan. 1, 2003, the manager said.

In addition to local service, HTS serves as a “transparent extension” of the Miami-Dade Transit Agency through shared use of transfers, de la Nuez said.

In Hernando County, three circulator routes entered full service on November 4, according to consultant Hugh Pascoe. THE Bus is a cooperative effort of the Hernando County Metropolitan Planning Organization, Hernando County, the city of Brooksville, Florida DOT, the Federal Transit Administration, and Mid-Florida Community Services, operator of Trans-Hernando paratransit service.

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Greenville, S.C., signs management contract

McDonald Transit Associates Inc. began providing management and support services under contract to the Greenville Transit Authority, Greenville, S.C., on October 1. Earlier, the GTA directors voted unanimously to award the contract to the firm.

Tim Lett, McDonald Transit’s vice president of technical services, will serve as interim executive director for the Greenville operation. Lett is a 27-year public transit professional with more than 20 years experience as general manager for public transit systems in Abilene, Texas; Athens, Ga.; and Knoxville, Tenn. He also served as president of the Tennessee Public Transit Association in 2001.

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MetroLink extension gets nod

The Bi-State Development Agency Board of Commissioners in St. Louis recently approved the issuance of up to $450 million in bonds to build an 8.2-mile Cross County MetroLink light rail extension, and to address short-term minimal maintenance of operating and capital requirements.

According to Bi-State, the Cross County Extension will be one of the largest publicly funded projects ever undertaken in the St. Louis region. The bonds will be marketed to traditional institutional investors following an initial offering to the retail segment.

The extension will begin at the existing Forest Park Station in the city of St. Louis and serve the St. Louis County communities of University City, Clayton, Brentwood, Richmond Heights, Maplewood, and Shrewsbury.

The bond offering is the largest bond issuance in the agency’s history. Proposition M funds will be used to pay the debt service requirements on the bonds. St. Louis City and County voters approved a sales tax in 1994.

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New idea in railroad grade crossings
came from watching carrier landings

Inventors make connections that do not occur to other people. For Matthew A. Gelfand, the unlikely connection was between aircraft carriers and railroad crossings.

The result is a device that some experts say can prevent accidents at rail crossings and also serve as a protective barrier against terrorists.

The Federal Highway Administration has reacted favorably to the device, and the Long Island Rail Road says it is watching its development for possible use.

In 1993, Gelfand, of Rockville Centre, N.Y., was brooding over a fatal car accident at a nearby Long Island Rail Road crossing. By chance he tuned in to a television program on World War II showing nets catching planes on the short runways of aircraft carriers.

Something clicked in his mind. Instead of the traditional flimsy wooden arms at railroad crossings that cars can go around or smash through, why not a strong net that could be automatically deployed?

With that idea, he formed Universal Safety Response Inc., now based in Charlottesville, Va., and with a $650,000 grant from New York State, developed and patented the device.

Named the Ground Retractable Automobile Barrier, or GRAB, the device has a Kevlar net that can pop up in three seconds and has pistons that absorb the motion of an approaching vehicle. Tests show that GRAB stops a car traveling 45 miles an hour in just 10 to 12 feet, without even breaking the headlights, Mr. Gelfand said.

The first GRAB barrier will be installed for use within a month, but not at a rail crossing. Inventions often have uses not originally envisioned, and it eventually dawned on Gelfand and his partners that their product could be an instant barrier anywhere, not only at railroad tracks.

So, they are installing their first one at the entrance to the Intrepid Sea Air Space Museum in Manhattan, where guards will be able to activate it instantly if there is a security concern. The company explored broader uses even before the September 11 attack, but said that security worries since then have generated growing interest.

“You can shut down every entrance to every bridge and tunnel in three seconds,” said Gelfand, adding that the nets can be retracted just as fast, and the system reset quickly.

“You can use it to protect government buildings, dams, monuments, an embassy, a governor’s mansion.”

The cost to install the nets on both sides of a rail crossing would be about $360,000, about a third more than for conventional gate arms, he said, but the GRAB is far more effective and far less expensive than building an overpass, for example, he said.

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Freight lines...

NS changes pension plan expected results

Norfolk Southern Corp. stated last week “it has decreased its expected long-term rate of return assumption on pension plan assets for purposes of pension accounting under SFAS 87 to 9 percent.”

The firm said “The change is based on the long-term market outlook and will result in a non-cash increase of approximately $10 million in pre-tax compensation and benefits expense in fourth quarter 2002, and added, “While we are reducing the rate of return assumption for pension accounting purposes, it should be noted that our retirement plan remains fully funded,” said David R. Goode, chairman, president and CEO.

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CSXT writes Thanksgiving plan

CSXT will discontinue originating any trains after 6 p.m. Wednesday, November 27, unless the crew is going to their home terminal.

“It is our intention to have all trains tied down by 7 a.m. November 28, except for trains identified to operate as indicated by the holiday operating plan, a press statement said.

Train operations will resume at 2 a.m. Saturday, November 30.

Deadheading of train crews will resume at 5 p.m. Friday, November 29, to position train crews for startup.

“Depending on crew availability, our scheduled trains will get priority to be operated after startup,” the freight carrier stated.

All major terminals will be closed from 7 a.m. Thursday, November 28, until 7 a.m. Saturday, November 30, except for terminals at major interchange points such as New Orleans, Memphis, St. Louis, and Chicago, which will operate to maintain fluidity and ensure a smooth return to normal operations. There may be some shifts in service at certain terminals for intermodal operations.

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KCS to pay 25-cent dividend

The Kansas City Southern directors declared a regular quarterly dividend of 25 cents per share on November 8 on the outstanding KCS preferred stock. The dividend is payable on January 21, 2003, to preferred stockholders of record at the close of business on December 31, 2002.

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Across the pond...

Sleeper of the kind destroyed in France

Tobias Köhler

This is the kind of sleeper which burned in Nancy, France. This car was photographed in December 2000. It was on the Dortmund night train during a stop in Dresden.
Investigators ask, ‘Where were the conductors?’

Investigators on the scene of the deadly fire in a sleeper in Nancy, France on November 6 are questioning the performance of the train’s conductors during the fire on board the D-261 night train from Paris to Vienna. Investigators are looking into why the German conductors, who were suppose to be on-duty in the sleeper at the time of the fire, took so long to inform the French locomotive engineer of the emergency.

Investigators are also looking into why the locomotive driver continued operating the train at speed after the conductors notified him of the fire.

He stopped train just past Nancy, after SNCF employees in the Nancy train station and the crew of a west-bound French train which passed the Vienna-bound train on the opposite track saw smoke billowing from the sleeper car and notified the locomotive driver of the fire.

The source of the fire is not yet known, a failure in the electrical system or heating system is suspected. Arson does not appear at this time to be involved.

In Germany, both the rail passenger association Pro Bahn and labor union Transnet are renewing calls for smoke detectors and floor level guide-path lighting strips, as used on isle-ways in airliners, to be installed in all passenger trains, with priority for sleeper cars.

The sleeper car involved in the fire is owned and operated by Deutsche Bahn (DBAG), and according to DBAG was in compliance with current European-wide safety standards, which currently do not mandate installing smoke detectors.

The sleeper Model Type 175 series, was originally built in 1964, was completely updated and re-outfitted in 1999 and was shop-inspected the last time on November 4. The sleeper, according to a DBAG statement, conformed with and was standardized to current UIC (an association of European and central Asian railroads) requirements.

DBAG stated it was urgently checking its fleet of passenger cars to see how and what it will take to outfit them with smoke detector systems.

Unhappy with DB’s performance in the S-Bahn commuter rail services, Hannover city-county government officials plan to drastically reduce the amount the Hannover Region pays to DB to operate the S-Bahn trains.

Much of the local county government outside of the city of Hannover was partially merged with the city government in 2001 to form “Hannover Region”.

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Trains make frequent shops stays

Our thanks to David Beale of Halle, Germany, who translated these stories from Hannoversche Allegemeine Zeitung, Nr. 261 8th November 2002, a newspaper publication of Madsack & Co., GmbH KG. - Ed.

Hardly had the leaves fallen and the S-Bahn trains are standing in the repair shop and the customers are standing around in the region. The politicians want to control the problem via the money by the motto “less performance – smaller payment.”

Does that help?

A view into the train repair shop in Leinhausen stirs up doubts.

For days now it’s the same old game: Early in the morning the commuters are standing and waiting in Springe, Haste or Burgdorf at the train platforms. Then comes the train – and nearly at the same time so do the moans: yet again has the S-Bahn half the normal length of cars, instead of the double consist of the self-propelled train has only a single consist shown up.

Each consist of ET 424 class EMUs is four permanently coupled and articulated car sections.

During rush hour and other high demand periods, two consists are coupled together making a total of eight cars. That means once more crowding and confinement in the train.

What the S-Bahn commuters don’t realize is that “It is actually an achievement that no trains were canceled:” said Dieter Lange of the DB-Regio division. He coordinates dispatching trains in Lower Saxony and Bremen. Of the 40 S-Bahn EMUs which are in-service in pairs in the Hannover Region, seven sit in the Leinhausen workshop for repair – the wheels are no longer serviceable – not because of bricks or rocks or other hard debris, but due to foliage – simply leaves.

Lange points out the damage locations, which the autumn leaves have caused. They are flat spots in round wheels with depths of millimeters. They originate during braking if the wheels lock-up and skid. Every automobile driver knows this phenomenon: it’s wet, and leaves or other debris leave a slippery film upon the street, and when you brake, it’s like skating.

With the train, it’s nearly the same, except here its bare metal against bare metal. When the steel wheel first looses its traction, there is hardly any stop. The metal heats itself resulting in a grinding-off ending in a flat spot. The passengers recognize this later during the journey as the wheel produces a thumping noise.

If it was only the noise, the DB would leave the repairs for later, but the momentary shocks, which result from the dent in the wheel with each revolution, announce the onset of heavier damage. The axle suffers under the imbalance, as do the drive motors, not to mention the entire structure of the train.

So, DB brings in the rail cars which have such damage to Hannover-Leinhausen. Formerly the facility was a huge modification and modernization shop, but nowadays it is only a repair workshop for DB-Regio. Routine checks, maintenance work and repairs, the employees know their trains and their defects.

Are the S-Bahn trains especially susceptible to dents and other damage on their wheels?

“No”, says shop leader Helmut Speder emphatically.

“S-Bahn trains accelerate quicker and therefore brake more often thanks to their integral drive system”. However the quality of steel in the wheels is the same as used on conventional passenger rail cars, according to Speder, “it’s all high tempered steel.”

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Dear Editor:

I enjoy reading D:F and find it to be pretty darn in formative and entertaining.

The article and photos of the New York Central jet-powered RDC was a hoot. Reminds me of the story about a guy who bolted a jet engine in the back of his pick-up truck and fired it up for a fast ride until he reached the first curve. The curve won.

I was intrigued by the National Press Club seminar about surface transportation and sprawl, which is a pretty hot topic here in New Jersey.

Unfortunately, the deadline for application has long passed. According to their website it was October 11. Hopefully they’ll have such a good response they’ll hold a second section.

There is an extreme need for such courses. I’m one of a hand full of transportation writers and for all but the most experienced hands at larger papers, our education about the issues mostly happens on the job.

Unlike other specialty beats, such as education, the environment and religion, there are no local or national transportation writers associations. Hopefully this conference and the increasing importance of transportation as an issue to our readers will change that.

Larry Higgs
Transportation and Commuting Writer
The Courier NewsBridgewater N.J.

Dear Editor:

I was intrigued to read about Tampa’s streetcar-CSX diamond in the November 11 D:F. That means that Darby, Penn., no longer holds the distinction of having the last grade crossing of a streetcar line over a Class I railroad in the U.S. In Darby, SEPTA [Philadelphia] trolleys cross CSX’s former B&O East End Sub.

Andrew Koniers
Ambler, PA

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MP No. 6440, a 4-6-2 class steam

Leo King collection: Missouri Pacific Lines

Missouri Pacific lines had some spiffy passenger steam engines. Consider No. 6440 a 4-6-2 Pacific. It had 26-inch by 26-inch cylinders turning 73-inch drivers. The engine operated with 200ppsi steam pressure and developed 40,930 pounds tractive effort. It was 79 feet long over the pulling face. Oh, okay, add a quarter-inch.

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 Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write.

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

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