Vol. 7 No. 50
Copyright © 2006
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Political leaders at all levels of government
In this edition...
Academics, business coalition call for change
in Northeast Corridor ownership, operations
NEWARK A coalition of business leaders and transportation experts assembled at the Voorhees Transportation Institute at Rutgers has announced it is seeking to have Amtraks Northeast Corridor ownership taken from Amtrak and given to a coalition of eight state governments and the Federal government, according to a statement released by the Center.
The Newark Regional Business Partnership (NRBP) today recommended that states become active partners with the federal government in governing a financially stable Northeast Corridor, fundamentally changing Amtraks role to that of contract operator/manager while continuing to provide intercity rail service in the region. The recommendation is the conclusion of a study commissioned by NRBP and conducted by the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center (VTC) at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.
The proposed Northeast Corridor Action Plan: A Call for a New Federal-State Partnership, can be found in full at: www.policy.rutgers.edu/vtc/
The report recommends that those portions of the Northeast Corridor designated to Amtrak in 1976 [Editors Note: it was 1970] be placed in public hands through a transfer to the U.S. Department of Transportation. A new public benefit corporation, governed by a board representing equally the federal government and the Northeast states (including the District of Columbia), would exercise policy control over the rail line. Amtrak would be held accountable to the governing board through a renewable contract for maintaining the rail line and operating the NECs intercity service between Washington, New York and Boston.
The report states 30 years of historic underfunding of Amtrak has allowed one of the nations most critical transportation assets to atrophy and fall into a state of disrepair. The plan was unveiled at Newark Regional Business Partnership offices last week at an event with Verizon New Jersey President Dennis M. Bone, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield (Robert Marino, senior vice president); PSE&G (Art Guida, director of external affairs); Rutgers-Newark Provost Steven J. Diner, and the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce (Michael Egenton, vice president.)
The Northeast Corridor is essential to our regions business community and the health of our economy, said Dennis Bone. We depend upon frequent intercity service to conduct business from Washington to New York to New England. We rely on uninterrupted commuter rail operations on the Northeast Corridor to get our employees to work. And we value the business activity generated by the mobility the Northeast Corridor provides. Verizon joins with other leaders in the New Jersey business community in supporting this proposal as the best and most realistic opportunity to provide a secure future for the Northeast Corridor, Bone said.
Voorhees Center Director Martin E. Robins said in a prepared statement that the unique element of the proposal is its focus on governance, accountability and sustained federal involvement. He said the proposal is designed to break a longstanding logjam between the federal administration and Congress about the future of intercity rail service and resolve the conflict between Amtraks for-profit mission and its higher public policy purpose of providing regional mobility. This model would also set the stage for expanding regional rail services to meet increasing demand for improved intercity and commuter services.
This proposal, if embraced, would demonstrate that states in our region are willing to assume shared responsibility with the federal government to preserve and improve intercity rail service, Robins said. Our plan also provides a model, adaptable to other intercity rail corridors and will encourage state leadership and sustain federal funding coupled with shared governance. It makes Amtrak accountable to its public funders on the NEC, eliminating its monopoly control, but at the same time strengthens Amtraks role by creating a more stable, broadly supported environment for regional intercity rail service. NRBP President Chip Hallock said his organization spearheaded the study in response to the deadlock in Congress over a reauthorization plan for Amtrak, which continues to cloud the future for the Northeast Corridor.
As the highways and airways in the Northeast grow more congested, the need to preserve and modernize the Northeast Corridor grows more urgent, said Hallock. The fact that rail service on the Northeast Corridor is powered by electricity makes the need even more urgent in light of our nations commitment to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and rely more heavily on clean energy sources.
The Northeast Corridor is integral to the future of our region and the states need a seat at the table to help shape their destiny, he said.
Running 456 miles between Boston, New York and Washington, the Northeast Corridor is owned primarily by Amtrak which operates high-speed intercity service. Smaller portions are owned by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the State of Connecticut and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), the Voorhee3s Center said in its statement. Seven of the nations largest commuter rail agencies rely on the NEC for significant portions of their operations and there is some freight railroad use. The NEC every year accounts for more than half of Amtraks national ridership, 13 million riders, and 80 percent of the nations commuter rail travel, more than 300 million riders.
Hallock explained that NRBP had become alarmed by a Bush Administration plan to relinquish the federal role with the Northeast Corridor by assigning it to a multi-state compact and to zero out Amtrak funding support. That proposal, which threatened shut down of the Northeast Corridor, made little headway in Congress, resulting in the current political stalemate of minimal annual appropriations for Amtrak.
Meanwhile, the backlog of work to replace aging tunnels, bridges, electric power and signal systems, and other infrastructure along the NEC has continued to mount, resulting in declining reliability for commuter and intercity rail services, Hallock said. It was that uncertainty followed by political stalemate which prompted Newark RBP to initiate the study.
The Northeast Corridor underpins not just the regional transportation network, but also the regional economy, said Bone. To ensure our continued growth, we must improve our mobility and unlock the economic power of this asset so that we get beyond the issue of repairing the infrastructure and begin talking about how we get more, better and faster intercity and commuter rail service in the Northeast.
Other rail experts expressed a note of caution. NCI President Jim RePass stated, While I have not yet read the report, the press statement causes concern. While we do indeed need to find a permanent solution to the regions --- and the nations --- transportation crisis, shifting ownership of Amtraks assets doesnt strike me as a wise move. The problem isnt whos in charge. The problem has always been, with Amtrak, severe underfunding, and a demoralized employee base that has to constantly apologize for old and/or decrepit equipment, when we give less support to them than many third-world countries give to their own national lines, let alone the kind of support we ought to be giving, such as found in Europe and Asia.
Derailment Bill Goers Unpaid:
Freight Line denies towns claims
DEERFIELD, MA --- Springfield Terminal Railroad, which operates freight service in Massachusetts and other New England states, has denied any responsibility for the costs expended by Deerfield emergency response personnel following a derailment of an ST train in September, reports the December 1 Atlantic and Northeast Rails & Ports e-bulletin.
The Town of Deerfield reported that the town had expended $6,915.03 responding to the threat of a release [of toxic substances] due to the derailment of a Pan Am train in Deerfield on 12 September. According to Massachusetts General Law Chapter 21E section 4, the person responsible for the release or the threat of a release is liable for the cost of anyone who makes a necessary and appropriate response.
The railroad argued that while the train did have four cars with hazardous substances in the 54th, 59th, 64th and 65th positions, they remained upright and on the rails, while cars in the 14th to 47th positions derailed. Town Administrator Bernie Kubiak rejoined that first responders had no way to tell whether the cars which overturned contained hazardous materials, in part because Pan Am did not notify the town for an hour and a half after the accident, the town said.
To subscribe to Atlantic and Northeast Rails & Ports e-bulletin. go to: www.atlanticnortheast.com.
World economy creating North American rail jobs
WEST COAST and MIDWEST --Two big western freight railroads are expanding so rapidly in the world economy that they have hundreds of job openings and are adding track capacity.
Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway Co, which serves 28 states and two Canadian provinces has 40,000 employees, 4000 of whom live in California. In Los Angeles, BNSF has one facility to serve the LA port and is in the process of getting approval to build a new several-hundred-acre facility four miles from the port in west Long Beach. The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are receiving 43% of the nations import from around the world.
This year they are on track for 15.6 million containers to come through those two ports and most of those containers are shipped by rail.
Union Pacific has 368 openings in California, hundreds more in Iowa, and over the next few years, will need to hire nationwide between 4,000 and 6,000 new employees each year.
Applications for railway jobs, including rookie train service workers who can earn $40,000 the first year, are available online. According to Barnes, applicants must be 18 years old, a high school diplomas or GEDs, meet certain physical requirements and take a drug test. Selected candidates go through specialized training. Kent of BNSF said employees receive "excellent benefits," and railroad workers, who do not pay into Social Security, have their own retirement plan.
Union Pacific said that after about three years on the job, the salary jumps to $75,000.The pay and benefits are attractive, but life on the railroad isn't easy. The hours are long and often workers must be on the job during holidays.
For more details, go to Union Pacific Railroad Co. at www.up.com; BNSF Railway Co. at www.bnsf.com; and American Association of Railroads at www.aar.org.
Historic Kingman AZ Depot Coming Back to Life
KINGMAN, ARIZONA ---The historic Santa Fe train depot in Kingman, Arizona, will be restored thanks to a transportation enhancement grant from federal government, the Kingman Daily Miner reports.
Nearly 100 years old, built by the Santa Fe Railway of reinforced concrete, the station is structurally sound. It is one of many historic buildings in downtown Kingman on the National Registry of Historic Places, and it may be one of the oldest concrete buildings in the state. Plans for the renovation are 95% complete, said Rob Owen, special projects coordinator for the city of Kingman. All we need is for Amtrak and BNSF Railway to sign off on their approval, the Miner reported.
The project has aroused much anticipation among community members, who have been waiting anxiously since the grant application was submitted in 2002. Amtrak will move its current ticket office from its tiny space on Fourth Street back into the western half of the depot. The eastern half of the building will become a railroad museum with exhibits and artifacts from railroad enthusiasts and the Mohave Museum of History and Arts, said the Miner.
The MBTA, has announced a new commuter rail service that will offer storage for skis and snowboards as enthusiasts ride to Fitchburg and pick up a free shuttle to the Wachusett Mountain ski area.
We want to make sure the Boston area has access to this great resort, said Dan Grabaskus, general manager of the MBTA. The train will also make stops at stations in Acton, Ayer, Concord, and Littleton.
MBTA officials partnered with Wachusett Mountain and The Johnny Appleseed Trail Association of North Central Massachusetts to resurrect the ski train, which used to cart skiers from the Boston area 20 years ago.
Rep. James Eldridge, D-Acton, who helped bring the new ski train to Mount Wachusett, said the train offers his constituents a chance to head to the mountains.
I certainly think there are some people in the communities I represent who would much prefer to take the train and not worry about the drive out there, Eldridge said.
David McKeehan, president of The Johnny Appleseed Trail Association of North Central Massachusetts, said the new line should bring more tourism to the region.
It really does give a whole group of folks who may have not been exposed to the beauty of this area a chance to enjoy it, McKeehan said, donning a ski cap in honor of the event.
The train has a renovated ski coach lined with two-foot high cylinders to hold up to 34 sets of skis and racks to hold up to 12 snow boards.
An outbound train will leave Bostons North Station at 8:35 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays and make stops at Ayer at 7:09 a.m., Littleton at 7:17 a.m., South Acton at 7:25 a.m., West Concord at 7:30 a.m., Concord at 7:34 a.m. and arrive in Fitchburg at 10:06 a.m.
Service returning to towns will leave Fitchburg at 5:35 p.m.
The cost from Boston is $6, but Wachusett Mountain will reimburse the train fare for skiers. McKeehan has also lined up packages with nearby hotels allowing visitors get a deal on a weekend visit.
Jeff Crowley, president of Wachusett Mountain, said the MBTA put the line together only four months after his company pitched the idea.
This is ideal in that it saves energy and it saves gas money in addition to being a tremendous amount of fun, Crowley said.
Eldridge noted that hes looking forward to snow at the mountain, even though balmy weather has prevailed of recent.
Public transportation has really adapted to meet the new and varied needs of its customers with this service, Eldridge said.
Illinois, Pennsylvania Service Launches
Photo: Sharon Slaton, Amtrak Ink
After stepping off the Saluki preview train in Homewood, Ill., Senior Principal Contract Administration Bruce Hillblom is greeted at the station event by Diane Kuzera, a resident of a nearby community, and her pet Salukis, Missy and Pipi. The Saluki was one of three preview trains that operated last month to celebrate the launch of eight new state-funded trains between Chicago and 28 downstate cities. Last fiscal year, ridership on Illinois trains rose to a record high of 955,000 passengers 11 percent over the prior year.
Photo: Stacy Fitzgerald-Redd, Amtrak Ink
PennDot Deputy Secretary of Local and Area Transportation Karen Rae and Amtrak President and CEO Alex Kummant officially launch the new Keystone Service during a ribbon cutting ceremony at the inaugural event at Harrisburg station on Oct. 30. The event drew more than 100 attendees, including several of the areas mayors and state officials.
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