In this edition...
WASHINGTON -- President Bush signed a transportation bill on Thursday which would provide Amtrak with $1.3 billion in federal subsidy reported the Star Ledger. Last spring the president had proposed zero funding for the railroad in a plan that would break up Amtrak, shifting some of the rail costs to the states and selling off the Northeast Corridor to private interests.
Both the House and Senate rejected the administration plan to end subsidies, coming up with a compromise $1.3 billion package that represents a $108 million increase over current funding, the Ledger states. This will allow the railroad to continue operating and avoid the possibility of insolvency, Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black told Robert Cohen, Star-Ledger staff writer.
The agreement will require Amtrak to reduce some of its operational costs, such as changes in the food service, and to provide Congress with a comprehensive business plan to curb operating losses.
Meanwhile, separate legislation in both Houses of Congress which would provide long-term financing for Amtrak, is pending. This plan, the report continues, is opposed by the Bush administration because it envisions maintaining a nationally-run rail system and continuing large subsidies for years to come.
The complete article is found in the Newark Star-Ledger at http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/index.ssf?/base/news-3/1133446754244160.xml&coll=1
WASHINGTON, DC Continuing controversy over the ouster of Amtrak President and CEO David Gunn by Amtraks quorum-less Board is generating questions about the legality of all Board actions.
The Board fired Gunn, who had reduced costs and increased efficiency on the passenger railroad since being appointed President in 2002, because they claimed he was not reforming Amtrak quickly enough. Gunn has called that statement baloney, saying he was fired because he refused to acquiesce to a Board plan to break up and sell of Amtraks Northeast Corridor, the companys only substantial asset.
The present Amtrak Board, however, may have acted illegally in firing Gunn, and indeed may have acted illegally on all matters since its membership dropped below five in 2003. Amtraks by-laws require a quorum of at least five of seven members to enter into contracts, hire or fire key personnel, and otherwise operate the railroad.
The current Board has appointed a special committee to act in the absence of a quorum, but that committee itself may be illegally constituted and all its actions invalid or subject to challenge, according to legal experts. Also, while Amtraks Board is appointed by the President, its stock is held by private corporations, one of which, the railroad BNSF, expressed surprise that it had not been consulted on some of the Boards actions.
President Bush is required by law to appoint members to the Board as terms expire, but has failed to do so in at least three cases. Two other Board seats were so-called recess appointments which gives the President the right to temporarily appoint Board members without having them confirmed by Congress. Presently Amtrak has only one Board member, Chairman David Laney, who has been confirmed. The other Board member who with Laney has been running Amtrak is US DOT General Counsel Jeffrey Rosen, who is on the Board as representative of US Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta. Mineta, appointed in 2001, has never attended an Amtrak Board meeting.
Amtraks situation is complicated because, while its Board members are appointed by the President, it is a private corporation formed under the laws of the District of Columbia. Amtrak was created by Congress in 1970 as the National Rail Passenger Corporation at the request of the nations freight railroads which were at that time bankrupt or nearly so. At the time, railroads were required as part of their common carrier status to provide passenger service unless they could prove it was not wanted.
The Chairman of the Railroads Subcommittee of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, Steven LaTourette (R-OH) has expressed concern that Amtraks Board may be illegally constituted. Before, during, and after hearings LaTourette called in early November to air Gunns firing, LaTourette repeatedly raised the issue of Amtraks apparently having acted without a quorum in a number of instances. In addition, the Act of Congress that created the present seven-member Amtrak Board in 1997 called for its automatic replacement if Amtrak was still receiving Federal operating subsidies after 2002. Those subsidies did indeed continue and have continued (most recently this past week, when the President signed Amtraks $1.3 Billion 2006 appropriation). However, instead of replacing the Board in its entirety, no action was taken. This raises the question of the legal status of the present Board and all of its actions since 2002, especially contracts entered into by the pre-2003, legally constituted Amtrak Board and then terminated by the current Board.
PHILADELPHIA -- At a rally at the 30th Street Amtrak station here Nov. 16, Amtrak's Board of Directors was charged with union busting in order to shift ownership of this valuable public asset over to the Bush administration's private campaign contributors, stated the People's Weekly last Thursday. Mark Kenney, general chairman of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), is making the charges.
Union rail workers told People's Weekly reporter, Debbie Bell, that, should such a shift occur, it would lead to a service shutdown of Amtrak, which would also shut down the commuters who depend on the Northeast Corridor.
Amtrak is accused of not fairly negotiating with the unions for the last six years, Bell's article continues. The major stumbling blocks are health care for disabled workers, wage cuts and rule changes that would brutalize working conditions, said Jed Dodd, general chairman of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division (BMWED). The BMWED represents 2,500 employees who construct and maintain the railroad track, buildings and bridges as well as the overhead catenary system of the Northeast Corridor.
At the rally, Kenney called the Amtrak Board of Directors political patrons of the White House who know nothing about operating a railroad and, in fact, are opposed to the continued operation of Amtrak.
We, as rail labor, he continued, have no intention of idly sitting by as the handmaidens of the Bush White House attempt to destroy our livelihoods without a battle to rival all others.
While the unions and former President and CEO David Gunn often disagreed on the pace and depth of the numerous reforms Gunn put into effect, the labor movement appears to be recognizing that Gunn was in fact intent on making Amtrak work.
The complete article is at: http://www.pww.org/article/articleview/8181/1/296
NEW YORK CITY -- The Daily News reported that large numbers of beggars preying on travelers in Penn Station over the Thanksgiving weekend infuriated Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who ordered several law enforcement agencies to put extra officers on patrol.
When someone gets a call from the commissioner, I would anticipate within moments that there would be action, Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne told News writers Pete Donohue, Alison Gendar, and Robert Moore.
This is an important tourist location, an arrival point for the city, he continued. The police commissioner expects the police department to keep it free from panhandling.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will provide more uniformed officer over the holiday season, union leader Ray Gimmler told the Daily News. They will be focusing on in-your-face panhandlers and will work with homeless-services providers to get those who need it shelter and other services.
Police crackdowns on the homeless are common during holiday periods, the article continued. In 1995, a federal judge handed down a decision allowing cops to arrest aggressive panhandlers and ejecting homeless people from Penn Station.
Some homeless advocates have not always agreed with these tactics. They have concerns about the vulnerable homeless New Yorkers who have committed no crimes.
The extra police around Penn Station lately have been noticed. Darryl Haynes, 40, who is homeless, said to the Daily News reporters, I don't know what's going on this week; it's like President Bush is in town.
The complete article can be found at: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/local/story/371047p-315527c.html
VANCOUVER, WA -- The Columbian reported that three Amtrak trains were delayed for up to two hours Thursday near Longview, CA after BNSF freight trains were ordered to stop by their dispatcher in Fort Worth, Texas.
Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham in Oakland, Calif., told the paper that a southbound Cascades train was delayed for two hours, a northbound Cascades train for 105 minutes and the northbound Coast Starlight for 90 minutes.
Only in the Northeast Corridor does Amtrak have its own tracks. Throughout the rest of the country, Amtrak is a guest on the freight railroads, so its movements are secondary to the freight traffic, reported Graham.
Gus Melonas, BNSF spokesman in Seattle, told the Columbian that the stoppages were for safety reasons and no rules were violated. Nine freight trains were moving through the area at the time, he said.
For more information, visit www.amtrak.com.
Win-Win Emission Reductions
Transportation Emission Reduction Strategies Can Achieve Kyoto Targets, Provide Other Economic, Social And Environmental Benefits
The Victoria Transport Policy Institute issued a report on Friday that lays out solutions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These measures would meet the Kyoto emission reduction goals while stimulating economic development and reducing other problems such as traffic congestion and accidents, the report stated.
The paper identifies a dozen different types of solutions such as Pay-As You-Drive Pricing, Parking Cash-Out, Road Pricing, Walking and Cycling Improvements, Smart Growth, Transit and Rideshare Improvements, Revenue-Neutral Tax Shifting, etc.
For solutions to work, they must give the consumer choices and be policy-neutral.
For the full report, go to http://www.vtpi.org/wwclimate.pdf
( Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader ).
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At-grade Crossing for Private Driveway Approved
WATERFORD, CT -- Little more than two months after an Amtrak Acela train struck and killed a woman and her two grandchildren at an at-grade railroad crossing in Waterford a similar crossing has been approved for a single residence being built in the Quaker Hill section of Waterford, Shore Publishing reports.
Julie Wernau, staff writer for Shore Publishing, reported that the application was approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission because it fell within the town's zoning regulations and the town does not have control over grade crossings. That is regulated by the Federal Rail Administration.
New England Central Railroad owns and operates the tracks in that location. Only a few trains, going at slow speeds, pass through that area daily.
According to a letter from NECR, the owners of the new home will be required to stay current on their annual permit fee and maintain the crossing in a safe manner.
The complete article can be found at: http://www.shorepublishing.com/archive/re.aspx?re=0f3b8bf2-6830-46c3-a9cc-1f08f6e5d70c
Orr train speed suit filed by Canadian National
Railway: Legislation is against federal acts
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Mesabi Daily News reported that the Canadian National Railway has filed suit in U.S. District Court against the City of Orr for regulating the speed of trains through its city limits.
Railroad spokeswoman Karen Phillips told Mesabi staff writer Bill Hanna that federal laws pre-empt state legislation. Were asserting that the legislation allowing Orr to lower the speed limit for trains is contrary to the federal Railroad Safety Act and the Interstate Commerce Act because it interferes with commerce. Basically, the key issue is that train operations are governed by federal laws and that states do not have jurisdiction.
Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch disagrees. In a letter to Orr Mayor Doran Klakowski, he said that the City of Orr has a constitutional right to regulate train speeds. He cited an appeals court decision that gives the state jurisdiction in matters of safety. But, continued the article, spokeswoman Phillips said CN believes slowing down trains through the city creates more safety problems.
It can increase the risk of derailment. And when trains are going slower through a town, motorists at crossings are more likely to try to beat the train rather than waiting. We believe its safer to get trains in and out of town as quickly as possible, she said.
But Attorney Hatch, in his letter to the mayor, said the city's safety concerns were more than justified. The proximity of the town's business district, a school playground and a propane tank farm to the tracks puts city residents at risk.
Typically 15 to 20 trains run daily through the town on a track that splits the towns business district from its church, city hall, and school. There have been two derailments within two miles of Orr in the last five years, with one resulting in a train car punching a dent in a tank on the propane tank farm.
For the complete article, go to Mesabi Daily News, Dec 01 at:http://www.virginiamn.com/mdn/index.php?sect_rank=1&story_id=205173
KANSAS CITY, MO -- Railway operator Kansas City Southern reported to the Associated Press last Friday that it will form a joint venture with Norfolk Southern Corporation to upgrade the Meridian Speedway between Mississippi and Louisiana.
Financial terms were not spelled out in detail, the report continues, but Kansas City Southern will supply the 320-mile rail line and Norfolk Southern will spend $300 million over the next four years on capital improvements such as signal systems, sidings and stretches of double track to boost capacity.
This partnership with Norfolk Southern allows us to offer shippers fast, competitive rail service along the shortest rail route into the Southeast from both Mexico and the Southwest, Michael R. Haverty, Kansas City Southern president and chief executive, told the press.
Norfolk Southern president and CEO Wick Moorman was quoted in the report as saying [the joint upgrade will] enhance fluidity and improve connections among rail carriers.
|Burlington Northern & Santa Fe||(BNI)||66.65||65.45|
|Florida East Coast||(FLA)||44.87||43.11|
|Genessee & Wyoming||(GWR)||33.98||33.60|
|Kansas City Southern||(KSU)||25.00||25.23|
|Providence & Worcester||(PWX)||14.40||15.00|
Round one goes to America
The news that President Bush has signed Amtraks $1.3 Billion appropriation bill is good news indeed for the country, especially in light of the Administrations recent firing of CEO David Gunn and the long-time Administration threat to zero-out Amtrak and dismember it.
While this step is only Round One, of course, it is a step in the right direction, because the nation must have a balanced transportation system if it is to prosper and if all Americans are to have fair access to decent, safe, reasonably priced transportation.
It is important, however, that despite this victory, we recognize that the road ahead will be long and arduous.
The next step on that road should be the re-instatement of David Gunn as CEO, so that he can continue to implement the plan he developed and was putting into place when terminated. As we wrote last week, there was no valid reason for firing Gunn, and the people who did it --- Amtraks rump board, now down to two confirmed members, neither with any rail experience or knowledge --- have exactly zero qualifications to pass judgment on him.
If the Bush Administration wants to dig itself out of the hole it has put itself into with the American people on this and many other issues, it needs to continue to do what the President himself, to his credit, began to do this week regarding the Iraq War, which is to start listening to people outside his inner circle. They arent unpatriotic, and neither are those of us who recognize that we have a potentially great national rail system, and dont want the President to allow his most ideological supporters to dismantle it. Please, Mr. President, re-instate David Gunn, and lets get back to building a strong national transportation system.
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