Destination: Freedom will be taking a break so its staff can spend the holidays with their families. Our last issue for 2001 will be on December 17, and our first issue for 2002 will be published on January 7. We wish all our readers the merriest of Christmases, a joyous Hanukkah, a terrific new year - and we look forward to seeing you next year!
|NCI web site adds features|
NCI's webmaster, Dennis Kirkpatrick, tells us "We have just installed a new 'search' feature at the National Corridors Initiative web site. It is now possible to search through the various documents and newsletters at our site by keyword or key phrase."
He said a new "search" link has been added to our home page.
For example, If you need to get information on the new Amtrak service from Boston to Portland, Maine, you can access the search page and insert the word "Portland" and the search engine will locate all of the past editions of Destination: Freedom that address that topic.
You may also enter specific phrases (in quotes) such as "National Rail Passenger" to be searched-for as well.
Asking for pages that talk about "Amtrak" may produce some interesting and overwhelming results, but the search engine has some built in restrictions to prevent such large responses.
We have also added a search box on that page for the popular Google search engine, which can be used to search the internet in general.
On another note, we'd like to remind readers that we are no longer posting the D:F newsletter in two parts for older or low memory web browsers. It's simply not productive for us to continue the practice, and we need to conserve web storage space. With that in mind, we plan on some website "house cleaning" that will see existing two-parters removed from the web site after the Christmas holiday during our publication break. If anyone wants copies of those back editions, we recommend downloading them now.
NCI: Leo KingCHAMPAGNE SIPPER - This Amtrak P-42 locomotive is one of the few that ever had a bottle of champagne smacked across its nose. No. 182, the Governor Tommy G. Thompson, was in Boston's Southampton Street yard last week after helping to haul No. 448 from Albany to the Hub. Thompson - the man - is the immediate former Amtrak board of directors chairman, and was one of Amtrak's most vocal champions. He is now President Bush's Secretary of Health and Human Services. Former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis is the railroad's interim board chairman until a permanent replacement is named. Amtrak dedicated this engine to Thompson on November 1 in Washington. Following remarks by Amtrak president George Warrington and Thompson, the locomotive was formally dedicated and got the champagne christening.
Widows, other survivors await
Rail retirement lies in line of Senate fire;
By Wes Vernon
The long-awaited Senate passage of the Rail Retirement bill ended up in the legislative stew of a disorganized Senate this past week. At deadline, it was not certain when it would be dealt with, as several other measures were being pushed, and the lawmakers were not certain what could be accomplished in time "to get out of here before Christmas."
The rail retirement measure was waiting in line along with some strong competitors for priority treatment. These other issues included an economic stimulus package (for which the Bush administration was pleading), an energy bill that includes drilling for oil in Alaska (with proponents noting a new sense or urgency since U.S. dependence on foreign oil continues despite the 9/11 terrorist attack), and proposals to ban human cloning (an old issue that took on new life when it was discovered that a company in Worcester, Mass., claimed to have cloned a human embryo).
In terms of grabbing public attention, those three controversies have far more "star quality" than rail retirement. But to railroad widow Mary Lou Vaught, rail retirement is the issue, as the industry and its employees await concrete Senate action.
Appearing at a briefing by rail management and labor on Nov. 27, Mrs. Vaught of Danville, Ky., said after her husband died, "I was shocked to learn that our overall benefit was cut in half, even though my living expenses were virtually the same. They call it a survivor's benefit, but I'm having trouble surviving on it."
Only in "the world's most deliberative body" could a bill that has 75 Senate co-sponsors and the backing of a 383-33 House vote have to endure such a protracted years-long bloody legislative battle to reach final enactment.
As Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) put it, "This is the United States Senate" where nothing is done in a hurry, but other factors appear to have contributed to an end-of-the-session logjam that is even more snarled than usual, including the anthrax scare, which set back legislative schedules and contributed to overall disruption as senators and their staffs had to evacuate one of the major office buildings and make do with less space elsewhere.
The primary factor remains the September 11 terrorist attacks, and coupled with the change of party control of the Senate at mid-year, caused a change in priorities, which helped toss some sand in the gears of already unruly and erratic legislative machinery.
In addition to allowing survivors to collect a deceased railroader's entire pension instead of merely a portion of it, the bill would allow full retirement at age 60 and after 30 years of service. It would take some assets out of Treasury bonds and invest them in private securities instead.
Railroads and unions agreed to the provisions of the legislation nearly two years ago after lengthy negotiations.
During the Nov. 27 briefing at the Association of American Railroads (AAR) headquarters in Washington, D:F asked AAR President Ed Hamberger if he had heard anything recently from the White House on this. President Bush earlier was reported to have some problems with the bill because he thought the federal government would have too much influence in investment decisions by the Railroad Retirement Investment Trust (RRIT).
Currently, the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB), whose members are appointed by the president, appoint the members of RRIT. President Bush is not keen on government investing, even indirectly, in the stock market.
Hamberger replied no, that he had not heard from the White House of late, but that he assumed the administration was now satisfied since the bill had been changed so that RRB would no longer appoint directors of RRIT. Instead, management and labor would appoint the investors for the retirement fund jointly. Three from labor, three from management, with the seventh member appointed by a vote of the other six.
Moreover, AAR produced copies of a letter written last July wherein a leading conservative figure, Grover Norquist, expressed satisfaction with the change.
That apparently has not satisfied opponents who steadfastly maintained that the taxpayers would be stuck with the tab if the system goes broke.
AAR spokesman Tom White said that prospect is remote, and Hamberger said the bill "has the potential to put the railroad retirement system on a sound footing for at least the next 75 years. All of this would be accomplished," he said, "without costing the taxpayer a dime."
The plan would cut railroads' payroll taxes while boosting retirees' benefits.
Sens. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.) and Don Nickels (R-Okla.) have led the small band of opponents. They charge this is an attempt to "pilfer" the pensions and leave the taxpayers with the bill.
On Thursday, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to cut off a filibuster against the retirement measure. Only four votes were cast in favor of keeping the filibuster going, but spokesmen for those pushing the bill told D:F the cloture vote did not reflect the whole picture. It is believed that some lawmakers voted to cut off the filibuster only so they can turn around it and amend it to death on the floor.
Among the "killer" amendments that might be offered is one to approve Alaskan oil drilling. That proposal carries its own controversy, but in fact, could probably pass on its own. If attached to the rail retirement bill, however, it would leave many liberal senators on the horns of an aggravating dilemma. In order to pass rail retirement, which they favor, they would also have to swallow oil drilling, which they oppose.
There is something else going on here too. Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) is under pressure from some of his party stalwarts to bring the Senate back to town in early January, thus avoiding the traditional post-Christmas recess. There are Democrats who fear January when their high-profile spokesmen are out of town, leaving President Bush with a clear field in terms of national publicity to buttress his already sky-high approval ratings.
What better excuse to counter this than to say, "Look, we all need to go home for Christmas to be with our families. But we have all this work to do. Why don't we just go home and come back right after New Year's and get this done? We can then do economic stimulus, energy, cloning and maybe even put off rail retirement until then, can't we?"
It's an old, familiar story wherein politics will mask the hidden motive. Sometimes it can explain a lot of things.
NCI: Leo KingWIRES DOWN - Trains enroute to Boston were delayed up to two hours on November 26 after a CSX freight train ripped down catenary on Amtrak's Hell Gate 19-mile line between New Rochelle, N.Y. and Penn Station in Manhattan. On another day, No. 174 pauses at New London, Conn. enroute from Washington to Boston.
NEC trains delayed for a time;
freight derails on Hell Gate line
A CSX freight train derailed and ripped down catenary about eight miles east of New York City on the Hell Gate line on November 26 during the Thanksgiving weekend. The route carries Amtrak's trains, including its top-dollar Acela Express, over spectacular Hell Gate Bridge.
Passenger train speeds are 60 mph over the section of track where the derailment occurred, and freights are limited to 40 mph.
By Monday, service was nearly back to normal after crews repaired the overhead wires, but passengers traveling between Boston and New York were delayed at least two hours as Amtrak pressed diesel engines into service to tow electric trains to their destinations.
One track was back in service early Monday, and the second track was returned to service later in the day.
|DOT's IG advises don't rush to liquidate Amtrak|
A top official of the federal Department of Transportation thinks Congress should change the law that requires the Amtrak Reform Council (ARC) to make a finding that Amtrak is not likely to meet an operational self-sufficiency deadline by late next year.
Not that he has problems with the self-sufficiency deadline itself, says Mark Dayton, DOT Deputy Assistant Inspector General for Competition Issues. It's just that the "finding" requirement in the 1997 major Amtrak law forces Amtrak to draw up liquidation plans within 90 days.
"Eliminating the sunset trigger would allow the Congress to hold discussions about restructuring and liquidation plans according to its own timetable, not one driven by ARAA's (the 1997 Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act's) 90-day clock. If the trigger provision is not eliminated, consideration should be given to extending the windows for developing and evaluating the restructuring and liquidation plans," Dayton said.
Of course, if Congress were to amend the law so as to eliminate the trigger, that would likely render the Amtrak Reform Council's November 9 vote on a finding null and void. As previously reported, ARC voted 6-5 on that date to issue a finding that Amtrak would not make the late 2002 deadline.
Efforts to repeal the "trigger" are underway on Capitol Hill, though how successful they'll be is open to question. While the 90-day clock is ticking, the lawmakers, especially in the Senate, are ensnarled in an end-of-the-session jam with multiple issues to consider before the Christmas break.
In any event, regardless of what ARC or Amtrak does, nothing happens until Congress signs off on it.
USDOTPrototype loco built by Bombardier for the U.S. Department of Transportation is back in Barre, Vt. for fine-tuning after stint in Colorado.
Engine runs miles around loops
By Leo King
Test, test, test.
That's what makes new technology work.
Consider, if you will, that brand-new 5,000-hp critter that has been testing at the USDOT's (and AAR's) testing loops at Pueblo, Colo.
Bob McCown, head of DOT's Next Generation High-Speed Rail team, tells us, "The FRA-Bombardier turbine-electric locomotive - 'TEL,' as it is now becoming known, completed testing in October" at the Transportation Technology Center (TTC).
He said, "The locomotive, as constructed, has a working weight of 215,000 pounds. A 5,000 horsepower Pratt & Whitney gas turbine engine running on conventional locomotive diesel fuel powers it."
So how fast did it go?
"At Pueblo, the locomotive operating alone reached over 150 mph on the high-speed railroad test track, and with a one-car consist, the TEL reached 145 mph in the relatively short tangent sections."
Not bad, I say, for a locomotive hybrid that does not need catenary to fly down the track.
McCown told us the train was "limited by the 135 mph speed limit for the car along curves. Acceleration from 0 to 120 mph was achieved in 120 seconds."
Equal to a Porsche? Maybe, considering the train's size and weight.
He told us "Testing was also conducted with a three-car Horizon fleet consist at speeds up to 135 mph, again [restrained] due to the operational limitations of the cars."
Like most "daddies" of new things, he added, "Considerable 'fine tuning' was successfully accomplished on the propulsion system and locomotive control software, since the entire propulsion system is controlled by microprocessors."
The locomotive engineer pushes a button here, a throttle there, but computers make it go - or stop.
He continued to wax enthusiastically.
"Results continue to be outstanding in that the locomotive propulsion system emits almost no perceptible noise and very little visible smoke, even at maximum acceleration and top speeds. The only significant audible noise is from the cooling fans."
Will we someday call this, "Acela Junior?"
McCown said, "The TEL has been shipped to the Bombardier plant at Barre, Vermont, where [its] trucks are being retrofitted with improvements indicated from Northeast Corridor operating experience, and other 'finishing touches' to the cab interior."
That "Northeast Corridor operating experience" means things Amtrak and Bombardier have learned from the high-speed Acela Express trainset trucks.
FRA, Bombardier, Amtrak, and many interested states are jointly planning an introductory tour across the U.S., which may begin in January.
After the tour, which was planned a couple of years ago when the FRA sought bids from various states and regions, McCown said, "We hope to deploy the locomotive for revenue use for longer intervals on selected corridors in order to conduct a more comprehensive performance assessment of daily operations, maintenance and reliability."
In short, how will it behave under real-life operating conditions?
The crew took photos of the engine on the test track, but they "removed" the catenary it was operating underneath (fastest track at the site).
"We 'artistically' removed the overhead catenary wire [in the photo] which is present at Pueblo, since the entire point of the development effort is to deliver outstanding acceleration and high speeds, without catenary infrastructure," explained DOT's Warren Flatau, a DOT spokesman in Washington.
NTSB: Look at Canada
U.S. 'lone engineer' gets stiff review
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is urging the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to evaluate safety requirements imposed by the Canadian government on lone-engineer operations in that nation, and implement any of them that might be useful for U.S. railroads that use such operations on track that lack anti-collision technology.
The recommendation is included in the safety board's final report of a collision between an Amtrak passenger train and a freight train 10 months ago that injured more than 60 people.
On February 5, 2001, Amtrak train 286, on a scheduled run from Niagara Falls to New York City, collided with the rear of a CSX Transportation freight train near Syracuse, New York. At impact, the passenger train was traveling 35 mph and the freight train 7 mph. Amtrak's locomotive and four of its five cars derailed. The accident resulted in injuries to all 4 Amtrak crewmembers and 58 of the passengers on the passenger train. No freight train crewmembers were injured.
The NTSB stated in a report issued November 27, "Because of repair work to a track, all eastbound traffic was routed onto the same track. The wayside signal displayed a restricting aspect, telling the engineer of the Amtrak train to proceed at a speed no greater than 15 mph, and be prepared to stop in half the distance he could see ahead. The engineer stated that he believed he had a medium approach signal, which would have allowed him to proceed at 30 mph and be prepared to stop at the next signal.
"In either case, the train was moving at approximately 57 mph when the engineer applied emergency braking when he saw the slower moving freight train ahead of him. The Amtrak engineer told investigators after the crash that he had been going through his bag for track bulletins just before the collision."
The board determined "The probable cause of the accident to be the engineer's inattention to the operation of his train, which led to his failure to recognize and comply with the speed limit imposed by the governing wayside signal, and the lack of any safety redundancy system capable of preventing a collision in the event of human failure."
The NTSB has had "positive train control systems," or PTCs, on its list of "most wanted safety improvements" since 1990. Under PTC, a train would come to a stop if the engineer failed to properly operate his or her train in conformance to signal indications. The board concluded that such a system would most likely have prevented this accident.
Although Amtrak has had lone-engineer operations for decades, the NTSB said that it was "concerned that such operations without the protections of PTC provide no redundancy to protect against human error." The board noted that the Canadian government in the late 1990s allowed a Canadian rail line to use lone-engineer operations only if a number of safety-related conditions were met.
In its report on the Syracuse accident, the NTSB recommended that the FRA evaluate whether some of those requirements would have utility on operations in the United States on track not equipped with PTC. Other recommendations concerned securing onboard appliances and improvements to emergency response maps.
In another finding on the same day, the NTSB determined that the probable cause of the collision of a Metrolink passenger train and a tractor semi-trailer last year was "inadequate preparation and route planning, poor coordination of vehicle movement and permitting authorities, and the lack of recognition of the potential hazard at the grade crossing."
Contributing to the January 28, 2000, Glendale, Cal. accident, which caused six minor injuries and $2 million damage, was fatigue of both the pilot car driver and the truck driver. Additionally, the safety board concluded that had the truck driver received training that emphasized the hazards of railroad grade crossings for oversized or overweight vehicles, he might have recognized the potential hazard and notified the railroad that he was about to traverse the tracks, and may have raised the height of the semi trailer before crossing the tracks.
Because of the accident, the NTSB made recommendations to the Federal Highway Administration, the City of Glendale, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Specialized Carriers and Rigging Association, and three pilot car associations.
Included were recommendations urging government regulatory agencies and private industry to develop a model pilot car driver-training program, among several other ideas, all aimed at truckers.
"The training program should address, at a minimum, issues such as how to conduct route surveys, maneuvering limitations of heavy-haul vehicles, the effects of fatigue on performance, the need to assess the dangers of rail crossings, particularly for low-clearance vehicles, and the need requirements to notify the railroads before an oversized or overweight vehicle is escorted across a crossing at grade.
An abstract of the accident report is available on the NTSB website at http://www.ntsb.gov/.
|New Acela derails in Barre; no injuries|
Two of Amtrak's Acela Express trains came to a quick stop on November 29 in a derailment in Montpelier, Vt., after one of the locomotives derailed at the Granite Street grade crossing on low-speed track. No one was injured. Weak rail is suspected to be the culprit on an S-curve, according to both members of the train crew and investigators, reports the Rutland Times Argus.
Rail officials worked throughout the day and evening to repair the track, and brought in heavy equipment to the lift the locomotive back onto the rails. Both Acela locomotives, pulled by a diesel, were on their way from Plattsburgh, N.Y., where they were built, to Bombardier in Barre, where they were to be fitted as part of a trainset of two locomotives and six passenger cars.
Train crewmembers and investigators at the scene were reluctant to comment on the derailment, saying their investigation was still in progress.
"One of the train crew said to me that they had concern about that area of track, although they've not had any problems before," said Montpelier police officer David Martin as he helped to direct traffic.
"This one of those things that happens," said Vermont Railway president David Wulfson.
"It's not a big deal. It's a little derailment that happens every day, and the track is going to be repaired."
He added, "The rails that we operate over there are over 100 years old and we're doing our best to keep it good. At this point, we're just trying to get the engine back on the tracks. Then we'll take a look at what happened."
Bombardier spokesman Gilles Pagi added, "It was a minor incident in our view, but right now, we're just trying to keep the customer happy."
Visible evidence of the derailment included a buckled length of rail, deep groove marks cut into crossties by the 100-ton locomotive's wheels, and damage to the road surface at the rail crossing. The locomotive did not appear to have sustained any major damage.
An observer of the railroading scene noted, "This derailment was caused by some very poor track, and, he added, "This is the second time an Acela Express has derailed while being moved from the Bombardier plant in Barre, Vt."
The source said he had visited the Bombardier plant at Barre and was given a tour while Acela trains were being built there.
"On the same day, I walked segments of the track which is used to transport railcars to and from the plant. It is old and in disrepair. I saw many loose spikes, many rotted ties, many areas where the track badly needs to be relined, or better yet, replaced."
Engineers from Vermont Railway, Inc., which owns the track, and from Bombardier, tried unsuccessfully to reposition the locomotives to steer them back on the tracks, using low-tech wooden blocks. They eventually uncoupled one of the locomotives and sent it on to Barre, and waited for a crane to arrive. The remaining locomotive straddled one of the road's lanes, requiring traffic to be directed around it.
|Connecticut commuter line extends westward|
A Connecticut editorial writer wrote last week Shore Line East commuter trains will extend westward to Stamford from New Haven. They currently operate eastward to Old Saybrook and New London.
Stephen J. Winters, editorial page editor of the Connecticut Post, observed the state's 15-member Transportation Strategy Board, finally operating after being delayed by budget battles in Hartford last summer, must report back to the General Assembly in eight weeks with its first statewide plan of strategy and preliminary cost estimates over the next decade.
The board's creation was tempered by the recent decline in the state's economy. A recent special session of the Assembly trimmed the board's surplus money for projects by $12 million. Bonding can eventually make up the cut, but that's a cumbersome process, Winters noted.
He continued, "The funding cut could be a blessing in disguise because the board might not need get into some messy fights such as Interstate 95 exit closures."
He added, "Among the board's first decisions was to partner with Amtrak and Metro-North (and the rail unions) and extend the Shoreline East commuter rail train westward to Bridgeport and Stamford."
DOT officials said the service could start as early December 17, he wrote, with a single run at peak commuting times in the morning and evening.
Winters observed, "It makes good sense, although we're not talking large numbers of commuters. Currently, about 50 Shoreline East riders switch trains in New Haven and continue on down the line. They have to switch because Shoreline East runs on tracks operated by Amtrak."
He added, "It's amazing to think that only a few years back Gov. John G. Rowland recommended in his proposed budget eliminating the Shoreline East entirely. How times change."
The modest extension of the Shoreline East is a plus and probably even more of one in the future when work begins on replacing the I-95 Quinnipiac Bridge in New Haven, a major span.
On another rail topic, Winters wrote, "A larger headache will be the board's ultimate choice of the site for a new rail station in either Orange near the Bayer Corporation's sprawling research and development center or West Haven on Saw Mill Road."
He stated the communities are currently locked in intense verbal battles over the issue, so much so that a regional planning panel for the area declined to state a preference. Despite the site battle, the STB has made the project a priority, voting to allocate initial funding for its design.
The new Orange or West Haven station, much like a planned third station for Fairfield, will deliver many commuters right near their place of employment as well as have lots for more than 1,000 vehicles, Winters wrote.
|Connecticut forum draws near|
A "Citizens' Forum for Transportation" December 15 kicks off the first in a series of transportation get-togethers for Southeastern Connecticut and Coastal Rhode Island, as leading citizen-based organizations attempt to focus the region's attention on building transit-based transportation systems to foster economic growth while maintaining the region's natural beauty and quality of life.
The Sierra Club, the National Corridors Initiative, the Transportation Choices Coalition for Connecticut, and New London Main Street are joining forces to sponsor a day-long public Forum Saturday at the New London Radisson Hotel, beginning at 9:30 a.m.
"This region is under great transportation pressure," noted Forum Chair Molly McKay of the Sierra Club, "and unless we find a way to build transit-based transportation systems we are going to ruin a very beautiful part of the world. Unless citizens want this area to turn into yet another version of 'sprawled and malled' Fairfield County, we need to find another path to economic growth."
Speakers include Dr. Beverly Scott, Executive Director of Rhode Island Public Transportation (RIPTA), whose old-style trolley buses have been a big success in downtown Providence and Newport; Jim RePass, recently featured in Time magazine (November 25) and the president of the pro-rail National Corridors Initiative; Siemens Transportation Systems executive and light rail specialist Frank Guzzo; Connecticut Bicycle Coalition executive director David Hiller; Robert Wood Johnson Foundation transportation specialist Marla Hollander; former Rhode Island governor's chief counsel William G. Brody; New London's former mayor and city councilor Lloyd Beachy; and TCCC executive director Dan Lorimier.
Chaired by the Sierra Club's Molly McKay, the Forum will include luncheon. Cost is $30 ($25 for sponsors' members); E-mail McKay at (email@example.com), call 860-536-5480, or fax 860-536-5482, with reservation requests.
The Forum, a project of the Southeastern Connecticut Transportation Initiative (SECTI), will be followed by from 4-6 similar citizen-based meetings over the next 18 months, in an attempt to develop a serious alternative to the highway-dependent transportation planning that is typical of most responses to congestion.
"NCI has selected Southeastern Connecticut as a potential laboratory for transit-based development," stated NCI President Jim RePass, "because it is beautiful, yet could be badly damaged by narrowly focused transportation planning."
Metroplex trains roll today
After a 67-year absence, passenger trains will travel between Fort Worth and Dallas today as Trinity Railway Express service is extended from Richland Hills to two downtown stations, reports the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
The openings of the Texas & Pacific station and the Fort Worth Intermodal Transportation Center mark the realization of the original vision for the line: to offer commuters a rail line linking the two major Metroplex cities.
To celebrate, Fort Worth rail and bus service is free today. Service on December 8 will also be free to inaugurate extended Saturday service.
"The rebirth of passenger rail service in Fort Worth, Texas - what could be more exciting?" asked John Bartosiewicz, general manager of the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, which operates the commuter line with Dallas Area Rapid Transit.
"This is a big event for Fort Worth. We will have, for the first time in a long time, a non-highway link between Fort Worth and Dallas."
Although Amtrak's Texas Eagle runs through the Metroplex, interurban passenger rail has not stopped in Cowtown since The Crimson Limited, operated by Northern Texas Traction Co., was shut down in 1934.
In a nod to history, the T is restoring one of the original Crimson Limited cars, with its red color, trolley like design, inlaid wood and stained-glass windows. It will be displayed at the intermodal center, 1001 Jones St., officials said.
Transportation officials say the rail line is functional. Building on a solid, 6,000-passenger weekday ridership between Dallas and Richland Hills, the trains can improve regional mobility and air quality, and spur economic development, they said.
Railroads challenge court practice
Three eastern railroads will file suit in Charleston to stop West Virginia's "mass litigation" process, which, according to CSX, "unfairly benefits out-of-state plaintiffs and their attorneys at the expense of the state's citizens and businesses."
CSX Transportation, Norfolk Southern Ry., and Conrail, joined by American Premier Underwriters (formerly Penn Central), said on November 28 they will file suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia against the justices of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.
The railroads want to invalidate West Virginia Trial Court Rule (TCR) 26.01, which, in 1999, established a "Mass Litigation Panel and Procedure" to consolidate asbestos-related civil cases against railroads and other parties.
"The railroads," wrote CSX in a press release, "said TCR 26.01 deprives them of due process of law provided for in the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, because in lumping together plaintiffs who worked at numerous different locations, in various jobs, during different times, with diverse mitigating factors and alleged exposures and injuries, the process will deprive the defendants of a fair trial."
The three carriers are arguing that consolidation of cases, in effect, "pressures railroads into settling them, rather than proceeding to trial and risking enormous verdicts skewed toward the most seriously injured plaintiffs while less injured (and even uninjured) plaintiffs obtain windfall verdicts."
The press release added, "West Virginia effectively provides no right to appeal such verdicts; the only appeals court in the state generally refuses to consider a railroad's appeal of a verdict."
The railroads' attorney, Fred Adkins, asserted, "TCR 26.01 is unfair and unworkable for the courts, for the railroads and for the taxpayers of West Virginia. It invites frivolous claims, misuses judicial resources, clogs local trial courts and robs the state of filing fees." Adkins described the appeals court's July 2002 date for resolution of all asbestos cases as "unnecessary and coercive," since most of the cases were filed less than two years ago.
Of the 33,100 civil lawsuits of all types pending in West Virginia courts, more than 25,000 or 75 percent are asbestos-related. Of the 9,000 asbestos cases pending nationwide against the three railroads, 5,150 or 57 percent are before West Virginia courts. In those 5,150 cases, 4,440 plaintiffs are people who do not work, live, or pay taxes in West Virginia. A single Pennsylvania law firm represents more than 4,800 of the plaintiffs in these cases.
"TCR 26.01 is part of a system that promotes forum-shopping filing in the court that the plaintiffs' lawyers think provides procedures and rulings that most favor them," said Adkins.
He added, "Citizens and attorneys of other states can prosecute their claims in West Virginia, taking any money they receive in settlement or judgment back to their home states, leaving West Virginians standing in line to use their own court system."
Carter G. Phillips, also representing the railroads, concluded, "West Virginia has allowed itself to be abused by out-of-state plaintiffs' lawyers, which is bad enough, but its solution, to coerce defendants to settle without a trial, violates fundamental notions of fairness. In the end, potential defendants will shun doing business in West Virginia. Physicians already have responded to the state's system of justice by fleeing, and other businesses will not be far behind."
|Solon disdains DM&E plan|
After meeting privately with Rochester, Minn. city officials on November 26, U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.), said he is not done fighting the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad's proposed upgrade through the city, according to Rochester's The Post-Bulletin.
"I am not going to see Minnesota or any city in Minnesota, become a sacrificial lamb in that undertaking," he said. "I will do everything possible, including throwing my body on the tracks."
The federal Surface Transportation Board issued a report November 19 recommending the DM&E upgrade its current line through Rochester as part of an 880-mile project running through three states.
Environmental concerns prompted the report's authors to recommend against approving a bypass route proposed by city leaders.
Dayton said the report failed to adequately consider urban effects of the upgrade, including vibrations hampering medical operations at Mayo Clinic, and a potential dampening of economic competitiveness and quality of life.
Rochester Mayor Chuck Canfield said there is no way to mitigate the damage of 37 trains per day. Dayton said he agreed, and promised to continue to fight.
"I don't think it is a dead battle at all," Dayton said.
The solon has been on record as an opponent of the DM&E project since October 2000, and he said as recently as a fortnight ago that he regards the expansion as providing "no meaningful, long-term benefits to Minnesota farmers or the communities along the line."
B&A sale delayed;
employees may lose jobs
The proposed $62 million sale of Bangor and Aroostook System is in question after the railroad and the buyer failed to sign a formal purchase agreement by a November 19 deadline established by a bankruptcy court judge last month. Now creditors who had temporarily halted their push to place the railroad in involuntary bankruptcy while sale negotiations were under way have renewed their efforts, reports the Bangor Daily News.
If the sale does go through, prospective buyer Rail World, Inc. of Chicago expects to eliminate about 120 of the company's current 420 positions, according to railroad and union officials.
Also with the new owners will come a new name. Out will go "Bangor & Aroostook," which has graced rail cars for more than 100 years, and in will come "Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railroad," or "MMA."
Late Monday, attorneys for the creditors asked a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge to place the railroad system in Chapter 13 protection because it failed to meet the terms of a deal the judge approved on October 30.
In the deal worked out with creditors, B&A agreed to achieve several benchmarks during its negotiations with Rail World that would have kept the Maine-based rail system out of bankruptcy. One of them was for both B&A and Rail World to sign a formal purchase agreement by November 19.
The deal came after three of B&A's creditors, who collectively are owed more than $7 million, filed a request in July with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Portland to have B&A involuntarily placed into bankruptcy. Chief Judge James B. Haines Jr. approved the deal.
The creditors, Helm Financial Group of San Francisco, Union Tank Car Co. of Chicago, and Ebenezer Railcar of West Seneca, N.Y., had leased B&A rail cars and tankers. Helm alone is owed $5.6 million.
Under the October deal, terms of how all of B&A's creditors were to be paid were worked out. Secured creditors were to be paid in full within 15 days after the sale of the railroad system was closed, while other creditors were to be paid at least 50 cents on the dollar, according to court documents.
Because the formal purchase agreement was not signed by November 19, attorneys for the creditors filed a "notice of default" with the bankruptcy court late Monday stating that B&A did not meet the terms of the agreement and that it should be placed into Chapter 13.
B&A has the option to fight the default notice within three days of its filing, said president Frederic Yocum Jr. on Tuesday, but, he said, he is recommending to Edward Burkhardt, founder of Rail World, that they don't do that.
"We really have no grounds to fight it," Yocum said.
The sale will go through regardless of whether B&A is under Chapter 13 protection, Yocum said. It just will take a while longer for that to happen because a court-appointed trustee to represent creditors will now have to be involved in the process, he said.
On October 4, B&A announced that Rail World was purchasing most of the system's rail properties for $62 million. Included in the sale would be the stock of Quebec Southern Railway Co. Ltd., and the operating assets of B&A Railroad Co., the Canadian American Railroad Co., the Van Buren Bridge Co., Logistics Management Systems Inc., the Northern Vermont Railroad Co. Inc., and most of the Newport & Richford Railroad Co.
B&A and Rail World did not sign the formal purchase agreement because both companies still are working out the actual structure of the deal and the timing of its conclusion, Yocum said. For months, Yocum has publicly stated that the deal would be completed by December 31.
"At this point, it's not going to go through by December 31," he said, noting that Burkhardt has set Feb. 28 as the new targeted closing date.
In the meantime, Rail World, using the rail system's new name, has issued notices to current B&A employees that they will have to apply for the positions they now have. Because of the way the purchase agreement is being structured, Rail World is buying B&A's assets and not its operations, Yocum said.
"It's basically a new business," he said.
In the notices, MMA has specified how many positions will be open in different areas of the rail system. B&A employees are the only ones allowed to apply for those jobs at this time, Yocum said.
"MMA has said they will give preference to B&A's employees," he said. "They have not interviewed anybody other than that."
One union official, who represents about 130 people within B&A the system, said his organization has added up the number of employees that MMA will hire, and that amounts to approximately 300‚ a loss of 120 positions when compared to the current payroll.
"If this new railroad ever manifests itself, it will have less employees," said Mike Maloff, New England general chairman for the United Transportation Union. "At least that's what they're telling us."
UTU currently has a contract with B&A, but no discussions have taken place with MMA to get a contract in place for when the new operations start up, Maloff said.
"We have to find out if they're actually going to be able to buy this railroad," he said. "The railroad isn't sold yet."
Burkhardt, founder of Rail World, was out of the country and did not return telephone calls for comment.
Some employees are concerned about the structure of the sale if it does go through. One worker, who did not want to be identified, said he wishes B&A would have laid him off because he may have been offered a severance package.
He said the railroad system will not be ceasing operations, but that on a particular day, the name will simply change and some people will be working, while others won't.
Because of the change in operators, Rail World has decided to change the name of the rail lines to Montreal, Maine and Atlantic. For more than 100 years, Bangor and Aroostook System has been a national standard for rail transportation in New England. Yocum said Rail World believes the new name better fits the entire region the lines travel through.
Although he understands it, Yocum said it doesn't mean he likes it.
"I personally am saddened to see it go," he said.
The Bangor Daily News is online at www.bangordailynews.com
Virgin's tilting trains
Passengers will have to wait an extra year before tilting trains are running on the West Coast rail line. Virgin had originally hoped to introduce the Midlands-built Pendolino trains next May. The 125 mph trains are set to drastically reduce journey times on the London to Scotland route, reports Annanova of November 26.
Delays to the West Coast upgrade brought about by the Railtrack crisis means the trains will not be able to run at 125 mph until May 2003.
There is now little chance of the 2005 date for upping the trains' speed limit to 140 mph, with subsequent further reductions in journey times, being met.
Due to the upgrade delays, the Pendolinos will not go into service on the West Coast line until next summer, and even then, they will only run in non-tilting mode at 110 mph and only between London and the North West of England.
Virgin is taking delivery of 53 nine-coach Pendolinos at a cost of 600 million pounds. Each train will have 441 seats and its tilt will enable it to negotiate the many bends on the West Coast route at far greater speeds than conventional trains. The Italian designed West Coast Pendolinos are being built at Alstom's Washwood Heath site near Birmingham.
West Midlands and Glasgow services, at 110 mph, will start in late 2002, with 110 mph tilting coming in March 2003 and the full 125 mph tilting operation not being introduced until May 2003.
High Speed Rail: The Critical Connection
Free lecture by acting Amtrak board chairman and former Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, J.D., Professor of Political Science, Northeastern University, at the Museum of Science, 7:00 p.m., Boston. Free tickets available at the front ticket counter starting at 6:00 p.m. Limited seating; first come, first served. Call 617-589-0419 or go online to http://www.mos.org.
Citizens' Forum for Transportation
Sierra Club of Connecticut, Transportation Choices Coalition of Connecticut and NCI 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., New London, Conn. Radisson Hotel. Creating an integrated transit-based transportation system for New London, southeastern Connecticut and southwestern Rhode Island region.
Speakers to include former Rhode Island Governor's Counsel William G. Brody; Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority's GM Dr. Beverly Scott; Frank Guzzo, Siemens Transportation Systems of North America; transportation expert Marla Hollander; NCI President Jim RePass, and others.
For reservations, contact Sierra Club of Connecticut Transportation Chair Molly McKay via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and credit card information. Registration is $25 for Sierra Club, TCCC, and NCI members, $30 for non-members. Luncheon.
City Club of Chicago
Amtrak acting board chairman Michael Dukakis will be principal speaker at a City Club of Chicago breakfast at Maggiano's Banquets, 111 W. Grand Ave., Chicago from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. $20. Reservations, 312-565-6500.
January 11-15 2002
National Railroad Contractors Assn.
Annual exhibit and technical meetings
Dome coach returns to service at Conway
|After almost three years of restoration, Conway Scenic Railroad's dome car, No. 1329, emerged from the North Conway Shops ready to go back into service. Featuring 24 dome seats and 28 first-class seats on the lower deck, the car will also have a kitchen-snack bar area for food service on the Crawford Notch Train. The food service area is not yet complete, but the car will be used on the Santa Claus Express, and the Polar Express, for the next three weekends, before the Conway Scenic wraps up its season on December 16. The dome is expected to be named and dedicated next year before the Crawford Notch train resumes service. For now, the car is in the Valley Train consist.|
NCI: Leo King CollectionWaterville, Maine, was once a Maine Central passenger train stop. Consider in the 1950s when a "Class D" 4-6-4 Hudson, among MC's spiffiest engines, hauled No. 48. The train stopped for mail, milk - and people
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In an effort to expand the on-line experience at the National Corridors Initiative web site, we have added a page featuring links to other rail travel sites. We hope to provide links to those cities or states that are working on rail transportation initiatives - state DOTs, legislators, governor's offices, and transportation professionals - as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists.
If you have a favorite rail link, please send the uniform resource locator address (URL) to the webmaster in care of this web site. An e-mail link appears at the bottom of the NCI web site pages to get in touch with D. M. Kirkpatrick, NCI's webmaster in Boston.
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