Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 4 No. 46, November 23, 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...


Happy Thanksgiving from all of us!

 

Working the rails

NCI: Leo King

Judge James Robertson told Amtrak, Brotherhood of Maintenance-of-Way Employees and other labor union lawyers he would issue his decision “as soon as possible” regarding a possible labor strike. His continuance came at a federal court hearing in Washington on November 14 regarding the unions’ right to strike. The unions have not reset a date for a walkout, but several unions threatened earlier in October to hold a one-day strike to protest the lack of federal funding for Amtrak. Railroad management opposed that action, and filed a motion to obtain a preliminary injunction to stop the walkout as a violation of the Railway Labor Act. In May 1995, Amtrak track crews, BMWE members, were removing wooden ties from Tin Bridge on the Massachusetts-Rhode Island border, and inserting concrete decks that would support ballast and concrete ties as the railroad prepared to electrify the corridor between New Haven, Conn., and Boston.

 

Turkey Day crunch approaches

By Leo King
Editor

Amtrak was warning potential passengers last week to make their Thanksgiving holiday reservations early.

The railroad noted on its website (http://amtrak.com), “We added an additional 70 trains in the Northeast, and between November 25 and December 1, all Northeast trains – except Clockers and Keystones – will require reservations.”

The national passenger train carrier also stated, “On the West Coast, all Pacific Surfliners will also require reservations, “ and advised “trains are filling up fast for the busiest holiday travel period of the year.”

The railroad suggested, “If your train is sold out, we recommend that you book an alternate and keep checking online for a cancellation.”

They also suggested avoiding long ticketing lines by booking travel on their website, then picking up the ticket at a “Quik-Trak” machine on the day of departure.

“Think of your Quik-Trak ticket as a boarding pass with a receipt,” Amtrak noted. Most of the machines are located near ticket counters at major cities and most Northeast Corridor stations.

USDOT agreed with Amtrak regarding Thanksgiving as the busiest holiday travel days of each year.

In a report issued last week, DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) stated, “Thanksgiving Day is more heavily traveled than the Wednesday before Thanksgiving for long-distance travel,” according to a new report on National Household Travel Survey findings.

Nine out of 10 Thanksgiving holiday travelers– about 91 percent – use personal vehicles. The report showed people traveling between 50 and 99 miles accounted for 44 percent of personal vehicle trips. It also showed more people traveled “on Thursday than Wednesday, and more return on Saturday than Sunday.”

More air, bus, and rail passengers “travel on Wednesday than on Thursday, and of those trips, 5 to 6 percent are by air, and 2 to 3 percent are by other modes.”

The average Thanksgiving long-distance trip is 214 miles compared with 261 miles over the remainder of the year, the statistical bureau discovered, and about half of holiday travelers make same-day trips without spending a night away. Long-distance travelers who make overnight trips at Thanksgiving spend an average of just under three nights away.

Demographics also played a role in the survey.

The average age of Thanksgiving travelers is just under 34, but during the remainder of the year, the average age is almost 38.

The surveyors said a nationally representative sample of about 26,000 households was contacted and 60,000 people were interviewed.


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High-speed rail study to look at
Washington-Southeastern U.S.

$750,000 in federal funding will be spent on studying the feasibility of high-speed rail connecting major southeastern cities – like Atlanta – to Washington, D.C. The funding is included in the fiscal 2004 Transportation Appropriations bill.

“The Southeast’s population and economic growth demands a robust, cohesive transportation infrastructure,” said Sam A. Williams, Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce president, according to a report in last week’s Atlanta Business Chronicle.

“We are grateful to our congressional delegation for including in the current transportation appropriations the funding to jumpstart a high-speed rail corridor connecting the southeast region’s major markets,” Williams said.

U.S. Rep. Johnny Isakson (R) was credited with getting the cash for the project. Isakson helped lead the effort in the House and Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R) and Zell Miller (D) in the Senate.

In addition, the Southeastern Economic Alliance, a coalition of 14 chambers from six southeastern states formed by the Metro Atlanta Chamber, have banded together to advocate for a public-private partnership to invest in high-speed rail.

The alliance has developed a business model that would ask the federal government to make the initial investment in infrastructure with a private company assuming the risk and reward of operating high-speed rail. User fees would pay for infrastructure maintenance. The business model proposes a high-speed rail service that would cater to the business traveler, competitive with air trips under 300 miles.

Trains would travel at least 85 mph to 90 mph and possibly as high as 125 mph to 130 mph, stopping only in major cities.

“The Southeast has experienced incredible growth in the last two decades,” Isakson said. “I am convinced that high-speed rail is an investment that will complement the Southeast’s existing transportation infrastructure, reduce congestion on the interstates between the southeast region’s economic centers and allow us to increase our competitiveness on a worldwide basis.”


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Amtrak rerouted

Fire destroys BNSF trestle

An early morning fire on November 19 destroyed a 440-foot railroad trestle east of Chowchilla, Calif., disrupting Amtrak service to Merced and the rest of the Central Valley.

A locomotive engineer reported the fire on the 420-foot-long wooden trestle to authorities at about 2:30 a.m., Weatherby said.

“It’s completely gone,” Weatherby said. “We’ll dig it up, scrap it and build another one.”

Weatherby said the fire disrupted schedules for trains as far north as Klamath Falls, Ore., and south to Needles on the California-Arizona border, The AP reported.

Amtrak passengers were bused about 40 miles south to Fresno, officials said.

At 2:28 a.m., the California Department of Forestry was dispatched to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Ry. trestle in Madera County at Avenue 27 and Santa Fe Drive. The span crosses 20 feet above Berenda Slough east of Chowchilla, the Merced Sun-Star and The Madera Tribune reported the next day.

The first unit to arrive found the trestle fully engulfed in flames, Battalion Chief Jon Brothers said.

“They started to take action,” he said of firefighters, “but there’s not a whole lot you can do when you have one fire engine and that kind of fire.”

Because of the extreme instability of the structure, firefighters took what Brothers called an indirect approach to fighting the fire to provide as much safety for the firefighters as possible.

“Representatives from the railroad indicated that, with the stress that was placed upon those rails as the fire was burning, and the actual weight of the rails as the bridge was starting to lose its integrity, they warned us that the rails may break,” Brothers said.

Steven Weatherby, general manager for the BNSF Northern California division, said the bridge handles about 60 daily trains, including Amtrak.

“We’re laying a track around the trestle to get the trains running,” Weatherby said. “Then we’ll go in and rebuild the trestle.”

Weatherby expected the reconstruction job to take about 10 days, but the shoofly was in operation shortly after noon on Wednesday. Crews worked throughout the night to get the temporary track completed, Weatherby said.

“This causes delays to every train that normally runs these tracks,” he said. “We’ve had to stop some trains, and we’ve detoured some. Others, we couldn’t stop, we could only slow them down.” No derailments were reported.

Firefighters were forced to shuttle water from a hydrant at the nearby women’s prison, Central California Women’s Facility, to fight the blaze. Brothers said they were able to keep water on the fire at a fairly continuous rate.

Brothers said the bridge collapsed beneath the rails, leaving about 350 feet of steel suspended without any support from beneath.

“There was no way we were going to put someone underneath that to do any work,” Brothers said. “We stayed about 50 feet away.”

Shortly after 2:00 p.m., railroad personnel came in with torches, Brothers said, and cut the rails out and allowed them to fall to the ground. They then removed the rails with a heavy loader so firefighters could go in and work on extinguishing the fire.

While Brothers said he is not ruling out arson, he also cannot rule out an accidental fire.

“There is no evidence to point in one direction rather than another,” he said. “We are considering it suspicious, but we haven’t ruled out all possibilities for potential cause.”

Firefighters worked alongside railroad personnel Wednesday afternoon to contain the fire, which was out by about 4:00 p.m.

By Thursday mid-morning, BNSF was still shut down as the railroad attempted to temporarily restore tracks 23 miles south of Merced.

Restoration was not expected until Thursday evening.

Most through BNSF freight trains operated on the former Southern Pacific San Joaquin Valley Line, which hosted the Oakland-Los Angeles San Joaquin Daylight until Amtrak Day, 23-plus years ago.

Amtrak turned their San Joaquin trains at Merced and Fresno and bustituted passengers across the gap. Delays of from 30 to 90 minutes were reported on Wednesday.

About 50 construction workers from Bakersfield and Stockton were brought in to rebuild the trestle.

Also Wednesday, Amtrak service along the coast was disrupted after a Union Pacific train carrying lumber and malt barley derailed in the San Benito County town of Aromas. No one was hurt when 13 of the train’s 64 cars left the rails around 12:30 a.m., said UP spokesman John Bromley.

The accident temporarily halted Amtrak’s Coast Starlight service, which carries about 1,200 passengers each day between Oakland and Los Angeles, said Amtrak spokeswoman Sarah Swain. Amtrak bused passengers to their destinations.

Amtrak and BNSF woes continued in the Western states on Thursday when heavy rainfall and mudslides on BNSF between Seattle and Everett, Wash., shut down the railroad, suspending all operations until at least Friday morning. The Seattle Empire Builder was terminated at Everett, and passengers were “bustituted” to and from Seattle. Trains 510, 513, 516 and 517 were annulled and bustituted over their entire route.

KOMO Seattle reported an unstable hillside along tracks in Mukilteo prompted Amtrak to suspend its passenger trains in that area.

The suspension is in effect at least until Friday morning. Experts are monitoring the slope, which is considered unstable because of recent rains.

Freight train traffic was not affected, but BNSA spokesman Gus Melonas said Amtrak did not want to take any unnecessary risks with passenger trains.


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Amtrak ridership continues rising

A record two million passengers rode Amtrak in October, nearly 11 percent more than last October and nearly 10 percent above the company’s target for the month, the railroad stated last week.

“As a result, ticket revenue cashed in at $107.5 million, or $4.8 million ahead of the railroad’s budget target and $7 million ahead of last year,” according to the carrier.

A fortnight ago, Amtrak President and CEO David Gunn said preliminary expense figures were 3 percent under budget for October.

Railroad officials attributed the positive results can be attributed to several factors, “including gradual improvement in the economy, Amtrak’s recent back-to-basics marketing and pricing strategy, and the fall advertising campaigns.”

The numbers came on the heels of a record 24 million passengers riding Amtrak during fiscal year 2003.

Amtrak’s 16 long-distance services accounted for 310,000 passengers, or 31 percent more than in October a year ago. Sleeper ridership was up 24 percent and revenues were 6 percent ahead of last year. Among the big gainers in ridership were the Silver Star and Capitol Limited, both of which were up 55 percent. The Sunset Limited was up 50 percent.

Among the short-distance and corridor trains, the Pennsylvanian gained an astonishing 120 percent, the Heartland Flyer rose 51 percent, and the Wolverine gained 34 percent.

Also of note is that the West Corridor trains all finished positive against last year and the budget – even with disruptions caused by the Southern California wildfires. Ridership of 1.8 million passengers was up 8 percent over last October on the short distance trains.


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Some engines find a rocky road for now

D:F Staff Report

Some Amtrak engines are down for ordinary maintenance, but others are simply out-of-service requiring heavy repairs.

D:F learned on Friday that of the 385 road engines currently rostered, more than one-third of AEM-7s are not running. Amtrak owns 51 of the engines, recently upgraded to 8,000hp. Of them, 20 are out of service and six were getting ordinary periodic maintenance. Fourteen others were out of service for other reasons.

The railroad’s newest electric engines, 15 HHP-8s, also rated at 8,000hp, have six out of service, three sidelined for regular maintenance, and three more for other reasons.

The carrier owns 196 P-42 engines rated at 4,200 hp. Of that number, 33 are out-of-service while 13 are in shops for minor repairs, and 20 more for other reasons, including wreck damage and grade crossing accidents.

Of the 40 Acela Express power cars, six are out of service, which translates to three trainsets. A power car is coupled to each end of the trainsets. Two trainsets were being shopped for periodic maintenance, and two other trainsets for other reasons.

The carrier no longer rosters F-40PH engines, once the backbone of the entire system, nor electric E-60 locomotives.

TypeActiveO/SPMOtherGoalPercent O/S
P-4019312215.8
P-421963313203316.8
P-32800010.0
P-32DM18532427.8
AEM-751206141339.2
HHP-815633440.0
Acela40624315.0
F-5921422519.0
California17211811.8
NPCU18523227.8







TOTALS3857931487520.5


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BUSINESS LINES...  Business lines...

Alstom investors approve rescue plan

Alstom shareholders in Paris approved a 4.7 billion Euro ($5.54 billion) state-backed bail-out on November 18 that will shrink their investment but rescue the heavy engineering firm from collapse. Shareholders at an extraordinary general meeting voted over 90 percent in favor of the plan, which includes a rights issue and convertible bonds that could give the government a 31.5 percent stake in the firm, Reuters reported.

The next day, The New York Times reported, Alstom was set to raise up to $2.1 billion from a capital increase and bond issues.

Alstom CEO Patrick Kron said the bailout package was “essential to ensure the ongoing survival of the company.”

Alstom builds high-speed TGV trains, power turbines and cruise ships.

The financial moves were overshadowed by a weekend accident at Alstom’s Saint-Nazaire shipyard. Fifteen people died after the collapse of a gangway leading to the Queen Mary 2, the world's largest cruise ship.

Alstom now needs the green light from French market watchdog the Commission des Opérations de Bourse, expected in the next few days, before it can launch its preferential rights issue and sell convertible and subordinated bonds to shore up its balance sheet.

Kron said he had "worked hard" to allow shareholders to maintain the level of their stakes in Alstom, by granting them preferential rights to take part in the rights issue and a five-year convertible bond issue worth $900 million to $1 billion.

He said shareholders should weigh the loss of their preferential rights in the 20-year convertible bonds reserved for the government "against the benefits of the state entering into the capital of Alstom".

He also said the ongoing investigation by the European Commission into Alstom's bailout, expected to take between six and 12 months, would be "an additional complication for our existence that we could do without."


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SAFETY LINES...  Safety lines...

Wanted: safe operations on tracks

By Leo King
Editor

National Transportation Safety Board’s most wanted transportation safety improvements has only one railroad item on its list, but it’s a big one – satellite directed positive train control systems.

The NTSB published its annual list last week. Nine are highway-related; three deal with aviation concerns, two marine ideas, and no pipeline suggestions.

Positive train control systems, said the NTSB in a press release, use global positioning satellites, train systems and signals to keep safe distances between trains operating on the same lines.

“Over the last three decades, the safety board has investigated a long list of collision accidents in which a positive train control system that incorporated collision avoidance could have prevented train collisions.”

The federal agency first urged the satellite use plans (VR-01-6) from the FRA in May 2001.

The FRA determined railroads needed to create the collision-avoidance systems on main line tracks, especially for high-risk corridors where commuter and intercity passenger railroads – Amtrak – operate.

An accident on January 17, 1999 in Bryan, Ohio, led to the NTSB’s “wish list” addition. Since then, the board “has investigated 30 collision accidents that may have been prevented by positive train control (PTC) systems.”

In the Bryan accident, the board noted that “PTC is especially important where passenger and freight trains operate on the same track.”

Since last year, the safety board has investigated eight train collision accidents including Placentia, Calif., on April 23, 2002, where a BNSF freight train collided head-on with a Metrolink commuter train.

The investigators say they have discovered “The failure of crewmembers to perform effectively because of fatigue, sleeping disorders, use of medications, or other distractions necessitates PTC systems. PTC can stop a train when crewmembers fail to follow operating rules.”

Some railroads have installed some forms of positive train control, including Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, Union Pacific and the Alaska Railroad.

Since last year, the NTSB reported last week, Amtrak has doubled the number of track miles of the “Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System” (ACSES) on the Northeast Corridor to more than 400 miles.

“As a result, Amtrak, commuter, and freight trains are now benefiting from features that provide positive stops at home signals, civil speed enforcement, and protection of roadway workers” – track gangs – “at train speeds up to 150 mph.”

Plans are for enforcement of positive train stop, release, and temporary speed restrictions via radios, rather than transponders, which are now being used.

“Train operators will be able to add and delete temporary speed restrictions appropriate to trains with the new radio system. Amtrak originally planned 1,150 track miles of PTC on the Northeast Corridor, but is currently restricted to 436 miles because of budgetary constraints.”

The agency added, “Additionally, Amtrak has installed the Incremental Train Control System (ITCS), which currently supports revenue service operating to 90 mph on 45 track miles between Chicago and Detroit,” and 22 additional route miles will be added later this year. Testing continues to be conducted to eventually support operations at 110 mph within the next two years.

New Jersey Transit (NJT) is moving in a similar path by installing an Advanced Speed Enforcement System (ASES), and has funded the project.

Installation will include 540 miles of ASES systemwide, and 23 miles of single track is installed, and 15 miles of double-track has been engineered. A contract has been awarded to include the remainder of the system.

The FRA reported it has joined the State of Illinois and the AAR to fund the “North American Joint PTC” (NAJPTC) program. The territory includes 123 miles of track between Springfield and Mazonia, Ill.

“A central goal of the program is interoperability standards,” the agencies stated.

“One Union Pacific Railroad and four Amtrak locomotives have been equipped with PTC equipment and have been successfully tested over part of the territory. All wayside signal equipment has been delivered and is currently being installed,” NTSB noted.

The Alaska Railroad (ARR) has completed two phases 1 of their PTC system, which included installing a computer-aided dispatching system and the upgrading of most of the communications network. The next two phases will include installing PTC servers in the dispatcher’s office and PTC computers on-board the locomotives.

The ARR also plans to install signals and electric switch machines with snow melters to facilitate meeting and passing trains. The Great Land carrier, which operates both passenger and freight trains, plans a demonstration of PTC next May on about 30 miles of track in the Anchorage area. It anticipates completion of 611 miles of track and the entire fleet of 53 locomotives in revenue service by next summer.


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On everybody’s main line:

Derailing illusions that kill, maim

In the United States, trains collide with vehicles 3,000 times a year, killing more than 300 people.

On September 16, Benjamin Martinez of Orange, Calif., became the sixth Southern California resident killed in such a crash this year when his Acura Legend was struck by a Metrolink train traveling at 90 mph through Santa Ana. According to some witnesses, Martinez, 29, speeded up just as the arm of the train’s warning gate came down.

No one will ever know what Martinez was thinking in the seconds before the train slammed into him, wrote reporter Patricia Ward Biederman in the Los Angeles Times of November 20, but in almost every case, grade-crossing accidents such as Martinez’s are blamed on driver carelessness.

In fact, it is a lot more complicated than that.

Scientists say that many of these accidents are caused by deadly misperceptions, the visual and behavioral quirks known to science but not to ordinary drivers. Making grade crossing encounters even more treacherous are train and crossing designs that fail to take into account how people perceive and behave.

It’s not enough to stop, look and listen at railroad crossings, these experts warn, because what you think you see can kill you.

“The attitude of the Federal Railroad Administration is that almost every accident that ever happened at a railroad crossing is the driver’s fault,” said cognitive psychologist Marc Green, a partner in the Toronto consulting firm Visual Expert.

One peculiarity of human perception is that large objects in motion appear to be moving more slowly than they really are. We can observe this phenomenon at any airport, said Herschel Liebowitz, emeritus professor of psychology at Pennsylvania State Univ. Jumbo jets appear to drift down to the tarmac during landings, while smaller jets seem to race toward the runway, even when the larger plane is going faster.

Liebowitz, who first described the size and speed effect and other grade-crossing perils in 1985, field-tested his theories by riding in the cab of a locomotive and questioning crews.

“It was almost immediately obvious what the problem was... People mis-estimated the speeds of trains.”

The problem is compounded by perspective.

When we look down a track, we don’t see the rails or the telephone poles running along the tracks, as parallel. We see them converging in the distance at what artists and scientists call the “vanishing point.” As Liebowitz explained, we have learned to associate that apparent convergence with distance, and so we are likely to assume the train is farther away than it really is.

Collisions also have what Liebowitz calls a “deceptive geometry” that can prove fatal.

Green explains the problem this way:

Typically, you glimpse the train with your peripheral vision. Never as clear as central vision, peripheral vision is especially poor at gauging velocity. Even as the train moves toward you, and you move toward it, the train’s image maintains a relatively constant position on your retina, at the edge of your visual field. The result is, “You don’t see it moving,” Green said, and you assume it is still a safe distance away.

Then, when you are about to collide, the train’s image on your retina suddenly expands in all directions – a condition called looming, but at that point, you probably can’t stop in time, and neither can the train.

By Green’s estimate, perception – or misperception – is a factor in more than 80 percent of highway accidents, including those involving trains.

Many public officials charged with train-related safety are aware of the science of rail accidents but continue to take a Darwinian view of them.

The problem is “There are just too many impatient drivers who fail to obey traffic regulations at either active or passive crossings,” said FRA spokesman Warren Flatau.

The tendency to blame the victim in grade-crossing accidents exasperates cognitive psychologist Green.

“That lets the authorities off the hook, then they don’t have to redesign the system.”

The U.S. has made progress in train safety, experts say.

“Railroad crossing deaths in the U.S. have come down from 786 in 1975 to 315 in 2001. That’s a pretty good achievement, “ said Eric Wigglesworth, an Australian accident researcher who won the Order of Australia, which is comparable to British knighthood, for his contributions to Australian public health and safety.

“I think this was largely due to the U.S. government’s rail-highway crossings program which, since 1978, has injected $4 billion into crossings improvements,” Wigglesworth said.

The elimination of thousands of grade crossings and the increase in so-called active crossings, especially in heavily populated areas, have been important advances.

Twenty years ago, flashing lights, bells or gates that drop down when a train is about to pass protected only about 50,000 of the country’s 225,000 public grade crossings. Today, there are about 62,000 of these active crossings out of 154,000.

Such active warning systems are expensive. Even simple ones can cost $150,000 to install, and active crossings have human-factors problems of their own, which may help explain why they account for half of all grade-crossing collisions.

Liebowitz described one major problem 20 years ago. The low-tech gates then in use at active crossings dropped at a fixed time, whether the passing train was traveling quickly or slowly. As a result, drivers often had to wait long after the gates had dropped for a train to arrive; but drivers are impatient, and those who have had to wait time after time for the train may decide that they can safely ignore the warnings.

“It’s called ‘the cry wolf phenomenon,’” Green said.

Research published in the early 1990s convinced the FRA that some motorists who had to wait more than 40 to 50 seconds at an active crossing would try to drive around the gates. Now, most active crossings are equipped with electronic “predictors” that gauge an approaching train’s speed and lower the gates as little as 20 seconds before the train arrives.

Still, unless rail safety experts determine what makes some grade crossings so dangerous, the Southland’s rail lines could become “killing fields,” said Najmedin Meshkati, a professor of industrial and systems engineering at the Univ. of Southern California.

Meshkati is especially fearful about what will happen on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s new 13.7-mile Gold Line between Los Angeles and Pasadena, and the planned Exposition light rail in downtown Los Angeles. Both lines are designed to serve busy, multicultural and multigenerational neighborhoods.

Meshkati’s fears are understandable. Until the Gold Line opened July 26, MTA’s Blue Line was the only one of its three routes to have grade crossings. The tracks of the others are elevated, underground or run along the median of freeways, a safe, but costly grade separation. Since opening in 1990, the 22-mile Blue Line has accounted for 62 of the MTA’s 65 fatalities.

Educating the public is one way to prevent accidents.

Operation Lifesaver, which coordinates rail safety messages throughout the U.S., includes the larger-looks-slower phenomenon and the perspective illusion in its literature and also reminds drivers and those tempted to take their chances on railroad tracks that trains need a long time to stop.

Local transportation agencies also work hard at public education. So far this year, Metrolink, which has 443 at-grade crossings, made safety presentations to some 35,000 people. The MTA spoke to 50,000 schoolchildren to prepare them for the Gold Line, which had no serious accidents before the MTA mechanics strike shut it down. (The strike was resolved Monday and service has resumed.)

Grade crossings claimed another victim on November 6 when a Metrolink train struck Dana Santos, 46, of Oxnard as she waited in her SUV between Oxnard and Camarillo. Santos apparently did not try to beat the train, but was caught on the tracks when the crossing arms came down. She died two days later.

Critics point out that most safety programs fail, in part, because most drivers who try to beat a train across the tracks believe they are safe. It is only recently, according to Meshkati and others, that the rail industry has begun looking at driver behavior as it is, rather than as it should be. Meshkati’s own work focuses on how decision-making styles and crossing complexity may contribute to collisions.

Among the rarely recognized dangers is the difficulty of hearing warning bells when sitting in a modern soundproofed car, and the likelihood that new immigrants won’t recognize the traditional American crossbuck, the simple X-shaped railroad sign that warns drivers to yield to an oncoming train.

Decision-making at grade crossings is even tougher at night.

“The demands that are placed on the driver at a railroad crossing are extraordinary,” said Wigglesworth, the Australian researcher who successfully campaigned for improved warning systems there.

“It’s not surprising there are so many accidents.”

Ten years ago, Wigglesworth persuaded Australian lawmakers to address the danger of putting the same warning signs at both passive and active crossings.

“The mix of active and passive systems kills people,” he said, and explained why.

Say you are a driver approaching an active crossing, marked with a crossbuck, warning bells, lights and gates. If the lights don’t flash and the gates are up, you know it is safe to cross the tracks.

Then you come to a passive crossing. It too is marked with a crossbuck – but, this time, the lack of red lights and lowered gates doesn’t mean “Go ahead.” It means just the opposite. The crossbuck tells you to stop and look because a train may indeed be racing your way.

Using the same traffic signs when different actions are desired breaks one of the Ten Commandments of human-factors engineering, Wigglesworth explained.

“If you use the same stimulus, you must expect the same response.”

Australia’s 3,400 active crossings continue to be marked by a crossbuck and other warning devices, but its 6,000 passive crossings now have two unique signs of their own, thanks to Wigglesworth. The first sign shows the silhouette of a train puffing smoke. The second sign is a diagram that shows the angle at which the tracks cross the road. This directional sign tells the driver exactly where to look for the train, an enormous help in making a complex, life-or-death decision quickly.

Like many other experts, Wigglesworth believes systems are easier to change than people’s behavior. He would like to see greater use of such potential lifesavers as signals inside cars that warn of an imminent collision with a train (now under study by the FRA).

The agency is examining why drivers behave dangerously at grade crossings, an important first step, and it is studying so-called ”intelligent transportation systems” that would warn train crews and even stop the train, when a vehicle or person is on the tracks.

For now, gates that effectively keep cars from driving across the tracks are a good interim solution, but until grade crossings are eliminated or futuristic systems are in place, human-factors experts say crossings could be made safer with better signs and warning devices. Drivers should be warned early and often that they’re approaching tracks. Also, people understand active, affirmative statements (“Stop for train”) more readily than negative ones (“Don’t block tracks”).

Signs also should address specific dangers. Many Blue Line collisions resulted from drivers making illegal left turns, apparently unaware that a train was approaching from behind. An overhead fiber-optic sign that shows a picture of a train labeled “train” (better than the innocuous “trolley”) has cut left-turn incidents in half.

More education is also required. Department of Motor Vehicles materials, billboards, public-service spots and other avenues could be used more effectively to warn of optical illusions and other crossing dangers.

Another topic is increased law enforcement. Drivers who think they can race around crossing gates may not do so if threatened with a ticket. Signs warning of $321 fines for those who cross illegally seem to encourage compliance, as does a highly visible police presence.

People tend to behave in predictable ways, and grade crossings will continue to claim lives until their designers recognize that.

Green puts it this way, repeating the mantra he learned as a graduate student, doing experiments with lab animals.

“The rat is always right.”

Green explained: “If you set up an experiment and the rat doesn’t do what you want it to do, it’s not because the rat is stupid, but because you set up the experiment wrong. It’s the same with humans... I think if we took that into consideration, we might design grade crossings differently.”


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‘Use trails, not rails,’ CSX urges

To promote public safety along the thousands of miles of railroads nationwide, CSX Transportation is urging sportsmen and off-road enthusiasts to “Use trails, not rails.”

“Tracks may be a popular means of accessing hunting and off-road spots, but far too many people overlook the dangers,” according to Kathleen Burns, assistant vice president-safety for CSX.

“Hunters, ATV riders, snowmobilers and everyone else who enjoys the outdoors need to understand that rails and recreation do not mix,” Burns said.

“A freight train traveling at even moderate speeds requires almost a mile to come to a stop – and it’s important to point out that railroads are private property. We can prevent a lot of needless tragedies if outdoors enthusiasts would remember to ‘use trails, not rails’ and stay off the railroad tracks,” she reiterated using the slogan again.

Last year along all U.S. railroads, nearly 4,000 people were killed or injured while on railroad property without permission, according to FRA statistics.


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POWER LINES...  Power lines...

UP orders 175 EMD engines

SD-70

EMD

UP getting 175 SD-70s
General Motors Corp. has won a contract for its Electro-Motive Division to build 175 SD-70 diesel locomotives for Union Pacific Corp.

On another front at EMD, a top union official said that talks to sell the GM business have cleared a major hurdle.

Reuters reported on Friday from Detroit the deal is the largest between the two companies since GM won a contract to supply 1,000 locomotives to UP in 1999, spokesmen for the companies said. A GM spokeswoman said that deal, which was the largest contract ever for both the GM unit and Union Pacific, was worth at least hundreds of millions of dollars.

They declined to reveal the terms of the contract. Delivery of the locomotives is scheduled to start in the second quarter next year, said EMD’s Curt Swenson.

“We have been communicating internally with employees and suppliers about (the deal) this week,” Swenson said. Delivery of the locomotives is scheduled to start in the second quarter next year, he said.

Swenson and UP spokesman John Bromley declined to reveal terms of the contract for the SD-70M diesel locomotives.

“It’ll raise some eyebrows,” Jeffrey Kauffman, a railroad analyst with Fulcrum Global Partners, told Reuters. “Rails haven’t added a lot of locomotive equipment in the last couple of years because of the economy.” Rather than reflecting optimism of economic growth, Kauffman noted that Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. and Union Pacific recently placed orders for new locomotives to take advantage of tax breaks.

Meanwhile, a top official with the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union, which represents workers at an EMD plant in London, Ontario, said on Friday that efforts by GM to sell the locomotive builder to a private equity firm had cleared a hurdle.

“We heard yesterday that one of the major stumbling blocks had been overcome,” said John Scanlan, the CAW’s national representative for GM workers.

CAW President Buzz Hargrove and a person close to the talks said in September that GM was in discussions on a joint bid by Greenbriar Equity Group, a $700 million private equity fund led by former Chrysler Corp. vice-chairman Gerald Greenwald and Berkshire Partners, a $3.5 billion buyout fund.

Scanlan said some issues in the sale talks that remain to be settled include concerns by the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, which represents workers at EMD’s headquarters in LaGrange, Ill.

“There were some outstanding issues at LaGrange between the UAW and the potential buyer,” he said, declining to comment further on the problems.

Officials at the local UAW and Greenbriar were not available for comment. Electro-Motive’s Swenson declined to comment on any sale talks.

Scanlan said Berkshire has made it clear that it is not interested in Electro-Motive unless it can buy both the Ontario and the Illinois plants.


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EMD, Chromium start venture

General Motors’ Electro-Motive Division is going to help sell Chromium Corp.’s reciprocating engine components.

EMD said in a press release from it La Grange, Ill., offices last week it will be working with sales representatives, distributors, and associates worldwide to increase Chromium’s market penetration and overall product sales. The is expected to strengthen EMD’s and Chromium’s relationship, increase Chromium’s market presence, and provide a broader range of engine components through the extensive GM Electro-Motive sales network. Chromium is based in Cleveland.

Neither firm stated how much the agreement was costing them, nor how much they expected to earn from the joint venture.


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

Transit bill arrives in ‘hopper’

By Wes Vernon
Chief Washington Bureau

After months of wide publicity, the leadership of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee formally introduced the huge transit and highway-funding bill on Thursday. It is a $375 billion package.

The measure would increase transit funding from $41 billion to $69.2 billion from 2004 to 2009. That figure would include many rail transit projects around the country. It has the solid backing of the American Public Transportation Assn. (APTA), which believes light-rail (in particular) has been on a roll (literally and figuratively) in recent years.

Highway funding would increase from $174 billion to $298 billion.

The measure is backed by 73 members of the committee including Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska). He is joined by ranking Democrat James Oberstar (D-Minn.), key subcommittee Chairman Tom Petri (R-Wis.) and subcommittee ranking Democrat (William Lipinski (D-Ill.).

Much of the argument that Chairman Young makes for the bill rests on the 1.7 million jobs he says would be created thereby.

Also, the lawmakers claim the legislation would guarantee an increase in “the percentage of return to each state from federal highway programs from 90.5 percent to 95.0 percent by 2009.”

Thus the stage is set for a battle royal on Capitol Hill next year.

As D:F has reported in the past, the biggest sticking point in the measure is its permanent indexing for hikes in the gas tax. Freshman Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.) has directly challenged Young on that point.

A Musgrave press release, published on Thursday, proudly cited a Congress Daily story headlined “Freshman Battles Young Anew Over Highway Funding Bill.”

The Coloradoan cites support of her view from the White House – which is not interested in going into an election year while sticking motorists with a permanent gas tax hike. She argued the Young bill would cost the average family an additional $135 at the pump during the first year alone. Moreover, she said, socking consumers with higher taxes “is a lazy solution to a complex problem.”

To reinforce the point, she joined Republican Study Committee Chairwoman Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) in petitioning Young to hold full committee hearings to discuss their proposed “transportation funding reforms” aimed at boosting construction without hiking the gas tax. Myrick chairs the Republican Study Committee.

Chief among the Myrick-Musgrave proposals is HR-2672 – an alternative to Young’s bill – to “reform” the Davis-Bacon Act, a prevailing wage (union scale) mandate on highway construction. More than 60 other House members have signed on to this legislation. They would also pursue gas tax evaders and create more tolling authorities.

Musgrave says Rep. Robert Bacon (N.Y.) first introduced Davis-Bacon in 1927 after an Alabama firm that used black and less expensive workers won a federal construction project in his district. It was finally enacted after the Great Depression was well underway.

“Today,” Musgrave said, “this law continues to bias against locally owned, and often minority, small businesses unable to comply with the high-priced prevailing wage mandates.” The Colorado lawmaker added the mandate is especially onerous in rural areas such as those she represents. She would “safeguard federal funds from prevailing wage mandates while protecting the states’ right to decide how to spend their own highway money.”

The transit section of the Young bill states, “It is in the interest of the U.S. to foster the development and revitalization of public transportation systems that maximize the safe, secure, and efficient mobility of individuals, minimize environmental impacts, and minimize transportation-related fuel consumption and reliance on foreign oil.”


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Minneapolis starts light rail tests

Half of the Hiawatha Line tracks are laid in Minneapolis, 12 stations are built, and the trolley lines are powered. Now the live testing has begun before the trains start revenue service in March. Initial testing on the $715 million project began with a single car moving down Fifth Street in on November 15.

Final tests of the trains, tracks, power systems, signaling and communications systems will begin in December, The AP reports.

Six cars will operate between downtown Minneapolis and the park-and-ride lot at Fort Snelling. Beginning in January, eight trains will make daily trips between downtown Minneapolis and Fort Snelling.

The first half is expected to open in five months, after three years of construction.


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LIRR takes the web for tickets

The Long Island Rail Road has gone online with ticketing.

LIRR launched “WebTicket” last week, and is its first foray into selling train tickets over the worldwide web.

Now, commuters can purchase any kind of ticket within the LIRR section at www.lirrticket.com. The program, Newsday reported on November 17, provides a 5-percent saving on one-way, round-trip, 10-trip and weekly tickets. There is a 2-percent discount on monthly tickets.

LIRR rang up its first online sale November 16, and tickets are mailed within three to five days, postage-free.

“Our customers, through the convenience of their computers, now have the option to get their tickets ahead of time by mail,” said LIRR president James Dermody.

The LIRR launched WebTicket after a pilot program by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s other commuter railroad, Metro-North, proved successful, he said. Metro-North started selling tickets over the Internet in 2001. Today, web sales account for 2.5 percent of Metro-North’s ticket revenue, according to spokeswoman Donna Evans.

“We consider our WebTicket to be good for a number of reasons.... You can offer customers a discount. The ability to buy tickets in advance is a tremendous customer service,” Evans said. “From our perspective, it is a very cost-effective way to sell tickets.”

Dermody said internet sales probably won’t mean cutbacks in ticket office staff, but the railroad discourages onboard ticket sales, which are more costly and divert trainmen from other duties.

Buying tickets aboard a train will also cost an extra $3.

Instead of selling onboard tickets, advance sales “permit the train crew members to do other parts of their jobs—collecting tickets, making announcements and being available to the riders,” Dermody said.


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LIRR plans new branch line yard

The Long Island Railroad’s efforts to site a new yard along the Port Jefferson Branch have met with a storm of criticism and little public support, reports Mobilizing the Region, an online newsletter published by the non-profit Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a transportation planning organization.

“The areas along the line stand to benefit significantly from improvements associated with the new yard, in exchange for relatively minor local impacts,” the organization stated in an editorial.

At recent “scoping” hearings for the yard project’s environmental impact statement, LIRR officials have heard complaints about likely noise and other impacts.

Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio urged research on the likely property value degradation the yard would cause for area homes. At a recent meeting convened by Huntington officials, hundreds of locals rallied against the plan. Common concerns regarded potential increases in noise and air pollution, and storing chemicals and fuel in the rail yard.

“The area may be close to NIMBYing a good thing to death,” the publication stated, adding, “The yard is needed for the LIRR’s plan to electrify the branch to its terminus in Port Jefferson. That would mean more frequent, faster service and one-seat rides to Manhattan. Today, riders east of Huntington Station undergo a cumbersome, time-consuming train switch there.”

Property values increased significantly along with improved rail access to Manhattan Experience in New Jersey after New Jersey Transit created one-seat rides on the Morris and Essex lines during the 1990s and the Boonton line last year, Mobilizing the Region stated.

If it proceeds on schedule, the end of 2005 should complete the final environmental impact statement for the Huntington-Smithtown Yard and Port Jefferson electrification project.


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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.


More Cities Seek to Gain from LRT’s Mobility and Economic Benefits

In conjunction with the recent Light Rail Conference in Portland, Ore., co-sponsored by APTA and the Transportation Research Board, reporter Federico Cura provides an overview of the sector in the November 17 issue of Passenger Transport. He shows how light rail transit has proven valuable in enhancing urban and suburban mobility; connecting different modes of transportation such as commuter rail stations, airports, bicycle lanes, and trails; and fostering much economic development around stations.


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Highway Reauthorization Passes Senate Committee

In a significant step toward reauthorizing the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved its bill November 12 to reauthorize the highway title.

The bill, called the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2003, provides $255 billion for the highway program over the next six years, which is consistent with the amount passed by the Senate in its Fiscal Year 2004 Budget Resolution.


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National Business Coalition Releases Report on Economic Impact of Transit

The National Business Coalition for Rapid Transit, an organization comprised of chambers of commerce in major U.S. cities, released on November 6 a report detailing the important contributions of public transportation to the economy.

The report, titled The Economic Importance of Public Transit, provides an overview of the role played by public transportation in keeping the economy going, based on the following points:

• Providing essential access for the nation’s economic health and prosperity;
• Helping maintain the vitality of our major cities’ central business districts;
• Connecting workers to jobs in suburban and rural areas;
• Relieving traffic congestion and improving business productivity;
• Stimulating economic development around stations;
• Reducing energy consumption and achieving clean air standards; and
• Generating jobs and a significant return on investment.


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Sound Transit Breaks Ground for Central Link Light Rail Project

Local leaders and community members gathered November 8 in South Seattle to break ground on Sound Transit’s Central Link Light Rail project, at the future site of the Central Link Operations and Maintenance Base in Sodo, Wash.

Among the dignitaries in attendance were U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), leaders in the effort to secure a $500 million federal Full Funding Grant Agreement for the project.

Sound Transit estimates daily ridership on Central Link’s initial segment at more than 42,000 people by 2020.


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

Prov and Worcester Railroad

For NCI: Jeff Rost

Providence & Worcester’s PR-3 travels near Terminal Road in Providence, R.I. on October 25, 2002. The train is enroute to Cranston Yard, about one mile away, to drop off loads and get more empties. A fortnight ago, P&W reported a profit for the quarter, and credits coal for a good part of that positive bottom line. See story below.

 

Railroads urged to steer ‘hazmat’
trains away from urban areas

By Wes Vernon
Washington Bureau Chief

Politicians and intelligence experts are warning that the next terrorist attack could come on the ground instead of in the air.

That story, originally published by the Arizona Republic and spread nationwide by the wire services, quoted the USDOT as urging hazardous materials shippers to take care, that “in the wrong hands, hazardous materials pose a threat to security.” The FBI has also weighed in with its concern.

The fear has prompted a move within the Washington, D.C. City Council to ban hazmat movement in the city unless the cargo is specifically destined for D.C. That effort was prompted, at least in part, by the organization Greenpeace, which has a history of (sometimes violent) demonstrations, supposedly on behalf of the environment.

Greenpeace was joined by other environmentalist organizations which visited a downtown D.C. commuter train station (L’Enfant Plaza, near several federal agency headquarters) on November 17 to warn that chlorine and other toxic materials could be turned into weapons of mass destruction as a result of terrorist sabotage.

They urged trucks to use the Capitol Beltway and trains to use tracks in suburban Virginia and Maryland for hazmat shipments. There are also federal agency offices in the suburban areas, and those communities are home to millions of federal workers and officials who presumably would raise their own objections to any plan to add hazmat shipments through their areas, though such a re-routing would move the trains away from proximity to the National Mall and the Capitol.

In response to the story, the AAR sent a statement to WRC-TV News (4) in Washington, which stated, “It would be irresponsible for local governments to restrict movement of hazardous materials because such action might either make the movement of all hazardous materials impossible or make it easier for terrorists to single out potential routes as targets.”

It goes without saying, of course, that re-routing freight trains in order to avoid urban areas could be a cost prohibitive proposition in some instances.

Besides, according to the freight rail industry group, “Hazardous materials include chemicals necessary to purify our water supply and manufacture pharmaceuticals; the fuel needed for automobiles; the weapons and munitions required by the military; the chemicals to make plastics; even paint used in our homes. These are among the ingredients necessary for the health, safety and economic vitality of the nation.”

AAR said it remains in continuous communication with the USDOT, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Joint Terrorism Task Force at the FBI, and state and local law enforcement agencies.

AAR spokesman Tom White noted that railroads are represented on the FBI’s Terrorism Task Force.

What precautions are being taken? You don’t need to know, they said.

“We don’t go into what we’re doing,” White told D:F.

“We simply don’t because when you start telling people what you’re doing, you’re telling the terrorists what you’re doing,” he explained.

In the event of credible threats, he added, “We have appropriate countermeasures to be taken; but, again, we don’t want to publicize what those measures are, [because] then you don’t have any measures.” All that does is tip off the terrorists as to how they can foil any protective moves on the part of the railroads.

FRA Administrator Allan Rutter has said he is “impressed” by “the scope, analysis, the sophistication of the analytical framework, and the manner in which the rail carriers have devoted substantial resources – both funding and senior leadership – to the completion of this important task” of enhancing security.

He exclaimed, “They’ve done remarkable homework.”

White said in terms of ton-miles, trains and trucks split hazmat (chemical) shipments about 50-50. When measured by total tonnage, the ratio is 75-25 percent by truck.


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Coal brings new business
to Southern New England

By Leo King
Editor

Coal is becoming big business for the Providence & Worcester Railroad.

The Worcester, Mass.-based P&W reported a net income of $694,000 for the third quarter compared with net income of $543,000 in the third quarter of 2002. Diluted income per common share for the quarter was 15 cents compared with 12 cents one year earlier.

“The improved earnings for the quarter are attributable to increased operating revenues from shipments of coal as well as intermodal containers,” The freight carrier stated in a press release.

Regional P&W operates in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, and moving imported coal is a new venture.

Colliers arrive in the Port of Providence to unload, and P&W scoops up the product into hopper cars to deliver to Northeast Utilities.

Northeast Utilities owns several New England coal-burning plants, and two receive the fossil fuel by rail. One is its Mount Tom facility near Holyoke, Mass. Its Bow, N.H. plant also gets its coal via rail.

Jody TenBock, fuel manager for Northeast Utilities, said “We're giving them new business, more than they had in the past.”

P&W delivers coal trains to Guilford Transportation, which then takes the loads to the Mount Tom and Bow plants.

He would not disclose how much the utility company is paying for the rail service, but said, “It's a competitive business.”

Mount Tom is receiving coal from the Far East and South America, as well as domestic coal. TenBock said the coal “comes from China, Columbia and Venezuela.” Domestic deliveries in recent years have come from Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

He added that “Next year, we anticipate several hundred thousand tons from China, and a similar amount from South America.”

We learned through the pages of Atlantic Northeast Rails & Ports because Norfolk Southern has run-through power, they, too, get to Mount Tom. Guilford is short on power and crews, so the P&W coal does not move as quickly as wanted to the Bay State facility.

Bow received its first load of coal via P&W on November 20. The total cars in that first shipment will eventually be 150 carloads. Up until now, overseas-delivered coal was trucked to Bow (about 16 percent) from a Portsmouth source. NS also delivers domestic coal to Bow, accounting for the other 84 percent.

Net income per common share for the nine months ended September 30 was 13 cents on net income of $577,000 compared with a net loss per common share of 2 cents on a net loss of $88,000 in 2002.

“The net loss in 2002 was attributable to the impact of the Amtrak rate arbitration decision which was rendered in June 2002,” according to P&W.


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Covered hoppers in short supply

Grain suppliers like Cargill, Inc. and railroads like Union Pacific face rising costs and shipment delays because of a railcar shortage caused by a record corn harvest and rising demand in Europe and Asia for wheat and soybeans.

The monthly lease rate for a 120-ton grain covered hopper car, capable of carrying 5,150 cubic feet of grain, is about $270 to $325, up from $200 a year ago, according to leasing companies like CIT Group and RailSolutions Inc., a railroad consulting company. Some shippers have had to wait almost three weeks for cars, Bloomberg News reported on November 18.

“We’ve leased up everything we could lease,” said UP CEO Richard Davidson.

Some farmers and exporters have had to stockpile crops to await cars as demand for wheat, soybeans and corn has surged because drought reduced supplies from Europe and Australia.

“This happens every harvest, but it feels a bit more severe this year,” said Frank Sims, a vice president at Cargill, the world’s biggest agricultural company.


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Chilly workplaces at CSX yards

When it comes to setting workplace temperatures, CSX Corp. appears headed down a track all its own.

Last week, The Richmond, Va., Times-Dispatch stated it learned that the Jacksonville, Fla.-based railroad recently informed machinists at its local Acca Yard in Richmond not to set thermostats in their shops and storerooms above 50 degrees. The newspaper reported the story on November 17.

A company memo obtained by the newspaper also included a ban on “supplementary heating,” such as space heaters.

A CSX company spokesman explained that CSX, which has seen its operating costs rise this year, was seeking to set a uniform standard in its mechanical shops along the railroad’s 23-state system.

The company cited standards set by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.

Meanwhile, the requirement has steamed some local employees, including one veteran machinist who called the 50-degree cap “just crazy.” Workers are especially concerned about what the shops – which handle refueling and car repair – will feel like in the dead of winter.

In the past, the machinists noted, they were allowed to use gas heaters to add a little warmth in the large shop at Acca.

Norfolk Southern Corp., the other major Eastern railroad, said it doesn’t set any kind of limit on heating its mechanical shops and does not ban space heaters.

John Bromley, spokesman for Union Pacific Corp., the nation’s largest railroad, said, “We don’t have a thermostat policy in our mechanical facilities and have no plans to do so.”

Amtrak also lacks such a policy, “but as a practical matter, shop thermostats are set no higher than 55 degrees Fahrenheit,” said Cliff Black, media relations director.

Black explained that shop doors are often open to admit deliveries and to move trains in and out.

“Attempting to keep shop temperatures above 55 in the winter is an exercise in both futility and huge fuel costs,” he said. “Employees in these shops dress accordingly.”

CSX’s Chairman and CEO Michael Ward took over the railroad in January after John W. Snow resigned to become Treasury secretary. Since then, total expenses through September 30 have risen about 4 percent, or $200 million.


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Hutchison eyes container terminal

The ports unit of Hong Kong conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. is among nine operators interested in developing a container terminal in New York, according to the redevelopment authority in the area.

Hutchison Port Holdings has submitted an expression of interest in the 150-acre Bayonne Harbor project in the Port of New York and New Jersey, Reuters reported on November 17. The Bayonne Local Redevelopment Authority disclosed the plans in a recent statement.

CSX World Terminals and China Ocean Shipping Co, which are both based in the U.S., are among the other companies interested in the project. CSX is a unit of CSX Corp.

The authority will issue a request for proposals in January next year for the development and operation of the container terminal, with the project likely to be awarded by May.

Hutchison Port is the world’s largest port developer, operating 177 berths in 32 ports, but it has no U.S. terminals. The company handled 35.8 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in 2002. Hutchison Whampoa shares have gained nearly 17 percent so far this year.


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CSX sells two branch lines

The Surface Transportation Board reported last week M&B Railroad has bought some 94 Alabama route miles from CSX in two segments. The effective date was November 14.

M&B is one of 14 shortlines owned by Rail Management Corp. of Panama City Beach, Fla.

M&B is acquiring one segment 30.22-mile segment from milepost XXB 189.00 (some mileposts on this segment are not a full mile apart) near Burkeville to MP XXB 222.00 at the Western Jct. station in Dallas County.

The second segment extends about 63.46 miles from MP OOR 716.25 at the Western Jct. station to MP ORS 779.71 near Myrtlewood. The segments also include CSX’s Selma Yard, and ORS line stations at Myrtlewood (MP 781), Linden (MP 771), Hugo, Thomaston (MP 760), Central Mills, Orville (MP 736), Selma (MP 720), Western Jct. (MPs ORS 717 and XXB 222).

The remaining stations are on the XXB line, and include Alamet (MP 219), Tyler (MP 213), Benton (MP 207), Laneville (MP 204), Whitehall (MP 200), Latham Spur (MP 198), Lowndesboro (MP 194), Robinsons (MP 190), and Burkeville (MP 189).

M&B’s acquisition also includes l4 miles of incidental overhead trackage rights extending from Burkeville to Montgomery Yard, which will allow M&B to interchange traffic with CSX at CSX’s Montgomery Yard.

Because M&B’s projected annual revenues will exceed $5 million, the carrier certified to the STB on October 21, 2003, that it had posted the required notice of intent to undertake the proposed transaction at the workplace of the employees on the affected line and had served a copy of the notice of intent on the national offices of all labor unions with employees on the rail line.


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CP looks for upticks; changes pension plans

Canadian Pacific Ry stated on Friday it expects basic earnings per share, before unusual items, to rise by 20 percent in 2004 from 2003.

The company also said it expects freight revenues to rise 4 to 6 percent in 2004 compared with 2003, and it expects to see a positive cash flow.

Elsewhere, CP disclosed on Friday plans to accelerate funding of future pension obligations through a voluntary prepayment of approximately $300 million (in Canadian dollars) into the company’s Canadian defined benefit Pension Plan. The prepayment, to be made in December 2003, will be funded from existing cash balances.

“CPR’s pension fund is in a solid position, but three years of bear markets and extremely low interest rates require some adjustments to how we manage our funding obligations,” said Rob Ritchie, CP’s president and CEO.

He added, “The prepayment is a balanced, pro-active approach. It puts the funding requirement firmly in our control for the medium term and does not increase the risk of a significant surplus arising should improvements in the plan’s financial performance or interest rates exceed our assumptions.”

The prepayment will be in addition to current service costs of $55 million in 2003.

No word yet from rank-and-file on the actions.

Ritchie said the prepayment “will reduce the pension plan’s unfunded position by increasing the asset base. While there is no obligation to prepay future funding obligations, this approach demonstrates CPR’s intention and capability to maintain a healthy Pension Plan over the long term.”


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Intermodal continues to fuel rail traffic gains

Intermodal traffic on the nation’s railroads was once again up sharply during the week ended November 15 in comparison with the corresponding week last year, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported last Thursday.

Intermodal traffic totaled 209,246 trailers or containers, up 10.2 percent from the comparable week last year. Container traffic registered a 10.4 percent gain, while trailer volume rose 9.7 percent from last year. The nine busiest weeks in intermodal history for U.S. railroads have all occurred since over the past 10 weeks.

Carload freight, which does not include the intermodal data, totaled 343,466 cars, up 0.6 percent from last year with volume up 0.7 percent in the East and 0.4 percent in the West. Total volume was estimated at 31.1 billion ton-miles, up 3.0 percent from last year.

Fifteen of 19 carload commodity groups registered gains from last year, with coke up 36.1 percent; farm products other than grain up 16.4 percent; grain up 11.4 percent and crushed stone, gravel and sand up 10.5 percent Loadings of metallic ores were down 20.6 percent while coal volume was off 3.0 percent.

The AAR also reported the following cumulative totals for U.S. railroads during the first 46 weeks of 2003: 15,035,158 carloads, down 0.1 percent from last year; intermodal volume of 8,823,119 trailers or containers, up 6.7 percent; and total volume of an estimated 1.33 trillion ton-miles, up 1.3 percent from last year’s first 46 weeks.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 88 percent of U.S. carload freight and 95 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 95 percent and 100 percent. Railroads provide more than 40 percent of the nation’s intercity freight transportation, more than any other mode, and rail traffic figures are regarded as an important economic indicator.

Both intermodal and carload freight were also reported up on Canada’s railroads during the week ended November 15. Carload volume totaled 69,240 cars, up 10.0 percent, while intermodal traffic totaled 43,854 trailers or containers, up 0.6 percent from last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 46 weeks of 2003 on the Canadian railroads totaled 2,879,836 carloads, up 0.2 percent from last year, and 1,925,909 trailers and containers, up 6.5 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 46 weeks of 2003 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 17,914,994 carloads, down less than one-tenth of one percent from last year and 10,749,028 trailers and containers, up 6.7 percent from last year.

The AAR also reported that originated carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended November 15 totaled 8,241 cars, down 14.2 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 3,485 originated trailers or containers, down 14.8 percent from the 46th week of 2002. For the first 46 weeks of 2003, TFM reported cumulative originated volume of 387,441 cars, down 2.3 percent from last year, and 159,582 trailers or containers, up 13.3 percent.

The AAR is online at www.aar.org.


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QUARTERLY RESULTS...  Quarterly results...

FEC

Florida East Coast Industries, Inc. (FLA) directors declared a quarterly dividend of 40 cents per share on all issued and outstanding common stock, payable on December 18 to all shareholders of record as of December 4.


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UP

Union Pacific Corp. directors voted on November 19 to increase the quarterly dividend on the company’s common stock by 30 percent to 30 cents per share. The increased dividend is payable January 2, UP stated, to stockholders of record as of December 10.

Standard & Poor’s financial rating service said on the same day it would not change its ratings for the railroad.

“Following last year’s 15 percent dividend increase, the 2004 raise is a further indication of management’s ongoing commitment to enhance shareholder value,” said Dick Davidson, UP’s Chairman and CEO. “Despite the environment of high fuel prices and a soft economy in 2003, Union Pacific will substantially improve its balance sheet through the reduction of over $1 billion in combined debt and convertible preferred securities by year- end 2003. This increased financial strength and flexibility allows us to reward our shareholders with a higher dividend payout,” he added.

S&P’s “BBB/Positive/A-2)” rating remained firm. The company said “The announcement has no impact on its rating or outlook on the company. While Standard & Poor’s generally views dividend payments as negatives for bondholders, the dividend increase (approximately $70 million on an annualized basis) is relatively modest compared with UP’s strong cash-generating ability and is not expected to jeopardize the financial profile of the company.”

The rating service added, “Despite earnings pressures this year due to higher fuel prices, continuing economic weakness, and inefficiencies caused by understaffing and increased maintenance work, UP still expects to generate healthy free cash flow (after dividends) of at least $500 million.”

The S&P noted “continued strong cash generation and further improvements in the financial profile of the company could lead to a review for a possible upgrade.”


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: CBSMarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)29.3129.82
Canadian National(CNI)58.2359.58
Canadian Pacific(CP)27.0528.91
CSX(CSX)33.0534.10
Florida East Coast(FLA)30.0430.00
Genessee & Wyoming(GWR)25.2026.10
Kansas City Southern(KSU)13.2813.21
Norfolk Southern(NSC)21.0321.11
Union Pacific(UNP)63.0664.26


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

Japanese maglev train hits 347 mph

A Japanese magnetically levitated train has broken its own world speed record when engineers sent it hurtling 347 mph down a test track west of Tokyo on November 17.

The five-carriage MLX01, which clocked the previous fastest maglev speed of 343 mph in April 1999, raced to its new record with no one on board, news agency Ananova reported.

Engineers at the 11.4-mile long test track near Kofu, 68 miles from Tokyo, controlled the train remotely, said Mika Kamijo, a spokeswoman for Central Japan Railway Company.

Thirteen people were on board when the maglev set its last speed record, Ms Kamijo said.

Maglev trains differ from conventional trains in that magnets lift them slightly off the ground, eliminating speed-reducing friction with the tracks.

The MLX01 is part of a £1 billion government-financed project to develop faster trains for a country that is already home to some of the world’s speediest.

Japan’s Shinkansen ‘bullet’ trains run up to 186 mph, and have reached speeds of 275 mph in test runs.

Germany has developed a maglev train, which made its commercial debut in Shanghai last year.

The US is planning to build its first commercial maglev at a yet-to-be selected location.


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

Conrail at East Side Tunnel, Prov, RI

NCI: Leo King

Conrail is history, East Side Tunnel in Providence, R.I. is abandoned, so this photo of GP-9 7290 creeping along though the grass at 5 mph in August 1979 remains one of the last trains to go through the one-mile hole in revenue service. Later, Providence & Worcester ran through a couple of times, but they shied away from it because the track was in such poor condition.

End Notes...

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