Destination:Freedom Newsletter
Destination:Freedom
The Newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Vol. 3 No. 48, November 25, 2002
Copyright © 2002, NCI, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - James Furlong
Editor - Leo King

A weekly North American rail and transit update


A Happy Thanksgiving
and Joyous Chanukah to all,
from NCI!

Acela at South Bay Tower

NCI: Leo King

Amtrak is countersuing Bombardier in Washington federal district court over its problems with the Acela Express trainsets. In the photo, an Acela trainset slips over the Dorchester Branch diamond in Boston passing South Bay Tower last year.

 

Amtrak sues Bombardier over Acelas

Amtrak said last week that it has countersued the Canadian-French consortium that built the trouble-plagued Acela Express trains for its premium Northeast Corridor services, asking for more than $200 million in damages.

The lawsuit comes almost exactly one year after one member of the consortium – Bombardier Inc. of Montreal – filed a $200 million suit against Amtrak, charging that the national passenger railroad refused to pay for cost overruns caused by Amtrak's indecision and failure to live up to the contract, according to the Washington Post.

Amtrak's motion to dismiss the Bombardier suit was denied September 30. It is appealing. Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black said on November 21 in Washington that Amtrak had to countersue by Wednesday, the day the suit was actually filed, or lose the right to do so.

Amtrak's countersuit included no major issues that have not already been aired in public. It said all the train sets were delivered at least a year late, some more than two years late. The suit also said the trains have failed to meet operating-performance targets included in the contract, costing Amtrak millions of dollars in revenue and inconveniencing its customers.

It also contends that Bombardier's original suit broke the contract because the consortium had promised to submit any disputes to arbitration.

Amtrak President David L. Gunn said in a statement that Amtrak will continue to work closely with Bombardier and its partner, Alstom, to solve the Acela's operational problems, but "we must exercise our fiduciary responsibility and seek damages for the extensive delays in delivery and the service problems that are the responsibility of the manufacturer."

Bombardier spokeswoman Carol Sharpe said Bombardier welcomes the Amtrak action because "it's one more step in the resolution of the issue."

Sharpe said the company still thinks its claim is strong, but "we are hopeful we'll come to a settlement" before the suit ever comes to trial. She said some talks between Amtrak and the consortium are continuing. "It's time to get this behind us," she said.

The Acelas, capable of running at 150 mph, have sustained mechanical problems that have led to frequent service delays and cancellations since their introduction in December 2000.

The latest problem, cracks in the yaw damper mounts, caused all Acela trainsets to be pulled out of service for several days along with 15 high-horsepower locomotives (the HHP-8s) that were part of the same order also were pulled out of service.

After a temporary fix was devised, most of the trains returned to service. Of the 20 train sets originally ordered, 12 are in regular service, three are being held in reserve, four are in the shop for maintenance or repairs, and Amtrak has not accepted one for service. All 15 high-horsepower locomotives are back in service.


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Amtrak 170 in RI

NCI: Leo King

Eastward No. 170 zips through Rhode Island in December 2001 enroute to Boston while No. 93 continues its journey to Richmond.

Southern 1401, a Ps4 4-6-2

Smithsonian

Southern Railway’s Ps4, a Pacific steam engine with 73-inch drivers, is lighted at night between now and Christmas. The 4-6-2 locomotive faces a large window at the Museum of History and Technology. It is also expected to play a large part in the Smithsonian’s 2003 “America On The Move” exhibit.

 

Smithsonian prepares major exhibit

By Wes Vernon
Washington Correspondent

Railroading will play a major role in the big things that are in store for the Smithsonian Institution’s updated transportation exhibit, which opens about a year from now, in November 2003.

The exact lineup is not yet in place, and so those working on it are not talking about ironclad commitments. From what we have pieced together, here are just a few of the elements that are envisioned.

The exhibit’s working title is “America On The Move,” and will focus on the 125-year period from 1876 to 2000.

1876 is remembered by transportation historians as the year when folks in the small communities in and around Santa Cruz, California decided that since the large railroads would not build a train line from Santa Cruz to Watsonville, they would build it themselves. The small line started on narrow gauge track in 1881, and it ultimately proved to be the beginning of the railroad service that expanded the market for fruits raised in the fertile farmlands of Central California.

However, the grassroots nature of the enterprise was short-lived. In 1883, the little line went belly-up. It was bought out by Central Pacific magnate Leland Stanford, best known for the ceremonial nailing of the “golden spike” a few years earlier in 1869 when east and west were finally joined by rail at Promontory, Utah.

After the takeover, the Santa Cruz line was standard gauged and connected to the major rail system. That development, providing wider access to the fruit market, had an effect on the American diet, historians have noted.

In 1890, the prime mode of transportation in the Washington, D.C. area was the trolley car – or the “streetcar,” as the natives called it for decades well into the 20th Century.

Electrified trolleys – an 1883 model may be rolled out for the exhibit – played a part in the suburbanization of D.C., with an early-day focus on Silver Spring and Chevy Chase.

The old 1883 trolleys plied 7th Street from Florida Avenue to the Waterfront. Ultimately, the system expanded north beyond the D.C. line.

Southern Railway’s grand old steam locomotive #1401 – noted as the engine that pulled the Roosevelt train when FDR was in the White House, will continue to play a role in the new exhibit.

Jim Bistline, a longtime counsel for Southern, recalls having played a major role in getting that huge 1926 machine into the Smithsonian in 1961. All the others like it were destroyed, something that saddens those who value the engine’s contribution to America’s railroad history. There will be opportunities to “meet a Pullman porter and conductor.”

This time, planners envision a replica of a large waiting room in Salisbury, North Carolina. There were separate waiting rooms for the races in the days of Jim Crow.

In that connection, the museum deems it fitting to revive the story of Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown. In 1922, this black woman was spied in a Pullman sleeping compartment by a gang of thugs who hustled her off the train. The Pullman Co. had nothing to do with the gang that evicted her. She sued Pullman as a party responsible for what happens on its own public accommodations, and in the end was awarded $100, so the story goes. Museum operatives emphasize they are not preaching to the public, and are considering this exhibit purely as an accounting of a part of transportation history.

For more modern times, a Chicago Transit Authority rail car is eyed for display. The fleet from which this car is taken went into service in the 1950s and only recently was retired.

The listing is far from complete. Under consideration are videos covering such events as the dieselization of mainline railroading and electrified lines from the first trolleys – or “light rail,” as they are presently known – to a mention of the interurbans that connected rural communities to the cities in the early half of the 20th Century.

Included in non-railroad plans on the drawing boards:

The post-World War II so-called “love affair with the automobile, preceded by an exhibit that focuses on the first transcontinental automobile to cross the country from border-to-border in 1903, a Buick showroom in Portland, Oregon in the 1950s, and some attention to both lanes of the famed Route 66.

The early “Zeppelin” air transport machines as seen against the New York City skyline in the 1920s. That gave inspiration regarding air travel’s possibilities.

Commerce and freight involving all modes.

The impact of transportation labor.

A 1939 school bus is waiting in the wings for possible display.

For all of its impact on American life, transportation gets very little attention. The new exhibit might finally accord this facet of our nation’s history its due. As Smithsonian Transportation Curator William Withun told a recent Washington luncheon, “Transportation is like plumbing. You don’t notice it until it backs up.”


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McCain wants rail security; disdains Amtrak

U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), soon to have new authority over transportation matters before Congress, says that lawmakers should expedite passage of rail security legislation, and offered no reassurance for the long-term financial survival of Amtrak.

With Republicans due to take control of the Senate in January, the incoming chairman of the Commerce Committee said on November 14 he would not back substantial long-term subsidies for the nation’s only city-to-city passenger rail network.

Quoting the senator, Reuters reported, “Subsidization of forever of Amtrak is nothing that this senator will ever support,” the solon said in remarks on the Senate floor. He also criticized a legislative proposal for massive rail aid now stalled on Capitol Hill.

The commerce panel has authorization over Amtrak’s future, and McCain, a former chairman of the panel, is a strident critic of the national railway network.

He will replace Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), a champion of Amtrak and fierce opponent of Bush administration proposals to privatize the service.

McCain expressed support for the $1.7 billion homeland security bill which eventually passed, but sharply criticized a separate $22 billion bill which not only included security enhancements but substantial financial aid for Amtrak as well. That part of the measure was excised before it came to a final vote.

Rail security concerns were heightened substantially in October when the FBI alerted law enforcement officials that rail networks, including passenger service, could be targeted for attacks.

Noting his preference for the much smaller security bill, McCain said the bigger measure was misguided. “The reason we don’t have rail security is because of the desire to add billions that don’t have anything to do with rail security,” he said.

A critic of former Amtrak chairman George Warrington, McCain praised his successor, Gunn, as a no-nonsense administrator.

“I’m pleased with some actions taken by the new regime at Amtrak. The new chairman is doing a much better job at making tough decisions,” McCain said. Gunn took over in May from Warrington, who left to head New Jersey Transit.

Gunn overhauled Amtrak’s business plan and over the summer and wrested a $300 million bailout package from Congress and the Bush administration. He has also cut costs and unsuccessful ventures, and directed resources to address the railroad’s antiquated infrastructure.

Amtrak has sought $1.2 billion in federal subsidies for the fiscal year that began October 1, but that funding remains tangled in the unresolved Congressional budget process with lawmakers in the House of Representatives proposing a subsidy of $760 million. Gunn has said the House proposal is inadequate to maintain service. Amtrak is receiving a share of its subsidy in temporary spending measures – continuing resolutions – authorized by Congress until lawmakers approve the Transportation Department budget. Approval will not come until sometime in January at the earliest when the 108th Congress convenes.


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Mr. Gunn rides the rails – west and east

Amtrak president and CEO David Gunn rode the rails last week, just as he said he would (see D:F, November 11). He took a train to Chicago, and another from Chicago to California. Sacramento Bee reporter Matthew Barrows chronicled some of the events on November 17 while Gunn was there.

Gunn stepped off a train in Sacramento and it was as if a rock star has been spotted on the platform. An Amtrak employee zipped up to him in a cart and grabbed his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she gushed. “You’re just... awesome.”

A passenger in a tan trench coat gave Gunn a good-natured thwack on the back and said, “Don’t let ‘em take Amtrak away.” Another voice yelled, “Go get ’em!”

Gunn just smiled and said, “I’ll do my best,” a bit embarrassed by all the fanfare.

After all, just last year the plain-talking 65-year-old was chopping wood and shoveling snow in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, trying to enjoy the peace and quiet of retirement.

That lifestyle ended abruptly in May when he accepted an offer to take over operations at Amtrak, an honor some might say is akin to being named captain of the Titanic minutes after it hit the iceberg.

The passenger rail company has lost money every year since it was created in 1970, and this summer again threatened to sink into bankruptcy until an emergency $205 million allocation from Congress bailed it out. The ball is in the Congress’ court, but they’re out until January.

With Amtrak gasping for breath, many have said it’s high time to kill it once and for all, or at least scrap the long-distance routes that gobble the most money.

Gunn, a lifelong railroad man, has a history of resuscitating ailing transit lines, turning around systems in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., and shaping up New York City’s subway line at a time when even the most brazen city slickers were scared to use it.

He has plans to save Amtrak, too, including cost sharing, which is on top of his list. He wants to persuade states to follow California’s lead and start chipping in money for local corridor service. In the past four years, California has spent $120 million on the Capitol Corridor service from Sacramento to the Bay Area alone, and its total investment in passenger rail – $700 million over the last four years – eclipses that of any other state.

“At one point, California was the most auto-centric state in the union,” Gunn said, “and now they’re one of the most transit-and heavy rail-oriented. That’s saying something.”

Amtrak employees say the energetic Canadian is like nothing they’ve seen before.

While other corporate CEOs arrive to meetings in stretch limousines and fly across country in the first-class section, Gunn rides the rails in blue jeans and brown boots and climbs into the engine to trade train stories with the engineers.

“The other guy before him – I never even knew what he looked like,” said train attendant J.C. Adams, who jokes with Gunn about pitching in and helping make up beds. “He never even got on the train.”

Gunn took the California Zephyr on a trip from Chicago to the Bay Area [the week of November 10], and took the Sunset Limited and Crescent routes back to his temporary home in Washington, D.C.

Sitting in the Zephyr’s near-empty dome car as junkyards and pastureland glide by, Gunn said the first step toward solving Amtrak’s problems is to kick the notion that passenger rail service ever will be self-sufficient.

In 1997, Congress gave Amtrak $5.2 billion in hopes of weaning it off federal subsidies once and for all. Amtrak hasn’t come close to meeting that goal, and never will, Gunn said.

Instead, he envisions a plan in which states put up 20 percent of capital costs for local projects and the federal government picks up the rest, similar to how transit projects, such as light rail, are funded today. In addition, he would have the states pay for any operating deficits on local routes while Washington, D.C., picks up the tab for cross-country losses.

“The federal government has to treat passenger rail service the same way it treats roads, transit, waterways and airlines,” Gunn said. “It has to provide capital for worthy projects where states are willing to put their money where their mouth is.”

Gene Skoropowski, a friend of Gunn’s for 30 years and managing director of the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority, said that plan would be a boon for local rail service, which has relied on state money for past capital improvements.

In January, he said, the Capitol Corridor will add another round trip between Oakland and Sacramento, bringing total round trips to 11 and exhausting the capacity on the corridor.

Skoropowski said he’d eventually like to have 16 round trips a day, providing hourly service between the two cities from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Capacity concerns are also the thorniest obstacle for a commuter rail line local leaders want to launch between Auburn and Dixon in 2005.

Gunn’s plan, Skoropowski said, would create funding for new tracks and other infrastructure costs needed to boost capacity. More tracks would help eliminate current bottlenecks on the route, he said, cutting the time between Sacramento and Oakland by 20 minutes and making it more competitive with an automobile trip.

“It would be a massive opportunity for us,” he said.

But Tom Lawler of the National Governors’ Assn. said other states that have been getting a free ride are not ready to embrace the plan just yet. He said his group will meet with Amtrak after Thanksgiving and come back with a response in February.

“We need to make sure the trains keep moving,” Lawler said, “but (the states) have some pretty significant budget issues of their own. We’re just in the beginning stages of all this.”

California officials say that if Gunn wants a model of success to wave before Congress and state assemblies, he need look no further than the Capitol Corridor.

The service had more than 1 million riders in the last fiscal year, a 133 percent increase over passenger figures from four years ago, and has steadily added trains as ridership has grown.

According to Amtrak figures, the service loses $7.11 per passenger. The average loss on Amtrak routes is $57.67 per passenger and the long distance routes are far worse. The Sunset Limited that Gunn will take back to the East Coast, for example, loses $347 per passenger.

Still, the Capitol Corridor isn’t perfect.

On a recent evening trip east to Sacramento, the train unexpectedly stopped between Emeryville and Berkeley and the lights went out.

“Is this normal?” a woman’s voice called out in the dark.

“Yes!” several voices responded in unison.

Pat Breeding used to be a regular rider, taking the train from his home in Roseville to work in Martinez. He said delays – mechanical problems or waiting for slow-moving freight trains to pass – have become so bad that he’s considering returning to highway travel.

“I’ve only ridden the train twice this week,” he said. “My boss only puts up with so much. I know a guy who rides to San Jose and he just quit riding completely.”

Gunn said he hears similar complaints throughout the system. On his own trip out West, his train was held up coming out of Indianapolis and again outside Salt Lake City.

The biggest problem, he said, is that Amtrak has to share a limited amount of track with long, cumbersome, slow-moving freight trains – and freight traffic has nearly doubled in the last decade, according to railroad figures.

The railroads should back his plan for state funding for capital projects, Gunn said, because those improvements would help unsnarl freight traffic as well.

“The freight railroads have a big stake in this, too,” he said. “Let’s face it, we’re not going to build separate rights of way across the country.”

Passing by San Pablo Bay, Gunn says the long-distance trips like this one give him an opportunity to tour the facilities he suddenly took charge of in May.

“I want to get a good sense of how things work – or don’t work,” he said with a smile.

He said some passengers offer him feedback, one man telling him the sleeper berths aren’t long enough for tall people; the long-distance lines are mostly full of train enthusiasts or people who are afraid to fly.

When they find out the amiable guy in the blue jeans and khaki shirt is the head of Amtrak, they tend to extend their hands and beg him to keep Congress from cutting their favorite routes.

As the Zephyr nestles into its final stop in Emeryville, a voice comes over the intercom reminding passengers to make sure they have all their belongings.

It sends a message to Gunn as well:

“We want to thank you for your support. You ride ‘em, cowboy!”


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‘Gunner’ rolls on to New Orleans

Amtrak CEO David Gunn got off the Sunset Limited during a station stop in New Orleans on November 18, and visited New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal where he spoke to railroad employees and reporters.

Despite calls in Washington to eliminate the three passenger trains that serve New Orleans, Amtrak’s top executive reiterated he will fight for a Congressional budget that preserves the City of New Orleans, the Crescent and the Sunset Limited, The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported.

“Getting rid of the long-distance trains won’t make Amtrak profitable,” Gunn said.

New Orleans is served by the Crescent, which travels daily to New York through Washington; the City of New Orleans, which makes daily trips to Chicago; and the Sunset Limited, which runs a three-day route between Los Angeles and Orlando.

Although eliminating long-distance trains would save Amtrak about $300 million a year, Gunn said, the company still would be in the red because of the huge administrative cost of shutting down the services.

“There are people who think (the long-distance trains) are the problem, but that’s not the problem,” he said. “We need to keep them because they really do provide a service – but that’s a political decision.”

The trains serving New Orleans also pass through dozens of towns with few long-distance transportation options, particularly for people with limited incomes, Gunn said.

“We have an obligation to provide transportation service to people in those small communities,” he added.

Gunn said Amtrak’s “conservative” budget request provides for bare-bones operations and defers some much-needed track maintenance until the next fiscal year. The financial plan also would pay off a $100 million loan from the USDOT that was extended to the company last summer to keep it afloat, and it would help avoid a repeat of this year’s financial crisis by leaving Amtrak with $75 million in the bank at the end of the year.

A massive management restructuring by Gunn has cut the number of Amtrak vice presidents from 84 to about 20, and the company’s books have been reorganized to more accurately reflect its fiscal condition. Gunn, the former head of the New York City Transit Authority who came out of retirement on his family farm in Nova Scotia in May to turn around the troubled company, discovered $200 million in previously unknown losses in September after he sorted through the company’s poorly maintained books.

Gunn’s recent stop in New Orleans was his first since taking over Amtrak. He spent the day roaming through Union Station and nearby Amtrak warehouses and maintenance yards, where he greeted employees and talked to them about their jobs.

Amtrak worker Earl White was surprised to bump into Gunn in a locomotive cab being repaired in a workshop behind the downtown train station. “I’ve never seen a president here, and I’ve been here for 20 years,” White said.

“I believe in management by walking around,” Gunn said later. “You have to understand the physical and human reality of these places. Given all of the uncertainty surrounding Amtrak, it’s incumbent on me to give employees access.”


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Turboliner awaits tweaking, okay to go

Amtrak said last Friday (November 15) it was seeking a few final modifications to the first of seven rebuilt high-speed trains, dimming hopes that the first Turboliner would be running by Thanksgiving. The state of New York said it is waiting for Amtrak – and the state DOT is not very happy.

Amtrak spokesman Dan Stessel described the issues as “minor deficiencies,” declining to identify them. “There is nothing major wrong with the train.”

Stessel told D:F on November 21 the RTL-3s, in their railroad nomenclature, are not having mechanical problems. He indicated the train will be ready for service “in a matter of weeks.” He also said when the trains enter service, a notice most likely will come from Gov. George Pataki’s office. He inferred the problems were more political than anything else, but the trainset nevertheless is in the Super Steel Schenectady shop for further work.

A week ago, a spokeswoman for the NY DOT told the Albany Times Union the agency had accepted the first train as ready for service and was waiting for Amtrak to give the nod.

However, NYDOT does not run the trains, Amtrak does, and the passenger railroad was not satisfied, railroad officials said.

Final testing of the first trainset, which has included midnight runs between Rensselaer and New York City, began in August.

Seven old Amtrak trains manufactured in the mid-1970s are being rebuilt for high-speed service between Albany-Rensselaer and New York City by Super Steel Schenectady under a $74.4 million state contract. The state’s entire budget for the seven-train project is approximately $98.5 million, including future upgrades to the propulsion system, a stockpile of some replacement parts and consulting work. Another $140 million is to be spent on tracks, bridges and crossings to enable operation of the trains at full speed, 125 miles per hour.

Amtrak will sign off on final acceptance of the train as soon as the company is confident that no further modifications are needed from Super Steel Schenectady, Stessel said. Then there will be another brief delay while Amtrak trains the Turboliner staff.

The Turboliners are expected to shave about 20 minutes off the 142-mile trip between Rensselaer and Manhattan, but won’t be able to reach top speeds at first. Current track speeds are between 75 and 95 mph with some areas rated at 110 mph.

Meanwhile, the Albany Business Review reported Amtrak appeared to be backing out of the deal, state officials said.

In a November 18 letter to Amtrak Chairman John Robert Smith, State Transportation Commissioner Joseph H. Boardman complained that Amtrak is no longer interested in upholding its part of a deal which was supposed to return seven rebuilt Turbotrains in service.

“Amtrak’s actions call into question Amtrak’s commitment to deliver a quality passenger service to New Yorkers,” the letter said. “Amtrak is consumed with its survival, and is no longer focused on the nation’s intercity rail passenger needs.”

“It is failing to honor its past partnerships and commitments,” Boardman’s letter stated.

Clifford Black, Amtrak’s director of media relations, said only that Amtrak had received Boardman’s letter.

“We will respond to it in due time to the commissioner,” he said.

Under the New York-Amtrak agreement, the state and Amtrak were to spend $185 million in a five-year effort to speed up railroad passenger service in New York. Under the agreement New York was to pay to rebuild seven Turbotrains at SuperSteel while Amtrak would upgrade track and signals.

Amtrak is more than $14 million behind in its share of the work, and has fallen a year and a half behind schedule for installing a double-track between Rensselaer and Schenectady, Boardman said in his letter. Those tracks belong to CSX.

Putting in a second track between the Rensselaer Amtrak station and Schenectady is a critical piece of the effort to put high-speed trains into service in New York.

On top of that, Amtrak now appears to be saying that it is no longer satisfied with the Turboliner trainset the state accepted.

“New York state recently received two letters signed by Amtrak officials accepting the first new Turboliner trainset, one indicating conditional acceptance, another indicating final acceptance. The state then received a message explaining that the final acceptance was in error, with a draft letter describing a new process for accepting the Turboliner,” Boardman’s letter said.

Now, Boardman’s letter said, “it appears that this retraction may be retracted!”

“Although Amtrak has contributed no money to this project, its staff is talking about reconfiguring the trains along the Empire Corridor, implying that unless all operating losses are covered, the Turboliner trainsets may never be used,” the letter said.

Amtrak is also more than eight months behind the project schedule for the final signal design and has also failed to order the turbines and transmissions for the remaining trainsets under construction at SuperSteel, Boardman’s letter said.

The program is in its fifth and final year.

NYDOT has been negotiating in good faith with Amtrak, but the passenger rail operator hasn’t done it’s share and New York wants action, said DOT spokeswoman Melissa Carlson.

Amtrak has a list of 54 items it says need to be fixed before the Turboliner can be accepted. They include rusting screws, panel cracks, loose trim, misplaced toilet paper dispensers, peeling paint, and passenger doors that are rusting at the bottom.

The Turbotrains date from the mid-1970s. Under the state’s rebuilding plan, they are being stripped to their metal shells and then rebuilt with new interiors, new electronics and controls, and new propulsion systems. The discovery of asbestos and lead paint slowed the rebuilding.

The first train set essentially has been complete for more than a year and has undergone several months of testing, culminating with a midnight run between Albany, N.Y., and New York City earlier this month.

New York wants assurances from Amtrak that it intends to honor its previous commitments, Boardman’s letter said.


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Amtrak presses PennDOT for bridge okay

Amtrak and Pennsylvania’s DOT clashed November 19 over whether it is safe for passenger trains to continue running underneath the dilapidated Fruitville Pike bridge in Lancaster, Penna., which was recently unexpectedly closed to traffic.

Railroad officials are pressing the state DOT for a written guarantee that the bridge will not collapse onto Amtrak’s rail lines or commuter cars, according to the Lancaster New Era.

They warned that any further bridge damage could force the company to “stop train traffic west of Lancaster.”

”It’s about lives, for us,” John J. Diamonte, an Amtrak engineer, told PennDOT engineers during an afternoon meeting on November 19. “We’re placed in a hell of a position.”

PennDOT is refusing to provide the safety promise.

In a separate development, PennDOT is now weighing whether to build a temporary bridge to carry traffic into and out of Lancaster City. The bridge would be open to two lanes of traffic by March, two months earlier than PennDOT’s other construction alternatives.

The bridge was closed to traffic on November 12 after inspectors discovered that cracks in a support pier underneath it had widened. The pier, which stands between Amtrak’s four tracks, holds up the Fruitville Pike bridge.

Railroad officials said they are worried that the pier could fail and send the bridge toppling onto one of their passenger trains. PennDOT said it will not provide a written guarantee that such a failure won’t happen.

”They want a letter from us guaranteeing the bridge is safe for rail traffic,” said Mike Sisson, a PennDOT construction manager. “It’s a little tough to guarantee something that’s unknown. I have no idea if it is or not.

”We told them, “You guys have your own structural engineers. If you feel it’s unsafe, then shut it down,”’ Sisson said.

The trains do not move under the bridge at high speeds because the station is nearby on McGovern Avenue. About 20 trains pass under the Fruitville Pike bridge daily, reaching an estimated 20 to 25 mph, but any vibration near the bridge could cause more damage to the already cracked support pier holding it up.

”One more failure and we could stop train traffic west of Lancaster,” said Gene Kredensor, an Amtrak official based in Philadelphia.

An Amtrak spokesman said, “We are concerned about this bridge, however, at this moment there is no immediate danger and the railroad continues to operate normally.

Amtrak engineers met with PennDOT engineers Wednesday to make sure the bridge is monitored and safe for our continued operation.

During the November 19 meeting, Kredensor and Diamonte repeatedly asked a PennDOT bridge engineer if the bridge could fall down at any moment. The engineer, Harivadan Parikh, would not make any promises.

”We can’t give them 100-percent guarantees,” said PennDOT spokesman Greg Penny. “I think if we were concerned about the bridge falling onto the railroad, we’d certainly be conveying that to the railroad.

”It sounds like they’re looking for a 100-percent guarantee. If they want to satisfy themselves, they can make their own independent assessment with their engineers,” Penny said.

”We feel that we’ve made the conditions much safer by taking the live loads off the bridge.”

Among the three options to reconstruct the bridge, most of the local officials appear to support the one that would put traffic back onto it by March.

The three options include tearing down the old bridge, abutments and piers then building an entirely new pier the full width of the bridge and opening two lanes by Memorial Day, May 26. The entire project would be completed in September 2003.

Another option is to tear down the old bridge, and rebuild it one-half at a time, opening the newly completed half to two lanes of traffic by Memorial Day. Work would continue on the remaining half. The entire bridge would be completed by September of 2003.

The third idea is to build a temporary bridge, which would be is service by March. The two downsides of this idea are that the entire bridge replacement project wouldn’t be completed until November 2004, and building a temporary span would add $500,000 to the $5.9 million project.


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Florida slipping on HSR deadline

Florida probably will not meet a state Constitutional requirement that it start construction for its statewide high-speed rail system, officials said last week.

Construction of the proposed system’s first leg, between Tampa and Orlando, probably won’t begin until mid-2004 at the earliest, a Florida High Speed Rail Authority member said. Construction can’t start until the FRA approves the project, which isn’t expected until at least April 2004, officials said. That would be well beyond the November 2003 deadline contained in the constitutional amendment that voters passed in 2000 according to the Bradenton Herald of November 14.

“It’s a long shot” that the state will meet the deadline, authority member James A. “Skip” Fowler acknowledged during a media briefing at the Orange County Convention Center.

Authority members have known “almost since the start” that construction wouldn’t begin by the constitutional deadline, said Norman Mansour of Anna Maria, an authority member. Because of that, the authority last year determined that construction would officially begin upon the signing of a construction contract, he said.

“We believe that fulfills the spirit of the law as well as the letter of the law,” said Mansour, who was not at the media briefing. “Our legal advisers have agreed with that all along.”

That interpretation could face legal and political challenges, opponents of the amendment said.

“I think there could be lawsuits as a result,” said Donald Crane, president of Floridians for Better Transportation, which opposed using the state constitution to mandate the rail system. “If the authority pushes too hard, there could be some legislators offering amendments to strike down high-speed rail.”

Opponents also question whether “backdating” the construction contract, as state officials are proposing to do, would satisfy the constitutional deadline. The state’s schedule calls for executing the contract in May 2004. The state will probably begin construction by mid-2004, one year later than required by the amendment, with the system open to passengers by 2008.

Plans call for first building the Tampa-Orlando leg for an estimated $1.5 billion, followed by an extension to St. Petersburg. Service between Tampa and Orlando would start in late 2008.

Fowler said he’s not sure if high-speed trains capable of going 120 mph should be running the short trip between Tampa and St. Petersburg.

“How far apart is Tampa and St. Petersburg? Six miles?” he said. “Why put in high-speed rail for six miles? Those are commuters, not high-speed rail riders.”

He also said high-speed rail service would require building a $400 million to $500 million bridge over Tampa Bay because the three existing highway bridges could not handle the added weight.

Mansour said the rail authority has not discussed that segment in-depth nor made any decisions, but plans to operate under the premise the amendment requires high-speed service between Tampa and St. Petersburg.

The state also plans an Orlando-to-Miami line, with construction starting in early 2006 and trains operating on it in late 2010. The estimated construction cost is $6 billion to $8 billion.

State officials hope the federal government foots at least half the bill, with whichever private firm chosen to run the trains contributing at least 10 percent.

“’Much like an airport, the state and federal governments would provide the basic infrastructure, and the operator would cover operations and maintenance,” Fowler said.

Meanwhile, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE) – which could have a major stake in the eventual outcome – reported on its web site that as a group of international consortia prepare bids to run the state’s high-speed rail project, a local feud over its route shows no sign of ending, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Orange County officials want the system to run from Orlando International Airport to the Orange County Convention Center via the Bee Line Expressway, State Road 528. From there, it would shoot down Interstate 4 on its way to Tampa.

Walt Disney World officials want the line to run along State Road 417, the Central Florida GreeneWay, skipping the convention center. The convention center area, company officials say, would be better served by light rail linking it to the airport, Disney and downtown Orlando. County officials don’t dismiss light rail, but they are loath to give up a high-speed link to the airport. The line will eventually connect to Miami, and, many years from now, to Jacksonville and Tallahassee.

Orange County Chairman Rich Crotty says the Bee Line route to the convention center “makes the most sense” given that the center is a huge public facility located in the heart of the tourist district, an area he calls “Downtown Orange County.”

The vice-president of the Peabody hotel has been even more pointed. In an October 29 letter, Alan Villaverde said not serving the convention center with high-speed rail would be “unconscionable.”

Disney officials counter that building high-speed rail between the airport and International Drive would chew up right of way, which would make it difficult to build light rail, a more useful type for locals. High-speed rail, they say, should be kept to the GreeneWay.

The constitutional amendment requires officials to build a high-speed rail system serving Florida’s five largest urban areas.

The Naples Daily News pointed out it will be years before the high-speed rail reaches Naples and Fort Myers. Those two cities are not in the first two phases of the state’s high-speed rail plan.

“I think we’ve bitten off as much as we can chew now,” said Mansour in explaining why Naples, Fort Myers and cities like Jacksonville and Tallahassee are not in the first two phases of the state plan.

That first phase will also see the state construct a rail line from Tampa to St. Petersburg. That line would be completed in 2009 after construction begins in 2005.

The next phase would build the high-sped line from Orlando to Miami, and most likely will pass through Fort Pierce, West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale.

Construction would begin in 2006 and be done in 2010, but the costs of the second line are undetermined.

The state’s “vision map” anticipates all the cities eventually would be hooked up to high-speed rail. Naples and Fort Myers are on the map along with Sarasota, Bradenton, Ocala, Gainesville, Tallahassee, Pensacola, Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Daytona Beach and Cocoa Beach.

“The goal is to have high speed rail hook up all of Florida,” Mansour said.

This long-range map has the rail line heading south from Tampa to hook up Bradenton, Sarasota, Fort Myers and Naples. It will then go over Alligator Alley and hook up with Fort Lauderdale.

Nazih Haddad, staff director for the Florida High Speed Rail Commission, said the state will have a ridership study completed by the end of November that will determine what the need for high-speed rail is.

Early next year the authority will begin accepting bids from private companies that want to partner with the state to build the rail line.

“We are looking for a private partner that will design, build and run the high speed rail,” Mansour said. “We’re not saying what type of high speed rail we want. We’re letting companies come to us.”

The rail system would be run as a for-profit business.

“It would be foolish to assume the private sector will do this without the possibility of profit,” Mansour said.

The cost of building the high-speed rail is still uncertain but Mansour said any company contracted to build the rail system will have to come up with a fixed, set price on how much construction would cost.

The state estimates that it will cost about $1.3 billion to construct the rail system from Orlando to Tampa as a steel-wheel, steel-rail system, Haddad said.

Florida also will look for funding help from the federal government.

“Federal funding is essential,” Mansour said. “It is also totally unknown and undefined, but we do anticipate favorable funding programs.”

The state’s goal is to have the Legislature approve a contract with a private company to build the rail line between Tampa and Orlando by November 2003. State officials say having the contract signed is all that is needed to meet the constitutional amendment requirement that construction begin by the end of 2003.

The state legislature will make final funding decisions on building the rail.

“Our responsibility is to come up with the best available plan,” Mansour said. “The legislature will then determine where the funding will come from. This will all be dealt with in the 2003 legislative session.”

The state has allocated $12 million to the Florida High Speed Rail Commission since the constitutional amendment was passed. The money has gone toward setting up the rail commission and conducting ridership and feasibility studies.

Haddad said there is a need for rail service in the state.

“We have a population of over 16 million and that will soon be 20 million,” Haddad said. “There are also 60 to 70 million tourists that visit this state each year.”

The permanent and tourist populations make it difficult for the state roads because many Florida residents drive a car.

“We are a single transportation mode state when it comes to in-state transportation,” Haddad said. “About 99 percent of the population uses cars when it travels within the state.”

The rail system should ease congestion on overcrowded Florida roads.

“The highway capacity can’t increase as fast as Florida is growing,” Haddad said. “We need to give people an alternative means of travel.”

Haddad estimates that about 10 percent of the people who now travel the roads will use the rail system instead.

The fare to travel on high-speed rail will probably be between $25 and $30. But it will be up to the company contracted to run the rail system to set the price, Haddad said.


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Commuter lines...

It’s official:

Seattle wants monorail

Proposed monorail
By Wes Vernon

It took two weeks to make sure all the votes were counted, but Seattle voters okayed a vehicle excise tax to build a monorail system in their city.

The AP reported November 19 that the measure won out by 868 votes. Some ballots were yet to be counted, but according to King County Records Manager Roger Roegner, they were just a handful, not enough to make a difference.

The vote came despite other transit votes in the Seattle area and Washington State November 5 that fared out less well (See D:F November 11).

Tom Weeks, Chairman of the Elevated Transportation Co., hailed the outcome as signifying “a great day for the city.” He traced the vote to a grassroots effort.

“It will change the face of the city forever,” he said.

Weeks and his backers got a false start on their celebration. On Election Night, when the issue was leading by 52 percent to 48 percent, supporters started toasting their success. Then came the absentee ballots, and the measure as of November 18 was trailing by exactly three votes.

Either side can ask for a recount, but would have to pay for it. The voter-approved project would expand on the one-mile monorail stub that was introduced in the city 40 years ago for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. The voters this month have authorized a 14-mile extension.

“The next step is to hit the ground running,” exulted Dick Falkenbury who sits on the Elevated Company’s board of directors.

After the votes were counted, supporters chanted “Monorail! Monorail!” but Falkenbury acknowledged the closeness of the vote.

“We’re not universally loved,” he said, “and we better prove ourselves. We better understand that we’ve got to show people that we’re going to treat their taxpayer dollars like it’s our own.”

Ultimately, the aim is to create a 58-mile system that would connect every neighborhood in the city. No traffic jams. No stop lights. That’s the way they’re selling it, with pollution-free transit carrying people to jobs, shops, and to the major league games.

Aside from the taxpayer cost, opposition to the initiative was based on arguments that miles of elevated track would mar the skyline. This has a potential for galvanizing the so-called NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) activists. That very factor was what prompted New York City at the dawn of the last century to dig underground for subways, ultimately to replace its network of elevated lines throughout Manhattan. New York subway lines today are elevated in the outer boroughs.

In the past, Seattle had a chance to vote for a subway system and rejected the idea. The city has a bus transit system, including underground lines on schedules, station stops, and infrastructure that in some ways resemble fixed rail transit. At least that is the way it operated the last time this writer visited Seattle a few years ago. The monorail presumably would connect with that.


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Two would-be MBTA operators are left

Two bidders remain to take over the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority commuter rail operations.

The MBTA eliminated Bay State Transit Services Inc. on November 21, reportedly for failing to include insurance costs in its bid, according The AP. Amtrak declined to rebid.

Bay State Transit is a consortium of British rail giant Stagecoach Group and Herzog Transit Services of St. Joseph, Mo.

That left Billerica’s Guilford Rail Systems, which gave up the MBTA commuter rail in 1986 after labor disputes and complaints from state transportation officials about poor service, and the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Rail Corp., a consortium made up of France’s CGEA Connex; Canada’s Bombardier Transportation, and Alternate Concepts Inc., a Boston-based transportation and management consulting firm whose principal is James F. O’Leary, a former MBTA general manager.

The MBTA contract with Amtrak expires next July. Amtrak has run the service since 1986. The current contract pays Amtrak $180 million annually.

The MBTA-appointed bid review committee was expected to make a recommendation Friday to MBTA General Manager Michael H. Mulhern.

After reviewing the recommendation, Mulhern will make his recommendation to the agency’s board, which will vote on the matter at its December or January meeting.

The MBTA’s commuter rail operation is the fourth largest in the country, with 140,000 daily round-trip passengers.

Elsewhere in the Bay State, the MBTA, slogging through a sharp revenue drop, added another $52 million onto the projected cost of the controversial Greenbush commuter rail line, a hike that drew a stern warning from governor-elect Mitt Romney.

Confident it could build the 17.7-mile line to Scituate for $400 million just two years ago, the T now acknowledges the project could end up costing taxpayers $486 million, reports the Boston Herald.

Nonetheless, transportation officials downplayed the latest hit to the project budget.

“We’re not talking a major increase,” said Transportation Secretary Jim Scanlan. “We’re talking manageable increases and we’re hoping we’re going to lock down the project (cost) over the next few months.”

Scanlan said he briefed Romney on the situation a fortnight ago and doesn’t believe the project is in jeopardy, but Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said the new administration won’t stand for more cost increases.

“Mitt Romney will insist on effective management of MBTA capital projects, including the Greenbush Line,” Fehrnstrom said.

“He will have a zero-tolerance policy for cost overruns. Families in Massachusetts must live within their budget, and so should state government.”

Most of the increase is due to higher-than-expected costs in acquiring land, undertaking litigation and putting together final mitigation packages for the communities along the line.

While financial documents obtained by the Herald indicated a $52 million cost increase, T General Manager Mike Mulhern said that’s a worst-case scenario number.

“That’s a maximum exposure if everything goes wrong… (and) if we do X, Y and Z,” said Mulhern. “I said (to my staff), ‘Hey, I’m not doing X, Y and Z.’”

Mulhern said the actual increase will probably be around $30 million. The construction costs are capped at $252 million as part of the design-build contract awarded to Cashman and Balfour Beatty earlier this year.

“Nobody likes to see another Big Dig type of discussion, but that’s not what’s going on here,” Mulhern said.

“We’re going to push back on this number,” added Scanlan.

The chronic increases for Greenbush – which was originally expected to cost $57 million in the mid 1980s – have some predicting that Romney might seek to kill the project.

They note Romney’s strong election showing in the South Shore communities that are most rabidly opposed to Greenbush.

“I’m pretty sure that every town along the Greenbush Line that voted for Romney doesn’t want that train,” said one political observer, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

“Greenbush always had a limited constituency with a high cost... and I don’t think Romney has the luxury (of pushing ahead with it). I think the (financial) issues facing the state are too serious.”

Greenbush supporters are quick to point out the T is legally obligated to restore train service to the Greenbush corridor as part of the Big Dig mitigation package.

“This is a legal obligation that has to be funded,” said Toni Hicks, staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation. “(It) has the force of law, and budgetary constraints can’t undo that.”


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MTA faces transit fare hikes

The chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will either raise transit fares and tolls, reduce service or a combination of both, state officials said last week.

The officials said the board would be presented with three choices, each of them involving difficult trade-offs for riders reported The New York Times on November 20.

If the basic fare remains the same, $1.50 for subways and buses, “service cuts in all areas” will be necessary to repair the agency’s budget, one official said. If the fare is increased to $1.75, with similar increases in bridge and tunnel tolls, the Long Island Rail Road and the Metro-North Railroad, service cuts would still need to be imposed on nights and weekends, where transit ridership has increased markedly in recent years.

To keep service for riders at present levels, fares would be increased to $2.00, a 33 percent increase that would also be applied to tolls and commuter rail.

The news that commuters could end up either paying more or facing service cuts comes in the wake of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s plans to impose higher property taxes in New York City and to tax commuters who work in the city.

New York Gov. George E. Pataki repeated his opposition to the commuter tax plan, throwing into doubt a key component of the Mayor’s strategy to close the budget gap.


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Subway safety is major issue in New York

The security and safety of New York City’s subway stations and tunnels is the focus of a dispute between the city and the union representing subway and bus workers, following a signal department employee’s death on Thursday. Joy Antony was working in a three-person gang. There was no flagman. MTA does not fall under safety FRA rules.

Officials of Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union say that sub-contractors who have access to subway power and communications facilities are poorly supervised and do not undergo background checks. That poses a threat to workers and to the general public, the union officials said last week.

Charles Seaton, a spokesman for New York City Transit, said that subcontractors were indeed subject to the authority’s security provisions, which include background checks. He declined to discuss the provisions in further detail, citing the need for security.

Several subway workers said that they and others had complained for years about lax enforcement of the city’s safety rules. Although contractors are supposed to be accompanied by city employees whenever they enter rooms that hold power and communications equipment, many have acquired their own keys and routinely flout the rules, said Kevin McCauley, a subway telephone maintainer for New York City Transit. In some cases the contractors or subcontractors have even changed locks on the rooms, preventing city employees from entering, he said.


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No decision yet in North Carolina

The Metropolitan Transit Commission in Charlotte, N.C. agreed last week (November 20) that trains should serve Mooresville and University City, but left undecided whether light rail or busways would be built to the airport and Matthews.

It won’t make that decision until 2005, when preliminary engineering is completed on the airport and Matthews lines, according to the Charlotte Observer.

The commission voted 8-0 that engineers will study both rail and busway on those two routes.

The decision to continue studying light rail came after intense lobbying by eastside residents who want to see trains running along Independence Boulevard from uptown to Matthews. Westside leaders also support trains.

Construction won’t be delayed, and the decision shouldn’t jeopardize Charlotte Area Transit Commission’s chances to receive federal money, transit chief Ron Tober said. The only direct cost will be an extra $600,000 to begin engineering work on rail and busways instead of only busways.

After the meeting, Tober said CATS cannot afford trains on Independence and Wilkinson boulevards.

Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory wanted to follow Tober’s recommendation to build busways on Independence and Wilkinson, and adamantly opposed the counter proposal by Matthews Mayor Lee Myers to continuing studying busways and rail.

”I regret we can’t tell taxpayers what this will cost,” McCrory said. He said he expected the transit commission will approve busways on both those routes in two or three years.

The initial vote was 7-1, with McCrory opposed. But even though he had not changed his mind, the Charlotte mayor asked for a revote so the commission could be unanimous.

Dozens of eastside and westside residents clapped their approval. Even though they didn’t get a decision to build light rail, they supported the dual study, hoping trains eventually will be approved.

Myers said technology is changing rapidly, such as a new diesel train (Colorado Railcar’s diesel multiple unit) that is cheaper than the electrical-powered light rail.

The five-route system will center on uptown, and consultants estimate it would serve 205,000 to 215,000 daily riders by 2025. The fifth route, a light-rail line to south Charlotte, was approved in 2000.

It’s unclear now what the system will cost. Tober estimated his original proposal for two busways and three rail lines would cost $2.9 billion, but building rail on all five routes would raise that cost to $3.9 billion.


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Light-rail service began last week

When Garland, Texas’ two light-rail stations open last Monday, riders had the opportunity to be first in a long line. Dallas Area Rapid Transit officials say that by the end of 2003, an average of 1,409 passengers will board trains at the Forest-Jupiter Station each weekday, and that 1,982 will do the same at downtown Garland.

Mayor Bob Day told dignitaries gathered for the ribbon-cutting that having freeways on the outskirts of Garland had created a transportation doughnut and that light rail’s blue line would fill the hole, according to The Dallas Morning News.

“I think you will see people riding trains into downtown Garland as well as riding them from Garland into Dallas,” Day said.

The first train was scheduled to arrive at the downtown Garland station at 5:03 a.m. and depart at 5:08 a.m.

The trains will run from 5 a.m. to midnight daily, departing every 10 minutes during weekday rush hours and every 15 to 20 minutes at midday, evenings and weekends. Travel time from downtown Garland to the West End station in downtown Dallas is 32 minutes.


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Texas county may join rail network

An upstart group of small local governments wants Harris County, Texas, to join its campaign to build a high-speed rail line that would run through College Station and Houston and shoot into East Texas, according to the Houston Chronicle of November 18.

Commissioners Court was to decide last week whether to join the Texas High-speed Rail and Transportation Corp., a group started last month by College Station officials who want to be a part of any rail network federal and state leaders cobble together.

The group, which will be chaired by County Judge Robert Eckels, is proposing high-speed rail routes for freight and passengers not included in Gov. Rick Perry’s $183 billion Trans Texas Corridor proposal or in any plans federal officials are considering.

“Local governments have to make sure they’re on the ground floor of this planning,” said College Station City Councilman John Happ, vice chairman of the group and chairman of that city’s transportation committee.

From Harris County’s perspective, Eckels said, spending $150,000 a year in dues to be a part of the group makes sense. He said it would help link Houston and the Dallas-Fort Worth area by high-speed rail and provide needed routes between Houston and the Brazos Valley.

The more rail plans the county can be a part of, Eckels said, the better.

The Trans Texas Corridor pushed by Perry and state officials could take as long as 50 years to become reality. It would include a 4,000-mile network of tollways, pipelines and high-speed rail using common right-of-way and linking urban and rural areas.

Eckels said that plan routes new lines around cities, not into them. Federal plans under consideration call for one route between the Dallas area, Austin and San Antonio and another from Houston to New Orleans, with no linkage between the two.

The plan pushed by the College Station group would add another piece to the puzzle, officials said, by making other cities part of the network. It could provide a link from Houston to the proposed federal lines connecting other major Texas cities.

It calls for a line from the Killeen-Temple area through the Brazos Valley and into Bryan and College Station. It would then go to Houston, Beaumont and Port Arthur.

College Station residents feel they were unfairly left out when freeways such as Interstate 45 were built years ago, Happ said, making participation in high-speed rail projects vital.

Happ said Harris County is the first large county the group has approached.


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Perth Amboy claims trains derail
ferry service over Raritan River

A ferry ride from the Raritan River out to the bay, under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and up New York Harbor to Manhattan would be breathtaking on all but the most dismal days.

Certainly it’s more scenic and less stressful than traveling overland up New Jersey’s “Chemical Coast,” either bumper-to-bumper on the New Jersey Turnpike or standing on a New Jersey Transit train, states an AP dispatch of last week, but Perth Amboy officials, who believe ferry service is important to attracting development and ensuring the success of $1 billion in projects already under way, say the transit agency’s lack of cooperation has scuttled ferry plans.

The problem is a low railroad bridge that crosses the Raritan River just west of the bay. When the bridge is down, river traffic is blocked.

During a transit board meeting last week, Mayor Joseph Vas accused the agency of failing to return his calls or written communications for two years. Vas wants to develop a coordinated schedule of train crossings and bridge openings to allow both rail and ferry service during rush hour.

“Mr. Executive Director, I’m very disappointed that you haven’t reached out to me,” Vas said, addressing the agency’s top administrator, George Warrington. “Is it that you don’t want to see our ferry service? There can be no other explanation.”

Warrington denied his trains are competing with ferries, but Perth Amboy offers the region’s starkest example yet in which ferry and rail service have been pitted against one another since September 11, 2001.

Ferries have multiplied in the waters surrounding Manhattan in recent years, particularly since the terrorist attacks. The World Trade Center PATH station remains closed, and many commuters discovered water travel while the Holland and Lincoln tunnels were temporarily shut down.

New York Waterway, which controls 90 percent of New York Harbor’s ferry business, has seen daily ridership double to 67,000 since the attacks. Peak train ridership also increased for some of the same reasons.

Anthony Cappaze, chief executive of the ferry’s would-be operator, Lighthouse Fast Ferry Inc., said plans are for three trips from Perth Amboy to Pier 11 in Manhattan each morning, at 6, 6:45 and about 8 a.m. Newark-bound trains pass over the bridge moments before arriving in Perth Amboy, which has regularly scheduled morning peak stops at 5:16, 6:12, 6:35, 7:20, 7:38, 8:08, 8:49, 9:02 a.m.

Cappaze plans five or six return ferry trips for more flexible evening travel. Trains make four stops in Perth Amboy during the evening rush.

“We can adjust to their schedule,” Cappaze said.

Opening and closing the bridge takes at least 12 minutes, an eternity to people trying to make trains run on time.

“Generally, bridge openings at peak periods make railroad operators anxious,” Warrington said, but he pledged to discuss the issue.

The city wants the ferry slip at a former industrial site just south of the Victory, Driscoll and Route 9 bridges.

A new road provides indirect access to Routes 35 and 9, the Garden State Parkway and the New Jersey Turnpike, and would keep most ferry traffic away from residential neighborhoods.

Even so, Bill Wright, a member of the New Jersey Association of Rail Passengers, said a better site would be the old Tottenville Ferry Terminal on the Arthur Kill, with clear sailing out to the bay.

“It makes no sense to have a location that is going to delay thousands of people,” Wright said.


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Conflict of interest vote?

Executive Councilor Ray Wieczorek voted last month against an environmental study for a rail station on East Spit Brook Road, placing the Nashua, N.H. to Lowell, Mass., commuter rail project in jeopardy.

It wasn’t because his son, Robert, sits on the board of directors of a state trucking organization that is opposed to the use of gas tax money for rail projects, Wieczorek said November 14, as reported by the Nashua Telegraph.

“My son doesn’t get that involved in that end of the transportation business,” he said. “He never talked to me about this subject or any other they’ve worked on.”

The council voted 3-2 against the $79,000 contract for the study on the property where the $6 million, 17,000-square-foot Nashua rail station would be. Without the study, the project cannot receive building permits.

The majority of the project, which is estimated at between $60 million and $75 million, would be paid for with federal funds, but the New Hampshire DOT has been planning to use gas tax funds for the 20 percent match required from the state.

Robert Wieczorek sits on the board of directors of the New Hampshire Motor Transport Assn., which maintains that gas tax money should only be used for construction and maintenance on highways.

Ray Wieczorek, the former mayor of Manchester, said he is open to reconsidering his vote on the project, and does not believe his son’s job affected his voting.


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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
http://www.apta.com/news/pt.


 

MARTA cuts ribbon at Lindbergh City Center

Officials of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, Carter & Associates, BellSouth, Post Properties, and the Harold A. Dawson Co. gathered November 8 to cut the ribbon marking completion of the first phase of the Lindbergh City Center transit-oriented development project in the Atlanta neighborhood of Buckhead. The site surrounds MARTA’s Lindbergh Center Station, one of the busiest stations in the system and the convergence point of the North and Northeast rail lines.

Lindbergh City Center, one of the largest developments of its kind in the nation, is underway on a 50-acre site owned by MARTA at Lindbergh and Piedmont Road and master developed by Carter & Associates. MARTA’s previously existing headquarters building also is located on the site.


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WMATA tests new farebox ticketing

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has begun testing new high-tech fareboxes that accept SmarTrip cards, marking the first step toward extending the use of smart card technology on transit services throughout the region.

WMATA began the field test Nov. 12 in all 80 Metrobuses that operate from the Arlington, Va., bus garage as part of a 90-day in-service qualification field test. Approximately 18,000 customers use these buses each day.

Based on feedback during the test period, Metro engineers will make adjustments before expanding the use of these fareboxes to all 1,500 Metrobuses by spring.

The SmarTrip card-accepting fareboxes will then be installed on 16 other transit systems.


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Behrman heads Albuquerque transit

Peter Behrman recently was named director of the City of Albuquerque Transit Department in Albuquerque, N.M.

Behrman has over 25 years of experience in public transportation, most recently as general manager of Laredo Metro Inc. in Laredo Texas. He earlier worked in transit-related jobs in Washington and Los Angeles, as well as with small and mid-sized transit systems throughout the country.He has held numerous different positions during his career, including driving a bus for the former Southern California Rapid Transit District in Los Angeles.


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Sunline introduces revenue service with hybrid fuel cell bus

SunLine Transit Agency in Thousand Palms, Calif., introduced revenue service November 6 on a hybrid fuel cell bus, powered by hydrogen and electricity. The innovative 30-foot bus, operating on a line that serves Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert, is a joint venture between Thor Industries Inc. and San Diego-based ISE Research.

The ThunderPower hybrid fuel cell bus is equipped with on-board battery packs to supplement the power to the drive systems. According to ISE Research, this technology means the bus can use a smaller fuel cell than otherwise, can make use of regenerative braking, and features an all-electric drive mode.


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California hydrogen fueling station opens

A hydrogen fueling station opened October 30 at AC Transit’s bus facility in Richmond, Calif., as part of a joint project between AC Transit, Stuart Energy, and the California Fuel Cell Partnership. Both the Oakland transit agency and Stuart Energy, which manufactured and installed the equipment, are members of the partnership.

The opening ceremonies were attended by about 200 people including U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), middle and high school science students, and local officials.

The fueling station provides clean fuel for fuel cell electric vehicles, with an electrolyzer system that uses electricity to convert water into hydrogen fuel to power fuel cell vehicles.


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‘Apnea’ blamed for trainmens’ deaths

A Michigan train wreck that killed two men last year was caused by the fatigue of two crew members who were suffering from severe sleep apnea, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a report approved November 19.

Engineer Allen Yash and conductor Jesse Enriquez, who were operating a Canadian National freight train southbound toward Detroit, were diagnosed before the accident with obstructive sleep apnea by their private physicians. Neither had been successfully treated and their conditions were not listed in company medical reports, NTSB’s investigation found.

The two men fell asleep while traveling in a wooded area near Clarkston, Mich., just before 6:00 a.m. on November 15, 2001, and did not see a stop signal or the lights of an oncoming train, the report said. Their train was traveling at 13 miles per hour when it struck another Canadian National train going 30 mph northbound for Flint. The crash killed the 49-year-old engineer, Thomas Landris, and 58-year-old conductor, Gary Chase, of the oncoming train. Yash and Enriquez were hospitalized with serious injuries, according to The AP.

Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, causes a person to periodically stop breathing while asleep. Dr. Mitch Garber, a physician on the NTSB’s investigation team, said people with the condition will feel extremely sleepy during the day and can drift off after a few minutes in a quiet or monotonous environment.

Sleep apnea also was blamed for a light rail crash at Baltimore-Washington International Airport on Aug. 15, 2000, injuring all 22 people aboard.

Garber estimated that 1 percent to 2 percent of the population has the severe form of OSA.

”It seems odd to have both members of a two-man crew with a similar condition,” said board member John Hammerschmidt.

Steve Jenner, another investigator, said Yash had been diagnosed with the condition about a year before the wreck. Despite his doctor’s warning that it could cause him to fall asleep on the job, he never followed the physician’s instructions to attend a sleep clinic.

Enriquez had been diagnosed several years earlier and was treated at a sleep clinic and given an air-pumping mask to wear at night, but he still suffered from sleeplessness and snoring, so Jenner said it may not have been set at the right pressure. The report also said Enriquez had an irregular and unpredictable work schedule that may have added to his fatigue.

The NTSB recommended that the FRA develop a standard medical form for railroad companies that would inquire whether operators suffered from sleep conditions. The board also recommended that the administration require that employees with incapacitating medical conditions tell their employer and stop working in safety-sensitive positions until they are successfully treated.

It also recommended that Canadian National require “fatigue awareness training” for its employees. The company offers its employees material on sleep problems, but does not require they read them or offer any classes on the topic.

Canadian National spokesman Jack Burke said the company will consider the recommendation. “I think their focus was appropriate that this was human error,” he said.


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Now official: Amtrak boxcars for sale

An advertisement in this month’s Railway Age makes it official – Amtrak is getting out of the freight express business. The passenger railroad is selling all its boxcars. It is also willing to lease them.

Here’s what they are offering:

In the boxcar category, there are 50 Greenbrier 50-footers, 194 Greenbrier-Trenton Works 60-footers, and 100 Trinity 60-footers.

The passenger railroad is also giving up 71 Wabash National 53-foot Plate Trailers (Roadrailers), 12 Wabash National Roadrailer Couplermates, and 33 Wabash National Roadrailer intermediate “bogies” (trucks).

“In addition,” the ad states, “the following equipment may also become available for sale and/or lease: 111 Ebenezer refrigerated boxcars.”

B. A. Hastings, who is the railroad’s material disposal manager, is handling the sales activity. Buyers or leasers can call him at (215) 349-1192 or e-mail him at hastinb@amtrak.com.


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NS makes Thanksgiving plans

Norfolk Southern said last week with reduced shipment volumes associated with the Thanksgiving Holiday, the railroad would reduce scheduled operations beginning late Wednesday, November 26. Operations will be modified through the holiday weekend with resumption of normal schedules on Monday, December 2.


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BNSF at Winter Park, FL

Dennis Snyder

BNSF run-through power hauls a fly ash train through Winter Park, Fla., last spring. BNSF and NS have begun joint refrigerator car service. BNSF has also let a $420 million contract with Alstom for locomotive repairs.

 

BNSF-NS start joint reefer service

The Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Ry. Co. and Norfolk Southern Ry. Co. last week agreed to a plan to introduce a new coast-to-coast “carload service assurance program for temperature-controlled commodities” moving from selected cities in the Pacific Northwest (PNW), to the Midwest, Northeast and Southeast. The service will begin December 1.

In a joint press release, the carriers stated “Shippers can purchase service assurance for a $500 premium. For each load of freight that does not reach its destination on time, BNSF and NS will reimburse shippers double their premium ($1,000).”

Key origin and destination cities include:

Seattle, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Tacoma, Cleveland and Charlotte, N.C. Also Pasco and Yakima, Wash., and Columbus, Ohio.

“We designed the program to attract shippers who have been reluctant to ship by rail in the past,” says Steve Branscum, BNSF group vice-president, Consumer Products Business Unit.

“Consistency and speed are critical for shippers moving temperature-controlled commodities, and as we’ve continued to meet our on-time goals in these lanes, we simply felt it was time to offer shippers an incentive to try rail.”


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Chicago grade crossings are major headaches

Every day, 460,000 Chicago area motorists waste a total of 11,000 hours sitting at railroad intersections watching trains go by.

The absolute worst intersection in the six-county region is where the CSX tracks cross 127th Street in south suburban Blue Island. There, 4,615 vehicles are halted each day by the crossing gates that descend for a total of 41/2 hours a day, reports the Chicago Sun-Times of November 17.

The delays are almost as bad at a couple of dozen other rail intersections on Chicago’s South Side, in the south suburbs, and in the west and northwest suburbs of LaGrange, Riverside and Des Plaines.

At the rail crossing in Blue Island, the wait is often so long that when golfers heading home from a nearby club hear the rumble of a slow-moving freight, they turn right around and play another nine holes.

“Their wives don’t argue,” said Blue Island Mayor Don Peloquin. “They know how bad it is.”

The Chicago area’s 30 worst train crossings, as measured by how long and how often motorists get stuck at gates, are ranked in a new study by the Illinois Commerce Commission. The study was requested by Illinois’ congressional delegation to help them decide where to spend federal money on railroad infrastructure. Having figured out which of the metro area’s 1,763 rail-street intersections cause the most delays, however, transportation experts remain at a loss how to fix things. Every conceivable solution, such as running the tracks over a viaduct, is expensive and likely to displace homes and businesses.

Many Chicago neighborhoods and suburbs owe their existence, ironically, to the railroads that now strangle them. More than 150 factories, shops and bedroom commuter suburbs grew up along the tracks that rolled out of Chicago like the spokes of a wheel.

The trains have grown longer over the decades and, especially in crowded urban areas, slowed to a crawl.

In Blue Island, trains often stretch more than 1-1/2 miles and creep slowly uphill out of a nearby freight yard, said Mayor Peloquin, a lifelong resident whose father worked for the railroad. Equally long trains rolling into the freight yard often grind to a halt as their cars are shuffled and sorted.

Half-hour waits for a train to move are not uncommon and, as a result, life in Blue Island can take on a frustrating rhythm.

“It seems like even when you’re walking the dog you’ve got to wait for the train,” said Blue Island resident Pauline Bialek. “You have to arrange your whole day around these trains. You really can’t be in a hurry around here.”

As in Blue Island, many of the worst rail crossings are near rail yards. The Belt Railway crossings east of Midway Airport, for example, feed into a yard in nearby Bedford Park.

“It’s very frustrating when these trains stop traffic out there during rush hour,” said Ald. Michael Zalewski of the Southwest Side’s 23rd Ward, where many of the Belt Railway crossings are located.

With 16 rail crossings in the ward, Zalewski said, the problem will never go away “until we get a grade separation at a couple of major intersections.”

Area
Address
Motorist delay
(hours)
Vehicles
delayed
Gate down time
(minutes)
1. Blue Island 127th2784,615269
2. Dixmoor Western Ave2223,68571
3. Chicago 130th St.
   west of Torrence
1913,962273
4. Riverdale Indiana Ave1843,053571
5. Chicago Ridge Ridgeland Ave1735,042300

It takes a train just a couple of days to go from California to Chicago, but it can take two more days to move the cargo on that train through Chicago and on its way.

Trains slow to a crawl in the metro area, rail yards back up, and freight cars must sometimes be unloaded from one train, hauled by truck across town and reloaded onto a second train.

To alleviate some of the problem, U.S. Rep. William O. Lipinski wants to establish a federal rail trust fund to funnel money to states for underpasses and viaducts at road crossings and other rail improvements.

“The railroad situation here really is a major problem, not only for the railroads, but for the city, state and people who live around the railroads, and something has to be done about it,” Lipinski told transportation experts recently at a meeting sponsored by the Real Estate Investment Assn.

Lipinski said he’d like to see the funds included in next year’s federal transportation bill, but the railroads, wary that they’ll be hit with higher taxes to foot the bill, are unhappy with the idea.

“We are opposed to the concept of the rail trust fund as it’s been presented so far,” said Paul Nowicki, vice president of governmental and public policy at Burlington Northern Santa Fe.

Lipinski insists that it’s in the railroads’ best interest to get on board – they’re the ones who lose money when rail traffic bogs down.

“A railroad infrastructure trust fund would resolve those kind of problems, not only in Chicago but in other parts of the country,” he said.

Lipinski won’t say where the money would come from, but one source being considered is a 4.3 cents-a-gallon diesel tax that the railroads already pay. The railroads would prefer to see the tax repealed.

Another option, more agreeable to the railroads, would be to tap some of the $20 billion in customs duties collected on imported goods. Proponents point out that much of the cargo delivered to America’s ports winds up on trains.

If Lipinski’s measure passes, it could provide $2 billion a year of rail infrastructure funding.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Metropolitan Planning Council, with input from local railroads, earlier this year called for public and private support for a package of improvements, including installing grade separations at the 40 worst crossings, upgrading 55 miles of highways used by trucks to transfer containers from one rail yard to another, and establishing joint-use corridors to connect yards and allow transcontinental trains to pass straight through the Chicago area.

In the meantime, Chicago can continue to boast that it is the rail hub of the United States, with a third of the nation’s freight running through the city, creating 117,000 jobs and a $3.2 billion payroll, according to the council.


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Pennsy gets $3.6 million for rail

Pennsylvania DOT released $3.6 million in state capital budget funds last week “to help five railroads undertake needed infrastructure repairs.” State transportation Secretary Bradley L. Mallory said “Economic development, job creation and safer highways are among the results of the smooth and efficient operation of our railroads.”

He added, “These grants provide the capital necessary to maintain and expand essential rail-freight operations in Pennsylvania.”

The Reading, Blue Mountain & Northern Railroad Co. has been given $750,000 to replace crossties in Bucks, Schuylkill, Luzerne and Lackawanna counties. The project will remove slow orders. The initiative is projected to create 200 new jobs and help maintain 16,000 other jobs.

The railroad will replace on the Reading mainline, the Middleport branch and the Lehigh mainline through Bucks, Schuylkill, Luzerne and Lackawanna counties, including the City of Scranton.

Mallory said Pennsylvania leads the nation with 70 operating railroads. The state ranks fifth in the nation with total track mileage of 5,600 miles.

Other recipients of the capital-budget funding include:

Philadelphia, Bethlehem & New England Railroad Co., $1.5 million, to construct an intermodal facility in Bethlehem, Northampton County to maximize rail transportation. 75 jobs are expected to be created and 25 maintained.

Livonia, Avon and Lakeville Railroad, $600,000, for a 100-mile track maintenance project in Warren, Erie and Crawford counties. The work on the Western New York and Pennsylvania mainline between Lottsville and Meadville will allow the railroad to continue service to the area, retaining 211 jobs and creating two new jobs.

Novolog Bucks County Inc., $520,000, will rehabilitate primary rail routes and yards within the U.S. Steel Industrial Park, Falls Township, Bucks County. This will support the planned growth in rail traffic and retain 150 jobs.

Redevelopment Authority of Luzerne County, $260,700, to realign and rebuild track to return the Ashley Street Bridge to service. This is estimated to create 150 new jobs and maintain 500 existing jobs.

Reading, Blue Mountain and Northern Railroad Co. The maintenance project will allow for faster scheduled service. Completion should result in the creation of 200 new jobs.


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NYRR reports healthy quarter

In its certified quarterly 10-QSB report, New York Regional Rail Corp reported dramatically improved results for the three and nine month periods ending September 30, including the company’s second consecutive positive quarterly net Income.

For the three months ended September 30, 2002 over the three months ended September 30, 2001, the carrier reported gross profit of $386,796 versus $139,056, and net Income of $5,476 versus net loss of $152,738 – a year-over-year improvement of more than $158,214.

NYRR’s directors also appointed Wayne Eastman as interim president of NYRR. Eastman had been President of New York Cross Harbor since October and has served as NYCH COO for the past two years.


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Intermodal gains continue on rails

Rail intermodal traffic rose again during the week ended November 16 in comparison with the same week last year, but carload freight was off slightly, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) said on Thursday (November 21).

Intermodal volume totaled 190,538 trailers and containers, up 5.4 percent from the comparable week last year. Container volume was up 7.3 percent from last year, and trailer loadings rose by 0.9 percent.

Carload freight, which doesn’t include the intermodal data, was off by 0.2 percent from last year, totaling 347,029 cars. Carload volume was up 1.1 percent in the West but down 1.8 percent in the East. Total volume was estimated at 29.9 billion ton-miles, down 0.3 percent from the 46th week of 2001.

Ten out of 19 commodity groups showed increases from last year with metallic ores up 20.7 percent; waste and scrap materials gaining 9.8 percent; and metals and products rising 7.5 percent. Among the nine commodities reporting decreases were primary forest products, off 13.9 percent; crushed stone, gravel and sand, down 13.2 percent; and grain, declining 10.6 percent.


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Business lines...

Bombardier reports profits in all sectors

Bombardier Inc. last week reported it turned a profit in all its segments, ranging from aircraft building to train making to recreational products.

The firm reported its consolidated revenues of $5.6 billion for the three months ended October 31, an increase of 13 percent over revenues of $5.0 billion for the third quarter last year. For the nine months ended October 31, consolidated revenues totaled $16.8 billion, a 21 percent increase over revenues of $13.9 billion for the same period last year.

Income before income taxes for the three-month period was $313.4 million, compared to income before special items and income taxes of $362.9 million for the same period last year. Net income for the three-month period totaled $209.4 million, compared to a net loss of $367.6 million after the effect of special items the preceding year. Earnings per share amounted to $0.15, compared to a loss of $0.27 for the previous year.

Income before income taxes for the nine months decreased to $792.9 million, compared to an income of $1.1 billion before special items and income taxes for the previous year. Net income for the nine-month period amounted to $530.0 million, compared to $161.3 million after the effect of special items for the nine months ended Oct. 31, 2001. Earnings per share for the nine-month period amounted to $0.37, compared to $0.11 for the previous year.

Bombardier's order backlog as at Oct. 31, 2002 totaled $44.4 billion, compared to $44.1 billion as at January 31, 2002 and $45.9 billion as at Oct. 31.

The company reported “A dividend of $0.045 per share on the Class A shares (multiple voting) and of $0.045 per share on the Class B shares (subordinate voting) is payable on January 31, 2003 to the shareholders of record at the close of business on January 17, 2003.”

The firm added, in it report to stockholders, holders of Class B shares (subordinate voting) of record at the close of business on January 17, 2003, “who have a right to a priority dividend at the rate of $0.0015625 per share per year, payable by quarterly installments of $0.00039075, will receive the fourth installment of $0.00039075 per share on January 31, 2003.”

Series 3 preferred shareholders earned a quarterly dividend of $0.34225 per share, payable on January 31, 2003 to the shareholders of record at the close of business on January 17, 2003, and a quarterly dividend of $0.390625 per share on the Series 4 Preferred Shares is payable on January 31, 2003 to the shareholders of record at the close of business on January 17, 2003.

“Bombardier's overall performance, in terms of revenue growth and profitability, was achieved in a challenging economic environment. These results reflect a higher level of activity in the transportation sector, as well as growth in the recreational products sector,” a press release stated.

Robert E. Brown, Bombardier’s president and COO, said “They also reflect a higher number of deliveries of regional aircraft in the aerospace sector, which have increased by 11 percent over the same quarter of last year. Focus was also put on free cash flow, which significantly improved during the three-month and nine-month periods of the current fiscal year compared to the previous year.”

Bombardier Transportation reported its third-quarter revenues were up 32 percent to $2.3 billion, compared to $1.7 billion the previous year. Income before income taxes was up 63 percent to $106.7 million compared to an income before income taxes of $65.3 million for the same quarter the previous year.

The increase in revenues arises mainly from a higher level of activities and from the increase in the value of the euro compared to the Canadian dollar.

This segment also holds new contract wins totaling $7.6 billion since beginning of year with an order backlog of $23.1 billion.

Since the beginning of the fiscal year, Bombardier Transportation has been awarded contracts for a total value of $7.6 billion, including $2.0 billion of new orders during the third quarter from 16 countries. In the third quarter, contracts included an order to supply 180 electrical multiple unit commuter cars, valued at $500 million, to Metro-North Commuter Railroad in New York. Also during the quarter, Bombardier Transportation signed a contract to supply 405 subway cars, valued at $508 million, to Mexico City's transit authority. The contract will be finalized once a financial close is completed.

On October 15 in Washington, Bombardier unveiled the Bombardier JetTrain(a) locomotive, the first 150-mile-per-hour (240-km-per-hour) non-electric high-speed rail locomotive designed for the North American market.

Bombardier Transportation's $23.1 billion order backlog as of October 31 compared to a backlog of $20.4 billion as at January 31, 2002, and $21.0 billion on Oct. 31, 2001.


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Alstom gets repair order from BNSF

Alstom last week won a contract worth over $420 million (about ¤430 million) from Burlington Northern Santa Fe Ry. Co. to maintain 434 freight locomotives over a 12 years.

Alstom says it will apply conditioned based maintenance, which is based mainly on the performance and reliability analysis of each piece of equipment and each sub-system. The technique should enable BNSF to achieve substantial savings on its maintenance costs.

Michel Moreau, President of Alstom’s Transport Sector, said, “We are very proud of this latest success in the U.S., which comes just after the awards, in June and July this year, of the prestigious Washington and New York metro contracts.”

In fiscal year 20012002, Alstom reported annual sales in excess of ¤23 billion and employed 112,000 people in over 70 countries.


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Across the pond...

Anger rises as Eurostar workers strike

There were angry scenes at Paris’s Gare du Nord (North Station) as thousands of cross-Channel passengers were blockaded last Monday, November 18, by union pickets on strike for a pay rise.

London-bound Eurostar trains were stuck for several hours at the station after striking French catering staff blocked platforms and stopped passengers from checking in, according to CNN.

While no trains were officially cancelled, departures were on hold as police cleared platforms and negotiations got under way between union representatives and Eurostar chiefs in an attempt to “take the steam out of the situation,” a company spokesman said.

The ranks of frustrated passengers swelled as three successive trains, the first at 6:37 a.m. failed to depart.

A spokesman for Eurostar said one train finally left Paris at 12:30 p.m. local time.

The strike was called the previous Friday by the French CFTC union at Momentum Services, the company which serves hot and cold meals and snacks on the Channel Tunnel trains, over a claim that its British employees are paid more than French ones.

The CFTC said it was also concerned about security surrounding the 31 mile (50 km) tunnel, despite improved measures since last year’s September 11 attacks.

Passengers now go through airport-style checks and have their baggage scanned before boarding.

Trains were running normally from London’s Waterloo Station to Paris, and the London to Brussels service was unaffected, a Eurostar spokesman said. However, there was no catering on trains from Paris rostered with a French crew or where catering would have been provided from London by a French staff making a return trip, the spokesman said.

The union said they wanted security stepped up at Waterloo in London and Gare du Nord in Paris, and cited a number of alleged security lapses, including stowaways in baggage compartments and stolen Eurostar uniforms and badges.

The Eurostar spokesman claimed the issue of security had only been raised by the catering staff to highlight their case.

“They have added it for good measure,” he said.

“Security is determined by the British and French governments and we at Eurostar have higher security than has been asked for.”

On the pay issue, Eurostar pointed out the cost of living was generally higher in London than in Paris or Brussels.

Eurostar, which marked its eighth anniversary on Thursday, runs up to 26 trains a day between Paris, Brussels and London, with rush hour trains running as frequently as every 45 minutes.

Eurostar awarded its catering contract in 2000 to Momentum, a joint venture between British catering giant Compass and Italian food firm Cremonini, whose staff welcome passengers on board, serve full meals to first-class passengers and run a bar for second-class travelers.

Most of Momentum’s staff are based in Britain and are not participating in the strike.

Eurostar is run by the state railways of France and Belgium and a British consortium including British Airways and bus company National Express.


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1953 accord mars Korea rail plan

The accord that ended the 1950-53 Korean War has become the center of a dispute over a key reconciliation project between South and North Korea: the re-linking of two cross-border railways.

The conflict is the latest in the troubled history of the armistice agreement, according to The AP, which was signed after two years of acrimonious talks between the U.S.-led U.N. Command and its battlefield foes, North Korea and China.

The 18-page document did not officially end the Korean War, and the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, that it created to keep the enemy armies apart, is an explicit reminder of the potential for confrontation. The border area is heavily mined and fenced, and sealed off from most Koreans.

The latest dispute developed two weeks ago week when the two Koreas prepared to send military officers onto each other’s side of the DMZ to inspect demining work. The demining is a prelude to the laying of railway track inside the 2.5-mile-wide buffer zone; but the North Koreans refused a request from the U.N. Command to submit the names of their inspectors and the times they would cross into the southern side. They asserted that the U.N. Command had no jurisdiction in the matter.

However, Article I.8 of the July 27, 1953 armistice agreement states that no one in the DMZ “shall be permitted to enter the territory under the military control of either side unless specifically authorized to do so by the Commander into whose territory entry is sought.”

Construction work continues in the DMZ, and it’s unclear whether the procedural dispute will balloon into a major obstacle to a showcase project of South Korean President Kim Dae-jung’s engagement policy toward North Korea.

“There is no change in the status of the dispute,” a South Korean Defense Ministry official said Saturday. He identified himself only as Major Kim.

A bigger threat to the railway project could lie in tension over North Korea’s recently revealed nuclear weapons program. The United States and its allies recently suspended oil deliveries to North Korea to punish it for the nuclear program.

In earlier meetings, U.S. officials who head the U.N. Command had granted the two Koreas “administrative” authority in the railway corridors in the DMZ. But they declined a North Korean request for “jurisdictional” authority, which would have meant armistice terms no longer applied in the corridors.

“We fully want the North side to comply with the armistice agreement as they agreed to in November 2000 and then again this fall,” said Maj. Gen. James Soligan, deputy chief of staff of the U.N. Command.

On November 16, the North’s official news agency, KCNA, accused the American-led U.N. Command of trying to disrupt the railway project as part of its campaign to muster international pressure on the communist state over its nuclear weapons program.

“The Korean nation will never tolerate the U.S. dog-in-a-manger act of putting a brake on the Korean nation’s undertaking of reconnecting its blood ties,” it said.

South Korea is not a member of the U.N. Command but supports its position. It has tried in vain to convince the North Koreans to abide by the request.

The U.N. Command comprises 16 nations that fought on the South Korean side in the Korean War, but many Koreans view it essentially as an American entity.


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Train trips throughout Asia – maybe

Train riders of the world, get ready for some great rides: Seoul to Moscow, for example, or tropical Singapore to the highlands of southern China.

Plans are also chugging along for high-speed trains in South Korea and China, lines through one-time war zones and within rail-less Laos, even an Asia-Europe passage under the Bosporus.

“Past cooperation has been slow, but now there is more political will and interest,” Barry Cable, a United Nations transportation expert, says of a decades-old project to link the farthest corners of Asia with Europe while developing regional rail networks, writes The AP from Bangkok.

Regardless of political backing, experts say train transport in Asia will inevitably boom this century since roads simply won’t be able to carry the mounting traffic. Tourist promoters and environmentalists are likewise enthusiastic.

“The train projects will open up many tourism opportunities. They will certainly attract new business for the whole region,” says Luzi Matzig of Asian Trails, a Bangkok-based tourist agency that has pioneered travel to remoter areas of Southeast Asia.

When complete, an envisioned trans-Asian railway is to encompass two major east-west flows: A northern corridor will link the Korean peninsula to Moscow and the eastern gates of Europe. A southern route is to run from Bangladesh across India, Pakistan and Iran and on to Istanbul, Turkey. A tunnel under the Bosporus would make the Asia-Europe connection. Both routes would be coupled to Southeast Asia.

A major regional initiative, first proposed by Malaysia in 1995, calls for a 3,344-mile line from Singapore at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula to Kunming, capital of China’s southernmost province of Yunnan. Spurs to Myanmar and within Laos, which does not yet have a single foot of track, would be part of the project, which is being pushed by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The project is viewed as a vehicle to better bind the economies of the region and provide southern China with easier access to the sea and to markets in the region.

Honorio R. Vitasa of the ASEAN Secretariat says the major challenge facing the Singapore-Kunming line, which would take a decade to complete, is attracting some $2.5 billion in needed funds.

Rickety old tracks need rehabilitation, and 267 miles of gaps in Cambodia will have to be filled before a Singapore-Kuala Lumpur-Bangkok-Phnom Penh-Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon)-Hanoi-Kunming journey is possible.

North Korea and Myanmar are key barriers to the dream for the trans-Asian railway, which was first proposed in 1960 and is now supported by 24 nations. In September, North and South Korea agreed to restore the 15-mile rail link through the DMZ. The last train ran through the area at the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950.

Rail passage through the DMZ would benefit both Koreas and the Russian Federation, which now relies on sea routes to ship the output of its mines to South Korea’s industries.

There are, however, no signs of progress on a railway through Myanmar, which would be crucial to a southern Asia corridor linking the region to Europe. The military-run nation, also called Burma and shunned by many Western countries, is plagued by economic problems and insurgencies, some along the proposed railway route.

The focus now, Cable says, is on moving freight in containers along the northern rail corridor. Freight on rails can travel from northern Asia to Europe in 10 days, as opposed to 25 days by sea.

Links from the northern corridor to the landlocked countries of Central Asia would be a later step.

The United Nations says that over the past half-decade, expanded roadways accounted for most of the growth in Asian land transport – but railways remained vital.

Asian trains carry about 18 billion passengers and 3.6 billion tons of freight a year over 217,500 miles of track. They employ 7 million people.


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The way we were...

Maine Central Steam

Leo King collection: Maine Central

Maine Central ran some pretty heavy steam engines in its day – fifty years ago. Consider this westward freight at Cumberland, Maine. MC’s “Class A” 2-10-2, a Santa Fe, by designation. Where is Cumberland, Maine, you ask? It is on today’s single track Guilford Transportation System freight main line route between MP 185-187 . It is also about seven miles north of where Amtrak’s Downeaster terminates in Portland. In the bigger picture, the line is south of the connection with the Eastern Maine Railroad and between Mattawamkeag, Maine along the Penobscot River (and Keag Interlocking), dead center in the state, and interlocking CPF 467 in Mechanicville, N.Y., where it connects to the former Delaware & Hudson – now Canadian Pacific – after crossing the Hudson river.

End Notes...

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

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

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

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

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


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