NCI: Leo KingComing or going, the Acela Expresses looks about the same.
|ARC mulls what it needs to do next for Amtrak|
Having just stepped off the inaugural run of the "train of the future" the Amtrak Reform Council ordered its staff to explore "all the options" of where Amtrak should go from here.
This approach is basically what the Amtrak Reform Council (ARC) is planning to fold into its annual report scheduled for late January. It is the homework assignment for the ARC staff, reiterated by the ARC members during their three-hour meeting in New York on November 16.
The meeting was held across the street from Penn Station where members of the Council had just arrived aboard the inaugural run of Amtrak's new high speed Acela Express.
ARC member Bruce Chapman was very precise about what he was hoping to get from such a staff report, that it "will, in fact, investigate all the options in detail, not just mention that they exist."
ARC member and Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist said, the final responsibility for sorting all the options "is up to us." He said he and his colleagues "ought to concentrate on what we want to see happen before the next meeting."
Chapman said critics of Amtrak "are going to have to be answered with reason, with good information and logical facts and figures. We've got to have a better scheme," he declared, as well as "some give-and-take on what (rail) labor's interest is here."
Chapman takes a jaundiced view of what he sees as the syndrome of "There may be problems, but don't talk about them because what we want is more money."
"More likely," he sees "a stalemate where you don't get more money, but you also don't get any changes." That was an obvious reference to the sort of hand-to-mouth existence, or a "slow strangulation" as Chapman put it, that has plagued Amtrak since its founding in 1971. Such progress as Amtrak has achieved has come in spite of its stepchild status in the nation's transportation system.
Chapman said the staff should not rule out considering "the privatization in some capacity that could involve substantial increase in revenues."
The report which Chapman originally proposed as a motion several months ago would go to such issues as emerging high-speed corridors, the mail and express operation, and the entire national system.
Considerable note was taken during the meeting of the change in attitude in much of the freight railroad industry about taking public subsidies. Wiley Mitchell, General Counsel for Norfolk Southern, has said in several meetings this autumn that whenever government money is ladled out to build a highway, the public sector should consider investing in the rail alternative. (See "Show us the Money, " D:F, Vol. 1, Oct. 23).
This has caused some speculation that perhaps the next step will be greater cooperation with the passenger train interests that require public subsidies to pay for operating on the infrastructure, usually owned by the Class 1 carriers.
A convergence of interests may be slowly emerging. But Ross Capon, Executive director of the National Association of Railroad passengers (NARP) told the ARC hearing that, "As I understand it, basically Wall Street is telling the freight railroads, 'You guys are not going to survive if you don't find a way to get more money, probably from public sources, into your railroad.'"
This has led to "different degrees of reluctance to overcome within the freight railroad industry" to accept public subsidies; but, Capon added, he was not holding his breath "for an overwhelming convergence of Amtrak's needs and where that money goes because (the NS tracks paralleling the I-81 corridor cited by NS's Mitchell as an example of where public money could be invested) is actually a freight corridor," with no passenger traffic.
Nonetheless, Amtrak Reform Council Chairman Gil Carmichael sees it as a significant crack in a firewall of resistance that has the potential of leading to greater freight-passenger cooperation in the future.
Deputy Federal Railroad Administrator John V. "Jack" Wells warned against putting too much hope in getting public funding to support a lot of railroad infrastructure in this country. He noted that many of the studies showing how this could be done have used foreign railroads as models, but that in those countries, the government owns all of the infrastructure and "operates all of the passenger and all of the freight operations."
"In the United States," he added, "you have, for the most part, privately owned freight railroads who own their rights-of-way, thus, the U.S. government does not have the same discretion."
It was this concern that led Wells to cast the lone vote at the council's New York meeting against any further study of an ARC staff paper that raised the possibility of separating Amtrak's operating entity from its infrastructure on the Northeast Corridor so that Amtrak can concentrate of what it was set up to do: run the trains.
Wells, who represented USDOT Secretary Rodney Slater on the council, stated he thought the whole idea of separating out infrastructure from operations was "leading down a blind alley."
But by 10-to-1 vote, the council instructed the ARC staff to draft a report on the NEC study that takes into account objections received from the FRA, Amtrak, and NARP. This too is to be folded into the late January report.
In his own paper, NARP's Capon complained the ARC staff working paper "appears oblivious to political realities (in that) majority votes (in Congress) on a passenger rail entity that does not address fundamental needs of the Northeast are unlikely."
To say, as the ARC paper does, that Amtrak operates only about 100 out of the 1,200 trains per day on the Northeast Corridor, is "misleading," according to NARP, when you consider" the (total) train miles operated." Thus, the ARC staff "working paper" understates "the significance of Amtrak's presence on the NEC."
As for the assertion that commuter operators using NEC trackage benefit from paying "avoidable costs" to landlord Amtrak, Capon points out that this is hardly news, but that it was written into law.
As we pointed out in our own report on the ARC's NEC paper on October 23, 2000, the council staff does not have to face voters or lobbyists from constituencies that value their commuter train service. While the council, when it was created, was not given a mandate to ignore all political reality, it was insulated just enough to ask the "What if" questions, which is what the ARC staff working paper seeks to do. As Bruce Chapman noted during the session, ARC's job is "to break out and ask the hard, difficult, painful questions and discuss them."
Capon's NARP, on the other hand, is charged with a lobbying function that forces it to deal with the politics of everything it attempts to do, and as he points out, the last time an attempt was made to raise commuter rail costs for use of the corridor, "the Northeast was too well represented on the House committee of jurisdiction," but that the commuter operators "got the message" and "began joint capital investment projects with Amtrak" which he lists. These projects that Capon cites total well into the millions. We hope to revisit the NARP critique in a future issue.
Chairman Carmichael, himself a former FRA administrator, expressed a more optimistic view of freight and passenger cooperation.
He said he had learned that both Norfolk-Southern and the Union Pacific had said, "they are willing to share their (rights-of-way) if the federal and state governments help do the (double and triple) tracking and everything else. Now that changes an awful lot of Amtrak opportunities in the national rail passenger system."
Carmichael told his ARC colleagues, "I think the high speed corridors, or relatively high speed corridors, are coming because the freight railroad boys are willing to participate in that. They want to help and are willing to do it."
If that convergence takes place, all well and good, say Amtrak, the FRA and NARP. But unlike the "big picture" ARC, they quite understandably feel they have to deal with the here and now, facing people on Capitol Hill who don't or won't understand any of this. And going on the old adage that "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," Amtrak, FRA, and NARP will take a pass on separating Amtrak from its NEC infrastructure, at least for now.
Still, there is an emerging pattern here. It is reflected in what Capon described as Wall Street's belief that the freight carriers will have to break down and accept government subsidies if they want to stay in business. It is reflected in Norfolk Southern's demand ‚ not "acceptance," but demand ‚ that governments consider the rail alternative before they shell out billions for additional highway lanes. And it is reflected in the ARC "working paper" on the NEC, whatever its flaws may be.
Taken together, all of these events are indicators pointing in the direction of accepting some institutional solution that puts rail on a level playing field with airways and highways which have long enjoyed a publicly funded arrangement to underwrite their infrastructure needs.
If the $10 billion High-Speed Rail Investment Act passes in the upcoming "lame duck" session of Congress, and assuming the Acela Express is the success on the NEC that Amtrak expects it to be, they will be two more indicators that such a "level playing field" solution may be on the way. The pressure will grow. No one seriously believes $10 billion will be sufficient to build a first-class national passenger rail system that includes high-speed corridors. These things never happen overnight.
The council session viewed a slide presentation from its executive director, Tom Till, who noted that over the years, Amtrak's operating subsidies have been "nowhere near what's been authorized."
Some GOP members of Congress have blamed this on President Clinton who, they say, promised to back the higher figures as part of the agreement on the 1997 bill, which created the ARC and mandated that Amtrak be free of operating subsidies by October 1, 2002.
The underfunding of Amtrak operations is what Till referred to as "part of this big lie that we're going to achieve this commitment to provide service, with an outcome of self-sufficiency when what we really are dealing with is an unfunded mandate."
The council's executive director said the ARC should "come to grips with making sure that how we structure the operations, the infrastructure, and the funding sources, and the expectation of what the service is going to be all fit together into something that will make sense."
During the discussion of the issue of separating the NEC operations from the infrastructure, council vice-chairman Paul Weyrich, a veteran of Capitol Hill battles, told his colleagues that during the time he lobbied to secure Congressional support for a funding level that would keep the ARC in business, he found "much to my horror, that the image of the Amtrak Reform Council (on Capitol Hill) was rather different than the reality."
The false images that lawmakers have of the council, reported Weyrich, are that A, "We are the absolute enemy of Amtrak, that we get up every day and decide what are the ten things we're going to do to put Amtrak out of business," and B, "that we actually don't accomplish anything."
(For the history of political intrigue surrounding the ARC, see "Labor and politics find changes in the Amtrak Reform Council," D:F, Vol. 1, No. 5, May 1, 2000).
To remedy this, Weyrich suggested the council needed to "tackle the question with respect to the Hill because, after all, our deliberations are aimed at the Hill (the ARC is a creature of Congress)." The vice-chairman said the council is going to have to repair its relations with the lawmakers, many of whom appear to have had second thoughts about having created the panel. In so doing, the ARC would have to "tackle the question of who we are and re-create ourselves," and make sure the federal legislators understand the organization, "what it can accomplish, who is working there, what it is they do and everything else," in a limited time.
In dealing with a bipartisan question, Weyrich called for early "meetings with key members of Congress" involving both council staff and members.
"We know we're not the enemies of Amtrak (though) we may have differences from time to time with Amtrak," but the ARC seeks to assist and improve Amtrak.
Weyrich, a past member of the Amtrak board, has defended the passenger train company against criticism from some within his own Republican party.
He said he had talked with Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) during the Acela inaugural trip on November 16, and that she had indicated the venerable Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.) may very well be taking a more prominent role in transportation matters.
There appeared to be agreement among the members with the expressed need to improve communication with Capitol Hill. Board member Lee Kling suggested more meetings with Amtrak, as well. Panelist Chris Gleason suggested more active engagement with the freight railroads, and Carmichael said Weyrich's comments demonstrate the inherent difficulty of any oversight committee, which he said, is "always perceived as the enemy or the problem."
Left unsaid was that unlike many other entities that seek federal support, the ARC cannot afford to hire a lobbyist to keep its lines of communication open, which is why Weyrich said the panel's unpaid volunteer members will have to do the job themselves.
Greyhound Bus Lines president Craig Lynch, who also attended the meeting, complained that the plans for the new Penn Station in the Farley Post Office Building do not include intermodal provisions for his buses carrying passengers to connect with Amtrak's trains.
The council agreed to look into that.
TransRapid via Dockery Management Corp.The Florida legislature will begin deciding next March which kind of transportation system the state will build following voters' approval of a high-speed rail link to the state's five largest cities. The picture is an artist's rendering of the German TransRapid magnetic levitation "maglev" system, not yet in commercial operation.
|Rail bill headed to Florida legislature|
D: F Editor
The Florida state legislature is expected to take up in March the state's implementation of enacting the constitutional amendment to build high-speed rail service among the Sunshine State's five largest cities. The legislature meets annually for 60 days.
C.C. Dockery, 67, the prime mover behind the constitutional amendment, told Destination: Freedom he "put the finishing touches on a piece of legislation" on November 21. He said the bill will "go to the governor on how we proceed."
Gov. Jeb Bush, brother of Presidential candidate George W. Bush, Jr., killed the Florida Overland Express plan early in his administration, which began in January 1999.
Dockery said the amendment could be enacted "before then in a special session for some purpose, usually for a huge item. This will be a huge item."
Dockery, whose full name is Charles Crowffard Dockery, said he spent upwards of $1.5 million dollars of his own money on getting the question before voters "because I believe in it very passionately. I own no land or property to gain from its passage, nor does my family."
He said, "We talked about it when we went on a cruise" with his wife, Paula, and son Carl, last spring. They also have a daughter, Michele.
Paula Bono Dockery, 39, is a Republican Representative from Florida's 64th House District.
"She'll be chair of governmental appropriations," Dockery said, "and she won't have to recuse herself (regarding the high-speed rail question) because 2.8 million people say they want it," meaning high-speed rail. She is also the Majority Whip.
"Doc," as his friends call him, grew up in North Carolina, about 40 miles west of Winston-Salem, and was "raised on a tobacco and cotton farm."
He toiled eight years in the U. S. Air Force "writing and speaking as a public relations person. He started as a clerk-typist, but he got so good at writing, he said, "I was writing better than the lieutenant who was supposed to be doing the stuff."
His last assignment was writing for the 9th Air Force commander at Shaw AFB, South Carolina.
There were no railroaders in his family.
He said he started getting involved in railroading when he was stationed in Europe.
"Having traveled in Europe and all over the world, I knew that train travel was a great alternative, but I became really interested in 1984 in Florida. We were beginning to experience a real mess in our highways."
Gov. Bob Graham, who is now a U.S. senator from Florida, created the legislation in 1984 "to create a high-speed rail commission, and they were charged with creating a plan to build a high-speed system throughout Florida. I thought that could be a great alternative to vehicle traffic."
But when Graham left office, "A vacancy occurred on Gov. Bob Martinez's commission, "So I asked for a spot on the commission," and was appointed in 1987. Dockery later became the commission's chairman.
"In any event, we were making what I thought was good progress, environmentally and otherwise."
Gov. Lawton Chiles, who died in office, abolished the high-speed rail commission. Dockery said Chiles once described the commission as, "That dog won't hunt;" but Chiles revived it after three years as a state Labor department office, and "finally, the legislature, administration and the commission were all on the same page."
FOX was awarded the franchise until Bush killed the program, but "The law was still on books; it was never repealed," Dockery said.
"Studies showed it could work. Environmental and ridership studies were okay."
About three months later, he realized, "We did not have political continuity to do high-speed rail in Florida." He went to friends, among them a lawyer who said a constitutional amendment would work, and David Hill, a Texas pollster who determined voters would like it.
Dockery said he "still likes to write once in a while." He co-authored a book published in 1995, Beyond the Hill: a directory of Congress from 1984 to 1993. It was a study of where members of Congress go after they leave office. A widely held view was that most stayed in Washington as lobbyists, but he discovered that turned out not to be the case.
Canadian agency aids Acela
whileVia Rail remains wanting
John Marginson was conscious of the irony.
The irony was that the $2.6-billion Acela project conceived in 1991 was partly funded by Canadian taxpayers in the form of loans to Amtrak from Canada's Export Development Corp., and the engines and coaches were planned, designed, engineered and manufactured by Bombardier, Inc., of Montreal. They were assembled in the U.S.
Via Rail Canada's vice-president for equipment maintenance was aboard the Acela Express maiden voyage November 16.
"I'm very envious," Marginson said.
Via Rail has been forced to cut back on services and fight for every dollar of federal funding while endless talk about a Quebec City to Windsor high-speed link remains just that - talk, the Montreal Gazette reported last week.
Meanwhile, Amtrak published in its weekly New England Division bulletin order that the "High Speed Trainset (HST) cars 2000-2039, 3200-3219, 3300-3319, 3400-3419, 3500-3559, and Instrumented Car 10003 may operate at speeds up to 150 mph, but must not exceed 90 mph when air springs are deflated."
The 2009-2039 series are the locomotives. Sources said the trainsets most likely to be conditionally accepted next would be either trainsets six or eight ‚ the sets with the 2030-2031 or 2014-2019 engines.
Elsewhere in Acela-related events, the Boston Herald reported on Thanksgiving Day that Amtrak is axing 36 Communications and Signals jobs between Boston and New Haven.
"It's the day before Thanksgiving and I'm being laid off," said one C&S man.
The job cuts affect one-fifth of 155 workers who were doing track and signal work along the Northeast Corridor in preparation for Acela Express. The cuts begin November 29, the day Acela Express tickets go on sale. Amtrak said the workers would be allowed to apply for jobs in other departments or regions.
"We're not even sure if the abolishment of these jobs will result in actual layoffs," said Amtrak spokeswoman Cecelia Cummings in Philadelphia.
"There are a lot of options (for workers) to explore."
In other North American locomotive news, a high-speed turbine-electric locomotive that was designed and constructed by Bombardier with major subcontract support on the electric propulsion system from Alstom, Inc. is at the Bombardier assembly plant at La Pocatiere, Quebec, where Bombardier has a low-speed test track.
The FRA told Destination: Freedom last week, "The locomotive is complete and first operated on its own power on Nov. 9, 2000, and, so far, has operated at up to 42 mph on the plant test track."
FRA's Michael Purviance said "Early next year it will go to the Transportation Test Center at Pueblo, Col. to be checked out for operation at up to 150 mph on the high-speed test track there."
Purviance, a safety program liaison specialist and agency spokesman, added, "Demonstration trips will follow on various developing corridors, followed by sustained service on one or more corridors to fully demonstrate the equipment. The exact demonstration details are yet to be worked out."
Pennsylvania rail study funding killed
A U.S. House bill containing $5.3 million to complete studies for a New York City to Scranton, Pa. rail link has failed to gain support. The measure included a $300,000 engineering study for the Scranton to Wilkes-Barre portion of the link, and had bipartisan support from Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.) and Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), according to the Times-Shamrock News.
Specter tied the $300,000 Wilkes-Barre-Scranton project to a Senate bill that subsequently passed and went to a conference committee after the House bill was defeated. In that forum, the primary measure was cut to $1 million and the $300,000 for the region was killed entirely.
"It is a disappointment, but Senator Specter and I have agreed to continue fighting for this money, and we'll be addressing it again in the next Congress," Kanjorski said.
The New York City-Scranton project will cost about $180 million to build, and is intended to reduce auto traffic and air pollution on I-80 by giving thousands of new residents in three Pennsylvania counties an alternative mode of travel to work in the New York City area.
Meanwhile, Binghamton, N.Y. is conducting a feasibility study using a $500,000 state grant to examine the line, which passes through their community.
Thanks to Mike Rushton
|FRA gets track geometry cars|
Deputy DOT secretary Mortimer Downey and FRA administrator Jolene Molitoris last week unveiled the new "T-2000" and "T-16" track geometry vehicles, which will enable railroad inspectors to find questionable track conditions much faster and more accurately. The cars also measure ride quality to help identify areas of "rough track" in a more objective manner.
DOT did not state how much they spent for the new machines.
"The T-2000 and T-16 represent the latest advances in railroad safety technology," said Downey. "The new track inspection vehicles will help the FRA preserve and enhance rail transportation safety into the 21st century."
The T-2000, which can operate at speeds up to 90 mph and may be towed at 110 mph, will survey railroads throughout the American railroad system to assess track safety on those routes. Federal and state track inspectors, and railroad maintenance personnel, will ride the T-2000 and examine data related to severe track conditions, which could result in derailments.
The T-16, which can be towed at 150 mph, will be used for specialized inspections of high-speed rail lines, and will serve as a research and development platform to explore new inspection technologies that are currently being developed by the FRA.
The T-2000 replaces the T-10 Track Geometry Vehicle which had been in service for more than 20 years "inspecting nearly 30,000 miles of the nation's rail system, but has reached the end of its service life, an FRA spokesman said.
Both machines are tools intended to reduce derailments.
|Nevada gets a few dollars for rail project|
USDOT is sending $880 million in federal loans to projects of national and regional significance in Texas and Nevada worth $3.46 billion. Nevada is getting a few federal dollars for a rail relocation project.
The$242 million Reno Transportation Rail Access Corridor Project is getting a $79.5 million Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan to build a below-grade, 2.25-mile transportation rail corridor through downtown Reno with two mainline tracks and an access road; replace 10 at-grade rail crossings with bridges; and construct a new bridge, as well as a "shoofly" track for rail bypass during construction. The job should be done in 2005.
The Reno project was one of two jobs to receive federal funds. The lion's share went to Texas for a highway project, the $3.2 billion, 122-mile Central Texas Turnpike Project, which will extend from north of Austin to San Antonio across four Texas counties. That job should be finished 2009.
|Amtrak sells engines to Panama, report states|
According to a "usually reliable source," five Amtrak F-40PH locomotives have been sold to the Panama Canal Railway Co. and will be repainted at Amtrak's Beech Grove, Ind. Shop. The engines are 298, 326, 338, 341 and 373. They will be shipped from New Orleans, according to an unconfirmed report.
Meanwhile, nine former Amtrak cars were reported to have moved from Bear, Delaware to New Orleans and were interchanged from Norfolk Southern to Kansas City Southern via the Illinois Central on November 15. The cars are 4618, 4632, 7002, 7003, 7006, 7601, 7607, 7610 and 7612.
A contractor working in the former KCS New Orleans diesel shop reportedly will refurbish them for the Panama Canal Railway.
Thanks to Michael M. Palmieri and David Honold.
Talgo goes on-line with rail products
Talgo has launched an Internet site, at http://www.talgoamerica.com.
It offers links to most current product information for industry and consumer access, to its parent host site, and an on-line store.
The site offers "multiple venues for passengers, rail industry representatives and general consumers throughout the U.S.," the company stated in its November newsletter. The firm also reported its most recent year-to-date 2000 performance standards in the U.S. Pacific Northwest for Talgo equipment (the availability-failure rate) indicates a "99.82 percent" availability rate. The company stated that was "an unprecedented record in the industry."
Is there a station in your future?
A century-old railroad station, once known as the pride of Laconia's Lakeport neighborhood, is not for sale. If you want it, come get it - for free, but whoever claims the structure must move it from its current location at the Laconia Airport.
Back in 1992, airport officials agreed to store the depot for a year, but unless someone takes the station, it will be torn apart at the end of November so a new hangar can go up on the spot, the AP reported last week.
The station was built in 1900 when Lakeport residents complained that they deserved a more elegant structure than the old station, located in the basement of a building near the tracks. The 30-by-40-foot structure remains structurally sound, the AP reported. Anyone who wants the wood structure may call Historic Inns of New Hampshire, (603) 279-7001.)
Connecticut's Rail Commuter Council meets in Stamford on December 13 at 7:30 p.m. Topics will include Metro North new diesel switchers in Grand Central Station vs. emissions laws; Acela schedule interface with Metro North and Shore Line East (CDOT). Southwest Connecticut Business Council, 1 Landmark Square, Stamford, second floor conference room.
December 8-12 - Talgo will attend American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials in the Indianapolis Convention Center, Indiana.
December 13 - Talgo Executive Vice President and CEO, Jean-Pierre Ruiz will be the guest speaker at the Indiana High Speed Rail Association quarterly directors and membership Luncheon at the Center for Visual and Performing Arts, Munster.
December 8-11 - Talgo will attend The Council of State Governments annual meeting and state leadership forum, Hyatt Regency, Dearborn, Michigan.
Atlantic Coast Line, collection of Leo KingIt was circa 1950, and stainless steel passenger cars were all the rage after World War II, the railroads could start buying new equipment, from engines to coaches to box cars, most of which had been deferred until war's end. The Atlantic Coast Line, with their incredibly beautiful royal purple and while paint scheme, ran EMD E-6s and E-7s, tugging those spiffy new Budd-built coaches. Sometimes the public relations folks got a little carried away and retouched their publicity photos to remove grass or trackside debris, but they did okay... until autos displaced trains.
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 email@example.com. Please include your name, and the community and state from which you write.
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Destination: Freedom'seditor, Leo King, also writes for "ThemeStream," a forum for writers and readers. King's articles are all rail-related, and chronicle events over the last ten years on the Northeast Corridor, particularly in New England. Look for his articles at http://www.themestream.com under the heading "Travel," and the sub-heading, "Riding the Rails."
In an effort to expand the on-line experience at the National Corridors Initiative web site, we are planning a page where we will feature 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 Site Webmaster in Boston.
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