Vol. 5 No. 45
November 29, 2004

Copyright © 2004
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

Destination:Freedom
The E-Zine of the National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
President and CEO - Jim RePass
Publisher - Jim RePass      Editor - Leo King
Webmaster - Dennis Kirkpatrick

A weekly North American rail and transit update

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

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

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Amtrak 51, The Cardinal

For NCI: Henry Dralle

Autumn has come to the Piedmont, and Amtrak train No. 51, the Cardinal, travels over Norfolk Southern by milepost 18.3. A rarely seen baggage car is just behind the power on November 10 as it hustles south toward Burke, Va. – but it won’t stop there. The train left New York City at 9:25 a.m., and will travel over the Northeast Corridor to Washington, D.C. where it will travel through Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana before arriving in Chicago the next day at 10:40 a.m. It will have traveled 1,146 miles.

 

IG gives Amtrak a mixed review

By Leo King
Editor

Amtrak got a mixed review from the USDOT’s inspector general last week – criticism for the way it does business, but also blaming, at least to some extent, the Congress for the passenger carrier’s woes.

Kenneth M. Mead, USDOT’s IG, presented his boss, Norman Y. Mineta, with a 34-page report on Amtrak in his semi-annual task in October, and copies also went to Amtrak’s board of directors and Amtrak CEO David Gunn. The public version was presented on November 18. Mead said their comments were incorporated, “as appropriate.”

Gunn told Mead, in an October 4 letter, “It will not be possible [for Amtrak] to live within a $1.2 billion appropriation without deferring essential capital investment once again.”

Amtrak received an appropriation of $1.2 billion for Fiscal Year 2005 last week as well.

Mead explained, “When Mr. Gunn assumed management of Amtrak in 2002, he implemented a strategy of maintaining and rebuilding the existing Amtrak system. However, due to insufficient revenue from passengers, state contributions, and federal subsidies, this approach required further deferral of needed capital investment.”

In Mead’s view, though, that won’t work any more.

“While this may have appeared reasonable for a short period of time with the expectation that reauthorization would validate Amtrak’s strategy and was just around the corner, after more than two years, this approach is no longer workable. Unsustainably large operating losses, poor on-time performance, and increasing levels of deferred infrastructure and fleet investment are a clarion call to the need for significant changes in Amtrak’s strategy.”

Mead said, in short, Amtrak couldn’t continue doing business that way.

“Continued deferral brings Amtrak closer to a major point of failure on the system – but no one knows where or when such a failure will occur. Amtrak’s management must find ways to reduce its need for operating subsidies and set better priorities for its capital dollars.”

Mead offered an example.

“Programming millions of scarce capital dollars for fixing long-distance sleeper cars when bridges that Amtrak owns are beyond their functional and economic lives and must be refurbished or replaced is unacceptable.”

The reference was to three movable bridges in Connecticut, all of which are 80 or more years old. They are the Connecticut River Movable bridge, at milepost 106.8 between Old Saybrook and Old Lyme (boaters call the span, “Old Lime Draw”); the Niantic River Movable Bridge, at MP 116.7 (“Nan,” to railroaders); and the Thames River Movable Bridge, at MP 124.2, between New London and Groton. Milepost 0.0 is at New York City’s Penn Station, between former towers “KN,” “C” and “JO.”

“Since it appears that Amtrak’s management plans to continue operating the status quo system, Mead continued, “Congress needs to provide clear direction for Amtrak’s operating and capital investment priorities as well as federal funding levels in reauthorization legislation.”

He noted the directions could take a variety of forms including “a requirement to focus development on corridors where passenger rail service can make economic sense, decreased funding and elimination of certain operations, increased funding for further development of the existing system, and maintaining and funding the existing system, or any combination” of those ideas.

Gunn agreed with Mead’s assessment. In his reply to the IG, Gunn wrote, “Deferred capital investment has reached critical levels and continued deferral brings Amtrak closer to a major failure somewhere in the system. We are playing Russian roulette. Management has identified the specific projects and the schedules necessary to address the most serious problems. They are contained in our Strategic Plan and capital budget. Any significant reduction is the finding level for capital investment is quite risky.”

Mead suggested Amtrak’s directors “should exert its prerogatives and direct management to reduce its reliance on operating subsidies and minimize further deferral of critical capital investment.”

He pointed out Amtrak’s board recently took two actions” in that area, including directing management to prepare a budget assuming a $1.2 billion federal subsidy. The board also “directed management to move repairs to the Thames River Bridge to the top of the list of capital spending projects.”

Mead warned, “If these actions are not successful, USDOT should impose conditions, in accordance with the law, for awarding Amtrak’s fiscal year 2005 operating and capital grants.” Mead’s report was issued just days before Congress enacted an omnibus spending bill.

Looking at Amtrak’s fiscal 2003 results, Mead’s report explained, operating losses increased by $144 million more than 2002 levels to $1.3 billion, and its cash loss increased by $13 million to an overall loss of $644 million. Through June 2004, Amtrak’s total operating and cash losses were $945 million and $495 million, respectively.

“In fact, Amtrak’s cash loss has exceeded $500 million in each of the last 10 years and is projected to do so for the foreseeable future. This is a system that, except for a handful of routes, continues to suffer operating losses on all services offered,” he declared.

There was a glimmer of light in his remarks, citing ridership increases and getting expenses under control.

“Although Amtrak has made progress in controlling the growth in expenses and ridership has increased to record levels, Amtrak has not been able to increase revenues enough to reduce its cash loss. For example, total revenues exceeded $2 billion in 2003 on ridership of 24.0 million. Total operating expenses declined $11 million between 2002 and 2003, but they were still over $3.4 billion.

“ It is clear Amtrak cannot save its way to financial health. The bottom line is that the existing system is not sustainable at current funding levels, and corridor development (in addition to the Northeast Corridor) cannot progress in any meaningful way until reauthorization legislation is enacted. The corridors are the sources of greatest potential passenger benefits. They will go largely undeveloped as a viable alternative to congested roads and airports until a consensus is reached on Amtrak’s role and on the direction of the nation’s future passenger rail system, as well as the means to achieve them.”

Mead correctly foresaw that Amtrak would not get its requested $1.8 billion request for fiscal 2005. He based his assessment on the numbers coming out of the House and Senate before the measure went to a conference committee that merged two finance bills. He also offered an idea to the directors.

The House offered $900 million and the Senate $1.2 billion.

“It seems likely that Amtrak will receive substantially less federal funding than its requested $1.8 billion. Because of this probable funding shortfall, Amtrak’s board should request that Amtrak management prepare a budget that does not increase its already substantial deferred capital requirements, but provides for the operation of the railroad, consistent with its likely appropriation and other available funds.”

Amtrak’s board provisionally approved a budget for $1.5 billion, Mead said, which is still in excess of its likely appropriation, but Amtrak’s management “agreed to develop a contingency plan for federal funding of $1.2 billion on direction from the board.”

Gunn responded, “The annual appropriations process hinders Amtrak’s ability to plea for and undertake long-term capital projects. Lead-time for design and material acquisition for critical fleet and infrastructure projects exceeds twelve months. For example, the rebuilding of the Connecticut bridges or Northeast Corridor interlockings takes three or more years from start to finish.”

Gunn wasn’t happy about the $1.2 billion plan, either.

“Your report’s suggestion that Amtrak management must prepare a budget of $1.2 billion is troublesome. Given the nature of this business and the requirements to begin to redress years of deferred maintenance, I believe that it is management’s responsibility to inform the board and others of the minimum federal funding required for a safe, reliable operation.”

The Amtrak CEO added, “Management is preparing a contingency plan that delineates actions to be taken should Congress appropriate $1.2 billion. This plan will be presented to the Board of Directors in November.”

We don’t know yet when the directors will meet – nor if they already have.

Gunn pointed out, “It is impossible, given the structure of this organization and the statutory requirements imposed on the operation of the system, to be able to reduce the required subsidy without reducing the capital budget. Any substantial reduction in operating cost will require extensive route and service actions, and the savings will be more than offset by restructuring costs.”

He was clear about a $1.2 billion budget:

“You should be aware that it will not be possible to live within a $1.2 billion appropriation without deferring essential capital investment once again. Whatever happens, we are proud of the progress we have made over the last two and a half years.”

The entire 34-page document, entitled Assessment Report on Amtrak’s 2003 and 2004 Financial Performance and Requirements, is online at http://www.oig.dot.gov/item_details.php?item=1441.


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Amtrak numbers slip in October

Amtrak’s numbers were off the mark for October. The passenger railroad spent $252.3 million but had budgeted $247.5 million for operating expenses.

It took in $149.8 million while budgeting for $159.2 million from operating revenue.

The carrier expected to host 2.123 million passengers, but carried 2.114 million.


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COMMENTARY...  Commentary...

There’s more to Mead’s report
than the media has reported

Comments by James P. RePass
President, CEO
The National Corridors Initiative

USDOT Inspector General Kenneth M. Mead’s 2004 report, Assessment of Amtrak’s 2003 and 2004 Financial Performance and Requirements, has been widely cited to highlight Amtrak’s on-going crisis of survival. But what the media has not picked up from Mead’s report is the on-going, successful effort by Amtrak CEO David Gunn to turn around Amtrak’s long-standing culture of failure and decline.

People who wonder why Amtrak can’t make money simply don’t understand that Amtrak is actually less subsidized by the taxpayer than highways, airlines, or canals – it’s just harder to catch since those subsidies are hidden deep in the structure of America’s layers and layers of local, state, and federal tax support for highway construction and maintenance, while Amtrak’s gets voted on every year by Congress.

Unflashy to a fault, Gunn has relentlessly cut costs, removed layers of management, restructured operations, begun to compete again on ticket price, reduced corporate debt (only slightly, but any reduction under the circumstances is surprising), boosted ridership, and put back into service dozens of cars and locomotives that had been simply sitting in the repair yards. These accomplishments, in the face of overwhelming financial difficulties that are the direct result of decades of government underfunding, are simply outstanding, and deserve mention.

Mead’s report, and those that have preceded it, is far more than a typical Washington policy report. They are akin to the terrorist warnings America received for the decade before 9/11 2001, but which were ignored.

If the Congress and the Administration continue to ignore the warnings put forward by responsible people such as USDOT’s IG Mead, and by Amtrak’s CEO Gunn, we can fully expect a catastrophic failure of the Amtrak system at some time in the not too distant future, with ripple affects throughout the economy.

This might not take the form of a fatal mechanical failure or accident, although that certainly is a possibility. It is more likely to be a costly economic disaster, which will start with an Amtrak failure somewhere in the Amtrak system, and lead, like the proverbial dominoes, to failures in related or dependent systems. These would include commuter rail transportation disruptions, especially in the Northeast where Amtrak owns and maintains, and dispatches trains on, most of the Northeast Corridor that runs from Washington, D.C. to Boston.

As most of the general public and the news media does not understand, Amtrak so heavily subsidizes those same commuter rail operations, which pay only a fraction of the costs incurred by Amtrak in providing the infrastructure over which they operate, when that failure happens there is going to be an enormous bill to re-start services. At the same time we can expect massive disruptions to the economies of the Northeastern U.S. These disruptions will only be partially recoverable, because businesses will relocate to what they perceive as less congested or better-managed regions where transportation meltdowns are seen as less likely to happen. This would accelerate the movement of business to, for example, California, where rail investment by the state in the last decade has been massive, and where commuter rail trip time have been dropping dramatically.

Mead writes in his report, “The mismatch between the public resources made available to fund intercity passenger rail service, the total cost of maintaining the system that Amtrak continues to operate, and proposals to restructure the system comprise the dysfunction that must be resolved in the reauthorization process of the nation’s intercity passenger rail system.”

He is very, very right. Congress and the Administration need to take a comprehensive view toward the future, and create a rail system that works, safely and efficiently, to help drive the economy.

It must do that as an integrated part of the overall North American transportation system as a whole. I believe it is time to create a new national vision on transportation that could comprehensively identify the needs, set the goals, and lay out the steps that must be taken. Similar proposals are being put forward by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), AASHTO, and our own organization, the National Corridors Initiative. We also must begin to examine seriously private-sector initiatives that would pump billions into infrastructure, in return for a profit opportunity. While Amtrak is understandably loathe to part with control over its assets, the fact is that innovative infrastructure management proposals may turn out to be a very key element in Amtrak’s survival.

Mead writes, “The Administration is willing to provide additional federal funds if Amtrak restructures operations to focus on developing short-distance corridors (routes with end-to-end distances of less than 500 miles), targeting improvements to the services that hold the greatest potential for future passenger growth.”

This acknowledgment is consistent with modern rail service as practiced in Europe and Japan, and should indeed be the focus of the national rail passenger network. Investment in rail-based transportation for city pairs 500-600 miles apart would be a great boost to the economic growth of America’s great metropolitan areas, and help make America more competitive, and as an attractive, accessible tourist destination. There will be a role for long-distance train service in this new system, because those trains will become far less of an operating burden when they are based on a series of interconnected, well-maintained high-speed rail corridors, instead of the patchwork quilt of slow-ordered freight tracks that are now the lot for much of Amtrak’s route system. Such a program would also help cure the freight railroads’ serious capital and capacity problems, by providing publicly funded infrastructure which the freight railroads themselves can not afford.


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Not so fast, says NARP

The National Assn. of Railroad Passengers is taking umbrage with USDOT Inspector General Kenneth Mead’s findings and recommendations for Amtrak.

In an editorial posted on its website on November 22, the pro-passenger rail non-profit organization disagrees with the IG’s notion that Amtrak’s prospects for getting the funding it needs are bleak and suggests eliminating “unprofitable” routes.

NARP said it agreed that “Preservation and improvement of the Northeast Corridor and other short distance routes are vital,” but the “money which could be saved by eliminating most or all national network (long-distance) routes would be insignificant when measured against corridor needs.”

The organization, which speaks for many pro-passenger train advocates, added, “The national network accounts for about half of all Amtrak travel (in terms of passenger-miles). Eliminating that network, while preserving every existing short-distance service, would create a 21-state “system” of four isolated mini-networks, weakening Amtrak’s ability to get federal funding. Key Republican senators have repeatedly made clear that survival of the national network is essential for their continued support of Amtrak, and indeed have criticized Amtrak for spending too much in the Northeast.”

Particularly fitting that description is Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) of Texas.

“Amtrak’s route structure is already so skeletal that further major route cuts would end all service to several major cities and states and bring charges that the cut was politically motivated (a la the National Park Service closing the Washington Monument).”

NARP gave Amtrak CEO David Gunn high mars.

“Under Amtrak President and CEO David L. Gunn since May 2002, Amtrak has contained costs, improved financial reporting, eliminated mail and freight express operations with the goal of improving on-time performance, made selected service reductions, and improved its credibility on Capitol Hill.”

NARP also offered rationale why the Congress okayed a figure that nearly doubled the Bush Administration’s proposal to fund the carrier at about half the Senate’s number.

“Gunn’s efforts have reinforced the increased national awareness after 9/11 of the importance of passenger rail. Those factors, plus record ridership in fiscal 2004, helps explain why Congress just agreed to fund Amtrak at the higher Senate-passed figure of $1.217 billion rather than splitting the difference with the $900 million approved by the House Appropriations Committee and requested by President Bush.

The entire NARP document is online at http://www.narprail.org/default.asp?p=new%2Ehtm.


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Sen. Ted Kennedy and Sen. Bob Byrd

U.S. Senate

Sens. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), at right, and Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) discuss Iraq and other topics on November 23.

 

Byrd presses funding to save Amtrak

A major effort in last week’s closing Congressional session by West Virginia’s Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D) salvaged funding for the nation’s hard-pressed Amtrak.

Byrd is the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee. He fended off efforts by some House members to cut Amtrak funding almost in half from last year, the Keyser, W. Va. Mineral Daily News-Tribune reported.

The final measure awarded some $1.2 billion to the national passenger rail carrier for Fiscal Year 2005, which began on October 1, enough to keep the carrier from filing for bankruptcy and ending its operations.

A further provision permits Amtrak to establish a five-year payment schedule on a $4.5 billion capital plan supported by federal, state and other sources. In the first year of that plan, Byrd said, Amtrak rebuilt or overhauled 124 locomotives and passenger cars, installed nearly 200,000 ties, converted or upgraded 36 bridges, replaced 33 miles of signal cable and renewed power lines along 37 miles of line.

“Amtrak is working hard to improve its service and modernize its trains,” reported the senator. “This funding will help Amtrak to move ahead, yet is not enough to pay for the overhaul that is so needed; but it will allow the railroad to take the next steps in bringing its service into the 21st Century.”

In West Virginia, Amtrak now stops in a few communities, including White Sulphur Springs, Montgomery, Charleston, Huntington and Martinsburg.


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Istook derails some fellow GOPs

Deep in the transportation section of this year’s omnibus spending bill, Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.) dispensed a little appropriator’s justice, punishing 21 Republicans who wrote him a letter in support of $1.8 billion for Amtrak.

Writer Hans Nichols of The Hill in Washington, reported Istook, chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury and Independent Agencies, drastically reduced, or entirely excised, the transportation earmarks that those lawmakers were expecting to receive, making good on a little-noticed threat he issued in a letter last February.

Istook’s anti-Amtrak retribution hit several of the Republican majority’s most vulnerable members, including Reps. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.) and Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.), two Northeastern centrists who won tight races, in part, by convincing constituents of their ability to bring home road money.

The affected lawmakers did not learn of Istook’s drastic action until last week, when the bill was passed. Several of them contacted Republican leaders to inquire if they knew of Istook’s punitive action and were told that party leaders were unaware that Istook was harming vulnerable members.

In addition to Gerlach and Simmons, Reps. John McHugh (R-N.Y.) and Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) were said to be particularly outraged at Istook’s actions, according several committee sources. Upon learning that his projects were cut, McHugh came close to physical blows with Istook, according to some accounts.

Istook’s office disputed this version of events, but his spokeswoman, Micah Ledorf, said, “I think Mr. McHugh was pretty upset.”

A spokeswoman for McHugh declined to say just how upset McHugh was, or if the confrontation between McHugh and Istook was in danger of becoming physical.

“This is not the type of issue that Mr. McHugh thinks is best resolved by being in the newspaper,” spokeswoman Brynn Barnett said. “It’s something he will handle member-to-member, one-on-one.”

In February, Istook wrote the 32 lawmakers who signed a letter in support of Amtrak funding.

“A ‘Dear Colleague’ letter has just been sent to every House Member, to outline the process for reviewing the transportation priorities for your district as we develop our fiscal 2005 bill,” he wrote.

“As you submit these important priorities for your district, please bear in mind that any request for Amtrak funding, even if submitted in a separate document, must and will be weighed against your other requests, and I will consider it as a project request for your district.”

Responding to the lawmakers’ shock that their requested projects were not included in the final bill, Ledorf said, “They can’t say they weren’t warned.”

Aides to those lawmakers said they had not received any indication from Istook, aside from the lone February letter, that their projects would be axed. Nor did some of those lawmakers believe that Istook would make good on his threat.

“The fact that he cut their projects without telling them verbally and that he cut projects to vulnerables is shocking,” a GOP leadership aide said.

Ledorf confirmed that Istook made no additional effort – written, verbal or at the staff level – to inform the 21 lawmakers that their projects were in jeopardy.

“Last year, they had 32 members sign the letter, and this year it was only 21, so some people got the message,” Ledorf said, adding that she expects even fewer public supporters for Amtrak funding in next year’s process.

In their May 14 letter to Istook, the lawmakers wrote, “First and foremost we strongly believe that counting our support for Amtrak’s FY 05 budget request as an individual project sets an unfair, dangerous precedent.”

They requested that Amtrak receive $1.8 billion in federal funding. Instead it has the final catchall spending bill included $1.22 billion funding for Amtrak.

The other 17 Republicans who signed the bill and had many, if not all, of their projects stripped are Reps. Mike Castle (Del.), Phil English (Pa.), Mike Ferguson (N.J.), Scott Garrett (N.J.), Melissa Hart (Pa.), Amo Houghton (N.Y.), Tim Johnson (Ill.), Steve LaTourette (Ohio), Jim Leach (Iowa), Frank LoBiondo (N.J.), Bob Ney (Ohio), Charlie Norwood (Ga.), Jack Quinn (N.Y.), Jim Saxton (N.J.), Chris Smith (N.J.), Curt Weldon (Pa.) and Jerry Weller (Ill.).


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Hold that whistle rule, Mr. engineer

The effective date of the proposed rule from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) that allows communities to establish train horn ‘quiet zones’ will be moved to April 1 from the previously published date of December 18, according to an agency announcement in the November 22 Federal Register.

“We are firmly committed to providing communities nationwide with a fair, flexible, and workable rule that will address concerns over noise created by train horns,” said FRA Acting Administrator Betty Monro.

“We are especially sensitive to the concerns of communities with pre-existing whistle bans who want to maintain the quality of life to which they have become accustomed.”

The “Interim Final Rule” on using locomotive horns at highway-rail grade crossings was issued late last year. It requires engineer to blow their horns on approach to, and while traveling across, public highways – but the horns or whistles “can remain silent within quiet zones provided safety measures are in place at the affected crossings,” the FRA stated in a press release.

The FRA said the proposed rule “generated significant interest from communities across the country,” so the federal agency “extended the public comment period by two months. Approximately 1,400 comments were submitted for review.”

FRA had planned to issue its final rule in October, “but the analysis and consideration required of each comment made meeting that schedule difficult. The final rule will now be issued in January and becomes effective on April 1.”

Details about the FRA and its whistle rules are available online at www.fra.dot.gov.


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EMD close deal with new owners?

General Motors Corp. is near a deal to sell its Electro-Motive Division – its locomotive unit – to two private U.S. equity firms, ending more than two years of negotiations, but any agreement remains contingent upon a new union contract, sources familiar with the negotiations said on November 23.

Reuters, reporting from Detroit, wrote GM agreed to the terms of a joint purchase agreement for its EMD unit with Greenbriar Equity Group, a $700 million equity fund run by former Chrysler Corp. Vice Chairman Gerald Greenwald, and Boston-based Berkshire Partners, a $3.5 billion buyout fund, said the sources, who asked not to be named.

“I think it’s just a matter of time, days rather than weeks,” for the deal to be announced, one of the sources said.

The deal is pending ratification by the United Auto Workers union on a new contract for the approximately 800 workers at EMD’s operations in LaGrange, Ill., the source added.

The source declined to give details of the terms, but said GM would sell the business for less than $1 billion.

Officials with GM, Rye, New York-based Greenbriar Equity and Berkshire Partners declined to comment.

Electro-Motive, which employs about 3,000 workers, manufactures diesel-electric locomotives with operations in LaGrange and London, Ontario. It also builds diesel power plants for boats, oil rigs and generators. GM does not disclose financial results for the company, which it has owned since 1930, but financial analysts said it has lost money the last few years.

The new union contract is expected to be similar to deals reached earlier this year at automotive parts suppliers Delphi Corp. and Visteon Corp., which allow the companies to hire new workers at a lower pay and benefit scale compared to current employees, one of the sources said. In addition, many employees who had been classified as temporary will now become full-time, the source said.

“It really puts the company in an opportunity to compete in the market. It’s not been a core business for GM for a number of years,” the source said.

UAW spokesmen at the union’s headquarters in Detroit were not immediately available for comment. GM has steadily sold off non-core assets the last few years to raise funds to cover its mounting pension and health care costs. Last year, GM raised more than $4 billion in cash and stock when it sold off its stake in DirecTV parent Hughes Electronics Corp., and about $1.1 billion from the sale of the bulk of its defense business to General Dynamics Corp.

Greenbriar and Berkshire Partners have worked closely together in the past, having jointly invested in Active Aero Group, an air cargo company, in 2000 and Hexcel Corp., a maker of lightweight structures for the aerospace industry, in 2003.

The equity firms have earmarked more than $1 billion to acquire companies in the transportation sector, Berkshire stated on its website.

Berkshire has acquired other railroad companies in the past, including Wisconsin Central Transportation Corp., New Zealand Rail and the rail freight operations of British Rail.

Private equity firms typically buy, upgrade and sell companies in a three to seven year timeframe, applying management skills to cut costs and expand their businesses.


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Inspection of Amtrak cafe kitchen

Two photos: Amtrak Ink

In Chicago, Public Health staff administrator Bill Hamlin assists Senior Director Victor Zare as he inspects the warming drawer in the kitchen of the Empire Builder after its 46-hour journey from Portland.

 

Is it clean?

Public health is a required concern

Despite four consecutive years of steady improvements in its public health practices, a recent decline in public health indicators has led Amtrak to look more closely at cleanliness inside its dining cars, cafes, and other rolling stock.

Amtrak scores itself on public health indicators and uses these scores to assess its compliance with public health standards and the prevention of food-related illnesses, reports Amtrak Ink, the railroad’s monthly publication for employees.

The scores “are the result of 568 routine inspections of food service cars, watering points and commissaries, conducted by Amtrak’s Public Health team between October 2003 and September 2004,” Ink stated.

Ratings are based, it stated, on a number of factors in the Food and Drug Administration 2001 Food Code and as required by the Amtrak Public Health Standards, developed in 1997.

A conditional rating means that critical violations — those violations that can lead to a food-borne illness exist and need to be addressed and corrected as soon as possible. A satisfactory rating is given when no critical violations are found.

Four Amtrak public health managers uphold those guidelines for covering their regions – John Parke in the Northeast, Al Cooper in the Southeast, Clayton Pape, in the central region and Howard Malberg in the West.

Senior director Victor Zare and staff administrator Bill Hamlin directs them and their staffs. The certified public health professionals inspect 12 dining cars, a minimum of eight other food service cars along with other coaches and sleeping cars every three months. They also inspect every commissary in their region at least once per quarter. Additionally, each year public health managers are required to inspect every watering point in their region and to collect a minimum of one water sample from 20 cars and one sample from a water hydrant each month.

“System-wide, we are concentrating on public health practices in Food Service cars, particularly dining cars, where fiscal 2004 scores saw the greatest decline,” said Zare.

“Although lounge and café cars are subject to the same type of inspection, because less food handling takes place, there is less room for error,” he added.

Of the 435 food service car inspections conducted last year, 323 were rated satisfactory and 112 were rated conditional. During the same period, two of 58 commissaries and seven of 75 watering point inspections were rated conditional.

Most violations resulted from mechanical failures. Infractions that led to the conditional ratings include improper refrigerator or freezer temperatures, dishwashing machine malfunctions, toilet failures and pest control issues.

“One of the more basic practices the public health team continues to reinforce is the importance of adequate hand-washing,” Zare noted. Food service employees are required to wash their hands frequently, particularly when entering the food service car and before and after handling food. Employees learn these procedures during food-handling training, which they are required to attend every two years.

“We are known as inspectors, but we try to be public health educators.

We go out to the field and are proactive about talking to employees about the problems we are finding and teaching them how to make corrections in their daily practices,” said Cooper.

Employees should also follow the FDA guidelines for self-monitoring of temperatures,” added Pape. To fulfill these guidelines, employees should check and record refrigerator and freezer temperatures up to five times a day – when the food service car is opened, closed and once during each meal period.

Amtrak’s 14 commissaries, operated by Gate Gourmet with oversight by Amtrak contract managers of the service delivery department, are also inspected every three months to ensure that standards are met in several vital areas. At a 97 percent satisfactory rating, up from 91 percent in one year earlier, commissary scores continue to show improvement. Among other areas, in commissaries, public health inspectors make sure the refrigerator and freezer temperatures are checked three times a day and food is properly transported from the commissary to and from the train.

They also check shelf life labels and see to it that food products are properly rotated – first in first out. It’s abbreviated “FIFO.”

The water tanks on Amtrak trains are filled with water, supplied by the local municipality, before the start of the trip and en route at any of Amtrak’s 74 approved watering facilities. Although watering point scores dropped slightly to 91 percent this year from one year earlier, which had been rated at 92 percent, they remain well above the goal of 87 percent, the publication noted. Local Amtrak personnel are trained on the inspection procedures and are required to audit the watering point at their location each week.

Water on the train is also tested to ensure that it meets Amtrak’s own standards as well as those set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Random water samples are collected and sent to an independent laboratory to be tested and returned the following day. Both Amtrak and the EPA require that the water be tested for coliform bacteria, which is an indicator that harmful bacteria may be present; and fecal coliform, which is a more serious finding of intestinal bacteria.

Amtrak standards go a step further to include a Heterophic Plate Count (HPC) test, which indicates that while there is no evidence of coliform or fecal coliform, an atmospheric bacteria is present, which may not be harmful, but should be eliminated.

Positive test results are categorized by one of three levels and are accompanied by a set of recommendations for each. Level 1 is a finding of HPC bacteria and it is required that the car be drained, flushed, refilled with a bleach and water solution, drained again and then filled with water.

A level 2 finding of the presence of coliform requires the same sanitizing methods as level 1, but also requires the car to be retested after the tank is refilled with water. When fecal coliform is present, the results are categorized as level 3 and in addition to draining, flushing and re-testing, the car cannot return to service without approval from the testing laboratory.

“The good news is that no level 3 results have been found in over seven years,” said Zare.

During discussions at the Southwest Division’s Sanitation Task Force Team call held in August, Public Health managers found that the majority of food service car critical violations were attributable to mechanical malfunctions, specifically, inadequate refrigerator and freezer temperatures. As part of their investigation, the task force met with the lead service attendants to review these findings, solicit their first-hand experience and evaluate procedures for loading food in the freezers and refrigerators of Lounge and Dining cars.

It was determined that one of the factors that contributed to the refrigeration problems is the overstocking of refrigerators and freezers which obstruct the fans and ventilation system, thereby blocking the airflow within the unit.

Stuffed refrigerator

Packaged salads and pizzas squeezed into the refrigerator of the Coast Starlight Lounge car do not allow adequate air circulation to maintain proper refrigeration.

“Due to the size of the ‘par’ (the usual stocking level) and the fact that many of the items stored are perishable,” said general superintendent Richard Phelps, “the LSA is often forced to cram as much food as possible into the freezers and refrigerators.”

As a result of these findings, the task force, working closely with the Service Delivery group, is conducting a study to determine the maximum amount of food that can be stored without causing ventilation and cooling problems while serving the en route needs of our employees and passengers.

Phelps explained that the two groups are also working together to examine and adjust pars for certain trains according to usage and passenger loads. As an example, the LSA in the lounge car of the Coast Starlight informed the division that he is issued 24 salads – which take up considerable refrigerator space for his trips to Seattle.

“On many trips, he sells only about six to eight salads while on others he may sell all of them, so this looks like a prime item we must monitor carefully and adjust as necessary,” continued Phelps.

“There is no substitute for tapping into our employees’ knowledge. They have tremendous insight into what is actually happening on board our trains.”

The service delivery staff is also looking at alternative packaging methods to reduce space requirements where possible while the division mechanical people work to ensure that the refrigeration units are mechanically sound and operating at required temperatures.

“One thing to consider,” Zare explained, “is that Amtrak’s food service operation is very complex and problems are not always as simple to solve as those in a stationary restaurant. For example, a restaurant would have municipal water directly connected to the building, the same people coming in to the same kitchen day after day, regular mechanics making repairs and enough equipment and supplies to last for weeks.”

Zare added, “The water on Amtrak cars last hours instead of days, and tanks are refilled by different people at different locations throughout the country. Unlike a restaurant, we have different food service employees working in different kitchens every day. Our equipment might be repaired by a mechanic in Washington one day and in Los Angeles another,” – and Amtrak kitchens travel along rough roads.
Slicing a tomato on the go

Traveling chef Hashim Abdul-Salaam watches chefs Roger Harris and Raymond Jusay as they practice tomato-slicing techniques.


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Amtrak chef school opens; first class graduates

Challenge yourself to do better. Every time you do a routine, do it faster, more accurately. Make it taste better, look better.

A dozen dining car chefs learned this simple recipe for success during Amtrak’s Chef Certification classes launched in September at the training facility in Wilmington, Del.

Developed by Gate Gourmet and Amtrak’s Food and Beverage department, three-day chef certification classes support the carrier’s efforts to standardize ingredients, food quality, taste and presentation prepared in dining cars while still providing passengers with a variety of choices.

Using a specially designed training manual and hands-on demonstrations, the course is designed to teach all 200 Amtrak chefs the procedures necessary to ensure passengers receive the same meal prepared the same way, whether they are traveling on the Southwest Chief, the Crescent or on any other Amtrak long-distance route.

“Amtrak chefs have varying experience levels,” said Food and Beverage Director Pete Humphreys, “so we developed this certification course to narrow that gap and to provide an avenue for implementing new policies and standards that yield a higher level of consistent meal preparation and that better serve passengers.”

Humphreys added that his department and Gate Gourmet have been working since early this year to develop the training manual and pilot program. After the manual was complete, six food and beverage managers attended a pilot class last summer to fine-tune the curriculum and ensure that enough time was allocated for each topic.

The three-day chef certification class is held once a month at the Wilmington Test Kitchen, which opened in February. Construction of the test kitchen, which contains the same type of equipment as an actual dining car kitchen, was part of an overall plan to provide a site to train food and beverage employees, develop new recipes and evaluate and test new products.

“The kitchen is only large enough to accommodate six chefs and one manager per class,” said senior analyst Jack Davis.

“At a rate of 72 chefs a year, it will take about two-and-a-half years before all of Amtrak’s chefs are certified. After we’ve trained the chefs, we plan to move on to the food specialists.”

Making Pizza

Amtrak Ink

Chefs David Villeneuve and Darryl Simmons prepare pizza during the dinner preparation section of Amtrak’s first Chef Certification class held in September.

 

Amtrak has taken steps to improve the consistency of its meal service. Over the past several years, the food and beverage department has standardized dining car menus across the system, which has improved meal presentation. The fully prepared, already seasoned dishes reduce the need for additional spices and condiments that may change the flavor of any given meal.

Gate Gourmet’s executive chef Tim Costello, who has worked with Amtrak on menu development for the past four years, said, “The ability to offer standardized quality meals system-wide builds customers’ confidence in our dining services and saves the company money.”

“Now, instead of purchasing a lot of food items from a variety of vendors, we’re purchasing multiple items from fewer vendors at a better cost. For example, reducing the number of bread suppliers from five to one saved $120,000 a year,” he pointed out.

Helping Costello are Amtrak traveling chefs Robert Elder, Hashim Abdul-Salaam and Mike Woods-Hulse. They travel throughout the railroad to observe meal preparation and food handling practices and – address any deficiencies.

“The traveling chefs were instrumental in gathering information from the field that was incorporated in the certification program,” said Humphreys.

Chefs attending the first class in September met and heard railroad dining car expert and author of Dining by Rail, Jim Porterfield. He spoke to the group about the importance of their jobs to the industry and the evolution of food service on trains on the training first day.

They also watched videos from two major suppliers, Great Western Beef, Amtrak’s primary beef supplier, and Cuisine Solutions, provider of many of Amtrak’s pre-cooked entrees. Each video walks viewers through a plant tour and describes how their products are prepared.

A section on chef accountability, conducted by the service delivery staff, establishes and clarifies the chef’s key areas of responsibility, including financial accountability, inventory control and stock inspection. It also covers proper food handling, storage, meal preparation and service. A breakfast service review that comprises menu item demonstrations, such as preparing, filling and plating omelets.

In response to customers’ demand for a more substantial salad choice than the side salad offered at lunch and dinner, an entrée salad was added to the lunch menu. Salads have become a popular menu choice, so the second day of class covered proper handling, storing and serving of lunch and dinner salad mixtures. Even though the chef is not responsible for salad preparation, he or she must oversee its preparation and make sure the service attendant, lead service attendant or food specialist prepares and serves it properly.

The certification course helps chefs understand how vital it is for the food service team to work well together.

“The service attendants have to take the orders properly and offer customers all available options, while the chef must prepare the meal properly, and pay close attention to details such as the type of salad dressing, entrée sauce and dessert garnish,” added Humphreys.

While most meats prepared by chefs do not require cutting, it is nevertheless important that chefs are knowledgeable about using knives safely onboard a moving train, so day two includes instruction on how to properly handle and sharpen various types of knives. The students also learn proper sandwich preparation, heating and assembly, and dessert thawing, heating, plating and garnishing.

Part of the hands-on training is lunch prepared and enjoyed by the entire class.

On the last day of training, special attention is placed on dinner preparation, an area where traveling chefs report the most discrepancies between Amtrak’s standard and what is actually served. The most common variance is found in the heating times. Even though most entrees are precooked, they are sometimes heated in the oven too long. For example, if a stuffed chicken breast or piece of salmon that only needs to be baked for 20 to 25 minutes is cooked for an hour it will result in a dry and tasteless meal.

As part of the dinner service review, the six chefs are divided into teams of two, and each team is required “to plate” 24 meal checks in 30 minutes. The chefs are allowed an hour to prepare the side items such as rice, baked potatoes and vegetables.

After the meals are put onto plates, each team is critiqued in areas such as proper cooking or heating times and plate presentation. The facilitator checks the doneness of the entrée, observes if items are placed on the plate correctly and makes sure sauces are added properly – and only when ordered.

At the conclusion of the three days, chefs may find that some of the cooking techniques taught are new, while others are revisited.

“This is the first time that Amtrak has offered a comprehensive and formal program of study in this area,” said service delivery chief Kevin Scott.

“The beauty of this program is that it brings everyone together in an actual kitchen setting, where chefs can learn from themselves and their peers,” Scott said.


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COMMUTER LINES...  Commuter lines...

More coaches arrive in Connecticut

Connecticut received 11 more coaches from Virginia Railway Express a fortnight ago as part of a plan to eventually add 2,000 seats to its Shore Line East commuter rail line, Gov. M. Jodi Rell said on November 19.

The cars arrived in New Haven in Friday morning, and the state now has 26 on the property. Two cars that arrived earlier are running on the Shore Line East commuter rail line, which operates between New Haven and New London. Four others are expected to begin running soon.

As the Virginia cars move into service on Shore Line East, cars from that line will be shifted to Metro-North, adding capacity on the link between Connecticut and New York City, Newsday reported.

“We’re making this happen, as swiftly and safely as we can,” Rell said.

Connecticut is buying a total of 33 commuter coaches from VRE for approximately $14 million. The remaining seven will arrive in about 18 months.

They are running on the rails without cosmetic changes, such as repainting, because Rell wants them in service in time for winter use.


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New M-N coaches delayed

Despite a proposed fare increase that is expected to be approved in December, Metro-North Railroad will be short of both new railroad cars and funds needed for capital improvements as it enters 2005, railroad President Peter Cannito said November 22.

Cannito said Metro-North won’t get all of the 180 new M7 railroad cars that it had expected by the end of this year because Bombardier, the company producing the cars, is about three months behind schedule, a delay that Cannito said was common industry-wide.

The Journal News of White Plains, N.Y. reported the new cars will replace the railroad’s 30- and 40-year-old cars on the Harlem and Hudson lines. Cannito said Metro-North now has tested and accepted 106 cars and expects to have 135 to 138 by the end of the year. The remaining cars would be delivered from January to March, he said.

“Going into winter, I would much prefer to have more new cars and fewer old cars,” Cannito said at a hearing of the Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, convened by its chairman, Assemblyman Richard Brodsky (D).

However, even with the 130 or so cars, representing 25 percent to 30 percent of the railroad’s fleet, Metro-North should be better able to provide service in the winter, Cannito said.

“We’ll be in a much better position to respond,” he said.

The railroad has been examining and replacing seals and cleaning motors on its older cars to prepare for snow and ice, but there’s only so much the workers can do, he said.

“If the type of snow we had last winter recurs, the older fleet is going to suffer from the same type of problems,” he said. “Many of those are inherent design problems, not maintenance problems. The best thing that can happen to us if it’s going to snow, is if it would be wet snow.”

Just as the railroad can’t order up the weather, it can’t control how big a piece of the capital spending pie it receives.

The funding split set by the New York state legislature since 1982 was for New York City Transit to receive about 75 percent, with 60 percent of the remainder going to the Long Island Rail Road and 40 percent to Metro-North, which back then had far fewer riders – but service has improved, and Metro-North’s ridership has increased. The average number of weekday riders delivered by Metro-North is 24,000 shy of the LIRR’s figure.

The funding formula, though, has varied little since its inception.

“We’ve got to correct the imbalance between Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North,” said Assemblywoman Sandra Galef (D), who participated in the committee hearing.


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Ohio passenger rail plan gets a boost

The Ohio Rail Development Commission is rolling out a $3.5 billion plan to develop a passenger network throughout the state that could become self-sufficient once it’s up and running.

The commission’s two-year proposal for Ohio and the Lake Erie Regional Rail Hub, writes the Cleveland Plain Dealer, calls for using existing railroad rights-of-way where tracks could be added or rehabilitated to build a network. The network could be used both for new, high-speed passenger service and improved freight service, commission spokesman Stu Nicholson said.

From Cleveland, passengers could get to Columbus, Pittsburgh and Buffalo in about two hours, which is faster than driving in each case. Airports could be tied into the network as connecting points.

More study is needed, and no construction money is available at this point, the commission said in releasing its results.

“If all the stars are in alignment, we’re talking nine years out before we could run the trains,” Nicholson said.

Despite the lack of construction money, Nicholson said the time is right to get prepared.

Currently, the FRA does not provide construction money to states for such projects, but it is an idea that has been proposed by the Bush administration, said Steve Kulm, a spokesman for the federal agency.

The concept would be similar to how the federal government treats public-transit agencies such as the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority. The federal government provides money for construction but not for day-to-day operations.

“We believe passenger rail has a future,” Kulm said. “There is a need – but funding is always an issue.”

Rep. Steven LaTourette, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, predicted that “the federal government will make the investment” in passenger rail infrastructure.

As chairman of the House subcommittee on railroads in the upcoming session, LaTourette said he intends to focus on high-speed rail options.

Major transportation projects, rail or highway, often run in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

For example, the Ohio DOT’s 10-year plan for major new road projects totals $5 billion, and the two major highway-widening projects in Ohio – converting the Ohio Turnpike to six lanes from Toledo to Pennsylvania and Interstate 71 to six lanes between Columbus and Cleveland – cost about $600 million each.

The Ohio Rail Development Commission, an independent commission within the state DOT, is circulating the hub study among public officials and community leaders. The goal at this point is to secure about $5 million to do more detailed environmental and economic impact studies, Nicholson said.


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South Shore line to expand

The federal government has approved $4 million to expand and improvement a commuter rail line in northwest Indiana. It includes $1.5 million to study expanding rail service through Hammond and Munster through the Old Monon corridor, then east toward Valparaiso and south toward Lowell.

The Indianapolis Star reported on November 21 $2.5 million would be available for improvements to the existing South Shore Line. Both were included in a 2005 appropriations bill passed Saturday, said U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky (D).

The Westlake Corridor project is a two-phase process that will be paid for by the federal and local governments to expand the rail line.

“I am ecstatic over our success because I believe the recapitalization of the existing South Shore Line and its expansion into Lowell and Valparaiso represents a significant piece of the puzzle in our effort to develop and diversify the economy in Northwest Indiana,” Visclosky said.

The study allows the whole project to move forward, Visclosky said.

The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District will also put together a request for proposals soliciting firms interested in doing the environmental and preliminary engineering work, according to Visclosky.

“The sooner we start the better off we are,” he said. “Let’s hit the gas.”

Meanwhile the $2.5 million will enable the district engineer to install better signaling and train control systems.


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FREIGHT LINES...  Freight lines...

CN, UP improve interchange routes

Canadian National and Union Pacific Railroad jointly stated last week they have “reached a routing protocol agreement” to streamline their exchange of rail traffic at major gateways. Their intent is to “help to reduce rail congestion at Chicago.”

Both railroads stated in a press release dated November 24 they have “established a structured plan to direct rail traffic flows through the most efficient interchange locations, a change that will improve transit times and asset utilization” for their customers. The new routing protocol is being introduced over three-months.

The major interchange points are Superior, Wis., Chicago, Salem, Ill., Memphis, Baton Rouge, La., and, via Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Vancouver, B.C.

CN executive vice-president for sales and marketing, James Foote, said “with the significant amount of North American rail freight traveling over more than one carrier,” they are working with their rail partners to find better ways to improve customer service and rail efficiency.

“We firmly believe this routing protocol with UP will help to expedite shipments, generate more system capacity, improve equipment cycles and help to control costs,” He said.

Jack Koraleski agreed. He’s UP’s executive vice-president for marketing and sales. He said “It is very important that Union Pacific move freight across the continent as seamlessly as possible. This agreement with CN will help to improve traffic flows and network fluidity, permit better planning, and increase our ability to make the best use of our system.”

The routing changes will affect traffic patterns. Rail traffic moving between Western Canada and Texas will now be consolidated and interchanged at Superior, avoiding the Chicago terminal and reducing handlings en route. Wisconsin traffic between Texas and Arkansas will move in a new run-through service to Salem in southern Illinois, rather than being interchanged at Chicago, and traffic moving between eastern Canada and south-central U.S. will be interchanged at Memphis, also reducing Chicago congestion.


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Judge refuses to settle BNSF-rail
authority argument without a trial

A federal judge in Pierre, S.D. has refused to settle a dispute between the South Dakota Railroad Authority and Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad without a trial over the use of a key rail interchange at Aberdeen.

The dispute started early last year, reports The AP, when the South Dakota authority and the Dakota, Missouri Valley & Western Railroad of Bismarck, N.D., sued BNSF in a state court in hopes of forcing the giant rail company to open the interchange to shipments being towed by locomotives from other railroads.

The issue eventually wound up in federal court, and both the state and BNSF asked U.S. District Judge Charles B. Kornmann to rule in their favor without a trial.

DMV&W operates the so-called “Britton Line” from the BNSF interchange at Aberdeen to the North Dakota border. BNSF donated that 54-mile segment to the state railroad authority three years ago. South Dakota later bought another 23 miles of tracks from the border to Geneseo Jct., N.D., where the Canadian Pacific runs from the Great Lakes to the West Coast.

When BNSF donated the Britton Line to South Dakota, ownership of the interchange did not change hands, the company said. It also claimed the 2001 donation agreement allows the company to forbid use of the interchange for loads that do not originate or end on the Britton Line.

State officials said they rebuffed proposed restrictions on the interchange in both northerly and southerly directions when BNSF donated the Britton Line, adding that DMV&W and the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad should be allowed to use the interchange.

The South Dakota authority owns lines at various places in the state, including two rail lines in the Aberdeen vicinity. One runs from Aberdeen to Wolsey, and DM&E has the right to run its trains on those tracks.

BNSF says that trackage right does not extend to use of the Aberdeen interchange unless DM&E railcars are coupled to BNSF locomotives.

Another line that intersects with the BNSF east-west line at Aberdeen is the Britton Line, which runs northeasterly toward Kidder, S.D.; a third line in the area, called the Rutland Line, extends from north of Britton to Geneseo Junction, N.D., and it is owned by the South Dakota authority.

Traffic on the Britton Line fell off sharply in the late 1990s when the tracks were severely damaged by high water levels in northeastern South Dakota, and BNSF considered abandoning the line. After the South Dakota authority insisted that BNSF restore the line, BNSF donated it to the state and took advantage of a multimillion-dollar federal tax deduction.

The agreement excluded ownership of the Aberdeen interchange, and BNSF said the deal made with the donation permits it to control access of the interchange and it did not agree to use of the interchange by other railroads seeking to use the Britton line to link with the Canadian Pacific Railroad, a BNSF competitor.

The South Dakota authority and DMV&W argue that the 2001 agreement gives them an unfettered right to use the BNSF interchange in Brown County.

Refusing to grant summary judgment to the state or BNSF in the contract dispute, Kornmann said the facts of the complicated case should be sorted out in a trial.

“The 2001 agreement is no model of clarity,” the judge wrote in an order signed November 22.

Kornmann said neither party inserted language into the agreement that may have prevented the argument over use of the interchange.

“It is frankly as though both parties used the ostrich approach of sticking their heads in the sand,” he said.

Kornmann dismissed a BNSF complaint and request for punitive damages against DMV&W for alleged contract interference and trespassing on BNSF property.

Kornmann noted that BNSF’s own trainmaster allowed the exchange of freight cars between the DMV&W and DM&E.

“If BNSF’s employees failed to act in accord with BNSF contracts and consented to improper train movements, that is a BNSF problem,” he concluded.


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Autos, grain, off

Another remarkable, record-breaking week for U.S. railroads

U.S. freight railroads set weekly records for both total freight traffic and intermodal volume during the week ended November 20, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported on Wednesday. The weekly report was issued one day earlier than it usually is because of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Total volume of 33.2 billion ton-miles bested the previous weekly mark of 33.1 billion ton-miles reached during the weeks ended October 30 and October 16, 2004. Intermodal volume of 238,961 trailers or containers was 3,085 more than in the week ended October 30, 2004, when the previous intermodal record was set.

The ton-mile volume was up 2.8 percent from the corresponding week last year while intermodal traffic showed a 13.1 percent gain from a year ago.

Carload freight, which doesn’t include the intermodal data, totaled 354,122 cars, up 2.5 percent from the comparable week last year and was the second highest weekly total this year. Carload freight was up 3.5 percent in the East and 1.6 percent in the West.

Ten of 19 carload commodities registered gains from last year, with metallic ores up 14.4 percent, lumber and wood products up 11.0 percent and coal up 6.4 percent.

Motor vehicle and equipment loadings were down 11.1 percent while grain was off 6.7 percent and farm products, other than grain, declined 17.9 percent.

The AAR also reported the following cumulative totals for U.S. railroads during the first 46 weeks of 2004: 15,534,525 carloads, up 2.8 percent from last year; intermodal volume of 9,780,445 trailers or containers, up 9.8 percent; and total volume of an estimated 1.430 trillion ton-miles, up 5.1 percent from last year’s first 46 weeks.

On Canadian railroads, during the week ended November 20 carload traffic totaled 68,977 cars, down 2.6 percent from last year while intermodal volume totaled 43,304 trailers or containers, up 0.9 percent from last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 46 weeks of 2004 on the Canadian railroads totaled 3,098,789 carloads, up 7.1 percent from last year, and 1,936,396 trailers and containers, up 0.2 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 46 weeks of 2004 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 18,633,314 carloads, up 3.5 percent from last year and 11,716,841 trailers and containers, up 8.1 percent from last year.

The AAR also reported that originated carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended November 20 totaled 7,947 cars, off 4.2 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 4,332 originated trailers or containers, up 24.1 percent from the 46th week of 2003. For the first 46 weeks of 2004, TFM reported cumulative originated volume of 401,302 cars, up 3.5 percent from last year, and 174,132 trailers or containers, up 8.1 percent.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 88 percent of U.S. carload freight and 95 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 95 percent and 100 percent. The Canadian railroads reporting to the AAR account for 90 percent of Canadian rail traffic. Railroads provide more than 40 percent of U.S. intercity freight transportation, more than any other mode, and rail traffic figures are regarded as an important economic indicator.

The AAR is online at www.aar.org.


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STOCKS...  Selected Friday closing quotes...

Source: CBSMarketWatch.com

  Friday One Week
Earlier
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)44.9944.39
Canadian National (CNI)57.3355.03
Canadian Pacific (CP) 32.0530.45
CSX (CSX)37.9937.55
Florida East Coast (FLA)41.9741.10
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)28.4827.27
Kansas City Southern (KSU)16.6416.41
Norfolk Southern (NSC)34.3533.15
Providence & Worcester (PWX)12.3012.35
Union Pacific (UNP)63.4166.11


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

Bankok subway

For NCI: Todd Glickman

Commuters ride between the Bangkok communities of Chaloem and Ratchamongkon on the Thailand capital’s first subway line.

 

Thailand’s first subway system opens

By Todd Glickman
Special to Destination:Freedom

Bangkok – Thailand’s New “MRT Chaloem Ratchamongkon Line” – The first subway in Thailand – opened in August.

That strange name, at least to Western ears, means “Celebration of the Auspicious Kingship.” This first line – two additional routes are planned – runs for 12 miles and has 18 stations.

The Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand awarded Bangkok Metro Public Co. Ltd. (BMCL) the contract to operate MRT August 1, 2000.

Trains run daily from 6:00 a.m. to midnight, with five-minute headways during rush hour, and 10 minutes at other times.

Stations are clean and bright. The carrier operates three-car unified articulated trains, though the stations are long enough to accommodate six-car trains as the system expands.

Platform-level screen doors keep the stations air-conditioned. This, however, does not permit a rider to view the train’s exterior.

There are two kinds of fare media. Contactless “smart cards” are stored value cards, and fares are deducted based upon distance traveled. Cards may be purchased with a minimum of 300 Baht – about 40 Baht to the U.S. dollar), including a 50 Baht deposit. Funds can be added, with a card’s maximum value allowed at 1,000 Baht. When exiting the system, the card’s remaining value is shown on the exit gate.

For single rides, one may purchase a “token” at either the ticket window, or through a vending machine. A simple touch screen system allows you to choose the value required for your journey. Tokens are deposited into the exit gate at the end of the journey.

Normal adult fares range from 14 to 36 Baht – about 35 cent to 95 cents – depending upon the distance traveled. Children and seniors, 65 years and older, are half-fare. For the first year of operation (through August, 2005), a 15 percent discount is offered all passengers.

There aren’t any multi-use plans yet, but they are expected to be introduced next year.

At three of the stations, one can interchange between MRT and “Skytrain,” but separate fares and fare cars are required, since separate corporations run the two operations. The Skytrain elevated system opened five years ago.

Automated announcements in both Thai and English announce the next station, and messages to “mind the gap when alighting.” There is an operator in the train, and monitors operations. A uniformed guard is also on-board each train; additional guards patrol the stations.

The end-to-end MRT ride takes approximately 30 minutes. In Bangkok traffic, this can be two hours in a car.


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OPINION...  Opinion...

Regarding ‘the American dream’

Jennifer L. Dorn, administrator of the Federal Transit Administration, was in Minneapolis on November 15 where she participated in a transit-oriented development roundtable. She told the gathering the notion of “the American dream” has changed considerably from when the phrase was coined – and the Minneapolis Star Tribune took note of her remarks.– Ed.

“In the popular imagination,” she said, “the words ‘American dream’ call to mind a suburban home with a big back yard and a car in the garage to carry Dad to the city and back. In the 1950s, the lure of affordable, mass-produced, single-family homes resulted in a suburban growth rate 10 times that of central cities. But if demography is destiny, the prospects look bright for a 21st Century version of the American dream.

In communities across the America – from Charlotte to Portland to Washington, D.C. – people are pursuing a new variation of the American dream, a dream that includes owning a home, living in an attractive, thriving neighborhood, setting down roots and feeling part of a community, and enjoying the walk to a neighborhood coffee shop or a short train ride to see a movie.

The new dream is being shaped by a growing transit network of light-rail lines, subways, commuter rail and buses running in dedicated lanes. Since 1993, new rail transit systems have opened in 17 cities. These and other transit systems have added over 3,000 miles of track – an increase of more than 45 percent in just 10 years. Today, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has funding partnerships with 27 communities to help build new transit systems or extensions to current systems. In another 24 communities, the system design process necessary to qualify for federal funding is underway. Incredibly, more than 120 other communities are considering major new investments in transit.

This Administration is determined to maximize the mobility, economic and environmental benefits of these important federal, state and local investments in transit. That means that communities must design efficient, forward-thinking transit systems that will be catalysts of community development and engines of economic growth. And they must plan now for the housing preferences of the next generation of Americans.

Here in the Twin Cities, developers and civic leaders are already working together to address the needs of the almost 1 million more residents expected by 2025. As a result of proactive and inclusive land use planning, hundreds of houses are being built along the new Hiawatha Line, and there are plans for a $600 million housing and entertainment complex at the south end of the light-rail line.

In Minneapolis and cities across the nation, public transit and the development it attracts are contributing to a growing appetite for housing in urban areas. Population groups that now have the deepest preference for housing very close to transit are precisely the populations that will grow exponentially in the next decades. They include older Americans, who will constitute 35 percent of our population by 2025; immigrant families, who will account for almost one-third of population growth; and the nearly 70 percent of households that will not include children.

These Americans older, more diverse, free from the responsibilities of raising children, and weary of daily commutes – are putting their own stamp on the American dream. For seniors, the new American dream will be less about lawns, and more about reliable transit options that let them stay engaged in civic life without becoming a “burden” on their children. For immigrants, the new American dream will be less about the suburbs, and more about transit options that allow families to spend less on automobile expenses and save more toward the purchase of their own home. For “child-free” adults, the new American dream will be less about space and privacy, and more about living in a diverse, dynamic community.

The FTA recently sponsored a report on transit-oriented development, which involves planning and building the places where we live, shop, and work around transit corridors. The report, entitled Hidden in Plain Sight, projects future demand based on the current numbers of people living within one-half mile of 3,341 existing and 630 proposed rail transit stations. It reaches a staggering conclusion. Over the next 25 years, at least a quarter of all households – 14.6 million – are likely to be looking for housing in these “transit zones.” There is a potential to more than double the amount of housing in transit zones in the next 20 years if – and it is a big if – this market demand can be captured.

It is up to transit leaders, developers, civic leaders and elected officials to seize the moment – and the market. With the help of transit-oriented development, Americans will be able to hang a figurative sign on suburban sprawl – a sign that says, “The American dream: Visit us at our new location.”


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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.

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